Friends: Reaching Out — Reaching In

Maggie and Vin

The bright sunlight through the burgundy bedroom curtains made the dark bedroom seem like a redlight district. I’d been living out of bed for over seven years as of 2009. Brief weekends out of bed were followed by weeks of recovery from the exertion. I curled up in a ball around a tiny screen where I would communicate with my friends on Facebook. My phone was anything but smart, and it cost a modest extra fee to be able to have web service on it. But the access to a society who would laugh at my ironic jokes and understand my pain when I couldn’t sleep at 2 am was something I deemed a justifiable expense.

Cell phone

My daughter had been accepted at the University of Washington in the Fall of 2008 and as part of giving their students a way to get to know their roommates, the school suggested new students start a Facebook account. When my daughter was home for winter break, we sat together on my bed as I signed up for my own account. I thought it would be a great way to keep in touch with the daughter I missed.

Some of my friends are quite witty. One of those friends had acquired friends from the online community, meaning “friends” he had never met in person. At first, I was very apprehensive about accepting “friend requests” from people I had never met. But soon conversations and jokes carried over from the friends I did know in person and

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Me & Maria Mills Greenfield (who passed 1-19-2017)

I felt like I knew people from places across the country and even the world. Places hundreds of miles from any I had visited.

While laying in bed in pain, I composed quick thoughts and shared them. It became a release. When people began to respond, I felt I had found friends in the darkness. I connected with other people who were isolated for different reasons. Many of us were dealing with pain. Chronic, neverending pain.

While certain members of the federal administration seem to do anything EXCEPT validate chronic intractable pain, that type of pain is exactly what isolates and literally cripples people, making them incapable of living their previous lives.

Many people responded to the dark comments my mind and thumbs combined to leave on other people’s posts. Quickly I accumulated a large list of friends.

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In October 2010, I decided I would rather take up my friend’s offers across the country to stay a day or a week, rather than rent a room in the gray dark winter of western Washington. I had only seen a few states of the country I lived in and a divorce after over 20 years of marriage was a great reason to explore. Many of my friends made plans to welcome me.

This last week, I lost another friend. It seems the death notices come more frequently now than they ever did. Many of the friends I met during my travels during the years from 2010 to 2017 are no longer around. Their absence in mortality does not lessen their effect on my life. In fact, the more friends who pass, the more grateful for all of them and the ways they changed my life and my attitudes.

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Vin Arnone (2014)

At some point, I will write a detailed memoir, introducing you all to each of them…those who are no longer here. For now, I will say, I would not be around if not for my friends. My friends on social media pulled me out of several seasons of depression. These same people called 911 in 2009 when I was suffering withdrawals after a doctor prescribing me Fentanyl and Percocet discharged me without notice. My friends have saved my life in many ways and on many occasions.

Because I have been the recipient of such generous attention, I know the power of social media. I know when you just need someone to talk to, usually, there is someone at the other end when you enter social media. But I also know electronic connections are not substitutes for in-person socializing. They can supplement it very well, but at some point, my brain needed to meet the people I was talking to on the other end of the data stream.

Being disabled, to be able to afford travel, I sacrificed having a home to come to when I was not traveling. For the most part of seven years, I lived without a permanent dwelling. This was an experience of its own. I am in the midst of writing a book about a part of that experience, The Car That Ran on Prayers.

Many of the people I met in person during my travels joined me online to watch how my journey continued. When I finally made the decision to come inside and begin the task of documenting it all, many of my friends and family nearly cheered with relief. It had been a long seven years for all of us.

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I reached out of my bed into a world I had no idea where or if I belonged in. Then, as I traveled, I began to reach into the people who reached into me when I was reaching out.

I have visited my friends, sat on their beds while they were curled up in pain. I love them all. I love those who have passed, and those who are still here. I love those who no longer consider themselves my friends. I love those who try harder every day, and I love those who just want a break and take it.

On the occasion of saying farewell to yet another friend, I can only reflect on all of my friends and the wonderful ways in which they have all expanded my world. I look forward to being reunited with them, and you, all when we are done on this side of the veil.

For now, I recommend calling a friend. Someone you know who gets lonely. Don’t worry, they will forgive you for not texting first. Too many of us are lonely in a world of friends.

Rest in Peace, Vin, Maria, Stephanie, Dana, Lisa, Bobby and so many more. I’ll see you on the other side. IMG_20170726_054126

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A Home of My Own

A couple of days ago I signed the first rental lease I have signed in over 15 years. I was handed the keys to a small one bedroom apartment in the same complex where I had rented my first apartment 31 years before. It felt very circular, almost as if God was giving me an opportunity to try again.IMG_20170922_150821

This time I am on my own. Yes, I have my dogs, Athena and Ruger Bear (who turns a year old in just a few days!), but before now I had NEVER lived without other humans. When I first moved into this complex 31 years ago, I was a young working single mom with two preschoolers. My sons were only 2 and 4 years old when we moved into the larger two bedroom unit that I now look upon every time I come out of my stairwell.

My memories of this area and this complex are all good ones and I am very happy to be making more on my own now.  I was drawn to this area, the same where I was born, because of many reasons. My only family who are members of the church I attend are in this area and I love to be able to share my Sundays with my granddaughters and Sister grandma. It is also centrally located with most of my close family being in this general area.

