Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Says So in the Manual

Says So in the Manual

In yesterday’s piece, I mentioned that my primary goal, when we found out that Annie is ill, was to be her number-one, go-to guy.  I figured this is my opportunity to repay her for all of the drama I have put her through this past winter, while we sorted out my own fragmented mood spectrum.

Nothing makes me want to reciprocate, more than the scales being already tipped in my favor.  I feel as though I have much to pay back, and yet, the very nature of my illness, prevents me from doing so.  Until now Annie has been my coach and mentor, while I sorted out the complexities of mood spectrum disorder.  Making reasonable progress, we have begun each day with a careful assessment of the state of Mark, and recorded the data on my mood chart.

By doing so, I have been able to compare each day’s emotional barometer, with that of the previous day, and the day before that, and draw some sort of haphazard conclusions.  Inherent in the whole process has been honesty.  How many hours of sleep did I actually get, compared to how many hours I put on the chart?  Prior to now, there was no reason to get creative with the answers.

Now, however, if the questions tend to make me admit things, that are not going to make it easier for Annie, then I might hold off.  She doesn’t need to know what my level of depression is, because it is not going to help her feel better.  She doesn’t need to know that the speed of the racing thoughts in my head, defies computation.  She doesn’t need to know that the agitation going on up there, would make an old-time washing machine, seem like a tranquil pool of serenity. That’s the dilemma that I am encountering.  If I am honest to a fault, someone is likely to get hurt.  

But Annie’s newly diagnosed illness is too heavy for me to just absorb, with my manly sense of dignity intact.  I want to say,  "Aw, hell, I can handle it-just try me..." until it involves the fragile nature of life, and its connection to the most important person in my life.  I’m not that manly and I don’t want to be.  I just want to retain my Annie, not my sense of dignity.

Yesterday, I formed the conclusion that I am not in a position to be Annie’s number one go-to guy, for the same reason that she can no longer function as my coach and mentor.  In order for me to be at top speed, I need my coach available to guide me; my coach has had to take time off to tend to personal problems, so I need to form a new plan.  She has also opted to shut down her quilting business, for the time being, because it is too draining. 

Temporarily, she will not be baking for market or making her tamales because it’s just too much.  She can bake some gluten-free bread for those who rely on it, she can prepare some miso soup, or she can read on the couch.  This is a very different existence for Annie, I can only guarantee you of that.

As for me, I am no longer in the early stages of my illness and have spent six months unraveling that ball of twine inside my head, so the need to have my coach present has diminished.  I have not mastered my therapy, but have at least instilled an ongoing, successful program, which allows me to be able to give that much more support to Annie.  Maybe not 100%, but much, none-the less.  

Fortunately, this is where the news brightens enormously.  I have mentioned additional support in the form of others who have stampeded to help.  Annie has had her spirits buoyed tremendously by the presence of our three strong, devoted sons and respective partners.  All three of these young men, were here in the kitchen yesterday, anxious to let Annie revel in their love, strength, generosity and confidence.  They are a formidable force in this most recent-and very unexpected-development.

Because Annie and I have functioned as a team for thirty-one years, there is no reason to let up at this late stage in the game, especially with our sons and their partners by our side.  

Tell you what, Annie.  I’ll make your tea, and get your Kindle, if you will take a look at this mood chart, and see if everything is in order.  I promise not to fudge on the data too much, if you promise to take your iron supplements, and let me carry that water for the chickens out to the coop.  You don’t need to be doing that strenuous of a task.  And together we’ll figure it out.  Says so in the manual, page twelve, paragraph 4, under sub-section L, for Love.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What's She Doing up?

What’s She Doing Up?

A few weeks ago I was the hero for having driven Annie back from Eureka to Willits, when we thought she was having an attack of a kidney stone.  To say that I exceeded the speed limit, would be an understatement.  We went directly to Howard Hospital, and spent a good part of the day, until she was feeling stabilized, whereupon, we went on home.

It was a good test for me, to be able to employ my array of mental tools to keep me from having any sort of negative reaction from the stress.  I passed the test with flying colors, and we have been in a holding pattern ever since, waiting for that pesky “kidney stone” to exit the building.  I have passed two kidney stones back in the day, so I have been a good support person for Annie.

Actually, I have been a great support person for her, because I feel the need to balance the scales, that exist in my mind, because they are currently dipped down on Annie’s side and need to be righted.  You see, Annie has been my guide, coach, and mentor, for six months now, as I have unraveled the ball of twine inside my head, known as mood spectrum disorder.  She has helped me research, review, and understand my illness so that I have been able to progress through therapy, even managing up until this point, to be able to forego the use of the medication that was originally prescribed.  That would be the atypical, anti-psychotic, meds that scared me and Annie so badly, that we doubled our efforts to find out everything possible about mood spectrum disorder. 

