Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mother Cat

I've heard so many people say they think they've been some sort of animal in another life.  And I, myself, have said, I must have been a cat in another life, since I have such a deeply embedded affinity for them.  But more specifically, I think I must have been a mother cat.

Ariel has brought out all my cat mothering instincts again.  Oh how precious she is.  I adopted her from Lakeland Animal Shelter in Delavan, WI.  She's been part of our family now for almost one month, but I signed the adoption application five weeks ago and had been visiting with her every day since then.  She'll be six months old in a few days.

This post will simply be me gushing over her so if it gags you to read such sweet, sentimental blathering, it might be wise to stop reading here.

I'm sure part of the reason I'm so in love with my cats is because I don't have children.  I often refer to my cats as my furbabies, and I mean it.  They are my babies, my only children.  And I can't imagine loving anyone as much as I do them.  But more about Ariel, specifically...

Ariel is simply adorable.  I adore everything about her.

I love her baby smell and when nuzzling her, which she and I both love, I take deep breaths of her sweet kitty scent.

I love her soft fur.  It's so fine and silky and plush, what a pleasure to pet and cuddle her.  I love the feel of her warm paws in my hand or her ears, soft and delicate as a butterfly's wings.  I love her squishy, relaxed body as it sinks into my arms, totally trusting that I will hold her and not let her fall.  Or how she drapes herself over my lap with her head or one long paw hanging over the edge, seemingly so uncomfortable, but she likes it.

I love the sounds she makes.  She growls when bored or wants attention or is excited about anything.  She purrs every time she's pet or napping in my arms.  She makes this baby chatter when watching birds.  She meows in that grainy, baby sheep bleat that is so diagnostic of Ariel.  I would know her voice anywhere.  She makes a little murmur when she's sleepy and happy, esp. when in my arms or on my lap. It's such a tiny, sweet sound.  I can't describe it.  It comes from deep in her throat and sounds so babyish.  I even love the sound of her breath and will often gently lay my cheek against her as she sleeps to listen to the precious baby breaths.

I love to look at her.  She has the most gorgeous cat looks.  Her fur is a mixture of everything I love, copper, chocolate brown, buffy gold, white, black.  She has it all, stripes, spots, mittens and stockings, triad splashes of reddish-orange, black and white on the backs of her hind legs, black leather around her mouth and eyes, a pretty pinkish red nose, a long, long plush tail and adorable white tufts that curl out from inside her ears.

I love her personality.  She is so loveable and trusting and brave and playful and curious and quirky.  She exhibits some new, fascinating behavior every day.  Today she was lying back on her butt against a pillow with her hind legs parted, front legs in front like a little man.  It was hilarious. She also loves to lie on her back, belly in the air, eyes closed, mouth smiling, her front paws folded as if begging or praying.  At these times, she stretches out her back legs  and is so completely relaxed that they hang squishy in the air, as if they had no bones in them.  I've tested this by gently bouncing or lifting one slightly.  They are so light like soft feathers.  Or she will curl into a ball in my lap or crouch there with both paws folded/hooked over my arm so she can watch the world below.

She loves David, too, though is taking longer to completely trust him.  He's spent a lot less time with her so it makes sense.  And I am the main caregiver, feeding, loving, cleaning, etc.  During an upcoming trip he will be her sole nurturer, and it will give them both a better chance to bond.  But even now, with the short bits of time they've had together, she will lie next to him on the couch and he can pick her up if she's sleeping, and she'll stay.  She'll even turn over, letting him give her belly pets, which is a huge deal.  A week alone together will seal that bond even more.

Ariel loves to play and discover every new thing.  A crumpled piece of paper or milk jug lid or a Q-tip are miraculous wonderments to behold.  So of course the birds and squirrels outside are absolutely, mind-blowingly enthralling.  She plays when she is not sleeping or eating.  It's the holy trinity of kittendom.  She loves to chase her feather toy or any string and revels in her cat body, running and jumping, diving for a toy, ending in a somersault, rolling and tumbling like a Olympic gymnast.  She loves the other kitties and sometimes copies them, move for move.  Once when Razz was on the other side of the room I watched her watch him.  He began to groom his left leg.  She immediately groomed her left leg.  He paused to scratch his right ear. She also scratched her right ear.

She will climb up onto my lap if it is occupied too.  If Finny is there before her, she will simply find another spot lower or higher and accidentally on purpose snuggle closer and closer to him until she eventually has her legs wrapped around him or cheek resting on her furry back.  She loves Finny.  And Finny loves her, often grooming her when they watch birds out the window or when they're both in the cat tree, bathed in sunshiney afternoon happiness.  Finn and Ariel will chase each other too and play box.  Sometimes it turns into a real battle, but it's early yet. They're still developing their relationship, and she still doesn't have as much restraint as she will at maturity. Sometimes her excitement and yearning to play come at a time when the other cats are at rest or otherwise engaged, ie. in "no mood for kitten antics."  They will give her a warning hiss or less then gentle pat if she doesn't let up.

Raziel is still trying to decide if he likes her.  He has stopped glaring. This is a good thing.  He occasionally grooms her, too, but prefers to keep a distance from her, especially if she is wound up.  He doesn't like her in high gear and tries to put himself out of harm's way if she's racing about the house in full steam.  But he eats side-by-side with her and even tolerates her if she tries to steal food, which amazes me.  Razz loves his food. I always nudge her away if she does this, but still it's amazing that when she tries, she just watches her nose into his dish with curiosity.

Okay, enough gushing.  Ariel is my darling baby.  And though I adore my Fhinnian and Raziel just as much, I have to admit I've caught the baby bug.  She is contagiously adorable, and I can't stop finding new reasons to love her.  I'm so grateful that I found her and that she loves and trusts me so much. I feel honored that she's made me her cat mother.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ariel, Lion of God

Oh how I love cats.  Their bright eyes.  Their purr that soothes any trouble.  Their ears soft as butterfly wings.

I am about to adopt my third cat.   She was listed on Lakeland Animal Shelter's website as Sweet Pea.  How apropos, I thought.  It was what I often called Cami, the silver girl whom I lost this past summer.  So the name caught my eye, but also it was her sweet face that lead me to visit the shelter and ask for her.

When she was brought out, she was all wrapped up like a turtle, legs and tail and head tucked under, quivering with fear.  Poor thing.  I was left alone with her in a private, yet loud office.  The sounds of barking and yelping and howling dogs surrounded the room.  The poor four-month-old kitten continued to hide within herself, laying perfectly still in my lap.  I talked gently to her, whispering affectionate words of protection.  I stroked her softly and let her huddle in the crook of my arm.  She may have been woken from a sleep. I do not know. But she was very quiet and uneasy.

I kept her for more than an hour, and in that time, she trusted me a fraction more.  She lifted her head to look around at the room, along with a few short-lived glances up at me.  Whenever a loud noise was heard in the rooms and halls around our room, she'd tuck her head back in and shiver.  And if I moved too closely to her to kiss her head or nuzzle her, she would wince and hide.  But eventually, she began to stretch out her body a bit, letting her leg dangle over the side of my lap and even purred.  When she kissed my hand several times I was in heaven and my heart ached to keep her.

I stuck my head out the top half of the door to tell the receptionist that I wanted her and then I proceeded to fill out the adoption application while I held her still in my lap.  She was so sweet, but so very scared.  I wasn't surprised.  Many cats become traumatized in a shelter setting.  Stuck in a cage all day, given little love or attention, the constant din of crying dogs and cats around them, sometimes not the cleanest of conditions, either. This particular shelter also had the incessant drone of the loudspeaker, someone calling for this or that pet to be brought up to the main office for a visitor.

