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Thursday, November 9, 2017

MyKatrina Cookies

As is often the case, it started out simply enough. I woke up on a gloomy, chilly morning in a room that was dark because of cloudy skies, and chilly because of the fall weather. Blah would have been one of the words that aptly described the day and what it was trying to do with my mood. And then suddenly things changed. 

I received a text from our friend Sharon. Her daughter Megan had told her that she was probably going to make Katrina Cookies that day. Sharon thought this was especially sweet (pardon the unintentional pun) since Megan had told her just a few days before about wanting to lose some weight. Knowing that Megan was going to use my recipe and technique to make the cookies she loves really warmed my heart. Maybe the day wasn't so gloomy after all.

Early that evening, I was notified that Megan had posted something to my social media timeline. Along with a photo of a pan that had a few cookie bars remaining was Megan's admission that it "might be what was left of my Katrina cookies." With that simple statement, just like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.

Now, Megan knows that a lot of people like to eat my cookie bars. The ones she makes are the chocolate chip bars, which fight with the oatmeal-chip bars for top honors in the popularity department. I have no doubt that some of my sly friends would say, with a studied look of innocence on their faces, that I should probably let them taste a batch of each side-by-side so that they can decide which they think is better. Ha! I can see right through that ruse! 

Something that Megan doesn't know is the power of the words my Katrina, or MyKatrina, as I like to write it. Megan does know that there are a lot of dogs who absolutely adore me. Her own, now departed, Buster was one of those dogs. He was a Cairn Terrier, like Toto, and he would get very excited when I came to visit. I'd sit on the sofa and Buster would jump up to the back of the sofa and excitedly rub his face and neck against my face. When prompted by Megan or her dad Mike, he would "get my nose" by grabbing it gently with the side of his mouth. I loved his excitement and exuberance, but I didn't realize how special this treatment was. After some time of knowing him, I was told by the family that he only did the nose-grabbing with three people - Megan, Mike, and me. Wow. 

Another dog who loved me immensely was Bowie. I used to joke with Marie and Thayne (we miss you, man) that to Bowie I wasn't simply Katrina, I was MyKatrina. In fact, when I was massaging his human brother's neck, Bowie used his paw to literally pull my arm away. This was followed by the dog equivalent of a dirty look that said, "Buzz off! That's MyKatrina!"

When Marie saw Megan's post, she remarked that Megan had called them My Katrina cookies, and that Bowie resembled that statement. Of course when I saw the original post, that was one of my first thoughts too. Both of Marie's (adult) children chimed in about loving Katrina cookies, and soon another friend was asking for the recipe. I was, as I said, definitely feeling the cookie love. Because of all of this warm, chocolatey atmosphere, I've decided to share it with all of you, my dear readers. Enjoy!

MyKatrina Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup (1/2 pound) butter, very soft
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 or 2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup to one 12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips

The method:
Using a hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl. When fully blended, add egg or eggs and vanilla. (One egg will result in a crispier cookie bar. Most of the time, I use two.) Mix well. Add the baking soda, again mixing thoroughly. Finally, add the flour and chocolate chips, mixing until the flour is all incorporated. Press the mixture gently into a 13 x 9 metal pan with a spatula, and let the oven do its magic. Check at about 18 to 20 minutes for a golden brown color. Let your taste in cookies determine what's brown enough for you - that's the done-ness test. Let cool thoroughly before cutting into bars of a size that pleases you. I always bake late in the evening and let them cool overnight. 

Some important tips:

I always use salted butter. Also, some people say making them with margarine tastes exactly the same, but I do not agree.

Please don't use a glass or ceramic baking pan. The pan won't cool down as quickly, and the cookies will over-bake after you remove them from the oven. This may result in the cookies being too dry as well as losing that delightful baked-but-still-seems-like-cookie-dough texture.

I have made these with numerous variations, including substituting chopped Andes mints, chopped chocolate-toffee bars, and other flavors of chocolate morsels, as well as adding nuts to the basic recipe.

Have fun, and happy eating! I think the ones on the edges and corners are the best. :)



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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Brutus vs. The Lunatic

Some days are very...interesting. Not all good, not all bad, but certainly eventful. Yesterday was one such day for me. One of the major players of said day was the occasional jerk, Brutus D. FatCat, pictured here on his mom Liz's bed.



I have just begun covering up with a blanket at night in the last week or so. The nights have been mild and thanks to hormonal changes, I often find myself basking in the fires of my internal central heating. Early yesterday morning I stirred a bit in my sleep and pulled the sheet and cotton blanket a bit higher over my shoulders. That was when the blanket caught the straw on the uncovered drink on my bedside table, spilling it on my leg, the side of the bed, and on the floor. 

I stumbled out of the room and grabbed a large towel to blot the soaking carpet. Naturally, when I sat down on the edge of the bed to start the drying-up process, FatCat was right next to me, thinking it was a good time to ask for demand some attention. I told him to go away as I was entirely too busy to be petting a cat. I must say that despite having been awakened by this cold drenching, my mood was still positive. I soaked up one towel, laid another on the carpet, and decided to go back to sleep.

Naturally, Brutus saw my reclining as a sign that I had absolutely nothing to do - after all, I was just laying there. He began slowly and painfully walking his way up my legs to stare at me, ending up between me and the edge of the bed. Now, I have heard and even said many things over the years about how cats seem to routinely defy the rules of physics. There was just one thing I didn't realize until Brutus moved in with The Lunatic and company. Somehow a 13 1/2 pound cat can put enough pressure on the blood vessels in your legs that you are convinced that a small van, or maybe even a large tour bus, has run you over and parked on your broken body. I'm serious! After a couple of pats and a stern reprimand telling him not to screw around with the vertical blinds, Brutus moved on and allowed us to get some more sleep.

In usual occasional-jerk-cat fashion, Brutus was right there in our faces and plates when we started to eat our breakfast. Another stern talking-to and he moved down to the foot of the bed. (One of the reasons for his terribly forward behavior recently is undoubtedly that Liz was away from home for a few days and therefore not around to distract him.) Breakfast being done with, the FatCat went back to his bedroom.

About mid-day I decided I wanted to eat a container of my favorite yogurt, and Fatso was right there, trying to muscle his way into my yogurt container. More chiding, more laying at the foot of the bed, and I sat down the empty yogurt container, telling him that he could help himself, per Liz's telling me how much he loooooves yogurt. So Brutie-Patootie licked the jar for a few minutes, left, returned to lick yogurt for a few more minutes, and left, and then IT HAPPENED.

Trent was sitting on the throne of meditation when Brutus arrived for the third time. As he turned around, affording me a view of his backside (Why are cats so convinced that everyone wants to see their heinie-hole, anyway?), I was greeted with a horrific sight. The cat who was on my bed, on the sheets and blanket that had just been put on the bed the previous evening, had a trail of diarrhea still attached to his rear, along with some down one of his legs. Blech.

