Gratitude 2014

I wrote a couple of years ago about being grateful, but it’s high time I revisited this destination. It’s imperative for happiness, for perspective.

In the intervening time since that blog post, I’ve lost my mother to Alzheimer’s, my father’s moved into Assisted Living, two of our cats have passed on (Muffin and Frodo), and we’re in the middle of a fight to keep our house (legal battle with the County over Medicaid assistance for Dad).

I painted Mom's nails the day before she died; she always had impeccable nails.

I painted Mom’s nails the day before she died; she always had impeccable nails.



Frodo, near the end of his illness.

Frodo, near the end of his illness.



Muffin, my mother’s cat


Additionally, I’ve had surgery this year on my foot, keeping me immobile for a long time, then in a walking cast and on a scooter. Health concerns continue, unabated. Financial issues, as with everyone, seem to only worsen.  Justin and I have often thought that 2014 has *not* been our year.




Steve, the Scooter, and Rufus, the Cast

Steve, the Scooter, and Rufus, the Cast

 However, attitude is everything.

While I miss my mother terribly, and Alzheimer’s is the worst disease in the world, as far as I’m concerned (I once heard it described on NPR as a disease in which the victim watches as her own brain is eaten away), she was more than ready to go, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be by her side, holding her hand, as she took her last breath.  She lived a full and happy and interesting life, and left a massive legacy through her teaching.

Dad seems very happy in Assisted Living, and is getting healthier in some ways even as his age is slowly taking away other things.  He’s ninety-one, now, but still enjoying living.

Dad, winning at cards, as usual, at his apartment.

Dad, winning at cards, as usual, at his apartment.

Dad at Thanksgiving, 2014

Dad at Thanksgiving, 2014


Dad, Sept. 2014

Dad, Sept. 2014

Dad at Assisted Living at a music concert (his favorite: Stonybrook Band).

Dad at Assisted Living at a music concert (his favorite: Stonybrook Band).


Dad this week on Christmas.

Dad this week on Christmas.

We miss Muffin and Frodo immensely, yet we’ve acquired both Pixel and Hershel in the last several months. Part of owning cats is acknowledging that lives are finite, and grief is inevitable.  We do it because the pain is worth it.







Our legal fight is hugely stressful, and we still don’t have final results, yet for the time being we have a roof over our heads and are enjoying our property.  And as Justin and I keep saying, “You, me, and the kitties; that’s all we need.  We can face anything else.” We don’t want to have to, but we can if we need to. Us and the kitties: that’s home.

While the surgery and recovery were problematic, I’m walking and living without the daily excruciating pain that I’d had in my foot for over three years due to arthritis and bone spurs shredding tendons.  Every month, I’m walking easier and easier!

And finances?  Well, hell…that’s just the human condition (unless you’re one of the 1%). We’re both employed. We have a place to live (at least for now, LOL). We have plenty to eat. Everything else is gravy, when you really think about it!

Hershel’s story (written elsewhere) has done a lot to restore my faith in mankind, and to bring back smiles and hope.

Justin and I at a Twins game, 2014

Justin and I at a Twins game, 2014






My husband is the best person on the planet, in my opinion, and I’m grateful daily to share my life with him. And while we didn’t have snow for Christmas, we did get some the next day…it’s beautiful outside.







Justin, at dinner before an Ike Reilly show in Minneapolis

Justin, at dinner before an Ike Reilly show in Minneapolis

Justin likes coffee.

Justin likes coffee.


I love my husband.

I love my husband.


Justin with Wednesday Cat.

Justin with Wednesday Cat.


Here’s to seeing 2014 out–perhaps none too soon, but maybe I’m giving it a bad rap–and ushering a bright, beautiful, bountiful 2015 in.  

May we all have plenty to be grateful for in the coming year.


Outside our front door just now.

Outside our front door just now.




You Put Your Right Foot Out…

The exercise is going well.  I’m meeting my goal of putting in at least 1/2 hour of some sort of exercise, outside of what I normally get on the job, at least five of every seven days.  I figured that I got ten hours’ worth in last week, and I’m hoping to keep this going.

Already, I feel like I have more energy, overall, which is an incredible thing for a fibromite such as myself.  Those spoons are hard to come by, and having more of them is simply AMAZING, especially after only a few days.

But enough about that…I’m sure there will be plenty more in the future.  For now, some words about where I’ve been walking the past few days!

Sunday, April 29, 2012:

After returning home from a First Communion Party, we did some yardwork.  Nothing extensive, but it did require a bit of walking around behind a spreader.  We put the swing together and rewarded ourselves with a nice sit-down, in between the lilacs.

Our quite lovely flowering crab trees, and yard, on the overcast Sunday of fertilizing:

Smells good, too!

Gazebing, anyone?

For once, you can tell when to turn off the highway into our driveway!

 Monday, April 30, 2012:

We stopped for grass seed (we’d fertilized on Sunday) to overseed some bare areas, so without even stopping to change (often my *wall* moment after a long day of work), we got down to it, doing yardwork.  It was a spetacularly gorgeous spring day: sunny, dry, 70s, mosquitoes not yet out (though ticks are). I got so happy out there moving around, I asked Justin if we could go and find the trails we’d found last fall behind our house.  Plus, I wanted to find our property stakes to see how far back into the woods was ours. He agreed, and we set out.

On Monday, entering the Unknown Beyond The Mown of our property:


Those little ones really scratch up your legs…

Ah, the pines! And a meadow! And sunshine!

This marks the SW corner of our property, it seems, although we didn’t make this pile.

On the interesting trails (we still have no ideas whose they are…they cross several property lines…but we hope to find out to ask formal permission to use them.  For now, we’ve seen nary a “No Trespassing” sign, and these nearly abut our own property, so what the heck.  It’s GORGEOUS back there!

Justin in the distance; we’re careful not to step in snake holes (or whatever is living in the treacherous holes we found).

A little fairy circle of pines that is totally enchanting! I could live there.

Moss-covered trails. Also has violets and other lovelies.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012:

I’d signed up to join the teachers’ group that has an Adopt-a-Highway section along a four-lane (with median) Highway #169 south of Onamia, MN.  Today was the day…and we lucked out!  It wasn’t raining as we’d thought.  It was, however, extremely muggy and quite warm.  Because I’d signed up and we ride together, Justin joined us (and wound up much happier for it).

Here’s us wearing our lovely fluorescent yellow vests, me sweating like mad:

We won’t talk about the hair; it was pinned up, which is all I required.

Views down the highway:

Our new friend (that we moved from the shoulder to the wetland in the ditch).



The ditches, full of reeds and marsh, were full of red-winged blackbirds, and they were gorgeous. One of the group found a $20 bill, under a little scrap of paper. Justin and I discovered the remains of a snowmobile crash…plenty of windshield pieces still around.  People threw out, or lost, pieces of plywood, dozens of weird little blue plastic squares we couldn’t identify, some straps, and a large 8-gallon bucket (now full of marshwater and mud that Justin emptied).  The ditches were also full of ticks; Justin’s found two so far since we got home.

When we first began our section (Justin and I were a pair, walking south), I thought to pick up cigarette butts as well as larger pieces of garbage.  After about fifty feet, I saw the sheer idiocy of such a plan; without a garbage poking stick or claw, it was ridiculous to think we could cover our mile-plus section if we did so, let alone being physically able to bend over that often.  As it is, I’ll likely be very sore tomorrow–waist, backs of my legs, and the usual top-of-foot tendons–from bending over every four seconds to pick crap up, sweat pouring in my eyes and stinging.  (Next time: sweatband, plus better gloves.)

The walk back, since we got to set down the heavy bags and just pick up things we’d missed, was extremely pleasant.  By that time, there was a whole group of us heading back, and it was an added bonus that I got to know some of my coworkers better (two of them in this grouping were elementary teachers, so I don’t know them at all).

The sweat dried, I got to wash off in cool, lavender-smelling water when I got home, I worked up an honest appetite (chicken and two kinds of veg, tonight), and it was 75 minutes of very good exercise that also benefitted the Earth. Ain’t nothing wrong with any of that!


A Walk in the Woods

I’m 46, I’m fat, I’m sedentary, and I have a gazillion health problems.

For years, I’ve viewed my body as my enemy, or at the very minimum a foreign entity with which I’m saddled against my will.  Not a healthy perspective.  Moving has helped a great deal–I’m not sure how I can explain the connection between my self-concept and my immediate environment, so you’ll just have to take me on faith that the ground I walk on is important to me, as is the view from my window and the smell in the air. Now that I’m surrounded by trees, smelling pine, I’m happier.

But I’m still 46, fat, sedentary, with health problems…and possible more surgery upcoming (but I won’t think about that now, because it may not happen).

For a couple of years, I’ve had the pipe dream that I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Not all 2100 miles of it, certainly not at once, but *part* of it. Even a small part. For someone with my health conditions, as dependent as I am on pharmacology multiple times a day to keep living, that’s a big pipe dream.  Lately, I’ve decided, against all conventional wisdom, that I’ll do it. A hundred miles a year, maybe.  Starting (as we all like milestones) the summer after I turn fifty.

Which gives me four years to slim down, get in shape, try to get rid of some of the medicines I need (or least find ones lightweight and easy to pack…), and learn what I need to learn to not die the first five miles.

I’m very, very excited. Seriously excited.

Aside from just reading books (another blog entry, that one) and looking at maps, I’ve had to start, well, *walking*. Not quite hiking yet (although I have hiking sticks with me), but at least forward motion, not on pavement, for more than a few minutes at a time.  Another good thing about my move is that there are gazillions of hiking trails in my area, not least of which is a series of trails many miles long, of varying difficulty levels, practically out my front door.  Seriously.

I’ve gone out walking a few times now, and this week I set a new goal: I need to get at least a half-hour of exercise in, every five days out of seven, minimum. So far so good.  Aside from walking, I have big plans of joining the golf course here and taking up golf (after twenty-five freaking years), and getting my canoe water-ready and in the Rum River which is a block from my house.

My first few attempts were wonderful disasters.  Wonderful in that I felt awesome and walked and walked and walked and walked–for two hours or more–which left FibroGirl here *wasted* for days and days afterward, barely able to breathe. It feels so good at the time, I don’t feel like stopping.  But I’m learning.  I need to build. (Note: it’s not muscle-pain that slays me–there’s not even a whole lot of that–but absolute exhaustion, mental and physical, that is the fallout in fibro, and the deep, chronic, non-muscle-strain type of pain that is debilitating.)

My short terms goals are simple: by this upcoming autumn, I hope to be able to walk for a day (a few hours, with breaks) with a small pack with lunch, without wiping out my whole week. And lose 50 pounds.

By next summer, I hope to have lost another 50 pounds and by the following autumn, be able to weekend hike to walk-in camp sites, with full pack.

I’ll worry about further goals leading up to the AT (I figure three weeks’ worth at a time, every summer, for that) later.  These first ones, first. And if takes me longer, who cares.  I’m not going to fret about that.  As thruhikers on the AT tend to say, “Hike your own hike.” This is me, doing something for me, on MY damn time.

In order to help me forward with my goals, I plan to blog fairly regularly about my hikes, with photos.  I’ve already made lists of places nearby (within an hour or two of home) to hike on weekends this summer, and I want to keep it interesting.  I want the hikes themselves to be worthy, not just a means to an end. I want to live in the present while I’m preparing for the future.

To begin, some pictures and notes from walks (hikes) already taken this spring, in and around Milaca, MN and Onamia, MN:

Hike #1: March, 2012.

