9 Items to Improve Life a Little

This post is about a few of the items in my life that I really appreciate. It’s the stuff that I find myself using quite regularly or that I need to turn to in cases of sickness or emergency.

socks

  1. Wool socks. I can’t say enough about wool socks. Living in Canada, my opinion is that they are absolutely essential for comfort in the winter months and even to put on before bed on the cool summer evening. I’m not talking about acrylic or cotton. I’m talking about a high percentage of lambs wool or merino wool and a bit of stretchy stuff like nylon and Lycra. There is a huge difference between wool and acrylic and cotton. Wool remains warm even when wet.  Cotton is worse than useless when wet. You can buy wool socks in various thicknesses and heights, from no see-ems to all the way up to, and even over the knee. One of my favourite brands is out of Vermont and is called ‘Darn Tough’. These socks are 100% lifetime guaranteed. In damp weather, wool socks are essential. I always bring wool socks with me when travelling, even to the tropics.  On an aircraft, when the floor is cold, put them on.  In Cuba we had a day of rain and the weather chilled down.  I wore my capris with wool knee-socks.  Cute! Heading out into a snowy day, thick wool socks will keep your feet toasty. If you haven’t tried wool socks yet, give them a try and then let me know.burts bees.jpg
  2. Burts bees lip balm. It’s the best lip balm that I have ever come across and it has peppermint in the original flavour which brings a nice tingle to the lips.  It is expanding into different colours and flavours.  In fact, one time I had a bit of a mishap with a coloured one…Trying Something New ?? (age 38) 💋 which was pretty funny.coconut oil
  3. Coconut oil. I use coconut oil to remove my make up, to slather on after a shower, to soften my bath water, to sooth a rash or a razor burn and to cook with.  It is even my sunscreen, providing a natural SPF of 5. (I also use a shirt, hat and sarong on long days in the sun.) I am not much for commercial sunscreens but, will use them in a pinch.  I just don’t like how they feel on my skin. There are recipes for natural, coconut oil based sunscreens with a much higher SPF due to the addition of various oils.  For example: carrot seed oil has SPF 38-40; red raspberry seed oil has SPF 28-50. I keep little decorative pots of coconut oil in the bathrooms and a large pot by the stove. It is wonderful stuff.  If you have a sore ear, lay down with the sore ear up. Put a small lump of coconut oil at the opening of your ear and it will melt and drip into your sore ear. Keep it there for about 20 minutes. This is always helped me relieve a sore ear.  An Ayurveda teacher who spoke at the ashram that I wrote about here: Ashram Rant 🕉 told us to put a bit of coconut oil, at the opening of your nostrils and then just gently sniff it in and it will melt and coat the inside of your nose. This will help with relieving dryness there especially in the winter months or in arid climates.  One last treat is to use coconut oil in your coffee. Just stir in a teaspoon along with your cream.  Now taste the exotic smoothness of it.  So lovely.carabiner
  4. Carabiner Hook.  I was in the army for a number of years and wrote about it here: I’m In the Army Now … 🔫  The army is a great place to learn about good gear that makes your life just that much easier, especially when you’re living in a state of panic for weeks on end.  Have you ever thrown your keys into your briefcase, backpack or purse only to later have to completely empty it in order to find them? With a carabiner hook on your key chain, you can simply hook your keys onto a belt loop, bra strap, backpack strap…you get the idea.  Solved.
  5. Refillable Water bottle. I take a full bottle of chilled water with me almost every where I go. In Australia, I would have perished without my Nalgene water bottle, even though the water was hot when I went to drink it. We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28) 🦇 Saves having to buy a drink when I feel thirsty.  I keep home-filled bottles of water in the car in each cup holder too.  This saves money and helps with the plastic trash problem on the planet and in our oceans.  Another good trick though, is to find a public bathroom, wash your hands and then collect water in your two scooped hands and drink from your hands.  Another alternative is the LifeStraw http://lifestraw.com/  with a LifeStraw you can drink bog water and still be alive to tell about it.  I learned about LifeStraw on a TED talk.  Awesome product.Jaden-Sunning
  6. Sarong.  Going to the beach?  Take a sarong to sun-bathe on.  They are so pretty and not so absorbent as terry cloth towels.  They therefore dry much faster and are much lighter weight.  I learned about the benefits of beaching with a sarong while in Mexico, which I wrote about here: La Cucaracha Report – Mexico 🇲🇽 We had done a long beach walk from Sayulita to San Pancho.  When we got there, little 4- year-old Leo was pooped and I laid him down on my red sarong after he drank the coconut water from a freshly cut coconut.  He had a lovely little nap under a palm tree.  I then walked into the little village to buy another one for Dean and I to sit on. I still have the yellow one today, after 13 years and a bit of mending now and then. It has so many wonderful memories absorbed in it, I can not part with it. A sarong is also a very useful sunscreen or a light blanket to shield against over air-conditioning  (don’t get me started on that!).  In the photo above is my son, Leo, in Nicaragua being sun-screened with my sarong. (La Cucaracha Report from Nicaragua 🇳🇮) Of course, it can be used as a dress or a skirt or even a shirt, if necessary.tick spoon
  7. Tick spoon.  We came across this wonderful little tool when we lived in Virginia (which I wrote about in Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳), where we became quite aware of ticks and their habits and dangers. Here is the website for the tick spoon https://www.tickedoff.com/  We have used it several times to get a nasty tick off of us and our dogs and it can be added to your key chain or carabiner and then clipped to your backpack. forearm stand var
  8. Manduka yoga mat.  I had worn out several yoga mats before I finally got fed up and decided I needed to invest in a better quality one.  The Manduka is that.  It is guaranteed for life. https://www.manduka.com  I’m liking these guaranteed-for-life products.  I have two of these mats, the lighter weight one for travel which I used for 500 Yoga Teacher Training which I wrote about here: Ashram Rant 🕉 and the heavier one for home and studio.  In the picture I am doing pincha mayurasana (pincha my WHAT??! ha ha) forearm-stand variation on my lighter-weight green one.  There is not a single nick in either mat after hours and hours of yoga practice. Namaste to that!castiron pans
  9. Cast-iron pans. A guy I worked with when serving tables which I wrote about here: A Simple East-Coast Life told me of the benefits — added iron to your food– and flavour to be derived from cooking in cast iron.  I knew about the flavour because Mom had used cast-iron at  The Camp ⛺️ to cook up a feed of fish and a feed of bull-frogs (yep!).  Lots of butter or lard and you’re all set.  Coconut oil works well in curries.  Making sure your pans are well-seasoned and oiled is essential. We found all of our cast-iron pans at yard sales.  They were slightly rusty but not beyond a good scrubbing with steel wool and then re-seasoning.  Cast-iron can also go outside on the fire and can be used in the oven for baking or to melt cheese on something under the broiler.  They are heavy pans which do require maintenance (oil after use), but, they are oh so good.  We also have a gas range.  Couple cooking over gas flame with the awesomeness of cast-iron and it’s a real winner.

