Retail Therapy: Five Days a Stocker and Why I Loved It

This week I worked 12-hour shifts as a stocker in a local store and I loved it.

When my temp agency e-mailed me last week about the opportunity, I only hesitated for a moment. Would I be able to lift and carry 50 pounds? Could I handle the long shifts? But the pay-off and the total hours superseded my doubts. I accepted and was ecstatic!

The store was on the West side of town– about a 22 minute drive.

My shifts started at 10 a.m. Sunday, 8 a.m. Monday and 7 a.m. Tuesday- Thursday.

It was so different from any work experience I’ve had prior– usually I’m a fastidious note-taker when training in a new job. But this was just five days and it was mostly labor rather than mental work. There were no computers, no cash register screens to learn.

So I just asked where I could be helpful and I was paired up with a veteran by the manager. I just followed her directions and kept up her fast pace. We started by putting together rolling containers, which were all together in the back room. They needed to be opened, then fitted with a cardboard piece at the bottom to help pack them. They were wheeled either inside the store to be loaded with products or outside to the pod.

Some roll containers were already packed and needed to be unloaded onto the long shelves spanning the aisles, called gondolas. But first, we had to pack up the existing products to move them and make room for the re-set.

It’s very active work– I was pushing the empty roll containers, reaching above and using my shoulders. Or I was pulling them backwards, since that was easiest for me if it was loaded. Then there is squatting to pick up boxes, using step-ladders to reach the shelves if needed. Twisting and moving. Carrying the totes and boxes and products.

I was paired with Rebecca.  She was about my height with red hair she wore in a long ponytail with two hair ties. She was in her 60’s as she told me later. She was mostly serious but I also patient and encouraging. I respected her hustle. We worked as a team for most of the assignment.

Rebecca knew exactly where different categories of products were in the store and how much to put in the gray plastic boxes called totes. In the past I would have asked if we could pack more inside them but I just accepted her decision. When she asked for more totes, I got them. They closed with two flaps that had a jigsaw interlocking system. When were out of totes we moved on to assembling cardboard boxes with tape and labeling them. I liked the simplicity.

We also were cleaning the metal shelving on the gondolas and removing the shelves. Sweeping the floors and collecting all the debris and dust. Most of them wore soft gloves to protect their hands and give them a better grip. Everyone wore casual t-shirts and jeans, with some type of sneaker. Some wore masks. I started out wearing mine but quickly discovered it was too hot and put mine away. I wore it if I was cleaning with fumes or sweeping with a lot of dust, however.

Some shelf units were kept intact and put onto the roll containers, so that we could load up products in the same order and transfer to the new displays, as dictated by the plan-o-grams, visual maps of exactly where every product should be placed as well as how it the shelving or display should be assembled.

The shifts dragged a bit at first, but our manager was good about giving us breaks on time. They would say exactly what time to be back, which I appreciated. Each day we had a full hour and two fifteen minute breaks. I started off bringing a Bento box packed, and it sufficed the first day. But the rest of the week I craved more protein, and ended up getting fast food from the nearby establishments.

I wasn’t sure how that would fare with my Diabetes, but surprisingly I didn’t spike. I even had iced coffee, some soda, and a Snickers bar– which I have avoided since December when I was diagnosed. I’ve followed the rules and majorly overhauled my eating habits. My doctor was impressed at my first A1C visit in March. It seems that I’m healthy enough and obedient enough that my Diabetes has mostly reversed. I will make a second A1C appointment this month and he said if the result was similar again to the 5.4 I got the first time, we can cut my meds in half!

There was a core traveling team who only do re-sets– each week they are in a different state. They work two weeks on, one week off. They were always moving- each person seemed to have a preferred task that they had mastered. They functioned together well and were welcoming and patient in showing me how to assist them. They were affectionate and clearly very close– like a family. I heard them saying “Mom” often– and I think they meant Rebecca. She was very maternal and encouraging.

On my last day, I over-slept and woke up in a panic. My alarm hadn’t gone off. I called my temp agency and she confirmed I could still go in. When I arrived no one gave me any grief, even the manager and the man from corporate. They just greeted me as normal and I got to work. I thought for sure I’d be let go. But maybe they understood what a hard transition it is to suddenly work 12 hour days. Especially since due to COVID-19 I have not been working at my store job for about a month. I have been doing my best to write news articles, but that was only income. I missed leaving the apartment every day. I missed the self-esteem that comes with putting in a hard day’s work.

I’m fascinated to find that people have so many negative stereotypes about retail workers, namely that they are un-skilled, low-class people. But I was treated with more respect and trained more thoroughly in this job than any other I have experienced. It’s equal parts labor and mental work– there are many steps to completing a successful re-set.

Once the gondolas are in place and the shelving is assembled again, the plastic strips have to be taken off, then new ones applied. Each strip has has a track where a paper strip is inserted, spaced the perfect distance for the incoming products and where they will fit on the shelf. The displays have to be put together with peg boards, with metal hangers strategically placed in the right peg hole so everything is spaced to fit. Then the products need to be transferred. Pushers are installed on some displays, for things like canned beverages, shaving cream, cologne, deodorant, etc.

