What the Hell

What the Hell

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoughts on Aging...

I have been busy helping my husband with his new Etsy online store, and also keeping my own things stocked at the co-op gallery.  But I've also been out of pocket because of the evil drug Evista.  While I am certain that the pharmaceutical is very beneficial to many women, I can't tolerate it.  I am osteoporitic.  I don't know if that's an actual word, but I like the sound of it.  I also have increased breast cancer risk because of calcifications, that when biopsied in 2011, showed abnormal cells.  Raloxifene (or Evista its brand-name) would have helped both.  I started taking it the first time in May this year, then suffered a horrendous case of the Shingles.  Since I was pretty young for the Shingles, I insisted the Evista must have lowered my immune system.  But that could not be proven; it could be coincidence, so I agreed to go back on the medication about 7 weeks ago.  

For those of us who are depressives, we must submit all prescription drugs (and for that matter "natural supplements") to the "does it make my depression worse?" test.  If the answer is yes, they are NOT an option.  The only exception would be if  the condition being treated is imminently life-threatening, and even then, caution should be exercised in proceeding forward.  It is a hard choice.  We all have to make them.  Let me put it this way.  I could choose between being a "knuckles-dragging the ground" miserable, angry, hopeless black blob with a death wish WITH HEALTHY BONES, or a slightly dowager-humped, rickety, curmudgeonly, eccentric mostly content human being you might occasionally even want to be around.   Some choice, but there it is.  So I'll give up ice-skating, sky-diving and break-dancing.  

Which brings me to the point of my post.  We live in a youth-obsessed culture, which coincides with amazing medical advances which have us living longer, and often looking and feeling younger, as well as cosmetic procedures which can erase years from one's appearance.  40 is the new 30!!  50 is the new 40!!  And so on.  And all the hubbub about people retiring later.  They want to work into their 70's!  They have so much energy they don't want to slow down!  Let me say that many who are working into what would have once been considered not just golden years, but DEAD, have to do so because their 401(K) savings have tanked with our economic crash of recent years.  But I digress.  I do so tire of hearing, when I say that I feel _______, or think that I look ________, that what I really need to do is:

1)   Change my diet.  Eat more_______.
2)   Supplement with ________.  I am deficient in __________.  
3)   Exercise more.  Do _________ or play __________.
4)   Get out and socialize more.
5)   If you looked better, you'd feel better about yourself.
6)   Have a more positive attitude.
7)   Learn a new hobby.
8)   Find meaningful work.
9)   Plug into my community.
10) Find something you believe in.

To the above I answer:

1) I eat fine.  I cannot eat certain foods I used to love when I was younger; i.e. fish and chips or fried chicken, lots of butter, spicy chili, cream sauces.  Some days fiber doesn't agree with me.  This is not because I am unhealthy or have a bad attitude, but because I am getting old.  It happens.  Deal with it.  I see no point in persisting in denial that will give me heartburn.

2) My osteoporosis requires that I take calcium, which I do.  And everyone who lives in the Pacific Northwest and endures our miserable dark gray, cold and wet winters lasting 6-7 months is Vitamin D deficient.  I take that too.  Beyond that too much or the wrong supplement or vitamin can be harmful.

3) I admit I could exercise more.  It would probably help me feel better, although it would hurt.  It would eventually hurt less, but a body does not act at 50 like it did at 25.  That is a fact, no matter how hard you push it.  I don't like sports and I never will.  That does not make me less of a person.  And by the way, there is a medical term known as sarcopenia.  Like osteopenia (the loss of bone with aging) it refers to the loss of muscle with aging.  For those who say you can do at 50 whatever you did at 25 I offer this:  
Although sarcopenia is mostly seen in people who are inactive, the fact that it also occurs in people who stay physically active throughout life suggests there are other factors involved in the development of sarcopenia.

Do I need to elaborate?  I am NOT making excuses for sitting around and getting grossly out of shape and unhealthy using our pain as an excuse.  Pain is part of life, and it gets worse with the passage of time.  We have to keep moving.  But neither do we have to be in denial of the stage of life in which we presently find ourselves.
4) I am an introvert.  It is extremely emotionally draining for us to socialize.  Many of us are quite adept at it, so much so you might never know that we hate it.  But it takes days for us to recover afterward.  So we need to take it in small doses, when we are feeling up to it, usually one on one.  And even then, SPARINGLY.  This is not a bad thing; it's just the way we are wired.  Let me also say that as we age, we naturally want to stay around home more.  That's just how it is.  That's why it is such a good idea to get your traveling done before you are too old.  It becomes harder to be unsettled and uncomfortable.  You can't go at the pace you used to, see and do everything you want to, and sometimes you just want your own bed in your own home.  Home becomes a bit of a sanctuary.

5) After a certain point, you can only look so good.  Even plastic surgery can only do so much.  I agree it is painful to realize that by the time you realize that when you were younger and felt so ugly and awkward you were really so beautiful and did not know it, you look in the mirror and don't recognize the person staring back at you.  But can't we learn to embrace ourselves at whatever stage of life we are in instead of trying to recapture something that we never can?

6) I am a depressive.  We don't do positive.  Unless we are bi-polar and in a manic phase.  I am not bi-polar.  I can sit here all day long and try to look at every situation from a positive viewpoint and it won't change the way I feel.  I promise.  We can't work it that way.  It is what it is.  It is much more effective to try to aim for contentment.  Sometimes that even feels like happiness.

7) I am learning to knit (AGAIN), and to do digital collage.  There is a high frustration level with learning something new when you are past middle age.  It is not pleasant.  Sometimes it's worth the pain, sometimes it isn't.  Only you can decide.  Sometimes the old familiar things comfort.  That's ok too.

8) Aaaah.  Meaningful work.  What color is your parachute and all that.  At the risk of sounding bitter, hogwash.  I found my meaningful work once.  It was in a highly specialized field in which people with PhD's were getting the entry-level positions, of which there were very, very few, and the few that existed paid absolutely pennies.  I found work in the sidelines, so to speak, by using the same skills in other industries.  It was fulfilling, but also frustrating.  I can't imagine having the position that I would love so much I would do it into my golden years.  But if it wants to come my way, I wouldn't say no.  However, I would say "part-time."  I do have things I want to do.  People who say they can't retire because they don't have any idea what they would do BAFFLE me.  Are you serious??  How about I give you some ideas....all those hobby projects you haven't had time for, travel, reading, collecting, shopping, volunteering, etc. etc...

9)  I'm sorry to admit this, but as I age, I seek less communal relationships, not more.  People are complicated beings, and the longer we have walked this road the more difficulties we have had with relationships.  The young are naive enough to believe that they can get together with others and change the world.  As we age we just hope that someone remembers something we did while we were here, and was positively changed by it, and that is enough.  My community is made up of individuals all over the world who have touched my life; they do not all reside in a geographical area.  I strive to stay in touch with them if I can, and even if I have not to make sure that I have let them know what they have meant to me.

10) There are things I believe in, passionately.  But there is only so much I can do, and I am tired of tilting at windmills.  That's ok, because there's a whole new group of younger people to do that for me now.  It is their turn.  There are also beliefs that I have had that have changed.  I did not used to think that this was possible, but it is part of the learning and growing process.  There are absolutes, but not as many as we think.  And the way we view them is sometimes as individual as we are.  We are in control of our own values and beliefs, but not those of others.  This is called respect.

May we learn to grow old with grace and dignity, and hope to find a little wisdom along the way...  now, back to my knitting.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Black and White in a Gray World

Trying to ignore the fact that besides the few of you out there who are following this blog, there's no way to know who else is looking thanks to this spammy internet world we live in.  Oh well, maybe it's better not to know.  I don't like it but I can't stop it.  Life is mysterious, is it not?

Been musing as of late about the difference between CONDONING something you find abhorrent and realizing that you have little to no control to STOP it.  This has got to be the beginning of wisdom and a less stressed existence on this planet.  We can and often do say that we have reached a point where we "don't care" about something in the world that is upsetting to us, whether it is something that affects us directly or more global in nature.  But is that ever really true?  Can we STOP caring?  Especially if the issue at hand strikes at the very heart of one of our deepest held values?  No, I don't think we can.  We say that we have, but it's just not true.  If we had stopped caring, we would be severely depressed.  And those of us who have been there know that is no way to exist.

