Category Archives: Reflections

Reflections on Death & Dying – The Beginning of the End of SOB (Sweet Old Bill) – Part 2

In July and August 2013, I supported my uncle, William Leo Pence, as he died. It was my chance to be there for a family member I loved. It was also an opportunity to put into practice my beliefs about human dignity, choice, and the power to make our own decisions and have them respected at the end of life.  It was one of the most grueling things I’ve ever done.

Born November 19, 1928, my uncle was a veteran of the Korean War. He stood 6’6” tall and his personality matched his height. Eight years before his death, he’d had a kidney transplant, but aside from that, and low level medications for slightly elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, he was very healthy. He was bright, independent and active. And, as Frank Sinatra would say, he liked to do things his way.

Once he took himself off all his medications, including the anti-rejection drugs for his kidney, he thought he would die quickly and peacefully. He put his affairs in order and went home to wait. (If you are reading this blog for the first time, the introductory post to this story can be found here: https://dballardreisch.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/the-florence-journals-reflections-on-death-and-dying-the-beginning-of-the-end-sobs-story-sweet-old-bill/) Unfortunately, will is not always the same as outcome, and what my uncle thought would take days, took more than a month. During that time, he gave me his durable power of attorney and I became his health care surrogate. Technically, he shouldn’t have needed a health care surrogate. He had spelled everything out very clearly. His advanced directives were in order: No invasive measures. No lifesaving interventions or life extending treatments. He wanted to live as fully as possible for as long as he had. He just didn’t want anything to make that longer than it needed to be. He did want to continue speech, physical, and occupational therapy so that he could be independent as long as possible. He wanted to live the highest quality of life he could.

During this process, my uncle made a mistake that almost took choice out of his hands. It had been a long, trying day. He was tired. He was uncomfortable. He was bored. He was fed up. Taking himself off medications had not led to the quick, painless decline he had anticipated. He wanted to talk with someone he thought would understand what he was feeling, but who wasn’t personally invested in his situation. He called 911. He wanted to tell someone that would understand that he was ready to die.

My uncle lived in Florida and his admission to a health care professional that he was ready to die led to his emergency admission into the hospital under the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, the Baker Act. The ambulance came to my uncle’s house, took him to the hospital, and kept him for the full 72 hours allowed by law. He was furious! Unbeknownst to him, in Florida, it is considered against the interests of the state for an individual to be ready to die. The powers that be see it as a small step from being “ready” to die to committing suicide. The Baker Act required that he be assessed by a psychiatrist to determine if he was potentially dangerous to himself, someone else, or whether he had a mental illness. The key question was whether he was a suicide risk. Had they seen him as suicidal, the doctors told me that would have overridden his advanced directives even if he had been considered sane when he made them.

At the hospital, he rallied and convinced the psychiatric staff that he was not suicidal. However, without consulting us, they put him on medications to stabilize his mood and treat what they saw as depression. Now that they were convinced that he was stable emotionally, the question became what to do with him. After the 72 hours, they had to commit him or release him. He could no longer walk unaided and had very little strength. His insurance didn’t cover 24 hour nursing care. His friends, who were in their 80s, couldn’t care for him now that he was largely immobile. I lived 1300 miles away. He couldn’t go home. The doctors told us that they could not send him to a rehabilitation hospital unless he showed them that he wanted to get better. Because his test results were still so good, they didn’t think his decline was steep enough to warrant hospice care. The idea that he wanted to be as healthy and capable as he could as long as he lived, yet refused to take medication was confusing for medical staff. After much discussion, his doctors decided to give him a physical therapy consultation which would determine whether or not he could be placed in a rehabilitation hospital. My uncle used every bit of strength he had and cooperated fully with the PT assessment. They found him compliant, cooperative, and committed to building his strength. They decided to send him to a rehabilitation facility. Now if was my job to find one.

The Florence Journals: Random Musings on My Birth Story, Grandparents, Literature & Identity

I was born two months premature in the front bedroom of my grandparent’s house on Lafayette Ave in Urbana, Ohio.

