Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas is Over - Time to Move On!

Never mind the Epiphany or the Twelve Days of Christmas: I am finished with Christmas and ready to move on.  I love the lead-up to Christmas - the carols (mostly just the traditional ones for me: no Mariah Carey or Justin Timberlake writing new ones OR singing the classics), the opening of the Advent calendars at breakfast, the Christmas baking, and the Secret Santa silliness at work.  Bitter people seem to lighten up a bit and you can see the world through shiny, sparkly glasses instead of the usual smudged ones.  

I am not a gal who is big on traditions, as a rule.  I am a bit of the prodigal daughter - the one who left everything behind and began a new life in Asia.  I met my husband on the plane ride over (on the first trip ever to Asia to teach at a high school in Taiwan),  we met our children in China some 14 years later after stints in Korea and Minneapolis/St. Paul, and now we live in Hong Kong.  

Making dumplings for Chinese New Year

My husband is American, I'm Canadian, our kids are dual citizens with Chinese heritage.  Don comes from a Catholic background; I come from a Mennonite pacifist tradition, and we are surrounded by Buddhist influences here in our Hong Kong village. Just outside of the gate to our house is a little altar that burns year round with joss sticks, and where our neighbors often leave offerings like oranges and pomelos. Burning paper money, known as ghost money, is an ancient Chinese tradition that honors the deceased ancestors.  We regularly see and smell this ritual as well.

 Living with such diversity in our lives and in the culture that we find ourselves in, we have created our own traditions that amalgamate the best of all of our respective cultures and backgrounds and honor where we are living.  Most of the year, however, we live by the seat of our pants.  (In a good way, of course.)  Our free moments are spent hiking the nearby hills in our rural part of Hong Kong, traveling back to China when we can, and getting ourselves to close-by, inexpensive beach destinations like Thailand and other places that might seem exotic to those of you living in other climes.  (Ah, the lives of international school teachers: we're a lucky bunch!)

I love my life, but while we forge ahead in our exotic-to-others life, work-a-day to us, I do sometimes miss the traditions of my youth.  When I see the pictures on facebook of my mom and dad and sister and brother and their families all celebrating this season together, I yearn to be there.  When people post pictures of mountains freshly powdered in snow, I suddenly resent the never-too-cold climate that we live in.  (Our friends were swimming in the ocean just three days ago!)  I have dreams of the spicy aroma of German Christmas goodies baking, and I'd kill for my mother's freshly baked bread slathered with butter straight out of  her oven along with some hearty gruene borscht.

 That being said, I'm the gal who is pretty much done with the whole Christmas affair by the time the last gift has been unwrapped.  The build up is a beautiful thing, the culmination delights me, and then it's over.  I had to restrain myself from taking down the tree on Christmas Day since the gifts were opened and the dinner was had on Christmas Eve.  Yes, I enjoy the twinkling of the lights and the aura that surrounds the house when it's all decked up for Christmas, but we live in Hong Kong.  The houses are small.  It can get a bit stifling.  

To top it off, I've recently had surgery and we've had to move our bed into the living room because I can't get up the stairs to our bedroom.  That makes us especially cramped.  I have a walking frame I need to use for the next month or two, and I can't tell you the number of times I've brushed against the tree and nearly knocked it down as I attempted to push past it.  I tossed my bathrobe off last night in the dark and it nearly landed on the Christmas star.  When your tree starts becoming your clothing rack, it's time to go.

 It's New Year's Eve here in Hong Kong and I've held off until now, but I can wait no longer. There's a card table to set up so I can do some jigsaw puzzles.  Plus, New Year's Eve just seems like the right time to clean up and move forward.  Out with the old and in with the new and all that.  As I write on the bed (invalid that I am), vaccuuming is underway, a back room is being gutted of non-essential stuff, the girls are finding errant decorations and toys in between playing with light sabers made out of Christmas gift wrap rolls.  We have a New Year's Eve afternoon party to go to shortly, but we'll all be showering first so we can get ready to greet the new year in our own, non-traditional style: everyone fast asleep in bed but me, who is up fighting her sleep and crosswording or reading.

New starts?  I like them very much.  I try to have them every day, but I especially like my New Year's New Start.  I ordered my 2013 daily agenda book months ago, and I can't wait to start making lists in it tomorrow.  

Bring on 2013!  Many blessings and much happiness to you all!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Year of Blogging!

It was this day last year that I started writing this blog - I like to start my resolutions just a bit early to get a head start on things!  While I wish I had been a bit more consistent with my posts, I had learned some of the tech skills of reaching a wider audience, and I had something to sell other than my stories so I could make money, it has been an incredibly gratifying and confidence-boosting experience for me!  I have had more than 8000 reads of my 90-something blogs from all over the world, and my facebook friends have proven most loyal and supportive of all.  Plus, it was a goal I set for myself, and I DID IT!

