Sunday, August 30, 2009

too many words, not enough pictures

But here's one from last weekend. Jon took this shot, hence his absence. We laughed yesterday about this photo, about how with the single exception of Nick the rest of us know how to smile professionally for the camera. Or at least as avid amateurs. This was from our day in Cavendish.

Saturday and Siberia

Yesterday worked out beautifully. We did everything at a leisurely, molasses-like pace. All the errands got done, including shipping off Matt's boxes to college and dropping new prints off for framing. We bought two small prints of PEI watercolors when we were in Cavendish with the kids, and we'll hang them here to remind us of the island when we're here. For Nick's last birthday I found a map of PEI, circa 1935, which I had framed and hangs in our bedroom. It's a pretty and lighthearted map. Unremarkably, not much has changed on the Island since then. The prints will join the map.

In the afternoon we rested and read. Nick's really enjoying the book about the Bataan death march, and I (finally) finished the second part of the New Yorker two-part article about Siberia, which I loved. It reminded me of the 4-hour movie I saw years ago about the region (I think it was called Siberiad.) Really interesting, and one of the most interesting parts was about the Decembrists -- the revolutionary group who tried to overthrow the czar in the early 19th century. Obviously I was interested because we love the band who took their name, but I've also always been deeply interested in Russian history. It's a great story -- a group of young men (most of them were under 40) who wanted to unseat the government and institute constitutional rule, but hadn't really thought through their plan and were foiled. Many of the Decembrists were exiled to Siberia and were canonized as folk heroes. The leaders weren't executed because they were actually members of the royal family, and the head of the group was only one level below the czar. Even Lenin celebrated their exploits because he saw them as fellow revolutionaries. Their lack of preparation also brought to mind Aethelred the Unready, English king in the 11th century who bears one of my favorite historical epithets.

Any day that brings together revolutionary Russia and the early Middle ages is an interesting one.

Ms. Pac Man fists

I don't know how to make a fist. No one ever showed me, and although isn't as if I ever needed to use my fists it's still odd that I don't know how to make one. The first time I realized this was when I had my old trainer, Chet. He needed me to make a fist for some exercise or another, and laughed at how I didn't know. And in a way that was characteristic of him, he didn't show me how, just laughed at me. Ah Chet. The first time we had a session was during the evening, which turned out to be a hideous idea. As anyone who knows me knows, I'm best in the morning but deteriorate throughout the day. The workout was so hard, and I was so tired, that midway through I burst into tears and asked him this: if I give you money, will you leave my house now?

From there on all sessions were in the morning.

The fist subject was dormant til recently, when Nick and I were horsing around (one of the responses he gives me when I say I love you is a raised fist and the words "you'd better!") Then he saw what I do when I try to make one.

Here's what it looks like: I curl my fingers into my palm, which is fine. But I don't know what to do with my thumb, so it sticks out as though I'm trying to hitch a ride or make the thumbs-up sign. Nick laughed his head off when he saw my non-fist fist with my thumb pointing up. Then I started to bend it and we realized that what it reminded us of more than anything was Ms Pac Man going through the maze trying to eat the ghosts.

I don't mind being the object of ridicule, as long as I deserve it. And with my Ms Pac Man thumbs, I definitely deserve it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


We played an amazing game of Scrabble last night. For Nick it began with a bang: his first word was a 7-letter one (sediment.) Tough way to start. But I started to recover on my next turn, with the word "vex" on a double (and the "ex" on its own double.) I thought I'd lose the game, but I maintained focus and doggedness, even though my letters were uncooperative. I had to sacrifice some of them with the word "kiwis" for which I pretty much only got face value. But my penultimate play was "buys" on a triple that also made "gay" into "gays", and I sewed it up.

Bi now, gay later. Sorry -- it was too easy.

Tough, tight game throughout. Nick was so disappointed that the word "skirtly" wasn't a word. Skirtly! I love it. He was crestfallen; skirtly could have turned the game around, had it only been a word. But the English language -- so porous, so rich, so diverse -- failed him. And he was stuck at the end with a Q but by then the damage was done.

I remember reading that true Scrabble players never blame their letters. I think I read that in Stefan Fatsis's book about competitive Scrabble. So I try to work with what I've got (or to mix metaphors to play the hand I'm dealt.) But sometimes the Scrabble gods seem so vengeful and deliberate that it's hard to maintain good cheer. But I keep trying.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Odds and ends

On the media

I too mourn the loss of Senator Kennedy, but from a media coverage point of view enough is enough. The cable networks seem bent on repeating the ridiculous coverage they devoted to Michael Jackson to everyone famous who dies. Even Billy Mays was as overexposed in death as he was in life. Enough already. It's not only the dead who deserve to rest in peace, it's the living.

The story is crowding out other stories, and the one that seems to deserve more attention than it's getting is the CIA vs. the Justice Department on torture.

We've been watching less extreme partisan TV, meaning far less MSNBC (except for Rachel.) We shed a lot of this over the summer, and hope to keep it up. I turned Nick on to the New Republic last night; I'd suggested that the new issue has two articles he might want to share with his dad (one on the incorporation of the fringe right into mainstream GOP and one on the absurdity of Sarah Palin's claim about "death panels.") He read the first one and was very impressed.

There was an excellent piece last night on the Newshour on PBS about health systems in other industrialized countries, how they do it and more critically why they do it (and why we don't). Should be required viewing for everyone interested in the issue.

From the annals of medicine

The doctor's office just called to let me know that they have no x-rays of my back, and I need to get them Monday. A highly inconvenient oversight, because Monday is a crazy day as I try to get everything done before I go out. It's the simple things that trip us up. It seems a little late in the day to find out what steps we've missed, but I'm going to try not to think about what other oversights might be in store.

I'm going to pack for the hospital this weekend. I kind of feel like Lucy Ricardo getting ready to have Little Ricky.

My dad suggested with the best of intentions that I call the surgeon and suggest that he have a neurosurgeon in the operating room. A well-meant suggestion, especially because this surgery crosses the line between neuro and ortho and is done in equal measure by both types of surgeons. However, and it's a big however, I feel a little strange about second guessing the guy who's going to quite literally have a knife in my back (as opposed to the metaphorical knife in the back to which we're all accustomed.)

My over-research has continued unabated. By changing the search terms to "laminectomy rehab" or "synovial cyst excision" I've unearthed an entire trove of new info, though much of it is technical and frankly beyond my ken.

Uncle Sam wants you

Nick's uncle was very interested in the fact that I spent Wednesday at Fort Hamilton learning about the military, and wondered if they knew my politics. I had a couple of reactions when Nick told me. First, and of lesser importance, I didn't go there and stand on a soapbox to declare my political leanings. Second, and of far greater importance and interest was the fact that I found the people we spoke with -- all career military -- to be far more broad-minded than I could have imagined. They were open about their dissatisfaction with the Bush policies and hopeful about the new administration. They were candid about what matters to them and why they do what they do. They were liberal minded (in the true sense, not as a political distinction) and as far from doctrinaire as I could imagine. Parenthetically, I found the entire experience eye-opening, impressive and very very moving.

The housing market

Random people are coming to look at the house Sunday. No open house, just a few people coming with realtors. It's interesting to watch the behavior of people in a buyer's market. In a seller's market flaws and shortcomings are overlooked or addressed, in a buyer's market there are only flaws and shortcomings. Some of the greatest hits include:

  • the house is too close to Union Turnpike: hmmm. Look at Google Earth before you come to the house, and if that's a big problem don't waste your time coming by
  • the yard is on the side of the house: not much I can do about that. It's a quirky Gardens thing. Again, this is knowable if unchangeable
  • there are no bathtubs: this is legitimate and a design flaw of the house. But given the fact that many of these houses have never been updated and this house has 5 new bathrooms, a new kitchen, new floors, AC and much more, it seems to me that someone could manage to put in a bathtub if they need one
  • they don't like where the fridge is in the kitchen: frankly, neither do I. Feel free to relocate it
Who said this?

My CFO and I were chatting yesterday and were tossing around the following phrase (which I've been using for years but can't attribute to anyone. If you know who said this let me know): if he were half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is. I've said it about several people, and it's a neat turn of phrase, but I'd like to give credit where credit is due.

The Friday before

It's Friday, and a week of re-immersion is complete. It's been an intense few days, both because of the re-entry into the world of work, the planning and prep for next week and the fact that both kids were home much of the week.

It was great having Matt here, and a total pleasure to hang out and talk with him all week. He's got serious trepidation about returning to school and more specifically about starting at a new school. Just hoping that once he gets there and finds the rhythm he'll be fine. He left yesterday for DC to see some friends and will be back here Sunday or Monday. He'll head to school later in the week, though he may delay it a day because he wants to be here while I'm in the hospital.

It's supposed to rain all weekend, which both Nick and I would welcome. We both want a quiet, easy, obligation and chore-free weekend, and all of that is significantly easier to do if there isn't beautiful weather beckoning us. It'll be the last weekend of normalcy for a while. It's already raining, thanks to Hurricane Danny (though in a sign of diminishing manhood he may be reduced from a hurricane to a tropical storm. Must be a blow.)

