Bees!

Last week, I posted a call to writers to respond to a writing prompt and allow me to interview you.  So far, I don’t have any takers on the writing prompt part.  It’s okay. I’m patient.  I can wait for anyone who wants to attempt to write a short something in exchange for me asking you a few fun questions and give you free exposure to promote your book(s) or other offerings.

In the meantime, please check out the following photo of some bees I found in the exterior wall of an old shed when I was hired to do a photo session a while back….

Photo: ©R. Carrera

Have a great Hump Day!

This Simple Human

I’ve always favored the color black to decorate with.  Eons ago, when desktop computers went from that ugly mandatory beige to being available in black, I was overjoyed.  When kitchen garbage cans stopped being available only in that horrible slate blue and black became an option, I was thrilled.

I had my last kitchen garbage can for more than a decade.  It was a basic, black rubbery-plastic can with a lid.  Nothing fancy.  The lid lifted off to fold the bag under the rim, and its two plastic hinges allowed you to manually lift the lid for use.

My old can was not this model but was similar.

Removing a full bag of garbage wasn’t easy, however, so my son Jeremy drilled two holes in the back to negate the vacuum caused by the full bag.  It worked.  The design was not great (but it was black!).  The rim of the lid had ridges where gross stuff like spaghetti or crumbs would get caught, and because of the texture, it couldn’t just be wiped clean, so it had to be hosed off and scrubbed (but it was black!).

It wasn’t fancy, but I lived in rental homes, so they weren’t fancy either.  Fast forward until Sister Michelle, son Jeremy and I bought our first home.  I redecorated and wanted to go high-end with everything.  I replaced everything from doorknobs to every piece of furniture we owned.  The fixtures and appliances are all brushed nickel, so I wanted to get a stainless-steel garbage can to match.  Then I saw the $100+ price tag.  Ouch!

After all my other new house expenses, I decided to keep the old black can a while longer.  Then we started having parties, and people who got a little too tipsy didn’t know how to “work” the old black can.  (Just lift the lid, stupid!)  At one party, one plastic hinge was snapped, and at the next party, the other hinge was snapped.  I soon found myself in Bed Bath and Beyond, and something in me snapped!  I HAD to get a new kitchen garbage can right then!  I walked right past all the plastic babies and headed straight to the $180 Simple Human 14.5 gallon can.  (Luckily, I had my 20% off coupon!)

This can had it all.  It was gorgeous with a brushed nickel finish.  It had this beautiful step opening and a smooth rim under the lid.  And it even had a pocket to store more bags and the rim concealed the edge of the bag being used.  It was the Porsche of all garbage cans!  When I got home and stopped hyperventilating over the price tag, I opened the box and was dismayed to see a scratch on the lid!

The next day, I returned the can for another one just like it, and I was thrilled with how nice it looked in my kitchen.  (It had better at that price!)  But the first time I took out a full bag, it ripped.  Turns out, the liner pocket wasn’t flush against the back.  This frustrated me because, while I’m not cheap, I still think almost 200 bucks for a place to throw outdated lasagna is a bit pricey, and since it was only a few days old, I wanted it to still look showroom new.  I examined the problem and figured there was a little plastic tab missing, so I contacted Simple Human who guarantees their products with an amazing warranty.  They asked me to send photos of the problem, which I did.  I expected them to just send me a replacement liner pocket that I could pop in the back of the can, and I figured I’d have to mail them the damaged one once I switched it out.

About two days later, I received a huge box in the mail containing a beautiful, brand new garbage can!  They told me to recycle the old one and enjoy.  The cost of one of these beauties is about the total sum I’ve paid for every other garbage can combined that I’ve ever owned, so there was no way I was going to just chuck the “old” one.  So, I got out the trusty duct tape (which is, of course, black!) and taped down the liner pocket, and I went on Amazon and purchased a recycle logo sticker, and I figured I’d use it for recycling instead.

Unfortunately, the first sticker I bought was white and huge, so it made my kitchen look like it belonged in a state park!  I scraped it off and purchased a smaller sticker in grey, and it looked so good on the lid that I bought another to stick on the front.

The only trouble has been that I got a violation warning from my city that I’m not allowed to put my recyclables in plastic bags!  (Yes, really!)  What-evs… I’m loving my new garbage can (and recycle bin), and I expect to have them around for many, many years, or until I have another party.  And I also find myself polishing both cans at least once a day.  In fact, I suggested to Sister Michelle and Son Jeremy that we install a disposable shoe cover dispenser above the cans so that people can use them before they step on the pedal to open the cans, but my idea was quickly vetoed.

Anyway, I can’t say enough good things about Simple Human, their superior products, and their awesome customer service!  Thanks, Simple Human!

Let’s talk:  How long have you held onto a garbage can?  How much would you pay for a good garbage can?  Have you ever had a party guest destroy something?  What would you have done with the can that was replaced?

 

#simplehuman

Lemons, Beards, and Black Thumbs

Last year, both my grandparents (the ones who raised me and are really my parents) would have turned 100.  Just because they were no longer around to party was no reason not to celebrate their lives.

For Grandma’s centennial birthday in August, we decided to plant a tree to honor her. She had a green thumb and was an avid gardener.  I have a black thumb and don’t have any desire to get dirt under my fingernails.  But despite my complete void of gardening skills, I was determined to make this tree thrive.

We purchased a baby “cocktail tree” (which is a hybrid Meyer lemon and key lime mix). Grandma didn’t drink often, but when she did, she only needed one drink – because she made them so strong, anyone who drank them would be flat on their back after just one!  So, the cocktail tree seemed appropriate.

Doesn’t he have a nice beard? His Mama (That’s me!) makes beard oil and beard balm for him, and he has more styling instruments and products than I do for my hair. LOL

My son Beardy McGee Jeremy was kind enough to dig the hole for me.  We had to put a little temporary wire fence around it because my lawn people like to tear through the yard at Mach speed and take out anything that gets in their way.  The leaves soon started to yellow, and I was sure I had killed it.