Now I have experienced a summer’s worth of “normalcy,” combined with a rigid adherence to my primary therapeutic components of proper sleep, proper exercise, sensible diet, laden with fresh vegetables and fruit, and an avoidance of caffeine.  Am I back to “normal?”  Sure, and the weather’s been normal too for the past ten days or so, but you never know.

Bipolarism is something I am going to have to deal with every day of my life; it is a full-time job.  Therefore, I am experiencing a fair amount of challenge trying to figure out how I am going to be able to help Annie.  It turns out that her “kidney stone” is not a kidney stone at all, but rather, an eight-centimeter-tumor, taken up residence in one of her two kidneys.  I can’t even tell you which.  When I say it like that, it sounds so much more benign than cancer.  I mean, you just remove a tumor, right? Cancer sticks around and causes havoc.  Right now, the thinking appears to lean toward simply removing the kidney.

This is the part where my mental faculties want to stop the truck-dead in the center of the road, and demand a re-examining of the life’s schedule of events. Overload!  Too much going on-lay off a bit.  How is a bipolar guy, suppose to assume the nursing needs of a cancer patient?   The answer is, “He’s not.”   

In the first couple of days, I kept running at full speed into oak trees, one representing something that needed to be done for Annie, the same one representing something that I needed to be doing for me.  The result was that the two paths kept crossing, and every time it happened, I was left scattered, dazed and confused.

One good thing we had going for us, however, was that the radiologist did take a close look round, while examining the dye-encrusted region, and saw nothing else that might overly have alarmed him.  It seems as though we are early in the process, and our hope is high.  We have a consultation with the pros from Dover in San Francisco, on September 6th, and we will schedule surgery then.

In case you all are forming glowing images of Mark, still on that white steed, riding at the head of the special forces, conveying Annie along to wellness, think again.  It sounds so good, and I told Annie the very first day, that I was going to do everything that possibly needed doing, and she wasn’t going to have to worry about me one bit.

That was my best moment, in a short list of best moments.  My flaw is that the only reason I could have been doing so well, is because I had Annie.  It goes like this: Annie helps Mark; Mark is able to thrive and be productive; Mark can therefore help Annie.  If Annie now has to pay attention to Annie, first, then she cannot help Mark first, who therefore struggles, and is therefore not able to help at all.

Fortunately, it only took me four days to realize the flaw, and to take the necessary steps to correct it.  That doesn’t mean all is well; it just means that no one is functioning in an unreasonable role, and new roles take time to form.  There is a tremendous amount of immediate support within the hill community, so Annie is in good hands.  

She is forcing herself to slow down and deal with the needs of her illness.  She has expressed a desire to minimize phone calls and visits to those of the utmost of importance, so that she can get the rest she needs to prepare for her upcoming surgery.  

Whether you look to the gods and goddesses within the very existence of your home and garden, whether you follow the principles of a number of available man-made options, or whether you just trust to luck, be thinking of my sweetest of apple blossoms, as she battles something which seeks to dim those fragile flowers.  Together, I know we can make a difference.  The proof is in  all of the middle school kids, who peeked their heads into Annie’s classroom, stepped inside, and emerged to be productive members of our community.  Now I need your help to get positive energy heading this way.

I want her on her feet, with the devil looking up in alarm saying, “What the hell’s she doing up already?  I thought we took care of her.  Damn!"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quick Strike

Quick Strike

From a softball game/barbecue to fighting a wild fire, Sunday afternoons can offer a variety of opportunities for a community to demonstrate just how much of a community it really is.  Though folks up here on the ridge have been playing softball on Sunday afternoons since 1982, fighting fires as a unit is a relatively recent thing.

Timing is everything as they say, because when a wildfire broke out Sunday afternoon, the local volunteer fire department was up to the challenge.  It was able to deploy more than fifteen volunteers to the site, and contain the fire to one acre, having it under control before either the Laytonville Volunteer unit or the Leggett Cal Fire unit, arrived.

It has occurred to me that practically every major wild fire began as something that could have been contained in a similar manner, had it been spotted quickly enough, and had personnel been able to get there.  Those are two components that must be in place.  Because the blaze was spotted quickly, it became as critically important that the response-time be equally fast.   

There have been many training sessions for Bell Springs Voluntary Firefighters, there has been a certain amount of equipment made available, there is a water tender, with a capacity of 1,200 gallons of water, and there is a determination to not sit around waiting for someone else to come in and solve our problems.

I say “our” problems; I refer to the problems of the community.  I personally do not have a hand in the firefighting work.  When the volunteer unit was assembled, not that long ago, I assessed my contributions, and compared them to my liabilities, and decided to let valor take a back seat to discretion.  I have one surgically repaired knee, one surgically reconstructed shoulder, and a tendency to fall often and hard.  The way I view it, is the same way army strategists view it.  

