What rises, falls, and begins again. By enriching ourselves during times of death, we honor the cyclical nature of life and all contained therein, we dig deep for the bones, the teeth, and pelt crafted into tools of wisdom passed on if there are those willing to receive gifts of a crone. The depth and breadth of scar tissue from every loss, every hurt, differs, each death leaves its mark. We are all scar clan, every one of us with their own story.
A cold breeze laced with pine and rich earth blew across her mind and erased every story, every reason why. Glimpses of a forfeited future flashed in a hologram first to her right, then her left, and back again. A visibly older her sat on a blue blanket on a lush lawn laughing while a well-calloused hand brushed a raven curl away from her face and tucked it behind her ear, her tiny gold cross earring catching the sunlight. At middle-age, she drove a white vintage convertible along a shoreline highway, seagulls diving into sparkling water and that same hand reaching to change the radio station. A strand of pearls being fastened around her neck by younger hands. Her body jerked against the rope as a baby nestled into her shoulder. She kissed his downy hair. Mingled scents of baby shampoo, mother’s milk, and fresh laundry filled her briefly with an old familiar hope. Heavy purple curtains tangled around her limbs; constricted them relentlessly until she no longer had limbs. Something forgotten strained against her diminishment; a desire for sight grew as her life and the images blurred and receded. How unfair that life still withheld joy, still punished her even to her last breath. Death laughed in the vestibule while Life pushed forward with all its might to give her a parting gift. Seth, tall like his Dad, enveloped her arm in his and helped her slowly shuffle to a worn shiny pew at the front of the cathedral, where he bent down to receive her kiss the sun shining through a stained-glass depiction of Mary holding the Christ child. I look happy, was her final thought as tiny vessels in her eyes popped and released their crimson sentence. Urine filled Shana’s favorite leather boots, the ones with roses embroidered on them, as a sea filled her skull and applied waves of pressure needed to oust a soul from its form: a human female of short stature, deep amber eyes and only medium wear. Life sighed and moved on.
“Whoah! Slow your roll there, Kazmir. This one qualifies for a hearing.” Oisin arrived at Termination chute # 333 just in time to play the hero it imagined itself. Belief was everything; everything except for a tiny, tiny bit. Feathers of nil swept Kaz to the side easily as they paid little attention to #333, which everyone knew was highly protected. They much preferred Soul Mover #66, where souls with potential slid toward repetitive contracts nearly impossible to fulfill, except for those that did. Drool covered them all as Kaz’s mouth inspected cracks, dents, and holes in search of the oldest and most damaged of souls with karmic contracts. Some writhed rather than jerked when he prodded their wounds with needles of searing blue fire. Oisin plucked Shana’s soul, still in a state of shock, from the crowd of first-timers and pitched it hurtling through nothingness until a tiny speck of blue appeared below. “Ok, so … Eddy asked me to cover this gig for him today and I don’t really remember exactly what I’m s’posed to impart. Knew I’d be picking you up, concentrated on that part because it seemed more important than a transmission…but, I’ll try”. Oisin extended a pink tendril toward her. “You fucked up. Wait, I mean… (Big inhale of nothingness) you were obviously hurting immensely, maybe even in a mentally ill vessel, so you have an exam and hearing to evaluate if you can finish your contracted missions in another vessel, or if your soul … um, yeah… not quite sure. Forgive me, but I normally work in the Birth Arenas.” Blue speck spread until it enveloped the soul and spun out loose bits of identity such as age, race, gender, and religion. This Soul held tight to its’ name with an ancient ownership that defied Oisin’s abilities. Crimson and violet tendrils wound around concepts of good and bad, ripped them out, and left behind shreds of guilt and regret. One mammoth golden wing swept Oisin aside, who didn’t mind in the least. Not even a portion of a single soul minded Tri-Eloh’s graceful ministrations once they were beyond earth’s physical plane and limited valuations. Oisin felt entirely free as it floated left at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, a slate wiped clean of worry about covering for Eddy adequately, erased of any concern for Shana’s soul because he’d just tell Eddy about the Tri sweeping it away. Surely, of any Ancient Ones, Tri-Eloh had Divine exemption. Oisin had no appreciation for rules. It attained its choice of exalted positions thousands of lifetimes ago after serving love in 15 lives, 5 of them entirely volunteer, and two in another galaxy. Having been healed by Tri-Eloh eons ago, it existed in bliss as long as it stayed within the Birth Arena, which it planned on every time it returned.
