It was warm and sunny in Sun City, Florida. My friend Sandy invited me to take a winter break at her home in Kings Point while her husband, Bob, was in Palm Springs for a golf week. Connecticut had been having temps in the 20s, and my asthma was in full bloom. Sandy is a very generous friend and great hostess. And she has dozens of friends who love to party! A great time to spend time in the south.
The shopping – well that was something else. She knows every thrift shop within 20 miles. I found New Balance sneakers for ten bucks; an exercise suit for four; an adorable denim hat for four; all like new. I always found what I wanted in a few minutes and stood and waited for her. “Are you finished already? I’m going to be here an hour,” she would say. Okay, that’s good with me. I am here for the Florida sunshine. Anything else is a bonus.
Only one day was really good for the outdoor pool, and I got some sun and a nice swim. There are two indoor pools, tennis, golf, theatre, and 50 activities to sign up for every day. If I lived there, I would be in the art room – 20 or so artists doing their thing in the studio when I went by.
Have you ever heard of “Cards For Humanity?” It is a hilarious game, made up of black cards each with a question, and white cards held by the players, with a word or phrase to be used for the answer. The cards in your hand don’t necessarily match the question, and some of them are very risque, to say the least. Whoa – we laughed so hard we nearly fell out of our chairs. We played this two nights with six or eight of her neighbors, lots of wine and apps consumed. These neighbors are terrific ladies with a sense of humor and intelligence that just made the evening.
Meanwhile, back in the Northeast, a “historic” blizzard was brewing, traveling up the east coast and expected to hit New England on the day of my departure. Oh great. It would be either stay in place for another two or three days, or get out of town as planned. We determined that making my scheduled flight at 10:15 a.m. on Monday would probably work. The storm was forecast to land in Connecticut later in the day.
Bob and Sandy got me to the airport just in time to make my flight. I had two great ladies for seatmates, and we chatted all the way to Bradley Field. Cathy, on my right, mentioned that she heard this was the last plane out of Tampa for northeast destinations. As we landed, we could see that the snowfall had just begun. Ann, on my left, said she would like a copy of my book, “Now I’ve Seen Everything.” Cathy, it turns out, also is from Portland, and we chatted about what a great city it is and how we enjoy being there. She also owns a consignment shop on the Connecticut shore and knows Sandy. (Remember that she is a great consignee and thrift buyer.) What a great flight, with no awkward or boring moments. My lovely daughter, Margie, picked me up at curbside and drove me home and helped me in with the luggage. My car is still at her house, and we’ll dig that out later.
Overnight snow has been in the 1 to 1 1/2 foot range, and the temps were close to zero. Today the temps are still very cold, and adding windchill factor makes it seem 5 degrees. However, as I look out the window, I don’t see the kind of wind effects associated with a blizzard. That would mean gusts of 50 mph. The storm east of here in Massachusetts is much worse, with more wind and power outages. Nantucket has been totally without power, according to the radio report I heard. I hear from my Facebook friends that the storm was not all that bad in Connecticut. Nevertheless, it was still prudent for the governor to ban all travel after 9 p.m. and for Bradley to close down by 7 p.m. Those decisions are made for getting the roads cleared and for everyone’s safety.
I received five phone calls shortly after I arrived home: Sandy; my brother Ron; my cousin Sandy; my neighbor Karen; and Margie. After getting my computer up and running and reading messages, I fell into bed at 8:30 and slept until 3:30. My thanks go out to all those who sent best wishes and prayers for a safe flight. I love adventures, and this was a great one.
I have not known what to say about the loss of my brother Bob. The loss is monumental, like a hole in the universe. His personality was so large that the loss seems even greater. I have been in a state of mental fog, disorientation, and loneliness for the last two weeks. It comes in waves, and today is especially hard for some reason. He passed away on November 2nd. I drove 4 1/2 hours to Maine to attend the funeral and to see family members. It was raining all the way and difficult driving. I counted 30 family members at my sister-in-law’s house the Thursday night before we buried him on Friday. She graciously served up some Italian sandwiches and whoopee pies, two of Bob’s favorites, and I must say favorites of all of us.
