Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The first time I saw a cockroach was in Romania in 1980. We named him Oskar, which seemed to befit his truly gargantuan size, and talked about finding him a jaunty red bow.
We’d heard terrific tales about the Black Sea mud and its effect on arthritis and so, mor took Janne and I off to a two-week spa vacation in Eforie Nord. Or what I with the help of the internet am pretty sure was Eforie Nord - the coastline looks familiar. We stayed at a hotel right on the beach and when we basked in the sun on the white sand, we were told you could see Odessa over to the left and in the far distance.
But I get ahead of myself. First I need to tell you about the scariest plane ride I've ever had. It was a charter trip, a group of Danes off for the curative effects of Black Sea mud and we flew with Air Romania (which at the time, my father later told us, had the worst safety rating of any airline in Europe - by the end of our vacation, he'd bitten his nails to the quick, trying to hold up the plane by sheer willpower). I sat by the window, as I preferred to be able to see out. I regretted this decision once we took off, when the rattling started and the condensation trickled down the inside of the window. I swear that plane was held together with rubber bands and chewing gum. The food was Romanian deli meats and buns and tasted quite nice. Within a few hours of arriving at the "four-star" hotel, the entire plane came down with food poisoning. Except for Janne, who'd had the good sense not to touch any of the mystery meats.
The hotel taught me that the star system is relative. We had a small room with two beds and a cot, a window in the corner looking out over the Black Sea. The view was spectacular, the room less so. We hung our clothes on the curtain rod, accepting the closet as Oskar's domain.
After the experience with food on the plane, Janne and I ate nothing from the meals served in the hotel restaurant except occasionally soup and bread. Instead, we subsisted largely on Coca-Cola and chocolate that we bought in special shops for tourists - you could buy Western products there like soft drinks, chocolate and cigarettes and the Romanians often asked us to buy things for them, which of course we did. We also went into the town and stood in line with the citizens to buy bread and fruit and coming as we did from a country with choice and selection, it was a real education.
The town itself was beautiful and we often walked through it, enjoying the sun, the scenery and beautiful parks. They had the highest curbs I've ever seen and no curb cuts, which I thought was interesting considering it was a spa town where you'd assume there might be wheelchairs. Or maybe not, because at some point, either on the trip or later, I discovered that in Eastern Europe under communism, people with disabilities were hidden away in institutions. I don't know whether that has changed.
In many ways it was the worst vacation I've ever had, yet it was also very good. It exposed me to a different way of life, showed me the reality of corrupt communism and real live communists. When we stood in line for pairs and plums, we saw the armed police officers, walking in pairs through the city. We walked along a high wall and were told that Ceauşescu’s palace was behind it. We found tiny little cottages on side streets encircled by lush hibiscus hedges dotted with brilliant red flowers - I had never seen that flower before and was overwhelmed by its exotic beauty. We were told that the cottages were for party members only, not regular people (it turns out that Napoleon was right when he said "some animals are more equal than others"). Regular people had regular jobs, if they were lucky, like the woman who operated the tiny hotel elevator 12 hours a day and was grateful for having a job.
And the mud, you ask? I went to the spa once and was overwhelmed by the stench of the mud. This was also when we found out that the staff would not be assisting clients in and out of various mud and water contraptions, so we ended up skipping the spa and focusing on the vacation. The weather was astonishing, the beach was phenomenal, we went on bus tours to see the landscape and various forms of entertainment where one night, a Romanian gentleman kissed all the ladies’ hands, including mine - the first and only time I have ever had my hand kissed as a greeting. Another Danish girl and I spent some time hanging out on a bench under the large shade trees in the park getting to know two very beautiful Romanian boys (and let me tell you, Romanian men are gorgeous), I got so drunk on cheap wine that my nose went numb and we met an awful lot of wonderful people.
In the airport going home, the official glowering at our passports accused my mother of taking home an extra child and called over an armed guard who stood firmly right next to us until the charter group guide managed to fix the situation, letting us take Janne home. That was the closest I've ever been to a machine gun. Within a few days of coming home, I came down with a severe case of mono, which kept me in bed for five months.
As for Oskar? He promised to write, but never did.
What's your worst vacation experience?
Monday, June 25, 2007
I’ve got nutthin’. Zero, zip, zilch. Nada. My little blonde head is entirely devoid of not only interesting or thought-provoking tidbits, but of pretty much anything. Seriously, there's nothing. Yesterday - well, by the time you’re reading it's today, but when I wrote it, today was yesterday and if I don't stop this right now I'm going to start whimpering - anyway, where was I? Oh yes! At some point in time (and that seems an altogether safer way of phrasing it), I parked myself in front of the computer and stared blankly at the monitor for quite some time while my brain apparently put out a sign saying "gone fishin’". You know those weeks where you run out of energy on Tuesday, but because you have a fair bit of momentum going you manage to be incredibly efficient for the rest of the week on pure willpower and then when you stop, you really S… T… O… P... ?
Of course, I could provide you with an update on the Wounded Warrior (as I've decided to call my mother), who is fine - well, as fine as you can be when you will have to spend several months in hospital/convalescent facilities/rehab. No more surgeries are planned, so now her task is to heal while wearing "really thick socks",
as she's decided to call the casts. As you can see, we had a terrific photo-op last week - what? Of course I brought my camera… - while I buzzed around her bed, taking pictures of the casts for historical purposes. Well, and so mor could see what her feet look like in more detail. Luckily, we managed to finish the shoot just in the nick of time before they covered up a crucial part. See, neither of us were aware that when there is a pin in/along a fractured bone, that pin may protrude out of your body. Naturally, there had to be a photo. Mor, Janne and I feel that this is definitely blogworthy, but given that one or two people have expressed some degree of surprise/queasiness upon hearing the story, I'm going to make the picture as small as possible to protect those of you who would rather not know (however, if your reaction to this is "neat!", click on the thumbnail for larger version – look at the tip of the 4th toe).
Following the Harlot’s example in soothing her readers with pictures of yarn to take the edge off, here’s an iris (I have no yarn) to hide in should you be overcome with ick.
I wonder if I’m going to post this? After all, it seems to be fairly close to proof that I’ve gone off my rocker. Or taken to drinking in the afternoon. Which I haven’t, although it’s altogether possible I’ve gone a tad giddy (batty?) with the tired.
p.s. it appears that in posting this, I have decided to exhibit no pride whatsoever, with the hope that the ravings of a demented idiot might be more entertaining than nothing…
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
According to a tabloid recently perused (don’t look at me like that), Dennis Quaid and his wife are expecting twins and naturally very excited. They are reportedly using what the paper calls a “gestational carrier” – the embryos were created in vitro with contributions from both parents, then implanted in another woman through the birth (didn’t that used to be called a “surrogate”?). Maybe there’s a good reason for it and god knows I have every sympathy with fertility-challenged couples, but the term “gestational carrier”? Unfortunate. Makes it sound like the latest in celebrity conveniences. Or that aliens have invaded and are creating a hybrid creature. Or something.
Last week, I received a notice from my private health insurance that come August, my premium will increase $13.20 a month. Thirteen dollars and twenty cents! PER MONTH!! I really had gotten my head around turning 45, but now that they have so kindly reminded me that I’ll be moving into another box, I don’t like it one bit.
A while back, after the success of March of the Penguins, I read an article about the general lack of imagination in Hollywood. Someone opined that it’d probably lead to some studio suit cheerfully yelling “More Penguins!”, attributing the success to those delightful birds, rather than things like interesting premise, high quality, etc. (I swear I’ve told that story before, but have decided against spending hours in my archives looking for the post, when re-telling it took 2 minutes. Pardon the repetition). Then Happy Feet happened and this summer, there’s Surf’s Up. More penguins, indeed. Personally, I’m looking forward to Ratatouille – a completely original idea, not based on a comic or anything. What a concept.
Went to opthamalogist and while waiting, entertained myself looking around at the waiting room decoration. There was a poster on wall, on letter sized piece of paper with a bright yellow field at the top where large heavy black writing proclaimed: “Living with Vision Loss”. The rest of the page was in 12pt. Sigh.
Why is it that only children can open childproof caps?
Sunday, June 17, 2007
A week ago, when my mother was about to drive off to see the Tinks (which is a long drive – two areas codes away and that’s quite a lot here in Southern Ontario), I told her to drive carefully, because I’d had a dream/feeling/something that there was an accident coming. Didn’t know anything more, except it’d be pretty serious and assumed it’d be car-related. I’ve gotten feelings like this before, since I was a kid. Runs in the women on my mother’s side. My grandmother had them, mor has them, I have them. Suffice it to say, that had we been born in another time, we’d have been burned at the stake. Anyway, mor got to the Tinks and back in one piece.
This past Thursday, one of my mother’s oldest and dearest friends arrived last Thursday for a 1-week visit. Inger has never been here before, but for the past 25 years, they’ve stayed in touch by phone and letters and we’ve all been very excited about the visit. Unfortunately, Inger arrived with a massive chest cold and Saturday, she felt so crappy, they decided to go to a walk-in clinic.
On the way out from the clinic, antibiotics in hand, mor fell and hurt her feet. Being mor, she drove home and had a spot of lunch before calling the paramedics. Turns out she managed to break several bones in her left ankle/foot and managed to dislocate her right ankle so severely, they had to perform surgery to rearrange the bones back to where they were supposed to be. She will be in the hospital, in bed for six weeks and, I assume, likely more for rehab.
I have a migraine. Also, the bastards didn’t take her to the hospital closest to where we live, so it’s going to be hard to get there as often as I’d like.
Oh, and that feeling I had about the accident a week early? What’s the bleedin’ point of being able to see glimpses of the future if it ain’t gonna be more specific?? Or give you the winning lottery numbers...
Friday, June 15, 2007
I may have a date. But I’m not sure. We’re going for coffee, which these days is often a pre/semi/whatever date. Except when it’s just coffee. Which would, in this particular case, be just fine with me.
Despite not being alive in the good old days, I still miss the clarity of knowing that when a boy asked you to go out with him, his intentions were clear: to get into your pants, even if it meant having to marry you. OK, so I don’t miss the lack of women’s options, the poodle skirts or the bryl crème (can’t imagine running my hands through that mess), but the certainty about dating? That I miss.
OK, so I should admit that I’ve never been terrifically adept at the dating thing (except for a gradually increasing ability to spot red flags). Once, I’d met up with an acquaintance I hadn’t talked to in years and we spent several weeks in lively and entertaining email conversation, then played tourists in Toronto and had several meals together. It wasn’t until the third time we got together and he didn’t insist on paying for both of us that I realized we’d been dating (and now no longer were). It was literally the only sign. What happened to the end-of-time-together kiss so handy in telegraphing intentions? I like a fairly conservative approach, but really? Who knew?? It still boggles my mind...
Sometimes I wonder if my low dating IQ comes from growing up in a country that doesn't really have that concept - sure, when I was a teenager in Denmark, people did things together as a way of finding out if they're right for each other, but Dating as the sociological phenomenon? Had never heard of it before I came to Canada and at that time, I was quite frankly too busy getting to know my new country to worry about boys. Come to think of it, that's often been the problem (if it is indeed a problem, but that's a post for another day) - I tend to get caught up in other things and forget about acquiring a boyfriend.
I've read articles about the way dating has continued to change to the point where these days, apparently teenagers go out in herds and informally find each other that way. It's just getting more and more vague, isn't it? At least I'm of a generation where there is the ‘clarity’ of coffee. Sure, the ambiguous approach does have its benefits - not only are you not trapped for an entire dinner if things are clearly not working out, it is easier to achieve a subtle and more elegant shift to friendship and/or disappearing into the wild blue yonder while both parties save face. And maybe that's what it's all about - saving face, avoiding embarrassment, leaving the encounter unscathed. I wonder... Is this all because we are more afraid of getting hurt, less willing to risk?
Whatever the reason, I find it confusing - as I once told John when he looked a little shellshocked after my mother, sister and I had had a particularly a-hem… intense episode: Andersens don't do well with the unknown.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
It’s everywhere. There’s no possible way of avoiding it. And no, I’m not talking about war, genocide, G8 meetings or the fact that a recent study shows that women still earn almost 20% less than men. Nope. I’m talking about Paris Hilton’s “vacation”. I spent all weekend trying to think about another topic to post about, but alas, the ubiquity of Paris updates in real-time made it well nigh impossible for me to clear space for other things and so, I'm sorry to admit, this blog will take a brief break from its usual Paris Hilton-free mandate, although I am hoping said break will be limited to an illustrative example of the larger point.
I've been thinking about actions and consequences. About bad behaviour, apologies and rehabilitation. This pondering was triggered (this time) by aforementioned Ms. Hilton, who at 26 appears unable to handle the consequences of her actions. Previously, I've thought about these concepts whenever the headlines have been hijacked by another celebrity behaving badly and attempting to explain it all away by conveniently becoming "sick", blaming other factors up to and including hangnails. It makes me wonder where we’re going with the victimization, blaming our actions on… well, if you’re Mel Gibson, your anti-Semitic, sexist tirade was because you have an addiction, and if you’re Isaiah Washington, you blame temper-induced use of the f-word (no, not fuck, I have no problems using that) – well, I can’t quite remember what, point is that like Gibson, he hurried off to rehab (for what? Prejudice??). It all makes me wonder why we have come to the point where when someone - at least a celebrity someone - acts like a jerk, all they have to do is enter rehab, then do the talk show rounds of mea culpas, publicly engaging in a show of humble, self-flagellating psychobabble et voila! all is forgiven.
I find it astonishing that people can attempt to absolve themselves of personal responsibility by claiming illness - and we're not talking a psychiatric condition. I know people who due to a disease have done or said things they’d otherwise not and it offends me to hear the rich and famous excuse what’s frankly just bad behaviour with the label of “disease” - whereas alcoholism is a disease, I doubt very much bigotry is. Although given the trend, maybe it’ll be added to the 2015 edition of what might by then be the DSM-XVII, thus completely eradicating the concept of personal responsibility from our culture... Am I the only one who boggles at the endless parade of people - celebrities or non- - on TV, in articles and starting in my actual life who increasingly reply to a challenge of inappropriate behaviour, hurtful language, etc., by saying "it's not my fault, it's because...", claiming the blame lies elsewhere, anywhere, just not within them?
Which brings me back to Paris. Because, maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe the unabashed and unseemly glee with which every media outlet in the known (North American) world has documented every second of the woman’s legal adventure and her emotional reaction is not just based on our hunger for seeing the alleged mighty reduced to lower levels. Maybe the disproportionate and distasteful dose of schadenfreude colouring the coverage is a concentration of disgust over the parade of “not my fault” skirting of responsibility that increasingly pervades our culture.
(yes, I am aware that I sound like I’m 93. Any minute now, I’m going to start using the terms “back in my day” and “whippersnappers”).
What do you think? (not about me acting 93. The other bit)
Monday, June 11, 2007
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
I’m a bit nervous about jumping the gun and jinxing the whole thing, but on the other hand, your comments and support during the time I was in hell was one of the things that helped me get through it and I’m itching to make it official (because when I say it, it will be true and permanent - at least for a while, right?). So in this conflicted mood, I present a progress report of sorts.
H is for Heeding your instincts. I tried it their way and then one day, I woke up, said “fuck that” (not words to that effect, but exactly that and out loud) and informed my doctor I’d be doing it my way, scheduling the Humira shots on the schedule my body asked for. And it worked. I feel Healthier, the arthritis has largely Hied its Hiney off into Hiding and life is getting better and better. H is also for Humour, as in getting your sense of… back. Funny things have started to happen to me again – who knew that a Hallmark of Health would be that your life becomes a comedy routine?
U is for Upper respiratory tract nonsense. Like Enbrel, one of the major side effects is an Unbelievable Upping of production in that region, especially in the days immediately following the shot, accompanied by other flu-like symptoms, fatigue etc. But after spending a few days Upping the quantity of vitamin C, it pays off in another week or more of feeling just fine. U is also for gradually becoming quick on the Uptake again. In the past week, I’ve even engaged in witty repartee!
M is for muscle spasms. Remember those? The muscle clenches? Yeah, them. They’re gone. One of the side effects of Humira is described as “warmth” and it's the strangest thing. About 30 minutes after my first shot, a rush of warmth moved through my body and it's essentially stayed around since, increasing my core temperature, if you will. Which is fabulous. One of the best ways of dealing with fibromyalgia is to stay warm and being warm from the inside has relaxed muscles that haven't been relaxed in two years. Sure, things are More sore and crampy in those couple of days after the shot, but then it simmers down, leaving only tension from doing things. Which admittedly can get a bit intense at times, but is easier to deal with when it's not tension on top of a spasm on top of a clench with a cramp thrown in for good measure. There are days where I hardly take any painkillers at all (relatively speaking, naturally). M is for getting my Mind back - after months of feeling like my brain moved with the speed of Molasses in January (pre-global warming, that is), it's started to feel nimble again, which doesn't start with an M, but is the only word for it. And best of all, in the last couple of weeks, I've started to feel like Myself again.
I is for Itch. As Enbrel lost ground, the rashes faded, but once Humira really started kicking arse, they came back. The good thing is that so far, they're limited to a few places which means that I don't feel as compelled to walk down the street ringing a bell, chanting 'unclean... unclean...' like a medieval leper (it's not Infectious, it just looks very rash-y) and although they are Incredibly, Irritatingly and Insanely Itchy, it's manageable and a small price to pay. I is also for Increase in energy. A couple of weeks ago, I cleaned a little and I didn't stop at one thing. Unless you mean one pile! And the trend has continued, to the point where last week was Inundated with Intensity - I was busier that I've been since sometime last year and although I hit the wall in terms of exhaustion towards the end of the week - which required spending the last several days Inactively drooling with a book or movie - I can feel it. Every day I go another tiny step down the path towards more energy, more laughter, more life.
R is for Ravenous. Like Enbrel, Humira installs a Ravenous beast in my stomach and for those days after the shot, I eat everything that isn’t nailed down. Don’t get to keep much of it, as any and all edibles seem consumed in a lightning flash upon entry into my stomach, but after that, it gets better. The rest of the time, I eat like normal person instead of a teenaged boy (although still more than I have in like, ever) and best of all, I’m allowed to keep some, even gaining some weight to the point where my skin isn’t loose anymore. Which is a nice break – it’s incredible frustrating to look anorexic when you’re continuously eating.
A is for Asthma, which has calmed down. It’s still there, still Aggravated by the shot, but nothing like the past two years. It’s for Allergies – Enbrel made me allergic to everything, limiting my diet severely and with very few exceptions, I didn’t eat fruits or vegetables when I was on it. Now, I am. I’m taking my time re-introducing it as my body requests (nay, demands) – I’ve been scarfing down cucumbers and grapes so far and am planning to try cherries this week. It’s very exciting. The crazy improvements this past week or so, that last push over into Awesome, was Assisted by a steroid shot (no, I haven’t turned into a Romanian gymnast, they help with the tension and cracking) – seems that Humira would like just a little help to really go nuts. And finally, A for Amazing.
And then there’s G. For Grateful. And H, for very, very Happy.
Monday, June 04, 2007
I should probably admit that the vast majority of the (vast amounts of) photographs taken by yours truly are of the Tinks - hey, I don’t see them often and they’re cute and OK, so I can’t stop with the picture taking when they’re around because I want a record of every breath they take. No, I am not obsessed with my wee lovies – and speaking of my wee lovies. Remember two months ago, when they definitely looked like babies? What happened? Look at those longlegged children in the stroller! What kind of fertilizer do their parents use??
Liam wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t too sure about how he felt about everything (it was the Tinks’ first visit to a restaurant), although shortly after this picture was taken, he and I engaged in a spirited game of peek-a-boo.
Morgan got right into the menu.
After a while, Liam started feeling better, although he cleverly manipulated his not-quite-perky state of being into bending every adult present to his will, spending most of the evening on one lap or another. That’s mormor’s nose in the corner.
There were noisemakers, streamers and partyhats. Morgan was left unimpressed by the hat thing and looked like this until it was removed. Which was quickly. You don’t want to leave a hat on that child for long.
Having moved to his mother’s lap, Liam got into the balloons.
As did Morgan.
And then there was cake. A lot of cake. Chocolate cake with chocolate filling (and strawberries) and fudge icing. Yes, we like chocolate – why do you ask?Busy day, fun evening, successfully rocked to sleep by Ken, the Master Baby Wrangler.
Friday, June 01, 2007
One of the books that I've had trouble committing to is Looking for Mr. Goodfrog (hours after posting, it occurred to me that I might want to do a link for that. It's been a long week. I've turned off my brain). It looked like a nice, frothy read, so I started it earlier this week and ended up having successive aneurysms every time I picked it up to read a bit more.
The problem is that the main character is a complete and utter idiot. Singularly focused on her love life (or lack of success therein - that good old saying 'you have to kiss an awful lot of frogs before you find a prince'), she tells the stories of all the men/frogs she meets. We’ve all had our share of strange and entertaining dating stories, but it’s when she says things like “I only kissed frogs, but at least I was kissing” that I have to stop reading for a while until my blood pressure drops. I mean, kissing is one of my favourite things, but I’d rather not kiss than kiss ‘frogs’. But maybe that’s just me? Anyway, this woman keeps going on dates with men who have so many red flags they look like a May Day parade in Beijing. For instance:
She meets a man online - I've got nothing against online, I've met many of my dearest friends in cyberspace, plus dated some (frogs and non-) - and for the first time in a while, there’s a spark. They meet for drinks and things go very well, until she mentions family and he gets all distant and weird. Red flag number one, but who hasn't ignored one or two of these when under the influence of chemistry? He’d originally offered to treat her to a cab home, she said no (because he'd made a big deal out of liking ‘independent women’), but they’d such a good time that it got too late to take a bus and since she had no cash on her, she asked if she could change her mind about the previous offer (how many women do you know who go on a date without what one of my attendants calls 'vex money' - you stick $20 in your pocket so you can get a home on your own steam if things go sideways. Basic, right?) And he flips out, ranting about how he doesn't want to take care of someone else, accusing her of trying to manipulate him and storms out. She waits at the table for him (oh, fer fuck’s sake – I would so be gone) and he returns and pulls her outside on the sidewalk where she starts apologizing for "manipulating him" (I wanted to smack her) and then he says "it's done" (or something like that) and does that zipping the lip and turning the key gesture that is so infuriating and she drives home, feeling crappy about herself. And then, THEN! The next chapter opens with her waking up in his arms a few days later and they have a relationship that not surprisingly seriously messes with her self-esteem.
OK, so I could understand if this woman was younger, still learning how to spot the red flags - that ability only develops with exposure and practice. But she is single, never married, and in her mid-40s! I really don't believe in blaming the victim - there's way too much of that targeted at women - but this supposedly smart woman is giving smart women in their 40s a bad name. If you’ve been single and dating for a number of years and have been paying even the teensiest bit of attention, you bloody well learn to spot the major red flags and run screaming for the hills when they start wafting in the breeze, regardless of how long it’s been since you last got laid.
Halfway through the book I kept wondering why I was continuing, as this was so very clearly an example of a book that, in the immortal words of Dorothy Parker, should not be put aside, but should be hurled with great force. Aside from what’s apparently an out-of-control need to complete things, I was also vaguely (OK, fervently) hoping that the last half of the book would take us somewhere worthwhile - that maybe she'll find out that although having a partner is wonderful, your life doesn't automatically suck if you don't. Or maybe she’d start being able to spot the good ones, instead of go fishing in the frog pond (I know the knitters out there are laughing now) . And then it changed... About halfway in, there’s a section about her visiting her mother in Florida that just sings with truth and beauty and made me turn green with envy at her ability to convey human relationships. After that, it got sort of autobiographical and how-to and then there were long stretches of really good thoughts about relationships and men and women and… who knows where it’s going next (I have about a quarter left).
I've come to the conclusion that this is a “creative non-fiction” type of book. Clearly based on her own experiences, I suspect the first half, which in the book lasts a year, is probably is a condensed version of her younger years – the leap in personal growth is just too abrupt, taking her from 30 (max) to 45 in the blink of an eye. And it left me feeling sad. The concept’s good and there are moments where you can see just how brilliant a writer she could be, if only someone would have asked for another rewrite. Y’know, just tighten it up a bit, smooth the uneven bits – shine, woman, shine! (and get a better editor)
Anyway, I’m hoping to end the week with a lively discussion of frog stories in the comments. I’ll start with my favourite: met a guy online who once he heard I use a wheelchair told me that he wasn’t interested because he wanted “an equal partner”. As I was fuzzy on how the chair made me less in this context, I pressed for details and he said “y’know, someone who can help me paint the house. And stuff”. Oh, yeah. Because that’s the cornerstone of a relationship, ain’t it?