Dia De Los Muertos, translates to Day of the Dead.
Once a little known (to us) observance celebrated in Mexico and Latin America, it has become more prevalent in our society, the predominant culture of which is taught to fear death and the dead.
The closest festival that those of us with Northern European/Gaelic/Celtic ancestry once had is Samhain, which was eventually assimilated by our culture and turned into the modern Halloween which has nothing to do with honoring our ancestors and departed loved ones and everything to do with commercial profit.
Sadly, this is beginning to happen to Dia De Los Muertos as is evidenced by incredibly tacky Halloween costumes on sale, and other misappropriations.
Make no mistake, Dia De Los Muertos is not “Mexican Halloween” just like Cinco De Mayo is not “Mexican Independence Day” (it commemorates the battle of Pueblo and achieving victory over French forces against all odds, but that’s a conversation for another day) nor is it about drinking tequila until you puke.
This Huffington Post article speaks to appropriation and misrepresentation of the observance, so rather than wax poetic from upon my soapbox, I shall link it here.
While appropriation and colonization are very real and serious issues based in devaluing and disrespecting other cultures, the United States has always been known as the “Great American Melting Pot” in which many generations of immigrants from different cultures brought some of their own traditions.
We can learn a lot from other cultures and regain some of the connections to the earth and our ancestors we lost when we all melded into a homogenous culture if we approach it with respect and a desire to learn.
This short video explains the basics of the observance…
Today, an example of respectful learning and celebration occurred at the Tacoma Art Museum for Dia De Los Muertos.
A colorful event that included education, entertainment, music, activities for children and sacred spaces created for departed loves ones drew people from all over Tacoma and beyond in the spirit of community.
Offerendas (altars built to honor departed loves ones and ancestors) lined hallways on multiple levels of the museum. Filled with photographs, decorations, memorabilia and often, written explanations about the symbolism and people involved were lovingly built by individuals, families and community groups who took workshops to understand their significance so that they could be created out of love and respect.
I spoke with a Latina woman who was laying out a lovely offerenda she was decorating with feather headdresses, photographs and items of significance or that were favorite things of her departed loved ones. She told me about her father who had passed only one year ago, and her grandmother and aunt. She sadly told of how quickly “the cancer” took one of her relatives and smiled sharing fond memories others.
I then spoke with a Chinese American woman who wanted to take my photograph since I was in costume and we shared stories of observances in our own pre-United States cultures (in my case, Irish) that were similar to Dia De Los Muertos,
I saw people of all ages, classes, cultures and ethnicities come together to learn, share and remember their departed loves one who live in our hearts and stories. I watched people of diverse political leanings learn about another culture at a deeper and more personal level than before. I witnessed healing.
If you didn’t make it this year, you need to put it on your calendar for next year. I certainly hope that the museum will continue to provide this amazing, free event to the community.
There is still time to “get your dead on”. Tonight, on 6th Avenue there is a Dia De Los Muertos
Doors will open at the Studio 6 Ballroom Event space, 2610 6th Avenue, at 4:00 PM for face painting, creating and local vendor setup.
At 6:00 PM a procession will move down 6th Ave, many participants carrying paper mache figures they created in workshops.
At 7:00 PM, there will be live music, celebration and activities back at the event space lasting until 9:00 PM.
Come join your community and departed loves ones, for death is not to be feared, it is part of life and the end, is just the beginning.
I leave you with a charming short film showing a little girl discovering Dia De Los Muertos
While I don’t normally do “resolutions” (and if I do, I usually do them at the begging of the “Celtic” New year at Samhain in early November), I am ready to kick 2014 to the curb and look forward to 2015 being a new and awesome year.
2014 seems to have been a year filled with more challenge, tragedy, illness, death and trauma for just about everyone I know than any years in recent memory. (as I write this, one of you is in surgery having a large, rare and malignant tumor removed from around your iliac vein and artery and another also with cancer is planning your own memorial)
Without offering up platitudes which those who are still struggling/grieving may not appreciate, I will just say that for me, that pesky phoenix metaphor holds true. While just about every area of my life went up in flames (all at once) last year and it seemed overwhelming for a time, it is allowing me a fresh start on a lot of levels.
I enter 2015 in a much better place career wise-I love my job and have benefits again. Small business, which contributes to society in a meaningful way seems to be my sweet spot between working for a soulless corporation for benefits and working for a non-profit with no competent leadership and no benefits.
While I’m pretty sure the debacle with the scummy mortgage servicer took a year or so off of my life, I ended up in a better position in a modified mortgage which has left me with a 1.25% decrease in interest rate and a 25% decrease in monthly payment.
While I very much appreciate (you’ll never how much that meant to me) those of you who offered to help, it was something I needed to do on my own and the end result was much better than if I had accepted help and tried to deal with the status quo. It also helped me learn to navigate a corrupt system that is designed to victimize hard working people and reward the worst of the worst 1%. I am using that knowledge to write a guide to help others who are in the same situation. I have already been able to use my experience to advise others.
