A Snarky Guide to Surviving the Holidays

The holidays are upon us. Filled with long shopping sprees, holiday parties, religious festivities, travel, the works. Basically, it’s a Nightmare Before and After Christmas for anyone with chronic conditions. So here is a snarky guide to surviving the holiday season. (Warning: any resulting aggravation of medical conditions, unemployment, and familial estrangement are not the fault of the author. Chronic conditions may range from anxiety to Zanaflex reaction, not excluding being chronically enrolled in school or parental status.)

  • For every piece of unsolicited medical advice you receive at the family Christmas party, take a shot of your favorite beverage. Note: may need to join AA before attempting.
  • Gather fellow friends with families. Make a bingo card out of the most commonly asked questions you and your friends with children are asked. The first to get Bingo gets their car detailed by the others.
  • Bring along a marker and a stack of gift tags. Each time you are asked why you aren’t over your long-standing chronic illness, replace a tag on one of the presents under the tree with a different name.
  • For every time you are asked what you will do with your degree, eat one of those little holiday chocolates. No response can possibly be expected while gagging on cheap holiday candy.
  • Use your fellow traveler’s self-preservation instincts to help get luggage into overhead bins. Say “oh, you might want to move a bit, I don’t want to drop this on your head” and see if that person doesn’t – for lack of anywhere safe to move – jump up and help you load your luggage. If not, say “my bad, no room here” and go find a spot over someone with better survival skills.
  • For every piece of unsolicited baby care advice you receive, swipe a cheese ball. When the party runs out of cheese balls, claim a diaper disaster and flee.
  • Every time you’re asked if you really need (X medical treatment that qualified medical professionals and yourself have determined you totally need) swipe a nut from a bowl. The total number of nuts you have at the end of the event correlates nicely to the total number of nuts at the party.
  • Get a group of fellow graduate students together. For every time you’re asked when you’re going to be done with your degree, gain a point. The loser has to proofread the winner’s bibliography.
  • When receiving a gift that you’re allergic to, just smile and make a special little note to send that person a thank-you card coated with very loosely glued glitter.
  • Every time someone comments on how much stuff you carry now that you’re a mom and how strong your arms must be, smile and hand them something heavy to hold “just while I go do this.” Small children, a stroller, and the complete Oxford English Dictionary should be about right. Come back in a half-hour, when their arms are nice and jelly-like, to retrieve it.
  • It’s not crazy to consider renting a small semi-truck to transport your PT equipment, medical gear, hot pads, ice packs, special furniture, medicines, and clothes for a four day vacation. 
  • If you are working on a research project over break, be sure to set a page goal for each day. Burn at least that many pages of hideous reports, student papers, bad research, or committee minutes each day to get that warm holiday glow.
  • When strong-armed into doing a lengthy craft project , carefully place plastic wrap under the lids of all the glues and glitters. Claim they’re dried out or empty, then go take a nap instead.



Magic Monarchs

I remember the butterfly trees near my home. We’d walk through a forest on a silent trail, all sand and shredded bark. The air was Vicks Vapor-Rub and sea foam, sharp and clean. And then the sunlight would strike a tree and a breeze would ruffle leaves, leaves that unfurled into fluttering wings, magic shimmering in a gold beam, rustling drily. Then the sun would go behind the curtain of fog, the breeze would die down, and all was silent in the forest again. The butterfly trees. Find one someday if you can.

Migrating Monarchs Arrive in Mexico



Adaptations II


I’m just a bit of bark. Nothing to see here, folks.

Adaptations. Butterflies adapt. Moths change color to match that of the bark. It means… survival. Survival isn’t always glamorous. But it IS life. That’s important. A few of my favorite adaptations…

Yogurt (especially Greek Gods Honey) is a gift from the gods. I’d like to think this IS an adaptation… but yogurt is so fast and portable that it’s pretty much been part of my life since I started college. I used to eat a lot more adventurous stuff besides yogurt of course, but hey, now I’m exploring all the flavors that are in that section of the store. And thankfully, there’s a lot.

Social events are really “optional.” And when I plan an event, it’s on a different timetable now, an adapted timetable that revolves around naps and medications and times when I can have a backup ride or a place to stay if everything goes wrong.

Hot tubs and heating pads are the best. No argument. And no, sadly, a friend’s extra large washing machine should not double as a hot tub. Even if the jets and whirlpool features are top-of-the-line. 🙂

Tablets with ebooks, .pdf articles and/or homework assignments Are. Marvelous. Period.  Fast, portable, lightweight, permissible in a lot of environments (like hospitals), and easier to manage when I can’t move my arms that much or handle turning pages.

Tear-free shampoo. I’m not the most coordinated individual. I always get shampoo in my eyes. Now though, I am sometimes too weak to take a shower without sitting down abruptly in the middle of it, or I’m too dizzy to avoid sliming the stuff all over my face, or I need someone else’s help to wash my pixie. Welcome to the baby shampoo aisle, where there are a million different scents, many of which are nice on skin reacting to meds, are soothing for nerves frayed by doctor’s visits, and are advertised as helping even the most stubborn of babies go down for a nightly … well, let’s face it, nap. But maybe a longer one. 😀





Little Words

I’m a PHD student. I can be sensitive about words. Words, after all, make up a big part of my life right now. We graduate students are especially trained to watch what we say and how we say it, because words convey thoughts, thoughts influence actions, and by actions the world is changed. (In particular, it can change whether or not your dissertation committee says the all-important little four-letter word, “pass.”)

Thanks to this sensitivity, I can’t help but notice the language used by myself and others talking about illness. Of whatever type. They’re Little Words. Here are a few favorites:

  • “Only.” For example, you only needed 6 bags of fluid and glucose and a blood transfusion before you stopped fainting.
  • “Just.” As in, Just needed to lie down.
  • “Little,” or worse still, “little bit.” She is a little bit nauseated.
  • “Wonky.” Her balance is a bit wonky.
  • “Tiny.” There is a tiny problem with your immune system.
  • “Ticker” or the like. “How’s the old ticker?”
  • “Sorry.” A personal favorite; I’ve practically substituted it in for the word “hello.”

We need to be able to use funny words to make a stressful situation less intense. We need words to express a degree of something – “a lot,””a little” – and sometimes it is hard to be more specific than that. We need words to exclude things – “only that book,” and not all the others.

What I hear far more often, though, are words not being used to express whether something is “little” in size, but being used to belittle. Funny words used in decidedly non-funny ways. Intensifying words being used to minimize feelings. Adjectives somehow being used not to describe, but to distort what is really happening. Quaint euphemisms even for parts of the body that not only does everyone have, but aren’t even usually deemed socially unacceptable

Yes, my concern over these little words is pet peeve. But words have an odd way not just of conveying thoughts, but influencing how thoughts are formed as well. The language that people use, and become accustomed to, helps shape thoughts. Think about a person who has grown up hearing that menstrual pain is “just a little women’s problem.” How hard will it be to reshape that thinking to accept that, in some cases, it’s not “just a little” anything, and that this pain might be the symptom of a much more serious condition? How much longer will it take to get medical help? The little words we use shape how our bosses, teachers, friends, and relatives view us – and how we view our own experiences.

I use these words myself far more often than I should. I apologize constantly for being me, because being chronically ill means frequently having trouble with “normal” life and social expectations. I slip into saying “it’s just a bit worse.” I didn’t “just” need to lie down: I needed to lie down. Full stop, period, end of thought. I am working on changing how I use these little words, because in my position, the little words I use shape the much larger thoughts of my students.

Little words are important. Tomorrow a nation will vote, and in the USA the weight of little words is going to come to bear. All the past little words of candidates and little words of bills will translate into action. Have a care with the little words. They can mean big things.

Indian Summer?

What the heck is “Indian Summer?” I keep hearing this weird term being tossed about my area of the world right now. It’s not a phrase that I, originally from a very temperate little valley, heard a lot growing up. And frankly, it’s a little bizarre sounding, especially in the generally highly-specific and attempting-to-be-respectful-of-other-cultures atmosphere at my university. I was curious.


Wouldn’t know it’s fall from these blooms!

It turns out there are very specific requirements for an “Indian Summer.” For starters, despite the profusion of birds and blooms and bugs my area, it’s not an “Indian Summer” unless it happens between Nov. 11 and Nov. 20, at least according to Old Farmer’s Almanac. Others’ restrictions are a little less stringent – BBC reports that the Meteorological Glossary will allow October and November (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-15127159 ).


Morning at the park

Next, it has to follow cold weather or a good hard frost. There has to be  warm, stagnant  air — often hazy, sometimes even smoky, depending (ya know, on whether there are fires in the area). That’s the result of a mass of cold air in the atmosphere being transformed into a warm high pressure clump of air.


Finally, what’s with the “Indian” in “Indian summer”? There’s a lot of theories out there. One is that sailing ships would have a line marked on their hull marking where the load could sit when the ships navigated the Indian ocean during summer. Another is that the term originated from a Native American belief that the warmth was sent from the god Cautantowwit, or so Old Farmer’s Almanac says. A third idea is that it came from a time when attacks by native tribes against the European settlers could resume following the crippling summer heat. One thing is for sure, the term has a long history — most accounts do agree that the first use dates from the late 18th century.

I’m just happy for some warmth before the inevitable but gorgeous white descends in earnest.

All that is gold…


…does not glitter. Sometimes it blows in lobed edges in the breeze, crackling dryly to itself like it is gently laughing about a secret that only it knows.


Sometimes the gold hangs in the air, high above your head, in coins bigger than both hands spread.


As a former denizen of a part of the world where fall color was very rare, I can’t quite get over the astounding range of colors as the season changes. The last few years, fall has seemed to happen in the 37 minutes I was in class. This time, it has been a tad slower, perhaps lasting a whole 49 minutes. 🙂


Yet here is summer green, stubbornly hanging in there, and the temperatures this week are *soaring*. Sometimes to be a standout, all you have to do is hang in there. 🙂