We're now within the window when I have to start making changes. In the next day I have to stop taking my beloved Aleve, and I've already given up Excedrin. I did a bit of spine surgery clothes shopping during lunch yesterday. Picked up loose, soft loungewear from the Gap for while I'm in the hospital and then home. I'll also get some Nicotine gum should the urge to smoke arise while I'm at Lenox Hill. Unlikely that I'll be able to do there what I did at the Montreal airport: sneak into a handicapped bathroom and cadge a smoke. I actually did that a couple of times at the airport that day. The first cigarette was because I really needed it. The second was just to see if I could continue to get away with it. The final one, which I barely finished, was just my way of flipping the airport the bird.

I heard from the divorce lawyer's office and apparently there's a delay for no reason beyond the system's massive inefficiency. The messages said that there's a single judge in the Queens systems who handles uncontested divorces, and her workload is backed up through the fall.

One judge? Only one? And it's uncontested divorces that are delayed, not complicated contested ones? 

Unbelievable. They're warning me now that it might not be finalized til 1/2010. They said that an emergency affidavit could help, if I can get info from my accountant to show the tax implications of delaying the divorce.

It's astonishing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fie on Air Canada

Getting home was a horror. All flights were canceled Sunday because of the hurricane, and we were rebooked for Monday. It was a two-legged trip: Halifax to Montreal and Montreal to NY. The first leg was fine and the Halifax airport and staff are a pleasure. There was an inexplicable half-hour delay in our arrival, and that's where the problems began. No one in Montreal was helpful or even cordial, and since the airport was nearly empty there was no excuse. They had us run (and in my current condition that's no small thing) to the furthest possible gate because they told us that without checked luggage we might make the connection. No one called the crew to hold the plane, though there were 25 people trying to make the connection. The gate agent was useless and snarky, and told us that the next flight had "gone mechanical". We had to wait about 4 hours for the next one. The security staff was too busy talking about Monday Night Football to help hurry things along. Passport control was less than helpful. Was this the first plane in the history of air travel to leave on time? It certainly seemed that way.

At that point there wasn't even a hurricane to blame. It hadn't affected Montreal, just Halifax. And Halifax was brilliant. An elderly gentleman asked us to complete a survey about our experience at that airport, and I scored them uniformly very good or excellent.

Needless to say, we could have handled the entire situation with equanimity if we'd just been told the truth, that we wouldn't make the connection and would have to cool our heels for the afternoon. Had they been in any way helpful the situation would have vastly improved. But to a man the service was -- in my favorite way of describing poor customer service -- unconscionable. I wasn't offered a wheelchair or a cart or anything to have made a difficult situation tolerable.

Anyone have the email address for the CEO of Air Canada?

There was an article just last week about how effective it can be to skip all levels and advise CEO's of customer service problems in their organization; they tend to be so insulated and isolated from the reality of the experience they deliver that they pay attention when an actual consumer with a real story reaches their in-box. I made these points in the article I wrote a few months back, and now I got to live it and experience it first hand. And it wasn't pretty.

I think we'll skip Air Canada going forward. We're not captive; there are other options. And we will -- in the modern manner -- make sure everyone knows about this and is forewarned.

Inexcusable. I know I'm missing some of the details of this misadventure, but I was hopped up on Vicodin so I could manage the walking (running) and the rest of it. I have a larger macro view of the whole mess. Nick has all the details, which I'm hoping he has time to chronicle so I can give the CEO the full measure with full detail of this complete, utter mess.

Someone came over to Nikki in Montreal to see if we would complete a customer satisfaction survey. She wisely demurred.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Halifax to Montreal to NY

We leave this morning; we'll be on the road by 7. Yesterday was a gift day, but because of the wind and rain there wasn't much to do. We went off to Charlottetown where it wasn't nice enough to walk around, but stumbled into an Irish pub (one of the few places open) which turned out to be a lucky and inspired choice. The place was nice and dry, the food was hearty and good, and the music was live. We thought we recognized one of the fiddlers and turned out to be Roy -- the fiddler from Highland Storm. A charming and very PEI-like coincidence, we thought. He was one of about 5 fiddlers, and there were also musicians with recorders and harpischords -- like everywhere else here the place was brimming with music.

Dinner was another matter; nearly nothing was open. We ended up at a workmanlike place called Gentleman Jim's, which did the trick but no more. Nearly everything we all ordered had the appellation "award-winning." Reminded me of Little League where everyone gets a trophy.

We had fun. I told Jon that when we checked in on-line once again we all had seat assignments but him. To me the joke was too obvious, but he believed me and spent the first part of dinner stressing about why it was happening to him. Liv was hoping against hope to have time to go to the duty-free store at one of the airports. When we pressed her about why she liked duty-free so much, what it was there she couldn't get in NY, and what did duty-free mean at all, she said with a perfect Liv flourish and gesture, "without duty!" We did a quick look back at some of the dumber things we'd said and done. Mine included bringing in the birdhouses so they wouldn't get rained on, forgetting they were meant to be outside (Nikki thought the same.) My other winner was when we were talking with Susan about the humidity and how to keep the salt from clumping. What I meant to say is that we should mix the salt with rice; what I actually said was to mix the salt with sand. Yuck. Nick said his gaffes were more discreet, and we couldn't think of one of Jamie's but all in all we each had our moments of dimness.

Felt very much like a family right at that moment. I think we felt that way all along, but the individual incidents were markers of the trust and ease we all felt over the weekend.

My two-day experiment of going Vicodin-free came to an abrupt halt yesterday, and I fell off the wagon, with relief. Might as well get used to them since there's a whole lot of that kind of thing in my future.

We made some vague plans about coming back for Thanksgiving, which is if nothing else a nice idea. Obviously it won't be Thanksgiving here (Canadians celebrate the first Monday in October) but it could be a lot of fun, especially if all our kids come. This is the first trip we've made since the house was ours when we don't have the next trip booked. Leaves me with a sense of unfinished business.

Yesterday was Howard and Joanne's wedding -- hope it was wonderful! We couldn't have made it anyway with the hurricane and the aborted travel plans. Congrats on your wedding and Pam, hope you had a blast! I was originally meant to leave today for the West Coast for a few days of meetings. As luck would have it they were rescheduled; given the wrath of Bill I'd have been canceled out anyway.

So today we return to our regular lives. It'll be great to see Matt, who's in full summer-camp withdrawal. Holly will come home from her camp (ok, the kennel) tomorrow. We all return to work tomorrow, which is fine. I've got much to do and take care of in the last week or so before I go in for the surgery, so the time will be welcome.

And so the sun sets on this particular PEI trip. I'll resume writing next weekend if not sooner, when the countdown to surgery grows closer. And consciousness permitting I'll be writing a lot while I'm laid up. I can't vouch for the cogency or coherence of what I'll write, but I'll give it my all.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Susan really enjoyed the story of how Nick and I met (I think of it as our creation myth.) I think I'll save it for the long convalescing days ahead when I'll have lots of time to write. Usually I restrict my writing to weekends, holidays and the occasional early morning; there's no time during the working week. But I'm hoping that once I emerge from the haze of anesthesia and surgery I'll be able to focus. My current plan is to read, write, watch news, sleep, play our usual games (but in bed) and chronicle the entire experience.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thank you, Bill

Our flight has been canceled, and no one's a bit unhappy about it. We'll now stay until tomorrow, when we'll try again but with a slightly more complex travel plan: we drive to Halifax, fly to Montreal and then change planes for NY. There wasn't a peep from anyone (and this group peeps with surprising volume.)

Yesterday was a nice, lazy day. Nick and I played 2 games of Scrabble before the kids woke up (score: 1-1.) Kids woke up late and we all had breakfast together (eggs and waffles.) Then we s-l-o-w-l-y got ourselves together, tooled around Summerside where Nikki made an appointment to get a new tatoo (a mermaid) and we shopped at Sobey's with the hurricane in mind. That meant lots and lots of snacks (hey, you never know) and all the fixings for dinner tonight. Liv in particular loved the food shopping; Sobey's is all the theme park she needs. The menu includes grilled chicken and fish, salad, rolls, roasted sweet potatoes and fries. A lazy afternoon followed the lazy morning, and then I received the email alert from Air Canada that Halifax flights were canceled. Nikki spent the day at a tattoo parlor in town, where it took nearly three hours to get the very impressive, highly colorful mermaid the artist skillfully applied. Liv and I were both relieved that we'd decided to pass on our tattoos; we prefer the idea to the reality.

I was reminded of TS Eliot's the Hollow Men:

between the conception
and the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
and the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

That's where our tattoos fell -- in the shadow. Where they belong. Using Eliot to describe our tattoo experience is reductive, I know. It's like having an elephant dragging a straw. But it's what came to mind.

A couple of complications but nothing dire. Holly needs to stay in the kennel a little longer, Matt and his friend will come home to an empty house, I'll need to do whatever work I have by phone.

Before dinner some more games. Nick and I played the tie-breaking Scrabble game (won by your faithful writer.) Then Nick, Jamie, Jon, Liv and I played a rotating Boggle game (me in, then Nick in, me out, Liv out.) And Judy, if you're reading this we decided we don't love your version which is all about quantity of words; we find to have more challenge and bite when we play by the regular rules. I like looking for the longer words; they're both more satisfying and give me a better shot at finding words no one else has.) Jamie is a great game player; she learns new games at lightning speed and is an excellent sport.

We had fun making dinner, and more fun eating it. Lots of stories, lots of laughing. The girls and Jon got along beautifully (Nikki: you don't say much but when you do it's funny. Jon: I usually do say a lot but you guys talk so much I don't have much to say.) Roaring laughter ensued.

