Nov 18, 2018

Christmas 2018 -- First Card! and A Life Update


Here's my first Christmas card for 2018. Very grateful for the time, health, and opportunity to just sit and play. Last year I was recovering from surgery and the year before I was sick in Belgium, so it's been awhile since I had the pleasure of making a Christmas card. At least I think so -- I haven't gone back to check!


This uses Penny Black La Fleur Rouge stamp and a sentiment from W Plus 9 -- both have been around for a while. I stamped it multiple times with Tombow Watercolor Markers and misted with water. Then I stamped with Versamark and embossed in clear and watercolored around the image. The white edges around the stems and leaves are the places where the embossing powder melted. I like the look.

Here's a picture of the layers of watercolor and splatters. So much fun to make!


I took this picture in our bedroom. That blue wall is like the rest of the house -- textured plaster. I've yet to find the right light for photography in this house, but this will do for now.

MOOD WHEN DONE:  Happy!

LIFE UPDATE: The move to Dallas has been full of happiness and some tears. Both of us are very happy we made the move, and both are homesick. We like the city but we need time to adjust. 

The section of the city where we live -- East Dallas -- is full of lovely older homes and buildings. It's liveable and, particularly for me, easy to navigate. We are 20 minutes from Love Field (the airport from which President Kennedy flew back to DC after the assassination). We are about 5 minutes from the President George W. Bush library and will be going there soon. So, while it is different from what we are used to, Dallas is a good place.

Living near our son has been better than anticipated. He hasn't lived near us for more than a few months in over 10 years, so there is a lot of happiness on all sides. We have also spent a fair amount of time with Mike's brother and his family, who live nearby, and are looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with them.

All good!

There is a clinic that specializes in my heart condition nearby, which is fantastic, as most cardiologists do not have enough experience with the condition and can cause more harm than good. The clinic is a participating site for a clinical trial for a new drug and asked me if I wanted to participate. In a week or so I start the process to see if I can participate. Without clinical trials, we will not more forward so I am hopeful.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Today we are hosting a small get together for a few neighbors. And one of them is -- get this -- a stamper who reached out to me because she reads this blog and recognized my description of where we live. She is 3 blocks away!! We met for lunch and she is awesome. I AM SO EXCITED.

I hope to be back with more cards later this week. 




Nov 14, 2018

Oh, James

I scanned the intake sheet: James Kolacki (not his real name), 24, unemployed. Wants to appeal a denial of social security disability (SSD).  One of the other lawyers or paralegals in my legal aid office must have been on vacation or overloaded, as I rarely handled that type of case.  Ok, time to learn something new.

James had pale white skin, blond, almost white, hair, and pale blue eyes. Very thin, he looked about 18. His father, Mr. Kolacki, was with him. Mr. K was graying and looked older than his age (50). I soon learned why.

It is difficult to get SSD, and very difficult when you are young. Before the government will agree to pay, you must meet the definition of disability in the social security laws. The older we get, the easier it is to meet that test -- back problems, arthritis, cancer etc. all become much more common as we age. At 24, however, the odds were not in James' favor.

Before I could introduce myself, I noticed James reading my framed licenses and certificates quite closely. So, after I told them my name, I made a point of mentioning that I was "the attorney" assigned to James. Since I was 27 and a woman, it was often necessary for me to remind my clients that I was a "real" lawyer.  Sometimes I needed to remind myself as well.....

Right from the start, Mr. K took over the appointment and explained that James lived in supported housing, ran by a local non profit, for adults with developmental or serious mental health issues.  Mr. K handed me the paperwork denying SSD for his son, and said he wanted to appeal.

It's tricky when an adult comes in with a parent, child, or other adult who is answering all the questions. So I went out of my way to explain to James that I was his attorney, not his father's, and that I wanted to speak privately with James.  Mr. K got up to leave, but James immediately said it was ok for his father to stay.

Mr. K sat down and I looked at James and asked him why he thought he couldn't work. His father immediately answered for him. "James has schizophrenia** and cannot hold a job." He then handed me a one inch thick medical file.

I needed to hear from James, if for no other reason that James would need to testify and I had to assess his ability to do so. So I sat back and said to James, "Tell me about your life. I know your Dad can explain it but I want to hear it from you." And then I said to Mr. K, "If it's ok, I'd like you to sit back and just listen for a bit." Mr. K nodded.

