Sunny Pathway

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Once More to the Fair

We attended a fair last week—three days in a row—and it was great fun with a surprising undercurrent at the end. Unfortunately, I didn't think about blogs and didn’t take a picture. For that reason I thought of writing about something else but, in true blogging fashion, decided to focus again on personal life

My husband Ken’s and my involvement with fairs was limited when we were children because our parents were concerned about exposure to polio. In my family we knew fear. Our children look at me blankly when I mention this, but polio was perhaps a bit like West Nile Virus today—only pervasive. Everyone knew someone affected by polio. My mother was one of those who had been afflicted.

After the Salk and Sabin vaccines, everything changed. My husband Ken and I attended the Minnesota State Fair when we lived in the Twin City area, and we’ve attended fairs off and on ever since. This year we joined our oldest daughter and her family at the North Dakota State Fair.

On Thursday night we attended the grandstand show featuring Casting Crowns, a Christian band based in Atlanta. In spite of the decibel levels, they had a gentle spirit. To add to the excitement, our son-in-law, who went early to save seats, did not find something near the ground. To join him we had to climb—I didn’t count the steps. To my family’s and my amazement, adrenalin kicked in and I did it. Fun.

On Friday morning Ken and I slept in while our family was busy. Our granddaughter is a gymnast whose gymnastics club rents a fair building. Because of that connection, they were busily involved with fair activity. But in the evening we all trucked off, this time to see exhibits.

Although I didn’t grow up on a farm, I grew up in a farm community. And although I didn’t go to the fair myself, I had friends who not only went but who exhibited their 4-H projects. Entering 4-H buildings brings back memories of boasting rights over blue ribbons and other achievements.

Animal exhibits are interesting for additional reasons. As a free-lance writer I once covered the dairy and livestock beat for a regional farm paper. I was disappointed the beef cattle judging was over—the barn empty. But I loved walking through the dairy barns. North Dakota cows don’t take a back seat to anyone. The Holsteins were huge and sturdy in spite of the inbreeding that threatens domestic dairy herds, and their milking capacity seemed even larger than when I coved them. Then there was the gentle Brown Swiss. And a new (to me, anyway) breed—Milking Shorthorns.

Goats aren't major players in North Dakota, but they're fun. Some sheep were huge. Our granddaughter knows a family that raises sheep and says they’re raised for meat as well as wool, so size makes sense. And even rabbits of all sizes with different shaped ears and different faces were interesting.

Of course, we slept in again on Saturday, but decided to go again when the family worked from 4:00 to 8:00 that afternoon and evening. This time we ambled: visited a commercial building, rested, visited another commercial building, rested. We entered the Ward County Historical exhibit, not part of the fair but adjacent to it and open to fair visitors. We looked into the usual—a church, log cabin, store, barbershop, blacksmith shop. Then we entered a nondescript building housing artifacts not yet set up in their historic surroundings. There we saw an old printing press, old cars—and

an Iron Lung.

And that’s when I came unglued.

Polio affects muscles, often paralyzing them. Paralysis of arm or leg muscles caused crippling. Paralysis of chest muscles affected breathing and often resulted in death.

Iron Lungs were used to treat polio victims and the names is descriptive. They are body-size tubes made of iron that enclosed all of the body except the head. A rubber casing around the neck made it possible for the iron lung to maintain fluctuating air pressure inside the chamber that inflated and then deflated the lungs—and saved lives.

I’d seen many pictures, but this was the first time I’d seen one in person. It looked so cold, so hard, so impersonal.

Even though Mom had polio before I was born, it’s part of my lifescape. And there were other victims in my life as well—a neighborhood friend I’d played with almost daily during summer—a man who spent life in a wheel chair due to polio. And others I didn’t know well.

My mother contracted polio in 1931, the August after my oldest brother was born. My father transported her by train from Montana to the Minnesota University Hospital, a hospital where Sister Kenny’s treatments were accepted and applied. I know these details only because I asked Dad before he died, but thinking about them seemed to make him reflective, sad. Although Mom’s polio was the most severe type, affecting muscles of both limbs and breathing, and although life proved challenging after polio, she went on to have more babies and to take care of her home. She died when I was a college student.