On my last day I got to help install the pushers. By then I was picking things up quicker, working faster and with more energy. It was satisfying to snap them into place on the plastic tracks. As we worked side by side, I got to know my co-workers. They were relaxed, yet focused.

My biggest take-away from this retail experience is the value of team work. It felt incredible to be collaborating with others on almost every task. There were so many things on our agenda, there was no other way to achieve them but in sync.

Also, the entire time I was working, I was never worried about COVID-19. The job was a respite of normality where people were just hustling and I was too busy to obsess over what the news might be or my own risk being around these people. I felt safe and got through the week without any symptoms. Three days later, I’m still healthy.

People think all retail workers do is punch a cash register or fold clothes. But there is so much unseen work that is behind all that you take for granted when you enter any store.

Having done that work myself, I am humbled. I will never again idly take a item for my cart and then leave it somewhere random if I change my mind. I’ll consider with more thought if I really can afford or need it first. And if I notice I need to wait on that purchase, I will turn around and put it back myself.

Matching up products with the stickers is more difficult than you’d imagine. The names on the stickers don’t always correspond with the brand label. If that doesn’t work, then you look at numbers. Each allotted product on a shelf specifies how many spots on the shelf that product should occupy, and how many of those items are in the package. Everything needs to match.

I got super frustrated when doing one of my last tasks– unloading the paper plates from a packed roll container and then several boxes. There were so many small variations in the packaging and the types of plates.  Luckily I had someone helping me– it was like a game of memory once you got a few figured out. The chief thing I needed help with was the top shelf and placing the overstock even above that. We helped each other but didn’t chat. It was a companionable, productive silence.

And I’ll never forget the girl who tried to dissuade me– “Paper plates are confusing,” she warned me. “You should do something else.” She’s at least 15 years younger than me– a bit uncouth, dressed sloppy and with a loud a mouth. She snapped at me another time when I asked her if I could help her. “Ask a manager, ask someone else,” she retorted.

I knew better than to trust her. And honestly, paper plates are very light compared to a lot of other products that would be heavy to lift. How did I know she didn’t want that job for herself? I wasn’t going to let her convince me I couldn’t handle this.

“I’ll figure it out,” I said, and proceeded.

And I did. We got everything in it’s place and then moved on to toilet paper.

It was a good way to end the shift. I stood up for myself and proved her wrong.

I’m proud of myself for embracing this assignment. I’ll happily accept another like it if I’m so blessed! I checked in with the manager and he said I’m definitely rehirable!

So I learned the job, adjusted to the hours, and completed the work to satisfaction.

I learned that I can do more than I expected. I just need to be willing.

 

 

 

 

 

Tiger King by Text

My younger sister Catt and I watched “Tiger King” tonight from Kansas and Illinois!

I wanted to try Netflix Party but she doesn’t have it anymore– so we compromised. She has a fire stick, which gives her access to anything on Netflix. We made plans to watch “Tiger King” at 8 p.m. together. We made this plan earlier in the week and it was great having that to look forward to. We only watched the first episode, and it was just as epic as everyone’s been saying!

We decided to watch it “together” by texting and sending short Marco Polos in real time.

The funny thing is, we could do this any day. I’ve been in Kansas now 1.5 years– and I really miss her. We’ve been inseparable since high school– 1997- when we met at the bus stop. I was a junior, she was a freshman. For some ridiculous reason after school we would often just hang out on the sidewalk for two hours talking when we could have easily just gone to one another’s homes instead! We have the same stupid sense of humor and both have dark features, so people often mistake us for sisters.

I was SO excited about Netflix Party when I heard about it, she was the first person I thought of and I told her about it! Primarily because the thing we usually did together was go to movies. We’re both pretty chatty and would comment and giggle the whole time whilst snacking. So now this is a way to spend time with her and sort of recapture that mutual past time.

Joe Exotic, his peroxide mullet, the Tiger King underwear line, his abiding HATRED of Carole Baskin, deep affection for guns, and weird symbiosis with big cats is COMPELLING indeed!! Nothing about this disappoints. Every single person interviewed is odd and fascinating.

I CANNOT BELIEVE HE IS A COUNTRY MUSIC ARTIST. I MUST WATCH HIS MUSIC VIDEOS.

Especially “I Saw a Tiger.”

We will resume next Friday night and maybe get in two episodes!

But I love this new chapter in our friendship.

When I moved we began Poloing a lot– several times a day. When she had her son, Nico, it was hard because prior we had these glorious rambling phone conversations. But every new mom has a lot of demands on her time and thus we transitioned to texting unless we were in person, and we still got together often! It helped that we lived just down the street from each other after I moved back to Joliet in 2006. She in a home with her husband and I in my apartment.

I love how this quarantine is forcing to crave more connection. I hope we keep up this new tradition long after this virus crisis is over!

