Thursday, September 13, 2018

Once you're a student of mine, you're always a student of mine.

Before I went on medical leave and ultimately had to resign from my middle school teaching job due to disability, I taught high school and middle school kids for a total of ten years or so.  Sadly, the fibromyalgia has taken away most of their names from my memory and even some classes and such, but I remember so many of them.  I easily taught around two thousand students in those years, but I stay in touch with several even years later on Facebook and Twitter.  Great kids who have grown up and moved on with their lives.

They're still my students, though, and I still worry about them.  I have a pair of former students, married parents of one and one on the way, and I had to break out the knitting needles yesterday when I read that she is having some troubles with the pregnancy.  Didn't even stop to think much beyond what colors I know both like and what I had in the yarn stash and then look through some baby sweater patterns I have on hand.

In explaining it to my husband last night as I was trying to at least finish the hood on the top-down sweater before going to bed, I found myself thinking that people outside of education might think it odd.  I haven't taught them in 7 years, haven't seen them in real life outside of social media online, but they're still my students even after all this.  Thankfully, my husband didn't even question it (he's awesome that way).

See, we don't teach machines or widgets in some factory.  We teach people, and those people touch our lives as much or even more than we touch theirs.  They take over huge areas in our hearts, and even after graduation, we find ourselves as teachers wondering how they're doing, what they're doing now, hoping they're okay.  I've talked with teachers about former students and shared what I have heard, and they have told me of family members and the latest news.  I have never known a teacher not to worry over former students, be proud of them for every achievement, and cry over them when they die (yes, we do keep track of that, too).

So, I'm still knitting on this baby sweater in hopes that it will fit okay and let that little baby know that his mom's teacher cares about him, too, even if I won't ever get the chance to have him in a classroom.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The New Year Cometh and Cometh Right Soon

The ESL program I volunteer teach for starts back up the second week of September, and I still struggle with a basic concept: what am I supposed to be teaching?

If I listen to the state of Michigan, I am to teach CASAS test prep so that the adult students learn ESL quickly and move quickly through the test levels, testing out and then moving on to a GED or a TOEFL program.  If I listen to CASAS, I would work harder on teaching the Common Core CCR (College and Career Readiness) Standards.  If I listen to my program director, she would add that I need to teach the textbook because students feel more accomplished if they finish the books and also need to use the new software our parent program paid for.  If I listen to my students, I would just teach pronunciation games and work on conversation skills so that no one would make fun of their accents.

In going through the mountains of CASAS standards (seriously--there are hundreds), it's clear that we volunteer teachers are facing a more than slightly uphill battle.  We are to get our students to completely assimilate into US culture as well as be entirely fluent (speaking, reading, writing, listening) in English to a native speaker's 8th grade level.  Having taught 8th grade ELA, this is a bit more in my wheelhouse.  That said, these are adults, and they have many different levels of fluency in both English and their primary languages.

This year, I'm thinking of having my students read a book in addition to textbook work and work on the computers.  I'm strongly leaning toward Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.  I know it's a problematic piece (racist against First Nations peoples and black people, for example), but he does a good job of explaining American culture and describing the US geographically.  The reading level is perfect, too.  Apparently, a former teacher used to teach Maya Angelou, and while I love her work, I wonder if it's a good first text to tackle after doing so much book work for so long.  If that goes well, I want to start lit circles after we finish that one and then do a class text in January (no idea what to do then), followed by lit circles.

It is important to read a culture's most important texts, but these days, our canon in the US is undergoing real change.  Books written in the vernacular are difficult for adult ESL learners (at least, they would be for most of my students), so that makes many great YA books and solid American books (like one of my favorites, Their Eyes Were Watching God) not the best in this situation.  Mark Twain is right out, as is any 18th C. American writer due to vocabulary level and complex syntax.  Having never taught American lit, I'm at a bit of a loss.

So, I am asking my readers, what books do you suggest?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Let's Talk Pain.

 Pain has been in the news a lot lately due to the concerns of the opioid epidemic and how illegal use of prescription pain medications and illegal heroin and fentanyl are killing so very many, especially in the Midwest.  The government has cut back, not only on the actual supply of opioids made for legal use, but also on what doctors can prescribe, and chronic pain patients have been speaking up.  So, let's talk about pain, something I have lived with for over half my life now.  More specifically, let's talk about how medical types (doctors, nurses, support staff) deal with patients in pain.

