Sunday, December 31, 2006

What else? New Year musings

Much as I'd love to write something profound or memorable today, this last day of 2006, I'm much too tired and spaced out right now to do much of anything beyond a quick post and a weaving walk into the bedroom, where I'll likely sleep for several hours.

It's been a social whirlwind (at least in my current definition of such things) around here since the start of the 2006 holiday season. I've baked up a storm (three batches of brownies, chocolate-chip cookie bars, chocolate-chip spice cookies, 'thumbprint' cookies with raspberry centers and two kind of gingerbread), cooked almost as much (yesterday's experiment was split pea soup) and spent lots of time with friends and family. I missed The Nutcracker because I was too sick to go out, but managed to see Susannah Mars' holiday show at Artists' Rep in Portland (a real winner!). Tonight will be a return to our traditional New Year's Eve - just the two of us, a lot of finger-foods, some good champagne, a movie and a time to say good-bye to some of the stuff we'd prefer not to see in the coming year.

Here are a few of the things I hope will disappear in 2007:

  • Neo-con control of our government
  • The war in Iraq (what the hell, how about war in general?)
  • Cancer. Too many of our friends died last year, or had brushes with cancer (including my beloved, who is, we hope, now past that particular threat)
  • 'Sectarian violence' -- of any kind, anywhere on earth
  • Stubborn ignorance, especially as it relates to our policies on global warming, or the lack thereof
I would so like to be like Anne Frank, who somehow managed to hold on to her optimism and belief in the essential good of her fellow man, and I think that will be at the top of my goals for 2007 -- to look forward, as much as possible, with optimism and hope.

Happy New Year to all. May 2007 bring light and abundance, health and hope.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Today is my birthday!

Now, I gotta say, when you hit the age of (gulp) fifty-nine, you don't actually celebrate getting a year older, but --- what the hell. Fifty-nine years ago, give or take about 12 hours, my parents were attending a Philadelphia Orchestra concert, and my mother went into labor (I wasn't due for another three weeks - looks like I started out impatient, and that hasn't changed one bit, as David will attest). Mom's obstetrician was in Atlantic City (a very different place in 1947, with nary a casino to be seen) so I was delivered by the intern on duty at the time. He was so nervous (and I was apparently so eager to get on with it) that I slipped out of his hands and fell - head-first - into the bucket awaiting the afterbirth, positionedon the floor next to the delivery table! I wish I could say that explained a bit about how I turned out, but I've learned that babies and small children manage to do a lot of tumbling and falling without major damage, so I can't use that event as an excuse, much as I'd like to!

For the next year, my uncle, who was an MD, and our family doctor, stopped by our house at the end of the day before he went home for dinner, 'just to take a look at your beautiful baby'. Both of my parents found that rather odd, but didn't know the reason until I was a year old (can you believe it? no one told my parents what had happened for an entire year after I was born! Today, that would mean Major Lawsuit, I'm sure).

In any case, head-bonking, the Years of Sex, Drugs, Rock-n-Roll, working at a nuclear power plant (really!), and Multiple Sclerosis notwithstanding, here I am, like an overweight Energizer Bunny, still going after fifty-nine years.

And the day dawned sunny and bright in Portland, a welcome gift for all of us!

(Cue the Beatles singing "Today is Your Birthday...")

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas greetings

I'm feeling a whole lot less sorry for myself this morning, thanks to Nyquil and two good night's sleep (as well as the blessed ability to go more than three minutes without sneezing!). The Paris Ring hasn't shown up yet, but it seems much less of a tragedy than it did when I posted the other day; after all, it's just a thing, right?

We spent Christmas Eve with my husband's family, at an informal get-together that included a Secret Santa (which we called a 'Yankee Swap' when I lived in New England). I gathered a few gifts I had bought over the past couple of years and stored away for just this occasion (a painted wooden rooster made by a Native American couple, a pot holder with a rooster on it - can you sense a theme here? - and a slightly obscene rubber-chicken keyring that lays an eggs, complete with yolk, when you squeeze it. Oh, and a pair of hugging salt-and-pepper shakers which were a slight variation from the major theme but fit in a secondary, kitchen-related, theme. Of sorts.) Gifts ranged from that to some of those sponges that morph when you wet them (I LOVE those sponges!), to two sets of 'cocktail' plates (because each has a drawing of a wine bottle or cocktail glass on it), to one of David's gorgeous cutting boards. David's mom, who turned 92 earlier this month, managed to find a ceramic bell in the shape of Santa Claus - who knew that she actually has a bell collection? She was THRILLED (and I would have taken it to Goodwill immediately).

Christmas dinner will be here today, with our dear friends Reva and Jerry, who moved to Portland shortly after we did, and our new friends Deb and Larry. I've unearthed my mom's good china (a gift in 1929, when she and my dad were married) and am ready to start the early prep (making the stuffing for the capon) as soon as I log off and get back to 'real life'.

I wish you all (assuming there are more than three people who read this Blog!) a very happy holiday, no matter what your celebration might be. Me?
I celebrate the returning light, beloved friends and family, and another day of life.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lost (and not yet found)

When I was ten or eleven years old, my parents gave me a pinkie ring with my initials engraved on it. I was warned not to wear it 'just anywhere', but it was my very first piece of real jewelry, and it beckoned me like a Siren ("C'mon, open the drawer and put me on!") and I, never good at postponing gratification, did exactly that. And, at some point during that day, I lost the ring. I'd had it less than a month, and my mother was absolutely furious at me when I came home and confessed that I'd lost it. "I'll never buy you another piece of jewelry again," she shrieked. "You can't be trusted!"

Of course, she didn't make good on that threat, and they did buy me jewelry as I grew older, but most of it was stolen when my apartment was burglarized in Boston. When I called my parents to tell them about the burglary, her response was "It's your own fault, you know. You should have put it all in a safe deposit box!" (never mind that all of her jewelry, an impressive collection, was stored in the top drawer of her bureau). It was the last time I called my mother with a problem, and the end of expecting any kind of solace or comfort from her.

When David and I went to Paris in October, 2000, we were walking down a small street on the Left Bank, and I saw a gorgeous ring in the window of a tiny store. We went in so I could try it on, but it was too small. The saleswoman showed me another ring, a silver ring with a blue topaz, and I fell in love with it as soon as she pulled it out from under the counter. The exchange rate was in our favor, and the ring only cost the equivalent of $75! I've always thought of it as my "Paris ring".

A couple of weeks ago, I started wearing it all the time, not taking it off when I showered or slept; it reminded me of what will likely be my last trip to Paris, a city I love, and I liked having such a tangible reminder of a time when I could still stroll for five or six miles, without having to use a cane.

Somehow, I managed to lose the ring last night. It's in the house somewhere, I'm sure, but I have no idea where. When my hands get cold, my fingers shrink a little, and the ring obviously slipped off at some point during the evening. We've searched the trash cans and the bed, and all of the obvious places it might be, but so far, it hasn't turned up.

At one point last night, the memory of my very first ring flashed through my mind, and I heard my mother's voice admonishing me for having lost this ring, even though I'll be fifty-nine years old on Wednesday, and my mother has been dead for several years. That voice, that angry, negative, critical voice lives on in my head, despite years of counseling and a life filled with accomplishments and success. Why the hell can't I lose that voice, I ask you?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sunrise

It's rare these days for me to be up and around early enough to catch a sunrise (unlike my bad ol' working days, when I'd leave home in the dark and not return until long after sunset). But I got up early this morning to set out gifts for the guys who pick up our trash and recycling and to get the morning Oregonian. As I turned to walk back inside, I noticed that the sun was rising in the east, above the huge maple and oak trees in our neighbors' yards, and I decided I wanted to watch it a bit longer. So I came back inside, went out to the back deck (where there's a much better view) and stood out there, breathing in the cold, fresh air, and watched the sky change to a palette of rose and gold.

And I was really very glad to be alive.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Some more about winter

I feel a little wimpy complaining about winter weather in Portland, especially after having spent fifteen years living in and around Boston, MA, where winters are beyond intense. The year after we moved to Boston, we experienced the Blizzard of '78 (1978, that is; I'm old, but not THAT old). A nor'easter dropped 24 inches of snow on the city in 12 hours, and high winds took out a bunch of transformers near the harbor. We were without power for 36 hours. We lived in a basement apartment at the time, with no windows other than two, tiny windows at street level that were much too small to let in any light at all. But we had flashlights and candles, and Frank (who later became my second husband) fought his way to Boylston Street and snagged the very last transistor radio in the drugstore (which, we discovered when the lights came back on, looked just like a hand grenade) so we were able to stay on top of what was happening outside.

