Wednesday, April 30, 2008

And the Treatment Plan?...Self-Cleaning It IS!

When the hand surgeon walked into the office, he held out his hand for me to shake it. I responded as I always do now: --I'm sorry, I don't shake hands any more.

This stops them in their tracks. Unfortunately, it also generally offends them. But I can't figure out how to say it in a nicer way.

He raised his eyebrows and left his hand in the air and said, --oooooKay. Why is that?

--Because I'm colonized with CA MRSA and I don't want to pass it to you. I'm also immunocompromised and don't want to pick up any germs.

--And who told you this?

Now it's my turn to be offended. It's an irritating question that could be put in a much nicer way on their part. I know they hate it when people *self-diagnose.* And I understand why. But good Lord, why ASSUME that's what I'm doing?!? Why not just say, --Okay, could you go through the history on that for me? That's a non-accusatory way to get the exact same response from the patient.

--Who told me? Well, lots of doctors, hospitals...The culture for this wound here came back positive for MRSA, it was cultured last Thursday. See this foot? (I flex Poor Mr. Foot.) The MRSA abscess in there was huge. They almost had to amputate. That was in 2004, and ever since then, I reinfect myself all the time. They culture the infections and they're MRSA. I scrub in Hibiclens, I did the Muciprin in the nose, I'm on permanent antibiotics, nothing helps. I can't seem to get rid of the germ.

--What's that bruising from? (My legs are all purple now.)


--Ah. Why are you on Minocycline?

--Uhhh...(WTF? I try not to sound like I'm talking to a two-year-old.) Because of the MRSA. And I'm immunocompromised, I get other germs too, they're hard to shake. My IgG is tanking now too.

By then he's reading the printed out Medical History I bring from home, and taking me seriously enough to put on some effing GLOVES. Finally.

This is particularly necessary because even though I washed in Hibiclens (microbe-killing surgical scrub soap) before I left home, the wound has cracked open and is draining again. I'm leaking germs on him. It made a nice little tunnel at one end of the wound.

Sounds like bad news? No! It's SUPERB news.

We want it to drain. We want all the germs out from under the skin before the wound seals shut and traps them inside, which can lead to making an abscess and further horrors.

If it drains on its own, it's self-cleaning.


He looked at the wound and started poking around.

The pain is intense in the joints that connect the first two fingers to the hand, and down into the back of the hand.

--It doesn't look bad at all.

--Nope. Not any more. But it's still infected and still hurts like you would not believe. You should have seen it last week. It was gross. Draining MRSA pus non-stop, I'd mop it dry and it would pour out again.

--How do you know it was MRSA pus?

--Ummm...(WTF?!?!?) Because that's what they cultured. The stuff oozing out of the infected cut.

I no longer care if I sound like I'm talking to a two-year-old. I mean, come ON, how many times have I answered that by now?

He asks how I got the cut, when the infection set in, all that. Where it hurts. Why I'm on pain meds.

His attitude has changed, markedly.

Of all the many different kinds of doctors I see, the hand surgeons have the most wonderful office art, by far.

--Let's do some xrays, okay?

--Good. Thank you.

--But outside of that, I have to tell you, you need to go back to your ID doctor. He--



--Dr. C.

--I don't know her. Out of what hospital?

--Holy Cross.

--Then if it does need surgery, she'll set it up inpatient there. The hand surgeons there will take care of it.

--But they aren't on my insurance plan.

--Doesn't matter. They're covered once you're in the hospital. And for a person with the complicated medical issues you have - The debridement itself my mother could do. (What? a joke? I'm shocked! He didn't seem to have it in him. I am gratified.) --But with you, it's really not the debridement that's the biggest issue. You have to get started on IV antibiotics and so forth, prepped, make sure you're supported against infection even before the debridement. The only proper way to do all that is usually inpatient. To start all over with a whole new medical team and put you in Broward General would be madness. Madness. Do you understand?

--Yes, I do. That makes sense. If I knew last Thursday what I know now, I probably wouldn't be here. But I was referred to a hand surgeon then on an urgent basis, and the ID doc was consulting on the phone with the dermatologist, so that's what I tried to do. Of the six hand surgeons on my plan, four refused to treat me. You weren't available until today. So here I am. And thank you for seeing me.

In other words, he's sending me straight back to Dr. C, my ID (Infectious Disease) doctor.

The dermatologist, with all the best intentions and sense, confused the issue by trying the (perfectly reasonable) approach of sending me straight to the proper surgeon.

Now I know better. And I called Walter and told him: --Next time I have any kind of infection issue, no matter what anyone says, make sure I go STRAIGHT to Dr. C, okay? I don't ever want to go through this kind of bullshit again. I mean, as horrible as it was to learn, now I know I'll get kicked to the curb by other doctors. I needed to know that. I just don't want to go through it again.

Check out this new xray developer. They put the plate in the top slot, and the xray pops out the bottom, like a photocopier.
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The xrays seem clear. That means they checked to see if the infection had gotten into the bones - osteomyelitis, and a condition to be dreaded; it often means amputation. Unfortunately, as he said, osteomyelitis doesn't usually appear on xrays until it's pretty advanced.

And the fact that it's draining again is great. He said if he were to do the surgery himself, he'd probably wait at this point. (Meaning, we're going to see if it forms an abscess now.) --But try to keep it draining, keep it from closing. And keep it dressed, don't you dress it?!

--Sure, are you kidding? Of course. I live on Silvadene and Hibiclens. I only left it off so you could see it. I'll dress it again right now.

And the nice radiologist, who was sitting in at that point, offered me one of their bandaids as I got my Silvadene out of my purse. Yes, I don't leave home without it.

I have now gone in a big circle and arrived right back where I started. Sadder and wiser, and still with the threat of an abscess hanging over my head. But what I learned, this time, was of extraordinary importance.

I left a message for Dr. C, and now I'm going to decompress out in my yard.

Emo k, Upon Leaving Home for the Hand Surgeon's Office...

see more crazy cat pics

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's MRSA.

Here's a little recap of my hunt for a hand surgeon last week. It started Thursday morning at the dermatologist's. I was there for a different thing, a biopsy. I showed him the hand. He cultured the draining fluid and referred me to a hand surgeon on an urgent basis, saying it needed evaluation and possible debridement. That's when they go in with tools and scrape it all out. Not pleasant. But most certainly better than the alternative.

Of the six hand surgeons on my insurance plan, three refused to operate on an infection. One told me it was because the surgical facility they use wouldn't allow it.

