Saturday, August 16, 2014

More Than a Drop in the Bucket

If you haven’t heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge that’s sweeping the country, you either live under a rock or don’t belong to any social media platforms. In that case, you won’t see this post either.

As I watched my Facebook wall fill up with videos from this challenge, I kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t be called out. Not because I didn’t think it was for a good cause, but because I’m a sissy with cold water. I can barely get in a pool if the water temperature is below 85 degrees. Just sticking my toe in the cold Atlantic gives me frostbite. Even in the summer I still take a scorching hot shower. Yep...a bit of a cold water sissy.

Anyway, Jason was the first in our house to be challenged. I feared he would call my name, but he knew I didn’t want to, so being the thoughtful (or fearful) husband that he is, he didn’t do it. Then Abby was called out by a friend. She wanted to nominate me, but I was sly and convinced her to choose her friends. But then my luck ran out. I was nominated by my friend, Jill. I completed the challenge and screamed as that icy water dripped down my back, causing instant hypothermia. After a hot shower and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee to warm up my shivery bones, I made my donation to Simple.

Like with most everything today, some people have tried to put a negative light on this. I’ve come across a number of articles that try to put an unfavorable spin on the whole thing. Really? What’s the point? If someone truly doesn’t want to do the challenge, they are not required to do so. If they don’t complete the challenge they are supposed to donate $100. However, there are no ice bucket police going around arresting those who don’t donate. The challenge and donating are done by choice.

There really isn’t a negative to this event. For those who weren’t familiar with the neurodegenerative disease known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, there is now more awareness. Also, as of today, the ALS Association has surpassed $10 million in “ice bucket” donations. This provides funds to help fight this incurable disease that usually takes the life of a person within 2 to 5 years of being diagnosed. In addition to these important reasons, it seems people are having fun doing it. Awareness, raising money, and fun...hmmm...don’t see the issue.

If ALS isn’t what you’re interested in supporting, choose something that is meaningful to you. Run a 5K to raise money for cancer research. Join a walk to support the National Kidney Foundation. Or just make a cash donation to another foundation that is important to you or someone in your life. It’s up to you!

So while I didn’t necessarily love the icy water pouring down my body, I did like the overall premise of this challenge. It was started with good intentions and it appears to have made a positive impact for the ALS Association. Laughing along with these videos and having fun with friends and family seems like a pretty good side effect to the cause.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Life…A Race Worth Winning

Today was the 17th annual Beach to Beacon 10K road race. The course begins just past Crescent Beach and ends at the scenic Portland Headlight…hence the name Beach to Beacon. It is a huge event, but runs like a well-oiled machine. The last 3 miles or so of the race are quite hilly, so it is a challenge. However, not nearly as much of a challenge as getting a coveted bib for the race. On that day in March, at 7:00 a.m. when the registration opens, there are fingers frantically typing all over the U.S. in hopes of getting into the race. It’s a day of joy or disappointment for runners.

Portland Headlight
Photo Courtesy of Kim Huchel

As with most races, I want to do well, but I’m realistic and know that I’m not the world’s fastest runner, nor do I train like one. I run regularly, but I’m not a die-hard running fanatic. I don’t do speed work, fartleks (yep, that’s a real word), or weight training. I just run for exercise (and so I can eat dessert). However, I have finished every race I’ve done and I’ve never been last. A typical goal is to finish on two feet and not be last. While it is disappointing that today was my slowest B2B time yet, I ran the whole way and did finish on two feet ahead of thousands of others.

What is really more important than my time is the group of people I ran with today. I was fortunate to be part of Team BlankenSwift. Last year my friend and running partner, Patty, learned of a young man, Daavid, who was diagnosed with a fast progressing kidney disease. Patty and I were in Trader Joe’s when we learned of the severity of his condition. Patty didn’t know this man, but had previously worked with his mother. As we strolled past the cucumbers, Patty said, “I think I could donate a kidney.”

And the rest is history. Unbeknownst to Daavid’s family, Patty went through all the testing to determine if she was a match. Amazingly, she was. It was then that she informed Daavid’s mother of what she had been doing and she and Daavid met for the first time.

Patty’s one stipulation for the kidney donation was that she wanted to do the Beach to Beacon first. She had her bib and felt that training all summer would keep her in tiptop shape, which would help with the recovery process. So last year, as we ran the race, Daavid and his family cheered Patty on. Five days after the race, Patty’s kidney was transplanted into Daavid.