When we emerged from our dark cocoon, the snow drifts in the Back Bay were astounding, higher than anything I'd ever seen before. We walked to a local grocery store to get a few things (we lost everything in the refrigerator, of course) and saw a snowplow take out an MG that had been completely covered in snow - the CRUNCH of smooshed metal and breaking glass was awful to hear.

But, of course, we lived through the storm, and the week following, when all streets were closed to traffic, which meant having to walk about a mile and a half from the Red Line to our apartment to get to and from work every day. Eventually things got back to normal (and our next apartment was a 4th floor walk-up -- no more living underground, thankyouverymuch!

I thought about that winter as I was scraping the frost from my car windows early this morning, wanting to get to the supermarket before things got too crowded there. I do have a new, warm jacket (something I didn't need in the Bay Area) and gloves, so I wasn't at all cold, and there was only a thin layer of frost on the car windows, which was really easy to scrape off. So when I started that internal bitching session, complaining about having to take the time to clean off the car, I stopped myself and thought about the Blizzard of '78 -- and stopped internal complaining as well.

Yeah, it's cold here (25 degrees when I went outside) and yeah, it took five extra minutes to get the windows cleared off. BFD, as they say.


BFD.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Winter returns to Portland

It's been a wild and woolly week in Portland, weather-wise. A wicked winter storm blew in (literally), bringing a ton of rain and hurricane-force winds with it. I've never been as happy that we have a new roof as I was on Thursday night, listening to the rain pelting down and hearing the roar and whine of the winds.

We lost power (about 20 minutes after I'd put a meatloaf in the oven, of course) for about three hours, but we were prepared for that. David hung his Coleman lantern from a hook in the living room ceiling, and I lit a few dozen candles around the house. We have flashlights in every room of the house (thanks to years living in earthquake country), so it was easy to find one to use if we had to visit the bathroom while the power was out. The lantern put out enough light that we could sit and read, which is pretty much what we did until the power came back on three hours after it went out.

When I checked outside the next morning, the only visible damage to the trees and bushes was a small limb in the driveway, down from the maple tree, and the poor, battered grape arbor on its side (it's been propped up - precariously - since it fell over due to the weight of all the grapes last fall) in the back yard. David did some more pruning on the maple, taking down several dead branches, and the grape arbor is once again upright.

Yesterday, the temperature dipped into the low 30's, and there's been frost on everything in the mornings. I'd much rather have cold, sunny weather than warm stormy weather, so I'm quite happy with the Return of Winter.

At least for now...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

More fun with earplugs

So I've been excrutiatingly careful with ear plugs since Harley's initial debacle. I always put them away carefully, and am even paranoid about tossing used ear plugs into the trash can, lest she be tempted to root around in there and chow down.

Towards the end of January, Harley got really, really sick - so sick at one point, that I was terrified she would die. We took her to a vet that one of our neighbors had recommended, they did all kinds of tests (including two sets of x-rays), put her on an IV drip, and sent her home with three different medications, as well as an IV bag and needle so we could continue to hydrate her. Nothing helped. She kept on puking and getting more and more lethargic. The new vet (where we dropped over $1,000) was absolutely no help at all, and we ended up having her moved to another vet's office, a woman who had worked at the first vet's until it was acquired by some big corporate entity, which resulted in a push for profits and not for decent care. The new vet suggested a barium x-ray, and, in the process, discovered (yep, you guessed it) an ear plug wedged in the duodenum, making it impossible for Harley to do anything but puke because of the blockage. We approved immediate surgery, and Ms. Harley returned home the next afternoon, a little bit shaky but otherwise just fine.

How, you ask, did she find an ear plug to savor and ingest? All we can figure out is that one got loose as we were packing and moving from the rental house where we lived when we first moved to Portland into our home, giving Harley the opportunity to pounce on it and devour it. We figure the plug moved around in her digestive system for a few weeks (hence the symptoms, which came and went mysteriously) until it finally came to rest, as it were, in a place where it was causing her a great deal of pain and discomfort.

She may not be very bright, but she sure as hell knows what she wants and how to find it. Dammit.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A little about MS

...after all, this is supposed to be a blog about my 'MS Journey", isn't it?

So I saw the neurologist yesterday, for my semi-annual check-up. He ran me through a bunch of simple tests (memory, muscle strength, etc.) and pronounced me 'steady as a rock'. Yeah, right.

The thing is, I guess I am 'steady' in that I haven't deteriorated in the past six month, which is, I know, a Good Thing. But dammit, I want to IMPROVE, even though I know that's beyond less-than-likely, and it's hard for me to get excited because I know what city and county I'm living in or that the thing with the shiny, metallic band and round, glass-covered thing in the middle on the doctor's wrist is called a 'watch'. Cut me a break. The last IQ test I took clocked me in somewhere in the 150's - of COURSE I know what a watch is! But ask me how many words I lose every day, or whether I can walk more than a block or two before my legs are too clumsy to be trusted. Or whether I can stay awake for longer that five hours before I have to collapse in bed and sleep the afternoon away. Or whether I can hike. Or run. Or work.

Of course I know why he was so bubbly and positive throughout the examination - I haven't gotten perceptibly worse in the past six months, and that really is a very good thing. If I could only figure out how to relinquish my dreams of getting back to what used to be 'normal' and settle into what is now 'normal' without the fear that I'll give up entirely if I do that.

He also mentioned that one of the the liver enzymes they track in my every-six-month blood tests came back elevated (not a surprise, since three of the meds I take can negatively impact liver function), so he told me I now have to get monthly blood tests and (JUST BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS!) give up alcohol entirely. It's not like I drink all that much, either. I don't drink any hard liquor, haven't for years and years. But I do like a glass of wine with dinner, and several glasses if we're at a restaurant or hanging out with friends. But for now, and until my blood tests show a reduction in that enzyme, even my one glass of wine a day is verboten.

Yeah, I know. I could be in Fallujah, or Darfur instead of in beautiful Portland, OR. I have nothing to complain about, not when you look at the way the vast majority of human beings live on this planet of ours. But for today, just for now, I'm really bummed that I can't toast the holidays with anything stronger than a Diet Pepsi.

Poor pitiful me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Harley's Biggest Bungles - Chapter One (The Great Ear Plug Disasters)

Harley, Queen of the Bungle



So Harley just LOVES the taste of ear wax. I shudder as I type those words, but I'm being honest here.

We discovered this perverse bent of hers when she was about a year old. We were living in a little house at the top of the ridge in Kensington, CA at the time of this Great Discovery. See, the only way I can sleep in the same room (much less the same bed) with David is if I wear those squishy ear plugs - otherwise, his snoring wakes me up and I end up sleeping on the couch or in the guest bedroom. (An aside: I used to work for a company that manufactured one brand of those squishy ear plugs, and at one time I had dozens and dozens of 'em, given to me by the Human Resources director when I was visiting the office in Indianapolis.)

Anyway, back to Harley's story.

I would put the ear plugs on the little bookcase next to my bed when I woke in the morning (yeah, I re-used them; I couldn't afford to use 'em once and throw them away now that I had to pay for them!), and I'd notice, every once in a while, that one would disappear during the day. I assumed that the cats had knocked one off the shelf and used it as a tiny soccer ball, and figured I'd find it when I vacuumed under the bed, so I promptly forgot about it.

Until a sunny morning when I was home from work, sitting at the dining table and drinking a mug of Peet's coffee, when I noticed that Harley had just puked. When I knelt down to clean up the mess, I saw a disgusting-looking, brown lump in the middle of it all, which I found the courage to pick up and examine. After a minute or two, I realized it was -- an ear plug, no longer bright yellow, but still recognizable. Blecchh!

Over the next few hours, Harley relieved herself of eight more ear plugs in various spots around the house. "What the F***??!!", I thought. "How many of these has she eaten?! Did she eat them one at a time, or did she save them for a huge feast? AARRGGHH!"

The next evening, I realized that Harley was sick. She wasn't eating or drinking and she was extremely lethargic. I managed to convince David that we needed to get her to a vet (of course, the only vet's office open at night was the Emergency Vet Clinic on University Ave. in Berkeley, where they charged the proverbial arm-and-leg for their services) NOW!! They put her on an IV drip because she was badly dehydrated, and did X-rays - X-rays that showed THREE MORE EAR PLUGS (two in her stomach and one in her intestines) for a total of one dozen ear plugs she'd ingested that never passed through her digestive system.

