Long Live the Mice

It is definitely the season of death here on the Mickel compound. Our two remaining cats seem to have a quota of kills that they are capitalizing on constantly. Every day a headless mouse appears at the back door, a host of bird feathers and assorted parts are strewn by the other back door, and just yesterday a lifeless chipmunk with a gouged out stomach was being tossed about by killer cat number two, Shadow. This morning half (the back half) of a rat was placed neatly by the outside freezer. This was quite possibly the work of killer cat number one, Darcy, who enjoys the crunch of a good head for dinner (or breakfast.) She also has a history of hunting rats, and for this we cherish her. To date, no bunnies have been detected, thank goodness, as they have caused undo agony in our happy household in previous years, but that is a topic for another blog day.
It seems appropriate, then, that our two feeder mice (the ones that were spared from becoming gourmet snake food) cuddled up together inside their little plastic house and died as brothers should: together and asleep. Of course little monkey found them when she was taking them fresh vegetables and the tears ensued. Lucky for us, she didn’t take them out and give them baths, like the bunnies of years gone by. But I digress. Ballerina girl instead gently scooped them up and put them in a Ziploc bag ready for burial.
We have accumulated quite a larger number of animals in our mini pet cemetery located next to the garden inside of our gate. Bunnies, mice, and birds all rest together because “dead animals need friends too” said little monkey solemnly when she placed the two brothers in a freshly dug grave. Ballerina girl decided that a proper gravesite should have a proper headstone and so after a short search in the dry streambed, an appropriate rock was found and a memorial script written upon it: “Four bunnies, two mice, will be missed as they were loved by the Mickel family. RIP.” Then flowers were plucked from my garden, prayers said, and final farewells for the afterlife mentioned.
A few days later the chipmunk was placed gently next to the rock. The very next day another mouse was added to the pile, entombed in a plastic bag, and then the head of a bird. Now the girls are not bothering to bury the carcasses, but instead simply piling them by the rock. And the pile continues to grow with each passing death/day. Soon a mountain of deteriorating carcasses will begin to smell, and quite possibly be hauled away by monster dog (he’s fond of all things smelly.) The September sunshine is also speeding up the smelling process, lucky us. But I think it is cute that a basket of flowers, a dishtowel, and assorted toys are now being added to the shrine. And it is a very good thing that my kids are used to death in the fall as soon the rains will come and even the plants will die until the spring. Everything must die, but at least the animals die with their friends.

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Grace

These past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of teaching for the university. My class is about integrating art, music, dance, and theatre in the elementary classroom. This is right up my alley and therefore it is a joy to have this opportunity. As is typical, during our many conversations about education, teaching, and everything it employs, questions arise regarding difficult the students I’ve worked with, and I talked with these prospective, soon to be teachers about this particular child from my first year in teaching. Here is the short story I wrote back in 1997, when I taught this remarkable student, or better said, she taught me.

