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Work smarter

12 Aug

When you are disabled, minor obstacles start looking more like Mount Everest than a minor mole hill.  It’s all bigger and more dramatic.  It’s also more likely to provoke a total melt down as frustrations and aggravations drive you to your breaking point.

So how to overcome the Himalayas when even going shopping is a challenge?

By working smarter.

Face it, for most of us, disability does not equate an accompanying mental disability.  We are fully aware of our limitations.  We know when we are having an emotional melt down that may be a bit of overreaction to the most recent event but is the inevitable result of recent events that have now been provided with either a trigger or what most of us would call the last straw.

By using our heads when our bodies aren’t dependable, we can enjoy many activities that normally would be out-of-reach.  Ones that we’re technically not supposed to be able to do due to our own personal limits, whether it’s strength, endurance, dexterity, agility, or whatever.  The question is often then going to be how, and it means how can thinking mean that we can do the un-do-able?

By taking a bigger, more dramatic view of the un-do-able, maybe we can get an idea.  Sure, it sounds totally crazy to compare a desired activity for a disabled person to climbing Mount Everest, but it’s not unreasonable.

A climber is facing obstacles that should make the climb to the summit impossible.  Breathing the thin air alone, without the cold, wind, avalanches, falls, distance and all of the other obstacles s/he must face to get there.  Sure, a lot of people fail in their attempts, and some even die trying.  So what makes it a successful attempt?

  • Research—knowing what obstacles must be overcome and what tools are available to overcome them
  • Planning—having the necessary gear, support, tools, supplies, and transportation to get to the Himalayas and make that attempt, as well as the attempt itself
  • Preparation—assembling the necessary items and gaining the necessary skills to be successful
  • Assessment—knowing what your own limits and abilities are, and when to call it quits
  • Assistance—having a support team to help fill in the deficit areas of your physical abilities as well as skill levels

This is where our brains come into effect.  We have to figure out what it is we want to do, then find a way to do it, no matter what it is.  Granted, few disabled people are going to take up mountain climbing, even at a much lower summit height than Mount Everest, but the concept is the same no matter what the activity actually is.

Let’s take some practical examples.

Cooking is a hobby I have enjoyed since I was young.  I really love doing it, and it is always a challenge that I’m thrilled to try.  The objective is to make the recipes, serve them all at their optimum temperature, without any errors.  I actually liked playing “guest chef” and cooking for others.  Holiday meals were something that were fun to prepare because of their complexity, volume, etc.

Obviously, post-disability, it wasn’t as much fun.  Some things were nearly impossible and even simple tasks had turned into my own versions of Mount Everest.  I wanted to make pizza crust, from scratch.  Before, that was a no-brainer.  Now, it was impossible, or so it seemed.

The mixing and kneading were impossible, but solved easier.  I owned a big Kitchen-Aid mixer that really hadn’t seen much use.  Now, I learned to use it for mixing pizza dough.  Rolling and stretching the dough was then the new mountain.  I was not getting that done with one functional arm.

I tried a French rolling pin, I tried the kind with ball bearings.  It didn’t work.  Clean up was a misery.  Sure, I could just wimp out and ask Greg to do it—he’s not inept or unwilling.  That wasn’t the point.  I wanted to do it myself, like I was a toddler helping my mother cook.

In the past, I had had a nylon cylinder rolling pin that I had used.  That’s what I wanted to try, but I couldn’t find one for sale.  Greg solved that for me.  He bought a fat dowel, the biggest he could find, and cut it for me.  There were two—one for the narrow side of a half sheet baking pan, and one for the wide side.  Two problems solved—clean up and rolling, all with one solution.  The dough couldn’t get away from me inside the lipped pan, I had a one handed rolling pin, and I had something I could theoretically clean myself.  It also works great for cookie or biscuit dough.  I haven’t tried it with pie crust though, as the size makes a round disk of sufficient size impossible.

We thought ourselves into a solution for a problem by drawing on past experience (cylinder rolling pin) to find a new solution (dowel rolling pins) and improved it by using the half sheet pans to further solve the problem.

We use the same process for camping solutions.  I love camping, and I’ll be the first one to admit, I could not go camping in a tent by myself.  I’d never enjoy it and I would also probably never get the tent up, even if I was using an instant tent (they are great, by the way!).  But, with help for carrying and the major tasks like setting up the tent, I can enjoy camping still.  Sure, I’m not going on hikes or chopping up firewood anymore, but I’m there.

I did try to solve the backpacking problem.  Due to reduced endurance and other health problems, I have reluctantly admitted that backpacking is out of my reach at this time.  Maybe I will find something that lets me take short, easy trips in the future, but this year, it was a bust again.  Instead, I’m doing it vicariously by creating recipes for DIY meals, sharing knowledge, and evaluating gear in a much closer space.

