But for Lisa’s Voice

Who Dat?!

I know.  It’s been a while.  A long while.  There’s been a whole lot of “wow” going on in my life the last two years, very little of which allowed much time for blogging, but most of it grand.

I’ve got a couple of new books in the nail biting stages of editing so stay tuned.  A new website is on the horizon, too.  Don’t give up on me yet.

I was perusing one of my old back-up hard drives, searching for ideas for something to knock the cobwebs off of this dusty, neglected blog page and came across a story that was written with wet eyes.  It still brings on the tears when I read it many years later.  I’d like to share it here with you.

And don’t count this old fella out yet.  The dust covers have been pulled off of the presses at Danby Mountain Press.  Not to mention that I married a nurse so I can not get my Geritol intravenously now.

 

       But for Lisa’s Voice

©Brian Greenleaf 2007-2019

The florid, changing leaves; those still clinging to the near barren trees along the sloping path, lacked their usual, flamboyant, appeal.

The breathtaking collage of gold and red, gently spiraling to the thick, panoramic carpet covering the ground, seemed monochromatic in comparison to the exhilaration their beauty used to bring him.  A few days of late fall wind would take away the leaves, but not the memories.

The prospect of the snowy nights soon to come, Thanksgiving, and having all the kids together again under one roof; the only time they all seemed to be able to gather together anymore, bore a foreboding connotation this year.  The euphoric sense of peace and comfort that always enveloped him at the thought of seeing his three children and five grandchildren was absent.

As he walked, his mind wandered back to the Thanksgiving before.  The now deathly silent house had been, only a year before, transformed into a cacophony of lively, cheerful conversations as well as a few slightly heated debates, sibling rivalries, wafting together from different rooms.  The echo’s resonating of the giggling and gleeful screams of sugar rushed children playing and calling for “Grandpa to “watch me,” brought him no pleasure tonight.   His mouth no longer watered, as it once had, as he vividly recalled the tantalizing flavors and the unforgettable smells of the sumptuous desserts and all the Thanksgiving accouterments baking in the kitchen.  Now they only haunted him.

A single tear streamed down his ruddy cheek, unchecked.  It was just another of the so very many that moistened his unshaven face every time his thoughts turned to her.  A brisk wind whistling through the swaying trees dried the lone tear; but did nothing to ease the anguish that reached to his very soul.

His youngest daughter, Katie, although she now went by Katherine, except to him, (she would always be his Katie), called at least once a day to fill him in on the daily events in his grandsons’ lives.  He enjoyed the calls immensely, although they were always too short, but found himself feeling emptier still as he hung up.

Katie and her husband, Ron, moved to Montana, of all places, to follow his dream of fame and fortune in the real estate market.  Truth be told, Ron couldn’t sell toilet paper in a diarrhea ward.  Ron was now one of those stay at home Dad’s, as Katie called him, (the big “L” flashed across his mind) but Katie loved him, and that would have to do.

David, his oldest, called from time to time, but the same strained relationship they’d always maintained seemed to permeate every conversation.  Their talks were almost formal in content, lacking only the sales pitch to make them seem like a telemarketing call.  Harry Chapin singing, Cats in the Cradle scratched invisible fingernails down a chalkboard somewhere deep in his mind.

His workaholic ways had built an empire; but the emperor lost his son.  The added guilt further compounded his suffering, and the tears began to flow anew.

Roughly wiping his moistened cheek with the back of his cold hand, his thoughts turned to Deb, his middle, and most “interesting”, child.  He concentrated hard, both in an attempt to remember their last conversation, and to relieve the guilt laden thoughts of his relationship with David, still stinging, as they splayed forth from the wide opened pages of the mental book he kept of his life and times.

Deb, the “middle” child, was her mother incarnate; a beautiful girl, tall and slender, with long brown hair, piercing blue eyes and a quick smile that almost always worked on him as her “get out of jail free” ticket when she’d managed, almost daily in her teen years, to get herself into mischief.   More to her credit, Deb was a free spirit, unmatched by any he had ever encountered, (also inherited from her mother).

Deb was a dedicated and gifted artist whose work had been earning her awards and accolades since junior-high school. It was only a small surprise when she came to him, after graduating college, to tell him she was moving to Paris

He remembered, thoughtfully, how they’d talked long into the night; he, pleading with her, trying to talk her out of it.  Deb was having none of it.  He’d argued his side with the diligence of a seasoned barrister, feeling certain that she would surely starve, be murdered or, worse, marry one of the myriad of bums most people associated with “starving artists” that slept on the Paris streets, suffering for their art.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Deb may have been her mother incarnate, but she had a little of the old man in her.  Deb thrived in Paris.  While she still painted well enough to be commissioned on occasion, her passion turned to photography.  There was rarely an occasion, as he perused the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble, or anywhere, for that matter, that he didn’t see one of Deb’s photos gracing at least one magazine cover.  It always made his chest swell with pride.

Deb returned home from Paris after a few years, well established as an artist, and now lived in New York.  She, too, called regularly and, as much as he hated to admit it, he enjoyed her calls most of all.  Deb was a natural comedian.  She could make him laugh; something he rarely did anymore.

It wasn’t that he’d ever played favorites with his children; unless you were to ask David about it after he’d had a few too many beers; but talking to Deb was almost like talking to Lisa.

Lisa.

He swayed slightly, a sudden, all too familiar, dizziness washed over him.  He sat down hard on a felled tree; his shaking legs threatening to fail him.  In a fleeting instant, he tried to change his thought processes, thinking with a brief smile at his expense, that at least there were plenty of leaves to cushion his fall if his legs actually give out; but to no avail.  Lisa’s face played like a kaleidoscope before his eyes; her smile flashing over and over as if he were trapped in an all-night movie theatre where the movie never changed.  His entire frame shuddered in his grief.  Salty tears came in a wash of emotion he thought he could no longer muster.  He made no attempt to wipe them away.  They were cleansing, in a way. At least that’s what the doctor told him.  She said that grieving was healthy, and prescribed some pills to help him deal with his grief; pills he refused to take.

“Real men don’t need pills to solve their problems!” he’d told the doctor in no uncertain terms.  He’d gotten this far without them, and he wasn’t about to start now.

He was unaware of how long he’d sat there with Lisa’s angelic face replaying before his eyes.  He’d been oblivious to the world around him.  The sun’s shift to the west, as well as the mounting chill, gave the impression it had been one of his longer spells.

Will this damn pain ever go away?!”  He was screaming inside his head against the injustice life had dealt him, teeth grinding, knowing deep down in the depths of his shattered heart that the pain would never go away.

After a short time, he felt some degree of control returning.  He stood, slowly, and took stock of all his faculties before starting back toward the house.

He and Lisa had made the same walk almost every night since they’d bought the place, especially when it snowed, with ease; reveling in each others company and the successes and good fortune they’d achieved in their thirty years together.

Tonight, however, the distance to the house seemed insurmountable.  He felt tired; a deep rooted, all numbing, tired as he’d never experienced before.  A bottomless sense of dread encompassed him; an ill feeling that even his very bone marrow had ceased to make the cells necessary to sustain him.

Grudgingly, and with great effort, he put one foot in front of the other and, feeling as if his fifty years were now multiplied ten fold, made his way toward the house.

The house that Lisa built, he thought, remorsefully.

His mind wandered back to when they’d first looked at it.  The place had been a wreck; long since abandoned, and longer still without repair.  The only positive thing that could be said to its’ benefit had been the twenty-acre apple orchard, long untended, and the panoramic view of the mountains.

He remembered standing on the crumbling front stoop, listening to that bullshit artist realtor speaking out of both sides of his mouth; schmoozing them with assurances that the house was a rock solid diamond in the rough, with its five “spacious” bedrooms and, he smiled, remembering the incredulous claim; indoor plumbing!  It was nineteen-seventy-eight, for Christ sake!  With the exception of a few places in the Ozarks, indoor plumbing wasn’t much of a selling point; it was a birth right.

Lisa was sold immediately.

“This beautiful old house has been sitting here abandoned for so long because it was waiting for us to find it!” She’d proclaimed, jubilantly.

Where Lisa saw limitless potential, he saw years of roof repairs, plumbing and electrical upgrades and a host of other nightmares that didn’t, at the time, immediately present themselves.  The “to do” list would be endless; not to mention expensive.

After some long debate, he’d convinced Lisa to go home and sleep on it, but that had only delayed the inevitable.  For every reason he had to run screaming from the house and never look back, Lisa had three reasons why they should call the realtor back that very instant before someone else stole their dream house out from under them.

He’d always fancied himself someone who thought everything through rationally, invoking reason and fact to reach a decision.  Lisa, on the other hand, thought with her heart.  Doing battle with Lisa’s mammoth heart, not to mention her stubborn side, was like a dullard going to a battle of the wits.  He had been unarmed.

They rarely argued, per se.  As in every marriage, they had situations, usually concerning the kids, where they disagreed.  More often than not, common sense, and the mutual respect they shared, mediated their problems; eventually turning mountains into mole hills.  He laughed, a soft knowing laugh, as he remembered that Lisa’s ace in the hole had been when she’d come to the bedroom from the shower, rubbing her bulging stomach, (David), and flashing those beautiful blue eyes.

