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


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


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.