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On Thanksgiving, Survival and Avoiding Regret

Don't wait. Investigate.

Thanksgiving reminds us to pause and reflect with Gratitude.

Life can hand you surprises and many can claim the badge called Survivor. Generally it’s an indicator of a great, hard fought and won battle to overcome a challenge to health, wellbeing or personal circumstance. Not many people in my life know that I am a Cancer Survivor because I can be a very private person and I often don’t know how to react to sympathetic gestures. And I don’t want to wear a label. This week one year ago I had a complete hysterectomy, which determined the extent of my endometrial (uterine) cancer and cured it. I don’t wear the Cancer Survivor badge on the outside because I feel so incredibly lucky that my battle was so much easier than most. And short. More like a skirmish.

I can say I’m lucky because the chain of events and circumstances of my illness led to an early diagnosis and successful surgery. My only symptom was some very slight vaginal bleeding. You know when you notice something a bit off about your body that maybe you want to ignore for fear of hearing something scary? Don’t ignore it. Don’t ignore it so that your biggest regret becomes that you didn’t act on it sooner. I had a friend who died from undetected cervical cancer, diagnosed at stage 3. And I have a daughter, so avoiding a big regret was a huge motivator for me to investigate the problem. What if I ignored it and later found out it was a fatal mistake? That fear was greater than the fear of the diagnosis.

I told my doctor, who didn’t say let’s just wait and see. He said you always have to rule out cancer. I already knew this from searching the internet for information on my symptoms, but his advice compelled me to act. The gynecologist I was able to see right away because of his referral did the biopsy and made the diagnosis right before Halloween. She recommended the surgeon who would do a robotic hysterectomy, a procedure that greatly reduced my recovery time. All this happened within a six-week period. Once you know you have cancer, you just want it out. Fear of what they will find is with you every day. And after surgery the best thing you can hear is that it was grade 1, isolated, and completely removed. One night in the hospital. No chemo. No radiation. Bing. Bang. Boom. That was last year’s Thanksgiving blessing.

The American Cancer Society website is a great resource for learning about all types of cancer and the source of the following information and statistics for the United States in 2011:

• New cases of uterine cancers to be diagnosed: over 46,000
• Most cases are found in women age 50 and over
• Number of women that will die from it: 8,000
• Average change of diagnosis in a woman’s lifetime: 1 in 40

Regular pelvic exams and Pap smears are not effective in finding early endometrial cancers. All women should be told about the risks and symptoms of endometrial cancer at the time of menopause and strongly encouraged to report any vaginal bleeding, discharge or spotting to their doctor.

Another reason I can say I’m lucky is that through all this I had the knowledge that I had medical insurance through my employment. I could see the doctors, and have the surgery and not trigger a financial hardship or crisis. I wasn’t going to lose my job for missing work for medical leave. Dealing with illness is bad enough without having to worry about that as well. When you don’t have that security I’m sure the decision to act right away and see a doctor is much more complicated and stressful. When I read about all the politicians calling for cuts in basic medical benefits – rights to receive decent health care – it saddens me. Because I know this doesn’t just mean people suffer in silence from common illnesses, aches and pains. It means that serious illnesses – illnesses that can be treated – go undiagnosed past the point where a cure is available. It means pain, suffering and death.

So, yes, I am grateful this Thanksgiving for many things. Lucky I’ve had another year with my daughter, who did not need to hear scary things or experience her mom going through treatments. Fortunate to say I’m one year cancer-free. Able to feel fear when I feel a twinge that makes me apprehensive of a recurrence of cancer, but most days to be worry free. Glad I can live without regret for not taking an action, at least this one time. Lucky to afford regular follow up exams. Grateful to have friends that are supportive and have jumped in to help out when I need it. I have more work to be done to be healthier, but I’m trying.

My Thanksgiving message to you is this: Always trust your intuition. Don’t let fear hold you back from seeking answers to medical questions (or other things that concern you). Get that mammogram, pelvic exam, colonoscopy or prostate exam, even if you have to hunt down a no cost or more affordable health resource in the community. Lobby for basic health care for all. And love the ones you hold dear.

