LESSONS FROM A 2″ by 4″

It was a cold, dark New Year’s day.  The end of another holiday season. I took the tree down a few days ago, and stashed all the decorations away in the attic. I was ready for life to rev up and begin again.  Over the years I’d come to feel that Christmas was just another dull holiday that had lost its meaning amidst our human need for more, more, more.

It was way back when personal computers were just beginning to flood the market. My kids were playing on the “Trash-80,” we’d picked up as a family Christmas gift at Radio Shack. I wasn’t taken with this new Thing that would soon begin consuming our lives. Yet I sat behind Mark and Lisa watching them giggle and shout as they took each other out in whatever silly game they were playing.  It was fun watching for a while, but I was tired and ready to get away from such nonsense. 

I had just proclaimed that New Year’s Day was the most boring day of the year when I looked up and out the window into the pasture just beyond our driveway. Our dogs, Chippy and Mildred, were fighting and looking as though they were trying to kill each other.

I popped out of my chair and ran outside to break them up.  As I sprinted down the driveway I could hear and see the seriousness of what was happening, Both dogs were snarling and beginning to draw a bit of blood.  I picked up speed, forgetting that there was a cattle guard between us.

Before I could stop myself, I landed with my right leg caught between two of the steel bars of the guard. I heard a snap as I went down, and began shouting for help. The dogs immediately stopped fighting and Bill came to my rescue. He carried me to the car when I told him I thought my leg was broken.  

 I spent the next  few days having a pity party all by myself, going through the list of why this was the most unfair thing that had ever happened to me. I would spend the next four months recuperating, as both my tibia and fibula healed.

I didn’t know that those months would be a time of learning or that sometimes the universe interrupts our insane, shake-a-leg world so that we can learn the importance of slowing down and enjoying life.  I’d been rushing around in a workaholic kind of way, raising two kids, teaching natural dying and spinning, cooking, cleaning, and going to bed each night totally exhausted.

 Then a few friends came to visit, bringing books, flowers, and chocolates. I began to rethink my situation.  I couldn’t rush around experiencing overwhelm because I had too many things to do and not enough time to do them. I’d forgotten about the simple things in life that we all need in order to live happily. 

Reading good books took over my time. I remembered being a ravenous reader when I was a kid, but since then books and reading had taken a back seat to being a wife, mother, teacher, and housekeeper.  I missed the feel of holding a book, turning its pages, and the flow of words that so often had filled my heart. 

 I started to keep a journal.  Along with my leg bones, I wanted to heal my thinking and the anger I was carrying around with me. I’ve kept a journal ever since. It’s a place where I explore my thoughts and feelings, and eventually led me to write and publish my instruction book on Australian Locker Hooking, and then to my memoir, Scattering Ashes. 

I learned that slowing down and being mindful was the best medicine for any kind of healing, whether it be physical or mental.  The Universe had whacked me over the head with a 2” by 4”, reminding me that I was on a downhill course and out of control. 

Since then that merciless piece of lumber has been following me around, and when I see it approaching out of the corner of my eye, I hastily slam on my brakes.   

Over the past two years pain began developing in my shoulders, especially the right one.  My husband has been diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment, which means he might or might not develop dementia. Uncertainty has become the watchword of our lives.

As a result, we decided to downsize and find a place where we might be more comfortable and less responsible for things like shoveling snow, keeping the garden looking as beautiful as it was, and mowing the grass. The move took a lot out of us, but for the time being at least, we’re happy and comfortable where we are and continue to explore our options as our bodies and minds continue to age.  

After having the rotator cuff in my right shoulder surgically repaired in mid January, I spent six weeks in a sling unable to do much other than sit and relax. It has now been put away on a high shelf in my closet. I still  must take it easy, using my right arm very carefully and have about six more weeks until I’m able to drive.

I’m once again reminded of the most important and simple things in my life. I’m using this time as a retreat as I nourish my  body and mind. That in itself will help me to be a good caretaker for my husband of fifty-three years should it become necessary. It is also inspiring me to be think creatively. I continue writing, reading, making art, and simply enjoying life.

We all live in a world filled with uncertainty. Take care of yourself.  Give yourself time and love all of the little things that make you happy. If we’re not careful that 2″ by 4″ could be headed your way!

LET’S DANCE

Last week I had a spell of feeling sorry for myself. I wanted the early spring days that had visited us with temperatures around 70 degrees to return. Instead it was cold and rainy. I drew frowny faces with my left hand. I hated the sling. Wanted to do jumping jacks. And was generally a pain in the butt to be around. I’d had enough winter, slings, and being stuck in the house.

Wandering around in my studio I came across one of the visual journals I had started well before we moved here to Out Of Bounds, which is what this development we live in is called. The cover read, “Let’s Dance.” I said to myself, “Self, how can I dance with this stupid sling holding my arm too close to my body, making me feel clumsy and off-balance?” Self didn’t respond.

