Notes and Embellishments

All the thoughts on all the things

Status: After 10 Weeks — February 20, 2018

Status: After 10 Weeks

Hello friends,

It’s been a few days since I last posted about my shoulder, and I’m too cold to go out and walk Luna quite yet, so I thought I would update.

Things are going well. My new physical therapist is super nice and very thorough. Like I mentioned a week or two ago, I’ve started working on strengthening. Strengthening, at this point, does not look like me lifting a bunch of weights and getting super buff.

Instead, it looks like me, lying face-down on a table with one-pound weights on my wrists, slowly bringing my arms up, around, and back (probably extremely gracefully). It looks like me at the rowing machine pulling 20 pounds. And it looks like me, still pulling the red bands, not the higher resistance blue ones yet.

But I really am starting to get my range of motion back. It doesn’t feel painless or normal yet, but I CAN DO IT.

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My right arm, the one without the rubber band, going straight up!
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“If I bend my wrist, I can reach higher!” – Me
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Left arm for comparison

I’m slightly more and more able to move my right hand up my back every time. At this point it goes to about the small of my back. Compared to my left arm, which reaches about to between my shoulder blades, I have a long way to go.

(However, because my joints were so loose before, it’s probably unrealistic to aim for equal flexibility any time in the near future.)

My PT said today, “I’m so proud of you! You’ve improved so much since I started working with you.” And I felt like a little kid who was so excited to please a grownup.

Let’s get into some more details about what I can and can’t do right now:

  • Driving – I can drive! Steering sharp turns takes a little more foresight. I was naughty and drove a 4 hour trip to and from the Bay Area to spend time with friends last weekend. Most of that trip was straight (not too much steering), though I must say my arm was aching by the end from holding the steering wheel.
  • Sleeping – I still only sleep on my left side or on my back. Sometimes I want to lie on my stomach, but my shoulder really doesn’t like that unless my arms are straight and right next to my body. I never plan on sleeping on my stomach like that, but I like to turn sometimes to stretch my back.
    Sometimes my old habits creep up and I mindlessly try to turn to my right side. Then my right arm has to push me up to turn me over again. Not pleasant!
  • Chores – I’ve been doing dishes, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the cat box every day. I vacuumed my car before my road trip on Saturday and that was challenging because of the ways I had to contort and reach. I can fold most laundry, but big towels are challenging.
  • Exercise – I’ve been going on a lot of hikes lately. It’s a nice thing to do with my husband when he has the day off. My legs will be primed when it comes time to run again. After awhile of intense hiking, my shoulder does start to ache. But it’s usually not too bad.
  • Music – I played a whole two hour jazz rehearsal last Tuesday! It was really nice to be back on trumpet. Really, my right arm didn’t hurt too badly from that. My left side was a little cranky from doing all the heavy horn lifting.

What about work?

I have my doctor appointment on Thursday and I have a feeling that’s when he’ll assess me for returning to work. Right now I feel hesitant about the idea. There are still limitations to my mobility, and my job involves just enough pushing, pulling, lifting and contorting to make me nervous about having an accident and ruining it all.

So, I don’t know. March 15th (3 months after procedure) is in theory my scheduled return date, and a lot could happen in the 3 weeks between now and then. I think I will ask to be seen again before that date.

That’s about where I am right now. Stay tuned for more!

Stephy

My Messy Mindset — February 11, 2018

My Messy Mindset

This post is the space where I’m going to discuss a certain consistent, prominent factor in my life. It is my relationship with clutter, and you guys, this is a doozy.

Some people have unhealthy relationships with food, which factor into all kinds of decisions they make. Some people have very strong fears or stressors, and have to dramatically alter their lifestyle and plans to avoid stress-triggers. Some people love Nickelback and nobody can understand why. These qualities can be prominent to others, but are not always so prominent to the people directly affected.

This is the phenomenon that occurs when I give my coworker a ride and she says with true, sincere admiration, “I think it’s amazing that you can just have your car like this. I would be so anxious.”

What’s the Problem?

I have a very specific style of messiness. It’s hard to describe.

My car has papers from everywhere – oil changes, doctor receipts, planners, an actual package of colored paper to copy on for work, sheet music. A full-size keyboard that belongs at one of my schools. Three scarves. A can of soup I brought for lunch once and then couldn’t find so I’d assumed I forgot it at home. Random shit people give me that has no home.

My desk has all kinds of craft supplies, pens from conferences, music books, teaching books, hobby books, hobby stuff, stamps.

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I am so productive!

My dresser has a basket with random hair stuff, maybe some old jewelry I never wear, a box for jewelry I do wear, two boxes with random scarves or specialty clothes like scarves and an Ugly Christmas Sweater.

My kitchen counter has all kinds of papers and all kinds of stuff. Even when it’s “clean,” it’s messy.

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This is truly a good day.

The problem is, when I get into someone else’s car and they apologize for it being “so messy” when there’s only a few things in the back seat and virtually nothing else, it seems my standards for messiness are askew from the norm.

Why am I like this?

Two reasons: Projects and Habits.

I was always a crafty kid. I loved making beaded jewelry. I loved drawing with all kinds of media. I loved sitting on the floor of my room, with all kinds of supplies, and making something pretty.

The problem was, those projects were often time-consuming and involved lots of little components. It didn’t make sense for me to put supplies away if the project wasn’t finished yet. So the stuff would sit out, sometimes for weeks, until the project was done. During this time I would usually have developed another, shorter project, that I could do when I got stuck on the first project. It was not uncommon for me to trip over a project in progress as these things typically took place on the floor.

Why put things away when you can keep them out? That was my mindset. Unfortunately that type of habit setup doesn’t transfer smoothly to anything besides running a personal art studio, and even then it’s questionable. Why do the dishes when you could wait for there to be more dishes? Why sweep the floor when you can wait for there to be more stuff on it?

Of course I was never consciously thinking those things, I just never made the space in my mind to make tidiness a habit.

Breaking It Down

It was everywhere growing up, too. My house was never clean. My dad had all kinds of projects going on in the den and the garage, always. There was constantly mail, books, catalogs, and unfinished business on the coffee table, dining room table, and kitchen counter. Clothes, shoes and school supplies were all over the place.

(Please note, growing up was pretty great. My parents and sisters are GREAT. My dad worked all the time and usually didn’t come home until late. My mom was usually taking night classes when I was in middle school. It would be unfair to expect my parents to keep the house clean in the situation we had.)

I hated messes but somehow never saw my own messes. When I got my own room, I was so excited that I would finally be able to have a clean room. Nope.

For a long time I felt shame about this. People did not want to be my roommate because of how messy I was. Then I decided to stop feeling stressed about that. I coped by deciding that I am just a messy person, and that’s how I will always be.

Then I went on temporary disability. To keep myself productive, I made a daily chart-format to-do list.

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I put “Dining Room Table,” “Dishes,” and “Cat Box” on my list. And just last Wednesday, like a ton of bricks, it dawned on me as I was doing dishes (no pun intended).

I don’t have to be a messy person. I just don’t currently have strong cleaning habits.

I can clean up my messy mindset. I can take control of my environment.

The Zero Waste Factor

Deciding to follow a zero waste lifestyle has made it much easier to address this part of my life. How?

First, I’ve started to take an extra critical look at the things that occupy space in my house. There are some things I can sell, but I honestly am privileged enough to say I don’t need $5 for that bottle of face wash I used for a week that makes me break out. If someone wants something I have and don’t need, I want them to have it. I will be systematically purging things that make clutter from my house, but working to throw away as little as I can.

Second, I’m aligning myself to the idea of using what I have. I have a lot of stuff. I have clothes, shoes, and five sets of shampoo/conditioner. That means I don’t need to get more for a long while. I don’t need more pens, either. I thought I might need a new cup mute for my trumpet, but a quick brush on the corks with sandpaper will give my current mute a much stronger grip.

Third, I’m disconnecting myself from acquiring more. Purchase-wise, that means I’m only going to be buying food and basic essentials. I’ve been receiving a lot of mail lately. I signed up for online billing. I subscribed to Catalog Choice and every time I get mail that I don’t need, I add it to my account. Accumulation of stuff makes the clutter come back.

Making a Change

So I have laid out my plans for reducing clutter in my house. That is great, but it’s not the only component of this problem.

The way to sustain a pattern of stopping big messes before they start, is to make it a habit.

“Duh,” says every person I’ve ever interacted with, who is by default a tidier person than me.

I don’t know why it took me 30 years for it to finally click that I don’t need to be messy. But if there’s one thing I am good at, it’s building habits. That’s how I got so decent at the clarinet in college – I habitually went to school at 10pm when parking was free, and practiced until midnight when the buildings closed.

Making a to-do list is a really simple way for me to keep up. If I get “most” things on the to-do list done in a day, I feel like a productive human.

But what really got me building habits was the chart. Because “Dishes” is on the chart every day. I can’t have one day that omits “Dishes” from my to-do list.

I hope this has reached someone who struggles with a problem like this. You are not alone. We can all build better habits and become better, happier people. Someday I will give someone a ride and there will be no comments on the cleanliness of the car. Someday I will have a dresser with only a few things on it that I use frequently. Someday my desk will be organized and functional.

This will be the week I plan on fixing those things. Who’s with me?

-Stephy

Zero Waste Achievements: One Month In — February 6, 2018

Zero Waste Achievements: One Month In

Transitioning to a new way of living can be challenging sometimes. I wanted to take this blog post to celebrate the successes Brian and I have had in terms of reducing the trash we produce.

I will be upfront about where I am in this right now. I’m still in the “Use what you have” phase. I’m also in the “My husband thinks some of these changes are really extreme because he’s never seen anyone do something like this” phase.

I have a distinct advantage as an alumna of Humboldt State. I was never going to be the extreme one there.

Where was I before? I’ve been carrying a reusable water bottle with me my whole adulthood (13 years). I’ve used reusable shopping bags for almost as long – long before you had to pay for a bag in California. Before moving to Santa Maria (3 years ago) I was a frequenter of grocery store bulk sections. I still used plastic bags for those, but I very often re-used the same plastic bags until I deemed them gross.

Before living in Santa Maria, I frequented the local farmers’ markets. Like, maybe I went 2 or more times per month. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but I supplemented my fruits and veggies with ones from the Co-Op (in Humboldt) and New Frontiers (in Solvang). Those stores both sourced from local organic farmers. There aren’t a lot of stores like that here, but there are farmers’ markets.

Being in a bigger place was new to me and I truly got sucked into the consumer culture. Everything is so easy to come by – especially because my job here pays a lot more than anything else I’d ever known. I literally had more money than I knew what to do with. (I am very, very aware that this is the exception of people my age and not the norm.)

I stopped shopping at thrift stores when I got my current job, because now I could afford new clothes. My good work friends, 10 years older than me, became my shopping buddies with a congruent mission of building a greater professional wardrobe. 2017 was a year of buying lots of pretty pieces for work.

That just about sums up where I was. Now I’m going to discuss the small changes I have made so far.

Groceries

I do not mind using old plastic containers to buy stuff in bulk and to store food. Brian loves peanut butter filled pretzels from Costco, and they come in a giant container. I’ve been filling it with fig bars from the bulk bins. I’ve been filling an old hummus container with beans, and a Trader Joe’s cardboard oatmeal canister with steel cut oats.

