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.

Advertisements

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

Think Of It As Your Job


My first real job – one that took taxes out of my paycheck – was at a nursing home kitchen. I’d just turned 16 and had been a candy striper there for two years. I worked 16-20 hours a week and had to wear a hair net and a white apron, but so did the cute boys working there, so I didn’t feel too awkward. I learned to search trays for lost dentures and how to pitch mashed potato balls at someone using the braided hose by the garbage disposal as a bat. It was horribly messy, but it was F-U-N fun. Well, until our boss found out.

I was no stranger to work. My dad owned a grocery store and I worked there from ages 8 to 15, candling eggs, bagging potatoes, delivering groceries, stocking shelves, and running the cash register. I also mowed lawns, shoveled snow, babysat, cleaned houses – anything to keep me in the latest Elton John record.
Fast forward…oh…a lot of years. I’ve been in school since fall 2011, learning what I can about nutrition. My goal is to counsel folks who maybe want to lose some weight, ease inflammation, or control their diabetes. I want to work with them, listen to their concerns, give them guidance and a kick in the butt if needed, and to motivate them to do their best. I’m really looking forward to getting back to work, not because I need an Elton John record (although I could use some extra dough to pay for my Pandora and Sirius radio subscriptions), but mostly because I’m itching to help even one person feel better.
Before that happens, though, I need to fix this:
As you know, the old knee’s been going out frequently since March and so it’s finally time for a new one. After denying this fact for weeks, I finally scheduled surgery for September 11. I gave it three months for a number of reasons, one being I turn 50 in August and I wanted to get through the remaining days of my 40s with my original body parts. You see, when I was 18, a doctor told me I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40 because my knees would be so deteriorated. Not only did I get 10 more years out of the old girls, only the right one needs to be replaced in the near future, thanks to the debridement surgery on my left knee (and a surgeon who believed in my ability to rehab fully) three years ago.
I also delayed surgery so I can have time to get my body as strong as possible and be in the best shape nutritionally in order to have the best possible outcome. My surgeon was all for this and wrote me a script for physical therapy. And for physical therapy, there is no one I trust more than Seth.
Seth has seen me through rehab on both of my shouldersand my left knee. He’s not only knowledgeable, he is a teacher, an incredible cheerleader, and has a way of making me laugh, even when I’m hating on him for making me work so dang hard. Given how resistant to (and, I admit, afraid of) this surgery I am, Seth is the only person who can instill the kind of confidence I’ll need to see me through this.
Here we are, me hooked up to the neuromuscular e-stim machine and Seth working the controls and explaining what it does:
Last week, I got a script for the brace Seth recommended called a Playmaker. After my knee went out on the bike trail six weeks ago, I thought all cardio exercise would be off limits since my knee slipped so much. I put this baby on and it’s like my knee is almost normal. I can work out on the stationary bike, and yesterday, I did 10 minutes on the elliptical without any pain. Zero. So…maybe…hmmmm…I don’t need surgery….
Two hours later, I climbed the stairs of my house without the brace. Pain. It’s real. That brace ain’t fairy dust. It’s a tool to help me get by for the next three months. I need a new knee. And I am – seriously – grateful that this technology is available. If I’d been born 100 years earlier, I would have had to suck up the pain; accept it as my destiny. Now, as Seth reminds me, surgery and a few months of rehab is a drop in the bucket of life. A blip.
I am eternally grateful for the people I’ve met here and on Facebook who have either had a knee replacement or knew someone who did. The support and advice have been as essential as Seth’s “prehab” program. I’m especially thankful for the several real-life stories of folks whose lives have improved exponentially after surgery, namely another Lynn who, after having surgery, ran her first 5K four months post-op. I told Seth about her and he said: “You need a goal, especially for those days you’ll be Christmas shopping and your knee is hurting and you’re wondering, ‘Why did I do this?’”
We talked about options. I told him I’ve always wanted to go snow shoeing, but because of my right knee, I couldn’t.
“Make that a goal for January,” he said. “And what about the Pittsburgh Marathon? How about in May 2014, you walk the half?”
I called my daughter, P’burgh M’thon expert Cassie.
“You gotta train,” she said. “Do some 5Ks and a 10K first. You don’t want to be swept up.”
I Googled “marathon sweep up” and hell to the NO! I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder for the sweep bus! I’ll focus my goals on snow shoeing and a 10K. I’ll know later if the half is attainable.

