Category Archives: Arthritis

What’s real, what’s true, what’s on repeat?

I buy it with good intentions, but good intentions don’t preserve lettuce. It usually dies in my refrigerator crisper.

For years I ate a salad almost every day. Every. Day. Trust me, if you do that – or eat anything every day (except maybe chocolate, cheese, and bread) – you’ll get bored.

I ate salad almost every day because I told myself it was good for me, and physically speaking, it is good when you consider salad at its basic nutritional level, sans all the stuff that makes it really good like croutons and ranch dressing, or if you’re in western Pennsylvania, french fries. But I also ate a salad almost every day because I told myself that if I didn’t put salad on repeat, I would gain a whole bunch of weight and show the world what an impulsive, undisciplined person I was.

Because of other people. Yeah…that’s a reason to eat salad every day.

What is real and what we tell ourselves is real are often different things, and often not true. Undergirding what we think is real is usually fear, which is NOT fun to admit, let alone deal with. It’s easier to blame circumstances or other people for our actions, reactions, and go-to coping mechanisms. In the case of eating salad every day, what was real had nothing to do with outward appearances and everything to do with my fear of losing control of my body, and then if (and I did) gain weight, having to love myself as I am, and then living inside that loved body in public (and in private).

I’m better with the whole loving-my-body-as-it-is, and I won’t go back to eating a salad every day in support of what I know now isn’t real or true, but sometimes I still act from within that false reality of “If I eat a salad, I am (somehow) a better person.”

Weight is an easy target. But often our feelings about our weight masks more wide spread beliefs of what we inherently believe is real but not true.

Tara Brach talks of this often.  There is so much false reality in the world, our respective countries, our backyards, and our lives. Individually and collectively, when we cling to and act on what we think is real – whether it’s our political, religious, or medical beliefs (I’m referring specifically to vaccinations), or ideas and opinions of other people based on their race, sexual orientation, or gender identification – we expose our fears. For instance, it is not possible to hate or even casually disregard someone who doesn’t pray or look like you, or to take advantage of or purposely hurt someone without being afraid, to the core, of losing something, be it self or national identity, power, or fate (either here or after death).

What does this have to do with eating a salad? There is so much injustice all around, from the self-inflicted and personal to the universal. I am in the world, and so are you. Our personal concerns and belief systems, no matter how big or small, mingle and coalesce with the world, and they affect the world in a micro and macro way. It makes sense, and is necessary, to take a personal inventory and contemplate what we think is real to discover if it merely supports an ideology born of fear or if it is true.

Here’s an example, something I experienced and wrote in my personal journal prior to my hip replacement in July.

I woke up this morning feeling deeply sad and frustrated. I’d had a horrible dream and it took me a few minutes after I woke up to realize it wasn’t real. It set the tone for the morning.

 After breakfast, I put laundry in the wash, loaded dishes in the dishwasher, and started vacuuming. My left hip kept threatening to toss my ass on the floor with every step. When I needed to change attachments to vacuum the bathroom floor, I couldn’t disconnect one of the hoses. I tried, failed, and cursed, tried, failed, and cursed before I threw myself against the wall and cried. I thought I was crying because I couldn’t change the hose and because my hip hurt, but they were just the catalyst. In and of themselves, hip pain and vacuum attachment failures wouldn’t make me cry. Make me angry, yes. But I felt empty, and an even larger emptiness rose up; an indescribable loneliness.

 I took a deep breath and did a brief inquiry, ala my years of meditation training, and I think I figured out that I was crying because I couldn’t stop thinking about how last night I witnessed a tender moment between an adult daughter and her mother. A simple thing, really. The daughter and mother were talking and laughing with each other in that familiar way parents and children do when they like each other as people and love each other as family. It’s an intimacy that the outside world isn’t meant to understand or intrude upon. As I cried, I realized that what was really true in my head and causing the tears was not the hip pain and the vacuum snafu. That stuff was real. What was true was I missed my daughters and was frustrated that I didn’t live closer, and – and this is the hardest one to admit – sad that I didn’t have that same kind of intimacy with my own mother.”

Parsing out all that shit was hard, but in the end it was worth it. The things I put on repeat – the “you shoulds,” the “how could yous,” the “WTF were you thinkings,” the “why are you crying now???” – deserve my attention! And your own WTFs deserve your thinking, too! I really believe that.