Disabling booby traps are intended to do just that: disable and not kill.  By hurting someone, two additional soldiers are required to move the injured one to safety.  If I go out to fight a fire, and end up hurting myself, any good I might have done, will be surpassed by the harm of needing two volunteers to help me to safety.  I am not a pessimist, so much as a realist.  The ridge is rolling hills, clusters of manzanita, rocky ravines, and treacherous footing, every step of the way.  

I ought to know, because I’ve owned my twenty acres for 37 years now, and have lived up here for the past 31 of them.  I have seen at varying distances, at least a dozen wildfires during this period, any of which could have turned on us, through different circumstances, and caused us to bail out.

Sunday’s blaze was started by a vehicle which had driven into our area, after a long haul, and had been imprudently parked in tall, dry grass.  The fire was spotted quickly and the call to 911 went out, whereupon the Bell Springs Volunteer unit was contacted.  The blaze was located on an off-road, almost five miles up Bell Springs Road.  The time required for either of the official units to converge on the scene was long enough for the home-grown unit to have already gotten a handle on the blaze.  

That’s not to say that the town units are not needed nor welcome.  Most of those other blazes, to which I just alluded, were handled by those afore-mentioned town-units.  There’s a lot of history there.  Heck, Laytonville’s unit went out of its way to conduct a fire training, geared specifically to the volunteer unit from up here on the ridge.  There is a certain amount of common sense to that approach.  Now both sides have gained from the experience.  As I said, had our home-grown locals not been available, I am confident that other forces would have conducted themselves in the same exemplary fashion, as they have so many times before.

Now, though, there is a new kid on the block, one who knows about the advantages of providing a quick strike to an incident.  Because Laytonville’s fire unit had already had the fore-sight to warn us that all fire-fighting forces were stretched out, and that we should be on high-alert, our volunteers were equipped and ready to accept the challenge.  The result was Sunday’s victory, and the heroes are those who were prepared.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

In the Parking Lot

In the Parking Lot

Because I like happy endings, I will just tell you that everything is going to work out just fine.  It says so in the manual.”

I wrote this the other morning, in summing up what seemed like a dead-end situation, in obtaining veterans health benefits.  As it turns out, I was right to have drawn that conclusion.  Because I am beginning the fourth in a series of posts, concerning the state of my health insurance, I need to do a quick review.  Form DD214 told the tale of the original quest for my documentation, that verified I had served honorably, in the US Army, for two years back in 1972/1973.  The Blender describes my mixed feelings over the acquisition of these veterans benefits, and Die-in-the-Hall Insurance describes the steps leading up to a seemingly impenetrable wall, halting the whole process, temporarily. 

Now, a scant twenty-four hours later, the haze has cleared, some emails have been exchanged, and I have an appointment for September 21st, down in Ukiah with a doctor named Shepherd.  I don’t even know if Dr. Shepherd is a man or a woman.  Having to wait close to five weeks is better than having the three-to-four month delay that was mentioned on the recording, when I first called to see if my application had been accepted.

It was that recording that started all the problems, because upon hearing about such a long delay for an appointment, plus the fact that my name had not appeared on the list, designating that I was eligible for benefits, I felt myself plummeting into the depths of depression.  With a keen sense of bitterness, I fired off an email to my older brother Brian who has spent the past few decades (quite a while, anyway) as the chief-of-staff of a Bay Area veterans hospital.  The gist of my email was that the whole veterans health benefits package was a joke, and that my personal sense of disappointment was extremely sharp.

That all took place on Wednesday.   Thursday morning, while sitting in the parking lot at J.C. Penney’s, I received a call from Brian, who asked simply for my social security number, and told me to sit tight.  I was contacted by two different individuals within the next hour.  The first was a follow-up call from the office I had phoned, when I had learned of the long delay.  At the time, my call had been transferred from the original speaker, to a second office, but in frustration, I had hung up the phone.  

Now a person named Christopher called and asked for the last four digits of my social security number, told me he had found my application, and that he would process it immediately.  He said that he would inform me of when that had taken place.  I had barely hung up the phone, when another call came in from a man named Dan, who identified himself as the Administrative Officer of Veterans Affairs for the region, and could he help me out in any way?

I explained about not being on the list, after being told that my application should have proceeded through without a hitch, and that the three-to-four month time period, alluded to on the phone, seemed inordinately long, for any sort of efficient health care.  He explained that his job was to make sure that any issues that arose from veterans’ needs, were solved to the best of his ability, and that he would fire off a few emails, and see what he could do.

When I expressed concern about the possibility of being leap-frogged over fellow veterans, he assured me that I would not be usurping any other brother veterans’ spots in my journey.  He set up a time for me to call him back the following morning (Friday) at nine o’clock.  I went home and posted an email off to Brian, letting him know what was up, and thanking him for any assistance, he may have extended to me in the matter.  