Rosary by Zoom Meeting: Bible Study Squad!

Yesterday my Tuesday night small group chicas and I “got together” courtesy of Zoom. Formally we gather for a bible study but this week we decided to just pray a Rosary and chat a bit, amidst all this COVID-19 insanity.

It was enormously calming for me. Usually we have six-seven members but it was just four of us last night. I’d never used Zoom before, so I enjoyed learning to use this new social media technology. A teacher friend of ours, Erica, took action and set this up since she is used to attending these meetings for work.

It was a bit of a twist because normally, I’m the one who has trouble hearing others; I have a severe hearing loss and wear hearing-aids in both ears. But they’re not magic.

For some reason, the mic in my pc must not have been functioning fully, and they all could barely hear me. I was annoyed to be the only person in the group who couldn’t figure this out, but they didn’t get annoyed with me. They were all good-natured and helpful and we even got some laughs out of it. There’s also a chat function and Erica pointed that out. If I wanted to say something, I would type it out! You even have options to address the whole group, or individual chats.

We all just talked about how we’re feeling and what’s happening with our jobs.

Being able to see video of my friends in their homes was so uplifting.

And then we got to business and prayed the Rosary with the Luminous Mysteries– because wanted to focus on the positive in this heavy time, especially considering the deep hit the economy is taking with so many businesses closing or reducing hours and services.

It was very well organized, and Jeanna gave us all a screen shot of the Rosary guide we should all follow, since there are different prayers used and small variances. There’s more than one way to pray a Rosary.

We all started praying together and I could hear them all so clearly. I felt emotional and almost cried as we began. Closing my eyes, it felt like we were all in the room together.

It was exactly what I needed.

I had laughed when I saw the screen shot Erica sent us of the Zoom invitation we would all be getting and the link we’d need to click in to join.

It was labeled, “Bible Study Squad.”

I laughed and felt so lucky! I have some faithful, innovative, hilarious girlfriends.

From Detachment to Acceptance: A Journey into the Need for Self-Quarantine

Note: I wrote this March 19. National events since then have not been included.

By Amee Bohrer

At 5:57 a.m. 14 of us were waiting outside my neighborhood grocery store to open March 19. Anxiety about not finding any ground beef to accompany the Hamburger Helper I bought whilst panic shopping March 18 left me unable to sleep. I had finally began to feel afraid myself of what COVID-19 means for my future. For the past week I had been continually grocery shopping in spurts, but now I wanted to round up the few practical essentials I still needed– dish wash soap, dryer sheets– and stay at home.
As the store opened at 6 am., the carts were all aligned to the left. It was beautiful and quiet.
I swiped my cart handle with the sanitary wipes provided by the store.
We all dashed forward with our carts resolutely, clearly having an agenda of which items to grab first.
In the deli section, a petite woman loaded up half her cart with meat only, wearing latex gloves. I struggled to determine how much meat I truly needed and how much I could spend to have enough left for the other products on my list.
“You need help?” an employee asked me. But only I could answer that question, after several minutes.
Hot dogs were on sale two for $5, but there were no buns when I made it to the bread section next. So I put them back and grudgingly spent more than I had wanted.
Just the week prior, I had been unbothered. Then the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the dying of the Chicago River green was canceled and I knew things were getting worse. As a longtime former Illinois resident I know what a strong tradition that is and if that’s changing, it’s certainly unlucky.
Yet March 14 I had gone to a party with friends for “Fake Patty’s Day,” and it was all still normal. Sedgwick County had banned gatherings of 250 or more, but our group is not that big. We had a “Quarantine Playlist” going and wore as much obnoxious green as possible. We hugged and took pictures. On March 15 I attended Mass and was dismayed to see only a smattering of the faithful. There was no holy water, no altar boys helping the priest, no ushers. No Sign of Peace. Then all Masses are canceled in Diocese of Wichita indefinitely.
Next, Governor Laura Kelly mandated the school year end for all schools k-12 March 17. Classes will continue, but teachers will now teach remotely to avoid exposing students, parents and staff. Whoa.
Subsequently restaurants closed nationwide or reduced to drive-thru and curbside only. Major artists canceled entire concert tours.
People are wearing masks vigilantly. Customers at my work came in searching for thermometers and hand sanitizer.
President Trump declared a state of national emergency at a White House press conference on March 16, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or less.
Now I’m glad I attended those events last week because there’s no ignoring that for now, this *is our new “normal.” We are now making plans to have online joint Netflix Party movie sessions.
I can’t hug my father, who I normally see several times a week. Luckily, we talk on the phone anyway.
I greet my social circle daily via status update, everyone becoming a reporter on social media of the breaking news and how it’s disrupting the careers and routines they’ve cherished. Our psyches are becoming exposed as we witness which of our family and friends are coping and which are in rampant denial. Some stay home, some insist on traveling.
Since I work retail, there is no working remotely. But I’m just grateful to still have a job.
My initial amused detachment has eroded. I have come to acceptance.
As much as I intensely dislike having to ignore my impulses to go into the community or making plans with my family and friends, I know that self-quarantine when not working is the right thing to do.
At least give it a try. Please, don’t ignore it, even if you’re in prime health and youth.
I feel grateful to live in Kansas, where the government is working pro-actively to protect us.
When the virus has been contained and people are recovering sufficiently, we will become ecstatic for the most mundane aspects of human interaction. We will embrace unabashedly, go to the movies, see our favorite bands play again! Crowds will blossom all over the country at house parties and public places we considered landmarks of our daily lives prior to this pandemic.
Until then, I’ll be making phone calls and cooking meals at home.

