Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Old Thanksgiving Tradition Made New

I'm not sure if my Grandma Krause ever used the 12 piece fine bone china set my father sent back to her from Vietnam for Thanksgiving (I never ever remember eating off of these dishes or watching the serving bowls and platters being used) but I've got all 12 place-settings in my kitchen this year, and tomorrow my husband and I will eat turkey from the dinner plates and eat Cranberry-Pear Crisp dessert from the dessert plates. I will serve the green bean casserole from one of the serving bowls and serve dinner rolls from a small serving platter. The gravy will be served in the china gravy boat. The silver we use will be my great-aunt Kootchie's which I spent several hours cleaning today and ended up looking like a chimney-sweep after this task was completed. While the green bean casserole and dessert were baking, I hand washed the china pieces Mark and I will use tomorrow by hand. This is serious china, people-there are finger bowls for Pete's sake! I decided to skip using them because explaining how to use them to Mark would be way too complicated. Neither one of us drink coffee or hot tea, so that negated the need to wash the teapot, tea cups and coffee cups-which are actually different vessels. Who knew?
Obviously this china cannot be washed in the dishwasher, so this evening I sat on my living room floor and hand washed the china and silver in one plastic-bin container, rinsed them in another and hand dried them. They are currently sitting on my kitchen table, ready for use tomorrow. 
Although it was initially an inconvenience that my mother "refused" to dine with us on Thanksgiving, this is actually the second year of what will now become "our Thanksgiving tradition." Moving forward, Mark & I will plan on a Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us; sorry family, but there will be no invitations to attend Thanksgiving dinner at our home. We will dine on an amazingly cooked dinner by yours truly alone; just the two of us. No expectations, no disappointments. 
I just took the Cranberry-Pear Crisp out of the oven. It smells absolutely amazing and I'm sure its taste will match. To my family who has deserted this feast, you only have yourself to blame and no matter what you eat tomorrow, it will suck compared to the feast I create. You have no one to blame but yourself.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

