Women’s Bible Study Starting Soon !

It’s been a long time since I’ve been around groups of people for anything except medical appointments and tests.  I’ve wanted to get involved in a women’s Bible study at the church I grew up at for a long time, and for whatever reasons, it just hasn’t panned out.  I recently checked the church’s website for Bible studies and found one starting in early January, and left a message with the person who I was directed to in order to register. Understandably, she’s been out for the holidays and the answering machine said she’d be returning calls later this next week.  No problem.  I had been a bit skeptical of getting registered as I’ve had some issues in the past with getting through to anybody.  BUT, someone I knew from my ‘old days’ at the church let me know via FaceBook that I was welcome to come- I could register that night.  I’m so happy !!  🙂

I had attended some services and singles’ groups when I first moved back here in late 2002 and early 2003, after 17 years in Texas, and it all felt so foreign.  It wasn’t the same place I remembered. All ages post-high school were in the singles’ group, and I felt really out of place.  One of the people I’d known before (who is a couple of years older than I am, but we still remembered each other) made an effort to contact me several times for various things involving the singles’ group, which I still greatly appreciate.  At the time, I was working evening hours, and also beginning to have some increased health problems that involve a severe heat intolerance, so I wasn’t able to join in and get to know the new routine.  Things got worse from a health standpoint, and I was pretty much out of luck.  I have been really bummed out, as my childhood through college years at that church left me with wonderful memories and a strong desire to fit in somewhere again.  I’m so glad that I got the ‘OK’ to join this Bible study on Ephesians. I already ordered the book from Amazon so I could check things out, and I’m really looking forward to the group study.  The book looks good !

I’m not a super ‘religious’ person, but my belief in God is strong and has gotten me through some really crazy (and scary) times, whether with chronic health issues, being attacked, or the more recent leukemia.  I consider my relationship with Christ to be the most important one in my life.  I don’t attend regular church services because of the heat intolerance, but still make decisions based on my Christian roots.  With the ice vest I have now, I’m looking forward to being able to at least be involved in some sort of fellowship and study group. I’ve missed that.  I’ve missed having some connection to other people since I’ve been on disability, and am looking forward to meeting new people there as well as seeing any of the people I knew growing up at that church.

I’m a bit nervous about ‘sticking out’.  The ice vest I wear is something that allows me to leave home for a couple of hours at a time (unless I bring the ‘refill’ inserts- but I only do that if I’m leaving town or going to be gone for many hours).  It does look a bit like a white bullet-proof vest- but it’s opened up so many things; without it, the Bible study would be out of the question.  I’ve had to cut my hair almost completely off  (though it’s grown; need another trim) because I literally can’t tolerate the heat of having hair. I already keep my thermostat at home set at about 64 in the winter, and no higher than 72 in the summer.  Outside of those parameters, and I’m in trouble.  When I get ‘in trouble’,  I pass out.  I don’t want to risk that around other people.  It’s a distraction for them, and I get sent to the ER, which I absolutely loathe.  So, I worry about being a pain in the butt for other people if something gets funky.  Because of that, I tend to avoid being around anybody but a very few people who know that I may have to leave in the middle of something.  With the ice vest, I’m anticipating things going well from the heat standpoint.

So, venturing out to join a Bible study means things on many levels.  The spiritual connection (and desire for growth) is obvious.  The social connection is something that I’ve missed so much since I have been on disability (since April 2004); no work has meant no ‘in person’ interaction with anybody on a regular basis.  I do talk to my dad daily, and see him… otherwise, doctors are the people I see the most, and I’m tired of them!  The emotional connection has many components, and includes testing my own anxieties about being away from my temperature-controlled environment, as well as looking kind of ‘off’ (hair, ice vest, my eyebrows never really grew back after the 19 months of chemo- and the weight gain after the whole chemo thing; I got the ‘fat’ chemo- the ‘skinny’ chemo was only the first week).  There’s even a physical aspect to going to a regularly scheduled activity.  I’ll have to get out of my pajamas, and walk around a very large church (it’s not a mega-church like has become popular in many places, but it’s plenty big!!). Walking will be painful, but it will be worth it.  I’ve really missed being involved in something ‘positive’.  I won’t ever be able to work again (and I miss nursing a lot), but if I can get out for a couple of hours each week to see other live human beings for the purpose of spiritual growth and human contact, it will be great !

So, the new year brings with it something specific to look forward to that is new, but also familiar as it’s a church I spent a LOT of time in.  It’s a good beginning.  I don’t believe that God is only found in buildings- but the connection with other people who believe the same things is a strong way to feel more grounded in my faith.  We’re not meant to fly through this life completely on auto-pilot (I tend to be a loner in general, so this is outside of my comfort zone, even though I’m looking forward to it).  With some adaptive equipment and finding a form of fellowship that works for me, I am thankful to be able to join in with the other women at my ‘old’ church.

 

 

Missing Mandy

My schnauzer, Mandy, died 3 days ago.  It feels like she’s been gone for months, yet there are little things that remind me of her so many times during the day- I expect to see her.  She had her little quirks and eerie understanding of what I told her.  I expect to look up and see her on her ‘TV bed’ (large dog pillow under the TV), watching me.  Every time I moved, she looked up. If I left the room and didn’t say “I’m coming back”, she’d follow me.  It was a relationship with a dog unlike others I’ve had.  Each was special and very loved (as I know the next one will be), but Mandy was smart in the way she understood what I said.  When I got up in the morning, she waited to see if I was getting my slippers on before she got up- she knew that if I was still barefoot, I was coming back- but if she saw the slippers hit my feet, she’d walk down her little dog stairs and be up for the day.

When I sneeze, there’s no little head popping up as she immediately got up and left the room. I couldn’t even say the word ‘sneeze’ or she’d leave the room!  But after I sneezed, she’d come back to see if I was still there!  When I was doing her laundry the other day, there was no little nose checking out the dryer. She especially loved the lint trap. I have no idea why- it’s not like she ever saw what I pulled off of that thing.  But she knew the sound of the dryer stopping, and would get up and look at me like “well, are you going to get the lint?”.   When I loaded the dishwasher, there’s no little face watching, or wildly bouncing around as I shut the dishwasher door.

At night, before bed, I’d tell her to ‘go potty’, and she would!  She would walk over to her pads, and pee.  IF she had ‘gone’ recently, she’d still walk over there, but sit down on the carpet and look at me.  I’d go check the pads, and sure enough- there was a ‘fresh’ pee on the pads.  She knew what I was asking her to do- and letting me know it was already done.

When she was a puppy, I took her to work with me (I had a ‘desk job’ as an RN at a  nursing home, doing assessments for care plans).  As she got older, I’d leave her in the kitchen with a baby gate, and when she was really consistent with using the pee pads, I let her have the run of the apartment when I was gone.  The first time I left her ‘loose’, I had some concerns about what she’d do to my realistic vinyl baby doll collection.  They were seated along the bottom shelves of some book cases.  I dreaded coming home to chewed toes.  Instead, I came home to a pile of baby socks by the back door, and a half-grown dog looking very proud of herself for getting about 20 baby socks off of the dolls and having them neatly piled up.  It was like some sort of offering- LOL.

