Cuba As I See It, Days 14 & 15

Posted on
These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9, and Day 10, Days 11 & 12, and Day 13.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 14
Thursday Jan 5
Havana
 
We awoke to realize that our casa had a nice view of the rooftops of Havana. We were on the 3rd floor, but with the height of their ceilings, that was quite high. You can see that some of the buildings were very beautiful and in good repair.
Most were not maintained so well.
I noticed that they still use a lot of antennae here.
On closer inspection you will see that these old buildings are really beautifully ornamented, but they are mostly in very bad disrepair. This is how all of Havana was. The whole place stank of mold and garbage. This was also a common sight.
We tried in vain to get free Wi-Fi in a few of the many squares in Havana, but for some reason, it’s harder to get Wi-Fi in Havana, even with a card, than it is in other places. We went to a hotel, paid their exorbitant price for Wi-Fi, and went to get some lunch.
Crossing the street in Havana is somewhat like playing Frogger. As often as not, there are no signals telling when to walk and not. Many places there aren’t stop lights even for cars at these very busy intersections.
After lunch we went on a classic car tour. Riding in a 50’s Bel Air, we drove around Old Havana.
In general, these old American cars are in a lot better shape in Havana than they are in the rest of Cuba. We saw a lot of beautiful classic cars here.
We saw the capital building, El Capitolio, currently being renovated. It is built to be a copy of the US Capitol which I’m sure is quite irritating to “the powers that be” in Cuba.
We got out at Revolution Plaza where Fidel gave a lot of his looooong speeches.
Here is Che Guevara and his famous quote “Hasta la victoria siempre” (Always until victory).
And here is Camillo Cienfuegos with his famous quote “Vas bien Fidel” (You’re doing fine, Fidel). Cienfuegos mysteriously disappeared in an airplane. He was starting to have some conflict with Fidel, and they are still not sure what happened to him. Maybe he secretly came to the US and lived a long and happy life. Whatever the case, the words he said to Fidel during a speech are still used as a stamp of approval to all that was done by The Revolution.
We saw where Raul Castro’s office is, and the building where the Propaganda Department, I mean Ministry of Communications, is.
We passed the US Embassy which officially reopened in 2015. It was nice to see Old Glory flying proudly.
We passed the Hilton Hotel, or what used to be the Hilton Hotel. Hilton finished construction in 1958 and the Cuban government took it over and nationalized it in 1959. This, as you can see was a very bad investment. Now it is called the Habana Libre Hotel.
We also passed the José Marti Anti-Imperialist Platform, an area with a statue of José Marti, a national hero who helped free Cuba from the Spanish (there is a José Marti Street in EVERY town we visited, and we flew into the José Marti International Airport in Cuba, and visited the changing of the guard at José Marti’s grave, right next to which Fidel is buried), holding Elian Gonzales and pointing accusingly at the American Embassy.
Remember Elian Gonzales? He’s the little boy who was the subject of a custody battle when he was 6 and his mother died in a boat escaping Cuba to Florida with him, and his dad, remaining in Cuba, petitioned to have him returned to Cuba. He is reportedly a student at university there now. There is a sign on his birth home proclaiming that he survived the Cuban-American mafia in Miami.
Our tour ended at the Hotel Nacional, a famed hotel with a lot of history involving American celebrities and the mob. There is now no gambling in Cuba (except for over those poor roosters I mentioned before, I guess) but it used to be a big casino.
One of the many pictures they had on display was a very large on of Hugo Chavez, former dictator of Venezuela, who they seem to think was a wonderful leader.
Reportedly they built Las Vegas because The Revolution ruined their plans for gambling in Havana. This Hotel Nacional was also the headquarters of operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis and they still have trenches on exhibit from those days.
They also have on display two of the biggest cannons I’ve ever seen. They are from the period when the Spanish were defending the island from attack. This hotel is absolutely beautiful, but it is still dealing with issues similar to the rest of Cuba; I went in the bathroom which was clean, but there were no paper towels. They did, however, have a roll of toilet paper in a dispenser there by the sink to dry my hands on, which was strange. We caught a classic car taxi back to another plaza where there also was not Wi-Fi.
In Havana the old American cars, at least a lot of them, are in good shape. Some of them are downright beautiful. A lot of them are being used as taxis, and the convertibles are being used for the classic car tours like we took.
 
