Saturday, October 31, 2009

Waking up in Canada

Is lovely. We sleep so well here. It's quieter than home -- much. And our room stays dark till we open the blinds. I think we slept 12 hours the first night and about 11 last night. Yesterday was a great day. Woke up late, and took our time. Then went into town to do errands (mostly prep for the next visit.) We paid our bills in person, went to the bank, which is charmingly old fashioned -- tellers who seem to know everyone's name and most things done with paper and pen.

We saw Susan at her shop, and will get together later today for a cocktail, before the mongol hordes (also known as trick-or-treaters) descend between 6 and 8, which is when our neighbor Donna told us is the witching hour.

Found a terrific new restaurant in Charlottetown called Lot 30. Lovely, sophisticated place with delicious food -- a real find. Today we have a few things to do, and Randy will be stopping by. We decided to do a cocktail party for our friends and neighbors (it's a short list) when we're back in November, so we'll start that planning.

Lots of Scrabble playing (I'm on a winning streak) and lots of reading. Nick is reading Battle for America 2008, and enjoying it. I'm reading two books at once: a linguistics book by Henry Hitchings about how English became English and the new SuperFreakonomics (loved the first one.) Nick and I were talking about what we were reading last night and I think he was mildly shocked when I casually meantioned that English is considered the whore of languages.

Weather is relatively mild, for this place at this time. We'll enjoy our last full day before flying back tomorrow morning. That flight leaves Charlottetown at 6 a.m., so it'll be an early night for us tonight to allow us to wake up at 3:30 (gulp) to make that flight.

While in Sobey's yesterday (our main supermarket) I got a call from Jose, my hip guy. We've been trading calls and messages since I first started trying to reach him early in the week. I thought he was a logical next step on my diagnosis/pain/resolution journey. When I described what's going on (hip pain in my groin so sharp it doubles me over, plus other stuff) he said it's time for a diagnostic injection in the front of my hip. That apparently will tell us once and for all (yes, I've heard that before) if it's hip. The spine doc thinks it's hip impingement, known formally as FAI: femoroacetabular impingement. Fancy name. Essentially I think it means the hip doesn't really fit the joint.

That procedure is scheduled for Friday afternoon, so we'll see.

Ever onward.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And we're off!

To PEI, today. We leave for the airport soon and start our journey to the North. It's been a busy week. Nick's got over 40 cases for October (a near-record but then again the month isn't quite over.) I was in SF Monday and Tuesday and returned to NY in the middle of the night. I had dinner with my brother in SF Monday night, which was great. Asia de Cuba -- ridiculously expensive, almost offensively so in this economy, but it was special.

Whitney received -- and loved -- the first care package we sent. Most noteworthy items were the peanut butter-filled pretzels (they didn't make it past the first night) and a copy of Vanity Fair (apparently a favorite among the men in her unit.) Nick sent her the next package on Tuesday. She and Liv are happily messaging on Facebook and she and I email nearly every day. Things seem to be heating up in Iraq, which is worrisome. We hear it both in the news and in her emails.

Nothing still from boy soldier. He should receive his first package in the next day or so, so hope to hear more after that.

More to come when we're settled dans Ile du Prince Edouard.

It will be great to have even a few days away, not only for all the usual reasons but because of our horror at Senator Lieberman's antics -- we need some distance and calm, Canadian perspective.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Creative Drama

Last night was great. We met Gena at the theater (in driving rain, but no matter) and then went to see Circle Mirror Transformation. Really enjoyable -- well conceived, well written, well performed. The small theater was packed and the audience was engaged and appreciative. Much fun.

After we went to bar -- I think it was Le Petit Cafe Un Deux Trois -- for cocktails. French martini for me, and margaritas for Nick and Gena. It gave us time to catch up. Gena and I were reminiscing about plays we used to see when we were first living together in the city after college. I remember some weird performance art production we saw on the lower east side. Tickets were $4, and the only thing I can recall is that the performers cracked raw eggs on themselves. Gena didn't remember that one.

Liv went with Jon's brother Joe on a mission to feed the hungry. It was sponsored by Joe's synagogue, and involved food prep and then driving around to distribute the food. The first text she sent me said that her job at that point was to watch eggs boil (I told her how that sounded strenuous and not to hurt herself.) Sounds like it got more interesting later.

I'm very proud of Liv and her devotion to service. She's always had a tender and generous heart, as far back as I can remember. She is now involved in two clubs at school -- one an established club that works with the Red Cross. The other is a new one she's helping shape, where they will select different organizations and initiatives. She was voted vice president, but found out Friday that the president has mono and the energy in the group is to make her president. She has strong leadership qualities so I'm not surprised.

