Tag Archives: Personal Experience

Musings on Adapting

frog-serenityAs I write this, it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’ve just had a relatively peaceful 3-hour nap in my recliner (minus the minutes spent being walked on by one of our cats until she got settled, minus the minutes spent coughing).  “A nap at night?” I hear you ask.  Yep.  Due to the fact that I’ve been sick for nearly a month with another respiratory tract infection ranging from upper to lower, naps are all I get right now; 3 hours is actually good!  I’m very grateful for the comfortable recliner we were finally able to find this year here in Switzerland, because at the moment I can’t sleep horizontally (I start coughing if I try)!  I won’t go into the arm-long list of medicines/respirators I have to remember every day/night; it’s just that the best healer, rest, seems to elude me.  I try to look on the bright side, and so I am grateful that I can still breathe (mostly) on my own; I can still walk, think, talk and climb our stairs; I’m not dependent on someone else for my mobility; and though I have no sense of taste or smell at the moment (which makes my cooking an adventure for everyone else!), I can still hear and see and feel.  I’m not telling you all of this to garner sympathy – not at all!  If you’ve been around this blog for a bit, or have gone looking through my cupboards of past posts (make yourself at home!), you’ll know that this isn’t my first, nor is it likely my last, battle with health issues; some are minor, such as this, and some have been major.  But no matter how challenging it may be for me, I know that it’s nothing compared to the hurdles faced by those with chronic diseases, incapacitating disabilities, or bodies that formed incompletely (thus creating their own unique issues).

My point is this:  I’ve gotten adept at adapting.  I’ve learned over the years to have grace and patience with myself when things don’t go according to plan; when schedules get tossed out on their ears; when I can’t do things at my usual break-neck speed; when goals get deferred by circumstances beyond my control.  I’m not the kind of person who can just sit around doing nothing – even when my energy is rock-bottom, I’ll still find things to do.  When I don’t have the energy to write or even take care of household chores, at least I have the capacity to read, or listen to audio books while I do crafts (at the moment, I’m crocheting pencil toppers for Christmas boxes next year – I make them when I have time, so that by then I’ll have 100 or more).  If anyone knows any great audio books, please let me know!  I’ve had a new laptop for a few days now, just waiting to be set up; no matter how much I’d love to have the energy to tackle transferring data and programs, I’m realistic enough to wait.  The fact that I could get it is a reminder that I wore out the other one – i.e. I got a lot of writing done on that poor thing over the years that it served me well!  It’s also a reminder that my husband provides well, for which I am amazingly grateful… I don’t have to hold down a nine-to-five job regardless of my health!

Life is about adapting; it’s about change, seasons coming and going, and cycles.  Flexibility and attitudes make the path smoother or rockier, depending on which we choose.  I choose to be grateful, and I hope that I can encourage others to do likewise.


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Shifting Sands

The title is an apt one this year for me:  In February, we went from having no kids to having a love-starved, distrustful PTSD teenager with defence mechanisms and trauma-induced autism, who, in the first few weeks of her being here, barely spoke intelligible sentences (communication with the outer world is a challenge for her, whether in her mother tongue or not).  She’ll be with us until late-January 2017 as an exchange student, but she’ll be in our lives for years to come, because we’ve become the parents she never had.  When she returns home, we will have to release her back into the abusive situation which caused many of the problems in the first place.  The country she comes from in Asia seems to be stuck in the past by several centuries, especially when it comes to things like psychology; diagnosis and treatment are nearly impossible, simply because they see such things as a weakness that would cause the family to lose face, and in this particular case the fear is that the father would put her on the streets if he found out.  Because of that fact, we’ve not been able to draw on the help of the student organisation’s volunteer psychologist (they would need to inform the father), so we’ve basically been on our own in this complex process; even the diagnosis is my own, having had to apply my research skills into an unknown field and narrow down the symptoms and manifestations, and figure out what we were all dealing with (it’s since been confirmed by friends who work with autistic children). shifting-sands-2 I have a profound respect for parents who raise autistic children on any spectrum of the condition; I know that our situation is simply not comparable – in a few weeks she will be leaving us; at the same time, we had no preparation for going from zero to a hundred overnight.  We thought we’d be getting the average exchange student; God had other plans both for her and for us – plans that go far beyond a year, touching eternity.