Please share what you are grateful for this Thanksgiving. How do you avoid regrets?

All my best,
Angie

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Target a Successful School Year

Homework is a Family Activity.

How’s the new school year working out so far? Education is important.

Just as a new calendar year brings time of reflection and resolutions to do better, the beginning of a school year is the perfect time to help set goals and create new habits for our kids and their learning. Supplies are shiny and unspoiled. (Well, they were when I started writing this.) There are new routines and different classroom assignments and teachers. It can be a great opportunity to start fresh. What plan of action can you develop to help your child be motivated to learn and be responsible for their own goals?

As parents we are all engaged in a constant juggling match – whether single parent or two-parent household, one child or five. Daycare. School. After-school activities. Transportation. Illness. All to deal with and none of it scheduled to fit around a full workday plus commute time. And then there’s family time and homework to squeeze in. No wonder we’re all exhausted. Having a routine and some kind of integrated planning calendar/system is key to keeping the family ship from capsizing. Are there areas where you want to do better than last year? Have you become complacent about any specific areas?

My goals for this year for helping my daughter be successful are these:

• Be a cheerleader not a critic. Listen more. Talk about the challenges and how to deal with them, instead of commenting on the “should have” or “could haves.” Listen more. Give more praise. Listen more.

• Stay on top of the homework. We use the school district’s online system to track assignment completions, behavior, grades, etc. Where I need to do better is keeping current with the math curriculum so I can see if the she is keeping up with the concepts. This includes requiring her to use her school planner more to record assignments and reviewing more homework together (in spite of moments of bad attitude and less than stellar behavior). I buy extra books and look online for more problems. It’s a challenge to keep her motivated at times.

• Enforce the completion of homework after school as much as possible. This is a challenge on days when there is not much time between school and team sports. She needs a little break in between also, as I do when I come home from a long day, but the tv watching has to be limited until the homework is done. Finishing homework late at night is not an acceptable plan. This is a challenge for me as well when I come home tired.

• Sign up for those music lessons to supplement band. I have been putting this off to prevent over-scheduling, but mostly have just procrastinated.

Here are some suggestions for how you can get started if you want to make some changes to keep learning on track.

Ask your kids what their goals are for the year. This may be a new concept for them as it was for us. Can they describe, write or draw one goal each for their academic year, social or athletic activity and family? Display them and review them regularly. Ask them what they think they need to do to reach those goals. They may not know what an action plan means but they know what doing means. Compare them to your goals and you might see some differences that require discussion and compromise. Are you all overscheduled? Are your own expectations realistic? Did you learn something about your kid that you didn’t realize?

Talk about your expectations. Do you expect good academic performance? Is there a regular bedtime that is adhered to during the school week? Do you make time for rest, homework and reviewing assignments and progress? If there’s an online grade tracking system at your child’s school, do you monitor it frequently? Do you e-mail the teachers and ask for help or a meeting if performance looks concerning? Most are glad to arrange a meeting before or after school. Classrooms are overcrowded. Your child may not be getting the individual attention needed to understand a complicated part of the classwork. You may not be able to teach or tutor your child in every subject but you can be their advocate for getting the help they need to succeed. As your kids get older encourage them to reach out to classmates for help on difficult assignments.

Look for resources available to help. Many schools offer study groups during or after school. Your child may need encouragement (or prodding) to participate in them or academic clubs. Use the library for access to study books and computers if you don’t have the resources at home. Print extra materials from the internet. Find a non-profit that offers educational activities that demonstrate how fun it can be to explore math, science and technology. Encourage career day activities.

And this is the biggest suggestion I would like to make. Whether you did well in school or not, do you talk with your kids about the importance of getting a good education? They may not seem to be interested but the message sinks in over time. Does your own experience limit the way your kids view their future or set their own expectations? Their future is wide open but effort is required. It may or may not include college but don’t rule it out too soon. Praise every achievement. Brag to others when your kid can overhear you. Repeat something complimentary that was said to you about your kid to your kid.

