Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No Regrets

Even with all this laundry, I don't regret being a
stay-at-home mother for more than a decade.
This is actually the fourth in a serendipitous series as I contemplate my health and longevity.

Part I: A Heart Attack Waiting to Happen
Part II: And now what?
Part III: Wynn Anne Versus the Volcano

As well as looking ahead and thinking about how I want to spend the next 15 or 30 years, I've looked back at how I've passed my life.

Despite the title of this post, I do have some regrets, of course, including some pretty big ones (like buying or selling a house at the wrong time). Most of my real regrets are about things I've said or done that have hurt other people, sometimes intentionally. If I could time-travel, I would go back and say, "I'm so, so sorry. I was not thinking."

Mostly, though, I am grateful.

[Note: As I wrote these, I felt a distinct sense of apology, like I somehow needed to reassure every one of you that your choices - if you even had them to make - are okay. I'm trying to express gratitude, not to gloat or judge. Please accept these thoughts in that vein.]

I'm glad I married young.
It's definitely not the right choice for everyone, and I was extremely fortunate to marry Stephen specifically. But it wasn't just luck either. With a few exceptions, the boys I dated in high school and university were all really good men - good "husband material." Obviously, there were very good reasons why those relationships crashed and burned, but my point is that I was making relationship choices that set me up for success.
When I fell in love with Steve, we both knew we wanted marriage and children as priorities in our lives. This goes back to my discussion of shared values as being central to our marriage. If my priority, for example, had been to travel the world, then marrying young and (especially) having children young might not have been compatible with that desire.

I'm glad I had children young.
When we finally decided to "start trying," I had difficulty conceiving Katie, our eldest. Being a tad on the melodramatic side, I rode that emotional rollercoaster at full blast. The thought of not having children was heartbreaking. I think that if I had postponed parenthood and then faced naturally diminishing fertility, I would have regretted waiting.
As it is, even if I live less than the 74 years that Statistics Canada estimates I may expect, I will live to see my children grown, probably even know my grandchildren (not just meet them). I like that very much.
I'm glad we had "lots" of children.
It humours us to think that four children is considered a large family, but it is nowadays. We were going to stop at three, not because we didn't want more children but because I was terrified of going through childbirth again. Also, I needed to be on antidepressants and was not willing to be pregnant or breastfeed while taking them.
Watching our children together is a real pleasure. I love how they each bring out different aspects of the other, have conversations with one that they wouldn't with another. I know them better by witnessing that alchemy.
I also enjoy how I am different with each of them. There are versions of Wynn Anne that I might never have known otherwise.
I'm glad I stayed home with my kids for as long as I did.
I relish the memories of curling around Emily during naptime, or letting the kids climb on me while I weed the lawn, of play groups with a roomful of moms and toddlers. Those long, unstructured hours. They are a luxury, and I am so grateful to have had them.
I'm glad I also had a career.
When I finally did start working outside the home, boy, was I ready for it! And I loved it. I thrived - and still do - on the energy level of the workplace, on the mental and social stimulation. I like the financial benefits, too.

Despite the old chestnut, I'm willing to bet there actually are people who, on their deathbeds, thought, "I really wish I'd put more into my career." Obviously, I'm not one of them.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wynn Anne Versus the Volcano

Based on Joe Versus the Volcano,
a very under-rated movie.
This is a continuation from my previous post, where I started to write about my father, who died almost exactly a year after he retired.

My dad's nickname at work was OT Simpson. The OT stood for "overtime" because he was always looking for extra pay. With seven children to feed, clothe, shelter, and send to university, that's probably no surprise.

He worked in construction, from dawn to dusk. He was gone before I woke in the morning, back in time for a late dinner. He often took a nap in the evening.

When he finally retired, I think we all felt he was overdue for a rest.

But he'd had triple-bypass surgery about four eight years earlier and was not in good health. He'd tried to quit smoking but we all knew he was sneaking cigarettes. His blood sugar was bad (though he was not diagnosed with diabetes).

And then, one night at dinner after complaining of an upset stomach all day, he collapsed. He never regained consciousness. He was 66 years old.

In Joe Versus the Volcano, the main character is a workaday chap slogging away in a mind-numbingly dead-end, pointless job. One day, he learns that the annoying cough he has developed is a terminal illness and he has mere weeks to live.

In classic Hollywood style, he drops everything and takes off to have an adventure. (I almost told you how the story ends, but you'll have to see the movie for that!)

