The (childhood) home office that has been everything else, too

Maybe only a fellow writer can totally get it.

For the living room where you took your first steps (later to become the family dining room) to wind up being your home office 40-plus years later, well, it’s just a great story.

front door

And it’s my story. And my incredible home office. This shot is the same room today, looking right toward what was the front door where I was standing.

Long shot

Where to begin in ticking off the assets of my awesome office?

“The Window on the World,” as I joke, a takeoff from Today’s “Plaza.” I can sit at my desk and see everything that’s going on in the neighborhood (one friend said to me the other day, ‘This neighborhood is like its own little village within the city of Rock Island’)

It’s true. It’s very, very true.

And for all those years when company would come to visit, the dining room as well as the living room were gathering spots. This always has been an active room, the center of the house.

Dining Room

Read more: Check out this piece about my neighborhood I penned for the Quad-City Times way back in 2004

You can bet I sit here, pounding out stories about the opioid crisis, all the while watching fire engines roll past the Window on the World at least every other day, so it seems. Of course, I always wonder if someone overdosed, because many people have in this neighborhood.

Whenever you have 100 houses in a subdivision, there is going to be the potential for fire engines, ambulances, cop cars, etc. At least that’s what I tell myself these days.

Read more: Please join me in celebrating the renovation of my childhood home

It’s still a great neighborhood. It is. Best in Rock Island. I totally believe that.

Redoing this room cost almost nothing

I spent almost no money at all turning this room into my office. I had the old carpet pulled up when new carpet was installed in the front room. They did not charge me extra for that.

Other than that, I repainted the room, and that’s it.

Read more: How a two-car garage became a beautiful family room

The focal point of the room is, no doubt, the retro desk. In fact, many people say it is the coolest thing in my house.

Desk

It is cool, and it’s cool for many reasons. For starters, my family ate on a table exactly like this one in the 1970s, back when we ate in the kitchen and this room was the living room.

When mom and dad got divorced, the old 1970s table was long gone. But, dad found this one at a yard sale two Augustana girls were having in 1986 and bought it.

Dad and I did eat together at this table for a year, in this room. Well, until he started demanding I serve his meals to him in the living room on a silver platter he purchased at Goodwill.

No, I’m not kidding.

Finally, suitable frames and a suitable space for career collectibles

For many years, I’ve collected all sort of cool things that were suitable for framing. I just never got around to it.

I’m glad I got to Mimzi before they closed. My framed CNN 20th anniversary T-shirt, signed by Wolf Blitzer and the staff at “The World Today,” is pretty darned cool.

CNN

Special thanks to the man who gave it to me, colleague and mentor John Futch.

I also think the “thank-you” fax from Gene Shalit is pretty cool. This also was framed by Mimzi. Both this and the CNN frame together cost a fortune. I’m embarrassed to even say. But they did a great job.

She explained to me that the reason their prices are so high is because the equipment is so exacting. Oh well, they’re out of business now anyway!

Shalit

And never in my life would I ever have thought I would receive a two-year AA chip and this very nice certificate signed by the Milan Camden Serenity group.

Camden AA

My AA experience, overall, was not good. However, the Camden Serenity group in Milan never did anything to violate my trust, and they even took me in and gave me my two-year chip knowing I’m not a fan of AA.

Sober is sober, they said.

And that’s just very cool, and very decent, so props to Camden Serenity. Very good people.

From writing about dinosaurs to opioids

When my parents built the room addition onto the front of the house, my office became the dining room.

One of the pieces original to this room at the time it was made into a dining room is the signed Costello print seen here. That went to my brother (as did the entire contents of the home) when my mom died, and he in turn gave it back to dad several years ago.

I’m glad it’s mine now. It’s where it should be.

Costello

Do I get inspiration working in this comfortable office? Why, yes, I do. Even the office chair is meaningful. It’s in excellent shape and I got it at a yard sale that two Augustana College professors (husband and wife) were having down the street.

There’s that Augustana yard sale connection again.

Everything in my life has come full circle.

I cannot be sure, but I suspect my first newspaper assignment – a story about dinosaurs for the Eugene Field Elementary School Eagles Editorial – probably was written right in this room.

Or, my old bedroom, which will be the topic of the next blog post I write about redoing my childhood home.

Until next time.

Read more: Why I love my metal roof

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How I doubled traffic to my website after losing my job and running out of cash

Sometimes you just have to write the headline first, so you can take a long, hard look at the story you are about to tell.

This blog post is called, “How I lost my job, ran out of money, and doubled my website traffic.”

In four months.

Because that’s what I’ve done. And yet, did I really think I would pull it off?

Of course!

I went to bed last night about 4 p.m. after mowing the grass. Despite getting lots and lots of sleep in the past week, I’m wiped out and maybe feeling a bit flu-like. So, I have been taking life very slow lately.

Anyhow, when I went to bed the website was at: 39,722. I only know this because I saw it when I got up just now to write this.

And when I refreshed the page?

40,340!

(cue Manilow and balloon drop) Looks like we maaaaaaaaaade it! Yeah, yeah, yeah!

balloon drop

I find this 40,000 hit milestone noteworthy because it was just four months ago that I was writing about hitting the 20,000 mark. You can check out that June post here.

Not only did I double traffic in just four months (it took almost a year to get to 20,000), but I did it after losing my great-paying Contently clients.

I never have been so broke in my life, so there has been no money for Facebook spending for quite some time now.

BUT…I DID work very hard writing a few very well-researched, unique blog posts about medical cannabis while I had no work at all (gratefully work is picking up again), and then I spent some money while I still had some boosting those posts to medical cannabis audiences. I think that relatively small sum I spent has paid dividends.

But I also am seeing a lot of new local followers on social media lately, especially Facebook. So, I’m sure that is driving website traffic, too.

