All posts by redforkhippie

Raised by hippies. Aging and proud of it.

Drive my car

Once again, I’ve managed to neglect my blog because I was busy doing cool stuff that I should have been blogging. If you’re still with me, thanks for hanging in there.

One of the cool things I’ve been doing lately is detailed over at my teaching blog, Foolish Wand-Waving. Hop over there if you’re interested in seeing the inexpensive stim tools I’ve been cobbling together from dollar-store materials.

Another cool thing I did recently was buy a new car. I wasn’t sure this was cool at first. I wanted to drive the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar a million miles, but at 220,000, it landed in the shop with a mysterious engine problem, and school was about to start — so the day before the new semester began, I bought a Chevy Spark.

It’s not the Dreamcar, and it’s not a stick shift, but it has three redeeming features:

1. A CVT. Less fun than a stick, but optimal fuel economy.

2. A real-time mpg meter to facilitate hypermiling.

3. A trial subscription to Sirius XM, where I discovered there is an entire radio station devoted exclusively to the Beatles. Where has this been all my life?

The CVT and mileage meter are probably the main reasons I’m getting an average of 43.2 mpg (and climbing), but it can’t hurt that I am in zero hurry to arrive anywhere when I’m driving around with the Fab Four on the stereo.

Fine, Spark. You’re not the Dreamcar, but maybe I’ll love you. (Beep-beep’m … you know the rest.)

The third cool thing I did was start a free obedience class at Paws and Claws. Our first lesson was this morning. Seven dogs and their humans showed up, and Ramona happily served as my teaching assistant, demonstrating “heel,” “sit,” and “stay” as smoothly as the average Westminster champion.

I gave her a piece of bacon jerky when we got home, but I think the bigger treat for her was getting to see her old friends at the shelter. We adopted her almost a year ago, but she obviously remembered the volunteers who’d taken care of her when she was a puppy:

Woman cuddling an Australian shepherd mix
Ramona was delighted to see her old friends at the shelter.

I’m proud of Ramona. I knew she was going to be good at obedience, but she’s exceeded my wildest expectations. I suspect she’ll be able to go for walks without a leash before the winter is out.

Emily

 

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Serendipity

So I’ve been plotting to adopt another Chihuahua for several months. I wanted to do it as soon as school let out, but then I had surgery, so I decided to wait until I recovered.

Once my doctor released me to resume normal activities, I sent an application to a Chihuahua rescue group in Albuquerque, but after an initial flurry of emails back and forth, they went silent, and I couldn’t get a response to my questions so we could advance the adoption process. I’d just about given up and was about ready to go to one of the shelters in Amarillo or Lubbock.

Ron and I were at the feed store Thursday when we bumped into a couple of board members from our local shelter. One of them was supposed to do my home visit for the Chihuahua group, but they never got back to her, either. Before my surgery, I’d been training dogs out at the shelter, but between recovering from surgery and fighting off the tension headaches that followed (protip: If you’re recovering from surgery, DO NOT spend the entire recovery period reading fanfic on your smartphone in bed), I hadn’t had a chance to get back out there all summer.

In my absence, someone had brought in a 13-year-old Chihuahua whose owner was ill and could no longer care for her.

As soon as we finished up our feed-store run, we headed to the shelter and came home with Tootsie, who adjusted to life in our pack very quickly and is contentedly napping on a pillow under my desk as I write this. I am not sure how I got by without a Chihuahua for the past 10 months, but I don’t ever want to go that long without one again. It’s like trying to get by without bees, chickens, or green chile.

New dog. She looks more alarmed than she is.
Man holding smiling Chihuahua
Tootsie is more tolerant of Ron than Lillian was.
Why does my dog look like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”?

That last picture is from our trip to Clovis on Saturday. Tootsie was sitting on the floorboard, watching Ron and making her very best “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” face.

She’s a character.

Oh, and I managed to get back out to the shelter today. If you want to see pictures of the pooches I worked with, look up @redforkhippie on Instagram.

Emily

Embracing the Cailleach

As I prepared for my hysterectomy, I kept seeing articles about how to cope with sorrow and regret. I can understand young women mourning the loss of their fertility, but at 44, I can’t see grieving for organs that hurt me for decades. If a person treated me the way my reproductive system did, I’d be shopping for hydrofluoric acid and Rubbermaid tubs.

Apparently some women my age are devastated by the notion of reaching menopause a little ahead of schedule. They fear losing their femininity — or worse, their value — along with what’s left of their fertility.

I blame our society. We portray postmenopausal women as feeble, unattractive, or daft figures to be pitied, patronized, or ignored.

