Monday, November 28, 2011

How timely

I just noticed this quote on my coffee.
I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.
-Louisa May Alcott

My weekend felt a little stormy (no dramatic stories to tell; nothing specific I can blame, just a case of the "Meh. Whatever"s).

My double tall Americano is long gone, but I'm leaving the paper cup on my desk for a few more hours.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The best location for ab-crunches

I wanted to mention a few more things about my night running class. After our laps around the track, we do 3 minutes of strength training: 1 minute in "Plank" position, 1 minute of crunches, and 1 minute of push-ups. Let me tell you, these are the longest 180 seconds of my week. But I'm getting stronger.

The best part about strength training is the close quarters. Since the ground is all muddy and wet, we share a tarp. Imagine, if you will, a 5' x 5' blue tarp spread on the ground, in the dark. Then picture 9 ladies, lined around the edges, doing various training moves in semi-unison. During Plank, our hands are on the tarp. During crunches, we all sit on the tarp facing outward, and alternate up and down with the person next to us so there's room for everyone's shoulders. During push-ups, we kneel with hands in front of us (and the really strong gals don't use their knees at all).

I've never exercised in such close proximity before. Not to mention I don't know these women well. But the camaraderie of shared experience disguises the fact that we're practically strangers. We all have our headlamps on and we're elbow to elbow (I'm careful not to look at anyone head on, or I'll get blinded). We breathe heavy in each others' ear shot while concentrating on the repetition.

One of the women has been telling a continuing story about someone they know personally who is on Jeopardy. We get a one-minute installment of the story during Plank. Last week during push-ups, one woman asked, "Who likes Twinkies?!" We all laughed. Nice distraction. On Monday, when we rolled onto our back for crunches, we realized the clouds had cleared above us and we were looking up at the stars. Best workout ever.

I told Michelle that's one thing I love about being a woman: get a few of us together, and there's likely going to be lots of story telling. We may not know each other very well, but that doesn't stop us from working hard and laughing together. Being in the dark to exercise limits my ability to compare myself with the women around me. Instead, I just enjoy what my body is capable of doing and appreciate the women around me.

Monday, November 14, 2011


When someone you love has a chronic, debilitating illness, there's a constant roiling combination of anxiety and grief just below the surface. At least that's how it is for me. And it doesn't take much to expose it all. Sort of like a breach in the dam of my emotions, pin pricks can turn into flash floods pretty quickly. Knowing Mom's brain is chemically and biologically affected by Alzheimer's makes it less of a shock to hear she's been taken to the Emergency Room, but no less scary.

I got an email at work on Thursday morning from my dad, explaining that Mom had a seizure (or similar "fainting spell," unresponsive for 20 to 30 minutes) early that morning and was in the ER for observation. The nursing home had called him, and he had gone to the hospital at 5am. She was fine, his email said, just bored.

While I decided how to respond to the news on Thursday morning, I couldn't control the tears. Surrounded by co-workers in our shared office is not where I wanted to have a melt down. I left work early and spent a few hours with Mom and Dad at the hospital. She was discharged that afternoon, no worse for wear. Thankfully, she already had an appointment scheduled next week with her neurologist.

There's nothing predictable about Alzheimer's except for decline, so hearing that Mom had a seizure was the equivalent to hearing she'd had a stroke, or a heart attack. Panic, loss, fear, bewilderment, anger all came to the surface like the day we heard her diagnosis five years ago. Or the day she got lost while taking a walk. Or the nights she woke up crying. Or the day only a month ago that we moved her to the nursing home.

We've lost a lot. She's lost a lot. Without the familiar abilities, awareness, motor skills, or creativity, it's sometimes hard to recognize the woman I love so much. But she still recognizes us. Her face still lights up when she sees us. She still whistles and hums and can recall the tune to every song she's ever heard. She still smiles and laughs and there are moments when her eyes are filled with unmistakable light.
When I got to her bed in the hospital admittance wing, she was humming to herself and gazing out the window. She smiled when she saw me.

Her lunch was brought in on a cafeteria tray and set on the bedside table. Dad spoon fed her. He kept her laughing. He stood at her side and helped her with a tenderness and nonchalance attributable only to a 35 year-long love story. I was speechless. It was a moment I will never forget. All the angst and blood curdling worry that began building when I read my email that morning vanished. Mom was safe. Dad was here and taking good care of her.

Those happy, peaceful, funny, beautiful moments are the ones my counselor calls miracles. I wish for more dramatic miracles, like Jesus calling my mom's name in a loud voice like he did for Lazarus.

"Vicki! Come out!"

I wish the tendrils of Alzheimer's would unwrap themselves like burial cloth, falling to the ground in ribbons. I wish she could step out of this tomb.

The miracles I witnessed this week might not make headlines, but they still soothe me.
  • A kind doctor's soft voice, giving us vocabulary for our questions
  • Nurses who were attentive and compassionate
  • Dad's stories about music and art and cooking and childhood
  • Mom's laughter, throwing her head back in that familiar way, even in a hospital bed
  • A funny moment of self-consciousness as the nurse wheeled Mom out of the ER, suddenly aware she wasn't in her normal clothes ("Am I dressed?!")
  • Speedy return to the nursing home and a big welcome from the staff there ("Vicki! Hi! How are you feeling? I'm so glad to see you!")
  • Family photos on Friday morning that had us all laughing
  • Seeing my 28 year old brother embrace Mom and rest his head on her shoulder
  • Time this weekend to rest, craft, read, and process.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 NIGHT!

I'm one week in to my second session of running class. Same time, same place...but now that Daylight Savings has plunged us all into darkness, we're running by head lamp.

While rounding the bend at the middle school track where we run, I blurted to my Exercise Buddy Michelle, "Who knew we would be taking a class on RUNNING, in the RAIN, in the DARK?!"

She laughed, "I know!"

"We are so hard core!"

Me (left) and Running Instructor Carol

Like any worthwhile endeavor, night running requires a specialized wardrobe. My tank top and spandex shorts just weren't cutting it anymore. I found running tights at Target, and Michelle and I are layering our long-sleeved-moisture-wicking shirts with water resistant jackets (light weight, warm, but not too warm).

We bought head lamps from, and went with the cheapest option we could find. Big mistake. I couldn't get the thing to turn on after the batteries had to be replaced (providing a grand total of 1 hour of use). It didn't even last long enough for our first class. But I did use it while cleaning my oven.

Cheap-o prototype. Lamp was crap, but the strap did wonders for my hair.
We also have to wear reflective glow-in-the-dark gear (requirement of the shoe store sponsoring the class). I doubt we'll come across much traffic on a dirt track in a residential neighborhood, but you never know. In one of our warm up runs, Michelle and I saw a deer saunter across the sports field. With lights strapped to our heads and neon vests velcroed tight, we needn't worry about being gored.

Winter months are always the hardest for me exercise-wise (at least in the dark and soggy Pacific Northwest) so I'm happy this winter session has us running twice a week.

Plus, I'm fast as lightning in my new running tights.

In October I read: Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

Any Alexandra Fuller fans out there? I read her first two books (Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat) shortly after coming home from Africa. I was desperate to get my hands on anything that brought back the sound of crickets at night, Muslim prayers at dawn, and the constant sweeping of red Ugandan dirt. They didn't disappoint.

Imagine my delight when I heard Fuller had another book in the works. I put Cocktail Hour on pre-order back in June, and waited for the release date. Another gem. In this book, she writes more about her family history, how her parents ended up in Africa in the first place, and how her immediate family was affected by the choice to live there. Interesting stuff: riveting, heartbreaking, rollicking. Her family members sound like wildly likable characters.

In Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness Alexandra Fuller braids a multilayered narrative around the perfectly lit, Happy Valley-era Africa of her mother's childhood; the boiled cabbage grimness of her father's English childhood; and the darker, civil war- torn Africa of her own childhood. 
The family photos she includes are wonderful (you can also see them on the Amazon listing).

Highly recommended.