Sunday, December 9, 2012

Memories & More

11 November 2012, Minneapolis MN
So much has happened since the month began:  the end (for a few days at least) of electioneering and all those awful attack ads from both sides.  Now we’re  enduring election analysis overkill and a blame-game exercise.  No wonder I “watch television” on Netflix and HBO To Go on my laptop.  But this isn’t a political blog so that’s all I’ll say on that.

Today is Veterans’ Day in the US, originally called Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I at 11 am on 11/11 and now honoring all war veterans.  It’s Independence Day in Poland because the end of “the war to end all wars” reunited the country after it’s last partition into three zones (German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian).  I remember going to a Dzien Niepodleglosci celebration in Warsaw a few days after our Peace Corps group had arrived in the country in 1991.  Somewhere in my photo piles I have one of the prime minister’s feet, the best I could do by raising my camera above my head from the back of a very large crowd. It was our group’s first trip into the city from our suburban training center, buying biletow (tickets) at the Ruch (a kiosk selling a wide assortment of small necessities, including newspapers and tickets), riding the koljeka (small train) into Warszawa Centralna (central train station) and wending our way to the plac (plaza) where everyone from war veterans to Girl Scouts marched in celetration.  At the end, Palac Kultury i Nauka (Palace of Culture & Education) with its highly visible DEC sign on top was our guide back to the train station.  PKiN was Stalin’s gift to Poland (a similar gift was bestowed on other satellite countries -- I saw another in Riga, Latvia).  The sprawling, ugly structure was not a favorite among Poles, the joke being that the prettiest view of Warsaw is from its top tower because it’s the only view that doesn’t include the PKiN.  Here it is last June.

So, what have I been doing so far this month?  At the end of October I used a Sun Country Airline voucher to fly to Lansing, Michigan, and visit my 93-year-old aunt, the only surviving relative from my parents generation, in Jackson 30 minutes away.  Her husband, my dad’s youngest brother, died in late March.  I usually visited Uncle Frank and Aunt Betty a couple of times a year but more immediate priorities (my South Sudan assignments and my friend David’s brain tumor) pushed those aside.  In her condition Aunt Betty wouldn’t know whether I visited or not.  Her mental and physical health has been declining for some time.  She’d been in hospice care at the assisted living facility for two years, and although she was told of Uncle Frank’s death, it was unclear whether she actually understood.  For a number of reasons, her nephew John, who has looked after their affairs for several years, decided to move her to a hospice facility.  That took place the day I arrived in Michigan.  She made the move far better than anticipated.  Usually any change caused strong agitation on her part, even with anti-anxiety meds.  She made this transition uneventfully.

For a week I drove between Lansing and Jackson to spend a big part of each day with her.  John and his wife Nancy were also often around the hospice when I was there, giving us a chance to discuss what’s been happening.  We agreed that donating bed linens, bath towels and such to a shelter was a good way to dispose of those.  Aunt Betty had enough supplies for far more than the two bedrooms their last apartment had.   I’m glad they all be put to good use.  We had dinner one night at a “new” place, Knight’s Steak House, where Nancy and I both had the most perfectly cooked pieces of salmon.  Easy to stick to the detox plan.

Aunt Betty recognized me once, mostly she slept or ignored me and stared at whatever was on the Lifetime channel on television. Because she’s hard of hearing and always refused to use her hearing aids, she’s always been hard to talk with.  This was even worse.  When she did talk, it was about her mother, who died decades ago, and wanting to go home.  One day she mentioned my uncle for the one and only time in months.  She pointed to his photo on a nearby shelf and started to cry gently.  She said she loved “that man” but wasn’t able to take care of him.  I reassured her that he also loved her and that she’d taken great care of him.  Another day she was pretty aggressive about “going home,” forcefully pushing aside her blankets and trying to edge to the side of the bed.  When I left that evening, the staff had a volunteer sit with her to ensure she didn’t try again.  In general, I was thoroughly impressed with the staff and facility.  Hardly an hour went by when someone didn’t stop to check on Aunt Betty, not just to dispense her meds, and talk to her.  Her room is large and includes a sofa bed as well as comfortable chairs and a TV set up high.  Since the room is on the end, it has large windows on two sides.  She can look out the side window and see the same flock of wild turkeys that used to walk by the assisted living suite’s window.  She and Uncle Frank loved to watch those birds.  Meals are whenever she wants as are snacks and beverages.  The nutritionist checked with us to see what she likes and doesn’t.  Despite everything, Aunt Betty still has a huge appetite.  I went to Red Lobster one night and brought back her favorite shrimp dinner, which she polished off over a dinner and a lunch.

A trip to Michigan always includes catching up with friends who live there.  Had lunch with Ewa, a Polish-American friend that I met when she was helping to establish the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw in the mid ‘90s.  At 80, she is as vital as ever although she is avoiding a recommended knee surgery.  Ewa’s mother went into a Krakow hospital for surgery and never returned home; she was taken to a concentration camp.  So Ewa has a deep-seated fear of hospitals.  She’s doing well with her cane, still drives her yellow Beetle and recently hosted a Polish author who’s writing about Ewa’s family.  I hope she can go on without the surgery if that’s what she wants.

While I didn’t catch up with Eve, another American that I met in Warsaw in the ‘90s, I did have lunch with Mary and Stan, two friends from way back -- we lived in the same apartment building in Crystal MN when our sons were born three months apart.  We stayed in touch even after we bought houses in different suburbs and after they moved to Santa Rosa CA, but somewhere along the line the contact broke.  I found Mary on FaceBook, expecting to visit her when I was in San Francisco ... learning that they are now living near Detroit.  It was fun to reconnect after so many years.  We met for lunch at a fantastic deli in an historic part of Ann Arbor, a city I haven’t really visited before. 

And a Michigan visit always includes dinner with school friend Bruce and Donna in Lansing.  The pork roast dinner was well worth deviating from my detox regimen!  And the company and conversation are always enjoyable.  Donna was surprised at how many of our teachers we remember.  I was disappointed that their Ethiopian friends couldn’t join us but understood the need to return there for a family funeral.  

Tonight I prepare for the last of my medical exams.  You may recall that I started my annual medical and dental visits in late September, continued into October and tomorrow my once-every-five-years colonoscopy will occur.  I have the jug already filled with water and cooling in the refrigerator.  In a couple of hours I start the preparation process.  ‘Nuff said.

12 November
It’s over ... and my colon is all clear; no polyps.  Check that exam off for another five years.  Hurray!

I’m waiting for a pizza and a salad to be delivered for dinner.  Tomorrow I return to my detox regimen.  I’ve lost somewhere between 12 and 15 pounds depending on the scale and time of day.  I feel great.  I will continue to deviate when I need to, but I’m committed.  I had a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup for lunch on the way back from the hospital.  The plate also included a pile of potato chips ... and I didn’t eat one.  That’s how determined I am.

We had our first snowfall that stayed on the ground.  While I waited for friend Linda to pick me up, I saw a bicyclist take a bad skid and fall in front of my building.  The street was very icy.  Luckily he wasn’t hurt from the slide and no cars came from behind him, so he hopped back on and rode away.  He was one of three bikers I saw in a short few minutes.  I don’t know how/why they bike on such an icy day.

15 November
I’ve commented to friends several times recently that I haven’t gotten a bill from my clinic although I started having all those annual checkups in September.  Have gotten notices from Humana, my insurer, but since I don’t pay from those, I hadn’t bothered to open them.  Yesterday I decided to see what their accounting said my costs would be.  I didn’t want to get a $1000 bill from the clinic.  Other than my already paid co-pay amount, every item said I didn’t owe anything.  No wonder I hadn’t gotten a bill.  Way to go Medicare and Humana!

This afternoon my sister Barbara and I leave for Pittsburgh, meeting our brother for a belated celebration of his 65th birthday.  I’m all packed and ready to go.  Of course, this time of year packing is problematic:  How cold will it be?  Will it rain, snow? Plus we’re going to the Steelers-Ravens game Sunday evening.  Weather in the ‘burgh can change as quickly as it does in Minneapolis.  I have many layers in the suitcase, along with all the photo albums of our late Uncle Frank; my brother requested them.  

In prep for the trip, I’ve been watching reruns of “The Guardian,” an old television series that takes place in Pittsburgh.  The main character is a young corporate lawyer who gets busted for drugs, then sentenced to community service, working in a free legal clinic.  It’s so much fun seeing panoramas of the city’s hills and bridges and rivers, charming and not-so-charming city locales, hearing references to August Wilson’s old neighborhood, the Hill District, to Kennywood Park, Shadyside and towns like Donora, Monessen, Homestead, knowing Rt. 51, listening to the problems of the Mon Valley played out in the script.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights baking so I can deliver some goodies to my brother and not have to mail them.  Previously I had decided I was going to limit my holiday baking to two of my favorites that Mom used to make -- black walnut fudge and Scottish shortbread.  I remember going to the mountains in fall and getting black walnuts.  Back home, Daddy would run the car over the paper bag of nuts to crack the extremely hard outer shell, then we’d have to pick out the nut meats for Mom. It was time consuming but well worth the finished product.

19 November
What an awesome weekend we had in Pittsburgh -- perfect autumn days with sunny skies, a chance to see out old haunts, to enjoy each other’s company which we don’t get to do so often these days.  

Dan & I on Mount Washington
Dan & Barbara on a sculpture

My brother Dan got in a day early which he spent with childhood friends Paul and Lynne, then came to the airport to meet Barbara and me.  Our rooms at the Westin downtown were in just the right spot -- Friday we walked to the Strip District about six blocks away and enjoyed the wide spectrum of what Pittsburgh is.  We  browsed dozens of stores and sidewalk stands selling Steeler gear and bought a few tee shirts and souvenirs.  Since it appears there won’t be a hockey season, Penguin items were hardly visible much to Barbara’s disappointment.  We waited in line for a late breakfast at DeLuca’s, a local cafe that’s been featured on Diners, Dives and Drive-ins on the Food Network and gotten all kinds of awards.  Looked for Vegeta Natura in a Polish store and deli, bought freshly made biscotti at an Italian bakery.

The Golden Triangle from Mount Washington.  The aluminum-glad Wyndham Hotel was a Hilton when the City of Pittsburgh insisted that it be 'golden' aluminum, which ALCOA developed

That afternoon Paul and Lynne took us to the Frick House where Paul, a retired teacher, gives tours.  He’s a knowledgeable guide and wonderful story teller, giving a much more rounded view of Henry Clay Frick.  Frick is well known for bringing in the Pinkerton’s when the steel mill went on strike, for his lawsuit against his former partner Andrew Carnegie and other negatives.  But we learned and saw evidence of another side of him.  He was enchanted with the technology of the time, an early adopter whose home had electric lights, a telephone, vacuum cleaners, a “player” organ.  And a father more interested in his children than most Victorians.  During an era when the children of the wealthy were basically presented to their parents for a few minutes before their bedtime, the Frick children ate all of their meals with the parents.  Small leather chairs were made for them to comfortably participate in Sunday games and reading.  Unfortunately the museum has a ‘no photos’ policy, so no photos.

Courting customs of the day included a form of “texting.”  A young woman used placement of her fan to indicate her level of interest in a young man.  He wrote her formal notes, sent through the mail which was delivered five times a day! 

That night we had a unique dining experience.  Paul and Lynne introduced us to Jozsa Corner Hungarian Restaurant, a place you definitely would not find unless you were looking; it’s the only building left on its block in Hazelwood.  The owner is the maitre d’, chef, server and cleaner upper (hence disposable plates, utensils).  He prepares food for how ever many have made appointments.  Since we were stuck in traffic, we called to tell him we were en route.  Thankfully we did as we were the only guests.  From appetizers through dessert, the meal was outstanding.  If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, give it a try.

Back downtown, we wandered over to Market Square, then to the bank of the Allegheny River to watch fireworks.  It was “Light up the City” night, and the fireworks were the best I’ve ever seen.  They lasted about 30 minutes.  The waterfall from one of the ‘Three Sisters’ bridges was spectacular. And there were some interesting corkscrew upward spirals that I’ve never seen before.  We wondered if the manufacturer, which is nearby in Zelienople, provided this extraordinary spectacle as a marketing promo.  Certainly would’ve sold me.  Just wish my photos had been better.

FYI, the Three Sisters cross the Allegheny River from downtown to the now-named North Shore (it was just the north side in the old days).  They are historically relevant because they are the only trio of nearly identical bridges and the first suspension bridges to be self anchored. They were each given names for important city residents -- Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson.  Clemente was a slugger for the Pirates baseball team who died in an aviation accident; Warhol is most identified with the pop art movement; and Carson was the author of “The Silent Spring.”.  I remember when Clemente played for the Pirates and when he died, and I knew Warhol was from the area but not that Carson was; Carson Street downtown was also named for her.  Never too late to learn something new.

Saturday we toured our old haunts -- from the neighborhood where our dad grew up to the one where we did, the schools we attended, the corner store where we bought hand dipped, triple-decker ice cream cones at five cents a scoop and penny candy for a penny.  We visited Colleen and John who still live across the street from our old house.  When they bought their house, they were the “kids” in the neighborhood; now they’re the “old folks;” all the original owners, like my parents, are gone.  But the neighborhood remains a great place to raise kids, friendly neighbors, within walking distance of the elementary school and the grocery/deli again offers hand-dipped ice cream cones though the cost of both that and the penny candy has risen markedly.  

"714," the house where we grew up

Main entrance to Elizabeth-Forward High School, from which all three Kanyr kids were graduated

Sunday I had brunch with friend Alexis and her beau Marcus who both recently got their master’s degrees in library science from Pitt.  Alexis landed a job at the Pittsburgh Seminary so they stayed in town.  After brunch, they went off to Marcus’ family in Ohio, and Dan, Barbara and I vegged at the hotel.  They watched an afternoon football game while I mostly read. If I’d been thinking about this empty time, I might’ve called a few high school friends, but alas ...  

View from my seat
Off to the Steelers-Ravens game at Heinz Field on foot.  A long walk but welcome after so much sitting.  The new stadium is awesome, and although our seats weren’t together, we could all see well.  Because the weather had been so mild all day, I thought I might’ve put on too many layers.  Not.  It was chilly in those stands ... and I was toasty warm most of the time.  Should’ve known the Steelers would lose when the substitute quarterback ran for a touchdown less than a minute into the game.  The starting QB was badly injured in the previous game.

22 November, Happy Thanksgiving
Have been sending Thanksgiving messages and making phone calls in between general clean up around the condo and watching the Macy’s Parade in fits and starts.  Shortly it’ll be time to get dressed for dinner.  I’m joining my sister and her kids, Christopher and Tomery, at a nearby restaurant, something they’ve been doing for the last few years.  I’m looking forward to the traditional and non-traditional buffet and while I hope not to ‘break the bank’ calorie-wise, I’ll eat what I want today.  FYI -- I signed up for the “maintain, don’t gain” holiday pledge at my YMCA.  The idea is to work at maintaining one’s weight during the food-centric holiday season through New Year’s.  I think I can do that!

Later ... dinner was fantastic.  Good food, good company and no clean up.  My kind of meal.  Afterwards we went to a movie, “Silver Linings Playbook.”  It started slowly but was really a good film with an upbeat message.  

24 November
Spent some time yesterday having breakfast and lunch with friends, then the afternoon and evening cooking and baking for the holidays.  I’m doing that early since I leave on Tuesday for Poland and wanted to send a few packages of goodies.

I had expected to drive with my niece Michelle to see the Brainerd Hagens today, but my sister-in-law Elyse broke her arm earlier in the week and isn’t up to company.  We’ll go in December some time. 

Reading this morning’s paper, I learned that Larry Hagman died.  I’ve been a fan on his since his “I Dream of Jeanie” days, and I loved “Dallas,” though not as much as my friend Doug who could probably do tours of South Fork.  Hagman was a great actor who relished his role as the villainous JR.  I saw one episode of the reprised “Dallas” and had thought I might watch in reruns since I’m gone so much.  Wonder if they’ll do another “Who killed JR?” to explain his death?

Speaking of deaths, I’ve discovered that another old boyfriend died - cancer almost two years ago.  I’m beginning to feel like a jinx.

28 November, Warsaw, Poland
Uneventful international travel -- hurray.  Flights were on time out of both Minneapolis and Amsterdam.  Barbara, a friend from my Serbia days who’s now working in Tajikistan, met me at the airport.  She’s in Warsaw for a few days of meetings at the OSCE offices here.  It was wonderful to see her and hear what she’s been doing.  And Hala’s daughter Marta arrived as planned too, bringing my lined raincoat and picking up a few things.  I had Reeses candy bars that she ordered and three Kindle Fires for her boyfriend.  (I also have an unlocked iPhone for the son of one of the managers at the Center.)  Marta gave me an autographed copy of the newest Diana Krall CD.  Last summer I bought two tickets to her Warsaw concert hoping to return in time to take Marta as my ‘thank you’ for all the times I’ve stayed in her/”my” apartment.  Since my return date was unsure, I left the tickets with her and later suggested she take Lukasz as I would not return that early in November.  She said it was a great concert and got me the CD.

Now I’m waiting for the driver and for Steve, the other US board member who’s arriving on a flight from Paris.  It’s 3 pm and already getting dark ... I am definitely in Poland.

30 November, Sandomierz, Poland
Our drive from Warsaw Chopin Airport to Sandomierz on Wednesday afternoon took four hours!  Traffic at 4 pm, when it was already pitch dark, was a nightmare -- we inched along the road in a rush hour that would rival Chicago or Manhattan.  Steve and I used the time to catch up, then each dozed off.  

Yesterday I went to the salon for a manicure, pedicure and waxing of my eyebrows and mustache. The cosmetician was supported by the Center with a small grant, which is why I went to her the first time a few years ago.  Now I go each time I’m here because she’s very good ... and very, very cheap by US standards.  I got all of those treatments for the price of a manicure back home.

I’m doing a pretty decent job of not over-eating, which is a real challenge.  The chef at the hotel does a great job and always prepares multi-course meals.  I’ve sworn off “the whites” during meals while here too but let myself have a slice or two of the chewy, dense darkish break that I love for breakfast.  And I only eat half of most meals, including desserts.  A little wasteful but I also am not hungry for more. 

At the board meeting today we marked the 20th anniversary of the Center with lots of photo slide shows, reminiscences by staff, kudos from clients and officials.  Hala, president of the Center, and Ryszard, chair of the board, gave lovely plaques to three 20-year employees (Halinka, Piotr and Ania), and Ryszard gave Hala 20 red roses since she is also a 20-year employee.  All in all, a lovely day.

Thursday, November 8, 2012



1 October 2012, Minneapolis MN USA

A new month. New things to see and do, experience and remember.  I just read that Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its integration, something I remember well since I was in high school at the time.  The article made me think about my friend Tanja who died of cancer a couple of years after my son Peter died.  Tanja, her husband and son emigrated to Minneapolis from Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia.  We met when she was looking for a ride to downtown St. Paul for her internship at the Hill Reference Library, which was across a park from my office.  Tanja had been a scientific research librarian in Russia; her husband Edward, a physician; Slava was 13.  They lived just a few blocks from our house.  For about a year Tanja and I drove Peter to school, then continued across the Cities to our jobs.  I tried to get Peter to let Tanja teach him simple Russian words as we drove each day, but he was too embarrassed.  They bonded though.  Peter stayed in touch with Tanja years later when I moved overseas.

Edward finished his foreign medical grad requirements at the U of Minnesota, then went to Mayo for a fellowship and eventually Salt Lake City and later Jackson, Mississippi, as a practicing pathologist.  Although I found it odd that Russian emigres should end up in such places rather than New York or Detroit or LA, Tanja embraced each one.  A smoker, she wouldn’t smoke on the outdoor deck of their SLC house because she didn’t want to offend her Mormon neighbors, whose backyard looked like a junkyard of kids’ toys. In Jackson she delighted in telling people I was her friend from Warsaw (where I lived at the time) and seeing the looks on their faces.  

The first time I saw Tanja after my move to Poland she commented that I probably understood her better after that experience.  And she was right.  When we met, Tanja could not understand how the landlord could toss them out of their apartment if they didn’t pay the rent on time. Of course I understood perfectly: no rent, no room.  But I learned in Poland, that under communism, housing is a right. You may not have much space, you may share a bathroom and/or kitchen with others, but you have a right to four concrete block walls and a roof over your head.  Street people were virtually non-existent when I lived in Poland.

Tanja and Edward worked as hard as I did when Peter’s cancer was diagnosed.  Hardly a day went by when I didn’t get a call or email with some new information, an oncologist to contact, a treatment to explore.  And when her stomach cancer was diagnosed not long after Peter’s ocular melanoma was, Tanja made me promise not to tell Peter so it didn’t distract him.  The last time I saw Tanja was my last trip to Jackson.  Previously she’d shown me everything possible there, including Eudora Welty’s house which was not on any tourist maps.  This time she insisted we go to New Orleans for the weekend, where I thoroughly enjoyed the food and Tanja did her best to find things she could eat.  Another day we drove to Vicksburg and Natchez, river towns and huge Civil War sites. 

All of that is by way of saying that I miss Tanja.  After she died, I lost contact with her family despite sending Christmas cards for a couple of years.  They were an important part of opening me up to the rest of the world and what it has to offer.

3 October, Minneapolis
Tomorrow I will sleep in my very own bed!  When my nephew Christopher moved out, I let him take the  mattress and box springs which had belonged to one of his sister’s roommates anyway, left when they moved out.  So I’ve been bunking at Janet and Ed’s again, always a treat because Ed’s a great cook and he cooks “healthily” - no salt, good fats, lots of veggies. 

My new chairs
Chris also took the chair-sleeper because he had left a dent in the seat.  He’s 6’7” tall with commensurate weight.  Yesterday I bought two cool chairs at IKEA instead of replacing the chair-sleeper.  Sabrina helped me put them together this afternoon.  Definitely a two-woman task.  But we did it.  Now I’m rolling out the foam mattress pad and some blankets, and I’m going to spent the night here.  Tomorrow my nephew Craig will come over to hang out and help put furniture back in place.  I had all of the carpets cleaned on Monday so the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room are full of chairs, books, lamps etc. etc. 

My short respite here in Minneapolis has been hectic -- more annual doc appointments, the carpet cleaning, purchases and deliveries, putting my clothes back where they belong and sorting things I don’t use, making future reservations and appointments.  So of course my gastro-intestinal tract had to act up.  I did three days of liquid diet which segued well into the cleansing and detox programs that I’m starting under my niece Tomery’s guidance.  Now it’s no sugar, no wheat, no dairy, no beef, no citrus fruit ... but I can have lots of other things once my innards settle down.  And the “power shakes” she’s recommended actually taste good. When I was on the Alaska cruise last month, I made a commitment to myself to do this.  I don’t want to be 75 and wishing I’d taken better care of my body.  And I know my joints will feel better if I’m carrying less weight and eating better.  So ...

6 October, Minneapolis
So far, so good on the change in eating habits.  I’ve gotten through my niece Michelle’s “pre Twin Cities Marathon carbo load” without eating pasta (hummus and veggies plus lots of salad without dressing and water, water, water).  Tomery’s right -- I do feel better.  Probably me taking charge of my diet and taking my water ex classes regularly as much as the diet changes, but whatever.  It feels good.

Today I went to Northfield to see Lois, my oldest friend in Minnesota.  I’ve written about Lois many times -- we’re writing her memoirs and have promised we’ll get back to that once my life settles down in Minneapolis again.  She’s doing well although her eyesight continues to deteriorate.  We had lunch at St. Olaf College, then on to Target to pick up items she needs.  We ran into several of her friends, a usual occurrence when we are  out together.  One was a particularly interesting professor that I may have to ask her more about next time.

7 October 2012, Washington, DC
Will be in DC for almost three weeks, including David’s last day of radiation and this cycle of his chemos.  Then he gets a month off before starting six four-week chemo cycles.  He, Inga and Frankie picked me up at the airport, and he continues to look and sound good.  His oldest brother Jeff is here.  Haven’t seen Jeff since Inga and David’s wedding.  Jeff leaves Tuesday and has said he’ll take David to JHU on Monday and Tuesday so Inga can sleep in. I’ll get up with the girls, starting with Frankie at 5:30.

Frankie studies at the computer every night 

Tosia is learning the violin

11 October 
Everyone closely affected by cancer needs something to help them feel in control because it’s such an out-of-your hands time.  For Inga, it’s preparing a detailed schedule of what’s going to happen when.  Inga’s always been a better planner than I will ever be, and now she’s in high gear.  From David’s treatments to the girls’ school conferences, it’s all on her handmade Polish-style (weeks start on Monday, not Sunday) calendar.  Today we spent some time plotting out the six four-week BSI and chemo cycles to determine how the family can get some time away for two family weddings as well as holidays and school breaks.  I’ll go over this with Silvia, the nurse in charge of the BSI research, tomorrow to be sure we have it right.

Frankie is interested in joining a health club so she can work out and perhaps swim afterwards.  I did some Internet searching and clubs with pools are hard to find.  David and I convinced her to try to Y, so she and I drove there today after several around the block side trips.  It’s got lots of facilities, including tennis courts and an outdoor pool that usable as long as the temp is above freezing.  Frankie was not impressed.  It’s an older building that despite being clean and well maintained, looks like an old Y.  So we’ll see.

Last night I was in the ER with Inga.  She had severe abdominal pains just as we were all gathering for dinner.  Seated on the floor in a fetal position, she couldn’t move her legs without pain.  It took a couple of hours before David and I convinced her to take one of his 500 mg ‘tylenol,’ just before she agreed to let me take her to the ER.  After examining her, the hospital did blood, urine and ultrasound tests and found nothing wrong.  I thought the pain was her body telling her to take care of herself for a little while, and that’s what she did for the nearly three hours at the hospital.  Tomorrow she’ll sleep in, and Tomek and I will take David to his radiation treatment. 

12 October
Not sure what my impression was of radiation treatment but it definitely took far less time than I had expected.  Which, in hindsight, I know makes sense. There was a camaraderie among patients and their family/friends, who provide moral support with information and humor.  

When David finished, we went in search of Silvia so I could review Inga’s tentative calendar. We’d almost given up when the elevator doors opened for us and there she was.  I was able to get the additional info we needed -- schedule for MRIs in relation to treatment and breaks.

This afternoon I spent some time helping in the kitchen, peeling two bulbs of garlic into a glass jar for future use.  And in the evening watching the Orioles and Nats lose in the postseason baseball playoffs.  Since I’m in DC, I’ve become a Nats’ fan, and they were off to a great start in Game 5, only to lose in the end.  Reminds me of the Northwestern football team back when I was a freshman ... win 4 Big 10 games, then lose 4 and your coach, Ara Paraseghian.

14 October
What a gloriously sunny and warm day today.  I sat outside for a while reading and didn’t need to wear a sweater!

Yesterday Frankie and I went shopping for new jeans for me.  I wanted Not Your Daughter’s Jeans which I finally found at Bloomingdale’s.  They’re the kind of jeans that fit no matter my weight.  I found a pair I liked but wasn’t 100 percent satisfied with the fit -- they seemed to bag a bit in the bum.  So I passed for now.  We extended our shopping to find gifts for the two girls’ whose birthday party Frankie attended last night.  And later Inga and I returned to the Apple Store in Bethesda to see if the Genius Bar tech could unfreeze her phone.  Not possible.  It was an old iPhone 3GS, no longer sold, that had been jiggered with software to bypass ATT and allow connection to T-Mobile.  Unfortunately when Inga’s friend tried to connect the phone to a new iTunes, it froze.  The tech couldn’t even wipe it clean and reinstall the software.  So Inga got a new iPhone 4.

Got the photos inserted into my September blog at last and posted same, arranged to have dinner with Peace Corps friend Larry who’ll be in town this week and talked to friend Dan on the phone for first time in years.  As Dan observed, our communications of late have been too virtual.  Time for real-time talking.  Dan is one of two friends who were with Peter when he died.  He lives in west Texas now, developing his long-term dream, Estrella Vista, and helping juveniles who are charged as adults with serious crimes like murder. You can copy/paste this link to your browser to learn more about this important work --

The whole family including Tomek and I were transfixed to the TV and watched the first space jump, holding our collective breaths until Felix Baumgartner arrived safely back on terra firma.  The whole thing reminded me of my one and only parachute drop at now long dead Riverview Park in Chicago.  I was Frankie’s age, and staying with Aunt Bobbi and Uncle Bob (family friends).  They took me and the son of one of their friends to the amusement park one night.  Uncle Bob insisted that I go on the parachute ride with him.  Sitting on a small wooden board with only a chain across our laps to hold us in I was terrified the entire way to the top.  The fall was blessedly quick.  Given that experience, I was in awe that my ex Bob had been a paratrooper.

15 October
Watching baseball playoffs and start of football season with David.  I sounded like my sister when RGIII ran 76 yards for a game clinching TD. Sorry, Minnesotans. I’m in DC and thus a Redskins fan.  Redskins were ahead but score was close; they could have done a Nats and blown their lead and lost.  I went to bed the other night, sure the Nats had taken their division pennant ... only to wake up and learn they’d lost in a spectacular game closing.

19 October
Today David ‘rang the bell,’ a JHU tradition as a patient completes treatment.  David had his last radiation treatment today and starts a four week vacation from chemo.  I posted on caringbridge the photos Inga took , including two she took the other day of David with Silvia, the BSI research nurse.  After seeing the smiling initial photo, Inga asked them to pose for one for David’s Polish friends.  Silvia, whose background is the former Czechoslovakia, knew exactly what to do -- she added the perfect frown to her face, as did David to his.  Check out the site -- -- to see both photos.

After returning home, everyone got ready for a weekend away, their first break since arriving in the US in mid July.  They aren’t going far but the resort hotel has lots of amenities that everyone will enjoy.  I’m staying with Beza, who looked forlornly through the glass storm door as they left.  

21 October
My detox is going well, at least I think so.  I haven’t weighed myself yet; must ask Inga if she has a scale as I haven’t seen one in any of the bathrooms.  Yesterday I had lunch at a Cheesecake Factor restaurant with friends Aideen and Regina and their sons.  I had been wanting to introduce them since their both are single moms with sons and in the same industry, international development.  Regina’s job hunting, and Aideen just started a new job, at a firm headed by someone Regina knows.  Regina’s boys Liam and Roan have October birthdays so we sang to them.  Despite some glitches in food, it was a festive time.  The boys bonded immediately, wreaking occasional havoc that had to be reined in.  We women had a chance to catch up.  And I was able to stay on my detox with brown rice and steamed broccoli for lunch.

I made quinoa/brown rice with garlic, mushrooms, onions and steamed cauliflower and some shrimp for dinner.  Had something similar last night, and it’s quite tasty.  Need to ask Tomery if I’m allowed shellfish.

22 October
What a beautiful day.  Fall has definitely fallen here in the DC area and although mornings are crisp, temps at midday rise to the 70sF. And this week, it’s to be 81F on Wednesday.  The leaves have finally started to turn for real but nothing as pretty as Minneapolis when I left ... nor anywhere near the Western Pennsylvania autumns that I remember from my growing up years.  Fall is my favorite season and the only time I am homesick for my childhood environs.  I’m so glad Dan, Barbara and I are going to Pittsburgh next month.  The leaves may be gone, but we’ll get a chance to do the drive down memory lane and see how much has changed (or not changed).  And of course, watch the Steelers trounce the Ravens.

23 October
JHU called yesterday about blood tests that weren’t done on Friday.  Someone there “oops’d.”  So Inga had to take David today.  In the meantime, I ran errands -- bought a new garage door opener at Sears and arranged installation, vacuum cleaner bags and printer cartridges.  I drove Inga’s Lexus hybrid SUV, which seems a little like an oxymoron.  But it runs on a battery as well as gasoline and gets tremendous mileage.  The only problem -- it’s too quiet.  Step on the brake, turn the key, shift into drive, and off you go with nary a sound.  Since I occasionally stall my stick shift Focus, I am always afraid I’ve stalled the Lexus.  But I hit the gas pedal and off it goes.  It’s nice sitting up higher than usual, but it’s still too big a car for me. 

Inga wants to be able to get one car in the garage this winter so she can pull closer to the house and unload groceries and such.  So yesterday we checked out the garage door opener, which works fine from the hard-wired wall unit.  But we couldn’t get the two remotes she found to work.  I went on line to find out what Sears had to say, we tried everything and got nowhere.  Inga asked their neighbor Henry who is very handy to come over.  He had no more luck than we.  He even called the previous owners who said they never used the remotes and rarely the garage.  

Henry’s an avid eBay seller.  So when he noticed the old double-oven and dishwasher in the garage, he offered to put them on eBay for Inga.  She’d be happy if someone just cam and hauled them off.  We’ll see what happens.

Tonight we celebrated my birthday at dinner.  David grilled the salmon perfectly, and Inga added an array of steamed veggies and fried potatoes.  Tomek brought a chocolate mousse cake for dessert.  Most of the meal was well within my new eating regime and where I “cheated” (cake), I only had a small amount ... and it was well worth every single calorie and guilt free.

24 October, Minneapolis MN
Turned the phone on as I deplaned and there was a ‘happy birthday one day early’ message from my brother.  Called him once I got settled at home for a nice catch up chat.  He’s running for the board of the home owners association where they live in Reno.  He’d make a good board member -- interested, does his research, has time.  I hope he gets elected.

Off to a new middle eastern restaurant with friends Janet and Ed and my sister Barbara for more celebrating.  Ed and Janet are picking me up as I’m going to  a glass of wine, the first in almost a month!

25 October, my #67
It’s official -- Minneapolis had its first snowfall today, on my birthday.  I can only remember that happening once before, and it was similar -- not a snowfall that accumulated, just lots and lots of flurries that melted on hitting the ground.

Thanks to everyone for your cards, gifts and good wishes.  It’s been a great birthday.  Dinner last night was excellent, and I haven’t had any ill effects.  I wore a pair of slacks that I haven’t fit since last fall, and today I wore a pair of jeans that were way too tight in the waistline last time I tried.  Hurray and thanks to my niece Tomery who helped me get this detox and weight loss started.  Another great gift was Inga’s call with good news about David.  Because of the possibility of bacteria in raw fish, someone with a compromised immune system like David can’t eat sushi.  Before he started the treatments, we were eating sushi several times a week because he loves the stuff.  Now he can eat it again.  His latest blood tests were so good that the docs approved. 

28 October
My dad was looking down upon me this morning, shaking his head and laughing his distinctive laugh.  I just know it.  Back in my teenage days, I put potatoes on the stove to boil one day, then went to watch television ... forgetting all about the potatoes until I smelled something burning.  Water gone, the potatoes had started to burn.  Pop was incredulous.  So he made me peel and boil potatoes every day for a week.

This morning I put six eggs into a pot of water, set it on the stove and turned the heat to medium high.  I figured it would take about five minutes for the pot to come to a boil, so I could work on my crosswords, then turn off the heat, put on a lid and let them cook.  A recipe for perfectly cooked eggs.  Except, as often happens, I got engrossed in the Sunday crosswords, and I totally forgot about the eggs.  Eventually I could smell something cooking -- thought maybe someone was fixing brunch in the condo below.  By the time I went into the kitchen for a glass of water, the pot was dry and two very well done eggs had already exploded all over the stove, the side of the refrigerator, the counter and floor.  I could see the look on Pop’s face and hear his voice.

30 October, Lansing, Michigan
Could I have picked a worse day to fly to Lansing?  Oh, my friend Thom was on time to pick me up at 4:30 am, and the on-time Sun Country flight was pretty uneventful, especially considering the pounding Hurricane Sandy was giving the East Coast and many of my friends there.  But the weather in Lansing could not have been more unexpected.  I should have checked before I left. It was freezing cold with rain that turned to snow and ice as I found my rental car.  And the airport is diagonally across the city from the hotel where I’m staying ... or two sides of the big square loop of interstate that goes around the city, the preferred route. 

I was grateful to be able to check into the hotel, a clean, friendly, serviceable Holiday Inn Express that’s not far from the highway to Jackson, 40 minutes away and where my aunt is. Her husband, my dad’s baby brother, died in March, so she’s all we have left of our parents’ generation. She was being moved from the assisted living facility to a hospice home today, and I wanted to be there.  The transfer went smoothly, including the stop in between for a mandatory chest x-ray.  By the time her nephew John, his wife Nancy and I got to her room, she was pretty alert though not entirely in 2012.  But at 93, she can pick the era she wants to inhabit and the people she wants to ask about, like her parents who died decades ago.  Much to our surprise, she ate her entire lunch, scraping the bottom of each dish thoroughly (she often eats virtually nothing).

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Travel reflections mostly in photos

3 September 2012, Washington, DC, USA
Only here could I find a radio station that’s seems solely dedicated to Motown music from “my era” (mid- to late 60s) -- “Oooo Baby Baby,” “Shotgun,” “When a man loves a woman.”  Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, James Brown ... reminded me of a PBS fund raising telecast.  And sure made the driving from Alexandria to Arlington to Bethesda to Union Station in the District easier.  Thankfully it’s a holiday, so the traffic was much less than a work day.

I had a great weekend in Alexandria with Regina and the boys, Liam and Roan.  She has rented her spare rooms since I was here last.  A young Russian couple have Roan’s old room upstairs, and now a woman from Brooklyn who just took a job with the Navy Department and her daughter who is Liam’s age are in the basement space (the size of a small studio apartment).  Two Sudanese women were there for a month.  They were excited to meet someone who had been in South Sudan.  The move out/move in took up much of Saturday.  We went out to lunch, then shopped for food for the Sunday picnic I planned and spent lots of time catching up with each other and getting to know Marilyn, the new tenant.  The boys and her daughter Denisa hit it off immediately.

Of course, it started to rain about an hour before folks were to arrive on Sunday afternoon and kept raining until after most guests left.  But the food was abundant and delicious, and we all had a good time.  Lauri let John handle the grill, and he did a yeoman’s job with brats and burgers and ‘dogs.  Afterwards, Regina, Marilyn, Rosemarie (from Booz) and I sat outside on semi-wet cushions, drank wine, ate desserts and talked until early evening.  

This morning I drove to Arlington to see Aideen and her son Mickey who are also doing well.  Then back to Bethesda for a quick lunch before tackling a trip to Union Station to pick up Inga, Jan and the girls.  Surprisingly, despite a last minute bad turn because I was in the wrong lane, I didn’t get lost trying to fix that error.  And after only a couple of goes around the circular driveway, I found a place to sit and wait the 15 minutes or so until they emerged from the station.  “The boys” -- David, his brother Mike, Mike’s twin sons Brian and Chris, our friends Kim and Tomek are at a Nats-Cubs game.  

David & Inga 

5 September
Today my son would have been 40.  It’s hard to imagine him that old.  He’s frozen in my mind at 26, the age he was when he died.  But I see pieces of him in others -- he had the same warped sense of humor as David, for example -- which is comforting.   Instead of dedicating half the day to quiet contemplation as I often have, I dedicated today to David.  I went with him and Inga to JHU to meet Silvia, the nurse managing the BSI trial.  Forms to be explained, understood and signed.  More blood to be donated for tests.  A brief physical exam by the oncologist, then chemo training by another nurse. Friday David will go through a “dry run” of the radiation treatment to ensure his helmet fits properly and that he knows what to expect.  Tomek will go along so that he learns the way in case he has to take David to JHU without Inga.  The ubiquitous GPS can only take you so far, then you need to find the right building, floor etc.  

Treatment starts on Monday, BSI two days in a row, radiation five days, regular chemo every day (but it’s a pill, not IV), and the scheduling of the three is important.  Inga took copious notes so she can prepare a detailed schedule of what is to be taken at what time, when David can have food and when not. 

8 September, Minneapolis MN
Turtlenecks -- I must have five or six white ones alone, but can I find one to pack for Alaska?  Nooooo.  Can I find one at Marshall’s, Herberger’s, Target.  No, no no.  Finally, in one spot in Macy’s, I found some.  Out of “mock” style, which I prefer, in white but got a regular turtle in white and a mock in black.  I can finish packing.

It’s been one of those days.  I was late for water exercise, nothing new there, and exited to find three messages from Hagens on my phone.  I called Elyse, my sister in law, back.  Our mother-in-law Ella died this morning, quickly and peacefully.  I’m going to miss her.  She was a lovely lady, and we stayed friends despite the divorce -- she always referred to me as her daughter in law and I to her as my mother in law.  Last time I saw her was her 93rd birthday, which I chronicled here.  I’m so glad I was able to attend.  And I’m sorry that I’ll miss her memorial as it will be while I’m in Alaska.

Spent most of the day running errands, then dinner at Rachel’s with my sister Barbara and friend Marilyn, with whom I’ll cruise.  Relaxing way to end the day ... until I got home and found my laptop wouldn’t charge.  Previously I’d been able to jiggle the cord near the small bite that Lily made in the cord and it would work.  But at 7:50 pm tonight that wasn’t working.  Panic.  I’m at Janet and Ed’s (they’re at a dinner of the lake community where their cabin is location), but son Thom heard me screech.  He suggested Apple might still be open ... and they were until 9.  I was there, tested the old cord, bought a new one ($80!!!) and home before 9.  Now I can finally finish packing ...

10 September, Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska
We are definitely on the high seas!  The captain told us via loudspeaker last evening that the going would be a bit rough, and it has been.  But so far the cruise has been wonderful ... I looked at the photos that were taken as Marilyn and I boarded yesterday, and we already look relaxed.  My mug shot is actually kind of nice so I may have to bite the bullet and buy that one.

Yesterday was whirlwind of early rise and off to the airport.  Thanks bunches to my sister for driving me at 7 am.  A long flight to Seattle sandwiched between a very heavy-thighed male wiggler on the aisle and a germophobe at the window.  At least my legs weren’t cramped since I bought economy comfort, but Delta changed aircraft and I wasn’t in the seat I had selected, which was an exit row with no seats in front.

Leaving the port of Seattle.   That tall thing in the left background is the Space Needle.  It's celebrating it's 50th anniversary this year.  I remember when it was constructed for a World's Fair in 1962.

The cruise line was extraordinarily well organized from meeting us at baggage claim to getting us on board, all very efficiently.  We easily found our stateroom which has a verandah, and so did the steward who brought our bags later.  We unpacked and could fit our suitcases under the beds.  The biggest slow down was the long line at every station of the lunch buffet in the Lido restaurant.  Mandatory fire drill was slightly nightmarish.  The crew were marvelous but the passengers ... too many in the wrong lifeboat queue and not listening.  Marilyn figured out how we buy wifi which I was able to do, so we can stay connected a less than 75 cents a minute but will still have to be quick when on line.  The connection is about the same speed as I had in South Sudan, that is, way slower than any I’ve had in the US since dial-up days.

Marilyn in our room.  Bigger than I had expected, and the verandah was wonderful -- fresh air whenever I needed it!

Looking down from our verandah -- and that's the lifeboat we were assigned.  Very convenient!

10 September, Tracy Arm, Alaska

 The glacier from our verandah.

The glacier "calved" -- large pieces separated from the main glacier.  This frog was many of the piece we saw.  The blue color was astonishing.  I'd heard that arctic ice is blue but never imagined how vivid it would be.

11 September, Juneau, AL

A whole day in port and it’s pouring rain. Needless to say, I didn't take many pix.

What a surprise to find Boleslawiec for sale in Juneau.  That is a brand of Polish pottery that's VERY popular among my US friends, started with three patterns that won a design award and has expanded to at least a dozen patterns and even more pieces (ear of corn dishes!)

12 September, Sitka AL

About 6 hours in port, overcast and drizzly.  Guess what the main industry is in Sitka?

13 September, Ketchikan AL, Rain Capital of North America.

 Me at the Ketchikan sign
Gorgeous sunny day and we only had four hours.  We were mostly shopped out though we did find excellent deals at a jewelry store and partook.  We rode a free city circulator bus for a short tour of the sights; the driver was an excellent guide.

Liquid Sunshine Gauge next to Tourist Info Center.   Average rainfall per year 12.5 FEET. 

15 September, approaching Victoria, BC, our last stop
At the "prep to disembark" briefing the cruise director said we'd have a hard time adjusting to life on land for a few days.  Sea legs, but also we'd find ourselves standing with our empty plates and 15 minutes later they'd still be empty because no one filled them for us.  And we'd have to start remembering days of the week since we'd have no elevator rugs as a point of reference.  
These were definitely a plus as the week went by.

16 September, Seattle, Washington

A very blonde Marianne and her husband met me at the dock in Seattle.  I almost didn't recognize her.  She had very dark hair the last time I saw her -- in 1990 -- but otherwise was just the same. I stayed there for a couple of night catching up.  Marianne is having her last chemo for color cancer on Tuesday.

We had a delightful time on a Duck Tour of Seattle, followed by a fantastic lunch near Pike Place Market where I did a lot of looking and a little shopping while Marianne bought a special Starbuck's coffee at the original Starbuck's coffee shop.

20 September, Santa Barbara, California

I'm always one who likes to make her airfare work for her.  Hence, the stay in Seattle to re-connect with an old friend ... and a trip to San Francisco to see my friends and family in the Bay Area.  As usual, I stayed with Jean, and we took a short jaunt to another part of the state, this time the Santa Barbara area.  We had lunch yesterday with Jean's elderly Uncle Bob, and today visited my friend Kim from my Booz days and her daughter Katie, almost 2 years old, as well as the city.

30 September 2012 Minneapolis MN USA
Here I am, once again having neglected to write what I composed in my head all month.  Thankfully I remembered to take a few photos -- I’m notorious for taking a camera and forgetting to use it; ditto the camera on the iPhone.  But I took my digital camera on the cruise and thereafter, so you saw the month anyway.

You all know how much I love to travel but even for me, this period has been excessive. But that was my choice.  Being able to make such choices is what retirement, at least for me, is all about.  I can take an overseas assignment that looks interesting and worthwhile, I can make my air travel dollars work by staying away from home longer, I can help friends and enjoy a long weekend “back home” with my siblings.  Some day I won’t be able to do that as easily, and certainly not travel to off-the-beaten-path places.  All that is by way to telling you that October (mostly in DC), November (Michigan, Pittsburgh) and December (Poland and DC) will be equally travel heavy.  So until then, TTFN (a 1960s goodbye short cut -- ta ta for now).