Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Joy Is in the Living

As Christmas approaches, I feel the urge to write...especially because a friend told me the other day that she misses reading these updates. I apologize, dear reader, for not posting here more often in the past few months. I have been responding to the siren's call of Facebook and using it to update so many people about our day-to-day lives, even though not everyone is on Facebook very often.

So, here's a brief (let's not kid ourselves--it's as brief as I can make anything) summary of our year:

Mike began a contract in November 2010 at Ball Corporation, and in May of 2011, they hired him full time. He, the new man on the team, was going to be relegated to working a lot of overtime while everyone went on vacation in the summer. That never let up. Since about July or August, he has been working 60- to 84-hour work "weeks." Understandably, much of the responsibility for the gardening and care of the house fell to me.

In the spring, a lovely neighborhood dog showed up at our house and seemed to adopt us. We loved her greatly and renamed her Princess from Snowball, because she really was a princess. She kept us company and brought us much joy throughout the summer. Around the beginning or middle of August, she showed up a little injured one day. Then she disappeared.

In July, we learned I was pregnant again. We were cautiously optimistic, but we didn't want to tell anyone until we made it out of the first trimester. In August, we lost that baby, as well. I was about 6 weeks pregnant. The good news was that the miscarriage went much more swiftly and effectively than the first. I still had to go to the ER because I lost so much blood, but it was over very quickly and I suffered no more than the "normal" ill effects of a miscarriage--almost all emotional, and only a few cramps physically. Overall, we were sad but hopeful. It took us less than two years to get pregnant this time, whereas it had taken us three or more years the first time, and this pregnancy progressed further, and we had a lot of emotional and physical support this time, in the form of very good friends, Becca Sparks Lowry, Christina James Chase, Dana Fischer Welborn, and Jill Bastian Truax chief among them.

In the late summer/early fall, Sir George, our older kitty, began to decline healthwise. I made an appointment to have him put to sleep, but either I waited too late or he decided he preferred to pass on at home. Becca was with me via text, and Tina was with me through the day. Both provided tremendous emotional support. George passed away at the ripe old age of 18. It wasn't as peaceful a death as I would have hoped for, but he died at home, with me right by his side. I was incredibly honored to be with him in his last few hours. I know, he was only a cat, but to share a natural death with another being you love is truly touching. George is "planted"--for whatever reason, that day, when I talked about trying to bury him, all I could say was "plant," go figure--in our front yard, under the maple tree and next to the boxwoods lining our driveway.

A very short time later, because Maury seemed to be very much missing George's company, we adopted Cali, a real sweetheart of a kitty. We were told she was a little more than a year old, but she is still very much a kitten, though she had already had a litter of kittens before we adopted her. She was not very keen on Maury at first, doing a lot of hissing and spitting and growling, but with patience and calm, he soon won her over. Within two weeks, they were almost as good of friends as Maury and George.

Our garden gave some good harvests this year, despite its neglect. Through the summer, we were on a night shift, so we didn't have long each day to really tend it. Even now, only three days from Christmas, we haven't removed the stakes or fencing from our garden, because we have so little time. In addition, this was the busiest summer *I* have ever had for my freelance work, and even though I had a full crew of people helping me, we were still swamped at maximum capacity with slow turnaround times for most of the summer...the summer I had wanted to use to go slowly so I could care for the house and garden while my husband worked insane amounts of overtime.

So, you ask, why aren't I mentioning my husband more? Well, because I barely see him. The only things I really know about him since August are that he is perpetually exhausted, he's trying to fix his Montero single-handedly, and he has a blood elf paladin that has partnered with my blood elf priest for the past two weekends in the world of Kalimdor while he has been too exhausted to do anything but sit in front of a computer and I've been too tired to care, as I'm in the first trimester of my third pregnancy.

We've shared the news of the pregnancy this time. Not telling most people last time turned out to be a little too emotionally stressful for me, especially trying to work out getting to doctor appointments and the like with Mike's very limited free time. Plus, I believe strongly in the power of prayer and positive thoughts and know that when two people get together to pool their "spiritual resources," they create benefits greater than two working individually. So, I'm telling anyone and everyone and unabashedly asking for prayers, energies, positive thoughts, whatever, to keep this pregnancy going in the right direction. So far, it seems to be working well. I've had some spotting in this pregnancy, as I did in both the others. The thing is, we don't know if the spotting in those other pregnancies were precursors to my miscarriage or if it's just normal for me to spot. With all the prayers and positive thoughts for us, however, the spotting has been minimal this time and has tapered away. Now, if it appears, it's once, maybe twice, a day, right before bedtime and right when I get up in the morning. I'm amazingly calm this time around. Even though I have yet to find an OB. Even though I have a history of miscarriage. Even though hormones are doing their damnedest to make me anxious. It's partly because I know that if I'm going to miscarry in the first trimester, there's not much I can do about it, so I take the best care of myself that I can, getting plenty of sleep, not overexerting myself, but still staying active, and eating the best I can with random nausea spikes and food aversions. With every new "pregnancy woe," as one of my friends called them, I cheer. I smile. And I share. And my friends on Facebook cheer with me. And smile with me. And offer words of encouragement. And so that's another reason I'm amazingly calm--because I know that, no matter what happens, I have amazing friends and family supporting me, cheering with me, crying with me. And that makes a HUGE difference.

I just keep hoping and praying for the best and telling the baby that he or she is very, very loved and will be fortunate to be born into such a loving circle. In addition, the baby will have a grandpa (we haven't yet worked out if he wants to be Pappaw, Grandpa, Gramps, Geezer, etc.) with a new lease on life. My dad had bariatric surgery not long after our miscarriage in August. My mother tells me I won't recognize him, as he's lost more than 100 pounds. I'm looking forward to seeing him tomorrow to see him at the lightest I've ever seen him. Hell, he might even be lighter than me now...I have no idea!

We miss Mike's friends and family in Oregon, but our friends have really stepped up to help lighten the sadness a bit this year. Though we didn't get to travel to share Thanksgiving with my parents or his, and though none of our family members could share that holiday with us, we did get to host Becca and her husband, Shaun, and we had a great day.

And so, as Chanukkah has begun, people all over the world are celebrating Yule, and Christmas approaches, we are happy and hopeful. Mike is researching options for starting his own business. He's also trying to study so he can take a test for another certification. And he's enduring the incredibly long hours at work, getting whatever experience he can as he sorts out when he will leave if he wants to leave, and what he will do when he leaves. He's got two (nonconsecutive) weeks of vacation coming to him in May if he's still at Ball then--the first vacation he will have ever received. That's right, EVER. Since leaving grad school, he's been unemployed or employed in seasonal jobs or working as a contractor and in jobs that don't award vacations or that give vacations only after a full year of employment. So, May is when we have our sights set on him taking more than two days off. He may be taking a week-long certification class, but who knows?

