Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love Thanksgiving. For me, every day is a day for feeling gratitude for everything in my life. So on Thanksgiving Day, there is an extra feast to go along, plus everyone I know is also celebrating all that they are grateful for.

There are so many blessings in my life, I know I am very lucky. My hope and prayer for you, and for every human being, is that on this day and on all other days, you feel blessed.

Here is a link to a beautiful movie that for me says it all: May You Be Blessed

And may others be blessed by you!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Miracle of Physical Therapy

I have been receiving guidance for Physical Therapy on and off for 15 months now. It began in August 2007 when I was able to begin to move my body again -- after my spine collapsed, and chemo began, and my bowel shut down, and I was in the hospital. All that. I couldn't move my body very much 18 months ago, and it really is true that our muscles lose their strength very quickly if not used regularly, so I began PT after 2 months of little activity.

I still remember learning to walk again in August 2007, and the visiting nurse was with me in the house checking that there was a clear path for me to walk, with nothing to trip over or get in the way. When she said to me, "You're walking slowly to be careful, right?", I remember replying, "No, this is as fast as I can walk."

And when the PT began at the same time, I was given simple isometric exercises. Some to do when I was lying in my lift chair before getting up, and others to do when I was standing. Exercises to strengthen my muscles, and to begin to stretch them. Always with the reminder to tighten my abs. Of course, I was on prednisone at the time, and one side effect of it is that one has no strength in the abdomen muscles. None at all. And if I didn't tighten those muscles, my back would get tired and sore and strained from lack of support...

So it was very interesting last week to visit my former chiropractor, Linda, who has training in Physical Therapy. I explained my great concern to her, that my lowest rib is almost in contact with my pelvis. She gave me some exercises to do, and instead of saying to tighten my abs, she said to imagine someone was going to tickle me, and me tightening the muscles near my belly button in response. That this would trigger the contraction, and ultimate strengthening, of the muscles in my lower and middle back. I realized that I haven't been tightening the muscles near my belly button as much as the muscles in my lower abdomen.

And already, after doing these new exercises, I can tell a difference in my body. I have more strength and less pain in my back. Where there had been little change over months, I have now noticed a positive improvement in just 1 week. Thank you Linda -- you are a miracle worker! I am now hopeful that my muscles will soon provide greater support for my back, and also greater support for my rib cage. Maybe even help lengthen my spine, and increase the distance between my lowest rib and pelvis. Now that would be a miracle.

I think I'll expect a miracle! After all, why not?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Healing from a Collapsed Spine

How long does it take to heal from a collapsed spine? From 15 compression fractures and shrinking 3 inches in 1 month (18 months ago) and losing the lumbar curve?

I don't know.
I wake every morning and do 20 minutes of physical therapy before I get out of bed.
I eat plenty of protein.
I eat nutrient dense foods, plenty of organic fruits and vegetables.
I drink Goji juice -- 8 ounces per day.
I take flax oil and fish oil.
I take supplements.
I do stretching exercises and yoga.
I meditate daily.
I say morning prayers of gratitude, expressing my thanks for all the love, abundance, health, support, joy, friendship, inspiration, creativity and peace that is in my life.
I say prayers before dinner, and whenever it strikes me to during the day.
I do standing physical therapy exercises.
I drink plenty of liquids.
I drink goat's milk to enhance the absorption of calcium.
All in all, I feel quite healthy, in fact.

I have enough energy to do what my spine is able to do.
I no longer need a walker -- gave it up 11 months ago.
I no longer need walking sticks -- gave them up 9 months ago.
I can walk up and down the stairs many times a day, as of 4 months ago.
I can walk for 1 hour as of 2 months ago.
I no longer get dizzy, a side effect of the chemo, as of 1 month ago.
I can now do yoga lying on my back, as of 2 weeks ago.

So how long does it take to heal from a collapsed spine?
I don't know.
After 18 months, I still need pain medication daily.
I need to rest my spine after being out of bed for 2-3 hours, and that means I either lie down, recline, or kneel on all fours. Something to relieve the effects of gravity on my spine. I'm still gardening, even though the high temperatures are in the 30's, because kneeling on all 4's feels good to my spine.
Mornings are good, and I am able to move around with ease as I take care of myself, and the ease disappears as the day goes by.

Will there be some magic day that I wake up and find that I am suddenly healed?
I don't know.
I expect that I will continue to improve over time, slowly to be sure, but improve nevertheless in baby steps, tiny increments -- this day being able to stretch sideways, that day being able to run a few steps. Exploring the range of comfort, which is constantly changing and expanding.

So I ask how long it takes to heal from a collapsed spine, and the answer is I don't know. But I do know that I am alive, and grateful to be alive, and healing, and grateful for that as well. And I also know that it doesn't matter if I don't have an answer to the question now, because I will find the answer as I patiently live my life.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Squirrels in the House!!!!!!

Well, I have lived in the same place for 25 years, and never before have I found gray squirrels in the house. Until this fall. About 20 years ago there was a red squirrel that got into the attic and made a huge commotion very early every morning. Drove me nuts! I had to hire a contractor to cover the holes under the eaves where the squirrel was getting in -- and it had to be when the squirrel had gone out for the day so it wasn't trapped in the house. Yes, I survived that squirrel adventure.

But my dealings with gray squirrels, until now, have been mostly in the garden -- where they plant walnut and oak trees, dig holes looking for nuts, eat the underside of the branches in the maple tree to drink the sap as it leaks out, or chatter at me as I garden.

The first gray squirrel in the house was just 6 weeks ago on the first night of fall when I came back from my trip to Montana -- I wrote about it in the post "Things That Go Bump in the Night" on Sept. 25. And that squirrel was clearly a young one, not yet full-sized. It did some damage, running around the dining room and living room in the middle of the night trying to get out of the closed windows, and finally it ran into the study. I closed the door with the squirrel inside, opened the window, and in the morning it was gone.

I had forgotten about that squirrel until last weekend. On Saturday afternoon I was in the kitchen making apple crisp, one of my signature autumn dishes. All of a sudden there was a huge commotion coming from the other side of the basement door. It sounded like an animal, too much noise for it to be a mouse or bat or bird. Probably a squirrel again. Same one? Maybe, maybe not.

When my partner got home we went into the basement together, and sure enough, there was a large gray squirrel sitting on the bookcase eating the jade plant. It had made a mess of the plant, in fact. Seeing us, the squirrel ran behind the desk, then into the furnace room. I closed the door, and the animal left the same way in came in -- through the walls up to the attic, and then out. I think so, anyway. And this was not the same squirrel as before -- it was a much bigger critter.

Over the past few days, as I pondered the 2 gray squirrels in the house, I wondered about the metaphorical significance of this visitor. After all, to suddenly get 2 visits in 6 weeks from an animal that I have never seen IN the house before -- this got my attention. So, what does squirrel mean, anyway?

I went to my trusty source of information on the metaphorical teachings of animals, the Medicine Cards by Jamie Sams and David Carson. In this book, 44 animals and their habits are described, along with ways of applying the gifts of the animals to our lives, what Native Americans call 'animal medicine'.

In the Medicine Cards, Squirrel signifies 'gathering', teaching us to plan ahead for the coming winter. Squirrel also teaches how to gather and store energy for times of need, to reserve something for future use. The message may be that I should honor my future by readying myself for change. The message could be to lighten my load, and get rid of an excess of things that I no longer need. These "things" can include thoughts, worries, pressures, stresses, or gadgets that no longer work. And squirrel has another lesson which can aid me if I observe what is obvious, and which can prepare me for anything. It has to do with the safe place in which to put my gatherings. Jamie Sams and David Carson write, "This safe place is an untroubled heart and mind, and that which is gathered to put in this place is wisdom and caring". They further suggest that "the energies gathered will set your heart and mind free, so that you will know that all will be taken care of in its own time. Apply this to your fears about the future and they will vanish."

Thank you, Medicine Cards, and thank you Squirrel. I needed that!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Indian Summer Came and Went

A few days ago we had Indian Summer, and it lasted for about 2 days. The temperatures were in the 60's, it was breezy and warm, and the damp air hit me in the face whenever I went outside.

On Saturday morning, after I went outside for the tour of my gardens, it felt so luxurious to be in the warm air that I decided to engage in the long process of preparing the garden beds and plants for winter. That process includes harvesting and planting any seeds still left, cutting down the dead stalks of flowers, mulching where necessary, raking leaves, and transplanting the plants that would be better off moved.

The wonderful thing for me about gardening now is that my back feels no strain when I am on all-fours. Gravity is not compressing my spine if it is horizontal, which means I can garden on hands and knees for hours at a time. So while kneeling in the garden at the front of the house, I uncovered some Jack-in-the-Pulpit seeds that I hadn't found to plant earlier. And when I picked up the seeds, still attached to the decomposing plant stalk, and that still attached to the plant bulb, the bulb came out of the ground. Oops! Time to put it back in the ground.

The Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants are very interesting, actually, and at the end of the summer when the seeds form, they are so heavy that they cause the entire plant stalk to fall to the ground, tipping the bulb over. So, typically, in the early fall I will find Jack-in-the-Pulpit bulbs in the garden poking out of the ground and tipped over on their sides.

So with a bulb having come out of the ground, I dug a hole and put it back where it belonged. And in the process, it turned out that I had dug up 2 other Jack-in-the-Pulpit bulbs! In fact, there is a small area in the front of our house where there must be over 20 of these bulbs, including all sizes from small peas to large lemons. It was quite a challenge to plant the ones that were showing at the surface, because each time I dug a hole, I uncovered more than the ones I was about to plant.

And as I was 'playing' with the Jack-in-the-Pulpit bulbs, it started to rain. Lightly at first. And I needed to put these bulbs back in the ground, so I just continued to garden in the rain. Then it started to rain harder, but I still wasn't done, so I continued to garden. Anyway, I had my rain coat on, and it didn't really matter if I got wet. After all, it was warm on this Indian summer day. But then it started to rain REALLY hard.

It was when I noticed a flash of light behind me that I wondered to myself 'was that lightning?' and then heard the boom of thunder. I noticed a few more lightning flashes and heard the sounds of thunder before I finished putting all of the Jack-in-the-Pulpits to rest.

With my hands covered in mud, my raincoat completely soaked, and my sweatpants drenched from the knees down, I came in out of the rain after my gardening adventure. After all, it was Indian summer, and I wasn't going to let the warm weather go by without spending time in the garden. I have too much fun digging in the Earth on my hands and knees.

Well, that was Saturday. Indian summer is gone now. Today the temperature was above freezing, but it was cold an breezy. And for the coming week, the highs are forecast to be in the 30's and the lows in the low 20's. So it is safe to say that Indian Summer is over -- it came and went in 2 days.

But even though it was cold today, I was still out in the garden on my hands and knees playing...

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Gifts of the Fall

"The Gifts of the Fall" that I am referring to are not the gifts of the autumn. I am referring to the fact that I fell last week.

I love to interpret events in my life in terms of metaphor, but when I fell last week it never occurred to me to look for any meaning in this beyond my gratitude for not being hurt, the reminder to be continuously careful, and the obvious improvement in the strength of my body.

And so I was startled when a friend of mine made several suggestions regarding the metaphorical meaning of my falling. First, she reminded me that the Universe sometimes has a dramatic way of getting our attention. Yep -- got my attention. Second, she suggested that perhaps I needed more Earth connection. I reflected on this and admitted to myself that I had been avoiding lying down on the ground because of the sensitivity of my spine to hard surfaces. During the fall, I found myself flung down hard on my back without getting hurt. And after the fall, I was able to dream about camping or even backpacking in the future! Or sunbathing at the beach. Or just relaxing on the ground. Or spending an entire day (not just a few hours) gardening.

Third, my friend suggested that perhaps my back bone could use some strength from the bones of the Earth (aka 'rocks') in healing. I found this idea intriguing.

And as the week went by, I noticed some gifts from the fall beyond these metaphors and beyond the gratitude for not being hurt and the continued care with which I navigate my days. One morning this week, I decided it was time to take out my yoga mat, and I was able for the first time in 18 months to lie on my back and do some gentle yoga poses. I hadn't attempted the lying down poses before I fell because my back had been too sensitive. Last autumn, I was unable to lie on my back on the floor at all. Last winter, it was a painful exercise just to spend 5 minutes lying on my back with my knees up. My spine was too sensitive when the compression fractures were more recent, when the lumbar curve was gone from my spine, and when I had lost much of the strength in my back. Surprise -- it's back. My back is back!

So I lay on my back doing yoga poses I hadn't been able to do for over a year, and I started to cry. Tears of joy, tears of grief -- both from the realization of what it took to get here, and from the joy of being here now. I was too full of emotion not to cry, so the tears ran from my eyes. On and on. But since I was lying on my back, the tears ran down my cheeks into my ears, and then I started to laugh as my ears filled with tears.

My back is back, and I have tears in my ears. These are the gifts of the fall!! And more seriously, and very wonderfully, I now know that my back is truly stronger than I imagined. I could lose my balance and slam my back hard on the ground and not break a bone. Yes, my spine tires easily and I need to lie down frequently during the day, and yes I still need pain medication, and yes there are things I still hesitate to do because of the jolting to my spine (like ride a bicycle). But I never doubted that my back would be back, and now I can say that it is. My back is back, and I have tears in my ears. These are the gifts of the fall!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One of the Secrets of the Universe

What makes the colors of the leaves change? As the colors on the trees turn from green in August, to yellow and red and orange in September and October, and finally to brown in November, I often wonder about the miraculous and beautiful changes in the colors.

Certainly, the leaves turn color as the temperature gets colder. And this is related to the days getting shorter and the nights longer. So both the temperature and the amount of daylight influence the colors of the leaves. Also the amount of precipitation toward the end of summer plays a role in how long it takes the leaves to turn and how long they stay on the trees.

But I noticed something intriguing on my walk today in the neighborhood. It is a clue about the changing colors of the leaves.

There is a bush that I walk past on every walk I take, and today many of the leaves on this bush were brilliant yellow, so I stopped to look a them. Tiny, oval, bright yellow leaves. Some of the leaves on this bush were still green, and a small number had turned from yellow to reddish brown, but what caught my attention were the brilliant yellow leaves.

I began collecting specimens of the leaves of different colors, when my attention was drawn to a reddish brown leaf. Then I noticed another reddish brown leaf right behind the first one and in contact with it, with only about half of this second leaf showing. When I looked more closely and separated the 2 leaves, I was startled and delighted! While the foreground leaf was entirely reddish brown, the background leaf had remarkable coloring. It was reddish brown where the light could fall, and bright yellow where it was in the shadow of the other leaf. There was a sharp line where the color changed from brown to yellow, not a gradual change, but as clearly marked as if by a shadow.

This was a dramatic demonstration that the daylight itself was causing the leaf colors to change! And where the light was blocked, the changes were less. It was awesome -- I felt as if I had just been shown one of the secrets of the Universe.

For most trees and bushes, the spacing of the leaves allows light to fall everywhere. So the light is not often blocked by one leaf from another.

And then I remembered something else I had noticed this year more than any other. As the leaves turned color, tree by tree, the leaves on the outside were reddest, then orange inside, and then yellow closest to the trunk. And this happened for the same reason, I think, as the tiny reddish brown leaf which had a yellow part where it was in the shadow of another leaf. The leaves on the outside of the tree get more light, and they shade the leaves to the interior.

So I thought I was just going on a walk today when I left the house in the brisk morning air. Little did I know that I would be shown one of the secrets of the Universe!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Grateful For My Strength

The leaves are all off the trees now, the daylight disappears earlier, and the temperatures are dropping. Yes, it is starting to look and feel like winter will be coming before too long. And since we have already had the first hard frost, now is the time to plant the spring flowering bulbs -- the daffodils, tulips, and crocus.

I have a special connection with flowering bulbs. I remember having a garden in our backyard when I was a child, and planting bulbs that would flower in the spring -- crocus, daffodils and tulips. Then when I had a chance as an adult to have a garden, I started by planting crocus, daffodils, and tulips. In fact, I still have some crocus which bloom every spring that I planted over 25 years ago!

As a gift from my mother, 2 weeks ago I received a box in the mail containing a large number of spring flowering bulbs, half for me and half for her. Last fall, I was unable to garden very much, so my ability to kneel down and be on all fours touching the Earth now is a real gift. And this was the weekend for me to garden. The weather was warm, in the 50's and 60's, not too rainy, and the new garden bed by the street out front had already been prepared. So yesterday I planted 25 daffodils, 10 tulips, 50 yellow crocus, and 20 anenome. I stopped gardening when the heavy rain began, so today all I had to do to finish was to plant 25 more daffodils and 50 purple & white crocus.