Take inventory. Ask yourself: What is real? What is true? What do I put on repeat?

The world feels like it’s turned upside down, and there are times when getting inside myself seems selfish. But if we don’t get inside ourselves and figure it out, who will? No one, that’s who.

Now go eat a salad. Or not. All I ask is that you question why you do what you do on repeat when it feels…wonky.

 

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Judgy McJudger Chooses the Carrot over the Whip

“We cannot judge ourselves into improvement. It doesn’t work.” Tara Brach

Yesterday, I did something I don’t usually do, mostly because I forget it’s the better, kinder thing. I made a pact with myself that if I vacuumed the house, made the bed, and cleaned the toilet, that I would reward myself by starting a new book (Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner).

Normally I say to myself, “Get off your lazy ass and get your chores done!” But I’m tired of being mean to myself, or rather, I’m tired of judgement being my go-to threat when I want to accomplish something. I would certainly never say that to a friend!

Judging is so…shallow and lazy. No real thought goes into judging. Over and over I know this is true because after all these years as a mom, grandma, partner, employer, and employee, I know that I get a lot more cooperation when I dangle a carrot instead of a whip.

So why doesn’t that rule automatically apply to me? Especially now. You’d think I would defer to a more kind approach since I’m only one month post-hip replacement surgery. I’m definitely on the mend, and yet my first thoughts on my recovery are usually more negative than positive. For instance, I can’t walk too far or too fast. I am still on a 90-degree restriction, meaning I can’t bend over very far or shave my legs past my knees. I can’t sit in a chair or in a car for longer than an hour without pain around the incision.

But what I can do is: Walk without a cane most days, and with zero hip joint pain. I wouldn’t be able to outrun a bear if it crossed my yard (which they do sometimes), but I couldn’t before either, so there you go. I have a grabber if I drop something, and I’ve mastered the golf ball pick-up move.

golf_ball_pick-up

Obviously, that is NOT me.

I can drive myself to physical therapy and to the grocery store to pick up my online grocery order. And for a week I’ve been riding the recumbent bike at home and at physical therapy for 10 minutes at a time, which is 10 minutes longer than I have the last 18 months.

Rather than buck, kick, and wish things were different or would hurry up and heal already, I decided yesterday that, since I have to put my feet up during the day anyway, I would use that to my advantage and reward my accomplishments. Also, I never thought I’d miss vacuuming or cleaning the toilet, but it felt really good to be self-sufficient again and contribute to the household chores. A positive reward in and of itself! Jim still has to do the laundry since the washer and dryer are in the basement and the stairs are uneven, but I admit that’s one chore I’m not anxious to resume, and I positively embrace that point of view!

Judging is a hard habit to break, but I’m consciously trying to be on Team Lynn and to see the half-full glass.

What about you? As I asked on my Zen Bag Lady Facebook page, do you reward yourself for completing ordinary tasks? Please leave a comment here or join us on FB!

 

 

 

Pain Is NOT an Identity

Physical pain is something most of us don’t like to talk about in public, or even among friends and family. I mean, seriously, who wants to be that person? Most people wouldn’t believe you anyway if you told them you hurt pretty much all the time, and it’s not easy to brace against the look that says, “Really? It’s probably all in your head.” When we’re asked, “How are you?” we politely reply, “Fine! And you?”

But pain can be scary, especially when its origins are unknown or sketchy, or the cure daunting, and when we carry that burden privately, holed up in our head, pain can make us feel isolated and emotionally weak. We might think we’re being brave by sucking it up and continuing to do the things that make us hurt, like it’s an act of defiance, but really it’s an act of denial. We take the Advil and the Tylenol and the prescriptions, and almost always we adapt, usually without realizing how and to what extent.

Now that I’m on the other side of hip replacement surgery, I recognize how I consciously and unconsciously coped with the pain, and how pain became my identity. I was someone who limped and sat around a lot. I planned my days by how many times I would have to move because standing, walking, and climbing stairs sucked equally and took a great deal of gritting my teeth to do. I stopped doing things I loved, like going to flea markets and perusing antique malls. Jim got the mail most days, even though our mailbox is only 40 feet from the house, up a slight incline. When we’d talk about going on vacation (hell, even going out for breakfast!), to me it felt like a pipe dream, something I used to do. I couldn’t think beyond the pain because it had taken over my life, and I had let it.