Today will be fun -- we'll hang out, shop for dinner, see Sarah and Toby for cocktails, then cook (one of two dishes as I haven't decided yet. Either the Syrian chicken or the Vietnamese curry. Nick gets heartburn just hearing about it.)

We like the Sunday evening cooking routine, and Liv loves it. Will see which dish we pick and how it turns out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Becoming social

It's good to be back in circulation. This weekend Gena will join us when we go to see a new play called "Circle Mirror Transformation." She may move out here, which would be amazing (though knowing the universe -- my universe, not Nick's -- we'll finally get an accepted offer on the house as soon as she moves in.)

And on Sunday we'll have cocktails with Sarah and Toby. Drinks will be early because we all like to cook on Sunday nights, and I also have a super-early flight to SF Monday morning. Liv has requested an old recipe we used to make for a chicken stew with orange, potatoes, raisins and figs. I've got that one ready, but I also found a new recipe for a Vietnamese chicken curry with sweet potatoes. She and Nick can fight it out; I'm fine either way.

This coming week will be intense. I'm out West until late Tuesday night (after midnight.) I'll work part or all of Wednesday, and then Thursday we fly up North to our beloved PEI.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Confounded and vexed

That's what the doc said when I saw him for my 6-week post-op checkup. He also used the phrase "at a loss." Not encouraging words from a surgeon trying to understand why I'm still having so much pain.

What was more disturbing than his confoundment was his suggestion that the problem could be with my hip - haven't we seen this movie? Or the sacro-iliac joint -- wasn't that what sent me into the useless, pointless exercise in x-ray guided injections?

I left there with vague instructions: see how it is in a month and start rehab in the meantime. If there's no improvement, schedule all-new MRI's. This time -- 3 of them (hip, spine, SI) and at HSS, because they are apparently the best at the trickier SI one.

So here we are, in a place I never anticipated, where my docs are flummoxed. Calling Dr. House! One thing I never thought I had was a medical mystery. The docs seemed quite sure at the time they pronounced a diagnosis. It's your hip, says the hip guy. It's your sacroiliac joint, says the pain guy. It's your spine, says the spine guy.

Reminds me of the old story of the blind men and the elephant.

So now what we're thinking about is a meeting, where we'd gather the two main docs, the two of us and all the relevant films in the same room at the same time to talk this through and hammer it out. That's precisely how I'd address a problem like this at work: a focused discussion with all the stakeholders and evidence where we don't adjourn until we have a plan.

So I set wheels in motion -- maybe. I called Jose (hip guy) and left a message. Of all the actors in my playlet he seems the most empathetic and approachable, so I'll float this idea with him. He's traveling, so I don't expect a conversation (let alone a resolution) till next week.

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's a boy!

Our new soldier, that is. His name is Robert, though he calls himself Chris (no idea why -- yet.) He's a sergeant in Iraq on his second deployment, and is currently at Camp Ramadi. Will find out what his MOS is (that's military for "job".)

His emails and Whitney's couldn't be more different. They both play to type. She's chatty and full of questions, writes nearly every day, each note a long one.

Chris's response to my introductory email was brief but touching:

I am at Camp Ramadi. West of Baghdad. First of all I would like to thank you for all your support. It means so much to us over here just knowin that you all care this much, to send us the items that make our deployment that much easier. Saying that I will be happy with whatever you would like to send. Surprises are always the best.

Brevity is the soul of wit. Men are from Mars, etc. Vive la difference. But so sweet in an entirely different way.

We packed up two care packages last night: his and hers. His will go out today, and we'll wait a bit to send Whitney's; she should get the first one in the next day or so. Nick choose the magazines for Chris -- all sports related. The auto racing one looks to me like borderline porn, but what do I know?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thornton Wilder

Last night we saw a production of five of his short plays. It was terrific -- they had Wilder's ironic wit and dealt with the subjects that interested him: relationships between people, relationships between people and money, relationships between people and God. Very well done, and very enjoyable. A lovely dinner before in hell's kitchen, though not at the place I'd planned. I'd made reservations online for what I thought was 44 x 10, but I actually made them for its sister restaurant 44 1/2. Didn't much matter, because the restaurant was really good. But oops.

The playbill announced auditions for a production of plays by teens for teens, and we gave that info to Liv -- she's psyched, convinced that her stardom is right around the corner just waiting to be discovered.

We had to do a bit more walking than I'm ready to do, and I feel it today. But since its a dreary rainy day it doesn't matter too much. All we've got scheduled for today is our usual stuff, plus cleaning up before some people come to see the house this afternoon, and cooking.

