Winter Comforter

I’ve already used this blog to record some thoughts about having added my dog, India, to my life; a special focus of gratitude.

She has helped me make regular walks part of my daily routine.  She has taught me about the virtue of having a short-term memory; about starting each day with enthusiasm (after all, it’s new, right?) and about not holding a grudge. She’ll greet me warmly when I come home even after I withheld a treat earlier in the day.

She constantly teaches me about non-verbal communications, even though I can’t always figure out why she decides to bark.

Lately, she’s been demonstrating a level of empathy I wish more humans could command.

Since before the first of the year, I have not been feeling well.  I had a bad cough that, while lessening in severity and frequency, has managed to stick with me.  About two weeks ago, I also started to have pain in my lower back and left hip area.

I don’t know if the problem started from pulling a muscle when I coughed, or if I stood in front of my standing desk incorrectly, or if my respiratory infection traveled to affect my piriformis muscle, or what, but It has been painful to walk, and even more painful to descend stairs.

I can’t forego my three-a-day walks with my pooch, but some days, my dog-walking represents most of my physical activity.  Even when hanging around the house, I try to cut down the number of times I will visit the kitchen from my living room couch during evening TV time.  I have been moving around gingerly, for sure.  Infrequently as possible.

India knows something is off.

She has gone through periods before where she will follow me around closely, like I might disappear if I slipped into another room.

She’ll stretch out on her side for hours when I’m in my office working on the computer.  She’ll also drop her green ball in front of me when I’ve given up on locating it after losing interest in a game of Go Fetch; ever aware of the importance of keeping me engaged.

But her attention these past few weeks has been different.  Less urgent. Gentler. I don’t know if I can say thoughtful, but I do feel like she is trying to read me, what level of activity I can handle.

I might decide to lie down in the afternoon, whether for a nap or just to get off my feet.  She’ll follow me.

Although only about 24 pounds, I don’t pick her up.  She does not like it.  Yet, I can tell that she wants to be as close to me as possible.

Somehow, she flies up over the foot of my bed and tentatively pads her way forward until she finds a place by my side.

She’ll walk in a tight circle in the middle of my bed then nuzzle up by my side.  Sometimes, she’ll lie on her back, almost begging me to rub her belly, making me forget my pain, and sometimes, she’ll tuck her legs underneath her and just stretch out next to me.

I’ll run my hand through her wavy fur.  It’s too long, but considering the cold weather, I won’t have it cut for a couple months.

She lets me run my fingers over her skin.  I think she enjoys it. I know she enjoys the attention. She doesn’t move.  She stirs with concern when I go on a coughing jag then settles back down when I get quiet again.

I think she knows I find peace in her proximity, especially when I’m not feeling well.  It’s great to be able to lie down and grab a handful of curly fur or puppy butt.

If I could only teach her how to make chicken soup…

I listen to her heavy and regular breathing when she joins me in bed. I take enormous comfort from her presence.  I might laugh at the irony of having a king-sized bed while I feel almost pushed to one edge because of where my black and white fur ball decides to claim as her space; she who answers to me calling her name only twenty percent of the time.

Sleeping with someone who loves you unconditionally, especially when you’re not feeling well — no matter the species – is no small thing.

Bending the Rules

One of my favorite fall traditions is an excursion to Pilsen to see the Day of the Dead exhibit (Dia de los Muertos) at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Lives are grieved for and remembered in special ways through the loving assembly of objects. I am always moved.

This year’s excursion was even more special because a friend was visiting from St. Paul and she was going to experience this unusual collection for the first time.

I wanted our day in Pilsen to be special. Named after the area in Czechoslovakia famous for Pilsner style beer, it’s been the first neighborhood of many immigrant groups as they settled in Chicago. Decades ago, it was home to Eastern Europeans. For quite a few years, Mexicans have been the dominant ethnic group.

Colorful murals adorn the sides of brick houses and corner stores. En route to gentrification, you can spot Starbucks stores next to taquerias. Parking pay boxes have to be fed along 18th Street and other major boulevards.

I did a little research before my friend’s visit. After wandering through the museum, I wanted to take her, and two other friends, to an authentic Mexican bakery for a slice of tres leches cake.

I went online and identified what seemed to be an awesome family run bakery. It was my intention to enjoy tea and split a couple pastries there.

The wonderful aromas of fresh bread, cinnamon, and anise curled up our nostrils as soon as we walked into Panaderia El Acambara. Sweet breads and coffee cakes occupied displays in the center of the store. Racks upon racks upon racks of buttery cookies and flaky empanadas filled the side walls.

I thought they also had tables for patrons to enjoy tea or coffee, but it was only a store.

I studied the selection on the wall. I decided to get a couple dulce de leche empanadas, crescent shaped mini pies filled with a sort of caramel crumble. To bring home, I told myself.

I also asked if there was a place nearby for coffee and tea.

Si. Si… I was directed to a hipster coffee shop that was just down the street, which was good because I had already popped for an hour of parking.

We walked in to find a couple of twenty somethings who had probably been there most of the day.   A thin, pale, aproned barista, waited for our order from behind the counter. He looked at us impatiently as serving us was delaying his scheduled trip to the doorstep for a smoke.

I had every intention of bringing my small white paper bag containing the two dulce de leche empanadas from Panaderia el Alcambaro home with me for a late night snack, but, I looked at the selection of bakeries in the case and had second thoughts.

There were a couple over-sized cookies and four croissants that seemed to predate the last appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court. Not before my lifetime, but definitely too old to be healthy or enjoyable.

As I ordered herbal tea, I asked the barista if we could eat the pastries I just bought.

We don’t allow food from outside, he said matter-of-factly. I nodded and we sat down for tea and banter.

Pretty soon, knowing that dinner was several hours away and something scrumptious inside my little paper bag was begging to be shared, the four of us started to break off pieces of the sweet little pies and slipped them into our mouths. As chunks of the treat melted, we tried to keep silent, but our eyes shouted with delight.

Our indulgence was not lost on the barista. We couldn’t help ourselves… He saw — but he said nothing.

At first, we broke off pieces of the pastries while they were still in the white paper bag. Then we got bolder, laying the crescents on napkins in the middle of the table and continuing to break off bits leaving a puddle of crumbs.

Ah, each bite was the perfect blend of sweetness and butter.

The thought came up that it made no sense for him to enforce house rules more strictly as the four of us outnumbered the other customers and we all spent money on tea, but someone in his position might choose to be more hard-nosed about it.

My foursome enjoyed our visit to the café, even though we were uneasy, at first, about being called out. People’s actions often defy good sense.

Being under the authority of someone who is willing to bend the rules is no small thing.

IT TAKES A COUNTY

ON SATURDAY NIGHT, JULY 15TH, I DIS-LOCATED MY RIGHT SHOULDER.

I’D LIKE TO SAY SOME HEROICS WERE INVOLVED, LIKE I HURLED MY BODY AGAINST A BUILDING IN ORDER TO SAVE A KITTEN FROM A CAR-JACKED, CRAZY, JOY-RIDING TEEN, BUT I ACTUALLY FELL IN MY KITCHEN.

I HAVE BEEN ASKED MANY TIMES, WHAT HAPPENED [I CAN’T TYPE A QUESTION MARK, OR EVEN STANDARD PARENTHESES AND CHANGING FROM UPPER TO LOWER CASE INVOLVES SO MUCH WORK, I HAVE CHOSEN TO FOREGO THE CONVENTION.]

I CAN ATTRIBUTE MY ACCIDENT TO MANY FACTORS THAT CONSPIRED TOGETHER AT 9;50 THAT EVENING. MY BALANCE IS NOT GOOD, TO BEGIN WITH. I HAD NOT PUT AWAY MY STEP LADDER FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE KITCHEN EVEN HOURS AFTER ITS LAST USE. I WAS RUNNING FROM MY OFFICE TO SHUT OFF A BURNER ON THE STOVE AFTER THE SMELL OF A SCORCHED POT REGISTERED IN MY BRAIN.

OH YES. I HAD GONE TO A WINE TASTING AT 4;00.

AFTER THE FALL, IN A MILD STATE OF SHOCK, I MANAGED TO GET UP AND TURN OFF THE LEFT FRONT BURNER. I WENT DOWN A FEW CARPETED HALLWAY STEPS TO SEE IF MY DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR WAS HOME, FORGETTING THAT SHE WAS AT WRIGLEY FIELD AT THE JIMMY BUFFET CONCERT. [OH, TO BE IN MARGARITAVILLE INSTEAD OF IN GREAT PAIN ON MY KITCHEN FLOOR.]

THEN, BEFORE THE SWELLING AND PAIN GOT SO BAD I COULDN’T THINK STRAIGHT, I SAT ON THE EDGE OF MY BED, CELL PHONE IN HAND, AND TRIED TO FIND A FRIEND WHO WOULD TAKE ME TO THE ER AT SWEDISH COVENANT, THE NEAREST HOSPITAL.

MY FRIEND VALERIE WAS HOME. A MASSAGE THERAPIST BY PROFESSION, NURTURING, GOOD-HUMORED AND PRACTCAL SHE WAS THE PERFECT PERSON FOR DRIVING MISS DEBBIE TO THE ER.

AFTER A LONG NIGHT IN THE ER; INCLUDING 2 SETS OF X-RAYS AND RE-SETTING MY ARM BONE IN THE JOINT IT WAS MEANT TO OCCUPY [AN EVENT THAT I WAS, THANKFULLY, UNCONSCIOUS FOR] AND COUNTLESS IBPROFEN, I FOUND MYSELF GRAPPLING WITH HOW I HAD TO LIVE DIFFERENTLY – AT LEAST, FOR A WHILE.

YES, I FELT EXTREMELY GRATEFUL FOR VALERIE’S QUICK RESPONSE TO MY CALL, GRATEFUL TO MY FRIEND PAT, WHO OFFERED SUCH GOOD ADVICE ON THE BEST COLD-PAKS TO BUY, AND WAS EVEN GRATEFUL TO MYSELF FOR NOT LOSING MY SENSE OF HUMOR AS I ENDURED A LOT OF PAIN. [IT WAS PRETTY FUNNY WHEN THE YOUNG MALE NURSE IN THE ER WAS FUMBLING UNDER MY TOP TO REMOVE THE ADHESIVE BACKED METAL MONITORS FROM MY CHEST AND BELLY, AND I TOLD HIM, ‘JUST LIKE WHEN YOU WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL ON A DATE.’]

ALL THIS WEEK, I’VE BEEN FEELING PRETTY HELPLESS. I’VE HAD TO ASK FOR A LOT OF HELP AND I’M NOT USED TO BEING IN THIS POSITION.

ALWAYS BIG ON NOTICING LITTLE THINGS, MY EYES HAVE BEEN OPENED TO THE MANY THINGS I MAY HAVE TAKEN FOR GRANTED JUST TO MANAGE EVERDAY ROUTINES. THESE THINGS ARE RIGHT IN MY FACE NOW THAT I AM DEPENDENT ON OTHERS.

MY DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR TOOK CARE OF MY DOG FOR THE WEEK FOLLOWING MY FALL. I’VE BEEN ABLE TO RE-DISTRIBUTE MOST OF MY PROJECT ASSIGNMENTS AMONG CO-WORKERS. MY FRIEND NICKI CAME OVER THIS PAST FRIDAY, BRINGING ME WONDERFUL HOMEMADE PULLED PORK, CHANGING MY BEDSHEETS AND CLEANING MY KITCHEN.

I’VE LINED UP SEVERAL DIFFERENT PEOPLE TO WALK MY DOG [WE WERE REUNITED 2 DAYS AGO]. INDIA TAKES WALKS THREE TIMES A DAY. I HAVE TAKEN A CAB ONCE, BUT I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO ARRANGE RIDES TO MY D.O. FOR THERAPY AND FOR GROCERY RUNS.

