Perseverence and Pride

“god grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” serenity prayer

three simple thoughts. how many of us beat our heads against a wall trying to change things that aren’t going to change or wallow in feelings of helplessness when there are steps we can take to make a change. ah, so it’s the wisdom to know the difference that makes the difference. words are easy, life is hard.

a year and a half ago c and i began a new way of life. and we’ve continued it to this day, which has allowed us to enjoy a healthier and happier life together. as somewhat of a culmination or perhaps continuation of his healthy life, c rode in a 65 mile bike ride to benefit the american cancer society this past weekend.

in spite of spending months training for the ride – which c completed with impressive dedication – he was nervous. he said he was nervous about making a fool of himself by falling or failing in some way. i suspect that he wasn’t nervous about completing the ride because he was certainly ready to ride 65 miles, but about completing the ride to his own satisfaction. and because he was a rider as a younger man and by his own admission just “loves to go fast”, he wanted to complete the ride in the same way completes his weekly rides — tour de france-type riding.

he not only finished the ride, but he finished the ride an hour earlier than anticipated and with the first 40 out of a total of 3,000 riders. here’s the spectacular part: this is the same person who had difficulty walking ¼ track in january of 2013. now, 110 (or more) pounds lighter, he rode 65 miles at a pace of 20 – 30 miles per hour and wasn’t even exhausted.

he’s now training for a 150 mile ride in october and i’m sure he’ll also finish that in spectacular style.

courage to change the things i can.

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Filed under courage, family, Fitness, health, Heroes, Love, marriage, weight loss

Ain’t No Bathtub Here

Let’s get ginned up! Through the fall and winter months I’ve been enjoying many a wonderful whiskey but now that the weather has turned hot, I’m back to gin.

Among spirits, gin is probably has the lowest sales in the U.S., so it’s been slow in catching the attention of new small batch distillers. Oddly too, people react rather negatively to gin.
Order whiskey and you get a “you’re so cool” kind of look. Order vodka and people flash you a “party on”, but order a gin drink and you’ll get this face.

Gin is having a bit of a moment in Germany, but they seem to be all kinds of snooty about it – as in, you not only have to choose what gin to drink, but what tonic to drink with it. Seriously? How about the bartender just make a damn suggestion ‘cuz my brain is just too filled up with old sitcom theme songs and I don’t have room to remember which tonic pairs nicely with which gin.

So the supposition is that people think they hate gin when what they actually hate is tonic water. I rather like the taste of tonic water. And I like the taste of gin. So there you go.
I have to admit that I’m going to use the skills of my pharmacist husband to help me make my own tonic water .

I was always content to drink Gordon’s or Bombay Sapphire dry gin with some Canada Dry tonic and a squeeze of lime. Then I kind of moved over to Tangueray #10. But, like whiskey, distillers have embarked on new versions of gin and I’ve stumbled upon a couple of them.

Some people at work started talking about a new gin that they started drinking. I’m pretty sure they just started drinking it because it’s hard to get and they’re competitive about being first adopters and not because they actually enjoy gin. No matter, ‘cuz I landed with a bottle of it as a gift.

Uncle Val’s Botanical gin is quite delicious. But, it’s not the kind of gin you go willy nilly mixing with tonic because it is veeeery botanical forward, you might say almost a bit chewy. I’ve found the best way to enjoy it is with a bit of fresh lime and some fizzy water, or sipped just ice cold. They’ve got some recipes on their website that I tried, but there are just too many flavors going on for me. Stick with a lighter accompaniment and let this gin shine on its own merits.

My favorite gin for right now is Blue Coat American Dry Gin. This has delicious botanical qualities but it’s smoother than Uncle Val’s and marries beautifully with a bit of tonic and lime.

But in researching gins recently, I’ve discovered that I’ve only just gotten a toe wet as there are a number of new American gins being made that I haven’t yet seen let alone tried. Food and Wine did a recent article on-line as did another site

See though, the nice part is that I have a lot of happy days ahead of tasting new gins. Now that’s a way to get refreshed in the hot weather.