Seeing so many family members was more than a treat; it was healing and reassuring. I reconnected with my nephew Les, and saw my niece Kelly. I also met my great-nephew Jack for the first time, and saw my great-niece Jessica for the first time in many years. My sister-in-law’s six grandchildren, young and lively, lent a most welcome sense of fun and hope. My sister Jane and her husband Jim drove up from Virginia; my brother Ronnie and his wife Gail flew from Chicago. My cousin David and his wife Carla came from Cape Cod; Bob’s son is from Long Island. Most everyone else was from Maine. That so many were present is a testament to our far-flung but close-knit family.
I have lost two brothers, a sister, two infant sons, a husband, parents, and grandparents. It does not get easier, and in fact the cumulative effect is very great. These kinds of losses cannot be replaced. Bob and I had our differences, and he often criticised me. However, he was my brother and our bond eternal. He is the one person on earth I have known the longest.
I am finding it hard to go out to shop or anything like that and am trying to ease my stress by cooking. Today it is Indian pudding and a spicy quinoa and sweet potato casserole. Sounds good, huh? I hope it will be.
My priest told me to go about my life and to live fully every day. That is good advice and I’m trying to do that. TV has little meaning. Reading is helpful, but sometimes it is difficult to concentrate. Loss has forced me to reevaluate priorities, look at my shortcomings and my strengths, try to improve relationships and reconnect with family. This is an ongoing process, and I am trying.
Two things I have learned about Loss: Say “I love you” to the people we care about. It is comforting, healing, and empowering to both you and the loved one. Secondly, take every opportunity to use your gifts in ways that are meaningful to others. That is the reason we are here.
Midnight: woke up with severe muscle pain, took a Tylenol. 2:15 a.m.: Increased pain in arms, thighs, upper chest; felt pain “all over.” Took a tramadol. 5:15 a.m.: Still hurting, took another tramadol. 5:45 a.m.: Got up, still hurting. Very tender to a light touch in upper and lower arms, upper chest, thighs, and calf. During these hours I slept only lightly and briefly. Felt terrible. I began my usual morning routine: put away dishes, wiped down counter tops, made coffee and oatmeal. Ate breakfast, no sugar. Took usual supplements and medication. This moving around and using my muscles eases the pain, and by 6 a.m. I was feeling better. There was some pain but not to the extent as in the middle of the night. That was an all over deep pain that is characteristic of a “flare up.”
Background: Last Saturday night my brother Bob passed away. He had been ill for some time, and this was expected. However, the mind does not recognize the coming death, and only when death comes do you feel shock and disbelief. I began the usual signs of grief – disbelief, sadness. Tuesday I saw my priest because I was a total mess. I could not concentrate, was confused, and needed to talk to someone. He knew exactly what to say and what to do, prayed with me “his favorite prayer” for the repose of the soul and peace for his loved ones. He told me to go about my life, don’t expect too much of myself, and as soon as I was among family I would begin to heal. What a wise and sweet man he is. He gave me a huge bear hug before I left.
Now it is Thursday, and I will be leaving for Portland for a simple grave site service Friday morning in Livermore. Our family has had a plot at Lakeside Cemetery for several generations. I don’t know who will attend, but it will be good to be among other mourners.
It helps to write about this, but especially noteworthy is the fibromyalgia flare up. I write about that in order to further educate about this mysterious illness. I have noticed that stress brings on symptoms; therefore, it is not surprising that the day I am to travel north to bury my brother I would awake with the horrible aches and pains that nothing except time relieves. Tramadol usually helps – it is a strong prescription medication – but deep breathing and Move With Balance routine helps quite a lot. Routine exercise and stretching is always recommended.
I will leave the house soon, confident that the pain and fatigue will soon dissipate. I hope this brief article will help others who experience stress and flare ups. Do the normal things, light exercise and diet, walk, rest your mind, meditate. All these will help.
When I signed up for a bus tour to Newport at the Senior Center last May, I didn’t realize how much we had in store. It was billed a “Lobster Fest with Theater and Cabaret,” and they came through in spades. Newport R.I. is a two-hour drive from northern Connecticut – four hours round trip on a bus with 42 other people. I was able to get a seat up front, and it turned out to be very comfortable. However, on the outgoing trip, we were delayed by a 20-minute pit stop and some heavy Sunday traffic on the highway, making it three hours. But the bus driver was unruffled and did an excellent job maneuvering through.