I extricated myself from a “relationship” which made me feel bad about myself every single day (and Yikes! Did I ever wait far too long). While I still have work to do on myself and my habit of putting my own wants/needs/self-esteem aside in favor of others’ I feel that I am stronger for it and can only hope that moving forward, I am able to make healthier choices for myself.
So yeah, I’m still decompressing from it all, but looking forward, things look pretty darn good. I managed to “rise from the ashes” once again and sooner or later the scent of singed tail feathers will dissipate.
I plan on filling my life with more friendship, love, hiking, cycling, running, backpacking, music, art and dance.
I wish all of you a happy, healthy, 2015!
I put together my annual year end slide show, which those of you not on Facebook haven’t seen yet.
It just goes to show you that 2014 had a lot of high points despite the challenges, and most of them involved you, my friends and chosen family (a lot of you are in it)
I’m still waiting on proofs from the book; I ordered a bit too close to the holiday rush. I will let you know as soon as they are ready.
New Years Eve – First Night!
Don’t forget First Night on New Year’s eve. The forecast is for clear and no snow so once the indoor venues close at 11:30 and everyone moves to the square for our fiery countdown to midnight, it will be comfortable (if you’re dressed warmly, unlike we performers)
My fire siren friends and I will be in the parade with our LED toys as well as in the fire spectacle at midnight. It’s going to be awesome this year!
An article on first night was just posted in last Friday’s Trib
I have a lot of fun, hopefully interesting and much less serious things to blog about (and absolutely no time in which to do so), but I read something on a friend’s page today that got me thinking about this.
Said friend just got back from the hospital after a scare that involved chest pain. Nothing conclusive was shown (that’s a good thing) and returning for another test (right away) was recommended.
This got my friend thinking about what she would do if it turned out to be something serious enough to require invasive surgery such as a multiple bypass; (an uncle had one) Would she, at her (retirement) age put herself through such an invasive and recovery intensive procedure such as that, or accept that life is finite and just go on about the act of living?
Hopefully, it is tendon/muscle/ligament and/or irritation of the pleura or pericardium, perhaps/most likely something that is easily fixed by a shot of antibiotics, some mild medication or just rest and recovery and this will all be a mute point for my friend.
Since my cancer scare a year and a half ago, I’ve thought a lot about such things. What would I do if it it was ovarian cancer? Would I have chemo? Would I accept localized radiation? Or would I just tell everyone I love that I love them, live my life with as much zeal as possible and then go into hospice on a morphine drip when that was no longer possible?
I’m pretty sure that in that case, I would chose the latter. As a matter of fact, I am as positive as one can be without actually having to make that decision.
Like my friend, I do not have any children relying on me; if I did, I would most likely feel a different responsibility to them.
During that time, I also watched my close friend Houston battle stage four prostate cancer. For a year and a half after the diagnosis (when they told him he only had a short few months to live) he was mostly confined to bed in a nursing home and was in and out of hospitals for surgeries and complications of his disease and treatment.
He fought; he fought valiantly and up to the end remained positive and determined to beat it.
With my medical background, I knew that the prognosis and the likelihood of that happening was so miniscule that statisticians would not be able to quantify it. Granted, I have seen miracles, but did not really expect one in his case.
But this was his fight, not mine, his decision, not mine, HIS… NOT MINE. As long as my dear friend wanted to fight, I would be there with him, holding his hand (even when it required a gloves, gown and a mask to do so) and would support his decision 110%.
I know death. I know death all too well. In addition to having danced with it myself on more than one occasion, I have been with people when it came. I have seen the beauty and peace one feels when ready to end the pain and pass over, I have seen and felt the horrible struggle of those clinging to life they were not ready to let go of as it was traumatically torn from them, and I, as as medical professional have had people beg me to let them die in peace with dignity when the law would not allow it. That is the most heartbreaking thing of all.
So while my friend pondered what they would do and I watched mutual, concerned, loving friends beg, plead and demand action, I remembered a choice I made a year and a half ago.
A little known fact about surgery, about general anesthesia. More people die from general anesthesia, than from the illnesses and injures that require the surgery.
When I went in for my first surgery a year and a half ago, I updated my will and my advanced directives.
The most difficult choice, was finding someone to carry out those directives.
I needed someone (and a backup) that “loved me as much as they loved their dog”
That sounds weird.
I needed someone that loved me enough to pull the plug should things go bad.
I could not choose anyone whose religious beliefs would preclude them from doing that.
We take our beloved fur children to the vet and have them “put out of their misery” when their short lives are going to be filled with nothing but pain, misery and suffering, yet only in Oregon and Washington states, do we have a death with dignity law in which we can make that choice for ourselves.
Whilst that choice would be made by only me and my doctor, well ahead of time, the idea behind it is the same.
Do you love me as much as your dog?
Do you love me enough to pull the plug and end all of our suffering?
Luckily, I have dear friends Janet and Betsy who agreed to do that for me should it come to that.
My advanced directives are clear…
WHAT! You don’t have advanced directives?
Fill them out, have them notarized, DO IT NOW!
Having worked in emergency medicine for well over a decade, I (and most, if not all of my colleagues) would prefer to just have “no code” tattooed on my chest.