When I moved from Texas to Illinois, Mandy rode in her travel crate for safety. She was always a good car-rider, lying down on the seat and being content to just be along for the ride (until she got where she was going- usually the vet or groomer).  Because I was driving a 17-foot U-haul for more than 1250 miles, she had to be in her crate, so before leaving Texas, I spent a few months incorporating the crate into her playing.  I’d toss her toys or a dog treat into the crate, and get her used to walking into it on her own. I didn’t want to have battles on the road stuffing her back into it after stopping to let her walk around and go potty.  She did well- and would walk right back into the crate after being out of it at a rest stop. BUT, she did not like when I got out to pump gas and she couldn’t see me.  The crying was horrific.  I was convinced that animal welfare people from many counties near where we were could hear her. I had to pop the gas pump into the tank and set it on ‘auto’, then move back to the truck door so she could see me. Instant quiet.  When I had the nerve to go get some breakfast at a truck stop- and leave her for about 15 minutes to get a TO-GO container (I didn’t even stay inside to eat !), I could hear her ‘screaming’ for me from about 20 yards away from the truck.  She was a ‘mama’s girl’.  I miss that.

At night, if she was ready for bed and I wasn’t, she would get up and sit in front of the hallway, and stare at the bedroom door.  Sometimes she’d go to the bedroom and just wait in the dark for me to find her.  She always had access to the bedroom and bed (and her full half of the double bed), but she wouldn’t go to bed without me.

When she got sicker, and would get cold from losing a fair amount of weight, she’d come over to where I was sitting, and shiver.  I’d get her sweater out, and she’d put her head down so I could slip it over her head.  She also knew to pick up her paws to have them put through the little sleeves.  When I’d take it off, she knew to pick her feet up only after I’d get the sleeve pulled down far enough for her to step out of it.   But she knew that the sweater did something to make her feel better- I’m not sure she understood the concept that a sweater equals ‘warmer’, but she knew enough to come over to me when she wanted it- and then go lie back down once I put it on her.

I cry many times a day when I think about her not being here any longer.  She was with me for eleven years and seven months- I got her when she was almost 2 months old. She would have turned twelve at the end of March.  I hope she knew how much I loved her. I hope she knew that she was my equivalent of a child, and I honestly can’t imagine loving an actual kid any more than I loved that dog.  I hope she knew how much I wanted the best for her- and while I hated watching her die in my arms, I would never want her to die alone and scared.

After the initial whimper that began the end, she was alert enough to look at me (and at that point was motionless, just standing on the floor looking at me with a ‘different’ look- sort of a confused inability to move) and know that I picked her up.  She lifted her head a few times before just collapsing on my lap- but knew I’d put her on her comforter (and a disposable bed pad), and let me shift it to get the ‘lumps’ out.  Then she just wilted and her breathing changed to an agonal pattern associated with imminent death.  I kept stroking her back and scratching her ears, and telling her how much I loved her, and how amazing she’d been as my best friend.  I let her know that it was OK to stop fighting (like I’d do as an RN to humans- I doubt Mandy had a clue what that meant, but I had to say those words as my way of letting her go).  I told her that I’d miss her, but knew she’d hung on as long as she could (and she’d done fairly well – it had been a rocky couple of weeks, but she’d been alert, eating- though more picky, and wanted to be near me).

That morning, she’d wanted Swedish meatballs, and her Charlee Bear treats.  It was a ‘normal’ day- until 2:30 p.m. when I heard the whimper.  By 2:45 p.m., she was gone.  My only form of living companionship was gone.  I know that my next dog won’t replace Mandy (just like she hadn’t replaced her predecessor), but that she will steal my heart in her own way.  And yet, Mandy was special.  Maybe it was the amount of time I’m home, and she just got used to my routines- but her understanding of what I’d say was uncanny. Dad could ask her to do the same things, and she’d just stare at him.  She was my baby.

I miss her deeply… and yet I know the only way through this is to move forward and look at how much I’ll love a new puppy.  Mandy will never be gone from my heart, but it is a deep pain knowing she’s not here ‘in person’.   RIP, my sweet little girl.  I hope you know how much you were loved ❤

Mandy- 20113/28/01 - 12/27/12

Mandy- 2011
3/28/01 – 12/27/12

The Death of My Best Friend…Who Waits at The Rainbow Bridge

At 2:45 p.m. today (December 27, 2012), my best friend and amazing dog Mandy died in my arms.  About 15 minutes earlier, she had been lying on her ‘TV bed’ and made a sound that was similar to those she made when she’d faint, but not as loud and only one time (instead of the usual three deep, agonized moans). I immediately went to check on her, and she was semi-conscious.  I picked her up and she began to wake up, ears perky, and  looking at me. But something wasn’t right- normally when she started to wake up, she ‘came to’ quickly and was on her feet and steady. She did go over to her pee pads and peed, but she wouldn’t leave that area- she just kind of froze standing up. So I picked her up and brought her to my recliner, to hold her and see if she’d perk up.  I decided to get her onto her comforter with a disposable underpad beneath it (she has had ‘issues’ with bodily functions after fainting).  By then, she wasn’t able to support herself on the floor, so I laid her on her recliner as I got her situated (yes, the dog had her own recliner).  I picked her up to hold her  on my lap and see what was next.  She again picked her head up, but then essentially collapsed, and began some slow, agonizing breaths that became slower and slower until they stopped altogether.  I checked her heart rate with my stethoscope. There was silence. The entire process took about fifteen minutes as she died in my arms.

I’m extremely thankful that she didn’t have any prolonged suffering; just this morning she was looking at me and wanting her Charlee Bear dog treats (which she got), and eating Swedish meatballs (microwaved and low salt, just for her).  I’m extremely grateful that she was in my arms, and not alone or afraid. She just relaxed into my lap and let go. I told her she’d been an amazing friend and dog, and that I loved her more than I could ever make her understand, and that it was OK to stop fighting the heart failure.  I knew it had been hard for her for a couple of weeks, but she had been so alert and interested in what was going on, and had still been eating (though becoming very picky).  I’m so thankful that she took the reins, and it was fast.  I had agonized with the decision to put her to sleep last week, but unlike my last dog, the signs weren’t  so clear.  Mandy was still invested in life…until she wasn’t.  The end left no questions.

I’d called my dad when I noticed something wasn’t right, and he came over as fast as he could- thinking at best we’d be taking her to the vet to be put to sleep if she was still ‘not right’, or at worst to the animal crematorium.  I also called my birth-mother. She’s been keeping up with the gradual decline. Mandy  was ‘gone’ when dad got here, which was OK, since it gave me a few moments alone with her during that time when everything changes and the order of my world began the process of adapting to the void left behind without her.  I know it’s a process, and that I’ll be a mess on and off for a while.  I’ll miss her for a long time, just as I still miss the one before her, and the one before her.

