Project 52, Week 49, Part Three – Dating!

It’s time for Project 52, Week 49!

49 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 49 — June 14, 2013, to June 14, 2014.

This week, I’ve already talked about steps in healing, as well as enjoying my first autumn and winter in my new home.

In reading my emails from that time, I’m struck by how much Steve was still on my mind. But I was sloooooooowly getting used to the idea of dating. I decided I’d sign up for online dating in the Spring.

Now, I’d told my kids long before that I wouldn’t even date until after Steve remarried. So I thought I should feel out how my kids would feel about it if I started dating.

I brought it up while Tim and I were having dinner in Williamsburg when I went to pick him up at Christmas break.

Tim was fine with it and then said, oh, he hadn’t know how to tell me this or if he should tell me this, but Steve had a girlfriend and had since about the summer before.
My first reaction was to be happy for Steve.  And I was SO proud of myself for that!
But the reaction that built up after that was thinking about Steve and romance – and I missed him.  Sad and wistful.  Remembering the good times.  Sad that it worked out like it did.  And just, doggone it, missing him.
But I had a good cry, not even a very big one, and that, actually, was about all it took to feel better.

So one more thing, and it confirmed that thinking about dating was a good idea.

Jade (then called Josh) also didn’t have a problem with it. In fact, I was excited for Josh at that time – they’d landed a salaried job as a programmer! Yay! Gainfully employed! (They’d been working temp jobs for awhile.) In fact, eventually my brother Peter, my sister Melanie, and my brother-in-law John all started working for the same company. But Josh was there first. (And this was a job in Portland, Oregon, where they’d been living a couple years.)

Tim and I had a quiet Christmas at home and Christmas dinner (and games) with Darlene’s family. And then we headed out to see family and friends in California for New Year’s.

I was staying at my sister Becky’s house. Friday the 3rd of January was the 27th anniversary of my wedding day, and I was going to spend it with my long-time friend Ruth – and get my ears pierced!

I figured better late than never! And it felt symbolic of my new life. I could buy myself earrings, and that would be something Steve had never bought for me.

We went to the mall – and got my ears pierced! Ruth bought me some lovely earrings and we had a great time together.

Ruth had recently bought her own condo, and here we are out on her patio:

The next day, I went to my parents’ house and played some games.

Here are my parents:

My sister Abby:

My brothers and Tim:

On the 5th, I went with Becky’s family to the Getty villa in Malibu on the way to meet Megan at Pepperdine.

We are inevitably silly together.

The statue looks like someone to be thoughtful with.

Kristen and Michael walking in the lovely corridor.

Here’s Michael, Becky, Jason, and Kristen:

Becky and I ALWAYS enjoy being silly together!

Tim and his cousins!

Becky and her girls, Megan and Kristen:

The next day I drove north of the city to visit my high school friend Susan and her husband Randy and their son.

On that trip I also got to see my long-time friend Lauri Ann and her husband Len, but I didn’t take pictures.

And then I got to meet my little niece Alyssa! And see her parents, Marcy and John, who hadn’t moved to Portland yet.

On my last day at Becky’s, Kristen and I posed because we agree that the coolest people are five foot two.

Becky picked up Mom (as she’d often do to give Dad a break), and we sang hymns together!

When I got home, during the month of January, while my small group was taking a break, I went to Paul’s Friday night gaming group instead of the Saturday group at the store. They’re hardcore Euro gamers, and I really enjoyed doing that.

I kept going to the Maulellas’ small group in Herndon through March, but I was now farther away from the group and liking the idea of Friday night gaming. I’d hoped when I moved closer to church that I could start having a small group at my house. I proposed a women’s group – but only found one person to do it with me. So that Spring, Vicki and I met on Tuesday nights at my house doing a study of Psalms. But we only lasted that one quarter.

We got some good snow that winter! But first, here’s some wonderful Red Sky at Morning out my bedroom window before the storm.

Snow did follow.

And by the end of January, I had made a profile on eHarmony. I activated it, and they started sending me “matches.” But with eHarmony, I got no signs of interest at all. And they sent me more matches each day – and they were quickly from farther and farther away. So now I was doing it, I wasn’t terribly impressed with online dating.

But – before I made an online profile, I gave several of my friends these instructions: “If I ever in the future am tempted to take Steve back [not that I ever think he’d want to], I want you to look me in the eye and say, ‘Sondy, he had a plan to kill you.'”

I wanted to be absolutely sure that in the back of my mind I wasn’t pining after Steve. That just didn’t seem fair to any new date. By signing up for online dating, I was closing that door for good. And, come to think of it, he once had a plan to kill me. Choosing not to ever get back together with him – no matter what he should say – did seem like the wisest course of action.

In early February, we got ice and more snow. When the trees look like this, I have NO interest in driving!

And I finished my Pascal’s Triangle Shawl! I explain the math on my Sonderknitting page.

Here’s a picture with the earrings Ruth gave me, which I could wear now that my ears had been pierced for six weeks.

We got a lovely snow dump around Valentine’s Day.

Lots more pretty snow moments that winter:

By the middle of March, I decided to switch to OKCupid from eHarmony. (I also tried Christian Mingle, which had some interesting profiles, but unless they have a paid membership, they can’t read their emails. I didn’t have much luck with them.) I liked OKCupid better than eHarmony, because YOU determine the questions. It’s not a “patented match formula” that’s left mysterious. You know what questions they answered which way.

And – by the end of March I had two dates!

I’d set up the first date – and then realized that of course “LDS” meant Mormon. I told him I couldn’t see myself getting in a relationship with him – I wanted to be in harmony spiritually – but he seemed like a nice guy, so I asked if he still wanted to have the date. And I told him it was my first date with someone other than my ex-husband in 30 years. (I had very much wanted to go out with someone before the 30-year anniversary of our first date in May. I did achieve that goal!)

The date with the Mormon man was nice. We had dinner and then went to see the movie Divergent. But even besides him being a Mormon, things didn’t quite click for me. He talked about going to folk festivals (not necessarily an introvert’s first choice of activity), and his idea of gaming was playing Mille Bornes. Which is fun, but not quite like Euro games.

But he worked hard to be romantic. He brought me candy, and was lavish with compliments. (A little too lavish, actually. We didn’t know each other yet.) It would have been easy to have my head turned.

But I had a date with someone else within a week! The guy, John, had more Master’s degrees than I did (3) and was working on his PhD and attended an “emergent” church, which sounded promising. We exchanged some fun emails before meeting for tea at the Starbucks near my house.

The day we were going to meet, some workers were randomly blocking my garage with a crane! Fortunately, the Starbucks was in walking distance. We met and talked for 3 hours!

I liked very much that he brought a book to the meeting in case I’d be late! (I was there first, actually.)

So it was all very promising. The following Sunday, I got a call from John. He asked if I wanted to come play games with some friends of his. When I asked what game, he said it was hard to describe.

Well, when I got there, they had Dominion, my very favorite game, all set up to play! I was hooked – both on John and on that group of his friends. (Mainly two couples attend the group, both with two kids. They’re friends of John’s from when he was in grad school and they were in college. I like them very much!)

And – I dated John for two months, and it was lovely while it lasted. Why don’t I post some spring blossom pictures here to represent how nice it was to be in a relationship again!

I went to Meadowlark Gardens that year with John – but was holding hands and didn’t take any pictures!

However, I made my annual Bluebell Trail pilgrimage on my own – so took the usual lovely pictures.

Dating John was lovely – but some mismatches started showing up.

I feel compelled to say that in the 2 months I was dating John, I had my last three menstrual cycles. Yes, that is really close together – basically my hormones were wacked out – and that did not help my emotional stability!

Anyway, on June 1st, I decided it was time to break up with him. At the time, I thought it was my decision, but the truth is, he didn’t argue one little bit. I think it was basically mutual.

After I broke up with him, I called Paul, who knew it was a possibility that day, and Paul drove the hour to my house. He hugged me while I did some crying, and then we played some two-player games. That was when I knew Paul was a True Friend.

I did do some more negotiating with John. I was annoyed when I realized that I’d just gotten out of my life the one single friend I had – someone to go to movies with! Plus, I just loved his friends – the ones I saw in the gaming group. We agreed that we would still be friends. The gaming group said they were happy to keep me in the group. And over the three years, John and I have done things together now and then like movies or dinner.

I considered the whole experience a big win for online dating. Because I gained not one friend, but five friends. And a new gaming group for Sunday afternoons.

I think John and I are wonderfully suited – as friends. As a couple? Not so much. I’ve watched him in the past three years, and I think there are too many mismatches we’d have to overcome. (The last-minute planning being a HUGE one!) But I do enjoy his company and can, literally, listen to him talk for hours.

But back in 2014, it was rather a sad way to start the month when I would turn 50. All the same, I was a little proud of myself. I had never broken up with someone before. John was my first boyfriend other than Steve. So it felt rather good to evaluate things and make the choice that this wasn’t for me. One more little step in my healing, I think.

And – my 50th birthday was on a Saturday! That really does call for a party. After I broke up with John, I decided the absolutely right thing to do was to throw myself a birthday party. I was so ready for a new decade!

Project 52, Week 49, Part Two – My Lovely Lake and Mathematical Knitting

It’s time for Project 52, Week 49!