$800 later (and one stolen truck, but that's another story), Harley returned home, free of ear plugs. From that point on, I stored my ear plugs in a little wooden box on the night table next to the bed, and Harley returned to eating kibble.

Until Ear Plug Disaster Number Two, of course...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Harley, Queen of the Bungle

Here's Harley, in her favorite spot on the living room sofa. Note the checkerboard face.



Two cats share our home at the moment. I wrote a little about Sam the other day; here's a glimpse into Harley.

We found both cats at the Berkeley/East Bay Humane shelter, a righteous, no-kill animal shelter in west Berkeley. We'd waited to get them until Zack arrived for the summer, so all three of them would have several months to bond and get to know each other. David zero'd in on Sam, who was in a cage with several of his siblings, obviously just bursting with desire to be petted and cuddled. In stark contrast, Harley was in a cage by herself, lying in that Kliban Cat meatloaf pose, with her back towards the rest of the room. "That's my cat!", I thought, and I was right. After a brief drama that involved getting our landlord's permission to adopt the two cats, and a last-minute sprint back to the shelter before it closed for the weekend, both kitties arrived in our home.

A few months later, when we were back at the shelter for a check-up, we mentioned something about Harley's less-than-effusive personality. "Yeah", the vet's assistant replied, "torties have attitude!"

Eleven years later, I still think about that description, which is absolutely right-on. Harley has attitude!

We named her "Harley" for two reasons. She has almost-perfect checkerboard markings on her face (kind of like a harlequin) and, when she was a tiny kitten, she purred so loud, she sounded like a Harley-Davidson revving up to take off down the freeway. She still produces one helluva purr when she's feeling happy.

Harley has the softest coat of any cat I've ever petted (and that's a LOT of cats!). Touching her is such a lovely experience, especially when she's relaxed and allows the contact to continue after a moment or two. A lot of the time, as soon as you start to pet her, she'll move around and start licking your hand as if to say "Hey! I get to control this process, not you! Get it?". She'll let you pet her, but on her terms, not yours!

This morning, I woke to find her nestled up against my hip, sound asleep. For about five minutes, I lay there stroking her soft fur and scratching under her chin, until she came to consciousness enough to turn around and lick my fingers, re-establishing supremacy in the process.

Harley is beautiful, haughty, and not very bright. And I love her to pieces.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cat rituals

David and Sam, engaged in The Ritual


If you're a cat lover, and have lived with cats at any time in your life, you know what I'm talking about, 'cause cats LOVE rituals. Okay, so I'm anthropomorphizing just a teensy bit here, but I get to do that 'cause this is my blog, right?

Take Sam, our big, sweet black-panther-of-a-cat.

When I'm finally awake, teeth brushed, meds and vitamins taken, coffee set to brew, Sam somehow knows that it's time for his Morning Ritual. I stoop down and pick him up (no mean feat, since he's a big and very solid cat). He puts his big ol' paws on my shoulder, rubs up against my face, and starts PURRING. He's very clear on exactly where I should concentrate my scratching, and will crane his neck in the appropriate direction, giving me all the information I need to give him exactly what he wants. From time to time, he'll turn and look at me, and give me a few swipes of his tongue on and around my lips, and then go back to the real business of the moment - getting lots of scratches and scritches and strokes. At some point, one or the other of us will tire of the position, and we'll disengage.

If for some reason I don't respond to his morning yowling immediately, he will follow me around the house until I do what he wants. And once the Morning Ritual has been completed, he's off to lie on the little bookcase that sits in the middle of the bay window looking over the back yard, intent on watching the comings and goings of the birds and squirrels (and perhaps reminiscing about his days as a valiant Back Yard Hunter?).

We just completed The Morning Ritual, this time while I was sitting in my chair at the desk. I'm pretty sure he'll be in his bird-watching spot when I go out to the sunroom to exercise, but he'll barely acknowledge my presence at that point. The Ritual will have quieted his need for contact, at least for a while.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Talent


I've never really had artistic talent.

My son is a very talented comic artist. He started drawing when he was three years old. Whenever we went out, we took a bunch of markers and crayons and paper with us, so Zack could draw while we waited for our food at a restaurant, or visited friends who didn't have kids of their own. He drew everywhere, on paper place mats, all over his notebooks - everywhere. His passion for drawing is matched by his talent, and he's on his way to a career in comic art.

Yep, the guy has talent.

My husband is another very talented guy. His first career was painting houses - not just any houses, but upscale homes in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of his work has been featured in "Fine Homebuilding" magazine, and you can still see some of the work he did on several of the Victorian mansions in San Francisco. He does incredible stuff with color, and the walls of our home in Portland, as well as our home in California, are proof of his creativity and talent.

A couple of years ago, he got into woodworking, after building a bench in memory of his father. A year or so ago, he made me special box for storing bills, with lovely, dovetail joints (made of wood left over from an old sofa!). His skills keep improving with every project he takes on.

A few days ago, I suggested that he make a new cutting board for the kitchen (the kind that slides in between the counter and a drawer) because the existing one was looking really ragged. My thought was that he'd measure the board, cut a piece of rock maple or oak, and make a simple replacement.

No way. That's not how really talented people do stuff. Instead, he made the gorgeous board pictured above, a mix of rock maple, oak, walnut and padauk (an African wood that's almost red in color). It's a shame to hide the cutting board under the counter, but that's where it will live.

The man definitely has Talent. Lots and lots of talent.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Two-Cat Night

Kitties sleeping in warmer climes


(Not unlike a three-dog night, I s'pose.)

It's been pretty cold in Portland for the past week or so (lows in the low 30's) and both cats end up snuggled in bed with us. This isn't new behavior for Harley, who spends 99.9% of her time sleeping (the rest is spent eating), but Sam usually chooses to hang out somewhere else in the house rather than bunk in with the three of us. Not lately, though, when the combined warmth of two humans and another furred creature is too tempting, even for an independent guy like Sam.

So I wake now, wedged between two hefty cats, which makes hauling myself out of bed a wee bit difficult (it's hard enough to get my legs moving after a night of MS-enduced muscle spasms and pain), but figuring out how to wriggle them out without disturbing the cats makes it damned near impossible.

Yeah, I know - why not disturb the cats? Because, as the pillow someone gave us as a gift recently says "Dogs have owners, cats have staff."

And that's the truth. We live to serve - to empty litter boxes and fill water dishes, to scratch ears and bellies - and to try never to disturb their rest.

Much as I love having their soft, furry bodies snuggled up with me when I sleep, I'd sure like it a lot more if they'd MOVE when I wake up!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Birds?


The black sunflower seed, squirrel-proof feeders, with a few finches stopping for a quick snack.

Our bird feeders (there are three in the back yard at the moment, plus a hummingbird feeder) have turned the space into a kind of mini-zoo. And I, who used to hate birds, find myself fascinated and
entranced by the endless variety of our feathered visitors. Sam, the larger of our two cats, now on permanent house-arrest after too many visits to the vet, spends much of his day stretched out atop a small book shelf, watching the birds as they swoop by (I assume he wants to lunge through the window and grab a couple of them, but I've learned that trying to read minds, whether human or feline, is an exercise in futility).

Last spring, we bought a squirrel-proof bird feeder that closes off when the squirrel's weight pulls on it (this after watching most of the black sunflower seeds disappear into the squirrels' bellies for a month or so), and we added a second a couple of weeks ago. The feeders empty every three or four days, so we're now buying the largest bags of black sunflower and thistle seeds we can find, in an attempt to keep up with the birds' winter appetites. If someone had told me, even fifteen years ago, that I'd want to entice birds to visit my home, I would've laughed 'til I couldn't breathe. But, as is so often true in my life, that particular 'never' (as in "I'll NEVER like birds!") has proven to be incorrect, and I love seeing a new species perched on one of the railings on the back deck, so I can grab one of the half dozen bird books stored on a shelf under Sam's perch, and try to figure out what new variety of bird has discovered the Rancho Dleepow Lunch Stand and Bird Sanctuary. This morning, we saw a northern flicker out there, along with the usual house/purple finches, chickadees, and junkos. The Annas hummingbirds are sticking around, and will, I hope, continue to visit all winter. We get an occasional visit from a pair of raucous jays, who chase the smaller birds away while they peck at the seeds that have fallen onto the flower beds, but they don't linger long, and the others return fairly quickly.