Then there was sewing.  I was afraid to try it for a very long time, longer than I’m even willing to admit.  That delay was based solely on fear.  I was terrified that it was going to be one more can’t in a world filled with too many can’ts for my taste.  Finally, I got things together, plugged in the machine, and tried it.

Here is where working smarter became really important.  I have a very limited amount of time to actually work on anything before problems are going to appear, all carried along by the all-too-familiar Pain Train.  (I find that assigning silly names to stressors, they become less threatening.  Try it sometime!)  Most of the time, it’s about five minutes.  Sewing isn’t something that is done fast, so this short period of time to do anything physical with it means that I have to make that time really count.  It’s like sewing with a toddler underfoot, in a way.  Continual interruptions and distractions.

I’m also not talking strictly about sewing machine time.  It’s any physical task—laying out patterns, cutting, pinning, whatever. This short time span for actually doing anything means that we’re going to take the tactics of the armchair quarterback.  We’re going to think about it and plan a whole lot in comparison to actually doing anything.  Then, we’re going to look at what we are doing, think about it again, long before we start doing it.

That’s not a bad thing.  You soon learn that ripping things out is heartbreaking.  Not only have you invested one or more work periods into making the mistake, you’ve now got to invest more work periods into removing that effort, all before repeating the investment.  It’s like buying a house with no bathroom, giving it away, and buying another one because the first one didn’t have a bathroom.  It’s a major investment, not merely a bit of time, when you are physically challenged.

Disabilities can change your perspectives on a lot of things, as well as cause a major shift in priorities.  You soon learn that some things are not important and don’t really matter.

  • Makeup. I don’t wear it anymore.  It wasn’t worth the investment of time, energy, and pain to get it onto my face.  I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks.  I’m not going to conform to their perceptions or make that investment of myself to conforming.  I’m just not willing to risk sticking a mascara applicator into my eye to be “beautiful” in someone else’s eyes.
  • Hairdos. I’m not going to bother.  I have long hair and I wear it tied up, usually in a doubled over pony tail.  It’s often lopsided too.  I thought about cutting off my hair, but then I’d have to do something with it.  Like comb it more often.  As it is, it gets brushed when I’m leaving the house or someone is coming over—it’s neatly confined so it doesn’t get messy.  No French braids, no fancy do’s, unless my daughter is around and feels inclined to do it for me.  Greg is pretty hopeless at this task, despite his best efforts.
  • Fashion. My idea of fashion is that it is comfortable and I can get it on and off with minimal help.  I don’t care how it ranks in terms of fashion.  Sure, I like pretty stuff, but my idea of pretty and the world’s idea of pretty might be entirely different.  I’m really fixated on the tactile experience of clothing—I like things that feel good to me.  I like cheery stuff, but rather subdued colors.  In summer, I like cool fabrics too.  Winter, like everyone else, I like warm fuzzy ones that are snuggly.  I avoid ruffles and lace like it’s going to give me the plague.  I don’t like buttons and zippers—they are hard to manage.

Decide what matters to you, and don’t invest your efforts into things that don’t matter to you.  That’s the first step to working smarter.

  1. Look at the obstacles that you face when you are attempting a desired activity. What do you need? Is it skills or help or tools?  Do you need something that is specialized or not commercially available? How do you get this new tool or device?
  2. Work out the obstacles one at a time. Facing a hundred can’ts is a world of difference from facing one of them at a time.  A hundred is impossible, but one isn’t, and that’s a simple fact.
  3. Be realistic without accepting defeat. That’s a tough balance, but it’s one that we have to strive for.  I’ve accepted defeat for the backpacking thing…for now.  I may find a solution, but it won’t devastate me if I don’t, as I have accepted that the abridged version is better than none at all.  I have to accept that some things are going to remain forever out of reach now, some of which I never intended to do to begin with, like skydiving, mountain climbing, snow skiing, and bull riding.
  4. Believe in yourself. You are not defined by what you can’t do or can do.  We are all more than that.
  5. You can contribute to the world at large. You have knowledge and skills, even if you aren’t capable of physically using them anymore.  Share them, and see your passion for past activities come to life again.  Just because you can’t do them does not mean that your knowledge can’t live on by sharing it and teaching others.

Working smarter doesn’t mean you have to be disabled somehow to use it.  Anyone can use the same principles to reduce their life clutter and achieve greater things.  It’s just about establishing priorities, coming up with a plan, assembling the tools, and then moving forward towards your goals.  It is not rocket science or quantum physics!  You can do it.

Vacation!

1 Jul

There has been a problem, and it’s all Facebook’s fault.

They kept advertising vacations in locations like Israel or at a nice, hot, sunny beach.

Now maybe to someone who is starved for warmth, that’s appealing.  Me, I hear Israel, and I think Middle East, and that isn’t a place that is apt to make me relax one bit.  They have entirely too much going on there right now, from political upheaval to religious issues, and my idea of a good time does not include wearing a burka, trying to decipher where I could or couldn’t go as a woman, or watching soldiers carry machine guns.

I have betrayed the fact that I’m not very worldly.  I’m terrified of tanks and soldiers with guns, and always have been.  It’s bad enough to see them on television.  I don’t want to vacation where I have to navigate check points or be “protected” by soldiers.  It’s bad enough if it’s your own country that is living like that, I sure don’t want to go visit one for “fun”.

No, I’m not anti-gun.  I’m anti-war.  I’m a mother and a grandmother, and I see wars as killing sons and daughters.  I’ve lost one, not due to war, but I know what it feels like.  I can’t imagine sacrificing a child to the war games of politicians.  I’m also not anti-soldier–I have friends and relatives who have or are currently serving in the military.  I don’t have a panic attack if I see them in uniform either.  Not even if they have a gun.  They aren’t on patrol.

I guess I regard the entire Middle East as this huge war zone, with periodic spaces under truces that don’t include me, as I’m not Muslim or Jewish.  I also have no need to make a pilgrimage to an ancient religious site there.

Plus it’s hot.

And sandy.

I spent most of my life in the American Southwest, which is predominantly semi-arid.  I’ve had enough “beach” for a lifetime–a beach is just more hot sand to me.  Never mind that the southwest is short on water–they have ample “beach”.  Even on the Gulf Coast, I prefer to visit the beaches in the winter.  Or at night.  Hot sand has zero thrills for me.  I don’t even want a sun tan.  I’ve spent the last thirty years avoiding that, why start trying to get one now?

So, I started thinking…

IF I could afford a vacation anywhere, where would I really want to visit?

Someplace cool.  Like really cool.   Not rock star cool, but ice and snow cool.  Like Mississippi winter cool, most likely.  Greenland and Iceland come up on the list fairly quickly.

The reality is, I don’t have a vacation budget this year.  I’m like most of America, and have a hand-to-mouth existence that is plagued with gaps between the two.  Our primary vehicle has broken down–our back up vehicle, our old mini-van, has expired tags.  We’re not going anywhere right now.

So how on earth to take a vacation?

Vacations for me are usually a camping trip somewhere.  Sometimes, I’ve gone on camping road trips, camping along the way to visit someone or something.  It’s entertaining and relaxing, and I got pretty good at setting up/tearing down.  Since those days, I’ve become disabled.  Setting up camp with Greg is now an endeavor that takes a lot out of us, even as we’ve simplified things immensely.  We’re also in need of a new tent now, as our old standby one with its easy set up and internal frame, has seen better days and leaks so badly we just use a tarp over the rain fly.  Without a functional and legal vehicle, we’re not going camping either–besides, I no  longer can cope with summer heat without air conditioning.  Our camping, when we can go, is confined to the other three seasons of the year.

But…

I’m a devious so and so sometimes.  I’ve heard of staycations.  Most of them sound like they aren’t all that much fun, or even save that much money.  But I thought about it, and what do I like to do when I go camping?

Obviously fishing is a big deal, but when we go out of Mississippi, I don’t fish, as I don’t buy an out-of-state license.  So what do I do then?

I hang out and do much of nothing, actually.  I do cook, especially if we have a group, but with the loss of the use of my arm, I have to have a fair amount of help to do that too.  So, it looks like I don’t do much except deal with meals, and when it’s just Greg & I, we tend to do very simple meals at that.

I’m going to hang my hammock in the yard on Wednesday, after the radio show is done tomorrow.  I’m going to take one of the books I need to read, a pillow, and go lay in the hammock and do nothing at all except read and watch people go by.  Maybe I’ll swing the hammock a bit.  I might get my little battery personal fan out to create an artificial breeze.  I might even take the laptop out for a bit, and see if the wi-fi reaches that far.

Sound silly?

Maybe it is.  But just a day of being silly can make a lot of difference in how we approach problems and figure out a way to solve them.  We could definitely use some increased brainpower!

Vacations, affordability, romantic…and not American?

30 Jul

I was sort of dreaming on the internet today.  I was wondering what kinds of vacations an average sort of American (you know, like me!) could take without waiting to get a passport (which I don’t have.)  It seems everyone and everything is advertised for vacations this time of year, and I’ve grown weary of the rut of every day life we seem to be stuck in.

I clicked on a lot of those “best of” and “Ten best” list articles.  I discovered something pretty quickly though

It seems we don’t have anything GOOD to do in the USA.  Everybody’s vacations are going somewhere else, some exotic locale with plenty of water, broad expanses of sand, and a sense of exotic luxury.

So, it soon dawned on me…apparently we don’t have water, beaches, OR luxury in the USA.  I find that a bit hard to believe, but are American vacations just too expensive for the Americans themselves to afford?

Greg and I have our first anniversary this fall.  Last year, when we got married, we took our honeymoon and went camping at Tishomingo State Park in Tishomingo, Mississippi.  We had a great time, despite inclimate weather, leaking tent seam, and all of the other things that can happen with a late season camping trip, even in the South.  It also was “in budget” which is a really big deal to us.  We don’t want to finance anything, be it a car, house, or vacation.  While it may have been horrible to more pampered characters than us, to us, it had the essentials: we were together, we could be comfortable and sleep late if we wanted, our dogs were along for the trip, and we could enjoy a bit of secluded self indulgence.  Since we’re both excellent cooks, meals were also gourmet quality, even if our stove WAS parked on a picnic table!  We enjoyed things like grilled steaks, burgers, sausage, omelets, pancakes…and anything else our hearts desired.  All for an average cost of (meals included) under $50 per day.  Okay, I’ll confess…we weren’t die-hard roughing it campers–we had our computers, we had our cell phone, we had our electric heater for the tent, and we even had an electric coffee pot.

But, thinking along the lines of a bit more luxurious aren’t exactly a bad thing, so I was honestly curious about what we COULD do to celebrate our first year of being legally married.  A weekend getaway, even if it was a long one, shouldn’t be too expensive, I thought.  At the same time, after our recent experiences at a budget wise motel in the Jackson, MS area…I wanted something a bit nicer than that!

We have the entire South within easy driving distance really (well, maybe not southern Florida).   There’s a lot of history, a lot of luxury, and a lot of interesting things to see and do.  We could indulge in a beach experience, a mountain experience, or something we’d never even thought of.

The latest thing in travel seems to be the “all inclusive resort.”  After numerous false starts after doing a search, I finally did find some.  However, at $200+ up per night, with incidentals ranging from extra fees for parking to internet, it didn’t look like it was really a viable option for an affordable getaway/mini-vacation for us.   They just seemed to offer not much more than a motel room and beach space, golf courses, or fishing/hunting options.

Search resumes…this time focusing on inns and b&b’s, which might be more affordable and better suited to our peculiarities.  Well, they were a bit cheaper, and definitely had more character…but ranging from $150 up per night, maybe that wasn’t exactly our cup of tea either.  I’ve never stayed at a B&B either, so I already had some prejudices against the concept.  It’s almost a bit creepy, like staying at a stranger’s house.

That left searching for a romantic Southern inn.  I was sure that Southern Living would have a answer for me, but…I was wrong.  We are prejudiced after living in Greater New Orleans, and aren’t thrilled with the idea of a romantic getaway there either.  We wanted something new and old and filled with character…so the hunt continued.

Sometimes, being frugal isn’t fun, I suppose.  I couldn’t help but mentally compare amenities with those found when we camp, and the camping was far less expensive usually.  Yes, we have to make our own beds, but is that really so horrible?  Yes, we have to set up our own “room”, but that too is a pretty familiar task.  For the price of a single night in a fancy hotel or inn, we could have as much as five nights in a really nice park in Florida, complete with beaches that are fantastically beautiful and other amenities within easy driving, biking, and walking distance.  Just like the hotel, the dogs weren’t totally welcome, but…asking someone to “babysit” the “kids” might not be a bad thing either.  We’d be free to enjoy ourselves without worrying about whether they were bored, hot, cold, or otherwise uncomfortable.

Okay, so we’re cheap, but I do prefer the term frugal, actually.  We like the privacy of our own tent, we enjoy the flexibility of our own schedules, and we don’t really MIND setting up the tent.  Heck, once upon a time, I felt totally comfortable using it as our motel solution, and I could set up or tear down camp in less than 45 minutes.  I can’t hardly get out of a motel room quicker than that, and we had dinner at set up and breakfast with tear down.

I guess since I couldn’t find luxury for under $150 per night in anything I regarded as “interesting”, I’d rather have interesting with a tent and a lot less money.

I’m so excited!

28 May

Okay, so I’m 50 years old and a grandma…so what?  Anybody who’s BEEN 50 knows the truth of the matter is, there is an 18 year old girl inside of me who’s looking in the mirror and her jaw is hanging on the floor as she wonders what on earth has happened.

