Thank you for your understanding about my absence the last few weeks. We are still in the process of picking up pieces, reassembling them, and carrying on in the wake of saying “see you later” to Hubby’s family members.
His brother in law finally let go of this world and slipped into the next two weeks ago this coming Monday. BIL’s passage came almost six weeks to the day after Hubby’s sister made hers. Hubby went to the well-attended funeral. The officiant and the attendees all had kind words about BIL. He and Hubby’s Eldest Sister had owned a couple of pharmacies. They had done well for themselves, and supported an organization helping refugees settle into their new homes. And he had filled prescriptions for free so no customer had to make the Hobson’s choice between food or medicine.
And then Hubby found out that another sister (he has/had three older sisters) has cancer. She just started treatment, so we don’t know how this will play out.
After we finished that call, Oakley and I went outside for his bedtime potty run. I looked up at the sky and snapped “REALLY?!?!” at any forces, spirits, deities who were listening.
We are not alone in the tsunami of loss this fall. The passings of humans and pets; changes in circumstances; and news of one close friend’s husband entering the last stage of Parkinson’s show up in my social media feeds, emails, and texts. At times giving updates on conditions and passing on the word about transitions has left me feeling as Walter Cronkite must have when he read the casualty counts on CBS’ evening news during the Vietnam era.
Surviving these times involves focus on the tasks directly in front of us. Hubby came home and went back to work on his assignments for class. I walked Oakley a lot and made sure Hubby had reasonably healthy food to eat. We do talk about memories of the dear departed; he finds comfort in his religion.
And we stay on the routine, the rough schedules giving structure and meaning to the day.
The raw, tender edges of the gaps torn by their absences will scab over and heal in time. Yes, there will still be the openings that will never quite close again.
If any good comes of the health crises abounding on Hubby’s side of the familial ledger and my brother in law’s quad bypass surgery, it’s that we’ve both felt the Universe’s foot in our butts about making some overdue changes to our food choices and exercise goals.
The two of us have family medical histories that read like a CDC bulletin: cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure; diabetes; cancer; strokes; arthritis. In fact, Hubby had an uncle who had the trifecta of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. He still made it to 80, but the last few years were of highly questionable quality.
Needless to say, we don’t want that. It goes double for me since then nonsmokers in my family hang around until their 90s. Several lengthy conversations and not a little research later, we drew the following conclusions:
Both of us need to move our behinds a lot more. I added weight training (we have a machine in the basement) twice a week and committed to practicing with yoga videos from YouTube at least twice a week on top of walking with Oakley at least 30 minutes a day.
We needed to tweak our food intake. Even though there is nothing more soothing to the soul than carbs and cheese, a steady diet of it does no one any good. Especially when mac and cheese, albeit homemade, becomes the default meal.
Portion control is a factor. We are both guilty of eating out of the container and picking at leftovers and stress eating.
Both of us see kale as the vegetable equivalent of waterboarding.
We like ice cream and cake.
So how do we make these changes as painless as possible? We had been sort of kind of eating according to the Mediterranean diet. (Graphic on the right, not mine in any way shape or form.) For Hubby, it’s perfect because his roots sink deep into the soil of the Mediterranean Sea’s eastern shores. He just has to do some portion control and he’ll be in great shape.
For me, however, it was a tad too high in carbs, even unrefined ones, and fats, even healthy olive oil. Plus I’m wired to need more substantial sources of protein than legumes and nuts. (Now you know why I can’t go completely vegetarian.) Unlike Hubby’s, my ancestors wandered all over the map of the United Kingdom, western and northern Europe. What, then, should I eat?
Behold the graphic in the upper left: the Nordic, or Baltic diet. (Again, not my work.) A team of Helsinki researchers riffed on the Mediterranean pyramid to use products that are easier to find in northern Europe. It emphasizes lower glycemic foods such as berries; grains such as barley, rye, and oats; lentils; and more dairy products, preferably low fat. Oh, and canola oil, preferably organic. Plus potatoes.
The overlaps are in the seafood, leafy greens, nuts, yogurt, and small amounts of chocolate departments. We start meal planning from there.
