Project 52, Week 47, Part Four – Morris Seminar, Flowers, and Fame

It’s time for Project 52, Week 47!

47 weeks ago, on my 52nd birthday, I began Project 52. Since there are 52 weeks in a year, each week I’m taking one year of my life and blogging about it. This week, I’m covering the year I was 47 — June 14, 2011, to June 14, 2012.

So far this week, I’ve covered ALA Annual Conference and the stroke that followed, a big family gathering at my brother’s wedding, and some book-related events in September.

I was working at City of Fairfax Regional Library as a librarian in Adult Services, since the previous December. One of the things I really enjoyed at this branch was that I often got to work the information desk upstairs in the Virginia Room, where they had an abundance of genealogical resources.

I was told that one of the best ways to learn what they had was to research your own genealogy. So I began doing that and was really enjoying it. It turns out that all four of my grandparents had direct ancestors who came to America during the Colonial period – and all four had ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. (I was especially fascinated that among my Revolutionary War ancestors, there are four father-son pairs who fought! Can you imagine going to war alongside your son to defend your home? One ancestor, John Shreve, was 13 years old when he joined the Revolution as an ensign! His dad was a colonel, and it sounds like his dad may have just wanted to keep an eye on him, but wow! He did take some time off later for schooling. But that ancestor lived to his 90s, and I even found a photograph of him on the internet! A man who fought in the Revolutionary War! It’s in the book, The Genealogy and History of the Shreve Family from 1641, which you can find in Google Books.)

Another cool thing was learning that my Shreve ancestors were among the founders of Burlington County, New Jersey, and lived there for several generations – the very place where I’d lived for a year and a half after my husband joined the Air Force. What’s more, Burlington County College, where I taught for a year and a quarter, has an extensive genealogy section in its library. I remember browsing through it and seeing a lot about a name I recognized (Now I’m sure it was Shreve) – but not knowing if they were related to me at all. They were.

I need to make a trip back there some day! It would be some fun nostalgia. And I could visit the many family homes of my ancestors that are still standing!

But also incredibly cool was that one of my ancestors on the Bates side – came to America more than 200 years ago from Breunigweiler, a tiny little village right near the base where I was stationed! One of her parents was from Lohnsfeld – a village that I actually drove through every day for years! Okay, that’s another place I need to go back and visit!

But closer to where I live now, it turned out that the husband of the lady from Breunigweiler, Peter Shrout, who also came over from Germany – was the first person hanged in Hardy County, West Virginia, for murdering his wife of 44 years! He killed her with a broomstick down her throat!

I hasten to add, the blood is extremely diluted! He is my 8th-great-grandfather. This happened in 1804, so it was a long time and many generations ago.

But with that much time intervening, it raises so many questions. Did she ask him to sweep one too many times? Did one of them have dementia? Why would he snap after so many years of marriage?

His daughter who was my ancestor had long before married John Bradford, from England, but who had come over before the Revolutionary War and fought on the Patriots’ side. He had a farm across the road from the Shrouts and married the daughter. Their family left Virginia and settled in Ohio not long after the murder, and who can blame them?

Well – Hardy County is only two hours away from me, and I thought it was a good excuse to visit during the beauty of Autumn.

I waited for a day off, and on Saturday, October 15, I aimed for the library in Moorefield – which, alas! had a hand-written sign on the door that they were closed for the day. I also had directions to Patterson Creek, though, where the Shrout and Bradford families had their farms, so I drove past that, which was pretty cool. I didn’t take pictures, because I felt funny about taking pictures of people’s homes – there are still homes there. I drove on to Peterboro, where they also had a library that held a book of the descendants of John Bradford – but by then I didn’t have a lot of time before they closed. I made some copies and looked at it long enough to see my great-grandmother listed. So those were definitely my ancestors.

But – this was partly an excuse to enjoy the fall color in West Virginia. So I did find a state park that reportedly had hiking trails. What I didn’t realize was that the road to the trail was a dirt road! But anyway, I got in some very beautiful hiking before I headed home.

It was a lovely day! There was a catch, however. Four hours of driving, plus a short hike, plus going to libraries was more than I was really ready for in my recovery process after my stroke. Looking back, I was in denial about how much recovery I needed. Or I just plain didn’t know. The doctors didn’t explain it to me at all. They told me what symptoms to look for that would be another stroke. I was told I didn’t have any deficits. I could walk a straight line and passed the neurological tests. The deficits I did have weren’t so obvious. I didn’t have time to be sick! So I pushed myself more than I was ready for.

That day the first problem was that I did wipe myself out by the time I got home. But a bigger problem was that turning my head to do shoulder checks while driving – any time I changed lanes – hurt a lot, and more and more as the day went on. Also, when I drove the car over the bumpy dirt road, it jerked my neck. That hurt a lot – and made me extremely nervous, since my original vertebral artery dissection was from a jerk to my neck.

Then, the next weekend I went to a local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. I don’t seem to have taken pictures. If I remember right, I wore my prime factorization sweater and tried to talk about it with an agent. (I’d started thinking about writing a book about the concept.) But the agent’s eyes glazed over. Children’s book people aren’t necessarily the right audience!

However, another thing I remember about that conference was that was when I started sitting on the right side of the room. Only at that point, it wasn’t about my vision at all. So I still wasn’t getting the double vision when I looked up and/or to the right. That day it was that it hurt a lot to turn my head to the right – even the small amount it took to watch a speaker from the left side of an auditorium.

I did get revved up about my writing at that conference.

But the next day, I lost my cool. Here’s how I explained it to an email friend the following Thursday:

Sunday I got up late, but rushed to make it to church.  Once there, I noticed I was feeling light-headed and nauseous again if I stood.  It wasn’t real bad, but it was freaking me out.  Afterward, I talked with my friend who’s a nurse, and she and her husband took me to the Emergency Room.
 
So — a CT scan didn’t show anything, but I don’t trust those any more.  They kept me overnight and did an MRA & MRI — but said nothing had changed.  However, my INR levels (a measure of how well the coumadin blood thinner is working) were quite low.
 
They sent me home Monday night, and I took a percocet for a migraine — probably from hardly getting any sleep due to my roommate having her four kids in the room until about 2 am.  So I slept all day Tuesday.  Yesterday, I stayed home, too, except getting my blood drawn.  But today I’m back at work — and noticing that I still feel lightheaded if I stand for more than a few minutes.  But at least I’m no longer afraid it means I’m having a stroke.  Oh, and my INR is back in range at 2.1, so that’s good.  And the Coumadin clinic did tell me to go to the ER if my symptoms get any worse, so I do think they were saying I did the right thing.
 
But it’s all pretty weird.  And I felt like I got awfully behind while I was laid up.  But it may just be how my body reacts now when I get overly tired — all the symptoms relate to the original stroke — so maybe I just need to take better care of myself, or maybe my cold set me back.
 
Anyway, it is good to be back at work — I hope I can stay here!

From what I learned later, that was probably a vestibular migraine (which did eventually develop into a headache). But I was really puzzled by my symptoms.

Another interesting thing, looking back at journals and emails, was that whenever my INR was found to be low – I had more neck pain. Since my artery still showed blockage, that actually could have been a clot forming. So it was probably just as well I went to the hospital.

But my heavy-headedness and dizziness was bad enough that walking customers to the shelves made it worse. I remember at that time I also avoided “sweeping” the library (walking around straightening shelves and picking up books) – because that much walking made me feel worse. It was discouraging! But I also found that lying down didn’t seem to help a bit, so I figured I might as well feel bad at work instead of at home.

In November, though, I got excited about book things. I decided to do NaNoWriMo and start a new book. I found out I was accepted to attend the Morris Seminar in January this time! And I applied for the Youth Services Manager position at Sherwood Library – excited about getting back to youth services. I did not end up getting it, and this was a good thing. It’s way on the other side of the county from my church and where I live now. But the interview was good practice.

But my health still was getting worse. And that was when I first noticed the double vision. Here’s an email I sent to my siblings on December 22nd:

Dear Family,
 
I just thought I’d let you know….
 
