Saturday, January 31, 2009

Embrace What Is

Accept what comes to you totally and completely so that you can appreciate it, learn from it, and then let it go. -Deepak Chopra

I took this saying from a book I bought for Sue while I was visiting her in AZ because I wanted to remember it. I've been in a dry spell in terms of writing lately so I thought I'd take out this quite and use it as a topic for a blog.

So often I find that I've fought against what comes to me, tried to change it in some way or not appreciated the lesson it had to teach me. This year I've been attempting to be more in tune with events and experiences; embrace them instead of trying to change how things are or wishing things were different. It takes a lot of energy to do that ,energy that could be better spent elsewhere. What a simple concept but it's one that has taken me over 40 years to learn.

I've come to appreciate the fact that I don't work outside the home. Yes, it makes me uncomfortable when someone asks me "what do you do for work", that's probably something I'll never get over. But I'm starting to embrace the fact that I am a homemaker and can do so many things that other people aren't able to do. Why fight reality? I can't change it so no sense in wasting the time and energy wishing it was different.

I'm guilty of projecting my insecurities on other people and imagine that they might think less of me for not working. Do some of them actually look down on me? Possibly, or maybe even probably. Why should I care? Are these people I really want to spend time with then, if they would judge someone on that simple fact? The answer is no. I need to learn to not care what others think of me and just be happy as what I am. More than likely the majority of people don't even give it a second thought that I don't work outside the home; I have CF. It's just who I am and part of my life. On to next topic of conversation.

Of course, I'm thinking of only this one example and how it applies to the quote from Deepak Chopra. Keeping it in mind in any situation that arises will be a big step foward in living a happier and more peaceful life.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Cactus Country

Quite a bit has happened in the past week. I got out of the hospital on Monday, coincidentally the same day Joe started his new job. Man, it's good to be home. I was relieved that the kitties didn't forget me, though they were a bit hesitant around me at first. It didn't take them long to warm up, however. How I missed those furry little critters! Just being home was such a treat; sleeping in my own bed, eating home cooked food, not being poked and prodded constantly and best of all being able to take a nice, long shower without the worry of keeping my PICC line dry. Aaaaaahhhhh.

Just as I was settling into the routine of being back home, Thursday arrived. For 2 months I'd been planning to visit Sue for a long weekend and suddenly it was time to get on the plane and go. To make the trip even more enticing, we got about 6 inches of snow the day before and then rain on top of it, which then froze and created a nasty, icy mess. See ya, New England weather!!

It really blows my mind sometimes to think that you can just hop on a plane and in a matter of 5 hours be in a totally different climate. The differences this time couldn't be much more extreme, from several feet of snow and ice and below freezing temperatures to the desert, where it's green (and brown) and 70 degrees. It's absolutely heavenly.

We took Oscar, her new dog, for a walk before sunset to look at the sun on the mountains in the distance, it was so beautiful. Sue prepared a delicious dinner and after that we finished off the bottle of wine by the fire out in the back yard. The sky is enormous and clear, and the stars were all shining brightly for us to see. It was a wonderful evening.

From the moment Sue picked me up at the airport I feel like I've been talking her ear off. We're cackling like the 2 hens Joe says we are! It's so good to be able to spend time with her, I've missed talking to her by phone this past year since she's been working full time. We still get to catch up one or two times a week, but not nearly as frequently as we used to. I know it's just temporary, but this visit is exactly what I needed- some concentrated, fun girl-time. I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful best friend.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Memo to Myself

I'm really amazed at the difference in how I feel. The weekend prior to my admission I kept saying to Joe "I don't really need to go in, you know". I had myself completely convinced that I was being frivolous in agreeing to the admission, that if I just waited a little longer things would right themselves and I'd lose the sense of exhaustion I'd been struggling against for the past couple months. I didn't want to subject myself to the PICC line that snakes from my bicep, up the vein in my arm and into the SVC, the big vein that goes into my heart. I didn't want to take the heavy-duty antibiotics that damage my kidneys and hearing. I didn't want to deal with the 2 weeks away from my home, family and friends. Two weeks in a strange place, being poked and prodded, eating crappy food and not being able to sleep through the night.

Something in me must have made me do it, though I was convinced I didn't "really" need it. After 5 days on the antibiotics I started feeling better and noticed that I could move more air when I breathed. Exercise wasn't as exhausting as it had been. Ok, so maybe I did need the antibiotics after all. Had I really been sick?

