Car Crusaders

handmade greeting card, collage artMethodical deliberation is not one of my strong points.  The bipolar temperament tends towards the impulsive and, later, lots of head-slapping.  But, I’m determined to do this car-buying thing differently, if at all possible.

Yesterday, I took my dad’s truck in for an oil change and general look-see by my trusted mechanics.  The folks at Alley Auto have been very good to me—they’re like family.  (Wait.  My cousin’s husband owns the shop, so they really are family.)  They always figure out the cheapest way to fix a car-related problem, make sympathetic noises when I have my car-stress-induced crying jags, and even bought my old Ford Escape when it got too expensive to fix anymore.  They rank high on my list of Real Heroes.

I knew I could count on them to give me the real skinny on compact cars, and I wasn’t disappointed, even thought would not mind getting 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser, too.  We nattered in the office for a half hour—Rose, the tough office manager with a Lauren Bacall voice; Todd, the tender-hearted wise guy; and Bob, the all-round nice, decent, human being my cousin married.  Boy, howdy, did I get an ear-full.

The Smart Car, it seems, is not the car of choice – as well as cars of the Ferrari 250 GTO type.  Foreign-made, with no dealer in Iowa, any repairs would be expensive and done long distance. This is why most would choose to shop at a Chevy dealerships or dodge dealership with more comfort and familiarity.  And even though it is teeny-tiny, its gas mileage is only average.  There are other compacts and sub-compacts of similar price that offer more car and better mileage.

The Dodge Dart was a favorite.

And they threw out the Ford Focus.

Also the Honda Fit.

Honda Fit

And maybe the Ford Fiesta.

We have dealers in town for all these cars, so my car posse suggested I go drive them all (when the snow stops and the roads are shoveled).  Bob said once I find a couple I really like, then the team will do some research on reliability and repair stats to see how they hold up over time.  They’ll also give me pointers on what questions to ask the dealer and other car-Ninja techniques.  In the meantime, they’ll keep my old truck running on the cheap.

I was weak with gratitude as I hopped on Google to research these other cars.  What a giant relief to have a whole team on my side, ready to help me make a calculated, well-informed decision.  Even when I eventually leave this oasis of stability, I can hold onto these Car Crusaders for support.  Maybe I can really do this thing.  And, maybe this time, I won’t have to deal with so much post-manic, decision-making face palm.

captain picard, face palm

In and Out

hand made cards, collage art

♦ ♦ ♦

Awake at 4:00.  Panic and sinking despair.  Read email and blogs to calm, calm, calm. But the discomfort like gravel under the skin, ants in the brain.  Go! Go! Go!  Dash water on our face and find clean underwear.  Enough grooming.  Go!  Will jump in the truck and Drive.  To the Forbidden City.  Starbucks.  A movie later.

Another voice.  So quiet.  *wait.

Check billfold.  $45 to last two more weeks.  Not enough.  Check movies and times.  Ah, one we haven’t seen.  Print out the free soda coupon.  Check bank account.  Balance on the Visa is HighHighHigh.  Nothing left in checking.

*don’t do this today.

We lay on the floor to listen better to the quiet voice.  Want to bolt.  Need to bolt.  But can’t squeeze past the facts.  Have to.  Have to.  Can’t stay in town.  No proper coffee in town anymore.  No proper writing place.  Can’t come back to the apartment-prison.  Can’tCan’tCan’t.  Go now.

*wait.  can you hold the tension?

No.  Too much.  Drowning.

*think of it like an experiment.  try, and see what happens.  try one thing.

On the floor with Henry watching from the chair.  We can go to the Y.  Ride the recumbent bike.  Walk.

*yes, then what?

Then, we’ll see.


We walk to the Y.  Ride the bike.  Moving through syrup.  Pain.  Exhausted before starting.  Stumbling tired after.

*what now?

Experimenting and holding the tension of flight or fight.

*can you stay?  *can you keep from spending money today?

