A Word or Two for the New Year

I had just about decided not to even try making New Year's Resolutions. How many have I kept? Ever? Not many. All those good intentions of exercising daily, eating right, and accomplishing things which, never accomplished, now seem utterly ridiculous and unimportant.  There's enough to do to get through each day, why complicate matters with unrealistic goals?

Yet, it is a new year, a new beginning, and it's hard not to feel a deep urge to freshen up my life a little or give myself a kick in the butt (okay, that's actually not possible, but you get the idea) and decide to be a better person, in one way or another.

My inspiration came from Jeanne Nichols, owner of ModMood, a retro furniture store in Wheat Ridge. In her blog, Jeanne talks about how she chose single words as her resolutions. The first year, she chose one word, "Downsize", and kept it in mind in various aspects of her life throughout the year. It made me think. If I had to choose one word for a resolution, what would it be? I finally settled on this one...

SPACE

space.jpg

Make space in our home. Be aware of how much stuff is accumulating and give things away. Recycle. Most of all, be aware of what we don't need to buy. I want to only have as many things as we need or are important to us for some reason, but not more than we can care for. If something ends up in a box in a closet, it's not needed. Treasure the important things, those that can't be replaced. My treasures are old family photos and letters.

Make space in my doing. This is harder for me, especially now when I have so much to do, but I've made a start. I've decided to cut down on the number of different kinds of crafts I do. This will help with the stuff issue, too. I've gone back to knitting, my first craft, because I've done it so long, it's relaxing without having to think about it.

Make space for people. Be aware of how I listen - or don't listen to my family and friends. Oh, and get my hearing checked. Chris is going to insist, maybe because I asked him why he said he was going to vacuum the driveway (...back into... not vacuum..). Make space to spend time with people who are important to me. Write letters.

Make space in my friendships. People come and go in our lives all the time and there's so much we learn from each other. Let friends in, let them go, it's part of the natural flow of time. I value all my friends and tend to want to connect with more people more often than is practical, considering my time and energy, and I also feel guilty if someone tries to connect with me and I'm too busy to respond right away. Making space doesn't mean we don't care for each other. 

Make space in my thinking for new ideas, people, learning, and admitting when I'm wrong. I should get plenty of practice in the last one. Make sure there's plenty of space without computers and phones.

Make space to care, to be grateful, to give back. A lot of people have given us so much of their time, their resources, their loving care. 

Oh, and make time to watch a little Star Trek and Dr. Who now and then, just so I can have some perspective on SPACE. .... and time and relative dimensions ... and metal monsters.

What's your one word resolution?

 

 

Social Security Disability Ticket to Work Program

I was recently offered an opportunity to apply for a part time job. One of the aspects of this job had to do with job training for disabled people. I decided this wasn't for me, but it made me think. How many people on disability know they can try to go back to work without losing their benefits?

When I have to mention I am on Social Security Disability, the responses are often less than tactful and it started before I applied with“First of all, you're not disabled” and “I'd eat my revolver if I was ever diagnosed with something like Parkinson's.” Now I get the occasional comments like, “I wish I could quit my job and just stay at home and not have to do anything” and“You don't look like anything's wrong with you.”

What do say to something like this? I'd rather not go into a long explanation of my Parkinson's Disease and what it does that no one sees and why this makes it challenging to even consider trying to hold a job. I'd also rather not be looked at as a mooch. Really. I rather be working. Aside from just missing my colleagues, the professional atmosphere, and continual learning, working pays better.

Okay. I got my disability approved quickly. This was good. Still... it would be so nice to work and earn a little more so finances wouldn't be so tight. Could I earn any money without jeopardizing my disability payments? 

When I heard about Social Security's Ticket to Work Program, I was thrilled. This is one of the best government programs I've encountered. It meant I didn't have to worry about losing my benefits while trying to go back to work. It meant having the support of a Vocational Rehab Counselor or Employment Network. It meant having the time to see if the job would work for me before losing any benefits at all.

I met with a Vocational Rehab Counselor, a lovely man with cerebral palsy who used a wheelchair. Perhaps his words hit a little harder because he was also disabled. “Terri, I'm sorry to say, but sometimes a person is just too disabled to be employed.” I convinced him to let me try starting a small craft business through my home and it was okay for a short time, but he was right. Exhaustion set in once again and threw my Parkinson's out of control. It may not have worked for me, but it made me feel a lot better to try.

If you are on Social Security Disability and have any desire at all to try to go back to work, I highly recommend this program.

My neurologist was right. I can be active if I pace myself. Exercise is essential for anyone with PD and going out into the world on a regular basis is essential for me. Every now and then I get antsy and think of how nice it would be to be gainfully employed. So, when I was offered the chance to apply for a part time job making a decent wage, I thought about it.