20170920_131758_HDRSeven years ago exactly, I made the decision NOT to confine myself to a rented room in a new friend’s home. This year I made a very different decision, I decided to go inside. I am tired. It’s been a long seven years. I have traveled across the country more times than I can count. I have loved, I have lost, I have met more people than I could have ever imagined. I have made friends across the country and around the world. I have been hurt, I have felt joy, I have seen and done more of life than I could have ever imagined in seven years. Now, it is time to write it all out. Having a place to be comfortable while I do that is crucial.

I have learned that I can tip Maslow’s pyramid on it’s head and I can still graduate from college Cum Laude. I have also learned I am not as physically able as I would love to be. Yes, I still cope with chronic and continuous pain and physically disabling conditions as well as psychological issues that have not benefited from the lifestyle I have lived these past years.20170920_131758_HDR

My physical health was made tremendously worse by my choice of living situations. Major mold exposures combined with allergies and asthma to cause me sinus and lung issues that are currently being further evaluated. In consideration of my mental health, I was finally able to find a therapist who takes my insurance and is close. Everything is coming together.

Now comes the writing of the books in earnest. Two have been outlined and started, with a couple of chapters being written while on the road. I appreciate greatly not only all the support and assistance that friends and my church have given, but especially the prayers. God knows my name. It is HE who I have to thank for all of these wonderful blessings that have been bestowed upon me by His human angels.

IMG_20170907_020151_101I hope everyone has the opportunity to feel this blessed once in their lives!!!

Want to see it? Click HERE to see a tour of my new digs right after I got the keys!

Making Our Mark

In North Carolina, I was met with the proof of a fact that I had no way of knowing when I began my journey towards graduating from Southern New Hampshire University. Having come from very intelligent parents and grandparents, yet knowing that none of them had attained what my daughter and I were obtaining in our educations; I had

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Solomon Richardson’s mark when he took a marriage bond to marry my 4th great-grandmother in 1822

never doubted that my family “had always” been literate. When I read the words, “his mark” surrounding the “x” that made Solomon Richardson’s mark, I was taken aback with the proof in front of me that my fourth great-grandfather, born in North Carolina in 1800, had been unable to read and write: He was illiterate.

My own education, in retrospect, would appear to those not intimately involved, to be a series of “fits and starts.” I remember when I became pregnant at the age of 16 (after being told due to female health problems that would be impossible) I was unsatisfied to take the GED tests, choosing rather to enroll in an alternative school that was based on the format of the local Evergreen State College and allowed me to set my own curriculum with the guidance of teachers and a counselor become friend. It was imperative to me that I actually graduate high school. I did so with one child on my lap and one on the way.

I continued my education immediately after high school, enrolling in South Puget Sound Community College’s medical assisting program. Looking back, I don’t think I would have had the guts to do so if it weren’t for my mom’s employment there. She was an integral and vibrant part of the college’s support system. Throughout my preteen and teen years, she had invited my brother and myself to the campus, introducing us to faculty members and support staff, making the school feel for us like a second home and its staff our extended family.

Having loved writing all of my life, I found myself drawn to the school’s newspaper. Although I was a very busy young woman with two very active toddlers, I would spend any free moment from my grueling curriculum in the Student Center. I learned the now archaic Apple computer with a manual on my lap and my hands on the keyboard in the room that doubled as the school’s newspaper office. I assisted with getting a paper we would call “Sounds” off the ground and was asked to step in as a Vice President of the Student Body of South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) when the student election had gone awry.

With more than six months to go in my program, financial aid not going far enough to cover my expenses and in the midst of a personal mental health crisis, I resigned my position with the student body. I left my writing gig at the student newspaper and got a job as a Medical Assistant/Back-Office Nurse when the need to support my tiny family overwhelmed my desire to actually finish my degree. This was 1988.

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At our reception

In 1989, I married my husband Bruce after we used the idea of us being engaged to prank the student government we both worked for. He knew my mother before he met me, she was an integral part of the social sciences department where he had found a passion. The campus was still my family, our wedding reception was held in the Student Center where we met and became best friends.

Our daughter, Siobhan, was born in February 1990. She was the product of our college education, although neither of us finished any degree at SPSCC. Siobhan graduated with her Associates in Arts 18 years later. It was on the same campus where her parents had met the day before her high school graduation. She embodied the epitome of our desire for our children to take education seriously.

My own education continued when Siobhan was only three. I had returned to the campus I called home to retrain when the strain of the birth of my daughter caused my first disabling condition no longer allowing me to work in the medical profession.

With Siobhan in the daycare that I helped to build while I was Vice President of the student body, I retrained in the computer field. A year and a half after I began, I once again was forced to call my education to a halt before any degree was attained. My husband Bruce was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and his overwhelming symptoms made it difficult to maintain his employment. I quit my program and went to work for The State of Washington as a computer programmer to support our family. My dreams of finishing my education seemed to dim in the everyday chores of raising a family.

