Monday, November 30, 2009

Officially Over It

Yup, the deed is done. Today I spent my whole first day in my fifth decade. I can report that I didn't experience any senior moments, any bouts of incontinence and I didn't even take my iron pill. Refreshing that it all didn't go to hell in a hand basket when the clock hit midnight.

I'm taking this moment to be commensurately reflective of my first five decades (which many of you know is NOT my strong point. Reflection is for people who dwell. I. do. not. dwell.). And by commensurately, I mean that I am going to do this on the fly while I type this. So here goes...
  • I have too many blessed memories to even begin to count them. I tried for just a moment to count them, I got confused and then couldn't remember what number I was on and had to keep starting over.
  • I've had the opportunity to so far live an amazing life doing legions of things that many might only wish for or dream of. Although if you are someone who is wishing for a life that is stable and sedentary and requires living in the same house or place for a long time - then you were not one wishing for my life!
  • When I fill out a "bucket list" there are only a few things I haven't experienced and in one case I didn't even know what it was and when I found out I realized that I didn't really ever want to see or hear a glacier calf (I thought it was an animal - turns out it's a chunk of ice which means you'd have to be damn cold for a large part of time in order to experience. Count me out.)
  • I've lost a few people that meant a great deal to me, but appreciate that I have not born an overabundance of sorrow. And speaking of lost, while "counting" my memories it astounded me to recognize that I have "lost" George the Younger three times in his short life. Once in a Pokemon store in Tokyo for about 15 minutes, second on the subway in Tokyo (although technically I was not the one to lose him - but he was lost nonetheless), and a third time last year while trick-or-treating (although he didn't realize he was lost - we were the only ones who thought so). Sorry for the tangent - thinking about "lost" took a wrong turn.
  • I have three beautiful children that allow me to see a love greater than anything could have imagined. They also allow me to realize that I love them even when I want to leave them on a street corner for an hour while I gather my wits and figure out how to be a better mother than the one who is channeling "The Scream" in living color. Wavy lines and all.
  • I have loved and been loved in return. I have also hated and been hated in return. But on the cosmic scale of balance, I'd like to believe that scale is leaning towards the "love" side.
  • I have had a successful career that I fell in to without planning or worrying or really wishing for. It happened by a little hard work combined with a large dose of good old fashioned luck. I had great bosses that taught me a lot. I had crappy bosses that taught me what I didn't want to be. I had a wonderful time.
  • I have been occasionally selfish and mean spirited and a generally not-so-nice person. I would like to think that I was unselfish, good-spirited and a generally nice person more often - but I have a few more years to make-up for that in the karma bank I think.
  • Many of my most celebrated memories are when I have made people laugh over the years. And of course when I have laughed at myself! I apologize broadly for those times in the past (and future) when my sense of humor wasn't as funny I thought it was going to be! I fully realize my uncanny ability to put both feet in my mouth AND continue talking. Call it a "gift?"
  • I have a family who loves me and whom I love deeply in return (even though I am not always the best at wearing my heart on my sleeve. I hope that they know I really do love them.)
So, here's to the next 50. I only wish that they were not to be accompanied by the requisite aging issues - but I guess the truth is that all those wrinkles and gray hair (Henry noted that my salt and pepper was significantly more salt these days) and the inability to gracefully get up off the floor after sitting there for a while are just signs that you have lived a life. And, so far - I'm smugly proud of having lived a GREAT one.

I guess reflection isn't so bad. For the most part it's like being wrapped in a big giant cosmic electric blanket set on toasty warm. Turns out it's all pretty damn good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turkey First

  • On Thursday morning (November 16th) my morning alarm clock quacked on at the normal hour of 6:50. It was quacking "Deck The Halls." I thought it was an anomaly. A joke. A little pre-thanksgiving ha ha ha.

  • Later in the morning I headed over the the local nursery, thinking it would be open at 8:00 a.m. - - but alas didn't open until 8:30. I stopped in the neighborhood McDonald's to grab a cuppa while I waited and while standing in line was assaulted with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!" What the heck? I realized that it wasn't a joke, or an anomaly. This was full on Christmas music assault.

To be clear, I like Christmas music. I probably like it more than the normal person. I spend the whole month of December swimming around in Christmas Music, happily immersed in all tunes festive. What I don't like is having Christmas tunes usurp other holidays. Like Thanksgiving. I want to be able to plan my turkey day humming "We Gather Together" and not "Little Drummer Boy."

