Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

     I did something very out of character for me last weekend.  I went "power shopping".  My normal approach to Christmas shopping is to begin very early (like....July?) and buy a little as I see things that call out to me as being right for a specific person- or to build myself a theme and craft gifts around that theme.  This year I bought my older nieces and middle nephew something just after my birthday in July, decided on a craft project and searched for materials for months until I was able to complete that and then sort of crapped out.

      My son asked for cash - he had a fairly large expense and wanted help with it so that was easy, but for everyone else I waited until I had my budget in one lump sum.  Last Saturday I intentionally slept in-well, woke up at the normal time then went back for a nap by 7:30-but I got some extra rest.  Then I woke up, downed more coffee and left the house by myself before 10am with the intention of not going home until I was done.  To complicate matters- (if you remember) I resolved not to shop at Target, Walmart, Best Buy, ToysRUs- any of the retailers who opened for Black Friday either on Thanksgiving night or before 6am on Friday.  That made it a little more challenging but I was committed.  Well, by 4pm, all I had left was to stop at the dollar store to pick up holiday "tupperware" type containers for a portion of my craft project that needs to be separate.  I made that last stop and when it was done it was as if a weight had lifted.  I was tired, my muscles and joints were rebelling but I was satisfied with the work I had done.  I took my time, I stopped for coffee on my way out and then for a protein smoothie half way through and really paced myself so I could get through it all in one fell swoop.

     Another difference this year is wrapping.  Gift bags have been my strategy in all of the years I have had RA and can be such a boon for us.  The other thing I have done is to order online and have it shipped directly but my sister-in-law protested to wrapping all the gifts as they came in.  So I decided that I would wrap- rather than using gift bags at least for the things I had to ship.  I bought some cute paper for the kids and elegant paper for the grown ups and set to wrapping on Sunday morning.  One thing I picked up was a little "cutter" for the wrapping paper.  I cannot cut a straight line with scissors-and I am the first to admit it- and with my lack of hand control it ends up choppy anyway. Plus- you KNOW it hurts to use scissors after a while.  Of course, after using this nifty little tool I realized that a coupon cutter would be just as effective.  I put my television on and started clearing out the DVR and got into a groove.  I would wrap a couple of things, stop for a break to rest my wrists and hands and then go back to it.  Just before 3pm I had everything that needed to be shipped wrapped up and in paper grocery bags so I hopped in my car, went to work, boxed them all up and prepped them for shipping on Monday morning.  I managed to get back just in time to watch the Patriot's game (yay football!).  While I was putting together dinner I evaluated my hands and feet.  I had been standing the whole time to wrap because I learned from my Rottie (who would instantly lay on the wrapping paper as soon as I opened it to cut) years ago that sitting on the floor wouldn't work with two curious dogs.  I also knew that sitting on the floor would cause me to lean over more which would stress my already painful back so I was using my dining room table.  Once dinner was going (home made beef/veggie/noodle soup) I decided to leave the gift bags upstairs in storage and keep on wrapping.

       Well, I didn't finish until Monday night but when I was done I felt like the chick in this year's Target "Done" commercial.  I danced around my table doing the "Done, Done---Done-Done-DONE" dance. :-D.  All I have left to do now is to pack my clothes tonight, pack for the puppies tomorrow night and then load two boxes full of gifts (and 5 copper pipes- a part of my craft gift- thanks to @Riotkat for the idea) and all of our bags into the truck on Friday afternoon and head to my folks for the holiday weekend.  I love this.  I don't feel at all rushed, I managed to actually wrap all but the gifts for 2 "people" (one was a full gift bag for the pups- who just won't care and the other was my best friend for whom I used decorated gift boxes).  I even wrapped Mom's gift for Dad (can't tell you what it is in case Dad reads this but I am pretty excited!) even though, ironically enough,  I talked to Dad on one of my breaks and he said "you are worn out from work- don't wrap anything- just throw it in grocery bags, none of us will mind!"  I even took my hubby's gifts to work and did a stealth job on his since he always figures out what I got him.  It makes me so crazy that I was this|close to covering the whole wrapped gift in shipping tape so he couldn't peek.

The nice thing is that feeling this well prepared is that I can focus more on all of the work things I need to get done before we close on Friday for the long weekend.  I am also not second guessing myself- which I do when I buy all year long-wondering if I forgot someone on my list, if I bought enough, if I am taking the easy way out by using gift bags- all of those things that stress me out about the holiday season.  That is the key word right there- STRESS- and for the first time in a long time I just don't feel it in terms of the holiday.

I hope you all have a wonderful Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule or whatever holiday that you choose to celebrate this season.  Next up- deciding what I want to do with my new year!  See you next week!  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Taking on a little TOO much.

The other morning, while I was getting ready for work, my Auggie went a little bat-shit crazy to get out the door.  I mean pawing at my slider (which he never does- he leaves that for Harley)and barking up a storm.  I popped back into the room and let him out on his runner.  I wasn't half way back to the bathroom to finish my makeup when he started going a little nuts outside.  That brought Harley running and she wanted out too.  I let her out to join him and again the barking started so I went out to see what in the world was up.  Now- we have had an opossum hanging around the house for a while and I figured they were going nuts about it again.  S/he "hides" under the neighbor's lawn chair in plain site but just out of reach and it makes my pups crazy.  Little did I know.

I walked outside and what do I see?  Five beautiful, majestic does wandering through the back yard.  These were not baby deer, these were fully grown, almost as tall as me, deer.  My little 22lb dog was barking furiously at small herd of deer that had to have weighed 200lbs each.  He was very lucky.  The "lead" doe just looked at him with some amusement and led her group down through our 20 yard "wooded" area that separates us from the neighbors behind us, into their yard and on their way.  They weren't remotely frightened of my brave little guy who was defending his territory (or his sister who was half-heartedly joining in his noise or of me for that matter), in fact they sauntered along as if there was not a care in their world.  For this I am thankful because he really could have been hurt.  As they walked out of sight, the three of us came back inside- Auggie and Harley for a treat and me to finish my makeup.

While I was applying my eyeliner and mascara I was ruminating on how brave my little fur-babies were when it comes to keeping critters out of their territory.  They routinely chase off rabbits and squirrels and that stinking possum but this incident gave me pause.  It made me wonder how often we let our courage take it a little too far.  I know that when I am looking at pallets of books that need to be opened, received and shelved I have a tendancy to face that mountain and tell myself that failure is not an option and dive right in without thought of the consequences.  This time of year, when our kids are selling back their books and returning their rentals and they all seem to get there at once; I will stand at window working with those books  for hours at a time until my hands start to swell and cramp, my elbow starts to holler at me and I over work my wrist so much that I lose the strength and it hurts to try to open a bottle of water.  I don't look at that line and think "it's too much, I can't do this all day".  I look at it and think "I can bang out this line, no problem".  It tends to get me into trouble physically and that in turn makes me a little bummed about the changes in my body and also makes me feel far older than I am.  I also think that this is what makes me a Tigger.

I believe I have mentioned this before, perhaps when discussing my tattoos but I love reading "The Tao of Pooh" by Benjamin Hoff.  It is an easy to read and easy to process introduction to Taoism.  In reading this, the part about Tigger really spoke to me.  The book says:

"A fish can't whistle and neither can I." There's nothing wrong with not being able to whistle, especially if you're a fish. But there can be lots of things wrong with blindly trying to do what you aren't designed for. Unfortunately, some people aren't so wise, and end up causing big trouble for themselves and others. The wise know their limitations; the foolish do not. To demonstrate what we mean, we can think of no one better than Tigger, who doesn't know his limitations ('Tiggers' can do everything'), which brings him in lots of trouble.

