Category Archives: Family Life

Putting the “FUN” back into dysFUNctional

Family Does Not Mean Common DNA

We talk to each other on the phone
Nothing much of nothing

So many topics not to be discussed

Stepping around the land mines of opposing views

The things we say don’t matter, have no connection

The only thing we have in common is the past

Mother, father and child

Years later and light-years apart

Idle chit chat of dinners out and what the lawn man said about the hedges

Have you heard from your children

And I pass along the news of the next generations

As we talk, I find myself wondering

Why do I even bother to talk to them

I owe them nothing, I have no debt to the past

I have fulfilled my childhood obligations

An obedient child, bowing to their authority

Learning how to lie and be sneaky to get past

The eyes of parents who don’t like small children

We have less to say to each other than

The conversations we have with strangers

I am not that child; I have changed more than they can imagine

They have changed into sad people, waiting to die

I feel sorry for them

Mother is a complainer, nothing makes her happier than to

Grouse and mutter about her health, the clerk who was rude

My father’s staying up all night on the computer

My father is trapped in the house with her and

He hates confrontations so he hides in the Internet

He’s not as vocal about her shortcomings to me

As she is when she speaks about his; even as she laughs

You can tell it makes her angry

Two strangers living in the same house

Even after more than 50 years of marriage

To be honest, I don’t really know these two people

That I call my parents

Our lives diverged when I left home at 18

Thirty-six years later and we’re all of us new people

I have come to a deeper understanding of myself

And I know that the “me of me” is not someone they’d want to know

I think maybe they suspect that as well

So we maintain the façade of familial ties and emotional connections

Where there is none, not any more

And we talk on the phone, speaking nothing much about nothing

Our only link is the past; and our relationship has no future

~~KGChmielewski 2016


Family: fam-i-ly; fam-uh-lee, noun

~~a group consisting of parents and children living in a household.

~~all the descendants of a common ancestor

“We are family”; family honor; family dinner; holidays with the family; family time; family rules; family movies.

We have a fairly common idea of what a family is–you know, Mom and Dad, the 2.48 children, house. white picket fence and a cute dog or cat. We buy into this concept of family as the only form that “family” can take. We recognize all the labels of family: mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew, grand(label) and if you live long enough, “great-grand”(label). We compare strong relationships to those not related to us with some version of those labels–my “brother from another mother”, “the daughter I never had”, “like a grandmother to me” and so on.

I think that’s backwards. Based on my own (dysfunctional) family, I strongly believe that “family” is NOT “all the descendants of a common ancestor”–or a commonality of genetic information. Just because we share the same genes does not mean I HAVE to love you–or even like you, and they are different things. In theory, families are the ones to whom you can turn to, no matter what, and they will respond in love. In reality, we all know that it doesn’t always turn out that way. And just because we have common DNA doesn’t mean that I have to stop my life to get you out of some mess or lend you money without expecting it to be repaid. You can swap the personal nouns in that one and it would still be true: you don’t have to stop your life and etc.

The concept of family, especially the Norman Rockwell version of American Family, is such an ingrained part of our society’s structure, that we don’t even question it. Most of the time. I have had to question it for several different reasons. Let’s do this chronologically: my parents do not actually like children and probably shouldn’t have reproduced. But that was a part of their generational expectations (marry, have kids, in that order) so it never occurred to them to not have children. And I am grateful to be here (as is my brother, I assume). So I was brought up by an overwhelmingly authoritarian mother. Example: when I was still a baby, when we went to someone else’s house, my mother would spread a small blanket (say, 2 feet square) and place me and my toys on it. I was not allowed to go off of that blanket. People were impressed by my ability to not get under their feet or demand things from Mother, just sit there and play quietly. (The thought of doing this to my children still gives me the willies.)

As I grew older, there was still the hard-line rules and the unspoken but definitely understood requirement of complete and immediate obedience. I got spanked if I didn’t do what I was supposed to–or if I did something that I wasn’t supposed to. My mother usually punished me–she used a wooden spoon as her method for spanking. One time though, I did something real bad (and in hindsight, it was something very foolish–but childish) and my father spanked me. With a leather belt. I was 7 or 8 years old at the time.

We lived overseas for several years and at one point, there was no English-speaking school. So my mother home schooled me. Three or four hours in the morning, then we’d have lunch, then she let me go outside. I wandered all over the local area, for hours at a time. I was allowed to go to the beach by myself but with very strict instructions of NEVER entering the water. I was smart enough then to know that if I did go in, I’d have to dry off before going home. (The only time I ever broke that rule wasn’t even for swimming–I was offered a chance to water ski. Complete strangers (but a woman, if that makes a difference) and she asked if I’d like to try–they were using a sort of beginner’s skis–one wide ski with two foot holders. I got on in the surf, rode out and around and landed back up on the beach. Not a single drop of water on me!)

Let me reiterate that for you: I was out of the house, beyond my mother’s vocal range, doing whatever with no supervision. I went to the beach and built sand castles; I played in a little group of evergreens that made “rooms” between their trunks. I walked around the other houses and made friends with an old lady who spoke no English and I spoke very little Thai…but I’d go inside her house, she’d give me cookies and a drink and we’d watch some Thai kick-boxing together. Then I’d go home. I don’t know if I ever told my parents about her. I learned from a very early age to be sneaky (and to lie).

Fast forward 20 years and I have my own children. The thought of them being somewhere that I didn’t know where they were, and doing the same sort of things that I did at there age…made me have nightmares, so to speak.

So under my parents’ regime, I was outwardly obedient and inwardly rebellious. I came home drunk once–a cast party for the spring musical, I tried every single drink that came around and my friends had to carry me into the house. I was grounded for 6 weeks and missed the Junior-Senior Prom because it was during that time. A little bit after my sentence was over, I mentioned not being able to go and my mother looked all shocked and told me that I could have gone to that! No, I couldn’t because you didn’t tell me that PRIOR to the dance.

I think you get the idea. I usually sum it up as “I never had a childhood”. I lied to do the things I wanted to, especially during those rebellious teen years. I freaked out other adults when at the ages of 7 or 8, I would sit in the room with the adults and occasionally added something to the conversation–pertinent and not the sort of thing you’d expect from a child. Things didn’t improve when my brother was born–7.5 years between us and I became his 3rd parent. Poor guy.

At 18, I joined the Air Force and left home. The first 6 months of freedom were spent on the stupidity that comes with freedom from the jailers. I drank, I had sex, I got pregnant. That “sobered” me up pretty fast. (Side note: I told my parents about being pregnant; I’m pretty sure they think that I lost my virginity to my child’s father. Sorry, folks. Did that 2 years prior with my boyfriend.)

I gave my child up for adoption and went on with my AF work. I married a co-worker and when my term of enlistment was up, got out of the AF so that we could start our family. My son was born in ’86, my daughter in ’88. We moved as the AF sent him and then at 11 years’ of service, he chose to get out of the military and return to civilian life. We ended up living in the same city as the rest of his family…but our marriage is best left for another time. Let’s just say it ended long before I gave up and divorced him.

My mother had the unmitigated gall to tell me that perhaps (he) would accept God’s love into his heart and “take me back”. I told her in no uncertain terms that I was never going back, that he hadn’t pushed me out, I had left him. (And when I did leave, I lost the family (of in-laws) that I had belonged to for almost 18 years.)

Leaving home and having my own life did not stop my mother from trying to tell me what to do. It took her about 25 years before she realized that my brother and I would listen to her telling us what we needed to do and we’d just go “uh huh” and then do what we wanted. She was not happy about that. And the biggest reason for that unhappiness is that, as I have come to realize, she is a narcissist. One of the main characteristics is strongly identifying (yourself) by the job or title you hold. In other words, you are your job. My mother wants to be a mother, NEEDS to be a mother, in order to have any sense of identity.

I haven’t spoken to my brother in almost 6 years–not because we are fighting, but because our lives are so different, there is no common meeting ground. All of my grandparents are dead, my favorite uncle, too. The only living relatives (all cousins) I have beyond immediate family are completely unknown to me, scattered who knows where–and there’s very few of them. I am, in a very real sense, an orphan.

However. For a long time, I had a group of friends that were closer to me than my own DNA-related family. Then circumstances changed and we all moved on. I met and married my Beloved, and have become part of his family. In fact, my mother-in-love told me that she did not think of me as a “daughter-in-law”, but as a DAUGHTER. His parents have been more involved in our lives than mine ever were. And I don’t mean the bad kind of involvement–I mean emotionally AND financially supportive. For various reasons, he and I chose to move across the country from them–and while they miss us, they absolutely agree that we had to do it. We talk to them almost every day. I talk to my parents maybe once a month.