Without looking at me, James said, "I live with my parents and I got fired from my job at Taco Bell."

"What reason did Taco Bell give you for firing you?"

"I got upset. I couldn't stay there at the cash register so I left in the middle of my shift and they fired me."

James looked a little agitated and kept staring at my certificates, so I decided to change the subject and ask something simple.

"Did you graduate from high school?"

I caught a look of immense sadness come over Mr. K's face. Before James could respond, Mr, K said: "Yes, James graduated 3rd in his class. And then he went to the University of Virginia for 2 years. When he was a junior at UVA, he had his first psychotic break and moved back home."

In the 3 years that I had been practicing as a legal aid lawyer, I had a lot of clients with serious mental health issues. Although they were a small portion of my practice, they took up a lot of my time. Sometimes their issues seemed comical, even though underneath they were deadly serious and tragic. Nevertheless, it seemed I connected with them better than with my "healthy" clients.

For example, Gail (not her real name) kept filing lawsuits against Picasso (his real name), even though Picasso was dead and Gail had no connection to Picasso. I had learned the hard way not to argue with Gail about those facts. Rather, I convinced Gail to stop filing suits against Picasso because Picasso wasn't in the US and the US courts didn't have jurisdiction over him.

I was representing Bill, (not his real name either) a cab driver, in a routine divorce. Things got interesting because Bill believed that Walter Mondale had beaten Ronald Reagan in the 1984 Presidential election. Bill wasn't claiming voter fraud -- rather, he was convinced that Mondale had won. Bill "saw" the victory celebration for Mondale on TV and drove up from Florida to Northern Virginia in anticipation of working for Mondale. While waiting to start work at the White House, Bill's wife sued him for divorce. On the day after Mondale's "Inauguration Day," Bill went to the White House to report for work. (The Secret Service called me because I was listed as his lawyer on the divorce papers Bill was carrying around.)

So, I had a little experience dealing with people suffering from schizophrenia and, tremendous sympathy. Schizophrenia is one of life's cruelties. I was powerless to address the schizophrenia -- all I could do was work around it and help my clients get what they deserved.

In any event, I understood why Mr. K was answering the questions for James and I was beginning to understand why Mr. K looked older than 50. But, before I could respond, James stood up and stated: "I don't want a woman lawyer. I want a man. I don't like being near women."

Mr. K explained, "James is afraid of women. He thinks they have powers to kill him. He couldn't handle working with or serving any women at Taco Bell and that is why he left in the middle of the shift. Please don't be offended. It's part of his illness."

We had a policy in our office that we would not respond to clients' prejudices -- if you didn't want the Jewish lawyer or the woman lawyer or the guy with red hair, you were out of luck. But James was different. This wasn't stupidity or prejudice; this was part of James' illness.

"Well, give me a moment. I want to talk to one of my colleagues."

But before I got to the door, James also stood up, walked over to my law school graduation certificate and, pointing at it, said, "Well, I see you went to a Catholic law school. I will take you as my lawyer because you are Catholic."

I decided not to share with James that I was not a practicing Catholic.

"Well, good. Let me look through the file your Dad brought."

I scanned the papers and silently fumed. James was clearly suffering from schizophrenia and had made multiple attempts at working, all of which failed. His permanent disability was documented by many psychiatrists. I knew that Social Security had denied James because the Reagan Administration had a policy of denying all SSD claims and forcing everyone to file an appeal. As a result, the appeals process was overwhelmed with claims. Even worse, many people didn't understand how to appeal and didn't go forward. This was especially cruel because SSD comes with eligibility for Medicare (after a waiting period). No SSD, and often no health care for the most vulnerable.

I explained this to James and his Dad but also told them that our office had a pretty good track record for winning at the hearing officer stage. In the event we lost, we could file in Federal Court.

The hearing officer was a kind man. He listened to my presentation, chatted with James for a few minutes, and took my binder of documents supporting James' claim. While he was reading the doctors' statements, James blurted out that if the hearing officer thought he should try and work, James would try again. It was heartbreaking. I saw the empathy in the hearing officer's eyes. After a moment, he put down the file, looked at me, and asked if the SSD checks should be made out directly to James or to Mr. K as his guardian. James agreed to let his father get the checks.

