Time Well Spent

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Maybe it’s just me, but tasks, responsibilities, choices, options, and general noise from the world can become overwhelming at times.  When life gets busy, I find myself almost paralyzed with information overload.  Have a half an hour before the next scheduled event?  Should I prep food, do some house cleaning, write a blog post, read, play with the kids, go to the store, check an item off my to do list, do a quick workout?

Okay, I decide to prep food.  What meal?  Should I stick with the meal plan I came up with earlier in the week or be spontaneous?  I’ll see what recipes I can make with the ingredients on hand.  Okay, should I search online or peruse the half dozen cookbooks on my kitchen counter?  Will the kids eat the Thai chicken dish I found online?  Doubtful.  I’ll just make something different for them.  But what?  And around we go again.

This is just one possible option of how to spend those thirty minutes.  There are dozens of others, and that’s where the real struggle comes from.  When I get caught up in my thoughts and buy into the societal pressure that my life ought to look a certain way, there is a self-imposed pressure to always be doing the right thing.  I remember this mindset.  It’s the one that drove me into my head and away from my family.  It’s the one that believes my thoughts and actions will keep my world spinning, rather than surrendering to God’s perfect plan.

The truth is, time is finite.  There are only so many hours in a day, days in a year, and years in a lifetime.  How we choose to spend our time is hugely important in shaping the life we lead.  The more activities I tell myself need to fit into my life, the more overwhelmed I feel.  Does the meal have to be completely home cooked and (for me) paleo?   Do I need to say yes to every request for parental volunteer or kids’ birthday party invitation?  Do I have to run or workout a certain number of times per week?

Of course the answer to all of these is no.  Those pressures are self-imposed and lead to stress and anxiety that I have to fit everything in to my already full schedule of childcare, diabetes management, a full time job, etc.

I’m prayerfully asking God to help me re-find the place of trusting acceptance and he’s shown me a surefire method for deciding how to spend my time.

I began down the right track this fall as I prioritized my kids’ soccer games over joining the running club on long runs Saturday mornings.  I’m still running on my own, which is peaceful and delightful, but training for a marathon is not a priority when I could be watching Teo play soccer!

Just last night, I got a wonderful reminder of how prioritizing connection with my family yields joy and peace.  Sienna starting complaining of an upset tummy about an hour before bedtime.  She was already all bathed and in her pajamas; she came to me in tears that her tummy hurt.  I said, “Why don’t we get in bed and read?”

Since she’s been doing most of the reading to Dennis or me at bedtime, she asked “But, can you read?  I don’t feel up to it.”

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“Of course, Lovie.” We settled into her bed to start the last chapter of Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

After taking some medicine and finishing Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Sienna was feeling a little better and asked if we could read another book.  We both moved from her bed to the floor in front of her bookshelves to choose the next book.  I looked over at Sienna, she smiled at me and said, “I love reading with you, it makes me feel so much better.” Then, looking at the books, “It’s like our own library… our own little library,” she gushed.

I felt the tenderness of that moment and thanked God that I wasn’t too busy or distracted to make the time to read longer with my daughter.  This night, I’d certainly made the right choice.

Today in church, if I needed additional confirmation of the value of spending that time, Sienna said to me: “Thank you for reading to me when I was sick last night, Mama.”  I told her what was true, “I love taking care of you when you need me.”

I’m so thankful for these tender moments that teach me the most valuable ways I can spend my precious time.

The Discovery of Insulin

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I’ve been thinking about diabetes more than usual recently.  Fortunately, it’s not because my blood sugars have been out of control, which is typically when diabetes takes up more of my mental space.  No, the reasons have been diverse and pretty interesting.

First, I just finished reading a book that sat on my Good Reads “To Read” list for many, many years.  The Discovery of Insulin was written by Canadian historian Michael Bliss back in the early 1980s, years before I was diagnosed with diabetes.  This book is a study of the nuanced and often conflicting stories of how insulin was discovered in Toronto in 1921.

