Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Messages from Nature

For the third time this month, I have had a close and very interesting encounter with a snake, each in my backyard.  For those who are unaware, there are no poisonous snakes in the wild here in Western Washington, so although my wariness wrought from 30 years of living in Texas kicks in when seeing a snake, I no longer suffer a form of instant heart failure at the sight of one.  Two of the recent encounters have been interesting in that they are very similar to a series I had while living Texas.  Usually snakes prefer to take off when sensing an animal nearby, but this time - as in Texas - the snake stopped, turned, and looked right at me.  I moved, expecting the snake to slither away, but it didn't.  Rather, the snake stayed in place and just swiveled its head to watch me, precisely the same experience I had with a massive (7ft) Texas Rat Snake on Brushy Creek, north of Austin.  Now, I am one to study nature and its ways as an adjunct to my spiritual life.  So when I witness unusual behaviour, I pay attention.  Mindful of Snake's primary message of Transformation, a message that was very clear shortly after the Texas experience, I sat down and considered what I was being shown/told.

I'm at yet another stage of my life in which big changes are occuring. I'm in my early 60s, and there are clear and obvious physical changes happening.  I'm transforming again, this time transitioning into what may be my final phase of life.  I need more sleep suddenly, my bones hurt more, I have less stamina, and I'm not nearly as sharp as I once was.  I'm starting to show my age finally, and it's really strange.  But the thing about the snake message is, I don't think it's transformation of aspects related to my age to which I'm supposed to attend. Rather, I think it's more about something else...some way of thinking that will change my way of being. 

Best Purchase of the Year

Every year one purchase made ends up standing out as a real winner. Some of the winners have been things I knew I wanted, but didn't realise how much they would change my life/give me pleasure. The second half of the 2000s have seen a shift, though. Instead of buying things I knew long in advance I wanted, the more recent items have been thoughtful impulse (hey, I AM known as "The Pragmatic Pollyanna") items, and all have in common the sheer surprise in how USEFUL they are.

Just to give you a little history.. In 1987, it was a much longed-for PC AT, in 1991, a leather motorcycle jacket, in 95 a Black Volvo, and 1998 a beautiful house of my very own.

The 2000s started off slow, with tools for house remodeling such as the RotoZip being the focus of my life, though 2004 saw the purchase of a giant television - named "Sumo" because it was "the gigantic Japanese guy in the corner," and 2005's best was a set of trekking poles for walks I hoped to take on the beach and in the mountains once I got back to the Northwest.

2006, and Towanda the Wonder Bus entered my life, along with For Sale signs on the house. In the driveway, while a steady stream of people flowed through my beautiful home, I turned my school bus into an rv/rolling studio. We closed one week before all the terrible economic news that began the downturn, and off we went in Towanda, back to Western Washington.

2007's best purchase was an electronic label maker, in 2008 I found Copic Markers (the art world may never be the same), 09 and although the Scor-It turned out to be a marvelous tool for scoring paper in order to create perfect folding seams in paper (really, it's brilliant!), the real score of the year was my beloved Husquvarna Viking Platinum sewing machine. It. is. amazing.

2010 was a strong year, with a Ford Ranger truck and a CLC wooden kayak strong contenders, but the winner was a bright red Hamilton Beach electric kettle I bought on a whim at Costco because of V's very English tea habit.  Sadly, it died by the end of 2012, and had to be replaced, so maybe the kayak and truck really DID win. :-)

That brings us to 2011, when the FABulous Iris plastic storage cases from Costco were purchased. The plastic case contains 12 more latching boxes that slide into place in the big case. Marketed as a place to keep photographs, the small cases are the PERfect size for my Copic markers, and for a slew of other items, too. Pencils, pens, watercolours, and on and on and on. I have all the cases filled, and could probably fill more.

