Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Home Again and Behind

Have so much more to post on trip to Cambodia which I will start doing tomorrow. We got "blogged" down in the hotel room at Le Royal and too frustrated by writing and having it go away. So, stopped.

Trip home was the usual 17 hours of bliss. *Sarcasm intended* But without incident. It was nice to have the cab pull up and see my own Khmer King Henry, and the Georges. With the exception of having to run the vacuum cleaning within about 30 minutes of arriving - the boys held down the fort with amazing aplomb.

So, I'm off to change time zones. Pictures and what not commence tomorrow!

Glad to be home, but already miss the hum of Phnom Penh. Do you think that starting a tuk-tuk brigade here would work???

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Part II - New Hope Village

I FINALLY got a somewhat representative shot of the "bus" of folks traveling along the road from Phnom Penh to Kompong Speu today. It's not great, but I hope this helps with my inadequate description from the other day. Oddly, the rest of the road in this photo seems clear of other vehicles. This is NOT typical. Imagine this same shot, but add a few more motorbikes, a motorbike hauling a few pigs in pokes, a family of 4 riding like a pyramid on their moto (only the driver wearing a helmet, the rest bareheaded and the youngest toddlers standing on their mother's lap so that they can get a view of the street) as well as some trucks, regular bikes and a truck or two spewing diesel fuel with people sitting on the top. If you can imagine that you get the whole scene....

Sunday afternoon afforded us a little time to head about 15 minutes away from our school in KS over to the New Hope for Cambodian Children Village. I think it was supposed to have taken 15 minutes, but we got lost on some dirt roads, ran smack in to a dead-end with a pagoda and realized that we had taken a wrong turn. Our substitute driver (Program Manager Ken was sick today) kept calling sick-Ken to get directions. I wish I could explain it better - but remember that we are off the paved streets, we are back amongst the rice fields and farms. The road is single lane, hole pitted, dirt. There are no street signs, no road markers, nadda. Sub-driver had a "map", but for the life of me I don't know what he was using to determine where he was. The funniest thing was that he would not stop and ask any of the villagers for directions. Typical man. But indeed, we reversed our direction - took a "right" instead of a "left" and an arbitrary fork in the road and made it to New Hope. (Note: Yes, sub-driver had a cell phone. In fact, lots of Cambodians do. There is no electricity past about 500 yards from the main road, there is no water, no sewer, no other utilities, but there is cell phone reception. You can't see in the dark past 8:30 p.m., you have to go out to the woods to do your business, you need to haul up water from your well - but, hey! You can make a call on your cell phone while you are doing all that)

All I can say about this place is it is a veritable power-house of an NGO. In three years, a couple of ex-catholic missionaries (still catholic, but no longer missionaries) have managed to put together the largest HIV/AIDS village in Cambodia. They have an amazing paradigm. Bill Clinton supplies all the meds. They got funding to buy 21 acres. The built 8 pods of buildings. Each pod has several sleeping dorms connected to kitchens. They have enough pigs to supply all the methane gas they need. (Although I have to say that when we were touring one of the pig houses, they were cleaning out the pig-pooh to make the pig-pooh-water that creates the methane gas and I nearly puked as the shovel of pig-pooh passed too near my face - no farmer am I!) In addition, they raise something like 2000 chickens a cycle and sell them to KFC (while keeping the ones they need to eat). The kids are loved and hugged and it's like a giant family.

In a million years, this is not what Camtom is going to be doing - but it was one of the best "field trips" I have ever taken. They are awesome. Check out their website if you get a chance. This is an organization that is 100% HEART.

Sunday Part 1 - GIFTS!!!

Sunday here in Phnom Penh. We headed back out to KS Orphan Center for the visit that we planned specifically to bring gifts to the children. I think that the grinning face on the first photo pretty much summed the whole afternoon up...

This smile was a welcome relief after the day had started somewhat inauspiciously when I dropped my camera in the Russian Market. I think it is dead-kaput-gone-daddy-gone - but I am sure I can get the pictures off of it when I get home. But, like the title of my blog "why dwell" - there's nothing that can be done about it, so no crying over spilt cameras! I bummed a spare from my traveling companion and got some photos.

We once again stopped by our favorite fruit dealers in the Kompong Speu Town market and picked up a "branch o' bananas" to take with us along with about 80 baguettes!

Along with the "healthy stuff", we brought along all the gifts from the children's sponsors - those wonderfully generous folks who support each child for English lessons, computer lessons, and some other basic needs like rice and nanny support. We are eternally grateful, and as you can see - the children are too!

I got a shot of some of the boys in their "new" blue jeans. After lugging more than 240 pounds of stuff with us from the US - most of it gifts and blue jeans, it was rewarding to see them being immediately put to use. It does seem a bit odd to see them in jeans when the thermometer reads in the high 90's - but yesterday I saw a woman walking down the street in a winter coat. Why? Maybe she was chilly.

