For those of you who read my blog post on my cousin-in-law but live outside the Twin Cities, I wanted to share the segment from WCCO news. You can watch it below.
Thanks to all for your great feedback and support for Jaime’s recovery!
One woman’s honest quest to clean up her unhealthy life for herself and her family.
For those of you who read my blog post on my cousin-in-law but live outside the Twin Cities, I wanted to share the segment from WCCO news. You can watch it below.
Thanks to all for your great feedback and support for Jaime’s recovery!
Late last summer, my husband received a horrible phone call from his father: His cousin Jaime had a stroke. She was 25 years old.
It was an otherwise normal August evening, and Jaime was at her new apartment, waiting for her family to pick her up for her sister’s 21st birthday dinner. As she was getting ready, she developed a headache, and the next thing she knew, she had collapsed and was unable to move. Her roommates were out, and she was alone, listening to the sound of the doorbell and phone ring — her family trying to get in. Luckily, her landlord happened to be nearby and unlocked the door to her apartment, where her sister and mom found Jaime lying on her bedroom floor.
By the time Kyle and I reached the hospital, Jaime was undergoing surgery — the first of three brain surgeries — to decrease the swelling of her brain. Her doctors said she had suffered a break in her carotid artery (we all have one carotid artery on each side of our neck; its role is to bring blood to the brain and face). Besides the headache, she had no other symptoms or risk factors — her very serious stroke was simply a horrible accident, a misfortune caused by the complicated inner-workings of the body that we don’t always understand.
Her doctors were cautious in their communication to the family, and at one point, all looked grim. After her second surgery, her doctor predicted a very slim chance of survival, and we all started to face the very real possibility that Jaime would die. It was hard to wrap my mind around. She was healthy and vibrant, and so young. It just didn’t make any sense.
Jaime had recently returned to Minnesota after working for three years in New Orleans in the PGA Gulf State Section. A golfer most of her life, she played her way to state tournaments with Park High School. Now that she was living closer to home, I imagined many games in her future with her younger brother, Beau, an avid golfer, and her father, Bruce, a golf professional at River Oaks Golf Course. I kept expecting her to wake up in the hospital bed and make a joke about us lingering in her room. Then, after a good laugh, she’d walk out with us and we’d grab dinner. I felt angry that we weren’t getting more optimistic news. Her youth was meant to be filled with nights out with girlfriends, spa days with the cousins, trips to the Opdahl cabin, and dates with cute boys.
I felt my heart breaking as we all sat in silence in the waiting room.
Perhaps it was our collective grief, perhaps it was our will to cling to hope and prayer, knowing Jaime’s tenacity could make miracles happen, but something shifted that afternoon.
Quite remarkably, Jaime began to improve. The swelling started to subside and relief started to creep into the waiting room. Our spirits rose, and Jaime became responsive, squeezing her mom’s hand when asked.
Jaime’s spent the next two weeks at United Hospital in St. Paul, a health-care system with an integrative and advanced stroke-care program. From there, she went to Bethesda for their Brain Injury program and to Courage Center for in-patient physical therapy. Over these past few months, she’s had feeling return to her right side, which was previously paralyzed from the stroke. She could sit up without help. She went from a wheelchair to walking with a cane to walking out of Courage Center on her own two feet with no help.
When I think back to those dark moments in United’s waiting room with the family, I can’t help but be overcome by amazement at Jaime’s tremendous determination, her formidable strength and her incredible resilience.
She inspires me every day to be thankful for the power and wonder of our bodies, to always try my best, and to never give up. She proved to me that one’s will and love of life, along with hard work, can make magic happen.
The next step of Jaime’s journey involves an innovative program at Courage Center from the Christopher Reeves Foundation. The treatment isn’t covered by insurance, so her family and friends have organized a fundraiser (and a celebration of her progress!) from 4 to 9 p.m. on Saturday night at River Oaks Golf Club. If you’re in the Twin Cities, feel free to stop by and meet this amazing young woman. You can also hear more about Jaime’s story Friday on the 5 and 6 p.m. WCCO news (I’ll post the video when it’s available for my blog readers outside the Twin Cities), and follow her story on her Caring Bridge site here.
As a 5K newbie, I felt really lucky to have my coworkers join me in walking the Commitment Day event on New Year’s Day. It was extremely cold at the Minneapolis location (nearly 30 5K races happened across the country), but we bundle up and smiled as we walked the route. I think I even saw Heidi skipping at one point.
Special thanks to my Boot Camp buddy Jennifer for joining me on a cold morning and motivating me to do another 5K. With some practice, I could be running the next one.
It’s easy to get stressed by all the commitments and to-dos this time of year, and I’ve felt my share. But yesterday, I read a quote from the classic 1955 Jill Jackson and Sy Miller song that a Facebook friend posted that put me in a better frame of mind. I took a few moments to breathe deeply and repeated this quietly to myself:
“Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”
Hope it gives you comfort during this busy, exciting time of year. Happy holidays!