After the dinner the kids settled in to play games, and after we finished cleaning Susan came by to hang out. It was great fun. She told me that this blog has silent readers (if you're there, keep reading. I'll keep writing) and that one post in particular -- I love Nick -- is especially admired. For me that one was one of the easiest to write; as copywriters say the copy wrote itself.

We had a lot of fun talking about everything, and only cut it short because my back began to speak, and what it wanted to say was that it was time to lay down. I don't want this friendship with Susan to end when the house is done; I really enjoy her company. There's still our master bath to do but I'd like to see this friendship sustain beyond a working relationship.

And Susan: come to NY! Use your miles and we'd love to show you around. If you like Toronto you'll love NYC. I'll be fit for this kind of activity in the late fall or beyond, when I'm healed and have my mobility back. (Damn, I hate that word mobility. It reminds me of nothing so much as those scooter commercials for old people.)

I got through the entire day without Vicodin. I found it better to feel the pain in its raw form but keep my wits about me. We'll see how today goes, but I have so many narcotic days in my future that it's better to spend a few of these clean and sober (well clean, at least. We do like the sweet white wine-in-a box we get here.)

Bill's coming

It's early Saturday morning, about 7 local time. Everyone's asleep. I'm outside on the deck and it's windy, but I don't know if these are early signs of Hurricane Bill's arrival or just the morning breezes. Not sure yet if it's an ill wind or not. You hear everywhere here about the coming Hurricane, as all reports say it's going to slam into the Maritimes on Sunday, with particular force in Nova Scotia where we're supposed to fly out of. Could be an interesting travel day tomorrow, or could just as easily be a non-travel day tomorrow. Like everyone else here we'll be checking weather with some frequency.

We had fun yesterday. Nice leisurely breakfast together. I made a ton of scrambled eggs and toast and we ate together under the canopy on the deck. No pressure on anyone; we left here by about noon when everyone was up, fed, and dressed. Headed north to Cavendish but when we got to the amusement park it didn't strike anyone's fancy. We went instead to a little shopping village, where the kids got some souvenirs, we played at a shooting gallery, got fruit smoothies and hung out. Next we drove to Stanley Bridge to look at a couple of art galleries. In one Nick and I bought 2 pretty PEI landscapes for the Forest Hills house, and in a pottery gallery we picked up a cranberry-colored fruit bowl for the house here (it's ok Susan -- it goes in the kitchen and works as one of the red accents.) And Nick picked up a photo book of PEI scenes -- it's part of what we do to keep the Island alive and close when we're in NY.

Kids were great, game for everything. We headed next into Kensington to try the Haunted Mansion. Liv refused (too creepy) and in solidarity Jon stayed wth her. The four of us went through it. It was fun, cute and creepy -- not too scary but just enough. Next we tried to have lunch at the Old Stone Pub in town but it was in-between times; neither lunch nor dinner. So we decided to head back to Summerside and lunch at Sharkey's.

But what we didn't calculate was that the Canada Games were still going on in Summerside, and roads were blocked and restaurants closed. We got to see one of the last events -- women team cyclists (very very cool to see up close, and when they announced they were one team short my heart jumped to join them.) But we found a restaurant on Spinnaker's Landing. Nikki and Jamie were happy; our waiter was very cute. For me though the combination of 1 1/2 Vicodin and 2 glasses of wine kicked in, and flattened me. While they explored the Landing I ended up lying down on one of the benches and I think I actually fell asleep. In public. On a bench. Very unorthodox.

When we got home I went to bed for a few hours and slept. Barely heard Norm and Donna come by to meet the kids, or much of anything else. We'd eaten lunch so late that the rhythm of the day was unusual, and it was about 8 before anyone figured out what to do. It ended up fragmented but fine:
  • Nick took the girls (dressed up and looking beautiful) back to the place where we'd had lunch, so they could check out the nightlife
  • Nick, Liv and Jon went to Sobey's to pick up food (Liv LOVED Sobey's)
  • I stayed home and puttered a bit
By the time they got back with the food I was feeling more like myself, and we hung out, snacked and then played Catch Phrase for a few hours. And tracked the hurricane on line. Liv and Jon are really quite overwhelmed with everything here, from the house, to the people to the island, and nothing would make them happier than to be hurricane-stranded here another day. I'm so glad they're enjoying it here. It's always a bit unnerving to take city kids and teens at that to a new place, especially a place so differerent from what they're used to, and expect them to enjoy. But they feel the special charms of PEI, and don't want to leave.

Nikki and Jamie had fun at the bar, just talking to random people, so Nick didn't leave til midnight to pick them up. I'm sure they had a blast; they're really outgoing and friendly. Before then he and I went to bed, cuddled, ate grapes and read.

Today's plan is to stay local. We may go to Charlottetown if the group wants to, but the Canada games may be there so traffic will be terrible, as it was here Thursday and Friday. If nothing else we'll go into town (Nikki wants another tatoo; Olivia and I talked about it but doesn't look like it'll happen), and shop for dinner. We're going to eat at home -- we'll grill, make a salad, maybe bake some sweet potatoes -- and hang out and play games.

Catch phrase was funny. Liv's knowledge of sports is even more minimal than mine, and her science is weak. Nick and I did well but got caught on girl/boy disconnects -- he couldn't guess Wedding Planner and I was stuck on Brute Force. And he'd never heard the phrase "tennis, anyone" so we lost that round. I couldn't get torpedo or dragonfly either. Liv had many clues that involved cars, and had so little info to give Jon that he was at a loss, but in an extremely good-natured way.

I'm going to try and go Vicodin-free today; yesterday was a warning shot. I'll see if it's preferable to have the pain raw but my mind and body clear. And we'll listen and watch to see if the big bad Hurricane makes its way here and wreaks havoc on tomorrow's itinerary.

It was a really nice day, and it's great having them here. Liv is completely swept away by the house, and goes room to room picking up and admiring things, declaring certain things her favorite but also taking frequent macro views of the entire thing.

OK Bill, come on up. We're ready for you.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What's next

there's a jumble of activities we want to do while we're here, and the order will be dependent on the weather. But here' s what's on the docket:
  • check out Summerside
  • explore Charlottetown
  • head up to Cavendish to see the amusement park
  • find a good bar for N&J to hang out in tonight
  • decide if Liv and I are going to get mother-daughter tatoos (this would be the trip: the legal age in Canada is 16 with parental approval and conveniently there are 2 tatoo parlors right here in Summerside)
  • collaboratively cook one dinner
  • hope that Hurricane Bill stays away; it's threatening this part of the world
  • play games: we have Boggle and brought catch phrase; those are for the group. And Nick and I will play solo scrabble
  • introduce the kids to our neighbors
  • enjoy every minute of what will be our last weekend here for a while, at least til Oct/Nov by when I hope to be able to get back here

Friday morning in PEI

Yesterday was the travel day. Got to the aiport on time, plane left as scheduled, no hiccups until we reached passport control at Halifax. I was pulled off the incredibly line because of my cane, and was sent with Nick and Liv to a shorter line.

Jon, Jamie and Nikki were stuck on the endless snaking line. We waited and waited on the other side, killed time, bought snacks and watched every other passenger emerge, except for our three. Finally Jon made it through, and told us they'd gotten caught in the security web: questions, searches, drug-sniffing dogs. Nikki may have -- just may have -- mouthed off a bit when they put her stuff back in her bag, but nothing they did justified the long long wait. We told them that they take security seriously on this side of the border. But we finally made it out, got into our massive rented SUV and took off for PEI.

Nice easy ride, one stop where the kids could check out their first Tim's. We'd planned to go home first, unpack, relax but the traffic was uncooperative and we were stopped dead. It was all because of the Canada games and yesterday's cycling events. No one could move. We decided that it made no sense to fight the traffic to get home and fight it again.

So instead we went straight to dinner at Brothers Two. Nikki and Jamie were going stir crazy in the car, so they got out and walked on ahead, and we met them a little later. Nice meal -- lots of mussels (Thai mussels beat classic mussels), and everyone liked their food (my chicken salad arrived sans chicken, but that was quickly remedied.)

Then to Highland Storm. The kids loved it, which thrilled us. It was our third time and we were so hoping they'd be as swept away and moved by it as we we and continue to be. Big success.

Finally got to the house later, and their reactions were extreme. The beauty, grace and ease of it blew them away. Liv laid across the countertops in a proprietary way, declaring that she was never going home. And the other kids reacted similarly. When we decided to call it a night they were all downstairs, 2 playing darts and 2 playing ping pong. I'd always wanted to have a house not only beautiful and done, but welcoming and fun. And thanks to Susan for all the design work and Nick for all the assembly work on the play stuff, we now have it.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

News, info and updates

I learned a bit more about what will happen in the hospital and after the surgery. Multiple conversations with people including the doc's PA, and someone from the patient liaison group at the hospital yielded a bunch of tidbits. In the absence of a handy "What to expect when you're having a lumbar laminectomy plus removal of a synovial cyst" handbook (now there's a revenue opportunity) I've gleaned the following:
  • I may very well be in the hospital two nights instead of one

  • the determination won't be mine (of course not: you surrender control and maturity in a hospital setting). It will be based on my ability to tolerate the pain and to walk

  • for 6 weeks post I'll be severely restricted: no bending, lifting, twisting, car rides longer than 45 minutes (how do you shower and go about daily life without any of those simple actions? Time will tell.)

