Needles and a Pen » Knitting, Sewing, and Nursing School

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  • Welcome to my blog!

    Hi! I'm Traci. I'm a nursing student and CNA who loves quilting, knitting, cross stitch, and the great outdoors. In my pre-scrubs life, I owned Real Photography, and you can still see my old wedding and portrait photography site here .

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Made it.

Well, that was a rough one.  In its defense, everyone from the very beginning had said that the third semester would be the one to make you want to throw yourself into a bathtub with a toaster.  I was actually extremely lucky in that all of my Terrible stemmed solely from nursing school. Take away nursing school and things were pretty good for me.  Those around me had chronic illnesses get worse, houses catch fire, uncovered infidelity, lost pets, got divorced, and were hit by drunk drivers.  It was like the whole universe conspired to TAKE EVERYONE DOWN.

If you’re still keeping score, I did manage to eek another A out of this semester.  I have been told time and time again that NO ONE ACTUALLY CARES if you squeeze a 4.0 out of nursing school, but to get so close and get a B at this point would be a major bummer.  I am so close to the end now.  Just have to power through!  Four months and 7 days until the last final!

at least it wasn’t an ear, i guess.

Today I walked into the hair salon for a trim and walked out having chopped off 11 inches.

Two weeks ago completely out of the blue I told my sister-in-law that for the first time in my life I was really happy with my hair.  That I was truly happy with my hair.  That I liked my hair.  I have never said that about one of my own body parts before.

And then today I went AND CUT IT ALL OFF.

It occurred to me this afternoon that cutting your hair off is what you do after a breakup.  Randomly chopping off all your hair is not usually a good sign.  I’m pretty sure it is to mental health what Cheyne-Stokes breathing is to hospice patients.

So, for those of you keeping track at home, NURSING SCHOOL IS WINNING.  I think if you ran the numbers I spend more of my time crying in hospital bathrooms than I do on any other activity.  Sometimes I cry wearing the white scrubs of a nursing student.  I also now sometimes cry wearing the burgundy scrubs of a CNA.   This is not a positive development.

Today I held down a young patient while they received stitches.  At one point in the inconsolable sobbing and shouts of “noooooo!” the patient gathered up all their self control to say a full sentence at normal volume:

“I’m so sad.” 

Every heart in the room shattered.

The tragic naivety of it.

Of saying “I’m so sad.”

As if that mattered. As if that wasn’t obvious to everyone. As if the whole wide world hadn’t known that would happen all along.

You guys, I’m so sad.

As if that matters.  As if that isn’t obvious to everyone.  As if the whole wide world hadn’t known this would happen all along.

I feel powerless and bloodied and like everyone keeps murmuring “almost done” but we are STILL. NOT. DONE.

All that’s left to hope for is that someone will give me a hug and take me out for ice cream when they’re through with me.

If there’s anything left of me.




I survived psych without getting shivved!



Another bimester down, only three more to go!  I’m only 1.5 semesters away from graduation!!

This bimester I was in psych, and in terms of testing and grades, it was one of the easier classes.  Once you figure out the “rules” of therapeutic communication and psych in general (who is the greatest threat to safety, what takes priority, etc), you’ll get most of the questions right, regardless of the actual topic.   Because our class and clinical hours were lighter than ever before, and because I was doing well on the tests, this was the most enjoyable bimester so far in terms of school/life balance.  I did some baking, I got into a great workout habit, and I read a bunch of non-nursing school related things!  It was nice to have this in the first bi, since I got to enjoy the mild late summer/early fall weather.  It was lovely.  I will miss that ‘having a life outside school’ thing.

I had heard that psych was a good chance to do some self-analyzing, and that made me privately roll my eyes.  But then I found it to be true.  (Stupid psych.)  You have the extra time to think about the principles that you’re learning and about happiness and it’s a touchy-feely time, even if you aren’t particularly touchy-feely normally.