As I mentioned before, an old friend from HS of mine lovingly hand poured some lovely lollipops for all the kids.
And, BOY, were they a hit. The kids were initially very circumspect - I mean it is unlikely
that they have had a lollipop before, but once they took the first few tentative licks - all was right with the world. Interestingly, the lollipops were all poured in primary colors and in different shapes, so the kids had fun calling them out loud "THIS IS AN ORANGE OVAL!!"
as they were handed to each. Smiles, smiles and more smiles.

Finally, we gathered for a last group shot.
When I look at the picture I am reminded of the Sesame Street Song - "One of These Things is not like the other" - but we managed to squeeze in amidst the loud sucking noises and the gifts from sponsors and took our last kodak moments.

And then, we were driving away to our next stop - the New Hope Cambodian Children village just down the road. So sad to leave. So pleased to see that they are well taken care of, that their needs are being met and the the school is a success.

I said to our two teachers before we left that what Camtom built was just a building. It was just a building until they joined us, and, together as teachers, they made it a "school".

And, as a footnote - I am have LOADS of trouble getting photos uploaded and in the right place - - so my apologies!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

School, Rain and Pepto

Yesterday afternoon we headed back out the KS Orphan Center to see the Cambodia Tomorrow School in action. All I can say is... AMAZING. While the building looked great when we looked at it on Tuesday - putting children in it with two incredibly creative and enthusiastic teachers took it from fabulous to - well, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - or however that word is spelled. What a treat to see them in action.

Here are just a few photos of the day...

The little ones were working on colors and shapes. They were having a two team race to see which team could identify the colors first by running to the board and slapping their hands on the right colored blob as the teacher called it out. The giant smile that you can see on the teacher's face? CONSTANT. He was so wonderful with them.

Now they are working on shapes. Repeating after the teacher: "Is this a rectangle? Yes it is!!" Repeating might be down-playing the response a little. Perhaps screeching might be a better descriptor for them with their high lilting Khmer voices (except for the one boy whose voice was clearly in the middle of changing and kept cracking - obviously a universal problem for 13 yo boys!)

Next class was the level 3 kids - slightly more advanced. The were working in their work books to a CD that prompted them to circle the correct picture by narrowing it down with clues. "It is round", "It is a toy", "It is a yo-yo", and so on. The laughed and giggled when they got it right!

And finally on to the Big boys and Level 4. They were working on using the words "Sometimes", "Always" and "Never" in sentences. They were really very good at it. At first they just made up logical sentences "She always plays soccer in the park". Then, as you can see they beat out the syllables on drums while they said it. Finally, with their heads together, they were tasked to come up with sentences that didn't make sense, "He sometimes plays baseball in the kitchen." They really cracked themselves up over these.

Bottom line, these teachers keep these kids engaged. They are smiling, they are working, the teachers get them up and moving around. We're pleased as punch with the environment that we have helped to create. And, perhaps a more stark comparison could be looking at the photos of these kids in the KS orphan center compared to the photos yesterday of the less fortunate ones out at Wat Prey Cheum. What a difference. Our hope is to see the changes at Wat Prey Cheum over the next months and years.

And for some fun and games - - in the middle of all the lessons a ferocious thunderstorm broke out. A thunderstorm of biblical proportions. The rain beat down so murderously that the din of the water on the tin roof was deafening! At one point, a massive flash of lightening coincided with an ear-splitting crack of thunder so loud that Cathy screamed and threw her hands over her head! The older boys laughed and laughed. Still, the class continued with the boys just screaming louder to be heard over the clangor. We smiled and thought that, in any US school, classes would have taken a break until the worst had passed. Not so here. I think that you might be able to see from the photo the amount of rain that was pouring down...

Finally classes were over and the kids ran back to the other center buildings through the rain to get over to dinner!

Unfortunately, the rain made our drive back to Phnom Penh a harrowing experience. It was made mostly in the dark and rain, took longer than 2 hours and was dotted with several seemingly near death experiences as Ken, our Program Manager, attempted to overtake motorbikes and tuk-tuks and buses filled to overflowing with garment workers on their way home from the day's shift (again, "buses" is a pleasant euphemism for flat bed trucks with metal bars attached in a cage-like formation so that the people on the outside can hold on and essentially keep the masses in the inner part, with nothing to hold on to, from spilling out in to the road. I gotta get a picture of this!). Passing is complicated by it being only a two lane road with on-coming traffic that may or may not have headlights. Oh yes, and the car we were driving in was a right-hand drive vehicle operating in a left-had drive world. Suffice to say that my position in the passenger side had the best view of when exactly we were inches away from being smashed to smithereens. Ken says that he has never been in an accident. I had to have a lot of faith that he was telling the truth! And since I am writing this account, we all know that I have lived to see another day.

