Please join us for this health awareness and educational symposium presented by Lupus Colorado and the Urban League Guild of Metropolitan Denver.
I grew up on a farm in Iowa, a fact I’m sure I have mentioned a time or twelve. And despite my roots that grow from the deep, rich soil of the heartland, I’m not the best farmer. My Colorado backyard is Exhibit A. Thankfully, nature forgives—and often prevails—over the actions of the black-thumbed.
I recently spent a quiet afternoon in my backyard, where Mother Nature herself decided to speak to me. She reminded me of some things that helped me feel good, so today I’m sharing them with you.
Lesson 1: Wounds don’t impede growth.
We planted Aspen trees because of their relative non-fussiness and extreme fast-growingness (more than three feet a year!). But after they leafed out last spring, they were very top-heavy. Afraid they might break from the weight, we had the brilliant idea to tie them to the fence with twine. Now, remember how fast they grow? My parents discovered our error last fall. Removing the twine took hours, and with each revealed deep, one inch scars. We feared our beautiful Aspens wouldn’t come back this spring. But spring is here and the trees are thriving. They’re forever scarred. But they are still standing, still growing.
Our scars don’t prevent us from thriving, either.
Lessons 2 and 3: You can’t force something to grow, and life is always changing.
While shopping last October, my daughter grabbed a bag of daffodil bulbs and insisted they replace the row of tulips our dog dug up and ate earlier that summer (apparently we’re bad gardeners and bad pet parents). Being four, she wanted those flowers to grow overnight. But she soon learned that no matter how much she watered and watched over them, they would bloom in their own time.
The planting of the daffodils happened during a difficult time for our family. And the bulbs represented something we needed to cope: When the daffodils bloomed in the spring, life would be different. We couldn’t be sure those bulbs would grow, and we couldn’t be sure that life would be better. But it would certainly be different. Faith in the potential of those flowers got us through some difficult hours. Now that it’s spring, the bright and sunny blooms reminded me of how much we’ve changed and grown as a family since that fall day.
Change and growth happen in their own time.
Lesson 4: Everything leans to the sun.
When my brother-in-law’s granddad moved from upstate New York to Colorado 50+ years ago, he brought with him saplings from his lilac trees. As a housewarming gift, we received saplings from those same trees to plant in our own yard. But rather than Googling “best place to plant lilacs,” we chose to plant them in the coldest, darkest spot in our entire yard. Though they’ve grown half a dozen feet, they struggle to bloom each spring (a bummer, as aside from my family and friends, lilacs blossoms are my reason for living). Instead of growing tall, they’ve started to grow horizontally, to carve out their own space in the sun. They may be leaning—stretching way beyond the ideal—but they find the sun they need to bloom.
Growth can happen even when our circumstances are less than ideal.
Lesson 5: Without hard work, nature takes over.
When we moved in, our backyard was nothing but sod and rocks. We painstakingly moved the rocks (by hand) and added beds around the perimeter—work that thankfully we completed before I got sick. While we would never consider this project a gardening fail, it has taught us how much work a garden can be. Like the bald man with a hairy back, the lawn itself has bare spots but grass still grows strongly within those beds. Monitoring, weeding, and pruning are weekly jobs, despite the fabric weed blocker we installed.
To be what we want to be takes consistent, sometimes back-breaking, work.
Lesson 6: Nature is perfect as is.
When a petal falls off a daffodil, is it less beautiful? Are the Aspens we planted for shade less useful because of their scars? Do the lilac blooms smell any less wonderful because they are growing horizontally?
Nature is content to be what it is. I’ve never seen a tree cry or whine because it is not a blackberry bush. Kentucky bluegrass doesn’t try to make pretty purple flowers. And nothing that blooms feels the need to stand perfectly forever. Things change and things grow and it all happens in the right space and in the right time.
There’s beauty to be found wherever we are.