Today after exercise I'm blown away by the difference in how I feel. I was able to increase the speed at which I was exercising, after getting the duration up to 30 minutes. Even at the increased speed I didn't feel as winded and exhausted as I had just a week ago. Tomorrow I'll see if I can bump the speed up another .10 of a mile/hour. This is the best part, when the progress is evident and things are improving. I guess it's no wonder I go into denial when things are going downhill! It's depressing. Who wants to acknowledge a decline in function?

I admit it: I was wrong. I DID need to come in and have a 2 week course of IV antibiotics. I told Joe to remind me next time I say "I really don't need to do this" that the previous time I said the same thing, and see how much different I felt? Like as not, I won't listen to him, but maybe one of these times I won't fight it so much and I'll just accept it as something I need to do. Something that isn't much fun, but is a necessary evil, and as the dangling carrot I have the fact that I'll feel so much better afterwards.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thought for the Day

Why is everyone so happy here except me?"Because they have learned to see goodness and beauty everywhere," said the Master.

Why don't I see goodness and beauty everywhere?"Because you cannot see outside of you, what you fail to see inside."

What is happiness? Is it something that comes from within, or caused by external things? I prefer to believe that it is generated from the inside and not because of circumstances, environment or possessions. We all have the ability to be happy regardless of what is going on around us.

This isn't to say that we have to like everything that happens or simply accept bad circumstances; only that our happiness doesn't depend upon things being "perfect". If we are waiting for something - an event, a new purchase, a circumstance - that will make us happy we'll always be searching. Happiness will always be just beyond our fingertips. Why waste the time? Look inside, see the beauty and accept that we always have the ability to be content. Peace.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a Day

I'm not one for watching much television; in fact, I'm somewhat television averse. Today was different, I've had the TV on the entire day. The reason? Today was the day our 44th president was inaugurated, Barak Hussein Obama, the country's first African-American president.

There was a part of me that didn't really believe he'd be elected; still, I hoped against hope, feeling that he'd be the right leader for our country at this particular time in history. When the news came down that he was going to be our next commander-in-chief there was a renewed sense of hope. People seemed to have a sense of optimism that had been absent for a number of years now.

The coverage started early this morning but the moment most people were waiting for happened at 12:04: Barak Obama was sworn in as president. It was a truly amazing moment. I found my eyes welling up for some inexplicable reason. Not only do I feel that our country will be going in a new direction, it's a real sign of hope that we now have our first Black president. I'm very proud of my country, something I haven't had much occasion to say much in the past 8 years.

Another special milestone for today is that it's our 19th anniversary. Over the years we've had some wonderful times and some difficult times, but I can't think of anyone else I'd rather go through life with. I love you, Joe.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Number Four

Thanks to my friend Ellie for this blog, who tagged me to post the 4th picture in my 4th file in my photos. I took this one last spring, April to be exact, and although it's impossible to tell, it's in front of the walkway to the right of our house. I'll post a larger picture at the end so there is a bit more perspective.

This picture is of some of the first flowers to appear in the garden, Scilla Siberica, or Siberian squills, and I love them. They are a bulb and so charming with their little periwinkle umbrellas suspended over bright green leaves. They multiply like crazy so where there is one, there will be many in the years to follow. They seem to grow in the most impossible places, such as in the crack between the sidewalk and the curb.

This photo doesn't show the exact location of the closeup above, but gives some perspective. The Siberian Squills are growing below the big oak tree, which is just outside this picture, off to the right. This is the front of our house from last April, just before the garden starts to grow.

Thanks, Ellie, for giving me an idea for this post, I have to admit that I didn't want to blog too much about the hospital stay,it's much more interesting to look at a photo of flowers that will be making an appearance in a couple months. I'm going to tag Tina and Erik to check their computer photo files, and pick the 4th one from the 4th file, then write about it. Have fun!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Diary Notes

Day 4:
My captors continue to torment me with lack-of-sleep-torture, needles and 14% incline treadmill sessions. Food is edible, but items invariably missing from tray, such as a teabag to put in the hot water. The good news is I think (I'm almost afraid to say it, superstitious fool that I am, lest I jinx myself) that I might be feeling a bit better. It's hard to tell from day to day, the changes are so slight, but I was able to exercise a bit longer (by 30 seconds) on the 14% incline at 3.2 mph. It doesn't sound like much, but believe me, that is a killer. I feel like I'm moving more air when I breathe. Hopefully the trend will continue.