All I really thought was that there was no way I was allowing cat sludge on my fresh bed, or even one with soiled linens. I automatically grabbed the cat while I scanned the area for a paper towel or napkin. Poor Trent! I starting calling for help while Brutus yowled and growled at the same time as he starting chomping the living daylights out of my hand. Hey, it's not like it was an important hand. It was only the right hand of a right-handed human, no big deal. I gave up and let go of the cat when he scored an incredibly painful bite, and set out to wipe the offending cat tush.

The good news was that when Fatso jumped off the bed to escape, the stink lava that was hanging off his behind fell on the carpet. I know this because I found it with my foot. Going as fast as I could while walking only on the toes of one of my feet, I was in hot pursuit. When he saw that I had followed him to his bedroom, instead of hiding under the bed, he glared boldly at this human who had forgotten her place. Acting on instinct, I distracted him by giving him some treats and wiped his furry behind and legs.

After dousing my bloody hand with copious amounts of hydrogen peroxide and finally stopping the bleeding, I was able to remove the carpet bomb from both the floor and the bottom of my foot. I sat down and looked at all of the bite marks on my hand. There aren't that many. Less than 20. Okay, 19. I showed Trent the back of my hand and commented about how close the deepest puncture had come to a vein. Close call.

A much closer call than I had thought, actually. As the day progressed I came to realize that Killer Cat had actually nicked the vein with his fangs of death. I gradually developed a lump which kept growing (this is one of the moments when life with anticoagulants gets a bit too exciting) until my hand was hurting something fierce. Brutus had exacted his revenge, and the bleeding under the skin got increasingly uncomfortable. I know there's nothing to do now but wait for it to heal, but I had to share this crazy wild-feline insanity with you, my dear readers. I hope you find it as funny as I did in spite of the discomfort. Oh, and to prove that I really did get an owie, here's a side-by-side of a Katrina hand and one that looks like it's not quite standard equipment.



Cats. What can I say? Stay away from the pointy ends, of which there seem to be about three dozen? And when things just get ridiculously out of hand, or out of paw, sometimes you just have to laugh.


p.s. And to think that I totally skipped the part of the day during which I took a package of chicken out of the fridge and it leaked all over the kitchen floor, as well as my former poop-foot...



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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic

Monday, September 25, 2017

Eight Days Ago

Eight days ago, I was a bit worried. It was Sunday, and for a few days I had definitely been feeling like a person who has lupus. I was exhausted and achy and several other things that made me worried about my least-favorite f word as a lupus patient - flare.

How would I find the energy to get ready for our upcoming weekend in the mountains with our friends? We would just have to pack our bags a little at a time. I could ride in the car with my head resting, and probably feel okay.

Meanwhile, the friends we were going to be with on the weekend were arriving home from a trip to Hawaii. They had originally planned to go to Florida, but hurricane Irma convinced them to change their plans. Thayne, Marie, and Thayne's sister Julie enjoyed several days in Hawaii, and Thayne was excited about his experience swimming with sea turtles. 

On Sunday night, all of us were in our respective homes. Thayne told Marie that his feet were really swollen post-travel. As is usual for me, insomnia was my companion that night. When the phone rang at 8:00 am on Monday, I was still half asleep. I said I couldn't answer because I was too groggy. Trent picked up his phone and saw several missed calls from both Marie and Julie.

While I struggled to get fully awake, Trent called Marie to see what was going on that would require several calls to both of our phones. "Thayne passed away this morning," Marie told us. He had left home at 6:00 to pick up his son-in-law and carpool to work. Kevin waited on the street as 6:15 and 6:30 came and went. He called Marie and they both got in their cars to see if Thayne's car had broken down on the way.

Not far from home, Marie saw that traffic was blocked because of an accident. Thayne's car had run into a light pole. She pulled over in front of the emergency vehicles, ready to give him a piece of her mind for texting and driving and wrecking his car. It was Thayne's death that caused the accident, though, and not the other way around. (Miraculously, no other people or vehicles were harmed.) Despite the valiant efforts of emergency personnel, he was gone. The coroner's report won't be ready for several weeks, but it appears that Thayne had gotten some blood clots in his legs from the long flights home, and they broke loose and went to his heart.

Trent and I went to the hospital to provide support for Marie and her family. When I saw him laying on the gurney, covered with a sheet up to his chin, I kept expecting to see the sheet move, rising with his breathing. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and Trent and I brushed away the final tears that Thayne had shed. I told him he was a turd for leaving without saying goodbye, and all of us gave a chuckle knowing that he would have found it funny.

Instead of packing for a weekend getaway, we experienced being with the family as they planned his funeral and mourned the loss of a vital 57 year old man. He was able to give some last gifts - his corneas and some of his leg bones and tendons went to people who needed them. The empty spaces he leaves in so many hearts will be difficult to heal, but we will try to do so with laughter and joyful memories. Thayne loved to laugh, and sharing our funny memories will honor him.

On Saturday, we returned Thayne to the earth that nourishes us with both food and beauty. Geese will graze on the grass that blankets his resting space, a beautiful and bittersweet reminder that life goes on in spite of our losses or our victories. Nature flows along with the seasons, just as it did eight days ago, the day before our friend was gone. We miss you, Thayne.  


A note from The Lunatic: There are two things that I think we can learn from Thayne's death. Our bodies are fragile. Please try to walk around periodically when you fly or take long trips by car, or consider using compression socks. Second, let the people you care about know that you love or admire or like them. Tomorrow has no guarantees, and we can never share our hearts too many times with the ones we love.


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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic

Monday, August 14, 2017

Midnight, and Not so Special

It was a hot late-July day and my sister was trying to tie up some loose ends before having her third hip surgery (one hip replacement, two repairs) on the last day of the month. She had various appointments to schedule and/or go to, and got on the phone to schedule another. Liz mentioned that she needed to try and squeeze in (pun intended) a mammogram, also known by many as a "boob sandwich." I think that calling it a panini is more fun, but I digress.

I wasn't paying much attention when Liz got on the phone to see if she could schedule the appointment, at least not until she told the person on the other end of the line that she had to schedule an MRI. I thought it was odd; she hadn't mentioned anything that would necessitate such a major test. But hey, what do I know? While she was on hold being transferred to the scheduling desk, she turned to me and asked, "What is the thing with an M for the boobs?" When we established that she needed to schedule a mammogram rather than an MRI, she disconnected and called back.

Liz managed to charm her way into an appointment before her surgery date. After going over the times and actually scheduling the appointment, the scheduler wanted to make sure that Liz knew the basic rules for the test, like no deo for B.O. and no perfumes and such. Liz tried to beat her to the punch by saying that she knew what to do to prepare - no deodorant, no perfume, no underwear. I guess that scheduler finally had something out of the ordinary to talk about after work that day! After she quit choking from laughing so hard and told all of her co-workers first, that is.

In the time leading up to the surgery, Liz forgot to tell us the name of the hospital where the surgery would be performed. She had a last-minute test on the morning of surgery which would determine whether the surgery would be performed or not. (She had an irregular-looking EKG at the doctor's office, but everything turned out just fine.) She drove to the hospital for the surgery and spent two nights in the hospital before we brought her home on Wednesday.