Our little cocktail tree

I did some research and learned that I had been over-watering it, so I cut way back and let nature take care of most of the watering needs.  I read that hybrids are particularly sensitive to the cold, so I hammered some stakes in the ground to wrap two blankets around when it gets below 50° and I read I should wrap another blanket or towel around the base to keep the roots warm.

I also learned about and purchased a gadget that tells me if it needs water, if the sunlight is good, and if it needs fertilizer.  What a lifesaver for black thumbs like myself!

This is a handy gadget for black thumbs like me!

When Granddaddy’s 100th came around in November, it was well after citrus planting season, but I had to get an orange tree to honor him since he worked as a citrus inspector, inspecting mostly oranges, after he retired from the Air Force.

I was able to locate a tiny little orange tree – the last one the store had – and despite it being so late in the year, Jeremy helped me plant it.

Our teeny tiny orange tree

I read that non-hybrid citrus trees can withstand the cold over 33°, but as long as I was out there babying the cocktail tree, I decided to baby the orange tree, too.

Look at the huge lemon… Or is it a lime?

The orange tree is starting to blossom.

I do realize that I need to keep the grass (and weeds) pulled from around each tree because apparently other such growth competes for the tree’s nutrients, but they were both getting so soaked with all the rain we were getting, I figured it might help for now to keep the ground from soaking up so much water.

I guess babying it has worked because even with our temperatures getting down to the low 40s for the past several weeks, both trees have grown quite a bit and are full of blossoms. The cocktail tree even has three giant lemons and/or limes (I don’t know which is which because they’re all still green), and it has a few tiny fruits that I think might die because they are hidden near the bottom of the tree and don’t get much sun there.

The flourishing cocktail tree

At any rate, if I can keep them alive at least until their collective 101st birthdays roll around, I’ll count that as a win.  (And if that happens, I would like to try my hand at raising a banana tree next.)  If I can get enough lemons to make lemonade, and limes for tacos, and oranges to make orange juice (or screwdrivers – but not as strong as Grandma made!), that will be a welcome bonus.

Not related to this post: Jeremy likes to try to scare the cats – Notice his awesome beard sticking out of the bottom!

Let’s talk:  Do you do any gardening?  Do you have a beard?  Have you ever planted a baby tree and watched it grow over the years?  If so, what kind and how large did it get?  What would you make with fresh citrus fruits?

Fear of the Unknown

Happy Throwback Thursday, friends.

For today’s throwback, I’m taking a [not so] long walk back to 2018.  The month was October, and one of my Bloggyville sisters, Rhonda Blackhurst, invited me to participate in NaNoWriMo with her.  With all the health issues and pain I had been dealing with, I was taken aback even further when said health issues and pain brought about an entirely different problem – depression.  So, I was truly in a pit of despair when Rhonda’s invitation came, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could physically even commit to writing my name the following month, much less a minimum of 50,000 words.

But Rhonda is a sweetheart, and I wasn’t about to decline her kind invitation.  At the time, while I’d often contemplated joining the ranks of the millions of NaNoWriMo success stories, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, etc., had held me back in the past.  (I had, so far, been able to pen a first draft in a mere month on more than one occasion, but never in a November when life is hectic with thoughts of Thanksgiving, decorating the house, company coming, company staying, etc.  The mere thought of it seemed too stressful to even attempt.)

But now that I had my own personal cheerleader (Thanks, Rhonda!), I knew I just had to make it happen, both for her and for myself.  I had an entire file of story ideas in my arsenal, but as I read through each of them, I feared that if I was unable to complete the challenge, I’d forever ruin a potentially really great book.  My confidence was already waning, and this just shook it more.  I couldn’t risk it.

So, I turned to the recent news headlines that most personally spoke to me and thought What could make a #MeToo story unique?  It was definitely an Aha! Moment when I realized that a Joan of Arc twist would raise eyebrows, and in that moment, I had my story.

During that November, my previously mentioned vitamin deficiency was still undiagnosed, and as the month approached, we got a call from some out-of-towners that they would like to come to Florida and spend the holiday with us.  We were in the middle of a major renovation project that Sister Michelle and I were doing ourselves, and we had to amp things up to be done before the company arrived.  At one point, I became so physically incapacitated that I had to stop the renovation work and literally teach Michelle how to hang and texture drywall from the sidelines while I supervised.

But despite it all, I still managed to write something each and every day of November, and as it turned out, I found that I enjoyed daily writing every bit as much as even more than I ever had!  (As a matter of fact, I don’t foresee a time where I will ever skip another NaNoWriMo again!)  I completed my first NaNoWriMo with 70,900 words under my belt, and by mid-January, wrote “The End” on the first draft which clocked in at 98,000 words.

At any rate, without further ado, I offer you the synopsis of “Under Seraphs’ Wings.”

For years, Rumer has managed to keep the details of her youth a secret from just about everyone except her husband, Cody.  As the #MeToo movement starts then gains momentum, she remains resolute in her silence.

But twenty-nine years after she was brutally gang-raped at a high school party, the Vice President of the United States announces that he has a terminal illness and will be stepping down.  And the President taps one of her attackers to replace the second in command.

Rumer knows she will be risking her career, her family’s safety, and her standing in the community if she comes forward with her story.  After all, it will be difficult enough to admit to the Senate Judicial Committee, not to mention testifying in front of the entire world, that just months prior to her attack, she was institutionalized because she admitted to the wrong person that God talks to her.  But she knows she will lose all credibility if it comes out that God warned her ahead of time that she would be raped – and that she went to the party anyway.

Hold on tight as you travel with Rumer through the twists and turns of this psychological thriller, and watch justice unfold as the assailant becomes the prey in UNDER SERAPHS’ WINGS.

Let’s talk: Have you ever done something for the sole purpose of not letting someone else down, then found that you actually enjoyed it more than you ever imagined you would?   Have you ever let fear of the unknown keep from you doing something that you later found out you enjoyed?  Do you participate in NaNoWriMo?

Honor and the Changeling

Hello again, dear friends.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been recapping some of the crazy-extreme events of my past year, but there were also some really amazing moments.

