Not Today, Death

“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.

 

Liars – A Short Story

Never shoulda told her.  She said nothing bad would happen.  Out of all of them, Linny’s Mom is the only one ever asked about the marks on my hands, the only one ever brushed my hair out of my eyes to look at me.  She promised I’d be safe if I told her the truth.  Instead, I stood up and lowered my jeans right there in Linny’s kitchen and watched their surprise, then horror, as they took in the welts on my thighs.  Linny’s Mom cried, “Good Lord!”, and enveloped me in a warm cushy hug that felt just like I’d imagined.  I closed my eyes until she let me go and told me to pull up my pants.  Linny is so lucky, I thought for the millionth time.  My eyes followed her mom as she wiped mascara streaks off her cheeks with both hands, sniffed long and deeply, then picked up her phone.  Linny slid off her stool and softly took my hand in hers.  She shook a little, like I do when Mama’s boyfriend is in the room.  Probably never seen her Mom cry like that.  “Yes, this is Mara Kivich at 1335 Lafayette Street.  I need to talk to someone about a child who’s being abused’, Linny’s Mom said to who I guessed was the cops.  She turned her back to us then mumbled, “Uh-huh… no, bruises and welts from a belt, oh… ok.”

Cops never did anything when they came to our house.  Mama always said we were fine, it was just “a yelling match”.  Dave was usually gone by the time they got there, slamming out the door like somebody did something to him instead of the other way around.  The cops wrote down Mama’s stories in little notebooks they flipped closed with one hand.  She had slipped on a wet floor and ran into a cabinet door that hit her right under her eye or stumbled on our steep basement stairs while carrying a laundry basket.  The fingerprint bruises on her neck were never asked about or explained and they never asked me anything, either.  An officer often said something like, “We want to make sure you’re safe, Mrs. Batch.  Please give us a call if you need anything”, or “We’re here to help if you need us”, and gave Mama another of their cards.  Upstairs I rehearsed what I would have said if they asked and pressed my face against the window glass until each cruiser turned the corner.

A wide shaft of sunlight fell across the kitchen island and landed on our feet while Linny’s Mom listened to the cops and mumbled a word once in a while.  Not for the first time I stared at a Fruit Loops box on top of a giant silver refrigerator with Linny’s drawings, spelling tests, and pictures stuck to the front with magnets shaped like stars.  They never ran out of Fruit Loops and there were juice boxes and grapes that Linny could just take from the fridge whenever she wanted.  My gaze moved to the Cookie Monster cookie jar on the counter.  I wished we were still scooted up to the island dipping our cookie halves in milk after scraping sugary filling off them with our two front teeth.  My stomach flipped while a “you ruined it” chant taunted me.  I never shoulda told.  Linny’s Mom hung up the phone and looked at me, her sagging shoulders and wrinkled forehead said it before she opened her mouth.  “They are going to get in touch with your Mom this afternoon, Sweetie.  I’m..I’m sure they’ll get this all straightened out.”  Linny dropped my hand, and ran to her Mom, who folded her into her arms just as she had done with me ten minutes ago.  I felt alone, the same relentless chant circling in my head.  “I’m…uh”, I stammered and looked away from Linny and her Mom, “gonna go”.  “”You can stay for dinner, Cam”, Linny’s Mom said in a weird high voice, like nothing unusual had happened, like my Mom often sounded.   She let go of Linny, but Linny’s eyes stayed closed and her arms remained locked around her Mom’s waist.  “That’s ok.  I have to ask a day ahead of time”, I reminded her.  Her arms circled Linny again as she nodded.  “Thank you, Mrs. Kivich.  Bye, Linny”, I said and walked quickly down a hallway lined with smiling vacation photos and out the front door.  Tears welled in my eyes, but I would not cry.

