Friday, June 20, 2014

Another Mammogram? Really

Today I go for a diagnostic mammogram.

I should have gone months ago for my six-month follow up but life and death and a certain amount of apathy have kept me from it.

Fact is that as of today I'm pretty sure I've had more diagnostic mammograms than screening ones. I don't think I've ever had a normal mammogram.

Seriously, my first submission to this sign of aging had me a nervous wreck. Not only the horror stories about the pain (and I'm pretty sure if men had to have something similar there would be a better system), but the process itself. The screening mammogram was followed by a call from my doctor. And a diagnostic mammogram that probably had me up half the night before.

Ten years ago it even went to the point that I had to undergo the removal of a lymph node for biopsy. Once again I was a wreck. It turned out to be nothing. There's a one-inch scar and a slight deformation of my right boob.

Last year two friends of mine were diagnosed with breast cancer. One had a lumpectomy and has only recently finished her treatments and began to regrow her hair, currently cancer free. The other, due to a family history of breast cancer, had a double mastectomy with simultaneous reconstructive surgery. She posts pictures of herself at the pool with her sons and I celebrate each one for and with her.

I was diagnosed with cysts. Painfree, but still aggravating in that they keep me from that elusive "normal" mammogram.

I've decided there's far too much drama attached to what, in my case, are two fairly insignificant bits of flesh. If I had the money, even without a family history, I think I'd take Angelina Jolie's course and have them both removed and replaced with two perkier models. Not necessarily even any larger, because there's a certain amount of freedom that comes from tiny boobs, but free of the worry of the big "C."

I'll also admit that, since my son's death, I have a more fatalistic approach to life.

Whatever is going to happen will happen. It's all beyond my control and worry is a waste of time.

Not that I'm feeling any need to ignore doctors and medicine or not take care of myself, but I'm not going to obsess over mammograms or colonostomies or too much sun and red meat. My days are numbered, whether I know it or not, so it's just a matter of living each one in a way that brings me peace, or as much of it as I can manage.

By and large, I don't feel like the outcome of today's exam makes much difference.

There's a point where you feel that, having survived what you have, you decide you can deal with whatever is to come or you can't. I've fallen into the category of having faith that God has seen me through the last six months and He'll see me through whatever lies ahead. It doesn't mean I believe I've had my share of pain, or that I'm certain I will never reach a point where it is too much, but I do know that if it's just me, God will help me handle it.

So on to the drama of a mammogram. If it's OK, I'll probably never mention it again until they drag me in for another one. Then I may rerun this blog.

If it's not, it's just another journey.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sometimes Love Requires A 'No'

Ever since I first said "No," to Ethan's addiction, I've struggled with balancing that "no" with mother's love and plain Christian charity.

Any mother or father who's ever had to turn away an addicted son or daughter's request for anything ranging from a few dollars to a place to stay for a few nights, or months, has felt that pain. Couple that with handing a few dollars to the homeless person on the corner who may well be using it to feed their own addiction, but doing it because of a desire to show Christ's love, and you'll get an idea of what I'm struggling with.

Add on the sudden death of that child who you've denied time and again -- not love or necessities, but other things -- and you can look for a boatload of guilt. A big ol' boatload of guilt.

In Sunday school this week one of the class members talked about loving without the "buts." Setting aside prerequisites on love and just loving, how he'd been able to do that with a person he was having trouble with and help that person, and I was in imminent danger of leaving class in tears.

Days later, I was still grappling with myself over whether my love had not been the quality it should have been. But there are no coincidences.

When an older gentleman who I've known for years called Wednesday needing a strong back (thinking of my husband) to move some items out of an office, I volunteered pointing out that toting 80 lbs. of granddaughters has given me a fairly good set of muscles. The deal was lunch, and during lunch I raised the subject with him as he's a sober alcoholic, a retired substance abuse counselor, and an Episcopal priest who has known my family for years and attempted to counsel Ethan at one time.

"I think you probably did for Ethan all he would let you do," he said, "because you're independent and I think you raised him to be independent."

Well, yes. He was right on those points. Pretty much the only things I turned him down for were allowing him to use and live under my roof (or a roof I provided) and his last request for a Playstation 4, an outlandish gift under the best of circumstances, but one that given the circumstances has plagued me all the same.

