Thursday, May 30, 2013

Young Care Givers - Painting the Picture

While sitting in our car, waiting for my husband to get some high efficiency detergent from our least favourite store in the world, I was listening to CBC Radio. Playing was a documentary about young care givers, Care for the Young.

After two minutes, my eyes were filled with tears. The story was my life.

My precious baby boy, affectionately nicknamed TroubleMaker, is a young care giver and I had absolutely no idea that he was. Selfishly, not once (until today), have I ever considered the lasting impact my chronic health problems have on him. The extra demands placed on him, the level of commitment we expect from him (and to the family) and the impact seeing his mother always in pain and unable to actively participate in his life. This list goes on, of course, of the ways my health affects him and his life.

I have rheumatoid arthritis, I was diagnosed when I was 31 and although I wasn't 'too sick' when we decided to start our family, I didn't fully understand the impact my illness would later come to have on my young son. My decision - that's what hurts. He didn't ask to be born to a sick mother, I made that choice, thinking that I was healthy at the time, not realizing that my level of health may be fleeting. At the time, I took one anti-rheumatic drug and some ibuprofen and I was enjoying good health.

Five years later, I'm on five different anti-rheumatics and daily doses of anti-inflammatories and this just keeps me at a functional level. Couple that with my degenerative back disorder (two spinal fusions and counting) and depression and I am the furthest thing from healthy. I wouldn't choose this for anyone but I chose this for Brennan.

"Brennan, can you help Mommy?"
"Brennan, I need you to help me."
"Brennan, we need you to be extra helpful the next while I'm not doing so well."
"Brennan, I need you to be a big boy for me and do one more thing."

Did I mention he's five years old? He's a CHILD. He should be doing child like things.

Like riding bikes with me. Or chasing a soccer ball around the field with me. Or laying on the floor playing monster trucks or a board game or roughhousing with me.

But he can't, because I can't.

Instead he helps me get dressed. He helps me comb my hair. He helps me put my slippers and shoes on. He helps cook. He helps clean. He carries the 10kg bag of flour to the counter when we bake. He does it all, mostly, without complaint. 

Listening to Jenna's story, my heart hurt for Brennan and for all the young children who care for a sick or ailing parent. It's not an easy path they face, even if it is the only normal they've ever known.

I'm going to write more about young caregivers so please check back next Thursday for the next part of this series.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

We-Design-Day: Designing for your life (and debunking bad design)

Since being laid up sick since last summer, I've not done much design or DIY work but I have been reading a fair amount and I am continually amazed at some of the "want to be design" advice I see being circulated.

 photo 20110223_ColorPatches_0022_edited-1-1.jpg
Now, it is no secret that I am a firm believer in marrying 'ability' with education. To be able to be called an interior designer, one must meet a strict set of educational and practical experience requirements. Many (most) of the popular articles, tips and such are being shared by decorators (not designers); decorators have a very valid place in the architectural world and I've worked with many good ones. I am about the technical side of interior design so often pairing my technical ability with a decorator is a good fit because interior styling isn't really my forte. Who does it bug? Mostly us designer types and poor unsuspecting people who hire designers but whose renovations fall short or expectations or fail to meet legal requirements.

That said, one of the other obvious signs of this is seeing articles like this one (pinned all over Pinterest) giving "Fifteen Lifehacks for Your Tiny Bathroom".

Now, it should be revealed that I have a tiny bathroom. A really, tiny, tiny bathroom. The en suite on our master bedroom measures an enormous 6'x10'. In this space, we have a small vanity, toilet and stall shower. It is the kind of bathroom that two people cannot be in (but in all honestly, I don't want to share the bathroom with my husband). There isn't wall space for art, towel bars or towel storage. Like I said, two people are hard pressed to fit in the space. We can't open the shower stall door without bumping the wall and if you lean to your left while seated on the toilet, you'll hit your head on the wall.

Looking at the pictures of this article, which I realize are meant to be applied to your own tiny bathroom and may actually only be suggested so that you can try to apply them in a small space, the bathrooms are huge, thus negating any potential credibility the article may have had. Some of the comments reflect that. To me, design, and sharing design, needs to be taught and shown in the light in which it's meant to be applied. This is how I approach design and I know not everyone does.

I can also tell you that a few of the suggestions put forth would not work in a small bathroom. Below is my unbiased, unsolicited opinion. (Number corresponds with the number in the article - the 'hacks' are applied to my own TINY en suite bath).

