James Foley

I know that I am not alone in mourning the tragic and senseless death of New Hampshire’s James Foley, killed by ISIS. I am sure that many others share my shock, anger, outrage and sorrow over this brutal and savage attack on an American citizen. Whatever your political views are, this is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions.

In this blog, I am careful not to air my personal political or religious views; that’s for each person to decide for themselves. Personally, I am saddened for James Foley’s family, friends and community, especially for his mother. To have given birth to a child, raised that child with love, care and joy, watched his progression through life, shared his accomplishments, successes, life milestones and more–only to lose that child in such a heartless, savage and brutal way has to be pain beyond comprehension.

My first reaction in hearing this news was typical of what many Americans must feel–a combination of rage, grief and helplessness. What can I do about events such as this? How can I help? How can I make this better? How can I live my life to honor people such as James Foley? What I have chosen to do is to write this post and continue to live my life as best I can and use all the considerable gifts I’ve been given to their highest and best purpose. I will not and can not waste time raging powerlessly against forces I can neither control nor stop. I will stay grateful for each moment I draw breath. I will not give in to acts of rage and fury. As an American, I will not give in to fear of these people.

Some say that members of ISIS are already in this country. Some say that they wouldn’t dare come here. Some say that this incident is none of our business. Some say that we should go to war right now against these people. Some say that ISIS will not stop its atrocities until we all submit to their demands and become part of their religion. I certainly don’t have answers for any of this.

All I have is the ability to put my talents and gifts to good use, mourn and remember James Foley, and not make his death a reason to be hateful or fearful. As with 9/11, this event is carved deep into my heart, and I will not forget. I will honor James Foley and all the others and make them part of my family. I will not let the horror and outrage break me or make me give up on living the best life I can and using my gifts to help those I can.

My hope is that we do not lose our humanity and good intent, or our hopes and dreams. This is  how I have chosen to wage war on those who threaten our country and our way of life.

 

 

Much Maligned Massage

Massage is a wonderful thing; relaxing, rejuvenating, and revitalizing. It is an excellent way to release stress that collects in various parts of our bodies, and often symptoms we would take to a doctor can be greatly relieved with massage. Not only is massage beneficial to healing and relaxation, but it often keeps areas of the body that naturally hold stress in check. Massage releases the body’s endorphins, which gives us that wonderfully relaxed and ‘all is well with the world’ feeling. Unfortunately, massage often gets a bad rep as some people automatically assume it’s associated with all kinds of kinky services you can get in certain skeevy areas of town. The following information is my personal experience with massage.

When I lived in Texas, I had a wonderful massage therapist whom I saw twice a month. At the time, I was under a lot of stress and was recovering from a divorce. The massage helped with body aches, fluid retention and overall anxiety. As I came to know my therapist better, I found out that he also volunteered his time in nursing homes. Working with older bodies, especially when there are issues such as thinning skin, fragile bones, advanced arthritis and so on, requires a special touch and awareness. When meeting a new client, he always spent time getting to know them and their specific needs. He also met with family members, healthcare workers and doctors to make sure that his client would benefit from massage.

Almost to a person, the elderly responded very well to gentle massage. Often, some cried with the sheer release of pain, and also from simply being touched in a kind and comforting way. As we grow older, we often lose our sources of sheer human touch. Our husbands, wives, and partners may die before we do, and who is there left to rub our shoulders, hold our hands, stroke the hair back from our foreheads, and place warm hands on our aching feet? These elderly folks my friend worked on viewed him as an angel of mercy.

It is sad that many people feel that massage therapists only want to touch “beautiful bodies.” The truth is that a certified massage therapist has studied and worked with many clients of all ages, shapes and sizes. They are as familiar with the human body as a doctor or physical therapist. The human body is a roadmap for them; they can feel and see areas of concern, pain, stress or tenseness. Their reason to work is to alleviate pain and discomfort using their very considerable schooling and knowledge. They understand body makeup well, and their job and focus is to facilitate healing and comfort. They see the person, not their size, color, etc.

