Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Poem: The Tyvek House

A couple of years ago I wrote the following poem which was published in The River magazine edited by my friend Elaine Restifo of Lambertville, NJ. Because there is such a plethora of poetry publications I stick to submitting my award-losing poetry to journals where I personally know the editor. Good thinking, Ruthie! We sure hate rejection letters. Editors are excruciatingly inscrutable and inconsistent. Poetry is so extremely personal. Who knows? Maybe the only reason Elaine put my poem in her magazine is cuz I said I like her chili con carne!

The poem below is totally fabricated. It is however based on a house on a street around the corner from me. I finally got the nerve - just today - to mail them a copy of the poem with a brief cover letter.

I shared the cover letter and the poem with my "news group." I believe this is the proper term, right Bendesky, trained scientist? One member of my news group called me and said What a beautiful poem, you should be published. Two other people wrote back "Lemme know if you hear from the Tyvek people."

I am certain I will never hear from the Tyvek people. Instead I will content myself with viewing their house from inside my car, slowing down as I drive by, looking over the smooth curved lines of their modern-looking wooden structure so pleasing to the eye. "Thank you," I said in the last line of my letter, "for having one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen."


Tyvek is an insulation material applied to the interior of buildings before application of the final material such as wood or stone or siding.

Take this old house by the side of the road
Walk past its leaf-filled ditch and muddy garden
Rip out its walls and doorways
Stay there, don’t move,
Walk among the heaps of plasterboard,
the piles of rubble still unswept
Let it sear you, rush like water through you
And bring you no peace.

Don’t come and fetch me.
I’ll stay here among the ruins,
Quiet, dream-filled,
Lonesome as a stairwell,
Ringing like a bell,
One of a kind,
The house where I live.

Did you mark the days when they
Hammered the outer boards
Across the falling rot of splintered wood?
Did you see how frisky they were
Those laugh-aloud fun-finding fellows
stationed so effortlessly
on tall hinged ladders,
Three of them I counted, workmen
Bouncing words from roof to roof,
Or were they manly jokes,
Nails echoing clang clang
as they went in.
Thick-soled boots snug on tall rungs.

How we couldn’t help but laugh
the day the letters appeared – TYVEK -
blue, dark as mountains,
you’d know those letters anywhere –
ponytailed Y
Take-me-along K pointing off,
Off in the distance at some lonesome star.
How we rejoiced and continue to rejoice
at the coming of the words.

Leave it to us to notice from our
One unstained window
the predicament of the motorists
and the ditch-leaping joggers passing by,

Each one waiting,
querying among themselves,
When will it be finished?
When will the Tyvek be covered up for good?

Didn’t we fool them?
Didn’t we cause consternation?
We simply couldn’t do it.

We let the Tyvek stay.

- Ruth Z. Deming

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More on baking potatoes

Fellow blogger Stephen Weinstein aka "Kitchen Helper Stephen" writes:

If you are not hooked on a crispy skin, baked potatoes can be made in the microwave in about 6 minutes (for one potato or 8 minutes for two). It is quite an energy and time saver. Note of caution: put fork holes in the potato before putting in the microwave to avoid the potato exploding.

Problem is, Stephen, I don't have a microwave!

What? An American without a nuker? Yep. I paid good money to have my township come out and haul it away curbside. Can't stand the microwave. The food comes out too hot. Gotta wait seemingly forever on an empty stomach for the food to cool down.

Thankfully, tho, Stephen, I regained my standing in my neighborhood (please don't let them know I haven't got the requisite microwave) by getting my gas barbeque grill fixed. It had been turned off by the gas company right after I moved in. "Out of compliance" said the red tag after I called them about the horrible gas odor.

It took me 14 years to get it fixed. Today was my first day of grilling! Ooooh, I feel, well, almost normal.

Whenever you open up these old barbeques, you never know what you'll find. Inside was a bag full of cigarette butts. I spose when Simon lived with me he sat out on the back porch and chain-smoked. Sure enuf they were Marlboro Lights. The cigarettes are still here tho the man himself died from smoking them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Novelty drives up the dopamine in our brains!

I didn't know that, did you? But I sure like novelty. You can read about it here in a Times' editorial about British songstress Susan Boyle who recently achieved instant fame. The article talks about one of the most important traits in the human brain: our insatiable striving after status, and our need to know the status of everyone we meet.

Here's a list of things I did in the past two days that kept my fountains of dopamine flowing. Please note that I don't know the difference between dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, glutamate, the male and female hormones, and so on.

My dopamine near to burst when I met my friend "Katy" at Whole Foods. We haven't seen each other for nearly a year. I forgot how much I dislike the Whole Foods salad bar so I ordered lots of yummy-looking foods that tasted just awful. B/c the food was so awful I intuitively wanted to treat myself later on with some delicious foods, possibly to raise my happy brain chemicals. So that was in the back of my mind.

Katy has one really bad habit that I can't stand. I told her about this years ago, saying it embarassed me when we were out together. She calls everyone "honey." She stopped it temporarily but did it again when she was with me. I cringed but didn't bring it up. She is not a waitress. A waitress has carte blanche to use terms of endearment to everyone, but Katy doesn't.

We'd decided to go for a walk since it was one of the first beautiful spring days this year. Patting myself on the back, I said to her, Kate, I know all the beautiful areas in this area. Follow me and you'll see lots of greenery and flowering trees while we're going on our walk.

Katy loves to shop. I hate it. But. Being with Katy is so much fun that shopping becomes fun cuz we're together. We began walking from Whole Foods and I started talking about every shop that came into view. "Dyou mind if I give a continuous narration?" I asked. "Not at all," said my good friend who turned the big Six-Oh last summer.

-Here's my old pharmacy, I said. They sell Asher's Candy. I moved to a pharmacy in Hatboro cuz it's closer to me so I can get my shitload of high blood pressure medicine.
-Here's Murray Deli which went out of business cuz the landlord blah blah blah.
-Here's Baederwood Prime Meats - ditto re the landlord - they had the BEST sandwiches
-Here's a shop where I bought $200 worth of close b/c I needed something nice to wear for my Comcast interview, I only go clothes shopping once every five years anyway.

Then we started up the hill. Very steep hills around here. You don't realize it until you're over 60 and you begin to pant. That's me. We headed toward a women's clothing store where a friend of mine works. I keep missing her. Haven't seen her in maybe six years. Time goes fast when you're a human being not to mention a dragonfly. I wonder if time goes fast for God. I think about him every day, trying to figure out his M.O. I'm a sporadic pray-er. I used to feel close to God when I had manic depression and was on meds. That feeling has slipped away. It's not important to me since I mostly believe there ain't no God.

Found "Kathy" at the shop. Most of the folks I know have come thru our support group New Directions, the finest in the land. Arguably. But possibly. Her husband, she said, has never gotten better. He's in his 70s and does nothing all day long. Still w/the same psychiatrist. Refuses to see anyone else. We have no idea what goes on in his mind.... if anything. His psychiatrist probly knows him better than his wife does.

I introduced Kathy to Katy. Katy had been in a depression lasting 18 months but unlike the husband did everything to try and get better. The depression finally broke. Katy lost her high-paying job cuz she couldn't concentrate but maintained her same schedule, getting out of the house every day and wandering the streets, doing things, visiting people, visiting me and my kids.

When I saw Kathy at first sight in the clothing store, it was just a brief glimpse. I analyze everything so I noted to myself that tho I hadn't seen her in 6 yrs, my mind had remembered the way she moved, the tilt of her head, even from the side. KATHY! I called. She recognized me too. AGATHA! she called. How ARE you.

An incessant need to crack jokes. Like my boyfriend who's outside mowing our twin lawns.

Katy and I marched onward to Trader Joe's. This is where I decided to redo the wrongs I'd suffered at the hands of the terrible Whole Foods Salad Bar. Katy and I munched on our snacks as we walked back to our cars. We hugged goodbye and then I decided to visit my friend Betty at Rydal Park, one of the ubiquitous assisted living facilities in Pennsylvania that are so depressing to me. Betty's husband insisted they leave their brown ranch-style home 13 yrs ago and move in with people who push walkers, are bent-over double, who sit waiting to be let into dinner an hour early cuz they have nothing to do.

Betty was depressed a couple years after they moved in. Her husband had a ball. You might say he was a t-y-r-a-n-t. But she loved him. Of course he's dead now, but Betty lives on, close to 90 with all these brilliant children of hers, none of them typrants, and one of them - of course - mentally ill - which is how I know Betty.

We sat on the patio looking at her magnificent garden. I drank delicious ice water. I was trying to find out the name of one particular flower - it was chartreuse - but she couldn't remember the name. If she had, I'd've run right out to Primex and bought it.

While we were sitting there on the patio with the birds chirping and the pool house straight ahead, she murmured something about my being mentally ill.

Ah, categories! Funny, cuz I never think of myself as mentally ill. Even when I WAS mentally ill, I didn't. So I just sat there thinking, Gosh, Betty still thinks of me that way even tho she knows my bipolar is gone. I guess I was kinda embarassed cuz I mentioned again that I don't take meds, only for my blood pressure, as if she could change the categorization in her brain.

I had to get home to make dinner for Scott. Primarily I had to put the baked potatoes in the oven which take an hour to cook. I served them with real butter with a garlic clove mashed in. I'd bought tilapia at Whole Foods (the only fish that wasn't exorbitantly priced) and cooked it a NOVEL WAY: the usual peppers, mushrooms, but with lemon sprinkled all over it and the cut-up lemon rind sitting pretty on top of the fish.

The dinner was sooo good I had a dopamine overdose. Or serotonin.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Now we turn our attention to mental health

The Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) of Arlington, VA, was founded by noted psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey. More on him later. They get high-profile folks like Martin Sheen to endorse their cause which is to promote better laws to enable treatment to the severely mentally ill. Current laws make it nearly impossible to get ill people hospitalized since these individuals don't realize they are sick (b/c of denial or simply b/c they are so sick they can't think straight).

Ill individuals suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder.

A couple weeks ago I became aware of this group and told them I'd do what I can to help them.

They are trying to get a law passed here in Pennsylvania to require mandatory outpatient treatment for a select group of individuals who are at high risk of relapsing into an extraordinarily unhealthy state. I support them.

As you remember, I was forcibly hospitalized for my first manic-psychotic episode back in 1984 when I was 38 yrs old. It was absolutely necessary. I've written about my mania and my three-day confinement which I refer to as my trip to Bedlam and back and keep copies of it in the backseat of my car.

The smart people at TAC personally visit Pennsylvania newspapers, speak to the editorial staff, and persuade the editors to write a column on the desirability of passing state Senate Bill 251, sponsored by state Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-12, representing parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties).

So far, TAC has had THREE editorials written about the proposed legislation, including in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Because I believe so strongly in this legislation, I write my own Letter to the Editor in support of the editorial. It's one small thing I can do to help.

Back to Dr. E Fuller Torrey. Like many great people, he's outspoken and controversial, with his own ideas about mental health. His sister is diagnosed with schizophrenia so his beliefs about the derivation of that brain disorder are based on his observations and his training, just like my own beliefs stem from my observations and training in insight-oriented psychotherapy at Hahnemann University.

Torrey was interviewed in the NY Times online magazine in 2001. Title of the article is "Do Cats Cause Schizophrenia?" You can read it here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

George W may face prosecution

As a person who belongs to and who signs online petitions to further human rights, I was heartened to read that President Obama is now open to prosecuting government officials who, under the Bush regime, countenanced torture by making up their own laws to support cruel and inhumane torture that is not only against international laws such as the Geneva Convention but also have been proven not to work.

You may wish to skim over an 18-page memo, printed in today's NY Times, by the former assistant attorney general of the United States that is so chillingly horrible as to defy perception. This man, a member of the Justice Department of our great country, ticks off escalating forms of torture as if he's reciting Grandma's recipe for making chocolate chip cookies.

Talk about Hannah Arendt's "the banality of evil" you will find it right here on your computer screen. Be sure to read on page 18, the final page, that the Attorney General will be happy to assist the reader of the memo should he have further questions. Here's the memo of August 1, 2002.

Pennypack Creek Cleanup

I called Pennypack nature preserve to thank them for hosting the Creek Cleanup on Saturday and also to renew my membership. I told Lauren I would send her an email video I'd listened to that very much brought to mind the creek cleanup. I also forwarded the video to a fellow novelist who's working on a book about Iraq.

For the amazing video - and I said to the novelist, "Listen, in particular, to all the great sounds," click here.

Dear Dr. Ruth - Two-timin' musician

My good friend "Barbara" sent me an email this morning asking my advice on a romantic matter.

BARB: i got this e-mail from the Musician i found sooooooo darn attractive and he is in a my opinion, he still has an interest in me on some level. i could be imagining this...but, i think not, because why would he e-mail me. anyways, i would like to e-mail something back.......any "dr. ruth" words of wisdom would be most appreciated.

DR RUTH: the best response is no response.

ask yourself: why am i interested in seeing a man who:
lies - or hides the truth
who plays around with me behind his girlfriend's back

by not responding, you don't have to think of a clever response to him or to re-ignite your excitatory nerve cells that go gaga for such a man.

if this alone doesn't allow you to make proper sense of things, just imagine your brother doing the same thing to his wife that The Musician is doing to his girlfriend and to you!

it's about perspective, barbara, seeing the situation in the proper perspective. and then responding in the best way to further your future growth.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Meds for Bipolar Disorder

I advise all psychiatric patients and their families to be aware of all the meds out there to treat our conditions. First, you learn THE CATEGORIES of medication, then the varieties within those categories. Not that difficult. We have:

- MOOD STABILIZERS such as lithium, Depakote, Tegretol, Trileptal (a derivative of Tegretol)

- ATYPICAL ANTIPSYCHOTICS that are USED as mood stabilizers such as Geodon, Risperdal, Abilify, Seroquel and the side-effect-laden Zyprexa. (Oh look, they all have side effects, who are they kidding, but Zyprexa, in my opinion, is the worst, linked w/overeating and diabetes.)

- ANTIDEPRESSANTS. These meds are also used to treat anxiety and to treat chronic pain. There are several categories of antidepressants such as:

....SSRIs (Prozac, Lexapro)
....Dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Wellbutrin)
....Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Effexor, Cymbalta)

....and the older antidepressants:

....MAO inhibitors (Parnate, Nardil, Seleginine)
....Tricyclics (Elavil, Sinequan)

- ANTIANXIETY MEDS like Klonopin, Ativan, Serax. These are benzodiazepines and work better than any other antianxiety meds.

- STIMULANTS. These work within 24 hours and keep people awake when their depression renders them somnolent. Use with extreme caution. Meds include Ritalin, Provigil, Adderal, Concerta.

WORDS OF CAUTION: Make sure your doctor titrates you on and off many of these meds. If not, harmful or life-threatening side effects may occur. Titrate means "wean."

Some drugs require LAB TESTS to make sure the drug doesn't impair various organs or bodily functions.

If desired, diligently research all your meds online.

Each individual has his/her own reaction to a particular drug. One size does not fit all.

Please contact the author - RuthDeming at - if you spot any errors in the above drug listing. Also feel free to refer to my previous post on Lithium and Its Alternatives.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who says the Brits sit on their hands?

You must listen to Susan Boyle.

And now I've gotta change into my scrubs and go to the Pennypack Creek Cleanup. It's a perfect day. See you there.

Long live Pete Seeger!

Pete Seeger, an American hero for all-time, will celebrate his 90th birthday on May 3. Born in 1919, he is the last in a generation that included Woodie Guthrie. Watch him in this recent video.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why am I wearing my Starbucks apron?

It's got two deep pockets. When I talk on the phone I use hand-free headsets and stick the phone in my apron pocket so I can move about. Day and night no matter what the weather I talk on the phone outside and wave to my neighbors while doing so. By now, they must know more than I do about bipolar disorder.

We had a great meeting last nite. I'm sitting here w/my clipboard and follow-ups to take c/o. One woman we'll call Maxine is in her mid-40s and has been suffering from moodswings since she was a teenager. She has never gotten a proper diagnosis. When I worked as a therapist, I was charged with the responsibility of making tentative diagnoses until the psychiatrist - Hi Norm! - could see the patients.

Maxine most likely has bipolar disorder. But you know what? She'll never believe me cuz I'm not a psychiatrist. Statistics do show it takes an average of TEN YEARS or more to get a correct diagnosis. Why? Because doctors do not take a thorough history and also b/c a family member is not present to corroborate a patient history.

Here are some comments I made at last nite's meeting. All names are fake:

Clearly, Bruce was manic. He's also a cocaine addict. At meeting's end I said, "Bruce, I don't wanna hurt your feelings, but you need to grow up. You believe in the Pleasure Principle. You always want to feel good. You refuse to live in the real world."

"Yeah," he said, "my mother told me that."

He's in his 20s. He's not ready to grow up. He'll go through the motions, attend our meetings, allow himself to get high w/either mania or cocaine and continue this ridiculous lifestyle until he either gets sick of it or dies of a heart attack.

No doubt he'll agree with me. Is real life so joyless that a person needs to get high?

He'd think I was nuts if he knew all the simple things that give me pleasure.

Actually, I was just eating my leftover shrimp w/cocktail sauce just now, roaming around the living room moaning w/joy over how good it tastes, and thinking, "Hmmm, maybe Bruce, with his need for extreme ways to make him feel emotion, particularly happiness, should engage in some extreme sports - seriously! We have a guy in our group who goes hang-gliding and also parachutes out of airplanes.

As for me, I get off on cooking something new: broccoli-rabe w/linguine. The NY Times' Mark Bittman did a video of it so I made the recipe yesterday & bought the shrimp for protein. I called Scott who gets home from work at 8 pm and left him a message that I'd be at our New Directions' meeting, he should come over and help himself to the pasta and shrimp.

When I crawled into bed w/him later that nite after the meeting - he was snoring away - his sleep disorder is totally fixed since he works 'second shift now' - I asked him if he liked the dinner. Remember, this is the first time I'd ever made broccoli-rabe and he said it was delicious.

Since I can't eat salty cheeses any more (they raise my blood pressure), I substituted the parm cheese w/toasted almonds on top:


Prep time is about half an hour.

Into huge pot of boiling water put vitamin-mineral-laden broccoli-rabe

Slice 4 or 5 garlic cloves and cook SLOWLY in olive oil. Be careful not to burn them. When cooked right, they exude a lovely aroma and flavor.

Toast a couple handfuls of almonds in the toaster-oven.

Combine all ingredients and sprinkle the almonds on top.

Lemme know what time you're coming over for dinner, Marce!!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My experience with Lithium - Alternatives for lithium

A friend sent me an email. Her daughter is on lithium, among other drugs, and her schizoaffective disorder is under control. She did mention that lithium causes her daughter to pee a lot, a result of drinking lots of water. Lithium makes most of us very thirsty! She also wondered about alternatives for lithium which are listed at the bottom of this post.

Please remember that I'm not a doctor so everything I say should be thoroughly researched.

I was put on lithium in 1984, at the age of 38, after having my first manic/psychotic break. I took it faithfully for 16 years. I remember a time when I worked at the Intelligencer/Record newspaper in Horsham, PA, as a copyeditor/freelance writer, and the lithium began turning on me. I had diarrhea numerous times a day. My psychiatrist wanted to take me off it, but I refused. At that time, there were NO alternatives. I was terrified of returning to the chaotic state I'd been in when I was forcibly - and correctly - hospitalized and removed from the life I so loved, including raising my two children.

Today there are many alternatives to lithium, which was first used to treat gout in the 1800s.