It’s incredible what a difference a year makes. Last year Daavid was doing dialysis multiple days a week to stay alive. He stood on the sidelines a sick man. This year he ran the race beside his donor and they crossed the finish line hand in hand. A great moment.

Team Blankenswift Before the Race
Back Row: Patty (donor), Daavid (recipient)

In addition to being impressed with Patty’s selfless act, I also have a personal interest in kidney disease and kidney donors. Polycystic kidney disease, a disease for which there is no cure, runs in my family. My grandfather had it and was on dialysis for years prior to his death. My mother has it and had a kidney transplant in 2006 from a cadaver donor after being on dialysis. My brother and I also have it. There is a 50/50 chance we have passed it on to our own children, but they have not been tested for it yet.

My kidney function has declined at this point. I’m considered to be in stage 3 kidney failure. It is estimated that I have 30% of my kidney function left. The reality is that I, too, will need a transplant in the future. My hope is that I can avoid dialysis and will be able to get a kidney from a living donor.

Much of what Patty has been doing since giving her kidney to Daavid is trying to spread the word about living donors. She recovered from surgery and is living a normal life with her one remaining kidney. While waiting for the race to start today, people came up to Patty and Daavid and congratulated them on their story. One woman approached them and said she was donating one of her kidneys to a friend on Tuesday. With their story being in the local news recently, it makes people more aware of what they can do to help save a life.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are currently over 122, 000 people in the U.S. waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Of those, over 100,000 are in need of kidneys. Other facts:
  • Nearly 2,500 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month
  • 14 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant
  • Last year over 3,000 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant

With more people like Patty, fewer people will spend years waiting for a transplant and hopefully the number of people who die while waiting for a kidney will decline. Patty and Daavid, who were strangers a little more than a year ago, now have an amazing friendship because of Patty’s lifesaving gift.

So, rather than the old pick-up line of asking, "What's your sign?", I might just ask you about your blood type. If you’re an A or an O, I may keep you in mind.

Team Blankenswift After the Race

Donate Life

Daavid and Patty's Stories:

Living Donors Info

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nothing But Rainbows and Unicorns

A few days ago my friend Tammy issued me a Facebook challenge. She challenged me to post three positive things for five days. Me being me, I wanted to respond to this challenge with something sarcastic, but I realized that didn’t sound very positive. I bit my tongue and refrained from the remark that I really wanted to type.

For whatever reason, I’m more of a glass is half-empty kind of girl. I tend to be more of a pessimist than an optimist. And that’s not to say that I’m a downer in every situation. I can be fun (I think) and enjoy laughing and having a good time. I just tend to worry and think the worst in most situations. My mind tends to race to the worst-case scenario in most circumstances. I have no explanation for why I do this. I truly have a good life and nothing traumatic has happened to me. I also think I may subconsciously think negatively about things because if I’m already in a negative mindset and something doesn’t go my way, I’m not being let down. There’s no bubble to burst as I already had it in my mind that it’s going to go wrong. If something does work out in my favor, then I can be happily surprised! This seems logical, right??

So, Tammy, I accept your challenge, but I’m doing it in a blog rather than posting for five days. Forgive me for taking liberty with this, but I’d say it’s better than not doing it at all.

As for positives, I could start with the obvious. I have a great family, husband, and children.  I don’t think I need to number them as my first three positives, however, because that should be a given.

7/24/14 Day #1
1. I really like where we live. We are within walking distance to a running/biking trail, the kid’s school, the library, shops, two grocery stores, a park, coffee, pizza, and ice cream, to name a few. We are minutes from beaches, lighthouses, the Old Port (which we have walked to before), the mall, many restaurants, and so much more. South Portland is a city, but it still has that small community feel with lots of conveniences.

2. Last night I had a dream about our neighbor, David, who passed away last year. In the dream, he called me on the phone and we talked. I could hear his voice again and he sounded happy. In the morning I shared the details of my dream with David’s brother. He told his wife, who was David’s sister-in-law, and coincidentally, she also had a dream about David last night. She, too, said that David was happy in her dream. I’d like to think that these were more than dreams, that it was David’s way of letting us know that he’s okay.

