Friday, February 26, 2010

Blogging and Booking …and Booking

I’m thinking that it is not possible to write a blog and a book at the same time - particularly while also proofreading someone else’s work and trying to make travel plans.

One of the most difficult aspects of a traveling lifestyle is deciding where to go next. Number two is booking the travel and accommodations, though rarely in that order.

Because we take advantage of space that is available when academics are on  sabbatical, we are at the mercy of university budgets, grant approvals, travel costs and all sorts of things that aren’t even about us - well, until we try to book the house on offer.  Fortunately we never book the actual travel until the housing arrangements are firmed up.  Well, usually we don’t.  We booked flights back to the States this morning with nowhere to stay.  Do not be surprised if you receive a phone call asking that you make up the quest room.

I say it is fortunate that we generally don’t book the travel until we have secured a bed because all of our plans for the summer have fallen through in the past three days and I would hate to be stuck with the train, plane and ferry fares.  No house in Greece, Italy, Spain or Ireland. Nada. Zilch.  At least not in our price range or on our schedule.

I am disappointed because as I have written before, the most expensive part of travel is the travel.  Because we are already in Europe I wanted to stay as long as possible but that is not to be.  We will be flying from Edinburgh to Amsterdam to New York to Charlotte on June 15.

The good side of this plan is that I will see my Mom and Tavish and get my wonderful Madison back.  I am very excited about all of that.

There are two, or maybe three, downsides. 

David thinks this is a good plan because he is very worried about my health.  Hmmm, he must be reading my blog - or perhaps experiencing things first hand.  Poor thing.   Having health that needs to be worried about by anyone is not a good thing, I am concerned that he is concerned..  Others often notice things before we do ourselves, particularly negative things that we would prefer to deny.  He thinks I need to reassess my stamina, my meds and my expectations. The stamina and meds I’m OK with but don’t mess with my reality - whether real or not.

I am afraid that once we get off the traveling train we won’t get back on.  There are always excuses to be made for not traveling.  I am going to have to fight hard to keep them from getting in the way. So I need to start making a plan for the next phase now and let the docs know that it is non-negotiable and their job is to get me fit to play.  Athletes do that all the time, right?  Just tape me up and put me in coach. (“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today.” Sing along.  It is almost time for BASEBALL!!! And my annual sing-along showing of Bull Durham.  It‘s a religious thing and red toenails are required)

But I DEFINITELY ramble….

So I am booking and planning travel, proofing the galleys for David’s book and trying to write one of my own - while attempting to separate some thoughts for this blog as well.  Too much at once - particularly for my  addled brain.  One thing I know I need is a schedule - - and sleep.  I guess that is two things.  Lack of sleep can impair counting.

When the weather warms up there will be more travel stories and less about me, me, me.  Until then, if I go away for awhile just know I am working on other things and I’ll definitely be back.  Eventually.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Despite What You May Think, I Am Not Bi-polar

I have lived with diagnosed  multiple sclerosis since 1983. (although I know now that the disease was active even when I was in high school) According to the doctors that made the diagnosis I should have been unable to walk for at least the past 5 years.  Thanks to medical advances in the mid-1990’s, when I was showing definite signs of neurological deterioration, I am still mobile and functioning.  On many days, unless  you know me well, you would have no idea I have MS by watching me walk or move. My hands shake and I drop things a lot but still, it is not an obvious thing. Of course, there are also days when I stay in bed.  I plan my life very carefully to avoid fatigue and those advances of the ‘90s require that I take intramuscular injections of interferon on a regular basis and several pills a day to keep me up and going.  I’ve had rounds of chemotherapy and more intravenous sessions with high dose steroids (1200 mg/day) than I can count.

If I am careful and take my meds I can manage most of my  physical symptoms fairly well.  My cognitive dysfunction is another matter entirely.  For me, the most worrying and  debilitating aspect of MS has been the decrease in my brain’s ability to process information properly.  That, not physical limitations, is what forced me to leave my interesting and lucrative job.  I could no longer process information in a linear fashion which for a project manager in the financial services industry is a big liability.  Both project plans and financial statements became illegible to me.  They might as well have been written in Greek.  At the time I had an amazing ,brilliant, nurturing assistant who kept my head above water.  She should have been receiving half my salary.  When I could no longer organize things or keep information or appointments in my head she gave me notes, reminders and most importantly encouragement.  To this day I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.  Sometimes when I become too demanding of  David or T&T they remind me they are not Mary.

Recently, David has noticed, as have I, that my speech is slowing a bit and I seem to have more periods of confusion.  I do not go out alone for fear that I will be unable to find my way home. In my cooking class last week I kept losing my place, I forgot to turn off  burners, I became frightened and nervous. I wanted someone I could trust to be there with me.  Next time I will enroll with a patient friend. Fortunately David and I are best friends and typically make plans together. He seems to still enjoy being with me despite my limitations  and he is an  amazing man who helps more than any partner should be expected to.

 Tests before I left the US showed that my brain function had declined to 65% of what it had been in my prime.  My former boss said that just made me easier to take.  Apparently in the past when I reached conclusions before others in the room it could be annoying.  Imagine that.  I never was good at sitting on my hands and keeping my mouth shut.
That’s not really surprising. In high school I was obnoxious like that, always a step ahead, sometimes getting to the conclusion even faster than the teacher.  I thought I would live forever in a state of not fitting into the norm until I had the wonderful amazing experience of attending The Governor’s School of NC in the summer of 1971.  There I learned that there were lots of people out there a lot smarter and quicker than me but most of all that what I was capable of was not something I should try to overcome but something I should learn to utilize.  Now, I can’t keep up and it is driving me mad!