So what to do?  One's principles and values are trampled on daily, repeatedly and heartlessly.  We most want for things to change, but if we can't have that, we would be encouraged if others would simply respect our views.  This is the hardest thing to realize; and years of therapy later I still have immense trouble practicing it...that is, we have to allow others to have their views as well, even those we find most despicable, or else we are demanding something FROM others that we will not give TO them.  This falls under the category of realizing, like the trite cliched old serenity prayer says, that there are things in this life over which we have no control.  Others' thoughts and actions are two of these.  I'm not advocating letting others break the law, or even having no laws at all, but when something is legal, as long as we find it morally reprehensible, we cannot do anything about those who choose to practice it.  And unfortunately in the world we live in, things will continue to be made legal that we find unethical, if not dead wrong.  I'm also not saying there are no absolutes, no right and wrong.  I AM saying that no one can seem to agree on what those absolutes are.  Even the atheist believes that there are absolutely no absolutes.  That's a paradox.  Example:  there are several things that are quite legal in the state where I live, and to others besides myself are quite right, but I don't agree.  However, I can't force them to change their beliefs.  It just doesn't work.  That said, I wish that those others could not blast me continually for mine. Often times, it becomes an argument about bigotry, religious freedom and that some things are just fundamental, not subject to interpretation.  I disagree.  Things are fundamental to you; things are fundamental to me, but we won't agree on what those things are.  Sad but true.  Everything is subject o interpretation.  That's why the church is in the state it is.  I don't like what the KKK believes, and when they break the law I think they should be prosecuted, but I can't change what they believe.  This is so hard to swallow, but truth in THIS world isn't black and white. And who is wise enough to judge others?  You?  Me? 

We have trouble letting others have their own reality because we still have (somewhere, no matter how tiny) an expectation that they will change.  It's not impossible that they will; people do change.  But not very often, and not because someone is breathing down their neck to get them to.  And there is nothing more crazy-making than concentrating all your thoughts and actions toward that happening and it often never does.  Meanwhile you suffer all kinds of stress and frustration and even resentment toward the person who doesn't see any reason to change how they think or act.  I believe, and many others do as well, that for a human being to change in a major way it takes years of experience, a humble heart, and very often an act of Divine Power.  We just don't have the strength.  

It's really hard living in a world like this.  We go back and forth between intense passionate bouts of hyper-involvement with causes and groups and completely retreating from everyone and everything for a time, a season, possibly a lifetime. Such radical acceptance as allowing others to believe what they want doesn't come easy.  It takes time, lots of it, and many, many disappointments along the way.  Or at least have the respect to just listen to others, and OBSERVE, not jump in with both feet and all our emotions, drawing conclusions every step of the way.  It's a higher way of living, and not for the fainthearted.  Let's try it, can we?        

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Referer Spam vs. Real Live People

For those of you who are real, living flesh-and-blood persons and not referer spam-bots, you deserve an apology for my lack of postings of late.  I discovered back in June that a blogger cannot really trust the stats to tell him or her how much traffic is coming to the blog because a lot of it is from "bots" which are computer programs acting like people.  My subsequent disgust at the idea made me not want to go to the trouble of writing anything for fear that there are no actual readers out there in cyberspace, just hackers and their machines.  In good faith, I have decided to keep blogging and trust Google to block these imbeciles as much as possible.  If you are a breathing human being, thanks for following.  If you are otherwise, stop playing massive multi-player games 14 hours a day and get out of your parents' garage and get a real job.  If you are a spam bot, may you catch the next nasty computer virus that comes along. . .

Pear Poachers

The first year we moved here (2010) we didn't have much fruit on our fruit trees.  They were very overgrown and in need of serious pruning.  The next year, we got lots of apples and figs, but the deer ate many of the plums.  This year, our third here, we had many figs and plums, but the deer got most of those.  The apples I picked yesterday.  But the pear tree was loaded before we left to go on vacation for a week.  Loaded!  But not quite ready, so I determined to wait and pick them when we returned.  Big mistake.  They are all gone.  Now, if it was only the pears within 6 to 7 feet of the ground, I'd blame the deer again, and Lord knows we are overpopulated with them on the island.  But the pear tree was absolutely CLEANED OUT!  All the way to the top branches, which you would need a tall ladder to reach.  Now, I'm not naming any names, but I find it hard to believe that someone would just drive by and then decide to go to all that trouble of pear poaching not knowing if we were home or not.

And we have some strange next-door neighbors.  They were obscured by 8 foot tall Japanese Knotweed when we first moved in.  But the county wanted permission to spray the noxious weed.  We granted it, as did the neighbors, and now we have no buffer between us.  What was it Robert Frost said about good fences making good neighbors?  I understand.  We see and hear everything from their property these days.  Everything from the fact that they live in an odd assortment of travel trailers and a garage with a upper level apartment to the fact that a mentally challenged person (or it could be an EXTREMELY eccentric person) lives over there who becomes agitated upon sighting a deer in the yard (which is an almost daily occurrence) and starts banging on the dead knotweed with a long stick and barking loud unintelligible protests.  And with the knotweed gone, they can well see our fruit trees now; that's all I'm saying for now. . . .

One of our friendly deer looking in the downstairs window.  He probably wants an apple.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Dark Side of Success

Just watched a very interesting documentary on Henry Ford tonight.  What a visionary he was.  But while he achieved tremendous success far beyond what most people could ever even dream of, it seems that he still wasn't happy.  The program talked about how absolutely driven he was his entire life, to the point that he alienated many people who worked with him or for him.  He expected others to meet his high standards, and had no mercy when they did not.  

The saddest thing about his life would have to be his relationship with his son Edsel, his only child.  Of course Henry's high expectations were thrust upon his son, and there was absolutely no room for Edsel to be his own person.  In every way that he tried, he was always thwarted by his powerful father.  The story was told about one time when they were building the new plant, Edsel had the idea of having a separate building built for offices, and went ahead and okayed the excavation for the foundation.  Then his father found out and said "No, we will not do that."  The son asked what about the huge hole they have already dug, and Henry said "Leave it."  So every day Edsel had to walk past that enormous hole in the ground and be reminded of his failed attempt to defy his father.  So did everyone else who worked for Henry.  Wow.  

When the Ford Motor Company was the last holdout in the American auto industry against unionizing, even amidst violent uprisings and protests which were equally violently squashed, Edsel tried to reason with his father that negotiation with the unions would be unavoidable.  Henry still refused to give in.  Ever the controlling leader, he saw workers who wanted to unionize as lazy leeches who wanted to capitalize on his own hard work, just as he had seen investors when other company leaders had wanted to go public with company stock years earlier.  When Ford workers were seen talking to anyone thought to be associated with the union,  they were beaten and then fired.  Finally Edsel, on his own, without his father's knowledge, negotiated a contract with the Auto Worker's Union, then presented it to Henry, who held out for days, then finally agreed to sign it.  Not too long after that incident, Edsel became ill.  He had suffered with bleeding ulcers for years, and who would not have, living life knowing whatever you did it would never being good enough?  It had now progressed to stomach cancer, which he kept from Henry as long as he could, but as he was dying, his wife told her father-in-law.  Somehow deep down the elder Ford must have known that blame for his son's early death at age 49 was at mostly his.  The narrator remarked how Ford never recovered from losing his son.  When he asked his closest confidante, the man he considered to be the son he had always wanted, if he had treated Edsel cruelly, the man said, "I would not say cruelly, but I would say unfairly.  I would have been angry had you treated me like that."  To which Henry replied, "that's what I wanted, for him to get angry."

The other fascinating thing about Henry Ford was his other great legacy Greenfield Village, a historic museum in Michigan that he founded and built in 1929, and which is today the largest indoor-outdoor American history museum.  As a historian, I had known about this historic site for years, but I never really knew the story behind it.  Henry Ford grew up a  farmer.  As a matter of fact his father had expected him to take over the family farm, but he had refused to do so, first going to work as an engineer for Edison, then after meeting Thomas Edison and receiving encouragement from him to continue with his designs,  making the first automobile for the masses, and as they say, the rest was history.  

