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Friday, November 30, 2012

Rain

The weather started getting rough...
The tiny pig was tossed!
If not for the courage of the fearless Poooooooh,
The Piglet would be lost.
The Piglet would be lost.

The rain rain rain came down down down
and Judy started wailing...
The wailing it did stop and start,
drifting with her thoughts..
But little did Just Judy know, while wailing she was failing.

It's raining, it's pouring
This weather is not boring!
Gonna go to bed, cover up my head
And soon I will be snoring.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Comfort Carbs!


Two days after Thanksgiving I am still happily dishing up a dinner of leftovers.  The same thing as the last 5 meals.  My exceptions have been greek yogurt with fruit and a green salad. I do not grow tired of the turkey, yams, stuffing and cranberry salad. As I try to decide just how much stuffing is appropriate this evening, I find myself thinking of comfort foods.
Comfort foods evoke feelings of being safe, loved and cared for. Like the macaroni and cheese (Kraft please) that my mom always made when my sister and I would return from a visit with my dad in Indiana.  It didn’t matter if we’d flown ‘red-eye’ and it was 5am, mom would make mac ‘n cheese and we would happily eat it.  As a result, mac ‘n cheese became my comfort food for home-sickness.
Campbell’s chicken noodle soup…or simple tea and toast…if I was too sick to go to school.  Mom would drop me off at grandma’s, where I would lay on the couch watching the Price Is Right, comfort food just a TV tray away.
My sister and I were home alone for a few hours after school each day and I craved warm food.  No cold sandwich for me.  Mom and I worked out some options that I could cook myself. Mashed potatoes and gravy was a favorite of mine, but the potatoes were a lot of work!  Instant potatoes either did not exist when I was young or my mother could not bring herself to purchase such an abomination to our Irish heritage. I could manage the gravy packet however, and  “Bread and Gravy” was born!  Tear two slices of bread, pour ‘brown’ or ‘chicken’ gravy over the top. Similarly, I could make pudding.  Add milk, cook, stir and pour.  Chocolate, butterscotch, pistachio, vanilla…oh how I loved (and still love) the puddings!
The infamous milk noodles. You don’t know what milk noodles are?  I believe these came from my grandmother, probably desperate to find a way to feed those 9 children on my grandfather’s enlisted salary.  Boil elbow noodles, drain, add butter and milk, salt and pepper to taste; a soup of macaroni, in milk and butter broth.  Then there was the stuffing.  Somewhere around 5th grade I discovered that an entire box of stove-top stuffing was easy to make and delightfully satisfying.  And so it went, through all of my school years and into college, a full and comforting meal could be made of simple carbohydrates.  Milk noodles transitioned into ramen, bread and gravy gave way to instant potatoes that I had no qualms about. I suspect that I avoided nutritional deficits by my firm attraction to fruits, including lemons and limes that I would cut into fours and eat just like that.
Over the years, as my culinary interests matured, I tried to shake up Thanksgiving dinner.  From Matzo ball soup to collard greens to quail eggs.  My mother and sister sometimes played along, willingly trying my new endeavors.  This year I announced that I would make the sweet potatoes healthy; roasted rather than candied.  But somehow, rather than olive oil, I used an entire stick of butter.  And rather than make a brown sugar glaze for the side, I made a cinnamon, brown sugar syrup that went over the whole dish. I am not sure how it happened.  They were so decidedly unhealthy that when I arrived at my mother’s she decided to put away her “traditional” sweet potato dish she had made (for the poor souls who didn’t like mine).  “Just put some of these marshmallows on top and we’ll just have yours,” she said cheerfully.
As I eat the last of the buttery yams and stuffing tonight, I declare the entire Thanksgiving dinner to be a comfort food. The rest of the year I will bake my yams and I will feel healthy. But for the third week of November I will eat candied yams and stuffing.  And I will feel warm and cozy and safe!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Produce Martyr

I headed to the Safeway late last night, hoping for a peaceful and quiet trip. I dislike crowded stores. But I forgot it was the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  In order to wait out a crowd around the yams, I wandered into the floral department.
One hour and 20 items later I headed home, excited to put my burgundy daisies in a vase. Something to brighten our perpetually gray days. As I lovingly trimmed the stems and plucked all the yellow or moldy leaves from the flowers I thought, “Oh hell, I’ve done it again!”  And this is where the story gets weird. Or where I get weird.

I have an odd habit.  I have bravely confessed this habit to a few souls.  I am always greeted by the same look. A look that blends confusion, dismay, disgust and denial.  A look that says, “That is so ridiculous, I cannot understand it, I am going to pretend you did not say that.”  What is this odd habit?  I am a produce martyr.  And apparently a flower martyr as well.
When purchasing produce I do not hesitate to buy the spotted apples, the slightly wilted greens, the overripe plums, the ugliest yams and yes, the moldy flowers. Not only is there a lack of hesitation, I actually seem to gravitate towards them.  Once these sad friends of the plant world are in my sight I feel an obligation. Who else will buy them?  Surely they will be tossed out at any moment, the scourge of the dutiful produce department employee.
I have no idea how long I have been doing this. “Why (insert above-mentioned look) would you do that!?” more than one person has asked. Once I consciously became aware of this habit, I asked myself the same question.  I thought it had to do with not wanting to waste. Perhaps that “Voluntary Simplicity” course got to me. Maybe I am a reincarnated soul from The Great Depression. I try very hard not to waste at home, using up all leftovers in the fridge and cutting the tops off of lotion bottles because there is a lot left inside after the pump stops working! My bag of ‘clothes to mend’ grows fatter each year, especially since I don’t really sew. Children’s clothes and toys are given to consignment or packed into storage tubs for grandchildren that I may have some day.
This simple desire to not waste is the best reason I had until last night.  But as I arranged my leafless flowers into a crystal vase at 11pm, I had a thought.  Is there something else, something more personal, going on here?  “Who else will buy them?” That is the question that goes through my head as I stand with battered vegetable in hand. But the motive may be deeper than thrift. Maybe it is a desire to recognize the value in things ‘not perfect’.  The overripe plum can be the sweetest if eaten quickly.  Spotted apples healthier, having grown without pesticides. And my burgundy daisies, minus the moldy and yellow leaves, are lovely. A burst of color, stark against the naked stems. The best 'imperfect' bouquet for these gray and dreary days.
Perfect is boring.  There is a bit of mystery in imperfection. You never know what you will find.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Another New Normal

I have rewritten the first sentence of this post a dozen times. I want to explain my MS.  My version of multiple sclerosis.  And much like the shifting, unpredictable and evasive symptoms that I experience, so too are the words I want to use to describe it. 
When I was diagnosed my symptoms were quite apparent and frightening. Tremendous fatigue, stabbing pains, mood changes, slurred speech, double vision, balance issues, drop foot and a group of symptoms that I will call ‘delayed response’.  Delayed responses were times when my brain would tell my body to do something and a 1-5 second delay would occur before the function.  My hand would pause while writing a word, my foot pause mid-stride…or mid-brake.  I quit driving for a few months. 
Within a year most of the more obvious symptoms had gone away or diminished to the point that they were not visible to others.  With a good diet, the right medications and supplements, and a great big dose of good luck I have managed to stay fairly stable for 9 years. I still have ‘invisible’ symptoms; fatigue, muscle spasms, nerve pain and heat sensitivity to name a few. I see them, my family and friends see some of them, but to the general public I probably appear fine.

Unfortunately some of those ‘delayed responses’ have returned and some of my other symptoms may be increasing.  It is happening slowly, at a rate that is easy for something to become my new norm. The lines between aging, busy life and MS are not lines at all.  All of it is my life, all of it is me.  I am not Judy with MS.  I am Just Only Judy.

I take a lot of naps.  20 minutes in my car during my lunch break. 30 minutes after work, to make it through the evening.  Every Saturday and Sunday…trying to catch up. This is normal for me.  I cover my eyes for naps and sleep; the smallest bit of light bothers me.  I struggle with noise.  The noise of too many voices, music, televisions, even the hum of the refrigerator on a bad night is like rubbing alcohol on the raw wound of my nervous system.  I avoid crowds and plan my activities around temperature and bathroom access.  I write everything down, leave myself voicemails and send myself emails. I forget much and yet I move along, compensating.  All is normal.

Until something is not.  For the last two months I have been complaining that my computer mouse ‘does not double-click’.  I use my mouse with my left-hand to reduce nerve pain in my right arm. This is normal.  My ‘double-click’ was not working. This was not normal.  I have been doing a single right click and choosing ‘select’ or ‘open’.  It’s tedious and not everything works this way. 
The 20th time that I said “My double-click is not working”, one of the men in my house said, “What do you mean? Let me see.” They took the mouse in their hand and double-clicked. It worked.  I said, “Oh, it must be working now.”  And as they walked away I double-clicked.  Nothing.  A few days passed and someone bought me a new mouse.  I tried it today; the double-click didn’t work. For two months I believed my mouse was broken.  Something else ‘clicked’ tonight, as I tried the mouse again and again. That is the realization that it is not the mouse that is broken. It is another little bit of me.  My hand is not able to double click fast enough.  I tried my right hand, it’s even worse.

I knew I had an issue with my feet not working fast enough when I tried to take a Zumba class last year.  For some reason I was always three steps, shimmies or shakes behind everyone else.  Heaven help us all when I was supposed to ‘turn, turn, turn’  (read “Haven’t you any sense?”).  This summer I noticed something strange about my handwriting.  Every so often a large gap of open space appears in the middle of a word.  As though I am expecting some extra letters to pop in for a game of scrabble.  It looks like th    is.  I saved some samples, but forgot to take them to the neurologist.
For some reason, of all these things, it is the ‘double-click’ that is upsetting me.  I can’t put my finger on it.  Yes, that’s a bad pun.  It has something to do with my absolute belief that the mouse was broken. I don’t want to be broken.
I am told that the ‘double-click’ speed can be adjusted.  So with a little help, I will compensate again. I’ll carry on.  All will be normal. And normal is a rolling, shifting sea that tosses and turns me until I am dizzy. Spits me out on the beach long enough to catch my breath, to try to find words. Then the tide pulls me back in.  Normal.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll!

I'm talking about politics of course!  Special post-election day blog post!
We have two states legalizing marijuana (to be regulated and taxed of course).
Two states approve, by a vote of the people, same-sex marriage. Hopefully Washington state will join that elite group by the end of the tallying.
And while Chris Cornell did not run for Governor of Washington...we did get a little bit of rock 'n roll thrown into the mix when President Obama played matchmaker for Bruce Springsteen and New Jersey's Republic Governor Christie!
Ah America...I love ya!
The presidential popular vote is close and I respect that many of my fellow Americans would like to see different changes than I.  But there is always common ground. May we find some. And may we all look for ways to dialogue and compromise in the rough and tumble, wonderful way of our democracy! 
And Puerto Rico?  Come on down! You're the next contestant on "The Vote is Yours!"  Things are only going to get more interesting for all, and equitable for you, if you join this party!
Wednesday or not, interferon hangover and all, Just Only Judy will be grinning much of the day! Maybe play a little "Changes" from Bowie.  Or some Springsteen.  Or start harassing Chris Cornell about his future as governor.  Oh the possibilities...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Middle Ages

Each year of my forties brings something new. Things expected and unexpected.  Women of my generation, post 'women’s lib', have the benefit of more open and honest scientific explanation for the weirdness that is ‘middle age’.  Yet there are still things that no one warned me about.
This year, at 43, the peri-menopause phase has begun. Hot flashes?  Sure, I’m starting to get those, but I knew to expect them.  Drying up a bit?  Bring on the lotion and all things moisturizing! At least I no longer have to wash my hair every day. 
Speaking of hair...Thinning hair is something I heard about, but was certain would never happen to me; the proud bearer of a very full head of thick hair.  It was a wicked pride I felt when a hairdresser would have to go back to mix up more product because I had too much hair. Or ask me to please let the front desk know to schedule extra time for my appointments, “Because you have so much hair!”  My vanity left Sampson in the dust. 
But something went wrong this summer.  The hair that came off of my head when I washed it grew from a handful of strands into something akin to a small pet.  I cringed every time I washed my hair, trying not to pull them out. I deleted countless photos with the flash shining from above, onto my thinning hair…making my part appear to be an inch wide! All in vain.
My hair is just tired.  Through research and an array of negative medical tests, I determined that my hair follicles are simply tired.  Too many of them are taking a ‘telogenic’ rest all at once.  I am mildly sympathetic, as I understand tired.  My MS fatigue is with me every day.  I drink a lot of coffee and take naps.  Cat naps though, not Sleeping Beauty naps like my follicles!  In an effort to wake them up, I purchased a shampoo designed to fight ‘fall out’ of hair with caffeine!  I’m not sure it’s working. 
For each hair that falls off my head, there seems to be a rogue one popping up in the most inappropriate places. I’m pretty sure this is how dementia starts. Follicles wander off and don't know the way home. You find them confused and disoriented, under your chin or halfway down your thigh. 
My skin is getting tired too.  Unable to find the willpower to ‘bounce back’ from another round of gravity, it sags, begging for a nice long nap.  As these things, along with the mood swings of peri-menopause, threaten my joy and appreciation for all that is Just Only Judy, I am reminded of a poem that I wrote. 

Loving Me


Can I love the skin,
Hanging on my neck like a tired linen curtain?
Eyes shadowed by a year of fears,
Chipped teeth shifting in my mouth,
Restless sleepers…
My mother’s hands,
A mother’s hips,
These lines that deepen around my lips,
That sing goodnight to who I was,
And whisper…
Can I love?

Oh the drama, despair and angst.  The horrors of the aging process, striking at my very heart.  Who will love me? Can I love myself?  I have to laugh a bit at this poem.  Because I wrote this 8 years ago! I was 35 years young. What in the hell was I whining about?!
Ten years from now I hope to be laughing about my distress over thinning hair. My poem gives perspective and reassurance from the past. I am not opposed to easy and safe beauty remedies. I am not shy about my vanity. But I am afraid of dangerous surgical procedures.
So here is my advice to you ladies in your 20’s and 30’s.  Wear sunscreen!  Remember your face, neck and d├ęcolletage! I do not want anyone to die on an operating table because they were trying to lift their face!
When you are middle-aged, you can try Rogaine or buy a wig.  You can get Invisalign.  You can Spanx your stomach and Spanx your butt.  But ladies, you cannot Spanx your face! So wear your sunscreen! Chin up old gal...