Categories
Weekly Update

One Heck of a Ride

It’s 5:30 am. Avery is up eating breakfast, I am typing away at my laptop, all while Chad and Alice sleep. 

This life is one I didn’t envision eight years ago. Sure, I hoped to have kids, but like any childless parent, I didn’t understand the logistics of it, or how it would consume and overtake my life. 

And I sure didn’t consider how it would change my relationship with Chad. How our lazy Saturday mornings, sleeping in and walking over to the little French cafe near our downtown apartment for a leisurely brunch, would become a thing of the past. 

I’m writing in our dining room, which is currently full of bags and suitcases for a trip we are taking. The logistics of traveling with kids is complex, a battle plan. These are no longer the days of jetting off to Vancouver with a hastily packed suitcase, to wandering along the ocean after dark, hands clasped, talking about whatever our wine-infused brains wanted. I have contingency plans mapped in my brain: if x happens, we will do y. Puke bags and zofran are packed. Last night I dreamt we took the girls for a hike through snowy mountains and I forgot to have Alice wear pants. She trudged through the snow in a skirt. And then we ran into a delirious hiker who thought she brought water along for the hike, but instead was carrying mouthwash. 

If that dream has a message to tell, it’s that I’m the delirious, mouthwash-toting hiker. 

All this to say, these eight years of marriage have been eight years of exponential growth and change. We transitioned from our twenties, the years of trying what we thought we liked, trying to be who we thought we were, to our thirties.

For me, at least, the thirties have switched from a self-focused lens to more of a meaning-of-life lens. What is the purpose of life? What am I supposed to be doing in this world? Meanwhile, Chad ponders questions like, “What is the best golf course in a 30-mile radius of our house?”

We are very different, and this has brought many fruits to our marriage. Like how Avery and Alice will be good at math, unlike me. While Chad usually excels at getting the girls to bed in 5 minutes tops on his nights, I recently noticed it was taking him much longer than usual. And the girls were so quiet. Was he reading to them? 

I snuck upstairs and found him lying in bed with the girls and drilling them on addition and subtraction problems. Which explains why they now fall asleep so quickly on his nights. 

He forms alliances with the girls when it will be beneficial to his case. He taught them the chant, “What do we want? Ice cream! When do we want it? Now!” to accompany banging on the kitchen table after dinner. 

These days are whirlwinds. Sometimes, I feel like I am running on a hamster wheel. Sprinting. 

I fold endless stacks of laundry, while more stacks appear. I run to target for more dino nuggets, the kind with cauliflower and chickpeas blended in, only to return home and realize I forgot the dish soap, gosh darn it. The third target run I’ve gone on without getting dish soap.

There are RSVPs to be responded to, math homework to supervise, and meals to plan, oh the meals.

I hop off the hamster wheel occasionally, gulping in air, swigging water (or mouthwash), and wondering where I am trying to go, or what I am trying to achieve. 

Some days speed by, while others slug along. 

It is chaos. And organized. And everything in between. 

But there is a groundedness in this chaos of parenthood: I am not in this alone. Chad is working right alongside me to keep life running smoothly, or at least… running, puttering, and maybe stalling, but together. 

So this life? I didn’t imagine it would turn out the way it has. I imagined living out all of my days in Minnesota. I didn’t expect quite so many migraines. I thought I would have my life together by the time I was thirty. 

Instead, it has been one heck of a ride, with one heck of a guy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Happy Anniversary, Chad!

Categories
Weekly Update

Bracing for Impact

Coming from Minnesota, a land of no natural disasters except for the errant tornado or occasional flooding, I’ve been keeping a close eye out for hurricanes ever since we moved to Florida.

Now what is interesting about hurricanes is that they can be predicted when they are over a week away, unlike tornados. And while you know for certain a hurricane is going to hit somewhere, you don’t know where that might be. You could be directly in the path– or, it could turn and hit someone else, or it could be predicted to hit elsewhere, and then smack you anyway.

A week ahead of Ian, we knew he was coming, and we knew he looked like a bad storm, but that was all of the intel we had. Or maybe I should say, we had a large amount of intel, but it was unclear how much of it was useful information.

For those who have not lived through a hurricane, the best analogy I have is birth. You know you’re pregnant, and you know that a baby will exit your body at some point in time, but you have no idea when or how that child will exit your body.

While we have lived here, there have been many hurricanes predicted to impact us. The closest we got was a small tropical storm last year. But this time around, the locals were eyeing the storm nervously. And when school got canceled ahead of the storm, we knew it was a real threat.

And just like during pregnancy, with the news of the impending hurricane, I began nesting, cleaning the house from top to bottom. I got caught up on laundry and moved all of our outdoor furniture and pots inside.

Our last dinner at Fish House, the night before it was destroyed

The night before Ian made landfall, tornado warnings blared and the weather forecasters were in blissful states, frantically tracking tornados and using all of their different weather models to make predictions on where Ian would make landfall.

And I was so exhausted from all of my nesting that I slept through it all. Thank goodness Chad was awake enough to monitor the storms.

The next morning the wind picked up, contorting palm trees and ripping out bushes. We hunkered down at our neighbors’ house, given that they have hurricane shutters and we do not. Right after we settled in, the power went out.