Grace

She walked into my room like an alley cat ready for a fight. Her hair was scraggly and unkempt, her tennis shoes worn completely with a hole in the heel, and her jacket two sizes too small. As she sat down in a back desk, the students around her rustled with unease. She was new to this school, and so was I. This was her seventh grade year, and my first year teaching. I think we both had high expectations, but no idea how we would impact one another.
The first few weeks of school were rough, for both of us. I was adjusting to the fast paced demands of a junior high school English class, and she was battling the prejudice and suspicion of her peers. My biggest challenge came when I tried to do organize group work. No one ever wanted to be with Grace. Cute, primped, self conscious 12 year olds would beg me not to put them in her group, and I would coerce them with lectures, guilt trips, or when all else failed, rewards.
Then there was the cussing, aggression, and fighting that Grace brought to my class. My students were allowed to sit wherever they liked, as long as they behaved, but Grace couldn’t sit by anyone without flinging menacing words their way or whispering details (mostly fabricated) of her escapades the night before. A glance in her direction by any unwise pupil would prompt a hurled pencil, a heaved ball of paper laced with gum, or simply illicit constant threats of impending torture. It was unending. I was constantly defusing her anger with distraction. I spent the majority of my time hovering over her shoulder in protection of the other students. That spot caused me to learn a lot about my young student.
Primarily, I discovered that her English skills were dismal, and her handwriting practically illegible. She had apparently switched schools so many times that no one could connect the dots of her education. Now, she could barely write a paragraph. I also noticed that she wore the same hair scrunchy every day; it was tired and faded to a light shade of red. She only had three sets of clothes, all oversized for her lanky body, and all obviously handed down. Also, she only owned one notebook, one pen, and one pencil, which she broke on the second day of school.
For the first month I continuously replaced her pencils and pens, which quickly “disappeared.” By the second month I was automatically handing her writing instruments when she walked in the door with no expectation that they would survive to see another day. By the third month she had run out of paper, her folders were missing, and her eraser a tiny snub of rubber which she stored in her one pair best pair of jeans. I had produced a new eraser for her to use without the expectation that it would last long. She had muttered a thank you under her breath before stuffing it in her pocket and whisking away. That was fine; it was the way her life worked. Her mother had disappeared when she was barely walking. Now living with her father and two older brothers, she had to fight for every mouthful of love and attention. She didn’t always know how to be grateful, generous, or kind. But she coveted that eraser like it was the golden egg. She carefully brought it out everyday and placed it on her desk like a trophy for all to see. It made me smile.
And so, time went by with me hovering over her, trying to encourage her socially and soulfully while balancing the needs of all of my students. By Thanksgiving she was making some progress. She eagerly came to me for help with her writing, and had formed one friendship in the class: a quiet, generous girl who liked to read had taken her under her wing. Now I took the time to sit next to her desk when everyone was reading, or lightly touch her shoulder when she was struggling with an essay. I had long talks with my husband about this little imp who followed me around like a lost puppy for attention. Though she still had her off days of anger and despair, overall, she seemed happier, until the second week of December.
That Monday she stomped into the room and immediately yelled at a boy who was seated too close to her desk. She didn’t take my pencil, and sat with her arms crossed staring down. I began class with my normal chipper opening, but swiftly got things started so that I could discover the problem. Grace’s rough weekends often yielded rocky Mondays, but something about her was different this morning. When I approached her and knelt down at her desk, she informed me without eye contact that she would be moving again; the day before Christmas break would be her last day at this school. That was only a week and a half away. My feelings were mixed. This would certainly ease classroom tensions and allow me to push my class faster in her absence, but I also felt a tinge of pain. I wouldn’t have to worry about her unpredictable temper, but I would miss her quirky questions. I decided to do the only thing I could; forget about it until forced to remember.
The day before break was a festive one, and I had reason to be excited. I had talked to my husband the night before about getting Grace a present. Nothing I wouldn’t have given any other student in need, just some pencils, pens, with a cool blue pouch to keep them in, a new notebook, paper, erasers, and a ruler. We had a wonderful time picking them out at our neighborhood drug store, and on the way through the cosmetic isle spotted the perfect item: some new scruchies. It was perfect, and I couldn’t wait to give it to her.
As the kids filed in for the day, they handed me elaborate cards and fancy boxes of candy. The pile of goods took over my old brown desk so I didn’t even notice the red homemade card that Destiny placed there sometime during the hour. When the final bell rang, my students headed for the door shouting holiday wishes and promises of seeing me “next year.” I was relieved that Grace was slow to leave, and pulled her aside before she could reach the door.
“I have something for you,” I began with pride. I handed her a wrapped box filled with the treasures. She looked stunned and just stood staring unbelieving at the package. “Well, unwrap it!” I could barely hold back my exuberance. She slowly and carefully removed the paper to expose the blue pouch. I waited patiently as she opened it to find the supplies inside and watched as she softly thumbed the scrunchies. “I thought you might need some supplies at your new school,” I said. She didn’t remove her eyes from the present. The silence between us became awkward. “Come on now,” I said, “you’ll be late for lunch.” She nodded, still not making eye contact. It was at this moment that I was struck. I don’t think this child had ever received a present like this before, from someone other than her father maybe. It was clear that she was dumbstruck, and didn’t know how to react. I put my arm around her, and she didn’t say a word. “I’ll miss you,” I said, “you be good, okay?”
“Thank you,” she said with tears still hanging in her eyes. She was trying hard not to cry, so was I. When she finally made her way out the door, I felt as if I had been punched. I took a moment to gather myself before my next class.
At the end of the day I poured all of my cards, candy, and Christmas trinkets into a brown paper bag to take home. In front of our cozy fireplace, with stockings hung, I diligently examined every gift and thought of the student who had scribbled their name on the card. I absently reached for the red card Grace had designed towards the end of my night. She had taken an old piece of red construction paper and folded it twice into a small card. On the front a rough green tree was drawn with colored pencils. I opened it to find her inscription. It read, “Mrs. Mickel, you are the best teacher there ever was, I will never forget you.” I stared in disbelief. At that moment I realized that you can make a difference in the life of another human being, no matter what the obstacles, and they can make one in yours. I fingered the card, and with tears streaming down my cheeks promised, “I’ll never forget you either.”
As the years go by I am reminded of the preciousness of this promise at Christmastime. After all the gifts are opened, and the festivities over, I reach for my stocking. There at the bottom is that beautiful card, with those beautiful words, from perhaps the most beautiful child I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Every year I make that promise again: I will never forget you.

