Thursday, January 28, 2016

Updates

ME
Three days ago I tied up my well worn Nike's and went for a walk.  Almost 6 months to the day since I broke my ankle. I've been taking short walks with Buddy. If you can call them walks.  For a dog that is not only teacher's pet, and an A+ student in class,  walking around the block is no "walk in the park" (pun intended). It's mostly sniffing. If there's something stinky out there, Buddy is the one to find it. His non-discriminating palate can zero in on a cat turd like a drone searching for an ISIS stronghold.

Adolescence for a dog usually occurs around 6 or 7 months. From what the trainer tells us, this period of time is a combination of terrible twos and puberty. So far, he's right on track. He has developed some doggy pimples on his chin, which I attribute to his constant drool. His adult coat has come in, replacing soft puppy fur.  His bark has deepened to something a junk yard dog might use to scare people away. In Buddy's case, it's more funny than frightening. He has learned from his big sister, how to stare out the front window and warn us of possible stranger danger. For all his teenage characteristics, he is scared of loud noises and still suckles himself to sleep on his fake fleece bed. We refer to it as his "mama" bed.

Today is Buddy's 8 month birthday. If I could get him on a scale, I'm pretty sure it would hit the 70 pound mark or more. Wrestling a 70 pound bundle of inquisitive, leash-yanking, tripodding  (putting on the brakes and locking his hind legs into an I'm-not-moving stance) dog and fighting to lead rather be dragged, does not make for a fun walk or cardiac workout. My elbow, shoulder and back, however, have been well exercised. I come home drenched in sweat.

I consider my almost 2.5 mile walk around the neighborhood quite an accomplishment. My toes still tingle. My ankle still swells. But there's no pain. This means, I hope, that I can get back to my daily walk routine.

SWEETIE
We went to the neurologist this week for a 3-month check up. With no discernible differences in his memory or behavior these visits feel a tad pointless while, at the same time, like there's one of those black cartoon bombs with a lit sparkler on the end sitting under the examination table.

Like most doctor appointments, these are pretty routine. Blood pressure, temperature and oxygen rate taken. Prescription list updated. I don't know about Sweetie, but I don't start getting nervous until the doctor actually makes an appearance. It's those memory questions that worry me.

Doctor: "I'm going to say three words, then you repeat after me."
Sweetie: Okay.
D: Apple.
S: Apple.
D: Blue.
S: Blue.
D: Glasses
S: Glasses.
Sweetie has to stay focused cause the doctor continues asking questions.
D: What day is it?
D: What city are we in?
D: Copy this picture.
Nothing real challenging, unless you're brain is shrinking. The doctor sits at his computer, recording Sweetie's responses. Then, as if it's no big deal, he asks the killer question - what were those three words.

I realize these questions are not about me, that Sweetie is the patient. But I always breathe a little easier if I can silently repeat them. Apple, blue, and glasses now reside in a spot in my brain, that I return to over and over as a mini-check of my own memory, which, let's face it, is not as sharp as it once was.

The main achievement of this appointment is that Sweetie has been ok'd for a PET scan.  While there is no definitive diagnosis of ALZ until an autopsy is done after the patient has died. MRI and CT scans can give a few clues. The PET scan is the best. It's more detailed. It's also expensive which is why the insurance company has been balking at the cost for 18 months. And here's the kicker, even after the test, we may be still not know any more than we know now.

I could tell Sweetie felt frustrated. He was silent but his body language screamed WTF? Silence hung in the air between us like humidity on a hot Florida afternoon.

Almost home, Sweetie yelled as he banged his fist on the steering wheel, "Do I have ALZ or not?"
There's the question we may never be able to answer. Needless to say, it's frustrating. For now we know the medication is controlling Sweetie's memory loss.  Maybe that's all we need to know.

Merry ME

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

At Sixes and Sevens



I'm not sure how to describe how I'm feeling today, so I goggled "at sixes and sevens." 

To be "at sixes and sevens" is a British English idiom used to describe a state of confusion or disarray. (Wikipedia)
Disarrayed works.  My small little world feels like a precarious Jenga tower where I need to be  careful in choosing the piece I want to remove or the whole thing will come tumbling down.



Silence is really vital to the human heart.
You see the human heart can’t live with
Constant sound or noise.
It needs silence in order to heal itself.
The only two things that are ultimately required 
for spiritual homecoming are stillness and silence
If in your day you can build little windows of silence
and little windows of stillness
You will never lose touch with your deepest voice.
You will never lose touch with your most secret belonging.
Even though you walk and talk in the world
You will never leave the inner, tender home of your soul.
Charles William Golding (1931-2004) 

Here I sit, alone. Surrounded in the quiet. In the sunny spot on the desk, Boy Cat sleeps like there's nothing more important. Buddy stands guard from the chair in front of the window. Maizey appears to snooze in the leather recliner facing the same window. I'm on to her, though. Any pedestrian, bike rider, dog walker, or stray cat that happens by will set off a barking session that could shatter ear drums. Sweetie and I traded places. I got out of bed, he got in. The man doesn't sleep much at night, so catches up during the day.

All that to say that I couldn't be in a better place for a quiet pause or spiritual homecoming. Yet I feel kind of wired, like I had one too many cups of coffee, only I don't drink coffee and my tea is decaffienated. Someone I know and love might point out that my body is crying out for it's morning dose of refined sugar. 

This may sound weird but I think I may be pregnant. Can one be creatively pregnant? Instead of a baby forming in my womb,  I kind of feel the fluttering of something creative beginning to stir. Although re-painting my kitchen or Sweetie's office does not sound "creative" it would be a good way to use up some dormant energy. I could take a walk, which I'm proud to say is something I can do again, with little discomfort. Again, a walk would be good for me, but would not use the right kind of energy. Writing is always an option. Truth be told, I think I need to spend some time communing with fabric.  The last thing I need to do is buy anymore fabric. But a trip to the fabric store might corral my creative juices. 

Wendy came for a short, 4 day visit last week. That's kind of like wanting to take a long, luxurious soak in a tub, and only having an opportunity to put my toes in the water. We packed a lot into those 4 days. We checked off all our favorite things to do together - get our toes done, go to a movie, eat at the Columbia House, drink tea, take walks. My favorite, perhaps, was the time spent in Barnes & Noble. Having discussed the pros and cons of big box bookstores,  both of us would like support independent retailers, with limited time and money, we opted for the tried and true. While it would be a stretch to compare a book store with a cathedral, I feel something akin to holiness when surrounded by books.  Like being caught off guard by the Holy Spirit during a boring Sunday morning sermon, there comes a moment every time I go to a bookstore, when I stand in awe and soak up the joyful effectiveness of books. (It's usually in the children's department!) All those words. The authors who penned them. The artist's who illustrated them. The lives, young and old, they have or will change. Not to mention the combined zeal of bibliophiles for their favorite genres. Kind of like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when it all comes together, don't you think?

But I digress. I do love books. I also love fabric. I get many of the same feelings inside Joann's Fabric as I do in B&N. There have been times in my life when walking past brightly colored bolts of cotton calico,  soft, snuggly flannels, and delicate silks proved as therapeutic as an hour with a psychiatrist. Knowing I have enough of a "stash" I've purposely stayed away from the after Christmas sales. If I went into the bedroom/sewing room and organized the fabric I already own, maybe I'll get the same kind of high as well as that good feeling that comes when you've made a big dent in the chore list.

To come full circle, another reason I'm feeling six-ish and seven-ish is because there's a woman I know only through FB that's really, really, really sick. She had a brain stem stroke. Miracle of miracles she is still alive and will fight with superhuman powers to regain the use of her lifeless limbs. That coupled with reading the book my son-in-law wrote before he passed away, makes me keenly aware of a) how quickly things can change b)how lucky am and c)how helpless I feel in such dire circumstances. It's no wonder I turn to fabric as a restorative elixir. Quilts are not just pieces of cloth sewn together with thread. There's a lot of love and prayer sandwiched between layers of  batting. That's where the healing comes from for both the quilter and the person who lies under the magic cloth. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Groundhog Day

Sweetie's been having a good deal of hip pain. Steroid injections have helped. Today we went to see a surgeon who specializes in hip replacements. I sat in a straight-backed chair in the corner. Sweetie sat across the room. If he felt nervous, I couldn't tell. I concentrated on the weird looking plug under the desk, doing my best to avoid 13 year old memories.

Two months after my mom died in October of 2002,  I sat in the same straight-backed chair while my father discussed surgery with the same doctor. It was my father's third rodeo. It would not be an easy surgery. Removing the old prosthesis would be tricky. The two men in the room decided to go ahead as soon as the holidays were over. I didn't have much say in the matter. With Mom gone, Dad I would become Dad's caregiver a lot sooner than I expected.

As expected, it was a long, difficult surgery. I stayed with him all night. When he opened his eyes in the recovery room, two things happened. Pain surged through him like a Malibu mud-slide, and he imprinted on me like a baby duck adopted by a Golden Retriever. From that moment on, in some  pain and morphine soaked part of his brain, our relationship changed. I stopped being his daughter and became a surrogate wife. His hallucinations featured my mother, but I was the one sitting next to his bed, holding his hand, praying for his quick recovery.  Our already complicated relationship became even more convoluted.

A couple days after surgery Dad was moved to the best rehab place in town. Run in a similar fashion to a maximum security prison, patients were well cared for but not coddled. They were expected to get dressed every day, take meals in a community dining room, attend therapy sessions and follow directions without complaint. This method works for nurses and therapists and patients alike. Well, maybe not patients like my father who did not care for being ordered about. What was to be a two week stay was over in four days. Dad told a young therapist to go to hell, and his stay was essentially over. That's when my work started.

I'll be honest, I'm not looking forward to a repeat. But that's not really fair is it? Circumstances are different, right? Sweetie isn't my father. Hip replacement techniques have improved since 2003. Sweetie's insurance won't pay for in-hospital therapy. He'll come home to my anything-but-tightly run ship. I'm now an experienced caregiver, a blogger with an outlet for my frustration.

No decisions have been made. There is much to consider.  Anti-inflammatories to try.  An insurance company to fight with. We both have time to get used to the idea. Deja vu be damned. As Julien of Norwich once said, "all will be well."

I'm sure I'll be writing more on this subject.
Merry ME


Monday, January 11, 2016

Inspiration

“The act of speaking our intentions aloud shifts them from wishful thinking into action.” 

Eleven days into the new year, Wendy and I continue with our daily practice of online connection.
Using the book Q&A a day - 365 questions * 5 years *1825 answers, we have answered a question a day. So far so good.

I realized yesterday the practice is not only informative, a good way to get to know another person on a deeper level, it is helping me live with intention. I usually read the question the night before or morning of the day it's asked. So I go through my day with the question in mind.

Yesterday we were asked to write down something that inspired us. I woke up with eyes looking for and heart expecting inspiration.  My first inspiration came from the Cracker Barrel waitress who served us coffee and tea.  A small girl held a big tray with one hand. She managed to put two full glasses of ice water, one tea pot of hot water and two mugs on the table, then pour piping hot coffee into Sweetie's mug without spilling a drop. I can't figure out how she did it. I don't normally pay attention to the gymnastics a waiter must go through to make sure I remain watered and fed and happy. I'm much more aware of when something goes wrong. Shame on me!

On the way home, we played a CD by Jordan Smith, the latest winner of The Voice. OMG. That boy can sing! But everyone knows that. What I didn't expect was the feelings I had in the vicinity of my heart when he sang one of my favorite Christmas songs,  Mary Did You Know? Some songs touch me. Some singers. Man oh man, when the two come together it's pure magic. I don't go to church much anymore, but as we sat in the driveway waiting for the song to finish, I felt as if I was in a cathedral. That's the thing about inspiration, it can take a normal, every day thing and make it holy.

Perhaps because I wanted to be inspired, I was. Or is it possible that the inspiration is always around and I just don't pay attention.  When was the last time you spent seven hours in an Emergency Room? Not as the patient, but the person who sits on the hard chair next to the bed, trying to stay out of the way. Depending on the emergency, things can move pretty slow in an ER. Tests have to be ordered, body fluids have to be collected and sent to the lab. Reports have to be made and sent to the doctor so (s)he can hopefully make a good diagnosis. The person who makes this experience even a little bearable is the nurse. The one who asks questions, hooks up machines, checks vital signs, inserts needles into rolling veins, brings in warm blankets, holds a bedpan, and listens to pain-wracked groans all the while remains calm, steady and friendly. After a 12 hour shift this has got to be hard. Nurses, I think, are unsung heroes. Last night, a nurse named Cindy inspired me with her ability to make a sick, crabby old lady smile.

Throughout the day, I remembered to pause long enough to be inspired.

What about you? What inspired you today?
Merry ME

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Pausing

Let us pause to warm our hands on the fire of life.


I have not posted for every pause, but I'm getting better at recognizing them.

Like this morning while sitting in the dentist's chair, napkin chained around my neck, head laying so far back it was near the dentist's crotch. I hate having someone poking around in my mouth. I'm way overdue for a good cleaning. Once it dawned on me that I had a few minutes of uncomfortable, but restive, not the lest, I relaxed into the chair. I closed my itchy eyes. I breathed.

Like sharing both the silence of the den and watching a movie with Sweetie. 

Like having a phone date with my sister and talking to 2 in the morning (my time). I didn't feel rushed or tired. Time spent with my sister is always sweet.