For a couple of days after a whippin’ the rules were looser, but getting home more than 15 minutes late was chancy, so when Dave called “Cam get in here!” as I came through the door I thought I’d had it.  “You almost missed it!  Your boy is about to fight for the featherweight title.  Come ‘ere.”  He patted the couch cushion next to him.  I forgot about Linny and her Mom as I watched Conor McGregor hammer another wiry guy on the mat, relentless until the referee pulled him off.  “Daaaamn!”  Dave threw his arm around my shoulders and squeezed.  “You see that, little girl?  One punch!  Bam!  Dude’s on the mat and what does he do?  What does he do, Cam?”  “He keeps beating on him ‘til he wins!” I yelled and bounced my sore butt off the cushion as the new champ strutted around the octagon, an Irish flag held high between his bloody fists.  “Look at me”, Dave said.  I pulled my eyes away from the T.V. and tried to look in the black pools of his eyes. My smile faded.   “Don’t you ever let anybody think you’re weak, whatever you gotta do.  Your dude there,” he pointed toward the screen, “he just showed the world not to fuck with him.”  He took a drag off his cigarette, exhaled in my face, and laughed.  “You understand?”  No, not really.  I rarely understood Dave’s wisdom.  I understood anger though, and Conor McGregor exploded with fury in the ring.  I nodded my head.  “Yeah, I get it.  No mercy.”  Dave smiled and stubbed out his cigarette in a sparkling clean glass ash tray.  My mother washed them and sprayed air freshener around every night before going to bed.  You’d never even know a smoker lived here.

When Mom came home she didn’t seem any different, just said “Hi, Baby”, but nothing about the cops or Linny’s Mom.  Dave left for the bar after we ate goulash and watched the news.  Sometimes he came in my room kinda sniffling after he got back and woke me up to say he was sorry.  He said if I learned to behave he wouldn’t have to whip me, if I would just be good he wouldn’t have to be so hard on me.  I always told him I would be better, and tried to figure out how until I fell back asleep.

Linny wasn’t at the bus stop the next morning, so I sat in our seat by myself and played who-lives-in-that-house.  I liked it more when Linny and I went back and forth and made up stories about people in the big white house with peeling paint and pink roses growing up one side or the triangle-shaped yellow house with a huge golden dog stretched out in the driveway.  Linny was silly and our stories much funnier than the ones I made up by myself.  She walked into class and sat down just as the bell rang, but Linny wouldn’t look at me.  I wanted to whisper to her, but Mr. Malcolm did not play around and he’d take away my recess if he heard.  All morning long I stared at the back of her head.  “Cammie Batch”, the teacher said, “please use “intention” in a sentence”.  He seemed irritated.  I looked down at my desk and tried to remember what intention meant, but all I could think of was going to Linny’s house for Oreos after school.  Mr. Malcolm put his hands finger to finger in a steeple like he did when someone else took a while to answer, like he could wait all day.  Normally I was good at this, but today my words disappeared.  Finally, the recess bell rang.  “Cammie, come to my desk”, Mr. Malcolm said as I watched Linny’s head disappear into the hall with everyone else’s.  After Mr. Malcolm reviewed the word intention (it was nothing but a hope, really) and told me to pay better attention that afternoon, I raced down the hall and out the doors.  There she was, right outside the building.  “Oh good, you waited”, I said.  “Cause I have something to tell you”, she said and shuffled her feet, her arms crossed tightly.  “I can’t be friends with you anymore.  My Daddy and Mommy said so.”  She looked relieved.