  • I can't have Nick stay in the room unless I pony up for a private room

  • for a mere $400 per night I can upgrade to a private room --- too bad I can't use my miles

  • there's no guarantee I'll even get to the room; the hospital says it's not unlikely that I'll spend the night monitored in a critical care unit (now that's a happy thought)

  • The Carlyle hotel has special rates for Lenox Hill hospital -- hmmm

  • Nick and I will chew over the overnight options. As much as I'd like him to be able to stay in the room with me (his idea) I know he'd be so much more comfortable and get actual rest in a hotel room (and at the Carlyle, no less.)
  • I remember from my first ortho surgery that sharing a room on an ortho floor falls short of expectations. I expected jocks having ACL repairs; what I actually found were old women having hip replacements (my roommate thought I was someone named Mrs. Kennedy, and she yelled for her all night

  • my participation in the actual healthcare system is curbing my appetite for healthcare reform news and developments

  • I've rethought my hasty conclusion about which painkiller I prefer. Now 4 days in to all-narcotics-all-the-time I'm leaning toward Vicodin (paging Gregory House)

  • A couple of things have gotten canceled or postponed in the next two weeks including my trip to the West Coast next week (Nick will tell you that's the universe's way of making sure I take it easy between now and the surgery.) We are scheduled to do a 66-mile ride to Montauk the weekend after next, but I have a feeling we'll just blow it off. Cycling is way, way, way easier than walking, but given the fact that my condition is capable of worsening (that was news; I was clinging to what the doc said about how I couldn't make it worse. Of course I could. This is me.) it may be better left undone

  • I had my pre-op appointment with Peter today, and the good news is that I'm overall in excellent health. I' m hoping that my relative youth and fitness will yield an easier recovery than what I've read about. Most people who have this surgery are much older (Peter's dad had it at 85) and so by any objective measure I should heal more quickly and rebound with greater alacrity

  • He also told me that it's a simple surgery. When a doc offers this opinion it's meant from the surgeon's perspective, and that it reflects the technical aspects. Cold comfort, frankly

  • People -- friends, family, co-workers -- couldn't be more supportive, which I find simultaneously comforting and isolating

  • Nick said last night that we need to pretty much write off September and October. It would be interesting and ironic if the house were sold during that time and we needed to start packing etc. Interesting and ironic. Kurt Vonnegut referred to the lack of a universe schemed in mercy, and I know what he means

  • I'd love to convalesce in PEI, but that would require that I be airlifted by a Medivac unit and I just don't see that happening, all my connections notwithstanding

  • I hope that they do a better job in the recovery room than when I had my shoulder done. I was left alone and ignored for 4+ hours in a room where a dozen and a half people were moaning and screaming. The waiting, the noises, the fact that no one checked up on me, the anesthesia -- it all caught up with me. Eventually I disintegrated into a full-fledged anxiety attack. Nursing supervisors were called and everyone seemed panicked (not as panicked as me, but surprising panicked for trained healthcare professionals -- isn't this what they're trained to deal with?) Finally I was taken from recovery and put in a windowless, low-ceilinged chamber -- not exactly the right setting for someone in my state, but better than the alternative. The last thing I remember was the head nurse saying "we'll have to give you Atavan" -- as though this were a threat, a last resort, when it was the obvious and welcome solution
Two weeks from tomorrow.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lost Sunday and a painkiller compare and contrast

Today wasn't much of a Sunday, the beautiful weather notwithstanding. I was up most of the night in pain, so neither of us slept. Nick's still not 100% better, and the sleeplessness didn't help. We rested a few hours and now he's napping. I'd have joined him but the pain was so bad that I took a Vicodin and a half, which dulls the pain but makes me antsy. He told me to wake him in an hour but I'm going to wait awhile longer and let him get the sleep he needs.

Laur's at a Met game with our parents (my dad's first baseball game in about 40 years) and Liv just went to meet friends. The day is shot, and I can't even take comfort in productivity -- I haven't done anything to give me a sense of accomplishment. Those things that I do get done on lazy days usually include some work, a work out, laundry and other housework, reading, some errands, and the like but today we haven't even done those. And I'm fighting the Vicodin-induced urge to do things like wash the floors, which don't really need to be done but are an outlet for my antsiness.

The week ahead will be short; we leave Thursday for PEI. Nick's girls and Jon will sleep here Wednesday night so we can leave early the next day for the flight. Monday-Wednesday will be brief and intense, as all short weeks are.

I think I like Percoset better than Vicodin. The percs do less for the pain but also don't leave me all tense and itchy. Vicodin is more effective but at a cost. The first sign that the Vic kicks in is a drowsy dopiness, but that's quickly replaced by this anxiety which is far more physical than emotional. It's a harbinger I suppose of what awaits me after the surgery.

We watched Meet the Press live this morning (highly unusual, we DVR everything) to see how David Gregory and his panel (particularly our favorite -- Rachel Maddow -- would do.) Gregory always disappoints. He drops key issues too quickly but stays too long on others. He raised the death panel rumors but didn't pursue the topic to where it needed to go: an acknowledgement that this is entirely, patently false. Rachel did well as always. No one is smarter or better prepared than she is. Dick Armey came across like the blowhard he is. Tom Daschle was ok but ineffective -- no passion, no fire. And Tom Coburn didn't impress (though I have to admit a going-in bias about him, based not only on his positions but on the fact that during the Ensign/C Street controversy he said that as a doctor his conversations with Ensign were protected by doctor-patient privilege -- he's an OB!) Sorry Dave, you're no Tim.

Nick called his Dad this morning to encourage him to watch MTP; we'll find out later if he did.

I started a new book yesterday: David Wessel's "In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic." So far, it's excellent. Very well written and engaging. I've been reading nothing but non-fiction for a while now, but I think it's time to change it up. I need stories. I love stories. The non-fiction books are useful - my knowledge expands and my arguments are better reasoned. But I miss the stories. It's very hard for me to find my next book. I've always been very choosy and snobby about books (anything on a best-seller list or in Oprah's club is an automatic no). But I'll need a few easy-to-read but worthwhile selections for my convalescence. If I can't find them I can always return to my old habit of re-reading my favorites. These include: 1984, Brave New World, all plays written by Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, the complete Jane Austen, anything that Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote. As far back as I remember these were my most cherished books, and for decades I fell asleep each night reading them. But I dropped that habit a few years ago. May be time to take it back up; they're comforting and I'm anticipating an unquenchable thirst for comfort.

Next time, Percoset.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The influence of anxiety

One day a few months back, I was walking with our PR person to meet a reporter for lunch. We were chatting in very general terms about an article I was planning to write. The thoughts I had up until that point were shapeless and formless, not even developed enough to be half-baked (maybe par-baked?)

Halfway to the Greek restaurant a phrase popped into my head: the anxiety of influence. It's been in my head ever since graduate school, when Professor Meisel introduced us to Harold Bloom (if I remember correctly, it was in September, and few in the class knew Bloom or the professor's favorite publication -- The New Criterion. I remember how exasperated he was when no one recognized the references, and he asked "what exactly have you been doing all summer? I knew the answer, because I was one of his groupies. But we groupies always stayed quiet while he looked for signs of intelligent life in the class. It was only when he was met with stony silence that we came to the rescue.")

Bloom's book talked about the pressure that modern writers felt in trying to create anything new, burdened by all that had already been written and said.

That set of words has stayed with me.

But while we were walking to lunch the phrase inverted itself in my mind; it became the influence of anxiety. And i chewed on those words, as they started to signify the mood of the country in the deep economic downturn we were experiencing. It wasn't a regular recession where the essential pillars of society and commerce were intact. There was deep insecurity about the basics as the very foundations of our society -- those things that were solid and reliable through other downturns -- were suddenly shaky. The banking system, the credit markets, housing, employment -- these factors in this combination coalesced to create a national sense of deep worry and profound anxiety, one which would lead to significant behavioral changes among consumers which may outlast the recovery.

And what I puzzled over was the role of that anxiety in the way we as marketers considered and reconsidered how we engage with consumers. Even before the Great Recession (credit to David Wessel for that phrase) some thinkers were challenging the conventional wisdom of rational man and introducing ideas from behavioral economics that better explained why and how people make the decisions they do. Once the economy collapsed (I date it to September 12 2008 when Lehman failed) the need to re-think the fundamental of our marketing approach and design became more urgent.

We are seeing actual, significant and measurable changes in behavior, in shopping habits, in spending and saving patterns. The degree to which these changes are lasting and sustainable can't at this point be measured, but for now there's very real and very important going on. And to me at least this change of mood and introduction of national anxiety is behind the changes.

The article lived, but the title was left on the cutting-room floor. It became "Rethinking Brand Relationships", which is a functioning descriptive title but not a poetic one. Maybe it's like what they say about campaigning vs. governing, that you campaign in poetry but govern in prose. I wrote in poetry (or so at least I'd like to think) but publish in prose.