What that’s translated into for me this year is an abrupt shift in long-term goals and the shifting sands of daily priorities getting turned on their heads at a moment’s notice.  If you’re like me as a writer or creative person, an inner irritability arises when I can’t write – not as in “writer’s block”, but as in “as soon as I sit down I’m going to be interrupted, so I can’t even begin”.  Two weeks of this month were school holidays, which meant she was here 24/7 except when she was out with friends (which was unpredictable, and not very often as she enjoys being “home”); one week of that time it was just the two of us as my husband was away.  By 24/7, I mean it – any time night or day, when I was trying to focus, she’d show up in the doorway, whether noon or 3 a.m; parents understand!  We watched films, talked, painted, and did our own things.  By the time she went back to school on Monday, I was ready to have my time for focusing again – I’m sure every mother on the planet can empathise!  She gravitates to me, soaking in my presence; that’s lovely – it means she trusts me, wants to be with me, and gets the attention she craves (and should have been getting throughout her life).  I like spending time with her; but it also means that my priorities – writing, editing, graphics, blurbs, and all of the thousand other steps toward publishing my fifth novel – have taken a back burner; the goal of getting this book out by Christmas had shifted away with the dunes of life by May.  It also means that I can’t really relax – I never know when, after finally sitting down for a moment, I open one eye to find myself being watched.  Literally.  Or I just sit down and hear, “Mom!” from a distance corner of the flat.  Sometimes it feels like every move I make draws some kind of commentary – it’s her way of trying to connect, and I understand that with my heart, but sometimes my mind wishes I could just flip a switch and turn it off for a while.  Again, I know that every mother can relate to those feelings; just keep in mind that I’m not actually the mother, in the sense that I haven’t had years to get used to these things!  She has a great father-daughter relationship with my husband, too – pillow fights, lots of fun and talks at the dinner table, and the occasional ice hockey date are icing on the cake.

maidWe’ve had to raise a teenager that had basically raised herself the past (very formative) five years (her father bought her a flat in another city, and just paid for a maid).  I am not a maid (this image is a magnet hanging on our guest room door frame).  Everything that parents teach their children along the way over the years, we’ve had to try to teach her within a few months, as far as what it means to live in a family, communicate with each other, and basic principles such as clean up after yourself, turn off lights behind you, shut the refrigerator door, fold and put away clothes neatly, respect others’ property, and the list goes on and on and on. family-rule-signThis family rule sign, which hangs outside our front door, is what we’re trying to teach as a foreign concept in more ways than one… oh, and her mouth would have driven sailors from bars the first fortnight she was here; we started charging 1 Franc for every curse word, and encouraged her to get creative with such things; now she says “Fluff-butt” and “sweet cheese and crackers” instead!  Needless to say, it’s been a huge learning curve for us all.

Sands have shifted; priorities, for this year, have been relentlessly shifted; but more importantly, we’ve seen the shifting sands in one life transform into a foundation planted on solid rock.  We’ve seen her open her heart to be loved, to begin to recognize the issues in her own life that will need professional help once she’s old enough to seek it without repercussions, and also begin to have an understanding and patience for and with herself.  We’ve played a part in rescuing someone from the verge of suicide to a place of eternal perspective, future hope, and present happiness, and we are humbly grateful for the opportunity entrusted to us.  Writing priorities be hanged… there are more important things in this life sometimes.  There is a time for every purpose under heaven.








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I got Staffa’d

If you’ve wondered why my last post was over a month ago, it’s because when I go on holiday I do just that – I take leave of life, of schedules, of obligations and responsibilities.  Now that I’m back, I thought I’d share some of my experiences.

They say you should write what you know; after our recent holidays to Scotland, I can now add to my arsenal that of being badly injured on a remote, uninhabited island!

DSCN5357 - The Isle of Staffa, from Ship

The Isle of Staffa

If you’ve never heard of the small Isle of Staffa, you don’t know what you’ve been missing:  Made of basalt columns, the island and its outcrops rise out of the Atlantic in an otherworldly fashion.  For hundreds of years tourists have been going to see this phenomenon of nature, and in  1829 it even inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave).  Fingal is the figure in the legend connecting Staffa with the same geology in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway:  The legend is that Fingal was a Gaelic giant who had a feud with an Ulster giant; in order to fight Fingal, the Ulster giant built a causeway between Ireland and Scotland.  Irish tales differ to Scottish as to how the causeway was destroyed, but only the two ends remained – one at Staffa and the other in Antrim, Northern Ireland.  Other famous visitors to the island include Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Queen Victoria and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Now to my own experience:  My husband Stefan and I were on the Isle of Mull off of the west coast of Scotland; we left our motor home there for the day and took a small boat, along with about thirty other hearty souls, on a 50-minute ride across open ocean to Staffa.  It is never guaranteed that the boats can actually land on the island, but on the day we took the excursion the weather was perfect, and the sea was as calm as open sea can be without the doldrums.

A larger ship than ours, boarding passengers at Staffa Pier.

A larger ship than ours, boarding passengers at Staffa Pier.

To get to the stone pier on Staffa, here’s how it’s done:  The captain of the boat waits outside of the jagged basalt outcrops jutting out from the island until a wave swells large enough to heave the boat in; then he revs the engine and speeds up to the pier on the lift of the wave.  From there, passengers are gradually handed off one at a time whenever the boat and the pier are relatively even between the swell of waves.  This same process is repeated to reload passengers, and the same at the pier of Mull (without the jagged rocks).

We landed safely and were walking, carefully watching each step on the uneven hexagonal basalt columns, toward Fingal’s Cave; I was literally thirty steps from the cave when my left ankle turned on a column that was apparently split, though the two surfaces were not visible on the black stones due to the angle of the sun.  Turned, as in dislocated… as in the foot was completely sideways at an angle one should never have to see one’s own foot!  I grabbed for the railing to keep from falling and swung myself to sit on a taller column; Stefan was right there, and I told him to “grab my ankle and wrench it back into place!”  Fortunately he didn’t stop to think about it – he just did it!  I could feel that it wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t going to be happy with me either.

Just passing us on their way back from the cave were a Canadian fire fighter’s wife and her adult son; she knew first aid and went into immediate action, having us pour cold water on my sock to keep it soaked and cold since we had no ice pack; she also gave me strong Tylenol and some extra to keep the pain and swelling in check.  I think my husband was in a bit of shock at what had just happened; I asked him to go on to the cave and take photos since I wouldn’t make it… it was also a way of giving him time to adjust, and to let him know that I wasn’t seriously injured, though I only thought of those reasons later.  The woman and her son helped me back to the stone pier; what had taken me five minutes to walk took twenty minutes back.  Now, remember how they landed the boat and disembarked passengers?  Do that with one foot.  Twice.

DSCN5386 - The Isle of Staffa

A bit of surf

The boat crew called the doctor on Mull, and he met us at his practice (once we manoeuvred the motor home up the single-track roads there).  Without an x-ray machine he couldn’t tell if it was broken; perhaps hairline fractured.  If that were the case, either way I’d just need to keep my foot elevated; a compression tube sock was my only new wardrobe accessory.  When we got out to have lunch in a pub at Fionnphort (the port for excursions), the waitress asked what happened and then said, “Let me guess:  Staffa?”  Thus, apparently, I can be added to a long list of injured tourists who got Staffa’d.

The blessing in disguise of it happening only a few days into our holidays was that I had two weeks of forced inaction to elevate my foot; thanks to the “brilliant” NHS system of Britain, it was impossible to get a pair of crutches that might have enabled me to leave the motor home (in Switzerland, one stop at the pharmacy got me rented crutches), so I got to see Scotland from the inside of the ‘home!  It wasn’t our first trip there, and certainly won’t be our last, so I didn’t miss a once-in-a-lifetime trip; and my attitude is that complaining about lost opportunities is simply a waste of time and energy – the situation was what it was, and we made the best of it.  My husband became my eyes and ears outside of the ‘home, and when he was out on hikes and excursions I got a lot of reading and writing toward my next novel done!  I still have a month to go of behaving myself – no dancing, hiking, or even driving a car – so I guess I’ll have a lot more time to read and write! (PS – That month turned into four months… and then six months.)


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