3. Jason works the next three nights, so I will have some snore-free, restful nights. (I’m kidding, Jason...sort of. I truly miss you when you’re working, but it is quiet.) And, go back to my earlier statement. You are already on my positive list, so you can’t take this personally! :-)

7/25/14 Day #2
1. The kids I and have been playing tourist in our own area. Yesterday we went to East End Beach to look for sea glass and then played on the playground. Tonight we went to Bug Light and Spring Point Light to run around and see the lighthouses.

2. Griffin goes to daycare on Wednesdays and Fridays, so today Abby and I had some time together. We went to the mall where she just had to go to Justice and then to Red Mango for some yummy frozen yogurt.

3. Today I bought new can opener. It works like a charm. Super exciting.

7/26/14 Day #3
1. Griffin slept until 7:47 a.m. This is a few minutes off his record of 7:59 which he did while we were at Disney. I was almost ready to go into his bedroom to make sure he was still breathing.

2. After our morning at the beach, the kids wanted to go to the Old Port. We spent $22 at the Old Port Candy Company. Don’t judge. We Huchels like our sweets.

3. While in the Old Port, as we were walking past Mariner’s Church, a wedding party arrived in their limo. It reminded me of our reception there almost 15 years ago.

7/27/14 Day #4
1. Today is my parent’s 46th wedding anniversary. Jason and I are both lucky to have parents who have been married for 40+ years.

2. When Jason got home from work this morning, we all walked to Uncle Andy’s for breakfast together.

3. Sometimes I enjoy a rainy day in the summer. It makes me feel like I have permission to be lazy. And I have.

7/28/14 Day #5
1. This morning I ran with my friend Patty, her kidney recipient, and his sisters around Back Cove as we prepare for the Beach to Beacon which is on Saturday.

2. It is another quiet, rainy day and I’m enjoying a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts.

3. Jason just took the kids to the movies so I have a little time alone. I may fold laundry, do the checkbook, or just simply read on the couch.

So, there you go. Five days of positives. A blog entry that’s all rainbows and unicorns with a sprinkling of glitter.

Challenge accomplished. Whatcha got next? Bring it on.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Nose Knows

The sense of smell is an interesting thing. Some smells are very pleasing and others are rather offensive to the nose. And what one person may find to be a pleasant smell can repulse another. Also, certain smells trigger memories and can transport you back to a certain time and place in your life. There are scientific reasons why this is the case, but I’m not here to be too informative. This is a blog about nothing, after all.

There are certain smells that I consider to be some of my favorites. I tried to narrow it down to my top ten nose pleasing scents.

1. Freshly baked bread
2. Freshly cut grass
3. Coffee brewing
4. Cookies/brownies baking
5. Health food stores
6. Ocean air
7. Lemon lavender Yankee Candle
8. Freshly laundered clothes
9. Lilac bushes
10. Bacon

In addition to these scents, I also have some favorite smells that may be considered odd. They don’t fall under the typical category of delightful aromas, so others may think I’m strange (and if you already do this just solidifies your thinking). Here are my top ten unusual favorite smells.

1. Gas (the kind from the pump, not your butt)
2. Play-Doh
3. My dog’s feet
4. Candles just after being blown out
5. White-board markers
6. The interior of a new car
7. Beer breath on my husband
8. Opening a can of tennis balls for the first time
9. The fumes from a boat motor
10. Hardware stores

What are your favorite smells? Are any on my lists? It’s okay to admit your weird favorite smells, too. I won’t judge.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mom's Day Off

What’s that sound? Nothing. That’s right. I am enjoying (I think) a rare time alone at home.

Jason, being the ever thoughtful husband, decided he’d take the kids on an outing today so I could have some peace and quiet. I’ve been essentially spending every waking minute with the kids and doing the house/yard work because 1) we’re home for summer vacation and 2) Jason’s schedule causes him to be gone at night and sleep during the day much of the time. Now I love summer and am thrilled to be home and I’m glad Jason has a job he loves (except the overnight shift), but it can be a bit wearing at times. The most trying aspect is my dear son, Griffin. He can be sweet, lovable, funny, smart, and he has a smile that makes my heart melt. He’s also been a challenge since he was an infant. One might call him a “spirited child”. Right now everything makes him breakdown, whine, yell, have a fit, argue, repeat himself over and over, and push all the limits. And there is no reasoning with him. He doesn’t even hear because his mind is focused on what he wants/doesn’t want, so our words go unheard. Yes, it’s a bit trying to say the least.