We arrived at 11:30 and were immediately seated. However, we did not get to the buffet until 1 pm. Fortunately, we had like-minded seating companions to talk to. I was fortunate to meet a Chinese-American woman who was by herself entertainment. We talked and laughed for a long time. The buffet featured hot steamed lobsters, mussels, shrimp, vegetables, fruit, and dessert. My lobster had such a hard shell that I had to have my server crack open the claws for me. By the time that happened, the lobster and melted butter were cold. But the tail was easily accessed and I quickly made my way through that. All was delicious and as much as anyone could eat. One could also order from the bar, but I did not.
I did not take my camera, as I was trying to travel light. Consequently the photo above from the playhouse website is all I have to show you, and unfortunately it does not show you very much. It is a tiny playhouse and dinner theater, family owned for 31 years according to their website. Three other tour buses unloaded another 40 or so passengers each, making 160 people, crowded together shoulder to shoulder in a large dining room on mostly long tables with a few smaller ones. They really packed them in and I’m sure got maximum dollars for the afternoon. We were told there is a maximum of 165 seats in the dining room. But the din of that many people in one room soon made my head swirl and claustrophobia set in. I was happy to get up and walk about before we were ushered into the intimate theater at about two. There, we were entertained by a three-member cast in a farcical play about an unlikely love triangle, too complicated to relate, called “Murder at The Howard Johnson’s.” Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and there was a lot of laughter.
Better than the play and the most entertaining thing to me was watching all the “gray-hairs” walking in, some with canes, trying to find their seats, having to stand up to let others squeeze in front of them to get to their seats, fat bottoms squishing together in a comical dance of the elderly. What a show. At one point during the final minutes of act three, a small elderly gentleman, stooped with arthritis and using a walker, and who sat in the front row, had had enough. He got up and struggled to the Exit door, the walker falling in front of him and he on top of it. A gang of people got up to help him. He was undeterred and made it outside without further incident, and the play continued to its end, uninterrupted. “The play’s the thing.” I only hope he was alright once he was outside. I did not see him again. People watching is so much fun.
Next we went back into the large room, where we were treated to an excellent cabaret. Eight singers and dancers, including those from the play we just saw, entertained us with familiar and lively songs, such as “Let me Call You Sweetheart,” and I wish I could remember the others. I was amused to see my waiter smiling and singing – a singing waiter, how fun. He was very handsome and talented, as were they all. I enjoyed this more than the play. There were some solo numbers that were very sweet and amusing, and group numbers that were very lively, all accompanied by a pianist and a drummer. I was seated in a great spot very close to the stage and could have touched them. What a treat.
We left the theater about 5 pm, with ample restroom time, very important before a long ride home. The entertainers stood at the door as we departed so we could shake their hands and compliment them as we left. They enjoyed that too and said we were all a terrific audience. After 4 1/2 hours of confinement in that small space, it was liberating and spirit-lifting to see the sun again as we got onto the bus.
Our tour director, employee of the senior center, was extremely cordial and helpful, and provided us with more entertainment on both legs of the trip, in the form of movies. My favorite of the two was “Last Vegas” starring Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline. It takes place in Las Vegas, a weekend for four friends from childhood in Brooklyn. Now, 58 years later and living in four different places in the country, they spend this weekend in lively form and getting into lots of trouble. I highly recommend it.
I should mention that the drive into Newport is gorgeous, the beautiful sunny weather enhancing the scenery. We drove over two high bridges as we approached Newport and saw hundreds of boats, blue water and sky, and stately homes, all from a very high elevation. I am sure that those of you who live near the water can appreciate this. I need to go back on my own and spend time near the rocks and water. I arrived home at 7:30, quite exhausted from the entertainment overload, but was happy I went. It being Sunday night, I checked in to my local PBS station to watch a documentary on The Charles W. Morgan whaling ship, and a repeat of “Sherlock.” More overload.
