Friday, November 23, 2012

Retreat -- Not Surrender

For seven years, I have been battling sand burrs! I got acquainted with them early in our first winter season in south Texas. We parked in an asphalt drive-thru site, and the weather was delightfully warm. I rushed outside barefoot, and quickly and painfully discovered those pesky, omnipresent little stickers. Since that encounter, I’ve worn shoes.

Several years later, we leased an RV site in a park and immediately made arrangements to have it covered with concrete. "There," I thought vengefully, "that will fix those sneaky sand burrs. We’ll bury them under nearly 4 inches of concrete." And so, we did!

Our concrete slab did bury the sand burrs underneath but it did not phase the sticky little devils elsewhere. Walking across the "infield" of the park, the sand burrs jumped with joy as they attached themselves to the hems of my pants and especially my shoes. If I did not take the time to stand outside the door and painstakingly dislodge every one of the spiny little things, they soon infested the rugs inside our house. From the rugs, when we weren’t looking, they jumped into the towel drawer and the clothes closet. Changing clothes sometimes became a stickery experience!

I hadn’t realized how thickly their roots entwined under the soil, invisible to the eye. We decided to plant some starts of a native plant – called "frog fruit" – behind our rig. Several species of butterflies choose this plant to harbor them in one stage of their development, and we wanted to encourage the growth of those fluttering little gems.

 To prepare the area for planting, I spent weeks pulling and digging out sand burr roots. I could hardly believe the length of some of those roots; several were longer than I am tall! And they are tough, clinging stubbornly to the underground pathways through which they have grown. Often, after I had tugged and pulled out several feet of root, it would break and I realized that I had lost that battle because the remaining root was sure to come up again!

We planted our "frog fruit" and it quickly took root and grew. We were delighted with our lovely patch of plants with their tiny green leaves and white flowers. But it wasn’t long before the sand burr shoots began to appear, up through and above our plants. I pulled them out, and back they came! I cleaned them out again, and they came back even thicker. And, to complicate the problem, their stems looked a lot like the stems of our dear little "frog fruit."

Every fall, when we return to our winter home, there is a bumper crop of sand burrs choking out our flowers. It takes me at least a week or two to clean them out so the "frog fruit" can breathe. Then those persistent little pricklers are back before I can get rested up enough to attack them again!

This year those viney spiny little intruders killed off about half of our little flowers! I realized that, while they are invading and growing 24/7, I was only able to pull and dig them out about 2/3. Clearly, I was losing my war with sand burrs!

So, I came up with a new strategy: I let the sand burrs have the area they had cleared. There they can battle the lawn mower. But, for us, I fenced off an area of healthy "frog fruit" plants. I even stole a few healthy plants from the sand burr territory and transplanted them into my protected place to try to encourage the struggling plants there. I will NOT give up my war against sand burrs! So, this new arrangement may be retreat, but it is NOT surrender!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dia de los Muertos

Hallowe’en has come and gone, and we had a great party here at the park. There were scary costumes, funny costumes, dancing, lots of yummy treats, and a pumpkin carving contest.

But, for many of our neighbors here in deep south Texas, Hallowe’en takes a back seat to Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a traditional Hispanic holiday.

Now, don’t quit reading yet just because the name sounds creepy. It is really a happier and more enjoyable celebration than our Hallowe’en and is related to the same tradition. Centuries ago, the Roman Catholic church designated November 1st as "All Saints’ Day," and November 2nd as "All Souls’ Day." These were designated by the church as times for remembering those who had died during the previous year. The evening before (October 31) was called "Hallowed Evening," a time of remembrance and special prayers for the departed.

English-speaking peoples shortened the name of the October remembrance to "Hallowe’en" and, through the years, it has become focused upon the scarier aspects of death: ghosts, witches, ghouls, vampires, and other such frightening things.

In Spanish-speaking countries, however, the Roman Catholic holiday was combined with ancient native celebrations. An early August celebration of remembrance of the dead dates back 2500 to 3000 years in the Aztec culture. As time passed, those native customs and the Roman Catholic practices became mixed together.

In modern Mexico, October 31st is "La Noche de Duelo" (the Night of Mourning). Some families follow the custom of gathering in the cemetery to clean up and decorate the graves of deceased loved ones on that day.

(picture courtesy of Wikiipedia)

Decorations usually include favorite food and drink of the dead loved one, and perhaps an item representing a favorite hobby or activity, all enhanced with golden-yellow marigold flowers. Some families will picnic together at the gravesites as the elders retell stories of the deceased to the children. Many will sleep around the grave for the night.

November 1st is "Dia de los Angelitos" (Day of the Little Angels) dedicated to the remembrance of infants and children who have died. November 2nd is "Dia de los Muertos" (Day of the Dead) on which adult ancestors and loved ones are recalled. 

Altars are built in many homes which often include a picture of the deceased, items representing his/her favorite food, drink or activities, a Christian cross, candles, and lovely paper art which flutters in every breeze.

Special sweets of the holiday also decorate the altar. Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead) is a special sweet bread often decorated with coils of dough in the shape of a skeleton. Skull-shaped sugar candies are a favorite for the children. The altar, too, is decorated with marigolds, the official flower of the celebration.

The mood is festive and joyful, even humorous. Telling stories about the deceased – especially funny tales – helps sweeten the family’s memories of the departed ancestor.

The home altar, dedicated to the deceased one, reminds all who enter the house how cherished and important that person still is to his/her descendants. Common images of the occasion include

(Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

 skeletons and "catrinas",
(Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
elegantly dressed female skeletons, who serve as humorous reminders that the rich
 – as well as the poor – all die.

We were educated about this unique holiday as we toured a special exhibit at the Museum of South Texas History in nearby Edinburg, Texas.


We roamed through their exhibits of home altars, cemetery decorations, tasted some of the holiday sweets, and admired the jewelry, bags, tableware, and notecards created by skilled artisans especially for the holiday.

 We’re all in favor of substituting the humor of Dia de los Muertos for the horror of Hallowe’en!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

CPR on me!

It's a long story. Back in the early 1980s my doctor first told me that I had a "benign" heart murmur. At that time he simply wanted me to know in case any other doctor asked if I had been aware of the murmur.

About 2002 the doctor whom I was seeing at that time became more concerned about the presence of the murmur in the Aortic valve and repeated tests every year or two to keep an eye on it.

I began to see my current cardiologist in 2008 and he did both an echocardiogram and a heart catheterization to get a "baseline" for me as a new patient. He has continued to do an echocardiogram each year since then. This year's echocardiogram was done on October 29 and I went back to the office on Nov. 5 for the follow-up. When the doctor entered the room he asked how I felt. "Fine" He looked at me in all seriousness and asked "Do you have any symptoms?" I was a bit floored and replied, "None."

He then proceeded to explain that the echocardiogram was showing significant worsening of the Aortic Valve problem -- almost twice as bad as last year. "I am really worried" was his comment. He suggested a heart catheterization for the very next day. And that was ok with me.

So yesterday I was at the hospital at 6 am to register, do the labs, and be ready for a 7am catheterization. When the procedure was over they called Mary Sue to meet with the doctor who explained that the results were much better than he had expected. The aortic valve was compromised about 20% compared to 10% four years earlier. And while there are deposits on some of the arteries that is not of much concern at this time. Mary Sue was to wait where she was after the doctor left and they would be bringing me out soon.

In the meantime our friend was in the waiting room and heard a "Code Blue" page for the room in the cath lab where I was having my procedure. About the same time a nurse asked Mary Sue to return to the waiting room for a bit longer. When Mary Sue rejoined our friend, the friend could not understand why Mary Sue was so upbeat when Rebecca had just heard the Code page. Apparently Mary Sue was still remembering the good news from the doctor and had not associated the Code page with me.

Later on, the cardiologist met with Mary Sue a second time and explained that when the team had removed the catheter my heart stopped twice. The cardiologist showed her a paper strip from the EKG showing the regular rhythms and then the two periods of straight lines.

Fortunately all is well that ends well. I have some soreness in my chest this morning as a result of the CPR compressions. Also there is some mild soreness around the site where they inserted the catheter. I get to remove the big clunky bandage this afternoon and take a shower (and wash off that green stuff that I am painted up with).

I am to resume normal activities tomorrow and have a follow-up with the cardiologist on November 26.

So I was especially thankful to wake up this morning still breathing!!!!!!!!! and rejoicing in the good news from the heart catheterization.

So, with gratitude, I share with you the good news.