2011 has been a challenge for us, but it has also been rewarding. We've had sorrow, and we've had joy. And I'm sure we have more of both to come, but we look to 2012 [even the coming return of Nibiru/release of Becca 2.0/end of the Mayan calendar/shift of the magnetic poles/return of Cthulu/galactic alignment/return of Jesus/Armageddon/cosmic shift in consciousness/zombie apocalypse (well, *I* can never look forward to a zombie apocalypse. We all know my fear.)] with hope. It's the only thing that keeps us going--aside from each other...and all of you.

So, to all of you, I wish you the happiest of whatever holidays you are celebrating, and the rosiest of new years. Thank you for being there for us, and for loving us. We appreciate all you do for us.

* Stringham high: Life is beautiful.
* Stringham low: Separation from loved ones for far too long.
* Stringham super-high: Our blessings, including loved ones, are too numerous to count!

(Remember that if you view the post on my blog, the title links to a video specially chosen for the day.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life's Purpose, in Context

Last night, a little wistfully, I was going through the children's books that I have "waiting" in the guest room, which will eventually become the kid's room when we have a kid. I came across a book from my childhood, "Prayers for Children," a Little Golden Book. In it, I found a prayer that must have had a huge effect on me, because what it requests is what I've always striven for my life to be, even when I hadn't read the book in years and had forgotten completely about it while it was tucked away in a closet.

A Child's Prayer

God, make my life a little light
Within the world to glow;
A little flame that burneth bright
Wherever I may go.

God, make my life a little flower
That giveth joy to all,
Content to bloom in native bower,
Although the place be small.

God, make my life a little song
That comforteth the sad,
That helpeth others to be strong
And makes the singer glad.

God, make my life a little staff
Whereon the weak may rest,
And so what health and strength I have
May serve my neighbors best.

God, make my life a little hymn
Of tenderness and praise;
Of faith, that never waxeth dim,
In all His wondrous ways.

--M. Betham-Edwards

This prayer/poem sums up my life's goal succinctly, to make a difference in the world through small ways, through living and being me, always conscientious of others and of the effect that my behavior has on others.

* Stringham high: Quick recovery
* Stringham low: Second miscarriage, and Mike's job woes
* Stringham super-high: We're more fertile than we once were!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Exciting Happenings

Someone came knocking on the front door around 6:30 this evening. A family pulling a camper had a blown out tire just in front of our house and wanted to know if they could park the camper in the driveway while they went in search of a tire for it. This was their second blowout in two days on the thing and so had already used the one spare they'd brought with them.

I told them to pull it on up, and I searched the phone book for tire places that would be open that late on a Sunday night. Found out that Walmart Tire Center was going to be open for another 25 or 30 minutes. They pulled up and disconnected the camper from their truck as quickly as they could, got hasty directions from me (they're from Wyoming), and took off for Walmart, which is 15-20 minutes away. They called ahead, and the folks at the tire center agreed to stay open a few minutes late for them.

While Dad was changing the tire, their son tried to run after Princess and play with her, but she was shy and led him "on a merry chase" around the yard. So Mom picked up Son and put him in the camper to play with their dog--there had been some tense moments between Princess and the visiting dog, so Dog got to stay in the camper for the duration.

While they changed the tire, I gathered food from the garden. Got a big basketful--one ripe tomato (several others were ripe but were rotten on the bottom), one green tomato that had fallen from the vine, a few grape tomatoes from a volunteer plant, several cukes, a couple handsful of green beans, and a bunch of turnips that were being forced out of the ground.

We have a TON of green tomatoes, but many of them are already going bad on bottom (blossom end rot, I think, though I'd have to verify with my gardening husband). I'm holding out hope that we'll have a bumper tomato crop again, as these plants are all taller than me and most are taller than M, but after seeing how many are bad, I'm just not sure how likely that is.

Plus, out of the random old squash seeds M threw into the garden this year, we have butternut squash growing with acorn squash and table queen squash, and some other kind I couldn't identify. I think I may have also seen a spaghetti squash in there. I'm not sure if he planted that many different seeds or if we're just seeing hybrids. In a 2' x 3' area, I had a butternut, acorn, and unidentified squash growing. No idea how that's happened.

Several of the tomato plants have fallen over from their own weight. One of our tomato cages has even been bent out of shape by them. And the green beans have bent at least one of the poles supporting them. The squash plants are growing out of the garden into the yard, and the cucumber plants are falling all over themselves. The plants are all ridiculously huge, but only time will tell if we are going to get huge crops. So far, it's a basketful of miscellaneous food every week or two...which is actually kind of nice, because we don't get bored of one thing, but we can't put anything away for winter.

Anyway, as soon as I had finished gathering from the "produce department" of our backyard grocery store, the father of the family came up to shake my hand and introduce himself while thanking me for the tipoff about Walmart and the use of our driveway. While shaking my hand, he palmed some money into it. I protested, following him back to the truck to give the money back, but he wouldn't hear of it. They had got their tire, got it changed in our driveway, and pulled out less than two hours after their blowout, not having to stay in a hotel until morning, so he thought it was well worth it. I had to agree, but I certainly didn't need the money.

All in all, though, I think it was a pretty good outcome for all involved.

* Stringham high: 80 degrees! The coolest it's been in days.
* Stringham low: Blowouts (Brought back memories of our two flats a few weeks ago, one of them on a Sunday night, as well)
* Stringham super-high: Fresh produce and helping others all in the same day!

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Stab at Activism--Educate Yourself!

Any of my Facebook friends will have probably seen part or all of this post, but I feel the need to collect them all together. Over the past couple of weeks, I've been watching the documentary "King Corn." I can't yet pull all my thoughts together about what I'm learning and how I feel about this, but I think I need to post it, so I can spread the word to at least some people. Please, watch "King Corn." (You can watch it instantly on Netflix.) For your own health, for the health of our country, watch this documentary. Below are the facts I learned, in the order I learned them, and my thoughts about them:

Everything I've learned about growing and raising food in the past three years just screams out in agony while I watch "King Corn." And now I know why our land was in such bad shape for growing things when we moved in.
70% of antibiotics in the US are consumed by grain-fed cattle. They're fed antibiotics with their food to help treat the acidosis that they suffer from--and that would kill them if they weren't slaughtered only a few months after being fed a strictly grain diet--at being fed too much grain for too long.

Here's a tip: spend more money on less meat that is of higher quality, and you won't need to eat so much meat--and you'll likely be thinner, because grain-fed beef is much higher in fat per serving than grass-fed.

Seriously, EVERYONE should watch this documentary, "King Corn"--everyone!

(Bonus points: part of our little town is shown: US 231, starting at Arby's and moving north past Burger King and the Riviera Motel, up to McD's and Jiffy Lube and Dairy Queen, around 1 hour 8 or 9 minutes in.)

Every few minutes on this show, I'm impressed with an astoundingly retarded fact. I don't know how our country is still going, how we haven't killed our economy and ourselves completely... I knew almost all of this before, but they're showing the connections that just astound me.

Farmers used to brag about a 40-bushel acre. Nowadays, 180 bushels from an acre is average.
Because farmers lose money growing corn and the government subsidizes that, the government is essentially subsidizing all the high fructose corn syrup that goes into all our sodas and baked goods, nearly every food and beverage in our country. And all that corn that goes to animals and leads to their health problems and fattier meat, which all contribute to our health problems. We ARE what we eat.

