Summer Stream of Consciousness

So here I am, in my usual position of sitting at my desk and being on the computer. I am so grateful to those who created this electronic marvel that lets me interact with others who are, quite literally, all over the world. If I didn’t have a computer, and Facebook, I cannot for the life of me imagine how I would be living.

I have already been careful to add non-computer activities to my life. I am still coloring pages. It’s such a nice, relatively mindless activity–almost like a meditation, with no thought beyond what I am doing at that moment. (Stay in the lines, stay in the lines!!)
IMG_20160713_110848I have FINALLY learned how to make an origami crane (and a 4 point box). I need to go find another pattern to learn. This is also a very focused activity, another type of meditation. Now I have a stack of cranes and boxes…which I am leaving, like a trail behind me, when we go out. I leave a crane on the bill tray or the table. I haven’t been in the grocery store lately, but when I do go, I’m going to put cranes in all sorts of places for people to find.

I’m still working on the loom knitting, doing that when I’m watching a movie. I have some pictures (in my head) that I would like to make happen through Fresh Paint, the newer “Paint” from Windows that lets me do oil painting. I can also do watercolors, colored pencils and crayons/pastels?. But I have always wanted to do oil painting, and this works out very well for me. I can stop at any point, I don’t have tubes of paint and (spill-able) cleaning solutions. Of course, there is the irony of printing it out. Although I have heard that you can actually get canvas that will accept printing. If I paint the next Mona Lisa, I’ll look for it then. In the meantime, I have them on my computer and I share them on FB.

The sister-in-love (and her sweetie) visit went well. They spent a lot of time doing tourist things, so we’d meet up with them for a meal each day. I told my Beloved I was caught between “I thought she said she wanted to see US” and “Thank the gods I have time to rest between visiting without having to say that I have to go rest now.” I’m glad that they were able to see so many things; I am jealous that they got up to Agate Beach. I found about it when I was doing my research prior to our move and I wanted to go there very much. The reality is, I can’t ride my scooter and I can’t walk on an uneven surface. Helll’s bells, I can’t walk on an *even* surface very well.

Speaking of walking, which leads to my general health: my neck shot didn’t work this time. And apparently that means it can never be used again. I had 6 months of freedom from the pain, for the first time in many years. The pain management doctor showed me the X-ray he took and it looks something like this:
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&%^
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Where “&%^” is the lack of discs. It really was just a black blob on the film. No wonder it sounds like a string of firecrackers (quietly, inside my head) when I turn my neck. The doctor is sending me to a neurosurgeon to discuss possibilities for surgical repair. I don’t know how that would work, because the usual procedure for fixing this type of problem in the back is to attach metal rods to the good discs above and below the bad one(s), giving the patient excellent posture. Unfortunately, after about 10 years, according to my sources, that begins to fail. Which makes sense. If your spinal column has problems due to degenerative arthritis, it’s not going to stop just because you put metal rods in. So eventually, the discs that the rods were in also deteriorate…you see where this is going? And doing this in my neck makes me VERY nervous. There’s not a long stretch of back to work with, only the neck. The neck, with essential blood vessels and nerve paths (like, oh I don’t know, the SPINAL CORD??!??). Would it also “freeze” my neck, like the sections of back are locked into place? Would I not be able to turn my head at all? Unless the neurosurgeon can convince me that this is the only way to go and the risks are not as bad as I think…I would rather not have surgery. I am very willing to wear a fitted (specifically to me) cervical collar to help support the floppy neck. (No, it doesn’t really flop. But the muscles of my neck are as tight as a violin string all the time. It tires out the muscles to do the work the support beam structure (spinal column) is supposed to do.) I’ll let you know what happens.

Otherwise physically, we are maintaining the status quo. The cortisone shots in my back, for the sciatica, seem to be efficacious, although the left leg still screams at me down the L3 nerve path if I stand too long. (That nerve path goes from the spine at hip level in the back, around the hip and down the leg, from the outside of the hip to the inner side of the knee.) There is still always pain; there has been for pretty much all of my life, and barring some incredible medical breakthrough, will always be mine. The morphine works. I’m still taking bupropion (Wellbutrin) for depression; hydroxyzine pamoate for anxiety; duloxetine (Cymbalta) for fibromyalgia; trazadone (Tramadol) for sleep; omeprazole (Prevacid?) for reflux; and lamotragine (Lamictol) for mood stabilization. My psychiatrist also added B12 and Vitamin D supplements, which I take daily. The last set of lab work I had came back with nothing bad, which is always what you want to hear. My A1C (blood sugar) is still a bit high, but until I am officially diagnosed as diabetic, I’m not worried about it. Diabetes comes down both sides of my family (to me) and I expect that I will probably get it eventually. I am hoping the eating organic will slow down or prevent that.

I make a conscious effort to either stay off of FB on really bad days (for me), or restrain myself from posting on any political item. You know that I am verbose, and there’s so much I want to say about the election situation…but I find that I am repeating myself and that’s just too much involvement for me. I make a point of looking at all the non-political posts for a break in the anger and fear–not just mine, but those in the articles or other posters. Hooray for kitteh pictures. And for friends who post thoughtful, spiritual things. It’s still a while until the election; I cannot, will not, maintain the negative feelings that the whole thing creates in me.

I cook dinner when I can. My last masterpiece was a pork tenderloin roast, wrapped in bacon and roasted. The trick to putting bacon around pretty much anything is to make a “bacon blanket”, weaving the pieces together and then wrapping the “blanket” around the thing you are improving with bacon. Like this: PiggyinaBlanket

The pork was about 1 pound. It took 5 slices of bacon to cover it. I put spices (thyme, garlic and onion powders, salt and pepper, basil) on the roast and then wrapped it. It cooked at 340 (convection) for about 40 minutes. Because the pork we get is local and we know how it is raised, we can eat it at about medium-medium rare. And it was delicious and oh-so tender. We had it with rice, cooked in chicken stock.