For me the evening brought the reality of being in a third-world country clearly in to focus. For any who have traveled here, it is not unusual for conversations to take place regarding the ability, status, or frequency of bowel movements. That's because a great deal of travel planning has to do with when, where and how you will be able to use a toilet. More importantly, when the system is ka-flooggy, things become a little more dicey. Sadly, me and Pepto have started a close relationship. Don't know what I ate or drank that is causing the issue, but the rest of my days are likely to be spent managing how far or close I am to a restroom. Alas.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Photos and Graduates

Thursday night here in the Kingdom of Cambodia. We have had an absolutely fabulous day. We are all entirely energized by the events of the day and are able to see our new goals coming in to focus so much more quickly and clearly than we could ever imagine!

But first, some promised photos from yesterday...

A snap shot of some of our students at Kompong Speu Orphan center. This is during the ceremony where they prepared some short speeches to welcome us during our visit. They are in between morning and afternoon Khmer school - a time when they would be resting from their long walk to and from the school and having lunch. They were so patient and giving - even though they were "waiting" for lunch! Don't they look like a nice bunch?

Here is me with the two boys that we sponsor. They are brothers around the same ages as George the Younger and Henry. Sopheum, on the left wants to grow up to be a police man. His older brother, Sambo wants to be a doctor. They are great boys and we recognized each other in a moment as soon as I stepped from the car. We have shared photos with them for several years and it was surreal to see them in person. For some odd reason I was a bit taken aback that they really did look exactly like the photos that they sent! (And for what it's worth - - for those of you that know me - - yes, it does take a great amount of self-control not to poke fun at the name "Sambo" - - but at least it's out in the open that I readily acknowledge that the potential for humor exists!)

We only had a quick visit with the children, as we knew that the drive to Wat Prey Cheum was going to be long. We stopped by the local market in Kompong Speu Town to grab some fruit and drinks to take as a treat for the children. Our Program Manager here in Cambodia was extremely helpful in negotiating with several fruit vendors to make sure we got the best prices.

The children of the make-shift orphanage greeted us as we rolled up. They all greeted us individually - hands clasped in the "prayer" under their chins, some using a highly chirped "hello!" in English, but most with the traditional Khmer greeting of "joom-ree-up soo-a" (And yes, that's a phonetic thing I've got going there - my keyboard isn't set up to write in the swirly twirly that is Cambodian writing!)

Here's the little girl that wanted to hold everything and eat at the same time. I grabbed a photo before I convinced her to hand over the bananas so that she could eat the other fruit. And, yes, it may have come to your attention that we indeed brought soda to the kids along with the fruit. In hindsight, we felt badly that we did not also bring rice. We had no idea that the condition of the "orphanage" was so bad (and that is really a "quotation" mark, since it is not an true orphanage, but merely a place beside a Wat that is trying it's damnedest to help these children in the best way that they can). Having said that - kids are kids, no matter what their circumstances, and they LOVED getting the treats.

This is just another shot of one of the young girls there, so that you can remember her face at some point in the future when you are thinking about what to do with that extra $10 you've got laying around. You can call me. I can help you do something really useful with it. I can also help you with any amount you've got laying around. Got an extra $10,000 and you can build the whole complex for these children. You can even put your name on it!

This is a wide shot of the buildings where the children are housed. The two wooden structures on the left are the "dorms" where all the children sleep at night. There are currently about 50 children out there - they all sleep crowded in those two buildings. The building on the right is the "school" where the art teacher comes - and where hopefully, the next Cambodia Tomorrow School will hold their classes until a new building can be constructed.

And finally, as we pull away, a final snapshot of the happy faces of the children. It is staggering that no matter how basic the living arrangements, that no matter that they are without families and support that can be counted on without fail every day - that these children manage to be happy.

And finally, the "you're not in kansas anymore" photo of the traffic jam that we encountered on the way back to Phnom Penh! I thought that getting stuck behind an Amish horse and buggy in Lancaster PA was maddening. Try a couple of skinny cows yoked to a rickety cart filled with tree trunks. You will never honk at that black buggy again.

So, there's the photo ops from yesterday. George the Elder would be very proud that I managed to download the photos myself on to the lap top. Inept would be an exaggerated description of my overall IT skills. Complete dope would be a better description. But, truth be told, one of my traveling companions, Cathy, did it for me!