We will stay in town.  We have a gift card for the movies here.  Maybe go later.  Forget going to the inadequate cafe.  Make our own chai.  Need almond milk.  Forget going to the grocery store.  Too tired.  Too much pain.  Make a meal from what we have.  Healthy, but too much.  Staying, but eating.  Can only hold so much tension.  Drop into eating and watching a movie.  Then, drop into full sleep.  For hours.

Wake up like a drunk.  Out on the sidewalk with the iPod and an apple.  Walk.  Eat a proper snack.  Feel the breeze—sun-warm on the top, October-cool on the bottom.  Shuffle through drifts of leaves.  Plodding, plodding.  Still, the gravel under the skin.  Still, the ants in the brain.  Feet are platters, swollen and sore.  Body feels huge, bloated.  FeelFeelFeel.  But, the urgent voice is quiet.  Only the Other voice is here.

*breathe.  turn your face to the sun.  yes…

We miss our street concentrating on putting one platter in front of the other.  Funny.  At home, we pound a nail and hang a picture.  We need a companion for this picture.  TensionTensionTension.  Online we find one.  Not too expensive.  And we need double-sided tape.  And…and…and…  Tension stretches and snaps.  Running free.  Almost.  Remove items from the shopping cart.  DeleteDeleteDelete. $35 spent.  Not too bad.

*come back to holding the tension. be curious.  can you keep coming back?

Daylight fades.  Henry sits at the window watching the street go dark.  Time to shroud the TV.  Time to write.  Time to breathe.  In and out.  Like the tension.  Like the experiment.  In and out.

In and out.

A New Venture

collage art, handmade cardsToday I opened my Etsy Shop—Sandy Sue Altered.  It took about two days to list the cards I have in stock and figure out the system  (If you can blog, you can certainly set up an Etsy shop).  It cost about $13 for the listing fees and to have Etsy handle credit card orders, which seems wonderfully cheap.  I think I’ve covered everything, but who knows—there may be surprises ahead.

I have zero expectations.  No delusions of becoming the Bill Gates of collage art handmade cards.  But, it feels like I have to take some kind of action to get the Universe’s attention.  Hey!  Buddy!  Throw a little moola in this direction!

Please stop by and look around.  If you’ve liked the artwork I’ve used in these posts, you’ll probably enjoy yourself.  Let me know what you think.

Vegetarian Gold

Abraham Lincoln, vegetarianI’ve just about completed my first week as a vegetarian, and the Judges are ready with their scores.

Level of Difficulty:  Nonexistent.  I’m amazed at how easy this is.  No meat, fish, dairy or eggs except for cream in my coffee and whatever gets into my bread.  I’ve been trying to eat “clean” for some time, so going for whole and raw foods is already part of my food-consciousness.  And if I don’t mess with sauces and other packaged items, I don’t have to wonder what’s in them.  Suh-weet!

Albert Einstein, vegetarianBalanced Nutrition:  A Perfect Ten.  Here’s another shocker.  Aldi, the discount grocery store in town, carries everything I’ll ever need to maintain a diet rich in protein, vitamins and minerals.  Nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, a rainbow of fruit, brown rice—they’re all there.  So, not only do I get a winning score on nutrition, but also on cost.

Alice Walker, vegetarianWeirdness Factor:  I lose some points here trying to explain my new eating habits to Iowans.  I live in the middle of farm country where beef and pork production are major industries.  The slaughterhouse is the largest employer in town.  I’m thinking if I ran down Main Street naked, I might reach the level of incredulity and shock I’ve encountered.  But, I’ve been to this circus before.  I’ve learned how to take it slow and easy with scary, radical personal information.  If I can help my loved ones understand bipolar disorder a little bit better, I can do it again with a plant-based diet.

Annie Lennox, vegetarianPhysical Adaptation:  The score is still pending in this category.  I find I’m not nearly as hungry as I used to be, and that when I am hungry I can actually feel it in my stomach.  This is a new sensation for me, so I’m a little fascinated by it.  I’ve discovered that eating too many nuts at night will necessitate a mad dash in the wee hours of the morning (with or without cats-as-hurdles).  But it might only be pistachios.  More trials are required.