A couple of years before the blessed event of my daughter’s dual graduations, my body and brain conspired to make continuing to work at my position as a computer programmer impossible. Once again disabled, I conceded to draw a pension and concentrate on my health and the matters of domesticity. My daughter struggled through the stress of her parents losing their home and gradually losing their relationship with one another as the overwhelming stress of being disabled mentally and physically changed the shape of what she knew as “family.”

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Me, Siobhan and my mom, her grandma Joan

Her Grandma Joan was a beacon for Siobhan. The community college where her parents had met and celebrated their marriage became a home for her as well. She was welcomed in the position as a math tutor, just as one of her older brothers had been. Tutoring people twice and three times her age, they adored her amazing intelligence and beauty.  When she graduated with honors, no one was one bit surprised, but we were all amazed.

I was living in the middle of 37 undeveloped acres of land in a 5th wheel trailer with my new husband of 18 months in October 2015 when I felt impressed by God to ask Siobhan about this University where she and her husband had chosen to finish their degrees.  She had left the University of Washington’s engineering program after being the first in our family to ever be admitted to a four-year college when her dad and I had finally divorced. The event had not only put me without a home but had shattered her very idea of stability. She went on to find that stability with her new husband and they rapidly went about supporting each other in the pursuit of their dreams, making and achieving goal after goal together. In this same spirit, they had researched online education extensively and had chosen Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to be the best college to meet their needs with programs and credentials that they found exemplary.  When Siobhan posted online about a place called “the writing center,” I replied that sounded like a dreamy place. She encouraged me to apply and see if SNHU could do anything with my 130 community college credits. I made the call.

IMG_20151021_093242703Although I had no practical way of living to most people, the lack of basics such as electricity, water or even a place to use the toilet did not deter me from what it seemed that God was calling me to do. Where there is a will, there is a way? Perhaps, but it seemed that God was guiding me to start school where many would only find impossibility. My first term back was highlighted by a blown head gasket in our truck which would strand me 5 miles away from a paved road with a partially collapsed lung. The installation of the satellite internet that student loans helped to pay for was delayed by the company so long that although I tried to complete my classes on the disposable phone from Walmart that my husband and I shared; I failed my first term back at school.

I wept. I felt utterly dejected and discouraged. My Visiting Teacher, Amy, through the local Branch of my church, was encouraging. She was a retired lawyer choosing to create her dream of a farm in the middle of nowhere.  We shared a commonality in our mental

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Amy at Snowflake Temple

illnesses. In spite of an increasingly abusive marriage, I found a friend and support in Amy that would enable me to continue. I was faced with overwhelming adversity, but a glimmer of hope each week in Amy’s and my weekly visits to the Snowflake Temple made the impossible to most, seem achievable to me.

This year when my second divorce was finally finished, I headed to the east: My daughter was to be graduating summa cum laude from SNHU in Mathematics on Mother’s Day. Every mechanic that looked at the little Volvo which was my only return from my second marriage of three years deemed it impossible. Every time I prayed, and every Priesthood Blessing I received said it could be done. I persevered in the face of impending doom and followed every impression on the journey. Just days before Easter, I arrived in New Hampshire and toured the “brick and mortar” campus of SNHU: It was real. I made it.

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My first-year adviser, Lauren with me

Through the intense assistance of my first-year adviser, Lauren, and then her follow-up, my “senior adviser,” Liz, I recovered from that disastrous first term. When my credits began accumulating quickly, we realized I may also be eligible to graduate this May. I was frustrated when life and the college schedule extended my classes out through August but was thrilled when the university stated that I could walk with the class of 2017 in spite of the fact I was finishing up in the summer. My daughter and I would be walking for graduation the same weekend.

This Mother’s Day weekend was fabulous. Dreams that I never thought I could dream have come true. By pursuing her education, Siobhan became the first in her father’s family and my family to achieve her Bachelor’s degree after also being the first in both our families to earn her Associate’s. She has made me so proud and she has now made education more possible and inviting for generations of our family yet to come.

We both have learned to “make our mark,” after coming from those who could do no

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Siobhan and me Mother’s Day weekend 2017

more than to sign with an “x.” I know that our ancestors worked hard and traveled to distances trying to make a better life for their children. The pioneers of our families did all they could while imagining more significant opportunities for future generations. As I traveled across the country to receive the honor of my degree and watch my daughter receive hers, I realized that we are the product of those hopes and dreams. I thank God for relatives that reached across the veil to help me to understand that.

Watch: A video from backstage at the SNHU Arena

 

Road Food Part 2: Caesar Salad

I LOVE my salad creations. I admit, at times, they have been full of more bacon than lettuce, but over the months I have come up with a recipe that I just absolutely LOVE. I love them so much that I tend to have them at LEAST once per day.

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Sometimes I get carried away with the bacon

 

When I have the room to do so, you may find me heating up pre-cooked uncured (‘hippie bacon”) bacon with a torch (yes! it can work!) or if I have the ability to pull out my little butane stove and frying pan I may even be conventional about it. However, I recently found pre-cooked uncured applewood smoked bacon pieces in a POUCH in the salad dressing aisle. These come in VERY handy for that bacon taste without raising eyebrows nearby by taking the torch out of the trunk!

Here is my favorite recipe for “on the go” salads:

Caesar Salad to GO!