Since that is not an option, my advanced directives are clear.
No respirator, no feeding tube. If I can’t be brought back with basic CPR and a zap with a defibrillator, save my loved ones and the staff the hassle of trying to bring me back from a vegetative state.
You see, the brain dies after 4-6 minutes without oxygen. You can “save” someone and get their heart beating again, but it does not mean that they will “live”
As a paramedic, I experienced this far too often.
The expectation, the legal mandate was to “save lives”.
In the absence of “no code” orders signed by the patient and the physician (and not expired), at the bedside, we were required to do what we were trained to do.
Yes, it sounds exciting and exhilarating to bring someone back from the dead and get their heart beating again.
The harsh reality is, that in most cases, they “come back” brain dead, only to code over and over again in the ICU as their family mourns their death many times over, and is driven to bankruptcy in the process, or they “live” in a vegetative state in a nursing home being fed through a tube and have their diaper changed by underpaid staff.
I cried far more often for the patients I “saved” than the ones I lost because I did not feel like a hero, I felt like Dr Frankenstein, only prolonging pain and suffering.
I am not afraid of death. I’ve been clinically dead once as a child with a severe allergy/asthma attack brought back to life with an intracardiac injection of epinephrine and as an adult made peace with the fact that the most likely scenario is that I was going to die after a river guiding accident that fractured my spine and pelvis.
and please in the name of all that is sacred to you, harvest my organs and give them to people who need them. What! You don’t have an organ donor card/endorsement on your license? If you are so inclined DO IT NOW!
What I am afraid of, is having a stroke or an accident and not having a choice, putting my friends and loved ones through hell on earth and being a drain on the system.
But back to my friend.
I fully expect her to live a long and productive life and have strongly recommended that she get back in for the tests ASAP. After all, you can’t make a decision if not given all the information you need in which to make it.
But if for some reason, that is not the way it goes and she makes a choice not to undergo something so invasive.
I knew it was coming, but nothing prepares you for the day you open your mail box and…
There it is, your AARP card.
“Stuff” just got real.
Prior to this in your face reality check, I’d already been doing some serious reevaluating of my life after all of the stress, life circumstances, female issues, cancer scare and recovery from surgeries that slowly drew me away from the things that were important to me.
When faced with the possibility of ovarian cancer, my priorities became extremely clear to me. (honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened to me)
Some things would need to wait until I had recovered from surgery such as backpacking, hiking, cycling, running, etc…
Others, were easy fixes (OK, quitting my lousy, unfulfilling, high stress job working with miserable people when I thought I might have cancer was anything but easy, but I took the risk anyway) getting away from people with unhealthy habits/too much drama who had somehow migrated into my life when I became less physically active and getting serious again about what I was eating and drinking. (my forced sedentary lifestyle and inattention to my dietary habits whilst super stressed out and associating with those who ate like pigs and drank like fish on a daily basis created some weight gain which I worked really hard to get rid of)
I made art a priority in my life again and when I was physically able, dance… (dance, a life long love and art form for me, had been gone from my life since the marriage due to an extremely jealous husband)
The ceramics studio I’ve wanted my whole life… is now almost completely set up in the basement. I also found a new love of glass blowing (its’ a gritty Tacoma thing) and I’ve recently been considering singing again.
I’ve reclaimed virtually everything that was important to me sans one thing, my music-my fiddle and guitar. I learned late in life, despite the fact that everyone told me you can’t learn to play an instrument as difficult as the violin as an adult (I was 41) It was the instrument I was drawn to, I always picked that part out when listening to a musical selection, once I finally picked it up, it made sense (bonus, I actually have good intonation)
I was just moving to an intermediate level where I was beginning to perform. Then one of my band mates died tragically and I almost died in a car accident a few days later. Due to the fractured shoulder I sustained in that accident, I could not place the instrument on my shoulder (I did force myself through one final performance at Summer Solstice in honor of Michelle whilst heavily drugged on pain killers and grief).
Once the shoulder healed, I still had nerve damage and my fingers would not work correctly. Soon, I lost the muscle memory and then I lost the music in my head and the fiddle remained on the wall, a sad reminder of something I lost/gave up on.
The next time I started back up (even went back and took lessons) all the drama with my mothers illnesses, surgeries and suicide along with some bad work drama shut me down just as I was beginning to make progress. Then came buying, moving into and restoring the house, then came the health issues and cancer scare then recovering from all of that.
My last step of this process, the last stage is reclaiming my music and I will do it this time.
As 50 approached, I’d been talking to two of my dearest “biker scum” (aka cyclist) friends, Julie (just turned 53) and Leo (just turned 60) about a discussion they’d recently had about how you enter your 50’s sets the tone for the 2nd half of your life.
Their assertion is that the physical shape and mindset in which you enter your 50s sets the tone for the rest of your life.
I think they’re right.