So, that’s it for now on my good gear items…Thank you for stopping by.  ~M

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TO INFINITY…AND BEYOND! 💥

For audio file please email playinwiththeplayers@gmail.com or comment below

My son, Leo’s favourite toy of all time was Buzz Lightyear, the action figure who emerged from the 1995 block buster movie Toy Story.  He wanted the action figure very badly.  We would make special trips to the toy store just to look at them and imagine owning one.  The weird thing was that we had more than enough money to buy one but, at the time, I just didn’t think it would be good for Leo to have everything he wanted. The Buzz Lightyear action figures were retailing for about $75 plus tax, at the time.  I thought that it would be too much to just go ahead and buy him one.  Don’t worry, Leo didn’t want for much.  He had a lot of toys and his own room with a double bed, a hand-made quilt with a space theme from two of his Aunts in Newfoundland, and, he had me all to himself as I was a full-time stay-home mom for his first five years.  He was much loved.  I just didn’t want to spoil him.  There’s a fine line.

BuzzOne day, Auntie Bonnie came to visit and we decided to head to Kitchener for the day and go thrift shopping at Value Village and then have lunch.  Thrift shopping is so much fun.  The thrill of the hunt for something of great value at a low, low price.

We were wheeling our way around the store.  Leo was getting a ride in the cart and as I say, we were just getting warmed up when…low and behold, on a shelf with many other toys…there was…

NONE OTHER THAN…

CAN YOU GUESS???

YES!

BUZZ LIGHTYEAR!!!  The one and only.  And the exact size of the ones he had seen at the toy store.

Suddenly, everything slowed waaaaaay down.  There were a few other people in the same aisle. If you can believe it, there was a boy closing in on the same area where we were.  The boy was looking at Buzz.  My hand was reaching.  His hand was reaching.  I didn’t want to muscle a toy away from someone much, much smaller than I, but then…

the boy reached for the frisbee instead. Whew!

My hand grasped the cool hard plastic of the toy’s mid-section.  I held him up.  He was perfect, except that someone else had loved him quite well before. It was obvious. Because he was missing a boot.

Leo didn’t care.  He grasped Buzz and hugged him tight.  ‘My own Buzz, Mommy?’ he asked.  ‘Yes, sweetheart, your own Buzz.’  He was one happy little gaffer that day.

Buzz did not leave Leo’s chubby fingers for days.  It was as if he was glued there. If someone asked about the missing boot, he simply explained that Buzz had lost a boot on a dangerous space mission and then he would hold Buzz tight and sail him over his head with a sonic whooshing sound, ‘To infinity and beyond!’

One day, Leo was running in our house on the ceramic tile and took a spill.  There went Buzz, flying across the room and smashing on the tile.  When Leo retrieved him, he was missing an arm.

I did a bit of research and found out that the Disney Thinkway Toy Company had an office located in Markham, Ontario which was just around the corner form Dean’s office at IBM.  I called the company and explained that we needed some repairs done on a very much loved Buzz Lightyear toy. They said to simply bring it in and leave it with them for about ten days.  They would see what they could do.  We explained to Leo that Buzz had to go in for repairs.  After awhile, Leo understood and said goodbye to Buzz.