2 Large Romaine leaves
1 Large handful of mixed greens or spinach
1 handful or 1/4-1/3 cup hulled hemp seeds
1 handful of chopped sliced mushrooms
3-4 Tablespoons uncured bacon crumbles
3 Tablespoons dried cranberries
2-3 Tablespoons dried blueberries
(CRITICAL ingredient!)
1 Tablespoon of chopped sundried tomatoes
2-3 Tablespoons parmesan cheese (shredded)
1 Handful caesar salad croutons
Black Pepper to taste
Mrs. Dash Garlic to taste
Newman’s Own Caesar Salad dressing to taste (I often add the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 tsp of raw organic garlic to the dressing before adding to the salad)

20170309_171512_HDRCombine all ingredients… and I like to eat it with CHOPSTICKS! 
Enjoy!

Road Food Part 1: Smoothies

This last week and a half I have found myself in a wonderful hotel room that is more like an apartment, complete with a full kitchen. Even so, I have realized that I miss my “road food,” most of the components of which remain in my car which has been in the shop for that same amount of time.  Since I put together the ingredients and two separate “kits” over the course of several months, I do not wish to replace them when they will be returned to me shortly (I hope) with the Volvo.

I do want to take this time to share a couple of recipes that have not only sustained me in my travels, but also enabled me to lose a little weight and maintain energy to do those things that I need to.

I hate fast food. I really and truly dislike fast food to the point of hating it. It is full of fats and chemicals that I really have no desire to put into my body. Only on rare occasions have I submitted to the fast food menus for my sustenance, and those times usually involved me receiving gift cards from those establishments. IMG_20170501_014856

I’ll begin with my prefered breakfast meal: Smoothies. I LOVE smoothies. But HOW do you make a smoothie without a blender?

About a year ago I first began seeing organic blended fruit with vegetables in the baby food isle. They were priced at over a dollar a pouch. The pouches were on average about 3-4 ounces. That was quite expensive in my mind. However, in the past few months, blended applesauce with other fruits and vegetables in pouches have appeared in the canned fruit isle. The sale prices average about $.50 per pouch. That was a price I could see paying for a component of my smoothies.

 

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If you don’t use a 20 ounce bottle, make sure to have an extra cup handy!

Then came the challenge of finding shelf-stable yogurt. Those also appeared on the same isle of the grocery stores, right next to the applesauce. Having originated in France, I also worried less about GMOs. When I use the shelf-stable yogurts, I do sacrifice the benefits of “live cultures” present in fresh yogurt. So, when I am able to have an ice chest full of ice, I sometimes treat myself to a boost of “live cultures” to help my gut.
Here is my recipe, in the numbers…

Portable Smoothies

1 – 20 ounce empty bottle (I use Vitamin Water bottles) (However, some Vitamin Water bottle are NOT 20 ounces, and I have had “overflows” from using too small of containers!)
2 – 3-4 ounce pouches of yogurt (or small “shot” of live active cultured yogurt)
3 – Tablespoons of Hemp Protein Powder (the “magic” ingredient)
4 – 3-4 ounce pouches of blended fruit & vegis of choiceIMG_20170501_012640
5 – Ice cubes

Add the yogurt, fruit and hemp powder to the empty bottle and shake well until the hemp powder has dissolved. Then add the ice cubes and shake until they are melted completely. Your smoothie should be cold and the right consistency to stick a straw into and enjoy!

In my next post I will share my secrets to my fabulous caesar salads that I eat for dinner or even lunch sometimes!

A Woman’s Best Friends

Over seven years ago, I met a Staffordshire Terrier who changed my opinion about dogs. I had been afraid of large dogs (for no reason I can remember….but that isn’t new to me!) for as long as I knew. Barkley was different. A HUGE “pitbull” type breed, he was loyal to no end. Not only to his family, but when I stayed in the house he was protecting, he buddied up to me in a manner I had not experienced. I fell in love with him.

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Ruger Sr., Athena’s father

Then I met a pitbull named “Ruger.” A blue nosed beautiful blockhead, he and his mate Brandy (a chocolate lab) belonged to friends of mine and I rapidly fell for him too. Both Ruger and Brandy would sit on or near my feet when I was in pain, demanding me to pet them. When I would pet them for a little while, the pain got much less intense. Sometimes I even forgot about the pain. Since I could easily deal with daily pain that reached levels of 8-9 (on a scale of 1-10); the idea that a dog could lessen that pain was astounding! I had never heard of such a thing, but I wanted more!

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Brandy, Athena’s Mother

These dogs also showed me in person, what I later learned through reading: Canines have the capability to change a human’s mood as well as ability-level.

When I was crying my eyes out, both of them would lay next to me and encourage (quite forcibly) me to pet them and give them attention. As I was to learn, the very action of petting a dog releases the same hormone, oxytocin, as is released in nursing moms & babies. It is known as the “comforting hormone”. Better than any anti-anxiety drug I know!

God answered my prayers. I stayed with my friends Robin, David and Katie for a month in the spring. As I was getting ready to move on they realized that in spite of being separately kenneled, Brandy had gotten pregnant with Ruger’s litter.

