Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Friday, September 11, 2015

My Dad

This is probably the hardest post I've ever tried to write.  It's been a jam-packed summer, full of fun activities, travel, family, and good friends.  It's also been a time of loss and sorrow.  Last month, on August 14th at 2:45 pm, my dad let go of his long, 20-plus year battle with prostate cancer.  He was a strong and valient warrior for sure.  He did not let go easily, although in the end he was able to go quietly and peacefully.  A tender mercy.

To back up, the summer had consisted of a road trip with old friends (see previous post) to Seattle and Victoria.  During that week, my dad's one remaining sibling, Uncle Nick, passed away.  That was a hard day for Dad, I think.  It meant he was the last man standing of his siblings.

A month later, and L and I were off again on a cruise with his family to Alaska.  Both of these trips had been planned a year in advance, and although I had misgivings about going at this particular time due to Dad's failing health, he encouraged me to go and do.  The cruise was so much fun - I really enjoy L's siblings - and we were able to see why people love living in Alaska. 

It is breathtakingly beautiful, and, while the winter weather is not for the fainthearted, in the summer I could picture the fun of having a house on a beach there.  Gorgeous. 

Parts of it reminded me of the rocky shoreline of Maine.  We saw lots of critters - reindeer, elk, bears, and - most important of all - WHALES.  I finally went on a whale watch where we saw lots and lots of whales.  Mama whales and their babies.  It was an amazing and awe-inspiring sight.  Being a cruise, we also did lots and lots of eating, but due to the fact that I am on a gluten/dairy/egg-free diet, I came home weighing exactly the same as when I left - BOOM!  Granted, I did not have as much fun with 24 hour dining as everyone else did, but it was worth it in the end, I say.  And L and I did discover a wonderful little pizza nook where they had - holy of holies - GLUTEN-FREE PIZZA.  It was a wonderful discovery.  It was a good week, relaxing and restorative for both L and me. 

When we got home, we spend lots of time with Mom and Dad telling them all about it.  By this time, Dad was in a hospital bed down in the family room, with almost round the clock care.  He relished visitors at any and all times, and never wanted to miss anyone who might stop by.  I'm glad I took the time to go as often as I was able to.  He usually ended up sleeping through most of the visit, but it didn't matter as long as he knew I was there.  And when it was time to go, he always called me "sweetheart," just like when I was little.  Sometimes he'd beg me to stay longer, and those visits really tore at my heart...

A few weeks after the Alaska trip, we had scheduled a four day visit to NYC to meet our newest grandson, Lincoln.  Again, I was worried about going, but plans were already set, so off we went.  We met and bonded with our little bean Lincoln and had some fun in NYC.  Thanks to Tim and Autumn for being such great hosts - and to Lincoln for putting up with many hugs and kisses.

Now THAT is a place where you can get some really amazing gluten-free and vegan food, and I was newly encouraged to learn to cook a new way.  There's an amazing restaurant on the Upper West Side called the Candle Cafe.  If you're ever there, DO stop in.  You would never know you were eating vegan food, it's that good.  Bare Burger is another.  Yes, my friends, there is still a delicious life after being sentenced to a gluten/dairy/egg-free diet.

We returned home, and Dad had started to decline even more.  Lots of sleeping, more mental confusion, lots of frustration.  Mom was having a hard time managing, but it was hard for her to want to accept/pay for the help she needed.  At one point, they both decided that they didn't need the caregivers for so many hours, and they stopped having someone there overnight.  I think that lasted for 2 nights before Mom realized she just couldn't do it alone.  She is tiny, and couldn't have handled Dad if he fell getting up, and by that time he was a serious fall risk.  She couldn't sleep well always listening for him to need to get up, and so her own health was declining.  All of us siblings tag teamed her and got her to agree that she needed the help, even though it was unpleasant to have to pay for it.  L was the most instrumental in talking to her - he is really good with her.  So patient!  There were points in time where I'd have to just walk out of the room to keep from shaking her in frustration.  I know - that sounds terrible - but she has what my sibs and I call the "Miller Stubborn Gene."  Or - she gets in the "Miller Mood."  Whatever you call it, it's a trial for anyone trying to deal with it.  I've seen it with my aunt (her sister) as I've cared for her these past 4 years.  I was HOPING it would be different with my mom, but it's not, darn it.  So L, with his infinite patience, deals with her best in the most loving way you could imagine.  And she adores him.  Win/win.

The middle of August came, and Katie and her family had moved back to California - WOOT!  I had scheduled a week to drive up (about an hour and a half - two hours away) and help her get her house in order, and have some fun with the kids.  Again, GRAVE misgivings about going, as Dad had noticeably declined.  He was on morphine and another painkiller (the name eludes me now) so he slept almost constantly, and wasn't really eating much.  The hospice nurse had talked about the end coming at any time, although at times he was completely alert and functioning, and would actually eat and drink something.  Mom encouraged me to go, as Katie really needed the help, and there wasn't really anything I could do for Dad at that point.  So off I went on Monday, August 10th.  The drive up was beautiful, and I was so happy to see the beautiful new area where she is living.  One of my favorite areas of California - one I wouldn't mind moving up to one day.  We unpacked, purged, tidied, and played.  I was just starting to feel like we'd really made progress, and one more day would really do it.  This was on Thursday the 13th.  We'd given ourselves the afternoon off to go over to the big neighborhood pool with the kids.  Gorgeous day, and the girls made a couple of good friends who ended up being in their school classes.  Dresden just ran around throwing toys in the pool.  (He's happiest when he's throwing something.  Anything.)

And that's when I got the text that Dad had slipped into a coma and wasn't expected to last the night.  I lost it.  I started to cry, and Katie, bless her heart, just rushed me back to the house, packed me up, and sent me flying south on the 101 freeway toward home.  I hated to leave her and the kids, but I don't think I could have borne it if I had not gotten home to see Dad one last time.  I prayed all the way home that I would get there in time.  I stopped off long enough at home to pick up L, and we flew down to the beach where my family had all gathered.  They didn't know I was coming, so they looked a bit surprised when I rushed in.  Dad was still there, but not conscious.  So I just held his hand, and talked softly to him, and told him how much I loved him, and that it was okay to go, and that we'd take care of Mom.  And he just hung on...  Thinking he might be more at peace if we weren't all in the room distracting him from being called away, we all left one by one.  Except Mom.  Hard to leave her alone, but she seemed pretty stoic, and Geoffrey the caregiver was there for the night.

The next morning (August 14 - coincidentally my Grandmother's birthday) he was still hanging on.  I got dressed and made my sad way down to hold vigil.  One of my brothers kept insisting that we stay out of Dad's room so he would feel more free to let go.  My mother seemed to agree so I had to abide by that.  But I couldn't bear to think of him all alone, so I sat on the stairs right outside the room and listened to him breathe.  And every once in a while I'd sneak in and hold his hand so he'd know we were there with him, supporting his transition.  I had just walked away from him and was talking to another brother in the living room, when my mom came in looking noticeably stressed.  She said to the two of us "You might want to come in now."  Brent and I walked up to Dad's bedside with Mom, and watched him take two last breaths.  And... he was gone.  Just that quietly.  Just that peacefully.  I stroked his hair, and whispered that I loved him.  We had Mom sit down and just hold his hand while we went into the kitchen and got Chris.  He called the hospice nurse to come and make it all official so we could call the mortuary, and we also called my Mom's good friends to come over and give her some support and much needed love and hugs.  It was such a surreal series of events.

Eventually, the mortuary came and took Dad.  My sister in law came over and asked if we wanted to see Dad before they took him away.  I declined but I also went and got Mom, who was starting to watch them transition Dad from the bed to the body bag.  She didn't need to watch that so I took her out.  Right after they drove off, I had a moment of panic, realizing that I'd just seen the last of him.  We weren't going to have any kind of viewing, so my last stroke of the hair, and my head on his chest had been it.  I regretted not wanting to see him one last time.  But now I'm glad I didn't because now my memories are of him alive and well and alert.

Mom didn't want anyone spending the night with her, and she didn't want to come to anyone's house for the night.  Truth to tell, she was exhausted, and she had a busy few days ahead of her.  We all did.  My tasks were to contact friends and family and to write and place the obituaries.  I was touched at the outpouring of love from all I contacted - especially from old friends I hadn't talked to in years, and my cousin (daughter of one of my dad's sisters) in Utah.  She helped spread the word to family members I wouldn't have had any idea of how to contact, and she wrote me the most beautiful email telling me how much my dad had meant to her.  It was lovely to read.