The traditional story is that a young physician, Frederick Banting, and his medical student assistant, Charles Best, discovered insulin in the summer of 1921 after Banting had a sudden stroke of genius regarding the external and internal secretions of the pancreas.  They spent that steamy summer removing the pancreas from dozens of dogs in order to make them diabetic, deriving pancreas extract from other dogs (though a complicated process), and then injecting that extract into the diabetic dogs.  Their results were amazing.  The extract reliably lowered the blood sugar in the dogs.

The story that Bliss tells provides significant detail about the context in which Banting and Bliss made their discovery.  A number of researchers in Europe were also close to discovering this “anti-diabetic” extract in the early 1920s.  It was widely known that the high blood sugar of diabetics was caused by an inability to metabolize carbohydrates and researches had zeroed in on the pancreas (and liver) as the organs responsible for this metabolic function.

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There was a major controversy surrounding the discovery of insulin and it centered around who was awarded credit for the discovery.  Banting and Best were logical choices, but they received significant assistance from the head of their laboratory and internationally known expert in carbohydrate metabolism, J.J.R. Macleod as well as J.B. Collip, the biochemist who helped refined the extract.  When the Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to Banting and Macleod (who were not on speaking terms at the time), they shared their awards with Best and Collip, respectively.  Apparently, Banting lived for decades with a deep resentment toward Macleod because of his belief that his original idea was the catalyst for the discovery of insulin, and that Macleod was trying to steal the credit that was rightfully his.

As interesting as the history was to me, I found myself more deeply moved by the description of life for diabetics before the discovery of insulin.  Chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) leads to ketosis (the burning of fat to fuel the body) which causes acidosis (excessive acidity in the blood) which quickly leads to death.  The best method for prolonging life in diabetics (before insulin) was a starvation diet.  Diabetics could actually live for 2 to 4 years by sticking to a strict, low carbohydrate and low calorie diet – often less than 500 calories per day.  If they chose to eat normally, they’d waste away more quickly and die from ketoacidosis within a matter of weeks.

Reading this history, I imagined and empathized with the pain and suffering of these individuals.  People who had the same disease I do but were unfortunate to live before this literally life-changing discovery.  What a weird feeling to know that my life depends on this extract that was discovered less than 100 years ago.

With this story very fresh in my mind, I met the parents of another young mother with Type 1 Diabetes.  At a mutual friend’s party, these parents sought me out when they learned that I had diabetes.  Dennis and I spent about an hour chatting with these knowledgeable and concerned parents.  The story they told was very different than my diagnosis.  Their daughter has struggled to accept her diabetes since she was diagnosed 15 years ago at the age of 17.

Talking about my experience and the way my parents handled my diabetes diagnosis made me very reflective.  Just a week before, my mom reminded me of something I asked her while still in the hospital upon diagnosis.  I looked at her and said, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, right Mom?”  My optimism helped me through those early days.  I also recalled that my dad encouraged me to see this disease as something that I had to overcome and that would, ultimately, make me stronger.  I don’t recall my parents treating me like a victim or feeling sorry for me (I’m sure they did, but they didn’t let me see it).

Several years ago, I had the realization that I never rebelled against my diabetes management (blood glucose tests, injections, etc.), in part because my care was always in my own hands.  It wasn’t like my parents managed my diabetes or enforced a strict diet on me.  From the beginning, it was mine to manage, for better or worse.  My control wasn’t very good in my teen years, but that independence and self-confidence helped me transition to adulthood without a dramatic rebellion against diabetes self-care.

In trying to describe my experience to parents who understand diabetes so intimately, I found myself feeling love and gratitude for my mom and dad.  I now appreciate, as a parent myself, how devastating and frightening my diabetes diagnosis was for them.

Finally, the timeline of diabetes seems to be moving along: from death sentence to chronic condition to a cure, as recent study results seem to point to a cure in my lifetime.  A friend of mine participated in one of the first human trials at a San Diego based company who announced promising study results today.  They were able to insert modified stem cells, encapsulated in a permeable pod, into patients.  After several months, they removed the pods and found that the cells had been producing insulin and other hormones that are missing in Type 1 diabetics. There’s still several years of study and refinement ahead, but it’s a very promising step.