** Explanation of the bathtub reference for those of you who aren’t up on American slang.

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Every Mother’s Son

what it is with young, middle-class boys going on killing sprees? i bet you just conjured up a whole list of names and faces of young killers in the u.s. in the last decade or so at the mention of that.

there is actually a wikipedia page that lists rampage killers in countries around the world with the date, number of dead and what happened to the killer. well if that isn’t a sad commentary…

i know a lot of people become angry that “the press” seems to focus on the killer rather than the victims of these tragedies, but looking at the killer is a way to understand what happened and maybe prevent the next tragedy.

to me, it’s not helpful to have ideological and judgmental debates about gun control or violent video games or divorce or absentee parents or spoiled kids or fill in the blank. what seems clear to me is that there is a great need to find a better way to cope with and offer proper help to individuals with mental health issues.

in the wake of elliot rodger’s rampage, his video and written manifesto appeared on line. i tried to watch some of the video, but it was too disturbing to witness a person so casually talking about what he was about to do even though the video surfaced after he had already done it. but i did read his manifesto.

with apologies to sylvia plath, an accomplished writer, reading elliot rodger’s manifesto reminded me of the bell jar. i remember being assigned to read the bell jar in high school and wondering why the hell we were being forced to read something so very depressing. at the time, i was the only one of four children still living at home, trying to deal with my father’s death and my mother’s depression and anxiety in the wake of that. the book was just too close to home. i often thought about resorting to the author’s solution of suicide to get away from the sadness, loneliness and mess around me. i was a teenager, a time when you don’t necessarily have the capacity to think beyond your own small set of circumstances.

it was clear that from a young age elliot rodger had some significant social issues, but as he recounted the story of his life, he continued to descend into some kind of serious mental illness. he was locked inside of his own mind, unable to see the world around him clearly, unable to see himself clearly, unable to express empathy, unable to make connections, unable to function in all the little ways that most of us take for granted as part of our daily lives. his parents tried very hard to get him treatment and find ways to cope with his issues but he was persistent in his rejection of help.

the manifesto is an interesting document in so far as it’s a glimpse into a broken mind. his obsessions, his skewed point-of-view and his narcissism were all evident. and yet, he was not ranting or muddled and so it was easy to get drawn into his world.

“it has none of the raving quality that you see in the writing of people with psychosis,” such as jared l. loughner, who opened fire on representative gabrielle giffords in arizona in 2011, said dr. michael stone, a new york forensic psychiatrist who looked at the manuscript but has no connection to the family.

and when you’re engrossed in a world like that it’s difficult to pull away. elliot rodger started to make sense to me and i felt his anxieties and his struggles. i had to pull myself away from the text and physically get away from it. i went to the farmer’s market and forced myself to smile and engage in conversation with people to shake off the world of elliot rodger. the space inside his mind was a constant agony.

unfortunately, rodger took out his agony on other innocent people and created a much larger wave of agony for the families of his victims. i can only imagine the pain and sadness felt by the parents who lost children in rodger’s mad rage. but i can also imagine the agony of rodger’s parents who were both on their way to santa barbara as soon as they saw his video and manifesto. on the way there they heard about the rampage, the details of which confirmed to them that their own son was the murderer.

how do you ever apologize enough for what your child has done?

we are left with dead children and the writings of a mad man and what we do with that is what’s going to matter.

