Monday, January 19, 2015

The Battle of the Bulge

A few months ago I went to the doctor for a physical.  I put as much thought and preparation into this appointment as I did for a family vacation.  Just like for our vacations, a couple of weeks beforehand, I started going through my wardrobe to find the perfect outfit.  I was positive that the right clothing choice would start this visit off on the right foot.

diet, dieting, weight loss, healthy eating
My nemesis

The perfect clothing items were not chosen for design, color, fit, or which accessories could be worn with them. No, function far outweighed form for this visit.  This was important and I knew I had to make a strong impression.

When the day of my appointment arrived, I dressed with great attention to detail.  My appearance had been carefully planned down to the most finite detail.

As the nurse called me back, I went through the checklist in my head to make sure I hadn't missed anything:

Lightest weight clothing - check.
Remove all undergarments - check.
No unnecessary use of hair products or makeup - check.
All rings and necklaces removed - check.
Bathroom - check.
Slip off shoes - check.
No food or water consumed since the night before - check.

And with all of the items on my list checked off, I stepped on
the doctor's scale.............. and had lost precisely 1 pound since last year. 

"I did it!" I exclaimed.

With a raised eyebrow, the nurse led me to an exam room while I thanked everyone who helped me achieve this great and wondrous accomplishment.  My victory speech was so poignant, it was worthy of an Academy Award.

I was sitting on the doctor's examining table when she came in.  I held my breath as she perused the vital statistics the nurse had written down.  Anxiously I waited for the pat on the back and exclamations of a job well done.

She looked up from the paperwork, "Last year we discussed your weight and why it's important for you to lose 15 pounds."

I smiled broadly as I replied "Yes!  And look! I lost 1 pound!"

With a look of disapproval she said "Last year you wore sweats.  This year you have on a bikini.  The only thing you lost was some cotton fiber.  Have you been exercising?".

"Does walking to the refrigerator and pantry count? I have walked through the grocery store!" I offered.

"The refrigerator and pantry only count if you didn't get anything out to eat.  How many days a week did you walk through the grocery store?  Was it a grocery 'super store' or a 7-eleven?" she replied.

She knew me too well.  "Does walking to get the newspaper count?" I questioned.
"Is it in your driveway?", she asked.
"Yes." I replied.
"No." she said.

"I have to take the dog out several times a day." I offered.
"Do you take the dog for a walk or just open the back door to the house and let it out?", she queried.

"Hmmm...... I thought about swimming laps at the natatorium." I said.
"How many laps did you swim?" she asked.

"Ummm........ what about chewing?  Chewing uses muscles so shouldn't that count as exercise?" I replied.

The doctor handed me a packet of information on calorie counting, a list of websites for reduced calorie recipes, a food pyramid chart, and another chart which listed how many calories are burned doing different forms of exercise.

"Pick from the activities and do it 5 days a week. You need to lose 15 real pounds by your next yearly physical." she ordered.

After looking at the list of exercises and the short list of edible foods on the diet, maybe for my next physical I'll cut my hair short and see if that will help me lose some real pounds.

Written by Christie Bielss

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Then and Now

Sitting on the sofa one night, I looked back at the day I'd just had versus the life my husband and I led before having children.  Our life before kids was filled with fun parties, I could shop with my girlfriends all day with no problem, saw movies on opening day, had romantic dinners with candle light and table cloths, was able to accomplish the things on my "to do" list in one day, spent all day reading a book cover-to-cover without interruption, and indulged myself in mani/pedis, facials, massages, and long soaks in the bathtub with my favorite scented candles.

kids, family, pregnancy, life
Before kids, sort of.  I was pregnant in this photo

Those were the days when I vacuumed the house and it stayed clean for an entire week.  Picking up the house simply meant putting my husband's shoes in the closet.  Doing laundry was accomplished in just a few hours from start to finish.

Not much has changed since we've had children.  We still go to parties, they just happen to have a Disney character as the theme and doing the limbo requires you beginning on your knees due to the pint-sized holders of the limbo bar.

I still go shopping all day, grocery shopping that is.  That's because it takes hitting three grocery stores to find the one package of my children's favorite flavored snack crackers.  With those crackers on-hand, the earth can continue to spin.

We see movies on opening day, the opening day they come out on DVD.

Romantic dinners are meals where no one spills their milk, drops their plate of food on the floor, or passes gas.

If I'm able to accomplish one thing on my "to do" list, then I consider that a successful day.  If I can accomplish two things on my "to do" list, I feel like I am the queen of organization.  If I can accomplish three or more things on that blasted "to do" list....... who am I kidding? That never happens.

