Saturday, December 18, 2010

My Christmas message...a winter story

I remember times like this.

Back in 1979, we were living on a ranch in New Mexico, way up on the Continental Divide.
We were snowed-in that winter. The snowplow stopped 9 miles from our ranch, and our nearest neighbors lived 2 miles beyond that. This meant we had to ride out horseback to our neighbor's house.

We were 25 miles from town, so we couldn't get to the PO to get our mail. Our neighbors would get our mail for us, and every Wednesday, it was pre-planned that we'd ride the 11 miles out and pick up our mail from them.

Some weeks, we could not go because there was a snowstorm on that day. Those weeks were hard, because that meant we had to wait a whole week more to get our mail! ANd our mail was so precious to us! This was before computers and email.

My father, 3000 miles away in NH, would record messages to us on cassette tapes. How we loved getting those tapes! I still have them, and gladly so because today marks the date, 14 years ago, when he died. However, I have never gone back and listened to the tapes I have because it hurt too much to hear his voice. But I still feel glad to have the tapes and save them for my Dad's grandson, Jesse.


when we got to our neighbors' house, the husband, Johnny, an old Polish rancher who'd lived on that ranch every day of his life, helped us put our horses into his barn and we'd loosen the cinches and give them some hay, then we'd trudge across the barnyard to their house.

I'd be carrying the egg cartons containing the eggs I had gleaned from our hens on the ranch. Our neighbors would take these 3 or 4 cartons of eggs to the feed store in Gallup, who would then sell them for us. That was the ONLY amount of money we made during the winter, those few precious dollars from the sale of the eggs I had packed across the back of my saddle's cantle where they'd ridden snug and safe against my lower back, even when my horse had to lunge through snow drifts or had fallen through ice into swiftly running creeks.

In Johnny's house, we'd take off our boots and warm up our toes in their warm kitchen, while Ann, Johnny's wife, warmed up a lunch that often had delicious Polish sausages made from their own ranch beef.

How precious those visits were! We'd hear the news of the outside world and gossip about other neighbors and also hear old stories from Johnny and Ann. They were good folks, and good to us.

Too soon, it was time to bundle back up, take our sack of mail (letters and the Readers Digests that someone had purchased a subscription for us) and put them into our saddle bags, tighten the cinches, snug up our scarves and hug-goodbyes to Johnny and Ann, riding off down the county road until we got to where the snowplow had stopped plowing, then we'd point our horses toward the snowbanks, they'd clamber over and then seek out their own tracks that had been laid down in the snow that morning. Nine miles of hard riding lay between our horses and their warm barn; between us and our cosy cabin; between
our cold fingers on the reins, knitted caps pulled down over ears, and the joy of pouring out the saddlebags onto the big table in the cabin and feasting on news from our families.
This time of year, there'd be Christmas cards, and we'd read over and over the handwritten notes inside. My mother would send news of her family; my sister in Hawaii wrote long letters of her beginning of pregnancy and the dreams that such a blessed event promised (an experience that I would soon learn was also my own!); the Readers Digest held photos of seductive foods displayed for the camera in ways that would lure the reader to purchase Borden's Eagle Brand Condensed Milk and Land O' Lakes butter.

Could the photographers have known that a man and a woman surviving the long winter atop the Continental Divide in NM were drooling over their sumptuous presentations? Were they in New York City or Los Angeles with their cameras and lights while we were packing precious eggs over the miles and through the worst winter that mountainous area had seen in 50 years? I still can see in my recollection's eye the strawberry shortcakes that graced the small pages of the magazine not unlike the Sirens perched on rocks who would send out their song to call in unwary ships to meet their battered end upon the storm-ravaged shore.

While we were eating eating eggs which grew more scarce as the winter continued that year and drinking the milk that I gleaned from the wild Angus range cow, fighting off her hungry calf for just a cup of her precious nectar; while we had only pinto beans, eggs and milk and precious little else We had no flour or condiments, only eggs, milk, butter from a jar of cream --and cream from an Angus cow is little to nothing!-- and pintos. There are only so many ways to cook these ingredients and over the 5 months we were snowed-in, I believe we discovered them all!

We learned again that winter that blessings abound and are easily found in the little nooks and crannies of life.