The receptionist told me that this kitten had been brought in at the very young age of five weeks old, and had been there ever since.  She had become ill with an upper respiratory infection, as many kittens do in that setting, and she'd just recovered.  So three months in a cage.  How horrendous.  No, after that length of stay, the traumatized condition of this kitten didn't surprise me.

What did surprise me was this:  I went to the shelter expecting to find a kitty to fulfill my needs, and instead, I found a kitty whose needs I could fulfill.  I knew that I was there to bring her home, to make her life happy and safe.  To give her all the love she so deserved and had, thus far, been denied. As I held her, I felt all my maternal instincts firing at once.  I promised her that we belonged to each other now and that I would come back for her and bring her home.

I was told that she still needs to be spayed, and that they require it before adoption.  Her surgery is scheduled for this Thursday, and on Friday early afternoon I can take her home.

I've been back two more times since then to visit with her.  During those visits, she has blossomed; she's definitely shown me a new side to her personality.  I sit with her in a bigger room where her cage-mates are nearby (two other kitties her age).  And she plays boisterously, running and jumping.  Her energy seems to be inexhaustible.  A sure sign of health. It pleased me to see this.  She loves the freedom, though short-lived for now, to frolic about the room, playing with half a dozen toys I've brought for her.  She's afraid of my hand, though, and still afraid of my face getting too near her and doesn't want to be held any more.  I'm guessing it's because of her desire to play and run but also from her deep-seated fear of humans and her poor experiences with them.

I cannot wait to bring her home and give her everything she needs and deserves.  Friday cannot come too soon.  In the meantime, I've prepared a room for her at home where she can initially live and get her bearings.  I am thinking of keeping her in that room for several days and up to a week to let her adapt to the smells and sounds of my other two cats outside the door.  And they to adapt to her, all at a safe distance.

And I've spent time thinking of her new name.  Though I love Sweet Pea, I also call my other kitties by that name now.  I considered several names, Skye, Nespar, Besa, Luna, Feliz... but I kept coming back to one name, Ariel.  Ariel is the name of the archangel of healing and creativity (also of wrath).  It is also the name of a lively sprite in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.  And it is the name of one of the twelfth moon of Uranus.  Archangel Ariel is also known as the Lion of God.  How perfect with her gorgeous gold and copper coloring.  I like the name and all the meanings of it.  I think the name will give her vitality and strength.  And I think the name fits her nicely.  I've spoken it to her since, and she looks up.  It certainly does fit.

So, Ariel, I await you.  Every day that stands between us is too long.  My heart aches to open the door to that cage for the last time, to watch you spring out and explore and gallop and pounce and climb, and to see your cat-ness explode with joy and grace our home.  And to hold you and love you forever.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writer's Block Be Damned!

There it is.  A looming tower of brick and mortar.

I have writer's block.  For six months I was engaged in a writing frenzy, diligently typing up a storm of stories, then suddenly it was gone. All desire to write has disappeared.  I have read every writer's prompt website I can find, read through many passages of my writing books for answers, taken a drive or a walk or read someone else's stories in the hope of finding inspiration.  Nothing.

I decided the best thing to do is just WRITE.  That's what blogs are for.  I can wander aimlessly without purpose, throwing words down without a second glance or guilt or desire for profit.  I am just writing for the sole purpose of writing, and I have to admit, it feels good to just RELEASE.  All the words in my head come draining out onto this beautiful, vast white surface, creating an intricate web of words that no one else is ever likely to read.  And that's okay.

Not too long ago I decided to reopen my book of dreams.  And inside it was the dream to write.  I have always wanted to write.  In fact, there was a time that I craved writing almost as much as food.  It was instinctual.  As a child, I dreamed of living in some far away place, alone and writing.  I never imagined living with someone, but here I am married in suburbia.  But the important part is:  David loves me so much that he wants me to write again.  He knows that a large chunk of me was missing without it.  And so here I am, without a real job, working from home, trying re-launch my writing career.

It's not that easy to get published.  You do everything you can, follow every inspiration, pour yourself into every corner of white space and still it isn't enough. Every day you pray that this story will be the one that earns a publisher's respect, the one that will yield that other kind of letter, the kind of letter that doesn't start with, "we regret..."  Every day you feel unappreciated with zero value.  It's not the "we regret" letters that chip away at you.  Not really.  It's the absence of the other kind of letters that does it.  When you constantly climb uphill, even when rocks are being thrown down on you, you can keep going for a long time.  But if you never even glimpse the top of that hill, it starts to feel like a trek without purpose.

Perhaps I should just start writing for my own amusement again.  Forget about trying to make money at this.  Forget about ever being published and just write for the sheer fun of it again.  For me alone.  But I'm a bit of a show off.  I guess I still need validation from others.  Yes, I admit that.  The first thing I do after I've written something, if I'm proud of it, is read it to David.  Then, I send it off to a handful of friends or family  members or post it on Scribophile for a full-blown critique.  I so want to be acknowledged.  I so crave validation from others.  It's horrible, really.  So that is one motivation for writing.

The other motivation is my desire to leave a footprint on this world before I die. I am 48 years old and have no children.  What will I leave when I die?  I never desired to have children, nor do I now. What was I born to do?  I was born to write.  I was born to share this gift of words with the world.

I never desired to be famous.  Yuck.  I can't imagine a more awful existence.  Celebrities live in a prison. It's sad.  They can't go anywhere or do anything without paparazzi invading their privacy, ransacking their lives.  No, I never wanted that.  What I do want is validation from my peers. I want other writers, specifically a publisher, to say, "You are a great writer."  I won't really believe that is true until I see my name on a book someday or in a magazine.  For me, that is the ultimate validation, and what I want most in life.  Maybe I'll get there, and maybe I'll die without ever reaching the top of that hill.

For today, I am satisfied in knowing that I didn't give up.  I wrote something.  And writer's block be damned!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tummy Trouble Solved

Stomach upset.  Indigestion.  Gas.  Bloating.  Diarrhea.  Constipation.  These are topics that no one wants to talk about, but just one of them can impact one's quality of life.  They also indicate an impoverished immune system and could be early warning signs of more serious health issues.  After experiencing chronic constipation for many years, I finally decided to get off my butt (pardon the pun) and heal my gut!  I learned so much about GI health that I decided to devote an entire blog entry to it.

To keep it simple and easily digestible -- sorry, I couldn't resist the temptation -- I will present my findings in an outline format. Here are the top TEN things you can do to ensure excellent gastric health. They are in random order:

1) Drink lots of water!  

The health benefits of drinking 4-6 glasses of water (16 oz each) a day cannot be counted on your fingers and toes.  But it is absolutely vital for healthy digestion.

2) Take probiotics.  

They are becoming more popular, but the majority of us are still not familiar with them.  I take Jarro-Dophilus +FOS capsules, but there are many good ones out there.  An excellent probiotic should be kept refrigerated at all times.  They can be taken before a meal during times of illness, high stress or after you've undergone antibiotic therapy.  If you don't like taking pills, try eating yogurt.  Although yogurts do not have the multiple strains of good bacteria that probiotic supplements have, it is a natural delivery system, and will be beneficial to digestive health.

3) Take digestive enzymes.

I take one before I eat anything that is cooked.  Heating anything even slightly kills the beneficial live enzymes which are desperately needed for every chemical reaction in our bodies.  If your GI tract doesn't have them, you can't properly digest food or access all the nutrients from it.  And every system in your body is negatively impacted due to slower chemical reactions.  Again, if you hate taking pills, try eating more RAW food.  That is unprocessed, unadulterated food.  I've heard it referred to as "clean eating."  It's simple.  If you eat plenty of LIVE foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc.), you will also feel ALIVE.

4) Fiber, fiber and more fiber!

Women should get 25 g of fiber per day, while men should get 38 g per day.  But it's important to get both insoluble and soluble fiber, because BOTH are needed for healthy tummies.  Good sources of insoluble fiber, which increases stool bulk and promotes movement of material through the GI tract, are whole wheat flour, nuts and many vegetables.  Good sources of soluble fiber, makes the transit of material in the bowel easier by forming a gel-like substance, is found in oats, beans, apples, etc.  It also lowers blood cholesterol and glucose levels.

According to Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, a recent long-term study on 500,000 individuals, found that those who consumed a great amount of fiber lived longer. There was a decreased number of cardiovascular, infectious or respiratory diseases by 24% to 56% in men and 34% to 59% in women.  

Check out this excellent article from the Mayo Clinic:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fiber/NU00033

An excellent morning ritual to ensure a clean GI tract and all the good things that go with it is to mix the following in a bowl with milk:  1 heaping tsp each of Oat bran, Wheat bran or germ, Ground Psyllium Husk and Ground Flaxseed, as well as 15-20 raisins.  Eat this and then drink 12 oz (or more) of water immediately after.  Within days, you'll feel a huge difference.  Do it every day! Don't miss a day.  It's nutty, tasty and a healthy, easy start to every day.

5) Exercise.  

It's simple.  If you, as one physician calls it, "move like your ancestors," you will be healthy.  One of the most important benefits of exercise is that it increase peristalsis or the muscular contractions in the gut which makes material move through the digestive tract.  Another excellent article appears on a very informative website that I refer to all the time (www.livestrong.com):  http://www.livestrong.com/article/434866-peristalsis-exercises/.  Yoga, breathing and increasing your core strength will give you the digestive system of a superhero.

6) Stop eating processed foods.

Food that has chemicals in it are treated as alien invaders by your body.  If you don't want a real life Star Wars going on in your belly, stop eating alien substances.  Good rules of thumb are:  If it comes in a box, don't buy it.  If it has more than five ingredients, don't buy it.  If you can't pronounce one of the ingredients, don't buy it.  Avoid the center shelves of the supermarket like the plague and focus on the outside aisles where the real food is, the food your body can recognize.

7) Eat a plant-based diet.  

Eat mostly plant-based foods, and you'll be doing yourself (and the environment) a huge favor.  Of our total calorie intake each day, we need to get 50% from carbs, 30% from fat and 20% from protein each day.  Most of us have this backwards. We've been told that carbs make you fat.  This is simply not true. Carbs, the right kind of carbs, make you lose weight and keep it off!   Most of us get way too much fat and protein and far fewer carbs.  Or we get too many of the wrong kinds of carbs, such as simple sugar (candy, pastries, etc.) vs. complex sugar (fruits and vegetables).  Plants, in addition to all the nutrients they provide, have lots of fiber, which we need for tummy health.  And with most plants (broccoli, carrots, green leafy vegetables, squash, papaya, grapes, pineapple, etc.), you can usually eat as much as you want, feeling fuller in the process.

8) Keep the weight off but stop dieting.

This might seem like an oxymoron to some.  How can you do both?  Many studies have shown that calorie-counting type diets create a vicious circle in your body.  And since your digestion is the center for your metabolism, it's seriously impacted by dieting.  Any cyclical weight loss, weight gain, weight loss, weight gain makes it harder to lose fat, especially tummy fat.  When you are on a calorie-reduced diet, your body makes metabolic adjustments that make it harder and harder for you to lose weight.  Your body becomes more efficient, and thus, you have to eat fewer and fewer calories to lose the same amount of weight.  You're basically playing with fire when you diet.  Don't mess with nature. It has an amazing way of adjusting to any conditions in order to preserve life. 

So how do you do it without dieting?  Follow the other steps, and you will also achieve a healthy weight.  The speed at which you will achieve this healthy weight depends on how many steps you actually follow.  The more you follow, the faster you'll lose weight.  And they work hand-in-hands.  If your digestion is healthy, you'll stay trim.  If you stay trim, your digestion is healthy.  Check this out:  http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20070411/diets-dont-work-long-term

9) Breathe more.

Breathing aids in digestion.  Oxygen is vital to good health, but most of us are so pent up with stress, rushing from place to place all day, that we don't stop to really take a good deep breath.  The constant habit of breathing too shallow can affect your digestion and your overall health.  In general, what is good for the digestion is good for your overall health because 70% of your body's immune cells are found in the digestive tract.

You don't have to be wear a white robe, burn candles and sit on a hilltop to meditate.  Meditating only means focused breathing.  Breathe deeply and bring focus to the breath.  You don't have to listen to chimes or sit twist your legs up into the lotus position.  Just practice good breathing.  Make it a habit to spend 15 minutes to an hour each day with focused breathing, and wella!  Your digestion improves.  You'll notice the change in bowel habits, and in many other aspects of your life, in a very short time.  An easy breathing exercise that can be done while lying down or in a comfortable sitting position is this:  Inhale to a count of four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for six seconds, hold for two seconds.  And repeat ten times.  Do three sets of 10, resting a few minutes between each set, ten times a day.

This organization is an excellent source for breathing and meditation courses:   http://www.artofliving.org/us-en

10) Eliminate stress.

Okay, it may seem like a no-brainer.  But most people do not realize how much stress impacts their digestion or how fast it affects it.  We've all heard the term "gut-wrenching" experience.  Or the term, "I felt it in my gut."  Both refer to what happens to the body the moment we let stress occur.  You start to breathe faster, your heart races and your stomach tightens.  Stress can affect every part of the digestive system, according to Dr. Kenneth Koch, MD., professor of medicine and gastroenterology.  It is believed that the gut is the seat of all human emotions.

Digestion is controlled by the nervous system.  When the body undergoes stress or you feel that panicky stress reaction, digestion can shut down because your central nervous system decreases the blood flow to the gut and increases blood flow to the extremities, preparing you for fight or flight.  This affects the contractions of the digestive muscles and secretions needed for digestion.  Stress can also cause inflammation of the entire GI tract.

Here's to ten simple rules that will optimize your digestion and overall health in the process.  Happy tummies, everyone!




Thursday, September 8, 2011

Optimum Health: How Do We Get There?

FACT:  The gastrointestinal tract contains about 70% of the body’s immune cells.

It seemed incredible to me, too, but after further research, I found it not only to be true but it makes complete sense.  An adult human’s gastrointestinal tract has approximately 1,300 square feet of surface area.  According to Saurabh Mehandru, MD, gastoenterologist at Mt. Sinai hospital., "having such a large surface area in close proximity to the external environment necessitates that a large complement of immune cells."  He goes on to say that, "GI-associated lymphoid tissue constitutes the largest immune compartment in the body."