Yet, it seems he had regrets.  Even after his auto company became hugely successful he lived out in the country and worked his land himself.  He held only disdain for the massively growing,  sprawling city that his own ambitions had created.  The thousands of teeming masses needed to fuel the factory existed due to his own actions, yet he hated being around them,  and retreated daily to his own private peaceful oasis to wish for a simpler time.  It seems likely then that he created Greenfield, actually a "fake" historic town, by hauling in historic buildings from other places in a sad attempt to recreate that simpler time, and try out the path he had chosen not to take as a young man.  The famous Wright Brothers bicycle shop, Thomas Edison's lab, and Daniel Webster's house were three of the historic structures that he brought in to create his town.  He even had an old one-room schoolhouse restored and placed on the property, and selected children to actually be schooled there.  Reproductions of antiques were placed in the buildings, including the recreation of a set of his own mother's china which was placed inside the home in which he was born, assuring his own place among the other notable historical figures celebrated there.  Yet as much as he wanted to be remembered for his far-reaching vision, it was as if he had, through the actions of his life, also put into motion a process he wished that he could stop, but because he could not, he tried to recreate what existed before.  He said himself of his museum, "I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used.... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition..."   How sad. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

On Feeling Unnecessary Existential Guilt

Short post this time.  I just have to say, EMBRACE CHAOS.  My lesson of the moment in my life.  All is not order and "as it should be."  Some days it's all you can do to get out of bed.  High principles and morals are good but some days in the midst of survival, they just don't make the final cut.  And my first step is to throw the peanut butter jar with the remaining gook in it into the trash, not the recycle.  Horrors!  Yet life is too short and brutal to waste this moment washing out the nasty stuff left in the peanut butter jar.  I do want to make a difference; I just am not feeling it today.  This does not make me a bad person or damn me to hell.  It is not all or nothing this life.  Get over it.  You win some you lose some.  Next time I'm having a really good day I'll put two jelly jars in the recycle to help readjust my karma.

Auto Correct and Feeling Unvalidated, By a Machine No Less

I hate autocorrect.  I know others who share my feelings, for various reasons.  It's beyond annoying when you are typing a text message, an email or in the midst of a chat and it "corrects" itself to what it thinks you must mean to say.  How presumptuous.  And how much do we hate it when an actual real life person does the same thing?  Anticipating what we are going to say, or what they think we meant to say, or not listening at all.  Maybe that's the root of it....being blown off, disregarded, not validated.  Because that's what we all desperately crave; it's part of the human condition.  Something a computer or piece of software could never understand.  I have enough issues with feeling like I'm not being listened to; I don't need my inanimate electronic possessions to add fuel to that fire.  On my phone I can't turn it off except to disable it before typing each message; who can remember to do that?  On my laptop I can't find where or how to disable it, although I'm sure there must be a way to.  Surely, there must!  It's not that I always know my own mind; I realize that is hardly even possible on most days, it's just that I don't want a machine telling me what I am thinking.  So there.  I'm thru with this conversation.  And I DO MEAN thru.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On Becoming the Old Lady that I Always Was

I'm finally in actuality becoming the old lady I always was.  Perhaps I'm now growing into myself.  It does in a way feel like that.  I am more comfortable in my own skin than I can ever remember being.  What is inside of my head and visible on the outside of my person seem to better line up these days.  Maybe wisdom and awareness come across as somehow more convincing in an older body.  Anyone who knows me very well remarks how I was born a grown up. Not in a creepy, Benjamin Button kind of way, but an old soul in a young body kind of way.... I was a very serious child who grew into a very serious adult, but with the help of therapy, I'm working on that.  I did not give my parents any trouble; it didn't seem quite fair to put them through that; they were nice enough people. What would be the point?  I did realize after years of therapy that one HAS to go through the emotional separation from one's parents at SOME point.  I did finally, somewhat half-heartedly, get around to it around age 40.  The hardest thing in my therapy has been to identify with my inner child.  I know she's in there somewhere, but damn, she is really hard to find!  So far I have only been able to ascertain that she always wanted a pony.  I bought her a pair of cowboy boots.  She will have to make do.  I'm too old for a pony.  As my aunt reminded me just the other day, "You were always a precocious child."  True.   I looked up the word just to see if it meant what I always thought it did.  It is defined as thus:   "having developed certain abilities or proclivities at an earlier age than usual."  Yes, that would be me...the oldest child of the oldest child of the oldest child.  And we first born kids expect a lot of ourselves.  This came up in the conversation as I was relating to my Aunt my newest health challenges..... menopause at age 48, osteoporosis at age 49, and now shingles sliding right into home base just shy of my 50th birthday.  Can't wait to see what surprises are around the corner for me! But it IS somehow appropriate:  the girl who always seemed older than she was; who was more comfortable hanging out with the parents than the other girls at the slumber parties,  the teachers than the students, and friends her parent's age than her own...she would cross the  milestones of midlife at a younger age as well.  Perhaps besides being fitting, it is even a blessing to get these difficulties out of the way now, all the better to get on with the process of life, my dear.  I must make absolutely clear, however, that I prefer NOT to take that final step into the great beyond any sooner than absolutely necessary.  I'm not THAT precocious.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Mother's Ring and Her Legacy to Me

I wear my mother's high school ring.  It's quite pretty, what the hipsters nowadays would call "retro" in design, gold, and harking back to an era of much greater craftsmanship than one sees today.  I always used to admire it when my little sister and I as children would go sit on our parents' bed and dump out either our mother's button box or her jewelry box and go through the treasures found therein.  I've been familiar for years with some of those items....the gold heart-shaped locket that she received from her father that I wore at my wedding, the intense yellow green of the peridot in a birthstone ring, and of course the class ring, emblazoned with the year 1957.  I had "borrowed" the ring back in 1984 when I went away to college, feeling somewhat bereft at not having one of my own.  My father had lost his job during my senior year of high school when his company went bankrupt.  There wasn't money for college, much less a ring.  I went to work full time and saved my own money for college.  My father was too proud to sign the application for student aid and they wouldn't let me apply based on my income because I was only 18 and still living at home.  When I met my future husband at college and we decided to marry, the ring (which I wore on my left ring finger) came off to be replaced by an engagement, then wedding ring, and went back to the jewelry box in my mother's dresser.   After she died two years ago, and my sister asked me which of the jewelry I wanted, and I knew what I would ask for.  I didn't quite know why I wanted it, but I do now.  As adults, I think we all think about the legacy our parents have given us; good, bad or indifferent.  Mine was a mixed bag....most of the attitudes I was handed down have had to be re-examined, re-thought, and eventually discarded as unhealthy motivations.  But a few jewels remained.  As a child I never really thought about the oddity of a young girl who came from a family so poor having such a nice possession as that ring.  Now I wondered aloud to my sister, "Where did the money come from to buy that ring?"  Perhaps I was even unintentionally thinking about the ring I didn't get when I graduated.  My sister had some insight.  "You remember how she got that job at the dime store and worked very hard to help her mom and dad put food on the table and the electricity going; she probably bought it with her own heard-earned money," she said.  I thought about it, and agreed.  My mother was a conflicted person.  She never really allowed herself to have what she wanted.  When we were growing up and asked her did she know that she wanted to have children (us), she would say (unthinking I am sure) "Oh, I NEVER planned on having a family....I wanted to travel and see the world."  Yet, she never did that.  So many of her dreams were never realized because she always put other people's needs first.  That sounds unselfish and generous, but in actuality all it does it dry up and empty out your own soul so that you have nothing left to give to anyone else.  And then one day you get a diagnosis of terminal cancer and realize you have no time to do those things you always wanted to do.  She put up with so much in her life that brought her no joy, thinking perhaps that she "had to" or "had no other choice" and would always be able to do what she wanted "someday."  I have struggled for years trying to understand that aspect of her.  It divided us, specially at the end.  Since both she and my father are gone, I have spent many hours going through countless "what if's" and "if only's" in my mind, trying to find a way that things could have been different.  Fifteen years ago, I moved away, wanting to make sure I didn't make her same mistakes.  I didn't have those children that might get in the way of my dreams.  I think there is a deeper reason why I wore that ring when I went away from home for the first time, at the beginning of my life apart from my family.  But it wasn't until a few days ago, looking at that ring that, resized, now resides on my right hand, that I realized why, and exactly what part of her legacy I had wanted....the part that was willing to work hard for something she wanted and felt she deserved, in spite of difficulties....I finally found a part of you Mom that I am proud of, awed by, inspired by.  I knew you always had it in you.  I just didn't get to know that person.  Maybe she wasn't around by the time I came into the picture.  But I know she's still living.  She's living in me.     