I know that we're an impatient nation. We (or at least our marketing folks and merchandisers) are eager to have access to Halloween stuff in late August, Easter stuff in January and ,as I'm coming to realize, Christmas stuff all-frickin-year-long. Pretty soon they're just going to have to air Charlie Brown's The Great Pumpkin, The Thanksgiving Special AND the Christmas Special on the same damned day.

If the merchandisers get their way, we may just be able to skip right over Thanksgiving. It's kind of a marketing bust any way. Besides turkey farms, canned yam facilities and Libby's, most suppliers and retailers don't get a big bang out of selling the latest in cornucopia wear. Pumpkins purchased over Halloween are still out on porches - so it's a bit of a two-fer - not good for selling Thanksgiving stuff. The only good thing for retailers has been the traditional "Black Friday" where all manner of things go on "Super Sale!!!" and patrons and workers are killed and mutilated in the stampeding hordes that wish to save $5 on the latest Wii game.

Except I noticed this year, that to avoid the hordes, the stampeding AND the whole idea of "Black Friday" nearly all retailers are open on - - you know it's coming, don't you??? - THANKSGIVING DAY!! Hell, shove your turkey down your gullet and let's get the hell in to the car and head over to Old Navy. Scarves are on sale for $2.50~~ HURRY!!!!

Wrong. It's just wrong. Well, I gotta run to the grocery to shop for my Thanksgiving feast supplies. I will be humming "We Gather Together" as I do it. Any one want to join me?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bills and Medicine Chests

Where have I been lately? Good question. I've been kinda busy. Busy doing what? Well, I sure wish I knew. A whole lotta whatnot.

I've been catching up on Camtom stuff and getting ready for our end of the year giving drive. This is my first year on the board, so it's all new to me. We're putting together a nice holiday card that asks for help in funding for the school and the kids and the expansion of new schools. It's hard to find the right balance between out and out begging, cajoling and then making people realize that we do understand that in these tough financial times it's hard to find the money to give. We're pretty much done with the drafting, so now it's on to the mailing part of it. Hopefully, if you get one of these cards, you will consider donating (or just telling me the card that we made is very very nice!).

I've also become a master at sending out bills to our existing sponsors. It's a mostly manual process, but there's something satisfying about putting addresses and stamps on many envelopes and stuffing them and then finally getting them in the mail box. I am a simple person. Project started, project completed. I am happy. I am also pleased that I spelled most of the cambodian names correctly (I think)!

What's nice about this involvement with Camtom is that I am becoming more intimately involved in the daily operations of the group. I know who's running things, I know how they're being run. I know how much money is spent on the programs and I know how much money is spent on operations. The great thing is that almost nothing falls in to the later category. I gave them my own money before I joined and I was pleased with how things turned out. So, I feel pretty confident asking folks to do the same thing.

Beyond doing some stuff with Camtom, I dusted off my resume and applied for a real job the other day. Not too much to say about that, but that I'm considering dipping my toe back in to the "earn-some-damn-money" realm again. It's a low profile kind of opportunity, no big corporation, no egos of high level managers to deal with, but it is a job that allows me to use all those Operational skills that individually are tedious and relentless, but together make for an interesting profession. We'll see how it goes. I'd like to get it. And, I'm worried about getting back in to it.

And finally, I am still working on stuff for the house remodel. We are off until Spring, but there are plenty of things to do - - not the least is making a decision about flooring. One would think, the way George and I are stuck on this, that we were trying to decide what to put on the floor on the remodeled Louvre or something. Lava rock? Cement? Terazzo? Slate? The choices are endless. The decision is killing us.

We have finally decided on a kitchen counter top (another one that had us all tangled) and tile for two of the bathrooms. We have been amazed at the prices of some things that you just never really think about. A simple steel and glass medicine cabinet for $3000? And it doesn't even come with the illegal drugs that one would assume would be kept in a medicine cabinet that costs $3000. Drag. The least they could do is throw in some Valium to keep you calm while paying for the damn thing.

