Re-Feathering the Nest

It feels like a day to clean out, reorganize, and start fresh. I have a boatload of photos that I need to categorize in a sensible fashion. I want to redo the categories here on Wordtabulous.  My projects remind me of how, a few weeks ago, I watched some chickadees working on a nest in a tree in my backyard.

I love their little black caps!

I love their little black caps!

Then, after last week’s snowstorm, the nest looked like this:

nest resized

This has nothing to do with the post, I just like how it looks like an ice cream cone.

Today there is nothing left of that nest but a few scattered bits of grass on the snow beneath the tree. What I hadn’t realized is that the birds weren’t building a new nest, they were demolishing an old one for scrap to use in a new location. Talk about green construction.

It isn’t healthy to cling to stuff that doesn’t work anymore, be they ideas, systems, behaviors, or old ball point pens, but taking the old stuff apart, learning from it and reusing what is still good appeals to me. Do you have a closet, a desktop, a lifestyle or something else that needs a fresh start?

Consistency, Surprise, and a Note to Readers

To all of you who read here, you may be wondering what the hell I am up to (especially lately) with the zigs and the zags on topics. It must be very confusing for those who think they have found here a fitness blog, or a photography blog or a quasi-humor blog, only to see the next post and wonder how many different people write here. This is the thing: I have a lot of interests, a nimble attention span, and a low tolerance for  uniformity. I am approaching my two year Blogaversary and have resigned myself to the fact that my “niche” is more of a blanket. This does not bode well for popularity; all the rules say that to be “follow-able” a blogger needs to be consistent with content. Oh, well. Popularity has never been my strong suit anyway. If you are also a member of the quirky, random tribe, and like what you see here, please follow my blog and let’s see where it takes us. If you have arrived expecting something else and are feeling confused and would like to find the nearest exit, let me just say thank you for stopping by and you are always welcome back. (The door is over there.)

I would like to add that there are certain things that I do often enough that it thwarts my no-consistency approach. Granola for breakfast and tea once or more daily, for instance.  Most days I take time in the morning to face east and greet the day. I take an insane number of photographs of sunrises. At least on this count, I can say that doing the same thing over and over doesn’t yield the same results. This morning, I didn’t expect much from the dawn. It is early March, and this time of year gray skies usually win, but today I got a surprise (click on the picture to see a larger version):

Photo by Lynnette Dobberpuhl

Photo by Lynnette Dobberpuhl

Regardless of what you were looking for when you got here, I hope you found something you can use. Peace!

So You’ve Strained an Intercostal…

image from wikimedia

Hi, folks. I am not a doctor, nor have I played one on TV, but I would like to take a minute to share a bit of info about a subject literally near to my heart. The intercostal muscles are a group of small muscles that run between the ribs and are responsible for helping shape and move the chest wall when you breathe. Despite the fact they are located in your chest, these muscles can be a major pain in the rear. When one is strained, usually by coughing or by a fall, it can be excruciating, and without an x-ray may be difficult to distinguish from a broken rib.

In the course of my life, I have managed to strain these muscles THREE times, each time from coughing. A strained intercostal, in my sad experience, feels like being stabbed through the ribs with a jagged object. My pain was inconveniently located deep inside my breast, just under the breast at the outer edge, and in my armpit.  In my case the pain was generally mild until I coughed. However, if I was coughing a lot, the injury would be aggravated to the point that it hurt when I breathed deeply, or pretty much all the time.

wpid-IMAG0916.jpgThe first time it happened, my doctor diagnosed either a pulled intercostal or broken rib, but didn’t offer to take an x-ray as the treatment was the same:  take ibuprofen to control pain and inflammation and reduce activity as needed. Exercise or lifting heavy items can make pain worse. Gentlemen, you have one up on us ladies because without bulky breast tissue it is much easier to bind your ribs, which I have heard can help with pain. Ladies, you will find that grabbing your breast and trying to push it in when you cough doesn’t help at all. One thing I discovered does help if coughing is a factor is to create a little traction. If you feel a cough coming on, grab the top rail of a door frame with the arm on the side of the injury and bend your knees until you feel a good stretch, then cover your cough with the inside of your other arm (because nobody wants your nasty germs, especially if they result in the blazing pain of a strained intercostal.) Take your ibuprofen, drink plenty of water, try not to swear, and in three to six weeks the worst will be over. I am sorry. I wish it would go faster. Primarily because I am nursing one myself right now.