2012 the best product that came into my life wasn't a purchase, but rather a gift. The Derwent Rep was generous enough to give me a set of 36 Inktense penciles and 12 Inktense blocks.  I loved these so much that I wrote a full review, if you're interested. That was the year I also snagged a set of five metal plan drawers for $100!  You know, the kind architects use?  Yep, I now have a place for all my watercolour and handmade papers, and so much more.  Fabulous addition to my art life!

2013 was a year in which the best product was something I bought for someone else.  Steel-toed boat shoes for V.  As a Sailmaker, V is constantly working around boats and boatyards, both of which are NOT safe places at all.  He has to have shoes that make no marks on boats, are skid resistant, and look good.  In the past, he's purchased Sperry's, the leading boat shoe manufacturer.  The problem with Sperry's shoes is three-fold: 1) they offer zero support 2) they wear out very fast, and 3) they're extremely expensive ($150ish) compared to other brands.  So I looked around for a more industrial shoe that fit the aforementioned criteria. And I found a model that has the additional plus of steel toes, something that is very nice to have when working daily in an industrial setting.  Made by Rockport, and selling for a reasonable $100, these leather shoes have  a steel toe, electrical hazard protection, and the essential slip and oil resistant sole. Oh, and they look good, too!

For myself, 2013's best product was the funny old solid maple rocker I got for $15 that I use every. single. day.

Last year, my favourite purchase was a beautiful and LARGE tryptich print of salmon I got (again) for $15 (thrift stores are so wonderful!), but the best product was the fantastic Daylight Foldi led light that can be powered by battery, usb from the computer, or off plain old 110ac in the wall.  It folds up, comes with a carrying bag, and is deLIGHTfully portable, allowing me phenomenal light when I need it, even while out on our boat for a cruise.  HIGHly recommend these lights.

There are many other purchases I have loved the past fifteen years - a red couch, a marvelous little handmade black walnut cabinet that holds my stone fetish collection, some dvds that continue to give me great pleasure, and so MANY wonderful additions to my art supplies.  I have no idea what 2015 will bring, of the abundance that will certainly arrive, or which will be the stand-outs, but I look forward to it all.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Easing the Heartbreak

Since age 17, I have dealt with Psoriasis.  The past fifteen years, exacerbated by two separate chronic autoimmune diseases, the psoriasis turned especially nasty.  When I went in for treatment at the beginning of the year, I had three of the five types of psoriasis, plus psoriatic arthritis - a form in which the disease invades the bone.

I was a real mess, and totally miserable.  But I got very, very lucky in landing a doctor who really cares - a HEALER.  She fought for me with the insurance company and I was granted entry to the impossibly magical world of Humira, a drug that costs, on AVERAGE about $3,000 a month.  And from my point of view, it's worth every penny.

What Humira does, basically, is inhibit my T-cells, the very thing that is responsible for the cellular malfunction of my body.  Essentially, my skin cells reproduce at a MAD rate, which is what causes the piling up and sloughing of skin that is psoriasis.  Of course that means I'm at considerably increased risk of infections, which makes shopping, traveling, anyplace with crowds a little riskier than it is for most of you.

But here's the reason I'm telling you all this - the effect of this drug goes way, WAY beyond the physical aspects.  And the physical aspects are considerably more horrific than just bad skin.  Psoriasis has been linked in more recent years to systemic inflammation and systemic metabolic disorders, including cardiovascular ones that affect the heart.  Studies indicate that the more severe the manifestation of psoriasis, the greater the risk one has of developing Cardiovascular Disease.  So believe when I tell you I am beyond grateful for Humira.  As I told the Dermatologist "It's fucking miraculous!"  She told me, through tears of joy, "You are the reason I decided to go specialise in Dermatology." My skin is totally clear for the first time in 45 years, and I can't stop running my hands over it just for the amazing sensations I haven't even been ABLE to feel in all that time.

However it's not the physical, but the psychological part of the healing that has taken place I want to share with you.