I had really wanted to be like “I don’t know why we have to spend an entire bi on psych when OB/Peds shares a bi–this is stupid and I’m not EVER going into psych” but you know that you can’t say that because you will see psych EVERYWHERE you go.  (I went to the ACOG/ACNM/AWHONN Colorado Annual Maternal Morbidity/Mortality Conference yesterday and one of the talks was all about psych patients in OB.  I was so excited to understand all the meds they were talking about.  Second gen anti psychotics cause LGA babies?  I KNOW WHY! !)  BUT, even when you don’t have a psych patient, if you can learn and practice the therapeutic communication techniques, that will be handy with EVERY patient.

I knew from working as a CNA that I wanted to focus on developing my ability to have conversations with people in hard times during my psych rotation.  There have been several situations at work where things got awkward, and my instinct was to handle them in the way we tend to handle things in ‘polite society’–minimize them, sweep them under the rug, carry things back to socially acceptable footing.  I knew my instinct was wrong, but I also didn’t have any alternative tools.  I used my clinical time to practice the heck out of therapeutic communication and become comfortable in those oh-god-what-do-you-even-say-to-that times.  If you want the cliff notes version because you haven’t gotten to psych yet, silence with a head nod to indicate that you are listening will do the trick 98% of the time.  The vast majority of adults will fill in the silence you leave.  And as you practice it, it won’t be awkward silence anymore–you’ll get comfortable in the silent waiting spaces of uncomfortable topics.

I feel like no matter what kind of nurse you want to be, psych is an incredibly valuable class if you put energy into really learning therapeutic communication.  So look forward to that.  Because they are the scariest clinicals you will ever have, and it’s important to have something to look forward to.

This is the class that made every nurse at work shudder when I mentioned it.  I couldn’t quite figure that out until I stepped into clinicals for the first time.  What I imagined was something harmless or charming.  Like a visit into the movie version of The Silver Linings Playbook.  What it was actually like was prison nursing.  On our very first tour of the units as our instructor fumbled with her keys to let us out of the highest acuity unit, a patient eyed a couple of us in a way that instantly made me want to run for a shower and muttered “if I had a weapon you’d see what I could do to you.”

Oh sweet baby Jesus, what have I done?!  Is it too late to go back to wedding photography?

Another student had the pleasure of talking to a patient before looking at his chart (at their facility they weren’t allowed to look at the charts before talking to the patients).  Come to find out this patient stabs himself while masturbating and fantasizing about stabbing women while raping them.

(Insert tiny high pitched whine of terror here.)

One of the patients in my unit was making threats about killing the previous doctors.  The staff was not impressed by the threats.  Until they looked into the records a little more and discovered that the individual had already be in prison for homicide.

Is it time to go home yet?!

I spent the first day trying not to cry.  (And failed.  I started to cry when one of my fellow students pointed out that I must be in hell, since I don’t even like taking care of men NORMALLY.)  Those first couple of days I felt like I could make a Road Runner style hole in the wall in the shape of me and go running to my car and never look back.

As I contemplated having to walk unto those units BY MYSELF and talk to the patients, I tried to think about Jesus.  And what Jesus would do.  And how I should treat the ‘least of these.’  But then I would think about Oprah, and how she would like me to run when I have that ‘ut oh’ feeling.  And Oprah was making a lot more sense than Jesus.

When your unlikely-to-worry husband sends you off to clinicals with a kiss and a sincere “stay safe” you know you are in deep into the darkest days of nursing school.

But then there are the less acute units.  And since I was less focused on my own personal safety, I was able to have moments of clarity, or amusement, or the start of interesting thoughts.

I realized while leading a group session that underneath depression wasn’t a well of sadness, but a well of anger.  The depressed patients were quick to talk about “people these days” and all had a lot of resentment toward how they had been treated.  If that’s true, then a protective factor against depression in our own lives has to be letting things go, and seeing the best in others, and not feeling that anyone else owes us anything or has any real bearing on our own life.

The schizophrenic patients are incredible to listen to.  Their words make no sense, but my brain would try so hard to make sense of the sentences because their inflection made it sound like SURELY that sentence made sense–it’s me that’s the problem.  My favorite was “no one wants to drive the hearse…until they’ve eaten the chocolate cake.”  I feel like that could actually be something deep.  (I may have also just played Wise or Otherwise too many times).  Or there was the time when I was brand newly out on the floor (as in my first five minutes alone) and a patient came up to me so excited about his holographic book and not having had any psych lectures yet, it took me WAYYYY too long to figure out that he was just having visual hallucinations and it was a perfectly regular book.