I can’t explain in human words how much I loved that dog.  There is no ‘dog-language’ to explain how important she was as the one living thing I saw more than anybody else. Being home 24/7 about %98 of the time, she was my sole companion and closest friend.  All I could do was to do all I could do, and I did. I have no regrets about the level of treatment for her congestive heart failure. I have no regrets about letting her lead the way as far as when she was ‘done’ (and she was quite decisive 🙂 ).   I only know that there’s a hole in my heart left by her absence that will be raw for a while.  I know I’ll get another dog, though none of my dogs have ever replaced her predecessor. They just grew in my heart in their own way.

Thanks to the vets and staff at the Mulford Animal Hospital in Rockford, IL.  You have been so caring, and kind.

Mandy Bluebonnet Tumbleweed- my forever friend, who never let me down and always lifted me up. ❤

Mandy Bluebonnet TumbleweedMar. 28, 2001- Dec. 27, 2012

Mandy Bluebonnet Tumbleweed
Mar. 28, 2001- Dec. 27, 2012

 

"Mandy

I’m Grumpy Today

I’m not sure what my malfunction is, but I’m sorta grumpy.  I got up way earlier than usual (I’m one of those who is usually up half of the night and then sleeps until noon).  I’ve got a vague headache, but that’s nothing all that new. I have chronic headaches.  Christmas was really good- I got to see (and meet) family, and talked to my biological mom and half-brother on the phone, which is always good.  I got to spend time with family at the Swedish Christmas party since I’ve got the ice vest to wear when I leave home and don’t have as much chance of being overheated because of the dysautonomia. And yet, I’m a major dud this morning.

My 11.75 year old schnauzer with heart failure was so eager to eat some ‘meatloaf’ I made for her yesterday (with controlled sodium), and this morning she won’t touch it. I’m running out of options.  She started refusing the prescription dog food weeks ago, and prior to that had been eating a minimal amount (which wasn’t all that unusual for her- but she managed to keep her weight up). So now I’m trying to figure out other ideas… have been through ground beef/turkey/chicken, oatmeal, mashed potatoes, brown rice, white rice, baby food veggies, cooked carrots (gag), baby food applesauce and oatmeal,  and various combinations of the above.  She normally likes all of those things. Now, I’m lucky if she eats some of her Charlee Bear dog treats- they have minimal sodium, so she can still have them.  If she weren’t still alert and very interested in what is going on, as well as physically mobile and showing no signs of pain, I’d have her put to sleep…but I don’t want to ‘kill’ my best friend if she’s still getting some enjoyment out of life.  It’s a fine line right now, so as long as it’s not blatantly obvious, I’m holding out… but that time is coming.  There’s only so much I can do, and I think I’ve pretty much hit my limits. 😦

I’ve been extremely irritated at comments to news stories on various online sites and publications. So many people are so heartless and cruel.  Or pathologically immature and even psychopathic.  Responding that they’re ‘happy’ about an article where five people were made homeless by a fire that destroyed their home? How do people get that way?  Who dropped them on their head?  Or burned them?  And then there are the other ‘less’ disturbing posts that are just plain nasty and/or cruel.  Or ignorant.  I’m actually very thankful I don’t know those people or have to spend any IRL time with them.  A click of the back button takes them out of my life.

The onslaught of horrible stories that are on the news constantly is also a major bummer. I feel really badly for those folks and what they’re going through, but what good does it do anybody to have it dissected in the media for days to weeks on end?  I’ve been a crime survivor of a high profile case (before the 24/7 media, back in 1987).  It wasn’t helpful to see it on TV for days or see the newspaper coverage over and over.  The people who knew about it, and were my actual friends/family already knew what happened, and face it: most people really don’t want to know about real life horrors that happen to other people.  Or they don’t know what to do with the information, at least to the persons’ face. Behind their back, the chatter won’t stop. If people would have just asked me straight out what happened, or even if I wanted to talk about it would have been much  more helpful than days of media coverage  (without any input from me- I was an object).  I had one ‘different’ neighbor that responded to meeting me with “I never thought I’d meet you ! ”  Really?  Meeting someone who has been raped and beaten was a life goal?  Step away from the strange one !

I’m extremely disgusted with my weight, and have my food diary set up to start on January first. I don’t want to look like this on my 50th birthday next November.  I don’t want to be grotesque and repulsive going into the last third to half of my life. I have to restrict food. I’ve tried the ‘normal’ calorie amounts I’ve been given from the doctor and diabetic dietician, and that doesn’t work…so I’ve got to go lower. I can’t do much exercise because of the issue with passing out when my heart rate goes up or I get overheated, and my knees and spine issues.  So the calories have to go.  A slippery slope for me, so I’ve got to be careful- but I have to DO something beyond what I’ve been doing.  I didn’t look like this before chemo… and I want to lose any remnants of those days.

Losing weight will also save me some time before having to have my left knee replaced (I had the right one done in late 2006, and it was a very unpleasant experience with some complications and ‘dull’ response time by the doc and nurses to a bladder infection). I had to go to a rehab place for the medically defective. It was a good rehab facility- great care, but set up where people stayed in their rooms like a hospital between therapies (no common area), and since I was infective, I was in a private room- not a horrible thing, but friggin’ isolated. It’s not like there was a big risk of someone coming into contact with my pee.   My left knee has unrepaired, and questionably healed ACL and medial meniscus tears, done when I turned over in bed back in 2009- about a week before my closest friend from here in this town died suddenly (following several complications from a KNEE replacement). She’d moved to a different state to be closer to one of her daughters, but we were in contact by phone daily, even when she was in the hospital or rehab.  I was supposed to have the left knee replacement done, but then got leukemia and everything was put on hold to survive that.  Been a weird few years.

I’m frustrated that I don’t feel that people understand why I’m like I am.  I’ve got diagnoses that people haven’t heard of.  I ‘look’ like I’m capable of working, and I miss being a nurse SO much- but too much standing or walking, and the whole heat/heart rate thing = one unconscious middle-aged RN.  I’ve been an RN for nearly 28 years.  I’ve been on disability for 8 years.  But I still keep my license, because I still AM an RN.  I worked hard for that thing.  And I loved working with it…  And those days are done.  When people ask me what I’m doing to get back to work, it hurts- there isn’t anything that can be done by me or anyone else. Some things CAN’T BE FIXED !  SO those perky, blessed-to-be-clueless people need to shut up and go target someone who has some stuff going on that is treatable. I’ve been dealing with much of this since 1996- and worked until 2004- I held out as long as I could.  I fought to keep working.  QUIT asking me if I’m going back to work. NO, I can’t !

