This is a PSA for all my female friends who have not yet reached menopause. There is some shit they haven’t told you. Remember how there was shit they never told you about birthin’ babies? Well there is more shit they left out. And babies are optional – menopause ain’t!   PSA1

I am sure we all know about the “classic” symptoms – hot flashes, mood swings, and the dreaded “dryness”. I know that women suffer horribly from these and they are no small things. BUT THERE ARE OTHER THINGS. I have experienced only minor hot flashes out of the above list and yet my “other things” are serious enough that I am using hormones!

Disclaimer: I have had an IUD for 14 years and haven’t had a period since six months after the first one was inserted. When all this started, there was no way to determine that I was perimenopausal, let alone menopausal, without a specific blood test. So guessing menopause was the cause was not an easy leap. I finally had that blood test last Friday!

First non-common symptom: I got urinary tract infections, a lot of them. As in every six weeks for a year and a half until we figured this out. It was AWFUL. This was not your typical dryness-caused-irritation = infection type of thing. There was no dryness, which is why it took so long to suss out. Turns out that the loss of estrogen can cause the cells of the bladder lining to shrink which allows the naturally occurring bacteria in urine to sneak by and get to the bladder wall which gets infected almost instantly (hence the need for a LINING.) And ouch.

Second non-common symptom: Pain. Not painful sex as I think we’ve heard about on TV ads, but just pain. Like there is a sunburn all up in there. All the time. This is apparently because without estrogen the skin on the inside can become thin and inflamed. This is not a case of “just use lube during sex” because it’s all the other hours of the day that hurt. A topical estrogen cream was finally prescribed when this symptom popped up, finally guessing that menopause might be involved. It solved both issues.

Third non-common symptom: A shrinking uterus. I don’t think that this would go noticed by many people, but for me it caused acute pain that was confused first as a urinary tract infection, and then as a kidney stone. Turns out it was my uterus contracting around my IUD and trying to squeeze it out and summarily being poked from the inside by said IUD. Hence the need to finally have that blood test to determine if I really was in menopause and have that thing yanked out! Wouldn’t have discovered the Amazing Shrinking Uterus if I hadn’t gotten an ultrasound to determine if I had a kidney stone though….. Yikes.

That’s all for now. I suppose, since I am on the path of odd menopausal ailments I could run into some more. I’ll let you know. I tell you, this aging thing is not for sissies. Even when you are healthy it bites! So stay healthy, eat well, move more, see your doctor regularly. It all helps.

So He Put a Ring on It

Engaged, affianced, betrothed – things we are not.
Going steady, hooked, matched, pinned, pledged – also things I won’t claim.
Committed, intended, spoken for – much better.
But I’ll go with the archaic definition of plighted – “pledge or promise solemnly one’s faith or loyalty.”

You see, Jim and I have decided that we want to wear rings to symbolize our commitment to each other.

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Deciding to do this was different than being a twenty-something “surprised” with a proposal. We talked about it and what it would mean to us. We discussed what kind of rings we wanted. I definitely wanted something that would not be confused with an engagement ring or a cocktail ring. But since it would be the only “relationship-identifying” ring I got, I wanted it to be a little fancier than a plain gold band. The amethyst ring that we settled on meets this criteria and suits me perfectly. Jim’s ring is kind of special too. To begin with, it’s not metal; it’s made of silicone. This ring was originally designed for people in the military and those who work with electricity. It’s made to easily compress (essential when lifting heavy weights as he does,) break under stress, and not be conductive. Additionally, he wears it on his right hand because as a violinist, wearing a ring on his left hand impedes his playing.

I am over the moon that Jim wants to wear a ring and as of now, he has worn a ring for me longer than my ex-husband did. Sounds not quite right, doesn’t it? As it was, my ex came home from our honeymoon, took off his ring, and never put it on again. His reasoning was that as a police officer, the integrity of his finger was potentially in jeopardy with a ring on it. That is actually a valid argument (Jim’s ring breaks under tension for precisely this reason.) However, my ex was a street cop for a total of three years since joining the force in 1993. All other positions he held were desk jobs. One could argue that I should have asked that he wear his wedding band again, but there are A LOT of things I should have done…..

So why aren’t we engaged? That word and several others carry with it the implication that an actual marriage will follow. And that is not the plan. I know there are people, typically older, typically with at least one failed marriage behind them, who become “long-term engaged”. They never set a date, they never talk about a wedding, but they feel they have legitimized their relationship by “being engaged.” That doesn’t feel authentic to me. I’m not saying these people are being duplicitous, just that for me it would feel inappropriate and dishonest. Because in fact, the two of us not only have no current plans to marry, we may never marry. There are very real legal and financial reasons that bar us from joining officially now and those reasons may continue indefinitely. Then there is my overwhelming desire to avoid having anyone EVER say to me “Well, third time’s the charm!” I am SO not looking for platitudes. My current happiness is hard won and I don’t want it trivialized by the fact that I am wearing a ring for the third time. In our short (yes I consider three and a half years to be very short) relationship, we have faced some significant hurdles and difficulties. We have worked through many a concern to get where we are. We have sorted through more hard issues and discussed their implications than I thought one could have at this stage.  I think this is a good thing and it bodes well for the future of our “un-marriage”.  Add to all this the notion that joining one’s debts, finances, homes, and families when one is over 50 is no mean feat and the prospect of marriage becomes even more complicated.

Suffice to say, I am happy with the current arrangement. Without the use of a judge’s chambers or a house of worship, we have placed upon our relationship a greater permanence that I welcome. And we avoided the cost of a wedding – that’s a win in anyone’s book!

Mon the Biff!

Biffy Clyro made their 9:30 Club debut last month and I almost missed it!

Biffy are one of the bands that have had a major influence on this portion of my life and, as a point of fact, are represented on my body as one of my now three tattoos.  Biffy tattoo  So to have me sit out their ascension to 9:30 Club would be almost unthinkable. Why did I almost miss it? They were playing Easter Saturday – a holiday that sees my extended family gather at my parents’ house in northeastern Pennsylvania. Hmmm, what to do, what to do? For a “normal” family, perhaps I would have bowed out of attending this year’s festivities (egg hunt in the backyard, Easter baskets, a new dress for a family photo…) But as you might possibly have guessed, my family is just slightly better than normal. My solution included moving Easter to MY house and having the entire family go see Biffy. And guess what?  That’s what we did! It took no convincing at all because my sister and mom love the band as well – my mom has seen them four times now! It was quite exciting to have one of my sons join me at a full on show at the 9:30 Club (not an acoustic radio/record store thing). Now he knows just a little more about his mom’s life.

I managed to secure an ADA stool for my mom up in the top bar and my sister and I decided to forego our usual rail spots and stick with the family. It’s definitely a different experience when you are not right up front.

Biffy fam

But this gave me an idea. Because I am always at the front, there is no need or opportunity to crowd surf. But tonight? This was possibly the most perfect chance and the most perfect band. I picked my moment, chose the group of rowdy boys I thought would put me up, and headed off. It took a few seconds for the chosen guys to figure out what I wanted, and I was almost dropped (staff inexplicably did not come the barrier to pluck me off the crowd like they usually do), and my friend Haley was the one who grabbed me by the waist and lowered me to the floor instead of having me tumble into the photog pit. Still, it was exhilarating!  It was a fabulous night shared with my family. And everyone agreed that moving Easter was a great idea.

Biffy Surf

Usually I get to see Biffy more than once per leg of their tour and this time I just squeaked in another one. The day after I came home from a trip out west (blog post to come) was show #2 for me. This time in Baltimore. I took my dutiful place in the queue to wait for hours to get a spot up front and rocked out lBiffy upfrontike I love doing.

The venue was undersold, but the crowd was loyal and boisterous. At the end, Ben tossed a drumstick directly at me. Despite the many hands that surrounded mine, it flew right into my hand. It was the first time I have caught a drumstick in mid-air! After the show, my friend Haley (yes same Haley who prevented me from landing on my head) and I waited for the band. Although a band’s set is often only 90 minutes long, the before and after is sometimes the best part. Queuing with friends and catching up; waiting with friends and talking about everything else. But I can’t lie, talking to the band is always a thrill. I have been chatting with Simon, James, Ben, and various members of the crew for over seven years. I am recognized and greeted by name. I have had some spectacular experiences with them that I have felt were very personal (Patron, anyone?) I am also grateful that they are wonderful, caring men who are still interested in chatting with the people who make an effort to come see them play. That night was no different, hugs and hellos all around.

Biffy Collage
In the many years that I have been following them, I have been privileged to hang out and chat with them on so many occasions.  You can see the years go by simply by watching my hair grow!

So who is this band that I love so much? They are a Scottish rock trio who have been around for awhile. I always tell people I would never make anyone go to a Biffy show, they have to want to. They are loud, shirtless and sweaty, and if you don’t know the words, sometimes unintelligible. I know I’m not making a great case for them, but if you like it, you LOVE it. I didn’t come to know about the band until 2009 – when they were already five albums in. The very first time I saw them, they were playing support for a band I had never listened to, in a town near where I was visiting my sister. I BEGGED her to agree to go. We only stayed for Biffy (babysitter issues), I had no earplugs (last time that ever happened – my ears hurt for a day and a half), I stepped on/bounced on a girl with a cast & crutches (her fault, she shouldn’t have been at the front), and I was in heaven. I couldn’t wait to see them again. And I did, four days later and closer to home. But the real excitement came a few months later when they played their very first headliner show in the U.S. It was at DC9, a place that has a capacity of 200 people. This was a band that could sell out small arenas at home and they were playing DC9!  We actually had a friend from Scotland come over to join us to be able to get the experience of seeing them in that intimate of a setting. I have traveled up and down the east coast to see them and even met up with Haley in Austin because they were playing there ON my birthday. Got a birthday shout out from Simon on stage that night. 😉 Despite their exterior presentation – long sweaty hair flying around, heavily tattooed, curious lyrics “Kill your bizarre mindset, fuckhead , soldered to a three-layered concrete brainwave castration” is one of my favorites, they are some of the nicest guys I have met in the music industry – sincere, genuine, interested. I truly feel like I have been rewarded for my loyalty as a fan with a fairly personal relationship with a rock band. Do I want to see them “break America”? Sure I do. That’s what’s best for them. I’ll always have the days when I shared a drink with them at small clubs and for me, that’ll be enough.

Rolling in the Deep

It’s a beautiful sunny day and it looks like spring has finally sprung, but I may be stuck back in the fall. I had an event back in October that brought on a severe and lengthy episode of anxiety and anguish and its affects are still lingering. It’s very hard to use self talk to pull yourself back when your brain knows perfectly well that “last time” your anxiety was not only 100% right and everything was true but that it was actually worse than you imagined.

These days, three or four mornings a week, within moments of waking up, a wave rolls over me that starts at my head and continues over my body down just past my hips. Wave is really the best word to describe it because it feels undulating, but not in a pleasant way. It’s hot, heavy, makes my heart race, and causes everything to tighten. Usually there is a perfunctory “reason” for the panic – have I awoken in time to get to that place, do I have enough time in the day to get X done, did I forget that really important thing I was supposed to do? Most of the time nothing is valid enough to cause anxiety and I usually can’t even remember what the trigger was by lunch.  But at the moment I wake, my body can do nothing other than tell me that something critical is in jeopardy. I start the “everything is alright” speech in my head to see if I can get it to calm down and as I fully wake up I can usually get a hold of it. Fortunately, I am not burdened by anxiety to an extent that I cannot eventually right myself. Even still, I am sitting here half an hour after getting up with my chest still tight, wondering what I can do to get this cycle to stop for good. The “bad thing” from autumn has passed. There are lingering issues sure, but the reason for actual dread has subsided. I am now just dealing with the legacy of having been affected so acutely by it.

Exercise, getting proper sleep, eating well, and taking time for yourself are all good practices for managing mental health, as described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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I think I do a reasonable job at those things. There are others on that list that I could add like meditation, volunteering, or journalling but those things do not appeal to me in the least and I think part of their success is in the wanting to do it. I’m not sure I would reap the benefits of those tactics if I were only going through the motions. I have already talked about how volunteering does not make me a calmer, better person.  Meditation and journalling strike me as similarly futile pursuits to me. What I wonder is how one controls something that occurs (or at least starts to occur) before one is really even thinking about anything coherently. I feel like this is my subconscious’s last grab at me before the day starts. I’d really like it to stop because depending on how successful I am in my “everything is alright” mantra, waking like this can cast a pall over my day, or at least a portion of it depending on what is happening.

Part of the reason that happens is because I have a hard time letting go. I talked before about how I often just wait things out.  It does mean I can spend a lot of time suffering, but it’s not always all bad. Having a hard time letting go means I don’t give up easily either. On people or things. It also means things like I am not an early adopter of technology (I got my first smartphone only six months ago;) I still have 75% of the furniture I started out with in this house twenty four years ago; and recycle/reuse (or simply don’t replace until it is non-functional!) were practices for me before they were chic. It means I will be there for friends who need me or organizations that rely on me. It’s only through painstaking review do I ever decide to shed a relationship or responsibility.

Brain Loss

But, the flip side is that when misfortune swirls through my life’s path, that too sticks with me for longer than it should. I’ve always told people that I am not interested in horror movies/TV shows/books, or ones that are “disturbing” because pictures get stuck in my head and I just don’t need that. I know this happens and I do my best to avoid it. I saw a movie with a prison rape scene nearly 30 years ago that will still unsettle me occasionally. I am THE BEST at covering my eyes just at the right moment to avoid seeing something gruesome or distressing. You know when the Nazi’s face melts at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Never seen it.

Spring leads to warmer, brighter days. There is some hope that this change in season will also lighten my load and my mornings will calm down. Until then, I have to trust that “everything is alright” and keep up with strategies that are known to help.

Selfish is OK

Several years back during a time when introspection was greatly needed, I came to the notion that my fatal flaw was that I was selfish, but that I was OK with that and I was going to embrace it and work with it. It didn’t strike me as that horrible as fatal flaws go, but I took some shit for it when I told people. When I thought about it more, I realized that I didn’t truly mean the same thing as the dictionary definition.  In fact a dear friend pointed out that I absolutely was NOT lacking in concern for others, and that I should reframe it as “being good at self-care”.  In addition to meeting pretty much all the needs of my still young at the time children, I was also quite capable of saying no, taking time for myself, pursuing interests that I enjoyed, and perhaps more often than others, putting my needs before the needs of others. There had to be a better way to express that.

SELF·ish /ˈsɛlfɪʃ/ adj. lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

A year ago today, I made a plea on Facebook for “a word (a simple word, not a phrase) that would mean much the same as selfish, but without the ‘complete disregard for others’ it connotes? ” I was looking for a word I could use to describe this feeling of taking care of my own needs in the face of conflicting needs from others. What I got was a deluge of negativity regarding my inquiry.

Egocentric? Narcissistic? Greedy? Self-centered? Self-absorbed? Inconsiderate? Inwardly focused? Self-indulgent? Jerk? Egocentric? Cavalier? Thoughtless?

I was shocked! Such hostility and rancor towards the subject. I hoped that people simply misunderstood my intent and that the entire world did not think that putting ones own needs and desires above others’ was inherently bad. So I clarified, ” OK. Clearly I was not as concise as I wanted to be. I wanted to TAKE OUT the negative element. Selfish, according to the definition, means to focus on one’s needs to the exclusion of others. I was looking for a word that would positively give a sense of focusing on one’s needs, perhaps not always acting the way others would want, while still being aware of them. “Self-focused” was the only one that got close to what I was really looking for. Now that I am clearer, any other options?” What followed was a little better, but not much.

Internally focused? Self-contained? Centered? Grounded? Autonomous? Individualistic? Self-directed? Empowered? Self-care? Boundaried? Authentic? Self-interested?

Still not great. More in line with what I was thinking, but not a simple adjective to be used in everyday life to concisely express what I was meaning. I think my sister got it right when she postulated, “… that could be part of the whole concept’s issue. Maybe it’s not a mode one ‘lives in’ but maybe a vital process one engages in to bridge to a more whole self?” The CONCEPT has an image problem. It’s not somewhere you are supposed to live. And I wonder why not?

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Someone suggested trying to make a new word – selfishless was their suggestion. To my ears, though, that sounded more like “to be without selfishness” which was again the opposite of what I was going for. I thought maybe “selfful” might work, like helpful, but for yourself. But someone characterized it as being “full of yourself”, which is a phrase that is distinctly negative in it’s connotation, an exaggerated sense of self-worth in a way that annoys other people.  A word won’t work if it “sounds bad” and that did.  So back to square one, no good, simple word to describe a maligned concept that needs a good PR firm to bolster its acceptance.

It’s sad to me that the people I polled immediately defaulted to thinking that this type of feeling was “not good” and that we don’t have a better word to describe the positive, necessary element of what I really mean. I bet the Germans do. They have great words for lots of things we can barely say in a sentence – schadenfreude anyone? Looking back, too, I realize that simply classifying my feelings of self-care as a “fatal flaw” had me falling into the same negative stereotype that I am now trying to dispel. It’s not a flaw, it’s a strength.  And I am going to try to respect it.

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The Kids Are Alright

I have a terrible confession. I don’t miss my kids when they are gone. Not now that they have been whisked away for a week with their father during Evan’s spring break, not in the past when they went to boy scout camp, not when I went away for a stint somewhere for something, not ever really. I actually wondered once just how long I would have to be separated from them before I would actually miss them. Clearly it’s not two weeks.
I have pondered as to whether an element of this was that, especially when they were young and needy, I spent *no* time away from them, as in no date nights with a babysitter, no weekends away, no vacations with family watching them.  I was always the primary parent and am still. Add homeschooling on top of that and you have a pretty intense parenting situation. It has definitely changed the tenor of my relationship with my kids (as well as the relationship they have with all adults, really) for the better, but it certainly was ALL KIDS ALL THE TIME.  That had to have affected me. In spite of my entrenched extrovertedness, when my kids were young, my Myers-Briggs actually swung ever so slightly into the “I” (introverted) side because I so desperately needed time alone that I wasn’t getting.
Perhaps, even still, time without them feels like a precious gift. I am all too aware that the time is fast approaching when one after the other they will leave my house and start lives of their own. I’ll miss them then I am sure. I can only hope that they will choose to live close enough that we will be able to visit each other like I am able to do so with my parents and sisters. But who knows, maybe I won’t miss them then either?
So what did I do when they left? Well, as I write this, I am sitting in the sun-drenched front room of a friend’s beach house, I’ve been eating fresh seafood for every meal, got a massage, and am headed out thrift shopping. I do pretty well in my own.
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Gorgeous sunny day with a perfect summer drink. Sometimes life is great.
As a side note, I hit up a liquor store too and discovered the drink of the summer – Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach.  So many possibilities, I’m drinking it with seltzer right now, but in champagne it would be divine!

Viva la ‘Braska

Today is a special day. Eight years ago today my sister brought Snow Patrol into my life. No, it wasn’t that ‘Chasing Cars’ song – I probably had heard it before because I do remember Denny dying on Gray’s Anatomy, but that particular song had no impact on me whatsoever. Instead it was ‘Make This Go On Forever’.

The repeated last line “Please just save me from this darkness” burrowed through my layers of self-imposed isolation and reached me in a way that nothing yet had. I grabbed hold of that line and used it to pull me through my darkness and loss. Without going too much into it, this was the time when I was mired deep in a marriage that neglected me and a parent/child relationship that sucked me dry. Something broke free in me that day and music re-entered my life. It filled me, changed me, saved me.

Things then happened fast. Both my sisters liked Snow Patrol too and we started plotting how to see them play live. Turned out that just months later they were playing in the U.S. (they are a Northern Irish band.) But, they were coming over as the support band. Not knowing ANYTHING about touring bands at the time (and thank heavens for that because we would have missed an awesome experience) we thought this might be our only chance to see them. We had the choice of either seeing them support Coldplay in Omaha or U2 in Chicago. Since none of us had ever seen Coldplay, we decided to go to Nebraska. Yeah – NEBRASKA. Crazy, I know, but it was the best decision of the decade! So the first concert I went to in fifteen years, the one that started my obsessive live music attendance involved flying 1,150 miles to see a support band! Don’t get me wrong, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida tour was to die for, but that is NOT why we went.

So here’s the story. Before heading to Omaha, we learned that there was going to be an in-store at a local record shop before the show that evening. That meant we planned on two nights in Omaha, so we would arrive the day before to be able to attend the in-store. Julia and I met in the airport when we arrived and called for the hotel shuttle to ferry us into town. As we tittered and schemed in the back seat, the driver suddenly asked, “Did your other sister arrive earlier today?” Yes she had and we exclaimed excitedly wanting to know how he knew she might have been our sister. He only cryptically asked, “Do you know the secret?” When we said no, he said he’d leave it to our sister. Cynthia was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel when we arrived and could barely hold herself together as we made our way to the elevator. As the doors closed, she announced the secret – Snow Patrol were staying in our hotel that night! We squealed all the way up to our floor!

sp-day-2
Enjoying our first day in Omaha, knowing we were going to try to meet the band that night.  First time we had ever tried fried pickles too.  (I *still* think they are weird.)

After calculating when we thought the band would be rolling into town based on where they were playing that night, we enjoyed the evening in Omaha and then camped out at the “Cookie Bar” (I kid you not – cookies, milk, tea, the works!) in the hotel to wait for the band to arrive.

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Seriously – see the different outfits?  Cookie bar vs. with the band?  That change almost cost them!

Some point after midnight Julia and Cynthia went upstairs to change, so I was sat there alone. And the bus pulled up. I was one step from paralyzed! I managed to get to a house phone, dial my room, and Julia answered. “BUS!” was literally all I could manage to shout into the phone. Moments later I heard the clamor of feet pounding down the stairs, no time to wait for a damned elevator! We three stood in the lobby of an old-fashioned, boutique hotel and through the enormous, iron, double doors the guys from the band walked in one by one. Right past us. As we stood dumbfounded in silence. They gathered at the chairs by the elevator while their tour manager did the checking in and we were still standing there, rooted, stockstill. Finally Cynthia found her senses and propelled herself forward saying hello and introducing herself. Next thing I knew, I was shaking hands and introducing myself to each of the members of Snow Patrol and all I could think of as they introduced themselves was “NO SHIT you’re Gary, NO SHIT you’re Nathan, etc.” They were lovely to us as we stumbled over our story of coming from the east coast for the show. We then got the most awesome photo of the three of us with the entire band. To this day, we are still the only ones I know that have a photo with the entire band.

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The entire glorious band!

The next day we went to the in-store and staked out a spot literally sitting at the feet of the lead singer and guitarist (the aforementioned Gary and Nathan.) There were tears.

When the tour manager was packing up at the end, I had a plan so I made my move. I have often said that while I have a hard time asking for things for myself, I have no problem asking for things for others, especially my sisters. So I stepped over the monitors on the floor and approached Neil (yes, I had already researched his name!) I quickly told him how my sisters and I had come from the east coast just to see Snow Patrol and could he upgrade our seats so we could loudly scream for them? And you know what? He did! We then got a few minutes to meet and talk to both Nathan and Gary (and kinda apologize for ambushing them the night before) before heading out to get ready for an amazing concert experience. There we were, in the Snow Patrol guestlist row, dancing and screaming our lungs out. Oh, and Coldplay was way better than OK too. 😃

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This is how insanely close we were to Chris and Jonny when they came down the side ramp. Only photogs between us the them!

That was the beginning of my journey into live music. It started an obsession that developed into something that I cherish and nurture. That first show in Omaha, NE made me feel alive like nothing had in many, many years. Fortunately, eight years later live music still does.