My cooking these days is very different from how I cooked prior to becoming disabled. The hallmark of my recipes is simple preparation and easy cooking methods. I have a basic recipe for meat and rice in sauce, which I modify according to what I’m cooking. For fried rice, I use Chinese spices and ground pork; for meat and rice in a Continental style, like a la francais, I use the spice palette that matches it and cook it pretty much the same way as the fried rice. I can also make meat and curry rice this way. (And the way to do it is to saute onions and or garlic, then add the meat and brown it off, with the associated spices. Then add the ingredients to make your sauce; I generally use half and half or cream. For Chinese, I use a homemade blend of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, a bit of water, and Chinese spices: garlic, ginger, Szechun peppercorns, coriander, cilantro, and so forth, picking what I want from that group.)

For those of you who love rice and eat it often: get a rice cooker. Spend the money on a really GOOD rice cooker. I don’t generally try to “sell” a product, but I have to tell you: we have a “Zojirushi” rice cooker. (Model NP-NVC10) It will make white rice, brown rice, GABA rice (sprouted brown rice), sushi rice, rice porridge (“congee”) and make any of them in your preferred texture: hard, normal and soft. We use it several times a week. And I will tell you that it *was* expensive. The usual listed price is about $800–but before you faint, I can tell you that I found ours on Amazon for $400-ish. (Free delivery!) It came with a cookbook that I (someday) will use, making rice dishes with some meats or vegetables cooked into them. And before you argue with me that your $30 rice cooker from Target is as good: no, it’s not. I used to have one. It made rice okay, but it was what Alton Brown refers to as a “unitasker”. And believe me when I tell you that for those of us who eat a lot of rice, the cost of having an excellent rice cooker is well worth it. We also only eat “hamali” rice from Thailand. It has a specific logo of a stalk of rice, drooping down with the rice (seeds) hanging off of it. It’s also known as “jasmine” rice because of its rich, slightly sweet smell. As far as Beloved and I are concerned, it’s the only rice because it’s the best!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Beloved is the Game Master (GM or Dungeon Master, DM, or God of all that happens) for about 8-9 other gamers and they are having a really good time, running through places killing and looting. He has (and continues to) worked hard on preparing for each game night. He is highly organized–and mildly (haha) OCD–so this is a well-run game. The players make a point of telling him how much they enjoy it. And that’s a good thing for him–he needs the positive reinforcement and recognition of his efforts. So he goes to that on Friday evenings and I stay home and listen to the quiet. Or to my music, really loud. Even though we’re not really joined at the elbows all day long–he has his computer stuff in the “office” (second bedroom) and I’m out in the living room–the house “feels” different when I’m home alone. Not better or worse, just different.

Nothing major is going on. We actually have a very clear calendar for this month. I do see my psychiatrist on the 18th, but that’s all we have scheduled other than Beloved’s group therapy and his game. We do have appointments to get our eyes checked–in October. I’m glad to not be going to a doctor’s office every week-whether his or mine. I think it means we’re okay.

That’s pretty much it for me now. Thank you for reading my blog, and I’ll talk to you next time!

Peace out!

 

Ongoing Life

It’s becoming harder and harder to see the good things in this world. I know they exist, and are definitely present in my own space. But the rest of the world? Seems to be going to hell in a hand basket. Politics, the economy, Orlando, Jo Cox…so much hate. If I wasn’t already clinically depressed, I would be after reading my FB page and seeing the stuff stream by. Thank the Maker for kitteh pictures!

I’m back on my anti-depressant and feeling better. Hovering around an aqua blue, I think. I continue to heal from my surgery (which could take up to a year or more before everything is back into the “original” place and totally healed). I don’t have a DVT but I do have a varicose vein. It’s not visible through the skin, but it’s a vein that is not working any more. I will have an in-office procedure to “kill” it, which will move the blood flow to veins that have better valves and will push the blood back up into my body, where it belongs.

I went to the neurologist last Monday and got a second shot in my neck. The first one kept me pain free for almost 7 months. I can live with this, for as many years as I can get away with it. I go back to the pain clinic next month to get the two shots, one in each side to deal with sciatica. Hooray for sedation procedures–I sleep through them and wake up to pain relief (within about 3-5 days; it’s not quite instantaneous).

My Beloved did the grocery shopping yesterday and brought me a big surprise–a Dungeness crab, all ready to eat. I tore that sucker up! Just a little pile of shells to put in the trash and I was a very happy, crab-stuffed kitteh! (The crab weighed almost 2 pounds whole. Even if half of it was shell, that would still mean 16 ounces of meat for me.) He also bought me some avocados.

I’m still coloring…branching out into “arty” pictures, like one that I did only in black and grey (and white, where I didn’t color). It keeps me occupied, keeps my mind active (what color next?) and keeps me off the streets. I’ve also continued to watch a lot of Netflix. It may not be much of a life, but it’s my life. And yes, I’m still playing Star Wars and killing things. I did get my hair cut yesterday for the first time in almost 2 years. Woo hoo! My oh so exciting life.

Beloved is a political beast and we have a fair number of discussions on the political uproar of the day. I’ll be so glad, so glad!, when November comes around and we’re done talking about the next President. (Although as he pointed out to me, the day after the election we’ll start talking about who will run in 2020.) The whole situation is pretty scary and the possibility for major chaos is great. Wonder what our nation will look like, this time next year?

