This one has actually been a long time coming.   We haven’t talked about this publicly, because it’s hard to talk about.  How can you expect someone else to understand the bond you have with your dog?  Even if they do have a dog, can they really get where you’re coming from and understand the choices you’re making?  Regardless, the time has come to share the story of what we’ve been going through with our sweet dog, Lucy.  This is not a short story.  And it does not have a happy ending.

Lucy 9

This is Lucy when we first adopted her from the Hermiston Pet Rescue.  She was a happy dog, always wanted to be wherever we were. She followed  us from room to room.  If there was a spot next to  you on the couch, just try to stop her from finding it.

Lucy 3

Oh, you’re building a dresser from IKEA?  Let me help.

Lucy 7

Oh, your husband is stuck working on Valentine’s Day?  Let’s go on a walk and have fun.

Lucy 2

Sitting outside on a summer day eating breakfast?  Can I come, too?

Lucy 1

She was a major part of our everyday lives.  She was always ecstatic to come running inside when we got home from work.  We took her with us on every possible road trip.  She LOVED the car.

Lucy 5

She loved coming to the Oregon Coast with us.

Lucy 4We even brought her with to our first anniversary photo shoot.  She was such an important part of our little family, we both agreed that she just had to be there.

Lucy 6

She’s been a part of our friends’ lives, too.  In fact, some of our friends would argue that they looked forward to seeing Lucy more than they looked forward to seeing us.  And that was really fine by us, actually.  Who could blame them?  She was a great dog.

Lucy 0

She never had any behavior problems.   She loved people, loved cats, and no problems with other dogs.  She was always so mellow.  She even got body slammed by an 18 month old child and barely noticed.  We adopted Lucy after we’d only been married for 9 months, so you could say she was our honeymoon baby.  From March of 2012 until October of 2013, she was our girl.  We rolled down the window for her to sniff all the things as we drove.  We held her quivering body on scary 4th of July’s and thunderstorms.  We brought her to dog parks, the ocean, friend’s houses, visits to the grandparents.  We bought her fun collars, dog beds, name tags, corn-free food.  Whenever we couldn’t take her with us on a trip, we spent a good deal of time thinking about how “I’m sure she’s fine, she’s just playing with my parents’ dogs.  She’s happier there.  We’ll be back soon.”  Every day for a year and a half, she was been a big part of our lives, and our marriage.

Lucy 10

In October of 2013, something started to change with Lucy.  She stopped following us from room to room.  She stopped cuddling with us on the couch, and in bed.  She would go upstairs to curl up in her bed, even if we were downstairs watching TV.  She removed herself more and more.   We didn’t know whether it was that she was getting less exercise in this house, or maybe if she was just depressed.  But it didn’t seem dramatic at first.  We noticed she was walking laps in the back yard and had very specific tracks in the grass.  There were less cuddles.   We figured she was just adjusting to the new house, maybe a little anxious or depressed.  But she still seemed herself when we took her for walks. But she just needed some time and some more exercise – she’d get better.

But she never recovered.  She not only did laps in the yard, but also around our house.  Constantly.  By mid-November, she only two states:  pacing or sleeping.  And she didn’t sleep well.  Since October, she had not cuddled with us once.  Instead of actively seeking snuggles, she actively avoided human contact.  When you reach down to pet her, she ducks away and trots off on another lap.

My mom called us while we were out of town for Veteran’s Day weekend and told us, “Lucy is not well.  Her tail is always down, she seems very lethargic and she just paces in and out of the house.  She’ll walk up to us and just whine, and we don’t know why.  I think you need to take her to a vet.”  We took her in, and she was a wreck.  She was always so great at the vet, but here she just couldn’t sit still.  I had to take her on  laps around the parking lot while Tyler waited for our name to be called, otherwise she would just whine and bark.  When the vet checked her out, he said he wanted to run some blood work to see whether or not it was something physiological going on.  If the blood work came back clean, it was either behavior or something possibly going on in her brain.  The blood work came back clean, but Tyler and I just weren’t convinced that it was just behavior.  We took her to a second vet and they said that it was very likely that she had a lesion in her brain.  The only way to diagnose that, though, was to take her to WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital for an MRI, about a $2,000 cost.  If they did find a lesion, surgery would be another $3,000, minimum.

We went home and wept.  We wept over the fact that it was just so much money.  We grieved the fact that we had already lost our sweet, cuddly dog – the dog who lived in our house was a pacing, anxious, howling shell of who Lucy used to be.  Lucy was gone, and we never had the chance to say goodbye to her when she was still her.  We held each other and realized that we had no idea what to do here.   So we held each other.  And wept.

I made an appointment for WSU for a few weeks later – the soonest they could get us in.  We thought about it and talked about it a lot.  We ultimately decided to cancel the appointment.  Getting the MRI was a lose-lose situation.  If they did find a lesion, we knew we wouldn’t put her through surgery.  Lucy was so frail, we didn’t think she could withstand the anesthesia for surgery, much less the recovery from such intensive surgery.   If they didn’t find a lesion, then we were left with more questions than we would have dollars left in our bank account.

She did not gotten better.  She now howled  most nights, for up to 45 minutes at a time.  We used to be able to pet her while she was howling, the only time that we got to touch her.  She would stop for a minute and just breathe.  After a few weeks, she wouldn’t even let us do that.  She fought through the love we try to show her, and howls – even screams – through the night.  We gave her a sedative to help her sleep, but her body still fought through it and she stumbled through her laps, pacing through the sedation.  There were a few weeks in a row where we couldn’t get a full nights sleep.  During the day she seemed alright.  She wasn’t herself, but when she was pacing her ears were up.  She seemed to be okay.  Our job at this point was to watch her, love her from a distance, and keep her as comfortable as possible.  We even took her to a professional photographer to have a Christmas portrait taken, knowing that this is our last Christmas with her.

