I spent eight years living in Marquette, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, plus another five living in Iron Mountain.  Anywhere in Michigan can be darned cold during the winter, but living in the U.P. can take cold to new depths. 


When the power went out during the winter, it could easily be 20 degrees below zero, and frozen pipes and cars were just a way of life.  Sliding off the road could be life threatening, but people were friendlier there and would gladly pull over and give you a lift to the nearest store or gas station with a phone so you could call for help.  It wasn’t unusual for a day or two to pass before your car would thaw out, but once it did, you quickly got back into the swing of things again.


The worst part of those winters was when the pipes into the house froze.  I well remember sitting on the floor with a hair drying blowing hot air on the in-coming pipes to thaw them out.  And, the days the local Fire Department came by and told us to leave out taps dripping so they didn’t freeze and break.  The Water Department would reduce the amount of your bill to compensate since it saved them money not having to pay a crew to dig up the streets and replace broken water pipes in the middle of winter.


All of this is to say that I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about how to keep my family warm during severe winter storms.  I don’t want my pipes freezing or my car not working if I can do something about it before-hand to prevent it.  I learned some wise things to do in the event of a storm when I lived in the U.P.


I keep an alternate form of heating the house on hand.  I was fortunate enough to have a fireplace in my current home.  It runs off propane, so when the electricity goes off, it can still be used to provide some heat.  The fan won’t work, but it can heat the Family Room fairly easily.  I also have a radiant heater.  That recently came in handy when the switch on the furnace burned out.  I was able to keep the house warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing until the furnace guy arrived.


There are many different kinds of gas, propane, and kerosene heaters you can keep on hand for an emergency.  Take care though that you keep the house well vented so you don’t get a build-up of carbon monoxide.  Keep lots of blankets on hand too so you can burrow in if necessary.

A little advance planning will keep you warm and may save you a lot of money this winter.  For more tips on staying warm during winter storms, go to


PTSD and Chronic Pain

Chronic pain occurs when pain goes uncontrolled for at least three to six months. It lasts beyond the usual amount of time an injury takes to heal, and can leave you feeling hopeless and exhausted
Chronic pain is caused by many things: normal aging, various illnesses or an accident. Some chronic pain has no explanation.
People with chronic pain have more difficulty functioning on a day-to-day basis than other people. Walking, standing, sitting, lifting, may be a major problem when it is accompanied by chronic pain.
Chronic pain goes hand-in-hand with depression. Having pain with you every moment of every day may result in feelings of hopelessness. Often people with chronic pain consider suicide as a way to end their suffering. They may also become dependent on various medications as they try to control their pain.
In some instances, chronic pain is the result of a traumatic event. If that is the case, the person may experience both chronic pain and PTSD. In this case, the person may not recognize the link between the pain and the traumatic event.
People with chronic pain may find that the pain actually serves as a reminder of the traumatic event. Survivors of physical, psychological, or sexual abuse tend to be more at risk for developing certain types of chronic pain later in their lives.


This last month has been extremely difficult since my husband became so sick I had to send him to the Holland Hospice House for care. Paul is slowly getting back on his feet and I’m looking forward to bringing him home with hospice care later this week. But as I think back on how I survived these past few weeks, what strikes me most is how I could not have done it without my friends and family.

My sisters were there for me. They called to offer emotional support. Jan flew in and sat in ICU with me for hours at a time. She rearranged her schedule and stayed longer than she’d planned. Linda offered to come up from Florida if I needed her; no easy feat since she’s sick herself. Mary came over and drove me to the airport to pick Jan up. She came back to visit and let me talk about my frustrations and fears. Bette was there every time I called her to lend a shoulder for me to cry on. Kelly shot me emails just to let me know she was thinking of me. Andrea left little encouraging messages on my Facebook page. Sally mourned with me and shared her grief. And Bev was there asking what she could do to help even though she’s been so sick she could hardly get out of bed.

It’s amazing what friends can do. And that doesn’t even begin to mention all the people that sent their comments to me through email! It all made me think about the importance of good friends.

Friendships take some effort too. There are times I think they care too much, and I may feel a bit claustrophobic when they crowd me. I tend to be quite a private individual who likes her space. But, there is something to knowing that when I fall flat on my face, there are people around me who will gallop to my side, help me back on my feet, dust me off and send me on my way again. And all with no expectation of any repayment except that I do the same for them when and if needed.

Friendships take work. Really, they do! You have to put up with people sometimes when you want to be alone, or remind them that you have boundaries. But when we do that gently and remembering that they were there when we needed them in the past, they can be a lifeline in difficult situations. My friends are solid gold. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Yes, it can take some effort on my part. But, I have to tell you, they are worth every bit of it!


One of my first experiences with working with a veteran included being introduced to Agent Orange. Even the name sounds like it’s from a spy novel! Mysterious, dangerous, sinister…deadly, and not only to the enemy.

Agent Orange was a defoliant used by the U.S. government to clear jungle growth to expose snipers. There are many stories of how American soldiers were contaminated. One friend was a “Farmhand.” He told me how his Sargent came to his unit and said, “Any of you boys come off a farm?” When he said yes, he was told to follow the Sargent out. They went to a helicopter where he was told his job was to load barrels into the helicopter and dump the contents into the sprayer. He said he and the other man he was working with took their shoes off so they wouldn’t get the fluid that slopped out of the barrels on their shoes as they poured. Instead they stood in the puddle with bare feet. That fluid was Agent Orange. Other veterans have told me of hiking through the jungle and hearing the helicopters flying overhead spraying and feeling the mist drift down onto them. Now, half a century later, these men are fighting the effects of Agent Orange poisoning.

Exposure to Agent Orange could have occurred by soldiers breathing the chemical in, ingesting it in contaminated food or water, or absorbing it through the skin, the eyes, or breaks in the skin. One of the challenges in assessing the health effects of exposure has been determining how much any individual veteran was exposed.

The VA has recognized that certain health conditions are so often found in Viet Nam veterans that they are now called “presumptive diseases.” This means that veterans and surviving spouses may be eligible for disability compensation or survivors’ benefits. The current list of those presumptive diseases includes:
• AL Amyloidosis- a rare disease caused when an abnormal protein, amyloid, enters tissues or organs.
• Chronic B-cell Leukemia- a type of cancer that affects white blood cells.
• Chloracne- similar to acne, chloracne must be at least 10% disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.
• Diabetes Mellitus Type 2- usually called late on-set diabetes.
• Hodgkin’s Disease- caused by a reduced supply of blood to the heart.
• Ischemic Heart Disease-caused by a reduced supply of blood to the heart.
• Multiple Myeloma- cancer of the plasma cells.
• Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma- cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissues.
• Parkinson’s Disease- a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects muscle movement.
• Peripheral Neuropathy- Acute and Sub-Acute- numbness, tingling, and motor weakness in the nervous system.
• Porphyria Cutanea Tarda- dysfunction of the liver and thinning/blistering of the skin in sun-exposed areas.
• Prostate Cancer- one of the most common cancers among men.
• Respiratory Cancers- cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus.
• Soft Tissue Sarcomas- cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels and connective tissues.
• Certain birth defects in children of Vietnam and Korean Veterans are also presumed.