Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Appliance Seduction

Double Ovens, appliances, appliance, seduction

As I walk through Lowe's and Home Depot, the beautiful sheen of the brushed stainless steel appliance winks at me and seduces me with its clean lines.  Every time I see it, I lovingly stroke the cool, smooth finish.  I open the doors and look inside at state of the art interiors so pristine and crisp, it brings a tear to my eye.  Oh the beauty, elegance, and efficiency of the Kitchen Aid double oven!

Even as a young girl while playing with my Easy Bake Oven, I lamented not being able to cook 2 items at once.  How on earth could Ken and Barbie have a proper royal dinner if all of the food didn't finish cooking at precisely the same time?  Why! It would be sheer tyranny to have the Barbie knock-off maids serving  one course of the meal while having to explain that the bread still had 15 minutes left to bake.  That would be such an afront to the royal crown it could cause dissent within the royal ranks and create a tabloid frenzy!

Growing up, my parents' house had double ovens. Every day since moving out years ago, I've felt their absence in my life. My friends speak of how they love having double ovens which allow them to get their dinner on the table all at one time while it's still hot. The great green toad of jealousy rears its ugly head and croaks every night when the main dish to my dinner must sit and cool its juices while the side dishes complete their cooking processes.

Oh, to have a double oven now would be the cat's meow. It's sleek lines and svelte, satiny texture would positively glisten in my kitchen. The cooking and baking possibilities would be endless. Why, I could have a chocolate pie in one oven and triple chocolate fudge brownies in the other! Or, I could bake chocolate chip cookies in the upper oven while a chocolate souffle' bakes to a rich and fluffy texture in the lower. Ooooooo, the endless possibilities cause my imagination to run wild!

One day the heavenly choir will rejoice when I no longer have to visit the double oven at the store and am able to give it a forever home.  Until then, the store's salesperson will have to continue wiping the oven window which becomes fogged from my heavy breathing, and the fingerprints from my gentle caresses across its stainless steel finish, as I make my weekly visits to the appliance section.  One day, the double oven and all of the delectable baked chocolate desserts ever created will be in harmony in my kitchen, and on that day, the earth shall rejoice. 

by: Christie Bielss

Monday, June 24, 2013

Parking Lot Escapades

Handicapped Parking, muscular dystrophy, handicap parking

Because of my Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) and how quickly I can tire, I park in the disabled parking.  CMT is generally not one of those diseases that is readily noticable and, as a result, I have had some interesting encounters in parking lots.  There's always someone who feels entitled to a detailed accounting of my entire medical record.  They are what I affectionately call the parking lot nazis.

I've been yelled at by a shopping cart attendant at Target who thought that only people with missing legs qualified to park in disabled parking.  People who have walked past the car and told me I'm not allowed to park there because I don't have a disabled placard hanging from my rearview mirror....... uh, I have a disabled license plate.  And even some who've had the gall to say "you don't look disabled".  While I find some of these remarks rude, I do appreciate that these people are actually being protective of the disabled parking against those who are able-bodied but too lazy to park in regular parking spaces.

But then there are those few gifted souls who bring out that little redheaded devil in me that I sometimes have a hard time keeping under control.  One such instance happened just after we'd moved back to Texas.  I had just walked up to my car in the Walmart parking lot with an entire grocery cart full of groceries when I encountered one such parking lot nazi.  

I noticed him as he was exiting his car because of the sheer number of religious bumper stickers plastered all over the trunk and rear bumper of his car.  There wasn't a speck of paint or chrome visible.  Bumper sticker on top of bumper sticker and turned every which way.  The driver of that car walked straight over to me as I was trying to lift a case pack of water into the back of my car.  I thought maybe he was coming to help.  Apparently my thought pattern and his were off just a touch as he launched into a rant wanting to know why I was parked in disabled parking.  He used the reasoning that since he was going to make a purchase at Walmart, he will be paying for that space and thus, as the "owner", was entitled to my entire medical history.  Well, as you can probably guess, that didn't sit well with a fiery tempered redhead.  With a deep breath to calm my temper, I used his logic and asked him to please provide his medical information first since my purchase was, in fact, already complete.  In an ironic twist of fate, he didn't care to divulge when his last prostate exam was and what his PSA numbers were.  I also don't think he appreciated my redheaded humor when I asked if he'd had a colonoscopy and if they had been successful in locating his head.

