Good Things Thursday: Autumn

If one can be homesick for a season then I am homesick for autumn. I know it isn’t “officially” here yet but I even miss the anticipation of fall. There is little for me to love about living here in the desert southwest but this is by far the worst time of the year for me. In the next week or so I’ll break out my leaf garlands and pumpkin decorations and do my best to create autumn inside my home.

But I can’t change the triple digit heat outside. I can’t make it really feel like autumn. I can’t create that crisp, fragrant air or conjure up a maple tree with flaming red leaves outside my window. I can’t wear long sleeves. And that makes me sad.

So today I am going to create autumn in my head and heart. This is a spontaneously generated list of all the things I love about autumn:

  1. chilly air
  2. the low angle of the sun
  3. watching football
  4. pumpkin chili
  5. chocolate chip pumpkin muffins
  6. colorful leaves
  7. the sound of the breeze in the trees
  8. hot tea on a cold morning
  9. the smell of apples and cinnamon
  10. picking apples
  11. meandering in a corn maze
  12. making pies and applesauce
  13. candles flickering in drafts
  14. apple cider
  15. wearing long sleeves
  16. cardigan sweaters
  17. cold, gray, rainy days
  18. tomato soup and grilled cheese
  19. that special shade of blue the sky is in October
  20. reading a good book under an afghan
  21. Movies set in autumn (like “Step-Mom” and “You’ve Got Mail” and “Hocus Pocus”)
  22. Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday!)

Looking at the list I realize I can actually experience most of these. And I bought two new short sleeve autumn themed shirts from Life is Good so I can wear “autumn” shirts. I have a camping trip planned in October which should give me a taste of cool air, colorful leaves and the joy of evening campfires and hot tea in the morning. Not a perfect solution but better than nothing.

Did I need this mug? No. But I bought it anyway. For now I am drinking iced tea out of it.

Just like that I feel better. 😊

Photo Friday: Rose Canyon Lake

The heat here has been sickening, we are still hitting triple digits and it’s been rather humid with rain many afternoons. I promised myself I would find a day to take a picnic up the mountain and spend some time in a cooler climate. (I am increasingly homesick for autumn, seems to get worse every year.)

So yesterday I headed up to Rose Canyon Lake. It took until 5000′ to get below 90°. The lake is around 7000′ and the temperature was a pleasant 77°. It was a little warm in the sun but the area is well treed so there was plenty of shade.

I wanted to take some different photos. I need to learn how to be more unique with my compositions. I fear I have a long way to go. I really want a macro lens and try some abstract stuff.

From the South end of the lake looking North.
The South end.
A dam on the South end, I walked across it and am happy I didn’t fall off!
Saw this interesting bit on the dry end of the North side.
Pinecones mean autumn!
I took more pictures of rocks on the drive home. This looks medieval to me!

Keep Your Focus!

Big Change

I started working for the first time in twelve years. Seems there should be a blog post in there somewhere but the truth is I am too tired to write coherent sentences. The problem isn’t the job itself and I am only working part-time, between 20 and 25 hours a week. All my work is done outside. (I walk around with a computer verifying addresses for the upcoming census.) The issue? The weather. Yes, the weather. The heat and the sun have been ferocious. When I get home from working I take a long, cool shower and begin rehydrating to set myself up for the next day. Then I have to get my son from school (back out in the heat, ugh) and attempt to stay awake at least until dark.

I already find myself looking at the calendar and wishing for the end. This job is supposed to last a max of eight weeks. I am really hoping we finish early. I think about quitting as there is no end in sight for the heat, but I am not a quitter.

Instead I am working hard on staying in the moment, focusing on one day at a time. Anything is bearable for one day. Despite the forecast I can always hope for at least some clouds tomorrow. I am probably one of the few people wishing for a cloudy day! Please, feel free to send your clouds my way, they will be appreciated.

A rainbow in the clouds would be a nice bonus.

Old-Fashioned Family Outings

For the first week after my surgery I was housebound. Between the weather (triple digit heat and humidity), not being able to drive and how tired I felt, not leaving the house wasn’t a big deal. By the end of the week though I was bored and antsy and decided it was time to make a plan.

For my hospital stay I had picked up a couple of magazines. One was “Art Journaling” mostly because it had lots of pictures to look at. And one of the articles was about art made after a trip to the Postal History Museum here in Tucson! What! She had bought fish of the world stamps. Located near the University of Arizona I thought this would make a nice, short outing.

So off we went on Friday to view an 1800’s post office and learn all about stamps. It was actually rather interesting and I learned a lot about their education program and got some information to pass on to my son’s school. They also sold stamps and had big bags of stamps from specific countries or envelopes of stamps based on themes. You could buy just clock stamps or bicycles etc. I bought an envelope of mixed stamps of the world.

The page I created for my sketchbook project.

After the post office we went to lunch at Lindy’s, a decent burger place nearby. And then we went commissary shopping as I wasn’t supposed to carry heavy bags yet and was trying to limit my twisting and bending.

On Saturday I let the family recover from the first outing and then sprang Sunday’s outing on them: a picnic up at Mt. Lemmon. While the weather was still triple digits at the base of the mountain, up at 8000′ it was a pleasant 80°. We don’t go up the mountain much during the summer because it is crazy crowded, especially on weekends, but we decided to chance it anyway.

We lucked out and found a table and parking at Inspiration Rock. The weather was luscious and we enjoyed a simple picnic lunch and played two games of ‘Sorry’. I lost both but didn’t care, I was so happy to be outside and not melting!

Hoo-doo’s!

Then we decided to see how crowded the town of Summerhaven was. Again we lucked out and found a parking spot first try. We walked down to the Cookie Cabin to get plate sized cookies. The line was out the door and after 10 minutes of not really moving we decided our luck had run out and moseyed over to the Rainbow Gift shop for a browse and then to the General Store for fudge.

We sat on a bench outside the store eating the fudge and watching all the jockeying for parking spaces and admiring the flowers before starting our descent for home.

Hoo-doo’s from above!

At home we made popcorn and watched “Harriet the Spy” (because she was a 6th grader and that is what grade my son is starting). I declared the weekend a success despite not getting a cookie the size of my head.

On Monday when I woke up to rainy looking clouds I realized it was perfect baking weather. (Okay, maybe not perfect because it was still hot but at least it looked like baking weather.) I made my own cookie the size of my head. Bigger even! A sugar cookie with mini chocolate chips and orange (in color and flavor) frosting. And sprinkles. The perfect ending.

The ‘plate’ is actually the lid to my Tupperware cupcake container, so 12″ in diameter! I was thinking this would be cool to do at Christmas.

Recovery: 3 Weeks Later

It has been three weeks since my surgery and I am doing well.

Frankenstein abs When I first saw my abdomen after surgery I knew exactly what Frankenstein’s abs looked like! I had four small incisions surrounded by bruising. I have been watching the colors turn and endured a tiny bit of itching. They were glued on the outside and I am to let the glue come off by itself.

Swelly Belly I knew to expect a swollen belly after surgery and I was expecting to look like I was four months pregnant. In reality I just looked a little bloated. What I did not have a clue about was the compression garment I woke up in after surgery. No one said a word about it and for some reason I didn’t ask any questions. (Now I am scratching my head over that.) When I got dressed to go home I took it off and left it there. It had some blood on it from the incisions and I just left it with my gown.

After about 10 days I wondered how long the swelling lasted and in the course of my internet reading realized I was probably supposed to keep wearing the compression wrap. I was having backaches and feeling a little uncomfortable and wondered if a compression wrap would help. I bought one on Amazon for ~$16 and started wearing it and it really helped.

Sleeping I was shocked at how much I slept the first few days, an afternoon nap and then through the night as well. And then my sleeping went a little haywire. Some nights I would sleep ten hours, others I would be awake at 4:00a and think I was done, only to fall back asleep at 6:00a and not wake up until 9:00a!

Not doing too much I have to admit I never felt any pain. When I got home on Friday I felt fine and found myself reaching for something on the top shelf before I realized that might not be the best idea. Being tired helped keep my from overdoing things and I made a concentrated effort for the first three days to “Be still and heal”. But on Monday I couldn’t handle the mess in the kitchen anymore and started cleaning. I tried to take it easy and not do any heavy lifting but on Tuesday I found myself hauling laundry around and hanging clothes up and that night felt like maybe it was a mistake. I had a little bleeding in the hospital but it had ended by the time I left. Now I had my first very light pinkish-brown discharge. I had a little of this every day for the next two weeks.

I had been focusing on my external incisions (which were healing fine) but hadn’t given any thought to my internal healing. With that in mind I dialed it back a notch.

A color by number picture which I quite enjoyed doing while listening to the Cubs win.

Guilt over watching tv I had DVR’d some shows specifically to watch during my recovery but since I didn’t feel bad it was weird just sitting and watching tv at first. But I got over it. I learned to do a little cleaning and then take a break and then do some more. I tried very hard to listen to my body in regards to the fatigue. I had to keep reminding myself that I needed time to heal and that I didn’t want to be one of those people. You know, the one’s who resume normal life right away and then end up in bed for a month. Not me.

Pain meds I had Vicodin and ultra-mega strength prescription Ibuprofen. I took one Vicodin the first day I was home to help me sleep. Actually to help me stay asleep. And I took a second one towards the end of the first week at bedtime when my back was bothering me. I never took any of the ibuprofen.

Two weeks after surgery I resumed driving and tackled all those back to school errands. My incisions are starting to look like they are healing, no pain and my minimal discharge has stopped. On the downside I am still exhausted. The weather isn’t helping, triple digit heat and humidity are still hanging around. Some places get rain, but not at my house.

Post operative doctor visit (18 days after surgery) Everything looks good according to my doctor. I asked about the fatigue and was told it is quite normal. It takes the body time to recover from the anesthesia (hardest blog word to spell ever 😕!) and the trauma of surgery. Even though my brain missed the whole thing my body went through a lot. So I’ll be watching a little more tv for awhile longer.

I got to take home actual pictures of my uterus which is both weird and cool. You could definitely see the lumps of polyp and fibroids which looked huge to me! And she showed me where she cauterized the endometriosis. Everything was benign and she peeked at my gallbladder, appendix and liver which all looked good. Ovaries are good too.

I go back to the doctor right after Labor Day for a final check-up. For now I continue to sleep more and not lift anything too heavy. She did say I could get in the pool or take a bath after one more week so I have that post-surgical milestone to look forward to next.

Now that it is all done I am happy to report that a hysterectomy was the right choice for me. No regrets.

Not that I am trying to jump the gun but school starts next week which always makes my thoughts turn to Fall!

Flash Fiction: For One Day

I have to confess I am having a tough time mentally getting back into my normal routine after vacation and surgery downtime. To be honest I am not sure I want to go back to my old routine. But I do think these writing challenges are good for me. I need to keep practicing if I am ever going to improve and learn and grow. I love the story of the baby loon that inspired this week’s flash fiction prompt from Carrot Ranch. I rather wish I was sitting on a cabin porch by a lake right now!

Here is this week’s entry.

FOR ONE DAY

Kate lies in bed listening to the quiet. The boys are off on a fishing trip.  Laundry and groceries flit across her mind.  And then, what if for one day she did only what she wanted to do? She breathes deep, does she dare? 

In the shower she contemplates and discards options.  Then the answer arrives.

She throws her journal, sketchbook and pencils in her backpack.  She stops at the cute corner café she always wanted to try and requests a box lunch: “Surprise me,” she says. She heads toward the river, hiking until she finds solitude. Tranquility. Herself.

Post Surgery Post

I’m back and in pretty good shape. Mostly I have been tired but not in any pain following my hysterectomy. Where to start? At the beginning is always best.

My spouse dropped me off at 5:30a. I had studied the map and knew where to go, down the hallway to the right. I walked into the lobby of the Women’s Center and whoa, it was HUGE. I panicked a bit and asked the security guard the way to the women’s surgical center: down the hallway on the right, just as I thought, I just couldn’t see it.

