Why I March: One Voice Can Make a Difference

We watched Peanut Butter Falcon on Netflix over Christmas vacation.  The amusing, emotionally touching movie is a coming of age story starring a Down’s Syndrome young man (Played by Zack Gottsagen).  Another young man with Down’s Syndrome is featured in Stumptown a television crime drama. Paralleling Falcon, Ansel Parisos (Played by Cole Sibus) is struggling with how to live as a young adult in Portland.  Both of these shows are remarkable because individuals with Down’s Syndrome staring in major television roles would have seemed an impossibility thirty years ago.

My first job out of graduate school (1978) was director of the Wyoming ARC/Developmental Disability Council.   The Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act was passed in 1975.  The purpose of the federal law was to insure a public school education was provided to all handicapped children. We had a lot of trouble in Wyoming getting schools to accept disabled children into the classroom. Parents didn’t know they had rights to insist the schools provide services. I remember speaking to the Wyoming Appropriations Committee about the law and having the Chair of the committee interrupt me and say, “These kids are like Angus in among the Herefords.  If we had any of these kids, we would see them and we just don’t.”

I was young, feisty and full of energy. That comment made me furious. I thought if you want to see handicapped children than I will make sure we go out and identify them.  The Developmental Disabilities Council provided a grant to the University of Wyoming to conduct screening clinics in Wyoming’s small rural communities that summer.  The teams identified more than 650 preschool children who were in need of special education services.  There is no voice more passionate or pervasive than a parent who is told their child needs services but the legislature is too miserly to fund the services.  Believe me, the Chair of the Appropriations heard from those parents.

During this period, we were trying to fund early intervention preschools and adult work programs all across the state. We had a statewide funding formula which  cost millions of dollars.  Oil-rich Wyoming coffers could certainly afford to pay for these programs but conservative legislators were not convinced. We had the votes in the House because the Speaker of the House, a very conservative Republican was married to a special education teacher.  He recognized the need.  But we did not have the votes in the Senate.

I worked phone lines every day and every night.  I wasn’t calling legislators.  I was calling parents to call their Senator(s) and asked him to vote yes.  The day of the vote the Senate gallery was packed with parents and children.  The votes were tallied. The yes/no’s flashed up on the screen.  We were one vote short.  The bill was going to die.  I could feel the disappointment of the parents squeezing my heart.  One Senator from Newcastle, Wyoming, a tiny town in Northeast Wyoming stood up.  You could hear a pin drop at that moment. He changed his vote to a yes.  He said when he made the change, “I cannot go home and face my constituents if this bill dies.  Wyoming needs to serve the developmentally disabled.”  The gallery went wild. with applause and cheering.

Over thirty years later, handicapped children who had access to early intervention services are moving into our communities, working in our businesses, starring in television shows and movies.  They’re showing us that advocacy work on the side of justice pays off.

The Women’s March is this weekend.  I march in principle.  Black, white, Hispanic, Native American, yellow, male, female, LGBTQ-A, handicapped, old, young; we all deserve an equal chance to succeed in this great country.  We are a country where one person’s voice/vote can still make a difference.

 

New Year: New Possibilities

I’ve never been one to set New Year’s resolutions.  I do, however, believe the New Year offers an opportunity to push the “reset button”.  Instead of making a list of action steps, I resolve to be open to new possibilities.

A few weeks ago, I was waiting in line for a $2 taco when I complimented the much younger lady in front of me on her lipstick.  Believe me it was a great color, bright blue red and perfectly applied.  The woman was wearing an apron and no coat.  Later, I decided she must have run across the street from the new salon that had just opened to buy her lunch.  But when I talked to her, I was just waiting for lunch. I couldn’t resist telling this young woman how great she looked.  We got into a conversation about how I had stopped wearing lipstick because it got on everything, coffee cups and my teeth.  Since I was retired, I hardly ever wore makeup. She told me about the new products that are easier to apply and stayed on forever.  If she was an example, the new lip stains look great.

She picked up two bags of food, paid and hurried for the door.  When I stepped up to pay for my taco, the waiter told me the lady with the great lip stick had paid for my lunch.  I tried to thank her but she just waved and hurried out the door.  I’m not sure why she chose to buy my lunch.  Maybe she was having a bad day and having someone tell her she looked great helped make it better.

