Sunday, August 29, 2010

Friday Five: Dorm, Eh, Vous?

Yes, I know it's Sunday, not Friday...we've had a somewhat busy week, you see, a SON's WEDDING AND ALL (20 years in the making, but it's a long story), so I'm running a little behind. Actually, this first post-wedding afternoon, Fellow Traveler has conked out in the bedroom of the cottage we're renting here in the Portage Lake area north of Ann Arbor, while I'm brewing some iced tea and getting caught up on the 'puter.

But this is all actually somewhat relevant to today's Friday Five. Because we've spent much of the past week running errands back and forth between here, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti -- homes, respectively, of the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. The campuses there, as well as their surrounding cities, are gearing up for Welcome Week and the start of the fall semester; we found ourselves sharing the local highways with cars jam-packed and spilling over with back-to-school stuff, and even gave one befuddled parent in an Ann Arbor parking lot directions to campus while the flushed, freshman-y young woman beside her could barely contain her excitement. That did bring back memories of our own university days. (The photo above, by the way, is of Yakeley Hall, my home for three years at Michigan State.)

So, with that in mind, I commence to our Friday Five:

1) What was the hardest thing to leave behind when you went away to school for the first time?
Our new puppy. My parents' sweet little fuzzy-faced mutt had been killed by a car earlier in the summer; but despite their initial declaration that they were never having another dog ever again, by August they'd placed a classified in the local paper inquiring about "Benji-type" dogs. The day the paper came out they'd gotten a phone call from someone who said she'd rescued a cute terrier-mix puppy from a downstate freeway median but just couldn't keep her; might we be interested? My dad said sure; so the next day the family drove by and introduced us to a raggedy, rail-thin but flamboyant pup who leapt from the car, gave kisses to everyone within licking distance and proceeded to race around and around our house as if saying, "I like it here! I like it here!" So Mitzi became part of the family -- two weeks before I left for school. That was tough.

2) We live in the era of helicopter parents. How much fuss did your parents make when you first left home?
The concept of helicopter parents has certainly changed over the decades. When I was in school the deal was that, barring emergency, I would call home every Sunday evening to check in; I'd let the phone ring twice, then hang up, and the 'rents would call me back so I wouldn't have to pay for a long-distance call. This would wind up being maybe a 10-minute call if any of us were particularly chatty. My mother would write me every other week, and I in turn might manage a monthly written summary/unload of stuff too personal to communicate over the phone lines. And this was a rarity; most of my friends talked to their parents far less. How odd this seems now, in these days of families attached 24/7 to their cell phones and Facebook pages.

My parents -- neither of whom went to college -- did not make a great deal of fuss when they moved me into my first dorm room; it was a pretty businesslike transaction (despite my inner "YIPPEE!" ready to burst out). But many years later my mom told me that they were both traumatized by this event; that they cried all the way home.

3) Share a favorite memory of living with schoolmates, whether in a dorm or other shared housing.
Even though I loved being in college, I always felt the odd woman out on my particular dorm floor; a poor country kid surrounded by affluent suburbanites, daughters of auto-company execs and other professionals. I only knew of perhaps three other women on the floor with a similar background.

One night, after coming home late from a Lutheran campus ministry function (I was a church geek even then, although in those days church geekery tended to involve beer before, during or after said church function), I found one of the blue-collar women, a studious education major from a homeftown nearly as small as mine, sitting forlornly in the hallway; she'd forgotten her room key and was waiting for her roommate to return from the bar. The floor seemed otherwise empty; it was the weekend, after all, and most people were out partying. She had been out herself, and had evidently had a lot more to drink than I had with my Lootern buddies; enough to completely disable her self-censoring mechanism. And she was in the mood to talk. To me. About everything.

So I kept her company out in the hallway, as she proceeded to unload all the deliciously snarky observations about the rich girls around us that I shared deep down but had never been able to articulate to anyone before: the materialism and conspicuous consumption; the lack of real interest in academics and the life of the mind; the not-terribly-hidden bigotries against various minorities on campus and petty unkindnesses toward other students in general; the silliness of Greek life; the sense of entitlement that was often mind-boggling to those of us who didn't come from well-to-do or education-friendly families; the way the reality of their behavior conflicted with the fantasies we'd had about escaping our smallminded small towns for ivy-covered halls filled with big ideas and progressive thinkers.  When I heard, "____ YOU, you BITCHES," come out of the mouth of this normally meek future schoolteacher, each word suspended in echo down the empty hall, I felt like a therapist helping someone through a catharsis...maybe even my own.

After that evening, whenever we met in the hallway or at some gathering we always seemed to give one another a special raised-eyebrow acknowledgement: We've got their number, sisterfriend.

4) What absolute necessity of college life in your day would seem hilariously out-of-date now?
Typewriters; typing paper; typewriter erasers; carbon paper; press-on type for graphics projects.

5) What innovation of today do you wish had been part of your life in college?
Laptop computers. Back in my college days, only the geekiest of the geeks over in the honors science dorm had access to personal computers -- and we're talking the Atari/first-iteration Apple kind. I remember taking an off-campus adult enrichment class on the Apple, being totally befuddled by the whole thing, and thinking, "What possible practical use will this ever be to me?"

Bonus question for those whose college days feel like a long time ago: Share a rule or regulation that will seem funny now. Did you really follow it then?
Co-ed dorms had become the norm at MSU by my time, so my own single-sex dorm, and the rules that governed male visitors, already seemed like a quaint novelty -- as did the Women's Lounge in the Student Union. I myself liked the restrictions; I didn't particularly care for running into other students' male sleepovers in the communal shower room, or the puerile types who tried crashing the Women's Lounge (which was very well-appointed, quiet and comfortable compared to the other common areas of the Union)  to make a point about reverse discrimination or to pick up women or to leer at lesbians or whatever.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Self-Care, New and Alt.

So here's what's happening in my ongoing campaign to get well-er with the help of a sympathetic holistic DO:

After running me through some labwork, Doc says that I have some issues with my adrenal glands -- specifically, my fight-or-flight hormones are going full-tilt boogie from the moment I get up in the morning until late at night, wreaking havoc with everything from my blood pressure to my insulin production to my lady issues. "The saber-toothed tiger is after you all day," she said. She told me that if I don't do something to change this state of affairs, I run a very good risk of developing diabetes.

First she changed my blood pressure medicine from a calcium-channel blocker that was making me lightheaded to the point of almost passing out in the mornings to a diuretic and a magnesium supplement. She prescribed me fish oil for blood pressure as well as cholesterol control. She directed me to an herbal supplement for evening out my blood sugar during the day, and another for adrenal health. And because my Vitamin D level was so alarmingly low, she told me to take that as well as maximize my intake through prudent sun exposure and dietary sources.

All of which sounds like a whole lot o' pills. But Doc wants to eventually get me to the point of not needing this stuff. Which brings us to the lifestyle-change section of this program.

Doc is not a fan of high-protein, low-carb diets because they tend to be hard on the kidneys. She is steering me toward the Mediterranean diet model -- big on fresh vegetables, fruits and legume; a moderate amount of whole, preferably minimally processed grains; healthy fats; a glass of wine on occasion; and quite modest helpings of meat, mostly fish or chicken.

She also, while happy that I'm doing a lot of gardening and other weight-bearing kinds of daily tasks, wants me to spend 30 minutes a day on aerobic activities like walking; and she wants me to do the aerobics in the early evening because of the way my metabolism works. This to me is counterintuitive; I prefer walking in the morning; and it's bumping our dinnertime ahead to the old farmer's suppertimes I grew up with. But I'm compromising by doing some easygoing handweight resistance exercise in the morning, between getting the coffee going and feeding Mollie. Doc also told me to schedule relaxation, in any way that works for me, into my day the way I'd schedule any other daily to-do.

I'm only maybe three weeks into this routine. But so far I've noticed that I'm sleeping better, while having more energy during the day. I'm no longer experiencing near-fainting spells. The walking is,among other things, improving my posture -- and giving me some quality quiet time in the pleasant subdivision behind our house. And both FT and I think my moods are on a more even keel.

Now, I know much of this advice is simple common sense. But it's helpful to have a doctor -- and a partner -- who are willing to be my accountability partners in this process.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Meals on Wheels

Got a chicken in the pot today, stewing away with some vegetables, destined for a big pan of chicken and noodles to send over to our friend with lung cancer.

This is a sad story that seems to be getting sadder. Not necessarily the prognosis -- she doesn't yet know if her chemotherapy has been effective in battling her disease; I take her to get her first post-chemo MRI tomorrow. But I detect a certain loss of hope in our friend, who wasn't in good health even before her diagnosis; and part of that may be due to living in her household, with yappy, needy small dogs, a difficult elderly mother-in-law who spends all day motionless in a kitchen chair, smoking and grumping about the lack of "fun" in her life, and a mostly-absent partner who, at least to us, seems to be drawing back emotionally as well in a cutting-her-losses kind of way. I'm not going to judge; this may be denial or depression or fatigue or tough-girl bravado: "I can handle this." But it's obvious to two outsiders, let alone her partner.