In the middle of the day I gathered all my gardening tools -- the shovel and trowel, gloves, pillow in a plastic bag to kneel on, and of course, the bulbs. I was outlining the area in the garden bed where I would plant the daffodils so I could begin to dig, and as I went for the shovel I tripped over a rock in the border of the garden. Upon losing my balance, I stepped on the plastic container holding my trowel -- luckily I avoided stepping in the box of crocus bulbs -- but I was still off balance. My left foot landed on a different rock in the border of the garden and that rock went out from under me. Trying to catch my balance, my right foot went into the garden bed followed by my left foot, and then my right heel caught on another rock and I fell to the ground landing first on my bottom, my momentum carrying me backwards. I didn't do a backwards summer salt, but I ended up lying flat on my back and hitting my head hard on the leaf-covered street. I remember feeling my entire spine go down on the ground, much less gently than I move these days, and realizing that I was not in control of where I was going and that I did not know the ultimate outcome. I was very present to observing and participating in what was happening to me.

And the HUGE MIRACLE is that I am not hurt. If any of the neighbors had seen me fall they might have thought I was doing a wild dance. I did hit the back of my head rather hard on the street, so I called Gene on my cell phone to tell her I was on the ground, and then I went into the house to take some homeopathic Arnica Montana for the fall. I was a bit shaken.

And then I went back outside, got on my hands and knees, and planted the remaining bulbs.

When I was finished and came back inside the house to rest, I thought more about my fall, and I realized that I am very lucky. I could have landed on my spine and fractured some vertebrae, or landed on my wrist, or broken a bone, or bruised myself badly. The fact that I emerged unscathed from my sudden connection to the Earth indicates to me several important things. First, my bones are much stronger now than they were 18 months ago. And second, I have some pretty talented angels and guides with me, who made sure that I didn't get hurt today.

So, all in all, it has been a very exciting day. I am very grateful for the strength of my bones, for my balance such as it is, and for the diligent attention of my guides -- and next time I will be more careful when I garden!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama

Dear President-Elect Obama,

I have never before written to a president, or a president-elect, and yet writing a letter to you has been on my mind all day. I am inspired by you -- by your words, by your intelligence, by your clear love and devotion to your wife and family, and by the connection you maintain to your heart as you speak. I am thrilled to be alive at this historic time, at this hopeful time, when the infinite potential of the Universe remains to be manifested. I am filled with optimism, and I truly believe that you will lead us toward a better world for our children and grandchildren. I see you as one of us, a normal person, not as part of a political machine, and I believe that is why I felt I could write to you.

I trust that you will make choices that are good for us and good for the planet. I know that you understand the importance of creating a world where women contribute equally to men, through their equal presence at all levels of government and society, and through remedying the discrepancy which still exists in the pay of women in relation to that of men. And I know you understand the importance of caring for the environment, and of moving toward a sustainable society where all forms of life are valued. I look forward to seeing the choices you make.

I believe that we are all on the Earth to be of service, and my favorite way of being of service at this time in my life is through the public teaching of astronomy in the out-of-doors. It is my hope that I will meet you someday, and that I will have the opportunity to share my love for the stars and sky with you and your family.

With gratitude and admiration,
Joyous Judy Young
Professor of Astronomy
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Back from Chicago

We just returned today from a trip to Chicago to visit my daughter. Not planned to coincide with the 2008 presidential election, and yet it was a momentous event to share. Not planned to coincide with my daughter's first professional talk on "Sustainable Gardening", and yet I was there to help give her pointers as she planned the talk, what to say, how to say it, and how to present it. I felt I was sharing a deep part of me with her, the teacher in me, and for that I was both honored and thrilled.

This was the first time in almost 2 years that I had visited my daughter in her new home. To be able to travel has been such a revelation to me. And even while able to travel, it still requires great diligence on my part to rest my back regularly, to plan days that include horizontal as well as vertical time, and to plan less as opposed to more.

While in Chicago, I was remembering that 1 year ago I walked around the block for the first time in 5 months. And on this recent trip, I was able to walk along Lake Michigan near the Northwestern campus. Both times, the autumn colors were spectacular. While the colors are now mostly past peak here in Massachusetts, the colors in Chicago were spectacular. And the warm weather was a treat.

So while in Chicago, it was an awesome and thrilling feeling to be witnessing and participating in American history. I feel inspired and hopeful about what we as a people can create in the world. And I feel humbled and grateful that we have an intelligent and thoughtful human being as president-elect.

Again I am reminded of the fortune on my tea bag -- "Anything is possible".