Over the years, I learned a lot about patience by fielding all the questions and comments about my skin.  "What did you DO to yourself!?" "How did you get burned?" "What's wrong with you?" "Does it itch/hurt/burn?"  or "Oh my friend had that, but she took ___ and it went away." "You know that's caused by not taking good enough care of yourself, right?" "I don't know why you don't get that fixed?" or my favourite "Ewww...stay away from me, I don't want to get that!"  *sigh*  For the record, psoriasis is NOT contagious, and there IS no cure, only treatment, most of which I have tried.  I learned to deal with uninformed (a much nicer word than ignorant) comments over the years, in the process educating folks along the way, but the hardest thing to deal with has always been the stares.  I understand, I really do.  Different draws our eye, and anything that looks like a wound is possibly dangerously different, and thus acts like a strong magnet to eyes.  This is a very basic, instinctual safeguard we have built in, we are programmed to immediately recognise different and react appropriately.  To avoid the glances and outright stares, I learned to hide my skin with clothing.  I could easily hide the patches on my torso and my legs with clothing I normally wore, but my arms could only be hidden by long sleeves. I spent the past 45 years wearing long sleeves, even in the heat of 30 Texas summers.  Yeah...not a lot of fun, but at least it avoided the stares and constant explanations.

Medieval medical practitioners located the
problem with psoriasis in the brain, of course.
Another time I'll talk about other psychological aspects; intimate knowledge I am just becoming aware of as I live each new day with smooth skin.  It's enough for you to know that I am sitting here, typing this while wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, something I haven't worn since about 1980.  I actually went to the grocery wearing a three-quarter sleeved blouse the other day!  Every day, I automatically reach for something from my closet that will cover me to the wrist, and I struggled not to look only at long-sleeved garments while out shopping with a friend recently.  That same friend later reminded me to change into something short sleeved when I complained of being hot, a solution that simply hadn't occurred to me.  I'm finding it profoundly difficult to get used to the idea that I can wear anything but long sleeves, but I'll get there.  Besides, it means I'll need some new clothes, and that's carrot enough for this girl!

If you or someone you know has psoriasis or would like more information about psoriasis, or if you'd like to help fund the ongoing efforts in finding better treatment, even possibly finding a *gasp* a cure, a good place to start is the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

29 Faces in February

Last July(ish), I started a project.  One face a day for a year.  So when I saw the 29 Faces in February project, I thought I'd join in the fun, sharing some of the faces that are slated for my book.

So let's get started!  Here's Face No. 1, named Barbra for what I hope are obvious reasons. :-)
watercolour, 3.5x2.5"

Be sure to check out all the other artist's, too, and come back here tomorrow for another face...
29 Faces in February

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Black Christmas

Christmas.  Expectations.  It all comes down to expectations.

I grew up with the idea that Christmas was magic.  I believed in Santa Claus until I was 8, at which time my mother burst my bubble by telling me I was stupid to still believe when I clearly SHOULD know Santa was she and my father.  I remember the wave of terror that washed over me at her pronouncement.  The possibility of magic had just been completely stripped from me.  After two continuous years of traveling the world and seeing the possible horrors of life, after eight years of fairly constant abuse at the hands of my parents, and after being abandoned by the one person who purported to love me (my sister) four years earlier, I was suddenly and utterly bereft of hope that there was a beneficent being at The North Pole dedicated to my happiness. Instead, I was suddenly and utterly under the power of my Mad Mother and my Enabler Father who had his own brutish issues.  And as my father believed all child-rearing decisions should be left to the woman, I knew that any Christmas joy I might henceforth have must be gleaned by cozening the favour of my pathologically narcissistic and exceedingly capricious mother.  With her words "Oh come're not know your father and I give you the presents. There's no Santa Claus" I knew, in the twinkle of an eye and nod of her head that I was truly and royally SCREWED.

