Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Getting Ready


What was I thinking! 10 days between cruises is NOT enough time! True, the laundry is done and the bills are paid, but nothing else is ready. Tomorrow we'll pack the "still warm" suitcases and we'll leave on Friday! I know once we get on Air Tahiti Nui, all will be well! On a positive note, one member of our travel team is ready: Silky, the Travel Bear. All he has to do is hop in an open suitcase and he's ready for the next adventure.

To add to the hustle and bustle of the season, I've thrown out my back. I will be wearing a back brace for extra support for at least another week. It's better than not going! My chiropractor said I could go, as long as I did not lift, carry, bend, stoop or pull heavy items. I'll follow those directions to a T.

In the meantime, Happy Holidays. We will be spending Christmas on Easter Island...isn't that cool!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Home and Away II


We are home once again. The final morning on the Diamond Princess was marked by a bomb scare. A dog sniffed something in the incoming luggage which stopped the whole disembarkation procedure.

I was very proud of my fellow passengers. From the first announcement to the last, there was not any screaming, shoving, shouting nor other signs of panic. We were asked to stay away from the starboard side of the ship and to quietly move to the port side. People did as they were told without any fuss. A few minutes later, we were told why we needed to be away from the starboard side of the ship, and once again, there was not any panic. Over the next 30 minutes or so, we were given calm announcements as to what was happening and each time, there was no panic on the ship. Finally, we were told that it was a false alarm and the disembarkation process would begin in a few minutes. And, yet again, no one groused, as folks moved from port to starboard in order to leave the ship. It was a moment when I can say that we were all calm, cool and collected. It was a situation that was not comfortable, but everyone was ready for the challenge.

All the time I'm sure people were wondering if they would make their next connection, but no one voiced those thoughts while we were huddled in chairs on the port side of the ship. It ended and I think we were all a bit stronger for having witnessed a bomb scare. It was first for me.

Now that we are home, we are thinking about the next two trips. One is small...a visit to my sister and my aunts; the other is large...a 26 day cruise from Tahiti to Ft. Lauderdale by way of Easter Island and the Panama Canal. I think I'm ready for both.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Our Floating City


Yesterday afternoon I toured the Diamond Princess trying to discover some more of her nooks and crannies. I discovered 5 swimming pools, 8 or 10 hot tubs, 2 more bars, several hidden terraces for sunbathers, as well as the tennis court and the putting green! Then I found the outdoor Chess set, a few more shuffleboard courts and more table tennis tables.



On the inside of this ship, I found the entrance to Lotus Spa Pool for adults only (pictured above), the teen center and a science center for kids as well as another video arcade and a private balcony off Skywalkers Lounge. I knew there was more to discover, but I grew weary and it was 3:30 which is the time the home made ice cream arrives on Horizon Court. Needless to say, I headed for the Horizon Court for two scoops of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and 2 warm toll house cookies. It's amazing how many folks emerge from nowhere and end up at the Horizon Court about 3:30 every day!



No matter where you go there are beautiful things to look at. I enjoy the fish mosaics on Lido Deck. And I guess, Lido Deck says it all...that's life! Our floating city has just about everything you could ask for.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Honolulu


Today I walked around downtown Honolulu and rejoiced at the beautiful autumn tropical weather. The sun is shining brightly, the tradewinds are blowing lightly AND (here's the best part) the humidity is low. In other words it's absolutely beautiful. Hawaii is a special place.

The Diamond Princess is safely berthed at Pier 6 where she dominates the skyline. She's taller than the Aloha Tower. Because it's Sunday, downtown is quiet. There are few cars, but never forget that Honolulu is a major city. All you have to do is look towards the hills and you see skyscraper after skyscraper marching along the horizon. Thank goodness there are beautiful flowers in bloom to soften the harshness of commerce.



The stores are decorated for Christmas with a mixture of poinsettias and orchids. There was a Christmas show at the Aloha Tower mall and the kids were dressed in red print skirts doing the hula to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" which was really cute. My heart was captured by a little three year old with her own private rendition of the dance. On the other hand, all the other dancers were most proficient.

As always, the flowers capture my attention, and Honolulu has a world class collection of hibiscus. Today I've seen them ranging from yellow to pink to orange to deep red. Tomorrow we're sailing to Nawiliwili in Kauai.

Friday, November 23, 2007

On the Diamond Princess


We have just landed at Hilo, Hawaii for the 4th time this year! And, it's the first really nice day we've had in Hilo. Hilo is on the wet side of the Big Island, so it rains here a lot...but today we have sun with just a few clouds. There might be a sprinkle today, but not a rain! That's different. (As an aside, I don't know why the picture is coming out yellow...but it is?!?!?)

The four day sail to here has been very pleasant. The Diamond Princess is a huge floating hotel with just about everything to offer. She has a Grand Casino, theater, several night clubs, bars and shops everywhere you look, and people. She has lots of people. We have a "full complement" which means about 3000 passengers and 1200 crew! We've never been on a ship this large. We paced off the "walk" from the stern elevator to our bow room...it's a whopping 300 steps or about 900 feet! The hallways are excellent examples of one-point perspective! I've not been walking the Promenade deck this trip as there's no need too...all I have to do is walk to and from our room a couple of times, and I've walked a mile without really trying! I've also been trying to take the stairs instead of the elevators. We are getting our exercise in on a regular basis.

While Hilo is having a wonderful day, we've had 4 gray days at sea, which we thought was unusual. Generally, the first day out of LA is gray and the seas are rocky, but the sun shines thereafter and the seas are calm and everyone is poolside trying to get a tan before they hit the islands. This crossing has been different. The seas were calm, the sky was gray and the temps cool, so folks were poolside, but they wore towels or blankets to stay warm!

We celebrated Chet's birthday during our first formal night. The dining staff sang him Happy Birthday and presented him with a personal birthday cake and card. I don't think he was surprised, but he did have fun.

It's always good to be in Hawaii. Yesterday, for Thanksgiving, we sat back and thought about how lucky we have been this year. We've had good health, good travels and good friends. It's hard to beat that! We wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Home and Away


Just when we thought we were going to be spending a quiet 6 weeks at home, we received an urgent email from our cruise lecture agent begging us to help her out. She had 3 last minute cruises that needed lecturers. Two were during a time when we are going to be on a cruise, but one was for November 18. We looked at our calendars and said "we could fit it in" and in a weak moment said "yes."

That was yesterday. Today we received an email from our agent saying we "got" the November 18 cruise...so we are on the ocean waves again. This time we'll fly to LAX and board the Diamond Princess for a 16 day cruise that will take us to Hawaii and Mexico. Check out the itinerary at www.princess.com. We've been to Hawaii a lot this year, but it's always fun to return to that island paradise. Since I fell in love with snorkeling, I think I'm going to practice some more in the calm Hawaiian waters! Sounds like fun to me.

We'll get home from this cruise and 11 days later, leave on another cruise! We'll have had 7 cruises this year! What can I say!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Home Sweet Home


This has been a very long day. It started at 4 AM in Cairns, when an alarm woke us up telling us we needed to catch the 6:50 flight to Sydney. Today could be called "Plane Day" as we've been on a lot of 'em: Cairns to Sydney to Fiji to Los Angeles to San Francico and finally to Chico, arriving at our home at 10:30 PM. We started on November 1, 2007 in Australia and we are still on November 1, 2007 on the other side of the world. I don't know how long the day has been, but it seems like a 40 hour day to me. Crossing the International Date Line can be confusing!

Last night while we waiting for our flight in Fiji, I looked at a map and did some rough calculations on the distances we have traveled in the last 42 days. Would you believe close to 28,000 miles? The list of places we have stepped foot on is pretty impressive too. We started Chico CA making stops in Bend and Salem, Oregon, before boarding The Sun Princess in Seattle. Once on the ship, we stopped in San Francisco, Hilo, Lahaina, Bora Bora, Tahiti, Rarotonga, American Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand and Sydney. From Sydney we flew south to Adelaide to catch The Ghan which traveled north to Darwin; then we flew east to Cairns. That brought us to "today" and now we are back to Chico, where we started! What a trip!

This year has been filled with some fantastic travel. Antarctica/Argentina/Brazil in February; Hawaii in April; Finland/Estonia/Russia in June; and this trip. There's one more cruise this year, but it happens in December, and right now, I cannot think of that trip as I still have to get "organized" from this last one! It's good to be home!

Monday, October 29, 2007

GBR


Yesterday I went snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef. What an experience! The water was perfect (albeit salty) and after swallowing a few mouthfuls, I got the hang of it! The fish were up close and personal. The coral were amazing. I've seen pictures of coral but seeing the "real thing" is different. The colors ranged from white to blue to pink to red to--guess what--coral! The fish just swam up to my hands. I have no idea about the varieties of flora or fauna, but all were outstanding.

Today we are in Kuranda enjoying a mountain experience where the weather is cooler and less sticky. We leave OZ on November 1.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Palm Cove, Queensland in OZ


We are on the last leg of our journey having landed in Cairns, Queensland this morning. Part of the journey has been learning the language. Learning the "Aussie Accent" has been challenging. Cairns, in Aussie, is "Cans." Today I am driving a "Tyota" but yesterday I had a "Farlane" (aka, Fairlane). It takes a bit of time to understand the lingo. Now that we are getting ready to leave, we have our ears "on."

Cans is tropical and pretty. The beaches are clean; the sand is white; the skies are blue; and the water is aquamarine. The mountains in the background are covered with lush tropical plants filled with strange looking birds. The are signs on the road saying "watch out for kangaroo," but so far we have not seen any. I think the signs are akin to "watch out for deer" in the states becuase you never see any deer where you see the signs.

Tomorrow we'll take a 1 day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I'm really excited. Our ship is supposed to have a small submarine so Chet will be able to see the critters up close and personal while I try some snorkeling. If I get a chance, I'll report about it next.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Legendary Ghan





We left the legendary train, The Ghan, last night. Three days and two nights of going back in time through some very remote territory in the middle of Australia. When someone says that "the outback" is remote, listen! It's more than remote! There's no water; there's are few critters; there are a lot of trees and termite mounds and not much else. It's interesting to see how remote, remote can be. From Adelaide to Alice Springs there are a few whistle stop towns. After Alice Springs, there's nothing for hundreds of kilometers.

In Alice Springs we took a helicopter ride to see the mountains rifts that shoot up at 40 degree angles from the landscape. The Outback was a sea at one point in time, so that now, hundreds of millenia after, there are convoluted patches of earth that have been upthrusted and eroded to form interesting mountains and valleys.

After Alice we cruised along in our Gold Kangaroo serviced sleeper car and lounge. We had a "butler" taking after our every needs and regular meals in the dining room. Travel on the Ghan is nice and easy.

In Katherine we took a "nature cruise" on the Katherine River and looked at fresh water crocodiles which are said to be harmless, unlike their salt water kin. We spied hundreds of rainbow bee-eaters, a colorful little bird, as well as crested cockatoos...birds are certainly different here. It was on the cruise that we saw our first 'roo...an Agile Wallaby.

We are now in Darwin, a tropical city in the northern part of the Northern Territory. It's hot and humid and summery. We head for the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow leaving behind fond memories of The Ghan, a train we have wanted to ride for 21 years!

Life is good.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Life on the Sun (Princess that is)

Life on the Sun Princess is sweet. First thing on my agenda each morning, after waking up, was walking on the deck for an hour. Here I rubbed elbows with the other "walkers" all of us trying to make up for the desserts that we had the day before. An hour of quick walking on the Promenade Deck equals about 3 miles. Some folks go to the gym everyday, but I liked being in the great outdoors where I could see and feel the ocean "up close" and perhaps catch sight of a whale or flying fish or maybe an albatross!

After my walk, it was time to clean up and go up to breakfast on the Lido Deck in the Horizon Court Buffet. Here I was greeted with thousands of choices to tempt me from my regime. I was successful in savoring fresh melon, pineapple and yummy yogurt each morning for breakfast. Other folks were leaving the buffet line with hand crafted omelets, heaps of bacon and piles of hash browns, while some stuck to cereal. No matter what you wanted, it was in the breakfast buffet.

After breakfast came the decision of what to do for the next two hours before the next "feeding" at lunch. The ship was filled with possibilities ranging from ballroom dance, bridge, golf, lectures, cooking demonstrations, bingo, crafts, to reading, embroidery, to that old standby of sitting on the pool deck enjoying the sun or swimming laps, to soaking in the hot tub...and so much more. There was also the possibility of just "loafing" as one passenger called it. She enjoyed sitting and looking at the folks and talking to people.

Some folks enjoyed a game of Trivia which seemed to be available three times a day. What started out as a minor game, became very tense after 30 days onboard the ship. The prizes were monumental too. For each winning segment, a coupon was given to the first place team. When ten coupons were won, they could be traded in for key rings or caps. I don't think they played for the prize as much as for the fun of it.

We were usually found in the Princess Theater where the lecturers "performed." Each sea day the 5 lecturers traded times to talk about their various topics. Chet was surprised by the following he had...about 400-500 passengers came to his lectures each day.

The lectures were a great way to meet people on the ship. Sometimes we would form dinner groups and continue talking through dinner an beyond.

After a hard morning of lectures or play, it was time for lunch. We had a choice of going to a formal lunch or back to the Horizon Court Buffet. We chose the buffet again. My lunch was simple, salad and a dessert. If I planned to fit into my clothes, I needed to eat stuff that was going to be good for me and not too fattening. As with breakfast, the luncheon bar was wonderful too. Late in the cruise we discovered that hamburgers were made on the poolside deck, so we had burgers a couple of days.

In the afternoon, we had to make more choices as to what we wanted to do. The morning choices were still available and usually a few other "things" popped up to spend our time. Life was never boring. Oftentimes we read or I would work on my pictures as I was determined to learn how to use Photoshop Elements better.

At 3:30 the dessert bar opened on the Horizon Court Buffet and if we were in the mood for more food, we often made the "arduous" trek to the elevator that took us to the 14th deck for fresh cookies, home-made ice cream and lots of other delights.

Then came cocktail time...then dinner. We always had dinner in a formal dining room where Alberto, our Head Waiter, made sure we were fed well (as if we had not been fed all day). Again, the choices were always good, but after a few days of 5 course meals, I decided that maybe 3 courses were enough...as long as one of the courses was dessert.

Dessert on a cruise ship is always a treat and the Sun Princess desserts were not an exception to that rule. I soon remembered that Princess' chefs made an excellent souffle, so every time souffle was on the menu, I had one...and 2 times when it was not on the menu, I had one. Alberto is a good head waiter!

After dinner came evening entertainment. Again, there was a range of choices from gambling at the casino to dancing, to live entertainment or viewing a recently released movie in one of the theaters or having after-dinner cocktails with your new friends. If there was live entertainment, I was there, so most of the time you would find me enjoying the dancers, singers, comedians, and magicians. The ship's dancers and singers were quite good too.

After the entertainment, there was still time to dance or talk or walk outside on the Promenade Deck...and there were always little cozy places where you could sit back and listen to the music. There's always music somewhere. I particularly enjoyed the pianists who played every afternoon and evening.

Finally, after a long, hard day of serious leisure and wonderful food, it was time to turn in and be rocked to sleep by the Pacific...and get ready to start another day on the Sun. Life is good on a cruise.

Then, all of a sudden reality hits...and we have to disembark the ship and leave our sheltered little cocoon! No longer are we rocked to sleep at night in the arms of the ocean; no longer do we have breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner at our beck and call; our own steward, Fernando, does not keep our cabin tidy; no longer does Alberto see after our every dining need. We are on our own...and that is where we are right now. We are "on our own" in Sydney, Australia. We are coping with "real life" as there are many things to do in Sydney. On the otherhand, we are also counting the days until we board the Pacific Princess in Tahiti in mid-December to start the decadence all over again!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Lovely Lahaina


We are definitely in the tropics! Now when you walk on deck you can feel the humidity. You can smell the heat. Tomorrow we start a 4 day voyage to Bora Bora where it will be even warmer and stickier.

Lahaina is one of the magical places in Hawaii. There is something here that makes you relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. The flowers seem to be brighter. The shaved ice is colder. The people are friendlier. Today we are sharing the port with another ship, NCLA's Pride of Aloha. While this makes for a crowded port everyone is so happy to be in Lahaina, there's not any complaining. This is the spirit that makes Lahaina, Lahaina.



We sat in the shade under a Kukui Tree and we looked at the tourists wander up and down the street with their treasures from Hilo Hattie and the Macadamia Nut Store. Being good tourists we had our treasures too. However, I must confess, I looked at the flowers far more than the people. It's hard to describe their beauty, so I captured some images that are just a shadow of their true being.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hilo


We are docked in Hilo, Hawaii after "steaming" four days west from San Francisco. We had four days of very smooth sailing as you can see. There were hardly any waves in the ocean.

The Sun Princess is a very pleasant ship to take for a long cruise. She's stocked with friendly people, lots of good food, and activities. To that end, Chet's lectures are going very well and he's receiving a lot of positive feedback. They are even taping his lectures, so folks can see them on the TV in their staterooms. It's very strange to see him on TV.



Our first of three formal evenings, happened as we left San Francisco. Considering we all like to wear our play clothes most days, it was amazing to see how well we all cleaned up. Penguins might have even learned a lesson or two about tuxedo wearing.



I must report that I made an error about the "stork" in Seattle. I have been informed by Wes that the bird is a Great Blue Heron all hunkered down for the evening. As I look at the bird, it does look like a Heron. I apologize. Thanks go to Wes for setting me straight.


Tomorrow in Lahaina.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I left my internet connection in San Francisco



Well, we are in San Francisco having made an uneventful sail from Seattle. The seas have been calm. There have been dolphins playing in the water and once in awhile, you can see the splash made by a whale. This morning we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Life is good on the Sun Princess.


The only thing that is not good is the internet connection. We have a computer lab onboard, and it does have access to the internet, but it is slow, iffy and expensive. At 75 cents a minute, I will not be online for long periods of time. To that end, I'm glad we have the air card. It will only work while we are in port in the US...so it will die when we leave Lahaina in a few days.

Today we had lunch with my Auntie Ruthie. Being a native San Franciscan, she hopped on a bus and met us at Pier 35! We had lunch at Neptune's Palace on Pier 39 where we had a perfect view of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, and seals. I had heard of the seals at Pier 39, but I thought there would be a dozen or so. There are dozens of seals at Pier 39 all barking and basking in the sun. Life must be good for them too.


We have had a beautiful day in "The City." The Chamber of Commerce did well as the sun was shining and it was actually hot! Well, hot for The City! Folks were walking around in sleeveless shirts and shorts and enjoying the autumn sun!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Stork in Seattle

We drove from Salem to Seattle today. It's only 220 miles, but they were some of the hardest 220 miles we have driven this week. The traffic, even on Saturday, was heavy. In "green" Oregon, where being earth-friendly is important, we were overpassed by SUVs and big 4x4 trucks, while we were driving our Fazda (Ford-Mazda combo). Since we generally live in rural areas, seeing all the traffic is rather fascinating, but we wonder why folks want to live here with all the traffic; all the people; all the confusion. Just when we thought all was lost, we went for a little walk alongside a lake in downtown Seattle and there we saw a stork! A stork in Seattle! It was huddled up for the evening, all fluffed up and enjoying a rest on a log under a willow tree. There is nature here and it's not that hard to find...all you have to do is get out of your car and look.

Tomorrow we board the Sun Princess and start the 30 day voyage of this adventure. First stop will be San Francisco!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Goodbye and Hello

Today we drove from Bend to Salem over the Santiam Pass. Once again I was mesmerized by the beauty of the area. Oregon is known for her greenery, and we drove through miles of dense Douglas Fir and Pine forests. Now and then we saw an elk or deer hiding in the background. This natural beauty is awesome.

This morning we said good bye to our friends in Bend and this afternoon we said hello to our friends in Salem. It's always fun to travel and see places and things, but it's more fun to see special people. We are blessed on this trip, to have the best of all worlds.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pilot Butte


For our second day in Bend we scaled Pilot Butte Summit and saw a bird's eye view of Bend and environs. A ring of mountains circle the town and from the summit you can see all of them. Except for the haze, it was a site to see.

We had warm sunshine today with a hint of a haze, a 100% improvement over the gray day we had yesterday. My husband went to college in Eugene and he remembers days on end that were gray, dull, cold and rainy. Yesterday fulfilled his old memories of the entire state, while today created some new ones. He might want to go to Oregon again, IF there was more sunshine.

Where the elk graze


Today we had a wonderful day visiting with our friends and learning more about this beautiful part of Oregon. Bend is a beautiful town with a river wandering beside main street, mature trees, and a heady blend of old and new architecture. While there is some traffic, you can see why folks move here to avoid the congestion found in the bigger cities south in California.

Not too far away is the Quilt Capital of North America: Sisters, at the foot of 3 volcanoes, called "The Sisters." During the summer, quilters flock here from all over share their wares, take quilting classes. listen to quilting lectures, and brag about their newest designs. Today the quilters were gone, but the evidence of quilters and crafters is evident wherever you go. Amid the quilts, we had a great lunch, a better ice cream cone, and we saw elk. Elk on a farm. It was interesting to see how content they were grazing on the green grass and enjoying a restful life in their enclosed environment. It lead me to wonder how they would act in the open like the wild elk herd in Yellowstone? I just looked at these animals and said to myself, "Enjoy this while you can! Life is good."

That's true, life is good!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Panhandling Geese


We are in Bend, Oregon, right on schedule. Today we drove from Weed passing through small towns like Macdoel, Dorris, Greneda, on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, aka Highway 97. It's a pretty drive in a part of California that is sparsely populated! We crossed the border in Oregon and stopped in Klamath Falls for lunch. Klamath Falls is on the Klamath River where a lot of logging has been done over the years. We went in search of the falls. Up the river...down the river. We saw mill ponds where logs were being stored; we saw a few people in boats; we saw some beautiful riverfront..but no falls. Finally, in desperation, we asked "Where are the Falls in Klamath Fall?" We were disappointed by the answer. When the Upper Lake was dammed, the falls disappeared. There are no falls in Klamath Falls. What can you say.

On the other hand, there are panhandling geese who would certainly be willing to share your lunch.

Monday, September 17, 2007

On to Oz but first, Mt. Shasta!




We're on the road, only a mere 130 miles from home, but we're on the road. Right outside our hotel window we are treated to a view of beautiful Mt. Shasta. She's the second tallest mountain in CA at 14,162 feet yet I think she is more spectacular than Mt. Whitney which is taller. Shasta pokes up her head and tells the world I AM HERE with grace and majesty, while Whitney hides amid other mountains. Part of the "Pacific Ring of Fire," Mt. Shasta can erupt, but she's been dormant since the 10th birthday of the United States. Not too far away is a sister volcano, Mt. Lassen, which last erupted in 1915. Our property south of Mt. Lassen, is littered with little lava bombs that were hurled over 100 miles. The 1915 eruption was a true blast! When these big volcanoes decide to erupt, they are nasty.

Today Mt. Shasta is sitting pretty. She has some snow to grace her lovely sides, a friendly cloud to keep her company and two more visitors looking at her in awe of her power and beauty.

Tomorrow on to Bend.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

OZ minus 1

I'm packed! At least I think I am. The first iteration of packing was a bit of a disaster as I could not zip the suitcase. Right now, the suitcase weighs 38 pounds and I can zip it closed AND the expansion space is not being used. This is good. The next order of business is to pack the carry on suitcases and laptop computer.

I'm used to taking long trips in an RV. For them, we pack our small "house" with all that we need. Packing for a stateroom on a ship is a different order of packing. At least if we forget anything, there's a floating hotel where we can get most of what we need.


We picked up the rental car for the drive to Seattle. It's a 2006 Mazda 6 but it looks like a Ford. It feels like a Ford too. This is not a bad thing. In 1988 I a Probe, which was a Mazda/Ford offspring, so I guess the two companies still have some type of business relationship! It's supposed to be a "full sized car" but my friends, I think that's a bit of an exaggeration!

All we have to do is pack up the rest of the suitcases; pack the car; and head north to Seattle. We are getting excited! We've already made a date too. When we land in San Francisco, I'm going to have lunch with my aunties who live there. I've not seen them since June, so this is a treat!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

OZ minus 3

Slowly we are getting things organized for this trip. I have a mental list of all that needs to be packed...all I have to do is pack!

Today I bought a new air card for my computer so I can get online stateside (that means only to Hawaii). It fits in a USB port instead of a PCMCIA slot. The newer computers are not being made with PCMCIA slots and of course the travel computer is "newer." After we leave the states, WiFi will be the answer. Sure hope the Sun Princess has a good WiFi capability!

I've looked through all the travel documents. I have a binder an inch thick with everything placed in the order that we will use it. Thanks to my travel agent Liz for helping me get this altogether. We've been working on this trip since May. The next set of paperwork deals with places to see and things to do. I have get my travel guides out.

Friday, September 14, 2007

OZ minus 4

We're 4 days away from the next trip. Here's the Itinerary in a nutshell:
Weed, CA; Bend, OR; Salem, OR; Seattle, WA; San Francisco, CA; Hilo, HI;
Maui, HI; Bora Bora, French Polynesia; Papeete, Tahiti; Rarotonga, Cook Islands; Pago Pago, American Samoa; Fiji; Auckland, New Zealand;
Christchurch, New Zealand; Dunedin, New Zealand; Fjordland National Park, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia; Adelaide; Alice Springs; Darwin; Cairns; Great Barrier Reef; Sydney and then home. We'll be "on the road" for 6 weeks!
I hope to write about the adventure and share pictures, so watch this space.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Eye Candy


Do you know what eye candy is? To me, eye candy is beauty. A pretty person is “eye candy.” A pretty place is eye candy…and right now we are in one of those pretty places. Yesterday we drove from Colter Bay to West Yellowstone. Seeing the magnificent Teton Range floating above Jackson Lake is eye candy. Seeing Lewis Falls is eye candy. Seeing an elk browse on tall grass in a meadow is eye candy. Seeing the lodgepole pines reach up to brush the sky—you got it—eye candy. It’s places like this that make you connect with nature. These are the places that relax your body and ease your mind. There are not words that can describe the feeling of good eye candy…but if you want to experience it, come visit The Tetons and Yellowstone. Pictures can try to capture these places, but they fail in the end. Eye candy is only in the mind of the beholder and pictures are but a ghost of what is really here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Menopause Chronicles-part 6: CA-125

My friends in the MSG are all about the same age. We are all doing this “thing” called surviving menopause together. We gather at each other’s houses or at restaurants or at the park, to laugh, bitch, moan, complain, kibbitz, revel, wonder and extol our problems. This has been a good thing. We need to know that what we are feeling is normal and all right. We are a group. We’re better than the Red Hat ladies. We don’t need a special costume. We don’t need to be retired. We don’t need to be mothers or wives. We just need to be women who are willing to talk to each other without fear that what we say, do or think, will go no farther.

One night we are going to Linda’s home. Linda has not had a good menopause. Is there such a thing as a “good menopause?” Linda has had all of the stuff happen to her. She had the first hot flashes. She talked about moodiness first. She also talked about her husband. This man just does not understand. He does not get it! He thinks that all he has to do is ignore her when she’s “doing her thing” as he calls it, and “it” will go away. Not so.

She needs to talk to him. She needs help to come up with solutions. He just goes on as though nothing different is happening to his wife of almost 30 years. I call these solutions “work arounds” a phrase stolen from computer technology. When I’m in a moody state, and I’m doing housework, it helps that everyone else does housework. If one of the boys (husband included) is sitting down, or playing a game, or heaven forbid, looking at TV, he knows he is in CAPITAL T TROUBLE! The work around however is easy. All he has to do is look at me. If it looks like steam is rising from the top of my head, then he had better look like he is working too. All it takes is moving to the vacuum cleaner closet, taking it out and plugging it in. That usually works. If one of the boys then does something as strange as start to push the vacuum around, while it is turned ON, now we have a break through. I will probably stop steaming and he is all right. Linda’s husband needs to learn how to “work around” perimenopausal issues. Life will be easier for everyone when it happens.

No, menopausal women are not princesses who need to be coddled (that would help sometimes, unless we’re really grouchy)…we just want it understood that we don’t understand what’s going on and why we are doing what we are doing. That’s a lot to ask for, but that’s the way it is.

Back to Linda. It’s more than just moodiness and hot flashes. Linda starts to have real problems. She always has dark circles under her eyes, even when she’s had a lot of sleep. She’s not interested in sex. She has a nagging backache—it’s constantly present. She has zero energy. Getting up and going to work is a major obstacle each morning. Finding the energy to get dressed is hard. She is bloated and has a tummy like she’s about 4 months pregnant. She is not a happy camper.

The MSG sees that she is not doing well. Something is wrong, so after months of lackluster behavior, we finally persuade her to see her GP by promising to go with her to the office. That works becuase Linda starts a long series of tests all with negative results and no progress. Finally, as a last resort, Linda has her yearly physical with our GYN and she tells her saga. By this time, all of us go to the same GYN. Our DOC collaborates with her GP and finds that a CA-125 blood test has not been given. This is an ovarian cancer test. It’s easy to administer and it might rule out cancer. Linda has the test and her answer comes the next week. The answer is one she does not want to hear. She has cancer. In fact, she is in stage 3-c of a 4 stage cancer. She’s had it for awhile. No wonder she has been feeling so bad.

There’s no one to blame for the situation. Her husband was not able to help. She was sure “it” would go away. Her GP did all the things that he could to find out the problem. Our DOC did the CA-125 test as a last resort because she truly thought it would be rule out cancer. DOC was just as surprised as Linda.

Linda’s surgery was scheduled on the first available day, which in her case was eleven days away. The MSG was there for everything. The MSG is good. Every woman needs an MSG. We took Linda and her husband to the hospital. We waited together in the hospital; we consoled each other; we even consoled her husband who finally “got it” and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when the surgery was over and the doctors said they thought they were able to get all of the cancer, but chemo-therapy was needed.

Again, the MSG took turns taking Linda to chemo. This is something that bonds a group…and we were becoming more bonded with each chemo session. Surgery, months of chemo-therapy, and Linda was given a one year release and best wishes from our DOC and the GP and the oncologist. Her husband had planned a surprise…the theater in London for a 3 week vacation. Linda is cancer free and we are thankful we know her.

What an ordeal! What a year! What a group! I have become a firm believer in one more thing: CA-125. Of course I still think the MSG, (those initials will never stand for a food additive again) is pretty good too. These can be added to my ever growing list that includes dark colors, jackets, large purses, women doctors, understanding mates and lots of patience for our not-so-gracefully-aging bodies.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Menopause Chronicles-part 5: Life with Boyz

The twins were growing up. No longer did I have to worry about the ceiling fan being used for batting practice. I also did not have to worry about cats being put in the dryer. Wet cats are never fun. Can you imagine how a wet cat feels after it has been spun in the dryer ? Can you imagine what the dryer looks like?

We had good kids. They did not get into trouble. They did not get bad grades. They had great friends…but they were the same age and what one did not think about the other did. They had their own language they learned it in-utero because I still don’t understand some of the “words” they speak to each other. They were also good friends who were very curious. I don’t know about all boys, but my boys wanted to learn how everything worked. Everything from a drawer to a computer. Taking apart a drawer was not a big deal. Taking about a computer, now that’s another story.

I’ll never forget the day that RedSon had fixed my computer. First off, I did not know that anything was wrong with it, but he assured me that something was. He had fixed it. On the outside it looked the same. It booted up the same, but I noticed that the Windows logo had a little thing flying around it now. It looked a little bit like a fly or a bee. I was more or less right…it was a bug. He had fiddled with the programming of the Windows logo so that it had a bug it in. That was not a big problem, but why did I have to have a real bug in my program?

Another surprise came on the first rainy day of the season. My bugged computer gets a message on the screen that says “There has been a leak. Your computer will go through the spin cycle to dry it out and then it will shut down.” I look at the ceiling in my office and I see that indeed there has been a leak or at least a splotch of what looks like drying water is on the ceiling. My computer then starts to make a bunch of strange sounds I’ve never heard before. It grumbles and gurgles and makes splishing sounds. Then I heard something that indeed sounds like the spin cycle on the washer. Finally the computer makes a sound like it’s squeezing out the last of the drips of water. The screen does a flip-flop and turns black.

I’m still not sure what is happening with the computer…will it turn on…where did the water come from.. when I hear RedSon and my secretary laughing. They are having a major case of giggles while looking at my expression of wonderment and puzzlement on my face…and that’s when I catch on that I had been had. My secretary knew that the "spin cycle" had been planted for weeks and she had made a deal to call RedSon when the cycle started.

He later told me he had programmed this spin cycle on a random basis. He planted the splotch on the ceiling (and I never saw it before). What was accidental was his timing...he did not think it would happen on a rainy day. Needless to say, I asked him to remove the bug and the spin cycle from the computer, which he did. I knew from then on, that his ability to work with computers far exceeded mine…that his ability to pull practical jokes was getting very good too…and that his brother would be up to something different but just as “bad” if I was not careful.

Life with boyz is interesting.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Time in Paradise

Our brief stay in Paradise is quickly coming to an end. We have only 22 more days. How quickly summer flies when you are having a good time. We've had company; we've had a couple of dinner parties; we've created two lamps from aspen logs and that's about it! Yet being in the mountains in the summer is heavenly and we treasure the moments.

On the horizon are 3 cruises. We only had 2 until last week when we made a whirlwind decision to go cruising in late January. We'll be cruztalking on the Sun Princess and the Pacific Princess. Then we'll be passengers on the Norwegian Star.

We'll board the Sun Princess in Seattle and wend our way to Sydney, Australia by way of Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, and New Zealand. Once in OZ we'll hop on The Ghan in Adelaide and head north to Darwin for a few days then we'll head to the Great Barrier Reef before flying home 6 weeks later. Watch this space for an account of that cruise.

We'll board the Pacific Princess in Papeete, Tahiti and head for Ft. Lauderdale on the next cruise. We'll have a chance to set foot on Easter Island--Thor Heyerdahl would be proud.

The third cruise will take us to the Mexican Riviera with stops in Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa and Cabo San Lucas.

Sounds like a good way to finish 2007 and start 2008 if you ask me. So while our time in Paradise is coming to an end for this summer--there are more adventures in the wings. This is good.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Menopause Chronicles-4th Entry--Flasher, Flasher...hot flasher

Maxine calls them her inner child playing with matches. Cassy, an MSGer, calls it her own private summer. Whether you call it a power surge, private summer, or a flash, they are some of the most uncomfortable things that can happen during perimenopause and menopause. Did you know that 80% of women have hot flashes and that no one really knows the cause? Some think they have something to do with changing hormonal levels. Gimme a break, of course they have something to do with changing hormonal levels…now if you could do something about them, that would be better.

My first hot flash comes after the boys leave. I guess I’m 46. My husband and I are away during the Christmas holidays. We’re shopping in a quaint little store in Santa Barbara. The weather is perfect. We are having a good time. All of a sudden, I feel awful. My stomach is turning over. I feel weak kneed. I feel like I have morning sickness. I’m 46…this is ridiculous. What’s happening?

I make a dash for the door and head for the wuss-wagon (we still have it) and lay down on the back seat. My husband, ever so quick to see that something has happened, rushes out of the store too and says “what’s the matter?” My, that’s an intelligent statement. I’m laying down on the back seat of the wuss-wagon, shaking, my face is white, and I don’t have a clue. Later, I discover that I had a hot flash.

Boy, do I not want another one of them. Off to see the doc and find out what to do with that problem. The MSG has talked about flashes, but never like this one. They talk about sitting in their offices and all of a sudden they turn red, start dripping, feel weak, then it goes away. My flash was different. The doc says that flashes take many forms. Yep! Many forms. And now we get serious about hormone replacement therapy or homeopathic therapy. She gives me stuff to read. I search out other information. I read article after article that states HRT causes cancer, does not cause cancer, increases the risk for cancer, has not been proven to increase the risk for cancer…The homeopathic therapy sounds flaky too…putting on a hormonal cream in various places around my body. I finally decide for HRT and she gives me a patch. Sure enough the patch stops the hot flashes, but now I’m continually aroused by it. I go back to the doc. It’s fun to be aroused some of the time, but not all of the time. My husband can only do so much. She changes the dosage and the brand, and sure enough, the flashes go away AND I’m not aroused all the time.

The hot flashes now take a new form. They are mini-flashes. In the course of an hour, my body can make 100 different temperature adjustments. I’m hot, then I’m cold, then I’m just right, then I’m freezing, then I’m ok, then I’m boiling. This has to go away. I’m just sitting on the sofa looking at TV and my body is trying to find something…the magic temperature of comfort? My father in law used to say that “ladies are nice but their thermometers are broken” and now I know what he was talking about. My thermometer is definitely not working like it used too.

The flashes and mini-flashes are part of my body now. There’s no going back. My friend Cassy walks around with a small battery powered fan and uses it to stay cool. My sister has a water pump that she sprays on her when she gets too warm. In the old days, I guess women used fans, but where to get one. I finally bought one on a trip in Romania…a good invention and they don’t need batteries, take up less room and don’t look quite as obvious as a water pump does.

The list has increased again: jackets, dark colors, large purses, baby wipes, extra maxi pads and tampons, super-duty face cream, and now a fan. I know the list will get bigger before it gets smaller!

Menopause Chronicles--The Weight is Depressing

I’m now 44. What will this year bring? The boys are doing well. They will be graduating from high school this year. We are looking at colleges for them. My husband is making good gains in his career at the University and he has branched out into consulting. All is going well. My body however is experiencing other changes. I’m gaining weight. It’s depressing.

I’ve never gained weight in my life (except for pregnancy and that went away when the twins came). What’s going on? I drink a glass of water and gain a pound. I eat nothing for a day, and gain a pound. I breathe air and gain a pound. I don’t know how it happened or when it happened, but soon I weighed 140 pounds, then 150 pounds. My waist is wasted. Overblouses are good things. This is outrageous. It’s not fair! WHY ME?

My carefully designed DARK garments are fitting a little tighter. Maybe I should buy longer jackets to cover up more of me. Why am I gaining weight?

A trip to my GYN is in order anyway, so I ask about weight gain. She and I are about the same age and she commiserates with me. “Yep” she says, “that’s part of what is going on with your body.” I ask “Is there anything that can be done for it?” and this time she does not have a good answer. She asks me to look at my mother. Is she slim? To be truthful, my mother is not slim. She’s not fat either…let’s say she’s sturdy. But I say “My older sister is slim. We have the same parents, she’s going through the same thing that I’m going through. Why is she not gaining weight and I am?” Alas, there was not a good answer. She came back with “genetics.” While we share the same parents, we do not share the same genes. Boy is that the truth. We have never looked alike and we have never done the same things, but up till now, we’ve been about the same size. Why me!?

Weight gain can be the result of decreased physical activity. I felt that my physical activity had not decreased. I was still chauffering kids; teaching a full load at school, as well as running around the University; and doing all the stuff that is needed to maintain a household. In fact, I was thinking that it was time to hire a “wife” to take care of the kids and clean the house as I was too busy to do that as well as everything that my life demanded to be done. Since hiring a wife was out of the question, I thought that maybe walking needed to be added to my regimen.

That’s when the MSG was formed. What an addition to my life. MSG is short for “Menopause Support Group.” We are a group of about 10 women, all of “an age” who are experiencing the same thing. With the MSG I find a walking partner. Each morning at 6 AM, my partner and I walk two miles a day. Funny thing, it became enjoyable! Neither of us had time to do it, but we made the time. One day I would drive to her house and the next day she would drive to my house and we would do our warm ups then start on our walk. We were usually back at our houses by 6:30 and ready to start the day. We had two mile courses marked out and walked them religiously rain or shine. We talked about everything and had a good time. Sometimes our cats would follow us. Since it’s hard to think of cats following anyone, it was cute to see the 3 felines walking in a line behind us! Once we saw mountain lion tracks, (they have a big foot.) She started bringing a hand gun in her fanny pack but after discussing what we would do if we actually saw the cat, we decided the gun was not a good idea. Neither of us knew what we would do if we saw the lion. We might be able to shoot toward the cat…and if we did, would either of us be able to aim a gun. That’s when we found out that we could not kill a lion and we decided that an air horn was a better thing. So she stopped wearing the gun and starting to bring a small portable air horn instead.

The weight did not pile on as much and it was fun to walk with my friend from down the block in the morning. In fact, after the walk, I felt invigorated to do more than I did before. It is something that I still do, but the weight has still continued.

But this leads to the best discovery of my 44th year. The creation of the MSG. The ten of us meet every once in awhile, have lunch or dinner or snacks and complain, bitch, moan, laugh, cry and talk. We try to solve problems that each of us are having. We commiserate. We are important to each other. We compare menopausal symptoms. When someone else has the same problem, we know that we at least inhabit the same planet. When something out of the ordinary happens, we call an MSG meeting. We study the situation and come up with solutions.

The MSG came to the rescue when it was discovered that I had high blood pressure. Did the weight cause the high blood pressure or did the high blood pressure cause the increase in weight? No one knows the answer to that conundrum. With exercise and diet high blood pressure can be reduced, but it needs to be watched all the time.

I asked the MSG if they had gained weight, and the answer was almost unanimous. They had all gained weight too. No one felt like they were lazier than before, but they did feel the change. The waist had gone to waste. The sagging bottom. The chins. Oh, what to do with all these unwelcome changes. Laine Bryant exists for large women, but I’m not a large woman. I’m 130 pounds on the inside with 150 on the outside. This is wrong. This is bad.

Get real Lee, this is the way it is. I would give myself pep talks. The MSG propped me up too. We all realized we are no longer going to be 130 pounds. We’re not 30 anymore either. Wake up and smell the roses. You are no longer going to be skinny like you used to be. You have a line on your forehead. You have fibroid tumors that are masses 3 inches by 3 inches. Then the ugly reality strikes…you are no longer going to be able to have children. That’s the scary thought. While I don’t want any more children, I know that it’s going to be impossible to have any more. Before, it had been a choice not to have more children, but now my body is making the choice for me. I’m not in control of the situation. One more reason to say “it sucks!”

What does it feel to be out of control of the situation. I’m two years into menopause, and I’m feeling out of control. There are so many things that I cannot count on any more. I cannot count on being slim. I cannot count on a regular period. I cannot count on wearing a size 10. I cannot count on a face without wrinkles. What else is going to slip? Are there other things that I can look forward to and dread?

I start to wonder what my mother did when she was 44. I ask her questions, but she says “things” happen. My mother-in-law is even older than my mother and I know she will not say anything. My sister tells me a few things to look forward to, but she lives far away and we have not discovered the uses of email for everyday purposes when I was 44. One more reason why MSG is important to me. Our mothers did not have the background experience to help us with these problems. They just lived with them. We were going to make a difference.

The rest of that year was more or less uneventful, body-wise. It’s hard to tell a houseful of men that you don’t feel like doing everything that you used to feel like doing. It’s hard to tell them that you are just a bit sad as they just don’t understand.

They do learn to realize that there are mood swings. I guess that’s the worst part of the depression. Some days I’m happy and nothing bothers me. Some days, look at me with just a smirk, and I’ll fly off the handle.

Pepper, she’s an MSGer calls it an evil demon waiting to boil up from the pit of her stomach. She will wake up in the morning and she can feel that demon just waiting to get out. She wants to yell. She wants to scream. She wants to throw the clothes out of the hamper and all over the bathroom floor. She wants to destroy something. She also doesn’t want to clean up the mess…and she wonder’s “What’s with me?”

One day when I get this same “demonic” feeling, I told the twins to eat their breakfast quickly and then before they even get started I put the dishes in the dishwasher. I hurry them out the door forgetting that I need to have my stuff ready. Now everything in an all male household goes into the dishwasher, sometimes even cats make it into the dishwasher. But knives do not get put in the dishwasher. They have to be washed by hand so they will stay sharp. The boys know this. I tell them to wash the knives before I get home.

Well, you know what happens. The knives are not washed when I get home. Nor is the front yard mowed and there are things all over the place. That evil demon that resides in the pit of my stomach starts screaming and makes an ugly appearance. I pick up the knives and put them on the back deck and exclaim that they might as well rust out there as well as in the kitchen. The boys know that something is wrong…I wonder what gave them that idea?…My husband takes me by the hand and says “let’s go out to dinner.” Someone needs to remain calm as it’s not me. Do I need to remember this ploy if I don’t want to supervise dinner fixings?

Not all mood swings happen at home. Some happen as work. I had just stepped down from being Chair of the department. I thought the title “chairman” was not appropriate and chairperson sounded a bit too impersonal, so I changed the name to “chair.” After being chair for a couple of years, I was excited about the change of routine and the less busy schedule of being full time faculty instead of double time administrator. The new chairman in his wisdom thought it would be fun to send me “up the road” to our branch campus 90 miles away because I was a good trouble-shooter. I don’t think so. I saw the assignment and that evil demon started splashing around in my stomach again. I stomped to his office and pulled rank. “As a tenured full professor,” I said, “I WILL NOT TEACH 90 MILES FROM CAMPUS UNTIL ALL OF THE PART TIME FACULTY ARE TEACHING 90 MILES FROM CAMPUS.” The poor guy did not even have a chance to argue. I walked out of his office and went back to my cubby hole that the university so gleefully calls a “one person office” and played games on my computer. I was steamed. The next day I had an on campus assignment. Don’t argue with a menopausal woman.

Weight gain and depression! Go figure…live with it. I can make adjustments. I start to look at the little things that are important. The twins are a miracle. Here were two tiny babies weighing less that 5 pounds each and now they are grown up. When did that happen? There are flowers and seasons. The redbud only blooms for 2 weeks a year, yet it grows all year long. I rejoice at the hearty magenta-red blooms and sadden when they start to fade and fall. A robins nest is a sign of hope and spring. I’m part of the cycle. My reproductive part is ending, but something better must be starting. At least that is my hope. At least I have to convince myself that that is the case. The MSG and I ponder what will get better.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Menopause Chronicles--2nd entry: Red Tides


Then comes another sign. The sign has a color and it is RED, and of course it’s blood. We all have periods, but this is the period from hell. Instead of a normal period, this is MAJOR BLEEDING. A tampon and a maxi pad will not handle the flow. But at first it only lasts one day and then the next month, things are back to normal. There are months with normal flows and then there are months with major flows. Soon, the definition of normal flow changes to mean “major flow.” When did I turn into Mt.Vesuvius? This is not fun. This is when I started wearing so much “undergarment protection” that I walked bowlegged. Sitting down with all the padding was a major feat. Getting up was even more exciting as I had no idea what I was going to find. I discovered that pastel colors are bad and black is good. Back then Depends and its clones did not exist, but if they did, I would have wanted them for periods! I needed whole bottom protection, not just a pad with wings!

I hope it will stop, but it is getting embarrassing. One evening we went to a fancy dinner spot with another couple. I had on a nice dress, a light colored dress, no inkling that a period would come, and I looked good. We made a handsome foursome, without kids! We walked into the restaurant, were seated, ordered wine and appetizers and dinner…then I felt that horrible “leaking” feeling…I waited thinking I really was not feeling anything unusual. It would go away. In the back of my mind, I knew it would not go away, but the evening was going so well, why spoil it? I knew better. Soon, all the denial in the world, could not erase the feeling of sitting in a puddle. I scooched over on my seat in the quiet booth and saw the puddle. The leaking feeling was real. Now what to do? My girlfriend does not have a jacket, nor do I, but my husband does. I asked my husband, the ever sensitive college professor, that I needed to borrow his jacket and go to the restroom. In what seemed like his loudest voice, he said “WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THAT?” I don’t want everyone to stare at me, so I say “just trust me (I’m a doctor afterall)…let me have your jacket. Gina and I are going to the restroom; we should be back by the time dinner has arrived.” I finally convince him to take off his jacket, I put it around my waist and we try to make a quiet exit to the Ladies. I’ll stop the scenario there. No more explanation is needed. If this has happened to you, you know what I did. If it has not happened to you, I don’t want to put braces on your brains by giving you a solution, as your solution might be so much better than mine was.

At least I had practice at dealing with the situation as this was not the first time it happened. The first time was at a faculty Senate meeting at my University. I was one of about 35 faculty senators. Every other week there was Senate meeting, so I was at that meeting. I was wearing a white suit, this was in the days before I decided that black was good. I had no clue what was going on with my body and my period was not due for another week. The meeting ended and I rose from my chair when the secretary quietly said, “you have a spot on the back of your skirt.” Even though she said this rather quietly, everyone was there and they could see very plainly what she was talking about. I was the only one in the room who had no idea what was going on. I looked back and sure enough, I did. I took off my jacket, put it around my waist and nonchalantly she and I walked to the Ladies for a quick clean-up. Since then, I’m getting good at taking off my jacket and wearing it around my waist. In fact, I started buying a lot of outfits with jackets as they have more than one purpose.

What was happening to my body was a “normal” result of aging. It has the unscientific name of “flooding” and it’s relatively common. A lot of women flood. I don’t remember my mother talking about it, but then she was of a generation that did not talk about anything “personal.” When flooding happens, lots of blood starts to flow. One time I went thru 3 super maxi pads in 20 minutes and then started all over again. I finally learned to go to a public restroom with damp paper towels to clean up the mess. But this was not solving the problem…it was just making clean up a bit easier.

It was time to get some medical attention. I cannot be lecturing and leaking at the same time. I talked to my gynecologist and HE said, it’s nothing to worry about. If it gets bad, then we can do a hysterectomy. That’s when I decided that going to a male gynecologist is like asking a priest for marital advice …neither of them have any direct experience with the issue. What do they know about things that affect women! I found a woman OB/GYN and she said “normal…yes, but there are things we can do about it and hysterectomy is the last resort.” I finally received an answer I could live with. She said that flooding might be the result of fibroids, so I was tested for fibroids.

Have you ever had a vaginal sonogram? Male researchers and doctors must have a sick sense of humor. They think of more fun ways to invade and test a woman’s body in order to discover what is right and wrong about it than any one around. I’m sure they discovered that freezing a speculum before a vaginal exam is a good way to relax a patient? Is there an equivalent “penis-ogram” that works something like a mammogram? Anyway, a vaginal sonogram and a mammogram are in the same camp. The inventors do not know what it feels like to be probed and prodded and poked by cold medical instruments. I mean, have you ever had a warm mammogram when they try to see how skinny they can squish your breasts between two very heavy duty metal plates? Maybe someone likes the idea of boobs under glass…a new medical treat. Anyway, I digress. A vaginal sonogram is simple…a nurse inserts a tube in the vagina and takes a picture of what it finds in the uterus. Sure enough, I had about 10 fibriods that could be seen easily. The largest was 9 centimeters, by 7 centimeters. The smallest was 5 centimeters by 3. That’s another irksome detail. I’m a scientist, but I work in inches, feet and yards, not centimeters. How big is 9 by 7 centimeters? I try to remember my fifth grade lessons on the metric system and I convert that number to roughly 3 ½ inches by 2 ¾ inches. That’s a good sized piece of tumor in there…and there are ten. They are definitely irritants.

After we discovered a mess of fibroids, I asked her if the flooding could be cured? She said, it could be alleviated some, and by the time I was finished with menopause, the fibroids would diminish. She prescribed a medication called Aygestin which I was to take 2 times a day for about 3 months. I did the research, remember I’m a social scientist, so I want to know what is going into my body. I read what the PDR has to say about Aygestin, and decided the side effects are ones I can live with and if means keeping my uterus, I give it a try. Aygestin is a type of progesterone and is used for heavy bleeding. It is not recommended for all women, but after looking at the consequences and (remember this is 20 years ago), after all, it might work. I decided that this might be a good thing for me. I followed the directions, as I was not going to have a hysterectomy, and the flooding stopped. Another hated vaginal sonogram and the fibroids had shrunk. It worked. Aygestin did the trick. The flooding stopped and I stopped taking the medication. The flooding had rare occurances after that, but after about two years of surprises, I was happy to see it was gone. I still had my uterus, and all the wonderful natural hormones that made me the happy person that I sometimes am.

What I did not know then is how common fibroids are in women. At least 1/3 of all women get fibroids, and African American women have more problems with fibroids than any other racial group. They are noncancerous tumors that grow inside the uterus. The good thing, they do shrink after menopause. Until then, they can cause bleeding and discomfort. If they get really big, they can cause frequent urination, constipation and lower back pain. A friend of mine had a 25 pound fibroid. She had lived with it for years until it was causing so much pain, she had it removed. In my case, they just caused heavy bleeding, and no pain. Because I did not have pain, I did not feel a hysterectomy was right for me.
Nowadays, there are more alternatives to treating fibroids. There’s a procedure called “uterine artery embolization” which decreases the blood supply inside the uterus, thereby causing the fibroids to diminish in size. So, if the problem of flooding is due to fibroids, this somewhat noninvasive procedure might take care of the problem. Twenty years ago it did not exist.

While all this is happening, I started to wonder about the etiology of the word “hysterectomy?” It sounded like hysteria and I’m wondered why. Why do women have a hysterectomy and not a uteroectomy or womb-ectomy? Calling a surgical procedure by the name of the organ makes sense. I researched hysteria to see if it is a female problem. Are only women hysterical? I discovered that hysteria is an old medical condition. It’s been around for 2000 years. Sure enough, women became hysterical, men become thoughtful (that male medical profession strikes again). And the source of that hysteria was that uterus. So by removing the source of the hysteria, women would be cured of the problem. However, sometimes whe the uterus is removed, depression results and then the hysteria worsens…and in the old days, there were no modern medical advances to help with depression. Hence hysterectomy was “born” and the name has stuck. Men do not have any conditions that border on a formal title like “hysteria. In fact, if men have their testes removed, it’s called an orchidectomy. Go figure. They get orchids and we get hysteria!

I was two years down the year path to where I am now. I did not know all that was to come, but I did discover that there were no good answers. For every action there was a reaction that was not always better than what I had to begin with. I was beginning to learn to take one day at a time, a tribute to all those AA folks out there, and to enjoy the good days as there were going to be some bad ones along the way.

This is when I decided that I would try to do things with a combination of traditional and herbal medication, and NO SURGERY for as long as I could. I believe that if surgery is not absolutely necessary, then do not have it! For every positive action (surgery) there is an equally negative reaction (pain, unanticipated consequences, etc.) I also started buying larger purses to hold maxi pads, lots of tampons, and baby wipes, dark blue and black suits…and outfits with jackets.


http://www.4woman.gov/faq/hysterectomy.htm
http://www.fibroidoptions.com/embol.htm

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter

I've just seen Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the 3rd time. As a Harry Potter fan it was necessary to see it on opening day. We tried to make the midnight showing, but I was on the telephone for too long to get to Jackson on time to see the movie. Instead we saw it at 4:30 the next day. We saw it again on Saturday and then today, which is Tuesday. So the movie has been out less than week and I've seen it 3 times. That is a personal record! I like the movie.

I don't want to give away the story any more than necessary...so if you have not seen HP5, there might be some spoilers in the information below. If you read on...be aware of that!

Order of the Phoenix, the book, is the longest one in the series to date...yet this is the shortest movie. To make the movie so short, a lot of the book is cut out. There are no quidditch scenes, Harry's disasterous date with Cho is gone, Luna's character is not well developed, the rivalry that exists between Slytherin and Griffindor is gone...and the list goes on. So, while the book and movie are different, they start and end at the same place. I believe that this movie is simpler than the other four. There are no subplots, because they have been removed. Umbridge is still Umbridge...and if you disliked her in the book, you will dislike her more in the movie. I'm beginning to like Michael Gambon's portrayal of Dumbledore, but he really cannot replace the first Dumbledore played by Richard Harris. I don't think Michael Gambon shows the same "love" for Harry that Richard Harris showed. He does not have the same sparkle in his eyes...and his wardrobe is far too boring. Richard Harris had several fancy robes while Gambon wears the same blue one all the time.

The characters are growing up. The round faced kid who played the 11 year old Harry Potter has been replaced with an angular teen. Hermione is turning out to be a pretty young woman. Ron is taller and just as ugly as ever. Not only have the kids grown up, you can see the adult characters have aged too since first blush. Vernon has gained a hundred pounds; Lucius Malfoy is not as "slick" looking as he was; and Mr. Weasley looks more tired and weary. It could be just make-up, but it's convincing.

Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have improved their acting skills, while Emma Watson has not. She does better when she recites a defintion from memory then when she has a conversation with a friend. Toward the end of the movie, she was acting better. Daniel and Rupert were in better form than Emma. All three say that they do not need to work another day as they have made enough money from the HP movies. To that end, I hope the money and fame does not wreck their lives.

I do not know if the movie works as a "stand alone" movie or not. I've read the book and heard the CDs far too many times to know. I do know that the movie does work for me. It's filled with action. It's dark, but not as dark as the book. It sets the stage well for HP 6. I wonder when that will be released. I've read that it is in production and the "kids" have been signed on to star in the last 2 movies.

To that end, Book 7 of the series comes out on the 20th of July. I will be awaiting the book from Amazon.com with mixed emotions. I ordered it the first possible ordering day to be delivered to my house on the 20th. The story and the characters are alive in my head and while I want to find out what happens to story and to them, I am saddened that I will not read another NEW Harry Potter story. The continuing adventures will be missed by me and by a lot of avid fans. To get ready for the new book, I re-listened to HP6. When the book arrives, I'm turning off the phone, disconnecting from the Internet and my husband and I are going to read it to each other until we are too hoarse to talk. We'll go to bed and wake up early the next day and start reading again until we are finished. We read HP6 in a day and half. I wonder how long it will take us to read HP 7?

Menopause Chronicles...first entry

Let me introduce myself. I’m Lee, short for Ileanna Helene Snow. I think my mother named me Ileanna Helene because Snow was such a short, plain, simple, last name. I’ve had to deal with Ileanna all my life. No one knows how to spell it. No one knows what it means, (it means bright and it’s Greek). However, the best way to deal with a weird first name is to adopt a nickname, so I call myself “Lee”…short, sweet and androgynous. As a professional, my secretary can leave a message saying “Dr. Lee Snow has called, please call in the morning,” and let the folks on the other end of the paper trail try to figure out if I’m a woman or man, and if the doctor stands for MD or Ph.D. or something else. This is good.

I’m 60 years old. I’m a working university professor, wife, mother and friend. I’m relatively well traveled, have lived in strange and exotic places and experienced a pretty good life. This book however is only going to take you through the last 15 years of it. It’s a chronicle of what it’s like to survive menopause with most of your family, friends and sanity intact, and maybe even parts of your body. I don’t know if there is a happy ending to this opus, in fact I don’t know what the ending will be like right now. But until then, let me give you some of the detail about what it’s like to go through fifteen years of menopause. Yes, you read that right, 15 long, funny, sad, horrible, happy and freeing years of menopause.

I’m a university professor. It seems like I’ve taught all of my life, but I’ve only been a teacher for 38 years having started when I was 22. I have a good education. My first degree is in History which led to a five years teaching elementary school. That’s where I discovered that kids do not know how to read. It was time to work on an advanced degree in Reading to see if I could help a few kids along the way. I earned my MA knowing more about how kids read, but still seeking more information about how they learn so I could be a more effective teacher.

While all that was happening, I met a college professor who has been the love of my life. After we married, I discovered that I was just as smart as him. If he could get a doctorate, then I could do it to. All I needed was the time to do it. When an opportunity came along, I took it and earned a Ph.D. in Psychology in less than three years.

I have the usual number of children, two, twin boys. Sometimes I feel a bit outnumbered with all that testosterone poisoning in the house. I can usually make my opinion heard, after all I’m vocal, articulate and the MOM. The latter has to account for something.

As a professor and a social scientist, I’ve been curious about how things work. I’ve studied how reading works. I’ve studied how children learn and grow. I’ve studied my own two marvels too. So, it only makes sense that I’ve tried to study how this amazing female body works especially when it’s sell by date has past. That’s why I’m writing this book. To gain a bit more insight into the problem and to convey a message to all women that what you are feeling is probably normal…and some of the time, it sucks. It will be a combination of the true to life stuff that has happened to me as well as the research that says most of this “stuff” is normal. It’s what you can expect if you are somewhere between 40 and 45 and what is going to happen to your body for the next 15 to 20 years. I cannot tell you from personal experience what will happen after that, I’m only 60…there might be a senior citizen chronicle in the future…but first I have to get this one done.

Some of you might wonder about my family. I said I had twins. It was a good way to get two kids for the price of one. I only needed one pregnancy, which was definitely enough to reach my goal. I had the twins soon after we married, so it seems like they have been with us forever.

I’m a working mother, which as someone said, is an oxymoron. What mother isn’t a “working mom?” Because we have had the pleasure of flexible schedules, day care was not an insurmountable problem. We arranged our schedules to meet the schedules of the boys. We also made use of neighbors, friends, relatives and sitters to help us when necessary. All of us have done that. The boys have names, but for the purposes of this book, they are red son and blue son. When they were little it was hard to tell them apart, so I dressed one in red and other in blue. The nicknames just sort of stuck. If someone calls one of them by their real name, I have to think about it…who are they talking about?

My husband has a name too, but this is not a book about men or husbands or sons or brothers or uncles. It’s about women and menopause. So, all the male characters in the book, even though they are as real as can be, have no names…they just have titles such as husband, red son, blue son, brother-in-law, father, etc. You get the idea.

One more thing. I’m one of the early baby boomers, born right after World War II ended. We wanted everything and part of that was birth control, keeping our maiden name, a new house with 2 bathrooms, bedrooms for each of our kids, good education, the works. I don’t know if I “got” everything, but I tried hard to get what I could. Hence, after a jillion years of marriage, I’m still SNOW…I never wanted to take another name, even though I’ve been entitled to use one for more than half of my life. Red son and blue son are perfectly happy about the fact that their mom has a life that does not completely revolve around them. They did have their own bedrooms and they did not have to share the bathroom with their parents.

This chronicle starts when I’m 42. I’m a relatively handsome woman, 5’8” 130 pounds, size 10. My hair is still the original color and my eyes are a clear blue. I’ve been this size and weight since I was 22. I’ve never been on a serious diet. I have 2 children who are well balanced and seem to not have any major traumas in their life. They might even turn out to be productive citizens. At least that is the hope. We’ve done our best to make sure they are started off on the right foot and they have a good education. I’ve just been promoted to full professor. It’s hard to get better than that. Then the tables start to turn.

The first little sign that something is happening is a wrinkle. Actually it’s more like a frown line. I’ve always been a thoughtful individual, some could say worrisome…and I’ve got that little line on my forehead that indicates this. But at 42, I notice that the line does not go away anymore. It’s there to stay. When did it become glued on my forehead? I’ve never worried about frowning in the past…but the line…it’s there. It screams at me every morning when I look in the mirror. I try creams, ointments, lotions and rubbing and the line does not get any better and it won’t go away. It just stays there. I cannot cover the line with hair as then I would not be able to see. What to do? Then the reality sinks in..this is the first of many lines. My face, which my husband describes as cute, not pretty, might be getting some character. I always thought it had character before…does it really need any more? Since the line did not ask me for permission to stay, it stayed all on it’s own, maybe I had better face the fact that I’m not 30 anymore. Darn is one word that comes to mind… Shoot, I’m not as elastic as I was. Gees…Lee…you’re 42, you have a line on your forehead. Wake up and smell the roses girl…you’re getting older.

This sucks!

Home again

Hi folks,
We are home again...back from cruising--it's always good to be home...and it's always good to be gone from home.

The purpose of this blog is share our travels; my favorite books and movies; and to test out chapters from a book that I am writing tentatively called The Menopause Chronicles. Watch the space to see what is happening.

Right now I'm sitting on the back porch of our summer home in western Wyoming. The aspens are beautiful and the air is clear. It's hard to find a prettier, more relaxing spot in North America! I have my family up for the week and things are sweet.

I'll write more later
Lee