In honor of turning 50, some good friends and I went on a hike. My first official act as a 50 year old was to climb a tree. (to those who know me well, this makes perfect sense)
Part of the week long Lisa turns 50 celebration also involved running (the streets of Tacoma, in costume) with the Tacoma Runners, attending and throwing a Halloween party wearing an age inappropriate red riding hood costume with a very short skirt, and a 50 for 50 bike ride from Golden Gardens to the RedHook Brewery which still needs to be rescheduled due to weather.
Why yes, I am planning on being an extremely eccentric old lady, and I’m starting now. I come by it honesty enough, I like to joke that my maternal grandmother ran with wolves before it was fashionable to do so. Well into her 70’s she consorted with artists, writers and bohemians, keeping a sleeping bag in the back of her car for spontaneous trips to Baja; she lived alone in the desert collecting glass and digging for gemstones which she turned into works of art/jewelry.
One of the many joys of being 50 is that I don’t have to care as much about what people think I should be and do; I don’t have to worry so much about appearance. I know who I am and what I want.
Some people dread turning 50 (or 40 or 30) but for me, it’s freeing and empowering. It’s a time in my life where I can concentrate on things that are important to me.
Having been 50 for a few weeks now, I’ve had opportunity to look back at what I’ve learned (especially over the last year) and to honestly say that I think I’m in a pretty good place in my life. Yes, I’m damaged, a bit rough around the edges and will always be a work in progress (aren’t we all?) but I’m pretty happy with where I am and more importantly who I am right now.
So what has it taken me 50 years to learn? Way more than I could ever cover in a blog post or even a book, but I’m going to try to summarize some general highlights here:
Challenge yourself, try something new; step outside your comfort zone.
Take risks, big risks, small risks, take them; they help you feel alive! So what if you fail? you will have learned something and will not have those “what if” regrets (for me, stagnating and being unhappy is a much bigger failure than not trying)
Learn something. Read a book, sign up for a class, take up a new hobby, be interested in the world.
Don’t live in the past. Your past does not define you, it merely strengthens you. Learn from it, then move on and live in and enjoy the present.
LOVE, love freely. It does not have to be romantic love; there are all kinds of love; love for friends, family, pets, community…
If you are not happy with/by yourself, you won’t be happy in a relationship.
The saying that you “are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with” is true. Seek out those who are filled with passion, joy, inspiration and energy; those things are contagious (so are yucky things like negativity, jealousy, gossip, drama and being a perpetual victim)
If you don’t feel valued in a relationship, be it personal, romantic or business, it is not where you belong.
If you feel that you need to change to be loved/accepted, you are in the wrong place/situation/relationship.
If someone continually makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s not you, it’s them. RUN do not walk away.
Your body is your temple, treat it as such fill it with good food, regular exercise and adventure.
Be grateful. Every day, especially when you are sad. Think of at least one thing a day you are grateful for and say it out loud. You’d be amazed how this practice can change/improve your sense of well being.
Art, books and music are important to our sense of self, well being and the world around us.
Find some way to “give back” to the world; it doesn’t have to be an expensive or grand gesture. Sometimes the smallest kindness makes the biggest impact on someone’s life and world.
On a more personal note:
It is not my job to “fix” people. Yes, I grew up in an abusive alcoholic home and am a classic “care taker”. Put a fork in me, I’m done. Yes, I’m happy to help people in need and everyone has their bad times and needs support, but I’m done allowing myself to be treated badly/putting up with bad behavior because I somehow tied my self worth to taking care of others to my own detriment.
Being a martyr does not make me a better person. I’d like to think that I do at least one thing a day that in some way makes the world a better place or makes someone’s day a bit brighter. I don’t have to sacrifice myself and my happiness to be a good person. I deserve my own happiness and maybe, just maybe to have someone support my hopes/dreams/needs once in a while.
I am an artist, a bohemian I don’t necessarily think and act the same way everyone else in our society does (or has been told they are supposed to) and that’s OK. People can appreciate that, or they can go along their merry way. Trying to dress me up in high heels (ridiculous things for anything other than costuming) and makeup (which is fine for performances and special occasions, but really? Since when is it required to paint ones’ face in order to be able to be seen in public on a daily basis?) manicures, expensive hair treatments every two weeks, or stick me in a cubicle in the corporate world is like putting a wild creature in a small cage. Yes, I work hard, function in society and pay my mortgage, but that doesn’t make me the same as everyone else. I’m not only OK with that, I’m learning to embrace it.
I’ve been paying a lot of attention as of late to the people I am drawn to and why…
I was asking myself just the other day why I was not attracted in a romantic way to a gentleman who was a perfect match “on paper” but have found myself attracted to someone else who might fall outside of one or two of my self imposed “parameters”.
When I really cut it down to bare essence, there is a certain “spark” in a person that draws me to them… passion, joy, zest for living… a light in their eyes and on their face.
The people I want to be around (in all areas of my life), are those with that “spark”.
On Sunday, I went back to dragon boat practice for the first time since November of 2008.
I realized while out on the water, that I had not set foot (or rather butt) on a dragon boat since he died.
His death wasn’t the reason (per se) that I didn’t go back. In addition to the triathlon training, about the time I thought I might be able to go back, I was dealing with the illness, mental issues and traumatic death of my mother.
