Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Full of Grace

Two weeks of R & R after surgery.   I admit to being a total slug and enjoying it immensely.

The steri-strips have finally come off.  Wow, those things are itchy. Major relief.

Meeting Beaner’s new love interest who far out shines all who came before him. Or as her sister said “she is finally growing out of her shallow ‘must have 6 pack abs and dark hair’ to even be considered.”  Here’s hoping.

Removing my daughters from my family gym membership for a huge savings. Ever so slowly they are taking over their own bills and will gradually be out of my wallet.   

I just watched the movie 11.22.63 based on the book by Stephen King.  Well, I sort of watched it. It was extremely violent so I often left the room.  But this poem ended the movie and I was quite moved by it.  

We did not ask for this room or this music
We were invited in
Therefore, because the dark surrounds us,
Let us turn our faces to the light
Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty.

We have been given pain to be astounded by joy
We have been given life to deny death
We did not ask for this room or this music
But because we are here, . .

Let us dance

-  Stephen King

Today I am grateful for plenty.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


I am one of the few people I know who doesn’t mind the smell of skunk.  That was until recently when my dog got skunked in the back yard.  There is a big difference between the far-away, just passing through smell of road kill and having an up close and personal experience.  Wow, it gets right into your pores.

The first time it happened the weather was still warm and the windows all open. The overpowering smell of skunk permeated not only the dog, but all the rugs, curtains, and bedding. We took the dog to the groomer who gave her a special bath ($55) and began washing everything in the house.

We also called a pest control company who came and told us that it would cost $900 for them to set traps for 5 days, with no guarantees.  Thanks, but no thanks. We went and bought a trap ($35)  and got all sorts of advice about what to bait it with.  Every night we put out the trap at dusk and got up at dawn to an empty trap.

Unfortunately one morning we let the dog out before the sun was fully up and yes, she got skunked again. And this time, really bad.

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We left her in the garage until we could get an afternoon appointment with the groomer. (another $55) Fortunately we could walk to the groomer because putting the dog in a car was not an option.  The shop is in a small strip mall and I was not there 5 minutes before we heard fire sirens and the firefighters telling everyone to leave the premises.  Apparently my dog’s odor was so strong that someone in another shop thought they smelled a gas leak.  Yeah, not too embarrassing.

Home again and we began doubling our efforts to trap the skunk.  Apples, peanut butter, marshmallows, cat food.  We began trying them all and in different combinations.  And then one morning we looked out and saw the trap door was down.  Of course we had no idea what to do next because we certainly didn’t want to get skunked ourselves.  So slowly and carefully we approached the cage. (We couldn’t see in it because we were told to cover it with a garbage bag before putting it out.)  Martha tried poking at it with a very long stick and was convinced that we had caught something weighty, as opposed to the occasional chipmunk we found. But when I looked from a different vantage point I saw something with a long white snout.

Yes, we had caught a possum.  A possum with very nasty looking teeth.

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Honestly, we don’t understand why this is happening. We live on a very busy street in a very suburban setting, with a totally fenced yard, with a dog.  Why any wildlife makes our yard a home is beyond me.

Anyway, there was no way either of us was going to pick up this creature, or lift the trap door to let him out.  So another call to pest control to have the possum relocated. ($162)  

And the saga continues. Every night we set the trap. Every morning we look, both hopeful and terrified that we caught something.  As the days get shorter and the nights longer, my dog is confined more and more inside the house.  In fact, we are all being held prisoner and we are not very happy about it. Plus the house and yard still have a faint odor of eau d’skunk.  It’s impossible to get rid of.

Anyone know a skunk whisperer?  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Full of Grace

Peachie came home the weekend before my surgery and stayed for a few days to help care for me. She is such a good kid.

So once again we were all together for our traditional apple picking and fall foliage hike. I love traditions and I’m happy to hold on to them for yet another year. I know it won’t last forever.

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Because a frost was coming everyone helped me close up the vegetable garden. What usually takes me days only took hours. This was the last of the harvest.  

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Surgery went well enough. Like trauma exposure therapy, I think I’ve now had so many surgeries that I have learned how to deal with it.  Anesthesia is still hard for me but I’ve learned how to cope with the anxiety of it and how to reduce most of the ill effects.