I do know that one random act of unintentional kindness on my part i.e. starting up a conversation resulted in a return to me that was much larger.

As I start the New Year, I am opening myself to the many possibilities that are available every day.  I probably miss most of them.  I am working on being more in the present, listening and watching more intently and being willing to put myself out there.

To get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” ~Unknown

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Celebrating Small Successes in the New Year

I went swimming today!  I was thrilled.

I had major surgery in August and was on a non-weight bearing cast through November. The last six weeks, I have been attending physical therapy twice a week. The surgery was to replace a torn tendon in my left foot.  I had been wearing a specially made black leather boot the year before but finally even it was not providing enough support.

The surgeon took out the tendon. She described it as a rubber band stretched beyond capacity and replaced it with screws.  I have 12 new screws in my foot. I ponder occasionally if this has added to my body weight or could it be six weeks without exercise. I haven’t flown since the surgery but I am now one of those bionic people who you don’t want to get behind in airport security lines.  I am sure to set off every alarm.

When I agreed to this surgery, I wanted to keep the movement in my foot so I could swim, dance and ride my horse.  My foot doesn’t move right or left but does flex up and down.  As a non-physician, I totally under-estimated the toll this surgery would have on my ability to do anything.  All fall I was on a scooter.  While I could drive, I couldn’t get out of the car because I couldn’t lift the scooter out of the back while hopping on one foot. Most of my friends couldn’t wield the scooter around either. Fortunately, my husband could take me for rides. The taxi service, while expensive, was dependable when I absolutely had to be somewhere i.e. a doctor’s appointment.

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Cast off, back to boot

Once the cast was off, I was expecting to walk out of the doctor’s office.  But after 3.5 months in a cast, I was back in a boot.  Six weeks into physical therapy and I can ride a recumbent exercise bike at level 10 for 20 minutes and walk on a treadmill at 2.0 miles per hour (snail’s pace) for 10 minutes.  This is all with my brace on.  I am learning to walk at home without a brace.  I am dancing in the playroom to our boom box.  I started at 5 minutes and I’m up to about 8 minutes a day. My goal is 30 minutes so I can go back to Jazzercise. Riding my horse and electric bike are somewhere off in the future.  When the PT said I could attend water aerobics, I was ecstatic.

Today, I walked down to the pool (no brace), used the steps to get into the kids’ end and floated off to the deep end with one foot feeling  like I had a rock tied on. I was absolutely thrilled.  The warm water lapped around me. My friends said “Hello!” The dance music and instructor kept us kicking and splashing for 45 minutes.  Afterwards, I was able to get up the steps, shower, wash my hair and be on way.

I felt almost normal again, almost.

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Christmas 2018.  I missed this year but back in the pool before 2020.

As I enter a new year, I am looking forward to celebrating the little successes in life; getting up in the morning, reading the paper, walking, and swimming.  These are things I use to take for granted as I chased some mandatory “to do list”.  Now they are the things I most enjoy. I feel blessed I’ve been given the opportunity in the new year to dive in again.

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I walked into Christmas eve services without a boot.

Merry Christmas from our house to yours

We built our house in 2004 for our two kids.  Each child has a bedroom/bathroom on the second floor and there is giant playroom on the upper floor where  video war games can be played at high decibels without interfering with adults in the lower regions.  The upper floor is now empty most of the year, ghostly quiet.  But this Christmas both my son and daughter are home to share the holidays with us.  This is a special gift because both are young adults who have many friends and active lives in other cities far from Boise.

One of the gifts of our house is it transforms into a Christmas house when we decorate. We have 20 foot ceilings in the living room and a huge gas and rock fireplace.  There is plenty of space to host a spectacular Christmas tree and hang stockings with care.  We have downsized the tree and our decorations as we have aged but even on a smaller scale the house provides a cozy, Christmas haven.

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The house also reflects who we are.  There is a large golden retriever Christmas decoration on the front porch.  We love our animals.  We had a gold lab for many years, named Annie, who we all adored.  Our wreath inside also carries on the animal theme.

I collect decorations from all our travels so I have many rare gems such as hand painted eggs from Prague and hand-blown angels from Venice, just to name a couple.