I still read lots of books.  Though these days, instead of reading a romantic comedy to myself, my daughter reads "Dork Diaries" or "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" out loud to me.

Long soaks in the bathtub have changed a bit.  They usually begin with me submerging my arms in my son's fish tank to scrape the algae from the tank's walls and end with vacuuming the uneaten fish food and scum from the decorative rocks on the bottom.  Not quite as relaxing but at least the fish tank has a heater to keep the water at a comfortable temperature.

Yes, I still get mani/pedis. They are happily performed by both of my children.  The nail polish may cover my fingers or toes halfway to my knuckles and each one may be a different color, but I am pampered in a way that can only come from the heart.

We only bought 1 pair of purple socks and we are up to a pair and a half
Laundry, however, has become my nemesis.  I am pretty sure when my kids throw their dirty clothes in the hamper, the clothing breeds.  This was confirmed the other day when my daughter was putting her freshly laundered clothes in the closet and exclaimed "Mom?  I don't remember these jeans.  Where did they come from?".  I'm pretty sure this out-of-control breeding situation began when we started pairing up the socks to keep them from getting eaten by the dryer........

Looking back, yes, life is far different than it was years ago.  And yet I wouldn't change a thing........... ok, maybe I'd change pairing the socks up in the hamper.

Worst haircut of my life but I still love this photo

Written by Christie Bielss

Monday, January 5, 2015

Who Is Your Hero?

My daughter came home from school a month or so ago and asked me a very interesting question "Who do you consider your hero?  And don't go for the easy answer, Mom.".  My first answer being all of our military and their families, as well as police and firemen, was nixed by the ten year old playing the college professor.  Judging by the serious countenance on my child's face, I guessed that Superman, Batman, and Spiderman, would be swiftly nixed as well.

My Hero
It was a simply worded question and yet it made me stop and think.  I know who my hero is, but can I adequately put into words what is in my heart?  I'm not sure, but I've decided to give it a go.

He was a spunky kid who would climb to the top of the highest object just so he could imagine himself flying.  Sometimes that meant he was climbing to the top of the telephone pole, nearly causing his mother heart failure.  And sometimes that spunk had him trying to coerce neighbor kids to put their tongues on the cistern pump handle in the bitter cold, much to his parents' chagrin.

He played sports in high school and according to his accounts, rode his bike through the mountains of West (by God) Virginia to school every single day.  Uphill...... both ways.  Through 6 feet of snow.  With a tenor saxophone on his bike's handle bars.  

High School Graduation
He joined the ROTC in college and, upon graduation, became a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force as a fighter pilot.  While he was stationed in Alabama going through training and "getting jets", he met a lovely young woman on base.  He attracted her because of his baby blue '59 Buick convertible and she attracted him with her cute looks and figure.  They were married 6 weeks later.  

The infamous '59 Baby Blue Buick Convertible

Within a few months of marriage, the newlyweds were stationed overseas with the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Bentwaters, England.  He gave selflessly of himself to his country while he buried a number of his fighter pilot friends who crashed their fighter jets, including his best friend, while in service to their country.

One day in October of 1962, with Air Force base sirens sounding in the background, he called his wife and quickly informed her that the base had been put on full alert.  His fighter jet was loaded with bombs and he'd be sitting on the runway waiting for the green light to go and defend his country.

While he had enough fuel to get to his destination and do what his government commanded of him, he did not have enough fuel to get to safety, back to his base, or even to an area of land.  This was his farewell to her and their 2 young sons.

For nearly 2 weeks, he sat in his fighter jet at the end of the runway on full alert.  The jet engines were on and ready for take-off, the plane was fully loaded with bombs, just awaiting the go-ahead command from the big brass.  Thankfully the situation (the Cuban Missile Crisis) was resolved without him having to perform what would have been a suicide mission.

In 1963, his squadron's command was taken over by the indomitable Colonel (and later General) Robin Olds, who brought with him Colonel Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. (who would later go on to become the first African American 4-star General in the Air Force).  The stories from this era are too numerous to write about in one blog post but suffice it to say that while there were a lot of missions flown during this time, as were as a lot of parties attended.

As a result of those parties, this hero came back to the United States with his lovely wife....... and 3 bouncing baby boys, each born less than a year apart.

Stationed at Reese Air Force base in Lubbock, Texas, this man began training young fighter pilots.  One of the parts of his duties left an indelible impression upon his heart.  That job was informing next of kin (wives) of the death of their fighter pilot spouse.

There are no words suitable to ever describe how terribly heartbreaking and life-changing this part of his job was.  To this day, he remembers each spouse's reaction upon seeing him walk up to their home or place of work.

