Sometimes Being Homebound and Isolated is Really Hard

Considering what has gone on with three people who have been very important in my life this year (they died), I have to know that I’m very fortunate.  Two had battles with horrible cancers between 9 and 10 months long, and one had a sudden collapse with an aortic dissection, but lived two more days…. she had been over a few weeks earlier talking about limited time. Maybe she know something was up, or was just being realistic that at 89 years old, she wanted to get things in order.   We had a really nice visit that I’m so thankful for.  The one who had the 9 month battle with colon cancer is a cousin I had a lot of  phone and e-mail contact with during her horrific struggle.  The other was my dad’s lady friend from church;she and  his first cousin (with the aortic dissection) had services last week.  I wasn’t able to go to either, but did at least meet the lady friend’s family, who I’d heard about for years, and felt a need to pay respects to them; we’d all heard about each other for years. I couldn’t stay long, but at least I popped in after the service for a few minutes.  I will miss them especially during the holidays, but also in general, as they were either family, or just about, as she and dad were buddies for church dinners, going out with friends, etc.

Overall, I really do realize how fortunate I am, but I don’t have many perky days when all is sunny and wonderful. There are some times when I just get overwhelmed when I think about what I used to be like.  Other days, I do my best to get by, and I do still have a lot that I enjoy from home. I still get to help out family and friends with medical  questions/translations- and I’m very glad to do that.  It helps me feel useful in some way.  And I get rather nostalgic about the days when I was working 3 12-hour shifts a week as a charge nurse in some sort of facility (hospital, drug/alcohol rehab, adolescent psych), or the Monday-Friday desk jobs entering assessment data into the computer for Medicare reimbursement and/or care planning for skilled nursing facilities.  I also did some stints on neuro floors, head injury rehab, and pediatrics- so a greatly varied career that I miss.  A great thing about nursing, especially in Central, rural Texas between 1985 – 2002, is that when I’d get bored with something, I had no problem finding another job within days.  Sometimes the offers were waiting for me on my answering machine when I got home from the interview.  Being an ADN, and not having a 4-year degree was never an issue, either as a staff nurse, charge nurse, weekend supervisor (only RN in the building/facility), or department head.  I was lucky to graduate from nursing school in 1985 when we were expected to know how to do procedures and skills, or we didn’t graduate.

Then came disability in 2004.  I fought through 8 years (starting in Texas) of trying different medications to regulate the fainting and weird episodes where I turn beet red, then a bluish red, before becoming pale and cold like a corpse. For eight years, I muddled through, and even had several decent years after the neurologist down there wanted to try an off-label medication.  By the time I was told I was no longer OK to work (by my boss in IL in 2004), it crushed me.  My identity had always been as an RN.  I didn’t have a husband or kids, so no other roles.  My relationships were all with co-workers in Texas ( even though I’d moved back to Illinois, where I was basically thrown away- nobody returned calls, and one former coworker went out of her way to avoid me at the grocery store).  I’d gotten sick- I hadn’t embezzled anything !  I guess it’s a Yankee thing. :/

That started some very chaotic years of figuring out what meds would help with the worsening symptoms (fainting more often, with some injuries including a concussion, and torn meniscus on my right knee requiring a knee replacement, some very strange medication interactions that caused a small stroke, many blood clots in my right lung, and ultimately leukemia (AML, subtype 3, or APL) which required chemo that worsened the autonomic disorder with thigh atrophy and increased sensitivity to heat).  I was a ‘regular’ at one of the ERs early on, and they treated me like trash.  Had I not gone to a decent ER with the blood clots in my lungs, I likely would have died – they were numerous in all three lobes of my right lung and pulmonary artery, and in various acute, subacute, and chronic stages.  The apex of my heart had pressure against it from my lung pushing into it.  It was bad. I only went to the hospital because I thought I was having a heart attack.