First, as a point of explanation, I cannot take pain medication.  I am not allowed to take any NSAIDs due to only having one kidney and that not doing as well as anyone would like.  I cannot take opioids because they don't work (it's a genetic thing--thanks, Dad!).  I cannot take the psych meds often prescribed for pain, also due to genetics.  I have horrific reactions to them (one made me start to go blind by the third day--yes, I get those kinds of reactions).  So, I do not take any pain medications for my severe fibromyalgia, chronic daily headache, and other painful conditions.

I have had a lot of experience with medical types, from having been married to an internist (we dated in college, married in med school, stayed married through residency and his first couple of jobs as an attending, and he left me for a nurse--it's a rather banal, common story) to having chronic pain for over 22 years.  I had chronic appendicitis for ten years that was misdiagnosed as endometriosis (8 doctors missed that, so I don't really blame anyone), two major surgeries in a year, lost my right kidney and three inches off to two ribs to a large kidney tumor, and more.  I'm a compliant patient who sees her doctor more than once a year for kidney checks, etc., and I do my best to do whatever my doctors tell me to do.

I've got several doctors involved in my treatment these days, and I've been through tons of tests.  I used to be flat-out terrified of hypodermic needles, but two surgeries in a year and all the follow-up kicked me of that phobia.  I'm not an easy stick, so any time I have to get an IV, they have to stick me, on average, three times.  A few people have gotten my IV in on the first try, and the record is seven sticks before getting one to work.  I've been assaulted by an ultrasound tech doing a vaginal ultrasound, I've had good doctors, I've had bad doctors, I've known great nurses, and I've known callous terrors.  I've been through a lot, and it isn't over (especially if/when my kidney gives out).

I know pain.  My average pain level these days is a seven, and no, I'm not exaggerating.  See, I know that many med types think patients exaggerate their pain levels to get meds (which I can't take) or attention (don't need that), but I have refined my pain scale over the years.  My personal pain scale:

  • 1-2     Barely ever have this anymore.  Honestly, I never use these numbers  because they don't exist for me.
  • 3-4     Slightly annoying.  Easy to ignore for long stretches, but then it reminds me it's there.
  • 5        Used to be my average.  Easy to ignore for an hour or so, maybe longer in cases of emergency or if my kids need me.  I'm still fairly functional but start finding attention and recall to be difficult.
  • 6        The pain is getting harder to ignore.  I can still ignore it for up to an hour, but it's much harder to do so, and it comes back with a vengeance when I do.  Recall gets harder here, especially.
  • 7        I can ignore this pain only for half hour bursts.  It grabs my attention whenever I try to do something normal (like, walk), and it makes thinking, listening to conversations or videos, and recall difficult.  It's also the pain level I had after my exploratory laparoscopy without pain control and the beginning of labor in both of my natural deliveries.
  • 8        I cannot ignore this pain except for a few minutes at a time.  I can still smile, but it's harder to hide the pain.  This one was later in labor when the contractions were harder and closer, what my ovarian cysts often hit me with, and what my headache can go to randomly.  I'm functional but barely.  I have a lot harder time remembering anything or following any conversation or what I'm reading.
  • 9        I start having trouble talking at this pain level.  Breathing is a chore, and I start to go inward, really struggling to deal with the outside world at all.  This was my last year of appendicitis daily level and what months after my kidney surgery were like.
  • 9.5     I stop being able to talk at all.  It's scary, so I have to fight down a panic response at the same time as deal with the pain.  I can scream in my head, and I do, but everything slows down, and I can't get words out.  This is what my natural births got to at the most painful parts and what my first day after the kidney surgery was.
  • 10      This is when I start seeing stars and start passing out.  Yes, it's possible to pass out from pain alone.  I have, several times, and it's very unpleasant.  My body is overwhelmed with the pain level, and it shuts down on me without my permission.  This was the pain level I had when I woke up early in recovery from the kidney surgery (again, with no pain control), and they rolled me for the x-ray.
I know pain.  I've had ovarian cysts (2+ a year) since I was 22, had appendicitis for 10 years (intermittent for the first 9, solid for the last year, almost went insane from the pain), have had surgeries without pain control, broken bones, and I have fibromyalgia now, so my body thinks pain is a normal state.  Even little things hurt, from certain sounds to someone grabbing my arm too hard.  My skin feels like it's sunburned all the time now (allodynia is a fibro thing), and the pain from that waxes and wanes as my fibro flares up and down.  I have a constant headache now, and that can go from easy to ignore to crippled by it depending on the day.  Every muscle hurts.  I don't even have to do anything for that to be true.  It's just my reality.

So, let's talk how pain is seen by med types.  Some are truly caring.  I will never forget the urgent care doctor who got tears in his eyes when he realized that he couldn't do anything for my pain when I broke my elbow.  He was horrified that I was in that much pain and shrugging it off, but it wasn't like I could do anything else.  He was a real doctor.  My primary care doctor, an amazing internist, truly listens and cares and doesn't like it that he cannot do anything, same with my neurologist.  They are all great physicians.

Then there are the ones who don't believe me.  My ex told me that my pain was all in my head for years when it was appendicitis and a kidney tumor.  I've had doctors roll their eyes when I tell them what my pain level is.  I have had ER doctors try to accuse me of being a narc seeker until I tell them to read my chart and then watched their eyes go big when they see the long list of meds I can't take with all opioids right at the top.

Here's a recent example: the phlebotomist at 2 a.m. who ripped skin off with the tape and didn't notice.  I don't know how she didn't notice considering she was looking closely at my arm, prodding for a vein for a blood draw, but she didn't.  When she decided to use the same vein, she firmly wiped the entire area, including the area she had ripped skin off of, with an alcohol wipe.  I gasped loudly in pain, and her first reaction was to blame me.  She said, "You have a strong reaction to pain, don't you?"  I said, "I have fibromyalgia, so yes, but anyone would after you put alcohol on ripped skin."  She then looked closer and said, "Oh, I guess you must have a bad reaction to tape or something."  I said, "No, you ripped skin off when you ripped off the tape."  She shook her head and didn't believe me, instead going forward with the blood draw and then telling me she would put the tape on a different way.  Thankfully, my night nurse was more than understanding and upset when he looked at it and gave me antibiotic ointment to put on the area.

I've had nurses hit nerves when trying to put in IVs (classic signs--severe burning sensation running up the nerve) only to tell me that it can't be true when I tell them that.  I've been yelled at by doctors and a dentist for crying in pain.  I've been told that I'm overreacting more times than I care to count.  I've been told that blood pressure cuffs don't hurt (until I show them the bruises), that they will get an IV in on the first try because they're the best and then get angry at me when they can't and start pulling the tourniquet tighter and tighter each time (bruising me more each time), that something won't hurt that does and then blame me for it hurting, and more.  The ultrasound tech who assaulted me didn't even look at me as she was doing it, just stared at her computer with a blank look on her face, and when I talked with the head of the practice, the doctor told me that it was my fault for not telling her to stop, ignoring that I was at a 9.5 and literally seeing stars and couldn't talk.  

See, many medical types find that the only way they can do their jobs is to otherize their patients, to become callous to cries of pain.  They start saying all patients lie, that all patients are narc seekers, that all patients are just weak and it doesn't hurt that badly.  They lie to themselves so they can keep going to work every day and hurting patients in hopes of helping them get better.  They have to blame the patients: if they start looking too closely at what they're doing to people already in pain, they won't like themselves anymore.  I understand why they do it, but let's at least admit that they're lying both to themselves and each other.

When we talk about pain, let's at least be honest.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Getting Ready for the New School Year, Fibromyalgia-Style

Despite dietary changes and the easier schedule of summer, my fibromyalgia has gotten worse in a lot of ways.  Part of it is stress (lots of stress this summer due to family stuff), but most of it no one seems to understand.  I had an upper endoscopy to check on my throat after many, many years of acid reflux, and that landed me in the hospital with severe chest pain.  Turned out, that was my fibro over-reacting to the procedure and my hiatal hernia (new diagnosis) moving or something.

