Out With the Old…

I am not going to pull any punches, 2017 was a tough one.

I know, at the end of a year, we are supposed to stop and count our blessings, and, as always, our year has been filled with those; but I would be lying if I sat down and wrote a post about how great the year has been, and pretended it hadn’t been hard.  It’s been a hard year, in a lot of ways, for a lot of people I know.

I am not talking about politics.  I know that the social and political climate has been difficult for a lot of people to navigate, and that has put real strain on familial relationships and friendships.  I know there has been a great deal of social upheaval, and stress, and anxiety, and real life consequences as a result of what is happening in the political arena, because those things impact us all every day.  I don’t want to discount that, or for anyone to think that I am not taking those issues into account ~ they are part of the reason this year has been difficult for a lot of people.  In fact, for some people, that is the primary reason this year has been so difficult; because, for some people, those issues directly impact their daily lives so profoundly that they can’t help but think about them every single day.  So it’s hard for me to come here and say, “but that’s not what I’m talking about.”  Perhaps what I meant to say was, “That’s not all I’m talking about.” I would be remiss not to mention it at all.

There were deaths in families, and deaths of long-admired celebrities, as there always are.

Here, in California, we recently had the fires, and so they are fresh in my mind, but all over there the world, there has been disaster, and violence, and so much suffering, anguish, and frustration.  It’s difficult to even know what to say.  Some days, it felt like the world had gone mad.  It was hard to want to read the news ~ there was a genuine fear there.  What else could possibly have happened?  

On a very personal level, it’s been a difficult year for me, in regard to my health.  If I were to say, “I don’t talk about my health much,” you would probably think I’m being ridiculous.  It seems I talk about my health all the time.  But, really, I don’t.  Or, perhaps, I do more than most people, but there’s a lot I keep to myself.  So, when the CRPS started flaring up, I didn’t mention it, because, frankly, I feel like all I ever do is complain about my health issues, and, quite frankly, people must be tired of listening.  Nevertheless, it did start flaring up.  I figured it was probably because I had slacked off on my exercise routine.  I wasn’t doing my PT every day, and I wasn’t walking as much as I should.  Oh, and also because I had cut the dosage of my daily medication down just slightly because, in combination with the other medication I take daily ~ for that other issue that I am still reticent to discuss, because I STILL don’t have a diagnosis, so I feel weird about actually saying much about it ~ it was making me VERY SLEEPY; but only at night, after I took it, and upon waking, but this matters, when you have school-aged teenagers, who might still need your help, sometimes…and they do, sometimes, and I am their mom, so I want to help. (Do I win an award for that run-on sentence?  I think it was fairly spectacular, ‘though I am not convinced it was actually a sentence.)  So, I decided, first, to try doing all of the Right Things.  I exercised.  I took my medication.  The CRPS kept flaring.

I did the logical thing.  I kept going to my class taking kids to school, doing chores, attending performances, meetings, shopping, driving all over town, picking up, dropping off, running errands… You know, all of the usual “mama” stuff.  I kept tie-dyeing things, and playing my banjo when I had time, but it kept feeling like I had less and less time.  Everything felt like it took so much longer.  You know, because it did.

While all of this was happening, other things were happening, too.  I wasn’t the only one having a hard time.  Other people I knew were having hard times, too; and, while I am not at liberty to share other people’s hard times, you know, when people you care about are having hard times, you want to help, and you probably try to, and I hope that I did.  I think, at least, I tried.  I keep trying, and I will keep trying.  I feel like, a lot of times, I fall flat on my face, or my back.  Sometimes, I feel like I started there, and, if we are both there, maybe we can just lie there, hold hands, look at the stars, and know that, whatever is going on right now, it will all be better someday.  It will.  I promise.  It always is.

Also, while all of this was going on, I was having increasingly terrible digestive issues.  I’m not going into detail, because nobody wants that (and also because I don’t have all of the answers yet), but, basically, it breaks down like this:  I was diagnosed years ago with IBS.  I hadn’t had a lot of symptoms for a very long time.  Then, in recent years, I started having trouble again.  This year has been the absolute worst.  (This is NOT the undiagnosed issue I’m not talking about.  That’s still something else.  Sorry to keep being cryptic about that.  If you know me, I’ll probably talk to you about that ~ I just feel weird putting stuff down in writing and out on the internet about that one.)  So, I saw a gastroenterologist who has put me on a low FODMAP, gluten-free diet.  I was skeptical, but cautiously optimistic.  I have to tell you, after two weeks on the new plan, not only are my digestive problems virtually a thing of the past ~ as long as I stick to the plan, which is very restrictive, and difficult to stick to when I am away from home, and can’t cook my own food ~ but, now that my digestive issues are under control, the medication I am taking for that other (cryptic) issue seems to be working well again, because my body is actually able to absorb and process it.  I still need to return for a couple of tests to make sure we aren’t missing anything, but the good news is, things are much better.

So…back to the CRPS:

While I was busy getting everything else under control, it was still flaring out of control. To the point that I was having difficulty getting around to complete simple tasks like a trip to the grocery store.  Pain was interfering with my ability to concentrate, focus, sleep, eat, remember things.  It was bad.  Worse than it had been in a long time.  I contacted my neurologist and my pain management doctor ~ to see if there was any way we could change either medication, since, in combination, they made me SO SLEEPY.  To make a long story short (and remain as cryptic as possible), neurologist said something like, “This medication is controlling your symptoms, so NO.  We won’t be changing that.”  Upon reviewing that situation, we all agreed, this was a good plan.  After an examination, my pain management doctor determined that the CRPS was not just flaring up, it was progressing.

As you can imagine, this is not the news I was hoping to hear.  He scheduled me for a lumbar sympathetic nerve block, as soon as possible, in hopes that I would get some pain relief, and that we might stop any further progress.  That would be December 21st, and I would need to rest for several days after the procedure.  Perfect timing.  I hadn’t been able to accomplish much shopping, due to pain, and now, I had to be completely done by the 20th, so I could rest until Christmas Eve.

But, there was nothing else we could do, and just that little glimmer of hope that, maybe, we could stop it from progressing…or, at the very least, get a little bit of relief.  So, I agreed.

It’s been 10 days since I had the nerve block.

I think I must be in that “might get worse before it gets better” phase.  This hasn’t happened to me before, but I am trying to be optimistic.  They say you might not know until at least two weeks after how effective it will be.  So, I am waiting.

During all of this, there was this whole swirl of life events going on around us, and, quite frankly, I couldn’t keep up.  I tried.  I tried to attend to events I could attend.  I went to the performances and parties, I smiled, I chatted, I tried to make small talk, but, you guys, I am an open book.  I’m not good at this.  I am a terrible liar.  I don’t just wear my heart on my sleeve; it’s stamped all over my face.  Which is weird, because I’m an actor, right; or, well, maybe I was, many years ago.  But I think that’s different.  I like to think, in my real life, I’m not assuming a character when I interact with people for whom I actually care; and so, it’s different.  In real life, I am an open book.  If I am upset, or angry, or tired, or sick, or sad, or anxious, or lonely, or in pain, the whole world will know just by looking at me.  I thinkI have been every one of those things this year.  I suppose we all have, at some point, every year.

Some great things happened this year, and others are still in the process of happening.  Justice finished her Child Development certificate, and CPR and first aid training, and was accepted to the Music Performance program at her college.  Hallie is a Senior in high school this year, and is busy earning A’s in classes like AP lit and Digital Imaging (things I couldn’t even grasp in high school ~ and let’s review the fact that I didn’t make it through Senior year of high school, so kudos to kids who do), and looking into art schools for after graduation.  Kaia finished middle school and moved on to high school where she is participating in and loving Marching Band. She finished her Computer Science class early, and was allowed to move on to the AP course in independent study.   I took my first ever ASL (American Sign Language) class, and finished with an 87%, which is a B, but a high B, so I’m cool with that.  I probably can’t take another class just yet, but I will keep practicing what I have learned, so I don’t get too rusty before I can continue.  I do plan to continue.  Shane has worked on so many projects that I just can’t name them all ~ and I probably shouldn’t here ~ but I can say that he was recently able to purchase a used 1999 Jeep Cherokee 4×4 that appears to be in very good condition (fingers crossed).  I bought him a repair manual, so he can maintain it.  It’s a vehicle he’s wanted for a long time, and it means that, with Justice’s busy schedule, and with us on the brink of having a 4th driving in the household, we finally have a 3rd car.  I think it should make think easier for everyone.

There have been weddings, and engagements.  There have been children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews ~ oh, heavens!  Not all mine!  I just mean, in the world, there have been these things. In lives of my friends and family members, I have watched them unfold.

So, as I look forward ~ ever forward, never back…well, occasionally, wistfully, back, but never, ever with regret ~ it is with the very highest of hopes.

Here’s to 2017, and all of it’s challenges. Here’s to the tears we’ve wept, and the losses we’ve suffered.  Here’s to the lessons learned, and to every victory, every happy memory, every blessing and every joy this year has brought with it, as well.  For some, this might have been the best year yet.  For some of you, this was the year you were married, or the year your child was born, the year you finally bought your first home, or brought home the pet that filled that hole in your heart and made your life complete.  So here’s to 2017, for everything it’s been to every one of us.

2018, we see you on the horizon, and we have pinned our hopes on you.

We’ll see you soon.

 

 

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All That Glitters ~ by Sam

IMG_4854This morning, while Shane took George the cat to the vet, and found out that he is, most likely, allergic to plastic, making him even more perfectly suited to our family, with all of our allergies and specific dietary needs, I decided to take a long-awaited bath.

I mean, well, that is to say…

I had bathed recently, for heaven’s sake.  I just hadn’t, like, soaked in a hot bath.  After the recent nerve block, I was told I had to wait for a couple of days ~ or maybe it was only one day, and then time got away from me, because it was the Holidays, and I would say I was busy, but, actually, I was lying around doing next to nothing, because I had recently had a nerve block, and was under doctor’s orders to lie around and do next to nothing for a few days…but THEN it was actually Christmas, and I was actually busy, SO, as I said: I had bathed, as in had a shower, but I hadn’t taken the time to relax and soak in a bath.  It’s a completely different thing.  This morning, I decided to run a bath, and relax, for just a little while, before driving Shane to work.