It’s funny, living with this disease for over 22 years, it can often remain pretty much in the background of my daily life.  Eating a low carbohydrate diet, exercising regularly, wearing an insulin pump, and now taking this new medication, all contribute to fairly steady and predictable blood sugars.  I enjoyed reflecting on diabetes in a more conscious way through these recent experiences and have a newfound sense of gratitude for the ability to live well with diabetes.

A Book Worth Reading: Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

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This is the third of Marisa de los Santos’s books that I’ve read this year.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first two and Falling Together did not break the streak.  I loved this book!

10380686This story is about love, relationships, and life.  Pen (short for Penelope), the protagonist, is a woman in her late twenties.  She’s dealing with heartache in her life and missing her two best friends from college.  Pen, Cat (short for Catalina), and Will were inseparable through college.  As they entered the next stage of their life, they couldn’t figure out how to maintain their friendship without being a trio (the term they prefer to “threesome”).

When Pen and Will each receive an email from Cat saying that she needed to see them, six years after their dramatic separation, they respond by attending a college reunion.  Eagerly anticipating and expecting to reunite with Cat, they discover she wasn’t the sender of the email and an adventure ensues.

Marisa de los Santos is a poet and writes in a creative and beautiful style.  She illuminates feelings and ways of looking at the world that expand my emotional spectrum.  All of her books are about love and how people navigate the relationships with those they love.  The ending of this book had me in tears and made me feel that life and love are amazingly precious.

A Book Worth Reading: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

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This book is fantastic!  I don’t recall ever laughing out loud as frequently while reading a book.  It’s simply hilarious.  I’ve read a couple other books by Bill Bryson and they were likewise wonderful, but I didn’t experience the fits of giggles like this book caused.

brysonMemiors are my favorite genre, hands down.  This one is great because it intertwines personal stories from Bryson’s eccentric family with great historical information about the 1950s. Postwar America and all of the advances in the 50s seem like a character itself in this book.  Bryson brings this world to life and pokes fun at the simpleness and often ridiculousness of the age.

Bryson was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa in 1951.  He was born in the middle of the country in the middle of the century.  It’s a great window into the life of our country and our collective history.

I have to share a passage that is particularly funny (I read this passage while at Starbucks and felt rather embarassed to be giggling uncontrollably amongst all the quiet strangers). Here goes:

The school day was largely taken up with putting on or taking off clothing.  it was an exhaustingly tedious process.  It took most of the morning to take off your outdoor wear and most of the afternoon to get it back on, assuming you could find any of it among the jumbled, shifting heap of garments that carpeted the cloakroom floor to a depth of about three feet.  Changing time was always like a scene at a refugee camp, with at least three kids wandering around weeping copiously because they had only one boot or no mittens. Teachers were never to be seen at such moments.

Having lived in California my entire life, I can’t relate to this particular experience. But, nonetheless, I could picture those poor children looking for their missing articles of clothing! Bryson’s ability to describe a scene using just the right amount of hyperbole so you can laugh but also understand the truth behind the description, it’s just perfect.

A Book Worth Reading: The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

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010Have you ever picked up a book and known you were going to love it? That’s how I felt about The Reading Promise. I saw it in my favorite bookstore, Upstart Crow, probably a dozen times before I bought it. I didn’t get it right away because I’ve been using the library to feed my reading habit instead of buying books. But, there was also a sense of purposeful delayed gratification at play. I knew this book would be wonderful and wanted my enthusiastic anticipation to last a bit longer.

Last November, on our anniversary, Dennis and I enjoyed a date day that included (as they often do) a trip to Seaport Village and Upstart Crow. A perfect opportunity to buy The Reading Promise and start reading it that day!