Three spherical beings slightly less bright than the Sun became one around the battered soul, lengthened into a shaft of starlight, then slipped into a disk galaxy 3 million light years from Earth. Shana’s soul rested in a tiny green star among the debris at the outer edge, just left of the Erasure Chambers reserved for Tri-Eloh descendant souls, prior to healing in a collective rainbow eligible for planetary re-entry. “It’s good to have her back, even under the circumstances.” Shana’s ancestor spun energetic threads of protection as it whispered, “You are cherished.’ “There IS a process for suicides”, one being intuited. “Yes, it’s true. Your descendant, or not, it should’ve been stripped entirely and put in Grief Empathy BEFORE erasure”, the other added, even as it floated toward the galaxy exit in anticipation of a negative reaction all three would find equally excruciating. But, typical separation that occurred with disagreement did not come. “It may happen so rarely that we forget their dire oaths, but Death’s demons have been known to cheat.” Tri-Eloh felt a surge of protective love snap their collective will back into alignment.
“Noooooo! Nooo!” a tormented scream of soul mate separation shot out of Earth’s atmosphere and reverberated throughout the universe until it landed on the tiny green star.
While Summer 2020 may be drastically different from summers past, we’re up to creating memorable outdoor fun with our circle of friends and family. As I sit in my office looking out at a cold white sky and maple trees full of new buds, I can envision in my mind’s eye the window open, a soft July breeze lending a voice to hand-sized leaves while birds call and insects hum. Heightened imagination and innovation are a couple of quarantine side-effects that we can put to good use. It’s what we do, so onward with a few ideas that may fertilize your idea garden.
In a recent chat with my cousin, we planned a small family cookout for June, date to be determined. Our plans hinge on multiple factors, and may include new feasting practices, and elbow touches rather than hugs, but oh how sweet it will be to see those faces. Talking and laughing in person again paired with more sunny days is a hope worth having. We also want to spend as many years as possible with our parents and each other. Mortality is on the table whether we acknowledge it, or not, so we may as well make Summer 2020 a standout with a focus on what we DO have.
Kayaks, canoes, tubes, and boats can easily be enjoyed without exposure to a crowd of strangers. We can wave and yell to the strangers, “Any luck? What ‘cha using?” or just a nod and a smile on the river works, too. **Note of Caution**- river levels are especially high after rain and can change a meandering kayak trip into navigating small rapids. Water levels of a specific river or lake can often be found online, too. Here are a few companies that you may be able to schedule classes and tours with to try out kayaking in calm waters: https://stepoutside.org/article/5-excellent-places-for-beginners-to-kayak-in-michigan/
For the past few years we’ve camped at a family-friendly state park next to 2 lakes with wooded trails, and neighbors.. lots and lots of neighbors enjoying the campground’s play areas, courts, and community restrooms and shower houses. Our 2020 campground is our backyard, with the luxury of a private bath and shower. Within 15 minutes’ drive we have several lakes and natural areas for trail walking. And there’s a basketball hoop in the driveway for those games of h-o-r-s-e before it’s warm enough to go swimming. Here are a few innovative hacks for curating your own camping experience: https://www.buzzfeed.com/mallorymcinnis/a-backyard-camping-we-will-go
Hiking/Walking and Picnicking outings also include a chance to create experiences that reflect our individual tastes. For us, an outdoor scavenger hunt could be fun with a simple follow-up picnic of hoagies, nuts, and seasonal fruit. Dozens of scavenger hunt printables and hundreds of picnic recipes can be found online. Location possibilities are plentiful in Michigan with 74 state parks, 1 state forest, and 4 national forests, not to mention hundreds of parks.