I love Nick

And that love is apparent in everything I've written, but in case it's too implicit I wanted to make it explicit. I love Nick and everything about him. Here's a partial list of why; the sum total of why I love him and to such an unfathomable degree is the mystery it should be. If I could explain it, parse it and evaluate it with logic and reason it would barely approach the reality of my feelings, which are beyond words. So here's a partial list:
  • I love his morning sleepy head, all foggy and flushed with sleep, not as awake as I am (I'm up earlier)
  • I love the kind of dad he is to his girls
  • I love the son he is and the son-in-law he's becoming
  • I love watching my friends get to know him and seeing them swept away by his qualities
  • I love that the believes that as a boy it's his responsibility to take care of his girls (which includes me, his daughters, and Liv.)
  • I love his crazy OTC self-medication ministrations
  • I love that together we can shed our high-performing over-functioning natures and just be us, goofy and adolescent
  • I love that we've shared with each other the things important to us, but even more
  • I love that we discovered things together that we love. Top of that list is PEI, but there are myriad smaller things --- the 24-hour news cycle, classical music at Carnegie Hall, theater (we b0th prefer dramas to musicals), Celtic music
  • I love his pride in having me and his respect for my mind
  • I love that when I'm home waiting for him I miss him desparately and find the saddest world in the English language to be "traffic"
  • I love that when he works from home all day he's starved not only for me but for human company and when I get home he talks and talks
  • I love working out together, and watching him become a strong cyclist so that riding is now our thing, not just mine
  • I love it when he makes me my breakfast, and I love it just as much when I make him sandwiches or waffles or omelettes. He's so appreciate that I feel my heart melt
  • I love how he fixed my sleep, which until he moved in was fitful and full of nightmares, and is now so much better (imperfect still because of my back, but no matter)
  • I love listening to him talk and observing the expansion in his vocabulary since we're together
  • I love the names he calls me: pretty princess, sugarface, tiger, word lady, angel, hero, aircraft carrier (for that last one with its associations with size, bulk and lack of agility I see what he's really saying about my inner strength and broad shoulders
  • I love it when I come home from work and we have a glass of wine and share our days, and we do this every day
  • I love how he takes responsibility for everything that happens in the house and to any of his girls, and his certainty that he can fix it
  • I love the tatoo on his back and how he looks when he wears blue
  • I love his crazy feet
  • I love his mind and how it processes
  • I love the look on his face when he tells me he loves me too much
  • I love it when he comes home with bags and packages and we unpack and together put everything away
  • I love doing his laundry
  • I love him for making it safe for me to have no secrets, and for the way he makes it easy to talk about everything, no matter what
  • I love the way he understands my work issues, follows the stories and offers usable practical advice
  • I love the first few minutes after we get into bed and we lie in each others arms
  • I love our weekends -- hanging out, playing games, seeing friends, cycling, having Mojitos and yogo
  • I love it that he notices everything and I can feel how much he thinks about me
  • I even love him on his Blue Mondays -- the one day of the week he dreads because of the looming amount of work, when he hyper-focuses on everything he has to do, rarely gets into the shower before 4 and isn't quite relaxed and caught up when I get home
  • I love how much he misses me when I travel
  • I love his heart -- it's big, and full and has limitless love
  • I love it that we fully share the responsibility for cleaning up in prep for open houses
  • I love how much he loves Holly
  • I love how we divided the responsibility for the new house into two spheres of influence, each of which is comfortable for one of us. He deals with the caretaker, the maintenance, the mortgage and the bank, the insurance and other practicalities. I deal with the designer, the furniture, stocking the kitchen.
  • I love that he listens to right-wing talk radio to hear the other side of the argument and to be armed when he talks to his folks. All my media consumption is on the left or in the center; my only flirt with right-wing opinion is what I read in the Wall Street Journal
  • I love that he's not intimidated by my job, or my mind
  • I love the way he treats my parents -- with respect and love -- and they're responded in kind
  • I love the goofy 15-year old that lives inside him and is never far from the surface
  • I love being seen with him
  • I love feeling this love so deep that it's part of me, that a life without him is inconceivable, that a life with him is completely fulfilling
I love Nick!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Soundtracks and water

In my head

There's an endless, restless soundtrack in my head, and always has been. For a while now it's been mostly the Decemberists, but now I've got stuck in the loop a song Nick made up for Holly: not much of a tune but the words go "Holly Holly the big fat Holly." The music kinds of reminds me of the theme from F-Troop. Strange how potent cheap music is, as Noel Coward says. (No Nick -- I'm not calling your songwriting cheap.) Other stuff pops in there too -- themes from TV shows, jingles, bits of guitar music, pure rhythm, things I hear Liv singing in her room. To change it requires consciousness that I'm changing it, which impacts the essential unconsciousness of the internal soundtrack. The soundtrack works best when it isn't manipulated, and the results often surprise me.

As for Nick

He whistles. Never a single song from end to end. He whistles a medley. Just fragments of different songs that have no relationship or internal logic to unite them. One is the tune he thinks of as the theme from the Million Dollar Movie and I think of as the theme from Gone with the Wind. His medley also includes a part from the Sound of Music, which he's never seen, something from West Side Story (we saw the newest production of it with Liv and Jon a few months ago and loved it) and a few others I can't call to mind right now. It's a strange brew. I like it, of course.

The day the music died

All of which reminds me that both our ipods recently passed away. Since when are $249 purchases disposable? They died within a week of each other, which I found poignant. I may have drowned his. When we were in PEI last he lent me his for cycling (mine was already pining for the fjords), though it was starting to fail. I unwisely tucked it inside my cycling shorts which were drenched in sweat. Clear assault by bodily fluids.

Death by water

That's not a new thing. As my kids know I am famous for drowning devices, specifically cordless phones. I can't remember how many perished by water, but it had to be half a dozen. I left them outside in the rain, dropped them in toilets, accidentally knocked them into bathtubs. It was a running joke around here for years. Cell phones aren't safe either; I dropped one into an airplane toilet on a flight to Tucson. Ipods, blackberries, phones -- I need combat-ready, waterproof (not water resistant) ones. My devices live hard lives. Nick treats his with more respect, making it that much more galling that his ipod died in my care (galling to me; he was of course more than great about it.)

For now cordless phones are safe from me. We don't have a landline in the house -- how modern. But we do have one up North. I fear for it.

Current events

The one I'm selfishly, obsessively focused on is the surgery.

Nick's right -- I really have no choice. It's gotten worse in the last month or so, so bad that sometimes I can't even stand up straight. Getting out of bed is the worst part; it's not only the pain and stiffness but weakness so great that I have to hold on to the bedposts, to Nick's shoe rack, to the wall, to anything that will support me. Nights are bad now. I roll over in my sleep and the pain that causes wakes me up. I'm awake a couple of hours a night now, usually from 3 or so til 5. Not awake enough to get up and start the day, which I've been known to do at that hour, sleepy but too uncomfortable to either get up or go back to sleep.

People are now telling me that they're praying for me, which is disturbing on at least two levels, both of them obvious to anyone who knows me.

Less than 3 weeks to go.

The pain has become part of me. I think often of the narrator in Doestoevsky's Notes from the Underground, who feels pleasure in pain, pleasure in the moans that escape him. It isn't pleasure in the ordinary sense of pleasure and it isn't pleasure in the pain itself. it's pleasure in the consciousness and expression of the pain. I understand it now.

The pain has another benefit -- it's sharpening my mind. I feel the way I did when I first learned to play guitar and read music. I'm focused and can concentrate. My mind doesn't skip around the way it always has, taking non-linear paths, jumping restlessly from thing to thing, making instant connections so fast and so bizarre that sometimes I find it interesting to stop and retrace how I got from here to there. Or there to here. Or usually there to there. I'm reading more and the things I'm reading are denser and harder. I'm writing, which I love to do (not just in the Dorothy Parker sense of "I hate writing but I love having written"; I love the writing part.) My ability to focus on everything related to work and kids and family and friends and politics and everything else that interests me related is infinite. But on the down side, it's enervating. It saps my energy and leaves me tired most of the time (made worse by and indistinguishable from the sleeplessness.)

Less than 3 weeks to go.

And the surgery looms. And it scares me -- the fear is more disabling than the pain. I can't easily parse what's causing the fear. It's a muddy combination of things including these: it's open surgery, an overnight hospital stay, a difficult recovery, the fact that it's my spine. All of these are pooling to create a well of fear that occasionally bubbles up and washes over all my reason. I know one thing it isn't - - fear of the unknown. I've researched and read so much that lack of knowledge isn't the problem. Maybe it's the surfeit of knowledge that's making it worse. I even know about the growing medical tourism industry in places like India and Costa Rica for cut-rate high-quality surgery.

I do worry a lot about the aftermath of the surgery, about what it will really be like to come home and manage through the first days. Here my research isn't terribly helpful. Either the info is clinical and detached (clearly written by the surgeons and not the patients) or just plain alarming. I found an article the other day that compared cervical and lumbar decompression surgeries. It would have been reassuring had I been facing the cervical version. It said it's not that painful. But of the lumbar version it said that this is one of the most painful surgeries that one can have, what with the size of the muscles involved and the amount of manipulation required.

Less than 3 weeks to go.

We were talking just last night about how I'll get up the stairs when I get home. I was thinking past that, to just being stuck in bed for days. But I didn't process until last night what will be involved with just getting upstairs and into bed the first time. Maybe, maybe they'll give me a nerve block that will deaden everything for the first day. That's what happened with the hip arthroscopy, where I felt fine for 24 hours, wondered what all the post-op fuss was about, and then got slammed by the arrival of the actual pain.

Less than 3 weeks to go.