So, here it is, the last day of July, and I'm trying to figure out the new school year:

  • My daughter is going off to college this fall (Western Michigan University--go Broncos!), and I am so happy for her, proud of her, and trying not to be sad or worried.  We still have a lot to do to get her ready to move into the dorm and ready for her new year and new life at WMU, especially being in the WMU Bronco Marching Band.
  • My son is starting his junior year in high school this year, and it's going to be a busy one.  He's on the lead team for his FIRST robotics team, on the varsity golf team, helping run his school's autonomous car team, and he is learning how to drive.  That's a lot!  With tough classes on top of that, he's going to need a better home routine and set-up to help him thrive.
  • My stepson is starting is 8th grade year, second one in our district, and there are so many positives there.  He's switching to band with an amazingly supportive and awesome band teacher (Mr. Stout is one of the finest band directors I have ever had the honor of knowing), in honors classes, and getting the supports he needs at school.  Thing is, we need to tighten up the home routine to make sure he gets the support at home that he needs.
So, that means it's time to re-evaluate home schedules, chore charts, all of it.  In reflecting on last spring's difficulties with both boys in terms of school and grades and managing their time, I think it's time to bring back a stricter home schedule and definite dinner time.  Here's our family schedule as of now.

Some nights, a set dinner time of 6:30 will not work out, but I think it will most of the time.  One of the problems with last year was that I let my stepson spend too long after school de-stressing, so he ended up doing his homework later in the evening which 1) stressed him out right before bed, making sleep difficult, and 2) made it so he didn't have enough time for making his YouTube videos or spending more time with his dad.  I have a plan for cutting rest time short at 4 p.m. (it involves many alarms), and the boys will be re-arranging their desks in their rooms so that they can more easily do their homework there and not on their beds (where they often would fall asleep in the middle of it last year).

Since I'm the parent who's home, it is my job to keep them on task, hold them accountable, and make sure they get play time in there somewhere, too.  I also have to manage my paperwork for my disability, financials, family stuff, everything.  That schedule is for me as much as it is for them so that I make sure to spend some time on chores every day and not lose track of time (easy to do in the afternoons as the pain ramps up).

The chore charts have been re-done and updated to not include my daughter, the schedules have been tightened up and updated, and now I have to clear the table (again), inventory what everyone needs for school and then buy new materials, have the boys inventory what fits and what doesn't and buy new clothes, and still unpack the basement.  Tons to do in not a lot of time!

Monday, May 21, 2018

I Feel Stuck. It's Time for a Change.

My fibromyalgia pain has been dramatically worse this school year despite my not teaching.  I have tried mild diet changes, changing my supplements, different exercises, all to no avail.  I even went back to PT, but that got my tremors going so badly that I split my lip trying to hold my head up out of the water in the pool.  Yeah.  So, I'm stuck.

I have a disease that has no cure.  I'm stuck with this one for the rest of my life or until researchers finally figure it out and find better treatments and, hopefully, a cure.  Given the slow pace of research and how far behind we are, I'm betting on decades at the very least.  Decades of pain, tremors, a daily headache, poor temperature control, GI issues, and more.  It's hard not to feel angry or get depressed at the very thought of living like this for years more.

So, I sat down with myself and tried to evaluate any changes (other than in pain level and some new symptoms that are really annoying).  We moved this last winter, and that's been a good thing.  I love our new house so much and feel so safe here--I hadn't really realized that, before, I hadn't felt safe underneath it all.  Now we're in a home that really feels like home, and I'm very, very blessed.  The allodynia got a lot better for a couple of months after the move, though it's back and pretty bad right now, and honestly, I'm wondering if is somehow tied to allergies since it's allergy season but my usual respiratory allergies aren't kicking into high gear like normal.  We got a new mattress, and when I do sleep, I sleep harder now.  Of course, that means more pain when I wake up because I'm not moving as much, but I'll take the trade-off.  We got a new dog, and she's a lot of work but worth it in many ways.  She's a real cuddler, and on bad days, I need that (as well as the two cats cuddling me, too, though the cats and the dog don't cuddle at the same time).

On the other hand, I have not been eating right for months now.  Junk foods, desserts, not enough protein, too much dairy.  The carb cravings have been brutal, and while I know that those mean my body is needing protein (found that out years ago), I've been going for the carbs instead.  Not enough water, too, and that's even worse.  I've been eating out more ever since the move, even though I know about my soybean oil allergy and how darn difficult it is to eat out and not run into that in everything.  I've also been more sedentary, mostly due to increased pain levels.  At least, I'm not doing all the movement and exercise I should be doing.

I also looked around at my family.  My husband's weight has crept back up again (as has his pain level), and my stepson has definitely been getting rounder and having trouble with low energy.  My son and daughter aren't eating right, either, though they don't tend to gain weight much at all.  If anything, my son's lost some because he's just not eating as much as he needs to and my daughter is eating far too many carbs and nowhere near enough protein.

So, I grabbed my books, re-read my diet spreadsheet, researched things a bit more, and I started thinking it was time for a reset, something like Whole30 or the Gut Balance Phase 1, to get us back on some sort of track.  My disease may be for decades, but I can't give up, and diet does have an impact whether I like to admit that or not.  While at Costco with my mom right before Mother's Day, I found the 21 Day Sugar Detox book, and I really liked it.  The diet plan is sound and not super crazy to follow, the meal plans and recipes look good, and I like the journal aspect of the book.

I talked with my husband about it, and he encouraged me to do it but to consider modifying the diet to make sure it's not too low carb for me.  I talked with my stepson about it, and he's actually in favor of it because he remembers feeling better when we were on the Gut Balance diet and wants to feel like that again.  I talked with my daughter (that didn't go well) and my son (that went better--he agreed that he needs to eat breakfast and eat more protein, so that's a major win!), and we started the new 21 Day Sugar Detox diet today.

Day one of my modified low carb diet:
I weighed myself and updated my measurements. A couple of my measurements are down from January, even though I've been feeling extra fat and icky lately and my weight went back up. That's interesting.

I ate the breakfast I made last night, a turkey sausage frittata from the book, and it was amazing!  Where has that been my whole life?  I'm looking forward to the leftovers and the next frittata recipe.

I will say, though, that I'm keeping Pepsi as needed since it's one of the only things that works on my daily headache (doctor says it's fibromyalgia caused occipital neuralgia--either way, I can't take anything for it, and I really don't like it). I'm also keeping my sourdough bread since it's fermented and I've tested it and know it works for me. I also know, from having done a stricter version of this before, that I need more carbs than a really strict low-carb diet allows. Basically, the diet I'm doing is no added sugar (other than Pepsi or the sweet tea I've found works almost as well that I substitute sometimes), no breads (other than mine) or gluten stuff, little dairy, lots more veggies and protein.

So, yesterday started the massive food prep, and I was lucky that my husband helped. It was too much for just me with my dang fibro. Today, I am making bread, boiling up some eggs, already put up some shredded chicken I cooked in the pressure cooker, and I need to make something else I'm forgetting.  

I can do this.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

We Need to Talk about Racism

I got involved in a Twitter conversation yesterday that got me thinking about some of the main biases we have as educators and how we don't even know we have them much of the time.  They cover everything from how we think teachers should dress to what strategies we prefer to use to the decisions we make about students.

Let me get a couple of things out of the way first:

Due to the fact that we are still dealing with the fallout of colonialism and slavery and that our education system is a part of the overall systemic racism endemic to life in the United States, we need to talk about what that can mean in the classroom.

Let me be clear: using the best strategies and classroom setup for our students so that they have the best chance to be successful is what we professionals are supposed to do.  It is not our primary job to reinforce the system.  Our primary job is to teach the students we have, not the ones we wish we had, and to provide the right kind of learning environment they need to be successful.  If we teach in a way that works for one culture but not all of the cultures in our classroom, then we aren't teaching our students correctly.  Using a particular teaching strategy just because it is what we grew up with or because we personally like it is not enough: we need to reflect on our teaching practices, why we use the ones we do, and whether or not they are the best strategies for our particular students.

One argument I have run into repeatedly from teachers is that we have to get our students ready for the real world, so that means we should teach in this way or that.  While I agree with that argument at its core (we need to get kids ready for the real world), I disagree with how it is usually implemented in the classroom.  We don't need to toughen our students up.  Our students have grit in spades, thank you.  They need their classrooms to be safe, supportive learning spaces, not harsh spaces filled with microaggressions.  Students of color need safe spaces in which they can grow and learn and ultimately develop the skills and knowledge base they need for the real world.  They live in the real world already, and their families work hard to teach them those survival skills.  Our job is to teach them the rest in a supportive environment.