As for today - we spent the morning with our recent university graduates overhauling their CV's and working with them on interviewing skills. We had to cover some finer points of CV writing such as:
  1. Lying on your CV is a bad thing
  2. Using your fellow unemployed friend as a professional reference is not appropriate
  3. Things you are "going" to do or "wish" you could do are not technically "experience"
  4. Listing "watching TV" as one of your interests is not advised if you actually want to get an interview any time in the future.
We also worked on shaking hands and making eye contact when interviewing. Elizabeth gave them some homework to start going through the daily paper and looking for companies that might be looking for employees. In other words, we had to start with the 101 course of "how to look for a job." These guys are the first boys out of the KS Orphan Center to ever have graduated from University - so role models are non-existent. Amazing, huh?

And finally, we had the BEST meeting ever with a French NGO called ASPECA. They are one of the co-supporters of the KS Orphan Center - and they have an additional 23 centers across Cambodia serving nearly 5,000 children. Our meeting today focused on how we might partner together - - them doing what they do best - which is supporting the basic needs of the children. And us doing what we do best - - which is providing them the support and knowledge to implement first rate English language programs at each of their centers. It is a BIG thing to think about - - but OH BOY were we excited when we left the meeting!

It's a long way out to think of getting our program implemented in so many orphan centers, but if we can look at how our program has helped the first orphans from KS finally graduate from University - - imagine what that would mean 10 years down the road when we can have had an effect on 5,000 more Cambodian children. Sort of stops you in your tracks, doesn't it??

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Centers and Wats

It's bright and early here on Thursday afternoon. My roommates and I have managed to get in a full night's sleep after a very full day yesterday.

Our first stop yesterday was the Kompong Speu Orphan Center. It is about an hour's drive from Phnom Penh on paved roads. We arrived to an enthusiastic reception from the children - - all greeting us in English, showing off their skills learned at the English language school. Since this was my first time there, it was not as emotional for me as it was for my two traveling companions who have personal relationships with the children and the director. But, it was pretty amazing to see the connection that they have with the center.

For me, the real thrill was seeing the school building in person! The classrooms are bright and cheerful, and the teachers are very proud of their space and their program. I stood next to the big (too big) sign with our name on it for the photo op. Thankfully it has already started to patina nicely and soon it will be a faded memorandum. Perfect.

We met with the director for a couple of hours and tried to get a handle on what the needs were at the center as we move forward. She is a shrewd woman, that director. This is best for the needs of the children. She's a stalwart subscriber to the "never put your eggs in one basket" and in these times when NGOs come and go at their whim, this makes perfect sense. So, she has quilted together a few sources of funding. Go her. But, still, we need to make sure that she's getting what she needs for the kids overall. Today we will meet with another NGO who is supposed to be funding the basic needs for the children (food, rice, clothing) and find out why they have cut her funding over the past months. They are blaming it on us. We feel we have a different agreement with them. Could be that the director is just hedging her bets. No matter, we will straighten it out today. And, for the uninformed, it's not like we talking about loads of money. In Cambodia, the difference between being funded $11 per child and $13 per child can be the difference between enough rice and not enough rice.

Our next stop was a loooong, buuuuumpy ride down a dirt road. The trip was only 30 km (about 15 miles), but it took about an hour plus of bone jarring driving to finish. The rains have been exceptionally bad this year and had we tried to make this trip even last week, it is doubtful that we would have been able to finish it. But, beyond the travel comfort, I can honestly say it was some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The end of the rainy season means unbelievable green and blue skies with huge clouds. For the most part, the farmers look like they are doing well. Lots of cows (albeit skinny ones), lush rice fields and cisterns filled to the brim with water. Of course, this will not last and it mostly a lovely optical illusion.

Where we were headed was a Wat where an impromptu orphan center has been operating. It was heartbreaking. There are about 50 children there from baby to teen living under the most basic of conditions. Rough wooden shacks with wooden palates for sleeping. About the size of a double bed, four palates for 26 girls. We brought them some fruit and drinks. I have some photos of the little ones trying to hold their stems of longan fruit, their bananas and their canned drinks all at once. They didn't want to give any of it up so their hands would be freed to be able to eat one piece of it. I finally convinced one of the littler ones to let me hold her bananas while she ate her longan fruit. She was wary, but then realized I was just going to sit there and wait while she finished. Later she came over to see if I would also open her drink for her. A short-term trust pact, so to speak.

We spoke to the director, an ex-monk that takes care of this group. He gets some meager funding from a local NGO, but nothing else. We're not sure what this means and so we will tread carefully over the next few days to find out more. Every fiber in you wants to just start putting together some kind of sponsorship program to help. Sending clothes, sending money for rice, buying 6 bikes so that older kids can get more easily to school. But, there may be a reason why they aren't getting recognized by the authorities and we need to know that before we do anything. It's heartbreaking, but a stark reality. Certainly we will end up doing something - the question remains, what?