And there is nothing more gratifying than when someone in your own community positively acknowledges your work.

It doesn’t take money to drive up your website numbers, at least not once you have an audience. It just takes content that is written from the heart.

Did channel 4 report spur interest in my site?

I am aware that Channel 4 WHBF ran a story last night on people being thrown in the local jails on no charges at all under the guise of “mentally ill” and “we don’t know what else to do with them,” so to speak.

I say “guise” because the sad truth is this: “Mental illness” is not ALWAYS why people are being held that way in those jails, even if it’s the reason given.

That’s the TRUTH. You can believe what you want to believe. I hope it doesn’t ever happen to your kid.

Read more: What happened to me in the Rock Island County Jail? Finally, my tell all

Read more: Part II of my tell-all: Horror in the Rock Island County Jail

Read more: The ‘Trinity Factor’ and why I supported Strategic Behavioral Health in their successful bid to build a new psychiatric hospital in the Quad-Cities

Barbara and Benny Heitz still can send down lightning bolts from heaven and I suspect they someday will.

As a person with PTSD, I respect myself enough that I did not watch last night’s report. One can only imagine what that would have done to me. But don’t get me wrong. I am very, very, grateful to the station for reporting on such matters.

I hope WHBF-TV 4 asked the local hospitals/mental health centers what responsibilities they would like to accept for this humanitarian crisis and what sorts of process changes will be implemented.

I didn’t watch, but I’m grateful anyway

So, no, I didn’t watch it. Hell, no! My God, the promo, with the person screaming inside the cell…that might have been me for all I know. Talk about a PTSD trigger, good LORD, no, I was not about to watch it.

I wonder if they reported how many people are completely calm when they arrive at the jail. Stripped naked, thrown in a solitary cell two days, hearing them talk about what they’re going to do to you, when they have no charges against you…two days, mind you…you are HELPLESS in there.

You know the days by counting the shifts (you learn to recognize the voices of the guards who work on the various shifts…even easier when you personally know a couple of them).

It will make you go insane, no doubt.

Read more: Check out my portfolio of paid mental health content

To be honest, I’ve been smoking 707 Headband hash since I saw the promo a day or so ago. We can thank Uncle Sam for his expeditious processing of my amended tax return for that. That came along with the house insurance bill on Monday, and there was a tiny bit left over after I went to the bank.

Praise. The. Lord.

I have been praying and asking God to direct me away from the television and the internet.

I definitely do want to thank WHBF-TV 4 Rock Island for doing this sort of journalism. Even if I didn’t see the report, I’m sure it was well done. Everything they do is well done these days. I am glad to see veteran Quad-City journalist Mike Mickle back in the saddle as news director there.

You’ll remember Mike’s “What’s going on in the woods?” reports from his KWQC days. Mike went undercover with a camera crew on Credit Island and caught men having sex with another in a public park in Davenport.

I thought the report was stigmatizing at the time. In fact, it’s a matter of personal safety, public safety, and public health all rolled into one. Mike probably saved a lot of lives with that report. I thought I knew all there was to know back in those days on such matters as men having sex with men in a park…oh no, I sure didn’t!

Read more: Check out my reporting on matters of public health

And you’re talking to a former executive news editor of The Advocate magazine, the birth of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement.

Advocate Mast

I had no idea how dangerous and scary being gay in the Quad-Cities can be, and I’m not talking about hate crimes in the sense that most people come to think of them.

WordPress stats show cannabis content driving my numbers

So, I estimate there were about 500 page views alone between the 10 p.m. news last night and midnight this morning. However, none of the posts viewed during that period had anything directly to do with my experience in the jail.

This piece — on navigating the workplace as a medical cannabis patient — appears to have brought people to the site last night (it had the most hits, and it’s well over two months old), and from there they gravitated to posts about my dad and my house, mostly.

Overall, however, all of my posts related to medical cannabis do consistently well, even when I’m lazy about promoting them on social media. What that tells me is that I actually am getting “regulars” to my site who don’t even come from social media anymore, they just go straight to my site. I never really even envisioned that day’s arrival, at least not anytime soon, even if that’s the ultimate goal, of course. So very cool.

Over the course of the past week, I have noticed that “views per visitor” on my site – the number of pages each visitor looks at each day – has gone from about two or 2.5 to, last night, I kid you not, 25 page views per visitor. But it has steadily been inching up like that all week.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

I may not have articulated this very well, but it was nice to wake up to that 40,000 after a five-hour nap. Every writer wants to be read, there is no greater compliment than that. And that folks are spending so much time on my site once they get there…awesome!

Thanks to all of you!

And as always, special thanks to Al Gore, inventor of the Internet. I really don’t know what I would have done without you.

Write what you know sounds so cliché, but that really is the trick to being successful at writing for a living.

As for my website, I don’t expect to make money off of it, directly. But I do hope to land great paid writing gigs from people who see my personal posts, as I have, and hope to continue to do so.

Soon. I want to rescue a dog, peeps!

Until next time.

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I’m a highly-sensitive person, but that doesn’t mean my feelings easily are hurt

A devoted follower of my Facebook page emailed me recently and asked whether I ever had been told I may be a “highly-sensitive person.”

My initial reaction was to chuckle, for two reasons. One, a couple of years ago someone referred to me as “clairvoyant.” This person indeed knows I am observant, careful, and that I remember every little detail about everything.

In terms of these skills giving way to predicting the future or seeing things others do not see, however, I don’t call that clairvoyance. I call it being smart.

Other people who have known me for as long and as well as the person who made the “clairvoyant” comment have gone so far as to say they think I might be psychic.

Ha! Again, I’m flattered. But reporters, like detectives, are trained to connect the dots. We’re not psychics.

As opposed to being “clairvoyant” or “psychic,” good reporters and good detectives often hear they have “good instincts.” And that’s an “Attaboy” I’ve heard many times throughout my career.