Dad had kind of an unusual story:  he was one of a set of twins born to a couple in Utah in1930.  They were the last siblings born into that family, as his mother died the next day, leaving her husband (a sheepherder) with newborn twins plus 7 other siblings ranging from age 15 to toddler age.  My grandfather wasn't even remotely prepared to deal with all of that, so he asked his best friends, who lived around the corner, to take the twins until he could get on his feet.  Fast forward about two years, and the friends still had the twins.  They approached my grandfather and told him he either needed to take over their care, or they would be happy to take them on a permanent basis (they had never been able to have surviving children of their own.)  My grandfather told them to make it a permanent arrangement, as he wasn't able to properly care for them on his own.  What an act of selfless love!  What a wonderful opportunity for the people who were the only active father and mother that my dad and his twin brother knew.  And what an opportunity for two little boys who would never have had the advantages they did growing up without these two parents providing for their needs.  As you can imagine, however, it did cause a bit of emotional conflict for my dad, growing up with one set of parents and his twin, yet having his biological father just around the corner, plus siblings who seemed more like cousins.  It's an unusual story, and my dad was an unusual man.  Rocket science intelligent, handsome, and quirky.  As a teenager, "quirky" isn't a quality you appreciate in your dad, but I have treasured that quality as I've grown older.  Sometimes we'd all just shake our heads as we walked away, but we've also gotten a lot of mileage out of "dad stories" and our family lore is richer because of my dad and his quirkiness. 

He was a thrifty man, always conscious of a dollar.  To a fault.  He left my mother with the most generous monthly budget I could ever imagine having, yet he would always act like they were on the verge of being penniless.  We learned to ignore it.  But as he lay dying in his last days, my brother Brent asked him if he was afraid.  Dad replied that yes, he was.  Brent asked him what he was afraid of.  Dad's eyes flew open and he snapped "BANKRUPTCY!"  Ahahahahahaha... that's my dad...

Dad was always there for every big event, every milestone.  Kids and grandkids alike. 

Even great grandkids' events, such as births and baptisms did not go unnoticed.  Dad was proud of his family, and he especially loved babies and small children.  Yes, he was a famous baby lover.

The service we had for him was beautiful.  I know Dad must have loved it.  So many friends and family gathered in his honor, so many wonderful stories told.  And the music... don't get me started.  The closing song was "Nearer My God To Thee."  It started with just a violin playing through the first verse.  Then the piano joined in.  Next the organ came in softly, and then the congregation was invited to sing.  I made it through the first verse, and then my emotions overcame me.  It was so beautiful, and my heart...my heart just missed him, and I wanted my Daddy just one more time.  But I know we will see him again.  I know he is always there, right behind me, just around the corner in the next room, watching over us, his family.  I feel he will always guide and direct me, and help me.  Grief isn't like I imagined it would be.  I had thought it would be an overwhelming all-day every-day thing.  But it's not.  I am fine most of the time.  But every so often, at the most random times, something will hit me, and I am awash with tears.  I just miss him.

My birthday was on September 7th.  My mom gave me a birthday card, and one of those random times hit me.  It was the first birthday card I'd ever gotten without his signature on it.  I'll never have one again with his signature on it, and I was glad that I'd been crazy enough to save the one I got LAST year that had his signature and a message from him in it.  I will treasure that card always.  Silly little things like that.  But knowing he is out of pain, that his body is released from that horrible cancer, that he is with beloved friends and family (and getting to know that mother he never got to know in his lifetime!) - all of these things make me smile.  I like thinking of the three mothers he is now reunited with: his birth mother, his "parent" mother, and my mother's mother/my grandmother, who loved him like her own.  As I said, he passed out of this life on her birthday, and I could very well imagine that little lady elbowing her way to the front of the line to meet him as he arrived.  THAT made me even laugh a little bit.

So it's been quite a year so far, 2015.  In addition to all of the above, we have also been dealing with the relapse of our youngest son, who suffers from mental illness.  He suffered a breakdown the day of Dad's funeral, and so L and I dealt with that in addition to everything else.  It never rains, but it pours... He is currently in a facility recovering, and should be ready to take the next step to a less restrictive facility sometime next week.  He's had a hard time stabilizing this time, but it looks like things are finally coming around.  So hard to see him struggling with this yet another time, and harder still to figure out how to help him have greater insight into what he can and cannot handle, what he can, and can NEVER do.

I am grateful for good friends.  I am grateful for family.  I am grateful for the feelings of unity my dad's passing has had on our remaining family, and especially on me.  I want to try harder to stay connected to cousins and those who loved my dad, and who still tell the stories of those of his generation.  I want to do better, live better.  Have greater patience and unconditional love.  And I suppose those are common reactions to the death of someone close to you.  Life is precious, and
tenuous.  And I don't ever want to look back and feel like I've wasted a day of it.    I miss my Dad, but he taught me so many things that will make my life more rich and full.  Love your family unconditionally, work hard, never lose your curiosity, never stop learning.  Thanks, Dad, for a good life.  For being my first love.  For being my champion.  Until we meet again...

Monday, June 22, 2015

Father's Day 2015

It was a small gathering for Father's Day yesterday. My oldest brother and his wife were away in Utah meeting their newest grandson.  My youngest brother and his family live out of state in Utah, so that left the celebration to L and me, and my SIL Jill and brother Chris.  Making her appearance on behalf of the absent grandkids (most out of state, and some even out of the country!)  was Chris and Jill's daughter Margot.  She is always fun to have around, although I'm not sure how fun it was for her to be surrounded by everyone old and older.  No matter - she has just been accepted into the master's program at USC, so we got to catch up with her.

Dad, as usual was anxiously awaiting everyone's arrival.  Sadly, we all have late church and weren't able to get there until late in the afternoon, but we had prepared a feast, and the fun soon began.  Normally, Dad just stays in the family room attached to his hospital bed, but he asked if there was anything he could help with, so I told him to come on into the kitchen and just visit with us while we made the last minute preparations.  He was happy to be part of things and was soon sitting at the kitchen table chattering away giving us his latest family news, and catching up on anything new we had to tell him.  Meanwhile, L and I put the finishing touches on the shrimp rolls (like lobster rolls, but with shrimp) and the corn chowder.  Jill had brought watermelon, so it was the perfect summer dinner.  Katie and Zach had just spent the weekend on Cape Cod following Zach's graduation from his residency program, and I was so jealous, I guess I was hungry for all things New England. 

Mom had set a pretty table (as usual!) and we all sat and talked and noshed on our summer food, and I enjoyed watching Dad enjoy it all.  He loves nothing more than to be surrounded by his family.  And we/I received kind of a bonus gift: he started to tell us some stories of his boyhood in Spanish Fork, Utah and they were stories I had never ever heard before.  And they were great.  I saw my dad in a whole new light - he was a real boy after all, rather than the serious, bookish kids I had always pictured him as.

The first story involved he and his friends driving through town at around age 14-15 throwing firecrackers out the window at the people the passed.  Can you imagine???  Not only was this a peek at a side of my dad I'd never seen before, it was a look into a world that just doesn't really exist anymore.  Anywhere.  So I absolutely must write it down here before I forget. 

But the best story of all was when they were, again, about 15-16 (that age is just trouble, I've decided...) and they poured gasoline across the highway (which admittedly, was not then the major Interstate 15 it is now).  Then, when a car would come along, they would torch it up just before the car arrived.  As luck would have it, the third car to come along was a police car, and he was going to arrest all of them.  Happily, though, the boys just told him they lived in Spanish Fork, and they needed to get home to make it to football practice.  And the policeman let them go!!  Because he didn't want them to be late for football practice.  And he probably knew all of their dads.  I laughed so hard at that one.  Only in small town America in the 40s.  No wonder my dad remembers such an idyllic childhood.  One where foolishness was gently corrected, and parents were left to do their jobs.  Not so many people to protect, so admittedly, it was easier to make the decision to be lenient.  But the best part was watching my dad tell the tale, remembering each detail, and laughing so hard that his eyes crinkled up in that way he has.  It was a good good night.