Like remembering to keep quiet and let my 95 year old friend speak to the doctor instead of butting in and answering his questions.

Like being quiet when my 95 year old friend shared a conversation with a mutual friend. Letting it be about them was not only polite, it was endearing to watch. I couldn't help but notice how tender this man is with old people. It's not just his job (selling medical equipment), it's the way he listens, offers suggestions, laughs, teases, accepts and respects them. 

Like reading instead of being in a rush while waiting for the paperwork to go through on our new/old car. 

Like savoring a cup of my friend Sorrow's hot chocolate with little tiny marshmallows and whipped cream; drinking hot lemon-flavored tea in the new giant mug Sweetie gave me; and discovering I like green tea! Nothing says "pause" like hunkering down on a afternoon with a mug of something warm to drink.

Like listening to Girl Cat purr as she straddles my across on my chest leg, wondering how she can purr so contently when she can't be too comfortable.

Like listening to my cousin tell me about the passing of her aunt who she cared for for several years. Remembering that people need a safe place to share their grief and I don't have to say anything, just listen.

Like noticing every now and then that Sweetie has a harder than usual time remembering a word or idea. The pause gives me enough time to decide whether to jump in and help him recall, and usually enough time for him to recall on his own.

Like taking the last few minutes of the day, after getting myself situated on my pillow and the covers pulled and tucked just right to say "Thank you God, for this day."


Like sitting amid, yet a tiny bit apart, the women in my writing group whom I hold in such high regard and soaking up their combined writer energy. 

Like discovering my new soul mantra talisman from Liz Lamoreau in my pocket and smiling. 

None of these pauses were long or particularly enlightening moments. Yet each one let face me an opportunity to loosen my tight grip of the reins of control.

The weather has turned chilly in Florida. I'm trying not to complain. As far as El Nino weather goes, we've had it pretty easy, so far. Not to cold. No tornadoes. No floods, mudslides or snow. A woman brought me some of her mother-in-law's nightgowns for 4 memory bears. What better time to work on sentimental project than now? 

Wishing for you a few moments to warm your hands on the fire of life,
Merry ME

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Operation ILYMT ... A New Year's Miracle

I just opened my email and got a huge surprise. Like the Angel Gabriel bringing good news to sleeping people in Bethlehem, my niece Shannon let me know that a) my previous ILYMT post was not lost and b) it had been published. If others of you have seen it, then you must think I'm as loony as the shepherd who believed the wolf in sheep's clothing was really a sheep. I cannot explain this except to say my computer is messing with me. I'm lucky to have an all knowing, benevolent higher binary power come to my rescue.  Not to mention Shannon. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I'm sure there is a message in all this craziness. It's clear I've got to practice leaning into my daily pauses, because there's really no point if I still fly off the handle and go postal at benign postal workers when my pause is interrupted.  It takes 21 days to form a habit. I've got a year to let the magic of  pausing sink in.

Below is the missing post. It may not be worth all the build up. Thanks for sticking with me despite my obvious lack of skills. I proudly claim the title "writer," not "IT person."

Gratefully yours,
Merry ME

______
I have just spent a quiet hour reading a year's worth of love notes. Sweetie and Maizey snoozed, while Buddy chewed on a bone. Johnson was out getting coffee. I had planned on working on new years cards since I never even unpacked the Christmas cards I did't t send last year. I decided instead to finish something daughter Wendy and I started this time last year - Operation I Love You More Than ....

I Love You More Than is not an original idea. There are books with that title, but none so sweet as this year's mom and daughter project. I don't remember when or how this saying got started with us. Was it when she was a child? Or maybe when she went away to college? I do know we've been adding an ILYMT note to our letters and emails for quite some time. Wendy even wrote an article about it in her work newsletter back in 2011. In response to a query about how to write a love letter, Dear Wendalina wrote:
"Dear Love-LetterPhone:I'm not a poet. I know it would be a lot cooler if I was, but I think that's the key to the wisdom I impart. You don't need to be a Latin lover or poet to write an amazing love letter. You needn't be a writer, nor have a way with words. Very simply, and like Michael Jordan and Nike implored you to do, just do it. Just sit down and write one. Write something. 
So where to begin? To that end, I quote Roger Ebert who once wrote, "The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before." What the heck does that mean? It means pick up your pen and start writing. Don't let your mind (which is probably yammering something like "I have no idea what to say," or "I'd rather be watching The Wire") get in the way. You can spend a lot of time on it, or just a little. And I, personally, think observations are the key when you let someone know that you've noticed the small things. 
For example, you couldn't go help but walk with a spring in your step if you got into your car and found a post-it stuck to the steering wheel that said simply, "I love the way you look in your jeans."

