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My Heart Attack – Women’s Heart Disease Symptoms Really Are Different

Part of my resting after a major life event involves writing – the story rolls in my head until I write it, and then I can rest.

Twenty years ago, Richard told a coworker, “Mary’s too stubborn to let things stop her. If she were on safari and got hit with an elephant tranquilizer, she would keep going.”

Well, this week, that ended. I had one of those weeks:

  • On Monday, my car’s radiator went out while I was driving on the Lloyd Expressway, and it overheated. It was towed and the radiator was replaced.
  • On Wednesday, I doubled over with back pain and had my son drive me to the emergency room. They diagnosed me with a 4mm kidney stone, put me on meds, and sent me home to let the stone pass. Earlier that day, I read an email from Go Red for Women – on preventing heart disease for women – I had resolved to get healthier over Christmas and start an exercise plan in 2 days On Thursdays, I was cooking a turkey and trimmings lunch for 70 people with a kitchen crew of 4-H leaders as a fundraiser.
  • On Thursday, my son went in to help cook the lunch with 4-H leaders who made a wonderful dinner without my help.
  • On Friday, those meds were making me sick.
  • Saturday, I think part of the stone passed.
  • Sunday morning, for the first time in days, I woke up first thing in the morning pain free. I wondered if the stone had dissolved and I was home free. I was still exhausted and opted not to go to church with my family.

Then, when they got home from church, I had a heart attack.

I had just taken the kidney stone meds when it hit. My first thought was I was having an allergic reaction to the medication. Suddenly, I felt pressure on my chest that radiated outwards. My arms tingled all the way down to my fingers in a way they never had before, and my jaw felt tight. I popped benadryl, as it seemed to me what I felt looked like allergic reactions to medications I had seen.

I called Richard for help and told him to phone a friend. He called the same friend I frantically called the night our home burned 11 years ago. (She also happens to be an emergency room physician.)  “Your symptoms sound like a heart attack,” she told me.

“No,” was my response. I thought – I’m too young, my blood pressure is under control, I eat my vegetables, and I’m too busy for health problems.

In case she was right, I had Richard give me a couple of aspirins to take. I rested for a moment and called her back, telling her, “This is anxiety. It will pass.”

“The only way you will know if it’s a heart attack or not is to go to the emergency room and get an EKG,” she told me.

Richard and I left to go to the emergency room. We didn’t call 911 – we both thought I would get an EKG, and they would pat me on the head and tell me it was nothing but anxiety. Richard called down to our son who was playing video games, “I’m taking your mom to go see a doctor. We’ll be back soon.”

When we got to the emergency room, he dropped me off so he could park the car, and I walked up to the desk where I had staggered in 4 days previously with kidney stone pain. I felt like a chronic emergency room over-user. “I have chest pains,” felt like a silly thing to say to the lady – just like they say in those commercials.

They quickly got me in for an EKG. As soon as the results printed from the EKG, things changed. “We’re moving you now,” the e.r. guy said as he ripped the paper reading off of the machine. A chaplain met Richard as they moved me into a different room. I didn’t know he was a chaplain – he was in a white coat, and he looked like just another medical dude to me. I happened to know the e.r. doc on duty – our kids used to swim together. They told me I was being prepped for a cath.  Richard was told to notify family.

Our daughter was due to begin her first college finals the next morning. Because the doc knew our kids, I told him that and told him I didn’t want her upset or distracted. He told us it was our decision, but if something went wrong she would be angry. I realized that word would quickly spread, and I didn’t want her to hear about it from someone else. Richard called. As they continued prepping me, I spoke with both our kids to tell them I loved them. And I told our daughter, “I will be fine. Don’t worry. Don’t let this distract you from studying tonight – stay focused. I love you, and I’m proud of you.”

This was not a slow process…everyone was working quickly. Then they ran with me on the gurney to the operating room. Richard and the chaplain followed. They told Richard, “Don’t try to keep up with us = we’re going as fast as we can – he’ll get you there.”

I heard Richard say, “watch me.” I knew he was running behind us to keep up. I think but don’t know that he walked into the operating room and they told him to step out.

During the cath, they found an artery was completely blocked, and they put in a stent. I didn’t realize people were conscious during cath procedures. During the procedure, I couldn’t think of words for a prayer, so I just prayed, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Normally, I don’t post health issues on social media. This time, I did; we needed prayer, and I knew from past experiences the power of prayer on medical outcomes.  I’m thankful for the prayers, good wishes, and help of trusted friends who not only helped me but helped my family.

The good news is an echocardiogram the next day showed minimal if any heart damage. We still have other issues to address after first of the year. My daughter did stay focused on her finals. She spent her first night home after finals with me in the hospital. During my hospital stay, first in cardiac ICU and then on a step down unit. In addition to recruiting, my family and I were taught about the lifestyle changes that begin starting now.

Last night, I was released and am glad to be home with my family.

Starting now, my Christmas season this year will be one of Advent – spending the next few weeks in reflection, with my family. The tables will be turned – they will be taking care of me more than I take care of them. My number one priority now is getting healthier and staying that way – following doctor’s orders – so I can savor my kids’ future milestones and grow old with Richard.

That will most likely mean fewer blog updates as well. Often, a blog hits my head and I have to type it so it can leave my head and I can rest. So if God gives me something to write, I’ll do it. Other than that, this is my time to recuperate and savor my family.

This Sunday, whether I’m up to attending Mass or not, we’ll light the third, the pink candle on our Advent wreath. Traditionally, it’s Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice that we’ve reached the halfway point with Advent and are that much closer to Christmas Day. This year, Gaudete’s meaning will be more poignant for me as I rejoice that we can enjoy another Sunday together.

If we sing the traditional Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the refrain – “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel” will have a special meaning.



Eleni – A Heroic Mother’s Love

For most mothers, something remarkable happens at the moment their babies are born. The world shifts, continents collide, and you know from that moment forward, you will passionately love this precious child.

In the American dream of this, you resolve to give your children a bigger, stronger world than the one which you knew.

If you came from less than perfect surroundings, you aspire to something bigger. We can build a stronger home and family.

No movie better exemplifies for me the strength of a mother’s love than the 1985 movie, Eleni, a true story starring Kate Nelligan and John Malkovich. We see a Greek mother who sacrifices herself to help her children escape from occupied Greece. She passionately wants her children to enjoy freedom.

The moment my children were born, I was determined they would have a stable home. They would have a security as children that I never knew.

Of all the goals I ever made with my life, that was the most important one.

Good mothers stand behind their children. If unfortunate circumstances present themselves, those mothers will do what is necessary to protect their children. They will sacrifice themselves if needed to give their kids a better life. They inspire their children.

As Eleni told one of her daughters the night before she died, “It is such a joy to be a mother. And I thank God for letting me know it.”

Eleni is now difficult to find….it is available on Youtube. I saw it before becoming a parent, and it has influenced me for the past 23 years. I knew it was possible to give my children a better world so they could have their best chance at life. No matter what the personal cost was.

Viewing hint: The video embedded is part 1 of 4 of the movie. Here are the other parts. The book upon which this movie is based won first prize by the Royal Society of Literature in Great Britain.

How to Pull Yourself Out of a Psychopath’s Cesspool

Getting sucked into a psychopath’s cesspool can be easier than you think. First you’re dazzled by the caring, charismatic leader who shows such concern for his fellow man. Then the world seems a little off – you don’t know whether it’s them or whether you put your contacts in the wrong eyes, and your focus is a little blurred.

The first step is naming your problem. You have to realize you are dealing with a psychopath. It can be difficult at times. This checklist can help:

  • If he grooms you by first giving you presents and then pressuring you to do things he wants that makes you uncomfortable, he might be a psychopath.
  • If he has a callous disregard for the law or likes to live just on the edge of it, to see how much he can get away with, he might be a psychopath.
  • If he tries to manipulate you so that you act against your core beliefs or do things that make you uncomfortable, he might be a psychopath.
  • If he lies easily and manipulates the truth on a whim, he might be a psychopath.
  • If he turns quickly on former friends and likes to harm them after the fact, he might be a psychopath. Watch carefully who he turns on. They might be others who told him no, wanted to uphold rules or laws, or set a boundary.
  • If he enjoys making people feel uncomfortable as he tries to turn their lives into his personal chess board, he might be a psychopath.
  • If he has messianic delusions of his own role in the world, he might be a psychopath.
  • If he never shows remorse or guilt, no matter what he does, he might be a psychopath. Caution: saying “I’m sorry this happened” is not showing remorse. It’s using words to manipulate out of a situation.
  • If he seems to enjoy pain or discomfort in others, he might be a psychopath.
  • If he works to convince you that you are stupid or helpless, he might be a psychopath.
Also, pay attention to your reactions with him.
  • If you set a boundary and he ignores it, he might be a psychopath.
  • If you find yourself objecting to his behavior in situations and he weasel words his way out of it, telling you “it’s in your head,” and you “misunderstood,” on a regular basis, he might be a psychopath.
  • If you tell him no and he responds with intimidation, ridicule, or harassment, he might be a psychopath.

I am neither a psychologist nor a therapist. I don’t know enough to discuss whether someone is a psychopath, a sociopath, or a narcissist.

However, I have survived the master manipulations described above and learned that there is a better, healthier way to build relationships. (Tip of the hat to my husband of 21 years.)

The end result after spending too much time with a psychopath is that you doubt your own judgment and think that you mis-judge real situations. The only way to regain your self esteem is to get away from the destructive relationship and slowly realize that you do have good judgement. When you get away, get help and learn new ways to communicate, to find people who will treat you with respect. The sooner you get away, the easier it will be to learn healthier ways to relate to people.

From my experiences, I have found that when I pull myself out of a relationship with a psychopath, there is no way to continue any sort of relationship. It becomes a constant tug of war, where talons of the past try to drag me by my heels back to an unhealthier place where I’m not respected. It’s easier to cut the cord, turn the page, and move forward.

I have also learned from my experiences – if you cut ties with a charismatic psychopath, he may try to harm your reputation. Don’t let that stop you from moving forward with your own life. You deserve to be  treated well. Further, your real friends won’t believe calumny or gossip. They will stand by you.

Leave yesterday’s nightmare to yesterday’s pages. Build a whole new story today. With help, you can build one where people love, encourage, and respect each other.

There is hope for a better future. It is possible to break the chains of yesterday’s traumas and build a stronger, brighter future – not only for yourself but your children and your children’s children.

See also – We Are Not Objects

Turn the Page

In children’s books with sound, they used to say at the end of each page, “Turn the page.”

There are times in our lives when we turn the page. In early chapters of our story, there may have been people or things that were key to the story line. Our story would not be the same without them.

Turn the page.

Then new chapters begin, and we make choices. We build a future based on present circumstances and new opportunities, or we stay locked into the pages from the past. How do we know when to look back and when to build a new story?

First, listen to your gut. If talons from the past reach up to grab you, and you feel as though you’re being dragged back to a painful memory, a smaller world, and a cloudy outlook, you know the old chapter has ended.

Turn the page.

Second, build a dream team of cheerleaders. These are people who encourage and empower you. They see your potential, love you for who you are, and cheer you to meet new challenges. Choose carefully who is on your dream team; they will help you write the new chapters in your story.

Another way you will know whether or not people belong on your dream team is if they are interested in you and your story – or if their sole concern is how you play a role in their story. If they belittle, manipulate, or distract you from your end goal, you will know it’s time. If they are only interested in their own stories and care nothing for yours, pass them by.

Turn the page.

If your past story included negative choices or association with people who disrespected you, your future story can go in a different direction. You can start fresh. You can find friends who will support you, respect your boundaries, and encourage you. If your family does not include people who will do this, build a new one. Find a few good people for that dream team.

Turn the page.

As you begin writing your new chapters with your dream team’s support, your gut will tell you things are going in the correct direction. At times, it will be a tranquil peace in your soul. Other times, it will seem as though each new challenge is a sunrise on the lake of life, offering you new opportunities.

When you finish painting the picture of today’s story, look at it for a moment and rejoice. Just for today, your life probably included some problems, a few frustrations, but also a rainbow if you looked hard enough. After giving thanks for today’s story, you know it’s time.

Turn the page. Tomorrow’s story will begin, and we can share it with those we love – who love us back.

How will you complete tomorrow’s pages of your story? Make the most of them!

Fly, Baby, Fly – and Dance Your Dance

When my children were babies, I carried them in my arms onto the dance floor of life. In those moments of holding them and feeling the waves of music, I swayed to the beat and hoped our moments together would last forever. Often, they would nod to sleep in my arms and nap to awaken with more energy.

The time came when they learned to crawl, and then stand, and then walk. Then, I held their hand, took them to the dance floor and began to show them basic building blocks for the dance. Sometimes they wobbled and occasionally, they stumbled.  But I was there to catch them, cheer their victories, and help them stand back up after they stumbled. Often, I got to choose the music and their dance partners as I worked to give them the best dance training possible.

As they grew older, others began to show them dance steps I didn’t know. I was still there, right on the sidelines, often organizing the rules of the dance and keeping the show running. That’s what moms are for, isn’t it?

Advance a few years. They choose their own dances and show they have more stamina than I do. The time comes when they want to choose not only how they dance but where. And they don’t want mama or daddy organizing the outskirts of the dance floor, ready to rescue them at the first sign of trouble. They recognize role models – both good and bad. Except now they are old enough to discern the difference and use bad role models as people not to emulate.

I’m at that place now where I see my kids who are no longer kids – they are starting their own dances. We raised them to fully engage in the dance of life, and that’s what they are doing. On their terms. In their own ways. If I try to grab them now and force them to dance just like me, where I tell them to go, I’m trying to take away their free will.

Not that that would work – they are too independent for me to try to manipulate. And I respect them too much to try.

They will encounter problems and challenges just like we did. Drawing on their past experiences and training, they will decide how to handle them. It’s no longer up to me to set the rules, choose the music, or solve the problems. They will make their own moves.

We can still sit on the sidelines and sometimes pass the popcorn. At times, I’ll tell them, “Fly,  baby, fly.”

And in doing so, I continue my own dance of life. Watching theirs and celebrating who they have become.

In Defense of the Well Set Table

Table setting by LT Home Design

Yes, Virginia, there is still room in our lives for a well set table beyond the boards of Pinterest.

In a “good enough” world where many prefer the convenience of paper plates and plastic silverware, sometimes someone has to take a stand. There is a place in this world for “good enough” disposable.

But can’t there also be a place for the beautiful table setting?

I was born with a love for beautiful tables, table clothes, and matching accessories. Taking what I have and making it into a celebration at a dinner table is something that makes me happy.

We all know that kids who grow up in families who sit to eat a family meal together regularly are less likely to engage in risky, self-destructive behaviors. Has anyone ever thought about how a nicely set table can help those dinner conversations? They invite a family to sit, relax, and enjoy conversations.

Is it possible that putting everything paper on a table increases the likelihood of a “git ‘r done with the eatin’ part” mood to finish eating, toss the plate away, and dash out the door? I’m not dissing on the paper. There is nothing wrong with relying on paper.

But many times I hear people mock the person who wants the real plates or tableware. Has anyone ever stopped to think that for people like me, those beautiful tables make us happy? They give us a constructive outlet into which we can steer our creativity.

I have a table cloth fetish. I love them, and nothing makes me happier than new linens that can create an all new look for our table. I like pulling out the china and silver for family gatherings. Isn’t my family worth pulling out our best and using it together?

In England a lifetime ago, my adopt-a-mom ate with her best china, silver, and crystal every day. She told me, “Why would I only save it for a special day? Today is special. I have them and want to enjoy them.”

Her point hammered home to me when our home burned. The family heirloom china I saved for special occasions and rarely used on fear of breaking great grandma whatever’s dish that had been in the family for generations were all in the same cabinet. All the dishes in the cabinet partially melted and adhered to the shelves. I was in the kitchen when the cabinet collapsed, shattering all the china in to shreds.

So much for saving for good occasions. If you have someone in your family who loves to set a beautiful table, why don’t you just say thank you and enjoy the moment?

Life is short. We need to seize the joy and savor the beauty wherever we find it.

The Fruits of Good Youth Development Programs

Leaving a youth retreat takes a little longer when you’re on the committee that planned it. Except it wasn’t me on the committee – it was my son. He brought home a bag of dish towel laundry to clean. When I started to pick it up to run it, he stopped me, “I’ll do it.”

“Make sure you run it on the sanitary load,” I started to tell him.

“I know. I’ll handle it,” was his response. Enough said…

When you enroll your 8 year old in a program like Scouts or 4-H, you’re more likely to think about the county fair or campfires. You don’t realize that if they stick with it, and it’s a fully organized youth development program, they will be assuming big responsibilities by the time they are teenagers.

And then you don’t realize that when a teen is really given the responsibility to run something, they learn how to run things. They learn by doing (an experiential learning model) how to be self-reliant. I see this not only with my own kids, or with the kids in the 4-H club I lead, but I also saw it in the exceptional young leaders I interviewed this spring for a series of stories on teen youth leaders in my community.

Not all youth programs are created equally. A good program is more than a field trip to the skating rink, games night, and a cookout.

A good youth program is developmentally appropriate and is organized to nurture kids from  young grades through high school, inspiring them to return to the program as leaders themselves.  Skills are taught. The kids want to be there. Community service is essential.

But the good programs do more than teach skills; they instill character traits and a strong work ethic. They gradually teach kids to assume more responsibility for their own activities. The youth not only develop responsibility for parts of the programming but authority to make some decisions so they feel ownership of their own activities.

Those who work with young people will see the difference between those who’ve learned to work with others through good youth programming. It reminds me of the high school science teacher who said she could tell which kids have cooked in a kitchen and which have not through their performance in science labs. Some kids have so much experience handling liquids and solids that they intuitively know what to do. Those who lack that experience have to play catch up.

I just wish I could convince more parents of young kids to involve their kids early and often in good youth programming.

From the other side of the parenting spectrum, it’s worth it to enjoy the fruits of those early years later.

Freeze Ahead Breakfast Burritos


Sausage veggie mixture for burritos

Often, breakfast time is a frantic rush to get out the door. For many years, on “those” mornings, I included a trip through the drive-through for a breakfast burrito. Then I decided to try to make my own – and to make them healthier and cheaper than the fast food restaurants.

After some trial and error tests, here’s my favorite way to make them. Give yourself plenty of time to make these, but once they are made, you will have at least 30 breakfast burritos ready to freeze so you can grab and go. Some breakfast burrito recipes combine everything, but I prefer making 3 separate skillets and then combining them. Here’s the technique:

Meat Mix:

  • 1 lb. sausage
  • 3 green peppers, diced
  • 3 multi-colored peppers, diced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained

Dice the peppers and onions and fry them with the sausage until the sausage is done and the onions are clear. When the sausage is no longer pink, toss in the spinach and let it wilt. After all the grease is drained, stir the drained black beans into the meat mixture. Set aside.

Hash Browns:

  • 1 16 oz. package of shredded hash browns
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan

Fry the hash browns until there are crispy edges. Drain the hash browns. Set aside.

Cheesy Eggs:

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Pepper to taste

Break the eggs into a large bowl and pour in the milk. Whisk the eggs for 3 minutes, so the eggs are completely mixed and air is whisked into them. While you are whisking the eggs, heat the skillet so the eggs will go into a warm skillet. I use the same skillet I used for hash browns, so there is no need to use non-stick spray or oil. You decide whether you need to spray the skillet. With the pan heated on medium-low (about 3 on a dial going to 10), pour in the eggs. Let them set a few seconds before carefully stirring them with a spoon. I prefer stirring with a wooden spoon to give them a whole, fluffy look. Stir around the pan to ensure that none stick to the pan. When the eggs are nearly set, pour the cheese on top of them, turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. When the cheese has melted, stir the cheese into the eggs.

Burrito Assembly:

Tear off a 12-inch square of food service wrap. (I buy it in bulk from Sam’s because it works better.) Place a tortilla in the middle of the square of wrap. Put 1 tsp. of the potatoes, 1 T of the meat, and 1 T of the eggs into the tortilla. Start to wrap the tortilla and then roll the food wrap around the tortilla. Freeze. (I prefer to freeze them in quart size bags that hold 5 each so I can keep them in the deep freeze and then pull a bag at a time to our refrigerator freezer.)