Lucy

There were so many times that I wanted to ask her what she was feeling, and what she needed from us – but with a dog, you just can’t.  We talked to some close friends who had been through a similar situation before about the fact that we didn’t know whether or not she was living a good life and if we should help end her suffering.  We just couldn’t tell how much she was hurting.  They said “If you’re not sure, then it’s not time.  Something will change, maybe a dramatic event will happen, or something will become drastically worse.  And then you’ll be sure.  And then it will be time.”  This week, something dramatic happened.

We were getting worried about our semi-annual trip up to the San Juans to spend with my extended family.  We were going to be gone for a week.  We couldn’t bring her with us – she absolutely panicked in the car, and the house doesn’t allow dogs.  So we had to leave her in my parents’ house with her dogs.  We brought her over to have a trial night-stay to see how she would do.  But in order to get her there, we had to put on her harness so we could tie her down and keep her (and us) safe in the car.  This was not a simple task.  Whenever you try to stop her from pacing, she freaked out.  At first she would flail and scratch with just her feet and nails.  But that day, she started using her teeth.  She bit me three times while we were trying to keep her safe.  Then, later this week when we tried to put her in the car again – this time only using her leash – she couldn’t even handle that.  Even holding her collar for one second made her immediately bare her teeth and lash out.  She struggled against her leash so hard that she easily slipped out of her collar.  Yesterday, when she started to slip out the door and my mom grabbed her collar to keep her safe in the house, she bit my mom.  It became clear that Lucy’s life had very little left.  She was scared all the time.  She doesn’t recognize the humans that have fed her, loved her, and walked her for the last year and a half of her life – and she attacks them.  The dramatic event we weren’t sure about had happened.

Lucy sleeping

So today, it was time for Lucy’s final vet visit.  We gave her a mild sedative so she wouldn’t hurt us when we took her to the car.  We spent about an hour and a half at home just sitting with her and crying – from a distance.  It killed me that I couldn’t hold her close in those final hours.  So we watched her fall asleep and cried.  We told her how much we loved her.  We talked about all the wonderful memories we had with her.  We apologized that there was nothing we could do to save her.  Tyler even went out to get her a burger from Zip’s for her last meal.

Lucy's final meal

When she was calm enough, we gently loaded her to the car (even on that last heavily sedated trip she tried to bite Tyler.  It reminded me that we were, in fact, doing the right thing).  The vet clinic was so wonderful to us.  The professional photographer who took her Christmas picture happened to be at the clinic today.  He recognized her and snapped a few shots of her before we went in for her appointment at no cost.  The vet tech and the doctor gave us lots of time to spend with her while she was heavily sedated so we could actually hold her close and breathe her in while she was still alive.  Then, all too soon, she was gone.  We apologized to her again that we couldn’t do more for her than bring her peace.  They will give us an ornament with her pawprint on it that they made as the piece of her that we keep forever.

Our house feels so empty now.  The dog bows, beds, doghouse in the back, all feel foreign without her here.  All I want is for my Lucy girl to come running in the room for cuddles, but the dog we said goodbye to today was not my Lucy girl – and we knew she never would be again.  Rest in peace, sweet girl.  Chase some birds in doggie heaven and think of us.  We love you so much.

Anyone who’s been in a musical ensemble that’s half decent (or better) has had that moment.  You sing a chord so beautifully in tune that the first delightfully delicate overtone speaks for the first time in that choir.  You play that big, fat, beautiful chord and for a moment, you forget who you are.  It resonates through each of you and into everything surrounding you.  You don’t just hear it, you feel it.  The conductor cuts you off and everyone has the same look on their face.  Excitement, awe, thrill fills every cell in your body because we did it.  We were not many players, we were a band.  We are not many singers, we are a choir.

Whitworth Clarinets

It’s largely because of experiencing moments like this as a clarinetist and singer that I went into teaching music.  Because I know how much it changed me, both emotionally and physically, and I want everyone in the world to experience that at some point in their lives.  Everyone.

Today, we had one of those in my high school concert band.  It was breathtaking.  I squealed with joy and I could not stop smiling.  My cheeks hurt, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling for over ten minutes.  This is my job, this is my band, these are my kids.  And they just did that.  Yeah, they did.  We went on to have one of the best rehearsals we’ve had yet this year.  There’s no other way to say it – we were a better band at the end of that rehearsal than we were at the beginning.  I wish I could say that at the end of every single rehearsal, but sometimes it can be difficult to see tangible progress every day.  But today there was no doubt in any of our minds.  There are great things to come this year.  And we cannot wait to tackle them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. Exercise for physical renewal, prayer (meditation, yoga, etc.) and read for mental renewal.  Provide service to society for spiritual renewal.

That’s a quote from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. For a while there, everyone was really into that book, it seemed like.  I think I read the one that was aimed at Highly Effective Teens.  I really liked a great deal of what the book was about – I work hard to be an effective and efficient person.  But sharpening the saw is a hard one for me.

The other night, after being sick for two and a half weeks and having been at work for a very long time that day, Tyler asked how I felt.  I said, “Empty.  I don’t have anything left.”  We had a long conversation about it.  Here’s my perspective:

I live hard.  I love hard.  I work hard.  I give everything I have to everyone and everything but me.  I think part of this came from growing up in the church.  This mentality is considered having “A Servant’s Heart.”  If you give away everything you have, then the Lord will fill you back up and renew you to give even more to the Kingdom.  I give and give and give, and take little to no time for myself.  Sometimes that means that I end up empty.  I have given it all away, and I am left without feeling, emotion, truly anything.  I’m not hungry or tired or thirsty.  I am nothing – I am empty.  Then I go to bed and wake up the next day and it’s like that feeling never happened.  I am amazed at my ability to wake up in the morning and start the new day fresh.  And because I can do that, it feels like there are little to no consequences for spending my resources until I am empty.  Why shouldn’t I be generous with everything that I have?  Why would I say “no” to performing with another ensemble, going to another conference, hanging out with that group of friends – ever?  Why would I ever say no to anything?