With using containers, it’s important to get a weight at the register beforehand. Both times I’ve done this the kids at the registers were unfamiliar with this process. It’s okay, they’ll learn. When I finish at the store, I write down what the weight of the container was so I don’t have to have it weighed a second time.

I also use a pen or Sharpie to scribble out the scan code/ISBN. That way the register doesn’t accidentally mark it.

Brian has a food scale at his parents’ house. We plan to use that to weigh our containers at home.

Instead of getting spinach in a plastic clam shell, we’ve been buying it in tied bunches. This is something that takes a little more work to prepare, but it’s cheaper and you waste so much less. It only takes about 10-15 minutes to wash the whole bunch, tear off the stems, and lay the leaves out to dry. I’ve been saving the stems for other purposes.

I use breathable cloth bags to store my produce as I shop. I might start making more of my bags out of exercise shirts so they don’t add to the weight.

Clothes

One month in, I have succeeded in my goal of not buying any new clothes this year. I’m really still on my surgery T-shirt rotation. I’ve been wearing the same 12 or so shirts on rotation for the past 8 weeks. I typically put jeans or pants in the hamper after about 4 wears. If they don’t smell bad, they’re not dirty yet.

The exception is for workout clothes. It has been quite warm this California winter, with highs around 75-80 nearly every day for several weeks. So if I’m active outside, and start getting sweaty, yes, I’ll put those in the dirty clothes.

On the Go

I went to a thrift store and got 4 spoons, forks, and knives. I wrapped each set with a cloth napkin and now Brian and I each have a pair of reusable silverware sets in our cars.

I love going out to sushi, so I got a set of reusable metal chopsticks for the sushi place we like. They were really nice when we asked for no straw in our water, so I think they’ll understand if we bring our own chopsticks.

Again, I’ve always been pretty good at bringing my water bottle with me, but now I’m a little more diligent.

Household

Our whole garbage story has changed since we got a compost tumbler. One month’s worth of organic scraps doesn’t even fill up half of this thing! I’m looking forward to a very fertile garden this year.

We received two sets of nice, simple cotton napkins as wedding presents. We set up a little wicker basket in the dining room for used napkins.

We’ll use the same napkins for 2 or 3 days. Wiping your face on a piece of cloth once doesn’t make it completely soiled. Those things are big!

I also use (unused) napkins to make cashew cream for my coffee, since I bought a nut milk bag, used it once and misplaced it forever. A napkin is basically the same thing.

I got my bathroom mirror spotless using only a sheet of newspaper and a tiny bit of water.

I un-signed up for junk mail a few weeks ago. I guess it takes awhile to go away. I’m still getting all sorts of stupid stuff every day. I wrote a “No junk mail or coupons” note for my mailbox.

I also unsubscribed to all of my subscription boxes. I felt a little tricked by social media, into thinking those things were cool. In fact, they were all just wasteful. I don’t need a whole box of random stuff every month or every few months.

In that same vein, Brian and I have committed to each only making one Amazon order per month. Whatever thing we might need, we’ll let it sit in the cart until it’s time. I also contacted Amazon customer service and requested they don’t pack the plastic bubbles in my packaging anymore. They happily complied.

It might be because I have more time on disability, but I’m much more inclined lately to keep things tidy. The huge exception to this is my desk, which has just been a giant pile since it was moved last summer. Someday I’ll work on this, and it will take an hour, and I’ll be like, “Why did I procrastinate doing that for so long?”

Pets

This one is really hard. We have two cats and a dog. One cat uses a litter box, and one does not. Our solution at the time was that the other cat would use puppy training pads instead. Those create a huge amount of waste. And I really hate them.

So we are exploring other options. One thing I would like to try is to make reusable pads out of thrift store towels. My challenge has been finding something liquid-proof that can also be tough enough to withstand kitty claws. I’ve been looking for a used shower curtain liner, a vinyl tablecloth or place mats.

For our doggy poo bags, we are still using what we have and probably will be for several more months. I also use these bags to pick up trash as I walk the dog.

I don’t know that we can get good pet food package-free. So we do the Costco thing and buy in large quantities there.

Personal

I’ve had a bad habit in the past few years, and that’s been to give up on a shampoo before I’ve used it all and switch to another shampoo. My bathroom cupboard yielded about 5  shampoo/conditioner sets.

This is stopping this year. I’m not working and my hair is short and untreated – I will use all of this shampoo before going forward with anything else.

I learned that the deodorant I love in bar form also comes in a glass jar! So I don’t have to be a crazy make-your-own-deodorant person.

I did, just today, make my own tooth powder. I used this recipe.

I’m using the face products I have. Honestly, this will take a long time. I have a lot of unused stuff. When it’s used I won’t replace it. Unless it’s sunscreen, I don’t see a huge need.

Shoulder Status: After 7 Weeks — February 5, 2018

Shoulder Status: After 7 Weeks

Hi everyone!

It’s been way too long since we last saw each other. How have you been? I’ve been okay. Life on disability leave is weird. I can do things, but not all the things. I suppose I was originally going to blog about all of the things I do when I revived this site, but honestly, this is kind of just something to help me keep track of my own thoughts. If it helps you to read this, I’m really glad!

Shoulder

At 6 weeks, the PT protocol said I could stop wearing my sling. When I had the 6 week appointment with my doctor, on January 25th, he said, “Let’s keep it on another week. For comfort.”

I was sad about this, but I did what he said. The point was that my joints are, naturally, very flexible, and that’s what caused my labrum to tear in the first place. So keeping my shoulder stable for another week would help my muscles to tighten up a bit. My ROM is very limited, and it’s supposed to be that way for now.

The first night I slept without my sling was an amazing sleep. I knew I’d been still all night long, because I woke up on my left side and my right arm was practically glued to the side of my body. My little spoon cat, Gabi, has been so happy she can finally spoon with me again. The sling pillow had been in the way for a long time.