I flipped through the first few pages of the journal, noticed the warm, bright colors. I was inspired. There were two pages that I had painted with a background wash well over a year ago, all ready for me to play with when inspiration struck. I was very attracted to the yellow page. It’s the color I favor most in Spring … as in pansies, forsythia, and daffodils. I decided right then and there to decorate the page with whatever I could find.

I found the box marked Stencils and Collage. Tucked in the top were three plastic bags, each one filled with images and words I had cut out from old magazines and books ages ago. I spilled the contents of bag #1 onto my work table and found a few images that caught my attention. There was a little wiener dog on a skateboard. A blue scaredy cat with all of its hair standing on end. 

In bag #2 I found the title of what this page would be about and immediately glued it in place. As I rummaged through the rest of the cutouts, words kept appearing that Self urged me to use. After arranging them and then gluing them on the page, I used markers to fill in blank spaces with stars, a few flowers, and wiggly lines. 

What you see below is what magically happened. That old Self of mine surely knew what she was doing. From now on when she doesn’t respond to my questions, I’ll remember to let myself open up and invite her in, knowing that she’ll show me the way to the answers I seek.

THE ABC’s OF RECOVERY FROM SHOULDER SURGERY

Here I am 3 weeks into the recovery of My right rotator cuff. I’m doing really well and continue to be free of pain. How lucky can a girl get? 

That’s not to say that living in this sling is easy. Needing help to take a shower, get dressed, and fix a meal aren’t things I’m familiar with.  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life depending upon everyone else, but  if that became a necessity I’d have to adjust, and could be a better person for it.

For me the biggest downer has been not being able to use my right hand to communicate. On day three, I attempted to do a crossword puzzle with my left hand. Although I finished the puzzle it was unreadable. But being what some people call stubborn, I decided I had to do something about the out of control pity party I was staging every day.

I decided to pick up every crossword puzzle I could find and even if I couldn’t complete them, I’d use them as a game to teach myself how to write with my left hand. I started printing out the alphabet with both capital and small letters every day with ole lefty. I wish I had saved the early attempts to show you, but I think you can still see the progress that I am making in these photos.  By the time the sling comes off in 3 to 4 weeks, I will be ambidextrous as far as writing is concerned. Will  I continue to use my left hand to write? Maybe, maybe not. If I don’t it will have been one of the challenges that I gave myself to get rid of my stinking thinking during my recovery.

Being a writer with a head full of ideas, typing with one finger isn’t any fun. It abounds with frustration and anger. So I’ve started dictating my thoughts to my computer. That would be great if the computer understood and spelled everything I was saying correctly. But it doesn’t. Therefore I’m learning to pronounce my words very carefully. Still there are lots of corrections to make. So as I dictate I use my left-hand and fingers to delete and correct what I’m writing.

But that is not the only problem. When my shoulder is completely recovered and I can go back to using my right hand I will be back in the flow where ideas flit about like fireflies on hot summer evenings. The flow of words I put down on paper by dictating are choppy and not particularly well written. I am told the reason for this is that these two ways of writing use different parts of the brain.

But you know me. I want to write when I want to write and to get out the words as often as possible. For someone who keeps a daily journal it becomes problematic in that I am not processing my thoughts as freely as I usually do. But I’m doing the best I can and for a little bit everyday try to express myself in a new way without getting too frustrated.

This is my effort for today. My brain is way ahead of where these words are coming from. But what I have written here helps soothe the path to full recovery of both my shoulder and my frustrated ego.

THE THREE Ps PLUS ONE MORE FOR GOOD MEASURE

My Pony Tail Plant never stops growing

This is the time of year when many of us are struggling to keep our New Year’s Resolutions.  Lose 10 pounds.  Workout at the gym 5 times a week. Stop buying books until you’ve gotten through the pile next to your bed.  Be kind to the people you find to be horribly difficult. Etc, etc. 

I’m not one for resolutions. Instead over the years I’ve opted to choose words that I would like to focus on for the coming year. They are words that I hope will help me work on a particular issue I’ve been struggling with which need of bit of extra attention. They’ve been successful most of the time. But occasionally I get caught up in other distractions and high dive into life without thinking much about what my focus is supposed to be.  

I sometimes wonder if I’m wasting my time but keep at it only because 6 to 8 months of working on one issue is better than nothing. Right now I have some burning issues and it’s time for me to get serious about cleaning up my act.  This past December I found three inspiring words that seem to fit together beautifully. My hope is they’ll start me on my way. I expect them to take me through some deep learning and bring me closer to the person I most want to be. I’m calling them The Three Ps.

The first P is for Presence. I no longer want to wander into the past regretting things that I’ve done.   What’s done is done. No amount of going back to see how I could have done something better will help me now. 

