Karma and my keys

Yesterday was the first time since the pandemic restrictions began that a group of my yoga friends and I got together.

I was a big grouch–and later karma let me have it. (If you believe in such things, that is. Work with me here; this is my blog.)

We’d gathered for a picnic under a tree near the Carillion, the tall bell tower whose peak I can see from my condo. The others had driven there, knowing I no longer drive and am squeamish about indoor venues.

As each of the six of us arrived, carrying a bag lunch or snack and individual blankets (lawn chairs, in a couple of cases), it quickly became apparent what my mask protocol was: Wear one.

Of course, the masks had to come off while we ate, and after that I lightened up, confident no one was closer to me than 6 feet.

But I kept a death grip on an antibacterial wipe. I flinched when my teacher playfully flicked a piece of fallen foliage my way or I overheard a mention of a shared car ride. Or Arizona.

Angry Me

At some point during the conversation, Angry Me escaped, and I ranted about my town’s seeming lack of concern about Covid. Every day I run or walk, masked, and veer off the path to avoid groups of the unmasked.

When I walk downtown, I keep a mental tally of who’s wearing a face covering and who’s not; though the ratio seems to be improving, “nots” are the norm.

I went on like this for some time, pontificating about science and why our country, of all countries, is in such a mess.

Now back to the picnic

At some point I realized I was making a minor spectacle of myself. Most of my friends have kids and grandkids facing the prospect of returning to school or not. And hadn’t my husband and I just briefly visited our own grown daughter, the two of us in masks but she and her boyfriend not?

I tearfully apologized. There was no need. “It’s okay to show emotions in front of your friends,” or something that effect, said one, a retired social worker.

We wrapped up eventually with virtual hugs and promises to meet again soon.

Too much sitting makes Lisa a dull girl

Once the others were gone, I hoofed it home, waved to my Zoom-engrossed husband, dropped off my backpack of picnic supplies, sterilized my keys and phone, grabbed a disposable mask and headed back out, waving again.

Keys in one hand, phone in the other, I turned left and meandered a short way along the path. I sat at one of my favorite quiet riverside spots, intending to meditate (OOPS, FORGOT THE WEIRDO ALERT), but the sounds of screeching children from the playground across the way made me get up and get moving already.

I trotted past our building to the Carillion, weaving around the unmasked, as usual, and then ran two loops up, around and down the town’s sledding hill. (Of course, at this time of year it’s more of a kids-rolling-down-it hill, but you get the idea.)

After that I headed toward home, stopping at a scenic grassy spot to take off my shoes and socks and do some of my favorite yoga poses. (YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.)

Instant Karma

I was checking the time on my phone and walking home when it hit me: The keys were not in my other hand.

Thinking I must have left them in the grass, I went back. I saw the indentations my feet had made the grass and knew I’d set my shoes, socks and phone down directly to the left. But the keys? Now I wasn’t so sure.

It occurred to me that the keys could be anywhere I’d been–the failed meditation spot, the kid-rolling hill loop, the path in between or the many zigs and zags I’d taken to avoid the unmasked. A kind stranger could have even found the keys and set them on a bench.

Then my brain spewed out what I thought was the answer: Not once but twice I’d stopped to tie a shoe, setting my precious cargo on the ground. Where? I had no idea.

So I retraced my steps. Nothing.

At this point, a rational person would give up, especially since her husband was in the building and, really, how big a deal is replacing condo keys and/or changing a lock?

I’m really asking, because I don’t know.

Regardless, I’m no rational person (See: name of this blog), plus my blood sugar was way low.

Putting my hand to my hip and realizing too late that my running shorts had a key pocket, I decided this whole affair was karmic retribution for my attitude at the picnic. (And hey, now that I’m writing this, maybe also for my attitude toward people in general during the pandemic. Hmmm.)

I closed my eyes and silently vowed to be a better person. (STILL READING? MMM-KAY.)

Full circle

In defeat, I called my husband. He put off his meetings and headed out, bearing protein bars and an understandable air of annoyance.

Guess what we did? Retraced my steps. Repeatedly.

Finally, we returned to the shady riverside patch of grass where I’d been practicing yoga. “This is where I did Tree Pose,” I whimpered, “and this is where I put my shoes.”

“Did you put them back on in that same spot?” asked my husband.