While at Reese AFB, he was asked to join the prestigious USAF Thunderbirds.  It is a tremendous honor to be asked to join this elite fighter jet show team but, upon learning they were gone for most of the year, he declined.  Seeing his wife and 4 children took precedence over the fun he would of surely had performing breathtaking mid-air stunts.

He left the USAF in 1967 with a wife and 4 young children.  Yes, there was another party after they arrived in Lubbock, TX, which yielded him a daughter. Upon leaving the USAF, he went to work for a commercial airline as a pilot.

1st Officer
He and his family were stationed in Buffalo, New York.  The commercial airline pilot pay wasn't enough to support his family, so when he wasn't flying airplanes, he was substitute teaching to help supplement his income.  While there wasn't enough money to take his family out to dinner and to the movies, he created wonderful memories for his children by digging caves in the mountainous snow and having epic snowball fights.  

As his children grew, he was a beacon to them for doing what was right, not necessarily what was easy.  Even though he would be gone flying commercial jets for many days each month, which resulted in him missing many a birthday and holiday because of his flight schedule, his wife and children knew how much he loved them and they found creative ways to celebrate those days.

He was required to retire from piloting commercial airplanes in the United States at the age of 60.  Having flown most of his life, the transition to staying home every day out of the month was interesting for both he and his wife.  He was used to doing his own thing, and so was she, but they adapted.

His focus changed from studying airplane manuals and flight standards, to working on his golf handicap, doting on his grandchildren, and traveling around the world with his wife.

Today is this hero's 80th birthday.  Today I celebrate this man and all he has accomplished and all of the love he has so selflessly poured out onto those around him.  Today I celebrate my hero, my Dad.  Happy 80th birthday!  I love you more than there are stars in the sky and grains of sand upon this earth!

Written by Christie Bielss

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Miraculous Intervention

Happy New Year!  After encouragement from both friends and family, I have decided to share a very personal experience to start off the new year.

hope, miracle, God, home, cold weather
Our home in Alabama

It was Halloween 2001. I was 7 months pregnant with our son and we had moved to Alabama a couple of months prior. The evening of Halloween, we went to a friend's house for a costume party. As we were walking in to our friend's home, we noticed that a weather front had moved in and the usual warm, humid Alabama night was turning unusually cold.

We were having a great time at the party until I started having a hard time with acid reflux due to my pregnancy.  We left the party and arrived home around midnight. 

When we relocated to Alabama, we purchased a newly constructed home and had the home inspected for defects prior to closing.  The inspection report had come back with a few very minor issues, which the builder quickly rectified.

When we walked in the door to our home that evening, my husband found the house a bit chilly.  He asked me to turn on the home's heat while he went and tried to remove the black and white paint from his face and hands, where we had transformed him into a skeleton for the party.

While he took a shower to remove the paint, I went and laid down on the sofa in the family room with our dog.

Pregnancy induced acid reflux required me to sleep sitting nearly upright while cool air helped to calm some of the nausea I experienced.  I put an oscillating fan next to the couch, where it would blow the air straight where I was reclining and cranked it up to hurricane force.

Exhausted from both the reflux and being pregnant with a child who was either going to be a world-class soccer player or a renowned kicker for the NFL, I drifted off to sleep within a minute or two.  A little while later my clean faced husband came in, checked on me and went off to bed.

I fell back to sleep almost instantly.  I was in a deep sleep when I started to hear someone speaking to me in a very sweet feminine and quiet voice.  "Wake up, Christie.", she said ever so gently.

In my sleep, I ignored the voice.  But the soft voice continued to gently nudge me "Honey, wake up.  It's time to wake up.".

I recognized the voice.  It was the voice of my father's mother, who had passed 20 years before.  She had been a slip of a woman with a soft voice and a gentle, nurturing, Christ-like nature.

In my sleep I argued with her.  "No, I'm tired.  I don't want to wake up.  This baby is wearing me out and I'm finally getting some sleep.  I'm not going to wake up.  I'm going to sleep.".

She again spoke ever so softly while gently nagging me, "Honey, you need to wake up.  Please wake up.".

I said again "No, I'm tired.  I need sleep.  Please stop and leave me alo.....".

And before I could finish my sentence "CHRISTIE LYNN!  You wake up NOW!!".

There was no mistaking the voice yelling at me!  That was my other grandmother, my mother's mother who had passed away just over a year prior.  She may have been diminutive in height, but she made up for it in attitude.  My red hair came from her and you did not mess with her.  It was also in that moment when I realized all 4 of my grandparents were in my dream although my grandfathers didn't speak, I could feel their presence.

At my grandmother's yelled command, I woke up in an instant.  I was immediately bombarded with the rotten egg smell of natural gas.  I hopped off the couch and ran to my bedroom to wake up my husband.

With a lot of nudging and jiggling, he woke up.  I told him the house smelled like natural gas.  He sat up on the side of the bed and told me to turn off the heater at the thermostat.  I flew to the thermostat and before I could flip the switch to the "off" position, a thought popped into my head that if the thermostat threw a spark, we could be blown sky high.

I decided against flipping the switch and ran back to our bedroom where I discovered my husband was again fast asleep.  I pushed and nudged him to wake him up.  He didn't move.  Scared that carbon monoxide may be poisoning him, I shook him very hard to wake him up.

He woke up just enough to tell me to call the fire department.  I told him to get up and put some street clothes on while I made the call.

I quickly walked to the kitchen's cordless wall phone.  As I reached for the phone to dial 911, my hand was physically stopped by an unseen force, while in that same instant my entire sight was filled with a movie-like vision of a house exploding.

I dropped my hand and backed away from the phone.  That's when I saw my purse sitting on the counter.  I can use my cell phone!

I grabbed my cell phone from my purse but before I flipped it open to dial, something stopped me.  I looked up and saw the door to our backyard and the thought came to me that it would be safer to make the call outside in the fresh (albeit cold) air.

I called 911 and told the operator I wasn't sure if this qualified as an emergency but that our house smelled like gas after having turned on the heater.  She asked if I wanted her to send the fire department and I hemmed and hawed around for a few seconds until she urged me to give her our home address and to let the firemen check things out.

I agreed, gave her the information, and realized my husband was still inside the house.  I quickly went back inside and discovered him back under the covers in bed.  I jiggled, I nudged, and I started pushing him so hard he was bouncing on the bed.  He was not waking up and my heart was in my throat.

I leaned down and literally screamed in his ear (much like my grandmother had done to me just a few minutes earlier) to wake up.  He woke up just enough that I was able to get him to sit up on the side of the bed and helped him put on some sweats and sneakers.  I told him the fire department was on their way and we needed to get out of the house.

Just as I finished tying his shoe, the fire truck was coming down the street with their lights and siren going.

My husband looked at me quite puzzled and it became apparent he wasn't coherent.  He'd only had a couple of beers at the party, so I knew this wasn't alcohol related and yet I couldn't get him up off the bed.  Every time I'd get him sitting up, he'd start to pass back out.

Not being able to get him up, I ran out front to meet the fire engine.  They were greeted by a disheveled pregnant woman running toward the fire engine.  The doors of the cab opened and firemen were stepping out as soon as the engine had come to a complete stop. 

Without even thinking I said "The house is filled with gas.  I flipped the thermostat to heat and something must've gone wrong!  I can't get my husband up and out of the house!".

No sooner had the words left my mouth than the firemen asked where my husband was located in the house.  In the blink of an eye they were inside our home.  Within seconds they'd helped my husband out of the house and had him sitting on the curb as the rest of the crew flung open the windows to our house.

In the cold early morning air, my husband began to "awaken".  The firemen asked if we wanted an ambulance, but my husband declined.  They advised for both of us to call our doctor, as well as my obstetrician and let them know what happened.

Once the gas had cleared and the house was deemed safe, we were allowed to go back in.  The fire deparment had turned our thermostat off and we were told to leave the windows open so the gas could continue to escape over the course of the next few hours.

Around 4am the firemen left and I located our builder's phone number and left him a voicemail on his cell phone describing what had just transpired.  He called us back around 7am to inform us his ac/heating contractor was on his way and would be arriving at our house shortly.

Knowing that my mom's family had a very large presence in Alabama and word of this incident could make it back to them faster than the speed of light, I called my parents as soon as I got off the phone with the builder.  My dad picked up the phone after the first ring.

"Good morning dad.", I said.

"Are you alright?!  Is everything ok?!" were the first words out of his mouth.

I never call my parents at 7am, so I was sure it had freaked him out to get a call from me this early.

"We're ok.  We're fine.  We had an incident early this morning but like I said, we're ok."

"I knew something happened." he said.

"What do you mean?  How did you know?" I questioned.

"I woke up a little before 3am and immediately heard the Holy Spirit telling me to get on my knees and start praying for you both.  I was told to pray without ceasing because you were in grave danger." he replied.

When he told me that, I started crying and told him everything that had transpired, including what (or maybe I should say "who") had awakened me.  I told him I thought it was weird that while my grandfathers didn't speak, I knew they were there.