If you are a modest person, the very idea of massage may seem scary. Massage therapists understand this, and make it clear that you do not need to be completely naked; if you like, you can leave on your undies and they will work with that. When you go in for a massage, there is always a drape with which to cover yourself as you lie on the table. While working on you, the therapist is respectful of your modesty and only uncovers the area upon which they are working. Private areas are not revealed. Additionally, they welcome questions, knowing that those coming in for a first massage do not always know what to expect.

Some massage therapists talk or question during massage, and some work in absolute silence. If you are going to your first massage, take a moment to think about what you personally would prefer. Telling your therapist what you are comfortable with is not rude, it’s purely information about you  that the therapist welcomes. The more they know about you and your preferences, the more beneficial the massage. You may also request light, medium or deep tissue massage. If you are new to this, you may want to start light. Myself, I love deep tissue massage. I tend to hold energy in so the deeper, the better for me. All these things are explained to you prior to the massage, either by the therapist or in the paperwork you fill out. I tell you this so that you will be better prepared when you go in for the first time. If, once you read or hear this and feel panicked, don’t worry–the staff and therapists have seen it all before. They have no problems with you deciding you are not comfortable with this and/or that you prefer to return at a later time after you’ve thought it all over. (This includes people who have freaked out on the table, jumped up and ran naked out of the room!)

Something I found out about myself when I got my first massage: as the therapist began working on my knees and feet, I was unbearably ticklish and began twitching and laughing. My therapist laughed, too, and explained that this is a normal reaction. Often, ticklishness is more of a trust issue than real discomfort. Hearing this, I was able to relax and enjoy the massage of my legs and feet, knowing that I was NOT being tickled; I was being helped.

As we grow older, massage becomes less a luxury than a real necessity. If we are 65, then all our parts are 65 as well. It’s normal and natural to have aches and pains as we go along. Of course, serious conditions need to be treated professionally; that’s a given. You also should check with your doctor before you have your first massage to be sure that it won’t adversely affect any existing conditions. If ok with your doctor, massage can definitely alleviate much pain and suffering. Following your first massage, it is entirely natural that you may feel a bit run-down the next day. (Again, this too will be explained to you.) It is recommended that, following the massage, you drink plenty of water and relax. It will take your body a while to process this new release of trapped energy and just about always, you will feel so much better.

I hope that this post may answer some questions people have about massage and perhaps take some of the anxiety out of it. Any reliable massage therapist has your best interests at heart, and their job is to help you feel better. Perhaps this has also cleared up some of the misconceptions about massage.

A good massage is cheaper than a vacation on Maui, and best of all, both your body and mind get a vacation.

“I Give Up!” (For Today, Anyway)

It’s raining buckets here, and our garden is getting a great soak. One of the “neighbor cats,” whom we fondly call Plumpy-Nut, took shelter in our bird feeder to get out of the wet. It’s about 5′ off the ground, and I think he’s a pretty smart cat to get himself in there and out of the rain. It’s quite cool for an August day; about 67 degrees, so the Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I decided to make this a day off for both of us. Also, the pre-fall weather and the soothing sound of the rain makes us both sleepy, and even though we could clean the inside of the house today, we just didn’t want to.

I am sleepy because Pepper, our third cat, hawked up an enormous hairball inches away from my face this morning at 3:30a.m., which meant the sheets needed washing immediately. So, after the be-hairballed sheets were in the washer, I made up the bed with clean sheets and eventually went back to bed. The Crankee Yankee swore he would vacuum the house today, but I knew it wouldn’t get done; it’s just the kind of day it is.

So, while sipping my third cup of coffee, I looked around at the cat hair tumbleweeds on the rugs, the smudged kitchen floor, the dusty end tables and knick-knacks, the cobwebs in the corners, the piles of coupons, magazines, and other papers littering the kitchen table, and said: “That’s IT! I give UP! Dirt, mess, cat hair, mud, etc.–you WIN.”