I was raised in an evangelical church, and am a born again Christian, without some of the judgmental drama that can go with those two things.  I hate the passive ‘I’ll pray for you’ stuff- prayer is wonderful, and I do it often, but if someone wants to help, some action would be really amazing ! Prayer is about as passive as a person can get and rationalize to themselves that they’re ‘doing’ something– and while I do believe in prayer and that it is a very positive and powerful thing (and pray for people on the news all of the time since I can’t do anything else), it’s not the be-all end-all answer to really being of use to someone.  It’s definitely better than nothing, but it really doesn’t show much in terms of actively supporting and helping someone. Sometimes it’s all people CAN do- and that’s appreciated.  But remember the ‘faith without works is dead’?  I’ve sensed a lot of dead.  I wish I could do more for others, and feel guilty about that.  Not like I know many people around here to be available for… back in the home where my heart is, I could be more useful, even if I’m not that physically ‘able’… I could drive someone to the store, or appointments.  I could water plants when they were gone, or change out cat litter. I couldn’t walk dogs or watch kids… but I’d do what I could.

I’ve contacted my ‘old’ church (from when I grew up and it was an amazingly positive experience) to find out about women’s Bible studies and other things in the past, and have been essentially blown off. I guess I’m not good enough for the ‘elite’ evangelicals anymore. My checkbook may not be deep enough or something.  I’ve tried again, and will hear back after the 31st when the contact person returns. I had really looked forward to going back there when I moved back from Texas.  I found it to be cold and a bit pretentious.  If someone can’t go back to the church they grew up in, where should they go?  Where is the ‘real’ message in that?   It hurt.  There were some really nice ladies (who I’ve known since I was a kid) who invited me to a type of ‘grief’ group, but I don’t want to sit and talk about dead family.  If that works for them, I’m really glad they have somewhere that feels right for their grieving process.  My mom is dead. Sitting in a room with folks who need that type of support doesn’t work for me.  I guess if I want to connect with anybody there, I have to be bummed out.  Not something I’m interested in.  I’m hoping the Bible study that starts on January 9th will work out- otherwise, I’m done trying to get back in to the church I grew up in. It shouldn’t be a ‘project’ just to find somewhere to fit in there.  The singles group wasn’t my bag – I want some ‘study’ group type thing.  🙂

Anyway, that’s a bit of what’s rattling through my head today.  I’m a little less grumpy now.

Gotta Lose This Weight

I’ve carried on about my frustrations with my weight gain following chemotherapy for leukemia (APL).  It’s no secret that I’ve got a history of eating disorders (just about all of them).  I’ve got to admit, I’m nervous about doing much restricting, as I don’t want to trigger that hell of anorexia again. I was told the last time around (1996) that I probably wouldn’t live through another relapse. As it is, some of my medical diagnoses weren’t identified until after that last relapse, and they’ve disabled me.

But I’m getting desperate.  I’ve got some diet journals to start using on January first… I’m not much into New Year’s Resolutions, but I do want to have this weight gone by my 50th birthday in November.  I hope I can lose the weight without losing my mind.  I have severe intolerance to heart rate or heat increases, so exercising isn’t really an option that will be of any major benefit.  I can stretch. That’s about it.   If the dysautonomia wasn’t an issue, the disc and joint disease is.  Sounds like excuses… it’s my life. I used to walk like a maniac, and loved it. I’d love it again if I could take my MP3 and hit the sidewalks.  No dice. I’d end up laid out on the side of the road.

So, I’ve got to cut back on calories considerably.  I have to be diligent. But I can’t go crazy with it.  I really just want to be more healthy- not ‘skinny’.  I don’t know how this is going to work.  But I’ve got to do something.

I Just Want What’s Best For Her…

It’s so hard to know how to read what’s going on with Mandy (my 11.75 year old miniature schnauzer with heart failure).  She’s obviously not feeling well judging by her appetite and resistance to taking her medication (one is chewable, and she usually loves it; the others are pills I put in fruit that she usually snarfs right up). Her breathing isn’t ‘right’, and she’s coughing a little. She’s not peeing as much as she should be- but nothing smells funny or has a dark, concentrated color (she’s paper/pad trained, so it’s easy to assess).  And, she’s alert, getting up whenever I move, and doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort. She hasn’t fainted, and her tongue is pink.  Right now, she’s by the front door grumbling about something.  That’s ‘normal’ for her!

I’ve been down this road before. My last schnauzer had heart failure for the last year of her life, and she did quite well until the last couple of days. The only time she didn’t eat was the last 24-36 hours she was alive, and it was horribly obvious that she wasn’t doing well. I tried the extra doses of the medicine to help her get rid of extra fluid, but it was over. (I’d made a mental list of ‘it’s done’ symptoms to watch for).  It was- thankfully- fairly ‘quick’ at the end. The signs were easier to see.  I got her to the vet, who tried to turn things around, but he called me at work to let me know I need to come quickly. With Mandy, it’s harder.  Regardless, she has to go to the vet tomorrow to get checked out.

My dad and I have a ‘plan’  (God bless him – he’s 80 years old, and such a huge support, and he loves his ‘grand-dogger’). If I think I’m going to have to put Mandy to sleep tomorrow (not thinking that at the moment, but things are going back and forth a lot this weekend), he’ll drive and then take me to the pet crematorium.  If she seems like she’s doing fairly well, and just going to be seen by the vet, I’ll take her myself.  She’s good in the car (and loves car rides until she gets where she always goes- the groomer or the vet).  If something happens quickly tonight, and God forbid, she dies, he’ll take me to the pet crematorium. I’ll be a wreck.  The idea of putting her into a box to go to ‘that place’ breaks my heart.  I know she won’t know the difference at that point, but I will.  She’s been too good of a companion to put into a box for any reason. If there’s any way to keep her just wrapped in a blanket, that would be much better.  Even if it’s just for a 4 mile trip.  Even if it’s just because I can’t stand the idea of her being ‘disregarded’ by being in an ordinary box.

I’ve been through this before. I survived, and got another puppy who stole my heart all over again.  I can’t afford a schnauzer (which has been my favorite dog since I was a little kid), but my dad said he’d be sure I got the puppy I want, since he’s very aware that being on disability and having very little contact with people makes the companionship all that more important.  I’ve got my name on a schnauzer rescue list, and got an e-mail with 3 available, and very adorable, puppies just yesterday.  But, I won’t get another one until Mandy is gone- the stress of a rambunctious puppy probably would be too much for her- she’s never interacted much with other dogs (she hides behind my legs when I take her to the groomer), and gets a bit snooty about them sniffing her back door. She almost seems offended at ‘dog’ behavior :D.  I’m just hoping that Mandy does well enough to indicate she’s still enjoying life for a while to come. I know the outcome of canine heart failure.  I just have to be sure I’m reading her well enough to know when enough is enough.