Brian responded that since I was in the NorCal region that included San Francisco’s Veterans Hospital, he had placed a call to the chief-of-staff there, a fellow with whom he had worked for fifteen years, at some earlier point in time.  It seems that in addition to working together, they had also played softball together on a team, and were fairly good buds.  Brian had called him, and he had evidently called Dan.

Included in his response to me, Brian had written, “...He [the chief-of-staff of the veterans hospital] was concerned about your experience, so he immediately mobilized the team, but he would have done the same thing for anyone else.  We have worked so hard to be welcoming and to provide the best care anywhere, that it is profoundly disturbing when something goes wrong.  I am sorry for your experience.”

The net result is that I have an appointment for September 21st, about five weeks away, which is a far cry better than three to four months.  I feel supported and I feel fortunate to have plugged the gap from the elapsed health insurance.  I may end up dying in a hallway, but at least it will not be because I have no insurance.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Die-in-the-Hallway Insurance

Die-in-the-Hallway Insurance

The big question is, how do I pull off a major whine session, without having it sound like I am a whiny little such-and-such?  I am talking about health care for elderly and poor people, of which I am both. I have worked since I was thirteen, and now find myself without health care.

I have had health coverage since 1990, when I began teaching, but for cost-cutting reasons, retired district personnel only get a certain amount of time after retirement, before their health coverage stops.  (For me it was five years.)  It seems to be a little backwards, that you would receive coverage while you are young and able to work, but when you get to retirement age, your benefits cease.  Try being a few weeks shy of your sixtieth birthday,  bi-polar, with a surgically reconstructed left knee, a surgically reconstructed right shoulder, and in need of health coverage.  

How could I have been so short-sighted, as to end up in this kind of situation?  I wasn’t short-sighted; I knew it was coming.  But health insurance isn’t like most services, in that you simply pay the fee, and go about your way.  No, it’s about making money.  If an applicant, such as myself, is not likely to garner income for an insurance company, then where is the incentive to take me on as a new customer?  After all, I did not ask for my coverage to elapse, but neither did any prospective health coverage firm.  Any company which would accept me as a prospective customer, would be priced so high out of my economic bracket, as to be absurd. 

This brings me to my backup plan, that of applying to the Veterans Administration, for health benefits, as befits someone who served two years, honorably, and who qualifies as low-income.  (The cut-off point for health benefits, is a combined income that does not exceed $36,000.)  I have found the process to be time-consuming and laborious, but was happy to jump through the classic hoops, if I was actually able to receive health benefits.

Now, after working on the project for ten weeks, I have finally made it to the point where I am waiting for my name to appear on the magic list, the one that says I am entitled to coverage.  I was told to call on August 15, and verify that my name was on the list.  When I called, I not only determined that my name was not on the list, I also heard a woman, speaking too fast for me to take in the information (I had to place a second call to retrieve everything) explaining that I should be prepared to expect a three-four month delay, in obtaining an appointment.

I am stunned.  While in the service, I routinely waited in lines, for the very basic elements of staying alive.  I find now that things have changed very little; I just have to wait longer than when I was younger.  But three to four months?  Annie refers to “die in the hallway” insurance.  Heck, I didn’t even make to the hallway.  I get to die wherever I happen to end up.  How cavalier of me!

I am bitter and disillusioned.  Here’s where the whining comes into play.  I am well-educated, very intelligent, and have worked diligently all my adult life, only to find that I am without one of the most basic of human rights, health care.  

Because I like happy endings, I will just tell you that everything is going to work out just fine.  It says so in the manual.  Meanwhile, I guess I have something to talk to my shrink about, today, when I travel down to Ukiah.  At least we get a lunch out on the town, and a blended mocha from Poor Girl’s on the way down.

As me father used to say, “it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”  But not by much.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More Than Chicken Soup

More than Chicken Soup

What do you do when a friend gets sick, and there is nothing you can do to help him out?  You watch from a distance as he struggles to deal with his illness, and you want to offer help, but it would take much more than chicken soup and one’s company to make a difference.  For if the illness is alcoholism, the road to recovery has very little to do with what friends can offer, and everything to do with what is going on, inside the head of the sufferer.

Unfortunately, the conflict within the alcoholic’s mind, has little to do with the resulting external actions of his illness.  Regardless of why he drinks, the outcome is predictable.  He imbibes, he parties, either with others or alone, and he wakes up the next morning, hungover.  Because he is feeling the effects of his illness, he is dealing from a stacked deck, one which includes a headache and a disrupted digestive system.  He needs to eat but his stomach says no.

He is frustrated because he has to get up and go to work, and eight o’clock is so darned early in the morning, that he automatically appeals to change it to nine.  If you say no, your friend is that much more annoyed; if you agree, then you are inconvenienced, and you feel put out, that his illness has overflowed into your work space.  You either go along with his request, or you feel the ramifications of saying no, all day.

I worked in the trades with a man for several years, at one point in my life, and he was an alcoholic.  His beverage of choice was beer, and he started drinking before morning break, and he never stopped.  He was as charismatic an individual as you will ever meet, and I loved and respected him as I would a brother.  So it pained me deeply to watch him spiral downward over the years, until he could no longer meet his responsibilities, as a reliable carpenter.  If he said he would be there on Tuesday, he may just as well have said Thursday or Mayday, for all it mattered.  If he said ten in the morning, it may just as well have been three in the afternoon.  

Eventually, he lost it all, but not after a torturous road.  He fought to gain control over his illness, while he was still in his early thirties.  Something triggered his concept of his own self-worth, and he set out to throw off the yoke of alcohol.  He  explained the whole thing to me, early one morning, as he lit his Marlboro, his hands shaking so badly, that it gave me goosebumps, I felt so badly for him.  

He acknowledged his shaking hands, telling me it was one of the main reasons why he was determined to kick the booze.  I could see that he meant every word of it, and the fact that there were no Buds accompanying him, I was willing to give him all the credit in the world.  Unfortunately, all the credit wasn’t worth a nickel, when he showed up one morning, almost a week later, with his usual twelve-pack, not saying a word about the beer.

It pains me to see young adults, seriously using alcohol on a daily basis, because they have no idea, how easy it is to take that slide.  Once a person is on that slippery slope, sure footage is never a guarantee, no matter how many days one has under his belt of no drinking.  I want to ask these young people about children.  Do they think they can just turn the alcohol on and off?  Are they saying that raising children under that cloud is no big deal, and does not leave an impact?

Think again.  And again, and as many times as it takes to recognize that alcohol is just as debilitating as speed.  Everyone has seen a tweaker or two, and it is a sad sight.  Alcohol will leave a person just as impaired; it only takes a lot longer, and it is socially acceptable.  Everyone has to determine his or her drug of choice, and the level of involvement.  No manual will dictate the acceptable rate of indulgence because different substances have different impacts.

So it behooves each of us to choose wisely, because when we don’t, friends are helpless to do anything about it.  Make all the chicken soup you want; what good does it do if your friend is too ill to drink it?  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Click it or Kick it-in the Vegetable Ward

Click it or Kick it-in the Vegetable Ward

I frequently find topics of interest from the innocuous postings from FaceBook.  The other day, someone commented that he had gotten a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt.  His take on the whole thing was that he never wore seatbelts and he wasn’t about to start now.

I immediately thought of helmets for motorcyclists, and how much resistance was mounted when the mandatory helmet laws, were first proposed.  The argument was that people resented ongoing government attempts to exert influence over the details of people’s lives.

Seriously, though, how valid is this point of view?  Is it aesthetics? After all, wearing a helmet or a seatbelt might limit my flair or style.  Is it just immaturity?  Why does the government have to get involved in my personal business?  Is it laziness?  I just hate to take the time to put on my helmet or belt up, to go around the block.

I would argue that certain protective measures, employed while traveling high rates of speed, or engaged in potentially risky behavior, supersede the notion of freedom of choice.  In other words, common sense should prevail over whimsy.  For someone to take the juvenile approach, that he or she resents being told to do something, even if it makes perfect sense, is unacceptable.  Why unacceptable?

We all have a responsibility to ourselves and to the people in our lives, to take rudimentary precautions to protect ourselves.  In yesterday’s FaceBook post, a reader gently commented that the person who made the original post, should remember that a few weeks ago, he had proudly announced that he was soon to be a father.  By keeping the big picture firmly in place, it would make sense that even if seatbelts were perceived as unnecessary in an earlier time, maybe that notion needed to be replaced with a more relevant one.

Another reader mentioned that the nieces and nephews of the original poster, routinely wore seatbelts, and maybe he should take note of that fact.  After all, if someone does not see the practical value of self-protection, maybe he should look at the bigger picture.  In behaving with callous disregard to his own safety, he puts the potential burden of his actions on someone else, should an accident occur.

If a person is involved in an accident while not wearing a seatbelt, and is thrown through the windshield, causing trauma to the head, and putting him into intensive care at the emergency hospital, who should assume liability?  Should there be no insurance, or if there is a prolonged period of recovery, or even if recovery to normalcy is impossible, who ultimately shoulders financial responsibility?  

Neither morally, nor legally, can a hospital pull the plug, nor would it desire to do so.  But the fact remains, that by not employing basic safety measures, a person’s life can be permanently, and irrevocably changed for the worse, and thus it is paramount that efforts be made to regulate the behavior of those who are unwilling to take basic precautions on their own.

I think with all of the emphasis on bicycle helmets for cyclists and skateboarders, which requires that even the very youngest wear them, that the next logical step would be to embrace other safety features of the motorcycle helmet and the seatbelt.  To get to the point in one’s life, where he is responsible enough to drive a motorized vehicle, I think would bring about a natural progression to a higher need for safety.

If not, as was obviously the case in yesterday’s post, I think the comment of still another reader should be employed:  Maybe the original poster should spend 24 hours in an emergency room setting, observing all that goes on within that facility, and possibly observing the differences between someone involved in an accident, who chose not to wear a seatbelt, and someone who was smart enough to do so.

Then the whole issue would probably become a moot point.  The saying goes, “Click it or ticket.”  Maybe it should read, “Click it or kick it-[in the vegetable ward]. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Only Ten Pounds

Only Ten Pounds

I have been on picnics and I have been on adventures, but I have never been on a diet.  I am not saying I couldn’t stand to lose ten pounds, but I am not unhealthily overweight, and furthermore, I am actually in pretty good physical condition, jenky knees notwithstanding.

The concept of “dieting” is a foreign one to me, partially because I am a grazer to begin with, preferring to eat smaller meals, more frequently, rather than three conventional meals, with nothing in between.  Low blood-sugar is one explanation, but I’m not too sure about that.  I just know that all of the years I was teaching, there was no way I could have gone from morning breakfast, to lunchtime, without some fortification at morning break.

In the fall, it was easy because of the cukes, tomatoes and apples coming from the back yard.  But all year long, rice crackers and some celery, or carrots, or baby corn-anything to bridge the gap between morning meal and lunchtime-sufficed.

Then there was the after-school popcorn, microwaved, filling the air around the quad with its fragrant scent.  It was the perfect snack, as long as salt was not a factor.  How on earth would being on a diet affect either of these snacks?  OK, remove the butter from the popcorn, I guess, or switch the dressing I dip my carrots and celery in, to a diet ranch dressing.

But dieting?  Limiting the amount of food I take in, so as to lose ten pounds?  I don’t think so.  That sounds so painful to me as to be excruciating.  I know that countless books have been written, extolling the virtues of this diet or that one.  One year it seemed as though all of the teachers on staff were following the diet which required that participants eat nothing but meat, and lo and behold her who was foolish enough to take in any carbs.   

But I can’t do it.  I love to eat too much.  I don’t eat rich food, and I rarely eat dairy products, like ice cream or cream cheese.  But I prefer to eat as much as I like of salad, or tomatoes, or a rice dish and assorted vegetables, without having to stop when I am still hungry.  I am just too physically active, and I require a lot of fuel to keep me in full-wheel drive.

I still walk most mornings with Annie up to Blue Rock and back, about a forty-five minute stint, so I do not lack for exercise.  If I do not walk, it is because I worked the previous day, and my knees are swollen.  Between working on my construction project, and at least an hour or more, out back in the garden, each day, I get a substantial amount of credit for being an active guy.  

That’s why I maintain that I am in good physical condition, even if I pack a few extra pounds.  Being heavier than the perfect weight is not necessarily good, but it need not be bad either.  And feeling compelled to “go on a diet” remains in the background for me.  

I also recognize that if I were seriously over my optimum weight, I would not be able take such a cavalier attitude about the whole thing.  But unlike the days when I used to walk into Pompeii Pizza after a shift at Sunrize Market, and consume not only a large combination pizza, but a meatball sandwich, at the same sitting, I no longer need quite as much fuel.  Moreover, the kind of food I am more inclined to pig out on is grown in the backyard.  

It all adds up to me being able to thumb my nose at the concept of dieting, simply because I maintain a life style that allows me to do so, and because I live on a road with a lot of dips and hills on it, so that I manage to keep from packing it on in the first place.  By luck or by design, I seem to be doing just fine, so long as my knees hold out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Spanking: Love or Abuse?

Spanking: Love or Abuse?

“I’m afraid of a world run by adults who were never spanked as kids and got trophies just for participating.”

This post appeared on FaceBook the other day, and it piqued my interest.  I responded by commenting, initially, “I’m OK with the never having been spanked.  I have never thought that hitting a kid taught him or her to do anything but express anger in a similar manner.”

The person who originally posted the saying, let’s call him Fred, replied with a long anecdote, about having done a babysitting job, back when he was a teenager.  He was responsible for children, among whom was a young boy who kept hitting his sister.  He had tried everything he could think of to change the behavior; finally, he resorted to spanking the young boy.  He said that after the spanking had been administered, he’d hugged the boy.

I appreciated that he had tried alternative methods, but what I really wanted to ask him was, how effective he thought it would be, to teach that hitting children was inappropriate, by hitting this young boy.  The fact that he did not see the irony, made me cautious of offending him, so I responded by writing, 

“Everyone should apply the disciplinarian elements, as he or she deems appropriate; I only mention that spanking seems so unnecessary.  A time-out, and some basic expectations for behavior are all that I found necessary to make it happen.”  This seemed like a good start, but I decided to elaborate.  