Tesla, vegetarianMental Health Score:  No consistent changes at this early stage.  I’m still rapid cycling.  It’s tempting to hope for a miracle, but I know better than that.  A little boost in energy or a smidge smoother moods would be glorious.  We shall see.

Weight Loss Marks:  Along with the informative Nutrisystem Lean13 review I read, the books I read at the library said it was more important to get comfortable with the new diet than worry about caloric intake, so I didn’t pay much attention to how much I ate this week.  And I still lost a pound at my TOPS weigh-in.  Can I say it again?  Suh-weet!

Christian Bale, vegetarianAll in all, I feel like I brought home the gold this week.  I plan to check prices of more exotic items at other grocery stores (like pumpkins seeds and black beans) to see if I can afford a few non-Aldi purchases.  And I’ll be on the look-out for restaurants that will be both affordable and vegetarian-friendly—for those times when my illness makes me bolt.  As with any non-typical diet, planning ahead saves on stumbles and belly-flops.

And on a completely different note:

All week, I’ve been hearing a song in my head.  It’s from a Porky Pig cartoon called “An Itch in Time” and featured a flea set out to munch on Porky’s dog. Like the flea, I’m feeling pretty happy about the food around my corner.

Food Around the Corner

What Gifts, Mania?

What gifts, Mania?  What roads flowing liquid through the dreamscape?  What treasures piled like tart grapes?  What moons shining?

For awhile, mania is a lovely thing.  This time, I am driven to write.  In the past few days, I’ve finished my novel, crafted two short stories, outlined the first few chapters of the next novel, and gathered notes to write at least three more short stories.  I wake up in the morning with scenes and dialog fully formed and spewing from my head.

I come to a resting place, a place where I would usually put the story away and let it percolate in my subconscious for a day or days.  But now, the rest lasts the length of an episode of Mad Men, and I’m back at the computer with the perfect solution, the perfect turn, the perfect word.

I know I’m manic.  I feel the obsessive itch.  To counter it, I push away from the stories and play with my art.  But, there, too, I am flooded with potential.  The cards I make can take me over an hour to assemble.  I made a dozen cards this weekend, all different, all elaborate, all beautiful.

This is the place we of the bipolar persuasion yearn for—this place of making, this effortless disgorging of ideas and images that takes form as something real and whole.   This is the Promised Land and Enlightenment and good Rock ‘N’ Roll all bundled together.  We’ll do anything to stay here.

But, it doesn’t last—not the clear, cool mind, not the ease, not the glee.  Mania shifts into agitation and deepening impulsivity.  It tears away sleep and clouds the mind with grand delusions.

I started buying DVDs on eBay to keep me entertained next week after my surgery.  The mania shoves me to keep buying.  I posted my new stories here.  The mania sends me back ten-fifteen-twenty times a day to look for comments, to look at the photos, to tweak one more word.  Small irritations detonate into rage.

The gifts of mania are the gifts I carry with me always.  My talent for making came with my blue eyes and my German bones.  No shift in brain chemistry opens a door or closes it.  No mood determines my potential.  My inborn gifts come through because I use them.  When I’m manic, I just use them more.

So, I shift, and shift again.  The thoughts will slow from their frenzied pace.  The body will tamp down the fires.  And I will still be a Maker.


I just finished reading Stephen King’s newest doorstop, 11/22/63.  It’s a story about time travel and the Kennedy assassination, and one of the themes is that the past fights hard to stay the same.  Yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking that the present (particularly my present) will roll over anyone (insert “me”) to stay the same.

I visited the Animal Shelter yesterday to discuss volunteering.  The gal at the desk asked me what I’d like to do.  I said anything that needed doing.  She signed me up to work next Monday afternoon.  I walked back out to my truck in a daze.  I’d been in the building a good seven minutes.

On the drive back to town I kept telling myself, “You can do this.  It’s one afternoon.  It’s doggies and kitties.”  But, the anxiety started low in my gut and crept up to my throat.  Where was all that positive, life-affirming determination that shot me out of Minneapolis and back to Marshalltown with a vision of My New Life?  Stuck under the depression that’s since arrived, I imagine.  It was as if a part of me fought hard to stay the same.  Because the same is known, safe.

