Friday, June 22, 2018

Red Pill Blue Pill

The last time I was here I was ranting about addiction, diet and brains. I will probably do more of that today. For Lorrie, who commented on my last post, there is a video at the bottom of this post that may help. I don't have a copy of the 2AAT book right by me at the moment, so don't remember what my exact directions were, but I believe this will help with twisted stitches questions.


Now on to the ranting. For Jacinda I may throw in a picture or two, although of what I do not know. Maybe lilies and cats. Just bear with, please. I do have a point here. Or maybe I have no point and am just ranting aimlessly again - but after a decade of menopausal brain stoppage, maybe this is a thing I need to do. VENT.

I have been eating "mostly vegetarian" for about three years which, combined with grief, resulted in a loss of about 12 pounds - not a lot, but remember I am 4'11". Recently I had re-gained some weight, and this upset me. Having been in what the author of Bright Line Eating calls a "right sized body" for the first time in three decades, I was displeased to see it changing back to the chubby-but-not-quite-obese body it had been in the middle bit of life. My body had disappeared from my daily thoughts - I didn't obsess, I didn't fuss and worry, I just WAS - and I was very displeased to lose that freedom. The gain began in response to work stress. Too much wine, too much chocolate, too many little cheats...and all the parts of my brain that demand the unhealthy woke right up and started jumping around like ranting, raging addicted toddlers.
(Chance bringing a plastic mouse to his clearly idiot humans who don't eat meat)
I was also increasingly concerned about Mr. Wonderful's various health/weight issues that seemed unresponsive to medication or exercise, and were really setting him (screw him - ME!!ME!! I DON'T LOOK GOOD IN BLACK, OK?!?) up for some unhappiness in the future. Enter Bright Line Eating but with a whole foods plant based diet at it's base. To update, we have been officially doing BLE for 12 days. I have lost 3.8 lbs. He has lost 6.4 lbs (Men. How do they do that. Every. frigging. time). More - MOST - importantly, his blood sugar is so normal that his medication has been halved, and at some point will likely go away entirely. I will never say that BLE, or any "diet" or "lifestyle change" not in line with the standard western diet (which we are liberally exporting around the globe with disastrous results) is easy. But I will say it is do-able. It has been my experience that things worth attaining are not easy...so would we really expect health to be any different?
 (Hawk Mountain stop in PA on our way home - would dearly love to return to do more of their trails)
As a result of reading the BLE book, I picked up a copy of The China Study, which is Thomas Campbell II's book on nutrition and health. About a chapter in I was recoiling and gasping at the idea that cancer could be turned on and off in rats by modifying the amount of animal protein in their diets. It just tumbles down from there - cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases...he confronts them all and with massive data (thousands of studies, not just his own, that clearly document a strong connection between animal protein in meat and dairy and negative outcomes on human health) proves just what our way of eating has done to us - and continues to do.

His recommendation, and his lifestyle of choice, is plant based, whole foods - low fat, lower protein - and that protein from plants. He cites doctors Esselstyn (well known cardiologist from The Cleveland Clinic who's groundbreaking studies in heart disease and diet SHOULD be explained to every cardiac patient on the planet) and Ornish (who allows much more dairy and egg whites, but still has amazing results), among others. They all come to the same conclusion. A plant based diet is preferred. Campbell is pretty specific, and his studies on those cancer rats indicates that keeping protein - plant based of course - to around 10% of our diet is ideal - this number is more in keeping with the diet of rural Chinese who, until we exported McDonald's and Starbucks and KFC all over their map, had remarkably low incidences of most of the disease that plague us here in the United States of Fast Food (God, Country, and Mickey D's!).

So why don't we eat this way, or tell people to eat this way? Why do most doctors hand their patients disjointed and conflicting handouts while making vague statements like "You should think more about diet and exercise..." with no real statements about what they KNOW from science WORKS? The most commonly cited reason: "These diets are too extreme. They are too complicated and difficult. Most people won't succeed."

Wow. Really? Because truth is hard to hear and takes work to follow, we should sugar (literally) coat it and prate about moderation? For my mother, moderation meant "I will, at dinner today, eat only a half a box of Mueller's angel hair pasta with a half a stick of butter and a half a jar of Ragu original and a little less shaker cheese, instead of the whole box, stick and jar." That totally worked. Not.
(Stairs - not always easy to climb but generally worth the effort to see the view)
What really got me yesterday was the connection, clearly made in multiple studies, that links consumption of cow's milk with a host of diseases that plague not just children but adults as well. Juvenile RA. Type 1 diabetes. Then on to a host of autoimmune problems that left me glad that I never really liked milk. I was the child who had to be harped at, and even then I would refuse to drink it. "Then you will have water!" Great, thank you. Pass the ice cubes. Pass all the plants. Maybe I can revere of control this Hashimoto nonsense, or maybe my Reynaud's will stop making winter painful. Or...maybe I can delay some other horror heading my way. Who knows. Just...plants, yes please!
(It is 'yeller squash' season - and Thank Troy, my tummy and freezer are FULL!)
So yeah, choosing healthy is not always easy, especially in a world where toxic marketing is aimed at getting us to do the easy things in order to line a few pockets. And I can see how this way of life might be viewed as "extreme". And in a very short sighted way it may appear complicated. Know what's more complicated? More extreme than a diet that will save your life, reduce environmental damage, make it so there's enough for everyone? Heart attacks. Strokes. Insulin injections. Losing a leg. Losing your vision. Premature death from a disease easily prevented or reversed with diet.  Per capita spending in the US on health care jumping from around $4800 in 2006 to over $10,000 in 2016. Five of the top ten causes of deaths in the US attributed to lifestyle choices and preventable illness. That's extreme. That's complicated. Eating plants is a fucking cake walk by comparison.
(It is also magnolia season, which smells citrus and spice and everything nice)
Things come together in my life in weird perfect storm ways. I am also reading The Master and His Emissary, a book about how our brain is divided, what the two sides do (or what we sort of think we know about what the two sides do based on research), and how our current culture favors left brain thought, and how damaging this can be to us culturally and socially - and individually. All that left brain literality, all that reliance on reason - some of which is very good, for example when it comes to NOT running out for a chocolate bar or a run through a drive through for a burger and fries. But at the same time, the other side of our brain, the right, needs to be allowed expression. If not, why we might find ourselves hyper-protectively ripping kids from their mothers and putting them in detention centers while we prepare to ship the adults back to...oh wait...that happened. Oops.
(Frankie strongly opposes the separating of families and incarceration of children under the current regime's "illegal alien" intolerance program)
All of this sounds extreme and depressing, right? The world is in turmoil, our president is a whack doodle surrounded by other whack doodles, we are eating ourselves into WALL*E's world (everyone in a scooter, bones melted, phones to faces, sucking down big gulps and throwing the trash to a hoard of specialized robots), we are inhumane, hyper protective, fearful, hiding behind the rule of law to cover our selfishness and on and on and on and on. DEAR GOD, WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!