Urbana house

The house where I was born

My mother, who had turned 19 years old two weeks before, was alone during her labor and my delivery;  her parents were “out west” on vacation. When she realized what was happening she called a friend, who called a doctor, who came to the house. After my birth, I was rushed to the hospital where I stayed for the first month of my life. Weighing 3 pounds at birth, I had to reach the 5 pounds that would allow me to go home. From what I am told, I was lively, feisty, and alert from the first. I charmed everyone.

As a child, I was well loved, especially by my maternal grandparents, particularly my Poppa. He was the “unconditional love” person in my life. Poppa and I had the kind of connection I share with my son, effortless. We simply understood one another. Poppa died in 1974 when I was 16. He and my grandmother had started wintering in Florida several years before. Grandma had severe arthritis and the damp, winter cold of Ohio was too hard on her. We didn’t know that Poppa was ill before they left, but there was something between us as we said our goodbyes and hugged for the last time. I think both Poppa and I knew we wouldn’t see each other again. As my mother and her brothers made plans to bring him home, I knew that he would not make it. I sat down and poured out my heart and my love in a 14 page letter. Only after his death did I realize he hadn’t received my letter. The hospital returned it to my grandmother and she gave it back to me, unopened. I burned it as a goodbye to my Poppa, again precious words lost to the ashes. I wish I knew what I’d written, but that letter was a gift to my Poppa, not to me.

For months, I would laugh at a story or see something interesting and think “I have to tell Poppa”, only to realize that he was gone and that we wouldn’t get the chance to laugh together over whatever silly thing had happened or interesting fact I’d learned. As I understand it, my first words were “bite butter” and my Poppa gave me a bite of butter, the first of many. Poppa stayed with my sisters, my brother and me during the summer months while my mother worked. He sat for hours, day after day on the deck at Meadow Lake in Ohio watching my siblings and me swim and hang out with friends. I have trouble understanding that kind of commitment, that kind of comfort in just being someplace.

As a child, I loved bedtime stories, particularly those my Mother and my Poppa told me. Once they told me a story, I remembered it word for word and if they changed it even slightly the next time I asked for that story, I corrected them. As a mother who told my own children stories (and was corrected by them if I changed plot lines or wording, I know how difficult it is to tell the same story the same way each time, especially if you are making it up on the spot). I must have been quite a handful. I wonder if this is why they started reading me books. For me, books were magical. From those letters on the page pictures and movies emerged. I could see what they read. I could not wait to read. I wanted to be able to make those pictures and movies happen too.

I got my love of reading from my Grandma, as well as my love of culture and history. My Grandma told me I could read by the time I was 3. She helped me learn by teaching me to pick words out of newspaper articles. She gave me a red pencil and I would circle the ones I knew. I could pour over a newspaper for hours at the table in her dining room. Then, when I was ready, she would point to each word, ask me to read it, ask me what it meant, and ask me how to spell it. She also taught me to try to understand the meaning of other words through the context of what I could read. Later, she gave me abridged versions of classic novels. They came in a series and I loved getting the next one. Through this series, I read the books that would have the greatest impact on my early years, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Little Women, Great Expectations, The Count of Monte Cristo. I loved entering the world of a book. I still do. These books also taught me an appreciation of the complexities of the world, from unrequited love and oppression, to unfairness and hypocrisy. They taught me to treasure fairness, justice, love, compassion, a strong work ethic, and care for others.

When I was 14 years old, my grandmother took me to see the movie Nicholas and Alexandra about the last Czar and Empress of Russia. I have no idea why she picked this movie, but when it was over she said, “I have never been able to travel outside the America. You will. Someday you will go to Russia.” I think my love of travel was born in that moment. Later, I would live in Russia for a year, on a Fulbright Fellowship teaching at Kazan State University in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia.