I know other people love their pets as much as I do.  I think it feels ‘worse’ because I’m alone, and really don’t have contact with any other living thing as much as I do her, since I’m home all of the time. In the last 8.5 years on disability, we’ve been together nearly 24/7 unless I’m in the hospital, at some doctor appointment, or brief trips to the grocery store or pharmacy.  I talk to my dad pretty much every day- which is also really important. But Mandy is my primary source of interaction with anything alive and in ‘person’.  She is also really in tune to my routines, and understands a LOT of what I say (it’s kinda creepy sometimes- LOL).  I’ve never had kids or been married, but I think I can relate to the intense love a parent has for a kid, at least to some degree.  I’d do anything I could for Mandy, and if someone ever tried to harm her, I’d go postal.  And have no regrets.

It’s going to be horribly painful when she no longer has any quality of life.  Once it becomes a struggle for her, or there is any indication of suffering, it’s over.  I won’t put my best friend through anything that prolongs her misery to avoid my grief over losing her.  I know I keep writing about this, but it’s just so hard to think of her being gone.  I don’t mean to sound ‘dismissive’ when I talk about another puppy before Mandy is gone, but it’s how I keep my mind from being totally overwhelmed by grief.  The circle of life and all of that.  Knowing I’d get another puppy (Mandy) after my last dog died really helped me look forward, and not stay stuck in the crying part of acute grieving.  I could find some joy in a new ‘baby’.  I bought toys every payday until Mandy was old enough to come home. She  has an obscene number of stuffed animals now, most of which she ignores, so the new puppy will have a lot to play with as well.

Find Mandy !  She has about 10 times more toys now !!

Find Mandy ! She has about 10 times more toys now !!

As with anything in life, I can’t predict when Mandy will be too sick to ‘make’ her keep going, and I’ll have to let her go.  So, I have to keep myself prepared, and try and make her life the best it can be during the time she has left.  I also have to enjoy all of the time she has left.  Yes, I need to keep being realistic, but also can’t have her half gone while she’s still here!  I know I’ll love another puppy intensely, but right now it’s hard to imagine loving anything as much as I love Mandy. She has been such an important part of my life.  My primary goal is to give as much as I can to her for as long as she’s around. And know when the time comes to give her the final gift of no suffering.

Mandy in her sweater- 2012

Mandy in her sweater- 2012

In the meantime, I’ll probably keep writing.  I’ll keep having times when I’m in tears, and standing in the laundry area of my apartment so nobody can hear me cry when the spin cycle is going.  I’ll be a wreck after she’s gone. And I’ll love every minute I can still see her sweet face looking at me while she’s still here. ❤

Watching, Waiting, Wondering… When?

I was a little on guard last night when Mandy (my 11.75 year old miniature schnauzer) was breathing a little ‘off’.  This morning, I knew things were worse. The rate of her breathing and use of muscles not usually needed to breathe were obvious. Then she didn’t want to eat.  I’d recently switched her over to canned dog food (that she LOVES) since she had been eating so little of the dry stuff (both prescription). Her weight loss was visible, though not in the range of some animal rescue commercial.  She had been doing well on the canned stuff for the last 3 days. Until today.  My baby is getting sicker. She was diagnosed with heart failure about 7 months ago. It was ‘caught’ earlier than my last schnauzer, who died of the same thing a year after she was diagnosed.  Mandy seems to be going downhill more quickly.  I’m not sure she’ll be here at Christmas (in 11 days).

I’ve had great miniature schnauzers since I was a kid.  Mandy is my third, and since I’m on disability (for the last 8 1/2 years), we spend a lot of time together.  She’s picked up on cues that my other dogs didn’t. For instance, when I turn off the TV, she knows it’s time for bed, and gets up from wherever she is in the living room, and goes to the bedroom.  When I get my keys, she knows I’m going to get the mail, and escorts me to the door.  If I get her seatbelt adapter, she knows she’s going to get in the car, and goes to garage door.  She’s been the most in tune to my routines by far of any of the three dogs I’ve had.  While I’ve loved them all, there’s something different about this one. She really has been special. Her comprehension of English (and following through with commands or comments) is kind of weird. If I tell her I’m going to sneeze, she leaves the room.  Then comes back to check things out !  I know everybody thinks their dogs (or kids) are ‘gifted’… of the three I’ve had, Mandy is by far the most communicative.

Greta, my first schnauzer when I was a little kid, was a performer. She loved to jump through a hoop, sit, roll over, etc for a Milkbone dog treat.  She could clear the back of the couch with no running start. But she was also a bit bonkers.  If she got out of the front door, she’d run like the wind until someone (usually me, but could be a neighbor who saw her fly up the street, with me in pursuit) grabbed her- usually when she stopped to pee.  Hannah was a ‘talker’.  If I said ‘bow wow’ or ‘woof’, she’d howl. My mom (demented at the time) loved that!  She’d ask to talk to the dog when I started asking questions she didn’t know the answers to as I assessed where she was mentally. The dog didn’t ask questions- just interacted without expectations in return. She also knew each of her toys by name, and would go get the correct one when told to get one of them.

Now, I’ve got to face the inevitable outcome of heart failure in dogs once again.  I check the color of her tongue (still pink), and monitor how fast and ‘hard’ she’s breathing.  I watch her activity level, and know that when she isn’t getting up on her own that it’s time. Quitting eating is also a late sign- I know that from Hannah.  Any evidence of pain can’t be allowed to take what time she has and make it a cruel existence.  I realize that she could perk up, but I’ve got to mentally prepare myself that she could be gone in a matter of days.  My best friend is dying.

Last week at this time, I thought she was doing pretty well. It’s moving quickly; she had gradually stopped eating the dry food until she’d finally give in because she was so hungry, so I got her the canned stuff- there was no point in making her ‘put up with’ something she no longer liked- or took too much energy to eat.  Now, she’s resisting taking her medication, so I’m having to use applesauce and slip the spoon into her mouth with the pills hidden in each bite, and ‘lubed up’ to slide down more easily.  It’s breaking my heart.  But she’s still alert, and interested in every move I make.  I have been purposely letting her rest, hoping that her breathing will slow down, and she’ll have less stress on her heart.  What I’d love to do is wrap my arms around her and hold her for hours.  But, she’s not a snuggler.

I know she could pass quietly in her sleep, and while I wish for her a gentle journey to the Rainbow Bridge, I also know that I need to be prepared with a mental list of what is ‘enough’.  I held Hannah while she was put to sleep, knowing that she saw me come in and pick her up after a morning at the vet’s to see if anything could be done; I knew when I took her in that it wasn’t good.  I HAD to be there when she died- and for her to see me come back. I couldn’t have her remember that I’d just dropped her off and left her.   And, she had said good-bye that morning by sitting on my leg and putting her head on my shoulder…and just ‘being’ there.  She had also been an amazing companion, as I’ve always been single and don’t have kids, or that many close friends.

I know what to look for with Mandy, and I know it’s getting closer.  I dread waking up to find her lying too still beside me.  And yet, I don’t want her to struggle or suffer in any way.  She has been such an amazing companion that I have to let her go if I see that it’s too hard for her to stay here for even a couple of days.  I can’t make my best friend suffer at all.  I love her too much.

