Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Mystery of the Girl in Blue


 

Ghosts of the past

Recently I visited my hometown, the first one, the one Kahtar lives in.  Willoughby's an idyllic place with art galleries and coffee shops. Very small town America. It was nothing like that when I lived there, full of tattoo parlors and biker bars before any of that was cool. I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast during my recent visit so I could walk everywhere. I bought myself a gnome and a meteorite from local shops and every day I wrote and drank too much chai at a funky coffee shop that used to be the hardware store.

Willoughby when I was a kid was practically designed to produce writers. You couldn't go very far without tripping over stories and even now the shadows of them remain. I visited Squires Castle, because despite my hometown being in Ohio, it has a castle. 

The small hills around our house had so many railroad tracks that even now a train whistle makes me nostalgic. In the woods off my backyard were the remains of an old cabin where I discovered a wagon wheel and dolls floating inside an old well. Before Indiana Jones was a thing I was digging up rocks and china doll treasures. A narrow river wound nearby, its banks were covered in purple and white flowers in spring and lilies in summer. A long fence separated our yard from a park and in the summer when I was a kid our pet monkey would sit on it. 

The house is gone now, a parking lot for the park, but I could still see ghosts of memories that have inspired me for years. 

My grandmother is buried in the Willoughby cemetery, and I took her  flowers and wondered what she'd make of the current pandemic. She was a little girl during the Spanish Flu and since I grew up with her I can tell you that she took flu season very seriously. I miss her and I'm lucky she let me be the free-range kid I needed to be.

The Girl in Blue 

As a kid I never once tried to climb between train cars, or run over the tracks to beat an approaching train. I didn't even need my grandmother to remind me not to. (She did though.) There were plenty of stories about people who got too close to trains and stories, unlike mathematics, stick in my brain. 

One of the most heart-breaking local legends was about The Girl in Blue. That's how we referred to her. In mental caps. The Girl in Blue is a hauntingly tragic story. Her tombstone reads:


In Memory
of the
GIRL IN BLUE
killed by a train
December 24, 1933

Mysteries and Memories

Growing up that's all we knew about The Girl in Blue. All we knew was that she wore a navy blue skirt and shoes, a scarf, a blue wool overcoat, and a dark blue hat. No one knew why she arrived in Willoughby off a Greyhound bus, not her name or her business in town, or even if she knew someone there. All we knew was that she got hit by a train and died long ago on Christmas Eve in 1933. 

The town, taken by the tragedy of the young woman, who despite having been hit by a train suffered no visible wounds or blood loss, buried her in the town cemetery in a donated plot. 
The Girl in Blue story haunted me. No one knew if she planned to jump in front of the train or what had happened. Local legend said that the train engineer saw her, saw a blur of blue, saw her stop running far too close to the train. They say he made eye contact and she looked terrified.

Growing up I couldn't find anything more about her. By then she'd passed from living memory into small town urban legend. In the 70's and 80's there were no books about her, no internet, no way to find out more about The Girl in Blue.

In the coming years when I had access to those things in other places, I'd remember and try to hunt for answers. I wasn't the only one because part of the mystery of The Girl in Blue eventually got solved.

Google made the World Smaller

Despite new information, there are still unanswered questions about The Girl in Blue, though we now know her name was Sophie. When I read the details unearthed by the newspaper article, I realized that she was from a town not so very far away from where I live now. We don't have a castle here, but we have fossils, waterfalls, and an occasional old headstone covered in leaves in the woods in our own backyards.

Do you ever find yourself bumping into the same story over time? Asking yourself the same questions again and again? I'm kind of hard-wired to dig for endings when it comes to stories. You don't grow up in a house with a monkey without having questions. 

One thing that life/death/this pandemic has taught me is that life can change in an instant. People can disappear on us. Sometimes they leave behind a story, and sometimes you never know more than fragments of it. 





Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Saving Your Wedding Dress for Years——Why?

Don't you look fashionable? It doesn't last.