While out on the water, I thought about Ben; I thought about him a lot.
I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to go back, but I did. I don’t know if I will ever want to steer the dragon again (that is just too intimately tied to Ben and can’t imagine anyone but him coaching me to do so) but it was good to be back.
We do this drill called “hookey”; Despite the fact that someone different was calling it out, I could hear Ben’s voice. (he was so funny when calling it out)
I wanted to laugh and I wanted to cry. (I have tears streaming down my face as I type this)
Today, I finally sanded, dragon decaled and varnished my dragon boat paddle, a project that Ben and I were going to do together.
It was November 10th of 2008, while driving back from Eastern Washington that I got the news that my friend and Dragon Boat Steering Coach Ben died the Saturday before.
He was steering the boat at practice when he had a massive heart attack. They were very close to the dock and the paramedics arrived right away.
They could not revive him and he was pronounced dead at the hospital an hour later.
I can’t imagine how terrible it must have been for my friends, my team to watch one of our most beloved members and coaches die.
I think I hurt for them the most.
I felt guilty for not being there. Although it was said that the heart attack was too massive for anyone/anything to help, I still felt guilty for not being there to do my medic thing and even more so, because I was not there for my friends.
Between the ten hour shifts and commute and training for my triathlon and the STP, dragon boating was the part of my life that got let go. On the week days that I actually got home in time for a practice, I was too exhausted to go. Weekends were spent logging long hours on the bike, swimming or running.
I kept saying that I was going to find the time/energy to go back, and each time I didn’t.
Ben certified me to steer the dragon boat and at one time when I was having a melt down because I did not feel experienced enough to handle a task I was given (in the conditions location it was being held in) and be responsible for the safety of the crew. I had Ben take over my boat and I left the event in tears feeling that I had failed everyone. He gave me a couple of days and then let down his gruff exterior and let his true loving nature show.
Ben was only 61 (at least I think so-the article I wrote on dragon boating last year listed him as 60)
Ben had an infectious grin and made everyone around him smile and laugh.
He was a good coach, and good friend and a good person.
He will be sorely missed.
I was told that at the following Sunday’s practice, the other association’s team paddled alongside our boat (which was three deep in each seat rather than two) out to the flagpole at the end of the waterway and both boats did Bens “salute” with the paddles.
Later, there was a memorial event for him on the water, dragon boat teams from Portland Oregon and Seattle came to Tacoma to participate and honor Ben, who touched the lives of so many.
Once again, life reminds me that we never know when our last moment on this earth will be.
We never know when we may see someone for the last time.
We should treat every day is if it were our last and love and cherish those we care about.
Six months ago, I was faced with the possibility of cancer, and had surgeries scheduled.
It became apparent that I was not going to be able to heal while dealing with the corporate job I was working at the time.
So I did the insane (but only sane thing I could do) thing, paying for COBRA insurance and turning in my two weeks notice.
It was a very scary, stressful time even before adding in two surgeries and recoveries.
I often doubted the decision I had made, doubted myself, and wondered if I’d find work in this economy once I was ready to look again.
There was a time, late in the winter when many, if not most of us battle Seasonal Affective Disorder when I was in significant pain, during which I battled some mild depression. (this is when I started posting my “daily gratitude” each day, which helps a lot)
What it boiled down to is that I had to trust in the universe; I had to trust in myself. I had to take that risk, because nothing will show you what does and doesn’t matter in your life, like the possibility of losing it.
I also made other changes. Changes in my diet (getting off the holiday food and back to healthy real food) not going to alcohol centered events or hanging out with people who habitually drink to excess, avoiding people who added unreasonable stress to my life, getting back to my art, learning new arts, and of course (once healed) easing back into a regular workout schedule.
When I was finally healed enough to consider working again, I made my intentions known to friends (and the universe) as to what I was looking for.
I did not want to be back in the corporate world, nor to deal with unhappy/unpleasant people stuck in a cubicle all day. I did not want to commute, I wanted to work right here in Tacoma again so that I could spend those wasted commuting hours with my animals and in my garden/farm. I wanted to ride my bike to work.
Most important, I wanted to do something that I loved, not something that I put up with because I thought I needed a certain amount of money/benefits, and I wanted to work with nice, happy people working towards a common goal.
First, an environmental non-profit organization that I have volunteered for over the years contacted me about a part time job they had just gotten a grant for. It was a perfect fit. I am now working with students and interns at Puget Creek Restoration Society helping to conserve and protect one of three salmon bearing streams in the city of Tacoma, and preparing them (the students and interns) for jobs in the environmental science field.
Next, I was made aware of another opportunity to “manage” (I like to refer to it as coordinating) the Tacoma Proctor Farmers’ Market, another part time opportunity doing something that I feel strongly about; promoting sustainability and supporting local farmers, healthy eating and building community.
So here I am, with the best of all worlds. (and full time work to pay the bills)
Educating, protecting/restoring the environment, and promoting sustainability, fresh healthy food and local farms.
I am riding my bike to work (well, OK…. not on days that I have to schlep booth displays around). I’m working here in Tacoma-no nasty commute wasting time I could be spending playing with my dog, working in my garden or creating art.
