Monday, August 19, 2019

Diabetes Was Not In My Life Plan

When I was in my 20s and pregnant with my first baby, life was going along just fine thank you, and out of the blue, my doctor told me I had diabetes. He blew me out of the water, telling me I had flunked the test with flying colors. I had heard of diabetes. I remember a girl in high school passed out and then learned she was diabetic. Other than that, I knew nothing. And this was in the middle of my first pregnancy where I already was realizing I knew less than nothing, and then they threw that at me!

I was told it was likely gestational, which means it happens during pregnancy, and it would probably go away after the baby was born. I was given a diet to follow, and when I asked if there was more I needed to know, I was told, “Just follow the diet.” That was not much help, and it certainly didn’t ease my fears.

Then I heard all the horror stories from various people who really knew nothing. I was told this happened because I ate a lot of candy (not true – well, the candy part was true, but that didn’t cause this). I was told I would probably lose my feet … because that’s what a nurse should tell a pregnant woman who is newly diagnosed with a scary disease. I often got the serious pity look when I told people my news … the look that really helps a person newly diagnosed with anything. One person said, “Oh no! You’re pregnant?? Does your doctor know??”

So as you can probably imagine, it was a very difficult time for me. I was terrified that I would not be able to have a healthy baby. I was pretty scared anyway just trying to bring a baby into the world, and this definitely did not help. Then they told me I had to go into the hospital for a week so I could get my bloodsugar under control and learn how to give myself insulin shots. I tried to pretend I was cool about the whole thing, but I’m sure I wasn’t very convincing.

Moving forward a little bit, I had two healthy babies from diabetic pregnancies. The diabetes was not gestational, and although I was taken off insulin between the pregnancies and for five years after the second one, I was put back on insulin and had to accept I would not be going off of it. It was again upsetting and something I had to come to terms with. I finally did when I read a book called Diabetes Without Fear, and the author wrote about a friend of his who had stomach cancer and said something like, “I’d give anything to be able to give myself shots to stay alive.” That was a big moment. I realized I didn’t have it so bad, and I needed to suck it up and stop feeling sorry for myself.

Ok, fast forward to today, some 30+ years later. I know so much more, technology has come so far, and I've left my state of denial for good. I now have the latest insulin pump, which is referred to as an “artificial pancreas” because it acts the way my pancreas should act but doesn’t. I call her Harriet. I decided if I was going to be so intimately attached to something, it should have a name, and for reasons I do not know, she seemed like a Harriet.

Some days, Harriet pisses me off with all her vibrating alerts, and some days I’m pretty sure I piss her off as well. But most days, we get along pretty well. She lets me know if my bloodsugar is going too high or too low, she tells me if I need to test it, and I’ve learned if I listen to her, my numbers are much better, which means my diabetes is in better control.

Some days, but only on occasion, I tell her to kiss off. Last week, for example, I got to go to Lawry’s The Prime Rib in downtown Chicago, a place I had wanted to go for a very long time, and yeah, that was definitely one of those days. She wasn’t happy about it, and she got a little bitchy, but I told her she needed to simmer down. I enjoyed one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and except for her bitching the rest of the evening, I had no regrets. I knew, though, that the next morning, I needed to clean up my act, because the bottom line is the more I control my diabetes, the less I have to worry about complications.

I have a fabulous doctor now who cheers me on every step of the way. I’ve worked with other great medical professionals over the years as well, who far outweigh the few really awful ones like the nurse mentioned above. Overall I've been very fortunate. One wonderful educator told me to avoid thinking of myself as a diabetic and instead think of myself as a person living with diabetes. That was another big moment. Instead of thinking of myself as a sicko who had to be deprived of so many things, I began to think more that I was someone who could handle this diagnosis and not let it get in my way. When it became more about my decisions and my control, I did a whole lot better. I have never responded well to being told what to do. Some might think I have an attitude, and to that, I say, “No shit.” I do much better when I have been given good information and know the consequences of an action and then choose to behave accordingly.

The amazing thing I have learned is I can keep living my life and take care of my diabetes at the same time. It really doesn’t get in my way most days. I now also have a sensor that monitors my blood sugar and talks to Harriet so she can keep me in line.

I’m so grateful for researchers and new technologies that are getting better all the time. Recently, I talked to a woman who was upset that her young granddaughter had been diagnosed and was using the same pump I have. The girl’s mother can monitor the pump on her smartphone and contact the school when adjustments are needed. I can hardly believe we have come so far! I told the grandma that I wouldn’t wish diabetes on anyone, especially a child, but her granddaughter was diagnosed at the right time. The researchers are making so many advances that I believe diabetes will be cured, if not in my lifetime, certainly in her granddaughter’s.