As I pondered my own health and mortality, I wondered: if my dad had known at 50 that he only had 16 years left, would he have made any different choices? Would he, like Joe, have dropped everything and taken off on an adventure?

One of the questions Steve and I have tossed around is whether or not I will retire when he does two years from now. Because I took many years off to have babies (years that I do not for one moment regret), I've thought about tacking some of those years on to this end of my career.

I enjoy my job and the people I work with. I look forward to going to work (though I often wish it began later in the day) and enjoy the creative and collaborative aspects of my job. I don't feel like I'm just punching the clock until I can retire.

Financially, it would be difficult but not impossible for me to retire with Steve.

But as Steve and I chatted over a piece of carrot cake, it occurred to me that this is not an either-or situation. Could I re-jig my work hours? Switch to part-time or contract? Maybe even freelance?

No decisions made, but it's on my mind.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

And now what?

Tiramisu, one of life's sweet pleasures.
When I stop wanting it, you'll know it's time to pull the plug.
This is a continuation of yesterday's post wherein I describe my angina attack.

First, thank you for your many caring comments. I have to share a very funny one sent by e-mail from a friend who has experience with heart attacks: "BTW diagnosing yourself from the internet is not what I would describe as the most intelligent thing to do. When you decide to operate on yourself let me know. I will sell tickets."

The yet-to-be-confirmed-by-a-doctor angina attack was a dramatic announcement of my mortality. I pictured the Grim Reaper at the foot of the bed, gesturing a strangulation posture, like Darth Vader.

Throughout the day, I pondered. Maybe a little obsessively.

I don't want to die. I like my life and want to keep living and enjoying it. I want to see my children's weddings, I want to know my grandchildren. I want to relish the beauty of God's world and capture it in my photographs. I want to travel with Stephen. I want to eat tiramisu.

But . . .
  • I don't want to live in pain or with disability. 
  • I don't want to go blind or lose my toes. (I happen to have very cute feet, thank you.)
  • I don't want to give up the things that give me pleasure (yes, I'm thinking about tiramisu). 
  • I don't want heart surgery (or a stent or angioplasty or any of those invasive treatments). "Don't want" is really not a strong enough expression for how I feel about this. I am deeply, deeply averse to this.
  • Frankly (and I know many of you will be aghast at this), I honestly don't want to exercise, at least not to the degree that would have a significant effect on my health. (A gentle stroll three times a week is not enough to benefit cardiac health, though it is good for my mental health. Most studies and recommendations are for 30-60 minutes of brisk activity every day.)
Steve and I had a difficult talk when I told him these last two points.

He would, of course, like me to be aggressive with my illness and make every effort humanly possible to live a long, happy, healthy life. But he can understand my not wanting to be cut open or pierced.

As for exercise, "You just need to find something you enjoy," he urged. I suppose this could still happen, and if it does, then "Yay!" but even when I've had months of sustained exercise in my daily routine it NEVER became something I enjoyed. I never got those endorphins, never looked forward to it or missed it when I couldn't walk/jog/use the elliptical. Perhaps all those neuroreceptors were occupied with sustaining my overactive appetite?

My point is: I know that I am making a choice and that it has negative effect on my very life. It is selfish, and I am sorry, but there it is. (My inner voice is yelling, "Exercise? You can't make me!" I am stomping my pretty, little foot.)

We agreed that I would, however:
  • Follow up with my doctor.
  • Take or adjust any medications prescribed.
  • Continue to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in my diet with the goal of maintaining my blood sugar.
  • Continue to eat smaller portions with the goal of losing weight.
And then we talked about my dad, who died of heart disease a year (almost to the day) of his compulsory retirement at age 65. More about that in my next post.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Heart Attack Waiting to Happen

CAUTION: I use some strong and possibly offensive language in this post. 

On Friday morning, I woke up in pain.

A hot blanket of diffuse pain wrapped itself around my neck.

It was not a kink in the neck or spinal pain. Moving made no difference to it.

It was not a sore throat; I could swallow, no problem. I could breathe with no difficulty.

It was nothing like anxiety attacks I'd experienced before, the tightening of the throat muscles, that "lump in the throat" feeling.

I practiced relaxation breathing, deeply, slowly in, then slowly and fully out.

The pain did not leave, may have intensified.

Then I remembered an e-mail a friend recently sent me, pointing out that cardiac pain is experienced differently by women than by men. Often they feel it in their neck or jaw rather than in the chest.