This is where the blog started: on our Christmas holiday vacation in
Hua Hin, Thailand.   Look how inspired and excited I look!

Thank you all for all your positive comments that make me want to keep writing and sharing!  It makes me want to write and get out and tell stories all the more.  This summer I started a novel because of all the positive feedback, and now during recovery from back surgery, I am going to really sink my teeth into it again.

My resolutions for the new year?  (Warning: I aim high.)

  • In regard to my blog: to make it more professional and figure out how to reach an even wider audience with it.
  • To finish my novel and to find a publisher.  (And, of course, to make it a bestseller.)
  • To start a podcast.  (If any of my readership has expertise and wants to pop over to my house in Hong Kong to help me with the logistics, I will serve you popcorn and mulled wine and I'd even pay you!)  Meantime, I already know the name: It's All About Me (and you, too, of course)
  • To do some more with my public speaking once I am no longer bedridden.  (Of course, they could always wheel me in on a bed.  I'm sure I could be equally enthralling from a bed as I might be from a podium.) I AM available for public speaking engagements/comedy routines/motivational training, etc, but if you live outside of Hong Kong, you'll have to front my hotel and flight costs as well.  I'm worth it, though!
  • To not puff up like a fried Mennonite new year's ball during my recovery and rehabilitation, but to work on fitness and strength.  
  • To be able to go hiking with my family this year - not to have to stay at home in bed and in the bath while they are going on their adventures (unless I want to).
  • To work on being patient and kind with myself and to fill myself with positive energy regardless of my circumstances.  That means practicing mindfulness,  reading and watching things that make me happy and laugh out loud: For example,  Ellen monologues on  youtube (We don't get the show here in Hong Kong so if any of your want to "tape" it (How old am I, anyway?) and send me some DVDs, I would be eternally grateful.)
Tall orders?  You bet!  But I am the queen of my own life and when I am serious about accomplishing things, I am my own biggest cheering section.  

For you?  Don't be one of those people who says, "I don't make resolutions; it just sets me up for failure."  Change the word resolutions to the word goals and then say that to yourself again.  You don't make goals?  

If you don't make goals, you aren't going to go very far, are you?  It's better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all.  All my so-called failures are exactly the things that have brought me all my success and happiness in life.  Failure is fantastic.  In fact, I love failure!  (I am the kind of teacher who lets kids take tests again and again until they get 100%.  If kids don't get it, isn't it our job to help them get it?  Hello!)  

Set some goals for the new year, embrace your failures, and, guess what?  You get a new start every day!  Isn't that just grand?  I love it!

I wish you all your happiest year yet!

With gratitude and thanks for your support,

A Lesson in How Bedpans and Humiliation Go Hand in Hand

Pithy wisdom doesn't come easily for me.  It's probably because I learn my life lessons through long, meandering experiences that are usually fit for a comedy routine.  The life lesson in this particular ditty is to stay away from hospitals if they can possibly be avoided at all, and certainly to stay away from bedpans!

After my surgery this month, I was catheter-bound for the better part of a month.  This was actually a rather enlightening and wonderful experience for me given that I have a tiny bladder and generally restrict myself to tiny sips of liquid throughout the day so I can avoid constant bathroom usage and the interruption of my important little life with such trivial matters as evacuating my pea-sized bladder.  As a result, I have gone through most of the 47 years of my life severely dehydrated.

During the catheter salad days, I drank to my heart's content.  (Regrettably alcohol wasn't on the hospital menu, but the medication sort of made up for that.)  Every drink that was offered, I availed myself of.  Water, apple juice, tea, coffee, Coke.  It was like a whole new world of hydration.  My headaches went away, my face plumped up (there may have been other reasons for that!), and I just happily let the "Gucci" (as my physio called it) do all the catching, feeling sorry for my roommates who had to trouble themselves to leave their beds.

The day before departure, however, the nurses told me I would have to give up my Gucci.  I would no longer have my trusty companion hooked to the bed and to my walker (which I almost ripped out on a few occasions as I exited the bed, forgetting what was dangling on the side).  It was like losing an appendage, literally!

After the removal, I went into serious training mode: severely cut back on my fluids, going as long as I could between toilet breaks so that I could avoid the arduous and all-too-frequent task of us heaving myself out of bed and painstakingly using my walking frame to guide me to the far-away toilet.  I felt like a geriatric character from Cocoon, only I was wearing my Croc no-slip ballet slippers, support hose to guard against pulmonary embolism along with the ever-present corset to reign in the errant back that had just received a number of titanium screws.  In short, I was a sight for sore eyes.