But...we are all gonna die anyway. Just think about this for a moment. And really, in the life of a universe - or even a planet - our time here is a fleck of dust. This too, shall pass. So then...what do we do? Cry? Hide? Run? Quit? Shop? Eat? Drink?
(Or just go kayak, which I highly recommend.)
I propose a happier alternative. Tolstoy, in The Kingdom of God is Within You, expounds on what he sees as the three conceptions of life that drive man's actions. In the first, the individual is embraced - he calls this the animal view of life. In the second, one embraces society - this he calls the pagan view of life. In the third, the whole world is embraced, and he calls this the divine view of life. From this view, it's all about love, man. He goes into this in greater detail than I care to here, but at the crux lies this kernel - in the first two, the scope is limited and the outcomes protective of self or of the immediate family, then larger community, then state, then country and so on in varying degrees of commitment and with willingness to sacrifice part of one to save one closer to one's self. But in the third worldview - the divine - life is not defined by "my" self, "my" family, "my" community (and so on) but by the idea that there is one underlying eternal factor - Christians would say God, Muslims Allah and so forth. "The motor power of his life is love". Uncle Leo has very, very few kind words for churches, orthodox clergy etc. ("It is terrible to think what the churches do to men").
(Dude has a point.)
This thinking aligns fairly neatly with thoughts expressed by Marcus Borg and others of emerging church thought. Borg speaks a great deal to the dichotomy facing Christianity in the modern world. We have, at the moment, two ways of seeing the Bible - the first is that the Bible is the literal word of God (you must believe in arks, virgin births, and the holding back of rivers, or you are damned!). In the second, the Bible is viewed in a historical and metaphorical manner. In the first, the literal understanding of the Bible, there is much to protect, much to insist, much to demand, much to feel shameful and guilty about. God is angry, and you better make sure you follow the rules or you are in deep shit. The core of the belief system is easily threatened, and must be protected at all costs. In the second...well, we are dust, and the Book - all the books - have some stuff in them that can help us to be better, nicer, kinder, gentler dust. There is nothing to defend, nothing to protect, nothing to war over. There is just a law of love, a global concern for humanity, for the planet, for everything. I feel like some notables may have mentioned this in their teachings...wait, what was that guy's name again? Oh yeah...JESUS (and others, but being reared Christian his teachings are the most well known to me).

This takes me back to right and left brain, maybe just for a second. Left brain - right hand; that kind of thought really enjoys the literal interpretation of the Bible. It loves the structure and rigidity, it defends rigorously, it squashes opposition. Right brain - left hand; this kind of thinking sees meaning in metaphor, embraces the creative, questions the need to defend at the expense of others. In general we tend to view left brain as "masculine" and right brain as "feminine", which really does a disservice to the brain, especially in our male-dominated society which values the masculine above the feminine; it mocks men who embrace their "feminine side", pays men more than women for the same work, dismisses social injustice with a wave of the hand because those injustices feed and protect that which is important to the left brain, etc. Left brain says "You don't look like me, worship like me, eat like me, act like me. You are other and must be assimilated, or destroyed." I envision left brain in a well-cut dark colored suit with a red tie. Right brain - who I see wearing tie-dye and cut-off's, with a joint in one hand and a peace sign in the other - says "Look at all these amazing and different ways of being! The world is truly a magical and awesome place". We are, according to this author, shutting off the right brain gradually over time and with ever increasing success.

I spent part of this morning looking at ways to increase right brain activity, which I think is a way to help in the process of healing what really is brain damage cause by food, environment, religion, etc. Here's a few ideas - because I think they are important and will make awareness and change easier to accomplish. Martha Beck has some ideas, most of which arose from a bit of writer's block she experienced. She calls it The Kitchen Sink method, and it really works. I know because I have used it myself without realizing that's what I was doing at the time. This Australian lady at the Memory Foundation has a video on ways to stimulate right brain. Actually they appear to have a couple. Livestrong has a nice list of right brain thinking activities. Meditation is a good start, really. Quieting the mind allows both sides more space. I sometimes visualize sunlight cascading down into the right side - NOT the left at first, and not evenly into the hemispheres...but into the right. Then it gets stopped up and cannot go further until the left side takes action (left brain likes action). The left must then open a series of locks, or floodgates, to allow the light to cascade into the left brain, and then down to my toes, gradually filling the body to the very top. But in the visualization, the left has to choose to allow communication with the right if it wants that sunlight - and it really wants it. I just want left brain to be active and participatory in encouraging connection between the hemispheres. I want it to have a choice.

I did say I had some happy news, or a happier alternative or whatever. So here's my happy news. We do have choices under all these layers of conflicting information, societal pressure, advertising mind-fucks, crappy parenting, traumatic events and so forth. Once you know these things, you can choose, even if it is tiny infinitesimal steps in a direction other than trapped. It won't be without complication, it will not be simple, it will not be without backsliding, failure and pain - although clearly we're all in pain already or we wouldn't be expressing our discomfort in our societal behaviors.

I choose to always keep looking for truth. I choose love. I choose health. I choose to think outside of myself. I choose to find ways to counter the negativity and fear we are endlessly fed. They may be small ways, but they are ways. I choose the red pill.


Oh, and Lorrie, here is your video. If this doesn't help, please comment below and I will try to get my hands on my own book. :)






Friday, June 08, 2018

Brain

So I have always been really interested in the human brain, how it works, what drives us, and how people who look "with it" on the surface can be so tormented by inner demons that they just...quit and cash out their chips way too early. I spent years watching my mother struggle with the very real demons of mental illness only to end up in a delusional space inside her own mind from which I could not rescue her. But it was her mind, not my own, and there just didn't seem to be a light bright enough to poke in. At some point she stopped looking for one.

I am not sure where this is going so I am just going to ramble. I am very good at that.

Anthony Bourdain killed himself today. Kate Spade the day before. Priscilla Morgan in 2011. Millions before, and millions more to come. I don't believe suicide is about a single choice. I used to think it was. I have always seen it as selfish and thoughtless. My mother reared me on The Hemlock Society and always had lots of information about how to end your life on hand. Her desire to control her death was terrifying for the developing little me; heartbreaking, devastating. I dedicated a fair amount of life energy toward trying to stop her. And yet, we know statistically that a certain percentage of mental illness is, frankly, fatal. It should not be so, and we should work to change that, but it is still a fact. The brain, as it turns out, is a treacherous thing. But it is also plastic, and with the right support and right path, it can heal and recover and blossom. Mental illness, addiction, self-destructive behaviors - whatever you want to label them - they do not need to be fatal.

Yesterday I watched Robert Lustig speaking on his book 'The Hacking of the American Mind'. It isn't just the American mind that has been hacked, but we Americans do seem to have cornered the market on denial and delusion and God knows we are spreading it around the globe as fast as we can. A few days before this I had come across Bright Line Eating as a result of my engagement in The Food Revolution summit earlier this year. My blood sugar is ok, my eating currently very clean (whole food, plant based, vegan) but there are pitfalls everywhere and I have fallen into a couple in the last few years (maple syrup, wine). Things come together sometimes. Perfect storms of information which, if you are open to it, can change your life or at least your view of life. Bright Line Eating is basically about addiction, and adopts a pretty hard stance on the substances that addict us. Lots of very good, convincing and clean science backs this all up. Moderation simply isn't an option. Anyone who's ever been really clean knows this. Zero tolerance. The minute you step over the line into moderation, all bets are off. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you have let the snake out of the bag and I guarantee he will will coil up around you and tighten until your lights go out, or you find a way to cut him loose. I love snakes from a distance. But I want to cut mine loose.