We back off on the starch based meals and watch the amount of oil. Trina Hahnemann’s New Nordic Diet has a crazy easy cod and mussel stew recipe that’s become a go-to, replacing the mussels with shrimp if we can’t get to the fish monger’s. Just put everything in the pan and let it steam until done. I am eating rye bread most of the time–the really good bread Aldi gets from Germany. I am eating oatmeal.
If we can stay the course, we can still have a bit of cheese and we can still have pasta a couple of times a week in moderation.
I am happy. I will be more more so when the scale starts to move.
Times are tough here in the soybean field, even though we know they will pass. We continue the process of unravelling the knots of grief around Hubby’s recently departed sister. His oldest brother in law waits in the celestial departure lounge for his flight to the great beyond to be called.
And while on his last visit to Michigan to see Eldest BIL, Hubby found out that his second oldest sister has developed cancer as well. I’m not sure what her status is, but we will find out.
In the meantime, we get on with it as best we can, taking breaks to massage our faces so they don’t permanently freeze in the OMG position. We walk. We write. We do homework. We just go about our days trying to ignore the stalker ten steps behind us.
Times like these call for tough food. Preferably something laden with carbs and fat to boost the mood and give energy for daily activities. After a mid-September to mid-October like this one, we needed something that would stand up to the sorrow.
I tried making posole, a cross between a stew and a soup. Its roots run deep in Mexican history. The recipes I read called for the chicken (or pork) to be simmered in one pot, the beans in another, and the broth in a third. Everything would be combined in one pot at the end.
Truth be told, I’ve never had luck cooking beans. I also need to store up my patience for other things these days. I took a look in the freezer and pantry. Box o’chicken broth? Check. Red salsa? Check. Canned beans and hominy? Check. Great. Is there chicken in the freezer? Check.
Sometimes, I, too, can be organized.
I thawed four chicken quarters, then peeled off the skin. Into the slow cooker with them. Next came a jar of red roasted pepper salsa and half a box of chicken broth. If you want something closer to a soup, use the whole box. I wanted something more stew-like. I set the cooker on slow and let ‘er rip for about three hours until the chicken started parting company with the bones. I removed it from the pot and shredded it before returning to the pot. Then I drained the beans (a 15-ounce can of cannellinis) and the hominy (I think it was 15 ounces as well–it was the smaller of the two cans offered) and let everything coexist peacefully until dinner.
Hubby ate two bowls and dozed off in his chair.
Maybe it wasn’t authentic, but it sure did its job.
Last Friday brought the first frost advisory via the five o’clock weather report. I went out into the rainy late afternoon and pulled the last of the tomatoes so they could ripen indoors. Covering the plants last year resulted in watery, sour spheres despite a stretch of warmer days afterwards. Not something I wanted to go through again. At least in a brown paper bag they’ll get some semblance of color.
The cool rain didn’t bother me, even as it trickled down my neck and back. Earlier in the week we’d had to turn the air on after cooler weather briefly flashed its ankles at us. That had lasted for a few days until heat and humidity returned. Friday marked the end of the run for the heat and the beginning of weather more in line with the autumnal equinox.
I can’t say that I was sad to see September go. I let the rain wash it away.
I let it cleanse me of the anxiety over my brother-in-law’s bypass surgery. Four of the five blood vessels were 80-100% clogged with the gunk that collects in them as we age. Some can circumvent it with diet and exercise. In his case despite doing everything right, plaque still took up residence on his arterial walls. The surgeon was shocked that BIL hadn’t had a heart attack before this. No damage to the muscle, and just a couple of days after his surgery, he sounded more energetic if a little breathy. He was able to walk to the end of the block and back ten days after surgery.
I let the rain wash away the sadness surrounding the passage of the father of my high school best friend. He was funny, kind, and flew a B-26 in WWII. His students in the agriculture department at Michigan State were lucky to have him. He was 96, and living with problems peculiar to people of an advanced age. It was time, not to take from anyone’s sorrow. It was just time.
In the fading light, I looked upwards at the variegated grey clouds.
We’d had one call Tuesday night from Hubby’s oldest sister, one of the calls after ten p.m. that bodes unwell when you get to be our age. Second oldest sister was on her way out. Another round of sepsis came on and the weapons-grade antibiotic couldn’t touch it and it’s any minute now. Oh, and Oldest’s husband is failing, fading. Maybe six weeks according to the doctors at Cleveland Clinic. The radiation intended to kill off the cancer irreparably damaged his lungs, making them look like the red lace doilies used by children to make Valentine’s cards.
