Locking Great Aunt Bertha in the Attic

I’ve noticed the more extreme the situation, the more apt I am to use clichés.

All I can say is it is hotter’n’hell and there’s a reason Great Aunt Bertha went insane and had to be locked in the attic.

I am near tears with the misery of this heat and the indignities of menopause.

The lack of air conditioning in my life means I’m focusing on one minute at a time – what I can do to get through the next 60 seconds.

When I left the house this morning, it was 80 degrees at 8:45 a.m. It was 94 when I left work. Besides hot, the area around me is water logged and continues to be under threat of violent thunderstorms. These storms rundle through with great crashes of thunder and lightening. The temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees and then ratchets right back up, more humid than ever. The weather people mutter about stalled fronts and whatnot.

Gills would come in handy about now. I don’t know the biomechanics of such, but I’m certain the body’s processing of a cup of water or so to every breath must entail some wear and tear on the lungs. More than likely, it increases body temperature.

It is only June. This sort of meteorological nightmare shouldn’t emerge until late July or August. If I try to imagine a whole summer of this, I may start screaming and never stop. 60 seconds of life at a time in this heat is all I can manage.

According to all manner of happiness experts, one moment at a time is the best way to live life under any circumstance. I am whining one moment at a time. This is probably not what they meant.

Periodically, I stop to cogitate on how for most of history folks lived without air conditioning and how for a good couple hundred years they did so while wearing a lot of clothes. I keep telling myself I should be thankful that I can strip down to bare skin while refreshing the Weather Channel website in hopes that an updated forecast promising unseasonably cool temperatures will appear.

When my grandmother went through menopause, air conditioning was unheard of and she was forced by societal norms to wear a heap of clothes – bras and girdles and hosiery and slips and gloves and all manner of layers of fabric. In the era before hers, long sleeves and long skirts were de rigueur.

Novels and stories abound about women locked in attics because they went insane and their people had to do something with them. While I don’t know for certain that menopausal women wearing a lot of clothes went crazy and had to be locked in the attic lest they run through town naked and raving was ever a norm, the idea doesn’t seem too far fetched. I do wonder where they got the energy to run.

The big white floor fan and the ceiling fans are the only reason I haven’t been locked in an attic. Well, that and the fact that I don’t have an attic and there’s nobody here to witness my madness.

Thunder has moved into the neighborhood while I wrote this. The temperature inside the house has decreased by a degree or so. I can feel the air freshening. Perhaps, I won’t wake in a pool of sweat later in the night and, even better, maybe I’ll sleep through the night. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the storm that drives the stalled front out of here.

For the next 60 seconds, I will hope and focus on the maybes.

Installing Telephone Jacks for Dummies

The bent metal prongy things are bent wrong.

I grew up during a time when girls weren’t educated in the art of home repair. We took home ec, the boys took shop. They had tools in the trunk of their cars, we had dimes to make a phone call to AAA.

Things have changed. I’ve picked up a few things in the intervening years.

I can jumpstart a car now, although I can’t change a tire (Lord knows, I tried). I can fix minor leaks. I’m fair to middling with a jig saw; and I can wield an electric drill with the best of them. But I’m afraid of broken things with wires.

Wires are usually buried deep in the innards of something and require tools to open if one doesn’t want a broken nail. Oh sure, shoes can work as hammers and butter knives screwdrivers, but sometimes you just need something Sears markets under the Craftsman name. HMOKeefe bought me a spiffy little toolkit that I’ve given a good workout. (There are some things in there I haven’t a clue as to their purpose, but I suppose I’ll learn in good time.)

Nifty Tool Kit

So, yes. I’m afraid of wires. I watched HMOKeefe hang my kitchen light and other than holding the thing in place while attaching gizmos to watchits, I think I could handle installation of a light fixture. That learning experience emboldened me to replace the pesky phone jack.