I support farmers, and corn farmers. But the system that has come into effect since the early 1970s is completely unsustainable and harmful to all of us. It is all done for the almighty dollar. One of the farmers interviewed in this documentary said it best--they aren't growing a quality crop any more, they're growing "crap." But he still grows it, because he gets paid. Most corn in this country is not grown for food--it's for fuel, for high fructose corn syrup (with absolutely no nutritional value and which contributes to greater likelihood of Type II diabetes), for animal feed.

Corn has been modified so it can tolerate the stress of being grown in a much more crowded area--so 180 or 200 bushels can be grown on 1 acre, where 40 acres used to be a bumper crop. That pulls huge amounts of nutrients out of the ground, which means the corn MUST be fertilized with chemicals. And then the herbicides must be sprayed--but the corn has to have been treated so that the particular herbicide it will be sprayed with won't also kill it. The corn is sprayed with herbicide, just not killed by it. And we're not even eating this corn...not directly. But we're eating it in the meat we consume, in the oils our foods are fried in, in the sodas and gums and breads and chips that have high-fructose corn syrup in them.

This all relates to our health--the health of our bodies, the health of our land, the health of our economy. One cattle farmer interviewed said that they grow corn to feed their cattle because Americans demand cheap meat. If Americans demanded grass-fed beef, he said, that is what they would grow. We speak with our money.

It's no accident that the people who typically suffer from obesity and Type II diabetes are poor. It's because they (we) have to eat the cheapest foods, made with the cheapest products. But if you know how, you can find cheap unprocessed foods and be healthier. We did it. When we were poorest, we learned how much cheaper it was to live off of non-processed foods, and NOT "cheap" prepackaged foods. And now we're healthier for it. Be informed. Make informed choices. We can't eliminate all this crap from our diets, because it's so pervasive, but we make the conscious decision about what we are and are not willing to consume, to do.

Buy more expensive food that's of higher quality. You won't need to eat as much, you'll feel satisfied longer, you'll be healthier. Make a conscious, fully informed decision.

I know how hard it is to take someone's word for this. I'm the same way. But if you are reading this, you know I don't urge people to action lightly. My body knows the difference between good food and bad food. If M and I eat fast food, we feel uncomfortable in only a few hours' time. Sure, it's cheap and it's fast, but the way we feel... Try it. Stop drinking sodas for a week. Stop eating fast food for a month. Choose to pass on potato chips. Notice how much better you sleep, how much better you feel...don't just take my word for it. Try it.

So, it may seems like I'm all over the place with this post, but that's because it's all related. EVERYTHING is related. The food we buy now in supermarkets is of lower nutritional quality than the stuff grown just a generation or two ago, because it's forced to grow in a cheap way, which may mean more plants per acre or given a fertilizer boost so it'll grow faster. That means we have to eat MORE of it. And we all know where that leads. You know WHY that food you get at the local farmer's market or from your own garden is so much better than what you likely get in the grocery store? THAT'S why.

So long as we keep buying and eating crap, we're "demanding" crap, so crap will continue to be produced.

And if you have questions, I'm always willing to tell you how we did things, or to point you in the direction of more information. M and I have made all the changes in our lives in the past three or four years through much transition, so please don't think "Life is so crazy now, I can't possibly change this." We've made all our changes through buying a home, transforming our land, both of us being employed full time, one of us being unemployed for a year, my miscarriage and subsequent health problems, 4 job changes and constantly shifting schedules, etc. You want to talk about making purposeful changes during times of transition, I'M YOUR GIRL.

Please, if you're still reading this, do yourself a favor and go watch "King Corn." Then think.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Island of Misfit Toys

Tonight/this morning, on a popular social-networking site, I was chatting with a friend—to be more precise, the significant other (SO) of a close friend of mine—who happens to have Asperger’s syndrome (if I remember correctly). He had started this conversation with me after seeing a few frustrated posts from me after said social-networking site was giving me grief, not letting me see posts, including the angry ones I had just made. Very sweetly, he’d wanted to make sure I was okay physically, emotionally, etc.

After reassuring him that I was, indeed, okay and just frustrated with the site, we got into a discussion of his anxieties with making small talk and being afraid of what to say, running out of things to say, and the like. As any of you who have known me for long know, I used to be pretty quiet and shy, and still can be (no, really), and I use that past experience to help me better understand people. I learned as a kid that by being quiet and just listening, I heard a lot more things than I would by talking…especially when people forgot I was around. (This will come into play later.) Anyway, as irony would have it, not long after we had discussed his worries, we were joking around, and then he said something. But said problem-causing social-networking site didn’t give me his message. In fact, I stopped hearing anything from him so assumed he had signed off to go to work, no worries. Several minutes later, I got a big block of text from him. He was worried that his last comment had weirded me out, that I had just stopped speaking to him because he said something that I, for whatever reason, might not find appropriate. Having met me only a handful of times, he wasn’t aware, I suppose, that (1) there are very few things I find inappropriate in general conversation and (2) if I had found it inappropriate, I would have said so gently and explained why I felt that way.

By the time his messages came through, he really had logged out to go to work. I felt sorry for him and hoped he wouldn’t worry further about upsetting me in some way. In fact, at the time, I was speaking to another friend, who happens to have Asperger’s syndrome, so I mentioned this incident to him. This led to a conversation in which this friend explained his occasional fear when e-mailing someone about a conversation they’ve had that that person might never speak to him again based on the e-mail and the previous conversation. I sympathized, having occasionally felt such things before. But, I said, then I got over those feelings, figuring that if such people were going to get bent out of shape by who I was, they didn’t deserve me (or just weren’t ready to have me in their lives). You see, I grew up with parents who taught me well my own inherent value and who taught me that I was loved just the way I was.

Growing up a fat, quiet, smart girl wasn't exactly easy. But my poppa told me, about the time I was 8, on the way home from a track meet that I had competed in (and probably many other times besides), that if people didn't like me based on how I looked, that was their problem, not mine, and most of them teased me because they felt insecure and teasing me somehow made them feel more secure. And all while I was growing up, I knew that it was fine to be exactly who I was. I had a grandmother who reiterated that one to me quite often: don’t act not as smart as you are to try to fit in; don’t worry if they don’t like you, plenty of people like you just fine. And then I stood up for others who were quiet, awkward, teased. Even if I didn’t necessarily know them or like them, I stood up for them, because everyone is worthwhile, no matter what the insecure kids on the playground said, and no one deserves to be teased if the teasing isn’t full of love. When people teased me, I just let it roll off my back, usually. I knew if I bit, they’d keep going but if I let it go, it wouldn’t be as fun for them anymore. But I would step in for others. I got angrier about other people being teased than about being teased myself because I could see how much it hurt or confused them. But how was the best way to stand up to someone who teases because he/she was insecure? Pointing fingers and giving like for like never teaches anything. It just passes the buck and makes you another bully.

Only now do I realize that I was like the Island of Misfit Toys, a magnet for the “misfits,” some of the other kids who didn’t necessarily have many friends except each other. I was friends with “weirdoes” and loudmouths and painfully shy and awkward kids. They couldn’t bloom into “normalcy” or quietude or social grace because they were teased and taunted and never given the chance. They were given a hard time by our schoolmates because, well, “kids are cruel.” But kids are cruel because they haven’t learned how to pad their blows with pillows and other soft things to not leave bruises. They use that most basic part of the brain that tells them that same is good and different is bad, making us versus them. But too many kids never learn better from their parents. They aren’t taught to see past all that stupid superficial shit to the beauty that lies beneath in people’s hearts and souls. Even worse, I think, is when kids get teased by their parents for not being “normal.” They end up carrying deep hurt, feeling unloved, and pass on that pain, trying to make themselves feel better by making others feel worse, or simply by acting like their parents, in the way they think they should. The status quo.

So, when I saw other kids teased, I was the one who helped. Once in high school, in our chemistry class, a girl who shared the table with me and another friend told me that she had made fun of me in elementary school because I was quiet and, because of that, she had thought I was stuck up. I told her I had been quiet because I didn’t have much to say and that I didn't talk to her because she teased me. When I asked her then, in high school, years after she had teased me, "Why would I want to talk to you if you teased me without trying to talk to ME first?" it was clear to me she hadn't even considered it before. If people aren’t taught acceptance, they don’t practice it. If we aren’t taught how to look beyond us/them and same/different, we’ll be forever stuck in that loop of cruelty.

As I told my friend of these things and of my fantastic parents, he got quiet. I knew he was reliving some unpleasant memories. Even now, in his 30s, he’s dealing with pain inflicted by “innocent” ignorant teasing from his first decade or so of life. He’s stuck in that loop. He’s healing, and he knows he is, but it’s still there, the scarring. True, his experiences have shaped him into who he is today, and he’s a fantastic person, but imagine how much more fantastic we all could be if we didn’t have to experience such things.

I don’t have any of those dark places in my soul left over from childhood because I had amazing parents and extended family. They made me who I am today. Their example inspires me to be as amazing and warm and welcoming to other people. I was, still am, and forever will be the one who offers shelter from the storm. I give out hugs of comfort. I act like the mother with her rolling pin in hand, chasing off the neighborhood brats while drawing her loved ones to her, hugging and shielding those I love, and those who are beaten, battered, and bruised physically, emotionally. I remind all of you that those terrible moments sucked but they helped make you who you are today. You will be the givers of hope to the next generation, and to the other battered and bruised souls in the world. I welcome you all into my heart and to my island of misfits.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Little Slice of Heaven

The dog turned up from her patrol this afternoon covered in stick-tights and a few ticks. She suffered me brushing and cleaning her for about a half hour, then she was done with me, nipping at me any time I touched her. I got the picture--she had enjoyed the "spa treatment," even through the annoying bits of pain, but enough was enough. So, I let her go, still carrying more than her fair share of stick-tights.

Then I turned my attention to the real reason I had gone out--to weed around the strawberries. I did that for 30 or 40 minutes, through the beginning of the gentle rain. Then I lay down on the blanket I had with me and enjoyed the gentle feeling of the rain on my upturned face and bare arms and legs, listening to the gentle patter of the rain on the grass, trees, and strawberries surrounding me.

After a few minutes, I sat up, completely relaxed, and realized that the dog and I were in a role reversal from our usual routine--now I was lying in the rain, she watching me from the shelter of the garage.

I took my blanket and weeding implements inside, then took a walk in the rain, as some color had caught my eye. One of our magnolia trees, which had sprouted only one blossom very late, a week or two ago (the first in its life) had suddenly opened three more flowers. Since yesterday.

Then I ambled to the backyard and checked on the irises. Three stalks are covered in buds that look fit to burst open at any moment. Yes, they're going to be late blooming, but they, like just about everything else on our property this year, seem to have doubled in size and/or number this spring. Everything has both brown vigorously AND bloomed this year. Finally, this year, we haven't had to settle for one or the other.

It's promising to be a lovely, productive year here at S&M Acres.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Morning Thoughts after Osama bin Laden

I'm taking a slightly different approach today. Nothing about our home here in Crawfordsville today, but about humanity's larger home.

At the risk of angering a lot of people, I'd like to state that even though some people might consider OBL a bad man, still, a man has died, and that's not an occasion for celebration. He was a symptom of a larger problem, not the cause of America's or the world's ills. You can believe, if you like, that he was solely responsible for 9/11. However, everyone--including those who participated in the 9/11 attacks--is free to choose their behavior, and even their thoughts, in this world.

In that light, I encourage all of my friends to pray that the world gets better, that we all treat each other better by learning from the events of the past decade, and by not becoming as full of hatred and self-righteousness as OBL perhaps was. Don't let hatred breed more hatred. No one wins in a world full of hatred.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rainy Days and Puppies Always Make Me Smile

We planted five more nut trees last night (2 pecan, 2 chestnut, 1 almond), under the close supervision of our newest addition, Princess. Princess even tried to help her daddy dig a hole last night...or show him up. We discovered last weekend that she can get very intent and dig--she was digging around a tree, apparently for a grub or rodent, both of which we have aplenty. We couldn't call her off of the darn thing, and we couldn't believe how deep the hole was, nor could could we find most of the dirt she had dug up, she had spread it out that well.

So, last night, she dug a hole right alongside the one M dug. It was really deep, though not as deep as needed for a tree, she dug it MUCH faster than M dug his hole, even with his "fancy" new toy. Unfortunately, she doesn't fill her holes back in. :)

So far, she hasn't decided that any of these trees are sticks for her to play with, like she did with one of the paw paws we planted a few weeks ago. But every time I poured gravel into a hole, she ran over to see if I was pouring kibble for her. That's about all the help she offered, other than trying to pick up a terra cotta pot I was using for a scoop, but she was a careful supervisor...probably because she had already accidentally run into the shovel that M was wielding and didn't want to go through that again!

We are pretty sure now that she's either a Golden Pyrenees (mix between golden retriever and great pyrenees) or a full Great Pyrenees)...great herding instinct, very intelligent, very sweet, loves to announce her presence at ANY noise or distant "foe," and falls "deaf" when she finds something more interesting than what we're trying to do with her...especially if that something is a possible foe in the fields!

Today, I'm trying to convince her that the garage is better than outside during a thunderstorm. She's waffling on that...she loves being outside in the rain and seems to become energized by the cooler weather, but when the thunder hits, she's not sure whether to run into or out of the garage! (I'm not sure how she handled the somewhat-close tornado the other day--we didn't realize she was here until M left for work the next morning and found her right outside the garage door.)

* Stringham high: Ah, puppies!
* Stringham low: Where did the warmth of spring go?
* Stringham super-high: We have run out of room in our prepared orchard area for trees!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Puppy Love

We are in the process of adopting...a puppy. She's the one who helped us plant a couple of weeks ago and who has been hanging around our house. (Pictures forthcoming. If you're on Facebook, you've likely seen one or two already.) We have made efforts to contact the people who were caring for her, to see if this was okay, because we knew they were keeping her for someone else, but they haven't contacted us. So, we are in the process of adopting the puppy who has adopted us--at least in the daytime.

According to our neighbor, J, the puppy--currently named Snowball but more likely to respond to Princess or Goofball--has been on her own for much of her life, since she was a puppy. As such, her survival instincts are good, but she's a little leery of people. We've now started feeding her regularly, and sometime this week or weekend, we're going to start keeping her here at night. (We're still working out how to do that, as she's been allowed to run free during the day.) We suspect she's been staying mostly with us in the day and then making her way back to be kept indoors with the other family at night. For her safety, though, we're trying to train her to know that this is home and that she shouldn't cross the road. Which means we have to get her used to a leash and possibly a chain, at least for a while.

For now, we're happy that I've been able to get her to lay on the porch on a blanket to get out of the cold rain, and I've been able to get her in the garage without force a couple of times. She plays with us, and she lets us know when she's not getting enough snuggles. And as I write this, she's trying to figure out what M's doing on the mower, and why it's so very loud.

* Stringham high: Puppy!
* Stringham low: Puppy leaves at night.
* Stringham super-high: Awesome neighbors who support our "guerilla" adoption tactics!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

We Took It to the Limit

M and I are hot, sweaty, and burned by the wind and the sun, and our eyes are dry and gritty from the soil, fertilizer, and bits of hay and straw blown into them, but the four rows and six tires of potatoes are planted. 100 seed potatoes planted.

Even more exhausted and hungry than we were last night. Today, we were having to tell our visiting dog where she was and was not allowed to step--she thought the straw and the newspaper were great things to play with. So tired, so sore...

* Stringham high: No more outdoors for today!
* Stringham low: Wind
* Stringham super-high: Leftover food

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Dear Reader:
I'd love to be my normally loquacious self this evening, but I'm just too damn tired. Instead, a summary of the week's events.

Last Saturday, we planted 2 almond trees in a "new" section of the orchard that is set aside for nut trees--an area we've been treating for a year or more with special cover crops to build the soil. We also planted last Saturday 2 quince trees, and 2 honeyberry bushes. Then we fixed the orange net fencing that's protecting our arborvitae that will eventually be a small task, considering the wind we had last Saturday. Then we discovered some astilbe and daffodils left from last autumn that hadn't been planted, so we placed them around the magnolias in the front lawn. All this was under the close supervision of a dog that is being fostered or raised by some folks down the road.

I did more manual labor than I had done since the miscarriage and all my health problems back in 2009, and I felt great afterward. No headaches, nothing but the usual aches from well-used muscles. It was fantastic!

On Sunday, we put the last coat of green on the bathroom and removed the painter's tape. Now all that remains is the painting of the all our spare time. Maybe it'll get done around Christmas. Dog visited again.

Over the week, everything became much greener. The daffodils in our yard still haven't bloomed, but they've come a lot closer. The hyacinth we planted in the fall have all sprouted and begun to open. The dog has decided that our place is THE place to be. We've been friendly toward her and don't mind that she's hanging around, because before, she was crossing the super-busy highway frequently. Now, a lot less crossing.

Thursday, we planted 2 paw paw trees to replace the ones that didn't make it from last year. Again, supervision from the dog.
Friday, the dog let me pet her and also let M pet her. We left to get groceries, and when we came back home, she was still lying in front of the garage, waiting for us to get home. She's a sweet girl.

Today, after the storms, we discovered that the bark has been stripped from one of the honeyberries we planted last week and that one of our newly planted paw paws had been pulled completely from the ground, along with its support post. And we've had some bark stripped from a few of the other trees in the past few weeks. Did a little research and think it's doggy-caused damage :( But the good news is that it's usually done by dogs who are teething and don't have toys...luckily, we have some dog toys that a friend gave us last summer for our cats. So we tossed them outside to avert the dog from stripping our trees any more. We're hoping it will work. If not, we're going to have to find a different solution.

After my friend, L, and her two daughters left from their visit today, M and I thought we'd plant some potatoes. But first we had to dig. He used the weed eater on one section of garden that needed tilled, and then I tilled it for potato planting while he used a nifty new tool to "double dig" the section of garden that the potatoes were in last year. (He found a potato that we missed in the we know that they will stay good in our soil over the winter.) We're both tired. Wrangling that freaking tiller, even in the soft (for here) soil for several hours--work a half hour, take a break for 20-40 minutes, with M--was harder than anything I've done physically since we put in 13- and 14-hour preparation and planting days in spring of 2009. I'm freaking beat.

I took tons of pictures last weekend and this week. Not posting any of them today. Too damn tired.

So, there you have it. Still loquacious to some, but sorely lacking on all the fun details.

If you haven't heard from me in a week or two, have a beer in my honor, because I've probably dropped dead of fatigue.

* Stringham high: Puppy companionship
* Stringham low: Damaged trees
* Stringham super-high: Me doing hard manual labor with no ill effects like headache, nausea, vomiting, passing out...just a WHOLE lot of curse words.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Marching on Through

Spring is always a busy time here in the Stringham household, and this year, spring seemed to start early before it went back into hiding. It's been a busy March, so I'll give the highlights to bring everyone up to speed before Planting Season begins tomorrow.

M's mom and step-dad visited us for most of two weeks. They acted as stand-in Santa Clauses for other members of the distant family, however, transporting goods illegal to send across state lines via any package carrier. Although they were here for 13 days, I somehow managed to snap not a SINGLE picture of them, but I got a picture of the wrapped presents.

I also managed to get a pic of our newest lawn ornament (a gift from the in-laws) next to our old buddy Gnorm.

While the in-laws were here, they wanted to help us with some home repair, so we decided to tackle repainting the 3/4 bath. We managed to get all the supplies purchased and prepare the room for painting before they left, but M and I are still working on finishing the painting, so no pics for now. It's not a very big room at all, but it takes a long time to paint because of all the painting AROUND and above things. It has a high ceiling, and the shower walls don't reach the ceiling; it also has two doors, the vanity, the medicine cabinet, the light fixtures, and the toilet, all in tight little blocks. (For those of you who haven't seen this bathroom, it looks something like one of the Tetris L's, only with one of the squares lopped off the long side of the L.)

Anyway, M and I have ordered all of our seeds and plants for the orchard and garden this year, and we got a buttload (pardon the expression, but what else would you call an Explorer-full?) of canning jars from the neighbor of a friend, so I'm now taking it as my personal challenge to fill those jars this year with pickles, tomato products, and whatever else I can. In those free canning jars were four wire-rim jars and a blue jar! (For those of you not familiar, that means they're really old, and very me. No one else seemed to be as excited by them as I was...)

So, on we move. As I said, spring hit, then decided to tuck its tail and run, so I got a few pictures of buds on the lilac, some brave snow crocuses, and some buds on the unidentified bush in the front yard. Nothing earth-shattering. Our line of arborvitae, now protected, however minimally, by the orange fencing, have taken off, though. They and the boxwoods seem to have grown during the winter. These beauties are in the front yard, but some of the arborvitae in the backyard are to M's waist.

Over in the orchard and berry patch, things were looking nice. Some overachieving strawberries had already begun clawing their way through the "natural mulch" of dead grass and fallen leaves. Seriously, I keep saying we need to weed the strawberries, but I mean for my benefit so I can see the darn things--they certainly know how to fend for themselves.

Here's a shot of the overachieving 5-on-1 dwarf pear tree that is the tallest non-mature tree we have. That's M, walking around the rest of the orchard. The second picture is of the rest of the orchard--that part you can't see so well through the green posts and fencing that surrounds the pear and apple trees.

A few days after this, we got hit with a thunderstorm that pelted us with some hail. I'd heard of golf-ball-sized hail before, but I'd never seen it before. Mostly, the stuff was soft enough that it hit the roof, siding, or windows and just splattered like a mostly melted snowball, but not without making some very loud dings and thuds. The few larger pieces that landed on the cusion of grass were harder to find, but here's a nice one. The pic's blurry because it's through a plastic-covered, rain-spattered window, and it's hard to get a feeling of scale, but I didn't feel like braving the hail on my delicate skin just to take a picture. See the bigger white blob? See those smaller pellets just below and to the right of it? Those are anywhere from the size of dimes to those little chocolate Easter eggs you can get this time of year in stores.

Finally, our epic journey through March comes to a close, first with a battle, then with a celebratory feast. One evening, as the chill descended outside, the cats apparently decided to duke it out to see who got the rights to the warmth and cushion of the big comfy chair. I called at them from another room to stop, and when I came in a few minutes later to have a seat, I saw that George was clearly the victor. (None of that fluff on the chair is George's...)

Two mornings later, M was snacking on bacon. As we all know, dead pig is George's favorite repast, the thing he most hunts, and he quickly showed his interest and was rewarded for his bravery in surviving a month full of house guests, house "construction," and cold weather.

* Stringham high: Spring is officially here.
* Stringham low: Spring hasn't quite gotten the memo to come back from vacation.
* Stringham super-high: Planting Season begins tomorrow. The orchard is going to nearly double in size!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Adventures in Breadland

When we were having oven problems a while back, M and I asked my parents if we could borrow their old bread machine. My parents and I remembered the two or three times we tried it before, getting round loaves with very hard-to-cut crust. But M and I, knowing our tendency to tinker with things until we get the results we like, figured we could get decent results after a couple of tries, and certainly better results than with a broken oven. Tonight, fresh from my parents' place, M made our first attempt, using the recipe in the machine's book. It called for bread flour, but we had none, so we substituted all-purpose flour and gluten. M also added butter, because he learned in our earlier attempts at bread baking that butter softens crusts.

Four and a half hours later, the bread was done. The top hadn't risen smoothly, but it was soft. The base, unfortunately, was a little burned and a little rubbery (but nothing like it was when the recipe was followed to the letter).

I started with the knife from the top down. It was a bit difficult to cut at the bottom, but the bread's crumb looked lovely--not consistent, but MOSTLY consistent. (Apologies for the yellow tint of the pictures. My camera does not appreciate the CFLs we use in the house.)

It smelled divine. It held together even while I spread peanut butter on it. And the strawberry jam smeared on looks like it was meant for this bread and no other. The crumb even held together when I spread the cold butter across it.

The verdict? Fantastic yeasty flavor, light and delicious. Buttered, it was delicious. With the strawberry jam, it was absolutely heavenly.

Next, I'll be using it to mix the ingredients and knead the dough, then I'll bake in the oven. I'm looking forward to this, and any visitors or neighbors should be too!

* Stringham high: More delicious bread!
* Stringham low: It's still winter?
* Stringham super-high: The happy and sad bread illustrations from the bread machine user manual!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

One Glorious Day

As the weather finally begins to warm (mid-40s for a high today!), I am in the mood to plant and transplant. If it weren't for the snow still melting, I'd be walking outside, envisioning how we are going to expand our orchard, nurture our struggling plants, and plan the garden for this year. Instead, I have to be content with knowing that the smell of spring--just the faintest little hint of it--is on the breeze, feeling just a nip of slightly warmer air teasing my nostrils and caressing the very tip of my nose.

The bright sunshine, the hint of warm air, and the inches of snow still on the ground give me pause. The sunshine energizes me, the hint of warm air makes me want to throw my windows wide open and begin chasing the winter's shadows and dust out of the house, and the snow remind me that it is a slow journey toward springtime and, eventually, summer. The juxtaposition of the snow with the warm air also serve to remind me that though I may feel ready to throw the windows to my house (and life) wide open to welcome spring, it is, after all, still winter, and a relapse into snow and very cold weather can happen with little or no warning. The healing process is much the same way...we feel wonderful one day, ready to throw our arms apart and announce our reemergence into the wide world, but those days of sunshine health are tempered with the snow, which reminds us not to run in the sunshine, lest we fall on the melting snow and injure ourselves and add further to our health burdens.

Of course, when I mention health, I don't mean only physical health, but also emotional and spiritual health. I began writing my book, Year of Shadow and Light, in November of 2009, as part of the healing process. I intended it to help me heal and, once it was published, to help others heal. I intended to have the book written about a year later, covering, as the title implies, only one year of my life, from about September 2009 to September or October 2010. As frequently happens, however, as just about any experienced author will explain, my book took on a new focus as I wrote it. It didn't start in October 2009 and travel through to October 2010 but started back in my childhood, focusing a lot on my life before October 2009 and then...well... To be honest, reliving those days became a roadblock to me. They were too painful to keep reliving for my book, though I relived them almost constantly for months, in my dreams, in daydreams, in random tangential thoughts, in my darkest fears, in my moments of greatest hope. I decided, finally, once I was able to revisit those days well enough to write about them for others, that such writing distanced the reader from my story, didn't illustrate the full emotional impact those days had on me. So, I decided (with the help of some trusted friends and editorial colleagues) that I would use bits of my journal entries from those days to help convey to the reader just how dark and shadowy (and even light, on rare occasion) those days were to me.

Still, I found myself not working on the book. I was swamped with work, and in any spare moment, instead of enjoying my time, I kept thinking of how much I needed to be working on the book, as my self-established one-year deadline approached, arrived, then passed. But then, something wonderful happened. Of course, as with many wonderful things that happen in life, I couldn't tell that it was wonderful at the time. My editing work dwindled and then nearly stopped. Then it did stop for a week or two at a time, then I'd get a project, then no work. Of course many people might think this would be the perfect time for someone writing a book in her spare time to actually, say, write her book. But a funny thing happened--instead of working on my book, I felt called to focus on my life, especially my home. I began cleaning every day--not much, mind you, because I am a slow, methodical cleaner and my damaged vision really hampers my ability to see small bits of dirt and grime, so I now have to look much closer than I did before. Despite weeks of effort so far, my home is still a mess by many standards and will likely remain that way, but I can slowly see it starting to take shape. The pile of things "to be handled later" on the dining room table is dwindling; the kitchen counter is never covered with dirty dishes for more than 24 hours; dust is VERY slowly disappearing from the television and some shelves; boxes that have not been opened since they were packed for the move to this house 3 years ago have been emptied and broken down for recycling; items that were thrown haphazardly on shelves in the unpacking process 3 years ago have been moved to the proper rooms and shelves, at least; family photos that were put aside 2 years ago so we could find homes for them "later" have been slowly making their way to the fireplace mantel, to the heart of our home. I have spent more time reading books I want to read--sure, it's still 5 or 6 books at a time, but a religious book, a health book, a "metaphysical" book. I have helped a friend with a story she's writing about her family, and I have not felt guilty about using the time from the books that pay me money. I have been exercising sporadically, when I have the energy. I have been MOVING instead of sitting for hours on end on the couch or in an office chair and working on books. When family and friends call, I take the calls willingly (a lesson learned in my late teens), as I always have , but now without the thought in the back of my head that I have to keep it short or suffer the consequences of having to stay up late or work harder or faster on an editing job.

I have centered my life once again (or perhaps, truly, for the first time ever) on my home and my husband and myself, and on my friends and family--all the things that matter most toI me and always have. And while focusing on all these things, feeling the call to get my life and home in order, physically and emotionally, my spiritual life has also come back into order. That may sound silly to some, like New-Age hokum, or to others, the deeply religious, it might sound about right. But I, honestly, have found it surprising. Why? Because in October 2009, my spiritual life dove more deeply than it had in a very long time. I can't really explain this well, because I have always been deeply spiritual, but in what I would call a more reserved manner. I prayed frequently and knew that I was always being watched over, that help was always available when it was necessary. I trusted the Great Scheme of Things, but I didn't always trust myself in the Great Scheme of Things. When I was a kid, I did, all the way through being a teenager, I knew that it was my purpose in life to make the world a better place by doing little things, maybe that never got noticed, but that were important. I could make someone's day better by smiling, so I tried to smile at everyone I passed. I could improve someone's day by helping them have a memorable dining experience, so I provided prompt, courteous service with a smile. In everything I did, I remembered not "as ye sow, so shall ye reap" or "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or that every stranger could be an angel in disguise but that every person was a human, a child of God, related to me, and deserving the very best.

As I grew older and became educated and got a job, I still kept those principles in mind and tried to live by them still, but I was less sure that I was making the world a better place. I was making pockets of the world a better place for a brief time for some individuals I encountered, but I was hardly improving the world. I still prayed, though not so much, preferring to think of every action I did as an offering to God. I prayed when an emergency vehicle drove by or when I passed an accident on the highway, praying for the best possible results for those involved and for smooth transitions into death for those whose lot it was to die. When a dangerous driver passed me on the highway, I prayed for the person to not injure someone or someone else's property but that the person somehow learn the consequences caused by his or her driving. When I was scared, I prayed. So, I talked TO God a lot, butt I stopped listening to God.

As a kid, I had followed my instincts to keep me out of trouble, to keep me safe, to say the right things. As I grew up, though, I thought I had learned more and didn't need those instincts so much. I was operating in a "thinking" world, where logic won over intuition. I forgot that my intuition was God speaking to me and guiding me, something I had known as a kid. So this was how I had come to not trust myself as part of the Grand Scheme of Things--I no longer listened to that voice inside of me coming from the Divine.

It was right around September 2009, though, when I started hearing that voice again, though. Somehow, probably through all the pain, I had let down my "guard" that shut out the voice, and I began trusting it again, but this time even more than I had as a kid. But the road to physical recovery is long, and it takes a toll on emotional health, which can impact your spiritual health greatly. I began to doubt the voice again. Or, rather, I began to doubt that I was really hearing the voice, that I was really hearing what I thought I was hearing. I was hearing that I was going to make a big difference in the world. A big difference? I thought. That can't be right. I've always been meant to make small differences in the world. It wasn't that I didn't trust the Great Scheme of Things, but that I could be so important in the Grand Scheme of Things. After all, I have always subscribed to the idea that one smile can brighten one person's day, which causes that person to smile at 10 other people, and so on, so one small change could make things better exponentially. But so what? Anyone, EVERYONE, can do that, can change the world, so I can't be more important than anyone else in the Grand Scheme of Things.

Yes, I do still believe that I am no more important than anyone else. But I've finally grasped the concept that being no more important than anyone else doesn't mean that I'm not making a big difference in the world. Still, though I trust the Grand Scheme of Things, I doubted my "greatness." Yes, I'm hard-headed. Yes, I'm stubborn. Yes, it's exhausting spending an hour in my head. But I just don't "get something" until I understand all the pieces. But God knows this. And so that's what my time since October 2009 has been--me learning how all the little pieces of my life fit together. We (the Big "Guy" and I, and about a hundred friends, acquaintances, spirit guides, strangers, and who knows who else) have worked on the bugs (mostly on my end) in the two-way communication system between me and the higher realms. We've explored just about every question or doubt I've had about faith or religion and addressed them all. We've healed some issues in my body and have begun addressing others. We have patched up relationships that have suffered. We have picked up relationships that have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another but that I need again.

Everything has led (thus far) to these past few weeks, when I have been called to work not on my book but on my life. It's not that I haven't worked on my book in these weeks, but that I haven't written or revised. Instead, I have embraced the call to organize and clean my life and have felt rich rewards. As I work on and in my life by cleaning my home and focusing on my life, I'm beginning to feel the scope of my book change in both subtle and dramatic ways. By allowing myself to be in simple, constant communication with all of my friends and family and the Divine, as well as with myself, I have felt repercussions in these past 6 weeks or so that I never could have imagined in October 2010, which was when I had expected to have my book completely written.

Over the past few weeks, then, in the deep, bitter cold and nasty weather of winter, I have been through more of an "inner" journey. And just as the sunshine, warm air, and snow combine today to remind me that winter is still here and can come raging back in, it reminds me that my spiritual and physical journeys can regress occasionally too. I have been on a constant push for spring and out of winter (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) since October of 2009, and I am making great progress. And on those days when it seems like winter will never end, I receive a day like today. My damaged vision is the snow on the ground reminding me of where I have come from, what's causing me to hope for better days. My loved ones supporting me are the sunshine that makes me smile and know that great things are always present in my life. And the hint of warm air promising even better things to come? That's someone I barely know and have seen only 15 or 20 minutes across 3 encounters in the past year telling me about her life and telling me, out of the blue, that my strength has given her strength and that I will help a lot of people. "Days" like this really do prepare us for sowing the seeds of truly great things.

If you're reading this on Facebook instead of on my blog, you can't click the title to go here: Check it out.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Conquering Heroes

The kitties (well, probably George) got a mouse today. I woke up this morning to find it unattended on the living room floor. When I began making preparations to remove the carcass from the house, however, George decided that it was his. He sat with his paws on either side of the mouse and assumed a smug look, like the sphinx. When I tried to move him out of the way, he tried to make himself an immovable object, and he was pretty darn good at it, for a creature who weighs only 8 pounds. Then he started playing with the mouse like one of his toys. I had to hold him back with one arm while trying to pick the mouse up with the other hand.
And as soon as I moved the mouse, he started prancing all over the living room like a conquering hero. Now, of course, he can't find it, so he's keeping an eye on Maury, has him trapped on the chaise lounge, keeping him there with growlings and mutterings. I think he thinks the other cat stole his trophy.
From proud, conquering hero to angry, growling old man.
* Stringham high: DVDs of old TV shows
* Stringham low: grumpy old man kitty
* Stringham super-high: coooooooofffffeeeeeeeee

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wake up, wake up, wake up and start the day!

This morning, I woke up and turned off the house alarm as usual but noticed an error code. I checked all the zones in the house to make sure things were as they should be. They were, so I called the alarm company to find out what's going on. The lady I spoke with had me enter a couple of various codes and bypass the "malfunctioning" area, because our communication system was down. (This happens periodically with our system, but usually only for a moment or two, not long enough for us to see a code on the system panel.) This means that if an intruder were to come in, we would hear the siren in the house but the police would not be notified. I think this is acceptable, as I can keep the phone with me and call if necessary. She says the communication system could be because of bad weather in the area. She tells me if the panel is still giving the communication-error code later, I should call a technician. I say thanks, and we hang up.
A few minutes later, once Mike's out of the shower and I have explained to him the error code and the phone call with the alarm company, I go back to bed because I got very little sleep last night. Twenty minutes after I've laid down, Mike comes back to the bedroom to tell me the cops are here. The system sent out a silent alarm. The cops ask me to call the alarm company. I pick up my cell phone to see that the alarm company has called (silly me, I fell into the habit of NOT sleeping with my phone by my bed when I was sleeping days and getting awakened unnecessarily). I call them, and we discover that one of the codes I was told to enter earlier was the silent duress alarm, the "panic" code. The lady on the other end of the line seems to keep using terminology I don't understand, telling me to enter the code the other woman had told me to enter, and then, when I explain that lady had me enter a couple of codes in addition to my own normal code, so I don't know what she means by "the code the other woman gave me," she tries to explain and seems to make things worse. Admittedly, I'm sure my lack of mental acuity is not helping, as I've gotten very few hours of sleep and have now been "awakened" from almost-sleep by the arrival of the cops.
Finally, the woman tells me we can set the alarm normally but that will mean that the alarm bells will sound in our house. I say, basically, "Okay, bear with me, because I just woke up, and I'm trying to understand. I shut my alarm off this morning when I got up and then noticed an error code. I called your company to figure out what was causing the error code, and we bypassed it so WE would hear the alarm in the house if someone broke in but the cops wouldn't be notified because the communication with the system was down. The cops are here now because, apparently, even though the system wasn't communicating, we entered the panic code. What alarms are you talking about now, and if my system is no longer giving me an error code, why do I want to bypass anything?" I heard about two words come out of her mouth, then we get cut off. I don't know if she hung up on me or if the phone cut out.
When I said, "Hello?" and looked at my phone to see if I still had signal (I did, 4 bars strong), the sheriff's deputy said, "Okay, I'll get out of your hair. It looks like you're going to have your hands full with them today."
I am now up for the duration, all thoughts of stealing a couple more hours' sleep gone.
Yup, it's going to be a great day, I can tell.
* Stringham high: The alarm system is communicating effectively again.
* Stringham low: Who needs sleep?
* Stringham super-high: Bite me. (Seriously, it's too early to be super-high about anything.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Cloud to Every Silver Lining

Since about November, I've been trying to get a letter from a doctor confirming my legal blindness so I can get the benefits of the tax deduction. Last week, when I called to check on this, I had the assistant of my newest doctor tell me that there was always a possibility of my sight returning "if the diamox works." (I've been on this medication, diamox, for more than a year now, and my vision has not improved at all, though the condition that caused my sudden vision damage has seemingly been under control, possibly because of the diamox, for several months.) This was somewhat upsetting, because I had begun to make peace with the irreversibility of my vision loss, and because it went against everything I have been told by my other doctors. It's not that I don't hold out hope, or that I think that one defiant doctor can't get results, but I wasn't speaking to the doctor, but her assistant, as the doctor is out of the office for a couple of months (yeah, nice, that).

So I called the office of a different doctor--the one who performed my optic nerve sheath fenestration and who referred me to this new doctor. I asked if he could write the letter or if he thought there was a possibility of the vision returning so that such a letter would be unnecessary. He called me a few minutes ago to make sure that I understood "all the implications" of him writing this letter for me. (God bless these doctors who take the time to call and speak and explain!) He's preparing to write the letter declaring my legal blindness, but before he starts writing it, he wanted to me to understand that it will make it illegal for me to get behind the wheel of a car ever again, even with a driver's license. If my visual field were to ever somewhat be restroed and I wanted to no longer be declared legally blind, he said, it's very difficult to get this "stamp" removed from my record, because officials would say, "How can someone be blind, then not be blind anymore?" (Well, stranger things have happened...but we ARE talking about government workers offense to my government-employed friends, but you know who I'm talking about.) If I wanted such a thing removed from my record so I could drive again, I'd ahve to undergo all sorts of tests and such.

So I asked again the likelihood of my sight returning. He said he's had some patients who've been able to regain some of their visual field after being able to maintain a good intracranial pressure, but that's the exception. It's more usual to simply work on preserving what's left. (He has said before I'm one of the more extreme cases, because my vision deteriorated so rapidly, in just a couple of weeks, so we have to watch for things escalating quickly to total blindness within just a few days, whereas most people with IIH have months, even years.) So I explained that I've not driven since September or October 2009 because I don't dare to, so I think this is the best course of action for now. If, by some miracle, my vision improves so much that I can drive again, that's when I'll worry about the hassle of trying to get the "ruling" of legal blindness removed or reversed. (Besides, I figure if the vision is restored that much by medical breakthrough, there will be plenty of before-and-after tests and such in my medical record to present as evidence. And if it returns through nonmedical miracle, I'll have the Divine support I need to make it through all those tests and challenges--if restoring my vision is possible, a few tests should be nothing, especially with my hard-headedness.)

I felt a twinge of tears when I hung up the phone--a twinge at the finality, the official declaration of my disability. (I don't like that word. It really seems ugly to me. But I do have a disability. I'm not disabled, but I do have a disability that impairs my ability to live a life that our society deems normal.) I've had to move into acceptance slowly, and somewhat painfully. In November 2009, I still believed more vision would be restored as my eyes recovered from my optic nerve sheath fenestrations. In March 2010, I still hoped to drive and take the visual test to see if I could. In early summer 2010, I printed the form to complete for a disability hang-tag for special parking. In August 2010, I sent that form to my doctor for signature. In December 2010, I got the placard after holding on to the completed application for 3 1/2 months. Now, in January 2011, I'm accepting the official statement that I am legally blind.

I wonder if I'll ever be able to say or think "I am legally blind, and I will likely never drive again" without wanting to cry.

At least the good news is that I can get a nice deduction on my taxes.

* Stringham high: Being able to function almost "normally" in nearly every way with the vision I still have
* Stringham low: Missing the freedom of driving
* Stringham super-high: Kind, giving, helpful friends, family, and neighbors