They say that “home is where, if you go there, they (family) *have* to take you in”. WTF is that? A mandatory obligation to take in someone just because they happen to share DNA? Let’s put this in really simple terms: you do not have to accept anyone or anyone’s behavior “just because” you are related. If your DNA family treats you in a way that you would not tolerate from a stranger, you do not have to tolerate it from them–even if it means cutting of contact with these (poisonous, negative, judgmental) relatives.

If your DNA family is not supportive of you and your goals; if they do not give you respect; if they denigrate you or in any way make you feel bad about yourself; if they treat you as a child even after childhood; if they don’t like your chosen friends or mates and say so to you; if they don’t accept your choices; why on the gods’ green Earth would you bother to spend time or the effort of any contact with them?

Those who you spend the most time with–happy or sad time? THAT IS your family, regardless of genetic codes. The people you rely on, the ones you can trust, those who support you being you…are family. And the best part about a chosen family, instead of an accidental one is that you can have endless amounts of “relatives”–no limitations on how big (or how small) this healthier family is!

Once a Mother, Always a Mother

I miss my children. It’s not the miles (we live across the country from each other), but it’s the passage of years. I am proud of them both. They’ve made good lives for themselves, with jobs and partners and children of their own. They have grown up to be what I had wished for them: responsible, independent, compassionate people.

But lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about those years when they were young. (And I was younger, but that’s not the point.) Looking back over all those years, it’s like a slideshow in my mind. Flickering images, passing in succession, of babies and toddlers and tweens and teens. I have come to realize that I loved every moment with them. I’d like to be able to relive some of that, to have a second chance to enjoy all those “firsts” for those new beings.

I had only the first 3 days of my eldest child’s life as I gave her up for adoption. While that was a hard decision, I have never doubted it, have always known that it was the best thing for her–even if it wasn’t what I would have wanted for me. But my circumstances were such that I was not able to have a child in my life at that time. I am still in contact and I am happy to report that her mother did a great job–I’m also very proud of her and her accomplishments.

W, my son, was born in the year of the Texas sesquicentennial (150 years) of statehood and the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. I was 8 months pregnant with him when I watched Challenger blow up. Ronald Reagan was in the White House. We were listening to “That’s What Friends Are For”, “Addicted to Love”, “Rock Me Amadeus” and Prince was giving us a “Kiss”.

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos had fled the Philippines, leaving her thousands of shoes behind. 1986 was the year of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Chicago won the Superbowl and the Mets were the World Champions. Science was giving us the first Hep B vaccine and superconductivity; Voyager passed Jupiter and sent back photos that answered some of our questions about it. Fox channel was born on our TV and Oprah had her show.

I was busy with more important things. W was born at the end of March. I watched him lift his head and turn it over while in his layette at the hospital. His father and I took him home and began our life as a family (not just a couple). Because I breastfed him, we had a lot of “face” time. I talked to him and sang to him–not unlike the mariachi bands that wander through the Mexican restaurants while you’re trying to eat. There were so many firsts, those remarkable moments of new actions, new abilities. His first smile was wonderful, all gums and happiness.

Now, looking back, it seems like the time went by like lightning…a flickering moment and then on to something else that was new. He learned to drink from a straw. He tasted strawberry jam for the first time. He laughed, that deep and wonderful belly laugh that only babies have. He went to Mother’s Day out, leaving the house as it had always been and then coming home to an empty house; then he crawled all over, looking for our things. He (and I) lived with his great-grandparents for several months until we left for Germany. His first Christmas filled the floor with presents from the grandparents / great-grandparents. He preferred his father’s optic orange golf ball.

He got a stuffed animal for his 2nd birthday, a duck we named George. W still has George and he still sleeps on W’s bed. Apparently his wife cuddled with George when he was on sea duty. He would take all of the toys out of the footlocker (toy box) and then climb in his…boat? Spaceship? Maybe it was his car… He had a toy phone and he would hold it up to his ear and hold a conversation–complete with pauses while the “other person” was speaking. He was a loving baby, happy to get hugs and kisses, which he learned to return with great enthusiasm. There was a certain feeling of awe to realize that I was the center of his Universe–at least for the first couple of years.

His sister (L) was born in 1988, when W was 2.5 years old. That was the year George Michael sang about his “Faith” and it was the first time we were Rick Rolled. (We didn’t even know that was what happened, those first few times of hearing Rick Astley singing.) And we all knew the words to Bobby McFerrin’s song…”Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Reagan was still President. Pan-Am flight 103 exploded from a bomb, to crash in Lockerbie, Scotland. Benazir Bhutto was elected as the first Islamic woman to be Prime Minister in Pakistan; she said of her two terms in that position: “The government I led gave ordinary people peace, security, dignity, and opportunity to progress.”

Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen were the candidates for the Democrats; George Bush and Daniel Quayle were the GOP’s choice. Washington won the Superbowl; LA Dodgers were the World Series winners. CDs were outselling vinyl and Ted Turner created his own TV station. “The Last Emperor” won the Oscar for Best Picture. Oh, and the US Navy shot down an Iranian airliner after mistaking it for a jet fighter.

L was born in the middle of November, just in time to get Christmas presents that year. She was also born in Augsburg, Germany. The first stuffed animal she was given was from her father and brother–a little orange tabby kitten. Last I heard, L still has it.

Each of my pregnancies were different except for the morning sickness that lasted all day. This time, with L, I had a toddler to chase after and couldn’t just sit quietly, hoping for the queasiness to pass. By the time I was about 6 months along, poor little guy had to climb the four floors up to our apartment by himself. I wasn’t able to balance him and my tummy without feeling like we’d all go rolling down. The only question he asked me about the sibling that was coming along was “how does the baby get out?”. Whew. Missed the big one, “how did the baby GET IN?”

I announced this pregnancy to my grandparents (the “greats” for my kids) when I told my grandmother that I could not come to the US for their 50th wedding anniversary because the airline wouldn’t let me fly with a newborn. Instead, they came to Germany for Christmas and New Year’s. It was the first time they had ever been out of the US.

I got to see my children interact with my grandparents–the youngest and the oldest of the family. My grandfather took out his dentures to show W–who promptly ran to me and held on. I guess he thought he’d get bitten. For various reasons, I was bottle-feeding L and it has been a cherished memory, the sight of Grandmom, holding her and feeding her.

W took his position as the older brother seriously and was always helpful–bringing me diapers or a burp rag. He was always gentle with her and I enjoyed watching the two of them, learning about each other. BUT! L’s personality was already manifesting itself: she could be extremely vocal about the things she wanted (even if it only was in baby-babble) and I told her father that one day, our child would come running into the room, crying and saying, “SHE hit me!”. (I was not wrong.)

As a stay-at-home Mom (SAHM, so I’ve heard is the acronym), my world revolved around my children. Taking care of them (and their environment) was a major priority. I wasn’t chained to them, there were no bad feelings about being at home. As a matter of fact, I thoroughly took pleasure and joy in being with them, in the daily routine. And a daily routine with a baby and a toddler is a study in changes and discovery. (I don’t mean diaper changes, although we had those, too.)

I tried to mark in my own mind each of the many milestones, for both of them. The first food, the first drinking from a cup, the first step…so many “firsts” it could be overwhelming. I’d be marveling at one and then BOOM! We’d have another. Even the “firsts” I had had with W were different than those same things with L. And I loved every minute of it.

The whole world takes on a new, lustrous and exciting feel when you are seeing it through the eyes of a child. Even explaining and talking about the mundane things they were doing, I knew that “mundane” was my word and “wowee” was theirs. I took the time to explore their world as they explored this big world they were living in. The trees are a little taller, the grass a little greener, the dog or cat a little fluffier and softer.

As time passed (as it is wont to do), the “first” events slowed down a bit. I had a chance to really savor it and even catch my breath before the next one came along. L was my dramatic child. Supporting evidence: she was in the high chair, W and his friend were seated on the bench and W says to me, “Mommy, (L)’s face is blue.” Mommy went into freak out mode because when I looked at her, by the gods, she was blue. A blue that no human face should ever be. I pulled her out of the high chair and that action knocked the food loose so that by the time she was in my arms, she was breathing again.