“With the way this little guy’s kicking, he’s going to need lots of room to run, Daddy!”

They signed the contract the very next morning.  David decided to start his running career as the movers were placing the last box in the dilapidated foyer.

“And what a transformation you made, Lisa!” He croaked aloud as he reached the house and opened the door, stepping into the veritable showplace she’d created.

Methodically, he hung his jacket on the hook and began his nightly post-walk ritual, not long ago modified to accommodate a party of one.

He reached, without looking, into the freezer and pulled one of the many frozen dinners from the frosted shelf.  The contents didn’t matter.  The dinner would only serve to take the edge off his growling stomach.  Food had pretty much lost all flavor of late.

Placing the frozen block in the microwave, and pressing the requisite buttons by rote, he moved to the center island and reached blindly into the cabinet below.

Pulling the near empty fifth of bourbon to the granite counter, he bent further to make certain he had more in reserve.  Seeing only two remaining fifths, well hidden from prying eyes, he made a mental note to restock the next time he went into town.

Never much of a drinker, he remembered the kids taking dusty, unopened bottles of various and sundry liquors home with them after they helped clean up after the funeral.  Most had been there for years; left over Christmas gifts from clients and a few from odd raffle winnings, etc.  He told the kids to help themselves, but for some inexplicable reason, asked that they leave the bourbon.

Filling a generous sized glass, he raised it, shakily, and made his nightly, heart rendering, toast to Lisa.  The amber liquid brought on the only peace of mind he seemed able to find anymore.

“If only you could speak to me, Lisa.  Let me know you’re OK.  I love you so very much.  I don’t know how much longer I can be here without you.  It’s just… too…. Hard!”

He silently admonished himself for weeping as he spoke, feeling the need to be strong when he spoke to her.  He finished his short vigil as the annoying beeps emanating from the microwave alerted him that his dinner was ready.

He reached for a new bottle from under the counter, refilled his glass and retrieved his dinner, a fork and his rejuvenated glass, then headed for the den to eat and watch the evening news.

The ringing phone startled him from a fitful sleep.  Reaching blindly for the handset, he knocked over the now empty bourbon glass and sent the untouched dinner sliding to the precipice of the coffee table.  It teetered precariously, almost spilling to the floor.  He pulled it back as he answered.

“Hello”, he murmured, his voice gravelly from sleep and the bourbon.

“Were you sleeping, Dad?”  It was Katie.

“Not really, Punkin, just dozed off in front of the boob tube.  What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing much.  I just wanted to call and say hello.  Stevie had a football game tonight.  I’ve got court in the morning.  Ron took the kids to the game so I could get some work done, but I was feeling a little guilty about not being there.  I’m going over to see if I can catch the last quarter.”

A brief, sad, memory of all the games and dance recitals he’d missed over the years flashed through his mind.  Important moments missed in the name of success.  He silently chastised himself again.

“Are you OK, Dad?” Katie questioned, concern evident in her voice.

“Fine, Sweetheart.  And how’s Michael?”

“Full of piss and vinegar, same as always.  I’m going to need a separate filing cabinet for all the notes I’m sure to get from his teacher this year.  I wish I could bottle all his energy and sell it.”

“He’s all boy, that one!” he replied, rather monotone.

“You sound tired, Dad.  Have you been sleeping OK?”

“Yes Mom!” He replied, a slight hint of humor in his tone.  “I’m just a little tired.  I took a walk up the trail tonight before dinner.  I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“Aw Dad!  I only hope to be in the great shape you’re in when I’m eighty-seven!” She laughed at the timeless joke they shared.

“You’re not too old to take over my knee there, Young Lady!” he teased.

“Be kinda hard to catch me in that wheelchair, Old Man!”

“I get no respect!” his laugh a little more evident.

“Aw, you know I love you, Dad.  Listen, I’m pulling up to the field now.  I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Ok Honey.  Kiss the kids for me.”

“Will do, Daddy.  Love you.”

“I love you, too, Baby.  Bye.”

He replaced the handset softly and stared around the empty room.  At a loss for what to do next, he set about clearing the remnants of his untouched dinner from the coffee table and brought it to the kitchen.

He, once again, refilled his glass and started for his office to try and do some work.  As an afterthought, he took the bourbon along with him, rationalizing that it would save him a trip should the need arise for another refill.

As he sat at his desk, he was immediately met by the smiling face of Lisa, staring at him from the ornate frame beside his monitor.  It was his favorite picture of her, taken before the breast cancer had started eating away at the very core of the once vibrant, energetic woman smiling back at him.

He and Lisa had taken a spur of the moment vacation to the beach two years ago.  It was her idea, and she sprang it on him, rather abruptly, claiming that he had been working too hard and, frankly, spending too little time with her.

As was usually the case when anything threatened to disrupt his unbending work ethic, he tried to get out of it by claiming that he was too busy to take any time off.  As he always did in these situations, he made his usual promise to take her on vacation “soon”.

Lisa was having none of it.  “It’s your company, you’re the boss, and you can take off whenever you damn well please; and Mister, if you don’t say yes, things are going to get mighty chilly around here, comprende?”

In her usual, wily way, Lisa won out.

It had been the best time they’d ever had.

Every minute detail of the trip was etched permanently in the deepest recesses of his mind; a permanent reminder of better days.

They had hardly closed the door behind them in their hotel room when Lisa retreated to the bathroom and emerged in a flash, dressed in the most stunning red bathing suit he’d ever seen.  The effects of age and the changes usually evidenced from the birth of three children never visited Lisa.  She radiated health and an inner and outer beauty that no photograph could ever capture.

He, too, changed quickly and, like two mischievous children free of their parent’s watchful eye, they ran and frolicked on the beach all day.

Later, they walked along the shore, far from the throng of sun worshipers, talking, laughing, kissing; discussing everything and nothing at all.

Further down, in a moment of unbridled passion, they made love in a small cove as the tepid waves of high tide washed over them, threatening to sweep them out to sea.  For a brief moment in time, it was only they two, and life was perfect.

Afterward, they lay silently in the sand, wrapped in each other’s arms, watching the stars, reveling in the intimacy they’d just shared.  An intimacy that had grown and blossomed over thirty years into something so strong, time, nor tide could ever diminish it.  They promised then and there, with the stars and rising full moon as their witness, to share that love into eternity.

There had been only one down side to the entire vacation, but even that had been only slightly less pleasant.

Having spent the entire day in the broiling sun, both had suffered the wrath.

After returning to the room, all thoughts of further lovemaking, or keeping their dinner reservations at the cozy Italian restaurant the concierge had recommended, were replaced by mutual massages of sunburn ointment and cold compresses.  Again, like children, they laughed and played as they tended to each other, ordered room service, and cried together over, ironically, a rerun of, From Here to Eternity.

Later, during some last minute pillow talk in their moonlit room with the soothing sounds of the roaring sea lulling them to sleep, Lisa whispered softly in his ear,  “It was Kismet that From Here to Eternity aired tonight”, then kissed him longingly and finished the though.   “Our life together has been a beautiful merry-go-round ride.  We’ve grabbed nothing but brass rings, David.  I never want this ride to end”, as she drifted off in his arms into peaceful, exhausted sleep.

The next afternoon, heavily slathered in sun block, they visited some of the local shops and had a leisurely lunch before opting for the relative safety of the hotel pool and lounge chairs on the deck overlooking the sea.  Later, as the sun began to set, with the beach as a background and the memories of the day before still fresh, he took that picture of the only woman he had ever, or could ever, love forever.  The picture maintained its place of honor, never more than a turn of his head away from him, ever since.

The tears came again; slowly at first, before giving way to overwhelming grief, rabidly overpowering every fiber of his being, threatening in its intensity to drive him mad.

“Lisa!….  Lisa!…  I can’t do it!  I tried; I really tried!  I can’t live without you!  I’m just not that strong!”  His tormented screams echoed throughout the empty house, reverberating off the walls and returning in eerie, demonic voices to haunt him further.

Spasmodic sobs wracked his frame.

Seconds turned to minutes as his overwhelming grief poured from him in waves.  He could find no solace; no branch to grab to keep him from being washed away in the raging river of pain.  His usual logic and rational thinking failed to defuse the time bomb ticking in his head, threatening to explode and send him tumbling over the abyss into insanity.

“Why her, God!”  Why her!”  What could that beautiful woman have possibly done to deserve the vile and cruel curse you put on her!”

He found himself shaking his fist toward the heavens, screaming at God for answers; angrier than he had ever been in his entire life.  Venom spewed from every pour; obscenities flying like scraps of paper in a windstorm.

He sprang from his chair, toppling it back against his filing cabinet, and began pacing around the room, ranting, almost incoherently, pleading with anyone and everyone; offering everything he had just to hear her beautiful voice one more time.  “Help me, Lisa!  Tell me you’re OK!  Tell me what to do!  Help me, please!”

Like a madman, he grabbed the bourbon bottle from the desk and turned it up, the searing liquid no longer offering any warmth to his numb throat.  He finished half the remaining contents then smashed the bottle against the wall.

Throwing open the door, he staggered to the bathroom and retrieved the prescription tranquilizers he told the doctor he’d never take; then returned to the kitchen for the remaining bottle of bourbon.