Later I went to Wal-Mart.  To start beautifying my little apartment and make it more my home, I asked my mom to help me purchase a storage cabinet for my bathroom.  Always happy to have something concrete to buy for me, Mom agreed.  I found a reasonably priced one online and had it shipped to our local store.

“Some assembly required” meant a box full of boards (Not boards, pressboard—the next step up from cardboard) and a big bag of hardware.  I’m pretty handy.  I mean, I’ve got my own drill, for heaven’s sake.  So, I wasn’t too concerned about putting an over-the-toilet cupboard together.  The instruction manual neglected to mention fronts or backs of any of the pieces, so I “assembled” the thing three times.  By then the anchors were tearing out of the pressboard, and even Gorilla Glue wouldn’t keep it standing up.  After five hours of wrestling with the thing, I gave up and took it back.  At least I got my money back.

The present took one last jab this morning.  As I was cleaning the pieces of my CPAP machine, I poked a hole in the hose that connects the machine to my face mask.  I stood at the bathroom sink, holding up both ends of the hose, watching water squirt out the hole, and I thought.  “Okay.  I give up.”  I can’t afford any more accidents (I fell on the ice out side Wal-Mart and also getting into my truck) or medical issues (an old shoulder injury is painfully back in town and there’s some gynecological shenanigans going on in my nether-regions).  I get the message.

But, there’s a part of me outside the current depression that’s getting steely-eyed.  I can feel her reaching for the Uzi.  Entropy may be a powerful force, but so is the Bad-Ass.  I’ll regroup and rethink while the depression grips me.  But, after that.  Yippy-Ki-Yay, Motherf*****.


Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired,
but come.  This is the way.”

∞ ∞ ∞

How to follow that quiet, wise voice inside.  Because it’s still there, much as my ears rush with this other sound.  There seems no other how but to do, to follow the dim suggestion to plant one foot in front of the other.

The old routine tastes off, contaminated by this unsavoriness.  The water still feels like comfort as my body stretches and churns, flexing out depression’s burrs.  But, Haven, my writing sanctuary, my one indulgence, irritates and offends.  Christian music blares from outside speakers, Easy Listening inside, and I hear both at my regular table.  No one will fix the cacophony for me, and I leave.  I’m done there, I think.

I look for a new shirt at Wal-Mart, but nothing is right.  I push my cart around and around the racks of clothes as if I can conjure what I want with the proper spiral.  I go to the grocery store, determined to buy healthy food, no junk.  Each selection requires long scrutiny, painful contemplation.  There are moments of standing blank in the aisle, staring into the sea of lunch meats and cheeses, holding two jars of spaghetti sauce.

I come home to waiting cats, mildly curious about my bags.  I put groceries away, heat up soup, make a sandwich, start to watch a movie I’m not interested in, lay down on my bed with Henry tucked close.

I hear the faint voice encouraging me, and I do the next thing.  Then the next.

“I know you’re tired,
but come.  This is the way.”


I’m going to say I’m back from the bipolar battlefield even if I’m not sure.  I seem to be back enough to do triage, sorting the casualties into who needs immediate attention, who can wait, and who is too far gone to warrant any attention at all.

What needs immediate attention is my home.  During an episode, I tend to “let things go.”  So, the bathroom needs a scrub, as does the kitchen.  Laundry, vacuuming and a general picking up and putting away.  I have a duffel bag full of pictures and photo albums to put away from creating the slide show for Dad’s funeral.  A general dusting might be a good idea, too.

Concurrently, I need to get my routine back.  It’s not too far off—I’ve been getting to the Y every day, doing a little writing and art—but off enough.  Watching TV during an episode is positive distraction, but watching too much and continuing on after the episode fades like this sets me up for mindlessness and compulsive eating.

Once I get my apartment and routine in order, I need to stock up.  The cupboards are pretty bare, which makes me reach for take-out, which I can’t afford.  I’m out of any kind of analgesic (Advil, Tylenol, et al.) and Kleenex (little things, but vital when you’ve got fibromyalgia and allergies).