At elementary schools around the world, one question will be asked in hundreds of languages and dialects within the next coming week: "How did you spend your summer vacation?" Note: This question will only be asked in countries that don't mandate year-round school attendance and where "summer vacation" actually takes place, which is primarily a benefit of first-world nations, like the US.
I've seen so may episodes of "The Simpsons" that start this way as fall approaches, I kind of take it for granted that kids everywhere get to report on uncomfortably long car trips, fighting with siblings for juice boxes to visit family/amusement parks/national or state parks/local campgrounds.
I spent my "summer vacation" healing and rehabbing from surgery on my right wrist that occurred on 06-10-15. I tore my right TFCC ligament in April 2014 when a large chunk of ice fell from a restaurant sign 100' feet in the air and landed on my right wrist. (TFCC is short for triangular fibrocartiliage complex ligament, located on the side of the wrist below the small [pinkie] finger.) There are 26 bones in the human hand and keeping the wrist stabilized is the job of the TFCC ligament, so when it's injured or damaged, the stability of the entire wrist is at risk. Of course before my worker's compensation insurance would pay for surgery I had to "fail" at other interventions including physical therapy, occupational therapy and cortisone injections. And I had to have an evaluation by an independent medical examiner chosen by my worker's comp carrier. And I had to have a series of x-rays and one MRI. So with all of that testing, therapy and injecting, surgery was scheduled after the public school year ended; I was working three days a week at local high schools and there was no way I could step out of seeing those kids and have them meet with a substitute for the final weeks of the school year. School was out for the summer on 06-05-15 and I had surgery five days later.
This is a photo of the first cast/splint/restraint my right arm was in:
I checked into the Rog & Shirley Porath Rehabilitation Center after surgery and this photo is particularly telling of my initial post-op experience: you can see the box of Lovenox 100mg/1ml injections I gave myself starting 4 days pre-op and 7 days post-op. I still take an 80mg aspirin daily until the end of October. This is thanks to the Gallbladder Disaster of 2006 when I ended up with a right pulmonary embolism (blood clot in my right lung) and a right-sided pleural effusion (fluid collecting between my right lung and chest wall). I also draw your attention to the 38oz bottle of Miralax with funnel so I could keep regular peristalsis while taking pain meds. Ok, no one freak out here. Getting drugs out of the DEA has got to be easier than getting them from Rog & Shirl. They managed my pain medication, asked me all the questions I would expect them to ask before reluctantly offering one, maybe two pills if I was really hurting, such as: "Have you tried Tylenol?" "Have you tried a heating pad or ice pack?" "Have you tried to lay down and think about something else?"
(That one was a kicker for me; when the hell did my parents start watching Oprah?)
My first post-op appointment was on June 23rd and the hideous contraption was removed and replaced with a more traditional cast:
My elbow was still kept at a 90 degree angle, but at least I could put on one of the extra-long plastic gloves that looked like cattle-insemination gloves, wrap a rubber band around the top and take a shower!!! God bless running water when you've been without it for almost two weeks. My parents have a totally kick-ass walk-in shower with a seat at the far end and glass doors which is quite luxurious for Rog & Shirl who tend to lean toward the practical side. 
On 06-25 I was allowed back at work for a maximum of 4 hours per day, doing only left-handed work. It was awkward at first because I was still naturally reaching for things with my right hand, but when my elbow wouldn't bend to allow me to grasp what I was reaching for, I began the transition of relying more on my left hand. I won't get into the TMI details, but trust me, you don't want to start stabbing at your eyes with an eyeliner in your left hand if you don't know what the hell you're doing. I call this period my "forced mindfulness" time because I've always wanted to become more mindful of what I was doing and thinking and being forced to pay attention when using my  non-dominant hand definitely helped me be much more mindful of whatever I was attempting to do.
On 07-14 the cast came off and I was placed in a customized orthosis. Unfortunately I don't have any photos of my orthosis, but here is the gist of it: 
Ok, this is the closest image I could find on Google images, but it doesn't really do my orthosis justice because 1) this is on her left arm and 2) mine was white and molded to my arm, keeping my right elbow at a 90 degree angle. I wore a compression stocking underneath it and had Velcro straps I could peel off from one side to get some time out of the thing, which was ONLY supposed to be when I showered. I followed every rule they gave me because I did NOT want to have to deal with side effects of this surgery for the rest of my life. Despite the "quasi-rebel" I was in my younger days, I've become quite compliant with whatever professionals who know more than I do instruct me to do. The coolest part of my orthosis was my choice of alternating green and gold strips of Velcro. (Green Bay Packers colors, get it??)
On 08-18 the portion of the orthosis above my elbow was cut off, freeing my elbow to bend for the first time in over two months!! This was landmark because now I could take the orthosis off to shower without using the large insemination gloves. This is also when the serious physical therapy work began. I started very slowly with range of motion exercises with one or two exercises added every week that I saw my therapist. This is the final version of my custom fitted orthosis:
I decided to stay with the green and gold Packers theme, because that's just who I am. My most recent appointment with my surgeon was on 09-01 and I was given the "all clear" to spend more time out of the wrist restraint than in it. I'm also slowly introducing strengthening exercised into my physical therapy routine. That appointment was last Tuesday and I've been able to function fairly well without the restraint until today, when I woke up feeling sore and knowing that I likely overdid it. I wore it most of today, but as I'm typing this, I'm not wearing it because I feel pretty good. Unfortunately my four-hour work days came to a rapid halt on 09-01 and as of Wednesday, 09-02, I'm back at the office for 8 hours a day. My surgeon told me on 09-01 that my wounds were healing "beautifully" which I took personally, indicating that I have the capacity to have beautiful scars. A photo of the surgery site from today:
Part of my therapy includes massaging the wound site which is a nice way to practice self-care while using lotion and gently rubbing the area. I continue with my range of motion and strength building exercises as well. I have a follow up appointment with my physical therapist on 09-15 and what will likely be my second-to-last appointment with my surgeon on 10-13. At my last appointment he indicated that he'd see me one more time in mid-November and then likely cut me loose if I continue to progress as well as I have so far.
This medical tale runs well over my summer vacation, but healing from surgery, as I've learned since the Gallbladder Disaster of 2006, is never a rapid process. At least not for me. 
I have been able to binge-watch several movies and TV series I've always wanted to see, such as all 5 seasons of Downton Abby, 3 seasons of Mr. Selfridge, all 5 seasons of Friday Night Lights, 3 seasons of In Treatment which I recommend to all of my therapist friends as "must see TV", 3 seasons of Boardwalk Empire, the movies Behind the Candelabra, Angels in America and A Most Wanted Man which I believe was Seymour Hoffman's last film.
I've also been journaling, writing snippets of what I hope to develop into full poems, reading for pleasure (and NOT for work!!) and I've been painting with watercolors and drawing with colored pencils, both of which are new interests for me. 
As this Labor Day Weekend slips away and what is considered "the fall season" takes its place, I've had a pretty good summer. I saw some clients, my work schedule wasn't completely out-of-control, I had some time for personal reflection, relaxed through watching the lives of others played out on my smart-TV, and discovered interests I never knew I was interested in. That ain't bad.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