Here’s Tyler’s perspective:

Why?  Why would you spend until you are completely empty?  Why not reserve some time and resources into renewing yourself so that you can be more effective?  Who does it help when you are completely drained of everything and get sick for weeks at a time?  Is it worth it?

So, as I was going into my third week of being sick (and even resting whenever possible on weekends), I decided it was time to take some days off of work.  I have to emphasize – I never do this.  I try to avoid it at all possible costs.  I’m pretty sure I’ve taken a total of one or two sick days in the past two years that I’ve worked for Umatilla.  And that includes during the six weeks that I was sick at the beginning of last school year.  This week, I decided to take three days.  In a row.  I’ve never done that before, ever, at all.  It’s hard for me to think about my kids working with non-music subs while I’m at home trying to nurse myself back to health.  But I’m optimistic that if I truly take some time for just me, I have a prayer of getting better.  Hopefully, even by Monday.

As the school year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting back on this year and looking forward to the next one – as all teachers do.  Year Two really does seem to have flown by in a very different kind of blur than Year One did.  Several things about this school year have been prominently different for me, and pretty much all of them have been beneficial for me and my program.

Calvin Friends

The most drastic change in my second year of teaching is that all of a sudden, I had friends my age that were actually available to hang out.  I can’t even describe how frustrating and infuriating it was my first year of teaching when I tried reaching out to people who lived near me who simply would not reciprocate friendship.  Nice enough people, but also completely unavailable to be real friends.  Even though I always have Tyler as my rock, not having friends to process work and life with was incredibly difficult for me.  This year, a whole slew of twenty-something musicians and music teachers have moved to the area and a couple of them actually enjoy (and make time for) hanging out with us.  One moved five blocks away from our house and the other is actually staying with us for a few weeks until they find their own place.  I hardly have words to describe how much of a difference it makes to be able to really process aloud with a music teacher friend who understands.  Now that I have a support network out here, I no longer feel alone and stranded.

Clarinet Recital

Additionally, I made the decision to start performing again.  I performed the first movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in a concerto competition in March.  I sang in two concerts so far with a community choir  and will play with a local orchestra in their summer pops concert.  I also started playing and singing with a new big band which has some exciting gigs coming up this summer with music that I really love to play and sing.  The deal I made with myself was this – if I was going to commit time (a precious commodity) to rehearsing and performing with an ensemble, it has to be something that is fun and rewarding.  I’m honestly not 100% that I’ll continue to perform with both groups as I enter my 3rd year of teaching.  I do love making music with others and I especially love being in a rehearsal where I don’t have to be the boss.  But the commitment of being in two rehearsals per week (one of which is a 45 minute drive away and on a school night) is making me reconsider whether I can maintain this schedule.  But regardless, I know I will continue to be a member of ensembles where I simply get to enjoy making music again.  And I hope I can continue to do that throughout my career.

UHS Room 4

A note left by a student at the end of last year

The biggest difference in my work life this year has been me settling into myself as a teacher. Last year, I was timid (I know, right?  Me?).  I didn’t tell my friends when my concerts were because I was worried that they would hear my kids and think they were terrible.  I didn’t take them to contest and I didn’t want anyone to come to work with my kids.  What if they weren’t good enough and thought I was a terrible teacher?  My kids played alright, but there was still the transition of “She’s the new director” that we had to go through as a music program.  I got through the first year, but wasn’t sure of myself at all.

UHS Room 1

High school band room right before my second year of teaching, with some new updates

Viking Woman

Me playing drum kit at a football game in the legit viking helmet

Second year, I am not so timid.  I am no longer worried about telling kids off in the hallway that aren’t in the music department.  I always tell my friends when my concerts are.  I wear a viking helmet to football games.  I’m rarely hesitant to tell a “Butler Story,” as they are known to my kids, to give them some insight to who I am as a person (as well as a chop break mid-rehearsal).  I’m never afraid to be my goofy, ridiculous self with my ensembles.  When it came time for us to host a small school band festival this week, my kids (both middle school and high school) didn’t even remotely hesitate when I told them that I needed their help to make the day a success.  Some came early.  Others stayed late.  As I was on my way to move tons of percussion equipment I had eight separate kids cheerily volunteer to help me haul things.  They are my kids, without a doubt.  If I help them understand how important something is, they will go to the ends of the earth to make it happen.  They see me staying late, hauling equipment, and taking care of what needs to be done and they reflect it.  As much as my kids reflect some things of me that I don’t always love, they also reflect some of the things that make me great.  And that makes them great.  And I couldn’t be more pleased that those things carry over, too.

 Here’s the summary:  I’m really happy with how things are going here.  Last year, I really wasn’t sure how long I would be in a job that was 6-12.  Honestly, we really don’t know how long Hermiston will be our home.  But what I can tell you is this – we love our jobs.  I see so much incredible potential here in this program.  The longer I’m here, the better the kids play and sing.  I really want to keep working like crazy and see just how great they can be.  Year two has reaped so many incredible results.  Not as many musical successes as I would like – but the kids and I are showing our true colors, and I love what I see.  Music is a great place to be again.  And I just can’t wait to see what the future brings for us!

Well it seems that sarahlovestyler.com has had it’s first hiatus  from the Internet.  Rather than apologize or get too defensive, I’d just like to paint you a brief picture of what life has been like since our cruise in August.

  • The week before school started in August, I contracted a nasty cold (with laryngitis) that turned into bronchitis.  Because I was a fool and didn’t take any time off, this lasted for SIX WEEKS.  I couldn’t sing, I coughed constantly, even had some nasty chest pain that forced me to make an emergency doctor’s appointment (which I still refused to do until after school was over).  Needless to say this whole experience just screams “Rookie Teacher” and I’m going to do my best to never repeat that.  It was literally my hell.
  • This seems minor, but has effected my daily life – In September while at a wedding in Eltopia I dropped  my beautiful smartphone on a dirt road (which apparently had a rock underneath it) and shattered the screen, rendering it useless.  To replace the part itself was $300 and to purchase a new one outright was $600, neither of which we could justify.  Thankfully, a dear friend agreed to give me her old Verizon smartphone which, though it has been a welcome gift, is much slower and frustrating than my last phone.  But until our upgrade in July I am making do (but am daily infuriated).
  • In mid-October while driving to see Disney on Ice with my mom and teenage sister, the check engine light in my van went on and the temperature gage flew off the chart.  Thanks to several kind men who were my knights in shining armor, I was still able to get to Disney on Ice (a breathtaking experience) but my van did not live to see another day.  The little blue egg, tragically, said her goodbyes to this world.

Thankfully, we were able to replace the blue egg with a 2002 Honda CR-V which we love and adore (and still haven’t named, now that I think about it).  We are so grateful that we are able to replace our vehicle so quickly with a car that we really wanted.

  • However, our joy did not last long.  Within a week of having my van die, someone broke into our house.  It was a day that Lucy was at the groomer, and we happened to leave our kitchen blinds open that day.  They went through our back gate, threw a rock through our bedroom window to reach the latch, climbed in through the window, took the iHome and iPod right next to said window, dug through my jewelry box (though didn’t take anything – not much to take anyway), grabbed the laptop that was within view of the kitchen window and walked out the front door.

All said and done, it could have been much worse.  If Lucy had been home, they might have done something to her to keep her sedated while they robbed us.  They could have taken much, much more or done more damage to our house.  We are grateful that it wasn’t worse, but the invasion of privacy and more costly tragedies to our life was a lot to take all at once, and it shook me.  It also didn’t help that our property management didn’t get the window fixed for three weeks, a constant reminder that a stranger walked in through that hole in my house and helped themselves to our belongings.

Suffice to say, Team Butler has had a rough fall of 2012.  Another major contributing factor to my despair was that I was pouring myself into my job.  As a first year teacher last year, I had been warned to steer clear of burnout – to go home on time and leave what work was not done for the next day, which I dutifully did pretty much the whole year.  And though the job was overwhelming at times, I did successfully avoid feeling burned out for most of the year.  This year, however, I decided that the “First Year” excuse was over.  “Sure, teachers get burned out, but there is way too much to do at school for me to just leave at 4:00pm every day.  It’s just not being the best teacher I can be.”  So I stayed until 6:00pm.  Every night.  I was working 11 hour days, every single day.  Especially after the break-in, being home by myself at night was not appealing, so I would just stay at school for however long it took for Tyler to get home.  I wrote an entire blog post about how burned out I was feeling, but it was too depressing, so it stays in the archives.  Here’s a little snapshot of what that chapter of my life was like, quoted from October 12th (before the car-tastrophe or the break-in):

Lately, I just feel like I’m stuck in neutral – revving my engine and trying to get somewhere, but my car isn’t moving.  If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be rundown.  I wake up late, get to work barely in time, pour myself into my job for 11 hours, go home, watch some TV, eat something that’s heavily processed, fall into bed, wake up late (again) the next morning and start over.
That’s it.
I’m so exhausted all the time.  I’m sleeping fine, but somehow I’m just not well rested.  I’ve been at work from 7:00am until 5:30 or 6:00pm every day this entire week.  And even though I feel like I live at work, I still feel so behind.  I still haven’t finished selecting music for our next concert, my desk constantly feels so cluttered, and I can’t remember if I finished grading those practice journals yet.

By the end of October, I was really in bad shape.  I hated my job, I hated where we lived, and I just wanted to get out.  Life was pretty miserable, and I felt so alone in all of it.  My saving grace came in early November when we had the District 6 Honor Band and Choir event.  While my students had the opportunity to work with outstanding peers and exemplary conductors, the rest of the band and choir directors mostly get time to spend with each other.  I was open with my colleagues about how I felt and they were all gravely concerned.  I was so moved by how much people really, truly, cared about me.  I was able to set up appointments with other directors to go observe them in their classrooms, arrange for additional performing opportunities for my students, as well as organize some much-needed social time with the directors who live closest to me.

It may be a bit early to call, but I feel that I have come through the other side.  I still stay late at work often, but it’s no longer every day.  I again feel connected to other band and choir directors who know exactly what I am going through and want to see me succeed (as I want them to succeed).  My car is replaced, my window is fixed, my cell phone is functional, and my voice has completely healed from my six week illness.  We even bought a treadmill off of craigslist so that we (and Lucy!) can be active during the dark winter months.  Team Butler is eating healthier, working out more, and trying hard to be well-adjusted people in the midst of this madness.  And we might just make it yet.

So, as I’m sure most of you saw on Facebook, Tyler’s Grandma and Grandpa Jelsing celebrated their 50th anniversary this week, and took the entire family (all 18 of us!) on an Alaskan cruise!  We were completely overwhelmed with gratitude, and I had the most relaxing week of my life.  But there were several things that I did not expect when we went cruising, so I thought I’d briefly outline what it was like onboard the Golden Princess (pictured above).

First and foremost, a cruise is what you make of it.  Many of the kids/teenagers said that they were bored at sea and there wasn’t enough to do.  False.  Our cruise had tons of opportunities, it was really about what you take advantage of.

We took ballroom dancing classes, participated in game shows (Jeopardy, balderdash, the Newlywed Game), attended a martini demonstration, a vodka tasting, I sang in the karaoke competition, and we attended the main shows in the evenings (comedian, illusionist, singers and dancers, etc).  There was always several things going on, and we found ourselves always busy, even on days at sea.

There were a couple things about the cruise that really caught me off guard.  When traveling in a group of 18 people, you don’t realize just how dependent on cell phones we have become until you don’t have them anymore.  You had to establish times and places you were going to meet early in the day, and occasionally have chance encounters with people on the ship.

Attire was also a bit different than I expected.  I brought mostly denim, casual skirts, and tee-shirts.  While off the boat in Alaska, we really needed the warmth and casual clothes for walking around the glacier parks and towns.  But on the ship, especially for evenings, people step it up.  I knew we had a formal night, but once we got on the ship I found out there were actually two formal nights, and the rest of the nights dress was “smart casual” where they would let you in with nice denim, but you were definitely under dressed.  I really regretted not bringing a pair of slacks, dressier footwear, and dressier tops.

The Staff on our ship was absolutely fantastic!  We read that there were 1100 staff members onboard the Golden Princess, only 25 of which were from the USA (this includes the bulk of the entertainment staff).  533 were from The Philippines, the rest from a wide variety of countries.  Even though sometimes their English was difficult to decipher, everyone was so friendly and helpful!  We easily had 10 wait staff assist us with every meal.

By the way – it wasn’t far from this waterfall that a 1 year old male black bear walked right across our path, about 75 feet in front of us!  It was the most exciting and terrifying moment I’ve ever had.

How to Lose It while you Cruise It:  Many people who cruise choose to eat at the buffet, lay by the pool, and generally exclusively relax and take it easy.  We decided to approach our cruise a little differently.  While we had access to insane amounts of desserts, beverages, and all kinds of unhealthy food, we also had access to a gym and fresh fruits and veggies 24/7!  We established rules for ourselves so we could both avoid gaining weight on the cruise.  Here were our rules:

 –  Always take the stairs.  I didn’t realize how enormous cruise ships were!  It really is essentially a skyscraper turned on its side floating in water.  We lived on deck 5 and the buffet was on deck 14, but most of our activities were on decks 5-7.  Still, we only took the stairs when I was hurting from a workout, and the rest of the time we always walked.

 – Avoid the buffet.  While we went to the buffet a handful of times on our cruise,we definitely preferred the sit-down restaurants – gourmet at least 4 star caliber food included in the price!  The selection was fantastic, changed every meal, and was in gourmet sized portions (relatively small) but we were served four courses at every meal, and we were rarely disappointed.  We had the chance to try decadent foods we’d never be able to afford normally (caviar, escargot, lobster tail, king prawns, quail, pheasant, duck, etc).  We always each had a dessert, but only one per meal (it’s incredible how easy it is to eat desserts all day long) and tried to lean towards the slightly less-bad options (like the blueberry frozen yogurt that changed my life).

 – If you do eat at the buffet, study your enemy.  Whenever we approached the buffet, we looked at every single item on display, so we didn’t just start grabbing everything that looked good.  We also always started with a salad to fill up on veggies and fruits before the other stuff.  And again – even with all of them on display in front of you – only one dessert per meal.  Pro tip – it’s not cheating to try your husband’s dessert if he gets a bite of yours, too.

 – Take advantage of opportunities to work out in new ways.  Tyler and I loved taking ballroom lessons (we learned basics of waltz, tango, swing, salsa, and merengue) which did actually work a bit of a sweat.  I did workouts on the treadmill and took classes in yoga, total body conditioning, and zumba, all of which I don’t currently have access to without a gym membership.  I also saw lots of passengers getting their workouts in by walking/running around the outer decks of the ship.

Fun fact:  Canadian pubs are bigger on the inside.

Following these rules, I managed to actually lose a couple pounds during the two weeks I was gone (one week at the coast, one week on a cruise)!  After a couple of months either gaining or maintaining weight, it was so encouraging seeing the number on the scale go down again, especially after a cruise!  We really did not feel deprived, we enjoyed the full extent of our cruise, just kept a handle on it rather than use it as an excuse to go crazy, and that one week did not leave us with loads of extra weight we’d have to work off later.

If we had that kind of money, we would definitely go cruising every few years.  Because it really is a complete disconnect from reality that allows your to just immerse yourself somewhere else and leave everything else behind.  We loved our experience, and we don’t regret a single minute of it!

Losing weight is a journey that many of us as Americans go through at various stages in life.  Looking at the person in the mirror and saying “Nope, not good enough (yet)” is a regular occurrence.  Even now, at least 10lbs lighter than I have ever been in my life, that morning pep talk still happens most days.  “Nope.  Not there yet.”  Occasionally someone will say “DANG girl!  You look good!”  And I honestly don’t believe them.  But I typically say “Thank you.  I don’t always feel like it, but thank you for saying so.”  Because the truth is I never feel like it. When you and those closest to you see you every day or even once a week, it’s much harder to notice the gradual change. You just smile, accept the compliment, and hope they’re not lying just to make you feel good.

What it took for me to notice actual change in my appearance was looking back at the photos that were taken during our trip to Seattle this weekend.  While I still don’t see the body I want to have, I did notice that my face really does look slimmer. It makes it easier to accept the compliments, because there is real change happening here, even if I don’t always see it.

I’m not going to pretend that these are before and after pictures, because they aren’t.  Consider them before and during photos, with after coming about 30lbs from now.  Here’s what I looked like in 2009, about 50lbs heavier than I am now.

Ignore the hair in the wind if you can.

The best part?  He genuinely loved me, even at a size 16-18.  That’s a real man.

Probably my favorite – making indoor s’mores in our college apartment.  A one time occurrence, but definitely contributing to this lifestyle.  Also, where did that necklace go?  I miss it.

That was me at 226lbs, Class I obesity.  I didn’t know how to exercise, I didn’t weigh myself, and I certainly wasn’t putting good fuel into my body (see above).  Here’s me today:

Me and a dear friend Felicity this past weekend in Seattle

Celebrating a friend’s birthday in Seattle this weekend with some of my closest Whitworth friends.  A joyous reunion indeed!

This is Sarah Butler today. I workout regularly, I weigh myself every week, and I try to be very intentional about what goes into my body. I often slip up. It’s hard to break 20 years of bad habits, behaviors, and attitudes about food. But certainly much better off than I was at 226lbs.

I’ll say it again – this is not the “Before and After” shoot.  I still look in the mirror everyday and say “Not quite.  Still room to grow (or shrink, as the case may be).  Not there yet.”  For those of you irritated with me for not celebrating the success, you’re allowed to be annoyed.  The only consolation you may take in my daily speech is that last word – yet.  It’s the same word I use with my students all the time.

Student:  “This music is too hard – I can’t play this!”
Mrs. Butler:  “Yet.”

Student:  “Mrs. Butler!  Why the heck would you give us this piece?  We speak ENGLISH!  We don’t know how to sing in Latin!”
Mrs. Butler:  “Yet.”

It implies that we are all a work in progress.  It’s not saying that I hate the body I am in, or that I want to give up.  It’s me saying that I am still on my way to finding what that body will look and feel like to live in.  It’s been rough the past few months –  I’ve been maintaining rather than losing weight lately.  It makes it much harder to accept the compliments when people claim that I look good.  But I try my best to forgive myself and remember that it’s all forward motion. As long as I’m not taking steps back (gaining weight) it’s all moving in the right direction.  I will not always be in “weight loss mode.” Once I reach what looks and feels like a healthy body, I will need to be able to maintain the way I am now.  So for today, I will attempt to celebrate what I consider to be minor successes in the big picture of things, but always keeping my eye on the prize – a healthier and (hopefully) happier me.

The community that I teach in is a community of big families.  Not exclusively, mind you, but we have lots of families with lots of kids.  We also have lots of high school students who have babies every year (two of my students will deliver next winter, one of whom already has a three year old).  Babies are a very natural part of life.  I have students at every grade level that ask at least once a month “Do you have kids?”  or “Why don’t you have kids yet?” and the ever cringe-worthy “Are you pregnant?”  It simply doesn’t make sense to them that I would be married at 23 years old and not be reproducing yet.  From the kids is one thing, but what’s astonishing to me is how many people we’ve just barely met who feel the need to ask, “So, when are you guys going to have kids?”

Believe me, it’s not that I don’t want to have kids.  I love kids.  In fact, I just dug through Facebook to find pictures of me holding babies, and unearthed this evidence, in reverse chronological order:

Ruby Pearson, June 2012

Newborn Ellie Kippes, June 2012

Karis Weiser, April 2010

Lydia Buerer (and her sisters, Katie and Patty), Summer 1996

So for someone who showed a love for babies so early in life, you’d think I wouldn’t mind people asking me when we’ll start a family of our own. Believe me, we’re going to have kids.  Tyler and I often talk about what it will be like when we have a family, and even what kind of parents we might be.  It’s going to be a wonderful, exciting, challenging part of our lives together – when we get there.  But somehow, it is a little uncomfortable when someone asks us about when that time will be.  Especially if I don’t know someone very well, I feel like that is a very personal question to ask.  Yet, I find myself asking similar questions of others (though, I admit, I try to avoid the ones about babies).

There are certain stages in your life that merit certain questions.  When there’s a lull in the conversation, one feels obligated to ask a

  • Senior in high school, “So, where are you going to college?  What are you going to major in?”
  • Dating as an adult, “So, is he/she the one?  Are you going to get married?”
  • Senior in college, “So, what are you doing after graduation?”
  • Engaged, “So, when’s the wedding?”
  • Married, “So, when are you going to have kids?”
  • Once you’ve had one kid, “So, when do you think you’ll have your next one?”

I have to wonder, once you’re really truly done having kids, are there any more questions that people feel obligated to ask you?  I haven’t gotten to that stage, but I have a feeling it will be nice not to be asked by everyone about what major life change is coming for me, and to not feel uncomfortable if I don’t have a good answer for them yet.

But as my dear friend Sophie reminded me, while those moments are uncomfortable when you don’t have a good answer, we look back on them later with fondness and remember that we did eventually figure it out.  We did figure out what college to go to, we figured out our lives after graduation (even though it was scary as heck for awhile).  Since this blog is a documentation of my first year of marriage, I will print our answer so that I may laugh on it later when it completely didn’t work out this way:

“We’re wanting to wait a few more years before we think about having kids.  Once I become a mom, I will be one for the rest of my life.  And I want to enjoy my time pre-mom while it lasts.  Once I’ve finished my Master’s degree and my fifth year of teaching (and marriage, all of which coincide beautifully), then it will be time to re-evaluate and see whether or not it’s time for that big, exciting step.”

I am well aware that life does not often go the way one plans it out, but it certainly doesn’t stop me from making plans.  And I think this is a good one for us.

I’m spending this weekend in Forest Grove, Oregon at the Music in May festival here at Pacific University.  I brought with me four choir students and one band student, all of whom are behaving wonderfully and contributing to the success of the groups.  I intended to spend most of this weekend holed up in a hotel room grading post-concert evaluations and continuing to plan for next school year.  But my weekend is not going as planned.  Every time I drop in a rehearsal “just for a few minutes,”  I am always compelled to stay for the entire three hours.  All of the guest conductors here are fantastic, and I find myself taking furious notes, just to get down the wonderful things they are saying before I forget.  Here’s my absolute favorite quote of the weekend (so far).  The choir was working on Libertango, a driving piece that required exquisite focus from every single member.  Here’s what the conductor told the Sopranos when they were singing with very little energy (you have to picture this coming from a tiny, powerful Russian woman):

“Look, everything about this body says confidence.  This is not a teenage girl trying to find herself.  The tango is a mature dance!  We are not asking “Ooh, what Disney princess would I be?”  We are saying “Disney cannot HANDLE a princess like ME!”  To which the entire choir cheered and gave her a standing ovation, myself included.

And as I write down the quotes from both the choir director and the band director (both of whom, to some degree, remind me of the band and choir conductors I had in college) I realize how different these fields are.  The guest band conductor has these students playing beautifully with a balanced, gorgeous, in-tune sound with over 150 high school students.  He’s having them play difficult music, and providing the structure for them to do it successfully.  Students are playing their warm-ups backwards, practicing good and bad balance, beautiful and ugly sound so that they can explore and find what it means to be a band, really and truly.  I can’t pull myself away from how beautiful, complicated, compelling, and moving the music is.  The energy of this group is incredible.  And my students have never been a part of anything like this, anywhere else.

Then I look at my notes from the choir conductor, and think on other conductors I’ve had.  Excellent choir conductors really focus on full body, mind and spirit – not just the voice.  Today the choir started their morning with yoga, followed by pitch retention exercises focused on tone production, and ended with some complicated solfege workouts.  These students did not come with their music learned, and she is having to work very hard to get them to learn pitches, rhythms, and pronunciation on very complicated pieces – not what she came here to do.  But at the same time, she talks about the history of music, dating back to ancient tribal times.  She talks about the music as it relates to every day life, and how we as musicians have a responsibility to provide beautiful, compelling music to our audiences that is passionate, technically sound, and has beautiful tone quality – not just us today, but all musicians everywhere and every day.  I am moved to tears by both the music, and the words that she says.  The beauty is overwhelming, and the impact she has on these students (and me) is palpable.  And my students have never been a part of anything like this, anywhere else.

The band director is highly intellectual, knows exactly what he needs from each player, but is still goofy and a nice guy to be around.  I truly respect him and enjoy his company.  The choir director is very in tune with her emotions, and has incredibly high expectations for the singers.  While in rehearsal, she is absolutely a force to be reckoned with, and will not allow anything less than exquisite.  I truly respect her, and outside of the rehearsal context, I enjoy her company also.

Here’s my dilemma:  It is my job to be both of these people.  To be the highly intellectual yet goofy band director and the highly emotionally in tune woman who will not accept anything less than exceptional from every singer.  I’m not saying these two personalities are the only ones who exist in these fields, because that is certainly not true.  But it does seem to be that certain personalities gravitate towards certain musical tendencies.  In many ways, I still feel like a student.  I am very, very early on in my career, and nothing is completely decided for me.  When people ask “What’s your dream job?” I can pretty much always answer with confidence.  But the answer I give has changed so many times over the past 6 years, and I know that it is likely to continue to change.  As much as I feel that I am a mediocre choir director at best, I see the way that excellent choir directors lead and work with students, and I think to myself “I can totally see myself being that one day.  I want to grow up to be like them.”  And then I look at excellent band directors who I admire and I say the exact same thing.  “I want to grow up to be like them.”  But these people are completely different.

The truth of the matter is, there is to my knowledge no one in the professional music world who is both a professional choir director and a professional band director.  Everybody who has done both for a time eventually chooses.  If I was forced to make a choice at this point in my career I would choose band, if only because it’s what I have done longer and am more comfortable with.  But I am so drawn to the holistic approach to choir, addressing mind, body and soul.  I am drawn to the incredible beauty you can create with a group of people using no more than the body that God gave them, no added tools in their hands.  I don’t know that I ever want to completely leave either field, and I anticipate that difficult choice that I may have to one day make.

But for now, I will be satisfied with being the One Woman Show – being the end all, be all of music education for the students at Clara Brownell and Umatilla High.  For now, I am not forced to choose one or the other, just pushed to be excellent in these two different fields and lacking the expertise to do so.

This may be uncomfortable for some of you to read.  You may walk away from this saying, “She’s such a hippie.  How can she expect everyone to make a change this drastic in their lives?”  This is a touchy subject, and one that most of us happily ignore – one that I ignored until recently.  I have written and re-written this post several times trying to condense it down to what I foundationally believe and what I think needs to be said by many more voices to the American public.  I know that this blog is not on the national scene, but I want the people who I care deeply for to know what I care deeply about, and what I want for their lives.

I’ve already posted about the start of my journey to healthier living, and won’t go in to all of it again.  But I do want to preface with this:  I have struggled with my weight my whole life, as have most of the people in my family who live in America.  I am still 20lbs away from being at a “Normal” weight according to my BMI, but more importantly, I have been working very hard to make healthier changes for me and my small little family (husband and dog count, right?).  The following is a condensed essay, essentially, of information I have gleaned from a variety of researchers, documentaries, books, and studies I’ve read or watched.  If this isn’t a conversation you’ve had recently or isn’t something you’ve ever seriously considered, I’m asking you to please take a minute and think about your personal impact on our national epidemic.

The bottom line:  We have a national epidemic of obesity.  We are sick, we are obese, and we are dying every day from the food that we put into our bodies.  The leading killer in the United States is Heart Disease – a 100% preventable disease.  Hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes are rampant.  We all know these things, this is not news.  In my opinion, we no longer have the luxury of ignoring what we know to be true.  Now is the time for all of us, every single one of us to take a close look at how we live, what we eat, and what future we create for the generations to come.  If you are not interested in these things, you will find the rest of this post quite tiresome, so please feel free to stop here.

I posted on Facebook a little while ago about this movie, Hungry for Change.  I doubt anybody else watched it during the free online premiere , but I really loved it.  It strongly promoted putting raw, fresh foods into our bodies – particularly vegetables. It has become a hobby of mine to watch a health documentary on Netflix Instant pretty much every weekend.  The content of the majority of this essay comes from the following films:
Food, INC
Food Matters
Forks Over Knives
Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (starts slow, but gets better)
Fresh
The Future of Food
TED Talks:  Chew on This
TED Talks:  Defying Disease
Book:  The Omnivore’s Dilemma 

Nearly every single one of those movies is about adding in more vegetables (and fruits) into our diets.  Dramatically more.  Everybody always said “Eat your vegetables – they’re good for you.”  But it never truly sunk in for me until I watched these movies and other research I’ve done to realize just how critical vegetables are for our health.

Remember the food pyramid my generation was taught in elementary school?  This was instated in 1992, so most of my friends and I all learned this one:

I’m pretty sure everybody already knows this, but just in case you didn’t – it is old and outdated.  They soon replaced it with MyPyramid in 2005 (which added an exercise component):

There are many things I disagree with in these diagrams (Dairy is an essential food group?  When 75% of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant?).  But my biggest problem with both of these pyramids is that grains are at the bottom.  Again, this may be common knowledge by now, but there is absolutely no reason for processed grains to be the foundation of our diet.  The reason we are led to believe so?  That’s where the money is made in the food industry:  highly processed foods – typically involving grains.  Breakfast cereals, breads, cookies, crackers, granola bars, pastas, pizzas, frozen dinners, etc. are the big money makers for large food conglomerates (Food, INC).  There isn’t much money to be made in raw foods such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts (except by the farmers, most of whom are struggling to make a living).  Most recently, Michelle Obama started an initiative where – for the first time – vegetables begin to take the main stage as one of the most important parts of our diet.  MyPlate was launched in 2011:

Although I am grateful that this increase in vegetable intake is being taught in schools, placed on food labeling, and marketed across the country, I still don’t believe it’s the healthiest way for us to be eating.  Grains are simply not necessary for us to eat – they are often packed with bad stuff (high fructose corn syrup, fats, etc) and the good stuff we can get from them (carbohydrates, fiber) are found in abundance in plant foods. (More information on the effect of grain intake on the body can be found in Hungry For Change, several of the TED Talks:  Chew on This or in the book Wheat Belly).

Research has shown us that diets made up entirely of raw, plant-based foods and supplemental vitamins have the following benefits:
–  Mental clarity
–  Improved energy
–  Improved digestion
–  Weight loss
–  Balanced moods
(http://www.cleanprogram.com/ and Hungry for Change)
– Clear, bright skin
– Shiny hair
– Strong nails
–  White eyes
(http://www.davidwolfe.com/ and Hungry for Change)
– Can halt and even reverse the development of some cancers
(Andrew W Saul at http://www.doctoryourself.com/ and Food Matters)
– Reduce the likelihood of developing a multitude of diseases, including Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Stroke, Cerebral Malaria, Peripheral Arterial Disease, Neuropathies and many, many more (William Li at www.angio.org and also on the TED Talks:  Defying Disease)

I wholeheartedly believe in that research.  The trouble I run into when I apply this to my life is the same as the trouble anybody trying to be healthy has – that’s not what we’re used to.  We don’t enjoy eating plants.  We don’t enjoy exercising.  And we’re really good at only seeking to do what we do enjoy and only eating what we enjoy eating.  So most people who are unhappy with how they look or feel go on diets and put themselves on strict exercise regimens.  And while they are dieting and exercising, a large majority of people talk about how much they hate dieting and how they can’t wait to meet their weight loss goal so they can eat “normal” food again.  But diets do not work.  They really don’t.  All of us know those people who go on and off of diets, who gain and lose weight like crazy.  As soon as they think they look good, they reward themselves by eating the same food they always have, go back to never going on a walk or bike ride, and enjoy how they look for the short time that it lasts.  (Hungry for Change)

The time for diets is over.  What we now need is an epidemic of health.  A wave of people that take the country by storm by refusing to live as our parents have lived, refuse to eat the food of the generation that immediately preceded us.  Am I saying that everybody in the world should become vegan?  Drop everything you’ve ever enjoyed and join the ranks of those of us who will live to be 100?  Not necessarily – although I do believe that many, many more of us would live to be over 100 if we never ate meat again.  But I am saying that we need to start to make small, life-long changes, one week at a time.  Rather than try to eliminate everything bad from our diet, let’s add the good stuff in.  Rather than say, “I’m never eating a pastry again” we need to say “I’m going to increase my vegetable intake by one serving a day every day this week” and then really, really do it.  Many Americans do not eat even one serving of raw vegetables every day.  If that’s you – commit to doing something about it.  It’s not always fun, and it’s not always easy.  But it is important.  And once you add more and more of the good stuff in, it will crowd the bad stuff out, and you’ll be left with a body that functions as it was designed to.

There are loads of excuses for why we don’t eat the food that will keep us healthy and ultimately keep us alive longer.  We can talk about the body’s natural affinity for sugar, fat, and salt.  We can talk about the evil food companies that use those affinities to make billions by marketing and feeding us the unhealthy foods that are killing us (Hungry for Change).  We can talk about the fact that we live in a culture that facilitates consuming bad foods (getting lattes with friends, getting offered soda, potato chips, pizza, and desserts at every social event, etc).  But here again, I will state the bottom line:  We have a national epidemic of obesity.  We are sick, we are obese, and we are dying every day from diseases that are 100% preventable, simply from the food that we put into our bodies.

Here’s my final plea to you:  Please take a look at what you are putting into your body, and the food you are feeding your children.  Really examine what your family eats, and realize that the food into our bodies is the future we are creating for yourselves.  And always remember, the age-old wisdom.

 You are what you eat.

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