She wasn’t done with us and high excitement. Not too long after the high chair episode, she was coughing and hacking around the house. Friday afternoon, of course. Did I mention we were living in Germany and had military healthcare? No appointments over the weekend. So her father and I both agreed we would be taking her first thing Monday morning. That apparently did not meet with her agenda… I was downstairs at the neighbor’s house when the husband knocked on the door, holding L. “You need to go back upstairs to be with W. I’m taking her to the ER. I was changing her diaper and she stopped breathing. I had to resuscitate her.”

These are not words you ever want to hear. The wait was horrendous. Husband came home, without L, about 10 pm. The hospital had done an xray of her esophagus. If this (      ) is the normal esophagus, hers was like this (XX|XX) where the “|” is the actual opening for air. No wonder she was not breathing well. Turned out, she had the croup. Poor baby got shots in her thighs every 6 or 8 hours…and the medical team had asked her father to help hold her down for the first couple. When I went to see her, she very pointedly refused to look at her father. I think I lost some popularity when I didn’t grab her up and take her home. Scary, scary times for a mom (and a dad).

It’s not like W didn’t have excitement. No, his was of a different style. When they were tweens, we accompanied their father to an office party at the boss’ house. There was an above ground pool. It is pertinent to the story to understand that in this circular pool, in the center, there was a slight dip so that all the dirt would collect in that one place. My son dove in and found himself standing within that dip. It made the water just *that* much too deep for him. I saw him, thought he was play-bobbing up and down and then I realized that he was in danger. It’s true: people who are drowning are NOT yelling for help. Their arms go out, up to shoulder height and they spend all their energy trying to catch a breath. I had a glass glass in my hand and didn’t want to drop it (making another hazard) and by the time I found a place to set it down, I heard a splash. Husband had gone into the pool (clothes, watch, wallet and all) and got W out of the water. Let’s just say that W didn’t dive in again and it took a while before he got back into the water.

I know it sounds melodramatic, but…except for the quick response of their father, there would be a very good chance that both of my children would be dead. And that thought still makes me shudder. I don’t want those scary times. But you don’t always get what you want…

At 14, L broke her arm, rollerblading. When he was about 3, W fell and cut the skin on his forehead/hairline. Head wounds bleed a lot, but a simple butterfly bandage fixed him up, no problem. I don’t remember any other medical emergencies, so I guess we were blessed with reasonably good health and a bare minimum of dramatic sickness or injury.

W went to Kindergarten and I had two school years of having just one child at home all day.  Then it was her turn and L went off to get some edumacation, too. For the first time in 7 years, I had days of being “single” again. Odd feeling and I got a lot of reading done. And handicrafts. And I could grocery shop without threatening my offspring for getting away from me. Or having to explain 469,756 times why I was not buying (X). I missed them.

Christmas time was always fun. I decorated our house and as the lights went up on the other houses, we’d ride around at night time and “ohh” and “ahh” over them. When they were little, we had some serious discussions about what they would like Santa to bring. The ToyRUs catalog would arrive and they both did the “I want this…and this…and this…and this”–you get the idea. So I would ask them the Big Question: “If Santa could only bring you ONE present, what would you really, really want to have?” They generally got whatever that one thing was–and Santa did bring some other things, too. But Christmas morning, Santa’s presents were always wrapped in Santa paper. The other gifts were from Mom and Dad. (And then we’d go over to the husband’s parents house for Christmas with the whole family. And when I say whole, I mean siblings and their spouses and children as they came along…and considering the number of siblings was 7…lots of family!)

We’d let them stay up long enough to see the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. There were a number of years where they didn’t manage it and had to be carried to bed. The Easter Rabbit hid eggs and treats all over the house. (I didn’t want to encourage animals coming along and eating them.) One year, he left plastic eggs with hints left in them–and when they got to the end of the treasure hunt, there was one special gift for each of them. (Actually two hunts, if I’m remembering right–one for L and one for W.) Halloween was also celebrated and one year I made their costumes–Robin Hood for W and Maid Marian for L. They were adorable. But the amount of work was too much to try and repeat it–and they were happy with the Power Rangers costumes from the Halloween section of Party City.

We had one Halloween tradition that saved them from sugar comas. Keep in mind that we lived on a street that had other children, and they were allowed to go around the block and across the streeet, around the block. So that’s about 40-ish houses. Once they had gotten their loot, they brought it home and we dumped it out to make sure there were no razor blades. Then I would have them pick out the ones that they only had singletons of, as well as the candies that were their particular favorites. These candies (probably 25% of their take) went back into their bags and no one else ate them. The remaining pounds of candy (not kidding!) would go into my 26 cup Tupperware bowl…and fill it to brimming. Anyone could eat out of that. While their bag had candies, our tradition was that they could eat all the candy they wanted for 20 minutes. Then they had to go brush their teeth…not quite 20 minutes, but certainly enough to get the sugar coating off! Sometimes that might mean just 1 candy–something larger, or a lollipop that was to be sucked on.

And I had candies to nibble on for the next month. (They nibbled, too…but you know what I mean!)

They played tee ball; W went on to play on a team but L decided that baseball was not her thing. They learned to ride bikes, rollerblade, swim (not just walk into the water and get wet–or dive in). They went fishing at the family cottage near Dundee in the Finger Lakes. When we visited my family in Baltimore, they went to the National Aquarium and the Science Center in the Inner Harbor. (L tried to jump into the beluga whale tank. She is and was always a Water Baby, like her mother and her great-grandmother.)
(Ed. note: Here is the story, “Water Baby” , which is where I got that term)

We only had one computer, back in the “old days”. Which saved me from having to buy TWO computers and never seeing the kids because they’d be up in their rooms, surfing the Net. Nope, we had one, and it sat in the corner of the kitchen. I could keep an eye on them and they could go pretty much wherever they wanted–and there were sites that wanted a parent’s “signature” to ensure that the child was allowed there. The three of us learned about Internet research–and Google, when it came along. I answered all of their questions, but when I didn’t know the answer, the 3 of us would go on the computer and find it. They weren’t the only one who was learning new things!

We started getting the Nintendo gaming consoles, starting with the SuperNES and Mario. All 3 of us played–my time was mostly at night, once the kids were in bed. And if it was a rainy day, I’d let them play most of the day…but on nice (not raining, maybe even some sunshine) days, I’d let them play for a couple of hours. Then I’d say, “It’s time to quit and save!” — and I always got the cry of “Mooooom, it’s SAVE and quit!!” And back in those days, I could rent the games for a week–and sometimes, if the game was involved enough…I’d spend most of my free time playing.

When they were tweens, their father and I split up. (It took 3 YEARS to get the final decree, but that’s another story.) I moved out and took them with me, getting an apartment about 20 miles away from our old home. I was working nights, so I’d get home after they had left for school. I’d sleep until they came home. Then we’d spend a couple of hours together, have dinner–and I’d go back to bed for a 2 hour nap. I discovered that I couldn’t sleep for 8 hours, be up with them and then try to work an 8 hour shift. I needed the psychological effect of getting up and going to work. (Even if it was just a nap.)

They were good kids, taking care of each other and not having *too* many fights. Then I was invited to share my friend’s house and get a (better) job in VA. That was well out of the range that I could take the kids. It was a tough, tough, tough decision. But I finally figured that if I could get myself in a better place, I would be a better mom for them. So I left them, living back in the house with their father. It was only 8 months before he allowed them to move back with me. Rather, I should say, that he asked the children if they’d like to live with me and he barely got the question out of his mouth before they were both saying “YES!”.

So South they came. We lived with my friend, her 2 kids, her boyfriend and his 2 kids and then me and my 2 kids. We counted 11 people for Christmas (boyfriend’s ex-wife and mother of his kids and a friend from work with no family in the area). We couldn’t afford to buy presents for everyone…or so we thought. My friend came up with a brilliant idea and I pass it on to those of you who find it helpful. We loaded up everyone and went to the local Dollar Store. We bought 11 big gift bags and everyone split up to go into different aisles. The idea was that each person would buy one thing for each of the others–and so in the end, we each had 11 presents to open.

Eventually the three of us moved out of the commune (haha) and got our own apartment. I got a new job (I had been working at a place called Dominion, making flash memory) at the local assisted living center. I started courses on Network Security and Administration. One of my fellow students suggested trying for a job at the place he was working. I did, and thus began my tenure as a Customer Service Rep, making reservations for teleconferences. I left for about 18 months to work at the help desk of a company that was contracted to provide computer support for Congress. There was no place to move up, and so I returned to being a CSR at the same company. I had not burned any bridges when I left.