To Everything There is a Season

I think this is the first time I've quoted scripture in my blog, but if there was ever a time for me to lean into the arms of my Creator for comfort, that time is now.
As you are likely aware, my maternal Grandma Krause, whom we lovingly call "Auds" when she's not around, broke her right femur picking rhubarb in her yard the weekend before Memorial Day earlier this summer. She was picking rhubarb to make rhubarb bars for me; because she knows I love them; because she knows I really only love her rhubarb bars.
So she had surgery at AMC in Appleton and because she was progressing so well, her surgeon discharged her to a rehab facility (nursing home) two weeks earlier than he usually does for most of his patients. The nursing home of choice in our family has always been Birch Hill, however they had no available beds, so she was placed at Maple Lane; a little further out of town and closer to Clintonville, but not a placement the family considered outrageous.
Initially, I'm talking for her first week there, she was a rock star in physical therapy twice a day, using her walker versus her wheelchair, and she was told she may be discharged home as early as 4th of July weekend. Lesson #1: NEVER give an elderly person a deadline because they will hold you to that commitment tighter than Donald Trump holds his beliefs about the character of Mexican immigrants.
Five days after my wrist surgery on 06-10-15, my parents and I drove up to see her and she happened to have a "care conference" meeting scheduled that day. My parents didn't attend, although I certainly did because I've got a little medical knowledge which is a dangerous thing. Plus, I spent two years working as an Older Adult Counselor, so I'm much more knowledgeable about Medicaid, Medicare, Family Care and IRIS than anyone my age should be.
The nuts and bolts of the meeting came down to this: If Grandma continued to make progress in her twice-daily physical therapy, began using her arms to help lower herself into her recliner as opposed to just "flopping down" into the seat, and got some appropriate footwear (which my Aunt Margie was already working on) so she could take off the orthotic boot on her right foot, a 4th of July discharge may not be possible at this point, but maybe they would consider mid- to end-of July. Of course an Occupational Therapist needed to make a home assessment first, so equipment, grip bars, handles, etc.could be installed before Grandma's move home. She had a similar assessment after a brief stay at Birch Hill in January 2013, yet nothing changed in her house, which I found kind of odd.
This past week has become "A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance" for me; heavy on the weeping and mourning. The reports my aunt (my grandma's power of attorney for health care) had been receiving from Maple Lane were not encouraging for my grandma to ever be discharged to home. 1 1/2 weeks ago she had a "set back" in physical therapy which I have yet to get anyone to provide me with any details of. My second cousin, who is an RN in a nursing home, stopped by to see Grandma today and it took significantly longer for Grandma to recognize her, but she did! That's one in the win column. Apparently last night  Grandma had an "accident" in bed which is not uncommon in this population, but isn't an indication that a resident is ready to be discharged to home, that's for sure.
I admit that I'm probably the one holding out for Grandma to eventually come home. I can't imagine living in a world where she cannot can peaches, make lemon meringue pie, because Grandma make the best lemon meringue pie and my dad loves it. Where she can't bake an Easter ham. That she can no longer live in the home where my dad would come to on Thanksgiving Day for a hot meal before heading back out deer hunting with his friends and where my mom, Jan, Chad & I would destroy the kitchen while decorating Christmas cookies with our cousins. Where I've eaten the best cherry tourte on the planet and something so delicious she named the dessert "Robert Redford" because nothing is as good as Robert Redford. Well these chocolate/pudding/graham cracker crust bars were the closest thing on earth you could get.
As a child, Christmas at my grandparents' was magical. The presents wound their way from the tree all the way to the front door. After dinner our Uncle Norton would play Bingo with us kids on the freshly-cleared dining room table. During the Fair (Labor Day Weekend) some family member would inevitably call Grandma & Grandpa Krause's house looking for a ride home because the cabs in Shawano didn't run at 2am.
I know Grandma's not going to heal well enough to the point where she can live at home again, even with daily or every-other-day visits from a home health agency. I thought I've felt my heart break before, but nothing compares to this. It's like part of me, part of  my childhood and my memories and who I am as a person is moving out too. It's being disassembled and packed up in boxes and spread out among my aunts and cousins. And it hurts. It hurts like someone is plucking pieces of my heart right out from my chest. I don't know when it will happen and I don't know when it will stop. I'm waiting for the other part of Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verse 4 to kick in: when I have a time to laugh and a time to dance, because I'm just too sad for any of that right now.