Another doc would have done the debridement, in an inpatient hospital setting; but after I faxed my medical history to his office, he changed his mind. This was a highly regarded surgeon, and the one my dermatologist specifically referred me to. After he changed his mind, I asked his staff member a certain question to pass on to the doc; there was something I wanted to know. Today I called for my answer. Would he see me for something else, a non-infection hand surgery? No.

Four refusals. Two docs were left on the plan. One seems new to the area; no one has any idea if he's any good or not. I'd prefer not to go to an unknown doc if I can help it. The other doc, a Dr. M., wouldn't see me until the next week.

So by Thursday afternoon, I could see this was a serious problem. At 3 PM I went to the ER at Holy Cross. Why? Because I'd learned, in my health adventures, that they'd refer me out to a hand surgeon that would have to treat me, and it wouldn't matter if that doc was on my insurance plan or not.

Good tactic, huh?

Except I didn't leave the ER until 5:24. The surgeon's office was closed. I didn't have him paged. Wrong decision.

I called early Friday morning, and he'd left for the airport only ten minutes before. He came in to do a couple urgent procedures before he left.

I called my old hand surgeon, Dr. G, who did the great job on my right hand - but isn't on my current insurance plan. He suggested some docs, said he'd make some calls if he could, but nothing helped. Same with my primary and my ID doc. They'd never heard of this *refusing treatment* business and were as outraged as I was.

But that great Dr. G? He would have refused it too. That makes five out of seven, folks.

I called Dr. M again. He was, at least, recommended by my primary. On Thursday, his staff member had told me - in a distracted, bored voice - that he didn't see people on a *walk-in* or urgent basis. She seemed a bit outraged that I'd even ask. Since it looks like he's closely affiliated with Broward General, which is our local Level 1 Trauma Center, this was a bit surprising.

Docs with dumb and/or attitudinal staff are to be avoided; and since he wouldn't see me urgently anyway, I turned my efforts elsewhere. I called again Friday. Same response.

By Monday morning, of course, I was out of options. I called Dr. M's office again. He can see me Wednesday. Tomorrow. My appointment's at 11 AM.

Only time will tell how this will play out. I don't know that this one-week delay in treatment is going to make any difference. But it certainly is a reasonable possibility. Debriding an infected wound before it closes is a very different procedure than doing so after it closes. Done afterwards, we may be talking about far more permanent damage to the nerves, tendons, tissues, blood vessels, and bone. We're also talking about a higher risk for amputation, septicemia and death. That's exactly how it went down with the huge MRSA abscess in my left foot in 2004. Why it's maimed.

The one-week delay, then, may well mean a worse outcome. In that case, aren't we looking at a violation of the Hippocratic Oath? The part that says, First, do no harm?

If nothing else, I must ask: Why are you a doctor in the first place? Why the hell are you refusing to treat someone because they're sick?

Say it all comes out fine. The infection clears, not much scarring or loss of function, we don't even need the debridement surgery, just antibiotics and time.

At the very least, this has become one of the more traumatic infection episodes I've had. The worst since the left leg got so bad in 2006. I HATE to be distressed over these things. I put a great deal of effort into staying calm, cool and collected. Peaceful. I do NOT like to be rattled by my health issues.

On Thursday, when the reality of the refusals hit me, my blood ran cold. The calm and reasonable fear this all caused has not stopped since then.

Now? Now I'm looking at the wave of the future. After trying so hard to get medical people to take MRSA seriously in the past, like at Holy Cross inpatient where they kept trying to put another patient in my room and wouldn't wash their hands after touching me, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way. I bet that recent study had something to do with it: the one that says MRSA kills at least 19,000 Americans each year. More than AIDS.

Logically? The patient they should fear the least is me. They know what I have and can take precautions. It's the unknown carriers that spread this, not people like me who know we're colonized and say so. But people are not always logical, not even the vaunted intelligent and educated members of the medical community.

The wave of the future? I'll continue to get more infections. One day I'll get a bad one. I'll be refused treatment again, over and over; and before I find someone who'll treat me, it will be too late. Septicemia will set in and I will die.

And yes - unfortunately, I was right. It's MRSA. The culture came back today.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

{CAUTION!!! GROSS-OUT ALERT!!!}...It Was Just a Little Cut on the Hand...

Not being a good blogger about the technical bits, I don't know how to put things *below the fold.* Please take this caution for what it's worth: if you're squeamish at all, you may not want to read on, okay?

What started off a chain reaction of incidents was a cut on my hand.

There I was up at the dig site, in the pole barn. This is a primitive site, as most are. We camp in our tents, circled around a large clearing. There's a pole barn where we gather to eat and talk and play Scrabble at night and hear interesting, short, and always fun, talks put on by the curators or students.

The pole barn has electricity and a nice hot shower. The curator leading the current dig doesn't mind us plugging in our Electrical Stuff. I think I brought the first laptop to the site four years ago. Now there's lots of them. We plug in our electric toothbrushes, cell phones, all that.

And at that pole barn, we eat well. Our curator loves to feed us.

This year, however, the chef reneged just before the dig opened. Oh no!!! But! Our esteemed camp leader, fossil identifier, and general all-around *Go To* (for everything) person, Eureka, is a fine cook in her own right. So she cooked for us through the whole dig, and did a great job.

The kitchen knives in the pole barn weren't very sharp. A young man from Louisiana sharpened them. Eureka told me about this, and I just HAD to brag about something to her. Last summer, in my travels, I acquired a rather ridiculous looking knife sharpener, the sort of thing you see advertised on late night TV for $9.95. And it's entirely unprofessional looking. But boy oh boy, can it sharpen a knife!

So I sharpened her knives even sharper.

Unfortunately, I tend to be unsafe. This sharpener is something you hold in your hand. Since I didn't watch the late night TV commercial that sold the product - I got it used - I'm not sure how you're supposed to hold it as you sharpen the knife.

I bet you can see where this is headed.

So, yeah. I cut myself. Badly.

Sorry, no pix of the original cut. It went through all the layers of skin; I could move the skin back and forth and see the muscles underneath. It was only about an inch long, just deep. It's on the knuckle of my left forefinger, where the finger meets up with the hand.

argh! I felt like a fool and a half.

I washed it and slathered it with Silvadene. Eureka told me where I could find superglue. After I let the Silvadene soak in for a bit, I wiped it dry again and superglued it shut. The cut was so deep it took three to four applications to fill 'er up.

Then I wrapped that hand in some serious padding to protect it and finished the rest of the knives.

The next day, half of the hand was swollen and red. But it didn't feel warm, and it didn't feel like MRSA, which has its own particular pain. As one of the other volunteers said, it looked like trauma swelling, and that's all.