The Crankee Yankee looked at me as only he can do–a mixture of “are you kidding me?” and “really?” and “I know you aren’t serious but you LOOK serious so I’m not going to argue with you.” I even allowed myself the luxury of imaging how we would eventually become one of those couples who hoard everything, and who have to make tunnels through all the junk in the house just to move from room to room. I also imagined people in our neighborhood watching us and our three cats get boarded onto a police car headed for the nearest mental hospital, saying to each other, “Yep–I knew they were crazy. I just didn’t know HOW crazy!” Then our still-half-finished house would be sold to pay off our stay in the nut house.

But that’s just the lack of sleep and too much coffee talking. We both decided that we would just put all projects on hold for the day, go out and get breakfast (which, by the way, was truly hedonistic), and sing “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” I informed the Crankee Yankee that I really didn’t mean I was going to give up on everything and let the place go to hell–that I just needed to let everything go TODAY.

And sometimes that’s all it takes to reset the old internal clock. Just turn your back on all the mess, mud, muck and mire and forget it for the day. Oh, it will all be there for sure the next day, but for today, sometimes you really just have to let everything float over you and stop trying. It’s a “just for today” thing. I swear.

Seriously.

Finding the Happy

You know how it goes; you wake up in a grumpy mood and say to yourself, “it’s going to be an awful day.” And surprise–it IS an awful day. Coincidence? Nope, not at all. It’s the old ‘glass half empty, glass half full’ state of mind, and it’s up to you to decide which glass you have. Having a good day, or just finding the “happy” in any situation is entirely up to us. You can decide you’re going to have a great day, and, despite what happens in the day, you will have a great day. Or, you can go the other way, and have a lousy day.

Case in point: I have never just loved hot and humid weather, and have griped about it for years. So I dreaded every summer because I kept on saying how much I hated hot and humid weather. I just made it worse on myself, and suffered far more than I needed to, and probably was a big downer to those around me who do enjoy that kind of weather. So I decided to take my own advice a few years ago–I decided I didn’t hate hot weather, and instead embraced it. I would think of how cold I had been the previous winter and how many layers of clothingI had had to put on to stay warm. All of a sudden, the summer–even the sticky days–felt great. Oh, I still retreat to the A/C when we have a stretch of steamy weather, but I no longer complain. The attitude shift made all the difference.

The Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I were recently picking through a big coffee can of fresh blueberries (courtesy of the abundant blueberry bushes that grow in and around the swamp on my brother-in-law’s property). We carefully picked out all the green berries, stems, twigs and so on, and I started thinking. What if changing our attitudes about the good vs. bad in our lives was as easy as picking through berries? I mean, it’s  easy to see the leaves and twigs along with the berries–could it be that weeding out the not-so-great things in our day, our lives, our situations could be that easy?

I started to think of good things vs. bad things  in my life. For example, I have a great part-time job with a great company. This job puts me smack in the middle of a gorgeous part of northern New Hampshire, I work with wonderful people, I’m doing work I truly enjoy, and I’ve made some good friends there. The company regularly hosts fun events for its employees, such as seasonal barbeques, chili cook-off contests, pizza lunches for various reasons, family days at the local park, and on holidays there are Yankee swaps, cookie parties and cube-decorating contests. Each Christmas we are given gift cards to our favorite grocery stores. The building is designed to let in plenty of natural light, and as you walk down the corridors, you can watch the seasons change in all their glory. It really is an ideal place to work. All these good things are the “berries.”

The “debris” is that it’s a 145 mile commute from my door to theirs, I travel along three major highways to get there, and I spend a lot of money on tolls, gas and car maintenance for my 12-year old vehicle. So in my job situation, I have a whole lot more berries than debris.

So what’s the secret to finding the “happy” in any situation? We can start by asking ourselves a few questions, such as:

  • Is there anything positive about this situation? (Even if it’s a job you hate, you still get paid, right? So that’s positive!)
  • Is my own attitude about this situation making things worse or better?
  • Can I do anything to positively affect this situation?
  • Am I so steeped in my own unhappiness that I may be bringing others down?
  • Can I afford to leave this situation? If I can, will I? What’s holding me back?