I believe that most of us want, and maybe need, to be entertained. It is something I have thought about over the years. When I look at all we have to entertain us and how much time we spend doing those things, from electronic gadgets, film, television, books, to groups we belong to, and the amount of money we spend in upgrading our electronics, memberships, and so much more – well, it is quite mind-boggling. That subject would take up its own blog, or book. Something to think about.
It has been a week since I began my vegetarian diet. I now realize that boredom with my old diet is one of the reasons I needed a change. I couldn’t face another broiled chicken breast. I am enjoying putting together new recipes and new flavor combinations. I have also found that I am not snacking between meals, feeling quite full on the veggie diet as long as I eat protein with every meal.
Protein sources include different kinds of beans, usually within a salad; quinoa, which is very filling; other veggies have varying amounts of protein and can be combined easily. Dairy such as yogurt, cheese, and milk are always good. I am lactose intolerant, so I must be careful of the cheese. I use Lactaid milk, cottage cheese, and sometimes ice cream, also Lactaid tablets that aid digestion if I want to indulge in the forbidden dairy. That works well for me.
Today I will have bean and corn salad with cilantro and onion, olive oil and vinegar dressing, salt and pepper, plus a green salad. Also on the menu will be a dish I made yesterday and will heat up again. It is a spicy quinoa and sweet potato hot dish, with hot peppers, onion, cilantro, and other spicy seasonings. It was so delicious that I ate half of it right away even though it was only 10:30 in the morning. It satiated my appetite all afternoon until 5 p.m. I do most of my prep and cooking in the morning, so that I can eat my main meal at any time and be more relaxed.
All this may not seem very exciting to some of you, but my teenage granddaughter has encouraged me because she went vegetarian several months ago and has found it very rewarding to a healthy lifestyle. This makes a nice connection for us, and we swap ideas and recipes. We both feel more healthy with better sleep and energy and have both lost some weight. I am sure it is a saving on my budget as well, and there are no greasy pans to clean up. WooHoo!
Today I made two uses of a food found in most everyone’s refrigerator, and I thought to write them down to share with the rest of you.
Greek yogurt has become the yogurt-of-choice, if you are to believe the advertising and hype. I continue to purchase the other kind; it is organic, and I buy it plain, not flavored and sweetened, in the large 2-pound tub. It is not as thick as the Greek style, but here is what I do if I want the Greek style: I scoop out a cup or so into a sieve with cheese cloth and let it drain for an hour. What remains is thick Greek-style yogurt with a bit of liquid drained off below. Now, I have seen trained TV chefs, presumably educated in the preparation of all kinds food, throw away that liquid. That liquid is whey, you know, the kind in the nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffett? That whey is full of protein that you can spend many dollars on in the health food store. In one scoop, I have saved money on both Greek yogurt plus whey protein for my smoothies. Whey can also be used in place of buttermilk in recipes. It is the pH that is important here. I have also saved many dollars, and sugar calories, by not buying the little 6- or 8-ounce flavored yogurt cups. They taste good and are convenient, but way too expensive for me.
I am not a food chemist, but I do know that whey on the commercial health food market comes in many forms, and is processed in several ways. I will not attempt to explain that but know that I can get a form of the unadulterated stuff very easily on my own. It is one of the best forms of protein available, with little or no lactose or other indigestable ingredients. I understand that athletes like whey because it returns their muscles back to their former strength very quickly. I’ll have to remember that the next time I work out!
Did you know that you can make your own yogurt? This link to Eating Well magazine’s recipe will give you directions:
The abbreviated recipe is this: Take 4 cups milk and heat in a saucepan to a temperature of 180º. Remove from heat and cool to 110º (use candy thermometer). Stir in 1/4 cup of plain yogurt (this is essential for the live active cultures in yogurt). The use of 2 per cent milk and plain unsweetened yogurt is recommended. Place mixture in two 1-quart jars or a bowl, cover lightly, and keep in a warm place. After eight hours, place in refrigerator. For Greek style, strain the yogurt through cheesecloth or in a Greek yogurt maker. Be sure to save a little for your next batch.
Who knew that yogurt could be so much fun?