To start, an essay I wrote won an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest’s 88th Annual Writing Competition.  In the past, while I haven’t entered every year, each year that I did enter, I submitted a fictional short story.  This time, however, I was pre-occupied with other fiction to stop and write a story that would be limited by how many words I could use.  So, I wrote an essay on the families who had been in the news for being separated at the border.  I used the theme of all the Ancestry and 23-and-Me commercials we see so frequently offering to tell us where our family roots were planted, then did a compare and contrast with the border situation.

While I would have, of course, preferred to place in the top ten “place” winners for the essay category, I’m definitely not complaining about being in the top fifty (forty of whom “win” in name only) category, or the Honorable Mention.  After all, being considered “honorable” is nothing to sneeze at.

But my real proud moment accomplishment of 2019 was participating in my second NaNoWriMo and writing “The Changeling of the Third Reich.”  I first had the idea for this story in February, 2014.  At the time, I was wrapped up in so many other projects, I set this one aside.  It was my favorite story idea to date, and I wanted to give it all the research and attention I knew it would take to make the idea really come to life.

As time marched on, life happened, and the day job happened, and then Gastroparesis, and then Lupus happened, and I lost hope that my great idea would ever come to pass.  In September, Sister Michelle’s sister was placed in hospice for her metastatic triple negative breast cancer, and Michelle and I planned a trip up to see her.  As we planned our trip, we tossed around the idea of stopping in D.C. on our way home to unwind.  While there, we would visit the National Holocaust Museum (which I haven’t seen since 2001, and I highly recommend), and I could research some more of the in-depth parts of my story.

That didn’t happen.  We got the call a few days earlier than we had planned our visit and were told to “get here now!”  There were no flights the rest of the day, so we dropped everything and took off driving.  Susan passed away before we got there, while we were only five states away.  (Damn Cancer.)  I did all the driving and my knee, ankle, and foot blew up from being in the car for so long.  (It’s about a 16-hour drive if you can take it all in one day.)  (Damn Lupus.)  Family stuff happened, I felt like crap, Michelle was distraught, yada, yada, yada, and I just wanted to be home.

In October, Sister Michelle and I decided to take a girl’s day, and we visited the much-closer-to-home Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Pete.  It was very negligible in the way of tangible things to see (compared to the National Holocaust Museum), however, it had one amazing employee who made the visit worthwhile.  He was an older gentleman and from Europe, so he had seen so much of the actual concentration camp sites and other such museums in person, plus because of his age, he remembered a lot of stuff first-hand from when he was a boy.  An added bonus was that he had met so many holocaust survivors while he worked there that he then had their stories to share, too.  The tour was supposed to last an hour, but it was more like two and a half, and he answered every question any of us had, and I actually learned a lot that I was surprised that I didn’t already know.

This visit was exactly the push I needed to declare “The Changeling of the Third Reich” as my NaNoWriMo project. I finished with 81,100 words under my belt and finished the first draft a week later with 93,500 words.

The funny thing was, in waiting so long between the time I originally had the idea and when I wrote the first draft, not only has (of course) my writing become exceedingly better, but I’ve also ventured away from the super dark endings I used to envision, and made it a bit lighter, though still as psychologically thrilling.  Meaning – I’m very glad I was forced to wait to write this so I could do it justice.  Anyhoozle, without further ado, I submit for your approval, the following synopsis:

The year is 1968, and the Vietnam War is in full swing.  Dr. Bridget Castle, a neurosurgeon in Boston, handles the victims of anti-war protests, the casualties of war, and being a woman in a man’s profession with ease.  Her husband, her parents, and her patients all love and respect her, but her tight-knit world is in danger of unraveling when someone from her past shows up and threatens to expose her closest-held secret: That she is a Concentration Camp survivor.

For more than twenty-three years, Bridget has walked in the shoes of a girl killed in the Blitz, blurring the line of when her own identity as a German Jew ended and when she assumed the role of changeling.  If not for her childhood diary to remind her of all she endured, she would be completely successful in taking on the memories of the girl she replaced.  But when a patient from Germany is placed in her care, she finds herself unable to deny her past any longer.

Hold on tight as you travel with Bridget through the twists and turns of this psychological thriller, and watch her claim retribution as the former prisoner now holds the key in THE CHANGELING OF THE THIRD REICH.

Let’s talk:  Have you ever planned something so detailed, you had it mapped out to the letter and then life happened and you had to reconfigure everything on a moment’s notice?  Have you ever visited any holocaust museum?  For the writers, how often do you plan a story and set it in stone, then start writing and take it in a completely different direction?

My Skeleton Hurts!

Hello again, dear friends.  When I made my Bloggyville comeback appearance last week, I tried to be upbeat and lighthearted.  It’s never easy leaving a place you love for a while then returning later only to be greeted by a lot of new faces who look right through you because you’re a stranger and not seeing some of the familiar old faces you used to love.  The same is true of taking a lengthy break from the blog as I did.

The fact is, while I often see things that either make me think they will be the subject of my next short story or the subject of my next blog post, the life I was living didn’t allow my body to go much beyond just having the thought to do such tasks.  It’s been quite a roller-coaster ride since I was diagnosed with Lupus in 2016, not to mention the couple of years before that with the host of medical problems I was experiencing and getting no answers from the numerous doctors I saw.

I thought that once I was diagnosed and finally had a name for what ailed me, things would start getting better.  That was not the case.  Keep in mind that I’m also dealing with Gastroparesis caused by my Lupus, so that means I still vomit more days than not, and I’m very limited in what I get to eat and keep.  My family has started saying, “Are you going to eat that meal or just rent it for a while?”  Gastroparesis typically occurs in people with diabetes, and what happens is the food they eat does not digest past the stomach, and since it doesn’t move along as it’s supposed to, it can cause their blood sugar to spike even hours after having eaten their last meal.  In my case, my gut gets so inflamed, the food just sits there until it hurts so bad I have to get rid of it in the only way I know how.  Which is a visit to hug the porcelain god.

I took steroids daily for more than 2 years to try to get everything under control, not to mention chemo for 4 months.  Because of all the poison I was eating in the form of “medicine,” my skin thinned to the point I can see my veins, and just scratching an itch can make me bleed or have a “hickey” that lasts for weeks.  The slightest bump into something can make me get a large, ugly, violet bruise.  All the meds made me lose even more of my already-falling-out hair along with other unpleasant side-effects.