5 Things Rheumatoid Disease Patients Wish You Knew

  1. A Rheumatoid Disease diagnosis leads to a double life. Thanks to new treatments, many of us have hours every day when we appear to participate in life just as you do.  There are also private hours spent soaking in Epsom salt baths, taking pain medications, going to doctor’s appointments and physical therapy, meditating, exercising, journaling, supporting one another online, wearing compression gloves and socks, applying cold and hot packs, applying menthol creams and patches, dipping our hands in hot paraffin, napping, taking hot showers, and wearing splints and braces, all to possibly have a few precious hours of normal, or as close to it as we can get.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes the disease rules our day and all we can do is rest and take comfort measures.  This aspect makes traditional employment challenging for Rheumatoid Disease patients, 60% of which are disabled within 10 years of diagnosis.
  1. Different than Osteo-Arthritis, Rheumatoid Disease is an auto-immune disorder that affects people of all ages, even children. Rheumatoid patients around the world advocate for “Rheumatoid Disease” to replace the term “Rheumatoid Arthritis” due to wide-spread misunderstanding.  Rheumatoid disease produces destructive molecules called fibroblasts that attack the protective lining around joints causing inflamed and shredded tendons, cartilage loss, and finally bone erosion.  That is the part you may be familiar with, but Rheumatoid Disease also causes:
    1. Costochondritis (painful swelling in the ribs)
    2. Uveitis (painful eye swelling, may cause vision loss)
    3. Pleurisy or interstitial lung disease
    4. Cervical subluxation and myelopathy (compression of the spinal cord)
    5. Kidney disease
    6. Atherosclerosis (heart disease), the leading cause of death in RD patients.

Educating health professionals about rheumatoid disease manifestations would facilitate early treatment of co-morbidities and delay disability.

  1. Even when symptoms appear controlled, Rheumatoid Disease marches on and adapts to treatment.  RD insidiously erodes cartilage and bone while patients feel perfectly fine, especially during the first 5 years.  Recent MRI studies confirm that even in clinical remission, there is inflammation around the joints, indicating a need for life-long treatment. The first RD medication I took stopped working after 4 years.  Currently, my rheumatoid antibodies are eleven times the norm after 3 years on an expensive biologic injectable.  Our super-immunity develops work-arounds to the medicine.  In the near future I will need to add a low-dose chemotherapy drug to suppress my immune response.  We will have to try other medications that may or may not slow the disease as my immune system keeps adjusting.  There are many RD Warriors who haven’t found a medication that works well enough, or who have run out of options.  One friend of mine injects herself every week for a 20% improvement in Lupus and RD symptoms.
  1. Rheumatoid Arthritis drug commercials exaggerate ability benefits and list a litany of risky side effects in a low monotone.  Actors appear in full remission without Prednisone moon-faces, but more than half of patients never achieve clinical remission for even a short period, and most medications help to a degree if at all.  Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Enbrel because I can walk, fevers are less frequent, my pain is manageable, and I have little to no bone erosion.  While this miracle drug makes my life worth living, it doesn’t make running on a sandy beach or toting around a toddler on my hip possible.  More importantly, the medication doesn’t make working full-time possible because the disease is still active and unpredictable.  What it does make possible are life-threatening infections, which is why patients whose symptoms are fairly controlled often choose to risk joint erosion.  The risk-benefit ratio is tough to navigate, especially with the booming vitamin/supplement industry promising their own brand of remission.  Just like wrinkle cream promises, none are entirely accurate.
  1. We need you to help us spread the word. Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of the 6 most debilitating diseases in the world, yet the number of rheumatology research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health dropped by 52% from 2010 to 2014, while the number funded by private foundations fell by 29% over that period, according to data published by the Rheumatology Research Foundation (RRF).  A cure is on the horizon with new immuno-therapy breakthroughs, but funding is moving in the wrong direction.

Knowing Your Boobs Could Save Your Life

On Tuesday, the American Cancer Society published new Breast Cancer Screening guidelines reducing the recommended frequency of mammograms for women over 54 to every 2 years and increasing the age for a first mammogram to 45 for women with an average risk of breast cancer.  They also kicked the clinical breast exam to the curb.  How much can a physician know about my boobs and my “normal” by feeling them once a year?  Now me, I can touch them every day if I want, and I certainly see them during my daily ritual.   Early diagnosis is key to beating breast cancer and many are triggered by women who notice a change in the look or feel of their boobs.  Our breasts feel differently in each decade.  Natural changes occur, especially as we bear children and get older.  Tiny, swollen, lumpy, I know intimately the phases my boobs passed through to land happily at soft tissue.  I know what my skin looks like, where there are stretch marks from pregnancy, and the color of my areola, however I need to use the mirror more often with arms raised.  Rashes, dimpling, or swelling also occurs in the breast tissue on our sides, and is more likely to go unnoticed.Breast Exam