1. Apply a frame to a basic mirror: This wouldn't work in my small bath for two reasons: The first is it is a medicine cabinet (to provide a tiny bit of storage) and the second is because even if it was a flat mount mirror, the clearance around it wouldn't allow for more than a 1" wide "frame" and would end up throwing the proportion and scale of the space off by trying to crowd too many things into a small space.

2. Spice racks for holding necessities: Another "no go" because the I'd be forever banging my elbow on them and they'd interfere with the opening/closing of the medicine cabinet.

3. Coat hooks for towels: While this is a good suggestion, a small bathroom likely won't have the wall space to make the piece pictured actually work. There is only one wall where this *may* work in our en suite however the risk of me hitting my head on it every time I flipped my head over to put my towel on my head is higher and I wouldn't do it.
 photo Foyer1.jpg

4. Use small storage solutions: This was one of the things that inspired me to write this. Go take a look at the picture again and tell me if it will work. Understanding spatial relationships is a very big part of interior design. You'd never close the door - the little do-dads hanging on the door would bang into the crap sitting on the shelf (and likely the shelves themselves). The eyeliners - the door won't even close! There is less than 1/4 clearance between the door and the shelf... There is a reason medicine cabinets don't already have these kinds of things in place. Also, many of the doors used in bathrooms aren't metal - because you know, metal rusts when exposed to really damp conditions. Sticky strips might work to adhere them though, if you don't mind not closing your cabinet door.

5. Bobby pin strip: This would work. But from a purely aesthetic perspective, why would you want too? Stick them in decorative box, jar or other such thingy and display as useful art.

6. Second shower curtain rod: This is actually a very good idea and although it wouldn't work in my en suite (because the shower is a little less than 3' square and we're tall (I'm 5'11, my husband is 6'3)) in our small main bath, it might - but keep in mind that it still could be a slip hazard and a head bumping hazard (that's my inner safety representative speaking).

7. Shelf above door: Although in principle, this isn't a terrible idea, depending on the location of the door, this may not work or would throw off the symmetry of the room. Our door is mounted less than 2" from the wall so although I could place a shelf above it it may make the room appear lopsided. Furthermore, my door is 80" AFF, thus leaving only 16" for storage (assuming you've got 8' ceilings like me). I like the idea of storing my rolled towels up there, however, but I dislike dusting so I'm not sure I'd store anything that needed dusting.
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8. Create a Focal Point: This is a design concept that I've seen applied to bathrooms before and I think if your bathroom is of the right size, it would be fine to use (but not TWO focal points like the bathroom illustrated has - the 60's inspired mirrored sunburst and the vase on the table with the sticks in it - OH and what about the door the table is blocking? May we not need into that space at some point?) But I digress... In my 60 sq. ft. bare bones en suite, it would not. Anything that didn't belong in a bathroom or wasn't 100% necessary has very little point being in the room in the first place. I am not a fru-fru designer, however, so maybe it's just me. I dislike 'accessories' and stuff that needs maintenance. This is why I work in institutional design.

This is a long list so I'm going to end it here this week but do check back next week as I continue through the list and sort out reality from fantasy of the "Lifehacks" article. Thanks for stopping in!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Power of Music (my thank you to the Northern Pikes)

Years ago I read about the ability for music to heal; whether it be from depression or physical illness, I understood the connection between the two. In my teens, as a young, amateur musician, I felt the importance of that when dealing with my own issues. What I've come to realize in the past ten months is that music can also be a measure of the physical level of healing – from a basic biological healing to a more immeasurable brain/body connection.

Shyly snapped picture

In early August 2012, I learned my favourite band, the Northern Pikes, were set to play a small theatre in a suburb of Edmonton in early 2013. Feeling nostalgic, I immediately bought two great seats and started to flip through their catalogue of music. 

My happy thoughts of nostalgia were soon to be redirected inward as later in the month, I lost most of the use and strength in my right hand and arm due to a degenerative and rheumatic condition in my neck. The pain was extreme and my usual active life was reduced to almost nothing. House bound and in continual pain, my demeanor changed (enter FrankenB!tch), my health deteriorated and I found myself off work and facing another spinal surgery. Depression set in quickly and I was angry and hostile more frequently than I'd like to admit.

By Christmas, I'd began to lose feeling in my feet and the pain and weakness spread to my left hand and arm. Even more dejected and no closer to getting a surgery date, I settled in for a long, painful wait.