I’ve been essentially homebound for ten years.  I’m not sure that many people really understand what that means when “friends” here (coworkers) disappeared as soon as I left the parking lot on my last day.  I do have my dad, and a couple of friends here- one in particular makes an effort to come over periodically, and has done a LOT of work helping me get things organized so that I can get “stuff” minimized around here. She has been incredibly helpful once we found each other again on FB a few years ago.  I have been invited to family holiday parties- which I can attend one of, after everyone eats, since hot food in close proximity to body heat of other people is a problem- so I go when I’m less likely to stick out as being totally weird.  I really like that family bunch, and I hope I don’t come across as not liking them.  I just can’t tolerate a room over 66 degrees.

There are days when I don’t hear another human voice other than my dad (who is 82 and healthy, so I’m very thankful for that). We try to do daily “attendance” checks with each other, and he is really a huge asset in my life for many reasons… he always has my back.  I know he will never give me bad advice.   I might not see another human more than once a week (again, dad) for a few weeks at a time.  The phone rarely rings… usually it’s dad, my birth mom, or a reminder for  a doctors’ appointment or test (this week it’s an abdominal/pelvic CT for some intense bloating likely related to the autonomic problem).  Facebook is my primary form of contact, and I’m incredibly grateful for that; prior to getting this laptop from my birth mom and cousin, I was even more alone… now I can at least keep up with people I’ve known for years, whether from work, family, or childhood.   I challenge anyone to unplug the phone, have nobody show up at their door, and not hear another live voice in person for days (and occasionally weeks) at a time. It takes getting used to- and even now, it’s still hard.

I miss seeing co-workers and patients.  I miss being able to just go out and do something social without having to deal with the logistics of cooling vest equipment, distance from home, how I’m going to get there, can I leave if I need to, etc.  There are no ‘going out to lunch’ days (who would I go with?).  My dad is the one I go places with on the days when I can go (and I know I’m the most undependable ‘date’ with frequent last minute cancellations because of symptoms of some sort).  He knows that when my cheeks turn a deep bluish-red that it’s time to go.  And he’s always willing to take me anywhere.

People don’t understand that I can’t unload the dishwasher and fold laundry in the same day, or I end up with spasms from the base of my skull to my lower back, and am useless for a day or two.  Chronic pain isn’t ‘seen’.  Fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease are chronic and  the DDD, will get worse (degenerative is a clue)- so I pace what I do as much as possible.  I miss the days when I’d set my mind to doing something around my apartment, and not stop until it was done.  That’s long gone.  I ‘look OK’, so I’m not sure people understand that I really am doing the best I can.  I live independently (getting many things delivered to my apartment from Schwan’s- frozen foods, Amazon, and Walmart).  I go to the store about once a month… maybe twice if it’s a good week about halfway between disability checks.   I still want to do as much as I can myself, so I don’t lose any more muscle mass.  The initial chemo took up about 20 pounds of muscle, and then the neuropathy in my thighs took much more – while I gained weight on chemo (not easy for my head to deal with, or to get rid of the poundage).

I’ve written about the expenses of Medicare and medications not covered in other posts. Buying insulin from a part D plan guarantees that anyone on it will go into the dreaded ‘donut hole’ where meds are NOT covered by the Medicare drug plans.  Most diabetics are on several medications.  The donut hole is dangerous.   The ‘good’ insulin is upwards of $200 per vial….between the two types of insulin I use , if I got it from the part D company, that would be $600 a month just for that- minimum… Thank God for the  cheap stuff from Walmart; I’d be sunk without it.  I don’t understand why insulin (the better stuff ) – a drug that is absolutely necessary for many diabetics- is so  unattainable.   I worry about this sort of stuff…

But mostly, I miss the things that I used to take for granted… seeing coworkers, having daily contact with other humans, having a purpose that felt like ‘me’ (being an RN), and not having to plan for every contingency every time I leave the apartment, even if it’s only for an hour.   My short term memory and word-finding are still not back to normal after chemo.   Going to the store for fresh produce every week has been long gone.  I might figure out something with dad, to go with him a couple of times  a week to get fresh fruit and veggies.