Hurricane Force Winds
The road out of our community

If you haven’t had the pleasure of spending time in a home that has hurricane shutters up, it is basically like sitting in a cave, with no view of what is happening outside.

We sat in the dark with four young, bored, kids. Hurricanes always sound so exciting, but this experience was monotonous. We entertained them with magnetiles, flashlights, and snacks.

The storm raged until around 9pm. We brought the girls back to our dark home and got ready for bed by flashlight. We woke up to silence and gray skies.

An eerie view when we finally came home.

The thing that will always stand out to me about this experience is that despite the significant impact Hurricane Ian left, the devastation, loss of lives and homes, the sun continued to rise and set. And that one constant has been enough to ground ourselves on.

In the first three days after the hurricane, we relied on the sun’s light during the day and were reminded to sleep when it set. The sunrises and sunsets were made up of muted colors, as if offering an apology for the eruption of the uncharacteristic and catastrophic behavior of the sky.

A post-Ian sunrise

The other thing that I have been reminded of during this experience is that sometimes the darkness accentuates the light.

Because no one had phone service, people showed up on our doorstep, the most welcome kind of unannounced. Neighbors brought hot coffee, chicken nuggets made off of generator power, and ice. Had it been during any other time, I would have been mortified to open the door, in my often bra-less, unshowered, grunge look, surrounded by a disaster of a house.

There was a vulnerability to it, not being able to hide the fact that I didn’t have my sh*t together. But we were all in the same boat.

Two days after the storm, a pharmacist showed up at our house in his truck to hand deliver my migraine medications. I think I encountered an angel.

One night we walked outside and were stunned by the vast number of stars illuminating the pitch-black sky, surrounding the sliver of a crescent moon. We soaked in a view that would not be possible in a neighborhood with power and lights.

But while that view was magnificent, I would have gladly traded it for power. Each night we slept in our family room, the coolest room in the house. We had weak battery-powered fans strategically positioned to provide the best airflow. We would wake up in the middle of the night when fan batteries died and groggily replace them.

We were lucky to get power the Saturday after the storm. With power, we also got phone and internet service. We were finally able to update all of our concerned people, and for the first time, we were able to watch the news.

While we had heard plenty of rumors about what was destroyed, it didn’t really register until we saw the footage of our favorite beaches, completely gone.

The skies have been full of rescue and coast guard helicopters, a sobering reminder that all is not well. I’ve been filled with survivor guilt, wondering why we came away unscathed while others lost everything.

I feel guilt at being able to return to an almost normal level of life. Sure, the grocery stores don’t have produce or meat, and school is shut indefinitely, but we can still bike to the park, and laugh, and come home to a safe home with power.

The empty produce section

I am not alone in feeling this way- almost every person I’ve talked to has expressed similar thoughts. When I texted one of my best friends about it, she nailed the response:

“Maybe take a Saturday or Sunday this weekend and go volunteer somewhere, but I think there’s something to be said for just keeping your family working properly during this time.”

I went for my first run after the hurricane yesterday. Today, I plan to floss my teeth for the first time. Life was shaken up for a bit there, and I lost all of my routines. I’m back in a place where I can slowly re-establish them, but I’m trying to give myself some grace to return to normalcy at my own pace.

Okay, maybe normalcy is a big ask. I’ll just aim to return to my previous level of weirdness.

We are so grateful to everyone who showed up at our doorstep, let us into their home (thanks, Pauls!), checked in with us, and provided support from afar. You know who you are. Thank you!

Categories
Weekly Update

Tour de Midwest

We spent the month of July in the Midwest- 3 weeks in Minnesota, and 10 days in Iowa & Missouri. While we traveled, I worked on an article for a parenting website entitled, “How to travel with kids- don’t”.

Post 3 hour flight to Minneapolis

We have traveled with the girls since they were born- pretty regularly, I might add. And while some trips are magical, most are not. Each time we pack up for another trip, I feel like I am playing a form of Russian Roulette: will this trip be magical or miserable?

Maybe it’s how my brain works- to categorize a memory as great or horrible, when in reality, it falls somewhere in the middle. Traveling with kids can take you to some of the highest highs- experiencing beautiful moments together. And it can also bring you to the lowest of lows- food poisoning induced projectile vomiting at the same time as explosive diarrhea, on the nasty floor of a hotel bathroom. But mostly, travel with kids brings you to a lot of ordinary, meh, moments.

The kind where kids ask how much longer at the beginning of a 10-hour road trip, the monotony of foraging for the apple pie Larabars in foreign grocery stores, the grumpiness that ensues over the course of adjusting to a time change.

How Alice really felt

All this to say, while I could write about our travels out of the magical lens, I can assure you they were not.

We spent a lot of time “traveling” on this trip, despite flying to Minnesota to reduce travel time. I think as a mom, I spend an inordinate amount of time planning and worrying about the transitions- the logistics of moving a months worth of luggage into the car, out of the car, into the airport, getting the family through security, going potty enough times before boarding the plane, getting off the plane, getting to the baggage claim without losing a child, retrieving a large amount of luggage, acquiring a rental car, moving luggage and children to the rental car, driving to VRBO, moving the luggage (AGAIN)….. blah, blah, blah.

AND YET.

We were able to see our families, and the girls got a lot of good quality time with people they otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to see. They camped with the Uppgaard grandparents, visited aunts & uncles, played with cousins, and spent a week at a cabin up in northern Minnesota.