The next day, just before they closed, Dean walked into the Disney Thinkway office with the old Buzz.  The man behind the counter said, ‘You must be the people who called about repairs to an older Buzz Lightyear.’  Dean nodded and held up Leo’s Buzz.  The man nodded knowingly, seeing the missing boot and missing arm.  He then said, ‘I told my boss about your wife’s call and how your son loves Buzz so much,’…the man then reached under the counter and handed a shiny brand new Buzz to Dean.  No charge, as long as they could have the old toy to study.  Dean gladly surrendered old Buzz.

Leo awoke in the morning with the shiny new Buzz beside him. You never saw such a happy youngster. Not wanting to run with Buzz anymore, he shuffled into our room and sang out, ‘it’s morning time Mom and guess what?  Buzz is all fixed up!’

buzz2
Leo’s drawing of Buzz Lightyear.  Age 5.

Little Saw-Tooth 🐾

‘I’m your friend, Okay. And as your friend, I gotta be honest with you. I don’t care about you or your problems.’

~Chloe the Cat
The Secret Life of Pets

We adopted a tabby kitten from a friend in Polar River, NWT (where we lived in 1993 and I wrote about here: North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️  She was a tiny cat, but she was mighty. We named her Sahtu after the region by that name in the Arctic, but, perhaps we should have called her SAW-TOOTH, as one of my nephews would call her.

We were living in Inuvik then and in the midnight sun of the summer, insects grow freakishly large.  Sahtu learned to hunt by catching the massive dragonflies in mid-flight. She would jump up and grab them in her two front paws. Then… she would eat them, turning her sweet head to one side and crunch as she used her chewing teeth to devour her catch.

tabby and dragonfly

The first night she was with us, she slept on the fridge. She was tiny and she had never seen two big dogs before. Within a matter of days, however, she was completely in charge of the dogs.  We had an old couch that the three of them would share.  Sahtu would put her two dainty paws on Delta

Delta or on Grizzly and she would knead their abdomens.  She would sometimes receive a nice big lick but never a growl. The odd time, not wanting her attentions, Delta or Grizz would quietly get up and vacate the couch to her. The dogs just loved her. They were ten times bigger, and could kill her with one powerful shake, or one lazy bite, but they were mush in her green-eyed gaze.

We moved to Toronto after that, all five of us, and had this great three-story brick house at Birchmount and The Danforth.  I am fond of saying that we were in the North Beaches, but those who know Toronto, know we were actually in Scarborough. (This hilarious story happened while we were living there: A Buttertart and a Kiss 😘 (31) ) There was a large, leafy shotgun fenced-in yard that the dogs would run the length of to chase their nemeses: SQUIRRELS, barking all the way.  Never, of course, catching them.  GrizzlyThey should have recruited tiny Sahtu.  She could catch anything.  When Dean was studying and inevitably scrunching waste paper into balls, Sahtu would come a-running, the first time was out of curiosity at this new sound, the scrunching sound. Then Dean tossed the ball of paper high into the air and Sahtu executed a four foot high jump and twist to catch that ball of paper. After that, it became a game to her and a marvel to see.  She had one lithe, muscular little body.

We had a little window over the kitchen sink that we would leave open for her to come and go.  She was a happy little cat. We would put a bowl of food in a cupboard and we quickly taught her how to open the cupboard door.  In she would go to eat in peace. Her food remained safe from the dogs.

The next year we moved to Virginia. Sahtu would come walking and hiking with us sometimes. My friend Nancy and her girls found it quite remarkable. We would be hiking through the woods and Sahtu would be following behind. We had a little bell on her which helped us keep track of her.  Her cool feline presence added to the experience of hiking in the woods.  (While we were living in Virginia, our son came along and this story ensued: Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳 and Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 )

This one time, after we moved back from Virginia, to Milton, Ontario, we were living in an apartment out on highway 25 in the countryside.  Going away for a few days, with our little guy, Leo and the two dogs, we decided to leave Sahtu the cat with the young guy who lived in the apartment beneath us.  We told him that if he left the low door window open, Sahtu could come and go and to simply keep her food and water full. After our weekend away, we returned to find what looked like blood and guts everywhere in the large front entryway and on the walls up to about four feet high.   We found Buddy and asked what had happened, fearing the worst.

Eyes bulging out of his head to emphasis his words, he goes, ‘Man, that cat of yours is some kind of mean and cruel hunter.’

‘What do ya mean?  Little Sahtu?’ we asked, in harmony.

Still with the overly wide eyes, Buddy says, ‘Well, she may be tiny but she is deadly!  She caught a rabbit, bigger than her, and she jumped through the door window with it in her jaws! When I came out here it was half dead jumping around trying  to escape her and it was bleeding EVERYWHERE.  I had to get my hockey stick to kill it and put it out of it’s misery’.  I am quite certain that Buddy had no idea what he was getting into upon agreeing to ‘watch’ Sahtu.

tabby cat posingAnother time, after we moved into our new house, we needed to have some electrical work done.  My eldest brother Matt came over to do the work. Downstairs we had this huge basement which had a workroom at one end, which was unfinished with an open ceiling and a utility room at the other end, which also was unfinished with an open ceiling.  From time to time, we would notice little Sahtu going up into the space between the ceiling and the main floor.  She would often start in one end and come out the other, having done her rounds, looking at us as if to say, ‘Okay, my duty is done.  Everyone can rest easy now.’