"I always saw these 45-year-old men who were calling their mothers to use their social security to bail them out," he continued. "When I was showing my ass and called my mother to go my bail, she told me to use my wonderful gift of gab and get myself out, that she wasn't responsible for my drinking. When I got sober, I thanked her for two things: the gift of life and making me take responsibility for myself."

His words brought me some comfort. Had Ethan ever managed to get straight, perhaps he would have been thankful for the same things.

Although he never achieved the independence he so craved, Ethan owned his addiction. He had a certain sense of warped responsibility about it. He shoplifted dextromethorphan rather than use money my mom occasionally gave him. He quite likely committed food stamp fraud to swap his food for drug money. He worked an odd job now and then if he needed money for pills. Sure, he'd use food stamps and take rent and utilities money from my mom (after exhausting my reserve of help), but he owned his addiction.

Still, it hurts that I couldn't do more for him. That he didn't ask for the normal things, like a good phone, new clothes, or his computer fixed -- the things I could have given him and been glad to do. Despite efforts not to, it bothers me that people probably judge our relationship not knowing the facts and decide I didn't love him enough.

Was I not a good Christian when I didn't do more? I don't know. The prodigal son's father never chased him down when he was living with the swine to make life better, so the only example I can find anywhere close doesn't say I was.

Still, when I give money to one of the homeless people I see so often in Winston, when I pray for them, it's in the memory of Ethan and who he might well have become had he lived life on the path he was taking. It's my love for him and for them as people who have their own struggles that makes me dig into my wallet instead of turn away.

Do they always use the money wisely? That isn't the question. The only question is whether we give in love.

And still wrestling with this question in the evening, I realized something else. Sometimes, even with love, the answer is "no."

We don't always give our children or anyone we love everything they want, addictions and other struggles aside. Sometimes we have to say no for their own good or because we simply cannot.

Sometimes, in this Christian walk, our answer is no as well, whether we are being asked or doing the asking.

If the answer were always yes, then I would have had the healing touch I sought and Ethan would still be with me today.

My limited, human, mother's love was right sometimes to say "no," because even with infinite love, the answer, sometimes, is still "no."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Remembering the Bright Spots for Dark Times

Sitting in the shade, surrounded by plastic water bottles, watching three curly-haired little girls play on the swings and slide while I neglect, for a while the things that need doing, happy doesn't seem that hard to do.

Driving home alone last night, it was the exact opposite -- elusive and hard to recall.

So often the alone times when I'm not busy, when my mind is free to wander the endless maze of "what if" and "if only," I find myself in dark places. Those are the times that I conjure my son's memory and stab myself in the heart with the reminder that he died, that his memory is all I have for the rest of my life.

Those are the times when I have to work to remember that happy happens, and that it will happen again. That it's when I need to remember this exercise and the things I'm saving in my mind for a sad time.

1. Fledgling wrens. For weeks my front porch has been a hub of activity for the wren family nesting in the eaves. Sunday mom and dad were strangely absent and the babies full of vocal complaints. The time had come for their parents to lure them from the nest. While we were away at church, they left and apparently with total success as I heard no left behind chirps nor did I find any caught by the dog on their maiden voyage. A few weeks and there will probably be another gang growing and noise again under the eaves, as there have been wrens on my porch for years now.

2. Little green tomatoes. Most of my garden could benefit from a good rain, but tomatoes do love hot weather and they are thriving. Several are sporting little green signs of progress, although I've yet to begin dreaming of that first, warm from the garden tomato.

3. Babies playing in the driveway before the sun gets too hot in one of those rare games when they all seem to be on or near the same page.

4. The slowly growing sprigs of the fig tree I planted the Saturday after Ethan's funeral. It froze back to the ground in the horrible winter we had, but it's alive and while I don't expect fruit this year I'll be looking for it in years to come.

5. Driving my convertible with the top down in the rain. Yes, I did it. I didn't have far to go and I wasn't convinced those random drops hitting the windshield as I started home were really going to add up to anything. Well, by the time I decided I was wrong, I would have gotten wetter stopping than driving, so I came on to the house. Although I drove through one serious downpour, it wasn't raining much at home, and it was seriously hot so I didn't mind the damp.

6. Pedro's social debut. I took him to a dog washing being held to raise money for the group that rescued him and he loved on people and was cordial to strange dogs. Several people stopped to comment on what a good dog he was. I know it's only a matter of time until the right person comes along.

7. Spending time with a friend letting her dog learn what it means to be a dog, or a puppy in her case. We had a very nice visit and Mabel eventually found out that she really didn't need to hide under a chair because the other dogs were FUN!

Sometimes, yes, it's a bad day or night, or even a bad week. But I know that there are always moments of joy if I'll take the time to give them the credit they are due. I know since making the effort, it seems the tide of my grief has turned just a little and seems less likely to swallow me, because I know I have happy to hang onto.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Growing What You Can Is Part of Being Crunchy

I grew up in the country in the generation between self-sustaining and completely unable to raise food, one of the baby boomers whose world was transformed by corporate farms, mega stores, and eventually the Internet.

Despite the availability of virtually anything a person would want to eat in a wide range of stores, my grandmothers and mother always raised and put back virtually all the vegetables their families consumed in a year's time.

My paternal grandpa slaughtered a steer each fall, dividing it with his family and filling all our freezers with organic, pasture fed angus, long before it was the meat to eat. My paternal grandmother had milk cows and made real butter and cottage cheese and supplied us with the skim milk we drank (our vitamin D was entirely from the sun). Many falls there was also a pig, converted into hams and sausage in Granny's basement.

Ma's garden boasted towering rows of sweet corn where we could hide on hot summer days and there was always a pot of green beans ready to eat at someone's house. She made mashed potatoes with condensed milk and lots of real butter. They didn't have livestock, but I remember how sad she was when she was no longer physically able to put out a garden. She was probably in or near her 80s.

We ate Sunday dinner at Granny's and before we went home she always loaded us down with food. In the summer, that meant a trip to the garden with a knife and a paper sack -- fresh tomatoes, corn, whatever there was to gather. In the winter, it was out to the stone cellar for potatoes, or apples, or even a wilting cabbage.

My childhood memories include organic pest control (picking potato bug and Japanese beetles off of plants and drowning them in pop bottles) and harvest from shelling peas (I still love raw sweet peas) and shelly beans (pintos, kidneys, Octobers), to stringing green beans and gorging on blanched corn cut from the cob for freezing (I wasn't allowed a knife). I was often the third generation on hand, helping out at a grandmother's home where there was real work, or at our house with Ma or Granny on hand to help my mom.

Among all the things both of my grandmothers left when they died, they left food: cans of tomatoes and green beans lining pantry shelves, bags of fruit and cartons of freezer jam packed away in the dark cold of basement freezers. They were still prepared to feed a family, to take care of themselves and their own.

My mom's garden is a treasure to behold. While my grandpas always helped with the garden preparation, our home garden was her work. I do remember my father helping dig potatoes. It must have been extenuating circumstances, because on that instance we children were also on hand, raking the turned potatoes from the ground to be collected, dried and stored. Usually, however, the garden from tilling to harvest was her domain and I remember her wrestling her big monster of a tiller until I was in my teens (which given her early motherhood put her in her 30s).

At that point I had read an article about raised bed gardening and convinced her to change her garden method. Don't be too horrified, but we used chestnut rails, which were still plentiful in the 1970s, to put her garden in beds. Those timbers have long ago been replaced, but her garden is still in beds and her tilling days behind her. Ironically, my soil is still being tilled and enriched although I dream of the time when my small garden plot will also be the easier to maintain beds.

When I first had a home of my own, one of the things I had to have was a garden. I remember the shelf and small chest freezer that I added in my mobile home to put back my own food. Although never on the scale of my grandmothers and mother, it was something I always did until I moved to North Carolina and my yard was too hard, the soil too poor, and my time too limited for a garden.

Part of my life changes in the last five years has included talking one of the neighboring tobacco farmers into plowing a section of my back yard and beginning the difficult task of turning red Carolina clay into something plants will grow in. Lots of composting and tilling involved and it's still a hit or miss thing depending on the weather and whims of the season -- there was nothing to harvest last year but butternut squash, which volunteered and didn't mind the wet summer.

I've been proud this year to see my daughter with her interest in crunchy living erect a small raised bed in the sunny side yard at her home and begin growing a few vegetables. My granddaughters have been fascinated by the process at her house and my own, "helping" with planting and eyeing the growing plants although their enthusiasm for the early crops (radishes and lettuce) has been lacking. E2 especially likes to get her hands in the dirt and may be the most promising future gardener, but we'll see.

