Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Deck the Halls

I love Christmas.  I love the warmth that fills a room when it's decorated in the spirit of the season.  I love everything that is shiny and that appears snow-covered (because I've never, in my 53 years, had a white Christmas).  

I love time spent with friends and loved ones and remembering the true reason for the season.  And I love looking at our remodeled fireplace with all the stockings hung by the chimney with care.

And for as much as I love all of this, I love decorating our tree the most.  It's nothing fancy.  I'm just not that kind of girl.  But the ornaments.  That's where the magic is.

When my son Evan was born, I bought (what, in my opinion, was) the traditional "Baby's First Christmas" ornament.  Actually, I bought two and was gifted one, the year 1988.  Every year, I gifted him with an ornament that represented whatever he was into at the time or to mark a special occasion that we celebrated that year.  

When he was 6, like any red-blooded 6-year old, he wanted to be a fireman, so his ornament that year was a Dalmation dressed in firefighter's gear.  The year he got his first vehicle, a Ford F-150, I found a Ford F-150 ornament.  A trip to Disney World always resulted in a Disney ornament.  And when he graduated high school, a Mickey Mouse head (we went to Disney World that year too) with a graduation cap.

When he graduated college and got his "own place", I gifted him the bundle of "his" ornaments to get him started.  But I kept one - from his first Christmas.  It has a picture of him, about age seven months, smiling happily as he sits in his walker, arms out-stretched as if to say "Hey!  Life is sweet!"  And it is always placed on the front of our tree.

Severe allergies as a child (to cedar and pine and lots of other stuff) resulted in us always having an artificial tree.  Except for that one year in college, when my sister wanted, just once, since the time of my birth, to have a real tree.  And I survived.

That was the only year I've ever had a real tree.  It just seemed easier to go artificial.  Easier until I purchased my first pre-lit tree, affectionately know as "The Beast" due to it's stature and girth.  And because it was heavy and hard as hell to get up into our attic.

Over the years, our tree had different color schemes.  For many years, it was purple and green (Evan's favorite color when he was young and my favorite color, respectively); we really had not intended to celebrate Mardi Gras in December.  

When it was time to empty the tree of Evan's ornaments, I went with something a little more "traditional", with red, blue, green and gold baubles dotting the branches.

Sometimes the tree had garland, sometimes ribbon, but always, always, there was a star on top.

When the third strand of lights went out on The Beast, and we tired of trying to find the one bulb out of 600 that caused the outage, we got a new one.  This tree, aptly named "Beast Jr." has flourishes of white and silver, with a few touches of brushed gold.  And pine cones.  Little, artificial, snow-capped pine cones.

And the ornaments.  Oh the ornaments.

As I carefully unpacked them last week, each one brought with it, a specific and special memory.  And oh, what a beautiful way to begin the holiday season.

There are, of course, a plethora of Disney ornaments.  Both those I've gotten during our trips to the various Disney parks, but also those offered up by the Hallmark store and those which were gifted to me.  With 20 or so trips to the parks around the world, I don’t really remember the specific year each ornament was bought, but I remember the feeling of being in the park.  The happiness.  The friendships.  The magic.

Years ago, my friends and I, being the good German girls that we are (and one who deep-down, we know wishes she were German) were in a 9-pin bowling league.  (Don't know what that is?  Google it and prepare to be intrigued!  And yes!  Like most teenagers in our area growing up, my first job was dodging pins as they slammed about following a direct hit with a 17-pound ball!)  At Christmas time, we always exchanged Christmas ornaments.  There was one year, when we had not yet opened our ornaments, and I commented on how ridiculous that year's "bowling ornament" sold by Hallmark was (I may have even used the term "ugly" to describe it).

You know what happened, don't you?  

My friend Debbie, who had drawn my name, had gifted me that very ornament.  I'm so glad she had the best sense of humor and we laughed about it for many years.  We lost Debbie a couple of years ago and Christmas was her favorite holiday.  Now, when I take out that ornament, and place it front and center on our tree, I can't help but still feel a little embarrassed, but having a giggle at the same time.

Of course there are ornaments adorned with my step-children's names, ornaments from their childhood.  And one to mark mine and Keith's first Christmas together (as a couple) as well as one to celebrate our first Christmas as newlyweds.   There's even a menorah ornament (I'm quite sure that's some sort of an oxymoron) to honor my step-daughter's religion and holiday celebration.

There are several ornaments which are 'Texas Orange' (yes, that's a real and official color) and one celebrating my beloved Longhorns' 2005 (football) National Championship.  I remember the final seconds of the game.  Evan and I perched on the edge of our sofa.  And as Vince Young crossed the goal line for the win, we erupted in screams, raising the roof and waking all the dogs in the neighborhood.

There are ornaments with pictures of our granddaughter, my pumpkin girl.  And hopefully, this year, we'll add one with pictures of our grandson, my man-cub, who will turn one in a few weeks.

And then, there are ornaments from around the world.  (And even one that was given to me by one of my former staff that says "World Traveler".)  As I unwrap each ornament, selected during each of our travels, I'm flooded with memories Keith and I have made together.

