Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Week of Wow

This is the first opportunity I've had to write in a couple weeks and a lot has happened with our little family since then.  More than that though, a lot has happened in our country.  While we were not directly affected; everyone, especially those with children I think, has had to deal with the reality that our world is changing and perhaps not for the better.  

Nearly two weeks ago we made the trip to the southern part of the state to pick up Jimmy from his step mom as it was the beginning of his spring vacation from school and he was coming to stay with us for the week.  Aside from the 9 hours of driving required to get down there and back, it was a pretty awesome day as we hadn't had the chance to see him for a couple months.  Once we got home that evening, he helped me get all the luggage in, the car cleaned out, and a fire started in the wood stove before we settled in for the evening; me in my chair and him with his mom on the couch (though he did take a few breaks to get on the floor and play with the dog).  It wasn't long before Marilyn needed to go lay down (long trips like that wear her down pretty bad unfortunately) and he and I stayed up for awhile watching some TV and catching up on his hockey season and karate lessons.  You know, man talk.    

Now, I have to tell you that up until that point we still had snow...a lot of it!  We have two driveways, one that's gravel and one that's not.  The gravel one is steep and at the bottom there's really no place to put plowed snow so for the winter we shut it down and use the back driveway because once it freezes over it works great.  However, what we didn't know and didn't think of when we moved up here is what happens in the spring.  We now have a 1/3 mile mud run that we were trying to drive in and out of when we needed to go somewhere.  The night we drove back in from getting Jimmy was the night it also became all but impassible.  This left us with a serious issue and only one way to solve it...with a shovel.  And solve it we did.  Though it wasn't fun by any stretch of the imagination, Jimmy and I spent the better part of two days working and shoveling our asses off (and no it wasn't forced child labor.  LOL) and finally got it so we could get our SUV in and out and keep us from getting trapped.  It was a good lesson for him in doing things you don't want to do because they need to be done but I'll tell you this much; I learned that lesson a long damn time ago and hope by next year I have a tractor in the door yard so I don't have to repeat it!  hahaha.

The rest of the week was pretty great.  Jimmy spent time with his mom doing pottery, writing stories, doing arts and crafts, talking, and playing games.  With me we went four wheeling, snow shoeing, played some catch with a baseball, and he ran the dog damn near into the ground throwing him tennis balls out in the field!  In addition to shoveling he also helped me with firewood, laundry, dishes, and had no problem doing an hour of reading every day.  He fell right into doing his chores and learned a valuable lesson....he can't put as much firewood in the wheelbarrow as I do and still expect to move it.  :)

With all the fun and good that came of last week, there was of course, the bad.  While it had nothing to do with him directly, I'm of course referring to the events that took place in Boston and also what happened in West, Texas.  The explosion and deaths in Texas are much easier to explain to an 11 year old I think.  While they are certainly tragic, as of the time I'm writing this, I haven't heard of any evidence that it was an intentional act.  While it may be found that there were human errors that led to the fire and explosion that took place, I think it the mind of a child that simply correlates to an accident.  When terrible things like that happen, if children have questions you can use the incident to promote valuable lessons if approached properly.  That option is off that table when attacks such as that that took place in Boston occur.

Even now, with him not here, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around how to explain to a child what took place in Boston.  It's all the harder when the child only lives a couple of hours away from the location.  At 11 years old I think we know some of what's going on but not all of it.  Perhaps just enough to confuse us and that's what we ran in to.  He understood that someone had set bombs at the marathon and that they were bad people but to answer why they did it it nearly impossible.  Of course, for the first couple of days there weren't even any suspects which made those questions all the harder to answer.  He had a few questions that we answered as best we could and I could see his mind working to try and put the pieces together.  In all honesty I was doing the same thing he was every time I'd hear an update.  By the end I'm still not 100% sure he was understanding it but then again I'm not sure most of us were.  For me, my revelation that the world was going to hell was the 1993 Oklahoma City Bombing and at that point I was 10.  It was hammered home with 9/11.  I wonder, when he's 30, if he'll look back at this even and have the same thought.  Of course, at that point we hadn't had school shootings on the scale we have recently so it's hard to say which will have the most impact.

