Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Full of Grace

1. Not being in the hospital for Christmas.  It is so good to be home, sleeping in my own bed, cuddling with my fur balls, and once the drain was out, feeling well enough to eat an indecent amount of cookies and chocolate and fudge. 

I know I have been saying I am grateful for being home for the last couple of weeks, but wow, all I could think of on Christmas were all those people spending their holiday in a hospital bed.


2. Having endured a couple of weeks of massive antibiotics, my entire digestive system was out of whack.  Normally I would counteract that with yogurt but my appetite for anything dairy (even ice cream!)  was repulsive.  Then Peachie found probiotics in a gummy bear form.   They saved me from all sorts of other nasties. And it was like eating candy.

3. Best xmas gift - Beaner gave me a cooking class where we will go and learn how to make Italian pastries together.  Time with my daughter, learning something new, and then eating cannolis.  Win, win, win.


4. Being able to Skype with two of my "adopted" daughters on Christmas, one in South Africa and the other in New Zealand. I have a love/hate relationship with technology but this is an amazing thing.


5. Recuperated enough that I am able to start the finishing trim work on the kitchen - which is saving me from Martha trying to do it.   Her attitude of  “good enough” is always in conflict with my perfectionist OCD on woodworking.   I like my miters to meet.  Perfectly.




Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Full of Grace

I am still feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for all the wonderful care I received during my medical emergency.   Today I had a follow up CT scan and doctor’s appointment and I am particularly grateful that:


  • The scan went smoothly without the extremely painful dye infiltration that happened the first time around.


  • That the scan showed that everything is healing nicely.  I still have to have surgery in January to remove what remains of the appendix, but at least it will be done in a non-emergency situation after all the infection has been taken care of.


  • The drain has been removed.   As sexy as this might look, I had trouble sleeping with this stuck in my belly, I would catch the tube on stuff and almost rip out the stitches that held it in place,  clothing was impossible as everything rubbed on the insertion area, and well, it was just plain gross to walk around with a bag of blood and pus hanging from me.  




  • The doctor has given me clearance to go on the vacation with my daughters that was planned for the beginning of January.  I was very concerned that I would have to give it up, but the surgeon is willing to work around the dates.


  • In the last couple of weeks I have heard many horror stories about ruptured appendixes and long, long hospital stays and how I was so lucky.   I am most grateful that my body was healthy enough to overcome this latest onslaught so quickly   My body has been through so much trauma and yet it still gets back up and allows me to feel and see and taste and make love and climb mountains and to give love back.    I am both humbled and amazed at its resilience and forgiveness.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Full of Grace


This week my list of gratitude would have to be a mile long to include everyone who helped me and my family through this medical scare.  Instead I will tell this story:


Christmas is Martha’s favorite time of year.  She loves all the shopping and decorating and music and well, everything.  She generally spends weeks getting the house ready, inside and out.   Every room has something festive, an entire village is created and lights and greens brighten the yard.  But this year the kitchen renovation  went way over our time schedule and many things just did not get done.  We had put up the Christmas tree while Peachie was home for Thanksgiving, but that was as far as we got.    


Meanwhile, the kitchen is still not complete.  There is no finish around the flooring, there is no trim around the doors or window.  The back splash is still in uninstalled. We were buying a gas stove for each other for Christmas.  That hasn't happened yet either.   


And so I had promised her that this past weekend we would make a push to get it all done.   And then I got sick.  Crap.


On Monday night I came home from the hospital.  Martha had managed to install the kitchen sink (yay!) and put up a few decorations.   I told her it looked great and went to bed.  And I have been pretty useless since.


Last night we were both sitting in the living room.  The room was dark except for the nights of the tree.  And we just started to laugh because there was this beautifully decorated tree.   And some pumpkins from Halloween.  And some pilgrims from Thanksgiving.  Some of the shelves are bare where decorations were taken down but nothing put back up.  


I said “I’m sorry, this Christmas is just not going happen the way you like it.”  And she said “It’s a perfect Christmas.   We will be all together and that’s all that matters.”


And in the end, that *is* all that matters.  We will have Christmas even though the stockings are not stuffed and most of the decorations are still in the attic.  There are no lights or wreaths.  But we have each other.   We have lots of love and lots of laughter. And we have home.


