Posts Tagged ‘life lessons’

If we were having coffee, I would be out of sorts and once we got settled and comfy, I would probably start telling you about my favorite aunt, Joy.

When I was little, around four, my uncle who lived with us, got a new girlfriend that lived down the street from us. He met her when my mom sent him to Maio’s Market, on the corner, for a dinner ingredient. When we walked by the house where Joy lived, she was outside. That was the beginning of a year sixty year marriage. He brought her to the house to meet us and to meet my mom. My mom was ten years older than my uncle and had practically raised him as she cared for him when my grandmother was at work. So she was very protective of her little brother. Aunt Joy and my mom didn’t get along at first and even once they came to appreciate each other and truly care for one another, there were some rough times, mostly due to “boundaries” perceived and real.

I felt a special bond with her, even in the early days. My middle name is Joy and when I found out that her real name was not Joy, I asked her why she used that as her name. She answered that she hated her given name, Jovita. And one day, while washing dishes as part of her chores, she looked at the bottle of dish washing liquid and decided she would from then on be called Joy, like the soap.

I really liked Aunt Joy. I would go visit her, even before they were married. And I kind of shadowed her when she came to visit my uncle. Later, she took very good care of us, driving across town when my mother was in the hospital and I was having a lot of pain. She helped me and brought medicine and stayed until I felt better and my brothers were home from school.

When I went to college and my parents moved from San Jose in California to Orange County, I spent a lot of time with my aunt. They lived about a half hour from Palo Alto where I attended college. I spent weekends with them and holidays. That’s when she taught me one of the most important things in my life. Volunteering. I went along with her to deliver cupcakes or cookies to my cousins’ classrooms for their parties. I learned about Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts and going on field trips with the kids’ classes. I went along with her to help at church craft fairs and other fundraisers. I asked her once why she did all of that. My mom hadn’t done any of that so it seemed different to me. She explained that we always have a duty to help out whenever we can, especially with schools and youth groups and churches because they don’t have a lot of money or a lot of help. That stayed with me and when I became a mom, I started volunteering as soon as my kids got to pre-school. I never stopped. Class mom, field trip chaperone, den mother for Cub Scouts, troop leader for Girl Scouts. Fundraising chair at the elementary school. PTA president. Foundation President. I still volunteer (well not since the pandemic shut everything and everyone down last March) at the grandkids’ schools.

She taught me so much. She was like a second mom. I’ve always thought of her as one of the five most influential people in my life.

She died yesterday.

I am deeply saddened. I cannot be there to honor her or memorialize her as I am very high risk and not vaccinated yet. It would be too big of a risk. And then there is the money involved. So I can’t. Instead, I will share with others, as I’ve shared here with you. I’ll continue to sip my tea and think about her and just talk to her spirit.

For more #weekendcoffeeshare posts, please visit Natalie the Explorer and, if you are so inclined, please write your own coffee share post and link up here.

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I debated whether I should write this or not. Decided on doing it because if even one person benefits from any of this, that will be a good thing. The next question concerns how much I’ll be able to tell. I’ll be as transparent as I can be but I will say that I know for a fact that not everyone who reads this is a”friend” of mine and some people will delight in my woes. Not being paranoid. It’s just a fact. So with that in mind, read on.

First off, after a car accident in January of 2002, I was unable to go back to work because doing so would require me to be on fairly strong pain meds. I was teaching sixth grade and pain meds are a big no-no when people are entrusting their minor children to you. So no work meant no medical insurance.  I haven’t been able to work since. I have had no medical insurance since 2002.  I’m also diabetic, having been diagnosed in 1999.  When I lost my job I moved from southern California to northern California.  That was my salvation for diabetes care because I was able to find a clinic that did nothing but diabetes clinical drug studies.  I hooked up with them and I was set with free medicine and free testing supplies. When one study ended, they would find me another. Super!  Then in 2008 my financial situation changed and I could no longer afford California rents. I moved to Portland, Oregon.  Near enough for my kids to come see me. 

