A Day in the Life: Then and Now

two-kids-movie-ensley-vignette-wht-frame
As I stood on the front stoop watching my elder son leave to return to grad school this afternoon, I couldn’t help but remember the very first time my two very little boys got in the car and drove off with their father on that Saturday morning—the first visit a few weeks after our divorce nearly 30 years ago.

Nothing could fill the cavern in my heart that first empty, silent weekend. All of my hopes and dreams, the life I had envisioned for us, had long since disintegrated in the decay of our marriage, but I had my boys, and that was all that mattered. But they were gone for the weekend, and the reality of our situation washed over me in waves. I had no regrets about the divorce, nor have I ever harbored such thoughts. The knowledge that their father only grudgingly consented to visitation weighed heavily upon on my mind.

What would become of us, my little boys and me? How would we ever survive? I had no regular job, no health insurance, and for several long months, no child support. I had no family anywhere in the region and very few real friends on whom I could count. I knew one thing, though. Failure was not an option. I would do whatever it took to provide for my little family—I did freelance design work, I made and sold quilts, I cleaned other people’s toilets and whatever other work I could find until I could secure a full-time job.

After that first weekend, their father didn’t come around again for a while. It wasn’t long before the exhaustion of working so many hours, running after two small, very “busy” children, and keeping up a home overwhelmed my immune system, and I became ill with a virus that grew into pneumonia and laid me out for five months. Somehow, we survived.

Nearly two years after my divorce, I landed a job that provided health insurance and good benefits, and allowed me the flexibility to stay home with the boys when necessary. Years later when my younger son went head first over his bicycle and broke both wrists (casts from knuckles over the elbows), I took off for seven weeks to care for him and home school him. I was fortunate that I could take off that time.

They years passed so quickly. I know I made mistakes along the way, but I always did my best to be a good and loving mom. Fortunately, none of my mistakes was serious enough to have lasting consequences! Today, watching him drive off in his own vehicle, about the same age as his father when we divorced, I felt a pang, as I always do upon leaving my kids, but I was also filled with a great sense of pride in the young men who both of my boys grew up to be.

As a mom, I suppose that pang, no longer a pang of sorrow at seeing them drive off for the weekend, but one of deep love and appreciation for them, will always remain. At least, I hope it does. The old cavern in my heart overflows with joy for them.

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A Day in the Life: Inspiration beyond Inspiring

As I looked through the photos of this incredible installation, I could feel my spirit soaring. As well as a beautiful piece of sculpted art, this is an engineering wonder. I can only imagine how amazing it is in person. I’m talking about this piece, Ventricle, featured in today’s Creative Boom.

ventricle sculpture

Ventricle is a two-part installation that was commissioned by the Southbank Centre in London, and built by New York-based agency, SOFTlab, for the Festival of Love. All images ©Softlab.

Rather than go on about it, myself, as I’m pretty much overwhelmed, here are a few more pics and the URL where you can read all about it and see even more. Note the changing colors at different times of day. All photos are copyright ©Softlab,

ventricle 5
ventricle 4
ventricle 3
ventricle 2
See all the rest at Creative Boom. As always, please feel free to share the inspiration!

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A Day in the Life: Cold Calls and Eye Floaters

The other day was a busy research and telephone day. Researching specialist contact lens fitters for a patient in Louisville, KY, I found several optometrists’ websites that looked promising. I read as much about each as I could, and then, I took down numbers and called each of the three, knowing full well that I’d be talking not with the docs, but with their assistants.

I introduce myself and explain the purpose of my call. “I’m calling on behalf of Vision Surgery Rehab Network (VSRN), a non-profit organization that facilitates rehab options and provides information for post-corneal refractive surgery (RS) patients with complications.”

“How can we help you?” I explain that I’m currently researching expert lens fitters in the area for a patient who has reached out to us for help. Twenty years after having RK surgery, he is now hyperopic (far-sighted) in each eye to varying degrees, and experiencing muscle strain and headaches. This could generally indicate an imbalance of some sort, but without a thorough exam, it’s impossible to say. Would their practice be interested in working with this patient?

They each take my information and promise to give the docs a message to return my call. About a third of those to whom I reach out either email  or call back, but usually, they ignore my inquiry, as it’s quite common not to want to take on another doctor’s disaster patient. To my surprise, all three called me back, all of them interested in doing whatever they could to help this patient and any others. I listen for what have become the magic words: “we enjoy the challenge,” because we are a challenge, we patients with problems, and we take a lot of chair time with a relatively small financial return.

After answering their questions about VSRN, I ask them about their experience working with post-RS patients, whether RK, LASIK, PRK or otherwise. Mostly what I need to know is that they recognize the particular issues, have successfully seen and treated them often enough to be expert specialty lens fitters (a prosthetic contact lens is generally the only [non-invasive] “fix” that doesn’t cause further problems), and whether they are willing to go in and clean up a mess created by someone else. All three docs passed the vetting process with flying colors, and I was able to provide the patient with several options for care.