But my favorite ornaments are the ones the kids have made me over the years.  They are little tidbits of love memorialized for our tree.

Christmas is in two days, then my son flies back off to Seattle and his other life.  My daughter is having surgery for a torn ACL while skiing.  So the Christmas spirit at our house is brief.  But while it’s here, I will delight in the decorations that showcase a family’s life built on love and trust.

May the spirit of Christmas be with you this season and throughout the year.img_0202

Mr. Rogers teaches a Bible Study

esquireI’ve been attending a Bible Study Class based on the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, starring Tom Hanks.  The movie (based on a true story) focuses on the relationship between an angry, cynical reporter and his 1998 interview with Mr. Rogers. The reporter, Tom Junod, had a hard time when he first started interviewing Mr. Rogers believing that any human could be so kind. After following Mr. Rogers around the studio and meeting up with him in a variety of settings, Junod decided that Mr. Rogers was in fact the real deal.  The interview eventually made the cover of Esquire Magazine.  The title of the article was, “Can you say…Hero?https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/tv/a27134/can-you-say-hero-esq1198/

The movie is full of nuggets on living a more positive, God centered life. In our Bible study, our minister has been combining stories from the Bible with these little morsels of wisdom.  Here are the kernels, I have picked up over the past few weeks:

  1. Remember all of us, no matter our color, income, beliefs are the same. Everyone was a child once. We all share the human experience.  Our hearts should be open to everyone.  Each person we meet, no matter what their past experience has something to offer us.two kids
  2. Be fully present. In the presence of another person, be fully there for them. In our multi-media world, we are busy with our phones or watching TV out of the corner of our eye.  But people need our full attention.  We need to carefully listen and not be planning our next response. We need to ask questions and fully engage. We fail others when we don’t take the time to provide our best selves in each conversation.
  3. Get angry. It’s OK to be angry but it’s not OK to take that anger out on others. We can go pound the piano (as Mr. Rogers did) or exercise (Mr. Rogers swam daily) to vent out anger.  In the midst of anger, catch a breath, breath in and out, release your anger, and move on.
  4. Don’t carry resentment, especially from your childhood. Focus on the gift that each family member has given you to make you who you are.  Even if you had a horrendous childhood, that childhood helped weld you into a strong adult.  Focus on how your childhood made you who you are rather than how bad your past was.
  5. Pray daily. Keep a list of names and turn them over to God each night.  It’s not your job to fix everyone but it is your job to care for everyone who comes across your path.  Tom Junod writes about praying with Mr. Rogers in Esquire,What is grace? I’m not certain; all I know is that my heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella.” umbrellaUse prayer to open your heart like an umbrella to help shield the world.
  6. Be thankful. Every day is a gift God has given us.  We are all seekers trying to carry out God’s work on earth. Sometimes we do that well and sometimes we totally fail.  But each day we are given another chance to start from scratch at doing better.
  7. We are all heroes. We may not be celebrities or feel we have special calling. But every single one of us has the potential to help someone else have a better day.  Listen for what God is calling you to do. Show up, be kind, be a hero.

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Advent Calendars: Count Down to Christmas

The first of December is the start of the Advent season and at our house the bringing forth of the annual advent calendar.  Advent means “coming”. The idea is simple: Count down the days in December leading up to Christmas Eve. Advent Calendars come from Germany where Christians marked doors with chalk and later created special calendars to count the days to Christmas.

When I was little, we had two Advent Calendars, one for me and one for my older sister.  They were simple cardboard with pictures covered by little flaps. Each flap had a number, 1 to 25, marking the days until Christmas.  My mother kept the same two calendars for many years and just switched them up.  I’m not sure if that was because she was thrifty or because we needed to save the money.  As a kid I always felt we had plenty of funds, but maybe not.  My dad was a small businessman, selling ladies shoes in a small Wyoming town.  While we lived comfortably, we certainly weren’t wealthy. Really, the repeat calendars were great because they served the purpose of starting holiday festivities early.

IMG_0133Nowadays, I get new calendars for my kids and my husband from Trader Joe’s.  They are less than $2,  filled with little pieces of chocolate and help mark the season and remind my family that I am the keeper of the family traditions.  My husband eats all of the little candies at once.  My son misplaces the calendar, remembers the calendar half way into January and gets a late Christmas treat.  My daughter who is fastidious opens each box on the appropriate day and has 25 days of Christmas treats.

The variety of calendars is fascinating.  There are basic picture calendars like I grew up with, legos, Hershey Kisses, beauty boxes, and varieties of tea. For those who want to celebrate the Yule Tide season daily, there are calendars with little bottles of whisky, wine and beer. For families who want to build a regular advent tradition there are expensive wooden calendars and hand sewn varieties which can be displayed prominently and refilled with treats and surprises every year.

If you don’t have an advent calendar by now it’s probably a little late to find one.  But I would recommend putting on your shopping list for October/early November 2020.  You can vote for President and then buy a calendar to hopefully celebrate ushering in a new administration.

25 Years of Christmas Memories

My son, Scott’s, first Christmas, we had a professional picture taken at JC Penney’s in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  He sat on a gaily wrapped package, dressed in a little red vest, bow tie, and dress slacks.  His outfit is complete with moon boots, a Wyoming staple. He wore those boots every day his first winter walking.

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Scott’s first Christmas, 1994

Kayla, my adopted daughter from China, arrived at our Boise house in the spring 2000.  She was 8 months old.  When her first Christmas rolled around, it was easy to have her join Scott in the Penney’s photo studio for our annual Christmas photo.  The photo studio in Boise was much fancier than Cheyenne.  In Cheyenne, there was a camera set up in front of a tree background in the open store.  In Boise, there was a separate studio where 4  minions snapped pictures as a steady stream of children dressed in party clothes paraded through.  The children marched up on a stage and sat on small boxes.  Parents could choose from a variety of backdrops.

Our most exciting year, Scott and Kayla were sitting on the little stage and suddenly disappeared behind the backdrop.  Apparently, the little present had held one too many children and just gave out.  As the mom, standing behind the camera I was stunned.  The backdrop flopped back down but my kids were nowhere to be seen.  They were on the floor behind the little stage, unhurt.  This incident required me to sign a whole series of reports. I received several calls from Penney’s insurance to make sure that no damage had begotten my children.

When we had Scott’s first picture taken, I had a friend who suggested we send out the picture as our Christmas card.  Hard to believe but 25 years ago this was actually an innovative card.  Christmas cards to relatives and friends were still the “in” thing.  This same friend said she had a friend who had sent pictures for 18 years than duplicated all the previous cards when the child graduated from high school.  This crafty friend sent relatives a photo album of all the Christmas pictures. When I started on the Christmas photo project, I planned to assemble them in the same manner.  Sadly, that time has come and gone.  Scott has graduated from high school, college and now works in Seattle.  Kayla graduated from high school two years ago and is at Montana State University in Bozeman.

In recent years, I debate whether to print cards.  After all, everyone sees what you are up to on Facebook.  My Christmas list has drastically reduced as family members and friends pass or move and don’t provide forwarding addresses.

Today, I bought my Christmas stamps.  The purchase was an act of intention committing me to printing 2019 cards.   The digital world makes it so much easier.  If we aren’t together for a picture, I can go online, pick out a frame with individual shots and make it look like we are at least in touch with each other.  This year we were all together.  We went to Hawaii in May and we spent Thanksgiving together in Buffalo, Wyoming.  My husband, Pete, and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a trip on the inner passage of Alaska by ferry. We have lots of memories to share.

Now I have to brave the crowds at Costco to pick up the cards. Why bother in the current cyber world?  I decided to continue the tradition one more year because 25 years of family Christmas photos is really a lovely gift to my husband and me.

Thanksgiving

turkey dinnerWe are headed to Buffalo, Wyoming for Thanksgiving this year.  Our trek is elaborate.  We start out on Tuesday and head to Bozeman, Montana.  We spend the night in Bozeman and pick up our daughter, Kayla, who is a sophomore at Montana State University.  We also drop off her snow tires.

Then we soldier on to Billings where we stay in a suite that has a 24-hour airport shuttle.  This is an important feature because our son, Scott, is flying in from Seattle and arrives at midnight when most things in Billings are closed.  Assuming everything goes as planed, he arrives at our room about 12:30 am while the rest of us continue snoozing peacefully with visions of turkey drifting through our heads.