One of my biggest personal annoyances is hearing parents say in front of their kids, especially daughters, how much they HATE MATH. Girls start hearing in their social circles before middle school age that it’s not good to be a geek – which they equate with being good at math and science. Encourage exposure to all kinds of careers so that they see their options as wide open, not limited based on a narrow exposure. A mentor can help with that as well.

Just do the best you can. Then learn and do better the next time.

I’d love to hear what has worked to keep your kids on target for a successful school year or what actions you plan to make things run smoothly.

All my best,
Angie

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Borrowing Can Save You Money

The Library is just a click away.

If you haven’t discovered your local library lately, I highly recommend you give it a look and see what’s new, convenient and a real budget saver. It’s one example where borrowing can save you money.

I’ve always loved books and movies. As a child I would go in a closet, turn on the light with a pull-string and sit and read for hours. I look around my house now and see bookcases, cabinets and plastic storage boxes full of books, VHS movies and DVDs, although I’ve purged some to reduce clutter. My habits have changed though and I’ve become a big advocate of saving money and space by buying less and borrowing more from the library.

If you have followed me on twitter you’ve probably heard me rave about my local library – the King County Library System. 
It was named Library of the Year on June 7, 2011. Seattle has a fantastic library system also, but I am most familiar with the @kcls branch near my house. We are fortunate here in our library offerings but they are dealing with cut-backs like many public services.

Back in the BC years – before child – I went to the movie theater weekly. When I became a parent this opportunity dwindled to once per month when daycare offered a monthly Friday night out for parents. To fill the void I bought more movies, became a user of video/DVD rental stores and later joined netflix. During this time I also discovered that I could reserve almost any book, CD or DVD/tape from the library online and get an e-mail when it was available. My library usage also picked up due to weekly visits with my daughter to find a fresh variety of books and kid-friendly shows for her.

Now I keep a list when I hear about new releases, get a recommendation or read a great review. I go to my library account online and reserve them with a hold. The system tells me how many copies are currently being lent or are on order and where I am in line to get my copy. New items become available to reserve when the library orders them. For popular new releases there can be a wait, but you can monitor your spot as you move to the front of the list. Tip: If you jump on the list before the item is even in the library, you can be closer to the front of the line. DVDs are loaned for a week at a time, but most items have a three-week loan period. Renewals are available online as long as there are not others waiting for the item on hold.

My favorite things to reserve are books on CD for my daily commute. Some are fiction I choose for pleasure, some are my “rolling university” of nonfiction resources on business, social media, finance and biographies. Frankly, these are books I rarely have time to sit down and read cover to cover. I also check out many how-to technology books because the most current editions are quickly available. Some are books I later go on to purchase for my home library.

Another service many may not be aware that libraries offer are digital downloads. Our library lends over 15,000 eBook titles compatible with various eReader, tablet, phone, MP3 and computer formats, including the iPad, Android, Nook and Sony reader. No computer or printer at home? Our library offers computers to reserve and free wifi.

All these services are free by applying for an account. Property taxes support library funding. You can still get a traditional library card or a tiny one that fits on your key chain. Kids love having their own library card. Give them a life-long love of reading.

If you’re impatient for a book or movie you can still buy it or use another online service. But you might consider checking out your local library and save a little money.

Even in this digital age, you can hold a real, bound book in your hand, for free.

Do you use your local library to save money? What’s your favorite service the library offers?

All my best,
Angie

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Planning for Death – The Money and Death Taboo

I wasn’t planning to begin my blogging experience with this subject but it’s been on my mind for the past few weeks. Planning for death. In specific – finances, funerals and estates. Yup, I’m going to talk about two taboo subjects in one post – money and death.

No one likes to think about his or her own death or the potential loss of a loved one, much less talk about it. I’m not sure how this differs in other cultures, but I’ve found it rarely discussed openly between family and friends in advance of a sudden illness, scary medical diagnosis or an actual death. We want to think we have all the time in the world or that only really, really old people die. Right? I’m not entirely comfortable talking about it. Life and death are sacred. I know people battling illnesses and I would not want anyone to think that money should be in the forefront of their thoughts. But I do feel that talking about difficult topics can be easier if the discussion can occur before an event or crisis forces the conversation at the worst possible time.

