Thursday, December 31, 2009

What a year it's been !!!

Gee, this year has past so fast, in spite of all the events that took place concerning my life. About this time last year I was preparing for a few life-changing events. You know that expression, "Want to hear God laugh, make plans"? Well, God really got a huge belly laugh out of me this year.

Final plans were being made for my major back surgery that was to take place the second week of January. Nothing would go wrong, even though it would be an intensive surgery. A couple of days in the hospital and a few weeks to recover and I would be in the pink once again. (Do you hear the Heavenly chuckles, yet?!)

Checked into a very small hospital in Austin and after five hours of surgery I awoke to a Morphine pump and pain that managed to still find me. Groggily, I listened as the nurse wanted me to get out of bed and walk. When I said I didn't feel so well, that was the last I said before I passed out and quick hands stopped my fall to the floor. Waking to find my husband next to me, he explained that the nurse thought that I could wait a bit before "we" tried the walking again. I closed my eyes and dreaded the next go. Every two hours I walked the halls with assistance and encouragement. By the next day the pain was so great that I begged them not to make me get up and still they insisted. Being the "good patient", I got and the halls were walked.

When it was time to go home, I thought that I had really died and been sentenced to Hell without relief from pain. On the way home, I begged my husband to just pull the car over. Once stopped, I pleaded with him to leave me on the side of the road and drive away, because I couldn't stand the pain any more. I was on pain pills, which didn't even touch the surface of the pain. If it had been me in his shoes, I don't know how I would have handled someone I loved begging me to leave them behind. He stayed calm and said, "We'll make it home, some how."

I prayed and tried to situate myself in a better position in the car. Literally, a calmness came over me and I relaxed. I do believe that my mom wrapped me in her Heavenly arms and comforted me, because my pain was somewhat lessened. We drove mid-way from Austin and stopped for a bathroom break. I was using a walker, strapped into a back brace, weak and on medicine which clouded my ability to function. So my husband went into the ladies' room with me and we managed to take care of business. The rest of the trip home was accomplished and finally pulling into the driveway home never looked so good.Getting into bed brought immense relief. My pain was lessened when I was horizontal and consequently, my husband could smile and function.

For the next three weeks, he made and brought all my meals to my bed, as getting up felt like stepping into a bear trap. (No, I have never stepped in a bear trap, but that is the best description of the level of pain I felt.) Whenever I had to get up he would stand by the bed and I would will myself to become vertical and endure the most horrendous pain I had ever experienced. I began eating and drinking less, so bathroom trips weren't needed as much. There are not words to describe the state of pain that I suffered.

During this time, my doctor was trying to figure out where all the pain was coming from, as it was worse than before my surgery. Trust in my doctor didn't fail, as he was working on this problem and we kept in communication with each other. Finally, early February it was agreed upon that a further surgery would be the answer.

New hospital, more tests and another surgery on my back. For days after this surgery, I would wake to find my doctor sitting by my bedside each morning to check on me.

In patient Physical Therapy was needed in order to build up my strength and give me back my mobility. Riding in an ambulance to the Rehab Hospital was a lot safer and less painful than our car, so that was used. When I arrived at the Rehab center I learned that life skills can be lost when someone has no strength or mobility. Wonderfully caring people helped me learn to take care of myself, with everything from bathroom skills, eating, walking and everything I used to take for granted. Ten days of intensive rehab and I was on my way home once more. Pain medicine was my friend for awhile, until I tried to stop it too suddenly. That too was a lesson for me.

So, that was a small chapter of my 2009 journey. Two surgeries and Rehab in Austin, with lessons in humility (having someone help with toilet needs was very humbling), self-strength and determination. I do know that my family and friends were my cheerleaders throughout that extraordinary ordeal and without them I doubt my success. Phone calls from home were welcome, even when I didn't have the strength to hold up the cell phone. Comfort quilts were used to bundle up my shivering body in rehab. Words of encouragement and love made me keep going, even when I wanted to quit. Promises made to friends not to give up strengthened my resolve to achieve my goals.

Each time I attended my post-operative doctor's visits, I was fueled by the looks of amazement on the faces of the people in the office. "You look so much better than last time we saw you." Amazingly, pain can cause a person's whole being to change and once that pain is under control, the person's true self shines through for all to see.

I did remind the doctor the real reason that I had the surgery. On my visit this last summer I showed him a picture of my motivation and what made it all worthwhile, "I had the surgery so that I could walk and hold my grandchild."

Some things in this life are worth going through the darkness and pain. Would I do it again to be able to love on my grandchid? You betcha.

Happy New Year and may you all have health and happiness this year and each one to come.

Your favorite Ferret.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Flexible Traditions: One way to take the crazy out of holidays

When we went out for Chinese dinner on Christmas Eve with our "kids" we decided that we would make this a new tradition for our family. Absolutely delicious food, remarkable service, and relaxed atmosphere all made sure that we want to repeat this experience again. When we go out to eat, our requirements are pretty simple: Lots of yummy food and service that makes us feel like someone cares about our dining experience. We so got more than we bargained for when we went out that evening. Walmut chicken is now my new favorite Chinese dish. Windy, cold weather was beaten back with hot tea and the warmth of our dining companions. Mid-way through dinner, our littlest member of our family woke up in time to flirt with all the ladies and play musical laps with us all. Great dinner and happy moments.

After dinner we took a stoll through a new, huge store in the area. Makes me feel old when I go into those super stores and become overwhelmed by the selections of everything. Dozens of varieties in any department from meat to canned goods. When did we get to the point that we requred so many different types of anything? Yes, I am impressed but still wonder where it will end? Furniture in a grocery store? Yep, they had rooms of furniture for sale. In fact we even registered to win a room of furniture (with the promise that we would give the furniture to our "kids" if we win it. Maybe I can get up off that couch, 'cause I have a hard time with the one they rescued from the curb.)

We have traditions in our family, but I have found that one must stay flexible when your family has grown to include more branches. When you start with a family of three and now there are seven more members, "going with the flow" will help to lessen the tension. Being the understanding one isn't always easy, but it sure does make less problems in the end. After all, I got what I really wanted for the holidays: Being with my loved ones who are healthy, great parents, employed full-time and enjoy each other's company.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Your favorite Ferret.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Road less Taken

Today on the History Channel there was a program entitled, "Woodstock: Then and Now." This got me to thinking about choices I have made and the effect of those choices. Picture this, it was the summer of 1969 and the world was changing dramatically for everyone. I had just graduated from high school and I was headed off to college, although where I really wanted to be was at Woodstock. I literally made a choice to go off to college, rather than Woodstock.

My mom helped me move from Victoria to Kansas City, Missouri. (That move changed my life, which will be a blog or two on its own, sometime.)

On the trip, my mom and I stayed at "hole in the wall" motor courts. Fancy motels didn't fit into our meager budget. On July 20, 1969 we sat in a rather dingy room and watched the landing on the moon. Who would have thought that exactly ten years later, I would be walking down the aisle to be joined in marriage to my husband? Looking back in time, is always interesting, when you see how the threads of your life are woven to form the tapestry that represent you.

Fast forward to the time when I told our daughter that I had really wanted to go to Woodstock, but choose to go to college instead. Her response cracked me up, "I'm really glad that you didn't go to Woodstock, 'cause you would have been one of those naked girls running around in the film." How did she know?

Acquiring my college degrees proved to be beneficial to my career, but I do still wonder what turns my life would have taken had I gone to Woodstock.

Reminders of the past: Triumphs of life

I wanted to post a pic of my hand scar and my reminder of a life well-spent, my little Sweet Potato. Told my daughter to take a picture of my hand holding my heart, my GRANDson. He's my life's prize that I value so much. When I look at my hand, that my mom fought to keep, cradling him, my heart is warmed by the legacy given to me by her. Cradling an infant is easier when you have two hands. Thanks, Mom, for this priceless gift.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cold: Nature's Own Calliope

Before I take you too far along on this journey, I want to explain what a calliope is. The musical instrument receives its energy from steam; with the loudness of the sounds uncontrollable. There can be sounds that are sweet enough to eat and the next moment the notes screech until the fillings rattle in your back teeth. Can't really ignore a calliope, any more than you can ignore the effects that cold brings with its icy fingers and frigid breath.