Holly reached a new level of achievement yesterday. She managed to jump onto our bed, which is no small thing for her. It's pretty high off the ground, and she of course is very low to the ground, and she worked and worked till she made it. Once she did, she was so exhausted that she fell asleep on the bed, until she woke up to throw up, at which point everything was at sixes and sevens.

So Saturday was eventful, in good ways. And Sunday stretches ahead.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why I write

My friend Janet asks a good question: how does it feel to write this blog and develop content, and for whom am I writing? She posits the question I've been thinking about since I started.

It began very simply: I'd written an article and wanted to see if I could get broader distribution if I posted it, so that it would show up when people searched for me on Google. But it quickly changed from a distribution channel to a communication one.

At first it seemed like I was keeping a journal, but I made myself remember that while a journal is private, a blog is anything but. And here's where vanity comes in. I'm too vain to be satisfied with writing in private. I crave feedback and reactions to both the writing and the stories.

And I love stories. I love telling them and hearing them. And this is a perfect medium for story-telling. I can write in a quick episodic style or I can tell a long, complex story -- blogs are porous and endlessly forgiving. I now experience the world through the blog filter. As things happen (or don't), as ideas emerge (or don't) I think of them in terms of blog posts.

Of course there are more prosaic reasons to do this. It's an easy way to keep people up to date on what we're doing, which is particularly useful during a busy, active period like our cycling trip. Some of my friends have commented that it's great for knowing what's going on, because our phone calls are necessarily brief and we don't get together as much as we'd like.

Blog on.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ah...the weekend

All weekends are welcome; this one is even more welcome than usual ("all animals are created equal; some are more equal than others." Apologies to George Orwell.)

Long, intense week though it was both a productive and successful one. Lots of hum and buzz and activity, which is just how I like it.

We sent Whitney her first care package, and today I received an email from the organization asking for more sponsors. They've got far more soldiers than sponsors, and the note included a heartbreaking statistic that 25-30% of soldiers receive no mail. I got the message, and signed up for another soldier.

Nick is buried in work, which is the very definition of a high-class problem. And in two weeks we head up North, to the magical land of PEI where everything is easy and calm and fine. Can't wait. We've been warned by a neighbor that Halloween is quite the event, and she told us to expect at least 100 trick-or-treaters. Sobey's here we come, to pile on the candy.

Tomorrow night we're off to dinner in hell's kitchen before we see a production of Thornton Wilder's short plays in preview. I'm psyched -- I've always been a fan. And on Sunday we're going to attempt to cook a dish from Wednesday's NY Times. It's for homemade strozzapretti (I love that word; it means "strangled priests.") We'll see how it goes.

Other than that it'll be a lovely weekend, regardless of weather. Nick and I both have lots of work to do, Liv will be around, we'll rest and relax and read and play (I'm on a Scrabble winning streak that may be of Nick's creation -- beware the law of unintended consequences -- when he told me that he thought I was slipping.)

Happy weekend to all.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I am wrong

It turns out -- to my delight -- that I was very much mistaken when I wrote that I wasn't from a military family. Apparently, I am.

To wit:

Both my grandfathers enlisted in the First World War. Both were privates, and as immigrants obtained their citizenship through military service. They returned healthy and unharmed after fighting in Europe (Italy and France) for their tours.

My mom's brother Phillip enlisted during the Second World War. Cpl. Phillip Sachs was killed in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 at age 20.

My dad was drafted for the Korean War, 1953-55, and was stationed at Fort Dix, Valley Forge Army Hospital and Walter Reed Medical Center. He was honorably discharged.

There's more, and I'll look into it further. But I'm happy to set the record straight.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

If anyone else wants to adopt a soldier

Here's the link:

It's free, except what you spend on care packages. Easy to enroll. Totally worthwhile.

Frederick Douglass

We saw a terrific play last night: Frederick Douglass Now, at the Irish Arts Center. A one-man show that's quite incredible. Also brief -- just an hour! The actor/writer was in the lobby afterward, which was cool. Highly recommend it. It's playing in repertory with The Cambria, which we may also try to see.

We've got the care package to Whitney nearly ready to go. We filled a box with snacks, toiletries and magazines, and Nick will take it to the post office Tuesday. Also a birthday card -- she's got one coming up. She's a great pen pal and her emails are really sweet.