I am an addict. Drug of choice isn't relevant, since we now know that the function in the brain is the much the same, regardless of substance. The difference between drugs of choice is about legality, stigma, and money, not about what they ALL do to your brain. Hell, rats in studies have been addicted to levers. You heard me. METAL. LEVERS. The substance isn't the issue. But I digress.

This addictive part of me is not an unknown for me personally, although sometimes surprises others. My parents were, in their own ways, addicts as well - with my father aware of and modulating his addictions (except maybe that one time when he ate that whole tub of bacon in my dining room), and my mother insisting that she was not an addict at all, but a victim of the health care industry that gave her valium and darvon, then ruthlessly took them away. It wasn't her fault - and based on brain chemistry and a traumatic upbringing, it really wasn't her fault. The idea of fault, like the concept of sin, tends to bring shame and guilt, which in turn paralyzes people into inaction. Resignation. "I must be a horrible person and therefore cannot change" instead of "I am a normal human being who strives to be my best self, fails at times, forgives myself, and tries again". But she would never admit that she was "like those people", to which I would often reply "those people... like the human ones? Like me?" She hated that I identified with addiction and referred to myself as an addict. I was, she insisted "better than that"; better than "those people".

She struggled with food addiction for all of her life, as have I. She was addicted to opioids and benzos given by doctors, and if she were alive and walking today would probably be one of those great grandmas in the county with a (nicely dressed, well-spoken, clean-looking) dealer on lock. She had ways of obtaining codeine and benzos that blew my mind, because I knew her primary physician would not prescribe. She would, in middle and later life, never drink more than one beer, insisting that any more would make her "a drunk like (her) father". She would never accept any of this as addiction, or "dry drunk" control of a potential addiction. And she strongly recommended that I exert greater moral control over myself and "remember who (I was)". The problem is, I am not sure that she ever understood or knew who SHE was, let alone who I was. She never understood that addictive brain type isn't a choice (no kid lisps that they want to be a drunk when they grow up!), that brains are being fundamentally altered from our earliest days, that for a certain percentage of us "moderation" is simply a thing that cannot exist safely, that addiction isn't a moral flaw...and on and on and on. Most of us never gain the insight into the brain that comes with learning and awareness - not to mention the huge advances in science. But I've seen it without proof for a very long time, and am starting to see it now a growing body of proof - thanks to science, PET scans, and smart people who've put this shit together - all of whom I envy their damn PhD's. I was too busy reproducing to get mine.

There have been glimmers and glimpses for me all of my life of truth. I have struggled with varying degrees of addiction to various things and substances for as long as I can remember - beginning, from my earliest memories - with food. Food is the first thing we have access to that fundamentally alters our brain chemistry and can set us up for a lifetime of addictive behavior. I was a formula baby. My mother made it herself with a variety of substances, including corn syrup. It's what they did. No one could have known then what the outcome would be. There were no PET scans. Maybe someone suspected...they must have been messing around with rats enough to know what sugar does to the behavior of animals. and could have predicted that it would affect human behavior as well. My first non-formula food was at 14 days old when I was fed orange juice. That was rapidly followed by beer in my bottle when I developed a UTI - it would make me pee, the doctor said - this is the same doctor that accidentally overdosed me on phenobarbital and belladonna for colic when I was an infant, so he probably knew best, right? After that came codeine cough syrup by the gallon to control a wicked asthmatic cough that kept the whole house up at night - ALL prescribed and legal and recommended by the experts. In the early 70's beer was everywhere and kids sipping half-empty cans at various gatherings was just a thing that happened. I am lucky I survived, really. Those addictions were not my choice but that doesn't change what they were - exposure to substances that poisoned my brain and established pathways and patterns that I will likely confront until I die. This is not hopelessness - it is honesty, and everything good and clear begins with honesty.

I cannot remember at what point I became aware that my brain wanted things that were poison, but I do remember telling my mother in my early teens I was done with the codeine because I did not like how it made me feel - it had gotten to feel normal, and life without it was not. Something in my controlling little self rejected this idea of normalcy found only in a bottle of tiny white pills or cherry flavored syrup. In retrospect this experience likely saved my life or at least a lot of years of potential addictions to other drugs. I had a healthy respect for them - healthy enough to keep me off street drugs, with the exception of marijuana. She was terrified that I would cough myself to death, die in my sleep, not survive adolescence without it. Surprisingly I did survive - in retrospect the withdrawal must have been a fun ride, but I was too young to suffer much for long, thank God. Nicotine is a wonderful cough suppressant when you are smoking a pack a day. You hack up a lung in the morning, light a butt, and damned if your breathing doesn't come right into line...with a wheeze so tight you CAN'T cough. Then came Dexatrim...which one could obtain legally at the pharmacy on Main Street, and take to not only lose weight but stay awake for DAYS on end - always a benefit when you work during the day but all the fun happens at night. When my sister Jody pointed out that the stuff would kill me, I thought about that annoying banging heartbeat feeling, and quit - cold turkey, just like I had stopped the codeine. Oh to be young again - young and so very stupid. Weight loss is it's own addiction. So next up, free of opioids and amphetamine - but still sucking down nicotine - was a foray into anorexia (at my lightest I was around 70 lbs, and convinced I was fat). Beer came next, followed by wine and a brief trip into hard liquor. I didn't struggle as much with obvious sugar. I could not, for example, eat an entire pan of brownies like my friend Cheryl could, unless I was very stoned (did I mention pot?) or drunk. I occasionally found myself eating a half a batch of cookies, but I tended more toward pizza, or half-pound roast beef sandwiches loaded with Hellmann's. So next comes bulimia, of course. All the while subconsciously aware that something just was very very wrong in my brain. Something I couldn't prove, or pinpoint, or explain. I just knew that something wasn't...right.

Next follows a few decades of being relatively clean and sober and truly happy, although still not fully understanding what my addictions were, or how they worked, or how my brain did crazy shit to get what it wanted - which ultimately was (is) sugar, no matter how well disguised. I now call this the "pizza and puking" years. In a very weak defense, pizza did make me feel horribly ill. It wasn't until about 13 years ago that I discovered that wheat is not my friend, and that gluten literally makes me sick. Now, 13 years off of it, and even a little can wreak havoc. Then there was Diet Coke...consumed by the gallon during college because it was cheaper than buying food - and I needed my food stamps to feed my kids...or I was just addicted to the stuff, one or the other - or both. I drank that until the left side of my face started to go numb and a concerned individual mentioned that perhaps aspartame was bad for humans. A little reading and a lot of withdrawal and my face only gets numb when I fall off the "artificial sweetener" wagon, usually by accident. READ YOUR LABELS!!

And all the while words are popping up on my radar...hyper palatability. neurotoxins. dopamine. serotonin. conspiracy (that one is my favorite). compulsion. addiction. advertising. down regulation.