So, all in all, it doesn’t suck too much. I’d definitely rather not have it, but I’m grateful that it’s something I can live with. I will hopefully get better at not pissing Harriet off, even though sometimes she really is uptight.

This is what I’ve learned about life plans. They don’t usually go as planned. I planned my whole life to be a teacher, and I changed careers after four years. I planned to never be divorced. Oops. I also planned to have four children and willingly stopped after two. But with all of these unplanned things, it really just meant I was going in a different direction. So add this to the list. It wasn’t what I planned, but I’m doing just fine in this different direction.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Oh my gosh, my dream trip to Ireland was beyond anything I even imagined. It checked off every box. Here’s my biggest takeaway – if you have a dream trip and you have the chance to take it, please do it. Just please do it if you can. And having said that, I will also say, I’ll try not to be too sappy with this post, but I’m not sure I can do it. I am even more in love with Ireland now, and I’m already thinking about my next trip there.

I should probably tell you the background as to why visiting Ireland was #1 on my bucket list. But first of all, this always makes me chuckle. When I told my mom years ago that I wanted to visit Ireland, she said, “But they drink in Ireland.” She clearly had blocked out all the years I worked in a bar, and that I had already been exposed to drinking because I was an adult...  Oh, that lovely woman still makes me smile every day, and this one is definitely a keeper. One of the things I had dreamed about was sitting in an Irish pub (yes, they just call them “pubs” there) and listening to Irish music and watching Irish dancers, but I decided Mom probably didn’t need all those pub details. I didn’t want to scar her.

Years ago, I started reading books by Maeve Binchy, an Irish author who wrote stories I just loved. I called them my comfort food because I felt so good after reading them. All her stories took place in Ireland, and she made Ireland sound so wonderful that I knew I had to visit someday. Ms. Binchy passed away in 2012, and I was so saddened by her loss that I decided to hold off reading her last book (which she finished three weeks before her death), because if I read it, I wouldn’t have another book of hers to look forward to.

Then when the opportunity for this trip came up, I thought two things: (1) Hell yes, I’m going; and (2) I think it’s time to read that book. So I signed on for the trip, and I bought what would actually be two books because her husband had found enough notes in her desk that her editors could put it into one more book (and how funny is this, it’s called Chestnut Street). Anyway, there’s my love story for Maeve Binchy and my dream to see Ireland.

Here’s the nutshell version of my trip: I saw so many shades of green; the cliffs and the castles are beyond amazing; I didn’t meet one grumpy Irish person; the food was delicious; and as is always the case when I travel, I learned I have a lot more to learn. I will spare you every detail (you’re welcome), but here are some of the highlights:

The lovely couple I sat next to on the plane insisted I look out their window when we were flying in. I gasped because I was so surprised to see what I had always heard about – the many, many shades of green. There they were! They were not kidding about it! So, my first impression of Ireland was a great one.

Then when we got there, we did a lot of touring, and we really did live out of our suitcases. I think we stayed in maybe eight hotels in twelve days. But I knew we had no choice so even Andee was up every morning on time and ready to face the day. Those of you who know me personally know what an accomplishment that is, and really, I just wrote this part to give myself a little shout out, because, well, it’s my blog, and I can.

I had heard from several people that the food would be bland. Well, fortunately and unfortunately, the food was delicious. Every bite … for twelve days … every soup, every salad, every stew, every side dish, every dessert, every bite of someone else’s dessert. We did a lot of eating, and I don’t regret a single bite. I’m having to deal with that now, but I still don’t regret it.

We went to a show one night with Irish musicians and Irish dancers, and I could tell I smiled the entire time because my face hurt. As we were leaving, the performers came out to thank us, and when I told them how much I loved it, I got all choked up because it was the pure joy moment I had dreamed of, so I thanked them and hustled out of there before I started blubbering. When my friends came out, they said, “What did you say back there that made them cry?” (Ugh, it was really not my intention, but then I was moved that they were moved, and so … well, okay, that could go on forever.)

A few randoms:
Pictures do not capture the beauty we saw. They don’t even come close.
Irish sheep out in the fields are really adorable. As hard as I tried, I could get not one decent picture of them.
Guinness is not my favorite drink, but I did drink a pint; I learned all those years I had poured it, we were doing it wrong; and the Irish tip of asking for a little black currant in the bottom of the glass was a lovely way of taking out “the bitter.”
Driving on the left side of the road may be more than I'll choose to undertake.