Friday, June 26, 2015

First Post-Op Post

So, as most of you know, I had surgery on my right wrist to repair several torn tendons I received in April 2014.  My surgery was on June 10 and apparently went well, according to my surgeon anyway.  After surgery my right arm was wrapped, with a lot of padding and two solid restraints, from my knuckles to well above my elbow.  I was kept in this contraption until my first follow up appointment on June 23.  At that appointment all of the dressings and wrapping were removed and I saw my right wrist for the first time in close to two weeks.  I had seven sutures removed and my wounds were healing well.  The Physician Assistant showed me the images from the surgery, which I thought were really cool. I'm hoping to get copies to post soon!
During this appointment my right wrist was put into a traditional cast, although I know from previous foot surgery that casts are no longer plaster but are made of some sort of textured wrap which means I got to choose my own color for my cast, but it is much more challenging to have people sign my cast because of this funky textured wrap.  This also goes just above my elbow, but doesn’t cover any of my fingers, so I suppose this is an improvement.  By the way, the color I chose is purple.
As I am right hand dominant, I have become very frustrated with how the world works since I am now completely dependent on my left hand.  Many ordinary tasks have become great feats of endurance for me.  As a woman, it is my impression that I have even greater challenges to face than that of a man; here are just a few of the day to day tasks with which I struggle; I challenge anyone to complete these daily chores using only your non dominant hand:
Try putting in contact lenses
Try putting on eye shadow, never mind trying to apply eyeliner or mascara; if you’re anything like I am, you will likely need a glass eye after only a few attempts
Putting on a bra may not be the most challenging thing I do every morning, but it certainly is much more difficult with a cast on most of my right arm
Try using a can opener…good luck
Trying shaving both of your legs with your non dominant hand, oh, don’t forget your armpits too!
I obviously I cannot get my cast wet in the shower so I was given the type of gloves used to inseminate cattle to put over my cast, which I tightly tape around my right bicep whenever I need to shower, which I will admit has become less frequent since surgery
Try putting your key in your front door lock, turning the key and the doorknob at the same time
Something similar is putting your car key in the ignition and turning the key with your left hand
These are some of the daily inconveniences that have become part of my regular existence.  I know I’m bitching, but my right wrist will be restrained and some way shape or form until approximately mid October, which is a long frickin’ time.
Despite these inconveniences I am fully aware that I do have a certain advantage when it comes to work expectations, household responsibilities, and such.  Which I have been and will continue to take advantage of as it fits my needs.  After all, despite my injury, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

Side Note: This entire blog was dictated using speech recognition software installed on my laptop.  It has taken me approximately 45 minutes to dictate this entry which I likely could have typed in less time even if I did only use my right index finger in conjunction with my left hand. 
This is a photo of one of the gloves I use to cover my cast when I shower. Yup, a person could inseminate a cow with this sucker on.