Today I threw my wedding dress into the washing machine, followed by the dryer. When I got married in the 80's it was a big thing to preserve your dress. I can't remember why. It was going to be historically significant like all the other gowns from the 80's. It cost almost as much as the gown itself to have a Dry Cleaner put it into a magical box with a clear plastic window so you could admire it into old age. 

This is how it went down

Over the past almost forty-years I've been dragging that giant box around the country. In Boston it took up half my closet. I never looked at it other than to shove it into a moving truck. After a couple moves in Texas, and a couple kids, I did allow my preschoolers to look through the viewing window. The dress had turned yellowish. That was highly annoying because I'd been allowing it to take up air-conditioned space in closets. 

After that it came out of the box. It took up less room in a dress bag. But I continued to haul it into moving trucks and around the country to new states and new closets.

Somehow Massive Amounts of Time Continued to Pass

My daughter got engaged this year and picked out a gorgeous wedding dress. Afterwards I fished my old wedding dress out of a closet—not to compare or for any nostalgic reason. We got invited to a five year old's Prince and Princess party and needed costumes. 

"You can wear this," I said to my daughter. I'd already chosen an old New Year's Eve dress for myself. Red. Sequined. It went perfect with my horned Viking hat with blonde braids. Viking Princesses are in. My Fashion Icon Status is maintained. 

My daughter gamely tried on my old dress and stood in front of a full-length mirror. That's when she started to giggle. "What were you thinking?" she said, "Puffed sleeves? Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie?" Then quickly recovering she tried this, "I'm sure it was beautiful at the time, Mom. You were so skinny, does it even button on me?" (Yes, that worked by the way, and it was Little House on the Prairie for the record. Not the TV series, the books. Cooler, yes?)  

Also those silk buttons are still in fashion AND my Mother-in-law was pretty scandalized about all my cleavage. (That dress went up to my chin but the fabric was almost sheer. It was obvious I had boobs—which was frowned upon outside of Music Videos in the 80's.) 

Fortunately Now Time Has Slowed Down



My daughter or any brides in the here and now don't need to worry about their dresses turning yellow or going out of style. I don't think they preserve them anymore anyway. When I asked friends from my time if they still had their old wedding dresses, most had gotten sick of storing them and donated them. One gave hers to get bloodied in a school play about a Vampire Bride. 

After mine came out of the washer and dryer today—which it came through beautifully by the way—it went back into the closet for when the five year old is tall enough to play with it. Probably next year. Turns out I'm not nearly as tall as I thought I was. Either that or I'm shrinking on top of morphing into a Fashion Don't. 


Monday, February 28, 2022

Coffee or Tea? Nescafe or Chai?

 

Coffee is better with a view


It's still snowy blowy winter here and my house in encased in acres of what appears to be glaciers at the moment. While I like to imagine that I'm enjoying a nice café latte seaside, mostly I'm wrapped in a plaid blanket, wearing extra thick socks, and sitting right beside a space heater while I have my morning coffee.

Thing is, I kind of hate coffee

The reason I'm drinking it is that I'm currently trying to break my chai latte habit so I still fit into coach seating come spring. One chai latte wouldn't be a problem, but I also love iced-chai. That wouldn't be a problem either especially since I switched to almond milk but I like a venti-size while I'm writing. And when I'm reading. I like it when I'm driving. Or in the book store. The problem is more. I just like more. With a book. When I cook. I like it here or there. I like it anywhere. 

Barnes & Noble makes excellent chai

Starbucks at the Athens Airport makes excellent chai
Heck, I make excellent chai!


I had to be stopped

Realizing all the hiking and working out came to little with my sugar habit I dug through my drawer of herbal teas for an alternative. I came across sample tubes and a couple tins of Nescafe coffee that I picked up in Athens last September. Despite not normally liking coffee, I tend to drink it when I'm in Greece. Plus it doubled as a souvenir for Hubby. He's all about the coffee but didn't like it so stealing it back was fair.


Am I right about coffee with a view?

Outside of Athens, when I get to the tiny island I love to write at every summer, chai latte is hard to come by. Besides sitting at a café beside the Aegean Sea I suddenly like coffee. That's mostly because when I'm in Greece I pretty much like everything. I especially like the little design swirled into the top of my drink. I like to sit at an outside table with a cup. It reminds me how the only time I ever saw my grandmother not moving was when she sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Only, if I'm going to drink it my preference is a side of sparkling water and olives to get that coffee taste out of my mouth.

It's not so nostalgic when I'm huddled over the space heater but I'm up to an entire half a cup of Nescafe coffee every morning (mixed with about a quarter cup of steamed milk). It's like a Hollywood production making my half cup of coffee and while I don't like it, I don't hate it either. 

The view is meh and so is the drink but caffeine...

Yes, I miss my chai, and yes, I occasionally make myself one, but mostly I have coffee. Thanks to that coffee I think I'm well on my way to a roomier coach seat. Well, thanks to my boring coffee AND the stairmaster, but that killer beast piece of exercise equipment is a whole other necessary change. 






Monday, February 7, 2022

Learning to Speak Greek with Duolingo

My favorite port in Greece

Here I am at an age when I really don't even want to say the number out loud and I'm finally learning a second language. I've been working at it for several years now. First I used the conversational language program called Pimsleur. I have it on audiobook and on discs for my old Jeep. For years instead of the radio when I'm driving I've been practicing basic Greek words. Kali-mera (Good morning). Catalaveno Hellenika (I understand Greek). Then Catalaveno Hellinka (I don't understand Greek). But I just wasn't really getting it. At some point I realized that the biggest problem was I often wasn't certain of the sounds. Was that a da? A tha? A thda?

All along I thought I'd never be able to learn to READ Greek. Speaking at some four-year-old conversational level was my goal. I wanted to be able to get in a taxi and ask for the port (limani) or the airport (aerodromio). My expectations weren't high. Friends told me to pick another language, something easier, something that I'd actually use. Yet Greece is my favorite country to visit. It's the language I want to learn.

Last year I downloaded the Duolingo app onto my phone. You have to learn to read the language you study on Duolingo. I'd taught myself the Greek Alphabet. It's a whole new alphabet. You know, alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lamda, mu, nu, xi, OMICRON... We all know that one. There are twenty-four letters, capitals and lowercase. I vaguely remembered some of them from my days in engineering. Though I've never really learned another language, I know shorthand, so sounds in a different format isn't an entirely foreign concept. Plus I've been stuffing Greek words forcibly into my brain with Pimsleur for years. 

Greek Alphabet

After a couple months I began to really remember words. I recognize a lot of them from Pimseleur. I see the variations of similar words. I'm not GOOD, but I'm determined and I am improving. Right now it feels more like I'm learning to read the language verses speaking it, but maybe there will come a day when it will click? 

There's a free version of Duolingo, but I pay for the upgrade. I don't see how you'd get far on the app if you didn't. It's a bit of a game, something that I'm not much interested in. What I like is that it's handy to have on my phone. It switches between me translating a sentence from English to Greek or Greek to English. I have a Greek keyboard on my phone so I can write out Greek sentences in the language (unlike my loosely translated words above). You can also time and test yourself. Mostly what I like is that I am making progress and Greek makes far more sense to me when I can see it. 

I like chai latte in any language

Now I also watch movies or shows in Greek (with English subtitles). What I'm working on on the side is trying understand the words by hearing them verses seeing them. That's always the hardest part. I learned sign language long ago and while I could sign what I wanted to say, understanding someone's signing to me was the extremely difficult part. So I know it's a process every step of the way to learn a new language. I know it'll take more than Pimsleur, Duolingo, Greek television, and a month or so in Greece every year to make progress. Still, I'm making some slow progress and the daily repetition on Duolingo helps me remember it. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

My Dizzy Dizzy Life—Part Three

 



On the other side of chronic vertigo


After twenty years of vertigo I'm trying to adjust to life through a new lens. It's straighter. I've noticed that in my photographs over the past many years, that I always have my head tilted slightly. Apparently I was trying to physically help my off-balance brain see straighter. Since completing BPPV therapy with a Doctor who specializes in VRT, Vestibular Rehab Therapy, I've tried to stop doing that. I've automatically stopped shuffling my feet like I've done for years, possibly decades. When I walk down the hallway, I don't have to run my hands over the wall. In the bathroom in the dark I still occasionally touch the counter, touch the door, touch the wall, centering myself. Now, it's more of a habit than a necessity. I'm just making sure.

When standing off-balance I'd never keep my feet close together, instead keeping them far apart. The better to spread out my center of gravity and keep my balance. It didn't stick out as much as occasionally staggering when you're simply standing in place. My brain had learned well that gravity isn't to be trusted and neither is my vestibular system. I've completed weeks of exercises to encourage my brain to trust it. I don't think it's entirely on board. Maybe if you tease your brain for twenty years, you lose credibility. 

At this point though I've graduated from my VRT rehab, I'm still working on physical therapy exercises to teach myself it's okay to turn my head suddenly. It still doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel safe. I keep testing myself, and will turn my head suddenly trying to catch the world wobbling. So far it hasn't wobbled. I know it might, I know that my BPPV can and probably will come back. I also know what to do if it does. It helps that I also know that if it's really bad, that I can call my VRT specialist doctor and she'll help. At least once though, when a bit of vertigo kicked up, I righted it myself. It felt incredible to know how to do that.

What a crazy mad skill to have


Something else I learned is that you don't want to do an Epley Maneuver every day, "just in case". That can mess everything up. Especially since I have it in both ears. There's a science to keeping loose crystals in check. As my VRT doctor said to me many times, trust the process. She also encourages me to push my comfort zone now, to turn my head just because, to quickly look up and down. My goal is (this is nuts and I'm aware of that) to roll down a grassy hill with my favorite four-year-old next summer. I did it once last summer while still living with chronic vertigo. In a fit of half-madness I thought I'm not letting vertigo control my life! So I rolled down a little hill with Four. 

Holy effing tornadoes in my brain I think I may have rolled into another dimension 


When we stopped rolling at the bottom of the hill, my brain was still going round and round. Four was chatting away and onto the next game while I was 100% sure that my entire brain had come loose and that maybe my whole vertigo problem all along was that my brain wasn't attached properly like everyone else's. Maybe it literally does just float and bob in my head like I long suspected. I bribed her with whatever TV show she wanted to watch so we could go inside and I could sit and not move my head. 

Still, I want to try it again someday. I'm feeling much more grounded but today is not the rolling down the hill day. I'm still at the part where I sit, focusing on something across the room, stand and spin, and refocus on the same spot, before sitting and doing it again and again. It's something I try to do faster and faster. There are other exercises, but I'm getting used to them. They don't bother me. I keep my balance. It's amazing. I'm taking walks outside in the dark again, without my giant Gandalf-like walking stick! 

I'm hopeful that I'll have far more normal days than dizzy days. 


The VRT doctor told me that nothing I can do to my ears will cause BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo). I can't wait to swim underwater in the summer. It's been a long time! I've been the most cautious snorkeler for a very long time. One thing she warned me about was that flying can set it off. My annual trip to Greece is one long journey. This year it took me four days to get to the little island I go to. Yes, I did get vertigo there, and again after returning home. So I'll be apprehensive about it, but I'll go anyway. At least now I know how to diagnose which ear is affected and I can perform the Epley Maneuver on myself. If both ears are affected, that's when I video call the doctor. 

What about the migraine with aura I've had since 2001? It's still there. My eyes are light sensitive more often than they're not. There's a host of odd visual disturbances that anything from a sunny day to walking into a store with certain types of lighting can kick off. Working out or opening the oven door can change my body temperature fast enough for a migraine to start. Sound can do it. Migraines come and go. I've never been able to figure out why every time. Sometimes they just happen. My hope is that not having to live with chronic dizziness will help my sensitive migraine brain settle down. Maybe I'll get less of them. Time will tell. 