For the evil we witnessed in Boston there was one caveat on Patriots Day and we made a point to show Jimmy.  That was the good that was displayed by those around the events.  All the people running in to harms way to help the injured.  The first responders and the regular citizens, who not knowing if there were more bombs, rushed to the aid of complete strangers.  All the blood donations the area hospitals received to the point they had to stop accepting any more.  For the evil that was done to the persons killed and those who were injured, the good shown through in the actions of their fellow humans.  If there's one thing a child understands it's hero's and you could see the admiration in Jimmy's eyes when we were explaining why these people were hero's.  

So, what to make of last week.  I think it's becoming an all too common theme that parents need to figure out a ways to explain such events to their children.  All we can do is approach the questions with an open mind and answer them as honestly as we can.  I think most importantly however, is to let them know that we will not let evil shut us down.  Don't let it over take you or them.  Rather than sitting and watching all the news coverage; take them outside to play, watch a ball game, go four wheeling, make some crafts, meet some new friends.  The best way to conquer the evil meant to paralyze us is to look it dead in the eyes, tell it to Fuck Off , help those you can, and live your life with a smile.             


Saturday, April 13, 2013

What's normal

I've had a comment made to me time and time again and it's both confusing and frustrating and often leaves me thinking for a time after.  While I was sleeping this morning, Marilyn was on the phone with one of her girlfriends and apparently I came up in discussion.  As happens often apparently, the comment or comments were made that I'm 'special' for my willingness to stand by Marilyn as we face all her health issues.  For me it seems obvious but apparently I'm alone in this as many others find it astounding.  I guess my question is why?

It's a serious question that I have never received a proper answer too.  Am I so different from other men because I'm willing to stand by the woman I love?  I guess I'm just having trouble processing the idea.  My grandparents have been married for 50+ years so for me standing by her is a no brainer.  Is it really that different for other men?  Is it just men in our society that have this issue?  Or is it simply a perception that woman have of men?  Believe me, I'm not trying to be an ass I'm asking a serious question.  I can't imagine my grandfather leaving my grandmother, not after I saw him there through her treatments for breast cancer.  Not when she was pregnant with my mother at a very young age and they struggled mightily as so many people of that generation did.  Or maybe it wasn't witnessing the strength of their marriage; perhaps it was witnessing the struggles my own parents had and the fact that they're still together despite issues that arose during their marriage.

Now I realize that our society has become one of instant gratification and people tend to try and get what they want when they want it.  Nowadays that mentality is often introduced in childhood, continues though the teen years, and sought after by young adults until they realize that it's not possible when other people are no longer paying your bills.  But does that same attitude bleed into our personal lives as well?  Is that the reason people seem to think that I'm somehow a better person than I am?  Believe me, I'm as guilty as anyone of putting the necessary things aside to get things I want immediately.  I've made some big mistakes in my life.  Mistakes that have hurt others and mistakes that didn't uphold that values that I've tried to carry myself with. But, for me at least, those mistakes became learning tools as I think they're supposed to.  With age comes wisdom at least so I've been told.  Is it that people aren't learning from their mistakes?  Are they not listening when people tell them about their own mistakes?

For me, there's nothing remarkable about what I'm doing which is nothing more than standing with the person I love and will soon be vowing to spend the rest of my life with.  Rather than think myself somehow extraordinary or better than others, if it's true that I'm somehow outside the norm doesn't that say something negative about the society we've become rather than something stellar about myself?  Are we no longer developing the kind of men that stand up for what's right?  For love?  For family?  Perhaps it's not I and others who help and care for their loved ones that are outside natures norm but everyone who would be unwilling to make the same sacrifice.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stress Test

When one becomes a care taker within the VA program, how to properly deal with stress becomes a focal point.  As I've found, being a caretaker comes with inherent stresses that are quite different than the traditional stresses of every day life.  Along with that, I think if you're a person who's mind is constantly running, like myself, that stress can magnify if you're not careful.  Learning to deal with stressful situations and the side effects is just as important as learning the required duties of being a caretaker.  If you put yourself in a position where you're unable to care for yourself, obviously you're not going to be able to care for your loved one.

One of the major stress relievers that's emphasized for any caretaker is utilizing family and friends to give you a break.  Just a little time away to clear your head, relax, and have the possibility of needing to jump into action at a moments notice removed from your shoulders.  It makes sense right?  In all parts of life that come with stress eventually you have to take a break before it breaks you.  Parents may have a movie night away from the kids, you may take a vacation from your job, ect.  Simply put, it's a time when you don't have to think about your responsibilities.  In our living situation, I don't really have that option.

Before we moved to our current location four hours north, my job was a huge source of relief.  I know some people may be surprised but I had a job I really enjoyed working for people who were great to both Marilyn and I.  They were more than willing to work around the times I needed off to take her to doctors appointments and to deal with other things that arose.  Since it was landscaping, I also had the ability to work outside and physically burn off any stress that was accumulating.  Between the move and our schedule once we relocated I lost that outlet.  Obviously being so far away I couldn't continue to work for them.  Marilyn had appointments constantly for the first month, and her health was in a constant state of flux.  After a trip to Virginia for an appointment and to visit her parents, we came back and it was immediately time to get ready for a long, cold winter.  (Though it was MUCH longer and colder than we anticipated.  It's April 10th and it snowed this morning)

I also had to give up my chiropractor, which for anyone who's had a good one, sucks.  I'm not a real big fan of traditional medicine so for me it was like giving up a a trusted family doctor for yourself and your children.  Not an easy thing.  On top of that, I was making real progress dealing with some past athletic injuries and I knew I could potentially be facing sever discomfort again.  Some people can just pick people out of the yellow pages and be happy with the care they receive but I'm very finicky about who puts their hands on my body so getting another chiro was out of the question.  This holds true even now.  I still don't have a new one because I haven't reached a good comfort level with the idea and laying on a chiro table is not somewhere where you want to be having questions about or a lack of trust in the person treating you.

After a couple months of stress and letting it compound without releasing it, I decided to start weight lifting and working out.  Within two weeks I re-aggravated an old injury, which not only put me on the couch for two days, but happened right in the middle of hunting season, fucking up my favorite time of year.  At that point I was pretty pissed about almost everything but did my damndest not to let Marilyn see it.  I kept up with the daily ins and outs of life and put on a smile but the stress just kept building and building.  I was frustrated, tired, annoyed, and also drinking.

When I say drinking, I don't mean I was consuming mass amounts of alcohol and getting drunk every night.  But by most any standard I was drinking a lot of alcohol throughout the course of the day.  For the most part I drink beer and I do it because I enjoy the taste.  Other than for a little while in college, I've never been a drink strictly to get drunk person.  Come January though, I decided that it was time to amp back because while it wasn't a problem then, I had a fear that it could become a problem if I didn't smarten up.  It was around this time that I was watching TV early one morning and saw an infomercial that changed everything.  It was for TapOut XT, the home workout program.  It looked intriguing so I got online and while doing a comparison of it and P90X, I came across GSP Rushfit.  After only a few minutes I knew I wanted it and though I had to wait until the following month to make the purchase, that was nearly three months ago and I will finish the 80 day beginner program at the end of the week and am excited to begin the intermediate.

I was always involved in sports and working out so for me, the stress relief is in the challenge this program provides.  I like this one specifically but would recommend looking into the others depending on what your needs and desires may be.  I can't give a review on the rest because I've never done them.  But Rushfit has been huge for me.  I drink a few beers between the last night of my workouts for the week and on my one day off, but the rest of the week I drink mostly water because I don't want to cut into my gains needlessly.  The confidence gained in my health also led me to sign up for my first adventure race later this summer which I'm really looking forward too.

Another factor to the decrease in my stress level is good weather.  Cabin fever had set in for both Marilyn and I I think.  We don't really know anyone up here (I suck at meeting new people.) so we have limited exposure to other people. The weather has been shitty for the past 5 months, we don't have snow toys or a tractor to get out side and play with, and when there's four feet of snow on the ground it's a little hard to get out and get anything done in the yard.  However, with the increasing temps, snow melt, and spring birds arriving again I have the opportunity to get out and do things I enjoy.  Cutting firewood and delimbing trees for the time being will quickly turn into landscaping the yard for the wedding, throwing the ball for the dog while cooking dinner on the grill, and heading down to the river with a fishing poll in my hand and a smile on my face.