Friday, May 29, 2015

There Were No Eggs Fried In Bacon Grease This Year

If you know me or have read my Facebook posts around Memorial Day for the past 12 to 15 years, you know that on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, my sister, my female-Krause cousins, and my two maternal aunts gather at Auds' house (the matriarch of our tribe, my Grandma Krause) and from there head out to three cemeteries to place flowers and clean up the headstones and make sure everything is in order.
Then we stop at a very small tavern in Red River, drink, play games, jam the jukebox full of dollar bills and head to eat at a supper club. Shawano has got to be the world capital of "supper clubs". I've been eating at them since I can remember.
The highlight of the entire weekend, however, is waking up at Grandma's on Sunday morning to the smell of coffee brewing, bacon frying in her cast iron skillet, toast ready to pop from the toaster, and the sound of my cousins' and aunts' voices laughing and telling stories from Grandma's very cramped kitchen. I usually sleep on the living room couch, and when I wake up, I lay there with my eyes still closed for several minutes, absorbing these sounds, smells and feelings and I try to make damn sure they're imprinted in my memory because listening to what's going on in that kitchen is my personal definition of bliss, of family, and of love.
Once I decide I've got enough sensory information to process, I get up, walk into the kitchen, greet my family, grab a cold can of Coke from the refrigerator and then Grandma asks me, "How do you want your eggs?" As I stated earlier, we've been completing this ritual for well over a decade, but every year she asks. My answer is always the same: "Fried over hard right in that bacon grease." I know she knows this, but she's polite enough to ask every year, just in case I've gone crazy in the past year and changed my mind. The next thing I hear is an egg cracked open on the side of the cast iron skillet, then I hear the cracking of another. Within ten minutes I'm served two eggs, fried over hard, the white edges ragged and brown. The dull, golden yolks as solid as the whites. I grab three strips of bacon from the plate with two paper towels placed on it to soak up some of the grease. I have two pieces of toast with raspberry jam dug into with a spoon instead of a knife; Auds has always used a spoon to serve jam because you can't get enough of it on a knife. This, my friends, is the breakfast of kings...or queens. As soon as I finish eating, I'm already looking forward to eating it again next year. If I ever end up on death row, this will be the last meal I request.
This year was different. It was A LOT different. Even though we all gathered at Grandma's house, placed flowers and cleaned up headstones; stopped at the dinky tavern in Red River and ate at a supper club, there were no eggs fried in bacon grease this year.
On the Tuesday before Memorial Day Weekend, my 86 year old grandmother went into her backyard and picked rhubarb to make me, of all people, rhubarb bars because she knows I love them. Actually, I only love her rhubarb bars. Anything from a bakery is a far-distant second to the magic she bakes. While walking through the yard, she stepped into an uneven divot in her backyard and fell. She fractured her right femur. She laid there for a short time when a stranger walking a dog walked past her on the sidewalk and at her request, knocked on her neighbor's door and her neighbor called for an ambulance. Or the neighbor called my aunt and uncle who live in Shawano. These details I'm unclear on. The result, however, is that she was taken to the hospital in Shawano and then transported to AMC in Appleton. She was admitted to the surgical services floor and cleared for surgery to reset her femur on Wednesday night. She had surgery at approximately 8pm on Wednesday after arriving at AMC at 1:30pm on Tuesday. She had a plate, one screw and one "pin" (which is just medical jargon for a really long screw) placed on her femur and the pin was placed into her pelvic bone. I saw the post-op x-rays and that pin is really long.
On Saturday afternoon, as our tribe was placing flowers and driving from cemetery to cemetery, Grandma was transported from AMC to Maple Lane, a skilled nursing facility (aka nursing home) outside Shawano to rehab her right leg. When I visited her at AMC on Friday, I was lucky enough to be there when her hospitalist (doctors who manage the care of hospitalized patients) came in. The doc was great. She checked her wound, checked her pedal pulses, asked about her pain and anxiety levels. Even though Auds reported feeling "jittery inside" she didn't request anything for her anxiety. When the doc asked if she would like an anti-anxiety medication sent up from pharmacy, Grandma said, "No, I'll be ok." I was sitting behind Grandma shaking my head "yes" so Auds got 0.5mg of Xanax which apparently did the trick because within 15 minutes of swallowing that pill, she was sleeping comfortably and snoring. Before the Xanax discussion, Grandma told the doctor straight up, "I'll do whatever I have to do to get back home."
I don't know how long she'll be in the nursing home. I do know that she's in Occupational and Physical Therapy and working through the pain to reach her goal of being discharged to home.
In years past, when I've unpacked my clothes from our gravehopping weekends after returning home on Sunday, I've been able to smell my grandma's kitchen on my pajamas; the coffee, the toast, and especially the eggs and bacon. Not so this year. My pjs smelled just like they did before I left for Shawano on Saturday morning. That made me sad. The lingering smell was a bit of a tease to look forward to breakfast next year. Although it didn't happen this Memorial Day Weekend, aka gravehopping, I'm doubly looking forward to my fried eggs next year because I'm certain next year, on the Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend, my grandma will be in front of the stove, asking me how I'd like my eggs.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