49 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 49 — June 14, 2013, to June 14, 2014.

In Part One, I covered ALA Annual Conference and talked about the steps I took toward healing that year.

That summer, I was still doing lots of walking and enjoying the great blue heron who hung out at my lake. I was extra excited in August when a great white heron (also called a great egret) joined the great blue heron!

I scared the egret to the other side of the lake, where it posed by the fountain.

I love the way the flowers by my lake seem to change every week. These ones reminded me very much of ones we used to have by our home in Gundersweiler, Germany.

And I used to see so many bunnies!

And I finished the Prime Factorization Blanket for my niece, Arianna!

I explain the details on my blog. Each color represents a prime factor, and it shows the prime factorization of all the numbers from 2 to 100.

Unfortunately, I had a 3-week migraine in August. A lot of it was “just” a vestibular migraine, which isn’t as painful. But it shook me up. I finally went in to the E.R. a couple different times to get rid of it.

And then Tim went back for his second year at William and Mary. I always enjoyed the trips to drop him off and pick him up. We’d have dinner at the wonderful sandwich shop, often sitting outdoors. I’d buy some Gin-Gins (spicy ginger candy) and fudge from the candy shop. Then came the lonely drive home and getting used to my Empty Nest again.

More walks around the lake. These pictures are from late September.

But in September, I had a 30-day migraine. And it got very bad, and it was centered in my neck, on the right side. Finally, the E.R. didn’t hesitate and admitted me and ordered an MRA and MRI of my neck. It actually soothed my fears, though – because my right vertebral artery was doing better than before. Didn’t help my headache, though! But at least I wasn’t afraid I was going to have another stroke.

That was when I finally went back on Zoloft – the only preventative that ever worked well for me. I had lost faith in it, because it didn’t work on the vertebral artery dissection, but when I went back on it this time, it really did help.

Autumn was glorious by my lake.

The tree out my office window glowed when the sun hit it.

That’s fun. October was when an article came out about my Dad and his brother – still working at 75 and 85 years old.

And November 29, 2013, was the first time I saw geese walking on the frozen lake. (Not the last.) Something about it cracked me up.

And in early December, we got our first snow of the winter. It was lovely to live in a condo where a service takes care of the roads and to have an attached garage! Also lovely to get to sit in my house and look out at the snow in the treetops.

But ice came first. When the trees look like this, my plan is NOT to drive!

That was December 9. On December 10, I got a snow day, and did go out in it to enjoy it.

I caught some birds out my window on the snowy branches.

I laughed when I saw the melting snow sagging off the branch.

At work, a group didn’t bring in their display, so my co-worker and I filled the display with Book Spine Poetry. It was really fun, once you started looking at book titles with poetry in mind.

Here’s one that feels subversive:

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Monsters Eat Whiny Children

I’m afraid my favorite poem was autobiographical:

In case you can’t read the titles, they say:

The Liar in Your Life
Lies! Lies!! LIES!!!
Deep Deception 2
Pack of Lies
“I Love You But I Don’t Trust You”
You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore
Breaking Free
Free from Lies
It’s My Life Now

Yes! With another sign that I was slowly healing, I’m going to stop for tonight.

Project 52 – Week 49, Part One – Healing Steps

It’s time for Project 52, Week 49!

49 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 49 — June 14, 2013, to June 14, 2014.

I covered my 49th birthday last time, and talked about buying my lovely home by a lake. I’d started walking regularly, and was regaining my fitness level after my stroke two years before.

Once again, the first big event of the year was a trip to ALA Annual Conference. This year, it was happening in Chicago. There was a preconference on Friday celebrating 75 years of the Caldecott Medal, happening at the Art Institute of Chicago.

I went to a reception there the first night I arrived. I loved Paul Zelinsky’s Z Is for Moose shirt!

And here are the wonderful speakers for the preconference:

Top row: Chris Raschka, Paul Zelinsky, Leonard Marcus, Marla Frazee, Brian Selznick, and Kadir Nelson

Front row: Peter Brown, Pam Zagarenski, Melissa Sweet, Erin Stead, and her husband, Philip C. Stead.

And from the side:

On the day of the preconference, Paul Zelinsky had more Caldecott clothing – this time a tie he’d painted with the actual paints he used on his Caldecott Medal winning book Rapunzel.

It was an awesome Preconference, which I posted all about.

Here’s the inevitable First Night Loot picture, from the famed Running of the Librarians:

Lots of great programs happened on Saturday, and I got to meet Elizabeth Wein!

Highlights from Sunday included hearing Temple Grandin speak.

And lunch with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Nikki Grimes, and Kiera Parrot.

It was the 75th year of the Caldecott Medal, so the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder Banquet was dominated by Caldecott décor and clever Caldecott costumes.

Roxanne and Monica honored Black and White, by David Macauley.

I loved this Jumanji:

My neighbor at dinner had this lovely rendition of Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears:

It was a wonderful night, as always!

Even the dessert had a 75th Caldecott theme!

There was more fun on Monday, capping off with the Printz Reception, when I again got to meet Elizabeth Wein.

Another wonderful conference!

When I got back home – more walking by the lake! Can I resist posting a million pictures?

It was now a year since I’d last seen Steve. All year I’d been thinking about stopping “waiting” for Steve. But it was all theoretical – until I found myself attracted to a man. A newly-divorced coworker.

So that got me thinking much harder. All this time, since I got married in 1987, I hadn’t let myself be attracted to anyone. When I was married, it wasn’t a problem – I was in love with my husband, so other men weren’t really on my radar. Then while I was “standing for my marriage,” I was carefully staying away from men.

In fact, I was mad at men in general. After reading The Script and meeting a lot of women who’d been cheated on – I was starting to think I could never trust a divorced man. It didn’t help that I worked in a library, with very few male co-workers.

So – part of my healing was letting myself get a crush on someone.

But first I had to actually let go of “standing for my marriage,” actually stop hoping Steve would come back to me.

And just at the crucial time, when I was thinking hard about that, Pastor Ed preached a sermon on “Plan B Living.”

I was afraid that this would make me feel like I didn’t have enough faith.

But instead, he drew a diagram on a chalkboard. He had a long line demonstrating the “Human Activity Spectrum.” On one end was “Control” and “Legalism.” This was “Plan B Living,” and is all about striving and making things happen. On the other end was “Just letting things happen” and “Planless Surrender.”

In the middle? That’s the sweet spot, the Path of Trust.

And – it finally dawned on me that “standing for my marriage” was not trusting God. It was Plan B living, with the prayer, “If only you, God, will baptize my plan.”

Here’s how I summarized my thinking in an email to Lisa Maulella, my small group leader’s wife.

Saying that “Standing” for your marriage is always the right response to divorce is Legalism — and that’s why it appeals to me so much!  In my mind, I don’t think God requires the same thing of everyone.  But I wanted to regain my status as a spiritual person — we all know a divorced person isn’t spiritual, after all!  (I told you I love legalism.)  But if I can just grit my teeth and pray and believe and “stand” — well then I can take control of the situation again.
So giving that up feels like more in the direction of trust than holding onto it.
Mind you, I’m not getting married any time soon!  🙂
But this was a big deal for me.  Just to decide in my mind that God is not asking me to “stand” for my marriage.
God still might bring Steve back.  In fact, I think He basically promised me that Steve will repent one day.  But it’s not going to be because I took control of the situation (Ha!) and fasted and prayed.  And he may do much much better walking with God with some other woman by his side.  It’s not like I mean to stop praying for him.  Just that I am rejecting the idea that if I ever marry anyone else, it would be adultery.  That I need to in any sense consider myself still married to him.

Now, most local people will know exactly who I had my small crush on, so I won’t be secretive. It was my friend Paul, who was then working part-time at the Fairfax library with me.

And just last Sunday, I had the chance to attend Paul’s wedding! That was nice coming right at the time I was thinking about writing this week’s post and about how Paul turned out to be my best friend the year I was 49.

When I say “best friend,” he didn’t usurp my lifetime best friends. But that year, he was the person I talked to most and I saw him at work. And he’s one of those rare creatures – a man who answers emails! And he’s a writer, so he can write an articulate sentence. We got into some great email conversations.

I soon found out that he was in a long-distance relationship. And as I got to know him, it was pretty clear we weren’t looking for the same thing.

But still, being willing to let myself indulge in a little crush on someone was a big step in my getting over Steve.

Paul also arranged some Games Nights with another (much younger) co-worker, James. And then Paul encouraged me to go to a gaming group that met on Saturdays in Fairfax a block from the library. The first time I went, Paul met me there, and considerately played the games I was interested in playing.

I’d never in my life needed to attend a gaming group. Growing up, there were always plenty of siblings to play games with. And then I’d brought my kids up playing games. But that was one of the hard things about the Empty Nest.

By the next Spring, Paul let me join the invitational Friday night gaming group that met at his house alternating with another guy’s house. It was limited to 8 people, and one was moving away, so he said I could join. I was ready to find a new small group, because I was living further away from the group that met in Herndon now. So I started gaming on Friday nights.

And it really felt good to be with a bunch of guys playing games. (There was one other woman in the group, the wife of one of the men.) I felt like a math major again! And it really did help me get over that being-mad-at-men. And they were nerdy, smart guys – just like my Math Brothers in college.