I really do have a LOT to be thankful for.  I have survived a lot.  During my 55 year old cousin’s final weeks, she weakly asked why I was allowed to live and she wasn’t- not in a nasty way, but in a tone that just sounded like she was trying to make sense of things.   I don’t know.  I know I must have some reason to still be here.  I hope I can make a difference somehow.  The blog helps… I keep track of my stats, and more than 100 countries have hit more than 16, 000 times.  At least people know I’m still here… that and Facebook. And my dad and a couple of people I see every month or two.  That they take time out of their busy lives (and they are busy !!) means a lot.

I’ve got God, my dad, my birth mom, folks on FB, and my dog- who is my main companion and pretty good at it 🙂   So, even though I miss what my life was, I’m at least alive, and still able to live alone, and figure out how to get things I need.   I truly am thankful for that. I know that there are others out there who struggle a lot more.  I remember those people I used to take care of that were never going to live on their own again.  I don’t know where the dysautonomia, diabetes, degenerative disc disease, degenerative  joint disease, or lung scars from the clots are going to lead me… but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.  I always seem to land on my feet 😉

Mammograms and Menopause…

Boy howdy, did I have a good time today.  Should probably be illegal, and yet it’s required by the conscientious medical provider I have, to the point of getting actual mail, not only e-mail reminders.  I think the last time I got real mail from my doc, it was an order referring me to an oncologist because my entire blood count was next to nothing, beginning the odyssey of leukemia survival.  So, they scare the crap out of me to let me know it was time for the annual (or so they’d prefer) boob compressing.  It’s an exam undoubtedly devised by a man who never thought that there could come a time when a very ornery, hormonal, fed-up menopausal woman somewhere in the medical invention universe would come up with a testicle crushing machine to ID nut cancer.  If my personal physician wasn’t female, I’d probably find some internet conspiracy theories to make myself feel better about blowing off said mammogram.  But she is, so I went.

The first time I had a mammogram was about eight or nine years ago. I’d heard horrible things about the girls  being smashed so flat, they needed spatulas to scrape them off of the table thingie when the exam was over.   It had been compared to the labor pains of the woman’s northern hemisphere.  I went in terrified of having my boobs stretched and pressed so harshly that I’d need to roll them up in those old pink foam rollers to get them to stay in my bra afterwards.  But I went.  I followed all instructions to a tee, including the ‘no deodorant’ rule.  My first thought was that the technician would be wearing a gas mask, but not the case.  And the exam began…

Eh.  Not a big deal.  Yeah, so I wouldn’t want to be holed up in those positions for any longer, but it wasn’t horrific.  I’d survived, and the girls weren’t bruised or misshapen. Still faced different directions. Back to baseline.    There was, however, a problem.  I tend to be somewhat intolerant of nonporous surfaces, and I sweat when in contact with them.  I’m also very heat intolerant, so I sweat just thinking about being slightly warmish.  My boobs also inherited this condition.  The first one let go of the table without much fanfare.  Peeled ‘er off, and tucked ‘er back in the backwards ugly-gown.  The second one?  Nope.  Did. Not. Want. To. Go. Home.  She was flattened down, and gripping with a suction I didn’t know was possible from a boob.  She put some octopi to shame that day.  I had horrific images flashing in my head about finally getting her loose, only to have the recoil  slap up against my forehead, refusing to move.  I’d have to drive home with a boob over my left eye, hoping like crazy that I didn’t get pulled over for ANY reason.   The sweat would be creating humidity in the car that would make driving hazardous. Ferns would grow.  Finally, I got it loose, and hunched over as I ran into the dressing room, hoping I’d been able to dislodge it without the tech getting any glimpse of the power struggle going on from a stubborn ‘limp’ tit on her table.  I wasn’t letting that boob get any ‘lift’ from air as I moved, lest she go airborne, and become too unruly to shove back into my bra.  Scary having something seemingly operating independently of the rest of me 😮

I had another one the winter after I finished chemo for leukemia (APL). Once I got the OK, I had every crevice and loose bit of tissue  tested for any and all types of weirdness.  I wanted to know I was starting with a clean slate.  And so I did- and all came out OK.