I love how people insist they make their own choices, and that fat kids are just a result of parents with no will power and generally weak moral fiber. Neither of these things is true. People are deluded - and, frankly, drugged - into thinking they have free will, and fat kids (and adults) are a result of a carefully orchestrated marketing strategy to sell as much food to as many people as possible. And it is working really, really well.

Lustig says - and given what he does as a life's work he would know - that we have an epidemic - AN EPIDEMIC - of obese 6-month olds. The rising cost of food related illness is skyrocketing ever upwards, and will decimate our economy very soon - well, really it already is. Lack of protection from lobby groups and marketers who seek to promote their products regardless of the harm inflicted on humanity continues as some sort of short-sighted egotistical American idea that we have CHOICES, after all, and just need SELF CONTROL and MORE EXERCISE to balance out that additional gut-load of calories in their poison crap - trust me, they just want you to buy their shit, and it making you feel bad about yourself sells more ice cream and fries, well, they just run to the bank that much faster. As any addict in recovery can tell you...it just isn't always that easy. Gene just showed me a reddit this morning of a group of morbidly obese kids dancing by a pool. Trust me, those kids did NOT choose to be that fat, and their parents are likely as confused as anyone. Misinformation abounds. Everything in moderation, after all. Just exercise it off (do you know how long it takes to exercise off a 20 ounce Coke?). McDonald's is OK as long as you don't eat there daily. Whatever. If that's you, and you can walk away after half a sleeve of fries, great, and I am truly very happy for you. You won the genetic lottery, my friend. But for 30-50-% of us - and that number is climbing every day - there just is no safe way to consume that shit. And "that shit" includes crap like the boxes of "weight control" oatmeal I saw yesterday that contain SIXTY CALORIES MORE than plain oatmeal. And the processed food, and the frozen food, and the fast food...and on and on and on. If it's fast, convenient, easy, or processed....probably bad. I would rant about meat, but I will let others do that.

There used to be this thing called science, and we used to believe in it. At this point, all the endless Boy Who Cried Wolf shouting has left many of us confused, bewildered, and quite hopeless, not knowing who or what to believe.

I don't like hopelessness. Hopelessness kills people, or gives them space to kill themselves. It doesn't fit my personality - like the skinny people who can skip the fries. I am very grateful for that part of me - the bit that keeps getting back up again, over and over, always willing to try. So I reject hopelessness. But I am also aware that my brain is hurting and damaged; I've let it get poisoned, and that choices that will bring it back aren't going to be easy to make. I have been meditating for 4 months now (180 days straight as of today, not counting the couple of start-and-stop months before that) which is a really good start. Things seem to be clearing up in there. The sugar that has gradually crept back into my life as comfort in grief needs to go - and it even has an end date now. Some of that is wine, some of it is food, all of it is nothing but refined, brain-damaging poison.

My plan for myself is to use Bright Line Eating from the book, and not the boot camp because right now I just plain cannot afford it. I am not obese. But I am an addict who needs to get clean - even if the drugs of choice are "only" sugar and Facebook. Bright lines seems like a really good place to start. Really, really bright ones. Lines that I simply cannot cross. One day at a time.

This started with a short riff about suicide. See, I think it's all connected; addiction, mental illnesses, suicidal thoughts, depression - all of it is connected up there with all those neurotransmitters and neural pathways. That brain...it's a complex and at the same time simple thing. Our enemy is within. I think we need to know that enemy, look it squarely and honestly in it's face, and find a way to talk it down. I don't know how, and I suspect the path is different for us all. I just know that if you are struggling...keep looking for answers, keep reaching out, keep finding paths to survive. Survive until you thrive. Hope lives. It's real, and happiness is not a myth. Pleasure is a lie. But happiness is real. Go find some.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Never Make Plans

I had this great plan to come in here on this day and write some ...thing. I don't even know what, exactly, just some ..thing. But now it's today and I only have one thing, one tale, one story. And so I will tell it.

The first day of spring was March 21 that year. I didn't actually know this that morning when I got out of bed at 5:30 or 6, after announcing that I was in labor. I was to learn it in the form of a card of congratulations that came much later in the day. My labor was, at first, not to be believed by most, and in retrospect I can't really blame the people involved...they had reason to assume otherwise.

This was nothing like the first time. The first time the intensity of "real" contractions had taken me by surprise in spite of my endless readings of Spiritual Midwifery and Childbirth Without Fear, my relentless breathing practice and my harping to those around me that birth was PERFECTLY NATURAL and women had been doing it for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. I had become very emotional very quickly, right down to calling my mother to sob "...it hurts!" into her ear at 2am...she was the person on duty at the answering service that early morning, and although I wanted to be big and brave and know-it-all, I knew nothing, and I sobbed that into the phone. But I learned. And for some reason the second time around everything fell into place. It's not that it didn't hurt. I think it did. But it was manageable. Just relax, breathe; everything has an end point. You will not be in labor forever. This is the last time you will have that contraction. It will not come again. Be in it, then let it go. Metaphor for life, really.

Making my way downstairs quietly so as not to wake the sleeping toddler in the next room, I began my day as I always did. I started laundry. I considered that I could be away for a day at least, and so began making a quiche which could serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner for the people I was leaving on their own. I called my sister. I called my mother. I called my midwife. To all of them I calmly related that I was in labor and that my contractions were about 3 minutes apart. I am not sure any of them believed, but they mobilized anyway.

It was amazing, that labor. This, I knew, was what it was meant to be. Alone and peaceful, folding laundry and grating cheese between contractions, rolling out pastry...taking a small (and later regrettable) bite of bacon, sipping some water; I was like some other-worldly earth mother. Peaceful and graceful, I walked from room to room, taking one contraction at a time, enjoying the solitude with this little person inside me, knowing that this was to be our last few hours as one entity. A boy, they had said, based on heart rate. Most likely a boy. I wanted a girl. But a boy would save a fortune on clothes. And I had a name either way. It no longer mattered to me what you were. The who, on the other hand, was crucial. And that I wanted very much to learn.

It had not been a picture perfect pregnancy. We had moved early on, and I had done my usual moving in "thing" - attacked the house and the boxes and the appliances with bleach and vigor. I had moved the fridge, mopped the whole house, put the fridge back, and unpacked any number of boxes. Somewhere between the fridge and the hardwood floors I felt a twinge, and then another. Suddenly it dawned on me that pregnancy isn't a guarantee, and I became terrified for the little life inside me. A visit to the midwife showed that I had reason to be - I was 2 cm dilated and partially effaced. Bedrest. With a toddler.

I've never been good at sitting still. I think I lasted three days. I began to move cautiously - no heavy lifting, no pushing of appliances. I sat in Daniel's high chair to prepare meals at the kitchen counter. Not a lot of heavy cleaning got done. I carried grocery bags one at a time instead of losing myself up like a pack mule. The baby stuck with me; forgiveness offered for my ingratitude and heavy lifting. And I became a territorial, primal monster on the inside. When my grandmother "helpfully" and callously remarked that miscarriage was nature's way of fixing a mistake, I almost killed her. I am sure we did not speak for some time. And for the record, she doted on the eventual baby with greater zeal than I usually witnessed in her, so I sense she spoke with forked tongue - but then she's an Avery and they have that habit. Cruel to be kind was generally the order of their day. But not in my world, not on that topic. No. Not that baby. The mistake wasn't the baby. The mistake was the obsessive mother scrubbing a house from top to bottom in the first trimester. Why should the kid pay?

So here we were, all those threats of danger, and exactly one day before the calculated due date, right on schedule and with no more fuss than a walk to the park that baby was about to appear.

I remember the moment things changed in labor and my contractions moved to a minute or so apart. I would have been more than happy to stay right where I was, have the baby, get back to the quiche with it tied to my chest like the good primal animal I was. But midwives at home are not covered by insurance, and midwives in the hospital are. So we went.

I had no contractions from home to the hospital, about a 5 minute drive. On arrival, a gust of ice-cold -15F air rushed up to meet me when I opened the car door, rectifying that situation in a hurry. That was a "bad one", and I walked into the hospital more acutely aware than ever that I despise the cold.

Back then the hospital was in disarray for renovation, and the entrance door for all patients had changed to the ER side of the building. Not knowing where to go I signed in as directed and joined a host of others waiting for admission for various things - the ER, surgery, labs and radiology all in one giant space with temporary cubicles set up. Pre-HIPPA, you just wrote your name on a sheet of paper and waited to be called. Not the best triage system. People around me suggested that I tell "them" I was in labor...but "they" were busy and I didn't want to "make a fuss". Finally a woman near us walked up and said, pointing, "She's in labor...and her contractions are almost a minute apart. You should take her ahead of us." My name was taken, a call was made "upstairs", and a nurse in pink scrubs pushing a wheelchair appeared as if by magic. She introduced herself and asked me to get in the chair. I declined. No. No wheels. Pregnancy, labor, delivery - it isn't a handicap. It's a stage of life. It's bringing a new life. Thousands of years women have done this job. And the vast majority of those have been women laboring in a field somewhere, or out gathering firewood or berries, delivering a baby, tying the cord with whatever came to hand, cutting it with an unsterile object, and going back to work with the newborn tied to their chest. And we survive. It is what we are made to do.

When I stepped off the elevator my midwife was there to greet me. I was so happy to see her face. Midwives rotate. My least favorite had just gone off call. My most favorite had just come on. It could not have been more perfect. We walked down the hall and into my favorite room - The Big One With The Double Bed. No sterile hospital space, no bed that breaks down into something other, like a creepy medicalized Transformer. Just a regular bed.

A brief check showed that I was not just in labor, I was past transition and heading for home. My contractions, which had slowed during all the fuss of moving from home to hospital, and the weirdness of sitting in a crowded admissions area trying not to breathe "too loudly", bounced back to a minute or so apart. I still had my earth mother face...each contraction coming on, being acknowledged and ridden out, and then let go. Textbook. Exactly like I knew it could be. Exactly like I knew it SHOULD be. Not quite an hour later I watched in fascination as my belly lifted with a contraction and seemed to bear down, pushing without any help from me.

"Did that feel push-y?" asked Anne from her comfortable rocking chair opposite me. "Yes, a little" I responded. Endorphins are a wonderful thing.

She came to my side and checked - yes. 10cm. Time to let this baby out. Time to see that face. Time to meet that person. Let the bonding begin.

Left lateral Sims position, a brief series of controlled, perfect, panting pushes and I heard a voice say "Do you want to feel your babies head?"

"Yes."

One more push and the head was born. A brief moment to catch my breath, and shoulders next - big shoulders, too - that was memorable, although the pain immediately forgotten.

"It's a bouncing baby....GIRL!?"

Reaching down, I lifted the blueish squirming animal up to my face. Slowly, giant brown eyes opened in the little round face, covered in vernix and creased from a lifetime spent in water, and blinked up at me. And down I fell into them. Hello. Where have you been all my life? I'm your mother. And that won't ever change.

Lots would come after - both immediately and not - and more will come, some good, some bad, some indifferent. Some passionate, some angry, some cold and hurtful, some gentle and warm.

I have thought a lot in the last couple of years about whether or not, all things taken into account, I would do it again - either time. In my lower moments I question my sanity in choosing motherhood. I mean, really, you could smash your head on brick walls until you are bloody and the pain wouldn't come close. But neither would the joy.

In the final analysis here is where I stand: a thing, once done, cannot be undone. It can, however, be accepted for what it is, and, like contractions, moved past and forgotten - retaining the good, releasing the less than good. Hold onto the good, let go of everything that isn't. Hold onto the love, let go of everything that isn't.

And so... Happy Birthday, Girl. Whatever you are to yourself you remain one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Chameleons and Other Creatures

I don't even know where to start this because I think it plans to be more self-revelatory than I have been in a long time.

I've been so boxed off from myself for so long...probably since I was a very small person, and certainly since around 2008 or so. And I can blame menopause, thyroid, deaths, births, marriages and divorces...but I think that is what we call life.

There are so very many things that I would do so very differently if I had a do-over.

We will start there. I am sorry. So very sorry for more things than I can put on 'paper', and if you are reading this my darling little porcupine, a fair amount of that is directed at you. My shrink informed me that I am "very self aware", and although I do reside in denial as much as possible, I am aware of things I did, stories I told, choices I made, words I chose, paths I took that were not for your betterment, or my own. I had this narrow restricted view of life, and now everything is so much more open. Dad would love this shit. (Dadism #1 - "Discretion is the better part of valor")

I've undergone and am undergoing this crazy process spiritually, politically, emotionally. Will I ever be less than my freaky self? Not likely. Have I changed deeply and in ways that you wouldn't recognize? Probably. Definitely. Part of that is simple self-discovery. Most of my life, and there's been half of it gone already, have been spent in chameleon mode - being who someone else thought I should be, or at a minimum trying to be who someone else thought I should be. The 'who' varied, but the need to make everything perfect, control everything, make everything right (be good, do penance, be better, be perfect) probably begins with - sorry, Pris - my mother. (Again, of course, because mothers are always at fault, which is sad but true - they spend more time with us than anyone, and their issues are projected onto us, even if, like me, you try to make it so that doesn't happen!). Growing up on eggshells, the scars of which many of us now bear, alters who you are at a very fundamental level. For some, there is a giving in. For others there is a strong and consistent resistance even in the face of apparent yielding, a deep knowledge that you are not what people think you are and not what you're being conditioned to be. Like a plant kept in the dark, but watered and fed. Pale and weak and unhealthy, but by God it knows there is sun someplace, and it will just hold the hell on until it gets there. It made me a crappy role model. (Dadism #2 - "I am I. Not who my mother was. Not who my father was. I am I.")

Sun has a way of getting in through the cracks. The more cracks, the more sun. More cracks, more sun. And if you get shattered. Well. It hurts and you bleed, and then the sun hits you explosively and you begin to grow. That's me. Plant, in the dark. Watered and fed, sparsely. Waiting for the light. Afraid of it, because it's going to hurt, but wanting it anyway.

Slam all the doors, close all the windows, do what you will. Be a turtle, a porcupine, a chameleon hiding in the underbrush. The light will get in regardless. Then you can either ignore it or stare at it until your eyeballs burn up or...just let it shine. In my life I have done all that.

