Get Off the Couch, We’re Going to Bisbee!

Being the people person that I am, I was delighted several years ago to discover Couch Surfing (www.couchsurfing.org). The basic premise here is that you register with this social media site and detail your hosting availability (be it meet for a cup of coffee or the offer of a few nights on the ‘couch’). There’s only a little bit more to it than that (some safety features for example) but once you’re signed up you can surf for couches to sleep on all over the world.

This is right up my alley. I LOVE meeting new people. Although the stars have yet to align for me to sleep on couches when I am traveling, I have hosted several times, both here and in California. My friend Nick from Manchester, England walked across America (yes, you read that right ~ from Times Square to Santa Monica); Ben came from England via Florida to buy a motorcycle in LA; Megan and Josh came from Michigan to help with the Floating Stone Spa relaunch here in Tubac; and most recently, Gail from Derby, England stopped by for a night and stayed for three.

Generally when visiting a new place you go to a hotel, sight see a bit, go back to the hotel, eat dinner, sleep. Repeat. Ok, maybe not all that mundane, but you get the idea. What makes CS so cool is that you actually get the opportunity to experience a place from the inside. Eat where the locals eat, avoid cheesy tourist traps, meet the natives. In Ben’s case, I put him to work in my garden  and then took him to a spa opening where he drank pink martinis and was fawned over by the ladies ~ he loved it! Can’t get that in a guide book.

So last week my newest surfer Gail showed up. Gail is my age and from England. She is surfing across the US from Florida. She is full of beans and we hit it off like a house on fire. Her plan was to head to San Diego from Tubac, but I convinced her a trip to Bisbee was in order, and she agreed.

We spent a lovely day in that funny little town. We drove around and looked at many of the famous stairs that are featured in the Bisbee 1000 race (http://www.bisbee1000.org); had a hamburger at the Copper Queen Hotel; met an old geezer in a period costume at the visitor’s center who told us about Pancho Villa and his purported German connections; and finally wended our way over to Douglas, AZ, a dot of a town seemingly half frozen in the 1950s.

The following day I took Gail up to Morning Star Ranch where my friends R & A live. They have a magnificent home on 36 acres of pristine Sonoran desert, which the average visitor from Derby, UK doesn’t usually get to see. We had a fantastic lunch and then a ramble through the ranch in a Jeepy type vehicle. I took a tired but happy Gail home where she quickly fell out of favor by kicking my ASS in Scrabble, twice.

Gail moved from Arizona on to Hawaii for a week, then she’s off to San Francisco for a week and then back to England later this month. I’ve forgiven her the Scrabble trouncing and I look forward to seeing my friend either here or there again in the near future.

Welcome To The Neighborhood

The housing area that I live in consists of 108 units and only about 15 or so permanent residents. Of those 93 units, many are in a rental pool for snowbirds, border patrol or just used sporadically by their owners. Consequently, there is always a lot of activity as people from all over the US and Canada come and go on a regular basis. You can always tell which ones are the Canadians ~ they’re the ones out by the pool when us locals are still wearing sweatshirts.

As I live in an end unit, right across from the pool, I have a pretty good view of what’s going on if I care to. I admit, my inner Gladys Kravitz does sometimes rear her ugly head, and I sit and look out the window at the comings and goings of the people around me.

A couple of days ago, I had just finished cleaning the cat’s litter box and had a bag full of, well, cat shit that I was taking out to the trash can. I opened the gate and noticed some people unpacking their car across the street. Naturally, I very nonchalantly sauntered out down the path all the while spying on what they were doing. Naturally, I wasn’t paying attention to my feet (which require quite a bit of focused guidance) and naturally I stepped off the path onto the gravel and started to lose my balance.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear before that balance is no longer one of my strong suits. One tiny misstep and there is no going back. I’m sure my arms flailed and I may have grunted or cried out in some fashion, but next thing I know I’m lying on the ground with a rock lodged in my hip, my elbow bleeding and the bag of cat shit broken open and splayed all around me.

There is something about falling down that cracks me (and most people) up. I think it’s a combination of embarrassment and an element of buffoonery. There is also something scary about falling down (am I hurt?). And of course everyone’s very first reaction: “Did anyone see me do that!?”

So I’m laying there slightly giggling, with a few tears stinging my eyes, surrounded by cat doo, trying to assess the damage when I look up to see the new neighbor that I’d been staring at offer me her hand. What could I say? “I’m ok, really, thank you, I’m ok. I’m Gladys Kravitz, welcome to the neighborhood!”

Alrighty then…bring it on!

The last few weeks have been overwhelming to say the least. So many details and forms and appointments and meetings and STUFF to do. But!

  1. Taxes prepared and ready to be filed ~ check
  2. Forms filed for SSD reconsideration, including letters needed and supplied from doctors and me (with assistance from legal friend) ~ check
  3. Botox treatment ~ check
  4. New windshield in car ~ check
  5. AZ Dept of Economic Security paperwork and back-up ~ check
  6. Wild salmon thawing for dinner ~ check

Whew! So now I wait until Uncle Sam and Aunt Jan Brewer decide my financial fate. This leaves only one thing left to do. Wait 4 more minutes until it’s 5:00 and celebrate the finalization of all this stuff with a martini. Onward and upward!

 

Roller coaster…

I haven’t posted in some time due to house guests, another trip to CA, taxes, etc. but I think the main reason is I’ve been processing ~ deeply processing.

You see, after I got turned down for disability I did a bunch of research on things. The unhappy statistics I uncovered included that first time applicants were turned down something like 60% of the time, and 2nd time reconsideration applications were turned down 85% of the time. Shit. Not good odds.

I also was counseled to look up attorneys on this certain website and see how they stacked up with peers and clients. So I Googled and researched and emailed and Googled until my poor numb fingers were like cold dead fish. The net result is I’m filing my appeal myself with the help of some great books (thanks Robin and Rudy!); some A-one letter writing coaching from a friend who has worked extensively in disability law (you know who you are); and lots of good advice from the National MS Society website.

I found an attorney here in Tucson who comes very highly rated by the lawyer/peer rating and also also by friends here who have used him. I figure if I have to take this one step further to a judge, I want someone local rather than some slicker from NJ.

That decision having been made, I hirpled down to the SS office in Nogales to get some application paperwork (the filing online website being inoperable for some reason). I met with a very nice lady who set me up with what I needed. In the course of the conversation, I asked her a question: If the state sees me as disabled (so no unemployment benefits) yet the Federal government does NOT see me as disabled (so no SS benefits) then what the fuck does she suggest I do for some income!? (Ok, that was my inside voice. I actually asked her very politely).

She suggested I head around the corner to the Arizona Department of Economic Security. This is where the pondering and the processing started.

I went in and grabbed an application. Apparently, with zero income, I am conceivably eligible for food stamps and state subsidized health care.

Hmmm…..let’s look at this for a minute.  I own 2 homes. I own a car (a BMW no less). I have money in the bank. I have a stock portfolio. I have no debt beyond my mortgages.I have MS. I have no income. I have limited physical energy resources. I hirple. I’ve paid into the system and played by all the rules for almost 40 years. I don’t think I should be forced into living in squalor before I get the help I believe I’m due.

Anyway. I take note of my surroundings and one very stark and striking fact becomes clear:  I am the only non-Hispanic person in the room. When I take my application up to the clerk she says to me, “is this for YOU?!” I assure her that it is, take my seat and jump on a roller coaster of emotions that, in no particular order, go like this:

Anger, humiliation, fear, righteousness, embarrassment, fury, shame, frustration, sadness, pity and mortification. That’s off the top of my head. At one point I wanted to scream. At one point I wanted to be deified. At one point I started to cry.

I’m not a big fan of “Why Me”, I mean, heck, “Why Not Me?”. This however was one major eye-opening experience. The gamut of emotions and thoughts that ran through my head included some that I am too ashamed of myself to admit here publicly. One big take away for me was this: every politician from your local rural mayor to Mr. Obama himself should all be required to enter into this system for even just an hour or so. It is extremely humbling, to say the very least.

God bless America, I think.

 

What did you say your name was again?

March 4th was National Grammar Day. This of course should be a day hailed by all the members of my family, replete with a parade by the Apostrophe Police force which my brother-in-law, Scott heads up. Instead it just sort of slid by, but not beyond my notice.

In addition to bad grammar and punctuation being noted offenses in my circles (I find my self way to liberal with comma usage), my one major pet peeve is the spelling of my name.

Rare and exotic was the name Erika (at least in California in the 60s) before the soap opera All My Children introduced America to that villainous vixen sharing my name back on January 5, 1970. I was home sick that day and was surprised as hell to hear my name on TV! (The only other time that happened was when I missed a class field trip to a taping of Romper Room and Miss Nancy saw me in her magic mirror ~ oh the thrill!!). Regardless of her innate evilness, the name took hold and the name Erika/Ericka/Erica has now become somewhat ubiquitous throughout the US.

