Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

This has been one doozey of a year. I say this every year, it seems – and yet each successive year just gets doozier and doozier. I tell you, I am ready for BORING!  

It started out well enough: I got to spend 3 weeks in Peru on-board a riverboat on the Amazon River. I volunteered with Earthwatch on another scientific expedition, this time studying the Pink River Dolphin. It was quite awesome, needless to say. I even got to come home with an exotic bug bite! Who wouldn't love that?

Then the year kind of leveled out and was neither exciting nor boring. I only wish it had stayed that way. In early May it started the whole domino effect thing – just one after another, each one getting worse and worse.

Most notably were my two surgeries. Thankfully each one went off without a hitch, unless you count throwing up for 24 hours afterwards a hitch (which, come to think of, I do). However, two major surgeries in a row, plus all the required physical therapy afterwards to help heal really tend to take a toll on ones body.

To say nothing of the pocket book: so far (not all the PT is done) I’m looking at One Hundred Thirty Three Thousand Nine Hundred Twenty Dollars and Ninety Six Cents!!! That would be $133,920.96 for you math minded people. Insurance has been great, picking up the bulk of that amount so that I only have to come up with $11,115.16 – but that’s still a financial stressor to add on to the physical stressors mentioned above.

Then of course there’s the emotional stressors – can’t forget them.  First of which is the fact that he has well and truly left me. Somehow I had convinced myself that he would never do that – but he did. I’m having a very difficult time accepting that fact, and find myself in tears at random moments throughout the day. All day. Every day.

And finally, to put the cherry on top of this blankety-blank year, an event that was so hoped for and so joyously anticipated turned about as sour as it can turn. I am talking about my nephew Hayden, who blessed us with his presence for only two and a half short days.  This was such an unexpected turn of events: his sister Tabitha was supposed to be the one with medical issues, not Hayden. Thankfully, Tabitha is fine. She is home with her parents and is gaining weight every day.

So forgive me if I don’t close with the obligatory “Happy New Year!” wishes, and instead let me ask you to wish me A BORING NEW YEAR

Because honestly, I don’t think I can take another year like this one. I just can’t’.

Monday, December 17, 2012

More Good Books to Read

Lost in the Jungle
            By Yossi Ghinsberg

Four travelers meet in Bolivia and set off into the heart of the Amazon rainforest, but what begins as a dream adventure quickly deteriorates into a dangerous nightmare, and after weeks of wandering in the dense undergrowth, the four backpackers split up into two groups. But when a terrible rafting accident separates him from his partner, Yossi is forced to survive for weeks alone against one of the wildest backdrops on the planet. Stranded without a knife, map, or survival training, he must improvise shelter and forage for wild fruit to survive. As his feet begin to rot during raging storms, as he loses all sense of direction, and as he begins to lose all hope, he wonders whether he will make it out of the jungle alive. Lost in the Jungle is the story of friendship and the teachings of nature, and a terrifying true account that you won t be able to put down.

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa
            By Adam Hochschild

In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million--all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold's Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, a man as cunning, charming, and cruel as any of the great Shakespearean villains. It is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust. Adam Hochschild brings this largely untold story alive with the wit and skill of a Barbara Tuchman. Like her, he knows that history often provides a far richer cast of characters than any novelist could invent. Chief among them is Edmund Morel, a young British shipping agent who went on to lead the international crusade against Leopold. Another hero of this tale, the Irish patriot Roger Casement, ended his life on a London gallows. Two courageous black Americans, George Washington Williams and William Sheppard, risked much to bring evidence of the Congo atrocities to the outside world. Sailing into the middle of the story was a young Congo River steamboat officer named Joseph Conrad. And looming above them all, the duplicitous billionaire King Leopold II. With great power and compassion, King Leopold's Ghost will brand the tragedy of the Congo--too long forgotten--onto the conscience of the West.

The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement
            By Dan O’Neil

In 1958, Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb, unveiled his plan to detonate six nuclear bombs off the Alaskan coast to create a new harbor. However, the plan was blocked by a handful of Eskimos and biologists who succeeded in preventing massive nuclear devastation potentially far greater than that of the Chernobyl blast. The Firecracker Boys is a story of the U.S. government’s arrogance and deception, and the brave people who fought against it-launching America’s environmental movement. As one of Alaska’s most prominent authors, Dan O’Neill brings to these pages his love of Alaska’s landscape, his skill as a nature and science writer, and his determination to expose one of the most shocking chapters of the Nuclear Age.

The Children’s Blizzard
            By David Laskin

Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered "land, freedom, and hope." The disastrous blizzard of 1888 revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America's heartland would never be the same. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Ada BlackJack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic
            By Jennifer Niven

From the author of The Ice Master comes the remarkable true story of a young Inuit woman who survived six months alone on a desolate, uninhabited Arctic island n September 1921, four young men and Ada Blackjack, a diminutive 25-year-old Eskimo woman, ventured deep into the Arctic in a secret attempt to colonize desolate Wrangel Island for Great Britain. Two years later, Ada Blackjack emerged as the sole survivor of this ambitious polar expedition. This young, unskilled woman-who had headed to the Arctic in search of money and a husband-conquered the seemingly unconquerable north and survived all alone after her male companions had perished. Following her triumphant return to civilization, the international press proclaimed her the female Robinson Crusoe. But whatever stories the press turned out came from the imaginations of reporters: Ada Blackjack refused to speak to anyone about her horrific two years in the Arctic. Only on one occasion-after charges were published falsely accusing her of causing the death of one her companions-did she speak up for herself. Jennifer Niven has created an absorbing, compelling history of this remarkable woman, taking full advantage of the wealth of first-hand resources about Ada that exist, including her never-before-seen diaries, the unpublished diaries from other primary characters, and interviews with Ada's surviving son. Ada Blackjack is more than a rugged tale of a woman battling the elements to survive in the frozen north-it is the story of a hero.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
            By Timothy Egan

The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times).

In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, The Worst Hard Time is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature.

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
            By David Von Drehle

Triangle is a poignantly detailed account of the 1911 disaster that horrified the country and changed the course of twentieth-century politics and labor relations. On March 25, 1911, as workers were getting ready to leave for the day, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within minutes it spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firemen who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those trapped inside: their ladders simply weren’t tall enough. People on the street watched in horror as desperate workers jumped to their deaths. The final toll was 146 people—123 of them women. It was the worst disaster in New York City history. Triangle is a vibrant and immensely moving account that Bob Woodward calls “riveting history written with flare and precision.”

The Window’s of Heaven
            By Ron Rozelle

Set in Galveston during the 1900 storm, the most devastating natural disaster in the history of the United States, this sweeping novel follows the fates of several richly drawn characters. It is the story of Sal, the little girl who is wise beyond her years and who holds out as much hope for the world as she does for her father, the ruined son of a respected father. It is the story of Sister Zilphia, the nun who helps run the St. Mary's Orphanage. The only thing separating the two long buildings of the orphanage is a fragile line of sand dunes; the only thing separating Zilphia from the world is the brittle faith that she has been sent there to consider. A faith that has never been truly tested. Until now. And it is the story of Galveston herself, the grand old lady of the Gulf Coast, with her harbor filled with ships from the world over; her Victorian homes and her brothels and her grand pavilions set in their own parks; and her stately mansions along Broadway, the highest ground on the island, at eight feet above sea level. All must face their darkest night now, as nature hurls the worst she can muster at the narrow strip of sand and salt grass that is doomed to become, for a time, part of the ocean floor. This is the story of heroes and villains, of courage and sacrifice and, most of all, of people trying desperately to survive. And it is the story of an era now gone, of splendor and injustice, filled with the simple joy of living. RON ROZELLE is the author of Into That Good Night (Farrar, Straus, Giroux), which was a finalist for the PEN American West Creative Nonfiction Prize and the Texas Institute of Letters Carr P. Collins Award. He lives in Lake Jackson with his wife Karen and their daughters and teaches creative writing and English.

My Lobotomy
            By Howard Dully

At twelve, Howard Dully was guilty of the same crimes as other boys his age: he was moody and messy, rambunctious with his brothers, contrary just to prove a point, and perpetually at odds with his parents. Yet somehow, this normal boy became one of the youngest people on whom Dr. Walter Freeman performed his barbaric transorbital—or ice pick—lobotomy.

Abandoned by his family within a year of the surgery, Howard spent his teen years in mental institutions, his twenties in jail, and his thirties in a bottle. It wasn’t until he was in his forties that Howard began to pull his life together. But even as he began to live the “normal” life he had been denied, Howard struggled with one question: Why?

“October 8, 1960. I gather that Mrs. Dully is perpetually talking, admonishing, correcting, and getting worked up into a spasm, whereas her husband is impatient, explosive, rather brutal, won’t let the boy speak for himself, and calls him numbskull, dimwit, and other uncomplimentary names.”

There were only three people who would know the truth: Freeman, the man who performed the procedure; Lou, his cold and demanding stepmother who brought Howard to the doctor’s attention; and his father, Rodney. Of the three, only Rodney, the man who hadn’t intervened on his son’s behalf, was still living. Time was running out. Stable and happy for the first time in decades, Howard began to search for answers.

“December 3, 1960. Mr. and Mrs. Dully have apparently decided to have Howard operated on. I suggested [they] not tell Howard anything about it.”

Through his research, Howard met other lobotomy patients and their families, talked with one of Freeman’s sons about his father’s controversial life’s work, and confronted Rodney about his complicity. And, in the archive where the doctor’s files are stored, he finally came face to face with the truth.

Revealing what happened to a child no one—not his father, not the medical community, not the state—was willing to protect, My Lobotomy exposes a shameful chapter in the history of the treatment of mental illness. Yet, ultimately, this is a powerful and moving chronicle of the life of one man. Without reticence, Howard Dully shares the story of a painfully dysfunctional childhood, a misspent youth, his struggle to claim the life that was taken from him, and his redemption.

Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants
            By Robert Sullivan

Love them or loathe them, rats are here to stay-they are city dwellers as much as (or more than) we are, surviving on the effluvia of our society. In Rats, the critically acclaimed bestseller, Robert Sullivan spends a year investigating a rat-infested alley just a few blocks away from Wall Street. Sullivan gets to know not just the beast but its friends and foes: the exterminators, the sanitation workers, the agitators and activists who have played their part in the centuries-old war between human city dweller and wild city rat. Sullivan looks deep into the largely unrecorded history of the city and its masses-its herds-of-rats-like mob. Funny, wise, sometimes disgusting but always compulsively readable, Rats earns its unlikely place alongside the great classics of nature writing.

The Mummy Congress
            By Heather Pringle

Perhaps the most eccentric of all scientific meetings, the World Congress on Mummy Studies brings together mummy experts from all over the globe and airs their latest findings. Who are these scientists, and what draws them to this morbid yet captivating field The Mummy Congress, written by acclaimed science journalist Heather Pringle, examines not just the world of mummies, but also the people obsessed with them.

            By Jeffrey Lockwood

In 1876, the U.S. Congress declared the locust the single greatest impediment to the settlement of the country between Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains.” Throughout the nineteenth century, swarms of locusts regularly swept across the American continent, turning noon into dusk, devastating farm communities, and bringing trains to a halt. The outbreaks subsided in the 1890s, and then, suddenly—and mysteriously—the Rocky Mountain locust vanished. A century later, entomologist Jeffrey Lockwood vowed to discover why.Locust is the story of how one insect shaped the history of the western United States. A compelling personal narrative drawing on historical accounts and modern science, this beautifully written book brings to life the cultural, economic, and political forces at work in America in the late nineteenth century, even as it solves one of the greatest extinction mysteries of our time.

A Sense of the World
            By Jason Roberts

He was known simply as the Blind Traveler -- a solitary, sightless adventurer who, astonishingly, fought the slave trade in Af-rica, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, and helped chart the Australian outback. James Holman (1786-1857) became "one of the greatest wonders of the world he so sagaciously explored," triumphing not only over blindness but crippling pain, poverty, and the interference of well-meaning authorities (his greatest feat, a circumnavigation of the globe, had to be launched in secret). Once a celebrity, a bestselling author, and an inspiration to Charles Darwin and Sir Richard Francis Burton, the charismatic, witty Holman outlived his fame, dying in an obscurity that has endured -- until now.

A Sense of the World is a spellbinding and moving rediscovery of one of history's most epic lives. Drawing on meticulous research, Jason Roberts ushers us into the Blind Traveler's uniquely vivid sensory realm, then sweeps us away on an extraordinary journey across the known world during the Age of Exploration. Rich with suspense, humor, international intrigue, and unforgettable characters, this is a story to awaken our own senses of awe and wonder

Blood River: a Journey of Africa’s Broken Heart
            By Tim Butcher

A compulsively readable account of a journey to the Congo — a country virtually inaccessible to the outside world — vividly told by a daring and adventurous journalist.

Ever since Stanley first charted its mighty river in the 1870s, the Congo has epitomized the dark and turbulent history of a failed continent. However, its troubles only served to increase the interest of Daily Telegraph correspondent Tim Butcher, who was sent to cover Africa in 2000. Before long he became obsessed with the idea of recreating Stanley’s original expedition — but travelling alone.

Despite warnings Butcher spent years poring over colonial-era maps and wooing rebel leaders before making his will and venturing to the Congo’s eastern border. He passed through once thriving cities of this country and saw the marks left behind by years of abuse and misrule. Almost, 2,500 harrowing miles later, he reached the Atlantic Ocean, a thinner and a wiser man.

Butcher’s journey was a remarkable feat. But the story of the Congo, vividly told in Blood River, is more remarkable still.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Single Again

Once again, I find myself in the single world. What’s really pathetic about it all is that he dumped me years ago – it just took me this long to admit it.

In his defense, he was as honest with me as he could be. He said all along that we were just friends. I simply couldn't believe it – didn't want to believe it. I went along with it, telling him what he wanted to hear, so it’s my own fault that he actually believed me.

So today he tells me he met somebody else. 

The funny thing is (no, it’s not funny – but it is, sorta) she’s dumped him so now he’s all sad and wants me to comfort him. And since I've been saying all along that yes, we are just friend, I find myself in the position where I have to pretend that I care.

I do care, actually. No one deserves to be hurt, regardless of their blindness towards other people in their life.

I just keep telling him that I know how he feels.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thank You!

I’d like to send out a big Thank You to everybody who helped me out during all my surgeries: seriously, you helped a lot.

First to Mother, who came in to town and took care of me post-op on each surgery: I simply could not have done it without your help. There is truth to the old saying that nothing is better than one’s mother when you’re not feeling well. I love you! The flowers were nice, too – even though they weren’t exactly what you ordered.

Next to Rob, who drove me to and from the hospital and all the follow up doctor’s visits – even though it cut in to his Dad time with his children. I really appreciate it.

To GDM, for being so understanding and for providing employment & the insurance that paid for all of this. They allowed me to take time off work, even though I had already used up most of my paid leave time by going to the Amazon in February – and they even bought me a Get Well package of tea from Summit Spice. Thank You!

Thanks to my best friends Kat for sending me a package in the mail: hand-made chocolates all the way from Potsdam New York! I didn’t realize until I opened the box just how much I really needed good chocolate. My friend, you know me well.

Thank you, also, to Debbie for the yummy fruit bouquet – not only did I get to eat chocolate dipped strawberries & pineapple, but now I have a nice blue mug to remember you by each time I use it!

And to everybody who sent me their healing thoughts & prayers, it worked. I survived with minimal discomfort and am healing up quickly. I am so blessed to have such wonderful friends & family.

I love you all. 

Monday, October 29, 2012


“Get ready for a fight.” My niece warned me. And she should know: she’s had to deal with insurance a lot in her life.

But I honestly have to say that I am actually rather impressed with the insurance company so far. They have been more than helpful when I call to ask questions, and any misunderstandings that have occurred have been on my part. I simply didn't understand their policy regarding what is and what isn't covered. Once they explained it all to me, it made perfect sense.

Here are the numbers so far, keeping in mind that fact that I don’t have everything from this final surgery in yet.

Surgery on my neck cost $99,224.64  
          of which I will have to pay $8,681.46

Surgery on my shoulder cost $32,252.32  
          of which I will have to pay $1,708.20

Everything together comes to a grand total of $131,476.96
          My total bill will be about $10,389.66

Physical Therapy

A critical part of my recovery this time includes physical therapy sessions. My doctor has prescribed twice a week for at least a month at Alaska Health Quest off of 42nd street.

So far, I’m really enjoying it!

The first session wasn't too exciting. They did a bunch of measuring to get a baseline on range of movement and strength. They asked about my pain levels and medications. Then they did 15 minutes of ultrasonic treatment to “promote bone healing.”

That actually made me hurt worse than the surgery itself did! My shoulder had been fine up to that point. The next day it was all swollen and extremely painful – to the point where I actually took some of the pain pills just to get some sleep that night!

Thankfully, my second session went much better. This time, the therapist just did a manual massage. Oh my – it felt divine! My muscles were so tense and sore all across my back and up into my head. The only time it didn't feel so good was when she started grinding her thumb into my shoulder right on the spot where they’d removed the bone spurs. I suppose that was on purpose, and that it promotes healing and all – but OW! It hurt!

Anyway, I’m hoping the following sessions will be just as enjoyable. 

Recovery Again

Recovery this time really was a breeze. Apparently I heal quickly…

They sent me home with a nerve block on my arm: I had a tube placed directly on the wound inside that ran out of a vein in my neck and was attached to a pump that I carried around with me containing the pain meds. I could click on the button to administer additional pain meds anytime I felt the need, but it continuously delivered on its own.

The nerve block was weird. My entire right arm felt like somebody else’s. It was heavy and all tingly, and sometimes it would jerk and/or twitch for seemingly no reason. I had it in a sling, but that actually hurt too much – the material was scratchy and the skin on my arm felt like it was on fire whenever you touched it.

Which is weird, when you think about it. I thought the whole purpose of a nerve block was to dampen all sensation of touch! Apparently not…

Anyway, that nerve block thingy (or my tether, as I called it, since I couldn’t go anywhere without worrying that I’d trip on the tubing) stayed in place for 4 days. I was so happy to finally get rid of the darned thing and get my arm back!

Everybody I’d spoken to, however – including my doctor – said that I’d be sorry to see it go once the numbness wore off and the pain set in. I had oral pills on hand, just in case – and they all said I’d be taking them like candy at first. Honestly, though – it didn’t hurt. Sure, it was uncomfortable – but not anything like my migraines are.

Getting control of my arm again has taken the longest time. It was very confused about that blockage, apparently. It’s been 3 weeks now and I’m just now finally getting full range of motion back. Strength is coming back, too, slowly but surely.

One funny thing that happened during the first few days of recovery: Mother made sure that I had plenty of food in my fridge before she headed back home the day after my surgery. I had all kinds of yummy home-made meals including a loaf of home-made bread (which I love). So, a few hours after she left, I started to get a little hungry. I went to the fridge to see what I could eat, and realized that everything in there was inaccessible: all of it was in containers I couldn’t open, or – as in the case with the bread – in a form that I couldn’t deal with. I couldn’t even make myself a cup of tea!

I only had one arm!

I had to call my niece to come slice my bread for me, and prepare my tea for future cups…

My Final Surgery

The reason I haven’t been posting lately is because I've been dealing with my second and final surgery: this time to remove the bone spurs on my right shoulder.

As she did last time, Mother came in to help me. She drove me to the surgical center bright and early Monday morning where I got started on getting checked in. Right away I came across an obstacle in the road (metaphorically speaking): they had my date of birth wrong. This caused great confusion since they were expecting a 17 year old patient, not a 47 year old patient. But once they resigned themselves to that fact they were able to reprint all the reams of paperwork required, and we got to move out of the administration office and into the Pre-Op section of the building.

Here is where I ran in to the second obstacle of the day: the lady leading me back there just disappeared without telling me what to do or where to go. I was stranded in the middle of a hallway with no idea which door I was supposed to go into. I stood there like a lost child for several minutes before somebody happened by and took pity on me by pointing me in the right direction.

The right direction in this case happened to be the disrobing room. I’m sure it has a different name, but that’s what I did. I got undressed, put on the hospital gown they provided, and put all my stuff into the locker assigned to me. Then I stood around for a while again, because I AGAIN did not know what to do or w here to go.

Are you getting the idea here? This place was CONFUSING and CHAOTIC and LOUD and just plain CONFUSING. Not at all like the hospital was. I will say one thing in their favor, though: everybody in there was happy. Well, so maybe not the patients – but the employees all were.

Anyway, eventually a nurse directed me to an intake room. She was very nice but had a lot of problems getting an IV into me. I ended up blowing 5 veins before she finally succeeded. I still have the bruises on my arm where she tried: three different locations! It was brutal: I have to admit I was crying by the time she finally got one. I kept saying “I don’t want to be here!” and she just kept apologizing…

And then we waited. Check in was at 7:00 in the morning with surgery scheduled for 8:30 – however, for whatever reason, they were running late. As near as I can remember, surgery didn't happen until sometime after 11:00. They must have given me some drugs ahead of time, because I just came in and out of awareness periodically, until one time I asked “Did it happen?” and somebody answered “Yes”

I had to ask them to get Mother, I do remember that. She came right away, though, and got the rundown on aftercare from all the doctors. Apparently it went well: I ended up without a tear (thankfully) just a mighty large spur that got ground off. Doctor was pleased, and said my recovery should go well.

Finally I got home around 3:00 in the afternoon.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Freak Wind Storm

I saw a good post on Facebook the other day: Only in Alaska do we have 'hurricane's that don't get named...we just call it 'Wednesday'

I figured that was a good way to open this posting, since we really did have hurricane-force winds. They’re saying that up Hillside there were gusts up to 138 mph = according to the National Weather Service, that’s considered a Category 4 Hurricane!

Thankfully my house withstood the storm in good shape. It creaked and groaned all night long, but the only thing down when I woke up the next morning was my fence in the back yard, and one of my decorative trees is a tad bit more horizontal than vertical. Compared to other damage around town, I figure I got off easy.

Rob had one of his big trees break off mid-way and is now on top of his fence. He says the entire tree will have to come down now, and the fence will need a bit of repair – but it’s all doable without too much trouble.

My niece and her roommate were without power for 24 hours! No power means no heat, and the temps – while not being the severe cold of winter – are pretty darned cold at night. She bundled up in her down jacket and wool socks, and emptied her freezer content into Rob’s spare freezer so she wouldn’t loose any food.

My other niece was only without power for a few hours. UAA had everything very well handled, thankfully. She did discover, however, that she needs to get a flashlight to have on hand. Luckily she was able to download an ap for her iPad that simulates a flashlight (who knew!) so she was able to continue studying for her test.

Surprise! UAA canceled classes the next day – so she didn’t have to take that test after all…

My little brother has it the worst of all. He is a lineman for the electric companies, and he has been out there since 2 am the night of the storm with only a 3-hour nap. They are working hard trying to get everybody’s power back on, but it’s grueling work. There are stories on Facebook of some people who come and ask them how they are, offer them food and drink, thank them and call them heroes...and then others who are rude and only concerned about whether their equipment will damage their stuff (umm, do you want power or not?).

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Shopping Spree

I got to go on a shopping spree this weekend with my niece Katy. We had fun!

I had a $150.00 Debit Card given to me as a thank you for participating in a health screening program my insurance was promoting. They assured me I could spend it however I wanted to, so I went on-line and found a 20% off coupon for one item at Bed Bath & Beyond and decided that I needed new bed linens.

Katy came along to help ensure that I actually purchase what I intended to. I am not a shopper. If I had gone on my own, I probably would have walked in the door – taken a look around at all the people in there – and turned a 180 to head right back to my car. Thankfully, Katy is a great shopper and expertly encouraged me to find the perfect set. And I must say – we did good.

Here’s what I ended up with:
     A bed set for $119.99
          comforter, bedskirt, 2 pillow shams, 3 accent pillows
     A sheet set for $45.99
          top sheet, fitted sheet, 2 pillow cases
     A blanket for $22.99
All of that totals $188.97 but with my debit card and coupon I only paid $14.97 out of pocket.

Not to shabby!

The Alaska State Fair

I got to spend the afternoon at the fair this past Friday! Rob and I drove out to see my niece compete in the local Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off, as she does each year.

The weigh-off was fun. Lauren has a big fan club, and all of us were there in the bleachers cheering her on. Her cabbage didn’t do as good as we’d hoped, but she still did very well taking 4th place with 84.25 pounds.

Third place was Brian Shunskis 94.4 pounds. Steve Hubacek came in with 126 pounds and Scott Robb tipped the scales at 138.25 pounds = a New World Record!

Prior to the weigh-off, Rob and I had more than enough time to eat – which is, of course, an essential fair activity – and take in several of the exhibit buildings to admire the handmade crafts and local businesses.

After the weigh-off was the best, though. We got to go to the “Our Body: The Universe Within” an exhibit of "plastinated" human bodies -- the corpses of real people preserved and prepared to show anatomical details. One display was of a man drawing back an arrow notched into a bowstring. Another had a man riding a bicycle. A third was a man cut in half, head to toe. None of them were wearing their skin and all were real, preserved human bodies.

It was truly fascinating, although some people also found it quite disturbing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I got an email from my friend Sarah in Washington DC the other day, asking for help on a project she’s working on.

Sarah had contacted me several years ago asking about my Mongolia trip for a book she was writing, but that project morphed into a whole new company and never got published. So, now that her company is off and running on its own feet (so to speak) she’s going back to the whole book idea, and has again asked for my input. Only this time I get to contribute on all 4 of my expeditions!

Check it out: Volunteer Global (

I am currently going over the travelogues I wrote for each trip, doing a little bit of editing work on them, before sending them down to her. I will also send her the photos I have, but don’t know yet if she’ll want them all or just a few. I’ll let her decide: she may only have room for one or two of them for each trip.

Just today I got a phone call from Lilian at the Alaskan Prospector’s Society asking if I was ready to present on my Amazon trip for their club meeting. I had been scheduled to do that earlier in the year, but had to postpone due to my neck surgery. I am now rescheduled for September 18.

This means I shall have to get busy and actually create the presentation! I haven’t done that yet. But, since I’m going over the travelogues anyway, it shouldn’t be too difficult to remember what happened way back in February. Going thru the 975+ photos will be a whole other story, though. Trying to pick out the best ones to use for the presentation will take some time. It won’t be that bad; I’ll just look at it as an opportunity to relive all those wonderful memories again!

And yes, I’m already thinking about my next expedition with Earthwatch. This time I’m going to do something completely different and try my hand at some archeology in Thailand! I’m really quite excited about it, even though it will probably be several years from now since I have to pay for all these surgeries and whatnot first. I will open another “Expedition Fund” account for anybody who wishes to contribute – that worked out so well last time: thank you again for all who contributed.

Check it out: Origins of Angkor (

Monday, August 27, 2012

Forever Ago

It’s been forever since I last updated my blog here. I feel bad about that, but honestly just haven’t really felt like writing lately. Not that I haven’t done anything – I have. It’s just that the urge to write has died down a bit. I wonder if that means anything significant.

Just to catch you up on things I’ll recap the highlights of my past month in one short posting – then hopefully will be better about making regular posts.

My Neck: I’m healing up so well, it’s truly amazing. I barely have a scar even! I’ve been putting vitamin D ointment on it each night; that’s helping a lot. The pain is mostly gone, too – all that’s really left is the pain from the shoulder, which will get operated on in October. Hopefully that will go as well as the neck surgery did.

My headaches: unfortunately, the neck surgery did not do a thing for my headaches. I had hoped that by relieving the pressure on my spinal chord it would magically “cure” me, but no. If anything, it actually made them worse! I have had some really bad ones lately, one of which occurred while I was out on a hike. My poor hiking buddy had to help me down the mountain, stopping almost every 15 minutes so I could throw up. She kept asking “Should I call 911 now?” It was brutal.

Hiking: aside from the headaches, I have managed to get out on the trails a bit. One of my favorite hikes was with Rob and his daughter up Mt. Alyeska. We rode the tram up to the top and then took off on foot even farther up. What a fantastic view from up there!

Family: Mother came in this last weekend for a visit. We had planned on walking downtown Anchorage to see the flowers, but since it was raining I took her to my friend’s house to see their flowers instead. We had a good visit with them, then played some cards and ate a bit of lunch at my house before she went on home. I also got to spend some time with my niece Kate this weekend. She and I went to the South Anchorage Farmer’s Market together; they had so much good food & veggies there! It was hard to decide what to get, but she ended up with a nice bunch of Swiss Chard and a bouquet of small sunflowers; I got a medium sized kohlrabi and a beautiful zucchini. My other niece Lauren moved back into her dorm room at college this weekend, so our weekly dinners together starts up again – I’m looking forward to that!

Crafting: I’ve been rather lax on my cardmaking, too, it seems - but I have been accumulating more supplies! That’s always fun. My sister is cleaning out her house, preparing for her babies to come, and gave me first pick of all her paper & punches. I’ve also made a few purchases online and at the store near my house (I couldn’t stop myself). And I found a group on Craig’s List who get together each month to make cards using products from the Stampin’ Up line – I will join in with them whenever I can. Meanwhile, my little craft room gets more and more cluttered with stuff. My sister also gave me two shelves that need to be installed in the room; I will be able to organize a bit better once their up.

My Job: the job is going well except that we have no work at the moment, so I spend my hours reading my “Construction Materials, Methods, and Techniques” book – which is oh so exciting. My little brother has been working a job that is right in our back parking lot, so I get to go out on my breaks and chat with him every once in a while. He keeps telling his co-workers that I’d been knifed in a botched mugging attempt. They’re all impressed with my neck wound!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Highly Recommended

The following is a quote from the book I’m currently reading:
     The Last Explorer by Simon Nasht

“When Wilkins first came this way in 1913, Barrow was a town of seven Europeans, 200 Eskimo and 800 dogs. When he returned a dozen years later, nothing much had changed. It was still 200 miles to the nearest bump resembling a hill, twice as far again to the nearest tree, and 500 miles to the nearest telephone. Mail reached the settlement just three times a year, hauled by dog teams on a month-long journey along the coast. In short, it was the type of place where Wilkins felt right at home.”

Here’s the description taken from

“This riveting biography recounts the life of the world's first truly modern explorer, a life of unrelenting adventure and the high drama of polar exploration. Hubert Wilkins was the most successful explorer in history: no one saw with his own eyes more undiscovered land and sea. Largely self-taught, he was a celebrated reporter, pilot, spy, war hero, scientist, and adventurer. He captured in his lens war and famine, cheated death repeatedly, met world leaders like Lenin, Mussolini, and King George V, and circled the globe on a zeppelin. Knighted for being the first person to fly across the North Pole, Wilkins was also the first to fly in the Antarctic, discover land by airplane, and take a submarine under the Arctic ice.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

People Are Amazing Sometimes

I found an ad on Craig’s List the other day: somebody wanting to connect with others that do stamping/cardmaking – so on a whim, I responded to it. I thought (hoped) they wanted to find a partner to have crafting dates with, because it’s always more fun to do that with company.

I was wrong, on several counts actually. I had assumed it was a female who posted the ad, but turns out he was (is) a guy. And he wasn’t interested in crafting dates, either.

What he wanted was to – get this – give stuff away!

Apparently a friend’s wife had been into making cards but had passed away a few years back. He was helping out by finding a good home for all her supplies, so they would be used and appreciated as much as she used & appreciated them.

We arranged to meet in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble, where he transferred over $300.00 worth of supplies from his car to mine. All free, with no strings attached!

Totally Awesome!

I will have fun tonight, that’s for sure; it will be like Christmas in July.

I Shoulda Been a Doctor!

Surgery is over, and recovery is well on its way to being over… now comes the really painful part: paying the bills!

I haven’t actually gotten a bill yet, but I’ve been keeping tabs on the insurance – and have seen some pretty amazing numbers being thrown around.

So far:
the hospital has charged $48,249.17
the doctors have charged $38,272.00
the MRIs have charged $4,914.00
and I had to have $95.47 worth of pain medication
     That’s a grand total of $92,728.58

All I can say is “Thank God for insurance!”

Thursday, July 05, 2012


The recovery process was so much worse than the actual surgery; not surprising, really, considering the fact that I missed the whole thing. But I was a little bit shocked at just how bad I felt, although oddly enough my neck really didn’t hurt much at all. It was that danged migraine that I still had.

When I finally came to in the recovery room, I found Rob and Mother there with me, along with the nurse assigned to take care of me. They all seemed to hover around me till they assured themselves that I was truly aware again. I don’t think I said much, just listened to all the activity around me.

The nurse gave Mother the instructions (both written and verbal) on how to take care of me post-op – and then, once I was stabilized enough, sent me home. All together, I was in the hospital for just 8 hours. My anesthesiologist had told me she had the same operation done back 20 years ago, and they made her stay in the hospital for 5 whole days!

To be completely honest here, perhaps I did go home a bit too soon. I was very glad to be home but was still quite nauseous, throwing up at least 6 more times throughout the night. I was finally able to keep liquids down by the following morning, though, and was even able to get up and walk around a bit without passing out.

As mentioned earlier, I still had that migraine however. That was worse than the surgery pain, actually. I really wanted to take my headache pills for it, but had been told not to (it’s a blood thinner, and may cause bleeding). That evening it was so bad I had mother call the doctor to ask what I should do. Thankfully they told me to go ahead and take my normal medication so I finally got some relief.

Also at that time, I stopped taking the pain pills the hospital had prescribed for me. Not only did they make me sick – they didn’t really even work. I am still taking the muscle relaxers, though. That operation really did a number on my neck and shoulders; two weeks later and they’re still so sore I can barely move, and I have a lump in my throat where the esophagus is still swollen.

What isn’t sore is the incision itself! The hospital put little butterfly bandages on the incision, with a gauze pad over the top; all of which was covered by what looked like a piece of plastic about 6” square. I left that whole ensemble on to keep the wound clean, but at my Wound Check appointment a week later that plastic wrap and the gauze bandage finally got taken off. Three days later, I had my niece Kate help me remove the butterfly bandages. Now I am Fully Exposed!

It is such a tiny little incision; hard to believe they did all that they did thru that tiny little opening. But I have the muscle soreness to prove it – they really did do what they told me they would.

My doctor said I am healing up quite nicely, and gave me permission to go back to work!


Well, I did it. To be honest, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected it to be. Not that it was a piece of cake, by any means – but all in all, it was not that bad.

Rob picked me up at 5:30 in the morning and drove me to the hospital for my 6:00 check in. The waiting room was quite nice, with some really good photographs hanging on the walls. I didn’t have much time to enjoy them, though, as the nurse came out within 5 minutes of my arrival to lead me back into the prep-room. I said goodbye to Rob and followed the nurse in.

The prep-room was just a big room with lots of smaller areas partitioned off with hanging curtains. I was shown to the area assigned to me and told to change into the hospital gown (yes, the kind that gaps open in the back). It was a little unnerving getting undressed; I had the curtain closed, but it had gaps all around, and there were a lot of people in the room.

Once I was comfortably settled into the hospital bed things got rolling. One by one, each doctor, nurse, and orderly came to introduce themselves to me and explain what roll they would have in the surgery. Each one made a point of making sure they knew who I was and what I was there for, so I had no fear of getting the wrong procedure done. They also made sure that I understood what they were going to do, and always asked if I had any questions.

I had a really bad migraine that morning (of course I would) so the anesthesiologist said she would give me something for that along with the “cocktail” she originally planned to give me. I don’t know what it was, but it sure knocked me out. One minute I’m watching her put the needle into my IV and the next minute I’m throwing up in the recovery room! And let me tell you, that was really disorienting. It took me several minutes to figure out what had happened.

All the doctors, nurses, and orderlies had told me all about how they would wheel me in to the operating room, which would have all kinds of equipment and lights and what not. They said they would probably have me move myself to the other table, and that there would be lots of commotion going on around me. The anesthesiologist would “come at me” with the mask to knock me out. It all sounded so interesting and confusing.

And I missed the whole thing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


When is my surgery?
Check in is at 6:00. Surgery begins at 7:30 and should last 2-3 hours.

What do I do to prepare?
No food or water after midnight the day before. No metal (earrings, rings, hair bands) worn the day of.

What about medications before surgery?
No aspirin-type medications (Advil, Aleve, Aspirin, Excedrin, etc.). If you need pain relief, Tylenol can be taken - but not after midnight. Continue taking your anti-depressants.

What about medications after surgery?
Prescriptions for any pain meds deemed necessary will be giving to your family member after surgery. They can get them filled there at the hospital for you to take home with you. Continue taking your anti-depressants.

Will there be any follow-up appointments after surgery?
One week after surgery will be a Wound Check appointment, to assess the progress of your incision. Six weeks after surgery you will come in for more X-rays to determine how well you are healing.

Will I have to wear a neck brace?
A brace will be given to you after surgery; most likely a soft one (more comfortable) but that depends on how the surgery went. You should wear it as often as possible to minimize movement, but can take it off to allow the wound to air out.

How much time off can I expect?
Absolute bare minimum will be one week. Doctor would prefer two weeks, but if you’re doing well and your wound checks out good, he may give you permission to go back to work early – probably half days at first.

Can I drive after surgery?
If you must, but it would be better not to. Keep your neck brace on – and know that it restricts movement so drive accordingly.

How do I take care of myself afterwards?
Keep the wound dry (special bandages will be given for use in the shower). Don’t lift over 10 pounds (thankfully my girls are just under that). As soon as possible, start walking around the neighborhood – but take it easy; don’t over-do it. Minimize movement as much as possible. Get off the pain meds as soon as you can.

What if I start to bleed?
Butterfly bandages will be placed on the incision right after surgery: there will be blood dried onto them – but don’t panic! If the blood you see is dark red, it’s old. Do panic if you see bright red – that’s new blood, and you should go directly to your doctor to have it taken care of.

I heard that I won’t be able to talk afterwards?
The doctor will have to move aside your esophagus and voice box in order to gain access to your spinal column, so you can expect “some discomfort” after surgery. This can last up to two weeks! Ice packs can be applied to help reduce any swelling, which will help ease your sore throat. Eat soft foods.

I’m very nervous!
Dr. Kralick is the best Neurosurgeon there is – you’re in very good hands.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I Like This Backpack

While sitting at the trailhead in my car this weekend, waiting for my friend to show up so we could go hiking, I transferred all my “stuff” from my old backpack to my new one.

My new backpack was the one I’d bought specifically for my Amazon trip: it’s small, made of recycled material (shredded milk jugs!), and fits me a lot better than my old one.

In the process of switching things over, I made a very exiting discovery: $200.00!

Apparently, I had tucked the money in there during my trip and then forgot about it. I do that: I spread my money around in various places when traveling so that if something gets stolen I will still have money. It’s also quite common for me to forget about it, too.

It certainly made for a great surprise!

My Weekend Was Great!

Saturday, I met my friend Tina at the McHugh Creek Trail parking lot where we left her car and took mine back down the road to the Potter’s Ridge parking lot. Then we set off on foot back to her car, 4 miles along the coast up on the cliffs.

It was a beautiful day: clear blue skies and just enough wind to keep the mosquitoes away. There was a lot of activity on the trail, both human and animal. We didn’t see any actual bears but did see a lot of bear scat, some of which were quite fresh. Some of our fellow hikers told us about a Black Bear sow and her cubs hanging out along the trail, but thankfully she was gone by the time we passed by that section.

Neither Tina nor I are in that great of shape, but we had fun regardless. We ambled our way down (up?) the trail, chatting and catching up on all the news the whole way. I took tons of pictures, of course – and even managed to get some really good shots in.

When I eventually got home again, I headed off to the used car lot downtown and – get this – BOUGHT MYSELF A NEW CAR! Well, new to me at least. It is a used vehicle, but it only has 1,675 miles on it – so it’s only barely used.

It’s a 2012 Toyota Yaris LE, and is the exact car I’ve been looking for. I got a great price on it, too. I’m very happy with it.

Sunday morning, I headed over to Rob’s house for some sourdough pancakes! His son Trey is up for the summer, so I got to give him a ride in my new car. He was suitably impressed, especially when I showed him the single front windshield wiper = that’s just way too cool.

Michael’s Craft Store was having a super sale on paper (5 for a dollar, regularly 79 cents a piece) so of course I had to stop in on my way home. $13.00 later, I walked out to my car with a bag full of some really cool sheets to make envelopes with.

When I got home, Mother was waiting for me – early, of course, but I didn’t mind. We went to the museum together and walked thru their Pole to Pole exhibit. I hadn’t seen the new Smithsonian Alaska Exhibit before, either, and was very impressed. I think they did a really good job with that one.

Once we’d seen as much as we wanted to we stopped in at the cafĂ© there and had a cup of soup and a pita bread appetizer, then headed on over to Rob’s house for a visit. Mother hadn’t seen his house all fixed up so he wanted to show her all that he’d done on it.

By that time I was ready for a serious nap, much to the delight of my two girls.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Floating the Kenai River

For my birthday this year I got to go on a float trip down the Kenai River!

Rob has a new-to-him boat that he wanted to get wet before his kids arrive for the summer, just to make sure everything was good to go. So we hooked the trailer up to his truck and headed off down the road last Sunday.

We pulled in at Cooper Landing to put the boat in the water and get all our gear in order, then drove the truck & empty trailer down the road to the Russian River Confluence where we planned to end our trip. From there, we hitched a ride in a random pick-up truck back to our boat.

Mind you, we’ve got Daisy with us too! The truck we ended up hitching a ride from was one of those smaller ones. Picture Rob crammed into the back camper, literally underneath a mountain bike and some camping gear while I’m up front with Daisy “sitting” on my lap not 3” away from a complete stranger (those who know me well can imagine just how uncomfortable I was in that situation).

It was actually kind of funny…

We made it back to the boat safe and sound, and started on our way on the river. The Kenai was quite swollen with a lot of water, so the rapids were quite a bit more fun than normal.

Daisy was so cute; she has her own PFD (Personal Flotation Device) even, that provides a convenient suitcase-like handle on her back. This comes in VERY handy when she forgets where she is and leaps to chase after the birds that fly by. At one point, she barked at something on shore only to have it echo back at her: she got scared and had to run to daddy for protection! When we got to the rapids, she got scared again when she saw them coming – and again had to run to daddy for protection.

The fish haven’t quite hit the river yet, but we could tell it wouldn’t be long. The eagles were beginning to line up along shore, just waiting for lunch to be delivered.

And ducks! Who knew there were ducks in a river? For some reason, I just assumed they would only be in a lake…

The float took us about 3 hours; not very long, actually – but it was a good one.

“I’m In Minor Freak Out Mode”

That’s a quote from my brother when he found out he and his wife are pregnant with twins - but I think it applies to my life at the moment, as well.

First, there’s the surgery. Well, surgeries to be exact. My neck will be operated on in a couple weeks followed by up to 2 months in a brace. Once that is over, I get to go back under the knife to fix my shoulder. God knows how long that recovery process will take.

There goes all that summer hiking I was planning.

One side effect of the neck/shoulder problems I’m having is that I can barely drive my car anymore: it is a manual stick shift, and it’s my right side that hurts. So I am looking in to buying a new car, this time getting an automatic. This means a lot of shopping around, as well as some creative banking to ensure that I can afford it. To that end, I am getting a Home Equity Line of Credit which involves an awful lot of paperwork and planning. At the same time, I am switching insurance companies to get a cheaper monthly bill. And of course, I am selling my Nissan.

I can’t seem to find the exact car I want here in town, so now I am looking at buying one outside and having it shipped up – which of course means shopping around to find the perfect deal that justifies all this bother as well as finding a shipping company to get the car up here in once piece.

And now, to top it all of with a big fat cherry = my cat is sick again!

She has been struggling with kidney failure for the past year or so, but had been doing really well – or so I thought. Just the other day, she took a turn for the worse. I rushed her to the vet’s office as soon as they could squeeze me in – and 5 hours later brought her back home $500 poorer.

Thankfully, she’s doing okay now. She’s happy to be back home again, and has a new collection of medications to help her live out the rest of her life comfortably and pain-free.

Speaking of living pain-free, everybody I’ve spoken to who has had the same surgery I’m going to have has told me that it’s well worth it. I should notice a difference right away; once I recover from the knife, that is.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

All Over the Map!

I’ve been collecting auto insurance quotes from numerous companies to get a feel for what my payments will be on a 2012 Toyota Yaris (full coverage: Comprehensive and Collision). The responses I’ve gotten are all over the place!

It really does pay to shop around, it seems.

$957.50 for 6 months

$440.00 for 6 months

$1086.00 for 6 months

State Farm:
$587.63 for 6 months

$659.00 for 6 months

Can you suggest any company I might have missed?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Neck

So, I go in for pre-op on Wednesday, June 20 = they’ll explain the process, fill out all the paperwork, and do the blood tests

Surgery is scheduled for Friday, June 22 = check in is at 6:00 am, surgery will begin at 7:30

I have no idea how long recovery will be, but I’m hoping to be home that evening and will have the weekend to see how it goes…

For those who don’t know what’s going on, I have two vertebrae (C5 and C6) that require some attention. Dr. Kralick will go in thru a tiny slit in my throat, file off the bone spurs that have grown in all directions (they are putting pressure on my spinal chord), place bone grafts from a cadaver, and tie the whole thing together with a metal plate.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Insurance Quote

Hi Ruth,

Here are the break downs of the vehicles. Basically since it is a new vehicle, of course we do recommend collision and comprehension since the vehicles will obviously be worth much more.

With comprehensive and collision ($500 collision/$250 comp):
     2012 Toyota Yaris - $957.50
     2012 Honda Fit - $945.58

Without comprehensive and collision:
     2012 Toyota Yaris - $390.50
     2012 Honda Fit - $382.46

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Thank you,
Allstate Insurance Company

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How Do You Spell Relief?

First the bad news:
     The $30,550.00 figure that I got from the doctor for my neck surgery is only for his services. There will be separate bills from the hospital, the anesthesiologist, the nurses, the janitors, the candy striper, the drug supplier – pretty much anybody who even glances in my direction while I’m in the hospital. I had thought my bill would only be $10,037.95… but no – that’s only part of it…

Now the good news:
     My insurance has a yearly Out of Pocket Maximum of $5,500, which includes my deductible of $2,500.00. On top of that, the company I work for will reimburse a major portion of that deductible ($2,000.00); so, in reality, my expenses will only be about $3,000.00 = FOR EVERYTHING!

Maybe I can afford that new car after all…?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Meaning of Flowers

January -- Carnations; represent pride, beauty, admiration and gratitude.

February -- Iris; the three upright petals symbolize faith, valor and wisdom.

March -- Daffodil; symbolizes rebirth and new beginnings.

April -- Daisy; joy and playfulness is associated with this bloom.

May -- Lily; symbolizes purity of heart, honor and majesty.

June -- Rose; each color of the rose has a different meaning, but it is often associated with love and beauty.

July -- Delphinium or larkspur; symbolizes an open heart and strong attachment.

August -- Gladiola; a symbol associated with strength and moral integrity.

September -- Aster; a symbol of elegance and an amulet for love.

October -- Marigold; associated with affection and grace.

November -- Chrysanthemum; signifies optimism and happiness.

December -- the poinsettia; symbolizes good cheer and happiness.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Put These on Your List

The following is a list of books you might enjoy – if you haven’t already read them, that is.

Lost in the Jungle
     By Yossi Ghinsberg

King Leopold’s Ghost
     By Adam Hochschild

The Firecracker Boys
     By Dan O’Neil

The Children’s Blizzard
     By David Laskin

Ada Blackjack
     By Jennifer Niven

The Worst Hard Time
     By Timothy Egan

     By David Von Drehle

The Windows of Heaven
     By Ron Rozelle

My Lobotomy
     By Howard Dully

     By Robert Sullivan

The Mummy Congress
     By Heather Pringle

     By Jeffrey Lockwood

A Sense of the World
     By Jason Roberts

Blood River: a Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart
     By Tim Butcher

How Ironic is That?

I had my appointment with the neurologist yesterday – not exactly how I wanted to spend my birthday, but you take the appointment that’s available or wait months for the next opening. And what an appointment it was, too. I was in there for 4 hours!

The news is pretty much what I expected: I do need surgery. I have two discs that have blown, two vertebrae that have bone spurs, and the entire neck has lost its curvature. The doctor will go in thru a tiny incision in front of my neck, shave off the spurs, repair the discs, graft in bone from a cadaver, and secure the whole thing with a metal brace. The procedure should take no more than 2.5 hours, so if I go in first thing in the morning I might actually be home that evening.

Mother says I will now have to travel with a note from my doctor explaining the metal in my neck!

This whole thing will be quite expensive – again, pretty much what I expected. The doctor’s office gave me a list of expected expenses to be charged; I called my insurance to find out what my coverage would be and then created a spreadsheet in Excel (gosh, I just love that program!) to calculate my portion of the bill.

Wouldn’t you know it: the total was almost EXACTLY what I have in my savings account! Almost to the penny! It’s like somebody knew, and arranged to have it just perfectly so.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Good Things To Come!

Coworker: “So… hypothetically… if somebody were to make you a birthday cake, what would it be?”

Me: “Hypothetically? Hmmm… Probably an angel food cake with fresh strawberries.”

Coworker: “Oooo! With whipped cream on top?”

Me: “Yeah!”

Friday, May 04, 2012

Something to Look Forward To (NOT)

I’ve been experiencing a great amount of pain lately in my shoulder, to the point where I can barely drive my car anymore (I drive a standard), so made an appointment to see an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Laurence Wickler, who took x-rays and ordered an MRI – two of them, actually; one for my shoulder and one for my neck.

If you have ever had an MRI before you know how awful they are, and having two of them done at the same time just made it exponentially worse. I was in that horrible machine for a very long time: 25 minutes for the shoulder and 45 minutes for the neck. I had taken some Zanex ahead of time so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was still all I could do to hold still and not panic. On top of that, the position I had to be in to get the best picture of my shoulder was extremely painful and left me sore & achy for days afterwards.

The people at the imaging center were very understanding, and made the whole ordeal as bearable as they could – but then somehow managed to send me on my way with only half of the results!

I didn’t know that until I showed up at Dr. Wickler’s office the following week for my follow up appointment. That meant that I had to wait for the imaging center to send a courier over with the rest of my results before I could get a clear picture of what’s going on.

It’s not good, but then I could have told you that before the MRIs. My shoulder has some torn ligaments, but they’re so badly damaged that Dr. Wickler can’t fix them. He can, however, fix the bone spur that is putting pressure on the nerve. We decided that I would come back in sometime in the fall for the procedure, since I don’t want to miss out on all the summer activities (hiking, camping, biking, etc…).

The neck is a whole other deal, and Dr. Wickler was very quick to point out that he does not “do” necks. He recommended me to a neurosurgeon, Dr. Krolik, for a more detailed examination of the problems – but stated that in his opinion that my neck is in far worse shape than my shoulder is.

As you may know from previous postings, I had a bad fall when I was a child which injured my head/neck rather severely. The MRI taken just last week shows considerable damage that is just getting worse by the day. More than likely I will need surgery on that as well.

So now I am just waiting for Dr. Krolik’s office to let me know when my appointment is, and am making a mental list of all the things I’ll need to do to prepare for the recovery period.
     1. get computers set up for left-handed operation
     2. get preapproval from insurance company
     3. get information on renting an automatic car for the duration
     4. make arrangements to have Mother come take care of me for the first few days
     5. ensure an adequate supply of chocolate and tea will be on hand

Monday, April 23, 2012

Very Cool

I helped unload the truck the other day after going shopping at the pet store. At one point, I called to him and said, “Want to see something cool?”

He walked over, saying “What’s cool?”

I pointed at the bag of dog food. “Pick that up for a second.”

He complied with a question on his face, so I explained “That’s how much weight I’ve lost!”

It was a 40 pound bag of food, and that was indeed exactly how much weight I’ve lost.

“Isn’t that cool?!” I said.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Earthwatch: Amazon Riverboat Exploration

At long last, I finally got my write-up finished. In my defense, there was a lot to do right away after I got home.

First I had to get all 975+ photos loaded up onto a site where I could then share them with all the other volunteers. This was harder than it sounds – well, okay… not hard exactly, but it sure took a lot of time. I started one evening when I got home from work – and didn’t get finished till well into the following afternoon! I loaded them all and just left my computer on to chug away at it till it was finished; thankfully it never once locked up or froze or anything!

Then I had about 2 weeks to create a presentation for the Eagle River Nature Center about my trip. This meant that I had to contact Earthwatch’s main office down in Boston to ask them for their most recent presentation template – only to find that I had the most recent one. I felt it should be updated, however, so I combed through all the information they had online and picked out all the pertinent facts to plug in to the appropriate spots in the power-point program I had. Once I got all the general information updated, I then started in on the Amazon trip, tagging on 5 more slides at the end. I’m rather pleased with the results, truth be told. I got some good feedback on it, too.

By this time my brother was chomping at the bits for me to get to work on the travelogue. He is my Webmaster, having created it for me a few years ago as a birthday gift. He works heavy construction, so gets the winters off and was looking for something to occupy his time. Plus, spring was getting on (eventually) and he knew he only had so much free time left. If I didn’t get my part done in time, he wouldn’t be able to get his part done till the following winter!

I don’t know if any of you have ever tried your hand at writing; if you have, perhaps you have the same problem I have. Namely BEGINNING a story. That is the hardest sentence to write! I can sometimes just sit there for days on end with the proverbial blank sheet of paper in front of me, just waiting for that sentence to appear.

Thankfully, a computer is a little bit nicer to an author in that we can now start in the middle of a story and edit things out, rearrange things, go back to the beginning and rewrite things – all of that – so much easier! We no longer have to worry about that first sentence quite as much as before computers.

But, as I said, at long last I finally got the write-up completed. The next step was to go through all 975+ photos and pick out the best ones to complement the story – not an easy task, but it was fun to relive the entire trip over and over again – and then think of something witty and informational to say about each one.

The end result can be viewed here:     Amazon Riverboat Exploration