I am so grateful to be home. Sometimes I think I am the luckiest person in the world.  





Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Notes from a Medical Emergency

I am still amazed - I called my doctor at 9 am and was seen at 9:30.  By 10:30 they had completed a physical exam, a urinalysis, blood work and got me an appointment at the medical imaging center located in the same building.  There I drank a bottle of disgusting contrast stuff and had to wait one hour for it to work.  I was then promptly taken for my CT scan.   They then told me to go back to my doctor’s office and he would have the results in 10 minutes.   I hadn’t even checked in with the receptionist when my doctor came out, told me I had a ruptured appendix and to get Martha to drive me to the emergency room.  He told me he would call ahead and let them know I was coming.  We got to to ER around 2 o’clock and they immediately got me to a room and started an antibiotic IV and a surgeon came to see me.  She had already viewed my CT scan and laid out what the following days and weeks were going to be.   From a 9 am call to a 2 pm diagnosis and care treatment.  I am so grateful for the care I have received.


Even with the VIP treatment I didn’t yet realize how critical my condition was.  I was still thinking that is was early enough in the day to have a laparoscopic appendectomy and maybe be home by evening.  The surgeon just laughed.  She explained that if she opened me up now, she would probably have to take part of my colon and intestines.  She told me I had a life threatening condition if the infection spread to my others organs.  She explained that the first and only thing we would be dealing with is the now septic condition in my abdomen and to plan on 6 to 10 weeks for recovery. Well, that certainly got my attention.


When I had the CT scan, they inserted some kind of dye into my arm.  Unfortunately, the injection broke through the vein and infiltrated  the tissue.  It hurt and burned like hell.  And then my arm blew up and looked like Popeye’s.  I kept looking at it saying “ holy crap, look at those biceps!”  By the time I got to the ER it looked like a Macy’s Thanksgiving balloon.  Folks at the ER were quite concerned about it especially since the mastectomy gives me a high chance for edema.  But it did earn me this wristband and immunity from my left arm being stuck with IVs and blood tests.  (it has finally returned to a normal size)


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Unfortunately it also made my right arm take an undue burden - two IV ports plus blood test twice a day.  Ouch.


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It took about an hour to get me to a room.  Then Martha, now knowing I was going to be in the hospital for days left to get me some supplies.  When she returned a while later Peachie was with her.  She had driven 3 hours home from college to see me and stayed with me the whole time I was in hospital.  (Martha, now having a blossoming cold and cough was banned from the hospital altogether.)  Peachie really should have been studying for her final exams but instead she was helping me in and out of bed, helping me in the bathroom, getting the nurse every time my IV ran down, getting everything that was out of my reach, monitoring all my vital signs, and motivating me to take those laps around the floor, dragging my IV pole.  When I was getting really ripe, she stripped me down, gave me a shower, washed my hair, and shaved my legs. It was then that I had that weird sense of the mother becoming the child and the child becoming the mother.  Unsettling and comforting at the same time.


The first night got I spent a horrible night with my IV monitor constantly going off and then my roommates minutes later.  Lots of code blues and people moaning and groaning.  Staff coming to take blood, change the IV, hot pack my arm, take vitals, etc.   But the next morning I had the surgery to place the drain and then got moved to the post surgery wing.   So much more quiet.  And although they still had to wake me every 4 hours for my vitals, they tried very hard not to disturb us from midnight to 4am.   Bliss.  

Martha had brought me numerous books and magazines to help bide my time. I never looked at any of them. I don't know where the time went. The days were marked by meals that came, and went uneaten. Hospital time must occur in a different dimension.

Every medical person who came examined my belly said "great, nice and soft." I have come to understand that if something bad was happening my gut would have distended or become rock hard. Still, with all the sit ups and crunches and planks I do, it was somewhat discouraging to have everyone comment about how soft I was.


I am fortunate to live in an area with many hospital options.  I choose the Catholic one since being recommended to one of the best oncologists in the area who is based there.   I have always received excellent care without any religious pressure.  Except every room has a crucifix which I always found disturbing.  (who wants the worse day of their lives recreated and shown everywhere?)    But this time I noticed that the crucifixes have changed.  No longer is Christ agonizing on the cross.   It is difficult to see in this picture, but now he is dressed and has his arms raised.

