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Tuesday
May262015

Summer Gifts: 2014 and 1980

The summer of 2014 looks rough from a sweeping cinematic view. I rolled into June after having an emergency after-hours root canal in May; performed on the wrong tooth. The tooth became infected and was removed a week later -- an implant system was initiated at the same time. Toothless, but recovering and pain-free in my mouth, jaw, and head (funny how tooth pain migrates and refers everywhere above the neck), I limped into summer nursing an old back injury that had awakened in mid-April.

Back pain begat nerve pain, nerve pain begat nerve damage, and cautionary words like, "We can't promise that you'll run again," made the decision clear. After three months of physical therapy, and less than 24 hours after consulting a neurosurgeon who convinced me that permanent paralysis could be the result of my high stakes gamble to heal myself naturally, I surrendered.

On July 16, I had discectomies on L4-L5 and L5-S1. The surgery was only an hour, everything went great and I was home the next day to begin the three-month recovery.

*****

The summer of 1980 rivals that of 2014, again, from a wide-angle. I began that summer with my 14th birthday and a surprise case of chickenpox. I babysat some infected kids believing I'd had a mild case as a young child and was immune -- so my mother told me. That misfortune begat another. My mother had a shoebox full of drugs that she'd acquired from a close physician friend prior to a move from Indiana to Arizona. Drugs intended to save us time and money when the solution was obvious and simple -- a little antibiotic, a little hydrocortisone, a little something to help a cough, constipation, diarrhea, etc. We were set. Smart and well intended, but not a doctor, Mom put steroid cream on my chickenpox. The blisters grew to nickel- and dime-sized causing excruciating pain, a long healing process, and a long summer. Of course she felt badly. So did I.

*****

My back surgery the summer of 2014 resulted in cancelled plans and trips for my family. I was in pain and struggling to walk before surgery; after, there was healing discomfort, and the need to rest and stabilize my spine.

Post-surgery, it was difficult to read or write because I couldn't sit for long -- just 20 minutes at a time for the first few weeks -- lying flat on my back or side when not sitting or walking (frequent walks were prescribed by my surgeon). As I felt better I wanted to do things around the house, but was limited. I couldn't bend or twist. Countertops -- all waist-high items -- became very clean. My husband, Chris, said, "There's a clean groove around our house," as I shuffled around polishing and wiping anything within my reach. Dusty baseboards and sheepdog art (i.e., dog slobber and snot) on the windows and hardwood floors taunted me.

Chris and our sons rotated shifts, refilling my water, holding my hand on short walks, ensuring John, our sheepdog, didn't inadvertently bump or knock me over. Friends brought us meals, called regularly to see how we were managing.

I had to ask for and receive help. All kinds of help. I had to be gentle on myself. Eventually, I could go for walks on my own. After a few weeks I walked 30-60 minutes several times a day. I enjoyed walking slowly after years of running, taking in every ant, flower, tree, passing car, cloud formation, and the summery sun. I laid down when I got home, resting on my side, smelling of sunscreen and perspiration. It was too much work to shower some days, so I often remained ripe. We had simple suppers, boring afternoons, long days. I couldn't drive for a few weeks, Chris worked from home, the boys worked it out. We talked, sometimes played a game, or watched television. Sometimes we were just silent in our rooms.

*****

The summer gifts?

2014: It's like the hand of God pushed me into my bed. Enough. Slow down. Stop. Nurture you. Doing so nurtures all around you. How you treat yourself is how you treat others. Look. See. Enjoy. These beautiful boys and loving husband. Your kind, true friends. The love, the good, creativity, and happiness that is, has been, and always will be right here.

We spent the summer together. Refortifying. Living simply. Healing more than one person's physical body. I saw in Technicolor my family's tenderness, kindness, compassion, and love for me. It's always there, but easy to overlook when life is busy. A life where feeling under-valued, unappreciated, and taken for granted erodes joy. And isn't what is true.

I allowed myself to do nothing. Sometimes I listened to pod casts or meditated or thought. But mostly, I let go. And everything and everyone managed just fine.

My legs got hairy because I couldn't bend to shave them. (Yes, my husband offered...No.) It was oddly freeing for a typically vain 48-year-old woman to have bangs on her knees.

1980: There were gifts that summer, too. My younger brother and I strengthened our already tight bond because he spent much time staying beside me, even sleeping on the floor in my room to help with the constant applications of calamine lotion. His compassion for me at such a young age was memorable.

I read, did puzzles, and journaled (which will remain private because I cathartically disparaged the kids who gave me chickenpox).

Unable to shave my legs that summer because of the forever healing blisters, I sported hairy, scabby legs when I returned to school in September. High school. I was afraid I'd scar -- something my dad said would look tough and cool, but my mom cautioned me about. Again, this was oddly freeing for a typically vain 14-year-old girl.

*****

I took last winter off from skiing and my back is feeling much better. I've been hiking and even trotting on trails again -- carefully. I might run a trail race in August. We'll see.

I'm goofily grateful for the summers of 2014 and 1980. Ultimately, I took care of myself and received from others. I simply had no choice. But it's important for all of us to do precisely that always. Take care of ourselves...and each other.

AND, if my sons ever get chickenpox, I know to never put cortisone -- steroid anything -- on their blisters. Ever.

Thursday
Jun262014

Just John

In late March, we made the difficult decision to rehome one of our Old English Sheepdog puppies. We had enthusiastically and ambitiously chosen to embrace littermates -- brother and sister -- last July when they were seven-weeks-old. In hindsight, a precious, educational, and exhausting experience. With sadness, regret, and feeling defeated, my family and I unanimously waved the white flag after eight months. Taking on two puppies was more work than we had anticipated. In the end, we simply didn't have the time -- even collectively -- to care for each dog properly.

Birdie, the high-energy, intelligent female required a lot of physical and mental exercise. She also dominated our 8-year-old son, Redmond. Her eyes locked on him when he entered a room, and she frequently lunged and grabbed his arm with her mouth when he walked near her, sometimes with a growl (not a vicious bite, but the potential for disaster was there, especially as she grew larger). Redmond was an Inspector Clouseau to Birdie's Cato Fong, minus the manservant part.

A trainer tried to help Redmond and Birdie redefine their relationship. Things improved, but we still needed to remain hyper-vigilant when Birdie -- who now outweighed Redmond -- was in the same space as our youngest boy. Again, we don't believe she was an aggressive dog, but she was the boss of Redmond, and he was afraid of her.

John, Birdie's larger, low-energy, not-so-bright brother, was easier to manage. It appeared he was trained because he often sat when we said, "Sit." I maintain it was, and remains, a coincidence. He likes to sit more than he likes to move.

The two dogs together weren't twice the work; they were ten times the work especially as they grew. Focused on each other and desiring to play ALL THE TIME, our home often resembled a post-party fraternity house. Our hardwood floors look like we gave the kids butter knifes and said, "Draw!"

We decided that if we were going to whittle our pack by one, Birdie was the one to go. Big dumb John would be easy to care for and he didn't try to dominate anyone.

A local business that we had used for training and dog daycare agreed to assist us. They're not a shelter, but have occasionally helped families like us. Birdie went to a familiar facility with caring people she had known for months. She was comfortable, played with other dogs, and received more training. The owner and head trainer personally interviewed potential adopters. It took a month, but Birdie was finally rehomed with a young couple. I'm told they have no other pets, no children, are active, and most importantly, that they fell instantly in love with Birdie.

We miss our girl, but are shifting the angsty energy to love and attention for John. He seems happy and unfazed.

Happy and UnfazedAs I struggled through the process, crying frequently, feeling guilty, losing sleep, etc., an experienced dog trainer advised me to stop applying human psychology to dogs. She said that, yes, some dogs are more sensitive and grieve a rehoming, but that Birdie adapted seamlessly (not exactly sure how people know for certain what an animal is experiencing, but I digress). Birdie's strong, independent, bouncy personality, combined with her healthy young age, comforted me. She would be fine.

So, we sadly say farewell to Birdie, knowing we did the right thing for her and our family, and thankful that she landed in the arms of a couple who feel like they hit the lottery. And as I type this, I look at John -- 100 pounds of stupid and handsome -- lying on the floor beside me, and I say, "Get off my foot, John."

Just John

 

Monday
Dec162013

Sunday Snow Angels

The following also appears on the American Fork Citizen site, directly beneath the "From the Editor's Desk" column, and titled "The Last Word."

*****

My book, to Mormons, with LOVE, continues to enable me to participate in many discussions. Topic specifics vary but conversation always centers on religious and cultural differences. People enjoy sharing their experiences and stories; and questioning me further about mine.

Often, I’m asked, “What do you believe?” Great.

When I was very young I asked my mother—a quasi-hippie—essentially the same question. “Do you believe in God?” Her answer was, “It’s not important what I believe. What’s important is what you believe.”

She wasn’t shirking her parental duties, or avoiding a question. She empowered me to think, feel, and pray for myself. My mother made it clear she respected whatever path I chose. There were also guiding words like, “All I know is that deep within myself, something speaks to me and helps me feel if a choice is good, or not good. Listen to that. Pay attention.”

Holy Spirit? Higher Self? Does it matter?

I’m a runner, although recently more of a hiker due to a neck injury. My running and hiking friends attend church on Sunday, so I embrace the time alone. My summer Sunday mornings are like the opening scene from Oklahoma. People walk to church, smile brightly and wave to me as I run by. The sky is blue, perfume and aftershave fill the air, and scriptures are reverently carried. “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” plays in my head. I think it plays in everyone else’s head, too.

Winter is different. The skies are often grey; families are in cars, sometimes taking a corner on two wheels because they’re running late. (We’ve learned to avoid driving lessons for our student driver beginning five minutes before church starts through about 45 minutes after.) However, I still always get a smile and a wave, even if it’s a little rushed.

Recently, friends and I have been hiking near our home. Sundays, when I head up solo, I climb, talk to God, and give thanks. I’m thankful for a body that allows me to move, the deer that seem unbothered by my presence, and the overwhelming sense of peace that I feel. When I arrive at the top of the hill, I sometimes make small snow angels with my feet. I like to think there are angels and spirits all around me on that hill. Some familiar, most not, but I welcome them all.

Snow angels with my feet

I always pause to take in the view. I look at my town, knowing that in the churches I see (there are many), my friends, and people I don’t know, are worshipping. And praying. For me, for you, for themselves. And I graciously receive.

View of my town from the hilltopSo, what do I believe? Not that it should matter, but I know most who ask that of others are purely curious. My path is fluid, and I’m comfortable with that. But…

…I believe in God. And, I believe that God believes in ALL of us.

Peace and blessings to you and yours.