David’s oldest friend stutters.  When they are together and he gets stuck on a word David just says it and the conversation moves on as if nothing has happened.  Those years of practice are coming in handy.  Now when I can’t find a word in the rolodex in my brain, if David has been paying attention, he can often fill in the blank just as quickly as he does for his friend.

I know you are thinking that we all slow down and are more forgetful and such as we age and that is definitely true.  I do not want to belittle the difficulties that we all face after 50, but peeps, this is different.  I space out and can’t get the concentration back.  My brain just shorts out.  It is not just a brain fart or a senior moment, it is a periodic blackout.

But there is something I am finding even more distressing recently.  Before we left Florida I was diagnosed with pseudo-bulbar affect (Google it).  I thought it was one of those things invented by drug companies to sell a medicine that didn’t work out for its original function, but I was wrong.  This is the well-documented problem of emotional lability apparently repackaged to raise awareness that it crosses many neurological disorders and can be misdiagnosed as depression.  There is no treatment.  (Expletive!!!)

And for me it appears to be worsening and I am frightened.  I do not want to alienate people, embarrass myself or anyone else in public, or be carried away by men in white coats who have no idea that PBA exists.  You see, I will sit and stare into space until someone asks what I am thinking about.  I will stop in mid-sentence and then just not continue with whatever I was saying (those of you who have known me for years know this was an early sign - and you all just thought I was scatter brained).  My penchant for non-sequiter is a symptom.  My thanks to all of you who continue to try to carry on a logical conversation with me when I jump from subject to subject  for no apparent reason.

But the biggest problem is that I do not have control over my emotions.  I will cry for no apparent reason.  Not just little tears, but big gasping sobs. When I am angered my reaction is way over the top.  Poor Toby must think that his Mom is totally whacko when I completely over-react to what is a normal disagreement.  I yell.  I even scream sometimes.  If I am ready and you are late I can’t tolerate it.  No I am not just the world’s biggest bitch.  I cannot stop this.  Even when I know my actions are out of proportion with the situation it will not stop.  It happens with laughter too.  I’m too loud, carry a joke too far,  don’t understand.  My brain is on overload and just keeps on going.  And I am embarrassed. 

I feel myself retreating.  Surely those who have known me for ages will go, “Well that explains a lot.” and may still be willing to stick around.  But this shit makes making new friends a real challenge and when you move from place to place like we are, it becomes debilitating.

I have fought MS,  this ridiculous, unpredictable disease, with all I’ve got for 27 years. All in all I have won a lot of battles.  But this one is getting me. If this is “pseudo“- bulbar I’d hate to see actual bulbar.  This one is causing me to question what is next, what I can handle. This one has me listening to David when he suggests we buy a house in Maiden, just in case we need it.  I imagine the unspoken part of that is “just in case he needs some help with me.”  I need a new battle plan  and my MS fried, pseudo-bulbar affected  brain doesn’t seem capable of coming up with one.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

We Don’t Have a Place in Italy for July

As I sat surfing for a house on a Greek Island where David and I might spend the late summer, he was looking at real estate in Maiden, NC, the tiny town where I grew up.  This wasn’t just incongruous it was ludicrous.  Neither of us had ever considered living in Maiden, in fact we had moved from North  Carolina for what we thought was the last time in 2005.  What was going on?

We’re travelers, vagabonds.  One friend described this as my bohemian phase.  I like the concept although I don’t think I quite live up to it.  We are moving from place to place to experience life, to learn about how things work outside of the US consumer bubble, And we love it!

But now I was hit in the face with the knowledge that I agreed with what he was doing.  The idea of moving to Maiden would take some real brain adjustment for me but I understood his desire to identify a retirement location that could be paid for and ready for us should we decide to get off the road or if our tentative health decides to knock either of us flat.  I know that could happen at any time but I live in total denial of it.

We look wistfully at photos of San Miguel de Allende where we spent most of a year and wonder if we should head back.  We write about and organize pictures from our time in France and know that it was a good experience but not one we would like to repeat.  We plan for what to do during the remainder of out stay in Scotland - travel to the Isle of Mull, visit friends in Thornhill and Aberdeen, spend a day in Glasgow, eat some Loch Fyne oysters before the end of April when the months no longer have an “r”.

We must leave Britain by the end of our visa on June 23 or the British Border Bitch will surely have her minions out searching for us.  We might be staying over to put liquid explosives in excess of 4 oz in our shoes or something.  We can reenter the Schengen visa territory of the EU (basically everywhere in Europe except the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria and other eastern European countries that I can’t remember) after that date but can only stay for 90 days.  Because we would like to travel back to the US on a repositioning cruise that leaves on Oct 4 we must identify somewhere to park ourselves for a little over three weeks either at the beginning or the end of our time in mainland Europe.

We are staying on because we are here and the most costly part of traveling is, well, the traveling part.  Basically, wherever you go, there you are and we are here and would like stay until we are forced by ridiculous regulations to give up playing the system and just get the hell out of Dodge for awhile.

So we’re thinking of going to Ireland for a few weeks before we head back across the Channel and then spending a week in Istanbul on the back end before we fly to London to get the boat.  In between we were planning to train across France and down the coast of Italy where we had located a lovely flat overlooking the Mediterranean in Salerno.  And then last night I got an email that the flat wouldn’t be available after all.  (Expletive!!!)

There is still the villa on the Greek island of Thassos for August and September but we are waiting for final confirmation on that and now I am  nervous that our summer plans will just fall apart.  That is how my brain works.  I’ve learned to live in perpetual white water so I must always be prepared for the worst and then enjoy the best when it emerges..

