Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Learning I Have Hypertension

This past winter, I discovered I have developed high blood pressure. This came as a surprise for me, since I generally had always had blood pressure on the lower side of normal and since I don't really have the risk factors except for age and family history. 

For totally unrelated reasons, I had been taking a medicine for about two years that can be used to treat high blood pressure, and I went off of the medicine this past fall. Then, at a random gynecologist appointment, a nurse took my blood pressure at the beginning of the appointment and said, "That can't be right..." She went to my other arm and took it again. But that didn't help. 

My blood pressure was reading 164/110. 

When the doctor came in, she said that it wasn't rush-me-to-the-hospital high (although, I now realize it was close to that) and that this was just one point of data on one day. I needed to gather more data points and see my primary care physician. 

We got a blood pressure monitor for home so I could take my blood pressure at different times and gather more data points. Which I did, and I was averaging 159 over 103. Really not good. In fact, that put me quite firmly in Stage 2 of Hypertension.

I made an appointment with my doctor and brought in my data points. I talked with her about how I went off of this other medicine, and she explained that going off the medicine couldn't cause high blood pressure, however it could have been masking what otherwise would have been a steady rise in blood pressure. That is why my numbers were suddenly so high after going off of the medicine. 

So my primary care physician told me to see a cardiologist as soon as I could, and handed me a prescription which she said to start taking IMMEDIATELY.

As soon as I started on the medicine, my blood pressure lowered to average 131 over 84. I started being more careful of what I ate, and I continued my regular exercising. And I made an appointment with a cardiologist.

The cardiologist said that she thinks the hypertension is because of my family history and that I'm "at an age" when this can kick in. Sigh... 40s... 

She believes it is just "garden variety" hypertension that I can control with the low dose of medicine I had started, diet, and exercise. Luckily, I don't have any damage to my heart because we caught it early enough. She told me to take my blood pressure twice a day and use an app to track it. 

And she handed me a printout with her recommended diet and forbidden foods (so many forbidden foods!!!), although she let me know that I had a little more leeway than say a person recovering from a heart attack. She said to lower my sodium intake and eat potassium-rich foods. 

And then, of course, I did research to figure out what I could eat and to find recipes. I highly recommend the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet/eating plan, and I heavily leaned on the NHLBI website and even printed out copies of the information linked in the Getting Started with Dash Eating Plan section for myself and my dad (from whom I get the family history of hypertension).

So I've reduced my intake of sodium, sugar, red meat, non-whole grain carbs, and overall calories. I am pretty much eating vegetables, beans, some whole wheat grains, plain yogurt with fruit, fish, and chicken for every meal. Basically, I cook my own meals while Londo makes dinner for him and the kids, because there is no chance the kids are going to eat a plate of veggies and beans. And I still can enjoy some chips or candy on a rare occasion. 

On the bright side, I lost 20 pounds since I started this diet and my blood pressure is back in the normal range. And I discovered that I love beans! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Virtual Lunches with School Friends

Today was Day 3 of virtual school. I'm happy to say that it seems to be going well so far. Whew! 

My kids are both in middle school now, so they have similar schedules, which are generally like this: 

  • Mondays - Live virtual classes for periods 1 - 4
  • Tuesdays - Live virtual classes for periods 5 - 8
  • Wednesdays - Independent study all day, with optional check-ins for every period
  • Thursdays - Live virtual classes for periods 1 - 4
  • Fridays - Live virtual classes for periods 5 - 8

As it is the first week of school, everyone is still adjusting. And the truth is, the mental adjustment is probably the hardest part at this point. My kids have been grumpy and moody. No more hanging out all morning, playing video games for lengthy amounts of time, watching TV, not getting dresses... No more summer break!

We all know the best part about going back to school is seeing your friends. This year, they don't even get to really do that, at least in person. So they have to give up the freedoms they get during summer break, adjust to this new way of "going" to school virtually, start doing school work, and they don't even get to chat with friends in hallways, classes, and the cafeteria! 

Yesterday, the Pookie's best friend's mom messaged me and two other moms about letting this group of friends together for a virtual lunch today. Since Wednesday is for independent study and they weren't on video meetings/classes all day, it was the perfect day to let them get online together to eat lunch and play around. What a great idea! We all agreed and finalized the plan this morning. 

The boys had a great time! At one point, one of the other moms messaged the rest of us saying she just heard the best laugh from her son! We all agreed that it went well, and we plan to let them do it every Wednesday. They may not be in a cafeteria together, but they can at least get on a video call and have lunch and a good time playing around together.   

When the Pumpkin heard that her brother was doing a lunch with friends, she asked if she could, also. She has been communicating with her friends pretty regularly--probably even daily, either through messaging or video calls. But this was different, because it is really about finding a way to replace the cafeteria school lunchtimes. Of course I said she could, and her friends were able to also. And of course they had a great time. I told her she should do it every Wednesday. 

So what if they are technically getting more screen time by being on laptops/phones with video calls. So what if they are eating their sandwiches while sitting on the floors of their rooms and not in chairs at a table. So what if one of our dogs ate the sandwich crusts when one of the kids left the bedroom door open after lunch. They are getting a workable substitution for an important part of the school experience. 

Side benefit: They make their own lunches, so I don't have to pack lunchboxes and make sure they remember them, nor do do I need to clean them out after spending hours in backpacks and lockers!

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Ready for Virtual School

Tomorrow is the first day of school for the 2020-2021 school year. My school district originally developed plans for both a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual learning, but mid- to late-summer the numbers were still not looking good and there were too many concerns and unknowns, so they decided to plan for everyone to be virtual at least for the first semester. In either case, we were going to keep the kids home to go to school virtually. 

In order to set up the kids for this, Londo and I talked with them to figure out where they feel most comfortable "going to school" virtually and have set them up with the technology, materials, and space we think they will need. We are planning to support them and the teachers, try to help them stay organized and on task, and guide them with technology and work.    

The Pumpkin is starting 8th grade. She worked with me to come up with a compromise so she could work at the dining room table in way that doesn't completely take over the household space. She is staying at one end of the table, using a mat to protect the table, keeping her supplies in an organizer box, and putting papers in clear filing trays. I even set her up a white board/bulletin board propped next to her. 

The Pookie is starting 6th grade--starting middle school! He likes working at the desk in his room, and we've cleared off space and put what he needs handy on the desk and in the drawers. He also have an organizer to write down assignments, a binder and folders for papers, and his desk has a bulletin board with his schedule pinned to it.

I'm really proud of my county for making the decision and creating plans to provide virtual learning for all kids. They developed a plan they shared not only with the school board but also with the public. Many parents weighed in, and they listened. The school board approved the plans only last week, which is cutting it pretty close, but everyone was prepared to move forward with the plan. 

Londo and I were relieved when we heard the virtual option would be offered if they went with a hybrid approach (we are even happier that they are going fully virtually). With the hybrid model, we would keep the kids home anyway by selecting fully virtual so those who really need to be in person could have more space there. We are fortunate that we are working from home, have good internet, and are able to support the kids. In addition, we want to keep the kids home unless/until there is some drastic change for the better. And I don't mean improved numbers or smaller classes so there can be more social distancing. I mean a vaccine or accurate and quick tests or, I don't even know what else.

My problem with the assumptions people are making about kids and this virus is that there are STILL too many unknowns AND that the virus keeps mutating. So it's not like we know that kids won't get it, won't be that affected, or won't carry it to others. It's that we simply DO NOT KNOW what will happen if we put a bunch of kids together in a school, in classes that change every 45 minutes, in narrow hallways, in places to eat lunch, in the doorways and corridors that everyone uses at the same times all day long. 

Except we do, don't we? Don't we at least have an idea of what will happen? Haven't we seen some examples from other countries and in colleges in the US that have already brought kids onto campus? We know that kids can get and transmit the virus, we are learning that they may quite effective at spreading the virus, and we know that some children can get severely sick from the virus. Personally, I do not expect kids to be able to maintain social distancing in school hallways, I just assume that kids (especially the youngest ones) won't want to wear masks, and I am not at all surprised when college kids go to parties and social gatherings

Therefore, it's up to us parents, administrators, government, and other adults to be the adults. It is up to us to keep the kids safe, to make decisions based on the well-being of all of those in our community, and to admit that we don't know how this virus will affect kids, mutate, or cause long-term problems. 

I do not want my kids to be guinea pigs in a potentially devastating experiment. I do not want to chance them in unknown situations with potentially lasting and/or lethal repercussions. I do not want anyone to! 

I feel like we have the technology and capabilities for our kids to learn safely, even if it is not an ideal situation. And even if we don't have the best year of education, even if our kids fall behind a little due to the current crisis situation, I believe kids are resilient and will bounce back from this. But only if they are healthy enough to do so. Only if they don't have to live with feelings of guilt for spreading a virus that kids family and friends, even if they don't get sick. 

We all want things to be back to "normal" and the kids to go back into schools. But wanting something to be doesn't make it so. We should all be planning for the worst, even while we hope for the best. We should all be coming up with inventive plans to deal with the NEW normal. We all need to adjust, adapt, innovate, and maybe even evolve--it's what humans do, in every generation, to survive in new circumstances. 

So tomorrow, we try school in a new way, with innovation and hopefully a lot of patience. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Candy Camp Was Delicious

For the past few summers, one of my best friends and her family would meet for a week at the beach. This year, for obvious reasons, we did not get together for a vacation at the beach. I still wanted to get together in some format, some way to see each other and get the kids together daily for a week virtually.

So I came up with... Candy Camp! 

I had hoped my friend would be able to work with me in creating it as an activity we could do together, but she didn't end up having the capacity. Her youngest daughter wanted to participate (the older one is a teen and has pretty much spent her summer shut in her room), but my friend agreed to it as an idea and okayed the week I wanted to have it. 

My kids were excited to do it, and I bought candy molds for chocolate bars and a kit for creating gummy candies. I planned out the themes for each day and the daily schedule, and I created a online packet with slides that walked the kids through morning activities and pages for afternoon independent work. I set up a Google Meet conference call, and we had kickoff meetings each morning and a wrap-up meeting most afternoons. 

The themes for each day were: 

  • Monday - Design your candy
  • Tuesday - Market research
  • Wednesday - Make your candy!
  • Thursday - Plan your packaging and advertising
  • Friday - Present your candy and describe your commercial

We had so much fun! My kids really liked it, and my daughter even said, while going through the first day's packet, that this was like a real camp! 

And my kids were so creative! They designed very inventive candies, came up with names and logos, drew the packaging and ads, and developed how they wanted to commercials to go. Here are the candies: 

    • Far left: Pookie's candy was muffin-shaped fudge with caramel inside and M&Ms on top.
    • Far right: Pumpkin's candy was a gummy bar with a dollop of jelly inside and covered with a milk chocolate and white chocolate drizzled on top.
    • Middle two: My candy (a white chocolate and milk chocolate version) had chocolate on top and bottom and a middle layer of peanut butter combined with marshmallow fluff and Rice Krispies
We learned some things while doing this camp, too. In addition to market research and branding, there were many teachable moments. For example, our candy making went from Wednesday into Thursday because making candy is a difficult process. We had to make three batches of fudge before we got the right consistency to get the caramel inside and set correctly. We had to figure out how to get jelly into the gummy candy, and we had to scrape off the first try at the chocolate shell because it wouldn't set. 

As I said to my kids late on Wednesday, "Making candy isn't easy! If it was, everyone would do it." 

It was also such a great way to see my friend and her daughter every day and feel like we were really doing something with them. Her daughter really enjoyed it, too, and she came up with an adorable, creative candy, name, and ad. I was quite impressed. 

So it was fun, informative, a great creative outlet, a good bonding experience from a distance, and absolutely delicious! If you ever have the chance to design and make your own candy, I highly recommend it. Just don't make too much, or your next camp will need to be figuring out how to let out your waistband!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

While I've Been... Nowhere

I don't know about everyone else out there in the world, but I suspect most people are feeling completely stir-crazy... the way I'm feeling. I was doing fine for many months. But now we are about to start the sixth month of being shut in and limiting, well, everything. 

You see, last winter I learned I have hypertension, which puts me in a higher-risk category for COVID-19. And this spring I learned that when it comes to pandemics, I'm on the extremely wary side of the caution spectrum. Also, I've worked too long supporting the health market/industry/government and with too many epidemiologists to not be flat out terrified of this novel virus.  

So our household is locked down as much as possible. None of us meet people for social-distanced walks or lunches in a park. We don't chance any gatherings, do any shopping, or eat anywhere but home. Londo has done almost all of the required trips out, and we follow a strict process for anything that comes into the house.  

In general, we've managed pretty well. However, I realized recently that I've reached my limit in being fine staying in. I now truly have gotten stir crazy and frustrated. I feel isolated. I long to spend physical time with family and friends. I deeply miss activities in places I will not go these days. 

It occurred to me the last time I felt trapped at home, isolated, and lonely for other humans was when I had babies... and that is why I started this blog in the first place! So it seems like a good time to try to start writing again. 

I will start with what I have done during these pandemic months, and what I've learned from doing them. In the past five months, I have: 
  • Stayed home with my husband, two kids, and two dogs.
    I have learned... it's a good thing I like the people I live with! We all truly like each other and enjoy the time we spend together. Except the dogs--they don't really like each other or get along.
  • Learned to cook curries!
    I have learned... there are easy recipes that make cooking Indian food not as hard as I thought it would be. And apparently I LOVE chickpea and sweet potato curry!
  • Been working out regularly, including doing the Insanity workout again, and 'm currently in the second to last week (I've done the workout in previous years two other times). 
    I have learned... even at 44, I can be in really good shape, and I still love crazy hard workouts. 
  • Spent a week with the kids at my parents' beach house (near the beach, not right at it, and we did not actually go to the beach).
    I have learned... a change of indoor scenery is really nice, even if you don't go out anywhere. I need to do that again soon.
  • Supported the kids through virtual camps (they each had three virtual camps).
    I have learned... although they didn't enjoy all of the camps, they did have fun and learned things. And it was good for them to be able to do things other than watch TV. This has been the summer of TV for them. 
  • Created a camp I called Candy Camp for my kids and my best friend's youngest to do remotely. 
    I have learned... I can create pretty professional distance/remote camp, and it is really fun to make up your own candy and help your kids realize their delicious designs. 
  • Had many virtual lunches, happy hours, teas, and chats.
    I have learned... I'm perfectly fine doing these things virtually in place of being in person. While not the same, it works for me as a substitute.
  • Gone to the doctors' office, lab for blood work, pharmacy, grocery store (once), comic book store (once), and Goodwill's donation drive-thru (once).
    I have learned... I can shop for most things online and do most appointments virtually. 
  • Gotten new kitchen appliances!
    I have learned... they make stove ranges with double ovens!!! And that people can really be great and supportive over the phone while you make big purchases. 
  • Interviewed, accepted, and started a new job.
    I have learned... It is possible to leave a company and start with a new one all virtually. 
  • Worked from home full time.
    I have learned... I'm really glad I redid my office/guest room last winter! Working from home is so much better if you have everything set up in a way that is conducive to the way you work and in an environment that makes you happy. 
Huh. I really have done a lot. There is a lot more I can do, also. Including writing again. 

Learning I Have Hypertension

This past winter, I discovered I have developed high blood pressure. This came as a surprise for me, since I generally had always had blood ...