The massacre in Orlando has hit me very hard. I identify as bisexual and have always been an advocate and voice for being allowed to love whomever you love, regardless of equipment. But the killings somehow drove it really home that the LGBTQ community IS my community, in a way that I had never known before. The amount of hate swirling around the event is overwhelming. The hate that caused the killing, and the hate of people who say that those killed somehow “deserved” to die. No one ever “deserved” to die. The fact that the club-goers were killed specifically for their sexual identity/orientation is heart-breaking and incomprehensible to me.

I am trying to think of a way, or of ways, to support and show support for all of my community, LGBTQ or otherwise. I try not to label anyone but rather, to accept and love all as my fellow beings on this little blue dot we call home. Life is hard enough without choosing to hate those around you. Hate and love are two sides of the same coin. Strong emotions, feelings that lead to all kinds of behaviors, motivation for our actions. If you truly stop hating, you don’t automatically love the ones you hated. If you loved someone, but have stopped loving them, you don’t hate them as a natural course. The opposite of hate AND love is apathy. You just don’t care what happens to them, what they do, and their life doesn’t impact yours at all.

I think hate requires far too much energy to keep it going–because it is not the normal, “default” setting of our emotions. I believe (and hope) that love is the more natural, the more primal and primary, setting. Love is a verb, an action, a feeling in motion. I love every single being on this planet. Now, before you think I’ve gone off the deep end, let me qualify that sentence. I love all–but I acknowledge that not every being is lovable, not every being behaves in a loving way. I can love the shooter in Orlando as a fellow being, feel sorrow at his obvious pain and anger. I also condemn, without hesitation, the actions he took.

It’s as I told my children when they were little: I love you. But I don’t love your actions/words (when they were being chastised). I separate the “who” of who someone is from the “what they do” actions. Maybe it’s all just a mind game, a fatuous way of trying to be noble or something… but it works for me. I start, try to start, from a default position of love whenever I am interacting with others. However, I do not have to accept cruel words or hurtful actions from anyone. It’s not that I can make them stop…just that I choose not to let it affect my life. (It will and does sometimes, but life is an ever-moving river and sometimes, you fall in. It’s the getting back out that matters.)

Solstice is coming next week and we’ll have the longest day…which will then immediately being shortening back into winter hours. Beloved’s sister, and her beloved, are coming to visit in a few weeks, which will be fun. Lots of eating out and going to the beach! And so my life goes on, in its mostly gentle pace…
Namaste!

Living in an Azure Haze

It’s been a while since I posted about what’s going on in my life, so let’s catch up.

I have joined the Communications Council for the local VA Clinic; we deal with the newsletter and the Townhall meetings. I take the minutes at the meetings and I set up the newsletter, adding the new content and etc before it goes to the printer. I offered to do the newsletter because it’s something I can do at home, in my own time–and it’s something I enjoy doing. I have done newsletters before and with Microsoft Publisher, it’s very easy. Since there are other veterans on the Council, everyone understands those days when I just cannot make the meeting.

I have also had a lot of diagnostic referrals–I’ve had a bone density scan done (thinning of the bones, but not quite osteoporosis). I had a chemical stress test for my heart, which looked normal. I had my two umbilical hernias repaired and in the course of the consult, pre-surgery stuff and so on with the surgeon, he has ordered an ultrasound of my legs to make sure there are no deep vein thrombosis. I also have compression stockings to wear, to help with the circulation in my legs and feet. I’ve been telling my doctor that the blood in my legs is black–and that my legs swell so badly I can make deep impressions that hang around for several minutes. None of that is good. The stockings help, but I will be interested to see what the ultrasound shows.

I have also gotten a hospital bed, which quite frankly, I have wanted for a long time. I have acid reflux, so I have to sleep with my head elevated…and those swollen legs also need to be elevated. And you can only do just so much with pillows. I am sleeping fantastically! It also makes for a pleasant way to watch movies or play video games, since I can sit up straight enough to do so.

Our weather hasn’t quite made up its mind to be spring-like. It’s been raining, a lot, and the days it doesn’t rain tend to be overcast. That does not help with the state of mind. I’ve had a change in my medications (we’ve increased the Cymbalta) and a concurrent decrease in my anti-depressant (Welbutrin). I had to titrate off it slowly and now that I’ve been off of it long enough for it to be completely out of my system…I’m completely “blah”. I don’t want to do anything, I can’t focus and everything is seen through a dark blue fog. It’s not quite the depths of black despair and complete lack of function…it’s a bit lighter than that, but still a dark enough color that I have a terrible time getting anything done. I see my psychiatrist in a couple of weeks and we’ll talk about my going back on the Welbutrin or on some other anti-depressant. But I need something more than I’m taking, that’s for sure.

My one constant activity is that I am coloring. I have 3-4 “adult” coloring books and I am slowly but surely working my way through them. I was given a box of 50 markers (so many color choices) and they are beginning to run out of ink. I also have crayons and watercolors, so there’s some mixed media work going on. I watch something on Netflix and color, probably 2-4 hours each day. Imagine what I could get done if I had the energy to do something worthwhile like clean house, with that amount of time. It’s a fairly mindless activity: stay inside the lines and make the color arrangement interesting.

I’m also back into playing “Star Wars: The Old Republic” online. I have actually got a level 65 (highest level possible) character, run up from the starting level 1. Major accomplishment! Too bad it doesn’t pay… I have a stable of about 12-14 characters, various job skills, most of them Sith (Empire) that I can play. Talking to my Beloved about this last night, I realized that I prefer to play the “evil” side because it’s more interesting. The characters seem more real, as opposed to the Jedi side, where there is never self interest or greed…there is no passion, there is only peace. These characters just don’t seem like real people, don’t act like a human being and I get bored doing only the “right thing”. I have actually created and am working with a “Dark Jedi”–which is someone on the “right” side who does “bad” things. MUCH more interesting and I look forward to finding out just how far this can go.