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Next Steps

if anyone had told me when i was a kid that i would get as much pride out of my kids’ achievements as i did of my own achievements, i would have told them they were crazy. and yet, it has happened.

j, our youngest just graduated from temple university’s boyer college of music with a degree in music education and jazz performance. he was our third college graduate, so we’re three for three and most of our friends and family are sick of us bragging about it. well, sometimes you get the privilege of bragging. at least for a little while.

it’s not just the big things like graduating from college that get me beaming. it’s all the day-to-day things they do – things that show how they use their skills and talents and figure things out – that make me so proud.

all three of our kids are working and mostly self-supporting and these days that’s saying a lot. so maybe they don’t have the job they always wanted yet (how many of us do), or are earning as much as they want to earn (how many of us do) but they are working and living their own lives, making their own decisions and navigating their own relationships. in short, they have been launched.

every once in a while we meet up with parents of kids that our kids went to school with and it’s astonishing to hear just how many kids didn’t make it through the whole launch process very well. i’m not judging based on things like living at home due to college debt or trouble finding a job — that’s stuff tied to the economy and screwed up political decisions in this country – i’m talking about bigger issues like drugs or crime or early divorce or aimless/chaotic living, jail or even death from drug overdose.

it’s very sad to hear that some of those kids who were filled with potential when they were little just lost something along the way. it makes me wonder what happened and why. sometimes you could see that it was parents not taking up the job of being a parent and sometimes it seems like there is little reason at all. i don’t believe in always blaming parents because it seems to me that parents can’t take credit for all the good in their kids nor can they be blamed for all the bad.

it makes me grateful that c and i have three great kids. we love them, we’re proud of them and we’re so happy to have good relationships with them and their significant others. life doesn’t get much better than that.


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My Sister’s Coats

it’s finally spring. no, really, i think we can trust it this time. the weather’s been holding at about 45 – 50 degrees at night and we’ve seen this thing called the sun during the day.

it’s time to move the winter clothes out of the closet and put the spring and summer clothes in, not to mention get rid of the winter stuff that hasn’t been worn in a few years or some that’s just looking too ragged to wear at all anymore.

if you live in a climate like we have here in philadelphia, you have to have a couple of sets of clothing to make it through the year and to go along with that you need to have a wardrobe of coats and jackets for the various seasons. you need casual jackets, lightweight for spring and fall, heavier weight for winter and dressy jackets both lightweight and heavier weight, as well as at least one waterproof coat/jacket, maybe with a zip out lining. it can get expensive.

for many years i just put up with what i had and went around cold, wet or shabby. then my sister died. that’s an odd thing to say, but sadly, as we found out after she died, my sister was a hoarder. she had multiples of very many things– clothing, shredders, books, not to mention trash– piled from floor to ceiling in her little carriage house. literally floor to ceiling and wall to wall. as my brother, sister, husband and i culled through the mess, we uncovered a collection of coats and jackets that would rival that in a small store. many of the coats/jackets that we found were donated to charity, some my other sister took and some i shipped home for myself.

don’t think i’m crazy but the first time i put on one of the jackets after getting them home, i felt the distinct sensation of someone tightly hugging me. i wasn’t frightened or nervous, just calm. i think i even said my sister’s name out loud. i choose to believe that she was saying hello or goodbye or something. i never felt it again.

anyway, it turns out that four of the jackets that belonged to my sister were very useful to me and i wore them for many years before i lost weight and they were just too big to wear anymore. but during that period of time, i learned the wisdom of having a proper wardrobe of coats and jackets. i heard someone say recently that she didn’t so much mind the last winter, even though it was a rough one, mainly because she finally had all of the right gear to go out in. i understand.

so, for the past year i have been building a proper wardrobe of coats and jackets that fit correctly, are useful in each season and that i have something appropriate for work, dress and casual wear. as a result, i’m finally divesting myself of the coats/jackets that once belonged to my sister.

but they are still sitting in a trash bag waiting for me to drop them off at goodwill and i can’t seem to get myself to finish this task. i have no more practical use for the coats/jackets, but clearly i have some emotional use for them. some of the most difficult times of my life occurred while i had use of my sister’s coats and jackets and those moments are pinned to those articles of clothing. as long as i have those jackets and coats of hers, i am still pinned to her even though she has been gone for over 11 years. i have other items of hers – jewelry, pottery, photographs she took – but none of them seem as personal as the coats and jackets.

still, i’m sick of looking at the trash bags. and i’m not a person who likes clutter.

purple heart called the other day to say that they are stopping on our street next week. i committed to two bags of clothing – the two bags i have sitting in the downstairs bedroom that contain my sister’s coats/jackets.

somehow it’s easier to passively leave them on the front lawn for pickup than load them in the car and drop them off at goodwill myself.

then, for the first time in many years, i will have a closet full of coats/jackets that are pinned to me.