I am working with great people who love what they do and are passionate about it; and I feel good about what both organizations stand for and what they do.
No, I’m not going to get rich doing this, but since I’m big on living sustainably, am willing to be a bit more frugal. (and if I want extra cash, I’ll just have to pitch more magazine articles and/or do more performances)
I did not reinvent myself.
I decided to be true to myself.
I came back full circle, and couldn’t be happier.
I want to thank those who kept their eyes and ears open for opportunities, those who provided references for me, and most of all, those who supported me and held me up when I doubted myself.
Between snowmageddon, the epic ice storm and life happening, I haven’t updated the blog in a very long time.
[queue old timey film reel music]
“When we last left our heroine, she still had tumors in her ovary and no scheduled time for them to be removed…”
After getting my dangerously high blood pressure under control, I was rescheduled for surgery.
I was initially pretty freaked out at the delay with no reschedule date in sight and insurance benefits running out (it was supposed to have been done on the 6th of January but it may have turned out for the best in the long run.)
Had it been done on the 6th, I would have missed Frodo’s graduation from doggie class.
It was also just too close to the holiday chaos. As much as I love the holidays, I tend to over do and end up exhausted.
I went in last Tuesday to have the tumors (and maybe the ovary) removed and “since he was in there” to have my tubes tied since a pregnancy after an ablation, although unlikely, would be life threatening.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, at nearly 50 years of age, I got “fixed”. It probably shouldn’t make me giggle as much as it does.
This surgery (which I believe was fit in so that I could get this done by the end of January) was not scheduled at the reasonable 8:00 in the morning, but at 4:30 PM. It didn’t happen until 5:00 PM because my doc and anesthesiologist were both tied up in other procedures that ran long.
Since I hadn’t eaten since 6:30 the night before, I was beyond starving. Had it gone on much longer, they wouldn’t have needed to give me much anesthesia as I was close to just passing out.
I woke up to a room full of smiling folks in recovery who told me that it went very well.
The tumors appear to have been endometrial tissue (not good, but not cancer so I don’t even have to wait for biopsy results this time)
Of course, nothing is ever that simple.
I had been experiencing significant pain the week leading up to the procedure. I wasn’t sure if it was the tumor in the ovary or my uterus trying to expel blood and tissue that wasn’t there in an effort to menstruate. I just knew that it hurt like heck, especially trying to sit up and was actually looking forward to being put under and cut on. This of course, had to happen the week before surgery when I was not allowed to take any ibuprofen so I had to just suck it up.
I told my surgeon that the area (directly over my uterus) was tender to palpation and that I wasn’t sure if I was projecting because I knew about the tumors, but that it seemed to be more so on the right side.
As it turns out, I had a cyst in that fallopian tube which accounted for the pain (at least I wasn’t being a hypochondriac; if anything I under stated the pain) and which would have been a medical emergency had it ruptured. One more reason that the timing on this was likely for the best.
My total rock star surgeon had managed to do all of this through only one incision instead of the standard three. It’s in my belly button, and once it heals won’t be noticeable when I belly dance. (I was all set to get a belly jewel to disguise it)
I had many plans in place for my recovery and just about all of them fell through.
I never should have agreed to host an out of town house guest the day of (and two days prior) to having this surgery, especially after the ice storm delayed a lot of my preparation.
No matter how much a guest tries to not be an inconvenience, it’s stressful and kept me from fully preparing. Add that to the fact that neither one of us switched gears from host/guest to caretaker/patient (I am not the easiest person to help) I ended up with a sink full of dishes, a full trash can (added bonus, a bag of trash in the guest room) and all of my leftovers eaten instead of being helped/taken care of.
I had tried to buy chicken feed the day before surgery as I was almost completely out but the truck with the layer pellets hadn’t arrived yet so they were going to be kind enough to deliver in the next day or two. Well the truck didn’t arrive then and there I was recovering from surgery with hungry chickens I was worried about. It all worked out, but I was super stressed.
The two people who said they would come over the day after surgery didn’t (doesn’t matter who or why but I was feeling super sad/bummed out about it) so I was doing too much on my own (because I’m a dork and won’t ask for help)
To make an already bad situation worse, the dog (Corgis are a high energy working breed) who didn’t get walked/worked out for two days like he was supposed to went absolutely nuts yesterday chewing through the power cord on the hot tub I’d just payed to have fixed, because I put him outside because I just couldn’t deal with him being a hyper puppy, chewed up my slippers, ran though the house like a maniac when I tried to get my slipper back (the more I yelled and got mad, the more he wiggled his happy little but and the faster he ran/played) he tripped me and then accidentally pounced on my incision thinking we were playing.
This was when everything that had hurt my body and feelings/pissed me off/stressed me out (along with the fact that I hadn’t eaten or taken pain meds all day) combined and I lost it.
I started yelling and screaming like a Beansidhe and then broke down into hysterical, uncontrollable sobs. This would be when I broke open the glued surgical incisio-I can’t even blame it on the dog.