The call we’d hoped some miracle would stave off came about 2:30 Thursday morning. Second Sister had slipped the veil into the next world. She was only 64. A retired junior high guidance counselor, gardener par excellence, and active in helping refugees.
Hubby had been able to get an earlyish flight to Phoenix. He left at 5:30. Called me at 8:30 that night. I supported him as best I could. Funeral the next day, Friday. Family members flying back and forth between Detroit and Phoenix, tending to the living as they prepare to say goodbye to the passed and the passing.
The rain washed away the helplessness, the sorrow.
I took the tomatoes inside, then sat in my spot on the sofa. Oakley, sleepy from an afternoon at day care, snuggled his tush against my hip. I rubbed his ears. We don’t need words to talk. I read some poems. I watched some mindless filler on TV, too, until bed time.
Hubby arrived about three a.m. I heard his footsteps and the soft scrape of the chair across the kitchen tiles, and went back to sleep.
Many hours later, we talked of his travel experiences, seeing his family, and the service. We talked, too, about the need to get our estate planned and our advance directives down in ink. Neither of us want heroic measures. Personally, I want to include a clause that will warn anyone thinking of putting me on life support that if they do, I will haunt them to the end of days.
And while I don’t know how my funeral will go beyond hoping that people will say kind things about me, I do know that I want the memorial to conclude with a reading of Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon, followed by a pause, and then for the very last thing, Spring by John Denver. (A live performance would be cool, but it’s up on YouTube if that doesn’t work out.)
I hope that’s many years off, though. Our immediate tasks are to tend to his brother in law, support his sister when that time comes, and go about the present and all there is there, letting the seasons cycle as they will.
In the meantime, I’ll let the rains of autumn wash me clean.
Since the last missive, colorful and interesting opportunities for personal growth took over the days. I just haven’t been able to write anything coherent here in WordPress Land. However, this wave of experiences abates, and I hope to hang out on a regular schedule again.
It’s been mostly good happening. I’ve been taking a writing and environment class at a literary center in Geneva. The teacher is passionate, enthusiastic, and better prepared than some instructors I had in academic situations. It’s a small class, only four students, and we enjoy each others’ company. I will be sad to attend the last session next week.
The draining part: we’ve been dealing with another round of automotive follies the last few days. It’s to be expected when one co-owns two vehicles produced before the millennium and one shortly after. We may as well count them as new with all the work Hubby’s put into them. Last year was the year of his Corolla needing quite a bit of work. I can’t remember everything that needed to be done, but it was pretty extensive. Then the air conditioning crapped out on it just after Labor Day.
This year, my VW needed help. My A/C crapped out. Since heat and I don’t get along, and since Oakley is my usual passenger, we moved that up on the priority list.
And then there was the oil leak.
And the lock that didn’t respond to the remote.
And then this past weekend, the latch activating the door over the gas cap quit working. Of course I only had an eighth of a tank of gas left. The well-intentioned attendant at the gas station offered to pop it open for me with a screwdriver. Since that would lead to the need for the quarter panel getting replaced (VWs of that vintage do nothing half way), I politely declined.
Hubby figured out how to open the door manually. Open the hatchback. Pull out the panel over the gas cap from the rear. Apply pressure from the inside. Still had to do some rearranging and moving of this bit and that part, but he was able to fill it up.
Better yet, he was able to get the gas cap door fixed and the new lock installed. Not a pretty sight to see the innards of the door stacked on the workbench in the garage, but he completed the task. No screws were left behind, either.
Somehow, literature concerning Toyota Priuses materialized in the last week. We may be materializing one in the near future.
I’d been spending too much time on FaceBook and Twitter lately. I’ll be honest about it. Even with using my cell phone’s timer to avoid social media becoming a time sink, animal videos, tag team trolling my current congress rep about his support of the current administration’s abhorrent policies and so on started taking too much time.
I needed at least a day off. A detox. But there was this cat video and that dog pic and another video about wombats and….