Host a family/friends art show, storytelling evening, or craft fair/flea market. Those events on Facebook that we were interested in, but are now cancelled or questionable? Why not a family/friends Maker/Art Fair with created and discovered pieces that stretch our definitions of art, like a miniature ArtPrize 2020, (brilliant ideas for art projects that everyone can manage). Story-telling is perhaps one of the oldest forms of both entertainment and learning. Stories create ease in uncertain times, especially for children, and memories shared strengthen bonds and deepen our roots. I’ve found The Storytelling Loop helpful for crafting children’s tales.
Create a patio and garden that you enjoy. Always wanted flower boxes in your windows or big pots overflowing with blooms on your patio or porch? If you plan on mostly staying close to home this summer, containers’ increased watering needs aren’t a problem. 2020 is my year to create an outdoor oasis. Our grandson already helped assemble a gnome/fairy garden in a rock/succulent bed. Victory gardens, a.k.a. vegetable gardens are an excellent method for reconnecting with our source of nutrition-earth. Families especially can benefit from planting, maintaining, and harvesting fresh produce-from reduced cost, pesticide exposure, and environmental footprints to increased understanding and peace through a creative outlet.
Helping others has never felt so urgent to me, but my usual donations of food and clothing aren’t being accepted. Of course money helps people, and there are plenty of online requests and easy giving opportunities if you’re able. The simplest, yet not the easiest, way to contribute is to consciously be a positive force in your little ecosystem. Encourage others and scroll past angsty political posts. Choose wisely if you want to be informed of world happenings, and remember to enjoy the life and love you have right in front of you, or right around the corner. Make plans. Send cards by snail mail to say, “I care.” Here are some simple tips that contribute to a positive out look.
During the past decade I’ve tried dozens of traditional and alternative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. I’ve appreciated pain complexity and adjusted remedies to fit, backed off harsh medications or added steroids, adjusted my diet almost daily along with activity levels (completing a project may take 5X as long as it used to). Consistency vanished along with my life outside disease management until I joined an online support group, but not JUST any online support group. This group is fiercely devoted to humor (you may get ousted for complaining), support served on the side (in heaping portions, if needed). Not long after joining this group, my focus shifted, and I began laughing again. Sometimes I was in horrid pain and unable to walk, but I felt better after connecting and laughing. Sometimes I provided the laughs, and it felt good, like I contributed something positive! I’d almost forgotten that feeling.
Truly understanding the effects of disability and pain on a person’s self-worth when you are healthy is beyond difficult even if temporarily stricken with an illness because you get better. That’s not a judgement (YAY for healing), but reality as much as I cannot possibly understand what it is like to live in (Insert Least Liked Country) for the rest of my life. I can learn as much as possible about (Insert Least Liked Country), even visit, but without being forced to live there when I don’t want to, it is a topical comprehension. Experience is where empathy grows, and from shared experience friendships are born.
My friends are online mostly, but please don’t pity me or assume I’m lonely/depressed. I have people I can be 100% real with, if not in the group, then on messenger. Around-the-clock support is there when steroids keep me up all night because: 1. I have friends across the world. and 2. I’m never the only one on steroids at any given time.
We have regional meetups, where I get to hug a few of these Warriors in person vs. our usual cyber-hug routine and we laugh for hours, and end with promises to meet again. Whether online, or in the flesh, the founding member in my neck of the woods teases mercilessly, tells great stories, and is a pretty good sport when humor boomerangs on him. Some friends have travelled for hours to meet each other, in my city this summer and in Elkhart, Indiana yesterday. These are not only friends I laugh with, but also friends who pray for me and send me positive energy when I’m very sick or just walking with a limp. They are the friends who invite us for a big spaghetti dinner, and add special details like twinkle lights and grapes hanging from the ceiling and little gifts of jasper. And they are the ones at home watching us online, hopefully getting a little ambient flavor through the screen.
I don’t socialize less because of this group, trust me. If anything, they help keep me fit for decent company.
Last Spring while scrolling through my Facebook feed I noticed a pictorial essay of women with arms raised, their unshaven armpits displayed. Just as images of women’s bodies portrayed in all their authentic glory evoke a tribalistic pride, I felt the sense of freedom apparent in their eyes. Immediately I typed “How powerful!” and hit “enter” without a thought. I’m free, too!
I began warming to the idea of not shaving my pit hair when a week before an acquaintance on the barstool next to me leaned in and whispered, “Ya know… she doesn’t shave her armpits”, as if imparting a dark dangerous secret about a young woman we know and like. Unfiltered and Budweiser loose, I laughed and said, “Who gives a shit?” Nudges already sprouted, the online troll of a misogynist fertilized my curiosity with , “KSS why don’t you just grow a beard” in response to my support of the hairy women.
What was so magical about armpit hair? And how long did it have to grow for my powers to activate?
Besides a dark stubble, I haven’t met my armpit hair since it was blonde, prepubescent and fine. Shaving was a requisite of becoming a grown woman, at least in my mind. I can still see myself at 15, enjoying the ritual. Cultural definitions of beauty widened a fraction during my youth and allowed for new dramatic, artistic expressions of self (think David Bowie, Prince, and Motley Crue).
In 2019, I find myself in a time of flexible inclusiveness, with rigid labels fading into history. Thanks to millions of wise women and brave men before me, I feel more free to try new things and new ways of living than ever before. Shaving was not an important issue to me, but Dang!, it sure is important to some people. Seeking to understand why, at least somewhat, (MOSTLY for a chance at Samson-style magic), I used this summer as my lab.
#1 Grow-not shaving my pits
What I learned:
Surprisingly, hair in my pits made me less funky this summer, even with switching to a natural rose-oil deodorant.
I AM MAGICAL! I feel more powerful in my body now that I allowed myself to be uncomfortable, then settle into a reality where shaving is purely my choice, rather than doing what I’ve always done because I was trained to do so.
This is my first experience/choice/”Grow” out of 40 I intend to curate by the end of 2019. New experiences expand my understanding and the potential for fun, laughter, and friendship is endless. I invite you to join me for #40grows to experience growth through new habits, new food, new thoughts, meeting new people, new adventures, new anything that takes you out of your bubble of comfort. The point? To enrich our lives and fertilize our brains.
3-month-long summers in Michigan fly by not only for school kids, but also for winter-worn adults. Spring arrives with promise and summer memories begin greasing the wheels of vacation plans. Our choices this year were made easier by the Mr’s new fishing boat. While I don’t have mad love for fishing, my husband has enough for both of us. So, out of mad love for him, or maybe just madness, I planned a camping/fishing vacation at a state park with shower houses and 4 nearby lakes.
Not your average outdoorsy or anydoorsy gal, I learned a few things that will make our 2020 camping trip easier for me and maybe other camping newbies.
In Yogi Bear cartoons an army of ants regularly marched away with food and even whole picnic baskets belonging to Jellystone visitors. Those ants are ancestors of a well-trained ant army at Interlochen State Park. Newbie tip-Don’t bring syrup camping; pancakes can be found at nearby restaurants. Secure ALL food in airtight containers or bags. Don’t assume a plastic tote will keep the invaders out. Learn from me so at least some good comes out of my underestimation of ants.
If a grocery store is within 5 miles of our campsite, there’s no need to pack as if we are travelling to an island (our usual July vacation in my parent’s cabin). Old habits do not die, so I packed enough food for a week. You know, just in case. Waterlogged food, in general, is not salvageable.
Make friends with dirt; lean in and don’t fight it or dirt can ruin everything. Skip showering one day to show solidarity with dirt/earth. Setup a screened tent (our “kitchen”) directly in front of the sleeping tent. Use an outdoor rug or piece of outdoor carpet between the 2 tents. Leave your dirty shoes in the screened tent.
Building on #3-chances are, it will rain, so go with it and don’t become disappointed. Bring cards, a radio or bluetooth speaker for areas with WiFi, and a board game. Some of the best conversations happen when it rains.
BE ORGANIZED. Camping may never be on my Top 10 list of dreamy vacations, but employing 3-drawer plastic organizers might render it mostly relaxing, almost turn-key, definitely better than living out of a suitcase or duffel bag. The less time spent looking for things is the more time we have to fish.
Above all-decide to enjoy sharing time outdoors.
Fun fact: Interlochen Fine Arts Camp across the street from where we camped at the state park is the “band camp” referenced in the movie American Pie.