Then when Paul’s long-distance relationship ended badly at the end of 2013, I was able to provide a listening ear to him.

And Paul and I both signed up for online dating at the same time, in February 2014. It was actually nice moral support to start the same time as a friend and discuss our experiences. By this time I’d figured out that we definitely were looking for different things in relationships – but we could still provide encouragement to each other. And after I found someone to date and had a boyfriend for 2 months – when I broke up with him, Paul came over, driving the hour to my house, and hugged me while I did some crying and then played some 2-player games with me. A man who will do this? That’s a true friend!

I simply can’t overstate how nice it was to have a man for a friend again. Now, we have a very different world view and we’re not suited to be a couple (and I’m super happy about his marriage last Sunday) – but it was good to have a male perspective. For that matter, it was great to have any friend who would answer a bunch of emails and talk about navigating life. Someone who had a little more time on his hands than my girlfriends who were busy with their families. As an introvert with an empty nest, emailing is exactly how I like to reach out.

So that was skipping ahead a bit. At the start of the summer, I was still just getting to know Paul and adding gaming into my life and really enjoying that. Still walking around the lake and enjoying the great blue heron sightings.

Here’s my building:

And Tim was 19 years old!

And it’s late! I need to stop for tonight…

Project 52, Week 48, Part Three – Enlarging the Place of My Tent

It’s time for Project 52, Week 48!

48 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 48 — June 14, 2012, to June 14, 2013.

Last time, I covered through the summer. I’d brought my son to the dorm at the college of William and Mary, and I’d been hired as Youth Services Manager at the City of Fairfax Regional Library – the job I still hold today.

In September, I started meeting with a realtor and a mortgage broker (from church)! to look into purchasing my own home, now that I no longer needed to live in Fairfax County for the sake of Tim’s schooling. Fairfax County is too expensive for me – and I hoped to live closer to my church, Gateway Community Church in South Riding.

Also in September, I learned that third time’s the charm – the third time I’d applied, this year I’d been accepted to be a Cybils panelist! I was chosen to judge books for the first round of the Cybils Awards – Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Awards – in the category of Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction. So I would read as many books as I could in the months of September through December, and we would choose seven Finalists, to be announced on New Year’s Day.

Yay! I’d be required to do lots of reading! One thing I like about judging book awards is that you’re supposed to feel guilty when you’re not reading, instead of the other way around!

And I went to KidLitCon that year! It was happening in New York City!

Our speaker at dinner on Friday night was Grace Lin. She brought her adorable baby!

We met at the New York Public Library on Saturday. Of course I had to make a pilgrimage to see the original Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends.

I was also thrilled to see the lions, Patience and Fortitude.

I was happy to again have Lisa Song as my KidLitCon roommate. In fact, she found us a hotel in Brooklyn, and together we navigated the subway into the city, which saved us some money.

Pam Coughlan, Mother Reader, who also works for Fairfax County Public Library was “auctioning” some Advance Reader Copies she didn’t want. (On Friday, we’d gotten to do some publisher previews.)

Betsy Bird, of School Library Journal’s Fuse 8 blog, was the host.

And Maureen Johnson was a speaker.

On Sunday, I had a late flight, so I enjoyed walking around Central Park!

That Autumn was filled with things I didn’t take pictures of. I looked at homes. I read books for the Cybils.

In October, I went to the Virginia Library Association conference – happening in Williamsburg! So the lovely thing about that was that I was able to spend time with Tim. I also did a preconference with Soroj Ghoting about the new Every Child Ready to Read kit by ALSC. It’s for encouraging parents in reading, talking, writing, singing, and playing – in order to get their children ready to read when they get to school.

That November was when my little niece Alyssa was born, my sister Marcy’s daughter. And I knitted her a coded blessing blanket! Here’s the mathematical explanation.

And the next baby was expected by my brother Robert’s wife, but we didn’t yet know the baby’s gender. I began planning a prime factorization blanket for this baby.

Meanwhile, I was doing lots of praying, still, about Steve. I finally got to the place where I felt free to pray that Steve would come back to God – but not that he would come back to me. And people were starting to talk with me who were having marriage problems. And I was able to respond with so much more compassion than before my own marriage fell apart.

I like what I wrote in my Quiet Time journal on December 2nd. It summarizes the way I was thinking at this point.

Isaiah 7:9
“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”

I was struck by that verse in the sermon today. Does that mean I should keep “standing” for my marriage the way Rejoice Ministries defines it?

I really thought You were telling me that my marriage would be healed. I had a whole dream of Steve coming back because of my self-sacrificing love.

But I do think You told me to offer my marriage to You, as Abraham offered Isaac, knowing that I could receive it back from death, if that is Your choice.

And after the divorce, I am sure You gave me the verse: “Steve is joined with idols; leave him alone!”

So where do I stand now? Well, if God brings Steve back, I still think God could work the miracle of making me love and trust him again.

But I do think it’s possible God will bring someone else into my life.

But I will not pursue that.

What have I learned?

— God loves me. So much. He made me with all my quirks and loves me for who I am, not in spite of who I am.

— I can’t control other people. Even telling them what they should think is not my place.

— Sometimes divorce is a good thing. This one comes hard, but I think it’s true.

— Forgiveness is so important.

Steve did not ruin my life, even though he wronged me deeply. Neither did Amy. And Steve gave me so much.

— God is good.

— Life is good.

Here’s a picture from the library Christmas party that year. I work with wonderful people!

In January, I made an offer on a townhouse-style condo in Manassas. And it was accepted! I was excited – it was a nice place. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized it was really awfully far from both work and church. But I thought that was the only place I could afford to buy something. At least it was a home!

Now there was a little problem with their FHA certification, but it was supposed to get recertified soon.

Well, instead, after the home inspection happened – the FHA financing fell through.

I was disappointed. Back to the old drawing board.

And then, at just the right time, this home where I live now came available.

One look out the window at the lake – and it felt like more than I imagined, God’s special gift to me.

Now, I have to mention that my Dad generously provided the down payment – and through Kyle Jessop’s company, I got a 2.75% interest rate on my mortgage loan! So low that it will never be a good idea to refinance, no matter how much I’d like some spare cash.

It was a good time to buy.

It was the start of new things.

And here’s what I wrote on March 22, 2013 after our regular Friday night small group meeting. (I’d been meeting with the Maulellas’ group for a few years now.)

Lord Jesus,
Thank You for speaking to me tonight.
It’s been an encouraging week.
I’m on the Newbery ballot!
I’m buying a beautiful home!
I’m doing Math programs at the library next week!

But – I also had that vestibular migraine happen, and it scared me. I became afraid and discouraged. Voices of discouragement rose up. That it’s arrogant to rejoice in God’s blessings. Who do I think I am?

As we were praying, I asked You to speak to me. I expected something quiet and private.

Instead, Terri Eagle said she tried to pray for other people whose needs she knew, but she kept getting an image for me – of a wilted flower, straightening up and standing tall. That it’s time for me to bloom.

To me.

Then Lee told me he had a verse for me, Psalm 40:1-3 —

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.”

And – the whole group prayed for me.
And one brother called me beautiful.
And I felt loved by You.

Whatever’s going on with my head, I will be okay.
You are making me bloom.
You’re giving me a new song.
You’re expanding my territory.
You’re giving me beauty for ashes.
You’re enlarging my tent.
The hills are bursting into song.

I still found time to do the Bluebell Walk at Bull Run before I moved! That year I was early, and was fascinated by all the buds.

And I had to take last pictures of the blossoms outside my door in Centreville.

And on April 19, 2013, I became a home owner!

And – Gateway folks came in a crowd to help me move in!

Here’s what I wrote in an email to a friend after Moving Day:

I’m really moved in!!!  On Saturday, TWENTY-FOUR people from my church showed up at various times to help me move in!  That includes 3 kids and 3 women, and 18 big strong men!  It was amazing!  I felt so cared for!  And then after church Sunday, three different ladies grabbed food at Panera and came over to eat it and enjoy the view.  I hope to do that often.
The lake view is so lovely!  I can just sit and stare at the lake from my balcony and my soul is fed!

It wasn’t long before I bought some balcony furniture and balcony flowers.

In May, I did get the very sad news that I had missed being elected to the Newbery committee by 15 votes! And it was already too late to nominate myself for the ballot the following year. But, spoiler alert: I was finally elected to the Newbery committee in 2017! And that’s a better time anyway, since my nest is even emptier. Makes the empty nest an asset instead of something to be sad about – all the more time to read!

I did say to a friend, “I am reminding myself that it took me 3 tries to get to attend the William Morris Seminar, 3 tries to get chosen as a Cybils judge, 3 tries to be Youth Services Manager, and 4 offers on houses — and all worked out for the best in the end.”


And – with my wonderful lake outside my window, I started walking, using a walking program in the book Walk Your Butt Off. And – I did lose weight, but even better was that I gained some energy and felt like I gained back some of the fitness I lost when I had my stroke two years before.

When the realtor showed me the home, she told me there was an “egret” who lived at the lake. She also told me a story that egrets mate for life, and when one dies, its mate stays where they last nested. Okay, that story is totally bogus. And we usually see great blue herons at the lake. (Sometimes a white egret.)

But the truth is – at least one great blue heron likes to frequent my lake, and right away I was thrilled every time I spotted him.

Here’s the very first time I got his picture on May 28. Spot his head poking up from the bushes?

When Tim got off for the summer, he enjoyed the balcony.

And then I finally captured some good shots of the heron. I actually saw the heron posing on the wall and ran back for my good camera.

I also loved the way the flowers by the lake seemed to change each week, always beautiful.

And my 49th birthday was extra special. I told about the Bluebird of Happiness on this blog.

In summary, my friend Lauri Ann sent me a birthday gift of this antique locket worn by Jo Stafford, the person who recorded “The Bluebird of Happiness.”

And on my birthday, after a Capitol Choices meeting, I went to Great Falls. And I discovered that flocks of great blue herons hang out there! So I decided that instead of a bluebird of happiness, I had a great blue heron of happiness!

I was taking all these things as signs of wonderful new beginnings.

I enjoyed tampering with this photo.

And this may have been the year Tim and I began our tradition of lighting candles using binary. Instead of lighting 49 candles (so many!), I lit them to show 11001, which is 49 in binary.

It was a Happy Birthday, and I was ready for new beginnings!

Project 52, Week 48, Part Two – Youth Services Manager!

It’s time for Project 52, Week 48!

48 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 48 — June 14, 2012, to June 14, 2013.

Last time, I covered Tim’s graduation from high school, our trip to California, and my Declaration of Independence after the last divorce case was finally done and the last child support check received and future checks in the hands of the Department of Defense.

That summer, I was still recovering from my stroke the year before, still not having much energy, and having lots of trouble with vestibular migraines and headaches.

But it also sounded like the Youth Services Manager position at my very own branch would maybe become open soon! Our current manager was applying to be an assistant branch manager at other branches.

And, now that Tim had graduated and I didn’t have to stay in Fairfax County in order for him to continue at his high school – I was wondering if it would be a good idea to try to buy a home.

But should I stay in Virginia? Well, Tim going to a state school was making that seem like a good idea for at least another four years. Though my oldest, Jade (then called Josh), was now in Portland, Oregon, and I did love Oregon.

And remember that I was currently an adult services librarian, not in youth services, which I loved so much. I wasn’t sure I shouldn’t be looking for a job elsewhere. And meanwhile, I was interviewing for a youth services manager position in Loudoun County. And all the time I had my eye on the Youth Materials Selector position for Fairfax County.

So I did a lot of praying.

And got a lovely answer to prayer about whether to buy a home on July 11, 2012. Now, Dear Reader, I knew this might all be my imagination. I wasn’t stopping praying with this answer. But it did encourage me to keep on – and looking back four years later, that was a fantastic thing to do.

Here’s what happened, from my quiet time journal:

Isaiah 54:2
Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.”

I was looking for a verse for today, trying to head for Psalms. And I was going to ask You if I really should buy a place.

Then my eyes fell on this verse.
I’m going to take that as a Yes, Lord!
Thank You!
If I’m wrong about that, show me.
I still need guidance about my next job.
I still need guidance about where to move.
Lord, my vestibular migraine seems better today. I pray that they would stop being a problem.
Show me how and where to enlarge the place of my tent.

Yay! I see a note that on July 27 – so one year after my stroke – I had worked two full pay periods without taking any leave at all. (But it did take a full year to get there.)

And on July 29, Timothy turned 18 years old! My baby was grown up!

And then in early August, before I heard the results of the Loudoun interview, I found out I’d get to interview for the Youth Services Manager position at City of Fairfax Regional Library, where I was already working.

At the same time, I was still very worried about my health. Lots of headaches, lots of neck pain. I got a referral to talk to a vascular surgeon. I was hoping maybe surgery would be the answer. (Spoiler: I never did convince a surgeon. And got quite a bit better over the next few years – though just this morning, in 2017, I woke up with my neck hurting precisely where my right vertebral artery is. But I haven’t had another stroke yet, anyway!)

However, despite my worries that day – the interview on August 13 went great!

My branch manager, Kathy, kept smiling encouragingly at me, so it was hard to be nervous! And it felt lovely that I knew the Fairfax staff was rooting for me – especially the two people I’d be supervising if I got the job. That vote of confidence really helped!

I was later told that all of the interviewers rated me the highest. And Kathy said I was the only one who mentioned working in the Virginia Room (added value to working at Fairfax).

But I have to say here – If I had never been cut from my job at Herndon, there’s no telling if I would have gotten this wonderful job at Fairfax (where I still am now). Getting RIF’d was horrible and devastating and sad – but then it brought me to Fairfax as a Librarian 1 – which put me in a great position to get the Youth Services Manager promotion.

And I still have that job and love it and am thriving here.

And I know God knew what was in store for me when I was praying that my job at Herndon wouldn’t get cut.

Just saying.

Oh, and look! On August 17, I got the call that I would be on the Newbery ballot the next March! Hooray! And so I started dreaming of being on the Newbery committee. I stopped participating in my email critique group (which hadn’t been real active lately anyway) and stopped sending out queries about my own writing. I figured this was my chance to be on the committee, and I could always keep trying to get published later. Theoretically, I was going to keep writing – but what actually happened was I let it go for awhile.

But meanwhile I was so excited to be on the ballot!!!

They told me not to tell anyone until the ballot was officially announced. Well, I didn’t find out when the ballot would be officially announced. And I didn’t go to Midwinter Meeting that next year, but when it finally rolled around, I was thinking, Can I tell people yet? (Yes, Sondy, they announced the ballot in November.)

Anyway, cutting to the chase: I ended up missing being elected by 15 votes out of more than 800 votes – that time. But this year, in 2017, I did get elected! And this is a much better time to be on the committee, what with my empty nest. And it’s all working out for good again!

Just saying.

I also have these pictures from August 19. I finished my Prime Factorization Scarf!

And I began my Prime Factorization Cardigan, using the same idea (and the same yarn) of using stripes for each number, rather than squares.

But then, on August 23rd, I took Tim to William and Mary for Orientation. Tim moved into the dorm, and I got a hotel room for a night. (The only time I spent a night when I went down there, but they had activities for parents, too.)

I laughed at the way Tim labeled this box. It had Flingshot inside, the monkey you can fling, and that screams when you do.

Here’s Tim’s new roommate!

Orientation stuff. We parents were up in the stands.

Williamsburg is beautiful. Over the next four years, I loved going down there to pick up Tim. We’d often have dinner outside, enjoying beautiful Williamsburg.

They have a fun tradition for Freshmen with a parade and fireworks!

And so began my Empty Nest. It hit me hard at the time, especially with my divorce being final so recently. (Well, at least the last court case finishing so recently.) I still say that if you still have your spouse, you don’t know what a truly Empty Nest is like.

However, now looking back, my nest didn’t seem so empty then. I mean, I got Tim back for vacations! Now he lives on the other side of the country….

But William and Mary was a good school for him. One lovely part was that Tim’s Dad lived nearby the college – so they could have all the time together they wanted during the school year. Tim came to me during vacations. But no negotiating whatsoever had to be done by me.

I had a cold after I left Tim in Williamsburg, so I felt rather mopey for about a week. But it couldn’t last long!

I was now Youth Services Manager at a Regional Library!
I was on the Newbery ballot!
I’d applied (the third time) to be a Cybils judge, and I got it!
I was looking to buy a home!

So a new phase of life was starting… And it’s late, so I’ll write about it tomorrow!

Project 52, Week 48 – Part One – Tim’s Graduation, California, and Independence Day

It’s time for Project 52, Week 48!

48 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 48 — June 14, 2012, to June 14, 2013.

Last week, I covered having a stroke, seeing all my siblings at my brother’s wedding, book conferences, and more.

The first big event of the year happened two days after I turned 48 – My youngest, Timothy, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

Steve was at graduation, and so were his parents. But Steve didn’t say one word to me. And when his parents tried to get a picture with the three of us, he quietly backed away. That hurt a bit.

But to be fair, I had recently threatened to take him to court if he didn’t pay the lawyer fees the court had ordered him to pay me.

And that was the last time I came face to face with him. Which was sad – but also a relief.

But I was ever so proud of Tim! And I had one last summer with him home.

And the first thing we did that summer was go to California for the American Library Association Annual Conference in Anaheim – right down the street from my sister Becky, who now lived in Garden Grove!

I brought Tim with me – he stayed at Becky’s while I went to the conference. I rented a car and it was actually straight on one road to get to the convention center. This was good, because a year after my stroke, I still didn’t have a lot of stamina and went back and took naps a couple of the days.

Here’s my report of the conference.

I didn’t take as many pictures this year, but at the Margaret Edwards Luncheon, I stood in line next to one of my favorite authors, Garth Nix!

And then I had lunch sitting next to Susan Patron, whose Newbery speech was the first one I got to hear in person!

Here’s the honoree, Susan Cooper, speaking with Garth Nix.

The next big event was the Newbery Banquet. I always enjoy the schmoozing ahead of time and ran into Betsy Bird and Jon Scieszka. Betsy had on special Newbery/Caldecott jewelry.

I had to get a picture with Jon again!

The Caldecott Medal went to Chris Raschka that year:

And the Newbery Medal to Jack Gantos:

The next night was the Printz Awards Reception. I met Maggie Stiefvater, whose book I loved!

Then Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), who of course wouldn’t pose normally.

And John Corey Whaley, the big winner, was still awfully happy!

I showed a whole lot more restraint that year. My loot total was only 68 books! That year I didn’t have to mail them from the exhibit hall, but brought them to the post office near Becky’s house.

But I took a week off after the conference to have time with my family. Again, I didn’t take very many pictures – except on Tuesday, June 26, when I got together with my sisters Becky, Marcy, and Abby – and we went to Shoreline Village in Long Beach.

We met at my parents’ house. My Mom, who has Alzheimer’s, was still capable of taking our picture – sort of.

Once we got to the beach, we found someone to take a better picture.

We had a lot of fun with a bubble gun we bought there.

Apparently, we had way too much fun in a hat shop!

And we rented a pedal cart!

We had to periodically rotate who was sitting where, of course.

I have no idea what motivated this picture!

In this one, the dolphin on the bubble gun found a friend in the dolphin of the statue!

That week, I got time with my friend Ruth, a lunch with my friend Georgette, and my friend Lauri Ann took me shopping. She bought me this dress!

I got back from California right at the start of July. On July 4th, I finished reading a book I got at ALA before, but which had won a Printz Honor this year, Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman.

And that book for teens, about a romance that went bad, read on Independence Day, set off something in my heart.

Here’s what I wrote in the review:

I realized that though I had my heart broken not long ago, though I did get a divorce, I never did really break up. Instead, I got secretly betrayed and abandoned, while I was trying to cling by my fingernails to the marriage. Funny how reading someone else’s story, it’s easy to see what a good thing it was for Min to break up with Ed. Easy to imagine the satisfaction that Thunk must have brought. I got to thinking, what would I put in a box if I were to really act out a break up with a Thunk? What would I write in a letter? Now, mind you, there’s no box big enough for 24 years of marriage, and no book long enough. But Why We Broke Up did spark some deep thinking. I decided to celebrate Independence Day by putting away my wedding pictures. (Yes, I admit, I still had them up.) So not only was it a tremendously engaging story, it was therapeutic, too.

What I said in my journal that day, in part of an entry that spanned many pages, was:

Lord Jesus,
I think it’s time for me to put away my engagement ring, even though Steve said the single stone represented You in our marriage. It’s time to put away my wedding pictures. It’s time to break up.

Yes, it was time.

And I celebrated Independence Day with joy!

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,

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.

Project 52, Week 47, Part Three – Bloggers, Books, and Butterflies

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.

Last time, I talked about the long process of recovering from my stroke – and the big family gathering that happened in Oregon when my brother Robert got married on September 4, 2011.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it this week, but I was back working in the library after spending six months working in the Office for Children during Year 46, due to budget cuts. However, I was a Librarian I working in adult services, rather than a Youth Services Manager, at City of Fairfax Regional Library, where I still work. The good thing about not being in Youth Services – I think it was easier for the library to do without me while I was recovering from my stroke and not working very many full weeks. There was less stress as well. And, spoiler alert, eventually I got the Youth Services Manager position at Fairfax – the RIF that brought me there probably helped me get that promotion in the end.

And I had another trip to the Pacific northwest coming up! This one was also booked before I had my stroke. KidLitCon was in Seattle this year, and I couldn’t resist going. Only very dedicated readers will remember – but I lived in the Seattle area when I was very young – and still kept Seattle as my ideal of the best place to live, with my youth-biased memories. So what a great excuse to visit.

(Also, I see from my journal entries that I was trying to do many more things than I was physically capable of doing so soon after the stroke. Take some time to heal, Sondy! Oh well, before long I started making trips to the E. R. when the vestibular migraines started up and I was afraid they were another stroke. Anyway, that got me to slow down a bit.)

Here is Melissa Fox, who I first met at KidLitCon ’09, my roommate Lisa Song, and Farida Dowler – whom I’d corresponded with for years – meeting because of Sonderbooks!

And at lunchtime, we’re joined by Maureen Kearney and Liz Burns:

On a break, I visited the Seattle Public Library:

I blogged about KidLitCon (of course!) and how it gave me Connection, Encouragement, and Fascinating Information!

For a long time, I’ve seen my website Sonderbooks and the associated blogs as a major part of my calling, of who I am, and of who I am as a librarian. Even though I write them on my own time. KidLitCon is about blogging about children’s books, and at the time I was temporarily not a children’s librarian – but I was still one in my heart!

And then came yet another book-related, even children’s book-related event – the National Book Festival! I blogged about that, too. That year, it was blistering hot! But I got to hear some great speakers.

Lois Lowry:

Kadir Nelson:

Patricia McKissack:

And Gary Schmidt, whom I honestly hoped would win the Newbery that year with Okay for Now:

Sara Lewis Holmes joined me in talking with Gary after his talk.

My calendar still shows lots of sick days and doctor appointments. I had another MRI on October 4th. My right vertebral artery was still blocked – no blood getting through. And yet in my journal, I said I thought I had healed from the stroke, and was just worried about a cold I’d had. Oh, Sondy, you’ve actually got a ways to go yet!

But meanwhile, I’d applied a second time to be a judge for the Cybils Awards (didn’t get it – that year) and a third time to attend the William Morris Invitational Seminar on Book Evaluation happening at ALA Midwinter Meeting. (I did get that!) I was taking an online class on the Printz Award. And I was even taking time to get out – on October 9, I visited Meadowlark Gardens and took some pictures.

Fall color was just beginning.

Well, years go by – but I still enjoy walking among flowers, butterflies, and fall leaves.

Now it’s getting late. This week’s going to need yet another Part.

Project 52, Week 47, Part Two – Family!

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.

Last time, I covered the start of Year 47, when I had my cerebellar stroke.

I have often laughed at myself for saying, at the end of 2010, that 2011 couldn’t possibly be worse than 2010 had been. I was tempting fate – because then I had a stroke! But the truth was, having a stroke (at least one that I survived) wasn’t even close to as bad as my divorce. And I’d gotten RIF’d in 2010 as well.

And, believe it or not, there were good things about the stroke. It is no small thing that it really took my mind off Steve. My journals at the start of 2011 were still all about Steve and still praying that God would work in his life and he’d have a change of heart. Well, when I had the stroke, I had other things to think about.

I spent a lot of time on sick leave that summer – which my co-workers generously donated – and I got lots of quality time with my son Tim, the last summer before he graduated from high school. Not to mention that after the year I’d had, having lots of time where I just needed to rest and get well was good for my mental health.

Now that year ended up having a whole lot of great things happen. But I think I’d like to talk a little bit first about the recovery process, which extended throughout the year and beyond.

I did not have the stroke because of lack of fitness or high cholesterol or anything like that. I had the stroke because of a neck injury, a vertebral artery dissection. However, having the stroke destroyed my level of fitness. (I finally worked on that a couple years later when I moved into this home and started a walking program. But for a couple years, I was pretty out of shape.)

They automatically put me on statins in the hospital as soon as I had the stroke, before they’d figured out why. A few months later, after my cholesterol tested to be super low, I quit taking them. My stroke didn’t happen because of high cholesterol. Protocol for “regular” strokes didn’t fit my case.

Cerebellar strokes only make up 3% of all strokes that happen. Honestly? I don’t think the medical community knows a whole lot about them. (And a lot of them don’t get diagnosed in the first place.) I was evaluated in the hospital, and they decided I didn’t need physical or occupational therapy. I could walk a straight line, and was doing fine. Or so I thought.

But there were two problems I was up against. One was dead brain cells in my cerebellum. The other was a blocked vertebral artery – which later healed to be a teeny-tiny vertebral artery. Some blood does get through. We have two vertebral arteries, so they generally don’t intervene in a case of vertebral artery dissection – the blood goes around the other way. I was on Coumadin for six months to keep from getting any more clots. After six months, they figure however much healing you got – that’s your new normal.

It did hurt to turn my head to the right for a good year after my stroke. Though it gradually got less and less and now it’s fine. For a long time, I noticed it when I drove and tended to turn my whole body if I wanted to look right. It also hurt for a few months to hold a telephone with my right shoulder while typing on the computer. Something I used to do automatically.

I don’t know why my neurologist kept trying to find other explanations for my neck pain, like arthritis in my neck. Really? When you know full well I had a neck injury and still have a teeny-tiny right vertebral artery, and the pain is only on my right side, and precisely where the right vertebral artery is? Anyway, since about a year after the injury, that pain when turning my head is completely gone. Ummm, it wasn’t arthritis.

I still to this day will occasionally wake up with neck pain if I have been sleeping with my right side up. What I think is happening is that I’m lying so the blood can’t really get through the left vertebral artery and wants to go through the right one – and that artery is too small. Whether or not my theory’s true, usually if I readjust how I’m lying down so that the left side of my neck is on top and unobstructed, the pain goes away. (Though it does freak me out if the pain is strong or if it lasts through the day, like it did a couple weeks ago.)

I do get far more right side headaches than left side ones, since the stroke. If the pain is centered in my neck, behind my right ear, I do start to freak out.

The damage to my cerebellum has been a little harder to recover from. The cerebellum is the center of balance. That summer, if I stood for more than a few minutes, I’d start to feel woozy. It wasn’t dizziness like the room-spinning that happened when the first stroke hit. But “dizziness” was the best word I could come up with to describe it. Generally feeling off-balance. I didn’t like to call it “light-headed,” but “heavy-headed” fit well.