When Verizon installed my DSL there were multiple problems; chief was the interference that no amount of filtering could eliminate. After 6 hours at my home trying to uninterfere the interference, the technician muttered a few curse words and asked if it would be okay if he “shot all the DSL to one jack.” I said, “Fine with me,” seeing how he was installing a wireless modem.

So? What are these for?

Well. If all your internet connectivity is channeled to one jack in the house, it’s absolutely critical that jack be functional. If not, you can’t just pick up your wireless modem and move to another room.

The phone cord from the modem to the jack was too short, so I had the thing strung across the room. I tripped over it one too many times. The little bent metal prongy things bent in ways God never intended and the internet light wouldn’t come on.

Uh oh.

If I fiddle-farted with it long enough and held my tongue just right, I could get everything back in place so that the internet light happily flashed.

I am an internet addict. I use the internet for news, movies, television shows, email, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and instant messaging. My friends and beloveds are scattered around the world and without internet, I don’t know what’s going on in their lives less’n I rack up long distance charges to call them.

That phone jack has been unhappy for two months. In the process of painting that room, I rung the jack’s death knell. All of my reshaping the little bent metal prongy things was to no avail.


See how little the Little Bastard is?

The Little Bastard (aka my gallbladder) is rocking and rolling and I feel exactly like the crap I keep throwing up, but I was starting to go into DTs from internet withdrawal. With a sense of impending doom, I went to the Lowe’s and looked at telephone installation stuff. I thought I’d managed to find the thing I needed, but it was only $3.98. I didn’t figure my entire social life and cultural awareness could hinge on a $3.98 part, so I pushed the red button for customer service.

A guy in the nifty red Lowe’s vest answered the “Customer Needs Assistance in the Audio-Visual Aisle; Customer Needs Assistance in the Audio-Visual Aisle.” [If I had to listen to that robotic woman’s smarmy voice all day, I would scream.]

I held out the $3.98 thingie and asked, “Is this what I need?”

Ta Da!!!!!!!!!!

Even in this day and age, trained sales clerks can’t read minds.

“Ma’am, what is it you’re expecting it to do?”

Now if that ain’t a loaded question.

I expect it to widen my horizons, draw my inner circle closer, enlighten me, empower me, and give me an occasional chuckle as well as provide a dial tone in my home office.

I explained the problem. H e assured me that it would make my universe whole.

He was a nice guy, so I asked about the wires. From my tone of voice, a casual passerby might have thought we were talking about female circumcision. He took it out of the package and did his best rendition of Installing Telephone Jacks for Dummies.

It sounded simple enough. I bought it and 50 feet of phone cord and went home.

After drowning the Little Bastard in Pepto Bismol, I grabbed the nifty toolkit and went to the study.

Five minutes later, I had an internet light.

It was way too easy. I’m now a whole lot less afraid of wires than I used to be although I did break a nail.

That broken dimmer switch in the dining room may be getting some attention soon.

[Home Repair Girl twirls her cape and heads into the sunset.]

I’m an old woman. . .

I'm a feisty one, I am.

I may have mentioned a time or two that I hate painting.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I’m an old woman.

When I was 30 or so, I had a sudden onset of back spasms. Doing the Granny Clampett walk, I waddled my way over to the chiropractor’s office. We’d never met before and he walked into the exam room and looked at me. Then he looked at my x-rays. Then he looked at me again. Finally, he said, “You have a lovely spine for a 70-year-old woman.”

My misspent youth was not kind to my back.

Between yoga and outright refusal to be one of those whiny-assed people who complains about their back all the time (preferring, of course, to whine about other things), I refused to accept his or the neurosurgeon’s diagnosis and have lived reasonably well without back surgery or a wheelchair.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to do things in such a way as to accommodate the limitations of my back. (I was, hands down, the strangest rock climber you’ve ever seen.) I have not found a way to minimize the physical agony of painting.


Lord’av’mercy, I hate painting.

It goes something like this:

I decide to paint.

I sit and ponder the painting.

I get up and gather a few supplies.

I repeat steps 2 and 3, sometimes for weeks.

I spackle.

Sit and rest.