The kids continued growing up and it seemed like it had only been a few days before that they were being born and being toddlers… They both participated in the Junior ROTC program at school; they were both actors in several of the school’s plays. W actually got the high school version of an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Modred, King Arthur’s nephew (and son) in the musical, “Camelot”. L got her starring chance in her senior year with “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

In the twinkling of the eye, in the space of time for one breath…they went from helpless, wide-eyed newborns to being teenagers and on the verge of going out into the big wide world on their own. I loved every stage. I was and still am grateful for the discoveries we made together. I was the best Mom I knew how to be and I must have succeeded because my two wee ones are all grown up now, with wee ones of their own. And I look into the face of my daughter’s older daughter … and see my daughter there. I can do the same with my son’s son. Both of those grandchildren have a younger sister. I am blessed with a foursome of proof that I did a good enough job that my kids were willing to try that role for themselves.

And yet I still miss my own little ones. Even the throw-up and backtalk and bickering between them. I’d like to go back in time and visit them again–and I’ve found a way to do that. I simply close my eyes and let the images scroll through my mind. My son. My daughter. And the 20 years that flew past like an express train. They were both very good children. They are both very good parents. I can only wish them the same joy with their children as I had with them.

A Family Vacation, Complete With Mooses and Other Excitements

Starting before the vacation: I took Beloved to the hospital on Friday, Feb 28 with a fever of 103 degrees, chills, vomiting and pain. Before he was done, he had been given about 14 litres of fluids (IV), pain meds (IV) and super antibiotics (IV). He figures he got stabbed with needles about 40 times in the 5 1/2 days he was there. If he wasn’t needle-phobic before (and he was), he is absolutely needle-phobic now. Doctor’s diagnoses: strep throat and cellulitis. (Medical note: cellulitis is an infection (“-itis”) in the cellulite layer of the skin. It has nothing to do with weight as both fat and skinny people can get it. It hurts like hell.)

We were concerned that he would not be out of the hospital before Thursday, Mar 5, but he managed to come home on Wednesday. So he got a better night’s sleep in his own bed before we began the Grand Tour of Local Restaurants.

Because of our disabilities, and especially with him just out of the hospital, we can’t really “do” all the tourist-y things when people come to visit. We can’t walk up the Avenue of the Redwoods, go into most of the shops in Old Town Eureka, or any other activity that requires standing/walking for extended periods of time. (And for us, extended is pretty much anything over about 15 minutes. Sigh.) But we bygods make sure that our visitors are well fed, and in a wide variety of cuisines.

So Beloved’s parents (hereafter referred to as “MIL”, Mother-in-love, and “FIL”, Father-in-love) landed in Sacramento on Wednesday the 4th, spent the night there and then drove up to Eureka on the 5th. They got in about 5, giving us just enough time to get them settled in the hotel and then taking them out to the beach for the sunset. (A tradition for us, since the first thing we did once we got settled in the hotel upon *our* arrival was to go the beach for the sunset.) And then we took them to the same place that was our first introduction to Eureka, Annie’s Cambodian Restaurant. Amazing and good, not quite Vietnamese, not Thai, not Laotion, but a sort of blend of all three. Annie’s crab puffs are the best we’ve ever had. Of course we also established the sharing all around of every dish, something done pretty much everywhere we ate in the 9 days they were here.

Because MIL and FIL had a car, they could do some sight-seeing on their own and they did so enthusiastically. They drove north to the Avenue of the Redwoods; walked up the hill and back down again, went on the skyway tram to view the trees from above. They were going to drive on up to Oregon (a short jaunt) but the fog came rolling in so fast and so thick that the decision was made to come back to Eureka. What’s the point of going anywhere when you can’t see anything?

They did a lot of poking around in Eureka on their own. When we joined them (mostly at meal times) we rode with them, rather than taking two vehicles everywhere. So MIL, who does the driving, got a good feel for the traffic and how the streets are laid out. That’s a really good thing because they are considering moving out here, to be near to us and to get out of the hell most people refer to as “Northern Virginia”, or NoVA for short.

EurekaSailorWe got to see the old sailor sculpture in the harbor, something I had only seen pictures of before. He is much bigger than I was imagining and I had Beloved take some photos so that I can attempt to paint or draw him. I’m sure that he’s been recreated in pretty much every medium, but I haven’t done it yet so I’m not worried about other people’s paintings or sketches of him. Driving up to the sailor took us through some protected wildlife lands, actually fenced off with signs about not crossing over the fence. We saw a pair of elk, which my MIL laughingly refers to as “mooses”. So now we’ve got a new word for when we drive out looking for wildlife… we are looking for those mooses!

Like I said, we began with Cambodian food. We also fed them Chinese (two different restaurants, one which does “comfort” Chinese, the sort you’d be used to if you ate Chinese food in the 1970’s; the other is familiar but doesn’t fall under the “comfort” heading. They also do sushi, which we made his parents try…and it was not something they really wanted. That removed the two sushi restaurants off of our list.); we fed them Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, Greek, German, GREAT steaks, “American Diner”, pizza and one place for organic breakfasts and another for incredible bagels. We also showed them our donut shop which is run by Asians so you can get an order of Chinese food and then get a couple of donuts to go with it. They are, by far, the very best donuts I have had in a very long time. Dunkin’ Donuts got NOTHING on “Happy Donuts”.

We did show them some mundane things, like Costco, Walgreens, RiteAid and our Co-Op grocery store. If they move here, they’ll want to know where things of that nature are located. We also did some looking online at some rentals, to help them understand that with the enormous decrease in the cost of living (by coming to the West Coast, specifically Eureka), they can afford a 3 bedroom house for significantly less than they are paying for a 2 bedroom apartment in NoVA. And by significant, I mean anywhere between 4 and 6 hundred dollars per month less. We were not subtle in our hard sell, trying to encourage them to make the decision to move here, even though our friend had suggested subtlety. We don’t do subtle.

We were glad to see them–it had been almost a 1 1/2 years since we were last together, right before we moved. We had a really good time with them (and we ate really well!) but the physical toll was tremendous for both of us. I figure a healing and restoration time of at least 3-4 days, possibly longer. Fortunately, we have a minimum of appointments this week.

We had actually started our physical therapy (pool therapy), but with Beloved having a bazillion holes in his skin, I cancelled our sessions for last week and this week. We are scheduled to return next Monday, and we’ll see if we can make it. I need to call my psychologist and get an appointment with him, since I had to cancel the last one. Beloved sees his PCP, partly as a follow up to his last appointment with her, but also as a follow up from being in the hospital. He also has group therapy and his gaming group on Friday. So it’s going to be a very quiet week.

MIL and FIL took us shopping on Saturday at Costco and Co-Op to refill our larder and refrigerator. So we’ve got food–and we’re still working on leftovers–but how much cooking either of us is up to…is a good question and I don’t have an answer for that right now.

When they arrived, MIL handed me an Adroid tablet that FIL had gotten as a “retirement gift” and they couldn’t make it do very much. I’ve got it up and running, with various apps that I wanted and I’m pleased with it. Except for one thing: I cannot, CANNOT, make the damned thing acknowledge the 64G SD card I put in it, except as a storage unit for music and photos. And I’ve got enough apps that the internal memory is pretty much full; I’d like to move some of that over to the internal (already there, can’t be changed out) 4G SD card, but it doesn’t seem to want to let me do that. There’s got to be a way, otherwise no one would take the tablet because it wouldn’t/won’t hold all the apps wanted. Oh well, it’s an IT conundrum that I will continue to wrestle with.

I was very glad to have it because it was a calming thing for me to be able to use it, thereby tuning out all the people around me. My pain this week was high enough that even my Vicodin didn’t do much more than tone it down; with high pain comes a vague nausea, so I was eating just a little bit of this and that most of the week. I have had tremors most of the week, but especially during times of higher anxiety. When we went to get steak (at a place that is very carefully designed to look like a dive bar–but it sure isn’t because the bathroom is immaculate!), I actually had to put in my earbuds to block all of the noise. I was on the verge of tears without them. They worked so well, I have gotten a box of actual earplugs, in pink because they’re made for the ladies (we have smaller, more dainty ears!) and they came with a holder, so I can keep a pair in my purse and use them as needed.