I continued, “In my household, if you hit your brother, then you probably had a great deal of pent-up energy, and needed to fill the woodbox, or stack some firewood, or wash the truck, or gather kindling, or do the dishes, or clean your room, or sweep the leaves off the deck, or any one of a hundred other chores.  There are some who think my sons are reasonably responsible and respectful community contributors.  I don’t know too much about that.  You can ask them, though, if they feel not being spanked helped them to their current status, or not.  Consequences can be taught in other manners than by physical violence...It’s just my opinion.”

My stance on spanking is not the result of having been spanked excessively myself.  I can only remember being spanked by my father a half-dozen or so times, and all resulted from unsafe actions on my part, like running into the street, without stopping and looking both ways.  No, I simply believe that violence in all forms, should be avoided.

On the middle school campus, at one point in the late nineties, we had a spate of increased violence on our little campus of 120 students.  I was responsible for student council at the time, so we brainstormed ways of dealing with this issue.  The kids decided to try and raise awareness, by doing a survey, to be filled out during homeroom, with no names, and focused on different types of violence.  One question asked, “Did you know that yelling at someone is an act of violence?”  Another inquired, “Were you aware that calling someone a name, or cussing at someone, is also violence?”
The results of the survey were unpredictably successful, with a great deal of discussion being conducted, and a corresponding drop in discipline referrals occurring.  Student Council was as amazed as I was, and that survey came into play for the rest of the school year, with kids reminding others of various elements, as they arose on campus.

Ultimately, spanking results when tempers flare, and judgment fails to produce reason.  For me instant fear produces instant anger.  Hearing a kid storming down the stairs, unsafely, followed by a tremendous thump/bang/crash, produces one on the heals of the other: first fear, and then anger, when it is determined that no one is hurt.  The rule is no running on the stairs because one can get hurt.  With a steadfast rule about no spanking, it simply is not an option.

I found it far better to have the expectations for my own behavior, clearly evident, than to leave it up to chance.  Knowing that to hit one of my sons, was to send the message that hitting was acceptable behavior, I avoided it at all costs.  I could thus use the line, when appropriate, “When I start hitting you, then you can hit your brother; until then, knock it off.”

Of course, I know that my decree did not stop all the violence among the three of them, but I also know that they learned something from the whole experience that I hope they apply in their own families, when the time arrives.  They learned that violence was unacceptable, and that three boys could make it out of kid-dom, alive and well, without having been spanked.  It’s up to them to determine which method works best.  I have a sneaking suspicion I know which route they’ll take: the one that’s most familiar and has worked so well so far.  Then they can borrow my line which worked so effectively for them, “When I start hitting you...”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Blender

The Blender
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece called DD214, which described the process I went through to obtain copies of my discharge papers from the military, for the purpose of applying for health benefits.  Because our school district insurance was due to elapse this August, both Annie and I have known for years now that we were going to hit our “old age,” without being covered.  I am still unclear how it all came down, except that this is an unfortunate time to find ourselves insurance-less.
The first thing that comes to mind, is that the Veterans Administration might not promote a lot of confidence.  I try not to focus on that aspect of the whole package, because I do not know what to expect, and I do not like to resort to catastrophizing.  I do know that the individual who has been facilitating my paperwork, is an advocate, and that my psychologist is also an advocate for veterans, so I am withholding judgment.  Beggars can’t be choosers.
When I first heard that the Veterans Administration provides health benefits for veterans, I was very skeptical.  How can they do that?  There are a lot of veterans.  However, I did not know that this was an option, and am still not all that confident, but am stuck between a rock and a boulder.  Besides, I had insurance for many years, and expected that it would remain in place.  Just having to shell out almost a hundred dollars per session at the shrink’s place, is enough to investigate this other avenue.
I must confess, however, I have mixed feelings.  Though I served honorably for twenty-one months, I was not a happy soldier.  On the exterior, I presented one face; on the interior, I harbored quite a different one, one that was bitter, resentful and depressed.  I know that I was depressed while in the military, now, even if I was unaware of it during the experience.  I was smart enough to take seriously, the battery of tests that we had to take multiple times during my induction, so that I ended up working in a personnel service company while overseas.  That was infinitely better than many of the other available options.
When I say I have mixed feelings, it’s more like my feelings have just been put through the blender.  I have been cogitating for the past forty years (I entered the service in 1972), over the unfairness of it all.  I was inducted the last year that a draft was in place, I was the only guy in my circle of friends who got caught up in it, and my time in the military irrevocably changed my life.  Sour grapes?  Probably, but two years of one’s lifetime is a lot to give, when conscripted.  Many of my brothers in the service also hated it, but had no one to blame but themselves.  There’s just something about me, which has always rebelled when told I have to do something.  I like to be asked.
I used to liken my time in the military to a prison sentence, only I did nothing to deserve it.  In a perfect world, I would have fled to Canada, like my friend Michael.  The truth is that I did not have the cojones.  It takes a lot more courage to flee to another country, because of your principles, than it does to simply go along with the program, even if you hate what you are doing. I was scared silly of the drill instructors, even though some were only two or three years older than me.  It all added up to two years of torture.
I know that does not sound very patriotic, but when you have walked the walk, you do not have to talk the talk.  I would rather have been an unpatriotic schmuck, and paid my taxes, and not gone to school on the GI Bill, and not bought a house through the Veterans Administration, and not have medical coverage now, a month away from my sixtieth birthday.
Be that all as it may.  I AM turning sixty, I DO need medical coverage, and I earned it.  So I am waiting for my name to appear on the “list,” so that I can schedule an orientation with a VA-sanctioned physician in Ukiah, and commence to draw health benefits.  It’s better than drawing a blank, which is what I’d been fearing, once our district insurance ran out.  Who would have thought that I would have ended up relying on the military for health coverage, after a twenty-one month stint, rather than on the school district, after a seventeen-year run?  
When I figure it out, and know the answer, I will remove my feelings from the blender, and replace them with something more geared to happy times than to hard times, something that goes well with salt on the rim.  It’s time to replace the salty attitude with a salty rim. I’ll have some guacamole and chips with that, please. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pluses and Wishes

Pluses and Wishes
I used to do an exercise in the classroom called “pluses and wishes.”  I would ask students to give me feedback on something we had done as a class, such as a field trip, but to try and couch the negative aspects in terms of wishes, rather than in dislikes.  Thus, when referring to food, instead of saying the food was bad, a student might say the she wished the food were better.
The idea was to foster on ongoing positive attitude, rather than focusing on the negative.  I am ready to do the same with mood spectrum disorder, now that I am entering the sixth month since my diagnosis began.  I can only assure you that I have come a fair distance to be able to look for the silver lining in my illness.  
I will begin with a plus: Annie and I are on the same page, she being the coach and mentor, I being the athlete in the long-distance marathon, with baggage.  But at least I am beginning to sort out the baggage, so as to be able to access the tools I need to contend with the ebb and flow of my illness.
I wish there was a manual.  There is much written about mood spectrum disorder, but the very nature of the illness, means that no two cases are alike.  Each has its own peculiar patterns of manifesting bipolar characteristics.  In reading any of the guides involving MSD, I must wade through many examples of extreme behavior, which at this time, are irrelevant.   Meanwhile, I try to identify what behaviors relate to MSD, and which relate to life in general.
Another significant plus is my regained closeness with my sons.  Prior to being diagnosed, I felt very misunderstood.  Regardless of the irony involved, at least the murky haze that has enveloped our relationship for the past couple of years, has cleared, allowing us to reform bonds that have been stretched, over the past year or so.
I wish I knew what others were thinking.  Even recognizing that I do not know what others are thinking, is a huge forward stride.  Because I cannot read minds, I know it is critical that I not attempt to do so.  That allows others to think anything they want, without me making any assumptions.  When I make arbitrary assumptions, they are inevitably negative; I want to emphasize the positive.
Taking charge of my own illness, as opposed to allowing someone else to direct me, has had an empowering effect.  From the first visit to Dr. Garratt, when Annie and I concluded that the side-effects of the prescribed atypical, antipsychotic medication, were terrifying, I have been able to direct the events associated with my therapy.  This is a huge plus, because I no longer feel as though I am being propelled by forces that are greater than myself.  My illness may have ramifications that I cannot foresee, but at least I have a thorough understanding of why these characteristics occur, so as to be able to better contend with them as they present themselves.
Though I wish I did not have to go to Ukiah every two weeks for therapy, I am finding that this need to be down in our county seat, has allowed me to address other issues that are arising, so I see it as a plus.  A curious result is that I no longer dread the daylong trips, but actually look forward to them, and pack the day with stops to address a myriad of needs.
Another plus is that as time goes on, I increasingly make connections between past behavior, and my new-found knowledge.  They say the key to understanding history, is an awareness of what has occurred, to try and avoid repeating the same mistakes.  Without knowing that I was ill, this was not possible.  By becoming aware of the effect of my illness on my actions, I have learned how important it is that I monitor the critical areas of sleep, exercise and diet.  By doing so, I hope to avoid having to employ medication to regulate my illness.
Though I wish I could have just foregone all of the angst involved in coming to grips with my illness, I recognize that the saying about no pain resulting in no gain, has never been more relevant.  But all good things must end, so let the pain wane.