I’ve been engaged to my best friend for some time now.  (Okay, more than a year, less than a decade, is that specific enough?)  We’ve been living together, postponing that date thing because we “couldn’t afford it.”

We finally realized that we’re always going to be saying that we can’t afford it.  There will always be something else that needs bought or done.  Therefore, we were just going to DO it, whether we could afford it or not.

Now at our ages, I’ll admit, the actual ceremony isn’t as critical as having our friends and family around to celebrate both our relationship and life in general.  So of course there has to be a party!

We haven’t finalized a lot of things.  Okay, so we haven’t finalized anything…

That is okay.  We’ve chosen the approximate date–the last weekend of October.

That’s just before Halloween, so of course the first thing I was asked was whether or not we were doing a costumed wedding…

Oh yeah, a reason to dress up and have some fun?

We are having a hippy wedding.  Tie dye, flowing skirts, long hair, beards, beads, a little incense…you get the idea.  But at the same time, hippies represented an era of progressive and independent thinking, of social consciousness, and the earliest stages of New Age awareness…

What better theme for Greg and I?

We’re going to have it outdoors, but we haven’t chosen a location yet, hence the lack of firm date (Friday, Saturday or Sunday are all on the list.)  For our traveling friends, in keeping with the theme, we will have scoped out some camping locations to accommodate them.  For those who want more comfortable digs than a tarp or tent in the woods…we’ll check into special rates at some local motels.

Of course the party part will include food.  We haven’t chosen the menu yet, but I will promise that it will not be exclusively raccoon meat…

I’ve recruited my daughter as my designated caterer.  Not only is she an excellent cook, but on my budget I have to consider the cost of the caterer.  Being my daughter, she also has an affordable price.  While I’ll be helping with the before food to a degree, I also know that the last minute details are likely to consume my attention, so I don’t want to be the bride AND in charge of the food.  We will likely shoot for easy to serve and eat foods that can be mostly prepared one or two days before the event.  If we’re hosting a weekend-long event, there would have to be multiple meals served, which might get trickier on our budget.

We’re also “going green” on the invitations.  There will be NO paper invitations.  Just like in the “good old days” when news of a wedding or other gathering was spread through a community, we’re using the modern version of that grapevine.  Phone, email, text messages, and word of mouth are our invitations of choice.  Would it be approved by any etiquette queen?  Definitely not, but the bride is also debating whether to wear a brightly colored skirt or overalls to the ceremony…

We are planning a honeymoon too.  We’re going camping!  Just the two of us…and the dogs.  Our destination?  The Natchez Trace is appealing, especially for the season.   Some leisurely time together after the excitement will undoubtedly be appealing for all concerned.

Oh and the dogs…

We now have three, and while Sissy would be severely stressed by the commotion of the wedding, the other two would find it fun.  I think we’re going to dress them up in keeping with the hippy theme too.  The cats are more in line with Sissy, so the three of them will miss the party together, making do with their own party foods.  (Can anyone say “mackerel” here?)

While marriage is a very serious commitment, Greg & I are already a very committed couple.  The ceremony doesn’t change any of that, but rather indicates a shifting of our legal status in the eyes of the law.  So the ceremony itself is really more a legal requirement than a spiritual, emotional, or moral commitment event.  It does, however, provide us with the opportunity to share a celebration of our continued commitment with our friends and family in a fun and lighthearted way.  All of us have very serious lives, with very serious problems and struggles.  The costumed nature of our wedding and “reception” does not indicate a lack of seriousness on our part for the whole institution of marriage at all, but rather is an acknowledgement of the need to play in ourselves, our friends, and our family members.

The theme was chosen because no one will have to spend inordinate amounts of money on “appropriate” attire.  Any thrift shop can supply our guests with the basics for their “outfit.”  It’s also conducive to a casual outdoor celebration and gathering, as these types of gatherings were part of the nature of the hippy culture anyhow.  Hippies also advocated tolerance, love and peace, something we all could use more of.

Now we will undoubtedly have a tray of brownies somewhere for everyone, as a retro touch, but they won’t contain any “vegetable matter.”  Smoking will be tobacco, and while there will be some burning of incense, it won’t be to mask other aromas.  We’ll have coffee and sweet tea, and maybe some other soft drinks too, and while alcohol won’t be banned necessarily…we won’t supply that at the buffet table.

I wonder what my chances are of arranging for a coronet of dandelions with a florist are?

I must be crazy

30 Mar

Have you ever made a joke about doing something, and it has become a running joke…only to have the running joke turn out to really be a seed for a totally crazy idea that sounds really pretty good?

At least to you?

Yeah

Maybe it’s the turning fifty thing I have looming ahead in a few weeks and the realization that time is getting short for doing a lot of things.

I’ve decided that I want to travel around the United States.  That’s not unusual for someone my age, look at all the RVs that are sold each year and head down the highways.

The trouble is, to use an RV and do that requires a small fortune and a good pension, neither of which are something I have.  It also means being willing to consume gasoline in vast quantities on a regular basis as you travel.  I guess I find that rather unappealing too.

I want to do it a much greener fashion with a much more laid back attitude.

No, not on a motorcycle.  I find them intimidating with their noise, the helmets give me claustrophobic attacks, and I’m afraid I’d miss something.  Besides, most of them don’t get really good gas mileage, hovering around 50 or 60 miles to the gallon.

I want to do it by bicycle.

Granted, I realize that I am not a world class cyclist.  I realize that most touring cyclists typically ride 75-100 miles in a day, and I’m doing good with 10.  Does it really matter?  How fast did the pioneers travel with oxen and wagons?  I can even accept the possibility of adding a gasoline assist motor (they average about 100 mpg up to about 150, depending on the bike & load) to ensure that we get some miles done even if the slope is uphill and it’s hot outside.

It’s kind of crazy, I’d dreamed of doing that when I was a teenager and biking was easy and breezy.  I could ride my clunker of a 3 speed bike for 20 miles before lunch without breaking a sweat.  Now, I struggle with hills.

GM points out that it would take money to do this.  I point out it takes money to stay home too.  He points out my lack of physical conditioning, I point out it would obviously have to get better.  He sees 100 reasons why it is a crazy idea, and I agree.  It is crazy, so why not?

We could bike to Maine, and visit the Acadia National Park.  I’ve never seen the Atlantic coast, or any part of the northeastern USA.  I’d love to visit the Amish country of Ohio, and see the Appalachian mountains.  I can imagine crossing the prairies of middle America, and seeing the Rocky mountains looming ahead.  I can imagine how tiring it would be to pedal our way through the mountain passes, visiting former mining towns long past their glory days.  I can imagine our misery as we cross the Great Salt Desert with its shimmering heat waves, and entering the vast deserts of Nevada and seeing a herd of wild horses in the distance.  I can imagine the rising view of the coastal mountains ahead of us, and then…finally…the Pacific ocean and its great expanse in front of us.  I can imagine biking through the Redwood forests of California, and the maritime rain forests of the Northwest.

Oh, I know full well that some days, the rain would fall and the wind would blow.  I know sometimes I’d look at my bike and hate it.  I know I’d cry sometimes because parts hurt.  Sometimes I’d curse drivers, and sometimes, drivers would curse us.  There might be days when I wasn’t too thrilled with GM too.  There would be other days when he’d look at me and growl, informing me that this was all my fault because it was my idea.

I can accept that.

I know that doing this would be a monumental task.  We have two dogs and two cats, and our dogs are long past the age where they can run beside the bike all day.  They’d have to ride most of the time.  They are heavy.  So is camping gear.  I asked our daughter if she’d keep our cats while we made our epic journey.  I’d miss the grand baby.  It’s insane to think of devoting a year or two to doing nothing but riding a bike and taking pictures and making memories.  We should be responsible and work and save money and visit doctors and buy a house and a new car.

I want to make memories instead.  I want to taste adventure.  I want to feel the wind in my face.  I’ve spent a lifetime being responsible and hard working and boring.  I’ve done what society expected me to.

So is this a mid-life crisis?  Maybe.

Maybe its a symptom of insanity.

There are lots of reasons to not do it, and few besides the simple statement “I want to do this” for doing it.

It takes a lot longer than a bit of Botox and some liposuction, for sure.  Probably costs less and the side effects would certainly be different.

So if you see an overweight middle aged couple puttering alongside on the highway, with gasoline motors droning as we climb that long hill, towing a trailer with a couple of aging dogs and some  camping gear…slow down.

It just might be us.

Maybe.

If I can sell the concept to GM, that is.

Unplugged to recharge

10 Mar

We just got home from our annual spring camping trip to the Florida panhandle.  It’s been five days of being unplugged from technology, primitive camping where even my cell phone is iffy at best about getting a signal.

Cooking on a tiny campstove, sitting around the campfire, listening to the sound of the trees at night as the wind roars through them, hearing the strange (to me) sounds of coyotes in Florida  (they don’t sound like Western coyotes, its a bit more “dog” like in sound, but still has that characteristic yip yip yiiiiip sort of sound.)  Sleeping in a tent that I could have sworn we’d waterproofed the rain fly in early December…we got drenched in a storm the first night.  I came flying out of bed and was frantically digging in the van for some sort of remedy.  My remedy turned out to be dragging the rainfly from our big tent to be stretched over the smaller tent and staked down, covering most of our leaking spots.  (The entire rain fly was about as protective as a sheet of cheese cloth!)