A few of you knew that I’ve been having low-grade dizziness, low-grade headache, and queasiness for about 3 weeks straight now.  (With a few hours off a couple days last week.)  I went to the ER again on December 3rd, but they just sent me back home.  So I figured out this low-grade stuff is not the symptom of another stroke.
 
I finally saw the neurologist today.  He wasn’t at all alarmed by my symptoms (which I really have trouble describing, but were particularly bad today — enough that I went home after the appointment instead of going back to work) — until when he did a neurological exam, my eyes weren’t tracking together if I looked up and to the right (less so if I look straight to the right and no problem if I look down and to the right).
 
He said that I likely had a mini-stroke, which would cause that.  I forgot to ask him if that would change his opinion about the dizziness.
 
Anyway, I’m going to have an MRI and MRA done some time next week (as soon as Radiology calls me back I’ll find out when).
 
Then I was supposed to see the neurologist the week after that, but the first available appointment was January 25.  (Though they put me on the cancellation list.)
 
But the whole thing left me frustrated and worried.  Because I’m on Coumadin specifically to keep from having another stroke.  (And this also means I’ll probably have to stay on Coumadin longer than the 6 months they initially said.  Rather ironically, the 6-month anniversary is January 25.)
 
So…  I’d appreciate your prayers.  I don’t want to have another stroke!  And I’d also like to feel better.
 
And, your presents are definitely going to be late.  I am hoping I’ll get them mailed tomorrow, but I have my doubts.  But I guess I can still milk the I-had-a-stroke excuse?
 
Lots of love,
 
Sondy

Now, the neuro-ophthalmologist diagnosed me with Brown Syndrome and said that wouldn’t have been caused by a stroke – but I figure it doesn’t really matter at this point….

Oh, and on the light side – December 2011 was when I began writing Sonderling Sunday!

The author I’d met at a couple of ALA conferences, James Kennedy, posted that he’d gotten a copy of his book in German. And it had the word Sonderling in the title! Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge. I was tickled to death, and asked if he had a German copy to give away. He did! And so I began the Sonderling Sunday series on my Sonderbooks blog, looking at phrases from children’s books and looking at how they’re translated into German. Sort of a very silly phrasebook for travelers. My very first Sonderling Sunday post explains it all and is a lot of fun. I somehow thought I’d be able to get through the book more quickly than I have, but hey, I’m having fun.

Here’s my 2011 Christmas Letter. Mainly, I was glad to be alive!

And the first big event of 2012 was a very big event indeed. I went to the William Morris Invitational Seminar to learn to be on one of ALSC’s book evaluation committees – such as the one I already wanted to be on – the Newbery committee.

It was a preconference event for ALA Midwinter Meeting, and happened in Dallas. The lovely thing was that my writing buddy Vicki Sansum joined me, sharing a hotel room for part of the conference. The hotel room was ENORMOUS! We figured things are bigger in Texas?

I only took a couple pictures from the seminar, but you can see we’re having fun.

I did blog about my notes from the Seminar – first from the opening talk, then a talk by Nina Lindsay on how book discussion works, and a panel discussion with representatives from several different committees. Another important part of the seminar was trying it out – actually discussing books in small groups, as we would do if we were on a committee.

After the seminar was the opening of the exhibits, and the usual “Running of the Librarians.” Here I am that night with my loot!

And Vicki arrived!

I got to hear Susan Cain speak about Introverts and John Green speak about his new book, The Fault in Our Stars.

But the highlight of every ALA Midwinter Meeting is the Youth Media Awards, when you learn who won the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, and many other awards. John Corey Whaley learned that he had won both the Printz Award and the Morris Award (for debut authors). I ran into him in the exhibits while he was still radiating happiness from the news. (It was even his birthday!)

Here’s the inevitable Loot picture when I got home.

After ALA, I cut back on activities and tried to get answers about my health. I also had a new issue with Steve.

It turned out that my lawyer had made a mistake in wording our agreement. The Department of Defense wasn’t accepting it to pay me directly. We were required to put the numbers and dates in a certain form. So she drew up a new agreement in proper form and asked Steve to sign it. According to the agreement he did sign, he was obligated to “execute any instrument necessary” to get the DOD to pay me my portion of his retirement pay directly.