I have always used a mental process so I can evaluate my pain and see if it's really bad or can be fought through. When I was a kid, I used a simple secret filter: if the future of the world depending on my ability to do what's expected me, would this pain/illness/discomfort stand in my way? The answer was invariably no. As I got older and grew interested in life under totalitarian regimes (mostly the Nazis and the Soviet Union under Stalin, with occasional thoughts of Pol Pot and Shining Path) the filter changed. Then I started comparing what I was feeling with what the sufferers in those situation must have felt, and that filter gave me perspective and I could usually kick back and put in its place what was bothering me. These techniques -- bizarre to some, no doubt -- worked well for me because they let me see and evaluate what was happening in a larger, quasi-historical context of true human suffering and see my problem as smaller, lesser, less severe and less important.

The technique is failing me in this round. With this pain the answer is most often now no: no, I couldn' t save the world when the pain is at its worst; no, I couldn't do whatever physical requirements were demanded of me. A very sobering thought. It's now a struggle because the pain is real and severe and none of my usual approaches are much help as I try to minimize and mitigate it, and put it into a perspective that in it's own dark way I've always found reassuring.

Less than 3 weeks to go.

Something in the water

Friday's finally here. Nick's over the flu and now we'll be able to get back to normal. There's a couple coming tonight to look at the house (think happy thoughts), and we'll just hang out this evening. My brother lands tomorrow morning and we'll spend the weekend together.

Yesterday morning there was a disturbing scene outside that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. It was early, before 7 and I was upstairs near the window. My neighbors were outside and the husband was screaming at his wife. I only heard the tail end, when he screamed "fuck the neighbors! I told you not to do that." The wife, usually so together and confident looked weak and frightened. There was something in both his tone and those words -- something that struck me as abusive though I've never seen evidence of that before -- that has stayed with me.

It made me idly wonder if there wasn't a marriage curse on the houses in our row. There are three houses on this stretch of block. My marriage ended shortly after we moved here (though we bought the house knowing the marriage had a sell-by date.) The couple two doors down split up within the last year, and the wife moved out. And now this couple, who lives in the house between us is showing signs of problems. Or at the very least they were having an extremely bad day. I've no way to know if this was anomalous or if it goes on all the time but inside the house where no one can hear.

For me of course the divorce has been a blessing, as it has for my ex. We're both happy, and in my case at least happier than I've ever been. Nick has changed my life, my world and my perspective. I am no longer convinced that the universe is a malignant, scheming place made up of land mines and trap doors, a web of trickery that requires me to have an unending resource of safety nets, plan b's and back up plans. Nick's universe is benign and supportive. In the words of our president, let me be clear. It's not so much that I no longer hold my original dark views; it's more that I feel I'm now part of his universe.

But I can't help but wonder what's in the water on this block.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Counting down

I do a lot math in my head. Not just the kilometer-to-mile and celsius-to-fahrenheit conversions, but balancing my bank accounts, planning expenses, and counting, counting, counting. I do a lot of counting down. Right now I'm counting down to a couple of things -- the arrival of my brother for the weekend, our next trip up north, and my spine surgery.

My brother arrives Saturday, just 3 days from now. He won't be here long -- just till Monday -- but we'll celebrate our folks anniversary at a dinner Saturday night, and we'll hang out before and after then. We'll have him alone; he's coming unaccompanied for the first time in a long time, so it should be quite a different visit from the norm. Nick's been sick all week so we're hoping he'll be better by the time Laur arrives. Signs point to yes; yesterday seems like it was the worst day and I think he's now on the mend. He takes such good care of me, and this was my turn to take care of him. I hope I was up to the task.

We head back up north on the 20th, 7 days from now. This will be a very different trip. We're taking Nick's girls, Olivia and her boyfriend Jon. We fly into Halifax this time (we're still exploring the different ways of getting there -- next stop, Moncton) and will do the very pretty 3-hour drive to PEI. We're hoping to get there in time to take the kids to see Highland Storm that night. There won't be much cycling that weekend; there's not a cyclist among the 4 of them. So we'll do different things, including a day in Cavendish at what's reputed to be a great amusement park called Sandspit (or Spitsand, I'm not sure.) Some exploring and shopping in Charlottetown, a quick taste of the Island and the too-short trip will be over. We're psyched and so are the kids.

My surgery is 9/2, 20 days from now. That's the big one, and it deserves its own post.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back in NY

It's Sunday morning, the official catch-up day after vacation. The travel was smooth and uneventful (no small thing when there was an air tragedy over the Hudson yesterday; how terrible for those people and their families.)

We actually landed an hour early (ah, PEI) and got home at a reasonable hour, hung out with Liv, did some food shopping and had dinner together. This morning we'll all head out east to get Holly from the kennel. She's sorely missed (though we don't regret putting her in the kennel; it wouldn't have been fair to have left her for our day-long cycling trips and it was too much responsibility for Liv.) And Liv did a fantastic job holding down the fort. She had friends here the whole time and nothing in the house was out of place.

What was funny though was her reaction to the hordes that passed through the house -- she sounded like someone who woke up one day to find herself the mom of a bunch of teenage boys. Here's what she said: all they do is eat! They ate everything -- everything! All my food, everything they could get their hands on. Even the oatmeal!

We laughed and laughed, and took her to Trader Joe's where we gave her these instructions: get whatever you want. No discussion, no agony, no questions asked. Anything you want. Turned out to include two different types of chocolate-covered pretzels, everything you could put in a salad, lots of dried fruit and apple products, dairy, dairy, dairy -- she shopped like a shipwreck survivor. It was great. And we watched Weeds together, which we all love and whose plot twists continue to impress and amuse us to no end.

It's good to be home. The list of things we were looking forward to included: being with Liv, Holly, our shower, AC, mojitos, and yogo. Nick's deep in his re-entry mode -- it's like he's got an invisible carapace of to-do lists covering him. I know the signs.

Can't wait to get all the vacation photos from Pam so I can update the PEI posts. And I hope Susan sees to the fish (she forgets nothing so I'm not really concerned) so that they live to see our next trip North (in two weeks.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009


It's our last day; we go home late this afternoon. Yesterday was a little fraught and fragmented. Howard and Joanne left early as planned. We took Pam and Ellen to the airport, ran into some snags along the way including road work, detours, lack of GPS, getting a little lost -- not the recipe for a carefree ride but we got there in good time and said our goodbyes.

On the ride home my cold, which had been increasing in intensity, morphed into migraine (not uncommon -- my migraines are bottom feeders and prey on me when I'm the most vulnerable and compromised.) It differed from usual pattern of brief disorientation, 15-minute aura and 8+ hours of slamming pain. This one began with an almost hour-long disorientation, during which I was silent and kept Nick in the dark. A long aura followed, where my speech was affected in addition to my vision. I had to cancel wine with Susan -- something I was really looking forward to -- because all I could do when I got home was to go to bed. Because the pain never really arrived I felt better a few hours later, and we could reconstitute the semblance of an evening. Not our usual evenings here -- no scrabble, or ping pong, or dinner out -- just some pizza Nick brought in and an unusually early bedtime (even for me.) The worst is now behind me.

Today will be a wrap-up. Randy will come by for the last check in. I hope Susan stops by for coffee. We'll pack and get things together and head out to the Charlottetown airport mid-afternoon, relieved and happy in the knowledge that we'll be back here in just 2 weeks with Nikki, Jamie, Liv and Jon. Wish Matt could come but it doesn't work with his schedule.

That'll be a wholly different visit -- no cycling, fewer days. But we'll take the kids to do and see things we hope they'll enjoy: the amusement park in Cavendish, some pitch and putt golf, tours around town. A different flavor of great but one we're really looking forward to.

So to appropriate and misquote a line from the Lion King: the sun sets on one vacation and rises on another.

Next week back to work and everything that's been piling up and waiting. I'll bring with me the book I started yesterday -- Richard Wolff's Renegade -- which I'm enjoying. Time with the kids, getting ready for my brother's visit next weekend, time with friends and family, back to the work of selling the house. Not a bad pattern, just a different one. But nothing else in our lives is like PEI. There's no where we're happier.

Friday, August 7, 2009

This is the end (apologies to the Doors)

It's Friday, about 6:15 a.m. No sounds outside but birdsong. The trip ends today, and everyone but us will be leaving. Howard and Joanne have a long drive ahead, so will head out this morning. Ellen has an afternoon flight; Pam's is in the evening. I think what we worked out last night (not 100% clear, my head's a little fuzzy from a cold I'm fighting) is that we'll take them both to the airport, say goodbye to Ellen, wait for Pam to find a place there to have her bags held, and then give her a ride to Charlottetown so she can spend a few hours exploring.

Nice dinner last night. I got the name wrong - it's actually 511 West. Everyone got a little dressed up, and all looked great. It's a pretty place with updated festive cocktails and a good wine list, a mix of pub food and more traditional restaurant food. Couple of orders of salmon (Ellen, Pam and I), linguine with local seafood (Joanne and Nick) and a rack of ribs (Howard.)

The discussion mostly broke into two groups: Pam, Joanne and Ellen were deep in conversation about Chinese culture, feng shui, the house Joanne shares with Howard. Nick, Howard and I talked at length about the Canadian health care system -- we were very curious about how this system -- so much vilified and demonized by the GOP and special interest groups down in the states -- was viewed by a Canadian with pretty extensive experience as a medical consumer. Thanks, Howard -- great info (we were impressed by the stories of access and quality.) We all joined in a single discussion where we told the story of Nick's and my first bike ride (he was not exactly the experienced cyclist he'd purported himself to be, and our first ride was a noteworthy one -- wrong bike for road surface, trouble with gears, extreme wind, but for us a watershed day and an important milestone in our relationship.

Dinner was on the group to thank us for hosting, and to all we say thank you so much -- it was great having you and the week was terrific. You're all great friends and gracious guests.

No riding today -- rental bikes kaput. Pam and Ellen may do a power walk, but most of the day will just be packing and other readying, last minute catching up, trying to remember the things (if any) we forgot to talk about (can't be too much but you never know.)

Thanks, everyone for a terrific, memorable and fulfilling week. We may never all agree on subjects including the balance between instinct/trust and intuition, and on blackberry etiquette, but that's part of the fun. Love you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thursday 's events including an act of heroism

It was another beautiful day here, hot, sunny and clear. And our last serious cycling day, so we treated it with all due seriousness. Today's ride was planned to start at 9:30, but because of my flat tire Nick and Howard rose to the challenge, changed the tube and an hour later we were off.

The route started from home so we could avoid the agonizing tetris-like process of fitting four people and four bikes in a Yukon with a bike rack intended to hold 3 (but could only really hold 2.) We chose to skip the hours of riding in contorted positions (Pam and Ellen -- you're amazing) and ride out from Summerside.

The plan: 25 miles out from here to towns unknown, which turned out to include Wellington (notable for it's spotless bathroom) and Ellerslie, our final destination. Hell of a town, Ellerslie. We finally found a post office where Ellen could mail postcards to her kids. A convenience store was handy so Pam could buy treats, and the four of us lunched at a place called Kenny's. (Howard and Joanne turned back earlier to keep the ride manageable.) Lots of photos in front of Kenny's in honor of Ellen's eldest son. Surprisingly big menu including the traditional poutine (Nick ordered and everyone shared.)

Interesting ride. The gradual but constant uphill on the outride strongly suggested a gradual but constant downhill on the return. But it didn't turn out that way. Theories abounded for the difficulties we encountered:

  • wind -- the likely cause. Strong headwinds neutralized any advantage
  • the earth's rotational pull -- Nick's theory. Not even momentarily plausible
  • the most bizarre (mine, I blush to say) -- that the ever-present and ever-friendly road crew somehow manage to change the direction between our start and our return.

In any case, a challenging but very satisfying 49-mile ride. We congratulated ourselves endlessly and incessantly. Happily no one was around to hear us in all our insufferability. It was easier than Tuesday's 42-miler. And I find my mind gets completely lost but very focused on converting kilometers into miles, and back, and back again. That and the scenery are for me completely fulfilling.

Ellen chats when she rides, and we all take turns chatting back, but the rotation system works -- she talks for the entirety of the ride, and the rest of us (literally) cycle in and out. A harmonious arrangement.

A heroic moment: on the way back we stopped in Wellington to use the facilities. Ellen and Pam got there first and left their helmets on a post to signal to us that they were there (the mounted helmets strangely reminded me of Lord of the Flies.) A french-speaking couple was nearby, and in the blink of an eye grabbed Pam's helmet and made off with it. In a flash, Nick was on his bike, caught up with them and got her helmet back. Thieves? Kleptos? Cyclists in need? We don't know, but it was Nick the Lionhearted to the rescue.

The rental bikes were collected by Smooth Cycle at about 4:30, punctuating the official end of our cycling time together. But we have a few hours still left. Ellen, Joanne and Pam are resting; Howard is securing a hotel room for himself and Joanne in Quebec City, what I'm doing is patently obvious, and Nick ran out to get a few staples (we turned Ellen on to my favorite breakfast cereal which Nick prepares with nuts and fruit.) I'm staying awake and busy; if I lie down for even a moment I'll be out for the night. And that would be a criminal waste (a misdemeanor if not a felony.)

Dinner at 511, at the new Credit Union Place. Nice place with au courant cocktails (rare here in sleepy Summerside.) I accidentally called the wrong number when I tried to make a res, and the person at the other end was more than a little surprised by my question; turned out I'd called McDonald's.

I'll chronicle anything newsworthy about tonight in tomorrow morning's post. Photos to follow.

Highland Storm

Soup kitchens, haunted spas and sandstorms

Yesterday we broke the pattern of our days. We split into two groups -- the design was to enjoy the day but save our strength so that we'd make it out last night to see Highland Storm at the College of Piping.

Ellen, Nick and I did a short ride (14 miles) through town, along the way checking out shops, doing a few errands, riding through Spinnaker's Landing (a chief Summerside tourist attraction), riding the boardwalk by the Summerside waterfront. Pam, Howard and Joanne did a local trail ride, then came back and drove to see the beach at Cavendish.

Some memorable moments include:
  • we rode on a main street, and when Ellen saw the local soup kitchen (obscurely called "Soup Kitchen") she thought it looked like a trendy restaurant, until we told her that no, it's an actual soup kitchen.
  • The two groups ended up stopping for lunch at about the same time though to Ellen's chagrin I wasn't hungy and she (unhappily) agreed to indulge me by waiting. Howard, Pam and Joanne loved their lobster in the rough. We went to Sharkey's where Ellen had her first ever lobster roll (and now knows what all the fuss was about.)
  • The beach crew enjoyed their outing, though the strong wind blew sandstorms all over them, and Howard had encounters with jellyfish. He and Pam recreated some of their beach poses from last summer so that we can do a side-by-side compare and contrast (of physique and weight loss, for Howard)
  • At Spinnaker's Landing Ellen bought the traditional PEI dirt shirt for her younger boy, a simpler shirt for the older one (her daughter's gift was purchased later at the College). Ellen bought meditation cards for herself and Pam (confidence for Pam, motivation for Ellen.) Nick and I bought more Celtic music CDs.
  • We rode the boardwalk to the very end, to where it said "no trespassing -- employees only" and decided that sign didn't really apply to us. We continued, even to the point of a gated road (a local told us we could keep going.) What we found there was cool and creepy -- an abandoned building, pretty new, that was built by a Canadian Chinese developer as a spa. But for reasons unknown the project failed. It reminded me of the abandoned dacha in Dr. Zhivago. The no entry sign seemed very Canadian: not just No Trespasssing but Please. No Trespassing. We stayed until Ellen felt menaced by a man coming near (among the most unassuming, least menacing men you could find) but it spooked her enough that we took off.
So we all enjoyed the morning. Our group got back to the house earlier, shared a glass of wine then went to rest. The beach gang came by a little later.

We all got as dressed up as we've gotten since we arrived (which isn't frankly saying much) but everyone looked wonderful. And we'll have photos to prove it. Dinner was at Brothers Two, a decent local joint. Food was fine, and they brought out a piece of cake and sang an impromptu "Happy Anniversay" tune to Howard and Joanne. Great mussels with Thai sauce.

From there we headed to the College of Piping, right across the street. The show was amazing -- better even than when Nick and I saw it the first time. Everyone found it inspiring, beautiful, moving and fun. Bit more shopping at the gift shop -- more gifts for the kids, a tree ornament. We were given a free CD at the show and popped it in on the way home (while we searched for a bank for Pam and more milk for the house) and sounds like all bagpipes all the time. We're all feeling very Celtic, at least for the moment. An interesting Celtic crew: four jews, one Chinese, one half Italian, clearly an unmatched group in the audience. Nick even bought a language book: Gaelic to English. Should be an interesting read on the flight home.

Today is our last ride, and we're determined to make it another good one, like Tuesday's. We plan to start from here, ride 20 miles in each direction but making sure that there's food along the way (and that we pack food too.) A hungry crowd is a cranky crowd. Or to use some of the words that have gained currency: we'll bring food prophylactically to avoid petulance (ok, it's a reach but the point is made.)

It was another great day. I've probably given short shrift to the adventures of the beach buddies, but of course I wasn't there to bear witness. Today we'll all be together again so the our experience will be easier to recall and describe.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

minor injuries

ok, I fell once. Not truly a fall -- I hesitated at a crossing because cars in one direction stopped but I wasn't sure about the other side. In hesitating I lost my footing and fell off one side, but in a very controlled (if inelegant way). Landed softly, though even that wasn't entirely injury free; bruised knees and inner thigh. Oh well. What kind of cycling trip would it be if I escaped unscathed?

Nick's only victory mark is a very sore butt. Badge of honor, I'd say. He may not agree, but he's still asleep so I'll have to wait to ask him.

Aside from those and Pam's bee sting, I'd say we're doing pretty well.

The rest of the week

so today we'll explore Summerside, eat early and go hear Celtic music. Later we'll call Smooth Cycle and ask for a route reco (kudos to Ellen for the suggestion) to get a 40+ mile ride, scenic and flat. Will probably cook and eat at home in honor of our last evening together. Everyone leaves Friday, at different times, and on Friday evening Susan's coming over for a bottle of wine to hang out. And then on Saturday we leave and the trip will have officially ended. Great fun, too short but great in every way.