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Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” He may not have had my backyard in mind when he said this, but even an hour of quiet in my urban connection to nature has given me some much-needed clarity. You can bet I’ll be spending a lot of time in my yard this summer, sitting in the shade of my Aspen trees and admiring my ever-resilient lilac bushes, imaging the next project we’ll surely mess up.
1. Think of your doctor as a less hilarious version of your best friend. And at your appointment, it’s time to tell all. Sure, symptoms can be embarrassing. But your doctor knowing that you forgot your ATM pin (again) or you have a rash in a place you’d prefer not to mention could be critical to you getting the best care.
2. Speaking of your BFF, bring her with you. Or your husband or mom or your aggressive assertive next door neighbor. Having someone else listen and ask questions can mean less pressure on you.
3. Write it down. Did your doc give you new info or instructions in your appointment? Write it down. Did a new symptom pop up? Write it down. You can’t remember your ATM pin. Believe me when I say, you’re not going to remember this either.
4. Own your behavior and choices. If there are three pills left in the bottle, you did not finish that course of prednisone. Starting an exercise program tomorrow does not count as a “yes” to your doctor’s “are you getting exercise” question. Lupus requires that you take a hard look at all aspects of your life. If you feel rotten, are you getting enough rest? If you feel good, what have you been doing right?
5. Your doctor gets to decide what information is irrelevant. Lupus is super-complex. Let your doc decide which symptoms he cares about. Over the course of years (and yes, you’ll be seeing your doctor for many, many years), patterns emerge. The more you and your doc understand about your lupus, the better you’ll be able to manage your symptoms.
6. It’s on you to address your concerns. Remember, no matter how caring your doctor is, she is not thinking about your problems after your appointment. So don’t leave the office until you’re satisfied with the info you received. This is your body, and you’re the only one who lives in it. Get the answers you need to feel better.
7. Remember that lupus baffles elite medical minds. It’s okay if you’re confused, too.
Home sweet home means so much more when you find yourself confined to it. During a recent confinement of my own, I got bored and paged through my husband’s Family Handyman magazine. (It’s a hobby of mine to tear out projects I want him to do. His hobby to ignore my hobby.)
Anyway, there was an article about aging and adapting your home for comfort and safety. Since arthritis and autoimmune disease go together like peanut butter and jelly, I thought these tips could be helpful. (Don’t forget to print this list for the handy-person in your life to ignore!)
1) Replace toggle light switches with rocker switches. The big on/off plate of a rocker switch can be easier for arthritic hands—you can operate it with a finger, knuckle—even your elbow.
2) Replace cabinet knobs with handles. The writer suggests replacing small knobs with C- or D-shaped pulls for easy opening.
3) Raise your washer and dryer to save your back/knees. They suggest purchasing a pedestal that raises them by 12-15 inches (or ask your handy-person to build one—directions can be found at family-handyman.com).
4) Place convenient resting spots. If you have a lot of steps in your house or long hallways, place a bench or chair nearby (ensuring it’s not a tripping hazard!).
5) Replace doorknobs with levers. When you’ve lost dexterity in your hands, it’s far easier to push down on a lever than it is to twist a knob.
6) Considering a kitchen remodel? Think about installing such items as rollout drawers, a shallow sink, appliances with touch-pad controls, and maximize drawer storage over upper cabinetry.
7) If you ever find yourself wheelchair bound, you can widen your doorways by installing offset hinges.
8) Install “invisible” grab bars. I’m far too vain to install a traditional grab bar (I’m not even 40 yet!). But I have to admit, there have been times I could have used a little extra leverage. The article says there are many options for stylish, sturdy bars. Check out the Invisia Collection or google “designer grab bars.”
Bonus Tip! The article presented a brilliant way to help someone who doesn’t have arthritis know how it limits your mobility. Says writer Louis Tenenbaum, “Hold a tennis ball in the palm of your hand inside a sock. Now walk around and try to manipulate the switches, doorknobs, and cabinet pulls in your house.”
Do you have any tips for making your home more comfortable? Share them in a comment below.