I also ate for comfort. My food intake was pathetic. Salads? Nope, because making one meant standing for longer than a few minutes. I’d throw a piece of lettuce and a slice of tomato on a cheese sandwich and call it a day. Fruit? Once in a while I’d slice a banana on top of a bowl of Cheerios. Most fruit and lettuce went to the crisper to die. White bread was more calming than whole wheat, Hershey’s Kisses more sympathetic than an apple.

Now that the hip pain is gone, I look at my world with a bit more hope. But I also realize how deeply embedded those adaptive habits are and how loud that voice is that still tells me I can’t. Therefore, I want to – consciously and in good faith – change the message and the habits.

  1. I want to listen to what’s going on in my body with joy and expectation that this new hip will allow me to move again without fear. When it would be easier to lay around, I will remind myself that it’s OK to move. To get up on that country road I live on and walk a little. Take the dog along, or call my neighbor and have her meet me halfway to her house a few tenths of a mile from mine. Who cares what I look like with a cane and T.E.D. hose? (Confession: I had to do some positive self talk this morning to get motivated to go to the grocery store wearing shorts, my T.E.D hose, and my sensible slip-on shoes. As I walked through the store, I realized that no one but me gave a damn what I was wearing, and it was a humbling and good lesson.)

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    First order of business once I don’t have to wear these anymore: a good shave and a pedi (in that order).

  2. I want to be more mindful of my food intake. Not that I will return to my militant ways from 2005 to 2012ish, but instead, I want to engage with food in a more balanced way. To see it as all things healthy and comforting. More vegetables, fewer nachos. That kind of thing.
  3. I also want to work on changing how I respond to pain in relation to other people. I noticed that in the last 18 months, I often compared my physical pain with someone else’s pain and pain circumstances, especially those that I perceived were worse than mine. I would then demote my experience to insignificant/not-so-bad, even though it impacted every facet of my life. But my pain is my pain, and it’s possible to acknowledge and sympathize with the pain others experience, while also acknowledging that what I feel is significant to my life.
  4. Also, there’s no need to feel guilty for reaching out to a friend to say, “Today is not a good day. I hurt. I needed to say that out loud.” I say this because today I reread something I wrote in 2014, the last time I had a hip replacement, that helped me remember that we really do need people, and that people need us to need them.
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Family therapy a few hours after surgery. The grandbabies brought me a pink sloth and a blanket that says “Namaste and Cuddle”. 

Pain is a suck fest, no doubt, but we’re better off acknowledging it, especially to ourselves and those closest to us. It’s the only way to be aware of our responses and our coping mechanisms. There’s nothing wrong with a good cry, a woe-is-me moment with a friend, or a slice of carrot cake when we’re mindful of why.

Pain is not an identity. It might be a part of our life, but it’s not who we are.

 

 

 

 

Laid Bare By a Questionnaire

Talking to a stranger about ourselves can (sometimes) be fun at a party or on a first date; cathartic when the stranger is receptive or being paid to listen; marginally OK/not OK standing in line at the grocery store; and downright disconcerting when the inquiry is particularly personal and your life kinda sorta depends on how you answer.

In preparation for my hip replacement on Wednesday, a surgical nurse called Friday to ask me questions about my medical history. Even the blogger in me, whose “job” is to write stuff about my life and share it with strangers, is unnerved by the medical interview because who doesn’t want to bring their best to an interview?

Martha, the surgical nurse, seemed very nice. She’d had her hip replaced last year, so she was empathetic. She started with the easy questions. Well, easy questions to answer, but not so easy to feel inside. Date of birth? How tall am I? How much do I weigh…? Apparently “Not what I’d like to” isn’t the right answer. Old habits die hard, and I made an excuse for being overweight again and vowed to her (reminder, she is a complete stranger who I’ll never meet) that I would lose 50 pounds once I had a new hip.

I could hear her typing and she offered no response, so of course I thought, ‘Crap, maybe she’s overweight, too, and I’ve insulted her!’, but I didn’t go there. Apologizing would maybe have furthered an even bigger cluster f*** than I’d potentially created.