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I hope I am not being disrespectful but all I could think of was he looked like touchdown Jesus.  Which made me laugh every time I noticed it.   I guess religion can be very healing.

I am so happy to be home.



Friday, December 12, 2014

Always Something


Tuesday night I started feeling not so great.  Some back pain, some abdominal pain.  General yuck.  During the night I was having severe back pain and figured I had a kidney stone.  I have had four of them in the past so I had a good sense of it.  Wednesday morning I started feeling nausea while taking a shower, stepped out and passed out on the floor.  But then I started feeling better so I figured the stone had moved to a less irritating place,


Thursday morning I called my urologist but they could only get me in in a week.  I really want some sense of where the stone was so I called my primary care doctor who got me right in.  But as soon as he poked and prodded, he didn’t think it has a stone.  He sent me for a CAT scan which quickly came back as a ruptured appendix.  Damn.


Martha came and picked me up, drove me to the emergency room,  and I was immediately put on high doses of antibiotics.   Today I had surgery to put in a drain and they tell me I will be here until Monday.  Then home with the drain and oral antibiotics.  For quite a while. And then, once it’s all cleaned up, another surgery to remove the faulty appendix.  


Perfect timing, of course, 2 weeks before Christmas, and 3 1/2 weeks before the trip I planned with my daughters.   Still, it’s easy to be grateful for the amazing medical care I have been receiving.  And health insurance.  This whole spin will cost me $75 out of pocket.


Anyway, I will try to catch up on blogs during lucid moments.  I’m not even going to proofread this as my eyes are at half staff.

Always something.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Full of Grace

Pain free pee.  I had the first UTI of my life, and wow, it was like peeing razor blades.  But after only two days on antibiotics, I was pain free again.  I will never take peeing for granted again.

The one day, "easy to install" kitchen floor which took us WEEKS to install is finally done. I don't think I've ever cursed as much or been so frustrated as I was doing this floor.   Nothing just "clicked" together. Every piece had to be muscled in. My hands are all banged up and my knees are swollen and sore. But I am happy with the result.  And very happy that its done.



My car inspection was over due. By a few months. Oops!  So grateful I noticed before any cops did. Especially the one I live with.  She would never let me hear the end of it.  

The ultrasound of my ovaries and uterus was all clear.   I have a high percentage of cancer recurrence and the most common recurrence is ovarian or uterine.   So this was very good news.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why me?

I have always been told I am a good listener.  I don’t think that’s because I have particularly good listening skills but because I don’t talk very much so that leaves a lot of room for others to fill up the void.


But today’s post is more a curiosity thing.   People feel compelled to tell me about their porn habits. I don't know why.  What is it about me that says ”please tell me about whatever weird, perverse, or incredibly personal thing you like to watch to get yourself off ”  ?


I had a blogging friend who loved to share with me her personal porn preferences.  I’m pretty sure I never even hinted that I would like to hear about it.  It started simple enough with her telling me about how much she enjoyed porn.  My only response was that I didn’t.  Then it escalated into her descriptions of how much she enjoyed double penetration porn.  I ignored it.  Then she followed with how much she loved gang bang porn.  I replied that that was a very triggering thing for me and that I would appreciate not hearing any more about it.  She replied that perhaps she had been less than sensitive, knowing my history, but she still continued with all these graphic explanations of how she got off on gang bang porn.  I finally let the relationship die.


Then in another corresponding relationship,  a woman began telling me how unhappy she was with her sex life.  Okay, that is probably a fair topic in a conversation.   I don’t know of anyone who is 100% happy all the time with their sex lives and I can listen and be sympathetic.   But then a little more story - her husband could not get an erection with her.  Hmm, okay, I am certainly no expert on the sexual dysfunction of males but I could listen.  And then the other shoe dropped.  Her husband could only get an erection with porn, which he watched constantly.   And then I got to hear all about the kind of dominatrix porn he needed to get himself off.  And that he loved wearing her lacy underwear and fish nets.  And this man was a priest!  Then it got worse and she offered to send me a video of them doing whatever it was they did together.  WTF???  When I politely declined her response was “not even the lesbians want to see me naked.”  


Yup, another relationship that bit the dust.