Probiotic supplements and enzyme supplements are becoming more popular for this very reason.  The digestive tract is a prominent part of the immune system.  For overall health, the gut should be teeming with good bacteria and enzymes.  Microorganisms are held at bay by a low pH in the stomach and an extensive immune system comprising the GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue).  Due to stress, pollution, processed foods, too little fiber and water intake and not enough exercise, many of us have improper digestion and suffer from chronic diarrhea and constipation.  The conclusion is many of us are walking around with weakened immune systems.  Makes sense, right?

FACT:  Most of us are chronically dehydrated.  

To compound that, we are loaded with toxins that we get from our food and our environment.  If you drink just two 16 oz. glasses of water each morning before you eat anything, you will assist your body in flushing away toxins and make whatever you eat more easily absorbable.  Cells that are not filled with toxins have room for nutrients.  You can't get two things into the same tight  space.  A bonus:  People have lost incredible amounts of weight just by drinking more water throughout the day. 

FACT:  All fresh, whole foods (i.e. produce and meat) from supermarkets, even those from the organic aisle, are so old by the time they hit the shelves, and hence, your dinner table, that most have lost half of their nutritional value.  

Think of a tomato.  Once removed from the vine it gathers no more nutrients.  Soon after it is crated in darkness, away from sunlight.  It begins to die which means losing nutrients, day by day, as it's shipped to your supermarket.  Once it gets there, it is only half the plant it used to be.  

And even if we do manage to get our food within a few days because it is "in season," and not traveling far, there is that itty bitty problem of soil depletion.  Plants raised on factory farms, which is the origin of most supermarket foods, are all about profit.  To be profitable, they need to crank out as much food as possible in the least amount of time with the least amount of money invested in raising it.  This means instead of raising plants in healthy soil, rich in 12 essential nutrients, they give it only THREE nutrients  and in synthetic form. These are the bare essentials to keep a plant alive:  Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Yet, we know that fresh, whole foods, because they lack the toxins of packaged food, are the only way to optimum health.  Despite this, a very small fraction of Americans go to the trouble of growing their own food, buying all foods locally or only when it's in season and a staggering number of them have been told that vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary.  

FACT:  Once food is cooked, it becomes toxic to some degree. 

So toxic that it stimulates our own immune systems to fight it as if it was an invader.  This leads to poor digestion.  Also, there is that little problem with heat destroying enzymes.  Enzymes?  Are they really important?  Enzymes are the sparks that start the chemical reactions our bodies need to live. They are responsible for digestion, brain function, cellular energy and cell, tissue and organ repair.  Yeah, they're kind of important.  I can hear the rebuttals now.  "I've eaten packaged macaroni and cheese all my life, and I haven't died yet."  Well, maybe not YET.  But that processed food with zero enzymes is creating an ongoing deficit that will eventually lead to death via a host of diseases and maladies.

FACT:  Vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient that our bodies do not produce, and due to toxins in our environment, our bodies are no longer able to efficiently digest it from outside sources.

It seems like a Catch 22, doesn't it?  The important point thing to remember it CAN be digested.  It just takes more of it to get what we need (about 2.5 mcg per day).  And it becomes less absorbable as we age.  To get enough in our diets, especially from age 55 and on, we would have to eat almost one and a half pounds of chicken livers per day.  The easy answer:  Take B12 a supplement with 250-500 micrograms.  Most Americans do not take B12 supplements, and most multivitamins, if they take one, have an inadequate amount.

This is just one nutrient.  There are many others which we are not getting sufficient amounts of in our diets.  And here's one other tidbit of information:  The United States RDA chart is grossly outdated. Since it was first created, our lifestyles and environment have changed significantly, and therefore, so have our needs changed.  We need far more of these nutrients now, yet people still follow this old guideline.

FACT:  Stress weakens the body and every system in it is inhibited in some way -- the immune, circulatory, digestive, respiratory, reproductive, endocrine, etc.  

"Disease" is only a malfunction of one of these systems.  So doesn't it make sense that if all systems are strong and, thus, operating correctly, disease is absent?  Stress also INCREASES our need for nutrients.  Therefore, what one person needs will be vastly different from what another person needs at any given time.  For example, if you are going through an extremely stressful time, you need to take more nutrients.  One of these is vitamin C.  We're not talking about Molybdenum, a little known trace mineral that doesn't even appear on the RDA chart.  It is vitamin C -- known for almost a century to be an essential nutrient!

Another way to reduce stress is to increase our intake of air, which is another essential nutrient of life, through meditation.    The Art of Living, founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is an example of the profound effect more efficient breathing can have on our health and sense of well-being.  The organization offers many courses in breath-based meditation known as Sudarshan Kriya.  

These are just a few of the cold, hard truths that I've learned about health and nutrition over the years.  Lately, I've decided to get serious about my health.  I'm one of those people who suffers from one new malady after another.  None of which ever get cured, I might add.  No, that's not the way our medical profession operates.  Doctors are real heroes when it comes to some things, like pain management or injuries.  But beyond that, it operates based on one resounding principle -- treat the symptoms, because they have no clue what the underlying cause is!  

Well, I'll tell you what the underlying cause is for mostly EVERY ailment, disease and injury we suffer.  Wait for it... it's is mind-blowing in its simplicity...

A poor immune system.  

The human body has the ability to heal itself.  Isn't that amazing?  I know, you've heard it before.  But it is TRUE.  

But the only way a body can heal itself is to give it what it needs, to nourish it and give it a few other simple ingredients  like air, water and rest and exercise.  If you bought a potted plant and failed to give it water or sunlight or fertilizer and it failed to thrive or even died, would you really be surprised?  Then why are we surprised, in fact, downright "woe is me" when we get ill?  "Oh no, I'm sick again?  I have such bad luck!"  It's as if we really believe that fate is the cause of our illness.  The truth is its our own fault!  Nine times out of ten it is because we didn't give our body what it needed.  And the needs are so simple!  Almost as simple as those of a potted plant.  It's pretty amazing that our needs can be broken down into the same basic categories, i.e. air, water, sunlight, nutrients (fertilizer), rest and exercise, and yet we are much more complex beings!  And we only throw in rest and exercise because we are motile creatures.

We also have been programmed to take "a pill for every ill." Do we ever get better, once and for all?  A resounding NO.  The ailment returns or another one replaces it, because the underlying issue has never been resolved.  To further exacerbate the problem, we are taking chemicals into our bodies via these medications which are alien and cause more disruptions and side effects.  

A perfect example of this is chemotherapy.  What do you suppose happens when the body is injected with chemicals, most of which are carcinogenic, to treat Cancer?  The chemicals may shrink the initial tumor but the body gets Cancer again.  Hmmm... wonder how that happened?

Nutrition and good health and disease are intertwined.  Give the body good nutrition and good health is achieved while disease is prevented.   If the body lacks just one nutrient in the body for a sufficient amount of time, a whole host of health issues will INEVITABLY result.  There is no question about this.  It is FACT.  Therefore, if the body suffers from disease, the first step should be to look at one's nutrition.  What is our body not getting?

So even after we know all these facts, many of us lack the motivation to really get serious about and take responsibility for our own health.  Why?  Because it's easier and faster to take a pill than to invest a little time into eating well, drinking water and getting exercise.  Plus, it's so much easier just to blame fate or our jobs or our busy lives when we get sick.  

I think one way we can self-motivate is to really examine what we want to get out of life.  Is it simply to avoid dying for as long as possible?  I don't think so.  The question we need to ask ourselves is not about death.  We're all going to die sooner or later.  Sometimes longevity is built into our genes.  But we can certainly stack the deck in our favor by eating right.  No, it's not about escaping death.  The question we should be posing to ourselves as we stand in front of the mirror is:  

Do I want to feel GOOD while I am alive?