As I said, I did not meet one grumpy Irish person. And yes, I know they want to sell things to tourists. I know what working the crowd is, and I have a pretty good bullshit meter, but I felt with everyone I met, that they were genuine. They were funny and kind and happy to welcome us, and they’re working people and parents and grandparents just like we are, and I enjoyed them all very much. A shop owner and I had a fun conversation about spoiling grandchildren, which of course, neither one of us did. Another shop owner laughed with joy when I returned for the package I had left behind. He then put my items in a large, bright green bag so I would not lose them again, and he told my two (older) friends (insert Irish accent), “Ladies, you just can’t take these old people around with you, can you?”

We visited Northern Ireland as well, and that’s where I really learned how much I didn’t know. All I knew was there had been fighting there in the 70s & 80s, and Belfast was mentioned on the news a lot. They all refer to that time as “the troubles,” and they’re very happy there’s peace in their world. More than once we heard how grateful they were that their children were growing up seeing American visitors instead of soldiers with guns. They’re worried about Brexit and how it might affect them. Like nearly every parent I’ve ever known, they just want a better world for their children.

I was very touched by their sincerity. In one of our walking tours, we had to go down a stairway. There was another one nearby, and our guide said, yes, we could use that one too. He joked and said the Catholics could go down one, and the Protestants could go down the other. I asked, “Where do the Jews go?” We laughed, and he said I could go down one, and his Hindu-Irish self would go down the other. As we met at the bottom, he held out his hand to me, and we walked off together. You may call it corny, and okay, it was corny, but I also felt the beauty of the moment, and that’s how I will remember it.

As I said, I will spare you all the details of my trip, but again I want to say this. If you have the chance to do something you really, really want to do, please do it. I want everyone to experience those “Oh my God, I’m in Ireland!” moments.

Now that I’m home, I will say this. I have had three experiences in my life where I had the privilege of visiting another country outside North America. Each one was unique, each was a learning experience, and each made me more appreciative of other cultures. And as this trip ended, I got to experience another one of my true joys that never, ever gets old – touching down on American soil and hearing the words, “Welcome to the United States.” There truly is no place like home, and for better or worse, I never forget how lucky I am that this is mine. 🇺🇸

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Celebrating a Win

I talked with one of my former students this week. If you didn’t know, I was once a teacher. In the late 70s, early 80s, I taught emotionally disturbed adolescents in Springfield, Illinois; and I did it by choice even. Funny story, at least to me … I once ran into a teacher I had known while student teaching, and she asked me where I was working. I told her I was teaching at McFarland Mental Health Center, and she responded, “Oh, you couldn’t get anything else?”

The thing was … that was exactly where I wanted to be. I loved working with teenagers, first of all, and secondly, I got to work with kids who had had a really tough time in life. Yes, it was a challenge. Yes, some of them were a little rough around the edges. And no, I didn’t have an extreme amount of patience (I got that one a lot).

I loved the idea that maybe I could make a difference, that I might help point them in the right direction, and that when they left me, at least they would know that someone cared about them. In a tragic number of cases, I learned I was often one of the first people who did show they cared.

McFarland was a short-term residential facility for the Springfield region. Kids who came to us were enrolled in their regular schools, and I would teach whatever classes they were taking back home. In the best situations, their home teachers and I would work together to keep them on track, but it didn’t always work out that way. A lot of times I had to wing it, trying my best to keep them current.

My goal was always for kids to feel safe in my classroom and to feel good about themselves. My philosophy was if kids felt safe and happy, they could learn. I still believe that, although my first supervisor and I butted heads on that a lot. She wanted me to push academics harder, and although I did emphasize academics (um, yeah, because I was a teacher ... and I might still be annoyed by that), I still believe the kids who were the most successful in my classroom were the ones who, in many cases for the first time, felt good about themselves.

I didn’t have a long time with my kids. Once they were functioning better in their lives (or as would soon become the case, once the insurance companies cut them off), they were discharged, and most of the time they were sent back to the same awful situations that had brought them to us in the first place.

That was the heartbreaking part. There was often little support for them once they left, and we had to hope that at some point, they would be able to find their way. There were some girls I suspected had been sexually abused, and I wish I had been able to get them to open up. I wish I had known more about schizophrenia so I could have been more helpful to kids struggling with that. I wish I hadn’t listened to someone over me who told me not to make waves and instead I’d spoken up for kids I suspected were going back to abusive homes. I had never heard of the term “mandated reporter” back then, so there was little I could do. Dave and I even talked for a bit about becoming licensed as a foster home so we could take in a few kids, but we realized we were babies ourselves and probably couldn’t provide what they needed.