Heating the Burrito:

Remove from freezer and remove the plastic wrap. (VERY important – never, ever cook food in a microwave while it is in plastic wrap for health and food safety reasons.) Place on a plate and heat for 30 seconds. Turn the burrito over and heat an additional 30 seconds. You will need to experiment with your microwave settings to determine how long to heat the burrito.  You want the burrito to be completely warm in the very middle. For food safety purposes, the middle of the tortilla should heat to a minimum of 165 degrees for it to be safe to eat. (That’s for moms like me who put the anal in retentive and keep a food safety temperature chart inside the kitchen cabinet by the stove just to do things right.)

This batch should make at least 20 tortillas. I would have 40 available so you can make them until the mixture is gone.

So how do they compare in cost and nutrition with drive throughs? I bought ingredients at Sam’s and Aldi’s and compared.




























And here is a comparison of other nutrients:


Vitamin A

Vitamin C



















Here is a cost comparison:

Arby’s  $       1.99
McDonald’s  $       1.00
Mary’s  $       0.50

The other perk to making my own burritos is I no longer have to calculate where the nearest drive through is to my morning route and hope rush hour traffic doesn’t delay me.


Sometimes the Cheese Stands Alone, and We’re the Cheese

With a half-empty nest, I’m seeing the fruits of parenting decisions we have made – what worked, what didn’t, and what would I do over again differently? Then….how can I share what I learned with other parents?

One vital lesson I never realized is: can your kids stand alone?

  • Do they have that inner drive where if no one else is doing the right thing, they can walk out the door and do the right thing on their own, alone?
  • Conversely, do they have the inner strength where if they are in a room full of people making the wrong choices, they can remove themselves from the situation and report it if necessary?

Many times, I hear kids tell their parents they don’t want to do something that would be good because their friends aren’t doing it, or they don’t know anyone else who will participate.

My strong advice to parents:

Somehow, somewhere, force your child to be the cheese who stands alone.

We build our physical strength with regular exercise. We build our mental strength with academic drills and school projects.

It’s just as important to build the character strength to be willing to go it alone if needed.

At some point, you may have a child who is living in a college dorm or first apartment. Give them the practice they need so they will have what it takes to make the right choice.

Even if it means they stand alone.

Family Bible Read Alouds

Thirteen years ago, when our daughter started kindergarten, we started a family tradition of Bible reading at breakfast. That year, we read through a children’s Bible, cover to cover. We had no idea when we began how it would transform our family’s lives. The first year went so well that the next year, we chose a different, thicker children’s Bible and did the same thing. Our tradition continued for a total of 9 years, reading aloud a children’s Bible every year as a family. Sometimes we did different Bible studies as well.

Little did I realize that ten years ago, when our home burned in mid-August, our Bible studies would reflect our own wandering. During the time we lived in an apartment, as our home was rebuilt, we were knee-deep in an intense Bible study of the Hebrew nation’s wandering. Our three months reflected their forty years of wandering, and on many occasions, our reading of the day was exactly what we needed to hear.

When our daughter started high school four years ago, we decided to up our game and try reading aloud the Bible. Our goal was to finish the Bible, reading it at a chapter at a time during family mealtimes, and completing it before she left for college. We made a commitment that all 4 of us had to be present at the meal for us to read aloud.

As our kids grew busier and our lives got more hectic, those family Bible read-alouds were sometimes sporadic.

But we met our goal. Tonight, four years after we started, we finished reading aloud the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Tomorrow, our daughter moves to college.

Though we have done weekly and daily Bible readings at times, nothing prepared us for the sheer majesty of reading the Bible in chronological order. Some parts were more interesting than others; Leviticus and Numbers weren’t always that inspiring. But when we aim for a high goal, sometimes we have to trudge through the tough parts. Trudging through the tough stuff toughens us so we better enjoy the greatness of individual parts as well as the Bible as a whole.

We will return to our family Bible studies after our daughter leaves tomorrow.

For now, I’ll just rest that we set a big goal and met it. Even if it took us 4 years to get there.

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