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Clockwise, from Left, Maple in my Lavender Bed, Maple in my Deck, Maple in my Walkway, Maple in my Oregano

The Offending Party....the Propeller.

Be Careful What You Wish For

When I was a kid growing up in north Texas, we were surrounded by scrubby little mesquite trees.  Good for smoking barbecue, but not good for much else.  Shade?  Forget it.  Suffer through those 110 degree summers without the help of a shade tree, thank you.  If you traveled to East Texas, where I spent my summers at camp, you had thick stands of pine trees.  They would provide blissful shade amongst the thick cushion of fallen pine needles that blanketed the forest floor and also blocked out every sound outside of the forest once you were 10 feet inside.  I loved those trees.  And I longed for maple trees, something we really didn't have in our hot area.  I wistfully flipped through photos in magazines of maples in gorgeous shades of yellow, orange and deep crimson in the Fall.  We had a state park down in south Texas called "Lost Maples," the idea being that if there were maple trees in Texas, it was because the poor things had taken a wrong turn...we traveled there early in my marriage and I remember oohing and aching over their uniqueness.  Well, like the title suggests, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.  You might get it, and it might not be what you want at all...!

I left Texas in 1997 for the west coast and sunny Los Angeles county.  We lived in North Hollywood for three and a half years, and although the culture shock nearly did us both in, we grew to love the west.  We then transferred up to the Puget Sound area in the Northwest in 2001, and have been here ever since.  We bought our first home, a 1917 Craftsman bungalow, in Kent, Washington (a suburb of Seattle) and set ourselves to restoring it to its former glory.  We put in a beautiful herb garden in the back yard where it was impossible to get grass to grow, due to the shade of a huge stand of mature big leaf MAPLE trees.  The herb garden was a delight, albeit an incredible amount of physical work.  But those maple trees.....ARRRRGHHHH!  They were on a parcel between our house and the neighbor behind us, which was actually city property, an easement that had been originally designated to be turned into an alleyway, but that was never actually built.  So between the neighbor and us, we shared the 30 or so feet, and watched the maple trees as they ominously began to drop limbs on her property and ours as they became diseased.  Calls to the city followed, but nothing was done.  A huge limb came down in a wind storm onto our garage and pierced the roof shingles, which we repaired.  The new metal and glass patio table by Martha Stewart for K-Mart did not fare so well, however.  It was smashed flat, or let us say to a depth of about 3 inches.  Photos were taken to document the damage, more phone calls were made, but it wasn't until our enterprising elderly neighbor mentioned the word "lawsuit" on our behalf that the city finally sent out a tree service to take out the offenders.  We celebrated with a nice dinner out and toasted our good fortune.  Of course we had to dispatch the remaining stumps to tree heaven by drilling 12 inch holes in them and feeding them poison followed by a boiling water chaser, but that is another story for another time...

It wasn't only the falling limbs that was the bane of our existence there in Kent.  It was the PROPELLERS.  These are the seed pods by which the big leaf maples reproduce in their hogging the resources, take over the planet and leave no survivors sort of way.  Every winter these seed pods with their attached propellers (think helicopter action from the limb downward resulting in a firmly planted seed) would come down by the hundreds, if not thousands.  Then in the spring, like clockwork, every where a propeller-generated seedpod had fallen, VOILA!  A new baby maple tree.  I spent every spring we were in that house (9 of them to be exact) pulling up THOUSANDS of these maple sprouts, cursing my naive younger self wishing for maple trees.  I now had them in spades, damn it.  

They still haunt me today, although in smaller numbers.  And I no longer have the herb garden to clear of the offending sprouts since we have moved to the island.  But they are still there, as evidenced by the photos above.  So, bear in mind that just because we think we want something desperately doesn't mean it will be good for us.  We have little idea of what we really want.  That's one of the multitude of frustrations of this life.  Just remember this next time you find yourself thinking of something you think you just can't live without...Just sayin.'

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Security Blanket is Electrified....

Linus had his blanket.  Many a child has had his or her teddy bear.  Calvin had his stuffed tiger Hobbs.  I have my heating pad.  We all have our little portable bits of security and safety we need with us when times are tough.  Why a heating pad you might rightly ask?  It does seem strange, I admit.  When I was a child, I was one of those snotty nosed kids who was allergic to everything and sick all the time.  I had constant ear infections, and spent countless hours waiting to see the pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor.  I remember in the 5th grade before they finally took out my tonsils, when my doctor wrote a note to my school that I was not to be allowed to play outside during recess because my allergies and inner ear problems were so bad that being exposed to the elements would make me really sick.  I did say "allowed" but those of you who were bookish kids like myself know the real truth; I was OVERJOYED to spend that entire school year's recess and P.E. classes in the library reading books with my favorite teacher.  It was pure bliss.  But through all the childhood earaches, my constant comforting companion was my heating pad.  My mother's heating pad, actually.  She gave it to me to lay my head upon to soothe my near constant ear pain.  I remember it had a flannel cover with yellow flowers on it that snapped over it.  It became such a constant in my life that when I went to college it came with me.  When I married it came with me.  I finally had to get rid of it about 10 years ago when it was making frightening noises and SPARKS! in the middle of the night.  As my adult companion it has served more to soothe my IBS, and joint and muscle aches and pains, which needless to say, have intensified as I have grown older.  Now the new(er) one is wearing out too.  Time to replace it again.  I guess they don't make them like they used to; that first one lasted me over 30 years! I shudder to think what they did before electricity...I guess that would be the hot water bottle!  Oh the cosy warmth.  These days sometimes we pass it back and forth, my husband and I. Who needs it the most tonight, we ask each other?  He has aches and pains too these days.  Maybe it's time for his and hers models.  You take your comfort where you can.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bleach and Bicycles: Life in the Northwest

Had a nice walk the other day....through our neighborhood.  Was admiring the plantings in peoples' yards just now coming out for a peek at spring.  It is officially spring here now, but the locals know not to plant anything unprotected in the ground until May 1st, because there's always a chance of a late frost.  But things are budding and blooming early this year.  The cherry trees are already in full flower.  So I was ambling and noticing these things when I passed by a house I hadn't noticed before.  Well, actually what I noticed wasn't the house, but the....shall we call it.....landscaping?  At least half a dozen trees had old bicycles up in their branches.  I mean at least 6 or more feet off the ground, so I don't think it was the result of a errant cyclist's encounter with a tree.  Let's say it looked quite intentional....an eccentric form of yard art.  Now I remember my old Aunt Eller's bottle tree back in Texas, but this was unique.  Leave it to an islander.  Bikes are a big part of the culture here, so I guess it fits!  I made me laugh, which is always a difficult feat.  

Speaking of the season, everywhere the local residents have their own rituals of spring cleaning, but here they involve pressure washers and chlorine.  Let me explain.  Today I stopped to gas up my car, and when I opened the little door to the gas cap I saw something disturbing.  MOLD.  Imagine the hardiness of a strain of mold that can grow and thrive right there amongst all those petrochemical fumes.  But here in the Northwest we have scary mutant molds and fungi that can grow on anything.    I remember the year I discovered algae growing on all the rubber gaskets on my car.  It grows on the mirror we have at the end of the driveway because we live on a busy street.  And last spring a fairy ring (that's a ring of mushrooms to the initiated) showed up in my yard.  If it comes back this year I'm stomping it to bits!  It scared me to death; having never seen one before, I imagined a strange fungus growing in a circle because something DEAD was buried there and it was encircling it insidiously.  Quite naturally, but ominous nonetheless.  Or else some errant wiccans had performed some freaky nature ritual at that very spot...YIKES!  Then I remembered with a panic the article I had read somewhere about the super fungus that looks like mushrooms above ground and below ground goes down deep and stretches for miles and miles in the subterranean depths.  It lives up here.  Look it up.  Largest Living Organism.  In Oregon.  I'm sure they have it here in Washington now as we speak.     Ick. Turned out mine was a different variety.   It is so damp so much of the year here that everything is on the fast track to decay; enter the molds and fungus.  And I'm allergic to the damn things!   I still don't understand why they build wooden houses here.  And they all have decks on them.  Go figure.  Everything rots twice as fast.  So every spring when it starts to warm up we survey the damage from the damp season and then get out the BLEACH.  Right, I said bleach.  Sure, you can buy that pricey stuff at the hardware store to kill moss and algae and anything else green and fuzzy, but I looked at the label, and the main active ingredient is chlorine bleach.  And that stuff is cheaper than dirt.   The bleach mixed with soapy water sprayed on your house, fence, etc. etc...does the trick.  But let  me tell you it gets tiring having to fight all this decay year after year.  Maybe that's part of why my artwork has that decaying, rusty, ancient look to it....Hmmm.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

One of the Aforementioned Bottlecap Shrines

Bones, Beach Glass and BAGPIPES?