I thought about it a lot before declining. The reasons I said no are complicated and have as much to do with the particular company as anything else. In the end, the biggest factor was my need to give my attention and my work energy to my family. Being in the sandwich generation, I'm babysitting for grandchildren and watching over my parent's needs at the same time. That's enough...

...for now.

 

A New Rating Scale For Parkinson's Disease

According to the “Classical PD Timeline: Onset to Death” chart I found on the website of the Rocky Mountain Movement Disorder Center, I'm in trouble. My clinical symptoms showed up 13 years ago, which means I am somewhere in between Hoehn & Yahr stage III (Poor Balance) and H & Y stage IV (Fall, Dependency, Cognitive Decline). The fact that I fell on Christmas eve while getting ready for family to come doesn't help.

While I understand this chart shows a common pattern of PD and is not meant to strictly show what an individual will go through, I also understand how easy it is to bypass the writing underneath the chart and just see the chart... like I did... and have that knee jerk (or dystonia jerk) “holy shit” reaction. (I eventually skimmed the article.)

When all is said, researched, and done, we still have to admit how much we don't know. My PD will do what it will do. I know if I exercise my body and my brain, eat right, and do my best to stay connected with my friends, family, and the community at large, I will do better than if I watch TV all day, eat junk food, and never see anyone. I also know this has less to do with PD than with LIFE in general. Duh.

Having said all this, I know I've gone through a lot of stages since my diagnosis. So many, I have come up with my own rating scale. I call it the Reinhart New Rating Scale for Parkinson's Disease. I'm sure others will find it extremely valuable and someone will insist on paying me lots of money to continue my research.

Here it is:

Stage 1: Parkinson's? Me?

This stage usually starts when you are diagnosed. It is generally accompanied by either screaming, swearing, or a blank stare.

Stage 2: No, thank you.

This isn't just denial, it's when you tell your doctor you're returning his/her diagnosis and you want your money back or possibly, “I'd like to trade it in for a bout of stomach flu and hemorrhoids.”

Stage 3: I'm going to do this right.

For some people, this means fighting it. They express this stage with: “I have PD, but PD doesn't have me.” Others (like me) decide to embrace their situation and become as positive as possible. This could be expressed as “I'm not going to fight this, I'm going to learn to live well with PD” meaning, “I'm going to learn how to slow down and eat well and exercise and keep active in the community and do everything I want to do which means I'm really in denial about having anything wrong with me in the first place.”

Stage 4: Pac-man Power Pellets

Otherwise known as Sinemet or Carbidopa-Levodopa. All of a sudden things are good. Wow. Life is almost back to normal... sort of. If I have more symptoms, the doc gives me more power pellets. Mmm, dopamine rush. It's much easier now to be positive about life, the universe, and everything.. and I don't even need marijuana.

Stage 5: Crash and Burn

Maybe a few people can be put on medication, have it work right the first time and be just fine. For the rest of us, it's like trying to get an old record player to work at the right speed with the right records. (Okay, between the Pac-man reference and vinyl records, have I dated myself?) Too much dopamine and I'm a 45 record playing on 78 speed. Too little and the speed goes down to 16 rpm or it stops altogether and the needle screeches off the record.

The crashing and burning comes from the reality of what happens at 78 speed, like obsessive compulsive stuff, and what happens at 16 speed, like severe depression.

Stage 6: How normal do I have to be?

This is the healthy fear (or terror, depending on what effects meds have on you) of changing medications, adding medications, or upping your dose.

Stage 7: Be positive? F*(^ no.

Self explanatory. For the sake of our families and friends, we always hope this stage is short.

Stage 8: Do-over.

Let's go back to stage 3, but be more realistic about it.

Stage 9: Finding Grace

What happens when you realize these stages happen. You're not going be positive all the time, you're really going to have to slow down and it's okay. Life is good. It's okay. No, my PD isn't going to be controlled all the time and I'll have to make adjustments. It's still good. Amazingly, it's much easier to be positive more of the time when you don't put pressure on yourself to be positive all the time.

This is a rating scale I can understand. It's not perfect, some of us go back and forth between stages for years. I tend to shout, “DO-OVER!” on a regular basis.

It's okay because the grace is always there waiting for us.

For to be poised against fatality, to meet adverse conditions gracefully, is more than simple endurance; it is an act of aggression, a positive triumph.
— Thomas Mann






The Little Scooter that Could

Here it is, the little TravelScoot that could, tied down in the bus to Ronald McDonald House. It's amazing what a load it will carry for us. The scooter itself can carry up to 320 lbs on the seat, not including the luggage. Amazingly, they now have trailers for shopping and trailers for passengers! 

I don't know what I would do without this in Chicago. There is so much walking in the airports (especially at DIA) and then we try and take the trains and buses when we can. Not all the bus stops are accessible, so we have to be careful, but this scooter which could be hauled down the stairs if needed. 