Regarding the tremors: I talked to my dad about 2 weeks ago and we got to comparing ailments. He has tremors (bad enough that he can no longer make jewelry) and he suggested that what I have are Essential, or Familial, Tremors–something that is inherited 50% of the time if you have a parent who has them. The doctors don’t know what causes them and there’s no real treatment, although there are some medications for people whose tremors have gotten significant enough that they are embarrassed by the shaking, like when you’re out with people at a restaurant. I know that I have problems holding a fork steady without being stressed… add in the anxiety and I can barely get any food in. Takes two hands–one to hold the fork and the other to hold the food on the fork. I use my natural eating utensils whenever possible–you know, my fingers!

I will be asking about my tremors at my next PCP visit, if only to get the proper diagnosis added to my (ever-growing) list of diagnoses. And speaking of doctor’s visits, my long term disability  (LTD) insurance company (Reliance) has found a doctor who will do an independent evaluation of my condition so that the company can make an assessment about whether I am really disabled or not. And if I am really disabled, according to them (because I am, whether they want to say it or not), they will send a check with a year’s worth of backpay, and then continue with a monthly check. And if I get SSDI, the LTD will pay the difference between SSDI and the insurance benefits, which means about $400 per month more. We sure could use it.

I have two weeks to gather any paperwork (like my health records) and fill out the forms the doctor’s office sent me. I think it’s the new patient forms–and there’s all kinds of mentions of being able to go after the patient for money if the insurance company doesn’t pay for it. HAH! They can try. We already have about a quarter of a million dollars in combined *unpaid* healthcare costs. We’re going for bankruptcy… hate to do it, but we need to “wipe the slate clean” so that we can eventually qualify for a mortgage. I have a pre-approved VA loan, as long as what we want to move into meets their requirements. Needless to say, we need our home to be ADA compliant–and I might start looking around to find out what kinds of grants we can get that would help with the costs, especially since we’re talking about getting a new house. We’ll buy land and then have a manufactured home delivered there. The VA’s requirement for railings on every stairway will not matter, since we’re going for a single floor.

I’m not sure what was harder to deal with this past couple of weeks: the pain or the stabbing awareness that I can no longer do a LOT of things I took for granted as recently as 2 or 3 years ago. Watching my MIL (65 years old) and my FIL (almost 80) walking into the stores, carrying OUR stuff upstairs so that we wouldn’t have to…real slap in the face, let me tell you. Makes it very easy to slip into despair, since I’m already chronically depressed. I really appreciate my meds because without them…and I don’t mean the Vicodin. So recuperation, such as it is, consists of keeping my movements to a minimum to help control the pain as well as doing meditation and some self compassion exercises to help control the negative feelings. (Check this out, from Toni Bernhard: How to Talk to Yourself . Toni suffers from chronic illness, but also uses her Buddhist beliefs to find that Middle Road, even for us, who are having to ride an accessibility scooter on that road.

So that’s where I’m at, just trying to keep on making it through life, one day at a time.
Namaste!

 

Getting Along Like a House On Fire

To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, it has NOT been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone.

I still haven’t heard any decision about SSDI and whether I need to start looking for a job or not. I did talk to the paralegal for my attorney, who explained that the moment my case’s change in status is officially entered into the computer, they will know–which is about 7-10 days BEFORE I’d see any hard copy snail mail. And the office checks that computer every morning–and they will call me the minute (more or less) they find out. Which means I can relax (somewhat) and not keep trying to check the mail on something approaching a regular basis.

In the meantime, I try to find other things to do with which to occupy my mind and keep me from running like a hamster in the wheel of indecision and dangling answers. Beloved and I have taken sandwiches and donuts to the beach for a quasi picnic lunch a couple of times, as the weather in September, in Eureka, is amazingly wonderful. Or at least it has been for us.

My in-laws generously arranged for the bed frame to appear. What a difference 14 inches in height can make for getting out of bed! Instead of trying to rise up from a deep knee bend (thighs….of steel), now we can just sit up and put our feet on the floor. The change in sleeping level is inexplicable but definite. And the ability to get in and out of bed without a plan for escape–or what I have always referred to as the “wench winch” is priceless. It is worth the flare-up that putting it together cost me. Sigh.

Fate herself is helping out with distractions…if you want to call it that. Last Sunday, all four of us at home (me, Beloved and the roomies, G & M)…He in our bedroom, G in their room, with me and M in the kitchen–I was making late lunch/early dinner and M was doing dishes. (Better someone else than me…I HATE doing dishes.) Then G says, “There is smoke coming in the window.” Why yes, yes there was…in fact, look–it’s starting to come into the kitchen window, which is on that same wall.

G & M run downstairs to see where the smoke is coming from. Oh my! Oh dear! Conniptions and spasms! Flee! It’s OUR house that’s on fire. (It used to was a house; now it’s 5 apartments. We’re upstairs.) I turn off the GAS stove and grab my phone and iPod. (Oh the things we choose when we have to save our most precious belongings.) Beloved picks up the house phone and is dialing 911 even as he exits the building. The roomies, being young and spry, run around the house, banging on doors and making sure everyone is out of there. Beloved moves the van from in front of the house and we stand on the sidewalk across the street. Definitely smoke…and hot enough inside that the front window has already cracked. Which, for those you who are neither firemen or arsonists (or fascinated with fire), means that the heat is already reaching dangerous levels. I’m trying to think about where we could go, with our van and the clothes on our backs…and our phones…if the house goes up in flames.

A crowd gathers and we are avidly listening for the sirens. Now you must realize that the fire department here is volunteer–and up in Eureka–we live a couple miles outside–so we’re not talking a 5 minute response time. On the other hand, to get everyone to the firehouse, in their fireman’s suits and out to us only took about 10-15 minutes. Acceptable. When they get here, the guys are off the truck almost before it comes to a stop, yanking hoses off and going up to the house to see what they are facing. Within moments, they are inside and knocking the windows out. Axes, ladders and … chain saws? Oh my.

Beloved had called the landlord right after he hung up with 911. “Hi, landlord? Yes, it’s your renter…and your house is on fire.” Needless to say, the landlord arrived before the second fire truck. By the time it was all done, we had three fire trucks, including the brand new hook and ladder, at the house. People were taking pictures and video but no one had the bad manners to bring a Jiffy-Pop popcorn pan and make it…on our house.

So as we’re standing there, one of the other tenants comes up to us and asks what’s going on. We know which apartment he lives in…and have to tell him, “Dude, your stuff is on fire.” He and his son (5 years old) stood there with the same expression on their faces: big eyes and a growing realization that…their stuff is burning. The child was aghast that the firemen were breaking the windows. I told him that it was okay, they were already cracked.

I’ve been coughing since we walked out of the house–and it’s just getting worse, to the point that Beloved steers me over to the fire chief to find out if EMTs are coming to this housewarming party. And they were! They got me hooked up on oxygen and starting taking information. Then the actual ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. They suggested a ride for me, and off I went, to the ER at the local hospital–which I have now been to 3 times in the past 6 months. They’re going to think I’m a hypochondriac or something. Oh well.

A breathing treatment (albuterol inhaler on the oxygen mask) on the way to the hospital. And the paramedic inserted an IV port–while we’re speeding down the highway. (By the way, no siren for me as I was not dying.) I have to tell you, that was the best stick for medical purposes I’ve ever had. We get to the ER and were whisked straight back to my own room. Great service, let me tell you. No waiting out there with all those sick people.

Another breathing treatment and a nice shot of anti-anxiety medication since I told them that if I had been at home, I’d have been taking my own. Answered lots of questions, which is not easy to do with an oxygen mask on. Only slightly better than talking to your dentist when he’s exploring for your tonsils. Got a chest x-ray. Beloved showed up to tell me that the cause of the fire had already been determined.

Modern technology is a wonderful thing. If this fire had occurred 10-15 years ago, the firemen would not have had the thermal scanners and such that they used to deal with the fire. Not just the water and the chain saws–yes, they used them on the outside wall, to open up the room where the fire started–but thermal detection of just how far the fire had gotten and if the house was safe to go back into. The fire chief told Beloved that our quick calling to 911 had made a real difference. Three minutes more and our apartment would have gone; three minutes more after that and the house would have gone. There’s a small and often fine line between utter disaster and a great story to tell your friends and family.

