Dinner anyone?

Rachael Ray asks the guests on her daytime TV show 3 random questions designed to let the viewer know the celebrity a bit (because they are always unflinchingly honest during a talk show interview).  She asked Sarah Michelle Geller, “If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?”  Ms. Geller responded “Jackie Kennedy Onassis” to which the crowd “ooohhed” and Rachael complimented “good choice”.

I have heard this question before and enjoy hearing the wide variety of answers and reasons why.  Some people feel the weight of it and take a long time to decide, while others quickly answer something like, “Brad Pitt, hands down”.  One of the most popular answers is Jesus; so many people are dying to meet Jesus.  I anticipate a moment beyond the greatest joy I can imagine when I meet my Lord, but I have a gut feeling that it is best to wait until my reservation is called.

As a toddler, I lived with my Mom’s Mom for a while until she died when I was five.  To
people who knew Evelyn she was a strong woman with firm opinions rooted in Christianity and traditional values.  Everyone agrees on that and her tendency to hand out harsh criticism.  I would not say I was spoiled, but I was certainly doted on by my Grandmother and she took wonderful care of me.  I recall much of my time with her and have no mean memories, except when she sent me to bed at 7pm., which seemed malicious at the time.  She went to bed an hour later and got up early to go to work as a housekeeper, so obviously my perspective has changed.  We were fortunate that my
Grandmother’s sister saved a paper she wrote for a 12th grade oration where she spoke about World Peace and won third place.  In this paper my Grandma’s idealism shines
forth as only a young woman’s can, calling for men to love their countrymen and
put an end to war forever.  She talks of Christianity and acknowledges that not all Christians are peacemakers, but all peacemakers are Christians.  I have always doubted the assessments of people who knew her because my experience was
with a loving Grandmother who may have sternly insisted I keep my head still
when she put in ponytails, but looked the other way when I snuck Hershey bars
from the kitchen cabinet.  Her oration paper made me realize that she was much more than the stern first-born child of Rose and Charles, more than the judge of my mother’s young pregnancy, and more than my Grandma.  I think she was likely a complicated woman who may have been bashed about by those strong ideals, but held on nonetheless to what she believed was right.  I would love to have dinner with her and get to know her better.  I think we might have a lot in common and I would like her.




The velocity of forced change

Is the world actually changing with disorienting acceleration or is my perception of break-neck speed merely a product of getting older?  My knowledge of physics is rudimentary at best, yet it makes sense that life’s velocity is picking up
speed for me because I am slowing down.  I did not choose change, at least not consciously.  I resided in a comfort zone where so many people in their 40’s live, a zone of familiar responsibility and paychecks.

My scope of responsibility has changed dramatically since I lost my job two months ago.  I am confused when asked if I am bored not working.  Not working?  I am working my ass off adjusting to this change and worn out at the end of every day from the learning curve.  Entertaining that my exhaustion is due to my age does not help me get back on the treadmill tomorrow; it makes no difference why my mind is tired, only that I keep learning the new rules of our tech-savvy and untrustworthy world.  And all of this needs to be accomplished while nurturing my wounded spirit.  I am not a natural nurturer, so this is my greatest challenge.  I am more of a kick-it-in-the-ass kind of woman, having always believed that my choices impact my reality more than anything else.  If you do not like something, change it!  The toddler inside me is stomping her feet and yelling, “I want!” and I am so frustrated with trying to convince her that my efforts will pay off eventually that I just want to tell her to shut up, be quiet.  See what I mean about not being a nurturer?

I cannot deny the excitement of learning new things, both practical and existential.
From matching coupons to grocery sales in order to save money to practicing mindfulness, it is all new ground.  I thought I needed to break the mold of who I was two months ago, but find myself more comfortable blending who I am with new skills, yet there is no money in it.  Perhaps this is how college students feel.  How do you place a value on skills and lessons learned during times of change and who determines the value?  This is where my true nature kicks in.  I, and only I, can assess my cost for forced change because I am the one paying.