After I posted about Day 4 this morning, I was watching the news at lunchtime and heard of the heartbreaking tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It almost seemed pointless to even think about gratitude when I felt such sadness.
But then one of the little boys, among the many in shock, said something to a reporter: after the students huddled in a closet of the gym, he said they ran into the fire house for safety and “were just happy to be alive.” As a child, I was lucky to always feel safe in my home, community and school — it’s devastating to imagine a world where even quiet towns can face such violence.
Sending love and prayers for strength to those children, teachers, family and friends in Newtown…
One of my favorite lessons from a seminar with Maryanne O’Brien of Live Dynamite was to keep a gratitude log. You can do this in a journal, on cards or Post-its that you keep in plain sight, in a mental record, or with various online sites and social media, such as GratitudeLog.com.
Generally, I note my appreciation in a mental checklist, but when I see or experience kindness from a stranger, I like to write it down and share it with Kyle. (Positive emotions are good for marriages: According to studies by psychologist John Gottman, PhD, for every one negative expression, there needs to be five positive ones — whether that’s a kind smile or a compliment — for the relationship to flourish. I figure sharing my feel-good observations helps build that ratio in our favor.)
Recently, I had such an experience at my local Whole Foods Market. I was picking up a few groceries after my evening workout, somewhat in a daze from the intensity of the routine I had just completed, when another shopper gave me a friendly hello while picking out lemons. After he left, he continue making his way around the store waving, smiling and chatting up other shoppers.
Since I have a long-standing history with cynicism, I questioned his intentions. Perhaps he was trying to score a date. He must have an angle, right? But as he moved through the aisles saying hello, I could see he was genuinely a friendly guy — or at least, choosing to be positive in this moment in time.
At checkout, an announcement was made about a blue Subaru in the parking lot. Thinking it was mine, I spoke up and was approached by a woman who said she brushed the side of my car with hers and wanted to exchange insurance information. Outside, we realized she did not, in fact, hit my car and the car in question was now gone. Still, the fact that the woman came back inside to track down the owner warmed my heart. She could’ve easily drove away, but made the choice to do the right thing.
Yesterday in Minnesota, we received our first big snowfall — a beautiful sight and delightful playground for children of all ages, but a challenge for travel. The kindness that pours out during inclement weather is touching: the neighbors shoveling each others’ sidewalks, pushing stuck cars, even giving rides to those without all-wheel drive.
If you see random acts of kindness, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below. And consider keeping a gratitude journal for the week with me (I’ll be posting my notes every evening this week). At the end of the week, re-read your positive messages and take note of how you feel. It’s a simple practice and only takes a few minutes, and it might turn into a routine you’ll keep. Even better, one that could evolve from observation into action.
This time last year, we had to make a hard choice: say goodbye to one of our dogs. It was not a decision we came to lightly, and one that has, in some way, taken me this long to process.
I’m finally ready to talk about the decision publicly, and I think the story fits on this blog for a good reason. Pets bring so much love and loyalty and humor that I can’t imagine living without them. But any pet owner knows that it’s not all roses and laughter all the time. If your pet gets sick, or misbehaves, and this behavior continues, it can be hugely stressful on their owners as they work to change the behavior or help an ill animal.
Until last Thanksgiving, we raised two dogs together. A black Lab and Chesapeake Bay retriever mix named Chloe that Kyle adopted from the Animal Humane Society; and a basenji named Ladybird, who I adopted as a puppy.
Along with my two cats, our pets have taught me so much about my own capacity to love and care for another creature. Ladybird in particular taught me patience, tenderness and the value of discipline.
We found each other when she was eight weeks old. My boyfriend at the time suggested we look at bringing a dog or puppy into our household, so we started researching breeds. We were both intrigued by the basenji, a medium-sized hunting dog originating in central Africa. They are loving, curious, highly intelligent dogs, and some have said their personalities can mirror a cat’s demeanor. Basenjis are also “barkless,” in the sense that they may make strange howling sounds or whine, but they rarely let out a hearty woof common in larger breeds. From what we read, because basenjis are so unique, people often come to them for their beauty but have difficulty with their curious and hard-to-train disposition, so the dogs find their way into shelters. We wanted to rescue a female or male and give it a good home.
One day we saw an ad for basenji puppies, and made a call to inquire. The man who placed the ad said he had previously volunteered for the Basenji Rescue and Transport, a nonprofit group with networks across the country that place approximately 300 purebred basenjis in permanent homes. We had just finished polishing our application for BRAT, as they are affectionately called, so I was quite familiar with the good work of the organization and pleased to hear of the man’s affiliation. He said he had been working at a nearby animal shelter when a male and female basenji were surrendered, and, after the male was adopted, overhead two volunteers talking about using the female to mass breed for profit (what sounded to him like a puppy mill). He reported the volunteers and immediately adopted the female to keep her safe.
