Mom’s Life In A Box

My mother passed away almost 10 years ago, and it was time to finish what we started a few years back: getting rid of the paperwork mountain she collected over the years.

My mother did not own a shredder, or a computer, or a belief system that allowed her to part with any piece of paper that might matter. She was outrageously meticulous in her record keeping; I have to give her that accolade. Statements from banks, credit card companies, Medicare and insurance companies were filed by month and year, and every one of them had receipts, proof of services rendered, cancelled checks, and anything else she needed to ensure what the statement said she spent was what she actually spent. And if it did not match, there was a not to call someone: “CS” for customer service, “DR” for doctor’s office, “B” for bank and so on.

Every piece of paper clipped or stapled to another piece of paper was lined up, right side up, in size order. She wasn’t doing this for tax purposes, really. She was only working part-time and on Social Security, so it wasn’t an issue of tax deductions, since she wasn’t earning enough to pay taxes in the first place. Her mind was incredibly orderly almost to the end and physical pain overwhelmed her. She only used a ledger-style checkbook; the better to track her income and expenses. It’s stunning that we have 70 pounds of paper in a clear plastic box to bring to the next community shredding event; she had no need to save all those documents once she finished reconciling them. But I marvel at the precision, and that her version of a numbers game, along with doing crossword puzzles in ink, going to theater and movies every week and dining with friends regularly kept her sharp as long as it did. She was living proof that challenging the brain every day keeps it going.

Miss you, Mom. Wish you were still here. Ten years is a long time.

My House Is Stupid Clean Now

The place has not looked this good for 106 days.

That’s how long it’s been since my foot surgery, when I panic-cleaned for a week.

I know. Even I am shocked by this. It’s been since Thanksgiving, 2019 that company has crossed our threshold. Prepping for visitors is hard work. Even if they are people who know you well, and don’t really care about how the place looks, you still care.

So you sweep, mop, dust, polish, put stuff away, and try to turn your house into a cross between a five-star hotel and modern museum. It just needs to last for the duration of the visit, and you can go back to your old lazy, slob-comfy self.

In my case, my niece is coming, and doing better at housekeeping is not a big stretch. She has her hands full as a teacher, dog and cat mom, swim coach, after-school tutor, and owner of an old house where the end of one project means the next dozen or so are still waiting. I understand the commitment necessary in maintaining an aging abode, as my house is 40 years old. Her house is almost 60 years old, and while it has a lot of 1960s charm and quirk, it also has a lot of 1960s issues. She grew up with parents whose idea of clean would not have passed muster at the local trash dump. Her siblings consider things tidy when they can maneuver around the piles, rather than put things away. So the bar isn’t exactly set all that high.

But we will enjoy the weekend; she is heading to the hotel where my brother and his family are staying, to enjoy the amenities for the day. As a teacher, she has earned a little rest and a chance to put homeowner and work issues aside.

And I promise to keep the house tidy for at least one additional day after she leaves. Just to prove I can.

Company’s Coming! Or, The New World Version Of Face Time With Family

Next weekend, we get to do something we have not done in a year and a half. We host a family member in our house.

Funny how strange this is. Pre-COVID, I never would have thought about it, beyond the usual tidy up the place and make sure our visitor (my niece) will be comfortable for her overnight visit. Now it’s about the scrub and sanitize. I am not turning into my mother; I am way past that point. That ship sailed a long time ago. I actually make a day-to-day task list of what and when to clean. Today, it is the guest room itself and the bed sheets are in the wash as we virtually speak. Last week, we bought a new living room couch and donated the old one. Today, we shopped for a couple of fancy pillows and a throw to gussy up a perfectly nice new couch that arrived with pillows. We were fortunate to get a new couch in a week, given the back orders and delays on many furniture items. It is nice and just what we wanted.

It’s good to have company after a period of isolation. I am a loner by design, and my sports preferences pretty much give that away. My brother and his family will be coming into town as well, though not staying with us (a member of his household is cat-averse. Something to do with allergies). It will be good to wine and dine and see everyone, even if we do walk into restaurants with face masks on (fine with me; we are all vaccinated). We have a lot of catching up to do and while we can talk via text, Zoom and email, the digital conversation is not the same. Face to face is a multi-dimensional means of communication, and it’s fun to do when you enjoy a meal at the same time. We can pass the appetizers, share the entrees, and exchange the latest family news all at once. No letter, card, or digital device ever bridges the divide the way real face time does it.

I did my first 10K yesterday, on Day 99 since the foot surgery. Hot out there, but the foot held up well. It’s good to be back in the running.

Well, You Asked Me For An Honest Opinion, Right?

Why on earth do people start out a conversation with “Can I get your honest opinion about something?” only to get mad when you provide the requested honest opinion?

And worse, why do you ask an older person for an honest opinion? Most of the time, we’re going to give you just that, because we have nothing to lose, few reasons to regret anything anymore, and the need for a lot of laughs, even if they are at your expense.

Allow me to elaborate on how I got onto this soapbox today.

A coworker’s wife just remodeled their kitchen. Coworker refers to his wife as a “designer,” even though she has no training, professional accreditation, or project list she can share with potential clients. I guess giving her a title sounds better than her actual description: wife and mother of two small and unruly children (I’ve met the kids and “unruly” is the kindest word I can use). The coworker sent me a picture of the kitchen.

Well, I did like the floor, which is a slate-gray stone. Everything else ranges from awful to hideous. For starters, it’s all blinding white. Not cream or off-white, but blaring, glaring white. There’s no relief from the white attack. The edges of the island and the cabinets are scalloped in an effort at French provincial that fails. The lighting is inadequate and the center island is so large it dwarfs the rest of the space and blocks movement from the stove to the sink to the fridge. There is open shelving, which I prefer, but it looks like a junior high school woodshop project; rough construction, also painted white, not hung straight. As you have figured out, I hate white as a design choice. It is the absence of color and imagination, the default whatever decision. You cannot find inspiration from that crayon company’s bazillion colors in a box, let alone anywhere else?

So when he asked me what I thought of it, I told him only a sledgehammer would make things right. I’ve been through a kitchen renovation, and let the pros handle most of it because DIY can be shorthand for DIYDI (Dangerous If You Do It) and you’ll have quite the time explaining some injuries at the ER, and it hurts to have a claw hammer pulled out of your ear after your significant other shows you where they can jolly well put it.

And of course, the coworker got huffy and defended his designing wife, which is understandable. She’ll get work from someone, no doubt, if her rate is low enough. Just not from me. I’d rather go on telling it like it is and living in my collected home, rather than any designed space.

Crack Of Dawn Training: Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

It’s back to the running, the road bike, and the pool at the butt crack of early morning. The foot is doing well (no bare feet, so no triathlon transitions yet, until after the 90th day post-surgery) and no trail running until late September. No swim fins, either, until the 90th day. But everything else is a go. There is still some swelling, which will remain for another month or so. But it looks like a nice, straight foot otherwise.

At the worst moments of getting better, I could not wait for this. And now? It’s a process. Most days, I’m fine getting up at 4:30 a.m. Some days, I wish only death to the alarm clock. I have my housecleaning routine back in order; certain tasks on certain days, with the weekends chore-free whenever possible (I admit to washing the kitchen floor this afternoon because my shoes were sticking to it). I still work from home, with zero intentions of returning to an office. Things like afternoon running, the ability to do laundry whenever, early dinner prep, and a quick weight workout matter more than sitting in an office with people I don’t like much who talk too much (to me and whoever is on their smartphone) and drag along their personal dramas and stinky lunches. It’s a little solitary sometimes, but my productivity is greater, and I can get up and move away from my desk without someone stopping me for “just a second” that turns into a 30-minute dissertation. I no longer worry about the overly sensitive coworker who begs for my honest opinion, only to get mad/sad/teary-eyed/defensive when I provide exactly what is asked for.

It’s good to be almost completely back and fully functional. And allowing my out-of-the-closet introvert to stand proud and tell the so-called experts who think all of us miss and need the shared experiences and advantages of the office, “Nah, I’m good.”

I Ate Bread In The Car And Turned Into My Mother

Did you know it’s a mistake to go into a grocery store early in the morning? It’s true. Not because it’s a bad time to shop (it’s actually pretty empty and easy to get in and get out fast), but because it’s a bad time to know the store has a bakery.

We may eat with our eyes, but we grocery shop with our noses. I stopped in a big-box store near the pool after the morning workout, to get some important things, like chicken, ground turkey, ear plugs, eye drops, and bananas. Next thing you know, the cart takes a hard charge forward towards the smell of carbs and sugar. Cookies, doughnuts, rolls, cakes, brownies, and bread. My downfall forever is bread. I take after my mother on this.

Back in the day when small bakeries were the place to buy high-calorie creations, my mother bought cookies and pastries for weekly card and mah jongg gatherings, and she bought rye bread. Sliced to order by the counter help, it had a shiny crust, lots of seeds and that sweet-sour tang that only really good rye bread brings to the palate. Not once did a complete loaf of rye bread ever make it home. She ate the ends in the car ride home. It was her favorite part, and besides, “None of you like the ends anyway,” she always said.

That might have been true back then, but no more. I cherish the ends of any loaf of bread, because it’s more bread-y to me. A firmer texture that stands up to being toasted, dunked, and slathered. This morning, my takeaway loaf of choice was sourdough. I learned to love sourdough thanks to a childhood trip to San Francisco. I find the almost fermented quality perfect with nothing more than a lot of butter.

I nibbled on the end of the loaf at stoplights on the way home, which is what my mother did all those decades ago, and made the connection. Over 10 years she’s gone, and it’s amazing how some flour, yeast, salt, and water can build a bridge.

Time Left in Rehab Hell: 48 Hours And Counting

Monday, 10 a.m. The last surgeon appointment for my foot. Seven days of steroids (to remove what little swelling is left) and we are done and basically good to go. I now have a matched set of titanium screws and plates, probably worth more than all the rest of me. And yes, I plan to get a keepsake picture of my “twins” on Monday.

It’s been a long eight weeks, counted down a day at a time. From heavy gauze padding, a surgical boot, and a kneeling cart to a butterfly bandage and a toe separator, it’s been a ride. I had this surgery done on the other foot 20 years ago. I don’t remember it being this hard, but then again, I don’t recall a lot of things from 20 years ago.

I feel like that little kid in the car, driving to a vacation destination, constantly asking, “Are we there yet?” I’ve been able to swim, bike, and walk to some extent and I am really bored with limitations. Grateful for what I have been able to do the last three weeks, but definitely ready for more. I stopped by my local bike shop last week for swim goggles (my favorite pair broke, so of course I bought two pairs to replace the one that broke) and bought new running socks to celebrate my upcoming first post-op run.

Some things I will think about, now that both feet are fixed:

I will never complain about running in 90-plus degree heat again. I will be grateful for it.

I will never complain about running in the rain again. I will be grateful for it.

Trail running won’t just be something I do for training; I will learn to love it as a challenge unto itself.

I will never complain about the height of a diving block again. I will get up there and learn to use it correctly, now that both feet are straight and pain-free.

I will purposely go looking for elevation changes on a bike ride, just for the challenge (aside from drawbridges, we don’t really have big hills here. Just some nice undulating roadways).

Mostly, I will be grateful to the medical technology and the people smarter than me who study hard and turn lives around putting their talents to good use, despite a pandemic and its continued impact. Labeling the doctors, nurses, and support staff who show up, keep up and move us all forward as heroes seems inadequate. The dictionary simply does not offer enough accolades to describe what they do, or thank them for it.