Right then, out of nowhere, a woman of considerable height and muscular build appeared and with her index finger in his chest, gave him quite the tongue lashing.  Like a scalded dog, he jumped back in his car, backed out of his parking space, rolled down his windows and told us we were number 1.  Being the typical redhead who always has to have the last word - and seeing the 500 Jesus bumper stickers plastered to his bumper - I yelled "Jesus saw that!".  With a squeal of his tires, he was gone.  The woman chuckled and said "I think he was in a hurry to get to church and repent.".

One of the funniest experiences though was my encounter with a woman in her mid to late 80's at the Meijer grocery store in Champaign, IL.  She carried one of those great big black patent leather purses which was large enough to hold the entire contents of a kitchen pantry, as well as a shotgun.  I had just walked out of the grocery store with my groceries and was unlocking my tailgate when the elderly woman walked up to me and stopped.  She asked "What right do you have to park here?!".  I flipped around and was about to give a hot retort when I realized that she had that lethal weapon of a purse poised to bash me upside the head if she didn't like my answer!  I immediately threw my hands up in the air and said "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!  Take it easy there!".  She apparently did not appreciate that response and cocked her arm back a little further and reset her aim to align perfectly with my skull.  "Why-are-you-parked-here?!" she asked quite angrily.  Being that she reminded me so much of my feisty late Grandmother and my choices were either to answer honestly or wake up in the E.R., I chose to give this total stranger my medical diagnosis.

She instantly lowered her purse and apologized profusely.  And then if nearly being clobbered with a 50 pound purse wasn't bad enough, she literally elbowed me in the ribs to move me out of the way and started loading all of my groceries into my van.  When I told her I was quite capable of handling my own groceries, she gave me the grandma "don't  back talk me" look.  I threw my hands up in the air and rubbing my bruised ribs, backed off.  I knew better than to mess with this granny!  When she was almost done, a friend of hers walked up and grabbed her by the arm "Are you harassing another young person about parking here?!  Don't you see there are 15 other spaces available?  And look at yourself!  Acting like some kind of parking police!  You should be ashamed of yourself!  And you have obviously embarrassed yourself enough AGAIN that you are putting all this woman's groceries in her car as some form of penance when you should be going to confession!".  The friend while keeping hold of the woman's elbow, smiled at me and apologized for her friend's behavior, and marched her into the store griping at her every step of the way about how it might be time to take her car keys away and call her children.

These 2 ladies could've been straight off a skit from Saturday Night Live.  Instead of "The Church Ladies", they could be "The Purse Ladies".  I laughed the whole way home from that escapade not only because of the way these 2 friends interacted with each other, but because I can see me and my best friend doing this in 30 years or so.

And I bet you thought the only excitement to be had in a parking lot was purse snatchers, door dings, and the occasional rear-end collision........

by: Christie Bielss

Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Chains Are Gone

muscular dystrophy, orthotics, charcot marie tooth

"My chains are gone.  I've been set free.  My God, my Savior has ransomed me.  And like a flood His mercy rains, unending love, amazing grace." (Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) - by Chris Tomlin

Everybody has a secret - whether good, bad, exciting, embarrassing, frustrating, or one that causes great struggles.  The secret for me was embarrassing, frustrating, and one of great struggle.  The picture you see is of my "legs" which have supported me and helped me to walk and stay mobile since October of 2006.

On December 16, 1992, just before Christmas, I suffered an injury while lifting.  That injury consisted of the bulge, herniation, and rupture of 3 discs in my lower back, 2 discs in my upper back located just between my shoulder blades, and the tearing of almost every muscle in my back.  My back was a mess.

I was in physical therapy in an attempt to help me recover.  As I struggled through the ungodly pain, things started to change.  Simple things like putting on a pair of earrings became extraordinarily difficult.  I noticed I couldn't feel things I was touching.  And then I started falling.  I'd walk on the sidewalk and if my foot went onto the edge between the grass and the concrete, I'd fall.  If I stepped on a pebble, my ankle would turn and down I'd go.  Heck, I could be standing still and I'd fall over.