My mind was everywhere it didn’t need to be at that point.

*deep breath*

Martha moved on. She asked about what surgeries I’ve had, how my various body systems were functioning, and how I responded to anesthesia. I gave short, succinct answers. She didn’t need to know that after I had my tonsils out, when I as 17, when I woke up after surgery, I lifted up the sheet and cried, “I’m naked! I want my mom!”

Martha asked if I had children. I said I did. God love Martha, I dodged a bullet when she asked, “When were your babies born?” I answered, without hesitation and with a deep breath out, “1983 and 1984.” In prior medical interviews, the question was phrased, “How many times have you been pregnant?” That’s a red-flag question for anyone who has had a miscarriage or abortion, and the response can trigger a shit-ton of regret and sad feelings. Thank you, Martha, for not making me go there.

Any depression or anxiety issues? Well, now, that’s complicated. I blabbed on for a while, giving her way more info than she probably needed, but then, I wanted her (again, a complete stranger) to understand that I wasn’t always depressed or anxious, and that lately, things were going well and…and… and… She listened patiently, and when I was finished, she simply said, “Take an Ativan the day of your procedure.” End of convo.

There’s so much about our lives we want to keep private, and it’s in our protective nature that we don’t want to offer full disclosure about things that, to non-medical folks like me, don’t seem relevant when being interviewed for a hip replacement. Just like a job interview, you want to stay upbeat and say what you need to in order to get the job.

Was I 100 percent truthful? Not really. But I doubt that the joint(s) I smoked when I was 16 (to 24) preclude me from getting this hip. I’ve had five other surgeries since that last high and I’m alive to tell the story.

Just don’t tell Martha, OK? (Or my mom.)

 

 

There Is Always an Otherwise

It’s early afternoon, and I write this propped up in my bed, listening to it rain…again…with my little dog Zuzu curled up at my side. Next to her is my tablet, in case I want to read or watch a show; my latest journal, which has some angry entries of late; my phone; and the strap I use to stretch my leg muscles, IT band, and hip flexors.

When I started writing this, I was reminded of a poem I saved from a teaching demonstration I gave in a grad class once, and I want to share it with you. It will help explain the rest of this post.

WHEN I COULD WALK

By Katherine M. Clarke

 After Edward Hirsch, “The Sweetness”

The times my failing body and I could walk 
come back to me now: strolls by the Charles River, 
ambles through Harvard Square…

Magnolias waved and buskers’ antics
delighted our summer nights, companions 
as we roamed and wandered.

Remember the bags of groceries muscled
from porch, to countertop, to cupboards? 
We made a dinner, we made a life.

Wasn’t that us sliding into a bath, slipping 
into fresh sheets, moving as we wanted, 
with whom we wanted, when we wanted?

They come back to me now, dear body of mine, 
the times when I could walk and loved you more.

I got about 90 minutes of sleep last night. Thanks to Dr. Google, at about 2 a.m. I learned I probably have a pinched nerve in my left hip. Twelve hours later, I fear sciatica has set in as well.

Surely we all know someone (yourself, perhaps) who suffers from no-turning-back physical pain or deficiency; the kind that will be around – in some form or other – the rest of their/our days. It is with all of us in mind that I write with empathy, sympathy, and – even – joy (or at the very least, acknowledgment) that we’re still breathing, one breath at a time.

When I turned 55 ten months ago, I was super OK with it, unlike when I turned 30, which I realize now, my response was ridiculous. I should have celebrated instead of getting drunk and getting a half-assed, unfinished tattoo of a dolphin because it reminded me of my high school boyfriend, who got a dolphin tattoo when he was in the Navy. What? But 30-year-old me, and most likely 30-year-old you, couldn’t possibly (thank god) know what life would be like at 55, and so we went with whatever flow was going on in our brains at the time, and my flow was having a bit of a meltdown. So be it.

These days, I’m less concerned with filling in that tattoo as I am putting my Humpty Dumpty body into some reasonable semblance of reliability. Last night, as waves of nerve pain snaked through my hip at 3- to 5-minute intervals, keeping me awake, I shifted from anxiety (thank you Ativan), to denial, to meditation. I concentrated on my breathing and told my thoughts that I’d think them later. For the most part that alleviated my fear, which was what dominated my monkey night mind. Can any of us claim to be rational in the middle of the night?

One of the more difficult things about grad school wasn’t the sometimes obscure reading, research, or writing papers. It was getting around campus on two bad knees, a bum hip, and a back in need of titanium rods and screws. Now, a year after graduating, and countless attempts at physical therapy, yoga, and trying to be “normal,” my body has slipped away from my control. A cane completes the leg that limps, 50 percent what it used to be. I sometimes let myself wish for my 48-year-old body. (I don’t think I’d know what to do with my 30-year-old body again!) When I was 48, I knew I wasn’t invincible. I sensed that my body and I were on the cusp of the inevitable, but still we had our adventures. I took advantage of my body because I knew it wouldn’t last long.

Last night, I wrote in my journal: “Do I want to live to 100? Meh…no. I’m OK dying ‘young’ish – sooner if pain will be constantly in the picture.” That neither alarmed or surprised me. I assure you I’m not suicidal. But the older I get, the more willing I am to face my fears. I don’t have to like them, and I don’t like how my body has betrayed me, but I want to live with them, live in this body, with as much peace as I can.

And so, from this perch on my bed, with my dog still beside me, I share another poem, one of my favorites, by Jane Kenyon, called “Otherwise.” In all of our lives, there is always an otherwise.

Otherwise

By Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed

on two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe, flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

 

 

 

 

The Luckiest People in the World

On the outside, it looks like I’ve done a lot of nothing the last three weeks. I power watched five seasons of “Nurse Jackie” and the new BBC series “Broadchurch,” and I’m well into season two of “Parenthood.” I read six issues of “Arthritis Today,” four issues of “Birds and Blooms,” two books, and every blog entry since October in my Feedly feed. I’ve played countless rounds of Hearts, Canasta, Backgammon, Cribbage, and Words With Friends, and I’ve listened to nine weeks of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” podcasts.

But when I look really close, I see I’ve also done something that makes me very, very uncomfortable, and I’ve lived to tell the tale.

Barbra Streisand sings what I’m talking about better than I can write it.

“People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world”

To need is lucky? I’ve never considered my “needs” as a lucky thing. When I need something or someone, it feels inconvenient at best and weak at worst, unless, of course, I can equally compensate the person helping me. But when you go through something like a hip replacement, and you can’t drive or tie your shoes or climb stairs or sit on a normal toilet seat, you need “a village,” and unless you’ve got a lot of money, that village is your family and friends. As I considered the surgery and the recovery, that didn’t feel very lucky to me.

So, I mentioned I’ve been power watching “Parenthood.” The show’s theme song is Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” After 25 episodes, the song’s message finally sunk in:

“May you always do for others
And let others do for you”

The doing for others part is a cinch. I want to help. I want to be needed. Doing is my thing. But the “…let others do for you” part isn’t so easy, because it’s not about paying forward or banking goodness. It means allowing others to love and to care for you without expectation of payback. Period.

When my friend Debbie drove an hour to visit me a week after my surgery, and she brought Panera and we ate in Jim’s bedroom because I was too uncomfortable sitting in the dining room…that’s letting others do for you. My massage therapist texted me just before she left to visit her family in Germany for Christmas: “I’ll be back on the 31st and can help you and will be glad to do it…It can’t be one bit easy to have such a major surgery, and I’m sure it wears on your emotions! I’d cry all the time!” She not only brought her table and equipment to my house for a massage this week, she insisted it was on the house. Letting others do for you.

And then there’s Jim. As if taking me home from the hospital and knowing that for the next three weeks I would need him to tie my shoes wasn’t enough, he called 911 when I had a vasovagal response the night I got home from the hospital, despite me telling him “I’ll be fine!” The paramedics couldn’t find my blood pressure at first, and when they did, it was 77/44. He stood at the foot of the gurney rubbing my feet, and he told me this is what people do when they love someone.

He hauled my four-legged potty chair to every holiday function. He built a non-skid stepstool so I could get into his pickup. He’s in the process of rebuilding his garage that burned in February, but he came over immediately when I caused a second-floor power outage when I attempted to run two space heaters (in separate rooms, in my defense) and I couldn’t get down the rickety 100-year-old stairs to trip the breaker. He takes me to the grocery store and physical therapy, and gets me out of the house when it’s the last thing I want to do but need to do.

“And let others do for you.”

We really are damn lucky to need people. It took a new hip for me to really get that.

Need, people! Don’t be afraid. It’s OK. Uncomfortable at first? Absolutely. But try it on. Be grateful. They want to help you as much as you want to help them. “Thanks. Couldn’t have done it without you” is the best thing you can ever say or hear in this life.

About Last Night…

There have been moments in my life when I’ve sensed the presence of a deceased loved one. While warm and bittersweet, I understand those feelings to be resurrected memories of the connection we had when they were alive; me consciously sating some need I perhaps hadn’t completely identified. I don’t believe those vague presences stem from a visit by their spirit.

That’s why I can’t explain what happened last night.

I often employ the “Just ignore it, it will go away” approach to healthcare. But after a months-long battle with hip pain – in which the last few days I’ve been barely able to walk – I finally mentioned it to my doctor. She ordered x-rays, and as I wait for the results, I’m living with limited mobility and a crap-ton of pain which makes me feel trapped, angry, alone, and scared, bordering on the edge of self-pity. And I hate self-pity, especially in the middle of the night.

Jim and I were at my house last night, and he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. My bed tends to envelop us like a taco and I knew my hip would not be comfortable within such limited space, so I got up and limped to the spare room where I lay awake, playing Canasta on my phone.

After a few hours, I found a comfortable position on my side, facing the wall. Hugging the top of the body pillow I’d tucked between my legs, I started to fall asleep, but not before Jim walked in the room and – saying nothing – placed a hand on my shoulder and one on the back of my neck and kissed my head, just above my ear. I felt safe and loved and more than that, I wasn’t afraid anymore.

I woke up at 4 a.m. when again, Jim came in the room.

“Why aren’t you in bed?” he whispered. At some point while I was sleeping, I’d rolled over on to my back, and Jim sat down on the edge of the bed and stroked my hair

“I couldn’t get comfortable and I didn’t want to wake you,” I said softly.

“You can wake me up anytime.”

“I know. But you knew where I was. You came in around 1, remember? You kissed my head.”

“This is the first time I’ve been up,” he said. “I didn’t know you weren’t in bed until just now.”

“What do you mean?” I started to cry. “But I felt so safe. I was finally able to sleep. I thought it was you.”

“No, it wasn’t me.” He moved his hand to my leg, covered in three layers of blankets, and began rubbing the top of my hip. “But someone wanted you to know they cared.”

When I’d crawled into that spare bed, it didn’t occur to me to reach out to anyone – dead or alive. I was entirely alone, physically and mentally. I made no effort to meditate or pray. I was resigned to my fear and went through every scenario I could think of for how – or if – I would walk normally again. I assure you, I was in the throes of self-pity. My mind was all about me. I had no conscious thought to partner with a departed loved one or god or anyone else.

Whoever or whatever touched my shoulder and kissed my head knew better than me what I needed, and gave me the one thing I could not give myself: peace. And even skeptical me knows not to attempt to explain, justify, or otherwise dispute such a gift.

How about you? Have you experienced something like this before? Leave a comment if you’d like to share your story.

Rebuilding

Seven months ago today, my boyfriend Jim’s garage burned down, taking with it 70 percent of all he owned in the world.

Second only to the pain of personally losing something or someone we love is watching someone we care about lose something they love.

Conversely, the same is true when we witness their Phoenix moment, when they rise above the loss.

Some people – including me – wondered if Jim would sell his place and move away from the memory of that night in February. But he meant what he said when the fire still smoldered: “I’ll rebuild.”

I bought this bracelet yesterday:

When I saw it, it struck me that for awhile now I’ve been living in the future. “One day, when my knee doesn’t hurt anymore, I’ll ride a bike again.” “One day, when I say no to the white bread in a restaurant again, I’ll lose weight.” “One day, when I work out with hand weights again, my arms will have the definition they used to.” Envisioning an end goal without considering the journey is like Jim dreaming of one day having another barn. He can dream all he wants, but dreams don’t get things built.

Whether you’re rebuilding a barn or rebuilding your resolve to lose weight or start exercising…again…starting over takes a lot of courage. The work will take place in the shadow of what took away what you built in the first place. Will the same thing happen again?

Today, seven months after the fire, there is no sound more lovely than that of a backhoe hauling away ash and debris and digging a ditch for a water line. Soon enough, there will be a barn, of that I am certain. There could also be another fire, of which I’m not certain. But that’s the chance you take when you rebuild something you love.

Cooper inspects the site of the new barn.

‘Tis The Season

Making the best of this particularly wintery (and technically it’s not winter yet) holiday season has included a walk through Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh and watching Jim (aka the Irishman) try out his new skates on the rink, dinner with friends, and a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert.
On the heels of a few 60-degree and sunny days last week was Friday night’s ice and snow and Saturday morning’s 28 degrees at the start of the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for arthritis research. Fortunately, a couple thousand people still showed up – including yours truly, my daughters, and my two oldest grandchildren.
Notice the semi-creepy photo bomb?

Claire and Luca ran the 100-yard Tinsel Trot. It was Luca’s first race and he ran his heart out. Claire placed third.

Cassie, in her Chuck Norris shirt, ran the 5K in 22 minutes and change, and Carlene, Jim, Claire and I walked almost the entire 5K in 47. Claire’s legs were getting tired and we took a wee shortcut, but still managed to keep our time at a 15- to 18-minute mile pace. Considering I couldn’t feel most of my toes (and Jim wasn’t going to carry me on his back), I thought that was pretty darn good.

Claire choking her ride

Let’s see…what else…

The Happy Bookers are reading “Christmas Jars” this month, selected by my kind-hearted and always positive friend, Cookie (even her name is fun!). What a well written and engaging story. If there’s a little ice around your ho ho ho this season, I highly recommend you give it a read, preferably lying on the couch, wrapped in an electric blanket, and drinking wine. Or maybe that’s just me…

I’ve watched “Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and next week, I’m mailing out a few Christmas cards, despite what some bah humbuggers think of the tradition.

“There’s little point to writing a Christmas update now,” Nina Burleigh wrote in Time. “The urge to share has already been well sated.” Sure…if everyone you know uses email or is on Facebook or Twitter. Twenty people on my mailing list don’t have email, or if they do, it’s only because their kids set up an account for them and they’ve long forgotten their password. These folks don’t care about social media, either.

It may not be chic to exchange Christmas cards anymore, but I rather enjoy catching up with and staying connected to the people with whom I don’t text/email/gchat/ichat/ or otherwise communicate electronically. I like seeing photos of their grandchildren, their gardens, their RV trip across the southwest. In a social climate increasingly diminishing its attention span to 144 characters or less, it’s relaxing to read a letter summarizing a friend’s or relative’s year of joys, sorrows, and gratitude.

My dad sent me lutefisk, something I haven’t eaten since going vegetarian six years ago. Because I’ve added some fish to my diet, I am excited to renew the tradition of eating lutefisk during the holidays. I just wish my dad didn’t live so far away. It’s way more fun eating it with him, but Jim wants to try it, despite my warnings, so this could be an interesting meal, too.

Of course, you can’t have lutefisk without lefse. As you recall, I made 40 rounds by myself last month, but that lefse’s long gone, eaten by my daughters and sons-in-law on Thanksgiving. Because I send lefse to three of my siblings and my dad for Christmas, I need to make even more this time, so tonight, Jim and I (Team Lefse, as he’s dubbed us) will roll and flip and fold somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 rounds. I’m sure Christmas music will be involved. Tall, strong, carpenter boyfriend knows every word to “We Need A Little Christmas” from “Mame,” (he likes the Angela Lansbury version), and has two Christmas channels preset on his XM radio.

Come January, I will be tempted to take “a long winter’s nap,” but I’m moving in the middle of the month, so not only will there be no post-holiday rest, but I doubt I’ll find my “kerchief” for a while. In the meantime, let it snow, I guess. Complaining about it would be as useless as stopping the cat from playing with the Christmas tree.

Lessons Learned From A 3-Legged Cat

Three weeks ago, Irish adopted a cat.

Not just any cat.

A three-legged cat.

Cat was the pet of a man who recently passed away. His daughter already owned three cats, two dogs, several mice, a couple of birds, and a ferret. She loved the cat, but simply didn’t have room for another pet. A vet tech, who knew of her situation and was familiar with Irish’s soft spot for all cats, feral and domesticated, called him to ask if he’d consider adopting the 4-year-old.

When I met Irish in January, his cat Boo Boo was still alive and very old. Boo Boo was Himalayan, and because I have a mild allergy to cats, being around him caused me a few issues. But I’ve been around cats for most of my adult life, and because God invented Kleenex and eye drops, I dealt with it. After Boo Boo passed away in May, Irish started feeding two feral cats who found a way inside his barn to bed down every night. When he got the call from the vet tech about Cat, he asked how I felt about him owning another house cat, given my allergy. There was no way I could (and no reason for me to) say no.

Cat was NOT a happy camper in the carrier. When the daughter brought him into Irish’s house and released him from his prison, he ran under the bed. Nothing Irish or I did could convince him to come out. He stayed there for three days, venturing out only in the middle of the night to eat and use the litter box.

The details of Cat’s life prior to living with the man who’d passed away are sketchy. Cat lost his leg, the daughter told us, due to a fight with a wild animal. Cat’s ears are also chewed up a bit. She also said that prior to living with her father, he was teased and possibly tortured by a group of young men who lived in a dorm.

On the afternoon of Day Three, Cat came out of the bedroom. I was in the office and Irish was watching football in the living room. Cat sat down and stared at me from the doorway. I said hello. A few more minutes passed. When I slowly got up from my chair, he bolted back under the bed.

The next night, I walked out of the bathroom after brushing my teeth and Cat was sitting in the hallway. He didn’t run away. I slowly sat down on the floor and talked softly to him. He cautiously walked over to me, purring, clearly craving attention. I reached out my hand. He cowered, but held his ground. I touched the top of his head and he moved to rub his neck against my hand. When I stood up to go to bed, he walked – not bolted – to his rug under the bed.

That Cat allowed me to touch him at all was courageous.

Fast forward three weeks. Tres, as he’s been named, is still a little skittish, but is all about being around Irish and me, walking between our legs when we’re getting dressed, playing with his mouse toy in the living room while we’re watching TV, and eating his food when we’re in the kitchen. It’s clear that Tres loves love. He thrives on attention. No wild animal, no cruel humans could squelch his hope or his desire to be cared for.

We all need to feel safe; to be acknowledged for the unique individuals we are. But it’s often what’s unique about us that keeps us hiding under the bed.

I’ve felt a nagging fear in the back of my mind ever since I wrote my last AIM post about my imaginary encounter with Santa. I’d written that I was worried that I wouldn’t complete tomorrow’s Jingle Bell 5K walk in the time that I could have completed a 5K a few years ago. Santa, of course, told me that time didn’t matter, that commitment to the cause of raising money for arthritis research was what was really important. But it’s hard to take advice from Santa when you’re the one playing Santa, you know?

Driving home from Irish’s today, I turned off the radio and concentrated on the nagging, the dread, the fear. What was I afraid of? It took several miles, but I identified the fear as fear of pain and fear of not being able to keep up with people who walked without a limp, especially the people who would be walking with me: my daughter Carlene, Irish, and my granddaughter Claire. Daughter Cassie will run the 5k, and I also realized that I’ve been comparing myself to her, too. I was feeling like Tres when he first moved into Irish’s: skittish, hiding under the bed, out of my element.

Then I thought about the trust Tres has built for Irish and me these last few weeks. Tres doesn’t intellectually understand the concept of trust and love, but clearly it’s innate. He doesn’t feel he has anything to prove to us. He doesn’t care that he has three legs.

I, too, have nothing to prove to the people who love me. I have to do nothing more than be myself. Walk what I can in the time that I can. Pain will ensue, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. Limp? Yup. It’s how I walk. Jingle Bell is a walk for arthritis research, for cryin’ out loud! There will be people there with far more disability than me. People who will no doubt humble and inspire me.

My fear is in my head, created on the premise of “What if?”

I can do this tomorrow, whatever “this” turns out to be. And on Sunday when I see Tres again, I will give him a few extra neck rubs and thank him for showing me a side of trust and love I haven’t recognized in awhile.

Irish and me