Already home and looking surprisingly glamorous
compared with my hospital horror show.

I dealt with my new, inconvenient life with bravado.  Suddenly, I was the Rambo of the ward, displaying incredible strength in the face of great adversity.  On my first trip to said-bathroom, I managed to shuffle there in five minutes and 38 seconds.  The accompanying trip back took just over three minutes, probably with the prospect of the reward: a warm bed instead of a cold, hard, porcelain seat.

The next time I visited the lavatory, it took about four minutes to get there.  Each time, I grew more gazelle-like in my pursuit of the toilet.  The Olympic records just kept piling up.  Nurses and my visitors kept congratulating me: "Good job, Leah.  You're such a little trooper,"  or "I don't know how you do it!"  It was like I was at an awards ceremony each time I emerged from the toilet.

The whole affair was, frankly, humiliating.  I mean, I was just going pee.  It's not like I was a three year old just learning how to use the potty.  I'm a forty-seven year old woman used to wearing heels and dress clothes and commanding some degree of attention for more important things than taking a whizz.  Also, making it to the toilet that is 10 feet away in five minutes is nothing to congratulate a person on.  I mean, really.

On the night before I went home, a new roommate arrived in the next bed.  She was a very proper, very fit, very attractive woman about the same age as me.  For the greater part of the week I had worked very hard to maintain my positive energy in spite of my hardship. (For those of you who saw me in mid-tantrum or mid-sob, I assure you that these incidents were few and far between.  You may have even dreamed them.)  Suffice it to say, I worked teeth-grittingly hard to keep a smile on my face and to be as non-diva-like as possible during my stay at the all-too famous, falling-far-short-of-my-expectations Mathilda Hospital.

For any of you who know me and find me the slightest bit diva-like, you might want to reconsider your opinion of me after hearing about my new roomie.  "Where are my magazines, Darling?  Didn't I tell you to pack them in my suitcase?  Well, damn it, Darling, now we'll have to call the amah and have her deliver them up here because I am not going to be left in this hell hole without my magazines.  Get her on the phone now, would you?  It doesn't matter if it's her day off.  Does THIS look like a day off to you?"

"Where are those damn nurses anyway?"  (Admittedly, something I thought often enough myself.)  You'd think they're having their own little Christmas party while we're rotting in hell over here.  I need some pain killers.  Honestly, I've never seen such poor service."  (Neither had I, but by now I had reconciled myself to the fact that I wasn't in a hotel.)

It went on and on.  She berated her rugby playing teenager over the phone for not wanting to come and see her and having nothing to say to her; she demanded dinner, though she hadn't actually ordered any; she called the ward "low class" and insinuated her fellow roommates seemed to fit that category as well.

Most of the time, the curtain between our two beds was kept closed, for which I was thankful, but we had a few moments of face time.  I felt embarrassed for being less than coiffed and for my unkempt lump of a body, shrouded beneath a filthy blanket covered in potato chip crumbs and chocolate stains from my furtive, unsuccessful attempts at sneak-eating.

You can't see the build-up of plankton on me and the blankets, but it's not a pretty picture.

Later that night, after I'd had my evening medications which included some drugs that sedated me fairly heavily, I realized that nature was calling.  I was shaky on my feet and had already made about eight trips out of bed for the toilet.  I didn't feel up to it, but I knew I wouldn't be able to go to bed unless I evacuated my bladder.

For those of you who have not heard of a commode, it is a portable toilet, often on wheels, that you can hoist yourself onto from a bed.  It has a removable bedpan.  Embarrassingly, we now have one as a piece of furniture in our cute little home.  (At least it folds up and can be hidden away during the day.  It also doubles as a great shower chair so I am not complaining.)

Whatever the case, the drugs had set in, and I didn't even feel that I could get myself onto the commode so I asked the nurse if she could just slip the bed pan under me.  If you've never had invasive back surgery, it's hard to imagine the pain of lifting up your lower back to accommodate a bedpan.  The manufacturers of said-bedpan apparently think it's find to give it the same dimension and depth as a toilet and haven't considered softening it up a bit to bear the full weight of human beings who are unlucky enough to have to heave their asses onto it.  The pain was not very conducive to peeing.  Neither was the nurse looming over my bed expectantly waiting to hear the requisite tinkle.

As politely as I knew how, I asked her to go away and told her I'd ring for her when I was ready.  Meantime, I realized the angle at which I was lying (flat), was also not conducive to emptying one's bladder.  I started playing with my mechanical bed, trying to ease it up so I was in more of a sitting position.  With each hissing groan of the bed (which apparently needed to be oiled), came an accompanying groan from me.  Hydraulic groan.  Leah groan.  Hydraulic groan.  Leah groan.