Too soon, we cleared the table and had dessert.  The caregiver, Geoffrey, got my dad in his PJs and all ready for bed.  And since my brother had just flown in from overseas the day before after two weeks gone, and was seriously jet lagged, they had to go.  L and I stayed a bit longer, talking and visiting until I could see Dad getting sleepy.  I didn't want a repeat of the last week when Dad literally begged us to stay longer.  My heart can't take much of that.  It sounds like they've got some things to keep them busy this week, and I'll try to stop in or give a call.

And next Sunday, we are ALL (except the brother in Utah) gathering once again for my parents' 63rd wedding anniversary.  L sat with my dad a few weeks ago and helped him plan this for everyone, while I was enjoying myself in Seattle with my girls.  (Yes, he is SUCH a keeper...to sit and help Dad with this!)  Dad wants to get food from Cheesecake Factory for everyone and, once again, be surrounded by his family.  I will have to look at the menu this week and place my order.  I'll need to try and record bits of the evening in video so the grandkids can see - especially if he starts telling stories again. 

In other news, this little guy turned 7 yesterday on Father's Day - which also happened to be his birthday. 

He had a wonderful Super Mario cake, which you can see in the picture.  L and I sent him a big boy sleeping bag (the one he has now we gave him when he was about 2 and it has plush bears on it.  He's ready for the real deal.  I also sent him one of those Simon games - remember those from the 80s?  Oh my, we had fun with ours, and I could just picture our Matthew becoming a super champ at it.  He is such a smart little boy, and so, so sweet.  I miss him.

So Father's Day this year was filled with all the best kinds of family memories - lots of laughing, lots of tenderness, and rounded out with good food.  I think Dad really enjoyed himself, being the center of attention.  And on the way down to that, I got to talk to cute Matthew and hear the excitement in his voice as he told me that they'd just finished dinner, and as soon as they cleaned up, they would have his Super Mario cake AND cotton candy ice cream.  That's the stuff good dreams are made of, my friends - birthdays that satisfy all of your simple, 7 year old desires.  I just love that kid.

Now let's see if we can give Mom and Dad the same good dreams next week as we celebrate their 63 years together.  And if luck smiles, there will be some good stories told.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Sister Trip

Time for a little fun.  Rereading the last post, I can see I've been in a difficult spot for the past few months.  You get used to it when it's your daily companion.  But this past week, it was finally time for THE GIRL'S TRIP.  We'd been planning it for the past year, the five of us:  Nancy, Mischell, Pam, Benita and me.  We are all old friends of 35 years or more, we hatched and raised our babies together, we experienced life's joys and sorrows together, and over the past 25 years we have all moved away hither and yon.  I moved the shortest distance - just down to Orange County.  Nancy and Mischell relocated to Utah, Pam to Arizona, and Benita to Washington.  As I said, life was sometimes good, and sometimes cruel.  A couple of these dearies have experienced the very worst sort of tragedy: the loss of a child.  All but one has gone through a painful divorce (is there any other kind?), and all of us have experienced life's downside and losses in varying degrees, as well as wonderful blessings of the best kind.  I have seen this one or that one over the years, but not one of us has been together with everyone in over 25 years.  High time.
A trip was planned that started with a road trip from Utah to Seattle.  I flew to Salt Lake, and was picked up by Nancy and Mischell.  A quick dinner at Ruby's served by Nancy's Andy.  Oh my - when did he grow up and get so handsome?? 

Didn't see the other twin, Tyler, this trip, but he looks just like Andy, so I can imagine he is every bit as handsome and fun.  We spent the night at Nancy's, where I immediately popped an allergy pill to counteract her cats' bad hoodoo effect on me.  Nancy had given herself a hot tub for Valentine's Day, and we enjoyed ourselves that night sitting in the hot water under the stars.  Laughing... so much laughing...  We were off to a good start.

Sunday morning we started off with our compass (GPS) pointed at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  That was to be our stopping point.  One cosmic truth is that it's very hard to eat a largely vegan diet whilst on the road anywhere in Utah, Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming.  I subsisted largely on bacon and hash browns, with the occasional burger or grilled chicken from Wendy's that was lettuce wrapped.  Yum.  But you know what?  It did the trick and kept me going.  I'd also stocked up on a few road trip treats from Trader Joe's so it was all good. 
There was a kind of funny little place in Montana that housed a state prison.  The entire community was based around the prison: Prison Gift Shop, Prison Ice Cream Shop, etc.  The sad fact was that it was the Sabbath and everything was closed, so we contented ourselves with a couple of silly pictures after stretching our legs and before moving on. 

We ran into a spot of trouble right outside of Coeur d'Alene.  There was some kind of massive truck accident that had traffic held up going through a pass for over 2 hours.  Whole soccer teams were stranded with no cell service.  We heard all kinds of wild rumors and stories, we saw at least 4 ambulances race by, but we never did really hear what happened.  When we were finally allowed to pass, there was a semi truck on it's side all over the road, but everything else had been removed.  We were hoping for the best for whoever was involved in that tragedy, and we arrived in Coeur d'Alene for our night's stay.

On Monday morning we hit the road to get to Seattle in time to pick up Pam at the airport and check into our hotel.  The day was a little dampish, but our spirits were not.  Our trip was about to take off!  We got lost on the way to the airport a couple of times (Nancy and directions are not a good mix) but we did finally arrive in time to scoop up Pam and make our way to the hotel - The Camlin - in Seattle.
The party was gearing up, 4 girls now - one more to go!   Our arrival at the Camlin (after circling at least 5 times) was exciting.  They made us feel welcome, helped us in with all of our baggage (I, as usual, had by far the biggest and heaviest bag...) and we admired the beauty of the hotel as we made our way up to our room.  Nancy and Mischell took the Murphy bed, Pam and I had the queen bed in the other bedroom, and Benita (she arrived soon after!!) took the couch as she is five foot nothing.  Oh my, did the party ever start then.  We were loud.  We reminisced, we laughed, we were brought to tears a couple of times.  So many memories, and between us we have raised 18 children!  We swapped the pictures on our phones and devices around, showing off the amazing children we had raised, and the even more amazing grandchildren who had become our new miracles.  We remembered camping trips, beach trips, days at the park, swim days at Nancy's, girl's nights out, absent friends, husbands current or otherwise, and that insane pool slide that Nancy had placed on her patio roof above the pool.  It was a true rite of passage for the kids to slide down that slide into the pool below.  I only did it once, myself.  That was enough.

As I've said before, we relived memories good and bad, along with their associated angels and demons.  Most of the stories I'd heard before, but here and there a new one cropped up, adding to the treasure trove.  You need to understand that these girls are the sisters I never had.  The sistahs from another mistah.  No judging, no lectures.  Just love and understanding and more love.  It was going to be an amazing week.

On Tuesday morning we got up and walked to the Monorail that took us to the Space Needle and, sitting in it's shadow, the Chihuly Glass Exhibit.  Now, the Space Needle was ok - but it was a drizzly day, and so the view wasn't everything it could have been.  But they do force you to take a picture before you head up to the top, and that picture of all of us (in front of a panoramic backdrop that includes - what else - the Space Needle - made it all worth it. 

Next stop, the Chihuly exhibit.  If you've ever been to the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and seen the gorgeous display of blown glass flowers everywhere - that is Chihuly.  And this Seattle exhibit did not disappoint.  We were completely blown away by the fragile beauty of the glass, both indoors and out in the gardens.  So amazing.


There was a little Peruvian band playing outside the exhibit, and Benita and Mischell began to dance.  It was infectious.

After getting our fill of gorgeous colors and unusual landscaping, we decided to walk down to Pike's Market.  And so we set off.  Sadly, my feet were feeling it at this point, and I could feel my blood sugar dropping.  Mama needed to eat something.  We found what we thought would be a good place to eat - and it would have been if they hadn't taken half a year to seat us, and serve us.  Very disappointing, and by the time we'd finished the market was packing up for the day.  The one bright spot is that on the walk back to the hotel, we/I discovered a wonderful little bakery that had not only the usual array of treats but *holy of holies* they also had a wide variety of VEGAN treats.  Yes, my friends, you CAN bake a delicious cookie or scone without eggs, butter OR gluten.  And that night I had a wonderful Oatmeal Raisin cookie - a HUGE one, I might add - to enjoy.  And did I mention we stopped at a hat store and 3 of us bought hats?  I still haven't worn mine, but I will.  Hats are fun.

