Wednesday, September 11, 2013

back for more...

In April 2012, I bundled up my then 84-year old mother, bought her a ticket for her first plane ride ever (it went surprisingly well) and whisked her down to Florida. We moved our office into the small guest room and set up the suite for her. All the comforts of home...

A New Englander, born and bred, she had some (quite understandable) adjustment issues. For one, it's hot here. For seven months out of the year, it is either hot (humid) or hot (dry). She needed a wardrobe. She needed a pair of sunglasses. She needed a new doctor. Check, check and Checkver.

Like many people at her age, Mom has what they call 'multiple morbidities'. She has a lot of things in her body that don't work as well as they used to. She's hard of hearing. She needs help walking. She has a massive hiatal hernia. And one day it almost killed her.

                                      Mom and I (Nov. 2012)

I was at the hospital to pick her up. Mom had gone into the emergency room over the weekend (three days after her 85th birthday) with a little pneumonia. Not uncommon for her. A clash of morbidities. Couple days on antibiotics and she can go home on Monday. It was Monday. But she didn't look like she was ready to go home.

There was a lot of back and forth talk between the nurses and myself. Then it was me and the doctors. Then the doctors and the surgeons. An endoscopic test confirmed that the hernia had strangulated. It was twisted around her esophagus. She was bleeding internally. Without surgery, she would die. With surgery, at her age, she had a slim chance. I could tell that the doctors were hesitant but whatcha gonna do? It's my momma; we went for door number two: emergency surgery.

The surgeons basically untwined her stomach, pulled it down and pegged it in place via a gastrostomy tube that exited through her abdomen. (Too much information? Yeah, tell me about it.) She survived that day. It was the next five months when things got dicey. She almost died four more times.

Two old gals: Mom loved Ruby

I'll keep it brief.

February 2013: After surgery, Mom was transferred to ICU. She came off the ventilator like a champ. Then fluid built up in her lungs. Eight decades of antibiotic treatments... she is allergic now to most of them. But the infectious disease specialist managed to find a good one. She stabilized. They sent her down the hall to 'progressive care'. She was in pain. She couldn't take anything by mouth. She contracted MRSA.

After a few days, Mom was transferred to an acute care facility. Her stomach would not accept anything, so she was put on a PICC line and TPN (liquid nutrition via a vein).

March 2013: The doctors operated again, converting her G-tube (Oh, how quickly one adapts to the lingo. It's rather frightening.) to a G-J tube. Now she has a port that goes into her stomach and one that goes into her intestine. Meds go in the stomach line; liquid nutrition goes in the jejunostomy tube. She contracts c-diff. Not good.

Mom begins to bleed internally. The docs can't find it, test after test after blood transfusion after test. Up to ICU again. They put her on blood clotting drugs. That worked. She developed blood clots in both of her legs. So they put her on blood thinners.


April 2013: Mom has a UTI, a blood clot in her lung and MDRO. But she is no longer 'acute enough' for the center, so she is transferred to a 'skilled nursing facility' where she spends most of her time waiting for her next pain medication dose. This place is around the corner from our house, so Fritz and I can visit and check on her progress several times each day. By the middle of...

I did a lot of crossword puzzles
May 2013: There is something seriously wrong. Mom is transferred back to a hospital. She is anemic. She has internal bleeding, MDRO (again), pneumonia, severe nausea, a urinary tract infection and ...sepsis.

ICU: a really good place to be when your condition is really, really bad... except she developed ICU psychosis. She pulled her stomach tubes out. When she was stable, the surgeon replaced her g-j tube.

Still in ICU psychosis, Mom developed severe edema throughout her body. She had blood clots in both legs and one arm. The infectious disease doctor again pulled a magic antibiotic out of his bag and she stabilized. Down the hall into a ward for a few days and then transferred to a different 'long term care' hospital.


June 2013: Mom is up and down. Got c-diff again. She still has trouble with the liquid tube feedings. They get her stabilized. We want her home. At the end of June, we finally bring her back to her own sweet 8pm and with no medications whatsoever. It was a very long night.