My dad told me just to enjoy the time I have left with Mandy. I’m trying, but being a nurse, I am also constantly assessing her breathing and medication and eating.  She did eat some freeze dried banana chips and peas today…so she’s not completely refusing food. Just the stuff that actually matters.  I’ll get another dog- never to replace one I’ve lost, but because of the years of joy and amazing love they bring.  I just hope she has an idea of just how much I love her.  Anything I have and can offer her seems so inadequate.  I just pray now that I’ll know ‘when’…

Parking Lot Death Zone and Other Traffic Obscenities

What is it with people speeding through parking lots perpendicular to the actual lanes? It’s horrifying to be leaving the grocery store parking lot only to have someone come barreling out of my right peripheral vision with no intention of stopping, and there’s no way they DON’T see me.  What makes people feel so ‘special’ that the rules don’t apply to them?  I’m sure it will be SO much faster to t-bone a car and mess with the police and accident reports (and increased insurance premiums) when they actually connect with someone one day.  And, they won’t care.

I’ve wondered if people no longer know where turn signals are in their vehicles, or if it wouldn’t be a good idea to let the person behind them know they are about to slam on the brakes and make a sharp left turn.  Common sense?  Does the school for the blind now teach drivers’ ed?  (No offense to blind folks at all- just so obvious that a lot of drivers don’t bother using their eyes….or heads).

What happened to people being even remotely considerate when in their vehicles?  Is their life so much more important that putting someone else’s at risk means nothing?

I took care of a LOT of accident survivors when I was working as a nurse- both in a regular hospital and a head injury/coma stimulation unit at a head injury rehab facility. It’s no joke. Those folks would never be the same.  Kinda like seeing that there are worse things than dying.  But there’s no need to add to those lists of folks who are permanently disabled by morons behind the wheel !

Slow down!  Use your turn signals !  Remember that other people get to use the same road, and for God’s sake, don’t plow against the lanes in parking lots at warp speed (or snails’ pace).  Drive like you have some sense!  GROW UP….

To The Young Nurses…

…us ‘old school’ nurses don’t really hate you! At least this one doesn’t!  I miss being around students and new grads.  We’ve all been new, but things are different, and nursing school is VERY different than it used to be.  Back in the day, we didn’t graduate if we didn’t do all of the skills on the basic checklist. We either repeated the class, or got kicked out. Anything else we could do to get experience while we were still in school we volunteered for, whether it was our patient or not. Our instructors were the ones that followed us when we did anything for the first time (the hospital nurse had very little interaction with us – we weren’t her problem), and if it wasn’t up to her standards, she’d follow us until it was. Period.  When I’ve been in the hospital, I’ve had student nurses following my nurse. I was stunned by how little they were allowed to do, and the obvious absence of any instructor. I was willing to be a guinea pig! These hospitals get students from at least 5 nursing schools…and it was all the same, whether ADN or BSN.  The floor nurse not only got a patient assignment, she ended up with students to look after…not really fair. She didn’t sign up to be the substitute instructor.

That being said, I personally liked new nurses (still do, but I’m disabled, so no longer work with y’all).  Correction. I liked new nurses who remembered that they were new. Nursing school teaches you how not to kill someone on purpose- the rest comes with experience.  And that takes time, no matter how many books you read.  ‘Critical thinking’ isn’t something that is taught- it is something that is acquired. The basic skills are what get the job done.  It’s frustrating when schools expect the newbie’s employer to pick up the slack they left by not getting those skills taught.  I understand that not all schools are like that, but a LOT of them are. Much more than even 10 years ago.

I feel for nursing students and new grads. The hospitals have caught on. They don’t want to finish your education that you paid the school you went to to provide. They don’t want to fork over the money to have another nurse at your side for 3-6 months (orientation in 1985 was one week. Period. Can’t cut it? Hit the road).  I hear so many say ‘well, we have so much more technology now’.  Exactly !  We didn’t have machines, and still had to get the job done- so the excuses get old.  If you don’t know, you’ll get a lot more respect if you just say so, and don’t try and pass blame on to someone or something else.  But, in the meantime, you guys don’t get the hospital job you thought you were going to get.  Add in this economy, and you got a raw deal. The school still wants payment, and you get stuck making sandwiches at Subway to pay the rent and student loans.  (Nothing against Subway, but they don’t need nurses).

The whole nursing shortage thing is another problem. In some parts of the country, there is a bona fide shortage. In other parts, it’s more that people are overwhelmed by inadequate preparation, and can’t get the job done with the number of staff that fit into the budget (trust me, there are formulas for figuring out how many nurses the facility can afford and still stay open).  The nurse:patient ratio on an acute neuro floor in a community hospital in Austin, TX  (1986) was 1:14.  That’s right….fourteen fresh neuro patients (strokes, seizures, back surgeries, brain surgeries- after a short time in Neuro ICU, progressive neuromuscular disorders, meningitis, slow viruses, etc…mostly totally dependent patients with a multitude of tubes- PLUS any pediatric patient with a neuro problem since we didn’t have many dedicated pedi floors then) for one nurse on the night shift, and no CNA or ward clerk.  That is being short staffed- but we did it.  It wasn’t uncommon to have ET tubes in place without a vent, or nasotracheal tubes, trachs, feeding tubes, Foleys, IVs, and sometimes rectal tubes on most of the patients. Two or three of the fourteen might be ‘walkie-talkies’… So don’t tell us we had it so much easier, and don’t know how hard you have it when we’ve been working next to you (teaching you the ropes) – and were probably doing the same job before you started kindergarten. We didn’t know lower ratios.  One night it was me (out of school for about a year) and a CNA for 14 patients.  THAT was a bad night. The CNA was a nursing student, and extremely helpful. But she couldn’t chart, give meds, assess changes, or call docs. She was very good at letting me know what the next disaster was, so I could deal with it.  And that was appreciated. Everybody survived, but I was a wreck.

There weren’t IV pumps on anyone with fluids running (or antibiotics) unless they were at enormous risk for fluid overload- we counted drops while looking at the second hand of our watches.  We charted by hand. There weren’t any computers for a long time.  We checked blood sugars with urine dipsticks, and when blood sugar monitors arrived, we shared them with the entire 3rd floor- that included OB/Postpartum and Neuro.  I’m not sure why today’s younger nurses think that patients didn’t get as sick until the last few years. They did 🙂  Sometimes they were in ICU, but if they were still total care with stable vitals, we got them on the floor. Every. Damn. Day.  Total care is hardly a new concept.  Complaining about it has gotten much worse.