The child unit was really interesting because the therapeutic communication techniques that work on adults all go flying out the window with kids.  Look them in the eye and use good listening posture, and they’ll shut right down.  Approach a topic directly and they’ll basically tell you to go eff yourself.  You have to be sneaky and come at everything sideways and backwards while distracting them with a puzzle or drawing.  You have to pretend that you’re not actually paying all that much attention to them and are only casually interested in what they have to say.  And that all feels 1000% more normal!   The thing that startled me with all of the adult patients was how quick they were to share the most intimate part of their lives.  At a gut level, that felt wrong.  They were at such a vulnerable point in their lives, and I hadn’t done anything to deserve being trusted with their thoughts and feelings and stories other than show up with a student ID badge.  The kids make you earn it, they are suspicious of you as a stranger and an adult, and they want to warm up to you first.  THAT I understood!

All in all, it was a terrifying bimester, but a valuable one. Advanced Medical Surgical I is next.  Back to lots of clinical and lecture hours I go!

Susanne - Working with SMI and SED this whole post made me smile. Schizophrenics have got to be one of my favorite populations. I’m sure my college friends could have guessed this and I’m sure nick could tell you a story or two of my crazy interest in speaking to seattle’s crazy homeless people (I swear God gives us a vocation and starts training us before we even think we know what we want to do as grown ups!!)

I beleive and make a lot of effort to teach anger as a secondary emotion. Anger is the “easy” emotion that is almost always used to hide fear or hurt. When you can really see (non-psychotic) anger as hurt or fear, you can help de-escalate almost any situation.

It’s the bi-polar mamas that you want to keep a close eye on in you world.

Anyway, glad to hear you made it through! Those listening skills will make all the difference in every facet of you life!! ❤️❤️

Chasm Lake Hiking Trail Review

Chasm Lake is a Rocky Mountain National Park destination that gets lots of acclaim, but at 8.4 miles, it is deservedly called a difficult hike.


I was hesitant to attempt it in its entirety with the kids, so we planned a backpacking trip with a two night stay at Goblins Forest which knocked 2.4 miles and 750ft off the trip total.  It was still a tough one that had me wiped out, but what surprised me was how well the kids handled it.  Ellie can be a bit of a whiner sometimes on hikes, but faced with this challenge she just buckled down and got to it!  (Nic also did a fair amount of assisting in lifting her up this trail–with many of the steps well above her knees he supported a lot of her weight by holding her hand as they climbed.)


While the trail is long with a lot of elevation gain and a good rock scramble at the end, what really got me was the exposed traverse section.  If you happened to be hiking to Chasm Lake on July 16th and saw a family have an absolute meltdown on the trail, that was me.  You’re welcome.  I am not a fan of heights.  I do a lot with heights, but I still don’t like them, and I like my children being around steep drop-offs even less.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, I’d done research and several resources called a particular stretch of the trail “dangerous,” especially when it was snow covered.  From instagram pictures I couldn’t tell if it that section was still snowy or not, but when we got to the trailhead the night before, a sign announced that it was snow-free all the way to the lake.   Great.  As we approached that section, I started asking hikers coming down how it was, because we could see snow.  The first group of three told me there wasn’t snow, but that if you’re afraid of heights, it is not pleasant.  Well, crap.

I told Nic that I was starting to feel nervous about it, and he said that it was fine, and to look at allllll of the people coming back from the lake (there was a steady stream of people–it is a very popular hike and the sheer number of people on the trail surprised me).  That made me feel a little better.  An older couple was walking toward us, the man holding a TOTE BAG over his shoulder, and Nic asked them how the trail was (clearly wanting them to make his point that it was totally doable).  The man said something not at all reassuring in his Texan drawl about how the scramble was really hard and maybe not doable.  Double crap.

I gave Nic the “see?  we should just turn around here” eyebrows and he said “They’re TEXANS.  And he was carrying a SHOPPING BAG.”