So I learned to let go, and I hoped for the best. I will say there were a few instances where it seemed that the parents had done everything they could. These same parents were also the ones who were active in the treatment program by participating in family therapy. I could see real improvement in their kids’ situations, and I felt that when they left the program, they were all heading in the right direction.

My former student – I’ll call her Lisa – did not have one of those families. Her situation was so bad that she became a ward of the state and was “in the system” as they say. She’d had a horrible upbringing and then lived through some awful foster situations, so the odds were certainly against her.

She was able to track me down recently, and we had a phone conversation that lasted …. I am not kidding …. 6-1/2 hours. We did not stop talking the whole time, and we could have continued if we’d had more time. All these years later, we were no longer teacher and student. We were friends …. the kind of friends who don’t see each other for years and years and then pick up right where they left off.

She is a beautiful human who believes in doing everything she can to make the world a kinder place. She is someone I would be friends with even if I had not already known her. She is smart and funny and talented and happy with herself and her life. I need to say that again. She’s happy!

She is grateful to the people who helped her along the way. I’m honored beyond words to be on that list, but I am far from being the only one. I’m also grateful to the people who were there for her. Cunningham Children’s Home in Urbana, Illinois gets a big shout out as well.

So after giving up hope in most cases because the system failed so many kids, after hearing of some awful outcomes I won’t discuss here, after experiencing so much anger at our broken mental health system which is even worse now than it was then … I learned that Lisa had made it. In spite of everything, so many awful things, she made it.

As I learned back then, I had to try my best to let go of the losses and celebrate the wins. Well, today I can celebrate a big win. Even with all the people Lisa credits for helping her, she had to have a tremendous amount of inner strength to be where she is now. I couldn’t be prouder, and I couldn’t be more grateful. What a joy it is to be able to celebrate her!

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Head Nut

My father-in-law died unexpectedly last week. He had a heart attack, and as the texts were making the rounds with that news, it wasn’t long before the worst news arrived. He was gone.

I was not at all prepared like I had somewhat been when losing my own parents. Not only had I never envisioned Bill, Sr. dying (he had quite the stubborn streak), but I was a bit surprised at how awful I felt.

I had grown pretty fond of him over the years. He had come a very long way from the man I first met in the late ‘70s – a proud graduate of the school of hard knocks and a firm believer in tough love. I won’t dwell on those years except to say as gruff as he could be, he did love a good comeback. Every time I was a smartass in return to something he said, he would laugh and take it in stride, almost like he was hoping for that response.

As you may know, he’s actually my ex father-in-law. Dave and I are divorced, but because we are good friends, the Chestnuts still include me in the family, which makes me tear up sometimes, especially this past week when they listed me as one of the surviving family members. And then when I told them how stunned and honored I was, they reacted like they didn’t know why I would expect otherwise, which of course, made me tear up again.

From a blog post I wrote a few years ago:
“My father-in-law, who likes for people to think he’s a grump (and to his credit, he’s very good at it), told me that even if Dave or I remarried, I would always be a Chestnut. That’s probably the biggest speech I’ve ever heard him make. It may not be a lot by most people’s standards, but it was a major statement from this man of very few words. Then my mother-in-law (never a grump) said pretty much the same thing to me, that no matter what, I’d always be a Chestnut.”

So I was included in just about everything the family did this week to give him a great send-off. I was so touched. As you can imagine, the stories were flying. One of the hottest topics was his home improvement exploits, which were legendary. The man never met a level. He would just eye something and pronounce it ok (and it never was). These were not little projects, mind you. We’re talking stairs, porches, a sun room … every year we all couldn’t wait to see what the new addition would be. It always made for great laughs and still does.

He loved to organize items in his house. Spreadsheets and labels were some of his favorite things. So of course, that had to be acknowledged. Check out the front of his urn:

I can’t look at this without laughing. He would have LOVED this! I don’t know who actually thought of it, but this was excellent.

You can’t see it, but the yellow ribbon in front, in elegant print, says, “Head Nut.” Again, perfect.

Dave gave the eulogy. He was so spot on, telling many funny stories and describing him perfectly. When he sat down, there was a slight pause, and then we all broke into a loud round of applause. The pastor, laughing, said, “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and that’s the first time anyone’s ever applauded!” Yep, welcome to a day with the Chestnuts.

