Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Day at the Beach

I grew up a few miles from the beach. My parents loved the ocean and I learned how to swim, to build sand castles, to quickly eat a frozen fudgy wudgy bar before it melted there. My mother would pack sandwiches and drinks and we would spend the entire day playing in the surf and sand. These were the days before sunscreen and nobody worried about being in the sun too long.

Occasionally my grandparents, who lived in New York City, would join us. I don’t have many memories of my grandfather as he died when I was four, but I remember seeing some photographs of them at the beach with us. My grandfather dressed in his street clothes - pants, shirt, socks and shoes, and my grandmother in her house dress, stockings and shoes and a gigantic sun hat. My parents would bring beach chairs for them and they would sit under a huge umbrella and enjoy the open air reprieve from the city, but never bathe in the sun.

Once we were teenagers we went to the beach every day, either hitching a ride or, once old enough to drive, strapping our surfboards to the top of the car. Our closest beach had 5 parking fields, each which developed their own following. Field 5 was generally for families, Field 1 for fishermen, while Field 2 was for teenagers. We would congregate there every day to surf and play beach volleyball but most importantly to work on our tans. From 9 am to 4 pm we would lay out on our towels, slathered in baby oil, and soak up the rays. Back in those days we only had transistor radios and everyone listened to the same station and the sound covered the entire beach. Every half an hour the DJ would say “roll your body” and the everyone on the beach would turn over. It would be fair to say that the main activity of my misspent youth was sun worshipping.

Over the years I have given into bringing a beach chair so I could comfortably read. I still used a towel to lay on so I could evenly tan both my front and back. Then, when the girls were babies, knowing more about the dangers of sun exposure, we bought a respectable beach umbrella to shade them from the heat of the mid-day sun and slathered them with sunscreen. I still laid out with abandon and found the feeling of the sun on my skin to be one of the most pleasurable feelings in the world.

We just returned from a beach vacation. My daughters are in their twenties and I am in my sixties. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I can no longer tolerate too much sun like I used to. What changed? My daughters stretched out in their skimpy bikinis and I wore a one piece bathing suit with a pair of water shorts and a large brimmed sun hat I just bought for my upcoming trip to Greece. I lugged a beach chair and umbrella through the sand. But it was windy and we couldn’t keep the large beach umbrella firmly in the sand. Having just read that a woman had been impaled with a blown away umbrella made me take this very seriously. I went up to the beach shop and bought one of those small cheesy personal umbrellas that latch onto your chair. I could direct it to keep the sun off the majority of my body but wound up draping a towel over my burning knees and legs.

My daughters couldn’t hide their amusement. Or was that embarrassment? I have now officially become my grandmother.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Going Home

Martha and I have been working our butts off at the cabin. We hired a contractor to rip out a concrete floor in a back room that had heaved and was allowing water to seep up through the floor. They replaced the floor but left us with only studs for the back wall. We put in new windows, installed beadboard, laid carpet and sided the outside. My hands and shoulders were stiff for days.

Then we ripped apart the last third of the deck, shored up the foundation, unscrewing all the boards, flipping them, screwing them back down and re-staining them. Brutal on the back and knees.

But the most difficult project was replacing a back door that was thoroughly rotted. The door sat in a frame that had settled significantly and was now a trapezoid shape and never closed completely and was barely held shut for years by a hook and eye. Plus the door was about 7 inches shorter than a standard door. Removing the old door I found lots of rotted wood that needed to be replaced. Then I framed out a rectangle for the door frame. We had to cut 7 inches off the bottom of a fiberglass door to fit but we did it a little at a time to make sure we didn’t cut too much. After each cut we carried the heavy door, jockeying it into this narrow space, then back to make adjustments including having to router and re-position the bottom hinge.  My shoulders and wrists are screaming in protest.

There is nothing on my body that does not hurt. Nothing. As much as I enjoy doing this kind of physical work, and my psyche absolutely needs it, my body needs so much more time to recover from each day of labor.

Image result for every day too old for this shit

And to that end I am leaving for a relaxing family vacation where I will enjoy the healing power of warm sand, beach walks at sunrise, salty air, the calming ebb and flow of the ocean and seafood meals while watching sunsets.

Having grown up by the ocean, for me it is like going home.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Full of Grace

Just when I think things couldn’t get much worse for this country, they do. Again and again.

I am fortunate to live in a state where my representatives all vote the way I would so I don’t have to put much energy into political lobbying. I am fortunate enough to have some modest funds to donate to sites and organizations that help those who are truly being hurt by this administration’s inhumane policies and I try to help those in need my local world. But these days it all feels woefully insignificant against this overwhelming tide of hate and constant propagation of fear.

Still believe in the power of kindness and joy as an anecdote to the ugly and so here are some of the joy filled things that made me smile and grateful this week.