No one wants to be sick. That's for sure.  So why is it so hard to acknowledge the truth of the parallel statement, "Being sick = Being malnourished."  Recognizing the validity of this would mean we would have to take responsibility for our own health by eating right, drinking plenty of water, getting exercise and rest, avoiding toxins and lowering stress.



Monday, August 29, 2011

A Starry Morning

I was up with the stars this morning.  The skies were cloudless as I stepped out into our driveway to kiss David goodbye.  And I peered up, marveling at how bright they were.  They were amazingly vivid, especially for the morning.  He said it's always like that and is one of the few benefits of leaving for work at 4:30 AM.  I said, "Oh," as I continued gazing up at them.  As the sound of Suzi (his Suzuki motorcycle) faded away and the glare from his headlight disappeared down the road, my "Oh" turned into an "Ahhhh...."  The stars became more vivid on a blanket of dusty blue.

The Lasik surgery, which I had five weeks ago, is opening my eyes (pardon the pun) to entirely new vistas, as well as flora and fauna that I would never have seen from a distance before.  I was suddenly seeing millions of stars that I had never seen with my  naked eye before this morning.  It was truly miraculous.  Oh, what I have been missing!

To be treated to such a glorious moment, to feast my eyes upon such a beautiful vision that is suspended just above our heads and to hear the crickets and the nightjars singing, and the soft whir as the wind brushes through the row of pines along our street... I feel blessed to be alive.

I saw the usual big dipper, little dipper, Venus, the north star, Orion's belt.  But I also stared in open-eyed awe at dozens of other tiny constellations.  My eyes picked out fascinating formations and clusters that I had no name for, but was suddenly starving to know.  Then it dawned on me (again, a pun, tee hee) that the night sky would be even more vivid against a black velvet canvas.

When I go out onto our patio this evening and look up, I imagine I will see the cosmos in a whole new light.  And I will say, "Thank you."


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Choosing Lasik Surgery

I have been wearing eyeglasses to correct near-sightedness since I was about 7 years old.  My distance vision has continued to worsen throughout my life, and I've been forced to get new glasses just about every 3-4 years.  I'm accustomed to the limitations that eyeglasses bring, and contact lenses have never worked for me.  As long as I could put on my glasses in the morning and see all day, be productive, etc., I was happy.

However, last year I was told by my ophthalmologist  that my close vision had become more impaired due to my age (47 then) and that naturally declines as time goes on.  I was told that one pair of glasses was no longer an option and bifocals did not work for me.  She suggested I start considering surgery as a long-term solution.

Suddenly I was faced with a big decision... have Lasik surgery to correct my near-sightedness and astigmatism or be prepared to start wearing two pairs of glasses throughout the day, one for near, one for far.  What a drag it would be to have to wear two pairs of glasses at all times, one around my neck, another on my face, switching back and forth every day for the rest of my life.  I am one of those people, as my doctor said, that simply cannot wear bifocals, perhaps because my eyes are both so different (one I use for distance, one I use for near, and one eye is much worse than the other).

So at that time, I bought what would likely be my last SINGLE pair of glasses to use each day for all activities, but which did not fully correct my vision.  Since then, I truly miss seeing things with clarity.  And my eyesight has continued to get worse.  

One year later (about two weeks ago), I made an appointment to have a pre-Lasik exam.  I went to Lasik Vision Center in Waukesha.  Their ophthalmologist and surgeon, Dr. Ivan Ireland, has done 55,000 Lasik surgeries, travels around the world lecturing on the subject of sight and eye surgery, and has an excellent reputation and wonderful testimonials from his patients.  

The exam went well and I was told that I am a good candidate for Lasik.  They said my cornea is still of normal thickness, my eye health is excellent, and my sight is within the range that can be corrected by surgery.  

They recommended Custom Lasik because of my age and my extreme astigmatism.  Custom will be a more precise surgery, removing any aberrations or fluctuations on the surface of my cornea (I have many) and will result in higher quality vision, as well as eliminate any haloes, especially at night when driving.  The latter has been a real issue for me.

They also recommended buying the lifetime enhancement package, which is insurance should my eyes change and need "enhancement surgeries" later on.  They said that only 5% of their patients need enhancements, and that is only after 5-10 years have passed.  Because of my age, I opted for that package.

So my Custom Lasik surgery takes place next weekend.  I'm half scared and half excited.  I am praying that I, like millions of others, will emerge from surgery exclaiming with joy at the amazing results.  I am told I will likely need to wear reading glasses still, but that's a far cry from wearing two pairs of glasses throughout my waking hours, and I will only need the very lowest magnification for readers.  I actually look forward to buying glasses in cool different colors like so many people do these days, and also to be able to put on a  normal pair of sunglasses!  That will truly be a unique experience for me.

I will come home after surgery with antibiotic drops, anti-inflammatory drops and a pair of clear eye covers that I'll need to wear when I sleep for two weeks.  I'll have post-op exams to keep an "eye" on my healing process.  No strenuous exercise for one week and no swimming, suntanning or contact sports for two weeks.  I'll need to wear sunglasses for a few weeks if outside and perhaps use eye drops for any dryness that can happen to some patients for the first few weeks.  Other than that, they said I could resume my normal activities the following day.

I can't wait to go swimming someday and see underwater!  And go scuba diving and snorkeling and actually SEE the fish around me.  Once in Cancun, I was almost bitten by a gargantuan barracuda because I was nearly blind down there w/o my glasses.  David waved to me under the water to come up, and he then told me how close I had been to it.

I can't wait to wake up and see across the room, look out the window at the waving green trees with clarity, be able to lounge on the sofa to watch TV without smashing my glasses or rest my head in David's lap and still see him without fear of crushing my glasses because I won't be wearing any!  Wow. 

I can't wait to see clearly.  

Hopefully intermediate distance won't be an issue for me.  That's another concern, and no one really knows until they have the surgery as everyone is different.  Fingers and toes crossed, I'll be happily writing and blogging again within a few days and hopefully I won't even have to wear reading glasses for that.  

More later... as the saga continues.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Precious Time

Time has always been one of my most precious possessions, the one I guarded like a sentry.  That strict, protective vigilance was the natural response of a hyperactive, overachiever who worked full-time in fast-paced, stressful jobs.  I first worked for a newspaper doing sales and writing (deadlines), then horse racing in advertising and promotions and then into the corporate world for a telecommunications company.  Every second counted. Multi-tasking was crucial.  Prioritizing tasks was necessary and sometimes a challenge when multiple projects and leaders all had equally demanding timelines.  There was never enough time in a day, and rarely did I feel a sense of accomplishment.  I had no time to bask in the joy of a completed task, much less acknowledge a job well done.  It was crazy, crazy, crazy.  The train was always speeding forward, and I was breathless and dissatisfied, watching life zip by in a blur.


At the end of the day I was eager for down time.  I was starved for quiet, unencumbered, timeless solitude.  After I got my initial dose of it, I was ready to share any remaining free time with others. First, David, my husband, and my cats and then other family and friends.  However, I was also engaged in a series of hobbies and interests:  writing, bird-watching, nature photography, karaoke, drum circles, volunteering at animal shelters, travel, motorcycle rides, piano, gourmet cooking, gardening, Zumba, Yoga, Art of Living, etc.