The second reason I laughed when asked if I was “highly sensitive” is because as a child, early on, I came to associate, “Your son is highly sensitive” with “Your son is gay.’

I mean, come on! How many 1970s boys were described as “sensitive” or “highly sensitive” and then turned out to be gay 20 years later?

That said, I suspect many did not turn out to be gay.

So, I wondered — am I “highly sensitive” in the clinical sense?

The answer is a resounding yes, according to one test I took.

What it basically means is that you’re attuned to everything: Sights, sounds, smells, moods, expressions. You’re multitasking when it comes to recording and analyzing what’s going on around you.

Some handle being able to do that better than others. Some go into journalism. Police work. Military. Healthcare. Those professions seem to be good fits, if you can handle your “gift.”

But if you can’t handle your gift, or can’t handle it every day, all the time, or eventually wear out from it, you can sit at home and write and cross your fingers and pray every day that the bills get paid.

Highly sensitive NOT a pseudonym for weak; au contraire

The simple test I took to learn whether I am “highly sensitive” (not to be confused with “hypersensitive”) can be found by clicking right here.

I want to quickly add that a psychologist on the venerable Psychology Today website refers to the quiz as “respectable.”

“Though they’re often mistaken for one another, high sensitivity and hypersensitivity are entirely different ideas and have very little to do with each other,” Shawn T. Smith explains in a blog post.

“High sensitivity is a biological predisposition traceable to brain structures like the reticular activating system,” he continues. “It has little, if anything, to do with emotional sturdiness.”

Some may take issue with this, particularly as it pertains to me. But I want to explain and defend myself on this point.

I have found that, in particular, it is very difficult for people to get by with lying to me. Even when they get by with it, people who know me well know that I know better.

Now, nobody likes being lied to directly to their face, particularly journalists. So, when I’ve been lied to and I’ve called someone out about it, I’m not being “hypersensitive,” I’m stating a fact. Most liars do so to harm others.

Nobody is going to harm me with their lies without me putting up one hell of a fight first.

How do I know when I’m right? Do I have ESP?

The short answer is, I don’t always know for sure if I’m right. I usually find out eventually, as do those around me.

Hence, “clairvoyant” and “psychic” are titles I have earned over time. I’m right more often than not about matters of murkiness.

Here’s what Smith has to say about almost always having that perfect read on somebody:

“It’s true that being an HSP tends to make a person more perceptive of other people’s moods. That can contribute to hurt feelings simply because the HSP has more emotional information to sort through. There may be the seed of something painful in that extraneous information.

“But being an HSP doesn’t condemn a person to emotional fragility. HSPs are no less capable than anyone else of developing emotional resilience and reliable coping skills.”

Let me tell you something: After two-plus years of cognitive behavioral therapy, sometimes as often as three times per week, I have all kinds of coping skills in my bag of tricks.

I am anything but weak. And not only am I strong, I grow stronger every day. And I know that’s very upsetting to some people.

Do difficult childhoods make for highly-sensitive people?

Back to the site where I took the “highly sensitive” test. The site is run by Dr. Elaine Garon, who began her studies into rhesus monkeys and people who are highly sensitive in 1991.

“I cited a study by Stephen Suomi about a minority of rhesus monkeys who are born with a trait that was originally called ‘up tight’ because they were more affected by being raised under stressful conditions,” Garon reports in a synopsis of her research. “Not only did they appear more depressed and anxious, but like depressed humans, they had less serotonin available in their brains, what anti-depressants correct.”

Garon said these “vulnerable monkeys had a genetic variation that results in lower levels of serotonin generally, and these levels are further reduced by stress. Sensitive humans have the same genetic variation.

“Interestingly, that variation is only found in two primate species, humans and rhesus monkeys, and both are highly social and able to adapt to a wide range of environments. Perhaps the highly sensitive members of a group are better able to notice the subtleties, such as which new foods can be safely eaten and which dangers to avoid, allowing them to survive better in a new place.”

It’s true that many highly sensitive people had difficult childhoods, Garon reports.

“Since many HSPs have had difficult childhoods, often because no one understood their innate temperament, their persistent bad feelings due to that could cause them to feel even more uncomfortable, rattled, or annoyed in situations that bother all sensitive persons to some degree.”

Difficult childhoods can and do make for highly sensitive people. What defined my childhood?

An abusive, alcoholic father with a rare brain disease (but we didn’t know that then), incessant domestic violence, endless angst due to my mother’s cancer diagnosis when I was 8, constant illness of my mother due to the cancer and cancer treatment recurring at least four times, and ultimately, her death to cancer when I was 24.

Read more: Why FTD is so hard to talk about. My dad’s story

Read more: Still full of life, breast cancer took my mom at age 53

I would argue that simply growing up with an alcoholic could leave a person with a diagnosis of “highly sensitive.” There is a ton of research about this. You can check out this article I wrote on the topic two years ago. It was my very first piece for Foundations Recovery Network, in fact.

At the time, author Blaire Sharpe summed it up to me this way:

“When you’re used to living your life on edge, as children of alcoholics do, there’s a hypervigilance (an acute awareness of your surroundings).

“You’re always gauging what’s going on, scanning the crowd, analyzing micro-expressions. Once you get past using it as a protective mechanism, it can serve you well in life.”

Why I’m grateful for my struggles anyway

As I always say, and completely mean, I am grateful even for my struggles. I never will be the same again after living through what I lived through in 2014 and 2015.

Does that mean I may never be able to form healthy relationships again? Possibly.

But I also am incredibly strong and growing more emotionally intelligent all the time, an area where for many years I was lacking.

Says Garon:

“Now, new research demonstrates that this genetic variation causing lower serotonin to be available in the brain also bestows benefits, such as improved memory of learned material, better decision making, and overall better mental functioning, plus gaining even more positive mental health than others from positive life experiences.

“The same mental benefits are also found in rhesus monkeys with the same genetic variation. Perhaps the best vindication for HSPs tired of being seen as weaklings or sick is a study by Suomi finding that rhesus monkeys with this trait, if raised by skilled mothers, were more likely to show ‘developmental precocity,’ resilience to stress, and be leaders of their social groups.”

Until next time.

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Check out my portfolio of paid mental health content

Healer.com is a needed tool in the wild, wild West of the medical cannabis era

This piece originally appeared March 26, 2016, on Healthline.com’s Contributor’s site, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission from Healthline.com. Items added in parenthesis and italics are to update the piece for accuracy after re-posting Oct. 21, 2017. Wow, how far I personally have come with medical marijuana in just over a year and half since this was written.

When it comes to medicinal marijuana, America is living in the wild, wild, west, so to speak.

Think about it: Medicinal weed is now legal in (more than) half the states and Washington, D.C., even though it still is classified as a Class 1 substance by the federal government. That puts it in the same category as heroin, an epidemic tearing at the fabric of our nation in just about every corner.

Pro-pot activists, who are only growing in numbers and momentum, are enraged over this inconsistency.

Read more: Cannabis effective at treating nerve pain

Schizophrenia over weed ended when I started smoking it again

As someone who used to be a bona fide pothead, and who only gave up pot about a year ago (and then smoked pot again while vacationing in Denver in April 2017, and then obtained a medical cannabis card in Illinois in June 2017), I make a living writing about addiction and recovery. I will say that finally giving up pot has allowed me to work smarter, breathe easier and feel better overall.

Read more: Bye-Bye Benzos! Cannabis replaces poison of Xanax, Ativan

(Illinois medical cannabis does not have any poor effects on my lungs, eyes, etc. due to being cultivated without pesticides and other harmful materials. However, smoking too much pot can cause ‘stuck on stupid’ syndrome, and running out for more than just a few days is frightening to me. That said…what a blessing to be off all pharmacological medications. I probably was on 4 mg of Ativan per day when this Healer piece originally was written).

For about a decade or longer, I felt as though weed was the only thing that made life bearable. And I was grateful to have access to it and really flipped out when I couldn’t find it (which of course is addict behavior no matter what your addiction).

(I have no regrets for obtaining my card and going with weed instead of Pharma. I’m doing much better).

Toward the end of my (illegal) pot-smoking days, I was getting weed that either made me feel really, really, really, really good or put me on some not-so-pleasant trips. The middle of the road “ditch weed” that I smoked for years and years seemed pretty much all but a thing of the past.

Read more: Why we need education, not information, about medical cannabis

My point? When you buy something off the street, you have no idea what you’re getting.

Even old-school stoners learn they’re not really experts when the card comes

But with highly regulated medical cannabis programs, you do know what you’re getting. In Illinois, everything is tested and labeled for THC and CBD content, among other things.

Cannabis is the fastest growing industry in America. Cultivators are creating strains that are highly effective at treating conditions such as PTSD, MS, intestinal problems, mental health issues and much, much more.

But with all these different strains being bred for all kinds of different medical conditions, most people (doctors included) have no idea what the heck they are smoking or prescribing. Even an old-school stoner like myself was blown away the first time I went to my local dispensary.

Why? Even I did not have the proper weed education.

(Some doctors, like Dr. Sulak, are experts on and advocates for medical cannabis. In the year and a half since this piece was written, many more doctors like Sulak have come out of the closet as medical cannabis advocates.)

Read more: Fructose Kush: Are wacky weed names what’s freaking out doctors?

No ‘magic bullet’ for prescribing cannabis

You certainly don’t just prescribe different pharmacological medications to different people not knowing anything about them. The same goes with medical marijuana.

Healer.com, launched by Dr. Sulak when this piece was written last year, offers step-by-step courses for patients, health providers and medical professionals. You can learn how to:

Find the optimal cannabis dosage

Use less cannabis for better results

Learn how to use cannabis without getting high

How to prevent tolerance from overuse

“We created Healer.com in response to the biggest challenges that our 15 medical providers and 18,000 patients at Integr8 Health have faced in this emerging field of cannabinoid medicine,” Sulak said in a news release. “Healer’s goal is to be the transparent, trusted source of cannabis, information and research – a respected authority on its safe and smart use.”

The site contains videos, tutorials and much more. “The major challenge we face is that no medical provider, including myself, can tell a person what their optimal dosage of cannabis is or should be,” Sulak said.

“We will continue to add more educational information and the latest research as we endeavor to restore cannabis to its proper place and mainstream acceptance as the therapeutic medicine it is.”

Please follow my home improvement blog posts, as well as my PTSD/medical cannabis blog posts, sobriety blog posts, celebrity interviews, and other “what works for me” type of advice, by liking  my Facebook page, updated regularly

Maybe it will help you better take on the day.

 

Kitchen remodel of your childhood home: Ask yourself, ‘What would mom say?’

Editor’s note: All of you big Barb Heitz fans out there won’t want to miss the historic photos in this one. Here, Barb is especially excited about her Kitchen-Aid dishwasher.

I think we all have vivid memories about the kitchens where we were reared as children, don’t we?

I certainly do.

Tiny bungalow bathroom redo is art deco totes adorbes

Some of them I am reminded of every single day since I live in my childhood home once again.

Even though the house now looks, for the most part, completely different (with a few unchanged tributes to the past), the kitchen is where the most flashbacks seem to take place.

Dishwasher new

I made very few changes to the kitchen. These 1976 Brammer cabinets still are rock solid. I simply changed “the jewelry” on them, to use the terminology of one friend of real estate prowess.

The little nickel tube handles were less than $60 Home Depot or Lowe’s online (can’t remember which) delivered to my door.

The house came with the blue countertop and white/blue linoleum that remains. I can live with both of them, for now.

I actually kind of like the sink and full counter backsplash with the blue shell design. I like the appliance backsplash, too.

I simply painted this room yellow and the door red. You may notice the nice silver plates I have over the light switches and electrical outlets throughout the house.

Light Switches

The house is small enough that the cost isn’t bad either (especially if you only buy a few plates at a time while you’re remodeling…the cost about $8 each).

The impact can be pretty big, however, especially against new paint.

Here’s what I remember about this kitchen when I was a kid:

It could get EXTREMELY hot in here.

Before my parents built the room addition, the kitchen was eat-in. What now would be a dining room (but is my office) was the living room back then.

Read more: Two-car garage in 1976 today a parlor fit for a queen

When the kitchen was an eat-in, I remember we had a dishwasher that attached to the sink with a hose. It would spit hot water at us while we at our dinner.

But the most engrained memory I have is of my mother sitting on a yellow foot stool under that window as she talked on the telephone that was attached to the wall.

Mom Phone Must

And it’s so creepy that the gigantic wall jack is still there. (It’s hidden behind the microwave…but they carefully tiled around it) What the?

Who can forget when our phones where attached to walls? I’m talking before we even upgraded to the little prong with the 50-foot-long cord you could then attach to the desk model that you rented from AT&T.

“Hello, and welcome to AT&T. Can we start you out with the Banana, Princess, or standard wall and desk models?”

Do you remember?

Going through the old family photo album proved especially fun for this assignment. I remember how excited mom was when she got her new Kitchen Aid, as pictured at the top of this story.

Our poodle, Peaches, really liked it, too.

Poodle Dishwasher

I love my brand NEW Kitchen-Aid dishwasher. I made sure it’s a Kitchen-Aid, just for mom.

And look at this one of Grandma Nellie Fordham, God rest her soul! The 1976 kitchen remodel probably was relatively new in this picture. That’s the first microwave we ever owned.

Nelie Fordham

A friend with good genes as it pertains to real estate told me early on I should remove the cupboards between the kitchen and the office to open the house up.

When I did finally do that, it made a dramatic impact on the entire feel of the house. It really did.

Passthrough

I love how I can look through the pass-through now and see the lineup of the three televisions in the three rooms. These are the things little kids dream about, you know. “If it were MY house…”

TV Lineup

And I’ve toyed about what to do beyond removing the cupboards to “finish the job,” so to speak, and I have decided I’m going to leave things exactly as they are. It’s in step with a keeping a bit of the old.

OK, and I have to admit the other thing I remember. I remember playing Jacks on the kitchen floor. And every time I look at that vent in the floor, I think about sitting there and playing Jacks.

And why I have not purchased some Jacks at Family Dollar and sat down there and played Jacks yet I do not know. I may do that today.
Until next time.

Please follow my home improvement blog posts, as well as my PTSD/medical cannabis blog posts, sobriety blog posts, celebrity interviews, and other “what works for me” type of advice, by liking  my Facebook page, updated regularly

Maybe it will help you better take on the day.

Thank you.

Ikea tales: First pieces I ever purchased way back in 1993 still in use, every day

It’s kind of remarkable when I think about it: I still have some of the Ikea furniture I purchased when I moved into my first apartment in Los Angeles.

That was a quarter century ago.

I remember telling my new roommate, Dale, that I did not have any furniture at all.

“Oh, that’s no problem, we’ll go to Ikea,” he said.

Dale grew up in Orange County, California. He knew that affordable, quality furniture was as close as Carson or Burbank.

I had won two first place and two second place awards in the Orange County Fair Journalism Contest and had a budget of $150 in prize money for furniture.

So, I ended up with this coffee table and matching end table (still ready to blend into any décor, and holding together quite well).

Ikea Main

Read more: The joy of renovating my childhood home

I also ended up with this little table that I used as a dining room table for many years. In reality, it always was a table for one.

I bought this little rust-colored table with black legs when I moved into a roomy one-bedroom apartment in Los Feliz that I paid just $575 per month for, garage included.

I had a real nice dining room at the time I bought this table, which actually was a year or two after I bought the Ikea coffee and end tables.

My nice little Ikea table and chairs, dressed up with accessories from Pier One Imports, made my little East Hollywood apartment look real fancy.

‘Formal’ dining room table from Ikea now a studio desk

Today, my “Ikea table” is a desk in my studio.

Ikea Studio Desk

There was a pair of matching rust-and-black striped chairs at one time, but they took a beating through the years. I once had lovely cloth napkins and placemats set for this table at all times.

Dusting off my Ikea furniture today brought back all kinds of great memories. I remember being blown away by the size of Ikea, and also by its warehouse concept, my first time in Carson, Calif.

Read more: Of course I love my metal roof

I was taken in by the names for all the product: Just one word. Ikea generally names things based on the Swedish language. However, the rebellious retailer is not above making up its own language either. Ikea does not believe humans should be restricted by such rules of expression.

I’m happy that I still have my Ikea furniture from way back in the days of that first L.A. apartment.

This little Ikea end table from the Carson, Calif. store in 1993 could not be more perfect for my American Idol karaoke machine and American Idol McDonald’s Happy Meal action figures.

Idol End Table

Now right here in the same house where the story of my life all started.

It’s so American Idol.

Until next time.

Chapter One: Dad and I reclaim the property

’60 Minutes’ whistleblower: Congress, pill distributors cozied up as people OD’d

Along with the rest of America last night, I learned how Congress, Pharma conspirators and even the Department of Justice itself rounded up DEA agents who were getting illicit pain pills off the street and opened up a can of Whoop Ass on them.

Yes, the men and women working to save our country from the scourge of addiction were punished by our country’s establishment for doing so.

I watched in pure horror. It reminds me of Russia. Or North Korea. Filthy politics in our country undeniably has reached a fever pitch.

“This is an industry that’s out of control,” whistleblower and former high-ranking DEA official Joe Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes. “If they don’t follow the law in drug supply, people die. That’s just it. People die.”

Responded CBS’s Bill Whitaker: “You know the implication of what you’re saying. That these big companies knew that they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people.”

Rannazzis’s blunt response: “That’s not an implication, that’s a fact.”

Fast-forward: In the end, he ended up being accused of and investigated for “intimidating the United States Congress” and losing his job.

Check out my portfolio of paid addiction/recovery/opioid reportage and how I got into it

Why I consider myself an expert on opioid addiction and how we got here

I began to write about opioid addiction more than three years ago while working as a freelance reporter for Healthline News.

At the time, my beats primarily were HIV and Hepatitis C.

But in the course of my reporting, one day a source told me that the group with the fastest-growing rate of Hepatitis C infection, outside of Baby Boomers who already had the disease, was young adults getting it by injecting heroin.

In wealthy suburbs.

The rest is history. “Heroin in the Suburbs: An American Epidemic,” went viral, and even was picked up by Fox News, which Healthline had a partnership with at the time.

Blowing the lid off the Indiana HIV/Hepatitis C scandal

Not much time later, another source planted a bug in my ear: Scott County, Indiana was exploding with HIV and Hepatitis C infections, all during a very short period.

How were hundreds of people contracting these chronic diseases? By sharing needles while injecting heroin and other opioids, such as the painkiller Opana.

When I called and emailed the Scott County, Indiana Health Department, one of the rudest public information officials I ever have experienced in my life flat-out told me I must have Indiana confused with Chicago.

Oh yes, he did.

Not one to be lied to when I know I’m right, I got the story anyway. You can read it right here:

As HIV devastates rural Indiana, activists ask: How could this happen?

As short time later, I followed up with:

“Activists blame Indiana HIV outbreak on officials’ ignorance about the disease.”

Click here to see my portfolio of paid writing assignments on matters of public health and infectious diseases

Of course, the Indiana story just exploded during the year following. I stayed on it throughout my Healthline tenure, and then while working as writer for HIV Equal. Later, I circled back to the story a few more times working as a writer for Foundations Recovery Network/Universal Health Services for two years until that gig ended in June.

Indeed, the Indiana story and the “Heroin in the Suburbs” story catapulted my career to a new level.

Had I listened to the dishonest PIO in Indiana, the story never would have been written.

60 Minutes report confirms what I’ve been saying for at least a year now

So, am I shocked to learn that when federal DEA agents began to round up players in pill mill schemes, they were dismissed from their jobs, even intimidated by members of Congress?

Not at all.

And my reaction to Capitol Hill Police tossing a “60 Minutes” crew right off of the Hill while the journalists reported the explosive scandal that aired last night?

Sadness. Fear.

The crux of the DEA whistleblower’s rage is aimed at distributors of opioid medications. That market is dominated by three companies, he says: Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen.

Read more: My blog post explaining why the blame for Pharma price-gouging lies with politicians

In the interest of full disclosure, I freelanced for Cardinal Health, a Fortune 500 company, until June. At that time, I asked Contently to remove me from their team.

In a piece I wrote for LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago about my career as a branded content writer, I said I am not afraid to step away from a brand if I no longer am on board with their product. And that’s exactly what I did with Cardinal Health.

I wasn’t writing about matters related to opioids; I was writing for a health care “insider-heavy” business to business blog run by Cardinal.

I did not understand the objectives of the blog, which always seemed to be changing. Nor did I care for the brand editor, who I found to be insulting, contradictory in her directions, and unable or unwilling to listen to the expertise for which I was being paid $300 per 500-word blog post.

So enough about Cardinal Health.

Never. Again. Especially after the 60 Minutes report.

Former DEA attorney offers chilling details

A second source in the 60 Minutes piece is a former DEA attorney named Jonathan Novak. Here’s what he told 60 Minutes:

“We had been achieving incredible success in an almost unstoppable wave, and then suddenly, it stopped….

“These are not cases where it was gray. These were cases where the evidence was crystal clear that there was wrongdoing going on….

“Now, three undercovers, by four officers, over three months, that wouldn’t be enough. Maybe we need an expert to explain how recording equipment works….it felt…it felt…honestly, confusing and almost insane. Where was this coming from?”

What happened? Dishonest DEA officials jumped ship to the other side, where the money is. Defending Pharma and its auxiliary machinery, nobody was better equipped to help them escape the hammer of the DOJ.

Read more: Check out my blog post explaining how this happens at the FDA as well, and why it could be making you sick

I saw so taken in by Novak, what he had to say, and how he said it – indeed, he looks like he has PTSD himself when he recalls the story – that I looked him up on LinkedIn.

Novak

Today, he works for a private law firm – defending medical cannabis dispensaries, among other things.

I tried to look the profile up a second time to catch the name of the firm, but now I can’t find it.

I don’t know Novak at all, and yet, I do understand the angst he obviously lives with —  simply because he did his job and did it well.

Will medical cannabis and those who support it be assailed next?

You can see where this is headed. Pharma and filthy politicians will be doing their darndest to slam the brakes on medical weed as it continues to gain momentum. I’m off all Pharma medications and never have felt better in my life, despite PTSD-related anxiety and angst. At least now I have found an effective medication for it.

In fact, I’m doing so much better since obtaining my medical cannabis card that I’m surviving on relatively little cannabis. And that’s a good thing, because it’s been hard times for me since losing two Fortune 500 healthcare clients in June.

Read more: Check out my blog post explaining why a Pharma rep, not your doctor, may be choosing your prescriptions

While I walked away from Cardinal Health, my extremely lucrative gig writing for Universal Health/Foundations Recovery Network ended abruptly when they chose to leave the Contently platform after two years.

Two editors, one current and one former, did offer references, for which I am extremely grateful.

I would like to think not all “Big Healthcare” companies are bad.

I live my life in fear for being a whistleblower

The 60 Minutes report is scary. You will see politicians intimidate DEA officials; indeed, you will see them chat amongst themselves as a bill to slam the brakes on DEA enforcement of distributors sails to approval on the floor.

Capitol

I know what it means to be a whistleblower.

I also know what it means to be told, “shut up or else” in so many words, and indeed I have shut my mouth as it pertains to the issue in question, and will continue to do so.

I’m scared. This isn’t the America I thought I was born into, I can tell you that.

I’m sober, successful (struggling a bit right now, but still successful) and just inherited my childhood home and sank everything I had into improving it. One would think I’d be embraced by the establishment of my community right now.

Not so much.

You can check out the 60 Minutes report for yourself right here.

Until next time.

No, sleeping in the exact same spot where my mom died doesn’t bother me

I get asked a lot: Does sleeping in the same room where your mom died freak you out?

Well, no.

If mom’s a ghost, and if she “haunts” this house (which for many reasons does seem likely, unless you don’t believe in ghosts, I guess), I’m pretty sure she’s a good ghost.

At least when it comes to me.

Mom died in 1995 of breast cancer. After several weeks of losing weight until she was 60 pounds, becoming completely jaundiced due to a failing liver, and filling with fluids due to failing kidneys, I walked into this room that February and got the shock of my life.

I had seen mom at Thanksgiving. She was thin and in poor spirits. But, I did not expect to find her at death’s door just a few months later.

So yes, the final image of my mom was of her lying in bed, right here, near death.

But in no way does the house or this room trigger those memories.

Read more: Why I love my metal roof

I have been through so many far worse things than seeing my mom die a horrible death (not to sound callous, it’s just true…I have escaped death myself) that those memories just aren’t intrusive anymore.

So, why did I avoid sleeping in this room for so long?

All that said, I have to be honest and admit: Until recently, I almost never slept in this room.

In the context of this blog being about renovating my childhood home, I’ll circle back to that in a second.

Not only did mom die in this room, but my dad lost his mind in this room.

Never could I have guessed that dad would buy this house again.

Mom got this house in her divorce from my dad in 1984; she died in 1995. I inherited the house along with my brother at that time and sold it.

Dad bought the house again in 2012 when he learned it was for sale; we lived here together for a year before he went into nursing home No. 1. After he died in nursing home No. 3 in September 2015, I bought out my brother’s half.

Read more: Dad and I reclaim the property

For the longest time, I slept on the couch in the front room. Only recently have I begun to sleep in the master bedroom again.

Perhaps subconsciously I do have issues with the room – not just related to mom, but dad, too.

I wish my dad could have died in this room, quite frankly. Perhaps that is what bothers me more than anything else, truth be told.

But that was beyond my control. There’s nothing I could have done about that.

Christmas decorations help me move past trauma

A week or so ago, I mentioned on my Facebook page that I was thinking about putting a tree up in the master bedroom. One of my loyal followers, Denise, mentioned that she would leave a tree up all year long if she had the space.

So, I put up the Christmas tree.

And I have slept pretty well in that room since Tuesday night. Of course, I also was able to get medical cannabis Tuesday afternoon after being out for almost a week. It’s not good for me to go that long.

But what can you do? Insurers will pay for the Pharma poison; they won’t pay for your medical cannabis. It’s incredible how many people are angry over that. I’m just so grateful for the program, I haven’t griped about it.

But…wait until you talk to a mom who wants medical cannabis for her child and can’t get it for that reason.

Mom’s don’t play! That’s another blog post altogether.

I’m proud to be off Pharma and will not put addictive, harmful chemicals into my body ever again to get to sleep. I have not been sober three-plus years (minus a short smattering of relapses in the spring) to undo all that progress.

Read more: Check out my portfolio of paid addiction/recovery content

I also have no intention of being doped up, dumbed down, and rendered unable to work via Pharma poison just to make life easier for a few dishonest people who wish I would go away.

So, sans medical cannabis yet again due to its cost (but the price is coming down, that’s a blog post for later this week), Christmas tree therapy it is. It seems to be doing a fine job of keeping me calm.

The other reason I gave the bedroom a holiday theme

The other reason I gave this room a holiday theme is because it’s otherwise empty. The nightstand that is covered with a throw (that someone at Amber Ridge must have given dad) was dad’s. It’s terribly scarred. He had it more than 30 years and bought it at a yard sale.

Read more: You never would guess this parlor started out as a two-car garage

The dresser? It’s scarred too, but you can’t tell because I painted the top red and the drawers yellow. Again, dad had it 30 years and bought it at a yard sale.

The bed? That’s dad’s, too. I took it off the frame when the cat still was alive so she could get up there with me. But now I have found I like sleeping on the floor anyway.

I do have a nice, metal, four-poster bed of high quality. All the posts even connect at the top in a square.

That bed, however, is a trigger. It’s disassembled and in storage. I should sell it.

Ironically, I bought it when my mom died.

My dad had bought the box springs and mattress pictured here brand new prior to entering memory care. He only slept on it six months before he was put on hospice and given a hospital bed.

So…is it really any wonder I haven’t wanted to sleep in this room? It simply hasn’t been all that attractive, inviting or comfortable to me.

What I did do to spruce up the master bedroom

I did paint the room – myself. And I did rip the carpet up.

I don’t have any historical photos, because let’s face it: How many kids take a picture of their parent’s room?

I can tell you my mother had a very expensive bedroom set in here at one time. That’s at my brother’s, along with the rest of the entire contents of this house as they stood at the time of my mother’s expiration in 1995.