My father, Erik, came to the US from Sweden back in the early 50’s (correct me if I’m wrong please, Mom). I’ve always liked the Scandinavian use of a K rather than a C for the hard sound, I think it appears more interesting and well, elegant. I have a cousin named Karl, an uncle named Kurt, my father and my nephew Erik, my name Erika, another cousin Ulrika…we’re rich in K’s on the Swedish side of the family.

Erica, with a C, is a lovely plant consisting of over 860 varieties in the heather family. It is found throughout South Africa, parts of Europe and the Mediterranean. Ericka, with a CK, I just don’t get all.

The funny thing I find is this; if an email or FB post or letter is sent and signed with your name, how is it that the responder can spell it wrong in the very next line? I know this holds true for Anna/Ana; Diane/Dianne; Glen/Glenn; Chris/Kris; Rebecca/Rebekkah and so forth.

I think our name and our birthday are held close to our hearts as a little bit of personal flag flying ~ “Hey! Look at me! I exist and I’m pretty cool!”. As our world gets so much bigger as it also contracts, I think it is important for all of us (I’m just as guilty!) to take an extra 5 seconds to double check the spelling of one another’s names, as a small token of validation in this big, wide, world.

Cat Scratch Fever

Today I’m feeling just disconnected and at sea. Disability attorneys. Paperwork. CASDI. Doctor’s reports. Forms. SSDI. Health insurance. More forms. More paperwork. And really, what the hell do I know about hiring attorneys and filling out government forms? I probably shouldn’t say this out loud, but it is b-o-r-i-n-g, to say the least. And extremely overwhelming, too. Blech.

Overseeing this endless computer drudge are Cleo and Clark. Now Clark likes to sit on my lap and look fabulous while I’m trying to type. Cleo on other hand, is a scrappy, bitter hag of a cat. She does this spooky staring thing that just creeps me out. She meows really loudly and persistently. If you try to touch her however, she hisses, growls, spits, scratches and basically is just one old grumpy gal. Considering she’s pushing 17 or so (what’s that in cat years, like 300?) I imagine I’d feel pretty bitter too.

One day she was boring holes into the back of my head when I was making bread using a mixer. I became so frazzled that I lifted the paddle out of the mixer while it was still powered on and bread dough went flying all over the kitchen ~ floors, ceiling, counters, cabinets.  This made me more than a little nuts, so I threw her outside where she proceeded to ensconce herself  on the doorstep of the glass paned door and STARE at me some more. I closed the shade and considered a shot of scotch. This cat unnerves me!

Cleo adores Kate. Whenever she comes to visit that cat is the nicest, sweetest little kitty you’ve ever met. I keep trying to get Kate to take her back to California which she declines to do, because I think deep down, my friend knows she really is possessed by demons.

29 Days

My friends Karen and Billy came over for dinner last night (fish tacos) and she brought me 2 lovely gifts ~ one, a bowl of fresh cut up melon and two, a book which she put on my coffee table when she came in. As I was in the middle of getting the tacos together, I quickly only noted one thing that she pointed out about the book, which was that she had spilled water on it and so it was kind of “wonky” in appearance.

This was significant to us both, as my lovely friend is probably the only person I know who will lend me a brand new copy of a book before she’s even read it. Honestly, a brand new, unopened book is sacrosanct to just about every avid reader I know ~ except Karen. I try to turn the pages in little laps, not leave it open spine down, not take it to the pool and every other trick known for keeping a book pristine. Invariably and inevitably, the borrowed book ends up with a lipstick smudge, or a coffee dollop or a wine splash or some other tell tale sign that I was engrossed and consequently sloppy. Karen never seems to mind though ~ a trait I find both big hearted and enviable.

So her handing me a book that was so used was notable. It wasn’t until this morning that I actually realized that the book was one she and I had discussed called 29 Gifts. This is a book written by a woman named Cami Walker who is diagnosed with MS and changes her attitude and her life through the simple act of giving (and consequently receiving) 29 gifts in 29 days.

Not only did I love concept right off the bat, but the writing style of her book was like reading my own thoughts. She writes about pity parties. She writes about jumping out of planes without parachutes. She writes about not being willing to seem disabled to her friends. She writes about anger, humiliation, sorrow, frustration. I swear, if she knew the word hirple it would have been in this book.