By the time you reach middle age chances are that you’ve experienced the loss of an elderly grandparent or an accident or illness that shortened the life of someone you knew. The awareness that death happens and what it means is a sadness of maturing into adulthood. Losing a child – I can’t even imagine. Personally, I’ve lost my father, three grandparents, two uncles, one aunt, two very close friends and several co-workers. My stepfather died just a few weeks ago suddenly but not unexpectedly, after several years in a nursing home. It reminded me how glad I am that my mother and I had discussions about wishes and funeral planning a few years back.

How can you prepare for it? I’m not sure there is a way to prepare for grief itself or the mind-numbing shock and disbelief. I do think there are planning steps that can be taken that reduce some of the burden of those left behind at the time they are dealing with the grief and sadness. Decision making in a stressful time is hard. Financial decisions often have to be made at a time when emotion is winning the battle against logic.

I’ll put it right out there.

If your parent died, do you know who would pay for a funeral or final services? Do you know where the money would come from? I chose that example because most adults would be expected to be financially responsible for their own expenses. As their child you might feel morally responsible for it, even if you don’t have the resources or it causes a hardship. You may want to pay for everything and the cost is not an issue for your family. You may not have had a what-if discussion with your siblings or parents. Are there documents in place that will keep you, a grieving spouse or other relative from being taken advantage of in the time of stress and confusion? Life insurance or other assets might make paying for services a non-issue. Would you know what he or she wanted to make the funeral or memorial reflect their personal wishes and beliefs?

I can only share that it was a big relief to me that my Mom took my advice (suggestions/prodding/nagging) and had a plan in place to select and prepay for funeral expenses and burial for her husband. She selected and put the policy in place with the advice of her attorney at a time when she had barely the resources to set it up. When the time came she was able to select the funeral home of her choice. She planned ahead for a uniform and military honor guard for the services. It went smoothly and she was pleased with the services. And there were no surprises.

Maybe it’s selfish of me to feel relief that the costs for the services did not suddenly fall on me. There were no uncomfortable discussions required with other members of his family. My mom has few financial resources but she has been able to maintain her independence. I often feel the burden of being a responsible person. I also feel that she was able to cope better with the sad experience because so many decisions were already made. She had her paperwork in order. She was in control. I did review the funeral home contract line by line before she signed it, to try to ensure that she was not being charged for things covered by her prepayment policy. I’m very proud of her.

The message I really want to convey here is for you to consider what you can do to plan for death. Can you influence someone you love to plan ahead? If someone had to deal with the loss of YOU, what steps could you take in advance to help them get through it? Is there a way to make any decisions in advance so they can make your remembrance a celebration of your life experiences? Can you resolve any family issues or set boundaries that might prevent new ones regarding the settlement of your estate or your final wishes? Can you think of it as a gift of love that you are planning in advance, and not a morbid topic to be avoided?

I learned quite a bit by searching the internet for “planning for death” information. Take a look. You may not be comfortable talking about money and death. Here are some things to consider and some actions you can take right now:

- If there is money available from a source such as life insurance, family members may feel obligated to go all out on a funeral. You can reduce their vulnerability to this by setting guidelines around your expectations. Maybe you don’t want a fancy service. More and more people are also choosing less expensive cremation.

- States, cities, churches, funeral homes may subsidize the burial of people without sufficient resources. These subsidies are another social service being cut as fewer funds are available. Illinois recently cut funeral payments to the poor completely.

- Information is available from organizations such as Funeral Consumers Alliance. Their website has many informational links including “Who Has the Right to Make Decisions About Your Funeral?” Many states have laws protecting your final wishes if you have made them in writing.

- Review the list of must-have estate documents you need while you are alive and get them in place. If you are in a committed relationship that is not recognized as a legal marriage they are even more crucial. Lots of advice is available on the web on these documents. Do-it-yourself forms are great for discussion and capturing basic information regarding your wishes in advance of meeting with an attorney, but never sign a contract or legal document of any kind without having it reviewed by a lawyer.