And then I turned into the hallway and Holy Stephen King it was my nightmare come true. A mile long, crazy wide and completely deserted. I started taking slow, deliberate steps on rubbery legs and there was the sign for the surgical center and I turned in, to find a nice normal sized waiting room with people in it! Whew.

Looks like virga to me. (When rain doesn’t hit the ground.)

I had to wait a bit to check in (two people ahead of me) and then I went to the prep room and got changed and pee’d in a cup and had blood drawn and got my IV set up. My Doctor popped in and then the anesthesiologist. Everything moved pretty quickly.

The anesthesiologist told me his three goals: 1) keep me asleep, 2) keep me unaware and 3) keep me pain free. I added 4) keep me alive (seems that should have been first but apparently it is a given in a hospital). He said something about 10 or 15 seconds and then I would be out. He wasn’t kidding. I was wheeled into the OR, got a glimpse of one wall, didn’t see a single person and the next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery.

I have to confess I still feel a bit creeped out about all kinds of things happening to me and having no awareness what so ever. I know that was the goal, but still. I won’t make another Stephen King reference, but yeah, that is what I was thinking.

In recovery I was asked if I felt nauseous, a little, and poof it was gone. I felt cold and was covered with another warm blanket. And I had to pee. I was told this was normal and I remembered I had a catheter in. Took a few minutes but I was finally able to relax and “let go”. I didn’t feel groggy or any pain, rather relaxed really. I had to wait 30 to 45 minutes for a room to be ready and then “transport” (a person to push my bed) to arrive.

Terrible exposure with most of my pictures, too much sun despite the virga.

And off I went to the women’s unit. I felt really lucky to be kept in the smaller women’s unit, maybe 10 or 12 rooms? And very quiet, separate from the main hospital.

Three and half hours later I was up and walking around. I had an IV with low dose pain meds (Percocet I think) and a button I could push if I needed more. I never did. No pain at all, just a bit of cramping (I’ve had way worse menstrual cramps) and once I started walking around that went away.

The funniest moment was after my first walk the nurse explained how to order dinner. At this point I am back in bed and I am looking at the remote that calls the nurse and operates the tv and light as she explains the number to dial. Um, no numbers on this thing. As she is leaving the room I say “how do I order dinner again?” She looks at me, obviously a bit concerned as I have been pretty lucid up to this point. “You dial…” and then realizes I can’t see the phone which is behind the bed on the far side of the door, an area I hadn’t seen yet. We both laughed with relief, happy nothing had gone awry with my brain.

I had dinner (cucumber slices, fruit cup and chicken salad with a brownie I ate later), played UNO with my spouse and son and then walked around some more. I felt pretty good and they unhooked the IV with the pain meds because my poor kidney’s were working overtime with all the extra fluid. And I didn’t have to put the oxygen back on. I had taken it off to eat and then “forgot” to put it back on. But without the pain meds I didn’t need it.

Visitors left and I watched “The Birdman of Alcatraz” which was just starting on TCM. The biggest side effect I had was a crazy dry mouth. I had been drinking water all afternoon but it wasn’t helping. I had my husband bring me some mints and decaf tea and by the end of the movie my mouth felt much better.

I tried to sleep for two hours but it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t in pain or cramping but felt stiff and uncomfortable. The catheter was bothering me a bit too. I got up and walked around, told the night shift I was conducting a surprise inspection, making sure they hadn’t snuck off to the gym. After 30 minutes I felt a little better and of course I was pretty tired. I talked to the nurse and she said she could remove the catheter. Better. Then at 12:45a a guy showed up to draw blood. What? At 1:30a the med tech came in take my vitals. Seriously? If I had been asleep I would have not been happy.

After that I did fall asleep and woke up at 5:00a. I used the bathroom and then had an ultrasound of my bladder to make sure I was “voiding properly”. I was. My doctor stopped by at 7:30a impressed with how well I was doing. She had been checking my chart from home and couldn’t believe I was sitting up playing cards the evening before. Those nurses documented everything! And by 9:00a I was ready to go, breakfasted, showered, passed “pee protocol” and signed discharge paperwork.