This was the day we discovered the trails just across the road from us.  It was an unseasonably warm day in March, not covered in snow (but only patches) because this spring has been so weird, and we set out to see what was up Riverside Drive across the highway from us.  We found, first of all, a gorgeous, hilly, expansive cemetery, and secondly, paths from it to all over the place.  This particular day we chose to walk down to town via the path over the Rum River, to Rec Park,  then across town to my mother’s nursing home for a visit.

Justin, on the road leading up to what will be new discoveries for us:

Justin, Riverside Drive Milaca, March 11, 2012

Forest Hill Cemetery, MilacaMilaca Trails


Bridge from cemetery to Rec Park, over the Rum River

Hike #2: April, 2012.

We walked up to the cemetery again, but decided to take the paths west from it to see where they went.  There are many categories of trails here…miles and miles of them…but they all start here.  We walked around a slough, through some woods and bogs, to the river, and back again via a stand of pines. We walked for hours, and it was incredibly pleasant. I’d forgotten my walking stick, however, and only grabbed a branch partway through.  Not a mistake I’ll likely make again.

Milaca Trails Map

Discovering new paths!

Rum River


Hike #3: April 23, 2012.

Took the Milaca trails again, but this time on a different route, one that resulted in very up-and-down, hilly, densely wooded trails, and our getting lost, basically, not knowing the way back.  It was hella fun, though, and we did make it back after a couple of hours.  Wiped me out, but was pretty darn worth it!


Off we go! With walking sticks!


Smile! We're walking!



Hike #4: April 24, 2012.

Onamia, MN, is on the Soo Line Trail, a long ATV/bike trail that runs from Genoa, MN (southwest of Onamia) to Superior, Wisconsin, over 114 miles away. Across Highway #169 in Onamia, the the Soo crosses via an immense bridge, and I’d always wanted to walk over it.  S o, we started in the heart of town and followed it out a way, on a warm, sunny afternoon, and returned.  I want to do various sections of this trail, too; preferably in the woods.


Overpass on Highway #169, Onamia



Hike #5: April 28, 2012 (today!).

I had the idea to go to Riverside Park in Milaca and check it out, which we did…but a walking wonderland, it’s not.  Great for picnics, or landing your canoe, and would be fantastic for frisbee.  So, after walking the river as far as we could, we headed back to the Milaca trail system and did the “red” (difficult”) section again, for about an hour.  Lots of up and down, lots of trees, and since today was very cold and overcast, it was, at times, nearly spooky…but that only added to the fun.



Canoe landing, Riverside Park, Milaca MN

Riverside Park

Into the Woods, Milaca Trails


Mushrooms, anyone?


I. Love. Forest. And Justin...


Trestle bridge over the Rum.

I’m Not Really a Hypochondriac; I Only Play One on TV

I often worry I’m a hypochondriac.  Actually, I know I’m not, but I often worry that others will perceive me as a hypochondriac. My medical history is just too weird, too full. This fear wouldn’t mean much…except when it does.

Take, for instance, the fact that since our move in August, my parents’ cat, Muffin, and our cats, Ella, Frodo, Litha, and Wednesday, have been waging a war. Muffin growls when any other cat is in view, the other cat simply is curious and wants to check her out, the fur flies, doors are closed between, and resentment and malcontent reign.  I dislike this conflict, so I counter with daily “kitty integration” time…which often goes very badly. Take last Friday night, fer instance…

It was late.  I was very, very tired. It had been a long, difficult week. I just wanted to sleep.  However, if I closed the bedroom door with just Muffin in with us (as has been the case), the other cats worry at the door and pull up pieces of the very expensive carpet. If I open the door and integrate, I deal with growling and catfights all night. What’s a girl to do?

Our bedroom

I was just going to transition from open-door integration to closed-door house destruction, and Muffin and Frodo–the pair that cause the most trouble as they struggle for alpha–were both under our bed.  Justin and I were both lying on our stomachs next to the bed, attempting negotiations of the feline kind, when I decided that I’d simply move Muffin to on top of the bed and hopefully Frodo, who was showing his belly (i.e. acquiescing to Muffin’s dominance), would simply leave.  I grasped Muffin by the scruff and was gently moving her to a position in which I could pick her up with both hands, and she, accordingly, yowled a bit louder.  Not in pain, but anger. Something we’ve been through a zillion times.

Muffin, sleeping on Justin's pillow

This time, however, the acquiescing Frodo heard or saw something that suddenly snapped his psyche, and in a split-second, literally–as in, I didn’t even see it clearly and didn’t really know what had happened–he turned, leaped at me, and bit my hand, the one around Muffin. Then took off like a bullet, the other three cats hissing and trailing him.

Captain Bitey-Pants

I was stunned…physically and mentally.  Justin took off to save Frodo from the gang fight happening elsewhere, Muffin removed herself to an undisclosed location, and I sat on the floor bleeding, my entire arm hurting, wondering why this felt so different from Frodo’s usually clawing.  (Note: Frodo is a giant cat, part ragdoll, with enormous paws and claws, and uber ginormous fangs; he’s generally a wuss and gentle as can be, but twice, now, in about nine years, we’ve seen him fear for his safety and lash out.  When he does, the lackadaisical cat suddenly becomes the fastest cat on earth.)

When Justin returned, I was still sitting there, bleeding and uncomprehending.  He led me to the bathroom and washed off my hand–we were deciding it was a bite, afterall, and one of the punctures was deep–and went to bed.  We thought that was the end of it.

The next morning, my hand in massive pain, I wrapped it and we went to Justin’s parents to do the fall chores.  My awesome mother-in-law took one look and brought me to the bathroom for a peroxide wash.  My awesome sister-in-law lent me some Thieves’ Oil for the week.  While I was swelling and in pain, I didn’t think much of it.  I was more worried that Frodo had broken a bone, by the way it felt, than any infection.