Here in the middle of all the wonderful and horrible ruckus in our universe is Gen X, former latch-key kids who watched Scooby-Doo and played tag regularly. We had 2 technology electives at Creston High during the early ’80s-“Computers” and “Word-Processing”. College was a smart option to leverage your prospects, but there were also plenty of decent-paying jobs for those of us who wanted to move out after graduation. I’ve seen our Casey Kasem-Top 40-mixtape world entirely change during my 51 years. Once in a while I am nostalgic for a John Hughes movie, but the truth is I love my mod cons. Except my Kindle (no page-turning, no smell). I spend most of my time here in the gap between a simpler existence and massive waves of new information to sift and sort. XER is about what I fill the gap with in this middle-child kind of life-travel, food, joy, healthy tips/recipes, nature, good books, and writing.
Scrolling through my mind this week were women who have inspired me, paved the way for me, or just made me a better person by being themselves unapologetically, or sometimes apologetically. The writers, artists, and humanitarians. The scientists, teachers, and leaders. Today though, I remembered dozens that are rarely, if ever, mentioned in listicles. Although these Women came to me last, they are the ones who inspire me most often, the Women who keep me encouraged.
In my day-to-day life I’m grateful for the Woman who taught me how to be a Woman, how to work, and most importantly, how to stand up. Her devotion inspires me on multiple levels.
I’m inspired by Women who fight Autoimmune Diseases such as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Disease, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, Hashimoto’s, Celiac, IBS, Grave’s Disease, AI Hepatitis, and several others. Many of these Women are raising children, keeping a home, working, then working some more. All of these Women are living life on their terms, pushing for better treatments, and pushing themselves every day. I tell myself that if they can do it, then so can I.
I’m inspired by the Moms I know because their well of energy on half the amount of sleep I get is mind-boggling. I have my grandson for one day and I’m whipped, done-in, Netflix ’til I fall asleep the next day. These Moms go from the crack of dawn until they finally put kids to bed, pick up around the house, and get to relax. At which point they fall asleep.
I’m inspired by the working Women I know because it isn’t always easy to meet expectations or to get out of bed when all you want to do is drink Nyquil and snuggle with the dog. These Women show up in every sense of the phrase.
When I look around me, in my community, in my family, I see inspiring and resplendent women everywhere. I see Women doing their best and generously giving to others. International Women’s Day 2018 birthed a thoughtful week filled with admirable Women.
Firstly, I’m trying on this “mature” label… unsure of the fit… wondering if I can make it sound sassy in context… perhaps during the 6th decade as I tailor it to suit. Secondly and more on topic, I’ve searched for skin care to meet my basic needs since I was 13. While pimples have been elbowed out by fine lines and discoloration, a non harmful skin care routine remained my unicorn for over 36 years. Red, embarrassing, and painful reactions followed my use of many popular skin care lines sold in the U.S. Can you imagine the amount of $$$ I’ve wasted on products that landed in a waste bin after just a few uses? A few years ago I settled on Aveeno Ultra Calming foaming cleanser and moisturizer as the least harmful (yet still stripping), most affordable option, until my skin changed again, perhaps due to autoimmune issues, hormonal issues, age, or a combination of all those things and a couple that haven’t occurred to me. I tried everything from diet to dermatology and found corticosteroid cream the only effective treatment, which is when I began researching products again. I knew I reacted to chemicals and needed more natural ingredients in my skin care, AND I needed my face clean to avoid breakouts, AND I needed to retain and add moisture.
Red and Reactive, Dry Beyond Belief
Our universe finally smiled on my skin care quest in November 2017, and took pity on my worsening irritation and painful skin. I hate trying new skin care products, and once again I was justified.
When I stumbled upon Renee on her YouTube channel Gothamista
during a search for low Ph facial cleansers, I had a raw itchy reaction across my cheeks and forehead that lasted for 2 weeks following use of CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser, which is lauded by 90% of users as the best thing since coconut oil and matcha tea. Renee’s minimalist style and my-sort-of-girlfriend demeanor made me watch a whole eight minute video about pH levels and 2-step cleansing. Add free and engaging skin care education, and I may be a loyal follower. To cross the moat of my cynicism, the products she recommended needed to pass a 30-day trial, but I was willing to take a risk based on reviews across multiple platforms.