Good health to us both!

Horses and Hallucination

This really happened. And the part where the hallucination hit me, I remember like it happened five minutes ago.

I was a farm kid of a sort, and those of you who have been reading here awhile may remember some of my fond and less than fond memories of those days (the rest of you can catch up here.) My dad was a veterinarian and we always had a lot of animals around: dogs and cats, the occasional steer, pigs of course (previous post,) lambs, a burro and some peacocks  come to mind. But among our not-for-profit animals, the horses were the stars. I loved our horses. The numbers varied, I remember we had up to five at one time, but Sandpiper and Friday were constants.

A Buckskin, like Sandpiper

An Appaloosa, like Friday

They were a comforting presence as they grazed or dozed in the pasture. There were rare sudden moments when one would jerk his head and kick up his heels and they’d all go stampeding around as if they’d whiffed a pack of wolves approaching, and other times when one or more rolled on the ground, hooves waving joyfully in the air. Fifteen seconds later, playtime would be over and they’d return to trimming the grass to its roots. I loved to talk to them and stroke their silky necks and the bristly hair sprouting from their velvet muzzles. A calm, inquisitive horse, or a horse who knows you well will commune with you if you put your head near theirs. If your faces are close enough, the horse will gently exhale through its nose. The horse is talking to you,greeting you, saying this is who I am in their foreign language. It is polite to return the breath. The exchange is not wet or messy. I would rank it among the most calming yet stimulating experiences I have had in life. A moment of zen. That being said, one time Sandpiper turned his head when I was riding him and blew his cavernous nose on my favorite purple sneaker. I admire horses, but I don’t hold with over-romanticizing them.

Also, I didn’t love riding the horses. My older and younger sisters were both better and more avid riders than I, in fact my older sister won prizes for barrel racing in rodeos. As far as I was concerned, the risks of uncontrollable sprints back to the stable and infrequent falls were a little much for me, unless there really was nothing else to do or I had a horse crazy friend over. But we all took turns caring for them. We filled their trough with water, sometimes flooding a big patch of the back pasture in our forgetfulness. We moved them from the back pasture to the front pasture and back again as needed. The horses were savvy enough to know that if they played hard to get, ignoring us and munching grass instead of coming to the gate, that we would put some delicious grain into a pail to sweeten the deal. They’d get their treat, and we would snap a lead onto Friday’s halter. Our small herd proceeded quietly, hooves crunching into gravel, one small human escorting two or more great beasts.  My father fenced the pastures with electrical wire. As far as I know, the horses rarely made any move to escape the enclosures, but the shock of touching the wire kept them from leaning against the fence, which would easily have knocked it down. The electrical charge, which we all felt multiple times either through mistake or dare, felt like the sharp smack of a stick, followed by a fading, numbing tingle. It was aversive enough to make kids and horses wary, but not enough to harm. The front pasture was enclosed with a single electrified wire about four feet off the ground. The back pasture was encircled with five strands of wire, the middle one electrified.

On one particular gray and rainy day in my early teens, it was my turn to move the horses from the back to the front pasture. The rain had stopped, but a heavy wetness lingered in the air and dripped from the eaves of the sheds and barn. The horses saw the pail in my hand and moseyed up to meet me. The gate, made of several solid iron rods each less than an inch thick, hung heavily on its hinges. The latch was simply a chain welded to the gate which we threaded through a loop screwed into the wooden fence post and then slipped into a notch on the gate. To get the chain out of the notch, we had to lift up on the gate to get some slack, which I did that day. The horses waited patiently as I set the pail of grain aside, away from the puddle of water in which I stood. I reached between the horizontal bars and grabbed the second bar down, leaning in a bit to lift…and gently, unwittingly, brushed my forehead against the electric wire. I don’t know if it was the puddle around my feet, or if it was that the fence was starting to short out making the exact amount of electric current a little unpredictable, but I do know that for a few seconds the world as I commonly perceived it disappeared and I could see nothing but one singular image: an x-ray of my skull, ghostly white on a field of black. I knew it was my own skull because I could see my braces glowing in sharp contrast on my teeth. Then the image vanished, depositing me back in the world and I realized I could TASTE my braces, which were unusually warm and metallic in my mouth. I was still standing, still holding the gate, but no longer in contact with the wire. I let the gate rest back on its chain and hinges and walked away, leaving the pail and two puzzled horses behind.