From my Grandmother, I also learned that I have an almost photographic memory. This skill runs in my family. Once I learned a word, I never forgot it. When I would try to remember things I’d read my grandmother would say, “Picture the page in your head. Can you see it? Ok, read it”, and I would. I had no idea this was unique. I thought that if I could do it, everyone could. This later made memorizing speeches during forensics in high school and college very easy. To this day, I can picture pages in my mind and read them to myself. I’m lazier with it now. This is one gift I haven’t refined. Perhaps because I read so much I don’t want to picture or remember everything.  I just want to know where I can find it again later if need be.

When I was little, after my bedtime story, and before I went to sleep, I loved to have my back rubbed, and my Poppa or my Mom would rub my back as I fell asleep. This is likely why I love massages so much today.  This is likely the foundation of my tendency to show physical affection easily and liberally. I’m a hugger, a toucher. I know how important touch is to health.

Because of my birth story, because of the gifts I received from my grandparents, because of many other factors that had formed my life trajectory, I have believed and still believe that my life is a gift and that much is expected of me. I believe I was born to make a difference in the world. This is not conceit. I don’t believe I am destined to change the world in any history making way. I don’t believe I am destined to have a big, splashy impact. I simply believe that those whose lives I touch should benefit, their lives be enriched, from our interaction, as my life was enriched through contact with my grandparents, as it is now enriched by those I know and meet. This is why I became a teacher. This contributes to my multi-tasking tendencies. This is why I’m not always good at just ”being”. At times, I do not know who I am unless I am doing something and what I am doing defines me. I’m working to both understand and moderate these tendencies. (Yes, I see the irony in my wording here. 🙂 )

On why I LOVE Daylight Saving Time!

Ok, so while I’m in Italy this year on a writing retreat and not teaching, “Fall Back Day” will not impact me as it usually does. However, I’m still happy that the European Union, like the U.S., and a total of 70 countries worldwide, practice Daylight Saving Time! Like many of you, I often feel like there are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do. So often I wish for just one… more… hour… Once a year, I get that hour and I “feel” as if I have more TIME. I wake up earlier. I am productive longer. I feel like there is TIME to get things done. I even feel as if there is TIME left over at the end of the day to relax! That is why “Fall Back Day”, the glow of it which carries me for about 7-10 days beyond the actual day, is my favorite day of the year.

So, why Daylight Saving Time?

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. inventor and politician, first proposed Daylight Saving Time in 1784 and that Germany was the first country to implement it in 1916? It took a while to catch on. Also, Daylight Saving Time hasn’t always been an hour. Sometimes it’s been ½ hour or 2 hours http://www.timeanddate.com/time/dst/.

The original idea was to maximize the daylight hours and, among other things, reduce energy expenditures. Conserving energy in times of war has been the most common reason for the implementation of DST over the years. The general consensus in study findings seems to be that even though we get up in the dark in the fall, the extra energy used then is more than offset by the energy saved by having an extra hour of daylight in the evening. I can only speak to having more energy myself for 7-10 days and getting more done.

History of DST

On April 30, 1916, Germany and Austria became the first counties to use Daylight Saving Time to conserve fuel needed for electricity production. They advanced the clock one hour until the following October. Other countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, and Tasmania adopted the same policy. Great Britain, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia  followed later in 1916. In 1917, Australia and Newfoundland began saving daylight. The U.S. didn’t hop on the bandwagon until March 19, 1918 when “An Act to Preserve Daylight and Provide Standard Time for the United States” was enacted. http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/index.html.

That first pass at DST lasted 7 months until Congress overroad President Woodrow Wilson’s veto to end it. During WWII, Daylight Saving Time reappeared, again as an energy conservation measure and it lasted in the U.S. from February 9, 1942 until September 30, 1945. From 1945-1966, U.S. states got to decide if they wanted to observe DST or not. On April 12, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson supported, and Congress approved, the “Uniform Time Act”. The only way around Daylight Saving Time then was for a state legislature to determine that an entire state would stay on Standard Time. In 1972, Congress allowed states with more than one time zone to decide independently for each time zone whether or not to follow DST or stay on Standard Time.

On January 4, 1974, during the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon signed into law the “Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973”. Congress amended the Act, and Standard Time returned on October 27, 1974. Daylight Saving Time resumed on February 23, 1975 and ended on October 26, 1975. In 1986, Congress decided that DST would begin at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and end at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday of October.