Time for Plan B, a backup plan, a do-over, something that sticks.  But I’m not sure it is moving to Maiden.

I love the idea of coming full-circle, spending time with my Mom, getting to know my soon-to-arrive baby niece,  nephew and cousin, being there to help out with all those family things that need helping out with -- but I am equally nervous about boredom, getting stuck in a rut, having religion pushed in my face,  not having enough intellectual challenge, being surrounded by conservative thought and being made fun of for thinking differently - the things that pushed me away from there in the first place.

 My sister said that nothing I could do would surprise her anymore.  I didn’t like hearing that.  She did not intend it kindly and she lumped me in with my brother which is not a place where anyone would want to reside. But it is also where I have landed by intention as much as by default.

I am reading “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I must be the last female in the western world to do this.  She is getting divorced and as a result is assessing her feelings about family and children and her life.  As I read I totally identified with what she was saying . Hope she will forgive that I have made a few changes to fit my situation.

[It is the potential] shock of stepping off the track of a conventional lifestyle and losing all the embracing comforts that keep so many people on that track forever…. I discover this truth every time I go to a big reunion of my mother’s family in [North Carolina] and I see how everyone is so reassuringly in their position over the years. First you are a child, then you are a teenager, then you are a young married person, then you are a parent [although not always in that order in my family in recent years], then you are a grandparent, then you are retired - at every stage you know who you are, you know what your duty is, and you know where to sit at the reunion.  You sit with the other children. or teenagers or young parents or retirees.   Until at last you are sitting with the [75] year-olds in the shade, watching over your progeny with satisfaction.  Who are you?  No problem, you are the one that created all of this.  The satisfaction of this knowledge is immediate and what’s more, it’s universally recognized.

At our reunions someone often tells the story of my grandfather as he sat looking at all of us and said to my grandmother, “Bertha, can you believe we started all of this”

But I chose to live outside that circle of continuity and certainty.  Oh, I return from time to time to dip my foot back in and observe the world my grandparents created.  But that world of tradition and orderly disorder with controlling rules and expectations frightens me away every time.  I prefer a little chaos.  Perpetual white water is easier for me to manage than a comfortable life of convention.  I need adventure, change, excitement.  I crave an interesting existence.

But I can’t be foolish and ignore health and long term financial considerations and as another good friend has said, I probably need a place for centering.  Yes, a place where I am grounded and understand what is going on around me.  A comfort zone.  But can I find that in the place I rejected so vehemently when I was younger. The place that in all senses pushed me away.  I have changed and mellowed somewhat.  Has the same happened there?

So I will continue to look for the next travel destination while David peruses real estate.  We’ve expanded our search a bit but keep being pulled back to  Maiden.  Wherever we travel we search out a quiet existence. We are no longer party animals.  Age is slowing us down and we spend more time in quiet pursuits - writing, reading, listening to music, watching movies, sewing, crocheting .  Perhaps we should add a little gardening to that. Perhaps we can create our own quiet island in that sea of extra baggage that would surely haunt me there.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For Lent - I am giving up Being Fat

Lent is about rising from the old and embracing the new.  The Rule of Benedict says Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scrapping the sludge  (I’ve got a lot of that)off a life turned slipshod, taking stock of time. Lent is about exercising the control that enables us to say no to ourselves so that when life turns hard of its own accord we have the stamina to say yes to its twists and turns with hope.  Hmmm, sounds like a diet to me.

I was raised in the United Methodist Church where Lent meant changing the church vestments to my favorite purple ( I think - or maybe that was Advent - I always get them confused - or maybe it was both) and filling up a slotted card with pennies and later dimes and quarters (inflation) to give to some mission or charity.  I guess the money was supposed to come out of my allowance or something but I just remember my Dad giving me the coin to insert each week, no real sacrifice.  There must have been a lesson in there somewhere, right?  All in all it was just a run up to Easter which meant a new dress and shoes (and until I was old enough to win the protests, a ridiculous hat) and a huge basket full of candy deposited in our living room (right where Santa always left the presents) by some giant furry animal that by all rights should have scared the be-jeezus out of kids.

We were never asked to make a Lenten sacrifice by giving up something significant like I learned later in life was a big thing in the Catholic families of many of my friends.  And even my Jewish friends make sacrifices during Passover- which interestingly coincides.
( That is a whole discussion on religion that I do not want to get into just now.  Suffice it to say that there are way too many similarities in all the major religions for it to be a coincidence. Someone is borrowing traditions :)

Actually, I love the Lenten season. Early spring!  It is all about fresh starts and rebirth and new growth and hope and light.  Imagine way back when and the earth had grown darker and darker each day and suddenly people began to notice that it was getting lighter and  crocuses, jonquils and hyacinths began to peek through the melting snow and buds appeared on the trees and they realized that perhaps they were being given a second chance, a new opportunity.   So they made a sacrifice to the gods to say thanks for letting us off this time or they celebrated that whatever sacrifice they may have made a few weeks earlier was paying off.  In some cultures the sacrifice was a personal one, like we do no chocolate or alcohol (although it would more likely have been a piece of gold or an animal that would otherwise have been a much needed dinner)  In other cultures,  it was very personal for the one young male or female that was sacrificed for the good of the community. Thank goodness most cultures in the world today are past that one - although many still make a pretty big deal out of some of those earlier sacrifices with religious ceremonies and even re-enactments, but where no one living is actually hung from a cross or anything.

I have noticed in recent years that like many religious observances - Christmas, Easter, New Moon, Super Bowl, Opening Day of Major League Baseball - the Lenten sacrifice has become secularized and even people who have never darkened the door of a church are participating.  I’m sure we all have at least one friend who is giving up alcohol or chocolate or whatever they want to abstain from for awhile and most are motivated not by religious conviction but by a desire to do something good for themselves - not a bad thing all in all. I just wish we were a bit more honest about it with ourselves and others.  Well, you know me so I know that you know ( that I know that you know……) at least one such person because I am giving up Being Fat for Lent.

I’m not celebrating Lent exactly, it is just that a prescribed 40 day period with a designated start and end date seems doable

(and BTW why are all the Easters of different religious sects and Passover on a different date each year?  You’d think we could come to some compromise solution ,like President’s Day, that would really simplify all our lives and make  school calendars much easier to plan)
But I ramble….

Doable for what, you ask?  For doing everything I possibly can to start the scales trending in the other direction.  And let me tell you that starting this on the day after I just paid beaucoup bucks to take an amazing cooking class is a REAL SACRIFICE!!!
So I am devising the Lenten Diet (are you listening Mark Herman?) which I will publish, probably weekly.  It is a bastardized Atkins ( my past successful weight loss and something David can live with) , Kimkins, Weight-watchers, Scarsdale, Slimfast, non-starvation but definitely controlled eating plan for 40 days only - lo-carb, lo-fat, lo-sugar, lo-calorie, and no doubt with a high bitchiness factor.

If you read it and think, this is not a healthy eating plan, you are right. (too much cheese and not enough dessert )  But please don’t feel compelled to lecture me about it.  It is for 40. Days. Only.  And it is a DIET intended to cause my body to get angry at parts of itself and start sending them away, not a life-long healthy eating plan which hopefully I can return to in April.

I will NOT be drinking alcohol and instead drinking more water (mostly sparkling), herbal tea, and my morning coffee and eating the following (including a small Activia yogurt each day - I need the calcium J) and snacking on carrots, celery, and lo-fat cheese sticks:*

Day 1 (W 2/17) - that was actually yesterday when I ate what I cooked at Cook School and probably put myself farther behind than ahead  ( see upcoming post about that remarkable day)

Day 2 - protein smoothie (fat free)
             Chicken/veggie chili, coleslaw with light dressing
             Roasted chicken, sautéed spinach, cumin carrots

Day 3 - Eggy w/w  French toast with no-sugar jam
             Tuna salad on lots of lettuce with tomatoes and cucumber
             Chicken broccoli bake (chicken and cheese - no pasta), garlic greens

Day 4 -Eggy “blintzes“ filled with cottage cheese and no sugar jam
            Vegetable soup, salad
            Stuffed peppers (mince, veggies and cheese), salad

Day 5 - Cheesy eggs, veggie sausage
             Chopped chicken ,lettuce, carrot, celery salad
             Roast Turkey breast, cauliflower mash, spinach salad

Day 6 -.  Denver omelet w/ turkey
               Taco salad w/ veggie mince & lo-fat cheese
               Salmon w/ lemon-dill sauce.. coleslaw, broccoli

Day 7. Smoothie
           Broccoli soup, salad
           Chicken breast on tomato & cucumber, romaine salad

* No that I look at it, it is not so unhealthy if I keep the fat low, but it is really BORING!!! for someone who just learned to cook a perfectly medium-rare duck breast with a veal marrow sauce, wild mushrooms and pancetta.

I feel a bit like Oprah having it all out there in front of all of you. So if two days from now I change my mind, just don’t give me a hard time about it OK?  It’s not like it is some religious thing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OMG - The Things I Learned in Cook School

I am not yet down from the mountaintop, having just spent the day at the Martin Wishart Cook School.  I learned so much that I am busily making notes even as I write so that I don’t forget.  Here are a few of the takeaways from the day:

To make a creamy soup lighter, yet more satisfying in smaller quantities, like you might serve as a first course or an amuse bouche, whip it with a wire whisk or immersion  blender until frothy and serve in a tea cup for a first course or a demitasse cup as an amuse bouche.

To cook anything in butter, heat the pan slowly first then add the butter and melt until foamy, do not let separate, keep at an even temp

The best general cooking oil is pumiced olive oil - generally sold as light olive oil - it is made from an additional pressing after the virgin and regular oils have been extracted.  It heats to the perfect temp and won’t add flavor to the food

For the best scallops you will ever eat, try whenever possible to get them in the shell and hand dived to eliminate the grit in dredged ones or the white preservative in frozen or shelled ones - but in any case, halve them across the grain and a salt the cut side.  Cook them in foaming butter in  a hot skillet cut side down  until caramelization starts to show around the edges, turn just briefly and then remove to blotting paper, squeeze lemon over.  

Chicken stock: Ask the butcher for about 8 chicken carcasses or buy a lot of wings on sale.  Fill a stock pot cramming in as much chicken as will fit.  Fill pot with water to cover chicken.  Bring to a boil and cook for 40 minutes skimming constantly until reduced by 1/3.  Strain and store in frig or freeze in small quantities until ready to use (add no seasonings or aromatics!)

Veal or beef stock: Ask butcher for marrow bones and roast in 375 F oven for one hour; sauté mirapoix (celery, carrot and  onion) in pumiced oil until just starting to turn color; deglaze pan with red wine; add bones and tomato puree; cover with water; bring to boil and skim several times until broth starts to clear; Lower heat to lowest setting or put in slow over and cook for 24 hours until reduced by 2/3;  Strain and store.  Put veggies and bones back in pot, cover with water and repeat to make second batch

Any meat of poultry should rest for 50% of the cooking time before carving ( so a turkey cooked for 4 hours  should rest for 2 hours or a 2” thick filet steak cooked for 5 minutes on each side to perfect medium rare should rest for 5 minutes)  Don’t fear it getting cold.  If served on a warm plate with a warm sauce it should be perfect eating temp.

For a wonderful, easy dessert, make sweetened French toast with a good loaf cake of any type,  sprinkle a few berries about, drizzle with warmed honey butter, dust with powdered sugar and top with a dollop of crème fraiche

Always use a warm spoon to serve whipped cream or cream fraiche

There is so much more that my head is spinning.  I will write all about the menu, how to cook a perfect duck breast and good inexpensive wines after I come down off this  cloud of wonderfulness.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Age Cannot Wither Me - although it may wrinkle me…

I just had a birthday (did you know that?)
which means, whether I want to be or not, I am another year older, another year closer to “over the hill.”

I am not yet over the hill nor do I intend to be any time soon - despite what some might have begun to insinuate when I turned 40 by giving me all sorts of ridiculous black gifts, tonics and creams for warding off the signs of aging and making really bad jokes.  What was the commercial, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better “ - and I damn well am getting better all the time.

I’m more comfortable with who I am than I was 20 years ago or as is sometimes said, “I am more comfortable in my own skin.”
That is sort of true as I can’t imagine being in someone else’s skin but I’m not totally content with the extra tonnage I am carrying around nor the wrinkles that keep appearing all over my body, not just on my face.  I’m trying to “love the skin [I’m} in “ and, hopefully, as soon as I can motivate myself to do the shopping I recently convinced myself was OK I should look pretty effing good. There is a show on British telly called “How to look good naked.”  I’m thinking that if new clothes and makeup don’t work - I already have the new haircut - then I may audition for the show.

In the meantime, I keep an eye on my idol, Dame Judi Dench,for motivation.
She is 76.  She is wrinkled.  She is short (she prefers “petite”).  She is “cuddly” (doesn’t that sound ever so much nicer than “fat”).  And she still looks fabulous!  She steals the show in the Bond movies not just from gorgeous Pierce Brosnan or that amazing 6- pack of Daniel Craig, but from the Bond girls, too.  I love her!! She won an Oscar for being the Queen. I want to be her when I grow up.

You see, I am already just like her. Her specialty is being adored.  So is mine (well, it will be as soon as I convince the three men in my life that their job is to adore me).  She was married to the same man (now deceased) for 30 years.  I’ve been married to the same man for 28+ years and he is still around, thank goodness.  Dame Judi was totally dependent on her Mikey (the actor Michael Williams), as I am on David.  She has been heard to say that “I can’t do anything on my own.”  Ditto!  I need my men around.

She is always looking for the next good thing to do - which in her case is a new film or stage production just as I’m always looking for the next adventure.  She didn’t make her first film until late in life
so I am inspired that the next great  thing for me may still be out there.

The problem with aging isn’t all me, it’s the attitudes and expectations of other people. Our culture does not value the lives of older people because, well, they will soon be dead.  The feelings of older people can’t possibly have the depth or significance of the feelings of let’s say, teenagers. The real problem here is that we are the ones that started all that youth culture stuff and now we are having to deal with the monster we created.  I am smack in the middle of the baby boomers and, unfortunately, the birth rate just hasn’t kept up.  There just aren’t enough young’uns to support us in our old age. 

But there should be an upside to an aging population - and to being a part of it.  I’m sorry Jane Fonda, I don’t want to be a GlamMa - too much work.  I have earned the right to go without all that makeup and still like myself.  And who wants to “feel the burn” at 60.  Arthritis is bad enough without exacerbating it.

After all that adolescent angst of  the last half of the 20th century, perhaps it will be good for things to settle down a bit.  Who can disagree that the world could benefit from the calmer, wiser, more studied approach that comes with age?  Maybe it is what is needed to save the planet.  As historian Theodore Roszak said, “Aging is the best thing that has happened in the modern world, a cultural and ethical shift that looks a lot like sanity.”

Now I’m not saying that I won’t bitch about getting older from time to time.  And certainly, it doesn’t look like the media is poised to change from total youth orientation to an appreciation of geezers.  Have you ever noticed how in our often overly PC world it is not acceptable to make jokes about Blacks, Jews, the disabled, Muslims, even Poles and such but it is still perfectly acceptable to joke about or even ridicule old age?

  I liked it when I could be the center of any function.
Being married to someone nearly 10 years my senior has often made me the youngest woman in the room..  No more.  But, I am learning that it is good sometimes to be the wise one rather than the cute one.
 Time to grow up.  Just so long as I can do it as elegantly as Dame Judi.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Life and Work

A poem so very on-target about my  life and work right now (thanks Becky)......
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ Mary Oliver

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why the US Really, Really Really Needs Single-Payer Universal Health Care - or how Ciel went to the doctor in Scotland and was once again amazed at the British system

I take a lot of drugs - uh, meds.  So many in fact that I actually have a two-sided zippered case in which to carry the pill bottles and a separate thermal thingie for the injectable interferon. When going through airport security or customs I am always nervous that I will be hauled off for smuggling or something but, you know what, I have never even been asked about all the pills and needles and little bottles of liquid and stuff. Proving yet again  how TSA is keeping us all so very secure.

But, just in case, I carry photocopies of all my prescriptions and those print outs you get from the pharmacist about what each drug is for and a list from my doc about what I take and why and a copy of my medical records, including the pathology report from my cancer surgery, a disk with the results of my most recent MRI and a print out of my latest blood test results.  I never know when someone is going to want to know something  about all the many, many parts of my body  that are missing, broken, plastic, or not in proper working order and what chemicals are required to keep me functioning day-to-day.  Best to be prepared, right?

Before we left the US last fall I visited all my doctors (I have 7) and got new year-long scrips for everything I take - daily, bi-weekly and monthly.  Then I called my insurance company and asked, no begged, for an override so I could bring my medication with me.  After explaining that I would be out of the country for at least 6 months I was told that I could get 3 months of meds to take along.

 Hello, can you count?  I am going away for more than 6 months.
Don’t you have one three month supply already? 
Well, yes, but I have been using it for the past month- and-a half so there won’t be enough to last for the trip.
 Are you going on business?
 Oh, that’s too bad because if you were going on business we could give you up to a year’s supply in advance. 
So, if I am traveling on my own and BTW pay for my own insurance, I can’t get approval to take medication with me for the entire trip but if I am working and my employer is paying for at least a part if not all of my health insurance, I can  get meds for a year? Oh now it all makes so much sense……

But if I buy meds overseas I can file a claim when I get back right?
 No, you aren’t covered outside of the US unless there is an emergency.
Oh, if I run out of my anti-depressants there will definitely be an emergency alright.
(Then I’ll just take it off my taxes.  Wait, it has to total over something like 7% of my income to do that.  Good ol’ IRS)

So, this morning I am up at the crack of dawn  -on the morning after my birthday celebration so you know I really needed to sleep in - but I am up to go to a Scottish Doctor so I can get a prescription to buy meds in Edinburgh. Mind you, I pay over $400 a month for health insurance in the US ,even though I am not using it ,because there is no way to put it on hold (like there would be under a tax supported plan where if I go out of the country I am not paying taxes for that period, understand? ) and if I stop it I will be considered uninsurable by US health insurance companies  and denied coverage when I return because I am one of those people who actually needs health insurance because I have MS, cancer , hypothyroidism, hypertension and hyperlipidemia and did I mention need a lot of meds to control it all and, oh, keep me alive.  I know this because my 24-year-old healthy as a horse son can’t get insurance because he is -are you ready for it- short.

So, here I am in Scotland, about to run out of thyroid medication and having gained 30 pounds since this ridiculous condition was diagnosed I dare not go without it. I call the local surgery (clinic) and ask if I can see the doctor.  But , I am not on the NHS (National Health Service) because if I was I would go to the doctor and pay NOTHING, NADA, ZERO, A BIG FAT GOOSEGG.  Because in Britain they believe that health care is a right not an option and everyone is taxed equally to pay for it so no one can be denied and everyone gets care when they need it.  Novel idea don’t you think. ( and don’t tell me “but it’s rationed because the only thing you wait for here is elective surgery like boob jobs and sex change operations - seriously. And if you are  sick you will be seen by a doctor on the same day- guaranteed)

Actually, I have an NHS  card from 2003 when David was a student here and we were paying taxes here but try as I might it can’t be renewed.  So I am a private pay patient.  That will be 40 pounds for the visit, 15 pounds for having a prescription written and 40 pounds for the blood test.  Even though I do not have a card the NHS will pay for my swine flu jab (shot) because it is cheaper for  them to give me the vaccine since I am living here than it is to treat all the people I might infect were I to get the flu.  Wow, someone is actually thinking about health care costs and WELLNESS here. 

 SO, I will pay more than my co pays would have been in the States but I am paying for the full price of the service.  How much would it cost an uninsured person in the US to see a doctor, get a prescription, have blood tested for kidney and liver function, blood sugar, thyroid hormone levels and the regular stuff like hemoglobin?   The blood test alone would cost more in the US than my entire visit in the UK. 

And if billed to insurance the US charge would be even higher. Did you know that?  US doctors and hospitals bill insurance companies more than the actual cost of the service. Why? Well, there must be enough to pay for the doctor, his/her staff., the medical transcriptionist (sorry Cynthea), the lab, the building owner, the decorator, the art on the walls, the person who waters all those plants or feeds the fish in that big tank, the cable bill for the waiting room TV, magazine subscriptions, cleaning service, and then there is a cut for the insurer, to pay the lobbyist, to donate to the candidates. And if it is medication that is being billed, there is Big pharma’s cut and the cost of marketing prescription medication

What is that about anyway - marketing prescription meds? Shouldn’t the doctor be the one who decides if I need a medicine?  Isn’t that why he went to med school and gets the big bucks?  Am I really supposed to make an appointment to tell him/her that I saw an ad on TV and think I need that new drug “what’s it called” for that condition I didn’t know I was supposed to be worried about.  BTW you still don’t need to be worried about it because chances are Big Pharma created the disease to fit some drug they manufactured that didn’t work for what it was designed for and now they need to sell the stuff to somebody with say, restless leg syndrome which Does. Not. Exist.  No surprise, there are no drug ads on TV in Britain.

But I ramble….

At the Scottish doctor’s office, I checked in with the one receptionist  who worked for 6 docs. (For the sake of complete accuracy, there were also two medical file clerks working.) The receptionist took my payment which she had previously quoted to me on the phone so I could bring cash because they do not take credit cards (something  else US docs pay for) and asked me to take a seat in the waiting room until “the DOCTOR comes for you”(more on that in a bit)  On the wall was a sign “ If you have waited longer than 25 minutes for a booked appointment, please inform the receptionist so she can remedy the situation.”  I don’t know about you, peeps, but I have never seen a sign like that in any of my US doctors’ offices where I have sometimes waited an hour or more. And all that was on the rest of the walls was posters about health care and information about the doctors. No pictures. No TV. No plants. No fish. No corner for the kiddies filled with germ covered toys.  There were a lot of reasonably comfortable chairs but no plush sofas and on the tables were the magazines that come free in the Sunday paper (expecting this perhaps, most people had brought a book) and, you know what, I neither got sicker nor felt better as a result,  Imagine that.  The waiting room décor did nothing for me in terms of my health care.  It was a clean, comfortable well-lighted space.  What a concept.  And if you had flu symptoms they asked that you tell them at check-in so you could be placed in isolation.  I was particularly fond of that bit since I can’t tell you how many colds I have contracted while waiting to see the doctor with sick people sneezing all over me in the well-decorated  waiting room.

Now it gets scary.  In a few minutes, like 5 minutes after my appointment time, the doctor came to the door and called my name.  Yes, THE DOCTOR.  He led me down the hall to the one room where he sees patients and asked that I take a seat in the chair by his desk,  On one side of  the desk were a full-page size flat computer screen and keyboard which he later used to verify my prescription drugs, on the other end next to my chair was a blood pressure gauge and a gainst the opposite wall was an examining table.  All in one room.

  THE DOCTOR put the  blood pressurecuff on and pushed the button while HE asked questions and made notes about my medical history.  Where was the nurse that would have been there in the US to do all this and then left me there with an old magazine until the doctor showed up maybe 15 or 20 minutes later??? THE DOCTOR was actually hearing what I had to say and writing it all down.  No chance that he might not have the time to read some nurses notes made before he arrived in the room so that he might not know that I am allergic to doxycycline and surgical tape or that I have high blood pressure and since my Mom, Dad and grandmother all had strokes it sort if freaks me out. And THE DOCTOR took my blood pressure not once but three times and sort of averaged them out and then said I should come back once a week for three weeks so he could see the trend since one time is never sufficient.  Has that ever happened at a US doc’s office. NO!!

He asked if I smoked or ever had but not if I drink.  This is Scotland.  He assumed I drink.  He asked if I have more than 21 drinks in a week.  I asked how much that was and he told me 21 pints of beer (are you kidding - I would be floating or living in the bathroom), 21 - 6 ounce glasses of wine (that’s like 6 bottles all by myself) or 21 large whiskies (who could afford that or still be standing) Uh, no, I don’t think so.  And my screen name is martinis2nite!  Ok then he said, the booze isn’t hurting me. Hooray Scotland!  He didn’t even seem to think that not drinking was going to help me lose weight.  What?  Someone pass me a glass.

Then he ordered blood tests and they  did them right there, right away.  Well, actually I had to walk down the hall with the “lab nurse” who took me into a doctor’s office where her “trolley” (cart) of supplies was located.  Rather than a big ol’ expensive room with lots of chairs where people sit and wait their turn, she lets them wait in the waiting room and each day uses the office of whichever doc is on hospital duty,

Are you seeing the pattern here?  Think of all the waste in the US healthcare system. The Scottish doctor had a laugh when he had to determine how much to charge for the blood tests.   He said “We doctors are lucky here.  We don’t have to think about money like  the Americans.  They actually need a business management course in medical school.  What does that have to do with practicing medicine.  I have to think it affects their patient care.”

Can you imagine??

P.S.  My prescription cost less than 10 dollars to fill.  That is the actual cost of the drug.  My US co-pay is $20.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I'm Going Shopping for a Tiara

My new online friend and blogging consigliere, Rougie, owns three tiaras and isn't afraid to use them.  I've seen recent photos of her in a bar, in Hickory I think, with a sparkly on her head, so I know this is not just an urban myth.  

Since the age of 4,  I have had a crown  of my own  - which I did not have to buy I might add (sorry Rougie).  It was placed on my head in a coronation of sorts in Paul's Palace at Maiden Elementary School around 1958 or 1959.  My Uncle Stanley took the photographs.  Three of my other uncles called me "Little Miss Maiden" well into my thirties and as I've mentioned before, David (he wasn't a Dr. yet) had a photo of me at my coronation published in local papers on my 40th birthday.  I have always known that I was royalty.  In addition to the crown,  I have a trophy that says "Queen."  From time to time I have needed to point to one or both to remind Dr. David and T&T who is really in charge despite their meager but sometimes frequent efforts at a coup. 

My Mom taught me how to be a princess. I think she was crowned by her father at an early age.  She also owned a tiara.  My younger cousin aspired to follow me to into royalty.  A photo of her debutante presentation at age 18 looks like she made it and since her return from self-imposed exile in California, we have made a point of sharing the center of the universe.  We are now having some internal royal struggles as Rougie and Lauren think they also deserve a turn, little Taryn is growing impatient as a Lady in Waiting and Ella is about to burst onto the scene.  Somehow, I expect Ella to  demand a full HRH title on the day of her birth.  Patience is not a virtue that Royals like us possess.

As I was on my Saturday Edinburgh Walkabout last weekend I passed a fabulous shop with windows filed with tiaras.  I think I may go back and buy one, it being The 10 Days of Cindy and all. 

 Crowns are a big deal in Britain.   England and Scotland have fought wars over who should wear them and there are some pretty amazing collections of crowns and the associated jewels in the Tower of London

and here in Edinburgh at  Holyroodhouse Palace.

Why belly-ache about being excluded from this year's honors list , as my co-nate Doug and Dr.Dave are wont to do each year,  when I am entitled to wear my own personal crown. OK OK, I have to admit it, attempts to borrow one from the Palace have been unsuccessful so buying one may be required.  My head has grown a bit, along with the rest of me, in the past 52 years.

Did you know that the monarchy has its own website? They must be getting a handle on that whole PR . I highly recommend a visit. They actually answer e-mails!

But I ramble...
Just across the Royal Mile from the tiara shop,  is a Scottish Dress maker and Kilt shop that displays two frocks I also might need.

 The skirt is the draw here.

 Of course, since I have at least 5 tartans that I can claim as my own, I wouldn't be so tasteless as to have this dress made in Royal  Stewart.  Besides, I look awful in red.

Rose - I'd use the Hunting (Blue/Green) Somewhere there are two parsons chairs upholstered in #3 that used to be at the head and foot of my dining room table.

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 McMullen/MacMillan - I have a kilted skirt in the garnet and gold for FSU events.  Otherwise, it is all about the ancient (#2)  Our  friend, Sir George, Chief of Clan MacMillan doesn't actually like my favorite because it is too  often confused with Buchanan.  Too bad  George.  I am royalty so I get to choose.

Brodie - The dress I wore as First Lady at Burn's Night in Charlotte was done in #2 but in a more muted shade and the gold threads were metallic.  Fabulous!

A MacDonald woman  from the Isle of Skye married an English Wilkinson man  - probably against the sage advice of her parents.  Those are my ancestors. I'm still waiting for the inheritance from the swodr manufacturing business. But then my brother would probably just steal it anyway so why worry.

Lindsay - This comes down through David's mother's family line.  I once had napkins, placemats and coasters in #1

There is also Ellis
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but I think that may be Welsh or something and I am just not going there - well, I have been there - Wales I mean.  They say if you can't see the mountains, it's raining and if you can see the mountains it is going to rain. But what I mean is I am not even going to consider that I may have some Welsh ancestors because I know only one Welshman - a very good friend but a total right wing crazy and if that is what being Welsh is about then I won't even consider it.  Besides I don't think they have their own crown jewels so why bother.
(At least I'm not German and married to a Greek racist.)

But why am I thinking about all things Royal you wonder?  Well, I have been in a really bad funk recently about my thyroid-induced weight gain.  I have been reading, consulting specialists, posting questions on webpages ,asking friends for tips to find out how the hell to lose some weight.   Peeps, this is a big deal!  I have quit drinking (well, there was that one pint on Sat) I have cut out carbs, I have lowered fat, I count calories, I am walking miles (when my body allows it) and still I continue put on weight.  In other words, I am depressed, I feel ugly, I am tired all the time, I have a constant headache, I can't sleep (which does  wonders for the complexion) and I have a birthday coming up.  Hooray me!

As you have probably noticed I try to focus on the good things about birthdays like presents and attention and presents and celebrations and presents and cake and presents and such.  But, how am I going to eat cake when I could actually watch it go into my mouth and appear instantly visible at my waist? Cooking is my favorite sport and making reservations at good restaurants is my favorite hobby.  I read cookbooks like novels. 

Yesterday, Dear Dr. David brought me wonderful Edinburgh fudge for Day 2.  Three amazing  flavors - rum raisin, mocha with chocolate glaze and a totally decadent pitaschio with white chocolate.  I was thrilled at his thoughtfulness and yet I cried.  How could I eat fudge in my current condition? He was bewildered and when I explained my plight  he told me how beautiful he thinks I am and how I need to learn to accept that my body has been my worst enemy for years wreaking havoc in all aspects of my life and I need to accept it and get on with those things I enjoy and quit feeling sorry for myself and blah blah blah and go shopping. ( No he is not available) I was still a bitch. I mean the shopping thing  is appealing but then I would have to deal with the whole 100 Things Challenge and my advocacy of simplicity and.....

...and then this morning the dear Dr. forwarded me an e-mail that helped me begin to get a grip and start to put things in perspective. I am royalty after all and with a crown comes both rights and responsibilities.  I have responsibilities as the High Priestess of Fun  - yet another of my royal titles bestowed several years ago by an interesting friend who definitely understands the definition of a good time  -  he is also blogging 

I have the responsibility of setting an example of the correct way to celebrate a birthday.  Hey, Queen Lizbet does it twice a year, once for real and once just so her subjects can celebrate.  Now there's a plan almost as good as the 10 days of me. And I have some rights.  Like the right as Toby would say to go "fucking shopping" - 100 things be damned. ( I will certainly need to  spend some time working through that one so you will probably get a chance to read about it )

But before I can do that I have to come to term with being me as I am now - almost 56 years old and a lot different from who I was 52 years ago when I was first crowned queen or even 16 years ago when the event was re-visited.  I should be more poised, more polished, more - well OK with there being more of me.

Elizabeth was crowned Queen before I was born.  She has aged from 25 to 80 under the harsh microscope of worldwide publicity  - and she has done it with style and grace.  Even our American royal, Jacqueline Kennedy, had that awful Onassis phase. And Queenie has gained weight  - a lot of it by the looks of the photos.  Is she down about it?  I don't think so. When the scales tilt a bit upward she just buys a new dress - with a matching hat.  And you know what, I have better taste than she does (and a much better hairstyle - OMG no wonder she wears hats!), although I have a much smaller budget I am afraid.  But regardless, Day 4 will find me "down the shops" running up some card balances and hopefully coming home with an improved attitude.

This old gal gives new meaning to the phrase "Long Live the Queen"

I don't know about you, but I went OMG somewhere between Eisenhower and Truman.