We celebrated my Dad’s retirement at a truly magical surprise party. Fireflies made their appearance as the sky darkened and toasts were made. All the more magical? We got a babysitter for the kids that night.

On our last day in Minnesota, we learned Alice had COVID. And then I tested positive. And then Avery got it. Chad somehow remained immune.

Luckily, my in-laws had an exposure prior to our arrival… so we all holed up at their cabin in Missouri. We tubed, went on boat rides, and fished. I love running the hills in Missouri, but unfortunately, COVID dashed my running dreams.

In Iowa, we went to the county fair, watched the hot air balloons, visited the cows, looked at soybean plants up close (have you ever?), and played in the sprawling yard.

Iowa beauty

Throughout the trip, I read Jane Eyre. And a quote that struck me was, “There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.”

And I think that quote perfectly sums up how I felt about spending a month with family. It was a month of being loved by people we don’t see nearly enough. It was a cram session of memories, a hustle to see all the people we love, it was lying on the couch late at night re-living childhood memories with my siblings, countless times of yelling, “Reel, reel!” as I watched Alice’s bobber slip beneath the surface.

It was a drinking from the fire-hose kind of trip. It was listening to four Nancy Drew audiobooks on car rides, it was Chad vowing he would never listen to another Nancy Drew. By the end of the trip, we were bleary-eyed and so ready to be in our own beds.

5am airport, bleary-eyed, and ready to be home

Or as I told Chad, I was so ready to be home so I could be grumpy, and let down my “on-personality mask.”

We have been home for three weeks. I got my grumpy out (sorry Chad), and have never loved my bed quite so much.

I will leave you with a poem I wrote on a dock in Minnesota:

Attention

The loon calls

As the last rays of sun stretch through the sky

Creating contrast, definition

Anchoring 

.

The trees with their leaves

Now black, against the horizon

Clouds above 

Waves lapping below

.

A bird trills

And a fisher casts his rod

Line, whooshing 

Horseflies dive bomb 

.

I am minute 

in this wild world

.

The sky is pink, 

Clouds purple

Horizon still pierced by rays

.

The colors are pastel,

The air is matte

Ducks swim home through the reeds

.

I am contributing nothing to this moment

But my attention

And for a moment,

All is right

MN Sunset
Categories
Weekly Update

Seven, Seven, Straight from Heaven

In celebration of Avery’s 7th birthday, here is a list of some of her best quotes. While she doesn’t spout out endless funny quotes like her sister, Avery’s are often deep and heartfelt. And I love that about her.

Avery Wisdom

“Practice does not make perfect. Only in people who believe in themselves.”

“Brownies are the best thing I’ve ever tasted!”

“You know what I like about M&M’s? They have chocolate in them”

How babies are born… pretty accurate: “Batgirl is going to die, and then the babies will come out. And then she will wake up and her heart will be fixed.”

Uttered on Thanksgiving: “I’m glad Jesus didn’t make me into a turkey.”

“But Alice, hugs are the most loveable thing to give!” (After Alice told Chad she didn’t need a hug)

“What a pretty world!” Re: Smoky Mountain National Park

“Soon you will die. You’re a mom, and then you’ll turn into a grandma, and then you will die.”

“Remember Alice, I will always be in your heart”- when going off to school

To me: “I’ll always be in your heart, even when you are dead.”

Also to me: “When you get older, you’re going to die on the cross and then I’m gonna have your house.” So much to unpack here.

“Jesus knows all the things in Target.”

Avery told me one of her classmates asked if Avery could come over for a sleepover. I explained that we need to know the parents better before we would think about a sleepover. To which she replied, “Yeah, because they could be strangers and kill our family?” Yes. Precisely.

“I like Daddy’s hugs that are warm like summer.”

“Hold on, Alice, slow down. I’m not as young as I used to be!”

Avery’s Rules to Live By

“I will never stop playing make believe!”

“The best thing I’m at is doing nothing!”

Avery’s Problems

“I think these undies are too small, my butt can barely handle them!”

After I asked the girls for help picking up their toys and then ditched them after they got engrossed in the activity: “Mommy, I feel like we are doing all the work for you!”

Avery’s Answers

Me: Do you have a stuffy nose?

Avery: I don’t know, but I have been sniffling it.

****

Me: Does anything hurt?

Avery: Just my feelings

****

Me: How do you feel?

Avery: “Like a spider without a web”

****

Me: Are you going to eat all the chips and queso?

Avery: “Sorry, when I see something yummy that I like, I just gotta eat!”

Avery’s Questions

“Mom, why is nature so dirty? Why did God make dirt?”

“But mom, who let the dogs out in that song?”

“I’m growing lots of questions.”

“Did Jesus just glue the stars up there?”

Happy Birthday, Sweet Pea! We love you oodles!

Mama

Categories
parenting

Straight from the Mouth of a 4 Year Old

I thought about writing a flowery post for Alice’s birthday, but that would do us all a disservice. Instead, I invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy Alice’s best quotes of the year:

Alice Advice

“Dad, it’s a little foggy out, so do your best” – to Chad while driving through rain

__________________________

“Drive slow, but be a little fast”

Alice Compliments

These Dino nuggets taste great! Last time you made them, they tasted like markers.

__________________________

After zooming in on a picture of my face “I have hair in my nose too, mom.”