Wednesday was a quiet evening. Liz was pretty tired and the pain pills and muscle relaxers helped her drift off to the land of sleep. So far, so good. Until Thursday. We actually had a nice day on Thursday. Of course, the time from the surgery on is pretty fuzzy for Liz because of all of the medications. Sadly, Trent and I have no such memory shields in place.

When I am acting as a caregiver, I try to make sure that the person I'm helping has settled down for the night before I go to bed. I fall asleep listening to an audio book, so I want to make sure that last-minute needs like beverages and potty excursions are all done. So on the first Thursday post-op (after surgery on Monday, mind you) I went in to check on Liz before I went to bed. Liz was sitting up in her bed with a drawer next to her, going through it and sorting stuff in piles and generally making a mess and making Nurse Lunatic a wee bit concerned. And then the show began. 

In the space of perhaps thirty seconds, she told me that she fell when she pulled the drawer out, that she took two Ambien and it didn't help her sleep at all, and that she had to pick someone up and drive them from our northern suburb to a courthouse in a southern suburb the next morning. Let's call her Friend 1. I calmly reminded her that she had only had surgery three days before, and wasn't supposed to drive for four to six weeks. She was undeterred. I suggested many alternatives, including an Uber or Lyft bringing her friend here, and her friend driving Liz's car from here. My suggestions fell on deaf ears, but I still remained calm.

She kept saying that she promised, so she had to give a ride to Friend 2. And that she might have to sit around and wait for a ride home. She explained it to me like the idiot I was when I said I was getting confused on who she was talking about and why she might have to wait. And I remained calm. Then she said she had known Friend 2 since before she knew Friend 3. And that she needed to get dressed.

I kindly but firmly told her that she needed to put away the drawer and get some sleep. When I went to make her some super-strength chamomile tea (rather that the "either coffee or hot chocolate" she requested, and told her that no, there weren't any burritos in the fridge ) she partially pulled out two more drawers and rifled through them. I talked her down off that ledge and told her that I wanted to go to bed. Liz's response? "Is Trent going with you?" What??? "Is Trent going with you where you're going?" I told her I was going to bed because it was after midnight. And then she got up and got dressed because, as she said, that's just the way she is. And I remained calm.

After telling her numerous times that it was after midnight and not 7:30 a.m. (because her clock battery had run out at 7:30) I was hoping we were done. Then the drive discussion recommenced. I once again quietly explained why she shouldn't drive and was told she is rebellious, to which I kindly replied that it was more like self-destructive. More discussion about driving and I was told not to act like her mother. I gently replied that I was acting like a caring sister. I finally got her to get into bed.

After I gave Trent a run-down on the events and relaxed, I was eager to sleep. About ten minutes after I entered Snoozeville, Trent nudged me awake. Liz had left the house at a little after 2:00 a.m. When I finally managed to reach her, she said that she realized what time it was and that she would turn around and come home. An hour or so later, after a botched visit to Taco Bell and lots of driving around in circles, Liz came home. She was in a huff about the food she didn't receive before she left the drive-through window, and I offered to make her something to eat. She went to her room, and we ours, and a few minutes later I texted her and again offered to cook her a meal. I got her response about an hour later, just as I was once again dozing off. 

I cannot tell a lie - since I didn't get to sleep until after 4:30 Friday morning, I was pretty grateful that Liz slept like a stone all day Friday. I think I may have managed to get a nap, but I can't remember. Liz was stunned when we told her what had happened the night before, and probably more than a bit worried since she couldn't remember anything except the Taco Bell part. 

I have now seen one of the unusual side-effects of sleeping pills firsthand. Some people will get up and drive somewhere or prepare and eat a meal, all in the middle of the night and with no recollection of doing so. And Liz had taken a double dose. And I have learned that when I am the unimpaired caregiver in that situation, I can still interact gently and remain calm. Until I leave their presence, that is!


An important note from The Lunatic: Please exercise the utmost caution with sleeping pills, whether prescription or over the counter, especially if you are taking other medications. Luckily for all of us, nobody was hurt and we had a happy ending. But we all know that things could have gone much differently.

Be well, be safe, and be calm, my friends!


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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic

Thursday, July 27, 2017

For My Women, My Ladies, My Girls (Also brave and enlightened men, if they wish.)

Recently Trent and I were watching something on tv, a program I can't even remember at this point. It wasn't that it was lousy or boring, it's just that remembering what it was just didn't happen to be very important. As we were watching this scintillating television program, a commercial break arrived, as they inevitably do. One of the commercials was the inevitable feminine hygiene sales pitch.

Now, I wasn't paying very close attention because:
1) I was playing a game on my phone while watching the telly, AKA multi-tasking, and,
2) I have seen and heard way too many crazy feminine hygiene commercials in my lifetime.

You won't be surprised that I could tell you the gist of this advertisement without even looking at the screen. You've heard it too. If you use Brand X Tampons, your life will be full of sunshine, daisies, laughter, and white trousers or skirts. Yes, if you use this brand, you will be able to conquer the world. Seriously, even if you have no desire to do so, you will conquer it because you'll be That Confident.

You will also become a champion-level participant in any number of sports, you'll be smarter, you'll be more social, you'll be awesome. All because you use Awesome Tampons. So get some Awesome Tampons, put on a white swimsuit, and jump off that diving board into the pool at the party. Mm-hmm.

Well, here's the reality as I see it, my Sisters of the Menses. It is certainly a possibility that I might attend your pool party even if it falls during my Moon Time. However, I will not be jumping off the diving board into the pool. Hey, I can't swim. But even if I did, I wouldn't be jumping into the pool on that particular day. I would not be wearing a swimsuit, nor would I be wearing white shorts, skirt, or trousers. 

I would be wearing darker-colored bottoms because they are best at camouflaging leakage. I would be wearing my Awesome Tampon with a Super Pad as backup. In my entire life, despite purchasing numerous brands, I have yet to find tampons that absorb fluid on both sides. I have, however, found many that absorb on one side only, hence the Super Pad for the inevitable leakage. While I am at the pool party, I will be checking the situation Down South every hour at a minimum, and sometimes even more frequently. It is a given that if I laugh heartily, sneeze, walk, eat, or breathe, I will likely need to check sooner.

When I retire for the night, armed with a super-absorbent tampon and a super-long pad affixed to my undergarment (AKA The Bedtime Diaper), I will be restless. The chances are high that when I wake and sit for a moment before rising, I will inadvertently create a crime scene. After taking care of myself, I will be laundering the sheets, my undies, and my jammies. And guess what? It might happen again tomorrow!

I'm actually quite lucky because Trent is very understanding and sympathetic. He knows that he will never fully understand, but he is always willing to listen. And sometimes he surprises me, like he did during the commercial that I completely ignored. He turned to me, and in a voice full of surprise and a bit of disgust, he exclaimed, "There's not a single woman of color in that entire commercial! That's ridiculous! It's not just white women who have periods!"

Yeah, that's my guy. I love him. Maybe together we can conquer the world. Even during Moon Time. 