That evening we had one last dinner with our group.
I finally ordered a Cuban Sandwich.
I had seen only 2 different menus with a Cubano sandwich, but one of them was out of bread. The sandwich was cheese, ham, and roast pork with mayonnaise on toasted bread. It wasn’t all that good compared to the great food we’d been eating for 2 weeks now. I also tried cheesecake which was an insult to cheesecakes everywhere. It tasted more like sugarless custard with guava jelly on top.
We then attended a musical performance by the Buena Vista Social Club. It was a very high quality performance with great percussionists, but we were so sick of hearing the same 5 songs over and over again that it was kind of hard to enjoy.
Havana is very different than the rest of Cuba. That’s like saying New York City is very different than rural Iowa.
Here the hotels are nice, plush even, even though they are all old. The others we saw throughout Cuba, even the nicest ones, were more along the lines of a Red Roof Inn except with better views.
Everything was also more expensive in Havana. There are a lot more tourists there, many of whom have absolutely no desire or plans to see the rest of Cuba. They are there for the rum and the beaches.
In Havana there is amazing beauty next to horrible desolation and decay. The whole city (except the nice hotels) stinks of mildew, car exhaust, and unemptied trash bins. On the way home from the musical show we saw about 6 cats gathered around one set of trash bins and dogs were equally wandering the streets.
We went to our casa for one last night in a foam Cuban bed. We were very much ready to go home.
Day 15
Friday, Jan 6
Havana to Mexico
We awoke, very anxious to be on our way. We shared a taxi to airport with one of the ladies from our group.
Near the airport is this sign.
This is referring to the American embargo, or blockade. This sign calls it the “longest genocide in history.” I’m not sure how the embargo is a genocide, but that’s what the Cuban government says, anyway.
We got our luggage wrapped to prevent theft.
Their TV’s in  the airport were playing a celebration of Cuban athletes at the 2016 Olympics. Every Cuban Olympian was featured whether or not they won any medals.
When we checked in they offered us an upgrade to first class for very cheap so we took it. Just so you know, first class on Cuban Air consists of bigger, more comfortable seats, a cloth napkin, and 4 finger sandwiches. Oh, and a few choices of drinks, but still no Pepsi or Coke.
After journeying for 15 days in Cuba I haven’t at all figured out the Cuban version of communism. There are still very much the haves and have-nots. There is a ton of propaganda and control of access to information. Everything goes through a filter and comes out with a different spin on it.
Cubans say they are allowed to be critical of the government but yet there are times when they will say they can’t talk about certain topics such as national heroes or the communist party. They still use a lot of nonverbal communications: sign language, whistles, facial expressions, talking with their eyes, and the list goes on.
I can’t really say we enjoyed our time in Cuba. It really was quite rough, and staying in the casas as we did, there was no way to get a reprieve from the roughness. The people were friendly and helpful, and the landscapes were stunning. The infrastructure was crumbling and the resources were spotty.
The best way I know to describe the country is as a paradox: the beauty of the landscapes contrasted with the reality of scarce resources, the beautiful old ornate architecture in a state of disrepair, the message that The Revolution is wonderful next to the reality of its restrictions, the propaganda that America is evil contradicted by the friendliness of the Cuban people toward Americans.
The reason for our trip was dual: 1) to immerse Vince in Spanish as much as possible to teach him the language better and give him more confidence and 2) to see a view through a closing window into a rapidly changing culture. Both of those things were successes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Cuba As I See It.


Cuba As I See It, Day 13

Posted on
These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9Day 10, and Days 11 & 12

I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It

Day 13
Wednesday, Jan 4
From Baracoa to Holguin, then flight to Havana
As I said in an earlier post, the brother of the lady of our casa now has US citizenship and lives in Miami. His (and the lady of the house’s) mother had died, so he was in visiting. He was very friendly and we got a different perspective of things by talking to him. In discussions the night before, we had told him our group’s flight out of the Baracoa airport had been moved to Holguin, a town up the coast about 5-7 hours, so we were catching a bus out at 7:00 in the morning. He told us he was still flying out of  Baracoa the same day as us. We were a bit puzzled but figured maybe they couldn’t get our group 12 tickets together on one plane.
So we got up very early and loaded the bus, grumpy from having to do a long trek we weren’t expecting.
We went down awful horrible roads, with more holes than we had seen put together on our whole trip. Before, we had seen patched roads and bad roads. This had deep and frequent holes and needed a lot more patches. Many times our driver pulled off the road because the dirt shoulder was better than the pavement. Also, the main bridge was out in Baracoa from Hurricane Matthew 3 months before. Nothing has been done to fix it. So we crossed this low bridge instead with water rushing right beneath us.
 
