Home

I lie on an old brown sofa that is covered in tiny nylon loops which should be scratchy but somehow aren’t, probably with a dog or two. We bask in a late afternoon sunbeam that slants in through the ground floor window. I am reading, or was reading, or am about to read. In another season, the wood burning stove might be radiating a blistering heat an arm’s length away, with a humming fan pushing the warmth toward the rest of the house, but in this memory it is summer. My mother or one of my sisters plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the old upright piano. The music literally fills the air, and then my lungs as I breathe it in, where my bloodstream absorbs it and carries it to all my cells. I am lifted, carried by it. The bench creaks softly as the pianist shifts octaves, a page whispers as it turns, a dog sighs with contentment. We listen for the sounds of Dad returning. A well-used dartboard hangs in mute challenge surrounded by dozens of tiny holes. The long wall on the south is paneled in yellow pine, and the brown vinyl floor, excellent for sliding on in socked feet, bears a repeating Moorish design. Bifold doors on the north conceal the treasures of multiple generations: books and toys and remnants of kits and tools that haven’t found a home anywhere else. More curiosities are stored under the lid of the kneehole desk Dad made. Into its sides he has burned the brands used by our ranching forefathers. The room smells of old books and sheet music, tooled leather, lemon fresh Pledge, and dog, with a hint of the medicinal, antiseptic and earthy aromas that venture in from Dad’s adjoining veterinary office. It is the music that always pulls me back though, if not the gravitational center, then at least the magnetic north.

The piano, the sofa, the dogs and the people are all gone or in exile now and the house is in others’ hands, but that moment, repeated with minor variations over and over throughout the first half of my life, is omnipresent. That is home, where I started and where, sometimes, I go to restart. No matter when or where I am, I can always return to that couch to drift in words and music and sunlight, surrounded by the presence, or imminent presence, or the remembered presence of people and love.

Thank you, Mom and Dad and Sisters. Thank you for giving me a home.

What moment or place do you go to, when you need to go home?

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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.

wpid-Screenshot_2013-03-04-14-34-42.jpg

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?