Sisu

In approximately six months I will be 54 years old.

Yesterday, I got an invitation in the mail from the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) to join up – just $16 for a year’s membership – complete with a couple of fake cards for me to “keep in my records.” If I pay them some money, they’ll send me my real AARP cards and I can be a bona fide card-carrying member, eligible to receive their magazine and get all sorts of great discounts and deals.

Cool, right? Except I’m only 53 and a half, guys. I’m … I’m not a senior citizen!

My late grandparents were true senior citizens, complete with wrinkles, too much perfume, gray hair and big ears. My mother is a genuine senior citizen. She’s 77 and a half, very healthy and honestly, she looks no more than 60 to me. She has a great figure. My Dad was a senior, but he looked a lot younger than he was, too. He’d have been 82 last month if he hadn’t died from a freak bump on the head in 2005. He was basically healthy as a horse, strong and active, played golf several times a week, and had been on blood thinners for many years because of heart problems. He’d survived two separate heart valve replacements over the course of 20 years. But when he bumped his head that day, it caused a massive bleed into his brain, thanks to the coumadin. His time was up. Even almost five years after his death, it still shocks me.

So what is it, exactly, that makes us officially old? That letter from the AARP?

See, in my mind I’m the same person I was when I was 10: I’m gifted with a vivid, visual imagination that manifests itself most often in writing and drawing. I’m blonde and blue-eyed; rather tongue-tied and uncomfortable in social situations; I’m a gawky, average-sized person who loves animals and birds and star-gazing; and I’m smart, even if I’m terrible at arithmetic. I’m a whole lot tougher and braver than I look. I can be aggravatingly stubborn. I’m empathetic, loving, forgiving to a fault and compassionate, and I’m never quite convinced that I’m good enough. At anything.

That was me at 10 and it’s still me four decades, a few years and six months later. Sure, I’ve learned a lot since I was a child. Some of the lessons were very hard, but I wouldn’t change anything I did or didn’t do, looking back. I’m wiser than I was 10 years ago and a whole lot wiser than I was 30 years ago. I like me.

The most important thing I’ve learned is that I will never stop learning and will never, ever know everything, even though I did when I was 20.

I’ll concede that my body has changed. I can’t do some of the physical things I once could. I’ve had rheuma since I was 31 – practically a child! – and age has nothing to do with that. I have crinkles at the corners of my eyes and after losing 50 pounds last year, I discovered crepey skin on my neck and hands that hadn’t been there before because it was all puffed up with fat. This year, my hands started looking old to me, which is rather disconcerting, but they’re still good hands. I find gray hair not on my head but in my eyebrows, of all places. The still-blonde hair on my head is falling out and thinning alarmingly, it’s true. That’s not because I’m old, though. It’s just a side-effect of one of my rheuma meds.

And yes, even moderate exercise tires me out quite a lot faster than it used to. Once again, I blame that on RA, the bugger. Being physically un-fit doesn’t help, either. If I was fitter – and I’m determined that I will be, soon – I’ll bet I can run and jump just like the 10-year-old me once did. What fun that will be! Really, all it will take is some steady exercise, another 30 pounds of weight loss, and a whole lot of imagination. Those first two will be a real challenge, but the last will be dead easy for me.

As of today, I’m four pounds lighter on my feet than I was at this time last week. I feel better overall. My pants aren’t as tight. Yes, there’s a price. I didn’t get to eat pizza and I spent a fair number of days after walking quite sore and loose-jointed. But it’s already getting easier.

In the previous post, I linked to a man and his thoughts about healing, incurable illness, disability and living well. He’s a year older than I am. He’s got good Finnish blood and sisu* running in his veins, just like I do, except he has a bit more of the first. We’re dead even on the second. He’s lived his whole life with a disability – he’s blind – but he lives well both because of it and in spite of it. He likes the word “tempered” when it comes to describing himself. He knows he’s incredibly tough and resilient, his strength of body and mind forged in the fires of personal hardship. He has never allowed his disability slow him down much; instead he’s honed his talent with imagination and words into utterly exquisite prose and poetry. Stephen Kuusisto inspires me and others all over the world to do the same.

My body is getting older, but my mind remains very young. They’re both tempered. It’s a good thing.

*Sisu is a Finnish word I learned as a child (one of the very few Finnish words that survived from my great-grandmother, who emigrated to Canada from Finland as a very young woman. I was told it meant, basically, perseverance. Wikipedia goes further, though. Sisu, loosely translated, “means strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. The literal meaning is equivalent in English to “having guts”, and the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and the sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu.”

“Tempered” vs. “healed”

Writer, poet and teacher Stephen Kuusisto has a wise and fascinating post up about disability and healing. He says:

… Principle One: sometimes it’s crucial to break the rules. Principle Two: We can’t always be healed but we can live well.

… We are all hoping to “get well” when we are fighting an illness or a disability. I recently attended a conference on writing and “healing” and heard lots of literary writers talking about how important their creative work was in terms of “healing” from illness. What was fascinating was the way every one of those writers assumed the easy use of “healing” or “being healed” as being analogous to the purpose behind human creativity. This is an old fashioned idea that many otherwise sensible people are still attracted to. Who would want to argue against this idea? Isn’t the goal of every therapeutic encounter to be healed?

Well no, not always. People who have disabilities or who are enduring an intractable illness are often faced with a different challenge, one that defies healing but which requires us to think about being well just the same. As a teacher with a disability who is increasingly researching the ways that culture influences our ideas about “ability” and “disability” I have come to prefer the old metallurgical term “tempering” to “healing” because it suggests that we are getting stronger without denoting a complete physical transformation.

Not every disability can be healed. I learned long ago that being “incurable” and being well are possible. But don’t go looking for this anomaly in the rule book. In effect what you need to do is break the rules that have long been established for how to think of being well. I am for instance the best blind sailor in my family. Never mind that I’m the only blind sailor in my family. I did in fact teach my sighted wife how to dock a boat. There’s no rule book for this.

Go read. It’s thought provoking and inspires attitude.

Update: In other news, yet another “late season” storm is blowing through right now. It’s cold and raining poodles and Persians out there. Really, really windy, too. It’s screaming around the eaves and making my big (really big) wind chime sing. And, I saw a poor little female hummingbird get blown away, literally, a little while ago. I hope she survives the gale!

With the drastic change in the weather comes an increase in the intensity of my hand and wrist pain, which is why I chose to link to Mr Kuusisto’s post today, along with the fact that it’s an excellent one and I love his writing and poetry. Doesn’t hurt that he’s a fellow Fin, either. He looks so much like my late grandmother it’s almost unreal. Masculine version, of course …

Time for a paraffin hand-bath. Thanks for visiting!

Sunday in the garden

Today was Work in the Garden Day.

The mounds of soil to the left of the existing raised beds has to be moved to make room for the new ones. Once they're built, all that soil will go in them and we can start planting this season's vegetable garden. Whew!

OK, it was more like Work Up the Gumption to Work in the Garden Day. Breezy and 72 degrees. Sunny. I spent the morning washing, drying and hanging up clothes, since this was a chore that needed to be done, too, but I kept thinking about those rotting bales of straw from last year’s garden and how I needed to get out there and break them apart and start raking them over the weed-whacked Back 40.

This was because every time I look out the family room windows, I see the lumber Mr Wren bought and treated just prior to the last big Late Season Storm, sitting there, waiting to be turned into raised garden beds. Mr Wren was out, volunteering at the local Home and Garden Show with the Master Gardeners, something he’s done for the last three days. I knew he’d be pretty tired when he got home, but with yet another Late Season Storm scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday this week, if we’re going to get those beds done before mid-May, Stuff  Has To Happen.

So I put on my gardening jeans, my sleeveless T-shirt (might be nice to get my Vitamin D from the sun instead of a bottle of pills for a change, thinks I), slathered on SPF 50 sunblock (doesn’t that make the whole sun/Vit. D thing moot?), found my gardening gloves, stuck my gardening hat on my head, grabbed Finny and out we went.

I had two hours until Cary was to get off work, and she was making noises about wanting to go perambulating with me again. I figured I could get quite a bit done in two hours if I hustled and still have enough energy to walk two miles.

Heheheh. No… but I did get all those straw bales broken up. Turns out that after a long autumn, and a very wet winter and spring, they’re mostly rotted inside, some of them nearly into lovely black compost.

So much for actually raking the straw over the weeds. Most of it is un-rakeable. But a lot of it can be mixed into the soil to continue the process of breaking down into more rich soil, so now it’s a matter of getting it all out of the way so that the beds can actually be built. And, as the weeds come back, I figure weed-whack them down again.