Then, came today.  I had a routine oncology appointment today (is that an oxymoron?  ‘Routine’ and ‘oncology’ lumped together?) , so I scheduled the mammogram for after that.  That meant no deodorant for the oncology appointment (but I did mist the back of my shirt  with a bit of body spray).  Menopause has done some odd things with body odors.  I hadn’t anticipated that when it all started, but have come to understand that I smell really, really bad if I’m not layered up with whatever non-toxic odor neutralizers I can find.  I’ve been tempted to stuff dryer sheets in my bra.  As it is, when I get a whiff of my pits- which are connected to a sedentary body, creating no extra odor due to healthy activity- I  dash off (well, I limp, so ‘dashing’ probably isn’t accurate) to do a wipe down with witch hazel, as well as a moderate scrub with some old cheap washcloths with some texture to them.  A layer of non-toxic baby powder is also a good thing.  This is all when I’m at home, alone, with nobody to witness the tragedy of menopausal pits.

Anyway, I got through the oncology appointment and went to the mammogram appointment, and got in early, since it seems Tuesdays in Cancerville are fairly sedate, and I overestimated the time between appointments.  But, the boob squishing department was at a lull, and I got right in over there. Did I mention that the handicapped parking is down about 16 steps?  Anyway,  I was escorted to the changing room,  given the ugly-gown to change into, and then made my way to the exam room, where the tech had some questions.  Thus far, the pit stench wasn’t horrible.  Not my finest, but I didn’t think I’d kill anyone.  On to the exam.

As soon as my right (the first one done) arm was raised, the green mist appeared.  I was suddenly reminded of roadkill along the backroads of Texas in July, about two days after impact.  Buzzards were circling, and flies could be seen in cloud form.   I smelled like decomposition 😮    Oy.  Those poor techs.  Menopause was making me smell like a dead opossum. Or skunk. With a witness.   I was horrified.  I laughed it off, and the tech just said she didn’t smell anything.  That must be part of the job application- must pass one of two of the following:  outstanding liar or absolutely no sense of smell.  The woman today seemed trustworthy enough, so my guess is that the part of her brain that interprets smell was blown out at close range in a terrible crossbow accident that left her otherwise unharmed.

I got out of there, and made it home so I could get the Brillo pads out after my pits.  I got my appointment clothes off (still emitting a slight green fog), and got my natural deodorant.  I thought about applying it with a spackling knife, but decided that might be a little too looney.  I’m not the queen of persnickety hygiene, but I try not to be a community health hazard.  At home, it’s just me and the dog most of the time (and she seems quite happy, no matter how much I’m mortified by the changes of menopause).   I like it that way, with few exceptions.   I just hope that when this whole process of ovarian retirement is over, I go back to being just a little whiffy when it’s hot out.  NOT being so toxic that I need to wear hazmat signs when I leave home.

My condolences to the mammo-tech.

My Crazy, Amazing Schnauzer Mandy

Since my  11 1/2 year old miniature schnauzer was diagnosed with heart failure about six months ago, I find myself looking at her and thinking how blessed I am to have gotten her. As in the very specific and individual her. When I got her, my previous schnauzer had been gone a relatively short period of time. She too had heart failure, and had been put to sleep while in my arms, after a good year of treatment. But her time had come, and the decision was ‘easy’. She couldn’t go on; she was actively dying and struggling. I had already decided to get another dog; being single, I loved the companionship.  I finally found a breeder a couple of hundred miles away in Houston, TX, and contacted her. The arrangements were made that I’d get a female salt and pepper puppy with her next litter, that was due soon. But she needed to be seven weeks old before the breeder would send any puppies to their new homes. I didn’t get to see Mandy before I made the 9-hour round trip to get her, so had to rely on the breeder to pick out my new ‘baby’.