PT started getting a bit tougher two weeks ago. On top of exercises for assisted range of motion, we’ve added ROM exercises to do in the mirror (which I try to do twice daily), as well as seated rows, rotator cuff strengthening band exercises (which used to hurt before the surgery and now don’t!), and ball-up-the-wall. My therapist started doing arm cranks and wrestling, which involves my arm being guided by another person as I lie on my back.

I got really sad last Thursday because my therapist took another job which would have started today. This is a person who has helped me through figuring out how my shoulder got injured, and how to get it fixed. I’m sad I won’t be working with him anymore but he said he would let me know if he ever gets a saxophone, and that I should let him know if I do any musical things he can bring his son to. I do hope I can remain friends with this person who has helped me so much.

Tomorrow I will start with someone new, and that will be okay.

Routines

I have created a handy chart that helps me stay on task through these repetitive days.

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The last thing I want is to be a super lazy person, even if my one job is to wait for my shoulder to heal. I walk my doggy twice a day usually, and have been walking an average of over 5 miles per day.

Though my therapist said I could do my shoulder exercises twice, my joint has been quite sore lately and I don’t want to push it too far too soon. So that’s my explanation for not doing those every time.

Other things on there are housekeeping stuff – things I think should be done at least once per day, so I put them on there. My husband was excited to learn that it is no longer excruciating for me to do dishes. (But I still won’t do the heavy ones.)

My doctor recommended I wait to start playing trumpet in groups again until sometime next week. Rehearsals for my groups are either 2 or 3 hours, so I have to build up the strength to do that specific task for an extended period. The hard part hasn’t been building my chops back up, or holding the weight of the trumpet – it’s just been keeping my right hand up and in front of my face. I have to be really cognizant of how I hold my shoulder, keeping it in place and not letting it creep forward. So I’m just playing for small amounts of time, several times a day.

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Some days I’m the kitten, some days I’m the shark.

I’ve been doing a good job with reading lately, despite what it shows on the chart. I’m alternating fiction and nonfiction books, and I just started Dune. Seems interesting so far!

Projects

Sometimes I pick up trash on my walks – when I do that, I wear my sling and hang the trash bag from my right hand. There’s a lot of trash everywhere. I didn’t make it as part of my daily routine because I find it’s better to do these walks separately from walking the dog. It’s a lot of stuff to hold otherwise. I’ve been doing this maybe about 3 or 4 times per week.

Other projects? I am proud to say I figured out how to set up and use my friend’s sewing machine. I’ve been making produce bags out of old T-shirts and actually using them! Once I figured out the technique, it’s been taking me about 5 minutes to sew a bag. Now I have a present I can give all my friends for super cheap. Maybe I will post a picture of my bags. Maybe I won’t!

An update on my music educator magazine project – All of the articles are in a box still. I have not figured out how to use our scanner yet. Maybe I’ll do that today. (Maybe I won’t!) When I’ve scanned all the articles, I’ll organize them by topic and share them on a Google Drive for my colleagues to access. Then they won’t have to be in my house anymore and I can use the box again.

Food prep projects take a good portion of my day sometimes. It still isn’t incredibly comfortable to chop things with a knife, but soft things like onions and celery are okay. Food processor, again, is bae. I’ll use it to slice or shred sweet potatoes, beets, anything. Today I plan on cooking a big batch of garbanzo beans to make hummus, soaking cashews to make coffee creamer, preparing whole lemons to blend and freeze for cooking, and I will be washing and drying bunched spinach. I’ll write more on this project later.

So I have plenty of projects to keep me occupied, and with the exception of the food project, it’s okay that these go kind of slow sometimes. Any progress is noticeable and welcome, just like with my shoulder.

-Stephy

Mental Muscles — January 23, 2018

Mental Muscles

Hey friends,

I wanted to write today about one of my favorite concepts. I strive to integrate this throughout working with my band students, who constantly are in a place where they have to learn something new all the time.

Learning an instrument is hard, in different ways to different students. Sometimes it’s about learning how to listen. Sometimes it’s about re-shaping what the face does. Sometimes a student has difficulty with reading notation. Sometimes everything is in place, but playing in front of a teacher is really scary.

There is ego involved with something so liquid as music. Success at something one time does not guarantee success a second time. Student musicians constantly experience potential embarrassment.

These difficulties are all normal and okay. We work through them.

Comfort

What happens if we’re comfortable all the time? Maybe I’m sitting on the couch, mindlessly playing a game on my phone with the TV on cartoons (this may or may not be something I do every morning). My body is using minimal energy, just resting. There is no challenge to the muscles and no growth in strength. There is no progress.

The same thing happens with the mind, and this where my anecdote of the day comes in. Because I haven’t been working – I’ve been on disability leave for six weeks and still have six more weeks to go. And that’s a big deal to me.

Something you should know about me – I’m an introvert. That is a part of my personality that I am very aware of. (Introverts tend to be very aware that they’re introverts. Many of the most charismatic educators I’ve ever learned from have confided to me about their introversion.)

And I have a natural inclination to be shy. This is something I’ve worked on my whole life. My career (talking to students and adults) has lent itself very well as a stage to my explicit practice of social skills. I love talking to people. But I get nervous if there are problems – they are uncomfortable. It has taken me years of work to get to a place where I can talk to people as freely as I do about issues at work.

This takes work and maintenance. Just like anyone with a hot muscle-y bod, if I don’t do the work it takes to maintain those mental muscles, the skills deflate.

My Own Discomfort

I am approaching six weeks into recovery from a major shoulder surgery. Before the surgery, I was bendy-bendy-bendy. I could twist and contort both of my arms in all directions. I could bring my clasped hands over my head from the back to the front. I could lick my elbow.

So imagine my surprise today, in physical therapy, when I was asked to bring my arms forward and up, and then out and up, and I could only begrudgingly go about halfway.

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It’s supposed to go all the way up!
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One reluctant thumb up for this exercise…

I am embarrassed to say that this hurt my ego a little bit. I thought I was so great because I used to be able to do so much before. I thought, because I had worked so hard to stay strong before the surgery, that it wouldn’t take so long to regain my range of motion or strength as my protocol suggested.

I was so wrong and that was truly the uncomfortable part. It hurt like needles in my shoulder and like daggers in my mind. No way am I anywhere near ready to resume the activity level required to do my job at the present moment.

I was mean to my therapist. I questioned what he was having me do. He assured me that he was following the protocol outlined by my doctor. I am embarrassed that I didn’t trust him for a second and I plan on apologizing next time.

Mindfulness

One of my favorite professional development talks I ever went to was a session called “Mindfulness, Discomfort, and Growth.” It was geared toward teaching GATE kids, but I firmly believe that students and humans of all needs can extract value from taking a mental inventory of any uncomfortable moment. (The presenter was Dave Mochel, by the way.)

I loved it when he said, “The best two times to practice mindfulness are when things are going really well, and when they aren’t.” When I got home from PT this morning, I immediately prepared my dog for a walk and prepared my brain to feel some feelings. Years ago, I would have felt hopeless about my situation and cried on the couch. (This is still a valid thing to do, but I’ve gone through this process so many times I’ve learned how to streamline it/save it for later.)

As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I immersed myself mentally into every aspect of how I felt. My arm already aches. It will hurt more tomorrow. I will plan on breathing through the physical pain that I know is in my future. I will probably do a drug.

There is also mental discomfort. I regret that I gave my therapist attitude. I retraced the steps that prompted that behavior. I realized that some of my mental/social muscles (usually exercised at work) have weakened. I will work on mending that important relationship.

Through mindfulness I can figure out the source of our discomfort, and create a plan to either fix it or work through it. And there is growth. It’s my most powerful tool.

-Stephy

Shoulder Status: After 5 Weeks — January 21, 2018

Shoulder Status: After 5 Weeks

Hey guys!

It’s been a few days. Being on disability is surprisingly busy. Here is how my life is going…

Actual Shoulder

My PT has been massaging the crap out of my scars. Last Tuesday, as he was massaging my shoulder, he said something to someone across the room and added something like “Stephanie here, smiling like a champion, but actually wincing because the pain is so intense.”

I said, “That’s true. That is not a lie.”

Next Thursday is my last day with the sling, but I’ve been increasing my up-and-down range of motion. I can get my hand slightly above my head with a straight arm. It’s not all the way up yet, but getting there.

I get pretty sore on those nights following PT. That is when sometimes I do have to go back and take a strong painkiller just so I can relax and go to sleep. Otherwise it’s pulsating and aching, as I simply lie on my back.

Today, as I was walking, a bee flew in my face and I reflexively swatted at it with my right hand. SO MUCH PAIN. I actually said out loud to no one, “Stupid reflexes! Why?!” Ugh.

Trashy Tales

I’ve been walking about 5 miles a day on average. Usually it’s just walking Luna, but every couple of days I go out and pick up trash on the sidewalks and streets near where I live. (I’ve learned that I can’t do both of these activities at once.)

There is a lot to be picked up. I live very close to two high schools and apparently they never learned about not littering in school.

Usually I use bags that other people have given to me when delivering stuff, or bags that our bread comes in. If there are no holes in the bag by the time I come home, I empty this trash into our kitchen garbage and use the bag again.

I’ve picked up some treasures. One time I found a very nice, fully intact Pyrex bowl. One time I found a whole 6-pack of small bottles of Mickey’s beer, lids and all. If I’d had the strength to bring them home and reuse them, I would have done so. But I put 5 of them in the recycling bins belonging to the neighboring apartment complex, and only brought one home to wash and reuse. They were lovely green bottles.

Most of what I find is food-related – small candy wrappers, bags that used to hold individually wrapped candy, fast food packaging, lids with straws, etc. I find a strangely large amount of drink bottle lids with no bottles attached. I find a lot of cigarettes and I wish I were diligent enough to pick them all up, but sadly I don’t.

The kids at the high schools would have no lack of work to do if anyone decided to clean up their campus as a senior project.

Work-ish

I was pleased to learn on Thursday that they found someone to teach music in my place while I’m gone. I’m truly relieved that my students will not be missing out for 3 months.

One of my projects is to downsize all the stuff I have, and I have a LOT of magazines. Music Educators’ Journal, Teaching Music and CMEA Magazines dating back to 2008. Do I ever read these? No. Are they full of valuable information relevant to my profession? Of course. The problem is, they don’t have the topics I need at my demand, and my job is very particular.

So I am cutting out articles that directly relate to my job in my district, and will be scanning them to put on a Google drive for myself and my colleagues. Then recycling the magazines. Shelf space achieved.

I have a long way to go with this, but I also have a long way to go before I can go back to work.

That’s about where I am. Stay tuned for a post about food soon. 🙂

-Stephy

Shoulder Status: After 4 Weeks — January 14, 2018

Shoulder Status: After 4 Weeks

Hey friends!

It has now been 31 days since my shoulder surgery. Overall I am feeling motivated and also a little overwhelmed.

The Scars

I have some pretty gnarly scar tissue. I guess they did open up my skin in four places and jam a camera all the way into my joint.

My PT has started massaging the scars after I do the exercises and it HURTS. Maybe more than most other things. I don’t know what more I can say about it. The only thing that hurts more is when I get startled and accidentally jerk my shoulder.

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So sexy
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From the back, ooo baby.

The Sling

I still have 11 more days with this thing. While it is a pain, I’ve actually been starting to sleep better on my back and left side. (Remember, my sling has my arm facing straight ahead, not across my body.) When I sleep on my left side, I still need a pillow to support my arm at the right angle. Often my shoulder aches in that position because it’s floating at the top of my body, not totally stable. The most stable way to sleep is on my back, but that can be hard if I want my comforter to cover me all the way. The weight of the blanket presses down on my hand, which stands straight up.

My sling has become pretty much a crumb and pet hair collector. When I’m finished with it I will give it a good vacuum and see if I can send it to be re-purposed.

With my arm this way, I still can’t drive. Even though it could seem like a loss of freedom I don’t think it really has to be. I can walk to the grocery store if I have to. I’m finding a lot of ways to keep busy at home, which brings me to…

My One-Arm Hobbies

Next week is when my school district goes back in session (I know, we have a long winter break!), and therefore my work friends will no longer be available to drive me around and hang out at any given time. No worries, though, I have acquired a few hobbies and activities I can do with one arm.

Blogging has been a nice way to chronicle this experience. As you may have noticed if you’ve perused this site before, I don’t only blog about how sexy my scars are. I like to write about all kinds of things. It’s been fun to explore other blogs and other people’s worlds through this platform.

Reading is the next thing I can do with one arm. I’m currently reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. I’m about halfway through. I also read Wonder by R.J. Palacio – that was a much quicker read. I finished that one in about 3 days. I was thinking about getting a library card. Before I do, I want to read every book I have. This will be part of downsizing – If I read a book and want to read it again, I’ll keep it. If once was enough, I will donate it or maybe sell it on eBay.

Walking my dog has been a nice hobby. I usually give her a walk after my husband leaves for work, and before he comes home. Lately I’ve been trying to go for 5 miles of walking a day.

Not looking at my phone all day has been really helpful for my sleep. I’m trying to develop better habits about that. I go on my phone to communicate. I can go on my Chromebook for social media.

Two days ago, as a step toward my zero waste journey, I went outside with a bag and picked up trash. I walked around my neighborhood and filled the bag, got another, and filled another bag with stuff from a different part of the neighborhood. I don’t know if it’s because I live right by two high schools, by an apartment community, or some combination of those things, but there’s a lot of trash around.

It has been a weirdly meditative process to go around and pick up trash. It feels bad because it’s there – some other human in this world decided that leaving their trash there was okay. But it feels better when I pick it up, and it’s no longer on the ground.

I hung up a poster on my neighborhood bulletin board inviting others to pick up trash with me. It feels nice to take some responsibility for my surroundings. What happens if nobody shows up? There will still be one person going around picking up trash.

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My one-arm artistic facility is minimal. :/

An unexpected side effect of this activity: squatting down to pick something up off the ground has left my gluteus muscles a little sore. Obviously this is how I will be getting my booty muscles back.

Outside of those everyday things, I’ve been doing a lot of little projects around the house: Sending late wedding photos and Christmas presents, turning my husband’s old undershirts into rags, sorting out the piles of stuff in the kitchen, getting rid of magazines I don’t need.

I spent one day making care kits for homeless shelters and people on the street. I reused bags to contain sample snacks I’ve received in the mail, sample soaps and lotions, washcloths, feminine products (I just got reusable ones in the mail yesterday!), socks and gloves, band-aids, plastic silverware, napkins, and cleansing cloths. These are things that I know could be used by someone but I don’t need them in my house anymore. I really hope they end up helping someone.

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Sleepy dog not included

So, that’s about where I am right now. Future projects? I have a photo project in mind for my brass chamber music workshop I will be compiling for soon. I would like to find a use or a project for the wine corks we always accumulate. And I need to figure out how to better organize this blog for new visitors. There is much to be done, but I need to go at my own pace. The most important reason I’m taking this time off from work is to heal myself.

What are some healing activities you like to incorporate into your day?

-Stephy

Vegan Cashew Coffee Creamer — January 12, 2018

Vegan Cashew Coffee Creamer

Welcome to my first recipe post!

My recipe post philosophy: Recipe first, dumb story later.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup cashews, raw and unsalted
1 cup (plus some more) water
Anything else you like – I used a splash of maple syrup just to add some “complexity.” Some recipes call for a pinch of sea salt. Whatever floats your boat.

Directions:

  1. Submerge the cashews in water and soak for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the cashews and place in a high-speed blender.
  3. Add 1 cup of water, plus any extras.
  4. Blend on the highest setting for a few minutes. If the mixture looks grainy, add a tablespoon more of water.
  5. You have a choice here: You can use a nut milk bag or cloth napkin to squeeze out the liquid into another container. With the cashew dregs left on the napkin, you can scrape them off back into the blender, add more water, and blend again. OR, you can just enjoy as is. There may be a grainy texture to it but it will still be tasty and get the job done.
  6. Place liquid into a container that will confuse your husband and roommate.
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“Uhh, I think something weird may have happened to your maté.”

Cool Story:

My go-to creamer since giving up dairy has been the soy creamer from Trader Joe’s. I’ve loved it soooo much, but since I’ve been looking to reduce my waste I knew the time had finally come to consider making my own creamer.

Plus, those additives manufacturers put in creamers to make them shelf-stable can become really detrimental over time. (I’m looking at you, carrageenan.)

A lot of creamer recipes call for coconut oil or coconut milk, but the truth is, neither of those ingredients is a whole plant food. And yes, I do consume those things on occasion if there’s nothing else available, but coffee is an every day beverage for me, and I’m not comfortable putting so much saturated fat in something I drink every day – especially when I can make this instead.

I’m excited to keep this recipe in my weekly routine because of how cost-effective it will be. One pint of the Trader Joe’s soy creamer is about $2.25, and I used about one per week. Over a year, that’s $117.

A 40-ounce tub of cashews from Costco, while not waste-free, is one recyclable plastic container as opposed to 52 non-recyclable Tetra-paks. It costs $21.99. It will make 19 batches of this recipe, which is about a pint if you use the extra water like I did. You would buy about 3 (or exactly 2.73) tubs to make this recipe every week for the course of a year. That is an annual cost of $60.18: a savings of almost $57!

57 extra dollars could buy a lot of something, or one pretty nice thing. If you drink creamy coffee every morning like I do, this is the cost-effective way to do it.

One thing I will say is that the appearance of the creamer in the coffee is not perfectly smooth, especially if you don’t shake it up a bit before pouring. It may look grainy. Consider if that’s really a problem for you. If it were milk or something unfamiliar, I’d be worried if my creamer looked like that. But since you saw everything that went into the blender, and you know it’s just tiny chunks of cashew, you should assume it’s perfectly safe. Just stir it up and enjoy!

Please let me know if you try this, and what you think!

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“Enlarged to show texture”

Stephy

My New Year’s Resolution 2018 — January 11, 2018

My New Year’s Resolution 2018

I spent a lot more time thinking through these personal goals that this post got really long. I think I’ll just discuss my New Year’s Resolution briefly here and then give it its own post.

My New Year’s resolution for 2018: Be a more conscious consumer.

By “conscious,” I mean my first focus is going to be on reducing my impact on the earth’s resources by NOT partaking (as much as I reasonably can) in products that can’t be re-used, composted, or repurposed, or in products that take a lot of resources to make. (Hence my specific goal of not buying any clothes.)

Next focus will be on supporting necessary products that support sustainability.

When I’ve obtained as much information as I need, we will be investing in some kind of tool that will help us compost our food waste.

Why?

I grew up in a small town. In a forest. In the 90’s, when every year the whole school would gather in the cafeteria and watch that video with the dinosaurs singing “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse!”

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Recycle Rex is kinda proud that stupid song was stuck in my head for 20 years.

One of the first rules I learned at school was “Don’t litter.” Any kind of store besides the local grocery store was about 12 miles down the hill. I did not grow up consuming a lot. I didn’t even realize that I lived my life exceptionally close to the natural world.

I went to college in a town that shared very environment-focused views. I walked everywhere. I brought my own grocery bags with me (10 years before they even made that law!). I re-used plastic produce bags and bought my kitchen supplies at a thrift store.

Then when I moved to this larger town where I currently live, with more amenities, and started making money, I started to lose it. I fell into the consumerism pit. I bought nice clothes for work. I bought so many craft supplies. (I paid off my car!) I started clicking on advertisements on Facebook and getting the things. No, Stephanie. It’s a trap!

Sometimes the silliest things can bring you back to your original principles. Luckily I know some people in the world who really hold themselves to that which we should all strive for – a life where our existence as an individual and species makes as small of an impact as possible so others (human and not) can share the space. And I saw a video about straws and how devastating they are for the wildlife in our oceans.

And then I saw a video about microplastics. (That link isn’t the video I saw, but it explains some of it.) Basically, when we throw away synthetic textiles they don’t decompose. But as those polyester jumpsuits in the landfill start to come apart over time, tiny synthetic particles get washed away into…you guessed it…our oceans. Microscopic organisms eat the particles, bigger organisms consume those and collect more particles over their lifetimes, and the particles accumulate more as we go up the food chain.

And that’s when I became horrified.

Watching “Planet Earth II” hit the nail in the coffin for me. Now there’s no way I’m not going to do everything I possibly can to reduce my personal impact.

“Zero Waste”

A childhood friend of mine is part of the Zero Waste movement – a movement where individuals reduce, reduce, reduce, then reuse, then recycle (or compost), in that order, with a goal of sending as little waste into the landfill as possible.

I’ve been checking out a number of Zero Waste blogs and Youtube videos. It’s very doable but requires a bit of work in the beginning. I’m excited to make this part of my life. I find the name “Zero Waste” a bit deceptive – it really is just about taking steps toward “Minimal Waste.”

I’m going to share some of the steps I’ve been taking and plan to take to reach this goal. (I created a very comprehensive checklist for my house – If you’d like me to share this let me know!)

Refuse/Reduce

One very big way I plan to reduce my impact this year is to not buy any clothes. New or used. I don’t need any new clothes, especially after buying all those clothes for my surgery recovery time. It takes a huge amount of natural and human resources to produce new clothing, and again can we mention the synthetic fibers in the ocean? So this year, no new clothes.

I bought one pair of flats last month for work and those are the only new shoes I will have this year. I bought some fancy secondhand sunglasses off of eBay and I’m pretty sure I’m set for life there.

I will reduce my purchasing of new craft supplies for work. I have all the supplies I will need, for several years probably, to write nice notes for my students on fancy paper.

I’m switching all of my bills to electronic statements. I took my name off the mailing list for junk mail.

Reuse

So, that closet full of clothes? I don’t wear them all. I plan to actually repurpose some of them into produce bags for myself and maybe others if my sewing skills are up to par. Brian’s old ratty undershirts are going to be rags for when the kitties have an accident.

We got two lovely sets of cotton napkins for our wedding, which have already proven not only great for traditional napkin purposes, but for tea towel purposes.

Anything that comes in a jar will be repurposed to hold raw ingredients. I plan to reuse spice jars for spice mixes. Later I will buy spices in bulk.

I’ve been using my own water bottle for years! (It’s a plastic Camelbak, unfortunately.) I like the straw for drinking water while driving…but if I lose it I’ll replace it with a steel one.

I’ve been baking oil-free muffins in silicone baking cups for months. They are amazing!

I have invested in reusable feminine pads. Unfortunately they didn’t arrive in time for me to try them, so it’s one last cycle with conventional protection. My remaining feminine products will be donated to a local shelter.