The next day, the home feeding equipment was delivered. I got a ten-minute lesson from the home nurse.  Finally got her meds straightened out --I have come to realize that many doctors (and/or their staffs) make crazy mistakes on scripts: no date, no amount, no dosage, no signature...we had one of each in that first batch. Mercury retrograde, of course. Argh! Ten days, later...

July 2013: Back to the ER with another urinary tract infection. They admit her. But they don't feed her. The doctor orders an antibiotic on her 'allergy' list. The pharmacy catches it and doesn't fill the order. Yay! But nothing else is ordered to replace it. For two days. Finally, I threw a hissy fit with the charge nurse and the infectious disease doc is called in. He pulled another rabbit. (That man is amazing) but after all of this, we want her and the rabbit back at home.

In fact, we insist.

We had the backing of the nursing staff (bless' em!) that pressured the doctoring staff and so, we brought her home. Mom paid hundreds out-of-pocket for that privilege since Medicare won't pay for an IV antibiotic to be given outside of a hospital setting. The home nurse came in every day for a half hour and administered the treatment.

August 2013: Somehow, we made it. And we continue to make that magic happen every day.

It is almost 1 a.m. I just gave Mom her last pill and checked her feeding pump. Tomorrow, she wants to try to use the walker to exercise her legs. Sure, we can do that.

Anyway, that brings you pretty much up-to-date. That's where I've been. I'm a caretaker now. I'm sure the topic will come up in future postings.  


Monday, September 2, 2013

Didn't see that coming...


                             Wow! That was a rather long and dramatic pause now, wasn't it?

                                                             More on that soon....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ace of Cones...

(Fritz, Pine Cone Rescue League)

In the seven years following my daughter Skye’s death*, I suffered from a deep and debilitating case of writer’s block. She was my corporeal muse. I wrote for her and to her. For me, she was the future Pagan generation. Skye was my skin in the game.

I’m done then, I thought. I guess that I’m retired now. Over the years with The Witches’ Voice, I had acted as my Gods directed and as the many glorious Pagans/Wiccans/Heathens/Witches who I met along the way inspired. Now it was time for me to move aside. I accepted that.

I don’t really understand why the toggle now suddenly switched to ‘on’ again. Interesting.

I write what I know. Just that. I am not an academic, barely a writer. I draw from personal experience, spiritual insight and life lessons. Simple. That’s my gig. Always was.

So I wasn’t sure that I should even start this blog. Times have changed. I don’t know if what I write will resonant with anyone anymore. But these darn words had to go somewhere, so I thought, okay then, let’s see how it goes. And, well…

Yesterday, Fritz called me on his way home from a cycling jaunt with his wheel buddy, Jim. “I have a present for you”, he said. “I found something on the trail.”

After assuring him that, yes, there indeed would be garlic barbeque chicken wings, I went back to chopping and garlicing. I’d fill him in over dinner that I spent those hours he was gone writing about magic, those evil creepy metal stairs and resilient pine trees. Ten minutes later, the door opened and he popped his head in, then his hand…


It was a pinecone. A big, big, big pinecone. Very Jungian.

I guess I’m back.


* Skye (1971-1995). I love you forever.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

On Standing Tall...

It still stands there, up on the hill, one of three all planted on the same day, decades before I was born. Along the edge of the pressed sand driveway, my father dug the small grove of red pine seedlings into the ground to hold back the soil and to keep the gravel bed stable. During lean times, his mother, my grandmother, sold gravel from the pit to the city as fill for road projects, a monetary necessity that left an essentially scalped quarter acre of Ice Age ground granite on the property. Over the years that followed, some lupine moved into that space, followed by calf shredding black and red raspberry canes and wild sumac. To everyone in our extended family, this plot on the Hill was always called the Gravel Pit.

Those sorts of now ‘quaint-ish’ things, the naming of houses and of certain physically unique portions of whole properties, are becoming things of the past in many locales. People move out and away from the places they were raised. Families don’t keep homesteads anymore, but sell them off because their lives are now established elsewhere or they need to pay off accrued debts. Some simply cannot afford to keep a land legacy. It is part of the fragmentation of our era.