I’m so excited. I found my Fibromyalgia Cookbook. It has been missing for months. Well, it hasn’t actually been missing. I just haven’t looked in the right place. After all this time, I figured it had been thrown out with the newspapers, and I was just about to order another, when I had an epiphany. My magazine rack — I looked down, and there it was in all its pretty red, white, and green colors, with a few stick-on bookmarks peeping out from the pages. Whoa! I laughed out loud. Obviously I had been reading it and then tucked it in the rack, where I knew it wouldn’t get lost. You know how that goes.
- Drink eight 8-oz glasses of water daily. The author states that “it is imperative for fibromyalgia sufferers to drink lots of water.”
- Switch from white flour to spelt flour. This whole wheat flour is more tasty and nutritious, is organic and unbleached. Many who are wheat and gluten sensitive are able to tolerate spelt, plus it is higher in B-vitamins, fiber, proteins, and several amino acids. White flour invokes an inflammatory response, causing pain.
- Use red bell peppers instead of green. Green peppers contain a substance called solanine that affects enzyme function in the muscles, causing pain.
- Use brown rice, which is high in fiber, Vitamin B6, thiamine (vital to nerve function), magnesium, copper, and zinc.
- Ginger, rosemary, oregano, pepper, and thyme are powerful antioxidants.
- A diet rich in complex phytonutrients and antioxidants is essential in reducing pain and fatigue, as well as improving mental outlook. FM patients are “in dire need” of a diet rich in these foods.
- Avoid caffeine, sugar, and red meat.
- Use low-fat dairy and eat unprocessed food, lots of it.
I try to follow these rules, but I really do like my coffee in the morning and a good burger every now and then. And I have not quite given up sugar. But I keep trying because I believe an anti-inflammatory diet can improve my quality of life.
Yes, it is that time of year again, when the temperature falls and the heating bill rises. It is the beginning of tough driving, cars not starting, and me not wanting to venture into the cold for any reason. Having grown up in the State of Maine, I should be used to these winters, but the older I get the less I tolerate the cold, especially when it gets to minus digits.
My aging car does not tolerate the cold either. On three recent occasions I have not been able to start that little bugger. The first time it happened I had it towed to the garage. They could not find anything wrong and were able to get it started. The second time I finally was able to get it started and took it to the garage. Lester tried to find something but could not, and he clearly did not want to spend a lot of time on it. He did not charge me either. That is what happens when you are loyal to a privately owned garage – they treat you like family, well almost. There was a time when my bill was larger than my checking account, and the owner allowed me to pay half, then the other half the following month. Dealers are not that kind. Then I had an epiphany and bought some dry gas, which got the car started on the first turn.
This morning the car would not start, and I will add that the temperature was hovering around zero with wind chills to minus 8. I did not panic, as I had put dry gas in when I filled it two days before. But to be sure, I asked my very nice neighbor if she would take me to an auto parts store to buy more. She did, and I put it in the gas tank. It still did not start, so I left it alone and went inside to warm up. An hour later, I tried the ignition again and it started right up.
I tell you all this because it is a metaphor of my life and what I go through daily. Sometimes I don’t start very well either, and I stay in bed a little longer until I can get that second push and land my feet on the floor. Once that happens, I can “run” very well all day without “stalling.”
Two weeks ago I got a double hit – a fibromyalgia flare-up and a case of bronchitis, both in the same day. The flare-up came at night, as they always do, with all-over pain that made me moan; the moaning woke me up. I lay there a while, then took a tramadol, and within the hour I was much better. However, the flare of muscle pain and fatigue lasted through the day and evening. The sniffly cold that I had caught earlier in the week suddenly became much worse with what I knew was bronchitis, you know, that deep rattling cough. I saw the doctor, who prescribed a couple of meds, and today I am nearly over the darn thing. The cold air is not good for someone like me with respiratory problems, and the weather person says there is no end in sight. My little car and I are in for a long winter. The new spring outfit I ordered showed up in this morning’s mail, and it is hanging where I can fantasize the coming of spring. It looks like this, different top but same color:
Keep a positive attitude and stay healthy.
A photo of the beautiful Maine coast at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth: