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IN AN INSTANT LIFE CAN CHANGE


Who knew that bringing in the newspaper Monday morning would change my life. It was just an ordinary morning, arriving home from my daily dog walk and reaching into the newspaper receptacle as I do every morning. What looked like an innocent stack of leaves instantly turned into a sled on top of slick water once I stepped on them. They were still damp from periodic rains we’d experienced, much appreciated after our 7-month drought. Today, for some reason I lost my balance and toppled onto the street, twisting my ankle on the way down. Crack. There it was, loud and clear. And in that instant I fractured my fibula.

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As a child I broke my ankle after falling off of somebody’s shoulder on the playground and lived in a white cast for weeks, I think. The only thing I remember about that experience was the extreme immediate pain and then total inconvenience for, what seemed like, an eternity.

brokenankle2This time, a boot stuffed with soft fleece and fastened by super Velcro will live on my lower right leg for 6-weeks. Can’t put any weight on it or drive for the duration. What a difference life can bring when living on one leg.

Our first floor has been rearranged. My bathroom is now downstairs and handicap equipped. The guest room is now my sleeping quarters and pants that can fit over a big boot have become my clothes of choice. Rugs have been rolled up. One slip on shoe with a rubber traction sole is all I can wear. Getting in and out of bed as well as on and off sofas and chairs are new challenges to be mastered. This boot is heavy and lugging it around over a broken ankle is not for the misty eyed. It’s a lead weight so I’m learning to flex my foot, charge my thigh and engage my core before lifting that leg. Who knew?

After day one I was convinced those nasty crutches were not my solution to getting around. So ingenuity had to prevail in a number of ways.

Aha! The rolling chair in my office could serve as a make-shift wheel chair with my left leg as the engine and my arms as the navigators. Multi-tasking is a must. So when I go to the kitchen I envision everything I’ll need for a meal, dump it on my lap and wheel to the counter. When I strategically position myself, I can stand up and reach 80% of what will be necessary for that meal. Sometimes a couple of chair trips will finish the task. Believe it or not, it exerts a lot of energy to stand up, sit down and motor around on one leg – all day. I’m “feeling the burn” as they say, in my left thigh and glutes as though I’m working through leg rotations in the gym. But on just one leg.

As a yoga practitioner for many years I understand correct body alignment and the need for stretching to avoid injury so I’ve figured out how to stretch my hamstrings and do hip openers. On both legs! Extra precaution is taken on my right side to keep my lower leg stabilized. But, surprise, I can also do thigh lifts so I’m not too weak when I get that leg back. I want this sucker off as soon as possible – with my knees, thighs and back aligned and intact!

Bathing is now mastered, while also keeping that durn right boot dry. Laundry was my new challenge today. My husband helper brought all the dirty clothes fit to be washed to the laundry room. The rest I can do! Wheel, stand, wheel, stand – load, unload and fold, slowly. In fact everything now is much slower. It takes twice as long to accomplish tasks I took for granted on two legs. As I write I’m sitting on our back deck enjoying a 50-degree, beautiful sunny day. All by myself I’m proud to say. How? Ha! Loaded everything I needed onto my lap grabbed my crutches and wheeled to the patio doors where I stood, lifted one wheel at a time over the runners and sat down on the other side. Whee! I have my chair outside and my crutches inside the door – just in case I happen to need them. Victory!

I’m learning that slowing down is not a bad thing. Reading for longer periods at a time is good for my brain. More frequent meditation is healthy for my soul. Taking late afternoon naps to restore energy used up in my daily motoring is refreshing. I’ve read that slowing down inspires creativity. It does.

I also have utter empathy and compassion for all the long-term disabled people whose lives were also changed in an instant. I’m lucky, in 6-weeks I’ll have two functioning legs again. Those people won’t. I’ll resume hiking, walking my dog, practicing yoga, enjoying water aerobics and driving my car again. Most of those people won’t. I feel accomplished when mastering new methods for mundane tasks. Their challenges far surpass mine. And yet those people often master extreme challenges exerting much more effort than I have to.  I’m most fortunate.