So, I'm billing and trying to raise money for one part of my life and I'm busy ear-marking things that I am going to spend money on for another part of my life. Luckily for those who trust Camtom to invest their money wisely, I am not a politician. If I were, it is likely that those two parts would have more in common than they do :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pins and Tuners

Today I headed over to UCSF for my annual visit to the Multiple Sclerosis Research facility. Since this is only my second time, it's kind of an exaggeration to call it "annual" - but indeed, I went last year and I went this year again at the same time.

I am participating in a study about MS and genetics. Tis true that there are some family trees that produce more neurologically deficient apples than others. I am one of those bad apples. But, it also turns out that medical science likes to do research on said fruit and I am game for whatever I can do to try and figure out 1) what causes this bad johnny and, 2) what to do about it if you should happen to have to take a bite out of this rotten apple. I'm a joiner that way.

Today consisted of several hours of allowing myself to be prodded and poked and perplexed. Sounds like a sexual encounter, except in this case, the whole "feel good" part of it consists mainly of knowing you are doing good for science. Not exactly enough to want to make you call out God's name like you actually believe.

I gave 11 large vials of blood. I played a version of the triangle golf-tee game that used to be found on the counter tops of your road-side Stuckey's with both my right and left hands, and I was forced to do the ultra-frustrating "cognitive-math" test - which is enough to make you want to hunt down and garrote the guy whose voice is on the tape recorder spewing out numbers every 3 seconds.

The "test" goes like this. Bored sounding guy says random numbers every 3 seconds. You listen to the first two - say 3 and 7. You add them up and say 10. Then bored sounding guy says 2. You answer 9, which is the sum of the last two numbers that you heard. In other words, you have to add two numbers, forget what you just said and remember the last number that the guy said and add it to the next number that he said. Try it some time. This little gem of a test goes on for 5 excruciatingly long minutes. I'm not sure whether they are really trying to measure your cognitive ability or if they are surreptitiously attempting to find out at what point of frustration the average person with MS will reach over and whack the test administrator with the very tape recorder that is belching out digits.

After that, I headed down to China Basin to spend the better part of two hours inside the ultra-clinique-soap-dish called the MRI machine. After enrobing myself in the exquisite combo patterned scrub pants, back-tie gown and mismatched robe designed as one-size-fits-all (including, as far as I could tell, participants on the "World's Biggest Loser"), and before being inserted in to the tube of despair, I met with the test coordinator: Sweet-little-miss-I'm-26-and-just-graduated-from-liberal-arts-school-with-no-experience-in-neurology. Her job is to give me a little basic neuro test before I am strapped down on the slidey-thingy with another needle inserted in to my arm so that they can easily inject contrast dye in to my already sore arm, where someone earlier has already been siphoning off 11 tubes of blood, when the time is right. Thanks for that. But, I digress.

For the uninformed that have never been subjected to the standard neuro tests, they can easily be described as the modern day equivalent of determining whether you are a witch by dunking you in water. Yes, they are HIGHLY complex. You get to tap your fingers together as fast as you can, smile, stick your tongue out, blink rapidly, squeeze your eyes shut, walk heel to toe for several feet (note: when you are encased in hospital scrubs comprised of enough fabric to encircle the globe and the majority of that is pooling on the ground around your feet - this test can be even more challenging - or funnier to watch, depending on your vantage point), try to keep your balance with your feet together and your eyes shut (I fail that one every time), follow the doctors finger as it moves through space with only your eyes, then try to touch his finger and then your nose as he randomly moves his finger to different spacial positions, you have your reflexes checked, your strength measured by trying to resist having various limbs pushed and pulled in several directions and finally it's time to pull out the tuning fork and the pins.

Tuning forks and pins are used to determine whether you have feeling in various parts of your body. The coordinators whacks the fork on her hand and asked "can you hears this?" Yup. She whacks it again on her hand, places it on some part of your body (face, hands, feet) and then asks you to tell her when you can't feel the vibrations any more. Face = OK. Hands = Less, but still OK. Feet = Not OK. I can't feel it at all. So she whacks it harder. Still can't feel it. She whacks it even harder. Still can't feel it. She is starting to get pissed. It seemed that in her opinion, I was failing the test. She whacks it so hard that the thing makes a twanging barking sound (I think she broke it!) I finally gently explain that it doesn't matter how had she whacks it. I can't feel it. She seemed perplexed but moved on the the final test....the Pins.

Eyes closed you are supposed to tell her when she pokes you whether the stick is sharp (pointy side of pin) or dull (non-pointy side of pin). Talk about some fun party games! Face = OK (pointy) Hands = OK (mostly pointy). Feet = "I don't know. I can't tell". She pokes my feet some more. Harder this time. "I don't know, I can't tell". She then pokes even HARDER at which I point I interject with, "Could you stop ramming the pin in to my feet? I can't tell if it's dull or sharp. But, if you are going to continue to poke the sharp part in to my feet, there's going to be blood. I won't feel that dripping on to the floor either, but it's kind of annoying." I was reminded of the people who are trying to speak English to a non-English speaker and feel that if they just yelled louder they would be clear. I might have suggested that a hammer and nail would work if she wanted to take it to that level. A nail through my foot? Well, I would definitely tell that sharp end of that.

Suffice to say, that the exam was over and I had a couple of hours to nap in the MRI machine with my head securely strapped down. And, on a final note - what the heck is it with the need to scratch your nose or your eye brow or whatever when there's no way on earth that you can get it done? I have no feeling in my feet, but apparently, I have enough hyper-feeling in my nose so that I can create phantom itches without the ability to address them. Sheesh. Maybe next year, I will join a scientific research project that focuses on that. Perhaps they don't use pins for that one. Maybe you just get to put on the super-sized scrubs and they throw you in the hospital pool to see if you float?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Meals and Auspicious Ants

It's been some time since I said I was going to "catch-up" on some things we did while in Cambodia. I forgot that when the "mom" leaves for 10 days, it takes an equal amount of time to catch up on those 10 days when you return. Especially when the return is also impacted by a huge national holiday that requires costume making!

One of the grand things about traveling to SE Asia is the food. I have mentioned it before and will mention it again. I believe that just going there to eat for a few weeks without seeing any historic monuments, or water festivals or riding in tuk-tuks would not be a poor use of days. Yup. Just eating breakfast and then sitting around until lunch and then taking a nap before dinner. Heaven.

The ace thing about this last trip to Cambodia was not only that we got to eat some delectable and scrumptious vittles - but that two of those unbelievable delicious meals were served in the homes of local Cambodians. A treat beyond compare. Street food = wonderful. Restaurant food = wonderful. Home-cooking = phenomenal!!

We had lunch with an ex-neighbor (Thyda) of one of my traveling companions. She and her partner had lived there for 9 months in 2008 (I think). We were treated to a meal that had been made by Tyda's mother before she left for work that morning. In reality, I suspect that Thyda's mother worked on that meal for several days beforehand. It's humbling the amount of work that she put in to make us a truly fabulous feast. What's more bewildering is that all of this cooking is accomplished without the benefit of a range top. Or a stove. Or any of the modern conveniences that I couldn't make a cup-o-noodle without. From what I could tell, all of this is painstakingly accomplished using a single gas burner. Gobsmacked, eh?

I was also treated to a fresh coconut, complete with bendy-straw, to drink. At first, I was kind of panicked. Heretofore, I have always hated coconut milk directly from the coconut. Honestly, I tried my first and last one in 1996 in Saigon. It was blazing hot out and I kept seeing these coconut vendors with their fresh coconuts resting on large blocks of ice - leading me to believe that the inside milk would be cool, crisp and refreshing. Not. Coconuts resting on a bed of ice do not, in my experience, suck up any of the cold that is emanating from the block of ice. Instead of cold, crisp and refreshing - I got slimy, warm and thick saliva-like ooze. Thought I was going to puke on the street in front of the closest cyclo driver. Based on this, I wondered how I was going to get past not drinking the coconut and, in turn, insulting our host. As luck would have it - I took a tiny sip and - skies parted and angles sang - the innards were cold! Cold made it not so slimy. Not so slimy made it palatable. Palatable made me not rude. Thank goodness.

Where you see the table all set for us above, that space is usually where the family parks their pride and joy. A spotlessly clean sedan. (If I were a more observant person, or some one who actually knows any thing about cars, I would be able to tell you the make of the car. We saw the car parked in there on our first visit - when we were graciously invited for dinner a few days hence - but the only things I remember were that it was spotless, that it was in the "living room" and that it was beige). We were very honored to take our meal out in the main room. Especially since it is very difficult for the father to either drive it to work or to find another parking place for the car. A wonderful family to do so much for our little lunch.

My second home-cooked meal was at the family home of our Program Manager Sokeum "Ken". His wife is categorically one of the best cooks I have encountered. The whole meal was superb - end to end - - start to finish. The cook did not join us at the table. Neither did "Ken" or three of his four daughters. The oldest daughter was selected to eat with us. The rest of the family sat on a bench parallel to the table and watched us eat. They ate when we were finished - but not at the table. It seemed to give them immense pleasure watching us enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Earlier in the day, while we were driving through rice fields. My travel companion, and fellow board member for Camtom, idly mentioned in passing that one of the most exciting things to see at Ken's house was his ant hill. She mentioned that it was large and was worth seeing. I thought, "OK. An Ant Hill." Immediately after dinner, Elizabeth suggested that we all take a look at the ant hill. As it was already starting to get dark, I thought it make the most sense to see it then - since it would be impossible to see it well without light. But still I thought, "OK. An Ant Hill." Whatever.
Turns out, I should have been a little less skeptical of seeing the ant hill. Turns out I was kind of wrong about how special and unique this particular ant hill was going to be. As we followed "Ken" through the living room - we walked right past the front door. I thought we were going out a side door - but instead we walked right in to a room designed specifically for - you guessed it - - the INDOOR GINORMOUS ant hill.
Apparently, if you have an ant hill on your property it is VERY auspicious. It is such lucky fortune that if, say, an ant hill starts to erupt in your car port - this is not the time to grab your spray can of insecticide. Nope, this is the time to head out to the local "shrine-supply-store" and get some candles, plastic flowers and bowls for offerings of food. And, should you decide to build a larger residence - a residence that will usurp the space where the car port used to be - it makes perfect sense to have the house built around the propitious mound seething with live insects = now turned shrine. Best if it has it's own auspicious room so that nothing can get in the way of it bringing you good fortune.

I'm wondering if an ant farm - you know the kind you can buy from kids-do-science places - would also be auspicious? Maybe we should just forgo the laundry room we are planning and see if we can't convince some ants to start construction there. (Oh and in case you were curious - - yes - I did sneak a little poke of the finger to see how solid that thing was. Lucky for me it was pretty cement like - those ants have got some sticky spit to mix in with that dirt. It would have been very INauspicious for me to have knocked the whole things down!)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Tricks and Treats

Ah, the end of another Halloween season and this year comes complete with the change of daylight savings on the morning after. Cool beans.

Last night marked the high water point of amount of candy ever given out by the Wisniewski family. We managed to get through 2,000 pieces of candy! At the beginning of the night, we were being generous with a couple pieces per visitor, but near the end, we had to scale back when the "real crowds" starting coming. The door never closed and we ended up just setting up a chair in front of the door to feed the starving masses of ghosts and goblins.

Our little group of "hander-outers" was tough on the crowd. We required a resounding "trick-or-treat" before handing out the loot and we pretty much gave the kids without costumes a rough time. I'm of the ilk that it's a give and get situation. You give me something by showing up in a costume and you'll get the candy. Next year, I'm going to put up a sign that says "No costume, No candy, No exceptions!" We even had a couple of "solo" adults. No kidding. I'm talking older than 30 in full costume. What the? And, it must be said that if you are trick or treating with your child who is not yet able to walk and the hander-outer gives your child candy, this is not your invitation to then hold out your own bag for a treat. This happened more times than not. Hmmm?

So, on with the photos. First one's from before I left for Cambodia at the Punkin Patch. Rule was the same as last year: If you can pick it up, you can have it.

Next up are the boys last night. George the Younger went out with "the big kids" - all alone - but carrying a myriad of cell phones. As luck would have it, we neither had to call him or the police. It was a banner night since George the Younger made it home on his feet instead of in the back of an unmarked police car. (For back story, please refer to blog entry in Oct 2008 Halloween 911)

Henry also made it out with his fellow fifth graders. They were trailed at a respectable distance by George the Elder. Turns out that when you are "trailing" you also get to play sherpa for the evening. George the Elder came home holding a few masks and weapons that were impediments to the job of getting a boat-load of candy from the neighbors.

I would also like to give a shout out to George the Elder, who in the face of choosing between taking Henry door-to-door and watching Game 3 of the Series, was a real stand-up guy and went for father-hood-memory-moments. All that and the Phillies lost. I think George the Elder is wondering if he had stayed home and sent his mojo through the screen to the game that the results may have been different.