I have always thought I needed something for which to exist. Something to save, take care of and fix. I also believed that I had to be "good". And by good I mean perfect. And by perfect I mean "someone else's vision of perfection". Well, when all the things you think you exist for are gone, and you have nothing really left, you start to get up close and personal with who you actually are. I think for many of us, the "less damaged" (lucky? blessed? oh you fools be grateful!), this happens when we are young. For those of us stunted by the dark closet, it takes longer. Some never get there. (Dadism #3, adapted version - "You can make good men better. I am not sure what you can do about the rest.") For me, it took what feels like a really long time.

Who I am and what I believe is who I have always been. Who that is, is NOT who I appeared to be, or the beliefs I gave lip service to. There was always a war and a rebellion inside. Again, this goes back to the need to Be Perfect. Get It Right. Don't Make Me Hit You Again. For some people, there isn't enough love. There isn't enough proof. There isn't enough loyalty. There isn't enough of anything. When you grow up with someone like that as your primary caregiver - or even as a loud screaming nagging voice that you have to visit on weekends (just as an example), it causes you to believe that you must, must, must always try harder, be better, do more, prove this, prove that...but the bar always moves, because their needs are never met, and you always end up feeling worthless and like a failure because you just didn't get it exactly right AGAIN, no matter how hard you tried, no matter how much you wanted to that time. Example:

You have so much natural talent. You are so beautiful. (That girl is better than you. You could be better than her if you tried harder. She looks so pretty and thin.)

I love you more. (No, I love YOU more) No, I love YOU MORE! (OK, you win, you love me more.) If you REALLY loved me, you wouldn't give up so easily!!

Now let's say your other caregiver just wants things to be peaceful, and hopes that by not protesting, not making waves and not making a fuss things will go better for you. The unintended but unfortunately subliminally heard message is "...because you are great, and amazing, and I love you, but you are not worth the fight and the fuss, so let's just keep things quiet and hope it dies down, ok?"

I didn't realize that until recently. That's unfixable. Just pure "Oh, shit, I didn't see that, I am so sorry." But now...instead of endless self-torment...there is just forgiveness, awareness, and acceptance. I cannot undo anyone's past. Not even my own. The thing is what it is. And it doesn't have any...barbs anymore. It's neutralized. Seeing it from this place changes everything. And that brings us to Dadism #4 - "Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels". I always saw myself as both the heel and the wounded. I don't see either now, really. I am not a horrible person, and instead of that being lip service, it's now knowledge. And where the deep gashes were there are scars that are beginning to fade the more the sun pours in on them.

All along the path to this new and evolving place there were a series of wholly unhealthy diversions into territory in which I did not belong, but believed I deserved to be stuck in. It was all holes I put myself in, and clung to because I thought they would protect me or save me or keep me from Being Bad. All untrue. And nobody could get me out of that except me. (Dadism #5: "Charity (love) begins at home.")

So where, and who, am I now? Not really sure. Different. But not. Sit down with me and we can discuss the finer points and my answers will either shock you, or make you smile and say "Yeah. I know. I was wondering when you'd figure that out."

Some months ago I posted this thing on the facebooks that said "What if everything you ever believed wasn't true?" At the time I thought I understood what I was saying. Turns out I am only just beginning to understand what I meant. And probably never will know for sure.

But I do know this: If it doesn't look like love, it isn't for me. I like who I always was. And I am walking away from who I wasn't - no grudge, no guilt, no shame. Work in progress. Unfinished.




Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Of Little Consequence

That's what this post is. Unless you want to know how the summer is going so far, in which case, read on!
Part of why we moved down here was this "quality of life" concept thingy. We are mostly selfish humans who want more freedom, more adventures, more of the things we seem to have missed by being Responsible Adults for most of our lives. 
We recently took a 48 hour trip to Myrtle Beach, which turned out to be a sort of a mistake, so we moved north to Oak Island Beach - a significant improvement! Myrtle was like Hampton, only worse.  Oak Island was peaceful and beautiful. It was a nice get away, and served to remind me of just how much I really love living at the beach. I think sometimes I miss Plymouth more than Northfield, if I miss the north at all - and that's pretty debatable most days.
I entered a yoga challenge in an attempt to win five free classes at my favorite studio....and I WON! I think Gene's image really put me over the top...
I call it "Comfortable Seated Pose with Husband Making Giggles Happen". Basically you had to do a pose a day, copying the "host" of the challenge. I was pretty honest in my images. Like for side crow? There's a great series of images of me falling into the sand at Oak Island. Honesty is the best policy. Yoga, like life, is a journey. Not a destination. I am a long way from side crow, and man did I prove it.
We discovered Mount Mitchell, the highest point on the eastern seaboard, and the Blue Ridge Parkway...not that we didn't know they were there before, but we made a closer inspection.
Looks more like home than anything we've seen, but then you get up around 6,600 feet and suddenly everything looks bigger.
 Gene drives my Prius like it's Gran Prix season on route 80 coming down from the parkway. 
Mount Mitchell summit hike.
We did this on Mother's Day. It was a lovely drive. The summit hike is 2 miles one way from the ranger station...we got there too late to do the whole thing, but we went a ways out and scoped it out, and really want to go back. We ate lunch at the restaurant there; delicious locally sourced trout dinner, which we split. 
We also went to Pilot Mountain SP and Mount Airy... I don't remember when. The mountain is a cone that no one is "allowed" to climb...kind of a bummer because if you're into it I bet it's fun.
 Pilot Mountain
 Perimeter hike
Opie's Candy!
Mount Airy is apparently where The Andy Griffith Show was filmed. We were there on Sunday which was probably a mistake because pretty much everything was locked up tight. But we saw a few landmarks and had a short walk. That was before we headed to Pilot Mountain. Again we were too late in the day to do the 2.5 mile hike there...but we got to scope it out and want to go back. Hiking is harder with Yoshi...we can't take him, or are not always sure if we can, and don't want to leave him forever with no food or walk. Dogs are...complicated. 
Most recently we went to Charlotte Motor Speedway to watch the Nascar Camping World Truck Race. Yes, we are trying to touch our inner redneck. 
 We even have ear protection.
We got to see the cup series qualifying....that's cars, with names you might recognize, like Earnhardt (in the 88 car above! YAY!) and Busch (Like Kyle, BOO!) and Jimmie Johnson.
Speaking of, there's Jimmie Johnson in the Lowes 48 up there. The race they were qualifying for runs tonight....we won't be there, but I bet a whole lot of people will!
And this is the number 7 Toyota Tundra driven by Brett Moffit who looks to be about twelve, but I am assured is actually a grown up, mostly.
Here he is, being interviewed before qualifying. Also pictured is Jen (she's the one with the coffee) Hebert, who is my cousin Kathy's daughter. She (Kathy, not Jen) died of lung cancer a few months after Dad...which is how he wanted it. He did not want her to die first, because although he suspected she was dying he wanted to pretend she wasn't going to. He was very successful in this. Jen does PR for Red Horse Racing, so we get to be fancy at races, and get into the pits, and see drivers up close, and all sorts of fun stuff like that. Jen spoils us, and we do not protest. Dad would be so jealous. In fact last night I wanted to call him so bad I could taste it. 
Today we went to the Race City Festival here in Mooresville, which has almost nothing to do with racing, in spite of this whole town being driven (no pun intended) by the sport. Tomorrow we are going to a Got to Be NC festival in Raleigh...I think it's like a fair. Yay, FAIR! 