"Fuck," I thought. "Fuck fuck fuck."

Then I remembered another tidbit: a cough can be used as self-CPR. [Note: this is anecdotal and Snopes debunks it. If you think you are having a heart attack, stop reading this and get your ass to the emergency room! I was an idiot.]

I coughed lightly. The pain eased.

"Fuck," I thought.

The pain returned, stronger. I coughed harder, several times. The pain went away almost immediately, and I got out of bed.

It did not come back, but as I started googling my symptoms, the telltale signs of migraine aura blotted my vision. I had just enough time to find Prinzmetal's angina, an unusual form of angina that occurs when resting, unlike usual heart symptoms that are triggered by exertion.

I lay in bed with my eyes shut, watching the sparkles and growing blind spot, thinking about death.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, the doctor told me that I was at increased risk for heart attack. "As much as if you've already had one heart attack," he said. So here I was.

It wasn't a heart attack, but it was cardiovascular. I was scared and sad, and those feelings stuck with me all day. No, I didn't see a doctor, though it is treatable. ("My" doctor is only at the walk-in clinic on Thursdays and does not make appointments.)

I'll tell you more in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Constant Craving

About five years ago, tired of my continual struggle to lose weight and, more frustratingly, maintain my weight loss, I screwed up my courage and asked my doctor about prescribing an appetite suppressant. He brushed me off with a comment that those medications were really meant for people with more serious weight problems than my own and concluded, "You'd have to take the pills for the rest of your life."

I already had an antidepressant on my "take for the rest of your life" list, and didn't want to add more, so I left it at that.

A couple of years later, the same doctor diagnosed me with diabetes and prescribed the first of five medications I now take for diabetes (and potential complications) every single day.

I call that a failure in preventive medicine.

Later, another doctor recommended the Appetite Awareness Workbook. While the book did not help me lose weight, it did help me understand what I was struggling with.

Hunger and appetite are NOT the same thing. People who do not struggle with an overactive appetite may not realize the distinction. Wikipedia sums it up nicely:
Hunger is a sensation experienced when one feels the physiological need to eat food. . .  Appetite is another sensation experienced with eating, however, it differs from hunger; it is the desire to eat food without a physiological need. 
I know people who really don't "feel like eating,"  even when they are hungry - until you place something appetizing in front of them. My husband and sons are among them.

I, on the other hand, rarely felt actual hunger pangs because, in response to my constant craving for food, I ate about every two hours.

And I can finish a multi-course, festive dinner and, half an hour later, find myself rummaging through the cupboard for a little smackerel of something, as Winnie-the-Pooh would say. (He shares my overactive appetite.) I can be moaning with nausea and STILL want to eat something!

It is. Whacked. Up.

But something happened recently that has pulled the reins on this out-of-control horse.

I mentioned earlier that I'd noted a connection between eating a high-carbohydrate breakfast and then feeling "hungry" all day. I misused the word; I was really talking about  appetite.

Well, I've recently -- finally! -- started on medication for my diabetes. It will likely come as no surprise to you that my appetite has diminished, especially after the doctor prescribed a recently approved injectable medication when the first medication still didn't get my blood sugar low enough. One of the so-called side effects of this new medication is appetite suppression and consequent weight loss. (Yippee!)

As my blood sugar has stabilized my appetite has decreased and my "willpower" has increased. I've had no qualms about leaving a plate half-finished, no tendency to make forays through the kitchen every half hour.

I'm going to go on a bit of a tangent here, but there is a point to it, so bear with me.

In Psych 101, our professor cautioned against flawed statistical correlations. He used a rape and ice cream example. "Suppose," he said, "statistics showed that there was an increase in stranger rapes in the summer, when there was also an increase in ice cream sales. It would be flawed to say that ice cream causes rape or that committing rape makes rapists hungry for ice cream. Researchers would look for a third, independent variable such as mild weather." It was such a ludicrous example that it stuck with me.

So here's where I come back to talking about appetite.

Suppose the correlation is not between obesity and diabetes but between appetite and both obesity and diabetes. Helping people suppress their appetites would no longer be considered a frivolous or vain concern, but would be considered a step in preventing diabetes.

What about you? What are your hunger-appetite correlations?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Zombie Foreskins

UPDATED: See comic below.