“I looked up the road I was going and back the way I come, and since I wasn’t satisfied, I decided to step off the road and cut me a new path.” – Annie Johnson from Maya Angelou’s Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now

My Interpretation of ArtPrize 2011

ArtPrize is an annual arts festival and social experiment showcasing 1,582 artists in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The monetary awards are the largest in the world and the competition is decided solely on the general public’s electronic vote.  The goal is for the community to explore new ideas and form relationships with the artists.  I often think that the DeVos family just has too much damn money, yet am grateful for their philanthropy in my home, which is considered one of the most depressed states in the country.

I developed a taste for art in my 20’s.  In my 30’s I began to step out of my impressionist comfort zone.  In my 40’s I seek to find the vision of the artist, to understand the intended meaning of the work and incorporate it with my interpretation of a piece or performance.  With this approach I have discovered the emotional facet of art, finding joy and haunting sadness in unexpected pieces that I was previously unready for.  Including a friend in artistic excursions, I am gifted with a contrasting view that leaves me appreciative of what I gain from being open to other’s visions.  Besides, I always laugh in the company of dear friends and there is no greater joy than that.

Womanhood Ch-ch-ch-changes

The inconveniences of womanhood are enhanced in the 5th decade.  A few are familiar from a long time ago.  The hard painful cramping that accompanies my period reminds me of when I was 15 years old, yet now there is an end in sight.  Perhaps this is designed so that I will not miss it when menopause arrives, like the post-menopausal women who smile when they say, “I don’t have to deal with that anymore”.  Another similarity is that it always arrives at an inopportune moment, usually when I am wearing light-colored pants, busy, and away from home.  The difference is that it can arrive anytime, even if it was just here a few days ago.  Thanks to the excessive flow, I know how my Mom felt when she had to wash my sheets several times within a week.  I am stoic at this age however, and no longer believe that I may die from the pain as I did when I was a woman-child.  A few years ago I listened to an emergency room nurse chuckling as she talked about a young woman who rated her menstrual cramps as 10 on the 1-10 pain scale.  I felt sympahty for that girl because I remember feeling the same.

The drama queen of my younger years re-emerges the week before, but now I am embarrassed and guilty when I have acted like an out-of-control hormonal teenager.  If you read through a month of my blog postings, I bet you can pick out which week it
is.  I have tried taking birth control pills to regulate my crazy perimenopausal hormones, but they just made me more emotional, so I figure I will save the hormones for when I go truly mad.  In the meantime I try to be aware in order to control my emotional state and apologize often because being aware does not mean I am in control.

I was famous in my teens for my ability to pee quickly or more accurately for my penchant to pee in places that you should not, so I had to go quickly.  In a public bathroom with my daughter recently I could not help but notice that I was still peeing  while she had finished, washed her hands, and left.  It dawned on me that this is something else that has slowed down over the past few years.  Fortunately Cosmopolitan magazine schooled my teenage friends and me on the mechanics of Kegel exercises, although the reasons we learned them had nothing to do with avoiding incontinence later in life. Whatever my initial motivation was, I am a pro after 25 years of working those pelvic muscles.  Yet it still takes me a few minutes, so peeing on the side of the road is out of the question now.

I will save some of the other changes I am experiencing in my 40’s for other postings because some are so special they deserve their very own post.  It feels as though the past 30 years of being a woman have been sort of like boot camp for this – the most challenging decade yet.

Positioning Myself

Good body mechanics have been added to my bank of new talents since I turned 40.  Bending at the knees
when lifting a heavy object is second nature, but in this decade I can hurt myself by picking up a gum wrapper.  Before I go any further I must tell you that I did NOT attend medical school, therefore I use layman’s terms and anecdotes to share what I have learned about
the importance of how we position ourselves while performing the simple acts of
daily living.  I learned these strategies just as most people do, after years of wear and tear caused me pain.  “I have no idea what I did”, is a common statement amongst my peers when they have neck and back pain, so I know that I am not alone.

Beyond “sit up straight” there are simple rules I adopted that have nothing to do with how I reflect on my mother, but everything to do with pain avoidance.  A pinched nerve lasts well-beyond the seconds it takes for a Mom’s pinch to fade, and often requires
medical treatment.  The most important lesson I have learned from a lifetime of bruises on my knees, hips, and elbows is to slow down.  I only hit tables and door jambs with my body when I am moving at break-neck speed, the accepted speed limit for women.  Moving into the slow lane is not only safer, but I get better results from whatever I am working on.  Multi-tasking is an art that I have trashed for the same reason that I do not answer my cell phone while driving; only emergent situations require either.

Here are a few simple movements and strategies that I have incorporated into my safer daily living routine:

  • When rising from bed I begin from lying on my side with my knees slightly bent and aligned with my trunk.  I use my arms to raise my body without twisting and then move to get out of bed.  This way I am not using my back and neck muscles to raise my body weight.
  • I try hard not to cross my legs because it misaligns the spine.  This is one of
    those unconscious habits drilled into me during toddlerhood by my Grandmother
    under the “young ladies should always” heading.  I have not overcome it entirely, but uncross my legs or ankles often.
  • Looking down puts a lot of pressure on our neck muscles.  Computer monitors placed at eye level as well as reading material placed higher and closer lessens the muscle load on my neck.  My dad has an adjustable book reading table which enables him to read the large hard-cover tomes he prefers without having to hold up ten pounds.
  • I eyed the gum wrapper on the floor in the rear of my vehicle and twisted then stretched to reach it.  Bad move; it caused a tweak in my back with pain that lasted for weeks.  It is better to pick up ANYTHING from a straight on and close position.  If it is low, I bend at the knees, even for something as light as a piece of paper.
  • I never hold the phone between my neck and shoulder anymore.  This bad habit paired with long mother-daughter conversations pinched a nerve in my neck which
    necessitated physical therapy.  A phone headset is optimal because the mother-daughter conversations are not optional.
  • I push rather than pull whenever possible and always face the load if I need to pull. When vacuuming, sweeping, or raking I walk with the tool I am using rather
    than pushing it far away and using my arms to pull it toward me.
  • Rather than assuming my Wonder Woman persona, I ask for help to move objects over 20 lbs. That is what husbands are for.  Boyfriends, teenagers, and friendly neighbors can help you with this, too.
  • I get close to the cabinet when putting away dishes and step up on something stable to avoid reaching far overhead.
  • I sort and fold laundry from a table or bed so that I am not bending to the floor or dryer repeatedly. If I do bend it is at the knees, rather than the waist.
  • I am usually aware of the floor surface where I am walking.  Is it slippery or wet?  Are there throw rugs or small steps?
  • I carry tension in my neck and shoulder muscles, so try to consciously lower my shoulders and open my chest when sitting or standing still.  This will also help me
    avoid the stooped shoulders I see often in older folks.
  • We blink less often when looking at a computer or reading material.  Blinking often
    helps to keep the eyes moist.  Focusing on something 20 feet away every 15 minutes helps to relieve eye strain.
  • Rising from my desk and walking around for a few minutes every hour helps me avoid that stiff feeling in my knees.

Proper body mechanics have taught me that back and neck pain is not entirely unavoidable after 40.  Once again, it has been worth learning something new in order to live the way I want, as capably and comfortably as I can.  If you are interested in learning more about proper body mechanics, I recommend talking with your doctor about occupational therapy.

My Garden, My Self

My flower gardens often resemble the state of affairs in Schultz land.  Orientation of new plants
includes only one instruction, “You must be tough to make it in this garden”.  I take great care in planting, providing good soil that the clay eventually incorporates and a month of food and water.  After that, Darwinism takes over and the majority of plants stretch their roots deep while the weaker species succumb, never to be bought again.

I lavish my plants with praise, not only for their beauty, but also for their inspiring endurance.  Occasionally I need to apologize, usually when I have not shown
diligence in defending them from enemies such as dandelions, nightshade, and
thistle.  Cutting flowers in bloom makes me feel as though I have robbed my perennials of a year-long effort, so I prefer to buy cut flowers from someone else’s garden.  Besides, my lovelies cannot dance in the breeze indoors.  The perennials who are
hardy enough to endure all-day sun exposure, clay soil that refuses to be amended,
and very little water that the sky does not provide return year after year like loyal friends.   The few annuals who visit for the season are splashy in their vibrant displays of color, but require a level of nurturing I do not possess and typically leave the party early.  Due to the undependable and high-maintenance nature of annuals, I do not invest much in them, viewing them only as accessories for my trusted friends the perennials.

Record-high temperatures and very little rain made for an extremely harsh growing season this summer which required extra care and kindness, something I could relate to after losing my job in mid-July.  Unlike the company I worked for, I am not heartless and took into consideration the plants’ longevity and past performance.  We pay an exorbitant price for water, even though we live in the Great Lakes where one would think there is an abundance of water (Michigan’s water is bottled and sold for corporate profit).  Not immune to wilting plants that were obviously struggling, I deemed the extra cost worth the survival of my loyal friends.  I wish my former employer possessed an ounce of the same compassion and loyalty, but also see the value in replanting.  When I divide and move my plants I sense that it hurts them to be uprooted, especially when the roots run deep and are impossible not to damage.  But, they flourish the next year when they have a friendlier spot to grow, a perfect example of positive healthy change.

The gardens went quickly this year, expending all of their energy in a short period and blooming weeks ahead of schedule.  It is logical that my garden now looks like it usually does in mid-Fall with red and yellow leaves already falling from our sugar maple.  It is cleanup-time and this year I am planning a drastic redesign for both my garden and myself.  Although I enjoy the flowering season most, I value the dormant season when we essentially recharge, efforts hidden until it is time to flower once again.  Creating
a new landscape is exciting, but a lot of work.  I have survived enough growing seasons to know that my efforts will eventually pay off beautifully.

Disease roulette

It seems that health becomes more of a gamble and the stakes become higher as we age.  I know women who have been dealt breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, diverticulitis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fibromyalgia, bursitis, and a myriad of other diseases that are not easily discarded.  The ball on my disease roulette wheel landed on Rheumatoid Arthritis when I was 40.  That is not to say that the wheel was not given another spin, but unlike actual roulette, I pray that it never stops again.

The strategies to play through health conditions vary from all out battle to acceptance depending on the ante.  Never a patient person, my go-to strategy was battle.  I learned everything I could about rheumatoid arthritis with a primary focus on treatments because I was determined to beat my disease.  When I suffered flare ups and could not function as my alter ego Wonder Woman, I felt betrayed by my body.  Many of us enjoy control.  I was addicted to it.  My performance and discipline had reaped me generous winnings, making it extremely difficult to change my strategy.   Losses continued to chip away at my bank of self-esteem until I accepted that rheumatoid arthritis is not my enemy, nor does it define me.  RA is part of who I am and I am valuable, although I need another alter ego/mascot.

Winners know that the table changes when a new player arrives.  Many women must learn to play a new hand of nutrition, exercise, meditation, chemotherapy and radiation, risky pharmaceutical remedies, or riskier alternative methods with the arrival of a
life-altering disease and/or chronic condition.  I was fortunate that my rheumatologist prescribed a pain management program at Mary Free Bed Pain Center where I learned to optimize my play with the help of an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a physician, and a psychologist.  I went there feeling broken, damaged and not in control.  During my therapy I learned coping mechanisms and body mechanics that I use to feel as good as I possibly can, thereby giving me back some of the control I crave.   I went all in by requesting help both at work and at home and by redefining life’s boundaries within what is conducive to managing my RA well.  The kindness I showed myself has put winnings back in my self-esteem bank, although the play is at an intermediate level now and my losses seem greater if I fall into my old habits.  If or when the disease roulette wheel stops again, I will adjust my play in order to live my most valuable life.  My wish for anyone reading this is that you find a winning strategy for whichever health condition the wheel stops on for you.