I think losing my mother early in life made me all the more aware of how precious time is.  And I want to learn and experience everything I can while I'm here.


Finally, after 30 years of rushing through life, the stress had its impact.  Health issues mounted, pain racked my body and mind.  I was one gigantic nerve from head to toe.  Emotionally, I felt like a fragile, glass vase, and every touch, vibration or noise added another crack to my surface. I thought I would crumble into  pieces at any moment.


So I quit.  I left the corporate world and the traditional workplace.  I'm no longer going to a job that I dread and doing unfulfilling work like a mindless drone.  I feel blessed that we are in a financial position to allow me to do this.  But I also know that many others could do the same since telecommuting and home-based jobs are becoming more and more  available.  Working from home requires commitment, self-motivation, organization and sometimes a minor  financial investment to make it profitable, but it can be a reality. 


I recently discovered a quote that sums up my feelings on the matter of time:


I am tired of the imposed rhythms of men,
Tethered time, restrained and trained
To a monotonous beat
Digital time blinking exactness
Unliving.

~Phillip Pulfrey


I've cast away the imposed rhythms of men, tethered time -- all of it.  I embrace my right to dance to my own erratic, unique beat.  I have rediscovered the original me and grasped the fullness of who I am with both hands.  I won't let her go again.  I am living as I was meant to live.  The creative me is writing again, singing, dancing, laughing, exercising spontaneity, giving, loving, listening, stopping to breathe and drink in every moment of this precious life.


I am doing what I was born to be, a writer.  


And I celebrate every moment, every day, every lesson, every challenge, everyone I love who adorns my heart.  I am so blessed to be fully awake again and loving life.






Many have asked me (sometimes with eyes of green) -- what do you do all day? They say or infer:  It must be fun to just sit around and sip tea all day, punch out a few words, then time for another break.  No, this is not the nature of my life.  Yes, the pace has changed.  Thankfully, it has slowed down.  But I have the same structure as any full-time worker.  I still rise every morning before 7 AM, shower and dress.  I still work five days a week.  Two days on transcription work.  And three or more days of writing.  I never quit before 5 PM.  I do it because I love what I'm doing, and I can't wait to do it.


And because I am thankful for this opportunity to work at home, I also take care of all the household and yard chores (save for mowing), cooking, cleaning, small sewing jobs, errands, shopping, etc.  


My days are still full from beginning to end.  The difference is the pace and loving what I'm doing.  Also -- freelancing gives me the flexibility of time.  If something important comes up -- I can shift my hours.  


Time is precious.  And I'm not wasting another moment.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ups and Downs

What a rollercoaster the past few months has been.  I've gone from the lowest lows to the highest highs.  No, I don't have manic-depression or bipolar disorder.  But in a two month period, I was proposed to by David, my pseudo husband of over 13 years, then learned my darling little kitty, Camielle, had Cancer, put my wedding plans/work on hold to nurse her for weeks, and then she got worse.  We had to euthanize her and I broke down into a complete depression for two weeks.  After I could get through a day without crying, I dove back into wedding plans which kept me busy.  I started to smile again.  We happily drove to Ohio for our wedding which was the most wonderful wedding anyone could ask for, surrounded by beloved family and friends.



David and I were married in our proud Scottish tradition including hand-fasting and ring exchange.  I married my best friend in the whole world.  We had a brief but beautiful honeymoon on the Michigan Dunes


  

Now back home, the unpacking done, etc., David is back to work, and I am at home trying to find more transcription work, trying to write, but I find myself back down to another low point.   Feeling so down makes it hard to write or focus on anything creative.  It's hard to step outside myself despite the fact that I'm fully aware the rest of the world has problems too.

But I see Cami in every corner.  I hear her voice.  I'm haunted and also touched by the constant stream of images in my head -and the memories of her smell, her soft fur on my face, the warmth of her head as I kissed her, her breathtakingly beautiful amber-green eyes looking up lovingly into my face, the precious feather soft touch of her paws as she reached up to touch my cheek, the curl in my lap as she slept, all of it, all of it.... how I miss my darling baby girl, the only baby girl I've ever had.

Today when the depression and sorrow began to descend again I tried to cast it aside saying how lucky I am, how much I am loved by my David, my two other cats, my family, wonderful friends.... but nothing kept the daunting darkness from my head.  So I threw my head phones on, clicked on my mp3 player and launched into hardcore exercise.  That worked until about mid-way when some lyrics in a pretty upbeat song resounded with me, reminded me of her again.  I broke down into tears.  I'll never stop loving her, and hope that I can one day think of her without pain.  I don't want to block out the memories simply to spare myself pain. I want to preserve every moment so she'll live on in both our hearts.  Oh how I loved our Camielle.  And David loved her just as deeply. It was the first time in years that I've seen him shed a tear about anything.  I remember how he used to kiss the top of her head or quickly (before I could stop him) suck the tufted tip of one of her adorable ears.  Once I saw I heartily protested that he was "sliming" my baby.  She never seemed to mind, loved both of us so.

So this is my little bit of whining for the day.  Another day it will be more positive.  I know there are others out there who perhaps have children or just fuzzy children as we do, who will understand the sense of loss we're feeling.  It's a terrible ache I feel.  But as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says -- feel the pinch.  When your heart aches either from sorrow or guilt or shame, don't ignore it.  Feel it. It's part of life.  It carries lessons and wisdom and is real life.  But it's hard.

I love you, Cami!!!  I miss you so much!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Drum Circle!

Last night I attended my first drum circle.  My question is:  Why did I wait so long to go to one of these?  It was fricking amazing!

A few months ago I found a group on Meetup.com called (name has link, below):
The Greater Milwaukee Drum Circle and Kirtan Meetup Group

It was so much fun!  The group is facilitated by a veteran djembe and djun djun drum instructor, Kristie Vosburg, and is FREE to attend.  If you don't have a drum, they will often have many extras to play with as well as what I called funky hand instruments that ring, grate, vibrate, shake, etc.  Though the focus is on Djembe style drumming, you can bring your doumbeks or other drums as well.  Kristie provides some basic instruction for Djembe and Djun Djun drumming, but they can be applied to doumbeks as well.

The group was so much fun.  I felt the urge to add in some vocals once we got jamming and was greeted with yes's all around!  So I did add in some Middle Eastern yaigh yaigh yaigh's and some Latin Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrooo sounds which really added to the fun, tribal atmosphere we were creating.  Two of the drummers even danced around with smaller hand instruments during our last "song."  It was such a blast and so overwhelmingly joyous.  The energy we had filling our room and souls was profound and addicting.  I can't wait for my next drum session and will go again as soon as I can.

Though the focus is on drumming at this circle, it was nice to know that we are encouraged to bring other instruments which are rhythm-based mostly.  I'm guessing that guitars and keyboards wouldn't be good choices, whereas a didjeridoo or hand drum or castanets or pan flute would be, anything that could be played w/o necessarily taking the melody line or something that might evoke that exotic, animalistic sound we're all craving.

Not only are the drum circles fun for the music aspect, but for the camaraderie.  You can't help but smile as you're making music together, and the smiles are exchanged around the circle as we play.  It's SUCH A BLAST!

Just wanted to say -- if you haven't found Meetup.com yet, do try it.  Whatever your interest is, chances are there is someone or many out there who share it.  It's easy to sign up and find those individuals through that site.