I just came back to this blog and discovered I never posted this ... it is from a year ago, May 2017, and I think it deserves to be posted. A lot has changed since then, both in Mooresville and in me. But this was a time. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Thing I Am Apparently Over

Little things have been bothering me lately in bigger ways. I am not sure why this is. I suspect that as I emerge from this hollow space called "grief" and begin to look around me the little things start to seem big again. This no doubt will benefit the rest of humanity - no longer will I glare at people relaying normal life problems at me while sullenly thinking "Really? THIS is upsetting you? ARE YOUR PARENTS ALIVE??" Suddenly I want to vent, and about something so petty, so inane... and you seem to like to read me, so I will vent here.

I am really sick and tired of online store stalking. Not me stalking them, but THEM stalking ME. WHAT IS UP WITH THIS? The first time I saw targeted ads in my right hand sidebar while using Gmail, I felt ill. Big brother, reading my emails and pointing me to websites selling bee supplies or yarn. It just wasn't ok - my paranoid self freaked right out and said it was walking away from the internet for good. But I made the trade because after all we are an information tech society, and more and more the internet and online shopping have become de riguer and blah blah blah. Fine. I use Amazon like it's my local mall. I don't like going to the mall. Given where I live now, I don't like going shopping period, except maybe for groceries, and then only to the Walmart Neighborhood Market that I could walk to if I chose. I liked the concept of online shopping, but the practice has become ...well, let me back up.

When I was a child we shopped very locally, right in downtown Greenfield, most of the time. The overwhelming majority of what we needed could be obtained in, at most, a half-day-long shopping trip that had us home well before supper. Furniture, paper goods, food (even the exotic things like yogurt and bagels!), the occasional trip to Kentucky Fried Chicken to eat chicken out of a paper bucket and mashed potatoes from a spork while my mother noshed on fried fish wrapped in fake newspaper - it was all right there. If we needed dance- or skate-wear that usually required a separate adventurous trip to downtown Springfield, where it was still safe enough that I could be sent from The Shoe Box to fetch my mother a Coke and a pack of Marlboro's from a tiny nearby market hocking newspapers, magazines, and candy along with it's short list of preferred beverages and tobacco products. This would change over time, and eventually that walk would be removed from my 'allowed activity' list - the little market went out of business, no doubt destroyed by a culture more and more focused on one-stop destination shopping, and Springfield became a less safe place to roam. Why buy your Coke at the little market down the block, then walk a block for your produce, and another half a block for your meat when you can just get in your car (or take the bus) and drive to a shopping center where everything is laid out neatly for you in one handy stop - and cheaper, too! But I digress. For my riding boots and helmet, it was Northampton. But otherwise, everything we needed to live, from back to school clothes, to the ridiculous Polly Flinders dresses that no one else had to wear to my Brownie uniform, to the hideous caricature of tomatoes tucked in a white plastic tray in cello wrap and even the occasional very fresh lobster, were all handily available in one town, a mere fifteen minute drive from home. Thirty years before that, you probably wouldn't have had to leave Northfield for your needs - and if it wasn't available at Fred A. Irish's store you probably didn't need it.

During those shopping trips to Greenfield we would stop in at the stores that dotted Main Street like sparkly jewels to my childish eyes - each one a treasure chest of adventure, filled with unique sights and smells, each holding different merchandise and a plethora of opportunity to lose myself in clothing racks or restrooms. At McClelland's there were parakeets like a rainbow in cages, and tanks full of inexpensive tropical fish, and a deliciously creaky old wooden floor. At Ann August, where we certainly couldn't afford to buy anything, we could stop and visit my grandmother. From Peggy Parker to Goodnow's to Wilson's...and if I was lucky to Brown's Toy Store...and maybe a stop at The Corner Cupboard for a grilled tuna and cheese and a Coke from the fountain, Greenfield had it all. We would find whatever was on the list - knee socks, t-shirts, and probably at least one turtle neck as my mother attempted every year to shove me, resisting, into one of the miserable things. It was small. It was provincial. And it was home. At Wilson's Department Store, and here is where this gets back to my point (I promise) we were generally stalked by one or more sales ladies. They created an overall feeling of discomfort, and it was here that I would do my best to disappear into the racks of ladies dresses and pretend I was in a fairy home, surrounded by brightly colored wall-hangings, with the outside world full of those disapproving eyes partially hidden behind horn-rimmed bi-focal glasses far, far away. I never have been able to determine if this stalking behavior was to prevent shoplifting, or because they really put the 'sale' in saleslady, but there they were - around every corner; continually hovering and in general making the whole experience uncomfortable with their intrusive presence. "Can I help? Can I help this other way? What if I help by doing this?" One never entered Wilson's without feeling extremely..."helped".

Last night I experienced this thing that I despise - the thing that makes me feel like I am 7, hanging around on the inside of the large circular racks upstairs at Wilson's, avoiding my mother and those ever-present saleslady eyes, and amusing myself while she shopped for her fancy Barbizon peignoirs, or was being wrangled by the 'helpful' crew of salesladies into a girdle that appeared tasked well beyond it's abilities. I was once again stalked by 'helpful' salespersons - this time in the form of an email, another damned email in the relentless, endless stream of the things that flows into my inbox from every blessed retailer or service provider with whom I have ever done business... "Melissa! Have you forgotten something?". And in the email was the usual link, which took me immediately back to the shopping cart I had abandoned about a half an hour before.

Yes...I did forget something. I forgot to unsubscribe, close my account, run away from your "store". I forgot to NEVER shop with you again, Jockey, Sierra Trading, Uniform Advantage, et al. I forgot how much I loathe feeling stalked and watched and hovered over; made to feel as if I am a bad consumer because I didn't complete checking out - as if by not buying your stuff I have taken the bread right from your very open, wide, gaping mouth.

It happens all the time. My innocent 'window shopping', thanks to cookies and tracking, turns into a full-on sales assault; one with an air of desperation that makes me feel twitchy in my skin. Do you really need me to buy that one bra so very badly? Will my failure to buy those two scrub tops and coordinating bottoms in a color I don't yet have and don't really need break you this month?

We have been on a vaguely minimalist path for a while now, and as a result purchasing is more a rarity than a common occurrence. Sometimes I "window shop" to amuse myself, and usually - now as in the 90's when I trawled catalogs with a pen - circling things I would buy if I could but never did because we couldn't afford it - I do not buy. But I shop. I amuse my eyes with sparkly jewels in the form of fancy undies, or a new coat when mine is perfectly fine, or a pair of shoes when my closet space is currently full. If you let me wander and roam, and make me feel comfortable and welcome, then when I need a new bra, or a new coat, or scrubs, I will be back. But if you stalk me to my inbox, adding yet another damned miserable email to the endless stream that I delete daily, you become more annoying background noise, and like the mosquito you are, I will slap at you, and eliminate you if I can. I will unsubscribe, and if that fails I will mark you spam, and when I need that bra I will likely just order one from Amazon - who has sense enough to leave me mostly alone (although I do find the recommendations annoying, at least they don't stalk me all the way to my inbox!).