On and on it went.  For all the pain involved in positioning myself and my bedpan, all I could think about was the judgmental, perfect woman on the other side of the curtain, no doubt sniffing with disdain and rolling her eyes about the noise and indiscretion of it all, and while she was trying to get her beauty sleep no less.

All of my hard work had somehow landed me at nearly the top of my bed which was now in a nearly upright position thanks to all my finagling with the controls.  It was as if I were perched on top of the spire of Christ Church Cathedral with a bed pan still suction cupped to my buttocks.

I realized two things at that moment.  One was that I was trapped and that I was going to need help getting down; two was that I was going to have to close the deal.

In order to close the deal, so to speak, I needed to start some of my own hydraulics.  So the squeezing began.  With each squeeze of my kiegel muscles came an adjoining complaint from my apparently-underused bowels.  So it was now: squeeze, fart, groan in pain, then suck in the groan which was seeming to echo in the silent, dark room.  The action of trying to contain the groan resulted in a sort of whistle (coming from my mouth).  So the pattern began:  squeeze, fart, groan, whistle, blush.  This went on for some time to no avail.  In the process of my humiliating hike up the bed, I had also pulled a great many muscles in my upper body whilst trying to throw myself into yoga positions all the while with a host of hardware built into my bones.

After about five minutes of agony from body and mind, I pressed the button (which gave me yet another pulled muscle) and admitted defeat.  I had NOT closed the deal, and I was stuck on the pinnacle of my hospital bed with a bedpan securely adhered to my cheeks. I've often longed to be famous, but I couldn't help think that if the paparazzi would have got hold of something like this along with said-roommates comments, it would be enough for any celebrity to overdose.  (Of course, a celebrity would not have been in a ward room enduring this public shaming.)

Eventually, the nurse ambled in, rather roughly pulled out the bedpan which emitted  a loud sucking sound as it dislodged itself from my ass, and pushed me down the bed, as if I were a sled and the balled up sheets were snow.  It was an excruciating ride.

"What?  No pee pee?" she said, staring accusingly into the empty bedpan with the florescent lights now shining heinously on my guilty face.

I heard the woman beside the curtain sigh.

"No pee pee, " I conceded.

Yet I knew I wouldn't sleep unless I managed to squeeze something out.  If there is a hell, I was in it.

"It looks like we're going to have to put you on the commode, then," she said briskly.

I muttered something about being embarrassed as she manhandled my recently fused body onto the commode and strode from the room.  "I'll be back in 10 minutes."

Well, the clouds broke open and the stars aligned and I was able to do my business with a minimum of noise.  Apparently, angle IS everything.  Who knew?  Given that I was unable to reach the call button and that I had succeeded in less than two minutes (Olympic peeing record!), I thought maybe I could just pole vault my own way into bed, using the commode handles and the hospital bed bars.  This was a big mistake.  But that's another story.

Isn't the name of my blog New Start Every Day?  My new start is to start looking for some serious alternatives to being in a nursing home at some point in my far-away future.  I'm going to re-watch Marigold Hotel and perhaps plan a family trip to India to clandestinely investigate options on the Sub Continent.  I will also start looking more seriously at our already-discussed future retirement in Thailand.  That way, we could afford to have some lovely person empty our bedpans from the privacy of our own home, and not have to worry about judgmental roomies we didn't choose and nurses who have better things to do than wait for me to pee.  Just sayin'.

Here I am drugged and bored and taking pictures of myself, hoping
something flattering will show up.  I wonder if people in nursing homes do this?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Tiger Child

Our eldest, Charlotte, is totally self-driven, and, like her mother, will do a back flip for a compliment (only she will do it literally).  When her teacher assigns homework, Charlotte jumps for joy.  (She is also the daughter who eerily shows up at our bedside many mornings, fully dressed in her school uniform, and let's us know it's time to get up and at 'em and didn't our alarm clock go off twenty minutes ago?)

Yes, we have a daughter who is an overachiever.  She thrives on competition and wants lists and charts and stickers and pats on the back more than your average bear.   She loves to make a long list (just like her mama) and systematically cross off all of her to-dos with a ruler or a carefully regulated check.  Heck, she will CREATE work for herself just so she can cross it off her list.

I recently taught Charlotte to knit for a charity project we are doing at school, and at recess today she was apparently the belle of the ball, regaling all of her schoolmates with her knitting prowess.   When she got home, however, and she asked me if I could "clean up" all of her slipped stitches (which I could not), she insisted on unraveling all twenty or so rows and starting from scratch.  She watched me closely, asked questions, and took up the needles with gusto and determination.