Now, though, it’s time to maneuver back into the house, through the living-room, down the hall and into the laundry room to unload the washer and load the dryer. Wheel, navigate, stand. Wheel, stand. Wheel, stand. And this is day 4. But who’s counting?


The perfect antidote to the election debacle blues is being part of a group of humanity volunteering to help come back from the catastrophic fires that consumed thousands of acres of Smoky Mountain wilderness, devoured homes and stole the lives of people and animals, while creating homelessness and unemployment. Helping others restored my spirit today.

packing1People helping people is the gift of disasters, if there could possibly be one. My heart swelled with admiration at the hundreds of people who labored today to be of service.   We unpacked bags, built boxes, sorted and stuffed necessities into the new boxes and helped to traffic them through to those in dire need. We were a human assembly line that had one purpose in mind. Get it done quickly and efficiently so it all can be used.packers1

The first stop is registration at the volunteer center where we filled out forms, showed official identity and were then given numbers and assigned to locations. I am #04016 sent to the distribution warehouse.

titanicSurrealism begins when we pull into a warehouse provided pro-bono by the owners situated across the street from the “Titanic” attraction in this popular tourist city of Pigeon Forge. It’s the honky-tonk Vegas of Tennessee, part of the triad of visitors’ destinations that includes Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Or most recently known as the home of the devastating fires.

The National Guard is here in their military attire. shrinkwrappalletsThey’re the transportation system of the highly organized operation at the warehouse. They’re the guys unloading the trucks filled with donations and sending them through to the warehouse. Then they pick up the finished sorted goods, take them out to reload trucks then sent to the “department store” building for a deeper re-sort into children’s clothes, men, women, warm weather, winter, food, necessities.receiving

Our jobs in the warehouse are to unload the bags and sort the contents into food, beverages, toiletries, used and new clothes and winter clothes. Dave somebody is in charge of the warehouse and he’s a volunteer who’s turned that warehouse into a well-oiled, efficient assembly line of stuff and volunteers.

packers1 createboxAll our materials have been donated, including the building centers of organization. Then there are pallets, boxes, dollies, tape, magic markers and food for the volunteers that are plentiful. Since this disaster has not been officially declared a disaster area, there’s no money to spend. So generous people are rising to the occasion. It’s truly awe-inspiring.

My friend Jo and I first taped together boxes. And when there were none left we joined the groups who were filling the boxes with sorted materials. First beverages and food and then on to clothing. These groups were all self-gathering. We just went to the marked areas and started working, strangers becoming friends united by a cause. Newly stuffed and marked boxes get stacked on pallets and when the stack gets about five feet high, National Guardsmen shrink wrap the pallets and take them outside to be loaded into trucks. In it comes through the back, and out it goes from the front. I talked to a man from Cincinnati who used a week’s vacation time to work in the center. He’s been coming to Gatlinburg since he was a kid and he felt driven to participate in the restoration. Companies sent their employees to help. Private citizens gave their time. We were all equal in this mission to serve.packers3

packer4I am overwhelmed by the generosity of neighbors. No partisanship, no religious affiliation, no discrimination. Just compassionate humans who recognize that there but by the grace of circumstance go I.

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NURSING HOMES…AND PARENTS


MY 94-year old father was released from hospice care today because he’s just doing too well to qualify for that designation. His life in the nursing home will continue as usual, only now there’s no extra nurse, aide or social worker checking in. I get it and I’m actually rather hopeful that the doctor is adhering to the rules of Medicare and the spirit behind those rules. Although nobody can predict how long my dad will actually live, they also can’t limit it to the 6 months required by the Feds. I’m hopeful because the news is filled with too many stories of Medicare and Medicaid fraud it worries me that the health care marketplace is fraught with tricks and loopholes to bleed money from the government and us taxpayers. It’s nice when I see the law adhered to.

So my father is off hospice but still stuck in the nursing home he hates. Now I’m talking about a gold star nursing home with amenities to match. Book clubs, sports groups, activities, musical concerts, religious services and beautiful grounds that he can see from his private, spacious room. He’s stuck because that’s how he sees it. He’s no longer able to walk to the parking lot, get in a car and drive home. And none of his kids will do it for him. He doesn’t participate in any of the activities other than services and the periodic entertainment.

