Countdown to 60

Aging on my terms - Daily musings in 500 words or less

Tag: healing

Can I get a Thumbs Up?

I mentioned before that I’m hard on my right foot and my left hand. I wrote about how I ended up with two screws and a fused joint in my right foot. I should probably explain the left hand thing too.

Almost twenty years ago, I had the unique opportunity of learning the trade of saddle making. I love saying that. How many people do you know have learned the skill of making a saddle, from scratch? It was challenging and fun and I am very proud of that accomplishment.

I used to make saddles

The shop I worked in was where I dropped that five-pound mallet on my right foot, which started the cascade of injuries to that part of my body. It is also the shop where I injured my left thumb.

I was working on a saddle piece, cutting the backing away after I had laminated the front to it. The knife I was using had a rounded blade with the handle in the center. It wasn’t easy to push that blade through the tough lining leather, and I remember positioning my left hand to steady the leather. Only it was right in the path of my blade.

It took a fraction of a second for that blade to slip and slice my left thumb to the bone. It was pretty traumatic and I ended up needing surgery to repair the severed tendons. Reminder to self, don’t do that again.

Years later I started having issues with it. I’m not sure what was going on, but it felt like maybe the repaired tendons were starting to fail. I noticed that my thumb would just start falling away from my hand. It sort of stuck out more than my right thumb.

At the time I was living in Napa and working as an estate caretaker. That was a great job. I got to stay home and pretty much be a “homeowner”. I did everything from cleaning to yard work, and I loved it.

Napa is also where I met John. He loved helping in the yard and pruning trees and clearing the ivy and weeds that wanted to take over the place. We seemed to always have a project or two going.

One Sunday John discovered an irrigation leak. He set out to repair it, and as I was helping I thought if we put stakes around it, that may keep it from breaking again.

I ran back to the house, found some stakes but needed to cut them shorter. I picked up the skill saw that was already out from an earlier project and cut the first one down. I probably should have stopped there.

I held the second one in my left hand and picked up the saw to cut it. The next thing I remember is the burning sensation of my left thumb as I held my hand close to my body and yelled for John.

It’s been an adjustment having just nine fingers (only one of which is a thumb) but it’s who I am now, and I’m learning I don’t need to hide it.

Can I get a thumbs up please?

A look inside

I’m off today.

I don’t mean like off from work, I mean off emotionally.

We had a busy weekend working on a home we own that’s about six hours away from us. Each time we have been between tenants, we would head to the house to clean and paint and kept it looking good. We had renters in it for the past couple of years, and since they are out, it was time to go get it ready to sell.

We arrived on Friday night and were immediately disappointed by the state of the house. We’ve had renters in it before that have left it dirty and in disrepair, but this time was different.

The house was, for lack of a better word, worn. It was like stepping inside a once beautiful masterpiece, that was now faded and torn and lacking any luster of it’s glory years. It was sad to see it like that, and it got us down.

We set up camp and after dinner sat on the porch like we used to. We were pretty quiet and we both knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us.

We spent the weekend working hard, cleaning, painting, cutting down hedges and trimming trees. Sunday evening came way too quickly, and we ended up leaving much later than we had hoped. It was nearly midnight by the time we arrived back home.

So, I knew I was going to be a little tired this morning, but didn’t expect to feel the way I did. I felt, worn, like that old house. And I started to question if maybe I was once a beautiful masterpiece that was now fading and lacking the luster of my glory years.

Will some paint and trim help bring back the old me or will I need a complete overhaul?

Spending the day thinking about it, I think the real answer lies with who has been living inside and taking care of me. Maybe it’s time to kick out the tenant who is letting me get run down, and rediscover that person who respects and cares for me before it’s too late.

I have a lot of work ahead of me.


Self reflection is key

Just the way I am

I started this blog less than a month ago. My intention was to share my story, and to be authentic along the way. I had this sense that I was racing towards 60 and still trying to figure out life. I want to reach that age feeling confident, wiser, and healthy.

So I just began.

But I’ve started things before. January 2016 I started a personal journal, again. This time, I vowed to write in it daily and keep track of my progress towards losing weight and feeling good. I took measurements and pasted photos in it. I got creative with different colored pens and drawings. I envisioned a diary stuffed full of photos and details about my life.

I not only lost weight, but I wrote in my journal daily. But somehow, neither of those things lasted.

When I look back at what I composed, I am beginning to understand why. Most of what I wrote about was what was going on around me. On the outside. I couldn’t even share with myself, in writing, what was going on inside.

I’m not sure I even knew what was going on within. I mean, I’m happy. I have a fun life. I don’t walk around sad or feeling like a victim. So what was the piece I was missing? Why do this? Why share all of these stories?

In these past few weeks, I’ve shared some of my deepest feelings about my life. And there is so much more to tell. As the posts are written, and the publish button hit, I feel a sense of empowerment. Okay, also a sense of fear.

And I bounce between those two emotions. I’m proud of myself for sharing these things, and I’m scared as hell that I did it. Last night I was filled with so much self-doubt, wondering what in the world I was doing. Am I just looking for validation from you?

This morning I got on the scale. I’ve lost 10 pounds. I feel lighter, and not just in weight. I realize I am very grateful for your validation. I am also grateful for the platform to release my fears and expose myself so that I can learn that I’m okay just the way I am.

Thank you.

Just the way I am

The shape of things to come

My husband loves to tell me stories of friends from school, even as far back as kindergarten. I am always amazed he can remember so much from so long ago.

I don’t recall much of my grade school years. Except in second grade, my older brother David had a hearing issue and was held back the prior year, so he was now in second grade with me. He hated that, especially when people would ask if we were twins.

The first day of sixth grade stands out clearly. It was a month after our mom died, and I think I was nervous about getting ready for school without Mom’s help. I’m not sure if my sister fixed my hair, of if I did. I don’t recall what I was wearing.

What I do remember was my classmates and I were mingling around and all of a sudden Jerry Snider was talking to me. Jerry Snider! In my mind, he was one of the popular kids. And I was not.

He came up to me and said, “I saw in the paper that your mom died. I’m sorry.” I just looked at him and couldn’t really speak. Then he said, “You sure have a lot of brothers.” He smiled at me and then just acted like we had always been friends. It was a wonderful way to start sixth grade.

The other memory of that school year wasn’t such a good one. I was doing the best I could to feel normal, even though things weren’t “normal” in my world. We were already the poor family. Now we were the poor kids without a mom. Making friends was challenging for me.

I was getting close to one girl and, honestly I don’t remember her name now. We would play together on the playground, and chat at lunchtime. In my mind, she was my best friend. Until one day in gym class.

We were playing some kind of ball game, and she got mad at me for something I did wrong. She started yelling at me to do it right, and I probably said something stupid back like, “I am!”. That’s when the words came out of her mouth that I will always remember.

She yelled, “You are the reason your mom is dead”. I stood there frozen. How did she know? How did she know I was supposed to be taking care of my mom the week before she died, and I complained about it?

Of course she didn’t know any of those things. Those are just the thoughts that ran through my head. She also didn’t mean it, they were just words that flew from her mouth to get my attention.

But that day changed my feelings about friendships. I know I had a few close girlfriends, but I also kept a distance. I think that made me seem like I wasn’t friendly.

Looking back at old high school photos, most of my friends were guys. Jerry Snider was one of them. It’s interesting to me how experiences from our childhood shape the things to come.

Fun to look back and see photos of dear friends

The Day the World Changed

I would like to dedicate today to August 3, 1970. This is a repost from a while back.

The Day the World Changed

My brothers, Johnny and David and I used to play Cowboys & Indians on the farm in Michigan where we grew up. It never seemed to fail that they were the cowboys and I was the Indian. I had a make shift bow and some sticks for arrows. They had toy guns and sometimes even the kind that had rolled up red paper with actual gunpowder on it that would pop when fired. My arrows didn’t really fly and I usually felt a bit overwhelmed by the cowboys and their cap guns.

One early August day we were playing on the hill that separated our small farmhouse from the main road. You could stand on that hill and look down and watch the occasional car go by or turn back towards the house and see the comings and goings of our home. Not that there were any real ‘comings’ or ‘goings’. My parents were old school farmers and we pretty much lived off the land. We raised chickens and cows and pigs and my Dad would butcher them right there on the farm for our food. I used to hate to see one of our cows walking around chewing one day, and then the next day see it hanging from this tall bar my Dad had fashioned to cure the meat. It would be hanging there, no hair or insides, just raw meat waiting to be cut up and eaten. We also had about ten acres in vegetables that we planted each year. I liked the vegetables way more than meat.

On that particular day, I was getting a bit fed up with hearing those guns pop and missing my intended goal of arrows bouncing off my brothers. I yelled that I was tired of being the Indian and I was going to go in the house and get myself a gun. But, I announced, I was still going to be an Indian, just that I would now have a gun instead of arrows.

At 11 years old I was already taller than both my older brothers but they weren’t too threatened by me. Johnny was 13 and David 12 at the time. Our mom and dad had a knack for having a new baby each year.  I don’t know if it was because they didn’t believe in birth control, or if they just wanted to have a bunch of kids.

Leaving my brothers laughing at me and turning to shoot each other, I ran to the house to find a suitable weapon of my own. We had a front door on our farmhouse, but I can’t recall ever seeing anyone use it. As I raced through the back door turning into the living room to head up the stairs, I came upon a scene that is forever burned into my memory.

My mother used to sit in her chair and crochet for hours. She made all sorts of things, always keeping busy. She wasn’t a woman that would sit idly and just relax. She had this credo of sorts that said we should always be working. If we weren’t working, then we had better be outside and out of her sight or she would be happy to find something for us to do. She was a formidable woman to say the least. As hard as she worked, she always – and I mean always – wore a dress. Isn’t that funny to imagine a farm woman wearing a dress? I mean this was 1970 for crying out loud, not 1870.

When I came into the living room I saw my mother sitting on the floor just in front of her chair, her crochet yarn and needle still in her lap. My father was kneeling beside her holding her head as it flopped over to one side, vomit coming out of her mouth. My older sister, Janet was there as well as the oldest (at home) brother, Steven. Janet was at the black wall phone in the dining room trying to dial a number on the rotary dial with shaking fingers, fear written all over her 14 year old face. I can’t remember for sure where my only younger brother was, but I know he was there. I quickly surveyed the scene and Steven took one look at me and ordered me outside.

I ran back up the hill and told the cowboys, who quickly turned back into my brothers, that our mom was in trouble. We sat together on the hill, watching the road carefully and listening intently for the sirens of the ambulance that was coming to make our mom better. It seemed like hours passed by, none of us saying a word in fear of speaking out loud the unthinkable. We just sat there, arms wrapped around our knees watching, waiting. When the ambulance finally came we raced back to the house.

We managed to get inside just as the two medics were putting our mother up onto a gurney. I watched and felt helpless. When they placed her on the rolling bed, I saw that her dress was up, showing her underwear. My mom didn’t have pretty underwear, just reliable practical ones, the kind a hard working farm woman would wear. I knew she would be mortified if anyone saw her with her dress up and her underwear showing. I wanted to go pull her dress down, but the medic closest to me showed me without saying a word, that he was worried and in a hurry, a big hurry.

They raced outside and pushed her into the back of the ambulance, both climbing in beside her. Dad jumped in with them and shouted to Steven to follow in the family car. I’m pretty sure Steven was 15 at the time and I have no idea if he had a license or not, but he did as he was told him and jumped behind the wheel in the car.

The rest of us stood there, in the driveway, and watched them speed away. I’m not sure how much time went by before we walked back in the house and tried to act like it was just another typical Sunday afternoon. When you have as many siblings as I do, you understand from a very early age that there is a pecking order to things. Janet clearly knew that she had the responsibility, as the oldest, to take care of the rest of us the best she knew how. She made us dinner, though I can’t remember eating. We were all so worried for our mother.

We had a tradition on Sunday night to sit as a family and watch “The Wonderful World of Disney”, so when seven o’clock came, she got us together in the living room (I think we all tried to sit in Mom’s chair together) to watch. Disney really is the Wonderful World, because for me, on that day, Disney took my fears away for one hour as I watched whatever show happened to be airing that night. I remember feeling like everything was going to be okay.

Five minutes later that all changed. Our father came into the house at 8:05 pm with Steven holding his arm. He didn’t look at all like our dad. He was shorter somehow, and older. He came into the living room and looked at each of us and then said, “Your Mother is dead”. I then watched my 6’2” strong, capable Dad crumble. Literally crumble to the floor. I had no idea what to do, what to say, how to feel.

I don’t think I even cried at that moment. How do you cry when you are in complete and utter shock? Tears don’t form when you are a robot or a statue. That’s how you feel when you can’t feel anything at all. Eventually I just walked up the stairs and climbed into bed, where I dreamt of my mother being on an exotic vacation somewhere.

I think that was the last day we ever played Cowboys and Indians.

Maybe I am my own Hero

I grew up on a farm in a small town in Michigan. I can tell you that it was a good childhood in most respects. We worked hard on our farm, and we had a big family so there was always someone to play with or talk to. My brother, Johnny and I were very close and he was sort of like a protector for me.

One time when I was probably six or seven, we were picking asparagus for a local farmer. We were paid 50 cents an hour. Cash. When it came time to get our money, we would stand in line waiting for some guy to put coins into our dirty hands. Johnny watched carefully and caught that the man was trying to under pay me and spoke up, demanding my fair share. He was always looking out for me, and I knew I could tell him anything.

Almost anything.

My mother’s parents lived in Honor, Michigan, which was about two hours away from us. Every now and then, my parents would pack us up in the DeSoto and we would head there for a visit. My Grandma was a stern woman. She always had an apron on and I can honestly say, I don’t remember seeing her out of the kitchen.

As soon as we would arrive, my brother Johnny and I would run straight to Grandpa because he would always have candy in his front shirt pocket, knowing we were coming. It was a fun tradition.

I don’t recall any other traditions or fun things about our visits there. Maybe because everything else is shadowed by what would happen at night in that house.

Grandma had cots set up in the attic, where she put some of us. It was a big attic without electricity, and just a small window to let any moonlight in. I’m not sure who else slept in the attic, I just remember having my own little cot.

I also remember that my grandfather would come in sometime during the night and get into my cot with me…

He would lay down behind me and touch me in ways that little girls shouldn’t be touched. I would lie there looking out that window, wishing for it to be over. After he left, I would feel so ashamed and dirty. And I would cry, but only on the inside. I was afraid if I actually cried, someone would hear me and I would have to explain what I was crying about. So I kept quiet.

This went on for years, and I never told anyone. I knew better than to. I didn’t want to hear “How could she do that to him?”. I was sure I would be blamed, so I kept my mouth shut.

Until I was in my 53…when I met another John. He was the first and only person I told, until recently. I don’t even know why I told him, but it just came out. He held me while I cried and cried. He told me it wasn’t my fault. He assured me over and over that I wasn’t to blame, and I was still a good person.

I have to wonder what would have happened if I had told my brother Johnny years ago. Looking back, I’d like to think he would have protected me.

I think I picked my John to share this with because I no longer needed protection, just love and understanding, and a safe place.

I’m sharing this with you now, because I believe you are a safe place too.


I let a couple of screws get me down

I’m hard on myself sometimes. And I don’t mean just metaphorically. I mean like dropping a five-pound mallet on my right foot, or cutting my left thumb. Somehow, I keep injuring the same areas.

Four years ago, I dropped a crystal clock on my right foot…this was a few years after dropping the mallet. Man did that hurt. That damn clock was a gift from an old real estate client of mine who was ready to sue me because she was sure the home she purchased was giving her headaches. I managed to avert getting sued by selling that home and helping her buy a new one, affectively earning me thousands of dollars and…. a lead crystal clock, which smashed my foot.

I grew up in a family that believed you don’t go to the doctor unless you’re brought there by ambulance. So I just let my foot heal on it’s own. That was a mistake.

I managed to hobble along on it just fine, and it felt better before long, so I just figured, that was that. About a year later, I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk without crying. John insisted on taking me to see a doctor, and that started a long journey of injections and physical therapy, and ultimately ended in surgery to fuse the joint in my big toe.

For three years, I let that foot slow me down and even stop me from exercising. Not walking properly, lead to my knees and hips hurting. My knees got so bad, I went to see yet another doctor who told me I had chondromalacia; a tracking problem with my kneecaps. He said I’d had it from birth, and it would get worse when I got older, like in my 40’s. When I told him I was 57, he said, “oh, you are already old!”. Thanks doc.

Turns out all those years riding my bike had kept my knees tracking the way they are supposed to. And I love riding my bike, so why did I let a bum foot stop me for so long?

I think there are times we get in a rut. We think, “well, this is the way it is now”, and just live with it. But I also think that’s how we let age sneak up on us and define us as old and aching.

I don’t want to do that any longer. Time for a bike ride.


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