Some areas in the U.S. don’t observe DST, specifically, Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The “Energy Policy Act of 2005” extended Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. beginning in 2007. Since 2007, DST begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November.

In conclusion:

In the EU, DST begins at 1:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on the last Sunday of March and ends at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday of October. That means that in Italy, I get my extra hour a week before you get yours in the U.S. I’m not totally clear on the implications of tha, but I’m hoping to figure out a way to get both “fall back” hours.

Anyway, that’s the scoop on Daylight Saving Time. The rumor that a bunch of Congressmen getting drunk in a bar decided to dupe the American public has no merit. Check back with me next spring. I’m likely to be a bit less exuberant then, when I have to give my hour back, than I am now when I get one for free. Ciao and enjoy that extra hour of sleep!

The Florence Journals: Reflections on Death & Dying – The Beginning of the End of SOB (Sweet Old Bill)

On July 4, 2013, Bill declared his independence. In the early 2000s, he’d had a kidney transplant. Aside from that, he was an extremely healthy 84 year old. As with most older adults, in the United States, though, he was on multiple medications to manage multiple minor chronic issues. That’s really context for our story. Approximately a year and a half earlier, after his wife’s death, a series of minor mishaps, literally missteps, started the journey that would lead to his declaration. He needed to have several toes removed due to poor circulation, causing significant mobility issues. Recovering from this, he contracted a virus that put him to bed for several weeks. When he was well again, he was extremely weak and needed to build strength to walk again. He got to the point where he could use a walker or a cane to haul his 6 foot 6 inch frame around, and ultimately take several steps unaided. However, his strength and vigor did not return. This frustrated Bill, an extremely independent man.

One evening he stepped on something sharp. He couldn’t see or feel what it was, but his foot bled profusely. His neighbor and good friend Dino, who had been his support person, particularly with activities of daily living, would be over the next morning to assist him, so Bill just put on a Depends, wrapped his foot in a towel and went to bed. The following morning, Dino found him this way, blood soaked towel wrapped around his injured foot, soaked Depends, his friend needing assistance. Dino cleaned Bill up as best he could, washing him, slathering his foot with antibiotic ointment, and bandaging his foot. The bleeding had stopped by then. Dino made Bill breakfast. Bill, not being one to lie idly by, fussed and grumbled about not being able to get around, but Dino persuaded him to stay in bed that morning and give his foot a rest.

The next day, Bill was still in pain and couldn’t put weight on his foot; Dino cleaned and re-bandaged it for him. This happened the next day and the next and the next, until the fifth day when Bill awoke with a fever and Dino recognized that Bill’s foot was infected. Dino called an ambulance to take Bill to the hospital.

Whether the toe removal, the virus, the item Bill stepped on that led to the infection, or the spiral of medical issues set in motion at the hospital when Bill arrived for treatment for his foot were singularly or collectively the last straw, for those who knew him, Bill’s July 4 declaration of independence quickly became a predictable conclusion. Bill was a proud man, an independent man. He’d been in the medical corps during the Korean War. He was not comfortable relying on others.

At the hospital, an inexperienced physician disregarded the information that Bill had had a kidney transplant and prescribed an antibiotic that disrupted his kidney functioning. He told Bill he was sorry, but they would need to do minor surgery to repair the damage. Bill took matters into his own hands, requesting a psychiatric consultation. After a 45 minute consultation, Bill asked the psychiatrist if she thought he was competent to make his own medical decisions. She responded “Absolutely!  I have no questions at all about your competence. Why do you ask?” Bill replied, “Because as of today I am taking myself off all my medications. I am also refusing this surgery to repair the damage caused to my kidney by the antibiotics and I don’t want anyone to be able to challenge this decision. Now, please get a piece of paper, we’ll write out each of my medications. I will sign that I refuse to continue them and you will sign that I am competent to do so”. Surprised, the psychiatrist did as Bill requested.