Her “prescription” from a friend to give 29 gifts changed her in uplifting ways and inspired her to start www.29gifts.org. I have joined up and am starting my 29 day journey today, right now. Karen gave me the gift of this book and the idea of 29 gifts, and I am passing that gift on to you!

And the Verdict Is In……

Well I got some good news today. Turns out that despite the MS diagnosis, the baclofen, the 3 day naps, the walker, the hirple, the walking stick, the solu-medrol infusion, the hand numbness, the scooter, the endless Dr appointments, the tripping, and the exhaustion, according to the US government I am not disabled after all. Whew! What a relief!

In spite of receiving this happy missive this morning in the mail, it prompted somewhat of a mini-melt down on my part. Fair enough, I think. There went Plan A out the window and for the first time I felt hopeless, frustrated and quite frankly, afraid. Egad, now what!?

I will sort this out. It will take time, patience, perseverance, smarts and not a little cunning. I need to let the state of Arizona know ~ maybe they’ll take me off their disabled list since Uncle Sam says it isn’t so? A little unemployment aid would come in handy right now….

In the meantime, now that I am able, I think I am going to go for a run. Or wait….maybe just a hirple with my walker instead.

Friendship

30 years ago today was a Friday night, memorable because Friday was “Dallas” night ~ that super cheesy, south fork forty, drama that captivated so many of us for so long.

I was living with Ken, the girls father, before we were married. He informed me that Friday night, that a friend from work was coming over with his girlfriend. Oh for Pete’s Sake. NOW? But Dallas is on! This was pre-TIVO and -DVR, so there was no chance of watching it later. Suffice it to say, I was NOT pleased.

I hauled myself up, changed out of my PJ’s, and  got myself in the mind-set to be polite to the co-worker and his no doubt ho-hum girlfriend. I pasted on a smile….the doorbell rang…Linda walked into my life.

Now, we’ve all met someone we really hit it off with right off the bat. To say that about Linda and me was putting it mildly. We started jawing and laughing and talking and confiding and crying and sharing right out of the gate, and we haven’t stopped since. You could not find 2 more disparate women when it comes to many things about us, but the essence of our friendship is built on a core of understanding, respect, humor and love.

We went to each other’s weddings. We worked at the  same company. We were pregnant together. We went through our divorces together. We went through children’s illnesses together. We decided one New Year’s eve that computers were stupid and made a New Year’s vow never to use one. We moved each other in and out of houses. We held each other’s hands through heartache and happiness. We traveled together. We were business partners. We’ve mourned the loss of friends together. Linda was with me when I was diagnosed with MS. We’ve always been slightly in awe of our friendship. It has withstood 30 year’s of life’s travails, and we are both surprised and eternally grateful.

I am blessed with many life long and long term girlfriends, as well as many new friends. I never take any of them for granted. Dorian, Tanya, Kate, Betty, Cathy, Rose, Joanne, Zirka, Cari, Maureen, Letitia, Chris, Margaret, Sue, Nan, Karen, Meg, my mom, my sister, my daughters…the list goes on and on. All these amazing women bring something so special into my life and I love them all.

Linda, however, is the only one crazy enough to remember that we met on the 3rd week of February, that it was a Friday (she was mad she had to miss Dallas too, initially) and that it was 1981. I can barely remember my own name somedays, so this is just one more reason why I love her. Happy anniversary, old friend ~ here’s to 30 more!

Plan B

My brother Dave called me the other night. He’d been reading my blog and was alarmed on my behalf that I have no income. Rightly so. I’m a little bit alarmed too. Unfortunately, when he called, I was suffering from some back pain ~ apparently I pulled a muscle while sleeping. Really? How the hell does that happen? I am totally down (albeit really bored) with having MS, but back pain? No way.  Although the pain is now mostly gone (it’s easing it’s way down my leg and out my toes), it has left me a little grumpy.

Now Dave was asking me if I have a Plan B. That got me thinking, do I even have a working Plan A? I suppose it is to get approved for Federal SS disability and work part time marketing produce (which I’m finding I really enjoy), consulting with my brother-in-law on his fishing websites, the occasional wedding with Anna, and of course, the ever profitable cow headbands.

Plan B. Finding, falling and marrying a rich rancher. Winning the lottery. Discovering uranium under my floorboards. Actually Plan B looks pretty much like Plan A, only more of it. Work. Work. Work. I’ll get my piece of that 50 trillion dollars Dave, don’t you worry.