These are the things that stand out about the last few days.  Maybe I should add BOTTLECAPS because my bottle cap shrines are selling at the gallery!!  But back to my subject.  About the bones....well, you see, last week I had my physical and besides learning the extremely interesting fact that my post-menopausal uterus is the size of a key lime, (doc's words, not mine) I had my first DEXA bone scan and it came back "osteoporosis."  I am only 49.  But I have learned a lot more about the condition in the past days....most everyone knows it means you have bone loss, but I think perhaps many don't know the risk factors.  I have to say I was not really surprised because both my mother and grandmother had it, and I figured that was risk factor enough.  But there are others, it turns out.  So for all of you out there (mostly women) who might be affected by this condition some day, here are the reasons to ask for a bone density test.  (And I had been asking for 10 years, but was not given one because I was "not yet 50," and my doctor told me last week now insurance companies are pushing back the date for which they will cover the first one to 65!  However if you have several risk factors, it is worth seeing if they will cover you before then, when you can start doing something to stop the bone loss.)

Risk Factors for Osteoporosis

Being White or Asian
Being a Woman
Late onset of menstruation
Early menopause
Family history of osteoporosis
Having a slight build, being underweight or thin
Using steroids (the jury is still out about corticosteroid use for allergies, but I used those for years)
Not consuming dairy products (or enough of them) 
Being deficient in Vitamin D
Thyroid Problems
Tobacco Use
Heaving Alcohol Use
Being more sedentary in the work you do

I had 11 of these.  The good news is at least I think I now have an explanation for the bone and joint pain I've been having for the last 15 years.  I had been checked for arthritis and come up with only minimal to none.  

Interesting thing about bones.  They serve an important function in your body.  They "hold you up."  How often do we talk about someone needing to "get some backbone?"  My own mother died from uterine cancer, which had metastasized and spread to several places, among them her spinal cord.  This was telling to me, seeing as how I had always wished my mother would have stood up for herself more in her life.  I hated seeing her swept along by what other people wanted and her desire to please.  She was like her mother in one particular way; they both let their husbands treat them badly.  They also both had osteoporosis.  And they both (I love telling this story) patiently endured such an existence because they thought or believed they had no other alternatives, only to have their little "I'll show you" moment after their spouses died.  My grandmother loved the color red.  Her name was Ruby, and it suited her, as did the vibrant color.  But my grandfather was insanely jealous of his wife.  She loved to dance, and he didn't, but she was not allowed to dance with other men.  He did not even like it when she and my mother danced playfully around the house.  And he would never let her wear red.  And she didn't try to....until he died that is, after a lengthy debilitating illness through which she nursed him faithfully.  The first thing she did afterwards (she was a seamstress) was make a red dress.  And she wore it to the funeral, near as I can remember.  We buried her in it when we lost her 20 years later.  My mother, although she constantly denied it when I mentioned it to her, repeated history, but with a different twist.  I can show you photos of my beautiful mother at my father's funeral, in her black skirt, black and grey plaid jacket, and her RED shoes.  I would like to believe that I already made my stand for independence when I started dyeing my hair red about 10 years ago.  For the record, my husband loves it.  So what if my spine and other bones have some holes in them?  I think I've got enough backbone left to deal with it. 

On to the subject of beach glass.  My husband and I have taken to walking along what counts as a beach here in the Northwest...yes, it's sandy, but quite rocky too, and the water is freezing.  But it's nice nevertheless.  We have learned to look at the tide tables first so we know when the tide is out the farthest and we can look for beach treasures.  The best find so far (and he has found two!) was the piece of Canton ballast ware.  These were the once ubiquitous hand-painted blue and white pieces of china (from China, primarily Canton) that were so popular in early America.  Think Blue Willow.  Everyone has heard of that pattern....and it became so popular that in the Victorian era when it was discovered that transfers could be made of intricate designs and easily put onto china, it REALLY took off.  But before that, it was so common in Europe that broken shards of it were used for ballast instead of stones or bricks in ships coming to North America.  Our little harbor here on the island had an old Creosote plant, and when creosote was found to be carcinogenic, it was classified as a superfund site by the EPA and cleanup began.  The harbor was dredged, meaning a lot of the silt on the bottom was dug out and hauled away.  Recently as last year efforts are being made to restore the native grasses that once survived on the bottom of the harbor and served as places for returning salmon to spawn.  The stirring up of the old sediment must have unearthed these little bits of history.  Fascinating stuff.  Makes me wonder what else is down there beneath the murky depths.  

But mostly what we find is beach glass. And the interesting thing about beach glass is that the longer it stays in the ocean being thrown around by the waves and distressed, the smoother and more spectacular it gets.  It morphs from something that is jagged and deadly to something that is soft and luminous.  All that chaos and distress makes it into something special.  Maybe there's a lesson in that for each of us.  Life is not without its knocks.  But maybe the knocks can serve a benevolent purpose.  Just maybe.  

On our walk back to our house, we heard the strains of....what? Is that what we think it is?....bagpipes playing.  Our island is an eccentric little place, but that was a bit of a surprise.  As we drew closer to home, we passed the house where the man was playing, standing in his yard, facing the water glinting in the late afternoon sun.  It was magical.  May your days ahead have unexpected magical moments for you to discover.....

Friday, March 29, 2013

Just Got Some Amazing New ClipArt for My Collages

My new clip-art rocks!  One example...

The Singing Newspaper Man and Being Happy

We have an assortment of odd characters on our little island.  One of the regulars is our newspaper seller.  Every morning, come rain or come shine, (most of the time around here you can guess which one we usually get) there he is, an extremely tall fellow wearing a pack of newspapers and walking from car to car in the line for the ferry plying his wares.  I used to think he was humming gibberish as he went along, but recently my husband was with me, and he has an uncanny ability to understand what seems to others to be nonsense...I remember years ago when we lived in a small town and had a business space in the downtown, and there was this young man who had cerebral palsy and could only grunt and jerk his arms and legs around to communicate.  He would try repeatedly to make the rest of us understand what he was trying to say, then one of the shopkeepers would say, "Somebody go get Jeff!"  And my husband would come down and listen to the grunts and squeaks, then say, "He wants a hamburger," or "he wants to know if you have a job for him." (that job incidentally was usually sweeping the sidewalk in front of one of the shops for a dollar or two...my boss owned a gift boutique that only sold angels, and one day Pee-Wee [our nick-name for him before anyone knew his name] accidentally knocked off a ceramic angel figurine and stood there stricken, weeping profusely at what he had done...after that, he was pretty much relegated to sweeping the sidewalk...) One day my amazing husband even took Pee-Wee home, and he lived about 10 miles out of town, off a country road.  Later Jeff told me along with a group of astonished friends that Pee-Wee gave him directions.  Incredible.  But again, as usual, I digress!  So this particular morning waiting for the ferry, the weather was cold and drizzly, and after a gloomy winter here, I was feeling particularly sorry for the newspaper man.  Heck, I was feeling sorry for myself!  I also had two dollars in my pocket, a rarity most days.  I started to feel guilty.  Here he was, every morning, walking with his heavy bag of newspapers, trying to make a living, cheerful as could be, like he didn't have a care in the world.  And now I realized, as my husband pointed out, he wasn't humming "dum-de-dum-de-la-la-la," but he was SINGING.  It went something like this, "New York Times, Seattle Times, paper please......"  That did it.  "Roll down your window and buy a newspaper," I told my husband.  We did.  I still haven't read it.  It's a little tiny wisp of a thing actually, as nearly all printed newspapers are anymore, and the news is all depressing anyway.  Actually I would have rather have had the New York Times, but couldn't bring myself to hunt for another 50 cents and pay $2.50 for a newspaper, when I could look at the news on the internet for free.  Besides, as my husband pointed out, it was more a charitable donation than a purchase.  Or as I'd like to consider it, an investment in a quickly vanishing way of life....Sing on, Mr. Newspaper Man; you have reminded me what a gift life can be.....  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Truth is Not Popular

I've spent pretty much the last four decades wondering why the truth isn't more popular.  As a matter of fact, it's not just unpopular, it's downright despised.  Try to find a better way to empty a room or enrage any number of people present than to speak the truth.  I've had to learn this the hard way.  As a small child I was always asking my parents "WHY?"  The way things were supposed to be seemed fairly straightforward, rational and sensible to me; I just couldn't understand why other people had such different ideas about it.  As a pragmatic, practical person of principle, I have always felt a strong need to "defend the truth," or at least make sure people were aware of it.  After all, it sets you free, right?  Well......., not exactly.  Maybe in the long run, but in the immediate future it just gets you in trouble; it can even get you killed.  Look what happened to Jesus, Joan of Arc, William Wallace, and any number of characters on the Twilight Zone.  My therapist keeps trying to convince me that truth is relative.  She is not having much luck, although she has finally gotten me to consider that it is somewhat changeable.  As I have grown older, I can see that what was true for me at one stage in my life is no longer true for me now.  We change.  The world changes around us.  I still believe however that there are a few (notice I said FEW) absolutes.  I've been accused lots of times of what they call "black and white" thinking.  This means "either-or" scenarios, or not allowing there to be any "gray areas."  I admit I'm much more comfortable with the idea of things being either this way or that way, but at this stage of my life I now see this as my own attempts to put life as we know it into tidy categories for my own sense of comfort.  While there are principles that if we come to understand and live by them WILL make our lives easier, and I would call those "truth," any well-meaning individual, no matter how hard they try, can never force another individual to "see the truth."  Why?  The most obvious reason is that we all resist hearing "the truth" because we've already got a "truth" that we like just fine, thank you very much.  At worst, this is called denial, and leads to all sorts of evils and personal suffering, and at best it's called knowing yourself, and what your values are, which is a good thing.  So after years of pointing out the elephant in the room during my stints in college, church leadership, local politics, working for a non-profit, a government agency, and in all the groups I have ever been a member of, I have decided that although the elephant may seem obvious to me, I cannot save anyone from being trampled.  Everyone has to see their own elephant.  Or something like that....    

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The REAL Reason My Vacuum Cleaner Wouldn't Suck

I have five cats, so I deal daily with copious amounts of cat hair.  A good vacuum is essential.  Did I mention that when I had dogs it was dog hair?  And the interesting fact is that I am allergic to both cats and dogs.  But I have always had either or both.  It is something I just deal with, just like my allergy to mold (I live in the Pacific Northwest for crying out loud) and dust (I'm an archivist and avid reader and lover of books).  I took allergy shots for five years but that is another story.  The most recent thing that has not been working at my house (and there are often at least two to three of these things at any given moment) is my amazing, wonderful German vacuum cleaner.  After checking the bag (it was not even close to full) and praying, "God, please don't let it be going out yet.  I believe in German engineering," I reluctantly pulled out the rotating brush to pull all of MY hair out of it, and noticed a little flap door on the bottom of the vacuum that had a compartment behind it that went up towards where the hose attaches.  It was plugged with all kinds of stuff, things not worth repeating....like things the vacuum was picking up were not getting through to the hose, and thus the bag.  AHA moment....maybe SOMETHING was stuck in that opening blocking things from getting through!  Hmmmmm.  Sticking my hand as far up inside there as possible, I felt something....something vaguely familiar.....spongey, rubbery...what the hell was that?  Then I got the flashlight.  It's orange.  No, it's blue.  No, it appears to be half orange and half blue.  Two pairs of pliers, a pair of scissors, and a pair of forceps we bought at First Monday Trade Days in Canton, TX later, it was out.  A foam rubber cat ball.  There's a lesson here, although I'm not sure what it is....

Watch Out for Pretty Harmless Looking Cat Toys....

See Related Story.....

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Everything is Shrinking, Including My Brain.

First it was the automobiles.  They get smaller and smaller.  Then computers, cell phones, etc.  Has anyone out there besides me gotten totally frustrated trying to text on those tiny keys????  Then the NEWSPAPER.  It is like the size of a birthday card now!  The newest and most disturbing trend is GIRL SCOUT COOKIES.  They are virtually HALF the size they used to be.  And not half the price, alas.  At some point they will be about the diameter of a quarter.  And cost more than they do now, to be sure.  What kind of planet do we live on anyway?  One where things constantly get smaller, evidently.

Even my brain is shrinking.  And I can tell.  I thought at first it was due to stress and depression.  You see, that's been proven.  I turned up some interesting proof on the Psychology Today website to confirm my worst fears. A new research study has uncovered the genetic mechanism underlying these brain changes.  You see, depressed brains are more fragmented.  I KNEW my brain needed defragmenting, just like my hard drive, the size of which, is also diminishing.  We have an external hard-drive now that is the size of a deck of cards, although don't be impressed; I am fairly sure there is one now that is the size of a matchbox...But I digress.  In the study, conducted by Professor Richard Dumin and colleagues from Yale University, scientists compared the genetic makeup of donated brain tissue from deceased humans with and without major depression. (NOW I know what I can do with my brain when I am finished with it....) Only the depressed patients’ brain tissues showed activation of a particular genetic transcription factor, or “switch.” Scientists hypothesized that in the depressed patients’ brains, prolonged stress exposure led to disruption (due to this switch) of brain systems involved in thinking and feeling. Depressed brains appeared to have more limited and fragmented information processing abilities. This finding may explain the pattern of repetitive negative thinking that depressed people exhibit. (It explains A LOT more than that.) It is as if their brains get stuck in a negative groove of self-criticism and pessimism. They are unable to envision more positive outcomes or more compassionate interpretations of their actions.  

As for stress, things called glucocorticoids, or stress hormones, damage brain neurons.   The stress response activates a brain region known as the amygdala, which sends a signal alerting the organism (you) to the threat, releasing short-term hormones like cortisol which prepare the organism (again, you) to sustain “fight or flight” and fend off an attacker. But with long-term exposure from stress that is not life-threatening, these hormones appear to cause brain neurons to shrink and interfere with their ability to send and receive information. In animal studies, under chronically stressful conditions, glucocorticoids such as cortisol can remain elevated for long periods afterwards.  And any middle-aged woman out there also knows that cortisol makes you fat around your middle. Nice little bonus there. 

Research in both mice and humans has demonstrated an association between stress exposure (footshock in mice, life events in humans) and shrinking of the hippocampus – the brain center responsible for forming new, time-sequenced memories. Studies done of sufferers of PTSD have shown this to be true.  In another study, patients recovered from long-term major depression showed a 15% decrease in volume of the hippocampus, compared to non-depressed patients.

Major life stress probably also shrinks brain neurons in the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), the brain area responsible for problem-solving, adaptation to challenge, emotional processing and regulation, impulse control, and regulation of glucose and insulin metabolism. In a studty of 100 healthy participants conducted by Dr Rajita Sinha and colleagues at Yale University, and published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, those with more adverse life events had greater shrinkage of grey matter in the PFC, compared to their less-stressed peers. Recent major life events, such as a job loss, make people less emotionally aware while life traumas, such as sexual abuse, seem to go further, in damaging mood centers that regulate pleasure and reward, increasing vulnerability to addiction and decreasing the brain's ability to bounce back.