On the whole, life goes on much as it has. Nothing terrible, some good (out of the ordinary) stuff… The weather affects both of us, and I am an empath, so I’m not sure how much of the “blahs” is really mine and how much is what I’m picking up off the hubby, who broadcasts. He has started running his own D&D game (he’s the Game Master, or Dungeon Master, depending on the player’s experience with D&D). He put an enormous amount of time and effort getting it all set up and now he has about 5 players that meet with him on Friday evenings to kill things and gather booty. This is something he’s talked about doing since I met him (6 years ago) and I’m very glad that he is finally able to see it happen.

So that’s about it for me. Nothing earth-shaking going on…which I am thankful for. Now if I can just adjust the dark blue up to at least azure…I’d be happier (really!).

 

My Grandmother, Pauline Baker Foote, 1914 -1992

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She would be 102 years old. She died in October, 1992 at the age of 78. It’s been 24 years since then. I miss her as if it were yesterday.

Grief never really goes away. You learn to live with it, you learn that it really won’t kill you, you learn to put it away into a tiny corner of your heart. But then something triggers a memory and the grief comes galloping out, as if it had never been there before. This sudden swell of grief can make you staggered, make you cry, make you angry at a Universe that took someone away from you.

My grandmother’s name was Pauline. Nobody called her that. To most of her friends, she was “Polly”. To a select group of longtime friends, she was “Bunny”. (That’s because my grandfather called her his “Honey Bunny”…and it stuck.) To me, she was “Grandmom”…there is no greater way to name someone like her: Grand Mom.

Without going into the gory details, let’s just say that my parents don’t like children as children; they are supposed to be little adults. Of course, that’s a ridiculous demand; children are children, or they’d be called adults right out of the womb. All that growing and learning stuff to do, you know. I am grateful that they had me (and my brother) but…if it weren’t for my Grandmom, I would have a lot more mental issues than I already do. It’s not that my parents were not caring or loving. But they were authoritarian enough that the military regimens had no horror for me and in fact, I found boot camp to be more free than my childhood years. How sad is that? But let’s not talk about the ‘rents. This is about my Grandmom.

She had a life before I showed up, as amazing as it seems. She was born in Portsmouth VA on February 20, 1914. That’s just a few months before the start of World War I. Her parents lived long enough that I got to meet them…when I was 4. I have a picture in my head of a tall, thin man and a short, round woman…and having to look up up up to see his face. My great-grandmother died in the ’70’s, while we were living overseas. My great-grandfather lived until I was 16…and it was amazing that this oh so tall man was now eye to eye with me.

Grandmom did all the things that people did, back then. She had something called a “Baby Party”, where everyone dressed up to look like babies. Don’t judge, this was before the Internet. (Found a mention of these from the Wheaton College records, where their first Baby Party was held in 1914. It was part of the “moving up” of juniors to their senior year. Apparently something of a tradition.)

She had a younger brother, named Hugh. I don’t remember him, although apparently I had met him, probably at about 3-4 years old. Grandmom told me later that he like to eat mac’n’cheese cold. I tried it that way, and that’s something I still do these days. A connection to my past, even if I began it on secondhand knowledge.

She met my grandfather when she was 16. He knew that she was The One for him. But he was 20 years old, so he waited several years for her before proposing. When Grandmom graduated high school, she went to work for the the Baltimore Steam Packet Company, nicknamed the “Old Bay Line”, as a secretary. (Click here for more about the Old Bay Line ) At some point, she was in a beauty contest and was Miss Portsmouth, about 1930-32. I can’t say for sure, but this may have been a local pageant that led to the Miss Virginia pageant.

My grandfather had a picture of her on his dresser, taken when she was a teenager. It could have been a photograph of me, there was that strong a resemblance. But I’m not tooting my own horn when I tell you that Grandmom was beautiful. Lovely dark eyes, dark brown hair, nice legs…but what made her truly beautiful was the love that poured out of her, that shone in her eyes, her entire life.

I met my Grandmother when I was born. Needless to say, I don’t remember it. I have snippets of memories, like snapshots in my brain, of her and her house from about 4 years old until…I could remember whole movies. My family lived overseas from 1966 until 1971 and again from 1973 to 1976. So a great deal of my childhood was spent too far to see her on anything resembling a regular basis. I do vaguely recall my mother’s friend taking us from the airport to my grandparents’ house and surprising them early on a Sunday morning. They didn’t go to church that day.

When we finally came back to the States to live, my father gifted my mother with living close to *her* mother–and when I say “close”, I mean 5 minutes’ of walking across the elementary school’s property and up through the alley, then down the alley to Grandmom’s house. My parents had actually sent my brother and me home in the summer of 1976 so that we would be in the US for the start of school. So he and I lived with our grandparents all that summer and into the fall, until my parents came home.

My grandmother was the most loving, most patient person I have ever known. I try to be like her. She had the amazing gift of “just listening”. People, all sorts of people, would come to her and pour out their lives. She just sat and listened. The few words she would speak were always loving and wise. She would babysit for anyone she knew, so there was a crib permanently set up in the back bedroom. She kept clean sheets on the double bed that was in the same room, as well as on the single bed in the other bedroom, just in case they were needed. That smaller bedroom was my room whenever I was there.

When I think of “home”, it’s always her house that appears in my mind. It was (and still is) a red brick “row home”, the Baltimore term for what is called “townhouse” or “condominium” in other places. It had a wonderful basement. All sorts of things, on shelves, in boxes… A couple of chest freezers (she had begun with one, but when it no longer stayed cold enough, she added the second and used the older one for things that didn’t require deep cold, like bread) that could have been used to hide bodies… A player piano, the old fashioned kind with the feet pedals to pump the air to make the music. It sort of worked…until eventually the bellows got so full of holes, it wouldn’t play on it own. I learned to play the piano on that.

There were stacks of comic books, a favorite activity for any child–and even for teenagers. There was an old Lionel train set…had to use steel wool to get the rust of the tracks before you could even hope to run it. And there was a bench that had storage inside of it. Flip up the seat and enter Fantasyland…that’s where she kept all sorts of things for “dressing up”. My friends and I played with those quite often.

The first floor was your basic kitchen/dining room/living room set up. The kitchen was smallish, with limited counter space but in a way that was good, because it meant few steps between tasks. In one corner there was a hutch…and on that hutch were 5 glass jars, with glass lids, in graduating size from about a gallon, down to about 2 cups. In each jar there was some type of candy: Hershey’s mixed small chocolate bars (milk chocolate, milk chocolate with almonds, Mr. Goodbar and Krackle); M&Ms (always) and then the other jars held whatever else sweet they wanted, like spearmint leaves or Canada Wintergreen Mints (or as we called them, “pink mints”, for they would leave your tongue Pepto-Bismol pink). My granddad kept some bull’s-eyes, a caramel wrapped around a white sugar icing. Sometimes there would be a package of Oreos or sugar wafers in the biggest jar.

Upstairs were the three bedrooms and the bathroom. And there was a set of stairs in the hallway ceiling, the kind you pull down and can then go up into the mysterious attic. Not quite as much fun for kids as the basement (and the candy in the kitchen), but still an adventure to have. Just a regular row home, nothing special about it…but because my Grandmom lived there, it was MY home,and it was also the childcare center, the hotel for wayward souls, the counseling center…

If someone knocked on the door, they were always invited in. (Thank goodness we didn’t have vampires in the neighborhood.) My Grandmom always had a pitcher of “Southern” iced tea–you know, with sugar–and everyone would have a glass of it. She actually crocheted what we called “pants” for the glasses–think coaster with a wall, going about halfway up the glass. Kept the condensation off the furniture. Any time anyone needed something, they could usually get it from Grandmom, if it was within her power to do so. A bed, a meal, someone to cry on, someone to share the joys of life with, a person so good, so giving that no one ever said a bad thing about her. Ever. And there are still houses today (that if I knew where they were) I could go to and say “I’m Polly Foote’s granddaughter and I need a place to stay” and get invited in without a second thought.

She and my granddad were both extremely active in their Presbyterian church. (I mention the denomination because she had been Baptist and my grandfather Episcopalian…Presbyterian was the halfway point between those religions, so there they were.) Grandmom’s service to the Lord was often, almost always, done in the kitchen. She helped with church dinners, wedding receptions, and the Thursday Pancake Breakfast. For several years, the church offered teenagers pancakes before school. I first went when I was about 9 or 10. I helped my grandparents carry in supplies, I ate pancakes and helped them load the car back up. Eventually I was one of the teens eating pancakes on Thursday mornings. And it was free. The church paid for it all.

She was so much a part of the kitchen that when it came time to buy new dishes, she was the one who chose them. She taught Sunday School when she wasn’t attending her own Ladies’ Group. She worked at Vacation Bible School. She was, as they say, a “good person”, a “good Christian”. Yes, she was. But she wasn’t good because she was Christian. She would have been a “good Buddhist” or a “good atheist”…she was good. She just happened to be Christian.

Her heart was huge, large enough to hold the hundreds of people she knew as well as the strangers she met on the street, in the store… She glowed with love. No other way to put it. She was Love, personified. It drew people to her, to bask in the love of her heart.

And for me? Well, it’s not that I *don’t* love my mother. But when I think of Mother, the source of all wonderful-ness, the person I want to be good for…I think of Grandmom. She let me prattle on about anything and everything. So did my mother. But Grandmom’s listening had a different feel to it, an intensity that my mother’s lacked. Sometimes I wonder how my mother can be as she is (another blog someday, when I’ve had my mood stabilizers, haha), coming from that home.

My Grandmom loved cardinals. She had one that she fed peanuts to…and if she was sitting out front, the bird would come and chirp at her. So she’d say “All right, I’ll meet you out back.” And by the time she went through the house, got a peanut and stepped out on the back porch, he was there, waiting for her. She also loved Canada geese and I cannot see a “V” of them without wanting to show her. She loved purple, something I obviously inherited from her! Being born in February, her birthstone was amethyst. Lucky! I now wear her amethyst ring, as well as an amethyst pendant and her gold bracelet…all the time. (I wear other jewelry all the time as well; getting any imaging done {x-ray, especially MRI} is a study in removing a pound of metal off my body. Okay, I’m exaggerating…but the count is impressive: 7 earrings, a tongue ring, 2 rings, 6 bracelets, 3 necklaces, an ankle bracelet and a toe ring. I’ll be able to trade with the natives for food and blankets when I’m on a trek.)

Grandmom was not a trend-setter. She dressed like…any other grandmother. (Side note: she still had her wedding gown, a glorious, gorgeous heavy satin gown; I tried it on when I was 17 and thin…could not get the waist of the dress past my shoulders.) She was petite, standing only about 5’3-4″. She, like so many of us, weighed more than she had as a young woman…but she was a joy to hug. She was a champion back-scratcher. Even after 50 years in Baltimore, she still sounded like she had stepped off Tara just yesterday. Soft spoken, Southern accent…when I worked at an assisted living community, all those little old ladies, with their white hair and their Southern accents always reminded me of her.

She was generous in a way that has nothing to do with money. She was generous with her love; she was generous with her home, but most of all, she was generous with her time. That’s something most people do not, cannot, do. She was thoughtful and she was wise. She was kind, the sort of kind that we sorely need in the world today.