I'm sad to realize that my daughter didn't grow up steeped in home gardening like I did because the move to N.C. came at the same time she would have started paying attention to such things. Still I'm glad that she's beginning while I'm still around to advise her on staking peas and thinning carrots, when to harvest radishes and lettuce, not to worry that first blooms don't produce tomatoes and squash. I'm hoping for a good growing season so we can "work up" tomatoes and other foods together and put them back. And I'm aware that not only her generation, but much of my own has already lost all that knowledge that was once part of our heritage and now must be gleaned from books and the Internet.

I want my granddaughters to begin to have those memories of Mommy and Ma working together to save the food they've grown, the magic of pulling a can of red tomatoes off the shelf, a package of yellow corn or green peppers from the freezer, or a potato from a cold bin in the basement, and remembering the plant that it grew on, the labor and love that went into having it as part of a meal.

In our busy world where we've lost the ability to take care of ourselves, from beauty and cleaning products to the food we eat, this is a lesson we need to relearn. Whatever land we have doesn't need to be about zero turn mowers and paying a crew to come in and keep it pretty so we can drive to the store and buy everything we need, because we work all the time and have money for those things. Even if it's just a four by four plot, our land should be growing things that are better for us than the food we can get at a grocer's.

More importantly, our children need to know where food comes from and how it comes to our tables, because we don't know what the future holds and we may not always be a short drive and a good paycheck away from everything we need and want.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Of Graveyards and Visiting The Dead

A mother should not have to see her child's tombstone.

That was the thought that went through my mind this morning as I skimmed through my Facebook feed.

A fellow grieving mother had posted a picture of her son's new grave marker, dates less than 20 years apart.

I wept for us both and for the other moms I know who have stood where she stood.

I still haven't been back to Ethan's grave. I'm not sure if it's cowardice or because I'm not one tied to graveyards. Ethan was long gone before we placed his body in the ground last December and I don't feel like going back will be visiting him.

In fact, since Ethan's death I've had far more empathy for the families and friends who erect memorials at the scene of a loved one's death. There is where I would feel some connection. The roadside crosses that mark the site of fatal accidents, places I once found disturbing for the memories they triggered for me after photographing crashes for so long, now draw me instead. There people can treasure that last earthly connection, remember the moment when bonds with a body were severed and a spirit soared free of pain. There heaven and earth touched for a moment as a loved one pulled free of the pain of the moment and slipped into the arms of the angels.

I still have the vision in my mind of that moment for Ethan. That heaven-sent glimpse of his smiling face and glowing countenance as he rose from his battered body, escaped the addiction and pain and fear he'd lived with so long, and took the hands of the shimmering angel who escorted him home. That is a moment I'd memorialize, if I could. But I doubt the new residents of his apartment would appreciate flowers and a cross in the bathroom, let alone a weeping woman at the door.

There, I've finally managed to make myself smile with that mental image, and I feel more connection to Ethan in that smile than I expect to feel in a windswept graveyard full of discarded shells.

There will be memories, because the old family graveyard has been part of our family for so long, but there won't be an immediate connection. They will be memories of a blond-haired boy decorating summer graves with my granny, memories of a curious middle-schooler wondering about the names on the markers, memories of a quiet teen and a struggling young man putting in a familial appearance. There will be plenty of memories to make me cry, but I can summon them wherever I am.

Yes, one day soon I'll visit the grave where his body has rested since December. I expect I'll go alone, wanting that time to myself -- my boy and I had that streak of solitude in common. But I won't go thinking I'll find him there.

I'll look for him instead in the inappropriate smile, the dance of the sun on a million summer leaves, the bite of a winter breeze, the twinkle of a firefly, the heartbreaking sight of another young man walking down the sidewalk, the homeless man I slip a few dollars. I'll greet him there with a smile, a tear, or a prayer for a stranger.

I'll visit him when I'm home and never have to say goodbye.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Caught in the Circle of Grief -- Still, not Again

It's 9 a.m. on Thursday and I'm finally getting a cup of coffee.

I've been up off and on since the alarm went off at 5 a.m. for the girls to come (they came about 5:30, I really need to reset the alarm), they've had breakfast, been dressed, had their teeth brushed and hair arranged, and E1 and E3 had their morning brushing (therapy, more later) then we took E1 to her last day of Pre-K in public school (also a developing story line). The two little Es wanted more to eat when we got home. I've also let the kennel dogs out, cleaned cages for a couple who don't quite get waiting, fed the cat and carried out step two of sourdough bread making.

I think I deserve more than a cup of coffee.

Describing my morning and thinking how I'm floundering, how when the baby wanted a hug (and we give long, deep ones as a compression), I cried over her shoulder, I realize I'm not allowing myself time to process. Heck, life isn't allowing me time to process. My retreat from this blog, which I felt I didn't have time for (often true), has been like stopping therapy when I hadn't really accomplished my goals.

I'm not eating right, having trouble going to sleep, once again grappling with the idea that my 23-year-old son died all alone in his apartment, isolated in his addiction, and that we didn't even know it for days.

My mom bought me his death certificate last Saturday. It's still in the glove compartment of my car. She told me that in addition to the drug overdose which caused his death, he also had pneumonia. I haven't seen it. I cannot bring myself to look at it and to put a period on the sentence of his life that began with the birth certificate I have tucked away. Perhaps I'll hide it in the back of his baby book with his footprints and notes about his first teeth and first steps, with the lock of his baby hair and pictures of his cherub face -- here's how the story ended.

A friend of mine has his autopsy results. He works in emergency medicine and I thought would be better able to translate the terminology than I could. Plus, I wouldn't need to unsee and unknow anything. Ethan was mixing his meds, he said, and had a prescription painkiller in his system along with the chemicals from the dextromethorphan. Both were respiratory inhibitors. Both were toxic overdoses. We haven't had time to sit down together and answer any other questions. The day we had a meeting scheduled, there were multiple suicides back to back that he had to attend and I had to imagine the fallout.

I haven't processed either of those things. How does a 23-year-old with a heated home and the ability to feed himself wind up with pneumonia? Why did he think the meds he got from a friend to deal with the pain of the pneumonia were safer than going to a doctor? Why the bloody hell did he have to die all alone in his bathroom floor when so many people cared about him and he just wouldn't let anyone do anything that really meant something? How did the bright, beautiful boy I raised wind up so lost and hopeless?

Then we can move to the current generation of children. As a result of E1's late birthday and the effect her SPD has had on her small motor skills and emotional development, the decision has been made to redshirt her this year. Despite Mom changing her work schedule to better deal with school and her excitement about it, she won't be starting kindergarten as a 4-year-old in August. Instead she's likely to be attending a nearby church pre-K program the days she comes to my house so she won't be forced to sit home with the babies every day.

And a conversation with E1's therapist about her astounding progress (to us) and the fact that the one who had a tough time with beach trip was E3 resulted in the therapist suggesting SPD in the baby and all of us re-evaluating her change from a wonderful baby to a whiny, difficult toddler. She went for testing yesterday and it was confirmed. She starts therapy next week just as E1 is geared down to a semi-weekly schedule. The good news is the sooner it is detected the quicker she should respond to treatment and long term, because the adults in their lives learn management and they learn to recognize what's happening, they will be fine.

Because the disorder is genetic and because of the more than passing resemblance between E1 and Ethan in many photographs, I once again return to that disorder as something that slowly overwhelmed my son. Of course, there is no way of knowing, nothing that would show up on an autopsy or any of the many IQ and standardized tests he took while alive. It's just a feeling in my heart that had we known, had it even been a recognized and treated disorder 20 years ago, my son would have had the life he and I dreamed of and he deserved.

Then there is the fact that the schedule I'd grown used to, the one that worked for me and helped me keep my balance (perhaps I know where the SPD gene resided in my generation), has been disrupted not once, but twice. First my daughter takes the schedule shift, and the girls are no longer a part of my evenings every weekday, instead arriving bright and early every other week and by Thursdays leaving me stumbling through the day and with time to get things done on the alternate weeks (I'm not saying I don't like it overall, but it is adjustment). Then, just as I'm taking advantage of the free evenings to enjoy more time with my PiYo and Zumba companions, the studio closes for a month and I lose that entire fragile network of support where I'd been able to count on smiles and hugs and feeling for an hour or two that there were people around me who knew I was sometimes fragile and cared.

On top of that it's been so long since I've heard Ethan's voice, since I've felt his arms around me and his big bear hug, since I've heard him laugh or mimic my dad or put on one of the phony voices he'd use for fun. I may sleep in an old pair of his shorts, and keep his sweatshirt in a freezer bag to save the smell, and find myself unable to do anything with his old toothbrush, but I cannot reach him in any way. I cannot touch him and feel him. I cannot save him or myself from what happened or the path I'm now stumbling down alone.

Instead of just going on like none of those things bother me until I'm simply overwhelmed and crying on a baby's shoulder, I've got to start dealing with my grief again. If I don't give myself this time, somehow find a way to carve it out of days that feel impossible, then it's going to come back and bite me even though I thought I had it tamed.

As I've already realized, grief is a journey where the path loops back on itself time and time again. I can only hope the circles get bigger, instead of smaller like a whirlpool that sucks me down, because I know there won't be an end to the journey.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Some Weeks, the Joy is Hard to Recognize

I would say this has been a hard week, looking back, even though I might not be able to put a finger on why.

I think it is the sense of grief that has hung around several of my friends, new and old, who within a few days timespan of one another marked the anniversary of their child's death. My Facebook news feed contained a trickle of pain that some days felt more like Niagara Falls. All those pictures of our children we'll never hold again in this world. Gone 11 years, gone one year, gone a month; dead in vehicle accidents, drug overdoses and drownings; snatched from our lives in a heartbeat that wasn't followed by another while we were going about the business of living.

Most of the young people I never knew; two of the mothers I've never met face-to-face, but their pain resonates in my heart each day and I knew the grief that only we can understand and share. It's been six months since I heard my son's voice. Sunday will mark a six-month anniversary for me and although I hadn't thought to give it weight, the weight of other's pain has added to my own. And for the first time the actual date, the 15th, will also be the same as it was in December.

So it has been challenging to think about trying to find random joy this week, which meant I needed to do it even more than on a week when the list could be endless.

Babies, dogs and reptiles still delivered the odd smile, even if sometimes I had to brush away an unshed tear to do so.

1. Catching a five-foot blacksnake in my hen house. Literally. I wish I'd caught his companion and I'm glad that four of the five snakes I've encountered this week (yes, it really has been that kind of week) were black snakes. There's nothing to freak your friends out on Facebook like posting a picture of a snake, in your hand, and wrapped around your wrist. Not only that, but I think I could be solving the egg mystery one snake at a time. I have caught two blacksnakes in the coop this week (the other was much smaller) and my husband killed a copperhead in the kennel one night. I've seen two more black snakes. Apparently the wive's tale about them keeping copperheads away isn't true. My yard isn't that big.

2. Another tiny turtle. This one was even tinier and so shy it would not stick its head out to entertain the baby, but E2 was delighted by it all the same. Since it was so near my home, she had the honor of taking to the garden to release it.

3. Gold Medal Day. For little gymnasts, it is the equivalent of a piano recital. They get to put on their moves in front of friends and family and after toting E1 and E2 to classes, and E3 along for the ride since the oldest was 2 years old, I'm an old pro at the festivities. So was E1. My middle baby, who is never daunted by anything and who has been doing class without help for a couple of weeks, was overwhelmed by the number of people and needed me to come with her. While I was looking forward to being part of the audience for a change, I was glad to be the one she called.

4. A baby sleeping in my arms through Sunday school class. Yes, she was hot, and heavy after a while, but it was such a sweet burden to hold E3 when she dozed off without her pacifier or blanket. Plus, she awoke in a much better mood.

5. Pedro. I know, you're probably tired of hearing about Pedro, but in the wake of what seemed like a nervous breakdown last week, he's suddenly OK. With everything. Including the big male dogs that would previously have given him a cause to be defensive. I'm still testing the water, but he was actually playing wild games with another male that he wasn't four times as big as. Now all I have to do is find him a good home, but he's sure ready to go and after so many months of work I'm so happy to see the dog that has emerged from the tormented canine that arrived last October.

6. The pool. Growing up I would never have dreamed I'd have a pool, mainly because no one had pools except country clubs and the indoor one at the Y. I don't swim well, probably for the above reasons, but I love my pool. It is a temporary, above ground one, but it's got salt water, and I can fall into it after mowing or anything else and be so refreshed and immediately cooled. Not only that, but it's a wonderful place to contain and entertain the girls on a hot day and it's finally big enough, after two summers in one of the easy set models, for floats and multiple adults and children.

7. A quart of red paint for my front door, well crimson paint actually. I've always wanted to paint the front door red. It's supposed to be good feng shui to have a red front door and I'm about to have one, except I forgot to buy a paint brush. Still, I have the paint and the plan, and it's good to have plans.