On the first of April, 2011, I woke up to smells and sounds I had never before experienced. I went downstairs to learn that puppies were being born. Before my friends left for work and school, five puppies were born. When I went back downstairs after my shower, there was a sixth. She was later adopted by me and named “Athena Brooke” for the middle names of two of the strongest young ladies I have ever known.

 

Having never raised a dog from a puppy, I had a lot of learning to do. We hit the road before she was even 8 weeks old. Although I had been planning to re-start my cross country road trip with my new-to-me BMW 525, I hadn’t previously planned to have a brand-new puppy in tow! Fortunately, God had me covered; I had friends across the country whose pets and advice taught both me and Athena.

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There was a time she fit in the “Peace Bag”

Together, Athena and I visited people from Idaho to Florida. She made friends with little and big dogs, kittens and even a few house bunnies. Athena was patient with me, and I learned to get my behind out of bed earlier in the morning or pay for my laziness by
having messes to clean up.

When Athena and I had been traveling and living together for less than a year, she made her true “job” or “service” apparent to me.

As a survivor of multiple traumas, I have certain symptoms that are quite distressing. One of them happens quite unexpectedly: I can lose most sensations below my waist suddenly, making it difficult to walk or stand. When Athena was only 9 months old, she sat at my feet and barked me into the chair behind me. We had not had the economical ability to procure formal service-dog training for her, so I was unsure as to her intent. When I sat down, she stopped, seeming pleased with herself. Within five minutes, sure enough, I lost all feeling in my legs.

wp-1491685091988.jpgAthena has made her place in my life with this skill on many occasions. She has
also calmed me, or separated me from a situation, when my PTSD acts up.
She has learned my triggers, and has learned to give notice to me when I am needing help.

Athena and I had many adventures in the past five years, but unfortunately we both eventually experienced some emotionally traumatic events together. She was left with a habit of barking, making it difficult to socialize her enough to use her as a formal service animal. My own PTSD about medical interventions would cause me to delay in having her “fixed.” Although I toyed with the idea of breeding her, I didn’t have the stability to consider that when Athena took matters into her own paws this last summer.

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Athena spent a lot of time hiding from the litter. Especially right after her c-section

It seemed she really liked the full blooded Golden Labrador (who was so old he was silver) next to a house I was visiting, and the two of them conspired to get through the falling down fence more than once. She had tied with him and there were puppies on the way!

I was blessed to be staying with understanding friends who had a lot of experience with dogs when she came to term. The litter of six had to be delivered by emergency c-section due to their huge sizes, but they were all alive and well. Athena woke up to puppies and being a new mom, was not too impressed with them suckling on her near her incision. It took a while of cajoling and treating her to get her to nurse them. Once she did, she rose well to the challenge of motherhood.

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Baby Ruger Bear (abt 3 weeks)

The only puppy in the litter with Athena’s father’s markings was a little black boy with tiny white toes and a splash of white on his chest. I wanted a male from her, and I named him after his grandfather and the name he appeared to favor with his lab looks, he was a “Ruger Bear.”

The rest of the litter was given to friends. I was fortunate to be able to place 2 of the litter to be trained for service dogs for two veterans suffering from PTSD. One has been accepted into a formal training program. It makes me happy to know we were able to help others with this “mistake.”

The only chocolate male of the litter, named “Kiko” by my grandson on his birthday when he came to see the newborns, was given to David, a member of the family that the original Ruger and Brandy belonged to. They have become inseparable. Brandy and Ruger have been gone for a while, and Kiko found a place where he was needed.

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Ruger Bear, about a month old

All of Athena’s puppies found their places. Athena gained experience that seems to help her be more attentive (and rolls her eyes at the puppy’s behavior with me). She is even better at her job of being my companion with Ruger Bear as an additional companion to train. Perhaps I will actually work on training them both formally when we get settled later this year. I hope so. They deserve it and so do I.  For now, Athena is an excellent member of the family and she is truly my very best friend.

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Ruger Bear is already bigger than mama at 6 months

 

Click here to watch Athena and Ruger Bear run and play!

 

(This post was edited from a previous post on SlightelyMaggie authored by myself)

Get Thine A$$ Outta BED!

I have written many Facebook posts that started with the quote, “To Stand UP to LIVE you must first get thine ASS outta BED!” or something similar. Today felt exactly the same way.

On days when starting is like pushing through a bog of mud …this time in my face… I am compelled to wonder if that is why I don’t currently have a bed. I spent nearly seven years in bed. Added a few months here and there over the last three years, and you could say that I wasted nearly a decade in bed. So, now I have lost the privilege to have one, or so it seems on mornings like these.

I know I am not the only person to hide from the world in bed.  The smaller and more advanced technology gets, the easier it it to take to bed with us.  Then those of us introverts who would rather complain about the people around us than to interact with them, hide.  It isn’t just “hiding from the world” that is done in bed…it is also the fact that sometimes a person with chronic pain (like myself) only finds a “comfortable position” in bed. But is life about “comfort?”

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The puppy cuddles me

There are many days that I don’t think I can continue, when everything seems too difficult. This morning, the half-mile drive from the Wal-Mart parking lot where I stayed the night, to the library where I needed to spend today working on my schoolwork and writing, seemed to involve much more cognitive power than I felt I could muster. The dogs were restless, so I walked them. But even the energy to feed them seemed to be escaping my grasp.