Then one September day, his newly adopted basenji started popping out puppies. Ladybird was the first arrival.
When we arrived at the man’s house, she came up to us right away, and I fell in love with her instantly. How could I not with that face?!?
Unfortunately, the next six months of her life (and mine) would be in flux, as one relationship ended and I eventually met my husband. Bird and I didn’t have a set schedule, which is so crucial to training a puppy (we took a class together, and she retained sit, but nothing else). I was also, in retrospect, too young to have such a great responsibility: at 23, I had just finished college that spring, purchased a home and started my full-time career. Growing up with our mild-mannered Cockapoo, Biff, who seemed to fit so easily into our household, I thought it would be so simple to bring a new dog home.
I thought wrong.
The cats were none too pleased. Our male, Sids, is the oldest and a stubborn guy as it is, and the female, Biz, was terrified. I had read that basenjis, which are trained to hunt small animals in the Congo, could adapt to living with cats as long as they started young or had previous experience in a home with cats. But I could never get the cats to stay in the same room with her. Every chance she saw them, Ladybird would chase after them and nip at their heels, only making the relationship worse.
When Kyle and I merged households, we thought Ladybird would be happy to have a new friend in Chloe. Nope. She had established that she was the alpha female: she had learned to conquer the cats, heck, she even ruled over me most of the time, and any new creature in her home would have to play second fiddle.
But it wasn’t all chaos all the time, and it wasn’t all harmony either.
There were plenty of times when the girls, as we called the dogs, would cuddle on a blanket or share the same dog bed. They’d run and play in our fenced yard and kept each other company when we were away at work.
Chloe was only seven months when she met Ladybird (although Chloe was nearly full size), and Ladybird a little over a year old, so they grew up together. But as the years wore on, playful nips on Chloe’s ears were tolerated less, disagreements over bones became more vocal, and we grew tired of constantly monitoring their time together.
We had to keep Ladybird from the cats since she continued to chase them, so we developed a system of child safety gates in the door jambs to keep the cats separate. It also gave Bird time alone for her nightly dog bone, since fights had previously erupted over bones. (You can imagine the challenge of finding a willing pet-sitter.) The dogs slept in our room, Chloe in a dog bed on the floor, and Bird underneath our bed or at our feet, and she always needed to enter the room first (where Bird would growl at Chloe until she laid down and the door was shut). Our home was one of enduring high pressure and anxiety, between the dogs, for the cats and for us.
Then last October, they had their last fight.
Chloe had witnessed Ladybird chase the cats before, and the subsequent instinctual screaming at her from me, so one morning, when Ladybird and the cats were in the same room with no gate in place, and Bird walked past them, Chloe lost it. She must have assumed Bird was going after the cats, and started barking over her and biting at her neck. In Chloe’s defense, she wasn’t crazed or out of control. I believe she really thought she was protecting the cats, for my sake and theirs.
Once I placed them in different rooms, I knew I had to separate them. Permanently. This fight was too scary for me, and too scary for both of them. I was angry at Chloe, I was angry at Bird, I was angry at Kyle, I was angry at myself. I forced them together. I pushed Bird to live with cats when she didn’t like them.
I had taken Bird to training as a puppy, and Kyle paid to have a trainer work in our home when Chloe moved in. Even after the fight, I made one last ditch effort with pet trainer and communicator Sage Lewis of Dancing Porcupine, who I had previously worked with on Tellington TTouch for Chloe (and often used on Bird when she joined me to watch TV). Sage felt the unrest immediately in our home, and offered support while we wrestled with our decision. I spoke with my Handel Group life coach, nearby shelters and pet-foster homes, other pet owners, my mom (at length!), and basenji owners.
Chloe went to live with our pet-sitter during that time, and we thought about which dog to re-home. At first we thought Chloe, because she’s so even tempered and good with kids, and would be welcome in anyone’s home, but with her instigating the dog fight, the shelters told me they’d have to euthanize her. She also has a history of violent seizures (which have since subsided), making her more difficult to place.
Ladybird always seemed a bit wary of kids and strangers, so we also had to question how she’d respond to a new baby someday. She wasn’t a fan of the change we had thrown her way thus far. And while Chloe was away, Ladybird calmed down and seemed so happy in our home — at last. Since the cats kept away, it was if she was the only pet, and I could see that’s what she really always wanted all along.
I contacted the Basenji Rescue and Transport, and told them I needed to re-home Ladybird.
They were so wonderful to work with, and I will forever be grateful that such a group exists to help basenjis and their owners. Ironically, through my work with the Handel Group, I had been battling my own “brat” voice when it comes to diet and exercise, and realized my headstrong desire to keep Ladybird even though it wasn’t right for her was simply my own selfishness. It was fitting that my brat relinquished to another BRAT that could help her.