When I speak of The Farm, this is the house in which I grew up. In my family for 100 years, my dad, his two brothers and four sisters were raised in it. It is my mother’s house now. Besides the Gravel Pit, within the boundaries of The Farm are the Barn, the Garden, the Grapevine, the Ditch, the Hill, the Pantry, and the Porch (although Grammy always called this, the Piazza). There once was a Coop and a two-seater Outhouse. We used to also own the Swamp until the state of New Hampshire took it by eminent domain to build a highway. It looks silly in print, I know, but old neighborhoods have landmarks that don’t include drive-up windows.

That’s a bit of rural life that I miss living here in Florida where the Ocean Breeze Condominiums are not on the ocean, or even on the Gulf, and we live in a Village that is really a collection of similar houses crammed as closely together as the county code allows. The only ‘village commons’ in our development is the strip of turf struggling to support the now thirty-foot oak trees planted between the sidewalks and the street. It all probably sounded very picturesque and ‘Southernly’ on deed paper before thirsty roots started tearing up concrete driveways and water lines.

Last year when my mother was ill, I traveled back to The Farm for a few weeks. It was cold and bleak and January in New England. The house just looked old to me, old in a world weary way. The paint was peeling; the side yard was riddled with groundhog holes. The heirloom apples* were gone. Due to a freak and devastating October ice storm, many trees were snapped off at the base, root balls heaved from the ground; broken branches of white birch lay scattered everywhere. But the pines my dad planted on the Hill were still there. Red pines can live for 500 years.

Walking up the driveway, the paved part gave way to gravel that made that sharp frigid air crunching noise beneath my sneakers. (I’m a Floridian now; I don’t own boots.) The few squirrels brave enough to live in such proximity to the feral cat colony flickered tails in displeasure. Somewhere a woodpecker rat-tat-tatted for his dinner. I looked up.

 (tree photo, GHS, public domain)

The second pine on the Hill was my Sky Tree. Standing beneath its spreading branches, I remembered every hand grab, each toehold, the doubled branches that made the seat I perched upon. I rubbed off a bit of frozen pine tar from a healing gash and recalled all of the times I scrubbed my hands raw with borax grit to get off that sap. I love that tree.

I am not so good with things in high places. (Those who know me will get the pun here.) But one day, when I was around five years old, I decided to climb that tree. Going up was fairly easy because the branches grew in a certain way, like a spiral staircase. Sitting high above the ground, short legs swinging on my pitchy throne, was pure joy. I surveyed my domain. I peeped into birds’ nests. I felt the tree sway and I swayed with it. We were one living thing, waving at the clouds, singing to our gods, sending love out into the world. I was completely hidden and as silent as owl feathers when my mother called me to come to the Pantry and help Grammy shuck peas.

Evenings creep in, little girls get hungry and mothers’ voices develop certain shrill tones after thirty minutes, so it was time to scramble on back to the clapboard farmhouse where air princesses live when they aren’t riding in treetops. …But going down the pine was a bit more complicated than the going up…

the beast that stairs

There was a black metal spiral staircase in the last pre-house place that Fritz and I rented out. We thought the beast ‘wicked cool’ for about two hours, a time frame that came to an abrupt end the first time I smacked into it on the way to the bedroom. I swear the thing had a cloaking device. The steps were quite narrow and it clenched its rivets every time we hiked up to the office. It tried to murder us during at least three descents.

Yes, it is a tricky business… this going back, this uncoiling of stairs and of trees, of vows and of magics…

There are many types of vows, of course, and probably all formalized traditions or well-trod paths have their ritualized versions. I myself once belonged to a group wherein we did swear certain vows of loyalty and secrecy and yet, I did indeed leave that group in the end. The vows I swore in that instance were conditional; these were not based upon ‘perfect love and perfect trust forever’, but were to the traditions and lore and hierarchy of this certain group. Everyone goes into these things with the best of intentions but after several years, we came to a crossroads. I chose to resign, to return all physical vestiges and titles, and to exit the group. Yes, as a small-p priestess, I essentially banished myself.

That the vow of loyalty to the group was undone did not however give me free license to blab around the world of the secret workings of a benign group. My promises to the tradition may no longer include the future tense, but does not personal integrity require that I don't unravel the threads of the past magics we worked together, braided in love and hope and healing? How could I justify to my Gods the undoing of a healing, a ritual or a sacrifice simply because that group and I chose to follow different paths forward?  One does not simply unmake the past in fits and piques.