The intervention came Tuesday afternoon when the internet cut out with no warning. At first I thought nothing of it since our service runs on the hiccupy side, especially in summer. Usually it comes back by itself in a few moments. This time it didn’t.
Hubby called the service provider. After twenty minutes on hold, a cheerful person asked if he’d unplugged the modem and plugged it back in. Little did said rep know that s/he spoke with a retired telecom engineer who had designed some of the software for one of the first versions of the Net back in the mid ’80s. Finally after a lot of questions about the hardware on this end and trying to sell Hubby a $99 upgrade for email service, the tech finally backed off and ran the tests. No, we were not getting a signal. No, couldn’t tell why from that end. Someone would be sent out in the next two or three days to see what was going on, and if they have to come inside, there will be a charge. Oh, we may not be able to get to you until next week. Or maybe even the week after that.
This is on the heels of our downstairs air conditioning unit conking out on Monday thanks to some rodent chewing the insulation off the wires that hook the unit to the thermostat. (That was a relief since Hubby thought the compressor had breathed its last cooling breath. If anyone asks, peace of mind costs $139. The compressor costs more than some cars we’ve both driven.)
The air. Now this. And the next Mercury retrograde doesn’t happen until the 25th of this month.
In the spirit of preparedness, Hubby went up to the local brick and mortar store for our cellular service to find out what we’d have to do to get going with wireless internet. As he drove up the main road by our house, he saw several repair trucks setting up to get busy. He stopped and asked the foreman what had happened.
Well, Tuesday was mowing day along the main road. One of the mowers had taken out not just a junction box (the green boxes that hold wiring for phone and internet lines), but pulled up almost a mile of cable along with it. The mower blades had chopped the cable into tiny pieces. The severed end was so badly damaged that the repair crew had to dig up another considerable length before they found wires that would hold the splicing with the new cable. Then they had to attach that to a new junction box, verify that all of the accounts were getting service, then bury the cable. And then we and the other 599 impacted households would be back in business.
That was if they could get one of the crews specializing in disaster recovery on site.
Well, so be it. I still could have used my phone or taken my laptop to my favorite tea room, but I didn’t. I read a book that I had purchased at Ren Faire last weekend about Vikings. Watched more TV than I want to admit. Ran some errands. Read. Cooked. Brought the boom box downstairs (we use a Sonos device to route streaming radio stations through our stereo). Communed with real life.
Hubby was ready to rock and roll today with setting up the completely wireless net access, but his fun was interrupted last night by service resuming as if nothing had happened.
Today I checked in for about fifteen minutes on each of my social media platforms. I wrote this. I will work on a writing project this afternoon.
But wait…shouldn’t the pics from Oakley’s day care session on Tuesday be posted? And I need to see how this friend’s dog is doing after surgery, and there’s the T-Rex videos, and…
If we’d stumbled across a gator on our walk this morning, I would not have been the least surprised. Startled as hell, yes, but not surprised. I don’t know what the numbers were, but they must have been decidedly tropical. You know, the ones that make a person wonder why “gross” isn’t a widely used meteorological term.
Walking this morning was akin to wrestling with a blanked washed in hot water. Once we were five steps from the car, the beads of sweat formed rivulets that converged into rivers flowing south from my torso.
This was sweat. Not the sexy little trickle nestled in a fitness model’s cleavage. Not the sheen of an athlete. This was stinky, dirty, wait-thirty minutes-until-it-stops-or-you’ll- start-again sweat. My shirt stuck to my back and my hair stuck to my head by the time we completed the half-hour trail. I wondered if moss grew anywhere on my body.
Adding to the hilarity was my daily round of hot flashes, the bane of women in their middle years. (For younger readers and those not of a persuasion to flashes, it can be anything from feeling like you’re going to spontaneously combust for about thirty seconds to long, sweaty affairs that feel like you’re running a fever lasting up to fifteen minutes. Mine are in the former category and for some weird reason I get them in the morning, mostly. A lot of ladies get them at night. Now you know what they’re like. You’re welcome.) And we were inundated with bugs that mistook the herbal repellant for a condiment.
Oakley and I still put in our thirty minutes. He panted, but was otherwise unscathed. I jacked up the air conditioning in the car for our comfort and safety on the way home. When we came through the door, he drank a half bowl of water and flopped in front of the fan.
I felt the same after a shower and a glass of iced tea. Once again, life became a bearable proposition.
At this writing, we have the first in a series of thunderstorms slated for this afternoon moving through the area. They herald a break in this heat that’s hung around since last Friday.
Just when it looks like rock bottom’s been hit, the current administration digs a hole and goes even lower. I’m not going to post the picture of Melania-Antoinette in her jacket with the graphic on the back proclaiming “I don’t really care” as she left her photo op at one of the children’s concentration camps in Texas. Please Google it. I will not post her picture or say anything further in this space to curtail the spread of evil.
I will tell you that yesterday’s act of casual cruelty shook me to my core. With a heavy heart and aching head, I shut off the computer.
Unfortunately, we live in times where we can’t go into lassis-faire mode about the news. The challenge is to stay as well informed as possible without events numbing us into apathy. How, then, do we pay attention without losing our minds?
Find a reliable news source, but limit checking it. I go to the CBC website a couple of times a day unless something such as a perp walk or indictment breaks. I also like BBC and DW for their calmness and refusal to normalize the BS coming out of DC.
Read history books and articles. I find impermanence comforting, and I find the stories of how everyday people survived craziness inspiring. On my to-read list is The Fourth Turning (sorry, don’t have author info at hand). The authors stipulate that modern history runs in cycles of approximately eighty years of ascension and decline, but with each cycle, we end up closer to a just and equal society. The US Civil War (the declared one, not the one going on right now through bad behavior and social media) and World War II were about eighty years apart. We are about eighty years on from the beginning of World War II starting in Europe. The decline is happening, but there are signs that the ascension is on the way (look at how many young ones are getting involved, registering to vote, speaking out).
Keep an eyewitness journal. What’s changed in the last eighteen months? How has it impacted your personal world? Think about Ken Burns’ films and how the letters and diaries featured gave names and faces to the people alive at those times, and making it more real than a list of dates and events ever could.
Kindness. Look for kindness. Journal on that as well. I’ve quoted her before and will do so again: Mr. Rogers’ mom reminded him to look for the helpers in troubled times. Be kind any way you can.
Anti-toxins for the spirit include nature (if you can play in the woods or a garden, great; if not, YouTube has a plethora of videos); art that you create or appreciate; uplifting music; and handing out with friends.
Let your voice be heard. The rep for my district or whoever runs his social media put a person I know in Twitter jail earlier this week for tweets about detained children. Very well, then. I started tweeting my senators and letting them know about the lack of response from the erstwhile representative. I tweeted to the Democratic candidate, I also tweeted to other possibly interested parties like the UN Human Rights Commission and the International Criminal Justice Court. You know, the one in The Hague? Yes, that one.
If you have a spiritual practice, do it with the intention to stay sane and grounded during these turbulent days. If you don’t, just set an intention to do so.
We will get through this. I don’t know how, but somehow, we will.
Welcome to my congressional district, baby. It’s a mishmash of two old money cities (St. Charles and Geneva); three rustbelt cities in the process of getting gentrified (Aurora, Batavia, Geneva); small farming communities, and towns swept up in the never-ending sprawl of the suburbs. I’m in the southern third in a community that exemplifies the rural white mentality.
We ended up in the soybean field when Hubby had his midlife crisis. He decided that he wanted to build a house. Any lots near his place of work were astronomical. We found the land just before the building boom took off in the mid-’90s when the county of our residence was declared one of the hottest places to live. The influx of residents who moved out here from suburbs closer to the city did so to get some space from their fellows. Or in some cases, to get away from “bad influences” (read: diversifying populations), sycophants with the rural white voter base already out here.
Currently, we are represented by Randy Hultgren, poster boy for the guns and Jesus crowd. He’s taken NRA money. He promotes himself as a pipeline to the federal government. However, that only applies if you agree with him. The rest of us contacting his office get canned emails; rude or clueless staffers who have told constituents to check Google or the website for his position on issues; and conference call town halls inconveniently scheduled at times when most people are carpooling, eating dinner, or attending their children’s school activities. He’s also made appearances with no notice at big box home improvement stores to shake hands et. al. Oh, and let’s not forget the day when a group of peaceful protesters with questions about changes to the Affordable Care Act were greeted by a locked office door. Very well, then. They returned to the parking lot to hold up their signs. Once out there, they saw eyes and fingers parting the blinds in the office windows.
Personally, I gave up calling Rep. Hultgren’s office a long time ago after a staffer named Brian hung up on me when I expressed concern about health care issues. However, I have been retweeting items on Twitter with little reminders that this is how history will remember him and does he really want to be on the wrong side of it?
Evidently, apathy rules his day. This week has been especially frustrating concerning the children being separated from their parents at the border between Mexico and Texas. One of my local friends who’s more active than I am in politics called his office to ask about his position.
She was told that he hadn’t said anything about it and didn’t know if he had an opinion on it one way or another.
The last few days I’ve tweeted him relentlessly about the children’s concentration camps. Not just him, but the International Court of Justice at the Hague, the UN, Amnesty International…you get the picture.
Where the hell is Obi-Wan Kenobi when you need him?
Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we need to take a deep breath and regroup, then start working for a candidate who really cares about her constituents. Should statistics and chance favor us, we should be under the leadership of Lauren Underwood in November. She’s an RN with political experience as a senior advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services appointed by President Obama. She helped implement the Affordable Care Act as well as working on disaster management and prevention programs.
Somehow, after the last eighteen months, Ms. Underwood’s disaster management skills seem especially applicable.
Late this week, the weather settled into a pattern conforming with the norms and standards of late spring/early summer. Metrological summer, not astronomical summer, that is. I spent five or ten minutes here and there pulling weeds and what had been labeled as mesclun mix on the seed packet from the raised bed this week. Finally, yesterday under a blue and grey ombre sky, I evicted the last of the rogue salad blend, dug out six inches around the burrow created by the critter this last winter, and planted the garden.
Since weather conducive to planting without risk of hypothermia or heat stroke came late this year, I decided to get some already started plants at our local ag store. Oakley and I walked at a nearby prairie restoration, then we stopped and selected the plants. We have three kinds of tomatoes (large heirloom varieties called Brandywine and Cherokee Purple for Hubby; yellow pear for me); yellow squash; lavender and basil (their aromas please the senses while warding off insects); cucumbers; and cilantro. From seed I planted rainbow carrots, parsley, green beans, and radishes. Water and wait.
Afterwards, I took a hot shower and coated my back with an analgesic roll-on to prevent my muscles from freezing into an unintended backbend. It worked.
Hubby’s next class started yesterday. It’s an internship where he gets to work on projects for his instructor’s clients. He was happy and geeked up and then…
Then came the text. His brother-in-law (BIL) had been in remission for a couple of months, but started having problems breathing recently. During the workup, they found out that the chemo and radiation f–ed up his lungs. Technically speaking, it’s called pulmonary pneumenosis. The treatments for the cancer caused damage and inflammation leading to the bronchial sacs becoming stiffened, making it hard to fully inhale or exhale. To add to the hilarity (she says, dripping with sarcasm), the cancer came back and took up camp in his liver. He’s in the hospital. We don’t know how long he has. Not much else can be done at this time except wait the interminable wait for the call we don’t want.
I talked myself out of making a cake. It wouldn’t help BIL, and with the mood that news triggered last night it likely may not have made it into the oven.
We’ve spent the day keeping ourselves distracted. Hubby is working on cabinets for his mom’s house. It’s keeping him busy.
Oakley and I are staying busy as well. We had our usual weekend morning walk with our friends early today. I took Oakley shopping at his favorite store. They finally had the bunny burgers in stock, making both of us very happy. Better yet, they had put a couple of bags of the burgers aside with a note to check with us to see if we wanted them. That made the day a lot better.
After lunch I put Oakley in the car for a ride. I needed to clear my head. We drove aimlessly, and stopped at a forest preserve. Usually this one is relatively desolate, but today a family reunion took place. A huge one. I smiled, waved, picked the way out of the creatively parked cars back to the main road and brought us home.
Hubby continues with building cabinets. I write. I need to clear out the dishwasher while contemplating one of the great mysteries of life: how two adults and a dog can create that many dirty dishes in a 24-hour cycle.
Maybe that’s not such a mystery, after all. Maybe the small tasks of everyday life are gifts, are the things that give us structure as we navigate the winds of change.