  • Despite the torturous heat wave we are experiencing, my veggie garden is thriving. Our town is on water restrictions but we have a private well so I can water, with soaker hoses, to give the plants some relief.
The critters have not eaten the beans like last year

Squash and Zucchini
Tomatoes all grown from seed

  • Martha and I spent two days at the cabin removing the last set of deck boards, shoring up its foundation and putting it all back together. It was hard, hot work but the main part of the deck is now complete and should last another 20 years. Which is more than I can say about my back after this project. Still I am very grateful to be able to do such physical work at my age. I know that not everyone is so blessed.

  • Starting today I will have two daughters, two of their high school friends, two boyfriends, two bonus daughters, two dogs, and two cats at the lake for the week. Although it is often too much chaos for me, I do love that they all want to come home.

  • And the biggest joy of the week, Peachie got engaged to a man we like very much and makes her very happy. The next year of wedding planning we will be dealing with bridezilla but we are oh so grateful that she has found someone to share her life with. 

Wishing and working for freedom for everyone this holiday week.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Full of Grace

Things that made me smile this week:
(and boy is it getting harder and harder to find reasons to smile these days)

A house in my neighborhood has been a source of ill will because they never mow their lawn and it looks particularly unkempt among the adjacent manicured lawns. I remember many complaints lodged against them even when I was still working for the town. But yesterday when walking my dog I noticed these signs tacked to a few of their trees. Very well played.

Daughters and boyfriends all at the lake house to celebrate Peachie’s 25th birthday. 25??? When did that happen?

On a very chilly morning I happened to see a strange ripple in the pool. A baby chipmunk had fallen in and was doing the doggy paddle for dear life. I scooped him up in the skimmer and placed him on the lawn. The water had also been freezing and the little thing was shivering uncontrollably. I ran in the house and got a towel and he allowed me to pick him up and dry his fur and massage his little body until he had stopped trembling. I reluctantly put him back down and he ran away and disappeared down a hole.

Long time readers may remember my friend and therapist. Lauren, who died very unexpectedly after helping me recover from the darkest time of my life. Well, the other day Martha came home from school saying a man with Lauren’s last name came to the school to pick up his daughter and when she saw her she knew it had to be Lauren’s granddaughter. Martha said that she is a little copy of Lauren, with white blond hair, a huge, warm smile and those extraordinary piercing violet eyes. I don’t know why but it is making me stupid happy to know this.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lost in Technology

Last week my dearest friend’s 94 year old father passed away. It was not unexpected and in some ways a blessing as he had not been able to enjoy life for some time now. After days of her dealing with arrangements and details. I thought a restorative hike in the woods was in order. 

In our younger days we would go backpacking for days, deep into the mountains. Trail markers were sometimes helpful but were often missing or obscured by vegetation. Sometimes trails would be obliterated by storm damage or by beavers blocking streams which created new ponds where the trails ought to be. Our only navigation was a USGS topo map and a compass. Using our talents and powers of deduction we always managed to find our way to our destination and find our way back out again. 

However, this was only to be a day trip and we didn’t give it much thought. Being painfully out of shape, we googled “easy hikes” in the Adirondacks and choose one listed about an hour away. We threw some water, bug juice and a few snacks into a day pack and off we went. We drove about 50 minutes, got off the correct highway exit and quickly stopped for a bathroom break. Then we turned on Waze to lead us to the trail head. But Waze was saying we were still an hour away when we thought we should be pretty close. A little confused about the discrepancy we still followed it’s directions until we were on a dirt road. The road quickly became more of a rutted path which dead ended and we were now so remote we lost the Waze connection. 

“Do you have a map?” I asked. Nope. Great. Seriously, who goes hiking into a giant forest without a map?

I am amazed at how much I have ceded all my trust to my phone and the technology in it. Maps, Google assistant, phone numbers, banking, grocery lists. For all the information it makes available to me, I swear it is making me dumber. 

Anyway, we got out of the car to walk around and see if we could get any internet signal. No. But in that silence we did hear the sound of rushing water, decided to investigate and came upon this, reaffirming the notion that all who wander are not lost. 

Okay, we were lost in the sense that we had no idea where we were, but we were leaving M&Ms along the way to help guide us back to the car so we were pretty sure we could get out.

We decided to explore a little knowing that if we could hear the waterfall, we weren’t too far from where we parked. We spent our time picking our way along the stream bed, occasionally leaving more M&Ms when we strayed, until we ran out of trail mix and decided we wanted a real meal. 

We were tired, sore and hungry but the time out forest bathing was extremely calming and soul healing.

Following the sound of the water we got back to the car, turned around and picked our way back out to civilization.  As soon as we were able to get a signal I googled “restaurants near me”. 

Sometimes I think my phone is trying to kill me as it steals so much of my attention and drains my soul and my memory banks. But sometimes it finds an incredible restaurant in the middle of nowhere for two weary hikers to rest and rejuvenate. 

Feeling quite accomplished for the day I consulted my FitBit. It told me we had "hiked" less than a mile in the three hours in were in the woods. Less than 1 mile?  I hate technology.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Photographs and Memories

I had reason to pull out an old photograph the other day. It is a photo taken a few weeks after Daphne and I had been attacked and I am standing with a friend outside a house she rented, me needing a new, safe place to live. In the photo I am still battered and bruised, left foot crushed and casted, not being able to stand upright due to so many fractured ribs. I am expressionless. Hollow. My soul had been shattered.

I began exposure therapy years ago and one of my biggest concerns was that all the rehashing of those events would desensitize me so much that I would no longer remember Daphne and her pain and subsequent death. It seemed disloyal and something else I can’t find the words to describe. Not that I wanted to be constantly controlled by the emotional pain, but I also didn’t want to forget it either. I especially don't want to forget her,

It was once a very difficult photograph for me to look at. Now, although I recognize that I am the girl in the photo , I find that I am having difficulty remembering who she was. Who I was. This year, for the first time, Daphne’s birthday came and went and I didn’t remember it. For years I would go into a deep depression on that day, and all anniversaries connected to her or that day. In more recent years I would go to her grave site. This year it passed without any commemoration or even notice.

I don’t know if this is just a product of time passing that would have happened anyway, or more a result of the desensitization of exposure therapy. Do veterans lose their memory of buddies killed in battle? Do I need to be more intentional in recalling memories like I now need to be intentional when putting down my keys? I don’t know. All I know is that photos can fade and discolor very quickly if not stored and handled properly. I think the same must be true of memories.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Chicago Challenge

“I want to dare to exist, and more than that, to live audaciously, in all my imperfect, lumpy, scarred glory, because the alternative is letting shame win.” ~Shauna Niequist

At the beginning of 2018 I decided that it was time to challenge myself to expand outside my comfort zone. For years I had lived in a PTSD fog and then worked to obtain a very self contained, safe, controlled existence. Now, after finishing years of therapy, I thought I had reached a point on my mental health journey that I could and should push beyond my safe space. As my beloved therapist always said “don’t let your world get smaller.”

I decided to sign up for a Sierra Club volunteer vacation, travelling to a distant place and meeting total strangers. Of course, still needing a safety net, I choose a trip to Chicago where I hoped to meet one of my favorite bloggers. Then I invited another blogger and long time supporter, to join me. Happily they both accepted. Still, I knew I’d be travelling alone, meeting, working, eating and rooming with strangers in a hostel and generally throwing myself into an unknown city and circumstance.

As the trip got closer, I thought I was doing pretty well emotionally but my body said otherwise. My normal resting heart beat of 62 was quickly rising.

Still, I bucked up my confidence and arrived at the airport ready to go. I paid to board early and got my aisle seat but started to twitch when a man a had seen at the airport bar (at 6 am) took the window seat in my row. He then proceeded to order a double screwdriver. Breathe in, breathe out. Fortunately he kept to himself, watching a movie on his tablet and I got through that challenge.

I arrived at the hostel too early to check in but locked up my bags and met The Middle Girl who gave me a glorious tour of the some of the Chicago parks, public art and downtown area and I fell in love with Chicago.

We shared lunch and then headed back to the hostel to meet E and the rest of the Sierra Club group. After introductions and settling into our rooms - a small dorm room with bunk beds - we all went out for a Chicago deep dish pizza dinner. (I love Chicago but I am still a NY thin crust pizza girl) and I managed to get through a dinner with strangers, in my introverted way, with no major anxiety.

Others in our group then went out to a club while E and I returned to our suite, exhausted from the day of travel. There we found a man in the common area apparently our suite mate. Although we asked if he might join the men in our group across the hall, apparently he felt very comfortable in a suite full of women. I did not feel much comfort with him which apparently was quite obvious as he commented on how scared I looked. Damn. Insides went to mush. Challenge fail.

But the rest of the week went smoothly enough with lots of time to get to know E better, enjoying conversations with our 74 year old suite-mates who ran circles around us not only in walking, planting trees and staying up to party long after we’d gone to bed. We also did lots and lots of sightseeing,

And I even forced myself to go on the Ferris wheel

But the highlight of the trip was that The Middle Girl once again joined me and E to tour the Chicago Art Institute and its amazing collection of impressionists.

Overall I’d say the trip was a major success for me. Besides from meeting two of my favorite bloggers whom I am very honored to call friends, I think I handled the challenges fairly well which will only build my confidence going forward. There were certainly moments of discomfort and anxiety, sometimes having to retreat to a hallway bathroom (the only private space in the hostel) to get myself re-centered, but all that therapy and training got me through them. And having a black belt roommate didn’t hurt either.

Many thanks to Chicago and The Middle Girl and E for helping make my world a little larger.