The neurologist I was seeing said it was because of pinched nerves and I needed to undergo a risky surgery to fix the problem.  I sought a second opinion and was able to get in with the Chief of Orthopedics at Baylor Hospital in Dallas.  With my mother accompanying me, we met with this doctor who took one look at me and negated the surgery and instead called his best spine orthopedic and sent me to him right then.  This doctor not only concurred with the Chief of Orthopedics' opinion but also determined that something else, separate and apart from the injury, was creating these problems.  He called the head of neurology and sent me over immediately.  Being sent to a 3rd doctor in as many hours caused an uneasy feeling to start growing in the pit of my belly.

After an examination and an Electromyogram, I was told I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.  I looked at him like he had a third eye and asked "I have a shark disease?!  I haven't even been in the ocean for several years!".  He smiled gently and told me I have one of the diseases covered by the Muscular Dystrophy Association and then spelled out the name of the disease. He asked if I had feet like anyone else in my family.  "Yes, my Dad.".  He immediately wanted to see him, so my Mom and I ran to their house, picked him up and brought him to the doctor.  After an exam, the doctor confirmed the genetic link.  An appointment was made for me with the MDA Clinic at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center.

In July of 1993, I was seen by the specialist at the MDA clinic and the diagnosis was officially confirmed.  I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, aka CMT.  An inherited peripheral neuropathy - which is a nicer way of saying:  losing normal use of extremities due to the degeneration of the nerves and loss of muscle.  My prognosis was that I should stay about what I was at that time.  My how little they knew.

As time passed over the years, I kept losing strength and muscle.  The MDA doctor admitted he hated seeing me because I was his only case he couldn't figure out.  He'd say I was going to continue declining and I'd hit a plateau and stay the same for a period of time.  He'd say I was on a plateau and I'd start a steep downhill dive.  Being a typical redhead, I kept him guessing.  And then it all seemed to culminate in August of 2006.  I woke up one morning and fell down as I tried to get out of bed.  My legs were like jelly.  I was exhausted after walking less than 10 feet.  My hand strength had decreased dramatically as well.  I called the doctor and was told I'd need leg braces to walk and  devices to help with everything from eating to dressing.  The prognosis at my next appointment in the Spring of 2007 was that I'd be a functioning quadreplegic within 5-7 years, due to my rate of decline.

My husband, kids and I watched the movie "Forrest Gump". A few nights later as I was tucking my son in bed, he told me he'd been praying for me to be "like that guy in the movie". I had no clue what he was talking about. With a great big smile he said "You know! The one where he's running really fast and the leg braces fall off his legs! I've been praying that you'll be just like him!". At the time I laughed hysterically that he was praying for me to "Run Forrest run!".

Even with the unwavering support of my husband, children, parents, family, and friends, I felt alone.  Through the years I'd lost one ability after another to do simple things.  No one could understand having the rug pulled out from under me one thread at a time.  And good grief, the shoes I had to wear with the braces were hideous.  Not to mention having to wear knee-high socks to protect my legs from the braces.  I felt like a freak and that I was alone in this fight.......or was I?  After a long period of being angry, depressed, embarrassed, fearful, and many other indescribable emotions, I realized that no matter how hard I had tried, I could no longer fight this disease alone.  It was then, with the help of my pastor in Champaign, IL, that I started climbing out of that deep, dark black hole.  I finally realized I wasn't alone and all I had to do was look up.  No matter how bad this got, I learned that Jesus would carry me through......... and maybe inspire some manufacturers to create shoes for people with braces that weren't absolutely hideous.

As this knowledge and strength found a foothold in my life and in my heart, my physical strength began to rebuild.  Maybe it was a coincidence or maybe it wasn't, but all of the sudden in the summer of 2011, and without any rhyme or reason, I wasn't needing my leg braces to walk across the house.  By the summer of 2012, I could walk through the grocery store without my leg braces.  By the winter of 2012, I only needed them when I went to church.  And now, in June of 2013, they sit in my closet used only when I'm afraid my legs will get tired.  My hands are still declining, but I trust that the Lord will give me the strength to handle the curves in the road ahead.

So, when I hear the song "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)" by Chris Tomlin, it holds special meaning.  No matter what may come my way, my chains are gone, I've been set free.

by: Christie Bielss

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What is a Dad?

dad, father, fathers day

What is a Dad? 

A Dad is someone who is your first hero.

A Dad is someone who will draw every animal you can think of on a restaurant napkin because he likes to see that twinkle in your eye as you try and guess which animal it was he drew.

A Dad is someone who stands with you when life is scary.

A Dad is someone who loves spending time with you, even if it means playing with Barbie's and letting you paint his nails with fingernail polish.

A Dad is someone who teaches you how to honor and respect others not just by his words but by his actions.

A Dad is someone who loves you enough to discipline you when you do wrong.

A Dad is someone who is the voice in your head when you make choices. 

A Dad is someone who cheers you on in your successes and helps pick you up and guide you on a better path in your failures.

A Dad is someone who shows you his strength by getting on his knees and praying to the One who is greater than he.

by: Christie Bielss

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I Wanted To Be June Cleaver

leave it to beaver, i love lucy, barbara billingsley, lucille ball

As a kid, I watched "I Love Lucy", "Dick Van Dyke", and "Leave It To Beaver" religiously.  They all have a common thread - all of the mothers had on a perfect outfit, pearls, a frilly apron, perfectly coifed hair no matter what task was being performed, a spotless house, a scrumptious dinner served every evening in the formal dining room, and they raised their children effortlessly.

Growing up, I was in awe of their prowess as housewives and mothers.  When I played with Barbies with my childhood friends, I always wanted to be the mom.  "Kids!  Dinner is ready!  Wash your hands and face.", I'd say.  The Barbie that was the mom was always the most fashionably dressed of all.  I loved how June Cleaver always had dinner on the table at the exact right time each night and it was a well-balanced meal.  Children drank milk from tall crystal glasses and ate their dessert from beautifully footed dessert bowls.  Their homes were always clutter-free and devoid of even the smallest speck of dust.  The children's bedrooms had beds that were expertly made and their toys were neatly displayed and put away.

When I became pregnant with our first child, I cleaned and organized everything in sight.  All of the baby clothes and socks were washed and put away according to color and size.  All of the toys and baby implements were sterilized several times just to be sure there were no lingering germs.  The nursery was decorated perfectly and everything was in its place as we awaited the arrival of our little bundle of joy.

I brought our son home from the hospital and my husband went back to work, my parents went home and I was excited to begin my June Cleaver-like life.  By the end of the first week, I realized I'd worn the same shirt four days straight and hadn't brushed my teeth in two days.  By the middle of the second week, I took our son for his first doctor's visit and, as I was driving, I realized I hadn't put on deoderant or brushed my hair........ in days.  If I'd had on pearls like June Cleaver, I might have sliced them in half and worn them as dentures so no one could see I'd also forgotten to brush my teeth........ again.

I came home from that doctor's appointment and looked at my house.  The mail was stacked up to the ceiling, there were burp rags and baby paraphernalia scattered helter-skelter, the laundry was overflowing the laundry basket in the middle of the family room where I'd been trying to fold it for days, the pantry which I had stocked extra heavily on the off-chance I might be taking a bit longer to find my "baby-legs", was down to a jar of strawberry preserves, a loaf of moldy bread, and a can of cream of mushroom soup.

While I admire those who are the June Cleavers of the world, I quite obviously wasn't cut from that mold. My kids drink from plastic cups and eat their dessert from disposable bowls. Dinner is rarely on time and I'm usually covered in food splatters.  I'm the Mother who has the sign hanging up at the front door that warns "Beware!  Trained killer dust bunnies on guard!".  There's always some comedian in my house who's written "dust me" on a piece of furniture and there's still a stack of mail reaching to the ceiling that will make the headline story if it comes crashing down: "Family crushed by pile of junk mail!  Story at 10!". 

I have hope that one day I will achieve June Cleaver status and win the coveted frilly apron award.  It'll probably be about the same time as my youngest graduates college.............

by: Christie Bielss

Monday, June 10, 2013

Where's Waldo.....uhh... the Redhead?

illnesses, illness, abdominal pain, the redhead

Have you been wondering where this crazy redhead went?   Maybe you figured I was off to a tropical locale?   I wish, but since I'm one of those redheads that can get a sunburn by laying out at night during a full moon phase, a tropical locale is unlikely.

Maybe you thought I'd run out of topics to discuss?  I'm a redhead.  It's a rare day indeed when I run out of topics to blather about.

Maybe I've gone shopping........ with my Mother? This idea is much more plausible as my Mother can shop for days on end and walk the legs off a billy goat when shopping for the perfect outfit or pair of shoes........... or, heaven forbid, both.  But no, I haven't been shopping.

The reality:  It's nothing that exciting.  I've just been under the weather.