(Rinse and repeat)

I sand. . .sit and rest.

I bite the bullet and get the paint out.

I repeat step 2 for hours.

I begin painting.

I paint 5 minutes, rest 40.

Eventually, 5 minutes at a time, I get the painting done. But my back curses at me the entire time and, in turn, I curse back. It’s rough having an old woman’s spine. It also sounds like a biker bar in here, what with all the cursing.

Instrument of Torture

It’s the ladder work that gets to me. That and the spots near the floor. And around windows. Let’s not forget the bits at eye level.


After two weekends of painting prep, I got the paint out yesterday. It took all flippin day to do about 20 minutes worth of ceiling painting. Tonight, I girded my loins, told my back to shut up, and set to. Three hours later, I have one coat of primer on the ceiling. I’m figuring on two coats of primer and two coats of color. It’ll be years before I’m done.

And since I’m now 50, I’m guessing that means my back is 90 – not too many 90-year-old women up to painting their study. I’m right proud of my progress.

One-Five-Nine (No Kidding)

You've got to be kidding me.

About 15 years ago, I went to my doctor and complained bitterly about brain fog, fatigue and general malaise. I was sure it was my thyroid. And sure enough it was.

As a child, I had been hyper-thyroid. Apparently, children as young as I was don’t develop thyroid problems at the age of 9. They’re either born with them (and often die before diagnosed) or it just doesn’t happen until later in life. Not only was I hyperthyroid, I was extremely so and had a goiter big enough to double as a softball. I’m in medical journals. There was no real protocol for treating children and I was a research hospital’s guinea pig. They did not want to remove the thyroid for a host of reasons. I endured weekly (and sometimes twice weekly) medical appointments and testing for the better part of two years.

The treatment was successful, but my parents were warned that I may never undergo puberty and might never have children. Well. I did undergo puberty – in spades – though I attribute my lack of cleavage to after-effects of massive doses of thyroid hormones. [Every woman on both sides of my family is very well-endowed to the point where breast reduction surgery is often undertaken. I’m a standout oddity.] I also have Chef Boy ‘R Mine as witness to my childbearing abilities.

I’d been complaining, 20 years ago, that something wasn’t right with my thyroid. For the first time in my life, I could pinch an inch. I couldn’t get enough sleep, etc. etc. I kept testing in the normal range. I tried to explain to them that although I wasn’t medicated, I had been somewhat hyperthyroid since I quit taking the meds when I was 10. I was on a downward slope, but I had no street cred with the docs and they couldn’t have cared less what I thought. Low normal was still normal – never mind that I’d been slightly hyper for years.

Fifteen years ago, I persuaded them to do the full thyroid panel and sure enough I was hypothyroid.

The full panel of thyroid tests reveals all sorts of things, but for people with my diagnosis – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – the TSH number is the important one. 3.0 is considered the upper range of normal. Most docs don’t like for folks to get below 0.5 to 1.0 or above 5.0. I don’t recall what that first TSH number was – pretty big. I TOLD them I felt awful; I still don’t know why they were so surprised.

So. That was my second real indication that I’m pretty in tune with my body – the first was sensing that Chef Boy ‘R Mine was fixin’ to be a miscarriage before there were any real signs. I know when things are wrong.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. A simple explanation is that my thyroid thinks it is allergic to itself and keeps trying to commit suicide. Even missing my meds for just a day can provoke mayhem and carnage. Even medicated, periodic adjustments are required. A few years ago, I felt like crap and developed a goiter. I called the doc. My TSH was 39 –yes 39. Thirty-nine times the upper range of normal. He was astonished. I’d only missed three or four days of my meds.

The amount of Synthroid I take boggles the mind of my hypothyroid friends. Hypothyroidism is epidemic among women in this country. The last I heard, it was estimated that 40% of American women are hypothyroid with most of them undiagnosed. Since Oprah got diagnosed, I imagine that a few more are insisting their doctors run the thyroid panel. But regular hypothyroidism is not the same as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Look at it like this – there’s the common cold and then there’s bronchitis.

So, over the years, my thyroid acts up, I feel like crap, and I call the doctor. I’m always right and they no longer argue with me. We run the tests, we up the Synthroid, and off I go on my merry way.

Tired? I should be comatose.

I’ve been sleeping a lot lately, but I haven’t had brain fog and I don’t have a goiter. It’s been a cold, yucky winter and my stress levels are THIS HIGH. [Connie holds her hand two feet above her head.] I’m very in tune with my body and nothing was on my radar.

The family practitioner insisted we run a thyroid panel. I was opposed. I thought it unnecessary testing that would end up costing me a couple hundred dollars. We argued, she won. She also ran my cholesterol.

Well. My cholesterol is in the “needs medication” column and my TSH is, no shit, ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-NINE. One Five Nine. That’s 5300% higher than it should be.

Well, shit-fire, no wonder I’m tired. I should be near comatose based on past experience.

I’m inclined to think something went awry with this test. With a TSH of 39, I could barely get out of bed, every spot of arthritis in my body was screaming, my skin was so dry I was a cloud of dead skin cells, and I was thoroughly miserable. I was also unable to remember anything. At a 39 TSH, my world was wallpapered with sticky notes lest I forget something. No kidding, I had sticky notes to remind me to do stuff you wouldn’t think needed reminders. I had “brush teeth” on the medicine cabinet and “go to work” on the steering wheel of the car. I would forget what I was doing in the middle of doing it.

It was awful. If I do, in fact, have a TSH of 159, I should be too bumfuzzled and confoozled to type this much less actually awake at 8 p.m. The only hesitation with dismissing it out of hand is that my cholesterol is high. Traditionally, my cholesterol numbers are good when my thyroid is functioning well. Hypothyroidism correlates with high cholesterol. Many folk find that when they’re properly medicated for thyroid problems, high cholesterol problems go away.

So. Today I read that menopause is suspected to interfere with the body’s ability to process Synthroid. Upon reading that, I threw up my hands and ran amok in the hallways for awhile. Menopause’s unbloody hands appear to affect every facet of my life. I’m tired of it. And I’m tired. And I have a TSH of 159.

I’m still functioning and for that I’m grateful. I’m much too busy to crawl into bed for the 4-6 weeks it will take to get things up to speed.

If you know a woman who’s tired of being tired, suggest she get her thyroid checked. There’s no need to be miserable. Until they figure out why all of us womenfolk are having this problem, there’s not much to be done for it other than get a diagnosis and some prescriptions. (And if you have been diagnosed and medicated, but still feel like crap, get your B12 serum levels checked – B12 deficiency goes hand-in-hand with thyroid problems.)

Woman who runs with the dogs.

Run, Dee, Run!

Dee over at Tangled Up in Sticks and String mentioned she’s entered a 5K race.

I’m not sure if I’m jealous, awed, or guilt-ridden.

The idea of “racing” appalls me, but I like the idea of running IN THEORY. It’s the actual running part that stops me (in my tracks or on the track?).

In the early 70s when the running/jogging craze was sweeping the country, I went out for track. I was a fairly normal, hormonally volatile, meaner ‘n snake 13-year-old. [Most of the previous sentence is redundant. All 13-year-old girls are hormonally volatile and mean.]

I was never much of one for group activities, but something about running appealed to me even at that age. Pity the track coach ruined it. My life might have been completely different had she believed in water.

In the southern-most part of North Carolina, late August/early September was brutally hot and so humid a body needed gills to process oxygen. This was girls track season.

My best friend and I showed up for try-outs not knowing that just showing up guaranteed a spot. That first day we were given a 10 minute pep talk and sent out to run laps under a sun beaming 98 degrees to ante up with the  98% humidity level. This was before decent athletic shoes were a norm and during the unfortunate time period when expert wisdom decreed that drinking water before or during running would provoke Big Problems.

About the fifth time around the quarter-mile track, I was dying. This was before cigarettes, sloth, hedonism and general laziness had taken its toll. I was healthy, bright-eyed, very active, and had a fair amount of muscle for my long and lanky frame. 98 F at 98% can annihilate even the most dedicated of athletes which I surely was not. I gave it another week. Each day was the same: pep talk followed by laps. I wanted to die.

I dropped out of track – one of the first (of many) failures in my life. It never really ate at me much. For years, I’d roll my eyes and decree “Running is not for me” any time the subject came up.

Ten or so years later, the Ex and I started dating. He liked to run. He wanted company. I agreed to give it another shot. I’d been doing high impact aerobics for a year and figured I could handle a jog. I went. I ran. I sat down. Hedonism, sloth, and cigarettes trumped the Jane Fonda Workout and running was simply torturous – and if all that wasn’t bad enough, I was still trying to do this in K-Mart Blue Light Special tennis shoes.

Along came Chef Boy ‘R Mine and by the time he entered high school, he’d taken up running. The kid was a running fool. He was on the track team and the cross country team. He ran in the fall. He ran in the spring. He ran at school and at home. When he was running on his own time, he used to take our dachshund with him. She ran every mile with him – usually two to every one of his (investigating smells and whatnot).

His cross country days appealed to me. I could see the attraction in that – track and field events like sprints and relays just bored my innards into paralysis. Ah, but cross country. . .I can feel the wind in my hair, my legs pumping like a well-oiled machine, blood coursing, and water – lots of water. I envision the dogs and I running through the Appalachian hills singing songs from the Sound of Music, our hearts beating as one, our lungs breathing in and out to the hum of the Universal Om, yada yada. In short, the four of us working in tandem to provide a goofy scene of health, vitality, and eccentricity. [Really, who runs with a dachshund, a shih tzu and an Italian greyhound?]

Running BY water could be the motivation I need.

The water thing has provoked me into thinking maybe I should give it another go. It seems the Running Experts are now unanimous in thinking that water before, during, and after running Might Not Be a Bad Idea. Hell, they even make a thing, I think it’s called a Camel Back, to strap on your back and suck water out of while running. (That seems way too Navy Seal for me, but it proves my point.)

Of course, I’m putting a lot of faith in water to keep the whole experience from being another failure, but collapsed on the ground somewhere will have to go better if I’m at least hydrated. Right?

I probably won’t take up running, but I still like the idea of it. I could get some cute shorts and one of those spiffy combo bra/tank top thingies and some wicked cool running shoes. I can stand around and stretch, sipping water, and talk to the dogs while checking my resting heart rate (I don’t know why they do that, but presumably it’s important.) Until summer, I’ll need an even spiffier warm up suit – one without a hood (I hate hoods). Maybe red laces for my shoes. And a bumper sticker – Woman who runs with the dogs. Something like that.

Y’all know I’m not going to do this. But I like the idea of running. IN THEORY.

My hands are dirty.

Painting Hands

My hands are dirty – paint stained, chemical burned, broken nails – but mostly they’re dirty (and into the Doritos). And old.

Nowhere, as much as my hands, does my age show. My hands have done so much.

As I try to coax paint out from under my nails, I think of all the dirt, grime, debris, and ick my hands have been in during my fifty years. Those thoughts lead to all the other things my hands have done.

Munchie Hands

I have painted so many times – my first apartment the first time I did it alone. (A tasteful beige to cover up the hideous peach that attempted to mute the reddish orange carpet.)

Last summer, I was up to my elbows in garden dirt, ripped to shred by blackberry thorns, and happy.

I’ve cleaned houses, cars, cat boxes, and cement floors.

I’ve been midwife to dogs and cats having puppies and kittens.

Puppy Hands

As a child, my hands were always dirty – finger paints, mud, dirt, tadpole ponds, pudding from the bottom of the bowl, and all the grime a little girl afraid of Not Much could get into.

I hesitate to say dirty, but my hands were bathed in the blood and fluids of my newborn son when they let me hold him just a few moments before rushing him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – his tiny body held carefully and joyfully and tearfully.

Camping Hands

My hands were clean for my first day of school, girl scout meetings, to make the pudding that later ended up on fingers and face.

My hands were clean for my wedding and for my divorce hearing. They were clean for job interviews and parent/teacher conferences and visitation hours at the hospital. They were clean under the white gloves I wore to church in frilly dresses and patent leather shoes.

Baby Hands

My hands had been cleaned until as sterile as possible to caress that 3 lb. baby through the openings of an isolette.

They’ve caressed a lover.

Clenched in pain at news of a death.

They’ve put roses in a coffin and roses in the ground.

Rocked babies.

Held wine glasses and coffee cups.

Washed mountains of dishes.

And laundry.

They’ve gripped bicycle handles, steering wheels, and jump ropes.

Cake Hands

Whisked cream.

And cut pasta.

My hands have wound music boxes and played air guitar.

They’ve carried evening purses, groceries, backpacks, diaper bags, apnea monitors, bouquets, and the lifeless body of a beloved dog.

They’ve comforted a breast cancer patient.

Typed a million words – some at 90 words a minute.

Loving Hands

Answered phones, opened cans, and checked for heart beats.

They’ve wiped my tears and the tears of others.

Applied bandaids and makeup.

Poured wine on hot summer nights and mulled cider on cold winter evenings.

They built cement block houses during an earthquake recovery mission in Guatemala.

Fed chocolate pudding to street urchins in Mexico. Carried a passport in London and luggage in Canada.

Om Hands

They’ve handed things and passed things and dropped things.

Tried to crochet a hundred times.

They’ve needlepointed yards and yards of yarn.

And mowed acres of grass.

My hands are old with the joys and sorrows of life; like my eyes and mouth, the wrinkles are my life written on my body – witness to fifty good years and some bad times.

With palms up, my eyes closed and my mouth open in a near silent om, I wish for fifty more years of filthy hands. Clean hands. Holding hands. Busy hands.

Don’t look if you’re squeamish.

The post-stitches-removal bandage.

After de-snowing the car – an hour long process – we managed to get it from the top of my hill to the bottom of the hill – front first, no unplanned excursions into the ditch or the creek. This is good.

It was good, because it meant I could keep my appointment to have the stitches taken out of my foot. They had started to pull (and itch) and the stitches, more than the incision, were causing discomfort. I quit the Loratabs a day or two ago – that puffy pink cloudy brain was a lot of fun, but the rest of my body didn’t play well with the pills. It’s not playing well with withdrawal either, but I’m hopeful that will pass soon.

The Cutie-Pie-Boy who is my surgeon mumbled something about sending me to the Mayo Clinic if the cyst comes back this time, but he quickly backed that up with an “I’m kidding.”

Unwrapping the original dressing was interesting to watch. Under all those layers was blood-soaked gauze with an orange cast (betadine). It was pretty gruesome. It reminded me of mummies. I don’t know why. It just did.

Removing the stitches was far more painful than the past two surgeries. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but there’s a lot of swelling and bruising. He and I agreed that my career as a foot model was likely to never get off the ground unless I wanted to consider medical journals. I wasn’t considering a career as a foot model, so I’m too disappointed.

I said not to look.

I do find that the layers of scar tissue on my foot make me wince. I’ve never been known for pretty feet, but adding more ugly to ugly seems a real insult. Plastic surgery to remove some of it seems silly (not to mention expensive). Doc said to apply Vitamin E often and thoroughly to keep the scarring down. Part of me is tickled is that mainstream medicine has adopted some of what used to be considered crack-pot treatments.

I’m hoping that this really is the last round of foot surgery. This was No. 3 and I’m heartily sick of it all.

I also very excited to take a shower and wash the damn thing. I keep remarking (and I will again) that it surprises me how not washing one small part of my body (not that my feet are small, mind you) makes all of me feel slimy and dirty.

So. I’m headed for the showers. I can feel the water sluicing against my toes now.