The really, really good news is that, after 12 months, Joe has a job! Not just any job, either. A job that he wants; amazing in this economy. Of course, he would have taken pretty much anything that was offered to him, but this is exactly what he was looking for the entire time. A huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders now and I'm so glad that he will have a job that won't be occupying his thoughts 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. It sounds like a good company to work for. Definitely cause for celebration!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Patience, Patient

I never considered myself to be a very patient person, and that is certainly true when it comes to my health. Yet, with some things I can be very patient, such as gardening and quilting. Both require the ability to wait and let things evolve at their own pace. You can't rush a seedling or a plant into growing, it will do so at as it is meant to- no faster and now slower. It's something that can't be controlled. Yes, one can provide the best possible environment in terms of soil, water and sun exposure, but after that nature has to do its thing.

Similarly, quilting requires one to do things in small steps, and you really can't skip around and complete things out of order. Depending upon the pattern it can take months to complete a single quilt top. If I didn't enjoy the process I'd never have the patience to complete one quilt, let alone the dozens that I have made. Maybe that's the key, enjoying the process and not getting tied up in the outcome?

For some reason, I find myself quite impatient with the soap making process; I can't help but peek at the soap several times in the first few hours after I've poured it into the mold. I know nothing has changed, yet for some reason I feel compelled to keep checking. There have been more times than I care to think about that I've rushed to remove some soap from a mold only to have it not pop out easily. If only I'd waited another few hours or maybe a couple days it would have been perfect. Maybe it's because I'm still new at this and overly enthusiastic? I enjoy the active part of soap making, the melting of oils, measuring lye, mixing and pouring into a mold, but then the waiting starts and I need to just let the time go by. That must be it, I'm not good at waiting, I'd rather be doing something......Clearly, I need to work on my patience in this regard.

Before I checked in to the hospital I was very discouraged and dreading the admission. Why can't I just feel better now? Since I checked in last night I've felt much calmer and at peace with the process, sometimes the anticipation is the worst. I will never, no matter how many times I go through this, enjoy the process of getting better, the IV drugs and medical procedures, but I do very much enjoy the outcome. It's a necessary evil that needs to be endured and made the best of in order for me to be as healthy as possible. And it's worth it.

Maybe I am a more patient person than I give myself credit for.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snowy Sunday

I was delighted to get up this morning and see how pretty the world was with the light, fluffy snow on every surface. It clung to the sides of the trees and branches, outlining everything in white. It's Sunday, nobody has to rush off to work and it's a wonderful day to stay cozy inside the house. I'm thinking tea, tea, more tea and maybe a batch of cookies (or more likely soap!)

As I had my breakfast the kittens played underfoot and I noticed some goldfinches on the nyjer feeder - I couldn't resist getting some photos. They looked so sweet, delicately munching the seeds with the snow falling all around. I'm appreciating simple pleasures this morning: a steaming cup of tea, my family and the warmth of our house. Happy Sunday.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Bit of a Shock

I had my routine 3 month checkup yesterday in Boston and wasn't expecting great news as I hadn't been feeling well for a couple months. I am feeling somewhat better since taking the oral antibiotics so didn't expect that my pulmonary function tests would be the lowest that they have ever been. It's always a bit of a shocker when you hit an all-time, new low.

Now for the tricky part: because this has been going on for a few months now my pulmonologist thinks it's a good idea for me to be aggressive and do some IV antibiotics if I'm not feeling back to 100% by Monday. No pressure!

There's a part of me that wonders if the low PFTs are just a residual from the proteus infection I had and that it will take more time for my lungs to settle down. On the other hand, I haven't felt great for a couple months and perhaps I'm just in denial and thinking that this is going to go away on its own. It's always such an unclear judgment call! Where's my crystal ball when I need it?

My preference for treatment is always to be as aggressive as possible; so why am I hesitating to just go in and get it done? I suppose in part because my culture is fairly clear, I don't want to take unnecessary antibiotics and I dread an admission. A new culture was sent yesterday, but the previous one showed abundant proteus and some pseudomonas. I'm not sure if my old friend Stenotrophomonas was there or not. The proteus has been treated and I do feel some better, but certainly not back to my baseline. Or is this a new baseline? Ugh, all the second-guessing is enough to drive me mad.

I'm to check in with the nurse today and let her know that the tentative plan is for me to go in early next week. We'll see how the culture looks, which should be back on Monday. Even as I write this, I know I'm leaning towards the admission, but I still can't help but wonder if this would clear up on its own, given a little bit more time. Ah well. I'll have to be patient and see how this plays out. Not one of my stronger points, when it comes to my health!