Eventually lithium and I entered into an uneasy truce. I had dozens upon dozens of side effects that make me cringe when remembering them. I saw many different specialists - skin doctors, pain doctors, neurologists, endocrine specialists - none of whom said that these bodily effects were a result of the lithium. I believe they were DEAD WRONG!

To be fair, I also took antipsychotics - along with side effect pills - for when I became manic/psychotic, which was several times a year. I was classified as a rapid cycler. Today lithium has been found ineffective for rapid cyclers. Back then there wasn't enough data to know this.

Especially troubling were 'zapping feelings' like bee stings that struck me night and day without warning. These were so severe I contemplated killing myself every single day while these effects persisted. I've written about this elsewhere, on How I Averted Suicide, under QuikBooks on our New Directions' website.

Most people I know DO NOT SUFFER the extreme physical agony I did while on lithium. Thank God! However, there are two unavoidable symptoms from lithium, one minor, the other major. Oftentimes, the lithium knocks out our Thyroid function so we must go on thyroid medication for the rest of our lives. Fortunately there are no side effects for this.

The other more serious concern is the way lithium affects our kidneys. My kidney doctor told me Lithium affects the tiny blood vessels in the neck of the kidney, apparently occluding them. Sorry I can't get more technical than this. He had me get an ultrasound of my kidneys a month ago and said they didn't look all that bad though I'm technically in Stage 3 or 5 of Renal Failure. It has begun to affect my blood pressure, which currently is out of control. I see the doctor tomorrow for a medication adjustment.

When you're young, lithium is fine. But when you age, the results show up on your lab tests. It's imperative to be tested twice a year for your creatinine level. My friend "Peter" who is about 67 and was diagnosed as a young adult, had been on Lithium longer than me. Five years ago he had a successful kidney transplant. I know many other people in their mid-fifties or sixties who can no longer tolerate the drug.

Your brain gets used to the lithium. When I went off due to kidney damage, I had to learn how to think all over again. I was still on Klonopin for anxiety, even tho I was never anxious, and my doctor put me on Lamictal, which unbeknownst to me was revving me into hypomania and suicidality, but I stayed in 'survivor mode' calling up friends to help steady me. This is how I developed my Stop-Suicide Plan which we implement in our support group.

Life always presents challenges. So my challenge after going off the lithium was learning how to THINK AGAIN. I remember I would buy children's toys at flea markets to help train my brain to think. I bought the first toy I ever got Sarah, a little rolling ball that would roll back and forth. I also bought a Busy Box, with four doors, each one opening via a different mechanism. I would sit on the floor for moments at a time training my mind to think again.

As you can tell, I somehow survived all this. Who helped me? No one. I had to figure it all out for myself. Should there be training programs for all aspects of bipolar disorder and depression? Of course there should be. I proposed this to two local counties, Bucks and Montgomery. I would develop training programs that would save the County money, and keep people out of hospitals and on their meds. You can guess what the counties responded: Silence.

I advise all psychiatric patients and their families to be aware of all the meds out there to treat our conditions. First, you learn THE CATEGORIES of medication, then the varieties within those categories. Not that difficult. We have:

- Mood stabilizers such as lithium, Depakote, Tegretol, Trileptal (a derivative of Tegretol)

- Atypical antipsychotics that are USED as mood stabilizers such as Geodon, Risperdal, Abilify, Seroquel and the side-effect-laden Zyprexa. (Oh look, they all have side effects, who are they kidding, but Zyprexa, in my opinion, is the worst, linked w/overeating and diabetes.)

- Antidepressants - numerous categories of these such as:

....SSRIs (Prozac, Lexapro)
....Dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Wellbutrin)
....Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Effexor)

....and the older antidepressants:

....MAO inhibitors (Parnate, Nardil, Seleginine)
....Tricyclics (Elavil, Sinequan)

- Antianxiety meds like Klonopin, Ativan, Serax. These are benzodiazepines and work better than any other antianxiety meds.

All of these meds can be researched online, and I suggest you do! The best way to learn about meds is to talk to people who take them such as your friendly neighborhood support group, New Directions, who else?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blue Bell Ice Cream

Let's travel back again to the ranch in Ardmore, Oklahoma where the family all met after the death of my ex-husband Mike Deming. The women were a-bustling in the kitchen while the men worked at the barbecue on the patio. As far as the eye could see was endless land, a scrubby plain, with a herd of cattle who kept close to home. You could hear their gentle noises from the house. Sounds travel far on the broad plains. We also saw a brush fire far off to the right, the black smoke curling upward far away. Danger on a ranch in Oklahoma is constant.

But you don't think one of your own will up and die like Mike did. You just don't ever think that.

My daughter Sarah had made a tall three-layer chocolate cake.

"Is there any ice cream around here?" I asked.

"There's some in the fridge, but it's real old," said Donna, Mike's wife. "It's been here since Momma and Daddy died."

I opened the freezer and opened the lid of the Blue Bell Vanilla ice cream. It sparkled with ice crystals. I shut the freezer door.

Sarah had bought berries from the market - huge blackberries the size of your thumb, tiny red raspberries and smaller still blueberries. I pulled those from the fridge, sliced a thin piece of chocolate cake, and covered them with the berries. It looked incomplete.

Then I took out the Blue Bell ice cream and placed it in the sink. With an ice cream scooper, I dug out the cover of ice crystals which acted like a natural preservative protecting the buttery-rich ice cream below.

I liberated the ice cream, tasted it and it was just fine. Just plain delicious.

And that's how we had ice cream n cake that whole weekend long for Mike's funeral. I carried mine around the house in a bowl, eating and talking to people at the same time.

How I wished Mike were there. Read Sarah's post of the 62 Ways she loved her dad. Scroll down and you'll find it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ruth Deming shares tips on stealing napkins

Scott and I ate at Angelo's Restaurant in Southampton, PA tonight. In addition to dining on a luscious meal with our favorite beverage - ice-cold water - we were given plenty of large white napkins to wipe the pasta off our mustaches.

After we paid our bill at the table, I tucked the extra napkins in my jacket pocket to transfer them later on to their new home: the glove compartment of my car, subsequently named the Napkin and Extra Sunglass Compartment.

I must confess I was desperate for good napkins. Earlier today I accompanied a friend to the Subway sandwich joint where the food looked so awful I just sat and watched her eat. The woman behind the counter had given Julie a heap of napkins and I asked Julie's permission to take them with me for the Napkin Compartment of my car.

But the Subway napkins are terrible! One entire side is filled with colorfully inked Subway ads. If you use them to blow your nose - or write yourself notes - you'll get a whiff of the printer's ink which might, for a delicate soul, knock them into unconsciousness, as if they were "huffing." Again, tho, I was desperate, having been down to my last 2 Dunkin Donuts napkins.

You can be sure that when Tiffers and I did our display case for National Poetry Month I did the ole napkin trick. "Did you know," I wrote on a Starbucks napkin, "that we do indeed write poetry on napkins....Once upon a midnight dreary"

Did I bring home any napkins from Oklahoma? Good qvestion, she said in a Yiddish accent. Unlike her children, the blogger is one-hundred percent Jewish. OF COURSE I DID! A nice assortment of Prairie Kitchen napkins and Denny's napkins tucked away in my backpack for safekeeping.

Ruth's Imported Napkins is the name of my new business. But what's this sitting on my desk right in front of me? A pecan-colored assiette (napkin in French, my god, what a mind you have Ruthie - absolutely useless!) from Manhattan Bagel in where else Willow Grove, PA, a reminder of our post-Bipolar Lecture meal paid for by none other than State Representative and Iraqi veteran Tom Murt, the only Republican I ever voted for besides Abe Lincoln.

The most important thing in the world

Just about every single thing I do is: The most important thing in the world.

When I made breakfast for me and Scott this morning (he's off on Good Friday) I wanted to make sure it was the most delicious breakfast I'd ever made.

Grits, in particular, are hard to make tasty. When I was in Oklahoma and lots of us ordered grits, we decided unanimously that the grits were all watered down and tasteless. We know that's b/c the hominy is de-natured, that is, everything that's good for you is removed. For some reason, Americans got used to eating things that are WHITE, like the "supreme race" and Wonder Bread.

Well, I thought about how to make my de-natured grits delicious. I cooked it with one-third milk (yes white milk) and you know what? They were delicious. Of course the cheddar cheese I sprinkled in helped too.

I think it's good to make everything you do The Most Important Thing in the World, especially our encounters with other human beings. Can't wait to leave home today and see who I bump into. It's exciting being a participant in the real world. When I was a child I was shy. I'd stand on the sidewalk and people would pass me by. I was too shy to say a word. I didn't want my kids to be shy. When we'd go out to eat I'd have little Sarah or Dan go up to the register and pay the check.

Look! I've turned into a mental health advocate!

Oh, I forgot I already am a mental health advocate. Each day I wake up I must remind myself of who I am.

And don't forget! If you have flowers growing in your yard, pick a few and bring em inside. On my kitchen windowsill I have - and please don't tell him - ruffled daffodils from Scott's yard. Don't worry, I picked some for him too and put em in an old glass peanut butter jar on his counter. He loved them! I also sent him a postcard from Oklahoma. I chose 4 at the Oklahoma City airport and have sent out three.

If you'd like the last one, send me an email at It's got a picture of a shuttered old barn at twilight with swirling clouds.

We had an exceptional Mornings at the Willow Grove Mall yesterday. We do outstanding work. I have a personal mission to get help for "Peter." He lives in a group home and feels very loyal to his psychiatrist who is not helping him at all. We planted the seed yesterday at the mall that he needs to change psychiatrists. We finally got "Mary Ann" to switch to Dr. Desmond. She's very happy with him. She'd been w/Dr. A.H. for 6 futile years.

Look, if it's broke, FIX IT for godssakes! Desmond has already put her on Abilify.

Only some of you reading this will understand what I'm talkin about. I'm not one of them.

Here's an email I send my Board of Directors and Directoresses plus support group members:

As a mental health consumer, I urge you all to support legislation for the carefully thought-out Senate Bill 251 to update Pennsylvania's antiquated mental health laws. Please read the following editorial in the Harrisburg Patriot newspaper and then my online comment.

I'm in contact with the mental health advocacy organization Treatment Advocacy Center, founded by the famous psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey - and endorsed by actor Martin Sheen. The TAC of Arlington, VA, are spearheading the drive to pass this legislation in Pennsylvania.

If you wish to be added to the TAC's email list, please contact Aileen Kroll (pronounced I-lene) at She'll advise you what SIMPLE ACTIONS you can take - like making phone calls - to help pass this urgently needed mental health bill.

As we know, it's very difficult to help people w/mental illness who may not know that they're ill. This bill will get them much-needed outpatient treatment.

Here's my Letter to the Editor to the Patriot.

THANK YOU for your excellent editorial of April 10 supporting Sen. Greenleaf's much-needed Senate Bill 251 to update Pennsylvania's antiquated laws to help people with mental illness and their long-suffering families and friends.

As a woman with bipolar disorder, I was forcibly hospitalized in 1984 due to out-of-control mania and psychosis including combativeness toward my family. At the time I was totally unaware of my odd and threatening behavior. Thankfully I got the treatment I needed, including forced medication, so I could return to my life as a mother and writer.

I've been closely following Greenleaf's legislation and have been in touch with his staff to ensure that the legislation is not whimsical but follows careful protocol.

Due to the excellent care I received in the years following my hospitalization, I founded the largest support group in the Philadelphia area for people with bipolar and depression and their family members. Nearly half of us have been forcibly hospitalized and learned that medication and therapy are vital in managing our illness. While certainly not pleasant, forced treatment ensures that the chaos produced by these treatable brain disorders will come to an end. Yes, intervention works.

Have a wonderful Good Friday and Passover!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fare thee well Oklahoma!

Yesterday morning I was in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Ardmore, OK, checking to see if my Letter to the Editor had gotten in to the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer. The computer was so slow I had time to look out the bank of windows and see the vast blue skies of Oklahoma until the online sprang into view.... with my letter, vastly truncated.

I'd jogged over from my balcony-side room in my shorts and long sleeve shirt but was simply freezing. Oklahoma's famous prairie winds were whipping up. In fact, when I called Scott later that morning, I sang into the phone: OKLA-HOMA where the winds come whipping down the plains. It was so windy that our rented Mazda hatchback swerved dangerously on the Interstate! Natives know not to drive the Interstate when wind warnings come in but use the backroads.

The state is well prepared for tornado emergencies. Our hotel had a sign pointing to the Storm Shelter. A series of piercing sirens tell of the coming of the winds.

Oklahoma means "red people" in the Choctaw language.

In my Mead composition notebook, I took down the phone numbers and email addresses of my new Oklahoma kin who you might say adopted me and vice-versa. When I came back home to Philadelphia I found myself speaking - in my head - in an Oklahoma drawl. I really like those folks. Donna, the wife of my ex, and I really bonded. I hope that man knew how lucky he was to have her as his wife.

Can you believe I was hanging out with cattle ranchers? I was in my glory. My daughter made a face when I said I fantasized living down there on the ranch. It's like this. You sit on the patio in those metal chairs they have. Those metal chairs that rock slightly when you sit down. You make yourself comfortable and put your drink down on the cement. After the funeral Sarah made Mike's favorite drink - mohitos - rum and lemons and club soda. My, it was tasty and went down smooth. I got a nice little buzz. I'm not a drinker but hey, your ex-husband only dies once.

His brother Joe and I went out to see the cattle. They were about 100 yards away from the patio. He brought his drink with him but I left mine behind. He held open the barbed wire fence with his foot and hand and I scurried through, then did the same for him. We walked toward the cattle, maybe 15 or so of them including a few black bulls. They are ever so curious and stopped grazing so they could look up at us with their kind faces. You did wanna go over and pet them but thought better of it.

Later, we'd tour the 80 acres with family members who proudly showed us around. The dozens of oil derricks on the property are owned by oil companies. The derricks are constantly bowing up and down, up and down, to dig for oil. No rancher is allowed to own mineral rights.

I said to Lou, one of the family members, how come there's all these old cars and trucks and tractors that always sits on the lands of farmers.

They're monuments, said Lou. We don't throw them away because we love them and want to keep them. I thought that was neat and wondered how my old brown Ford LTD would look sitting on my front lawn.

Every single morning in Oklahoma, I did my back exercises and visited the Fitness Room. I carried two-pound weights around the room and did exercises Scott showed me. "Look at those muscles you have," he's fond of saying. I think what he really means is, "Look at those flabby arms!"

Under Donna's tutelage, my former husband matured beautifully and fulfilled much of his potential, which is what we all want to do as a human being. Here's the obit written in the Ardmoreite. Although Mike and Donna lived in a suburb of Oklahoma City, the funeral was 90 miles away in the cattle-ranching town where Donna's family has tilled the soil for two generations. They're hoping to keep it going for as long as they can.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Greetings from Ardmore, Oklahoma

Am sitting in the lobby of the Holiday Inn with a cup of decaf and doing a blog before the family meets for breakfast at 9:30 a.m. central time for a big Oklahoma breakfast.