Seth told me to think of this prehab and surgery and rehab as a job. And what did I say I want from my future job? To help even one person to feel better.

So I’ll practice on myself. Right now, that one person is me.

Lift…hold 5 seconds…release. Repeat 30 times. Roll over. Lift…hold 5 seconds…release. Repeat 30 times. Roll over…. Both legs. Calf lifts, band walking, cardio. Oh, and upper body and core, too.

“Yes, boss…I mean, Seth.” (And thank you!)

X-Amount of Time

I couldn’t follow the dharma teacher’s guided meditation this morning to save my life. My monkey mind swung from thought to thought, and my body busted loose from every position I put it in, even though I was in the comfiest place in the world: my bed.

I sat up and took out my iPod ear plugs and said, “What? What the hell do you want?”
The answer I got was, “Live now, not later.”
Don’t ask me where that came from because I don’t have a clue. I often wonder if it’s not my past lives coming through (all of whom had obvious issues with patience) saying, “Come on already! Figure it out and let’s move on! Chop chop!” But I guess that wouldn’t really be embracing patience now, would it?
Anyway, I sat with that question and answer for a moment. Then I reached in the nightstand for a pad of paper and wrote this: “When my knee is fixed, when I lose 10 pounds, when this depression leaves me, when I’m done with school…THEN life will be the way I want it.”
Ha! Like some magic fairy is going to come along and make my life great – without any  exertion on my part – once x-amount of time has passed?! Fat. Chance.
X-amount of time will pass: One. Second. At. A. Time. And in those seconds, I am.
I. Am.
So instead of a formal guided meditation this morning, which clearly wasn’t happening, I broke it down into my own meditation.
I am:
1. A person who needs a knee replacement.
Sooooo….What can I do in the x-amount of time between now and surgery? “Duh…” say my impatient past lives. “You can still have goals!”

I can’t ride my bike and I can’t work out on the elliptical – two things I love to do – but that boo-hooing has put at least two pounds on each of my thighs, I swear. I CAN walk, for cryin’ out loud. Pretty well most of the time, despite the limp. And I can lift weights. And I can strengthen my core. So I set goals: To walk the entire length of my beloved 20-mile bike path twice before replacement, a few miles at a time. And every other week, my BFF Shari will join me, like she did today. So will Al.

Today, Shari, Al and I walked my favorite part of the bike path and I saw some old friends and their babies:

I’ll also pick up the weights again at home, and I’ll hit the gym and talk to a personal trainer. I might even join a yoga class, like I’ve said I’d do for how long now?

2. A person who wants to lose 10 pounds.
Sooooo….What can I do in the x-amount of time between now and when my shorts feel a little loose? PAY ATTENTION to everything I put in my mouth. It worked before, it will work again.
3. A person who is clinically depressed.
Sooooo….What can I do in the x-amount of time between now and the time I’m feeling less depressed? I’ve already started doing something about that (pat on my back).
“I met her in a Kuhn’s grocery store parking lot…” Sounds like a great beginning to a cheesy romance novel, but that would be how I met my AIM blogging friend, Debby. Google maps sent her 20 miles away from where we were supposed to meet, and when she called and said she had no idea where she was (which is totally understandable since Debby lives in California and has never been to Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh motto is, “If yinz don’t know where you are, go home.”), I went in search of her.
“Stay put, I’ll find you,” I said, and typed in her coordinates into my Garmin. (When I was a kid, I wanted to be Uhura).
We were supposed to meet – of course – at a groovy healthy breakfast place, but that was light years away from the grocery store, so we went to my favorite Mexican place, Mad Mex, where we ate pepita hummus, chips and salsa, and chopped salads.
Often, the Internet feels ethereal, so meeting Debby grounded me. I needed to be reminded that real people read my blog, real people write blogs, and real people interact with real people, just not always in person. Having said that, the Internet has a silent surrealness about it, at least it does for me, and I’ve been needing some real-life connectedness.
Last week, I met another online friend, who works at Clarion University, just a few blocks from where I used to live, and yet, we never got our s*it together to meet when I lived there. Melissa has lost over 100 pounds and, like so many of us, struggles with the “Can I/How do I/Do I want to lose more?” question, along with “Who am I now?”
We got along juuuuust fine *grin*
I also went to a Pirates game with my friend Rachelle.
The Bucs are doing great right now, but even when they’re bad, I can’t be sad at a Pirates game, thanks to Michael McHenry and Andrew McCutchen. …sigh…
4. A person who is still in school.
Sooooo….What can I do in the x-amount of time between now and certification?
Study. Finish my final projects. Pass my exam. There’s no room for wishy-washy, feel-good sentiment here. I need to kick myself in the ass and do it.
I. Am.
You. Are.
We all have x-amount of time between now and….when? I will do my best to fill that space with compassion. Fill that space with love. Fill that space with curiosity and questions. I just know I can’t fill that space with the future. It doesn’t exist.
“Live now, not later.” Life is the way I make it. Now.

Needing and Sharing Comfort Food: It’s Human. Dump the Guilt.

Well, it’s time to fix another body part. It’s like I’m in a “Surgery-of-the-Year” club. The dues are pretty high, but what can I do? I need functioning joints if I can get ‘em.
This year, it’s my left shoulder. I didn’t injure it, but due to my “loose ligaments” and arthritis, I tore the supraspinatus muscle, which is part of the rotator cuff, as well as the biceps tendon a few years ago. I was able to rehab with physical therapy and chiropractic (see “It’s All One Big Huge Freaking Circle”), but then in April, I mowed my lawn and made a mediocre problem a bigger problem. I literally tore the crap out of that supraspinatus.

Every night I sleep against a pillow fortress (BF calls it The Great Wall of China) which elevates my arm enough so I can sleep with minimal pain. However, the last few months I’ve been awake most nights at 3 a.m. with a burn in my shoulder so hot I could supply enough energy to keep my town in electricity for a week. (This, in addition to hot flashes, makes my nights really interesting.) I get up and take 2-4 Advil with a glass of soy milk or a piece of cheese because if I don’t, the Advil will eat my gut. Too bad NSAIDs aren’t a weight-loss aid…

In addition to the muscle/tendon tears, I found out today that my biceps tendon is not where it should be and needs to be “moved back into place.” Hmmm… Sounds like fun. Doc will also clean out the arthritis. Afterwards, he’ll stitch and patch me up, put me in a sling, and send me home where I won’t be able to shower or wear a bra for at least a week. Can’t wait. And I wasn’t even a bad girl this year! Santa better treat me well…LOL

Oh, I kid you. It’s not all that bad. It could be a lot worse, I know that. And I could also choose to drown my sorrows in food, which, for a moment, I thought about doing.

As I posted on Lynn’s Weigh on Facebook: “I saw my orthopedic surgeon today and I admit, my first thought after getting into my car after the appointment was, ‘I want to eat.’ Granted, I was hungry, but I wanted to eat something to console myself. I thought about it and was grateful that I recognized this feeling and met it head on. It didn’t stop me from getting vegetarian dolmades at my favorite Greek restaurant, but I understood why I wanted them. And not only are they awesome comfort food, they’re not horrible for me, either :)”

I took my dolmades and a Greek salad over to my daughter’s house, where she and the g-babies were eating lunch at the dining room table. I sat down next to Claire and opened the Styrofoam container of dolmades. We all chatted while they ate their chili and I my pieces of grape leaf heaven. Then I opened the container of Greek salad: lettuce, feta, red onions, tomatoes, olives and peperoncini.

“I done, Mama,” said Luca and he got down from his chair. I thought he was going to go play, but as I talked to Cassie, the little munchkin crawled under the table, climbed up on to my lap, grabbed a piece of lettuce and ate it. “Mmmm…” he said.

Claire then said she was done, too, and started eating my salad. Who knew salads were finger food? They also ate the pita that came with the dolmades (I’m still gluten-free! Three weeks in and I feel great!), dipping them in the Greek salad dressing that is so absolutely fantastic I wish Greek Stop bottled it. But the don’t. And they won’t. So sad.

Anyway, my salad was gone and they were still hungry, so Claire went to the fridge and dug out a bag of spinach and dumped a bunch into the Styrofoam container so she and Luca could continue to graze. It was wild watching them eat lettuce and spinach, leaf by leaf. When they were done, Luca was covered in dressing and very, very happy. Claire was a little more neat, but she still had olive-oil hands, and after she washed them, proceeded to dry her hands on my jeans, laughing so hard she almost peed herself. Who knew Greek salad could get you so high?

I did! That’s why it, and the dolmades, were my go-to food when I got the shoulder low-down from Doc today. Comfort food – when used in moderation, and particularly when it’s shared with people we love (Thanksgiving and mashed potatoes, anyone?) – is OK. Dump the guilt! God knows I spent years during my weight loss/maintenance feeling guilty for eating food that soothed my soul. I’m so over that.

I did a little search-a-roo on the Internet and found a few recipes for dolmades that I will attempt to perfect before my surgery in December so I can make them (with my one good arm and an assistant) when I need comfort food during rehab. I’m going to try a vegetarian version of this recipe from Food Network or this one from Living and Loving in LA or both!

How do you respond to your inner “You need comfort food NOW!” voice? And if you choose to eat a comfort food, which one or ones are your go-tos?

“Pack your bags!. We’re going on a guilt trip!”

When I was in North Carolina last month, I bought a notepad with this cover:

Know what I use that notepad for? My grocery list!

Yesterday on my Lynn’s Weigh Facebook page, I posted a link to this article: “Middle-aged women happier with moderate exercise.” I wrote:

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I do much better when I’m not killing myself with vigorous exercise and yet, I feel so guilty for not exercising like I used to.”

Reader Michelle posted this response: “I don’t get the feeling guilty part. Why do something that doesn’t make you feel good?”

Guilt, among other definitions, is “self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing.” I don’t know why guilt is easily absorbed by some and rejected by others. All I know is that I don’t remember a time when I haven’t known self-inflicted guilt. Guilt in the form of having let someone down. If I didn’t make my bed, I let my mom down. If I didn’t get an A on a test, I let my teachers down. If I hit a pop fly into right field, I let my softball team down. And whenever I gained weight, I let myself down.

Over the years, I’ve grown a thicker skin, something less porous. I can better discern those actions that are “worthy” of guilt and those that are unproductive self-flagellation. Better, but not perfected. Food and exercise are those precarious areas in which I am most vulnerable to the kind of guilt that produces feelings of “inadequacy and wrongdoing,” largely because their effects are physical. If I gain weight, I’m not only letting myself down, but also a community of people who have followed my blog over the years.

So what’s a more proper response? Michelle has me thinking that it’s probably not guilt *smile* Guilt is counter-productive and paralyzing. A better response would be….? Hmmmm…. A commitment to improvement? Mindful investigation about how a certain exercise makes me feel? An acceptance of the way things are now as opposed to what they were four years ago?

Yes, yes, and yes.

I found this quote recently: “Hard though it may be to accept, remember that guilt is sometimes a friendly internal voice reminding you that you’re messing up.” I’m messing up when I don’t feed my body right and when I don’t move it the way it is capable of moving. And “capable” has changed over the years. I used to hit the cardio really hard, but my arthritic joints said, “No more!” and I had to dispense with the 90-minute workouts. Yet, despite the reduction in pain due due to more moderate exercise, the guilt remains.

Guilt is one of the hardest emotions to wrap our arms around and let go of (when appropriate).
But with a little introspection on this rainy day, the fog is lifting and I’m seeing guilt for the inappropriate response it is.

How much happier would we be if we approached our bodies with care, acceptance and wisdom rather than guilt? Mess up? Yeah, we’re gonna do that sometimes. The best solution? Self correct. Don’t dig out the knotted cords.

The Dog Days Are Almost Over

For the first time in many days, I am alone, sitting in my dining room, which has no table. My stepsons were here for a few days, fulfilling my birthday gift request: that the entire family be together for the first time since Thanksgiving.