A sea turtle from the Turtle Farm in the Cayman Islands.  Holding a baby sea turtle (it was perfectly okay and highly encouraged!), it's tiny flippers gently lapping against my hands.  Oh, how it made me smile!  I love sea turtles!  Just ask my granddaughter - she'll tell you!

A laser-inscribed picture of Neuschweinstein Castle.  Walking up the hill to the castle.  Anticipation building as I'm about to see with my very eyes, the castle that inspired Walt Disney and his creation of Cinderella's castle in the Magic Kingdom (or was it Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland?)

An apple and a skyline scene from our two trips to NYC.  Oh, how I LOVE NY!  The buzz of the city, palpable as you hit the sidewalk.  The overwhelming nature of the skyscrapers.  The beauty of Central Park, tucked away amongst the concrete jungle; the brightly colored leaves littering the ground in fall and snowflakes falling from the sky as we walked hand-in-hand.

A hand-painted beauty from Greece.  Where, amongst the beautiful white stucco and blue domed roofs, Keith's pocket was picked!  Alas, he caught the thieves, slapping the wallet from the hand that nabbed it, the wallet falling to the ground, the thieves running from the scene.

The hangy-thingy from China, that's not really an ornament at all, but which we made into one (because I don't think Christmas is widely celebrated in China).  Walking The Great Wall on my birthday was indescribable.  And eating questionable things?  Well … that's a memory I'd like to forget.

A seashell from Bora Bora.  Where the turquoise water surrounded you for miles, the rays inviting you in for a swim, Mount Otemanu standing tall amongst the surrounding motus (mini islands) and the huts over the water with "fish in the floor".

And the golden pineapple from our most recent trip to Hawaii.  Come to think of it, we didn't eat any pineapple during that trip.  Unless you count the Dole Whip.  And the real-fruit pineapple shaved ice.  And the pineapple-infused sausage smothered in pulled pork.  Okay … so we didn't eat any "fresh" pineapple.

In a little over a month, it'll all be over.  All the meticulously-wrapped packages, opened, wrapping paper covering the floor.  The goodies all eaten.  The drinks all drank (drunken?).  The ugly Christmas sweaters, worn.  And we'll box up the ornaments and pack them away for another year.

But for now, I'll soak it all in.  Reminiscing as the tree illuminates each ornament.  All the memories in one seven-foot, five-inch space.

Reminding us how very blessed we are.  And to always, always remain grateful.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Heat is On

About six years ago, I began a journey that would forever change my life.  And oh what a journey it has been (and not in the most positive of senses!) 

No, I’m not talking about CrossFit, though you already know how that has changed my life.  I’m talking about the thing that no one wants to talk about, yet most everyone with two X chromosomes will suffer through.  Say it with me, girls: 


Let’s backtrack a few years (and just a few, because it was just like yesterday).  When puberty hit and brought with it, all the joy that it entails – or so we were led to believe in health class.  The bloating, the moodiness (as if being a teenager with raging hormones just wasn’t enough!), the unpredictability of Mother Nature and all the fun that She can impose upon a young girl as she blossoms into a woman.

It was my experience that if cramping was anything close to being in labor, then I wanted nothing to do with ever having a child.  It didn’t help matters that I’ve always had an aversion to taking pills (thanks to my childlike wonderment with a grape-shaped magnet that I managed to swallow, the hard resin bundle no doubt stuck in my throat for a while before I could get it down).  And so when the cramping commenced, the only thing I could do was soak in a tub of the hottest water I could tolerate.  I remember one spring break, when I should’ve been spending time hanging out in the mall, but instead, spent it soaking in a tub and trying not to cry.  On another day, during an early morning band practice, as the sun was coming up and blaring right into my eyes, it took every ounce of energy to stand at attention with my trumpet facing up to the press box and not pass out from the pain in my lower abdomen. 

This is “joyful”?  This is “wonderful”?  This is a “beautiful” stage in a woman’s life? 

Fast forward 28 years and I’m staring menopause right in the eye.

I wasn’t sure what it would look like for me personally since my mother had rid herself of her uterus many, many years ago.  And if my sister’s menopausal experience was a guide, I knew I was not going to enjoy this.  At.  All.

I had stayed at a consistent weight post-birthing experience (yes, I did eventually have a child and no, I did not enjoy labor) until the first signs of “the change” began.  The scale didn’t so much creep upwards, as it skyrocketed seemingly overnight.  Ten pounds.  That’s where it stopped.  Even though I began eating a bit “healthier” when my husband and I shacked up.  (I say “healthier” because it wasn’t until a year ago that we well and truly began eating healthier.)  And still, that stupid scale would not budge.

Yes, I think CrossFit was drastic enough to help with the weight loss, but … I ended up trading in my fat for muscle and so, the scale stayed the same. 

Mother Nature has a sense of humor.  Who plays cruel jokes.  My body then reverted to its teenage state and by that, I mean, unpredictable cycle timing and horrific cramping that no amount of ibuprofen would alleviate.  (I finally got past my pill-popping problem too – but only for the tiniest of pills.)  She thought it comical to come for a visit on the very day Keith and I would leave for vacation.  Every damn time. 

My gynecologist had previously told me about a procedure which could “improve my quality of life”.  Long having surpassed the baby-making years, I decided to forego the further surprises that Mother Nature intended and scheduled an endometrial thermal ablation.  Good-bye Aunt Flo!  And thank you, Dr. Schneider!  You are my hero!

Oh, but the fun was just getting started.

Then came the night sweats.  The kind that leave the bedsheets soaking wet.  The kind that require you to drink a full 16 oz. bottle of water to try and cool down.  The kind that cause you to sleep with the fan on when the temperature drops to 19 degrees in the dead of winter and leaves your husband to sleep under all the blankets.  The kind that when done, chills you to the bone to where you steal all the blankets from said husband.  And the kind that results in an overwhelming fear that you’ll never sleep through the night.  Ever.  Again.

Hormone Replacement Therapy?  I think I’ve tried them all:  pills, patches, gels.  Nothing helped.  Nothing.

But wait!  There’s more!

Because there hasn’t been enough fun up to this point, here come the hot flashes.  When my hot flashes were at their worst this past summer, I thought I might actually spontaneously combust.  Keith seriously considered carrying a fire extinguisher around but opted instead for the next best thing (and probably a mite safer):  a mini-fan which I could plug into my phone. 

We had a mercilessly brutal summer (where temps were concerned) – a record 60+ days with the high temp exceeding 100!  Couple that with a woman in the throws of menopause and … well … let’s just say   the lava from Mt. Vesuvius would’ve been chillier than what I was experiencing.

Mine started at the back of my neck, then moved down my back, around the front, up to my head, before gravity took hold and the incapacitating heat went all the way to my toes.  And by the time it reached my toes, sweat was literally pouring from every pore.  Not kidding.  You could set a clock by my hot flashes too, if you were so inclined to set a 40-minute timer.  Yes, you read that right. 

Every.  40.  Minutes.  For.  The.  Entire.  Summer. 

Thank God (I think) that part is behind me.  I’ve been praying a lot recently.  Praying that I don’t see a repeat of my body’s bad behavior next summer.  Otherwise, I’ll be looking for cheap flights to Antartica!

Oh!  And then … there’s the lack of libido.  My husband wants to put out “Missing” flyers throughout town.  And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Still looking for some relief from the night sweats and insomnia, my current PCP suggested, of all things, blood pressure medication.  It works better than anything else I’ve tried.  I still have night sweats, but now they don’t hit until around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., giving me a good five or six hours of sleep.  Oh!  I didn't mention the insomnia?  And when I do wake up, I’m not staring at the ceiling, counting the number of times the ceiling fan circulates for hours on end (252 turns per minute, by the way!)  I’m usually able to get back to sleep rather quickly.

Did I mention my poor husband?  As if what may or may not be happening in the bedroom isn’t enough punishment for HIM (what did he ever do to deserve this?), then there are the mood swings. 

These are the moments when I turn into a she-devil in the blink of an eye.  Seemingly sweet, caring and loving one minute and an unbelievable bitch, the next.  Fangs emerge, my eyes glowing with such fire, and horns sprout from the top of my sweet little head.  And the language that spews from my mouth?  The entire U.S. Navy has nothing on me!  Let me tell you!  You know what they say:  Hell hath no fury like a woman going through menopause. 

Curiously, my husband, God love him, says “WHAT is wrong with YOU????”  And I have no answer.

Conversely, I can sometimes be found curled into the fetal position, tears springing from my eyes like Niagra Falls and I can’t explain that either.

And you know what?  It ain’t over yet!

So how much longer is this going to last?  I ask my mom.  I ask my sister.  I ask my friends.  I even ask my doctor; surely, she would know.  But no one knows for sure.  WHAT??????  I thought five years was the magic number.  Yet, here I am in about year six.  Someone said they thought it could last 13 years.  I’m no longer on speaking terms with that person. 

So, were those first few years, with simple weight gain and night sweats just the beginning, just perimenopause?  OMG!  WHY, Mother Nature, WHY???

When I begged the question just one more time, my PCP smirks (from her perspective, it was probably an innocent smile, but to me, it looked like an evil sort of grin) and says she thinks I can expect this to last until I’m 55.  That’s two more years.  It’ll be a miracle if I make it to 55 without landing myself in jail and with my marriage still intact. 

Thanks Mother Nature.  I hate you.

To those of you who are in this same season, know that you are beautiful.  You are strong.  And you will get through this.  Many have done so before, many will do so after, and we will too!  The next season is upon us and it promises to be the best yet.

To those of you who have not yet embarked on your own special journey, you too will survive.  Please know you’re not losing your ever-lovin’ mind.  I wish for you many a cool night, dry sheets and the patience of loved ones when your crazy slips out.

And gentlemen, be brave.  When it’s your partner’s time and you think she’s channeling her inner-Linda Blair, know that she is.  Give her some space, but before you do, give her a cold drink and a fan to plug into her phone.  It could save your life.