If don't know if there is a better description of me anywhere.  I know better but tend to blindly jump in and try to do it all and then kick myself later when my body rebels.  When I am going at some big, demanding project with no thought of how I will pay later it is just like my little guy trying to scare off those big and beautiful deer that were 10 times his size.  It's foolish and can have dire consequences.  More importantly, I know better and yet it still doesn't stop me from trying.  As I sit here this morning with my fingers taking longer than usual to "unkink", my shoulder throbbing,  my wrists aching and knowing I still have a lot of work to do both at my job and in preparation for Christmas which is coming at us at light speed, I can tell that I need to slow down a bit if I am to get it all done.  I just don't know if I can slow down at this time of year.  My stress level is already bumping at the ceiling and I have a feeling that if I try to back off a even a little bit the stress may bust through the roof and send me into a tail-spin. I think that after the holidays (ending with MLK Day in mid-January) I will have to step back and evaluate how I could have done things differently and still reach the goal of getting it all done on time.  At the moment I am just too far into the eye of the hurricane to be able to be objective and so I will have to finish along this path and hope that I don't send myself into a major flare by the New Year.  There are only 11 days till Christmas and 5 weeks until we are through our "rush".  The countdown has begun.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Going to make it a great week!

Phew!  I didn't feel like last week would end.  I spent 2 days in catch up mode, then 2.5 working in my "warehouse" receiving in boxes of books.  By Friday afternoon (after my dumb fall on Friday morning) I was hurting all over and left a little early.  Not that I hadn't put in my hours- I worked open to close on Tuesday and late on Wednesday and Thursday so I hit my hours but still felt guilty leaving with so much to do.  So- I woke up Saturday morning (okay- after 2.5 hours of sleep) and made a list of things I needed to get done at work and went in for a solid 6 hours.  I did my system backup, sent my list of books that are left to buy to my wholesaler to see if they had any used, then unpacked and checked in 3 pallets of books.  By the time I left work I was so sore that walking hurt and so exhausted that I came home, was in bed for a "nap" by 4pm, didn't wake until 9pm, was back in bed before 11pm and didn't wake until almost 7.  I am thinking that between the insomnia and the physical work everything caught up to me and I was done for.  Thankfully, Jim recognized that and let me sleep while he took the puppies out for their walk and fended for himself for dinner.  I could have gone in again yesterday- but it was time to say "no mas" and re-charge before this week.

I have been wanting to go to The Christmas Tree Shop.  We don't have them around my area and I used to LOVE going in there to see kind of neat stuff they have on sale.  If you have one near you and haven't been, I highly recommend it.  We decided yesterday, since we were both off and had nothing planned, to take a little trip up north to go there.  The closest one for us is about 3 miles outside Cincinnati so it took about an hour and 20 minutes to get there.  We shopped and wandered around and I was able to get 9 gifts out of the way.  Between yesterday's trip up north and the items I have already bought , that leaves only 2 to finish ( I am making blankets for my nephews) and 5 people to buy for.  That's a big relief.  We considered, briefly, going to the Cincinnati Zoo but it was raining out and we considered heading to the Newport Aquarium but with Christmas coming TOO fast, it was a little on the spendy side so instead we went out to lunch and then started back.  The bonus- for me- of the whole trip was that they have REAL Dunkin Donuts up there so we stopped and I bought a half a dozen bagels.  Their onion bagels are the best I have ever had and I just love them.  When we were on our way back, I was playing with Facebook on my iPhone and saw a post from the shelter that we got Harley and Auggie from that said they were in desperate need of certain supplies.  So we pulled off an exit, found a Dollar General (not to be confused with Dollar Tree or the Dollar Store where everything is a dollar- this place is just rounded to full dollars-confusing, no?)  and picked up 20lbs of cat litter,  and 8 pack of paper towels and 2 gallons of bleach and dropped it off on our way home.  Jim, as always, wanted to see the puppies and there was the sweetest little guy there who is the same mix (pekingese/cocker spaniel) as our Auggie.  Fortunately, someone has already applied to give him a forever home or I would have had a hard time getting Jim out of there without him.  We got home, Jim took a nap, I loved up on my babies and then made some dinner.  Needless to say it was a productive and relaxing day for us.

Today it's back to work for another long week.  We have to get the rest of the books out and on the shelf and then reconcile them to our orders.  Once that is complete- I will be able to stop and breathe.  I have decided that no matter what happens- this will be a good week.  I read a terrific quote yesterday that will do my best to apply to the whole week and it goes like this:

“Having more joy does not necessarily require a life overhaul—you may just need to create more space in your life for moments of joy.”—  Debrena Jackson Gandy

I have decided that for this week I will stop focusing on the "big picture" and look for those moments of joy. When I find them,  I will capture them, give thanks for them and keep them.  If I do that- there is no way the week can be bad.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's going to be a long weekend

There's nothing like, when you are already in chronic pain, injuring yourself on top of it.  I don't mean the tendency that I fight to not overdo it, I mean the accidents that happen that just add insult to injury.

Insomnia and marriage don't always mix well.  If I were single or if Hubby worked 3rd shift, I would wake up and turn on the TV in my bedroom or flip on the light and read a book, but that isn't possible when the person sleeping next to you has to be up bright and early to work.  Instead I get up and make my way downstairs so as to not wake the man and usually our Auggie hops off the bed and follows me while Harley-girl stays upstairs as long as she can snoozing.  Yesterday morning I got up and went to leave the room, turned around to get my glasses and tripped over Harley.  She had evidently decided to join Auggie and I for a change.  She yelped and I jumped then quickly picked her up and gave her some loving.  We often carry her downstairs because she is a little timid since she fell down the stairs a few years ago on her own.  So we started down the stairs and when I was about 3 from the bottom, I missed a step and down we went.  I held onto her until I hit the floor and she panicked and twisted away which means she dropped to the floor from about a foot up.  As I let go of her I flailed out my arm and smashed it on the corner of the wall separating the stairs from the living room.  I was sitting on the floor, holding my hand with my other hand, trying to check on her without moving too much because my hip and butt were screaming from hitting three stairs and the floor.  Hubby holler down to check on  me (nothing like waking him up when the intention was not to) and I wasn't too sure if I would be getting up from that spot and Auggie was jumping all over me as if he was checking me out to see if I was okay.  In the meantime, Harley had shuffled off to her crate to hibernate.  My biggest fear was not for me, but that I had caused her to hurt her back again.  I got up on all fours and crawled over and half into her crate and did a full body check before pulling myself up and making my way to the kitchen to start my coffee.  When the hubby came downstairs he checked on Miss Harley and got her to come out so she could go outside and do her business and at that time she was walking a little hunched over- as was I.  We looked like two little old ladies. After she made her sojourn outdoors, she came back in and went directly to her crate and pillow, not even waiting for a treat.  By the time I left for work she was back to sleep and snoring.

I worked until about 1pm.  By that time, my everything was stiffening up and I couldn't sling boxes any longer, plus I wanted to check on Harley.  I came home and she was up in her daddy's recliner, happy as a clam.  I, on the other hand, debated whether or not to make my way back upstairs or try to nap on the couch.  Fortunately, I chose up because apparently my phone started blowing up within 20 minutes of going to sleep.  I slept for a couple of hours and by the time I woke up bruises were evident on my hand, my rear end, my toes (I have a feeling 1 or two are sprained or broken) and a bit on my back and beyond that, my hip was hurting.  I wasn't allowed to wallow though because we had to be at Whole Foods before 7 to get a particular Christmas gift so I took a Tramadol and off we went.

By the time I tried to go to bed the first time, I was feeling pretty beat up.  It took until midnight for my regular meds to kick in so I could relax but eventually they.  I tried to get comfortable enough to sleep but that only lasted 2 hours before I was up again, stiff and sore.  I have to go into work today and I almost wish that it had not been unreasonable to go in when I woke up at 2:30 because I would have gotten a lot more done then than I will later.  I am already fading so I think a nap will be in order as soon as I get home.  Sunday we are driving up to Florence, KY (just outside of Cinci) to get some more Christmas gifts and then-hopefully it will be nap time again.