When you can answer those questions to your satisfaction, you will end up with a list of berries vs. debris. You will have to decide if the berries are worth the debris. This kind of thinking is how we start to change our lives. We have to remember that we really do have control over how we feel, how we perceive the world around us and what kind of people we want to be. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is doable. Remember that little victories, such as saying to yourself, “hey–I’m not that crazy about this current job, but it pays for my <insert whatever hobby, etc. you love here>!” Find and enjoy the smallest victory, the smallest good feeling, the smallest sense of happiness. It will keep you looking for more, therefore making more happy happen.

This is how we find the “happy” and keep it. For good!

Of All the Things I’ve Lost, I Miss My Eyebrows the Most

I’ll be the first to tell anyone that I honestly don’t mind being my age at all. In fact, you couldn’t write me a check big enough to be 20 again (assuming of course that I still wouldn’t know then what I know now). I’ve cheerfully accepted that my body sounds like popcorn when I first get out of bed (joints, ya know), that I now have “distinguished” silver streaks in my hair, that I’ve become a gravity victim, or that I can’t eat fried food any longer. I no longer wear high heels or pantyhose. I put in my time wearing those instruments of torture, and I’m done with them. It doesn’t bother me a bit that, due to an insane amount of physically demanding hobbies in my 30s and 40s, both rotator cuffs have pooped out. I’m not wild about the fact that my neck is getting turkey wattle-ish, but hey—that’s what scarves are for.

But I do miss my eyebrows. They patiently put up with all my plucking and shaping over the years, and I never had to worry about them. That and my hair (always short) were things I never had to spend much time on, much less fuss with. But these days, due to the inevitable creep of time, my trusty old eyebrows have given up on me, packed up their follicles and have moved on (probably for Hawaii. I would, too, if I could).

The greater part of my morning routine is painstakingly etching on eyebrows. Fortunately, I have handy expression lines where they used to be, so I just follow the template. I never realized what an art form this is. Oh, you can do it in a hurry with a Magic Marker, but that’s if you don’t care if you look ridiculous. Subtlety is the key. I take more time with this than I do with any part of my morning routine. Using an eyebrow pencil sharpened within an inch of its life, I painstakingly stroke on each tiny line to imitate eyebrow hairs. With one eyebrow complete, I have to duplicate it on the other side. Finally, I use a tiny brush dedicated to this purpose to blur the lines and make it look as if I still have real eyebrows. It’s exhausting–but absolutely necessary.

Since I feel that I can’t waste perfectly applied eyebrows just sitting around reading or cooking or doing laundry, I make it a point to go and do something. Even if all I do is just pick up cat food and coffee, or take a book back to the library, at least I know my eyebrows look good; normal anyway. These days, it’s all about normal—not necessarily spectacular, but normal.

Oh, for the carefree days when all I had to do to look good was to wash my face, run a comb through my hair and brush my teeth! These days it takes a goodly amount of time to prepare my face to face the world. I am still vain enough to want to look decent, if not good. When I was a lot younger, I noticed that some women of a certain age always dressed well, wore expertly applied make-up and had their hair done each week. In my ignorance, I used to think, “Why bother? You’re OLD!”

Well, now that I am of that certain age, I get it. I realize that no young and lusty men are dying to ask me out or offer me diamonds and mansions; that’s not what I’m going for. I do what I do to feel good about myself, which in turn makes me feel good about everything. Sure it takes effort, so what? I know I will never look 25 again; that’s just fine. I’m going for feeling good for me.

..but I do miss my eyebrows!

 

 

 

 

Don’t Worry–It’s Probably Not Alzheimer’s–Only Partial-Heimers!


Ok, so you started your day by looking everywhere for your keys–and they were in your hand all the time. You put your hot cup of coffee in the refrigerator (because you took out the bagels and cream cheese, which requires two hands, right?). You turned on your better half, accusing them of not putting the scissors back where they belong and–you remember that you took the scissors into the bathroom to cut a thread off your sweater…and left them there. Then on the way home from work, you somehow took the north exit instead of the south exit…and didn’t notice until you were nearly back at work again.