“Forgive me Lisa, but I can’t do this.  I can’t live without you any longer.  God knows I tried, but I can’t do it!  I miss you to much!”

He was incoherent.  His ravings became disjointed.  His chest raking sobs and the effects of the alcohol turned his insipid mutterings to primal grunts.

With his screams now at a fever pitch, he didn’t hear the phone ringing atop the desk.  His diatribe continued as his shaking hands fumbled with the top of the pill bottle; the ringing continued unnoticed.

On the fifth ring, the answering machine activated with a loud beep, momentarily penetrating his tirade.

Lisa’s cheery, mellifluous voice chimed a greeting to the caller:

“Hi, you’ve reached David and Lisa.  We’re probably taking a walk, or plotting to overtake the government of some small third world country, so leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.  Have a great day!  BEEP!”

“Dad, you really need to change that answering machine message.  It kinda creeps me out.  Listen, Stevie scored two touchdowns tonight.  He’s anxious to tell you about it.  If you get home before his bedtime, give him a call.  You know he’s dying to fill you in on the details.  Talk to you later.  I love you.  Bye.”  It was Katie.

As if he’d hit a brick wall, all time stopped.  Unconsciously, he released the still unopened pill bottle.  It clattered unceremoniously to the floor and rolled away, unable to fulfill the dire task it had been retrieved for only minutes before.

Shaking off some of the cloudiness filling his head, and returning to some semblance of the here and now, he mustered the wherewithal to set the new bourbon bottle on the hall table and stood, statuesque; allowing some modicum of calm to creep over him.

Reality began to take control as the unthinkable, desperate thoughts he’d harbored only seconds before turned to fresh memories of Stevie in his ill-fitted football uniform.

On their last visit to Montana, he and Lisa had gone with Katie and Ron to see Stevie’s first game.  It was a bitter sweet visit, made to allow Lisa to tell Katie, in person, that Lisa had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

At that time, the extent of Lisa’s cancer hadn’t been clear.  It wasn’t until they returned home, and Lisa underwent further tests, that it became evident that the cancer had metastasized to an inoperable state, and Lisa’s chances for survival were slim.

Even with that black cloud hanging over her head, the sight of Stevie in his oversized uniform, skinned knees and that endearing toothless smile, sent Lisa into a snorting fit of laughter that had gotten so out of hand, she began hyperventilating.  Her fit had been contagious.  All present, except Stevie, that is, were caught up in it, succumbing to Lisa’s infectious laugh.

It was that very picture of Stevie, now displayed in all his glory before him that caused him to start laughing.

His laugh was bass and resonant: a deep belly laugh that threatened to last for some time.  The sound was unfamiliar to him.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had occasion to feel the slightest urge to even smile.

The laughter carried him through a hot shower; slowing to the occasional chuckle only after a second cup of black coffee and four aspirins.

Returning to his office, he righted his desk chair and sat down heavily, resting his chin in his hands.

Looking deeply into Lisa’s picture, eyes locked on the image of his beloved’s laughing eyes, David Markham Sr. again professed his eternal love for his soul mate, then reached for the phone to hear all the details of his grandson’s two touchdowns.

His wish had been granted.  Lisa’s voice had shown him the way.  Somehow, deep down, he knew that she was OK and was still looking out for him; loving him.

It was going to be awkward, but Thanksgiving looked like it might not be so bad after all.

As he punched in Katie’s number, he began giggling at his own thoughts,

“I hope they’re not expecting me to cook the turkey!”

Natural Relaxants and Sleep Aids: Things You Need To Know.

authorphotoHello, my friends.  Welcome back.  I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you find this week’s blog interesting and helpful-albeit a little long due to the vastness of the subject.  Hang with me.  It’s worth the read.

We’re going to start this one off with a disclaimer because this is a very serious subject that needs to be studied, in-depth, before you decide to jump on the herbal relaxant/sleep aid bandwagon.

For starters, always remember that just because they’re natural and unregulated, that doesn’t automatically make them safe.  While side effects and overdose possibilities are generally far less with herbals, many do have them, including allergic reaction possibilities for those with sensitivities to certain compounds.  Always, always, always discuss any herbal regimen choices with your healthcare provider before starting one.

If you’re pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant or breast feeding, do not, under any circumstances, take anything without first consulting your healthcare provider.  Most, if not all of the herbal relaxants and sleep aids are contraindicated, (or should at least be carefully controlled and supervised by a medical doctor) during pregnancy or while breast feeding.

More to the point, while everyone occasionally has problems sleeping, or gets anxious or depressed from time to time, if you’ve ever felt like hurting yourself of others, become disoriented or lose memories or parts of the day, hear voices or anything beyond common life anxiety or transient insomnia, see your doctor immediately.  Herbal supplementation will not help you.  As strongly as I support and believe in herbal remedies, there are many times when professional medical intervention and prescription medications are the only option.  Only a trained medical professional can diagnose the difference.

I, for one, am always thinking.  My mind never stops plotting, scheming and fantasizing about the latest book I’m working on, life…especially about what we’re going to do when we win the lottery.  While I know that I’m probably not going to see my face on a Publisher’s Clearinghouse commercial, or have to dodge paparazzi as I sneak into lottery headquarters to collect my winnings, thinking about the possibilities of life without financial worries is my happy place.  Unfortunately, my happy place becomes less appealing as I lay there awake some nights trying unsuccessfully to shut down my thought processes and get some much needed sleep.  On those occasions which, thankfully are fairly rare, I reach for an herbal tea or a capsule.

And on those occasions when the annual house or truck tax bill comes, or it’s time for my annual review at work, or the dreaded annual trip to the doctor and I start biting my nails and cursing our state and local government, the establishment as a whole or my sawbones, a herbal remedy is usually the order of the day.

But which one you ask?  Ah, that’s the purpose of today’s blog because, believe it or not, the choices are many and many of the choices may be the wrong one for you.

Believe it or not, one of the first questions I ask those who inquire about herbal relaxants or sleep aids is what they know about them.  Almost everyone, and those are the ones who have even heard anything about them at all, say Valerian and Melatonin.  While both are good options in many situations, they are far from the only choice and, in some cases, the absolute worst choice.

Let’s take a look at a few pros and cons.

Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis):  Chamomile, especially chamomile tea,(derived from the plant’s flowers) has been used for centuries to bring on sleep, ease an upset stomach and even treat diaper rash.  It is a herb derived from a flowering plant in the daisy family and a close relative to ragweed.  While its’ natural calming effects are widely known, it has also been used to treat skin irritations, inflammations and even diaper rash.  There are scads of lotions and creams on the market to ease those conditions.  I can’t vouch for their efficacy because I’ve personally never tried them.

Lately, a lot of study has been done on the benefit of chamomile for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), migraine headaches, PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) and a whole host of other maladies including skin conditions.  However, we’re concentrating on sleep and relaxation this week so here goes.

Of all the available herbal sleep aids, for those with mild sleep issues, chamomile tea is probably what you’re looking for.  With few exceptions, it’s probably the most mild of all sleep inducers and probably has the least potential for side effects.  A cup of chamomile tea about an hour before bedtime will help all but those with the most serious sleep issues (or way too much on their minds) slip off into a natural, peaceful sleep.

However, for those with allergies to ragweed or pollen, chamomile is not recommended as some mixtures may contain pollen and/or ragweed.  It is derived from a flowering plant in the ragweed family, remember.

Chamomile is also contraindicated in those taking blood thinners because chamomile contains a natural substance called coumarin (which is synthesized and used in the prescription medication Coumadin), a blood thinner.

Pregnant women should not use chamomile as it is considered an abortifacient (a substance that induces abortion).

Many people drink a cup every night before bedtime and claim that there’s nothing like it for bringing on sleep.

If you have no allergies to pollen or ragweed, are on no blood thinners and aren’t pregnant, try brewing a cup before bedtime.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised that something so simple could do so much good.

Valerian (valeriana officinalis):  Most of you, I’m sure, have heard of Valerian and have probably tried it or know someone who has.  I’ve even spoken with doctors who recommend it to their patients whose condition may be mild enough that they would benefit more from Valerian than from taking one of the prescription drugs with their associated side effects and, in many cases, chances for addiction.  Many use Valerian for different situations from insomnia to anxiety to menstrual cramps.  Many swear by it, some swear at it.

The sedative properties of Valerian are found in the root.  While it can be taken as a tea or a tincture, Valerian smells really, really bad.  Think of an un-air conditioned, long untended, boys locker room loaded up with basket after basket of dirty BVD’s and gym socks…at high noon…in the desert.  Multiply that by ten and you have the general idea.  Even the capsules, when purchased fresh, will cause you to pause, (and to hold your nose) before taking it.  However, this is one instance when, if Valerian is the right choice for you, the end justifies the means.  If you wanna play, you’ve got to pay, and for most, it’s a small price to pay for the benefits that can be had from its’ use.  Generally, taking the proper dosage about an hour before bedtime will, for most, insure a peaceful, restful night’s sleep.

However, it is not without its’ downside.  Many people who use Valerian wake up feeling drunk/hung over, or remain drowsy for a time after awakening.  Many have said that, along with the lethargy when awakening, they also get a headache.