At the same time, a patient from the west coast called asking for help finding someone to fit her for specialty lenses. Because she is willing and able to travel anywhere as a flight attendant, I gave her several options for excellent fitters, emailed the doc she chose, and closed that case for the time being. And while this is going on, I have a very young, very unhappy Greek patient with floaters after LASIK. His resources are limited by his geography.

Floaters are common enough in the general public, but I also experienced a giant increase in them after I got toasted in 2001. Unfortunately, there are no safe, reliable treatments for zapping them or preventing them at this time, and the young man is very unhappy about it. He is frustrated that there is so little research devoted to his problem. I tried to explain to him that, at least in the US, research dollars are limited and are generally awarded to those seeking cures for life-threatening diseases, like cancer. In his immaturity, he compares the two and finds them equally troublesome, likely because he has, by his own admission, never watched a loved one suffer and die from cancer. He “knows a guy with cancer, but he’s doing better than I am.” I doubt that, but I didn’t respond. He wants me to donate to his cause and post it to our bulletin board. The facts of life: People are not jumping up and down waiting to get in line to donate to non-profits treating eye issues from elective surgery (although VSRN is desperately in need of operating funds, so anyone who’d like to donate to Vision Surgery Rehab Network is more than welcome to send me a message for information on what we do and how to donate, as we have a teeny-weeny, half-a-shoestring budget, and will soon be out of money…).

I am in no way minimizing any patient’s issues, but we have to accept reality. Yes, floaters are extremely distracting when you have the Rand McNally World Atlas of them in your eyes all the time, but they are not the end of the world, and there are a thousand things far worse. The image below is a representation I created after my LASIK to approximate the quality of my post-surgery vision when looking out a window on a sunny day.

floaters glare ghosting LOC

Looking out the window. Floaters, glare, ghosting, and loss of contrast after LASIK. Blur is the result of under-correction (they missed the mark.

Ugly, isn’t it? The blur is the result both of under-correction that left residual refractive error, and  irregular corneal surfaces responsible for a long list of other aberrations, including the loss of night vision and dim light vision. I’ve learned to live with it.

 VSRN tries to assist any patients who seek help, and are willing to do something to help themselves. It’s a twisted, rough path, but we try to navigate it with them. If you have had complications from RK, LASIK, PRK or other corneal refractive surgery, and you would like to see if we can help, please message me and we will do our best to seek out the appropriate resources. Visit our website and bulletin board for more information:
http://www.visionsurgeryrehab.org
https://visionsurgeryrehab.evecommunity.com

Disclaimer: VSRN does not dispense medical advice. We exist only to facilitate rehab options for patients with post-RS complications. Our executive director is a clinician, and any information or medical opinions provided are offered only as a basis for assessing and finding rehab options.

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A Day in the Life: Today’s ‘Pet’ Peeve

catseyes

Story (L) and Wall-e (R)

I’ve never been a particularly vocal pet lover, although I’ve always had dogs or cats or both, or other pets. They have been part of our family, whether growing up as a child, or as an adult with my own family. At one time, I had six indoor cats (Bubba, Rocky, Sam, Lizzy, Patton and G Kitty), a [mostly] outdoor dog (Windsor), two indoor rabbits (Easter and Sunday), a hamster (Hammy), an anonymous anole, and two indoor-outdoor kids and husband—all under one roof. There were five litter boxes, scooped morning and evening and in-between, as necessary. All of them, including the kids and husband, always had abundant water, sufficient food and shelter, and when the temperature was too hot or too cold, Windsor stayed cool downstairs in the basement with everyone else. I currently have two adopted cats, Waldorf and Astoria (Wall-e and Story), indoor cats who are well cared for and much loved.

We are currently under an extreme heat advisory, with dire warnings about dehydration and heatstroke. I’m now stepping up on my soapbox.

What I cannot, and never will understand, are those inhumane pet owners who leave their animals out in life-threatening weather, often without water, and chained or enclosed without shelter from the elements. Why on earth would anyone treat an animal to that which humans would not tolerate? What is the point of keeping and mistreating an animal? No, they are not human, and no they are not like children, regardless of what anyone may insist. However, they are living, sentient beings, sensitive to heat and cold, thirst and hunger, and that should be enough to treat them humanely. When there’s a heat advisory, with a heat index of over 100°F, how could anyone chain a dog up outdoors without shade or fresh water? When it’s -20°F, how could anyone leave an animal, or worse, a child, in a car alone for any amount of time in these severe weather conditions?

Have those who do these things descended to such a low level that their humanity has all but abandoned them? Especially for the people down the street, who thought nothing of leaving their dog out in any sort of weather, whining, crying and barking all day and night, why was it necessary to call animal services to come to your pet’s rescue? What the hell is the matter with you?

Please, remember that when it’s too hot or too cold out for you, it’s too hot or cold for most household pets. Treat your fur family with the same concern you show for yourself, or don’t have pets. End of rant. Stepping down from soapbox.

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A Day in the Life: First World Problem

For the entire summer (actually since May 27), until yesterday, the central air in my house was deader than a doornail. As the temperatures soared into the 90s with humidity in the 75%-90% range, I made do by running the three overhead fans continuously day and night, and with window fans in the living room and bedroom. And then there’s the three-foot-in-diameter fan, which on its lowest speed is loud and very aggressive, and which I suspect on highest speed (5), would blow out the windows in any room where it resides. Cool cloths, cool showers, ice packs and sitting in front of the fan worked well during all but the hottest days. On those days, my muscles rebelled and I could scarcely get up and about. (Myasthenia gravis doesn’t like extremes of hot and cold; neither do I.)

When my home warranty provider denied my claim to repair or replace the unit, which dates from the 70s, I accepted the fact that I’d have to pony up the $3000 to replace the system, but I had to wait until the middle of July to scare up the dough. With a small loan from the bank and the extreme generosity of my brothers, I was able to have a new system installed yesterday. I sat back and reveled in the cool, quiet house. The fans were extremely loud, and for a person who resents even the noise the refrigerator makes when it kicks in, the silence was especially golden. I realize that this is, no doubt, a first world problem, and that I am spoiled by modern conveniences.

Now, I distinctly recall that growing up, we had no central air. In the first house I remember, on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound, a whole house fan in the attic drew the heat up and out, making it quite comfortable most of the time. Our large family’s next home was an old, brick “mansion” in the Midwest, where temperatures and humidity were often the same numbers. Built in 1900 or so, it featured a 1000 square ft. ballroom and servants’ quarters on the third floor. (I can only imagine how incredibly uncomfortable the servants must have been in the heat.) “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” dominated talk about the weather. We had window air conditioners in some of the rooms, powerful window fans in the others, and for the most part, we were comfortable. The dungeon basement, always cool, provided respite in case the heat became too much.

We first encountered central air in the ranch house that followed the big old house. My mother, in the full bloom of menopause, preferred to keep it cool, really cool. “If you’re too cold, put on a sweatah (Manhattanese for sweater).” We were completely spoiled by central air, and I vowed never to live without it again. Life, however, interfered. My college dorm room was on the first floor, and while warm, it was never as hot as the upper floors, and besides, I had an ancient window fan donated by my next older brother, who no longer needed it. A series of apartments and tiny houses came without air conditioning and we survived. By the time we bought our first house, central air was a deal-breaker. With one child and another on the way, I could not contemplate being pregnant during the muggy summer months, when my little darling was due. (He was born in August, and it was hot hot hot.)

After a divorce, my kids and I moved into a lovely old, brick, prairie-style home with incredible woodwork and cavernous rooms, albeit in a sorry state of disrepair. No air conditioning, but I had my trusty, ancient box fan in the metal case. (Homes with AC were beyond my meager budget.) Over the first Labor Day weekend there, ripping out horribly odoriferous wall-to-wall shag carpet that covered beautiful oak floors, I thought I’d melt, even with the fan aimed directly at me. Some nights, we slept on the living room floor in front of that fan. The basement playroom and studio provided cool relief in summer and surprising warmth in winter. After three years and another husband, we installed a huge window unit on the first floor, and another smaller unit on the second floor, with the fan to push the air around. Once again, we enjoyed comfort.

big fan

Another divorce, another home, this one in which I now live. Once again, central air was a deal-breaker. I suppose I’m very lucky that the vintage system, c. mid-1970s, functioned well for as long as it did. I just wish it had held out for another year, as it died just as my beloved kitty, Story, had to have surgery to remove an obstruction in his intestine, my Macbook Pro (my livelihood) fried and had to be replaced, and expenses for a trip to Washington, D.C., for work all came at the same time as the necessity of purchasing my elder son’s ticket home from Thailand, where he has lived for nearly a year. In addition, the rear brakes on my car were down to 3% and the front to 15%. (Brake jobs on a vintage Saab are not cheap, but that’s just another Saab story….) And so, in a word, I’m broke in the first world sense.

On the up side, the universe (and my family) has taken pretty good care of me. I have a home (with AC!), enough to eat, two great kids, two delightful cats, wonderful family and friends, I’m sort of reasonably healthy, albeit a bit broken here and there, and work that is also my play. For all of this, I am ever grateful. Life is good.

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A Day in the Life: Inspiration VIII

For some time, I’ve been feeling uninspired under the pressure of financial disasters: nearly dead cat (had to have surgery), dead central air system, dead laptop, and medical bills that just keep accruing as I go to physical therapy twice a week for a bum shoulder. I’ve managed to produce only two pieces of art in months, have made no jewelry, except for restringing two necklaces for a client. In fact, the only real work I’ve done has been production of a 40-page, tabloid-size newsletter published quarterly and a a couple of rather simple posters.

This morning, while drinking my coffee and planning my day, I encountered the work of artist Matteo Massagrande, which blew me away. I’ve always been fascinated by abandoned architectural spaces, and have even created a few pieces of art based upon them.

door to my dreams 6"      oldhomestead-6"

I was so impressed with Matteo Massagrande’s work, I’m sharing it here, today. From his profile on Artsy: “Matteo Massagrande paints interior scenes with multiple focal points, a compositional style absorbed from having studied Renaissance masterworks while working as the assistant to a restorer of 15th- to 19th-century artworks. He blends late 19th-century Italian Realism with contemporary photorealism and Renaissance art techniques. Addressing themes of remembrance and temporality, Massagrande depicts interior spaces in varying states of deterioration. His cinematic perspectives and eerie light effects suggest the presence of previous inhabitants and their former lives. The artist builds each composition in sections, adding texture and patina as if restoring the painting while creating it. Massagrande once met [artist] Giorgio de Chirico, who inspired him to develop his own style rather than adhere to more popular abstract styles.” You can see Matteo’s work here:
www.artsy.net/artist/matteo-massagrande.

The detail in these is amazing. A few of his works:

la stanza gialla-massagrande

La Stanza Gialla. Matteo Massagrande

terraza massagrande

Terraza. Matteo Massagrande

poggiolo-massagrande

Poggiolo. Matteo Massagrande

For more very cool inspirational works, check out Katy Cowen’s Creative Boom blog.

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A Day in the Life: Who’s the Leader of the Dave Clark Five?

dave clark five green

The Dave Clark Five on the set of ‘Hold On-It’s The Dave Clark Five’ (1968 PKT3243 – 228710) DAVE CLARK FIVE pop group first became popular in 1963, and were the first pop group ever to reach the Top Ten while they were still amateurs, with a record called ‘Glad All Over’.

“Who’s the leader of the Dave Clark Five?”

So complete was my humiliation as a sixth grader that the memory of that moment has stuck with me now for more than 50 years. Sixth grade was not a good grade for my little girl self. Being the weird kid back then wasn’t easy—I was pudgy, “blossoming” in a big way, wearing thick, cat eye glasses with rhinestones in the corners, and living, apparently, under a rock. Not the rock n’ roll kind, just the big isolating boulder of my awkwardness and my family situation.

When Cindy C with the white GoGo boots, one of the most popular girls in the sixth grade, approached me with her group of friends that morning, I was in no mood for her daily taunts and bullying. I’d had a bad hair morning, an ugly clothes morning, a bratty little brothers morning, and during breakfast, had learned that we would be moving out of our big, old, beautiful mansion to who knew where. I loved that big old house, its Italian marble floors, crystal chandelier, intricately carved front staircase and cavernous rooms, ballroom on the third floor, the five plus acres of room to roam, trees to climb and the myriad places to lose myself.

No Mary Janes

No Mary Janes!

The fifth of six kids, and the only girl, I was the apple of my daddy’s eye. My mother’s disappointment in me was palpable—I was the wrong kind of girl! Oh, she wanted the dainty little flower, who would play with dolls, have tea parties, and wear dresses and Mary Janes and love them. But I was the dungaree and sneakers clad, tadpole catching, tree climbing, baseball walloping, free spirited tomboy kind of girl, and I could not have been less interested in the Dave Clark Five, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or any other rock n’ roll band of the day. Aside from a bit of folk introduced by my eldest brother (11 years my senior), the only music we ever listened to in our house was classical, and mostly, emanating from the piano on which my talented brother (3 years older) practiced for hours daily. (I bought my first album ever, The Doors, in high school.)

So, on that fateful morning, facing the derision of Cindy C and her gaggle of prepubescent girls, I simply shrugged my shoulders and stood mute, my ignorance exposed for all to see. I did not know who the leader of the Dave Clark Five was. A “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” kind of question, I had no frame of reference on which to peg it. They could have been little green men from Mars, as far as I knew. Seething with the shame of my ignominy, I slunk away to my seat in Mr. Oglesby’s classroom. I’d like to be able to say that I somehow evened the score, but Karma did that for me in 11th grade, when Cindy C, no longer the most  popular girl in our grade, had to drop out of school, pregnant. (Back in the day, that was a terrible sin, unlike today, where mere children have babies daily.)

Still the weird girl, albeit with long, luxuriant dark hair and round, wire-rim glasses, I was proud of my artsy weirdness. I still am.

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