We did have some clear weather on Saturday, and got a short bike ride in along the forest roads and the main black top through the area.  It was nice.  We also spotted a really HUGE fish, which I was informed was a bass, as well as that it was trophy sized.  None of us were fishing or even had fishing gear along, so that was merely an interesting side note.  About all any of us have done in the creek is swim and play, so anything larger than a minnow is a real novelty.

Sunday found the rest of our crew heading home, leaving GM & I for some solitude for a couple of days.  It was nice, just the two of us with our dogs, and we never pulled the computer out once.  I read a book on Monday, we took a nice long walk, and we had a good time with the dogs in the smaller creek near our camp too.  GM hates cold water though, and that always provides me with ample entertainment at his gasps and exclamations of agony at the icy water, which was running a bit higher than normal due to the heavy rain on Friday and Saturday nights.

I made steamed pudding on Saturday night, and despite the fact that I know the recipe by heart…I forgot to add the sugar!  GM & I still liked it, finding it still quite sweet with the fruit in it, and I whipped a caramel sauce with some heated sweetened condensed milk.  I think the other campers were a bit suspicious though, especially after the raccoon filled tamales.

And here this was supposed to be a group of survivalist sorts!

Still, after being left with excessive quantities of meat, I have come home craving vegetables and a tuna fish sandwich.  The joys of living out of a cooler and restricted by the finite nature of ice in it.

There is something really and truly soothing to the soul when you are lulled to sleep by the sound of the wind and a naturally flowing creek nearby, even when it is punctuated by the sounds of coyotes, a donkey (yee-haw, right?), hunting dogs in the distance, a million or so different frogs, night time bird calls, and the sound of crickets.  The smell of burning wood and the sight of the flickering flames answers some primal call of our ancestors as we sit near it and warm chilled limbs as we talk of things past and present, the truth and fiction.  Even the cooperative preparation and consumption of meals is something that soothes our savage natures.  How can one be sour and angry when sitting near the fire and eating your dinner with your companions as the coyotes cries in the distance echo among the trees?

How can you not consider this planet important as you stand with your feet in the icy waters as you wade to the other side, thankful that you didn’t fall on the slippery clay bank and watch the minnows dart away from your clumsy splashing feet?

How can you not feel sad as you come across someone’s former campsite, littered with debris and the sad stumps of the young trees they chopped down only to leave laying like the other debris?

And the aroma of perking coffee accented by a whiff of pine smoke as you wake is as comforting as the feel of the dry blanket covering you, and you quickly dress in your cold clothes for the day, anxious for a cup of that coffee that some early riser has graciously prepared….

Spring has arrived on the Gulf Coast, and the sight of the fading blooms on the wild blueberry bushes reminds you of that fact, even as the rain and thunderstorms rage through the region, dropping heavy rain and even some hail as a reminder of the power of a storm.

I better be ready to face the coming year, hadn’t I?

Pain and joy

29 Sep

I have not mentioned much about pain or my shoulder injury in this blog.  I try to NOT think about it most of the time, but sometimes, no matter what kind of pills they give me, it seems to be the ONLY thought that sticks around.

Today is one of those days.  It’s a “bad day.”  I try to not snivel, I try to be tough, I try to manage pain well, I try to be the person I should be.  Unfortunately, I’m not.  Today is one of those days when the niggling is more than that, when even breathing hurts.  I want to lash out, even though I know its pointless.  I try to rationalize with myself, because on the scale of things other people have to endure, I’m sure it is nothing.  I tell myself I have partial use of my arm, that I can still do a lot of things.  I tell myself the pain really isn’t that bad.  I tell myself that I am smart enough to figure out ways to do things without having to use my right arm.  I remind myself that as a child, I was ambidextrous.    I actually start to succeed, and a trickle of sweat tickles on my forehead…and I go to wipe it off.

Sharp stabbing pain all over again, and the hand doesn’t make it to the forehead.

The litterbox smells, and in these close quarters, you can’t ignore it.  It needs cleaning.  Because of the close quarters, I carry it outside to clean it.  There isn’t room to work inside this tiny travel trailer.  I have a really convenient one too, it is a covered sifting one, which makes it easy to carry.  But a few days ago, when I cleaned it last, it bumped against the bench and knocked off one of the latches.  I’m not going to be able to carry it, so have to as GM to carry it out for me.  I hurt enough that I am not going to even be able to sift the litter and reassemble it, which means that GM is stuck with that chore, after spending all day working on the van so that I can go to a doctor appointment in New Orleans tomorrow.  I can’t even drive myself to New Orleans.  If I have to take anything for pain, I get drowsy.  To drive over there, go to an appointment, and then drive back is roughly 7-9 hours, depending on traffic and the doctor’s office.  Only 5 hours of that is driving time, as it is normally about 2 1/2 hours to get there, if traffic is flowing normally.  It would be easy to drive without the pain, because if I take the pills, I’m drowsy, but if I just let the pain wander around unfettered, I get really sleepy.  I can’t go to New Orleans alone.  For a woman who thought nothing of driving across the country alone, this sudden dependence is traumatic.  I rarely go anywhere alone anymore.  I’m normally accompanied by GM, my daughter, or a friend…just in case.  Even if I’m fine when I leave and can drive…that may change before I get home, if I venture far.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had someone else finish the driving when we’ve gone to New Orleans or Mobile.

It feels like muscle cramps in my shoulder, stretching over my shoulder blade to the spine.  Sometimes, it’s under the arm, running down my ribs.  Other times, its on the front of the shoulder, where that sore spot has felt bruised and tender…since last November.  I can’t sleep long because of the pain.  I can’t get comfortable.  Riding in the car aggravates things too, and I know that the next two days with two trips to New Orleans will be a real joy.

Insomnia, mood swings…I also know I’m showing signs of depression.  That worries GM and everyone else, and believe me, it worries me.  I have so much to worry about, I don’t have time to deal with being depressed.  But months of physical therapy, appointments with doctors, appointments with “occupational rehabilitation specialists” and a gazillion phone calls to the workman’s comp insurance company have me more than a little worried about what is going to happen.  I’m 49 years old, and if I am not going to regain use of my arm, how am I going to find gainful employment and support myself?  NONE of the various fields that I have worked in previously will work with the current level of limited use of my right arm.  With the pain, there are days and times when I’m largely incapable of working at anything as well.  How am I going to cope with these limits?

Then I chide myself.  People have supported themselves with far larger obstacles than what I face.  I need some creativity, some ingenuity, and I can figure out something that I can do well and earn a living at.  Just because my former employer was not willing to work with my limits doesn’t mean that they are impossible to work with.  Maybe being self employed would be the answer.  Maybe I need to go back to school and be trained for something entirely new.  Twenty years ago, I supplemented my income with handcrafts and artwork.  I haven’t tried doing those things since I was hurt, and while I may not be able to run a sewing machine for 4 hours straight or use a scroll saw for more than a half hour…but could I do it at all?

At first, I merely followed the directions of my doctor and therapist, believing that they would help me regain use of my arm and put the pain behind me.  After all, I’d always healed when I’d been hurt before.  Unfortunately, I have seen very little improvement since the first time that the insurance company denied further physical therapy, I was thrilled when I could lift a dinner plate into the cabinet, but now…despite doing the exercises at home, I still can not dependably do that simple task of lifting ONE dinner plate into the cabinet.  Forget lifting the entire stack like I used to before the injury.  I can’t pick up a coffee cup when the arm is being uncooperative, and that consistently happens at least part of every single day.

I’m a camping fanatic, it is the one thing that I have always loved doing.  I can still do that…IF someone is along to help set up and take down the tent.  I can’t build a fire, I can’t light a fire easily.  I can still do the camp cooking (another hobby) but I have limits there too.  Someone else has to do a lot of the fetching, toting, lifting, and I don’t do recipes that are going to require too much of my arm.  I usually recruit help just with simple repetitive things like stirring gravy or grits.  For someone who used to do a lot of solitary camping and hiking, these new dependence on my companions is hard too.  Someone has to do most of the tent set up, even using the “First Up” tent that is so incredibly easy to erect.  I can’t hammer in the stakes, nor pull them out again.  I have trouble folding tarps or stretching them out on the ground for ground cloths.  Even when we were using a simple lean to for a late summer camp out, something I thought could be done by anyone at all, I had to have help stretching the ropes and staking down the tarp.  I can’t fold up my own camp chair either.  I can’t pack the van, nor can I do much along the lines of unloading.  I have no idea where things are anymore, since GM normally has to do all of that.  Where would I be without him in my life?  How long can he take doing everything for me?

So, despite depression, stress, and pain…I do have something that I am immensely thankful for and gives me great joy.  GM is part of my life and willing to help, as well as willing to help me cope with the stress and pain.  He’s tolerating the side effects of my injury, medication, and change in our lifestyle.  That’s something that all the money in the world could not buy, the love and devotion of your life partner.

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