But my body was still in such excruciating pain, I saw no quality of life.

And then my rheumatologist announced she was leaving her practice to move to another city.  Fast forward a few months until I got in to see the new rheumatologist who took her place.  The new doctor’s husband is diabetic and has Gastroparesis.  What this meant for me is that (even though this G.I. affliction was out of her scope of treatment) I finally had a doctor who actually understood at least part of what ailed me.

But worse than tossing my cookies (oh, how I wish I could really have cookies!) 5 or 6 times a week, I just hurt!  Everywhere!  I typically have a pretty high pain tolerance, but this was too much to bear.  I mean, it was like this (and this is factual… not embellished for comic relief):  My 10-pound cat would try to sit on my lap, and I’d scream in agony because it was as if my femurs were being broken in half.  I’d knock on my son’s door to call him to dinner and I’d recoil because it felt as if I’d dislocated every knuckle.  I’d roll over in my sleep and wake up crying out because it was as if my ribs were cracked.  I’d sit on a kitchen chair and grimace because it felt as if my spine and my tailbone had been fractured.  In reality, my problem was this: MY SKELETON HURT!  Every. Single. Bone.  I had no better way to describe it.

My new rheumatologist, because she understood better than most about Gastroparesis, realized that I was losing nutrients during my frequent time on my knees, and as it turned out, my Vitamin D was acutely deficient.  (Your levels are supposed to be between 30 and 100 and are optimal between 40 and 80. Mine was 9!)  And when your Vitamin D is low, you don’t absorb the calcium you also need to help keep your bones healthy and strong.  Turns out that the steroids and chemo I took are known to deplete Vitamin D, the anti-malarial I still take daily to preserve my organs is known to deplete Vitamin D, and my unwilling pastime of barfiness also depletes the Vitamin D. Additionally, I haven’t eaten any of the foods rich in Vitamin D (milk, fish, eggs) in more than a year because they make me puke.  And because of the Lupus, I can’t get out in the sun which is another source of Vitamin D.

(Side note: when I had the iron and B-12 anemia, that caused pain and total exhaustion, but that pain was nothing compared to this.)

So, I was put on a prescription level of D3…  If you take an over-the-counter supplement, you will either take 7,000 or 14,000 IU’s in a week’s time.  I was prescribed 200,000 IU’s a week for the first four months, and now take 100,000 IU’s a week for maintenance.  And I finally feel so much better!  Oh, I do still get the aches and pains from Lupus, but those are nothing compared to the deep bone pain in every bone from the low vitamin supply.

I’m also still dealing with the puking, but at least now when I lose my meal, I don’t feel as if my kneecaps are being bombarded with nun chucks as I kneel to do so.  So, half of my battle is won, and I can’t tell you what a relief it is not to live with that kind or that level of pain in literally every bone in my body.

While my experience has soured me on the current state of America’s healthcare system and the bureaucratic “rules” that go along with it (because no other doctor I saw went out of their way to even recommend a simple, inexpensive blood test that literally could have saved me from months of torture), it also woke me to the idea that there must be an inordinate number of people in third-world countries (and likely even closer to home) who don’t get enough to eat or at least quality nutrition, and they must live as I did every day – with their skeletons hurting.  And that thought hurts my heart.

Let’s chat:  Have you ever experienced a broken or fractured bone?  Have you ever experienced a severe vitamin deficiency?  Did you ever realize that a mere missing vitamin could cause such severe pain?  When you are diagnosed with something out of the ordinary, do your thoughts ever turn to how someone else in the world might be dealing with a similar condition but for a different reason?

 

#LupusAwareness #GastroparesisAwareness

Snakes Alive!

Greetings, friends.  Happy Throwback Thursday!  As promised, I’m back to share another of my life’s crazy adventures that happened during my time away (which, since I’ve been off the grid a while, I guess technically counts as a Throwback).  Do you remember the movie “Snakes on a Plane?”  Well, my story’s title would be better suited as “Snakes in a Drain… and Frogs in a Toilet.”

Sister Michelle, Son Jeremy, and I purchased a house in mid-2017.  It’s a 4/3, so we each have our own bathroom.  It’s a wonderful house in a great neighborhood, but the previous owners didn’t necessarily do all the upkeep required, so we’ve been running into several problems that we’ve had to fix right away with little notice.  That being said, when we encounter another unexpected issue, we just kind of palm smack our foreheads and shrug our shoulders, because from what all we’ve already encountered, we know we shouldn’t be surprised.  When we moved in, one of the first things I did was replace all the weatherstripping around every door because for some reason, they all looked like a dog had teethed on them!

My bedroom and bathroom are an en suite, so they have a door between them and both also have doors that lead outside to the pool.  My rooms were also added on ten years later than the rest of the house was built, so we often find that certain things were constructed differently than the rest of the house.

Now, keep in mind that I live in The Swamp Florida, and in this humid subtropical environment, we have a lot of reptiles, amphibians, and just creepy, scaly, slimy things that are supposed to live outside who often try to get inside.  In my house, I’m the resident lizard / frog / *snake / and other creepy thing catcher, and when we get one of these critters where it doesn’t belong, I usually try to catch the displaced visitor and relocate them back outside.  (*I don’t mind snakes if I know what kind they are, if they are babies, or if they are someone’s pet.  Otherwise, no I don’t go out of my way to catch adult snakes, I turn and run like any other terrified red-blooded lady.  Also, I won’t touch mice or rats unless they’re someone’s pet.)

So, one night, while the rest of the house was asleep, I was up late reading.  When I was ready to get to sleep, I made a last trip to the restroom and as soon as I flipped on the light, I spotted a sizeable (about a third the size of my fist) frog sitting on the toilet seat!  Figuring it squeezed in under the door from the pool area, I tried to catch it, but it kept jumping every time I got close.  I opened the outside door, hoping I could just chase it out, but the little booger jumped into the toilet!  It was late, I was tired, and I didn’t feel like chasing it around any longer, so I murdered flushed it!  I felt bad that things turned out that way, but I figured it would survive and end up somewhere in the sewer where it could find its way to freedom.