The lesson from this?  No more carrying dogs down the stairs.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scaling Back for the holidays

Sometimes, you really have to reach deep, deep inside to find that positive place.  I put my "baby" (yes, he's 24 but will always be my baby) on a plane Monday and it sent me into a pretty big funk.  I came home and essentially hibernated for the entire evening.  The cold rain on Monday and even colder misty rain yesterday  didn't help.  Instead it made me want to just curl up in my shell and wallow.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), there just wasn't time as I had to get back to work yesterday whether I wanted to or not.

While I am not *completely* out of the blues- the residual effect will last through the holidays as I would love to have him with us for Christmas but the better part of it is gone.  I thought it might be a good idea to share my strategy in case you are feeling the holiday blues along with me.

1-  If you don't feel up to doing something- don't.  I don't know about you, but if I don't feel like socializing and I try to force myself to, it only serves to make me cranky.  It's kind of like when I am dealing with insomnia and someone wants me to do something that will take a lot of energy.  Not a good combination.  We know our own limits- we can't let anyone try to set them for us.

2-  All of the pressure that goes with the holiday?  Who needs it?  Fortunately we are not required by law to do it all.  Take a good look and see what you can let go of then then just do it!  For example, we spend the important part of the Christmas holiday with my parents.  Since we won't be here anyway- why decorate?  We haven't put up a tree in 2 years!  Though I love my tree (it's a New England Patriots tree!), the hassle of pulling out the decorations, putting it up, blah, blah- is aggravation that I didn't need- so, no big decorated tree.  The only thing that I missed was sitting in the dark and just looking at the lights.  That "problem" is solved because my folks gave us one of the thin, pre-lit, corner trees.  We can literally pull it out of the box , plug it in and go.  I don't feel the desire to put any additional anything on it, it will serve it's purpose as it is.

3-  Are you entertaining?  If so, can you cut back?  We, for many years, through a blow out Open House on Christmas eve.  I loved everything about it- I loved the planning, the preparation, the cooking, the company, everything but guess what!  I don't miss it at all.  In NOT doing it for the last few years I have realized that even though I loved it,  I really just added another layer to the stress.  If I have learned anything at all- I have learned that I don't have to go crazy over it.  If and when I go back to doing a holiday gathering- I will probably do something like an intimate cocktail party or maybe even a cookie exchange.  Scaling back won't  hurt a bit and it certainly helps when you already have a million things on your plate.

4-  It can be very easy during this time of the year to let ourselves get overwhelmed with all of the To-do's and must get's and lose sight of our blessings.  I look at all of the Black Friday madness and I see people who have forgotten to be thankful for what they have in the insanity of the moment.  One thing that I like to do (and the reason I missed my tree lights) is to turn off all of the lights and sit alone by the glow of the tree with a cup of coffee, hot chocolate or cider and think about all of the great things that I have in my life.  It  can really, really change your whole mindset when you take those stolen moments to give thanks for the people and the other blessings that we have been given.  It can take the stress away and give you a sense of peace that is essential to get through this crazy time of year.

5- Finally- whenever possible delegate or double up.  If you find a good store that you like or a particular theme for the holiday, you can get most of your gifts in one fell swoop.  If that's not possible, find out if a friend or family member is going to the places that you need to pick things up and ask them to get them for you (and offer to do the same in return).  It will save both of you time and energy.  Ask your partner or older child to create labels for your holiday cards and then write the notes in them while you are watching television or just relaxing.  There is no need to do a marathon card session when you can do a few at a time and toss them in the mail each day.  Gift bags are your friends rather than wrapping each gift.  If you have children, you can buy plain gift bags at the Dollar Store and have the kids decorate the bags- that will let you save money on gift wrap, include the kids in the process and provides a more personal looking gift for your recipient.

That's my list!  I will be employing most of these items to help me scale back and lessen the stress of trying to put together the "perfect" holiday!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday/Cyber Monday

Well, it's that time of year.  I noted on my Thanksgiving post that I would write about Black Friday-and fully intended to but I was SO VERY aggravated and then as the day went on and news reports started rolling in  that my aggravation turned to anger and I thought it best that I wait.

First- I must admit (again, for those who don't know) that I am not a "shopper".  I have told my hubby for years that he is pretty darned lucky because I don't like to shop for anything other than groceries (LOVE grocery shopping) and that my hands are so small that despite my love of diamonds, especially rings, that even the most beautiful ring over a half carat looks like a fake on my hands.

My aggravation began with the fact that some of the retailers (specifically ToyRUs, Walmart and Target) decided to open on Thanksgiving.  I have never really cared that they open at 6am on Black Friday.  If people want to stand in line for a 6am opening- that is their business- but opening on one of the only two holidays that even retail observed- just sent me over the edge.

My son's girlfriend has two small children.  She is a single mother and, as we know, he has been here visiting our family.  She also happens to work for one of the retailers that decided to open early.  She found out when their schedule came out that she had to be at work at 1am Black Friday morning.  That meant that she had to find childcare in the middle of the night. Despite what some people think- there was no choice.  She was not given the option of working or not, she was told she would- period. We were all thankful that she has her mother to watch the kids- and that her mother was willing.  It made me think- how many other single parents were compelled to leave their children in the middle of the night to be in these stores across the country so that people could come in and act like animals over some stupid television or other "limited quantity" item?  How many of them, courtesy of the retailers decision to open early, had to leave their families early on Thanksgiving to *try* to get some sleep so they could be there?

Now- another caveat- I work in retail.  I absolutely understand the need to capture sales whenever possible- but you don't see me extending my hours beyond reasonable times during our version of "Black Friday".   You also don't see me allowing the same bad behavior over and over.  This year, in addition to the usual injuries from people being knocked down and trampled as the crowds ran toward the "door buster deals" we saw two people shot and two separate incidences on opposite sides of the country where pepper spray was used in large crowds.  How is this okay?  In what kind of society do we see this crap every single year and not only do "we" do it over and over but we invite it earlier and throw in more of these "special deals" through out the night to incite a frenzy!?!  This is not to mention the idiots who slept out in front of these stores (some WITH CHILDREN) to secure their place in line as early as Wednesday.

I hit my tipping point by the attitude of consumers leading up to all of this.  An employee from Target put gathered signatures and delivered petitions (over 190,000) to Target's corporate offices to no avail.  A "page" was created on Facebook and the story picked up on media sites all over the country.  While many sympathized with these employees and felt that there was no need to interrupt the holiday for a few extra hours of madness, even more flooded the message boards and comment sections on the stories online telling those who agreed that they "should be ashamed of themselves" and that "these employees should just shut up and be grateful to even have a job."  They actually had the nerve to compare these employees, the majority of whom are working at minimum wage and are just trying to make ends meet, with police officers, fire personnel, nurses, and our military!  Really?  Is someone going to DIE because they didn't get a 42" flat screen for $200.  I somehow doubt it- but they might just die in the crowd trying to get to it!  **Side note** did you notice that it is always the SAME stores where this occurs?  And it is the same stores that keep opening earlier and earlier?  I see a direct correlation.**

Obviously, I am disgusted with all of this.  The thought that we have become so consumer driven that all of this behavior is "okay" literally makes my stomach turn.  I normally opt out of the Black Friday madness but hit the rest of the weekend and  Cyber Monday pretty hard to get my shopping done in one big swoop.  This year, because of all of this and because stories are still emerging, I made a decision.  I am not giving my money to any of the retailers that opened before 6 am.  I am just saying NO.  No Target, No Walmart, No Best Buy, No ToyRUs.  There are a lot of stores out there that don't encourage this.  There are a lot of stores out there that still value Thanksgiving, that still value their employees, enough that they did not give in to the "peer pressure" and extend their hours this way.  My budget will more than likely not stretch as far- but I am okay with that.  I can get creative and find ways to get all of my gifts for the people that I want without supporting these stores.  As I see the ads come in, I will do a bit of research and see what time the stores opened (in case I missed any) and make my decision based on that criteria.

SO that's my rant.  I normally enjoy the whole process of choosing gifts for my friends and family but here we are, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and I am just not feeling it at all.  I am hoping that as I begin searching and finding gifts, the spirit of the season overcome the disappointment that I am feeling at the moment.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

It is once again the American Thanksgiving. Our friends to the North celebrated last month so today is all ours. I have to say, I am a little sad today. I have been keeping a close watch on the Black Friday controversy (for more on that, see my post tomorrow) and I have seen far too many folks who are of the opinion that Thanksgiving is no more than "an eating holiday". Have we really gotten so far away from the meaning of the day? The mere thought saddens me. Even though Thanksgiving officially kicks off the " holiday season" as it were, I have always loved this day because there is no need for division of ideals on Thanksgiving. There are no religious overtones to Thanksgiving, it is just a day to come together and spend time with family, friends and even acquaintances and reflect on the very many blessings we have received. That for some it is nothing more than a day to eat just makes me a little blue, after all- even if they are away from family and have no friends and only see this as a day to eat; they could be thankful that they HAVE the food to fill their bellies.

I remember when we were young and Dad (and Mom?) would go and serve the meal in the dining hall to the young troops who were away from home for the holiday. I remember Mom making batch upon batch upon batch of cookies to share with those young men and women to give them a little bit of home. That's what military families did. We always knew how lucky we were to all be together and when Daddy was away on a remote assignment, we traveled back to Indiana to my Gran's for the holidays. when we were in Massachusetts, I carried in the tradition by inviting some of my staff who were unable to go home to their family to span the holiday with ours. Of course, it's different now that we are out here. This is my fifth Thanksgiving since we have moved out here and if I have one regret it is that my Gran was not alive to see us move here and spend the holidays with us.

This year I am extra thankful that we have Josh with us. He is at a crossroads in his life and it is good for him to be able to step back and get a little different perspective on his options. Of course, I miss him terribly anyway and holidays are hard without him so this visit will make it easier for me to get through Christmas without him, without becoming too "grinchy" .

I hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday and that you have many, many blessings to count today as you gather round the table.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Oh Sleep...

Last night as I turned off my light, as I moved around trying to get comfortable with joints and muscles aching and surrounded by puppies on both sides, I could hear the sounds coming from downstairs of my husband and my son together.  Talking, laughing, just spending time together- and it was a beautiful sound.  It was as if all was right in my world and I could sleep peacefully.

Of course- that didn't stop the insomnia monster.  Less than 3 hours later I was up- at which point my Auggie jumped off the bed and followed me downstairs.  That was at 1:30 this morning.  Three hours ago.  I have been  catching up on my DVR since.  I have had a pot of half-caf coffee, prepped a second one for when Josh wakes up, and at some point today- I will so very nap.  Until then I sit here smiling, giving thanks for having all of my little family under one roof, if only for a few days.  And knowing that though Josh and I are going down to surprise my folks on Saturday (with the pups) by Wednesday when Jim joins us- the only thing missing will be my sisters and their families.  Sleep will get better- and maybe Wednesday night I will get the best night's sleep I have had in some time.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Can you keep a secret?

I have SO much going on that it's craziness and most of it I am keeping on the down-low.  Makes me feel like I could burst! I can't even mention it on my Facebook page because ALL of my family (Mom, Dad, Sisters, Hubby, Son) are on facebook.  Since I can't share it with certain members of my family- I will share here with you so I don't explode.

First- and most importantly- my baby is coming to visit tomorrow!  He flies in from Boston tomorrow afternoon and will be here until the 28th.  Now- you can't tell my parents- or mention it on Facebook if you are among my Facebook friends because it's going to be a HUGE surprise to them on Saturday when we drive down.  Just thinking about it makes me want to cry because I am so happy.  It's SO hard to have him there and us here so when I get to see him (the last time was in February) it makes me happy.

Second- I am crafting my way to Christmas.  I am making a couple of blankets for the younger kids and another crafted item (that I learned from @riotkat on twitter) for my Mama and my grandmother.  Some of these items are taking me a LONG time because of the hands not cooperating, but I WILL get it done.

Third-  I am also *trying* to teach myself to play Amazing Grace on the piano as a "gift" for my Dad.  Thank goodness for iPad apps!  I got a piano app and bought a book on playing the piano.  I know- that sounds like a weird gift but I have to tell you that my dad is a terrific musician- and it skipped a generation because the grandkids who have shown an interest are all very talented but we girls- not so much.  So it will mean something to him.

Fourth- I am working on a new book.  The theme of this one is blessings in disguise.  I have been thinking a lot about how many times we are faced with adversity and overcome it only to find out that what we thought was so bad at the time, ended up being good for us.  I am trying to decide if I want to do this one with contributors (ala the Chicken Soup series- one of my faves) or if I have enough to work through it myself.  So far, I am pounding away at it solo but I am leaning toward collecting stories to flesh it out a bit.  What do you think?

Well that's it for now.  As of 5pm today I am on VACATION!!!!  Oh wait- that's another part of the secret because the parents think my vacation begins on Friday (part of the keeping the son a secret because I spend my Thanksgiving vacation week with them) so I have to be careful about keeping that quiet too!  EEK!

Thanks for sharing my secrets- and in case I don't get anything posted from my iPad this coming week, I hope you have a terrific Thanksgiving.  I know that I have a lot to be thankful for and I hope that you do as well.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Next Iron -Top- Food Network-Star-Chef

Yes, I know they are all different shows- I love The Next Iron Chef (watching it now), Top Chef, The Next Food Network Star, Food Network Challenge- basically all of the cooking competition.  Today's theme on TNIC is "Ingenuity".  I find that ironic because each and every challenge that they face and WE face requires ingenuity.  Let's look at this for a second.  As we live our lives with chronic illness, we are called on to use our ingenuity every single day.

We find ways to get through the pain. The pain is a major factor for us and there are as many different ways to combat it as there are degrees of severity to our illnesses.  Pain meds, heat, ice, dietary eliminations, supplements and more.  We all try (and share) a myriad of different pain remedies.

We find ways to combat the fatigue.  This is my personal demon.  Napping, exercise, energy drinks, energy supplements, sleep aids; you name it- we try it.  Even more than the pain (in my own experience) the fatigue can be crippling and when we over do it this can be the biggest setback for us.

 We find ways to be able to do every day tasks that are no longer just "easy" for us.  In my personal arsenal there are grippers to open bottles, extenders to grab things up above my reach level, a tall husband (he's got 16 inches on me) who can get what I need, canes, walkers, shoes that don't have to be tied, clothes that don't have to be buttoned, fat grippy pens, gel grip hair brushes, water bottles with wide mouths (love VOSS) that are easier to open; there are so many ways that we manage to get it done when there is that moment with the "GULP" when you realize that you can no longer do little tasks that we took for granted before illness.

We find ways to cope mentally and emotionally with the "chronic" part of our illness.  This can be the hardest part for so many.  First there is the HUGE blow of a diagnosis of chronic illness.  Coming to grips with the thought of forever being sick causes you to reach deep inside yourself  for more strength than you ever knew or be swallowed up by the illness.  Perhaps even more difficult are the never ending setbacks to that barrage you. All of the little things that you can no longer do, the hills and valleys of pain and fatigue, the stiffness or illness that come and go throughout the day and the financial strains that come with constant doctor's visits, tests, medications and procedures and the strain on our relationships all combine and add stress to an already difficult situation.