Another common argument is that, if we change our teaching strategies so that they work better for our students of color, culturally responsive teaching, we are babying our students and being racist by having lower expectations.  Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) done right is not being racist: it is providing that safe, supportive environment in which our students of color can best learn.  That isn't racism, reverse racism, or privilege.  That's good teaching.  CRT does not mean lower expectations at all (students are still expected to work hard, get good grades, behave properly for the given situation), just that students get the strategies they need to have the best chance of success.

Let's look at one strategy for maintaining order in the classroom and seeing which students understand the directions or material and which don't: eye contact.  In the dominant white culture in the US, it is a sign of disrespect not to make eye contact with a teacher so as to show that one is respectfully listening (i.e. "One, two, three, eyes on me").  This is not the case for all cultures.

For example, in the DinĂ© Nation (Navajo), it is a sign of disrespect for a student to make direct eye contact with a teacher.    When white teachers do not reflect on their cultural biases and learn about cultural differences, they can do a real disservice to their students and their classes when they force DinĂ© students to make eye contact.  The students don't want to be disrespectful, and so many end up feeling torn.  Requiring students to act in a disrespectful manner just because your culture says otherwise does not help lead to positive outcomes.

It is similar with autistic students; it can be physically painful for autistics to make eye contact, so when a teacher requires it, that teacher is causing their student pain and possibly triggering a fight/flight/freeze response and an increase in adrenaline, which we know hampers the creation of neuronal connections in the brain.  It seems like such a little thing, but making eye contact is a cultural thing, not a required behavior for life and definitely not if it keeps a student from learning the needed skills and material.

We teachers use many strategies that, ultimately, are rooted in the culture we come from.  It is not our job to demand students conform to the dominant white culture: it is our job to provide a safe learning environment for all students.  Little things, from requiring eye contact to using proximity (another culturally based practice to modify student behavior) can actually be microaggressions and create a negative learning environment.  

CRT is not about lowering expectations, babying students, or engaging in reverse racism: it is about using the best strategies for our students and providing the environment they need in which to grow and learn best.  We teach students, all students, and it is wrong to force students to conform to the dominant white culture's preferred strategies and cultural norms because it can impede their learning and teach them that they aren't safe in their schools.  If we truly want all of our students to succeed, we will engage in the necessary self reflection and use CRT to better teach our students.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Long Overdue Update

My fibro flare has been getting progressively worse through the last several months despite trying all sorts of things.  Here's a quick update:

  1. The Bullet Journal tracker ended up being quite onerous to keep up with, and it wouldn't have mattered anyway since the GI doctor was not interested in seeing that level of data.  I've tried a few other trackers, like Habitica and SuperBetter, but honestly, I just find them to be a bit much.
  2. My GI symptoms ended up being almost entirely due to a new allergy to soy.  I'm okay with soy lecithin in chocolate and some soy sauce (probably due to fermentation), but soybean oil and I really, really, really do not get along.  Things are now back to normal for the most part.
  3. My husband and I both have gotten off of any kind of real diet plan due to our family's move over the winter holidays.  Too much take-out, too much junk food.  His weight, of course, has kept going down anyway, but mine has been bouncing up and a tiny bit down back and forth for a month.  I've been looking into Whole30, and it's very similar to Dr. Mullin's Phase 1, which worked for us.  At least, I can use the recipes.
  4. I went back to physical therapy, and that was a dud.  The lead therapist kept talking over me and ignoring what I kept trying to tell her, and the water therapy started my tremors every time until the last time, which was the worst and took hours to recover from.  We agreed to end it because the PT seemed to be making my flare worse, not better.  The warm pool at my YMCA is closed for a massive rebuilding project, and I miss it.
  5. Our new home is lovely, and it has become a real oasis for me.  I can't wait until spring when I can start working in the gardens and get the pool ready.  We even have a firepit, which I've wanted for years.
  6. I've started volunteer teaching ESL for a half day on Thursdays, and I love it, though it's really getting my fibro upset every week.  I had missed teaching so very much, and writing lesson plans and working with students is feeding my soul.  If I could get my fibro more under control, that would help, though.
It's been a rough several months, what with worse pain, new symptoms, elimination diets, changes to my supplements, a huge move (after a seriously stressful house buying experience--everything that could go wrong did), and now the flu having gone through our family.  Hopefully, this rough start to 2018 means that the rest of the year will go more easily.