THANKS TO HILLARY, FOR RAISING A CHILD TOWARDS A HEALTHY, PRODCTIVE ADULTHOOD, WE HAVE THE EXPRESSION, ‘IT TAKES A VILLAGE.’ CONSIDERING HOW MANY PEOPLE GRACIOUSLY STEPPED FORWARD SO THAT I COULD SIMPLY HANDLE THE NEEDS OF MY DAILY LIFE, I MIGHT SAY, ‘IT TAKES A COUNTY.’

WE’RE NOT MEANT TO LIVE ALONE. WE ARE MEANT TO HELP EACH OTHER…AND MEANT TO RECEIVE HELP. WE’RE MEANT TO FEEL LOVED AS MUCH FOR OUR VULNERABILITIES AS WE MIGHT LONG TO FEEL ACKNOWLEDGED AND APPRECIATED FOR OUR TALENTS AND SERVICE.

I AM SO GRATEFUL TO SO MANY.

HAVING FRIENDS WHO WILL CUT YOUR VEGETABLES AND UNSCREW THE TOPS OF YOUR VITAMIN JARS IS NO SMALL THING.

 

Ahhhhh! Thanks

I’m not one to fuss about my appearance. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes or haircuts.

I don’t read fashion magazines that feature List-icles, short articles with How-To instructions like 10 Ways to Arch Your Brow.

But the other week, I was taken over by some sort of summer fever. I knew I would be mostly wearing sandals for months and decided to indulge in a pedicure.

OMG. Where should I start? I asked myself. I hit YELP and other online resources for places in my neighborhood that didn’t require much advanced notice and didn’t cost too much. I looked at a couple reviews, too.

I decided on a place in Lincoln Square. I made an appointment in one hour (Like I said, it was a spur of the moment impulse). I found the place to be clean and BUSY, surprisingly busy for 11:00 on a weekday morning.

There was a drying station in the front of the salon, near the register (small blowers for hands and feet), and stacks of those magazines I referred to as being full of beauty list-icles. I also observed one of the nail techs, filling up Day-Glo, jelly-like baskets with flip-flops.

Like an over-enthusiastic hostess in a Tiki lounge, a petite woman of some flavor of Asian extraction greeted me; the manager, no doubt. She laughed when I confessed I had a pedicure only one other time in my life.

She introduced me to my tech who then led me to a wail of polish colors. Considering my lack of experience, I surprised myself that I seemed to know what I wanted.

“I want red. Not orangey red, or wine colored. Dark red…”

I was led over to an oversized massage chair with a small, floor-istalled basin at the front. She instructed me to make myself comfortable and showed me how to work the controls on the massage chair while I put my feet in the basin.

I ended up turning the power on the chair off. I just wanted to focus on my feet.

She opened a plastic bag sealed kit as she began to run water into my foot tub.

Ahhhhhhh.

One foot at a time…

I dipped one foot in the swirling water while she worked on my other foot. She removed the hard skin with a sort of pumice stone. She clipped my nails, laughing at how long they were. She put exfoliant and lotion on my lower legs and massaged my calves.

I tried not to stare at the man who was picking out polish colors and was led to the chair next to mine for his pedicure. Why shouldn’t a man enjoy this, too?

After my feet were clean and smooth, my chosen RED was applied and an odd rubber contraption was placed on my feet to create space between my toes.

A pair of flip-flops was slipped on to my feet, and I was led to the drying station.

I felt terrific!

The whole process took less than an hour, and I saw what a big difference it made in my mood and outlook.

Okay, I liked the thought of dressing my feet in summer sandals, but I found the whole experience to be consciousness-raising.

It’s so easy to take something – like your feet — for granted. We tend to give a part of our body attention when it hurts, but not when it feels good. Not often enough.

Pampering yourself seems to be a good way to train your consciousness to do those things that are good for you. It’s good to remember that a task is not completed until it is celebrated.

Whether it’s making time to do stretches in the morning or, periodically, to have a pedicure, I want to nurture good routines, including treating myself well. I’m glad I gave myself this brief retreat.

Jumping into a new habit — feet first — is no small thing.