My dad told me he had been awakened from a very deep sleep around 2:30am and was hit with the prompting to pray.  Because it was the middle of the night and my mom was asleep, dad went into his closet (which is quite a sizable space), got on his knees and prayed until sometime after 6am when he felt the pressure to pray ease up and he fell into an exhausted slumber on the floor of their closet.

He woke up on the closet floor and was getting back into bed a few minutes prior to my phone call.  I thanked him profusely for praying for us because we had been in a bad situation and needed those prayers of protection.

When the ac/heating contractor arrived, we explained what happened and he immediately called the gas company and had them come out and shut off the gas to the house before he would check the system out.

He and the gas company's serviceman climbed into the attic together.  "Holy <bleep>!" they both exclaimed as soon as the front panel to the furnace had been removed.  Next thing we heard were the sounds of photos being taken and more exclamations of "Oh my God! How the <bleep> did this house not explode!".

The two men came down from the attic with looks of utter shock on their faces.  The contractor told us there was absolutely no explanation as to why our house had not exploded, along with at least half of our street.

The gas had poured into our house for 3 straight hours prior to me waking up. Our gas water heater sat next to the furnace and since my husband had taken a shower, the flame on the water heater would have come on at some point to reheat water as it refilled the water heater.

The water heater's flame should also have come on by itself to keep the water at a warm temperature sometime in those 3+ hours the gas was flowing in unchecked.  The flame should have ignited the gas and caused our home to explode, killing us and taking out a number of our neighbor's homes around us.

We were told the system had either been shipped missing a crucial part or it had been tampered with.  Either way, it should have spelled our death.

The contractor had to go out to his truck to get a replacement for the missing part and told us he was going to notify the builder and the city inspector of what he'd found.  We agreed that it was a good idea to make those calls.

One thing we knew with 100% certainty.  While our home inspector said he had checked the furnace, the system had never been inspected because it had never been initially fired up.  Our home inspector had taken a shortcut and lied about it and he very nearly cost us our lives.

The ac/heating contractor came back inside and told us that he'd spoken to both the builder and the city inspector and they wanted to know if it would be ok for them to come out the next morning so he could show them what he'd found.  He also asked if it would be ok if they brought some people with them to look at the system.  We agreed and the contractor went to work getting our system up and running.

My husband and I both went to the doctor that day and were checked out.  The doctor performed several tests and felt like my body had filtered out most of the bad stuff I had inhaled and our baby would just be sleepy for a day or two.

My husband also had some tests performed and was found to have no lingering toxins in his blood stream and was allowed to go home if he agreed to rest quietly for the remainder of the day.

I called my parents as soon as we got back from our doctor appointments to let them know we were officially ok.  My parents told me they had emailed their church pastor and he wanted to know if I would be willing to email him a detailed accounting of what had transpired so he could use it Sunday for his sermon celebrating All Saints' Day.  I agreed and sent the pastor an email detailing everything.

The next morning at precisely 9am, the ac/heating contractor showed up, along with an entourage.  The builder was present along with the city inspector, and they both had brought along additional people.

Included in this large group were city council members, the fire department's inspector, a technician and the head of quality control for the renowned manufacturer of our ac/heating system, the owner of the ac/heating contractor, the gas company, as well as a number of other people.  My family room was packed full of southern gentlemen trying to get answers.

The ac/heating contractor who had come out the day before took the men up into our attic in small groups and explained in detail what he'd found upon opening up the system.

Every single one of these gentlemen came back down from the attic in shock and disbelief.  With heavy southern drawls, they all said that we are living miracles and it was only by God's grace that our incident hadn't killed a whole lot of families and left a sizable hole in the ground where our house stood.

That Sunday, All Saints' Day, our story was shared with several thousand parishioners in attendance at all of my parents' Sunday church services, as well as with those who listened to the podcast in the days, weeks, months, and years afterwards.

It's been 13 years since that fateful night.  In those years, I have heard of a number of homes and people who have suffered or been lost due to incidents like we experienced.  Every time I hear about one of these incidents, part of me quakes in fear and the other part of me rejoices in how God worked so visibly in our life.

Every year when it's time to flip the thermostat from a/c to heat, I still pause to pray before I flip that switch.  I hold my breath until I hear the system's flame ignite and start burning the gas and I pay close attention to our carbon monoxide detectors.

In the years since this happened, I have questioned more times than I can count why we lived when so many others have perished.  I still don't have answers to my questions.  

One thing my family does know for sure is God is real, he is present, and he still does work miracles.  We are living examples of his miraculous works, his grace, and his love.

Written by Christie Bielss