Christmas, as with all things at my parent's house, was fraught with rules.  We decorated the tree together; Bing Crosby and Perry Como on the stereo, my father wiring the lights on the tree and the angel on top, my mother placing the very old and delicate ornaments on the uppermost branches, the three of us adding the rest of the ornaments, and then turning off all the lights and just sitting and looking at it every night.   There was no touching of presents - let alone hefting or shaking, no sneaking peeks at the clearly announced hiding places - if caught, the gift would be taken away forever, no being alone in the room with the tree and gifts - ever, one gift of my mother's choosing was to be opened on Christmas Eve (always a robe or slippers), Lionel Barrymore's performance of A Christmas Carol - complete with truly terrifying sound effects - was played on the record player just before bed. Christmas morning, no entering the room with the tree until the parents were up (they were to be allowed to sleep in) and breakfast was carried in on a tray, and on and on and on. There were rules about the order and manner of  package opening, about noting the giver and item so thank you notes could be written, about how one expressed proper appreciation, etc.  And compounding the insanity, there were always piles, mounds, veritable MOUNTAINS of presents, driving my lust and desire up and up and up.  I used to get so intensely anxious that by the time Christmas Day arrived, I'd throw up, over and over, until the afternoon.

I took all these rules VERY seriously.  Again, because I knew if they were violated, I would have Christmas taken away.  With my mother, the bottom line was 'something you care about can be always taken away from you, forever.'  I credit that cruelty, in part, with my propensity for hoarding any treasure I can get my hands on.  My need to control adds up to an enourmous hoard that overwhelms me and weighs me down.

In terms of Christmas expectations, all those rules set up a situation that no one else in my life could or would ever manage to match.  And although I really do understand on an intellectual level that I neither need nor really even want mountains of gifts or all the structured false glitter my mother created, emotionally I crave it.  And because it almost never even comes close, I am emotionally crushed by the disappointment. A strange Stockholm Syndrome of sorts - please give me the overwhelming intensity of the very thing that essentially destroys me.  Really twisted.

Yesterday was especially bleak.  Because of the family project the Christmas Tree represents to me, I expect my partner to join in.  But V grew up in a house where he wasn't allowed to touch the ornaments or lights, etc. - it was a job his mother did alone, and then V was married to someone who didn't want anyone else to participate in the decorating, thus cementing his total exclusion and closing the door on any possibility of pleasure he might gain from the process. And if HE's not really into the tree and all the decorations, it's simply too much work to just do for myself.  Maybe if I lived alone, I would, but since I have someone to share it with, and he doesn't care, why bother?

And then there was the present he gave me.  He made me a bag to carry my knitting in, something I asked him if he could do about a month or so ago, giving him a design for features and size, etc..  It's a good size and shape, is a lovely cream canvas colour with hunter green trim, has some of the features I was hoping to include (pockets on the inside of the bag to hold various textile tools, an attached inner bag with drawstring to hold the yarn and project, a smooth grommet in the drawstring bag allowing the yarn to feed through so it won't get dirty or tangled), and it has a good reinforced bottom and an extra coloured layer so that any dirt will show less.  We need to create some different handles and a closure method, too, but all in all, it's really terrific.  Still, I KNEW he was making it, and even had seen the cloth.  So on Christmas morning, when I gave him my meager pile of wrapped packages, he handed me the bag he'd made.  Unwrapped and wrinkled, he just handed it to me.  That was the sum total of his gifts.  Now I KNOW we're beyond strapped for money.  I KNOW that. But I also know that I managed to come up with presents for him over the course of the year...including spending the little lump of money I've been scraping together over the past months on a new pair of good shoes and a pair of work pants that are due to arrive on Jan 4.
I don't mean to sound so ungrateful about the effort V put into the bag. I really do like it a lot, and look forward to using it. I feel so selfish and childish to be upset about not receiving presents, but the truth is, it feels as though he doesn't care about me.  The truth is, V does care about me, but he doesn't care about Christmas or presents or any of it, and because of that, it feels as though he's neglecting me, which is not good at all.   I don't really blame him, per se, I just feel hurt, really, really hurt.   I guess I've always hoped my mother would be proved wrong, that there really IS a Santa Claus, but at this point I feel as though I should just throw all my Christmas decorations away and turn my back on one more piece of Life, and that's a final possibility of Magic destroyed.

I hate Christmas.