Basically, I think my brain needed to make some new connections for keeping my balance to replace some that had been lost.

I do remember that it was much worse shortly after the stroke than it is now. I was working with the babies in the church nursery, and I was holding a baby when I stepped over the side of a play fence – and almost lost my balance and fell. (I took a break from working in the church nursery.) But my sense of balance slowly recovered.

I think it’s interesting, though – to this day I can’t stand and sing in church, in an auditorium with a slanted floor, without holding onto the seat in front of me to get extra balance cues. I can do it – but I will get really dizzy. Also, I don’t close my eyes during the singing, because that’s a bad idea, too. (I definitely wish they’d let us do more singing from our seats.)

And after I’d gone back to work, I would get some dizzy spells that really scared me. I’d get a sudden wave of severe dizziness – and then I’d have that wooziness and feel awful. I went into the ER quite a few times about episodes like that. The fact that the hospital had missed my first stroke made me extra jittery. But I couldn’t get them to take me seriously when I clearly wasn’t having a current stroke.

Finally – months later – I went to see a top neurologist at Johns Hopkins. He told me that my migraines had changed to vestibular migraines. I was a little skeptical at first – but as I watched how it worked, that totally fit. An initial wave of dizziness was a new kind of aura – and then that weird sick wooziness was replacing the headache. The pain level wasn’t nearly as bad as a regular migraine, but it really did act like a migraine – just with dizziness instead of pain.

Unfortunately, Maxalt didn’t work well for vestibular migraines, so I did get some super long ones at times. But fortunately, Zoloft did help prevent them – once I was basically healed from the stroke. And in 2017, menopause seems to have mostly cured both my regular migraines and my vestibular migraines – though just last week, I made myself carsick by not paying attention when I was driving a winding and hilly road – and started a days-long vestibular migraine.

In general, I get motion sickness much more easily now, and it hardly takes any alcohol for me to feel tipsy. In fact, that may be a good description of this “dizziness” I get – how your head feels when you’ve had a little too much to drink. But now even the slightest bit of alcohol can set off a vestibular migraine for me. (And a doctor I mentioned this to said it makes sense, because alcohol affects your cerebellum. And I’ve already got a deficit in my cerebellum.)

Though I do remember that one thing that helped the dizziness get better that first summer after the stroke was when I stopped taking blood pressure medicine. If your blood pressure is too low, it can cause dizziness. Well, mine without medicine is slightly elevated – but I was getting dizzy a whole lot less than on the medicine. My theory is that it takes a little extra pressure to get the blood through my teeny-tiny artery. I don’t know if I’m correct, I just know I feel better when I’m not taking blood pressure medication, and my blood pressure isn’t super high anyway.

Oh, the other weird thing I discovered after the stroke was I started getting double vision – but only when I look up and to the right. At first my neurologist thought that meant I’d had another stroke. But when I saw a neuro-ophthalmologist, he said it was Brown syndrome, which is generally thought to have other causes. I’m a little skeptical. It’s the eye on the side that would have been affected by the stroke, and the nerves to the eye are super close to the area where I had the stroke. But anyway, I can solve the problem by either closing one eye or turning my whole body to the right so that my left eye doesn’t have to turn. This is why I try to always sit on the right side in an auditorium – so I’m looking to the left. I also prefer to talk to people to the left of me. It’s possible to have surgery that sometimes works to correct this problem – but I might as well just close one eye.

At the same time I noticed that, I noticed that I see halos around lights. But it turned out that’s truly not from the stroke – no, I have a genetic progressive eye disease, Fuchs’ syndrome. But here’s hoping it will progress slowly enough that I won’t need surgery for it. I guess I was now hyperaware of how my body was working.

Anyway, I slowly started back to work. On my first week back, in fact, we had an earthquake! And I was super-relieved when people started milling around and I knew that the building was moving for them, too. For a second, I’d thought I was having another stroke! That’s what it was the last time I’d seen the building move. As a California girl, I was very proud of myself for getting under the table by the stairs (and away from the shelves, where I’d been heading to get a book for a customer). I didn’t tell anyone to join me – I just got under the table and thought about how I was doing it right and everyone heading for the exit was doing it wrong.

It was months, though, before I made it a whole pay period where I worked the entire pay period. Many months.

But first, when I thought I should be back to work – it was time to go to Oregon for my brother Robert’s wedding. ALL my siblings were going to be there! And I’d get to see Jade! (Then called Josh.) Josh and Peter and Josh’s girlfriend Sunny had all moved to Portland while I was in the hospital. They were rooming together. My youngest sister Melanie had moved to Oregon at the same time, for a job with Intel. And Robert had moved there the year before to be near Laura, his bride.

And I got to stay at Grandma’s House! My Aunt Susie still lived there, and let Tim and me stay. Oh my, it brought back old memories! And Aunt Susie was kind enough to let me do a lot of resting on that vacation.

It was great to see Josh! And for the first time, I visited Powell’s City of Books in Portland.

Tim and I took a day trip up into Washington State, near Seattle, to visit Evergreen State College, and I got another flood of nostalgia. I remembered the road from Oregon to Seattle – at least those green bridges – from 40 years before!

We saw a deer on campus, which would have been enough to hook me!

Forest in Washington State fits my idea – formed in childhood – of what a forest should be.

Later, a bunch of siblings and cousins and an aunt went hiking with us at Silver Creek Falls.

Here’s my brother Randy and his wife Vickey.

Marcy and her husband John:

Tim and me:

And here I am with all of my sisters!

Finally, Robert and Laura’s wedding was so beautiful!

Here’s my whole family with our new member, Laura!

All my siblings:

And here we are in order, from oldest to youngest!

I love this picture of Mom and Dad. Mom seemed to pretty much know what was going on at this time.

Here’s the whole family with the children and spouses who were able to come to the wedding.

My sweet kids!

With Dad and Wendy:

Robert and Laura had a Disney “Tangled” theme, which could have been hokey, but turned out magnificent. This picture shows off their great outfits.

All my brothers:

All of us siblings:

All of us sisters:

Becky, Wendy, and Abby being especially charming!

So – Year 47 started with something to thoroughly get my mind off Steve, then a forced rest time and quality time with my son. Then I had a wonderful vacation to thoroughly refresh and reset myself. I was ready for a surprisingly excellent year….

Project 52, Week 47, Part One – So Glad to Be Alive!

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.

Last time, I covered the year the divorce became final, in November 2010. The year I was 47 began with excitement. Tim finished his junior year of high school a week later, on June 21. Then on June 22nd, he left to spend two and a half weeks with Steve.

But I didn’t have time to mope about missing Tim, because I was making plans to go to ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, and I was super excited about it!

Oh dear, when I blogged about the first day of ALA Annual Conference, there’s an ominous reference to “a crick in my neck.” Sigh. I believe that is when my right vertebral artery was badly injured with a vertebral artery dissection.

Here’s what happened. I was flying to New Orleans through Boston. I didn’t bring a neck pillow, because I was flying during the day, and I planned to read, not sleep. (I now ALWAYS fly with a neck pillow.) Anyway, I stayed awake on the flight to Boston, but on the flight from Boston to New Orleans, just couldn’t stay awake. I had a window seat and leaned against the window. I believe the plane encountered turbulence while I was sleeping in a bad position, and gave my neck a bad jerk, which jerked me awake. I remember that my neck hurt badly when I woke up. And I had a headache, which I attributed to needing food as soon as possible. I also remember that through the whole conference, my shoulder hurt – all the way up to my neck – on the right side as I was filling my bag with free books.

[This is why I got a doctor’s note for all ALA conferences since then to bring a wheeled cart onto the exhibit floor. Carrying heavy bags of books is not a good idea when you have a vertebral artery dissection. I am absolutely sure that didn’t help.]

But – I still had a lovely time at ALA! I had a roommate this time – April Pavis (now Schroeder), who I’d connected with through Susan Kusel’s KidLit Book Club. She was delightful, as youth services librarians so often are. Here’s April with her friend Katie when we went out to eat.

That first night on the exhibit floor, I met Laini Taylor!

And the next day, more authors!

Marilyn Johnson wrote a book about librarians, This Book Is Overdue!. She’d given me ten copies to send to each member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during the budget cuts.

I met Tom Angleberger again. In just a month, his book may have saved my life! (Stay tuned.)

Franny Billingsley! She had been at the Writer’s Retreat I went to in Paris in November 2005. She didn’t remember me, but she did remember the conference. I believe this was her first book since the conference – and it was worth the wait.

After watching a movie in the evening about children’s books, I met Grace Lin again.

And I accosted Maureen Johnson on the streets of New Orleans! I knew her especially as the funniest person on Twitter.

In fact, when I got back to my room, I tweeted: “I bet @maureenjohnson was surprised when she was accosted on the street. But that’s what happens when celebrity authors come to a city full of librarians.”

Imagine my delight when she tweeted right back, “I liked it!”

And more the next day!

Here’s Catherine Gilbert Murdock, signing an ARC of her newest book:

And Mo Willems! Since I was wearing a t-shirt with his characters, this seemed only right to get a picture.

Ingrid Law!