A Boy Named Maverick

I’ve never been the “neighborly” type. I usually am a private woman when it comes to my dwellings, and I like to keep to myself. I’m not the type to invite my neighbors over for dinner, and I don’t make small talk. Rarely, I might wave. But not usually. I’m pretty much wholly uninterested in knowing who lives around me.

I always thought this meant I was kind of an a-hole neighbor. Or just awkward.

But right now I’m house sitting for my cousins and they live in a large home in a safe, upper-middle class neighborhood. Officially I’m staying there to take care of their dog and cat, to make sure they stay on a schedule with their feedings, medicine, and bathroom needs. To take Jackie, the dog, on daily walks. She’s an elderly Springer Spaniel. To cuddle Pepper, the cat, so she doesn’t feel lonely. I’ve been there since Monday, so I’m just starting to feel comfortable. I’ve got another week.

Today the weather was just undeniably pleasant. After I returned home from Mass and eating lunch after with friends, I let Jackie out to poddy and spied two of their neighbors outside in their driveways. One has a Labradoodle. The other was a father with three kids playing — he was keeping watch. The middle child, a boy, waved at me. I  brought Jackie over to him, since they are familiar with the dog obviously.

It was so much easier! The dog broke the ice.

And I discovered I’m not the a-hole I thought I was. It’s an entirely different atmosphere when you’re in a cul-de-sac, and everyone lives in a home. First of all, you know at the least these people are home-owners and have achieved basic stability.  You feel a little safer. My apartment complex is in a good, safe area also–  but it’s people just passing on the sidewalk to get where they’re going. They’re walking their dogs, going to the laundromat, or hurrying to and fro their vehicles. You’d have to go out of your way to start a conversation. Also, some people are still sketchy. You don’t necessarily want to know everyone who passes by.

Today, I introduced myself to the father and the man with the Labradoodle. I talked with the kids, who all came up and introduced themselves to me. I explained who I am and that I’m related to the owners of the home I’m watching. It was so natural to chat. There was space. There was nice weather. There were two dogs, who loved playing together!

The big sister, whose nickname is “Juju,” was riding in her garage on a hover board. I was impressed and asked her about it. Her middle brother, whose name I am spacing on, was impressed that I knew what a hover board is! He was the one who recognized Jackie and initially waved to me, starting the conversation. Most times I probably would have waved back and gone inside without a word.

But having a dog, I didn’t have to worry about what to say.

And then I saw a one-year-old, the youngest, and asked the father his name: Maverick.

I laughed.

“You and your wife big “Top Gun” fans?” He nodded and laughed too. “Or is it the Mel Gibson movie?”

“That is one lucky kid!” I said. And already, this kid is cool. He’s wearing a blue helmet, striding around with his head tipped back, chugging a small can of Dr. Pepper. He’s got some snot happening, and is utterly unconcerned.

The whole family was just charming. The man next door with the Labradoodle, too.

Maybe this week, I’ll practice this whole “neighborly” thing. Say hi and wave when I see them. Stop and chat if I’m not in a rush. It would be nice to be a little more familiar when I come over for family events in the future.

I can imagine myself living this life. Owning a home. Living in a neighborhood like this. Actually interacting with and maybe even befriending my neighbors.

I’m trying on the suburban life. And I’m liking it.

Lenten Sacrifice 2020: Dating

The last time I gave up dating for Lent was in 2011; the impetus for this blog.

Now I’ve been doing online dating for about 2.5 months. It takes a lot of energy!

I’ve been on some good dates. And some stinkers!

Most recently, I went out with a gentleman who was very sweet and respectful. We had cappuccinos and then took a good long walk. We had a lingering hug in the parking lot. Then he sprang forward and gave me the cutest little kiss on the lips! Like, “Hey, let’s get this over with!” I was surprised and laughed– it was innocent. I appreciated that. I felt like I was with a friend who unconditionally accepted me. I told him more than I normally would reveal on a first date. He was very calm and a great listener. Stylish.

But we had a giant gap in cultures. He was raised in a family of over 15 children! And his father was a polygamist with two wives. Both families lived together in one house– different floors. He is on a student visa, getting a Ph.D. But his home country is not one that is kind to women– in fact, it’s known for being oppressive. We also have vastly different religions, although his deep faith was attractive. I enjoyed getting to know him but knew the cultural divide was just too severe– I’m not comfortable with those traditions. I have no desire to be in a possible future international relationship. I don’t even want to date someone who lives outside Wichita! And I’d prefer if they are on the East side, close to me. But I’m always looking to the Big Picture and he also admitted he’s not looking for something serious right now, while he’s only living here for to finish his degree. He definitely wants to move back home.

It was wonderful to be with someone who paid up-front without any pause. Who told me I was “more beautiful than the picture.” Who texted me roses, was always encouraging and had a gentle personality. It reminded me of what a date SHOULD be– easy. Fun, not awkward! I felt very safe with him.

It was Fat Tuesday when I went out to a bar with some Catholic friends. I mentioned this casually, and one of my besties jumped on me about it– agreeing this was a great idea. “I’m going to hold you accountable!” she said with a smile. Until then it was just a whim, but suddenly, I was committed. I knew she’d be following up with me the next day. Later on, I told her sister and immediately started laughing because she sprang into action as well: “Delete the app right now!” she said, taking my phone. There was a tall woman next to me I’d never met prior, but suddenly she, too, was invested in helping me do this. For some reason we couldn’t get it done, but they did open the app and convince me to temporarily disable my account until Lent is over. The three of us spent several minutes on this mission, laughing. About 15 minutes later, I finally was able to DELETE the app!

I do feel relieved. No more notification e-mails. No more swiping or messaging.

Now is a good time to turn my face to our Lord. To free up some extra time. Maybe something I should add is registering officially with the parish I’ve been attending. I just finished a group book study there held over several weeks. Another bestie of mine here just began a women’s small group Bible study at her home, on Tuesday nights. I have gotten lazy with my prayers. Maybe I should be making a concerted effort to pray each day. Making sure I don’t miss Sunday Mass during Lent. Attending Stations of the Cross,which is one of my favorite parts of Lent.

Time to re-direct that energy. I’m ready, God! Show me where you need me. Direct me to help fulfill your plans. Inspire my willing heart.

With love,

Your humble daughter

Forgiveness and Pasta

As some of you may remember, I’ve been actively fighting Type II Diabetes now since December 5. So, I’ve got three months of practice. Usually I make pretty smart choices and my blood sugar readings are steady and controlled.

But this week at ALDI I spied something different and had an impulse to try it: egg noodles. I wanted them because of the shape: rotini, my favorite. By my logic, it was fine since eggs are allowed and don’t spike me. I cooked a small portion at home this weekend. Just to be safe, I tested two hours later: my sugar had soared to 194!!

I was furious with myself and very disappointed. Surely I’m past rookie mistakes like this?! I posted in my Type II Diabetes support group on facebook– venting and chastising myself.

And the support of our community was awesome. “You’re not dumb by far,” they told me. “You tested out a theory and theory proved to be flawed.” They told me examples of themselves making the same mistakes.

Of course I had a few people tell me that I “need” to count carbs or try to mansplain to me how to eat as a Diabetic. But I’m not new and have been managing this with success. My daily FBS (fasting blood sugar) morning readings are generally in the ’80s, which is excellent.

So what did I do with the leftovers? Throw the uncooked pasta and the left-overs as well in the trash. No chance of relapse there.

Though I do admit, when I ate them, I felt too full. I’m used to eating only pasta made of vegetable proteins now. And I like it.

I’ve been careful to keep a positive relationship with food since diagnosed– I don’t want to end up obsessed with tracking calories or carbs. When I met with my dietitian about a month after diagnosis, she told me about carb counting as per ADA guidelines, of course. But when I told her I didn’t want to be that strict and jeopardize my relationship with food, she respected that boundary. She said as long as I’m diligent about following other basic rules, I would be successful. I also had a month’s worth of a daily food journal to show her and my daily FBS was well-controlled– without counting carbs.

To my understanding, if you’re a Type I Diabetic, you have to be much more fastidious about your meal planning and THAT is when you need to monitor carbs because it directly impacts your insulin levels. But if you’re Type II it’s not as a severe and you can be safe and healthy by monitoring your food intake alone.

I’m learning more all the time.

From now on, I’ll leave egg noodles behind!

 

 

Online Dating Adventures: Must Love God and maybe Two-Stepping!

I’ve been on two dates this week.  Two different men. I’m looking for long-term compatibility, so I want to be sure before I commit to someone in a relationship.

I learned so much from both.

Tuesday I went ice skating as a first date. But honestly, I left after 20 minutes. New record! That’s all the details I will give– suffice to say I felt no attraction or compatibility.

Wednesday I went on a second date for dinner. And although on paper we were a 95 percent match, it was clear to me we had nothing to sustain a relationship. He was sweet, cute, stylish. Well- established with both a home and an SUV. A great career. He seemed to be a wonderful father. But we had honestly spent most of our first date nearly arguing– we had so little in common. I had tried to end the date then but he asked me that we both give each other “the benefit of the doubt”– especially about one key issue: religion. He suggested we exchange phone numbers. Something in me softened. I relented. I wanted to know him. We texted the next few days, and he sent me cute and funny GIFS. He was available and eager to see me. All wonderful things.