The incident all but forgotten, it was about a week later when I was dealing with a particularly painful Lupus flare and I made a late-night trip to the restroom.  If I’ve already been asleep, I don’t usually turn on the light, but I heard a noise, and something told me to flip the switch.  There was another frog perched on the toilet seat, and this one was larger than my comfort zone to catch.  (He was about three-fourths the size of my fist.)  I was exhausted, in pain, and in no mood to break my neck trying to play hero.  I opened the back door and intended to either catch it on the first try or just quickly shoo it outside and get back to bed.  As I went to grab it, he jumped straight into the hole at the bottom of the toilet!  So, with no remorse this time, I flushed it.

The next morning, I realized that there was a pattern going on here that I didn’t particularly care for, so I Googled “frogs coming up out of my toilet” to see if indeed that may have been what happened.  Since I had recently replaced the weatherstripping, I found it hard to believe that two sizable frogs might be able to get inside through my door.  One might be a fluke, but two in a week’s time was had to swallow.  What I found on Google was that my late-night visitors did not likely come up thought my toilet from the sewer, but that they came down through my toilet from the roof!  Yes, apparently, those aluminum pipes that stick out of the roof on most houses have a purpose:  They are gateways for amphibians to get into your house to regulate air pressure in the house’s pipes.  Who knew?  They suggested that I cover the opening with a piece of something called a “hardware cloth” which isn’t a cloth at all, but is a wire mesh thing.  I went out that afternoon and bought some, and now, several months later, I’m just waiting for my son to install it for me.  But I guess just having it on hand did the trick, because after that, no more frogs.

Fast forward a few weeks.  My lawn service did something that broke open a large piece of PVC pipe in my yard, right outside my bathroom window.  They told me right away and said they would be back to fix it later that week.  As promised, they were back within a few days and fixed it as good as new.  No problem.  Or so I thought.

A few more weeks passed, and again, I was dealing with the Lupus flare from hell, so I didn’t feel like even combing my hair, much less playing critter whisperer.  I was using the restroom one evening, when I happened to notice a black hair tie on the floor by the sink.  I knew if I didn’t pick it up, one of my cats would end up trying to eat it.  But I hurt too much to bend over or kneel down.  So, as I washed my hands, I attempted to pick up the hair band with my toe.  And then it moved.  And then I kicked, and the hair tie was flung across the room and started flopping around.    And then I screamed like a little girl.  And then Michelle and Jeremy came running.  And then the hair tie started sidewinding.  And then Michelle and Jeremy screamed.  While in hindsight, I realize it was just a baby black racer snake, at the time, it was not where it belonged, and the shock of the hair tie coming to life and slithering around in my bathroom when I didn’t feel well was too much to handle.  So, without thinking, I bent down, grabbed it, flung it into the toilet, and flushed!

(In retrospect, I think it looks like I probably spend a lot more time in the bathroom than I actually do!)  I didn’t immediately think of the previously open hole in the PVC pipe, but I did reprimand Jeremy for not getting around to putting that hardware cloth up yet (though the large holes in the hardware cloth mesh wouldn’t have likely prevented that small of a snake from coming in anyway).  I figured my newest visitor must have been blown up on the roof by the wind.

All was forgotten until a few days later when I was cleaning the kitchen.  Now, of course we have a dishwasher, but when there aren’t many dishes, I prefer to just hand wash them in the right sink and let them dry in the left sink.  I put away the clean dishes, removed the dish drainer, and scrubbed the sinks.  Then I popped out the left side drain strainer to wash it, and that’s when I noticed another baby snake stuck to it!  I gasped shrieked and tossed it into the right sink where it did this creepy sidewindery thing, and before I could think any calm thoughts, I turned on the water and washed it down the garbage disposal!  And then chopped it up in the disposal for a good 40 seconds.

I felt bad that I overreacted and didn’t try to save it, but by then, I was really starting to get skeeved out by all the vermin attempting to share my home!  I immediately went to Google and identified the snake, and that’s when I learned that black racers lay around 20 eggs at a time.  I realized then that the mama must have found her way into my broken PVC pipe and that I could soon expect about 18 more visitors!

I called my plumber and told him snakes were coming out from my drain, and he said that was pretty much impossible.  Then I explained about the broken PVC pipe and that I figured on seeing 18 more of them, and that’s when he told me my best bet was to get a shotgun or learn how to run fast.  I told him I’m a Democrat, so I don’t do guns, and that with my Lupus being hot, I wasn’t running anywhere quickly.  So, he wished me good luck, and I was on my own again.  I ended up boiling several pots of water and pouring them down each sink and shower drain, then I loaded a heaping amount of vinegar and baking soda down each drain, then, for good measure, I poured a good amount of lye from my soap-making business down each drain.  (I believe I can now win the Cleanest Drains in the Neighborhood Award.)

Thankfully, since then, other than the occasional lizard, salamander, or tree frog that sneaks in through the front door sometimes, we haven’t had any more surprise visitors, though I do expect PETA will be giving me a call soon and revoking my request for membership.

Let’s talk:  What kind of wildlife do you encounter inside your house?  When that happens, do you catch it and take it back outside, kill it immediately with no regrets, or scream and run?  Did you know that the toilet plumbing vents out the roof of your house?

 

#LupusAwareness

I Survived the Medical Medieval Torture Chamber!

Greetings, friends!  Here’s to a (belated) Happy New Year in 2020 and (very belated) hopes that your 2019 was a good one.  I’m afraid I’ve been off the grid a lot longer than I intended.  During my absence from Bloggyville, I’ve been dealing with various aspects of life including more health (Lupus and Gastroparesis) complications, several deaths of various friends and family members, and emergency house repairs (and appliance replacements).  During my time away, besides the day job, I’ve also opened a homemade soap store, written two new manuscripts, created more art for the house, updated some backdoor stuff on my blog, and otherwise kept myself busy with reading and other artsy projects which I’ll elaborate on in a future post.