As we were leaving they children came over to give us pictures that they had painted. Beautiful chalk drawings of fruits, and interesting collages made of tamarind and other local leaves and shells. We discovered that the art teacher was trained by World Vision and comes to teach the children for less than $15 dollars per month. One idea that we had was to scan some of this artwork in when we get back and design some note cards to earn money. We will see.

For now, the morning has begun and we are heading off to the best-damn-breakfast-buffet in all of SE Asia. George the Elder is sad to be missing the noodle soup and the boys would be dismayed to know that I am eating dumplings for breakfast. I will keep that to myself!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Dance Space

Yep, we made it all the way to the other side of the world where it's hot as in, holy crap how do these people live here ALL the time! The air is heavy with the occasional rain and it smells like SE Asia the minute you get off the plane.

I have been assaulted with the realities of the lack of personal space constraints that I remember from our time in Tokyo. The lack of "this is my dance space, this is your dance space" to coin a phrase from Dirty Dancing. It can be almost unbearable when combined with temperatures over 100 degrees.

We arrived in PP around noon along with the rest of our flight and a couple of others that came in at the same time. After completing no less than 7, yes 7 different disembarkation, customs, visa, and health forms we rushed en mass to the processing area. There we were confronted with a lot of pushing and shoving since the concept of forming a line of any sort seems to have been lost in the cultural translation. The goal was to push your way to the front of the crowd and attempt to garner the attention of the first Khmer Official who would grab your paperwork and passport and do this shrug-wave thing that was supposed to give you the hint that you were to move to the right directing you to join yet another seething mass over by the cashier. Eventually it became clear that you just had to look for the Khmer Official in that area who would just hold up your passport and wave it around indicating that you now needed to hand them your $20 visa fee and head over to passport control. Love the mess of it all!

Phnom Penh looks very different that the last time I was here in 2004. More large government buildings, more cars on the road and even a 12 story office building. In many respects it looks far more prosperous, but I fear it is just an illusion. There, in front of the new government building it was still easy to spot the women and children begging.

Our hotel is lovely. A respite in the middle of town. So far, we have taken the necessary cold shower that is supposed to keep us awake until we allow ourselves to collapse and try to sleep through the night. As for me, I have another Ambien in my future!

Tomorrow we will head out to the orphanage for our first visit to the new school. I am so excited to see it in person and to meet the director. We have loads of stuff to deliver - ALL the jeans that were donated (and might I say are damn heavy!) along with a slew of presents for the kids that we sponsor there and even a big bag of home-made lollipops from an old high school acquaintance (thanks Anisa).

I've corresponded with George the Elder via email and the home fires continue to burn. As luck would have it, George the Younger was off on his 7th grade camping trip for the better part of this week to do some rock climbing (and yes, unlike last year, I actually know where he is!). So, it's just Dad and Henry and Otto at home taking care of business. I am grateful to George the Elder for taking over my job so that I can make this trip with Cambodia Tomorrow. He's a keeper.

So, for now, that's that. My tea is brewing for a little dose of caffeine - but I had to reheat the water since I filled the first pot with water from the tap. Luckily, I caught myself and remembered that perhaps bottled water might be a better choice!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Taipei - Leg #1

Arrived safely after an uneventful 13+ hours to Taipei. I sat in a middle seat (horrors), but next to my traveling companion, Cathy, and on the aisle side was a nice Texan who was heading to Hanoi for some work with a non-profit that he is a member of. Gratefully, he slept a shorter period than I and was both accommodating and merciful when it came to letting me out to use the loo. I find that long haul air trips are sort of akin to beer parties in college. You know - it takes a long time to realize that you have to pee the first time - but then it's like you have to find the ladies about every 30 minutes. Only, when you're in the middle seat of an airplane your problem is compounded by having to ask some stranger's permission. Although an eerie similarity is that there's typically urine on the floor in both college beer parties AND airliner bathrooms. Drag.

Highlights of the trip so far:

  • We ended up collecting about 200 pairs of jeans to take with us (along with a full load of letters to the sponsored kids and the little gifts to send them). We jammed it all in to a couple o' duffel bags. And got them in to the car. Bag weight limit? 61 pounds. Duffel #2? 81 pounds. No wonder it seemed a little bulky. But, thanks to some quick work o' repacking, reshuffling and adding stuff to a bag that was already weighed - we managed to get them all in. My carry-on bag (supposed to weigh 15 lbs) now weighs significantly more and my backpack is stuffed to the gills. I am weak - dragging this stuff around is HEAVY!
  • I took the drugs (from my super informed neuro) and managed to get a full 9 hours of drug induced slumber. I adopted the ear plug, black scarf over the head, quilt wrapped around combo mummy / burka look to block out the world. For those that know me I would like to add that they served dinner while I was snoozing. I am not one of those people that turns their noses up at plane-food. Bring it on. I rarely miss a meal. I snored right through tonight's dinner - another milestone thanks to modern pharmaceuticals!
  • When I woke up from my beauty sleep, I found to my dismay that my seat-back video wasn't working. Neither was the guy's next to me. Lucky for us we were flying Eva - a kindly asian airlines where when things don't work, somebody actually gives a rat's ass. Along with my over weight back-pack and rolling suitcase, I now need to heft around a little paper bag filled with sweets and tea. AND, another bag filled with 6 little fancy winnie-the-pooh kid's flight entertainment satchels! Plus, I have been assured over and over again that they will be making dead certain that my in-flight entertainment is working on the leg from Taipei to PP. Love it. So much more civilized than domestic carriers. Even if it doesn't work, they make you feel better about it!

Well, time to get off my butt and head on down the hallway to get myself some of those tasty shrimp dumplings. I know it's only 9:00ish in the morning here, but darn, they smell good and I really should get on my regimen of eating my way through Cambodia. So what that I'm not even there yet. Best to get a jump on it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What I needed and what I got

This morning I headed over to UCSF for a routine visit with my new neurologist. I started seeing this guy last year when I landed in SF. He came highly recommended from my old-tried-and-true neuro that I've seen since 1990. I loved him. This new guy, well, I am sure that he's a great doctor. I mean, he really IS a brain-surgeon and all. But, in all honesty, I think he was sick the day that bed-side manner was on the syllabus. Luckily, the guy has a sort of assistant doctor. I sure there's a fancy technical term for her like "resident" or "co-brain-surgeon." I don't know. But, I do know that she's nice. She's like the Hyde to his Jekyll. It makes seeing him a more palatable experience.

But so much for the intro. I had one of those visit-the-doctor experiences that was pretty text-book. I head over to the BIG hospital. I check in at the OVER-STRESSED receptionist desk. I sit down with my reading material and I wait. I wait some more. And, I wait some more (pretty standard stuff). An hour later I decide to get up and find out whether I need to have lunch catered in. I am glad I hopped up to inquire, as the sullen receptionist indeed retorted, "Ooops, I must have missed you on the list!", but then quickly added, "Hmmmm, it looks like your appointment was cancelled." Not the news I was hoping for. Sure, my book was good and everything, but sitting around in the neuro waiting room isn't scads of fun especially when you're sitting there for nothing.

So I asked the simple question, "Why?" At that point, the Supervisor was called in. This was not something that your basic receptionist felt enabled to track down the answer to. Supervisor fiddles with the system for some many moments and then says, "Hmmm? Your appointment was cancelled by someone in the emergency room back in April. They can't do that!" To wit, I wittily replied, "Well, obviously, they can. Cause they did."

Supervisor then thought it was necessary to call and chase down the fellow who deleted me. I stopped her mid-dial. I gently explained to her that that wasn't going to help solve MY problem. In fact, I didn't really care who did it, and I wasn't entirely curious as to why it was done, I was only focused on what was going to be done about it. The first two issues were hers and hers alone to solve. I just wanted another appointment. Guess what folks? The next available appointment for my brilliant-stick-in-the-mud doctor was NEXT MAY! The guy may be about as much fun as a seventh day Adventist school dance, but his dance card was clearly chock-a-block full.

So, it was time for a compromise. I asked if I could see his lovely assistant instead. (Truth be told, I just wanted a prescription for some Ambien for my upcoming trip to Cambodia. It's not like I was looking for a diagnosis or anything.) And, I did get to see the lovely assistant. She took a couple of minutes to come out to the waiting room as she wanted to review my file quickly and read the results from an MRI that I had about 4 months ago. Guess what she told me??? Brace yourself for this one!! She told me that I have MS. Honestly. She came right out to the waiting room to tell me that the films from my recent scan verified that I had MS. I had to pause for a second to think of the right response to her. I rifled through a number of pithy nasties (something that would have made the headlines of the No-Shit Gazette such as "Neuro diagnoses 20 year mystery problem in a single bound"). I tried to come up with something astute and droll. I came up solidly empty. So I just said this, "Really? That's good to know. Now about that Ambien?"

So, while the assistant doctor is the nicer one, she seemed unable to get to the one part of my file that says, well, that I've had MS for like forever. Although, in her defense, she seemed truly heartfelt when she delivered me the devastating news. She seemed even more eager to write the prescription for the drug and to get the supervisor to squeeze me in to see the real guy sooner than next year once I tipped her off.

In summary. I spent two hours to not see a doctor and to get a diagnosis for a disease that is now 20 years in the making. I did get sleeping pills. I should have asked for something stronger.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Simpson drinks

A friend wrote regarding some confusion over the POW puzzler. She wanted to know why there were 6 people listed: Tyrone, Bee, Wendy, Lynn, Doni and OJ. I first explained that OJ was a drink - as in the 5 drinks: OJ, Green Tea, Milk, Red Bull and Water.
But the comment made me curious as to why she would think that there were 6 people? I mean, I understand the current event reference to the name OJ, but still... So I hopped in my WABAC machine and headed back to read the POW's exact language. The snippet reads as follows:

"OJ is drunk in the middle house."
And that, Mr. Peabody. is the answer to that.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Riddle me this...

George the Younger gets a problem every week from school called POWs (Problems of the Week). They are supposed to be challenging little brutes that should take the kids about a week to work on, solve and write the requisite several paragraph composition on how they cracked it, what strategies they used and if they had any major hurdles in their pursuit of an answer.

Typically, since I am the one who is home with him in the afternoon, I am the go-to resource for tips on unraveling the mysteries of the POW. I'm usually equal to the task. Unfortunately, George the Younger came home this week with the one thing that I am entirely inept at....logic puzzles. I would sooner cover my head with molasses and lie down on a desert floor than solve one of these bad johnnies. I'm a crossword puzzle kind of gal. Four letter word for a nook in the front of a church? Apse! But, presented with a logic puzzle - I am worthless. I believe that somewhere in this world sits my college Logic professor who, for the last 25 years, tells a pithy story about a student that she had in the late 70s who simple could not be taught when it came to her class. She will chuckle mirthfully at this memory that is burned in her logic-filled orb and sip demurely from her cup of pekoe. I hated her.

But, I gave the POW my best shot. I mean, who wants to look like a putz in front of their 13 year old? After several hours of trying to employ the strategies that I know when it comes to trying to decide who lives in what house, what kind of pet they had or what they liked to drink - well, stick a fork in me - I was done. We had an excel spreadsheet, we had little pictures of houses, we were hating Tyrone AND Bee, and my give a shit factor about anyone that would own a praying mantis or drink Red Bull had dwindled to zero, zip, nadda. Luckily, George the Elder came home to save the day right before my head exploded.

So, I present to you the POW. Knock yourself out. Solve the friggin thing. You know you can. Let me know your answers...

"So, here's the deal Justin. Five kids live in those 5 fancy track homes you see all in a row across the street," she said, pointing. "I'll give you some clues now: Bee lives in the red one; Lynn owns a dog; Wendy drinks water; Red Bull is drunk in the green house; Love Ballads are preferred in the yellow house; OJ is drunk in the middle house; Tyrone lives in the first house, which is next to the blue house; Doni listens to rock music, but the green tea drinker listens to instrumental music. The person who listens to Disco music is next door neighbors with the gecko owner. The hamster owner hates Love Ballads, but the person next door adores them. The Bluegrass fan owns a gnarly praying mantis. Finally, as you can see, the green house is to the right of the ivory one. So, tell me, Justin, after all that, who drinks milk and who owns a cat?"

Your task: Name the people, the color of their houses, their pets and their preferred drink and music.

Oh, and please, let me know how you do. In the meantime, I will be licking my self-esteem wounds and realizing that yes, Virginia, there is a time when your kids gets old enough that you can't always effectively help them with their homework. Sniff...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The consequence of nesting

Actually, what I have been thinking about is the consequence of being unable to nest. It's disconcerting.

As you know, George the Elder and I are new homeowners. We are new homeowners of a Vision. A dream. A bona fide chimera of the "real" house that we are planning to construct. What we are living in now is the platform for that future magnum opus (or perhaps just a lesser work of genius - who knows?). Point being is that we put the lion's share of our possessions in storage at the start of August. Our plan was to head to the new homestead intent on becoming one with the parts of the house that we would keep and becoming excited about the elements of the house we would change or add. Mostly, this is working out the way we had thought it would. Except for the one aspect. I am a Nester.

I know you're thinking, "Nester? Really?" You're probably also thinking, "Isn't is counter intuitive that a person who historically has sent out more change of address notices than Ian McMover of the McMover Clan is a Nester?" (Well you might not have said it exactly that way, but it should be considered that for the postage that I have paid over the past 10 years to notify friends and family of our new places of residence I could have taken a first class berth on the QEII and sailed around the world a couple o' times).

But the truth is that most of us wanderers are amazingly cracker jack at being able to move in to a house/apartment/flat and make it a home in the time you can say "lickety-clickety." I have never suffered from being unable to get the last-box-unpacked. I have usually had every thing arranged, up, running, hung, done and dusted within days of the moving truck spewing exhaust on the empty boxes as they speed away. Not so this time.

Right now there is little to no nesting that can be done. We have what we came here with. Nothing more, nothing less. End. Of. Story. Getting anything that would spruce up the place would be akin to just setting money on fire and watching it char for the thrill of it. And frankly, with what our dream/vision/opus is going to cost, we have no coin to set ablaze. Each dollar will eventually be cashed in to afford us a sink facet or a kitchen cabinet or the structural engineer's outrageous fee. (Side note to all parents who are advising their children on a potential career choice. Engineer. That's the ticket. Structural, shoring, every-man. Doesn't matter. You need them. You gotta pay them. They know it.)

The upside for me (or downside depending on your perspective) is that the lack of nesting equates to a nearly total absence in motivation for cleaning said non-nest. As I rule, I whole-heartily subscribe to the "dust is the devil's snow" anal-retentive-style of housekeeping. Cleaning my bathroom or whole house dusting would not be considered an unusual daily chore. And daily meant EVERY DARN DAY. Yet, lately, I find myself just wanting to write my name on the base of the flat screen (in both cursive and block letters) or brushing my teeth amongst the flotsam and jetsam that Henry leaves in the sink after brushing his teeth instead. Another excellent example would be that I have been known to mop my kitchen floor a couple of times a week (you know - kids, dog, food preparation, George the Younger's inability to eat anything without leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that Hansel would be envious of). Now, given my corresponding inability to nest, I have about zero motivation to mop. And even the discovery of a new found skill of being able to accurately recall what we have had to eat at the last several meals just simply making a quick perusal of the ort and scrap scattered about is not catalyst to fill up the bucket and go to town. I am lost.

I wonder if this is because I can see what it is going to be and cannot realize it in any way, shape or form by scrubbing or scouring? Is it because I am finally starting to address housekeeping like a normal person instead of someone who borders on the need for professional help? Or, is it that knowing that in just several weeks a very large bulldozer is going to come and unearth the soon-to-be basement of our new home and any real cleaning that has been done will be in vain? Who knows? But, whatever the reason, I am feeling nest-less and I don't like it much.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On Broadway

Last night I headed off alone to go to "Broadway Belt Out". I put on a black and white outfit - channeling Maria in her early convent days - sans the head thingy, cause honestly, I just wasn't going to go that far. I was kind of lukewarm about going as I got in my car. Parking in Noe Valley can be a pain, I was kind of tired (but then again I have been wondering lately when the last time was that I wasn't just a tiny bit tired?), and George the Elder was not too jazzed that I was heading out by myself. This being said, George the Elder is no singer, so at least he got the reason why he wasn't going to go.

I had signed up for this event at our school auction last Spring. I love to sing. I love schmaltzy Broadway tunes, and it was being hosted by a great group of folks from the school including a couple I know that can cook leather and make it taste like heaven. Still, I was tepid about the whole ordeal when it came time to go. But go I did. I didn't get home until after 11:30! And in the life of a middle-aged we-don't-stay-up-that-late gal - that's the sign that I had a GREAT time.

There were about 25 or so folks there. Some in full costume, some not so much (I was kind of in the middle). We had "real" cocktails like you'd see in a Mad Men episode. Manhattans and some kind of gin drink that required a couple different ingredients that was absolutely luscious. And, more importantly, those cocktails went a long way to greasing the proverbial wheels before we started singing.

The hosts had put together a wildly eclectic selection of Broadway tunes in a handy dandy booklet so that everyone could know the lyrics. They had a friend play the piano - and I mean really play! He's a doctor in real life, but this guy could tickle the ivories something fierce and got everyone hopped up to sing. And sing we did. We gathered around the baby grand in the living room and went to town. A Chorus Line, Music Man, Les Mis, South Pacific, Rent, Carousel, and loads of others. Most songs we knew - some we didn't know so well - but all were "belted out" with gusto. As always there were a few complaints from the altos and the baritones that "geeze these guys only wrote songs for the sopranos and the tenors" - but we still managed to screech them out :))

There were some really great singers in the group and those that weren't technically proficient more than made up for it in volume or uber-schmaltz. There was singing, there was dancing, there were even a few tears (one guy got up and sang Summertime the way he sang it to his daughter as a lullaby - how can you not well up?). There were also the occasional sidebars of songs that weren't really in any musical, but just are fun to sing - "Send in the Clowns" for instance. Go Judy. AND, our piano guy actually found the key that we were singing in and got in to it with us all. Grand times.

I know that I was voraciously feeding my inner geek. But, it was so much fun to do it. I guess in these days of technology and great restaurants to go to and a million other diversions - it's fun to remember the really great times that can be had with a group of people willing to make idiots out of themselves singing Broadway tunes and a guy who can play the egging us on.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Flip Side

For all of you who consider yourself "on the ball" - I have one tiny question...

Aren't you nervous about falling off?