Does this happen to anyone else?  Is it something I am giving off like a pheromone that says please tell me all your sex secrets?


Years ago when I was a church goer, a new pastor was hired.  As a friendly gesture I invited her out to lunch.  It was the first time we spent any time together, I was little more than a stranger to her,  and she began to tell me that sometimes she got so horny she could hump a tree.  And she loved to watch lesbian porn.  How she managed to slip that in between “do you have any children” and “what’s the worse thing about being a pastor?”   I do not know.  But this seems to be my life.


I don’t consider myself a prude although I’m sure I am on the conservative side of sexual mores.  And I really am happy to be a sympathetic ear for other people’s problems.   But is it normal for people to just spill such lurid details of their sex lives?   I used to think that these people were just a little on the needy side but this happens to me so often I am beginning to think it is something I am doing.   


I am well aware of the male braggart who thinks he can change a lesbian into a straight woman by the power of his penis.  Through this blog I have received horrible emails offering sexual trysts.  This usually happens after I post something about the rape.  Do people think that rape survivors have some buried, unfulfilled sexual desires?   Maybe some different perspective that allows people  to spill all their sexual frustration and problems on them?  


Any opinions on this?  Am I just being a prude?  Why am I some pervert magnet?  And I’m not saying that I think that people who watch porn are perverts. But there is something odd, I think, about wanting to share your masturbatory habits with someone who obviously does not want to hear about it.


Any thoughts?  Advice?  Help?



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Full of Grace

A lovely Thanksgiving - except for the Cowboys loss and I somehow missed the cranberry sauce when it was passed around.   But other than that a great day of food and laughter and family.

Sloppy kisses from a two year old.

Sipping Nutella hot chocolate (thanks Em) in a warm house and watching the snow fall.

And then warm temperatures.  We had gotten a foot of snow which I never got around to shoveling off the driveway because all my awake hours are spent on the kitchen.  But a couple of days of warm weather has taken care of it for me.

Ibuprofen.  This kitchen renovation is taking a serious toll on my body.  Ibuprofen and a sauna are the only thing enabling me to get up and moving in the morning.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Walking Home from Oak-Head


"Walking Home from Oak-Head"

by Mary Oliver


There is something
  about the snow-laden sky
     in winter
        in the late afternoon

that brings to the heart elation
  and the lovely meaninglessness
         of time.
               Whenever I get home -- whenever --

somebody loves me there.
  Meanwhile
        I stand in the same dark peace
                as any pine tree,

or wander on slowly
   like the still unhurried wind,
         waiting,
               as for a gift,

for the snow to begin
   which it does
          at first casually,
                 then, irrepressibly.

Wherever else I live --
   in music, in words,
          in the fires of the heart,
                I abide just as deeply

in this nameless, indivisible place,
   this world,
         which is falling apart now,
                which is white and wild,

which is faithful beyond all our expressions of faith,
  our deepest prayers.
        Don't worry, sooner or later I'll be home.
               Red-cheeked from the roused wind,

I'll stand in the doorway
    stamping my boots and slapping my hands,
           my shoulders
                 covered with stars.


I wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings, filled with many blessings.  And I also hope that, whenever you get home, that somebody loves you there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Full of Grace

  1. All the kitchen cabinets in and are level.  It took two packages of shims to compensate for the very uneven floor and the crooked house but when the granite guy came to take measurements for the counter he declared them perfectly level.  And now we a wait a couple of weeks for the counter (which I am not installing)  and then we will finally have a sink and dishwasher again.

I will post pictures when the counters are in. Right now everything looks odd without the counter top or floor.


  1. I do not live in Buffalo.   I once lived in this “lake effect” snow belt, but no longer.  And I am ever so grateful.

My claustrophobic self has difficulty even looking at this picture.  I don't know where/how you could even start to shovel out.


  1. Peachie is home for the holiday.  I love having both my daughters home at the same time, to see them with their heads together sharing sister secrets, and most especially seeing them both snuggled together in bed.  Although they have their own rooms, they like to sleep together when they are both home.  


  1. And so many of their friends (many since elementary school) are also home.  They are stopping by, or I see them at the gym or grocery store.  I miss having them always around but love hearing about what they are up to now.  They are all  healthy and becoming very productive citizens, travelling and volunteering and adding their talents to the world.  Such a good thing.