Now we're fully engaged in the fall, with lots of plans. I always feel better when we've got lots of plans, so we're now scheduled for lots of dinners with friends, a bunch of plays and the upcoming trip to PEI. Some really interesting plays opening and playing, including rare revivals of Thornton Wilder's short plays (including Pullman Car Hiawatha!) and Synge's Playboy of the Western World. And tickets are pretty cheap, one of the boons of a troubled economy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nick goes on a diet, and other updates

Nick goes on a diet

First, some background. Nick's weight fluctuates between the 225-235 range. At 225 he's elated (though worried that an illness -- not calorie reduction -- is driving the weight loss, even though he dramatically reduces his calories) and is ready to eat. 225 is as scarce as hen's teeth, if I'm being honest. At 235 he worries that he's too heavy. All the play is in the in-between range.

When he sees one of the numbers in the danger zone, he diets. What that means to him is that he cuts back on everything -- breakfast, snacks, etc. No surprise -- he starts to feel deprived and therefore deserving -- and the whole thing goes to hell. Sometimes he can handle about a week of the dieting before he caves, sometimes, as in just this week, only a day or two. And he confesses every transgression, even though I don't ask. Day 2 of this week's diet includes a chocolate bar, a large cookie, what sounds to me like a gougere, and a chocolate milk shake with vanilla ice cream.

He'll get back on the scale today, and we'll see where we are in the cycle. The good news for him is that he loses weight with astonishing alacrity; a day or two and he's back to where he wants to be, or close enough.

Why I'm not writing about my back

I'm bored. It's settled into a pattern where every day is pretty much the same. The swelling is significantly down, and now I'm free of all the post-op pain, lethargy and discomfort. What I still have is the old pain. Not the pain I had the month or so before the surgery, but the pain of about six months before -- deep deep in my lower back and in my leg. I go back to the doc in about two weeks and I'll know what the story is: whether this is normal and will disappear, whether this will endure, whether the surgery even worked (there turns out to be a condition called "post-laminectomy syndrome", or in it's older incarnation "failed back surgery." It's more than a little disturbing that unsuccessful spine surgeries are common enough and specific enough to be considered a syndrome.) We'll see.


We're now in daily contact with our soldier. She sent photos yesterday, and today I'll return the favor. Liv and I will do some shopping for her care package, and Nick will send it off this week to Iraq. She's in the military police, doing dangerous work in a very dangerous part of Iraq. The photos show her before she shipped out and then after, in uniform. I'm really glad we started this.


He came in for the weekend, and because of Columbus Day he'll be here till Tuesday. It'll be interesting to see the dynamic this weekend between him and Liv; they will avoid each other to the greatest degree possible. The house is big but not that big, so it'll be quite a trick if they can miss each other completely. He was happy to be home. I'd made Moroccan chickpea soup the other day and he loved it, and we hung out and -- as is our wont -- watched the Newshour on PBS and talked politics. Of course he's unhappy that the President won the Nobel prize. Of course he's deeply skeptical that decent health care reform will pass. Of course he maintains his belief that Hillary would have been a far better president. Ah, to be 20 -- to be doctrinaire and completely certain, to see everything in absolutes. But it's great to have him home.

It's a girl!

We got our soldier, and it's a girl! Her name is Whitney. She's 20 years old (same age as Matt), on her first tour in Iraq. She hails from from Pennsylvania, and this is her first time away from home.

I sent her a note last night when I received her info, and I found a response this morning. She sounds great -- fun and chatty (in other words very well suited for us.)

She has what sounds like nearly unlimited Internet access, so there will be a lot of back and forth. But we'll also send real letters, and I think it's interesting that in this era of technology and digitization few things are as desirable and coveted as actual letters.

We'll also send care packages, once we know what kinds of things she wants and needs. What a perfect project for Liv -- shopping, even if it's just for the mundane. Nick is at the post office at least once a week, so it'll be easy for us to send things (once I figure out the customs forms.)

Very psyched. Liv joined a club at school yesterday fully devoted to community service and she's going to suggest this program as one of the activities the kids could support.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rethinking my thinking about the military

For reasons that aren't germane to this post, I've been spending a lot of time with the military. I've met recruits and prospective recruits, NCOs and officers, listened to majors and generals. I've visited military facilities. And it's changing how I've always thought about the military.

In truth, I never thought much about our armed forces. Except for a few tangential relationships, I don't come from a military family. I came of age in the '70s, a time when the military was held in particularly low repute. The films that shaped my thinking -- like MASH, like Catch-22 -- portrayed the armed forces are blundering, inefficient, ineffective bureaucracies. It was the time of that tired joke that "military intelligence" was an oxymoron (was that George Carlin?)I was too young to understand Vietnam, but I picked up the general cynicism and sense of failure. No one I knew joined, and I gave little thought to those who did, save a dismissive sense that they had no alternatives and no ideas.