So, I prayed. Then I spent some time with Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s words have been a comfort lately. While being bullied online, the words, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” from Matthew 5:44 (KJV) were EXACTLY what I needed.

I found the strength in those words, and a comfort that enveloped my soul, to continue. I may not be the person I once thought I was, but I am much better than I ever imagined I could be. Every day, every hour, out of my bed is an accomplishment. Every time I turn in one more assignment towards completing my goal of finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I am closer to becoming the person I want to be.

Sometimes, I’m thankful to be without a bed.

 

 

Road Trip or Lifestyle?

I had a wonderful opportunity, last week, to take some time off and recuperate from the marriage and divorce and other irritating distractions of my life. I was blessed by God and a few of His angels that coordinated to give me a fantastic self-care week out. As someone who was beginning to feel the wear of the road with my allergies and a chest cold coming on, it was HIGHLY needed and MUCH appreciated. My gratitude is endless to all who participated in that!

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Self-Care from all angles

While I was being quiet and praying and pondering and writing only in my journal, it  finally came to me: I have a trip and a book about it to finish!!!  I have taken FAR TOO MUCH time away from my original goal!!!

Back in 2010, on October 10th at 10:10, I CHOSE to leave EVERYTHING I knew behind. Some friends were quick to say that I was “looking for something” or perhaps I was “running from something/someone” but I knew that I was just needing to see my country. Several people from around the country had “friended” me on Facebook, and then invited me to meet them! So, first by train, then car, bus, plane and finally by “car that runs on prayer” I set out to do just that: meet my friends.

There were more than a few hiccups and delays… I even had one Facebook friend who began messaging me in 2011 saying that “I was meant to be his wife!” Well, even though I ignored that idea for 3 years, unfortunately I went to Arizona to meet him in 2013 and he did NOT allow me to leave without him. In fact, in spite of boasting to me on several occasions about his mechanical prowess, he made sure that I had no transportation and could NOT leave the 37 acres that he stranded me on until I just lost it. I finally gave up trying in the marriage when it ended in his attempted rape of me. NO means NO. Simple.

0708151002cSo, the Facebook Friend’s Tour even included an ill-fated marriage to a proud man who couldn’t understand that I didn’t want him. As you can probably tell, my co dependency that began as a child with my father was not quite worked out at the time my now second ex husband asked me to marry him. Thankfully the divorce was final days before the third anniversary was to be marked on the calendar.

Now that (and he) is out of the way, I can resume my travels. I never did get a chance to see the New England area. That is where several of my ancestors lived, having migrated west throughout the generations. I long to see their records and homes that still stand. I am looking forward to continuing the journey I set out on.

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My travels these last 2 years

I am NOT the same person who began my travels. Much has been said about my mental illness, but strangely enough, when people around me understand words like “no” my mental illness stays quite well in control. When it doesn’t, I keep to myself. My van was lovely to have because I could actually live in it while travelling without anyone growing wiser. The little 1983 Volvo I am living in now is held together with thermal tape and many many prayers (I thank all that pray for me and it!!!), but it suffices fine for myself and my service dogs (one is in-training).

I look forward to meeting those patient New England friends of mine… If you would like to be added to that list, please send me a message. I may just be rolling through your town, visiting a library or two and most likely a dog park near YOU!
I hope everyone’s week is full of Love and Lighte!!!

Homeless NOT Hopeless

Quick Rewind

In my previous post, Transient in Trump’s America, I briefly gave you a glimpse into a few of my choices and my current circumstance. The feedback I received was generally positive except for some highly charged opinions about my choice of title. Apparently it is okay to write about being a transient as long as you don’t mention the current president’s name. My choice to use the “keyword” to “trend-jack” was a marketing decision made in conjunction with learning that technique in class. I was making reference to times and places, since I had listened to the radio news talk about the President’s (he who shall not be named?!) visit to the same county I was currently homeless in. It was included purely for perspective, not as a political statement.20161108_132908_hdr

Perceptions vs Reality

What does it mean to be looked at by others as homeless? Add physically AND mentally disabled, and what image does that conjure up in your mind?
Do you automatically think of someone or a place?  Many people think of homeless camps or transients on the street. In Orlando, Florida, it appears to be commonplace for panhandlers to carry signs walking through 8 lanes of stopped traffic at each major intersection. When there is an accident ahead, they have a captive audience for their begging.  But just because someone is panhandling doesn’t mean that they are homeless.

When you are homeless, others who have residences feel that it is their job to judge you. For example, many people have had much to say about my choice of medicine. The fact that it alone replaced 20 different medications doesn’t seem to faze the people who would call it a “drug” and say that if I wasn’t on “pot” maybe I would have a home. Considering the facts, that is not only painful to hear but frustrating to reiterate my justifications for my choices. sugar-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-awww-honey-honeyEvery choice I make is seemingly up for public scrutiny purely based on my un-housed status.  The fact is, before I was using cannabis I didn’t have the energy or strength to get out of bed, let alone travel the country. It was the use of the herb that allowed me my freedom: Once I had conquered the need for physical comfort my options regarding my living circumstances opened up. Until I left that disability bed zoned out on narcotics, I had not travelled hardly at all. Making the choice to travel, to be homeless, allowed me to get out of my home state of Washington and visit the country from one end to the other!