He’s been there for more than a year and I really don’t think he hates it anymore. He’s adjusted, knows the people, enjoys some of the food and complies with the regimens. He’s clean, is well groomed, has gained weight and is the epitome of robustness for a 94-year old man who’s been disabled by a stroke 25 years ago. Left to his own devices, which he desperately yearns for, none of that would be true. It’s the rules and the regs that bother him the most. He feels like he’s in prison, and he’s right. He’s being held somewhere against his will and that’s the ultimate in lack of control, especially for a very controlling person who’s quite macho and has always been in charge.

He’s sad a lot and lonely and that makes us, his children, equally hurt for him. We can’t fix it. We’ve sent in a social worker and rabbi to see if they can help him adopt a different attitude. Sometimes it helps but only temporarily. We’ve explained how he requires the care of skilled people more regularly than he can receive at home. And how he’s actually less lonely than he was in his bedroom where he interacted with many fewer visitors and just his TV for entertainment.

My father thinks his daughters have betrayed him, that we’ve turned our backs on him now that he needs our help. That he financially and emotionally supported us as children and provided a comfortable livelihood so we could enjoy what we were provided. He is unable to consider different points of views outside himself. His heart won’t allow it and his pride won’t release. As he sees it, he is the rooster and we are the eggs and we need to do what he wants as he did when we were children.

That makes us sad too for we haven’t betrayed him. Quite the contrary. Each of us plays a role in my father’s life at the nursing home. One sister closely monitors his care there and takes care of his domestic needs. One overlooks his finances. The third sister researches the law, his business history and gives him feedback and the last cheers him up, makes him laugh and brings him her delectable dishes. He knows it, and doesn’t notice it. That’s just a given; we’re his daughters.

It’s a learning experience for us all. He has to accept life as it is and we have to live with the knowledge that we’re keeping him where he doesn’t want to be and doing our best for him in the background.

Sigh …

Beware – A Little Venting


I’ve been struggling with some newly learned information today from a close friend. It’s put me in a funk while I search my brain trying to understand her reasoning. Understanding and reconciling are different from acceptance. I accept what she’s doing but my system is out of sorts with it. To say the least. I’ve been consumed by her decision all day.

My close female friend is voting for Donald Trump. I hyperventilate typing that sentence. She’s an intelligent, kind, talented, lovely person with high emotional intelligence I’d say. I often gain a different perspective of things when we talk. But not today. Today I’m flummoxed, deflated and depressed.

She’s a devout Christian, one who participates in Bible study each week. And she believes that Jesus chooses broken people when he wants his work to be done. And that belief allows her to vote for Donald Trump to be President of the United States. Yup.

I’ve tried to counter that argument, haven’t and won’t succeed. After everything she knows about what kind of person he really is – how he cheats, scams, avoids taxes, demeans women, forces himself on women, cheats on his wives – not to mention his temperament, bullying, lying viciously, multiple bankruptcies, lawsuits, knowing absolutely nothing about economic and foreign affairs and not having the patience, or interest to learn – she’s voting for him.

So now it’s my problem to handle. I’m a person fiercely driven by principles. While I’m not sure I could ever have an abortion, I absolutely believe that others should have the right to make that choice themselves. I’m not gay or a transsexual, but that doesn’t pre-empt my feeling that those gender identity people have the same inherent rights I do. I think that’s what Jesus taught – love, compassion and forgiveness.  I know she feels differently. She’s a bible literalist I think, though I’ve never been to her bible study group. And it’s those issues and other “family values” that’s driving her vote. Never mind that Trump is not Christian and that he’s the antithesis of Jesus Christ. There’s nothing noble about that man. And yet he will get her vote.

This election season has agitated my constitution. Other than Trump’s cult members I can’t understand why anyone would think he’s fit for the highest post in the world. Donald Trump? Are you kidding me? Would the same people vote for Charles Manson if he ran on the Republican ticket? Or Hitler? Even the Republican brass is renouncing him as their choice.  Where have we gone as a country?