__________________________

Why I have body image issues: “You have a hot dog booty and a pig face and pig legs”

Alice Logic

Alice saw me looking at a picture of newborn babies on Facebook. And she said, “are you gonna buy a baby or adopt a baby?”

__________________________

To her friend: did you know the sun could explode and everyone on earth would die?

__________________________

Me: Mommy is probably a little more grumpy than daddy.

Alice: more like a lot more. 

__________________________

Chad: hey girls, what does that cotton candy look like?

Alice: uh, moms hair?

__________________________

Avery: What’s better than cookies?

Alice: Grandma!

Avery: what’s better than grandma?

Alice: nothing!

__________________________

“If I was going to play hockey, I would go and sit on that spot where they rest (the bench) for the whole game.”

__________________________

“You can never have too much stuff!” 

__________________________

I have two friends named Gracie. One is named Gracie and one is named Gracie.

__________________________

Does anyone know which way your hands are supposed to go?

*Flips hands back and forth.

I like this way (palms down)- it’s my useful hand way.

__________________________

It’s hard to take care of 2 girls without a husband, right mom? (When Chad traveled for 2 days)

__________________________

“Everyone who comes to my birthday has to dress up as a star nose” 

Me: What’s a star nose?

“A kind of mole. And I will dress up as Wonder Woman”

__________________________

“I’m just an ordinary girl” (when explaining why she couldn’t try clam chowder)

__________________________

I can eat when I’m baking because I can eat with one hand and bake with the other. (MY GIRL!)

__________________________

I only have a few cries left, but they are really loud ones

__________________________

Mom! My left eye can’t fall asleep!

__________________________

“I thought it was markers, but now I know it’s my veins” (on the blue vein lines on her arms)

__________________________

An overheard bathroom conversation: “Maybe some of your alveoli dripped into your poop.”

__________________________

Alice: Siri is part of God

Me: No, Siri is not part of god. Why do you think that?

Alice: Because, Siri is always telling us where to go. 

__________________________

Me: Why don’t you put noses on the people you draw?

“Because, I like them that way and they look happier. “

Alice Weirdness

After blowing her nose: “did you see the smoke come out?”

__________________________

“It looks like a dead elephant squirting out his last water.” (Re: what a cloud looked like)

__________________________

“I have a video of her dying in the lava”- about the dead Barbie sister

Alice Anger

Get out of my room before I get to zero! *Speed counts from ten to zero

__________________________ 

“You’re not doing good as a mom if you are making us cry.”

__________________________

I have a case of the mean wiggles. I need someone or something to be mean to!

__________________________

Mad at Chad.

Me: should we put him in jail?

Alice: no! I want to put him in a cage!

__________________________

Go! Get out of here! Never return a-gain!

__________________________

I don’t forget treats. (After I ate her fruit roll-up, thinking she forgot about it)

__________________________

You wasted my time. The teacher said I had to eat all my healthy food before I could eat my cookies. There was too much healthy food!

Alice Learns

Avery: are they teaching you numbers in school?

Alice: no, they just teach us letters and how to use knives.

__________________________

“They are teaching me Spanish at preschool. “Gracias” means hello, and “see you later alligator” means goodbye “

__________________________

When telling me that they didn’t get to play on the playground today: “I wonder if the termites are back.”

__________________________

“China is real?!”

__________________________

“Mom, do people get sick from other people?”

Me: Yes

“Then what made the first person sick?”

__________________________

Church singer: the hand of the Lord will feed you

Alice: the ANT of the Lord??

Alice Cuteness

“When you get to heaven, can you ask God if he can send you back to earth for me?”

__________________________

“Thank you for this beautiful world.” @bedtime prayers 

__________________________

We gotta wait until it smells just like Grandmeres tomatoes (on when to pick a tomato) 

__________________________

Me: do you want French toast?

Alice: only with syrup, I declare 

__________________________

At whiskey tasting before every shot- whispered into my ear: “You’re going to wuv it”

__________________________

What are you doing Alice?

“Causing a ruckus!” 

__________________________

“I’m drawing a picture of our family. Aves, what color human do you want to be?”

__________________________

“Will you still be my mudder when I’m 10?”

__________________________

I’m fast, mom. I’m not a slowpoke junior 

__________________________

Happy Birthday, Alice Jane! We sure love you.

Mama

Categories
Journalism

Travel Nursing: Minimal Travel Required

This is an article I wrote for a journalism class. Though I didn’t end up successfully publishing it, I wanted to post it here. Writing this was a great educational experience, and I could not have done it without the gracious help of many healthcare providers. To everyone who shared their story with me, I am so grateful.

Before COVID-19, travel nurse Brooke Gozdiff says there were three types of travel nurses: “the young and fun, the empty-nesters with motor homes, and the diverters.” But now? Now, it is “Anybody and everybody,” she says. ” If I’m going to work short-staffed in a shitty job and have a crummy work-culture and work-life balance, why wouldn’t I do it greater than one hour away and make a ton more money?”

Brooke and her husband James Gozdiff both began travel nursing in 2014, a couple of years before they met. Brooke left her position as a floor nurse at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota, and James left his job as an ICU staff nurse in Idaho. Since then, they’ve leveraged travel nursing to fit around their lifestyle rather than mold their lives around their career. And they understand a part of travel nursing that the general public doesn’t: nurses don’t need to travel far to receive travel pay. The Gozdiffs are part of a growing number of people reaping the benefits of travel nursing without much travel.

The boom in travel nursing didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict. According to a study conducted in 2015 by Montana State University healthcare economists, almost 40% of nurses were older than fifty. So they were well on their way to retirement by the time the first group of patients presented with shortness of breath and fever in Wuhan, China in December of 2019.

Initially, hospital censuses decreased as people who would ordinarily seek treatment stayed home. And staffing was stable, with some nurses even able to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to protect their families during the hospital mask shortages of 2020.

Jennifer Higgins, Chief Nursing Officer at Lee Health located in Southwest Florida, explains that when the initial shock of a global pandemic wore off, Lee Health was bombarded with volumes of patients they had never seen before. And these weren’t your stay-a-night-for-observation kind of patients. These were your, holy-crap-she’s-gonna-crash, in need of an ICU bed, kind of patients. Higgins says that while they expanded their ICUs, they didn’t have the ICU-trained nurses they needed to run the units.

They needed more nurses, but so did every other hospital. Desperate, hospitals began offering increased salaries to lure in travel nurses. According to Indeed.com, a job search engine, the average salary for travel nurses in 2021 was $113,600, whereas the average registered nurse made around $80,500. Not only were hospitals paying their travel nurses more, but this pay was structured differently than that of the staff nurses.

Brooke Gozdiff explains that travel nurses receive two different kinds of income: their paycheck and their tax-free stipend. The tax-free stipend covers the secondary living expenses that the nurses accrue while traveling. This money is, just like it sounds, not taxed. So when travel nurses negotiate their salaries, they want their paycheck to be as low as possible, lumping as much money as they are allowed into their tax-free stipend.

But not just anyone can take advantage of the tax-free stipend. According to the IRS, if a nurse needs to sleep and rest outside of his or her tax home between shifts, he or she can qualify for the tax-free stipend. Joseph Conte, a tax-certified public accountant for travel nurses, says that a tax home is typically where a person accrues their income. But because travel nurses frequently move around, their tax home is often where their permanent home is located. Per IRS rules, the nurse must also continue to pay bills on their permanent home and visit it at least once per year, as the tax-free stipend is meant to cover duplicate living expenses.

Conte explains that often companies simplify matters by using a specific mileage rule to determine whether or not their employee can take advantage of the tax-free stipend. The Gozdiffs are familiar with “the 50-mile rule”: the nurse needs to live more than 50 miles from the hospital where they are travel nursing. Conte confirms that the 50-mile rule is not an IRS rule, and he points out that by IRS standards, nurses could live even closer than 50 miles to the hospital if they need to stop to sleep at a spot away from their tax home.

Conte says the volume of nurses taking advantage of local travel assignments has increased significantly over the past two years. This short-distance travel is known as local travel nursing, and it gives the nurses the best of both worlds.

The Gozdiffs are among the increasing number of local travel nurses. While they initially traveled across the country for job opportunities, they are now traveling close to home. Brooke explains their journey with travel nursing in her rapid-fire speech pattern while their one-year-old son naps. Back in her young and fun travel nurse days, Brooke met James, also a travel nurse, at a hospital in Puyallup, Washington. After that, they were inseparable, working together in Arizona, Nebraska, Maine, and Alaska. James proposed in Minnesota, and they married in Oregon.

Before COVID-19 hit, Brooke explains they couldn’t be too picky about placement for travel positions. But now she says, “Every hospital everywhere is hiring travel nurses because every hospital is short. The career is now nurse-driven vs. hospital-driven. You get to pick and choose. You lay out your demands and expect them to be met.” James ballparks that the average travel nurse rakes in $4,000 per week, while staff nurses bring home around $1500. So it is no surprise when he says, “The draw for everybody for travel is just the pay.”

But sometimes, money isn’t everything. After having a baby, the Gozdiffs wanted to be closer to family, so they settled down in Duluth, MN, where they took a break from travel nursing. James took a staff position as a nurse supervisor at Essentia Health. It was there that he watched as nurses from Duluth left their staff positions to cash in on travel positions 154 miles south in Minneapolis, MN. And sure enough, guess who showed up to fill the travel positions now open at Essentia Health in Duluth?

None other than the Minneapolis nurses.

Back at Lee Health, ICU nurse supervisor Betsy Groendyke confirms that the same trend is occurring. Many of their travel nurses come from Tampa, FL, and drive two hours south for their shifts. During COVID-19, her unit doubled the number of travel nurses they were utilizing. When the Delta wave hit, she says, “There were multiple shifts where every nurse had three vented COVID patients. When you have vented ICU patients on multiple drips, you want a two to one [patient to nurse] staffing ratio. And actually, we’ve read things where the best practice for these proning patients [patients who are on a ventilator and need to be positioned lying on their stomachs] is a one-to-one ratio. Well, that wasn’t even a remote option.” Beyond the logistics, they faced an emotional impact. Groendyke recalls a weekend when her ICU lost fifteen patients, “If that doesn’t impact you, then you don’t have a heart.”

And while nurses are used to shouldering the emotional burden, Higgins says, “Many nurses began to evaluate whether they wanted to continue in the profession, be exposed, and have their families exposed to this new variant that was very unknown.” She watched as nurses retired early or left the field of nursing entirely.

Higgins estimates that Lee Health brought on 350-400 travel nurses in 2021, compared to the seventy seasonal travel nurses they typically bring on from November to April when there is a seasonal population increase. She admits, “Most organizations are not going to be able to sustain a model like this. The only reason we were able to is because of the [high] volume [of patients] that offset that cost. But in the long run, long term, it’s not going to be the solution. We are going to have to figure out ways to make sure we keep our core people.”

One way Lee Health is doing this is by offering bonuses and extra shift incentive pay to their staff nurses. They also started bringing in a different food truck each day to prevent cafeteria food burnout and giving $5 gift cards to the hospital coffee shop to recognize staff members for a job well done.

Higgins thinks, “the market will settle down a little bit, but I think there will always be an increased pool of people that are willing to take the risk of being a travel nurse- taking advantage of the money aspect of it.”

Others are not so optimistic. Julia, a nurse who left Lee Health to travel two hours north, and requests to only be identified by her first name, says, “A lot of nurses are tired of being staff. We’ve set ourselves up for, at least, a few years of a complete disaster when it comes to staffing, even if the pandemic ends.”

Now back in Oregon, Brooke Gozdiff drives just over 50 miles away from their home in Keizer to work as a travel nurse. She makes triple what she would if she worked as a staff nurse in Keizer, Oregon. She supports the family on a single income, while James takes care of their one-year-old son and his mom, who was recently diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Travel nursing provides her and James with flexibility, adventure, and a cash flow that few other careers could provide.

But the Gozdiffs believe that travel nursing should be the exception, not the rule. James says, “I hope that people come back to the hospital systems because having a core staff that is highly qualified and highly trained and has worked together for years is ideal. The hospital and the unit run so much better when they don’t have a high percentage of travelers. Healthcare is better when you have a high number of staff.”

Categories
parenting Weekly Update

Lessons from a Bushcraft Class

Avery took a Bushcraft class this spring. Each Saturday morning, we showed up at a nature preserve, where Mrs. Becky taught a group of 5-9-year-olds survival skills.

When talking to my sister after the first week of class, I mentioned where we had been. I told her that the kids learned how to spell “HELP” out of logs so they could be spotted by a helicopter if they get lost. We both laughed uproariously. I envisioned Avery lost in the aisles of Target, spelling “HELP” out of lip liner.

I couldn’t help but wonder what I had gotten her into. But she loved it, and it was time spent outdoors, so I considered it a win.

Each week, I watched as the group of kids gained comfort and familiarity in the wilderness of Florida. The kids learned about plants that they could eat, plants with medicinal purposes, how to build shelters, and how to make a reservoir for water.

And then came knife skills. I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent. I think I’ve said it before- I’m more of a free-range, entertain yourself, kind of parent. But on that day, I was a helicopter parent. Miss Becky started the day by educating the kids on “the blood circle” (no one should be within knives reach of where you are cutting), and “the triangle of death” (never cut in the triangle between your legs, to avoid slicing your femoral artery and bleeding to death). I was particularly amused and terrified by the terminology.

The day I became a helicopter parent.

I was even more terrified when Avery unsheathed her knife and tried to carve a stick. But she survived, despite nicking herself in the triangle of death.

On the final day of class, the kids learned how to use a striker and a ferro rod to make a spark and start a pile of monkey hair (nest-like material from palm trees) on fire.

When Miss Becky showed the kids how to do it, it looked easy peasy. But when the kids tried? Well, it wasn’t easy. A significant amount of pressure needs to be placed on the striker and ferro rod to create enough amount of friction to create a spark.

Avery tried, and tried, and tried. She tried for 30 minutes (it felt like, but maybe it was more like 15). It began to seem an impossible hope. And then, finally, she got a spark. Magic.

The key to lighting the monkey hair on fire is that a large enough spark hits just the right place at just the right time.

Avery and her classmates kept striking their rods; sometimes, lucky enough to throw a big spark but never lucky enough to start the monkey hair on fire.

It was hot, and the work was challenging. One of Avery’s classmates commented in despair about how he would never be able to set his monkey hair on fire.

His mom smiled and said, “It hasn’t set fire yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. “

And it hit me as maybe the best piece of advice I have ever heard.

Sometimes, in challenging situations, or when I am learning a new skill, my brain changes the narrative of “If I keep trying, it will happen” to “this is impossible. Because I haven’t succeeded thus far, I never will, so I might as well give up.”

When I was eight days overdue with Avery, my brain changed the narrative to, “I will be pregnant forever.” When I was depressed for a year, my brain said, “This is how the rest of life will be- no matter what.” When I pitch articles to a dream publication- my brain whispers, “You haven’t done it yet, and therefore, it will never happen.”

It’s hard to believe that fire is possible when you’ve only ever seen a spark.

None of Avery’s classmates started their monkey hair on fire. And most of them left feeling a little defeated because they didn’t know what the adults knew. The adults knew that it was dang impressive that these kids were able to make a spark, given the strength required. And that someday, probably soon, their muscles would get a little stronger, they’d understand the feel for it better, the monkey hair would be in just the right spot, at just the right time, with a large enough spark.

For those of us who had been there, done that, the fire wasn’t an impossibility. I hope Avery comes to know that sometimes amid despair, we forget that sparks lead to a fire.