Since I have been home I haven’t had any pain, cramping or bleeding. I did have a terrible stiff neck the first day but a heating pad helped. The only thing is how tired I have been. I have had an afternoon nap and slept through the night everyday since I have been home. I did note that both my pre and post op blood work showed I was anemic so I wonder if that is a contributing factor?

I had my doubts about having a hysterectomy but it was the right choice. In addition to the polyp and fibroids evidence of endometriosis and adhesions were found.

Well this is a crazy long post so I’ll end here. Pictures are from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Hoping to do a Photo Friday post, we’ll see.

“Better Than Before”

For Christmas I got Gretchen Ruben’s book “Better Than Before”. I was hoping it would help me with two habits: writing and eating (actually more like not eating).

I started strong with the writing and floundered with the eating. Six months later I am floundering with the writing and doing well with the eating. Kind of a surprise I must confess.

Today we will talk about my eating habits. Being a woman, ahem, of a certain age my weight was on the rise. Over the last few years I have read all about various eating schemes and how your body handles fat, sugar, carbohydrates, whole foods etc. One thing I read that has really stuck in my head is how we all think it is normal to gain weight as we age. But that is a relatively recent phenomenon. It used to be that as your metabolism slowed your appetite adjusted. But we have wrecked our regulating mechanism with vast quantities of sugar and processed foods.

I had fallen into the habit of eating all the time. A cookie here, a piece of dark chocolate there, a handful of almonds while cooking dinner. My meals were fairly healthy for the most part but my snacking was out of control. I knew snacking was what I was doing wrong, I just didn’t know how to stop it.

I sat down and had a think about my eating and decided my solution had to meet two criteria: it had to be easy and it had to make sense to me. From Ruben’s book I learned that I am a questioner. Things have to be logical for me. (And I thought I was an obliger until I took the test in the back, so take the test!)

Ruben went low carb (in the book at least) like magic. She read a book and poof she started eating low carb with no effort. (Am I the only one who read that and wanted to shove her face first into a donut?) I tried low carb but it didn’t make sense to me that apples and carrots were “bad” foods. And the minute I deny myself something I immediately start to crave it.

In the course of reading about low carb I stumbled on to Intermittent Fasting. Hmm. 1. It was easy enough. You just don’t eat for x number of hours each day. Doesn’t cost anything, you don’t have to track anything or look up values of foods. No issues with eating out and wondering what is legal for whatever your current scheme is. 2. It makes sense. You give your body a break from digesting foods and allow it access to your fat stores. Way back when people fasted all the time because they couldn’t find food. And fasting periods (and feasting periods) are something all the major religions have in common. Interesting.

I decided to give it a try. I started with 12 and 12 and worked my way up to 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of feasting. Turns out it wasn’t hard at all. The first few weeks I focused on the fasting hours. Whenever I ate last in the day I would wait sixteen hours until I ate again. I remained flexible with the times but eventually settled into last eating between 5:00p and 6:00p, sometimes earlier. I think eating earlier helps reduce the night sweats.

About a month into it I had lost 3 or 4 pounds. (I didn’t think to weigh myself that first day!) For me the most important part was how I felt. Literally with no effort my eating habits settled down. I am no longer craving or thinking about food all the time.

I typically eat two meals and somedays a snack or treat. But if I feel hungry I eat three meals. I eat whatever I want. I thought for sure I would binge on junk food but an odd thing happened, for the most part the urge for junk food has dissipated. I eat salads and apples with peanut butter and grilled salmon. Yes, I still eat a cookie or a brownie, but no more than one a day and they are homemade (individually wrapped and stowed in the freezer in the garage). And after I eat it I don’t desire more, I am satisfied.

I don’t wake up starving and often eat in a smaller window, many days I eat at 10:00a and 3:00p. But I don’t force it, I just let it happen naturally.

I am a little bummed I haven’t lost more weight but I am patient. I am now on week seven and have no problems sticking to a 6 hour eating window. Cravings are gone and really the best part is no longer thinking about food so much. I don’t snack anymore. I take it day by day and ask myself what I want to eat when I am hungry and then eat it. I am more mindful and focused when I eat and then I don’t think about food again until I am truly hungry.