However, in the interest of not going all over the map in a single post, today I would like to share the details of just one of my recent adventures.  (Those of you who have been with me a while know I have the strangest things happen to me and how I like to “at least get a funny story” out of the ordeal.)  WARNING: If you are reading this in a public area, be on notice that this will likely make you laugh out loud.  (At least it hasn’t failed to make any of my personal audiences snort with amusement, so if you’re not laughing by the time you reach the end, you’re taking it way too seriously.)  [Also, apologies in advance to the men who may find this a little too personal – I know the ladies will completely “get it.”]

Several months ago, I started experiencing a pain under my left arm.  I figured it was a swollen lymph node, and that it would probably go away sooner than later.  By the time I next saw my rheumatologist for my Lupus, it was still sore and had grown in size, so I told my doctor that it felt like a doorknob in my armpit.  (Of course, I meant in reference to size – not an actual doorknob.)  So, you can probably already guess that she sent me for a mammogram.

Meanwhile, my sister, Michelle, was having mammary issues of her own and had to get a breast biopsy.  After my mammogram, they found something suspicious, so I, too, was scheduled for a biopsy.  (It may be a good time to note that Michelle and I go to different medical clinics, so at no time did we have any of the same doctors.)  It was around this same time that I was also dealing with an intense amount of shoulder pain from my Lupus.  I regularly get steroid shots in each shoulder, but I can only get them four times per year, and it was too soon to get new injections.  After Michelle’s biopsy, she came home and told me exactly what to expect:  She said they had her lie on her side with one arm raised over her head.  Then they injected her with a local anesthetic, made a small incision, removed several pieces of tissue, inserted a titanium clip inside to know where the tissue was taken, taped up the incision, then – and here comes the bad part – did another mammogram to make sure the clip was in place.

Ladies, even if you’ve never had a breast biopsy, you’re still probably cringing by now, just imagining the pain of a mammogram following an incision and the digging around inside to collect tissue specimens.  Men, if you don’t believe us, go out to the tool bench, put your junk in a vice, then close it all the way.  Wait!  I forgot the part where before you start, you should raise the vice to about six inches higher than your junk will reach, mount it on the wall, then proceed to insert your junk and close the vice.  That’s how a mammogram works… You have to reach around and hold a handle at the back of the machine that’s about three inches past your fingertips, and then they clamp your puppy in until it’s flatter than a pancake and raise the machine until you’re standing on your tippy-toes, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, they raise the machine once more and tell you to hold your breath while they get the first image.  Then after they get the image, just when you think sweet relief might be in your future, they – while keeping your boob smashed securely – rotate the machine sideways to the point that you think it might just rip your breast from your torso.  And then they do the other side.

So, Michelle’s report that I could look forward to this after the actual procedure didn’t give me much hope that it would be a pleasant experience.  However, the part that actually seemed more excruciating to me was that I would have to lie still with my arm raised over my head for half an hour.  (With my shoulders the way they were, I could barely raise my arms for the time it took to brush my own hair, much less for an extended period like that.)

A few days later, I was all smiles and bravado as I walked into the women’s clinic.  They offered me counselling before-hand, but I declined, feeling fully knowledgeable of what I could expect in my procedure.  I changed into a paper gown and wrapped a sheet around me as I waited to be called to the surgical area.  As I followed the nurse, a door opened and I saw a well-lit room with a comfortable-enough looking bed and a tray of surgical tools.  And then we kept walking.  We passed a couple of more similar rooms and then she escorted me into a large, dark room with a table with a hole in it and some steps leading up to it, that can best be described as some medieval type of torture chamber device.  (Seriously, in retrospect, I would have rather been hit in the head with one of those sticks with the spiky ball at the end of a chain!)  There was a huge scary-looking machine that put out this high-pitched hum, and nothing of comfort in the room except a boring painting of a farm on the wall near the table.

“Okay, climb on up there, and lie on your stomach.  Place your left breast in the hole and raise both arms over your head,” the nurse instructed.

“Wait, what?”  This was not what I had envisioned.

As I climbed up the steps and got situated on the table with my left puppy in the hole, I was instructed to look to the right and place both arms over my head.  So, there I was, staring at my own shoulder and the dumb farm painting and feeling very much like Ol’ Bessie there in the barn being hooked up to a milking machine, when all of a sudden, this clamp thing closed on my free-hanging boob and tightened.  A lot.  And then it tightened some more.  And some more.  And then, I’m not sure, but I think it twisted the darn thing in a complete circle.  Or two.  And that was before any local anesthetic!

And then the nurse raised the table.  By the sheer force of the clamp, my entire upper body was glued to the table.  Seriously.  If I’d have sneezed, I think I would have literally ripped my nipple off.  As the table rose, I felt very much like the unwilling volunteer of a creepy magician’s act.  The stupid farm sank down below my line of vision, and I could see where the wall met the ceiling.  And out of the corner of my eye, I could make out what looked to be a trapezoidal lighted thing that I could only imagine was some sort of FIRE indicator.

“Okay, you’re doing great.  Now, let me go get the doctor,” the nurse said.

You mean the doctor isn’t even here yet?  I was ready to be done, and the doctor was, as it turned out, busy and would be there in a few minutes!   The nurse left again after she told me of the doctor’s delay, and all I could think was: If the building catches on fire, I’m screwed!  Seriously.  I imagined how many different ways things could play out, and in every scenario, I was dead and the medical examiner and his buddies were laughing at the corpse with one extremely long hooter!  By the time I imagined being taxidermized for a freak show and having people line up to take selfies with the Amazing Long Booby Lady, the doctor came into the room.  Of course, it could have been the janitor for all I knew, because I was pinned in place staring at the wall.

At first, no one said a word, and then I felt the machine tighten around my breast, and I think a little of my intestines got twisted up in there, because at that point, I could feel the clamp pinch all the way down to my toes.  Then someone said something.  But not to me.  Turns out there were several men and a couple of women down there hanging around under my aching breast.  I think they were playing jump rope with it or something because they sounded as if they were having a fine time chatting among themselves; meanwhile no one said a word to me about anything that was going on.  The good news was by this time, my sore shoulders were the last thing on my mind.

About 9 hours later, they finished collecting all the samples they needed, and the nurse was left alone with me.  She said as soon as they checked the samples on an x-ray or some other machine, they would be able to unclamp me and let me down.  I was certain it was a little after midnight when she let me down and released my three-foot long breast from its prison, and that’s when I got to see the clock and only 40 minutes had passed.  She had to tape and bandage my poor stretchy, black and blue booby, and then I got to sling it over my shoulder and go get the afore-dreaded mammogram to check for the titanium clip.  Of course, by this time, that mammogram was nothing compared to what I’d just been through, so I didn’t complain.

To conclude, both Sister Michelle and I ended up with negative test results, so it’ll be another few months before either of us have to endure that kind of procedure torture again.  I’m still attempting to convince my sister to go see my doctor next time [insert wicked laugh track here], but she’s getting even with me by goading me to “tell your stretchy-booby story again” each time we encounter someone else who hasn’t yet heard it. (So much for my own modesty.)  At any rate, I’ve got a lot of other (less personal) stories to share, so I’ll (really) be back soon.

Let’s talk:  Have you ever injured your shoulder so that you couldn’t lift your arm?  Have you ever been pinned in one place for more than a half-hour?  Have you ever seen a modern medieval torture device?  (Wait, maybe I don’t want to know the answer to that one.)  

P.S. Even though I am making light of my experience with a life-saving diagnostic, I am not making light of the diagnostic test itself.  I’m fully aware of the seriousness of breast cancer… One of the people I mentioned who was lost in my absence was Sister Michelle’s sister who, after years of fighting, lost her battle to triple negative metastatic breast cancer, leaving a husband, two children, and a family who loved her in its wake.  

 

#StereotacticBreastBiopsy #LupusComplications #Life

Checking In

Greetings, friends!

I hope and trust you are all doing well.  It’s been a while since I last blogged, and at the time, I’d been discussing some of my life’s new changes.  One of the changes since that time was that I started taking chemo pills for my Lupus, and they made me so sick and sore!  I was on them for sixteen weeks, and they were causing me so much pain, I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t walk well, and it was excruciating to use my hands.  About six weeks in, my rheumatologist actually increased the dosage because she thought the Lupus was the problem, not the medicine.  But I became much worse over the next ten weeks, so she took me off everything except the drug that protects my organs, and I got Cortisone shots in my shoulders and wrists.  Fast forward a week, and I’m currently feeling the best I’ve felt in the two years since I was diagnosed!  There’s still a bit of pain, but it’s not nearly debilitating as it once was.  Anyhoozle, I’m not here to focus on that today, but rather to share some cooler things…

I mentioned the time before last that I’d been working on decorating the new house (as well as remodeling, renovating, remediating, etc.!).  From my medical status mentioned above, you can probably guess that I’m growing increasingly frustrated that this project hasn’t moved along faster than it has.  I’ve got several rooms in various stages of repair and decoration, and I have several art projects in various stages of completion.  Two of them will require a trip to the beach for sand and shells to complete, so I’ve been quite anxious to feel good enough to venture out.

Today’s post will just feature a few of the projects that have been finalized.  Nothing as far as the remodeling is completely finished yet, so I don’t yet have before/after photos of that hard work.  Anyway, here goes…

As you can probably be able to tell from my living room, Joanna Gaines is my hero!

The only clock that is actually running is the red one.  Actually, they’re not all clocks:  One’s a barometer, one’s a thermometer, and one’s a hygrometer.  The other clocks are all set to different “secret codes.”  (The codes aren’t that secret, and in fact I’ll share them with you now:  They’re set to birthdates of all of us in the house and a couple of important anniversaries or dates to remember.)  Above the clocks is one of those 1990s shelves they call “dust catchers.”  I intend to drywall that closed, but we’re considering leaving a secret door when I do and putting a time capsule inside since the wall is themed with time.

The initials are also for the people in the house, myself, my sister Michelle, and my son Jeremy, the “C” is four our last names, and the four is because we have four cats  The four was white when I bought it, so I painted it and added the diamonds.  The “C” was orange, so I painted it.  My sister’s “M” was purple and wood colored!  That was a little trickier to paint.  Jeremy’s “J” was a lot rustier than I wanted, so I cleaned it up quite a bit.  And my “R” was plain white.  After I painted it grey and sanded it to grunge it up a bit, I covered it with chicken wire to give it texture.  (Don’t worry; it’s nothing psychological like I feel caged. LOL!)

This bit of work was a bit trickier.  I went to the library and copied an old map book of the area where my new house is.  (Back when this map was printed, my yard was actually part of a large phosphate pit!)  I then printed the map sections out in red and, here’s the tricky part, I made the canvasses.  My sister cut the wood for the frames (I hate using the chop saw!), and I stapled then gessoed the canvas to the frames.  Then I painted them black, ripped the edges of the maps, and Mod-podged everything.  And to finish it off, the old-fashioned key is where my house would be built a couple of decades later.

Moving on to my bedroom, it has (or rather will have) a writing theme.  Or, as I like to call it, a “writerly” theme.  [WARNING: THIS PART MAY ANGER SOME AVID READERS.  Because I have transferred my library almost exclusively to digital, I gave away a bunch of books a few years back, but I saved some favorites, knowing I’d be using them for art.]

This “R” above is made out of “Gulliver’s Travels.”  I got the initial idea from this “W” on Pinterest, but I didn’t want the flower, so I had to rack my brain to think how I could theme it to the book.  That’s when the giant nails and string hit me like a ton of bricks.

This copy of “1984” is mounted on a board, and, no, the camera mounted on the book is not real.  (Though it’s funny how many people are actually tricked by this.  What’s not funny is that when I explain that it’s just art, more often than not, the people I’ve come across then have a vacant stare because they don’t realize why a camera on a book is art.)  The backboard is just covered with book pages and a few of my favorite excerpts are outlined in black paint.

If you can’t guess from this one, it’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”  The roof was a bitch to make!  I used comic book collecting backer boards to cut the individual circles, but I should have used card stock.  The thickness of the material made it difficult to work with.  I glued cut out book pages to the circles, then painted a black wash over them, then painted the edges of each “shingle” and attached them all to another backer board to make the roof.  I don’t know if you can see it well in the photo, but there’s a little bird on the roof, and a cat and a lantern in the upstairs windows.  The fence is partially whitewashed and partially dirty, and that’s Tom’s fishing pole waiting to be used on the left.  For the base of this, I actually glued sand to the wood.  (I was going to use sandpaper, but it was a little too small.)  The “grass” is floral moss.

Finally, here’s “Alice in Wonderland.”  I used the 2, 5, 7, Queen and King cards because, if you know the story, those are the key players.  I don’t know if you can see everything on the teacups, but there’s a flamingo, a key, a keyhole, a “Drink Me” vial, a white rabbit’s head, a tag that says “In this style 10/6” and a pocket watch with the numbers going counterclockwise.  I wish I wouldn’t have spread the embellishments all around, but placed them where you could see them all from the front.  I didn’t think that through at the time.

Well, that’s all for today, friends, but I hope to be back soon with some more updates as well as to check on all of you.

Let’s talk:  Would you deface a book in the name of art?  (Do I really want you to answer that?)  Have you created anything that hangs on any wall in your house?  If so, what?  Do you know why the camera is significant to “1984”?

Blah, blah, blah…

Happy Tuesday, friends! I hope everyone had an enjoyable Cinco de Mayo as well as Kentucky Derby Day.

I’ve been working double-time to get a couple of digital things ready to unveil, but today is not the day for that.  In my last post, I gave you the brief skinny about what I’ve been up to these past twelve months.  One of the major things was my home improvement trials and triumphs as well as custom art pieces I’ve been working on, but, again, I don’t want to reveal those until certain aspects are 100% complete.  So, that leaves me with some of the less interesting stuff to share today.  That being said, I’ll try to keep it brief…

I’m sure you all remember the devastating Hurricane Irma from last September.

 

Thankfully, my neck of the woods didn’t get the worst of it.  But it was an extremely long night (not to mention long days of preparation beforehand).

What was left of my shed.

After the hurricane, you can see all the standing water as well as the preparation we took in boarding the windows, etc.

View from my front door during Irma’s trek up Florida.

We lost power for a minimal time (quite different than when I told you about our month-long ordeal when we had Hurricane Charley).  My son got stuck at a friend’s house, so I was nervous about him.  It was scary in the new house.  But I’m not complaining.  I’m so thankful we didn’t suffer any major loss.  We lost a lot of shingles, our shed, and the covers to the cable and electrical boxes outside the house.  Insurance paid efficiently, and life went on.  The next day, we were trapped in the neighborhood until the city came to take away some trees that had fallen across the road.  And the worst of it all was that we had no garbage pick-up for several weeks because the city was busy collecting hurricane debris.  When we finally got out to look around, we realized how really lucky we were.

This uprooted Oak stood less than 1 block from my house.

There were broken trees, missing roofs, broken power poles, and downed lines.  It’s just proof that Mother Nature deserves our utmost respect.

~*~*~*~*~

I mentioned to you in my last post that I discovered the “absolute best bed in the world.”  Well, that’s not entirely true.  It was my son who discovered it, but after he got his, everyone else in the house got one!  It’s a brand called Purple, and the mattress is AMAZING!  (I haven’t tried their pillow or other amenities.)  If you’ll watch these commercials on YouTube:  The Goldilocks one and the Raw Egg one, I can testify that they really do all that!  (Seriously, when my son got his, we all laid on it on top of raw eggs, and they didn’t crack!)  Remember, with my lupus, I have pain in my joints more often than not, and though my last bed was relatively new and a nice bed, I still woke up with a significant deal of pain each day.  Now, every night when I lie down on my Purple mattress, I literally feel each and every part of me being cushioned and yet gently supported.  And when I wake each day, while I still have the “normal” stiffness associated with my lupus, I am no longer in pain associated with sleeping!  Seriously, this is the most remarkable bed, and I can’t say enough wonderful things about it!

~*~*~*~*~

A couple of months ago, I had bronchitis that just wouldn’t go away.  After 5 weeks on antibiotics – literally the only oral antibiotic that I am not allergic to – I was feeling worse than ever.  Things got so bad that I thought one day I was ready to die!  Honestly, I couldn’t breathe, and it scared the crap out of me.  I called my sister at work and asked her to take me to the emergency room or else I was going to call an ambulance.  So, Michelle left work and picked me up, but on the ride there, I started fearing the emergency room (because of my history with MRSA when I almost lost my leg).  I decided to go to the walk-in clinic instead, and after bloodwork and x-rays, it was determined that I indeed had pneumonia.  However, because of all my allergies, they couldn’t prescribe me any oral antibiotics, and they said I needed the infectious disease doctor to prescribe me IV antibiotics.  And he wasn’t available for another week!  So, I got a breathing treatment there, a breathing machine for home, a high dose shot of steroid there, and a high daily dose of oral steroid for home to last until I saw him.  Once I did see him, I was prescribed a new IV antibiotic that’s in its own drug class called Invanz.  Except once the nurse started the IV, I had an allergic reaction!  They had to stop the IV, and I had to wait to see the doctor again until the next day.  However, later that night, after my throat swelling went away and my mouth stopped itching, I realized that with that third of IV bag, I actually felt the best I had in weeks.  So, I asked the doctor to allow me to continue taking it with a pre-dose of 2 Benadryls.  That continued every day for 12 days, and after about one more week of taking it easy, I felt MUCH better (except for my poor arms!).

 ~*~*~*~*~

So, looking back, I can see that I was unable to keep this as short as I’d hoped. Thanks for sticking with me if you’ve read this far, and I’ll try to make things more interesting in the future.  As a parting gift, I’d like to offer you a photo of my girl Cleo wearing her Halloween skull sweater.  Isn’t she sweet?

Now, tell me:  Have you ever lived through a hurricane or other natural disaster?  Is your interest piqued by that Purple mattress?  Are you allergic to any medications?