My VRT doctor told me that her theory is that migraines follow vertigo due to the strain on your brain. It's tough to maneuver the world when you're always off balance. When I started therapy she had me take a test about my dizziness. It was the first time I'd ever been asked these questions, relevant questions, questions that cover what it's really like to have vertigo. I practically cried. Finally I knew I was in the right place. The first few questions on the test were the first few things I told every single medical person I saw back in 2001, twenty years ago. At that time those remarks seemed to lead doctors to jump to the conclusion that I had depression. I didn't. As I've said time and again I had anxiety. Try living in a body that spins all the time and see if you don't get anxious. But I think it was the spinning that came first. 

Dizziness Handicap Inventory Questionnaire  (Rehabilitation Medical Clinic Info)                                                                                                                                                                      

Instructions: The purpose of this scale is to identify difficulties that you may be experiencing because of your dizziness.  Please check “always”, or “no” or “sometimes” to each question. Answer each question only as it pertains to your dizziness problem.

 

 

Questions

Always

Sometimes

No

P1

Does looking up increase your problem?

 

 

 

E2

Because of your problem, do you feel frustrated?

 

 

 

F3

Because of your problem, do you restrict your travel for business or pleasure?

 

 

 

P4

Does walking down the aisle of a supermarket increase your problem?

 

 

 

F5

Because of your problem, do you have difficulty getting into or out of bed?

 

 

 

F6

Does your problem significantly restrict your participation in social activities, such as going out to dinner, going to movies, dancing or to parties?

 

 

 

F7

Because of your problem, do you have difficulty reading?

 

 

 

F8

Does performing more ambitious activities like sports, dancing, and household chores, such as sweeping or putting dishes away; increase your problem?

 

 

 

E9

Because of your problem, are you afraid to leave your home without having someone accompany you?

 

 

 

E10

Because of your problem, have you been embarrassed in front of others?

 

 

 

P11

Do quick movements of your head increase your problem?

 

 

 

F12

Because of your problem, do you avoid heights?

 

 

 

P13

Does turning over in bed increase your problem?

 

 

 

F14

Because of your problem, is it difficult for you to do strenuous housework or yard work?

 

 

 

E15

Because of your problem, are you afraid people may think that you are intoxicated?

 

 

 

F16

Because of your problem, is it difficult for you to go for a walk by yourself?

 

 

 

P17

Does walking down a sidewalk increase your problem?

 

 

 

E18

Because of your problem, is it difficult for you to concentrate?

 

 

 

F19

Because of your problem, is it difficult for you to walk around your house in the dark?

 

 

 

E20

Because of your problem, are you afraid to stay home alone?

 

 

 

E21

Because of your problem, do you feel handicapped?

 

 

 

E22

Has your problem placed stress on your relationship with members of your family or friends?

 

 

 

E23

Because of your problem, are you depressed?

 

 

 

F24

Does your problem interfere with your job or household responsibilities?

 

 

 

P25

Does bending over increase your problem?

 

 

 



Yes, yes, yes, all of it


My goal in sharing my long vertigo story with you is to help other people with vertigo. Please keep in mind that if you have vertigo often and doctors haven't helped you, it's possible that you need a vestibular specialist. What if some of your dizzy problems can be helped? Or fixed even? I also want to share my good news in a time when good news seems so scarce. I'd like to commiserate too, on how difficult it is to find the medical help you need. Especially right now when so many people desperately need help. If you're like me and trying to endure another bout of vertigo like I've done so many times, you just might be up at night, searching on your phone, trying to figure out what the heck this chronically recurring and random spinning is! What I'd say to you is if you're not getting answers maybe it's time to ask for a referral to a doctor who specializes in VRT. Vestibular Rehab Therapy. Don't wait for answers that might help you lead a more grounded life. 

And guess what? Guess who has been going sledding at night under a full moon lately? This chick that's who. I'm putting my new and improved vestibular system to good use and it feels incredible.