The American Cancer Society is careful in its language, stating a woman should have the choice at 40 to request a screening mammogram and become educated on mammography limitations.  Women at high risk (20-25% lifetime risk) should begin annual screenings at 30.  They recommend breast MRI in conjunction with mammography for women at high risk because the two detect different types of cancer, so if I found a lump or had other breast cancer symptoms such as skin or nipple changes, my plan is to request both.  False positives are more likely with breast MRI, but despite the American Cancer Society’s concern about causing me ” a lot of worry and anxiety”, I prefer an unnecessary biopsy with a huge slice of peace of mind to later-stage cancer.  And despite a statement that self exams do not show a clear benefit, I trust my judgement on this one and will continue to feel myself up in the mirror on a regular basis because self-love is a beautiful thing and the new guidelines for breast cancer screening are not definitive, but leave the responsibility with me.

 

Endometrial Ablation, An End to the Bloodbath

 

*Warning:  If discussions about menstruation and lady parts make you queasy, this post is not for you.

Since perimenopause set in eight years ago, I developed penis envy, not so much because I’d like one, but simply to eradicate several unpredictable and exquisitely painful periods per month.  Never prepared, no matter how many bloody tidal waves assailed my linens, my pants, my chairs, my life, I was taken off guard.   I am unaware of a more irritating interruption than a distinct gushing feeling in the middle of a meeting, especially when you are the one taking minutes.  Several times I prayed for a fire alarm.  When my red blood cell count fell to a level worthy of a gynecological consult, I felt relieved.  Dr. Burns, well into his 8th decade, said I seemed a good candidate for an endometrial ablation as long as fibroids did not lurk in my uterus.  Two tiny fibroids, one smack dab in the middle of my uterus and likely the painful trouble-maker, showed on ultrasound.  Fortunately, Dr. Burns has practiced for more than 40 years and was competent in more than one ablation procedure.  The simplest ablation procedure used a triangular mesh electrode that expanded in the uterus and delivered an electric current which cauterised and destroyed the uterine lining, and if needed, he had a back-up plan that used a roller-ball for the trouble-maker fibroid.

Elective surgery, while not typically as serious, entails risk and pain.  Infection is the scariest risk to me, likely due to a 3 month post-surgery infection following a previous gynecological mini-surgery.  I did not agree to an endometrial ablation sooner because of it.  Fear is a bitch, worthy of a post all its own.

Dr. Burns used the electrically charged mesh with success.  Prepping me with information, introductions, consent forms, and anesthesia took longer than the ablation, positively making me comfortable before asking Patrick to hurry up with the anesthesia in the operating theater.  Such a simple procedure to require such a dramatic environment, but…the risks.

My recovery nurse enjoyed my eyes-closed rendition of Gin and Juice and said I was her new favorite patient.  Apparently, I had my mind on my money.  Over the next few days I got to know the pain-killer norco as my uterus healed and I laid about on the couch drinking lots of liquids and eating toast.  So this is what it’s like in the 5th decade.  We endure procedures, therapy, and surgery to make life doable, and in this case, better than previous decades.  Little spots of blood every couple of months are all I have now.  Feminine hygiene companies are devastated by the decline in sales.

 

 

Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 3

Gawking at Blarney Castle was a slow process.  We arrived at The Spaniard late for lunch with the only other patrons a few men visiting the bartender.  From the yelling and laughing I surmised they were good friends.

Lovely place to eat and drink on The Spaniard's bar patio

The Spaniard’s bar patio graced by a handsome German man

We sat on the patio in the sunshine enjoying pints and the view from The Spaniard’s lofty location on a curvy road snaking up the Kinsale hillside.  Jim had fresh fish and home-cut chips, while I gave in to a Cajun chicken wrap.  Complimenting most of our meals was the standard bit of greens tossed in a light vinaigrette.

Tasty lunch at The Spaniard in Kinsale

Tasty lunch at The Spaniard in Kinsale

During our respite at The Spaniard we noticed a good number of vehicles with deep scratches or dents on the passenger side and mirrors torn off, all driven by local folks.