Personally, I think most mushrooms have a distinctly phallic appearance. Especially the flesh-toned ones.
Am I right?
By Alberto Montt
But most of the mushrooms with which I am familiar do not have the corrugated texture of these, which I spied as I walked around our garden this afternoon.
præputia mortuorum* That's a LOT of zombies.
To my eye, they resembled . . . zombie foreskins. Hence my ad hoc Latin translation of *"foreskins of dead men." (Yay! Google Translate!)
When extricated from its rocky crotch, it doesn't look quite as foreskin-y.
A pair of more juvenile ones.
These look astonishingly testicular, I must say.
Just wrap them in loose skin and there you go!
Of course, I googled to find out of these things are poisonous [Google didn't tell me, but I'm pretty sure they are, otherwise little animals would have eaten them by now. Right?] or rare [Again, Google was no help, but I'm probably going to be nominated for a Nobel Award or something, so stay tuned.], and landed on a site about mushrooms in eastern Ontario. In the 24 pages of pictures of mushrooms in eastern Ontario, I did not see any that looked like the ones in our back yard, though I did see some that looked very like venereal disease.
suillus pictus which translates as "painted like a pig," if I am not mistaken.
Maybe a diseased pig, but not any pig I've ever seen.
(Source - Paul Derbyshire)
But I also saw some that were surprisingly beautiful. And also probably deadly.
clavulina amethystina, which translates as "tiny purple tentacles"
but looks more like purple coral to me.  Or the inside of a geode.
(Source - ember erebus)
If you have a guess as to whether I should stock up our Zombie Apocalypse Supply Kit or just sauté them in butter and garlic, please let me know.

To rinse your brain of all that wrinkly nastiness, here are some flowers, also from our back yard.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May-December Relationship

Or, in the case of our fireplace insert, make that a December-May relationship.

Early in December, Steve and I signed a contract (and a whopping big cheque) for a fireplace makeover. Specifically an insert that would turn our drafty, non-functional fireplace into a high-efficiency decorative furnace.

The least expensive option would have been to seal it off and merely make it an ornamental focal point. Next up would have been to convert it to gas, but I have secret pyromaniac tendencies, and I love to play with fire. (Ironic, really, since I am so susceptible to heat!) I like the smell of real wood smoke. I am mesmerized by the dance of flames and the sounds of crackling wood. Gas fireplaces just don't do that for me.

It probably appeals to something primeval in me. I probably subconsciously think food is on the way and that predators are kept at bay or something.

In any case, we decided to keep the wood-burning fireplace but invest in making it efficient.

In that vein, a free-standing wood-burning stove would have been another option, but, frankly, I think they're kind of ugly and take up a lot of space.

Fireplace inserts, as they are called, are a compromise between an open fireplace and a wood stove. But, boy, do they burn through the pocketbook!

Ordinarily, the process is fairy straightforward:
  1. Measure your fireplace opening. Precisely.
  2. Order an insert that fits the opening. (As well as your budget and your taste.)
  3. Wait a few weeks.
  4. Install the insert and chimney liner.
Our first hitch occurred at step two. We chose a beautiful insert that juuuuuust barely fit our opening.

A week or so later, we got a call from the salesperson telling us that the shop owner didn't think the insert would fit after all, because there was not enough leeway for the installers' hands to reach in and connect the various parts.

Wha'? Wasn't that the whole point of the manufacturer's specifications for opening size?

We pushed back, partly because we really didn't like the styles of their other options.

Eventually the installation supervisor came to the house and took a fresh look at the situation. He was a grizzled, tough fellow who would look very uncomfortable in a suit and tie, but looked just right in his dust-encrusted jeans.

He measured and poked, looking for solutions rather than problems. And he found them. They were expensive, but they got us where we wanted to go.

In February, we were excited to receive an e-mail asking to schedule our installation. Yay!

Alas, they came, partly installed the chimney liner, removed the firebricks and poured some concrete, and then left.
This is the mantel we chose. It is a manufactured stone.
Click the picture to enlarge it
so you can really see the texture.

There were more hitches and delays. The salesman never learned to call me at the office rather than leaving messages with the young adults at home. (That practice is also known as the Black Hole Message Service.)

He seemed to completely lose track of our file a couple of times.

The shop owner pushed back against our choice of mantel and hearth. It was from a new supplier and was a material he hadn't worked with before, but it was much nicer than his other standard options.

But finally, at last, today they came to finish the installation. (Never mind that they showed up two days early, unexpected. I was still pressing the snooze button.)
Half way through the installation today.

