Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Twins a la Kathie's Memory

The writing class story is not how I remember the origin of The Twins.

Actually,The Twins surfaced on the Marco Polo sailing somewhere off Turkey in 1996. Maybe two women traveling together, young and elegant and blonde, was unusual for those times. Well, blonde in Turkey was ... the only place I’ve had a stranger sit down beside me with a marriage proposal.

We got the question frequently .... first, are you sisters? Then the inevitable, who is older? This last question may be flattering to the older, but what if you’re eight years the younger? Forget that Patty had Anderson Cooper hair and his same gorgeous blue eyes, and that the older sister had the age delaying genetics of brown eyes.

Finally, one late afternoon while we were enjoying the sun at the ship’s pool side cafe the questions came from two young, and as I recall good looking, young men working the bar... and out of Patty’s mouth pops the now infamous “we’re twins”. For a while, the “we’re twins” came out only when the “who’s older” question was asked. Over time, the information came to be offered with the “are you sisters” question. Now, all it takes is some clueless person to look at us as though they are about to ask the question.

Did it begin in writing class as Patty remembers, or sailing in the Mediterranean? I prefer my story... but then an eight years older brain can fill in a memory any way it wants.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Twins

So here’s the story behind our being twins.

One Friday in October of 1995, I flew to San Diego to stay with Kathie for a day or so before our flight to Hawaii to watch the Ironman. The next morning, we attended Kathie’s writing class. (In those days, she dreamed of writing a book. Eleven years later, I can’t even get her to write a post.)

We sat in the back of the crowded classroom. I was wedged between Kathie and one of her classmates, a nice older lady. Kathie introduced me as her sister.

“Which one of you is older?”

“Actually, we’re twins.” It was out of my mouth before I even realized it. “Where did that come from?” I wondered to myself.

“No we’re not,” Kathie hastened to correct me, and went on to explain to the lady that she’s older…or that I’m her baby sister…or something like that.

I whispered to her, “The twins answer was working. Next time, just go with it, hm?”

We’ve been twins ever since.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

An Idea for a New Listerine Flavor

As I read Mother Jones' post about Detective Nurse this morning before work, I found myself wondering what kind of person might "accidentally" wash her hair in organophosphate insecticide. After all, the patient was only fifty years old - not nearly old enough, in my opinion, to miss the garlic scent of her new shampoo.

Then I remembered how, ten years ago when I was still just a sweet young (forties) thing, I had reached into the bathroom cabinet for my mouthwash. Without looking, I took a good swig. Yikes! It was nail polish remover! The bottle wasn't the same size or even the same shape as that of the mouthwash.

The taste stayed in my mouth for hours. Duh.

You know Joan?!?

So we celebrated Christmas at Jessie's house. Michael supervised a wild and crazy kitchenful of cooks preparing our traditional international dinner. This year we chose to have an Italian meal. I rustled up Kathie's Rachael Ray recipe for vegetable not-sagna. It turned out pretty well but didn't look very Italian. Go figure.

Anyway, between slicing, dicing, measuring, and stirring (and sipping on my pomtini), Patrick and I did our best to whup each other's behinds at air hockey. Oh - I almost forgot - we also got in a few rounds of Ruckus, a game at which people with ADD really excel. Between Jessie, Kelly, and me, we had some pretty excellent players!

Then Dan, Karen, and their family arrived. Dan's related somehow to Michael's side of the family and is a really nice guy. I mentioned to him that he would be hard pressed to beat us attention-challenged girls at our card game, but he said, no, he has ADD, too.

"Oh yeah? I've got this blog post you've got to read." And I proceeded to show him Joan's post "Christmas Carols for the Disturbed" (12/22/06). He looked at me, awestruck.

"You know Joan? No kidding, you know Joan? I read her blog all the time!"

Yes, folks, I work with the (in)famous Joan, and am therefore a near celebrity (just one degree removed!).

And Dan? Shh...don't tell anyone, but I read her blog all the time too.

I'm on Gavin's Message Board!

Gavin, one of my British (actually, I think he's English) blogging buddies, has invited me over to his new message board. I registered on his site this evening, and I'm almost as impressed with myself as I am by his web abilities. Come on over and take a look!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas to Remember

My friend PJ sent me the following story. In 1999, it won first prize in the Louisville Sentinel's contest for wildest Christmas dinner stories. On the day after Christmas, it seems like appropriate material for a post. (Sorry, Kath - you might want to skip this one.)

Christmas with Louise
As a joke, my brother used to hang a pair of panty hose over his fireplace before Christmas. He said all he wanted was for Santa to fill them. What they say about Santa checking the list twice must be true because every Christmas morning, although Jay's kids' stockings overflowed, his poor pantyhose hung sadly empty.

One year I decided to make his dream come true. I put on sunglasses and went in search of an inflatable love doll. They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore downtown. If you've never been in an X-rated store, don't go. You'll only confuse yourself. I was there an hour saying things like, "What does this do? You're kidding me! Who would buy that?"

Finally, I made it to the inflatable doll section. I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane during rush hour. Finding what I wanted was difficult. Love dolls come in many different models. The top of the line, according to the side of the box, could do things I'd only seen in a book on animal husbandry. I settled for Lovable Louise. She was at the bottom of the price scale.

To call Louise a doll took a huge leap of imagination.

On Christmas Eve and with the help of an old bicycle pump, Louise came to life. My sister-in-law was in on the plan and let me in during the wee morning hours. Long after Santa had come and gone, I filled the dangling pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank what remained of a glass of milk on a nearby tray. I went home, and giggled for a couple of hours.

The next morning my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house and left a present that had made him VERY happy but had left the dog confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more.

We all agreed that Louise should remain in her panty hose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner. My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door.

"What the hell is that?" she asked.

My brother quickly explained, "It's a doll."

"Who would play with something like that?" Granny snapped.

I had several candidates in mind, but kept my mouth shut.

"Where are her clothes?" Granny continued.

"Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran," Jay said, trying to steer her into the dining room.

But Granny was relentless. "Why doesn't she have any teeth?"

Again, I could have answered, but why would I? It was Christmas and no one wanted to ride in the back of the ambulance saying, "Hang on, Granny, hang on!"

My grandfather, a delightful old man with poor eyesight, sidled up to me and said, "Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?"

I told him she was Jay's friend. A few minutes later I noticed Grandpa by the mantel, talking to Louise. Not just talking, but actually flirting. It was then that we realized Grandpa might need a new eyeglasses prescription.

The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who was dying, and who should be killed, when suddenly Louise made a noise like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the panty hose, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa.

The cat screamed.

I passed cranberry sauce through my nose.

Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

My brother fell back over his chair and wet his pants.

Granny threw down her napkin, stomped out of the room, and went to sit in the car.

Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh. Fortunately, thanks to a wonder drug called duct tape, we restored her to perfect health!

It was surely a Christmas to remember.

Well, that's one family's story. Thanks for the chuckle, PJ.

I hope everyone's Christmas was as memorable as Louise's.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Pet Peeve #23 Revisited

This morning, I had less than an hour to get my last minute Christmas errands run before I had to clock in at Lowe's. And I also wanted to talk with Kathie, who had told me previously that she wouldn't be answering the phone on Christmas morning. Kind of a long story. You don't want to hear it.

Anyway, I thought I'd better multitask if I was going to get everything done, but in order to do that I was going to break one of my own rules - "Don't talk on the cell phone when you're checking out at the cash register!" Of course, the clerks were totally unimpressed by my lack of manners, so today when my Lowe's customers "multitasked", I just smiled.

I guess a little tolerance goes a long way...especially on Christmas Eve.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Sunday at Lowes

An elderly gentleman approaches me, pushing a shopping cart. “I need someone to cut some blinds for me.”

“What aisle will you be on, sir?”


“I’ll get someone right over to you.”

Later, he approaches my cash register, newly cut blinds in his cart and his wife in tow.

“You fixed me up with the right person.”

“Glad I could be of help.”

“Your kindness is surpassed only by your beauty.”

His wife, the lady customer behind him, and I all grin.


“Your change is twenty five dollars, sir.”

“Uh, Ma’am?”


“You gave me one too many twenties.”

Thank Jesus for honest customers.


A man with a bit of a ‘tude bellies up to the counter, all dressed in his Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes – medium gray suit, red violet shirt, and a red and green Christmas tie. The combination catches my eye.

“Nice tie.”

“Thank you.”

I can be evil sometimes.


Closing time and my dogs are beat. As I amble toward the back of the store to deliver the trash to the dumpster area, I notice all the smells that distinguish the different departments, such as the mothball-y and toxic odors of the fertilizer area and the new carpet smell of Flooring. I am warned to watch my step by the beep-beep-beeping of forklifts rolling up and down the aisles trying to finish their restocking.

Ordinarily, the far back corner behind Plumbing is a beehive of activity after closing; this is the time when new merchandise comes into the store on a conveyor line and is distributed by the after hours crew. Tonight, though, the area’s semi-dark and quiet. When I open the hatch to throw in the bags of trash, a cool breeze of pine scented air refreshes me. Inside are the remains of a discarded Christmas tree, or perhaps just the sawed off branches from all those trees that were sold earlier in the day. It makes me sad, but I welcome the lovely smell.

It’s been a pretty good day.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The One with the Healthy Heart

This morning I received a call from my grandson, Patrick, who was on his way home from his six-month check-up with the cardiologist.


"Yes, my Man?"

"The doctoh say my heart ok!"

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Pet Peeve #23

Why do people continue talking on their cell phones when they pull up to the cash register at the store? Are they just so busy that they can't fit their phone calls into non-cash register time? Makes me crazy...

And while I'm ranting, I may as well complain about people who pass me by without an acknowledgement of my existence. I've taken to saying "Hi" or "G'morning" to everyone I pass - whether or not they look at me - if for no other reason than to just irritate them. Amazing how many will even smile and return the greeting. "Now, was that so hard?" I want to say.

I must be getting old.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Silver Medal

As I mentioned before, my friend Joan has a great blog. She calls it "Walk This Way". Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s noticed her talent. The other day, she told me she had won second place in the Canadian Blog Awards photo/art category. (I didn’t even know she’s Canadian!)

Congrats, Joan! I want to be just like you when I grow up! :)

Phish Story

Yesterday after lunch, I ran into my friend Beth in the hospital lobby. She had just walked in the front door. The bewildered look on her face caused me to ask her what was wrong.

“I just had to put my mail in the mailbox.”


“I haven’t used the mail for a long time. I haven’t even bought stamps in over a year.”

Another pause.

“I’ve been paying my bills online, but the day after Thanksgiving, Wachovia called and asked if I knew these four people who had tried to access my account. I didn’t, so we agreed that I should close my account immediately. I’m never banking online again!” (It took me another minute of her talking to realize that she meant she had decided to not pay her bills online anymore.)

It turns out that she had received an e-mail message from Wachovia – or so it had appeared. She said it looked really authentic. Just by Beth’s clicking the message open, the sender(s) had accessed her password. Fortunately, when the scumbag attempted to charge $3,000 worth of stuff, Wachovia called her. Way to go, Wachovia!

I like the old fashioned kind of fish story a lot better.

Alter Ego

I have an alter ego. Not everyone knows what it is. See if you can guess.

Since October, I have worked a part-time job - on Wednesday evenings and weekend days. (I won’t bore you with the reasoning behind my working seven days a week.) My hands get really dirty and by the end of a shift my legs and feet are very tired, but it’s actually pretty fun because I meet all kinds of people.

OK, I’ll tell you the place of business is a retail big-box kind of store. I myself have shopped there for years; my son-in-law especially loves it when I give him their gift cards for Christmas.

One last hint? It’s located right across the street from the hospital where I work full time.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m no good at playing games/keeping secrets. I work at Lowe’s in West Ashley. Come by and see me!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Links

I've finally found some local friends who actually blog. Both are my co-workers at the hospital and very cool people. Joan is a talented photographer and a major networker. She's sent our blog to Lowcountry Blogs, a blogroll affiliated with the Charleston Post & Courier. Hey Kath - we're on a blogroll! Start writing, Girl!

Anyway, Joan's blog is a hoot! And Gene is just one of my favorite people - such a sweetie pie and a real inspiration. If you don't believe me, click here.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Miracles Do Happen

I have just done something so goofy - one of those things that remind most of us on a daily basis how lucky we are.

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, so this evening I had planned to just sit here at my computer and mess around, read blogs, balance my checkbook, do some lessons in an online class I’m taking, and maybe write a post of my own.

About half an hour ago, I realized it was getting late and I’d better get some dinner so that whatever I eat won’t go to fat after I hit the sack (as if that’s going to help). I went downstairs, still thinking about a post I’d like to write, and put a pot of water on the stove for cooking spaghetti. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed on the counter the Tupperware wannabe in which I keep my hearing aid dryer thingy. (Yes, I’m partially deaf. Perhaps I’ll write a post about it some day when someone develops a procedure to fix my brand of deafness, because I will be having that procedure done. To be able to hear normally again, I would be happy to pay my share of that surgeon’s wife’s - or husband’s - upkeep!)

Anyway, the dryer thingy is almost as annoying as the hearing aid and the deafness put together, because it won’t work if it isn’t baked for 30 minutes once a week. So I had put it on the counter this morning, thinking I would bake it this evening. And bake it I did.

I put that little sucker in the toaster oven, turned the dial to 350 degrees, set the timer to 30 minutes, and went outside to pull the Miata into the garage. But by now my mind was reeling with the mental image of the gigantic spider I’d just killed in the living room in an effort to keep Sammy from yet another vet visit. (What is it with that cat? This spring, he took one too many swings at a snake out in the woods. Maybe he was just sizing Aragog up for a saddle?)

A fuzzy image of a not so fuzzy but at least dead Aragog

Oh yeah, I wanted some garlic bread to go with my spaghetti. Retrieving the garlic bread from the freezer (see Kathie’s post about my cooking capabilities), I opened the toaster oven door to take out the dryer thingy and put the bread in its place. “Wait a minute, that doesn’t look like the dryer thingy,” I thought to myself.

Dryer thingy a la Tupperware wannabe

No kidding. It was the dryer thingy with the Tupperware wannabe melted around it and down onto the bottom of the toaster oven! Five more minutes and the whole thing would have gone up in flames!

See what I mean about miracles?

P.S. This episode was almost as good as the time the kids and I evacuated the house and called the Mt. Pleasant fire department at 11 pm because we smelled smoke. The firemen looked at me a little funny when they opened the dishwasher door and found a Tupperware wannabe melted to the heating element on the bottom. Guess I should quit buying Tupperware wannabes.

On the Inca Trail

Incachiriasca Pass, 16,000'

Kathie's been in South America for a while. I've missed her. She came back yesterday, and sent me this photo. Hope there's a story to go with it!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Taking Wing

Today was Diane's last day at the hospital where I work. She's off to head the open heart unit at Duke - hooray!!! It's a huge step into the big league for her. She so deserves it and I am proud of her (not that I had anything to do with it, mind you!). But I, along with her co-workers upstairs, am going to miss her bouncy, sweet, and smart, smart presence big time. Sniffle, sniffle...

Have fun, Diane, and keep in touch!

North Chuck Follies

I knew there was a reason I didn't want to live in North Charleston.

9/24/06 P.S. Sorry, the article this links to has been removed from the Charleston Post and Courier site. The article included a video from a police camera unmistakably showing North Charleston ombudsman James Bell keying the rear door of a North Charleston councilman's SUV. You just gotta love the South Carolina Lowcountry!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Up To My Ears In Catalogs

I think I will never again order merchandise over the phone or Internet.

From late 2004 until April of this year, I was able to wear scrubs to work. How wonderful! No dry cleaning bills, no pantyhose, no high heels, no tight waistbands...I could go on forever! But then my manager/friend, Diane, recommended me for another position - which was offered to me and I subsequently accepted with very mixed feelings. I would make more money (yippee!) but I would have to give up my scrubs (wah!).

So I searched through my closet for clothes that still fit me and would be suitable for an office environment. :-( Finding just a few outfits that fit both criteria (when am I going to land a job that pays $150k with a jeans-only dress code?), I decided to go online and buy some clothes from TravelSmith. What a mistake! I sent back most of what I ordered because it: a) didn't fit, b) was the wrong color, or c) looked like hell on me.

I'm just sure that TravelSmith has lovely clothes - for someone. If not, how can they afford to take all that merchandise back and pay for the shipping as well?

How else can they afford to send out all of these wretched catalogs I've been getting for the last five months? And not only have I been receiving TravelSmith catalogs, but also catalogs from companies that I've never heard of in my life. I've just spent the last forty five minutes on the phone with ten different companies who thought they had hit the mother lode when TravelSmith sold them my information. Ha! I've foiled them! I've given them strict instructions to remove my name from their mailing lists, and forbidden them from selling my information to any other companies.

Now, if only I could figure out how to remove my name from the lists of the companies to which they've already sold my information before that next batch of catalogs arrives...

Monday, September 04, 2006

This One's for Jessie

Rachel Ray makes this in 30 minutes, chopping and all, but if you aren’t Rachel Ray, use a helper for chopping!

Stovetop Vegetable Lasagna

1 lb curly pasta (campanelle or cavatappi by Barilla)
1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium zucchini, halve lengthwise, then thinly slice into half moons
12 cremini or baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 roasted red pepper, drained, pat dry, quarter lengthwise, then thinly slice
2 Tbsp butter
2 rounded Tbsp flour
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. grated fresh nutmeg, eyeball it
1 1.2 cups part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus some to pass at the table
1 cup fresh basil leaves, about 20 leaves

Boil pasta to al dente; reserve a ladle of hot cooking water before you drain pasta.

Microwave spinach, wring out in kitchen towel.

In deep skillet with 2 tbsp. olive oil, cook zucchini and mushrooms for 2-3 minutes
Add onions and garlic to pan. Season all with salt and pepper.

When onions tender in about 5 minutes, add defrosted spinach and roasted red peppers.
Don’t overcook the veggies.
Transfer veggies to a dish, return skillet to stove.

Add remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil and butter.
When butter melts, add flour and cook a minute or so, then whisk in stock and milk.
Thicken the sauce for 2-3 minutes, season with salt pepper and nutmeg.
Slide vegetables back into sauce.

Place ricotta in large shallow bowl and add the ladle of starchy pasta water.
Stir, then add couple handfuls of grated cheese.

Drain pasta and toss with cheeses.

Add 1/2 the vegetables and sauce to pasta and toss.
Tear or shred basil and toss into pasta.
Adjust seasonings. Top bowlfuls of lasagna with remaining veggies in sauce and pass extra grated cheese at table.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Friendly Torture

Anyone who’s ever had physical therapy for a shoulder injury will feel a sense of déjà vu when they read what I am about to write.

I don’t wear my Danskos any more. They’re – sorry, Kath – butt-ugly and not even all that comfortable. In fact, for me they’re downright dangerous. Once, I twisted my ankle playing kickball out in the cul-de-sac with the grands (I know, operator error – no, make that absolute stupidity). The last time I wore them was just before last Christmas, when I slid down a couple of steps at a fashionable hotel in downtown Charleston, attempted to catch myself by grasping onto the polished brass handrail, and landed on my knee. I couldn’t tell which pain was the worst - my pulverized knee, my overflexed ankle, or my bruised ego.

It turns out that all of those were only temporary. My shoulder, however, was not so lucky. After that fateful day, my right shoulder grew alarmingly more painful. When I finally realized my shoulder was not going to heal on its on (but why not? I’ve always healed on my own before!), I tried Aleve and physical therapy – the Aleve had no effect and the physical therapy just about killed me. When I asked her for a little stronger pain med, my internist referred me to an orthopedist.

Having worked in healthcare for some time now, I know there are progressively more aggressive steps that a physician must take before arriving at the decision to operate on a patient. So I wasn’t surprised when the ortho guy stuck a screwdriver-sized needle filled with cortisone into my shoulder joint. Unbelievably, the shot didn’t hurt nearly as much as I expected, and the long-standing pain in my shoulder went away.

For a week, that is. While we were together in Alaska, the pain was pretty bad but Kathie warned me big time against shoulder surgery. On my return to Charleston, then, I tried acupuncture by a chiropractor, who only seemed to be interested in my bra size. The pain getting worse by the day and my shoulder starting to freeze up, I gave in and visited the orthopedist - who agreed it was time for surgery.

Tomorrow morning, it will be four weeks since my arthroscopy, which was done at an outpatient surgery center. The surgeon reattached the avulsed labrum to my glenoid using a scope and tools inserted into four small holes through my flesh, and he removed a lot of scar tissue (the freeze-up factor). Three and a half hours after start of surgery, daughter Jessie drove me home – loaded up with post-op instructions and prescriptions for Lortab and four weeks of physical therapy.

That very afternoon, I visited the physical therapist, Barbara*, who had treated me before. Thanks to the nerve block that caused my entire upper right quarter to feel as if it belonged to a marionette, Babs was able to manipulate my arm and shoulder like a Gumby’s. All the while, she chatted about schools and kids with Jessie. I listened to their chatter, happy as a clam, as my rubber band arm was stretched and folded every which way. After about forty five minutes, we scheduled a return visit for the next afternoon and left for home.

The next visit was much different. The nerve block had worn off and my shoulder had started to freeze up again. Daughter Kelly had driven me this time, and the two girls chatted about their mutual alma mater while Babs proceeded to attempt snapping my arm off at the shoulder. Of course, she let up if she noticed a sharp intake of air on my part, but this time I left the gym with a fierce resolve to avoid at all costs experiencing that kind of agony again.

So for the following two days, I lay on the floor in my bedroom and constantly stretched my shoulder and arm in every direction and as far as I could. The pain med helped a lot and I thought I made a lot of progress. Babs thought so too at my next appointment, but proceeded to torture me shamelessly anyway – all the while yakking merrily with Kelly.

After four weeks of hearing about Babs’ children, their school, their homework, her husband, her husband’s business, her family, her in-laws, her in-laws' farm, her intra-family Clemson-USC rivalry, and every recipe she’s ever tried in minute detail (seriously, I can tell you that she uses a third of a cup of sugar in her peach cobbler – or was that in her chocolate chip cookies?), I finished my course of therapy two days ago. Babs and I agreed that I would give her a ring if my shoulder started to freeze up again.

I have not stopped stretching since. Anyone need a used pair of Danskos?

* name changed to protect the not-so-innocent

When Food is More than Food

What does it mean that Patty sees me as an adventurous cook? Could it have to do with my being a mountain climber? Or does it come from the state of Patty’s Charleston kitchen, a hodge podge of what’s been given to her or something she needed to buy for the moment. Patty was not an adventurous taster while she was growing up. How does a child get to adulthood eating only peanut butter and macaroni? What did she want me to cook on her first day home after brain surgery? Mashed potatoes! Perhaps the reason I feel a compulsion to cook when I visit Patty on the Charleston side of the country is this -- it’s what our family used to do in the 40s and 50s before families scattered around the country, a time when we gathered for a whole day.

Ray and Kathie on the farm in 1946

Ray, another near twin, and I would both say our first food memories started with Becky, our baby sitter and a wizen, eccentric, story telling woman who stayed at our farmhouse during the week when we were 5-6 years old. Postwar Kentucky was a depressed area and our father had gone to Ohio for work. Mother was teaching in a one room school house, and Becky filled in taking care of us kids. I mentioned Becky to The Mother tonight and her first words were “Do you remember how she would pour the bacon grease in her plate and sop it up with a biscuit?” Followed, of course, by smoking a hand rolled cigarette. Until electricity came to the farm, meals were cooked on an oil burning stove and ice blocks delivered from town chilled the ice box. We had a smoke house as well as a cold cellar dug into the hillside to keep the canned goods over the winter, a cow, pigs, chickens, and a walnut tree behind the barn. Ray and I would sit under that tree with our hammer, cracking open the walnuts, unaware we were in the middle of a planting of Jimson weed -- a hallucinogenic plant -- grown for sale to pharmaceutical companies. We let the adults have the fried frog legs from the back pond, and it wasn't easy to eat our chicken friends beheaded for dinner.

Grace, the maternal grandmother, lived over the hill on the outskirts of Vanceburg, Kentucky, an Ohio River town. She cooked until she died in 1968 on a wood burning stove - baked and everything without temperature regulation, low, medium, high, or anything. I can still smell the toast from the oven. I remember Aunt Eloise for her chicken and magical lemonade. Aunt Thelma - her two inch high biscuits. But best about our family gatherings was the cousin pack -- Gary, Pruet, George, Kathleen, Georgie, Tootsie, Alan, Shirley Ann, Doris, and LeeAnn. In those pre-television days we played, swung on the front porch, caught lightning bugs, gathered around for stories from Jacob, our Appalachian storytelling grandfather, and checked out Uncle George’s pornography magazines and short wave radio.

Alice, the other grandmother, had no signature dish, but I recall one Thanksgiving at Alice’s house in the late ‘40s our father was excited about having lobster! Lobster in Kentucky, how did they do that? A strange Thanksgiving food, unless you take into account that side of the family had all immigrated from New England.

We had many years of family gatherings in Kentucky, but our father never found the steady work he’d had during the war at Pratt and Whitney in Hartford, so he moved us to Ohio where our only family was Aunt Jeanette, Uncle George -- and three cousins! More cousins! We still had family gatherings, time to play with cousins, but the food was not memorable. Neither Mother nor Jeanette were exceptional cooks but in about two years grandparents Alice and Raymond moved to our village, and we had gatherings for another 2-3 years until Raymond suddenly died. From then, the gatherings were no more and the family began to scatter. The cousins have lost touch. Grace’s turn of the century house was demolished to make way for a freeway. Alice’s elegant home on the Ohio River has become run down.

Our feasts have moved to San Diego and Charleston where the real chef of the family is Michael, Jessie’s husband. If you can’t get to Charleston, call him and he will give you an entire menu including directions on how to cook everything.

As for me, cooking is like being back in the chemistry lab except I can get out a beer and put some music on the Bose. With some family coming, it’s like those days more than a half century ago.

Monday, August 28, 2006

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair

According to Al Gore and a lot of really smart people, we have just ten years to make the changes required for us to turn global warming around. If we don’t, our world is going to change drastically – not within a hundred or thousand years, but within our lifetime.

The Saturday after returning from Alaska, I went to see the movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”, as I had promised Kathie. Essentially, the movie consists of snippets from Al Gore’s lectures about global warming with some scenes from his life and personal anecdotes thrown in here and there. I won’t critique the movie or Gore’s motivation, but I think he presents the information in an understandable format, and it’s downright alarming. The following quotes from the related website provide the gist of it.

The situation: “The vast majority of scientists agree that global warming is real, it’s already happening and that it is the result of our activities and not a natural occurrence. The evidence is overwhelming and undeniable. We have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced. ”

The cause: “Carbon dioxide and other gases warm the surface of the planet naturally by trapping solar heat in the atmosphere. This is a good thing because it keeps our planet habitable. However, by burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil and clearing forests we have dramatically increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere and temperatures are rising."

The effects:
“The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has almost doubled in the last 30 years.

Malaria has spread to higher altitudes in places like the Colombian Andes, 7,000 feet above sea level.

The flow of ice from glaciers in Greenland has more than doubled over the past decade.

At least 279 species of plants and animals are already responding to global warming, moving closer to the poles.

The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2050.

More than a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by 2050.”

The website includes six pages of things that we as individuals can do to lessen our contribution to global warming, and two pages of ways to take action. I’ve started on my list. It’s not going to be easy.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And Another Expert Weighs In

From Jim Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University’s Earth Institute:

“Glacier and polar ice store more water than all the world’s lakes, rivers, and the atmosphere combined, and if the world’s ice caps melted completely, sea levels would rise enough to flood much of the Earth and more than half of the world’s cities.”

“Our children, grandchildren, and many more generations will bear the consequences of choices that we make in the next few years.”

And It’s Not Just Greenland’s Glaciers…

Three weeks ago, Doug Struck of The Washington Post wrote about other glaciers that are shrinking because of global warming.

  • Quelccaya Glacier, the largest in the Andes Mountains, provides water to Cuzco, Peru (which Kathie and I visited in 2000 when we hiked the Inca Trail). The Quelccaya glacier has shrunk by thirty percent since 1974. As a result, farming in the area is threatened and water is already being rationed to Cuzco’s residents.
  • Other glaciers throughout the Andes are shrinking as well, putting the water supply for Lima (eight million residents) and Bolivia at risk.
  • The glaciers of the Himalayan Mountains provide water to India and Nepal. “Drastic” water shortages are looming for people living in those countries and China.
  • Experts estimate that the snows on Mount Kilimanjaro will be gone altogether in fourteen years.
Back to my thoughts about moving to higher ground - I wonder if a mountain property would be safe.

Most Wanted

Name: Bopeep
Age: About 9 years
Color: Brown/grey tabby
Gender: None
Weight: A svelte 10 pounds

Although missing her front claws, the suspect shown above is armed with stinky breath and very sharp teeth and therefore considered extremely dangerous. She is wanted for using my $1,800 leather sofa as a litter box. Last seen licking an off-smelling liquid from her paws, she was in the company of the suspect pictured below. He is wanted for sharpening his claws on the back of said sofa.

Name: Frogger
Age: 4 years
Color: White/Siamese mix
Gender: None
Weight: A whopping 19 pounds

When caught, she will be permanently diapered; he will be fitted with bright pink kitty mittens.

I Don't Cook

Playing around just now with our template, I added some links to blogs that I've noticed. Just so no one gets the wrong idea, the cooking blogs were added for Kathie's enjoyment - not mine. I have never been a good cook and don't intend at this late date to become one. Kathie, on the other hand, is an adventurous cook whose creations are always quite tasty. Maybe she'll find a recipe here to cook up for me!

Inertia II

Speaking of inertia, I’ve just been reading that meltwater is lubricating the bedrock beneath Greenland’s glaciers, causing them to slide toward the sea at a faster rate than before. In the last 15 years, the average winter temperature there has risen almost 10 degrees, and the two-mile thick ice sheet is melting twice as fast as it was in 2001 – faster than climate models predicted. If Greenland's ice cap thaws entirely, sea levels could rise by over 20 feet.

Maybe I'd better start thinking about moving to higher ground.

Scary stuff. So yeah, now I’m into glaciers and global warming big time. Kathie would probably say I’m obsessed with it. My next few posts will probably be about glaciers and global warming. Hopefully, she will interject some more personal (and interesting?) posts along the way. :-)

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Other than a few good days here and there, I’ve felt a little under the weather since my shoulder surgery a few weeks ago. It’s not that my shoulder isn’t getting better, but rather that I’m just tired and out of breath a lot. I hear it’s not unusual to feel like this after having general anesthesia, and I am getting older - or so my children constantly tell me. :-) Yes, Kathie, I have been to my internist who concurred with the post-anesthesia “yuckies” diagnosis. (Obviously, that last was in Pat-speak.)

In the meantime, I seem to have lost my blogging inertia. Oh, I’ve been reading other people’s blogs a lot, especially some written by a group of friends in England. (I especially enjoy this one.) I feel a bit like a voyeur reading these guys’ posts about their lives and their opinions about what’s going on around them, but fortunately they haven’t told me to butt out – yet. I find that they write well and with astuteness, and the comments they write back and forth, teasing and supporting each other, are genuine and clever. And I guess I’m just starved for intelligence from beyond Charleston...

I have to get back to my own writing, however. Sometimes, just making a simple decision reboots my motivation. So today I decided to drop the “My Friends and Family” blog. It was a nice idea, but for the most part my friends and family are just not interested in blogging. I did want to preserve the following post, though, written by my sweet and brilliant daughter, Jessie.

On July 11th, she wrote:

The Job.
I work in the NNICU: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I've only been here for 2 years. I was hired straight out of nursing school. So this is all I know. And I'm slowly starting to wonder what am I doing? Why am I participating in prolonging agony for my babies and their families?!?! What does God have planned for me? I became very close to two families in particular. And each case ended in a funeral. Our dark outcomes outweigh our miracles. We have NNICU reunions to celebrate these miracle babies. But what about the ones that don't make it...or rather we save and then they don't make it. They were never supposed to be here in the first place. My job has become just that - a job. I don't want to save them...I want them to go home to the angels.

No sooner had I tidied up my eye makeup after reading Jessie’s post than the following comment from Kathie appeared:

Hanging on my wall for the last twenty years is a photograph of a pigtailed girl wearing her AK's oversized white tee shirt. She is sitting on the ground of my garden, watering a young tomato plant with a watering can almost as big as she. The expression on her face is total concentration and devotion to that plant.

Well, that plant's days were numbered but the care it received that day made its life more bearable and it knew it was being taken care of by someone with a lot of love and devotion.

I am so proud that little girl has grown up into a fine young woman who gives her love, devotion and energy to these babies. Some will make it, some won't, and some will have challenges in life, but all will have had the honor to receive care from an extraordinary person.

Sorry, I’ve got to go now and find another box of tissues.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

And Finally, An Inconvenient Truth

When we get together, whether in person or on the phone, Kathie brings me up to speed on current events as she understands them. This is always a good thing because I don’t read newspapers; therefore the only “news” I get is from the Charleston TV stations and the Today Show. This visit, when she wasn’t gushing over her latest boyfriend, Anderson Cooper on CNN, Kathie was filling me in on Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”. On Friday morning we got an up close and personal view of the Hubbard Glacier, and at last I understood what she’d been going on about.

At the entrance to Yukatat Bay, we picked up a pilot as well as a Tlingit storyteller, the storyteller’s daughter, and his niece. As the ship cruised into the bay, the locals provided details and anecdotes over the speaker system about the area. At least, I think they did. Being partially deaf, I couldn’t tell you what they talked about. Besides, I was too busy being overwhelmed by the magnitude (six miles wide with a face that rises the length of a football field above the water) and cold blue beauty of the approaching glacier…and jostling with the other passengers for a good photo-snapping spot.

And snap photos we did. Every time we heard what sounded like thunder, real quick we whipped around to catch a shot of the ice calving off the cliff and tumbling into the water below. The crowd oohed and ahhed. Click, click, click went all the cameras. This was an amazing sight that everyone should see. Or should we? Was this much calving normal? Or was it, as we suspected, the result of global warming? I promised Kathie I would see Gore’s movie when I got back to Charleston.

We lounged around the rest of the day and I updated one of Kathie’s necklaces. Seeing the new version on her, you would never guess that necklace was thirty years old! After pasta bar for dinner (what can I say? I love pasta!), we enjoyed the clear sunny night while we walked seventeen laps around the top deck. The goal was twenty, but I whined so much that Kathie had to give in to save her hearing.

Next morning, we sadly said good-bye to our cabin and crew, disembarked in Seward, and boarded a coach for Anchorage. Our driver chatted and pointed out wildlife along the highway through the Kenai Peninsula. At the Alaska Conservation Center, we saw bison, mooses (meese?),

porcupines, and bears. Rescued along a roadside, baby moose Honeymoon was only a few weeks old and looked very sweet as she lay curled up against the fence, sleeping contentedly. Across the drive, however, the caribou (we know them here as Santa’s sleigh pullers) were having a little difficulty sleeping on their curlers.

As we pulled into Anchorage where we would board a flight back to Vancouver, we could see Denali in the distance. I think that’s one mountain Kathie won’t be climbing.

After spending the night in Vancouver, Kathie and I bid each other a tearful adieu the next morning and went off our separate ways into the wild blue yonder…back to reality where we would cross off yet another dreamy destination from our “to do” list. Thanks for a g-r-e-a-t time, Kath!

More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones....*

"I eat alone now,” she said.

“How did this happen?” I asked.

“I don’t have any friends there.”

Anna is 81 years old now, with a frail body about the same number of pounds as her age, housing a still-sharp brain. Her body, though, has not aged well. She manages to deny the involuntary clacking of her implanted teeth and slow shuffle brought on by Parkinsonism, and talks of the walks she takes to the park near her facility.

“I’ve hiked all over the world,” she proudly told me a year ago when she came as a new patient. She listed the places she and her companion, Paul, had gone in recent years, mostly in the southwestern United States.

Anna grew up an only child in Estonia, a small northern European country bordering Russia, Latvia, and the Baltic Sea. She was orphaned at age 14 when her parents were murdered by the Russians -- mentally I calculated this was about 1938 and made a note to check the Estonian politics of this era. She finished medical school in Germany and immigrated to Canada for training in anesthesiology, practicing for most of her career in Detroit.

I wanted to ask other questions. Were her parents political dissidents? How was she able to go to medical school after being orphaned? What was her life during World War II in northern Europe? Why medical school? Why did she immigrate? I knew she married in Estonia at age 18, but how did it come about that a young, married Estonian woman ended up in medical school in World War II Germany?

She had other concerns at this first appointment, though, and she was not one to look back or look for blame. Several weeks earlier she had a serious suicide attempt and was found unconscious in her room at her retirement community from an overdose of sleeping medication in spite of several months of treatment with antidepressant medication from another physician. She offered little explanation for her attempt other than “I can’t live the way I used to live.”

Anna married and divorced her first husband twice. Her next husband died after a three year marriage while she was on a Fulbright scholarship in Finland. None of these marriages produced children, and like most women in medicine in those years she continued to work as the main focus of her life. I tried to picture what these early years were like for a young woman with no family, holding her own in a politically chaotic world, trying to finish medical training, losing relationships. At that first visit, though, Anna was more focused on her current problem, Paul.

Anna and Paul, close companions now for 17 years, came to San Diego together in 1995 and two years ago moved into a retirement community. I tried to get information on the nature of the relationship, but Anna was not forthcoming, saying only he was a companion. They had separate rooms at the retirement home. “He’s driving me nuts,” she said, and she was wondering whether to end the relationship.

Paul was developing Alzheimer’s dementia and his deteriorating memory was a significant factor in Anna’s unsuccessful suicide attempt. Over the next several months, Anna complained about Paul’s dependency on her (“What should I do about Paul?”) and finally, in some way, the relationship ended. Whether by repeated avoidance or by Paul’s transfer to the “Care Unit” in April was unclear.

“He might end up on the Memory Unit,” she said, referring to the locked unit for dementia residents in their retirement facility. “I didn’t realize how much I relied on him. I miss him.”

We talked about visiting Paul and whether he would still recognize her.

“When do you want to come back?” I asked.

“How about two weeks?”

“You’ve got it,” I answered, even though patients considered stable on their medications would be scheduled at 4 months.

* Truman Capote’s inscription in his last unfinished novel.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

But Kath, Where Are Mickey and Minnie?

Thursday morning we tendered over to Hoonah, a “private island experience” on Chichagof Island in Icy Strait Point. Other than tourists, there were no real people in this mini-Disney Land. There was a slick-looking cannery museum (I guess it was a cannery at one time),

a couple of seaside restaurants with different names but serving the same menu at Disney-esque prices, a shoreside to forest trail – again very tidy-looking, and a place to get a Disney-ish photo of our ship.

(Only one ship is allowed to visit each day, so they must feel pretty safe hanging just the one ship’s sign up there.)

So, if you’re going to Hoonah, my advice would be to skip the Disney experience altogether and go on a bear watching tour instead. Or just don’t get off the ship at all!

Back on ship, I dodged the formal evening in the dining room, enjoyed pasta from the pasta bar in my jeans and sneakers instead, read my books and watched for bald eagles and orcas on our way back out Icy Strait. Kathie was a good girl and went to dine with the lovely people, because she just had to see that baked Alaska. Here's a photograph of our waitress, Russell, and the baked Alaska. (That's the infamous Bob on the right.)

After dinner, Kathie and I reunited on the top deck to walk our hearts out. As we came back into the open ocean, we saw a lighthouse on the point and a pancake glacier on the coastal mountains. The sky changed dramatically as we walked each of our fifteen laps, culminating in the treat of the day - a double rainbow that circled all the way around the back of the ship! It was so close it looked like we could have reached out and touched it - ok, well, maybe if we’d had thirty foot long arms. Too cool!

On what was the summer solstice in the lower 48 states, the golden sun set at 10:20 p.m. But the sky never did get dark.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Uh, Kath, Could We Just Sit-ka Down for a Minute? (or, Excuse Me, Ma’am, Is This Sit-ka Taken?)

We arose to a misty rain on Wednesday morning. After tendering to shore, we set out on foot to explore Sitka, the town that would become my favorite on our itinerary.

Sitka on Baranof Island was settled in 1799 by Russians, who came to trap otters, seals, and blue foxes for their pelts. An active fur operation was maintained for almost 70 years by the government-supported Russian American Company. When wars left the Russian government in dire financial straits (and overtrapping left few otters to sell), Alaska was sold to the US for $7.2 million in 1867.

Today, Sitka has about 9,000 residents and, at least according to one source, the largest area of any of Alaska’s “cities”. If the calluses on my feet were any judge, I’d have to say that this last is a true fact:), and Kathie and I covered a fair amount of it. From the time we set foot on land to the time we re-boarded the tender boat five and a half hours later, Kathie and I did not sit down once…not even to each lunch!

We saw or visited:

The Sheldon Jackson Museum, which has the “best ethnographic collection in Alaska, and it's one of the finest small museums anywhere. Even the building is an artifact: Alaska's first concrete structure (1895), and a product of the Victorian Era's dubious flirtation with the octagon.” (Sorry, I've lost the reference for this!)

Bald eagles flying around like crows and lighting in tree tops to spread their wings to dry,

the Alaska Raptor Center, where we saw Arizona the owl and at least one rescued bald eagle told us, “I AM smiling”,

lots of beautiful flowers in people’s yards,

the Russian cemetery, all overgrown by rainforest and hauntingly beautiful, and

Castle Hill - no castles standing anymore but still the site is pretty cool. And very historic: this is where the sale of Alaska to the US was finalized.

Back on ship, we finally got to eat. We read our camera books, napped, and I did sudoku puzzles. That night, we dined in the dining room, where I carried on a conversation with Bob about health care and, again, ate too much.

Bedtime at 9:30 pm was most welcome.

(Check out some really cool photos on this Sitka website's photo contest.)

Monday, July 31, 2006

If it's Tuesday, this must be Skagway.

The next morning, we hopped off the ship in Skagway, just up the Lynn Canal and Chilkoot Inlet from Juneau. Year round, only about 850 people live in Skagway, but in the summer, the cruise ships can bring in as many as another 10,000 people. And I thought Charleston’s tourists are pesky.

Kathie and I wandered around on the main drag for a short while, then joined a walking tour at the National Park Service office. Our tour guide, college student Jason Ibarra of San Antonio, had been a park service employee for all of three weeks – the same amount of time he’d been in Alaska. He did a great job of showing us the sights and explaining the history. Kathie and I were both impressed with his presentation, and of course by how cute he was.

In 1896, gold was discovered on the Klondike River, more than 500 miles north of Skagway. Most of the “stampeders” landed in Skagway, gathered their supplies, and headed north over the mountains to get to the Yukon River. From there, the 500 mile float to Dawson City must have been a piece of cake after the brutal trip over the mountains. I can just imagine Kathie hauling her ton of provisions over White Pass and staking a million dollar claim. Me? I would have stayed home.

After Jason showed us the Red Mascot Saloon, Soapy Smith’s Parlor, and William and Ben Moore’s homestead, we took a speed ferry back along the Taiya Inlet to get to Haines, a small town on the Chilkoot Inlet. Talk about Northern Exposure! Humanity doesn’t have a lot going on here, but the scenery is wildly beautiful.

In Haines, we were picked up by our driver, Pizza Bob, who regaled us (or so he thought) with about 30 minutes of ranting and tasteless commentary along the way to Chilkoot Lake. I was embarrassed to hear he had come to Alaska from Ohio. Why couldn’t he have come from New Jersey, or some other state more deserving of him? He did share one interesting factoid with us. He said when he arrived in Haines ten years ago, the average annual snowfall was thirty feet. Last winter, only three feet fell. Hmmm…

Finally, we arrived for our long awaited kayak ride! Our guides, Ozzie and Steve, helped us on with our spray skirts and loaded us into our three person kayak. Kathie and I were hoping for a third kayaker, but no such luck. After about five strokes (was it that many?), my sore shoulder warned me in no uncertain terms that I was not to lift that oar one more time. Thank goodness Kathie’s as strong as a small ox, because that girl locomoted us all over that big old lake. When I spotted two bald eagles in a tree about a quarter mile away, Kathie cut out of our line of kayakers paddling back to shore for lunch, and headed straight for those eagles! The woman is tireless! We had a great time enjoying the vistas, though, and as we landed, I was wishing we could stay another two weeks to see the annual salmon run. Kathie had other things on her mind, I think, like the wet clothes she was wearing (her spray skirt had a huge leak) and the sandwich fixings Pizza Bob had put out for us.

Back on ship that evening, we ate made-to-order pizzas and sundaes while we watched the mountains along Logan Canal pass by. Somehow we stayed up until 11:15 p.m. Exhausted and deciding the sky was not going to darken any further, we went to bed.

Tomorrow, we will wake up to Sitka.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


For whatever reason, my siblings and I live great distances from each other. Consequently, we don’t get to see each other very often; when we do see each other, our time together is very special. Just before James Patrick’s surgery, I visited with Kathie aboard the Celebrity Summit, which we boarded in Vancouver for a week-long cruise through the famous Inside Passage and along Alaska’s southeastern coast. As you can imagine, we had a fabulous time!

The 2001 vintage Summit is a huge ship. With a capacity for 1950 passengers, it is 965 feet long and 12 stories tall (above ocean level, that is!). So we were constantly lost. By the end of the week, I could find the elevators without too much difficulty, remember what was on each floor, and I could usually tell which way was fore and which was aft – but that’s about the best I could do. Of course, early on I could find the food pretty easily, but thanks to Kathie’s making me walk everywhere and climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator (she had me walking up 7 flights of stairs to get to the dining room!), we didn’t put on the average 8 pounds the cruise director said we would. I wonder who got our 16 pounds…?

After boarding on Saturday afternoon, we spent all that night and the next day at sea. The water was somewhat rough and for the first little bit my stomach felt a tad queasy, but I very quickly got my sea legs and we had a great time exploring our ship and watching the wooded mountains of the Inside Passage sail by.

The Summit docked early on Monday morning in Juneau and we took a shuttle over to the tourist drag for a quick visit at Caribou Crossing, where Kathie bought a lovely silver pendant made by Lisa Anderson of Kodiak. While waiting, I discovered a display of Holly Yashi jewelry – all crafted with Swarovski crystals (a special love of mine). I took some time looking over the collection to get some ideas and then we set off to do a little sightseeing.

With a population of over 30,000 people, Juneau is the capital of Alaska, home to the Mendenhall Glacier (part of the 1800-square mile Juneau Icefield), and can only be reached by air or sea. I was a little surprised by how small a town it is. As we walked up the hill beyond the tourist area, we entered a neighborhood of older houses that had lots of flowers in their yards (another surprise!). Nestled amongst the houses was a small octagonally shaped Russian Orthodox church, built of wood in the 1890s and painted white on the outside with bright blue trim. The inside of the church was filled with brightly colored icons. The historical significance of the church is that it was started by Tlingit (pronounced “Klingit”) chiefs - with permission of the Russian Orthodox bishop, of course - so that their people could worship in their own language.

Back on ship after our jaunt, we ate lunch and then headed out for our big adventure of the day, an experience I will never forget. After a short trip to the airport, we dressed in parkas and ski boots and climbed onboard a six-passenger helicopter for a ride to the Mendenhall Glacier. Kathie and I got to sit up front, so the view was fantastic!

This being my first time seeing a glacier, I was totally awed by its size and eerie blue color. But there was no time for standing around with my mouth hanging open. Our nice young guides, Riley and Scott, greeted us, put cramp-ons on our boots for us, and then gave us a short walking tour, pointing out moulins and bottling some glacier water for us. Boy, was that good! Then Scott scooped up some glacial silt in his hand for us to feel. It was silky to the touch and would be great for a facial mask, the women in the group thought. It was also Scott who (finally) explained that glaciers are blue because their ice is so tightly packed that no light waves other than the short-waved blue ones can escape. Thanks, Scott! And Riley, I’ve got a daughter back home who would think you’re a hottie!

Dinner on the ship that evening was formal, so Kathie and I dressed up in our black Chico’s outfits and elegant jewelry. (Some might say that we "clean up good".) I was “entertained” by Marilyn and Bob, the couple seated next to me. Marilyn is 86 years old and lives in Cape Cod. I didn’t catch Bob’s age, but he lives in California. I don’t think they get to see each other very often. Anyway, the food was tasty but there was way too much – I was stuffed by the end of the meal. So Kathie rolled me back to the room, where we changed back into comfortable clothing and headed out to see the movie “Crash”. It was weird but excellent, so I didn’t fall asleep on it although I was dog-tired.

Later however, in our room, I drifted right off…

Stay tuned for the next installment – Skagway!

Monday, July 10, 2006

The One With A Sick Heart

This is my 3-year old grandson, James Patrick. In May, we learned that he had been born with an atrial septal defect and it could only be fixed via open heart surgery. With the help of some special friends, my daughter, Jessie, eventually came to deal with the news with courage and faith, and painstakingly explained to Patrick and his older sister about the hole. Soon, Patrick was telling anyone who would listen that he had "a sick heart".

Luckily, we live close to MUSC's Children's Hospital and the physician who would be Patrick's surgeon, Fred Crawford, and his team are internationally known for their skill. The procedure would be just a walk in the park for them, and yet I couldn't help but tear up every time I thought of my little man being subjected to such a major operation.

Finally, the morning of the procedure arrived and we all met in the surgical registration room to wait for Patrick to be called. It wasn't even six o'clock yet, and there he was with his pretty blue eyes and ornery smile, clutching his raggedy old blue teddy bear, Bee, that his Aunt Jan had given him when he was born. He alternated between sucking his thumb on his mom's lap and looking around for something to get into. Then the dreaded moment arrived, and after we each gave him a big hug and kiss, he disappeared with Jessie and her husband, Michael, into the pre-op holding area.

Very soon Jessie and Michael came back out and nervously we all went to the PCICU (Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit) waiting room to, well, wait. Friends came to wait with us; their warmth and support (and Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins!) were such an enormous and welcome help. We chatted and even managed to chuckle a little. But when Dr. Crawford and his nurse practitioner, Kathy, came out to say that Patrick's heart was all fixed and he was being closed up, a collective sigh of relief arose from our little group.

It was tough to see Patrick asleep in the PCICU after surgery - he looked so tiny and helpless in that big bed. There were tubes coming out of everywhere on his little body, it seemed, and a ventilator was helping him breathe. I held his baby hand and whispered to him, all the while wanting to pick him up and hold him in my arms so I could kiss his sweet face. I hated leaving him that night.

I visited Patrick again the next afternoon after I got off work. When I first saw him, sitting up in the wagon his father was pulling about the atrium/playroom, he was pouting and looking like he was putting up a big fight against the urge to cry. It scared me a little because I thought he must be in a lot of pain, but then it occurred to me that he was only frightened by the noise coming from the other kids and overwhelmed by the sheer size of the atrium. So after I read him a couple of books with buttons he could push (he loves to push buttons!), he was ready for Michael to lift him out of the wagon. To my surprise, he stood up. Then he walked. He walked over to the toys and played with his mom and dad. If I hadn't known better, I would never have guessed that this child had had his chest cracked open, his heart stopped and fixed and restarted, only the day before.

The next afternoon, Patrick left the hospital and came home to play with his adoring older sister. This evening, a little more than a week later, Jessie and I walked in the neighborhood while Patrick and his Sissie rode their bikes alongside. As the kids threw sticks and pebbles into the pond where we stopped along the way, I couldn't help but marvel at the miracle standing right in front of me.

These days, that little miracle is known around here as - you guessed it - The One With The Special Heart.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Inaugural Blog

For quite some time now, I've seen the term "blog" in different contexts, but never paid much attention. Then one day at lunch, I picked up a news magazine and read a whole article about blogging - in adultspeak, mind you, and thought, "I'd better look into this...this...whatever it is."

Hopping on line and visiting Technorati, I was amazed to find so many blogs that were written by all kinds of people about most anything one could imagine. What a great way to express oneself, I thought - like writing in a journal (which I was never good about keeping up), only better.

My friends and daughters shook their heads and gave me a questioning look when I asked them if they blog. (OK, some of these are kids in their teens and twenties. They're supposed to be much more techno-savvy than I am!) Shortly, everyday life caused me to forget about blogging.

Recently, though, extraordinary events have occurred in my life, kindling a primal need for written expression and resurrecting thoughts in my head about blogging. Having read up a little on the subject in some books from Barnes & Noble, today I'm writing a blog post and thinking, "How cool is this?!?"

So, visit often, watch our evolution, and by all means - post comments!