It made us feel more comfortable about the hedge scratches on our rental, which was brand new when we picked her up.

 

We left The Spaniard refreshed and drove on High Road to Charles Fort, an English 17th century  star-shaped fort which once guarded Kinsale Harbor.  The walls packed with turf, they were almost impregnable to cannon fire.

Charles Fort on Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort on Kinsale Harbor

During the Williamite wars William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II at Charles Fort by approaching from the land side and laying siege for 13 days, finally breaching after 3 days of steady cannon fire on a single spot of the outer wall.  My most important lesson of the tour was do not ask questions about William of Orange if you want to keep your friends in The Republic.

Inside Fort Charles

Inside Fort Charles

We wandered the fort after our tour silently taking in the panoramic vistas and the sailboats of Kinsale in the distance.  Ireland once again struck us dumb, smiling nostalgically even though we had not left yet.

Charles Fort

Back at our hotel we laid our heads down for a mere half hour before Kinsale’s pubs called to us to come play.  We found The Sea Captains at The Armada, a duo who played the banjo, acoustic guitar and Irish whistle.  We settled on Caesar salads with warm, dense brown bread, and a few pints for dinner.  The Armada is one of the few pubs that served us beer at our table, in which case it is entirely appropriate to go against the standard and leave a fat tip.  As I listened to The Sea Captains tears began to roll down my face.  I was actually at an Irish pub listening to two Irishmen play after visiting Blarney castle, eating well-prepared, flavorful, and fresh food in Ireland, hiking the grounds of a star-shaped fort, and eating the best brown bread I tasted so far.  My tears were happiness overflowing and I took a deep breath and told myself “remember this, remember this”.

Irish Flag flying at Charles Fort

Irish Flag flying at Charles Fort

View over Kinsale Harbor

View over Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort

Expansive grounds of Fort Charles

Expansive grounds of Fort Charles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 2

Leaving Glendalough we wound our way through the Wicklow mountains to the Hollywood Inn, where we were introduced to the Hurling Finals and learned a few Irish turns of phrase not mentioned in guide books.

Great food, beer & patrons at the Hollywood Inn

Great food, beer & patrons at the Hollywood Inn

Ravenous from hiking about, I dug into fish and home-cut chips, fascinated by the muscular men on the field balancing a tiny ball on short clubs while running, hitting the ball and being hit by it, all with no protective gear, but plenty of blood and bandages.  The excitement rivaled a Superbowl party and Hollywood Inn was more than I hoped for with an uneven stone floor, heavy dark wood , a stone courtyard, tasty fresh food and superb service.  Our first day in the Irish countryside was a success, now we had a real drive.

Bolstered by a hamburger he described as “very lean”,  Jim drove us on narrow back roads to Kinsale, a quaint harbor town in County Cork, where we stayed at the Actons Hotel overlooking the harbor.

Actons Hotel in Kinsale, County Cork

Actons Hotel in Kinsale, County Cork

Our TomTom was set to avoid toll roads, which made each trip a bit longer and more scenic than motorways.  We had no trouble finding “toilets”, a convenient petrol station in many towns we passed through.

Billy, our bartender in the lounge at Actons, patiently explained how children in Ireland begin their first day of school with a lunch box, a backpack, and a hurling stick.  An older gentleman at the bar put us through a course of Irish dialect in a descriptive telling of a helicopter ride over County Tipperary that his daughter gifted him with on a recent birthday.  They both asked what we liked most about Ireland thus far.  I said I loved the water everywhere, especially the streams flowing down mountains and bubbling over rocks.  The old man said, “Ahhh, that’s the piss!”, then laughed open-mouthed as did we.  I told him I also like the potatoes, they were better than at home.  He said, “Ahhh, yes the new potatoes are in, but don’t eat the chickens!”.  Billy told us of growing up in Kinsale and said he would like to visit the Wicklow Mountains someday.  Huge sprays of Asiatic lilies and eucalyptus graced tables throughout the hotel while small bouquets of hydrangea and roses adorned each stall in the lobby bathroom.  Our room was modern  and bright with clean lines and a warm breeze blew through a tall unscreened, tilted window.  Sailboats rocked in the moonlit harbor.  We slept deeply.