I’ve been researching a lot of Celtic folklore lately, and one thing I’ve found striking is its reverence for older women. The youthful goddess Brigid ruled the spring and summer, but the Cailleach — a Gaelic word that translates to “hag” or “crone” — governed the winter months. In the stories I’ve read, the Cailleach is a strong, creative, sexually confident goddess, unfettered by the threat of pregnancy, the discomforts of menstruation, or the demands of motherhood and imbued with the wisdom of experience.

Imagine what would happen to the patriarchy if women took our cues from such a figure. Imagine what would happen if we stopped apologizing for our own longevity, quit measuring our worth by fertility or looks, and embraced the freedom and power that come with age.

There are legitimate reasons to be upset about a hysterectomy. It hurts. It’s tiring. It’s expensive. One in three women will have hysterectomies by age 60 — a number I imagine would plummet if our government could be arsed to spend as much money funding research into fibroids and endometriosis as it spends on security to protect Donald Trump while he farts around in New York and Florida. (Perhaps I’ve read Gloria Steinem’s “If Men Could Menstruate” essay one too many times, but I can’t help suspecting that if a third of all men had to have reproductive organs removed by age 60, we’d declare a national emergency.)

But while I’m frustrated that it was necessary, I can’t quite bring myself to regret a surgery that ended 30 years of pain and inconvenience and accelerated my entry into the comforts of cronedom.

I am not afraid of aging.

I am not afraid of becoming the Cailleach.

Bring it.

Emily

Ask the Hippie: Controlling Hot Flashes

Q. You had your ovaries removed during your hysterectomy. How bad are the hot flashes, and what are you doing about them?

A. For about a week after surgery, I kept the hot flashes to three or four a day, but the frequency (12 to 15 a day) and intensity spiked as I started feeling better and drifted away from the carefully planned, phytoestrogen-heavy meals I’d prefabbed before my surgery. When I started eating right again, the hot flashes settled back down to manageable levels.

Phytoestrogens occur naturally in most plants. Soybeans are among the richest sources; other good sources include black beans, peanuts, ground flaxseed, oats, tree nuts, and sweet potatoes.

Here are five easy ways to boost your phytoestrogen intake:

Source 1: Smoothies. Blend together half a frozen banana, a cup of frozen berries, two tablespoons of powdered peanut butter, two tablespoons of ground flaxseed, orange juice (I freeze mine in ice-cube trays and throw a few cubes in a smoothie), a cup of soymilk, and a little water. These are loaded with protein, fiber, and phytoestrogens and make quick breakfasts, especially if you assemble the frozen ingredients in advance and freeze them in individual containers.

Source 2: Oatmeal. Microwave half a cup of old-fashioned oatmeal with a quarter-cup each of nuts and dried cranberries, a pinch of cinnamon, and as much water as needed to reach the consistency you like. Sweeten with honey, brown sugar, or — for an extra dose of phytoestrogens — a half-cup of applesauce. Rich in protein, fiber, and phytoestrogens and nice on mornings that are too cool for smoothies.

Source 3: Soynut butter. Made for little kids with peanut allergies, soynut butter looks and sort of tastes like peanut butter. I spread some on a whole-wheat mini-bagel and add a tablespoon or so of marshmallow creme to make a soy-based Fluffernutter for breakfast.

Source 4: Baked sweet potatoes. Bake ’em in a slow cooker for a few hours. Top with butter and either brown sugar and cinnamon (for a sweet treat) or salsa and a little lime juice (for a savory snack).

Source 5: Veggie corn dogs. Morningstar Farms makes these. They’re 150 calories apiece take a minute and a half to nuke, and taste like regular corn dogs. Easy lunch on busy days.

Beyond that, I try to drink plenty of water, eat popsicles, and wear a cooling scarf in warm surroundings.

Emily

Ask the Hippie: Surviving a Hysterectomy without Opioids

Q. A hysterectomy is major surgery. How did you get through yours without opioids, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

A. Opioids are magnificent painkillers, but I can’t keep them down, and the last thing I wanted was to have my stomach acting up immediately after abdominal surgery, so my doctor prescribed 800 mg of ibuprofen every 8 hours instead.

The medicine worked pretty well when I remembered to take it. More helpful than the ibuprofen, I think, were two tips I picked up from HysterSisters, which is a pretty good resource.

Tip 1: Use an abdominal binder to support the incisions and keep your internal organs from squirming around too much. I didn’t have a binder, but the extra-wide Ace bandage I’d used to support a ribcage injury years ago made a serviceable substitute.

Tip 2: Get a couple of those flat ice packs that are designed to go in lunchboxes. Keep one in the freezer, tuck the other between the top and bottom layers of your bandage, and rotate them out as needed. Instant relief.