All Your Life, You Were Only Waiting for This Moment to Arise

Monday, May 18th will begin my final two weeks during this school year when I will be seeing PATH clients (the in-school mental health counseling program). The week that starts on Monday, June 1st is scheduled for final exams, turning in Chrome Books, and completing final projects which means that both of the high schools where I see students in Appleton will have funky class schedules, so I won't see students that week: they've got enough to worry about and it would impact them greatly in a negative way if I pulled anyone from a class that's reviewing course material or administering a final exam. Plus, Thursday, June 4th is graduation day and seniors don't have to "report" on Friday, June 5th as underclassmen do.
Last year at graduation time, I had been working in two high schools for the spring semester, one in Appleton and one in Menasha. Now I've been working with some students from two Appleton high schools for a year and a half; that's a significant amount of time to spend with a kid week after week, watching them grow through loss and success, bearing witness to their pain, walking with them through the wretched path that adolescence can sometimes be. I have also had the privilege of encouraging them week after week to make positive decisions for their futures and celebrated with them when they've been accepted to the college they really want to attend, get the scholarship they doubted they'd receive but did, and decide who they want to be and how they want to present themselves as college freshmen.
It's been a process I have trouble putting words to. The resiliency of "my kids" (which is how I refer to them) is astounding. I would challenge anyone who thinks of him- or herself as an adult who can bounce back from any setback. Really? So you would be able to change your gender identity from female to male in high school and tolerate the name-calling, bullying and uncertainty that goes with that decision?  You would be able to have a baby at the start of second semester, create a support network for yourself and your infant child which allows you to complete the school year by attending online school without losing any credits? You would be able to learn emotional regulation and acceptable and unacceptable behavior with technology, all while learning how to communicate effectively with others using sign language, which your own parents don't know or understand?
If you are willing to take on the challenge to live the life of one of my kids for one school semester, a relatively short period of time in one's life, message me on Facebook because I guarantee that you will fail. I know I would and I've been working with these kids for roughly 17 months. I know their secrets, their dreams, their fears, their goals, and who they want to become...and I would fail at "successfully" living any of their lives. Their lives are so much more complicated than mine was as I graduated from high school on June 8, 1989. Good grief, gossip, "rating notes", and sitting with the "cool kids" at lunch was hard enough to navigate 26 years ago without the influence of Snap Chat, Facebook, askfm and Instagram.
When I was in junior high and high school, my parents told me how much "easier" it was for me compared to what they had to endure in the late 1960s while in middle school and high school. I will be the first person to get in line to say that kids in junior high (ok, middle school) and high school now have it MUCH tougher than I or most of my classmates could ever imagine the world would become. In my generation you could tear up a note written on notebook paper. This generation has to live knowing their entire lives are available to anyone willing to search hard enough to find "nude" photos, intimidating comments and bold face lies posted about other people one may have made in a moment of impulsivity or plain bad judgement. An applicant's online presence can be searched by the potential college he or she wishes to attend. Potential employers have the ability to discover what someone may wish was undiscoverable, but is easily found by someone with the required computer skills. Would any of us have changed our behavior if we knew that documentation of our stupidity, immaturity or impulsivity was "unerasable"? I think so. I know I would; but I come at this issue with the knowledge and hindsight of a 44 year old adult, not a 17 year old teen ager.
As this school year comes to a close and as I watch some of my kids walk across that stage to accept their high school diplomas, I will wish them all the best the world can offer them. I will tell them to grab every opportunity presented to them. I will tell them to believe that their best is enough, whether other people acknowledge that or not.
I will tell them to spread their wings and fly.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Have I Truly Followed My Dreams?

I don't understand why sometimes the spring season elicits an ancient yearning in me to leave my current life behind and run away to the places I consider my "spiritual" homes and to track down people whose friendship or love I feel is what fait truly had destined for me, but "life" interfered.
So far this is not one of those springs. It's still early, and as the weather brightens and becomes warmer, I may indeed feel the drive to flee to Key West, FL or Moab, UT, but currently I'm pretty stable about staying put.
Key West and Moab are two places where I've spent time and felt a sense of "arrival"; like I finally found my home. Twenty-plus years ago those places were New York City and Boston. Although they still hold attraction to me, I'd rather visit than live there. Been there, done that.
I'm surprised at how different these two location are. Key West is surrounded by water and Moab is high in the Rocky Mountains. Although both have a similar anti-establishment vibe. Key West prides itself on being the southernmost place in the continental U.S. and is a port for cruise lines. The "Duval Crawl" is an infamous way of bar-hopping up one side and down the other of Duval Street where famous bars like Sloppy Joe's are located. Sloppy Joe's was one of Ernest Hemingway's hang-outs when he lived in Key West. I've taken the tour of his home on the island and saw my share of six-toed cats which were supposedly spawned by an original pair that lived on his property.
Moab is entirely different. It's surrounded by Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, the Colorado River, the Green River, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Natural Bridges National Monument. The way that wind, rain and time (and I suspect, the hand of God) have shaped this landscape is breathtaking. I've seen arches in the making; the difference between arches and bridges are that arches are not rock eroded by water, they are swept away by wind which creates a hole in the large rock and leaves the arch hanging over the top. Bridges however, are created through erosion by water and frequently the water changes course and all that's left is the bridge hanging over the top. While visiting Canyonlands, Mark and I were there late at night, stopped the car and laid on the hood, looking at the stars. I have never seen so many stars; they blanketed the sky and we saw the edges of the Milky Way. The first few days we were in the area there was a full moon. I've never seen the light of such a bright moon. There was no urban light pollution to fade the natural light away. Shadows of rock formations were lit as if there was a spotlight pointed on them. It was magical and grounding all at the same time.
I once played a game that asked, "Which would you rather give up: never again seeing the ocean or never again seeing mountains?" I have no idea how to answer that question. I don't want to give up either. I want to swim in the ocean in Key West, San Francisco and Boston harbor. I want to climb the mountains in Utah, California and North Carolina. Are these dreams I should pursue or are they memories of amazing places I've vacationed and have treasured memories of?
Right now, my general statement is: I don't care if I have to live in a box on the beach, I'm retiring to Key West. Alternately, I state: I don't care if I have to live in a box in the foothills, I'm retiring to Moab. Since I'll likely need to work until I'm 70 years old to have any type of retirement, I'm grateful I don't have to make this decision until roughly 2041, so I've got some time to think it over.