Maureen Johnson again, this time signing a book!

Kirby Larson!

And that night was the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet! More schmoozing before the banquet.

I saw two bloggers, Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes, and John Schumacher of Mr. Schu Reads. They were on ALSC’s committee on Children and Technology, a committee I was just joining (and my first ALSC committee).

And I met James Kennedy again – but this year, I’d been reading his book, The Order of Odd-Fish, on the plane on the way to ALA Annual Conference. It was the copy he’d signed the year before. (Hey, when a book doesn’t have a due date, it doesn’t get read until I go on a trip and don’t want to bring library books.)

And here are some of the librarians at my banquet table.

And there was still another day of the conference. I met Brandon Sanderson.

And Nnedi Okorafor:

The conference finished up with the Printz Awards Reception. I met Paolo Bacigalupi.

And Marcus Sedgwick, who writes good books, and has a gorgeous Australian accent. (His speech was fun to listen to!)

That was the year I got my favorite sleep shirt!

I didn’t get as much loot that year, since I had to ship it home. But I still got plenty!

I got home on June 28, and went back to work the next day. I was getting lots of small headaches. At first, they just get mentioned in emails and my journal as little annoyances. I marched in the July 4 parade that year. I remember that it was very hot, and the little headache I had got worse. (I have never marched in the July 4 parade again, because I connect it with that year as the headache lasted weeks and got worse and worse and worse. Walking in a parade on a hot day did not help.)

By the 9th of July, I started writing “Headache” on my calendar. (I do that when I have a significant headache to keep track of trends.) Then I continued to do so each day right up until July 24, after which I stopped writing in my calendar for awhile, because I was in the hospital.

By July 15, I started praying about the headaches in my quiet time journal. I noted that Zoloft wasn’t working any more. I was seeing a doctor and asked for wisdom for them. On the 17th, I read, “This headache is bad.” And I was scared I was going to run out of sick leave. (Mostly I was going to work during this headache because if you get a headache that lasts for weeks, you can’t stay home the whole time.) I did take Sick Leave on the 18th, though, and had a doctor appointment. I noted that I tried Maxalt (a migraine-specific medication) – no effect.

On July 19, I say, “Father, I have such a headache! Please grant me relief.” I do remember that this headache was centered specifically in my neck, behind my ear, which seemed very odd.

On July 22, I took sick leave again, because I had menstrual cramps on top of the headache. And that meant that on Sunday, I’d start up on birth control pills again. I’d been taking them to end the ovarian cysts I was getting each month. But I’d let the prescription expire, so I’d been off them the last month. I did have some pelvic pain with that cycle, so on the advice of the gynecologist, I got a new prescription refill and planned to start again after my next period started.

Dear Reader, you may not remember, but long before, when I was a young mother, I’d asked about birth control pills and had been told that when migraineurs take them, they are at higher risk for a stroke. When I’d brought this up with my new doctor in 2011, she said that birth control pills are lower dose now, and it’s no longer a concern. Well, maybe if you don’t have a vertebral artery dissection….

So, to sum up, I’d unknowingly injured my neck (this was determined later) when sleeping on a plane going to ALA June 24th. My neck hurt a lot at the conference. When I got back, I was getting lots of small headaches, and they progressed to a constant, very bad headache beginning July 9 – and continuing on and on.

But here’s how Tom Angleberger’s book, Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run may have saved my life.

The 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run was coming up. I purchased two tickets (for Tim and me) to attend a reenactment on Sunday, July 24. But the forecast was over 100 degrees. And I’d had a headache for 3 weeks. I started reading this book, and in the book, Stonewall Hinkleman is a middle school kid whose parents drag him to reenactments. He thinks they are stupid!

Stonewall – plus my headaches – convinced me. I’d stay home and read the book instead. I was feeling bad enough, I didn’t even go to church.

It did get to 104 degrees that day. You had to park and take a bus to the reenactment site and then stand around a lot. I had a stroke the next day. If it had happened that day, when I was in the crowds at the reenactment – I’m not sure what would have happened. So I’m really glad I didn’t go! And the next time I met Tom Angleberger, I thanked him for his book!

Though now for the timing I blame the birth control pills. Though as bad as the headaches were before I started back on the pill, I didn’t have an actual stroke until I started them again. But who knows? The headaches were getting progressively worse.

So I stayed home on Sunday. By that time, my Quiet Time journal said, “Lord, I have such a headache! Give me strength to overcome. Show me what I should do. Should I quit caffeine? Maybe go to the E.R. and beg to be put out? I want to overcome – but it’s hard to focus on anything but the headache. Have mercy, Lord. Show me what to do – or not do.”

The next day, July 25 was a late day for me at work, so I got to sleep in. Here’s an email I wrote to a friend that morning.

Alas!  The headache is still going strong.  This is about the 4th week.  I’m not quite sure what to do.  I tried calling the neurologist I saw a year and a half ago, and she doesn’t work there any more, so I would need a whole new referral.
I am really thinking about going to an emergency room and begging for a shot to give me at least temporary reprieve.  But I would have to find someone to take me and bring me home.  And I don’t have sick leave left.  And my next day off is Friday, which is Timothy’s birthday, so that would not be a good day to go in!
It actually is better than last week, so if I could just chug on, ignoring it, that would be good.  But it’s really worn me down, and I’m having trouble thinking about anything else.
Now, I’ve only been on the birth control pills for two days, and my period is just finishing up.  So maybe things will settle down soon.  But my fear is that now my headaches just settle in.
I do think maybe I should try cutting out my caffeine intake, as long as I have a headache anyway.  But I know I wouldn’t be able to work if I did that, and I would want to have some kind of way to get rid of the headache.
Sigh.  I was doing so good, too….

Otherwise, I’m getting more and more obsessed with the card game Tim & I are playing every day. [This, folks, was when I got started on my obsession with Dominion!]  Yesterday we played twice.  We’re both really enjoying it, and I like doing it together.  The game changes every time, because you use 10 sets of cards for each game — out of a possible 50 different sets.  I bought Tim two more expansion packs for his birthday, so then there will be even more possibilities.  The game DOES distract me from my headache, though I wasn’t playing it for a couple weeks there because I didn’t even want to think about playing with a headache.  As it turns out, it’s a nice distraction.
Anyway, on the good side, the whole ovarian cyst thing seems much better.  I may cancel the appointment next Monday with the gastroenterologist.

Because of my low sick leave, I did go to work. I was thinking about going home early, but once I got to dinner time, I figured I might as well stay. I had leftover spinach casserole for dinner. (I learned later that spinach has lots of vitamin K which helps blood clot. I wonder if that was a factor.)

Then I was working at the Information desk during the 6:00 hour. Just minding my own business. When suddenly, the whole room started spinning. I said to Ivelisse, who was working next to me, “I feel really dizzy.” I thought I was sounding casual, but she immediately said she’d help me get to the back and lie down. Well, then a customer walked up to me and asked for help looking for a book in the YA section. I motioned to Ivelisse. I knew I couldn’t walk to the YA books. I tried to close the windows on my computer, but only managed to close one and gave up. I put my head down until Ivelisse came back, and then she helped me get to the back room. I couldn’t walk straight.

I was still completely coherent – but the room was spinning. I laid down on the couch in the break room – and the room was still spinning, even when I was lying down. After about five minutes, I remembered about birth control pills and strokes, and since the dizziness wasn’t stopping, and since I’d had a bad headache for more than 3 weeks, and since I’d never experienced anything like that – I did ask my hovering co-workers to call the paramedics. Gari Plehal, the branch manager, was especially helpful and got my purse for me from my office.

When the paramedics came, just moving my head to scoot into a position so they could examine me made me vomit. (But we had time to get a bowl from the kitchen!)

I did describe the night in my blog, written a few weeks later.

Riding in an ambulance wasn’t nearly as fun as it looked when I was a kid watching Emergency!. Of course the ambulance moving made the dizziness worse, though the paramedics gave me an IV with something that was supposed to help that.

They took me to Fairfax Hospital, which is supposed to be a stroke center. By the time I saw a doctor, the dizziness had just subsided. By that time, it was probably 45 minutes from when it had first hit. I did hear the paramedics report that I was negative on the stroke scale, which soothed my worries.

They did a CT Scan, which came out clear. What I didn’t know at that time is that cerebellar strokes are in an area surrounded by bone, and they don’t necessarily show up on CT scans when they’re first happening.

I told the doctor that I get migraines and that I’d had one for the last three weeks. They decided this must be some sort of change in my migraines – and sent me home! I could barely hold my head up as I waited for my friend Marilynn to come drive me home. I was nowhere near feeling good enough the next day to figure out how to get the prescriptions filled they gave me.

No – they should not have sent me home. I’d never had a headache remotely like that. More on that later…

Here’s the note I sent to my small group the next day. I was clueless and feeling dragged out and awful.