Then there's menopause.  Had a look at Medscape Today's website.  Estrogen, it seems, protects brain neurons from oxidation, stimulates nerve growth, helps repair damaged neurons, and increases the concentration of vital neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Postmenopausal women (that would be me) have been shown to exhibit a significant decrease in blood flow, and flow decreases further with time past menopause.  In studies, no significant decrease was attributable to aging alone. (Oh, great, another reason for brain shrinking.) Another study of 63 postmenopausal women before and after starting hormone replacement therapy demonstrated reduced impedance to blood flow in carotid circulation. (that's the artery in your neck that gets gunked up and has to be cleaned out.) Hot flashes, incidentally are related to this function of estrogen.  A hot flash consists of a sudden sensation of heat in the upper body, often followed by perspiration and a chill. Peripheral vasodilation, tachycardia, decreased skin resistance, and sweating have all been documented to occur during a hot flash. Though poorly understood, the episodes certainly originate in the brain.  It now appears that hot flashes are not merely symptoms of low estrogen levels; they may themselves lead to other neurologic problems. (no big revelation to those of us who have had the damn things...) In women without their ovaries, hot flashes have been directly correlated with memory impairment.  In addition, single proton emission computed tomography (SPECT) of healthy menopausal women revealed decreased cerebral blood flow during hot flashes. The greatest change occurred in the hippocampus, a center for memory and cognition. Regional patterns of cerebral blood flow during hot flashes resembled those characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. (Let's not even GO there...) Hormone replacement therapy  resolved the hot flashes and restored normal patterns of cerebral blood flow.  (This is nice, seeing as how after that study a few years back vilifying hormone replacement, no doctors are giving their patients prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy without a threat to their own lives, usually coming from those same patients...OR THEIR HUSBANDS.)

Based on this evidence, reproductive biologists have hypothesized that hot flashes contribute to degenerative or aging changes in the brain. Frequent vasoconstrictive episodes might lead to cerebral ischemia and free radical formation,  damage similar to that seen in the coronary arteries with plaque formation. (Ladies, it's not your high cholesterol or your stress hormones that's going to get you, it's your LACK OF ESTROGEN!) The population of healthy neurons might be reduced, particularly in the hippocampus, leaving the brain with impaired ability to tolerate the neurodegenerative processes of aging and Alzheimer's disease. (Damn, there's that nasty "A" word again...)  Even in healthy older women, brain volume begins to decline as estrogen levels fall preceding menopause. This atrophy occurs particularly in the hippocampus and parietal lobe, areas primarily associated with memory and cognition. A similar loss in brain volume does not begin in men until a decade later (around age 60), most likely because male sex hormone production declines much more gradually with age. In fact, because of aromatization of testosterone to estrogen, men over the age of 60 have approximately three times more circulating estradiol (This is estrogen, folks...) than women of a similar age.  (Is there no end to the unfairness of being a woman on this planet?...in 8 years my husband will have more estrogen than I do.)

In women, these cerebral changes may contribute to the frequent perimenopausal complaints of decreased mental clarity and short-term, verbal memory problems. Many research groups have found   a connection between hormone replacement and cognition, particularly in the area of verbal memory. For example, in one study of 727 postmenopausal women, history of estrogen use was associated with significantly higher scores on verbal memory and abstract reasoning tests.  (Finally, a light in the proverbial  tunnel!! Just imagine how bad my cognitive function would be now if I HADN'T taken those birth control pills all those years...)  

OK, I think I've proved my point.  Hormone replacement is NOT on my allowed medications list.  I have atypical hyperplasia in the breast tissues, which isn't cancer, but the cells aren't normal either.  They are just lurking there, waiting to mutate into something more ominous sounding than "atypical," like "malignant."  Estrogen would encourage them in that direction, so I don't get any.  BIG SIGH.  The depression is less debilitating than it has ever been, due to years of psychotropic drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy, but it has no doubt done some damage.  Stress is a part of life that you cannot avoid; only learn to handle in a more healthy way.  I'm working on that.  The baking powder fiasco aside, I can make it through this.  Crossword puzzles are supposed to help cognitive function.  Yeah, that's the ticket.  If I can find some that don't require an exhaustive knowledge of today's ridiculous pop culture to complete, I've got a solution.....I'll let you know how it works. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Northwest News: If You Can't Keep Your Cat Inside Don't Get One.

Ok, here it comes, the rant.  I am a cat lover.  An animal of any kind lover actually, but cats have a special place in my heart.  I have always had a pet...dogs when I was growing up, and when I was first married.  

We had the wonder dog Jenny.  Jenny came to live with us when we were moving my husband into his grandmother's old house the summer before we got married.  I was still in school, but had come to help him settle in before the fall semester started.  Jenny was a pup of about 3 months, who lived across the street with the neighbors.  She was a funny looking, bouncy thing with huge ears like a rabbit and full of energy.  She came over to help too, and with the front door open to facilitate bringing in furniture, she waltzed right in like she owned the place. I remember my future father-in-law saying "Whose damn dog is that?"  I got a call from my now husband a couple of weeks later saying he had gotten a dog.  "Guess which dog?" I remember him saying.  The neighbors came over and said that she wanted to live with us and not them and would we like a dog.  She came with the name Jenny.  Oh God, how we loved that dog.  She was with us through thick and thin for our first 17 years of marriage.  She moved with us to three houses in the DFW area, corporate housing in a high rise in Marina del Rey and a tiny tract house in the San Fernando Valley, then up the coast to Redmond, Washington.  We had hoped she would make it until we bought our own place, but we lost her in April, and closed on our first house in November.  She had a companion named Joey, a little Shepherd/Eskimo mix that had less than a whole brain, but was as sweet a dog as you could imagine.  Joey left us 6 months after Jenny; not sure how to go on without her friend.

In the months before we left Texas for California we got our first cat, Miss Joshua.  Miss J had a male  name because, not having had cats before, we took my sister's word for it that she had gotten us a male kitten.  It is rather harder to sex a kitten than a puppy.  By the time we had her in for her first vet visit, the vet took one close look and said, "this is a girl."  Joshua she had been for 8 weeks, Joshua she would remain, with a "Miss" in front of it.  It just didn't seem fair to change things on her like that.  She loved tormenting the dogs.  They knew they could not show aggression against this cat, even though they had with strange cats in the past.  We had a talk with them, and they just understood.  And she took full advantage of that; chasing them whenever  they were inside the house.  They would look up at us like "What can we do, PLEASE??"  

After both of our dogs were gone, we were so heartbroken we just could not bring ourselves to replace them.  It never felt right to get another dog...not if it wasn't Jenny.  So we started getting cats.  We now have five.  We would have more if we had a bigger house and more disposable income for vet bills.  We realize now how cat-like Jenny actually was.  Cats are like people...five distinctive personalities, with moods, good, bad and indifferent.  Even their voices are different.  Miss J is gone now; she succumbed to kidney failure at age 14.  That was a brutal loss.  We still go weak at the knees when we see a lynx point grey cat with blue eyes.  There is an altarpiece on our living room wall with her portrait, painted by my artist husband.  She is immortalized.  

Then we have Pumpkin, the big orange male that Jeff brought home from the Safeway where a little boy was giving away kittens in a basket.  He made eye contact with me when Jeff brought him in the house that first day and my life has never been the same.  He is my "boy" and sleeps on my head every night.  He is being treated for the same disease that took Miss Joshua's life, but his kidney function is normal now thanks to our wonderful vet.  

Grizzly Bear and Monkey Toes came 3 years later to provide companionship for Pumpkin, since Miss J wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with him.  Or any other cat or human other than my husband and myself, to be honest.   They were litter mates from a cat rescue in Yakima, the offspring of barn cats.  We ended up with TWO kittens because we had the pick of the litter, and well, you guessed it...my husband picked one and I picked another.  Oh well.  It turned out to be a blessing because when you bring two kittens home they console each other and you don't get crying all night.  