But he wouldn’t sign it.

So – I decided to ask my lawyer to take him to court. It’s interesting to me what got me to decide to do that. Here’s my email to a mentor and friend that I sent in February:

Well, I’ve done it now!  I sent the e-mail below to Steve.  And I’m determined to take him to court if he hasn’t returned the revised agreement, signed, by the start of March.
 
It’s the 8th of the month, and I still haven’t seen his payment for this month — and that’s par for the course.
 
He hasn’t said anything further to my lawyer.  He told her in November or December that he needed “time” to look at the revised agreement.  He has had time.
 
I’ve decided that leaving him alone is all well and good, but that doesn’t preclude asking him to keep his part of the settlement agreement.
 
Actually, what lit a fire under me was I read a great book last night — Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale.  The heroine is a divorcee, and while she’s dealing with the romance and mystery, she also comes to terms with what her husband did when he cheated on her.  She feels like an IDIOT that she didn’t figure it out.  But how nicely she triumphs!
 
Anyway, I tweeted to Shannon Hale that she is a benefactress to all women whose husbands have cheated.  She tweeted back, “Sondy, you are a powerhouse!”  And to my surprise, I burst into tears!
 
I think it just really hit exactly those emotions that hit me so hard — feeling so stupid to have fallen for all the lies, etc.  It didn’t matter so much that the heroine found love (she did), but I especially liked the way she triumphed!  At one point, she’s in mortal danger, and you think the hero might save her — but she remembers what she heard in going to her son’s self-defense classes, that someone strangling you from the front has his hands busy and is totally unprotected — and she jabs him in the throat and then kicks him where it counts!  And proceeds to hit him with furniture and escape!  All the while she’s yelling things at her ex-husband. (He’s not there, but she just realized how far the lies went back.)
 
Anyway, you get the idea.  It’s easy to see how OTHER women should act, and I was so on board with this heroine.  I’ve been trying to be sweet toward Steve, but I think it’s at the point where I need to say he can’t break the agreement.
 
We’ll see how he responds.  If he doesn’t do anything by March 1st, I do intend to ask my lawyer to take him to court.

He did not answer by March 1st, so another court case started up…

Meanwhile, I was getting some fairly extreme dizzy spells that felt just like the original stroke, only shorter, and going to the ER a lot – but they weren’t finding any further problems. I got a referral to a top neurologist at Johns Hopkins on April 6.

Also at that time, I started attending Capitol Choices – a DC-area group of librarians that meets monthly and chooses the top 100 children’s and YA books of the year. They use the same discussion format as ALSC groups, which I had just learned about at the Morris Seminar.

And in the middle of March, I went to another library conference – this time the Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia. This one I could drive to! And on the way home, I stopped in Longwood Gardens.

And here’s the Loot from PLA picture:

March was also when it was time to nominate myself to be on the ballot to get on the Newbery committee – for voting to be done the next year. Spoiler: I didn’t get it that time. At the time, though, I stopped participating in my critique group and stopped submitting manuscripts to agents and editors. Because I didn’t want to be disqualified for conflict of interest. Maybe it was just as well I hadn’t gotten published yet. I could always try to get published after being on the committee, but there’d be big problems with trying to get on the committee after I was published.

When I finally saw the stroke specialist at Johns Hopkins, he was the one who told me that I wasn’t having lots of little strokes, but that my migraines had changed to vestibular migraines. It took awhile, but I finally came to realize he was right. That still didn’t keep me from getting scared when I’d get a month-long headache, but it helped me be less afraid of the small ones. And I started working on finding another migraine preventative – though eventually I went back to the one that had worked before, Zoloft. I had stopped when I had the month-long headache that led up to the stroke. But a migraine preventative can’t stop a headache caused by a vertebral artery dissection – so it wasn’t that Zoloft had quit working.

About the same time, Tim got some college acceptances – and decided to go to the College of William and Mary. It’s a state school – so I got to learn what a difference that makes! Boston University had offered the same amount of financial aid – and it didn’t go nearly as far! When I saw those figures, I was very happy about Tim’s choice!

I did go see the bluebells again.

And forgive me for all these pictures, but I do love taking pictures of flowers! And I visited Meadowlark Gardens again.

Now in April, my lawyer did take Steve to court and got him to sign the “Military Qualifying Court Order,” and he was ordered to pay $2000 for my legal fees. Too bad that didn’t completely cover the cost. Though we had yet to see if he would actually pay.

And I wrote this in my journal of significant things I felt God had said to me on April 14:

Yesterday, my lawyer filed a Military Qualifying Court Order. Steve signed and was ordered to pay me $2000 in legal fees. Remember how, when this first started, every time Steve mentioned a lawyer or court, Isaiah 54:17 came up?

Today it happened again!

I’m reading Always True, by James MacDonald, in my quiet times.

Today I opened to the final chapter. The highlighted heading is:

Promise #5: God Is Always Victorious
(I will not fail.)

“‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
and their righteousness is from Me,’ says the Lord.”
— Isaiah 54:17

Then on April 28, something big happened. It began with innocently heading into DC for the US Science and Engineering Festival. It was awfully crowded, but I did go to the Mathematical Association of America booth and posed with my Prime Factorization Sweater. I told the guy at the booth about it. (I realized later that was Ivars Peterson – I have his book on my shelf at home!) I told him that if he googled “prime factorization sweater,” I would come up! (I’m very proud of that. It’s still true. Try it!)

My friend Karla was in town, so I met her in DC at the metro stop, and we decided the festival was too crowded, so we went to the US Botanical Garden.

But when I got home, I noticed a whole bunch of comments on my blog, on the prime factorization post. (Alas! My blog malfunctioned later and the comments got lost – there were more than a hundred.) When I looked at my stats, I’d gotten 17,000 hits that day!

What happened was Ivars Peterson had done one tweet about my prime factorization sweater with a link to my post. The next day, I ended up with 28,232 hits! On my 2009 post about the sweater! Didn’t I mention I just needed to find the right audience? It got picked up by Hacker News and went wild. I had almost 40,000 hits in the month of April – almost entirely from the last two days!

And – people started asking about getting their own – so I made t-shirts on Café Press!

Here I am modeling my first version.

I tinkered with the colors, and here is the final version:

That’s also when I thought it was high time I did some more mathematical knitting. Here I’m knitting a new prime factorization scarf, with the yarn in my prime factorization tote bag and wearing a prime factorization t-shirt.

That was the start of a whole new wave of mathematical knitting for me. So much so that eventually I made a Sonderknitting Gallery page on my website to talk about all of it.

Looking at emails, it was actually at the very end of the year I was 47 that I finally thought to stop taking blood pressure medication. And what do you know, it really did help my dizziness to decrease. My theory is that it takes a little extra pressure to get blood through my teeny-tiny right vertebral artery – but I also checked my blood pressure when I was having a dizzy spell – and it was quite low.

While I continued to get vestibular migraines, I really was gradually recovering from the stroke, and the dizziness was getting less. By the end of the year, I’m still not sure if I’d had a pay period where I’d gone to work every single day for a full day, but I’m sure I was getting closer.

Tim was ready to graduate from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology – but he graduated two days after my birthday, so I’ll cover that next week.

There was one final drama of the year. That $2000 Steve owed me was due half on May 13 and half on June 13. When June started and I hadn’t received anything, I made it very clear that I would go back to court if the amount wasn’t paid in full by June 13. I’m afraid I went so far as to say that it would only make my birthday happier to have to go to court, because there was no way I wouldn’t win.

That interaction probably explains why, at Tim’s graduation, Steve didn’t say one word to me, and refused to get in a picture with Tim and me that his Mom wanted to take. But – that was our last interaction. I got one more child support payment in July, and then Tim turned 18. The Department of Defense was now paying me directly, and after Tim turned 18, we no longer needed to interact at all.

So that was the crazy year I was 47. Lots and lots of worries about my health – but so glad to be alive! And God was faithful – and so were my church friends who were so helpful to me through it all, and listened to all my worries when I was getting so freaked out and who prayed with me and took me to the hospital and helped Tim and made me realize I was not alone.

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