As a girl starting out in northern Ohio, I learned many things about cold early in my life. On snowy days, I could look out of my bedroom window and watch the automobiles charge up the hill nearby. Tires would spin out clouds of fluffy white, while digging for a grip on the slippery road beneath the crunchy whiteness. Sometimes, the car would back down and take another run up the hill. Through the frosted window I could see gloved fingers gripping the wheel, mouth held in a straight determined line, and stretched out neck serving as a figurehead encouraging the vessel to conquer the challenging slope ahead. When the car would make it to the top, as many eventually did, I could almost hear the sigh of relief from the driver. During the winter, the same scenario was repeated quite often; sometimes the crisp, cold, crunchy snow was the victor and drivers became pedestrians trudging up the hill, defeated heads hung on the way to the bus stop above.

When it was cold outside, getting prepared was quite a feat for all involved. Mom would gather all the winter layers and I was adorned from the bottom layer up to the tasseled hat at the end. Tights were stretched and seams straightened as toes found their new snug homes. Socks were pulled up and then the feet felt warm and secure. Snow pants, which had elastic at the end of the legs to keep them pulled down, were put over the tights and the bands adjusted under my feet. (You really don't want to put them on under the socks, because those darn elastic bands can really chaff your feet.) Next came the undershirt, the regular shirt and then the sweaters. Cumbersome, thick snow pants and snow jacket were zipped,buttoned and snapped; all the while making sure that the mittens' string was threaded through the sleeves first. Snaps secured the black snow boots. Tassel hat pulled tightly over ears and tied. Scarf wrapped around the neck and secured. By this time my little body was sweating and I was anxious to go outside to play. If you've ever seen "A Christmas Story" and saw the little boy in the snowsuit; yep, that's pretty much me.

Walking a lot like a Sumo wrestler or the Tire guy, I would go out, grab my sled and crunch up the hills nearby. When you are all bundled up for the cold, everything sounds so different; kind of like being under water. Your ears are protected by so many layers of cloth, and your mouth is covered by your scarf; so you are not only deaf, but mute. It's okay, because everyone else is, also.

We would play outside when it was so cold, that our cheeks would actually become "burned" by the cold. Since our cheeks were the only thing that was exposed, it makes sense that many of my childhood photos in the winter show me as a kid with "sunburned" cheeks. Vaseline applied nightly couldn't keep up with the situation of dry, overexposed skin.

To first walk on snow that had a pristine, fresh ice layer on top was a tactile delight. Crunching through that first layer and sinking down into the softness beneath is like biting into a chocolate covered ice cream cone. Unexpectedly different sensations in each layer. Crunch then aaaaah.

After being in the cold, we would come in with fresh wood for the fireplace. It seemed that the colder the wood, the louder it protested being used as fuel. Snow and ice would drip upon the ashes creating a sizzling sonata as the sap fried inside until the log would pop. Warming myself near the fireplace was exciting. Logs shifted as they burned, almost adjusting themselves so that they could be warmed evenly. By the time I had thawed enough to undress, my mom would have made the hot chocolate for me. My last battle against the cold, would be a warm bath, fuzzy socks and flannel jammies.

Cuddling up with a good book and a fantastic mom at the end of my snow day was truly the best music anyone could feel and treasure forever.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Scars: Life's Memories Markers

Recently, I was at a new doctor's office and he touched my left hand and questioned me about a rather large scar that I have worn for almost all of my life. When I explained how I got that scar and what it represented to me, I gained more appreciation for the love and care I have received all of my life. My hand's scar wasn't the first one I received and it sure wouldn't be the last in my long active life. Funny thing is that each scar helps me remember my adventures and keeps those memories fresh for me.

I will start with the first scar that I was born with and before it healed, it caused many people immense amount of pain. My stomach was covered with an angry, blistered, birth mark that required radiation treatment and boric acid poured on for the first three weeks of my life. Even though I was a newborn, it took my mom and my Godmother to hold me down for those excruciating treatments. Being a mom now, I can only imagine the heartbreak that those two women endured for my benefit.

My left hand scar occurred when I was a toddler. Back in the days there were only glass milk jugs and during the confusion of unloading the car of the bottles, I got hold of one. The burden proved to be more than I could carry and I hit the bottom of the bottle on the outside step. I actually remember watching the blood spurt up onto the pink siding of the house. I don't remember the pain, just a lot of people rushing around and taking me to the doctor's office for help. Later, I learned that the doctor tried to talk my mom in letting him amputate my hand, because he said that I would never have control over it again. You see, back then, if you severed arteries and ligaments, the chances of complete recovery were slim to none. My mom wanted as full of a life for me as possible, so she refused the amputation and hospitalization. She watched the doctor retrieve the ligaments with a long hook and stitch up the arteries and everything else under local anesthesia. We went home that night and she laid next to me to make sure that my hand was kept on the ice bag and perfectly still all night long. Bless my mom's heart, I know that she carried guilt for years that I slipped out of her sight and found the glass danger that caused so much damage. My scar healed and my hand is completely useful. Thanks, Mom for believing you knew what I needed and going against the doctor's advice. Quite amazing for the early fifties, because most people were intimidated by professional men.

I will not go into such great details about all of my scars, but they each carry part of what makes me who I am.

There is a c-section scar which was made to save a premature baby girl, who has now given me the most precious grandson.

Knee surgery scars help me walk better.

Of all the most recently acquired scars that I treasure are the ones I got this year from back surgery. Because of the surgery I can walk longer and with less pain, but what I take away from those scars are the memories of the care that I received from my husband. You see, my husband passes out at the site of bodily injuries to the ones he loves...I mean literally passes out. When I came home from the hospital and my stomach and back had surgery wounds that needed daily dressings, we knew that he was the one who had to take care of them. We laid everything out and then he knelt down behind me. I questioned him why he was on his knees by the bed and he explained, "If I should faint, while I am doing this, I don't want to fall so far down and get hurt." At first I thought he was joking and then I realized that he was serious. So each day, he would help me shower and we would lay the new salve, gauze, tape, etc. out and he would pat me dry and minister to my needs.

All of my scars mean more about love than any card Hallmark could ever print for love never ending. People have helped me heal from physical pain and all the pain that only they could see. I will be eternally grateful for all the care and love my healing process has received from my friends and family.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More memory treasures

I remember back when I was small watching my brother spend hours with his comic book collection. Glancing over his shoulder, I queried, "How do you know which pictures you look at next?" To my young eye, there were a bunch of boxes and colorful drawings in each and I didn't understand what order I was to direct my eyes.

Being who he was, he huffed,"When you know how to read, you follow the words."

I was now determined to learn to read, so that I could enjoy his comic books. My mom assisted me in this quest, by reading to me everyday and supplying me with those precious Golden Books. One of my favorite books was "Nurse Nancy" because it came with its own small supply of band aides in the back. I also loved "Little Black Sambo", "Pokey Little Puppy" and "Cinderella."

At the time she worked in the stockroom of Woolworth. For those younger than me, let me just say that Woolworth was like a Walmart, only cooler. There was a lunch counter, anything you might need for the house and best of all a toy department that was like a little girl's dream come true.

My mom got to see all the newest toys, before they even made it downstairs. Everything from the upstairs stockroom was moved by way of the conveyor belt. I can still see those rollers and the thick, black rubber mat that slide around them. Sometimes, I even got to push the big red button to make it start moving. It would sort of jump and then the rollers moved the belt in its never ending journey.

On rare occasions I got to go with my mom to her work (now I wonder if it was a necessity or just because she wanted to take me.) I was a social kid and all the people who worked there seemed to enjoy the time I spent with them. At break time we would eat at the lunch counter and I remember the paper straws in the coke glasses and watching the lunch lady make up the toast for the sandwiches. Funny how that same meal tasted better there than at home.

I was happy hanging out with my mom and didn't fully appreciate the hard labor involved with lifting of the heavy cardboard cartons and standing all day long on the cement floor price marking the merchandise. Back then everything had its own price tag, because there wasn't such a thing as bar codes and scanners to read them.

When I was six, hula-hoops were a huge craze and the manager of the store had me demonstrate them in front of the store. I was able to keep quite a few going at one time and for years afterward, my mom would tell that story with pride in her voice. Each time she told the story throughout the years, the number of hula-hoops I spun grew but I never corrected her.

When I first started this writing it was going to be about my love for reading, but somehow it morphed into something else. I know that my love for reading is entwined with my love for my mom, because she encourage my exploring worlds through words. No wonder that I spent most of my teaching years sharing that love of the written word with my students.

I have a tee-shirt that has a funny picture on the front of a lady sitting by a huge stack of books and the words, "There is no such thing as too many books." I totally agree with that, with one caveat, when you are moving there are TOO MANY DARN BOOKS to carry.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Becoming "Enriched", while being "Poor"

Yesterday, I was reading the "blurb" by Diane Boyette about one of the reasons that VISD didn't dismiss classes early was that some children needed to be fed. She went on to say that they wouldn't eat any meals during the weekend. This started me to thinking about my own childhood.

During my early childhood I collected many great memories of playing outside, having friends, a warm house in the winter (Ohio does get very cold), plenty of food (even though some of it wasn't to my liking), and clean clothes. What I didn't have was a father for the first seven years. My dad left right after I was born and my mom moved with her two small children back home to help take care of her elderly parents and live in their three bedroom house with us. She worked long hours and my grandparents kept us until they passed away by the time I was four. Needing help with childcare, she paid a young girl to live with us and fill in when my mom's work hours would have left us alone, otherwise. Someone was there with us during the summer, whether it was an aunt, neighbor, or other responsible adult, because my mom was on her own to provide for her two children. I don't remember not having as much as other kids, but I know that we didn't. My mom made sure that she spent time with us reading, baking cookies, taking walks, visiting relatives, going to the zoo and other activities that enriched our lives. I now realize what sacrifices she made to make sure that we were well taken care of and I appreciate the extraordinary strength that she had to maintain a household on her own.

After the age of seven, my life changed with the addition of my step-father. We were uprooted from everything we knew and brought to south Texas. Talk about a culture shock. I had never seen any cockroachers, let alone ones large enough to carry a small child (you know those huge suckers that give you the willies when you come across them coming up your drain.) In the summertime I got heat rash so bad under my arms that I would try to sleep with my arms above my head, so the hot air from the fan would help to cool those spots. Hurricane Carla was the final blow to my introduction to the wonderful world of Texas. I was so ready to pack it in and leave, but when you're a kid, you're pretty much stuck.

In school things were strange, also. We would be lined up outside and as a teacher would walk along the row with her yellow pencil she would check our hair. (Found out later that this was for lice--which thank goodness I never got.)

If a student didn't use the word, "Ma'am" in the answer to a teacher, a sharp rap of a ruler on the knuckles taught you what was required. Up north, "Yeah" wasn't thought to be bad manners; it was just said. I learned, "Yes, Ma'am, Yes, Sir," very quickly.

Our income was greatly reduced throughout the years, because of many factors which were out of my control. I took my lunch to school (school lunches were too expensive for us) or I went home for lunch. In elementary, we were even allowed to walk home for lunch. Surprisingly, we made it home, ate and returned to school on time and unmolested. I remember that it was kind of shameful if you had to go home for lunch and couldn't afford to eat cafeteria food. But you did what you had to do considering the family's situation.

My mother sewed many of my clothes and that was for economic reasons, also. I didn't mind, so much, until one time when we were told to wear our Sunday's Best and a boy sneered at me, "So this is your Sunday's Best?" I am sure that my face was as red as the pretty corduroy dress that my mom had toiled so hard with. I told him it was and turned away, so I couldn't see him snicker to his friends. Kids can be so cruel. I never told my mom; in fact I even fibbed when I told her that everyone like my dress.

My shoes were bought at Payless, because you could get two pairs for five dollars or less. Payless wasn't a place that other kids' shoes came from, so my shoes were different and I stood out as a kid that couldn't afford the "norm." Knowing now as an adult the situation my family was in, I am grateful that I even had shoes. My mom wouldn't buy any shoes for herself, but she made sure that my growing feet were taken care of.

As I got older, the "wants" changed to records. All my friends had extensive collections and record players to boot. I remember my mom telling me that you could listen to the radio and all the records would be there. Finally, I had an album and I treasured it dearly. Before I graduated from high school, I believe I owned four albums, and an inexpensive record player by my bed. I would put the record on and I knew exactly which song was which band and I would carefully line up the needle with the blank band right before the song. My record player's arm always had coins taped to the top, because it would skip without the extra weight.

Some of my friends had fancy homes, cars and great clothes. I got along with my close group of friends and we would stay over at each other homes, no matter if there were enough beds for sleepovers or not. Life seem simpler then, and I guess it was. If a friend didn't have much, the others in the group just accepted that fact. Want to go to the movies? Don't have much money? Toss all the money together and guess what, everyone gets to go. Of course, movies were cheaper then, along with everything else.

I was taken care of by my mom, even though she didn't have a lot of money. We learned to play Canasta, board games, travel on a tight budget, and read. Library books were free and opened up worlds that invited me to explore.

I am grateful that my life was enriched by people and not things. I pray that I have done that for my family, also, given them the treasures of my heart and mind.