Still to Do

SO much. Including establishing a compost system, figuring out a routine for buying in bulk in our town which is a bulk bin desert, and creating little car kits for eating out. There is a lot to be desired about how we handle our pet waste.

It seems overwhelming to move toward this lifestyle, but I think we can check something new off the list fairly often. Every check is a step that reduces our impact. Everything we do is important and we have to acknowledge the small steps we take. I’ll be updating on this regularly.

Have a lovely day!

Stephy

Status: Recovery Day 21 — January 4, 2018

Status: Recovery Day 21

Heyyy.

It’s a little dreary out to walk the dog right now (only 60 degrees, I’ve become such a wimp) so I thought I would update my friends and family on how my shoulder recovery is going.

If you are new to this saga of my life, I had labrum repair surgery on December 15th, 21 days ago. I’m at the 3 week mark! I will put links at the bottom of this page if you want the full previous context of my experience.

Last Doctor’s Visit

I went in for my 2-week follow up last week and was disappointed to learn that I am actually supposed to have my sling on for 6 weeks, not the 4 weeks my original work note had said. You guys. I don’t have a regular sling that holds my forearm across my body. I have an immobilizer with a wedge-shaped pillow that keeps my right arm facing straight ahead all day and night.

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LOOK AT IT.

So that was disappointing to find out.

I also got my stitches out. They put steri-strips over the scars, which the assistant said would “come off on their own.” But last night I decided to just peel them off, because it had been 6 days.

Starting PT

With my stitches out I was able to start physical therapy this week. I was visiting this same facility frequently before my surgery, before I was able to get an MRI and was just trying to figure out the source of my pain. They know me there.

I came in Tuesday morning and my therapist said, “So, cartwheels and push-ups today?” Heh heh heh…I wish.

This set of exercises, of course, was very different from what I was doing before the surgery. Before it was a lot of strengthening and stability exercises. Now it’s just getting used to the feeling of using it again – letting it hang, curling my arms, climbing up the finger ladder and using the pulley to reach a little higher.

It felt weird that I could only get my elbow as high as my chin. My shoulder feels so different – like moving it at the wrong angle could dislocate it again. I guess that’s why I have to stay in the sling for so long.

Daily Life

I have relinquished a lot of freedom in my life by only having use of one arm. I can’t drive with my sling. Luckily I have a great husband and good friends who can take me places. My husband just had a lot of days off in the past few weeks, so it’s been nice to spend some extra time with him.

I get approached a lot by people in public now. Many people will ask, “Rotator cuff surgery?” (no) or “Who did your procedure?” or smile and say “I remember those days!” I find that people at check out stands, in making polite conversation, will ask what happened. I promise a lot of people, it looks much worse than it is. (Though maybe it’s just as bad as it looks? I don’t know.)

I wonder if that’s what it’s like to be pregnant.

I’ve been using my Chromebook a lot to write blog entries and read other people’s blogs. I’m liking this routine, peeking into other people’s worlds. I’ve also been reading a few books like I said I would. I’m preparing to go “zero waste” and making plans for how I’m going to live my life when I have my independence back.

I’m still walking my Loon dog once or twice per day. Usually I will walk about 3-5 miles a day total. It’s important to me that I move around as often as I’m able.

I have done two, beginning-level, YouTube spin classes on the exercise bike. Those are challenging and I’m glad to get even more of a lower body workout. I can’t do it all the way because I’m wary of standing up with only one hand to grab the handlebars. Still, it’s a good aerobic workout in a situation where I can only move one arm.

I really, really miss cooking my own meals. Brian is a good cook, but he doesn’t always want to cook. And those days we get take-out, which creates a lot of trash and is expensive. I bought a lot of pre-cut veggies from Trader Joe’s so I can cook some meals with one hand. I know it’s a lot of packaging waste, but I can’t cut or hold something down that’s being cut with my right arm. So for now, it’s take-out, leftovers, smoothies, veggie burgers, and sauteed pre-cut vegetables.

Bathing is getting easier. With my stitches out I can shower like normal, and I have washed my own hair (with one hand) twice. I was starting to get a rash in my armpit area, so I applied hydro-cortisone cream on it for a few days and made sure my arms were completely dry after bathing, before I got dressed. That seemed to help a lot.

I can’t put my hair up at all unless I contort my neck at a crazy angle. Something I didn’t realize – boys do not know how to tie ponytails. I asked my husband to tie my hair up and it felt like a kindergartner was playing with my hair! I know what I will teach my future son.

I am pretty much a pro at buttoning my jeans with one hand now. I got tired of feeling like I was always in pajamas.

Sleeping

It sucks. It sucks. It sucks.

Some nights I’m like, “I will probably sleep really well tonight!” But most nights I do not.

The evening after my first PT session, my 40-pound heeler dog jumped on the couch and practically sat on my bad shoulder. It was so painful I decided to break out one of the hard core painkillers from right after surgery. I slept well that night!

I have taken to occasionally smoking the wacky tobacky before bed. The stuff we have is not particularly strong but it helps a little bit.

I’ve had vivid dreams almost every night since the surgery. It’s like my brain has been processing every possible awkward or uncomfortable situation I could ever have and making me live through it. Last night I dreamed that I was teaching the ukulele to my music teacher colleagues, and we were using ukuleles from my schools. But they were dirty and in cruddy condition. Why did my dream self let those ukuleles look so bad?

Honestly, though, this week I’ve had an easier time sleeping through the night. I think exercising more helps a lot, which is why I was excited to get that bike.

That is about it for where I am. If you’ll excuse me, I must walk my doggy. Thanks for reading!

Stephy

To read about how I got into this mess, click here.
To read about how I prepared for my surgery and recovery, click here.
To read about my shoulder surgery experience, click here.
To read about my recovery at Day 13, click here. 🙂 Woo!