So, I put the tree up. You know what? I love it.

Check out my portfolio of paid mental health wellness content

I wake up to a pretty Christmas tree and a Frosty the Snowman head looking at it.

Master Bed II

Then, I turn right over and go right back to sleep.

The oriental divider came from a friend a long time ago. I used it to hide the cat’s litter box. Now, I really like it in this room. It adds something.

I thought about buying a nice bedroom set, but then I decided to spend a week in Denver instead.

Read more: Writer cancels NYC book trip to get stoned in Denver instead

As for the house being haunted by my mother, here’s a fun fact. When a large truck rolls past the front of my house (FedEx, UPS, garbage truck, fire engine), the voice of my ADT system announces, “Master Bedroom! Window!”

I was talking to a friend on the telephone the other day when it happened. I told her, “Barbara (my mom) is slipping out to go somewhere again…or possibly just getting home.”

My friend replied, “That would scare the hell out of me.”

You might think so. But then, I like the bedroom window having a hair-trigger alarm.

People sleep better when they feel safe and calm.

And that’s what my bedroom is all about these days, Christmas decorations and all.

Until next time.

Please follow me on social media to see all my home improvement blog posts, as well as my PTSD/medical cannabis reporting, sobriety reporting, celebrity interviews, and “what works for me” type of advice.

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Tiny bungalow bathroom redo winks at city’s Art Deco past

I knew that if only one penny remained after I replaced the roof and the windows on the house, the next project would have to be the bathroom.

The teensy, tiny bathroom had gone from bad to worse during the years between when my brother and I sold the home when mom died in it in 1995, to when dad bought it back again in 2012.

It not only needed updated, but structurally rebuilt. Because the tub is so tiny, it overflows constantly. The floor had been damaged so many times through the years I had it entirely rebuilt.

Because the floor now is a tad bit elevated (you step up to enter the bathroom), the contractor had to saw a couple of inches off the bottom of the door so it would open and close again.

Everything in the bathroom was old – sink, toilet, tub.

Read more: The story of my dad and I reclaiming my childhood home

The sink and the toilet both were replaced, but I kept the tub. The contractor washed it with paint thinner and it looked new again – it didn’t even need repainted, despite being original to the house (1943).

I had the tub area tiled to the top of the stall like a full shower, and then had the shower attachment bolted to the top of the stall.

Voila, a shower/tub combo that kept the integrity of the original tub. And, I finally had a real shower like most of the rest of America.

Bathroom barely touched since 1976 redo by my parents

After taking care of those three things – replacing the rotten floor, adding a “real shower,” and updating the ancient toilet and sink – the rest came down to cosmetics.

I had in my head that I wanted to decorate the bathroom in grays and yellows. I knew I wanted a dark gray floor.

Why? Because dad had urinated on the floor so many times while I lived with him during that one year, never again did I want to see the hint of a urine dribble. Never ever again in my life if I can help it.

I would walk into the bathroom each morning and inevitably step into a puddle of urine. He had no concept whatsoever of where the toilet was when he would urinate.

Read more: Learn about frontotemporal degeneration, behavioral variant, BvFTD, the extremely rare brain disease that killed my dad

With all of this in mind, I took my Aunt Mary’s advice and made that tiny bathroom as fabulous as possible.

“Spare no expense, I mean, it’s a phone booth anyhow,” Aunt Mary reminded me. “You may as well buy the nicest materials available.”

So that’s what I did. The ceramic tile on the floor and in the shower all are from Home Depot. The medicine cabinet is from Home Depot, too.

Mirror Mirror

I consider the medicine cabinet sort of the signature piece of the bathroom. It’s huge. I loved that it’s mirrored inside and out. I also like the art deco LED light I installed above it.

Medicine Cabinet

The long, vertical storage cabinet above the toilet actually was part of my parents’ 1976 redo of the bathroom, the last time the bathroom had been renovated.

When dad purchase the property the second time in 2012, the linoleum in the bathroom had been replaced. It was discolored and peeling up, however.

Everything else was exactly the same. Sink, toilet and all.

The before picture is heinous, but here you go.

Bathroom Before

When all was said and done, my new bathroom cost about $7,500.

Bathroom Featured

Art Deco feel a nod to Rock Island’s history

The bathroom has an Art Deco feel that really is a part of Rock Island’s history. The yellow and gray also blends in with the yellow and red scheme predominant through most of the house.

The bathroom is much easier to clean than it was before, which is important given the fact it’s so tiny anyway.

For whatever reason, my mother had a vanity installed under the previous sink. There was so little space between the vanity and the tub that, through the years, the crevice became a black hole.

The new toilet also takes up less floor space at its base, so it’s much easier to keep things clean around it, too.

Which is important.

After living with dad, a clean bathroom is something I always will insist upon. I know he could not help it, of course.

But any caregiver will tell you that when our time is done, we are ready to pamper ourselves and not look back. It’s imperative to healing.

A word to the wise: If you ever do come into a house and money to renovate it at the same time, I would recommend doing just a little bit of work at a time. I did become overwhelmed at one point with all the construction going on in my house, and this was even with the contractor truly doing all he could to minimize disruption.

For a week, I had to shower at the gym. Not a big deal, really, but something to be aware of if your house only has one bathroom.

Of course, I work from home, too, so it threw a monkey wrench into my workday for a little while. Again, not a big deal, and the contractor did all they could to minimize disruption.

Still, something to think about. Renovating your home is momentous in ways both good and challenging, and it can take a couple of months after the project is done to fully recover.

But when you do, you get to enjoy your beautiful new home for life, hopefully.

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I can get a bit political on Twitter. Follow with caution.

Please follow me on social media to see all my home improvement blog posts, as well as my PTSD/medical cannabis reporting, sobriety reporting, celebrity interviews, and  “what works for me” type of advice.

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