I remember when I was travelling on a train for the first time in Florida. My Amtrak train incurred a “trespasser strike” right outside of Orlando, in Winter Park. When I heard the term “trespasser strike” I automatically thought there were pickets on the train track. Unfortunately that was a HUGE misperception. The train that I was on, which just picked up a load of children and their families from the Disney World area, had hit a person. He was killed. The only way he was ever identified in the news reports was as “a transient in his 40s.” Eventually the press added the descriptive, “hispanic,” but he was never identified publicly.

Being a bit of a sensitive person, I felt the energy. I felt the fear and confusion and frustration of all of the children around me. I felt the aggravation from their parents; they wanted to move on down the road, and the mandatory 3-hour investigation was delaying that from occurring. I also felt a kinship. “transient in his 40s” was too close to home for me. After all, the only difference in that description from him and me at the time was the pronoun. 1489967004930

The thought that I could be killed while travelling and it be described as “just another homeless person dead” was horrifying. Had I become a “non-person” just because I chose not to pay for a residence and travel?

Is “homeless” a dirty word? Perhaps not, but it seems to strike fear into the most compassionate. I suppose that it is the fear of knowing that every time they are late on their mortgage or rent payment, they are one step closer to being one of them. As I listened to the reactions to my first story “coming out as homeless” I observed many knee-jerk reactions telling me I should seek help at a homeless shelter without respecting my choice of having my dog with me and living in my car. I also found it interesting that others reacted with admiration. Why would anyone admire me?

Featured Image -- 327I have HOPE. I live with faith. I know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me and watches over me. Using that hope and faith, I am working on bettering myself. When I realized that strangers would actually be interested in reading what I write, I took it upon myself to start a program at a college with an online presence, Southern New Hampshire University, to finish my Bachelor’s degree with a focus on nonfiction writing. It was time to learn how to use this gift God gave me.

My books, Standing Up to Live and Medical Marijuana for Mormons are well in the works. I fought for quite some time about “coming out” as homeless; I didn’t want to be known as homeless or transient. Then I prayed about it and the Holy Spirit witnessed to me that Jesus Christ Himself had been without a place to lay His head. Perhaps it was time to make others aware that being homeless does not mean we are scary or bad people. It means nothing except the fact we currently do not have a domicile to call our own. The person inside is still the same as if we did. That is why we can “hide” in plain sight.

The next time you see someone leaving church or a grocery store, don’t assume they are going to a home, the statistics are staggering: Over a half MILLION people in the United States are homeless.  If it doesn’t include a family member or a close friend, perhaps that person you saw use the bathroom at McDonald’s was going out to sleep in their car. You don’t know because we don’t want you to. We, the homeless, hide from your judgements and your fears. Those fears used to be ours, now we not only live them, we are learning to conquer them. img_20160717_112738312

I go to church at a Ward or Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whereever I am staying at the time. I have been blessed with Relief Society (women of LDS) Sisters offering me hot meals and even an overnight inside. The generosity has at times overwhelmed but humbled me. I long to be the one giving, I am so tired of needing to receive. I look forward to a time when I will be able to give. A time when I have achieved my goals of “working myself out of retirement.” My dreams are many, but they have one theme: To help my fellow person. If I can share my hope and faith with anyone that will be a start!

 

Being A Transient in Trump’s America

I am a transient. For all that means, as much as it pains me to admit, I AM a transient.

I became homeless, officially, only weeks before the election. 20161108_132912_hdrWhile the church members who attended the Branch where I am a member cast votes overwhelmingly and loudly for now President Trump, I was living in a camper shell on a friend’s land. My husband moved in with another woman and got a restraining order prohibiting me from returning to the fifth wheel “home” he had given to me for my 49th birthday.  On my 50th birthday, I became a transient once again.

The first time had been partially by choice: Having left my first husband after all of my disability settlement was spent, I had a choice (due to my small disability pension) to rent a small room from a friend or not to. When I contemplated the reality of my seasonal depression and a small space shared with a near-stranger, I thought it best to find my way on my own…homeless.

163113_1531448921952_1630415_nInvited by social media friends across the country to visit, I employed trains, buses, planes, then my own car to visit them. Some for an afternoon, others for a night, some longer. Friends would share their homes and meals and much more with me, but it was always time to leave before too long, leaving me searching for another place to keep dry and warm, or cool. Never a place to call my own. With my mental illness getting worse with my circumstances, I wore out my welcome faster than my friends could anticipate.

When I met my second ex-husband, Keith, he was living in a friends’ RV on the same friend’s property…but he was also officially homeless. I spent 3 years travelling with him, both of our mother’s providing additional assistance when we needed it even though we were both adults ourselves and our mothers were both in their seventies. It didn’t seem to matter to him that we were taking advantage of them, but it hurt my heart. I love my Mom and knew she didn’t have much to give, but I appreciated the support.img_20140130_114920_285

When our mental and physical disabilities overcame the lusts that led to our marriage, it was time for another divorce. Once again, I was left with nothing to call my own. In spite of his claims at the time, Keith had put the 5th wheel that he said was my birthday present into his mother’s name and I was left with a broken-down 1983 Volvo as my only claim from the community property. All of what I had been told was community actually belonged to his mother. Another betrayal. I was alone again.

I DID have my freedom. As frightening as it may seem to some, for me the freedom of being able to travel from place to place means much more than “having a place to call my own.” Don’t get me wrong, I DESPERATELY want something to call my own as well, but I can not depend on someone else to provide it. That is on me.

1476242421824Back in 2010, when I became homeless the first time, I didn’t understand the reality of my mental illness. This time as I sought therapy and cognitive behavioral training via Recovery International groups, I have been able to keep my head a bit more about me and use the skills I have learned over the past 7 years. I attend church where ever I am led to and I have visited several Temples across the country since my baptism in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 2013. I also have a service animal who understands living on the road. She protects me as well as assisting me with my physical and emotional challenges.

What is it like to be a “Transient In Trump’s America?” I was pondering that question as I was listening to a local radio show inform me that the new President was spending yet another weekend not too far from where my travels had led me. The expenses of the local law enforcement were going up astronomically to accommodate for President Trump’s “Southern White House,” a mansion in Florida previously owned by the Post family. I contemplated my own humble circumstance as I looked in my change purse on the way to use the bathroom in the local grocery store: No milk for us today, only 24 cents. 

To be honest, I don’t blame anyone for the situation I find myself in. I am currently on the way to bettering myself: I started back to school via an online program over a year ago and I will graduate with my Bachelor’s in General Studies with a concentration in creative nonfiction writing in July 2017. It is my goal to “work my way out of retirement” in a profession that I can continue in spite of the mental and physical disabilities that prevent me from holding down a day-to-day 9 to 5 job.  In the meantime, I have resources such as a small disability pension I payed money into while I was able to hold down traditional jobs. That helps me to buy gas and essentials like dog food for my service dog as well as groceries.img_20120903_163711_5

I freely admit there are days, weeks and even months where I would not have made it without the help of friends. If a dear friend and her mother had not taken me in this last summer, providing food, shelter and medicine with the value of thousands of dollars, I would not have made it out alive when a jaw infection completely overwhelmed me. Another friend allowed me to stay on her property until the weather turned dangerous. Then again in December when I needed to be in the northwest, my friend and her mom allowed me to stay once again. My friends have been angels.

I couldn’t continue to live off of my friends. It hurt my heart when I couldn’t give back for all they had given. I started traveling again, hoping to find a place where it was warm so I didn’t have to spend the few dollars I had on shelter. Florida had been an area where I visited back in 2010-2011 and I had loved the sunrises at the Atlantic Ocean. I used the cash I had for gas and headed to see friends and to live where it wasn’t too cold to live in my car.

I spend my days alternating in libraries working on my school work and blogs and books with time spent at dog parks and other areas where my canine partners and I can get physical exercise. At night I usually tend to park in lots that DO have surveillance as that tends to keep the trouble-makers away from us. I don’t care if I am watched, just safe.

Over the years, I have incurred vicious attacks from others including the words “homeless (insert expletive here)” directed at me. I feel the shame when I admit I have no home. Even some who have called me their friend have stated that I couldn’t be homeless because, “homeless people don’t dress that way” or because I keep myself clean. I spend a lot of time crying in my car/home wishing people would understand the utter and complete humiliation it is to be unhoused in America.

The public knows “homeless” as those people living in the streets. They are only the VERY FEW of us who have stopped trying to hide. The rest of us cower in our vehicles or corners and try to pretend we have a home waiting for us when we get out of church or when the library closes. We don’t.

While staying in Key West, Florida recently, where I observed a homeless population bursting at the seams, I happened to notice a young father changing the diaper on what looked to be a newborn baby. When he finished, he handed the babe to his partner and closed up the doors on the red minivan that was in the grocery store parking lot for the night. Their license plates were from Michigan. My first thoughts were that baby didn’t choose to be homeless!!! But those thoughts rapidly turned to the nasty weather I saw my Michigan friends complaining about on social media. My prayers then went towards the little family’s safety and security while they stayed in their van.  The parking lot where we all spent the night was full of signs telling us we couldn’t be there. There were no cops that night called to sweep. It was a relief.

my-street-in-key-west-floridaThroughout southern Florida the “bursting at the seams” hospital emergency rooms to the constant, “NO TRESPASSING” and “NO LOITERING” signs directed to those who need desperately to just find a place to lay down for an hour or two are indicative of the increase in population when the rest of the United States of America is covered in snow and frost. Even the President wants to come where it’s warm, and he has SEVERAL homes!

I don’t have the answers. I want to be out of this particular population as much as the next transient. That word HURTS. When I first had to seek the assistance from a “Transient Bishop,” just the realization that label fit who I was, made me turn and start crying. I had to wash up before I could face the Bishop.

I prefer the word “un-housed” while my home is currently a car that runs on prayers. I continue to try to hide my life circumstance from those who would judge, or worse yet, attack me. That is what I fear most.  My faith is still in God and it is stronger than ever as I do what I can as I can to leave the transient life behind. But my thoughts are back with that baby in that red minivan; what is to become of her?

See & hear me here.