Category Archives: general musings

general musings and rambles on any topic that i feel like i want to write about

on grief, and celebrating life

*i started writing this post months ago and never finished it. instead of starting over, i’ve decided to just finish the post today and publish it as is. grief is an ongoing process and i feel like i spent much of 2022 grieving. it’s 2023 now and while i know i can’t magically be “done” grieving, i want to move past the actively thinking about it and feeling it all the time phase. today is the day of nita’s memorial gathering and hopefully that will help move the process along.

today is all souls day or day of the dead, november 2nd. i haven’t traditionally been someone who has observed this day, but this year i’m feeling the call.

my boy sticker in his younger days

the first part of 2022 was consumed with the grief of losing my dear sweet feline familiar sticker. stencil and i are mostly adjusted now, though i do think he’s pretty lonely without his brother around. but i’ve made the decision to not get another cat right now. so stencil and i have gotten into a more codependent rhythm. he’s 14 and sleeps a lot in the daylight hours, but i’ve been working on making him come to bed with me at night, blocking off the hallway door so to limit his ability to howl at all the neighborhood cats at the front door all night long. it works for the most part until about 5am when he gets hungry and starts trying to wake me up, so i’ve had to start going to bed earlier to ensure a decent amount of sleep before that happens. (these animals run our lives!) but i miss my sticker boy every day and can hardly believe it’s been nearly a year he’s been gone.

what nita looked like around the time i met her

but another death is more recent, and since i’m actively still in the process of going through her earthly belongings, the grief is ongoing. my dear friend nita, who was also my employer for many years, printing t-shirts and selling collectibles on ebay, and was also somewhat of an art mentor to me (though i’m not sure she really knew that), died in early september. she was found dead in her home, having slumped out of her wheelchair in her kitchen, onto the floor. she had multiple health issues going on, including congestive heart failure and uncontrollable diabetes, had been in and out of the hospital several times over the past few years, and frankly had really been suffering with her diminished health and lack of mobility. so it wasn’t exactly a surprise when friends found her there after not being able to get in touch with her for 24 hours. but she had managed to rebound each time after getting out of the hospital in recent years so i guess we all thought she’d do the same again this time. sadly, she did not. she was stubborn and committed to dying in her house, not in a hospital or nursing home; and so she did.

nita had no living blood kin that we know of. she had a legal will that left everything to an old friend of hers. but we also found a handwritten will of sorts – “the list” as she titled it herself – that specified about 20 people to receive very specific things of hers, and then another 25 or so to have the opportunity to claim something from her estate that would be of personal interest to them. the list was dated in january 2022, so recent enough that we, her friends and caretakers, felt like we should honor it, and thankfully her heir and executor also agreed.

tracking down all these folks became an obsession for me, as a way to honor my friend and her wishes. nita used facebook a lot and so that became a way to find some of the folks i didn’t know; i was able to reach a good amount of them by simply sending them a facebook message. but some never responded or even saw my message, and others weren’t amongst her facebook friend list… so then i had to start going through her belongings to try to find phone numbers. we poured through endless notebooks that nita used to make lists, sketch out art pieces, and jot down her thoughts. we had her iphone but for many months we didn’t know the passcode to get into it to get to her contacts app. amazingly, finally, we discovered one of the last times she was in the hospital she gave the code to one of her dear high school friends who was part of the caretaking team and we were finally able to have access to it. i found many more phone numbers though still not all. her phones had given her a lot of trouble in recent years and i think her contacts list was not all there. i gave it my best effort but there were still a few folks i wasn’t able to reach; i can only hope someone else via word of mouth was able to notify them about her death.

i did delegate some of the phone calls out to other folks, but i made a lot of them myself. making those calls was hard, but was also a gift, as i got to hear all kinds of stories about nita and the many ways that people were connected to her in her lifetime. if you know me then you know talking on the phone is not really my jam, but i was glad for these conversations to help move our collective grief along and to flesh out more of the story of nita’s life that i didn’t really know the details of.

nita was an artist and a collector of vintage toys, ephemera, books, graphics, advertising memorabilia, and anything circus, western, magic, comics/cartoons, pop art, folk art, and new orleans, amongst other things. her art was a mixture of screenprinting, painting, and collage/assemblage (she usually just chose the term “mixed media” when describing her work), using both original and appropriated imagery from the past as well as physical objects. for much of her life she printed t-shirts to make a living, serving a mix of commercial clients as well as collaborating with other artists and friends, and printing her own designs.

i didn’t know much about her childhood before her death – she rarely ever spoke to me of her family of origin – but i keep discovering bits and pieces, the more i go through her things. i found her birth certificate and was surprised to learn she was born in birmingham, alabama in 1948. some notes on her phone indicate her family lived in fort lauderdale, florida from ages 1-6, but then her mother left her father, tearing her away from him, which was a significant early trauma for nita. i’m not sure where they went next but she mentions staying a lot on her grandmother’s farm in rural mississippi, outside meridian. this is where her love of horses and other animals probably started. eventually she ended up in new orleans and attended riverdale high school in jefferson and then studied art at the john mccrady art school in the french quarter, later taking more classes in art and photography at tulane.

in the 70s she and her then-partner bronwyn alfano started p.a.s. studio – port allen sisters studio, as they were living near baton rouge in port allen after fleeing new orleans due to an abusive male partner of bronwyn’s. (the above newspaper clipping is from the lsu reveille in 1974. nita and bronwyn did an interview about being lesbians, publicly coming out, which was a very radical act for the time. though nita never mentioned this to me she was clearly very proud of it as i found numerous copies of this newspaper cut out folded up in her various wallets and notebooks.)

via p.a.s. studios, they printed lesbian-feminist t-shirts and stickers and posters of their own design. in 1976 when they moved back to new orleans onto carondelet street, they added some creative friends and renamed themselves the new orleans wimmin’s graphics collective, keeping many of the same designs from p.a.s. but expanding their offerings. she and many of her friends were part of the second wave feminist/lgbt community that thrived in new orleans in the 70s and 80s, including the lesbian-feminist commune atlantis. nita would go on to print under the name zatso tees as well as scream printing in the 80s and 90s. (i worked with nita in the 90s as her printing assistant.)

alongside her screen printing business she also did personal artwork, which usually involved old photographs, often of herself as a child and/or members of her family or friends and lovers, and appropriated graphics from vintage advertising, toys or ephemera. she loved everything circus, western, space, and animals, often drawing from the 50s time period of her childhood. one of my favorite pieces she did was of her father, who owned a gulf gas station in fort lauderdale, florida. i found a postcard that was advertising his gas station, with presumably him in the photo; she used that as the basis for the piece, inserting a retro toy car with driver graphic into it, representing her. it’s titled “dad taught me to drive.” this piece sums up nita in so many ways, including her sense of humor. but also, most importantly, her love for her father and the melancholy associated with the memory of being torn away from him at such an early age by her mother.

“dad taught me to drive”
the advertising postcard Nita based the piece on, of her father’s gas station

sometimes her pieces were relatively simple like this, a composite of the postcard and the retro car/driver graphic, printed onto canvas in black and white, and then hand painted in bright colors. but sometimes her pieces were much more elaborate, especially the circus themed ones.

“life’s a carnival, only for some”

“life’s a carnival, only for some” is one of her more complicated pieces. the main part is a similar formula to the previously mentioned piece – a composite graphic taken from old circus board game covers, posters, books and other toys, printed onto a piece of wood in black and white, then hand-painted. but then on this one she adds the boy and girl cut-outs that attach and fold out from the sides, as well as the baton that hangs from the bottom and the bar that protrudes away from the surface of the piece, with small cut out pieces dangling from it. it’s quite elaborate. (also, as a printer, she did editions of her prints and then often made multiples of the finished pieces. this one is labeled 1/20 but i’m not sure how many finished versions of this piece she made.) i don’t know when she first made this, but i do know she was working on versions of this piece in the recent decade.

“stella the bearded lady”
“freaks: airline hwy sideshow outside new orleans 1967. what we called ourselves in the 60s”

adjacent to circus/carnival themes were sideshows. she wrote in an artist statement for one of her shows at hanson gallery on royal street in the 90s: “these people were different. like us, in some ways. we felt a bond, to say that i am proud to be different.” (by “us” she meant lesbians, or lgbtq+ people.) “stella the bearded lady” and “freaks” were two pieces that were in that art show that were based on photos bronwyn took in the 60s-70s at sideshows in the new orleans area.

“dreams of dale”

nita also loved vintage western stuff, particularly cowgirl imagery, and stars like dale evans who were popular in her childhood years. the young girl in the photograph standing in front of a vintage automobile in her piece “dreams of dale” is a dear friend/ex-lover of hers. the girl is in a cowgirl hat, surrounded by images of evans, various cowgirl outfits, a horse, and a magazine cover with evans on it.

“dyke: womon identified”

i found this piece going through her things. i’m not sure if she ever finished a version of this as i don’t remember ever seeing it when she was alive, but it was buried underneath piles of things, folded in half, which i assume means she wasn’t happy with it or never finished it. it is “signed” as nita did, but the edition is not noted. regardless, it’s one of my favorite things i’ve found at her house. it’s unframed and on canvas. the picture – the original of which i also found in the house – is of nita as a young child with one of her younger cousins, likely at her grandmother’s farm in mississippi. (nita in the red.) this may have been one of the pieces she worked on for a cowgirl art show that she contributed to in the 90s. proudly identifying as a dyke is one of the many things nita and i had in common and bonded over.

lavaun and nita

nita had many significant relationships in her life but it was lavaun who was the love of her life. they traveled in overlapping activist and social circles in new orleans and had met earlier in their lives, but re-met again in the early 90s and instantly fell in love. they had a few happy years together before lavaun’s illness finally claimed her – she died of complications due to AIDS in 1996. nita made many, many art pieces celebrating lavaun in their time together and in the years after. i don’t have pictures of many of them but here are a few.