Those weeds are my bane. They’re mostly foxtails, and once they put up their namesakes-like seedheads, not only do they reproduce themselves times several hundred per weed, the foxtails also get easily caught in Logan’s thick fur, his ears, his pads and maybe even his nose. The nose disaster hasn’t actually happened yet, but it has to our neighbor’s Irish Wolfhound. Cost her a fortune to get that foxtail removed from his gigantic snout, and I can only imagine the awful discomfort it must have caused him.

Why not spray the Back 40 with Round-Up, you ask? That stuff kills weeds dead! And so it does, but Mr Wren is Earth-friendly to a fault. His normally gentle lips curl into a scary snarl when such options are aired; he despises commercial, chemical herbicides and insecticides with an ardor that is truly something to see. So the solution has always been to simply weed-whack two or three times each spring, summer and fall, a hot, sticky, itchy, hellacious, two-day job. He did it. I provided band-aids, iced beverages and encouragement.

He can’t do it anymore, though. Age, osteoarthritis and degenerative disk disease prevent the kind of Supergardener escapades he was once capable of. And so I, with my own limitations from rheumatoid arthritis, ponder the task.

I think Finny was just as happy to rest today, too.

I worked for my two hours in the sun this afternoon. It felt great. The hours flew by, and by the time they were up, I was draggin’ tail again and my hands were throbbing ominously. I came inside, Finny in tow, and called Cary to see if she still wanted to walk. I was prepared to do it, really I was, but she said she’d changed her mind. Work had been frustrating and difficult (she does the production on the Monday edition of the local newspaper alone on Sundays) and while she’d met the deadline, she didn’t have much oomph left in her. I was just as glad. She might have had to carry me for the last mile.

I took another hot shower and washed the dirt and sweat away, then got started on dinner, using some spring onions and leeks that survived from last season (against all expectations) in a nice spaghetti sauce. The pasta was spinach and cheese tortillini. It wasn’t the wholegrain type (bad Wren!), but I figured I’d eat of them lightly and load up on the leftover beet-and-grapefruit-and-spring mix lettuce salad from yesterday.

And that’s what I did. Now Mr Wren is out in the garden, clearing space for the two raised beds. Each will be 16 feet long and five wide, and he’s making them 24 inches high so neither of us will have to bend much to tend them. He’s tired from his volunteer work earlier in the day, so I don’t expect him to get too far tonight. But that’s all right. We can get a lot done tomorrow (I’m ever optimistic), let the storm blow through again on Tuesday and Wednesday, and get back to garden-building on Thursday after a good rest. I’ll walk with Finny again tomorrow, too. And soon, we’ll start planting this season’s summer garden.

I can almost taste those sun-warmed Roma tomatoes now.

Wren’s domestic adventures

In the previous post, I wrote in the third update that I really, really wanted a hot bath, but that I’d have to settle for a hot shower instead (we have no bathtub; that’s another story) while the beets I’d roasted for a yummy salad cooled off enough to peel and cube.

I trudged into the shower. The steaming- hot water, falling from the wide rainfall-shower head, felt simply fabulous on my tuckered out, sore old self. OK, not as good as sinking into a deep bathtub full of hot water would have felt, but it was a definite close second.

I’d bought a jar of Neutrogena Energizing Citrus Body Scrub a few days ago on a whim; it’s made with sesame oil and granules of sugar, so they dissolve and don’t end up floating forever in the ocean or sludge up in the ground water, unlike the plastic sand that’s in a lot of other body scrubs these days. Have you ever heard of anything so completely, ecologically destructive and mindless? Check out Dr. Charles’ post on this subject when you get a minute. You’ll be appalled. Really.

But I digress.

I slathered on the citrus body scrub. It smelled wonderful, like an exploding lemon. And it felt good as I scrubbed my skin with it. Mmm. Made my skin nice and soft, too. Must be the sesame oil, I thought to myself. What a nice idea.

I turned to rinse off and my bare foot sliiiiiid on the oily residue that was now all over the shower’s tile floor, almost turning me into a shower casualty. Fortunately, I caught myself, but I was sure surprised. It was like standing on an oil slick. And not only that, my skin was like an oil slick, too. I couldn’t rinse the stuff off.