After a bit we stopped for a bathroom break at a gas station. This was one of the ones where you try to just not touch anything at all, a 2 out of 20 on my bathroom scale. Funny enough, at this little gas station in nowhere Cuba, we saw the Cuban-American nurse practitioner, brother of our casa owner. As it turned out, his flight out of Baracoa was cancelled and he was doing the same trek as us to Holguin.
Now we got to see a different part of Cuba. Cactus fences abounded (quite a clever idea I’d say but you better not need to move the fence), and we saw crops we hadn’t seen up to this point. There was still a lot of fallow ground and most of the crops we did see were small. The homes we saw on this ride, and the other areas as well, ranged anywhere from about 20×20 feet to about 8×10 feet.  The casas we had stayed in were much bigger, but they are not typical homes. As rugged as we felt they were, they were very nice by Cuban standards.
We stopped for lunch, but the restaurant (someone’s kitchen basically) was not open, so we used their clean restroom and kept going.
When we finally got to Holguin, tired and cranky, we stopped for a “fast lunch” which is impossible in Cuba and turned out to be over an hour long. There is no fast food in Cuba. After driving through Holguin, a large city with a stadium and a prison, we arrived at the airport to find the small waiting room chock full of people waiting. I guess they were on an earlier cancelled flight or were waiting on a spot on another flight or something because I didn’t see any of them leave or go anywhere the whole time we were there. I never really did figure that out. We waited in an unmoving line for about an hour, watching their 1 luggage agent come and go and not do anything visibly productive. They did have a flat screen TV, one of the few we saw our whole trip, and the first I saw actually being used. It had a baseball game playing on it.
They finally called for our flight to check in and the line got moving. I guess they only process one flight at a time and between checking in flights the attendant does other jobs. Our guide stepped behind the counter to help the agent and get our bags all checked. They hand wrote our boarding passes, took us in a next-room-over 2 at a time to do our security check. We also saw several people here in uniforms sitting and doing nothing productive. For the x-ray bag scanner they used a computer, the first working one I had seen in use as a computer (we had seen some being used to play music) in the whole 13 days. Then they sent us back out and up the stairs. Someone checked our passport at the bottom of the stairs and we passed a not-working x-ray machine. I guess that’s why we had to do our screening in the same room where they scan the checked luggage.
Here we entered a totally empty waiting room where they had 2 more TVs showing the same baseball game. They called our flight onto the tarmac and we walked all the way across the length of the airport to our plane.
 
We had to wait for them to load our bags in the front of the plane before we could get on, which was inconvenient for us, but reassuring in that we saw our bags get loaded on.
While we were waiting, a very large American Airlines plane came in and unloaded its many passengers. This is a very small airport and I didn’t know American flights were coming directly into anywhere in Cuba but Havana.
I had a window seat and enjoyed looking out the window on the cloudless night and enjoyed the hour’s flight across the mostly dark countryside.
We arrived in Havana, retrieved our bags, and discovered that we had no bus to take us to our casas in Old Havana. We waited while our guide tried unsuccessfully to get us a state-owned tour bus. Remember I said it’s illegal for them to drive around empty? Well, an almost-empty bus for about 14 passengers arrived and dropped off its one passenger. So our guide jumped up and talked with the driver. After about 15 minutes of negotiations and phone calls, permission was given by whoever does that, and we had a bus. By this time it was after 10 at night.
We got off the bus, and our guide took us a few at a time to our different casas. We got to our casa, checked in with our passports, and got instructions for our private 2 bedroom apartment. The construction was new, but their pipes to the drain in the sinks didn’t have P traps to keep out the sewer gases. Also, they had a ventilation shaft which it seems had no cap at the top so rain came in freely and the whole building smelled of mold. So between the sewer gas and the mold, the whole place was rather stinky. The lady who managed the apartment also managed several others in the neighborhood. Evidently these casa we stayed in during our trip are listed on airbnb. I’m not sure how that works with the limited internet in Cuba, but people seem to be making good money renting out rooms.
By the time we met our guide for directions to a decent restaurant, we were just about starved. We had scarfed down some food at about noon, and it was now after 11 p.m. After a delicious dinner (they make wonderful fried chicken in Cuba) we went to bed exhausted, but happy to be in Havana. Even with all the mess of the airport, the missing bus, and the long hours, at least we didn’t have to drive the whole over-20-hours-straight way from Baracoa to Havana in a bus.
Continue the journey to Day 14 & 15.