When Jason first posed this day to myself, I kind of felt funny about it. Is it okay as a mother to take the day off? I felt guilty telling the kids that I was going to have a day to myself. Then I thought that I’d miss out on something fun. Then it shifted to worrying about them being safe on the drive and then on the rocks and at the waterfalls. Now Jason is a very responsible parent, but if you read my last post, I alluded to the fact that living in my head is like being in crazytown. It’s always filled with worries and what-ifs. (And for the record, I texted Jason so he could let me know when they arrived. I haven’t heard from him yet, so I’m trying to tell myself that all is well and they’re just having too much fun to send a text.) In the end, however, I decided to take Jason up on this offer and let them go on their own.

So, what am I doing with my day off? Well, I’m not sure. Obviously writing right now. They didn’t leave until about 10:30, so most of the morning had gone by and I had already taken my run and walked the dog. In the almost three hours they’ve been gone, I’ve taken a shower, had lunch, walked to Dunkin Donuts to get coffee, and browsed online for new running sneakers. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about what I should be doing with this time. Cleaning? Writing? Reading? Pedicure? Nap? Beach? I think having a day to myself is a lot of pressure. I want to make the most of it, but don’t know exactly what to do. Crazy, huh?? Yep...I warned you.

Well, I’m going to try and enjoy my stress-free day and actually do something rather than just think about what I can do. I don’t want to waste another minute because these days are few and far between!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Disney Adventure

In August, Jason and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. Rather than have a romantic getaway for just the two of us (I mean, who would want that?), we opted to do a family vacation instead. We just returned from a weeklong adventure in Walt Disney World! Other than a trip to NYC and Ocean City, Maryland about four summers ago (which was a driving trip) and our yearly visits to Jason’s family in Pittsburgh, we haven’t taken a real vacation since our honeymoon.

Planning for this trip began months ago. I essentially did no planning. Jason met with the travel agent, made reservations, scheduled the flight, ordered what we needed, and basically took care of all of the arrangements. I’m not good at making decisions and quite frankly, didn’t have the energy/desire to do it. I trusted that he’d make good choices and I was right...everything went as planned and the trip was a success. High five, Jason.

The week before the trip I began feeling the stress. I don’t like packing because I’m always afraid I’ll forget something. Jason, on the other hand, feels no stress about it (or most anything) and can’t understand why I do. He said as long as we had our Disney Magic Bands, some underwear, and our bathing suits, we’d be all set. Not so much in my mind. I dwell on what I might be forgetting. I’m sure I’m forgetting the most important item.

And on top of that, I started getting anxious about the plane. I’m not much of a flyer as I fear the plane is my coffin. Abby hasn’t been on a plane since she was about one or two, so she doesn’t remember flying and Griffin has never flown; therefore, I didn’t want to be a mental case in front of them. I’ve been known to develop stress induced Tourette’s on planes. I can’t control the inappropriate words coming out of my mouth and tears fall out of my eyes. If you think this sounds nuts, try living in my head. It’s pretty much crazytown all the time. Anyway, this flight was a success...likely in part to a little calming agent (don’t worry...totally legal...prescribed by my doctor). I handled the flight, both ways, like a champ.

The requisite photo of meeting Mickey and Minnie

While in Disney, we stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort. We visited Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and downtown Disney. We rode lots of rides, saw a number of shows, and walked miles each day. We ate at some fun places like the Disney Royal Castle, T-Rex Cafe, Sci-Fi Diner, and Rainforest Cafe. Our accommodations were great, the Disney bus system worked like a charm, and using the Magic Bands made things super simple. All in all...a very successful family adventure!

While there, I did make a few observations:

1) Disney people are not stupid. At the end of most rides, the exit went through a gift shop. Of course every kid is going to want to purchase something. Griffin wanted EVERYTHING! At one point towards the end of the trip, to try and tame his desires for all souvenirs/toys, we told him we were almost out of money for the week. His response, “Can’t you just go buy more money?”

2) Despite the fact that temperatures were in the 90s with a heat index of around 110 all week, I was surprised at the number of people wearing jeans (or other strangely warm garments) at the parks. My shorts and tank tops were uncomfortably stuck to me with sweat. The thought of walking around in sweaty jeans, glued to my skin by a layer of moisture was unbearable.

3) On a similar note, as hot as it was, I easily became too cold when in an air conditioned place. It would feel great to walk into the AC at first, but for extended periods of time, it was rough. When we went to restaurants, I was shivering before the meal came. On the buses, it felt like I was sitting on a slab of ice. I needed that happy medium.