The cicadas are singing along to “Dog Days Are Over.” They shed their nymph shells a few weeks ago, leaving brown exoskeletons scattered over my yard – paper-thin and perfectly detailed duplicates of the cicada’s body pre-emergence.

This has been a summer of change for me, and like a cicada nymph, I’ve emerged from an exoskeletal shell and am learning to use the wings I’ve grown in all the summer’s transitions.

I wrote a blog a few months ago about how a friend told me back in March that until I learned to live within the space of my new life with the same strength and determination with which I lost weight, I would be forever grasping for and holding on to bogus and temporary securities. He said I had to let the loneliness maul me, to feel it to my core and to not run away. In time, he said, it wouldn’t hurt as much and I would be stronger.

I took that challenge and allowed the loneliness to wash over me. I was in the middle of the mauling when my brother Marty had his seizure at the end of June. When he was released from the hospital a few weeks later, I went to Minneapolis to help in whatever way I could. I cried when I was dropped off at the Pittsburgh airport July 18. I cried for my brother and I cried for me. I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to go. I was afraid. I had no idea what to expect or if I was up to what waited for me there.

I worked on shedding that fear on the plane while drinking a first-class glass of wine (Literally, it was the wine they serve first-class passengers, since they’d run out of the cheap stuff they serve coach. And for my “inconvenience,” they gave it to me for free. *smile*) So while sipping said wine, I thought about my strengths: A) I am a mother; B) I used to be the secretary for the senior vice-president of a large general contractor (think airports and sports stadiums, many you’ve probably been to); and C) I’m a practicing Buddhist (I always forget that one). I possess super-human organizational skills and a little more patience than I once had, so whatever was waiting for me in Minneapolis was up against a somewhat powerful force. At least, that’s what I told myself. It and the wine helped.

Long story short, I hit the ground running. The mauling continued, but it loaned me (or “borrowed” me, if you’re from Minnesota) some strength and determination. For facing my fear, I was rewarded with a closer relationship with my brothers. Although I’d prefer the three of us hadn’t gained this closeness because of a brain injury, I’m glad for the trust it has created between us and the trust that I developed in myself. I continue to advocate on behalf of my brother and to keep his schedule from 1,000 miles away, and will go back to Minneapolis in a week. Only this time I won’t cry at the airport.

Some of you might remember that last year I was going to go back to school to become a dietary technician. The divorce, the move and the mauling made that impossible. So, too, did a worsening of the osteoarthritis in my knees, wrists and shoulders. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I don’t blog as much as I used to. The main reason is because 1) sitting for and 2) typing longer than an hour is difficult. Dietary tech classes are mostly online and require several hours a day of writing and computer reading, so I gave up on going to school and, while I was at it, blogging, too.

But feeling sorry for myself is not a favorite pastime and it was making my family nuts. It was hard to accept that I needed help, but it was harder to stay locked in self-sympathy. Hmmm…where had I felt that before? Ah, yes, back in 2004, when I understood that losing weight would be a long and life-changing process, but that it would be even harder to stay 300 pounds. I’d shed my skin then, I could shed it again now.

So in May, I called the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and began working with a woman named Sara, who helped me think through what I wanted to be when I grew up. After evaluating my physical “issues,” she hooked me up with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Institute for Rehabilitation and Research and its Center for Assistive Technology. Last week I met John, a rehabilitation engineer, who took on my “issues” as a challenge to find the most adaptive computer equipment possible. Among other things, he recommended I use this:

Have any of you used speech recognition software before? I’m anxious to give it a try, but I have a feeling it will be like learning a new language. Or maybe it will be like a microwave. Just like, “How did we ever heat up leftovers before the microwave?” maybe in a few months I’ll be wondering how I ever typed without talking.

My friend assured me the mauling would eventually become a scratch and then a gentle touch and in time I’d come out on the other side stronger. In this shedding of my nymph shell, I find myself somewhere between a scratch and a gentle touch, definitely stronger and definitely happier. Sort of like the happiness Florence and the Machine sing about.

Happiness hit her like a train on a track
Coming towards her, stuck still no turning back
She hid around corners and she hid under beds
She killed it with kisses and from it she fled
With every bubble she sank with her drink
And washed it away down the kitchen sink

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run