I have hypersensitive combination skin, at times with extreme dryness/dehydration, which is dependant on weather and skin care products. Low pH cleansers were the next logical step for me, however as my CeraVe trial proved, ingredients also played a role. 7 is a neutral pH level, or the level of water/tears, and I wanted to trial a cleanser with a pH level of 5-5.5, between weak coffee and normal rainwater. Our skin’s pH is approximately 5 and the goal is not to disrupt our natural moisture production by cleansing with higher pH products. Cleansers and toners with a pH between human blood (7.5 pH) and seawater (8 pH) stripped my skin, which in turn reacted with an overproduction of sebum. It was a perfect skin care nightmare with few low pH products available in stores.
This low pH cleanser changed my skin and made me very happy:
60 Days Using COSRX Cleanser with No Reaction
Toners with humectants played supporting roles
I went with a local seller of natural matcha green tea cleansing cream for 1st step removal of makeup and sebum, but not until I used the COSRX cleanser for more than 30 days because our skin cells turn over every 28 days and I wanted a true trial (I don’t wear makeup 5 days/wk). I also added moisturizing toners, a departure from the drying alcohol-based toners I grew up with and believed were necessary to oust that pesky sebum.
Moisturizing Toners that I pat on my skin with my fingers
I enjoy my skin care routine (finally!) and haven’t reacted to one product recommended by Renee at Gothamista, however I must warn you–skin care can be addicting.
“Don’t cry. Stop crying,” she commanded, as I trapped my sobs and focused on her words. “Don’t cry. You have one heart, one body, one life. YOU have to fight for it. Stop crying.” The Infectious Disease Doctor seemed exasperated with me, as if my tears were drops of weakness that made me sicker. Briefly I thought my illness must seem measly to the towering Serbian blonde. In that moment I felt so small in my hospital bed. It was day 4 and despite innumerable tests, no bacteria had been found despite the appearance of my lungs on x-rays and a CT. “Maybe you aren’t finding anything because RA is doing this to me.” “You have fever and pneumonia, all signs of infection. This is what we are treating with antibiotic, ” she waved her hand at an IV bag hanging from one of the poles next to my bed. An oxygen machine ringed in pale blue gurgled and hissed in my left ear. The night before a child with big eyes stood at my bedside wearing a dress in the same shade. Intuition said I should keep that to myself.
When I created this blog 5 years ago I was 44, and fresh off losing a tough, unfair battle for my health and career. I’d been fighting since I was a kid, for myself and sometimes for those who I thought needed a champion, and I was spent. In hindsight, other people, especially those in power, not only preferred women who didn’t make waves, but rewarded them for not fighting. Maybe if I adopted a quieter, more graceful approach during the 5th decade, life would prove less bruising. In any case, I needed time to heal. What I didn’t know is that my fighting spirit would one day be the difference between life and death.
Lying in that hospital bed a few weeks ago, I feared going “…gently into that good night”, dying of pneumonia as the poet Dylan Thomas did, but after 5 years of curbing my fighting nature I was sorely out of shape. There are dreams I haven’t realized because I laid ambition aside, trips I haven’t taken, and works I haven’t written. Death takes who it can snatch away, especially if one cannot fight. Medical professionals are often champions when we are weak, their educated treatment hitting a bullseye and chasing away mortality. And then, there is luck and those who rage; “… rage against the dying of the light” – Dylan Thomas. One physician listened to my mumbles about rheumatoid arthritis as I was sliding near intubation, the ICU, and a large sucking mudhole next to my bed (According to a study published by the American College of Chest Physicians, every day a patient is delirious brings a 20 percent increased risk of prolonged hospitalization and a 10 percent increased risk of death). Once he consulted with my rheumatology office and hung a high dose bag of steroids, the mudhole disappeared. For me, rage didn’t look like the screaming, swing at the fences anger of my younger years. It looked liked grasping, holding on and repeating my assertion that RA affects the lungs, despite feeling small and weak. A reward for my tenacity is more time to write and dig my toes in the sand. Love is sweeter now, too.
My sixth decade begins in a couple of months, time enough to regain my strength, embrace my true passionate self, and resolve to live as loudly as I want. I understand now that I don’t have time to waste. Death is funny that way.