When I arrived in Oregon, I also had some kind of “lump” in my side. No chronic pain from it, only occasional pain. It looked like normal middle age spare tire weight but was not otherwise a problem.  My daughter loved Portland and moved here, too. She encouraged me to go to DHS to apply for medical assistance, she even drove me there and went in with me. I hate asking anyone for anything. I did ask and was told that as long as I was over 18 and not pregnant, there was no public health care assistance for adults. No application. No medical care.

I have had diabetes long enough to know what to avoid so I tried to control my disease through diet. That worked pretty well for a long time.  Then about four years ago the lump in my side began to grow. And grow. And shift positions.  About 18 months ago, my abdomen took on the shape of a small pregnant belly.  In the past six months my belly had grown to what appears the size of a full nine month pregnancy.  The bulge pushes on everything and is heavy and I always feel bloated.  I am uncomfortable 24/7.  When we were all supposed to sign up for Obama Care, Oregon choose their own program, not the Federal program.  That also became a problem because the computer software for the application process never…NEVER…became functional, leaving millions of Oregonians out of reach of insurance. Including me.

Then two weeks ago I began to have severe pain, which I associated with a previous gall bladder attack. Because of not having insurance, I did not seek medical attention.  I waited. I got better.  Then I got worse.  A lot worse.  My pee turned a dark brown. My face turned orange. And by last Wednesday night, my poop turned green. By Thursday morning I was short of breath, extremely weak, and disoriented. But I knew enough to tell my daughter that I wanted her to take me to a clinic. It was long past time. At the clinic the doctor said that my issues were so severe and so multiple, that she could not morally or ethically treat me. She sent me straight to the hospital ER and called ahead to itemize what her concerns were and what she felt should be tested and pursued. (This step is important because when a patient walks in to the ER, they take care of the most obvious and send the patient home. When a medical professional tells them their concerns and the minimal course to be followed, there’s a record of it and the hospital is legally required to follow up on all of it.)

At Oregon Health Science University (OHSU), the ER did blood work then immediately pronounced that I had chronic liver disease and they were admitting me.  I don’t have a history of any risk factors for chronic liver disease but I let them admit me because I have to get better. Between getting me to my room from the ER, we made a stop at ultra sound. Once I was in my room, a different doctor from the acute care unit came in and said he does not think the liver is the culprit. His best guess was that it was pancreatitis and gall bladder, both easy to treat. However there is fluid in the abdomen and it is obstructing the view and they couldn’t see the gall bladder.  They scheduled a CT scan to get a better look.

After the CT scan a surgeon from OB/GYN came to see me. She said they were seeing a clear fluid filled cyst attached to my ovary.  However, I told her I had a complete hysterectomy twenty years ago.  Upon more questions and physical exam, they determined that the hysterectomy doctor removed only my uterus but entered the wrong information in my file.  Now I have this humongous cyst growing attached to a host that shouldn’t be there.

If the cyst were free of sections, there would be no worry of a malignancy. My cyst has two small sections which could indicate a malignancy.  So the current plan is to send me home as soon as they can find the right treatment to control my diabetes which is not responding to the insulin. Then in two weeks I return for a removal of the cyst and while they do a quick read biopsy, the doctor will remove the ovaries and tubes that should have been removed twenty years ago. If the quick read comes back as definitely malignant, they have work to do which isn’t being discussed right now.  If we get a “not definitely malignant” they stitch me up and I recuperate in the hospital for three days. Then I go home and hold my breath for the final pathology report in as long as three weeks.  Then I will either get the all clear call or the other call.

Lessons? Lots.  Don’t wait until it’s too late.  When the door is shut in your face, knock on a different one.  When you have needs and concerns, take care of them, even if there are others that need you (that’s the toughest for me). When you need help, seek it.  When you think you know what’s going on with your body, remember that others have knowledge about your body that you may not have. But most of all…forgive yourself. It’s not all your fault.  Yes, you bear the blame for some of it but by no means all of it.  It’s time to be good to yourself and enjoy what you have and pray you will have it for many more years. Forgive yourself.

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A friend’s twee the other day reminded me of this story which has appeared here before, but due to my having lost everything on my blog last year, I had to reconstruct it.  Enjoy!


I had no idea on that early Monday morning, so many years ago, that I was listening to a story that would stay with me for many, many years – a story that I would tell over and over again – a story that I would use to teach others, as it had taught me.

The bell rang for first period and we all headed for class.  Mr. Kennealy usually arrived early to let us in as we waited outside the door but this morning was different.  He had left the door open but he wasn’t in the classroom.  We all went in and took our seats and waited.  The tardy bell rang and he wasn’t there.  A minute later he walked into the classroom.

Mr. Kennealy arrived without his usual smile.  He had a somber look on his face, too somber even for a Monday morning at 8 AM.  Instead of his usual social studies lesson and a test we were supposed to take, he started talking about a motorcycle ride he had taken the day before.  Mr. Kennealy explained that a few years previously, he had bought a motorcycle that he rode on weekends.  He talked about how he needed to get out in the open air and feel the wind in his face and all that horsepower under his control.  He explained that after a long week of teaching and coaching and parenting, he needed an outlet.  His motorcycle was this outlet.  On his motorcycle, he felt free and unrestrained.  He felt that he could forget all responsibility and think only about being alone.  His motorcycle rides had become a cherished and anticipated activity that he couldn’t do without.

While riding along in the mountains on that  quiet Sunday morning, with no traffic in either direction, he came upon a sign that warned of a “STOP 150 Feet Ahead.”  He thought about it.  Clearly there was no traffic so why should he stop?  He repeated for us the internal dialog he had:  “Why should I stop just because the sign says that I have to?  I know it’s the law but laws are made to protect us from others and from ourselves.  I know that the stop sign is to protect me and others from colliding into each other.  I know this road and I have been on it a million times and there has never been anyone else on it, especially on that part of the road, so there isn’t anything to protect me or others from.  The law should be null and void.”

As he spoke to us, he paced back and forth across the front of the room, looking either down at the floor or up at the ceiling, as if in a trance.  He spoke in a quiet voice and we all sat as still as possible so we wouldn’t miss a word.  We sensed that Mr. Kennealy had something important to tell us.  He gave us examples of what would happen if everyone took it upon themselves to ignore laws and of how laws were the cornerstone of living in a civilized society.  He also gave us examples of times when laws were abusive and too restrictive; of times when those in power took this power and used it for their own good and not the good of the community.  He spoke of free will and our right to exercise that free will.  He spoke of our duty to speak out against abuse by the government.

Mr. Kennealy went on: “I should not feel restricted by the stop sign just because I am supposed to stop.  I debated about whether to stop or not, taking both the pro and con sides.  After much deliberation, I decided that when I got to that stop sign I was not going to stop.  I was going to exercise my free will and indulge my need for total freedom and lack of restriction on this wonderfully liberating motorcycle ride I was on.”

By now the entire period was just about over.  We had seconds before the bell rang and we still didn’t known what he had done.  The bell rang and he was still talking but hadn’t come to any end or resolution.  He dismissed us but not one of us moved.  We asked him what he had done when he got to the stop sign.  He looked at the floor and in almost a whisper he said, “I stopped.”

We loved the story, but I think most of us were rather surprised that this very rebellious philosopher had gone against what he really wanted to do.  I have thought about it and told the story many times.  I have also used it, with some of my own editorial comments, to show how people have the free will to do the right thing or not.

Over the years I have run in to people that were in that class on that day and they all remember it. That says a lot.

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In the previous post I wrote about a high school teacher who taught his class a wonderful lesson by accident.

When I wrote about this for a class in the summer of 2000,  I thought how wonderful it would be to contact Mr. K and let him know what an impact his accidental lesson had made on me and on other students who were in that classroom all those years ago.  I contacted my high school academic counselor, Bill Flanagan, with whom I am still in touch even though I graduated in 1974.  Mr. Flanagan gave me Mr. Keneally’s email address.  I wrote him an email, reminding him of who I was and then relayed the story of that morning’s lesson.  I told him how I have run into other students who were in that class that early Monday morning and let him know that we all remember that day.  Then I followed up by letting him know what I was up to and a little bit about my kids.

Within a couple of days, I received a reply from Mr. K.  His email made me cry.  In it he said, “Wow, thank you so much for writing!  Twenty nine years go by quickly.  Your email brought back fond memories and a little tear to my eye.  I do remember you and that freshman class of Emerging Nations.  I was so proud of what you wrote and the fact that you did write, that I shared it with my family and friends.”  He went on to fill me in on his career changes and on his family.  I was struck by his occupational choices.  It appears that after leaving teaching, he owned a restaurant then a chain of restaurants.  Later, he started a chocolate company then he went to work for a Fortune 500 company that supplied food products to restaurants and grocery outlets.  Then he did something you might not expect.  He left that company to head up a non profit organization that manufactures cakes and tarts while training and developing skills in people with mental and/or physical disabilities.  The company also trains and employs homeless and welfare recipients.  He said it was challenging but very rewarding.

I found myself, once again, in awe of that rebellious philosopher.  I am so glad that I reached out to him to let him know what he did for many of us ninth graders back in 1971.  With his email reply, I found myself again considering myself very fortunate to have had this man as a teacher.  His lessons keep on teaching.

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The other day I took my daughter to get some shoes.  She had been complaining of backaches and when I looked at her feet I realized she was wearing a very worn out pair of canvas Mary Jane shoes which had absolutely no support.  I told her she needed new shoes so off we went to Payless Shoesource for their BoGo sale.  She found two pair and tried them on.  When I was paying for them, I took the time to examine them carefully for any defects.  The cashier, I think, thought I was strange for checking them out so closely but I didn’t care.  I have learned to examine things, especially shoes, before handing over the money for them.

When I was in fifth grade, I wanted some white shoes I had seen at Karl’s Shoes, a now defunct shoe retailer.  My mom said I didn’t need them so if I wanted them I would have to earn the money and pay for them myself.  So I decided to do just that.  I babysat my cousins.  It took a while to earn the money for the shoes because I wasn’t allowed to babysit by myself.  I had to go with my older sister and so we had to share the money between the two of us.  Once I earned the money (I think they were about $12; it was 1967)  I told my mother I had enough and asked her if my dad could take us to Karl’s when he got home from work.  She said my father would be too tires so if I wanted the shoes I would have to walk to the store and buy them.  Of course, I wasn’t allowed to go by myself so my sister and I walked the mile to the small shopping center to get my shoes.

I picked out the shoes.  There actually wasn’t any question in my mind.  I wanted the same pair I had seen a couple of months before.  Luckily, they had one pair of white shoes in my size.  All the others were in black but what was special about these shoes was the color.  I had black shoes.  I wanted white ones.   I was careful to try the shoes on inside the store before buying them.  I walked up and down the length of the store and across the width of it.  My mother had told me to make absolutely sure they fit before I bought them.  So I did.  I must have walked a mile inside the store before handing over the money for my shoes.

I was so excited to have those shoes!  I practically ran the mile home to show them off.  When I got home my mom told me to put them on so she could make sure they were the right fit.  Gladly, I put them on and modeled them for her, walking back and forth in front of her.  I turned to see if she was happy that I had my shoes and she was shaking her head.  She told me to turn around.  I did.  She told me to take them off and look at them.  I did.  I saw nothing wrong but clearly my mother did.  Then she told me to turn the shoes around and look at the back of them.  I did.  That’s when I noticed that one heal was black and the other heel was white!  I tried not to cry but couldn’t help it.

My mother made me walk back to the store right away.  She said I should get my money back or a pair with matching heels.  I knew it had been the last pair in my size.  I walked back and showed the salesman the shoes.  He looked in the back and assured me it was indeed the only pair of white shoes in my size.  They had others that were similar but they weren’t what I wanted.  Then he offered to bring me the same shoe in black.  But I didn’t want it in black.  I wanted to cry but I knew that if I did the salesman would laugh at me.  So I didn’t let my self cry.  Instead, my tears betrayed me and came out on their own.

The sales man looked at me and apologized.  He didn’t know what to do to make me stop crying.  Finally, he brought out some black shoe polish and turned the white heel black.  He showed me that no one would be able to tell that one heel was white.  I asked him what would happen when the polish wore off.  I had older brothers that used to polish their shoes and I knew that the polish would eventually wear off.  He said he would give me a tin of the black shoe polish to use when it wore off.

It was the best he could do, he said.  I was forced to decide if I wanted the shoes bad enough to accept the polished heel as a match for the black heel.  I knew my mother would be upset but I really wanted those shoes.  So I reluctantly accepted the shoes, the black polish, and a polishing cloth that the salesman gave me and walked home, dejectedly.

I really loved those shoes.  I took good care of them and polished the heels often.  I even put up with my mother scolding me every time she remembered about the shoes and every time I wore them.

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While I earned top grades in high school, my downfall has always been math with science taking a close second. It’s not that I did poorly in science classes, I just didn’t enjoy it like I did social studies, language arts, journalism, and foreign languages. Consequently, I found myself lacking a year of science for my college prep when I reached the end of my junior year. That meant that I had no choice, I would have to take a science class during my senior year.

Reluctantly, I showed up to my third period Biology class on the first day of school and found out that I was the only senior in a class full of sophomores. To top things off, I would be late for class every day of the school year because I was the person that read led the flag salute and read the announcements over the P.A. system for the whole school. It turned out not to be too bad because all the sophomores looked up to me and, mostly, because the teacher was really kind of cute. He wasn’t cute in the traditional teenage girl’s eyes. Mr. Gallo was just a normal every day kind of guy, balding even, but he had a gleam in his eyes and a cute smile and was very friendly and accessible.

I remember riding the Booster Bus to football games and making sure that I rode on the bus that Mr. Gallo was chaperoning. We would tease him and make up songs about him and make him blush. There was a whole group of us that had developed a crush on him. We weren’t really forward about it but he knew we were all kind of ga-ga over him.

Mr. Gallo was also a great science teacher. He made it entertaining and easy to understand. When we had to do labs, he was right there to help us get through anything gory. He didn’t make us do anything we really couldn’t stomach, yet he did make sure we learned the material that we were responsible for mastering.

One day, he told us we were going to watch him do a lab in front of the class. We would not be doing it ourselves because it involved using acid and a Bunsen burner and it was dangerous to have 30+ students with a potential explosive device at each table. We all pulled our chairs to the front of the room and arranged them so we could see what he was doing at his work table in the front of the room. Mr. Gallo made sure that we could all see. He had the shorter students sit up front for unobstructed views, which meant I was in the first row. Mr. Gallo began the experiment by showing us everything he was doing and asking us questions about what he should do next and what we might expect, etc. Suddenly, without warning, there was an explosion that shattered the glass tube (is it called a beaker?) on the Bunsen burner and sent acid flying all over the place! Mr. Gallo’s first concern was for us, his students. He immediately yelled for us to get back and asked if we were all okay. He instructed one student at the back of the room to run to the class next door and get the teacher to come immediately and asked another student to get on the intercom and tell the office we needed the nurse with her emergency bag in the room right away. He started calling each of us by name and making sure we were okay and instructed us to go to the sinks at the back of the room and wash off any exposed skin, especially on our faces. It was only when there was another adult in the room and when he made sure we were all moving to wash off any acid that gotten on us that he walked to a sink and began to wash the acid off of himself. He had gotten it on his shirt and on his arms (he was wearing a short sleeved shirt) and on his hands.

In the end, it was all okay. None of the students had been injured. Some of us had our clothing burned by the acid (including my most prized piece of clothing, a dark green brushed corduroy blazer) but we were all spared any physical injury, largely due to Mr. Gallo’s quick thinking and command during an emergency. Mr. Gallo, however, did end up getting acid burns on his forearms and on his hands. He was okay but he did sustain those burns, mostly because he took care of his students before washing the acid off of himself. We were his priority and thanks to him, we were all safe.

I learned a lot in Biology that year. A lot of it was not about Biology but about priorities and taking care of one’s charges before taking care of oneself and I still remember Mr. Gallo several times a week.

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