Now sadly, all during that afternoon I could feel a flareup coming on in my left shoulder and by the time we reached the hotel I could hardly move my left arm.  No bueno.  Benita kindly let me try one of her painkillers, but my shoulder wasn't having it.  Nothing more to do except take a bunch of Prednisone and go to bed.  We had a big day the next day taking the ferry to Victoria.

What a relief! - I woke up Wednesday morning relatively pain-free.  We were able to get up, get going, and get ourselves to the ferry with no fuss or trouble. 

It is almost a 3 hour trip to Victoria, so we had plenty of time to visit and have fun on the way over. Or get a little shuteye.

Upon arrival we were told to take the path along the water to our hotel.  Advice: do NOT do this.  It is twice the distance at least, dragging luggage and everything else with you.  However, it IS pretty.  We finally arrived, dumped our stuff at the hotel, changed shoes, and we were off to explore Victoria.

But first things first.  We were hungry.  One definite drawback to traveling in a group is that it's difficult to make decisions.  So we wandered a bit, unsure of where the best place to eat would be.  Finally Benita and I gave each other *that* look that said quite clearly "I'm done here" and we forced a decision, which turned out to be an Irish Pub.  Delicious, delectable food.  Unless you're gluten free and vegan.  Everything either had butter or wheat in it.  So while everyone else had Shepherd's Pie, or a luscious curry, or Banger's and Mash, I had the most bland fish and chips ever.  EVER.  But the service was great, the atmosphere was fun, and I got over it.  Our waitress pointed us in the direction of a bakery that had vegan treats and we set off in search.  Two hours later we still hadn't found it, and hadn't found anyone who had ever heard of it.  I called off the search as my dogs were killing me at that point, and cookies were losing their allure.  A quick stop off at a neighborhood market for some supplies that cost way more than they should have and then back to the hotel for an hour of hot tubbing it before turning in for the night.  So good...

Thursday took us to Victoria's Chinatown.  What fun!  Trinkets to take home, fun pictures to take, and I was also able to find a gorgeous tablecloth for myself.  I know - that doesn't sound very exciting, but it really is so pretty.  We stopped for a good lunch of various Chinese dishes, (including chicken lettuce wraps with plum sauce!) where we drove the waiter nuts with our separate checks.  On our way back to the water taxi we discovered a gorgeous home decor store just beyond Chinatown and we spent an hour in there.  Nancy bought herself a bracelet that is so "her", Pam also got some earrings, and I took a million pictures to take home to show L - ideas for a patio slab and also for a patio dining table he could make us, rather than spend a million dollars buying one just like it.  A morning an afternoon well spent, and we were happy girls riding the water taxi back to the hotel. 

Next, after taking our treasures back to the room, we walked the short distance to the closest Fisherman's Wharf.  We bought ice cream (sorbet for me) and walked around.  There were the most clever little houseboats I've ever seen docked there, and we could imagine what fun it could be living in one of those colorful cuties. 

As we sat on the dock admiring them, and also a curious seal who was swimming nearby, a woman passed us and said "Well, you all look like you're having a great time!"  We agreed that yes, we were, and talked about how cute the house boats were.  She replied that she lived in one of them, and would we like to come have a look around?  She didn't need to ask us twice.  Once there, we discovered a cute and compact space, decorated in a very cozy and comfy way, with four cats laying about here and there.  The downstairs consisted of a living room and kitchen, very small but not cramped.  You could get out to the deck via the front door, or through the kitchen door.  As we walked upstairs we discovered a wonderful little bedroom with built in closets and cupboards.  The bathroom was very small, but contained a clawfoot tub and a skylight.  'Nuff said.  How delightful would a hot bath be in that small space??  It was all I could do to keep from asking if I could come back later for a bubble bath.  So nice of her to ask us in.  She had recently moved there from Ontario to be near her sister, and I can't imagine a more fun place to live.
We wandered back to the hotel to change for dinner.  We were going to have a nice dinner that night at the restaurant next door - The Blue Crab I think it was called.  Almost all of us had the steak and lobster tail.  Oh.... YUM....  I went to bed very happy that night.

Friday: back on the ferry bound for Seattle.  Another almost 3 hours, but this time the trip didn't seem as long.  We were able to get our luggage and sail through customs effortlessly.  It seems that five 50+ year old ladies don't look very dangerous.  (Little do they know.)  We hailed a cab to take us back to our hotel and sadly - he was the crabbiest cabby I've ever seen, and we were thrilled when that 15 minute ride was over.  He got a little mad because we didn't know that way back to the hotel - but isn't that HIS job??  Whatever... he charged each one of us $10 for a very short ride.  Don't see that he had a thing to complain about.
Back at the ranch, we checked in again, dropped our stuff, and decided to go back to Pike's Market, since we hadn't really gotten to explore it before.  So off we went and we did have fun.  I was able to find a gift for L, as well as something for Katie's bunch and Rex's group.  And I hit up the vegan bakery again for another Oatmeal Raisin cookie and a lemon scone.  One of the vendors, who was selling quite likely the ugliest silver jewelry I'd every seen, told Benita to keep her "greasy monkey paws" off the jewelry.  REALLY?!?  It really hurt her feelings so we took turns walking up to the booth and giving the jewelry and the vendor stinkeye.  No reason to act like that - especially if you want to sell something!  Nancy said she heard her tell someone that she'd taken some medication that made her head feel like "it had bees in it."  Maybe that was it.

We tried to decide where to eat on the long walk back to the hotel and finally settled on The Dragonfly.  We had a good waiter who was very accommodating to my special needs, and the food was so good! 

 Discussing what items could be made vegan with our most excellent waiter

Our last night.  We were starting to feel sad as things were drawing to a close.  One thing I forgot to mention was that Nancy had brought some sort of herbal concoction that helps you sleep, and every night before bed she would make the rounds squirting a dropperful of it into our mouths - like baby birds.  But we slept SO WELL.  Pam and I ended up ordering some for ourselves, and I can't wait until it arrives!

Saturday morning.  Departure day, but first: breakfast.  My other "sister friend," Marion, came into Seattle to join us for breakfast. 

So good to see her and have her meet these other great ladies, and they, her.  Benita didn't join us.  Her daughter in law was coming to pick her up and she didn't want to cry.  She was already crying when we left for breakfast and was trying to give us all presents.  I will miss her little Energizer Bunny self.  She is a small package, but a mighty one.  She has more courage and caring and love in her heart than most people will ever realize exists.  Such a dynamo, always coming to everyone's rescue.  It was fun to reconnect with her exuberant spirit.

We said our goodbyes to Marion - another lady I can never get enough of.  She was off after breakfast for a trip to Macy's, and we hugged and promised another reunion soon.  Very soon.  Pam was next.  She had come on our trip almost straight from a diving trip in Roatan.  A week with us, and then home for a day or two before getting in the car to drive her prickly mother to a family reunion.  She referred to it as Driving Miss Daisy.  I have thought about her often this week, and am hoping she is having a better time than she thought she would.  Sometimes things have a way a turning out well in unexpected ways.  I'm hoping to see her in Arizona one day soon.  She owns a ceramics studio and I would love to play in the clay with her.  She also lives right on the Colorado River, and has invited us all to come and play in the water.  We need to make that happen.

And finally it was just Mischell, Nancy, and me in the car headed for home.  A little bit through Oregon, where we found this most fascinating sign in the bathroom, instructing us how to dispose of... I don't know... toilet paper?  I wouldn't have known how if they hadn't shown me, apparently, because we are hillbillies. 