Friday, February 13, 2015

When Confusion Becomes a Way of Life

First and foremost, I have to say, I thought I was DONE with the shit my husband would pull because he was relapsing and drinking which lead him to act like a complete asshole. Apparently he's on a "dry-drunk" as those familiar with Alanon lingo will recognize, because he's not drinking but he's still acting like a complete and utter asshole.
I hate this part of our relationship. I've been here before: he's been sober before and acted like a total dick head. Beyond all the shit that his alcoholism brings to our relationship, he's also being treated for depression and anxiety. As I have suffered the depths of depression to the point where I engaged in 12 sessions of ECT (electro-convulsion therapy; "shock therapy") as a potential resource for relief, I can empathize with his behaviors based on depression and anxiety. By the way, the ECT was very effective in treating my depression. There are gaps in my memory, especially while I was undergoing ECT, but overall the benefits outweighed the risks for me. Unfortunately I don't remember one of my best friend's wedding, but I have pictures and details provided by others to help fill in the gaps. I also continue to experience aphasia, the loss of words on the tip of my tongue, which really pisses me off because I had a memory, especially for dates and times, like a steel trap. The friend whose wedding I can't remember used to refer to my memory as something similar to Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie Rainman. The fact that I now struggle to recall those dates that used to be right there for me to grab out of the blue is a continued source of frustration. Although I do find solace in the fact that I'm not put on the spot to recall certain dates and times all that often. In fact, it's pretty rare for anyone to ask me the date I graduated from high school or the week a bunch of us saw both The Who and The Grateful Dead at Alpine Valley. My memory used to be a twisted sort of party trick which I happily participated in.
Regardless of all of that, the point is that I'm back in a situation where I don't know what to expect when I walk in the door after coming home from work. Today I attended an ethics training in Green Bay until about 12:30pm so after a coworker and I went out for lunch afterwards, I got home at around 2pm. Apparently I came home "in a mood" which I was not aware of. My "beloved" accused me of "having an attitude" when I walked in the door. Our memories of whatever took place this afternoon will always vary wildly, so it's not worth trying to argue my case. My concern is questioning bigger, existential questions.
Why have three out of the four major romantic relationships in my life involved an addict or an alcoholic? Do I think I can "fix" them? Is it because, as a recovering addict myself, those are the people I meet and hang with? Do I psychologically need the chaos living with an addict/alcoholic brings? Good God I hope the last question is not true. In my mind I'm totally fucked if that's the case because altering that pattern will take enough therapy to bankrupt me. Seriously. As a counselor, I have enough information about the entire billing process to know that if I begin addressing this issue at age 43, I'll likely be 53 by the time that entire web is unweaved and I don't have that kind of time, money or patience to unweave it and then rebuild a major portion of my personality. As much as my Freudian psychiatrist would like to hear that I need to schedule two-hour sessions twice a week for the next two to ten years, I'm not really up for it. Mostly because I don't think I'm the one who is being unreasonable here. Perhaps I'm rationalizing, but I'm not the one who recently spent five days in an inpatient mental health unit. Ok, that's a version of throwing stones from a glass house, but what the hell? This is MY blog, right?