Though I collect many exotic instruments to play, I only presently own two doumbeks and one Native American hand drum.  But I'd love to get an African Djembe drum.  These drums have cords that can be used to tighten the drum head (animals skin), and they are made of wood.  After seeing a Djembe  played, my hands are itching to play it.

A Djembe (below) is easier to hold than a doumbek (between the legs at an angle to allow air to flow out the bottom and under you) and allow you to beat on it with both hands in the same direction and starting points, played closer to the body's center.  The Djembe is played with three beats and can be interchanged or combined with both hands simultaneously.  There is the "base" struck in the center with the whole hand and fingers together, bouncing off for good resonance.  There is the "tone" struck on the very side of the drum with the fingers only (from base of fingers and to the tips), fingers together and tight, striking harder for a high treble sound.  Then there is the slap, which is played again at the edge of the skin but with a more relaxed hand and fingers slightly spread. This stroke is the hardest to learn, but sounds quite different once you master it.  I am a beginner so these instructions are probably not perfect, but it will give you the gist.  Attending a drum circle and hearing instruction from Kristie, a veteran drummer, is the best way to learn. She also offers personal instruction if you'd like to sign up for some classes with her.




Kristie also brings a full set of three Djun Djuns (below).  The Djun Djun is a cylindrical double-headed bass drum carved from solid Dembu log.  Found throughout South America and West Africa, these powerful drums are worn over the shoulder or played on the ground, and are played with two sticks: one for the thunderous bass, the other for a bell tied to the side of the drum.   Often the player also has a whistle with which to blow calls and breaks to dancers.  The set of Djuns Djuns can be played by one person or, for even more elaborate sound, one person can take each of the drums (as Kristie says, six hands are better than two!).  The three drums are of different sizes and have different tones.  The Kenkeni is the smallest with the highest tone.  The Sangban is the middle-sized drum (medium tone) and the standard Djun Djun has the deepest tone.  All can be beaten from the top or on held sideways where both heads can be struck.





dountrio1.jpg



Doumbeks (below) are crafted from many materials from metals to wood to ceramic and come in many sizes, each providing different tones.  Doumbeks require you to hold them under your arm if standing or over one leg at an angle with the hands starting in different places on the drum.  With the right hand, the dum strikes the CENTER and the tek strikes the right SIDE, whereas the left hand produces the kah sound by striking the left side for the kah with the left hand).  It's more difficult to learn, although I've managed it for these past few years after some practice.



Anyway, I'll always love drumming and can't wait to go to another drum circle!!  What a trip it was!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pussywillows and Sweet Peas

    

I woke up at 3:30 this morning because my arms felt so empty it made me cry.  There's a little circle of space next to my chest where my cat used to lay.

Cami, my silver Maine Coon, would arrive around this time each day, perching on my pillow.  First she would knead my pillow, then mix it up by catching -- quite by accident, of course -- my head and shoulders with those taloned toes.  Once I was roused from sleep, she pointed one silver paw toward the precise spot next to me.  This was her point of entry.  It was tradition.  It was comical, really, the way her long, Maine Coon arm would stretch out straight, with deliberate direction, toward the exact location.  If laying on my side, which is how I sleep about half the time, I lifted the covers for her to walk inside.  She would walk in without hesitation, then turn around and recline next to me, her back up against my chest, both her arms extended to rest along my one arm, head on my pillow.  With my other arm, I'd then either encircle her body, tail to belly or just bend it up and over her in an embrace.

The pinnacle of these sleepy, blissful moments was when I laid my head on the pillow next to hers and buried my face in her soft silver fur, feeling the vibration of her double purr against my face.  The sweet music of her joy resonated into my chest.  Inhale, high purr, exhale, low purr and again and again.  What a serene and soothing sound.  Sometimes she would wrap one arm around my arm, as if to tell me, "Please stay. I need you."  I'd kiss her and whisper how much I loved her, my little sweet pea, my darling little Camielle, my baby girl.

And that's just what she was because I have no children.  Cami was the first cat who needed me, loved me, sought me out, gave me affection up-close and personal.  She will always be my baby girl.  We connected right from the start, like two peas in a pod.

And then, about a month ago, she was diagnosed with a laryngeal tumor, most likely Squamous Cell Sarcoma.  After a few weeks of the least traumatic treatment available, we made the decision to end her suffering.  She had dropped in weight from 11 to 8.5 lbs, was no longer eating, playing and her breathing was labored.  The Prednizone only helped for a limited time.  Thankfully it gave us a few extra better days with her.  But it's so unfair to lose a cat at a mere eight years of age. Much, much too young to lose one's furbaby.

The raw, painful space that Cami left in me is terrifyingly empty.  Oh how I loved her.  It feels as if no one will ever need me that way again.  It's a desperate longing so akin to hunger.  It's physical.  I starve for that silver baby in my arms.  I wonder how I will survive this loss, though know that many have before me.  And losing my own mother to Cancer many years ago, I am well aware of my own strength to survive such immense pain and loss.  But the pain never goes away; some days it's as raw as ever.

Though at times it feels unbearable to miss those we loved and lost, I have asked myself this question and am comforted by my own answer... if someone could erase all memory of either of them and all the pain along with it, what would I say?  No.  Those memories are beautiful and beloved, and I honor both of them by remembering.



This weekend we planted a Giant Pussywillow tree in our front yard.  I know that in the spring there will be lovely, silver fur buds on all the branches, and I will think of Cami.  I'll pick one off and kiss it, feeling the silkiness of fur against my lips.  It will be my Cami tree.  I also planted Sweet Peas on her grave; what better flower to put there next to the sweet pea that snuggled so deeply into my heart.

Cami was delicate like a sweet pea, and like the flower, she always surprised us with her multi-colored personality.

She proud pony marched, long plume tail held high, across the house with a feather baby in her mouth. Its attached string and rod trailed several feet behind her until she deposited the feather in her dish.  She mouthed it occasionally as she nibbled on her dry food.  It gave her comfort somehow and made the food taste better.

Cami loved to hide behind translucent silk curtains and jump out at passersby for a feigned feline attack.

When David and I watched TV in the living room, we always felt her eyes upon us as she reclined on the very top of the cat tree or on top of the entertainment center.  All the while she kept her gaze on my face, her mouth turned up at the corners in a grin.  We liked to say she was keeping on eye on her "peoples."

Water was a magnetic attraction for Cami.  She had a great affinity for any running water or contraptions that produced it.  Most evenings, as I prepared for bed, she visited me in the bathroom, stretching up against the shower door, meowing for entry.  I would sometimes slide it open and turn the faucet on to just a thin stream.  In a few seconds she'd jump up onto the ledge, duck her head under the tap and lick the falling water with delight.

And then there were her adorable mee-yawns.  She was very vocal, meowing on a regular basis for love, treats, dinner, attention, you name it.   And thus, often, we'd catch her meowing, only to have it interrupted mid-meow by a sudden yawn.  It truly sounded like "meeee-yawwww," and ended in a sweet high note that melted your heart.  She always had that surprised look on her face at the unintentional interruption in what would have most likely been a fascinating Cami monologue.

I loved the way she reclined in a chair with her long arms stretched out, oh so long if you've ever seen a leggy Maine Coon cat, and then endearingly crossed at the wrists.

She would sit at any number of windows, chattering at birds and other critters in that funny staccato way, her darling tufted ears alert and radar-aimed in their direction.