  1. Surviving Martha’s birthday.  I am traditionally her slave for the day and when it falls on a weekend like this year, it can be brutal.  But I survived.  And going out to brunch for Nutella bourbon french toast was a nice perk.


I wish all a lovely Thanksgiving and hope that you are able to appreciate and enjoy the blessings in your life.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Getting Back on Track

I have been floundering.   Three years of my life were spent going to medical appointments and recuperating from knee and cancer surgeries.  I had to give up my volunteer activities and my physical activities, both of which have always helped to keep me centered.   After my last surgery in April I took some time to allow my body to heal.  By the beginning of summer it was pretty much healed and yet I was still being a slug.   I decided to consider my laziness as discernment time - trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the next chapter of my life given these factors:


  • I had semi retired so I had a lot more time off to do something else.  (well, in theory.  I find I am working home more than ever)


  • Volunteering had become a drag - mostly because I usually volunteer with the elderly and they kept dying, or having to move to greater care facilities.   And after having lost way too many friends in recent years, it was starting to get to me.  And in truth, I had become a little bit selfish about my time.


  • Backpacking dwindled as my hiking partner had family issues to address and, quite frankly, my body I had become quite weak and was seriously rebelling  against the rigors of mountain hiking or anything too physical.  


So summer ended and I was well into Fall and still not knowing what to do and becoming more and more of a slug and knowing I wasn't happy about it but still not being able to get myself going in any direction.


And then I talked with a life coach.  Yup, a person who makes a living telling you what to do with your life.  Or more accurately “guiding” you to those decisions.  And what did I learn?  I learned that talking to a life coach was a waste of time.  No, that’s not fair.  Talking to a life coach made me realize that she knew absolutely nothing about me and that no one knew better about my life than I did.  And so I forced myself to get off the couch and get back in the game.


  • I have been taking shorter but very scenic hikes locally. And I have now been spending more of my free time at the gym.  I have continued my weekly Body Pump class with my daughter and have progressed from whimpering for days afterward to actually increasing some of my weights.  I am still the oldest person in the class, by far, and my weight bar looks like a Q-Tip next to the others, but I can feel myself getting stronger.   And that is extremely important to me both mentally and physically.


  • After talking to the life coach, the very next email I received from the caregiver group I work with listed a woman who lived close to me and needed help with her weekly grocery shopping.  Okay, I could do that.  And I am so glad I did.  Ethel.  87 years young.  She has balance issues so she scares the crap out of me when she lets go of the shopping cart and teeters.   She is always waiting in her lobby for me to pick her.  Always gets in my car and starts asking if she has her glasses.  It becomes like a Burns and Allen routine.  “I think I left them in my purse.  Is my purse in your car?”  No.  “Well, never mind, I don’t need them.”  “Oh, wait, where is my purse?”  I don’t know.  Do you want me to go upstairs and look?   “No, no, I don’t need it.  I have my wallet in my pocket.”   “Wait, where’s my wallet?”  In your pocket?  “Oh, let me check.  Oh look, here are my glasses!”  And then she laughs.


          Same thing.  Every week.
She spends at least a half an hour picking out only organic fruits and vegetables and then another half hour in the chocolate aisle.  She buys a lot of chocolate and Nutella! and with a little playfulness in her voice she proclaims (every week) that she loves sweets.   (I think I am looking at my further self)  She has a fantastic sense of humor and laughs at herself most of all.    To me she is a gift from the universe.  


  • And I looked into taking class at our local community college.  There were a few that interested me, but only one at a convenient time - The history of witch trials in Europe.  Sounds cool, right?  Although I just looked up the tuition - it will cost $465 to take the class.  So, maybe it’s not that cool.  Maybe I’ll call and see if I can just audit it, for less.


Anyway, I do feel that I am finally getting myself back into satisfying, healthy activities.  And that is a very, very good thing.   

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Full of Grace

1. I thought I would be installing the kitchen cabinets this weekend but then someone told me that they should be at room temperature and humidity before installation to avoid expansion issues.  So except for lugging 20 huge boxes from the garage into our teeny, tiny house (with Peachie’s boyfriend’s help) to warm up for a couple of days, I had a much needed break from kitchen work.  

2. But I begin again today which is a good thing because we are now having to climb over boxes to get anywhere.

3. After over an hour at the store, Martha FINALLY picked out cabinet pulls and knobs.   An HOUR to pick out a knob! Can you tell - I can’t wait for this to be over ?!?!?

4. Living with a woman who makes a point of making me laugh.  Every. Single. Day.

5. Vanilla yogurt.  With sprinkles.  I am trying to break my nightly ice cream habit.   It’s not really the same, but the sprinkles help.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bits and Pieces

There are so many things I can’t remember about the day Daphne and I were attacked and the days immediately following.   I used to have nightmares/flashbacks about it.   In the beginning the dream was always the same, centered mostly the events leading up to the attack, and then the cold clammy anxiety was enough to wake me.  Over time, I dreamed further and further into the nightmare, usually waking at the point where I truly thought I was going to die.   Even in my waking hours I could never remember past that point, except for bits and pieces.  And that was fine with me until my therapist convinced me that reconstructing the memories was the key overcoming them.   


A few years ago, as part of that therapy, I returned to that campus with my therapist and went back to the actual site.  It had changed significantly in the intervening years with much development encroaching on what was once a secluded woods.   Nonetheless it was intact enough for me to recognize it and it was an extremely difficult visit for me.   But it also jogged a lot of random memories that I haven’t put all back together yet.


A few weeks ago I found myself back on that campus because my daughter was playing an away game there.  And feeling stronger than ever, I walked over to that place during half time.  All by myself.  Core of iron.  And I sat on a small hill, the last thing I can remember of that day.   I sat in sadness.  Sadness for Daphne.  Sadness for everything that died in me that day.  And yet with a certain amount of pride and appreciation that I have healed enough to be sad without falling part.


Anyway, the purpose of this post is to document something more important to me.  As I sat on that hill I had a very clear picture of the woman who sat with me that day.  It was she who wrapped me in a blanket and allowed me to sob on her shoulder.  It was this woman who told me she would find out what was happening with Daphne when I was panicking, not knowing what was going on.  And it was this woman who helped me into an ambulance and stayed with me through at the hospital, something I am just beginning to have glimpses of.  It was this woman who showed me a human kindness at a time when my very being had been totally shattered.  She allowed me a shred of dignity, a recognition of the person I had been, which may have been the one shred that eventually allowed me to heal.  


If you read much about PTSD recovery (and I do)  there is much talk about having to create your new identity, as you will never be the same person after trauma as you were before.   And I think there is a mourning process you have to go through, grieving the loss of the person you once were.


And then I read this beautiful post by my blogging friend kj about her mother in a nursing home.  She writes “I find myself staring at most of the folks on this unit until I can see their younger selves through the lines of their faces.  They’ve had children, jobs, homes, spouses, gardens.   I’ve come to understand their confusion and resistance because where they are now is not their life.”    


This resonated so strongly with me.  As time goes on I am remembering more of the bits and pieces. I am not sure why it is so extremely important to me at this point, but it is.   Perhaps, like the elderly, I just want to remember my younger self, who I was before the trauma.   I don’t want to lose her forever.

And, it feels safe now for me to remember, which is bringing a new kind of confidence.    


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Full of Grace

  1. That no one was hurt in a car accident in which Peachie was a passenger.  The car was totaled.  Everyone sufficiently shook up.  Everyone lived to tell the tale.  I can’t get any more grateful than this.


  1. Friends with trucks.  I used to own a truck but found it very impractical once we had kids.  We do have a utility trailer that handles most of our big load needs but every once in a while you just need a flatbed truck for things like wall board.   So grateful for friends who are graciously willing to lend a hand.  And a truck.


  1. Pink joint compound.  Isn't this amazing?  It goes on bubble gum pink and then fades to white when its dry.   This makes me inexplicably happy.




  1. Cabin socks.  My preferred state is barefoot, but when your house is ankle deep in construction dust, and its cold from keeping the windows open to vent, cabin socks are the next best thing.  

  1. Veterans.  I dislike war, but I am very grateful that there are people who are willing to put their very lives between me and it.  My heartfelt gratitude to all those who serve and have served.