The way down, the way back, must be carefully considered and exquisitely maneuvered. For my part, there will always be something of our group magic out there that has my fingerprints all over it. It is a reality that I gladly accept because the good work that we did together was indeed, very, very good. When it comes right down to it, I respect my own magic. I know what I did and I know why I did it and I know where it went.

My altar faces the North, my ancestral homestead. That is where I learned to speak with chipmunks, count in cricket and ride on trees. Up on the Hill, red pines, their ancient songs recorded in sap, wrap their roots even deeper into the gravel and hold on.

Over the years and through the storms, the magic still stands.           


*Years and years and years ago, long before the belching saws bit into its pithy heart, Skye and I wassailed one small twig from my favorite apple tree behind the Barn. It is on my altar.

Monday, January 21, 2013

In the Thicket With Things ...

My husband, Fritz, is an avid cyclist. During the long summer hours, he can’t wait to get home and jump on his Orca. While there are some very nice bike trails in our area, he also takes his bike out on the street… “sharing the road” with all of the big cars and trucks and things that go… oh dear, I try not to think about it. And it was there on such a day and on such a street where he met Rodney.

As Fritz cruised past one of the local high schools on his ride, he kept watch ahead of his front wheel. He knew from previous trips that there was broken glass in that area and no cyclist likes to hear that “pop” sound. A flash of color prompted him to squeeze the brakes. He looked back…and there was Rodney. Alone. Lost. Purple.

While out on his cycling jaunts, Fritz takes photos of interesting things and locales to share with the “balance-impaired” (that’s me) and to post on his Facebook page. Well, Rodney certainly fit the criterion. You don’t almost run over a monster every day of the week.

So Fritz took a few iPhone shots, got back on his bike and rode off. Then stopped. Looked back. Rodney sat just far enough out into the road that Fritz knew it was simply a matter of time before a car wheel turned the plastic purple guy into monster mash. Fritz just couldn’t do it. Leave him, that is. And that is how Rodney came to live with us.

When he got home, my adorable husband was a bit unsure as to how I might react. He hummed and hawed a bit. “Hum, well…I don’t know how you are going to feel about this. I mean, I think he’s pretty cool. But he isn’t cute in the traditional sense of the word. (Yes, he really talks like that. I love it.) He was just out there on his own… and I almost left him but I then couldn’t … and so I turned around and got him… and here he is!”

Plop. There he was. It was love at first roar.

Rodney now sits on our kitchen counter over the Black Cat Bar with the other lost toys and Chowdah-leena, a lobster magnet from the Boston Airport. He rarely wanders. He’s safe here. And he has become one of the guardians of the WitchHouse.

As a Witch, I view this current seasonal turn as a Time of Vulnerability. It is the season when the traditional animals of my Ancestors, cattle and sheep*, become heavy with child. Pregnant females, sides bulging with another generation, cannot easily run away if danger approaches. As the birthing time grows ever near, they lie down in hidden thickets and wait out the rest of the gestation. They have to trust in their natural instincts and in the guardians (both animal and human) of their herds. It is a dangerous time.

In the cold weather climes, animals may need a bit of special care during this period. The Eastern Gray Squirrel first brood babies, for instance, are born in February/March and their chatty parents appreciate some scattered nuts under the trees. If your oaks had a better than average fall, store some acorns for later in the season when deep snow cover and ice can make foraging a bit more difficult. (Double your good libation karma!) And, alas, in the Southern Hemisphere, many areas have been plagued with drought and wildfires.

Native birds that usually fare pretty well in normal cycles have been greatly affected by the strange weather patterns of the past years. Some habitats and many nesting areas have been completely decimated. Watering holes are polluted; landmarks on flight routes may be unavailable, nesting spots gone. Fields and plants and trees remain susceptible to sudden changes in temperature.

This is a time when protection is necessary and diligence is required. If you tune in to the seasonal tides, you may indeed feel vulnerable during this part of the cycle. (See? You weren’t just being paranoid!) Now you can take measures to protect yourself. Fill your string jar. Set some wards. Work protection magic. Hold your loved ones close. Do not be embarrassed to ask for some extra help or reassurance. Watch over little ones. Reach out to those who are ill or frail or alone. Resources can still be a bit scarce before we reach the full lushness of spring or the plenty of the harvest.

These same energy patterns also may ripple through societies and nations during this time. Here in the U.S., we are at the beginning of a new political session. People could be a little jumpy and a lot defensive. Everyone has expectations but concrete plans are not yet manifest. Bide this time well.

Whenever we feel vulnerable, we can withdraw into our protective magical thickets. From a vantage point of safety, we can strengthen the timid legs of our newborn plans and dreams. The wolves of the world will pass us by without notice. Sometimes, as we wait, an unexpected guardian or teacher may emerge to guide us on our way to a new field, a new path and a renewed sense of purpose.

Witches are the folks of another way… not ‘the other’ way as in ‘the enemy without”, but of ‘another way’. We see things through a different prism. We look beneath the surface. We follow the roots of a matter. We gaze beyond the stars. We are the ones who spin the ordinary into magic. We assign a value to -- and purpose for -- things that others may not. Just because we are the people of the earth and sea and sky does not restrict us to using only those forms in our workings.

Neither does any of the above mean that we are better, wiser or more spiritual than anyone else sharing this world and sphere of humanity. It simply means that we have the opportunity to bring ‘another’ perspective into discussions of sociology and ecology and philosophy. Now is a good time to reflect on how we can better communicate our visions and share them with others.

There is always an opportunity to begin anew. Let the stub of the umbilical cord tying you to past loves, past failures and past regrets shrivel up and drop away. Nibble the promises of the seasons to come. Drink the milk of fresh resolve. Help a beastie cross the road.

Anyway, this is the tale of how we came to have a warty plastic toothasaurus keeping vigil in our witchin’ kitchen. We are still not sure just what sort of creature Rodney actually is. After living with him for a while I feel that he embodies the attributes of the Boar -- a totem with an exceptionally robust gastrointestinal system** -- and so I run all my new recipes by him. He does seem to really enjoy the shrimp.


**For more on Boar, check out “Neolithic Shamanism: Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition” by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Daghda Waffle

One of my domestic duties as Head House Witch is to read the household signs and portents each morning. No need to get out the tarot cards or wipe off the scrying mirror for this one. I have a fresh-from-the-toaster oracle right here on the counter. "Use what you use" is the WitchHouse Way. No noxious fumes with this one either.

So I take an earnest (if somewhat bleary-eyed) look at the gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free spread spilling over the side of my waffle. Tune in to my spirit guides. Clear my mind. "What will this new day bring?" Okay, let's scry this dish*:

Does that condiment look like a thick river of gold? Why, yes! Yes, it does! It could be a sign that money is on the way into the house coffers today. I'm feeling very positive about how my day is going so far and... I try to hold that upbeat vibe as I step back into a fresh deposit of cat barf. 

No can do. Warm feeling gone. Well, not quite; it is seeping between my toes now. Hey, is that waffle mocking me?

Okay, settle down. There is no great cosmic plot afoot to ruin my day. (Although, just between us, I still think that the troll in the freezer throws ice cubes at me whenever I open the door.) Sometimes, we simply get what we get. It's not personal. Barf happens to good people. But how we deal with the upchucks of life can make a difference in how the rest of the day works out. So I may drop a little something into the Universal Suggestion Box each morning. Today, it went like this:

"Dearest Daghda**, 

I really like your ideas regarding food supply availability and greatly admire your ability to regulate the seasons (and while on the topic of seasons, do you have a favorite dry rub recipe for that pork?). 

Although I sometimes find it difficult to maintain a cheerful and open-minded attitude throughout the entire day, You have inspired me to fire up my inner cauldron so that I may produce spiritual foodstuffs of love and joy and health. I will share your gifts with others. 

Thank You, All-father of earth and sun.

With deepest gratitude, Wren"

Share your blessings. Leave a pat of real butter or a drop of good fruit jam for the Land Keepers. Put a grin on your toast and a smile on your face. Don't let the barfs get you down. Cuz damn, that stuff is slippery and before you know it, everyone around you is sitting on the bottom of the slope, too. And that's not Good. 

* I think I just channeled Nadia G. here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013