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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Awareness

The day after my 51st birthday at 6:19 pm, I was sitting at my dining room table contemplating what I should make for dinner. I nearly jumped out of my skin when the antique telephone ringer that signifies someone is calling my cellphone broke the silence of the small apartment. I looked at the number, it wasn’t saved in my contacts and it was from an area code a few miles north… probably a telemarketer or bill collector I surmised and decided to answer it just to make sure I knew which before saving and blocking the number. wp-1509142348363..jpg

“Hello?”
“Hello, is this Margaret …?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“Hi Margaret, this is the Mammography center at Virginia Mason in Federal Way. I’m calling to …”

Her words faded into the ether as my mind raced. I had my mammogram like always just before my birthday. It was an easy way to remember. Now, only two days later, they were calling me about something?!

The sweet young lady from the radiologist office was impervious to my reaction on the other end of the line. She proceeded to inform me that I didn’t have anything to be concerned about, they just needed a few more images and an ultrasound to clear up an area on my mammogram. It was scheduled for 7:30 am on the next Thursday.

I would have almost a week to think about it.

The days went by at a snails-pace while thoughts flooded my mind. I didn’t tell many people for a few days. I didn’t want the people who loved me to have the same racing thoughts that I was having; I didn’t want anyone to worry.

wp-1509142651561.jpgThoughts about the cancers that run so rampant throughout my mother’s family.  Thoughts about my mother’s cousin who just fought breast cancer last year… and not to be forgotten, thoughts of my dear friend Maria Mills Greenfield who lost her fight with metastatic breast cancer on January 19th of this year.

I sought relief of my racing thoughts. I needed comfort. I prayed to my Heavenly Father and He filled me with peace. Divine peace. I knew at that point that all was okay; it was just a scare.

Once I received that comfort from the Holy Spirit, I shared the information with a few people that I would be having a “re-mammo.” A few days later, right before my appointment… I decided to share some of my activities at my reaction through twitter:

I was finally ready to talk about what I was going through.

My friends responded on the post that was echoed on my Facebook account, concerned. I tried to reassure those I could by telling them I felt it would be okay. But I just wanted the re-mammo to be over.wp-1509142645891..jpg

Thursday finally arrived and I awoke at 4:14 in the morning, six minutes before my alarm. My dogs were surprised when I turned on the light in the bedroom and began getting ready.

We were loaded into the van before 6. I nervously adjusted the radio to a station that would include a traffic report about the highly congested area of Joint Base Lewis McChord that I would have to travel through to get to my Federal Way radiologist.  Singing along to the country song they were playing, I pulled out and headed into the darkness of the morning.

Thanks to an absence of collisions, we got to Federal Way about a half hour early. I poured some water for the dogs in their van-dish and assured them I would be ‘right back’ and headed into the clinic.

There was no line at the radiology check in counter and the receptionist told me to have a seat, they would be “right with me.”

I scrolled through Facebook and read email for the longest half hour wait I had in a long time. Finally, at 7:34 am, I was called back to the exam area.

IMG_20171026_075356643.jpgThe young lady who was in charge of taking the extra views of the mammogram was very soft spoken and gentle. I wondered to myself how many times she has to do extra views and if it is difficult on her when there is more obvious issues. She left the room as I undressed from the waist up and put on the gown open in the front.

I could see from the displayed previous image of my mammogram displayed on the monitor that they were focusing on a tiny area that just looked like a blur to me. The young lady was gentle as she manipulated my right breast into the correct position for each image.wp-1509069172642..jpg

After changing out the supports a few times and taking several additional images, she asked me to wait while she delivered the images to the radiologist for her to look over. Another long wait, so I took a few photos around the room.

She came back and informed me she needed more views and changed the supports again on the mammogram machine. After she was done, I waited once more. Finally she returned and asked me to follow her into another room where she passed me off to another young lady for the ultrasound.

I was quietly thankful that everyone I was dealing with were female. Apparently the radiologist was female as well. At least that fact was reassuring. I lay down on the table and put my right arm over my head as she squeezed the cold gel onto my right breast and began the exam.