So, when Matt was having trouble telling a complex funny story while also pulling wire from the workroom to the utility room, he was getting frustrated because the wire just wouldn’t go through.  His story came to a halt.  I said, ‘Wait a minute.  Maybe Sahtu can pull the wire.’  So Dean ran to get her little metal bowl full of kibble and added a bit of fresh  and fragrant roast beef. I tied a light-weight piece of cord onto her collar. We then put her up to the opening in the workroom ceiling and…in she went.  Quickly, quickly, Dean, Matt and I then clambered through the rec room to the other open-ceiling room where we shook her food bowl, making the distinct sound that she knew and loved — we often shook her food bowl to entice her to come inside the house. Within a couple of moments  guess who’s green eyes we could see coming? Little Sahtu.  Matt was very impressed and for a few moments we tossed around the idea of putting little Sahtu on the payroll and hiring her out to pull wire at other jobs.

Another testament to her hunting prowess was the time our old Army friend, Nee asked if we could bring her along to his cottage in Haliburton because it had become infested with mice.  ‘Absolutely!’  We arrived at the cottage, in tandem with Nee.  Just as he was unlocking the cottage door, I said, ‘Let’s put Little Sahtu inside first and see what happens.’

‘Really?’ Nee asked, skeptical. ‘Okay.’

We opened the door a crack and put Little Sahtu inside.

A split second later she came out with a wriggling mouse in her jaws and promptly ATE it, head first.  All but the tail and the gizzard.  Such a delicate little thing.  All night long she battled the infestation in that cottage.  There were minor crashes and thumps and bumps as she became the scourge of the Haliburton mice.

Koshlong

A few years later, we sadly lost our Little Sahtu.  We aren’t absolutely sure, and we never found her body or any other evidence, but there was a massive bald eagle scoping her out as she herself hunted in a field.

The circle of life sucks sometimes.

We miss her.

(Cat photos courtesy of google images)

 

~Like what you’re reading? Leave a comment, a like or a follow.  Cheers. ~M

Trying Something New ?? (age 38) 💋

When we first moved to our sweet little tidal town in Nova Scotia, it was before itunes and netflix.  For entertainment, we would go downtown to rent videos and DVDs from a little place called L&S Video.  L&S had an amazing collection and going there to pick out a video was a bit of a social experience because the four people who worked there, including the owner, were engaging, knowledgeable and pretty hilariously entertaining.

So, one Friday evening I found myself at L&S looking at options for Dean and I to watch after little Leo was in bed.  It was a Friday evening so many folks, strangers, friends and acquaintances were coming and going and I was just having a fun ole time engaging with quite a few people — all of us in good moods due to it being Friday night and with the whole weekend ahead of us.

Nick was working that night and he was en forme .  We were talking and bantering back and forth about various movies.  I would say something profound like: you know the movie with that guy?  And he would say: oh ya, TROY. Then I would be like: exactly.  Nick was amazing.  He knew all the movies, plot lines, actors.  It was as if he worked in a video store or something.

At some early point in the hour that I spent that evening at L&S, I was squatting down looking at a low shelf of vids and reaching into my pocket, proceeded to put on my lip balm.  My lips had been pretty chapped and my favourite lip balm: Burt’s Bees, just felt so nice to slather on.  Somewhat absentmindedly, I ensured that it was on real good.  I put it all along the top of my lips and lip edge and all along the bottom of my lips and lip edge not staying within the lines at all. Then I did it again, just to be sure.  My lips tingled. The peppermint in Burt’s Bees actually caused lip-tingling.  I loved it.

I stood up with my selection: I, Robot.  (I LOVE Will Smith).  I didn’t actually exit the store as of yet though.  There were so many friends to talk to and banter with.  As I was talking and visiting with them though, I got the feeling that something was slightly wrong.  I was getting some looks and double takes.  Hmm.  Strange.  Maybe it was because I was looking super hot that night.  I was wearing my new jacket and my hair.  Well, it was a good hair day.  That must be it.  So, I stayed a bit longer.  It was busy in there.  I was on fire!

At the check out, Nick had a wee smirk on his face.  I thanked him for all of his expertise, yet again and wished him a great night.

Off I drove home.  Pulling into the driveway, I smoothed my good hair in the rear-view mirror.

AND

THEN

I

SAW

MY

LIPS

THERE WAS BLACK GUNK ALL OVER and AROUND MY LIPS.  Much like bad makeup on a sad clown. Reaching into my pocket for my beloved Burt’s Bees, I realized my mistake.  I had used my black-tinted Burt’s Bees Lip Balm instead of the clear one.  Anger rose within while my face reddened and I scrubbed the black lip balm off while my mind clicked through the dozens of townsfolk I had encountered with my very badly done sad clown lips.  Still sitting in the car, I grabbed my cell phone and called Nick at L&S Video.

Why the hell didn’t you tell me???? I shouted at him.

Pause, muffled chuckling.

I thought you were trying something new, he said.

EXTREME MORTIFICATION ensued.

twirl

Exiting the Arctic ☃️

Having lived three years above the Arctic Circle, Dean’s acceptance into a post-grad program in Toronto sees us driving South on Boxing Day 1996…

On boxing day of 1996 we packed up our tiny little three cylinder Chevrolet Sprint hatchback aptly named Puny, put our two big northern dogs in the backseat (Delta and Grizzly), and started our 7000 km, eight day trip south west to Toronto.  Dean was enrolled in the very expensive nine month intensive Information Technology program at a downtown Toronto school called Information Technology Institute (iti).  We had spent three years above the Arctic Circle living in Arctic Red River first and then Inuvik after that.  We had had good employment and a great group of friends but, it was time to move on and start something new.

As we rolled out of Inuvik on the Dempster Highway, in the dead and dark of winter and -35 Celsius, we were not unaware of the risk of travel for the first 800 kms of this road trip south to Dawson City Yukon with just one gas station at Eagle Plains, about half way.  The moonlight shone above us and lighted the way over North America’s most northerly and remote highway, which in fact is actually a gravel road.  It was a good omen, I thought, that moon.  It was sure to be a fine trip with a moon like that shining above us and leading us on.

Just to give some idea of our situation in the car.  We had huge Canada Goose parkas on. Large layered mittens, a toque each and Sorel boots rated to -60.  It being so bitingly cold outside, our little car could not keep up.  We just broke even for heat, which means, we were quite chilly for the first couple of days.  Few people had cell phones back then.  A friend in Inuvik had given us his cell phone in case we ran into an emergency.

Not long into the trip, we realized that our front windshield was frosting up, even though the fan and heat were turned on high.  It didn’t take much to figure out that the fan had stopped working.  Our focal point out the front of the car was rapidly diminishing.  I wanted to turn back and get it fixed.  Dean said no, we could do that in Dawson.  Just then Delta and Grizzly lunged into the front seat, their heads and shoulders anyway, because they had seen a heard of caribou moving methodically across the dim tundra.  Our wee vehicle was surrounded by their graceful presence. (Like the picture below, only dark outside).  We felt honoured to be in the midst of their serenity. Delta and Grizzly just wanted to give chase.  On we rolled.

caribou on highway, Dempster Highway, snow, winter
Dempster Highway, caribou crossing, late winter

We pulled into Dawson City Yukon and it was -45 degrees Celcius.  Nothing was open in town so we retreated to the corner of the highway and stayed in a motel there.  Carefully plugging in our car so that there would be every chance that it would start in the morning.  After a satisfying turkey dinner, hot shower and good night’s sleep we breakfasted and clambered back into Puny.  Dead.  Upon examination of the cord we found that someone had stepped on it (probably me) and with the cold, it had snapped.  Useless.  We would need a ‘cold start’ at $50. It worked and we rolled out of Dawson on square tires due to the extreme cold.  We were Whitehorse bound with the hopes of getting our heater fan fixed.  In Whitehorse, at Crappy (a Player family nickname for Canadian Tire) we were able to get it repaired.  The service department stayed open late for us and were very kind.

The most remarkable thing about the rest of the trip, which we were already aware of due to several cross-country drives, was the shear vastness and emptiness of our big beautiful country.  The Prairies were endless and so windy that Puny used twice as much fuel as usual. The Prairies in the winter had white-outs and dangerous snow drifts right across the highway. Dean, my Newfoundlander, is an amazing winter driver so I wasn’t too worried, really.

We finally pulled into Toronto seven days later.  Our friend was home and we crashed in with him.  He had found us an apartment right behind his on St. Clair.  Excitedly we went to look at it.  Sadly and disappointingly though, it was little more than a slum and was a serious firetrap. It just would not do.  We had stupidly paid the slum-landlord first and last month rent, from afar, sight unseen.  Bad idea.  When we met her she tried to tell us the place was fine: rotten wood floors, drafty old windows, old, dirty paint, crappy old kitchen and ancient wiring.  We told her we wanted our money back.  She and Dean were in the kitchen and  I was standing in the kitchen doorway.  She stamped her foot and said this is ridiculous and tried to get past me through the door.  I stood my ground and filling up the doorway space said not sweetly: Where do you think you’re going?  She turned around and filled out an ad for the apartment telling us that if it were to rent, we would get our money back.  Next, we called the fire marshal who declared the place a fire hazard.  We got our money back.

The next day we found a 2.5 story brick house with a great kitchen, hardwood floors, attic study and a fenced yard in the North Beaches at Birchmount and the Danforth.  It was ideal and cheaper at $900 a month.

Dean started his program and worked like a dog, ending in nine months as the Valedictorian of his class.  While he did his program, I decided to volunteer at my sister, Eva’s camp (see post: The Camp) as much as possible.  We ended up putting on a week-long boys’ camp which was a lot of work but truly successful and rewarding for everyone involved.  I also helped with small maintenance jobs, errands, painting and cleaning duties. It was a very good summer and it was so fun to be with my big sister and at the camp again.

In the fall we bought our first little house in Milton, Ontario upon the advice of a savvy Real Estate agent and Newfoundlander with an office in Campbellville.   Our side-split bungalow was on an older street with tall trees. Dean had gotten a job as a technology trainer and was traveling a lot.  While he did that, I fashioned a small apartment in our basement and rented it to a nice young couple. Next, there was an offer by Dean’s company for us to move to Virginia. We sold our house to the first people who walked through and off we went to Leesburg, Virginia.  Nine months later, Leo was born. We were over the moon until…but that’s another post.

Crazy Train 🚂 (part 2)

I would ask total random strangers to look into my eyes and see the flecks. The flecks are magic, I would say.

Things rapidly deteriorated from that point.  Luckily our week was almost up.  Mark and his wife began furtive preparations for home while Amy watched over me. I just wanted to walk around the resort and connect with every possible person in my vicinity. Mark and Amy were worried I wouldn’t be permitted on the flight if I was acting too manic, so Amy and I went to the medical clinic where a very kind and gentle doctor, while holding my hand,  shot a huge syringe of tranquilizer into each cheek of my ass.   Amy said that it was enough  tranquilizer to drop a horse.  But guess what, I was still manic with no tranquility in sight.  I popped off the bed like the Energizer bunny.  By the time we got to the airport though, I was calm. Still no sleep.  I should have been slumped over, drooling, in deep sleep. Now, I was taking the hands of total strangers, gazing deeply into their eyes and telling them all about their lives and how to improve it.  Funnily enough, people seemed to really want to hear what I was saying to them.  It was bizarre.  One man told me I was the most honest person he had ever spoken to.  Meanwhile, my brother Mark was running around trying to keep me safe and to act normal.

My husband, Dean flew to Toronto to meet me and take me home to Nova Scotia.   He had arranged for his eldest sister from Newfoundland to come and stay with us for a couple of weeks to help out with Leo while I was sure to be in the hospital and Dean would be running back and forth watching out for me and bringing me what I wanted. Manic me was very demanding (unlike normal me). Ha ha.

The saddest thing about this whole story is that it could’ve been completely avoided if I had been fine with taking lithium. But, at that point in my journey, and because of my disordered eating and body image problems (see the post: The Body Positive 🙃,  knowing that lithium causes weight gain, I refused, absolutely, to take it. So, you would think I preferred the option of going crazy over getting fat.  And that I selfishly ruined everyone’s Cuban vacation because of my issues with food and body image.  Crazy train anyone?

In the hospital they put me on extremely strong medications: anti-psychotics, lithium, antibiotics for the bronchitis and a sleeping aid. I was a walking zombie.  I was extremely ill in the hospital and very upset to be on medication and to be tied down. The nurses constantly told me to go to my room and get some sleep. But when one is manic all one wants to do is relate and connect to others. Even though I was a walking zombie, it was still very difficult for me to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. As a manic person, medications have very little effect compared to what they would on a normal person.  One side effect of the anti-psychotic drug was the feeling that my skin was crawling. It was one of the worst feelings I have ever encountered.  When the nurses wouldn’t pay attention to me I found ways to entertain myself.  I would walk past the nurses station window where a few nurses would be quietly working with their heads down and I would SLAM my hand against the glass.  The nurses would jump from fright as I quickly walked away.  I was sure they had no idea that it was me. One evening, I decided to pull the fire alarm. As the nurses scrambled to get all the patients out of the rooms, I snickered with my hand over my mouth, by the wall. I was then noticed, yelled at and put in solitary.

What  I did next seems unbelievable now that I have my sanity back. I believe they would never let me out of that room. A half hour may have a lapsed  when I realized two things: I had to use the bathroom, #2, and, I was very thirsty. Because I truly believed that they would not come back for me, and  I was firmly ensconced in crazy land, I went over to the corner of the room,  squatted and pooped. Then I started to bang my cup on the door saying that I was dying of thirst. An idea emerged: I would have to drink my own urine in order to stay alive.  It was salty.

Next I started to sing at the top of my lungs and trust me, that little solitary room had great acoustics  (this is a Kris Kristofferson song that Willie Nelson sings so well) and quite apt at parts…

Take the ribbons from your hair, shake ’em lose and let ’em fall. Let ’em fall against your chin, like the shadows on the wall.  Come and lay down by my side in the early morning light, all I’m taking is your time…help me make it through the night…(This is where I would seriously belt it out) Well, I don’t care whose right or wrong, and I won’t try to understand.  Let the devil take tomorrow, cause tonight I need a friend….it’s sad to be alone…help me make it through the night

I knew that whole song by heart because Mom used to play it over and over again when she and Dad were separated but living in the same house. I was in extreme discomfort in the solitary room. My thoughts where racing. My skin was crawling. My mind was blowing. There was no sleep in sight. I could not stay still. Psychosis is shitty.  Truly.

Finally they let me out. I gladly went to my room. My next plan was to escape and run home.

I studied the delivery door to the locked psych ward. Suddenly, I saw my chance to escape into the February night and I was GONE.  Hightailing it through the lobby with my ass hanging out of my johnny  coat, with my SmartWool knee socks and Birkenstocks on out into the parking lot, down the concrete steps, turn right down the hill, turn left, through the intersection and starting up the hill. Suddenly I realized how cold I was and that my feet were freezing. later I found out it was -20°C. If I had gone the wrong way and landed in the snowbank, behind the hospital, I may never have been rescued from the cold.

As it was, two older ladies in a large sedan pulled up beside me as I made my way up the hill. Seeing how I was dressed and with my hospital wristband on, they asked me to get in the car with them for a ride. I must have thought that would be a good idea. Even through the haze of psychosis I knew that my safety was threatened. I ran into the parking lot of the Catholic Church (irony on that not lost on me) and they let me get in the car to get warm. Next they locked the doors and called the police who escorted me back to the psych ward  and back into solitary.  When Dean heard that I had escaped, in my condition, dressed in a tiny cotton johnny coat, he was furious at the hospital.

I was in for two weeks then out for week at which point I stopped taking the medications and became manic again.  So, I was back in for another two weeks.  It takes about two weeks for the lithium to take effect.  When I was home with my family and dog Lady, and I was out of my head in cray cray land, I could swear that I knew what she was ‘saying’.  I would look at her and her ‘words’ would pop into my head.  Ooookay.

Mental illness is a real thing, not to be trifled with.

Lady Jane, 2 years old

Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 

A week after my precious son was born, I was in a strait-jacket, face down on the floor of a rubber room. Helloooooo postpartum psychosis.

I would shuffle down the hall, stooped over and drooling.  Aware, but unaware.  This was haldol or haloperidol – a strong anti-psychotic drug with tremendous side-effects.

As defined on-line by the Royal College of Psychiatrists:  Postpartum Psychosis is a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Symptoms vary and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions. Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency.
empty autumn bench

My pregnancy with Leo was text book:  I took daily naps; walked gently with the dogs; swam; ate good food and drank lots of water; no caffeine; no alcohol.  We were living in Virginia because my husband Dean had accepted a job there with a dot com start-up.  His office was in Reston.  We found a very sweet two-story farm house with softwood floors, a front porch with a white wooden swing and a white picket fence.  Our house was in the wee village of Purcellville, about 40 minutes East of Reston.  Dean would go to the office every day and I would volunteer at various places: the library, long-term care and a thrift shop in Leesburg.  After volunteering, I would walk the dogs, perhaps go for a swim at the community pool, take a nap and then prepare us a nice meal for supper.  It was a lovely nine months.

autumn trail

One day, close to the due date in early August, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, and with me as big as a house and quite uncomfortable, we decided to go to the county fair.  While sitting at a picnic table in the shade, I felt something strange going on in my abdomen.  Could this be labour?  Yes.  By eleven o’clock that night, the labour pains were in full force and they did not give up for hours and hours.  My mid-wife arrived and examined me.  I was at 4 cm.  In fact, over the next twelve hours, I remained at 4 cm.  By that time I was howling in pain with each contraction.  We had wanted to have Leo at home, but that dream was quickly fading.  My mid-wife told me that Leo was sunny-side up or, posterior in orientation.

The back pain was horrible.  I had Dean, our doula and the mid-wife pounding on my back and hamstrings because it seemed to help deaden the back pain.  Apparently, the back of Leo’s little head was pressing against my sacrum and causing all the shooting pain through my back and down my legs.

To help ease the pain, I had Dean turn on the shower with hot hot water and on hands and knees, I had it wash over me in the tub.  I stayed there for a long time, praying for progress.  Nothing.

Finally, I had had enough.  At about four o’clock on the second day (of course we had all been up all night), I finally begged my birth team to take me to the hospital.  I was screaming in pain.  I was an absolute mess – red face, stringy hair, sour body odour.  They reminded me that I had made them promise NOT to take me to the hospital.  I screamed at them that I couldn’t do this anymore.  I told them I wanted to run out the door, down the country road and lie in the ditch until the pain stopped with my death.  Talk of death spurned them into action. autumn bridge Dean got our small mini-van and I climbed into the back seat on hands and knees and howled like a sick wolf all the way to the hospital, my hands clutching the back of the back seat while I faced backward, rocking back and forth on my knees.  There was no way I could sit down.  Dean drove like a mad man.  As soon as we got to the hospital room, I threw off my little sundress and labored stark naked.  I could not tolerate anything touching my skin.  When my Ob-Gyn arrived to examine me, I sniffed his spicy-scented exotic cologne and screamed at him to get out.  Crazed by the scent, even though normally I would have loved it.  I was slipping into madness.  He left and came back after taking a shower.  He was a sweet, gentle soul.

Finally, I had been there long enough for them to observe me and examine me.  They were then able to give me an epidural.  Oh bliss.  The pain stopped.  A feeling of well-being and contentment settled over me.  My birth team: Dean, the doula and the mid-wife, all fell asleep on big comfy chairs, while I dilated.  I should have been absolutely sapped and should have fallen fast asleep with the epidural.  Contrarily, I was wide-awake.  A foreshadowing of what was to come.

A few hours went by and when the nurse checked me, I was finally at ten centimeters.  It was time to push.  By 2:14 am on Monday, Aug 9, 1999 Leo arrived.  He was perfect and beautiful.  A seven-pound boy whom I hugged, caressed and kissed.  I was so happy.

Jaden_diaper_table

We went home early from the hospital, but shouldn’t have.  It was my idea.  Hospitals were bad. I was sure of it.  At home, we struggled to get into a routine with the feedings and diapering of our new born.  Dean and I were quite worried about making any mistakes with Leo.  We were in Virginia without family to tell us what was what.

I started to become very very happy.  Elated, even.  I was unable to sleep.  I started making phone calls to all kinds of friends and family, in the middle of the night.  I had crazy ideas that didn’t seem crazy to me at the time.  I clearly remember calling one of our old army friends at four in the morning.  I had this idea that I wanted to gather all of our friends together to live in a tent city in our back yard.  Somehow, for some reason, I would be in charge. While I write, I can not quite recall what the mission of this gathering would be – just that it was very, very important.

Dean would be fast asleep, exhausted from the ordeal of the birth and the nighttime feedings and diapering of Leo.  I however, seemed to not need sleep at all and my thoughts would race all night.  I began sending emails in the middle of the night. In one particular email that I sent to my younger brother, I clearly stated that I thought I must be manic.  Remember, at this point in my life, I had never had mental illness but, I had witnessed it in my mother and my brother, Mark.

Next, I began writing furiously in my journal.  Whatever I wrote, I was sure it was profound and would gladly show it to Dean or anyone else.  I became delusional and started to have visions of myself being the Virgin Mary and Leo being baby Jesus.  My friend, Nancy, came to visit and I wanted her to massage me and do my hair and my nails, as if I was a celebrity and she was my servant.  When she wouldn’t comply, I screamed hysterically at her.

autumn hillOne of Dean’s work colleagues, Jamie, who had become our close friend down there, came to visit one night.  After he took one look at my wild eyes and heard the nonsense I was spouting, he said to Dean: ‘Morgan is psychotic.’  He explained that he had just recently been with another friend who had gone through a similar trauma.  He told Dean that I would need to go to the hospital.

Dean’s face froze.  He knew Jamie was right.  My psychosis was worsening by the moment.  I was turning into a screaming banshee because people weren’t doing what I wanted them to do – things that were completely ridiculous.  Things that I wouldn’t normally EVER ask of anyone.  Dean and Jamie took me to the local hospital and they put me in a room for the night.  Of course I was very afraid of not being close to little Leo for feedings. The next day I was admitted to the psych ward of the George Washington University Hospital in D.C..  I was screaming and crying and carrying on.  They put me in a straitjacket, shot me in the ass with a sedative and man-handled me into a rubber room where they threw me to the ground roughly.  That might be funny in Monty Python movies, but it was dead serious for me.

Later I was put in a private room with an ensuite bathroom.  This was an old hospital and it was not pretty.  The windows were covered in a thick mesh and let in very little light.  There was a highway of ants at the bottom of the wall beside my bed.  What had I done to deserve this?  All I wanted to do was breast-feed Leo.  That wasn’t going to happen, I was told.  Due to all of the medication.  My breast milk was no longer any good for Leo.  Oh my.  That was a sad pill to swallow.

My mind was abuzz with all kinds of nonsense.  I thought I was in a movie and that all the other patients on the floor with me were actors.  I would try to catch them out on their lines.  I thought I was the Virgin Mother still and that this was a big test of my sainthood. I thought I could save people by laying my hands on them.  One day, I called my sister Eva and told her I had had another baby that morning.  Before that phone call, Eva didn’t really think I was that ill.  Now she got it.  I called my old friends from Walden whom I had grown up with.  Sally was the most attentive and seriously tried to help me out of this major predicament.  Flo used medical-speak on me and it infuriated me to no end.  I called Sally several times.  I asked her to call my little brother and say ‘Snowball’.  I told her that he would know what that meant.  ‘Snowball‘ had been the code word for immediate deployment that we used in Germany in 4 Service Battalion in 1990.  Sally did it and I was ever grateful.

Dean called his eldest sister and asked her to come stay for a few weeks, to help with Leo while he was dealing with me and going back and forth the hour to the hospital in D.C. every day.  She was wonderful and did very well with Leo.  I called my mom’s older sister too.  She also came down to help.  The two of them got along famously: both red-heads, both mothers, both having had careers in education.  One day, the two of them, with Leo, drove to D.C. to bring Leo to me for a visit.  This was huge.  Two older women, from small towns, driving to the heart of a large US city with a newborn.  They did it and it made me very happy.   My eldest brother’s wife, June also came down for several days.  We were loved and taken care of.  What a blessing.autumn track

Immediately, to get my head straight, I was put on Haldol and it caused me to shuffle down the hall, stoop over and drool on myself.  It is a very strong anti-psychotic with awful side-effects.  I was also put on lithium.  Whenever I could, I would get on the phone and call any friend or family member whose number I had in my head.  I called Dean’s mom in Newfoundland and started spouting off about all of my troubles.  She told me simply: ‘Morgan, just do what the doctors tell you to do and get the hell out of there. ‘ That was good advice.

I was discharged in twelve days.

 

 

(Pictures credit to pinterest except the baby, that’s mine and the dragonfly was taken by a friend of my cousin-in-law)