Being born a stubborn redhead, I refused to acknowledge that my body was not functioning normally.  I put off my symptoms as being several things such as:  peri-menopausal with body temperatures fluctuating between being hot enough to produce molten lava, to being so cold I donned my goose-down puffer coat with a warm fuzzy scarf, mittens, and ski hat in 90+ degree weather......... and both within 20 minutes of each other.  If it wasn't peri-menopausal symptoms, then I told myself I was just not eating right, wasn't getting enough sleep, or maybe eating something that may have been just a touch "off".  And, being a Mom whose kids were in the final weeks of school before summer break, I really did not have the time, or luxury, to be sick.  There were class functions, grade promotion ceremonies, award ceremonies, parent/teacher conferences, field trips, and on, and on.

My symptoms had been going on for quite some time but I chose to ignore them.  At the nagging of my best friend, I called the doctor and made an appointment to see what the problem was.  While my BFF is not a redhead, I'm pretty sure she carries the redheaded gene for persistence.  Our phone conversations started with "Hi! ........ Have you made a doctor's appointment yet?", or "How are you feeling?..........When is your doctor's appointment?".  We'd be talking about food, exercise, and losing weight, and she'd use it as an opening to ask "Yeah, when's your doctor's appointment again?".  She was getting just feisty enough that I knew she was about to pull out the big guns. Rather than having her call and sick my Mother on me, or get the "you're a mother to young children who need you to be around to raise them" lecture (for the 10,000th time), I gave in and made the appointment.

At my physician's office, the nurse called me back and with "the look", promptly handed me a clear Dixie cup and pointed me to the restroom.  My doctor's nurse is kind of like a Chihuahua - she's small but mighty.  You do not fuss with her.  I obediantly entered the restroom.  "Oh!  You have got to be kidding me!", I said as soon as she flicked on the light.  The toilet was so tiny and low to the ground it looked like a toddler's potty training chair.  With a firm "Go", the nurse closed the restroom door. 

The doctor diagnosed me with a kidney infection, prescribed an antibiotic and firmly instructed me to drink lots of water and sent me on my way.  Off to the pharmacy I went and picked up my prescription, happily thinking I'd be good to go in a day or so.

Within 2 days things were getting worse, so off to the Urologist I went.  He did some labs and determined I did not have a kidney infection.  The Urologist immediately started going over an action plan as to what tests he felt were needed.  I sat in the room as he told me I needed a CT scan because I could have a kidney stone or a tumor.  The horror stories of friends passing kidney stones immediately flashed through my mind with lightning speed.  As I was mulling this information over, the doctor went on to say that he felt a bladder scope would also be necessary if the CT scan came back negative.  As he got out his diagram of the human body and started to describe what was involved, I wasn't sure whether to pass out or hit the door at a full run.  He must've noticed how I was sizing him up to see whether I could run over him like a defensive tackle to get out the door, because he quickly switched gears and said that we'd just take it one test at a time.

I scheduled the CT scan, little realizing that it would be conducted at a urology CT scan center whose clientele base consisted almost entirely of elderly men.  When I walked up to the receptionist, she asked "Name?" and I gave her mine.  She smiled and said "No, I need the patient's name.".  With a deep sigh, an uncontrolled eye roll, and a great deal of embarrassment, I said that I was the patient.  With quickly diverted eyes, and an "Oh!" she quickly checked me in.

The Radiologist's report came back with lightning speed and it was determined I do indeed have a pretty nasty infection.  Well, thank goodness for that because that meant there was no need for that bladder scope and I didn't have to "pass" the greatly feared kidney stone.
I thought this would be the lesser of the evils and it would be a breeze when I was put on a liquid diet for 2 days.  Famous last words. By the end of those first 2 days, I was so hungry I could?
a) gnaw the bark off a tree
b) eat the tail end out of a skunk
c) think road kill looked like a gourmet feast
d) all of the above

The answer was "d) all of the above".

I am doing much better now and while I have graduated to a soft food diet and am getting enough food to satisfy my hunger, the physical urge to sink my teeth into something firm and chew has become quite strong.  Our dog must have noticed me staring at her chew bones because she has started hiding them from me.  On the bright side, I've lost 13 pounds with the dietary changes........ just in time for swimsuit season........... 

So, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and hold on tight because the The Redhead Sez is back!

by: Christie Bielss