Charlotte will soldier her way through almost any pursuit with the dedication of a seasoned warrior.   She has been known to create homework for herself when she hasn't been given any and spend hours on perfecting it.  There have been a few times where she has been so engrossed in her self-assigned homework that she is reluctant to go to bed.

"But it's late," we'll argue with this much-more-ambitious version of ourselves.

"It doesn't matter. It's due tomorrow!"

"But YOU made UP the homework.  YOU assigned it to  YOURSELF!"

"Yes, and I say it's due tomorrow!"

What freak of nature are we managing to raise here?  She scares us sometimes.  Is it okay to ask your child to be LESS ambitious?

Tiger mommy I am not, but perhaps there is no need to be since my child is a tiger child.  From almost the day we met Charlotte (she became our daughter at one year of age, adopted from China), she was a little peanut of power and intensity.  She screamed for five days straight in our hotel in Nanchang until she probably realized that these people, being us, were not going away, and then she resigned herself to loving us and learning every possible thing she could from us, watching our every move with an intensity, copying only after she had watched long enough to feel confident to try it herself.

Our little Charlotte (now nearly nine) has been one of the two joys of our lives for nearly eight years now, and tomorrow we send her off to camp with her class for two nights - how did it happen?  How is she growing up so fast?

True to form, Charlotte had her own backpack packed and fully ready to go last week already, each day's clothing labeled in ziplock bags, her toiletries labelled and put proudly in mommy's borrowed cosmetics bag.  When I went through the contents of her bag, (against the checklist from school that she had already neatly ticked off), every single item was accounted for and packed neatly as a pin.

Believe me, we have done nothing to produce this phenomena of a girl!  Perhaps it's the oldest child syndrome or that she inherited some genetic ambitious spirit from her birth parents that we don't have; perhaps she just enjoys doing well.

Whatever the case, we love her to bits, and we look forward to her supporting us into her retirement as we are sure she will be very successful in her adult life.  The new start?  Finding ways to help this treasure of a girl be happy and content with exactly who she is.  I know teenage-hood is just around the corner and there is no doubt of her academic and even social success.  I want to help her access that deeper-knowing inside of herself, though: that place where she can set aside her ambitions and just be still and know that in every moment she is her perfect self.  I pray I can help impart some of that wisdom to our Starlit Charlotte.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Giving Myself Gifts

What's good? What is there to be thankful for?  I know that there's a ton of stuff, but when I get buried under an avalanche of "I'm pathetic/nobody cares/I'm never going to get better" blues, it's hard to claw my way out and come up for air.  I'll start with what helps me to feel better: the gifts I can give to myself that are free of charge.

  • A hot bath (This is presently no-can-do since I can't clamber into a tub yet or even go up the stairs to where the tub is.  Sheesh.  I'm not feeling better yet.)  This is a gift to look forward to.  The day I can sink into a hot tub again with my Kindle in its waterproof case is going to be better than getting a diamond necklace.

My daughter doing what I yearn to!

  • A good book that I can sink my teeth into.  Preferably a family saga, well-written, with lots of character development.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

What's not to love about Beverly Cleary?

  • Exercise.  The good news here is that I am just at the point in my recovery where I can scoot (okay, lumber) around a bit.  I just walked, with the assistance of my walking frame, 10 times up and down the length of our living room.  It sounds like nursing home aerobics, but it's where I am at, and it DID lift my spirits a bit.  I've got a set of two pound weights beside my bed that I might have a go at.

  • Watching fun, non-violent stuff.  We've got Netflix, my favorite new diversion, and I've been watching Drop Dead Diva and old Saturday Night Live reruns.  Levity is good for the soul.  (And popcorn helps too.)

  • Practicing mindfulness.  Just feeling my body move, wiggling my toes and feeling my feet (lots of pins and needles from the surgery still), being aware of my heart rate and breath, zoning in on the screws in spine and pelvis and allowing that pain is just another feeling and staying with it, and breathing through it.  Feeling it all and being totally present with the state of my body makes me feel better.

  • Asking for help.  Asking for company.  I am loathe to do either, as a rule, but I need to ask for what I want to get it, I am realizing.  I try to be specific in asking for what I want in terms of gifts, but having to say, "Please arrange the pillow under my legs in just this way" or "I need that overhead light off and just the lamps" is a little harder.  I want people to JUST KNOW.  And they don't.  And that's okay.  I've also thought, "If people don't want to come and see me, see if I care," but that's not the way to go about keeping friends or feeling good about the many kind people in my life who have their own busy lives without inconveniencing themselves to see me out in the boonies. While I'm not the most social person in the world, I need some company in these lonely weeks while I am at home.  I am going to ask.

  • Writing.  When I put pen to paper or hands to computer, I am transported in much the same way as I am when I am reading.  Except that I am creating when I write.  I'm not an artist or a cook or very crafty, but I CAN write.  I can actually write very well on occasion.  And it fulfills me in a way that few things do. I'd call it a passion if I were more regular about it.  It  is, however, becoming habitual now as I recover and have fewer obligations.  I look forward to it.  It lightens me.  (Also, I am certain I can do better than Fifty Shades of Grey and this free time may just be the time I can prove it and start a nest egg for retirement!)

  • Hanging out with my family.  Just goofing around together makes me happy.  Hearing their laughter is healing.  Being a part of their joy is transforming.  (Obviously, I'm not talking about ALL the time; sometimes they are supremely annoying.  Hardly ever, though.)

Ultimately, what's good is tuning in to what makes me feel better and making sure I do those things often enough.  I am staying away from news and negativity and really trying to fill my life with only what is positive.  I am in the fortunate position to be able to do that more easily than most times in my life since I am cloistered on one floor of my house with nowhere to go and nothing specific that I need to do except concentrate on getting better.

I've been on a crying jag for the last 24 hours (blame my uterus), but I am gingerly stepping out of that place, knowing it is useless to let any bad energy in, despite my deficiencies.  I am coming to understand that healing is a hugely mental process.  My surgery was admirably performed, the medications are doing what they need to, but rising to the occasion is up to me.  I elected to have this surgery so I could live a full, active life, free of pain.  I'm ready!  Starting now...first in my mind and then finding its way into my body.

What gifts can you give yourself during this season?  I'd bet you don't have to go to the store to get them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A View from a Hospital Bed

It's been months since I have blogged and the first time I put fingers to keys, I am in a drug-induced haze after a major operation.  Funnily enough, though I'm in a lot of pain (and the nurse says I can't have any more pain meds for two more hours!), I feel overwhelmingly optimistic.
My view

I elected to have this surgery because I want a chance at living a pain-free life.  Ironically, as I lie here in my hospital bed, high up on Victoria Peak overlooking the vast expanse of Hong Kong, I am in a massive amount of pain.  Yet my mind is clear. Unstressed.  I just am.  I don't know if it's the drugs talking, but I only feel the pain.  The pain isn't me.  It's just present and I am something much deeper than that.

I feel deeply at peace.  I can do nothing.  I have no obligations.  I need help with everything. (And I mean everything!  Imagine the indignity of pooping in a bed pan.  On the other hand, I love the catheter.  It's so nice not being concerned about when you have to pee and drinking as much as I want.)

Not being able to move is strangely liberating.  I can only be.  Suddenly I have zero obligations yet the easiest tasks are impossible.   I can't reach or turn or lift my body high enough to fit a bed pan under me.  Every part of my back and buttocks ache.  I haven't moved from the position I am in for more than 24 hours now and I can't imagine ever even being able to sit up again never mind walk.  What to do?  Just wait.  Just be.  Just see.

Baby steps.  New start every day?  You bet!

My lucky roommate who got to go home before I did!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Gratitude

If you've opened your presents (and been showered with appliances or other items you didn't particularly want that will wind up in a drawer, abandoned); if you've slaved over a Christmas dinner and your children have said with disdain, "We want Kraft Dinner;" if you've eaten yourself into a sugar-induced coma and your control-top panties are feeling snugger than usual, you can join the ranks of the mildly to massively discontent women.  There are many disconsolate women who populate the planet after the Christmas wrapping has been shoved into old Toys r Us bags and the children have expressed their doubts in the existence of Santa when they've received socks and warm jackets, but NOT the prohibitively expensive and sold-out electronic items they expressly asked for in their demanding, poorly punctuated letters to Kris Kringle that their teachers made them write but never bothered to workshop for mechanics or courteous language.  The aroma of disappointment lingers in the air along with the turkey carcass gelling into a week's worth of soup, the fatty remnants of flesh pooling on top of the murky water.

Truth be told, Christmas can be a disappointment to many: all the build-up, packed-on poundage, small talk swill at the many obligatory holiday parties, the ever-present, demanding children who never leave home (Dammit, why CAN'T there be school during the holidays?), the husbands who, now home, start treating your home like THEIR castle, as if they ever lifted a finger to help.  And the pressures of the extended family descending in all their expectant, demanding glory, and you trying to exude the picture-perfect, happy housewife image that has no bearing in reality along with a cast of characters who refuse to play along with your charade, continuing to moan, and spill and not put the toilet seat down and curse and pinch and blame YOU for everything that isn't exactly to their liking.

It's not GOOD HOUSEKEEPING or MARTHA STEWART, that's for sure.  (Though I can't imagine feeling a whole lot of warmth in Martha Stewart's house; that being said, her decadent baking would probably make up for the tension.  We made her porcini mushroom, gruyere cheese nut loaf for we vegetarians at our Christmas party to great accolade.)

What I'm trying to say is WHO among us HASN'T been disappointed with this hyped-up season at one time or another?  I know I've shed my fair share of tears during the holiday season and wished I was anywhere but here more than once in my life, but not this year.

You see, I had a rather dramatic surgery not two weeks ago, and I am now reigning queen of the living room, aperch our bed, nestled in an alcove with the Christmas tree glowing in front of it.  I've been able to issue my commands from on high (or in-bed) with surprising alacrity, and when I ring my buzzer, I have semi-willing servants (children and husband and in-valuable helper) ambling to my assistance.

As a result of my drug-induced inertia, and generally lowered expectations having just come from a week in a hospital where now everything seems like a slice of heaven, I am living in a state of gratitude despite a dearth of Christmas cookies, not enough Christmas music, candles or confections for my liking.  There is none of the hastily assembled decorum and adherence to tradition that I try institute at least once a year to honor the season and memories of my past.

Trying brushing your teeth or eating a meal in prone position.  Not pretty.

Well, the traditions have gone to hell-in-a-hand-basket as I snooze and snack in bed, leaving enough crumbs and popcorn to feel a small village in my wake.  I shopped for gifts before the surgery and what got done is what was given.  Some gifts have not arrived, and nobody seemed to miss them.  The gift wrapping was even shoddier than usual owing to the fact that I forgot to buy new wrapping paper and we had to settle for crumpled, recycled old paper, some with birthday messages, and newspapers.  Even so, our children failed to question the validity of Santa Claus or why his army of elves so poorly cut the paper and used tape like they were wrapping a mummy rather than a Christmas gift.  (I blame the mulled wine.)

Long story short, I feel gratitude.  A lot of it.  This year, my gratitude my take a different form than yours, but I encourage you to reach for all the goodness in life, cling onto it like a life raft, and float through this season focusing on what is good in the here and now.  Don't think about what you wish for.  You don't have it.  (Save that for your new year's resolutions.)  Don't think about what you used to have.  It's gone.  What's good now?  (And if all you can think of is that you aren't reduced to ashes and living in an urn, grasp onto that.)  I'm bargaining there is more, though.

For me?  I'm thankful:
  • For great big bed smack dab in the center of our living room universe on which to recline and reign.  I feel like Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, only with a whole lot more youth and food selection.)
A view from the almighty bed.  (Those are  my feet)

  • For Skype so I can talk to my friends and family from bed (even though the angle isn't flattering), and I can keep tabs on what is going on outside of my limited universe.
Keeping in touch with my sister, Coly.

  • For my newly limited universe.  Right now I just need to focus on me and getting better.  Everybody needs to take care of me.  Yes, it's humbling, but it's also magnificent.  My mind isn't reeling with endless lists of what I need to accomplish.  And guess what?  Everything is getting done!  The world is going on in spite of my reprieve.  Go figure.  Good lesson.

Serenity Now

  • For sharing Christmas with our best friends in the world, and with no pressure or expectations other than good food and lots of fun!

  • That my back brace gives me great cleavage and that I don't have to carry everything in my bosom now that my sweetheart has adhered a pouch to my walker.

These days, I HAVE to have a new start every day.  It starts with the view from my bed in the living room, looking at the Christmas tree.  I like what I see.  I'm healing.  I'm loving my family and friends.  I'm excited to get out of my anti-embolism support hose soon and to be able to shower myself.  Every day, I get a little more independent.  Every day I can do a bit more.  Every day I see that every act of kindness and grace (from myself and others) is what propels me to my walker each morning and enables me to take those small, baby steps in the direction of a happiness that reigns in spite of circumstances.  

Living step by step, moment by moment is the magic key I am using to find peace and happiness in this crazy season of my life.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Post-Surgery Life of a Diva

I had a spinal fusion and a sacro-iliac fusion a week and a half ago, which seems like a lifetime ago, thankfully.  Yes, it was major.  No, it wasn't fun.  The hospital stay deserves a blog or a dozen unto itself.  In fact, the bedpan incident deserves its own blog!  (As does the catheter and the "blood bag" that my physio called my Gucci and my Prada.)

Two days after  my surgery.  Looking fashionable even with a catheter!

The good news?  I am home lying in our double bed in an alcove of our living room because I can't make it up the steps to our bedroom.  The Christmas music is streaming as is the sun, and my daughter, Charlotte,  is beside me in bed knitting compulsively and helping her mama meet all of her multitude of needs.

The bed has become the visiting central station.  Friends are joking that we should permanently instate it here, privacy be damned.  I must admit, I do enjoy being the reigning princess of my domain, nestled by the Christmas tree as I am and having my shopkeeper's bell to summon help when necessary.  I've got a whole system for getting out of bed: the log roll out, the slipping on of my Crocs for grip, the wriggling to the end of the bed, the gymnastic maneuver of lifting myself up on my walker, and then the stately stroll to the bathroom that once took five minutes and I can now do in under two.

Here is Charlotte avidly knitting on the living room bed!

Last night the whole family piled into the bed to watch It's a Wonderful Life.  We had Don's famous olive oil wok popcorn and I indulged in a mug of mulled wine that quite resplendently complimented the drugs that  I am taking.  Our daughters are seven and nine, and, while they were intrigued by the movie, it didn't have the impact we thought it would have.  We had frequent stops to explain what George Bailey was doing and the many historical references they did not get, and while Don and I were silently streaming tears at the end, the girls were balling up with terror.  Apparently it's a scary movie!  Who knew?  As a result, we shared our living room bed with two weeping daughters for a portion of the night until they could get over their fear of angels and of not existing.  We might go back to Kung Fu Panda tonight.

I'm enjoying my waist!
In addition to watching old Christmas classics, I've been "youtubing" Ellen monologues (no Ellen in Hong Kong, sadly), watching Saturday Night Live reruns and well-done fluff like Drop Dead Diva on Netflix.  I am staying away from news and immersing myself with anything that makes me laugh (even though it hurts my back when I guffaw).  My reading consists of Eckhart Tolle and anything about staying in-the-moment and being grateful.  Oh, and I read Penny Marshall's My Mother was Nuts autobiography and had a good laugh and learned a bit more about the inner workings of Hollywood.  As a result of her extensive professional relationship with Tom Hanks, I dreamed  we had a romantic interlude last night.  He's a doll in real-life and even better in my dreams.  I always enjoy my sexy celebrity dreams when they occasionally show up, but Tom Hanks has never played a part in them before!

I'm looking thinner than I have in ages thanks to the corset/back brace that I have to wear for at least another six weeks until all the screws fuse into my bones; while I don't particularly love wearing a corset, it gives me the 18 inch waist I've never had, and gives me ample cleavage to boot.  I'm also sporting some very classy white surgical stockings that are compressing my legs like sausage casings. (And, yes, my legs are roughly the shape of sausages right now!)  The stockings take a good half an hour to wriggle on, slightly faster with the aid of talcum powder.  I lie on the bed whilst the assisting saint engages in hoisting, pushing and heaving.  It's a little like rolling out dough for bread and the accompanying kneading, the dough being my legs.  It's not a pretty affair.

I'm going to have to humble myself soon and let either our lovely helper, Myrna, or my saintly husband, Don, give me a good scrubbing while I sit on the commode/cum shower chair.  Fortunately, my hair looks better each day it's not washed and I'm neither greasy nor stinky.  Also, I have a high tolerance for dirt so showering is definitely not my first priority.

My cleavage detracts from my dirty hair.

Getting dressed?  It's an affair that involves more than me.  Changing underwear I can now do by myself under the covers; usually I only pull a muscle or two, requiring intensive massaging with a variety of mentholated products afterwards.  I've got a uniform of tank top, black yoga pants and long sleeved black tee shirt that keeps the wardrobe easy.  I have a closetful of clothes (and heels) that I am yearning for, but I'l stick with elastic waists and stretchy fabrics until I can appear in public again.

My daughters have become quite good at helping mommy adjust all my bumps and bruises as they wrestle me into my clothes.  I spice up my shapeless, colorless uniform with bright scarves because, in spite of this surgery and my accompanying ineptitude and drugged demeanor, I am still, at heart, a vain woman.  (My pre-surgery vanities included a wax and an eyelash extension.  I considered a self-tan, but thought people might think I was in for a tummy tuck and face-lift if I got too extravagant with my vanities.)  Even so, on the first day, when I asked the nurse to dig through my suitcase for a scarf that better complimented my eyes, I did notice some eye-rolling.  I also made sure I had pretty scarves on my pillow that accented my hair and made the living unit (my bed) just a little less sterile.

CK: the roomie from heaven.  

So, day by day, I'm keeping it positive and trying to keep it light.  One day at a time, I am finding things to smile at, being grateful for all my blessings, and realizing that, no matter where I am or what state I am in, it is a state of grace.

Grace personified by our Starlit Charlotte