1. A Last Will and Testament. Have kids? You owe it to them to put your wishes in writing for a guardian in the event of your death. Who do you want to get your property?
2. A Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney. Who do you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable?
3. A Durable Financial Power of Attorney. Who do you trust to pay your bills, manage your business or watch over your finances on your behalf if you are unable?
4. Consider a Revocable Living Trust for you assets. There are advantages regarding probate in the event of death.

- The article Nice Girls Talk About Estate Planning by Deborah L. Jacobs from Forbes provides insight into ways to initiate conversations about estate planning.

- New businesses such as AfterSteps are bringing digital platforms to death planning. AfterSteps is a startup created by two Harvard students as part of DreamIt Ventures.

I’m interested if you are having these conversations with your family. Have any methods for opening the topic to conversation worked for you?

All my best,
Angie

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My Long Journey to Blogging Part 1

Do you ever just want to give yourself a shake and say in a scolding voice “what is taking you so long?”

That’s what I’ve felt like while creating this website. I’ve never been a blogger. A rational person wanting to write would probably pick a nice easy template and just get started. There is certainly enough information available on how to do it. Not me. I have to do it slowly, with many starts and stops, in excruciating detail. Now that I’m finally pulling the ripcord, I’ve been reviewing my timeline and it’s a little embarrassing to see how long the journey has been.

So why start a website now? I’ve been working for 30 years. I’m at the point in my life where I’m questioning what to do with the next 30 years. Or the next 5-10 years. And how am I just going to get through the next week? I’ve had some recent medical scares. No one ever knows how long you have to live a life you love. What would I regret? What can I still change? How can I incorporate wellness into my lifestyle? What leisure activities do I want to explore? I want to share some of my random thoughts and hope they aren’t so random. How do you create the best today without risking that elusive future security? How do you plan so you can have a great retirement or second career? What makes me laugh and what makes my head explode with frustration? I’m looking forward to the creative aspects of blogging and getting to know more people in the process.

How did I get here? Prior to 2008, I spent very little time online surfing the web. I have a child. I have a job that keeps me on the computer most of the day and the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was anything related to looking at a monitor. I joined Twitter in May 2008 (hard to believe!) at a time when I was really burned out from work. So tired I often could not muster the energy to enjoy reading a book. And I love reading. It was an easily digestible activity to read short tweets that required no involuntary action on my part. I’d follow some people, see who they were following, read their posts, click through to articles on other sites, try to make a few personal connections. It was new, interesting and totally different from any other social experience. And since I’m not a very socially outgoing person, I liked being able to dip my toe in the water at my own pace.

Everything I’ve learned so far about blogging, social media and building a web presence started there. An endless resource of ideas, opinions, instructions, breaking news, diversity, social behavior and new technologies has been at my fingertips. You really can find anything on the internet! I have seen people develop their voices and new career paths have been born right before my eyes.

In a future post I will share how I made technical choices about my website and the resources that helped me the most along my arduous journey. I’m learning more every day and have to accept that I’ll just make more changes as I go along. I’m very much a look-before-you-leap, have a plan, no regrets later personality style. (This applies except in situations where I shoot off my mouth before engaging my brain.) I try to think long term and big picture. This may be overkill, a mistake-avoidance approach, but that’s my style. I’m not sure any of my path would be useful to new bloggers or others considering becoming a bloggers, but it might be amusing to some.

My journey has been long but it’s given me time to get past the fear of actually putting it out there, so I consider it a success.

Do any of these areas interest you? I hope you’ll come back and visit often. You can expect a mixture of topics as I find my way.

All my best,
Angie

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What are Periwinkle Years?

To me, they represent the second half of my life. These years while I reassess what to do with my time and what I still want to accomplish. How to create security as I head into retirement. How to discover a new passion. I'm on that journey. Maybe you are ready to create a new adventure too. What do you dream of doing?