Laughing Little Monkey

Little Monkey is, by far, my most joyful child. My other two kids are great (and adored) as book boy brings an intellectual challenge to my daily life quite like an incessant game of jeopardy crossed with psychological survivor, and ballerina girl is so peaceful that she calms a room simply by appearing. However, when it comes to joy, wonder, and fun, Little Monkey is my girl.

Last week we went to Longbeach and spent some time with my mother, siblings, and nephews. This has become quite like an annual tradition. We return to the same house on the beach, with the added bonus of an indoor swimming pool (one can never assume the weather in southwest Washington will be anything but raining.)

This year we spent two weeks at the beach visiting and playing. Little Monkey loves to swim more than anything, and was excited to finally be able to work on her skills without a life jacket. I’ve never had my kids take swim lessons, not because I’m opposed to it, but simply because it seems like a whole lot of work to get them ready for the pool, arrive, deliver the child to the instructor, find a good observation spot in the warm atmosphere for a mere 20 minutes, then retrieve the screaming child who doesn’t want to leave. I always want to take a nap right there on the hard bleachers, read a book, or perhaps settle in with some needlework, but there simply isn’t the time. I’ve never understood this about swimming lessons. It seems to me that they should be at least an hour long, maybe two! Then I could get the grocery shopping done, or perhaps go to Starbucks, but 30 minutes just seems like a whole lot of work to me, and on top of all the fuss and work, you get to pay big bucks for some high school kid to teach your child to dunk their face in the water. Little Monkey was way beyond that in her first five minutes in a pool. As a toddler she wiggled out of my arms and sank to the bottom like a rock. I reached down to get her (we were in about three feet of water) and she began crawling across the floor trying to swim away. When I pulled her up she screamed, “Again! Again!” (This girl has always been brave.) We had a heavy duty toddler proof life jacket from that point forward knowing that if she could wiggle out of it, she’d be in trouble. I digress. Anyway, I just teach them to swim by myself, on vacation, when we are lucky enough to have a heated pool nearby, and they figure it all out beautifully. It’s been pretty fun, really, teaching my cherubs to swim.  Not hard at all, but we certainly take more than 30 minutes at a time to work on their dog paddle and back floats.

So on our last day of our beach vacation Little Monkey is begging to go to the pool one last time. I check with book boy and ballerina girl to see if they are at all interested in one last hoorah, but both decline and prefer to watch reruns on the Disney channel. (Oh how I loathe The Suite Life on Deck.) Darling husband is engrossed in a book, and I frankly, was fine with taking a dip before heading out to the beach for a bonfire. Little Monkey is thrilled that it will just be her and I and quickly changes into her suit, pulls a ruffled purple dress on top, and grabs a pair of panties (for later.) I grab my suit and we begin our ten minute walk to the pool.

When Little Monkey is alone with a parent she is a jabber box and riot to behold. She skips, jumps, dances, runs, and twirls with a constant dialogue of her actions and thoughts. She tells us all about her feelings, dreams, and understandings. But she does this with ACTION and never, ever stops moving. It is really amazing to witness. On this brief walk she has a prop: her underwear. She is twirling them like a baton, tossing them like a ball, stretching them like a slingshot, and using them as a puppet. Suddenly she stops and smells them, “Mom, Dad needs to wash these underwear,” she says with a wrinkled up nose. (Like Darling husband does the laundry and not yours truly.)

“Really? Are they dirty?” I ask, “didn’t you bring any others?”

“I don’t know,” she states, “maybe I did, but then again maybe I didn’t. I don’t remember.”

“Well, we are going home tomorrow, and I’ll wash them then,” I say.

“You expect me to wear these filthy things?” she exclaims feigning complete exasperation and holding the pair away from her dramatically with the very tips of her fingers in one hand while her other hand plugs her nose.

“Yes, indeed,” I respond as we walk along.

“No way am I going to wear stinky pants. I’m not three, after all.”

“Okay, then what are you going to do when we get out of the pool?” I ask.

“Drip dry.” She dances along suddenly distracted by the construction of the new indoor tennis courts. “Do you see what they have over there?” she asks. I glance over at the construction site trying to decipher a rough timeline for completion. It might be nice to return in the winter months to swim and play tennis- indoors.

“Yes, it’s a tennis court,” I reply.

“No, no, it’s a basketball court,” she says with a tone that states, ‘you are as loony as a goon, mom’.

I look over at her and she is facing the opposite way where a small basketball court resides, and I burst out laughing. That kid has placed that dirty pair of underwear on her head like a crown. The little princesses are all upside down just above her nose.  She turns to me and notices that I’m hysterical with laughter, “What?” she says smiling, but not making any attempt to remove the miscreant pair.

“I’m just laughing at you with your underwear on your head,” I say.

“Oh, that’s good. It’s good to make people laugh,” and she runs to the door of the pool area. People giggle as she dashes by them with her underwear crown.

Once inside we quickly store our dry clothes and head to the pool. She runs (yes, runs, and I already know it is dangerous to run at the pool) and jumps into the water. I gingerly wade into the shallow area and make my way to her.

“C’mon mom, you can do it!” she coaxes. “Just be brave and put your head in the water!” I can barely keep up with her diving like a submarine into the depths of the pool or climbing out just in time to jump back in. I follow her around for 45 minutes before Darling Husband enters to usher us to the beach.

Back in the dressing room she is all talk about how inappropriate it is to dress in public and excuses herself to the stalls for some privacy. Then she attempts to close herself inside a locker, climb up on the sinks to check her hair, onto the chairs to keep her toes from touching the sandy floor, all the while chatting about her need for a sports bra (at age six, because by the time she is seven she will need a real one.) It would be exhausting if it wasn’t so entertaining. Then she bolts from the room to find her dad doing cartwheels along the way. This child certainly keeps us on our toes, laughing all the way!

The Great Kitten Rescue

I’ve been on a blog hiatus for over a month to focus on work. This time of year my job becomes an intense chess game with 160 pieces. It is too complicated to explain, and also exhausting. It requires an inordinate amount of thinking, contemplating, making strategic moves and balancing particular personalities with drop dead timelines. Therefore, my wittiness simply evaporates into the cesspool of spreadsheets and sales pitches, or sorts. But here is a post I wanted you to see….the great kitten rescue of 2011. Enjoy!

 

So last night our rolly polly pregnant cat (as a reminder, she was a stray and we sort of adopted her because we felt bad over the winter months) was definitely ready to pop. She was moaning and groaning like anyone would be while in labor. The kittens were moving and she was extremely uncomfortable. I instructed the cherubs to make a comfortable place for her to deliver her brood and watch her through the night. What I thought would happen is that they would all just fall asleep and mom cat would find a stray pile of clothes somewhere in the catastrophic arena that is ballerina girl’s bedroom and deliver her precious babies. But sometime in the night, little monkey got sick and tired of the cat whining and put her still pregnant butt outside. That was a mistake.

I heard her howling this morning about five a.m., but then she disappeared. We sent out the family search party, which included vpc nanny, as soon as everyone was awake, but the cat (and her kittens) were nowhere to be found.

Life went on as normal, and I was busy solving one work crisis after another. Then here comes the cat- sans kittens.  Her tummy was flattened and saggy, her spirits up and she was hungry! I gave her food and waited patiently for her to lead me to her babies.

An hour or so went by before she began her journey back to her hidden nest.

But this was no ordinary journey. She took a nice healthy drink of water on an overturned bucket in our courtyard garden, then climbed up my 100 year old honeysuckle to reach a low roof under ballerina girls’ attic  window. She walked carefully across one peak, to another, and then down a third. I saw her keenly scoot in between a roof and overhang, and then she disappeared. I immediately knew we had a bigger problem than I had originally anticipated.

Our house is old. Our house is complicated. Our house would be a stray cat’s hideaway dream. It is a messy mixture of remodels gone astray and new construction to fix the previous problems. Some walls are six inches thick with multiple layers, others follow building codes exactly, others are a hodgepodge of closed up doors and windows no longer needed.

Until this moment I had no idea that there was a hole in the siding of an eve that led to a secret space above our entryway. That, apparently, is where the three stray cats live, when they are not devouring pounds of food or digging through our garbage. How odd, but admittedly, it is the perfect place to have kittens, because that’s exactly what she did.

So I texted Darling husband with the details, and after a quick trip to Costco to buy me roses for mother’s day (love that man!) he donned his work overalls and got the tools to remove the kittens from the crawlspace via some “creative solution” that likely would include construction (or perhaps demolition. Eek.)

We had a fair indication of where the kittens were, the problem was getting to them. I harbor a deep seeded revulsion to tearing the sheetrock off of any wall because I know that once it is gone, it looks like a chop job forever. And my entryway is kind of cute; the sheetrock looks great! No way was I going to cut into my ceiling to remove the kittens that were somewhere above that six by eight foot room.

The second option was to approach from the outside, through the siding. That might work except for a pesky supporting beam above our front door.

We were running out of ideas.

Our third option was to take down the soffits and see if we could find a hole into the attic space- one left over from a vagrant construction worker perhaps. It was our only chance to at least spot where the kittens were hidden before the sheetrock met the crowbar already in book boy’s hands. (He was eagerly hoping to break something this very day.)

Darling husband worked slowly and methodically to peel away the wood from the overhangs revealing a rather large gap in the siding. (Curse you lazy construction crew!) He climbed up the ladder with his flashlight in hand to take a little look around. All three cherubs surrounded him with anticipation. But Darling husband has a big skull, and it is bald, so the nails poking down through the roof were inhibiting him from squeezing too far into the space. Time to bring in the heavy hitters: the cherubs.

Book boy was the first to explore the cavern for kittens. He bravely peered in and reported that all he could see was mom cat’s ears. Well, that was a good sign; at least she was close by.

Ballerina girl was next, and she was small enough to actually reach in and pet mom cat, but she couldn’t see a thing because of that pesky crossbeam. They took turns ascending the ladder in hopes of catching a glimpse of the tiny kittens. But each time they were disappointed. I began to wonder if mom cat had even produced kittens or if she was a serial cat killer who drowned them in the river when birthed. Hm.

But she was not moving from her spot next to the crossbeam, and there must be a reason for that.

“Well, we’ll have to go through the sheetrock,” Darling husband finally announced in defeat.

“No way are we going through that sheetrock,” I protested defiantly. “It will never look good again and I’m quite sure that this is the only completed room in this entire house and I’m not willing to give it up for the sake of that cat. There has to be another way!”

“We need to tear off the roof,” book boy exclaimed.

“That’s not an option. It’s never going to stop raining and our whole entryway would be ruined,” I said.

“We’ll have to leave them there,” ballerina girl said with despair laced through each syllable.

“We can’t leave them there. We’ll have rouge cats living in our attic, pooping, peeing, and multiplying above our hallway. It will be worse than rats! We have to get them out of there while they can’t walk or we are in big trouble.”

For a few minutes the five of us just stood looking at each other, then I finally grabbed the flashlight to head up the ladder.

Now I have to digress just for a minute to admit that I am not good with ladders. The last ladder I was on (okay, I was being kind of ridiculous because I was siding the house without a buddy, hauling a nailer up a wobbly ladder, and leaning over quite too much) almost killed me. I fell, of course, and hurt my leg so badly that I couldn’t walk for a week. Thank the Lord for left-over painkillers from a recent root canal that got me through that week and kept me out of the emergency room (no insurance…you understand.) So you can imagine the anxiety that was welling up in me as I climbed the ladder (this is a newer, nicer, more stable ladder, and Darling husband was holding it still) with the flashlight in my hand, but I was determined to save my sheetrock.

I squeezed my big head between the overhang and the wall to take a look around. I certainly couldn’t see much of anything but two ears in the darkness. Mom cat was right there, next to the beam, and she wasn’t moving, but instead purring gently as if to welcome me to the secret hide-out where she and her brothers had been living for months.

Actually, it was quite an ideal spot. She was curled up on a thick layer of insulation, and the place smelled clean and fresh, quite like it was when we sealed it up (less the hole on the far side.) I appreciate a clean cat, and I reached in to pet her. She greeted me with a slight satisfied meow and rolled over a bit. I felt her flat floppy tummy and then started searching for tiny little creatures that I suspected were hidden in the darkness.

It didn’t take too long to find the first one, all curled up and warm. I yelled down to the troops to get clean towels and gently cupped my hands around the sleeping body. Then I gently lifted it away from mom cat and delivered the tiny black body it into the waiting hands of Darling husband. There was a collection of oohs and aaahs from the cherubs and I went in to find another. The next one was orange, then another black, but mom cat was still lying quite still and motionless. I searched all around her, but still could not find any more. Yet she remained motionless. Odd. So I pushed her aside and felt behind her as she, now irritated, finally stood up. And there it was, another tiny one hidden in the back. When I pulled it out we were happy to see another orange kitten (too many black cats on the property already!)

Now the cherubs were in heaven and the kittens were quickly falling back to sleep in the towels. “You need to wake them up, make them fuss so that she’ll come get them,” I urged them as I carefully climbed down the ladder. They moved them around and a chorus of kitten chirps echoed in our entryway. Now mom cat was mad and searching for her babies. She made her way across the attic and through the hole, down the roof and into our house where we led her to the bedroom. Once the family was reunited, we let them settle into book boy’s room for the night.

So now we are a family of five, with one monster dog, two guinea pigs, two official cats, three strays, and four kittens, all together on the gentleman’s farm. But there is something so sweet about new life, and these babies are adorable. I was worth the trip up the ladder.

And here are the recent pictures of the kittens- all grown up and ready for new homes. Let me know if you want one!

At the Crossroads

I’m at a crossroads and I’m not sure which way I should go. I wish the answer was clear and defined, but instead it is murky and dark. I took my first shot of Copaxone on Saturday. Everything was right on schedule, really. My plan was to implement two prongs of my MS strategy. The first was to go the natural route- no sugar, no fat, no red meat, lots of water, exercise and rest. Then I would start to take the medication as a back-up. Like extra insurance. For ten weeks I was solid with my diet. I very rarely deviated, and when I did I was careful to flush out my system and pile on extra rest for good measure. After ten weeks I was feeling better than I had been in five years. It was like a miracle. Absolutely all of my MS symptoms had disappeared. I was energized, enthusiastic, and positive; I was even taking on monster projects like painting the inside of my house!

Therefore, I forged ahead with the second part of my plan and scheduled a time for the shot lady to arrive, on Saturday. She was kind, instructive, and helpful, and I nervously gave myself the first injection. The actual needle didn’t hurt at all, but ten seconds later my stomach, at the site of the injection, exploded with pain, like the sting from a huge wasp. I literally had to grip the table to keep myself from reacting. I wiggled and moved, squirmed and looked at Jim with big teary eyes. He reacted with horror. I finally got up and left to find my coffee, but the pain continued to increase. I paced the house, tried to keep myself busy, but to no avail.

I played with kittens, pinched, scratched, and tore at myself in other areas trying to deflect the pain. I went for a walk, moved some furniture, then finally, after two hours, grabbed the wagon and headed to our stream. I waded into the shallow water and began picking out the biggest rocks I could find to hurl up the four foot bank. After I had collected a bunch I climbed out of the stream, put the rocks in the wagon and hauled them across the yard to our flower beds where I placed them. I repeated the process several times, for about an hour. When I was done I was sweaty, numb, and my pain had decreased. So, I figured, all I needed to do was haul rocks after every injection and I could survive this….every day, for the rest of my life.

Okay, so hauling rocks wasn’t going to work, but I had a perfectly cooperative elliptical that I could use instead. So in my head I worked out the plan that I would get all geared up to jump on my elliptical within ten minutes of the injection. But when I woke up yesterday, I felt terrible. My body ached, my neck hurt, my spine tingled, I couldn’t feel my fingers, I was getting that nasty electrical sensation down my spine again. It was like I had just turned back the hands of time and was once again at the beginning of this journey. I was tired, cross, and my head hurt. Yet I forged on, determined that I would persevere, as it is the right thing to do- the doctor said so.

But as the day moved along, and our friends arrived for dinner, I could feel my anxiety rising. My shoulders were tensing and that hopeless feeling that I experienced very early after my diagnosis was returning. What if I couldn’t do this? Would I be paralyzed eventually? Would I lose my sight? What if I was suddenly unable to walk or move my arms because I wasn’t brave enough to take the shots? I began to feel trapped, like the darkness of this disease was closing in again.

On and off all day I began to get weepy thinking about how in a few short hours I would get the injection again and I would feel terrible- again. This time I was supposed to put it in my thigh, but my thigh, mysteriously, was now aching from a run in with the lawn mower last week. It is weird that it didn’t start hurting until after I took that shot. What was that about? And the spots on my spine- why were they hurting now? I hadn’t felt that pain in ten weeks. This didn’t make any sense. Yet I felt bound to continue, to not fail in this attempt to save myself from some mysterious future incident.

So at 8:00 I went through the motions, I prepared the shot, got ready for the elliptical, cleaned the area on my thigh, gathered my supportive family around me and put the device to my skin. But I couldn’t push the button. I tried, twice, then handed it to Jim. He was about to push the button, but I felt like I was going to vomit. I pushed it away, and started to cry. I had failed, and I felt terrible. For the next hour I tried to talk myself into it. I left the shot loaded and ready to go, but every time I entered the room to begin the process again I felt sick. I just couldn’t do it.

Which brings me to today. My body is starting to feel like it did previous to that first injection. My energy is starting to rise, my attitude has improved. The aches in my joints and back have gone away, and I feel like the fog is starting to clear. And now I have to make a decision on whether or not to try again. Or do I feel safe enough to forge ahead on diet, exercise, rest, and faith? What is right for my body? Do the modern doctors understand this disease really? Can I thwart the awful side of this MS on my own or will I destroy any chance of a normal life in the future? I have no idea what is right, and I have no idea which path to take. For now, I’m just waiting for answers. Pray for me.

And Now for Something Completely Superfluous…

Warning: This blog post is completely trite and superfluous, particularly in lieu of recent political events. But heck, we need a little frivolity!

While everyone else enjoys pizza and chocolate chip cookies, I’m eating fish and grapes. Life is unfair. But I’ve said this before, so no need to repeat it. I’m vigorously searching for the perfect non-fat granola recipe that Darling husband can make for me. It is a widely known fact that I cannot cook anything outside of tacos (which only has a small amount of cooking and the rest is cutting,) salads (which really isn’t cooking but mostly slicing), and breakfast. Yes, I’m very good at all things breakfast, but now that I can’t eat fat, including bacon, sausages, and whole eggs, I’m not making breakfast anymore. I mean, really. Why would I suffer with the smells, labor, and effort, surrounded by all that fatty deliciousness if I can’t even take a bite? Breakfast cooking simply doesn’t happen in our world anymore. It is all cold cereal, fruit, and non-fat dairy products.

And I don’t consider granola breakfast, just to be clear. I consider it a staple to put in my yogurt (non-fat of course) or snack on constantly. If I can’t have chocolate, I’m having granola.

So I found one by Alton Brown and Darling husband is making it tonight. It has a tiny bit of oil in it, but no butter, which is key. Also, Dear Bob brought home some fresh trout for me, what a kind man, because he knows I’m restricted to fish and frankly fish is getting boring. Maybe trout will spice up my routine a bit. But today marks five weeks on my new diet plan, and now the time has come to try on my summer clothes.

In the past this has always been a traumatic experience. My bulking up during the winter months to stave off the cold has an impact on my self esteem in the spring when I start to dig out my summer wear. Therefore, I’m always cautious during this fateful day to have had a successful balance of activities and rest. (There is nothing worse than trying on clothes when one is too tired or too sedentary, or come to think of it: too hungry, too full, to happy, too sad, well, let’s just say it isn’t an easy day.)

My summer clothes are nicely stacked in the corner of my closet. It has been a strange phenomenon to see book boy’s cat, Shadow, lurking around my closet all winter, but today I discovered the reason for this mystery. When I began to rifle through my clothes I found one set of shorts completely gnawed on one leg. Obviously a rodent has been living in my summer frocks. What a disappointment. I quickly inspected the rest of my pile, and thankfully just the one garment was ruined. Onward!

I have managed to keep two specific items that are my tell-tale weight gaugers over the course of my adulthood: one pair of shorts and one pair of jeans. Both are at least ten years old, which of course makes them unwearable in my everyday life, but more than helpful in implying winter weight gain (or heaven help me: loss!) Considering that they are the size of my body in 2001, I figure that if I can still get them pulled up to my waist without much trouble, well then I have triumphed. (Actually, truth be told, I think the shorts are from 1995, which predates kids, so I get extra bonus points if I can zip those up.) I also own a gorgeous brown dress with a classic and timeless design that fit me when I got married to Darling husband, but not a day since, which is a shame. I hangs in my closet as a reminder of possibilities. I’ve gotten rid of everything else that doesn’t fit. I’m not completely insane, after all. I have hoarded away one other item: a large, draping, purple-ish sweatshirt that I bought on a trip through San Francisco with green bean girl in college. That was a good trip; I’ll tell that whole story another time.

Darling husband hates that sweatshirt. (Actually, hate is mild compared to his revulsion when he sees it. I’ve had to rescue it from the dump run several times now.) It is all frayed on the edges and the cuffs are falling off. But it is extremely comfy and I love the way it feels with a nice pair of yoga pants. Of course I can’t wear it with yoga pants anymore because then Darling husband would rip it off my body and put it in the dump run- again. (I’ve hidden it to make sure he can’t find it. I’m not sure what my next move is in this game of scroungy college sweatshirt chess.)

Anyway, in a normal year I would expect both of these garments (the shorts and the jeans) to severely chastise me and my winter eating habits. But this year, because of my recent five week fast, I’m thinking that perhaps it will be a different experience.  I don’t actually own a scale, you see, so this will tell me whether or not I’ve suffered in vain or have actually lost a few pounds.

I start with the jeans because they were always tighter than the shorts. All seems to be going well as my legs are not bursting out from below the cuff, nor is the circulation in my backside being restricted. As it turned out, they are not loose, but they are not super tight either. I can get them on, with a bit of wiggling, and I can even button them. I didn’t have to lie on my bed to get them up to my waist, and I can actually sit down without them exploding. That is victory!

The shorts are also great. They are even a tad bit loose. Whoa! Happy day! This was so inspiring that I had to take a moment to look at my brown dress. It is tucked at the very edge of my clothes. Oh the possibilities! I wonder if I could wear this at Christmas? I’d have to lose a lot of weight on top, if you know what I mean, but my mind is bursting with hope. This new found joy will get me through another week of no fat, no chocolate, no coconut, and no meat. Along with my granola, just now coming out of the oven and smelling oh so delicious, life is pretty much perfect!

Darling Husband’s Hidden Talent

When I returned from my conference in Spokane little monkey had big news for me:

“Mom, I had to bury my balloon today,” she said.

“Really? Why did you bury a balloon,” I asked with pure curiosity.

“Cuz’ it popped. It is very sad.”

“Indeed it is sad; where did you bury it?” I was still unclear as to her reasoning for burying a piece of rubber.

“In your garden.”

“Really? What garden?” I was becoming concerned now given the amount of time that I had recently spent cleaning out my garden.

“The one by the rocks,” well that narrows it down. “I used a paint brush and pencil too.” Why? Oh why?

“You buried your balloon with a paint brush and pencil in my garden,” I tried to clarify.

“No, no, silly, I didn’t bury the paintbrush or pencil, I made a cross with them to show where I buried my balloon.” Then she skipped away very proud of her accomplishment.

“Ah, of course.” I said, relieved that I will be able to locate the deceased balloon without much trouble.

“Oh, and I used scissors too,” she yelled from the other room as she skipped away.

Of course she did.

So I searched in the garden today for the buried balloon, but monster dog must have taken the make-shift cross and moved it because I couldn’t find it anywhere. Instead I spent another four hours cleaning, and weeding, and sorting through flower pots. I emptied most I had from the remnants of last year and readied them for Darling husband.

Now he is an anomaly among men. He cooks, he cleans, he builds, he cuts hair, and a little known, but widely respected, talent he also holds is flower arrangement, specifically in pots. A few years ago I discovered his talent when I surrendered to the scattered flowers around me in despair. I was truly pathetic. I had tried to arrange them in pots myself, but to no avail. Surely this is not a talent that I possess. So I was just about to toss the entire lot of petunias and marigolds into the dump run when in swoops Darling husband to save the day!

In less than five minutes he took an amazing amount of foliage and arranged them beautifully as any professional would. I quickly made a note to myself to have him do this task each year. And today, as this was the second sunny day of the spring (and that is no exaggeration,) we headed to the local big box store to pick up his flowers.

I went and retrieved the flatbed cart and then stood back to watch the magic happen. I no longer even bother to look at the plants, I simply set Darling husband free in the flower section. He cunningly picks his favorites and mentally arranges them in the dramatic fashion in his head. I wait patiently as he picks and chooses colors and textures, shapes and sizes. We usually spend about $100.00 which looks like a million bucks after he has done his job and they flourish.

With flowers picked and paid for, we headed home for arranging. He sits with the mass of plants around him; I bring him pots to fill. One by one he completes 20 or so containers and I strategically put them in our courtyard. It really is a beautiful experience for both of us. We always overbuy, but the left-overs fill the gaps in our herb garden bringing life to that green arena.

One change we made this year was adding a pea patch. Every season I swear that I won’t create a new bed, but I couldn’t resist this one. I stole this idea from my eurochef friend after seeing her adorable pea patch. Besides, this bed makes food for us to eat, and a living wall, which is super cool.

And now we wait for mother nature to do her job. I’ve attached pics for you to see how talented Darling husband is. Enjoy!