We only have one bathtub, in the kids’ bathroom, and I happened to notice, before I ran the water, that there was some glittery residue left from a silver bath bomb Kaia had used the last time she’d bathed.  It looked like the tub had been rinsed, but there was just some glitter left behind.  So, I gave it a quick once over, rinsed it again, and ran my bath.

I’ll tell you, that glitter is tenacious.

To my surprise, floating atop the water, was a fine glittery film.  Now, I suppose I could have emptied the bath and started again, but I’ll be honest: by this time, I had already cleaned the tub once, Shane was already at the vet, so I was running short on time and already starting to feel a little less relaxed, and I kind of like glitter.  For those of your worried about how sanitary this might be, I will say this once.  I was in a bathtub with hot water, literally washing the glitter.  It’s all going to be okay.  I promise.  Also, if you are uncomfortable with me and my glittery bathtub, that’s totally okay, and you can leave.  I promise we can still be friends.  Or not.  Or, I mean, if we weren’t ever friends, that’s okay, too.  I mean, sorry.  I’m not trying to be mean.  I mean, it’s all okay.  Me, my glitter.  You, your uncomfortable feelings about my bathtub glitter.

You know what?  I’m just going back to my story now.  You can work out your own issues.  I’m sorry.  I tried.

Okay.  SO.  I got in the bathtub, with the glitter, because, honestly, I was too tired to start over, I really needed a bath, and I just wasn’t going to get one any other way.  And besides, it’s glitter.

I slipped into the bath.  I figured, what’s the worst that could happen?  I was right.    Nothing bad happened. I just…took a bath.  I came out a little bit glittery.  Sparkly, you might say…or “farkly,” a little girl I knew would have said, many, many years ago, when she was very, very small.

Then, I cleaned the tub again.

Thinking it was funny, I told Kaia about my glittery bath, and sure enough, she apologized, saying she, too, thought she had washed away all of the glitter.  Glitter is like that.  You never really get rid of it.  Tenacious, I tell you.  I think there’s still glitter around my house from projects the kids did in preschool.  I don’t mind.  Glitter always makes me smile.  I told her so.

I think there’s something in the tenacity of glitter that touches me.  Something in its ability to reach back to the recesses of my mind, where memories aren’t always so forthcoming, and find them.  Something about its ability to elicit a smile, something about that tiny twinkle of uplifting light.  That sparkle.  As I said, it’s tenacious.  Some of our glitter came home from preschool on art projects and survived, like, 8 moves.  We’re still finding it in our pillowcases, even though the kids are practically all grown.

Good grief.  Are they really?

They are.

At least they are still leaving glittery rings in the tub.  For now.

Later, I happened to sit down at my computer to check my email, read a little news, check my messages…and that’s when I saw…it was a reminder that popped up as a Facebook “memory” from a year ago today.  If you use Facebook, you’ll know that they do this thing, where they remind you of posts you made on this day a year ago, 3 years ago, 5 years ago, etc.  This particular memory happened to be of a post I made on this day one year ago today with a link to an article about Carrie Fisher’s death, and I thought, Well, then.  How appropriate that we should find ourselves accidentally covered in glitter on this of all days.  

I said something to that effect to the kids, and wondered aloud why it was that people started #GlitterforCarrie in the first place, and we decided to look it up.  Do you know?  If you don’t, you should.  We did.  Look up why people wear glitter for Carrie Fisher.  There are some great stories, and I won’t bother retelling them here, because they aren’t mine to tell, and they are already all over the internet, anyway.

This is my little story.

I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you find ways to make your world sparkle.

Nerve-Wracked ~ by Sam

Peace12:21:17.JPGIt’s the evening of December 21st, and I am not rushing around checking things off my shopping list.  I’m not baking sweet treats, wrapping gifts, cleaning up after our annual Tree-Trimming party (or planning for yet another very late one, because we didn’t get it together and plan one). I’m not planning to receive out-of-town guests, or planning my out-of-town trip for Christmas (‘though we will be heading out of town soon after).

Nope.  Not doing any of that.  Which is weird, because, normally, this close to Christmas, I’d be running around like that chicken you always hear about.  Right now, I’m lounging on the sofa after a nerve block at 2:30 this afternoon.  I debated posting about what’s been going on lately.  I feel like I’m THAT FRIEND.  You know the one.  The one that talks too much about their health problems?  And so…I just didn’t really say anything about this for a while.  Honestly, when the CRPS started flaring up again, I thought, “Well, I haven’t been walking every day, and I haven’t been great about doing my PT, and I had to lower the dose of my medication because it interacts with the medication I have to take for that other thing, and makes it really hard for me todo things like stay up late, and get homework finished, or help kids with whatever they might need, or, you know, wake up in the morning and make sure everyone gets off to school without a hitch….so…it makes sense that it’s flaring up now.”  I decided to try fixing those things.  That should work.  Right?

But it didn’t.

So, when I contacted my pain management doctor and explained the situation, he, naturally, wanted to see me.  After assessing the situation he determined it wasn’t just flaring up.  It was progressing.  The pain was moving much farther up my leg than it had in the past, and that is not a change we want to see.  We discussed various options.  Since I can’t stop taking the other medication, upping the dose of the medication I currently take for CRPS is not a great option, since it is already, in combination with the other med, making me very sleepy at night (which, at least, is the right time to be sleepy ~ and, hey, it’s a solution to my longstanding battle with insomnia).  Adding another medication at this time is also not at the tops of our list since a) I currently take two daily meds, and b) the other meds we might consider adding next are things I had already tried, without much success, as treatment for fibromyalgia symptoms years ago, so he doubts they would be helpful here.  Because we have had success with lumbar sympathetic nerve blocks in the past, it seemed like a no-brainer.

The only downside was the timing.  Due to both the amount of pain I was experiencing, and the fact that the CRPS was progressing and we needed to try to nip that in the bud, it was important that we get me in for the nerve block ASAP.  Right now.  You know, at Christmastime.  Me.  Right now. At Christmas.  Because it’s not like there’s other stuff I would rather be doing.  Like going to parties.  And hosting a party.  And baking stuff for teachers, and friends, and family.  And decorating my home.  And buying and mailing gifts. And going to Mass.  And attending shows and concerts. And driving through all of the lights, and walking through the Zoo Lights, and visiting with friends, and shopping.  Did I mention shopping?  Shopping?  Shopping with my kids!  I want to be shopping with my kids.

But instead, I am sitting here, resting, for several days, in hopes that this nerve block does the trick; because, quite frankly, if it doesn’t, I’m back to not doing a lot, which is kind of what I was doing before, in case you hadn’t noticed.

By the way, if you had noticed, recently, that I kind of had my head in the sand, well, now you know why. Things started getting bad while school was in session.  So, I suddenly found myself needing to juggle kids’ schedules, my schedule, Shane’s schedule (you know, the usual stuff), but with a lot more pain than usual.  I am used to pain.  I have pain that I manage ~ hence the pain management doctor ~ but that’s the thing: we work to keep it manageable.  Suddenly it was totally unmanageable pretty much all of the time.  The problem was, I just didn’t have the time to stop and do anything about it.  I had all these things I needed to do (or, at least, that’s what I kept telling myself), so I kept doing them.

I guess it sounds like I’m whining.  I guess that’s because I am.

See…that’s why I avoided talking about this.  It’s hard to do without sounding like that.  Ugh.  I feel bad for dropping so many balls.  I did not give any teacher gifts.  I forgot to RSVP for virtually everything.  Most nights, I looked up and went, Oh, crud.  It’s like 8pm, and I haven’t even started dinner.  Then, we ate dinner (such as it was) at some time between 8:30 and 10:00.  I know.  I totally rock.  More often than not, we ate leftovers, or I told people dinner was “catch-as-catch-can.”  Again.

This isn’t coming off the way I want it to.  It’s frustrating.  I don’t need people who read this to come back saying to me, “I’m sorry you have pain,” or “I’m sorry you have to deal with that.”  I mean, I totally appreciate that sentiment, and I believe that you mean it.  What I mean is, I am not fishing for that.  I just…What do I want?  I guess I want people to understand what’s been going on with me, and why I have been kind of “out of it” recently ~ and that, hopefully, things are going to get better.

I decided to sit down and write this because I figured people have noticed.  I’m a mess.  I am running behind on everything.  Now, you know why.  So, if you’ve been fed up with me recently, I apologize.  I probably should have explained sooner what was happening.  In some ways, it’s just all part of the same old thing, and I guess maybe I get tired of explaining ~ I guess I think people get tired of hearing it, too.  But maybe you can understand that, if I say, “It’s been a rough day (or week, or time, or whatever I might say that sounds similar to that)” or even if I say nothing, but I just don’t do a great job of keeping up with things.  Maybe you can think back on this post, and think to yourself, “Ah, yeah.  I get it.”  Maybe we can all just sort of do that for each other.  Just try to assume that we’re all trying our best all the time, and that, if we aren’t getting things done, or aren’t getting them quite right, there must be a good reason.

Moving forward, I’m hoping to end this year, and start the next, on the upswing.  I don’t want to be just sitting around doing nothing, so I think maybe I will sit here and work on some scarves, and practice my banjo, instead.  Maybe I’ll read a book.  I’ve already managed to do some online shopping.  It was late, but at least I got it done.  The nerve block went well.  I mean, we won’t know for a while whether or not it actually did the trick, but at least I didn’t pass out or anything.  Things are already looking up.  Now, if only I could figure out how to cook and clean while lounging on the sofa.

Aunt Fran ~ by Sam

Yesterday, I forgot to wear my pearls.

I didn’t forget, initially.  I thought about it the entire time I was preparing to shower, showering, dressing and getting ready for the day.  I just never actually put on the pearls and wore them.  Isn’t that ridiculous?

Of course, I don’t mean I thought obsessively about wearing pearls the entire time I was going through my morning routine.  To be honest, I thought of them once.  After that, I thought of Aunt Fran.  Aunt Fran would have worn pearls.  They go with everything.

Aunt Fran was more than my aunt, if that’s fair to say, and I hope it won’t make any of my other aunts feel like they are “less than.”  Every one of my aunts is unique and special and important, of course; but, since today is about Aunt Fran and her pearls, which I neglected to wear yesterday, today, we are talking about Aunt Fran.

Aunt Fran was my mother’s oldest living sister when I was born.  Twelve years older, she was my mom’s “little mom,” helping look after her when they were young.  I think, because she knew that some of us wouldn’t have a Nana (Mom’s mom had passed away some years prior), she sort of stepped in to that role for us…but only sort of, because she also knew that she wasn’t our Nana.  She was Aunt Fran.  She would stay over at our house for Christmas; and sometimes, one of us would get to go spend a special weekend with her.  She lived alone in the City, in an apartment that I thought was very posh and sophisticated, and she had a beautiful but very persnickety cat named Priscilla who wold hide behind the curtains and hiss at visitors.  You felt very privileged if Prissy graced you with her presence.  While you were visiting, you got to go all over the City with her, and you felt very grown up and sophisticated, riding escalators, shopping at department stores, stopping to pick up mail at the front desk on the way back up to her apartment.  I remember being impressed by everything.

After Aunt Fran passed away, while talking with my cousins, I had a momentary selfish pang of realization that I wasn’t the only one.  She had taken a bunch of us for the same magical, exciting weekends.  I was an adult ~ like a really, grown up, married-with-kids adult ~ and I had this moment of selfish, little-girlish feeling that I wasn’t as special as I thought I was.  Luckily, I have the best cousins in the world, and talking with them made me realize that one of the best things about Aunt Fran was the way that she managed to make each one of us feel like we were the most special.

Last night, I felt a little sad when I went to get in to my pajamas and realized I didn’t have to take off my pearls, because I had never remembered to put them on.  Then, I remembered while I was in the shower and getting myself ready for the day, thinking about Aunt Fran yesterday, my thoughts had drifted to a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson.  It was one I remembered from my childhood, and while I know that it was really written about a nanny, and Aunt Fran was absolutely nothing like a nanny, I thought something about it captured something like the role Aunt Fran played in so many of our lives.

So, I will wear my pearls today, and I will share this here.

Coincidentally, I first read it many years ago in a copy of “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” that was given to me by Aunt Fran on Christmas when I was 5 years old.

TO AUNTIE
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Chief of our Aunts ~ not only I,
But all your dozen of nurselings cry ~
What did the other children do?
And what were childhood, wanting you? 

What did the other children do?  And what were childhood, wanting you?

 

 

What’s in a Name? ~ by…someone

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.”

So says Juliet, upon discovering her true love’s despised moniker, and perhaps it rings true.  After all, it is our character that truly defines us.  Isn’t it?  We could be called practically anything, but it is our actions ~ how we choose to conduct ourselves ~ that really matters.

Why then would I find myself hopelessly bereft over the notion that I might be in danger of forever losing my name?

This occurred to me earlier this week, on the heels of yet another call from yet another healthcare provider calling me “Kathryn.”  Only doctors, police, the DMV and IRS call me Kathryn.  Well, and my dad, who calls me by my full name, sometimes, and that’s okay, because he’s my dad.  I have never been Kathryn.  Aside from the first day they called role and I corrected them, even teachers didn’t call me Kathryn.  I was Kay when I was little, then Katie, and, ultimately, Kate.  Everyone back home called me Kate, up until I started college.  Except my dad. His nickname for me (when he wasn’t calling me by my full name) was Sam.  But then, being an adolescent girl, I got, well, you know, adolescent, I guess, I demanded he stop calling me that, because it was NOT MY NAME!

And so, he did.

But then, I felt kind of rotten about it.

So, I told him that, when I grew up to be a famous author, I would use it as my pen name.

Obviously, you can see the odds of me being a famous author are quite high.  Did you note the wry wit?  The affable charm?  The effortless prose?  It’s inevitable.

Then, I went on my merry way, being a Katie, and then a Kate.

I did all kinds of things.  Strange, awkward things, really, because I was, not surprisingly,  as strange and awkward a teenager and young adult as I am a full-grown human.  Also not surprisingly, I have not yet become a famous author.

What did happen was I went to school.  Well, everyone goes to school, I suppose.  Well, not everyone; but most everyone in the U.S. who falls above a certain tax bracket, anyway, after a certain point in history (after which I was most definitely born) has some kind of education, and so, I did go to school.  I even almost finished high school.  Wow.  What I meant was I went to college.  Junior college first, and, in fact, I liked it so well, I went for a very long time.  It’s either that, or I wasn’t very good at it, and I had to spend a lot of time working out the kinks.  Whatever the case may be, during my seven illustrious years in junior college, I pursued acting.  I did quite a lot of acting at school, and even outside of school.  Since, during that time, I found I wasn’t getting any closer to becoming a famous author, but I was acting quite a lot, I decided to use Sam as my stage name.

The thing is, when you do a lot of theatre, it tends to lead to more theatre, which leads to more theatre, which leads to more theatre…and, well, pretty soon, most of the people you know are people you met doing ~ guess what ~ theatre!  So, pretty soon, I had a lot of new friends, all of whom were calling me “Sam.”  I was having a grand time, making friends, doing shows, going to parties, trying to remember to do my homework because ~ whoops! ~ that’s what I went to college for!  It really was great fun. Some of the best years of my life, to be sure.  I made some of the best friends I have ever had during those years, and I have even managed to keep in touch with some of them.  I learned so much.  I landed an incredibly important (to me and my future) job that ended up shaping my career, completely changing the path I thought I wanted to take in life and helping me find the direction I had lacked.  There were so many great things I accomplished as Sam.

But it was always great to go home to where the people who had known me and loved me since I was a little girl still called me Kate, because, somewhere in there ~ strikes breast ~ I will always still be Kate, too.  You see, I like Kate, and I never meant to lose her entirely.

When I transferred to Arizona State University to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Education, I got a job at a childcare center to help pay rent and bills.  I used the name Kate at work, and Sam with friends.  When we moved to California, I initially used Kate when I was teaching and at places like the children’s school and our church, and   Sam friends, but I found, as the children got older, it got confusing.  It probably wasn’t confusing for the kids yet, but it was confusing for me, and for others around us, and I worried it would be confusing for them.  What would happen when someone asked, “What’s your mom’s name?” and they gave a different answer than the name by which that person knew me, or the name they had on record?  It was too much to expect a kid to remember.  It was too much to expect me to remember.  Now, what name did I tell THESE people?  And so, gradually, I just became Sam.

Looking back, now, I don’t know why I became Sam, and not Kate.  At the time, perhaps, it felt comfortable, because I was used to it.  It hadn’t been long since my college days.  Maybe I longed for the days of rehearsals and greenroom chatter and late nights at Denny’s.  Maybe I just wanted to be different, because I was still young, and kind of ornery.

But now…

Well, now…

Now, I think, with the advent of social media, we don’t talk on the telephone as much as we used to.  So I don’t hear the voices of my family and friends back home as often as I once did.  They don’t hear mine, either, because I don’t call, and I should.  I mean, I think I should.  They might be reading this and thinking, “Oh, dear God ~ now she’s going to call me!”  I like hearing people’s voices.  Unfortunately, I think our lives have all evolved in ways that don’t allow for telephone conversations often.  I fear…or, no, not fear, exactly, but suspect…I strongly suspect we are all now hardwired in to social media communication, which is a wonderful convenience, and I am thrilled to have it, but I do miss the voices.  I miss hearing them say my name.  It’s old-fashioned, I know, and, perhaps, a little bit self-centered.  I can accept that.  I have lived a very other-centered life as a wife, mother and teacher, so, on this point, I can be the tiniest bit self-centered. I think it’s been a little bit too long since my last trip back to Maryland, and I want to hear people say my name the way they have said it since I was a little girl.  People like my mom, my siblings, my cousins, my childhood best friends.

Then, of course, there are the ones that will never say it again: Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Fran, Uncle Frank, Aunt Dody, Uncle Jack, Uncle Jim, Uncle Joe, Aunt Eleanor, Aunt Kay, Uncle Tony, Aunt Dee…  I haven’t even named them all.  I could never name them all.  It’s too hard.  I feel bad.  I keep thinking of people I need to go back and add. Geez.  That’s a lot of people.  And it’s probably still not everyone. What do you do about them?  I can still hear them, clear as a bell, in my mind, so, sometimes, that’s what I do.  I just close my eyes and listen.

What occurred to me recently, I think, is this notion that I am losing my name.  That, if I don’t hear it ~ if fewer and fewer people are calling me Kate, and no one out here in California calls me Kate ~ I will just gradually stop being Kate.  I felt like Alice, walking through the forest with my arms looped lazily around a fawn, both of us blissfully unaware of who we are, because we’ve lost our names.  As if somehow I will simply cease to be Kate altogether, when I know well and good that all the Samming in the world couldn’t un-Kate me.  I mean, let’s face it: once a Kate, always a Kate.  Am I right?

In the end, I might have to take exception with Juliet’s opinion on names.  While I don’t think our names necessarily define us, I have to admit, there is something decidedly “Kate” about me, and there always has been.  After much consideration, I am not ready to completely divest myself of my Kateness.  I suspect, like Shakespeare’s Kate, I have and will be called “plain Kate, and bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst,” and I can live with that.

I’m not asking any of you to change anything.  If you call me Sam, continue to call me Sam.  If you call me Kate, call me Kate.

And, you know, if either of us ever has a minute, we should probably call each other.

The Girl Who Lived ~ by Sam

17 years ago today, on March 28th 2000, I was 29 years old.  Gosh, it seems like a lifetime ago.  Shane and I lived in the upstairs apartment at the back of our building of six units, which faced another, identical 6-unit building.  Our daughter, Justice, had recently become a big sister for the first time, to Hallie, who was born at 11:58 pm on March 17th ~ St. Patrick’s Day! ~ on the front seat of our Honda Civic in front of Kaiser Permanente Hospital’s Emergency Entrance in Woodland Hills.  We almost made it to the hospital in time, but, what can I say?  Hallie was in a hurry to be born on St. Paddy’s Day.

When I think about that little baby, my first impressions are of a strong, alert child, right from the word, “go!”  I had a hard time, hemorrhaging and requiring a couple of courses of pitocin to get the bleeding under control upon being transferred up to a recovery room, but not our little baby.  Hallie was eager to nurse, wide-eyed, alert and responsive.  I remember lying on the sofa the day we brought her home, with Hallie resting on my belly.  She just wriggled her way up my body all by herself, like a tiny little mountain climber.  I know, I know ~ babies do this ~ but we were so impressed right from the start by her strength, her grip, and how awake and aware of the world around her she was.  She just seemed interested in everything.

On the evening of March 28th, baby Hallie was just 11 days old.  Justice was asleep her room.  She would have been 2 years and about 4 months old.  Shane was working at his desk in the living room, and I was napping on the sofa.  Hallie was asleep in the cradle my dad had built, which was in the room with us.  We always had our babies sleep wherever we were.  So, we kept the cradle in the front room.  I learned later that Shane had somehow become aware that something was wrong with Hallie.  Maybe it was the absence of breath sounds.  Maybe it was a choking sound.   Maybe he saw something out of the corner of his eye.  I don’t know, but I thank God that something alerted him.  I awoke to the sound of him yelling her name.  He was holding her, her face was bright red, mouth wide open, like she should be screaming, but there was no sound.  I could see the terror in both of their eyes.  I don’t even think I was fully awake before I was across the room whisking her away and saying, “Call 9-1-1!”

Having worked in a preschool classroom, I had, at least, been trained in infant CPR.  I went in to auto-pilot.  It’s hard for me to put in to words what happened next.  I can remember it all so clearly, like I am watching a movie, but it’s difficult to articulate.  I remember checking her airway.  I remember running through all of the steps in my head ~ which I remembered then, but don’t now ~ I remember performing the infant Heimlich maneuver, and feeling a tremendous sense of relief when she coughed up a huge chunk of mucous…and then a renewed sense of panic when, instead of starting to breathe, my tiny little baby went limp and blue.

I remember that Shane was on the line with the 9-1-1 operator by this time, and that she remained on the line with him until we left for the hospital.  I remember that, at some point, little Justice was awakened by the commotion, and wandered out.  I remember that the paramedics from the nearby fire station arrived within two minutes that felt like an eternity.  I remember.  I remember loosening her clothes, jiggling her limp little limbs, begging her to breathe.  I remember Shane’s voice pleading with her to breathe.  I remember repeatedly thumping the soles of my baby’s tiny feet, so she would gasp for air, and hoping against hope that, eventually, those tiny little gasps would “catch,” and she would start breathing regularly again.  And I remember that, eventually, miraculously, she did.  Right before the paramedics arrived.  She was breathing, albeit shallowly, by the time they got there, but, since she had not been, of course, a trip to the ER was still in order.

I remember when the paramedics explained to me that I couldn’t hold her on the way to the hospital.  That I had to hand her over to them.  That she had to be transported by them the way any patient would, but I could ride inside the ambulance with her.  Shane and Justice could follow in the car.  I remember the look on Shane’s face when he realized he had to let them drive away with his baby.  I remember how tiny she looked inside the ambulance on that huge gurney.

I remember sitting at the hospital while they checked her over and over and questioned us about what had happened, and found no explanation.  No explanation.  And just…sent us home.  I remember the diagnosis.

ALTE

A.L.T.E.

I remember searching for information to try to understand what had happened to my child and finding that it stood for “Apparent Life-Threatening Event.”

As if we couldn’t have guessed.

I remember months later when I had to fight for the insurance company to cover that ambulance ride and hospital visit, because, they told me, the incident “wasn’t life-threatening.”

*ahem*

“Please refer to doctor’s diagnosis.  A.L.T.E. – Apparent Life-Threatening Event.”

I remember how, at about two months, she suffered another episode of the same type.  Still with no further explanation.

I remember how, years later, she developed asthma, and often suffered respiratory complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia.  I remember the time she had croup, and developed stridor, and her little chest would cave in, instead of expanding, when she took a breath, and my heart would ache for her.  I remember other parents thinking I was being “overprotective” when I said it was important for her not to be exposed to respiratory ailments because she was at high risk for respiratory complications.

But, more than anything, on this day, I remember my child’s beautiful eyes, smile, voice.  I think of all of the amazing things this almost grown person has achieved.  I think of the art my child has created, the roles this young actor has played, all the music and dances and stories…and everything yet to come.

Hallie was due on March 27th, born on March 17th, under rather unusual circumstances.  Then March 28th came along and did its best to wrestle her away from us.  Every year at this time, I can’t help but pause and count this particularly incredible blessing.

 

Cold Hands, Warm…muscles? by Sam

One day last week, while I was making dinner, my hands suddenly turned bright red and felt as if I had poured bleach all over them. Thinking I must have come in contact with some allergen, I immediately stopped what I was doing, and thoroughly washed my hands. The redness and irritation greatly subsided in 15-20 minutes, but my hands remained irritated, and the skin was peeling, as if I’d had a severe sunburn. Over the next few days, the symptoms recurred, so I contacted my PCP via email, including a photograph of the initial reaction. I supposed there were three possibilities:
a) the CRPS was spreading to other parts of my body (rare, but not unheard of)
b) these symptoms, ‘though not like any I’d experienced with it in the past, might be related to Raynaud’s (to be fair, the symptoms were not exactly like CRPS, either, but it does involve both redness and burning pain)
c) this was something entirely new and unrelated to any of my previously existing conditions
     We played phone tag for a few days until I finally got a call from a nurse on Monday of this week. My doctor felt it was most likely that the symptoms were, in fact, a more extreme manifestation of Raynaud’s than I’d experienced in the past, and that, as my symptoms seemed to be getting more severe, it might be time to consider medication.  Hence, I was referred to a rheumatologist. That appointment occurred on Thursday of this week.
     As luck would have it, the medications used to control symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease are blood pressure meds; and, because my blood pressure is low, my doctor doesn’t want me to take them.  You see, unfortunately, they could cause my blood pressure to drop even lower, and this could result in dizziness and falling. Falling has already been rather a chronic problem for me, and it has been deemed an unnecessary risk, as has dangerously low blood pressure.
     So, I have been given recommendations to step up my efforts to stay warm. These include things that might seem obvious, like using hot water bottles and heated gloves/socks/blankets, warming creams, taking warm showers when I come in from being outside, making sure to keep my hands and feet covered and protected, even when I don’t feel cold, and keeping my core warm. They also include things that might seem a little less obvious, like increasing my salt intake, in hopes of raising my blood pressure, and building muscle mass. The challenge, here, my rheumatologist pointed out, will be striking a balance in which I work out to build muscle mass, but am careful not to accidentally lose weight. This will involve adding protein-dense calories to my diet, which means adding food to my diet.  (I know.  This doesn’t seem like brain surgery.  Stick with me.  It’s trickier than it seems.)  I started working on this as soon as I got home on Thursday. I immediately baked a loaf of peanut butter bread, replacing part of the flour with almond flour.  Then I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with it.  I figured, that way, at least I am getting lots of protein (and lots of calories ~ yay!)  Because that working out and not accidentally losing weight thing?  Believe it or not, that really is a challenge.
     I know. This all sounds sort of stupid. But…food is hard.  I mean, I have had food issues for a long time.  First and foremost, there are the lingering eating-disorder-related issues, which will always linger; but, on a more basic level, there are all of the food allergies and sensitivities.  I am allergic to milk protein (and elderberries, and echinacea, which don’t come up much, so that’s okay, really.  Oh, and shellfish ~ which never comes up, because I’m vegetarian, but does somewhat complicate eating at restaurants, or buying some prepared foods).  I also have IBS, and, while it seems to be fairly mild most of the time, it can rear its ugly head at any moment, and, at those times, it is triggered by: eggs, white/refined carbs (so, any bread, pasta, or baked goods made with that, white bread, white rice ~ basically, I do better with whole grains and more fiber in my diet), and fried foods.  Then, there are times when I think it is triggered by food.  Oh, also, stress.  It is also triggered by stress.  Then, add to that the fact that I am on a medication that makes it hard for me to keep on weight, even when I am not working out.  So, now, I am trying to eat the right things that won’t trigger my IBS, so I can be sure not to lose weight while doing PT, so my CRPS won’t flare up, so I can then work out enough to build muscle mass to try to keep myself warm ~ but not so much that I accidentally work off any of the extra peanut butter I ate.
     Because then, maybe I will be buff enough to haul in some firewood and build a big fire, and then we will all be warm.  By “we,” of course, I mean me, and all of my fingers.  And my toes. My toes are also cold, but I don’t see them often, because they are very far away, and usually inside several pairs of socks. I miss my toes.
     Ah.  But we have a gas fireplace.  So, forget about that firewood.  I’ll use my muscles to lift more peanut butter sandwiches, instead.
     On Friday, I didn’t manage to do much working out, but I ate pretty well.  I mentioned this to Hallie, adding my concern that, if I keep doing this, I won’t build any muscle, and all that extra protein will just be converted to fat.  “Well…fat will keep you warm,” Hallie responded, quite correctly.  And, so, I guess we’re good.  Because, the truth is, fat will keep me warm, and I really, really need to stay warm.  Nevertheless, I have always dreamed of being sort of buff.  Warm, and buff.  It sounds kind of dreamy.

     I guess I’ll keep working on the muscle-building thing.  To be perfectly honest, I was already working on that.  Which sort of makes me wonder if I should feel a little bit insulted at the implication that I need to build muscle mass.  Except…well, I really do need to build muscle mass, and I know it.

I guess I needed a New Years Resolution or two, anyway.  Y’all watch: by 2018, I’m gonna be stronger than I’ve ever been.  And warmer, too.