“she never lost her dignity”
not a great photograph of the piece, and i don’t know the title, but this is one of many pieces nita made about lavaun’s life using photographs and text in a screenprinted collage

even up to her death, nita was working on artwork and hoping to get back to a physical shape where she could print and make more art again. one of her last pieces was a carnival game themed construction piece that she sold to a friend.

“carnival/spin a prize or spin a value” (2021)

i wish i had one photo that showed the whole thing but i never saw it all finished to take a pic and these photos were on nita’s facebook profile so i’m guessing she took them herself. but you get the idea. it was quite an elaborate construction, a freestanding table of sorts with the spinners on the sides and all the prizes in the middle. though she could no longer screenprint due to her physical disabilities, she used color and black and white copies of scanned imagery as a stand-in. she worked on this for a long time and had a second one in process at the time of her death that she didn’t finish.

there’s so much more of her work i want to share but i don’t have pictures of much of it. i’m hoping over time that i can get folks who own nita’s work to take photos so we can make a memorial web page with all her art on it, to remember her by. she was a significant artist and deserves to be remembered and celebrated beyond her immediate circle of friends.

nita was one in a million. i’m honored to have been her friend and one of the dozens of caretakers she assembled around her in these last years of many physical and health challenges. like most of the caretaking team, we all had our own lives and went in and out of being able to give nita our time. i personally now wish i’d given her more of my time. but i know we all did the best we could under the circumstances, and nita was not an easy patient to work with. she was stubborn to her core and determined to not die in a hospital or nursing home or other facility. she wanted to die at home, surrounded by all her things, her precious collections and memories. and so, in the end, she did. she did it her way. i only pray she did not suffer in her final moments.

i miss you, nita. and i loved you dearly, even though i fear i wasn’t always great at letting you know that. i have so much to be thankful for, grateful for, about our time spent together. all those years sweating our asses off in your screenprinting shop in your basement on algiers point; all those trips to thrift city on carrollton and lunches at parkway bakery back in the 90s when it was still just a corner store; all the t-shirt designs of mine that you shepherded me though making separations and screens for each color, and printing at no charge so i could sell them to fund things like trips to the march on washington in d.c. in 1993, or for the lesbian avengers as a fundraiser so we could make stickers and do our direct actions around town; all those beers we drank together at charlene’s, talking politics; all the time spent at jefferson flea market or quality flower shop when it went out of business, or krauss when it closed, mining for treasures we could resell via magicmonkey collectibles on ebay or craigslist.

so many memories over the 30+ years we knew each other. you didn’t know it but i thought of you as my dyke mom, an older dyke who took me under her wing and mentored me not only as a printer and an artist but as a dyke and a human being. i will forever be in your debt and will strive to be as kind and generous as you always were to me and everyone around you. your spirit and life lessons will always live on via me and the army of lovers and friends you collected over your lifetime.

i don’t know what it will look like but i know i will be making art about nita in the future. and i already know the title of at least one piece:

nita loves everybody; nita is love.

spring… and patience

i never checked back here after i wrote that last post about sticker’s passing, so thank you to those of you who replied in the comments. i just now saw them. stencil is still howling in the mornings, staring out the window/door, but he is otherwise doing fine. we are both still grieving in our own ways and together. it will just take some time. i know folks keep suggesting i get another cat or a kitten or do some fostering but i don’t think either stencil or i are quite ready for that yet. maybe down the line…

i’ve had to start picking up some overnight pet sits, which i really didn’t want to do anymore – both for myself and for stencil – but my finances require it. unfortunately my pet biz is just not in a place where i can survive without doing some and the demand continues to be high because there are so few petsitters who do overnights, but i’m trying to limit it to one or two a month so i have time to recuperate in between and stencil isn’t left alone for too long. so far he seems to be doing ok with it. (i’m already booked up w/my limit of overnights through june! so grateful for my clients!) i would much prefer having more cat sits or dog sits that didn’t require me to spend the night but in this business you have to kinda just take what comes and be flexible. i will continue to work towards a time when i don’t have to do overnights.

so, yes, back to patience. i tweeted the other day that the month of march is trying to teach me patience and i’m failing miserably. it’s been a rough month of feeling in limbo. i’ve vague-posted a few times on facebook and i’ve told some folks in person what’s going on but haven’t wanted to speak about it publicly on social media cuz i guess it all just doesn’t feel real to me yet and i’ve been afraid to jinx it. but i’m about to pay my rent and my landlords swear the work will get done this week before the 1st so i guess i can go ahead and talk about it. maybe talking about it will help move it along. (please send some energy in my direction to make it so!)