Hi Gateway folks!
I just thought I’d update folks on what happened yesterday, and ask for your prayers for some kind of resolution.
Some of you know, I’ve had a headache for more than 3 weeks now.  It was a little worse last week, but mostly it’s been pretty low-level.  Yesterday, it seemed low-level again, but it had gone on so long, it was hard to stop thinking about it, and I felt a tiny bit nauseous.
I have been doing fantastic, headache-wise, since I started on Zoloft in January 2010.  Hadn’t even needed headache medicine during my periods, which was a first.  But I had started on birth control pills because of the trouble I was having with ovarian cysts.  After 3 months, that’s mostly, but not completely resolved.
Anyway, what I suspect happened was at ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, I didn’t get enough sleep and missed a “dose” of caffeine and got headachy again.  At the same time I finished up the birth control pills and let them lapse for a month.  (I had an appointment and started them again on Sunday, so I was hoping that would resolve the headache.) [So I knew it had started at ALA, but didn’t realize the problem was a neck injury that happened on the plane.]
I’m guessing that a long, long headache is my new “normal”, since that’s what was happening before I went on Zoloft.  Just not sure how to resolve it.
Anyway, last night I was scheduled 12:30 to 9.  I wasn’t focusing very well, but was doing okay.  About an hour after dinner, just sitting at the reference desk, I suddenly got hit with severe vertigo.  I could hardly even walk straight.  My coworker helped me get to the lounge and lie down on the couch.  The dizziness didn’t pass at all, and if I moved my head at all, the room spun.  I was also in a cold sweat.
I started thinking that birth control plus migraines could mean I’m at risk for stroke, so I did ask my boss to call the paramedics.  When they came and I moved my head just a little bit, I vomited up all my dinner.  They gave me an IV to help with the nausea and the dizziness finally went away about the time I got to the ER.
They did an EKG and a CT scan, and it wasn’t a stroke or a tumor or heart problems.  So that’s all good.
They sent me home with a neurology consult (I think I probably still have to go through tricare first) and prescriptions for headache drugs and antinausea drugs, which I still haven’t filled.  Marilynn gave me a ride home.  Thank you so much, Marilynn!
Today it was all day before I could stay vertical long enough to do anything more than eat.  But I am feeling better as the day progresses.  Perhaps from the medicine still in my system?  I do have a slightly elevated temperature — 99.1.  Normal for me is about 97.4, and last night in my cold sweat, it was 95.1.  So maybe a bug?
My headache isn’t very bad today, but I am still feeling kind of weak and sick.  Though better as the day progresses.  Though I will probably go lie down after sitting up to type this.  I did take the time to play a game of Dominion with Tim, though!  🙂
While I’ve got a headache anyway, I cut down on my caffeine intake and only took one Naproxen instead of my usual daily 2.  So that could affect the temperature, and it could mean that the headache gets a lot worse tomorrow.  But it seems like if I’m going to cut caffeine, I might as well when I’m feeling bad anyway!
Tomorrow, I plan to try to find someone to take me to the library (City of Fairfax) to get my car.  I’ll either try to work a few hours (I’m scheduled 12:30 to 9), or take the car to go get the prescriptions filled.  At least if I feel like I can drive — I’m hoping that will be no problem.
So — that’s what happened.  I’d really appreciate your prayers.  I’m trying to turn to God about this rather than “wail upon my bed.”  In fact, here’s a meditation about that that works in some ideas from the book we’re going through, plus Pastor Ed’s sermon:
An added worry is that I’ve run out of sick leave, and will end up not having enough annual leave to go to my brother’s wedding at the end of the summer, as I had planned and have plane tickets.
So I’d really appreciate prayer: 
That this headache would end.
That if there’s a direct cause I should find out about, that it will be found.
That I can go back to work.
And that I’ll depend on God.
Oh, and Tim’s birthday is Friday, so you can also pray that we both have a great day!  (That, at least, is my day off.)
Thanks for caring about me!  I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, but it’s good to know people care.

So that was Tuesday after the Monday incident (which was, actually, a stroke). On Wednesday, Kathe drove me in to work to pick up my car. I told folks that I was fine. I had a doctor appointment on Thursday, so I told them I’d plan to come in to work after the appointment.

On Thursday, I woke up needing to go to the bathroom – and got super dizzy and almost fainted in the bathroom. I ran back to my bed before I fell over. Then I noticed that my right leg was numb. Had I slept on it funny? Then I noticed my right arm was also numb. Why, my whole right side was numb.

I lay there, trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t want to call an ambulance. I didn’t want to scare Tim, who was asleep in his room. And besides, with all the piles of books in my room, the paramedics wouldn’t have room to bring their stretcher into my room. (Oh, the stupid things you think of! Sondy, call 911!) But I didn’t. After awhile, I started feeling less dizzy. I was afraid to take a shower. At the very least, I didn’t want to faint while I was naked! But I got dressed. Then laid down. Then went downstairs to figure out what to do. I made breakfast, my usual oatmeal, with frequent breaks to lie down on the couch. I laid on the couch and called to cancel my appointment. I asked the nurse what I should do, and she didn’t sound alarmed – said I should go to Fort Belvoir, the military hospital.

When I started eating my oatmeal, I realized that even the right half of my lips were numb! There was no way that was from sleeping on them funny! I decided I should definitely go to the E. R. I called Marilynn, who couldn’t pick me up, and Kathe, who said she’d be right over. I woke up Tim and told him I’d be going to the hospital, but I’d call him.

While I was waiting for Kathe, I thought I’d get on the computer to print directions to the hospital out at Fair Oaks. Believe it or not, I sent another email to my small group! Here’s what it said:

Well, instead of going to my doctor appointment this morning, I’m headed for the ER at Fair Oaks.  Would appreciate more prayer.  The nurse at the doctor’s office said I could wait for a friend to pick me up, though that was before my whole right side started tingling again.  Kathe’s going to take me.
I woke up this morning and got real dizzy when I went to the bathroom.  Then my whole right side started tingling — arm and leg and even my face.  I rested and managed to eat breakfast, got dressed, but didn’t try a shower.  Cold sweat with the dizziness.  Oh, and an intense right side headache, too.  Anyway, I went online to print directions to Fair Oaks, but now think I will lie down until Kathe comes.  I admit I’m freaked out!

By the time I’d sat up that long, I was feeling really bad again. I laid down, but decided I really should call an ambulance. I called Kathe to tell her not to come – but she was one minute away, so she did drive me.

She had to help me walk out to her van. It was almost comical – I honestly couldn’t walk in a straight line! I wasn’t able to sit in the front seat, so I laid down on the back seat.

So – God showed me all kinds of grace. I so should have called 911 in the first place!

When I got to the ER, they gave me a wheelchair fairly quickly (I must have looked bad) and quickly let me lie down. I was pretty out of it. I blogged about the whole experience later.

They decided to do an MRI because of my right side tingling. And that was what revealed the stroke. I ended up being in the hospital for 10 days.

I called Tim that first day. I felt terrible – because the next day was his birthday! But he was planning to go to Steve’s on his birthday anyway, so I had him call Steve and ask if Steve could pick him up a day early. So at least I didn’t have to worry about him.

It wasn’t until the second day that they did the test that determined the stroke was caused by a vertebral artery dissection, which had caused a clot, which had gone to my cerebellum.

Fair Oaks hospital is cool, because you get to keep the copies of your scans. Here’s my stroke! It’s the white heart-shaped area in the bottom left of this picture. (The images are flipped – the stroke is on my right side. Interestingly, the cerebellum is one of the few parts of the brain that affects the same side of your body.)

I did a heartfelt post answering the question, Was I Scared?

But what really shook me up was a couple weeks later when I read an article about cerebellar strokes. 35% of cerebellar strokes, presenting as vertigo – get misdiagnosed. Because they don’t always show up on CT scans when they’re happening. (Like mine didn’t.) In fact, CT scans only catch 26% of cerebellar strokes.

For people whose cerebellar strokes are missed – 40% of those patients go on to die when they have another stroke! 30% are permanently disabled. So I was in the lucky 30%!

Now, I do have lasting effects from the stroke. A very small one is that when I stand and sing in church, in an auditorium with a sloping floor, I have to hold onto the seat in front of me and keep my eyes open – to give my brain extra balance cues. The cerebellum is the center for “balance and grace.” (Fortunately, I never used it much!) I was very glad my higher thinking wasn’t touched at all.

I did have a lot more trouble with general dizziness in the weeks and months directly after the stroke.

I’ll talk about that more in next installments. Now it’s getting late, and I have a small headache tonight – and writing about this definitely isn’t helping!

In summary – I’m so glad I’m alive!

I did end up staying home from work a couple weeks more – and got some great time with Tim, with lots of playing Dominion. I was so glad the stroke happened during the summer. For one thing, Tim could go to Steve’s while I was in the hospital, but also I got some great time with him. I made him a belated 17th birthday cake. And the cake made a smiley face in the oven! I figured that’s the sign it would be a happy year!

I did run out of sick leave – and my co-workers generously donated all I needed. I was really having trouble with no energy, general dizziness, and still having lots of headaches. I was put on Coumadin for six months to keep from getting another clot – but they had to check my blood levels frequently to make sure the dosage was right.

But another wonderful thing about the timing? It very effectively got my mind off of Steve!

And just when I was starting to feel up to going back to work – it was time for the vacation I’d booked to Oregon to see my brother Robert get married.

It was actually very good timing – because I thought I was ready to go to work – but I really don’t think I was. On vacation, I spent a whole lot of time in bed – and got a little bit stronger and readier to go back to work.

And I will write about the Oregon trip – and all of my siblings together for the first time in years – when I tackle the next part of Year 47.