4) Disney doesn’t always bring out the best in parents. I saw many parents lose their crap with their kids. I am happy to report that I was not one of those parents. While there were a few frustrating moments, I never lost my cool.

5) I was also witness to many children having tantrums. It’s good to see other kids making mine look angelic. At times one of mine (you decide which one) could be quite whiny and demanding, but he or she never made a giant scene.

6) I can’t imagine bringing more than two kids to Disney. It worked just right having four of us for rides and at dinner tables. Seeing families with three and four kids looked exhausting. Without even taking the cost into account, it just looked like a lot of work. I salute those of you who have attempted this.

7) Speaking of kids, there are a lot of babies at Disney. Watching people maneuver strollers, baby gear, bottles, breast feeding, crying, pacifiers, baby food, changing diapers, and wearing Bjorns in the heat...phew. I think I would’ve waited until the child was a wee bit older. It looked like a lot of work to attempt such a trip!

8) I was amazed at how many brides and grooms were there getting married or having their honeymoon. There were newlyweds everywhere!

9) Photographers were all over the parks. We’d have our picture taken, they’d scan their machine on our Magic Band, and voila!...our photos would be in our Disney online account. It was a great service. Well, until we saw how much it was to download the pictures. $14.95 per photo!! What? To download a picture? That ain’t happening.

10) Disney is huge and runs like a well-oiled machine. From the bus system to the Magic Bands, things go smoothly. I’m curious to know how many employees work in Disney. From the bus drivers to park employees to resort employees to restaurant employees, there are a huge number of people working there. Even the number of busses is unbelievable.

This was one of the photos taken by Disney photographers.  This, however, is a photo taken as a screenshot of the photo on my computer. I was not going to pay $14.95 to download it. No way.

Well, I’m not sure when we’ll take our next vacation. If we wait another 15 years Griffin will be 20 and Abby nearly 25. Hopefully it will be sooner than that. For now, however, we’ll savor the memories because Abby and Griffin’s dream of going to Walt Disney World really did come true.

Friday, March 28, 2014

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say...

I haven’t written a blog entry for awhile. For one, I’ve been pretty busy. And two, not much that is blog worthy has happened or come to mind...even for a blog called “A Whole Lot of Nothing.”

However, there’s something that has bugged me for awhile and what better way to address that issue than through my blog. I mean, I must have an audience of about two who will read this and see my viewpoint. And I’ll feel better getting it off my chest.

Social media has become part of our lives. We are always connected to people or news with our computers, tablets, or phones. While this has its benefits, I have also seen how it can bring the worst out in people.

If you read my Facebook posts or have seen my other blog entries, you know I like to write with some humor (at least I try). I’m all for a good joke or sarcasm. I don’t even mind making fun of myself. Yet what I find as I read through news stories, Facebook posts, or well-intended human interest stories, is that we’re living in a cruel, judgmental world. People take this forum to “speak” and go for it. Thoughtless, hurtful comments and all.

While I recognize people have the freedom to give their thoughts, I’m not trying to mess with the first amendment, I do feel people might want to think before they hit post. Why do people feel that it is acceptable to be so unkind? Does the “anonymity” of writing the words rather than saying them directly to the person make it seem more okay? Do people think the written word hurts less than the spoken word? Do they even care?

I’m always amazed at how people can take a story and turn it into something ugly. If a news station posts a story about a deadly car accident, before the details are even released, people are blaming the driver for drinking or texting and commenting that they got what they deserved. Then other people will comment that they should wait for details before judging the situation. Then they go back and forth with hateful words at each other. Meanwhile, a family has lost a loved one, but that takes a backseat to people being thoughtless.

Other times a media outlet might share a light-hearted story that is meant to be for entertainment purposes. Yet people find it necessary to make rude comments or criticize the author. Sometimes simple stories become political issues with lots of nasty remarks. People are also very quick to remark on someone’s looks or what they’re wearing. People can be downright mean.

While I’m not naive enough to think that these behaviors are going to change, I do wish people would stop and think before they write something. There just seems to be an abundance of insensitive people out there.  If the article is not of interest, just scroll on by. Resist the urge to pass judgment on someone or something when details are not known. If it’s going to he hurtful, don’t write it. Can’t we all just get along?

Simply put, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.