Cami was skillfully adept at determining which pair of clothing you intended to wear for the workday.  Even after laying out several items of decoy clothing on the bed, she still managed to choose and lounge on the very garment that you planned to wear.  Conspiracy theories did come to mind.  She didn't want us to go to work so many impediments to that end seemed to creep up in our paths whenever she was near.

Anything partially hidden stirred in Cami an uncontrollable urge to oust it from it's hiding place.  A Q-tip tucked under a rug or door, a stray sock peeking out from under the laundry basket, a paw of one of the other cats overhanging the cat tree -- all were pounced upon and with the wildness of a jungle cat.

If there was a lap to be had, she was in it.  If the path to your lap was blocked by reading material or other unwanted objects, she'd make her request known with petulant baby meows.  Once said lap was claimed, she took her time kneading it, giving it biscuits, to make it just the right texture.  Sometimes this meant, depending on her last trim, being stabbed for a few minutes.  But the  puncture wounds were so worth it because she'd also lean up against your chest and rub your chin with her cheek, purring with energetic vigor.  Then she'd plop down, bend her long body into the tiniest, compact circle, wrap her long tail around her body, tuck her paws up under her chin and sleep.  And for the first few minutes, she'd lift her head to peer up at me, just gazing into my eyes, and the message was absolute -- I love you.  Then she'd purr and purr until falling into a silent deep sleep.  Though captive and captivated by this adorable circle of silver fur in my lap, I loved these moments with her.

Cami was named after Camielle, the archangel of divine love.  I adopted her on Valentine's Day. It was apropos.  She brought so much love into this house to both David and I, as well as the other cats.   She rubbed up against our big curmudgeon Razz, whether he liked it or not.  And she eagerly played games of chase and hide and seek with Fhinnian.

How does such a bundle of silver crawl so assertively into your heart, burrowed there so tightly, that once she is gone, it feels expanded fuller than ever before but empty, oh so dreadfully empty?

I love you, Cami, wherever you are.  And thank you for being my silver baby, my little girl, my sweet pea.

GlassGardensWhatnot: SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR PETS!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Best of Times, Worst of Times

To quote one of the greats (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)... "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."


The most memorable intro phrase especially reflects the theme of this blog.  The yin and yang, life, death and the attempt to recognize or attain any sort of balance in between.  It also fits the crazy pendulum that is my life at this very moment.

Our cat, Camielle, has been diagnosed with a laryngeal mass, most likely Cancer.  We have had sobering reports from the doctors, including a Veterinary Oncologist and Surgeon, that say any surgery to remove this 1.5 to 2 cm mass would be risky because of the tiny area it is in  and the sheer size of the mass. Because the procedure would likely cause bleeding, and it is so near the trachea, she would likely need a tracheostomy, again, very risky and requiring up to 10 days of follow-up treatment to help even that heal.  Also, even after weekly chemo and/or radiation or both, running for perhaps six months, she would only have a 60% chance of living for six months.  We've decided to treat her at home with Prednizone, and forego any further trauma or pain to her.  So far the Pred is working to increase her appetite (she's grossly underweight already)  and thirst, and has made her breathing better.  But it's only a matter of time before her breathing gets worse again, and she goes into decline all over again.  We're preparing ourselves for the strong likelihood of euthanizing her.

So it's easy to spot the "worst of times" in this.  Where, you might be asking, is the "best of times?"  David and I have been planning our wedding and trip home to Ohio in the next month where we'll rejoin my family and have a Scottish-style wedding, complete with kilts and bagpipers.  I was so happy because I knew that Daddy would be able to give me away, that my family will be there with me at this wonderful, happy occasion.

But I went from elation to the depths of depression when I receive the news about Cami.  And the wedding plans completely disappeared from my head.  Now, as the day approaches, I have to make a decision that affects three people I love:  My Dad, Cami and David.

My father, who just turned 81 on May 17, is in assisted living, and because of dementia and very low weight, and just plain old age, his days are also numbered.  That's a reality we've all had to face. And me being here in Wisconsin has made my visits home all the more important.  I don't know how much longer he'll be around.  I've spent many nights awake in the past two years, worrying that I will receive that phone call saying he's gone.  It happens to people of his age every day.  There is often no warning at all.

But because of Cami's illness, I've considered cutting our trip home down to a minimum stay.  If I go down while Cami is still ill and or sketchy, I know I will spend most of my trip worrying about her, filled with heartache instead of joy.  I don't want the time spent with my Dad and family or our wedding day to be ruined by that heartache.  I don't want David to cut his time short when his family is coming from CA for this either.  Or take any of the joy away from this event for him by being in tears every few minutes worrying about Cami back home. I have a sitter that will come into see her twice a day, but what about the bulk of the time she'll be alone (save for our other two cats)?  What if she gets worse and I'm not there?  I want to be with her, to help her end her life peacefully without pain.  But I want to hold onto her as long as I can, now that she's feeling better -- it's possible she could live a few more weeks.  How can I end her life now when she's finally on the upswing?  Yes, I know the downswing is inevitable.  But it's immensely difficult to take a cat that's feeling pretty good, save for a little wheeziness, to be euthanized.

I don't want to have any regrets later -- I love my Daddy more than anything!  But I also love my Cami.  Being without children, she's more my baby girl than simply a cat to me.  I love her so dearly.

What a mess this is.  What a conflict.  I'm pulled between wanting to keep Cami here with us and enjoy every day that I can with her while wanting my trip home to be the full week I had planned.

For now, David and I plan to keep her on the Pred, hope we have a few more days with her and as soon as she shows any decline, we take her into the vet for the inevitable goodbye.  Now, it's just a matter of when that time will come...

So best of times, worst of times... hope and renewal, pain and loss.  Life is cruel.  Life is beautiful.  The absolute beauty of loving is what makes the loss of it so unbearable.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Self-Doubt

I'm going to start today's post by quoting something from my guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:

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Question: Dear Guruji I doubt myself a lot, I doubt my skills, abilities and decisions. How to deal with self-doubt? 
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: How does one deal with self-doubt? Understand doubt: doubt is always about something that is good. Someone tells ‘I love you’, we ask them ‘Really?’, and they say ‘I hate you’, and we never ask ‘Really?’ So, a doubt is always about something good. We doubt our abilities; and never doubt our weaknesses. We doubt happiness, we never doubt misery. Isn’t it? Nobody doubts their depression. ‘But well, I’m not sure if I’m happy or not, well I'm not sure'.So when you understand that the doubt is always about something that’s positive, your mind shifts to a level, a different level altogether. Doubt is simply low prana. If you do more pranayams you will see that you have come about that.

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He is wise, indeed.  We all doubt ourselves from time to time, sometimes in large doses, sometimes but for a moment.  I guess we can take some solace in the fact that we are not alone in this.  But, though simple, his words express how easily we cling to the negative within ourselves and not celebrate the positive.  We isolate and believe with all our hearts in our own weaknesses.

However valued the humble trait may be, we also must remember to temper it by celebrating our strengths, and as for the weaknesses, we must believe that our own, honest and seeking progression through life will overcome them or accept them as merely being human.  As we learn and believe in ourselves, some of our weaknesses may dissipate, in fact, may turn into strengths. And such a gift is immensely powerful, as with our hindsight of learning and growth can give us great perspective with which to teach others who might be traveling the same path.

Sharing is a big part of what Sri Sri teaches.  But we must share love with ourselves before we share love with others.

For those interested in reading more of Sri Sri's teachings or about the Art of Living, you can find more here.  It's been a great blessing to me, and I've made many friends, including with myself:

www.artofliving.org