The young folks don't get it, having grown up in a world where privacy is an antiquated notion from the past. Or maybe they do get it, some of them. Maybe these movements toward minimizing, downsizing, tiny-house-lifestyle, living from and with the land...maybe they are a sign that deep within some of us still lie the desire for freedom and privacy. I live in hope. And I delete. Constantly.




Monday, February 20, 2017

Dear Jacinda - The Kitchen Post

I can't believe I haven't done this. When you mentioned wanting to see more updates, I didn't realize just how long it had been. You missed it all, man. It's been forever. So here's some images to amuse you, and update you on the craziness we put ourselves and this little house through last fall.
This is what we started with. To the right you can see the studs of the wall that divided the dining room from the living room and kitchen. I discovered after pulling all the sheetrock off that the wall was indeed load-bearing. The consequence is a 22' long beam in my attic that cost a tidy sum, but was well worth the investment.
 I think this may be the first time Gene has ever demo-ed a kitchen on his own. I had taken the wall down, the carpet was all up, but I was working a lot and he hadn't started work yet, so he got the brunt of the kitchen demo. My favorite moment was when he announced to me that removing old built in cabinets was "a big pain in the ass". Yes, dear. Yes it is...how well I know it.

 He proceeded with the demo and we eventually were down to nothing. The plan was to sheetrock the entire space; living, dining and kitchen, including the ceiling. I wanted to save as much of the old crown and baseboard as possible, not so much for money but because there isn't anything wrong with it. Why throw it away? The contractor was pretty sure I was nuts, but I really didn't care. In the end, all the crown and baseboard is original with a few small exceptions. I just primed and painted it all after pulling all the nails. 
 This is into the living room from the dining room - you can see on the floor where the old wall and closet were. 
 From the pictures above, to this...still in progress, but that partial wall/bookshelf with the pillars is about where the old closet was. The near edge of the gray rug would have been the original wall the divided the kitchen and dining room. 
Another view of the bookcase things - I wanted to create an "entry" feel, which I accomplished beautifully, I think. The remaining closet on the left is perfect for jackets, etc. The pillars and bookcases are now painted white to match the trim and cabinets. The flooring is "luxury vinyl", which was a cost saving decision. If the entire space had been hardwood, I would have made different choices. Because it was mixed old vinyl over plywood and hardwood, it was more cost effective to just go over it with the vinyl and save the money for other things, like granite on my island.
Kitchen almost done. Lights are not in yet, and the backsplash isn't up. But you get the feel. We still need to paint the interior doors white. 
I will put some more photos of it "done" at the end. But now an update on what we do with our spare time...Gene went on that roller coaster, repeatedly. It is called Fury 325 and I love it. It's huge and fast. It's about 45 minutes from here at Carowinds. We also went to Dollywood and rode the coasters there, including a new one that may have ruined me for all other coasters.
 I work sometimes, when not wearing glasses with lights on them. Honest, I really do work. 
Jen and I went horseback riding in Tennessee, and then I dragged Gene and made him go too a few weeks later. It was fun. Very pretty scenery. I like Tennessee a lot. Jen and I had planned to go to the beach, but Hurricane Matthew changed the plan. Mountains, beach, whatever.
 We went to Florida (as usual) but without seeing Mickey Mouse not even ONE time, and ate insanely fresh strawberries from a roadside place. It was amazing. We also were advised to visit a place called "Robert Is Here", which we did - and ended up eating some of the most intriguing fresh tropical fruit I have ever experienced. Highly recommend. We sat outside watching chickens while slurping down smoothies made from crazy things. Very fun.
Everglades visit - we took a boat tour into the 10,000 Islands, and the dolphins followed us around and jumped in the boat wake. At one point the whole pod was there, including a baby shepherded by two adults. It was really cool.
I think this is from the keys. We drove all the way down to Key West, and then drove back to Key Largo where we were staying. This isn't a thing I would probably repeat.
We took selfies. This was snorkeling somewhere...maybe? Or maybe just a swim. We stopped at a bunch of beaches up the west coast, because instead of flying back we drove home. We swam and snorkeled wherever it was possible. I loved the beaches, particularly Venice. I did not like Naples much. Entirely too chi-chi for me. 
When I sent you the text about the place we had dinner at in Everglades City that you would love?  This is it, Camellia Street Grill. Lights on strings, a dance floor to the left out of the frame, lots of bare feet and beer and stone crabs caught that morning. They have a wonderful salad with fresh herbs, and just generally are the sort of laid back image I have of old Florida, before the Damn Tourists Showed Up and Ruined It.
 This was also in the Everglades; a board walk through a jungle, surrounded by wildlife. Snakes, gators, birds. It was picturesque and slightly intimidating. I was happy to be on the boardwalk. We did see tons of gators lying on the bank of a channel beside route 41 between Miami and Everglades City, and a couple of large things draped in trees that I suspect were pythons. They weren't gators, and weren't birds, but they were something big and drape-y. 
Quilt 1: Started for my father, but the lady wasn't going to get it back to me "in time" back there, so it sat until now. Now it is done and has no home, but there it is. 
Quilt 2: Jelly Roll Race quilt made with a jelly roll I got for free somewhere. We like this one and will probably keep it.
The quilt that made me hate quilting. I started this when we lived on Jewett Road I think, and it sat forever unfinished. I finally just threw a back on it and had it finished on a long arm here, and sent it away to Texas to a good home. The good news is that I like quilting again. 
The finished kitchen. Granite on the island, the legs we got for $1 a piece at the ReStore. There is a prep sink in the island, which is right close to the fridge for easy prep. The "big" sink is under the window, and is a single-bowl 32" long, quite deep one. I was really frustrated by not being able to fit my half sheet pan easily into the sink, because we use it fairly often.
Quartz countertops on the perimeter. Kitchen backsplash tile is ceramic wood-look planks intended for flooring. I love them. Plus they cost me less and 1/4 of what a wall tile would have cost. We got these at a discount place in Charlotte. I LOVE this tile SO MUCH. It echoes the floor, and gives some interest without being overwhelming or pigeonholed to a color. 
 There used to be a wall there, separating these two spaces. Crazy. 
And there. Wall-be-gone! Dining room into living room, everything open and light now. It was SO dark at the back of the house before, but now light penetrates everything.
And last one - the living room. We kept the built in, which houses the TV perfectly. The picture over the fireplace is a poster of a picture I took in Plymouth mounted on canvas and framed. Loved the picture and it its perfectly. 
So that's it, that's the nutshell update! Lots of other things going on, but mostly just working and being in this place, which we like...but we're open to more change in the future if we feel led to wander again. I like NC, but the road is always open and seems to be calling! 

And a note for Sally...yes, we are right down the road from you, and have been to Troutman a few times! I am starting a new job in Statesville, so I am up and down 77 through there more often now. Small world! :)