So, are you losing it? Should you be tested for Alzheimer’s? Are you getting dementia and just don’t realize it? Worse–deep breath–are you certifiably crazy? Probably ‘no’ to all these worries. The human mind is like a layer cake: there’s the family layer–keeping up with the kids’ after-school activities and your partner’s interests, the work layer–working a full or part-time job, the home layer–managing chores inside and outside the home, the pet layer–getting the pets to the vet for their check-ups, the vehicle layer–making sure the vehicles are maintained, and even the ME layer–all the stuff you want to do. And the “To Do” list grows ever longer. So it stands to reason that sooner or later, one or two of the layers will slip out of place, or right off the cake plate altogether.

When we are young and our brains are pink and juicy, we can remember everything. But because we’re young, our brains usually handle only a couple of layers: family, school, activities, etc. As the years go by, we have more stuff to remember, and we add more layers. The human mind is a wonderful machine, but I believe that over time it begins to compartmentalize things that are no longer immediately important. All that stuff goes into a storage area of the brain, to be retrieved when needed. All the stuff that needs immediate attention, such as ‘did I pick up the baby at day care?’ is right at the forefront of our brains. So far, so good.

My personal theory is that our brains start noticing all that wasted space in the storage area, thinking, ‘hey–he/she hasn’t looked in here for years! They probably don’t even remember half the stuff in here! I’ll bet they’ll never notice if I just dump this right down the spinal cord (the brain’s idea of a flush toilet). Then I can put this space to some really good use!’

This type of off-road brain activity happens in the dead of night when our brains are goofing with us anyway; giving us weird dreams, making us sleep walk or eat cookies. When we wake up, we of course have no memory of our old storage unit, because the brain has flushed it for us. So, when we do want to get something out of brain storage, such as ‘now where did I put that disco glitter ball?’ we can’t find it. We know we had it, but just can’t remember where it is. Again, my own theory, but I believe that this is why we start worrying about “losing it.” What we don’t realize is that we have lost our storage area, not necessarily our minds.

Then there is the not-so-funny ‘word salad syndrome.’ This happens when we have a word in our heads, such as “stepladder,” but we end up saying “sushi” instead. It’s embarrassing and a little scary. Again, I blame the brain for messing with us. So the next time you freak out when you can’t remember where your L.L. Bean canvas jacket went to, or whether or not your took your vitamins this morning, or why your cup of coffee is in the refrigerator, don’t worry. It’s probably not Alzheimer’s at all, but Partial-Heimer’s, courtesy of our devious brains.

…hey, what happened to my bagel and cream cheese? It was right here a minute ago… <insert maniacal laughter from my brain here>

 

 

 

 

“Dumb Animals?” Not At All!

The term “dumb animals” does not mean “stupid animals.” According to Webster’s dictionary, one of the meanings of the word ‘dumb’ means ‘lacking the human power of speech.’ Oh, we may think that the neighbor’s dog who howls along with ambulance siren is dumb/stupid for doing so, but he has a reason for it that makes sense to himself. It could be that the noise hurts his ears, or that he just likes to harmonize. He might even be thinking, ‘that’s not nearly loud enough; I must help that other howling dog be heard!’

We have all heard of pets who have saved their owners’ lives by waking them when a fire starts, or when someone falls, has a heart attack, etc. We also know that animals will risk their own lives to save their young. Who could forget Scarlett, the stray cat who saved all five of her kittens from a burning house in Brooklyn, NY in March of 1996? She was so severely burned in the process that her eyes were swollen shut, but once out of the building, she touched each kitten with her nose to be sure she had them all. The little family was rushed to an emergency vet and received excellent care. Happily, once Scarlett and her kittens were well enough, all were adopted into loving homes. Scarlett herself was adopted by a woman who adored her and treated her like a queen.

There are also ‘helper animals,’ from dogs to birds to monkeys who assist disabled folks in accomplishing daily tasks. There are therapy animals who can reach the human heart faster than a cardiac surgeon, and who bring autistic children out of themselves with their unconditional love and acceptance. Many domestic pets can sense when an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc. is on the way. If you pay attention, this is an excellent early warning system.

The Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I have three “special needs” cats; Nala (9-year old female), Pookie (6-year old male), and Pepper (8-year old male). We adopted Nala from a couple who had added a dog and a new kitten to their household. Nala was terrified by the dog and hated the kitten. She was well cared for, but had been living a rather lonely existence in the cellar, afraid to come upstairs. Pookie had been rescued from a home with too many cats, and had been in a local shelter for several months. He came to the shelter severely stressed, was being treated for a UTI, and spent most of his days hiding behind the director’s desk. Pepper, *rescued last December by the Crankee Yankee, came to live with us at the end of last year. He has an incurable heart condition that requires us to administer three meds every morning and every night, plus a special one every three days to keep fluid from building up around his heart. This morning and evening routine takes time and Pepper certainly doesn’t love it, but it is worth it to see how healthy and strong he is now.

When we adopted Nala, our beloved cat, Blackie, had just died in my arms with vet assistance at the ripe old age of 20. Nala needed a home, and we needed her; not to take Blackie’s place, but to fill the empty spaces in all our hearts. It took a while, but soon Nala began to relax after she realized that no dogs lived there and that she had our undivided attention and love. Two years later, I read about one of our local shelter’s “Desperate Housecats;” cats who had been in the shelter for over six months. Pookie was at the top of the list. I felt I had to go see him, so my best friend/sister-in-law went to the shelter to have a look. Of course I fell in love with this sweet, green-eyed black kitty, and when I picked him up my heart whispered, ‘take him home!’ He has been an absolute joy ever since.

Of course, Nala had something to say about it. It was just as if we had a 17-year old girl and a 10-year boy in the house; they lived to bug each other. These days, though, flareups are rare and not serious. Pepper fit in with the other two because there was no other choice; knowing how much help he needed, how could we put him in a shelter? We socialized them all as best we could, and soon they all got used to each other. There are dust-ups from time to time, but nothing serious.

Our cat crew doesn’t always allow us uninterrupted sleep. Pookie starts talking when the lights go out. He wants us to know that he caught a vicious and possibly dangerous stuffed toy, and he won’t shut up until I get out of bed and tell him what a good brave boy he is. Pepper hops up during the night to nuzzle the Crankee Yankee’s ears and nose, then lies down wrapped around his head.  Early in the morning, Nala likes to park herself in the window behind our headboard, whapping our heads alternately with her tail. Sometimes, just to mix up things up, one or two of them will start chasing another, eliciting indignant growls and hisses, which of course wake us up.

The cats get fed and watered before we even have our first cup of coffee. Our living room floor is littered with dozens of catnip mice, jingle balls, plastic spirals, the annoying chirping stuffed bird that Pepper loves to shake, fuzzy toys, fluffy toys, various scratching posts and boxes, and other cat amusements. The cats sleep on the fleece blanket on our bed, or the fluffy blanket on the bamboo chair, or the other fluffy blanket on the sofa. Downstairs, the Crankee Yankee has built platforms in the two casement windows with a transom in between so that the cats have downstairs sleeping lofts. Each cat has his/her own carrying cage, fitted out with clean cozy blankets and a catnip toy in each one.

They all eat vet-recommended kibble, and the Crankee Yankee did considerable research to determine the best wet food that combined what they liked and what was also good for them. Their water is changed twice a day, and litter boxes are cleaned twice a day. They are all soundly kissed, petted, cuddled and are told on a daily basis was good ‘kids’ they are. And before you say it, we know–they rule the house; we just pay the bills and provide service. We are simply the staff.

Trust me, there is nothing dumb about these pets of ours. They have us right where they want us and they are not about to change. I would write more here, but it’s time for me to fix the cats’ mid-morning treat of pan-seared salmon on toast points with bearnaise sauce…..

*Those who have read “The Christmas Cat” (published here in December of 2013, and later, “Love in the Shape of a 12-lb. Cat”) will remember our rescued cat, Pepper. Long story short, the Crankee Yankee (my husband) was in Pepperell, MA for a meeting with his model railroad group, which was in an industrial park. The cat who became our Pepper came running to him, climbed up his pantleg and settled himself on the Crankee Yankee’s shoulder–and did not move. It turns out that Pepper had been living on his own in that park for at least two years.