But I do sympathize that a lot of newbies haven’t been prepared for what is realistic.  Or how to manage time. Or do basic skills.  That isn’t your fault.  You got ripped off with your $20K/year education (should never pay that much- nobody cares what school you went to…. get an ADN, get a job, and get your employer to help with further tuition- it’s a general benefit in the vast majority of jobs I’ve had- especially if they demand a 4 year degree; not everybody does).  It’s not fair for you guys to get out of school and not have the skills you need.  Maybe that’s what happens when people go to nursing school just to be an instructor, and never really get real experience under their own belts before trying to teach others.  Check out the experience of the instructors you have. IF they haven’t spent at least 10 years doing what they teach, move on.  There is no end of learning once you’re out of school.  But not to have put in the time to really get a good representation of what’s out there cheats everyone.  Especially the patients their students will eventually care for.

Maybe this sounds harsh. Maybe it is. But I see/hear the same thing over and over.  Nursing isn’t a new profession.  Getting into it purely for the money is fairly new.  Yeah, it’s a pretty decent way to keep employed (especially if you’re willing to relocate to areas with real nursing shortages).  The pay isn’t bad.  The hours can be flexible (but newsflash: if you’re new, you get the crap hours).  I liked weekend nights so I always knew my days off, and the brass was at home 😀   With an ADN, I worked the floor, charge, supervisory positions, and administrative jobs for 20 years.  The whole ‘mandatory BSN’ thing was going on when I was in school in 1983.  It’s getting to be more of an issue in some parts of the country, and less so in others.  Where I spent the vast majority of my working years, I was able to work neuro, head injury rehab, med-surg, pediatrics, alcohol and drug rehab, adolescent psych, nursing homes (don’t knock it til you try it- it was my least fav thing in school, but I really enjoyed the old folks!), and MDS/Care Plans in nursing homes.  It was great to be able to move around when I got tired of something- but I never got tired of the interaction with patients.  If you don’t like being a waitress, babysitter, target for bodily fluids, getting beaten up with no recourse, family feud referee, or scapegoat for doctors, switch to something else.  You’re not that special to get out of ‘normal’ nursing tasks.  And, you’ll either survive and get good- or you’ll bail. But taking care of the majority of really neat people is worth it, IF you can deal with the lousy parts.

Nursing is something I really miss. I hate being on the patient end of things, and miss working with students and newbies.  I liked the fresh eyes and ideas.  But those with a superiority thing going on were just annoying.  I’ve had nurses with all of 3 years of experience go after me in a situation where my 15 years of doing the job came in really handy. One question: ‘have you ever felt like this before?’ gave me a lot more information than running around looking for heart monitors when they lady just needed to fart.  She had gas- not angina.  But the new nurse (3 years is still pretty new- it’s not uncommon to feel like a total dunce for 3-5 years- it’s a lot to get figured out) was sure that the woman was going to croak from a heart attack in a matter of seconds.  Uh huh. I told her she was welcome to call the doc herself (I was in charge, so made all MD calls, and assessments before those calls).  She declined. The lady was fine. I did put her on a monitor for a little while, and had it read by ICU nurses, and it was normal sinus.  I recognized that I hadn’t seen every cardiac event in the world- so was assessing her cardiac situation. All t-waves were going the right way. But ego and inexperience could have cost the patient stress, extra tests, and a lot of money.  IF the lady said she had felt that way in the past, just before she had open heart surgery, it would have been a totally different story. Alert the militia and sound the alarms !  But THINK!! Get the information! Do your own assessment. 🙂  And ask for help if you have questions.

When any supervisor would ask me how a new nurse was doing after they started, I had one huge criteria as to how much I trusted the newbie to be OK:  did he/she ask questions?  The quiet ones gave me the creeps, and I followed them like flies on roadkill.  I could deal with someone who asked 30 questions every night. I LIKED them ! I knew how they were thinking, and where their focus was!  I liked when a new nurse asked for help with something- even if they just wanted me to be there because they’d only done something once or twice before.  I was really OK with that.  They knew what they didn’t know, and that’s knowing a lot!  Time management and picking up the bigger picture come along with just doing it.

So if it seems like older nurses don’t like new grads, a lot of times it’s not really true. They don’t like how things have gone downhill with how nurses are educated and turned loose. Getting 75 questions right on boards isn’t impressive (our minimum was 600 out of 1000, over 2 days using a #2 pencil… a typical NCLEX question could involve a 15 year old pregnant girl in renal failure, with a hot appendix).  Yes, many of us need to listen more to what you’re all saying behind the actual comments and questions (i.e.-“I’m scared to death, help!”). We need to be more approachable (that is one of the best things any of my coworker LVNs ever said to me- I never made her feel stupid, so she felt she could ask me anything- we’re still friends).  But please remember, we’ve made it for decades!  We’ve had to go with the flow with all of the changes.  Many of us want to be useful to new nurses.  The whole thing about nurses eating their young is SO old… don’t even go there. It’s because you’re new, and SOME of you don’t know what you don’t know, and have gotten a shoddy education (no matter how expensive it was). You’re more work.  But be open. If you show respect, you’ll get it much more quickly.  🙂

I hope you will love nursing as much as I have. I miss working so much, and still keep my license active. I worked hard for it, and learned a lot by having it.  It gets better !

The Legendary Swedish Christmas Parties of My Youth

My mom had friends who wanted their sons to marry me so they could get an invite to our Swedish family Christmas parties.  When I was a kid, they were THE family party to look forward to every year.  My paternal grandmother had  a dozen siblings, and while not all of them were in the Chicago area (or even in the United States- or alive), most were at least within driving distance.  They rotated whose home hosted the dysfunctional chaos, er…uh, party. In those days, it wasn’t a potluck- the hostess did all of the cooking.  That in itself was a major undertaking. Add 50-60 people in various ages and stages of sobriety to the mix, and it was a big deal!  I loved it!   One year, dad was anxious about driving in the bad weather… he’d heard about some folks who had skidded off of the highway (not the bazillion who got through).  Mom and I started bawling.  Dad ended up taking the plunge, probably wanting to risk ending up in a ditch vs. dealing with being blamed for ruining Christmas that year.  We got there and home just fine.

My dad’s parents both came over on a boat from Sweden in the early 1920’s.  They were on separate trips, but left from the same place in Sweden (Goteborg), and on the same ship (Drottningholm), though different years. Grandpa thought that anything was a party; he had a great time en route to a whole new life in America ( and later, just mowing the lawn). Grandma wasn’t as fortunate on the trip. Her many siblings were of some comfort, but at Ellis Island, they ‘lost’ one of their sisters in the fray and later found her at the hospital on Ellis Island.  She later was taken back to Sweden for medical reasons, and died as a young adult. On the train from NYC to Chicago, somebody (not family) slit their own throat in the train bathroom and they had to watch blood flow down the aisle of the train.  They were young- some just kids.  And they were terrified. Nobody spoke English. But they all brought their ethnic cooking and holiday customs with them.  All of the various great aunts and uncles, and assorted cousins of parents, second cousins, first cousins once removed, and so on all reaped the benefits of those celebrations.