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Healthcare is Making Me Sick

if you had a 7pm dinner reservation and the restaurant kept you waiting until 8:30 to be seated, you’d have plenty to say, right? maybe you wouldn’t even stick around until 8:30 because there are always plenty of other restaurants who will seat you right away and serve you good food. you’d probably post something on social media to warn others and you’d most certainly tell people about your lousy experience.

so why do we put up with the nonsense from our doctors and the healthcare system?

my blood pressure is still elevated after trying to play catch up with doctor’s appointments over the past couple of weeks. i’m not ill, i just wanted to change my primary care doctor and i needed some prescriptions refilled and got a recommendation to see an ear, nose and throat specialist regarding the tinnitus in my right ear.

changing primary care doctors was far more work and aggravation than necessary. it occurs to me that i should be in primary control of my personal health records with my doctor as a co-guardian so that they go where i go and i don’t have to beg and cajole and pay to get them moved.

after i finally got everything moved and had my appointment and my bloodwork done, i asked for the one thing i needed all along – prescription refills. guess what was the one thing the doctor didn’t do even after i reminded her.

next was the ear, nose and throat specialist. the ent specialist’s office was very nice when i called to make the appointment and told me to download the new patient forms and fill them out before the appointment. being the dutiful patient that i am, i do just that. after searching for the building that houses the ent doctor, since there is no address number on the building, i arrive at the office with papers in hand.

i hand over my new patient paperwork only to be greeted with a disgusted harrumph by the front office person who hands me a clipboard with new patient paperwork and a snarl that the paperwork i have is not correct. when i sit down to fill out the new patient paperwork, i discover that what i had downloaded was actually the updated version of the paperwork i was handed. rather than argue with the rude staff, i filled out the second set of paperwork, which would have gone a lot faster if i had had the old paperwork to copy from.

paperwork done, i waited to be taken back for my 3pm appointment. by 4:05 i was still sitting the waiting room. i wasted an entire hour listening to the office staff complain about everything under the sun, as well as work as inefficiently as possible due to their obvious lack of computer knowledge. by 4:15, i was thinking about leaving because the time on my parking meter was about to run out and i was just thoroughly disgusted by the wait time, not to mention the staff’s attitude. problem was, they took my insurance card and clipped it to my file so i’d have to confront the staff to get it back.

just as i was contemplating my escape, i heard the rude office staffer say to another staffer, “take this lady back before anyone else”, at which point i look up to see a dramatic roll of the eyes. i wait to see whether i’m the one taken back next, which would make me the “lady”. sure enough. i’m put in an exam room where i wait another 20 minutes before the doctor shows up.

the doctor was pleasant and knowledgeable but rushed. i waited 90 minutes for her but she can’t spend more than 10 with me.

i have a quick exam and some audiology tests then meet with the doctor again who tells me about as much as i already knew from reading about tinnitus on the internet. she tells me to get an mri to rule out something that she doesn’t even think is the case and basically tells me to get a white noise machine to “retrain” my brain. there is no cure for tinnitus, what you have to do is feed yourself constant low level noise to try to condition your brain to get used to it so you will notice the tinnitus less. um, okay.

just attempting to talk about scheduling the mri with the office staff was an exercise in aggravation and i exited the office without scheduling anything. from the research that i’ve done, the audiology test and examination were enough information to rule out something major that an mri might find. i’m not willing to waste more of my time and spend more on copays so that a doctor can play cya. what i wanted was to get my money’s worth from the ent doctor in the first place.