See, they don't like to stitch folks like me. If a wound heals shut too quickly, trapping MRSA germs inside, we usually grow a big icky abscess. As I found out with Poor Mr. Foot, that can be a real mess.

There was really no point in leaving the dig and going to the ER. I did everything they would do, with the exception of a nice big shot of novocaine. I take antibiotics every day. I would have loved the shot, but hey. It wears off anyway.

I didn't want people to know what happened; or if they found out, tried to hide how bad the cut was. I was definitely embarrassed. This is what I get for showing off.

For several days, the wound healed without infection. It did fine until I got home. Then I hit the yard. Way overdid it. A very good idea would have been to fill my latex glove with Silvadene.

Well, hindsight's 20/20.

When this all started it struck me as humorous. Here's where my sense of humor began to deflate.

I felt it the minute the germ entered. Intellectually, I recognize this sounds ignorant and ridiculous. But I can tell when it comes in. I can tell the difference between a MRSA infection and some other kind. It just plain feels different, it has its own particular pain. Every time I've said that, and a doctor doubted me and cultured the wound, I've been right.

Oh God above, I hope I'm wrong this time.

Within a couple of days it was hugely infected and *draining:* dripping clear to cloudy fluid, constantly. I would do all I could to sort of squeegee it clean, but the pus never stopped dripping out no matter what I did. The hot redness would flash up from my fingertip to the wrist, then decrease again after I took my antibiotics, then flash out again....

One exception: I went to bed one night wearing a latex glove filled with egg white. The antibiotic in raw egg whites has done wonders on some of my wounds. The next morning, the wound was bleeding. I took this as a good sign, that the infection was clearing and the blood itself was helping kill off the infection.

Wrong. Next morning, it was back to the messy ooze.

In these two pix, it's almost healed. It looks so deceptive. Like nothing, really. Just a little swelling and redness.

That deceptively innocent appearance is one of the reasons more Americans die each year from MRSA than from AIDS.

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You may have to click the pic to see what's happening here. It's draining fluid: as my hand is closed, then opened, it forces the fluid out. The stuff dripping down is the fluid in question. This is what came out again, just after I'd blotted it dry.

We have NO idea what's in there until the cultures come back. But the dermatologist who cultured it, Dr. G, knows as well as I do that it's highly likely to be pus caused by MRSA. Pus isn't always thick and white. It comes in an amazing variety of colors and consistencies. Believe me.

I know this can be awful to hear and to look at. That's why I put that warning up there. It's unpleasant stuff, and it's stuff I have to deal with pretty often. I'm sorry to inflict it on you.

But this is an exceptionally bad situation, for a lot of different reasons.

The infection itself is one. My other hand is already partially crippled from a different infection; I don't want to lose one bit of function in my remaining *good* hand. Something else happened too, a sad incident with a doctor. And last but not least?

Even after my dermatologist referred me to a hand surgeon for immediate evaluation and possible debridement, I've been refused treatment because of the MRSA. Over and over and over, four refusals. Three other hand surgeons were out of town. There's no one else left on my insurance plan. None.

Get this: They told me they won't operate until the infection is cleared. But to clear the infection it needs that little operation called debridement.

It's a perfect Catch-22.

I try to stay calm about these things, take them in stride. But hearing that? It kicked me in the gut. I went through the most incredible series of phone calls, an ER visit to force treatment, shock from my other docs who'd also never heard of this refusing surgery business, offers from them to personally call their hand surgeon colleagues for me...and at the end, it was all to no avail. It's not just the doctors. The surgical facilities themselves won't allow me across their threshold.

And now it's too late.

The infection has closed, trapping the germs inside. The infected area is clearly much smaller. But it's still in there, in the joint and finger and hand. It's still in there and still incredibly painful.

Tomorrow we'll see if I can find a hand surgeon who's both back in town and willing to treat me. Since the wound is already closed, they'll probably wait now, to see if it forms an abscess. If so, the scarring will be far worse than if they'd debrided it last week.

There's lots more to this story, but that's enough for now. It's bedtime for me.

And thank you, all you readers, whether you comment or not. I draw so much strength from you, just knowing you're out there, listening. Knowing I'm not alone.

Being Disabled is Not a Character Flaw

The thing I've been mulling over lately has to do with talking about health issues and disability. There's usually someone in any group who takes a certain pejorative view of the disabled. They often think that a person who says they're disabled, if it isn't by something traditional or obvious like being blind or missing a limb, isn't really disabled, but out to *get something.* They may think that about a blind person, too, of course. Often, these are people blessed with great health and an uncanny ability to eat whatever they want and never gain weight.

Maybe it seems reasonable to them that being chronically ill isn't due to a failure of health, but to a lack of character. After all, they've never personally experienced anything remotely like it. They frequently have no doubt that if they did, they'd be a shining example of Courage and Acceptance and Stoicism and Pride, of Suffering in Noble Silence and Never Taking Medicines (since meds, you see, are just a cop-out). And no matter what happened, or what others said or did to them, they'd never ever ever feel the tiniest bit of anger or bitterness. No, they would always Rise Above It. Always, without fail.

I've found that an amazing number of people think the disabled have a huge responsibility to stay both happy and noble. Display one jot of the downside, and you get this solemn look of deep disapproval...

There's a great blog out there for people like me. It has to do with living your ordinary everyday life with chronic illness. A woman with lupus started the blog, and this essay was the seed it sprouted from: the Spoon Theory. Lupus is one of those chronic illnesses that doesn't always *show,* which adds a whole another dimension to dealing with it.

Trying to describe to the uninitiated what that life is like is difficult. The author of the blog was trying to explain it to her close friend one day as they sat in a diner together. She finally grabbed a big handful of the diner's spoons, and used them to demonstrate this: everything you do from the minute you awaken has to be carefully thought out, planned, and *budgeted.* The handful of spoons represented the day's total amount of ability. You start off with, say, a dozen *spoons,* and you'll be using a spoon for every small task you perform. If you run out of spoons before the day is over, you're out of *life* for the rest of that day.

It's beautifully written. It hit home for me, big time. That post gives me great comfort. I just read it again.

*--But you don't LOOK sick!* I used to hear that all the time. Not so much, any more. I *show,* now. What an awful thing to be grateful for.

When I try to explain to people that I can walk some, but it's not good for me so I shouldn't, too often I get that look of disbelief. The look is almost immediately masked by some; by others, it's deliberately, openly, disdainfully displayed. They've just now written me off. I watch their eyes as their expression subtly changes, I can see myself reflected now as a non-person, a human of no value, no worth. No credibility. A liar or a lunatic, and who really cares which one it is? Don't waste a minute of time thinking about a non-person. They have no worth. That's the whole point.

Sometimes I say, *Excuse me - Here, see this?* and flex the left foot so the scarring and deformity shows. *The more I walk on it, the sooner they amputate it. They already tried it once.* I don't care, frankly, if it upsets them. They deserve it. It's an entirely fair payback for what they just did to me. The punishment fits the crime.

I recently sat with a little group who spent a good 15 minutes talking to each other about an elderly woman we all know who has terrible health issues, and whose husband is in the same boat. I've met this woman and instantly liked her, but haven't had the opportunity to get to know her yet.

I sat there as these folks discussed, over my head, how she never complained, and her husband never complained, and how they could both *milk it for all it's worth,* but don't.

To talk like that in front of me was not diplomatic, to say the least.

You see, I decided early on that it was best both for me and for anyone around if I talked openly about what's wrong. If a person spends any time at all with me, I have to make sure they know about the allergies, for example. Often - very often - people wear perfumes, or clothes washed in Tide, or other things that can make me very ill very fast. If I just try to keep moving away from them as they talk to me, they follow. If I try to get upwind, the wind changes. If they sense I'm trying to get some distance between us and don't know why, they can get offended. So communication matters, to both of us.

I tell people about the reasons I do what I do. Some of my coping mechanisms seem strange otherwise. Sometimes those who don't know the reasons behind them make comments or poke fun at those coping mechanisms, and later when they find out what's up, they can feel pretty embarrassed. I'd rather spare us both by explaining myself as I go. I also try to make sure they know I don't let this stuff hold me back whenever I can help it.

Those are just a few small examples of why I talk about my health. I have very good reasons to do so, and truly believe it's for the best. I do not accept the maxim that talking about your health problems is the same thing as whining about them. To people who believe the only honorable way to handle disability is to accept it in total stoic silence, I may look like a weak whiner or a fool. I know better. But they don't.

To sit at a table with people expressing those opinions with some force was not easy. I contributed nothing to the conversation. I sat there silently. I wondered if some of it was being directed at me in a nasty catty sort of way. Because one of those people has seemed, over the years, to believe that there's nothing really wrong with me.

We all get that, disabled people do. We get it from people who should know better. All the understanding and forgiveness in the world can't make the painful backstab of that attitude go away. Not completely. It doesn't seem to matter how very well we know our conditions are real, that we're not trying to *get* something out of it, and have nothing to feel guilty about. We're only human, and it hurts.

If I'd been quicker on my feet, I'd have asked this question: --Just out of curiosity, because I really do want to know, can you tell me precisely what those people would be trying to *get?* What sort of payoff would they be trying to *milk* from their disabilities?--

Knowing that even one person in that group probably has that belief about me makes me a little paranoid to talk about the health stuff. I know, and know absolutely, that I'm truly ill, and that I do NOT try to *get* anything out of my condition. I can't see that I've gained a single material thing from it. Quite the opposite. The losses it's caused in my life are huge, they're almost unimaginable. When I got sick I lost everything: the job, career, profession I'd worked so hard for and enjoyed so much; the use of the college degree I'd worked so hard for; all my possessions including my car; my health insurance, my income, my sense of safety, the respect of the working community, my stellar credit rating, the ability to travel or even leave my house or my bed at times, the ability to wear makeup or perfume, or to see a movie in a theater; the use of my left foot, the ability to walk at will, or to experience for just a few minutes what it's like not to feel unremitting intense pain; oh I could go on and on...

Prejudice is not rational. All the medical proof in the world would not change that person's opinion. They hold that belief not because they arrived at it after a careful quest for truth, but because they have some sick psychological need to believe it even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Sure there are people who fake it, and also those who try to make some profit out of a genuine disability. However, the vast majority of us aren't in either of those groups.

It's incumbent on us all to understand the characters of the individuals we meet up with in life. The person in question has a responsibility to view each disabled person she meets with an open mind, and determine for herself if that person is on the level or not. Just as we all must do with the disabled and the healthy, both.

When I was growing up, the quality of compassion was greatly valued in many of the people around me. Not all of them; of course not. But very many. Liberals and church-goers. Upon crossing paths with a sick or elderly or disabled person, they'd jump right in, ask what was up, listen with interest and kindness, say *hey you're doing great, good for you!* and can they help with this or that? They took pride in treating the disabled with respect and dignity, with the same basic acceptance they'd show anyone else. It used to matter to a lot of people, to be compassionate to the folks they met up with day to day. One on one. Not just by sending some money off to a relief organization - then a year later, talking about how those people Should Be Over It By Now.

I distinctly remember how and when the tide turned, when it suddenly became fashionable to be critical instead of compassionate. I remember when it happened. I remember worrying for all of us.

That's part of what I've been mulling over lately. Naturally, it's the one thing that could make me a little reticent to post about the health problems on my plate at this moment. But from its inception, dealing with those health issues has been a large part of my goal in blogging. Not to mention: My house, my rules. I will.

Just as soon as I'm awake and functioning again.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I'm Home. I'm Fine. I'm Sorry!

Please excuse my extended absence here. I got back from the dig last Wednesday, and have been mulling over some things ever since. Meanwhile, there's been some drama with Chase Home Finance and some health bits too.

But I didn't mean to make anyone worry! Sorry about that.

I am, indeed, exhausted. Also mangled and sick, full of way excessive allergies and fever attacks. I got to the dig two days late: both Walter and myself were in such bad allergic states just before I was supposed to leave, that we simply couldn't get out of bed to finish packing me up to go to the dig. It was a strange and sad thing to see Walter that way. It was like looking into a mirror, seeing how he simply couldn't do anything but rest and sleep.

I always love going on the dig, but missing two out of the five days meant I didn't get my *fix,* as Walter put it. One of the curators out on the site brought up an interesting alternative. The field museum at my old alma mater, UF, needs volunteers to process plaster jackets. That means being the one to actually open up the special jacketed fossils we prepare on various dig sites, and perform the task of reconstructing them as the animals were, way back 18 million years ago.

I'd need to make arrangements to do this with my feet elevated, but I think I can handle it. I think that a couple of the scientist/curators will put in a good word for me over in the Plaster Jacket Department, and that Eureka will too. This is a way new idea for me. It could be a lot of fun, and a great way to escape the local pollen when it gets too bad down here.

I'm working like crazy on the house's exterior, trying to meet certain time deadlines. I came home from the dig a bit beat up - as always! - but this time it looks like I got whacked in the MRSA department. Working hard in the yard didn't help. One wound, a very deep cut that got infected, is making a nasty abscess or something in my left hand, and the dermatologist today said I need to go see the hand surgeon. He took a swab to culture it, but warned me it may have to get debrided.

Any of you who know, or can imagine, what that's like on a super-tender MRSA infection, on a hand (hands have extra nerves), and on an immunocompromised fibromyalgia patient, can probably understand why I'm not looking forward to getting it debrided.. And it needs to be done asap. Probably tomorrow. The wound is...well, it's leaking, a lot, which needs fixing. Sorry for the gross-out factor.

The original reason for the dermatologist visit was to get a biopsy. When I chainsawed the ficus patch in mid-January, one of the little wounds I got was very unusual. It might have been a critter bite, like a spider; maybe a scorpion sting; maybe a foreign object embedded itself. It hasn't healed yet, thus the biopsy.

That lead to a Typhoid k Incident today at the doc's. Details to follow...

Time for sleep, now. I'll do my best not to leave you hanging like that again.

Monday, April 07, 2008


If you've been reading here for any length of time, a few things have probably become pretty obvious.

I love to travel around, and don't need fancy facilities to be happy doing so. I come from a long line of pioneers and entrepreneurs, and we get restless. The urge to see what's around the next corner - or what's around a corner way way far from here - becomes overpowering, and off we go.

My health is not good, and hasn't been for quite a while. I've been disabled since age 32, and last worked on a regular full-time job in my profession in early 1991. I do my best to thumb my nose at all this, and after doing what I need to manage it, set it aside and get back to having fun.

Since a large share of the health status is due to allergies, changing environments can be a big help. I'm allergic to many thousands of substances, and once I settle down in a different area for a few months, I can easily sensitize to whatever local pollen, etc. I wasn't allergic to when I first got there.

But it still helps to escape the local allergens for a while. It comes in waves as different kinds of plants decide to bloom. Late winter is *Tree Time* here, from mid-February to late March or so. After a couple week's break, Weeds kick in. That's what's hitting me now.

So the annual Fossil Farm trip gives me a little break, and the timing is great. Even though it's still Florida, it's North Florida. The climate is noticeably different, so blooming times are too. The plants aren't all the same either. All of that helps.

Being in a state of continuous allergic reaction takes a toll on anyone. Even those who aren't bedridden from it feel the fatigue and sickness, and that terrible *allergic fog.* So when I do escape my allergenic environment for a while, it perks me up considerably. I'm still in a constant state of allergic reaction. That hasn't stopped since 1990. But the level goes up and down; and when it decreases, I am one happy camper.

Camper is sometimes the operative word. I love camping. Exploring. Seeing nature. Climbing trees. Collecting fossils and rocks and checking out new flowers. Seeing mountains and the desert. Those hearken back to my childhood.

I love to talk to people too, and find out where they're from and what they think about everything. One bit that always strikes me? How, no matter where in the world you travel, people instantly glom on to the fact that you're Not From There. What they do with that information tells me things about their characters, as individuals and as a group.

Last summer I decided to run away for a while. This was a careful and conscious decision, rather than poor impulse control, or a result of some subconscious devious trick my mind played on me. No, that's one thing I'm pretty conversant with: I know my self, my motivations, my subconscious mind pretty well by now. Not perfectly, of course not - but we don't hide much from each other. That's got its upsides and its downsides; but mostly, our lines of communication are wide open.

No, I gave it some thought, put together my plan, and off I went.

And what a trip it was.

Towards the end of summer, I found myself waaay high up in the Midwest, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Home of the *Yoopers.* (Say it: Yoo Pee. Yoopers.) Home of beautiful rocky hills, glacier formations, minerals, rivers. More childhood memories: after we left California when I was seven, the Great Lakes entered my young life. I had a bit of saving beauty to rescue me from the loneliness I felt missing the mountains and deserts and ocean of my earliest years.

The UP is more like a bridge than a peninsula. That's where their term *Trolls* comes from. If you're not a Yooper but a Troll, it's because you're Not From There, but from farther south. Trolls, you see, live under the bridge.

If you chance to see a map of the UP, you'll note a large section of land jutting out of the north side of that bridge into the waters of Lake Superior. A true peninsula. I like to think of it as the UP of the UP.

It's called the Keweenaw Peninsula. One thing that especially appealed was the way a river cuts through the entire peninsula, making the last 2/3 or so into an island. I like that. I love being surrounded by water. My little town in Florida is surrounded by rivers and canals, so it's called the Island City. Venice, Florida, another fave town of mine, is called the Island Village for the same reason.

Having studied my maps and my bank accounts with some care, I decided to go camping at McLain State Park. It's right on the river shore of that island, and right on the beach of Lake Superior. It's only nine miles from Houghton, the largest town in the area; this made for a good home base. From there I could beach-hop my way all up and down the peninsula, collecting beautiful rocks, agates, river rock, anything that caught my fancy. The minerals and rocks there are astounding in their beauty and color and variety and abundance.

And the people are very nice. They know the difference between themselves and folks who Aren't From There. But overall, they're accepting and tolerant and courteous. They don't like ill-behaved tourists any more than I do, yet they're quite patient with them. They also don't automatically turn a cold shoulder on you just because you're new. They wait and take stock of you first. I like that.

I'd happened upon a time of the season where most of my fellow campers were locals, or semi-locals. The main tourist season was drawing to a close. Kids were back in school in far-away states, or getting ready for it. The campground was quiet and peaceful, not completely full, and the people there were well-behaved.

It was wonderful. Exactly what I needed just then.

I set about remembering how to camp by myself. We camp at the Fossil Farm, but our meals are cooked for us in the pole barn, and we don't make our own campfires. I realized my fire-making talents had gone rusty from disuse. It took a little while to re-learn. But by the time I left, I was back to my old one-match fire starting skill.

I drove around the peninsula. I went from beach to beach, checking them out. I drove through old mining and fishing towns, some fallen into states of great disrepair with the changing fortunes of the mineral and fishing businesses, the mines. I loved Houghton, with its gorgeous old turn-of-the-century buildings, masonry, beautiful craftsmanship.

A person who loves beauty and art and quality work can't help just driving and driving and staring and staring around there. Then, consider my old profession. It involved a great deal of rehab management, including mortgaged real estate that secured loans made for the express purpose of revitalizing beautiful but run-down historic buildings. You can see why I'd be particularly entranced with the real estate out there.

Ah, but I'm a blogger too. It was particularly difficult to keep up posting from McLain. My campsite had - of all things! - electricity, but no signal. So I'd drive in to Houghton to post and check my email. There was a little coffee shop that had free wireless and kindly let me sit there for hours, reading and posting, all for the price of a cookie or muffin, and some conversation when business was slow and the coffee cowboy wanted to talk.

No problem. I love to talk to folks. In person. In my blog. In comments on other people's blogs. It's amazing how, from time to time, we find someone we instantly and powerfully resonate with, here in our little corner of the 'sphere.

From Desert Cat, who I *met* when I was still only commenting and *closet-blogging* and who became my blogdad; to Pretty Lady, who we both immediately felt is in our nuclear blogfamily even though we're not blog father-mother-brother-sister at all; to blogdaughter Jan and several other fellow bloggers and/or steady commenters here, who feel like family in their own right - the parallels, the connections between our backgrounds and interests, can be startling sometimes.

Lately I'd been wandering over to Caducity, a new blog by Artemis, blogdaughter and IRL friend of LL's. She recently finalized a traumatic divorce from a terribly controlling and abusive husband, and her courage and gumption, her steadily growing strength, was wonderful to see. There are children involved, and the Evil Ex (EE) is not the father that he should be to them. He puts on a show, but forgets things that are important to the little girls; his motivation in parenting, in sharing the custody arrangements, all that, is clearly no more than seeking ever new opportunities to control and hurt Artemis.

This is never a good situation, of course not. The kids get hurt. Without fail. Using children in a tug-of-war over control is hideous behavior. The other spouse, if they aren't bad guys themselves, face a terrible dilemma. If they explain to the kids that the EE is lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating, whatever - in the end, this is really harmful to those kids. They may grow up feeling angry at the EE, but as adults, they'll see things from both sides, and may turn on the parent who was trying to raise them right. In the process, they may overturn everything they learned about the importance of judging character.

Yet who wants someone like an EE to hurt their kids with deceptions and manipulations? Isn't it better for the kids to know who they're dealing with? Shouldn't the other spouse fight against the EE's actions, in order to defend those kids - even if the kids see what's happening and get emotionally involved in the fights?

No easy answers. I've gathered, from reading, that the best way to react to an EE is to stay out of the fray, don't let an EE provoke more battles. To calmly explain to the kids that they need to respect both parents; that the other parent may do things differently, things this parent doesn't necessarily agree with; but that's their right as humans and as parents. Studies tend to show that to expose the very real faults and errors of an EE type parent to the kids does them more harm than letting time and understanding take its course. They'll see the truth soon enough.

Similar situations are played out all over the world every day. It's no less heartbreaking for that.

Commenter Mr. Bud and I have been *talking* back and forth in comments at Caducity. We seem to have a lot of similarities in how we think about these things. Me, I have no children; but he does, and he went through a Divorce from Hell himself. With an EE of his own, he's lived through many of the situations Artemis is just now embarking on. Stuff you'd think would be over once the divorce is final, things you must work out as best you can, to keep them from shattering your heart and your life.

At this juncture, Mr. Bud sees his own kids only at intervals. Apparently his own EE now lives far away, and that's how the arrangements came to pass. Right now they're all in Sweden. I can't imagine how it must feel to not see your children for months on end. How incredibly lonely it must be.

He described Fun Child Rearing Activities at one point in a comment thread. I read his comment and wished he'd been my dad. Make no mistake, my parents had many very good Child Rearing Activities too. There were, in fact, a lot of similarities to what Mr. Bud described.

They didn't involve much TV or videogames or trips to McDonald's. They employed lots of creativity and thought and constructing of forts and all sorts of self-reliant means of amusing one's self and learning, all at the same time. Independent thought, problem-solving, all that good stuff. Yum!

As I walked along the beaches and hills of the Keweenaw Peninsula, I was often alone. Sometimes one or a few others would be on the beach too, usually far off. Signs of human visitation were sparse. They'd stand out at me. Old campfires. Piles of rocks collected and then left behind. Messages drawn in the sand.

I came across one such message that struck me with its pure and simple loveliness. Someone had made a heart. Not your standard Hallmark Card stock either. It was graceful, and had a little tail at the end. The rocks weren't just whatever had been close by. They were clearly collected, carefully chosen, nicely sized, beautiful every one. Inside the heart was a barely visible note - someone & someone else...In the upper right, in small white rocks, it enclosed a duplicate of the larger heart. So you could also read the message as someone *hearts* someone else.

I took some pictures of it. I take lots and lots of pix, and the vast majority never make it to the blog. This heart drawn on the beach and left there - this one made it. I was just as entranced by it when I got to the coffee shop and viewed it again, so I posted it. Here. It's the last pic in the set of four pix of the beach at McLain.

The caption I chose was, *Someone loves someone...* because everything about how it was made said so. It was not just a statement but an act of love, that message on the beach.

And it was, you see, art. I just posted about this not three entries down: art is about more than beauty; it's inextricably intertwined with communication and with love.

Having *talked* with me in comments, Mr. Bud has decided to read my archives. I think he's the first one of my readers who's approached the archive reading ceremony with such dedication. This is gratifying to any blogger, and I'm pleased and touched he's doing it.

Once again, the many similarities in our own lives are striking. His work these days involves rehabbing those very historic buildings securing delinquent loans I spent so much time trying to resolve and nurture, back in the day. And that's just one of many parallels between us.

A few days ago he was perusing my entries from the McLain State Park period. He came across the heart on the beach, the message carefully built then left behind in that nearly uninhabited far north island 2000 miles away from my home. And he got a bit of a shock.

Because that heart on the beach was drawn for him. It was made by his eleven-year-old son, during one of his rare visits home.

That boy loves his father and his father loves him. Child was teasing Dad about a nickname Dad had acquired. As I hear it, that's a more comfortable son-to-dad way to express love; the boy used his own name but the dad's nickname: *kid *hearts* funny-name-for-dad...*

That son has artistic talent a mile wide, which showed in his lifelike drawings in very early childhood. Mr. Bud and the Pirate and their families were out at McLain, and he'd spent a half day on the beach, carefully and contentedly collecting just the right rocks to make the heart.

His dad, as it happens, lives only a few miles from McLain. At one point, it looks like Mr. Bud's kids were actually camping at McLain at the same time I was. They were with the EE in the *cabins,* quite close to my second campsite. They may well remember a funny-looking middle-aged woman, disabled and camping all alone, zooming up and down the park's paved paths on a scooter, saving her feet for walks on the beach.

For those memorable walks on the beach.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Busyer Than...

Well, I could think of lots of ways to finish that one.

But I'll just say, than us trying to pack a weeks' worth of work into a few days.

The new battery is in the car. The yardwork is going strong, if a bit feverishly, because I'd love to get certain things done before I leave. Put my little flowers and such to bed.

H is coming over to work with Walter on the next phase of the car bit. That should make both of them very happy.

A few days ago I was informed of one of life's extraordinary coincidences, something that happened between a commenter and me. I'll be posting on it as soon as I can. For now, just let me say I'm humbled and awed.

It may seem such a small thing to happen...but it really isn't. It speaks to the connectivity we encounter here in the blogosphere in ways that are close to miraculous.

Enjoy this beautiful day, everyone. Always, and to the fullest.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Guess Who's Coming Home Again?

Yes, he WAS just here.

And yes, he's coming home again, later today. WAHOOO!!!

This, in furtherance of Outfitting the New Used Car properly. You see, next Tuesday is Day One of my usual annual trek to the Fossil Farm. This year I take the Isuzu instead of the Saturn. I can pack everything I need with room to spare, even my big huge stack of foot pillows to elevate my feet while I sleep.

Last year, for the first time in quite a while, I didn't make it to the Fossil Farm. I'd been in the hospital with a lung infection over the April 1st weekend. I got released after three days, but by Fossil Farm time, I still wasn't well enough to drive up to North Florida.

Walter had to double-check that. It's not like me to admit I'm too sick to drive somewhere that fabulous. Or to miss any opportunity to visit the Fossil Farm; the dig is only open for a week each year now, no exceptions.

But yes, I was just too sick to go last year.

This year? I don't want to jinx it by believing it's in the bag. Not yet. I haven't actually left here and arrived up there yet. Anything could happen. It often does.

However, it sure is looking good for it!

Walter has Car Plans. A bigger battery perhaps; certainly, some effort to install either our 2500 watt inverter or the smaller one, so the Isuzu will have electricity. Permanently. Enough to make my espresso, run a 12V cooler, blog, all that, while out on the road.

I'm so happy he's coming home I haven't been to sleep yet. During high pollen times I'm up all night anyway. This time I'd planned on trying to sleep at night, and be up in the day, to see Walter and hand him tools and so forth.

Actually, that's highly unlikely. I mean, I'll hand him tools any day. But I just don't do cars, and that's all there is to it.

Our fine friends H and his son Danny, though, now that's a different story. They love cars and know all sorts of stuff about them, and will hugely enjoy all this Car Plans business that's just totally icky to me. Not to mention, their assistance will be invaluable in deciding the best way to dispose of the poor dead Saturn.

I'll content myself with keeping my guy very well fed, and doing important yard work and paperwork. It really is important too, having much to do with getting my home in order. That yard work means I can clear things away from the exterior of the house and finally, finally, get it painted. (Insert little flowery things and smilies and happy music and too much ossums here, okay?)


Now: Getting caught in the middle of cleaning house and cooking is not the best way to welcome anyone home. That goes triple for Walter. It goes quintuple for me, too, if not more; most especially because it's disorderly and a bit chaotic, and that's exactly what I'm trying to clear out of my life these days.

This is sort of a test run, where I tried to do the Welcome Home preps more in advance, and keep any of those *preps* out of sight well before Walter arrives. We'll see how I do, okay?

So while I did go shopping yesterday, I made sure everything was all put away last night, instead of trying to cook a big pot of goulash or so forth. I limited my kitchen work to *prep:* cutting up fruit for the fridge, for example. I generally save that until after he's here. Not the best way, I think, so this is a new tactic. I love the fruit cutting ceremonies. He does not.

I like my kitchen tidy always, even when I can't get to anything else in the house, so that wasn't any big chore. I did clear out those little odd bits of dishwashing and stuff. You know. Maybe there's a pan that needs extra soaking, or a strange new utensil you're not sure what to do with, and it ends up sort of hanging around the kitchen, getting shuffled about from one countertop place to another, or sitting atop the nuker? That stuff is gone now too.

I haven't been up to cooking like usual for several months now. This means when Walter's coming home, and I ask him what he'd like me to cook, he now says, --Nothing, just be sure I have some bread there.-- It's probably for the best. This way, if I AM up to cooking, it's a nice surprise for us both.

This has evolved into having some chicken thighs baking when he first comes home. I season them with Tony Chacherie's and put them in big oblong Pyrex pans, no rack or anything, cook at around 300 for two hours, turning them over once. Easy, simple, fast prep, no work type hot wholesome food, and really tasty. Salad, pumpernickel bread, he's good to go.

I do feel an overpowering urge to bake some nice fresh loaf bread, though. Doesn't mean I have to do it today...And the fridge is stuffed with things Walter likes to fix for himself, fresh tomatoes and spinach and cucumbers and two beautiful red Cubanelle peppers that he likes, and white mushrooms (for Walter - DO NOT WANT! for me!) and Hungarian smoked sausage, and there's asparagus and chicken thighs and ribeyes that are easy for me to cook, and his black Russian rye bread and fresh cut-up canteloupe and pineapple and ice cold Cokes and and...

It was really difficult getting him routed home. The company just wasn't totally competent about it. If we plan our time right, he waits until he has a load to Laredo before asking to get *highlighted* for a load going home. From Laredo, where huge amounts of truck shipping goes back and forth across the border, he can usually get a load straight to the Miami area.

This time it wasn't Laredo he started home from, and he ended up doing this haywire bunch of short hops from New Mexico? through Dallas then south to Arkansas? then delivering in Jacksonville? then deadheading to a pick-up in Wildwood headed finally to Miami. Something like that - you get the picture.

This wears him out, totally. So resting is high on MY priority list for HIM.

Which means, no fussing around the house disrupting the peace and quiet by being in the middle of cooking and cleaning. Right?

Great by me!

I just talked to him. He's in Wildwood, heading to Miami. He'll call me on my cell phone to wake me up when he leaves Miami.

Now let's see if I can maybe get a little nap time in.

Oh, BOY!!!

boing boing boing!!!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

And Now, Back to the Art of Changing My Life...

I wrote a post about this novel idea some time back. I was beginning to realize that my life wasn't orderly in the way I wanted it to be. That it was out of control in a certain kind of way - I'm not a neat freak nut or similar type; I detest Having Rules for the sake of Rules; but with a due nod to the fates, our lives should be in our own control if we are free people, and mine was not.

Some of this goes way back, back to early experiences that were absolutely crushing, the sorts of things that people sometimes cannot survive, those nightmare memories. Some was due to the emotional fallout of losing our shipping business. Some was due to the simple fact of disability. See, being disabled doesn't just mean you can't work. It also means you can't take care of your life so very well. Not because you don't know how, or you're lazy or don't want to; it's because you're Not Able.

But it really hit home with the events of last summer. Ah, that summer odyssey. I had a wonderful time, just amazing. Saw my nephew graduate from college with a magna cum laude double-major. Visited the old homestead for the first time in 16 years. Saw the UP of the UP of Michigan and fell in love with it. And I had a summer that was more allergy-free than I'd experienced in the same 16 years or so. It gave my overall health an incredible boost, and kept me out of the hospital, where we'd been contemplating dumping me for a 2-month stay to knock out this persistent infection crippling my right arm. But lo and behold, with more oral antibiotics and the overall boost to my health, it's been healing on its own. I dodged a bullet there.

I also almost lost my house to foreclosure. Why? Because I didn't get my mail forwarded to me while I was gone.

Hmmm. I want to say, --now THAT's dumb. But I don't like people cutting themselves or each other down. Besides, it wasn't dumbness at work, there. It was clearly something else.

I came home and realized more was going on than that. For long-ago reasons, I'd abandoned my inborn natural drive to surround myself with beauty. I felt free to do so with plants and flowers, yes. But I also love paintings and fine furniture and other such objects of art. Jewels. Not because I want to *show off,* or *think I'm better than everyone else,* or because of a *selfish upper-middle class background.*

It took a long time for me to realize those old accusations don't apply to me, and never did. I see beauty in so much that is totally free, and not considered any kind of status symbol. It's part of why I collect fossils and shark's teeth and rocks. They aren't diamonds. They are pieces of beauty that many people, including lots of folks sporting Rolexes, walk right past without a glance.

I love quality in all things, whether it's work or food or art. Yet it's been drummed into me for a very long time that I didn't deserve these things; that they were a waste; that only stuck-up people indulged in them...

And it's bullshit, people. Really and truly. Not just for me. For EVERYONE. That force who created us created beauty as well, and did not intend for us to live without it. Real art encompasses human growth and understanding, communication, love. To scorn art is a type of sacrilege.

When I came home last fall, I walked into this place with new eyes. I wasn't happy with my house, inside or out. Excuse me: with my home. Home, in every sense of the word. This is my one true home of my entire life, here, and it wasn't reflecting the happy and peaceful state I've finally being enjoying.

So I got cracking on things.

I've been in a sort of self-imposed semi-exile ever since. Not completely; I'm not bent on hurting or punishing myself. But blogging less, emailing less, reading others' blogs less than I used to, because I sleep and get sick and simply don't have enough time to go around the way I want. A couple of bloggers I would have loved to know passed away without me ever visiting one time, and that hurt in ways I hadn't anticipated. Startled me. I never knew them or their blogs; how could I feel any difference once they were gone? They hit me as losses I'd never seen coming. The loss of possibility.

I want my life straightened out so I can be free to roam that way again.

I've made a lot of progress. Filed five years' worth of paperwork. Filed Walter's outstanding income tax returns. Filed the *supplemental* hurricane insurance claim. Tidied up a lot.

And I've started to explore, just a bit, Art again.

I love Pretty Lady's blog. I love her, as a human IRL. This is one extraordinary person. A healer, a thinker, a writer, of uncommon excellence. Of true quality.

And an artist of superb talent and skill.

I love her work. I just finished reading the entire archives of her art blog, Brooklyn Days. It was unbelievably satisfying. A hole in my soul was finally being fed again.

She has a boutique too, of Wearable Art. This is an incredibly wonderful idea. I now have a Pretty Lady cup of my own, courtesy of Nancy, and it's become my regular espresso cup. And I want a t-shirt! Oh yes.

But...I also want more.

I've started checking out some of the links she has to other artists. Exploring. I want to buy some art to put in my home.

Yes. Real art. Not just prints. The kind of paintings that have brushstrokes in them. That the artist touched, stretched its canvas, fretted over and zoned out over, working, painting through the days and nights...

My art education is lacking. Yet I come from a long line of artists, myself. Some were quite good. Not even approaching Pretty Lady's level, but then, I have a sneaking suspicion that very few are. When I look at her artwork I have a powerful sense that I'm seeing paintings that the art world is overlooking, and should not be.

These are works of far greater merit, I believe, than she's getting credit for. They move people. It's not just me; I read some fascinating comments about this on her blog. You look at her paintings and things can happen to you, deep down inside of you. I've only felt that before in museums. World-class museums like the Art Institute of Chicago, wondrous place of early art memories for me.

So I want one. There are paintings on her blog that I return to, over and over, falling into them, and I want one.

I doubt I can afford one. Maybe later. Maybe, if I keep on taking care of business here, straightening things out, paying off those old business debts till there's nothing left and we can finally use our bits of money to enjoy ourselves. Walter is all for it; his European love of culture shines happily upon my plans.

Meanwhile, I don't want to be Without any more. Artists often have smaller works for sale too, or sketches. Pieces that cost less. I've been waiting on a few more things to settle down, planning then on asking Pretty Lady - as herself the artist, Stephanie Lee Jackson - for some prices.

She does these mandalas, intriguing drawings with a very long history in art. I really love them, and I was hoping she might be willing to part with one, at a price I can afford.

I've been sleeping off a big bout of important yardwork accomplished Sunday. I woke up again not long ago and got the mail. In the mail was an envelope. A padded one, largish. Perhaps a nice big pic of the great-nephew?

I turned it over and saw who it was from. My hands started shaking. I went inside and put it down and carefully opened the other mail, bills, first. Then I washed my hands.

Then I opened the big envelope.

It was a mandala. One that resonated especially with me. Very much.

A birthday present.

It's incredibly beautiful. It took my breath away.

I just looked at it again. It did it again.

I was going to tell you my camera is broken, and I can't show it to you until the new camera arrives a few days from now. But in finding the links to put in this post, I saw Stephanie had a new entry in her Brooklyn Days blog. The post shows some of her gorgeous mandalas.

And the very first one is the mandala that sits in front of me today. So if you want to see it, just go click, and there it is.

So. This precious piece of real art will find a home on a wall in my happy room, my home office, close to me. For now I'll just sit here looking at it in front of me, falling into it. Touching it in its protective sleeve. Happily thinking up frames, and where to put it.

I'm overwhelmed.

Thank you, Stephanie. This ranks up among the best birthday presents of my entire life.