I don’t remember ever walking away from a chore without permission any other time, but the horses were fine where they were, and having just had a mind blowing and potentially dangerous experience, I felt justified. Perception and the human mind has fascinated me ever since, and this may be why I ended up majoring in Psychology. So I thank the horses and the electric current for giving me something to think about, and God for letting me survive the day so I could do so. And I thank you for reading.

Hallucination or horse stories, anyone?

Re-Thinking Food

I am doing something very uncharacteristic of me. I have started a nutrition log. Normally, when I feel the need to improve my body, I work out a little harder or more often. If things have really started to get out of control, I’ll temporarily give up cookies and candy and try to get a little more fiber in my diet, but usually my dietary rules are to try to avoid fast food and show a little restraint around the sugars. However, the job I had (until last December) really cut into my workout time, and then I was sick a lot  this winter. Add to this a strained intercostal muscle I got from coughing, which won’t go away until I stop coughing, which I am starting to worry will never happen. It hurts like the blue blazes, and significantly dampens my desire to exercise or otherwise breathe deeply. Girl Scout cookie season has come and gone. As a result, I have been getting more cushy in a predictable way. Cushiness in sweaters in Minnesota is one thing, but we will be celebrating our survival of our oldest son’s K-12 experience (aka, his graduation) by taking the family on a trip to Hawaii in June and the idea of cameras and swimsuits converging upon me in my present state has me uneasy. Looking for help with discipline I decided to take advice from one of the fittest people I have ever met: Kevin Wells, an avid fitness and nutrition enthusiast who also happens to have diabetes. MyFitnessPal, he told me, was the tool to get.

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I have only used it a couple of days, but it is free and pretty helpful so far. It calculated the daily calorie intake needed to meet my goal (no surprise, 1200–it’s always 1200, isn’t it?) it offers a huge food catalog to choose from and lets me create my own items (good for the homemade stuff) so I can easily track how many calories I have eaten and gives me a countdown of how many  I have left. Someday when I start exercising again it will allow me to log that in so I can boost my daily calories available. I am a little obsessive with the app right now, as I get used to the practice of denying myself, and trying to get the most out of my caloric budget.

This has gotten me thinking about the food I have taken for granted. We have mountains of food at our disposal. Some of those mountains are what I think of as “throwaway” food, food that we consume for fleeting pleasure rather than nourishment. I have either piled these throwaway foods on top of what I consume or substituted them for the real thing (as if skipping lunch so I can eat a whole sleeve of thin mint cookies makes it a better idea.) When I use the MyFitnessPal app to plan for my daily intake, I see that I can get plenty of food even on reduced calories, if I work in enough vegetables and fruit. For me, doing this is as easy as making a conscious, if somewhat reluctant decision. Meanwhile, 868 million people, or one out of eight on our planet, is chronically undernourished because of 1.) scarcity of food due to famine or war and 2.) poverty combined with rising food prices (Reuters article using United Nations figures.) For me and for most people I know, the most difficult issues around food are understanding the nutrition labels and deciding whether to buy the store brand or name brand for better value. I don’t suggest we stop eating in solidarity with our hungry brothers and sisters or even give up all things sweet and fun in our diets, but I can say that the next time I am tempted to eat a half a box of “nothing but calories” I will stop and consider how insane that is when there are literally millions of people, including children, dizzy with hunger out there. One other thing I will do is to make sure a portion of my charitable giving goes to alleviate hunger. Locally, food shelves are happy to take non-perishables and even happier to take monetary donations. Most use special buying programs so they can stretch each dollar they receive. Globally, there are many charitable organizations focusing on hunger including The World Food Program, a program of the United Nations, or a personal favorite of mine, Feed My Starving Children, which packages nutritious dried meals for distribution to the hungry worldwide.

It is too easy to stop thinking about food when we get to the scale or the mirror. It isn’t enough to consider carbs and calories. I’ll probably never be thrilled with a photo of me in a swimsuit, but while I can always cover up a “not quite ready for beach body,” food as an issue of justice and compassion deserves our full attention.

What throwaway food hijacks your best laid nutritional plans?

Cliché

I hate being a cliché.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would have started with the PMS stereotype, in which along with the flood of rage and raw emotion I also felt like cringing for being so predictable, but now that I am kind of cranky, bitchy and a little paranoid all the time, this stereotype is less relevant. As I tell my husband, I am now empowered to tell it like it is more than three days a month. How is that not a good thing?

A few years back, when I was trying to be a good pet owner and help my cat get some exercise, I took him out on a leash regularly. I found the experience boring. To entertain myself during the long stretches of time Cat-tabulous wanted to sniff a twig or watch a dog sleeping in a yard a block away, I brought along my crocheting. To protect my face from the sun, I wore a floppy hat. I was one ugly cat sweatshirt (okay, and maybe five cats) away from being a crazy cat lady.

Crazy Cat Lady School

Oh, I still take the cat out (#catonaleash) but now I look MUCH less crazy, scrolling along on my smartphone in a baseball cap. Yes, that IS TOO much less crazy.

In the past year I have found that I fit two new-to-me dreaded stereotypes, the 1.) out-of-touch older parent type who tries to have culturally relevant conversations with the younger generation and FAILS painfully (I managed to get Seth MacFarlane mixed up with both Seth Rogen and Seth Meyers in the SAME conversation,) and the 2.) horrifying older person who pulls out a photo of herself with a celebrity and shows it around at a family gathering, and then forgets and does it AGAIN WITH THE SAME PEOPLE AT THE NEXT GATHERING.

This is a blurry picture of Bill Nye the Science Guy and me.  Yeah, we were hanging out at the Minnesota Science Museum last November. We do that.

This is a blurry picture of Bill Nye the Science Guy and me hanging out at the Minnesota Science Museum last November. We do that.

(Note to Reader: Now that I have officially shown off to the world, I have retired that photo from my phone. You will have to return to this post to relive my brush with stardom, because I won’t be able to show it to you when I see you at the grocery store, Thanksgiving Dinner, or the cat supply warehouse.)

How many steps is it from where I am now to becoming a doddering fool? I am looking forward to the phase where I no longer care, because the sooner I start enjoying the slide, the happier my declining years will be. I picture me cackling, with many, many cats.

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Fire

As a nearly four year veteran of freelance article writing for Twin Cities community magazines, the idea of attending the Minnesota Magazine Mingle at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis was completely inside my comfort zone. I clicked on the registration link in The Loft e-newsletter and was pleasantly surprised to be directed to the Facebook page for the event. Attending? Why, thank you, yes I am.

The day of the event I took off twenty minutes early, but was still twenty minutes late due to an accident on 94W and University resulting in INSANELY backed up traffic. When I got to The Loft I discovered, at the welcome desk, that only a moron would think that accepting an invitation on Facebook would be the same as registering, and that there was, in fact, a $35 fee. On the upside, they immediately printed me a very snazzy nametag. I had heard that the event was being held in the auditorium, but another room nearby looked pretty populated and rowdy, so while I hung my coat I asked a staffer if the event was being held in both rooms. “Go in there,” she said, pointing at the auditorium. I obediently went, and spent some time looking at the amazing assortment of Minnesota-based magazines laid out for the rather sparse crowd. People noticed me, mostly because unlike them, I didn’t have a sticker on my nametag identifying me as a “writer” and/or an “editor.” I struck up a conversation with an “editor’ and “matchmaker” (someone officially charged with introducing compatible writers and editors) and learned about her work with industrial journals and newsletters for the powdercoat industry. I ate some grapes and gazed longingly at the raspberry topped brownie but strategically bypassed the salmon and dill hors d’oeuvre. Clearly, that was there as a test to see how committed we were to face-to-face networking in close quarters. I started to question what I was doing there. My community lifestyle writing didn’t seem like a big deal anymore. I drew a blank as I wondered what I could submit to various magazines representing the interests of universities, business, the History Channel, physicians, golfers, the fabric industry, or environmental sciences. I started to doubt whether I had knowledge of anything worthwhile, when I spotted a nametag for an editor of a national craft publication. I introduced myself and quickly learned (before I totally embarrassed myself) that ‘craft’ referred to, for instance, sculpture, not, say, crochet and that he was more resigned to the conversation than engaged. Because I am striving to be mentally healthy, I decided that it probably wasn’t me, that the editor was finding the whole event not that interesting. He was probably there because he had to be and the booze he was drinking was making it tolerable. I wondered where he got that booze. As a last gasp effort, I offered him my business card and he made no move to take it. “Just check our submission guidelines online,” he said. He wasn’t smiling.