A card lovingly mailed from far away; a note scribbled in haste before the stamp is licked and applied to the envelope; an extra half-cup of warm milk from the recalcitrant cow who would only allow me to touch her bag while her nose was buried in oats in a pan on the floor; the extra egg from the hens who faced bravely the cold and the tufts of snow that blew in through the cracks in the coop; the lovely, sunny day that allowed us to saddle horses and head out for a long-awaited visit over hot, strong coffee and the laughter that accompanied our visit with old-time ranch folks; yes, even the photo of strawberries and whipped cream and shortcake, that did not fill the belly but did produce the taste within our mouths.

Blessings abound. If all we have is a room, we can look around and know that blessings abound.

It's not hard for me to liken our treks through the drifts toward the shelter of our friends' home at the end of our trail to another trek near Bethlehem so long ago. I, like Mary, was expecting our first child, a son. Our destination was unknown, in that we could have arrived at Johnny's ranch gate only to find them gone to town, in which case, we'd turn our horses around and head back, empty-saddlebagged and disappointed, toward our ranch home.

I can also compare our winter adventures to the lives of us all. We struggle through rough times, find some shelter, shade or warmth once in a while along the trail, but in the end, there is the reward at the end and all troubles are solved, when we accept the offer given by our neighbors (or, as pertains to lifes' struggles, when we accept the hand of the Lord which is extended to every single one of us today). An extended Hand does no good if we do not do our part and accept it. If we'd not accepted the neighborliness of Johnny and Ann, we would have stayed, along with our horses, out in the cold snow, no warm meal and none of the last week's mail!

Merry Christmas to all.

My prayer is that all who read this will accept the extended Hand of Jesus who offers to
give to us the best gift of all: eternal forgiveness and everlasting Love! He has the best shelter of all from the
storm of Life's travails.

With love,

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Who's smarter?

I have a small dog...well, he was supposed to be a small dog, but he's actually more of a medium-sized dog. Or, maybe he's a small dog with a big-dog personality...or perhaps he's a misfit entirely!

Anyway, Mickey is a 3 year old, standard-sized Dachshund. He's as handsome as he can be. He has so much life in that buff body of his, he can be hard to take sometimes. When he wants your attention, you listen! He's the main attaction in any room he's in! (thank you, he'll be here all week!).

I've told his story here before, how Mickey was left tied up in an orchard by some "pickers" when they had to move on. He has a scar all the way around his neck, an intermittent line of white hair against a black coat, to show how long he pulled at the rope he was tied to before some kind person saved him and he ended up in a foster home. My husband and I adopted him because we wanted a Dachshund. Not sure why. Now, I want an older, calm Australian Shepherd. But, that's another story...

I tried to give this dog away AND give him back to his foster home several times in the year after he came to live with us. He must have been meant to live with us. And I knew that IF Mickey were to live with us, I needed to learn how to teach some manners to a rambunctious dog.

And I did! I watched The Dog Whisperer on the Nat-Geo channel and applied Cesar Milan's techniques to my work with Mickey. And I am amazed at how much I can communicate with this energetic dog because of these tools Cesar teaches.

Okay...that's the background.

Over the last two years, I have diligently worked to teach Mickey to sit and WAIT when I open the door to let him and his friend, Quincy, out. Quincy is a dog we got from the rescue place in California six years ago, and despite the fact he'll bite you if you go to pick him up (and by "you" I mean "me!"), he's pretty nigh perfect.

When I say WAIT to Mickey, he is supposed to back off, sit down, and wait until the old Quincy goes first sedately out the door. And this he does, quite admirably. He doesn't do it automatically, but he'll do it all if I say WAIT.
I suspect it's all a game for him anyway.

Now, when my husband goes out the door and doesn't want Mickey to go out with him, I hear all kinds of fussing and fuming and Pete yelling out: "STAY!" "STAY!" "STAY" "I TOLD YOU TO STAY!"

I told Pete, "Don't say STAY! Say WAIT!

You see, it all makes perfect sense in my head. I didn't train Mickey to sit and back off from the door by saying STAY because STAY implies I am asking him to sit and stay there a certain period of time. Mickey is very smart, and I don't want to confuse him.