My dislike of birds can be traced to my childhood, living in a big city, where the predominant bird population was pigeons (or, as I call them, 'flying rats'). Pigeons were EVERYWHERE in the city, as was pigeon poop. Flocks of pigeons would swoop down to grab at a fallen bit of hot dog bun some careless pedestrian dropped on the sidewalk, making it both difficult and unpleasant to navigate past that spot. I won't bother to go into graphic detail about pigeon droppings, other than to say "BLECCHH!". It wasn't until I got sick and stopped working that I began to see the beauty and variety of the bird life in our back yard in California, and I've been given the opportunity to see (and appreciate) an even wider range of bird species since we moved into our new home in Portland.

So, I'm now (gasp) a bit of a bird watcher myself. Who knew?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

BRRRRRRRRRRRR!!


Hoo, boy. Winter has definitely arrived in Portland. Snow. Temps in the low 20's. Black ice. All of the above.

The little pond in our back yard was frozen over this morning, and the bucket I use to carry weeds up to the green waste container (filled with water by last week's rains) is now a bucket of ice. We're working to keep the bird feeders filled with black sunflower seeds, so the birds have enough food to keep them going until it warms up a bit.

I feel little abashed when I write this, but I am almost completely unused to this kind of cold weather. Even after fifteen years in New England, where winter started at the end of October and didn't end until May some years, my body acclimated itself to Northern California about five years after I moved out there, and it hasn't gotten used to this cold weather yet - not by a long shot. Luckily, I saved a bunch of sweaters and gloves and wool scarves, even after the move to California, so I have a decent supply of those garments, but I no longer have a really warm jacket. I'm not going anywhere near stores or malls until after the holidays, so I hope the temperatures moderate enough that I won't be in desperate need until early in January.

In the meantime, I'm sure grateful for central heat!



Sunday, November 26, 2006

Can someone be grateful...

...when that someone is sick?

Well, duh! Of course I can be grateful, even on days when my right leg seems to have a strange and unhelpful mind of its own, or when I'm too tired to do more than empty the dishwasher and check my email before stumbling into the bedroom for yet another nap.

I remember someone saying this to me, years and years ago, and thinking how obvious and inane it was - "The most important thing you choose in your life is your attitude." Obvious? Sure. Inane? Not on your life, it ain't!

Here's the thing. I could choose to focus on all the negative stuff in my life (and believe me, that's my default mindset). I could focus on how much I miss my work, or how much I miss my friends in the Bay Area, or how much I miss being able to wake in the morning, throw on a pair of running shoes and sweats and walk a mile in fifteen or twenty minutes. Hell, I could focus on how much I miss being able to drive across town, spend an hour with a friend, and be sure I'd have the energy to stay awake and drive back home!

But if that was where I focused my attention, I'd be dead, either literally or figuratively. And dammit, I refuse to let this illness control my attitude, even though it seems to have control over my body!

So here's my Gratitude List, a few days after Thanksgiving, but heartfelt and true nontheless.

I am grateful for:

David - my caring, supportive, smart and multi-talented husband, whose quiet, strong presence gives me strength


Zack - who has grown into exactly the kind of man I hoped he would. Beside his amazing artistic talent, and his quirky sense of humor, his capacity for love and affection seems boundless.

Emily, Zack's sweetie - a lovely and talented young woman who seems to appreciate all of those qualities in him, as well, and who has made him very happy.

Families. My birth family, now down to my sister, her grown children and grandchildren. I love them! My family-in-law, including nephews and nieces and grand-nephews-and-nieces, all of whom are smart, interesting, talented and caring folks. And my family-of-choice, those amazing and wonderful friends whose presence in my life is a gift beyond words. I can't imagine my life without all of you, dear friends and family!

All of my 'teachers'
- the friends and colleagues who have taught me more about how to live than any book or class could have done.

Sam and Harley - our beloved kitties, who allow us to be their staff!


And, in a strange way, I'm grateful for MS, because nothing else could have slowed my frantic pace enough to allow me the gift of being in the moment - of watching birds swoop from the trees to the bird feeders and back again, while I marvel. Or seeing a ruby-throated hummingbird, hovering and swaying as it drinks from the feeder on the back deck. Or spending time snuggling with Sam, our big, black kitty, who comes into the kitchen while I make the coffee, and yowls his desire to be picked up and petted. Before MS, I was much too focused on the next task - whether it was driving to work, or, when I was home, the emails I had to answer, or the proposals I had to write. Now, my 'task' is to get through the day, to accomplish a few, small chores or errands, and to try and be mindful of my physical limitations, but this gives me a LOT of time to simply SEE, which isn't a bad thing at all.






Friday, November 17, 2006

The Perfect Day for a Wedding

Our phone rang on Monday afternoon; it was our friend Mike, calling to ask if we were free this morning for a couple of hours. I said we were, and he dropped a small bombshell by asking if we'd join him and Stephanie, at the Multnomah County Courthouse to witness their marriage. We adore Mike and Stephanie. They're both incredibly smart and witty, with exactly the kind of wicked sense of humor we love, and we count ourselves as lucky to have such terrific friends living close by in Portland.

They started dating in 1980, and have been engaged for at least five years. Six months ago today, they moved into a gorgeous, old house in the Laurelhurst district of Portland, which is chock-full of his political and her baseball-related memorabilia. I guess getting married was a logical next-step, and they decided to do it today so they could announce the marriage to Steph's family in person at Thanksgiving.

We live a very informal lifestyle, to say the least. Most days, I shlep around in leggings and some kind of loose top, usually barefoot and always sans makeup. So it was a wee bit scary to contemplate pulling together something to wear to a wedding with three day's advance notice, to say the least. I unearthed an outfit I bought in 1998, and have only worn once (!), an intact pair of pantyhose that were hiding at the very back of my sock drawer, and a pair of shoes that could at least pretend to be 'dressy'. So I managed to pull it off, although that's about as dressed up as I can get; thank goodness we only had to go out for breakfast, not attend a black-tie affair after the ceremony.

David and I were married under the Rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, and I've decided I really like the low-key feel of a small, civil ceremony. I've done the Big Wedding (200 guests at Wedding Number One) and it is so much easier and less stressful this way.

There was a humungous, long line at the Courthouse (I guess a lot of stuff happens on Fridays), so we snuck in through a handicapped entrance around the corner from the main doors, feeling smug and smart at not having to stand in line for a long wait. Unfortunately, David was carrying his Swiss Army knife and we had a gift bag containing a box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne (no weapons or alcohol allowed in the courthouse), so he had to race back to the parking lot to stash the contraband in our car before being allowed into the courthouse. He went back to the handicapped entrance to find that the guard who let me in initially had gone off duty (of course) so he had to return to the line and inch his way back into the courthouse. We hung out in the judge's chambers, watching Stephanie conduct business on her Blackberry, telling silly stories about all kinds of stuff, and getting cell-phone updates from David as he worked his way towards the front doors of the courthouse. Luckily, the judge's 9:30 appointment was postponed, so we were able to wait for David to arrive before the ceremony began.


It was a lovely ceremony, short but warm and charming, and one of the administrative staff took a group photo (well, three group photos, actually, with each of the three digital cameras available) before we trooped out for breakfast.

After some of the worst wind-and-rainstorms I've ever experienced, the day turned out to be just gorgeous - blue skies, cool breezes and lots of bright sunshine.

A fitting - and perfect - day for a wedding!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Where did all those leaves go?

We've had some WEATHER in Portland the last few days - lots of pelting rain and high winds - accompanied by road closures, downed power lines, fallen trees and, of course, leaves. David spent an hour or so yesterday up on the roof with the leaf blower, cleaning out the gutters, and the driveway was pristine and clear when I woke from my much-needed, fatigue-fighting nap in late afternoon.

This morning, however, it's covered again.

But the biggest change is in our back yard, which was looking like the Poster Child For Gorgeous Autumnal Foliage on Saturday afternoon. This morning, it looks sad and naked. The pear tree is completely bare, and the few leaves left on the once-blazing Japanese maple are wizened and ready to drop at the slightest windy provocation. Everything, and I mean everything is covered with a thick blanket of heavy, water-sodden leaves. I think David will be out there a long time if the weather holds and the rain stays away for a few hours today.