The ultrasound tech explained that she would be taking a few images and measurements, then she would be going out to get the radiologist who wanted to take a look herself.  The exam didn’t take long at all. Before I knew it, the tech stepped out and almost immediately back in with the young radiologist with long dark hair. Her words were also quiet and kind, making me think that she had to tell much harder news to other women often.

PicsArt_10-26-06.56.48.jpgThe radiologists words were reassuring as she informed me the spot they needed more information about was just a tiny little tangle of blood vessels that wasn’t very clear in the mammogram. She reminded me that I have fibrous breasts and told me it would be a good idea for me to continue getting the 3D mammograms, my next being needed in a year.

As I was leaving, I saw a sign reminding me it is breast cancer awareness month in October. This October I am feeling VERY aware. Very aware and very thankful that breast cancer is not currently one of my challenges. My heart and prayers are with all of those who do have and have had breast cancer. I am also much more empathetic now about the scares that many of us go through.wp-1509142437346..jpg

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!

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.

 

 

Have we become a Country of Bullies?

A few lines from a poem I penned a year ago today caused me to reflect upon the process of the election and it’s effect on us all, “Is the desire, the need for change so great,
That we condemn our children to a new world of hate?!”

In retrospect, I don’t feel that it is one election that does that. That poem was part of a knee-jerk reaction that has been common in almost ALL Americans, no matter what color, red or blue, that your state or your voting was tinted. I say this because I have been the online target of a few reactions as well. When I chose to use the name of the president of my country in a title of a blog piece, using a technique we were learning in my college class, I endured judgement and ridicule from people who didn’t even bother to read the article I wrote.20161108_132912_hdr

In spite of my poem from last year when I expressed my frustration and personal dislike of the lows that the republican debate had reached, the ENTIRE political process was frustrating and disgusting me all through the election. I feel much the same about it now: Disgusted.

This morning when I went into the local library in Savannah, Georgia, my arms and hands loaded to my limits with my computer bag and backpack, my journals in my arms; a woman smiled and greeted me as she came into the elevator. Her smile was beautiful, her greeting cheered me up. I knew I was going to write about the anger and hate and bullying that is prevalent right now online, and it was her mood that influenced mine for the better. How? She smiled at me. She said, “Hello, how are you this morning?” I answered back in kind. It was nice. But why is any of this important??

wp-1485625896850.jpgI see and feel the online community becoming more and more quick to judge. When I used the alliteration technique I was practicing for school to title a blog post, I was removed from a Mormon group on Facebook (1 Million Mormons on Facebook.) The ONLY reason for my being banned from the group is that one of the moderators had read “Trump” (the name of the current president of my country) in the title of a blog piece I shared and had unequivocally decided that my blog piece was of a political nature while failing to even read it.

There were comments from many other people who I have come to call “Trumpeteers” because of their quick to comment and berate attitude when I used the name of the president. I know there are many people who are arguing that he ISN’T THEIR president, but the fact remains, he is currently in that office. Why don’t I have every right to use his name? I am an American. I never saw this type of “blind reactions” when Obama came into office. But then again, I didn’t write him into my blog titles either. I hadn’t learned the techniques that I learned last term in my college classes to get more views, yet.

The increased visibility of my writing is WHY I feel that I have gained a larger amount of negativity. I had come from a place where my writing only reached a personal audience, but the more I share it into the online world at large, the more of all types of reactions I have received.1585624636311

I have known and still KNOW I have my “personal haters”… a group that has been following me and increasing with every failed relationship. Apparently I have had a “type” for the last few years: I seem to have liked men who were loud online and failed to have any redeeming quality in person. All bark, no bite. They both had MANY followers in social media. A group of them have been attacking my posts and me by email. I guess they fail to understand that their “hits” on my page count just as well as any who enjoy what I write. As it has been said, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Or is there?

Although I have GENERALLY noticed an increasing amount of bullying and hate online, I can NOT say that it is coming entirely from one faction or another. It is as if people have forgotten that on the other side of that computer screen is a PERSON, regardless of their political stance! Did we, as Americans (I AM noticing that this contentious behavior is MOSTLY from people in my own country!!!) get so damaged and affected by the propaganda involved in the electoral process in these last years that we have FORGOTTEN how to treat one another?? Have we forgotten that “Golden Rule,” that is differently worded, but included in EACH and EVERY religious and spiritual practice, “Do unto others as YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU???” Where are our MANNERS? Where is our tact? Where is our compassion? Are we just out to attack when we see something that comes close to almost offending us? Have we, as a country, been reduced to being “keyboard warriors?”

In a series of tweets and posts over a 8 hour period of time prefacing the writing of this article, I made the following statements:

“I’m thankful that the real world has not yet become as angry and hateful as the online world. I fear the day when it does.”

“Digital world vs #bootsontheground, what is reality and what is a carefully orchestrated PR scheme? #TrumpsAmerica #social”

“I fear the day when we are as thoughtless and mean in person as we, as a people, can be online #depersonalization #bullying #BeNice #love”

The comments that I received made me overwhelmingly sad. Over and over again it was stated that the “real world” is as nasty to live in as a world filled with keyboard warriors ready to pounce on our every word or statement. But I have not experienced that. Those were comments from others that I had not found true in my travels in the past 4 months through Washington state, Oregon, California, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida or now, Georgia. Not one bit.

img_20170225_141418.jpgIt could be argued that I haven’t experienced discrimination or nasty people being mean in person because I am not of a certain group or another. I beg to differ. I am a mentally and physically disabled older woman who is currently without a roof to call her own. I am in the public CONSTANTLY: gas stations, public libraries, stores and dog parks. Yet, I am a member of one of the most feared and hated groups in the country: The mentally ill homeless. Oh, I am also of a VERY fair complexion. So fair, in fact, that the wonderful woman who said “hi” to me this morning and I were at the OPPOSITE range of tints in our skin tones. Did that make what she did any more or less important? Probably not. I felt it nice to have someone reach out to me. I have noticed in the past when I travelled in the south it was very discouraged for me to speak first to someone who wasn’t my race. I got stared at in Obama’s America for initiating conversations with other races in the South. In Trump’s America, that hasn’t happened, yet. Interesting change … or was it the time that passed between my trips… or was it simply different people in different areas?

If you doubt that I have had the OPPORTUNITY to experience discrimination in my travels, let me add that throughout the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, TEXAS, ALABAMA, LOUISIANA and Florida, I was travelling with a VERY openly OUT Gay young man. Jacob was acting as my friend, companion, assistant and photographer, we were travelling in close proximity to one another. I remember him remarking how Texas was not at all what he would thought it would be. Then there was the service he offered at the Houston LDS Temple to a couple of Patrons after he took a few photos for me. Not one time, not in ALL of the south, did either of us experience ANY hate words or worse. NOT ONCE.

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Jacob in New Orleans

My friends from the northwest are relaying stories from travellers heading north that the northwest, once known for it’s welcoming nature, has become angry and gloomy as a society. If that is true, it saddens me greatly.

It is my PERSONAL belief that what we give comes back to us, sometimes many times over. I have yet to experience leading with a smile or a friendly comment that hasn’t been returned. Not once. I have had a couple of incidents where I have even been involved with law enforcement in these 2800 miles. All were in Florida where the homeless population bursts at the seams with northerners so poor that the gas to go south was cheaper than heating whatever shelter they had or didn’t have for the winter. I can say unequivocally that even THOSE experiences were not unpleasant. Just officers doing their jobs. They gave me information that I didn’t have and they were as pleasant as they could be in carrying out their duties.

I am hopeful that somehow as a nation we can heal. Perhaps even as a world. But that may be just a dream. I am a dreamer though, and I will gladly keep dreaming that particular fantasy. I will continue to spread love and light with my smile and my words whenever I possibly can! I will LOVE my neighbor. I will be the most positive that my broken brain can manage on any given day. I WILL be part of the change we NEED.

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!!!