I’d Like Your Product If Only I Could Open It

Another day, another cut finger and another $#@!&* after trying to open yet another adult-proof package.

This time, it was a container of vegetable shortening. Really. Harmless plastic container to look at, but the lid was almost lethal to one of my fingers. It took a knife and a pair of pliers to destroy the lock mechanism and pry off the top.Who gets paid the money to sit around and come up with these things? I want that job. The Consumer Product Safety Commission spends a lot of time and money worrying about toys and child safety, which they should do. But how about adults and the packaging we have to deal with daily? The cardboard-plastic combination covers on multi-packs of everything are bad enough. You need a bolt cutter and a blow torch for those. But the break-and-pull tabs on many food products neither break nor pull easily. The number of times I’ve hurt myself getting into a package forced me to stock a ready shelf of bandages and ointment. I’ve been wounded, gouged, and sliced deep enough to probably get a few stitches (fortunately, I don’t bleed long). I’ve “succeeded” in opening bags, only to have the contents fly onto the floor because my use of necessary force exceeded the bag’s capacity to endure it. And yes, I have given up and either tossed out products or returned them, figuring out it was a higher power’s desire that I do so, rather than continue fighting.

I know manufacturers are trying to keep us safe from contaminants and evil people who would introduce harmful stuff into what we eat, drink and use. But have a little mercy on the unfortunate who do not have the youthful dexterity (or the garage-worthy tool arsenal) to punch our way into your package. We’d try more and buy more, if only we could open more.

This Surgical Boot Is No Longer Made For Walkin’

Staples, boot, and bandages are a thing of the past, and I can put weight on both feet now. Not bad at 25 days out of surgery. Thursday will be the full four weeks, and by next week, after another post-operative visit, I hope to be on the bike, at least on the indoor trainer, riding again.

I got into the pool this morning, just freestyle and backstroke with limited kicking. But 75 minutes was longer than I thought I could do, so I was happy with that. The surgical site is still a little swollen, but the foot is back to a normal shade of skin tone, rather than black and blue. I’ve been able to do enough yard work to make the place look like humans live here. I made cookies for the husband yesterday (none for me, since I am not up to normal workout levels yet) and can mostly stand long enough to make full meals and clean the house to a decent extent. I can drive, though I keep the trips short. Grocery store visits are done with a strict list and mostly along the perimeter.

I cannot mow the lawn, wash the car or walk on uneven ground yet. No running for another month. No stairs or hard exercise walking yet. But overall progress is good and I am looking at the competition schedule. First swim meet comes up in August, when I won’t be quite 100%. I accept that, and I am going anyway. It will be good to see people and approach normal again.

Foot Up, Out Of Action — Just Temporary

I waited out the pandemic to do it, but it’s done. That fugly foot bump known as a bunion was shaved off my left foot and into history nine days ago, by the same surgeon who did the same thing on my right foot twenty years ago.

My toes are blue-black (at least, what little I can see of them) but all the toenails are still attached. The staples pull and ache and the foot is itchy, but at least I can put some weight on it now. For the first five days, I was attached to a four-wheel scooter as my sole mode of transportation (you don’t want to ask me about crutches). My house is mid-1980s closed concept, so there are narrower doors and bumps and sharp turns. I fell once, but nothing was damaged aside from my ego; I was able to maneuver off the bathroom floor and get upright again.

To be fair, I’d give myself an A- for preparation; I stocked food and supplies, made sure my prescriptions were refilled, the ice maker worked (the number of post-surgical ice packs was astounding), laundry was done, and I had protein powder for shakes and vitamins for recovery. It seems to be working; the staples come out Tuesday, less than two weeks after surgery.

I am looking forward to getting back to getting out there. I have a 10K booked in September and swim meets in August and October. It’s not fun to watch other people sweat while being on the sidelines.