Monday, March 30, 2009

My Adventure With Paralysis

Thankfully, Bell's Palsy is not a permanent paralysis, but even after nine years, I have daily reminders of what it did to the left side of my face. Maybe I should be over it by now, but it left permanent reminders in my face. It was probably brought on by a traumatic event in December 1999. The first sign that something wasn't right was numbness on the left side of my tongue. When the left side of my mouth started a downturn, I knew it was time to see the doctor. Right in the doctor's office, more changes came on. My left eye became hard to blink and my cheek stopped moving. I became a curiosity for everyone in the office. Most of them had never seen Bell's before. During the worst of it, my left eye would not close or even blink, my mouth was in a frozen frown, but only on the left side -- not at all attractive. When my parents heard about it they were determined to help, insisting that I go down to their house in Port Republic to relax for a week. Dad drove up to the District to take me back down there. Spouse was a good sport about it, but I know his feelings were hurt and we missed each other terribly. Nevertheless, my siblings told me I should let my parents try to help. I was waiting at the front entrance to our apartment house when Dad arrived. He didn't have to speak -- the look on his face said it all. He put my bag in the back and I climbed in the front. I tried to relieve his pained expression with humor, but no luck. Stopping at a gas station on the way down, a woman caught sight of me and stared for the longest time. She finally looked away when I gave her a crooked grin. Eating was downright ugly. To avoid dribbling food or liquids, I held the left side of my mouth shut and drank through a straw. So as not to frighten anyone or attract debris, I wore a black patch over my unblinking eye. Lack of depth perception made walking and climbing stairs real interesting. Many, many people have survived Bell's. Eventually, the worst of it goes away and a semblance of normalcy returns. However, for one who, for a very brief time was considered pretty, the embarrassment of having one nostril twitch at odd times, an uneven smile and a constant twitch under my left eye is a lot to handle. Friends and family supportively say they don't notice, but the mirror doesn't lie. I don't smile as freely as I used to. When children and babies look puzzled or scared when I smile at them, it hurts but I understand. They have yet to learn tactful artifice to avoid embarrassing others. But then some people never learn . . . Don't feel sorry for me, though. There are so many others with far worse problems. Losing Spouse or having a terminal disease -- now those would set me back!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Let's Get Real

As usual, I scanned the obituaries this weekend. Many of them reveal interesting and fulfilling lives. Others however are sad or strike a nerve. One that bothered me was for a woman married to a U.S. diplomat. She lead a remarkable and generous life. However, I have to assume that whomever gave the obit writer information on the woman is responsible for an off-putting statement: "Mrs. So-and-so avoided the pool-side-and-tennis social life she might have had as a diplomat's wife." My cousin Hallie is a diplomat's wife. Her married life has been spent everywhere BUT pool-side or on a tennis court. Stationed in Panama during Noriega's reign, she had to take cover when shots were fired at their home. She also barely survived a deadly infection. When she and her husband were stationed in one of the newly re-established Balkan republics, their lives were constantly in danger. Diplomatic spouses are expected to take on duties in their host countries to serve the interests of the United States. They are not paid. While the paid, professional spouse is, say, off answering tough questions in a panel discussion, the unpaid spouse might be leading a volunteer effort to pick up litter on the shores of a river. How glam can you get?! I'm sure there are spouses who do lead more glamorous lives -- those whose appointments are political. Career diplomats -- the trained professionals -- take the tough assignments. There's little time or opportunity to lounge by a pool or play tennis when water is rationed and electricity is available a few hours each day. Sand storms, flooding, extreme heat or cold, and civil unrest are among things that can make the diplomatic life far from glamorous.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Current Reading: "Alice"

I'm a big fan of biographies. Before Christmas I bought two about 20th century female phenoms: Gertrude Bell and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. I could hardly wait to dig into "Alice" by Stacy A. Cordery.
Alice's father was Theodore Roosevelt of Rough Riders and Bull Moose Party fame. Her distant cousins were Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt from the disdained and disdainful Democratic branch of the family. Alice's branch were Republicans.
What is so fascinating about this book is being able to witness -- through several insider's eyes -- the behind the scenes machinations of political figures and their romantic dalliances during the early part of the 20th century. There's plenty of booze, sexual shenanigans, political intrigue and familiar names. It gave me a whole new perspective on politics!
P.S. This intimate biography was made possible by the availability of hundreds of personal letters. This fact reminded me that future stories will be harder to tell. Emails get deleted and hardly anyone writes pen-and-paper letters anymore. Too bad.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

D.C.'s Hidden Gem: Hains Point

Most residents know there's a golf course and driving range at Hains Point, also known as West Potomac Park. Well, I'll bet not many know there's also a putt-putt golf course there. Yes!
When my nephew Zach was a little guy, he and his mom would sometimes drive up to D.C. to spend a day with me. We visited Rock Creek Park, the Capitol grounds, Washington National Cathedral, the old Capital Children's Museum, Roosevelt Island and Hains Point. Whenever we went to the latter, we inevitably wound up playing putt-putt golf.
The course isn't as spectacular as some others -- no windmills, castles or monsters -- but it still is challenging enough for kids and some adults, like me.
Hains Point is also a great place to fly a kite, have a picnic, go fishing, watch planes take off and land at National, ride a bike, jog, walk or just hang-out!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Expensive Snack or Useful Tool?

As useful as I think the plan is, I have to wonder if it's practical.
British scientists have developed some sophisticated, robotic fish that they plan to release in waters off northern Spain. Their purpose is to detect leaks from underwater pipelines before they become calamitous.
The realistic looking robots make swimming movements and guide themselves. They run on 8-hour batteries and return to a recharger hub. I can almost picture these realistic-looking, robotic fish all gathered around some device, fluttering their fins as they get juiced up.
My big question is how a $29,000 robotic fish will protect itself from predators who generally eat smaller prey in big gulps. Picture the poor big fish who has swallowed one or more of these robots when it comes time for them to resurface to relay data to a control center. . . talk about stomach butterflies!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gratuitous Cuteness XIII -- Touch Me

As most of you know (or have figured out by ) by now, I'm crazy about little people; babies in particular. No offense intended to Little People aka: dwarves, etc. I've always called children little people or little person or little one -- even my 6' tall niece!
When Alex was quite young, he liked to offer his chubby little hand to anyone closeby to touch. No one could resist! All he wanted was a touch and then he went back to whatever he was doing.
I have an amazing bunch of nieces and nephews, but they've all grown up way too fast! I've asked my siblings to do something about that, but . . .

Monday, March 16, 2009

Made a Connection

Went with Spouse this morning to have his MRI done. We left home at 7:15 and returned at 11:30. The procedure itself took all of 15 minutes. Paperwork took up about 20 minutes and, of course, there was the waiting. Unfortunately, during the first attempt, Spouse discovered that he has a serious case of claustrophobia. We were advised to see his referring doc, two blocks away to get some Valium. We made a mad dash to do that, had the prescription filled and dashed back. By then, the previously empty waiting room was filled. As Spouse changed back into his cute little gown, I waited in the standing room only waiting area. There was a handsome looking couple sitting together -- She well dressed and He in the cute little gown that never quite covers enough. She offered me a seat. I thanked her and said I would be fine standing. He and She returned to their whispered conversation and loving touches. Just before Spouse came out of the dressing room, He was escorted off for his procedure. Another chair was freed-up, so She offered us the chairs that were next to each other. We gratefully accepted and started our own whispered conversation. When the Valium finally kicked in I went with Spouse to comfort him during his MRI. It required special permission, but was worth it. Between the Valium and my holding his foot, he got through it. We staggered back to the waiting area and sat down together. When I was fairly certain Spouse would be able to dress himself without falling flat on his face, I sent him into the dressing room. She and I shared knowing smiles. Then He came back from his procedure, bent over in pain. The anguish in Her face spoke volumes. He sat down in a chair for several minutes grappling with the pain while she hovered over him. When he made it into the dressing room I noticed she was silently weeping. Without thinking, I walked over to her and offered her a shoulder. She stood up and we embraced for quite a long time. She had told me earlier that He had stage 4 cancer but had been gaining weight and looking much better since his diagnosis last year. She had a big smile on her face when she said that they had celebrated their wedding anniversary last Saturday. It didn't matter how many years because they were so obviously in love with each other. When He came out, dressed and clearly in pain we simultaneously asked for God's blessings for each other. Our eyes met and we knew the importance and appreciation we both felt for having been there for each other.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Billion Cicadas

That's what I hear in my head 24/7. I don't remember a time when I didn't hear it. There's a medical name for it -- tinnitus -- and a possible explanation for why people develop so-called ringing in their ears -- damage to delicate hairs in the cochlea. These days, plenty of service members are coming home with tinnitus from exposure to very loud noises like bombs, cannon and gun fire, etc. I empathize with them. I'm also thankful that my tinnitus was caused by something far less dangerous -- frequent middle ear infections when I was a child. One of my earliest memories is of my Dad dropping warmed, sweet oil into my ear in an effort to ease the pain. Sitting in his lap, he would then hold my head against his chest and rock me in an effort to will the pain to go away. Ear aches were very painful and frustrating because they took so long to go away. Remarkably, I have very acute hearing -- sometimes to the annoyance of friends and family. . . Anyway, somehow I can circumvent the cicadas and hear things others might not. The flip side of that gift is not being able to stand total silence or very loud noises. If I lived out in the middle of nowhere, without the sounds of planes, traffic or even wind through trees I would go bonkers. On the other hand, I have to cover my ears when an ambulance goes by or a plane flies overhead. Sometimes, in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, I sit on the balcony and listen to the hum of the city. I hear it as a combination of far away trains, traffic on bridges and the beltway, the rumble of thousands of air conditioners and other machinery. Focusing on those sounds helps to tame the screeching in my head. If anyone reading this has the affliction, I'd love to know what you do to cope.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Don't look at today as merely Friday the 13th . . .

. . . but rather that today marks one week before SPRING begins!!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Triggered -- again

Reading today's obituaries, I found myself weeping.
Sverre Fehn, a famed Norwegian architect, recently passed away. He had an interesting take on architecture and structures in general. He considered buildings intrusive on nature -- a brutal "attack by our culture on nature." He made a point of designing structures that would relate more easily to the natural environment. His world-famous buildings embraced and harmonized with nature.
My late Dad was a second generation Norwegian-American who maintained much of his family's cultural heritage. He, too was an architect.
When Dad designed his and Mom's retirement home high on a bluff overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, he retained many of the existing trees and shrubs. The house was built with cedar siding to resemble a Maryland tobacco barn. As the cedar aged, it took on a grayish patina that made it nearly invisible from the road. The only thing that gave the house away was a bright red door.
He went to great pains to plant native grasses and trees to help maintain the stability of the bluff and to add beauty to the site. As spartan as the house may appear from the road, the back, which faces the water, is nearly all glass and has a wide, inviting deck stretching the length of the house.
When they lived there, the house had a distinctly Scandinavian flare. Dad hand-cut balusters in a Norwegian motif for both ends of the deck. Their beloved little Rusty liked to threaten squirrels from the safety of the deck.
When given some walnut from an old tree removed from Mt. Vernon, he carefully cut pieces and used them to frame the fireplace in a thoughtfully chosen Nordic pattern.
When Mom and I talked by phone the other day, we both admitted to occasional weepy moments. Dad died in November 2007 but our memories are still fresh. It's consoling to know there is evidence, made out of wood, concrete and glass that remind us of his presence, not the least of which was a tiny grove of dogwoods he planted on a bluff over the Chesapeake.

Dad amongst his beloved dogwoods.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Saying Grace Alex-Style

During a long overdue chat with Mom this afternoon, she told me about having dinner with Alex and his clan last Friday night. For those of you who don't know Alex, he's my 8 year old nephew/godson who lives in Southern Maryland.
My sister Janet and her family make a habit of saying grace before their evening meal. She has been trying to help Alex memorize it so that he can lead it sometimes.
Friday evening, everyone was ready to eat. However, Alex sat with his head bowed, eyes closed, with his hands out for the traditional hand-holding part of grace. Taking his cue, the others bowed heads, closed eyes and clasped hands. With his eyes tightly shut and holding hands with his Grammy and brother Zach, Alex recited the grace that he had memorized in school:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands; one nation under God, indivisible; with liberty and justice for all.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

More Phun With Fotos

I took this picture last Spring and just twiddled it to look like a mosaic. It worked particularly well with this shot. My pansy painting in the background took on new life, too.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hey, Michelle: your roots are showing. . .

. . . your Midwestern roots that is. I couldn't have been prouder to see a news article on Mrs. Obama's recent visit to Miriam's Kitchen, here in Foggy Bottom. Compassion isn't solely a Midwestern characteristic, but it often seems to be in short supply in our current neck of the woods. When I first arrived in D.C. in 1968, my Midwestern roots got me into some awkward spots. I was accustomed to greeting everyone I passed on the street. A cheery hello, good morning or howya doin' earned weird looks from strangers who seemed to be thinking that I had just arrived from another planet. This openness is a trait I've found nearly impossible to give up -- even after all these years and chiding from spouse. Making eye-contact and conversation with strangers is something I cherish and appreciate in other people. Michelle Obama is setting an example I hope others will pick up on. Breaking the ice this way can lead to a friendlier society and greater understanding among groups who tend to isolate themselves in their comfy professional, cultural, or whatever corners. Life is too short to live in isolation. As Mrs. Obama proved with her actions, homeless persons need not be feared and many appreciate a kind word. It's all about the Golden Rule. P.S. OK, so I'm a bit of a Polly-anna. I'm not stupid though. I know how to watch out for my safety and avoid danger. However, benefit of the doubt works more often than not.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spring Break

College and high school students all over the country are looking forward to their week-long break from the school grind. They need it and should have it, but must it be in Mexico -- this year? Mexico has some of the loveliest terrain and people in the world, but news reports have been ghastly recently. The government's crackdown on drug cartels is bringing out the very worst in human behavior. I would have thought stories of torture, be-headings and widespread terrorizing of ordinary people would be enough to derail plans to travel there. As break time draws closer, I see news reports about glib college and high school kids who plan to go -- regardless! They mock their parents' attempts to stop them in that sanguine/delusional way some young people have. Aside from having to worry about drunken carousing, car accidents, rape, etc. parents will have nightmares about their Kaitlyn or Jeremy coming home in a box -- maybe in two pieces -- if the perps feel like keeping the severed head with the body. Are Mom and Dad doing the right thing by handing over large amounts of cash/credit to their kids so they can go where and when they want to? Has it become old fashioned to discipline one's kids and prevent them from putting themselves in harm's way? I am the first to admit that some things just have to be learned the hard way. As painful as it is for parents to watch, sometime that's the only way for kids to get the message. Nevertheless, clarity of vision is hard to achieve when friends, alcohol, sun and fun block the view. This is where parents have to draw the line and put a foot down, if necessary. Moderation may be an archaic idea, but it is still useful. Is going to Cancun, Baha or Cozumel the only place to spend spring break? No. There are plenty of great beaches here in the good ole U.S. of A. And, remember Puerto Rico and some of the Virgin Islands are U.S. territories, too. Magens Bay on St. Thomas is one of the most highly rated beaches in the world. In other words -- you've got choices. Make some better ones, OK?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It's another day and. . .

. . . I've changed my ever-lovin'-mind! Love is NOT such a splendored thing when it lounges around, polluting the air with never-ending flatulence, loudly proclaiming "there's something in my body" and "I need to see the doctor." He has the same thing I had last weekend yet thinks it's somehow entirely new and that only a doctor has a "magic bullet" to end his oh, so dreadful suffering. I'm starting to think a bullet is a good idea! Since yesterday afternoon, he has soiled all of his pajama bottoms, two pairs of underwear, a pair of thermal pants and his favorite chair. He insists that he's going to work tomorrow. I'm tempted to let him! He won't do anything to help himself, including using the meds I ran out to buy this morning, or the electroylte drinks I regularly take to him. I warm up broth and it gets cold on the stove. I boiled pasta for him. When he saw the small amount in the pot, he complained that it wasn't enough -- then ate only half of it. At his request, I cooked rice -- hardly made a dent in it. Why can't men be more like women? Unless we have work that must be done, we take our meds then curl up in a ball patiently waiting for them to kick-in. There isn't time to whine and posture dramatically. There's work to be done. It's times like these that try women's souls and prove or disprove the fortitude of our love. I have no choice but to go on -- gritting my teeth and biting my tongue to keep from thrashing the bugger!