If I say WAIT, it means he is to wait a moment or two. Then he can go ahead and roar out the door. If I tell him to STAY, I use that at different times, when I actually want him to stay or stay back. Mickey's smart and he knows the difference.

I've told Pete over and over not to yell STAY at Mickey when he is going out the door, but to say, firmly, WAIT. I tell Pete over and over how the dog is trained. It does no good. Pete keeps yelling STAY at Mickey.

Finally, it hit me, yesterday. Since there is no "The Husband Whisperer" on Nat-Geo or any other channel, I just do not have the skills to teach Pete the difference in Stay and Wait.

So, I need to change how I train Mickey. I need to teach him that STAY means WAIT when he is wanting to go outside, but STAY also means STAY when I use it at other times and want him to sit and stay a longer period.

It's confusing, but I think Mickey is smart enough to get it.

At least until Nat-Geo comes out with a new show...

Nausea, a gift from the brainstem...and thoughts on Medicare

I wrote down a note to mention nausea that comes from the brain here. I have this almost every day or evening (usually it comes at bedtime, but can sometimes come earlier). And last night, it came to my attention that this nausea feels different from nausea that is a result of an upset stomach.

There is no upset stomach. There is no reason to take a TUMS or whatever because the stomach is simply not involved.

Due to brainstem compression, this type of nausea attacks many of my online friends who have Chiari Malformation. It's all in the brain. Do you know what I mean? Do you have this as well?

Now, there are times I do feel like throwing up and if I could throw up, I think I'd feel better.
But, I never "can" throw up (sorry). But the nausea comes with that type of thought.

Ginger in a glass with some sugar helps a lot. Or a few sips of ginger ale. I kind of like the glass of ice water, with cubes and a tablespoon of ginger in it, along with some Equal or sugar, it's not too bad.

And lying down and keeping really still.

This type of "brain" nausea is common with people who suffer from dizziness or movement disorders. Chiari is a condition of the cerebellum. In my case, the "chiari" (small "c") is a result of my injury. I've been shown by the neurologist at TCI in New York that the herniation of the cerebellum is pressing against the posterior of my brainstem. And the cerebellum, "they" believe, controls movements. Somehow it all comes full circle and the nausea results. I don't feel like I easily get dizzy, however ever since my injury six years ago (my, how time flies), I must be careful to move my head slowly in grocery stores and not allow my gaze to go back and forth looking for things on crowded shelves...that's a sure producer of nausea and dizziness. I know others who have Chiari Malformation experience this same thing.

Right now, I'm trying to figure out my health insurance. I did have a Medicare Advantage Plan (I have Medicare because I am disabled) and was happy enough with that. But this year, due to the new Health Care Law, a Medicare Advantage Plan is no longer available to us.

I spent some time this morning on the phone with a woman from Medicare as she tried to explain some of this to me, and she stated, "The problem is, a lot of doctors are now no longer taking Medicare. There are no health insurance companies offering Medicare Advantage plans in the NW, in Oregon and WA, any more. And that is true of several states."

This is such a sad state of affairs. The people who needed the help, the disabled and the seniors, who were willing and able to pay a reasonable premium, now do not even have that option. Now, our fees will be greatly increased as our only options become a combination of Medicare Part D (drug plan) and a MediGap/supplemental insurance plan. My own costs will go UP from $120 to $229 a month.

And, I might add, right when my Social Security benefit took a nose-dive with a $400 a month decrease.

We're okay...we can keep plugging along. But I truly feel badly for those people who are living more on the edge than we are. I expect their only options will be to go with just Medicare Part A and suffer the high costs of clinic visits and diagnostic testing, IF they can find a doctor who will take only Medicare.

Medicare has a website, www., and we are told encouragingly to go to that site where they have an interactive program that will give you the names of doctors in your area if you provide your zip code. I did this. I selected to be shown the name of doctors taking Medicare only...and Medicare plus a MediGap plan.

Guess what? No matter what I put into the box, the results came up...


Zero doctors in my area, or within 25 miles of my area, who will accept new patients who are covered by Medicare along, or a MediGap plan. I have a family practice doctor now, but what about when he retires or if he moves? What about people moving into this community?

Only an echo serves as reply.