Alas, this is my problem, the need for people to look at the facts, objectively. Maybe if we had a less divisive opponent, someone other than Hillary, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard for people to take their heads out of the sand. I won’t go into why there’s such hatred and distrust directed at Hillary – just suffice it to say that the smear campaign lasting years and years has been effective.  Forget all her years of family and children activism, and her successful track record.  The haters hate.

I put this out to the universe from the depths of my soul….

Please let the vast majority of people and delegates elect Hillary. The planet is in peril otherwise and the rest of the world knows it.

Home Again


housebegoniasI sit here on my deck amidst dense trees and window boxes lush with flowering red begonias. The wind is blowing gently and there’s a faint rustle in the air. Life is good here in the woods. I’ve missed you.

Gone is the endless hustle bustle of the city. The traffic racing past, cyclers, skate boarders, runners, horns blowing, sirens shrieking – whew! The sounds of nature once again fill my psche and renew my soul. I’ve become a country girl. 20 years of living like this has changed my constitution, literally. Everything inside me has slowed down. I can once again hear myself think, sense my intuition and feel joy. I’m not racing anymore.housewoods

Some people thrive on the hectic and energetic lifestyle of a city. I used to. Back in the day when I lived in Pittsburgh I longed for a more active environment. When asked if I liked living there I’d say I don’t intend to die there. I was after more action. And later in Chicago I got it. Though we didn’t live in the city I was there every day and many evenings after work. I loved Chicago. It was rich in all categories: sports, theater, food, shopping and entertainment.

woodsneighborhood1Moving to Knoxville, TN was a culture shock – for years. But we bought the right house in a perfect neighborhood and it’s been home for 20 years now. And I’ve come to realize that it’s the woods that my body craves. It’s very much alive in different ways than the city. There are birds that sing and insects that talk and squirrels that bark if you get too close. woodsneighborhood3And the rain sounds delicious, rather than bothersome. I’m home here, and though I truly love Boston, I’m not home there anymore. I used to be. I used to get off a plane, smell the salty air and smile from ear to ear. I still love that city and the whole of New England.woodsneighborhood2

But one thing I now know for sure. Though I don’t have to always live in Knoxville, I do need to live within nature. It’s become who I am. Ahhhh…. I’m home.

Bye Bye Boston — For Now


The condo is in disarray, the van is partially packed and in a couple days we’ll be waving goodbye to our favorite city on the east coast. Summer in Boston has been both energizing and over-stimulating, an odd combination of paradoxical states to exist in one body. But for me, both are very real.

harvard-square-coverWalking around MIT and visiting their museums, hibernating in the Harvard Coop and shopping the Square, walking on the Esplanade while Bella swims in the river and chases squirrels, attending concerts and shows by world class performers – and being able to go everywhere on public transportation – all very energizing experiences. MITThere’s an intellectual aliveness in this city, the home of a couple hundred colleges and universities – including ivy leaguers. And athleticism is everywhere and represented by all age groups. It’s flat out invigorating to be in a city where intellect and fitness interact so organically.

New England is a diverse vacation spot too. 90 minutes from Boston you can be on Cape Cod and an hour’s ferry takes you to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. Then, of course, rural Maine is right up the road and pastoral Vermont is just a couple hour’s drive. GingerbreadHousesNew Hampshire, close by too. I had the opportunity to spend a week on the Cape and take a short trip to a friend’s sheep farm in Vermont that offered million dollar views of rolling hills for miles in all directions. VermontI love this part of the country for all those reasons.

I’m also exhausted from the experience. City life is loud, busy, fast and relentless. We were staying at the intersection of two very busy throughways in town, and in front of a bustling expressway. Those are also reasons why it’s so easy to get around town. But the non-stop cacophony of traffic, horns, sirens is trying on the nerves and my patience level was tested to the max each day by cyclists who think they’re above traffic laws and buses speeding past cars and just assuming the lanes belong to them. BostonTrafficStraying from a walking path by a foot or so might cause a rear end collision from a roller skater, runner and cyclist in a real hurry to go somewhere but who doesn’t think it’s necessary to alert anyone he’s about to whiz past. And this was during the “off” summer season. Imagine the craziness when kids come back to school, soon.