Thanks again, Roger! This was one of the best gifts ever!

Back at Ronnie's House

Back at Ronnie's House

Where else could we have a dinner cooked by faculty from McDonald's Hamburger University? (No, it wasn't hamburgers) Home made cookies, cakes, brownies, muffins, and fudge? Mittens provided for a cold day when I forgot to bring mine from home? Someone to listen when medical issues become overwhelming? Be able to fall asleep to the rumbling of a freight train?

Early Morning magic

Early Morning magic

Sometimes it feels a little funny being here. We're old timers compared to most of the other families. People ask Emma how old she is and are surprised to hear she's 21. The only other adults staying here (besides Emma, of course) who are as old as I am are there because a grandchild is ill. Also, Emma is almost finished with her work with Shriners. We're here for check-ups or simple procedures, not because something is wrong.

Then again, on one of our visits to Ronald McDonald House there was an older couple staying whose daughter had just had a lung transplant. She had cystic fibrosis. They had been staying in this house for years whenever their daughter was in the hospital, and they were still welcomed even though their daughter was now in her 40's. 

It's been a full house this visit. Being so close to Christmas, it's been nice to have little kids running about, making noise, climbing across the kitchen counters.... which reminds me, I'd love for parents and teachers to see a child who is truly, truly hyperactive. They might suddenly realize there is a big difference between this child and their own very active child. If you can imagine a child with seriously deformed legs such that you cannot imagine how he can walk, let alone climb everything and anything and never, ever stop moving, you might start to get the picture.

During our many stays here at the house, we've met so many wonderful people from all over the country. Many come to have their child treated at Shriners Hospital. These children, like Emma, were born with some sort of challenge, but they aren't ill. They have surgeries on their legs, arms, spine, jaw, or repairs for cleft lip and palate. Others come because a baby was born prematurely or a child is very ill. We have met parents of new triplets, a lovely teenage girl who is being treated for cancer, a family whose apartment had burned down and their daughter was recovering from serious burns.

We've also met a number of families who have willingly taken on the work of raising a child with disabilities. Cheryl Wyse and her husband adopted six of their children and four of them have brittle bone disease. Another family had a total of 13 children, some biological and some adopted. Families stay as long as they need to stay. There is a family who has been here for over a year.

I love this house. It's not in the best area of town. We've been told not to ride the buses after dark and not to go walking in certain areas. The view from our window is railroad tracks and industrial looking buildings. The buses are not that reliable and it's not easy to get around. I still love this house.

One dad corrected us and said it shouldn't be called a “house” because it's really a home. I agree. I know I've written about our stays more than once. During this visit, perhaps more than the others, I've been struck by just how much of a home this has become for us. As the time for Emma's treatments come to a close, I find myself savoring every moment of our time here. In many ways, it's much more than a home. The closest word I can find to describe it is the Welsh word, “cwtch”, which generally refers to an affectionate hug, but the closest translation is “a safe place”.

That's Ronnie's house.

 

 

 

 

Stuffed, Roasted, or Boxed?

It was a rare moment when I was home alone. Chris had gone to pick up Emma at the light rail station. I had just returned from delivering mail to my parents and picking up our grandsons from school and taking them to their home. Time to sit down and make up my menu and to do list for Thanksgiving dinner. Then the phone rang. The caller thanked me for filling out his questionnaire and sending it back in and wanted to know when he could come over to talk to my husband and me. I didn't remember filling out any questionnaire, but the man was persistent. Perhaps it was my husband who sent it in. Whatever it was, we got it all sorted out and a few days later had our sit down talk with a friendly young man about preplanning (and prepaying) for our funerals.

It's one of those should do things that I'd rather not. At least this young man didn't ask questions about our health. Considering their payment plan included insurance, which means if you die before paying it off they won't make you continue paying, I wonder what they do if they find out you have a better than average risk of croaking before the last $ comes in? Not that I do. Parkinson's isn't a fatal disease, but the mere mention of a chronic progressive health condition can make the most enthusiastic insurance salesperson suddenly uninterested in you. The last one compared me to a racehorse with a broken leg.  

It has made us think. Planning ahead would be helpful to our kids, save us money in the long run, and ... what else do we need for our holiday dinner this week?

Going whole hog (or turkey) and having a casket funeral and burial is unbelievably expensive. I had no idea the average funeral costs $8000. 

Should we go with the Simple Roast Turkey recipe by Melissa Clark? Fix something more gourmet? Go to a restaurant? 

Maybe we should go the easier route and be cremated. My cousin died of ALS seven years ago. At his request, his ashes were put in a cardboard box and buried. Hid grandkids drew pictures which were then taped on the box.

Make it simple - concentrate on the side dishes. I especially like a Sassy Cranberry Sauce and yams baked with apples, raisins, and brown sugar. We'll have a big salad and, just for fun, some Bacon Wrapped Dates. For dessert, maybe I'll try something new and have Molly Ritter's Purple Sweet Potato Pie. Molly was one of my kindergarten students. Now she's a model and she enjoys cooking. All our bread baking obviously paid off.

Oh man, even a simple cremation is expensive. It's tempting to do what an old friend did and donate our bodies to science. This, however, might discourage anyone in our family from going to medical school. That cadaver they're working on just might be Grandma. We teased our friend unmercifully about her decision, even though we knew it was an extremely generous and noble thing to do. One friend suggested when the medical school was finished with her, we could have her stuffed and set her in the corner. How silly we were....

Oh, that reminds me... what are we going to do for stuffing?

 

Dressing up for Winter

The temperature dropped 40 degrees in 3 hours on Monday. This is a little more extreme than usual in Colorado, but still, I shouldn't have been taken so off guard. Perhaps we've just been spoiled. We had a real autumn this year with leaves turning wonderful colors, pleasant days of 65 degree weather, and cool, crisp nights, just right for snuggling under the covers.

Some years, the cold snap happens earlier and the trees don't have much time to do anything other than yell, "FALL!", as all their leaves and a number of their branches succumb to the storm.  

It's time to transition to sweaters, boots, and extra layers. It's time to make warm soups for dinner and keep the tea kettle busy. My routine from the past few years has been to take a couple of courses at the University each semester and to continue on with the Parkinson's yoga and dance classes to keep in shape. That's in transition, too. This will be the winter of taking care of our grandchildren and my parents. Day classes are out of the question, which is why I started Square Dancing one evening a week.

It was so cold yesterday our Square Dancing was cancelled. 

So I am hunkering down, looking through some old family photos, drinking tea, and tweaking my website. I don't say a lot about the nuts and bolts of putting this together. The Host of my website is Squarespace. I have always been extremely happy with this company. They just keep getting better. The new Squarespace 7 is so easy to work with, I was inspired to do some updating. I haven't had to write for help at all - and this is a first. If I had, I will say their customer service is excellent. 

And now, after tweaking for a few days, I think I will leave it be. I'll go back to looking at the old photos which inspired me to add a new page: Scribbles, Snippets, and Other Doggerel. Stop by now and then to see what's there. 

The photo I am using for this page is one I found while packing books and other odds and ends at my parents house. One single photo. I don't know who the children are, but it's impossible to look at this little girl without smiling. She will be my perpetual sunshine through the winter. 

Our grandchildren will also bring us smiles and keep us busy and warm. So, come on snow! We're ready!

Dancing with Angels

I was dancing with angels last night. No, I haven't died or started a new religion, and I haven't been indulging in Colorado candy. I was square dancing. Angels, in the square dance world are those more experienced dancers who volunteer to help teach new students by being their dance partners. 

Square dancing? Ask anyone if they've ever square danced and more than likely they'll say yes, but not since 6th grade. No matter which school they attended in which state, 6th grade seems to have been The Year for square dancing. They all remember how much fun they had and can't seem to remember why they never did it again.

Square dancing as adults? I've thought about it many times over the years as it was the only type of dancing my husband would consider, even theoretically. After looking into the clubs around town, I decided against it. I wasn't sure I'd fit in, much less my husband - even theoretically. 

Then came Linda, one of my dance teachers from my Dance for PD class, who excitedly told me how she had started learning how to square dance and how much she loved it. Seems she had looked at clubs all over the city before deciding on one. She had been discouraged too. "I just didn't fit in," she said, grimacing as she remembered her visits to various clubs.

"They were wearing the dresses, weren't they," She nodded and I nodded back sympathetically. Linda is from Brooklyn. She taught, and still teaches, ballroom dancing. Imagining Linda in a frilly square dance dress with all the petticoats? ....no. It doesn't work. And there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING that could get me to wear one. I am not a petticoat kind of gal.

The group she eventually joined was much more informal. Jeans and t-shirts. Lots of laughing. Lots of eating. Lots of parties. She had just finished her first year of lessons and invited me to come to their open house in September. She invited my husband, too, which, theoretically would have been nice, but practically, he preferred to stay home and read. 

The group is the Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus, an LGBTQA club. The Q stands for questioning and A? maybe it stands for All the rest of us, because it's an all inclusive group and one of the warmest and most welcoming groups of people I've had the pleasure to meet. They are into having some serious fun with dancing. This is not your 6th grade dance class. Fortunately, we start out slow and build on what we learn each week. It is a real physical and mental workout.

I've heard square dancing is becoming more popular among college students, especially those math geeks who see the steps as geometry equations. I'm glad I didn't hear this before I started or I may never have joined. I've lost count of how many members really did not want to join, but were talked into coming once, and then stayed to become leaders, organizers, and... angels. 

Here's their website:  Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus