Sunday, November 21, 2010

Scene at Safeway 11/20/2010

Mom (to 5 year old son):  "Come on, you're in the way of that lady!"

I smile down at the little boy.

Son (to mom):  "That is not a lady.  That's a man!"

I can see one of my sons saying the exact same thing at the same age. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Honeymoon from Hell

One thing that happens when you get married, is that you learn you have to compromise.  When we first discussed a honeymoon after our wedding, we both agreed it would be nice to be somewhere warm and sunny, on the ocean, a time to relax with each other before returning to our wonderful, but hectic jobs and lives in D.C.  My fiance had enjoyed a Senate junket to Bermuda the year before, but Bermuda in October was somewhat iffy as far as warm weather went, so I suggested the Virgin Islands, specifically St. John, Virgin Islands.  Even more specifically, Caneel Bay Resort on St. John, Virgin Islands.  Caneel was formerly owned by the Rockefeller family and was situated in a National Park with a golf course, tennis courts and a swimming pool in addition to the beach and ocean.  As in this place:

But my intended put his foot down when he saw the cost. His family origins were modest--his father was a rural Presbyterian minister, who had not earned more than $15-20,000 at the height of his career and with 6 kids that had not gone far.  So he had sticker shock when he learned the cost of a week's stay at a premier resort.  Instead, a coworker of his recommended a place on St. John's called Maho Bay. We sent for information, and this is what the multi colored brochure we received back said:

Maho Bay is dedicated to the belief that it is possible to live in comfort and harmony with a fragile environment without spoiling it.  The resort is a community of tent-cottages located in a private preserve within the boundaries  of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. Here one may study the delicate ecology of one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean .  Like a Japanese Garden, Maho is a careful grooming, not an alteration, of nature.  No bulldozed roads scar the land.  All materials were carried in by hand in order to preserve the ground cover.  In such surroundings, solitude and privacy are balanced with a relaxed sense of community....
...The dwellings measure 16' x 16' and are set on plank decks that cantilever over thickly-wooded hillsides.  Most units offer a spectacular panorama of sea, sky, crescents of white sand and peaceful islands.  There open porch for private sunbathing.
All this ecologically preserved paradise, and for only $50 a night!  I was persuaded by the rhapsodic lyricism of the brochure and, of course, by the fact that the soon to be spousal unit, had put his foot down on Caneel Bay.

After our wedding night dinner with friends, we spent the night in Lexington at a hotel and rose early the next morning to catch a flight back to DC.  Several of our friends who had been at the wedding were also on the flight, and one of them, Michael, let the pilot know that it was our honeymoon, so we had greetings over the loudspeaker.  This was back in the days when you were served meals on flights, and we were given breakfast even though it was a short hop to DC from Lexington.  However, having had beaucoup champagne and Bloody Marys the day and night before, breakfast did not sit well with me, and I ultimately had to make a dash for the restroom as soon as we deplaned at National Airport.  With seconds to spare, I gave up my breakfast.  Luckily my friend Karen shepherded me to the loo, and returned me back to my spouse so we could take the next leg of our honeymoon, which was a flight to Miami, where we transferred to a plane bound for St. Thomas. 

We arrived in St. Thomas in the late afternoon.  Then, we had to find a way to get to St. John.  If we had gone to Caneel, a private launch would have picked us up and whisked us to the resort.  As it turned out, we were held up at the airport trying to figure out how to get to the ferry terminal on St. Thomas, without spending too much money.  As I recall, we finally took a taxi, but missed the evening ferry by minutes.  I was attired in a silk dress and heels, carrying my luggage and a wooden tennis racket which I had intended to use on the tennis courts, wherever they were.  Obviously reality had not set in.  It began to once we boarded the very last public ferry from St. Thomas to St. John for that day, after the sun had set.

We were the only white folks on the ferry.  It was loud, crowded and it was the first time I ever saw a spliff being rolled and smoked.  These are large conical shaped marijuana joints.  There we were, two white kids on a large ferry in the dark of night, trying not to watch these guys in dreadlocks with a boombox belting out reggae, passing the spliff between them.  Hoping not to be noticed. Not knowing what to do if we were.  I remember sitting very close to my new husband, hiding my head behind his shoulder for some portion of the trip.

When we got to St. John's we were some of the last to come out of the ferry because we were so weighed down by our luggage.  And when we got off the dock and stood on land, we could not find a taxi or a bus.  Finally, the husband approached a flat bed truck that was parked under the yellow glare of a streetlight to ask about where we might find a taxi to take us to Maho Bay.  "Maho?  I can take you mon, in my taxi," the driver said.  And that's when we learned that there were no taxis per se in St John's but instead these flat bed trucks with benches nailed in the back where you sat and clung to the wooden slats as the truck took hair pin turns up and down narrow roads whose only illumination came from the headlights of the truck.  And although the truck was noisy, its noise was drowned out by the tree frogs croaking out their songs of lust to each other by the thousands and thousands.  We had to yell at the top of our voices to be heard over deafening roar of nature and diesel.  We were also the only two passengers on the truck, which meant we paid full freight.

By the time, we made it to Maho Bay, we were ready to tuck in for the night without noticing much of our surroundings, although the two single camp beds seemed a bit more than I had bargained for.  In the morning we awoke and this was what our cabin looked like from the outside:

The overhang from the tropical forest created a  shade which killed the idea of sunbathing on the porch. There was a nice view of the ocean from our kitchen, with only one, or maybe two electrial wires in sight:


But that was the one, nice thing about the tent.  It was stuffy and humid during the day despite the brochure's waxing on about  "a vacation without walls.  The three room cottages literally breathe with the cooling trade winds."  And I should have read the brochure more closely because where it was honest,  e.g. it did mention that the bathrooms were "centrally located."  This meant that for us, the bathrooms were down two flights of wooden stairs, that they were separated by sex and that there was no hot water (part of being ecologically conscious here).  No hot water. 

The secluded nature of the Maho Bay meant that there was nothing besides the beach within walking distance and even the beach was four or more flights down the stairs.  Which meant that coming back to your cabin at the end of the day from the beach was a fair puff. We had a camp stove to cook on and an ice box to keep things cool, as long as we had ice, which we could purchase from the Maho Bay camp store at dreadfully inflated prices.  Prices on all foodstuffs were dreadful, except for rum.  Rum could be had for less than a $1 a bottle. 

Which would have been great, except that I was on my first week trying to quit smoking, so I could not drink alcohol at the time, lest it weaken my resolve.  A half rasher of bacon at the camp store was close to $5,  highway robbery at the time, but we were stuck, unless we wanted to pay premium rates for a flat bed taxi truck to take us into Cruz Bay, the town on St. John to buy groceries, or wait for a bus which showed up at irregular times and took half again as long.  As I recall we took the bus to Cruz Bay only once or twice.

There was a small restaurant at Maho Bay that had a limited menu and was, of course, rather expensive, which meant we cooked most of our meals on our honeymoon.  Neither of us were particularly good cooks as I recall.

The major indignity, and one that had not been mentioned in any of the brochures or information provided to us, had to do with termites.  Lots of termites.  As in waking up to a 5" wide termite trail snaking through the bedroom of our tent.  Going to bed at night and having to yet again, sweep out the termite trail from our bedroom.  Twice a day, and I was still not used to it by the time we left a week later. 

And if that were not enough, early on in the honeymoon, my then-husband came down with an itching purulent rash on his face, the result of standing under a machineo (ph.) tree for shelter during a sudden rainstorm.  Unknown to us, the sap of the machineo tree is like poison ivy and some of the sap dripped on his face.  So he was in agony for several days.  Then, when he was healing, I developed an allergic reaction to bug bites on my legs, so I was rather out of commission.  The camp store had a very limited pharmacy.

It could have been worse.  We visited another campground at a national park while we were there, and the tents provided by the National Park Service had no floor at all, no separate kitchen, and the latrines smelled far worse than those at Maho Bay.  I didn't even dare think about what I was missing at Caneel Bay.  What with the nicotine withdrawal and cold showers and camp beds, I was already plenty crabby.  I didn't need to think about what could have been.*  And we did have a wonderful charter day sail with a couple who ran Bare Ass charters--their motto was "Put a little color in your cheeks."  Jim bought a tshirt from them that he wore out over the years.

I understand that years later, back when the then husband was teaching graduate school in public affairs at the UW, he did use our honeymoon as an object lesson of some sort in one of his economics classes on how spending a lot of money can be a GOOD thing in certain situations.  Whatever.

*for the record, I have never smoked tobacco again in any form.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Update November 15, 2010

I had the third installment of my sixth chemotherapy session of my third round  treatment today.  I'm not exactly sure how to correctly term it, but I have been receiving paclitaxel (the taxol derivative) since June.  The course is three weeks on, one week off.  I have been lucky that the side effects have been so minimal up to now.  But last week, I developed a mild neuropathy in my toes- a slight tingling and numbness that did not go away in a day or two, as it has done previously.  It was mostly gone today at the oncologist's, but not entirely.  The Physician's Assistant  Sarah and I spoke with said that eventually should this side effect continue to grow and encompass not only my toes but my ankles, then we will have to discontinue the chemotherapy.  She said that the effects generally are more pronounced by the eighth session.

This is always a balancing act--balancing the efficacy of the treatment, the introduction of a poison to slow or stop tumor growth, against my quality of life.  I liken it to peeling an onion, starting with the skin and working layer by layer into the interior.  It's a judgment call when to stop, and although I am not there, it is a sobering reminder of  the end point of my journey. 

We will all die someday, but one way we keep ourselves 'sane,' if you will,  in the face of this dread outcome, is not to deal with it, to assume that we will live forever.  To constantly reflect on mortality would leave me with an overwhelming fear, and freeze my ability to enjoy each day.  As it is, I find my life seriously circumscribed by my loss of voice, so I do have a regular reminder.  Just as when I look in the mirror.  I try not to let these things bother me, and I've succeeded for many months using a number of distractions, but today it just got to me a little.  Damn.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day

John Singer Sargent's painting Gassed hangs in the Imperial War Museum in London; the canvas is over seven feet high and twenty feet long. This impressive painting depicts soldiers blinded by gas being led in lines back to the hospital tents and the dressing stations; the men lie on the ground all about the tents waiting for treatment.

"With mustard gas the effects did not become apparent for up to twelve hours. But then it began to rot the body, within and without. The skin blistered, the eyes became extremely painful and nausea and vomiting began. Worse, the gas attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. The pain was almost beyond endurance and most cases had to be strapped to their beds. Death took up to four or five weeks. A nurse wrote:

I wish those people who write so glibly about this being a holy war and the orators who talk so much about going on no matter how long the war lasts and what it may mean, could see a case--to say nothing of ten cases--of mustard gas in its early stages--could see the poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured suppurating blisters, with blind eyes . . . all sticky and stuck together, and always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke."

This passage is from John Ellis, Eye-Deep in Hell: Trench Warfare in World War I, (1976), pp. 66-7.
Here is a good history of World War 1. 
Also, the Australian government has an excelent  site up about Gallipoli that is very worth visiting as well.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The American College of Physicians Luncheon Nov. 5

The Washington Chapter of the American College of Physicians held its Annual Meeting this weekend.  Their awards luncheon was Friday where Sarah received the Outstanding Medical Student of the Year.  I was so proud of my daughter.   Dr. Doug Paauw from the University of Washington, presented the award and I will never forget his last words about Sarah:  "she has a heart of gold and the soul of a healer." 

Sarah's dad, Dr. Paauw, Sarah, me

P.S.  I discovered at the luncheon, that Dr. Pauuw is a 1980 graduate of Macalester College.  Just as I and Sarah's father are.  Go Oski Wow Wow!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Halloween 2010

I had very few trick or treaters Halloween night.  It was in keeping with the other five years I've lived in this house.

However, we had a suicide 5 or 6 houses down the street around 4pm.  I did not find out about it until today from a neighbor.  The house was owned by a very elderly woman who had been placed in an old folks' home when several strokes had rendered her non compos mentis.  Her daughter had lived with her in the house, and had been in and out of jail a number of times on drug and other charges.  She was about my age.  The other family members put the house on the market to fund the care for the elderly woman.  It had been on the market for 3 months.  An offer came in on Sunday finally, and the daughter, not having any other options other than homelessness, hanged herself.

Even though I didn't know the individuals, other than I saw them when they were out walking, the older woman with a cane or walker and the daughter with her two pit bulls, I am deeply shaken by this.  I refuse to watch the election returns tonight, because it is just one more aspect of our social safety net shredding as people forget the past and turn on those who were seeking to change the fallout from the 8 years of Bush administration policies that have left us deeply in debt and fighting an unwinnable war that was begun on the basis of lies.  As Al Franken put it last week, "it's easier to drive the car in the ditch than it is to push it out." 

I am truly in despair over the inability of US citizens to see past the agit prop and the fear mongering and look at the facts.  Yes, the Democrats bear some responsibility.  But I hold the media, the Republicans, and lazy voters to 3/4 of the blame.