Sometimes letting go is the most loving act.
Through the BRAT group, I was able to request to speak with her new owner. We talked about a semi- “open-adoption” policy, at least for the first few months to year, so I’d feel more comfortable with the transition. She agreed to keep me updated on Ladybird from time to time. Her notes tell me how happy Birdie is in her new home, and I’m so thankful that she’s found a place of peace and love and gives her new mommy so much joy.
I know this has been a long story, so thank you for taking the time to read it. There are times now when I miss Ladybird so terribly, that little goofy stinker that gave me so much joy and heartache all those eight years of her life with me. Her quirky sounds, the “baroo” noise she’d make, her big brown eyes in the morning light. She was truly the animal love of my life.
These days our house is calm. Chloe battles a bit of anxiety when she’s alone, but mostly fills her days with naps and play time in the yard. The cats have finally reclaimed the house, and even lay close to Chloe during nap time and follow her around on investigative missions to the basement. And with our home being quiet, so are we: all those years of chronic high stress managing the pets has evaporated.
I’m glad for the lessons our pets taught us, the main one being to reach out for support sooner. Finding help for Bird was such a gift, and I often think of our experience re-homing her when I have my own struggles. Knowing that there are wonderful people out there that love pets so much that they’ll drive many miles to take a total stranger’s dog to a new home shows me true compassion. As hard as it was to put Ladybird in a van to leave us last Thanksgiving, we did so with full hearts and complete gratitude.
Leaving my polling place today, I felt like doing a few chores. Tidy up the home office, knock out a blog post, follow-up on some emails, plan a healthy dinner. Then tonight, I kicked butt in my workout. Putting a check mark next to “vote” on my to-do list ignited a greater feeling of accomplishment.
There has to be something to that, right?
Indeed there is. In a 2004 report, psychologist Marc Zimmerman, PhD, at the University of Michigan’s School of Health, notes that empowerment is part of overall good health. It’s about learning how to take control when and where you can, such as the case with voting, he says. You participate, you are engaged, and you are part of the community. Fulfilling your civic responsibility, it seems, fuels other worthy goals.
We talk a lot about connections here at Experience Life and on RevolutionaryAct.com, so this line of thought, that one good act prompts another, would make sense. I would argue that it goes deeper than simply fulfilling one’s civic duty or participating in community involvement: it’s about taking a stand.
Now bear with me on this theory. Whenever I feel indifferent, say about what to eat for dinner, I usually cave and order take-out. If I don’t make any plans for the night, I end up watching TV, and often nothing in particular. But when I make a choice, whether that’s a healthy dinner or a social night with friends, I always feel better. Smarter. In charge. And that seeps into other areas of my life.
Now, I care a great deal about this election and the issues, even if I haven’t posted about it here or on Facebook. I’ve been tempted, believe me, because I do have strong convictions and there are a number of hot issues this election.* But I’ve decided to keep my focus on health, which has become a political issue — and there, I’m biased. We vote every day with our forks, and I vote for whole, nutritious foods. Occasionally, I vote for a slice of gluten-free chocolate torte, but that’s my right as an American.
Seriously, though, as the polls close here in Minnesota, I’m feeling good about filling in my ballot today and making my choices heard. I hope that you all voted for what you believe in, and that you kept the greater good in mind. Every vote counts, and every choice we make should make us proud.
*My public silence on which way I vote all stems back to a class at the University of Minnesota with Star Tribune reporter Paul McEnroe, who urged our group of young journalists to never share or advertise our political leanings in an effort to remain objective. It always stuck with me. Over the years since McEnroe’s class, I’ve read and witnessed very active debates over the neutrality of journalists. We’re people, after all, and people have opinions. One can only hope to cover an issue fairly and equally, and not let personal bias influence the piece. This was also before Facebook and subscribers and public pages, which creates another conversation about allowing readers a glimpse of your personality, too (Steve Myers covered this subject in 2009 after the last presidential elections). Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but those opinions don’t always speak for the publication or company. I’ve chosen to stay mum online.
In July, I had a thought to post my monthly health reports on the last day of said month, a kind of wins and challenges list. It was item No. 3 of my goals: using monthly check-ins to review what worked and what didn’t.
I haven’t yet shared, so here’s what I’ve learned in July, August and September:
What’s working right now:
What’s not working:
While travel was great during the summer and September, it was also a bit dizzying. That’s one of my favorite things about fall: a bit slower pace and time to reflect. I can make some adjustments to my goals and figure out what I’m willing to do — and what I actually can do. Students go back to school, and the rest of us, students of life, can obtain a new education, skill or practice.
Tell me about a goal you’ve had to rework — and how you finally made it happen — in the comments section below, or find me on Twitter: @clewisopdahl.