Once upon a time, this lifestyle was my lifestyle and Boston was home for a few years. It felt perfectly normal then to be part of the hustle bustle of this busy town. But somehow, as my system has adapted to warmer seasons, so too has my need for peace and quietude. Since living in a heavily wooded community in a much smaller southern city – or as I call it, a town – I seem to thrive on living life more slowly. I’m happier, more content and, frankly, feel more at home. So while Boston offered a really fun summer, it’s time now to come home and resume a life that’s a bit more ratcheted down.

HouseSpring

Maybe age has something to do with it, though many active folks my age in Boston thrive on the go, go, go. I think my go, go, go years are behind me. After a very fortunate, fulfilling and successful career, I’ve retired. And now it feels time to live life a little smaller. A bit more pensively, experiencing adventure in a slower, richer way.

So – bye bye Boston, for now, anyway. My husband keeps devising ways to spend more summers here – maybe we will, maybe we won’t. But I do know that living here for good is likely not in my cards. And I love this city. That would be my paradox


Pat SummittToday was a day of national mourning that Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt died, succumbing to her horrible Alzheimer’s Disease. She was one of the greatest women of our time coaching 38 consecutive women’s basketball victories – the most winning-est coach ever. She was a strong, tenacious and fierce, yet loving, leader who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Men, women and children can learn a lot from her examples of leadership. Her players loved and respected her. Fans adored and revered her. And she leaves a legacy that few mortal people can touch. Not just as a coach, but as a person who helped build strong young women for tomorrow.

Yet she was fallible, as we all are. Death will befall us all. And death by Alzheimer’s Disease is a particularly insidious affliction that affected her family as much, if not more, than her. You see, after a while, it stole her memory and her identity, ultimately leaving the shell that “used to be” the famous and very personal Pat Summitt. I have no intimate knowledge of her days with the disease and without. I do, however, have first hand experience with Alzheimer’s – from afar.

My perspective is different than most. Certainly I knew of Pat Summitt. Everybody knew who she was and what she accomplished during her productive lifetime. But as a former hospice volunteer whose last patient lived 10 years with that disgusting disease, I watched a person diminish and a family devote their waking hours to making her comfortable and trying to engage her. Cajoling her to eat, to walk, to converse, to show some semblance of the wife and mother they remembered. Ultimately, this patient became mute and bedridden for the last five years of her life. I saw her blank eyes stare into space during the hours she didn’t sleep. She was as close to a vegetative state as I’ve ever witnessed. The photographs of the woman she used to be didn’t even resemble the woman I visited. She was no longer that person. Her husband was “trapped” (my words) in a marriage to a woman he’d lost years earlier. Yet he was fiercely devoted to her care. He talked to her as though she might answer. Cracked jokes. Reminisced. Showed her photos of the travels they’d taken in their RV. Offered a litany of his day. Prepared meals he thought she’d enjoy. Scrupulously cleaned her, lifting up her dead weight out of the bed and onto a toilet or the tub or the chair. Delicately, lovingly, devotedly.

He was housebound until I came to relieve him once a week to shop, run errands or, with my prodding – have some fun with family or friends. His wife showed no signs of life except breathing in and breathing out, eyes sometimes open and staring and sometimes closed for sleeping. That was his life. For five years! Five years before that he’d gone through the stages of Alzheimer’s progression. Unpredictable behavior, walking out the door to head somewhere though she didn’t know where, unexplained outbursts of anger and tears. Life had been a roller coaster. Until she finally, thankfully, succumbed. He admitted he’d lost his wife years earlier. He didn’t know who this woman was that she’d become. Yet he lived on memories and devotion until she was freed. And so was he.

From my perspective, it’s a blessing that Pat Summitt died. Her diagnosis five years earlier had been her death sentence. There is no cure. There is only disintegration. I say she’s free. Free to be the Pat Summitt we all loved and respected. No more pity, no more tears, no more wondering. She’s free. May the great and unparalleled Pat Summitt rest in peace. Her legacy lives on.

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