So in the course of ascertaining that the fire was indeed fully out, that it had been contained within a specific area and there was no further danger, the cause of the fire was discovered…a wood burning tool, left on, under the plastic table. The son had gotten a hold of the tool and was using it–and jumped up to run out with dad and go skateboarding. They had literally only been gone about 20 minutes. Oops. I guess that tool really lived up to its name. I wonder what brand it was…

The smoke that had gotten to me was not plain old wood smoke…it was the chemicals from the plastic table, along with everything else that was burning. No wonder it irritated me and gave me bronchial spasms. Adding insult to injury for the tenant who is now homeless…all of his textbooks were on top of that table, “were” being the operative word. But there was a little ray of sunshine for them–the pet lizard (in another room) survived to tell the tale.

So I spent a couple of hours in the ER, coming home with orders to take it easy, come back if I had any worsening symptoms or it didn’t improve within a few days and a bottle of cough syrup that has phenagren and codeine in it. The thrice-blessed in-laws threw some money into our account so that we could go out for dinner. (I was making sausage and pasta. Smoked sausage suddenly did NOT appeal.) We hit the local diner for comforting comfort food…and then home again to try to recuperate from the sudden deluge of stress (Oh my gods! The house is burning!) and then relief (Oh my gods! We aren’t homeless!).

The press had shown up and done their stuff, so I went looking for us on Google. Come to find out, we were actually the TOP story for the news that evening. “A house… BURST INTO FLAMES” (film at eleven). Well, not really BURST. But it was a slow news day. (Check out the broadcast, here: Top Story! ) And that’s me the EMTs are hovering over–I look like I must be sprawled out on the sidewalk, but I was sitting on the curb, really! And when the paramedics roll the gurney over to the ambulance, that’s me again! I doubt that I’ll be on CNN, but frankly…living in a town small enough, calm enough that our fire was the first thing on the news…priceless! I would not give that up for anything.

Let’s just say that for the first time since August 18 (the adjudication), I was not thinking about the judge and her decision about my life. Being asthmatic meant that what I had considered a small amount of smoke was actually more. For the first time in almost 10 years, I was reminded what living with (untreated) asthma is like. I have not been on any maintenance medications because I was doing well without them. Now I’m hitting the rescue inhaler like it’s my bong and I’m a stoner. I get hoarse if I talk too long, I get tight in the chest (that belt around the whole body, under the arms but above the boobs…and way snug. I like to breathe, I’ve been doing it my whole life–so this is not a happy state of being. I also had some “infiltration” in my left lung, lower lobe.

This is not a “rest and take it easy for a couple of days” kind of thing. This is more a “keep breathing and if there is any problem, or it doesn’t start to go away within like a week, come back to the ER” kind of a thing. It has a very particular way of removing the focus of my brain from SSDI and more onto “just keep breathing, just keep breathing, breathing breathing”. Three days later and I’m still coughing a bit, still having tightness–and still using the inhaler. I used to have to throw away brand new, unused inhalers because they had expired before I needed them.

BUT

I am safe, Beloved and the roomies are safe. Our stuff might have a little smoke smell, but it’s still our stuff and not burnt then water-soaked detritus. We still have a place to live–and coincidences abounding, the roomies are actually in the process of going to their own place and will be out by the beginning of next week. So we’ll continue to live in our one room until their room can be repaired, where the fire came up the wall. There’s that big hole the firemen put into it and soot to clean and singed wood to replace. It only caught the corner of their room, most of the damage is actually in their closet–so cleaning that out and organizing the clothes just got done a little differently than it would have without fire to change the schedule of completion. And the only things that were damaged were things they were getting rid of anyway.

We are local celebrities–of a sort. We’re getting more traffic on our road than I’ve seen in the entire time we’ve been here–gawkers and rubberneckers, come to look at the “house that burst into flames”. It’s actually kind of funny to sit up at my desk and watch them go by. Gotta love that small town environment!

I am grateful that it was not worse and I acknowledge the protection we were given–a fire of greater magnitude would have really been catastrophic in more than just the loss of belongings. So like a roller coaster, that first great tall hill was scary fun, but I’m happy to be back on the ground now. And as Beloved pointed out, we’ve been through earthquakes (one in VA, and a nearly record-setting one here in CA); we’ve had flooding (in the closet of our bedroom); hurricanes (Irene and whatever the other one was, while in VA) and here we are. He figures locust and frogs are all that’s left. (You know, the ten plagues of Egypt. It’s Biblical.)

So that’s what’s going on in my life now. I hope that yours is not this exciting! (Well, not in this way.) Just another day in the human experience, and hopefully (fingers crossed) not one that has to be repeated. Ever. Take a moment to look around your home and imagine it going up in flames–and then be thankful that you have it. Hug each other and remember that we cannot ever be prepared for sudden disaster, so pause and soak in the moments of peace and love, when life is going smoothly. The time to be mindful of your life is not when the flood waters are coming up over the porch steps, or when the fire is raging across the house–but every day, at any moment. Because a moment, that brief flicker of time, is all that might separate life from death.

This was a scary event as it happened. I am relieved beyond words that it has settled into just a dinner party-stopping story. Namaste!

Summer Vacation (In Place), Part 2

I do not know how I could forget to write this into my original post, but there you are.

So on Thursday the 10th, we picked up Beloved’s sister and headed south on Route 101 to get some breakfast at Golden Harvest. So we’re driving along and then… we see a man with some sort of animal that was NOT a dog…so we look closer.

It’s a man walking his turkey. Really. A male turkey, in full courting colors, fluffing his feathers as he struts down the sidewalk. His owner had a thin, long stick that he used to guide the turkey and keep it on the sidewalk.

Did you get that? It’s a man, WALKING HIS TURKEY!

Pretty much sums up life here in Eureka. Expect the unexpected and you’ll still be surprised at what shows up.

Of course, we talked about it for a while. We’re “newbies” here and really, a pet turkey is noteworthy.

We got our tattoos and then decided to celebrate that by going up to Arcata for California style sushi at Tomo. We had about 7 or 8 different kinds of roll, some great sake and good times. Our waiter was awesome, took care of us very well. So we’re settling the tab, it’s quiet in the restaurant, mostly empty of other patrons. We’re talking to the waiter about SIL visiting, the stuff we’ve done to show her the town…and we mention the turkey.

“I danced with that turkey.” he says.

He went on to explain that  he was out, the owner was walking it, the turkey was doing the feather fluffing thing, so our waiter mimicked his motions and they danced.

Did you get that? A DANCING TURKEY!

Well, you can’t get much more incredible than that. We all agreed that “I danced with that turkey” is going to be a catchphrase for us.

Friday we just hung out for a while and Beloved went to his group therapy. He came back to the motel to pick us up for an early dinner and when SIL and I got in the car, this was the conversation:

Beloved: Jack.

SIL & me: ?

Beloved: Jack Lincoln.

SIL & me: ??

Beloved: His name is Jack Lincoln.

SIL & me: ???

Beloved: The turkey. His name is Jack Lincoln. His brother’s name is Leatherface. He has a harem and children.

AYFKM?

A pet. A dancer. A lover and a father. A turkey named Jack Lincoln.

I’ve seen it all now. But in this place? Probably not. But how do you top a turkey named Jack?

Don’t believe me? Check it out here: Jack Lincoln

I danced with that turkey.

 

Summer Vacation (In Place)

Back story: Beloved’s sister, my sister-in-love, hereafter referred to as “SIL” is a costume designer. An amazing, creative costume designer. Who is 2/3 of the way through grad school in IL to gain the paper proof of her abilities known as The Master’s Degree. She’s not only been burning the candle at both ends, but in the middle and anywhere else the wick dared to peek out. So Beloved and his parents managed to convince her to come visit us as a well-earned and much-needed break from the grueling millstone of school and shows and summer jobs. And after talking to her, Beloved got the vacation extended from 4-5 days to 9 full days in beautiful, calm Eureka.

And the curtain on our Summer Vacation goes up:

We picked her up at the local airport (a single baggage claim area, one gate, and everything but the Pepsi machine closes at 8 pm) on July the 2nd. She looked tired and from more than a full day’s travel (a 7 hour layover in Sacramento to catch the puddle jumper up to here). But she was happy to see us and we were happy to see her. We grabbed a bite to eat at the almost only place open 24 hours, the local family diner, then took her to her home away from home motel room. (Trust me, there’s no room in my house for her, and besides, she has some modicum of privacy, of which there ain’t none at all in my house!)