new paint job on the house i’ve rented in for 11 years

i’ve lived in the same 500 square foot one bedroom rear apartment for 11 years now. i really love the house, the location, the neighborhood, and don’t want to move but have been feeling stagnant in my life and like i need a big change and i frankly need more space. i’ve needed more space almost as long as i’ve lived here but have somehow managed to make it work all this time. hurricane ida and the aftermath made me realize how isolated i feel back here, how limiting not having a front door/street access is, how much i missed having a crosswind! as often happens with traumatic experiences, it also made me reevaluate my life and realize how unhappy i’d been recently with my life in general. how i’d always dreamed of more and, well, it’s later than you think.. so better get to it! so i got into therapy (online), started addressing some things, visualized what i wanted my new life to look like, wrote it all down, made a vision board of sorts, and started to make movements in that direction and act as if it was going to happen. and wouldn’t you know? things started happening.

backing up for a minute…. several years back, the former tenant of my place (who became a friend and was one of my cat clients before she moved away to atlanta) had told me she once had a conversation with my landlady about knocking the door down that separates my apartment from the front two rooms of this shotgun structure. it never happened but she said my landlady sounded open to the idea in order to keep her as a tenant. she ended up moving into a bigger place and i ended up in the tiny apartment, but that’s been in the back of my head for years now. the timing never worked out that the apartment next door was empty long enough for me to have that conversation with my landlady, though. and i never felt like i was in a financial place where i could take on any additional rent, which would of course be necessary to get more space. (one of the reasons i’ve stayed here so long is that the rent has been very cheap.)

well i’m still not really in that financial place now but given these changes i was looking to make, i decided when the last tenants moved out mid february to jump and hope that the net would appear, cuz it was time. i reached out to my landlady, who loves me and wants to keep me as a tenant cuz i’ve never been late on the rent and have helped her take care of this house over the years, and broached the subject. i don’t want to get in to all the details here, but, long story short, over many weeks time and some back and forth, we were able to negotiate something that worked for both of us, for me to assume the rest of my side of the house, starting april 1st! yay!

from the front door looking in at my new living room and second (yellow) room

and so began the month of march, my month of waiting for something to happen. waiting for the locks to be changed so that what will soon be my front door will have a new lock and key. waiting for the doorway that had been cut between the two sides of the house to get blocked up, to return it to two shotgun apartments. waiting for the door at the end of my hallway to be unsealed from the other side (not pictured, but in the yellow room) so i could get through to the other two rooms… but only after the other two things happen, so i’m not exposed and can secure my apartment. a handyman was hired to do all the interior painting and fixes on the other side, and he will be doing the work necessary to open my side up, as well. i thought he might do the work to get my apartment situated first… but sadly, that has not been the case.

looking towards my new front door through the living room

and so i continue to wait. the handyman does not keep regular hours and comes and goes randomly. nice guy, and seems to be doing good work, but clearly he has multiple jobs going on at the same time and this one is not his priority. he doesn’t have a crew, works alone, so it’s slow-going. he has replaced the locks on the other side and fixed those doors so they are secure. but the lock on my side gave him some trouble so it has not been resolved and i no longer have access to those rooms until it is. nothing has happened to seal up the doorway between the sides or unsealing the door in my hallway.

and meanwhile, all month long there has been a different work crew painting the exterior of the house, the result of which is the pic above a few paragraphs. it looks great and i look forward to being able to enjoy that front porch! (my back porch looks nice too, see pic below.) it’s gonna be amazing to open the front door and back door and feel a breeze throughout the house! (none of the windows open in the house cuz they’ve all been painted shut.)

happy to have my back porch back

so yeah. it’s been quite a month. and april 1st is friday. is it possible to get it all squared away by then? sure. it’s really not that much work (for my side) and could be done in a day but it will take the handyman prioritizing it. i talked to my landlords today and they are just basically at the mercy of the handyman who sets his own schedule. so we all wait.

patience.

meanwhile, i already moved everything away from the door at the end of the hallway in preparation for it being opened up. (i’d used it as a storage area so there was a dresser with a ton of stuff piled up on top of it that is now just crammed into my bedroom.) so it feels like my tiny space is even more chaotic than usual. i’ve measured the new rooms (in the brief window of time that i had access to them) and drawn out a blueprint of the space to start visualizing how i might rearrange everything. but i can’t start assembling any new furniture or moving anything obviously until i have a key and the door is opened up. it’s just so frustrating.

however the universe has at least answered my desperate call for work and money, to be able to afford the new rent. i sold some art and folks were really generous in their payments. i did a 5 day overnight sit. i’ve had some other pet sits in addition to picking up one new m-w-f dog walking client. (after losing a m-f daily client, which didn’t exactly make up all the money i’d lost but is something.) and i’m fully booked with pet sits for the month of april, into may, and have a long overnight sit in june on the books. so it feels like i’ll be able to get through the next few months ok.

hopefully by then i’ll be situated in my new extra space and have one room dedicated to being my art studio, which will help me in my efforts to beef up my side income from my art. i hope to figure out a way to get the t-shirt printer back inside the house so i can get back to printing too.

it might take many months for all this to come together but this is the vision i’ve been (wo)manifesting so i can move in to the next phase of my life where my art is more a part of my every day and i don’t have to compartmentalize it quite so much in my physical (and mental) space. and hopefully all this change will also inspire me to let go of some of the excess clutter that i’ve built up over the last 11 years in the house, as i streamline and feng shui my living space.

so that’s my news. that’s what’s been taking up all my mental energy as of late. i haven’t really been going out and doing anything social as i’m trying to be financially frugal, but i look forward to a time very soon when i can actually socialize in my own home, have people over!! it has taken a lot of work to get me here and will continue to take a lot of work to follow through and make it all happen, as well as continuing to afford it. but this is my work for 2022. i knew 2022 was going to be a year of change for me. and so it is. new year, new life!

welcome to my blog

this is a space where i write more long form about stuff that interests me. so far mostly i’ve been writing about my recuperation from brain surgery and my obsession with non-alcoholic beer. hopefully i will add more topics.

please use the category links on the right if you are only interested in specific topics.

how did it get to be 2022 already?

it’s been a long time since I wrote in this blog. i’m still drinking NA beer and trying out new ones all the time but i guess my fascination with writing reviews about each one has dwindled. (i’ll try to get back to that this year.)

nothing remarkable has been going on with my health, which is of course good news. i meant to write a one-year craniversary post in october but never did. (i posted on facebook about it instead.)

i did start writing a hurricane ida post with a play-by-play from my vantage point inside my house but never finished it, so it sits in my drafts. i think i will keep it there as more of a journal entry for myself. it was quite an experience and the ensuing few months with a partially collapsed shed in my backyard that i looked at every day took a toll on my mental health, but i seem to have made it through. it took a while but i did get a brand new shed and things got back to normal more or less and life just went on and i didn’t write about any of it here on this blog.

and now it’s new year’s day 2022. i first started writing this post on december 17th but didn’t finish it then. it was a week where i began the first two of many holiday cat sits while still having my full dog walking schedule. the following week i started an 8-day overnight dog sit, hopefully the last one of those i’ll ever do. (i will continue dog walking and cat sitting and doing any other petsitting which does not require me to spend the night.) there were a few more cat sits sprinkled in there. work was very hectic for those few weeks, but it was great for my bank account and now i can start to pay down the credit card i filled up with all the vet bills for sticker and stencil’s various ailments of the past several months. (they are both doing better now, thank goodness.)

if you know me then you know i don’t really love christmas. it’s not that i hate it but i think the combo of having a job that is peak busy during the holidays and being single/living alone makes it challenging. in the past i have enjoyed decorating for the holidays but for the 11 years i have lived in this tiny one bedroom rear apartment that doesn’t face the street and has no interior doors or way to keep a christmas tree away from naughty cats, i have not decorated. no one ever comes to my house so no one but me would see it, and during the holiday time i’m hardly in my house because of work so it seems a waste of time, energy and money. i enjoy other people’s decorations though. and i try to get my little rituals in – christmas eve for a few hours with one group of friends, and christmas day for a few hours with another – but aside from that, it’s just a whirlwind of a month of working where i try my best to not get sick.

sadly, i was not successful with that this year. i got really run down from my work schedule (late nights, early mornings, bad sleep, poor eating) and it remains to be seen yet (still waiting on the results of a PCR test) whether it’s omicron (covid) or not. i have symptoms that come and go but for the past week i’ve had severe fatigue, off and on runny nose, a cough and occasionally a scratchy throat, and i experience what feels like hot flashes but they don’t register as a fever with my digital forehead thermometer. oh, and i had a serious headache for a few days, which was actually the most alarming of symptoms because i just don’t get headaches… except when something is really wrong. (like when i had meningitis and discovered my brain tumors!) so i’ve taken two rapid tests, a few days apart, which both came back negative, and i went for a PCR on Thursday hoping to get the results back in time to partake in new year’s eve festivities. the results have still not come in and my symptoms have been so inconsistent it’s been hard to tell if i actually have something or am just worn out from working too much. i did end up going over to some friends’ house last night for a couple of hours but i kept my mask on even though we were outside and there was a strong breeze, and i kept my distance from everyone. i took a rapid test right before i went (negative) and felt fine when i went there but my energy waned pretty quickly and i came home around 11pm. i was in bed before midnight.

and here we are, january 1st, 2022. happy fucking new year. i want to be optimistic about what’s in store this year for all of us but it’s hard to do with omicron raging through new orleans and the country/world at the moment. but hey, mardi gras is on this year! which means we have a six day lull between the end of the christmas/new year’s holiday and the beginning of the carnival season which begins on thursday, 12th night (epiphany). bring on the king cake! the joan of arc parade is on and i guess we’re gonna go and just keep our masks on the whole time and try hard not to be in a thick crowd. not sure how mardi gras is gonna go but i think a lot of us are hoping omicron will have peaked and maybe passed for the most part by the height of carnival parade madness. more concerning is the pussyfooters’ blush ball, which i have a vip ticket for, which is on january 28th. crossing fingers!

i guess that’s enough of a longwinded post for now, to get me caught up. i’ll make a separate post about what has been percolating in my mind creatively and what i’m otherwise working on for 2022. go eat your black eyed peas and cabbage y’all!

non-brain health update

i mean, it is all about my brain, really. but i just went for my annual physical with my GP (dr. yount) who is also my GYN on monday and am overall pretty pleased with the results. it’s so convenient to get my annual PAP/STI screening at the same time as my blood work and all the other stuff. dr. yount is a one-stop shop! i hadn’t seen her since my brain surgery – in fact, she was the one who gave me the referral to get the MRI that got me on the path to the surgery at my last annual, last july. so we had a lot of catching up to do.

my BP was just a tad high 134/82 in the office – but when i check it at home, 8 times out of 10 it’s in the 120’s/80 or lower, much closer to “normal,” so she told me to just keep monitoring it. i’ve gained all the pounds i lost post-surgery but am at my usual weight, haven’t put on any extra pounds. she poked and prodded me, they took a urine sample, and lots of blood. (thankfully they found a vein on the first try!)

my lab tests all came back today and everything checks out as being within normal range except my cholesterol, which is of course borderline high. my HDL and triglycerides are actually really good though, so that helps. it’s the LDL that is bad. i think i need to make some adjustments to my diet for sure. i’ve been trying to eat better the past couple of weeks but particularly when i’m overnight dog sitting and rushing around with no spare time, i have to admit i eat pretty crappy. lots of takeout and frozen meals. this past week i stepped up the exercise, adding an evening walk in the park to my routine, which also has the added bonus of aiding in my digestion of dinner and helping me sleep better. but i’ll need to stick with it and get more vigilant with what i’m eating, for sure.

the part i’m pleased about is that my glucose and A1C were both good, both of which had been flagged last year as borderline high. i really think it had something to do with the fact that i didn’t fast last year before the exam, in fact i ate lunch right before i went there! but this year i made sure to eat breakfast really early and not have anything else but water for 8 hours before they drew blood, so i think these results are a lot more accurate. so no diabetes for me!

am i the model of health for a 53-almost-54 year old woman? no. i have pounds to lose, i have achy joints and a wonky knee, high cholesterol and blood pressure that i have to keep an eye on, and i know i’m at risk for heart disease – it runs in the family. not to mention the remaining brain tumor. but really, despite all that, i’m in pretty good overall health. i exercise daily, i drink a LOT of water, i don’t drink sugary sweet drinks, i no longer drink alcohol and don’t smoke. now if i can just figure out how to eat better on a regular basis and keep stepping up the exercise.

i swear, if there was ONE thing i could say to my younger self, to change the trajectory of my life, it would be to take better care of my body and to pay more attention to what i put into it. and to exercise more. we all just think we’re so invincible when we’re young, don’t we? but i can’t turn back the hands of time, so here i am at midlife. time to make some adjustments.

how i’m doing

this is a health-related post, so if you’ve come here looking for NA beer reviews, use the category links for that blog stream. i don’t have any big health updates, just a few observations and thoughts after a long day of jazz festing in place with friends yesterday.

i really struggled with my voice and my energy yesterday. we were outdoors, no masks cuz we were all fully vaccinated, with WWOZ blaring from a bluetooth speaker. there were ten or so of us, spread out, so when i spoke, there was enough going on that i had to try to project my voice across distance and over others who were having side conversations as well as the music. it was fine at first – it’s definitely better without the mask and my voice has gotten stronger over time – but the longer the day went on, the harder it became to do and the more strained my throat felt. and the softer and higher pitched my voice got. and the more exhausted i was.

trying to speak loud enough to be heard exerts a lot of energy. it also messes with my breathing, which also expends energy. (i never realized before surgery and my ensuing complications that your vocal folds have a lot to do with regulating your breath going in and out of your wind pipe. so talking a lot, when one side of your vocal cords is paralyzed, makes breathing harder while doing so.) and then there was the angelique kidjo dancing in the kitchen interlude which put almost 3000 steps onto my fitbit and had me breaking out in a sweat at one point. that was probably the last straw.

all of this lead to me rather abruptly running out of energy like a suddenly depleted battery in a child’s toy. i could feel myself waning and then i just hit a wall and i could no longer function. it wasn’t because i hadn’t slept the night before – i had. i’m not sick. and i had not over-eaten or under-eaten. and i certainly could not attribute it to alcohol as i was drinking NA beer all day (hat tip to rightside brewing’s citrus wheat!) along with some rosemint tea w/ginger ale. this is just how it is now. folks with chronic illness often use the “spoons” analogy and i’m reluctant to appropriate that because i don’t have a chronic illness but i do feel like i now understand that more than i ever did before. post-surgery, i don’t have as much energy as i use to just take for granted having; i now seem to really have a limit, and once that limit is used up, i’m done. period. no pushing through to carry on. i just need to lie down. done. like a toddler.

and it doesn’t take strenuous physical activity to get me there. apparently all it takes is six hours of socializing while seated, constant talking, and a few minutes of dancing in the kitchen.

don’t get me wrong – i’m so happy to be alive and to have recovered so well from a successful major surgery where they drilled into my skull, peeled back part of it, and removed an intruder from my brain stem. but i am not the person i was before and i’m still just getting used to the person i am now, the limitations this still-recuperating body has now.

i don’t share all this to be whining or complaining. i do so because i feel like in general i’ve put a happy face on all of my recovery, and when i see folks now who have only seen me sporadically or on social media, i think they think i’m totally back to “normal” and don’t realize i am still enduring struggles, however minor in the grand scheme of things. but they are still there, and account for my sometimes abrupt change of mood.

in many ways its convenient that that my surgery and recuperation has happened during the pandemic, when life has slowed down and there’s not as much activity going on. i’m not sure that i would actually make it through a normal day at jazzfest at the fairgrounds right now. here’s hoping i build my endurance back up before october when jazzfest hopefully returns.

six months!

i just realized that this past tuesday was my six month mark, post-surgery! woo hoo!

nothing really to report in terms of health updates. i continue to inch closer back to “normal” or whatever that was pre-surgery, mid-pandemic. no lingering effects from the second moderna shot, that i can tell – and i am fully vaccinated now! it has felt really wonderful to share a few hugs with other vaccinated friends. finally the year of no-human-physical-contact ends.

i am still taking only four dog walks each morning most days, but pet sitting is really picking up. this week i have another long weekend pet sit (a dog, two cats and two birds) and have several more bookings in may and june so far. i’m trying to be smart about it – spacing them out, not taking back-to-back bookings, so i have time to rest and reset in between. i know it seems like staying overnight with dogs and cats in other peoples’ houses should be a cush, fun job, and it definitely can be fun cuz i do love all the critters, but it can actually be quite stressful and physically demanding in my older age – all the extra dog walks, poop scooping, and running back and forth between clients homes and my own to feed my needy feline pair. and all the disrupted sleep, usually from pets who are confused being out of their regular schedule and without their owners. the bad sleep is just something i can’t absorb anymore without consequences the next day. i always joked that this business would have been a GREAT idea to have had in my 20s when i was younger and more resilient. but here i am, 53 and 10 years in business. i guess the challenge now is just to learn how to work smarter.

the other thing i realized is that if it’s been six months since i had surgery, it’s been almost seven since i’ve had any alcohol. (i stopped drinking a couple weeks before surgery, just to be in the best possible shape for such a traumatic physical experience.) it’s such a weird thing to realize, for me. i have been a beer drinking fool since i was 15. i don’t think i’ve ever gone more than a few days, maybe a week, without alcohol my whole life. i have never been an alcoholic or even considered myself to have a problem with alcohol, but if i’m honest i can certainly say i’ve abused alcohol on many occasions and definitely drank way too much, often. drinking is such a part of social life here, and as a shy, socially-awkward introvert i have often relied on alcohol as my social lubricant to get me through the anxiety of being around people. plus i do enjoy the relaxation and melting away of the world’s cares it provides short term.

as i have aged though, i think all that beer/alcohol finally caught up to me, because the last decade or so i’ve become acutely aware of how much my body punishes me the next day for imbibing. my body no longer likes alcohol. (maybe it never did but the after effects were easier to suffer through when i was younger.) i still enjoy the buzz it gives me, and i still love the taste of craft beer, but the headaches, the body fatigue and pain, and the risks of what further damage it is doing to my brain and other internal organs is no longer worth it to me. (i only recently realized the link between alcohol consumption and cancer!) i’m not saying i won’t ever drink alcohol again, but when i do, i hope it’s in much more moderation and maybe even only as a special treat. i can envision going back out to bars/restaurants with friends and having one of my favorite leaded beers and then switching to NA for the rest of the evening. that would seem a good compromise to me.

finding the deliciousness of the new wave of craft non-alcoholic beer has given me a whole new perspective on it too. i can drink this stuff and not crave an actual beer. it can represent to me much of what “having a beer” always did for me, and it still satisfies the taste element. no, it’s not the same – NA beer is always going to taste different than alcoholic beer – it’s different, but it’s still good. and interesting. and there’s variety, just like in the craft beer world. now if we could make it the norm for bars and restaurants in the US and NOLA specifically to be offering a selection of these on their menus next to the craft beer roster, then i would be a happy gal. (europe has been on this trend for years. you can pretty much find NA beer on tap in lots of pubs and there is a much wider variety of NA craft beer being produced. europeans understand that NA beer is not just for alcoholics; mindful drinking should be for everyone.)

the most surprising part to me of this NA adventure is how much i’m learning about beer! it’s not that i didn’t have some knowledge of the different styles and brewing techniques before – i’ve always been somewhat interested – but i think drinking without the alcohol makes me even more interested. (and writing about it now also contributes, i’m sure.) it makes me more adventurous in trying different styles and brands too. i have lately tapered off my wild buying sprees of new and different beers, choosing to stick with the ones i’ve really enjoyed the most, but there’s still plenty of NA brews on my must-try list and i’ll get around to them eventually. so stay tuned!

v is for vaccination

artwork by Thomas Wimberly

this isn’t a health update regarding my brain surgery, but it is a health update nonetheless. and it does seem important for me, given what i’ve been through with surgery and my lengthy recuperation, to have gotten the vaccine. i wanted to write down my experience with side effects for myself and also in case it’s helpful to anyone else. so here i am, updating.

i got my second dose of moderna on monday afternoon. my first dose a month ago was uneventful. i had a little bit of a sore arm a day after the shot and maybe a day of fatigue about a week afterwards. (though who knows, maybe it was unrelated?) but i’d heard the second shot of moderna in particular was really affecting people so i was a little worried, though nonetheless excited to be getting it over with.

so, the second shot. both times i got it in my left arm, my logic being that post-surgery, i can’t sleep on my left side cuz my head hurts when i put pressure on the surgery site – and i am a flip-flopper in the night – so i wanted to preserve my ability to sleep on my right side by not getting the shot in that arm. so left arm it was. just like the first time, my immediate reaction was just a sore arm, more of an annoyance than a problem.

i was vaccinated around 3:30pm. by evening, my arm was sore and i was feeling a little tired, but nothing else. i woke up the next morning thinking, hmm, this isn’t so bad. maybe i won’t have any big side effects. i went to work and for the first two dog walks of the morning, i felt ok. it was raining so i was distracted by all the ways the rain makes walking dogs difficult. but by the third walk, with the rain holding off, i was starting to notice my left ankle being very sore, hard to put weight on. i do have problems with my joints from time to time, but not usually that bad. by the 4th walk of the morning, my knees and hips were starting to really bother me too, and i was literally limping along. i was struggling. it was painful to finish that walk and to get in and out of the car. my whole pelvic region felt inflamed.

i came home, had a bowl of granola and almond milk for lunch, and realized every joint in my body was aflame. everything hurt, even when i wasn’t moving. lying on the futon on top of the electric blanket, like a giant heating pad, helped a little, but not a lot. i checked my temperature and i didn’t have a fever, but i was definitely feeling fatigued. by mid-afternoon i could barely keep my eyes open and had to go lie down in the bed. i ended up dozing most of the afternoon away, which was not such a bad way to pass a rainy, stormy afternoon. the cats were so concerned about me they snuggled in the bed with me.

i woke up right before it got dark because the cats were pestering me to feed them dinner. still achy, still fatigued, and now with a headache and chills. still no fever, though. fed the cats, warmed up and ate some pasta and sauce with veggies i’d made the day before, tried to watch a movie but couldn’t get though it because i just felt so awful and crawled back in bed. i didn’t end up taking anything because i’d read such conflicting reports online about whether it was OK to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen – i knew i wasn’t supposed to take it BEFORE getting the vaccine but still felt confused about whether it messed with the efficacy of the vaccine afterwards. so i decided to just tough it out and hopefully sleep it off.

slept all the way through the night and woke up this morning feeling much better. joint pain was gone, body aches, headache and chills gone. i felt like i had a little residual hangover type feeling, from what i’d been through the day before, but that quickly left as i got up and moved around, had coffee, ate breakfast. i worked today and had no problem walking dogs.

my only remaining symptom is that my arm is still sore at the injection site, though maybe a little less so, and just today it has started to also be red in the general area of the shot. but otherwise i feel fine. i guess my body did what it was supposed to do.

i signed up with the V-SAFE program to report my side effects; you should too if you have recently had shot one or two of any of the covid-19 vaccines. it helps the cdc and the vaccine makers learn more about how the vaccines are affecting people. if you feel your specific side effects were worth noting, you might also file a VAERS report. if your side effects made you seek medical help, your doctor or the facility are required to file one of those reports, but if you didn’t you can still do so. you can also use that site to access all their data and see what kinds of side effects people are having and reporting. it’s kind of fascinating

and that’s it. now i just have to wait two weeks to be fully vaccinated! yay!

and, just in, governor edwards announced this afternoon that as of next monday, the 29th, everyone in louisiana 16+ will be eligible for a covid-19 vaccine! (16+ for J&J, 18+ for pfizer or moderna.) so if you haven’t gotten your shot yet, now’s the time to make that appointment. and please encourage your family, your friends, neighbors, co-workers, everyone you know to get vaccinated as well. with europe going back on lockdown and numbers starting to rise in parts of the US, we are in a race against the virus to get folks vaccinated so we can get to herd immunity. let’s do this people!

trying this blog thing again

i’ve owned this vanity URL for over a decade and never did anything with it, so here i am, doing something with it. i’m just getting started but so far it’s a blog where i’m writing mostly about my ongoing brain surgery recovery/health updates as well as my post-surgery/pandemic obsession of non-alcoholic beer. i hope to write about more. i guess we’ll see.

please use the category links if you only want to read a particular topic.