For those with common, garden variety anxiety brought about by an abundance of life’s every day troubles, Valerian is known to relax, calm and render a feeling of overall peace and tranquility.  Some claim to get relief within an hour, for some it may need to build up over a few doses before the calming effects are realized.  However, Valerian is not a cure-all.  It is intended for temporary use.  If those anxieties persist, see your doctor immediately.

Valerian should not be used for extended periods.  When it is, you may may not be able to just stop taking it without revisiting the initial problem you were trying to solve in spades.  Anxiety, nervousness, shakiness and insomnia have been experienced by those going cold turkey after a long stint on Valerian.  Often you’ll have to taper your dose over two or three weeks when you feel you no longer need it.

Always insure that you buy the freshest capsules available and that there are no inert or inactive ingredients mixed in that you may be allergic to.  Valerian allergies are rare, but some are allergic to it.  More people, however, are allergic to some of the additives in cheap, bargain basement supplements.  I know, you’ve heard me say this time after time, but it bears repeating: always buy your supplements from reliable, American manufacturers and, whenever possible, buy those certified for vegetarians and vegans.  By doing this, you’ll insure you’re getting a consistent, pure and measured dosage with no harmful additives.

Some of the more rare side effects of Valerian are are persistent nausea and/or vomiting, stomach/abdominal pain, yellowing of the eyes or skin, dark urine and extreme lethargy to name a few.  These are generally reversible when the valerian is stopped.

Dosages vary from person to person.  Valerian is not a “one size fits all” supplement.  The recommended dose on the label may be too little or too much for you.  Caution must be used when determining your proper dosage.

For those taking prescription medications, especially statin medications, erectile dysfunction medications, other relaxants/tranquilizers or cough and cold remedies containing diphenhydramine, you should not use Valerian as it may lessen the efficacy of those medications or multiply the drowsiness already associated with them.

Before we move on to the next option, I just want to mention that none of the above is meant to scare you.  Valerian, for most, is a natural Godsend.  My only intention in mentioning all of the above is to insure that you’re well informed before you pop that first capsule.  Valerian is definitely not for everyone and the information above is certainly not the all inclusive definition.  Research all medications and supplements fully, and discuss them with your healthcare provider before you decide to take it.  It could save your life.

Melatonin:   Is actually a natural hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain.  Its main purpose is to  regulate sleep and waking cycles and contributes to maintaining the body’s circadian rhythms.  Unfortunately, as we age, our body’s ability to produce melatonin decreases.  This explains why grandma and grandpa were always up at the crack of dawn.

Supplements, of course, are synthesized in a laboratory because, well, who’s going to volunteer to have their pineal gland tapped?  If that were even possible, I’m sure it would not be a pleasant experience so, technically, melatonin can’t be considered a natural remedy-but for many, it’s a sanity saver.

I’m a child of the night.  I work nights, as does my fiance’, so our sleep cycle definitely conflicts with the natural circadian rhythm of our bodies.  Being over fifty with decreased natural melatonin production abilities is also a major contributor to my occasional insomnia.  Luckily, Brenda is a sleep-a-haulic so sleeping is rarely an issue for her.  I, on the other hand, often have problems going to sleep for the reasons mentioned earlier.  On those nights when my ten-hour shift hasn’t totally exhausted me, mentally and physically (rarely), I reach for a sleep aid.  Sleep is a must whether your body wishes to cooperate or not.  For those of you who can drop off without a second thought, (narcoleptics excluded, of course) my hat’s off to you.  For those of you who cant, melatonin supplements might be the answer.

Surprisingly, some studies indicate that melatonin is ineffective for what is called “shiftwork disorder.”  Either I have some other sleep issue or, at least in my case and those of many I work with and have suggested melatonin to, I beg to differ.  Melatonin is usually my first choice, after a chamomile tea, when I can’t sleep and, for myself and many others that I know of first hand, it works.

The effects of melatonin and generally mild in those who tolerate it well and will usually just help ease you into sleep without your even realizing the effects (unlike most prescription sleep medications).  Side effects are generally mild or non-existent, but can include dizziness, daytime lethargy and headaches.   Other rare but documented side effects can include abdominal discomfort, mild anxiety, irritability, confusion and transient depression-especially in the elderly.

Additionally, if you take birth control pills, blood thinners, diabetic medications or immunosupressants, do not take melatonin without first consulting your healthcare provider.  Melatonin is released into the bloodstream so it may adversely effect other medications in your system.

Kava (kava kava):  I mention kava here with caution. Kava is a root found on islands in the South Pacific. Islanders have used kava for its’ medicinal qualities and in ceremonies for centuries.While a great many people do use kava for everything from sleep disorders and anxiety relief to a treatment for gonorrhea and as an analgesic (pain reliever), the possible associated side effects are many.  It is also used to treat asthma, urinary tract infections, depression and menopausal symptoms.

Research has shown that kava’s calming effects do relieve anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, and stress-related symptoms like tense muscles and muscle spasms.  It is probably one of the strongest of the readily available herbal supplements.

But!  Of all the herbal supplements I’ve studied, kava ranks right up there when it comes to possible serious side effects.  While certainly not one of the worst, and not a reason to totally disqualify kava as a possible, temporary supplement for sleep and/or anxiety, extreme caution and heavy research, including a discussion with your doctor, need to be done before you take it.

If you are currently taking antidepressants or other mood stabilizing medications, you shouldn’t be taking any herbal anxiety/sleep supplements unless they were recommended by your doctor.  However, kava is definitely not for you.  Kava will multiply the sedating effects of mood altering ( psychotropic drugs), as will alcohol.  Do not drink alcohol while taking kava.

Kava has caused liver failure in people without any history of liver ailments.  Anyone with any liver ailments should steer clear of kava.  While liver failure is a rare side effect generally seen after long term, extensive use of kava,  it needs to be considered when contemplating a supplement.

Allergic reactions are not common with kava, but they are a possibility.

I have tried kava and had no issues with it, but after researching all the side effects, decided to opt for Valerian when the need strikes.  Again, that’s just my personal opinion relating to a personal experience.  Valerian works just as well for me, personally, so that is generally my choice.  Your choice, of course, is dependent on your individual needs and tolerances.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera-Winter Cherry): Originating in India, and used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine as an adaptogenic (promotes homeostasis), the root and berries of the plant are used for various remedies including everything from control of thyroid and adrenal gland disorders to mental agility to osteoarthritis  to an anti-inflammatory to claimed reports of tumor reducing capabilities and increased white cell production in cancer patients and, of course, for sleep disorders and nervous conditions.

In an animal-based study published in 2000, researchers found that ashwagandha root had an anti-anxiety effect similar to that of Ativan (Lorazepam-a drug used to treat anxiety disorders).

Surprisingly enough, and as a lessening of the pain from the constant thorn in my side regarding many allopathic doctors and their “pooh pooh” attitude regarding herbal remedies, ashwagandha has actually made print in none other than Psychology Today, a well respected magazine on mental health-Follow the link for the whole article.  Here’s an excerpt:

“One 2012 study of 64 volunteers randomized asked subjects to take either ashwaganda or a placebo twice a day for 60 days. The ashwaganda group’s capsule contained 300 mg of a concentrated extract made from the root. During the treatment period, regular telephone call check-ins assured volunteers were consistently taking the herbs or placebo, and were used to note any adverse reactions. The treatment group given the ashwaganda root extract exhibited a significant reduction in anxiety scores after two months relative to the placebo group, without side effects. Most notably, serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced in the herbal group (Chandrasekhar et al., 2012). Cortisol is the stress hormone that goes up when we are stressed out.  Cortisol also creates longer term fatigue and mental fogginess, and brain structures for emotion and memory are damaged when cortisol is too high.” 

Ashwagandha is another herb that I have personally tried.  I loved it.  While it’s effects are more cumulative than immediate, the resultant overall relaxant qualities after a couple of weeks were impressive.  I stopped taking it when things in my world balanced out enough and I was trying to reduce my daily supplement intake down to the bare essentials.

Of all the relaxants, ashwagandha is generally considered one of the safest when used short term.  However, there are some cautions:

As I stated earlier, if you are pregnant, considering becoming pregnant or breast feeding, do not take ashwagandha or any of the other supplements mentioned without consulting your healthcare provider.  Ashwagandha is considered to be an abortifacient (a substance that induces abortion).

If you have high or low blood pressure, ashwagandha is contraindicated as it may lower blood pressure in those with low blood pressure, or reduce the efficacy of hypertensive drugs in those with high blood pressure on hypertensive medications.

Those with stomach ulcers should not take ashwagandha as it may irritate the GI tract.

Diabetics should not use ashwagandha due to its’ potential to lower blood sugar and may cause blood sugar to go to low.

People with autoimmune disorders should not take ashwagandha due to its’ penchant for increasing the immune system’s activity.

People with thyroid disorders should not take ashwagandha as it is known to increase thyroid hormone levels.

Hops ( Humulus lupulus):  I know the eyes of a lot of beer drinkers just sprung open.  For those who doubt the medicinal qualities of beer, read on.

The female part of the hop plant is used for the supplement as well as for making beer and numerous other uses.  Hops in herbal medicine are used to treat conditions from anxiety, inability to sleep (insomnia) and other sleep disorders, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), nervousness, and irritability, to increase urine flow and even bring on breast milk.

Hops does work.  However, even more so than ashwagandha, the effects are cumulative and may take as long as a month for the benefits to be realized.  Generally, hops are taken in combination with valerian or lemon balm and is more often used for the treatment of anxiety over a longer term.  I have mentioned it here only because it is considered one of the safer herbs for sleep and anxiety and it does work when taken consistently for a month or more.

Pregnancy and breast feeding are about the only known concerns regarding side effects although in some, it has been reported to cause depression.  Those results are questionable regarding any direct correlation to the hops itself.

St. John’ s Wort (Hypericum perforatum):  The St. John’s wort plant has yellow flowers and is considered to be a weed throughout most of the United States. It has been used for medical purposes in other parts of the world for thousands of years.

St. John’s Wort got a really bad rap in the press a few years back.  I attribute that more to the fact that people were taking it willy-nilly without doing their research after a few careless ads were placed in the media regarding the numerous benefits of this herb-but those ads failed to list the side effects and contraindications associated with this now much maligned herb.

With that being said, and given the numerous side effects and contraindications associated with the use of St. John’s Wort, it is definitely not something that should be taken for the relief of transient insomnia or occasional anxiety which is the focus of this week’s blog.

St. John’s Wort has been researched extensively and is being used successfully to treat various anxiety and depression disorders, but it is my belief that diagnosis of those conditions and which ones will benefit from supplementation with this herb should be determined only by a trained medical professional.

St. John’s Wort is known to interact unfavorably with numerous prescription medications including, but not limited to, antidepressants, anti-rejection medications, blood thinners, anti-HIV medications and birth control pills.

Psychosis is a rare, but a possible side effect of taking St. John’s Wort, particularly in people who have, or are at risk for, mental health disorders-including bipolar disorder.

To summarize St. John’s Wort- while I do believe in its’ healing properties, I do not consider it a safe option for common use.  Should you decide to try this herb, speak with your doctor before starting and do your homework.

The herbs we’ve discussed today are far from a comprehensive list.  The number of herbs, minerals and supplements out there used for sleep and anxiety are legion.  I’ve just covered a few of the more common, heavily researched ones for this blog because when all the contraindications are considered and disqualified as not pertaining to you individually, all of these are believed to be safe and effective.

One further note on these and all other herbal supplements: Insure that your doctor is fully aware of all your entire  supplementation regimen so he or she  has a complete picture when prescribing.  Also, stop any and all supplements at least two weeks before scheduled surgical procedures, including dental surgery, to insure there are no interactions between the anesthetics and drugs used during surgery and your supplements.

If you’re still awake,  I guess that’s about all I have to say about sleep aids and relaxants…and in just over thirty-eight-hundred words!   Sorry!

In conclusion, work, your spouse,  finances?  At some point one of these and a whole host of other life challenges cause us to stress.  Stress causes problems with sleep and anxiety.  In those instances, one of the above will probably help you through it…short term.  If those feelings persist, see your doctor immediately.

The next time you’re in a crowd, look to your right and left.  One or both of the people you see are probably taking a prescription antidepressant or mood altering medication of some sort.  The stigma that was once attached to them has long since been forgotten.  What was once considered a life with a scarlet letter on your chest is now accepted as a serious medical condition and is treated accordingly with a myriad of new and safer drugs coming out constantly.  Never take depression or severe anxiety lightly.  There is help…and it’s just a phone call to your doctor away.

As always, if you have any comments regarding this blog or herbal remedies in general, good or bad, please feel free to leave them below.  If you have a comment or question that you’d rather not have seen on an open forum, please feel free to send me an email.  I always strive to answer all emails within twenty-four hours.

Until next week, I wish you peace, happiness and good health.  Be well, my friends.

Brian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Over Fifty Herbalist: Week 4-Vitamin D and the D-ficiency Pandemic

authorphotoHi and welcome back.

This week I have some information that may be shocking to a great many of you: and may even save your life.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  and many other reputable publications, Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a worldwide pandemic.  It is estimated that the number of vitamin D deficient people in the world is over one-billion!  Why this hasn’t been splashed all over the mainstream media is beyond me.

Not surprisingly, I learned this first hand when, after some routine annual blood work, my doctor prescribed an expensive vitamin D tablet that, in my usual, anal fashion, I researched and found to be inferior to the vitamin D supplements I could get much cheaper and without a prescription from any reputable supplement supplier.

As early as 1950, German scientists realized that vitamin D2, (Ergocalciferol- which is synthetically made from radiating a mold that forms on cereal plants) used in most prescription vitamin D, was inferior and far less potent than vitamin D3, (Cholecalciferol-which is a cholesterol that is extracted from wool grease and wool wax alcohols obtained from the cleaning of wool after shearing. The cholesterol undergoes a four step process to make 7-dehydrocholesterol, the same compound that is stored in the skin of animals. The 7-dehydrocholesterol is then irradiated with ultra violet light.   Cholecalciferol is produced intrinsically in human and animal skin when exposed to UVB light, and Cholecalciferol is what’s contained in most quality vitamin D supplements.  German doctors changed their prescribing methods and started prescribing D3 as far back as the mid-nineteen-fifties. A great many American doctors, to this day, are still prescribing D2 in higher dosages to compensate for the deficiency between D2 and D3.

Vitamin D is a gift from the sun.  It is absorbed through the skin.  Given the current scare of skin cancer melanomas believed to be due in large part to the deteriorating solar UV filter, sunblocks, long sleeves and avoidance of the sun have become the norm.  That leaves oily fish, (which we discussed last week in our omega-3 discussion) fortified milk and a few bread and yogurt products as our only source of dietary vitamin D. Unfortunately, as we age, our skin becomes less able to absorb sufficient vitamin D from the sun.  So if you’re over forty, have milk allergies or just don’t drink milk, follow a vegan diet or have health issues such as Crohn’s Disease or other issues that prohibit or limit the intestines from absorbing vitamins into the system, chances are you may be a member of the vitamin D deficiency club.

In the words of the infamous Groucho Marx, “I refuse to belong to any club that would have me as a member!”

The list of possible diseases that a chronic vitamin D deficiency has been associated with is massive.  These are some of the known consequences of vitamin D deficiency.   Many others are still being studied:

  • Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
  • Weak Bone Syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Rickets in children
  • Metabolic Syndrome and Type-2 Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • 17 varieties of Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Gout
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Infertility
  • Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Depression
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic Pain Syndrome
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

And the studies continue into even more conditions and diseases linked to vitamin D deficiency.  If this hasn’t scared you into insuring that your next blood test includes a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test (25-OH-D test), you may want to go back and re-read the above list.  The normal range is 30.0 to 74.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Not that I’d recommend skipping routine annual blood work, but if you’re needle shy or insurance deficient (as many are these days) there are kits available where you just prick your finger with a lancet, smear the blood drip on a chemically treated blotter and send the sample off to the lab you bought the kit from.  There are also kits where the results can be seen immediately, but I don’t know enough about them to list their pros and cons.  Once again, never self diagnose.  See your doctor and request that the 25-OH-D analysis be added to your annual blood work-up if at all possible.  Chances are it will already be included anyway.  Some members of the medical community do keep up on the latest in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and ways to detect them early.

According to Medicinenet.com, the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for those between one-year-old and seventy-years-old is 600IU’s of vitamin D a day.  For those over seventy, the RDA rises to 800IU’s a day.  Unless you’re following a diet high in oily fish and vitamin D fortified milk and cereals, or if you have a condition that limits your absorption of vitamins and nutrients, it may be time to consider a vitamin D3 supplement.

As for the osteo (bone) issues linked to a vitamin D deficiency is impaired intestinal absorption of calcium, which results in decreased levels of serum total and ionized calcium levels. This hypocalcemia gives rise to secondary hyperparathyroidism, which is a homeostatic response aimed at maintaining, initially, serum calcium levels at the expense of the skeleton. Following this PTH-induced increase in bone turnover, alkaline phosphatase levels are often increased. PTH not only increases bone resorption, but it also leads to decreased urinary calcium excretion while promoting phosphaturia, (Phosphaturia is a urinary tract condition where there is too much phosphorus in urine and it causes the urine to appear cloudy or murky color.  This is just a symptom of possible underlying renal issues).  This results in hypophosphatemia, (an electrolyte disturbance in which there is an abnormally low level of phosphate in the blood which exacerbates the mineralization defect in the skeleton.[1}

Read and heed, my friends.  For a few dollars a month spent with a reputable vitamin/mineral/supplement supplier you can take one of the risk factors for all of the above out of the equation. Obviously there’s no such thing as a magic bullet guaranteed to cure any and all ailments, especially for those in the over forty club, but as our elders always said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Words to live by.

That’s about all I have to say about vitamin D, except to remind you to have your vitamin D levels tested during your annual check-up.

As always, if you have any comments, good or bad, please feel free to leave them below.  If you have questions or comments that you’d rather not post on an open forum, feel free to send me an email.

Until next week, I wish you peace, happiness and great health.

See you in the funny papers!

Brian

1. Dan L. Longo, Anthony Fauci, Dennis Kasper, Stephen Hauser, J.Jerry Jameson and Joseph Loscalzo, Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th edition, p.3094

Some Emily Post for Cell Phone Users!

Hello, my friends.  Welcome back.  I’m warning you ahead of time; I haven’t taken my meds today so we’re fixin to get busy in a most euphoric way.  Once again, I’ve swerved off of the camping course to air another pet peeve: cell phone etiquette.

As always, I like to qualify my statements by showing that I have some knowledge and or experience on the subject I’m speaking on.  While I may be fifty-two, and considered by some to be a dinosaur, let me assure you that I am now, and have been for many years, gainfully employed in the high tech electronics world.  I proudly fit most of the criteria for being a card-carrying geek.  I have, and drool over, a whole host of the latest electronic gadgetry; including a  cell phone, which is my only phone.  I am a fairly competent “texter” and I can surf the internet on my Droid with the best of them.  I consider cell phones to be one of the greatest inventions since the automobile:  in their proper context.

For starters, since doing away with my home phone some years ago, my cell phone is my only connection to the outside world (the internet not withstanding).  That doesn’t mean that I want to be that accessible.  The idea of someone knowing where I am and what I’m doing at any given time just isn’t me.  It reeks of Big Brother.  Just because I have a phone on my hip at all times, that doesn’t mean I like being called constantly and pulled into unnecessary conversations at all hours of the day and night.  Frankly, I hate talking on the phone; land line or cellular.  I freely admit to being one of those, Say what you’ve got to say and get off the line, phone minimalists.  When I’m talking to someone, I like to watch their eyes and their facial expressions to insure I’m getting the straight poop.  I keep my cell phone to be accessible to my children and grand children to hear about their latest ups and downs, occasionally, though grudgingly, for work and to prove one of the many bullshit artists I come across on a daily basis wrong with a quick visit to Google.  Other than that, there’s a great big world out there full of real people to converse and mingle with. 

I am a fairly laid-back fella, tolerant of others and their different ways, but nothing can get my dander up quicker than trying to carry on a conversation with someone who is half in our conversation and half into a text conversation; or even a verbal conversation, on their cell phone while I’m trying to broaden their horizons with my wealth of useless information.

The dark side of my font of useless information comes from the information I’m forced to ingest just for committing the heinous crime of being seated near someone on a cell phone in a restaurant.  It’s like watching an old movie where Ma and Pa Kettle get their first crank up phone and have to scream into it to be heard by the party on the other end.  You’re sitting there, trying to eat or have a real time conversation with whoever you’re dining with while having to listen to supposedly intelligent people speaking into their cell, at a volume far higher than the ambiance requires, telling the individual on the other end about their hemorrhoids, toe nail fungus or the sordid details of last nights’ conquests.  TMI, people!  I’m trying to eat in peace and converse here!

Moreover, Mr. Webster and a few others spent a great many years compiling a dictionary that has come to be the literary bible for most of us.  Underpaid and overworked teachers dedicate their lives to teaching our children the English language.  Yet, in the comparatively short time since texting has become the preferred source of communication, the English language has been reduced to a lingo, unintelligible to most of us over forty, that would have Mr. Webster rolling over in his grave.  I shudder at the thought of the literary masterpieces that will come from the current texting generation.

I love the written word.  I am a voracious reader and, according to some, a hack writer (to them I say, DILLIGAS).  I spend a great deal of time writing and looking for just the right word to make my point.  I put great stock in words and, admittedly, though probably wrongly, sometimes measure people by the way they communicate; both verbally and in print.   If I’m going to tell someone that I love them in a text, it certainly won’t be with ILY.  Love is not a word that should be taken lightly.  To abbreviate it just takes all the zing out of it.  If I’m going to take the time to thank someone for something they’ve done for me, THX just doesn’t express that sentiment sufficiently; IMHO.

Most work places have a break area with an insufficient number of uncomfortable tables to, in “the Man’s” warped way of thinking, insure that the masses keep their breaks to a minimum.  As such, at peak break times, it is often necessary to share a table with others.  More often than not, that table is probably inhabited by others carrying on a face-to-face conversation, yet more and more people find it acceptable to sit at that table while talking on their cell phone, thoroughly disrupting an ongoing conversation, and share, on occasion, details of their personal lives that no one else should ever hear or care to hear.  And, more often than not, they’re talking on their phone while shoveling food into their mouths; totally oblivious to the others sitting inches from them.  Whatever happened to not talking with your mouth full?  How about my mom’s favorite: Don’t interrupt people while they’re talking, young man!”  I know; I’m ancient and from a land and time where manners were of prime importance and considered the norm instead of the exception.

Even more disturbing; how many times have you walked into a public restroom and heard voices wafting over the top of the stalls?  There’s nothing more unsettling than to hear something like, Of course I love you *grunt* baby doll!  There’s no other*pffffffffttttttt* woman in the world *splash* for me!  How romantic!  A profession of love from a petri dish of fermenting filth.  Frankly, I’m one of those who has worked diligently at training my bowels to function only at home so as to avoid the disgusting experience of having to even sit on a public toilet.  In keeping with my geek persona, I even keep a tub of Lysol wipes in my backpack, right next to my collapsible umbrella, “just in case.”  The thought of sitting on one of those fungus colonies while holding my cell phone in my hand, probably the same hand that will soon be used to do the paper work, and then return that phone to my mouth and ear shortly thereafter, is revolting.  Just the smell of a public restroom should be sufficient to deter anyone with any sense from even pulling a cell phone out of its’ case for fear of untold, and as yet unidentified, germs jumping on it and later causing them to grow a third eye.  I’m ugly enough.

Ladies, you have my deepest sympathies over your disqualification from the stand and deliver method of elimination.  That, however, is an entirely different blog.

That third eye takes on even scarier connotations when you factor in the radiation you’re absorbing into your brain while you mindlessly blather into your phone.  They have actually categorized said radiation now and have named the phenomenon SAR, (Specific Absorption Rate), measured specifically from the brand of phone you use.  It must be something worth considering if they gave it an acronym all its’ own.

I’ve been secretly doing my own scientific research, observing those who constantly have a cell phone glued to their ear to see if I notice any ill effects from SAR.  So far, my research is proving fruitful.  Those who are constantly on their phones are usually observed walking around in a daze with that glassy eyed look I used to see in my days as a medic on the campus of Happy Acres (my alias for an insane asylum for those of you who are new to my warped sense of humor).  A great many of them are also crotch scratchers and nose pickers.  The more dedicated cell phone addicts have even developed a facial tic.  None of them realize that whatever their spouse or significant other is doing at that very moment can wait til they get home!  As a father, you can trust me when I tell you that  lil Mortimer is certain to make another stinky on the potty.  It’s nature.  You’ll see it in all its’ technicolor glory soon enough.  Get a life!  Converse with real people.   I’m going to publish my scientific findings soon so I can’t divulge anything further for fear of plagiarism.  I’m sure MAD Magazine is chomping at the bit to publish my thesis and a great many unsavory hack colleagues would love to beat me to the punch.  If you fit the aforementioned description of a cell phone addict, please get help before it’s too late.

A very good friend of mine, a computer geek of the highest esteem, was one of the first people, back in the day, to own a blue tooth.  Imagine my surprise, having never seen one, when I walked outside to the break area one night to see him storming up and down the sidewalk screaming at, I thought, himself.  Being a member of the medical team, I reached for my radio to call out the rest of the team to help subdue poor “Myron” and get him neatly packaged and properly restrained in the back of an ambulance and off to Happy Acres.  I knew “Myron” and his wife were having some extreme marital difficulties and I just assumed he’d finally snapped.  I do have to credit him for having the deportment to have his breakdown outside and out of hearing range of everyone else, though.  Imagine my chagrin when the team showed up and found “Myron” wearing his blue tooth.  Maybe my phone has an extremely high SAR and my short, infrequent use of it emitted enough radiation to  cause me irreversible brain damage?  Most who know me would probably just shake their heads knowingly in the affirmative.

So, in the relatively short time that cell phones have been around, we’ve managed to cause Emily Post and Noah Webster to roll over in their graves and untold millions to say WTF?  That’s quite an accomplishment for one little piece of electronic gadgetry.

Cell phones are wonderful devices.  However, in the wrong hands, they are a public nuisance.  Don’t be a nuisance.  Be considerate of the people around you.  Walk off someplace private to have your conversations and allow the rest of us not interested in lil Mortimer’s bowel habits to converse in peace.  After you’ve disconnected, get a life!  That person sitting next to you might just have something interesting to say.  In these days where everyone thinks the internet is the real world, the art of conversation has all but died.  Whatever happened to visiting?  Enjoying the company of  people in their flesh and blood persona and not as an avatar?  Shut the damn thing off for a while and smell the air.  There’s a wonderful world out there, full of beauty and knowledge.  Grab your piece of it before it’s too late.  Remember, if your cell phone is turned on, Big Brother knows where you are…………..GPS can be used for good and evil.

I have to give credit and thanks my beautiful daughter, Shelby, for her input on this blog.  She’s got her daddy’s heart wrapped around her fingers and always has.  The lil darlin is the texting queen: a true master of the lingo.  With the exception of the idioms and acronyms I see on Facebook, I am ignorant to most of the latest lingo…….and I intend to stay that way.  I don’t understand half of my daughter’s texts.  She usually throws in enough of The King’s English to allow me to follow the gist of her conversation, but the rest is all Greek to me.  I texted her to get a list of the latest abominations to disperse throughout this rant so as not to preclude any of the cell phone generation from the point I’m trying to make.  I’m a firm supporter of proper English and I support literacy for all: literacy meaning reading and writing in proper English!  Drop the phone and read a book.  I hear that up-and-coming, stupendous author, Brian Greenleaf, has written a few doozies!   Check them out here.  I know.  That was a tasteless and tacky promotion.  ROTFLMAO!

Until next week, dear friends, unplug once in a while.  Snuggle up with the one you love and reaffirm your position in reality.  Most importantly, be considerate of others.  Walk away to have your phone conversations and keep them brief so you can get back to the conversation at the table and maybe learn something or even make a new friend.  Life’s too short.  Live it for all you’re worth.

B4N,

Brian

©Brian Greenleaf 2012.  All rights reserved.

Gun Control Is Not the Answer!

Hello, my friends.  Welcome back.  I’m damn glad to have you here.  I’ve got something to say.

Let me start with an apology.  I made a promise to myself when I started writing this blog that I’d keep it light and humorous.  The news reports these days are always so full of gloom and doom that I had hoped to be an outlet for laughter and a little food for thought.  There are enough political blogs out there with a never ending range of viewpoints.  I don’t want this blog to become one of those, but I feel so strongly about this week’s subject that I’m compelled to say what I’m about to say.

The never ending, rhetorical chant from our elected officials and liberal news media to make villains out of gun owners with their misguided, ad nauseam, plea to the masses from their bully pulpit about America’s need to render the victims (those being the honest, hard working legal gun owners) unarmed and at the mercy of the animals who, of late, seem to be coming out of the wood work has finally plucked my last nerve.

Let me first say that my heart goes out to the victims and loved ones of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting.  What happened there is so tragic and senseless that no words of sympathy or comfort could ever console the victims and grieving families of this senseless tragedy.  I pray that your friends, loved ones, your memories and your faith help you cope with your sorrow in your time of bereavement.  This despicable,  premeditated act was committed by a deranged coward who should die a very slow and painful death in the public square.

Unfortunately, immediately following the movie theater tragedy, and after just about any other major crime involving firearms, the liberal news media and our clueless elected officials were again ablaze with their patented war cry: “Gun Control!”

The matter of gun control hits very close to home for me.  This is not a story I like to dwell on; one I would love to be able to forget, but I will tell it to show my credentials for making the point I’m trying to make in this post.

For those of you who don’t know me, I was the victim of an armed home invasion two years ago that, to this day, still haunts me to my very core.  During this nightmare, I was shot three times.  I no longer feel that warm-fuzzy that the warmth and safety of being “home” brings to most people.  Every strange sound I hear in the night sends ripples of fear throughout my mind and body as I’m reaching for my gun.  On those rare occasions when I don’t have the horrors of that night on my mind, I have two lead slugs in my right hip to remind me of what happened in my own kitchen two years ago.

Two weeks prior to this incident, I was away for the weekend and came home Sunday evening, in the pouring rain, to see my shed door swinging in the breeze and one of the front windows broken out.  After closer inspection, I found that the tools I had stored out there were gone and the inside of the shed was in shambles.   My cornice flood lights on the corners of my house had been extinguished when the perps killed the main breaker to my house so they could take their time in the dark back yard without fear of being seen by the neighbors.  They weren’t even kind enough to turn the power back on after their cowardly act so, over the weekend, without power to the house, all the food in my freezer thawed and everything in the refrigerator was useless.  The police made a cursory investigation, tsk tsk’ed a few times and told me about the terrible times we were living in as they took the report that, I knew, would never be investigated.

I work a weird shift and usually get home at around three-thirty in the morning.  I got in that fateful morning, two weeks after the shed robbery, went through my usual routine; a glass of tea and a quick perusal of my email and Facebook page to wind down, and went to bed to watch some mindless TV before I went to sleep.

Just as I was drifting off, the TV and the lights went out.  I initially suspected a power outage, common to this area on rainy winter nights, until I looked out the window and saw the street lights on.  Suspecting the worst, I grabbed my gun and a candle (my flashlight batteries had died) and went outside in the freezing rain to reset the breaker.  When I went around the back of the house to reset the breaker, a cranked up neighbor slid in the back door to hide and wait for me.  This was someone who lived right across the street from me and who knew my schedule, knew when I was home or away and knew that he had ample time to do his dastardly deed while I was at work.  He wanted to break in while I was home!

I came back in, locked the door and stepped up into my kitchen, only to be met by a masked, gloved maniac awaiting me with a gun pointed inches from my head, screaming at me to get down on the floor.  A gun which we later found out was borrowed from someone else of questionable credentials for the soul purpose of insuring that it couldn’t be traced.

It’s amazing how the mind and the bladder work together, believe me, but I knew in an instant that if I went down on the floor, I wouldn’t be getting back up.  Running entirely on my most primal fight or flight instincts, and not the machismo that most  who profess the bravery they’d exhibit in a similar situation say they would show,  I jumped back behind my refrigerator and started shooting blind from around the corner.  A lot of that night is still fuzzy, but sometime amid the ear-splitting booms and the thick blanket of acrid cordite smoke that permeated the small kitchen, I took three in the gluteus and, as I later learned, so did he.  I made a dash for the back door while he bolted for the front.

Fortunately, he didn’t have time to take anything but my sense of peace and tranquility.  He did, however, leave, to date, two years of nightmares and two of the three bullets still in my right butt cheek…….and an almost new pair of jeans that are probably still in the evidence room at the police station.

One day I’ll be able to write this story with a humorous twist and throw in all the unspeakable acts of debauchery performed on me, both by the police and the staff at the hospital, with the comedic slant that they now so deserve but, to date, I haven’t been able to muster that amount of mental healing.  I fight daily to clear it from my mind and stop being a victim, but I have been unable to, as yet, fully achieve that.  It will come, I’m sure.  If nothing else, I’m an optimist.  One thing is for certain; I wouldn’t wish that feeling of helplessness on my worst enemy.  However, thanks to my gun, I lived to tell this tale of woe.

The point of that story is this:  Had I been unarmed that night, and left to the devices of a crank infused, mentally unstable, would-be thief/potential murderer, I probably wouldn’t be here to write this blog today.

My guns are registered and I carry a  legal concealed weapons permit.  I went through all the requisite steps to legally carry a gun.  How many of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes do you think have done that?  As a matter of fact, current laws would prevent most of them from legally possessing a firearm at all.

According to Wiki, it is estimated that between forty-three and fifty-five million households in the United States own at least one gun.  That’s a liberal estimate because those are the guns owned by people who went through the necessary steps and bought their guns legally.  These “ordinary people” have proven to the extent required by existing, satisfactory law that they aren’t felons, don’t have a history of mental illness and all the other mandated criteria the federal and local government requires of those who legally own guns.

Of those approximately fifty-five million legal guns, only one percent of the crimes committed in the United States with a gun were committed by those fifty-five million legal gun owners.  One percent!  I’d have to conclude from those statistics that it’s fair to say that the legal gun owners who follow the rules aren’t the people we need to fear or place further restrictions on.

I could mention the extremist’s view and say that if law enforcement were doing their jobs, we wouldn’t need to be armed.  The more rational among you all know what a foolish statement that is.  Police departments everywhere are all woefully understaffed and under funded.  Police men and women are underpaid and over worked.  Given the alarming crime rate, due in part to our plunging economy and the amount of drugs available on every street in every city in the country, the police are basically outnumbered and doing their best to put out the small fires while the raging inferno continues to blaze hotter by the hour.

I read constantly.  I’m a bit of a news-a-haulic and spend a great deal of time sifting through the news on the internet to weed out the hogwash and pick the gems out for future reference in my ever growing font of useless information.  Like it or not, a lot of the tidbits I picked up along the way hit really close to home.

I learned that before the Nazi’s took over control of Germany, the preceding Weimar Republic put into place gun laws that were later reinforced by the Nazis which,  in 1938,  effectively disarmed the citizenry.  From 1939-1945, over 13 million Jews and others, unable to defend themselves, were sent to their deaths.

In 1929, the government of Russia imposed gun control.  From 1929-1953, approximately 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

During WWII, one of the key reasons the Japanese never invaded US soil was because they knew that a great many Americans were armed.

These are but a few of the many things I’ve picked up in my reading.  The list is endless but this is a blog, not a book, so I’ve whittled the list down a bit.  The point is that if you take the guns away from the law abiding citizens, only the criminals will have guns.  It’s so blatantly obvious that the question of gun control should never even be broached in intelligent company……which explains why the politicos keep waving the gun control flag.