Minor events and comments of note (at least to us)

  • We met another neighbor who came by to introduce himself.
  • both Nick's and my ipods died on the trip (I may be the ipod killer, but I hope not)
  • Ellen -- much more spatial than me - has taken over the loading of the dishwasher (Pam and I agreed that we're weak on the visual/spatial senses)
  • Everyone's riding well: Pam's a stronger rider than last year; Nick did great for his longest ride ever and Joanne did an amazing job considering how little she's ridden
  • looks like the wedding party and procession for H&J's wedding is definite, or nearly so
  • I'm reading an article in this week's New Yorker which I'm finding astonishingly interesting -- due either to its intrinsic value or my relaxed tiredness which allows me to sit quietly and focus: "Travels in Siberia." Also reading the new history of the Third Reich and this week's Economist, Pam's reading a book about travel and discovery, Ellen's reading "Skinny Bitch" and Nick's really enjoying his new book on the Bataan Death March.
  • We've checked out each other's kids, dates and others on Facebook (we've spent limited time on the computer; other than that it's only Howard and me -- he does work, I check email and write here)
  • The TV was actually on last night for the first time on this trip
  • Joanne's decided to go with gold shoes for her wedding instead of the white ones she's having trouble finding
  • as always we find that we come together so quickly and so intimately that it never feels a year's gone by; we quickly settle into our rhythms as though little time has elapsed

Tuesday, continued

Pam took lots of photos along the way (to come) and Ellen and I reckoned that while we always whine for photo ops we really appreciate having the final photos. So hats off to Pam for making sure we capture the moment. And poor Pam -- a bee stung her eyelid which swelled up her eye.

On the way home we changed our plans; cancelled dinner at Dalvay for today so we could free up the evening to go see Highland Storm tonight -- we were far too spent to make it out last night. Every one showered and went into a couple of hours of fugue state made up of pure exhaustion. Ellen and Pam took rests, I read, Nick puttered and before we knew it it was past 7:30 and we'd made no dinner plans. We got by on leftovers and sandwiches and scraps and managed to put together a meal, which we ate on the deck inside the bug-free zone. And more chat, more family stories, more tales from our first weddings, talked about our kids and our plans for the next day.

Ellen, Nick and I went out to get ice cream at St. Eleanor's Dairy Bar (best in Summerside) and hatched plans for today. Ellen was brimming with good ideas, including one for today where we'd split into two groups: she, Nick and I would ride locally; Pam, Howard and Joanne would head to the beach (we've all seen the beach) and we could come home and give ourselves adequate rest time to make it out for dinner and the show.

We may end up with a hybrid plan; all ride together and then split after so the beachgoers can head up north. The key element of the plan was to limit today's riding and plan a long trip for tomorrow. We'll see how it progresses.

Early Wednesday

It's about 5:30 now, the light is just starting to fill the sky, trees are rustling and the house is silent. Our day yesterday was big, ambitious and very satisfying. On Tuesday night we planned our bike route, and settled on a ride from Hunter River to Charlottetown. We were out early -- by 9:30 and by 10:30 we were ready to go (after a fair amount of time loaded, rearranging and unloading the bikes, making the necessary adjustments at a building that turned out to be a sad nursing home where we used the bathroom. Soon we hit the trail. A gorgeous segment, though farms of corn and potatoes and few other cyclists. We saw more road maintenance crew than anyone else (hats off to them, by the way, for the job they do keeping up the trail.) We rode about 21 miles of mild but long uphill. It took us about 2 hours to reach our destination -- Charlottetown, and Ellen suggested Flex Mussels for lunch.

Nice place, great atmosphere right on the water. Not many mussels were actually ordered; Howard had a serving but the rest of us went with salads and sandwiches, toasting ourselves with Diet Pepsi on having ridden so well. Lots of talking, this time more focused on food and nutrition (many rapid subject changes characterize our conversation; there's often a pinball machine quality to our talk where we zing from thing to thing, sometimes completing a thought or story, sometimes abandoning it midway. We also talked about Howard and Joanne's upcoming wedding, where we insisted on detail.

It was a great place to stop and recharge for the return trip; right on the water in Charlottetown's beautiful harbor. After lunch and a brief stop where Pam could get some sweets we returned to the road. Howard told Nick not to wait for them when we reached the end, and we lost sight of them early. The ride back was challenging -- there was a much longer ascent than we'd anticipated, and we struggled a bit but with good cheer. Pam did great -- better than last year. Nick stayed a little back because he takes the incline slowly; easier for him with that honking big mountain bike. Ellen, Pam and I rode much of it together, and our anticipation for the long final descent grew as we approached it. It wasn't as long or sweet a descent as we'd expected; Nick told us it would be a 6-mile downhill. Not so much. More like the last 4 km, and though Ellen was let down the rest of us enjoyed every inch.

It was four hours biking all in, and when we met at the car Howard pulled up to let us know Joanne wasn't up to the return trip and had waiting for him in Charlottetown. He took the car to collect her, and we hung around a few minutes congratulating ourselves on this challenging but oh-so-fulfilling 42-mile ride (the map called this route "moderate.")

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Another great day yesterday. Ellen, Pam, Nick and I rode a short segment of the trail -- just 20 miles -- between Kensington and Emerald. Beautiful, pastoral ride through rolling farmland, punctuated by a break where we met some guys who work to maintain the trail, who were proud to show us the map and point things out (and strongly reminded us of the characters from Deliverance.) Not many stops along the way, but today we'll do a route that will give Pam the opportunity to stop, have coffee and get a look at sights mid-ride. After the ride we shopped for dinner, Pam took Ellen to her first Tim Horton's (much Canadian pride there) and came home to see Howard and Joanne, who'd arrived here a little earlier and gone to have lunch (lobster.) Joanne's great and fit right in. Lazy mid-afternoon with various parties resting, reading, napping and playing ping pong. Then a fully collaborative dinner prep session (I pounded chicken, Pam marinated, Ellen did the salad and the table, Howard roasted sweet potatoes, Nick helped in a thousand ways.) Long, chatty and leisurely dinner outside on the deck. The evening ended with planning today's ride (not sure where we netted out; we went up to bed.) Much story telling, getting to know Joanne (and bring Howard and Joanne up to date on the mission-critical info we'd all been sharing up to then.) Many conversations about relationships and what matters to us now, and toasts to the year behind us and the year ahead (with some predictions of what we all hope is to come.) Differing points of view on many things -- from politics to whether today's technology and access are a boon or not to the role of trust to Howard and Joanne's wedding plans, to wedding stories and much more.

Vague planning for the rest of the week. Pam would like to go to Cavendish and check out the Anne of Green Gables stuff. Ellen -- not so much ("do I really have to go to a museum?")

Tonight we'll go to see Highland Storm at the College of Piping and give them all a taste of local flavor.

We met a new neighbor yesterday -- Edward, a fisherman who lives behind us. As Nick reminded me, a real fisherman, not a hobby fisherman. Interesting chat about tuna and the winters that brought to mind The Shipping News.

Monday, August 3, 2009

the adventure continues

Great day yesterday. Nick, Ellen and I drove up to the north coast and did a ride along the beach; probably 20 miles or so of road on a beautiful, sunny day. Stopped along the way at a little fishing cove for a break. Ended the ride at Dalvay (where Nick and I first stayed last summer on our inaugural trip here.) As beautiful and special as we remembered. Nice ride. We barely made it home in time to get cleaned up and get to the airport to meet Pam, but time (and flight delays) were on our side, and the timing was perfect. So great to see Pam! We caught up over dinner at a lobster shop in Charlottetown (Ellen wrangled a table even though the inside hostess said that without reservations we'd have an hour-long wait; very impressive.) Then we walked around the waterfront in Charlottetown -- Cow's for Nick, a sweet shop for Ellen and Pam. Lots of hyper-drive catching up on all our events over the last year, some negotiation about room assignments (Ellen's still undecided about which room to use after Howard and Joanne arrive today), some later- week planning, Ellen gave Pam a tour of the house and obviated any need for me to show her around (all donations cheerfully accepted). So amazingly great and comfortable to be together as it always is, as though no time had elapsed (when in fact it's been a year since we're together and except for some email haven't talked much.) And Nick's contributions of the male point of view were spectacularly apt and helpful as always when we got into the 3-girls-spinning on the subject of men and relationships. Perfectly balanced.

It's early morning now. Nick and I woke up early. It's lightly raining so we'll have to play it by ear for the day.

Susan asked if she could enter photos of the house in a Canadian design competition -- I said emphatically yes. And I hope she wins. (It wouldn't be me, it would completely be her.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

We're here

We traveled up here yesterday, and Ellen flew with us. Easy travel day, and it's easy to forget how smooth travel can be when it happens without incident. Stopped at Sobey's to stock up on essentials (an interesting mix of what we consider essential, which included potato chips in unfamiliar flavors like dill pickle and roasted chicken -- this is very much a potato culture. The poor pretzels are limited and isolated. A few snacks to accompany cocktails, a couple of bottles of wine, etc.)

Got to the house about 7 pm and we all saw together what Susan did in the last few days -- breathtaking (photos to come). We made several grand tours to check out everything, sit on everything, step back, touch things, marvel and start again. Ellen was in a quandary choosing among the three guest bedrooms, but after some conversation made an excellent choice (the largest one, at least for now, since she'll be here the most nights. Subject to change when the house is full.) Nice dinner at the Lobster House, easy, close and good. It's a beautiful day here. I'm the first one up but when we've got it together we'll take our first ride. Pam arrives tonight and we'll pick her up in Charlottetown and stay for dinner. Howard and Joanne will be here tomorrow.