When I first saw her, the breeder was in her front yard, holding Mandy and talking to some guys working on her roof.  Mandy had a bright pink bandana around her neck, and weighed less than three pounds. She was about 6-7 inches tall when she was sitting.  I was instantly in love 🙂  I had to drive through Houston traffic to get home, and during most of that time while still in Houston, I was trying to keep Mandy in the clothes basket lined with a quilted cat bed. She wanted to be in my lap, but I didn’t want to take the chance of her getting hurt, or deciding to explore the car while on I-10, and in 5 lanes of cars.  Finally, somewhere near Katy, TX she settled down and fell asleep.  The drive home was otherwise uneventful.

From the get-go, she was a mama’s girl.  I’d taken vacation time from work when I got her, so had a week home to get her used to being with me. She slept under a clothes basket, on a waterproofed cloth pad, next to me on my bed. Initially, the clothes basket had been right-side up, but the 3rd morning, I heard a little bark next to the bed. She had jumped off of my bed, and was on the floor looking at me. I was scared she’d get hurt. So, I flipped the basket over, and she’d crawl under it every night. If she needed to use her papers in the middle of the night, she’d cry a little, waking me up.  During the day, she slept between my left shoulder and collarbone, curled up.  She’d suck on my earlobe at times, making weird little puppy noises.

I had a desk job as an RN, so I was able to bring her to the nursing home where I worked for several weeks. She stayed in her crate under my desk, and visited with the residents periodically.  The socialization was good for her, most of the residents loved her,  and I loved knowing she was nearby. The first time I left her home in the kitchen I was so sad. I knew she’d be fine with her bed, toys, pee pads, and food and water bowls, but I hated leaving her. The first time I left her home with the run of the place (after she’d shown consistency with using the pee pads), I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I got home. I have a realistic baby doll collection, and they were on shelves where their feet were very accessible. I feared coming home to toeless dolls. What I found was a pile of baby socks by the back door, and all toes intact. She hadn’t hurt them- just removed ALL of their socks. 🙂

Over the years, I realized that Mandy has some odd quirks.  She loves appliances, especially the dishwasher and clothes dryer. When I remove lint from the lint trap she gets so excited!  She actually pays attention to when the dryer turns off, and gets up to trot on over to where it is, looking at me as if to say “Well, get moving! We have lint!”. She also hates when I sneeze, and if I say I’m going to sneeze, she leaves the room.  She understands an eerie number of words. It freaks my dad out a bit. When he tells her the same things, she blows him off. If I tell her to do something, she’s amazing. She does not like the digital camera at all, and leaves the room if I take it off of the charger.  Taking photos of her is a nightmare. She wasn’t like that with my old 35mm SLR, and I can only think that the little noises the digital camera makes must be what bugs her.

Mandy, age 11
Nothing like some good cataracts !

As she’s gotten older, she’s not as good with ‘hygiene’, so I’ve started getting her groomed in a very short cut, leaving only a schnauzer face. It’s either that or use baby wipes on her girly parts to keep her clean.  She also leaks a bit if she doesn’t use her pee pads before bed, so I tell her to ‘go potty’ before turning in for the night, and she will.  She’s rather private about the whole thing, and it’s good that the linoleum entry way is behind a partial wall, or she’d sulk.  She also farts more as she’s gotten older, and I find it all very amusing. She can be in a nice sleep on one of her many places to nap, and suddenly be airborne, landing on her butt and staring at it as if something must be there violating her back door. Then she looks at me in a somewhat accusatory way.  She is fond of simethicone gas pills (for people), and if I ask her if she needs a gas pill, she very eagerly comes over and gets one. I saw the same ingredient  in dog gas pills at a pet store, so I know it’s safe.

Over the past six months, she’s had some fainting episodes that break my heart. When Mandy gets overly excited, and hyperventilates, she tips over- out cold- and lets out some deep cries that sound just agonizing.  Yet, she recovers quickly and goes on about her day.  Last Friday, she had one of these episodes while moving around in bed, so no activity preceded it. That bothers me a lot.  This week, she went to the vet to get some blood work done to check to see how her kidneys are handling the diuretic (water pills) she needs to keep her lungs less congested.  That came back normal, so there’s a good chance she will do well for many months to years.  Her heart failure was caught earlier than her predecessor, so that is good.  She likes taking her pills, as I stuff them in pieces of freeze dried mandarin oranges. If I ask if she needs her pills, she heads for the kitchen where I keep them.

But I know what’s coming. I know the time will come when her breathing takes too much effort to make it humane to keep her with me, and that breaks my heart. Each of my three dogs (starting when I was an 8 year old kid) has been special in her own way, and I missed the last two terribly when they died. But being home 24/7 because of various disabilities has created a different bond with this one. Mandy is THE living thing I see the most.  She’s the one I communicate with more than any human.  She understands a lot of what I tell her to do, and has the goofy quirks that have endeared her to me very deeply.  I have been making a mental list of things that signal that it’s no longer right or fair to make her keep going.  So far, she’s nowhere close to any of them.  But when the time comes, I must do what is best for her, as much as it will hurt. And I’ll get another schnauzer. NO dog could ever replace Mandy (or the ones before her), but each has soothed the wound of grief a bit, and quickly made her own way into my heart.

Moving to Texas

All during nursing school I knew I needed to move away from my home town once I graduated and had my RN license.   I needed a chance to get out on my own and find out my own personal likes and dislikes, and just learn who I really was beyond what was either overtly or covertly expected of me.  I needed my own life.  I decided to move to Austin, Texas since I had biological relatives there. I didn’t know them well, but had met them and been writing to them for over a year.  I really liked them, and was glad to have someone to help me figure out a new home 1200+ miles from where I’d grown up.  They were wonderful to me, and helped me in many ways as I adjusted to living in the Lone Star State.

My mom drove me to Austin from the Midwest.  The car was loaded , and I’d mailed 25+ boxes via the USPS.  I’d  partially moved by mail.  Mom and I had a weird relationship, but we had a great time during the three days it took to get to Austin. We weren’t driving to make exceptional time, and did some things just to goof off on the way down there.  We also discovered some of the wonderful foods of the South that I was clueless about.  Fried okra?  I’d never seen regular okra!  Biscuits?  I’d only ever had toast or rolls for a ‘bread’ at a meal.   We also stopped at a wildlife drive-through park in Missouri, and laughed our heads off as a llama insisted on pursing its lips through the partially rolled down car window.  We had some of the animal feed that was sold at the entrance, and that llama wasn’t letting us go by without getting a few bites. I’ve got photos of that goofy llama somewhere. I’ll edit them in if I find them 🙂

We puttered around in Dallas with a friend of mine who lived there with her husband.  She was about 30 seconds from delivering her first baby when we were there, but she gave us the tour of Dallas, and it was wonderful to see her.  I got photos of the baby a couple of weeks later.  Then we hit the final leg to Austin… I-35 South.  I was only  a few hours away from my new home.

It was night when we got to Austin and made it to my aunt and uncle’s house.  I’d been there on a spring vacation train trip a year and a half earlier, and was glad to see their familiar faces and home.  That first night was generally just getting there, talking for a brief time, and then going to bed.  I planned to get a job and apartment the next day, and I did.  The second night, I was in my own apartment (a furnished,modified efficiency unit on the bus route).  The manager lived on-site, and knew I was a 22 year old kid just out on my own.  She kept an eye out for me.

My first job was at a terrible nursing home (I worked at two amazing ones in Texas later on); I lasted 3 weeks there.  During that 3 weeks, I met more of my biological family (I’d been adopted at 10 days old, and had done a search when I was around 19 or 20 years old to find my biological mom, and did).  We had a great time seeing some of the sites around Austin and Fredricksburg.  I really liked the chance to meet and spend time with my ‘new’ cousins, and hit it off especially well with one of my cousins. She’s one of my best friends to this day.

I got a job at a local hospital and started out my hospital nursing career on a neurology/ neurosurgery floor on the night shift. I loved it.  I met some great people there, and while it was a lousy time in my life (I was raped), I learned a lot as a new nurse.  I’m still in contact with one of my co-workers from there.  I didn’t generally become  ‘friends’ with co-workers, but highly valued the ‘friendly co-worker’ relationships I developed through the years.  I didn’t see someone as a ‘friend’ if our only reason for knowing each other was being paid to be in the same place at the same time for the same reason. But some people stayed in my life.