Wendalina concluded her response with this:
"And you know what? Moms love love letters too. And so do girlfriends who brought you a cupcake the day after you found out your boyfriend was a cheat. And kids and Dads too. It is always cool to be on the receiving end of a love note. So just do it. Write and send one today."* 

Last December, Wendy suggested we try writing a note every day for the whole year. The rules were simple. No pressure. No stressing about missing a day. Just take a moment or two to jot some love down. I'll be honest. Neither Wendy nor I are real good at finishing projects when we don't have a deadline or a paycheck riding on it. Operation ILYMT could have gone the way of organizing our closets or sifting through a year's worth of paperwork. We could have opted for a People Magazine and a nap. But we didn't. We were faithful. Sure we missed a few days, but having permission not to stress made it easier to pick up where we left off.  

I can't speak for Wendy, but I found the discipline welcoming. No matter how crazy our lives got (and believe me in a year with two surgeries in 30 days, extra big work projects, a puppy and kittens it was a crazy year) we found time to connect with each other.  Since we live on opposites ends of the country, Operation ILYMT became a sparkly thread that bound us together in a way  emails, texts and social media couldn't touch.  For me, it even topped Operation Birthday Postcard which was fun in its own way. 

So what did we write about? From enchiladas, to egg sandwiches, to chicken salad to cupcakes with sprinkles, food was the most often mentioned. A close second would be tea, cold or hot. Bella and Buddy and Jimmy were also mentioned a fair amount. What's not to love about any of those things. We also shared pictures or stories or movies that brought us joy. In a weird way, even sad things like funerals helped us find love to share. Many love notes were followed by comments written in a variety of colors. I never knew what to expect when I opened up the document, but was never disappointed. 

I'm kind of sad to see the year end because it means the end of Operation ILYMT. However, since we did so well on this project, we decided to try another one. Taking our cue from the book Q&A a day (365 questions*5 years*1,825 answers), during Operation Question and Answer we will choose a daily question and answer it. The same rules apply - no stress or worry. We do have permission to skip or revamp a question if it seems kind of goofy.  For example, Jan. 1's question is "What is your mission?" I had an answer immediately - to care for people. Wendy didn't like it much.  She'll  probably pick another one, or change the question in some way to suit her. Again, while there will be a kind of continuity, there will be surprises along the way.  

I don't know if you're looking for a new way to connect with people you love, or if you are like the Love-letter Phobe that wrote to Wendalina. Even if all you want to do is take note of the little things that occur in your daily life and write a love note to yourself, I highly suggest this way of saying I love you.

Here are a few examples:
5/4 … hydrangeas in bloom
5/4 … zucchini lasagna! (we)
5/2 ... A sunny day and a picnic with my workout crew. Happy birthday, Molly Jo!  (we)
5/2 … an I love you more note from my Sweetie (me)
4/25 … seeing dolphins swimming in the river. One even jumped up and did a backflip. (me) Wow!! (we)
4/25 …talking to my friend Kathy on the phone. I miss getting to see her everyday at work. (we)
4/15 … celebrating life. Be it a birthday or at a funeral (I did both today), it is good to spend time acknowledging all the good things a person is and does. (me) so true. (we)
3/25 … a hot, cheezy enchilada topped with fresh tomatoes and avocado. (we)
3/25 … my new red and white striped Jones of New York tee shirt with medium length sleeves. I look kind of like Waldo! (me)
7/1...a grilled cheese sandwich with avocado and bacon!! (we) I think I want one of these. (me)
8/15 … a hard workout on a Saturday morn followed by grocery shopping, followed by a loooonnnggg nap. So much to do, but I needed a nap so bad. Happy. (we) naps are Divine. looong naps are Diviner (me).
9/5 … running through the pouring rain with Kurt. (we) (Running in the rain is fun - unless there’s lightning. me)
10/2 …Chipotle guacamole.(we)
10/7 …a walk to get a tea when you’re stressed. Tea really does make things better. (we)
11/13 … This cute face. It’s a quokka (good scrabble word!) me This lil guy is ssooooo cute. (we)

You get the idea.

Today's pause brought me quiet delight. I think that's the whole reason for a taking a step out of the moment so you can be in the moment. Does that make sense?

Thank you Wendy for a great year of mother/daughter moments. I love you more than chubby cheeks and a perky smile.
Merry ME

*Dear Wendalina, http://tott.attachmate.com, 2/7/2011