This book is a memoir which is my favorite genre. I love people and learning about their lives. Not much is more interesting to me than how other people feel and think. This book is the story of a young woman named Alice Ozma. From her website:

When Alice Ozma was nine years old, her father made a promise: to read to her every night, without missing a night, for one-hundred nights. But once the pair met their goal, they couldn’t stop. 100 became 1,000, and eventually, they decided to read as long as they possibly could. The Reading Streak, as they called it, ultimately lasted 3,218, finally ending on Alice’s first day of college.

Reading has always been my favorite activity. I was the kid reading with a flashlight under the covers after my parents sent me to bed. I’ve read to Sienna each night since she was five months old. Now Dennis and I switch off with the kids, but reading was something she and I shared nightly for about four years straight. Reading at night to the kids is the time I treasure most in my day. A story about a parent reading to their child every day for years on end? Yes, please.

The book is rich with life situations and the lessons that Alice learned through the books she and her dad shared. I loved the goal that this father and daughter set. It reminded me why books are so special and provide such a unique way to bond with a child. It also gave me relief to learn that reading to kids at older ages is just as valuable as when they are young. I’d been dreading the day when Sienna and Mateo didn’t want to be read to anymore – now I can push that end out, way out.

I loved The Reading Promise and I bet you would too!

A Book Worth Reading: Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

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I was so excited when Areli told me that there was a sequal to Marisa de los Santos’s best seller Love Walked In.  I enjoyed the book so much and couldn’t wait to see what the next chapter of Cornelia and Teo’s life would hold.  Straight away I went to the library website and requested  Belong to Me.

Belong to MeThis story is just as delightful and more intriguing than the first book.  The three storylines that begin the book seem so separate – yet you know they are going to intertwine as the story unfolds… and boy, do they!  Cornelia, the spunky protagonist has moved with her physician husband to the suburbs.  She’s hoping to conceive a baby and is trying to embrace life in the suburbs, amongst crazy trophy wives and soccer moms.

Piper is the leader of the pack of perfectionist women in the community.  She’s starting to unravel as her best friend slowly looses her battle with cancer, leaving Piper to mother Elizabeth’s two kids in addition to her own two.  It’s an interesting position for readers – you can’t decide whether you like Piper’s character or not.

This story deals with the quiet moments and intimate details of normal life.  You see women, men, and children form families in unlikely circumstances and learn to love one another.  It’s real and heart wrenching at times.  Santos is a poet and her writing is beautiful and lyrical.

A Book Worth Reading: Gold by Chris Cleave

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I read Chris Cleave’s book Little Bee about a year ago.  It was beautifully written, touching, and haunting.  After updating it on my goodreads account, I added Cleave’s other books to my “To-Read” list.  When I came across Gold at the library, I recognized the cover and immediately added it to my checkout pile.

GoldThe book opens as Zoe is about to complete in her first Olympics in track cycling. Meanwhile, her good friend and rival, Kate is home with her infant daughter Sophie.  The story caught my attention at first but then I had a bizarre experience.  The second chapter heading is futuristic and the characters are obviously involved in some sort of Star Wars reenactment.  I kept trying to read this part of the book while dozing off in bed.  After a couple tries, I was downright confused about the plot of the book.  I’m not much for science fiction, so I put it aside for awhile and read other books.  Finally, I decided to try Gold again, but this time I read this sci-fi section while wide awake one morning. After a brief chapter, the storyline returns to what I expected.  Whew!

I’m so glad that I pushed through and gave this book it’s due, because it was great!  The descripter I used most often as I flew through the book was “riveting!”

Most of the story takes place eight years after the initial Olympic scene.  Zoe and Kate are preparing for their last Olympics and are each others’ greatest competition.  Kate and Jack (her cycling Olympic gold medalist husband) are balancing the demands of training and their daughter’s cancer treatments, the best they can.  These circumstances create scenes with strong emotional depth and interesting juxtapositions between the highs and lows of life.

The characters are extremely well developed and intriguing.  I love books that introduce me to a world that I’d previously known nothing about.  The setting of Olympic track cycling taught me a whole new set of athletic culture and vocabulary!  Also, the race scenes were exciting and suspenseful.

I’m looking forward to reading more by this captivating author!