Friday, November 8, 2013

Just Breathe!

     One more post while I'm on a roll. . . As we have advertised unashamedly on FB, we are spending a few days on the central coast of CA.  This quick 3 day trip has been WONDERFUL!  We love it here! This is our "go to" place whenever we have had enough of our Real Life.  Stresses just roll off our backs the minute we roll into town.  That first magical glimpse of the waves is enough to make up for months or even years of trying to get by. 
      We first came to Pismo Beach around 1980 when we were in California visiting relatives.  We were still living in Kansas at that time.  Our relatives had condos on the beach and we were their guests for a few days.  We rented four-wheelers, ate way too much and soaked up some much needed sun.  Dave's parents fell in love with this area and in 1982 after a near fatal heart attack his dad and mom recuperated here.  The next time we came to the beach was in August of 1989, the year we moved to Fresno.  We had just endured two summer sessions of Greek at MBBS and desparately needed a vacation.  Our kids were ages 6, 5 and eighteen months.  Dave's parents visited us from Kansas and treated us to a weekend in Pismo.  They kept the kids in their room and rented us a full ocean view room.  I will always love them for that! 
     After that re-introduction, we have come here countless times over the past 24+ years.  While the kids were in school, we would come every Christmas.  The beach is deserted right before Christmas so we would usually come December 21 or 22 and stay until the day after Christmas.  Sometimes we would bring all the presents along and other times we would open them before we left.  Some years the trip WAS the present. On occassion we even brought Christmas tree lights to put around a plant in the hotel room.  Whatever we did to celebrate the holiday, we ALWAYS, without exception had the time of our lives.  Those memories are among the very best of ours and the kids'.  There was a freedom in being somewhere that had no resemblance whatsoever to the way we celebrated Christmas prior to moving to CA.  Being in retail sales, how well we did between Thanksgiving and Christmas really did make or break us.  That's where the bottom line either fell apart or held us for the rest of the year.  Being free from that pressure was an answer to prayer.  Spending that time at the ocean was a little hard to get used to.  We almost felt guilty.  But, that didn't last long and soon we considered Christmas at Pismo part of our Friesen tradition.
      This time we brought our dogs with us.  To this point they have been terrible travelers so we always left them at home.  On our last trip I discovered that 1 Benadryl would calm them and they have become great traveling companions.  Having Abbey and Eddie with us this week has given us many joyful moments.  They have loved playing on the beach and along the water.  One problem when you're only a few inches off the ground is that when you run, sand flies in your eyes and mouth.  But, they have been troopers! They loved the mini ice cream cones the nice lady at The Scoop gave them today.  We loved the ones she gave us, too!  But we had to pay for ours!

The reason we are here now is because I have been slowly falling apart over the past few weeks.  Physically I have been a train wreck as I have been trying to adjust to a  medication change.  My emotions have been all over the place and with all the other changes in our life right now I had several mini nervous breakdowns and sometimes felt like I was spinning out of control.  Dave, bless him, has been riding the wave with me and has been ever so patient.  BUT, it's been no picnic for him, either.  He's on a medical leave from work due to worsening of some of the medical issues he has been dealing with and we are making some major life decisions such as: when to retire and how to live on less income.  Those things are not IMPOSSIBLE, just difficult because there are so many things to consider.  As things are starting to level off and I'm feeling a bit better, life looks do-able again.  I had to come here to get my wits about me again.  This brief respite from our regular life has done us a world of good.  It's given us a mental boost to help us face all the physical obstacles we are dealing with right now.

     Today I sat on the sand with the setting sun in my face and breathed.  In yoga, when I'm doing the deep breathing along with movement, I picture a wave crashing to the shore as I let my breath out and receding back to the depths as I take my deep breath in.  I did that today in tandem with the real waves and that was a powerful reminder of the how I can slow myself down and come out of my endless cycle of anxiety that I find myself in at times.  I also took the devotional book we are working through called, "Jesus Calling" which has been an amazing tool for both of us as it hits us between the eyes time and time again just when we need it.  This morning as we sat on the pier we read today's devotional and scripture.  The theme was that difficult days are inevitable.  It's what we do with the challenges that makes the difference.  The more we go through the more experiences we can look back on and say, "Yep, that was hard but with God's help we made it."  We don't think God deliberately gives us troubles just to teach us a lesson but we do know that if we use him as our guide and mentor things go much more smoothly.  It changes our attitude.  It brings us out of ourselves and puts things into perspective.  Just like these shadows make us look way bigger than we really are, problems seems to grow way out of proportion until they aren't even recognizable anymore.
     As I sat there today I began to get sad about having to go back home tomorrow.  Why can't I just always stay in this relaxed state?  Then I realized that my life includes all of it.  If I stayed here all the time not dealing with anything unpleasant, a whole lot of stuff wouldn't get done and I would eventually find myself in a gigantic mess.  I HAVE to go home and deal with insurance, Medicare, home repairs, and all the decisions I don't want to make.  If I consider it as part of my life just as being here is part of my life it's a bit easier to go back.  The beach will always be here waiting for me to return.  My place of Sacred Communion with God is anywhere I make it.  If I go gently through each day, being in God's presence and experiencing the life he has planned for me I can lead a good and satisfying life wherever I am.  Joy is always available.  God will take me away from the craziness and give me a chance to fully experience the reality of his presence and then return me to my "regular life" enriched and empowered to carry on.  This involves faith and trust which I have.  He know what lies ahead and that is good enough for me.  If I stop trying to control the future and concentrate on living the best way I can, I will thrive and can be a blessing to those around me.  If I don't project too far into the future I can see that I'm going to be just long as I can return to my beloved ocean now and then!

DON"T Pull That Thread!!!

How many times have we heard that?  Or said it?  We live in fear of pulling that loose thread and having all hell break loose.  Yet, we've all done it, right?  There's something so tempting about pulling it.  Whether it results in a lost button or a lost hem, there is danger in that first pull...

I've learned a sad truth.  After age 50 or so, that loose thread starts with your primary care physician.  Just walking into her office with a seemingly "minor" problem initiates the launch sequence.  With one small tug, you are sent into the dizzying world of referrals, specialists, tests, tests and more tests.  And this phenomenon occurs in waves.  The first is around age 50.  The next wave happens in the sixties.  We're experiencing our second wave and it is not FUNNY anymore!

With each pull of the thread the threat gets worse. It can start with something as innocent as a yearly exam.  You mention a problem with indigestion as an aside.  That leads to blood tests, the dreaded occult blood stool test which in turn lands you in the gastroenterologist's office.  "Probably nothing, but..." leads to a colonoscopy preceded by a three day prep (you do have a history of constipation AND you are on pain medication AND your other conditions preclude you to need a longer prep...). With a little 'snip-snip' a 2mm polyp is removed and the "screening" becomes a "procedure" and it goes from $0 co-pay to $300 co-pay just like that!  Oh, and by the way, since they also checked from the mouth down, they found some stomach ulcers.  New medication changes, a few dietary considerations and see ya in 3 months for another quick look-see. And, by the way, since we found something in your colon, we'll repeat the colonoscopy in 5 years, not 10.  Super! Sorry.  Oh doc, I also have a funny bump on my nose.  Trot to the dermatologist and by golly--you have cancer.  Come back in 2 months and we'll try to remove it.  TWO MONTHS?? you say.  OK, then, we'll see you in 2 weeks.  But what about this marble sized mess on the top of my head?  Oh, that's nothing. Don't worry about it.  We'll cut it off but it will grow back.  Just don't mess with it.

These incidentals are just condiments to go along with the main course.   Between the two of us we have Parkinson's Disease, severe back issues (too numerous and technical to go into here--trying to keep it light, and all that), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Hip fracture, knee fracture and back fusion with enough Titanium to build a space shuttle, Migraines, Chronic Pain, Mobility Impairment from nerve damage, arthritis and way too much stress.

Who pulled that first thread?  If we had never gone to the doctor in the first place we never would have been diagnosed with any of this stuff.  Oh, to be young and naive again!

As if things weren't bad enough with the health analogy, the thread philosophy applies to home repair as well.  Last time the boys were both home Dave asked them to take out some shrubs from the front of the the house a few weeks ago.(In this photo Matt is either directing the operation or mocking me as I scream, "NOOOOOOOOO")  They all thought it looked so much better and would be really great when they re-landscaped it, built a retaining wall, put some benches and a BBQ grill with a card table and folding chairs and lawn gnomes all around. How about 50 or so little lighted doo dads all over?  It all sounds so magical.  Again I scream, "NOOOOOOOOOOO!"  They laughed their heads off.

Within a week Dave had contracted to have 6--which grew to 8--trees removed from our property (see previous blog).  Now that the trees are gone, there is a whole bunch of clean up that needs to be done that was never done because of all the trees being in the way covering things up.  AND, guess what? The fence that the trees were holding up because they had grown around it is coming down and will have to be replaced.  Our neighbor would like to help with the cost but can't right now so--ouch--the thread just got pulled a little more.  When that is done there will have to be some repainting of part of the fence and then we may as well paint the other part that was replaced by Matt a year ago.  And, while we have the paint out, there are a few areas of trim waaaaayyy up close to the roof that we neglected when we painted the house 2 years ago that should be done.  As you may recall, that whole house painting project came to a screeching halt when I did the half-gainer off the roof.

The really great thing about all of this is that I'm sitting just steps away from the Pacific Ocean as I write this.  Nothing can hurt me when I'm here.  I'm not even stressed out writing this.  I'm not.  I'm not.  I'm not.  I'm not.  I'm not.  I'm not.

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

I've been meaning to blog for a couple weeks but something or other prevents me from doing so.  Is it really so much trouble to open the laptop, connect to the blog site and write? That's not the hard part.  I have to have my pictures ready to publish and sometimes that's just too much trouble.  Well, enough on how darn lazy I've become.  The belated topic today is TREES.  I am a bit of a tree hugger.  I love them--the bigger the better.  I appreciate the work it takes to grow a tree and really love the old ones with all their characteristic gnarls, twists, turns, zigs and zags.  They represent life in general as they persevere against all odds to grow tall and strong.  When we bought our current house in 1994, we loved the trees on the then 14 year old lot.  They provided shade from the brutal Fresno summers sun and gave us some privacy from the too-close neighboring homes.  I could lay on my bed and look out right into the middle of the huge Chinese Elm tree right outside the second story bedroom window and make myself think that I lived in a big tree house.

When I was in grade school, we lived in an old home in Eureka, Illinois.  It was then about 50+ years old and full of nooks and crannies.  My bedroom on the second floor had seven windows marching along the two outside walls.  There were big trees in the lawn that were in the right place for me to envision that I lived in them.  I would look out those windows for a long time just imagining what it would be like to be a member of the Swiss Family Robinson.  My last memory of that room was the day we moved to a newer home.  I stood in my empty room at one of the windows with tears in my eyes wondering if I would ever have another bedroom like that one.  The one I have now isn't the same but it's close.  Or should I say it WAS close...

Last week we had 8 trees removed from our property--three big Chinese elms and five smaller
volunteers that cropped up and outgrew their locations.  Our property isn't big and we have a pool that takes up half of the back yard.  If you're not familiar with Chinese Elms, they grow fast and big with large outstretching canopies that provide wonderful shade.  They also have millions of tiny leaves that clog gutters, drains, pool pumps and walkways when they fall--in our case twice a year.  They also attract a certain insect that leaves a sticky residue on the leaves and anything that happens to be around it, such as a car parked in a driveway. The leaves are so sticky that it's impossible not to track them into the house.  In one of our rare thunderstorms, they can be several inches deep on the surface of the pool so you can't even see the water.  Every single one of them has to be removed by manually skimming them or through the skimmer basket.  Sometimes it takes only minutes to fill the basket.  The roots are so invasive that part of the pool decking is lifting and all the sidewalks have huge bumps.  The neighbors on both sides have complained for years about their fear of the roots breaking up the foundations on their houses.  Dave's been complaining of that, too but I wouldn't hear of cutting down "MY" tree!

But, it had to be done.  It was sad but it would be sadder to be sued by a neighbor and having to pay to replace their foundation ( or ours).  The time had come.  The guys who did the work were amazing.  Using principles of physics and geometry, they used ropes to drop the newly cut limbs precisely where they wanted them.  The one closest to the bedroom window was huge and they only had a few feet to work with between our house, the fence and the neighbor's house.  It was fascinating to watch as they shouted in Spanish to each other.  They also seemed to be having a good time wielding their chain saws and making a calculated mess.
When it was all over, I dreaded looking out of my window.  As I scurried from room to room to assess the view damage I was surprised at what I saw.  My trees were gone but I now had a chance to see what had been behind them all these years and was for the most part, pleasantly surprised.  I saw trees that I never knew existed.  The new abundance of sunlight is welcome now as fall and winter approaches but I'm not so sure what it will feel like next summer.  Surely the A/C bills will soar.  Too bad we didn't have that extra $40,000 burning a hole in our bank account when we first considered solar.  We'll just have to deal with the heat next year.  For now, bright is nice.

It's actually quite nice now that the trees are gone.  Since we don't burn wood in our fireplace and didn't need the wood, our neighbors took it off our hands and things are pretty well picked up.  Of course, now that everything is exposed we see that our fence is almost ready to fall so we have to replace that.  Also, the vines that were hidden by the trees are completely out of control so we need to do some more cleanup there.  Also, there are years and years of dead leaves formerly trapped in the roots, trunk and limbs of the trees that now need to be cleaned out.  I love working outdoors but have felt so lousy in the past several years that I haven't done anything outside.  I'd love to get out there and work but can't do as much as I want to.  Also, our gardeners have had it way too easy.  Now they will have to stay for longer than 10 minutes to do their weekly landscaping.  With everything exposed, there's a bit more work involved.

Our neighbors have commented that things look better now.  The house does look a bit more magnificent and bigger.  Things do look tidier.  All in all, it has been a good thing.  Sometimes drastic change is what's needed in my life to make me realize that what I hold on to so tightly may not be what I really want.  Good life lesson!