Cuba As I See It, Days 11 & 12

Posted on
These observations are simply that: my observations. As the title of my blog indicates, this is “As I See It.” If I am offensive in anything I say, I apologize. That is not my intent. If I am incorrect in any information, I also apologize. I am not an expert, simply a traveler who visited the country for a few days. I hope you enjoy my views.
Each day I will tell you what we did on one or two days of the trip, but I will also give some observations about other topics that span the length of the whole trip.
I advise you to start at Day 1 and work your way through. As I go along I will refer back to things I’ve pointed out and discussed on earlier days.
Click here for Day 2Day 3Day 4, Day 5, Day 6Day 7Day 8Day 9, and Day 10.
I hope you enjoy Cuba As I See It
Day 11
Monday, Jan 2
Barracoa
This was a day mainly spent in our casa recovering from illness and enjoying our room. As I said on Day 10, this casa was clean and freshly painted. The bathroom had good water pressure or hot water, but not both. And each bathroom had its own toilet bowl brush. Nowhere in Cuba can you flush paper down the toilet. Most places have a trash can in each stall to use for this purpose.
It was about this time that I decided to come up with the Comprehensive International Bathroom Rating Scale. The ladies in our group and I consulted on what was important, and they came up with a variation of it, but after much intense study and further, ahem, experience, I have settled on the following:
1 point if the bathroom doesn’t charge money
1 point if it’s clean
1 point if it smells nice
1 point if there is a toilet bowl
1 point if the toilet has a way to flush
1 point if the way to flush doesn’t involve a faucet and a bucket
1 point if there is a toilet seat
1 point if it has a door that closes and locks for privacy
1 point if there is paper available somewhere in the bathroom
1 point if the paper is free and accessible from the toilet
1 point if you are allowed to flush the paper
1 point if there is a trash bin
1 point if it flushes itself at the proper time with a motion detector
1 point if there is a working sink
1 point if the sink water works with a motion sensor
1 point if there is soap
1 point if soap dispenser is motion sensing
1 point for a way to dry your hands
1 point if dryer is motion sensing
1 point for handicap accessibility
So here is the breakdown of what all those numbers mean:

18-20: Perfect

15-17: Near Perfect

12-14: : Excellent

9-11: : Good

6-8 ☹️: Not Ideal

3-5: Wipe everything with sanitizing wipes before you “go”

0-2: Hold your breath, don’t touch anything, and pray you don’t catch a disease

If we had a bathroom in the 9-11 range we were thrilled. We encountered more than one occurrence of bathrooms that were a 3 if you were generous in your counting. But when you gotta go, you gotta go. Using bathrooms like this are really the only time in life when I wish I were a man.
We did visit the Castillo Hotel, formerly the Castillo Seboruco built in the 1700’s. It has many steps that go up and up and up some more to a height of 40 meters (130 feet). At the top you’re rewarded with this beautiful view.
They also have free (if you buy a drink and have bought a card with login and password) wifi.
The yellow building in the foreground here is the Hotel Castillo.
Even though the Cuban government has tried to erase any positive influence by the US, if you look hard enough you can see evidence occasionally. Here is a sign on the hotel commemorating the reconstruction of the fort in 1900.
Here in Baracoa we also saw many of these kinds of signs.
You see how at the bottom it says CDR 3, ZONE 5. CDR stands for Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. If Hitler’s SS and Neighborhood Watch had a baby, it would be something like the CDR. Basically, every block in Cuba has a CDR leader who is responsible for reporting on you to the government. If you want to change jobs or improve your house or a myriad of other things, you have to get approval from your CDR leader. They can also report you for having a bad attitude toward the government. They don’t need any proof or evidence, of course. You can imagine that this can be a very bad situation if your CDR leader is power-hungry or just doesn’t like you.
Day 12
Tuesday, Jan 3
Baracoa
On this day we went back up the mountain near the Castillo Hotel we had visited the day before.  We were looking for an item on our map called an “archaeological museum in a cave.” We occasionally would ask someone directions and they kept saying it was further on and further up. We accidentally (this time) had wandered into a part of Cuba that people don’t usually see. Basically the houses were shacks. Not sure if that’s “new construction” since the hurricane, but they were very bad conditions. Finally we reached a sign pointing us to the museum. A little boy led the way, and we gave him and his friend a tip for their help. It wasn’t much of museum or much of a cave.
Our enthusiastic guide enjoyed using his limited English skills as he shared his knowledge of the indigenous people Columbus “discovered” on his arrival but who had been living there for well over 500 years already. He told us about their religion, the way they used the caves, and some of their mythology.
He also told us about an area down by the beach where there were no trees, but black sand. He said not to go there because some spots are quicksand and people have been known to disappear. They are never quite sure if the missing people have been overtaken by quicksand or if they’ve gotten on a raft to go to America, but he said be careful. The girl from our group who was with us for our tour of the cave was a bit alarmed by this knowledge since she had walked that exact area of the beach the day before.
We came back down the mountain by a different route than we had gone up. We had experienced the natural alarm clocks (known as roosters) in just about every town we had visited. And it wasn’t just one rooster; there were always a bunch of them. I knew that we had eggs for breakfast every day, but those don’t come from roosters last time I checked. And we had seen only roosters, not hens. On the way back down the hill we saw a guy training his roster to attack another rooster and it all came together. Our guide had made a comment earlier when a guy crossed the road in front of us holding a rooster (at which point we asked why the rooster crossed the road). He said the guy was going to a cock fight. And it all clicked. THAT’s why so many roosters crowing every morning. They were meant for competition, but not to see who could crow the loudest. There is no gambling, at least in casinos in Cuba, but it seems there might be an exception.
At the bottom of the mountain we were hot and tired from our long upward trek, so we went back to the Hotel Castillo for cola and Wi-Fi. But it wasn’t until we were at the bottom of the mountain that we made this decisions, so back up we went, up all those steps. Not our brightest moment, I must say.
At the bottom of the hotel steps we encountered a man begging. He was the same man as the day before, asking for the same things: a pencil and shoes. Evidently if you have a pen or pencil you can trade it for something else so they usually don’t ask for money, they ask for a pencil or a pen.
After checking Wi-Fi we came back down the mountain. I felt like that old song about “The noble Duke of York, He had 10,000 men, He marched them up to the top of the hill and marched them down again.” It was a hot day and after all our ups and downs we decided that chocolate ice cream sounded really good and we went to the Casa De Cacao.
 
We went into their air-conditioned show room that smelled absolutely amazing and saw their wonderful dark chocolate on display. They had bars of it as well as small little shapes, all covered by sheets of plastic. We tried one of the little shapes to make sure it was good. Sure enough, yep, it was great! We told waitress how many bars we wanted, and we watched her use her teeth to tear the plastic to get a piece to cover the chocolate in. I guess they didn’t have scissors or a knife. While she was busy with us, another woman came in and said something to her and showed her the middle ink-tube part of a cheap pen. We ordered some chocolate ice cream drink and sat down to wait. The waitress asked us if we had a pen they could have. This nice place of business with delicious chocolates only had one pen, and it was broken, so they were using the middle ink-tube part. Unfortunately, except for my iPad stylus which has a built-in pen, I only had 2 mechanical pencils. I offered her one, but I’m not even sure she knew what it was or how it worked, and she really wanted a pen. Their chocolate ice cream in chocolate drink was delicious, though.
This dearth of common objects was prevalent around Cuba. It’s not just that we saw no computers in use in businesses. Some places had adding machines with their receipt tape, but mostly it was just calculators in use. Restaurants generally had hand-written receipts that they gave us.
Many times we tried to break a 50 or even a 20 CUC bill, and they didn’t have change. Not just a little shops, but places like a hotel restaurant. There is just not enough cash or other resources for a business to keep money on hand that way.
Also, being in Cuba showed me how Americans see everything as disposable: cars, house furnishings, water jugs, etc. Things are used not until someone gets tired of them or when they start to look a bit worn. Things are used until they cannot be used any longer. Then if they can be repurposed as something else, they are. This is a theme I have recognized in all the developing countries I have visited.
This is how they still have running 1950’s cars running on the roads. As I stated when writing Day 5 in Trinidad, most of them are not in a condition that would be considered classic. 
They are just really old cars, beat up and run down. But they don’t get rid of them because it’s impossible to get a new or better one. So they just keep the old one running.
Click here to continue to Day 13.


Delta Airlines Doesn’t Know Peanuts or A Defense Of “Crazy” Food Allergy Parents

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I am on a Delta Airlines flight and they just offered me peanuts. We usually fly American Airlines, so I was shocked. Luckily my daughter is not with me or I would be freaking out. 

Why? I am the mom of a child with food allergies. And sitting near someone eating peanuts could kill her. Literally. Last time I checked, an airplane is not a great place to have a major medical emergency. Unlike milk or eggs or most other food allergies, peanuts somehow contaminate the air around them and even a trace amount in the air, similar to the way a smell works, can cause a reaction. So why the peanuts when so many have similar reactions? I have no idea. Obviously someone making decisions doesn’t understand the severity or seriousness of the situation. 

My daughter is allergic to all nuts (technically that’s peanuts and tree nuts), any milk products, eggs, and shellfish. She will have a life-threatening reaction simply by being in the same room as peanut butter or getting milk or ice cream on her skin. A tiny bit of the wrong margarine (99% of the ones on the market) can make her deathly ill. This reaction by definition includes more than one body system, such as GI, respiratory, skin, etc. As a mom, these reactions are very scary. You never know how bad it’s going to be this time; each one is different. Maybe this time she’ll “just” throw up and break out in hives all over. But it could be just as likely that her lips and face will swell up and her throat will close off and block her airway and kill her. And as the parent, you’re the one making the on-the-spot call about what to do. Except in an airplane the options are more limited. Even at home it’s a crazy-stressful situation. Can it be treated with just Benadryl? Do I call the ambulance? Give an EpiPen (a shot of epinephrine)? Give 2 EpiPens? Which hospital to use? When seconds matter, you don’t have time to call the doctor. Is this a reaction that will keep getting worse or is this as bad as it will get this time? 
And complicating the situation for some families, the families with no prescription plan, is the fact that the price of EpiPens has increased to where they are now $600 for a pack of 2. Some reactions take 2 to control. And last time I heard, ambulances don’t carry them, so even if your insurance plan covers an ambulance ride and emergency care, you’re still supplying the EpiPens. 

So next time you hear about the mom of a food allergy kid who seems to be taking it a little too seriously, going a bit extreme, put yourself in her shoes. If it was your kid who could die simply from being in the room or on an airplane with peanuts, would you take it lightly, try not to inconvenience someone? I hope not. 

And Delta Airlines, please change your snacks before you kill somebody. 


How I Deal With Chronic Pain

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I hurt every day of my life. I have for the last 17 years (except the last 2 trimesters of each of my pregnancies). My particular dragon to fight goes by a variety of names: Chronic Intractable Headache, Transformed Migraine, Migraine With Aura, Menstrual Migraine, Migraine Without Aura, and a few others. The particular manifestation shifts at times, but it’s always a headache. The list of treatments I have tried is as long as my arm. Nothing takes it away. Every new practitioner is convinced that THEY have the answer and it’s really so simple. But it’s never quite so simple. 

I say this not to gain pity, but it’s my reality and someone might find my story helpful. 

So what do I do when I wake up hurting every day knowing that the pain will likely grow as the day progresses? Knowing that tomorrow will likely be just as bad if not worse? 

I suppose that sounds rather negative. I think it’s not; it’s facing the ugly truth of reality. As the Bible says in Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I can hope and hope, but after several years of deferred hope I got rather “sick” of it and decided to go with reality instead. The truth sets free. Yes, a miracle could happen, but it hasn’t yet, and I have to go on and live life.

I am inspired by my Grandmother who suffered from migraines, debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, and finally ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease); I don’t remember ever hearing her complain. She went shopping on her knotty feet, created Christmases that were unforgettable, expressed her unbelievable love for her grandkids, and generally squeezed every positive moment she could out of her painful life. 

There are things I cannot do. Flashing lights are bad. Loud noise is bad. Exercise is painful. I taught 1 kid to ride a bike and all the running-behind-the-bike triggered a multi-day flare up and put me in bed. So I try not to do things that are going to increase the pain. The day I took the kids skating with a homeschool group and got an aura (the flashing lights only I can see that occasionally alert me that a bad one is coming) in the car on the way there, I had to call in backup because the loud music and flashing lights were just going to compound the pain. The day I woke up on vacation fully intending to go skiing with the family but instead lost my breakfast and lunch and everything else I tried because of a migraine, I had to accommodate. Me barfing on the ski slope would be a memorable family experience, but not one I wanted to create. 

But there are things I CAN do. If I’m going to hurt anyway, I might as well be adding something positive to the pain. Do I WANT to get out of bed? Usually not. Does it help to stay in bed? Only about twice a year. Do I end the day saying “I wish I had just stayed in bed?” Never. Do I feel great throughout the day? No. Do I want to crawl in a hole and pull it in after me? Absolutely. Do I feel good at the end of the day that I actually got some stuff done? Yes. Was the stuff I got done as much as I wanted? Often not. 

Sometimes I have to put the goals really low. Sometimes my goals have to be really short-term. “In the next 10 minutes I’m going to load the dishwasher instead of griping at everyone because I hurt” or “I am going to get through dinner without busting out in tears” or “I’m going to church today with a smile on my face and there I’ll spend time with my Father and worship Him along with my spiritual family.” I have made the decision that I want to get all I can out of life. I will add positive to the pain. Some days are better. Some are worse. I try not to borrow trouble or hope from tomorrow. Today is enough. 

Sometimes, though, I do choose to do big things. I chose to have 5 children. I choose to educate them at home with the best possible education. I direct the music and children & youth departments at church. I travel to Africa with my husband. I bite off more than I can safely chew and then I chew away. Often I surprise myself by what I can do when I have decided I will do it. 

The other decision I have to make is how to present myself to those around me. I have consciously decided that I don’t want to be thought of as “the headache woman.” I talk about it to my family so they know what’s going on, and sometimes, honestly, just to vent. I rarely talk to others about it unless I think it can help them or if I have to explain my behavior. When I am in a loud place and have to wear earplugs or if I am wearing sunglasses inside I might say something. But I have chosen to be a women who has a lot of things going on and oh yeah, I think she has headaches.

How is this working out for me? Quite well, actually. I have a life; I have a busy, fulfilling, contributing-positive-to-the-world life. I have friends. My family is cared for and loved. Is life perfect? No way. Is it better than it could be if I made different, less-positive choices every day? Oh yeah. 

So if you have chronic pain in your life, whether physical or emotional, add something positive to it. Add several things positive to it. Determine that you will get as much out of life as you can in spite of the hand you’ve been dealt. Because it sure is better than crawling in a hole and pulling it in after you. 


The Process of Perfection 

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One of our children was quite unhappy with how they were doing in quiz practice. I, however, can remember where this same kid was 2 years ago and the progress they have made in memorizing, quoting, interrupting questions, answering questions, just everything. So I am quite happy and pleased with how they are doing. If I gave you details, you would definitely be impressed too. They, being a kid, can’t really remember what 2 years ago was like and it seems totally irrelevant to right now. They want progress quickly. Perfection. NOW!
I guess God probably feels the same way about us. He sees the mighty-long-way He’s brought us and says, “Look where you used to be and how far you’ve come! Look at all that progress! Look what I’ve done for you!” But we don’t want to hear it because we too want progress quickly. NOW! Perfection! STAT! 
So I’m taking a moment tonight to consider where He’s brought me from and brought me to. And I’m vowing again to trust Him when He says He’s in control of my path, and I’m promising to continue to let Him keep bringing me along, mistakes, failures, goof-ups, and all.