O Angelina

A Girl and Her Dog: Living, Loving, & Enjoying the Little Things

The Great Mountain Mural

DIY, Living Well, The Blue HouseAngelina OberdanComment

Don't worry. This is still a blog about living a creative life. (I think that perhaps living with RA is just another creative challenge.) 

One of the coolest things I've done in the last few months is paint a mountain mural on our stairway walls.

My obsession with mountain murals all sort of started in 2015. See, Dan and I both love the mountains. Dan was a backpacking guide (ranger and ranger trainer) at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch for years. And what I loved most about living in rural South Carolina was the view of the mountains on my drive to work and the easy access to hiking.

When I moved to Charlotte, I missed those mountains, and we were living in a quirky attic bedroom. So I painted a mountain mural on the walls. 


The Original

Mountain Mural 

Honestly, I loved that mural. I loved falling asleep being reminded of the mountains and waking up to them.

When we moved into the Blue House, one of the first questions was, "Where am I going to paint my mountains?"  And the easy answer was: "Straight up the stairway." The stairway (not the actual stairs) needed to be painted anyway; parts of the walls had been patched and never repainted.

So in an interview Layla and I did a few months ago, I committed. Finally. 

And over Spring Break, I got started. 

I had to get used the ladder, experiment with paint colors, prime the walls, and, accidentally, give myself and the dogs some sweet highlights. 

Once that was all done, I started taping off the mountains and experimenting with the colors I picked. 

For the paint colors, I worked with a lot of samples. I didn't know how much I would need or what colors would look good, so I went to Lowes everyday to try more. For real, the guys in the paint department at Lowes knew me by name and always asked for pictures of my progress.

I also painted and repainted some of the mountains to get the right contrast. First the mountains were too brown and green, so I added more blues, grays, and even purples.


Color Inspiration


And one day, I wandered into Marshalls and found this gem. A complete coincidence, but it really helped with figuring out which colors I needed. 

Waiting to take the tape off was one of the hardest parts, so I slowly took it off as I finished one color/peak at a time. 

Here are the final pics! 

I love that the mountains are visible from our den, and I love that as you walk up the steps, you walk into the mountains. It's amazing. 

And Now I Have Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living WellAngelina OberdanComment

A few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

I kept saying that sentence to myself in my car on my way home from the rheumatologist, and then I called all of my closest family members. When I talked to them, I kept repeating that this was good: to have a diagnosis was good, to have a plan was good. Good.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease. In the crudest terms, it means that my immune system is eating my bones. I am lucky in that it’s currently not showing up in my blood tests, which means I have a higher chance of going into remission at some point in my life. However, we only needed to do x-rays (no ultra sounds or an MRI) to have evidence of clear bone erosion in my wrists and my hands. 

Of course, after  trying desperately to live and not drown in the mire of the unknown, I made a long-ass list of questions for my doctor:

  • What the hell is erosion anyway? Maybe I do want to know how bad it is. Maybe I do want those further expensive tests. Is it just going to keep showing up in my whole body, slowly progressing?
  • Are my feet really okay? I’m still running. Should I get better shoes? What about braces? I can get braces for everything.
  • Oh god. Swimming is probably bad, too! Can you tell me that swimming is okay? (Don’t worry! Swimming is actually the best excuse for RA. My life is saved.)
  • I assumed I could keep lifting weights. I don’t think my coach thinks so. He’s thinks I’m overly optimistic. Can’t I just wear like wrist braces to prevent further damage? What if I fling a kettle ball across the room and take someone out because my grip is so unpredictable?
  • What will cause flare ups? Is this a flare up? Or will my body just continue eating my bones unless we make it stop? Once we get it to stop eating my bones will it start again? What if I get a cold? Which I’m more likely to if I take the RA drugs, right?
  • I’m not good at figuring out my own pain. Did I tell you I ran most of a half marathon on a broken foot? My feet are okay, right? Can I run a half in the fall? Probably not, but I’m probably going to.

(I didn’t actually send these in this form, but I did send a well-composed long list of questions.)

Shortly after my diagnosis, I made it to a hot yoga class, even though as I was driving there, I realized there were probably a lot of the poses that would be too hard on my wrists.

  • Can I still do yoga? My back is really flexible. What about full-wheel pose? Wouldn’t that put pressure on my wrists? That hurts sometimes, but I feel really strong when I can do it. I’ve never been good at pigeon, but I don’t think that really is because of my wrists. So hand stands will never be an option for me? I can stop pretending to want to do them?  You know my hips hurt a lot? I notice this at yoga. Should we MRI my hips? What about my hips? Yoga?

And I was so that girl at yoga: I was 10 minutes late, I spread my extra-wide mat out in about two spaces, didn’t even straighten it, accidentally took the person to the left’s strap, farted at least twice, and on and on. (Isn’t it funny how we always remember exactly how many times we fart at yoga? I get home, and Dan’s like, “How was yoga?” And my answer is either, “I didn’t fart at all!” Or, “Why did we put so much cheese on those grilled cheese sandwiches?”) Anyway, about 20 minutes into that first yoga practice post-diagnosis, I was checking in with every move, every wiggle of my wrists (tenderness? swelling? pain? bad pain?), and the yoga instructor said, “Remember it’s a process. You’re not going to get it all right the first time.”

And I crumpled into child’s pose, ugly-girl-crying. Fortunately, it was hot yoga, so no one knew. Everyone was dripping with sweat and breathing like pugs on a too hot afternoon and the “power beats” playlist was rocking.

I just laid there, sobbing, and let it not be okay.

The yoga instructor reminded me that I am sure as hell not going to figure out how to live with RA in the first few weeks. (I mean, it took 4 days for me to find out if my kidneys and liver were strong enough to start taking a pill that might stop my immune system from eating my own bones in 8-12 weeks.)

I am the sort of person who wants to know everything before I start something. I don’t want to mess up. I don’t want to get halfway in and figure out I should have started differently. Part of that is my personality, but I also think part of it is just how people respond. Many of the people I've told want to offer concrete suggestions: Yes, I’m taking fish oil. No, glucosamine chondroitin won’t actually help with this. Yes, I’ll look at my diet.

Here’s the deal: my body is eating my bones. We’re trying to slow down the amount of damage it’s causing. We need something to slow it down quickly. So yes, fish oil and diet will absolutely help in the future, but the current goal is to get my immune system to stop attacking my bones. And for real, working full- and part-time jobs, writing, creating a life I love, monitoring my body, resting, trying to still get in some workouts (although triathlons are probably out this year), and getting used to all of these new medicines is enough for right now.

I’d been obsessing and trying to figure it all out. And I was telling people I was more confident than I was. I wanted to get this all right the first time, so that in a few months, someone wouldn’t tell me that “Oh, you should have been….” Or that in a year, someone wouldn’t say, “You know, she really isn’t taking care of herself.”  But you know what? That’s going to happen no matter how hard I try to get it all right.

This diagnosis isn’t a prescription. It’s a challenge. It’s a process to figure out how to take the best care of myself. And it gives me permission (that word again) to pay really close attention to how I feel and to SWIM as much as I want.

April - One Month of Writing a Poem Every Day

From My Writing Desk, Living Well, WritingAngelina OberdanComment

Last month, I committed to writing a poem every day, and through this task, I learned a lot about my writing self. And, nah, I didn't write anything brilliant. 

I came to grips last fall with the fact that I am a ponder-er or at least that my thought process is ponderous. It takes me a really long time to decide what I think about something. Like when all of my brilliant friends were writing about the election, I was saying, "I can't even" until about mid-January. Or when one of my amazing colleagues stands up for something really important in a meeting, and I'm like, "Damn! Right!? I wish I would have thought about that glaring objection!" I will never be able to do those things quickly. 

Anyway, I sort of knew that this applied to my writing. For example, I have never really been an "everyday writer." I do not sit down, like some of my most-talented writer-friends, and scrawl iambic lines of verse every day (although I really respect their process and commitment, and I think Anne Lamott would secretly hate them with me). That's just not how I write, and trying to write everyday in April reiterated this.

For real. One of the things I learned last month is that sitting down to write every day does not guarantee me a mass of insightful poems (or even a composition book filled with marginally pleasing verse). 

For example, this crappy ditty was inspired by what is in my fridge and William Carlos Williams: 

April 5: This morning, / I am wishing / for the luxury / of blackberries. / But they have not / been rinsed / or pulled out / to lounge / in the sunlight. 

Right? Not super insightful. Not even that insightful when I added line breaks and corrected that verb agreement error. I think I had an equally good time drawing blackberries. 

I did have some positive revelations, too.

In addition to learning that writing every day does not create deeply insightful poems (for me anyway), I did learn how much form helps me write consistently. For example, I found pantoum (which is pretty much my favorite anyway) was really helpful in focusing on my thoughts. Basically a pantoum repeats lines 2 and 4 from one stanza as lines 1 and 3 in the next. You can read the full description here if you're so inclined. Usually I start a poem by writing about something weird I see and can't get out of my brain; for example, there was a line of black office chairs at a bus stop on my way home from work, and they will be a poem. But since I don't get this fodder for my poems every day, it was sometimes easier to start with a mantra or thought I wanted to focus on and then just start describing. 

In this, I often started with a mantra: "I am here" or "I am okay." And then I slowly moved onto some images. For example, one of my pantoums ended something like this: 

I am part of this world. / I breathe the air and sneeze the pollen, / and I am doing everything I can / desperately somedays but always.
I breathe the air and sneeze the pollen, / The dogs chase each other through the poplars / desperately somedays but always. / I watch the irises rustle in the wind. 

(Yes, I intentionally displayed all of poems horizontally because I don't want anyone to get any ideas that these are finished at all.) 

It's obviously not great, but it's something. Anyway, I also tried haiku, sonnets (of course! but none about my usual roadkill), Roethke's writing prompt according to Hugo, and even a ghazal. It was fun. 

The last thing I learned is for sure the cheesiest. In fact, if my friend Jaime were sitting next me right now, she'd be rolling her eyes. "PERMISSION." And I'd be groaning like Tina Belcher: UGH. 

The most important thing I learned in one month of writing every day is that it's so wonderful to just give myself permission to write every day. Yeah, that's right. Skip that email. Write a freaking poem.

So no, the poems weren't great. I'm not even sure if/when I'll flip back through them and read them. The most important thing about doing this for a month was giving myself permission to sit down and find some time for my poetry: every. single. day. 

That's right! I finally updated what I read in 2016!

From My Writing Desk, Living Well, Reading, ReviewsAngelina OberdanComment

BAM! Now that my reading list for 2016 is finally complete and annotated, I think 2016 is completely behind me. (Taxes are filed, too, so ya know, I can really forget about it now.) 

The gist is that I read 52 books in a year. I guess that means I need to read 52 more in 2017, and I'm well on my way.