I have to add this little tidbit because I know it would have made him laugh. When we were at the cemetery, under the tent, during the prayers, a huge wind came up, and it sounded like the tent was going to blow over. It scared me, and before I could stop myself, I said, “Jesus!” I didn’t think it was that noticeable, but after the service, several Chestnuts were asking who yelled “Jesus” when the wind blew. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know, so I owned up to it. Yes, it was the Jewish family member … another very proud moment for me. Fortunately, this crowd thought it was funny, and I have a feeling it will be brought up again for a very long time.

Although always a character, Bill mellowed over the years, I think in large part due to his ever-expanding family. What started with the seven original siblings has now grown to include 20 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. When you add in the spouses, cousins, and a few assorted others (like me), that’s quite a group.

Leah posted these beautiful words:
     “It's a special thing to be a member of the loud, quirky Chestnut family, something that I appreciate more and more as I get older. Today we said our final goodbye to Grandpa Nut - the patriarch of our crew.
    There are MANY stories that could be shared, but I keep going back to a quiet moment (which is rare in our family). The last few years at Chestnut Christmas, I'd catch a glimpse of Grandpa sitting contently as he watched family sharing stories and laughter. There's a lot of that going on with 60+ people in one house! I think he enjoyed these gatherings and having everyone in one place. It turns out that I do too.
     There will be a missing piece at our next gathering, but his presence will still be there. I'll miss you, Grandpa.”

I’m so glad we were together for Chestnut Christmas.

My favorite picture
I’m glad Bill and Flo (my mother-in-law, the family matriarch and Bill’s wife of 63 years) recently went on a long road trip that included a lot of casino visits, and they also went on a cruise.

I’m glad he got to see the Cubs win the World Series.

I guess mostly I’m glad I get to be a Chestnut, and that I was a part of the loud, rambunctious group that sent him off in style this week.

I think he would have loved it all.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Kindness Does Matter!

In December, when my dear friend, Nancy, asked us to again honor her beautiful daughter, Ashley, with acts of kindness during her birthday month, I started to think about what I could do this year. Shortly after that, I went to Walmart, and I did my usual – saying “excuse me” or “thank you” while moving around other shoppers, letting people go ahead of me, smiling at others – what I consider to be standard adult behavior, but I saw so many grumpy people, people who didn’t respond and many who didn’t even acknowledge me. I chuckled to myself thinking, well this year would be easy. I practically did a month’s worth of random acts of kindness on one shopping trip. Now don’t start the usual Walmart jokes (which I’ve been guilty of also). It had nothing to do with that. This is a pretty friendly store normally, and the town I live in now, Huntley, is generally friendly also.

I thought it might be a one-time thing, that people were having bad days, but in another store the next day, the same thing happened. People were just not happy, or kind, or at peace … whatever it was. Again, I continued to be kind, doing what I could to make someone’s day a little better. But I also was concerned this might be the new normal. I decided it must be the stress of the holidays, and I let it go at that.

Fast forward to a recent trip to a grocery store in Florida. I thought people had to be as full of joy as I was to be where it was warm and the sun was shining. Again, though, most people were not smiling, did not appear happy, and sometimes weren’t even polite. And this was in Florida!

So now I’m officially concerned. I’m afraid the tone of the country in general has affected us all. I know when things are stressful and people are unhappy or angry, we all tend to pull back from others. I was in a very toxic work situation a few years ago, and as the “divide and conquer” mentality continued to beat us down, we all realized we were so busy protecting ourselves that we lost our wonderful ability to be a great team. We all still cared for each other, for sure, but when the tone of the organization changed, we all changed with it.

I am afraid that this is what’s happened to our country in general. People who promote fear are affecting all of us, and we cannot let that happen. We cannot let that happen! That’s how “divide and conquer” triumphs. I know that now …. whether it’s in the workplace or in our country, turning us against each other will cause all of us to lose. It affects everyone.

Earlier today, I read the article about George H.W. Bush in People Magazine. It told how modest he was, how compassionate and kind he was, how much empathy he had for others. I think I knew all this, but it really hit home because that’s how the world should work. He never let anything affect how he behaved toward others. If you know me at all, you know I almost never agreed with him politically, but I did always like and admire him, in large part for his compassion. We need to remember how that’s done.

Regardless of how others choose to be, I will continue to choose to be kind, to go out of my way to make someone’s day a little brighter, to act in the way Ashley chose to be, even when she was fighting that damn cancer. If she could do it, there’s no excuse for the rest of us not to.