She was my Grandmom and I miss her. Happy Birthday, Grandmom!

Compassion for Others Begins With Compassion for Yourself

“Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.” ~~Thomas Merton

“Compassion is the greatest form of love humans have to offer.” ~~Rachel Joy Scott

“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” ~~Albert Schweitzer

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” ~~Lao Tzu

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~~Brian Tracy

“It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life, it’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power.” ~~Robert Kiyosaki

I have tried, my entire life, to be compassionate to others; to offer a listening ear, a hug, or whatever else seems the appropriate response for their suffering and need. I would like to think that I have achieved this…but lately, I have realized that I never offer myself that same compassion. In my head, I speak to myself in ways that I would never dream of using to another person. I am my own worst critic: cold, judgmental, harsh, unfeeling and uncaring. Since I have become disabled, it seems to have gotten worst as I blame myself for not being able to do the things I always have, even though my debilitating pain is a valid reason for the inability to do them. I just don’t cut myself any slack.

I believe I have mentioned Toni Bernhard to you before. She is the author of three books aimed specifically for those of us who are chronically ill, who have the most valid reasons for not living “normally” because of our health. She consistently mentions self-compassion, being kind to yourself and forgiving yourself for not being able-bodied or doing the things “that need to be done”. She planted the seeds of learning how to be loving and compassionate in my head–but more importantly, in my heart. I follow the Tibetan Zen Buddhist path, with all of the selflessness that entails. It’s very easy for me to be kind to others, to do what I can to alleviate their pains. However, it had not occurred to me to turn this way of living inwards, to my own soul.

And so I have begun to incorporate this into my daily life, as best as any imperfect being can. I don’t always succeed, but that’s part of the joy of both self-compassion and the practice of mindfulness: you acknowledge the lack, then let it go and start again. I am learning to have the patience for myself that I have never had before, to acknowledge my limitations without judging and without blame. My limitations just “are”; they exist without any connection to something I did or didn’t do.

In making this a part of my daily routine, I have discovered that I am also losing the rather judgmental way I had been perceiving the strangers on the street. Specific example: I am embarrassed, even humiliated, that I do not shower as regularly as I used to (every other day),  nor do I shower as often as I need to. For someone who sits quietly most of the time, I sure can get stinky–and my hair gets greasy. Being showered and well groomed has always been important to me but I no longer have the ability to do it on anything approaching a regular basis. I simply lack the stamina and flexibility it takes to wash my hair or to bend and twist to wash my body. Some days, a shower is my greatest–and only–accomplishment. I think I had accepted this as just part of my life as a chronically ill person, but I was not self-compassionate about it.

Now when I see people on the street and they are less than my idea of groomed, I know from  my own experience that it’s not from a lack of caring about how they look but rather from not having the ability to do so. Eureka has a fairly large homeless population…so there’s a whole segment of our society that doesn’t have consistent access to a shower. I know that this does not mean they are somehow less of a person than someone who can. I just didn’t apply that mindset to myself.

It’s not just about showers. It’s about anything for which I can condemn myself. I have always said that I have a great deal of patience for everyone else, but never for me. With the onset of chronic illness, with symptoms that prevent me from holding a job, I am being forced to learn this patience for me and my (perceived) short comings. Our society makes a lot of perceptions about its members, some of them valid but I think mostly mistaken. Perceptions are judgments–and who am I to make judgments about others when I have enough issues of my own?

I am wrestling with more than not having a paycheck job. My mother raised me to be a Southern housewife, to take care of my husband, keeping house and cooking meals. Add to that cooking the fact that before I became this ill, I was working towards having my own business as a personal chef. I feel disappointment in myself because I cannot clean the house as I want to. I am particularly unhappy at my inability to make basic meals, never mind the “gourmet” dishes that I so enjoyed creating.

These feelings, while valid (because all feelings are), are neither useful nor self-compassionate. I acknowledge the concepts of using our minds to (help) heal ourselves but what I have cannot be “thought” away. I  have structural damage in my spine which cannot be easily remedied. Any sort of treatment that would work, could work only for a while; there’s a reason it’s called “degenerative” arthritis. I do believe that with mindfulness–but especially with compassion for my own being, I can reduce or relieve a great deal of my pain and various lesser ailments.

For example, I must acknowledge the limitations my body has now, not what it used to be able to do. If I refuse to accept the true state of my body, I may be able to “push through” and do the thing(s) I want to–but I will pay for it in greater pain and even less ability for a period of time exponentially larger than the amount of time those actions took. Simple facts are simple facts, and the truth is very simple: I am very limited as to what I can do now versus what I did *then*.

Another aspect for self-compassion that I need is to stop the self-deprecation. I forget something–a word that means just what I am trying to convey or a task that needs doing. Then I chastise myself for being “stupid”…when it just a state of being. I understand that being in pain means less attention to focus on anything other than that pain–but I am still working on allowing myself the compassion to not fret about it and certainly not to punish myself. I am attempting to retrain my mind such that I accept my state of being, at whatever point I may be, on any given day, just as a state of being, with no particular emotions tied to it–and certainly not negative emotions.

The only time we can be sure of is this moment…and this moment…and this moment, for all of the moments of our lives. Trying to live at any other time, past or future, means that we aren’t living NOW. NOW is all we truly can have, can experience in “real” time. To live in the now is very difficult sometimes, maybe more so for some people. All of us have connections to the past and hopes for the future but if we let those connections and hopes replace the moment, we are not living our lives to the fullest, nor being the person that has this moment. “Be here, right here, right now. Everything else is just a dream.”

What is so important about self-compassion? As with real and abiding love, we cannot be truly compassionate (or love) anyone else until we know that feeling for ourselves, within our minds and hearts. It needs to be a natural and inevitable part of each moment, something that we don’t need to think about, or have to do any specific ritual to bring about this behavior.  We “fake it until (we) make it”–and it only takes 21 days to establish a new habit. At first, it may seem contrived and even foolish to speak to ourselves with compassion. But if you will persevere and continue the practice of being kind to yourself, I believe you will find yourself both feeling happier as well as being a better person for that practice.

“If you believe it, you will act on it. If you continue to believe it, you will act on it again and again.” ~~Hugh Prather

Our minds create our reality–what we think the world is, it is to us. So if part of our world view includes negative ideas about who we are or what we are, we will continue to behave in ways that will support, even validate that view. We create a mindset that establishes a certain point of view and we can become locked into the view, no matter if it is actually true or not. A quote from Doug Adams says it all: “He was amazed at how different the world looked from a point three feet to the left.” That world view includes our own being; sometimes we need to step “three feet to the left” to get a new angle, a fresh perspective on what we thought we knew–even about ourselves.

If we are seeking to make our lives more fulfilled, if we want to create peace in our lives and to maintain the practice of loving-kindness and truly living in this moment, we must start from the point within ourselves that is the core of our being, the “who” of who we are. It is one thing to require real changes to ourselves because we are making poor choices in how we live–and quite another to berate ourselves for things beyond our control. Would you blame a person for being blind? Would you belittle someone for being elderly? Of course not. Then why would you–or do you–blame and belittle yourself for circumstances beyond your control?

And life is always about choices–and the magic of choices is that you can always choose a new way to go or do something. You are not bound to the past unless you CHOOSE to be; you are not endlessly longing for the future unless you CHOOSE to be such. Self-compassion is for those times when you are in pain (mental, physical, spiritually) and you want to lessen or alleviate that pain by understanding that all beings suffer and so the choice is the manner in which you deal with the problem.

Through compassion for our own state of being, we acknowledge our connection to the rest of the world, to everyone else around us. And we then understand that we are no more and no less than any other being–and compassion is the natural response for the human condition, even unto ourselves. The act of self-compassion opens us to a deeper relationship with those we meet. It encourages diversity and tolerance, mutual respect and a sincere honoring of the sacred being within each of us. And it begins with acknowledging our own sacred being, warts and all.

I close with this link: Self-Compassion from Toni Bernhard, in which she shares some thoughtful and inspiring quotes about self-compassion.

Namaste!

The Weekend is Here, But How Can We Tell?

One of the advantages about being disabled is that you can sleep when you want to, eat when you want to…and one day is pretty much the same as the day before. Only appointments make any scheduled order into this flow of time and that’s about the only way we can distinguish the weekend: there’s no appointments.

I got an appointment to see the podiatrist–and I’ll see him again in a couple of weeks to have a minor surgical procedure. He’s going to remove the edges of my big toe nails and touch the inner part of that removal with a chemical that will kill the cells that generate the nail. I’m looking forward to the end of ingrown toenails! I just can’t manage the angles needed to keep up with my own toes–and going to the podiatrist is WAY cheaper than having a pedicure. We’ve certainly had our share of appointments these past couple of weeks. Most of them just usual check up, follow up or weekly obligation. I saw my primary care giver last Monday. My labs came back within normal levels and we’re working on referrals for acupuncture and for a chiropractor. I had a video conference with the pain management team down in San Francisco–I’m their “trailblazer”, since I’m the first patient they’ve had the telecon with. We discussed all of my pain, how it comes and goes, what the Vicodin does (or doesn’t do) for me. The first and most important result of this conversation for me was the changing of my pain med. No more Vicodin for me–I’m on 15mg of morphine now. As far as I can tell, it works to get my pain a little lower than Vicodin, and the duration is 7-8 hours instead of 3-4. But since I’m only allowed one at night and one in the morning–and my days are longer than 7-8 hours, I’m having unmedicated pain for about 4-5 hours each evening.

The VA has a stair step of pain meds, and I’ve apparently been on a lower step. Vicodin is a short duration med; morphine is a longer one. I’m willing to bet that after I try drug after drug, getting a stronger dose each time…I’ll end up with the Fentanyl patch I requested in the first place. We shall see–and I shall keep you updated.

My parents gave me an inversion table for my birthday. It’s a Teeter EP-960 and it’s already helping, after only a couple of days of use. I’m hanging about twice a day–I want to add more, but being out of the house makes that hard. The folks also gave me the shiatsu/heated pad for the inversion table, so I lay on it while its rollers and such give me a very nice massage.

My oldest granddaughter, the Evil Genius (or EG) started kindergarten yesterday. I always tell young mothers not to blink their eyes because a child’s life flies by and the next thing you know, they are having children of their own. I know it feels that way because it was only yesterday when I had my little ones…and now they’re all growed up,  with families and lives of their own. It’s the one really big, probably only, regret I have about moving to Eureka, is leaving 99% of my family on the East Coast. My parents live in Corpus Christi,but it’s still far enough that we won’t see them, either. I’m so glad for Skype!

I continue to have puppy lust—sort of like baby lust, when a woman sees someone else’s baby and makes wistful eyes and cooing sounds, longing for one of her own (or remembering her own, depending on the age). I think babies are awfully cute, but I have zero desire to have another one. I’m finished with dirty diapers and midnight feedings and et cetera. But boy oh boy! do I want my own little puppy–and it would be a dog that wouldn’t weigh more than 4 pounds, since that’s about all I can handle. My own furry baby, to pet and hold and love on…I miss Harry, my Schipperke. As you can see, he was a fun dog!
BeachHarry0

It will be a while before I can actually get a dog. There’s the initial cost of supplies, buying the puppy and then of course there’s the ongoing maintenance costs. There’s also a small matter of “no pets” in our apartment. I can get the dog certified as an emotional support animal, which is very much a part of the reason I want one–and the landlord has to allow me to have him. So in the meantime, I go look at purebreds and shelter dogs–I don’t really care what the pedigree (or type) of dog so long as it’s tiny. All I can really find that would work really well are Pomeranians, which are godsawful expensive, or 7-8 year olds being thrown away at the pound. I’ll probably go with something I can find at the local shelter, but I do want a younger dog, preferably a puppy-aged one. Believe me, I’ll tell you all about him when I finally get him!

There’s not much else going on. I have an appointment today to have a manicure and this evening, Beloved and I go to a friend’s house to play Pathfinder–a  form of Dungeons and Dragons, or as I call it, “Make believe with other adults”. He gets to have pool therapy later on in the week; I’m hoping that the referral for acupuncture will come through. We’re on week 3 or 4 without any appointments. So that’s my life at the moment. I’ll be back eventually!

Namaste!

 

Summertime in Eureka

The grey clouds and slight chill have gone; there is summer here in Eureka, which is gloriously beautiful. The temperature hovers at about 70 degrees and we have sunshine galore. We have California dandelions as our lawn. They have a different leaf shape than the ones in VA–I first thought I had a yard full of thistles. But then they began to produce flowers…the standard bright yellow dandelions I’m used to–except that each flower grows on a single tall stalk. We have trees around the yard, so our dandelions are about 18 inches tall. And they track the sun, closing up at night.
IMG_20150719_114617[1]So we have this pretty array of flowers, even if they are weeds. I am a little concerned about snakes, which live in similar conditions. Hopefully the landlord will come and cut the lawn before very long. Or I’ll have to see if we can let Cooper, the horse I told you about in the last blog, graze and take some of this down. It’s not a new idea–the baseball diamond near the house shares space with the CA National Guard’s armory and they have 2 sheep and a goat that graze their way around them. Only in Eureka.

Speaking of which, I was at the nail salon getting my nails done (duh) and they had HGTV on, with some show about people wanting beach houses but having a small budget (like $350,000 budget; amazing what some people consider “small” and why on this green Earth they would describe themselves as “bargain hunters”). I wasn’t paying a lot of attention until I caught the “bargain hunter” looking at the fence on the property; it wasn’t a solid thing and she made some comment about having to change it. The realtor said, “It’s Eureka, nobody cares.” That sums up the people pretty well…do what you want (within legal limits, of course), wear what you want, be who you want…and nobody cares that you’re different. And trust me, around here? It’s damned hard to tell who is “different” when there is so much personal expression.

On a side note, they were looking at the house and it must have been summer, like today. Bright and clear, the “bargain hunter” kept talking about how open everything was, how the windows and sliding glass doors “let the outside in” and what beautiful views of the water there were. I was highly amused and wondered if the realtor explained to her about fog, rain, and chill. Probably not, since she wanted to sell the house.

I am not quite as sunk in a funk as the last time I blogged. My referral for acupuncture came through and I have a new man in my life. He’s wonderful. He pokes me and I feel better. And of course I am referring to my acupuncturist. It’s amazing what having 35-50 needles stuck in you will do. It helps but as my Beloved says, it’s still a very thin layer on top of the pains so I have to be very aware not to overdo, since it would be so terribly easy to push beyond the limits I know. I also enjoy the fact that he points an infrared lamp at the soles of my feet to help keep me warm, as I lay face down on table–and another at the “especially painful” area, usually my neck. He also has something he refers to as “Chinese Ben Gay”. It looks like shellac or lacquer in a jar, and he applies it with a paint brush. It smells…well, Chinese…but I like the smell and it works very well indeed. I have purchased a smaller bottle of it to have at home–even share with Beloved, who has his own share of aches.

We must have caught up on our doctor visits, as we haven’t had many appointments in the past several weeks. We have added a new weekly event–we are playing a Dungeons and Dragons sort of game, called Pathfinder. My character is a cat who has been Uplifted–made as intelligent and capable as humans. His chosen class is a Hunter, which gives him an animal companion. Mine is a wolf. Beloved’s character was most foully murdered in her bed and he’s having to figure out the replacement. Yes, my character is a male and Beloved’s is a female; I guess that makes us cross-sex players.

(Mentioning sex players reminded me–there is a place up in Arcata called “Pleasure Time” and it is for adults only. I wish we were up to finding out what that’s all about. <grin>)

Anyway, we go to the Dungeon/Game Master’s house every Tuesday night and play make believe with dice. It’s social, we’ve met 4 new people and it’s an activity that we can partake without too much toll made on us. One of our players is VERY pregnant–like, she might not be there this week, but almost definitely not next week. Dunno what that will do to the game if she has to drop playing. You know, that whole newborn baby thing.

We haven’t done much in the month since you and I last spoke. We both have new CPAP/BiPAP machines, woo hoo! I’ve been watching movies on Netflix and finally saw “Lost Boys”. I’m still playing a lot of flash games–match three’s, bubble shooters, sims…something that doesn’t require a lot of attention and can be played or left alone. I’ve also been spending a lot of time on the Pathfinder stuff–had to write a back story for my cat, have to keep track of all the various points I have (or could have) and make sure they correct for the new level the adventuring party has reached.

So nothing extraordinary, either good or bad. Quiet days, some better than others. Going out when we have an appointment or need food. We’re still working on that trip to Costco. We’ll have to eventually because that’s where we get our toilet paper…so when we run out…
Just touching base with you, mostly. Nothing deeply profound to share…just a nudge to let you know that I’m still breathing.

Namaste!