The other interesting change (that I'm assuming is due to the season) is how quickly our bird feeders are emptying. We have one of those 'squirrel-proof' bird feeders hanging from the back deck where we can see it easily from the dining room window, and it's been visited by a host of different birds (house finches, chickadees, bush tits, to name just a few of the species we've seen and noted in a little journal we keep alongside the various bird books we've acquired). Over the summer, we needed to fill the feeder about every four or five days; now, it looks like we'll need to step up the action and fill it every two or three days. We're thinking we might need another feeder to keep up with the demand...

There's another feeder that hangs from the pear tree and isn't squirrel proof, and we've seen a small-ish squirrel wrapped around the dish at the bottom of the feeder (it looks like a mesh bucket with a dish at the bottom), looking like a Roman citizen reclining as he chows down on black sunflower seed. If I notice any orgies out there, though, there's gonna be Big Trouble. ;-)


The best change-of-season news, though, is that we're still attracting hummingbirds with our back-deck feeder; apparently, the Annas hummingbirds winter in Portland, so we should see them all year round.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

It's, it's ... the LEAVES of Autumn!!

When you live in Northern California, in an urban area, you don't have to worry overmuch about autumn leaves. There are a few, of course, but nothing like the seemingly endless deluge of leaves that happens here in Portland.

We have several, large maple trees on or next to our property, a couple of dogwood trees, several smaller Japanese maple trees and a plethora of woody bushes like hydrangeas, all of which lose their leaves in the autumn. If I were a little stronger and less wobbly on my legs, I'd be out there every day with the leaf blower or a rake or a broom, sweeping them up and depositing them in the green waste bins. As it is, I've done one clean-up in our driveway in the past week and that's been it.

Since then, the maples have begun to let go. The driveway is starting to look like we've carpeted it in yellow-and-brown, and the lawn out back is almost covered with leaves. David has been working nine or ten hours a day, doing all kinds of repairs and painting a friend's condo, so he's had neither the energy nor the inclination to run the lawnmower (and it's been raining on the few days he's even considered doing that).

If the weather holds on Monday, I plan to be out there with our trusty leaf blower to start tackling the LEAVES of Autumn. Let's hope it lasts; last year I burned out the motor on the leaf blower about 3/4's of the way through the season...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Change is a good thing, right?

So I've switched to the new Blogger Beta site.


Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

My Muse

I got email from my friend Phil last week, asking why I hadn't written anything here for a while. One of the reasons for my absence was a packed social schedule that included a visit from one of my high school friends (which was a lot of fun, but, as always, very tiring as well).

Aside from the fatigue issue, though, I realized that my 'Muse' seemed to be on vacation, or at least taking an extended coffee break -- I just didn't seem to have much of interest (even to me!) to write about. Or, if I did think of something to write about, by the time I got to my desk and logged on to Blogger, whatever I'd thought to write about ended up seeming inane or boring or just not worth the effort.

I still kinda feel that way, so I assume my Muse is out somewhere, sipping a latte and enjoying the fall foliage. Or maybe she's stocking up on Hallowe'en candy? Or raking leaves and packing them into big paper bags for the green waste pick-up in her neighborhood. Whatever she's doing, it ain't got anything to do with me!


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lazy Leg and other lovely symptoms

I have a lazy leg. Sounds a little strange, I know, but - there ya go. Strangeness is my constant companion, along with fatigue and pain.

"Lazy leg" refers to one of my least favorite MS symptom - the one that results in my right leg not responding appropriately when I try to do something with it that should be (pardon the pun) a no-brainer. Like, for example, walking. Or lifting my foot to step onto a curb or a stair. Or pulling on the right leg of my jeans or leggings. This 'lazy' right leg of mine simply won't (or can't) do what it's supposed to do.

So when I get dressed in the morning, I have to sit down and pull the leg up so I can put it into the leggings. I have to remember to be very careful when I'm trying to navigate on streets with sidewalks and curbs, because this 'lazy' leg will sometimes fail to raise itself high enough, and my toe will catch on the curb. And I'll lose what minimal balance I still have. And I might well fall.

This is the reason I always use a cane when I leave the house; I just can't trust this damned lazy right leg of mine.

It happened again this morning, when I was out on the front porch watering the plants. The leg got a wee bit lazy and I somehow managed to trip on the doormat, and almost fall into the front door. Luckily, I still have relatively active reflexes, so I managed to put out my right hand and hold onto the door jamb (our front door is glass, and I don't want to contemplate the results of my falling into it, headlong) until I could regain my equilibrium.

So there are canes stored at both front and back doors, so I won't make the mistake of going out without one.

And you thought it was a drag to remember your keys!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dreams

Have you ever woken up while still dreaming, and found that you've carried the dream around with you, like wisps of mental fog, for some time after you've climbed out of bed?

Last night, driven out of our bedroom to sleep on the sofa by The Evil Snoring of Someone Who Will Remain Nameless But Wasn't Me, I settled on our comfortable living room sofa with a pillow, a blanket and one cat. (Harley was already there, so she and I shared the space comfortably all night.)

It was a night filled with dreams, I'm pretty sure, because I kept waking, realizing where I was, and drifting back to sleep. But the last dream, the one I was dreaming when David turned on the light in the kitchen and woke me -- that dream is still wafting around in my head, despite a good, strong cup of black coffee. The details of the dream aren't all that important (except to me, of course!); right now, it's the phenomenon that I find interesting.

Is it because I woke while still in mid-dream that these wisps of feelings are lingering? It wasn't a particularly interesting dream - no great revelations or feats of physical prowess happened. But it's still with me, quietly following me around the house.

I know in an hour, or half hour, or several hours, it will be gone. For now, though, I kinda like having it here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Good-bye, sweet Sheba


Sheba died today. He was beautiful little kitty, and I was very, very fond of him, even though we haven't lived in the same household for over a decade.

Here's a photo of him that my son took.

RIP Sheba. I hope you find Attila and are running around with him now.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

And the seasons, they go 'round and 'round

Today I realized that the Japanese maple tree in our back yard (a beautiful tree that sits in the middle of the yard, surrounded by peonies and day lilies and echinacea flowers) has begun to change color, from green tinged with dark red to brilliant, brilliant red. Autumn continues its inexorable movement here in Portland.


I was reminded of a conversation I had with a guy I knew back in the late 1960's. He and I worked together and spent a good deal of time together outside of work (although we remained friends, even though I desperately wanted more from him). He had been dating a lovely young blonde woman, and was ranting about her to me, about how silly and stupid she was because she told him that autumn and winter didn't represent death to her, just a time when the plants were sleeping. At that time, I would have agreed with him about almost anything, so I joined him in sneering at her silliness and romanticism (and was thrilled when they broke up, not that it changed our relationship one bit).

Now, three decades later, I have to admit that I agree with her - completely. Everything needs to rest, to rejuvenate and re-energize. Even though I'm sad when the leaves begin to drop from the branches of the trees, and no more flowers bloom in the yard, I now understand how important it is for all growing things simply to rest for a while.

Every once in a while, I'll catch sight of a hummingbird perched on the feeder, taking a quick rest between sips from the sugar-water-filled globes that hang just next to it. Even those tiny, frenetic little birds need a moment or two of rest before they ramp up their wings and take flight.

It's okay that the seasons change.
And my friend was wrong, because I'll be writing about the beauty of spring in six months or so, proving that the trees and bushes didn't die, but were just resting.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Autumn approaches

Or maybe it's already here?

It's now dark enough in the morning that I have to set my alarm so I don't sleep too late. I didn't realize it would make that much difference, moving 600 miles north, but it definitely does. It stays light in the summer months much later here than in northern California, and the winter days seem a lot shorter. But right now, I see dappled sunlight on the wall of the house next door, filtered through green leaves, and it's a gorgeous autumn morning in Portland, for sure.

Our grape arbor fell over yesterday, laden as it was with muscat grapes, and it remains on its side for now. I need to get out there and harvest more grapes (we have a ton of 'em in the refrigerator at the moment, and I've frozen some as well) so David can lift up the arbor, set it upright and reinforce it so it doesn't topple over again.

Our pear tree has produced a prodigious crop as well; I think I'll bake a pear tart if I'm up to it this afternoon. I did manage to bring in another dozen pears and to fill the bird feeder this morning, and to dump the latest collection of vegetable and fruit detritus into the compost bin that lives on the side of the garage. Days like today, when I wake relatively pain-free and with a decent reserve of energy, are such a glorious gift. I may not ever be able to fly to Shanghai and work, but I sure as hell appreciate my 'good' days - almost as much as I did those experiences.

Monday, September 18, 2006

I'm not the boss of me

MS fatigue is the boss of me.

When I first heard about 'MS fatigue', I thought something like "Well, duh! People get tired - what's the big deal?".

Ah hahahahaha... Little did I know (and boy do I wish I didn't know now). MS fatigue is beyond any normal kind of tired I'd ever experienced, even in the days when I was traveling to Europe and Asia for business, and would return home to my normal routine of family, housework and job. I used to get very tired then, especially when I was returning from China or Japan, but that was NOTHING compared to the way I feel every day after I've been awake for four or five hours. And it's not like I DO a helluva lot in those four or five hours, either. I mean, I do try to exercise every morning, on my trusty Theracycle , an exercise bike built by the Exercycle Co. and designed specifically for people with disabilities (it's awesome, and I can't imagine living without it). I do something like 40 minutes on the Theracycle, usually watching a DVD (or gazing out at the birds at the feeders on the back deck), and I try to do some minimal chores around the house, but that's about all I'm able to manage before what feels like a heavy, dark curtain starts to descend in my head, and my body is just too tired to do anything other than crawl into bed and rest. And rest. And rest. And rest.

It's about impossible to plan two social activities in one day (if I want to go to a friend's place for dinner on Saturday night, there's no way I can also check out a street fair or art show in the afternoon. I can't plan anything between the hours of noon and five because I know I'll be living under that dark curtain during those hours, and it's best that I stay at home and not venture out. Nothing scares me more than the thought of being on the road somewhere when the curtain starts its descent, and finding myself too tired and spaced out to drive home. Rather than risk that happening, I opt to stay home, where I'm relatively safe (at least from the dangers inherent in driving a car when I'm barely functioning). And even though I know I really should be damned grateful I have a home to retreat to, where I do feel relatively safe, I still get angry and frustrated when MS fatigue shows me - every day - who's really the boss of me.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

And, in response...

...we were invited to dinner last night, by a couple we met when we first arrived in Portland to see what the city was like, around Valentine's Day, 2005. We arrived to find some people we already knew (and like a LOT), as well as two couples we hadn't met before. Our friends' house is lovely, inside and out (just like they are, now that I think about it!), and it felt so good to be there. One couple has been away for most of the summer, and seeing them again was like opening the best birthday gift imaginable. Dinner was delicious, the conversation around the crowded table was lively and interesting.

Best of all, there were two dogs (I love dogs, even though I've always lived with cats); one 3-year-old black German Shepherd and a bouncy, fluffy Lab/Poodle mix puppy, less than a year old. I loved watching the two dogs bound around the back yard, chasing each other, wrestling, chasing, wrestling -- having the time of their lives while we humans stood sipping wine and enjoying the exuberant show. At one point, the older dog was teasing the puppy, coming close with a toy in her mouth and then dashing away as soon as the puppy showed any interest -- another fun game that they played for a while.

When I woke this morning, one of my first thoughts was "Hey, wait a minnit, here. I DO have friends in Portland!"

And y'know what? I do!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ya gotta have friends

A few weeks ago, we visited the Bay Area for the first time since moving to Portland. I was a little afraid to make the trip (even though I didn't have anything liquid in my carry-on bag!), fearing that I'd be struck with remorse for having moved away. I only spent ten years in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it felt more like home to me than any other place I'd lived. I loved catching sight of the Bay when I was up in the East Bay hills - seeing that breathtaking panorama of water and bridges, with the city and the hills rising up in the west. I never took those views for granted, and they always took my breath away, even after ten years. When I'd travel for business back then, the descent into SFO was such a joyous experience. I'd think "I'm home! And I live in the most beautiful place on earth. I'm SO lucky!".

So I was overcome with anticipatory anxiety as the flight from Portland touched down at Oakland Airport, wondering if I'd be so distressed at having left the Bay Area that returning to Portland would be painful.

Didn't happen that way at all.

For one thing, the freeway that connects Oakland Airport with the East Bay might be the ugliest highway in California. The "Nimitz" is your archetypical urban freeway, surrounded on both sides by warehouses and shopping malls, without a tree in sight for miles. Unlike 101, the freeway that goes from SFO to San Francisco, where you see views of the Bay to the east and the hills to the west, the Nimitz is a dull, depressing and singularly unwelcoming entry to the Bay Area. (I drove the Nimitz to and from work for several years, and knew every damned exit between downtown Oakland and the Dumbarton Bridge by heart, and I hated every minute I spent on that road. If it hadn't been for Books on Tape, I would have turned into one of those maniacs whose road-rage boils over into violence, I'm sure; as it was, I finally 'read' Sense and Sensibility and a bunch of other books, thus saving myself and my fellow travellers from heaven-knows what kind of carnage.)

As we drove through Berkeley to our friend's house in Kensington, a mile from where we lived, I was struck by how dull everything looked, in comparison to the lush green of Portland (I conveniently forgot that things look very different in January, when it's the dead of winter here and the magnolias and camillias are in full bloom in the Bay Area). And I realized that I actually liked it better here in Portland.

What a relief.

We saw several good friends while we were there (nowhere near as many as I would have liked, but ...), at dinner and brunch and dinner again. On Sunday, we attended our friend's memorial in Tilden Park, in the exact same spot where her retirement party was held five (or six) years ago. The memorial was both sad and very beautiful, as her friends spoke of their love and admiration for this remarkable woman, and I was very glad we were able to be part of the celebration of her life.

We saw so many beloved friends at the memorial, people I met in a 'virtual community' back in 1992, people who are still a part of my life via this community, even though I've moved away. But it it me that what I really cared about, what I missed the most wasn't the =place=, but the people.

I miss my friends.

I miss being able to email Eric and suggest that we have a cup of coffee together on Wednesday. I miss driving to Weight Watchers meetings with Ruth, and picking up some veggies and fruit at the El Cerrito Plaza farmers' market when the meeting ended. I miss having breakfast with Darlis. I miss having Sandy or Ron deliver our organic veggies when I was too tired to drive over and get them, and I miss giving Bonnie, their sweet dog, a carrot from the box as a treat. I miss seeing Giselle, always lovely, always beautiful, always vital and interesting. I miss dinners at Ajanta with Jen and Drew. I miss the Sing Things, where I could see so many of these folks, in rooms filled with music and singing.

It's hard to make friends when you're no longer working, when your illness makes it impossible to predict whether you'll be able to drive somewhere and do something after you arrive. Even volunteering is difficult - almost impossible - because of the dreaded MonSter. So my usual ways of meeting people and making friends are no longer available to me.

And ya gotta have friend. Y'know?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cats we know and love

My son loves cats.

We had a cat who was old when he was born in 1985. We found Punk (full name Punk Lucky spinoza) in a shoebox in the vestibule of the apartment building where we lived in the Back Bay of Boston. She was a teensy little fluffball of fur, so small that it all stood up on her tiny body, and I fell in love with her as soon as we opened that box and peered inside. While Frank went to the supermarket to buy a litter box, litter and kitty food, I took the little one inside our basement apartment, opened the lid of the box, and watched her explore this strange, new universe with typical cat curiosity and energy. We named her Punk because she had a punk-ish attitude (in a good way), Lucky because she was lucky we found her (!) and spinoza because she had a gray spot on the white fur under her chin that Frank insisted looked like Spinoza's mustache.

Punk moved around with us, to another Back Bay apartment, to an apartment in Brighton, and then to the house we purchased in Melrose, MA. I have a photo of myself lying on the sofa, hugely pregnant, with Punk asleep atop my mountainous belly; she liked Zack from the very beginning.

Punk got too old to climb the stairs to her litter box in the basement when I was living by myself in New Jersey, waiting for the end of the school year so Zack could join me there; when she became incontinent, the vet told Frank it was a kindness to euthanize her, which he did. I never got a chance to say 'good-bye' to her, and I remember opening a letter from the vet thanking us for being mindful of Punk's dignity, and crying as I read the words.

As soon as we moved into our house in New Jersey, Zack began to lobby for a cat; he and his dad found two kittens at a local animal shelter and came home with Attila and Sheba (Attila was a teensy orange tabby; Sheba was a sleek and gorgeous black-and-gray tabby). We were told that Attila was a male and Sheba a female, which we believed until we took them to a vet who showed us (graphically, I should add) that Sheba was, indeed, a male. We toyed with changing his name to Heba, but decided he didn't care either way, so Sheba he remained.

Sheba was 'my' cat. He slept with me, snuggled under the blankets against my legs, and followed me around constantly. When I moved to California, leaving Frank, Zack and the kitties behind (another story, and one too difficult for me to write about here, even after eleven years), Sheba became Zack's cat (Attila was always Frank's familiar). On the few occasions that I've visited their home in New Jersey, Sheba seemed to recognize me, and once he ended up sleeping in my lap, like the old days.

Attila died two years ago. Frank found him curled up on a heating vent and buried him in their back yard. Attila was the sweetest cat I've ever known; when he was really happy, his purr almost =rang= with joy. I still get misty-eyed when I think about him.

And now Sheba is sick. The vet thinks he's had a stroke - his hind legs aren't working properly and he's having a lot of trouble getting around. I keep hoping he'll recover long enough so Zack can see him at Thanksgiving, but their vet wasn't optimistic.

This morning, when Sam, our big, loving black-panther-of-a-kitty greeted me in the hallway outside our bedroom door, I picked him up and snuggled with him for a good long time, something I'm often too distracted to stop and do -- just like I'm often too distracted to stop and pay attention to the beauty that surrounds me inside and outside our home. I wonder if I'll ever learn to live in the moment, or to value and cherish every good thing in my life?

For today, anyway, I'll work on that. At least for today.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Anniversaries

It's creeping up on the five-year anniversary of the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. It sure doesn't feel like five years, given how we're reminded of that date by the current administration at every possible moment. Please understand that I'm not discounting the enormity of those events, or of their impact on our lives and the lives of all human on this planet.

I am, however, appalled at the way the politicians have seized every opportunity, whether appropriate or not, to push our Fear Buttons by mentioning the date. Nine-Eleven. Nine-Eleven. Nine-Eleven...

A week before September 11, 2001, I had my own little life-changing event. After five months of trying to work from home at a demanding and high-stress job, I finally gave in and went on short-term disability, hoping I could rest and regain the stamina and energy that allowed me to cope with three hours of commuting on Bay Area freeways and upwards of ten hours at the office. My plan was to rest, relax and decompress - to try and ease the endless stress that comes when you work for a company whose mantra is Twenty-Four-Seven, Twenty-Four-Seven, Twenty-Four-Seven. I'd hoped, when opting to work from home, that I could take an hour or two in the middle of the day to sleep/rest (figuring that the three hours I used to spend in the car could now be spent at my computer, balancing out the time I took to rest), but that proved impossible. I don't think there was one day during those five months that the telephone didn't ring within fifteen minutes of my crawling into bed. Things were chaotic at that company during those five months, to say the least, and I was spending hours on the telephone trying to calm and motivate people whose work lives were imploding around them. It's only in retrospect that I understood just how much that constant, unending stress took out of me, and how much smarter it would have been if I'd gone out on disability as soon as the exacerbation hit... Oh well, Twenty-Twenty-Hindsight is always right, isn't it?

On the morning of Nine-Eleven, I woke to David's shout from the bathroom to turn on the television; when I did, I saw the plane hit the second tower, and that was the end of my fantasies of rest and relaxation (not to mention the end of life as any of us knew it). The horror, the sheer, gut-wrenching HORROR of the events of Nine-Eleven became the center of our consciousness for weeks and weeks and weeks. No more Twenty-Four-Seven for me -- it was alll Nine-Eleven, all the time. All the time.

On June 4, 2002, I gave up any dream of returning to work and resigned my position with the Twenty-Four-Seven company - another 'anniversary'. After Thirty-Four years of working full or part-time, TheMonSter closed that door for me, for good (or bad).

**********************************************************************************

But there are a couple of positive anniversaries in the month of September that I'd like to mention, just for balance:

Nine-Eleven is also the wedding anniversary of two of our favorite people, a day that was (and is) filled with joy and love.

Nine-Fourteen was the day that David arrived in the Bay Area to live with me in our little rental house high in the East Bay hills.

Many of our friends celebrate their birthdays in September - each day is as important to us as the friend who was born on that day.


So I guess that, despite the terrorists, whether they were attacking buildings or the Central Nervous System, there is still joy and friendship to celebrate, even in September.

And it's those Anniversaries I prefer to remember.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

MS - the Stealth Illness

If I had a dollar for every time someone met me and said "Wow! You don't LOOK sick!", I could probably afford to buy that Prius I've been lusting after.

That's the thing about MS - most of the time, I don't look sick. I might feel like crap, like I've been run over by several trucks, but to the casual observers, I look okay (maybe not great, but definitely not sick).

Here's the thing. I'm in pain all of the time. There isn't a moment in the day when I'm pain-free. Most of the time, the pain is minimal, kind of like physical white-noise. I know it's there, but it doesn't really stop me from doing stuff. Other times, like today, the deep ache in my arms and legs insists on being noticed, not ignored. On days like today, any plans I might have made (like driving to the library to pick up a book on hold) get flushed right down the toilet, because I'm too tired to risk driving the mile or so without risking an accident. On days like today, getting out of bed and throwing on a shirt and a pair of leggings is about all I can manage without needing to crawl back into bed.

Unless you've lived with constant, relentless pain, you can't begin to imagine how exhausting it can be. Even if the pain is the 'white noise' version, it drains away some of my precious energy reserves, which means I start every day with a kind of deficit that just can't be replenished. Even with the medication I take to counter MS fatigue, there are days when the pain wears me down so damned much I can't even unload the dishwasher, much less drive to the supermarket and carry bags of food into the house. Even those ridiculously simple, easy tasks feel like climbing Everest on days like today. So I know I'll end up in bed, propped up on pillows, trying to read a mystery or watch a DVD, but more than likely just sleeping, trying to recharge my energy-batteries enough that I can do something - anything - tomorrow or the day after.

And, of course, I HATE feeling like such a whiner, complaining and bitching all the time about how tired I am or how lousy I feel. I mean, I bore myself when I feel this way - I can only imagine how boring it is to everyone around me. Gack...

So once I've posted this wee rant, I'll find the pillow-armchair thingie that I bought when the first exacerbation smacked me around, grab a couple of books and DVD's, fill my water bottle with cold water, and crawl into bed for the rest of the day.

I guess I should be grateful to have a comfortable bed in a cool, quiet bedroom where I can rest as long as I need to, and most of the time, I am grateful, very grateful. But today, I'm pissed off and tired of being sick, tired of being in pain.

And if anyone told me that I don't "look sick" today, I swear I'd bonk them with my cane.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A footnote from the rabbit hole

I hate sounding so whiny and self-pitying, and I know that's how the last post must sound. But you know - this disease SUCKS, and sometimes it's hard to be all brave and appreciative of all the abundance and good stuff in my life. Sometimes, I just want to SCREAM and say that things suck.

Down The Rabbit Hole

Aside from the physical manifestations of MS (which are, believe me, bad enough on their own), the hardest thing for me to deal with has been the lack of predictability in my life.

For decades, I lived in what seemed like a fairly predictable universe. When I was in grade school and high school, the weeks were formed by classes and after-school activities and the weekends, by the stuff my parents planned for me. In retrospect, I realize how safe things seemed (although I wasn't at all aware of that back then), how normal life was. Stuff happened, of course, stuff like childhood illnesses or snowstorms that messed up the normal ebb and flow of life's movements, but nothing ever shook the rock-solid foundation of my life (other than stuff I initiated, like the 'sex and drugs and rock-n-roll' of life in the 60's).

And then I went to college, dropped out for a few years and started working in office jobs, again sequestered in the safety of class schedules or work schedules, always knowing where I had to be and pretty much what I had to do when I got there. Best of all, I had the energy to accomplish all of it (and lots more outside of work/school) or to change things if I felt like doing that.

See, for a long, long time, if I made up my mind to DO something, I usually found a way to make it happen. I left college, worked, went back and graduated with high honors. I got married and divorced, moved to Boston and got married again. I changed jobs a lot, landing in a slightly better situation, with slightly higher pay every time. We moved from one apartment to another, bought a house, had a baby (who is now a spectacular and gorgeous young man) and continued with our careers. We moved back to the Delaware Valley (which I hated) and I managed to find a job and move to the San Francisco Bay Area, a place I'd fallen in love with while on a business trip.