The man I'd leave my husband for (haha?)
February rolled around and we nearly forgot about the concert. Thankfully, I received an email reminder and we set about trying to decide if we should even go. The idea of spending a couple hours locked in a chair didn't seem like something I was ready to undertake! In the end, we hired a sitter – had the sitter cancel the morning of and again faced the decision of whether or not we should go. Mid morning, we decided and arranged for our niece to come and off we went!

As show time arrived, I sat in the audience mesmerized by just the instruments on the stage. The lights dimmed and my heard pounded. I grabbed my husband and I felt like a seventeen year old kid transported back in time to February 1991 when I saw the Pikes in concert the first time. When the boys walked out on the stage, I grabbed my husband, again, and professed my undying love for Bryan Potvin. The pain was erased, my body felt new and I was in the happiest head space I'd been in for six months.

Sitting in the little theatre, hearing the band play all the amazing songs they recorded, hearing them banter with one another and the audience changed my outlook and mindset. I knew as the concert drew to a close that I could survive this, I could get better, I could and would get past this health problem. The months of nothingness, depression and the loss of interest in everything had taken their tole but seeing the band I'd loved, admired and fawned over during my teen years spurred me forward in ways I never expected.

I came home energized and renewed. I dug out all my Northern Pikes CD's, ordered one I didn't have, got Bryan's solo work and even downloaded my first Itunes music (It's Good Life is not an easy CD to find – for under $100, that is)! Putting all the music in regular rotation, I started meditating to it, letting my imagination wander during the workouts I did with my physio therapist and letting my imagination again run free during my many sleepless nights.

Bass playing genius
All that beautiful music brought my creativity to life and I started writing again, something I'd not done in nearly twenty years (the obvious exception being my blog writing). In thirty two days, I'd completed my first novel length story (another first, although I'd written many, many stories in my youth, I'd never finished one) and had started on a second story.

It was about then I also decided to pick up my guitar – and this really is what the whole point of this tale is.

I'd played tons of music when I was younger, writing my own songs, playing in small bands – music was my life. As it does, life changed, I changed and my music took a back burner, eventually becoming a non-existent part of my life. In 2008, my husband bought me a new guitar and I started playing again. Due to many reasons, I didn't play much, but after the concert, hearing the music, I knew I needed to pick it up again.

Initially, my sessions were five minutes long, it's all I could manage as the pain was constant. Each day, for five or ten minutes, I played. Strumming the seven chords I could remember. Playing scales, playing bits of songs I remembered learning twenty years before.

The months of pain medications, neural inhibitors coupled with the weakness and loss of use of my arms, left me feeling clumsy and uncoordinated. 

A Google search found me the (sheet) music for Hopes Go Astray and I started playing along (fudging the Bm chord because it's not one of my seven). My playing was marred with missed chord changes, dropped (guitar) picks and muscle spasms that left me two lines behind but I tried and tried and by the week before my surgery date, I could play all the way through, although my strum patterns were often erratic and out of sync and I rarely finished the song with my pick in my hand.

On May 6, 2013, I had an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion at C5 to C7. This surgery was to erase all the problems of the past nine months. It was to get me off the meds that scrambled my brain, it was to restore my life, get me back to work, get me feeling and behaving like me. Two weeks post op and I wasn't feel particularly optimistic about the success of the surgery. The pain remained, the lack of coordination seemed ever present, the headaches hadn't dissipated, the loss of feeling hadn't gone away.

Best Canadian rock band - EVER
Feeling discouraged, I sat down after seeing my husband and son off on a bike ride and stared at my guitar. Did I dare even try? Did I need more proof I wasn't as good as I hoped? What if it hurt really badly? Could I make it worse?

Before I could think more about it, I went and got the guitar, plugged my Ipod into my ears and dug out the music. The song started and I readied myself, wondering what would happen when the first verse started.

Closing my eyes, I let the music transport me; I let the music take control and I found I could play! In fact, I could play well, much better than I had three weeks before! My strum patterns were as close to perfect as I could hope for, I experienced only minor muscle spasms and I did not drop the pick! Just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, I did it again and I did it even better!

After fishing the pick out of the body of the guitar, I realized that although I've been very wary of whether or not the surgery has corrected what it was supposed to, the Pikes music was a fantastic measure of the level of my healing! I've still got a long road ahead of me but having this tangible reminder of how far I've come has done wonders for pushing me further in my belief that I will get better!