When my sister had her gallbladder removed some 20 years ago it was a 5 hour surgery. She had to stay in the hospital for 8 days, has a 10 inch scar down her torso and contends that it was the most physically painful experience of her life.  By contrast, my surgery was at 8:30 am, was about 45 minutes, I have 4 small incisions in my belly held together with steri strips, and I was home the same day at about 2:00.  I am both grateful and amazed at the advances in medical procedures.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Full of Grace

It seems that after a rather rough July/August, the universe has decided to make amends and present me with glorious moments and ear to ear smiles. First was being able to share the Adele concert with my whole family. Then as soon as I returned, I packed to take a short vacation with my oldest daughter. She had called to say she would have a week off between quitting her part time jobs and starting her first full-time, professional job where she would not accumulate vacation time for at least six months. Could we please do something relaxing . . .

  • So very grateful for the internet which allowed me to find incredibly cheap, spur of the moment, non-stop flights to Florida.

  • Being able to wake up to this every morning

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  • Spending one-on-one time with Beaner. Truth is, she is much closer to Martha than me, mostly because of the basketball connection. Having 5 days together, just us, was really fun.  And a little frightening - did I really need to hear about all those boyfriends???  

  • Kayaking through Floridian canals.  Beaner choose a paddleboard.

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  • And leaving Florida before the hurricane hits but not before seeing the sun set with a beautiful rainbow.  

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But lest anyone think my whole life is one big bowl of cherries - this past week I got so pissed off at my boss I wrote my letter of resignation. (I did not submit it . .  .yet), my dog got skunked for the 2nd time - yup, right after we finally finished washing all the drapes, bedding, walls and carpets from the last skunking, and next week I have to have surgery to have my gallbladder removed.  

Life.  Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Full of Grace - Adele

Way back in January I was one of the few people lucky enough to snag tickets from TicketMaster to see Adele on tour.  My kids thought I was a rock star.  Having grown up with rich friends who always had more than they did, they got to feel a little bit special because none of their friends were able to get tickets. I know - not very gracious of me - but still . . .

Since the time I got the tickets my daughters have moved away from home. So on concert day my family all came in from different cities, on different, multitude modes of transport, and all arrived and met in our NYC hotel within a half an hour of each other. Miraculous.

Dinner together in a fine Irish pub.  I realize now that they are adults, how seldom getting together like this will happen.  What a joy to sit and enjoy great food, music and laughter, all together in my favorite city .


Seeing Adele sing live. She is an amazing performer. No fancy sets. No dancers. No distracting high tech gizmos. Just this one woman with an amazing voice and a huge graciousness toward her fans. As she explained “I have 2 upbeat songs which I will sing first. And then we will get to the sad ballads and all cry together because that’s what you’ve come out for, right?”  She also admitted that she has been in a happy relationship now for 5 years and it is a bit bizarre to keep singing about an old boyfriend. Yes, very gracious to her fans.

Mostly I am very grateful for the gift of music. My oldest daughter went through a very hard break up last year.  Adele’s music reflected all her feelings, and helped her get through a very difficult time.  A co-worker shared with me that she and her mother often sang the song “When We Were Young” just before her mother passed and what the song means to her now.  Music does that.  It can help me through sad times or help magnify happy times or push me through boring workouts or fill me with tears of joy or open doors to both beautiful and painful memories past.  Music is amazing.  And sharing live music with your favorite people is an extraordinarily beautiful experience.  I will never again hear an Adele song and not think of being in the Garden, holding hands with my daughters, and crying, and laughing that we were crying. Together.  Beautiful memories.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Other Side of Wow

My hiking buddy and best friend read my last post on forest bathing and sent me this text:

“Why do you only write about the wow, and not the other side of wow?”

Well, I usually like to use my Tuesday posts to center on things I am grateful for.  But she is right - there is another side to backpacking these days.

Between the two of us we have had

1 broken leg
1 broken foot
2 torn meniscus surgeries
1 torn ACL surgery
1 sublimated lower back disc
1 degenerative cervical disc
1 torn rotator cuff
and a hell of a lot of arthritis.