When I recovered from my humiliation a bit, I met a lovely writer who seemed confused that I hadn’t gone into the other room where it turned out people had been meeting and chatting from the beginning. As people flooded from there into the auditorium, all best friends by now, she and I compared notes on editors in the room. I mentally wished her luck when she seemed interested in the craft magazine. Then, I won a door prize! Books from Loft writers and a tote bag! Sweet! Another prize winner, whose business card said Freelance Humorist was nearby. We began a conversation about blogging when a young woman walked up, told a hipster joke “Why did the hipster burn his mouth? He ate the pizza before it was cool,” and began a one-sided no-punctuation conversation about a zombie survival guide she wrote and how she thought about doing a hipster survival guide but hasn’t because she isn’t a hipster. I interrupted her to point out she wasn’t a zombie, either, but that didn’t stop her. She seemed confused by the fact I was talking, so maybe she WAS a zombie. I was trying to extricate myself politely from the conversation when I saw the last, and maybe only, editor I’d really hoped to speak to walking toward the door. I chose abruptness over etiquette but missed him anyway. I know somebody who knows somebody, so that might be fixable. I got a few more pity chats from very nice editors whose publications didn’t overlap with my skill/knowledge set, and then gave up. I grabbed a mouthful of stinky salmon dill goodness and went to sit in a comfortable chair in the hallway/lobby. I finally spied the drinks table, but was soon to be driving. I saw a big group of people chatting together, magnifying my aloneness. I thumbed a long and bitter text to a friend, then gathered my coat, and decided to go back to get a brownie for the road. At the food table, a business magazine editor appeared to be having a conversation with an intense gentleman, but within a few seconds I realized he was just listing everything he likes and dislikes about St. Paul, where it seems the editor lives. After he told her St. Paul’s cathedral is very nice but she pays too much in taxes, I decided it was imperative I find out more about her magazine. I stood there pointedly until she glanced my way and the man strode off, no doubt to make more friends. I didn’t mention him, but started what turned out to be an enjoyable conversation about her magazine and her job. I realized I was more relaxed listening and responding to what she was looking for than I am apologetically flinging my credentials into strangers’ faces, and I seemed to be making a better impression as well. She suggested we exchange cards and asked me to send her a link to some of my work. The Mingle was over.

What have we learned, kids? If it seems super easy and cheap, you are probably missing something. Don’t trust what people tell you, go where the energy is. Do your research beforehand. Most of the people out there are nice, but even so, they can’t help you if you don’t know what you are looking for. Know your questions, and make sure one of them is, “what kind of story are you excited about getting?” Most importantly, go back for the brownie.

The Wisdom of the Universe

Do you see the little splootch in the middle of this picture?

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That splootch is the universe telling me to get my head out of my ass and stop leaving my valuable and much-appreciated electronics on the counter where I am making banana bread. The universe is thoughtful that way. I was done making the banana bread, except for sprinkling pecans on top, so I totally listened. I am like the universe’s hapless child, toddling around, getting into trouble, hearing the warnings and NEVER LEARNING.

Well, sometimes I learn. I have learned that not all the bad things that happen in life are really bad things at all. Some of the best things that have happened to me seemed bad at first. Getting laid off was pretty bad, until my time was urgently needed elsewhere. Along with hosting two lovely and important family gatherings in December, I was able to spend several days with my husband’s cousin Katie. Katie, you need to know, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with honors last May. She aced her Genetics final despite a throbbing headache that turned out to be a fist-sized tumor. She had surgery, chemo and radiation and was absolutely valiant through it all despite developing seizures, gradually losing her speech and balance, and having trouble swallowing. They finally found a drug that shrunk the spreading tumors, but it was too late. She turned twenty-three last month and died last week. We are celebrating her life this Saturday, a beautiful life filled with love, laughter, travel, music, books and a very strong sense of self. A beautiful life lived well, but much too short. I don’t speculate on the whys of this. I, and everyone who knew her, just miss her and grieve that we won’t be able to watch her life unfold. Losing Katie was a bad thing to happen. But losing my job and being able to spend precious hours with her was a gift for which I am grateful. So on behalf of the universe I would like to encourage you to love others, you don’t know how long you have them. Love yourself, for you are loved. Don’t despair; bad stuff happens but good things come along too. And keep watching and listening for what the universe has to tell you.
Peace.

Coincidence?

When I was a young teen living in rural eastern South Dakota, my mom had to drive me sixty miles one way for my monthly orthodontist visits, which spanned nearly three years. Mr. Wordtabulous, also a young teen at the time, lived in western Minnesota and was driven fifty miles by his mom to the same orthodontist. It is easily within the realm of possibility that we awkwardly checked each other out in the waiting room thirty-plus years ago, long before we met in college. In 2004, we went to Italy and while we were in the small town of Vernazza, drinking wine on a cliff overlooking the Ligurian Sea, we struck up a conversation with a young American couple. Over pleasantries, we found out they were newlyweds and the bride was the daughter of our former orthodontist, roughly 4,800 miles from home.

My eighth grade English teacher read an essay I’d written about my feisty Aunt Phylis and realized that her first schoolgirl crush, twenty years before and 350 miles away,was my first cousin, Bruce.

Returning from our 2006 Germany/Austria trip, we had a short layover in Amsterdam. Standing in line to board the plane to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I began chatting with the people immediately behind me and discovered they live ten miles from our house.

It sometimes seems we live in a novel, with a finite list of characters engendering unlikely connections. We don’t know what threads exist between us and that stranger in the elevator, in the other lane, or in the news story taped on the other side of the globe. I take it as a cautionary tale against smugly assuming we know how things work, and a gentle nudge from the universe to remember that we are all neighbors. What coincidence have you experienced, and what is your take?

Breaking a Trail to Parts Unknown

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This morning I pulled on my snowshoes and trudged to the park near my house. It was still and warm (in the low twenties) with sunshine that varied from comfortably diffuse to cheerfully and painfully bright. For forty minutes I dodged yellow snow by park paths, tried to find new paths through underbrush around ponds, and deliciously broke through wide, unmarked fields.

wpid-IMAG0866.jpgI laughed because it felt like I was breaking a rule—don’t trek through that pristine snow! HaHA! I broke a rule! Okay, I broke a rule that isn’t a rule and if it was a rule it would be stupid, but the paralyzing good girl craziness I struggle with lost some ground today. I was tired and thoroughly warmed up by the time I got home with forty minutes of movement behind me, two pieces of garbage I picked up along the way (this is not good girl excessiveness; litter is gross,) and a huge cramp in my right hand (what in the world?) I was warm enough to sit down on my patio and reflect on life a little. Stay tuned for an upcoming essay on how writing is like a bad boyfriend.

I may have neglected to mention that I am between jobs right now. I was…released from my schedule (?) last month when I simply ran out of things to do. With the agency change and move, my workload went from insane to nothing in three months. I am assured I will be called back as they need help, presumably with large projects, but was told “if that is too loosey goosey,” for me in terms of employment they would understand if I needed to look elsewhere. Waiting by the phone is not my thing, so I am looking, and writing…and snowshoeing. Today’s revelation is that taking a moment now and then in the fresh air has a way of helping you stay grounded, and feeling anchored makes it easier when life is changing around you. Peace.