So on we went.  The foliage thinned out and the traverse became exposed and my anxiety went sky high.  This was worsened when Nic (with Ellie) went to the exposed edge of the trail to allow returning hikers to pass through every time we crossed a group (which was often [there is no photographic evidence of this because at that point of time I was LOSING MY MIND with dread]).  I finally couldn’t take it anymore and asked him to STOP GETTING SO CLOSE TO THE EDGE WITH MY BABY and burst into tears and said that we needed to turn around.  We then proceeded to entertain the mountainside with a family drama meltdown in which we got our karmic due from all the times we have smugly watched Fighting Disney Families (one of our favorite Disneyland activities).  I would like to state as a little tip that if one of the members of your hiking party starts to freak out that her babies are going to fall to their deaths, yelling at her that she needs to “admit that her fear is irrational” when numerous trail guides call that section dangerous and she recently discovered how very terrifying it is to be in the wilderness when there is a crisis such as discovering you unconscious with what is perhaps a bear standing a few feet away IS NOT THE BEST WAY TO DEESCALATE THE SITUATION.

Snuffling and now furious, I turned back.  Will walked with me and was being a Therapeutic Communication prodigy.   I felt badly because I did really want to see this stupid lake, so we came up with a new plan.  Will and I would hike in front, and Will would be slow and careful and speak to me like the little Mommy Whisperer he is, and Ellie and Nic would follow behind and do whatever reckless crap they wanted to do and I wouldn’t have to see or think about it.  So we did that all the way to the end of the Terrifying Section.


We got through the exposed section, and Nic and Will praised my bravery.  Ellie said she didn’t get what the big deal was, that it was fine, that she was fine with that section.  (Ellie should probably never go into nursing.)  The little alpine meadow at the end of the traverse was a nice reward for facing my fear, but I had a whopping headache from crying and was too emotionally exhausted to enjoy it much.  (Isn’t getting out into the wilderness with your family so fun and wholesome?)


After the pretty little meadow, you turn toward a wall of rocks to pick your way up and over.  In reading about the hike, I had not been quite sure what to make of this “rock scramble.”  The kids had a blast with it, and because it’s not so exposed it wasn’t nearly as scary as the traverse.  It is hard work, though–you’ll be breathing hard!  It’s also hard to follow a particular route.  We ended up going down a different way than we came up (not intentionally), but it all works out no matter which way you come in.

rock scramble chasm lake hike

There’s a little bit of a false summit involved in the climb, but eventually we dropped down into the basin of Chasm lake.  The crowds had all turned back when we got there, so it was just us, a couple from Virginia (that come to think of it never did send me the pic they took of us with their wide angle camera) and the BALLSIEST MARMOTS THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN.


I had read about the marmots, but reading about marmots stealing stuff, and actually seeing a fat marmot steal a banana from someone’s hand are two very different things.  The marmots up there are insane.  And really entertaining for the kids.  But guard your snacks.  I don’t mean hold them in your hands–I mean, GUARD YOUR SNACKS.

I only had my 50mm lens with me, which is the wrong lens for this destination, but even with the right lens I wasn’t sure that the lake itself is all that amazing.  I think the Rocky Mountain National Park lakes we visited last year, Emerald, Jewel, and Mills for example, were much more beautiful (if you’re looking around for my blog posts on those, I still haven’t gotten around to it yet, but they’re coming).  I think Chasm Lake is popular because it is so hard to get to and because the hike itself is beautiful and takes you through so many different settings, but not because of the lake.  (Nic thinks the cliff of Longs Peak rising so steeply above it makes it impressive and worth the hype, so I guess you’ll just have to hike it yourself to decide how you feel about that one.)


Pros:  It’s long and hard and you’ll feel accomplished at the end of it!  The boulder scramble was our first, and a good introduction to this element of hiking. The hike was beautiful and exposes you to a lot of different views.  Peacock Pool and Columbine Falls, visible from before the traverse across Mt Lady Washington, are beautiful and would be a nice destination in their own right.  The marmots at the top were fun for the kids.

Cons: Mid-July was the first week this summer where the trail was snow-free.  The exposed section has a spot that holds onto snow/ice that I wouldn’t attempt with kids until the trail is melted out.  The exposed section will be a challenge for anyone who struggles with heights.  It is a popular trail, so there are a lot of people on it.  We got a late start and so weren’t hiking with the bulk of the crowd, but that has its own downside–with the late start we were constantly concerned about getting caught in a storm, and since you are hiking on the eastern side of the mountain you aren’t able to see weather rolling in until it is on top of you.  I would be very concerned about being up there during lightning.

Distance/Difficulty:  8.4 miles, 2380 ft elevation gain.  Our kids were the only children we saw on the trail once it split off to head to Chasm Lake, but it was very doable for them starting and finishing at Goblins Forest.  I think they could have handled it as a day trip, but it would have been more of a challenge.

Trail Teaching:

  • The ranger station at the trailhead offers information about John Wesley Powell, who first climbed Longs Peak, as well as a model of the area and other interesting tidbits.
  • If someone in your party is starting to have some anxiety about the whole business, distract them with helpful facts like how 60 people have died on Longs Peak including 8 from heart attacks and 6 from lightning.
  • If that doesn’t help, you could try talking about marmots I guess.  They are actually large squirrels (what?!  way to ruin the allure of marmots, Google!) who live in burrows and hibernate for most of the winter.  They communicate by loud whistles, and when not stealing hikers’ snacks, they live on whatever grass, lichen, moss, flowers, roots, and berries they can find.

Photos:  (Some of these are cell phone photos since I didn’t have a wide angle lens with me. Take a wide angle lens on this hike–it would be worth the extra weight!)

chasm lake rmnp


chasm lake trail longs peak

chasm lake hike

Further reading: 

Denny Creek Waterslides | Snoqualmie, WA

When I read about the Denny Creek waterslides I was all “How did my mother not take me to this?!”  A natural waterpark an hour away from our house?  How had I never tried this?  When I got there I realized that oh, a bunch of slippery granite and unpredictable you-can-drown-in-it water?  THAT is how my mother never took me to that!  😀


It was the first week of July, and the flow was also too low for the ‘slides’ to have any real power.  When the flow is high enough for the slides to be truly like waterslides, it’s probably too cold for it to be enjoyable.  So.  If you are a worrywart or expect a real waterslidey adventure, this one is not for you.  That said, this was really fun (especially for the babies in our group), the scenery is beautiful and if the cons aren’t dealbreakers for you, it is well worth checking it out.

Denny Creek Campground near the trailhead looks like a great spot for camping!

Pros: Beautiful scenery!  In early July this year there were plenty of shallow relatively flat places for very young toddlers to play.  Walking up the creek reveals two beautiful waterfalls.  We even got to see baby birds that were living in the rock behind the waterfall.  Will lost his mind over seeing them–it was really special.  The walk up the creek is slippery and a little tricky and would be tough with babes-in-arms, but picking our way up to the waterfall was a fun adventure with our elementary school aged kids.
Cons:  Very crowded (think waterpark crowded)–in many places the hike wasn’t so much a hike as it was just following a line of people.   We had a hard time finding a parking spot–the cars had spilled well out of the parking lot and significantly down the road.  The flow wasn’t heavy enough for the ‘waterslide’ effect the big kids were expecting, and the water is very cold.
Distance/difficulty:  2 miles (plus the million miles from where you had to park your car), 400 ft elevation gain – an easy family hike with a well marked, well traveled trail.  If you continue to Snoeshoe Falls this could be a 6 mile hike.
Directions:  From I-90 take Exit 47 for Denny Creek/Tinkham Road and turn left.  After 0.2 miles at the T intersection, turn right.  After 0.2 miles turn left onto Denny Creek Rd.  Follow this as far as you can get to the Denny Creek Trailhead.

Tips:  We brought sandals for playing in the creek and socks/hiking boots for the walk in and out.  The walk out is long enough that it would be miserable/blister-inducing in wet sandals.

Trail teaching:

  • The water has smoothed and scooped out the granite in incredible ways along Denny Creek.
  • Near the parking lot is a section of the original Snoqualmie Pass wagon road.  It’s nothing much, just a short section through the woods between one stretch of the parking lot and another, but it’s fun to imagine a time before I-90!





Further reading: This protrails review has great info.