Finally, I need to move ahead with projects and plans that I set for myself.  Check out another juvenile book from the library.  Call my cousin, Ray, to set up a time to meditate together.  Call my friend, Joyce, who I haven’t even told about my dad yet.  Go out to the Animal Rescue League and talk to them about volunteering. Get outside while the weather holds.  Dust off my sketchbook and draw.

I’m relieved to see no dead bodies in this triage run, no parts of my life that I’ve ruined or blown up, no relationships destroyed or bridges burned.  That, in itself, is a miracle, considering my past.  It makes me think I can actually evolve with this illness, learn from it, and make a few lasting changes.  One thing about bipolar disorder is that there’s always another opportunity to practice these new ways of thinking and behaving, always the next crazy-bomb set to explode.  Hopefully, the casualties will continue to stand up and walk away.

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming…

Yesterday, my faithful iMac gasped its last.  Logic board failure was the diagnosis (*Sigh* Another family member with a bad brain).  So, I’m posting from my library, which is only half a block away.  It means I have to stay on target and not dillydally, since I only get 60  minutes on the computer.  So…

When my computer guru, Jeremy, told me the bad news, I absolutely froze.  Think Straw and Camel’s Back.  My ex-husband helped me purchase my computer years ago. Computers were his passion.  He did all the maintenance, upgrades, installations, learning the new programs for both of us.  I sorta know how to use the programs I have, and I know to back up my files every once in a while.  That’s all.

I was lucky to find Jeremy when I moved back to my hometown.  He and the other 20-something fellas at BDH Technologies untangled my computer messes when I made them.  But Jeremy doesn’t want to tell me what to do about my dead Mac.  All he could do was look up what it would cost to replace it—a mere $1300.  Hence, the deer in the headlights.

Already in the throes of a sizeable bipolar depression and still fighting off bronchitis, I did the only thing I could.  I turned into Scarlet O’Hara.  “I won’t think about it now.  I’ll think about it tomorrow.  Tomorrow is another day.”  I turned on the TV and gathered all the food I had in the apartment and proceeded to go numb.

By mid-afternoon I was bloated, foggy and not able to keep the panic at bay any longer.  I sat meditation to still myself, then I pulled a Sheryl Mae and cleaned my apartment.  Dusting, rearranging, sorting, pulling out Halloween decorations, mounting clothes hooks, vacuuming burned off some of the frenetic energy and helped my brain process the ideas that came during meditation.  When I was done, my place was clean and Octobery, and I had a plan.

Slowly, slowly, I’m learning how to work with this illness.  When the depression or mania are at their worst, I need to whack them over the head with a baseball bat.  A shock, a change, hard physical work all interrupt the signal of the episode.  At least that’s what it feels like to me.

So, today, I’ll go to Staples and talk to the computer people there.  If they can’t help me pick out a computer, I’ll go to Best Buy on Friday when I’m in the city for meditation group.  I will polish up my resting credit card, because that’s what credit cards are for–emergencies.  But, I will entertain the idea of buying something other than a Macintosh for the first time in my life

The squeezed, helpless frozen state I was in yesterday transformed.  I’m still depressed, but not debilitatingly so.  I’m still sick, but I splashed around in two water classes at the Y today.  Buying a new computer is still a huge decision, but I have a plan.

I’m on a great adventure.

Delicate Puffs

Grateful, seeds of gratitude are sown

Sprout green and lift

Delicate white puffs among the weeds,

Tremble in the sigh of air.

Grateful, blossoms exhale seedlets

To dust other soil

Sink and


• • •


Climb on top of bronchitis.  Set bipolar disorder to the side.  Make room beside sick father and grieving family.  There is time and space for gratitude.  All month I have worked on crafting Christmas and Winter Solstice cards for the gallery.  Today they were received with joy and praise.  My collage, Bad Clowns, is now on their wall awaiting the perfectly twisted mind that will love it.  And tomorrow, when I go to the flea market in What Cheer with my friends, I will have some money to exchange for art fodder and treasures.

Gratitude fed, cannot be crushed.

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