If Billings goes anything like last year, we will be running around late looking for tofu turkey.  Scott is a vegetarian and we left our specially bought vegan plunder at home.  We raced in the only vegetarian market in Billings just at closing (8 pm) and bought a supply of frozen veggie turkeys.  Scott landed on time but crashed through the dark room waking everyone up.  But who am I to complain?  He made the sojourn from Seattle after work on a cigar plane (one seat on each side) to a small airport, landing in the middle of the night, just to join the family.

We get up on Thanksgiving day and drive two and half hours to Buffalo, Wyoming.  The town is about 4,500 people;  about half of whom are Koziseks. The Koziseks have manned the sheriff’s office and police force for years. The next generation is now serving.  There is such a crowd that last year we had dinner in the basement of the Baptist Church.  We didn’t fit in a house.  A large number of the family were left out because my nephew’s wife was entertaining her extended family at their mini-ranch.  We dropped by for a visit and couldn’t get in the door so many people were in attendance. The thought of all of us together in Buffalo is mind boggling.  My husband’s family are all avid hunters and fishers and believe in standing for the flag at football games.  We always have lots to talk about except politics.

My husband, Pete, lost his younger brother who lived in California last spring.  Our Thanksgiving group will be slightly smaller and a lot sadder this year.  The California brother was the big arranger of family reunions and his favorite place was Disney Land.  We have toured the Magic Kingdom on a number of occasions in a Kozisek crowd.  My husband used to laughingly refer to his California brother’s family as the “Disney Nazi’s” because we did Disney from sunrise to fireworks every day.  I fondly remember the trips because Kayla was little and got passed around a lot. I got a break from child care and the pleasure of adult company.disneyland

Over the years, what I have found most remarkable about all these visits is the goodwill.  We are very different people but at Thanksgiving and in Disney Land we seem to be able to find common ground.  I have learned that love and gratitude grow with age.  In the Kozisek family, there is always plenty of both to go around.

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Headwinds and Tailwinds

I have always loved bicycles.  The first time I got on a tricycle I experienced extreme joy.   As a toddler pedaling as fast as I could away from my parents, I intuitively learned the concepts “ecstasy” and “freedom”, even though I couldn’t pronounce either word.

As I have aged, I have moved to an electric bike.  I can bike great distances, up high inclines at a fast pace.  I experience great joy passing a superb rider on my e-bike as he/she toils away in their lycra up the steep hill to our home. Right now, I can’t bike at all because of my foot surgery.  I hope to find myself back on my e-bike this spring.

One of the things I like most about biking is the freedom to experience the outdoor world; the sounds, the smells, the wind.  Bikers are familiar with headwinds and tailwinds.  When you have a headwind, the effort is much harder.  The wind is entirely outside you control.  You just have to lean in and put more pedal to metal.  Tailwinds, of course, make your bike ride a breeze, causing you to speed ahead with little effort.

All of us face both metaphorical head and tail winds in our lives.  Interestingly, research shows that people viewing the lives of others tend to focus on the tailwinds the other person has experienced.   While living our lives, we tend to focus on the headwinds.  We get up in the morning and prepare to battle whatever outside forces may impede our way.

We seldom rise and give gratitude for our tailwinds.  We take our life experiences that have given us our current status for granted.  All of us living in America, start farther ahead  than many third world nations. For example, we expect to have clean drinking water.  We debate public education but we expect that free public education be provided. We complain about taxes but we want roads to drive on and our trash hauled away.  Just by being born in America, we have been given a huge tailwind compared to most of the world.

I think too frequently as a nation we forget our tailwinds and focus on our headwinds.  America has lot’s of problems; homelessness, food shortages, racism, aging infra-structure, climate change, limited access to health care for some populations.  The list of headwinds goes on and on.  But because we have such strong tailwinds, we have the ability if we choose to press back and solve these problems.  The real issue is, who is willing? Pushing into headwinds, takes strength and endurance and (as geese know) a group effort.  Our problems are solvable if we choose to lean in.