At the In-Laws' house


By Sunday night, I was beginning to worry.  The deepest puncture was swelling and red, with a very hard lump. My knuckles were appearing again, but very tender.  My hand felt warm to the touch.

I posted on facebook, with a couple of pictures.  I had dozens of good people tell me that I needed to go to the doctor, and soon.  In fact, some of these good people had said so two nights earlier, after the bite occurred.  I should have listened to them!

My normal (right) hand, unbitten, on Sunday night


Bitten hand, Sunday night


Bitten hand, another view, Sunday night

I finally did some research.  I saw pictures that looked amazingly like my hand.  Every site said that I needed medical attention immediately, and that–again–I should have gone in immediately.  But it was Sunday night in Milaca, MN.  The only available medical care would be going to an ER in Princeton or St. Cloud, and that seemed just plain silly.  Go to an ER for a little cat bite.  Phooey.

I went to work on Monday, feeling miserable.  I’d been sick to my stomach since late Sunday night.  My hand hurt. I had a headache. I called for an appointment and got one at 6:00 p.m., because I certainly wasn’t going to leave work.

Yep, you guessed it.  The doctor’s first words when seeing my hand were, “When did this happen?”

“Friday night,” I said.  It was now three days later, remember.

“You needed to be here Friday night,” the doctor said, then proceeded to poke around the lumps and debate whether she should open up my hand or not.

“Okay…I’m not going to send you to the hospital for IV antibiotics just yet…” she said, and I groaned.  “But that doesn’t mean you won’t have to.  For now, start oral antibiotics–amoxycillin–tonight, and if this worsens at all in the next two days, you’re going to the hospital.  And no matter what, you need to come back in a week so we can check for deep tissue and bone damage.”

It’s now Thursday afternoon, and the antibiotics (and Thieves’ Oil) are helping.  A lesser puncture wound swelled up yesterday, concerning me, but it’s been, uh, getting rid of its infectious material, shall we say, and better today.  There’s still a ginormous, ugly, painful mountain beneath the deeper puncture wound, but my knuckles are far less tender and the infected areas seem to be decreasing.  At least they’re not increasing, and there’s been no sign of the infection entering the bloodstream.

My hand, this afternoon (Thursday)


Pretty ugly! This is today's view

The moral of the story (besides “don’t piss off Captain Bitey Pants, aka Frodo) is twofold:

1)  My facebook friends are right.

2)  Don’t let the fear of appearing a hypochondriac stop you from getting needed medical attention.

I recall the autumn I got my diagnosis of Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism, six or seven years ago. For months, I dragged myself through my day, unable to move properly, in massive pain.  By the time I went in to the doctor, in November, I couldn’t walk the 200 feet from my classroom to the office without resting, and I couldn’t comb my hair. My hair was falling out, I was slurring my speech, and could barely function.  Yet, I’d not missed a day of work.  I thought I’d just gotten lazy over the summer, that my weight gain was my own fault and causing it all.

By the time I went in and got tested, my TSH (normal range 0.3-3.0) was at a whopping 84.75, one of the highest amounts I’ve come across in research. My muscle CPK levels (the stuff that makes your muscles feel tired after a workout) were at 747, at rest…and normal is around 60-80. It was a wonder I wasn’t comatose (myxedema coma is the final stage of hypothyroidism).

It took me two years to get my TSH under control, and years later, I still don’t have it right.  I take more hormonal supplement (the only treatment) than anyone I’ve ever met.  They don’t even make pills with a high enough levothyroxine content; I have to take two pills.

I also recall the time I refused to go in when I had chronic asthma so bad I could barely breathe (and this just months before the Hashi’s diagnosis).  While I’d quit smoking  months earlier, I still felt horribly guilty about it, and pooh-poohed the idea. If my husband hadn’t come home, unexpectedly, from work that day, I’d be dead.  Instead, he found me moments away from losing it and rushed me in; by the time we got to the clinic, I was starting to turn bluish, and my blood pressure was 200/120.  I was gasping and climbing the walls.  I spent five days in the hospital on oxygen, and have taken daily asthma medication ever since (which has worked wonders).

After I had abdominal surgery in 2005 in which I lost a fallopian tube to a torsioned ovarian cyst, I quickly realized that the surgical wound wasn’t healing as expected.  I hobbled around for a couple of days, then called, tentatively, feeling silly.  I was told to wait a day or two and come in, which seemed sensible to me.  The next day, I exploded with staph infection and my husband rushed me to ER; they cleaned me up and sent me home, telling me to check with a doc the next day.  The doc took one look and admitted me to the hospital, where I spent several days on IV antibiotics and the next several weeks doing wound irrigation for infection.

Okay, so I get it. Let them think I’m a hypochrondriac. It’s okay to check to make sure things are going okay. I get it, I get it!

We’ll see…  🙂


My Joy Looks Like Kittens

Twig the Fairy, on Twitter, just tweeted “What does your joy look like today?”

Good question, and timely. I’ve spent what little of the day I’ve been awake for doing unpleasant things. I’ve been trying to get things lined up for the mortgage on the new house despite lousy communication among two different bankers at the same bank (who don’t seem to share information), my father in another town without e-mail, and our realtor (okay, this last has great communication–thanks, Bonnie!). Additionally, the house here is in chaos–more so than usual–because of the packing and boxes everywhere.

And, on top of that, Dad called after his followup visit with the eye doctor a week post-cataract surgery, with bad news: The new lens has partially detached because of his having had shingles in that eye, and the tissue being unhealthy. He’s going to have to go to Minneapolis on Monday to have it redone by another doctor, one who’ll sew the new lens in rather than trust in the tissue to do the work. Aside from the “ewwwww” factor, Dad certainly doesn’t need the stress.  The whole moving thing is keeping him on edge.

So, what does my joy look like?  Angry and confused black scribbling, perhaps?

angry scribble

angry scribble

Perhaps this needs a re-vision.