On his profile he had listed himself as “other religion”– but identified himself as Atheist in person on the first date. I reasoned that he might be respectful and somehow there was a middle ground. Also, we are both passionate Democrats and I wanted to believe somehow that might supersede the chasm between us theologically. How wonderful would it be to share THAT with someone in this overwhelmingly RED state of Kansas?! But I need to learn to just draw a hard line with religion. Sometimes I rationalize it because I find someone charming and a relationship seems like such a comforting idea. I begin to question choosing to be single because I want a Catholic husband. Do I really need it? But the bigger problem is, I could never live with a man who fundamentally disrespects such a vital aspect of my identity. I’ve already endured the condescending remarks. I want someone to be WITH me at Mass. Sitting next to me, kneeling and receiving Holy Communion. I could MAYBE attempt an inter-faith relationship, if they were willing to go with me. Or at least with someone who BELIEVES or is open to converting. But deep in my heart, I want another Catholic. Because it’s not just about sharing that aspect of our lives, but that I want a partner who will help me grow in MY faith. Who has prayed for a wife, who has prayed to one day meet me– just as I have prayed for him.

And there was more. He promised he would never even try two-stepping or line dancing. He said “If dancing is important to you, I will disappoint you.” He absolutely loathed everything about country and Western culture. The fashion, the music. He complained that cowboys only reinforced “toxic masculinity” and “Alpha males.” He said he could do a little slow dancing, but that’s it. I was shocked to find THAT was important to me! In the year since I’ve moved back to Kansas, I’ve been quite the slow learner on the dance floor– but I still get out there and have fun with my friends. I try, and they are good sports and lead me and show me the steps and just laugh and appreciate that I try at all. It’s something our group of friends does on the regular. I imagined giving that up to spend time with him. I imagined him going out with us, but not dancing with me– and that he would just be bored anyway. I’ve been in a relationship before with a non-dancer. I was miserable. I’m the type of woman who dances till I’m out of breath at weddings.

Dancing as a requirement may seem trivial. But it’s a deeper issue. I want someone with enough confidence to go out there and make a fool of himself to amuse his friends. Who just wants to have fun and doesn’t care if he’s “good” at it or not. Who find dancing romantic and would think nothing of grabbing me and pulling me close to make me laugh and show his affection toward me. Who sees that dancing is a wonderful way to connect with people and spend time together– you get to know people better out there! People change on the dance floor. They lose their inhibitions. They flirt. They fall down. We help each other back up. We shout out lyrics. We dance badly– and laugh about it together. We take lots of selfies and group pictures! Dancing together is a casual and instant way to bond with someone. It makes memories that you keep forever. Why else would this activity be the penultimate event of nearly every wedding?? Because it’s awesome. That’s why.

I thought because I was so “bad” at line dancing and two-stepping, that I didn’t care about it much. But now I resolve to dance more, dance with more partners, so that I can learn and become more confident myself. Luckily the male friends in our posse are all pretty strong leaders and happy to be patient with rhythm-challenged dancers like me. It’s very difficult for me to pick up choreographed steps– I need A LOT of repetition! I prefer to just let go and improvise. But I ADORE country music, country life, and I even have a pink cowgirl hat. That’s a big part of why I moved to Kansas at all. My family are farmers, hello!! I’m not just a cradle Catholic anymore. I’m now a legit Kansas woman who appreciates that, as Kip Moore sings, “There’s Something ‘Bout a Truck.”

He hated selfies and taking pictures.  He would never karaoke. He felt disdain for social media– “It’s not real,” he said. Sure, it’s kind of dumb. But it’s also FUN. Why such a sourpuss? I like sharing my life and taking pictures of my friends and yes, myself! It organizes my social network. I did delete my facebook account for two months in 2012. But I went back after two months— because I realized I had nothing to prove and it was okay if I enjoyed it.

I just felt like someone let the air out of my balloon. So I told him it won’t work tonight. He was a bit arrogant, but wished me well. I did, too. And now I feel better.

I’m in no rush. I’m nearly 40.

I’m DONE trying to force a relationship. The good ones I’ve enjoyed have happened easily. The chemistry is as strong as the friendship. We fall together. We evolve.

And it will happen again when the time is right. Until then, I’ll go on dates sometimes. But it’s not a major priority.

I’m living my life. I’m honestly happy for the most part. I’m excited about 2020!

Test the Rainbow: Managing Type 2 Diabetes and Becoming Healthy at 39

My Godmother calls me Sugar. On December 5, I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes.

And for the past month, I’ve been learning some hard lessons. I’m unsure of how long I was actively Diabetic until then– but it’s probably been at least a year or two. The symptoms are so mild they wouldn’t alert you unless you know to look specifically. I never feared this happening to me– despite that my Dad has it and so did all of his four brothers. Sure, I’d gained some weight– but it was nothing extreme. It was gradual and I’m 39– it’s normal.

Because I have a transplanted liver, I need routine lab tests every three months to check on their basic functions and my levels for the anti-rejection meds I need to survive. It was by chance on this unrelated test that my liver team called me and told me to head directly to the ER– my sugar was 655!! Terrified, I quickly packed a bag and obeyed. Luckily a couple hours later it was down to 349 and then 240. Thankfully I didn’t need to be admitted or put on insulin. I was NOT Type I, the more severe form. The ER doctor put me on a high dose of Metformin and set me up with a new Primary Care Physician (PCP) who would help manage my Diabetes– the appointment was in 4.5 days. I was discharged. It was very odd because he was really punitive with me when he explained my situation and threatened to put me on insulin “If you don’t behave!” No one talked to me about what to eat or avoid. No one even gave me a script for a test kit and strips or showed me how to assemble and work them. Not even a paper handout.

The next morning I woke up with a weird pain in my abdomen and a tingling sensation in my fingers– which can be a sign of a Diabetic crisis. I went straight back to the ER.  I was fine, my sugar was down to 136 already! This time I did get the needed prescriptions and a few pages of handouts and a doctor took time to answer my questions and reassure me a bit.

I realized that truly, I was on my own. It felt so unfair and overwhelming– but I took it in stride. I didn’t even cry! I just accepted this as my new reality and vowed to galvanize myself toward being as faithful and strict as I could. I had already given up alcohol six years ago– I knew how to be disciplined and unwavering. I also read that Type II is reversible and that was my goal. Now, I accept that may not be possible– this may be permanent.  But oddly, there a lot of positives about it! I had been feeling like absolute trash for months– subsisting on fast food, pop, grilled cheeses and pb &j, and mostly dairy. Not balanced. Eating as much as I wanted, sometimes even past feeling full. There was no structure to my eating, no limits to what I allowed myself to consume every day. I simply indulged.

Probably the smartest pro-active thing I did to take control was join a Diabetes II support group on social media. I post mostly every day and I’ve been able to ask questions and get answers from peers who are in my exact same health situation. We also post our FBS levels with no judgement and talk about food products and meals that spike our sugars and how to eat healthier and smarter.

Now, good ol’ FEAR motivates me. I know how serious (and expensive!) Type I becomes. I have no intention of ever letting my Diabetes get to a level where I rely on insulin or have problems with my eyesight, feet, or circulation. I’ve been losing weight steadily and THAT is motivating!! Prior, there were so many choices I had no idea how to choose responsibly. Now I’ve seen a certified Dietitian and she talked to me about counting carbs, of course. But I told her that’s not for me and I want to continue on what I’m doing and she was supportive. She said my weight loss and FBS levels are on track and that I’m already doing everything right. That was a terrific validation. I had to wait nearly a month to see her, so I had to get it figured out on my own and I met that challenge.

Today, I feel so much better! I prepare the majority of my own meals and even cook for others a bit now. My recipes are simple but they are working. I stick to water, unsweetened ice tea or smoothies. A tiny bit of milk sometimes. It’s almost a relief just knowing there are certain foods and drinks I must avoid for my health. I’m on a healthy eating streak and have not once slipped and had any pop or fast food since December 4th. I’m not going to jeopardize that progress!! I’ve read everything I could find, including books from the library educating me about my illness and Diabetes cookbooks. I even bought one for myself for Christmas, “The Diabetes Cookbook,” published by the American Diabetes Association.

I’ve set up my testing supplies right next to my medications, on top of my microwave. My lancets (needles) come in a bright, multi-colored variety pack of 100. A rainbow! Looking at it makes me happy. I got smart for once with design and put them in a miniature Mason jar I’d gotten on Thanksgiving from a take-home dessert in a jar. It looks cheerful and pretty and you’d never guess what it is! Behind that is another, slightly bigger, glass jar– which holds my testing strips, test machine and the lancet holder.

I get out of bed faster now because I need to test my Fasting Blood Sugar (FBS) and am excited to do it! My numbers are always good– on the low end and technically not even in the Diabetic range consistently. Knowing I have that validation of my commitment and the progress I’ve made with eating healthy for the first time in my life makes me eager to get up and go get it done! Then I write that number in my food journal and eat breakfast, every day. My Dad has also told me repeatedly how proud he is of how well I’m managing and keeping my FBS low and consistent.

There is so much to learn! That’s why I’m sharing my story. Maybe I can help someone be less scared, or more pro-active–  to prevent themselves from moving beyond Pre-Diabetes into an official diagnosis. There are a lot of feelings to manage surrounding this as well, and I want an outlet.

I take a positive attitude about it as well and when I tell people, I just say that I’ve started eating healthier. I don’t necessarily mention the diagnosis at all– because I don’t want their sympathy. I’m genuinely happy for all the changes I’ve made and I’m committed. I truly DO feel better. I’m “outing” myself about it now only because I feel in control and comfortable. Incredible how much only one month can have transformed my life! Every day I’m learning lessons not just about nutrition, but myself.

Christmas in Kansas 2019…. Finally, Home

November 2018, I moved from Illinois to my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. So this is my second actual Christmas here as a Kansas resident— but my first as a Wichitan!

And the first where I truly feel settled in my life here, and have my own place. Prior, I stayed with my parents at my cousin Jerry’s home in Derby. We all did for about six weeks, since they were looking for a home and then waiting for it to close. We were all living out of just a few clothes and basic possessions we’d brought for immediate use while we waited to move into their home. After they moved out and into their home, I stayed with them for awhile and then got my own apartment June 30.

So this is my first Christmas in my own home…. and it definitely feels special.

This year my gift to them was inviting them over for Christmas Day dinner. I’ve been a late bloomer when domesticity is concerned– learning slowly over the years. I’ve never been one to host parties or even just have friends over often. Just a few, my A-List. Part of it was that my apartments were just not that impressive. It was usually a mess.

I had A LOT of belongings I needed to sort through– and I’m still working on it. The move was great in forcing all three of us to really evaluate what has true meaning to us and what we don’t need or could replace upon moving. All of my major decisions have been made but I still need to go through some papers and pictures. I do it a little at a time, it can get overwhelming, all those memories and decisions on what to throw out. I’ve made it easier by dividing family pictures and giving them to my cousins, aunts, and etc. And they’ve all been amused and grateful.

Now I finally have enough sorted that I have the space I needed and wanted to feel comfortable inviting company over. It’s not all cluttered with boxes. I have my furniture set up for the optimal way in my little place. I still need to hang up some pictures, but I will get to that next.

I was nervous about having over Diane, my step-mother. She has an impeccable home, and is naturally very organized and an admitted “neatnik”–  her standards are high! My Dad has been dropping by because I knew he wouldn’t judge me in the process. But I wanted her to approve so much. I wanted to wait until I considered it ready. Finally, it is.

I cannot express how comforting it was to finally welcome them as guests, in my little home. Knowing everything was organized, uncluttered, wiped down and freshly cleaned.  I had a simple Christmas Eve dinner menu planned: omelettes, sweet potato home fries, and fruit with yogurt for dessert. I brought out my beautiful red “Christmas” goblets for them and they enjoyed those, too. We ate on my regular plates because I only have one set that I use every day. I’m keeping things simple and slowly upgrading my home and items over time.

I was confident.

And they were happy.

They enjoyed my little tour and relaxed as I cooked dinner. I had the sweet potatoes in the oven and cooked our omelettes as they waited– it only took about 20 minutes. All the times Diane has served us dinners. All the times my Dad took us both to dinner, and the times he and I eat together and still do.

Diane is one of those people who’s always moving around. Even in their home, there are only two stools at the kitchen island table. She doesn’t sit down and eat with us, she stands on the other side. She’s always had this anxious energy. She asked if I wanted her to help dry dishes tonight after dinner, and I told her to relax. And she actually stayed seated– which she never does. When we go to other people’s homes for parties and as guests for meals, she’s always the first one up to clean the dishes.

It felt important to me that she was relaxed enough to just allow me to do this for them. Acts of service is definitely a love language for them both. Tonight, I got to speak it. And they spoke mine– Words of Affirmation.

And it was really beautiful. Even though the sweet potatoes were a little dry because I didn’t use enough olive oil, both cleaned their plates and were happy to have them! I even forgot to put on the cinnamon– the best part. Next time, I’ll know! My Dad will eat about anything (We jokingly say, “Give it to Mikey!” if one of us can’t finish our food.) But Diane is a little pickier with food and generally doesn’t have much appetite. She did tonight, however.

“You’re a good cook,” she said. My Dad’s smile confirmed it.

The three of us had a wonderful, calm, Christmas Day dinner. We took pictures. Diane wore a blue “Meowy Christmas” sweater– and brought me a bag of sugar-free chocolates! It also means a lot to me because she and I have butted heads a lot, especially since moving. Tonight was my olive branch.

Theirs was accepting my invitation and giving me a beautiful Christmas card.

I’m realizing that the relationship I always wanted with Diane is happening– because I’m learning to relax about *myself. At times I was so insecure, I was afraid to be closer to her because I assumed she would judge me harshly– which she has in the past. But we’ve turned a corner. We’re both more accepting of each other. There’s grace there.  She’s 78 and beautiful, everyone comments on it. She has wonderful style and a fun personality.

And I’m learning to be like her, in the right ways.

It’s manifested in the way that I unplug the coffee maker when not using it. Doing the dishes as I use them, carefully washing them. Wiping down my counters with cleaner and the satisfaction I have in the way it smells when it’s freshly clean. The pride I now take in cultivating and keeping up my own home, just as she has showed me all along.

Before they left, we all crammed in for a selfie, and it was cute! I walked them to their car. I gave them both a hug.

Christmas is about Jesus and the Holy family. Today, I felt the love within my family.

And now I will open my home to more visitors. I’m excited to see what 2020 brings!

Merry Christmas to you, dear readers. Rest well and conquer the day tomorrow!