Oh right. Business travel.

I was terrified of flying on airplanes, so I took a job that required a ton of travel to try and overcome that fear. I went to Dallas and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver, meeting cool people and seeing parts of the country I'd only read about up until then. The next job had me traveling to Austin, TX and to Raleigh, NC, as well as to New Hampshire and Maine (easier trips, of course, but still ...). And then I landed a job that included travel to Europe and Asia, and I flew to Shanghai by myself and spent a week at a manufacturing plant working with a team of Chinese managers to design leadership training programs. I was scared to death when I began that trip (flying from the east coast to Detroit to Narita Airport in Japan to Shangai and back again), but damn! it felt good to know I'd somehow managed to pull it off, pushing through my fear to make it happen.

The ability to face and fight through my fears to get where I wanted to go was, in retrospect, a defining factor in my life. If I wanted to do something, dammit, I figured out how to make it happen!

Now? It is to laugh (bitterly). I can't do much of anything for long stretches of time before my pathetic, damaged nervous system stops working. I can't weed in the garden for more than a half hour before my legs get too wobbly to be trusted (I stumble/fall frequently, on soft grass, thankfully). I can't make a date to meet someone for lunch because I might be too tired to drive home afterwards. I can't schedule two things in one morning (like exercising and weeding), because my body can't manage too many demands before it either shuts down or starts doing bizarre stuff. I can't function more than four or five hours in the morning before I MUST sleep (and I used to wake at 6:00, get myself and my son ready for work/day care, work a very full day, get home and do all the dinner and bedtime stuff, work some more, go to sleep at 11:00, and be up the next morning to start again).

And dammit, I WANT to do more. I WANT to be more productive, more active, more interesting. I want to experience more of what Portland has to offer -- but I can't manage it.

It's as if my life has suddenly turned into a kind of pain-ridden version of Alice In Wonderland, where nothing is quite as it used to be and everything is unpredictable.

Except I have two cats as companions and no White Rabbits. And when I wake up, I'm still down the rabbit hole.

Monday, August 14, 2006

So what's MS, anyway?

I have no idea if anyone reads this blog (but hell, I'm old enough to be talking to myself much of the time, right?) or if the folks who read it already know more than they want to know about Multiple Sclerosis, but just in case...

MS is an incurable disease of the Central Nervous System (CNS), as in the brain and spinal cord. No one really knows what causes MS (there are lots of theories, but none have been proven conclusively); as a result, no one has been able to find a cure for the disease. There are lots of treatments, though, ranging from steroids (can I tell you how much I HATE steroids?) to stop an 'exacerbation', to five different injections that slow the progression of the disease, to dozens of meds that treat the wide range of symptoms that accompany the disease. I opted for doing nothing (other than covering my ears and saying "La, la, la") for over a decade after I was diagnosed, and then I had my own little "exacerbation" in the spring of 2001, at which point I was ready to try ANYTHING to feel just a little bit better.

An "exacerbation" (or flare-up or relapse) describes a period of time when one's symptoms get worse (I have what's called 'relapsing/remitting' MS, which means that I experience periods of time when things get worse and then the symptoms abate to one degree or another). No one can predict when a flare-up will occur, or when the symptoms will abate. Hell, no one can predict much of anything about this disease; it's a little like having your life turned into a weird, sick horror movie, where every door might lead into a room filled with monsters and pain.

So in April, 2001, I turned into a kind of walking test tube, taking meds morning and night, and getting stuck with a 1 1/4" needle once a week, in the hope that this experience might spare me continued major damage to my CNS. The thing is, I have no idea whether this medication is helping or not, since many people with MS will experience a flare-up, go into remission, and stay there for a long time -- without the benefit of an obscenely expensive medication that requires having a needle stuck into a muscle once a week. Is the medication working? Beats the hell out of me, but I'm not enough of a gambler (given how few chips I have left these days) to stop taking it, so we continue with the once-a-week shot.

Anyway, back to MS...

Nerves are covered with a fatty substance called myelin that helps conduct impulses along the nerves (think of an electrical wire and its coating). When you have MS, this myelin coating is damaged by your very own immune system -- your body attacks the myelin coating as if it were a virus or bacteria, and kills it, very effectively. Once the myelin coating has been damaged, impulses that used to work just fine suddenly don't work right anymore. Symptoms very wildly, depending on the part of the CNS that has been damaged. Some people have optic nerve damage. Others have problems with incontinence. Others (like me) have problems with balance and walking, and (the worst of all, in my experience) unbelievable fatigue.

I'm not talking fatigue as in "Man, I'm really tired. I think I'll take a quick break and then go back to climbing Anapurna." I'm talking fatigue as in "If I don't lie down this instant, I'm going to fall over and not be able to get up." Or as in "Shit. I'm driving 70 miles an hour in the fast lane on 1o1, and I'm suddenly too tired and dizzy to keep my foot on the accelerator. I gotta get off the road - NOW!!"

A friend of mine who has MS describes MS-fatigue as 'like sinking into quicksand'. For me, it's like having a thick, dark curtain descend in my head, one that makes anything other than rest or sleep impossible. Whatever analogy you use, MS fatigue makes any semblence of a 'normal' life almost impossible.

Plans? Calendars? Appointments? It is to laugh!

If nothing else shows how little control we human have over our lives, MS does.

More later...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

All quiet on the home front...

....at least for a little bit.

Our good friends from San Mateo, CA left yesterday, after an all-too-brief visit. Their two sons (age 13 and 11) are wonderful kids (hey, as far as I'm concerned, any 11-year-old who loves sushi and fried calamari is awesome!) and it was great to see them again after so long. The boys were thrilled to be able to sleep in a tent in our back yard (undisturbed by moles or other nocturnal wanderers, apparently), which made it easy to deal with four house guests when we only have one extra bedroom.

David spent both days out and about with them, showing them some of Portland's coolest places, while I, slug that I am, slept/rested/tried to muster some energy so I could be awake when they returned from their adventures. I did as much cooking/entertaining as I could, but ended up needing to sleep a lot more than I would have preferred.

So now the linens on the guest room bed are fresh, as are the towels in the guest bath. Our private, little B&B is quiet, but ready for the next round of guests, expected to arrive some time towards the end of the week or the beginning of next week. I plan to spend a good deal of time between now and then hanging out being even more lazy than usual.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hitting the MS Fatigue Wall

Well, it happened this morning.

I thought I was resting and not doing too much, but the definition of 'too much' is still something I'm not quite able to grasp, and I hit the Fatigue Wall this morning. So instead of going to the Chinese Garden (a truly gorgeous place in downtown Portland), my son and his girlfriend are sleeping in and I'm trying to rest. With luck, if this damned disease allows, we'll go to the Japanese Garden late this afternoon (another absolutely gorgeous venue), but I'll have to make the trip around the grounds in my wheelchair -- there's no way I can walk, even on one of my so-called 'good days'.

There are times I hate this disease so much I want to scream and throw things.

This is one of those days.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Nosebleed

Have you ever had a nosebleed?

My son used to have them, and I remember how terrified he was when he was very young (hell, I wasn't all that calm inside, either). I don't remember having nosebleeds when I was a kid, but I get them from time to time now, mainly when the humidity is very low.

So last night, after a dinner of Hot Lips Pizza (our current local favorite) and salad, we were watching Lewis Black's latest HBO special, when I realized that my nose was bleeding.

Usually, I get a nosebleed and it stops within a minute or so.

This one was different. I couldn't stop the damned bleeding, and I was reminded that my dad used to get nosebleeds, caused by high blood pressure. Once, a doctor told him if he hadn't had the nosebleed, he would have had a stroke. (Eventually, he did have strokes, a lot of small ones, and he ended up in a nursing home, unable to communicate -- a prisoner in his body. May I say now that I am TERRIFIED of ending up like that?)

I don't have high blood pressure. When I was younger (and thinner!), my blood pressure was usually something like 90/70. Even now, when I'm at the doctor's office, it's something like 125/70. But I gotta tell ya: in my mind, a nosebleed is never 'just a nosebleed'. It's a reminder of just how fragile and vulnerable I am -- we all are -- and how possible it is for my life to be turned upside-down (uh, like with Multiple Sclerosis, for example) overnight.

Anyway, David found the chapter on nosebleeds in our Mayo Clinic reference guide, and I managed to stop it quickly when I figured out what to do, but ... the spectre of my dad and his situation has remained with me.