The Christmas Eve celebrations began in late afternoon at someone’s home.  The women of the generation that came over on the boats were generally involved in helping with the final cooking and food prep, and getting the table filled with food that was served buffet (or smorgasbord) style.  The ‘middle’ generation (those born in the United States to those who came over on the boats) were busy getting caught up on the year’s events….and drinking glögg (more on that in a minute). The youngest generation were running amok. There were basically two ‘sets’ of ages to this third group. I was in the  younger group.  The older group was 3-12 years older than I was (give or take a couple of years).  We just had fun and enjoyed seeing each other.

Before getting to that smorgasbord, there was a tradition of making a sort of semi-sedate conga line, everyone holding the waist of the person ahead of them, and making a chain throughout the house, moving to the song ‘Nu År Det Jul Igen’ (It’s Christmas Time Again).  It was mandatory. Only one person really knew the words to the whole song (one of grandma’s sister-in-laws), and the rest of us mostly mumbled to the tune.  It is a catchy little number!  If anybody has seen the movie ‘Fannie and Alexander’, it’s in there. And the song itself is  on YouTube.


The smorgasbord  was a precursor to the high protein diet craze. Most carbohydrates had a rough time getting on that table. There was always ham (and for the host family, ham for days in various incarnations), Bondost (Swedish farmer cheese with caraway seeds), ‘korv’ (pork and potato boiled sausage), pickled herring, sylta (think ground veal jello- not my favorite), Swedish meatballs (a very special recipe that I still make),  lingonberries (tiny Swedish cranberry-like fruit), and the other permitted carbs: hardtack (thick rye cracker) and limpa (Swedish rye bread), some baked brown beans that are like ‘regular’ baked beans (I hated them, and still do), a green lime and pear jello mold (another ‘I’ll pass’ item), and boiled potatoes. Must have boiled potatoes.  Carbohydrates were more like condiments than a food group for the holiday dinner…except for the cookies later in the evening.  It was an amazing meal that I looked forward to every year.

At midnight, lutefisk was served (with more boiled potatoes, a cream sauce, and nutmeg).  There are many jokes about lutefisk, and for good reason.  It’s cod that has been soaked in lye, and then dried (to preserve it back in the days before refrigeration or freezers for long journeys on ships, or just because; during the winter, living near the Arctic Circle made for some iffy fishing opportunities). Lye is the same stuff used to make soap, oven cleaners, and drain opener. The fish had to be rinsed in water for days (water changed daily) to be sure it didn’t create an opening between the esophagus and neck when someone ate it as the lye ate through the person.  Sounds yummy, eh?  It was/is so popular in Scandanavian circles that it is sold in plastic bags, packed in some of that final stage of rinse water, ready to heat and eat!  Once boiled, the texture is similar to gelatinized rubber bands. With fish flavor. Strong fish flavor. Are you hungry now?   I haven’t had the stuff for decades, but I did eat it as a kid.  Those who have read some of my other posts know that my food intake was very restricted when I was a kid; I’d eat just about anything when I was turned loose at the Christmas party. Except the cloyingly sweet baked beans, and that green jello mold. Not going near those.  Had to save room for cookies 🙂

For those who don’t know about glögg, it is a mixture of brandy, port wine, some ‘warm’ spices, orange rind, almonds (had to have one in the bottom of each cup, or some horrible Scandinavian evils would find their way to the unlucky imbiber) and Everclear…or basically the kerosene of drinkable alcohol. To make it so that it wasn’t a form of euthanasia, it had to be ignited to burn off some of the alcohol.  That just meant that more was consumed.  There were some bonafide alcoholics in this family.  For the most part, they just got rowdy and loved everything ! I don’t remember any mean drunks… and for a long time I didn’t even realize why Santa didn’t show up until 2-3 a.m..  One of the first generation had to sober up enough to dole out the presents in a Santa suit, and it had to be one of the older generation, as the middle generation had kids who would miss a parent during the gift opening.  Us kids would be dozing off, and jerking ourselves awake when we realized that we were still waiting for Santa to show up. They were long nights ! But the sort of dysfunction that made for amazing memories 🙂

The glögg did have some unpleasant effects; one year a neighbor of the host and hostess knocked on the door to inquire as to the identity of the person who was face planted in the snow pile out front, with his arse in the air…my dad and one of his cousins went and fished out Cousin B from the pile of snow in the front yard… Good times !

Eventually, someone would come stumbling down the stairs shouting ‘Ho, ho, ho’ and laughing in a jolly manner. All of us kids would suddenly perk up.  Often, someone was walking closely with ‘Claus, and I now wonder if it was for stability should ‘Claus start having trouble with his balance and gravity.  To me, it was the start of an amazing thing. It fascinated me that whatever I flagged in the JCPenney Christmas toy catalog  at grandma and grandpa J’s house would show up from Santa !  (I was the only grandchild of my paternal grandparents).  Grandma seemed to have some direct connections to the North Pole. (And Grandma J never told Santa I needed socks or undies). Imagine 6 of us ‘younger’ kids and 4-5 (depending on the age cut-off) of the ‘older’ kids all opening gifts at one time, in their respective ‘groups’ of families. Gift wrap, bows, and boxes would be coming down blizzard style. It truly was a magical time, especially when we were younger.  Looking back at the old photos, it’s obvious who was stuffed into the Santa suit; as children, we were mesmerized to be in the presence of the ‘real’ Santa Claus.

Every year was fun. It was a holiday that was steeped in ethnic traditions that made it special, and unlike anything I’d see on TV or heard friends talk about. The real reason for the season was sprinkled into the evening at some point, but Jesus’ birth was not the main focus of the celebration.  My parents and I always celebrated church Christmas events, so I was very aware of the meaning of Christmas; the Swedish party was the heritage part of the season.  I loved those parties. We still have smaller versions of the old days, with family who is in town (or at least nearby), and some years, those who have moved away will join in. Now it’s a potluck, which makes it nice to be able to contribute, and not as horrible on the hostess.  I’ve been limited in actually being at the parties due to the heat intolerance with the dysautonomia, but with the ice vest I now have, I’ve at least been able to go to the last part of the evening  It’s much earlier in the evening  than it was when I was a kid, and the glögg is enjoyed in moderation (I can’t drink at all for medication reasons).  I make the meatballs to send with my dad- same recipe that we had at the old parties. The ‘dance’ before eating is still done.

It’s still a very special part of the holidays, and wonderful to remember the ‘old days’. So many are no longer alive, but thanks to those decades of  incredible family parties, they are still there in spirit.

Edit:  Christmas Eve 2013 was bittersweet… while the old traditions were still there, and our heritage was celebrated in familiar ways, it was the last Christmas for one of my cousins, who had been battling cancer since the summer.  At Christmas, I was still hoping things would be OK eventually, but I was also concerned about some new things she told me about.  She lost her fierce battle on March 2, 2014.   Her mother (dad’s first cousin) died later in 2014.   She was the hostess of the Christmas Eve parties for many, many years.

And, in 2016… it will be much different this year without dad.   SO much family history was tied up in the Swedish Christmas Eve party…. and it will be missed.   I’m so thankful for the incredible memories.  ❤