Mike's funeral was yesterday. I sat in the front section with the rest of the family members. His wife Donna was extremely gracious to me, having extended an invitation to the funeral. I flew down with Dan and his fiancee Nicole. From Oklahoma City, where Mike worked as a city planner, we drove 90 miles up to Ardmore, where his in-laws have a ranch. The funeral was held at the funeral home that his wife's family has used. They are three generations of cattle ranchers.

Mike himself was brought up on a farm in Crockett, East Texas, so he was not unfamiliar with living off the land. When we were married and lived in Married Student Housing at the University of TX at Austin, he had a vegetable garden out back and used to take little Sarah out there with him. Fig trees grew there and I would pick the succulent pink-centered figs and bake them in cakes. Since I nursed Sarah until till she was 2 years old (that girl would not quit!) I could eat with impunity and would make a different dessert every night for me and Mike.

I learned so much during my married years. My Joy of Cooking book is marked up with all my favorite recipes with little notations such as "OK to add vanilla" or some such.

Highlights of the funeral included:

Two of Mike's colleagues from the Planning Commission, where he worked, giving amazing tributes to the man and his work. They commented on his "genius" to get the job done, his involvement in every single project there w/o which it could not be completed, his loving attention to detail and data-gathering, his dry sense of humor, and his unwavering support as a friend.

This was the man I married. I think of my marriage as a starting point for him. We were both young and needed lots of growing up, and his second wife provided the love and stability for him to complete himself as an ever-evolving man. Naturally I shared these feelings with Donna during our many hours together. I'm so glad I got to know this remarkable woman and her two sisters Janet and Nancy.... the Thomasons, as the signpost says at the ranch. Their parents, in their early 80s, had passed away the last two years.

Tributes to Mike were also presented by Mike's two brothers - David Ball Deming and Joseph Chevalier Deming. His mother Margie, age 89, sat in the front row staring straight ahead while each of her boys got up and spoke. Then Sarah and Dan went to the podium and spoke about their dad.

Two preachers conducted the service. This is an intensely religious family, the Demings, all of whom believe in Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour. I'd hoped to raise my kids as Jews but they couldn't abide religious education so I woefully pulled them out of their religious studies and let them choose whether to believe or not believe - in anything.

The service ended with an incredible slide show of photographs w/moving music in the background. Dan had come over my house, gone in the basement and retrieved a gray metal filebox I had totally forgotten about, which held scores of family photographs. Now, here they were enlarged and splashed on a wide screen.

One memorable photo showed Mike kneeling in Sarah's white crib along with baby Sarah who was standing up hold the crib bars. It got a laugh.

At the end, the side doors of the funeral home were flung open. We filed past the open casket where Mike looked the way we all remembered him. He died as a result of several falls he'd taken on his knees - prayer position you might say. Following knee surgery, a blood clot floated around his body until the day he died, at which point it entered his heart. His wife fortunately was with him when he died. They called 911 who did all they could.

The Lord, they believe, wanted him.

Standing on the cement patio at the funeral home, I remarked on the vast open spaces of Oklahoma. As far as the eye could see there was land. Flat land with scrubby plains grass and a few scattered trees. I know that Millard Grove Deming - "Mike" to everyone - appreciated every inch of ground and thanked God for the gift of being born.

I sure do!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April is National Poetry Month!

If you're in the neighborhood, stop by the Huntingdon Valley, PA Library at 625 Red Lion Road off Huntingdon Pike (Route 232) to see the Display Case we installed for April is National Poetry Month.

Tiffany and I worked over 4 hours designing what to put on the 3 shelves to make it as eye-catching as possible. It's on the Left as soon as you enter the library.

There's poems by 2 of our members - the prolific Linda and myself. There are also several books by Pennsylvania poets no one has ever heard of. It's important to buy books of local poets to support their efforts. Our Linda, in fact, wrote a book w/the catchy title of "Scratch Paper Poems" which Tiffany purchased from her.

Tiffany brought in seashells, shiny rocks, necklaces and earrings which served as colorful accents in the artistic looking case. We collaborated well together, standing far back of the case to envision how things looked up close. At the end, I wanted to fill in some empty spots, so I went outdoors and found a few pine cones on the grounds to fill out the design. My hands got sticky from the sap!

In addition to the poetry, we put up a note inside the case saying, Did you know that many poets suffer from "the artist's condition" - or bipolar disorder (manic depression)? We named a few poets - Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and Sara Teasdale - and then tacked up a New Directions brochure and invited people to call us if interested in joining our group.

The library director, Thais (pronounced Tie-eece) Gardy, made a big fuss over the case and said it looked like it had been done by professionals!

Linda, who loves giving gifts, gave me a little diary. For the display case, I hand-wrote a small poem I found that very morning in one of my huge stacks of papers which lines the floor around my desk:


The nightly moth
reminds me of
my aloneness
banging for

How to love a moth?
Stare hard.