It takes an incredible amount of inventiveness for us to fight one of these situations; much less all of them at once.  As far as I am concerned- if we are living with, fighting and overcoming our illnesses- we are the TRUE STARS.

Happy Monday!  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Be Kind-to Yourself

When was the last time you did something for someone else? It could be for a friend, for a loved one, for a stranger or your partner? Not too long ago, right? I didn't think so because most of us are caring, loving, giving people.

Now, when was the last time you did something nice for yourself?

I don't know about you, but I tend to put myself last most of the time, especially since I was diagnosed. I tend to feel as if because the future is so uncertain, I should do everything that I can for anyone NOW(!) before it's too late and I can't any longer. I have always been the nurturer. Heck, half of my employees treated me like a second mom. I enjoy doing things for other people when I can and the thought that the day will come when I am no longer able makes me feel as if I am already useless. Silly, right? I know, but it's just one of those niggling voices that live in the back of my head.

Another diagnosis-related-put-myself-last feeling is guilt. As the one who has always been very independent, I find it SUPER hard to ask for help. When I do finally break down and ask, I almost feel as if I don't deserve to have a treat on top of having asked for help. It makes me feel as if I am being selfish.

I am sure I am not alone in this. Heck, when Josh was little the guilt was similar. Whenever I would spend money on me, I would think of a whole host of things I could give him with that same money. As he got older, I got much better about doing for myself and when I was at my best- I had an appointment every Thursday for either hair or nails.

Then my health started to slide. First it was the weeks of pain leading up to a week in the hospital with pancreatitis and the removal of my gallbladder. Everyone rallied around me to help me with my work at work and at home. They made sure I didn't have to move too much and tried to help me stay relatively comfortable while I went from doctor to doctor, test to test. When it came to the point that I ended up in the ER on Superbowl Sunday and had the surgery the following Thursday, then two weeks recovery before I was back on my feet; they covered my hours, they made sure I had company and wouldn't let me stress about any of it.

When I got back into the swing of things, I felt like I needed to repay all of the extra work they had done. It took me a couple of months to get to where I felt I had "evened things out" and the flares started. It was back to square one as I started fighting what I later learned was my Rheumatoid Arthritis (and Fibromyalgia in retrospect). Again, through "injury" and fatigue and diagnosis and coming to terms with my illnesses, my friends and family stepped up and helped my through every step of the process. I can never repay them for all that they have meant to me through this.

Since that time over 6 years ago, I haven't really done much in the way of indulging myself. To be perfectly frank, I miss it. I miss having my hair done every other week in some unique 'do while I visited with on of my dearest friends (and the only person who I have trusted with my mop since she started Cosmo school) at the shop. I miss having my mani/pedi on the opposite weeks as I sat there and soaked in the foot spa in the massage chair. It was 2 hours a week that was not only "me" time but when I walked out of the appointment, I felt terrific!

I was looking in the mirror, cursing the lack of dexterity in my hands, when I realized how long it had been (9mos) since I had had my mop cut. I looked at my hands, at the swelling and the chipped nail polish and realized that I had a choice. I could either give in and cry, or I could get my head together, ignore that I looked like crap (seriously- wearing a bun almost every day at 44?) and start thinking of things I can do to get myself back to that terrific feeling again.

So this is my quest. I need to find some me time with me things to do. I am thinking I should start small and ease myself back in. To that end I think that on Wednesday afternoon I will stop at EarthFriends, get myself a coffee and a baked good and just read my book for a bit. Quiet time, book time, me time. Anyone else need some me time and want to join me virtually on this quest to be kinder to ourselves? If so, I challenge you to choose something small this week to do for yourself. It doesn't have to take a lot of time, it doesn't even need to cost a dime. It only needs to be something that you enjoy but haven't done in a while. Once you have completed the challenge, come back here and share it with us. I hope that everyone who follows this blog will join in and be good to you this week. You deserve it!

Are you part of the 99%?

     I am very fortunate.  I realize that each and every day.  I have a job to go to and so does my husband.  I don't have students loans to pay.  That is because I didn't complete college.  I would like to- but not if it means incurring tens of thousands of dollars in debt.  I don't own a credit card.  I know better.  We are not particularly good with managing our money in general- and we know that with credit cards in hand- it would be too easy to get further into debt.  That doesn't mean that we are debt free.  We have auto and personal loans in the amount of about....$18,000-$20,000. While we don't live above our means, we do live paycheck to paycheck. Medical bills for my RA make it difficult to save any amount of money even though we do have health insurance.  We also put off some appointments (routine physicals etc) because we don't want to add to our medical debt.  Yet we are fortunate and we know it.  I have kept an eye on the Occupy Wall Street movement and I can absolutely see where they are coming from as I have personal experience with their situations.

     I have a "child" who is an adult.  He has been out of work long enough that his unemployment benefits ran out at the end of October.  He is holding on by his fingertips but if he doesn't find a job soon, he will be forced to give up on living where he wants to live and moving out here with us.  He is smart, loyal and hardworking but because of his own past mistakes- when applying for a job he is more than likely shuffled to the bottom of the pile.  And what a pile there is.  It's easy to say "if they really wanted to work, they would work at McDonalds" but the reality is, there are so many good people out there looking for work and so few jobs that this is not an answer.  A good example is our local GE plant.  They announced that they would be hiring over 400 people.  They received 6000 applications in less than 2 hours.  That makes it very easy for employers to be very choosy.  That is reality.  The fact that is the reality makes it even more obvious that the "1%" are out of touch with reality when they dumped dozens of McDonalds applications on the Occupy Chicago group from the Chicago Board of Trade last week.  It also makes it obvious that the folks who did that just don't care about the folks who are out there, freezing their butts off to get their point across and the millions who are affected by this economy.

     I have always been a hard worker.  It's ingrained in my personality and it is how I was raised.  For many, many years I worked two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet.  I cannot do that any longer.  It's not because of my health (though believe me, that is a factor of doing it long term) but because I cannot, in all good conscience take a regular part time job when there is someone out there struggling to keep a roof over their heads that could do the job as well if not better than I could.  I do have an "occasional" job.  It's maybe 5 hours a month, 6 mos out of the year thing where I administer tests.  That kind of thing falls into the same situations as my "temp" jobs that I hire for each semester.  What is interesting is that though we hire 10-12 people as temps- I interview many people CAN'T take our jobs because it would jeopardize their unemployment benefits.

     This economy is in the toilet.  Jobs going overseas, highly qualified people being under employed, people losing their homes and jobs and the lives that they have worked so hard for through no fault of their own and entry level jobs being taken by those overqualified folks leaving no jobs for the true entry-level employee.  Even those of us who are very fortunate are just one emergency (health, accident- what have you) away from financial ruin and we are also concerned about our futures.  My personal 401k has tanked so hard that it set me back years in terms of saving for retirement and who knows if the Social Security that I have paid into for 31 years will be there when I am of retirement age.  When you combine that kind of financial stress with a chronic illness- it's just inviting a flare.  It's a wonder that all of us who live with these kind of illnesses are not flat on our backs.  It's a vicious circle because if we end up flat on our backs- we will have to begin disability which will put further stress on our already bulging social security system.  Just thinking about it is depressing.

     Lucky, blessed, fortunate or whatever you want to call it- as I look at the core of the OWS movement, I know that I am of the 99%.  I feel that what these folks are doing, standing up to the constant corporate bailouts (that allow the CEO's to keep their huge salaries and bonuses) and not holding the banks and corporations responsible for their fiscal mismanagement while so many of our people suffer is worthy of applause.  I do wish they were a little more organized, but the message is valid in my eyes.

What do you think?  Do you agree with the protesters or do you feel they are (as the media has portrayed them) way off base and just a product of the "entitlement generation".  I would love to hear other perspectives on this movement that shows no signs of going away.

Have a great Monday!  