And now for the before-and-after glamour shots!
August 2010, about a month
after we moved in. (And before
I had scrubbed the stones with TSP.)
May 15, 2012
(The colours in this one are more true.)
There's still some finishing for us to do (we have to put a non-flammable extension beyond the hearth and patch the bookcases where they were damaged by removal of the old mantel), but I already love the new mantel and hearth. (The old hearth was just ceramic tiles with a metal trim.) I think the whole thing looks a lot more finished and grounded. I am very, very happy with the end result.

Now. About that furniture . . .

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Moderation is so hard!

Sweet Deception
Oh, my word! I am about to explode!

Emily gave her Mother's Day present to me early: a box of "no sugar added" chocolates. She chose these, mindful of my diabetes and my conflicting love for fine chocolate.

Now, I've learned that "no sugar added" does NOT mean "unsweetened." In fact, the sugar alcohol they use to sweeten these products can yield extremely unpleasant results, comparable to Traveler's Dysentery.

So on Saturday, I cautiously ate two delectable chocolates in the morning and two in the evening. There were no gaseous side effects, so I convinced myself that perhaps these chocolates were different.

On Sunday, I ate, um, many more than two.

Two hours later, I was trumpeting from my south end and warning Steve not to come near the master bathroom.

Will I never learn?

On the bright side, the candy did NOT raise my blood sugar, so there is that to say in its favour. I simply need to exercise a little restraint. Not my strong suit, to be sure, but being trapped in the loo for an afternoon should be motivation enough. One would think.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day

Today, a friend of mine allowed me to take pictures of her, her two young daughters, and her mother. We were blessed with perfect weather and plenty of spring flowers in the Maplelawn Garden.

According to my friend, these two will fight like cats and dogs when there is no photographer nearby,
but they were best friends today.
The big sister.
This little one is an absolute bundle of energy.
They both love their grandmother.
And their mother, too, of course.
They were, by far, the most beautiful blossoms in the garden, and that's saying something.
She said she was a jungle cat, lazing in the tree.
This one was a very good climber!
Three generations.

She knows she is loved.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Piglet's Big Adventure

I have mentioned before that, like Macon in The Accidental Tourist or Piglet in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, I am a somewhat timid traveler.

While I enjoy the comforts of a hotel and the pleasures of eating food that I have not had to peel, chop and saute myself, I'm not terribly fond of discovering new places. I'm afraid of getting lost, of being ripped off, or of being generally disappointed. I'm afraid of Bad Guys lurking in shadowy places, handing me firecrackers.

This past week, I was in Vancouver. Over a glass of wine I spoke with a colleague about my anxiety in large crowds and a resulting mild agoraphobia. Our conversation rambled to the ability of a person to change not just his or her habits but actual personality.

It occurred to me that I've been reinforcing my Piglet persona. Not only do I not push back against my anxiety, I actually almost boast about it. I use it as an excuse.

The funny thing is that when I do get myself up and out, I almost invariably enjoy myself. I'm always happy to come home, but I will admit that I've had fun. (Most of the time. Food poisoning is the exception.)

So this week, when I'd finished all the tasks related to my trip, I found myself with a couple of free hours in Vancouver before sunset. Earlier, someone had highly recommended I visit Stanley Park if I had time.

I should go, I thought. I googled how to get there.

Naw, I thought. I'll just stay in.

It went back and forth more times than I could count.

But go I did.
It had been raining all week, and still was a little, so the ground was sodden. Moss grew almost everywhere.

Raindrops scattered over blossoms. Yellow poppies

I saw some plants that I could not identify. DSC_7193_2
Life was definitely winning here. It reminded me of a Science Fiction story.
It was lush. DSC_7189_2 DSC_7160_2 DSC_7241_2

Another park visitor [yes, I know: I spoke to a stranger!] told me that this plant (below) is called a Tea Tree in Chinese, but he doesn't know what it is in English. I simply call it beautiful. Extravagantly so. DSC_7157_2

Wildflowers vied for attention. DSC_7066_2
Fiddleheads unfurled in a slow-motion dance. DSC_7105_2

Orange, blue and green complemented each other. DSC_7175_2

And just as I was about to head for the bus stop (hoping I knew where it was), the sun dipped below the clouds and splashed golden light across the forest floor. Forest at sunset, Stanley Park

Yes. I was here. DSC_7219_2

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