Which is all to say that we are getting old, body parts are degenerating, and we hurt just getting out of bed each day.  Add a 27 pound backpack (for a two night trip) on top of that and you can imagine the moaning and groaning that goes along with hiking 7 miles a day of rocky terrain while climbing a couple of thousand feet in elevation. And coming back down is even harder on the knees.  We had to stop and rest. A lot.  While slowing down did make the “being present” more focused, it also added more time to carrying the pack.  

When we pack, we share a very tiny, low to the ground, two person tent.  I used to be able to enter it with catlike grace.  Now I awkwardly flop into it, often almost taking the whole tent down with me.  But the worst is the getting back out. Crawling on already sore knees I always seem to kneel on a hidden rock or root.  Just enough to send a painful howl into the wilderness. And trying to stand up after sleeping on the ground, cramped and cramping inside a tiny tent for hours is something no one should have to witness.

And then there is the very personal problem of toileting in the woods. Where once I could gracefully squat, my knees no longer have that range of motion. I need to either fully undress from the waist down and pee standing up, or find a tree to cling to and hope to squat low enough as not soil myself.  Either way, it’s not pretty,

I have made other concessions to age.  I now use a walking stick which aids considerably when balance is needed crossing stony creeks and also helps take some pressure off when hiking down hills. I am thinking about using two poles in the future. I have reduced my pack weight to nothing but the bare essentials although I now carry a lot of moleskin for all those areas that blister and swallow an unhealthy supply of ibuprofen to dull the aches and pain.   But, in the words of Grandma Gatewood, who was a senior hiking rock star, it takes "more head than heel. Whether you're going 20 miles or 2,000, motivation and consistency is as important as mileage and speed. Sometimes more.”  I try to remember that when 80 year old hikers are swooshing past us with ease.

There have been many times when hoisting that pack up or taking one more step are almost too painful to bare, my hiking partner and I would wonder “what the hell are we doing out here, doing this to ourselves?”  But then we’d come to another breathtaking vista or get a whiff of rain drenched pine trees, or stand on a mountaintop under a full canopy of stars and think, “oh yes, this is why.”  We know that we cannot experience that magnificence without the effort that we have gone through.  And there is the the realization that yes, it hurts. But we can still do it.   And being able to do something so awesome for the soul, no matter how hard on the body, is not to be taken for granted.  

So yes, there is another side to wow.  But no matter how stiff I am or how much I ache it is still wow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Forest bathing

Scientists in Japan have reported on the stress-relieving benefits of something called shinrin-yoku. They call it forest bathing.  It doesn't involve soaking in a tub among the trees. Rather it refers to spending time in the woods for its therapeutic effect. Apparently when you spend a few hours in a forest or camp by a lake you breathe in phytoncides, active substances released by plants to protect them against insects and from rotting, which appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost the immune system humans.

Photo: Jupiterimages

I never went into the woods to wash away stress, as I really never had much stress in my life. I go into the woods to fill my soul which seems to get easily depleted by trauma anxiety and noise. So much noise.

When I was younger I made backpacking a physical challenge - how fast, how far, how high - could I push my body. It seemed the only way to conquer the anxiety.  Now I am much older and much calmer and my body is long past wanting to be challenged. My mind however still needs to deeply disengage and my soul longs to be replenished.

Last week I went backpacking for a few days and had my mind blown by the forest. Travelling at a much slower pace, and stopping often to rest, I found that there was so much more to experience in the woods when you slow down.  Magical. Quiet. Alive.  I was tremendously overwhelmed by the beauty of trees, almost in peak fall foliage color already. The smell of the earth filled my lungs and watching the woodlands animals scurrying to prepare for winter just made me smile. I enjoyed them for quite a while each time before moving on.

We eventually made our way to a mountain top with views that soothed my eyes that I didn’t even realize were sore from too much screen time and near sighted focusing.  It literally brought tears to my eyes to experience such a holy place.

Photo: Dave Heilman II
(Sorry, I don't carry a camera but this is pretty close to the view)

I returned home physically depleted but spiritually overflowing.

Three days in the woods released this past month's anxiety and sent my soul soaring.

Nature can do that.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. —Robert Louis Stevenson

Forest bathing. I highly recommend it.