Bill remained calm and resolute as several medical professionals tried to talk him out of this decision. He was done with medical care. With signed paper in hand and fresh advanced directives and against his doctor’s advice, Bill was wheeled out of the hospital. His trusty friend Dino was there to take him home. Bill believed that he would die quickly as he thought that taking himself off the anti-rejection medication for his kidney would lead to his body rejecting the kidney, causing it to shut down. He believed he would die quickly and painlessly. That was not to be the case.

When Bill left the hospital, he believed he was going home to die. His two friends Dino and Kenny disagreed with Bill’s decision and it took him several days to bring them around to at least understanding his way of thinking. Once they were grudgingly on board, Bill called me, his niece, and told me of his decision. I listened quietly. We both shed a few tears. I told him I loved him and would miss him, but that I would fight for his right to decide. Neither of us knew what this would ultimately involve. But our trust and commitment to one another, and to Bill’s right to make this decision, strengthened our resolve to face whatever came next.

Bill got his affairs in and went to bed to wait.

The Florence Journals: On Social Media and being an Extrovert in a Foreign Land

So, dear reader, as you know, I’m in Florence, Italy.

Florence

Just to clarify, I don’t speak Italian, although I can carry on a very thorough conversation about that, in Italian. (Rant: I have no idea why language programs teach inane information first. And I have found this to be true with every language program I’ve ever used (Spanish, Italian, Russian). I’ve just done 3 lessons on Pimsleur on being able, or not being able to, understand Italian or English and to ask people if they are Italian or American. I don’t have those conversations! All I need from that is one line! “I don’t understand”. (Non capisco). My first lessons on Rosetta Stone were about reading, swimming (really!!!) eating and drinking (ok, those were somewhat useful). However, when I go into a restaurant to eat or drink, I don’t generally find myself needing to broadcast that. It seems self-evident. I’m sure I’ll get to useful language at some point. (But, I digress.). (One more quick sidenote: I’ve found the translator on the app TripLingo, http://www.triplingo.com, to be extremely useful when wifi is available).

I also don’t know anyone here. So, I stroll the Ponte Vecchio and tourist hangouts in the evenings so that I can meet and speak with people. I’ve found it surprising how many English and Russian speakers I’ve met here. I seem to do pretty well in both languages and with maps and hand gestures have been able to carry on some pretty interesting conversations. I’m not sure why, but my Russian seems to improve in countries where English is not the first language.

That’s all well and good. In fact, I chose Florence because I didn’t know the language, because I didn’t know anyone, and because I fell in love with the city when I first came here almost two decades ago. I’ll continue to learn Italian. I’ll continue to put myself in situations where I have the opportunity to meet people. However, I am currently in a “between time” and I find it insightful. I am an extrovert without the ability to interact very much.

I suppose it’s not surprising then that social media is kind of a lifeline here for me. As an extrovert (and if I ever had any doubts, I don’t now), I NEED interaction with others. In fact, I’m not just an extrovert. On the Myers-Briggs test I score as an ENFP (extrovert, intuitive, feeling, perceiver). I am described as an “enthusiastic, creative, and sociable free spirit, who can always find a reason to smile”. Here are my results: http://www.16personalities.com/enfp-personality. I won’t go into that further here, but if you read the report, you might see why I react to this situation as I do.  If you’re interested in how you score, check out the free test here: http://www.16personalities.com. I was certified in Myers-Briggs years ago and taught it numerous times to classes of U.S. judges as well as American college students. It’s interesting stuff. (But, again I digress.).

Even though I’m an extrovert, I also need to disconnect sometimes and pull inward. That is the purpose of this trip, to claim some down time, to reflect, to think, to plan. Interestingly, I have found myself at times feeling isolated. It occurs to me that the possibility of connection, as a way of not feeling isolated, is extremely important to me. Not to overstate the obvious, no matter how interesting and life affirming living in a foreign country is, it can, at times, be lonely, especially if one doesn’t know anyone, or speak the language. So, to come around again, I am grateful for the internet, for my ability to connect with family and friends through Skype, FaceTime, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, my blog, your blog, etc. On days when I don’t feel well, or when I can’t sleep, or when it’s raining too hard for me to want to venture out, I’m on here a lot. It helps me to feel connected. It helps me feel less isolated.

