Monday, April 14, 2014

Fun Monday - My Favorite Bird

Many years ago, I lived in Oklahoma.  While I was there, I became an avid birder.  I LOVED birds and my back yard was on the migration routes, so I had opportunity to see a lot of them.


My favorite, by far, was the Oklahoma state bird - the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher.  I love flycatchers in general...  they are dainty of feature and amazing to watch in the air - the Scissor-tail won my heart.  In flight, it looks like an angel.  So incredibly graceful.


Their looks, however, hide a fairly aggressive bird.  It defends its territory in much the same way as the more familiar blue jay, especially during nesting season.  The rest of the time, it's a pretty friendly bird.  They hang out on fences and posts and eat all manner of bugs (which is always a plus in my book!).

It's also featured on the back of the Oklahoma commemorative quarter - which shows just how highly valued this symbol of the state really is!

Scissor-tailed flycatchers are probably the thing I miss most about living in Oklahoma.

Official description:
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
tyrannus forficatus 
Description: 14" of which more than half is a very long and deeply-forked black and white tail, adult has bright salmon-pink sides and belly, head, upper-back and breast pale grayish whiteHabitat: Open and semi-open country, roadsides, chaparral, ranches. Often seen perched on utility wires or fences. 
Nesting: 5 creamy brown-spotted eggs in a bulky stick nest lined with soft materials placed in a solitary, isolated treeRange: breeds from eastern Colorado and Nebraska south to Texas and Louisiana, winters mostly south of border and southern Florida
Voice: a harsh kee-kee-kee-kee!, also chattering notes like that of Western KingbirdDiet: Almost entirely insects; few berries.
Notes: Spirited defender of territory against crows, hawks, etc. Gregarious in non-breeding season, Male performs acrobatic "sky dance" during courtship which even includes a few reverse summersaults in mid-air!
When present in Oklahoma: statewide during summer, south, southeast in winter months

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Lent 2014 - A little different this year


I didn't come up with anything to give up this year.  Instead, I'm adding some behaviors to help me become more the person I wish to be.  There are three things I'm attempting.

40 Bags In 40 Days: 
 
Simply fill a bag a day during Lent with the stuff you don't need anymore and donate it to a charity or to someone who DOES need what you have.  http://www.whitehouseblackshutters.com/40-bags-in-40-days-2014/ to find out more!


40 ways of keeping a Holy Lent (posted by a local church - neat idea!):

Day 1: Hug someone
Day 2: Walk, carpool, bike or ride the bus
Day 3: Don’t turn on the car radio and listen to the birds
Day 4: Give $20 to a local non-profit of your choosing
Day 5: Pray the Paper / people and situations in today’s news
Day 6: Change one light in your house to a compact florescent
Day 7: Give 5 items of clothing to Goodwill
Day 8: Give up complaining for a day
Day 9: Do someone else’s chore
Day 10: Thank someone
Day 11: Call an old friend
Day 12: Look out the window until you find something of beauty you had not noticed before
Day 13: Read Psalm 139
Day 14: Pay a few sincere compliments
Day 15: Let someone know you’ve missed them
Day 16: Educate yourself about Grace Mission or My Brother’s Keeper
Day 17: Think about what you might give someone
Day 18: Call or visit someone you miss
Day 19: Forgive someone
Day 20: Read morning or evening prayer
Day 21: Ask for help
Day 22: Tell someone what you are grateful for
Day 23: Introduce yourself to a neighbor
Day 24: Read Psalm 121
Day 25: Bake bread
Day 26: Light a candle
Day 27: Pray for your enemy
Day 28: Donate art supplies to your local elementary school
Day 29: Write a thank you note to your favorite teacher
Day 30: Plant a flower or some herbs
Day 31: Spend 5 minutes in silence at noon
Day 32: No shopping day
Day 33: Bring someone with you to church
Day 34: No sugar day – where else is the sweetness in your life?
Day 35: Invite someone to dinner
Day 36: Pray for peace
Day 37: Educate yourself about a saint
Day 38: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people
Day 39: Remember the best of days
Day 40: Think of ways of keeping a blessed Easter season.
 
100 Happy Days:

The idea is to take a picture of what makes you happy for each of 100 days and post it on Facebook or the social media of your choice.  Or your blog.  Just put it out there.  Apparently 71% of the people who try this fail.  Me?  I think of myself as a pretty happy person and I'm putting my money (or camera) where my mouth is.  Want to try it?  Go to http://100happydays.com/ and register.


All good challenges.  Even if you do some but not all of it, I think the attention to your life and the improvement in your attitude would be worth it. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Here's the thing...



How many of you have seen this on your FaceBook page?  I see it quite often, and always, though the sentiment is good, it also sort of rubs me the wrong way.  It popped up again this morning and since I had time, I analyzed just WHY this particular one bothered me so much.  I think I figured it out.

Here's the thing... all that stuff listed at the beginning of this meme are NOT wishes. They are all within the realm of possibility. One only has to CHOOSE those things and work for them and they can happen. It's not magic. But cancer? That is another story. Kicking cancer's butt IS a wish that can sometimes come true with the proper treatment, IF it's available or affordable. That IF is a big one though - not everything works for everyone. Treating cancer is difficult...  all you have to do is look at those who don't survive it in spite of the best treatments to know that this is true. 

If you want to be thinner, go on a diet.  Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, removing something from your diet that you are sensitive to - all you have to do is stick with it and eventually you'll be buying smaller jeans.

If you want to be bigger, eat more (healthfully) or have surgery, depending on what it is exactly that you want bigger.

If you want more money, a cool car, a day off or a new phone, you can have those things by training, getting and keeping the right job that will provide you with those things.  Having confidence in yourself, your knowledge and your attitude are key in arriving in that place.

If you want to date the person of your dreams, you need the right attitude about relationships and to be the person of someone else's dreams.  If you are loud, rude, chemically impaired, messy, smelly, persistently broke, expect the other person to tolerate bullying, abuse, or you acting like you're still single - chances are that you are NOT the person of someone else's dreams.  If you don't care for yourself, other people probably won't either.

All of these things are under your control.  It might take time.  It might take effort.  It might mean changing your entire life around and getting therapy - but it CAN happen.  It's not magic.

Cancer, on the other hand, is not always something that you can control.  Sure, if you're a smoker or work around chemicals or are around some other hazardous material, you can avoid it by not being around it and possibly not get cancer.  But what about brain tumors in children?  Or the young man with the bright future suddenly discovering that he has bone cancer?  Or the woman with no risk factors whose breasts try to kill her?  Or the man who has worked hard every day finding that mole on his arm was a warning sign of advanced melanoma?  Cancer happens and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to why.  It can strike anyone at anytime in their lives.

THOSE people wish.  They pursue treatments, but even the best treatments are no guarantee of survival.  They pray.  They do everything they can possibly think of to survive.  And a lot of people do.  And a lot of people don't.  Every cancer is different.  It reacts differently to treatments.  It behaves differently in different people.  They wish for a cure.  For themselves.  For other people.

You may not be able to do anything about the cancer itself, but you can do something for the people making those wishes.  Be there.  Talk to them, write to them.  Pray with them and for them.  Go shopping for them.  Change the sheets for them.  Make a pot of tea for them.  It doesn't take a lot to make a difference.  It just takes caring and doing.  Something.  Anything.  Go do it now because I know you know someone.   I could write a long list of people I know who have had cancer, both survivors and non-survivors, but I won't.  If you don't know someone with cancer now, you will in the future.  Start thinking now of what you can do to help so that they can put their energies into their treatments - and their wishes.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Getting to the Bottom of Things

You may not know this, but I've been living with a seriously disturbed stomach for quite a while now.  Symptoms include bloating, diahrrea, constipation (rarely), acid reflux and occasionally nausea.  It's been bad enough that I rarely go anywhere that doesn't have a toilet handy because I never know where or when it's going to hit.

My doctor doesn't seem to believe in gluten intolerance or celiac disease and had repeatedly diagnosed me with giardia (sans testing), prescribed flagyl multiple times which makes me even sicker and tells me to take Metamucil, which doesn't do anything to help my symptoms but does cause me to blow up.

When I say "blow up", I mean I look like someone has inserted a bicycle pump nozzle into my navel and started pumping.  My jeans go from slightly loose to skin-tight in a matter of minutes.  It makes getting dressed for the day something of a conundrum.

Add to this the fact that I am diabetic.  I used to be under very good control but this last year seems to have spiraled out of control in spite of nothing really changing about my diet.  I take Metformin and my doctor wants me to take 2000 mg a day, which makes me incredibly ill.  Can't leave the house ill.  So I take 1000, which still makes me sick but not as bad as the 2000.  Some days I skip it altogether because I just can't face feeling that bad. 

I've wondered about it.  Do I have cancer?  IBS?  Crohn's?  Will my stomach wind up killing me?

My grandfather died last October and in November, I traveled to England for his funeral, with a side trip to North Wales to visit my grandmother.  While in Wales, my diet was very simple.  Bread, cheese, eggs.  There's not much in the way of greens or vegetables this time of year there.  I faced this diet with quite a bit of trepidation and feared that most of my stay would be spent in the bathroom.  To my surprise, I felt better while staying there than I had in years.  I "forgot" to take my metformin and still felt better than usual.  I still stayed away from the very sweet stuff and the white stuff (simple carbs), but I actually felt GOOD.

When I came home, I started feeling bad again - in spite of trying to maintain my UK diet in the US.  I wondered what the difference was.  As it turned out, the bread I was eating in the UK was not made of genetically modified wheat, whereas almost all bread in the US IS.  Wheat here has been tweaked genetically to the point that it isn't really wheat anymore.

I read a book recommended to me by my friend Sandy (finally - she's been pushing this book for a while), and it made a lot of sense to me, especially in light of my recent travel experience.  It's called "Wheat Belly" by William Davis, MD.  In it, he explains why he believes "wheat" is the cause of the sudden surge of diabetes, gluten intolerance and celiac disease.  It makes sense to me, but I want to see for myself.

To that end, I am embarking today on a 6-week trial of going without wheat.  I want to see how this affects my weight, my diabetes and my feeling of well-being.  I can tell you that I don't feel all that great today.  I had spaghetti for dinner last night and brownies for dessert (a last-meal sort of thing).  Today I've had 2 eggs with a slice of swiss cheese.  Lunch and snacks for the day are packed, consisting of hummus, carrots, blueberries, yogurt, and turkey roll-ups (turkey and cheese rolled together like a wrap without the wrap).  I'll be drinking lots of water too.

These are my starting numbers:  148 fasting blood sugar.  Weight 238. 

Let's see if going wheat-free will change these numbers for the better!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Plans and Hopes for 2014

2013 was a pretty good year in spite of a few curveballs.  I'm hoping that 2014 will be just as good and maybe a little better.

After a lovely evening playing board games with friends, Darling Man and the Boy and I came home, had a small toast to the new year and fell into bed.  This morning, the first of a brand new year, I made myself a pot of tea and sat down to think about what I would like to change about me and my surroundings. 

I know that resolutions don't really work - the level of expectation is unrealistic when one does that - but I do have goals that I've been working on and will continue to work on with regards to my health.  I've joined Weight Watchers to try and get a grip on my weight issues.  I've been exploring dietary and exercise changes to help deal with diabetes and high blood pressure.  My diabetes medication makes me quite sick, but I'm leery of a change at this point, as my mom had a severe reaction to a change in her medication.  I react to almost everything pharmaceutical - to me it's a better bet to just not need to take them than to start trying different ones.  That's what I'm aiming for.  I want to participate in at least four 5K races this year.  I walk them rather than running, but it keeps me active in that I don't dare slack off on the walking every day since I know I've got a race coming up.

That health stuff is an on-going project.  The REAL project for this year is to do something about my house.  We've been living here for six and a half years and it still looks like we've just moved in!

I got out my legal pad and started making a hit list and had four pages full by the time I got to the top of the stairs!   I stopped at that point - I want to make myself a note book to keep these ideas in.  Here are some examples of what I want to do:

SMALL HALLWAY (between family room and garage) - New register cover, curtain for door window, paint woodwork, replace light fixture, clean out closet, put up a new cork board, lay laminate on the floor (which would be a continuation of the family room).

FAMILY ROOM - Lay new flooring, get rid of shelves and get a proper TV stand, hem curtains, buy area rug, fix rocking chair and reupholster.

KITCHEN - this is pretty much a renovation... I've been slowly replacing appliances so now I'm down to the stove and range hood - move fridge to opposite wall, build peninsula and cabinets, remove upper cabinets along the sink wall and install open shelving, paint cabinets white, tile countertops with a light to medium grey tile, paint, install lighting in the pantry, new lighting over sink and ceiling light, new stone-motif vinyl floor.

That's just three rooms.  The living room and dining/sitting room, downstairs bathroom and the staircase have their own lists and I haven't even started the upstairs or outside list!  There's a lot to be done and it'll probably take more than a year to get it all done - but we've been kind of skating along for the last 6 years, so it's time to start tackling some of this.

In the meantime, I've made a couple of little changes that will get us started...

The living room has chairs in it.  Still waiting to get rid of dining set, so we still have the china cabinet in there, but it's a move back towards living room status.

A new sofa sleeper in the sitting/dining room is a welcome addition when we have overnight guests.



There will be much pushing of furniture, wielding of paintbrushes and decluttering of excess stuff in the coming year, and I hope that by this time NEXT year, my house will feel more like home and less like a waystation.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A bit of Wales


Ironically, the Wifi in London is less accessible to me than up the mountain in Wales, so posting is going to be sporadic.  I have to take my computer and go down to a pub with wifi in order to check emails and such – and my phone does not work here at all for some reason.  It just can’t find service.  I thought it might be a matter of a different cell network, so I tried to change countries in my phone – there is no England, Wales, Britain, or UK in my list of possibilities, which left me at a bit of a loss.   I did try changing to “Bermuda (UK)” thinking that perhaps a similar cell system was key but with no results and then couldn’t change my phone back to USA.  Most frustrating.  The next day, I turned it on again and got it back to USA, but still no signal.  On the return to London, tried changing again but my hand spasmed and I accidently pressed “Brazil” and couldn’t get it back.  It is finally back on USA, but I give up.  Perhaps Verizon will give me a refund on my “international plan” that didn’t work at all.

My poor guys are probably wondering if I’m still on this planet.

So…  to catch you all up!

 

 
We spent much of our time in Wales sort of wandering around the farm and going to and from Llanbedr and Tallybont.  Ben needed to go to Llanbedr for a few supplies for lunch and James and I tagged along – which he thought was quite odd.  I explained to him that WE would see things we never saw, so even though it was “just to the store” it would be more than that to us.  The post office was a tiny place complete with gruff postmaster of few words.  I purchased a few postcards to send home and had to ask him for postage.  We were lucky it was open – the post office is only open three days a week up there.
 



Next stop was a grocery – very small, with a meat and cheese counter and behind that, a small selection of wine.  James picked up a bottle for later, and Ben got a few things and we left. 


In the parking lot, we found a cat perched on the roof.  I didn’t even realize it was a live cat until James pulled out his camera, at which point it became quite alarmed.  We talked to it as we snapped.  Ben thought us most peculiar.  Of course to him, animals up high aren’t odd.  On the drive down the mountain, there is a wall dog.  He’s chained to the wall he sits on top of and barks when anyone drives by.  Ben said one day the dog got overly-excited and jumped off the wall and was found dangling at the end of his chain.  The chain was shortened so that couldn’t happen again and the dog is now happily living on top of the wall barking at all passersby once again.  And of course, there is so much up and down here with rock outcrops and such that looking UP for an animal is quite normal.  The sheep you’re looking for could well be up on that rock sticking out of the side of the mountain.


My grandmother’s time revolved around meals – tea and dinner, specifically.  Our first night was tea with Jocelyn, then dinner with Ben in a Llanbedr pub (delicious).  The second day, it was again, tea with Jocelyn, visiting, then dinner at Jocelyn’s favorite pub, where I had fish, peas, and new potatoes.  The third day, Ben went and got Jocelyn and we had tea at Glyn Artro with Uncle John, Aunt Pip, Ben, Jocelyn – and through the magic of FaceTime, my parents back in the States.  The look of wonder on Jocelyn’s face was priceless.  James held his Ipad up and showed everyone in the room, then settled in next to Grandma for the duration of the chat.  It was a long one, but both my dad and my grandmother, hungry for the sight of each other were quite satisfied by the end of it.
 

 
Dinner that last night was at Grandma’s favorite restaurant, Tony’s.  It’s right at the bottom of her hill, and with her limited travel ability, the place she goes most often.  It’s a little Italian restaurant, perched at the bottom of the street, run by a very affable man named Tony – and he loves to talk.  There is patter and stories for each table and a very pleasant waiter as well. 

 
I had a plate of spaghetti Bolognese and we all shared a side of vegetables, which consisted of roasted potatoes, peas, fried cauliflower and stewed tomatoes with zucchini.  It was an odd side, but quite delicious. 
 
 Grandma was insistent on dessert and was quite deflated when I turned her down.  I felt I’d been eating since I got there (it’s what you do when you’re not working) and my blood sugar was going crazy.  She was quite disappointed as she was longing for ice cream and I told her to go ahead – I would have a bite of James’ dessert when it arrived, which I did.  She plowed through her ice cream (gelato, actually) and was very happy with it.

The d├ęcor was interesting – a huge array of pitchers lined the walls in the big room.  I got my very own pitcher of water, so I know they are used and not just decoration.  The other room was quite large as well, but the ceilings were low.  I suppose as a rule, Welshmen just aren’t very tall people.  Some of them are big, but not tall.  At the end of the evening, we hugged Grandma goodbye, had our feet attacked by her little dog Cassie (“Oh!  She doesn’t want you to go!” says grandma.) And James and I went up the mountain for the last time.

We had to leave fairly early, as James had meetings in London in the afternoon, so we packed our bags, loaded the car and said our goodbyes to family and the mountain for the foreseeable future. 





The ride back to London was far less harrowing than the ride out.  Traffic seemed a bit saner, the weather better, and James had become accustomed to the car we had.  It was a pleasant ride and we arrived in London, found our way to No. 9 and were let in by Kollyn, who came striding up the street just as we finished parking.  The Wales adventure was over, and the London one about to begin.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Day of Driving Left

I'm exhausted, but if I don't get it down now, I'm afraid I'll lose it. 
 
I flew into Heathrow London at 6:51 this morning (London time), after a long, long day.  I'd left home at 3pm, arriving in Charlotte, NC about an hour before my flight to London.  I changed some money, the boarded the plane.  I probably slept about 2 hours, and when we landed, had to figure out how to get to the Enterprise Rent-a-Car place.  It did take me a couple of misguided attempts, but I finally got there.  I was quite impressed with the attentiveness and courtesy of the representatives and Jay and I had a huge laugh later when we got in the car and found a tag that said it was "American-style service."  If only Americans were into good service...
 
Jay drove.  I've never driven in England and don't know that I ever will.  I told him upfront that I was a terrible passenger.  I would mash pretend brakes and make squeaky noises when I felt endangered and possibly even yell at him to slow down or watch out.  As it turned out, I was right on all accounts.  Two near-collisions had me hyperventilating, but we came out of them without anyone hitting anyone.
 
And in spite of that, I felt pretty safe with him driving.  Enough so that I nodded off a couple of times and managed to get another two hours of sleep before arriving at our destination - Grandma's house!
 
We surprised her by turning up so early (she figured it would be dark), but she recovered nicely, introducing us to her cleaning lady and serving us tea.  We talked about Lois and her dog, Cassie, and Jay's job...
 
 

She's had cataract surgery recently and while she's got her colors back, she's still having great difficulty reading, which is a sadness to her.  All in all, she looks pretty good.  She packed us off after an hour or so because we needed to start up the mountain before it got dark.  Well, it got dark FAST and we hit the steep hill in complete darkness.  It had rained off and on all day and the road was covered in leaves, which made us lose traction a time or two.  We dodged a few sheep and finally opened the gate to the farm.  I'll show you pictures tomorrow so you can see outside AND in.

My dad's cousin Ben (my first cousin once removed?) took me and Jay to dinner down in Llanbedr at a little pub that has a restaurant attached.  We passed through the pub, which had on a sporting match of some sort, cheering beer drinkers and several dogs, one of which looked a lot like Kida.  We sat and had a lovely dinner and lovely conversation as the rain intermittently tapped on the glass overlooking the front garden. 

It's late now and Ben is going to put me to work in the morning, so I need to get a little shut-eye.  I wanted to get something down now though - just to start.  Tomorrow, I'll share pictures of the drive and the house and of course, sheep!