Remembering Christmas . . .

winter, texas, scene, snow, through the trees, wood shingles, Christmas, remembering, memoriesNope, this is not my childhood home.  It’s a bit better than the one I remember.  Regardless, there still were some Christmas traditions that were just as lovely.  That’s the great thing about memories.  You can pick and choose which ones to bring to life on a cold December night like tonight . . .

She loved Christmas.  Like all moms, all the ornaments we made during our childhood decorated the tree along with those glass ornaments that sometimes peeled from being stored in the heat of the attic over the summer.  There were four that never faded, however.  I don’t really know where they came from yet do recall that they were bright pink, a double-pointed teardrop shape, and sparkly in silver and sequined adornments.  She always placed them near the top of the tree like icing on a chocolate layer cake.  Then there were the ones we made by pinning seed beads and ribbon into satiny foam balls.  The ones my mom made had the beads lined up in straight lines (unlike mine!).  Colored lights lit the inside; silvery tinsel draped over the top of everything twinkled on the outside.  Fabulous indeed!

No matter my means over the years, I still use a white sheet like my family did as a tree skirt.  It looks to me like the snowy drifts that cover the Midwest in winter time and it’s a perfect backdrop for the little ceramic nativity set nestled within the folds.  I think most of us had a set made by my Aunt Shirley.  The little lambs (held by the shepherds), no more than 3/4 inch tall were my favorite part of the first Christmas scene.  We always placed a few angels above where Jesus lain . . . or maybe it was me who insisted they go there!  I can’t remember.

When I was really small and my Dad was still around, we would leave out cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa.  I still recall the delight of seeing the crumbs on that white Corelle salad plate in the morning, picturing the big guy munching on them with ash in his beard from the drop down the chimney.  The best part was when my Dad had used his work boots to make dusty footprints coming from the fireplace hearth leading out onto the gold, scalloped carpeting.  Must have irked my mom to have to clean it all up Christmas morning!  She was like that.  Always cleaning.

Her Christmas party for all of our family was usually on Christmas day.  She had tins and Tupperware containers filled with our favorite Christmas cookies to keep the “bottomless” chrome platters stocked throughout the evening.  It was my unofficial job to see to that.  I liked the powdered-sugar coated rum balls and cocoa refrigerator cookies the best.  It took me decades to appreciate the thumbprint confections rolled in walnuts and filled when warm with Smuckers jelly.  Now they are my favorite.  Or is it the chocolate crinkles from her mom’s recipe?  So many from which to choose!

Cookies, boxes of chocolates, and tons of food filled the kitchen counter all night long.  One year it would be rolled cold cuts with cheese and another year a honey-baked ham that was a gift from her employer where she was an office manager.  Every coffee table or side table had M&M’s or nuts on it until a toddler stuffed his or her face with one too many!  There was always a bar with the aunt and uncle’s favorites, every flavor of pop (don’t say soda!), an ice bucket, and those little clear plastic cups that only got used for parties.  Our bellies were all stuffed by night’s end.

My mom loved to give gifts.  We used to think it was my Dad who spent too much money on toys when we were little but my mom had her own way of giving generously too.  Every year she prepared about 20 gifts of the same kind to give away to our cousins and any other kids who showed up at the house Christmas night.  I think I was envious of what they got; I truly don’t remember a single one except for the fanny packs she gave out one year!  I watched out the window on and off all afternoon until it got dark outside, looking forward to the party Christmas night for a personal reason:  my Godmother always brought a special gift for me.  In the Catholic faith, the parents ask a male and female to be the child’s Godfather and Godmother, respectively, before the baby’s baptism.  I understand that their role from the time of the baptism ceremony is to mentor the little one in matters of faith as he or she grows up . . . and give birthday and Christmas gifts too!

My Aunt Shirley, my mom’s next youngest sister, got it right on both counts.  My Godmother did take a special interest in me as I grew up and continued when my life got complicated by the events occurring around me.  I still have my confirmation prayer book and the green ceramic pitcher she gave me.  It was at her church in Royal Oak, Michigan that I would first encounter the love of Jesus Christ during the baptism service of her youngest son, Tommy.  I became his Godmother that night as a teenager.  It would take me years to realize that being a Godmother was about more than gifting (which I often forgot to do for Tom when I was away at college or out doing life), that mentoring a child unto a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the most important role of all.  I was glad to learn later in life that Aunt Shirley knew Jesus too.  It just doesn’t matter what church you go to or what rituals you follow when you meet the God of the Bible.

Yes, my mom loved Christmas and so do I.  She liked silly things like a stuffed moose with a green-n-red plaid scarf wrapped around its neck or a musical snowman that she placed at the end of the kitchen counter all December long.  I smile remembering these traditions, these memories.  These are good ones.  I just wish I knew whether or not she personally knew the person of Jesus Christ represented by the little ceramic baby in her ceramic and wooden manger scene.

When I entered my mom’s home after she had passed away, I noticed a greeting card on her kitchen table that I had sent to her a month earlier.  On it was a cute picture of a little boy wearing a Detroit Tiger’s baseball cap.  I knew she would get a kick out of it!  Inside was a Gospel message from me and invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  Of all the things that could have been on that kitchen table at that time in her life, one was that card with the cute kid on it and important message inside that remained.  Amazingly, I found that card in a store where I lived at the time in the land of Chicago Cubs and White Sox fans!  I wonder:  surely she understood the meaning of Christmas and entered in the presence of the Lord as His own before she died?  I just don’t know.

One day I will know.  And so will you, Gentle Reader.  I hope we will both remember Christmas as a time when we celebrate with more than cookies and gifts, ceramic nativity sets and church services.  The greatest sacrifice was made 2,000 years ago to give us life eternal if we but believe in what Jesus did for us on His cross.  Join me in celebrating with Jesus in your heart this December night and always.  There’s a great and eternal party that awaits in heaven one day for us if we do!

JJ

Isaiah 9: 6-7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.

 

Goodness & Light

 

The house on a hill

The one with some land

Just can’t be true

In life without an ampersand.

It’s more like the fermata

In a musical score

Or the final bar line

Where dreams are no more.

You must look around

To the good in your midst

And find the blessings right there

Embrace them with a kiss.

First it’s my beloved

My treasure beyond compare

Next it’s my safe dwelling

The gardens, the love all in there.

Deeper still is my eternal love

The One Who carries me through

The hell of this Earth

Nothing compares to You.

Your light fills my life

No matter how it feels

With hope beyond compare

A shining city on a hill.

What more could I want

When in forever all will be well

Sing alms to my Lord now

This is a story for now, all to tell.

Goodness and light

Lightness and the good

Oh come Lord, Jesus soon

I need you to soften my brood.

Push my focus out to His love

And all comes back and it is right

His Word shines through darkness

As in the day I shall walk in the night.

 

 

 

The Technical Side of Green

Now for a little detour from my usual posts to a topic from my professional website on the benefits of viewing greenery in the landscape.  Be sure to take in some natural plantings this Winter wherever you are.  What evergreen trees and bushes are still leafed out or putting on a show from their peeling bark or knotty branches of interest?  Subtle hues of beige and cream, dark brown even red can pop against a fresh snowfall, glisten when covered in layers of ice.  Taking a moment to capture these scenes is good for us!

Here’s my article published this month in the Allen County Master Gardener newsletter and at Two Step Solutions.  Enjoy!

boy, under a tree, child, reading, book, green spaces, nature, benefits, viewing, attention

The Technical Side of Green

By Julie H, Advanced Master Gardener

There probably isn’t a person big or small that doesn’t like the view of a lush countryside, bubbling brook, or vibrancy of the Fall colors in the Midwest to brighten his or her day. “Natural elements grab and hold our attention in effortless ways, even in urban settings,” and this has a profound beneficial effect on us according to research by Dr. William Sullivan, Professor and Head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at University of Illinois.

In his book chapter* entitled, “In Search of a Clear Head,” William Sullivan shares research supporting the premise that:

It is clear that being in or looking onto a green space can improve people’s ability to focus their attention. But is the effect of green space on attention useful to a variety of people under a variety of circumstances? The evidence shows that a wide range of people benefit from exposure to green spaces. Studies have demonstrated links between green spaces and higher performance on attentional tasks in public housing residents, AIDS caregivers, cancer patients, college students, prairie restoration volunteers, and employees of large organizations.

Green spaces help us to recover from mental fatigue, help us make better decisions, and behave with less irritability. Simply put for our homes, work, schools, and communities:

We need nature at every doorstep!

Further, the more senses that are engaged, generally the more stress reduction occurs as well. In one study, students looking out a classroom window onto a natural space had the power to improve test accuracy TENFOLD! So why are we sending students into windowless classrooms? This is something important to think about as we craft study and workspaces at home and in our communities.

So you might ask if these benefits would include an adult playing golf? A child engaged in athletic team sports? “Yes” for the golf although probably more from the exercise than the putting “greens,” and “No” for outdoor sports. Although the playing field may be a green space and it is usually good to be outdoors, the benefits are better during unstructured activities. Better examples would include walking in display gardens (!), growing a few vegetables, viewing natural waterways, and even observing animals in their native habitats. Taking a walk outside is generally a good idea for many reasons yet in another study, only students who walked in an arboretum showed statistically better test scores than ones who walked in the downtown area of their college town.**

To boost the restorative benefits of everyday contact with gardens and green spaces, view and actively engage in those spaces around you. Such is the heart of the Master Gardener (and other community horticulture, 4H, gardening) programs isn’t it? Engaging the public in educational, exploratory, and experiential gardening activities is the fun and heart of what we do as Master Gardeners for persons young and old. A little “dose of nature” is a great low-tech idea for all of us.

*Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing Out Our Best; Edited by Rachel Kaplan and Avik Basu.

**Based upon William Sullivan’s lecture entitled “Attention Restoration” presented at Gardens that Heal: A Prescription for Wellness; Chicago Botanical Garden, 5.10.17.

 

When He is All You Have

My beloved is the best . . . but he is asleep as I bemoan my sorry lot.

He holds me close . . . until I react to some scent on his manly body.

It should have a wonderful effect . . . but it does not anymore, sadly.

Such are the ravages of severe illness . . . the kind that makes everything hay-wired.

If I could explain it to you . . . then it would be from understanding myself,

And I cannot dear friend . . . so woe are my words, this night, once again.

But not forever, all night, or after a little while . . .

For He speaks into my heart song . . .

And makes all kinda nice.

My Jesus understands for he hung on a wooden cross . . .

With nails in his hands and feet, a spear thrust in his side.

I could never endure imagine that kind of pain, even if my head banged all night . . .

Let’s just say my Lord knows suffering so His tears comfort me alright.

Even if this Doc or that hath not have the medication right for me . . .

My beloved says healing will still come and my own fasting indicates so.

I shall do what I gotta do to manage this chaos . . . even if I never leave the table by the window at the café of the health food store

Because I can’t think straight and seizures are pushing up from within:  unsafe to make my way home until I stabilize.

“Cmon my Jesus, drive me home

It’s dark already and you are all that I have tonight.”

And so He did when He was all I had.

Goodnight again.

JJ

 

 

 

A marker of insanity

Look closely at this picture:

sheep, chair, hoof, trimming, animal, vet, husbandry, parasite, treatment

Did you know that you can purchase a heavy duty chair for a sheep?  Crazy stuff!  I cracked up when I saw it in the midst of researching online sources for parasite treatments.  This chair is for trimming the hooves of sheep.  I THINK I NEED ONE TOO!!!

“A sheep or a heavy duty chair?” you ask.  Who knows, maybe both!  Because that is just how insane things have gotten over here, trying to diagnose and treat a serious illness without a clear path to follow.  The latest example is trying to treat for parasites.  They harbor metals and toxins so it makes sense that my treatment would be so complicated, especially when markers for metals and toxins have been high for me at some point.  But try and define which parasite you have after numerous tests are inconclusive, you end up going down a dark hole of guessing or worse yet relying on alternative energy testing — neither one of which are appealing to me.

But I have seen parasites over here.  The worms you can see; the microscopic protozoa you cannot.  Over the past few months I have been treating them with a variety of herbals or limited doses of medications.  Some symptoms got better and my worst symptoms got worse for a day or two.  So what is it:  protozoans or worms?  Both?  Where would I have picked them up anyways?  Why have I gotten temporary relief with some symptoms and violent convulsive episodes and headaches with others?  The answers don’t come easily yet it appears that it is because I am on the right track after all.  Inflammation and brain swelling follows die off of parasites if they are in your brain, your central nervous system.  Many helminths can cause seizures.  Fortunately/unfortunately, brain scans have not found any cysts.  The only remaining diagnostic tools are more obscure labs or a lumbar puncture to test my cerebral spinal fluid.  I had spinal injections many years ago.  I don’t want a lumbar puncture!

So here’s how insane things have gotten lately:

  • If my Doctor’s office cannot find the right labs to process additional parasite testing then I am responsible to search for them nationwide and provide the office with all of the information, facilitate the referrals, and obtain the test procedures.  By the way, experience tells me that very likely I will have to follow up on getting the results to the Doctor’s office, confirming receipt as well figuring out how to fit reviewing them into my appointments already limited by cancellations 25% of the time by their office.  New appointments are 5 months from now . . .
  • The trial-n-error of a variety of herbal, over-the-counter, and drug options for treating parasites has left me having to manage virtually every aspect of this potential cause of illness.  Research continues to dominate my waking hours, trying to find the best review articles and treatment strategies for those that may apply to my care.  Thankfully my Doctor, after much resistance and lectures on his liability  concerns, will review this literature and make recommendations in light of it.  The newest step in me having to find appropriate laboratories seems too much to bear.  I guess I have no choice but to proceed and hope I find the right information online somewhere, Lord willing.  More time and dozens of more seizure attacks will follow daily in the interim.  At least Ibuprofen is helping now with the headaches!
  • The billing of two of three past treatment situations are my “special project” each week.  Looks like I just got the first one resolved from an ambulance trip in January so hey, let’s add two more, eh?  Getting pre-auth for a special injection and getting reimbursement for a specialized test in July remain.  No problem.  This is why we go through so many reams of paper around here dontcha know?  Printing out the documentation for tracking everything, following up, yada, yada, yada fills my days.  Just doin’ my job, ma’am!
  • My latest dilemma is the most crazy:  if I am convinced that parasite treatments are needed but I am unable to obtain the strongest ones via a traditional medical route then others in my situation have ordered medications from veterinary or international sources.  Ordering meds online scares the heck out of me!  Members of certain Facebook groups claim both are very safe options and have worked well for them when their Doctors poo-pooed their requests for treatment.  I just dunno about this . . .Systemic parasitic infections are often a clinical diagnosis just like chronic Lyme.  The latter seems to be more acceptable in illness-focused groups than the former.  But the evidence is growing (pun intended!) that one of the strategies opportunistic infections use to stay alive inside of you is to hide in larger parasitic organisms.  The body may even harbor parasites to keep these smaller organisms from killing us.  And the research confirms that parasites harbor toxic metals in possibly yet another symbiotic, protective mechanism. At some point you have to address both the chicken-and-the-egg in these toxic relationships.  Kill the parasites and out comes other toxins both organic and inorganic.  Talk about a “herx!”  At least now I have an Ultra Binder to minimize the herxheimer reaction.
  • Very simply, the only rescue remedy I have remaining to stop the worst of the convulsive episodes is a high dose of steroids.  Nothing else helps for more than a few minutes.  The problem with this is that my Doctor won’t prescribe but a few doses because of osteoporosis (that likely came from antibiotic treatment for chronic Lyme last year).  I understand his thinking.  However, he doubted me when I told him that I only used it sparingly even though I showed him the bottle with remaining doses still in the bottle!  He decided that it would be appropriate to use steroids when the convulsive episodes exceed 7 hours.  SEVEN HOURS!  That was what I did a week ago Saturday.  It was hell!  If I did not have those remaining few pills left, I would have landed in the Emergency Room again.  Holy cow.  Holy sheep?  What an insane treatment plan.
  • So I continue to stay up very late at night most nights because sometimes it lessens the convulsive episodes.  Often there are breakthrough spikes while I sit here with you and while my beloved sleeps soundly just beyond the door without me . . .

What an insane treatment plan indeed.  So gather ’round anyone lost in the sea of forgotten medical mania and serve up a tincture of sheep elixir for a sorry night of seizing under the moon.   Or maybe not.  I have no idea at this point.  But I gotta tell ya that wrapping up in a nice wool blanket on a bark-a-lounger sounds pretty good right now.  Move over Sheepy.  This gal’s gonna need to rest more than you do right now . . .

JJsheep, flower, bug-eyed, big eyes, lamb