Yep, complete and total melt down and it was not pretty.
My dear friend Daniel (aka Monkey Boy) called about this time, and knowing I was in a bad way, came right over, ran the dog, picked up the emergency chicken feed the store made available until my bag came in, took out the trash (had to go to the alley as today is trash day) and did a few other things around the house.
My equally awesome friend and neighbor Dana came by later that night to help me with the 50 pound bag of chicken food which had been delivered. The very nice guy who brought it by didn’t want to disturb me by knocking, so he just went around back and put it on the back porch (which sadly is nowhere near the chickens, and then I couldn’t let the dog out as he’d destroy the bag)
When I told her about my meltdown, she asked, “But don’t you feel better now?”
Well yeah, maybe a little, but mostly embarrassed.
I’m putting that part of the story out on the blog because I know other women who do too much and are bad about asking for help and who can be overwhelmed by kids/pets/responsibilities/being let down by people at these times, in hope that they will learn from my mistakes and make better choices for themselves and their care. (and know that if they do melt down, they aren’t alone)
The night before, I had done some serious thinking and soul searching and come to some decisions (which as my friend Megs pointed out, is not a good idea when still under the effects of general anesthesia, but I’m going with it)
When I got the diagnosis and left my job due to the actions of my “manager” I never got time to recover from what had basically been a huge source of stress due to the nature of the job (which I’m sure was a major factor in the blood pressure problems) but which due to her attitudes and one or two insecure/gossipy/backstabby co-workers was more like escaping an abusive relationship.
I moved from that (which I was dealing with while in pain and hemorrhaging every month) into the constant pain (and fear of cancer) of the uterine surgery and later the ovarian/fallopian tube surgery, getting all my dental work done including three crowns, a mouth full of painful periodontal work, oral surgery/wisdom tooth extraction and having braces put on before my insurance ran out (and fighting with the insurance company/Cobra folks about my orthodontic coverage which they kept denying. My doctor looked at me as if I was insane for putting myself through all of this at once and after all my cardiac, thyroid, metabolic tests came back clear is pretty sure that stress is the main culprit in my blood pressure spike.
Let it suffice to say, that I have not done any relaxing nor healing since I left that place in October.
My big decision is… [drum roll please]
that I am not going to jump right back into looking for a day job now that the surgery is over.
I’m getting a refund from the orthodontic payment I made since the insurance finally kicked in and will get a nice tax refund due to my income being drastically cut and paying an insane amount of deductible medical/dental/insurance expenses and having paid my mortgage including interest ahead several months.
I’m going to take a couple of months to relax and heal and make sure that whatever I do end up doing for steady income, be it more assertively marketing my writing/photography/wedding officiating/performing or finding a “day job” won’t suck the life and soul out of me like the last experience did.
I’m going to get back onto my regular workout schedule (well in a few weeks when I’m physically healed) and do all that hiking, dancing, exercising and playing music that I was hoping to have already done by now. I expect that this along with being back on my regular healthy eating will get me off the blood pressure medication.
I can’t move on to the next phase of my life until I can heal; so for the next two or three months, I’m doing just that in hopes that I can get the “old me” (before all the stress/medical stuff took me down), back.
When I was in the glass studio last Sunday (that will be another blog post in its self), I discovered this beautiful piece of locally crafted glass art.
That very morning, I had been looking online for a new tree of life pendant to replace one that I used to wear regularly as a way of reconnecting with spirit. This fabulous and perfect piece magically appeared an hour or so later.
I think it is a fabulous symbol of healing, renewal and reaffirmation. (even if the crappy cell phone photo doesn’t do it justice)
I’ve agonized over this decision for a very long time (since Oct 10th to be exact)
I’m dealing with some career and health issues that have thus far been shared only with those in a close circle of friends.
As a writer, one of the qualities I have been most admired for is the fact that I’m willing to “open a vein”, be honest even if to my own detriment and write in a manner which the reader can relate to.
Just last week, I received an email from a reader, who said that one of my essays “changed their life”. (I receive a lot of these emails)
The sad thing is, I had recently removed that essay’s direct link from my website because it showed too much vulnerability, too much pain, too much… the real me. (which I have been told over and over by cubicle dweller lower management is “just too much”).
I did this because In early October I left my “day job” (which I never blogged about, nor mentioned on any social networking site, as it’s bad form) because I was dealing with a potentially life threatening medical situation. (one surgery down, one more to go).
It (and the people I was forced to interact with on a daily basis) was sucking the life and soul out of me.
When one is faced with a potentially life threatening diagnosis (so far so good, but am not out of the woods yet), what is really important becomes crystal clear.
I knew I was in trouble prior to this when I received an invite for the department “holiday party” (which would require some after hours interaction). My initial (internal) response, was, “Ugh, I don’t want to have to spend any more time with these people that I am already forced to.”
Yeah, that’s a bad sign.
I won’t go into any details (for a number of reasons) but let it suffice to say, that I wasn’t going to heal while I was under that sort of stress.
So, at the time I needed (alleged) “security”, insurance, money and benefits the most, I quit because I knew that even if it wasn’t cancer, in order to heal from the surgery (now surgeries) I needed to decrease my stress level.