Just because it hasn’t set fire yet, it doesn’t mean it won’t.

Keep on,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Thunder and Limes

I like thunderstorms.

I like the silence that descends before the water hits the ground and the way that the rain can start as splatters and crescendo into a downpour.

Even better, I like when it starts as a downpour, heavens releasing every drop of water they contain, unwilling to ease anyone into anything.

I like the way the sky becomes dark and it feels like night. It feels wrong, the midday light turning to that of evening dusk. But more than wrong, it feels very much right.


Also, I like cooking.

I’m not referring to the frantic, get dinner on the table, with four different variations to appease all tastes, kind of cooking. I am adamantly NOT referencing that.

What I am talking about, is the kind of cooking that involves chopping vibrant vegetables. The kind of cooking that evokes childhood memories. Basil in pesto, garlic on garlic, lemon. The sounds of bacon sizzling, the taste I sneak of the cake batter, the meatball hot out of the oven that I pop into my mouth. It is a meditation that involves all of the senses, wrapping me into a cocoon, reminding me that for this minute, I am here, fully present & all is right in my world.

The kind of cooking that leaves the kitchen dusted in flour, the dishwasher filled with measuring cups, scraps of sweet potato peels, and vibrant purple cabbage decorating countertops.


I love watching the drops of rain hit the ground, bouncing off of the steamy black pavement, or the raindrops racing across car windows, enveloping the other drops in their path, claiming victory at the bottom of the window.

The way the street shines, becomes glossy, and the world that I thought I knew by heart takes on an entirely different appearance.

Rain jackets and umbrellas, puddles for jumping, raindrop facials.

It is the same world I occupy every day, but with rain, everything is transformed.

When the storm lifts, when the sky brightens, I feel a little bit of sadness creep in, that this transformed landscape is returning to normal. The skies are done with their tantrum, the pause is over, everybody can just go back to what they were doing, forgetting that, for a moment that the world was different.


The mint and limes that once decorated my counters combine to create something they were not capable of alone. They are still them and they are also something new, the same way the sky transforms with the addition of nimbus clouds and raindrops.


It gives me great hope for this world, how things transform with simple additions.

Categories
Weekly Update

Metamorphosis

We bought two milkweed plants a couple months ago after a neighbor showed me her caterpillar-covered milkweed.

Alice followed me as I carried the plants out of the car. “Where are you going to put them?” she asked, big blue eyes darting around the yard. I told her I planned to put them on the side of the house, because, to be honest, the milkWEED didn’t really fit in with the landscaping.

Alice had other plans though. She wanted them front and center, right next to our walkway. Though it didn’t help the decor, there are some times it isn’t worth arguing with Alice. In fact, it is almost never worth arguing with the dimpled-handed, wide-eyed, dictator.

She helped dig up the sandy soil and wrestle the weeds into their new home.

The leaves were covered in small dark dots. Eggs.

We checked the plants daily. I grew impatient as the black dots remained black dots. I began to wonder if they even were caterpillar eggs, or if the plants were just diseased.

But one morning, as I examined the plants, I noticed tiny holes covering the leaves. I flipped a leaf over, and sure enough, there was a teeny tiny caterpillar, munching her way through a leaf.

In the beginning….

I was mesmerized. Alice and Avery were…. sort of intrigued?

Each morning, I dragged the girls outside to stare at the caterpillars. We watched as the tiny holes on the leaves turned into large holes. We watched as the caterpillars shed their skin and grew larger. We watched as entire leaves disappeared and as the caterpillars ate down the stems of the plant.

Caterpillar looking for milkweed.

The plants disappeared as the caterpillars grew chunky, and I began to wonder when we would find a chrysalis.

Google told me that when a caterpillar is around 2 inches long, it turns into a chrysalis. So I measured them. They were easily two inches. I looked at them expectantly. I checked on them hourly, not wanting to miss the big transition.

But they didn’t. They ate, and they ate, and they ate. Again, I felt impatient. The same sort of impatience I felt when I was nine days overdue with Avery.

Nature really irks me sometimes, with its slow, never rushing progress.

I grew convinced that the lizards who live in our petunia plants must be eating the fat caterpillars, so I bought more milkweed plants and moved the remaining caterpillars to plants inside our screened-in lanai, away from the lizard population. I put them next to the glass sliding door in the kitchen, where we could watch them.

Finally, one day, I watched as a caterpillar hung herself upside down in the “J shape.” And I knew, it was about time.

I camped out in the kitchen, unsure of what I was looking for, but not wanting to miss the transformation of a chunky caterpillar into a green, gold-studded chrysalis.

Well, it turns out they hang in that J-shape for 12-24 hours, sometimes longer. So the next morning, as I darted to take a shower, it shed its final layer of skin.

And when I returned to the kitchen, it was in the final throes of scootching, bunching, and swinging itself into its beautiful green home for the next two weeks.

Caterpillar -> Chrysalis

Again, the waiting games were on.

I examined the chrysalis multiple times each day, looking for a sign- any sign- that a butterfly might emerge. If I looked at the chrysalis from the right, sun-lit angle, I could see the wings, neatly folded up.

As the days passed, the chrysalis turned from bright green to a darker green, eventually becoming see-through right before the butterfly emerged.

Hours before a Monarch emerges.

And then one morning, right as the sun was rising under dark thunder clouds, I noticed that the shape of a chrysalis had changed. I went outside to investigate further, and watched, as a newly emerged butterfly hung, her wings still folded and crumpled.

The crumpled wings of a newly emerged Monarch

Consistent with the great timing of nature, I had to go drop Avery off at school, so I couldn’t watch the transformation unfold.

When I returned, her wings had expanded to full size, wrinkle-free, and breath-taking. I brought her out of the screened-in enclosure, outside to the world. Her dainty legs clung to my finger.

She began to flap her wings, testing them out.

And then she flew. As if she had never, as Chad likes to put it, slimed around, eating leaves.

As I watched her fly away, I was reminded of a question Alice asked weeks earlier as we watched the caterpillars devour leaves. “Mom, does a caterpillar know it is going to turn into a butterfly?”

“I don’t know,” I had replied at the time. I was struck by her question. It was so deep, and simply worded something I often wondered about myself.

But now, after watching the whole process, I don’t know if that piece of the puzzle even matters. Maybe they don’t need to know the end result.

Maybe, the end result is a tiny piece of the puzzle, holding the same weight as every other moment. While I was caught impatiently waiting for the next transition, the caterpillar moved at her own time. Each moment was beautiful.

It is in the becoming, that I learn a lot from these chunky creatures. That they didn’t rush. That transformation wasn’t a loud, crowd-drawing process. It was silent. And patient.

The world continued to revolve. The transformation took place without applause or encouragement. The butterflies didn’t listen to my impatient muttering about hurrying up, nor did I get a notification about when the caterpillar would change into a chrysalis, or when the butterfly would emerge.

The butterflies reminded me that the best things happen in their own time. They gain inherent beauty from following their own path, growing on their own terms, transforming on a schedule only they can determine.

And the end result? It is perfect. But so is every other step of becoming.

Categories
Weekly Update

Vast, Like the Trees

After making our descent over the orderly grid blocks of Minneapolis containing houses and trees with changing leaves, we touched down on the MSP Airport tarmac.

Our suitcases were packed with a contrasting mix of dress clothes- black, for my Grandma’s funeral, and white flower girl dresses for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding.

I was anxious about this trip: the last time we flew into Minneapolis was disastrous- Alice puking on the flight and dry heaving in the rental car, which prompted Avery to faint, and then sympathy puke.

But as we pulled out of the rental car lot, I exhaled. The trip had gone without a hitch.

The first thing I always notice when driving out of the rental car lots in Minnesota is the trees. They are tall and wide, expanding, the antithesis of the skinny palm trees that linger awkwardly, mop heads blowing in the wind. The oak and maple trees are wild and audacious– a stark contrast to the manicured trees of Florida, who are hesitant to grow just an inch outside of their preconceived outline. And I like that a lot. The trees of Minnesota have a lot to teach.

My Grandma passed away over a year ago, yet with the timing of COVID, we were unable to have a funeral. I was beyond the waves of tearful grief hitting at unexpected times, I could talk about her without crying, and it seemed as if grief had run its course.

Her zebra print swimsuit is framed in the bathroom that leads out to our pool. Her blue flowered china is neatly stacked in my cabinets. I have voicemails from her saved, asking if I could please, for the love of all things holy, deposit the check she gave me 3 years ago so she could balance her checkbook. She is no longer here- but she is remembered daily.

It seemed odd, gathering so late after her death, to mourn something that had ripped our hearts apart long ago. The wounds had scarred over and it seemed as if there was nothing left to heal.

But as the pastor delivered the sermon at her memorial, grief washed over me again- filling my chest and eyes with the heavy, crushing feeling.

I tried to hold back the tears, but they still found a way to slip out. And in case you haven’t tried it yet, crying in a mask is messy business.

When it came time to bury her ashes, I had a chance to hold the urn containing the grains that made up who she was. It was odd- holding every ounce of the feisty, vivacious person I knew, now a silent mound of dust.

But there was an indescribable peacefulness.

As we stood in a half circle around her urn, with the pastor uttering the final blessings, a warm wind that was powerful yet gentle wrapped around us. And I knew, that she was there.

I remembered a long run I had gone on soon after she had passed. I could feel her presence deeply, and had talked to her as the miles ticked by. “Hi, G,” I had whispered on an exhale. The wind gusted around me.

The pastor reminded us that Grandma or as we fondly refer to her- G-Dizzle, would live on through us. We all carry different aspects of her from the imprint she left on our lives.

For me, it is the love of pinot grigio, a dry sense of humor, and the pointer finger that comes out when I get fired up.

As I said my final goodbye, hand pressed against the wooden box containing her earthly remains, I was reminded that pain is rooted in love. That the heartbreak I was experiencing was because of the deep love we had shared.

And I wouldn’t trade an ounce of the pain in exchange for the beauty that my world holds because she was in it.

Two days later, I watched my brother and sister-in-law exchange vows under the silver maple trees lining the Mississippi river. I watched a leaf float down from the tree, released from its duties. The wind caught it and guided it to the ground in a zig-zag, fluttery pattern.

I was sitting between my nieces and nephews- little Abigail, less than 2 weeks old. The moment contained it all. Love, new life, loss, joy, peace, and beauty, oh the beauty.

And it was vast, like the silver maples.