Something raw and wounded in my psyche was exposed when I saw the iron lung, something I had suppressed because our Norwegian heritage translated into being reserved. In matters of personal pain, say and do nothing. But that no longer works for me—this is one more thing I must somehow give to God so He can provide the healing that’s available only through Him.

When I saw the iron lung I felt Mom did spend time in one, but I don’t know for sure. Yesterday, home again, I called my older brother to ask if he knew. He didn’t. Then I called an older cousin. She said her mother expressed sorrow that my mom struggled because she had been so sick, but that she had never provided details. More interesting, she said our mothers didn’t talk about it.

I have no one else to ask. On the internet, I learned patients were usually in iron lungs for a one to two week period when paralysis was most severe. I found a picture of a hospital ward housing hundreds of polio patients kept alive during their crisis by iron lungs. And I learned there are still about 400 people living inside iron lungs today—patients who were in them long enough for muscles to atrophy.

While at the fair, however, Ken and I dealt with my surprising reaction the way Norwegians often do—we ate. Then a look at more 4-H exhibits and it was time to meet our family.

So, the fair was a time of fun—of entering mainstream society, brushing elbows with all walks of life in a leisurely fashion. And it was a time of sorrow over a past I’ll never understand. I’m grateful for the full experience.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Developing Deep Roots

I have a friend who received life-changing insight—a revelation, if you will. I’d like to share it.

Not many excitedly quote verses like James 1:2,3: Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops endurance. (NIV) Personally, I don’t want to take those verses seriously. Although I understand physical exercise increases endurance—no pain, no gain—I don’t generally apply it to my emotional or spiritual well-being .

My friend looks at it differently since she had the revelation. She remembers her childhood as almost idyllic, free of stress. Reared as an only child by parents who were almost elderly and financially established, she went on to marry a loving husband and had three beautiful children. Although there were financial hurdles in the beginning, they did well financially, too. Yet, for no apparent reason, she struggled with depression as a young mother. Even after dramatic changes during a crisis when she met Jesus, she continued over the years—and continues today—to struggle with what she calls squirrely thinking.

Now retired, she and her husband spend part of each year in Arizona. On a balmy Arizona-winter day, they went to see what had been developed as a Bio Sphere not far from Tucson. You may recall this was an isolated area—complete with shields to separate and protect from the outside environment—that had functioned as an experiment with a controlled environment. Today it's part of the University of Arizona and a major tourist attraction.

While her husband walked the grounds, she decided to rest by watching videos about the experiment. Something caught her interest—she learned the trees in the protected environment did not grow large. After reaching a certain height, they simply fell over.

Scientists eventually concluded that lack of wind and other stress-inducing factors affected the tree’s development. They didn’t grow a strong base or foundation because it was not needed in their environment. They didn’t grow strong roots.

And my friend had an epiphany. Was her emotional vulnerability caused by lack of stress during her childhood? Did the idyllic world she experienced as a youth fail to prepare her for life? Did she lack a strong emotional root system because she hadn’t needed to develop strength? In the quietness of her heart she felt God said it was so.

This generates a number of philosophical questions. For my friend, however, it offered understanding of her past and practical wisdom for the present and future. She realized that during her difficulties as an adult she had been growing the deep roots she needed. Rather than lamenting her emotional weaknesses, she saw God was working with her and in her. She embraced difficulties as part of her development into a woman of faith and endurance.

I can’t escape the implications of her story. Her insight became my insight. My childhood may not have been idyllic, but God was with me. If it had been different, I would be different. I can’t shake the conviction that God not only made me, but He’s continued to shape me throughout my marriage and during the years of raising our family. He’s even shaping me today as I accept life as a Senior. He embraces me with my embarrassing imperfections because that’s the way I interact with the life He’s given me. I don’t understand much of what happens, but I do know in all things God works for good of those who love him, . . . (Rom. 8:28 KJV) It’s enough to keep me going. I might even be able to count it joy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Cage

A friend complained about a temporary foot problem: Before this happened, she said, I didn’t even know I had feet. They’ve never bothered me.

Oh, to be able to forget about feet. A luxury beyond imagination.

I was born with a fairly common congenital condition that is problematic by itself. When I began struggling with rheumatoid arthritis, my feet became a constant source of pain. If you saw me walk down the street today, you wouldn’t know I had a problem, but that hasn’t always been the case. In this post I’m going to tell you about a simple device that made a huge difference—and that might help others as well.

At one point I couldn’t tolerate anything on my feet when in bed—not even the weight of blankets. I read an article in an arthritis magazine that suggested placing a board below the feet to keep the blankets off. The board fell over the first night. In the morning the board was too heavy for me to handle when I wanted to make the bed.

A nurse suggested pillows and they were better—but not great. At best, they took a lot of space. If I moved too much and they began to topple, they’d spread out over the entire bottom of the bed. After a month or two with that scenario, my husband Ken had enough and came up with his solution. We called it The Cage:

The first cage had another bar along the bottom of the back. That held it in place when under the blankets. And it worked. I’m grateful to God for answered prayer and I'm grateful for doctors and the medications, but I can’t imagine how I’d have made it without my cage. In winter I added a hot water bottle to keep my feet toasty warm all night.

Nurses who looked at the cage called it a foot cradle. However, foot cradles in catalogs are different—devices that slide under the mattress and that interfere with making a bed. I wouldn’t be able to handle them by myself. They’re probably fine for people who are bedridden, but I wanted a normal life and that included a normal bedroom.

If we stayed overnight with someone, I carried the cage with me as though it was an extra piece of luggage—it made a great conversation starter. As long as we traveled by car, no problem; but not so when flying. Although lightweight, the cage was too bulky to pack. So when we decided it would be cheaper to fly to visit our daughter and family, Ken made adjustments. He removed the long bottom piece (the one missing in the photo) and put hinges where the sides met the top so they could fold in. To reattach the bottom he installed small hooks. When unassembled and folded, it fit in a suitcase.

It worked well for a time, until the eyes for the hooks loosened. Then the hooks would occasionally come free, the back piece would slide out of place, one or both of the side pieces would slide in, and I’d feel not only blankets but wood pieces on my tender feet.

As a temporary measure Ken reassembled the sides permanently, forgetting about the back piece. This didn’t stay in place as well but my feet were much better and we got along.

Until Ken made the latest improvement—a cage out of PVC pipe.

It looks complicated because the corners don’t quite meet. That’s one reason I wanted to show the wood version first, to provide a clear illustration of function. In this cage the pieces are joined by various kinds of elbows that have to be placed according to availability.

The PVC cage is better on several counts:

1. It’s easy to assemble and disassemble. Joints of the top and bottom rectangles are glued together, but the four vertical pieces are easily removed. They don’t come apart in bed because the weight of the blankets keep them in place.
On a daily basis I leave it intact; it rests on the floor of my closet. When we pack for a trip, even if it’s a trip by car, I take it apart, pack it, and assemble it again when I unpack.

2. PVC is lighter than wood. Although the pieces Ken used for the wood version were not heavy, this weighs almost nothing.

3. The edges are round. With the original cage, even Ken would occasionally kick the sharp edge of the wood pieces during the night. PVC pipes are less intrusive.

4. PVC pipes are inexpensive and easy to cut with a saw.

There is a down side. Our bottom sheet wears out more quickly in the spots where the corner of the cage rests. This was true of both versions. We think it’s a small price to pay—well, with today’s prices, a not-so-small price—but nevertheless, a price we’re willing to pay for the benefits gained. Here’s a picture of the cage under our bedding.

If tender feet are a problem for you, try making a cage. You’ll like it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Establishing Solid Bases

As he scraped ice near the front door last spring, one of the men in our condo building didn’t like the hollow sound he created. He also noticed cracks. After some discussion the condo board consulted an expert, the men living in the building took a walk around the premises where they found additional incriminating evidence, and all agreed repairs were necessary. Recently, two monstrous trucks and a group of workmen finally arrived. They drilled holes the size of a quarter in key locations and forced sand under the concrete through the holes to provide a solid base. The estimated price tag was hefty.

From my perspective, the entire event was mind-boggling. Concrete is always poured on solid ground—it can’t hang in mid-air. Apparently the ground settled, shifted, after it was poured and the concrete was held up only by its connections around the edges. When the men saw what needed to be done and took care of it, they demonstrated a Biblical truth. The Apostle Paul said, There are different kinds of gifts, . . . ( I Cor. 12:4 NIV) People are instructed to recognize each other’s giftings and work together. I’m so proud of them. Because the cracks are no longer problematic, our front door remains pleasant, welcoming.

That’s my reflection—I’d have dressed up if I’d known I’d be visible. You can also see a portion of the high school athletic field across the street.

When the trucks and workmen drove away, my husband Ken was left with the bill. (He’s gifted in the area of keeping records so he serves as treasure.) He looked at me and asked if I’d ever think to check for support under the concrete. The idea struck me as ludicrous—it wouldn’t enter my mind. He commented, We’d have let it settle until we had huge cracks and then had to replace the whole thing.

Instead, when we surveyed the completed project, we saw that not only are two areas with cracks level, but the concrete drive is level with the garage aprons. And none of the concrete sounds hollow.

Settling or shifting bases aren’t limited to concrete. In fact, several of my bases have shifted in recent years:

1. I’ve gone through major relationship changes—key people I depended on are no longer available.
2. I realized an institution was not what I thought it was.
3. Ken and I have made two major moves since retirement, each requiring adjustments.
4. Some of my ideas haven’t stood the test of time, either—things I thought rock-solid turned mushy.

No wonder friends say, Aging isn’t for sissies. To make matters worse, I understand that although adjusting can become harder with age, it also becomes more important.

This leads me to a second Biblical truth: God is my base, my support. Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told Peter, “when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (Jn. 21:18 NIV)

Could Peter have adjusted to the travel, ministry, and finally, the up-side-down crucifixion that made up his future without God as His ultimate support? He wrote, Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, . . (I Pet. 1:8,9 NIV)

God outlasts people, institutions, locations, ideas. He also brings in new people, institutions, locations, ideas. I know it sounds simplistic, but when I quiet my heart, He’s available. This has been the testimony of Christians throughout the ages, whatever their circumstances.

As for our condo, would you believe that addressing the problem early meant everything went well and the company we hired cut the bill by just over 25%?

I praise God because the cost was lower than anticipated. I praise God because the men in our condo were able to work together. And I praise God because He is my base, the One who holds me up when my the rest of my world begins to shift.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

RSS Feeds

From time to time I plan to include helpful information in this blog. That could mean writing about someone’s experience with a specific piece of health equipment—such as the Roll-A-Bout I used after surgery on my foot. Or, sharing thoughts on the advantages of an electric bottle opener. Or, tips designed to make life easier.

Because this post coincides with telling family and friends about my blogs, I’m providing info on RSS feeds found in some internet sites. This will be almost identical to the info I included in the email many of you received. Offering it as a post in a blog means it will be archived and available for future reference.

I wondered about RSS feeds for over a year. A week ago Ken figured out how to make my blogs available through RSS feeds. Then he learned how I can access other feeds and they do make life easier.

Advantages of RSS feeds: They send the material to you; you don’t have check to see if there’s something for you. Installing a reader seemed like insurmountable hurdle to me, but I learned it’s a simple procedure—I’m already using it to receive other mail. (RSS actually stands for Really Simple Syndication.)

To Subscribe: Click on Subscribe to--Post. If you wish to subscribe to comments, click that button as well. A drop box will display the names of several possible Readers. If you already have a reader, you will know what to do. I didn’t, so I selected Google—but any brand is fine. After selecting a reader, I clicked and followed the instructions provided. From that point on, requested postings are sent whenever they are posted. Although the visible indication of an RSS feed might vary from site to site, this technique works with all RSS feeds. For me, the key was installing the reader.