When I reread this, I sound eerily like a crazy stalker lady and in some ways, I am. I've let a group of strangers, people I don't know, into a very personal part of my life and invited them to be an integral part of my healing process. Their music was as instrumental to my health care as my surgeon, physical therapist or my husband. A unwitting fan club cheering me on, letting me know I could get past it, I could get through it, I could get better – and when I didn't know if I could, I could get lost in their music.

So thank you, Don, Bryan, Jay and (former member) Merl for creating the music that made the past few months bearable and helped me measure how far I've come in my recovery. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

PS I've been debating whether or not I should share this post - it's very personal and it does make me sound like a crazy stalker lady. I am, but that't not really the point. I'm just intensely shy when it comes to sharing my feelings and if the best band in the world got wind of crazy old me, I'm sure I'd never be allowed to see them in concert again so don't tell them (unless it's going to get me a marriage proposal from a certain guitarist). ;)

PSS I'm kidding. Really. No, I'm not but now I'm deflecting and don't feel nearly as weird.
PSSS In case you are still reading and care, all pictures property of Barefoot Deliberations, 2013. They aren't great but I took them and am of the generation where snapping photos in a concert used to get you kicked out.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Guess who got head hunted?

That would be me, of course. It would be kind of odd to write about Bob from down the street being head hunted for a job.

I've been doing what I do for 10 years now and this is my first 'head hunt'. I was blown away - shaking, in fact, as I read the email. Absolutely, out of the blue, blown away by it.

As I said on my Facebook page, "I just got head hunted! This means that people who don't know me think I'm pretty awesome too."

It's my anniversary as well (seven years married but together for nearly 15) and I had an awesome night out with my husband. Dinner, coffee, relaxing. An amazing end to a pretty awesome day.

Thanks world, I owe you one (even if our illegal plumbing cost us another $1000 on top of the stupid expensive new HE laundry pair that is arriving tomorrow), you did good and I thank you.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Menu Plan Monday - May 20 - 26, 2013

Another week with Meals from the Freezer. We didn't consume all the meals as planned last week; I wasn't feeling too hot (there is a rumour that I may have been a little too anxious to get back on my feet and over did it just a little bit), so I ate soup and boys, more or less, fended for themselves. I seem to be better this week but I learned my lesson (I say that a lot) so I stop well before I feel tired because tired =  nausea which results in PAIN.

Monday: Burgers and chips (freezer)
Tuesday: Chicken and Mushroom Linguine
Wednesday: Sheperd's Pie (freezer)
Thursday: Fettuccine Alfredo
Friday: White Chicken Enchiladas with Green Chili Sauce  (freezer)
Saturday: Mom's Crockpot Ham and scalloped potatoes
Sunday: Easy (boneless) Hot Wings, veggies and dip

Sharing with the Org Junkie's Menu Plan Monday! Thanks for stopping in!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Menu Plan Monday - May 13 - 19, 2013

I kind of fell off the (planning) wagon, but only in bloggity blog land. I've actually got my menu planned through to the beginning of June. Having had surgery a week ago tomorrow, I wanted to be PREPARED. Being prepared, in my world, meant planning a menu and having food in the freezer. I had no idea how long I'd be in the hospital (was told 3 days but with Back Surgery #1 in 2003, I was told three and stayed eight) and I also didn't know what kind of shape I would be in (last surgery, due to complications, I was kind of a mess and after a few days at home, alone, I was shipped off to the (best) step Mom in the world (oh, my Dad was there too)) to recover because I couldn't be 'alone' (because I was a medical mess).

This time, I breezed in and out of the hospital (29.5 hours from the time I checked in until I checked out -  to say I was determined to get the H E double hockey sticks out of the hospital would be an understatement - I would have moved mountains to get OUT of there) and I am doing considerably better than the last time around (not having a staph infection will likely improve anyone's recovery) but knowing I have to put no thought into instructing the world's most awesome husband into preparing meals makes life better.

This week we have a few freezer meals and a few "simple to cook" foods (save for the weekend - it's the first Long Weekend of the summer and I'm living large). I'm also having issues swallowing (a side effect of the operation) so some of my meals will be replaced with soup - namely anything that can't be chewed with my neck brace on.