We took a more direct route home than we took coming here and we had planned to stop around Boise.  Karma had other plans, however.  Between Nancy's map skills, our inattention, and driving in the dark, we somehow missed Boise and found ourselves hurtling towards someplace called Mountain Home.  By that time, I'd gotten out my own phone and GPS so we wouldn't pass that up as well.  As luck would have it, there was some gigantic convention there with "everyone coming up from Jerome" so all of the hotels were full. We finally secured the last King room at the Hampton Inn that also boasted a second King bed. Never seen that before, but okay...  Turns out the 2nd King bed was a double sofa bed that slanted down like a slip n' slide.  Yay.... but we were so tired (and desperate) that we took it.  Hungry, we set out to forage for food at 11pm at night.  In Mountain Home.  Jack in the Box was the only thing nearby that was open.  But only their driveup was open.  The manager WOULD NOT allow us to order at the dining room window.  So... sandwiched between a Toyota with two girls in it, and a big pickup truck with two cowboys in it, we stood at the driveup window and ordered our chicken vegetable bowls.  And then stood outside the open dining room door waiting for the delivery of our food.  So ridiculous.  But funny too.  Walked back to our room in the dark, realizing that Nancy had left the key in the room.  That night just kept getting better and better.  I think I inhaled that chicken bowl in two minutes flat.  And then spent the rest of the night trying not to slide out of that stupid sofa bed.  Hampton Inn should be ashamed to call that a bed.  I'd write a letter if I weren't too lazy to do it.  I remember looking at the space between  Nancy and Mischell on the king bed and thinking I could probably fit there if I crawled up very quietly. 

The drive home was about 3 1/2 hours long.  Most of it was through Idaho.  I never realized what a beautiful state Idaho is.  Such pretty little farms.  My mind is forever changed about Idaho.  Soon enough we were in Northern Utah, and then - at last - back at Nancy's house. 

Poor Nancy's bug-encrusted Lexus will take some scrubbing.  Her dog and cats were so happy to see her.  We rested there for a while, then took Mischell home before dropping me at the airport.  I was able to see Mischell's two youngest girls and THEIR babies.  I hadn't seen them since they were little, and they are lovely.  I had to remind myself to stop hugging them.  Sadly, Mischell's oldest daughter was killed in a horrible car accident 11 years ago, but we all remember Shannie fondly.  And we will all meet again.  I could see her in the faces of these two youngest, especially in their smiles.  Sweet memories.

At last it was just Nancy and me at the airport.  So hard to say goodbye.  It had been a week of weeks.  One of those trips where it isn't about what we did, so much as it was about who we did it with.  We could have sat in McDonald's and had just as hilarious a time.  Reminding each other of every funny thing we'd ever done, every crazy person we'd ever known, and catching up on each other's lives.  Has everything turned out as planned back when we were 20 and 30-somethings?

 Nancy and me - 1980-something - so young... the start of something very very good

 Definitely not.  There have been some real curve balls thrown.  Children have a way of surprising us in the most unexpected ways.  Sometimes good, sometimes not that good.  There have been deaths (Benita also lost a beloved daughter AND a husband), and fortune reversals.  But through it all, we are sisters, giving love and support to each other as we bump along life's road trying to do the best we can.  Cheering each other on, and encouraging each other to find that place of unconditional love and patience for ourselves and for those in our lives.  To realize that we're pretty good, after all is said and done.  We're not perfect by any means, but we're doing the best we can with what we have.  And somehow, during this week, heaven seemed a little closer and more attainable.  And it turns out that is the blessing of having these sisters in my life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Yin and Yang

This post is for posterity - and for Marion (possibly the only reader I have left).  Life has taken some twists and turns since I last wrote, and, while much is still the same, a couple of things have pretty much taken over the majority of my thoughts and efforts.

I had noticed late last year that I kept getting these little rashy places here and there on my face.  I figured that I was allergic to this cleanser, or that moisturizer.  It started as a small spot under my left eye, that just looked a little burned, but then got a little more aggressive around the first of December with a spot above my upper lip.  (Crap, I thought - I'm getting a cold sore - even though I'd never had one.)  I got used to using a salve under my eye and over my lip.  Then my left hand got a rash all over the back of it.  Itchy and dry.  Fast forward to mid-January and my entire neck erupted in a red rash that was so itchy and dry I could hardly bear it.  That was when I got serious about trying to figure out what was causing it.

I have a friend who is an acupuncturist, and she thought maybe she could help calm it down a bit.  That was about the same time I counted back through the past 6-7 months, and realized that it was just after I started a new drug for my rheumatoid arthritis that the first rash/burned place appeared under my eye.  I suddenly realized that it was the Orencia that was causing all of my misery.  Too bad, too, because it had taken about 4 or 5 months for it to take effect enough that my fingers weren't puffy little sausages.  What to do now?  Well, for starters, I called my rheumatologist to see what could be done, and I found out that what could be done was not much.  I was told to stop taking Orencia.  When I asked what would take it's place, I was told to take Tylenol for pain.  SERIOUSLY???  If you've never experiences an RA flareup, let me be the first to tell you that it's excruciatingly painful, and Tylenol would be like spitting at it.  So I did what anyone would do, I think: I started to cry.  Undaunted, my doctor told me that it was the only way to tell if that was what I was allergic to.  The conversation pretty much went downhill from there.  I could see that I wasn't going to get any help there, and it was kind of a stunning realization that I was on my own.

I called my acupuncturist friend (Mary) and Mary told me that she could definitely help me with pain.  So that's what I've been doing the past 2 months.  I quit taking RA meds immediately and I haven't looked back.  So far, so good, as far as pain goes.  I have accupuncture twice weekly, and I haven't suffered any flareups.  Excellent.  The rash, however, lives on.

*Addendum* - I forgot to mention before that I also took a very expensive blood test to tell me what my body was getting so flared up about in the first place.  So - in addition to acupuncture, my diet is also greatly restricted.  NO gluten, NO eggs, NO dairy.  At all.  It's quite sad, because I love cake.  However, I do NOT love pain, so it's a good tradeoff.  I just wanted to add that in case anyone out there thought that acupuncture alone would solve an RA problem.  I don't think so.  You have to stop eating what is making your body sick.  

About once a week, it will erupt and my face and neck get red and blotchy.  And itchy.  And very very dry and peely.  Skin flakes off and peels off in rather alarming pieces.  It's gross, and I feel disgusting.  Then, slowly, everything calms down, the swelling almost goes away, and I maybe have one day where I can wear a little makeup and look like a human before the cycle starts over.  Now, I have noticed that in the last week and a half, my neck has calmed down considerably, and I seemed to have more good days in between the bad as far as my face goes.  I'm drinking water like a fiend, I'm doing footbaths with Redmond Clay to pull the toxins out, and last night I tried an icepack on my face that felt like it was on fire.  THAT was the best thing yet.  The icepack felt so wonderful, and the swelling around my eyes seemed to go down quite a bit.  I actually can't close my eyes evenly, there's that much swelling.  And my right eye has freakishly long eyelashes, while my left lashes are a normal length.  Not sure what that's all about.

Needless to say, I don't go many places unless I can wear big dark sunglasses.  I can see people do a double take at my face, but most won't say anything.  But I see them looking.  And wondering what the heck is going on with my face.  It's awful.  It's embarrassing.  It's like I just keep having chemical peels.  However, when I'm done with this I should have wonderful skin that's smooth as a baby's bum. That's what I keep telling myself, anyway...

The other thing that's going on is that Dad is slowly going downhill.  He's just gotten so weak.  He got so all he could do was lay around on the couch and sleep.  He'd get up to eat and/or to hobble to the bathroom, but that was pretty much the extent of any activity.  My mom was getting so worn out and tired trying to help him.

 Mom and Dad in better days - with Mia and Hayden about 5 years ago.

Then a few weeks ago, he developed a heart arrhythmia - AFib.  He had a cardioversion and we had high hopes that he would snap back into rhythm.  Instead, after a couple of days he became very swollen, and his lungs were filling with fluid.  He had developed congestive heart failure.  So back to the hospital he went last week - the day my brother arrived from Utah.  Dad spent the week in the hospital, and my brother was a much appreciated extra hand with all of the details.  At the end of last week, Dad was transferred to a skilled nursing facility - too weak to go home for my mom to try to care for.

In the days since, we've tried to make sure he gets plenty of phone calls and visits.  He was not happy he couldn't go home, and accused my mom and brother of not wanting him to go home.  Mom is slowly coming around to the idea of hospice and home care for at least 8 hrs a day - although we (the siblings) are all thinking he will need 24 hour care.  Mom just won't be able to handle him herself - not even at night.  I don't think he'll be able to go home and get up in the night independently if he needs to.  And Mom won't be able to help him - even if she does hear him. (She takes her hearing aids out at night).  So the trick is getting her to come around to seeing what needs to be done, when she doesn't really want to face that reality right now.  She gets a little prickly with us, saying that she wants to make her own decisions.  But because she's not ready to make those decisions, they never quite get made.  It's a frustrating place to be in.  She won't (or can't) take the reins and make choices, but she gets mad when we try to do it for her.  Kind of damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

In the meantime, Dad is safe in the facility, but it makes my heart hurt for him to be there.  He just wants to come home.  His thinking isn't always rational, and his memory is even worse, but he does live for visits and phone calls.  And we try to make sure he gets plenty of those.  I can't get down there much during the week - my work schedule is hectic right now, and then I get caught in traffic.  And I also need to take care of ME and make sure I'm getting the exercise I need, as well as keeping my stress levels lowered as much as possible. (If that's even possible... I seem to always be stressed these days.)  So weekends will have to be my Dad time, and maybe that will let the ones who live down there have some time off.  There is no perfect balance, I'm finding.

I take my essential oils down with me, and give Dad relaxing foot massages.  His poor feet are so white and cold when I start, but when I finish they are pink, and the room smells like a spa.

And then he tells me how wonderful my sister in law is (the one who lives close by and goes to see him almost every day...) and how she is the one who gets everything done for him.  *hanging head*  I can't win here, clearly.  All I can do is what I can do.  Truth is, Jill IS a lifesaver.  Jill DOES get things done.  Jill's an amazing person, and very goal driven, and I appreciate the heck out of her.  But once in a while, a daughter likes to hear how wonderful SHE is, you know?  Meh.  Whatever.  My husband thinks I'm a pretty good deal, and that's good enough for me.

So that's what my life has been like the past two months.  Stress on stress.  Rash face and sick dad.  I cannot wait for the rash part of it to be over, and I'm hoping it starts winding down soon.  I was told that when the medicine was out of my system I'd stop reacting to it, but WOW it's taking a long time!

I almost forgot the one bright shining star in my life.  Zach and Katie are nearing the end of Zach's residency.  He has been interviewing for his first big job in psychiatry.  I was so sure he would choose a job in Arizona.  I was resigned to it.  But guess what?  He is taking a job in Ventura, CALIFORNIA!  I am so SO proud of him!  He didn't have one bad interview - everyone wanted him, and they were all great offers.  But this Ventura one is really great, and I just love that area of California.  It is about 2 1/2 - 3 hours north of where I live, and it's just a wonderful beachy town.  I would live there if I could.  And now that Katie will be there, maybe we'll think more seriously about retiring up that way.  I am beyond excited to have the kids that close!  It's been a long haul of having them far, far away - from Puerto Rico to Arizona to Massachusetts.  This is going to be awesome being able to go up for weekends, and having the kids down to visit us for weekends or days in the summer.  So come July,  that's where my joy will be.  I will have my every two year's 60 days off starting mid-July through mid-September so I plan to spend a good amount of time up there helping them get settled in.  Something to really look forward to.  In the meantime, New England is giving them a good send-off.  They've "enjoyed" over 108 inches of snow this winter!  I think those Ventura beaches are sounding better and better to Katie.

All of these little New Englanders will become new little beach bums.  And I can't wait.  So now that I write it down, there is a yin and yang to life.  There are triumphs, and there are setbacks.  There are forces in motion that won't be stopped, no matter how much I want them to.  The trick is to make these days meaningful, and rich with memories.  Enjoy the sweet moments, even though the intersection with bitter is approaching.  I try not to dwell on feeling sad, but it's all just a bit surreal.  I'm sure the constant reminder isn't healing for my poor rashy face, but I am doing my best to be kind to myself, and the prospect of a late summer filled with my some of my favorite little people is the best kind of medicine.  Here's to new adventures in Ventura.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015 - Go!

New year.  New start.  The holiday season absolutely flew by!  It seemed like we no sooner got the tree up that it was time to take it down.  And I got it down late at that.

December started off on the run.  The first week I hopped on a flight to Austin and surprised Scott with a visit.  Ashley was in on the surprise - that girl can really keep a big secret!  We'd planned that trip for a couple of months at least, and Scott never had a clue.  Ashley had been away at a meeting for work, and all Scott knew was that she was on her way home.  We both walked in, and he turned around and looked at me with a completely blank look.  I could tell he was trying to figure out which coworker Ashley had brought home with her.  All of a sudden a huge grin came over his face and I was enveloped in the biggest bear hug ever!  It was a great surprise - one of the best ever.

I was only there for a long weekend - Thursday evening through Monday afternoon.  The first order of business was getting a tour of their new home.  And it's a beauty.

It's in a really nice area outside of downtown Austin.  Still Austin, but not downtown, if that makes sense to people who actually know the area.  It's about 20 minutes or so from downtown - close enough, but still has a nice feel of being away from the hubbub a bit.  I also met the new granddog, Marley.  Marley is a naughty dachsund who is irresistably adorable.  He's got Kingsley actually playing like a dog now.  And every morning the two of them would forget that I was there and bark up a storm when I made my first morning appearance.

I had my own room and bathroom for my stay, and I was completely comfortable.  We ate out at a ton of wonderful restaurants.  Anyone who has been to Austin knows that there's no shortage of amazing food there, and I think that weekend we put a dent in many of them.  Heaven help me.  I feel like I ate my way through Austin.  Even Sunday brunch - ooooh that was particularly delectable!

I have to say, though, that my favorite activity was helping them decorate their Christmas tree.  Scott had just brought the tree home shortly before I arrived and it was enormous!  We had to make a big trip to Pier One and also the local craft store to get ribbon, garlands, and all kinds of finery to deck out this wonderful big tree.  It was a special time with the kids and I was so happy to be able to take part in this tradition for the first time in their new home.  XOXOX to both of them.

Like I said, we had many, many adventures in dining that I am still savoring.  Ashley and I were able to pick up our old habit of being Ladies Who Lunch, and I absolutely loved spending that time with her.  Scott and I also had plenty of time to spend with each other.  One of my favorite things was going to see the bats at sunset at Congress Bridge.  Did you know that Austin is famous for their bats?  Neither did I.  But I can see why.  We found our place adjacent to the bridge, but we were careful not to get TOO close.  Bat urine really stinks.  And exactly at sunset, thousands of bats come pouring out from underneath the bridge.  They emit a high chirping sound, which I thought was birds at first.  At first.  Until I saw them flying in a huge horde into the sky and heading downriver to feed.  I've never seen anything like it.  I took a video but couldn't get it to upload here.

So here is a still picture.  If you enlarge it, you can see the black blurs above the bridge.  Those are bats.  So many bats.  If you go to Austin, you need to go see the bats at sunset over Congress Bridge.  They're awesome.  A little stinky, but awesome.

So that was the whirlwind trip to Austin.  I'm so glad I went.  It had been waaay too long since I'd seen those kids in person, and it made me realize how much I miss having them around.  Must go back soon...

So back from Austin, and time to put the Christmas Crap up.  Out from the garage came all of the boxes and boxes and boxes of Christmas crap.  Trees, lights, garlands, figurines, ornaments, candles, and more.  So much more.  It's funny how getting all of the stuff out is like seeing old friends.  I never really get tired of it even though I know what to expect.  I find I've missed them over the 11 months they've been in storage.

Shopping, shopping and more shopping.  Gifts were wrapped and sent off.  Our tree was looking very sad and empty, so L took the hint and filled the space with some very interesting looking packages.  His own list was checked off and purchased, but everything he wanted came in a small package.  But small packages fill in the gaps between the big boxes that I'd requested so it all worked out.

Christmas Eve was spent at my brother Brent's house.  It was kind of a hectic day, as L had to work in order to get the day after Christmas off.  Sometimes the publishing world sucks.  Always a deadline for something.  I spent the day making my decadent Truffled Scallopped Potatoes.  I'll just say that between the cream, butter and cheese in those babies they are a heart clog waiting to happen.  They are a once a year treat for sure.  L got home, we flew to pick up my aunt and off we went to my brother's house.  It was good to be together with my family that night.  Dad is getting so frail (but still shaking his fist at the big C!) - so it was wonderful to see him enjoy having a bit of each and every dessert item that was there.  Even my aunt had a good night.  We are learning to adjust to a new type of Christmas Eve now that putting it on is too much for Mom and Dad.  Before we were just bums who showed up at Mom and Dad's with our families in tow after they'd done most of the work.  Now we're doing the work ourselves, which makes the memories of those past years even sweeter.  This year I just wanted to take a snapshot of the evening and hold it in my heart forever.