Bingo! This was the flash of memory I needed. In fact, I had walked a few steps closer to the path, all the better to impress passersby with my ability to put on my left sock and shoe while balancing on my right foot, and vice versa. (Cue “well, whoopdi-do!”)

So, we took a few steps and … my keys!!!

I laughed and hugged my husband, laughed some more and then apologized for once again making him drop everything and come to my rescue. As always, he told me I’m too hard on myself.

As soon I got home–and sterilized my phone again–I texted the yoga group, telling them how much it had meant to see my “yoga sisters.”

Their responses were heartwarming, including this missive from the former social worker, which will make a great caption if we think to take a group photo next time: “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Yoga Pants!”

Here I Am

My husband and now live in one of the condo buildings pictured behind me. In the Before Times, we’d put our suburban house on the market with the plan to move to Chicago, but a quick sale meant super-quick downsizing for us.

Ted actually handled everything, plus his job, while I was in charge of freaking out. I’ll forever be grateful for the counseling of family, friends and professionals.

Bonus: This new location has put us in the heart a vibrant protest community, reigniting a passion I’ve felt since late 2016 and helping assuage my guilt about… everything.#BlackLivesMatter

Crazy Times

Having computer problems and about to be late for a video appointment, I searched for my technical support, my husband. He was across the street, talking with a neighbor from the end of her driveway.

Surely I’m not the only one who’s ever shouted for all to hear: “I need you to help me with this laptop so I can see my psychiatrist!”

(One) crisis averted

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LaLa, safely back where she belongs, on her perch.

When I awoke Friday morning, a song I’d been singing the night before played inside my head:

I want nothing 
I want nothing 
I want no quid pro quo

This was a months-old political parody from late-night TV or the Internet that used a certain politician’s words as head-banging lyrics. So, yeah, I’d been watching the impeachment hearings. I worry about our country and have spent the past three years participating in democracy as best I can.

But back to my bed. I realized I could hear my husband opening and closing lots of doors and climbing up and down the stairs, from the second floor to the basement. Whaaa? 

I soon learned that our beloved cat, Olive (we call her LaLa), had gone missing. She’s an indoor cat but has been known to occasionally dash out to the closed garage when one of us inadvertently leaves the kitchen door open too long. But she hates the cold, so at such times she always hurries back inside.

Not this time, apparently.

After searching and then closing off rooms in the house where she might be–no easy feat, as we’re empty-nesters with lots of clutter in unused bedrooms–he did a cursory check of the garage and then started on the perimeter of the house while I did my part: freaking out.

He followed the many sets of tracks in the snow, but still no LaLa. A couple of neighbors helped, and again I did my part: making freaked-out phone calls to other neighbors to alert them to the situation and ask them to keep a lookout.

Much later (just before that day’s impeachment hearings began, in fact), my husband did another search of the garage. Hiding under the steps was LaLa.

Whew.

Now, about that country …

 

Tale as Old As Time

My husband and I are lucky enough to live close to a great musical theater in the Chicago suburbs, and we’ve held season tickets for years. But I wasn’t looking forward to seeing “Beauty and the Beast” there yesterday.

For one thing, it’s days from Christmas, and I was smack in the middle of my annual bout with anxiety and guilt about the holiday, feelings that predate my brain injury. (As in “The Grinch,” please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason.) I also was overwhelmed and longed for my comforting routines, both of which are well-known TBI traits.

There was also the show itself. “Beauty and the Beast” is family fare, and our former Disney princess is now a city-dwelling career (gasp!) woman.

But as my husband drove us to the theater, I began humming, and then singing lyrics that I thought were stuck somewhere in my brain. I continued as we walked hand in hand from our parking spot a few blocks away:

“Barely even friends, then somebody bends unexpectedly.” 

My husband reminded me that I was singing the title song–and that brought back a beautiful image of my daughter as a toddler, when I used to finish with our own version of the chorus:

“… Beauty and her daddy.”

He also brought back the memory of our little girl’s purple “Belle dress,” a short, sleeveless number that she wore for such a long time that it eventually became the top for leggings! We still have that Belle dress, by the way.

Somehow I managed to keep the waterworks in check … almost.

Then we got to the theater lobby and beheld all the little Belles in their flowing yellow ballgowns. Beauty, indeed! This was definitely the intended audience, so while I was standing around getting all mushy and nostalgic, my husband was looking around for an adult-Belle pair with whom we could swap our front-row/center tickets. We ended up giving a young girl and her grandma a gift, but it was truly a gift for us, too.

The production was wonderful. The most beautiful moment of all came when, after the candlestick Lumiere cries, “Now we’ll never be human!” a little girl’s voice rang out from the rafters. “Yes, you will!” The audience laughed and applauded. (Later in Act 2, a transformed Lumiere offers a brilliant bit of improv: “Zee child was right!”)

All in all, a fabulous day at the theater. Um, except for the seizure/anxiety attack I fought off in Act 1 when Belle was being ridiculed by the townsfolk for being “odd.” As an oddball, that hit too close to home, plus I’ve been tired and stressed and … you know.

Also, as always during curtain calls, I immediately stood to cheer, adding “Bravo!” and “Brava!” as needed and generally making a fool of myself. I just want the performers to know how much I truly appreciate them. This time, though, I felt my husband pull my sweater down over my pants. I asked later and, yes, my underpants had been showing.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Flushing Mr. Hanky

Anybody remember that seasonal “South Park” character Mr. Hanky, the talking, er, poo with the Santa hat that would show up and say, “Hidey-ho!” or something like that?

Well, that’s what I felt like had been left in my Christmas stocking in recent days. One turn of misfortune after another had left me full of self-pity. First I learned I would need yet another root canal on one of the teeth that was cracked in the 2008 car crash that led to my brain injury. (But thanks to that TBI, I’d been able to smell that something was up when I flossed.)

Then that night, while flossing as I sat on the bed, something fell in my lap: the crown over yet another tooth. Hidey-ho! And this same thing had happened to me months before while I brushed my teeth over the sink. This was a different front crown, I forget which, but I’ll never forget what my mouth looked like. The horror, the horror!

So wah-wah, poor me.

My husband took care of everything, getting me an appointment today for the crown replacement (I was going to keep my mouth shut until Monday, when I get root-canaled) and explaining that my anti-seizure drug tends to weaken teeth and bones.

He then drove me to a yoga class, which he knows works like magic for my outlook.

Bad teeth … bah! I’m alive, I’ve got family and friends who love me and it’s Christmastime.

Down the drain, Mr. Hanky! (Well, not the cartoon character; he’s hilarious.)

Free Piano Lesson With Brain Tune-Up

Howdy, folks! I just got my electrodes unglued after spending a few days looking (and possibly acting) like Gollum of “Lord of the Rings.”

This week was my annual at-home EEG. I still have what I call “invisible” seizures, even though they’re not the convulsive kind, and only very rarely do I get an “aura,” the feeling that one might be coming on. Even those sensations, I’m told, could be anxiety attacks.

ANXIETY??? WHAT’S THERE TO BE ANXIOUS ABOUT THESE DAYS???!!!

Ahem. Anyway, this time I was monitored around the clock by video, so that any time something weird showed up in my brain waves, my neurologist would be able to match it with my facial expression, especially my eyes. I also kept a log of my activities. (I figured that “writing in my log of activities” didn’t count as an activity.)

I had to limit myself to areas where the camera could see, so during the day we kept the tripod-supported device on the kitchen table, rotating it as necessary. In the evenings it would be in the living room, showing the folks at Neurotech that we eat dinner on the couch in front of the TV. Then up it would go to watch me read and sleep. Bathrooms were off-limits, camera-wise.

Michael, a former Army medic who works for the home EEG-monitoring company Neurotech, got my head hooked up. As he expertly performed my “reverse makeover,” I couldn’t help but notice the awesome eagle tattoo on his forearm. He’d served in Afghanistan and is still in the Reserves.

We talked about the vets I’d met as a volunteer yoga instructor at the local Veterans Center — from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  I also told him about how my dad joined the Navy in World War II even though he was underage and now keeps his own awesome (anchor) tats covered with his sleeves.

It turns out both Michael and I had taken only a bit of piano lessons long ago and mostly liked to teach ourselves. I have a stash of songs deep in my brain that my fingers know how to play with only a little practice, but sight-reading is a challenge.

He taught me the correct finger positions for playing a C scale with the left and right hands simultaneously. Elementary stuff, but I’m still working on it, as well as other scales. He also taught me some chord progressions that have led to aha! moments for me musically in the past couple of days.

So thank you, Michael of Neurotech, for your service to the country and also to my brain.

I’m Back

Singing country crooner Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” in the shower probably isn’t the best way to perk yourself up when you’re feeling out of sorts, especially if the fear that you are crazy is what has you “feelin’ so blue.” Still, I love that song, and I love singing, so …

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Patsy Cline

The problem was the song wouldn’t get out of my head.

So I turned to my own personal channel-changer: my brain. “This song is depressing,” I thought at it. “Give me a better one.” (Music works like that for me.)

Immediately, I heard a familiar quick-chiming guitar riff.

“Hahaha! ‘The Bitch Is Back’!’

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Sir Elton John

 

The Note and the Notes

My father, the 91-year-old co-owner of the very big Ace Hardware in my very small hometown, never forgets a birthday, including those of in-laws and grandchildren, but he often forgets to mail the card in time. When he does, he never fails to call and wish the recipient a happy birthday. On Saturday he called with greetings for my husband.

IMG_note2IMG_notes

Dad asked if I’d received the note he’d sent me recently, along with a copy of an article that he found applicable to both of us–me as a brain injury victim and him as a nonagenarian. I hadn’t found it, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t somewhere in the pile of mail on the kitchen table.

I dug around and soon found the business-size envelope addressed to me, in his familiar handwriting. The clipping was headlined “Fish More, Live Longer,” and it began with the observation that time seems to pass more quickly as we age, whereas kids seem to be forever impatient for things to hurry up and happen.

The theory is that children are constantly getting new mental images and experiences but that, as we age, “we lose this intensity of perception, and the world becomes a dreary and familiar place–so dreary and familiar that we stop paying attention to it.”

So lifelong learning and challenges are the key to keeping or regaining a healthy brain, as is taking time to “fish more” (or stop and smell the roses).

Dad and I are literally on the same page! Not only does he go to work at the store every day, he participates in numerous community activities and is locally famous for his garden and fish pond.

And about that note? The best part was the phrase “I think you and I have a lot in common.”

Besides paying me an enormous compliment, I think he was kinda-sorta suggesting a blog idea, so I was going to get right on that after the relaxing weekend I was having with my husband, whose birthday coincides with the long Fourth of July weekend.


But Saturday evening, as we were relaxing outside in the shade of the patio umbrella listening to music, a familiar classical piano piece came on, and so did a lightbulb in my head. “Hey, I think I used to play a simple version of that!”

Ted told me it was Beethoven’s Fur Elise. So I ran inside to try it out on my “piano” (electronic keyboard). Muscle memory didn’t work, but I quickly figured it out, scribbling down the notes (just letters) as I went. I asked him why my fingers didn’t remember the notes, as often happens with songs I’d learned in childhood. He said, “Maybe it was from that piano class you took in college.” What piano class??? (That’s brain injury for ya.)

Yeah, so apparently sometime after I met Ted junior year, I took a piano class. Before graduation I also managed to squeeze in History of Rock and Roll and History of the Beatles, which I do vividly remember.

When I posted about the musical memory/non-memory on Facebook, along with a photo of my musical-ish scribbles, one of my friends replied with a cartoon clip of Shroeder playing the opening of Fur Elise in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Hmmm, I says to myself, maybe I was just imitating Shroeder.

The next day, I sat down at the “piano” bench again. I’ll let Facebook tell it: “ON SECOND THOUGHT: Yesterday’s musical epiphany didn’t sound quite right when I tried to play my scribbles today, so I had another go. Still don’t know if I learned “Fur Elise in an unremembered college class or from Schroeder of the Peanuts. Either way, it was a good brain exercise.”

But then … a thought: What if this came from the songbook that came with my keyboard, which I received years after my TBI? I’m no good at sight-reading, and it’s hard to make recent memories stick, so maybe I labored over this thing and then put the book in a drawer and forgot it?

I looked through my songbooks and, yes, there was a version of Fur Elise. Rats!

So it’s still a musical mystery, but there’s something else here–something that ties together the note from my dad and the notes spinning (happily) in my head. The connection came, as connections often do, during a moment of quiet contemplation. I often find these moments, as Dad does, in nature.

Such moments also come during prayer or meditation. Today’s epiphany came at the end of yoga class, during savasana, a time when we lie on our backs with our eyes closed and our bodies and minds completely relaxed.

A song began playing in my head: Fur Elise! And suddenly I knew how the two competing topics would become one. My musicality came from my late mother’s side of the family. I can close my eyes and see her smiling and singing in church. Yes, I’m glad I inherited my dad’s energy and zest for life, and I’m also glad that my mother put music in my heart.