So I grabbed the bottle of  Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap. Sure, I’d smell like a lemony peppermint stick by the time I was done, but surely it would be better than the rather ripe, eye-watering, nose-hair-curling fragrance I’d been carrying around since my walk? I set to it. I love Dr. Bronner’s. It’s a wonderfully pure castille hemp soap, it cleanses gently and it never leaves any sort of residue. Plus, I have a feeling it could clean motor oil off garage cement. And the peppermint leaves you feeling all tingly …

Dr. Bronner’s got a little of the sesame oil off my skin, but not all of it. I poured some more of it onto the shower brush I keep on the window ledge for cleaning the tiles and scrubbed the floor so I wouldn’t go arse over teakettle when I got out – and so the next person into the shower also wouldn’t go unexpectedly flying. No go. I’m going to have to hang a sign on the glass shower door that says “Danger! Slick as cat sh*t in here!” and tackle that shower stall with Comet tomorrow. Sigh.

Finally, I was done. I dried off, climbed into clean jammies and slippers, dried my hair and went back to the kitchen, ready to take on the roasted beets.

I hadn’t tried the salad I’d be using them in before. I’d found Tracey’s recipe for it on her blog, “I’m Not Superhuman.” She’s a young health writer who has terrible, painful knees – and she’s a very good cook. Her recipes are always simple, out of the ordinary, healthy and really tasty.

You can find the salad, if you’re interested, at the link above. It involves roasted beets, cut-up sections of pink grapefruit, soft goat cheese, and arugula. The grocery store I went to didn’t have arugula (El Dorado County is one of the few staunch Republican enclaves left in California – and you know how Republicans feel about arugula!) so I got the spring mix (I think they sneak some of that lefty liberal arugula into it).

Tracey’s recipe called for a single beet (the recipe makes enough for two). I was going to get two of them, to feed the four of us. But the store I went to for the ingredients only had tiny beets, each about the size of an undernourished tangerine. I’d never seen such small beets before, but I went ahead and got five. I figured that would be enough (assuming the young’uns in the household would actually eat the salad. Ew, vegetables!).

The idea is to roast the beets until they’re soft enough for a fork to slide into easily, then cool them, peel them and cube them up for the salad. Easy, right?

Wrong. Not tonight. Those peels just didn’t want to come off those little beets. I finally managed it, but not without much cursing and staining my sesame oil-softened fingers and the cutting board a beautiful, deep crimson. Good thing I keep that Dr. Bronner’s handy in the kitchen, too! It de-stained my hands, but the cutting board remains pinkish. It’s sort of pretty.

So. I got the salad made. Drizzled vinegar and oil over it, as the recipe said to.

And then I broiled two nice salmon fillets. I’d gotten them at Trader Joe’s – frozen, wild Alaskan salmon in individual packets – a while back. I prefer fresh salmon when I can get it (and I do love that fish – it’s like eating life), but frozen is good enough in a pinch. Cheaper, too.

Sprinkled the filets lightly with garlic salt, ground some organic citrus seasoning over ‘em and stuck ‘em under the broiler. They were done in no time.

Finally! I could eat dinner! And I was so hungry. All this peregrination for miles has given me quite an appetite. Grizzlies fresh from their winter hibernation have nothing on me.

Well, the salad was as delicious as it sounded. Thanks, Tracey! It was worth waiting all that time for the beets to cool off, and worth the hassle of peeling them. The mix of flavors is exquisite. The only change I’ll make next time (and I will make this again) is to use crumbled feta cheese rather than the soft, mild, creamy goat cheese I bought. I think the sharp, salty tang of the feta will be delicious combined with the sweet and sour of the beets and grapefruit, and the bitter of the spring mix lettuces.

But the salmon … sniff … was simply awful. I can’t remember exactly when I bought it, but either it had been in my freezer way too long or they flash-froze old fish. It didn’t smell bad, coming out of the package, but it sure tasted nasty. Bleh. I couldn’t eat it. Logan (our elderly dog) loved it, though.

To make up for the salmon, I had a big, extra helping of the salad. And to console myself, two sublime squares of dark chocolate for dessert. And now, I’m going to toddle off to bed. Life is good even when it resembles a Three Stooges episode. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone!

Note: By the way, no one has paid me a penny to hawk their products in this post. I just wanted to share.


Moving right along

So, yesterday Finny and I walked again. My hips were feeling almost normal.

Sounds so mundane, doesn’t it? We walked. Maybe I should find a new word for it. “Trekked” isn’t quite right; to me it connotes an overland journey filled with obstacles, like tall hills to climb and malodorous swamps to wade through. While we did gain a few hundred feet in altitude on the outward walk up the trail, it was all downhill and swamp-less on the way back. A funny-Finny side story: Upon our return to the trailhead, I made a beeline to the Mosquito Station ladies’ room, one of those largish, tiled, single public restrooms equipped with a commode and sink. I’d no sooner sat down when Finny, wandering around, calmly lifted his leg in the corner.

“Finny! No!” I yelled. He looked sheepish.

Yes, I wiped it up. Sigh.

Anyway. Walking. Yes. Another word. How about “tramping?” That sounds a bit British; it makes me think of wild, rainy moorland, Wellies and stiles over which one must scramble. Not exactly what we were doing, considering the El Dorado Trail is nicely paved, stile-less and (yay!) it wasn’t raining. In fact, it was beautiful. Sunny and warm. I got sweaty.

March. Stroll. Peregrinate. Parade. Ramble. None of these work perfectly. You couldn’t call what I did yesterday “power walking” – I wasn’t walking very fast – but “strolling” isn’t what I did, either. Nor did we “parade.” But I did start “marching”  after 20 minutes or so; I was getting tired, and rather than dwell on it, I reverted back to my old-time trick, calling cadence beneath my breath so I could just cover ground without forever wondering when I was going to discover that small mile-marker painted on the pavement. HUP-two-three-four. LEFT, left, left-right-left. “The ants go marching one-by-one, hurrah, hurrah…” Oddly, Finny seemed to like my soft singing. He stopped pulling on his leash (my achy left hand thanks you, little guy!) and just trotted alongside me.

Then I saw the marker. Somehow I’d missed the one marking a mile. Instead, we’d shlepped a mile and a half. All uphill. Sheesh. No wonder I was getting tired.

I know, I know. That’s not much distance for those ridiculously fit people who jog daily or ride a bike for exercise. But for me, a mile and a half is pretty decent, particularly as I only started perambulating again recently.

“Good enough, Fin,” I said with relief, and we turned around. Actually, I’d planned only to do a mile out and back, thinking I’d give my cranky hips a break before trying for more distance again. But doing that unexpected extra half-mile made me feel sort of proud, too.

I sang “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” on the way back. And more left-right-left chanting. We encountered skateboarders, speeding bikers, a mom and her pigtailed little girl on a tandem bike, several inward-looking joggers with earbuds and iPods engaged, lots of other dogs and their people, and a very old couple who were literally inching along, hand-in-hand. It was good.

And by the time we made it back to the restroom and the car, we’d racked up three more miles, something over nine miles for the week thus far. Today, my daughter wants to go along. She hasn’t done any marching, strolling, trekking or striding for a long time, so we’re going to take it easy and do just two miles today. Still, when it’s done, I can say I walked nearly 12 miles since last Sunday. And a week from today, I’ll be doing the Sacramento Arthritis Walk — three miles at Land Park with a crowd of others, raising money to help find better treatments and a cure.

Now that’s not bad for a chubby, middle-aged woman with RA. I’m smiling.

Update: Breakfast/lunch today (I didn’t eat until 11:30 a.m.): Sandwich made of two slices wholegrain bread; half a Roma tomato; 1 slice Tillamook medium cheddar; a handful of spring mix lettuce; 1 tbsp. mayo. Half a Ruby Red grapefruit, in sections. 1 luscious square of Dove dark chocolate. 1 cup of coffee made with half decaf and half regular coffee, a spoon of Splenda and a tbsp. of condensed milk.

I’m full. And I’ve lost two pounds since Monday!  :o)

Update the second: The Finster and I walked (daughter got busy playing a video game and opted out) a mile, at which point my tail was seriously draggin’. So we turned around. I accomplished my two-mile mission. Now, dinner is started … we’re having broiled salmon filets and a salad made of roasted, cooled beets, grapefruit sections, goat cheese and spring salad greens. And then I’ll settle down and watch a movie. When I wake up, I’ll go to bed. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Update the third: I haven’t had my dinner yet because the !@#&*!! roasted beets took so long to roast and now they have to cool. And I’m grieving for my lost bathtub. I wanna long, hot soak in the tub. I neeeeed a long, hot soak in the tub! Oh well. I guess I’ll take a hot shower instead. The family will thank me. They’ve been waving lit sticks of incense after me when I pass. I guess I really did get sorta perspire-y today…