Eventually Dad was tiring out so we all headed for home.  Sort of.  We still had L's family to see and so after dropping off my aunt we headed over to his mom's for a little while.  It's always fun to see L's brothers and sister, so I was glad we hadn't missed everyone.

Christmas morning dawned... and we slept in.  Nothing to really get up for!  It was weird to not be expecting anyone to come to our house for breakfast or even a little dinner.  We had thought we might go to a movie after opening gifts, but then we decided...meh.  We just weren't up for the lines and crowds.  L had given me a food processor that I'd been dying for, AND - this is what I really really wanted - a yogurt maker.  I know - the older I get, the more boring are the things I want.  I've been buying some really delicious sheep's milk yogurt at a local farmer's market for $5 a container.  Its' really really good, but that's a lot of money for yogurt!  Now I can make my own.  I'm stoked.

In the afternoon we headed over to mom and dad's.  Dad had asked me to pick up the gift he wanted to give Mom - an iPad and a wireless printer.  She was so excited to get it, and we spent the time with them getting everything all set up.  And that was Christmas.

 Mia and Hayden sitting in the light of their tree in Massachusetts

On the 28th I hopped on another plane to Mesa, Arizona.  Katie and the kids were coming out with Zach, who was going to have some interviews for a possible position with a hospital in Scottsdale.  The next couple of days were spent playing games of Uno and Candyland, making memories with Mia, Hayden and Drezden, a slumber party in my hotel room, and eating some really good food at Zach's mom's house.  One afternoon, Katie and I were able to sneak away for a hair appointment for her and lunch together afterward.  We also had a wonderful time bowling with Mia (Hayden wanted to stay home and play with Play-doh).  Mia discovered she could bowl with one arm like a grownup (rather than with the ramp or with two hands) and it was such a treat to see that tiny little girl throw the ball down the lane, and watch her dance it off when she threw gutter balls.  Love her.  Speaking of Mia, I have to share the most awesome letter to Santa I've EVER read.  You're going to love it:

So seriously, dude - don't forget about the chewable probiotics when you eat too many cookies.  And how would such a little girl know about chewable probiotics?  She gets lots of tummy aches (which they are trying to get to the bottom of as we speak) and she knows whereof she speaks.  I seriously loved that Santa letter.

On New Year's Eve, Katie flew back to So Cal with me.  First thing in the morning.  By that afternoon we were sitting in my parents' kitchen having lunch with them.  Back in the day she was a social worker who worked with the older crowd in a care facility.  She is really really good with that population.  And she worked magic on my dad.  He's been very resistant to using things that are for his good and for his safety.  He views it as giving in to cancer.  But things like shower chairs, canes, and even the occasional use of a properly fitted wheelchair are all good choices that will keep him safe as his health declines.  And she had him seeing the sense of it all that afternoon.  When the rest of us talk to him about such things, he just ends up getting irritated, but he really listened to her.  It was wonderful.  And sweet.

That evening she went to Knott's Berry Farm with her good friend Michelle.  Michelle's birthday is on New Year's Eve, and I think that evening transported the two of them back to their high school days.  Or at least back to being college coeds.  It was so great to see what a fun time they had together.  Best friends are such a blessing, aren't they?

On New Year's Day we went back down to Mom and Dad's for another visit.  Actually, they were the main reason she came to So Cal, and she wanted to get in as much time with them as she could.  It was sweet to see how much she loves them both.  Dad in particular got a lot of special treatment and attention.  She's a good granddaughter, and it didn't go unnoticed by them.  Again, having her with me for just a short amount of time made me realize how much I miss her.  What I wouldn't give to have their family close by...  Zach has another interview later this month in Ventura.  While Ventura isn't exactly close, it's better than Massachusetts!  Better than Arizona.  But they will make the decision that's right for their family.  And who knows - they could end up somewhere totally unexpected.  I've learned that it's best not to count chickens before they're hatched.

And now we're halfway through January 2015.  This will probably be a milestone year in many ways for me.  I'm steeling myself for some hard things and hard times.  Dad's had to go off of the medication that was keeping the tumor at bay because he had a small seizure from it on Thanksgiving Day.  Right after dinner.

 Mom has her eyes closed, as usual - ha!

Spent the evening in the ER with him.  Since being off of that medication the past month, his cancer numbers have doubled.  Not good news.  At all.  But he's still defiant, and will not see this as the end of the line.  He's still looking for something to save him.  He's a tough old warrior, my dad.  But he's getting tired, and I need to make sure I spend as much time with him as I can this year.  I need to make sure I help Mom.  She's having a tough time too.  It's a lot to deal with, and I need to make sure that her health doesn't go downhill as well.

2015 will also bring a new little one: Tim and Autumn are expecting a little boy in April.  For now, we call him Not-So-Tiny Norman.  Autumn is HUGE!  I seriously don't know how she can carry all of that around.  I don't want to tell her that my husband was a 10 pound baby.  She'd have nightmares.  I'm sure the due date can't come soon enough for her!  But it will be exciting for sure to welcome that little boy into our family.

Whenever I try to predict what a new year will bring, I find that I'm woefully off base.  Life brings the unexpected, it seems.  I confess that I'm starting off a little pessimistic, but it wouldn't surprise me to have wonderful things happen, and very little (if any) of the sad.  Human beings are delightfully unpredictable, and life is even more so.  It's my nature to be optimistic, actually, so I choose to remain hopeful.  Hopeful for that rally of health for Dad, hopeful for family gatherings of all sorts, hopeful for my own progression in this gauntlet I'm running.

Hopeful for another year of wedded bliss.  Our 15th anniversary is on the 15th.  Who would have dreamed we'd have the adventures we've had over the past 15 years?  We are two pretty unassuming, quiet people, and it's been (at times) quite the wild ride.  But I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have shot the rapids with than my L.  He makes the bad times bearable, and the good times extraordinary.  So here's to 2015 with all of it's beauty and wonder, as well as it's warts.  May we live it well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

An Apple A Day...

This may be a weird post for some of you.  Feel free to skim, ignore, laugh, whatever your fancy.  I've harped enough lately about health and finding relief from RA, and also about my dad and his trials.  Yesterday was kind of an extraordinary day.

 Mom and Dad on Dad's 84th birthday - having frozen bananas on Balboa Island

For months now, I've been trying to get Dad to see a certain holistic "doctor" for lack of a better term.  She is also a friend, and yesterday was the day.  Dad has probably one of the best oncologists that money can buy.  His doc is such a nice man, so compassionate and kind and brilliant.  But kind of old school.  And the treatment is a misery.  I'm not criticizing - really, I'm not.  I just think that there are so many other options available for treatment other than the big three - surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  Dad has exhausted all of those, and is currently on a regimen of what is essentially a low dose chemotherapy called Xtandi.  It is very VERY expensive.  It's barely keeping the cancer at bay.  And he feels like crap.  No energy, no zest for much at all.  He is up almost every hour at night and doesn't get a good night's sleep.  No wonder there is no energy, and his day (after his daily gym time!) is spent mostly sleeping.  It's heartbreaking to watch.

I have long been interested in "alternative" methods of dealing with disease.  Literally ALL of them start with a radical diet change.  Lots of juicing.  Lots of organic.  Lots of reading labels and avoiding anything processed or with ingredients you can't pronounce or recognize.  It often times involves lots of expensive supplements to build up those levels in your body that have been so depleted and ravaged by chemotherapy and radiation.  Now, in my dad's case, he is fortunate in that he has always exercised and eaten in a pretty healthy way (with various detours here and there into Sugarland - he has a famous sweet tooth.)  He has never smoked and doesn't drink.  When he had his fat index and muscle mass measured recently, the nurse told him he had the body of a 57 year old.  If only...  But for just a second he stood a little taller, proud of taking such good care of himself all of his 84 years.

So yesterday we went the holistic route, Dad a little afraid that his oncologist would disown him.  She took a thorough history, perused his latest labs, and then performed "muscle testing" on him.  Now if you haven't heard of this, it's a method where you hold a substance (in this case, each of the supplements he was currently taking) and she touches various points on your body while you try to resist her pushing your arm down.  Dad right away pronounced it "hocum" in that lack of tact way he has.  Mary just smiled and explained that in eastern medicine the philosophy is that your body is kind of a miracle of creation - a divine creation in fact -  and it knows what it needs to be healthy, even if your conscious mind does not.  If you are in contact with a substance that your body doesn't need or like, it's like a distraction or interruption in your ability to control holding your arm up.  That gave Dad something to think about.  Some of his supplements seemed to be just fine, and others were not.  For those, she found others to take the place of them, and also muscle tested those for compatibility and dosage before finalizing her selection.

Then Dad underwent an acupuncture treatment.  She concentrated on the top of his head (he is suffering from a lot of cognitive memory loss since chemo) his lower abdomen (he does have prostate cancer) on his lower legs on the inside and outside, and the inside and outside of his ankles.  He relaxed and had a nice nap for about 30 minutes.  The purpose was explained to be a way of opening up the circulation and allowing good nutrition to get to all of these areas to enrich his body and help him become stronger.  When the treatment was over, his face was all rosy.  Mary explained that the treatment had, indeed, done it's job and circulation had improved and was raring to go.

We discussed nutrition and the need to consume more fruits and vegetables than grains and carbohydrates.  His diet is pretty well balanced, however, so it won't be much of a change for him.  I have a feeling that she knew he was pretty overloaded with new and confusing info, and also the holidays are coming.  Let him get through them before lowering the boom on sugar and sweets.

Dad was pretty quiet on the way home.  And actually, after 4 hours in Dr Mary's office, we were all pretty worn out.  I took them home and wound my own way home to a nice comforting treat of French Apple sheep's milk yogurt that I buy each week at the Farmer's Market.  We ALL had a lot to think about. 

I have been corresponding with someone I buy essential oils from, and she has become a friend.  She is trying to teach me, little by little, about energy healing, herbal remedies, and proper use of essential oils.  They have some wonderful courses in this (as I think I've mentioned before) in a little place called Clifton, Idaho.  It is accessible only by car (airports are 30-40 miles away) and there are no hotels.  Kind of impossible to take a week long course when you live in California and there are no hotels.  Still trying to figure that one out.

Now my husband is amusedly tolerant of my passion to learn more about this eastern medicine philosophy.  He cannot deny, however, that these herbs and oils have corrected sinus and ear infections, as well as a recent cold he caught while we were in Utah a week or so ago.  He's not so on board with the muscle testing (and neither was I, quite frankly, until just recently) but he never gives me a hard time and keeps an open mind.  I say there's nothing like having a chronic illness that western medicine can't seem to more than put a band aid on to make you look for other alternatives.

I watched a series of videos recently called "Quest for the Cures."  It was all about alternative cancer treatments, and people, there are some exciting things being done.  Different methods with different cancers.  On that stood out was controlling sugar in your diet (because the tumor feeds on sugar) and at the same time using insulin to control the sugar in the blood.  The tumor literally starves and dies.  I wish I could remember what type of cancer that was for, but it was an amazing treatment.  I was so excited and grateful all at the same time.  So many great physicians and great minds trying to stop this horrible disease.  And they're succeeding.  The regimen is usually tough: very strict diet, lots of supplements.  The basic philosophy is this: a healthy body has a healthy immune system, and if that is the case, cancer cannot exist.  The whole aim is to restore health and balance to your immune system, and folks, that cannot be accomplished if you're killing it with chemicals.  It is, however, a personal decision.  I totally understand why you would want to stick with the more traditional treatment.  Even though it's horrible, it somehow seems more "friendly" and familiar.  I honestly don't know what I'd do if the choice were mine, so I'm not judging anyone's choice.  But these new possibilities are very exciting and very encouraging.

Also, for someone like my dad, who has already been through the mill, and is out of options, trying something new is like, he has nothing to lose.  So why not exhaust all possibilities?  As Dr. Mary said, her aim is to help him feel more energetic, and less tired, and if we're all lucky then maybe - just maybe -  the cancer will be beaten back just a bit as well.  The sky's the limit, and a positive attitude is everything.  I just want my Dad to be able to enjoy whatever time he has left in his life.  He's lived a good life, and had some great experiences, and has been good to people.  He deserves to enjoy some rich experiences as he grows old.

So that has been my focus the past month.  Call it a passion.  I'm excited to learn and see what some of these methods can do for me, because quite frankly, I'm tired of feeling swollen and achy with weird symptoms that my rheumatologist can't quite figure out.  SOMETHING is off kilter SOMEWHERE and I need to work on figuring it out, rather than slapping medication bandaids on it.  Advil is going to kill me if  I don't stop taking so much.  If the Prednisone doesn't kill me first.

Now - we did take a quickie trip to Utah a couple of weeks ago.  Such fun and such beautiful weather.  The day we left it got quite cold, though, with a freezing wind, and I was glad to come home.  I had girl time with old friends Nancy and Michele.  We lunched at The Banana Leaf in Provo and laughed ourselves silly.  I love those girls...  We are planning a road trip to Seattle and Victoria, BC next year.  Saving our little pennies for that!

We picked up my niece Margot and had dinner with my brother and his family another night.  What a great time!  I always realize how much I miss having this brother closer whenever we get to see him.  His daughter is the same age as my two oldest granddaughters, Mia and Lexi, so it was fun to have an evening with little Ari as well.  My niece ran down 3 flights of stairs to greet us, and when we dropped her off, she ran right back up 3 flights of stairs.  Ran.  All the way up.  L looked at me, sighed, and said "Youth..."  She was a breath of fresh air.

We took a side trip to Spanish Fork, UT.  Where my dad grew up, and where we went for vacation almost every year when my grandpa was alive, and we were just little kidlets.   We took pictures of the cute little house he grew up in, and the grade school he went to (where my brothers and I also played on the playground each summer).  It's now a City Hall building, and that playground is now a parking lot.  Too bad.  But they were hanging Christmas lights on the building and that was fun.  Then we took a picture of an old building that looked like it used to be a hardware/building supply store.  I think it's the building that my grandfather used to own so many years ago.  It was such a small town back then that I can't imagine that there were TWO businesses like it in the same town.  I'll have to confirm with Dad.

This darling little house used to have the creepiest unfinished basement EVER.  So different from our Southern California home.  I'm sure it's all finished now, but my dad and his brother had to sleep in the cobwebby version of it way back in the day.  It also had a wonderful summer porch in front (where all the windows are) and an old fashioned kitchen with curtains covering the open spaces under the sink, etc.  It's probably all been updated now, but I kind of want to remember it as it was when I stayed there in the summers as a child, and I was fascinated by it's old fashioned charm.  I was happy that all of the lovely brick work on the exterior is still there.  Nostalgia.

If you click on the picture you can see that the date on the Thurber School is 1910.  It was already 20 years old when my dad first went there.  How I'd have loved to have seen him as a little boy... And what a wonderful old building!

I know that hardware store was on Center Street, and I just can't imagine that this building wasn't it.  It's now a Pizza place.  Sadly.  Time marches on, doesn't it?

And of course, there was Andrew.  Our shipper extraordinaire.  Whoever purchases our Clean Screen Magic products receives them expertly packed and shipped by Andrew.  He is doing such a great job, and is flourishing with his new responsibilities.  It's a pleasure to see.  We had a good visit with him.

So it was a good trip all around, although very quick and way too short.  And here we are: the HOLIDAYS!  Birthdays galore (L's, Zach's, Hayden's, my brother Brent's, my dad's, my SIL Jill, and my mom's is coming up in December), a Thanksgiving feast next week, and then things really get ratcheted up.  I've almost got all of the Christmas shopping and shipping done.  I will be able to sit back and relax and enjoy.  L asked wistfully if I will bake this year (I've been on a strict gluten free/grain free/sugar free diet these past few months) and I think I will have to relent and make some of my traditional goodies.  Christmas just wouldn't be the same without them.  I'll just have to be disciplined and not have TOO much or I'll pay for it.  In spades.

And so that is the November report.  Odd as it is.  The December version should be a bit more lively.  Let's just say there are some surprises planned.  I'll leave it at that.  I love this season with it's warmth and festive lights and comforting traditions.  I'm realizing more and more how important it is to get in there and enjoy.  To not be merely a spectator but to be active in making the memories that our own children and grandchildren will hold onto one day as their comfort and joy.  Deck the halls, everyone.

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