Kinsale Harbor

Kinsale Harbor

 

After our first day of venturing we had a true appreciation for a full Irish breakfast, which consisted of an array of juices, fruit, pastry, cereal, breads, cheeses and smoked salmon.  We ordered eggs and sausage and the plate unnecessarily came with white and black pudding and a grilled tomato.  Each day seemed as though it may be the one to try  the pudding, but I never did chance it, afraid my stomach might upset our plans.  We walked around Kinsale’s colorful streets while our breakfast settled before taking off for Blarney Castle.

Kinsale, Ireland

Colorful Kinsale

Colorful Kinsale

Blarney Castle was THE castle of our trip and we took our time exploring all the nooks and scary crannies.  Stone stairs spiraled up to the stone with a rope on one side to hold on to.  As we ascended the walls grew closer and the old man in front of us stopped in fear, the opposite of my typical run through it reaction.  Voices filtered up from the stairs and signaled a group coming up behind us.  I felt trapped already, barely able to breathe.  I jumped back down two stairs and yelled to my husband that I’d see him when he came down.  My discovery of the family room, murder-hole above the castle’s main entry and arrow shaft views throughout the castle rooms thrilled me more than if I kissed a stone that through my camera zoom looked wet.  Ugh.  But, do not let claustrophobic me deter you.  Blarney Castle

Manicured grounds, gardens and a long carriage house were lush with vintage blooms and beside the castle stood a poison garden planted with castor beans, foxglove and other nefarious, yet pretty, flowers and plants.  We rested and took in the groups of people who dotted the expansive lawn before we perused the gift shop and purchased a watercolour that I would carry on the plane to insure its safe arrival home.  Our breakfast worn off, we headed back to Kinsale and away from tour bus crowds in search of a late lunch and a pint.

One of many Blarney Castle Gardens

One of many Blarney Castle Gardens

stairs

Before the Blarney Stone stairs turn scary

Under Blarney Castle

Under Blarney Castle but not the dungeon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blarney Castle Family Room

Blarney Castle Family Room

Blarney Castle TowerBlarney Castle

Blarney Castle looking at me from the topBlarney Castle window view

Walking and Gawking in Ireland – Part 1

Walking a mile to a mile and a half 4 times a week for 6 weeks prior to our Irish holiday deflated my middle and I lost five pounds, which to me means I can eat potatoes and bread (as long as I keep walking).  You hear wild rumors as you get closer to 40, but I had to experience gaining weight while subsisting on salads and water to accept that my squirrel-like metabolism is dead along with my desire to buy a swimsuit.  It all works out, though, because the rumor about fading endurance is also true. Just a few weeks of a walking routine increased my stamina and made Ireland more enjoyable than I imagined.  I was even able to imitate running to catch our connection at O’Hare.

We spent our first evening in Blessington, a tiny town with a lone little terrier scouting main street just south of Dublin.  On the winding gravel road back to our lodgings we got out of the car to peek at Blessington Lake.

Blessington Lake

Blessington Lake

The next morning we started off for Wicklow National Park and found ourselves stopping often to explore.

A park in Wicklow County

A park in Wicklow County

A park with a fast flowing stream over mossy rocks and a stone bridge called to us, as did a cemetery with Celtic crosses raised high. The faeries moved a bit too quickly for my eyes, but I swear I heard their giggles just beyond the bubbling gurgle of water.

Between my walking routine and Ireland’s vistas, I shed not only fat, but a bit of cynicism.  Dreams coming true take chinks out of a calloused soul.

Walking does not build much muscle and muscle burns fat, so when I stop moving, my metabolism does, too.  Motivation is plentiful on vacation, but hard to find on a snowy frigid days, which is when I discovered that truth.  Almost a decade ago Ireland renewed a walking culture  to combat the country’s growing obesity rate along with national dietary standards.  It is not difficult to persuade an Irishman or woman to go for a stroll and GMO-free counties offer up food that reminded us what food used to taste like.  My theory is that we do not eat as much when it is flavourful because we are more easily sated.

Exploring Wicklow

Exploring Wicklow

Low in the Wicklow Mountains

Low in the Wicklow Mountains

In the hills of Wicklow National Park I stumbled on loose rock and stepped in a deep uninhabited hole, highlighting the need for a walking stick.  Mountain rescue teams are stationed in every area for good reason.

We were off to find St. Kevin’s monastic ruins in Glendalough and mistakenly walked up a steep road to find St. Kevin’s Parish where we lit candles for loved ones in heaven.  There were lovely engraved garden sculptures on the grounds and I suspect my husband knew I would stop at the craft fair on our way back down as I was excited for any opportunity to visit with locals.

St. Kevin's Parish

St. Kevin’s Parish

Gardens at St. Kevin's Welcome Center

Gardens at St. Kevin’s Welcome Center

On the way up, I stopped to rest and take in the gardens  at St. Kevin’s welcome center.  It was all meant to be, I am sure.  Just down the road we found the ruins of St. Kevin’s 6th century monastery.  Raided for centuries by the Vikings, most of the standing ruins date to the 11th and 12th centuries.  A man in a kilt and hose played Uillean pipes, whcih lent a melancholia to the scene, but a little girl yelling at the top of her lungs, “Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!” brushed it away.  A spiritual place, the sun broke through the thick cloud cover just as I offered up my gratitude.

St. Kevin's monastic ruins in Glendalough

St. Kevin’s monastic ruins in Glendalough

Glendalough Beauty

Glendalough Beauty

St. Kevin's ancient church often called "St. Kevin's Kitchen" due to the chimney.

St. Kevin’s ancient church often called “St. Kevin’s Kitchen” due to the chimney.

My husband was usually ahead of me because I am quite the gawker.  Also quite the talker and writer, I have many a story to tell you about Ireland, so I will break our adventure into a few posts. Sláinte!  (Good Health!)

Walking and Gawking in Michigan

BBI shoreFor the next six weeks I will be walking and practicing with my new camera in preparation for a trip to Ireland.  Walking is a bit boring really, compared to lithe runners with their snug running shorts and pretty shoes.  My jazzy shoes rival any runner’s, but that is about all the competition I can provide.  Have you seen the articles that say you can simply walk off excess weight around your middle?  Yes, I saw the headlines at the supermarket, too!  So, I will perform my own experiment, and it will not involve eating kale.  My diet is mostly natural foods, however I still inch up a couple of pounds every few weeks.  The reasons are valid and can be confirmed by witnesses, but how I got here is not nearly as interesting as where I am going.  Honestly after sporting a boy body all my life I feel powerfully curvaceous with a B-cup.  It is not the weight that I mind, but the pudgy bulges when I sit down, and standing for hours on the beach is tiring.  Sitting down I look like I am wearing a flotation device around my middle, and some of my pants no longer fit over the floaty part.  For the record I would like to keep the butt.  And the B-cup. I will not cut calories, but will walk at least a mile 5 days per week for the first 3 weeks.  Writing about my progress may cause a bit of a Hawthorne effect, so I must be diligent about eating sugar to protect the integrity of this experiment.

Something tells me that my current two walks a week is not sufficient conditioning for 7 days of trekking around the Emerald Isle.  Arduous hikes are not part of itinerary, however the cumulative effect of a few hours walking per day could hobble me, and what a shame that would be.  A six-week timeline also coincides with the number of summer days remaining here in Michigan.  Winter is always coming.

This well-intentioned idea came to me while on vacation, where so many great plans are born, yet never make it back home.  On the first day I walked down the gravel road and later along the shore of the island where we vacation.  Each walk an easy mile, I walked with spring,  buoyed by my new plan.  Another benefit of walking outdoors in Northern Michigan is that the black flies and mosquitos spur me on and keep my heart rate up, like tiny coaches.  A mile is easy because I worked my way up to that 8 months ago after my last RA flare.  After limping to the bathroom for a couple of months, it seemed like a prize to walk that far at a good clip.  It is time to move on now.