Monday: Beef Stroganoff with egg noodles (freezer)
Tuesday: Scrambled Eggs & toast
Wednesday: White Chicken Enchilada with Green Chili Sauce  (freezer - enchiladas only)
Thursday: (I forget - side effect of getting old)
Friday: Shepherd's Pie (freezer)
Saturday: (I forget - side effect of neural inhibitors)
Sunday: BBQ Steak and Gramma's Potato Salad

Sharing my meal planning awesomeness with the Org Junkie's Menu Plan Monday and Erin Branscom's Menu Monday and the world (or at least the 78 readers who usually frequent my menu - J.W. and L.P. - thanks for using all the computers in the shop to make me feel like people read me). :)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

(Almost) 36 Hours Post Op

Thirty six hours ago (well, technically, 32), I was being wheeled off to the operating room (give or take another 45 minutes). Now? I'm sitting at home in my easy chair with my Philadelphia Collar on. I was supposed to be in the hospital an extra day (I was to be released, pending no complications, tomorrow) however, I had such a horrible night with little to no sleep that I knew I could not, in any way, face another night in the hospital. I think if they had made me stay, I would have spent the night either crying my eyes out or wandering the streets because I'd run away.

It truly was one of the worst nights I'd ever spent in a hospital, keeping in mind my first back surgery resulted in an eight day stay, five infections and a few other unhappy experiences. Since I woke in the recovery room Monday afternoon, until 2pm this afternoon, I had a maximum of three hours sleep. That is a generous 'guesstimation' with at least 1.5 hours of that happening between 5am and 6:30am this morning. It was truly one of the worst experiences of my life. One I was so willing to not repeat, that I started in on the night nurse on how I was going home in the morning. When I saw of the doctors who was in on my surgery at 6:45am this morning, I'd told him I was going home. By 9am, I had everyone 'on board' with my departing the hospital early (even if I wasn't 100% sure myself if it was the right thing to do).

The surgery itself went well. I'm all fused where I'm supposed to be and I came out fine. I still haven't regained feeling in the places I lost it but was assured it could take as many as six months before it does return (if it returns). None of the concerns I had going in (like death, paralysis) came to fruition (obviously). None of the common side effects, like hoarse voice or loss of voice, happened - I, in fact, woke up talking (my husband is so happy about that).

I was in a ward room (this particular hospital does not do private or semi-private rooms) with three other patients who were suffering from various degrees of serious brain injury. It was a high-stress room with high needs patients. A night of constant alarms, yelling, snoring, more alarms, more yelling and a constant coming and going of hospital staff. I felt powerless and being an extremely light sleeper, it was impossible for me to sleep - even with earphones in and my music turned up.

It also meant that the nurse assigned to care for me also didn't get much opportunity to do that either - caring for upwards of 8 to 12 patients (most of whom were suffering brain injuries), it left me going long periods between pain medication dosages and without some basic care or vitals checks. I do not, in any way, blame the nurses - it just was simply overwhelming.

I'm doing okay - the pain is pretty tough sometimes but my schedule is a bit off too - tomorrow, I'll get back in line with meditating with music and see if that gets things straightened out. I'm much happier and comfortable here and now I'm on the other side to healing and getting back to normal!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Memories of Little Miss B - the ghosts in the mansion

This week was the first time ever that I'd been here, in the house or our condominium, without Tsarina when my husband wasn't here. Although this may not seem like a big deal, it was.

Looking less than impressed
One of Tsarina's bad habits was to yowl. When my husband was gone (he lived in a different city (for work) for almost six years) her behaviour was frequently terrible. She'd meow at all hours of the day and night, frequently, continuously and very, very loud. It was times like that where I could have cheerfully chucked her outside (she was strictly a house cat) and let her fend for herself. In her 13.5 years, she always made plays to escape: when I'd open the door and tell her to get the he-double hockey sticks out, she'd hide. 

Mysteriously, when I'd go out of town and my husband was home with her, she never said a word. Ever. 

In the end,  I chalked it up to her being a 'teenager'; at the time, she would have been the cat equivalent to being a teenager and as we all know, it's a child's mission to continuously drive their parents insane. 

The house seemed very quiet and empty with out my other half and our little princess. Every single time I went to check the mail, I looked up at her cat stand, expecting to see her. Almost every night as I prepared to turn in, I started to try and feed her. It was weird and unnerving and it made me sad. She should be here, she should, and it's not fair that she's not.

I love you, Miss B. Be good.


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