So it took some dredging, but I came up with seven. I figure one for each day of the week and I can pull them forth and polish them off if this coming week is as hard as last week.

I keep reminding myself that happiness isn't a destination, it's what happens along the way and I've got to work to have it each day because I'm never going to get there. It has to be within me as I go.

Do the same, whatever hard battles you're fighting. Recognize the joy because you can bet you won't miss the pain when it comes. Try to see happy when it happens.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sometimes Change Is Just Different

I think most of us hate change. I know I do.

Every single time I've changed jobs I've expected to show up the first day and find out that I didn't really have the new, better job I thought I'd quit my old job to take. (Of course, once I was right in that the new job sucked even worse than the old one, but it was really there until I managed to get myself laid off.)

Change that I don't seek, well, that's particularly unwanted. Especially more recently as I've found a routine that has worked and keeps my head above water, so to speak. Just adapting to my daughter's changed work schedule, which is great overall, has been enough to deal with this spring.

Then "my" Zumba studio closed for the month.

While I understood a temporary shortage of available instructors due to everyone's vacations and other issues, when I first got an inkling it was going to happen, I came home in tears. The studio was more than an exercise outlet, although I do love PiYo and Zumba. It was a support network.

I know and love the instructors inside and outside the studio; not just them but their spouses, children and dogs. When Ethan died, they all came to his funeral bringing unexpected support and genuine love and caring. Each time I stepped into the studio, there were friendly faces and warm greetings from fellow students that I have also come to know and care about -- many who are facing issues that aren't that dissimilar to my own.

Suddenly I felt like all that was gone and I was looking at a month of literally sitting around when I should have been stretching and sweating to PiYo, or stumbling through new dance routines, or nailing the ones I knew. Although I didn't want to feel whiny and self-centered, it was easy to make it all about me. I felt abandoned.

But that was small of me and the feeling didn't last too long.

I began to look at alternatives. Although I can't find another "real" PiYo class in my area, I did find several Zumba offerings that were within the same driving distance and workable time frames and yoga classes as well. And I knew I had only scratched the surface with the three nearby recreation centers (I live in the geographic center of my county, which has nothing, but everything is within an equal drive). I know there are smaller yoga studios and possibly some Zumba studios as well if I just do some more digging.

Since I've occasionally found Zumba workouts (and discovered one of my favorite studios, REFIT Revolution in Texas, on YouTube), I turned to YouTube again and found a couple of full-length PiYo classes there as well. Since PiYo repeats the same class for about six weeks before changing, when I found one I could stand both the video and sound quality on, I decided I might be OK short-term.

I even managed to motivate myself to do most of the 52-minute class with only one water break and two "oh heck no I'm not doing another pushup" breaks. I wouldn't have done that in a live class. Of course, I don't think the thermostat at the studio is as high as I keep mine at home and I'll definitely need another fan and fewer clothes before I do it again. Still, while I missed the interaction, my muscles did tell me the next morning that I had worked them and that was comforting.

The next night I braved one of the Zumba offerings I had found at a rec center and was surprised to find two of my studio mates (both part-time instructors) doing the same. It was a small class with a new, young instructor and totally new moves and I had fun. Not only that, but I realized I would have had fun without my "homies," who were like ringers on a minor league ball team. At the same time, while we dressed the part and knew most of the moves, we didn't know the choreography and even the "pros" were almost as bumbling as me most of the time.

That experience encouraged me. I told my husband that perhaps I had fallen into too much of a comfort zone. Perhaps it was time for me to stretch my wings again. I recognized it would not be the same, and not necessarily better or worse, but that different wasn't always bad.

This morning, still feeling the effects of both workouts, I realized that there might be people in other places who would seek me out because of Ethan's story, just like there have been those who needed to talk at my old studio. There might be other people that I can minister to (if you can call it that) and help support on a difficult journey.

I also thought more about what I might like to do long term and decided this could be the beginning of more changes that I initiate and that help me in ways that I wouldn't have found had there not been this sudden lack in my life. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens.

Not that I'd abandon my old comfort zone by any means. No, when that group reassembles I'll be there. But it may well be a better me for the experience of being away.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Finding Joy Despite a Shitastrophy

Yesterday was, as another blogger has called it, a shitastrophy.

I had a dog coming to groom that I dread. She's probably a sweet dog, but she doesn't like her annual shave.

There are actually a lot of dogs who only get an annual shave (I have two) in early summer and some of them are comfortable with the process. Maggie, not so much.

The first time I groomed her it was an all out wrestling match and I almost wished I'd taken her owner up on his offer to stay and help. Generally, however, I can negotiate the process by continually talking to her, and watching her very closely. Unlike most other dogs, she doesn't signal her intent to bite by licking her lips or touching me with her teeth -- she snaps like a snapping turtle. I dread her coming from the time they call until after we're done.

When she arrived for her appointment, I discovered my long-term rescue, Pedro, had wallowed his way out of his cage Sunday night and wrecked the grooming parlor. There were papers, towels, and shredded cardboard scattered everywhere and multiple surfaces had been marked. Pedro was recaged, the mess cleaned up, and then I discovered Pedro was having an attack of nerves. Nerves in a dog frequently lead to poop. Repeated poop.

Before the morning was over I'd cleaned up Pedro's poop twice; he had destroyed another cage by shredding the pan in the bottom; I had to bathe Pedro because after he pooped and wore himself out destroying the cage, he had to lie down for a nap; and I identified the probable source of Pedro's angst as the French bulldog who sounded like she was being killed by torture although there was nothing in the world wrong with her. She was relocated to another location and Pedro was napping happily nearby as I finally tackled the "snapper spaniel."

After all that, I grabbed lunch (literally, I made a chicken wrap and practically swallowed it whole), dumped a tank of Roundup (not crunchy, but I'm using what's on hand first) on the weeds overtaking my sidewalks and chicken fencing, and push mowed the yard (no self-propelled, I do push mow the still grassy part of my 3/4 acre yard).

Oh, I hadn't mentioned before that I'm occasionally crazy active?

Well, I wound down after that with a dip in the pool (above ground, don't think too ritzy here) and fixed a cold supper for hubby and I. That was probably the high points of the day.

With a day like that yesterday -- humorous now, but at the time it was rubber gloves and gagging -- I need my Tuesday fix of joy. Who doesn't?

1. A tiny box turtle. I remember as a kid my dad picking up box turtles out of the road. It was a regular occurrence. I think he mostly drove by and picked them up from the door, and I'm pretty sure they got relocated out of their territory because we didn't know about such things. But he saved them from death on the asphalt and I'm prone to doing the same, even turning around to go back, although I try to just move them across the road. After dropping E1 at school, I noticed a turtle shaped blob on the busy road near my home and turned around to check it out. It was probably the smallest box turtle I've ever seen and it delighted two little girls for short drive to the point I let it go in a quieter area.

2. Falling into the aforementioned pool. Yes, it's an ultraframe, above ground temporary structure, but it's 16x4 and a step up from the little easyset one we used last year. I bought it used, it works with my existing filter and saltwater treatment system, and it doesn't leak. Since we managed to do it level, if we decide it's large enough we may go permanent above ground with decking and save enough on the installation to pay for the deck.

3. Fig leaves. Despite the cold winter and the hurt it put on so many plants in our area, my little fig tree is finally putting forth leaves. It did freeze back to the ground, but there is life.

4. Finally getting up one roll of the fencing we got last fall to enclose my garden and extend the chicken's range. Of course, we're only half done, but it looks good and it was funny watching my less intelligent dog run into it repeatedly last night in the dark. Seriously, I heard this strange noise and there he stands, and then he does it a couple more times and stands there at the corner. Eventually he figured out how to go back around the end.

5. Bottle feeding a baby calf. I'm helping tend critters at a friend's house while she's gone to the beach (she did the same for me) and feeding the baby calf may be the high point. The calf doesn't care that I'm a stranger. I've got her bottle and she's eager to eat.

6. An evening with friends. I spontaneously (as in informing my husband after the fact) invited a couple over for dinner, serving up steak, a new potato salad recipe, and cherry cobbler as my part of the fare. The evening was delightful all around.

7. Mastering my five-speed. It has been years since I regularly drove a five-speed. My little Miata has given me a few quirks. I've only killed it once, but was regularly skipping third and hitting fifth, but I seem to have overcome that challenge. I even barked the tires changing gears the other day. Silly, but it made me smile.

Take a moment... What made you smile this week? Yesterday? Treasure it to get through the rough spots. Capture it, if you can. Remember, that even if today is a shitastrophy, or the week seems full of hardships, there are reasons to smile if you look for them.