I think the researchers who decry the internet as the ruin of personal relationships have it wrong. The internet has the potential to allow us to interact with, to care about, to build relationships with, to strengthen relations with, and to share care with people in ways we would not be able to otherwise. I think what we are seeing is kind of a revolution in relationship that is enhanced by social media in all forms. (I plan to write more on this later and have, in fact, researched this, in an academic sense).

View from my window 2

This is where I write: View from my window

There are other characteristics of my being an extrovert and other insights I’ve learned in my 2 weeks here that I will share in later posts. But for now I would like to leave you with a big THANK YOU!!!!! Your engagement on social media helps me feel connected in this “between time”, and that is a real gift to this extrovert.  Ciao!

The Florence Journals: On Writing and Reluctance

I’ve had some interesting insights into myself since I arrived here in Florence, Italy a little over a week ago.

This is the first entry about those insights. In my journal, I’ve noted that I’m aware of the possibility that someone else might read my words and I find myself silencing or editing myself because of the risk that my words might be judged, evaluated. I don’t necessarily intend to share my journal writing with anyone. I may edit writings for blog posts, like this one. But I’d like what I write in my journal to be for me, to be free of any “generalized others”, any audience that may read and draw conclusions. (Yes, I hear the echos of Kenneth Burke and George Herbert Mead in what I’ve written.) I desire to work on this.

As I revised my journal writing for this blog post, I had an insight. I know where this concern came from. Like all teenagers, my life had a degree of angst. I used to journal all the time. I can still picture the spiral notebook in which I wrote. The peach and pink swirls on the cover. I loved that notebook. I wish I could still picture the words.

One day, while I was in 8th grade, the principal, a very serious nun I did not particularly like or trust (She was one of those people who could make any information fly out of my head simply by asking me a direct question.) had a fellow student call me out of class to go to her office. That was never a good sign. In 8th grade, it typically meant our cheerleading skirts were too short (Yes, I was an 8th grade cheerleader) and we were going to have to kneel on the floor and have them measured with a ruler.

This time was different. I walked into her office and she just looked at me. Eventually, I felt myself squirming. However, we didn’t speak until spoken to, so I just waited. Finally she asked me to take a seat across from her desk. This never happened. No one sat down in her office. I sat nervously, wondering what I had done, what she wanted, what was wrong… A million thoughts flew through my head.

She opened with “So, I understand you like to write”. I was startled. I had no idea what she was referring to. I replied, “Yes, I guess”. “Well, do you or don’t you?”, she asked pointedly. “Yes”, I stammered, more of a question than an answer. “So, what is this?”, she asked picking my journal up from her desk. I panicked and froze. “It looks like my journal. How did you get my journal?!”, I whimpered. I had written my most personal thoughts in that journal. It was not for anyone else’s eyes. “You’re a very good writer. Keep writing” she stated, “Now go back to class”.

Shaking, I took my journal from her hands and left. Rather than feeling supported, as my optimistic self believes she probably intended, I felt betrayed. I felt rage! What gave her the right to read my journal, to read my private thoughts? And how did she get it anyway? I never got answers to these questions. On my way to class, I made a detour to the incinerator in the basement. I tore my journal to shreds, feeding page after page into the fire, last of all the peach and pink swirled cover. I watched as the flames licked it black and it turned to ash. When I was done, I walked, still shaking, back to my classroom. I have no idea what we studied that afternoon. I know only that I felt relief. No one could ever again read my private words. Often when I saw her in the hallway after that, she’d stop me and ask “Still writing”? I’d just smile. I’d stopped writing.  I stopped writing… for a long time.

Now, many years later, I would do almost anything to be able to read the words in that peach and pink notebook, to have access to those thoughts, to know what my younger self pondered, questioned, explored. Something precious was lost that day. While I can’t get her words back, perhaps I can learn to claim mine again, on paper, as I did then, so that one day, my older self will know me through my words. Or, maybe some other reader who cares to know who I was will read them. I hope that I, she, he will hear through my words the real, unedited me, not a redacted or silenced me. I hope they will see me in all my shades and passions, the angst and joys that I experience. That is my hope. We will see.

The Florence Journals: Reflections on Visioning, Career, and Multi-Tasking

So friends, I’ve been in Florence, Italy for 1 week. I’ve been a professor my entire (post undergrad) working life. I have loved it. I have lived my passion. I have grown, developed and shifted my interests throughout my career. I have become achingly aware of the fact that in moving at the speed of light it may, at times, be difficult to do several things: 1) acknowledge the accomplishments which will help feed future work, dedication, and commitment, 2) plan for the future – I don’t know about you, but I typically spend so much time on the “fire of the day” that feeding my own passion happens less than I would like. Don’t get me wrong. I DO feed my passions. I just sometimes get caught up in the demands of the moment and attend to them less than I might like. I also realized recently that I don’t make long term plans any longer. For years, I had 5 year plans. That changed when I was promoted to full professor. Then my strategy shifted to taking whatever “cool” opportunities came my way. Opportunities had to most importantly 1) benefit my students and/or 2) allow me to work consistently with my beliefs and values. The best projects did, and still do, both. I refused to do anything that was not consistent with my beliefs and values.

More and more, that has meant grant funded work that emphasizes community-based participatory research, specifically, working with communities to help them identify issues of interest to them and maximize their outcomes. That said, sometimes that has also meant taking the money for the students rather than the passion. These strategies have found me working over the past decade in public health preparedness (my first foray into CBPR); identifying barriers for minority populations of accessing help in paying utility bills (one of the most insightful projects I’ve ever undertaken), while at the same time helping the utility provider improve their reputation following a disastrous stint with ENRON; health promotion for older adults in rural and frontier areas of Kansas; community-based decision making around wind energy; working with an interdisciplinary team to create a toolkit to help older adults in a Kansas County to reduce falls called Falling LinKS  http://webs.wichita.edu/?u=AGING&p=/FallingLinKS/Page1/, and hunger awareness and activism. Perhaps my most fulfilling work over the last decade has been launching the Hunger Awareness Initiative as Wichita State University. You can find us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/WSUHungerAwareness, on Twitter at @WSUHunger or #WSUHunger, and visit our website at: https://wsuhunger.wordpress.com.  I wrote earlier about what got me into the hunger space: https://dballardreisch.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/who-am-i-on-this-hunger-awareness-journey/. I have a number of blog posts on this issue, but this is my “Who am I?” post.

3) I have also recognized that none of us do “this” the same way. There is a great deal of writing, thinking and lamenting on the downside of multi-tasking at the moment. I could not disagree more! Multi-tasking is not a myth and it is a godsend for those of us who think 24/7 and who are highly productive. (I plan to write more on that later, but for now, suffice it to say, we are all differently abled. Somehow we have lost track of that in recent years and anything that is not “normal” has become problematic. I would argue that there is no such thing as “normal” and that striving to be so keeps many of us from recognizing our unique gifts – but I digress.) That said, even the best multi-taskers might at times need to take a break and just “be”, just reflect, plan, breathe. That is, among other things (I AM a multi-tasker after all), what I am doing on this sabbatical.

While I love my life and my career, I also have a strong desire to do something different. I have no idea what that will be. I do have faith that I will find “it”.  On September 2, 2014, my first full day in Florence, serendipity stepped in and I met a woman I wrote about in an earlier post, Lauren Haas, who 1-1/2 years ago sold everything she owned to become a traveling writer. She takes gigs that pay $30-$150 which generally have nothing to do with where she’s living, and she travels the world. How cool is that?! Her adventure reminded me of this cartoon. I love meeting people who are following their dreams! http://www.filmsforaction.org/articles/what-if-money-was-no-object/

I’m not yet sure what my next dream will be, but for now the streets of Florence beckon, and I will answer. I love walking these hills. More later, dear readers.