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I just wanted to share

Because I am pretty proud of this.  Our local (free) magazine has an arthritis supplement this month.  I was invited to participate.  Now- I will admit that I am not overly thrilled that I found it hard to look AT the camera, but I have to say- they did a terrific job on their video portion.  I think it sends a great message and it's nice to see some of my "RA friends" in there as well.  They did a terrific job too.  Much less camera shy than I.  Way to go Donna and Susie!

I am embedding the video here and will link you to the article in the magazine below; you can find it on page 36:

I hope this message- especially from my friends who were diagnosed with JRA- is helpful to anyone struggling with their diagnosis.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Traveling and Meetings Again

I am heading out in the morning to a business meeting. We do these 3 times a year- two short "drive to" meetings and one week long meeting.  I have to drive an hour north and pick up a colleague and then head another hour and a half up to Indy.  We will be meeting all day, then have dinner, "entertainment" and bed before getting up bright and early Thursday, meeting most of the day and driving home.  I will be home for one night, then I am packing up the pups and heading another hour and a half west and visiting my folks for the weekend.  Sounds like a fun week, eh?

Well, actually for the most part it will be.  I really enjoy meeting with my colleagues.  No matter what the topic, no matter what the news, my colleagues are bright, fun people and we learn from one another.  We share ideas and support.  I also love spending time with my parents and this will be our last visit before Thanksgiving.

The un-fun part will be the actual travel.  2.5 hours in the car Wednesday, 2.5 hours in the car on Thursday, 1.5 hours in the car on Friday and 1.5 hours in the car on Sunday.  Those 8 hours mean one big OUCH with my hips and back.  Usually the time between my Friday drive and my Sunday drive let's things settle down enough that I don't pay too much but the 5 hours in the two days before will not be nice.  That said, I am planning ahead.

I am packing my meds tonight as soon as I take this evening's dose.  I am also packing spare Neurontin and Flexeril as a precaution.  I am (of course) taking my cane.  I am packing my Tiger Balm Neck and Shoulder Rub- no, not because it will be my neck and shoulder but because several years ago Tiger Balm made an Arthritis Rub and I believe (because of how it works) that they just renamed it since that came off the market and this went on in its place.  It's great stuff and I recommend it to anyone.  I am also packing thermacare.  Heat in any form will help a LOT.  I am also only half packing.  Normally I would pack enough to for the meeting and for the trip but knowing what I know about me and about how I overdo- I am packing for the meeting and then when I am home Thursday night I will re-pack for the weekend.  That will make the bag much lighter on both trips.  Needless to say- I have learned from my earlier mistakes and am applying those lessons to this whirlwind.  As I think about it- this is just one good step toward taking better care of myself.

Once I get home on Sunday and get back to work on Monday- it will be heavy into prep for our next Semester.  It feels like (at least mentally) that the time between semesters gets shorter and shorter.  I guess it is what it is and it will be what it will be!

Happy November my friends!  I hope you are all safe and warm and are ready for winter!    

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Halloween!

Here we are- Halloween again.  My favorite holiday of the year.  As I mentioned in the beginning of the month, I much prefer today to New Year’s for making goals and “resolutions”.  I like to consider this my New Year’s Eve and November 1st my New Year’s Day.  Though it’s not everyone’s thoughts-I am not solo on this view. 

The History Channel tells us: 

"Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter."
            It is my theory that, if our loved ones are closest to us at this time of year, they can help us stay on the straight and narrow with our goals.  So what are my goals for this coming year?  I am only making two and they are pretty straight-forward.
                             I am going to take better care of myself and

                             I am going to be disciplined about saving money. 

It sounds simple, right?  But it all comes down to making good choices.  The most important questions for me this year will be “do I really need that?”and “what more can I do?”  They work for both of those goals, you know?

 Do I need that chocolate (those chips, that pizza)?

 Do I need that new doodad? 

What more can I do? 

Can I take a walk? 

Can I make dinner at home instead of going out to a restaurant? 

The questions just work- as long as I bang them into my head- hard.  

The other thing I am going to work on- and this may be a multi-year journey- is to find my passion.  I have been thinking and thinking and thinking about it.  I don’t know what it is in my life that I truly have a passion for.  Oh, there are things that bring me joy but I cannot pinpoint what it is that I can see myself doing every day of my life that will fulfill me from my soul out.  So, looking for that will also be a goal- but one without a specific end.  That’s it.  That’s all she wrote.  Literally….

Happy Halloween!    

Monday, October 24, 2011

What I Learned this Weekend

     So you know that I am doing Oprah's Life Class.  It's really all about living the best life that you possibly can.  Each day is a different lesson.  I am a bit behind- okay, a lot behind- because of my self imposed evening tech breaks.  I have been NOT spending my evenings in my little office area (where my PC and television are) and I have been instead spending the evenings in the living room with hubby and the pups or out doing things.  Tonight I am going to see paranormal investigator Patrick Burns speak at the school.  I am too excited.  But back to this weekend's lessons from the life class.

     How it works is- as you are watching the show, there are interactive parts.  There is a series of questions that are curated by Life Coach Martha Beck, and then a journal for your notes from the show.  Since I am behind, I am using it in a way that works well for me.  I answer my questions online first, then save them to Evernote so that I can look back on them.  Then, I sync my iPad to the show which gives me extra quotes and polls that follow with the topic- you can answer the questions on the iPad also, but it's too much for me to do at once.  Meanwhile, on my PC I am on my online journal that accompanies the course and take notes of important (to me) thoughts that come through as well as the quotes that come through on the iPad.  My only criticism about the whole thing is that I would like to be able to go back to the content that comes through in the app but you cannot.  I really enjoy the way I am doing this because I can concentrate more on the class rather than trying to answer questions, take notes and listen all at once.

     The first episode I watched was last Friday's Joy Rising course.  It was based on the famous Car Giveaway (YOU get a car, and YOU get a car...EVERYBODY GETS A CAR!!!) and the Wildest Dreams bus from season 19.  The message was; giving joy, giving of yourself, is as good for you as it is for the recipient.  The quotes from this episode that touched me the most are:

"Anything that is of value in life only multiplies when it is given.~~Deepak Chopra
 "If you knew what I knew about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way."~~Buddha

      One of the questions on the "homework" was: When was the last time that you gave joy to someone else?  I think we do things for other often, but I don't know that we often truly give what I think of as JOY as often as we could.  At that time, I couldn't even think of an example but since then I do recall a recent time that I gave joy.  I am not going to discuss it here because it kind of feels like bragging and that is against the point of learning about myself but just recalling the smile involved makes me happy.  I also know that the surprise I have coming up (assuming they aren't reading this) will bring my parents joy and just thinking about that makes me giddy. There is so much truth in what they said about giving.  It really does feel good to be able to make someone happy if even for a moment.   

The second episode that I watched was last Monday's Who are You Meant to Be? show.  The first, and best example that was given to us of someone who was living the life they were meant to is Lady Gaga.  Now, I have a perverse thing where I tend to discount shows, artists, musicians that are instant sensations because often they are a flash in the pan- plus having spent over 10 years managing a night club- if I never hear club music again it will be okay.  From the first time she was on the show Oprah and Lady Gaga blew that out of the water.  Behind all of the crazy clothes and huge makeup is a person who is truly working her butt off to live from a really genuine place.  More importantly, her message is very simply BE YOURSELF because who you are is beautiful.  After the first show, and compounded by the other media appearances that I have seen, my respect for her has only grown.  Though her music is extremely dance-able, the words are very powerful.  If you have never heard Gaga, I recommend you go to youtube and watch both her Poker Face and Born This Way videos.  Look beyond the costumes (close your eyes if you need to) and just listen to the words and you will see why so many people, kids and adults alike, are gaga for Gaga. Again, there are two quotes from this episode that together epitomize what I took from this show:  

  "There's the gift, there's the spirit, and then there's the work- all three have to come together. If one of those things is off, i can stop you from becoming who you are meant to be." Jay-Z

"We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. " Anne Lamott

I took a lot of notes from this class.  The notes that I took that speak to me are these:  

  • Everybody has a calling. We just may not have found it yet.  Your real job is to find out what that is and who you are meant to be and begin honoring it.

  • "God - how can I be used in service?  First to myself then to others?" 
  • Honoring your calling make everything else better. If you are able to honor that feeling, that is when you most come alive. 
  • You never know where the inspiration to follow your passion will come from. It doesn't have to be the biggest idea in the world, it just has to fuel and feed your passion.
  • It's never too late to find your purpose and start living your best life.
  • If I live to 80, can I have lived my life so that I can look back with as few regrets as possible? 
  • Recognize that you have a calling, that your being here on earth matters and is meaningful. Everybody that is here is here in some way to lift up the planet. I all comes back to the recognizing the deeper meaning that is inside yourself. The answer comes when you are open to receiving it.

     This episode for me brought up a lot of internal questions.  It made me realize that I am not, currently following my passion but also that I don't quite know what that passion is.  My daddy has always said that I don't know if I want to be a cowgirl or a ballerina, and he is right.  At 44 I have still not found that thing that, when I do it, makes my heart sing.  

     Actually- I enjoy writing but more, I enjoy when someone reads what I have written and let's me know that it spoke to them.  This blog is a great platform for that because I get some really terrific comments whether folks agree with me or not but this is not something that I could support myself on in the end.  Perhaps what I need to think about is what steps I can take to parlay my love of writing and the interaction into a career.  I am just at a loss as to how to do that.  I also worry that I wouldn't have the necessary discipline to follow through.  

     If I learned nothing else, these 6 (of 10) classes so far have taught me one very big thing.  The biggest takeaway that I have from this class so far is this:  
"You can either chase happiness or you can choose to be happy. It really is that simple" ~~Robert Holden

     That quote is reminder of all of the things I have been working toward in my life journey.  It epitomizes what I have been saying in regards to living with a chronic illness in a very succinct way.  If I had the courage, I would tattoo it on my body where I could see it every day.  If I take nothing else from this show (fat chance!) I would be happy with that one lesson because it just boils it down to the nth degree.  

I choose to be happy.  I choose to look at everything from a positive standpoint, be it my illness, my job, my marriage, my family; my entire life.  I can go forward from today and choose happiness because chasing it is just exhausting.  I hope that you can choose happiness too.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Choose your Fate

****DISCLAIMER: My patience is a little thin at the moment, so this may be a bit snarky.  I am just warning you now so that if you don't want to go further, I will understand. **** 

The reason for my lowering patience is that I see so many people in bad situations, some of their own making, some NOT of their own making, who are just spinning their wheels and complaining about it rather than doing something about it.  Let me give you some scenarios from people that I personally know to illustrate:

Person 1 is miserable in their job.  They are abnormally slow at work at the moment and despite requesting to be cross-trained (the request was denied) during the down-time, they are bored silly.  There is also a lack of communication as to what's going on and what will happen going further which is making them crazy.  It makes them very cranky to be around.  The thing is- they aren't being proactive to either very calmly talk to their boss about their future or find a new job.

Person 2 is in the opposite situation.  They are unemployed and have been so long enough that they are coming to the end of their unemployment benefit term.  They are chronically complaining about the lack of work out there and how they have no money yet they are always "too busy" to really job hunt.  

Person 3 is in a difficult marriage.  Their spouse is - by their own description- selfish, rude, unsupportive and more.  The stories that we as her friends have heard over the years makes our blood boil.  Person 3 has a special needs child who she must care for and the "husband" is very content to quit/get fired and lose their health insurance on a regular basis- and is one of those people who feels that it is never their fault.  After he quits or gets fired, it's not his fault that they can't pay the utility bills or are close to getting evicted.  Whenever she gets the courage to even *think* about leaving he will fake a health scare to reel her back in.  

Person 4 has a chronic illness.  If you listen to them talk, they are the only person who has ever been this sick.  They are the only person who has ever been in this much pain.  If you listen to them, there is not a doctor alive who listens to them, who can treat them, or who is ethical.  As someone who lives with the same  chronic illness, it is evident that they expect a magic pill/shot/supplement/infusion that will make them better immediately.  When they don't get that- the doctor must be horrible. They have quit or been removed from more medical practices than I have been to in my life.  


Where am I going with this?  I truly feel, from the bottom of my heart, that we choose how we perceive our lives.  

  One of the...hazards(?)...of trying to live from a positive, gratitude-filled life is that we become more sensitive to negativity.   That means for me that I find it difficult to be around these folks for long periods of time without my patience being stretched very, very thin.  I actually find myself getting a little angry- which is counteractive to my journey.  

I feel that we all choose the life we live.  There are a lot of things that are out of our control, but we don't have to let them beat us and we don't have to allow the misery in our lives.  On her fabulous blog, Wellness with a Side of Life, our very own @ArthritisAshley posted a blog post about celebs with chronic illness in which she quoted AJ Langer as saying that her approach to living with Fibromyalgia is to allow “20 minutes of self-pity every few weeks. Then I enjoy my life.”  How great is that?  The recurring theme in the examples above is that they have become so overtaken by the bad situation that they are essentially paralyzed by their unhappiness.  

If I could tell them (without alienating them) I would say that it doesn't have to be this way!  I have bad days too, but when I am feeling overwhelmed/sad/self-pitying/a flare/whatever, I tell myself that it's just one day.  I know that each day is a brand new start.  I take myself off to bed and the last thing I think before I sleep is that tomorrow WILL be better.  When I get up the next day I choose to make it a better day.  It may not be a perfect new day, but it will be better than the day before and I continue that tactic until I go through a whole good day- and then I celebrate my triumph over the adversity!  Another tactic is to put myself to sleep  thinking of things that I have to be grateful for.  I may start with my family and end with being grateful that I am alive to have both good and bad days, or I may start with something big and end with the roof over my head and end with the blanket that I am snuggled under.   It's not some trademarked magic trick- it can work for anyone!  

 Maya Angelou once said, "If you don't like something, change it.  If you can't change it, change your attitude.  Don't complain."  and I believe that is so very true.  I also need to remember it on my own tough days.  It's been said (a million times) that when we choose to be positive, we attract more good things.  I know from experience that the reverse is true.  When we complain, we are choosing to give power to the negative.  Instead, let's all choose to take back that power and give it over to living a happy life.  When you do, the possibilities are endless.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

400 Posts and Counting

Wow!  This is my 400th post on this blog!  I just went back to the beginning and looked and it was 3 years and  5 days ago that I wrote my first post.  That first post was titled "Why Gratitude?  Why Now?"

That first post was about why I need to find the gratitude in my life and to live with the gratitude in my heart.  I did not at that time know where this would go.  I still don't have that down to a science but I think that I am getting better at it.  My fear at that time was that I would fall into the trap of negativity.  I still have my moments (reference my "Oh My Aching Back post) but they are much farther apart.

In writing this blog, I have been very forthcoming with my flaws and my struggles.  Sometimes I wonder if I should put it all out there but in retrospect I feel that I can learn from my challenges and if writing it in a public forum helps someone else, I can't regret it.

I am- at my own pace- doing Oprah's Life Class.  One of the first lessons that I learned from this class is that my perceptions of myself is not who I truly am and that I need to let go of my perceptions of myself and look deep inside to find out who I was meant to be if I want to achieve inner peace.  I also pulled a quote from this class that just gives me so much hope and that is this:

 "I'm not saying I believe magic is real-I don't, but that is the perennial appeal of magic- the idea that we ourselves have power and can shape our world." JK Rowling

What a terrific concept!  That the power to change our world is inside us!  

As much as I admire Oprah (and yes- if you haven't read my blog before she's been mentioned quite a bit) I have also learned lessons just from writing all of this down and then stepping back and reading it objectively.  I have learned that I need to figure out how to block that niggling little voice in my head that whispers the negative things.  It's that voice that tells me that I can't reach my goals, that makes me afraid to do some new and exciting things, that I am not good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, and on and on.   I need to "stand up" to that voice because I am allowing it to hold me back.  I see patterns in my posts that show me this.  

On the flip side, I have learned that I can do things that I never thought possible.  Writing in this place has given me the courage to write my first book and begin my second.  I have learned that when you recognize your blessings, even the very smallest blessing can make the challenges seem less difficult.  I have learned that you find friends in unexpected places.  I have learned that there really is strength in numbers and that from those numbers comes the best advice that I have ever been given.  

So there we go.  Number 400 is a moment for me to stop and reflect.  It's also where I would like to thank everyone who has read and commented on this blog (except the stupid spammers!) because you have given me so much support and so many great ideas.  I greatly appreciate you!  

Monday, October 17, 2011

What No One Tells You About Living with a Chronic Illness

When you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness it can be scary.  One of the first things that many of us do is take to the 'net to find out as much as we can about living with our illness.  There are many, many (did I mention many?) message boards, twitter streams and blogs that are written by folks sharing their stories.  Some are coping so very well and share their strategies.  Others, not so much.  Unfortunately, the not-so-much contingency is MUCH larger than the positive stories.

I had an appointment with my Rheumy on Friday.  I got good news and so-so news.  The so-so news is that she can feel and see the progression in my knees and ankles- especially on the right side.  It was almost a joke. She was doing her exam and asked me where the problem areas were.  I told her that the up and down temps were playing havoc on my knees and ankles and when she felt the right knee and it popped she said "WOW- guess that's the spot!"  I said "I guess you felt that huh?"  She laughed and said "It's almost like I know what I am looking for!"  We had a good laugh but really, there is nothing that can be done so it was kind of like...whatever.  The good news (for me!) is that though I received a letter that the insurance company had taken my current med (Orencia) off their preferred meds list and it would cost me more- my insurance specialist at the rheumy's office called them while I was there and they did a test claim.  It came back the same as I have been paying.  I asked about the letter and they said that it went to everyone who was on that class of drugs.  They also told me that if I had been on Remicade- my co-pay would have gone from $50/3mos to $1300!  I literally almost spit my coffee out when they said that.  After that I met with my parents.  They were up in Louisville to run an errand and brought me a plant (Black Calla Lilies- I LOVE THEM!) because I haven't been feeling well and I told them what I had found out.  They asked me some great questions and that got me thinking about all of the things I wish someone had told me when I was diagnosed.  So, without further ado- here's my list:

  • 1.  You are not your illness.  Yes, you HAVE an illness- but it doesn't have to have you.  You are the same person that you were, you just have another challenge to deal with.

  • 2.  No matter what your symptoms, there are ways to combat them.  Personally, I can deal with a whole lot of pain but exhaustion is what I struggle with.  I have found that there are different ways to deal with both and most of the the time it is pretty successful.

  • 3.  There are people who can help with the details.  A prime example is the wonderful med-tech in my Rheumy's office who specializes in the insurance stuff.  She not only contacted my insurance and asked the right questions to get the answers I had been unable to get from them; she also makes sure that we are aware of and handles the paperwork for the different co-pay programs.  She told me who to contact to make sure that my specialty pharmacy was covered on the current program which will bring my co-pay down to $5.00.  It's a big relief!  

  • 4.  You CAN get past the guilt.  When I was first diagnosed, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I caused this illness that has no cure.  It didn't matter that no one knows what causes RA and Fibro.  I was sure it was my fault.  It wasn't.  It wasn't my fault, it wasn't my parent's fault (there is no proof that it's genetic), it was no one's fault.  Once I got past that, a weight was lifted.

  • 5.  It's okay to give yourself a break.  Stress is a killer.  For me, it can bring on a flare faster than anything else in my life.  I have learned that I don't have to be on the go 24/7.  I have learned that a little dust doesn't hurt, dishes can wait a little while and a nap is a good thing.  Anything that you can do (or not do) to let your body rest and rejuvenate is far better than trying to do it all and exacerbating your symptoms.  Your loved ones would much rather have you as healthy as possible than scrubbed floors.  

  • 6. An open mind is the best way to go into this.   It doesn't matter how many people that you know have the same illness- it is different. Your experience will not be exactly the same, your side effects will not be exactly the same, your response to the meds will not be the same, most importantly- your journey will not be the same.  While we (those who write about their illness) share our experiences and our coping strategies; what works for us will not always work for you and you may find that treatments that fail for us will feel like a miracle for you.  

  • 7- Your support system is KEY to dealing with your illness.  It doesn't have to be friends, it doesn't have to be family.  You can find support in many, many places.  If you find that there are people who do nothing but drag you down, do not count them in your support system.  I am not suggesting that you cut them off from your life (unless they are particularly toxic) but that you don't let yourself count on them and be disappointed.  It will only hurt.  

  • 8.  Blessings come from many directions if you let them. I found that people that I had always thought I could count on were just not able to support me, and people that has been in my periphery stepped up in amazing ways- am so thankful that I was open to that.  I found that I can be thankful for the changes that my illness demanded from my life.  I can be thankful for it opening my eyes to a new way of life.  I am thankful for a myriad of things that I have talked about here over the years.    

That's my list this morning.  I would love to hear from my fellow chronic friends what I missed on this list.  What do you wish YOU had been told when you were diagnosed.  Happy Monday folks!  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Power Phrase

A friend shared this on facebook today- I love it and I need to remember it and read it every day!

Just wanted to share it with you, my friends!  

Lessons learned from a flare

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been struggling with a rough time with my back and hip area.  Thankfully, it is subsiding but this one took a bit longer than usual and I am so very not used to not being able to just power through.  That's how I have handled so many challenges in my life and when I couldn't (and ended up flat on my back) it was as if the rug had been pulled out from under me.

 I have been so very fortunate thus far in my journey to have never suffered from depression.  When this got me so down, I wasn't sure how to pull myself back up and rebound.  I have never in my life found myself literally just wanting to not leave my house; more specifically, not leave my bed.  If we were living on a single story, I probably would have pulled even further into myself than I did.  It was a little scary.  Fortunately (?) we live in a town-home style place and the two pups need access to the outside so I would s-l-o-w-l-y make my way downstairs in the morning, let the dogs out, take my meds, get some coffee, let them back in and then curl up either on the couch or in the recliner for the majority of the day.  Because of the fur-kids, I was unable to stay upstairs in my bed, no matter how much I found myself desperately wanting that.  On top of that, I felt myself becoming angry that I couldn't physically get up and go to work, feeling guilty that I didn't even WANT to go to work and knowing that the work was piling up for when I went back.  Top that off with  Jim starting to get sick and so less than usual getting done around the house and neither of us felt like cooking and both of us felt like comfort food.  It was a huge internal struggle and the more I struggled with it, the more down I felt.  

What I have learned from this is that I am NOT going to handle it well when the eventuality happens and I am no longer able to be as productive as I am now.

I am thankful that I can still be productive when I am in year 6 of my diagnosis and I have not given up despite the difficulties.

 I have also learned that I am more thankful than I realized that I no longer try to hold down two full time jobs, college, home and family.

 I am thankful for weekends to recuperate and a husband that understands when I need to just do that.

I have learned that I can let go of that guilt from staying home from work- at least enough to not spend my weekend there making up the time.

I am thankful that I have a flexible enough schedule and work load to work around hiccups like this most recent flare.

More than all- I am thankful that it is over and I can get back to my life.