When I was a little kid, I loved to ride my tricycle down the driveway at my grandmother’s with my feet up in the air.  The joy of the tailwind is hard to describe.  But I knew that ride down meant I had to drag the trike back up the hill.  Have we forgotten, that the joy of living in a Democracy requires that we have to put in the work to keep it whole?

Casting About

I have been in a non-weight bearing cast since August 15, almost 12 weeks.  In order to get around, I have a rented scooter.  We have purchased a ramp from our attached garage.  We rented a huge ramp so I could spend time outside while the weather was pleasant.  We also had to purchase a special seat for our shower, a biking machine which I use for my arms to do aerobics regularly, hand weights for strength exercises and a walker for close quarters.  I haven’t used the walker much because I have to hop on it.  Assuming the x-rays look good, I get rid of the cast on Thursday.  The prognosis from there is still unclear.  I may be back in a walking book, or a brace, or best news of all, paraphrasing the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, “Off with the cast!” and into a regular shoe.

I have learned a number of things while scooting around:

  1. Things will not go as expected.  The doctor told me that since this surgery was on my left foot I could drive.  I had images of continuing my coffee and lunches out with friends.  When I picked up the scooter, I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  I couldn’t stay off my left foot and lift the scooter.  I couldn’t expect my friends who are my age to deal with the scooter either.  So I can drive but I can’t get out of the car.  My visions of friendly encounters had to be readjusted to inviting friends to my house. Here how those invitations went, “Would you like to come visit me and bring the food and drinks?”  One of my long term friends from my Wyoming days spent a week helping me out when I first got out of the hospital and after Pete went back to work.  A number of my Boise friends were kind enough to come by with treats. These friends are a real blessing.
  2. People say a place is accessible and it really isn’t. I have gotten in numerous restrooms with my scooter and not been able to open the heavy door to get out.  Fortunately, either my husband has come to my rescue or someone is coming in the door and will hold it for me.  Most doors into buildings are too heavy for me to open on my own and very few doors have push button access openings.  I was on a tour with City Club at a supposedly accessible facility.  Rather than extending my hand, I allowed the elevator door to hit the wheel of my scooter tire while I was exiting. I was using my hands to direct the scooter over the elevator gap. The elevator didn’t stop and knocked my scooter and me over. Once on its side, the scooter did eventually wedge the door open.  I was bruised from the experience.
  3. I am capable of entertaining myself. I spent a great deal more time by myself over the past 3 months than I ever have. As long as I could get outside, however, I enjoyed reading the paper and having a cup of coffee on the front porch in the mornings. I could spend an entire afternoon out back streaming videos, reading books and sleeping on our comfortable wicker furniture.  Once the weather turned cold, I have found I am much grumpier.  I, for one, took having a great porch, patio, and yard at my house for granted.  I now understand why seniors flock to warm climates. Getting out in the sun is healing and important to one’s mental health.
  4. People with good intentions ask way too many questions. I just came from lunch where someone I didn’t know wanted to know what happened to me.  “Was it an accident?” No.  “What type of surgery?” Complicated, not regularly done on most people. It was suppose to take six hours and turned out taking eight.  I have many screws in my foot and I had a tendon removed. “What caused it?”  Running when I was younger, flat feet and old age.  I think people want to be helpful and acknowledge that they can see you’ve had some major life experience.  But a simple, “How are you doing?” is really all that is needed.  Asking further questions seems invasive and is annoying, not comforting.
  5. Health care is expensive. We have excellent insurance because my husband is still working.  We also both have Medicare.  We are the few people in America with public and private insurance. We had to personally pay for the ramps, walkers, bathing equipment and our deductible is in the thousands.  I’m also blessed that we have a large home so I have been able to consistently maneuver the large scooter.  We have a downstairs bedroom and bath.  I heard of someone who crawled up their stairs every day (Good exercise) and someone else who was able to use crutches up and down stairs.  I am not able to use crutches because of balance issues.  I also have weekly cleaning help.  We have paid for me to have a driver at times to get me to meetings and help around the house.  We have also paid for taxis and Uber to get to doctors’ appointments when my husband has not been available to drive.  In other words, much of my positive ability to deal with surgery is a direct result of the fact we have resources.  I’m not sure what other people would do.

I am planning on the x-rays being great.  I am thrilled to be looking forward to taking my cast off this week.   I’m so done with casting about.