  • I’m joyful that my Dad is not in pain.
  • I’m joyful that I’m available to take Dad to Minneapolis, despite the fact that he kept apologizing for my having to (apologizing for *what*, I kept saying; he’s my *Dad*…this is what we do, and besides, going on trips with him is fun!)
  • I’m joyful that the house we want and have been dreaming of isn’t yet off the table; it’s just a bit rocky getting there, thus far.
  • I’m joyful that my awesome husband just brought me tunafish sandwiches!

I’m alive, and loved, and while things may be stressful and chaotic right now, my life is that of royalty compared to much of the world, and it seems somewhat shameful to complain about things when I have it so good.  Today, I get to eat my sandwiches, post on a blog, pack some more clothes and books, watch a Twins game, and maybe read a book later, or knit, or go for a walk.

So, today?  My joy looks like this:

Alzheimer’s, a Bloody Thief

My mother has Alzheimer’s disease; she is in about stage 6 (of 7), from what I can tell. She also suffers from spinal stenosis which has limited her ability to stand and walk, so she’s wheelchair bound, as well.  The last few years have been Hell, especially on my father as he’s not only been her spouse of 60-plus years (they’ll celebrate their 65th anniversary this upcoming December), but decider, caregiver, and advocate. Until quite recently, my father–himself nearly 88 years old, now–cared for her at home, alone, including feeding and bathing and bathrooming, as well as taking care of house cleaning, gardening, mowing, snow removal, shopping, bills, and all the tasks that life necessitates.  While she’s spent short periods of time in various nursing home facilities, she’s been home, with Dad, until January of this year, when he finally placed her permanently in a Memory Care unit.

Mom and Dad, circa 1995

Mom and Dad, circa 1995

Then, he promptly got sick himself and nearly died.  Twice.

Dad’s on the road to recovery from kidney and heart failure, but he’ll likely not regain all of what he was before his illnesses in February; he lost forty pounds, first of all, and didn’t have that much to spare to begin with.  He’s gained a few back and we hope to help–with Justin’s cooking–in his gaining twenty pounds more back (his goal) after we all move in together this summer.

Dad & Muffin, Feb. 2011

Dad & Muffin, Feb. 2011

I bring this up because today, Justin and I were in my parents’ town to celebrate Father’s Day.  Dad had gone to “break Mom out” of the home for dinner, so we all went out then returned to their home so Justin could help move some boxes (my father’s far more along on packing than we are, to no one’s surprise, despite his having had eye surgery only days ago, the use of only one arm, and being shaky while walking with a cane). I sat with Mom while Dad directed Justin and the handcart.

And I was totally unprepared for my response to Mom’s current stage of dementia.

Alzheimer’s, I’m finding, not only transitions with very blurry edges in the patient, but tends to sneak up and surprise the Hell out of the family members, as well. I’ve visited with Mom, in person, at least weekly for months now, so it’s not like there’s been a lot of time elapsed. I just was at her place on Thursday, four days ago.  But today, sitting with her in their Den, despite the fact that she was in a terrific mood and happy and laughing (and had been flirting with the waiter, in Norwegian), broke my heart.

My mother, the wordsmith, the woman who’s never been quiet more than two minutes in her whole life, the veteran teacher who taught grade school for forty years, who’s read and promoted quality language use her whole life, no longer has the ability to use the right words.

Mom, heading to California, c. 1944

Mom, heading to California, c. 1944

I’ve noticed this before, mind you; here and there.  It frustrates her, but I’ve always been able to understand what she was trying to say.  Often, she’s incorporated a word or concept spoken behind her (or on TV) into her own communication, but it’s been easy enough to follow.

Not today.  Today was an entirely different beast. A very ugly one.

She was speaking in word salad. Grammatically correct (as always, bless her heart); using the right parts of speech, correct syntax. But none of the words meant anything that she wanted to say.  Worse, when she’d ask one of us a question and wait for an answer, and none of us had the first clue what she was asking. It was as if she were randomly selecting words from pages in a dictionary, without any tangible connection to her thoughts that I could discern.

My parents, husband, and I: July 2007

My parents, husband, and I: July 2007

I turned off the TV, hoping that would help.  No.  I sought to find patterns in initial letters, or concepts, or images, but could find none.  Her brain seemed to simply be supplying words chosen by a roll of the dice.  And she had no control, and worse–she realized she had no control.

She attempted to maintain her sense of humor, and to keep communicating, but I was horribly frustrated and–to my own shame–embarrassed. Not of her, exactly, but of the whole situation. Damned mad, which I process by becoming overly anxious and short.  More than once, I left the room to find something to do to get away from the incomprehensible communications, and then I felt bad for doing that.

Next time, I hope to be more prepared for this.  I hope to find a way to communicate with words even when the words haven’t any meaning.  She could understand us just fine, which is helpful, but I can’t imagine being my mother, being the woman I’ve known, without being able to verbally express my thoughts. What a horrible, cruel, worthless shitty joke to play on her.

I hate Alzheimer’s more than ever, today. Hate it. Hate it more than cancer, waaaaay more than fibromyalgia or Hashimoto’s disease, more than anything.

Alzheimer’s has just robbed my mother of her greatest joy.

My parents and I, Mother's Day 2011

My parents and I, Mother's Day 2011

Have you seen Julie B.?

I’m not generally a sentimental person. At least in my adulthood; as a child and teenager, I had massive issues with separation anxiety and attachment, likely because of being bounced around my first two years of life (foster care, bio mother, foster care, adoption) and, well, I wasn’t a happy kid. I also grew up partly on a fishing resort in Alexandria, MN, which was fantastic (and I have more fond memories of that than anything else in my childhood), but also meant saying goodbye, weekly, to friends I’d made, as they went home to the Twin Cities, or Illinois, or Iowa.

I used to have to keep every memento, every scrap of paper or photograph or tangible evidence of life experiences, even to the point of obsession. It was seriously as if the event didn’t happen unless there were written or photographic proof.  Boxes filled.  Drawers were overflowing. Add to this the fact that throughout my depression- and anxiety-ridden adolescence, I kept a journal (oy, vey, the horror of that now), which became a ginormous stack of wire notebooks, filled with the most godawful declarations of angst and despair imaginable.

Veronica, 1996

Veronica, 1996

My stepdaughter from my first marriage, Veronica, now twenty-two and living the academic boho life in California, also recalls that I would photograph her every move. (She also recalls that I would always have Kleenex on my person, and together, these two things raise my Motherly Quotient.)

Along the way, however, something changed. I know I, myself, got healthier, in some ways–I no longer need photographic proof.  Ironically, this movement toward not needing memory-enhancements coincides with my own once-perfect memory losing its strength from middle-age and, mostly, effects of auto-immune diseases and fibromyalgia, but that’s another story. I recently saw a Michael Moore tweet that pretty much sums up my viewpoint, in some ways: “More crazy things we believe:Taking a picture of our kid getting his diploma is better than watching it w/ our eyes& storing it in our brain.”

Or, on the other hand, it’s less to do with noble philosophy and clutter and more to do with I really don’t want to remember a lot of things from my youth.

I have never attended a class reunion, for starters, and don’t really see a time when I will.  High School was miserable; I was bullied, I hated myself, and I still cringe when I see the building. Ick. For the most part, people I went to school with that I wanted to stay in touch with, I have–or I’ve reconnected in other ways–and I have absolutely no desire to buy a fancy dress to try to impress people who never liked me, nor I them, and listen to horrid 80s music that I couldn’t stand the first time around, spending money I do not have. (Okay, a slight bit of bitterness, perhaps…ahem…)

But I have lost touch with people from my past that I did like, and would like to talk to again, which brings me to today.  I dreamt this morning, before waking, of a couple of these people.  In this case, the kids of neighboring resort owners, kids I used to hang with quite a bit. Thinking of those two led me to think of others, and thus I’ve just spent the last two hours combing the internet, trying to locate them.  One of them I had a good lead on–I’ve been in contact with family members, etc.–and I’ve just posted to her brother’s facebook that I would like to get in contact with her (Julie B., are you out there?). She’s in St. Petersburg, FL, doing very well, and I seriously just watched nearly an entire online medical presentation about cleft palate babies because my old friend, a speech and language pathologist, was one of the presenters.  She looks exactly as I remember her at 16, dammit…

The other was tougher.  I found her mother’s obituary, eventually, which made me sad to see, and that, in turn, pointed toward Oregon where my friend now lives.  However, my friend has a very, very common name, and that’s as far as I’ll get right now, it seems.

Today’s activity leads me to a couple of conclusions.  First, the internet can be entirely scary. I did a search on my name (after finding the tool) and you can see a picture of my house. I’m not about to pay the money to find out if the site is accurate as to my hobbies, religion, and income. Second, nostalgia can hit at the oddest times, but perhaps it’s because I’m moving and saying goodbye to yet another place and group of people that’s triggered this. (Not to mention avoidance of sorting and packing…)

After my divorce in the late 90s, I found I wasn’t able to let go quite as quickly as I’d want to.  I’m not big on process, and I don’t deal well with the non-logical (i.e. emotional) aspects of life when they consume me. I sought a therapist, who pointed out something that should have been obvious to me: because of my attachment issues, I don’t do goodbyes. I’ve always avoided them.  I recently was explaining to my husband and a close friend, here, that I’m thrilled that I didn’t find my new job until my school year was over, because facing saying “goodbye” or having others say it would have been murder. I’m far better at just sneaking out in the middle of the night, leaving a note, and starting new without looking back as much as possible.  Which works fine, until it’s a divorce, of course, or others don’t understand and assume I don’t care.

And, I suspect, such behavior also tends to lead toward the frantic, “OH MY GOD I HAVE TO FIND JULIE!” moments twenty-five years later on a Saturday morning.

Mindfulness, Lesson One

I mentioned yesterday that I’m on my second try at getting through Vidyamala Burch’s Living Well With Pain & Illness: The Mindful Way to Set Yourself Free from Suffering. It’s taking me effort not because of its prose (which is clear and concise), nor its tone (which is helpful, non-patronizing, and gentle), but because I am pretty the poster child for “Frenzied Tuck and Roll through Life.”  While I’m very Type A on a great many things, and I’m not one who’s known to live life through peace and attending to the moment, I also realize that I don’t necessarily want to be this way.



I could use a little, well, tempering.  And not just with my health.  But I’ll start there.

So. I’ve read–twice, now–in this book about “blocking” and “drowning” habits of avoiding whatever the problem is, both of which I do, a lot. I’m very good at Avoiding That With Which I Want Not To Deal, which may be helpful for a few minutes, but far less helpful when one makes a life out of it. I don’t always do this–I’ve faced many Monsters and reduced them to smithereens (fear of public speaking to the point of panic attack if the teacher called on me or a classmate said “hello,” for instance), but I have many left.

The pain from fibromyalgia is one of them.

I’m not as bad off as many, or even most, with the condition.  I’m still working outside the home, I’m able to get around without help, etc.  However, it’s not my only condition, either, and as it looks like I’m going to have pain for most of my days for the rest of my life, I’d best learn some coping mechanisms that don’t involve going fetal and screaming for my Mommy.  (Not that I do that. I go fetal and whine, usually, and swear a lot.) I’m not about to give up my pain medications when I need them, but I don’t want that to be my only defense, either. Hence, exercise, acupuncture, less stress, and–I hope–mindfulness.

As the book explains, the Buddha’s Two Arrows lesson is one that wise humans understand:

When an ordinary person experiences a painful bodily feeling they worry, agonize and feel distraught. Then they feel two types of pain–one physical and one mental. It’s as if this person was pierced by an arrow, and then immediately afterwards by a second arrow, and they experience the pain of two arrows. (p. 20; Endnote to Samyutta Nikaya 36.6: Sallatha Sutta, “The Arrow.”)

One of the first lessons in the book to avoid that second arrow is to take inventory of all feeling when next the pain comes.  Not just draw arms for battle, but to quietly pay attention to all the body sensations, good and bad, without judgement. They just are, and some are pleasant (the kitty behind my head grooming herself) and some are not (the screaming aching in my wrists, hands, and shoulders, today).  I didn’t last too long before getting up, whining (just a little bit), and going for the medications and a bit of a massage from my long-suffering, patient husband, but I did do it. Without tensing too much.

Garden Buddha

Garden Buddha

For a few seconds, at least.

And that’s a start…

Changes, Shakeups, and Being the Worst Blogger in the World

So, yeah…the whole point of blogging is to do it regularly.  Not, as the case may be with *some* bloggers (ahem) every year or two, but, you know, at least weekly.

I am setting a goal right now to do that.  At least once a week, form my thoughts on education, life, the universe into a coherent (or semi-) whole to post.  Not that I believe others won’t live without insight into my psyche, but because it’s good for me. It’s part of my reflection process, and important.

And, besides, I love blogs (other people’s) and I love writing and thinking, so…there you have it.

Okay, enough meta-process analysis.  Blech.

We’re moving! Yep, that’s the big news here. I have resigned my job at Minneota, I have accepted a position teaching English in points NE (of here) close to Lake Mille Lacs and St. Cloud (and far closer to the Twin Cities and Duluth, both), and we’re moving.

In addition, my 87-year-old father is moving with us, each of us selling our respective homes and combining efforts and living space in a new home, and then also moving my mother, who has Alzheimer’s and is in Memory Care, to a facility closer to us.  It’s all very, very exciting, and very, very nerve-wracking, especially for a person (moi) who hates banks and bureaucracy with a passion that borders on the pathological. I opened my first bank account in years on Friday in our new town (to have a place for automatic deposit of paychecks), and it was a joint savings with my husband so I still don’t have to deal with it if I choose not to.

Baby steps.

As with any major shakeup in life, it’s a time for a person to boil down the ingredients of one’s life and come to some sort of essence; mine is no exception. I have three goals for the next couple of years with all these changes, and they are, in no particular order:

  1. Hone my teaching practice; better lessons, better feedback, and better focus.
  2. Increase my physical health.
  3. Attain financial health.

Part the First:

I think I’m a good teacher, but like anyone who’s good at what they do, there’s room for improvement. Always. Changing districts is an opportune time to learn from past habits and adjust accordingly. I will be teaching different grades, different courses, in a different cultural milieu, and in a school that’s been going through a focusing process of its own because of AYP issues and reorganization. While anyone who’s ever spoken to me for four seconds knows I disagree, vehemently, with the mindset and process of NCLB and AYP, that doesn’t mean that everything that’s done to address it is bad.  I think shakeups are good, in general, on occasion, as long as they’re done for the right reasons and with some sort of common sense and transition between. I’m unsure at this point whether what’s happening at my new school is mostly healthy or mostly unhealthy, but I suspect the former, by a great deal. I have enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with colleagues and administrators thus far, and the overall feeling I get in that building is not despair and oppression and resentment, but good humor and hope and professionalism. I hope I’m right!

The Principal of Curriculum (or it’s a title like that…I’m still learning…) has already given me two books to read over the summer: Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time (Jane E. Pollock) and Conscious Classroom Management: Unlocking the Secrets of Great Teaching (Rick Smith). I’m always up to find new and better ways to ply my craft, even if I know I won’t agree with everything (the first is built on the premise that the teacher is the number one factor affecting student learning, but I believe that subsequent research has proven that while the teacher is extremely important, socio-economic status and environmental factors actually have more effect, especially before a child enters school). However, that difference in opinion doesn’t mean squat if I’m trying to be the best, most effective teacher I can be, and I suspect this book will help me a great deal.

I haven’t begun reading the second book as of yet, but I’m interested.  In my nine-plus years of teaching, discipline and classroom control have never, ever been  issues for me, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m a big believer in the Love & Logic philosophy, but I’m very intrigued by learning other methods and means of having a respectful and fun classroom.  I look forward to learning from this book, as well.  (And I’m sure I’ll be blogging about my reflections on these books in coming days…)

My New Environment

My New Environment

Part the Second:

Ah, health. The last few years have tried to kill me, repeatedly (not always just metaphorically, either). I keep NOT finding the time to try to get healthier, and that’s my first habit to break. I. Will. Find. The. Time.

Moving to a place that is full of trees, including pine and birch (natural blood-pressure relievers for me), and water is going to have an enormous effect on my health, for the positive. This may sound silly to those whose environments aren’t integral to their well-being, but I’m a creature of trees and water. I have never been comfortable on the prairie, and I crave–CRAVE–being surrounded by trees.  I’m not moving to the North Woods (which I would love, but that’s another story…), but I am moving off the prairie. I will be able to see water every day if I choose (Lake Mille Lacs, which is a HUGE lake, plus other smaller lakes and many rivers), and trees are around everywhere.

Additionally, my best friend since seventh grade, Mimi, lives and works in the very area I’m moving to (a twist of fate that will warrant its own blog entry eventually). She is the healthiest person I know, and she has promised to help me find some peace physically and mentally. Already, she’s given me suggestions, and through her I’ve learned that across the road where our intended house (if all goes through) lies is a Natural Healing Center that offers, amongst other things, reasonably-priced acupuncture.  While I’m a science-based, non-homeopathy-believing person, I do believe in a mix of traditional and modern medicine (when there’s science behind it), and acupuncture has been proven (by the Mayo Clinic, no less) to help relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia.  I’ve had a few treatments in the past, and I found this to be true.  I will gladly spend the money to have regular treatments, especially when I don’t have to drive six hours round-trip to receive them!

I am also going to invest in a good treadmill, since this house (hereafter referred to as The Beauty House) has a master bedroom large enough to have both the bed and exercise equipment. Therefore, my morning routine can easily contain a few minutes of watching the news while on a treadmill before my shower.  Considering my contract days will be 7:30-4:30, plus whatever extra meetings and extracurriculars (four-day-week schedule), plus some Mondays, this will be far more attainable to going to a gym. Beauty House also has a whirlpool in the master bath; there can be evening treadmill followed by a soak in the jacuzzi.  Again, this makes for a Happy Karla.

And, intentional living…finding some mindfulness and a less frenzied a goal, and will also help.  I’m trying yet again to get through Vidyamala Burch’s Living Well with Pain & Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering, because I do believe the principles behind it would help me.

Finally, living with my father will bring some order to our household; regular meals made at home. Healthier ingredients. More peace.  Of course, not yet knowing Justin’s schedule (or even where he may be working), this could change, since he’s the cook, but I think it’s a goal we can reach one way or another.  Dad being in the same house will also ease my own stress level immensely; while living together will bring other stressors (he and I are both innately stubborn, intensely private people), I honestly believe they will be far offset by not worrying that he’s fallen, or hurt, or terribly lonely, living on his own miles and miles down the highway from me. And Dad seems quite pleased with this prospect, which is the best part of all. There will be evening games of Buck Euchre and Pinochle; there will be good, healthy meals; there will be a new yard for my Dad to apply his nurturing gardener hands. And it’s a nice, little town, the one we’re choosing to live in, that will be easy for Dad to get around in and, we hope, meet a new friend or two.

Part the Third

The financial health should follow directly from the other changes, mostly.  Combining our households will help us all, not only in covering the basics but in keeping track of things.  My father is an amateur accountant who actually enjoys (yes, I said enjoys) balancing checkbooks, adding up figures, analyzing budgets, and planning for the future.  All of these things Justin and I suck at (but have been getting better, especially Justin). This move will be another chance to start fresh, and that’s a mighty good feeling.

And Dad will be watching over my shoulder, which, despite my advanced age, is likely something I need.

In Summary:

I am very hopeful, very happy, very energized about this move (except for the actual packing and sorting part). I will miss my colleagues and friends here on the prairie, but I’m not moving to Romania or anything (which is what one friend heard when we said where we were going, LOL). I seem to like to shake things up in my life every decade or so; they’ve served me well in the past.  I have every hope that this one will be beneficial, as well.

So, I used to have this life, see…

My husband and I just spent the last few days in Rochester, MN, as I was visiting–yet again–the Mayo Clinic (which I can’t recommend highly enough, but that’s for another post). I have, among other things, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, and asthma, and I was working on making these conditions better (though I’ve been a patient of so many departments that I can’t recall them all). Some treatments are going better than others, let’s say.

On Thursday night, Rochester was having (amidst its downtown road construction) its summer “Thursdays on First” street fair, with the requisite tents of fun and funky crafts, food stands, and live music. It was incredibly hot, but hundreds of men, women, children, babies, hippies, hipsters, teens, the aged, the healthy, the unhealthy were moving about happily, with a great vibe in the air.  We weren’t headed to the street fair–we had a goal of catching the Twins game at Newt’s, but that turned out to be full so we walked several blocks back to our car and found another place.

Now, I love street fairs.  Seriously love them. They’ve long been my favorite places to be.  I love the sense of community, the varied people, the wares for sale, the food-and-music, all of it. I would travel miles and miles to go to a street fair, no matter the type. I love the open air, the colors. I even used to love the heat and sunshine.

I realized as we headed back to the car that for most of my history, you couldn’t have dragged me away from the street fair, Twins or no Twins. I would have been looking at the purses made from coffee bean sacks, the handmade jewelry, eating fish-on-a-stick, dancing to the music, laughing and sweating happily. That person, however, is gone.

I was fatigued (fibro and Hashi’s both). I was in a lot of pain. The humidity made it very difficult to breathe (asthma). The bright sun hurt my eyes, my photosensitivity having increased annually. And, the more my autoimmune diseases take root, the more I realize that just as with people with Multiple Sclerosis, heat triggers flares.

And, well, I was broke, which didn’t help…

By the time we got to the car, I not only wanted to collapse in an air-conditioned heap with a Vicodin IV, I was in tears.  I mourned for the person I used to be. I grieved for the woman who loved spontaneity, she who would don a tie-dyed dress and bangles and dance no matter who was watching. Who didn’t hide from the sun, who didn’t take like 18 prescriptions daily, who didn’t have to pace her life so that she could make it to Friday without calling in sick.

And I hated who I’d become, feeling useless, old, broken.

Well, I recognize that spiral. Self-pity, like rich brownies, is fine in moderation but one cannot make a meal of it without negative consequences, so I allowed myself that little cry. We found a cool, dark place to watch the Twins. I had a good time with my husband, with a good meal and lots of laughs.   And I still mourn for that tie-dyed banshee, but I’m not completely willing to give up on being her again. I don’t know how…but I am determined to not lose her entirely.

Maybe I’ll have to choose a “good day.” Maybe I’ll have to dance a little less, move a little more slowly. Maybe I’ll have to pre-medicate before going to the fair. Maybe I’ll have to pick a cloudy and cool day. I will likely have to concede the spontaneity, but I do not have to give up completely.

So, I’ll have my little cries, and I’ll vent on facebook and twitter (my spoonie friends understand). My husband will know how much this really bothers me, and he’ll be my hero, always, for making my life possible without making me feel weak.

And I’ll go dance in the freakin’ tie-dye, dammit.  Eventually.

Me, BCH (before crap health).  Huzzah!

Me, BCH (before crap health). Huzzah!