I worked at some great places in Texas (Austin and Kerrville). Texas has had a legitimate nursing shortage for decades, especially in the smaller rural healthcare facilities (like being the only RN for 27 beds in a hospital, with 3-4 LVNs doing the direct care).  And the people were so much more friendly than where I’d grown up.  It was such a joy to meet new co-workers, and much of the time work was actually pleasant. It was hard work, but the vast majority of the people made it so much easier, even on the crazy shifts.  I’m still in contact with many Texas co-workers since I’ve been back in my hometown (moved back for family reasons), and they are really the only co-workers I’ve ever wanted to be in contact with. They are from the best years of my life, and I want that connection.  They remind me of memories I’ll always be thankful for.

Learning about barbeque was mandatory in Texas!  In the Midwest, during the time I lived there as a kid and before leaving home, BBQ was a soggy mess of stringy pork in sweet sauce that was really only good for putting on a bun. It came in a jar.  I hated it.  Grilling outdoors was called BBQ, but that’s grilling. Grilled steaks are really good, but it’s not BBQ, which is ‘low and slow’.  One bite of the real thing, and I was hooked.  There is nothing better than a Texas brisket or order of ribs. The smoking process is what does it. Sauce isn’t really a part of Texas BBQ; it’s available, but not what adds the flavor.  There is no BBQ without smoke. There needs to be a ‘smoke ring’ on the meat.  And no Texas BBQ pitmaster is worth his/her salt without a big smoke-darkened pit, where the magic happens.  I’ve got the phone number to Buzzie’s BBQ in Kerrville, TX to get my ‘fix’ one of these days; they will ship the real deal to me in Illinois !   My mouth waters at the thought.  No ‘bbq’ (small letters intentional) around here compares. Most of it is baked, and if smoke is used, it usually comes from a bottle of liquid smoke, or a quick trip through a smoker.  That’s just not right !  I’m now called a ‘rib snob’ because I’m so picky, and that’s fine 🙂

Spring in Texas, especially the Hill Country which is west and southwest of Austin, is amazing. The landscape explodes in color as the wildflowers start to bloom, starting with the state flower, the Bluebonnet.  The fields can look so blue it seems that perfect blue water just appeared where there had been grass.  Then come the red Indian Paintbrush,red and yellow Indian Blankets, pink primrose, and other flowers in a succession that tells the folks around there how far into spring they are.  Visiting Texas in the spring is amazing. Living there was even better.

Living in the Hill Country was a totally different experience than Austin.  I love Austin a lot, but the time-warp in the Hill Country was delightful.  Simple things are still appreciated, and there was a sense that I’d been accepted as one of their own.  When I first got to Kerrville in 1991, pay phones were still 10 cents for local calls!  That was unheard of!  There was (and still is, as far as I know) a daily Bible verse in the local paper, and nobody squawks about it.  “Howdy” was the way people greeted each other, and on the road, when someone came up from behind, it was common courtesy for the car ahead to move off to the right so the person behind could pass.  As they passed, both drivers nodded and waved.

There are so many more things that I love about Texas.  Since being disabled my dreams of moving back there are pretty well trashed.  I’m so thankful that I had 17 years there.  I got to know the reasons that  Texans love Texas. It’s not some empty pride- there’s a humility about the privilege of living there, but also a deeply rooted appreciation at the quality of life, friendliness of the people, incredible land, and wide open spaces.  The stars are big at night.  The sunrises are beautiful, especially during the spring and fall when the fog and mist make the sun a big red-orange ball.  People who haven’t lived there understandably don’t ‘get it’.  I’m not sure how they could.

Texas isn’t just a place, it’s an experience.  It’s where I spent the best years of my life, and met people I’m still in contact with, 10 years after leaving.  In Texas, I felt I was accepted, warts and all.

Texas is a place, but it’s also a state of mind.  My heart is still there. ❤