Treasured Gift

My friend Tina gave me the most gorgeous quilt the other day, I'm so excited. She inherited it with the house she and her husband bought and knew about my love of quilts so passed it on. It's estimated to be around 90 years old and I absolutely adore it. It will always be very special to me because of our friendship! The pattern used was a tumbling blocks, completely hand stitched, it is truly a treasure.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Will You Feel Better, Better, Better

.....Or will you feel nothing at all? - Regina Spektor

As Joe and I were taking our walk yesterday I realized that I finally feel better. These things happen so gradually that sometimes they're barely perceptible from day to day and it's only a week or two later that I'm aware.."oh, hey! I can walk up this hill again without feeling like I have a 50 ton boulder on my chest and a ball and chain around each ankle!"

I'm assuming this means that the Proteus I was hosting over the holidays has been evicted; well, if not evicted, at least it's on what will hopefully be a long vacation -with no sublet. Once a new organism moves in there isn't much hope of eradicating it entirely, but the goal is to keep it at bay and knock it back every now and again with a good dose of drugs. I have an appointment in Boston tomorrow with my pulmonologist so will bring a culture and see what that shows. I'm hoping my PFTs won't be too horrible, which would be discouraging.

Getting sick and well both happen gradually and when I'm on the down-slide I usually go into denial mode. Things usually start out with a virus and then I never truly bounce back afterwards. This fall I think I had a few little viruses and they wore me down so that by Thanksgiving I wasn't feeling that well. Oh sure, I'm able to function, but like a car that is running on only 3 cylinders; I'm definitely not at peak performance. Everything requires more effort and the couch starts lookin' really good most of the time.

Being on the upswing after starting some antibiotics is an equally slow process. The nurse practitioner said, when she started me on the antibiotics, "you should notice a difference in 3-5 days", which I knew was hogwash. I've never responded that quickly to antibiotics. It's usually a week to 10 days, and in this case it was 2 weeks. Just when I'm thinking "OK, I'm not going to feel any better, this is a new baseline, blah, blah blah..." I have a bit more energy. I'm ready to exercise again. I can make it up the stairs without panting like a dog on a 90 degree summer day. And finally, I can make it up the BIG hill to our house -Cedar Hill Terrace- at more than a snail's pace.

Yep, I'm finally feeling better and I'm more thankful than I can say. Augmentin, I love you.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Back to Basics

I was wondering out loud to Joe the other day when it became the norm to purchase most things we use in and around the house. I know that in the past 15 years convenience foods have become much more popular; when we were growing up my mom cooked and once in a very great while - for a huge treat- we'd go to McDonalds for dinner. Our big night out! My mom didn't work when we were growing up so of course she prepared dinner for our family every night.

Now it's unusual for both parties in a household not to be working. Dinners are naturally much more on the fly, since there isn't anyone at home who has the time (or energy) to prepare it. So the evolution of take out and prepared foods makes sense to me.

But what about all our household products? When did people start purchasing things that can almost just as easily be made from scratch? Was it in the post-war 40's? Or the 50's? I'm curious.

Until fairly recently I never even realized (and I'd wager that most people aren't aware of this) that most household products can be made quite easily. Sure, we all know that cooking can be done from scratch, that's one of the most obvious things. But household cleaners, soap, fabric softener and laundry detergent can all be made as well. None of these things takes a very long time or are particularly difficult to make, we're just in the habit of picking these things up at the store, maybe because that's how it's always been done during our lifetimes.

I suppose it depends upon each person's motivation and desire how much they are willing to do. I like making my own household cleaners because I know what I put into them and that there aren't any harsh chemicals or irritating fragrances. I've been making my own laundry detergent, which if I do say so myself, works better than anything I've purchased at a store. It has a fresh scent, isn't perfumed and costs pennies per load. Vinegar is a wonderful fabric softener and doesn't leave any odor at all on the clothes.

We've experimented with making our own Bailey's Irish Cream (delicious!) and even our own ice cream. It's easy and tastes amazing. I'm sure we'll experiment more with the ice cream in the summer, but we've gotten pretty good and found some recipes that we both like. We made a delicious egg nog ice cream for Christmas eve that I think is destined to become an annual tradition. A little fresh nutmeg on top and voila! a culinary delight. Again, I love knowing that there is only cream, an egg yolk and whatever flavors we decide to put in. Totally natural.

My brother makes his own beer, and Joe has brewed as well. This process seems quite involved and more effort than I would personally would want to go to; however, both Joe and my brother love their beer and I can completely understand wanting to make your own and being in control of the ingredients that go into it. It's part of the process of enjoying something when you create it.

Once upon a time I imagine everyone made everything from scratch, from food, to beer, to cleaning products. As our lives have become busier and our time more pressed we've cut down on doing things for ourselves and believe the marketers when they tell us that their products are superior to those that we can create. I'm actually thankful to have the time to be able to get back to basics and be doing things the way they were done in the good old days.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Utilitarian Art

Today I'm going to be visiting the ICA in Boston for the first time. It hasn't been open that long, perhaps a year, and I've heard it's quite something. Contemporary art isn't my favorite genre but I can appreciate it and find it stimulating and inspiring. Sometimes it's good to try new things that you might not otherwise ordinarily do.

I've always been fascinated by every day art. My first love was quilts; I remember admiring them from a young age and had a desire to make my own, knowing full well that I couldn't afford to pay for a hand made one. As soon as I had some time off from work for maternity leave, a sewing machine and the opportunity to take a class I signed up. I was intrigued right away and have been quilting for 19 years now. It's funny to look back at some of the early projects: the color combinations and technical skill were that of a beginner. It's nice to see that I'm evolving over time.

One of the reasons I've been so intrigued by quilts is their history. They were truly utilitarian pieces of art, women made them to keep their families warm during the long winters, but didn't just make plain blankets. No, they used them as a creative outlet and created some stunning works of art - art that was useful! Nothing was wasted, the littlest scraps of fabric were reused; clothing that had been outgrown, flour sacks, feed sacks, you name it and it was included in the quilts.

There is also a communal aspect of quilting - for centuries women have been gathering to collectively work on one piece or gathered in groups to work on their own individual projects. It was a time for them to catch up on each others' lives, share ideas and fabrics and help complete a quilt that might have had a deadline, such as for a wedding or baby.

Of all the quilts I've made only a few are hanging up on walls the rest are used as bed quilts, table runners or cozy throws for the back of the couch. There's nothing more comforting than wrapping up in a home made quilt, which for me represents a tangible expression of love, and caring.

My visit to the art museum today got me thinking: what is art? One answer is that art can be anything which gives us pleasure to look at. Quilts can definitely be considered art under that definition and I can look around the house and find many other items that inspire me with their beauty, and not just the paintings on the walls, either. Simply because an item has a purpose in addition to being nice to look at doesn't take away from its artistic value.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

I've heard a lot of people say good riddance to 2008, seems it wasn't the best year for many of us. I agree it will be nice to start off with a clean slate, though in reality that is an option we have every day. It doesn't require a New Year to make changes or have a different outlook, but that's a topic for another post. I am in agreement that I'm glad 2008 is over and that hopefully 2009 will be a year filled with peace, happiness and good health for all.
I was able to get some photos during one of my soap making procedures and wanted to post them. I'm on my seventh batch and have only been soaping for the past 5 days. I am definitely an addict. I'm making notes on each batch to refer back to later so I can remember what worked, what didn't work and any new ideas I might have. So far I've had both failures and successes but I've definitely learned from my mistakes.

This first photo is of the oils used for soap making. I use predominantly olive oil, which is wonderfully conditioning for the skin, as well as some coconut and palm oils, which help create lather and harden up the soap. The oils need to be melted together and then brought to a temperature of about 110 degrees.

Below is a photo of the temperature reading.

While the oils are melting the lye is mixed with water, which requires safety gear of long sleeves, goggles and gloves as the lye mixture produces quite a bit of heat and can cause burns if splashed. Below is the lye water mix and the oils, which are now ready to be combined. The oils are stirred constantly while the lye is slowly poured in. The mixture is stirred until it reaches a thin pudding consistency, which is called trace (below right).

Once the mixtures are completely combined and have reached trace they are poured into molds and covered for 18-24 hours, which allows them to cool off slowly. After they have set they are cut into bars and set on a drying rack for 4-6 weeks to cure. The soap is completely usable at this stage but won't last long because the bars are soft. When they are cured they are hard and won't turn to mush when you use them. I've been pleased even when washing out the pans and molds; the soap lathers like crazy and feels so soft to the touch. The soap isn't drying, which was the main purpose behind my wanting to make my own. I love hand made soap. Commercial soap makers use chemicals and remove the glycerin from their soaps because they can sell it separately and make more money. Soap without the glycerin isn't conditioning. When soap is hand made the glycerin remains in the soap and it's also possible to superfat the soap, which makes it even better for your skin. I'm sure I'll be writing more about this in the future.