After we lost Miss Joshua, Jeff was eager to bring another cat into our household, but I wasn't ready for nearly 2 years.  It was still painful when an acquaintance of mine rescued some kittens and asked me to come over for a look at them.  There was an orange one, she said, knowing how much we loved Pumpkin.  "I'll look," I said, but I won't promise anything.  After seeing Little Orange, I put the carrier down on the floor to let him get used to it before we had to drive back home.  His brother, a little black kitten, crawled into the carrier and plastered himself up against the back of it, and REFUSED to come out.  He wanted a home, damn it, and he had decided it was going to be mine.  I wondered, "Am I supposed to have this one too?"  So home with me they both went, and when I opened the carrier the Little Orange popped out, my husband said, "Oh!  He's cute!"  Then little Blackie tentatively stuck out a paw.  "There's another one!"  I wish I had thought to say, "How did that happen?"  But I just said, "Yes, there is.  And if you don't want to keep him, he can go back."  Blackie wrapped both front paws around my husband's outstretched hand and proceeded to lick it like a dog.  He was working it big time.  My husband responded, "Oh, we can keep this one too."  Who says cats aren't smart!? That marked the arrival of Howard Pyle (after the American painter) and Alphonse Mucha (after the Czech painter living and working in Paris), better known these days as Howie and Alphie.  

These five creatures have become such an integral part of our lives (just as Jenny and Joey did) that I cannot imagine daily existence without them. I know some pet owners may consider their pets more like a possession.  I do not share their view.  I wish that people who felt that way would not have pets at all.  I respect that some people, for whatever reason, do not like animals, and don't want to share their lives with any.  I respect (and identify with) those who love animals and couldn't imagine living without them.  I do NOT understand people who straddle that fence.  In addition, I might add that the people who treat the animal like a possession probably take better care of their other belongings (their car, their cell phone, laptop, etc.) than they do the pet.  Perhaps not.  In my family there is a tradition of not being able to keep up with one's possessions, but that may not be the norm.    But let me just say, owning an animal is a commitment.  You don't leave it when you move, thinking it will find a new home.  Jenny did, but she was an amazing dog.  Many others would just starve.  Joey would have; she did not trust strangers.  When they both went missing for two weeks when someone opened the back gate of our yard, she camped out under a parked boat the entire time.  Jenny, on the other hand, had already found her "next" home.  I felt guilty making her come back with us.  You don't refuse it medical attention when it needs it.  You treat it with dignity and respect.  It is a living thing, and you, as its owner, like it or not, have accepted responsibility for its well-being.  You have it spayed or neutered, because there are so many unwanted dogs and cats that are already being gassed by the thousands every day because it's either too much trouble or too much expense for someone to bother having a pet fixed so it cannot reproduce.  I don't care if you live out in the country or in the city; it doesn't matter.  Both places have their unique dangers to domestic animals, in the city it is being hit by cars.  Which brings me to my main point....

Pets are DOMESTICATED animals.  They are not wild.  Dogs and cats both like to run and play outside.  Of course they do.  But those of us who live in areas with dangerous predators, as we in the Northwest do, are responsible for our pets' safety.  Domesticated animals cannot defend themselves like a wild animal can, and why would we demand that of them in the first place??  It is unfair.  I wish I had a dollar to donate to the animal shelter for every time since I have moved out West that I have been talking to someone about their dog, or more often, cat that they "used to have" before something "got it."  Meaning the poor creature became food or a plaything to a wild animal, be it a cougar, bird of prey, raccoon (yes, I said raccoon), or coyote.  At best it is selfish denial to allow this, at worst, it is inhumane.  We are not at our best as a race to allow an innocent creature who relies on us for its care to suffer.  As I speak, I am thinking of a couple who live in our neighborhood; who are very nice, intelligent, educated people.  They are wildlife biologists who work with a non-profit foundation that is trying to learn more about and conserve the wild snow leopards.  That said, they put their pet cats outside.  Last time we spoke, they had lost one to an unknown wild animal, probably coyote.  Perhaps their thinking is that the domesticated cat is like the wild cat, and to keep it indoors is cruel?  This is not true, as any veterinarian will tell you.  Cats are perfectly happy to live indoors if you engage them enough.  And even if you have a cat who really, really wants to go outside (like some do), think of it in the same way as you do your toddler.  They might want to go play outside too but do you let them?  Use your brains people!  I just received word of a beautiful cat who lost her life in this way because the owner was in denial about the dangers of letting her go outside despite knowing better.  I know that for some it's the issue of a litterbox in the house.  For God's sake, then put the litterbox in the garage with a cat flap.  Or in the basement.  Or DON'T HAVE A CAT.  

It is perhaps most tragic that the person who brought my Howard and Alphie into my life is the same person whose own cat was just killed in this way.  Such is the paradox of this life... Please, you animal lovers out there, pass this message along, donate to your local animal shelter, and be a responsible pet owner.  

In memory of Bernie, Fritzi, Chloe, Roachie, Tic-Tac, Winter and countless others... 

Friday, February 22, 2013

I Used to Care But Now I Take a Pill For That

I saw this on a t-shirt in a catalog recently and I identified with it.  But not entirely.  You see, I do take a pill for "caring too much," a malady which leads to co-dependence, depression and a host of all sorts of ills.  Been on it off and on for nearly 20 years now.  But the problem is that it doesn't entirely turn off that part of your brain.  Psychotropic drugs are a godsend in many ways, but they're not a miracle.  I still care.  Sometimes too much.  It's much better.  I have periods of relative sanity where I can make it through a day without giving up totally, but there are still the "why can't I stop thinking, God just strike me stupid" "I have to go back to bed and pull covers over my head" days.  I get a lot of well-meaning advice, some of it from professionals... exercise more, eat better, take supplements, meditate, get around people more, find a way to express yourself...etc., etc.  I do appreciate the efforts to help, and I know there is some truth in all of these suggestions, but they're not going to cure what ultimately ails me....ails ALL of us.  

We are human, fallible, finite constantly decaying.  What an undignified, imperfect, frustrating way to spend a lifetime, but I'm not the one in charge and THANK GOD I'm not.  I would have annihilated us all into vapor eons ago.  Some of us are more accepting of our humanness than others; some (amazingly!) even seem to be able to enjoy their status. They're called humanists. I have not ever understood their position.  The human race no doubt IS capable of greatness, but most of the time, is just MESSED UP.  Atheism always seemed a more defensible position to me should I ever give up all hope.  Not that religion offers that in spades.  Yes, there is hope, but those who argue against religion on the basis of it offering an easy way out of the difficulty of life fail to notice that there is a whole lot of suffering that goes hand in hand with that.  Suffering and discipline by your Creator and Higher Power if you will.  But there are those like me, and YOU know who you are, who are not able to tiptoe through the tulips smelling the roses and being ever thankful for the smallest blessings we have, remembering those who are suffering so much more so than ourselves.  Suffering is suffering in our minds, whether it's existential or physical.  We over-think and over-contemplate everything to death.  I think we are wired that way.  

It has to be brain chemistry.  They will discover this one day, with all those brain scans they've been doing.  Our brains, unlike those of our more "normal" counterparts, are the neurological equivalent of the old "mood rings" from the 70's, all blue and green, while other "higher-functioning" brains light up with reds, yellows and oranges like a Christmas tree.  Those of you with the more chromatically balanced brains who are not one of us, but most often, because God has some convoluted plan to make us into more balanced individuals, often LIVE with one of us.  And it is at times an uneasy proposition.  You wonder, "Why does everything have to be so serious with you?," "Can't you just enjoy your life?," or "Can I please go to sleep now?"  The answers are "I have no idea," and "Maybe," and "After I'm done ranting about the human condition."   I have been in therapy now since 2005, and I have a necklace I made with my mantra on it.  It says, simply, "It's OK to enjoy your life."  That may not mean much to some of you, may even seem OBVIOUS to you, but I came from a family of drama in the American South where the family core belief would have been something like, "Life sucks, then you die.  But along the way, what the hell, you might as well be as all-out weird as you can manage, and be damn proud that you are, because others never accepted or understood you anyway."  It's acceptance, yes, but I wouldn't say it's healthy.  More like an overcompensation for poor self esteem. 

Back to the subject.  I still care.  Sometimes too much.  And that dreaded "B" word, BALANCE...I'm still trying to find it, and I feel fairly sure that I will still be looking for it when I leave this planet.  In the meantime, I'm taking vitamins, trying to exercise more, spending less time alone, cutting back on red meat, attempting to keep a gratitude journal  and doing artwork and writing this blog.  For now, that has to be enough; I'm only human.