More to the point, the Constitution of the United States was written for a reason.  It has, in effect, ruled the land and brought this country from the revolution to the strong, free, wonderful country that we have enjoyed for over 200 years.  It is the very foundation that our culture was built on.  The 2nd Amendment is a part of that constitution.  Thomas Jefferson said it best when he said, The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution.  If we start changing the very basic principles of our country to satisfy the whims of a few, as we seem to be doing with the current trendy fad of political correctness, (another blog) we’ll have anarchy.  Does that sound extreme?  Possibly, but it is something I believe deeply and, considering that this is my blog, and because I’m an American with the right of free speech, also thanks to the First Amendment of the Constitution, I can express my views as I like without fear of reprisal; other that that which I’m sure I’ll get from those who disagree with what I’ve had to say here.  Feel free to comment below.  While it is my right to voice my opinion, it is your right to disagree.  Welcome to America.  She may have a few chinks in her armor, but she’s still the greatest country in the world…….and we speak American English here.  If you would care to view this blog in Spanish, push the escape key numerous times and, please, let me know how that works for you………..reply in English, please.

Agree with me?  Disagree with me?  Agree to disagree with me?  Just keep this in mind:  According to the New York Times, police response times to priority 9-1-1 calls has increased to an average 8 minutes, 25 seconds in metropolitan areas.  Even longer in rural areas.  In that amount of time, you and/or one of your loved ones could possibly be murdered or assaulted, your home cleaned out and the scum who committed the crime well on their way to the pawn shop where everything you’ve worked and slaved for will be sold for drug money.  While owning a gun, and knowing how to handle it properly, may not save your life, it will certainly level the playing field somewhat and possibly save your life or the life of someone you love.

Responsible and legal gun ownership is our constitutional right and, to coin an old phrase, the only way they’ll get my gun is to pry it out of my cold, dead hand.

Until next week, I wish you peace, love and every happiness.
Brian

©Brian Greenleaf 2012.  All rights reserved.

My latest book, Born Bent Over: Flashing the Vertical Smile at Middle Age, is now available as an ebook as well as in paperback and hardbound editions.  Order your copy today.  I promise there are no tangible political opinions in the whole book.  There are, however, laughs galore.

Peruse our politically incorrect website at your leisure.  Read some of my stories and get information on all of my books at www.bgreenleaf.com

Is Facebooking for the Aged?

Hi, remember me?  I know.  I’ve been very naughty.  I should be spanked.  Line up, ladies.  I’ll bring the whips, dark lager and whipped cream.  Party at Brian’s!

Unlike my past blogs, this one isn’t about Nosty’s Nook.  While that project is still ongoing, the hot weather and life in general have put her on the back burner for a little while.  You’ll be hearing much more about Das Nook when the temps get down below 100 degrees.

Since my last blog, both of my children have blessed me, each with a perfect grandson.  Noah Patrick Tolbert, now eight months old, and Hank Daniel Greenleaf, now three days old, have further blessed what has become a very wonderful life.

Facebook has been occupying a great deal of my gray matter lately so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on that subject and share some other news.

As of this morning, my latest book, Born Bent Over: Flashing the Vertical Smile at Middle Age, has been granted premium distribution and will be available in ebook, paperback and hardbound formats through all the major book and electronic book distributors within the next few weeks.  To say that’s a milestone for me would be like saying a nuclear explosion in my underwear drawer was a minor disturbance.  I’m so proud.  Danby Mountain Press, my publishing company, (my children are named Daniel and Shelby, hence the name Danby) has been a struggling, scratching entity since 1997.  It’s taken us a very long time, but we’re finally starting to see some light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Anyway, enough about me.  Bring on the blog!

Is Facebooking for the Aged?

“What the hell is a face book?  Did you write that?  It isn’t one of your naughty books, is it?”

Believe it or not, I still hear that from some very intelligent people who refuse to be assimilated into the world of cyber communications.

My very best friend in the world; a man to whom I would give a kidney, and with whom I shared my first cigarette, my first beer and who was also in an adjoining bedroom the night I “became a man,” refuses to have anything whatsoever to do with a computer.  Of course, he’s a mail delivery person so he’s probably fallen into the whole email vs. the postal service conspiracy, but that’s another blog.  He does, however, tell everyone he knows to look me up on Facebook.  Don’t worry, Dude; your position is safe.  I get enough junk mail on a daily basis to keep the post office afloat for many years to come.  If you’re really worried about job security, become a sanitation worker.  I haul bags of the aforementioned junk mail, shredded, of course, to the curb daily.

I became ensconced in the world of Facebook shortly after its inception.  Unlike my aforementioned “brother-from-a-different-mother,” I freely admit to being a computer nerd.  I’ve been playing with computers since the internet was nothing more than a bunch of picture-less billboards and the TRS-80 was giving way to the 8088.

Ok, so I’m old.

My original intent in becoming a FB’er was to get the word out when I published a new book, or to occasionally converse with my minions who will, one day, help me conquer the third world country I will, without question, become the fair and just ruler of.  The gang at Happy Acres is just waiting for my signal to come across the Take-over Hot Line (two tin cans tied together with a very long string).  Thorazine and shock therapy are our friends………..

However, what started out as a platform for my books and stories has become a lifeline of sorts.  On a daily basis, I can keep in touch with friends, new and old, family up north and, most importantly, my two children; both of whom have, within the last eight months, blessed me with two beautiful grandsons.  I have an entire external hard drive dedicated to the pics my daughter and son post daily of my two future camping buddies.  While nothing can compare to holding those two little monkeys in my arms, I’m stuck in the middle class.  Until that semi-hostile take-over (a few at Happy Acres have anger issues….Sue!!) of that third world country, I don’t have access to a private jet and can’t make it down to see my kids and grandkids as often as I’d like.  I’m hoping my retirement will be a healthy (both physically and financially) one, and I’ll be able to haul my camper down there for long stretches of quality time.

Who’d-a-thunk it?  With a few mouse clicks, I’m up to date on all that’s going on with the people I care about:  and all from the comfort of my office chair.

I’ve talked to a few of my colleagues who flat out refuse to become involved in the world of social networking.  Many of them are computer savvy, some can barely check their email.  Their reasoning for avoiding social networking sites varies, but some of the most interesting responses I’ve gotten are from those who profess a fear of becoming addicted.

Wait a second!  Is that a bad thing?  I may as well stand and take the pledge now:  “Hi, I’m Brian, and I’m a FB addict.”   I have a feeling there’ll be a twelve-step program available to those of us with this affliction very soon.  I, however, am not a quitter!  Until some better way of communicating comes along, (or until FB “updates” with that one straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back, irritating update, (like Timeline) regardless of how ferociously FB addicts object to it) I’ll be a dedicated FB’er.

FB has helped me rekindle a great many old friendships that, due to the miles and life’s different paths, had been dormant over the years.  I’ve managed to be brought up-to-date on what’s going on in many people’s lives, and have marveled over how many of those who, like myself, were voted most likely to become wards of the state by our graduating class, have managed to become pillars of their community.  Admit it, a whole bunch of us denizens of the “back path” at Taconic have managed to move from the back path to the front office.

One of the amazing things that FB has brought to light in spades is the fact that many of the young and vivacious class of 1978 are now grandparents.  We, the seventeen and eighteen year old graduating class from Taconic High School, who were sprung loose on the world to reap havoc and shake the establishment to its very core, have Preparation H and a whole host of prescription bottles, balms and salves in our medicine cabinets.

Where has the time gone?  If my math is correct, our thirty-five year reunion will be coming up in 2013.  Judging from some of your profile pics, most of you have aged gracefully.  Some of you, even amazingly, *wink*  My profile pic is fair warning to you all not to call animal control when I walk in the door.  I am not an animal!  Unlike most of you, time has not been very good to me.  As a matter of fact, if I’d been born with an identical twin sister, my profile pic would be her; cigar and all.  Just add about 200 pounds.

To answer my original question, I don’t know whether FB is for the aged or not.  We’re not old.  It took a long time, but I honestly believe that you truly are as old as you feel.  That being the case, I’m still that seventeen-year-old who had to wrench his diploma out of Mr. Diamond’s hand back on that hot June day in 1978 and run from the platform before he had a chance to snatch it back.  I am the grandfather of two perfect little boys.  The honor of the title of grandfather is not an indicator of age.  It’s a blessing from God.  There may be some prescription bottles and Preparation H in my medicine cabinet, but that seventeen year old is still at the helm.  Never let a number rule your life.  Keep grabbing for that brass ring and never succumb to black socks and orthopedic sandals.  The grim reaper can’t catch you when you run in Nikes.

In closing, I’d like to thank my 180 FB friends for the many laughs and for sharing your lives with me.  I have always shot for quality, not quantity, in my friend’s list and can honestly say that, with the exception of a few businesses and organizations I enjoy hearing about, the wonderful people on my friend’s list are all truly people I know or have met through other friends and whom I consider an honor to call my friend.

Until next month, I wish you peace, love and every happiness.

Brian

Thanks to my wonderful sister, Michelle, my website, bgreenleaf.com has been totally revamped.  The short stories page is still in the development stages, but will be available soon with new stories from the depths of my warped and demented mind.

Stay tuned to this station for forthcoming podcasts featuring none other than yours truly!  We’re in the development stages and are currently putting together a studio here at Happy Acres.  If nothing else, they’re sure to be interesting.  More on that as the project progresses.  As if I haven’t pissed off enough government agencies; now we’re going to poke the FCC tiger.  *rubbing hands together while flashing an evil grin*  Life is grand!