“Fifty One”!

1-BeeI  get such a kick out of being able to track the location, by country, from which readers view my blog in the Status Page!  What a fun application to keep a blogger motivated!  The country and flag is displayed for the viewing day, allowing me to “travel” the world!  I always wonder what viewers from other countries find most interesting about my posts.  Since starting the blog in early October, I have collected views from 51 foreign countries.  But why not stop at 50, or even 25?  Why go to Number 51?  Well, that is my magic number.  When I enlisted in the South Dakota Army National Guard, I signed on as a 51 Tango (a land surveyor).  And that is how I met my husband, also a 51 Tango.  Ever since, 51 has been my “lucky” number.  Now that I have reached 51 countries it is time to celebrate!  Perhaps by drinking margaritas in beautiful San Antonio…

 Some of my favorite moments over the past nine months of blogging:

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Visiting the Bull Head at the Porter Sculpture Park in Montrose, SD.

1.  Canada

2.  Holland

3.  Italy

4.  Indonesia

5.  Japan

6.  Sweden

7.  Poland

8.  United Kingdom

9.  Jamaica

10.  Australia

11.  Germany

 

A new feathered friend.

A new feathered friend, Henya the Cinnamon Queen.

12.  Saudi Arabia

13.  Spain

14.  Kuwait

15.  Serbia 

16.  Uzbekistan

17.  Luxembourg

18.  Netherlands

19.  France

20. Switzerland

21. Korea

22. Iraq

 

Fishing at Lake Kampeska, Watertown, South Dakota.

Fishing at Lake Kampeska, Watertown, South Dakota.

23. New Zealand

24. United Arab Emirates

25. South Africa

26. Slovenia

27. Norway

28. Hungary

29. Kyrgyzstan

30. Taiwan

31. India

 

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project.  I retain no rights.

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project. I retain no rights.

32. Philippines

33. Austria

34. Ireland

35. Brazil

36. Turkey

37. Ecuador

38. Estonia

39. Colombia

40. Peru

41. Russian Federation

42. Bangladesh

43. Greece

 

Ross the Dog being ridiculous with his new toy sheep.

Ross the Dog being ridiculous with his new toy sheep.

44. Denmark

45. Singapore

46. Portugal

47.  Mexico

48. Vietnam

49. Belgium

50. Mauritius

51. Bulgaria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flying Lessons

last summer my children played a made up game they called Flying Lessons. My son would lift the girls in his arms as high as possible, spin them around, let them go, and whatever happened next was their problem. They loved it, no one got hurt, nothing got broken (that I knew of) and they laughed themselves silly. Our flight to San Antonio to visit relatives this week reminded me of the game, only the stakes were a bit higher.

2014-07-11 10.42.14We stumbled into the Kansas City International Airport at 5:00 a.m., bleary-eyed and as cranky as everyone else. It was a madhouse, even that early, with people racing across the ticketing area, pushing and pulling overloaded suitcases and duffel bags. Ticket agents shouted “next!” over the din of fussing babies, tussling siblings, and griping adults.  There was a constant crush of bodies moving to the next point of interest.  Our family got separated briefly when an impatient man pushed in front of my children, who were trying to follow my husband to the ticket counter.  That was when reality hit: no one else cares if my children get lost in this airport.

We were to go through TSA Precheck, an accelerated checkpoint for anyone with a Known Passenger Number, including military and dependents with DOD ID numbers and their children under age thirteen.  This year our whole family would be eligible, if for only one last time! An unpleasant airport employee stopped us at the Precheck line and harassed me because my DOD number had failed to print on my ticket.  Refusing to even look at my military ID, she told me I didn’t have an eligible ID for Precheck, and I must go through regular security.  She spoke to me as though I had done something unseemly.  In no mood to be trifled with, I called her bluff: “I called Southwest two days ago and requested that my number be printed on this ticket.”

“But you don’t have an ID!” she insisted, still looking at me as though I had crawled out of a gutter next to a neon encapsulated whorehouse.

“Yes I do, it’s right here!  This is my DOD number.” I attempted to point it out.

“I’m not going to stand here and argue with you” she snarled, “Go with your family, and see what they have to say at Precheck!”

The TSA officer didn’t give me any static; I didn’t see him even check for a DOD number!  I wanted to go back to the nasty old lady and contemptuously stick out my tongue at her.  But deciding to be humble in my victory, I continued onward.  The Precheck looked easy, too easy, so we must have done something wrong — too many somethings — because we presented as “potentially threatening” and a tall tan middle aged man with his TSA shirt tucked in tight shouted “RANDOM CHECK!” before half my family made it through the machine.  My son had a mostly empty water bottle in his back back, so it was ripped open to reveal other dangers to the nation’s safety.  Like Beanie Babies, packs of gum, and a book about werewolves.  Yes, very dangerous indeed!

And then there was Annie, my eight year old daughter, who was swabbed for bomb residue.  My eight year old daughter.  Bomb residue.  Total nonsense.  It’s hard enough getting my irate husband through security checks.  He gets searched.  EVERY.  DAMN.  TIME.  Don’t tell me it’s random.  Imagine the level of Zen I had to achieve by that point just to usher my angry, now burgeoning-on-threatening family to a wall to squat in the overfull terminal.  I walked my youngest daughter to the Starbucks to get Husband some coffee.  While standing in the slowly snaking line, I posted “Dear TSA, I think you suck” on my Facebook status and silently fumed over x-ray machines and bomb residue swabs.  By the time we got back with the coffee (just in time to board the plane) everyone had calmed down enough to enjoy the flight.

My children insisted on each bringing a big fuzzy fleece blanket on the flight.  I told them, “You can bring a blanket, but you have to carry it, and as hot as it is here in Kansas, add ten degrees. That will be the temperature in Texas.”  When we settled into our seats, and I was sending up a prayer of thanks that we had made it safely onto the plane with no catastrophic mishaps, it occurred to me that the blankets were security items.  Sources of warmth, easily transportable, and reminiscent of home, what better items for the kids to bring along on a trip full of unknowns?  Much like Arthur Dent’s highly functional towel in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘, they served a purpose beyond that of a mere fuzzy blanket.

2014-07-11 10.43.54We all require specific security items for a successful flight. I brought my favorite flannel shirt and a small bottle of peppermint oil.  The shirt became an impromptu pillow; the peppermint oil kept airsickness at bay.  The peppermint oil came in a glass bottle, so I was relieved that it was not “found out” and taken away by TSA.  During our long layover in Dallas I watched people and tried to figure out their security items. One man sat reading a book with Japanese writing on the cover.  He pulled what looked like a passport from a small knapsack and scrutinized a paper tucked inside.  A handsome but smarmy man in a gray suit (clearly his item) leaned against a wall conspicuously and made intense duck faces, as if auditioning for a modeling job.  Many very well dressed women clutched at large Tory Burch handbags protectively and sipped Starbucks drinks.  I tried to imagine if they had anything more interesting in their bags than what I had in mine.  Probably not.

It’s sad that we — our bodies, items, and lives — must be thoroughly searched and picked over in order to fly.  Sitting in an airport terminal playing a guessing game that involves people-watching and being mildly nosy towards perfect strangers is one thing.  It’s quite another to have your personal life publicly violated by a team of ethically dubious busy bodies in police-y looking uniforms.

2014-07-11 10.45.34Allowing the kids to have their security blankets made the flights — and the entire trip — more pleasant.  Still so innocent and clueless about how big and bad the world can be, they need a way to wrap up in something that feels safe when strange things are happening around them.  I think about the game they played last summer.  Now the girls are too big for my son to spin them around and send them flying across the room.  Now they are big enough to go out into the real world and face real problems, like pushy, rude adults who could care less if their actions cause children to get lost in an enormous airport.  Or insensitive TSA officers who rip into personal belongings and treat military families like potential terror threats.  It’s not easy to watch my kids grow up, but it is a necessary part of life.  One thing we can do is provide them with tools to cope with stressful situations and teach them how to reach for those security items that give them the confidence they need to come out of even the most unpleasant situations with minimal bumps and bruises.

Don’t Panic and Carry a Towel (or Blanket)!

— G

My skin has been breaking out in swathes of pimples and streaks of rashes, thanks to my ongoing Mirena cleansing process.  With buckets of toxins and bad hormones oozing from every pore, hair and skin has taken the worst beating.  Coarse and wild, my hair resembles a horse’s uncombed tail.  But my face!  Oh, the horror.  I used to look in the mirror and say “Hey, not bad.  I can leave the house without makeup”.  Now I resemble someone slapped across the cheeks with a hot waffle iron and then squirted with olive oil for good measure.  Yuck.  I pamper my skin, but lately every well intended product just scatters more red welts across my cheeks.  Even the most gentle of moisturizers has left my face dry, itchy, and pitted, with pores large enough for someone to dive into.  Gross.  I couldn’t wear makeup, much less wash my face, without inducing yet another flare-up.  My skin has never been so sensitive or so irritated!  What to do?!

 

2014-07-03 09.28.42Fortunately, I remembered a special purchase during my recent trip to South Dakota.  I visited Prairie Edge, one of my favorite shops, in Downtown Rapid City.  Tourist attraction, souvenir/gift shop, Sioux trading post, history center and art museum rolled into one gorgeous historical landmark, Prairie Edge is nestled on the corner of Main Street and 6th.  The best is the Sioux trading post.  While my rowdy children fingered sumptuous fox tails and exclaimed loudly over the price of bison sinews and leather pieces (and I pretended they weren’t my offspring) I stared at the herbs and prairie plants.  One whole corner was dedicated to medicinal plants and herbs used by the Lakota.  Sage, the predominant healing herb, took up much space, but many other fascinating products caught my eye.  One was a small tub of salve labeled Ha Pejuta, or Skin Medicine in Lakota.  The ingredients are natural — wild bergamot, arnica, calendula, lavender, garlic, tea tree oil, olive oil, grape seed oil, and locally sourced beeswax — no chemicals.  The label states “This salve stimulates circulation and heals”.  I purchased it and a bottle of sweetgrass hydrosol, a distilled liquid smelling of the delicious water grass.

On the first night using the salve, my skin was so sensitive I could hardly cleanse without crying!  Gently dabbing the sweetgrass hydrosol over my face with a large cotton ball cooled the irritation.  Next came a few drops of tea tree oil on my T-Zone, then I rubbed a little Ha Pejuta over my face.  My skin was still very sensitive and at first the salve stung, but within a few minutes my face felt warm — the salve was living up to its claim!  The next morning my face looked clearer.  Cleansing still proved uncomfortable, but I followed the same pattern; soap for sensitive skin (the only part of the routine that included any chemicals), sweetgrass toner, tea tree oil, and Ha Pejuta salve.  I then added a dab of moisturizer with sunblock.  The salve created a barrier over my skin so I could add sunblock or moisturizers without causing further irritation.

For one week I followed the same regimen and tried not to wear makeup if possible.  The dryness and oiliness has resolved and my pores have shrunk.  The raised red areas smoothed out and disappeared.  My skin has even started to glow again!  I also made my own facial mask: a cherry tomato plucked from the garden, a dash of lemon juice, and a sprinkle of rolled oats, all pulverized in the blender with a bit of water.  I spread the mixture on my face and let it set up for 5 minutes, just enough for my skin to feel tight.  I will continue to use my Ha Pejuta salve to protect and heal my skin, and keep my fingers crossed for better facial health this summer!

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Just pulse in blender or food processor with a few drops of water and you have a homemade facial mask!

Update: After going back to my former skincare routine, my face started to look kind of blah again.  My chin broke out and I noticed dryness as well as oiliness on my nose and forehead.  So I believe the Ha Pejuta salve made an improvement.  Not wearing makeup for several days also didn’t hurt.  If you need a facial overhaul, you don’t have to buy Ha Pejuta, but try tea tree oil and a salve based on natural ingredients and try to avoid products with chemicals.  See if it helps.

— G

 

Blessed 4th of July

Last week I had the honor of meeting with photographer and fellow veteran Stacy Pearsall at the Junction City USAA for a portrait session through her Veterans Portrait Project. It was an incredible experience. Persall, an Air Force veteran, is an energetic woman with eyes that reflect  a kind heart. She guided me onto the stool and helped me find a comfortable pose. Often shy in front of the camera, I end up looking stiff and imperious, so she asked questions about my tour of duty while placing my hands in a natural positions and turning me toward the camera.

 

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project.  I retain no rights.

Photo credits: Stacy Pearsall, Veterans Portrait Project. I retain no rights.

She asked one of those typical questions that I love to hear — so, deployment/family?  And I blurted “Oh, going to war is great practice for raising a family.  Dealing with children is similar to dealing with terrorists, and vice versa!” and her lighting assistant gave a belly laugh.  After that I felt more at ease and tried to charm the camera.  It was a fun session, and having my portrait taken this way was extremely special.  I often don’t give myself credit for my work in Iraq; I step back and let better veterans, more deserving veterans, take credit.  And I’m okay with that.  But on this day, it was about me, and it was nice.

Stacy took several silly photos of me with my kids, and then gave me a big hug.  The paperwork to fill out — so the pictures would be sent to me — included a question about what being a veteran meant to me.  I wrote ‘continued support and service to those in the military’.  I love the photos I received.  The images are perfect.  They show a person who isn’t a soldier anymore, but who wants to continue to serve.  And someday I will have them enlarged and framed for each of the kids, not to glorify the fact that I was  on the battlefield, but to convey a message that even though war must split up families, it doesn’t change the fact that love remains.

Have a blessed 4th of July.

 

Please take time to look at these images of the men and women who have served.

http://stacypearsall.photoshelter.com

 

Medical Misfit

Nurse uniform in the 1900's.

Nurse uniform in the 1900’s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday a phone call from an endocrinologist’s office left me seething. An administrator — she didn’t offer a name or title — indicated in a polite but vaguely superior manner that I was not requesting services at the correct clinic.  There was an icy undertone, as if the fact that she had to contact me to explain all this was putting a huge strain on the clinic’s resources.  It took me a good ten minutes of  cajoling, conniving, convincing, and just plain bullshitting to get her to understand that it wouldn’t be a complete waste of the endocrinologist’s precious time for me to come in, but it wasn’t until I uttered the magic word ‘fibromyalgia’ that she granted me status as a legitimate patient.  What is this place, anyway?  Am I creating such an inconvenience that I cannot be seen by this doctor unless I successfully pass vetting by a bureaucratic toady with a list of secret code words?

I was not surprised that the doctor at this clinic was reluctant to take me on as a patient. My referral, sent weeks ago from my PA at Fort Riley, had been rejected on the grounds that  my “specific” needs did not “encompass” the doctor’s specialty.  It was a possibly a coding error made by the insurance company making the authorization for services. The nurse from my referring clinic spent several days making phone calls to the clinic as well as my insurance company on my behalf, smoothing over the misunderstanding and pleading my case. I don’t know if that is even part of her job, but she knows that I am sick. She has seen me too many times over the last few months to not want to help. And she must have deduced from the cryptic, noncommittal responses coming from the endocrinology clinic that I would need a champion.

It’s been difficult to get good medical care in Kansas.  My tiny local Veterans Affairs clinic seems to always be bogged down and overwhelmed; I can’t get in but once or twice a year, and that is just for routine blood tests or ‘Well Woman’ visits.  God forbid anything goes wrong in between!  When I lived in the Black Hills, I had the best VA care.  If a non-emergent matter arose, chances were I could get a same day walk-in appointment, and the staff listened to my needs.  Here the story is different. During a non emergency episode when I needed immediate advice (which happened in between my allotted visits), the local VA staff either misunderstood or misjudged my situation, leaving me to seek medical attention elsewhere.  After the incident I plan not to return to the clinic.  Luckily I can still turn to the clinic at Fort Riley, where I trust my physician and nurse.  The problems arise when they have to refer me to specialists.

I realize that it’s a Me Problem.  It’s not the world that’s strange, it’s me.  I’m the misfit.  I take supplements of turmeric and holy basil and treat hormonal breakouts on my face with a salve made from an old Native American recipe.  I use cabbage poultices and rub herbal oils on my forehead  to fight off migraines.  I am treating my current ailments using natural remedies instead of chemicals and drugs.  I abhor drugs.  I am probably a traditional doctor’s worst nightmare. So if/when I go to a specialist and invariably open my big fat mouth to spout things like “I am researching home remedies and the use of ethnobotany for possibly treating my migraines and hormonal imbalance” or “I really don’t want to take any more pills” I run the risk of being written off as a crazy jackass.  Even the mere mention that I take herbal supplements and seek chiropractic care results in odd looks, as if I am lapsing into an unknown language during the dialogue.

Yet my specialists don’t seem to take the time to actually read the medical records my referring clinic is required to fax to them.  Instead I am interrogated with rapid-fire questions, in a patronizing tone.  If they had read the records, they wouldn’t have to ask me the questions, and we would have time to discuss the most important part of a visit to any doctor: what type of treatment is truly best for the patient?  I am sure these specialists are brilliant, and with limited amounts of time in their work days they have to make quick decisions based on what information they gather from patients.  I probably don’t help with my rambling history of odd symptoms intermingled with home remedies and Native American medicines.  But damn it!  They are supposed to be highly educated professionals with vast stores of knowledge about various types of treatment.  Why are they so single-minded about ramming more pills down my throat?  And when did practicing medicine medicine come to include treating patients, and potential patients, like children, or worse yet, like criminals who have to prove their validity before receiving care?

Maybe I am wasting their time with my herbal supplements and quackery treatments. But it’s my body.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want better quality than the living death sentence my very first neurologist prescribed, something to the effect of “take these pills every day  for the rest of your life and pray for early menopause to ease the pain of your migraines”.  The nerve!   Certainly that can’t be the best option, for anyone.  If the care I am receiving here is so laughable, there is at least one thing that I have taken from my experience, and I do consider it a blessing.  I, and only I, am completely and unequivocally responsible for my health.  Doctors don’t know everything.  Medical professionals can and will do their best (I hope) for me, but it is ultimately up to me to take care of myself.  I can make decisions about my body and my health, because sometimes there will be no one else willing to take the steps to ensure my health.  If it takes being a medical misfit, then so be it.

I am my own best doctor, nurse, and patient!

— G

First Mirena Detox: Wrapping It Up

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My vibrant purple detox smoothie. Secret ingredient? Red cabbage!

I had promised to keep better notes for the remainder of my Mirena detox, but I failed to do so (life and all…) However, I did make observations that may be beneficial to others thinking of doing a detox, for whatever the reason.  Here is what I learned while doing my first detox.

  1.  A high quality detox is what your body deserves.  Do research and planning, make broad as well as specific goals for yourself, and be willing to invest in the best possible plan for you.  Mine was expensive, but overall I am happy with the results and plan to detox again.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong during the detox process.  Case in point: during mine, I spent a week with severe stomach flu and then ended up with bronchitis! Getting my body to simply accept Pedialyte  and rice became the highest priority for several days, so I had to put detoxing on hold.  Be flexible with the process; it is all about listening to your body.
  3. Get the most out of it.  You are going to spend money (presumably) on this, so don’t counteract the positive effects by eating double bacon cheeseburgers and fried pickles the whole time.  It doesn’t work that way!  DO treat yourself to the best fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates.  Your body will respond.
  4. Get plenty of rest, drink a lot of water, stay active, and do things to reward yourself.  I like to make homemade cinnamon rice tea and stir fried vegetables to treat myself after a long day.
  5. Listen to your body during the process!  As toxins are released and the healing process accelerates, your body may begin to send more signals to indicate what it needs from you.  Go with it. Take naps, go for gentle walks, start doing yoga, try new and healthy foods for dinner.  Be open to the detox process and keep notes if you want to remember specific circumstances.  Above all, be patient and accept the fact that detoxing can take time and effort.

— G

 

So Things Got a Little Weird…

A trip to South Dakota usually involves some level of weirdness.  My family is pretty eccentric.  We do things differently and while it’s easy to predict that there will be weirdness happening during a visit back home, we just don’t know exactly what the weirdness will be.  So, I have compiled a list of  bizarre happenings during this year’s trip to South Dakota.

5.  Being on a week-long Prednisone regimen as a migraine preventative during the trip.  Nothing inherently strange about this, except that the major side effect was my insatiable urge to break into spontaneous song and dance in public locations, much like the Leland Palmer character in Twin Peaks.  I performed ABBA’s Dancing Queen using over-sized salt shakers and crispy corn dogs as microphones in roadside restaurants, and shimmied down grocery store aisles to Prince’s Little Red Corvette, much to the mortification of my children.  I’m fine now, absolutely NO urge to sing or dance now that the Prednisone is safely out of my system.

4.  Speaking of Twin Peaks: this totally random and un-staged reference to the show mesmerized me  in the guest room at my parents’ place.

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Paging Killer Bob…

3.  Speaking of random: A visit to the Porter Sculpture Park outside of Montrose, South Dakota.  The sculpture park is a remnant from my childhood.  Originally, sculptures were dreamed up and assembled in St. Lawrence, South Dakota.  As a small child, I would walk the two or three blocks on a loose gravel road from my grandparents’ house to the Porter workshop to stare in wonder at skeletal dragons delicately sniffing daisies and giant goldfish escaping a massive silver bowl.

 

IMG_0088My favorite was always The Ballerina, a naked woman made of tiny metal tiles, kneeling on a platform, scooping up some of her loose tiles with a little broom and dustpan.  There is something both wistful and majestic about her, like she is mourning her loose tiles.  Seeing her on the vast South Dakota prairie was incredible.

We also looked at the giant Bull Head, an amazing structure that hides some rather weird and mystical secrets inside.  Bats, snakes, and demons are assembled inside the enormous structure.  My husband commented as we strolled away, “Does it strike you as a bit Satanic?”  The artist is an interesting fellow — friendly and all about providing tourists with an unusual experience.  He accused my husband of being a Canadian when Van turned down a complimentary post tour Hershey’s Kiss, and he offered to perform a Gypsy blessing on our SUV.  It was the best tourist attraction we’ve ever visited!

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The Bull Head monument at the Porter Sculpture Park, Montrose, SD.

2.  Driving across a surreal South Dakota prairie, post October 2013 Blizzard.  I embraced the opportunity to spend time on some of South Dakota’s less known highways and found myself in areas devastated by last October’s blizzard, which killed tens of thousands of cattle.  I was simply in awe of what the weather left behind.  Instead of clear evidence of the devastation and death, there was nothing but rolling plain upon rolling plain of emerald green, yardstick tall grass, the likes of which I had never seen on the prairie in my years of living in South Dakota.  The cattle that had survived looked fat and slick as they grazed next to plump antelope.  Horses were up to their bellies in grasses, and they appeared to be swimming as they loped across pastures swaying like water.  The killing blizzard and harsh winter with heavy, lasting snows had left an abundance of  food and energy on the prairie for all that had survived, with no mention or apology for the price that had been paid for the shining beauty rolling before us.  It was a strange feeling to know and understand the harshness of the land.

1.  An early Father’s Day gift for Dad: a visit from the American Pickers!  Okay, so it wasn’t the actual Pickers, and I have no real proof of this happening.  But why would I make this up?  So a producer from the show American Pickers contacted me because last year I signed my parents up for a visit (you can do that on the show’s Website).  My parents are hoarders and they live in an 80 year old school = perfect material for the show.  Anyway, a producer from the show contacted me and said he wanted to visit the school to see what Dad had available for the guys to *pick*.  So, using my natural charm and communication skills, I did what I could to make things happen, and the crew (not the actual Pickers – sorry, I realize this is not as cool as I want it to sound) came to scope out the school and interview Dad.  I wasn’t actually there at the time.  I have no proof to back up my story.  I have nothing to indicate that anything exciting even happened, but Dad was really happy that he got to meet a friendly T.V. producer, give a tour of the school, and possibly have a return visit from the Pickers.  It made his day.

And these still weren’t the weirdest things that have ever happened during a trip to South Dakota.

— G

 

 

 

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