So James got SSD and the health insurance (Medicare) that goes with it. I was thrilled. It was a small victory against the disease and the system that tried to rob James of his chance at a decent life. I wasn't sure what the future held for James, but I imagined a relatively stable life, living near his family and doing as well as could be expected. Mr. K was hugely relieved and thanked me over and over. James looked away and didn't say anything.

I never saw James or Mr. K again. But about 10 years later, I noticed a short article in the Washington Post. Apparently James had moved to Staunton, Virginia and had been living in a boarding house. A fellow resident had shot and killed him. James was survived by Mr. and Mrs. K and 2 siblings. The police were investigating.

Oh, James, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. 

** James wasn't "a schizophrenic." Just like I'm not a heart disease and others are not cancer. James was a human with a disease.

Although research continues, treatments have not changed much since James died. You can find more information on schizophrenia here.





Oct 15, 2018

One Year Later, Part 2

A lot of events happened last year, and the other day I documented some of it on the blog. 

But what I didn't document were the really important moments, the moments we remember because of how they made us feel. Like stones rounded by the sea, I sometimes take out these moments and turn them around and around in my mind, taking comfort and joy in their memory:

When Mike was hospitalized a few weeks before my heart surgery, a friend said: "I'll go with you to Mayo."

When it was recommended that I have a recliner after surgery, as getting in and out of bed would be painful, a friend said: "I have a recliner. We'll bring it over and carry it up your flight of stairs."

When we were flying back home from Mayo, a friend said: "I've made extra dinner. I'll bring it over as soon as you get there."

When Mike was anxious to get back to work after being at Mayo with me for 2 weeks, a friend said: "I'll take you to the doctor," even though that meant a long drive in rush hour for her.

When the doorbell keeps ringing because so many friends have sent food or flowers or both.

When you get cards.  

When friends insist on dropping by for just 10 minutes and seeing them brightens your mood for days.

When the doc in the ER gets angry on your behalf because the Mayo docs screwed up something and she calls Mayo to complain. 

When that same doc says to you: "This embolism could have killed you. You're lucky your husband called an ambulance."

When your son turns to you and says: "We should live in the same area. Move to Dallas."

When your sister in law calls to say that her mom is having a biopsy, and my husband and his brother drop everything to be there.

When your mother in law takes a turn for the worse, and everyone -- children, in laws, grandchildren, flies across the country and is there in less than a day.

When the time comes to divide up property and my mother in law's children argue -- not to get more for themselves, but to make sure they don't take too much for themselves.

When you hear your nephew and niece performing at your mother in law's memorial service.

When your sister in law buys your favorite candy, twizzlers, and then eats them with you. 

When your mother in law says: "Thank you for being here."

When you wake up covered by biting bugs at your airbnb apartment and your husband says: "We are out of here. Leave the stuff covered with bugs on the bed. Now."

When you finally find a doctor who figures out what is wrong with your scar. And makes it stop hurting.

When you say goodbye to neighbors, knowing you may never see them again, and your heart tugs.

When your car check engine light comes on as soon as you enter Dallas, and a car guy you've never met fixes it and doesn't charge much.

When your realtor (Kathy Hewitt) is the BEST realtor ever and makes a difficult situation easier. 

When your sister in law in Dallas calls and says "come for dinner" and keeps calling with the same request.

When the people running the breakfast buffet at the hotel where you are staying greet you with a big smile every morning.

When every. single. person. you meet in Dallas is friendly (and many are from the DC area!).

When the Dallas waitress reorders all your food because there is a way to get the same food at less cost.

When a stamper friend contacts someone she knows in Dallas and her Dallas friend and I go to lunch.

When you get invited to attend your nephew's baby's church dedication.

When 3 of your new neighbors knock on the door and welcome you and give you their cell numbers.

When your son says: "I'm glad you moved here."


Oct 13, 2018

One Year Later

October 13th 
Super Freak Out
Heart Surgery at Mayo
A few complications
Feeling better every day
More complications
Get stronger
Mike retires
Spend week in Florida celebrating
Anticipate boring (good) year
Mike decides to take job in Phoenix
Freak out
Mike's mom get sick
Go house hunting in Phoenix
Spend weeks in Harlingen Texas
helping Mike's sister care for my MIL
Go to San Diego to be with MIL and SIL
Sadly, Mike's mom does not make it
Andy suggests we move to Dallas
Heartstrings tugged
Cancel Phoenix
Put house on market
Sell house
Freak out
Move to Dallas
Leave 2 Airbnb places due to "issues"
Freak out
Move to hotel
Breakfast buffet is (too) good
Spend lots of time with Andy and Mike's family in Dallas
Househunters
Buy house in Dallas
Cancel Contract on House 1
Buy House 2
Cancel Contract on House 2
Freak out
Buy House 1 again
Freak out
Move into house
Unpacking**
Love house
Meet nice neighbors
Have first dinner with Andy in new house last night
Anticipate boring year
Please


** Pic of sunroom filling up with empty boxes




Oct 1, 2018

Life/House Update

We moved out of the hotel yesterday and into our new (to us) home. We only have two folding chairs and a mattress, but it's wonderful to finally be in our own place.  The rest of our stuff should get here by the end of the week.

In the meantime, I am enjoying getting to know our house. It was built in 1930 and full of character and charm and issues! We'll be working on this place forever...

I'm curious about the original owners and hope to figure out who they were. I look out the windows sometimes and imagine a family living here and can't help but wonder what the woman was thinking when she stood in the same spot or how many kids lived here.

One of the bathrooms is from 1930 -- only the sink and toilet, and some overhead lights, have been updated.  We suspect that it was the only bath when the house was built.  If it wasn't original to the house it would be gone! But, given that someone laid those frightful pink, almost purple, and green tiles 88 years ago, we will preserve it. On the other hand, I love those built in cabinets.


And here's a picture of what will be my craft room. (It's much smaller than this realtor picture makes it look!) It used to be what we think was the master bedroom for the house, but a previous owner turned it into a family room and added those built in cabinets.

 There's room for a couple of chairs and a TV, so Mike can join me sometimes while I craft. (If you look closely, you can see the original wood telephone stand in the hall and the wrap around sunporch outside the craft room window.)  I cannot wait to fill up those shelves with my supplies!



Here is the front of the house. Those windows on the left enclose a sunporch. It used to be an open porch, but the previous owner installed windows and screens and it is now one of my favorite spots in the house.


This house sat on the market for quite a few months. As a result, the price kept dropping, and, because it needs a fair amount of work, we were able to factor that into the final price. I am so grateful to be living here.

Nevertheless, it's been a somewhat difficult transition. I just miss what I still refer to as "home." We see our son and Mike's brother's family almost every weekend and then I'm happy, but 24 hours later I'm homesick and missing my home and friends. The good news is that I'm confident that, once our stuff gets here, and we can make this place a home, I'll be feeling much better.

I'll let you know when our my stamping stuff arrives!

MOOD WHEN DONE:  Happy (most of the time!)

Sep 8, 2018

Dallas: The First Week: Does Mike Want a Divorce?

Sunday: Drove in (Mike) at the end of the day and moved into Apartment #1. Don't remember much as I was taking Ativan to cope with everything (only when I travel).

Monday and Tuesday: Looked at houses. Bought a little food just to get by. Nightmares from my childhood.

Wednesday: Signed a contract to buy a house. I wanted this house; Mike another. Compromised by me winning this round.

Dreamt Mike wanted a divorce.

Thursday: Went grocery shopping and filled the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry with enough food and drink for a couple of weeks.

Dreamt Mike wanted a divorce.

Friday:  Woke up covered with bugs biting me (not Mike). Ran around like crazy, jumped in the shower, got dressed and packed, leaving behind anything that was anywhere near the bed. Packed up all our food and clothes and (Mike) hauled it to the car. Drove like a bat out of hell to Apt #2.

Lugged (Mike) all our stuff, including food (beer is heavy), and 4 suitcases up a flight of stairs to Apt #2. Unpacked everything (me). Cried at the scary apartment. dump we were living in. Felt guilty for not appreciating the apartment.

Went to lunch. Came back and packed up everything, including the frozen tater tots we bought to celebrate buying a house (cheap date), and drove like hell out of that really scary garage.

Went to hotel. Kept some stuff in trunk of car, but brought in all food and about 1/2 our stuff.

Dreamt Mike wanted a divorce.

Saturday:  it's only 1:00 -- give it time! 

MOOD WHEN DONE:  I want my life back.


Sep 6, 2018

Crossing That Off the List

Got to Dallas on Sunday.
Bought a house on Thursday.

(It's a house we've looked at online for the last 3 months).

Feeling very grateful.  Hope to be back to stamping sometime before November!!