Fellow Traveler and I tend to have boundary issues in the other direction. But we, along with a sympathetic neighbor, have been taking our friend to her medical appointments; and when we learned that the other partner was not even attempting to make meals, leaving the sick partner and Mama scrounging the kitchen for food on a catch-as-catch-can basis, we decided to commit to making two meals a week for the family -- an entree and either a side dish or fruit dessert, enough for an evening meal and leftovers for lunch. We've been making one scratch meal and one "semi-homemade" meal using various boxed food products as a base for an entree.

This work has meaning for me. I've been enjoying creating menus to take over there, and preparing the food. And on some level it seems like a kind of karmic do-over for the years when my mentally ill aunt was in a downward spiral, my mother was too anxious and enmeshed in 40-year-old sibling issues to respond to that in very effective ways, and I was so angry and unhappy with my life at the time that I -- like our sick friend's partner -- just disassociated myself from the whole thing until I was forced by circumstances to step in and be proactive on my aunt's behalf. And I also remember, in my grumpy 30's and early 40's, being consumed with that same inward-turned resentment expressed by our friend's mother-in-law, in the midst of my aunt's mental breakdown and my mother's increasing fragility and anxiety-paralysis: I'm not having any fun. When is it going to be my time to have fun? Ouch.

You can teach an old dog, I hope, new tricks; it's taken me almost 50 years to get compassion in a gut-level way, but I'm trying to get a handle on it, day by day.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

A Memorable Friday Five

This week's Friday Five is about memories. In honor of that theme, I'm illustrating my post with a photo of a Brownie camera, one of the memories of my childhood. My parents, who were not keen on picture-taking -- too expensive -- kept the Brownie in their bedroom, in the drawer of the headboard, next to my mom's jewelry box, and only brought it out for holidays and other special events.  Closing my eyes now, I can even smell the musty, leathery smell of the camera. But I digress.

We were asked to share:

A treasured memory from childhood: Going to the grain elevator with my dad in the summertime, and getting a quarter to put in a rusty, battered old Coca-Cola machine that sat in a dusty corner. The elevator smelled of grain...molasses...mineral blocks. Sparrows chirped from the rafters. I would buy a bottle of Coca-Cola, and split it with my dad. It's never tasted the same since I was a little kid.

A teenage memory: Another farm-related memory: Making hay. It was a great summer job. I drove tractor while my dad stacked the hay bales. My father was very exacting about baling and wouldn't tolerate lost hay; I had to practice to aim the baler right down the middle of the windrows, and turn corners so that not one strand of loose hay escaped the baler -- or else I'd have to go back, after the field was baled, and pick up all the missed corners.  Once I was sufficiently schooled in that task, though, I was happy to drive around and around, thinking my own thoughts, composing Great American Novels, observing the wildlife around me in the fields and surrounding pastures. I really think every teenager should have a job that involves some sort of manual proficiency, and a tangible work product.

A young adult memory: Other than my university years, I don't have a lot of happy young adult memories. After I graduated from college I couldn't find a job in my major, or indeed any kind of college-graduate-worthy job, and wound up working in a bookstore. If you have to slum, that's about the best slumming job there is. But I recall walking home from the food coop one day, and being overtaken by a wave of despair and hopelessness. I will never find a real job, I remember thinking. I am going to become one of those burned-out college town lifers who haunt the sidewalks and cafes decades after their university careers. It actually took me two more years to escape that fate.

A memory from this summer: We just made a good memory, this very weekend, by taking a spontaneous two-day stealth vaycay up to Suttons Bay for the Suttons Bay Art Fair. (This pleasant surprise was made possible by the Saginaw Chippewa tribe -- ironic considering my profound lack of interest in gambling. Earlier in the week FT had been called away from a stained glass project for The Kids by her sister, whose car had broken down -- in Frankenmuth, two hours away. No one else was available to help. FT reluctantly made the trip downstate, got her sister back home, headed north -- and stopped en route to discharge some frustration at a regional casino. Ten minutes into her grumpy arrival she hit a jackpot at a nickel machine. When she called me, she was so excited that she could barely make sense. FT's 10-minute flirtation with Lady Luck pretty much paid for our excursion. I'm not complaining.) We had a romantic evening meal at North Centennial Inn, a restored inn with a lovely wrap-around porch overlooking a shady perennial garden. The food was wonderful; the service was professional and discreet; the atmosphere was evocative of historic "lake country." It was a beautiful way to spend a cool summer evening.

A memory you hope to have. I would like to be able to, at the end of my days, genuinely say, Thank you for the gift of my life.
Bonus: And on that note, here's Dave Matthews singing a favorite Beatles song of mine: