The Highlight Reel of the Ides of November

It is 6:45 a.m. I went to bed around 11 p.m. last night, after a long conversation with an old friend whom I haven’t had a chance to truly connect with for years (and while we “caught up” last night as if no time had passed, it didn’t feel like the happy reconnection I thought it would), and the dog woke me up at 5 a.m.

At 6:15 a.m., after loading the dishwasher and starting laundry and trying to snuggle dog into a nap with me on the couch, I finally made coffee figuring sleep would not return.

Now, the dog is gently snoring on the other couch.

I definitely would prefer to be a cat versus a dog. The dog seems an anxious and needy creature, where the cat has an attitude and most of them act like they have their shit together.

I haven’t written much this week because my physical and emotional struggles have left me in a survival mode, and upcoming changes at work have me concerned for my long-term success at mastering my cerebral palsy and achieving work/life balance that includes leading Parisian Phoenix Publishing.

And I’m okay with these struggles, they mean I’m human and I’m alive. And I guess I want other people to know that in an age where we “social media” ourselves to death and we’re exposed to worldwide turmoil and glamour, that I’m here with you in the trenches, surviving.

So, Wednesday turned out to be a hard day. We received the official word that starting some time in December, our performance metrics will be judged daily instead of by their weekly average. And that we can miss the daily minimum two days a month. I had already turned up to work crying because of stress in my everyday life. (Which only my friend in the parking lot saw. Speaking of my friend in the parking lot… she needs a nickname as she will play a larger roll in this blog post and hopefully appear more. I think I shall call her Southern Candy, because her roots are in the Southern United States and she likes to pass out hard candy.)

Now, after my neurologist/physiatrist appointment on November 9, (see Is it Time for Botox), I filed for Intermittent Leave from work which would allow me job protection if my work missed increases due to complications from my disability or more doctor’s appointments. I now have a lot of doctor’s appointments. With recent changes at work, I seem to have triggered a couple neuromas in my right foot, which my podiatrist shot with cortisone (See The Stabby Toe and the Challenging Gait), and unbeknownst to me, as I had never had cortisone to me, this transformed my good leg into a second bad leg.

It absolutely removed all my pain, but — and this is probably why my podiatrist asked when I planned on returning to work and seemed satisfied that “tomorrow” would give me adequate time to recover– it made it impossible to control and rely on my right leg as I typically do. BUT I can also say it made me acutely aware of how I use my legs and unfairly make my right leg carry more than its share of the movement burden which is why my right hip has issues.

My left leg “scissors” causing my left knee to pretty much cross in front of my right leg when I walk (and yes, that is as awkward as it sounds) but now my right foot drags, causing my toes to curl under my foot. I have compensated for this change in walking pattern by buying cowboy boots. Not real ones, but ones we sell at work: the Kassy boot by DV by Dolce Vita. (Unboxing on YouTube here.) They allow me to hear my walk, feel my foot, and not step on my toes.

At our weekly meeting, our supervisors announce the metric change. I understand their logic. They plan workloads daily so they should measure results daily, simply put. And as this change rolls out, I’m confident the company will “do the right thing” in implementing it. I’ve been there two years, so they have investment in me as I have investment in them.

On my good days, I average 101% to 103%. But on my bad days, without some extra support that minimizes my physical struggle, I average 95%. So with the weekly average system, I’m still a “fully performing” employee. On a really bad day, which happens ironically about once or twice a month as their new system will allow, I give everything I can and sometimes only hit 85%.

Now, unlike some of my colleagues, I am also on a work roster that has changed shifts twice in the last calendar year. Yes, I have had three different work schedules in the last year: Monday to Friday, 3:30 p.m. to midnight; then Sunday to Wednesday, 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Monday to Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All very different.

Add a neurological condition to that and it’s hard to adapt. When they offered Voluntary Time Off on Wednesday, allowing us to leave three hours early, I took it. My emotional state would best be labeled as frazzled and my right hamstring had started bothering me, probably because it felt like my right leg was a useless tree trunk.

Here is the happy part. The kindness part. The part where the light shines from one person to another. Thursday morning, I get a text from Southern Candy at 5 a.m. “Stop by my car when you get to work.”

She gave me a cat figurine. A cat in frilly dress with pink bloomers, staring into a goldfish bowl that even included a goldfish.

“I know you had a hard day yesterday, and it made me think of you.”

I brought it home and placed it on one of my Parisian Phoenix bookshelves. A place I can see from my workspace at the table and/or when I’m having dinner.

To skip ahead, I’ve been thinking it’s time to record and place a request for permanent accommodations at work. By Friday morning, when one of my colleagues said he’d like to help me out with the easier work but too many people had doctor’s notes, I decided to email my supervisor. So he and I now will try to make that happen. Around the same time, my neurologist’s office called to see if they could move my December 6 appointment to December 9. The times they offered overlap with a preexisting doctor’s appointment I have.

And my intermittent leave needs to be certified by December 9. I returned their call, expressed my regret that those appointments would not work, and asked the person on the phone to please leave a message for the doctor and her nurse that my employer had sent paperwork and that I would have more paperwork and that I would gladly pay any associated fees.

I also wanted to mention I am trying to eliminate inflammatory foods from my diet, but that can wait until I see her. I am wondering if I should request to work with a dietician and get a new set of bloodwork to check not only the standards like iron and cholesterol but also vitamins like B12.

I’ve done really well not stress eating in the ten days since I’ve seen her, eating vegetarian baked beans at work yesterday while my colleagues ate piping hot pizza. My weight is slowly dropping.

I’ve eaten no junk food in the break room, choosing fruit leather and yogurt over Cool Ranch Doritos and fancy fruit snacks. I even reduced my caffeine intake. Yesterday for dinner I made thick egg sandwiches with eggplant, mozzarella and extra sharp cheddar on my favorite multigrain buns and a little chipotle mayo and avocado hot sauce. One for dinner and two to go in the freezer for work lunches this week.

Although I know my perceptions are faulty, I feel like my only success this week has been with Andrew at Apex Training. I got my gym sweatshirt, and the dog immediately jumped on me and coated it with mud so I don’t have a decent selfie… yet. But these guys at the gym have been a lifesaver. Andrew works so hard to meet my needs and come up with innovative exercises to challenge me and train my muscles to cooperate. I did a seated shoulder press this week with 30 lb dumbbells, which ignited my inner strength as my lower body becomes more useless.

I discussed my hamstring troubles and we did some balance exercise yesterday. Andrew thought I was going to stand on the balance trainer and hold a weight on one side to create instability in my stance. Then, he saw me try to stand on the ball. And we opted to practice that first.

Finally, I asked The Teenager to check on Foster Kittens Jean-Paul Sartre and Giorgio in their habitat at Petsmart. I will see them today but it brought my heart joy to see that they are doing fine.

Defining Friendship

Yes, this is another philosophical piece spurred by the death of my father. And it seems appropriate to use his passing as a reason to explore friendship, as the teenager says, because everywhere he went he made a friend.

One of my fellow crazy cat ladies brought me a matcha latte— having seen this social media post:

And several friends and in-laws have offered food or services (letting the dog out, making cookies trays or fried chicken for guests). I even have a sympathy sushi meal later today.

My college roommate, whom my dad called “Curly,” will be arriving from the Baltimore suburbs this afternoon.

Poppop couldn’t go anywhere without making a friend.

The teenager

So it makes me wonder— and remember— how many people gather around me in a crisis, even if I can’t always find someone for the everyday ups and downs.

Maybe the notion of friendship is not about how available someone is all the time, but who reaches out without prodding when you don’t even know how much you need it.

The Doodle Box: Celebrating Joy, Friendship and Playfulness at the Bizzy Hizzy

Deep thanks to the doodling diva Gayle for sharing her talent with me

Stitch Fix is a strange place to work— of course, as a warehouse job it is highly metrics driven and monotonous but the environment encourages “authentic self” as the voice of every member of the team.

We don’t even have a human resource department. We have a “people and culture” team. So traditional HR is referred to as P&C in Stitch Fix jargon.

My therapist had to pause and ponder that one.

But thanks to Covid, each employee has their own “processing box” as we are discouraged from sharing tools. Every person gets a tagging gun, a box cutter, scissors, a lint brush, and this odd little sponge. The box itself is a discarded A6 envelope box from style carding.

And some people, if they gather more tools, graduate to a shoe box.

I asked Gayle to decorate mine as my attempt to adorn mine with stickers failed. My new box attracted much admiration and makes me happy as I gaze upon it.

The first foster departs

And now there are four.

We have four cats.

We have four birds.

We have four foster kittens.

Our five kitten litter that we are fostering for Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab, that we named after Greek gods and nicknamed “the Greek Pride,” is approaching 5 months old.

Artemis, now Artemus, was the most social and the most cuddly of the group. Today, he went home with his new family.

I’m glad it was a busy day, and I’m also glad Artemus’ sibling is a therapy cat with his own Facebook page because this allows me to keep up with Artemus’ adjustment to his new home.

Sketch & Artemus (Marshall on the stairs)

I even saw a video!

My heart started today with a touch of sadness so I’m glad I spent the day with people I enjoy.

  • Yesterday I took all the carrots we received during the summer food program and diced them in the Ninja.
  • Nan came over to work in the morning and eventually we plan to do a Mother Maiden Crone themed piece, discussing a multi-generational experience of the pandemic.
  • Nan and I sneaked to the drive through for cold beverages, but we only spent $2 and some change.
  • The teenager and I spent a lot of time cleaning so there may be a tidy home in our future.
  • The teenager’s father brought me my favorite chicken salad and not one but TWO quarts of half and half from Aldi.
  • My mother-in-law brought picnic leftovers.
  • My stepmom gave me fresh cantaloupe that she says is the best she ever had in her life.
  • The teenager and I started watching the documentary Pick of the Litter on Netflix.

As if this wasn’t enough joy for today, the teenager and I hung out with Darnell and Amber tonight— trading some of my unfiltered chicken stock (tomorrow I will strain it and bring him his official portion) for some leftover chili.

After some work (yes, even though it is a holiday), we had some raucous and fun conversation over margaritas and a home cooked meal.

And we all know how I appreciate a meal.

Tomorrow might be as zany as today, but I’m ready.

Our own Walking Purchase: Forest Bathing

I asked Gayle if she could think of an outdoor, quarantine-appropriate activity for the three of us— herself, me and the teenager.

She suggesting “forest-bathing” at Salisbury Township’s Walking Purchase Park.

According to Gayle’s research, forest-bathing is:

Forest bathing is the practice of slowly moving they the woods involving all senses. As you gently walk you breath deeply and it reduces stress, increase positive thinking, and energy levels.

Why not?

The park features several trails. We walked part of the yellow “Sweet Delight” trail and part of the red “Lenni” trail.

Gayle was disappointed we only walked about 2.5 miles, but I think the last mile was straight up hill— about 18 flights of stairs according to the Apple Health app.

Forest-bathing yielded a very Thoreau sounding journal entry for me.

I am surrounded by unblooming May flowers hearing the buzz of gnats as they swarm into my ears. There are birds chattering like squealing monkeys. The train hollers in the distance: a choo-choo bird.

A breeze cascades across the woods, a floral wave of rain drops and sunlight. I revel in the stillness.

The woods around me has a conversation, but as a human, can I learn the language?

When we got home, the teenager baked her grandmother’s famous corn bake— a recipe I believe she got in high school home ec classes. So it’s got to be 50+ years old.

Feeling the love

The work stress hit me hard this morning so I did something I don’t normally do— I admitted that I needed some emotional support on Facebook.

It is my birthday after all.

At least four of my former bosses sent words of encouragement and one brought some edible arrangements fruit to my house.

Several neighbors sent well-wishes, one of whom got me not one but TWO drinks from Dunkin’. Which, now that I have had three of the matcha lattes, I have decided that Dunkin doesn’t make their matcha strong and chunky the way I like it.

One colleague FaceTimed with me on a coffee break and most of them sent email greetings as Mr. Accordion had no doubt alerted them to my advancing years. Or levels.

The teenager and her father are off to pick up the popcorn fundraiser. Her father offered to bring me dinner.

I will be finishing my G journal if not tonight then tomorrow— and I believe a fresh journal means a new chapter.

For more on my birthday adventures:

Kicking off my birthday

Pre-Birthday Magic

Joy Is

Yesterday I allowed myself to eat my feelings—in the form of a Buffalo Chicken Specialty Pizza with spinach instead of onions (six slices), Parmesan bread bites (probably half the order), and sweet BBQ bacon specialty chicken (again probably half the order) from my good friends at Dominos. I’ve had the same “delivery specialist” the last two orders. And my last order was on Thursday.

And I washed it down with a big glass of Two Rivers Brewing Bankers Brown Ale. But I must say, my cockatoo, Nala, approves of my bad decisions. Click on the link under the photo to see Nala playing with the empty box.

Nala playing

That was not a healthy way to deal with stress. But it’s over and done and it felt so good in the moment.

Bad decisions often do.

But today was a new day and I don’t surrender. So, I bring to you a list of the things that brought me joy today.

1. My professional peer Lynn from another non-profit locally reached out to me today on Facebook. We had a lovely Zoom chat on my lunch hour and discovered in addition to our journalistic pasts, we also both have three-legged cats. Go figure.

2. One of my colleagues sent me a photo of the tree from the courtyard at our office.

On this dark, damp day (over the course of which my toes NEVER got warm despite my super thick winter socks), this photo put my day right from the get-go. Why?

Because it’s a magnolia tree. We had a magnolia tree in our yard when I was young— and as my work colleague observed—the extremely short life span of its flowers makes them somehow more special. I used to climb the one in my girlhood home and I love the silky feel of the petals as they tumble to the ground.

3. I’m working on a last minute state grant. A food recovery infrastructure grant that could buy our agency a new commercial freezer. The state representative I’ve been working with has been so nice and so responsive, I told him it’s truly been a pleasure to work with him and he told me I made his day.

From a grant I’m working on

I shared the proposal with the mentor my boss appointed to me, and he liked it and pointed out some areas where I could strengthen it. I also asked some connections for a letter of support and I received a truly heartwarming letter from one.

So, regardless of what happens, I feel good about the work I do.

4. My daughter spent the day helping her grandmother with yard work. I’m proud my daughter doesn’t mind physical labor. She sent me this text:

Mom.

Mom.

Mom.

Look what I got.

Yes, an old broom

Now, my daughter and I will bless this broom as part of her spiritual journey. A witch’s broom.

And finally, this one isn’t from today, but…

5. I found these jars in the garage. And they are really pretty.

That’s all I need to find joy.

Hope and light come in unexpected places

I chose my current employer based on the flexibility I wanted for school, travel and motherhood. And for the most part, I like my job. Sometimes, people frustrate me but many of my regulars can uplift my spirits. Especially the children.

I’m a good old reliable person. I tend to get assigned duties that the average peon might not do, and I don’t mind, it keeps my mind engaged. I like my immediate team and my supervisor is incredibly down-to-earth and full of common sense.

The last few weeks have been challenging. We’ve increased our production, changed routines, and even experienced equipment difficulties. But our team weathers it well.

Today, I took a turn cashiering, not my usual gig, but I don’t mind doing what needs to be done. For a while, as I covered breaks for the regular cashiers, the lines got pretty intense as I was the sole person ringing.

In the middle of one of those lines, a truly beautiful woman approached. She seemed a couple years older than me, in a white dress with a subtle pink pattern. I believe it was a classy princess seamed dress. She had short dark hair. She brought a several pieces of jewelry to the counter with her other purchases.

She was full of so much positive energy.

“May I ask your opinion?” she asked.

“Sure,” I replied.

She showed me item #1. A friendship necklace. “I am buying this for a friend.”

She showed me item #2. A necklace with family charms. “I have another friend who is really close, and I consider her family. Is that cheesy?”

“No,” I said. “I think it shows the depth of your feeling. I would do the same thing and I would be touched if I were your friend.”

“I’ll do it,” she said.

We continued to chit chat as I rang up her purchases and at the end I heard her say something about offering me a bracelet.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“May I give you a breast cancer awareness bracelet?”

She pulled this big bag of pink bracelets from her bag.

“Sure,” I said. “I know some survivors and some people fighting.”

“I’m fighting as hard as I can,” she said.

Then I realized. She had short hair. She was very thin. She had a band-aid over what was probably her medication port. We chatted some more and I wished her luck. I told her I would be thinking of her often and if she ever needed support I normally worked in the cafe and she should come see me.

“I might take you up on that,” she said.

“Please do,” I said.

She brought light into my life and made me humble. Good luck to you, wherever you are.