I also want to stop worrying about what tomorrow will bring. I simply want to trust that everything will work out, and that I’ll be able to handle whatever comes my way.  I wish to be in the now, working with what is before me in each and every moment. I want to be present with myself, noticing how my brain works.  Am I being as kind to myself as I am to others or am I constantly trashing what I do, giving myself a C or D instead of an A+ for my efforts? 

The second P is for Perspective. Instead of the same old, same old, I want to see and do things in a new way. It’s time for me to be more positive, knowing that I’ll always do the best I can. I hope to quit telling myself stories that are filled with doom, gloom, and all of the nasty things that could go wrong. I deeply believe that every negative experience holds a positive lesson. Why go for the worst when I can take the time to look through the grey clouds and find a patch of blue sky? Oh look, there’s a rainbow beginning to show behind the biggest black cloud of all.

 The third P is for Persistence.  Instead of of giving up when the first thing I try doesn’t work, I’d like to keep going and look for a way to get beyond what I don’t think is possible. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

  Just a few days ago, I added another P, because without it none of the above will work.  That P is for Patience. This work will take time. It will not necessarily be easy.  But I am certain that I can do it if I take my time and forgive myself when I stumble.  Nothing is perfect, especially human beings like me.    

How about you?  Have you a resolution or word you’re grabbing onto to help you through another year?

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NEWS  On January 18th, I will have rotator cuff surgery to repair a number of tears in my right shoulder. I may be unable to type or write for a few weeks, so on January 23rd, I will be featuring a post by my friend, Kathy Pooler, who will share her list of what she’s learned about aging.  Be sure to check out her memoir, Ever Faithful to his Lead: My Journey Away from Emotional Abuse, available on Amazon.

Depending on how I’m feeling after the surgery, I may miss a few posts.  I will be in a sling for 6 weeks and I’m not sure how easily I’ll be able to type. But I just learned how to dictate to my computer and I’ll be playing with that feature.  We’ll see how it works!

Decisions, Decisions

You know the drill. 

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

Some days it’s as simple as deciding which sweater to wear with the new skirt you bought last week. But when it comes to certain other decisions it’s a different ballgame altogether.   I’ve been chewing on one for over a week now and I’m still kind of swinging back and forth.  

Two weeks ago I decided to postpone my rotator cuff surgery set for the 14th of December.  For a number of  reasons the holidays can be a difficult for me and I came to the conclusion that adding another challenge for myself was not in my best interest.  I immediately felt that the boulder I’d been carrying for a couple of months had vanished.   Plus after dealing with Bill’s very successful knee replacement surgery in early November and his ensuing recovery, I was happy to give myself some time to rest and relax before my role as caretaker became one of being the patient. 

Discomfort over having to deal with a long recovery after my surgery was constantly on my mind.   My right arm would be in a sling for six weeks and I’d be unable to drive for three months. That meant that I’d be stuck inside for the colder months with little chance to get out on my own when I need it most. I remember too well the cabin fever I used to suffer through during the winters when I lived in Northern Vermont. I felt trapped and spent the cold months quite depressed. I don’t relish going through that again. 

Discussion with friends around the Thanksgiving dinner table last week was partly about the challenges of failing body parts as one ages. It was pointed out to me by one friend that a study out of Finland found that physical therapy can be as effective as rotator cuff surgery.  He continued that recovery from rotator cuff surgery can take six months to a year. 

Oy, I thought, what have I gotten myself into?  

Over the next few days I’d  decided to cancel my surgery altogether.  But just to be sure I decided to do some research of my own.  I read the piece the Finish study, saying that physical therapy was the way to go. I also read that most small rotator cuff tears are the ones that benefit most from PT.  But other than the three different surgery technics used, there was little other information that was of helpful. And I reminded myself that I shouldn’t believe everything I read on the internet. 

What to do?  

I had a pre-op appointment with my surgeon that I had not yet cancelled and decided to get the expert’s advice. That’s not to say I believe everything that doctors tell me either, but he had done Bill’s very successful shoulder replacement surgery several years ago.  Knowing that his work is good I decided to trust him to help me make the best decision for me.

He reminded me that I do not have a simple small rotator cuff tear.  When he had gone over the results of my MRI back in the early fall he showed me at least seven things that needed repair and told me that if I did nothing it would only get worse. That would mean a much more complicated surgery down the road. He also pointed out that if I only had a year to live, he would not recommend the surgery, but because I’m very healthy and the odds are that I could live at least ten more years, he’d recommend I go ahead.  

Knowing that there is no chrystal ball to help, I came home after the appointment confused and terribly dissapointed that my decision would be to go for the surgery. 

So once again I’m thumbing through the calendar trying to pick a few dates that would work for me.  Then I’ll call my Doc one more time and let him know what I’ve decided, knowing that I may keep wondering what the best thing for me is until I wake up from surgery.  

I hope everyone had a wonderful Turkey Day
and that the rest of the holidays
will be blessed with easy decisions!