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The Tip Jar:

As always, I am happy and honored to write for you. It brings me great joy, and I hope that it gives you joy and/or food for thought. If you'd like to support the cause, please visit:

https://www.paypal.me/TheLunatic

Friday, July 14, 2017

Freedom Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. I am not sharing this tidbit in a passive-aggressive bid to have you, my treasured readers, rush to shower me with birthday greetings. That you look at my Ravings at all is a gift that I get to enjoy whenever I put words on the page and you read them. But yesterday being my birthday is a central point of the true tale I am now going to relate. 

I've mentioned my sister Liz on several occasions in my posts, and this story is about Liz, Trent, and The Lunatic. My sister was married for a number of years to a man who was not the best person he could be. He wasn't a drinker or a carouser or a chaser of women. He was a cruel and abusive man. Many people have commented over the years, and likely still do, that the fact that his nickname was Dick was not a mere coincidence. 

I tried to like him because he was my sister's husband, but he made it very difficult. On the day that I met him, he turned the garden hose on her in anger because there was a splat of bird poop on her car. I forgot for many years that on one occasion shortly after I met him, he grabbed my arm very roughly and made it clear that he wanted to physically harm me (Liz was not in the room). By this point, I had been through some severe illness and had been diagnosed with lupus. As I once said to someone else, I had looked death in the face, why should I be afraid of him? I looked at his hand which was squeezing my forearm, looked in his eyes, and very calmly said, "Go ahead and hurt me if you want to. But I have to warn you that I bruise easily, and I will call the police."

He never physically hurt me, buy made it clear on many occasions that I was many variations on a theme which included a certain word that rhymes with ditch. As is common with abusers, he often did whatever he could to keep we sisters apart. And he heaped abuse on her, both verbal and physical, time and time again.

For a very long time I, along with many others who cared about Liz in varying ways, kept thinking that she should "just leave." If life was such misery, why didn't she simply move on? As a child whose abusive father killed her mother, I have always had particularly strong feelings about partner abuse. So it ate at me to think that history could potentially repeat itself.

One day in late winter or early spring of 2016, I had an incredible moment of clarity that hit me out of nowhere. I realized that if I were in Liz's situation, I couldn't "just leave" because I might not have a place to go or the means to do so. I said this to Trent and without even blinking he said, "She'll come live with us." Hey, we're apparently together for good reason. So we took the plunge and I texted Liz, telling her that we were going to make a place for her in our home for whenever she was ready to leave her husband.

Liz began to spend entire days with us, sometimes just sitting quietly stringing beads, or folding laundry for us (something she enjoys and I could gladly live without). From time to time, she would spend the night on the twin-sized pullout bed in the living room, sleeping more peacefully without her abuser at hand. Trent and I were pleased to see the changes in her. Just knowing that she had a place to go seemed to give her an extra bit of strength and confidence.

And then my birthday rolled around. Dick was notorious for making any holiday or birthday miserable for Liz. When any of these special occasions were on the horizon, he'd go out of his way to find some reason to be angry with her. At the very least, there were no birthday or holiday wishes. At the very worst, there was more verbal or physical abuse.

So on my birthday last year, Liz came over to have dinner with us after spending the day at work. We were relaxing in the living room after dinner when he called her in a rage. Even though she had her phone up to her ear, I could hear all of the vile things he was screaming at her. He informed her that when she got home she would have to spend the entire night cleaning the house because it was too dirty. Mind you that Liz has had a hip replacement and had additional surgery on the same hip early last year. She had also worked all day on her feet.  
She told him she couldn't because she had to go to work in the morning. And that's when things began to get even uglier. He said if she wasn't going to clean, she might as well stay with her sister. Then he asked her where she really was, because he knew she wasn't at her sister's. Who was she insert crude terminology for engaging in sexual intercourse with someone-ing? She told him again, truthfully, that she was with me and Trent. I offered to speak with him. When I got on the phone, he started screaming that it wasn't me, it was still Liz talking. So I asked if he wanted to speak with Trent to prove that Liz was with us.

Dick said that yes, he would like to speak with Trent. When Trent got on the phone, Dick started to tell him that he was glad that he could tell him what a horrible person he was married to and what kind of family she came from. My wonderful husband said, "This conversation is over. Katrina is my wife and I love her, and I will not listen to you saying nasty things about her. I'm done." I was overflowing with love and pride for my dear husband!

Liz was again on the phone with her husband. He told her not to bother coming home. She said that she had to come home for her pills and some clothes, and that's when it got even worse. His screaming and threats were insane. He told her that if she came home he would f-ing kill her, using the full word, of course. When she replied that she'd call the police, he said to go ahead - when they saw that the house was dirty, they would be on his side. He also threatened to "just throw all of your stuff outdoors." If she even thought of bringing me or Trent along to keep her safe, he'd throw us out or kill us as well. It was the stuff of a made for television film, only real. And nobody could ever make up something that horrible and insane.

Liz got off the phone and said she had to at least go home and get her pills. We made her promise to park about a block from her house, dial 911, and wait for the police before going into the house. The last thing Liz said through her tears before she left was that she was afraid she would end up like her mother. And then we waited.

At about 10:30 I got a call from a number that I didn't recognize, so I didn't answer. They immediately called back. It was a police officer wanting to get my statement as a witness to the phone call and threats. The officer told me that my statement matched up with the one from Liz, and that Dick was being arrested. He insisted that he would never say anything like what she claimed because he is such a nice old man. He spent that night and another couple of days in jail, while Liz was able to remain safely in the house. A protective order was in place until Liz could see about making it permanent. He showed up to one hearing with a walker, claiming that he couldn't even drive. An hour later, he drove his truck to the doctor's office and arrived fully mobile and without the walker.

A couple of weeks later, Dick's daughter (an apple that did not fall far from the tree) had her friend serve divorce papers to Liz while she was working. Liz had already started packing up her possessions. In true fashion, Dick engaged in lies about what his assets and expenses were, even stating that his monthly grocery/eating expenses per month were equivalent to what Trent and I spend in about four months. In January of this year, Liz moved in with us, the divorce became final, and the house was sold. 

Liz is finally able to breathe freely and spread her wings. She's a grown woman, and as such, she can go where she wishes and see her friends and do as she likes. When she gets home, nobody will scream at her or ask her who she was with or what she was doing or why she's home late. She finally has a chance to live a more normal life.

Last year, before Trent and I went to bed on July 13th, I remarked about the battle zone that was my birthday - happy freaking birthday to me. In retrospect, that weird birthday ended up being a gift. It enabled a woman to end an abusive relationship. It set her free.



A note from The Lunatic: It's no secret that because of my background, I have strong feelings about domestic abuse. If you are being abused, please seek help from any source possible. It could be a trusted friend, a community program, a religious advisor, and most especially your local law enforcement and county government. Liz was given help through the county's victim's advocacy programs. They help with things as varied as no- or low- cost door lock replacements and funding divorce attorneys. There are many people who care and are eager to help you.

If you know someone who is being abused, please do not try to force them to adhere to a timetable that you'd like them to follow. The changes and challenges involved in exiting the relationship can be as stressful as the abuse, and sometimes even more so. Sometimes the best support you can give is just being there. Researching local resources will help both you and your loved one know that help is out there.

Finally, we must always think of the children who may be affected by domestic abuse. Even if they are not abused, they may learn behaviors and expectations based on what they see every day.



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Monday, July 10, 2017

It's a Front

I frequently refer to myself as The Meanest Woman in the World. I can be opinionated and stubborn, and have been known to speak my mind. It's mostly a combination of self-preservation and a cover-up. You see, I'm really very...sensitive. Okay, it's out there, I'm done for.

There's debate in the Psychology/Psychiatry fields over whether personality is something one is born with, or something that comes from learning and environment. I think it's a mixture of both. What's the body of research that has led me to this conclusion? Well, my life and experiences, of course.

Some months ago, we were headed home from an appointment that Trent had at University of Colorado Hospital. It's more formally known as University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, but that's too long and makes it sound like a giant experimental maze full of people looking for cheese. Not delicious and wonderful cheese, mind you, but some ghastly low-fat, low-sodium cheese-reminiscent abomination. So I call it University of Colorado Hospital. I told you I was opinionated!

Anyway, we were headed home and drove past an area beside the highway that is home to a moderately sized colony of prairie dogs. The sight of prairie dogs next to traffic often reminds me of Gram. In this case the memory tumbled around and took me somewhere else. Even though it might be embarrassing, I thought, I need to write about the thing which will briefly be a mystery. I jotted down a note in the terrible printing associated with being in a moving vehicle, and left it to grow in the back of my mind.

This made me think about the fact that I have always been on the sensitive side. That doesn't mean that if someone says something rude to me I will burst into tears. In fact, it's more likely to get me heated up. It just means that I have the ability to be deeply moved by many things, especially the various things suffered by others. It is perhaps a contributing factor to my protective nature. Be rude to me, so what. But be rude to someone else who doesn't deserve it, and you may get an earful from The Lunatic.

One of my few memories from my life in Chicago with my parents and siblings is of a very sensitive moment. Peter Pan was being broadcast on television, and it had gotten to the part where Tinkerbell was possibly dying. When the call came to clap your hands if you believed in fairies, I did so. I did so weeping buckets of tears. I didn't want Tink to die. I didn't want Peter Pan to lose his friend. You get the picture.

The abuse at the hands of the terrifying Alice, along with the war zone that is children and childhood, helped me to learn some ways to cope. Although my tears certainly didn't mean I was weak (a weak person could never have survived some of the things I experienced), they could be viewed as such by the less-sensitive and sometimes more cruel people around me. A bit of emotional detachment can be a great survival tool if you don't want to be eaten alive by the people around you.

A couple of weeks ago Trent and I were at the drive-up ATM waiting for our turn. Trent pointed out the beautiful yellow butterfly that flitted by our car. This is of some personal significance and will be in a blog post on another day. I turned my head and saw something flying around my open window, thinking that maybe it came into the car with us. Sure enough, there was a ladybug sitting on my shoulder. I gently lifted it up and gave it a puff of air to send it flying on its way. (I had to chuckle when I saw what it had left on my shoulder - a teensy little spot of ladybug poo.)

A few days later I told Trent about a memory of Gram and me and a ladybug. A day or two after we had gone to the supermarket, Gram got a head of lettuce out of the refrigerator. As she separated the leaves, she said, "Oh! Look at this!" Nestled in the cold leaves was a beautiful ladybug. Now, I was probably in high school at the time, but I felt so sorry for that poor ladybug. I took her in my warm hand, hoping that she could somehow survive her ordeal. And she began to move sluggishly, starting to recover from the cold she had endured for several days.

I told Gram that I knew ladybugs ate aphids, so I was going to take her out to the rose garden. Of course that wasn't enough for me. I began plucking aphids off the roses and feeding them to the ladybug. She ate slowly at first, but perked up fairly quickly. After eating several bugs, she was feeling much more lively. She walked around on my hand for a bit, and then took to the air. As she flew away, my heart soared with her. Yep. Sensitive.

I've decided just now that the mysterious thing I mentioned earlier is something I no longer want to write about this evening. Suffice it to say it was an expose of greyhound racing training and involved live rabbits. Gram was in the kitchen on the phone when I came into the room weeping.

So that's another piece of The Lunatic's puzzle. I can often sometimes occasionally be trusted to watch emotional videos or read stories about Santa visiting terminally ill children without losing it. Don't expect me to be able to talk about them or read the stories aloud, though, unless there is a handy supply of hankies or tissues or even the bottom of my shirt. I am still the person who can find unbearable beauty in nature or film or writing. I've finished more than one book with my shirt damp from the tears that have rolled off my chin and left evidence of my softness for anyone to see. I am The Lunatic. I am Katrina. I am sensitive. Yes, I claim to be The Meanest Woman in the World. But some of it is a survival mechanism. And some of it is just a front.

Oh! I almost forgot! Why did the prairie dogs remind me of Gram? After I began to drive, I would take Gram, on holidays or special occasions, to visit her daughter's home some 30 miles away in a more rural area. An area that we would drive by happened to have a large prairie dog colony, and still does these many years later. It's just a few minutes' drive from where we now live. On this occasion, we saw a fat and sassy prairie dog getting ready to cross the expanse of the road. What made it delightful and memorable is the way he prepared for his mad dash across multiple lanes. He was literally running in place, his little legs going so fast they were almost a blur. As we drove by, he quit revving his motor and made his move. I'm glad to say that he made it across this busy street unscathed while we had a good laugh at something we'd previously only seen in cartoons. I still think of it after all these years whenever I go by that area, hoping I'll see another prairie dog revving his motor. 



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Monday, July 3, 2017

Hidden Treasures

Trent and I have decided, for various reasons, that when our lease is up at the end of next May, we will be moving to a new apartment. We both hate moving. Every time we have ever done so, we have cursed ourselves for having too much stuff. We vow to get rid of everything so that we will never have to go through the stress of packing and moving too much stuff ever again. Of course, our previous moves have been done on a shorter time schedule than the one we are now planning. Since we have so much time at our disposal, we are embarking on a great adventure called downsizing. We have some things in storage and throughout our home that we will be sorting through and either packing or selling or donating various items.

Part of our work involves a storage unit which we have been renting for quite some time. Naturally, when we started thinking about going through the contents of said storage unit, we couldn't find the right key to unlock it. For quite some time we found ourselves driving over to test every stray key we located by design or by accident, and none of them worked. We finally had to ask the owners to cut and replace the lock so that we could begin purging our excess stuff.

On our first visit, we opened a large plastic bin that contained a few loose items along with a shoebox-sized cardboard box. The cardboard box contained several bottles of fragrances, many of which had begun to leak due to extremes of cold and heat. Very close to the leaky box, I spotted this folded piece of paper.



Amazingly, the paper had not been leaked on by the old perfume bottles. I was stunned to find this old piece of schoolwork from the time I was a child living in Chicago, still intact decades later. I unfolded it to find this piece of first-grade artwork, Adam and Eve in Paradise.


You may notice that Eve was originally drawn with very short legs which my younger self simply lengthened. So what if she looks like she has an extra pair of feet? I will freely admit that this antique piece of artwork is not currently slated for destruction. I've never claimed to be an artist, but this connects me to a time in my childhood and so it stays.

Last week we went back to the storage unit to do another quick attack on the contents. I found several paperback books in two different bags. I thought of perhaps donating them right away but decided i might want to reread one or two of these old friends first. In one of the books, I found some photos of our honeymoon, which was a pleasant surprise. As I took a glance at another bag, I saw a book that reminded me of a very difficult time in my life. When Gram was in the waning weeks of her life, I had purchased the book and stayed up reading it and weeping until the wee hours of the morning. I wasn't sure if I could read it again, but decided to take it home and give it a chance.

When I picked up the book, I could see that there was something stuck in between its pages. I opened it to find this photo.


I have very few photos of myself from my childhood, and this is one of my favorites. It was taken on my first day of sixth grade by our next-door neighbor Mr. Phillips. Standing in the Phillips' back yard are the long-legged Katrina, Elizabeth D, who was in the same grade level as the budding Lunatic and lived two doors down in the other direction, and Lisa Phillips, who was one year younger.

Here's what's really special about finding this photo - just a few days before we went to the storage unit I was thinking about this very photo and wishing I knew where to find it. I even wondered if I could contact Mr. and Mrs. Phillips and ask them to print me another copy after all of these years. And there it was, right where I would be most likely to find it.

What I've written tonight may make it sound as though I (or we) aren't making any progress, but this is simply not the case. It's just that we have found hidden treasures during the winnowing process. Just like with wheat, as we have loosened the chaff we have freed the lovely grains of treasures and memories. And these small things will have a treasured spot in our hearts and homes.

Wishing you many happy memories... 


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Friday, June 16, 2017

Broken

It was a June evening like many other June evenings. The weather was turning hot but still cooling down at night. On this particular evening the sunny heat of the day turned into cloud cover late in the afternoon. According to the calendar, it was late Spring, but everyone knows that when school is out for almost three months, it doesn't matter what the calendar says - it's SUMMER! On this cloudy evening of June 7, 2017, a young female left the house she was visiting, the house her father shared with his girlfriend and her children. 

She left with one of the girlfriend's sons at some time between 7:00 and 8:00 in the evening - the details are fuzzy and have changed more than a few times. They were going to walk to a nearby shopping area, one of those places anchored by a large supermarket and peppered with various restaurants, shops, and services. It was to be the last journey that she would ever take.

At some time around nine that evening, the young male that she was with returned home alone. He told the story that it began to rain and he started to run, at which point the two were separated. Nobody outside of the household will probably ever know what happened in the home that evening, but we do know one thing. Nobody called the local police to report her missing until her older sister dropped by to visit her father as well. The older sister made the call and reported her younger sister missing at about 11:45 p.m., almost three hours after her companion had returned home alone.

The local news outlets reported through various means, including social media, that the young female was missing. The details of the young male's story were recounted, along with the location where she was last seen. Multiple police departments as well as the FBI sprang into action in an effort to find her. 

When I first read the story, which I initially discovered while browsing social media, something didn't feel quite right. You see, I live not far from where the events took place, less than a mile away, and we didn't have any rain at the time the young male said that a storm had separated them. Of course, we all know that weather can be clear at your location and raining very hard just blocks away. So I tried to ignore the feeling that things weren't adding up.

The following day, in an effort to make the public more aware of this missing person, an Amber Alert was issued. (Normally they are reserved for cases in which it is fairly certain that an adult has abducted a minor, but one was issued in this case.) As I followed the story online, I saw comments that made me have that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. People in the area said that there was no rain until at least 10:00. I became more and more convinced that the young female was already dead.

In the middle of Thursday afternoon, I saw that a search party was being organized to support the efforts of more than two dozen police departments that were trying to find the missing one. Meet at School X at such-and-such time to help us find her, the posts said. I mentioned it to Trent and he immediately said that we should go, which was something that was in my mind as well. As soon as he said that, we both got that sinking feeling again and knew that we should stay home. 

At about the time that the search was to begin, there was an announcement made that it would be cancelled because a body had been found. Pending confirmation from the county coroner's office, it was believed to be the missing young female.

It was later confirmed that the body was indeed that of the missing one. Her name was Kiaya Campbell, and her 10 year old body was found face-down in mud by someone who lived near where her body was discarded. There was so much trauma to her face that she was not immediately recognizable as the missing child. The coroner declared that her manner of death was non-accidental.

Comments flew like leaves in the wind. People who live in the same neighborhood as the father and his girlfriend said that they never let their children have any contact with the 15 year old boy that took that last walk with Kiaya. Apparently he has a history of violence toward other children in the neighborhood and the police have been called about this on numerous occasions. Many of the comments about the boy's behavior reminded me (the non-degreed student of Psychology, including what is often called Abnormal Psychology) of disorders that I won't discuss at this time because I haven't the experience or right to do so. Suffice it to say that this young male should probably not have been left alone with younger children.

Two days after Kiaya's body was found, the police returned to her father's home to arrest the 15 year old male for murder. This week he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. One of the charges is intent to commit murder after deliberation, meaning that it didn't just happen, he wanted it to happen. The other is first-degree murder of a child under the age of 12 by a person in a position of trust. The District Attorney also notified the judge that he will file paperwork requesting that the case be moved out of Juvenile Court so that the boy can be charged as an adult.

My heart breaks for the families involved. I feel for the neighbors and schoolmates and extended families. I can't imagine the anguish experienced by the person who found her body or the law-enforcement officers and coroner's office employees. 

This case has made it difficult for me to put on the suit of armor that we use to protect ourselves from such incomprehensible horrors. I think of how I was at age ten, how the whole of life was in front of me like a sumptuous feast. I think of how innocent I was back then. And I have that horrible moment in which I realize that I hope that death came quickly to release her from the pain and fear that she couldn't have ever imagined happening to anyone, much less herself.

Her name was Kiaya. She will never reach young- or old-womanhood. Her mother will never help her get ready for a first date or wipe her tears when her heart is broken or when it is filled with joy. She will never have a career or a family or travel around the world or cure a disease or write a book or sing a hit song or provide humanitarian aid. Her light has been extinguished, but I hope that she leaves us with some lessons. Life is tenuous. Protect the ones you love. Make sure that they know you love them. Too many people, children and adults, disappear every day, from all genders and socioeconomic groups. I hope that they will always live in people's memories and hearts.


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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Sedated

Before we get started, I have to confess that I wanted the title for this post to be Sed-a-give, as in the scene from Young Frankenstein. For various reasons, I decided against this. I apologize to those who may feel slighted by this and also say, "You're welcome!" to anyone who is now hearing The Ramones singing in their head.

On Christmas day several years ago, my sister Liz and my now ex-brother-in-law Richard, commonly known as Dick, wanted to take us to see a new movie in all of its 3-D, big-screen glory. The movie was Avatar, and we were pleased to be getting out for such a cinematic splurge. 

Now, Trent and I didn't really socialize with Liz and Dick (no similarity to Taylor & Burton is implied or intended) very often. My brother-in-law has never been a fan of The Lunatic. In fact, there were times when I was unwelcome in his home for as long as two or more years at a time. The longest separation of sisters was due to me watching Jeopardy on tv with them one evening. Like everyone else I know, I was calling out the answers when I knew them. This resulted in a horrific night for Liz after I left, including physical abuse, because I was, as Dick said, "A dumb b!tch who thinks she knows everything."

To be fair, when my life and family fell apart at the time that Gram died, he was one of the few people that were in my corner. He told me that he knew we couldn't possibly live together, but he did a lot to help me get started and on my feet. And when Gram's grandkids were changing the locks before I finished moving out (less than 24 hours after her death) he and Liz helped me move out a few more things. But I must emphasize that generally the bad times outweighed the good, especially with the way he treated my sister and women in general. But that's a story for another day.

As I said before, the in-laws were treating us to a movie on Christmas. We were ready early to be picked up, and got to the theater with plenty of time to spare. Out tickets were purchased and we were waiting in a special line in the theater because the movie was so new. And that is when everything fell apart. A boy in the 10-to-12-year old range stumbled a bit while walking by and stepped in front of Dick, who was at the front of the line. With it being Christmas and all, and the season of peace on Earth and goodwill toward others, naturally his reaction was terrible. With Trent and Liz and I standing behind him, he began yelling at the child about cutting in line in front of him and that the line was behind him. As luck would have it, the child's father, in addition to wanting to protect his child from being yelled at by a stranger, had a fighting personality just like Dick's. As the wives in question apologized to each other for the scene caused by their battle-ready spouses, Trent and I were right next to a scene that we might have expected to see in a movie, but not in a movie theater.

To add to the sheer shock of actually seeing two men get chest to chest while puffing up like two roosters preparing to fight, I was suddenly experiencing the results of all of the abuse and screaming and violence I had endured growing up. The terror I felt may have been more than the situation called for, but it was very real. I felt like the 7 year old girl who was about to be beaten senseless by the dreaded Alice. I wanted to escape but there was nowhere to run and no way to get there because of the people on all sides.

Luckily, the wives were able to defuse the walking time bombs that were their husbands' tempers, and we got seats in the theater. I was shaking with the aftermath but didn't want to say anything. And we couldn't leave since we didn't drive. When Liz and I took a last-minute bathroom break, she told me that the almost-fight had upset her so much that she needed to take a Xanax or she'd break down before the movie was over. She offered half of one to me as well, and I leapt at the chance because I was really a wreck by this point.

So we settled down in our seats, put on our stylish 3-D spectacles, and began to watch the movie. When it was over, Trent sort of teased me, saying that I had fallen asleep during the movie. I was a bit huffy when I said that there was no way I dozed off during such an action-packed movie. I knew that Liz had, but certainly not me. Trent didn't argue the point because it really didn't matter, bless his heart.

Months later, when the film came out for purchase, we were eager to get it. With popcorn at the ready, we sat down to enjoy seeing the film at home. Hm. There were things that I didn't remember seeing when it was at the theater. I mentioned this and Trent said that maybe now I believed him about falling asleep during the movie. And I sure did! I apologized for disagreeing with him and enjoyed a movie that I both had and hadn't really seen before. The atmosphere was relaxed, nobody was at risk for violence other than the characters on the screen, and I was alert and able to soak it all in. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Especially because I hadn't needed or taken a sedative.

A note from The Lunatic: I don't want to leave you with the impression that I am a coward that runs and hides at the least sign of trouble, because that is not my true nature. I am a protector, and normally am extremely calm and effective during emergencies. I am typically the person who will help when there's an accident or emergency, and have stepped between people who are larger and stronger than me to prevent fights or abuse. (I know in my heart that if I had been able to step between the two men in the theater, one of them would probably have hit me, most likely my brother-in-law). The situation above was unusual in that I was dealing with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and two people who were acting like violent jackasses. Luckily I won't have to deal with them again.



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Friday, June 2, 2017

Touched

I imagine that many of my regular readers might think I spend an inordinate amount of time at the supermarket. It's simply not true. It just seems true because our trips have inspired several blog posts. Think about it - when you're at the market, your life intersects with the lives of other people, complete strangers as a general rule. Oftentimes they seem to forget that the world outside their little bubble of shopping cart and companions sees and hears what transpires as they wend their way from aisle to aisle. Today's grocery excursion gave The Lunatic enough food for thought for as many as three posts, but let's just leave it at one for tonight, shall we?

We all have our quirks or challenges, and I saw someone today who reminded me of others I have encountered. As I waited with our groceries (packed in our awesome and sturdy reusable grocery bags) while Trent visited the Men's Room, I saw a woman and her son come out of the Women's. He was perhaps ten. They walked over to where a man was standing with a cart full of purchased groceries, a small child, and a stroller.

I noticed immediately that she was holding her hands out from her body in an unusual way. It made me wonder if there was no way for her to dry her hands and she was trying to do the good old air-drying routine. But her son didn't seem to have wet hands. Hm. When she got over to her husband, he tried to hand her the folded receipt but she didn't seem to want to take it. I discreetly watched as she bent her body to stretch out a pocket on the thigh of her yoga-style pants and gingerly tuck in the receipt with two fingers. Still holding her hands and body in unusual positions, she removed her keys from said pocket, again only engaging a couple of fingers.

Her husband looked a bit frustrated as she reached for the stroller with two fingers on each side. She said something to him, to which he replied that if she wanted to go down there, go down there, he didn't care. As she turned and started to walk away, he began pushing the laden cart to follow her. Then he turned to his son and asked him to push the cart because he needed to go wash his hands. And then it all fell into place. She didn't want to touch the receipt because he had touched it. She couldn't really bear to touch the stroller or her own keys.

I have had interactions with people with these sorts of problems before, both superficial and in-depth. I guess that some folks would consider Trent and I to be among them, but with immunity issues it's wise to take some precautions. Some individuals may have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or a deeper underlying condition that makes them extra aware of or worried about dirt or germs. I once had a retail customer who was buying bath oil beads. These were in fishbowls on our counters and frankly got handled by numerous people daily. The customer and her child came up to the cash register with the various bath beads in a clear bag provided for that purpose. The beads were made with different types of oils and had different prices, so I reached into the bag to sort them by price so I'd know what to ring up. This upset the customer so much that she kept remarking about me touching them, and decided that she couldn't buy them because they had been touched. As she left the store her child said in an anxious tone, "This isn't like you, Mom." She agreed that it wasn't. I hope that whatever stresses were causing her problems left her life quickly. Having to worry so much and be so vigilant can be exhausting.

I had some years of experience with this type of problem because of Gram's granddaughter T, which is enough of a name to give at this juncture. There was a history of some diagnosed mental health issues, on her father's side, which passed to her genetically. Things went pretty well until her young daughter broke an arm at elementary school. T fell apart and was changed forever. 

She didn't want people in her house. She would make her husband drive her over 25 miles each way every morning to drop her off at Gram's house. He would go to work and she would spend the day with Gram until at least mid-evening. I swear to this day that it shortened Gram's life by at least five or more years due to the sheer stress. I was in my first or second year of college and it put a strain on me mentally and emotionally as well.

T, like the woman at the supermarket, had an issue with things having been touched. She would wash her clothes, and her husband's and daughter's, in copious amounts of Lysol. The eye-burning smell of the disinfectant lingered around them. To this day, the smell gives me headaches and makes me feel uneasy. After the clothes were washed and dried, they were put in garbage bags so that they wouldn't touch anything that had been touched or was potentially unclean. A common phrase was "that's been touched." It was heartbreaking, really.

I grew to have a different understanding of the impact illnesses can have on families and relationships. I had always thought, when I heard about marriages breaking up when a spouse became seriously ill, that the person who walked away was selfish or uncaring or didn't know what love meant. I began to realize that sometimes illnesses can cause frustration, exhaustion, or any number of damaging side effects on those involved. I had always loved her husband, and the patience and grace with which he cared for her was nothing short of amazing.

There were other things involved in her illness that L was so patient with. When I offered T some cookies that I had made to take home, she wasn't sure about how to transport them safely. (Apparently, the fact that she wanted to take my cookies home was a Very Big Deal. I mean, it was unheard of.) Her husband suggested that she simply carry them on her lap, which she agreed was a good idea so that they wouldn't touch anything. When T and L would leave our house, L would come back in in a few minutes because T wanted him to check all of the house plants in case there was a mouse hiding in them. That dear, sweet man didn't just go in the house and fake it - he would check every single plant in the house as he had promised. And when it was 97 degrees out and she insisted that he drive with his windows closed, he did so, even when she wasn't looking, to the best of my knowledge.

I haven't seen any of these people since Gram's funeral, but I hope that their problems have diminished. I learned a lot from that terribly stressful time. We are all human, and all frail. Our health, whether physical or mental, can be virtually balanced on the head of a pin. When or if it falls, we hope and strive for the best. And if it proves to be too much for those around us, it doesn't mean they don't love enough or aren't strong enough. It just means that they're human too. That's all we can ask and all we can promise.

In closing, I'd like to share with you once again one of my favorite sentiments. Be well.


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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grant

I've always been one to sort of sit back and observe others in action. I don't just mean people-watching, but also in everyday life, family gatherings, and so forth. If that makes it seem as though I don't engage in what is going on around me, let me assure you that this is not the case. 

I believe I developed this habit (or talent?) from my upbringing. When I was younger, of course the adults in my family group didn't really care for my opinion or whatever childish things I might have to say. I also had no desire to step into the dangerous realm of possibly making said adults angry with me, especially the dreaded child-beating terror known as Alice. And heaven forbid that I made Gram weary of having me around - if so, I would be back in the dreaded lion's den.

As I got older and more free to say what was on my mind, I still kept a lot of what I was thinking to myself. This was partly from Gram's training (a future blog post, I'm fairly certain) and from my innate knowledge that sometimes things are best left unsaid. Undoubtedly the first person to say least said, soonest mended spoke from experience. Watch what you say, and you can prevent pain to others and damage to your relationships with them.

Someone whom I have quietly observed for quite some time now is a young man named Grant, who is a member of my church. Now, before you get all in a dither and quit reading because I used the word church, please reconsider. I am not here to discuss faith or non-faith or anything of that ilk. I'm just giving context for the situation.

Trent and I don't go to church every week. Our health, to put it mildly, is unusual. With Trent being immunosuppressed because of kidney transplants and me having systemic lupus, it seems as if we can catch germs from across the street, to say nothing of being in a closed area with lots of people. Just last month we picked up a bug at church that made itself at home chez Lunatic for a little more than two weeks. For this reason, we sit in the very back row because we hope that most of the cooties will travel toward the front of the church, the way everyone's facing.

Back to Grant. Over the years I have noticed that Grant processes the stimuli around him in a different way than most of the rest of us do. When I see him during the singing of hymns, for example, I can almost feel that the volume of the music (noise?) is painful to him. He has developed coping mechanisms to deal with this, and what they are do not matter to this story. 

Grant also sits in the back row as we do. His family sits a row or two in front of him. I know that he loves his family, but he needs to have his space, literally. When I sat down in the back row one Sunday just a few chairs over from his spot by the door, I knew I was too close. The look on his face said it all. I told him that we'd move down the row a bit, and helped him move the chairs between his seat and ours. His mother's face was full of relief at our being easygoing and understanding, and the day progressed beautifully.

We have developed a routine, on the Sundays when we are up to attending church, that keeps Grant in mind. If the chairs in the back row are folding rather than stacking chairs, I will remove about five of them between where I sit and Grant's spot. Sometimes he's there before me and has already done it, but sometimes we work together. And sometimes, like today, we get there first and I create a space for Grant before he arrives.

So today started off really well. A dear sweet lady came into the building with us and I told her that I needed to clear the chairs for Grant and she understood completely. I sat and waited, hoping that I had moved enough chairs for him to feel at ease. As I said, things started off well. Grant's mother, Susan, is always so grateful for us being understanding. This gratitude breaks my heart. It tells me that there are some people who only see him with their eyes and not their hearts. I saw one of them in action today.

A man came into the chapel after the service was well underway. Although there were several empty seats in front of us, he grabbed one of the folded chairs and set it right next to Grant. And I mean close. I saw that Grant was asking him not to sit there, but the man ignored him. I quietly got up, stepped over to him, and whispered, "He has a hard time with people sitting next to him." I felt that was all that I needed to say. Was it necessary for me to go into a long discussion that Grant is probably somewhere on the Autism Spectrum and having someone sit that close to him is more than he can bear? I respect Grant and his family far too much for that.

The man moved his chair about a foot away from Grant, waited a few moments, said something to him, and clasped his hand in a handshake. (Grant knows I am safe and I never grab his hand. Usually he will give me a handshake, but sometimes he will not. I feel great joy on the handshake days!) He then got up and moved to another seat. I smiled inside myself when Grant waited a few moments and pulled the chair over to himself, folded it shut, and leaned it against the wall where it had been before. But I could see that he was overwhelmed. Within a minute or so, he had to leave the room. The man sat in his new chair for about a minute and decided to leave the chapel. He made an exaggerated point of looking down at Grant's empty chair, looking at me, and shaking his head in disdain. 

In the twenty or so minutes that remained of the meeting, Grant had to get up and leave another couple of times. I knew that the whole day might be a struggle for him, and decided to speak with his parents after the service. After I gave them a brief rundown of what had happened, I made them an impassioned promise. "Whenever I am here, I will always do whatever I can to help Grant feel safe and comfortable." I understand how his mind works. He is different from everyone else. But aren't we all?

What happened today was not a major event. There was no bad guy, and there was no hero. There was misunderstanding, which happens everywhere and every day. It becomes all too easy to see others' actions with our eyes and forget to use our hearts. Our differences are part of what makes us who we are. We are all frail beings who love and fear and dream and hunger and so many other things. And when it comes to those differences, I hope to remember the wonderful mother of Temple Grandin, who taught her autistic daughter this beautiful philosophy, "Different, not less than." 





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