Learning to deal with the stresses of care taking can be confusing and frustrating from time to time but I think the key is learning what works for you.  I look forward to seeing my family and friends to help when schedules line up but I know for the time being it's not something I can rely on as a constant.  Find other things you can do.  I workout at home in the living room (which also save money on gym fees) and though I take my cell phone anytime I go in the woods, I can still take time to do things I enjoy while maintaining a close distance in case I'm needed.  I can't always get completely away from everything, but by keeping myself strong in mind and body, I can keep it manageable where it belongs.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pride and Prejudice

After Marilyn and I met, we did what every new couple who meets does; we talked about our hopes and dreams, things we'd like to do, things we hope to do, and interests that we have.  One main thing she expressed was the desire to learn how to make pottery.  It was both something she'd been interested in before her illness and something that she thought may be a good therapy.  Upon her moving from her parents home (where we're house sitting now while they're away for awhile) south to come and live with me, she found a pottery studio in fairly close proximity to where we were living, made a phone call and the next week I took her to her first class.  What I didn't know at the time, was how big a part of our lives pottery was about to become!

Her instructor was knowledgeable and educated in what she was doing and really took time with Marilyn to explain not just how to do things correctly, but why they needed to be done that way and what could happen in things were done incorrectly.  It turned out that she's really an outstanding person and someone who's become a good friend to both of us, especially Marilyn.  From that day forward "pottery talk" would become a staple in our household.  I try and keep up, I really do but honestly it's not my thing and Marilyn knows that so she tries to keep it basic.  If I were to use an example: it would be like me talking football all the time.  She listens for so long but eventually the volume goes down and I'm basically talking to myself.  It's the same thing for me with her and pottery.  I try to keep up and pay attention but invariably my attention span dissipates and I'm thinking about a host of other things.  Thankfully, she already knows this so when she reads it I won't get in too much trouble.  ;)

After a few months of taking her back and forth (she lost her license due to the seizures), she began making hand built items at home and that's when things for her went to another level.  Throwing on the wheel (think the scene from 'Ghost' if you're not sure what I'm talking about) is difficult for her due to her leg issues so she's relegated to about 20 minute sessions on days when her legs are good, which as of late hasn't been very often.  Not one to be deterred she began hand building items.  She did her first small sculpture; a dragon, which led her to making a whistle that looked like Jimmy (no, really.  A ceramic whistle that worked and also looked like her son's face), which led to a host of other items.  She let her imagination combine with things she saw weren't being made and ran with her ideas.  Soon after she had a website and not long after that she was putting items on Etsy.

When we moved north to her folks home, she had the opportunity to take things to another level.  While she was sad to be leaving the studio that she learned her craft in, it was an opportunity for her to work fully from home.  She was able to gather much of the equipment that she needed by scouring craigslist and by the time we moved up here, the enclosed porch on the back of the house became a fully fledged pottery studio that she could both access with her crutches and wheelchair.  To say that it made things easier for her would be an understatement.

And that brings us fairly current.  Over the fall she had a great sculpture she did of bloody Army boots in sand with a flag featured at an art event.  Recently she had an item selected as the best item from Maine on Etsy in a local magazine, and the other day the Etsy item on the Facebook ad was one of her creations.  I'm so damn proud of her it's hard to express.  Every day she's faced with issues that could easily derail any of us and send us down a road of depression and low self worth and yet she gets up and pushes forward with vigor and love for life.  Personally, and I may be a little prejudiced here, I think she's the best at what she does.  It's more than talent, which she certainly has.  It's the love and devotion she puts into her work that makes it so special.  I don't mean that to take away from anyone else's work as I've both seen and own some very outstanding pieces since she began her pottery odyssey, but seeing what she goes through on a daily basis and knowing that she won't give up on her dreams, even if she has to alter them a little, is inspiring and for me adds a little something extra to each of her creations.  

Though not every entry on here won't be filled with happiness and joy, it's my belief that the overwhelming majority will be on the positive side.  We work together in nearly everything we do (I even help with the pottery stuff when I can and she's been known to sit around while the games are on).  We have a thorough belief, sometimes naively, that together we can concur anything.  Whether it's her pottery or my dream to someday publish a novel, we work support and stand beside each other even during the rough times.  I'm truly a lucky man that the same talented hands that form incredible works of art out of nothing, are the same hands that I get to hold at night as I fall asleep.