At its worst, my pain really wasn’t any worse than moderate cramps, and by skipping the opioids, I avoided the constipation and mental fog that come with prescription painkillers. The former does not play well with abdominal incisions, and the latter makes me nervous, so I was just as happy to dodge those bullets.

I was a little concerned about the risk of inflammation, so the week before my surgery, I made myself a big batch of those frozen fruit bars I use to cool down after a workout. To make them, you just puree frozen berries, which have anti-inflammatory properties, with enough cranberry juice to make a pourable liquid, pour it into molds, and freeze it. I figured the cranberry juice would also reduce my risk of catheter-induced bladder infections. Bonus: The frozen treats made a pleasant antidote to hot flashes.

Hope that’s useful to somebody.

Emily

Problem solved.

I have struggled with painful gynecological problems on and off for decades. During that time, I have tried every imaginable treatment, from medical to spiritual, with varying levels of success. The Pill kept most of the obvious symptoms at bay for several years, but as I entered perimenopause last year, it became less and less effective, until one bright afternoon this spring, my uterus decided to eject an endometrial cast the size of a hamster through my undilated cervix.

After roughly 30 years of highly unpleasant symptoms, I have the pain threshold of a rhinoceros on heroin — especially where my reproductive system is concerned — but on a standard pain scale of 1 to 10, passing an endometrial cast ranks somewhere around a 37, which is obnoxious even by my standards.

About five weeks later, I managed to get an appointment with a gynecologist in Clovis, who promptly scheduled me for a June 6 hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the uterus, tubes, and ovaries).

The surgery went very smoothly, as has my recovery thus far. I had some post-op pain for several days immediately following the procedure, but nothing severe — the worst of it felt about like moderate cramps, which lasted for two or three days, and within a week, I could sit at my desk for a few hours or walk several blocks with minimal pain. Not bad, considering I can’t take opioids and had to tough it out on Advil and ice packs.

When I had my stitches taken out last week, my doctor gave me a copy of the pathology report. No wonder I felt like crap; I had a uterus full of fibroids (10 of ’em), cysts all over both ovaries, and endometriosis gluing my right ovary to my uterus.

At this point — 19 days removed from surgery — I feel almost normal again. I tire easily, which is annoying. I’m not allowed to lift anything heavy or walk any dogs for several more weeks. It’ll be a while before I’m really comfortable with the idea of jogging on soft trails, much less asphalt streets (though I’m considering buying a cheap elliptical to use in the meantime). And in the absence of ovaries, I’ve had some spectacular hot flashes (which I’m already having fairly good luck controlling with diet; more on that in a future post). But those are small prices to pay for a surgery that has eliminated several health problems that compromised my quality of life for many years.

Emily

Best. Final. Ever.

So I gave my creative-writing final this week. That class has only three students, so instead of giving a conventional final, I walked in yesterday, handed each kid a Barbie doll, and gave them their choice of three writing prompts involving a sentient Barbie.

Prompt 1: Barbie lives in a Dream House owned by a 9-year-old girl with affluent parents and a bad habit of losing small objects. Barbie has several housemates who may or may not be sentient. She has a crush on one, and another is incredibly annoying. She has access to a Corvette, Jeep, and RV. Despite her luxurious surroundings, Barbie is dissatisfied with her life and has resorted to unhealthy coping mechanisms. She views the 9-year-old as a destructive monster, benevolent deity, or obnoxious landlady (your choice).

Prompt 2: Barbie lives in a crude dollhouse lovingly constructed from a cardboard box by her owner, a precocious 9-year-old girl from a working-class family. Barbie is the girl’s only store-bought toy; everything else is a hand-me-down, yard-sale find, or something homemade. Despite her meager surroundings, Barbie is satisfied with her life. She and the child are each other’s only friend. Barbie wants to help the child, who is being mistreated, but is hampered by the limitations of being a plastic doll.

Prompt 3: Barbie is living rough in a city alley after falling out of a dumpster that was being emptied into a garbage truck. Once a 4-year-old girl’s favorite toy, she was separated from her owner through some tragedy and is now fending for herself. She either desperately misses the child or is grateful to be rid of her. She is in mortal danger from some threat. She has no survival skills and is learning on the fly, acquiring or creating her own shelter and other necessities in whatever way you deem appropriate for a small plastic doll.

I’m not sure this prompt would have worked with another group, but these girls are clever, caustic, and fully capable of turning Barbie’s perfect pink fantasy world into a biting commentary on modern capitalism, a dystopian hellscape, or an existential nightmare.

They’re supposed to be turning in their final drafts tomorrow. I cannot WAIT to read them. I’ve promised the girls that anybody who makes an A on the final gets to keep her Barbie, so they are MOTIVATED.

Emily