The moral of the story is not that Intermittent Fasting works, but that it works for me. Each individual needs to keep trying different things until they find what works for them. So keep trying and good luck.

I’ll be taking a blogging break most of July. An unplugged vacation and then my surgery are on the agenda. Hope you enjoy this slice of summer!

I love how nice and cool this picture makes me feel.

Flash Fiction: Many Hands

My surgery is just over a month away. I keep telling myself not to start stressing over it yet, to wait until the week of my hysterectomy. But…I have never had surgery before. The only time I have been in the hospital was to have my son and that was in Montana. A much smaller, friendlier city than where I am now.

Despite my admonishments to myself, once in awhile I start to wonder exactly what it is going to be like. I have to be there at 5:30am and I picture myself shivering with cold and fatigue and wandering around lost in a huge hospital. I have a terrible sense of direction under the best of circumstances and it would be foolish to think I am just going to waltz in the correct door and find my way without any issues. That isn’t how my life goes.

Oddly enough in my imagination I never get past the point of trying to find the admissions desk. I suppose wondering about the rest of the day will come later.

Today I am writing out my fears in this week’s flash fiction challenge from Carrot Ranch. The theme is about the works of many hands. There will be many people involved in my surgery, the list has already begun with the scheduling and insurance work done. I am thinking I want to try and keep count of people the day of. I am curious as to how many people I will actually interact with that day. It may also be a good distraction from my fears.

All that said, I hope this tale remains fictional! I had to make it a two-parter, my worries couldn’t be contained in a mere 99 words. I needed to see it through to the end, couldn’t leave myself stranded in an empty hallway.

“First Time Surgery”

PART I

First I couldn’t find the right entrance:

Emergency?  No.

Staff Only?  No.

A kindly passerby asks if I need help.

Yes.

The admission’s clerk hands over a stack of paperwork.  

“Take the elevators on your left to the 4thfloor and follow the blue signs.”

I turn around and take the elevators to the right (that are now on my left.)

Fourth floor, I see only orange and yellow signs.

I stand in the middle of the hallway bewildered.

Lost again. No help in sight. I shiver.

How many people does it take to help me find outpatient surgery?

PART II

A young woman touches my arm.  Do you need help?

Yes.

Go down this hall to the end, take a right and go across the walkway and follow the blue signs.

I see blue and green signs.  What color was I supposed to follow?

I am panicking, flustered, aware of the ticking clock.

A man in scrubs stops.  All my fears come bubbling out.

I cry and babble.  He takes my arm and leads me to the check-in desk.

A nurse looks up and nods to the man in scrubs and hands me a tissue, “You’ll be fine ma’am”.

May Madness: Money

My personal definition of financial success is being able to pay all my bills, save a decent amount, take a nice vacation once a year and buy whatever I want at the grocery store.

I have to confess I have never thought too much about money. I joined the Air Force at seventeen so I had a steady paycheck at a young age. I have always been excellent at living within my means. Every payday I sat down and paid all my bills, put money into savings and then could spend whatever was left.

Despite retiring, getting married and having a child I have been able to stick to my financial mantra. We save for things and then buy them. We pay off our credit cards in full every month. We never had student loans as the military paid for most of our college degrees. I handle all the finances in our house because my husband sucks with money. He literally brought none into our marriage and I kept all my pre-marriage accounts in my name only.

Looking ahead to my real retirement years (seven years from now) I decided to hire a financial planner. And for the first time I find myself really having to think about money.

On the first run through my Financial Planner made an error and had me broke before I was 80! Luckily I caught the error and pointed it out and after the correction found I am in good shape.

My retirement scenario is not typical. I am trying to figure out exactly where I am going to retire to and from there I will be able to make a more concrete budget. My biggest concern is buying a home. I already know my husband and I will be going our separate ways so all my planning is being done on my own savings and income alone.

Now that everything is set up with my financial planner I hope I can go back to not thinking about money for a few more years. I doubt I can go wrong with sticking to the plan that has worked so far.

Til tomorrow…