Friday, January 30, 2015

It's a Cold and It's a Broken Hallelujah

It's been a hell of a week. If you've seen some of my Facebook posts from the week, you're aware that the husband of one of my best friends in the world died of cancer one week ago.
Mike was the kind of guy that slid right in to our circle of friends. Had he gone to high school with us, we totally would have hung out with him. He would've been one of "us", that's how closely he matched our general vibe, interests, music & "recreational activities". If I have to explain to you why recreational activities is in quotes, you didn't know us in high school. The "us" I refer to know who you are & anyone else from the 1989 class from Appleton West knows who comprised "us" as well.
I think I have a unique perspective on Jeanette & Mike's relationship, at least the budding beginning of it. She came out to Boston to visit me my senior year in college and reported that she was "interested" in this guy who worked with her mother (of all people) and they had gone on one or two dates by that time. Nothing serious, no expectations, but she was hot for him - girlfriends know these things about each other.
After she returned to Fond du Lac, she kept me updated on when they spent time together.
Then there was the week that went by when he didn't call her. She called me sobbing that he was "a thoughtless mother-fucker" and she was pissed off at herself for "thinking that it would work out." I had not laid eyes on Mike at this point and I was obviously totally loyal to my friend, so I concurred that he was indeed a "thoughtless mother-fucker" for stringing her along.
Then he called.
Then they had sex. Sorry Jeanette, but this is a crucial part of your history with Mike & this story. Her update about the sex was, "Man, I think he was going through the stats of the National League" (baseball) because it wasn't over in under two minutes, as is a common phenomenon for men in their early 20's. We were women in our early 20's and had plenty of experience with "the two-minute magic" but Mike is, was, 13 years older than Jeanette. He had moves. He had experience. He knew how to turn the two-minute magic into the twenty to thirty minute magic, which is very appealing when you're in your early 20's.
They eventually married. Her "g-ma" hand-made her wedding gown. She was stunning and he was majestic. The look on his face said, "Oh yeah, she kicks ass and she's mine." And he was right. He surprised her with a horse drawn carriage ride at the end of the ceremony. One of her attendants was our friend Eric J who told me at Mike's funeral that when he was standing up at the altar during their wedding ceremony he thought he was going to pass out because everyone in the church was staring at the wedding party and this was the first wedding he'd stood up for.
I remember our friend Steve taking communion, which generally isn't a remarkable event except that he's Jewish and "just got wrapped up in the crowd" that was heading toward the altar.
This was way before digital cameras and every time I snapped a photo my camera made a hideous "rrr-rrr-rrr" sound as the film advanced and wrapped around the spokes. Our friend Robb was seated in the pew in front of me and eventually got fed up with the whirling of my camera so he turned around to me and said, "If you take one more picture and that camera makes one more sound, I'm going to snatch it out of your hands and NOT give it back to you." This explains why I have photos of the first half of their wedding ceremony but none of the second half.
One of my pictures from their wedding was on a photo display at Mike's funeral. It includes Mike, me, Kate and Carrie. That photo captures a glorious moment in all of our lives and includes some of my favorite people in the world. I'm truly honored that it was chosen to be displayed as a testament to Mike's life.
I also have the dubious honor of making the first toast at their wedding reception. I was drunk off my ass, rambled on completely aimlessly for several minutes, raised my glass of whatever liquor I was swilling in large quantities and weaved my way back to my seat. My father and my sister were in attendance and after I returned to my seat, my sister immediately walked me out of the reception hall, plunked me in the backseat of my car, gave me a can of Sprite and said, "Just pass out and be done with it." I stupidly said to her, "But they must have liked it (my toast) because they were applauding when I was done." Her response: "They were just being polite."
A few years later Jeanette told me that the hotel where most of the guests stayed (not me as my sister drove us both back to Appleton that night, which I have absolutely no memory of) complained because by the end of the night, there was a large portion of a cheese and sausage platter floating in the hotel pool. I love those kind of weddings.
By the time our 20th class reunion came, Mike had been diagnosed with cancer and had undergone his initial treatment at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. He and Jeanette showed up at my parents' house as I had invited "all of us" to reunite there. We spent many a weekend night in my parents' basement engaging in all sorts of debauchery that I won't describe in detail here; if you were there, you know what I'm referring to. At one point Jeanette asked my mom where I was and my mom's response was, "She's downstairs with some of you kids." At Mike's funeral Jeanette's mom Elaine referred to us as "you kids" as well.  My dad's assessment of that reunion evening was, "there are still cars lined up and down Lynndale Drive, but the cars are newer and in much better condition." My friends actually brought beer and liquor to my parents' house instead of drinking what had belonged to my parents at the time.
Mike was a huge Packers fan and during their run up to Super Bowl 36, or whatever the number was when Brett Favre took us to the Super Bowl and we actually won, Eric, Mike & Jeanette, Hays and I would get together at one of our apartments and watch playoff games. I again brought my camera and have wonderful snapshots of those playoff weekends.
Throughout Mike's past six years of treatment, he was a fighter. He would absolutely go to work on the days he was feeling up to it; likely he went when he wasn't feeling up to it because that's how loyal and dedicated to commitment he was. As a result of witnessing Mike's treatment, Jeanette went to graduate school and got her Master's Degree in Nursing and has become a huge advocate for cancer patients, cancer research and the care cancer patients receive.
For those of us who knew and loved Mike, our lives were made richer and better for it. Rest in peace my friend. Tell Jack-Dog and Peanut that we all love and miss them and take good care of them as they will take good care of you.