This was not uncalculated.
I knew that if I cashed out a CD and took a bit more out of my retirement so that I could deal with all of this with lowered stress. Stress kills. Hating to get up every morning kills.
In addition to the former day job, I have a magazine contract (writing and photography) and do well with my fire dancing when I actually promote myself.
Perhaps if I push and promote my creative work, I’ll never need a cubicle dwelling day job working for people who find genius (sorry, it’s true but also makes me unpalatable to some folks)/artist/creative/adventurous/non-traditional people distasteful again.
If not, putting my real self out there for “background check purposes” (deeming me undesirable by the insecure/narrow minded) will allow me to find a “day job” that won’t suck the life and soul out of me.
You don’t get anywhere in this life by not taking risks.
I am going to be true to myself and I am going to be true to my readers and supporters.
Expect posts about surgery, biopsies, adopting a Corgi and the “joy” of adult braces (getting everything done before my COBRA benefits run out.)
I’d rather help and interest people than hide who I am.
There comes a time in everyones lives where they need to step back and take a look at their priorities and remind themselves what is the most important to them.
For those of us who are super active and have a wide range of interests, this is even more important.
Mercury Retrograde is a good time for this.
During this retrograde, I was able to (hopefully) get some closure on a relationship that I chose to end (for my own well being) over six months ago.
More recently, I’ve had to make decisions about what to spend my limited time and energy on.
It’s very easy to take on too much (with the best of intentions) and end up tired, stressed out and physically and emotionally drained.
So what are my priorities?
#1 My health. Without my health, I can’t do the things I love and I can’t be there for the people I love.
#2 My friends/loved ones.
#3 Living my values.
#4 My home/sanctuary/urban farm. This place is my heart; something I’ve worked hard for my whole life and that I am so blessed and grateful to have.
#5 My job. Yes, it’s often stressful, but I’m darn lucky to have a job at all in this economy, more or less one with good benefits, a flexible schedule and for an organization that I can feel good about. I have learned to no longer make a job my whole identity, but it is still important and a priority. (and it’s what allows me to do everything else in my life that I love)
#6 My art; this includes (but is not limited to) writing, photography, music, dance, fiber arts, food art.
#7 The outdoors… hiking, backpacking, enjoying my lovely back yard oasis.
#8 Volunteering in my community. I live here, I need to leave it better than I found it.
#9 Being physically active: biking, running, swimming, triathlons, dance.
#10 Making a difference: volunteering for good causes, mentoring, teaching, and motivating.
#11 Always learning and growing.
I’m good with this.
But I’ll still be happy when this retrograde is over (it’s been exhausting)
With heated legal and political battles raging around a woman’s uterus and the current vote to de fund Planned Parenthood, many conservative (and often financially well off) people are asking, “What kind of (trashy) person would use one of those clinics anyway?”
Putting the abortion issue aside so as not to confuse the issue, let’s talk about women’s health care. Let’s talk about the fact that these clinics save lives.
There are many women who work full-time who do not have health insurance.
Women need annual exams and screenings, not only of their overall health and wellness, but specifically of their reproductive systems.
One of the important screenings that women are recommended to receive every year is a pap smear to screen for cervical cancer.
If detected and treated early, cervical cancer is virtually 100% curable.
If not caught early, it can spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. As you can well imagine, the prognosis once that has happened is not as good.
Back in the late 80’s and early to mid 90’s, I was one of those women who worked full-time (and volunteered in my community) but did not have health insurance.
With no insurance and a very modest income, I depended on Planned Parenthood and their sliding scales for my annual exams.
There was a period of a few years when I just stopped going as I was living in SE Utah where there were no such clinics in existence. I was young, healthy and nothing was going to happen to me right?
After having some odd spotting, I drove nearly 200 miles to Glenwood Springs Colorado (which was the closest Planned Parenthood clinic at the time) for an exam. A few days later, my results came back.
I had an abnormal pap smear, a follow up test confirmed that I had a pre-cancerous condition.
I was stunned, I had suddenly transformed from being young, healthy and care free to worrying about biopsies, cryosurgery and possibly cancer.
Not only did I have to worry about the fear, pain (anyone who tells you that there are no nerve endings in the cervix obviously has never had pieces of it torn/cut out for a biopsy) and logistics. I had no idea how I was going to pay for it.
Thankfully, Planned Parenthood worked on a sliding scale and I was able to pay based on my income.
I am convinced that the detection and treatment of my condition in the early stages saved my life.
Since that time, I have fought wildland and structure fires, saved lives as a paramedic and search & rescue technician, taught others to save lives as an instructor, protected the lives and safety of visitors to public lands, taught children environmental science, raised a child not born to me as my own, and volunteered for numerous organizations that support women, children, the environment, our community and cancer research.
THAT my friends, is the “kind of person” who would use a Planned Parenthood clinic.
I would like to think that saving lives and providing basic health care to women who can not afford it anywhere else, might be more important than funding a few missiles/bombs, tax breaks for the wealthy or corporate bailouts.