after witnessing L’s intense healthcare experience during her bone marrow transplant, i understand now that if you have a disease that requires intensive interplay between doctors and treatments, you will likely get the most efficient version of healthcare in america – that’s not to say it’s easy, just that the providers have a better chance of being clustered together for better access and information sharing.

but if you are trying to move through the patchwork mess of a healthcare system for care that is important but not critical or life threatening, you’d better be prepared to put in a lot of work on your own and know when you should allow a provider to spend your money and when it’s time to pin them down and get service from them and not get passed off.

the part of the equation that the healthcare system doesn’t get is that their patients are paying customers. do you frequent businesses whose hours are inconvenient for you? you do with doctors. you probably wouldn’t burn through pto to go to the cleaners, but you have no choice with doctors because doctors only work 9 – 4 and not on saturdays. the cleaners are open on saturday.

if you were charged for an expensive test on your car “just because” you’d have plenty to say about that. if someone messed up your take-out order, you’d give them an earful, yet we are forced to put up with the lousy service, high cost and perfunctory care offered by our healthcare system.

this is not the fault of “obamacare”, this is a problem with a system that makes it so difficult to take your business elsewhere that you’re stuck with the same bad service. maybe our insurance companies should give us the option to consider our copay as a tip for service. better yet, you know how doctors and staff spend a great deal of their time applying codes so they can get paid for your visit? how about insurance companies create a payment code list for service, satisfaction and health concern treatment/resolution that the patient fills out?

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Pysankas and more

When I was little my mom started a collection of eggs for me. Unfortunately, I don’t exactly know why and I never asked, but I suppose it was just something for us to share. The first eggs were little Limoges porcelain eggs from France that a neighbor brought home after a trip to France. Then I got it in my head to collect an egg from countries around the world. I have quite a few but I haven’t added to the collection in many years and I struggle with where to put all the ones I have. I displayed some of them for awhile, but honestly, it just feels too fussy to have around, not to mentioned that it’s a pain in the neck to dust.

Still, this time of year I can’t resist taking the pieces out and enjoying their beauty and the memories associated with them. I share just a few with you here.

These are pysanka, traditional Ukrainian easter eggs. They are real egg shells with intricate designs dyed onto the shell using a batik wax technique. A student of my mom’s brought them back from a trip and I’m amazed that a high school student got them from Ukraine to the US in one piece.

This is a large porcelain egg from Hungary. The artist used a single hair brush to paint some of the detail in the design.

Another large porcelain egg with a bisque finish from Japan. The flowers are raised and delicate.

Blue and white glazed pottery egg from Portugal. I just love how the artist placed the flowers and left a lot of white space.

Classic Wedgewood pottery egg. This is the smaller of the two that I own. The larger one got broken by the kids when they were little because I foolishly left it out on the coffee table. Cliff meticulously pieced it back together but it still looks like a mess. I keep it though, I just don’t put it out.

Large Irish Belleek china egg. Besides that it is the iconic bone color and high glaze, I just love how the stylized flowers are kind of randomly sprinkled over the egg, giving it a kind of movement and lightness.

This is a plexiglass egg that my sister got me many years ago when I visited her in Berkeley, CA in 1972. The artist, who lived near her, poured liquid plexiglass in half of the mold, suspended a dried flower inside then poured move plexiglass to fill the mold. It’s difficult to do this without getting any bubbles inside. This material scratches very easily but I’m managed to keep it relatively scratch free.

Various stone eggs. Some agate and some marble. The two white eggs are just frosted glass and I was told that they were used to encourage hens to lay eggs where you wanted them to be laid.

The Limoges eggs from Limoges, France where the porcelain is made. The small egg with the yellow flower was the first egg in the collection, brought back from France by a friend of my mother’s. It very much reminds me of my mother as she was an avid rose gardener and her favorite color was yellow.

This is just a fraction of the collection, I’ll share more as the years go by. I’ll probably always struggle with the pull of displaying the collection vs. the uncluttered feeling of a clean room. But the pieces are filled with memories and a reminder of my mother.

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