Next morning (or later that same day, depending on how you look at it), we gather her up and the meals begin…during these 9 days that we had with her, we took her to all of our favorite places to eat, carefully planned so as to maximize the number of restaurants we could fit in with us only eating 2 meals a day. We hit Walgreen’s and Target for some of the little things she forgot, to replace an extension cord that the TSA absconded with on her flight out here, and beach paraphernalia such as a chair, bucket (for seashells) and a hat. We hit Old Town one day, having lunch at the Cafe Nooner and then she and I walked around the shops. Well, she walked, I rode my new(ish) scooter; Beloved went back to her motel and hung out until called to fetch us for dinner at the next restaurant on our list. We repeat that process a day or two later to hit the local thrift stores–which she may have actually enjoyed more. SIL has been thrifting most of her clothes for a long time. She found some great stuff–and I didn’t do too badly myself!

We had Chinese food, Vietnamese, Thai and German. We had Mexican food and California sushi, as well as Japanese (traditional) sushi. All of it fresh, most of it local, some of it organic. A better quality of food than most people eat and a sure fire way to help her restock her body’s energy. Lots of sleep and days of doing nothing in particular, just what the Doctors Brother and His Wife had ordered. I have to admit, living right by the ocean, the only kind of food we didn’t feed her was seafood (other than in the sushi and that’s not everyone’s idea of seafood, even if it is fish!)–Dungeness crab season ended as she arrived, so we’ve put that on the “To Eat” list for the next time she’s here.

We showed her Eureka, our Costco which has a lot of organics (probably due to local demand for it), our house and the little town we live in (south of Eureka). We went to the fireworks show on the 4th–first one I’ve been to in years. For a small town, it was downright impressive–about 20 minutes long, with fireworks I’d never seen before. We sat at one of the Boardwalk down on the channel where the boats go through to the ocean–and the marina resides. Lots of people, but all of them happy and pleasant. We even had a puppy cuteness overload with the people next to us having 3 puppies, maybe 2 months old…awwww.

We took her to the beach. Four or five times in the time she was here. The first time, we hit the jackpot with the wild life. She was happy to see all of the dogs, which we also enjoy. (Or as Beloved points out, there are only 3 rules for this beach: don’t turn your back on the ocean, beware of the rip tides, and if you have an earthquake, assume tsunami and move to higher ground.) But some of the other things we had talked up to her also showed up–a flight of pelicans, almost in slow motion, passed over our heads, a serious photo op if ever there was one. She got to see not just one, but FOUR horses, being ridden on the sands. We also saw those little bobbing brown heads that are seals. And of course, the surf fishermen, the kites, the terns and other shore birds and, last but certainly not least, the ever-changing, ever-eternal ocean.

I was very glad to have this time with her. It’s the first chance that SIL and I have had time together without a major holiday and everyone else around. And lest you think that I monopolized her time, I made sure that she and her brother had time together without me as well. Maybe not as much as she and I did, but hey, they already knew each other. Even with the limitations of our disabilities, we had a great time having her here and found that we could push ourselves to the point of being able to spend as much time with her as possible. We only had to beg off from a couple of late night talk sessions–and she allowed as she was tired, too–so that wasn’t too bad.

One of the last things she did while here was something that she had asked me to check out and go with her–she was ready for her first tattoo!! I did my research around here and found a one man shop, with a tattoo artist who is amazing to be her first. (But not her last, as she already had plans for several more tattoos in her head…which I think will find solid form on paper now that she knows what tattooing is all about.) And of course, I couldn’t let her go all alone…so I got my 14th tattoo, as seen here:
Purple Butterfly

This is my purple butterfly for Fibromyalgia Awareness, a permanent sign of both my disease and a hope for a cure or at least better treatments for the conditions it brings with it. Amazing scrollwork, very fine lines for the outline, just great work all around–to the point where I may have to start saving up for (and doing in stages) the half-sleeve tattoo I’d like to have on my right arm. The left is saved for a military-style “flash”, where badges are located on the uniform, for a personal tattoo that represents me and the Beloved. The half-sleeve will be a compendium of my life, my children and grandchildren, things that are important to me. I feel that I have finally found an artist I can work with, whose style is very complementary to what I want my tattoo to look like.

So SIL and I bonded through ink and needles, as well as some amazing meals. She is seriously considering basing out of here once she’s out of school, as she will essentially freelance costume design–this keeps her from being limited to one company, one place. I also suspect that her (and Beloved’s) parents may also end up here, having both retired just this past May. They are already making tentative plans to come see us at the end of summer, beginning of fall–and I think SIL’s report will only encourage them to visit us. They want to live near their children, and since Beloved and I are already out here…and SIL may also be, just stands to reason that we will soon all have CA addresses.

This was the closest thing to a vacation we’ve had, almost ever, in our 4 years together. It was fun and tiring, happy and way too short–and I’m so glad we got to share it with her. We are looking forward to repeating the formula of good eats when the parents come out–and Beloved’s best friend, who is to visit us next month. How lucky are we, to have all this good food around us–and to be able to share it with the people who mean the most to us?

Now we rest up and recuperate, back to the usual schedule of doctor’s appointments and preparing for my SSDI adjudication the middle of August. Lots of memories were made this week and a half–and the last place we took SIL to, before putting her back on the airplane back to IL? The beach, of course.

Bay Drive Beach

The Only Constancy is Change

Let’s see if I can do this more or less chronologically.

Went to see the headshrinker AND my PCP in Fredericksburg on September 11.  (Note: while I was not old enough to actually BE a hippie, I am a product of the drug era.  When I hear PCP, I immediately think about the stuff they used to lace pot with…not Primary Care Physician.)  The psychiatrist was a nice but nervous man.  We discussed my issues and he prescribed the full dose of Efexor I’d be on and refilled the clonazepam.  Still think I should (eventually) get that changed because I STILL don’t think it does that much.

My PCP walked in and it was like…a completely different doctor.  I suspect a bit of an ass reaming about the massive med changes he had made.  He was pleasant, he smiled, he LISTENED to us (this time) and expressed his anger at having his direct order to have me admitted to Richmond for psych eval “over-ridden” by “someone”.  He got to see the psych notes (apparently I was not allowed?  Or maybe they just weren’t entered before I was kicked out) and didn’t understand why I had been discharged literally within hours of getting there.  (Rather than the normal 24-48 hour evaluation period.)  That was an interesting piece of news and he also indicated that the drugs I was given in Richmond were actually prescribed by the staff psychiatrist.  So I really have NO idea who the guy in the blue scrubs that grilled me about being in their ER was.  No name, no way of filing a formal complaint.  Oh well.

So anyways, we talked with the doctor and guess what?  He ended up doing what we had asked for, 2 1/2 months prior: gave me my Vicodin, acknowledged Beloved’s wisdom in cutting my neurontin dose ummm in half of what he had prescribed.  (Beloved had told the nurse what drugs I had stopped taking, what dosages I was taking — and was told that the doctor was unhappy that he had not “consulted” with them before making those changes.  He is very smug to have been right…as he should be.)  We talked about the move, he said I can call in my next appointment in October and all was happy happy joy joy.

Well, except for this: I had gotten my fasting blood sugar test (finally) done.  The nurse called us about 2 days later to say that I had an A1C of 6.4.  Now when Beloved told me that, my first thought was “A1C?  Airman First Class?  WTF?”  But that’s the technical term for that particular blood test.  Over a 7 scored and you’re diabetic.  Anything below 6 is normal.  Between 6 and 7, you’re “pre-diabetic”.  So I am officially pre-diabetic.  No finger sticks, no insulin yet.  Just watch the diet, try to exercise.  Stuff we’re going to do anyways.  And probably a fasting blood sugar test done at least once a year, maybe twice to keep tabs on it.  Not really surprising, as geriatric onset diabetes (Type 2) runs in the family, from both sides.  And I could linger at that 6.4 for as long as the rest of my life, if I really do manage it with diet.  My grandfather, while actually diabetic, did manage his with diet.  His son, my father, has to do the multiple finger sticks and takes insulin, but is also on VA healthcare because of his exposure to Agent Orange.  So his may be worse because of that; no way to ever know.

We’re not getting a lot done in the way of actually packing or getting rid of stuff for our move.  We’ve got the suitcases and carry on luggage now–Pelican cases for anyone who knows what they are.  Look it up, for those who don’t.  Beloved’s parents are taking a lot of our furniture (they are also moving, this upcoming weekend) because they will be in a smaller place and our furniture was bought specifically to fit within a smaller apartment.  Once that is out of the house, it will be easier to go through our stuff.  Or at least that’s what we keep telling each other.  I am feeling very overwhelmed but I always do, and I HATE to move…and I do some of my best work at the last minute.

My in-laws bought me some clothes.  My mother-in-law knows that the way you dress affects the way you feel and I have not been dressing like I feel very good.  It’s a sign of illness when an animal stops grooming itself, and frankly, humans are no different.  So I found clothing that I chose specifically with an eye towards the weather in Eureka (able to be layered, sweat pants, that sort of thing) from a place called “The Woman Within”.  They have a website and they also do catalog sales.  Except for the two sweat pants / matching tops sets, everything is 100% cotton.  (Sweats are 60-40 cotton-polyester.)  I had to watch the sizes carefully as I have lost 2 inches of height somewhere along the way (degenerative arthritis in the spine will do that, you know) and now I have to shop in the “Petite” section.  Sigh.  I got 2 turtlenecks, 2 sleeveless t-shirts (shells), a v-neck, short sleeved t-shirt, 2 skirts and the aforementioned 2 sweats sets–and I don’t know how much the shipping and handling added, but the merchandise added up to just at $125.  Not bad.  If you’re looking for clothing that real women wear (not designer, let me tell you), then I’d recommend them.  Usual prices aren’t bad, and a lot of what I got was on sale for less than some of the thrift store clothing I’ve bought.

We’ve spent big portions of September either recuperating from the various hospital trips, or going to see someone’s doctor and having to recuperate from that.  We spent a great deal of today making phone calls and getting things done.  And in the course of that, we’ve had more good news in a single go than I think we’ve had in quite a while.  While I’m happy about that, remember: distress or eustress, it’s all still stress.  So it was overwhelming for both of us.

I spoke to the company that manages my LTD (Long Term Disability) benefits with some questions I have had…turns out that fibromyalgia is NOT limited by the policy that my former employer had with this company at the time of my disability.  Which means that there is no limit of just 2 years for pay out.  In fact, they can end up paying me for another 15 years, or until I turn 67 and would “retire” anyways.  WOW.  Income, steady income for the next 15 years.  As long as my primary diagnosis remains fibro (and it will, it’s not going away) and my doctor keeps me on medical treatment for it.  And that will also remain permanent, since the pain won’t go away without narcotics.  And the insurance company’s “Any Occupation” review board (as opposed the medical board that reviews the doctor’s notes) will determine whether I can work in any occupation (hence the name) besides the one I was in when I became disabled.  And since I am on narcotics (and barely drive any more), who is going to hire me?  No one, that’s who.  I will just have to be careful to have the doctor document fibro stuff every time I go see him and the fact that I am *still* not able to hold down any meaningful job due to the limitations of fibro and the meds I am on for it.

I spoke to the airline and found out how to get handicapped assistance from curb to gate (both ways) when we fly out.  Easier than I thought, and the agent I spoke to was pleasant and helpful.  Checked the airline’s website and determined that medical equipment (read: canes and CPAP machines) do NOT count as carry on luggage and will be allowed on board in addition to our bags and carry ons.  YAY!

I got an answer from the minister at the Humboldt UU fellowship, replying to the email I sent yesterday.  I explained what was going on, who we were, and so on…  Always good to have people waiting to greet you in a new place if you can and we are really looking forward to attending services there.

Beloved made his own phone calls as well.  Found out that the utility deposits in CA are not going to be completely onerous (well, except for AT&T landline/DSL which requires their money upfront) and will be on the first bill.  Found out that CA is VERY generous in Social Services (which I think we will qualify for, and with the letter from VA, may not require the year’s wait for those services to kick in).  They have SSI AND something called “SSP” which, if we are eligible, could add quite a lot to our income.  If we get both of those, we may not then qualify for CA Fresh (their version of SNAP), but hey, we’d have enough extra money to afford our food.  Also, they figure eligibility differently than VA, removing rent and utilities from the income amount–which may also then put Beloved back into being eligible for Medicaid.  THAT would be a great blessing, since we’re both a bit concerned about his lack of insurance at this time, with no coverage until Medicare kicks in NEXT August.

He also made a call to our cell phone carrier and FINALLY got the 3-4 year old SNAFU figured out and straightened out.  Got us $80 credit for a line that we had tried to turn off like a year ago–but had somehow become the “primary” line and couldn’t be shut off…so we’ve been paying like $40 a month more for that line all this time.  Not as much as one could hope for, but way better than NO refund.  And part of clearing it up and getting things correct included changing his phone number–so the lucky duck already has his Eureka telephone number!  I’m mildly jealous, but not enough to merit changing MY phone number with the bazillions of people who have it and with whom I MUST stay in touch, for emotional or financial reasons.  Bad enough I’m going to have to do it eventually, and sooner rather than later.

And I actually cooked dinner for us.  It’s kind of sad that I have to admit said accomplishment is a major one for me.  I have not yet made it into the kitchen and whipped it back into shape…it’s winning the war of wills at this point.  I do have a deadline of sorts: my in-laws are also taking some of our kitchen appliances, and that means I have to wash and ready them for departure when the furniture goes.  Which means, I hope, that I will be forced to organize the modern art display of carefully stacked dishes into a real STACK of dishes, not an artistic arrangement that could be sent crashing down with just one nudge on the wrong piece.  Which, if all goes well, will then lend itself to at least being rinsed in the dishwasher (that for some reason, even though it is brand new, still does NOT actually wash the dishes clean).

We’re going to a friend’s house for their “we got married in CA and you couldn’t be there” party on Saturday.  And Sunday, if he got permission (from the Navy), my son and his family–or just the family if he didn’t–will come over for a little bit so that I can see them before we go West.  They will also be taking some things back home with them.  Jay, tell them what prizes they have won.  Well, Bob, they’ll be taking home this box of Legos!  (Most of them were mine, some of them were my son’s and he’d be glad to have them back.)  I am also going to let my daughter-in-law pick and choose through the kitchen stuff I won’t be taking…things like the really huge Tupperware bowl, crystal bowls from Germany, etc.

My daughter will be coming down one Tuesday (her normal day off) to see us before we leave.  No granddaughters, but really, we’re not set up for it and this way, we’ll all be able to talk without chasing the toddler or dealing with a crying baby.  She promises me lots of pictures and I keep poking her about getting Skype.  So that’s one area of stress that has been relieved and I’m very glad that it has.

I’m also getting polite and chatty emails from my mother–and as long as they stay that way, without politics or religion…we’ll keep talking.  Another source of stress, dismissed.

Now if the house would just empty itself and my suitcase pack things up without my actually having to do anything.  I am clenching my teeth a lot, mostly from the stress–which ends up giving me headaches.  Not helpful.  By my latest assessment, I need to: empty out my jewelry armoire, sorting out what I want to keep from what I will give away; sort my clothes into going and going to the thrift store.  AND I need to go through every box that holds my shite and sort it out: trash, give away, sell, take.  Oh gods, if I keep listing things I shall go mad.  One thing at a time, one step at a time.  It’s really all I can do.

Oh, and we bought the tickets.  So come hell or high water, clean apartment or not, with or without all that shite being done…we are leaving on November 1.  Flying first class (wowee!!) to Sacramento.  ANOTHER source of stress…gone.  And that was a major one, so I am very glad to actually have them in hand, so to speak.  And we’ve got the handicap assistance set up, so I won’t have to call the nice lady back.  That works for me.

Looks like the light at the end of the tunnel is NOT an oncoming train, but really the other end of the tunnel.  Dear gods, I hope so.  The ride has been a lot more than I bargained for, and way more than I ever wanted.  Or as the meme I saw today said, “I don’t just ride the crazy train, I motherfucking drive it!”.

Our life has been on hold, for health reasons, for money reasons, for time reasons.  And frankly, it’s still on hold until November 1, when I step off the plane in CA.  Or maybe Nov 2, when we actually get into Eureka and can put our toes into the Pacific Ocean.  I am looking forward to that life very much and I will do whatever it takes to get there.  Now if I could just figure out some way to take all our friends and family with us, it would be perfect…but that’s just my “how life is supposed to be” talking, and that is apparently what I’m supposed to be letting go of now.  (Having learned about letting go of things, and of words…)

I am cautiously optimistic, preferring to keep some little piece of hesitancy just in case (because “just in case” has happened way too many times in the past few years to be ignored).  But I will acknowledge that things in general seem to be…going in a direction that leads directly West.  Which is where we want to be.

Namaste!