All that has changed. Getting inside and actually hearing and seeing the military has thoroughly changed my impressions -- of the institution, of the members. It's tricky to anthropomorphize an institution, but I will. I now think of the military as smart, focused and humane. I'm impressed by the people and their heads and heart: their intellect and broad-mindedness, their caring and their humanity. The kids who join know what they're doing, and even if they don't the process ensures that they do.

They're not perfect; no one is. The Pat Tillman story is tragic (all the more so for the administration's manipulation and politicization of the event). Abu Ghraib was a nightmare (though that too is shot through with administration decisions and deceit.) But it is a living, breathing learning organization that changes as needs change. And the people in it are filled with passion and purpose.

But my new appreciation is an impotent thing -- it accomplishes nothing. So I'm going to do something, and I was inspired yesterday by a woman I sat next to at a lunch. She told me about an adopt-a-soldier program that she got involved with a few months ago.

The program matches soldiers who've opted in with individuals who want to help -- via letters, emails, care packages. She is swept up by it, so much so that she carries photos of her soldier and his family. When I saw the photos I was moved to tears.

I love the idea; it lets me help by doing more than just write a check. I'll get Liv involved (she loves to shop, so shopping for care packages is right up her alley.) Nick will help, and he loves the idea. She's sending me the link later, so in the next few days I'll log on, sign up and jump in (which seems an interesting way to upend the old Timothy Leary "turn on, tune in, drop out" and particularly well-suited for this endeavor. I never connected to the '60's and its ethos anyway. More about that in another post.)

Go army.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Glenn Beck -- the beginnings of truth


The rest

So beyond the fact that the play was breathtaking, we had a great evening. Found two great places before the play, both on Second Avenue near 4th Street. A really nice wine bar (in the spirit of brevity being the soul of wit it's called Wine Bar) and an asian restaurant called Sea. Good wine, good food. Very fun. Great to be out again and doing things, and I felt fine (pain in my back as always but energy and overall sense of well-being were restored.)

Today there are people coming to see the house. Not the usual kind of suspects, but a couple who's been looking since last summer, when they were starting to explore options but still had a house to sell. They've made an offer, which I rebuffed (it was a joke.) They upped the offer and we countered. And that takes us to the current state of play: they want to see it again. Keep hope alive. I'm trying to.

Nick's girls won't be coming over tomorrow because Nikki's starting her new job this weekend at a facility for the disabled. I'll miss seeing them. But I'm in awe of Nikki's strengths as a caretaker. The ability to do that kind of work always impresses me, since I have none of those skills. She's excited and it's great to know she's happy and engaged. We'll find another opportunity to hang out.

But I'll still make the chocolate candy and everything else I promised Liv.


See it. It's playing through October 18th at the NY Theater Workshop, on East 4th Street and 2nd Avenue. Tickets are inexpensive.

Nick and I were blown away. It was eye-opening, moving and intense. The premise couldn't be simpler: it's based on a series of interviews with six Iraqi refugees now living in Jordan. Those six, plus the translator, tell their stories. The six represent a range of different kind of people in different kind of situations: a pharmacist, a married couple who are both cooks, an imam, a theater director and his artist wife, a dermatologist, a Christian housewife. The words are lifted directly from the actual interviews, and the performances are astonishing. For us at least, it gave us a real understanding of what's happened there from our invasion to occupation to ongoing presence -- an understanding that we haven't gotten from what we've read or heard.

We were silent in the cab on the way home. It wasn't anything like the quiet when two people find they have nothing to say, or the tense silence that follows an argument. It was a contemplative silence for us both, where we were just taking in what we'd just seen.

Do you know the feeling when you leave a movie or a play and think "everyone needs to see this?" That's how we felt.

I'll have other updates, but this play deserved its own post. And it wants to and needs to be seen.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Achieving Friday

Some things have returned to normal: my energy and my brain, primarily. Some things haven't: the swelling goes on (and on), the leg pain continues. I felt fully returned to work, which was a relief. And we'll have a real weekend for the first time in a long time, with theater tickets (Aftermath) and a full Sunday when Nick's girls will come over and hang out. I may bake, but I promised Olivia I'd make chocolate candy.

The candy is easy now that I know how to temper chocolate. I've got all the critical elements: excellent chocolate (Callebaut, in small easy-to-melt morsels), a candy thermometer and new molds (shells, chess pieces and electric guitars.) Should be fun. It's more chemistry than cooking but is a great crowd pleaser. The banana bread and muffins from last weekend were big hits (all the more so because I make them infrequently.) I owe Nick the dinner of his choice as a small thank-you for everything he does for me. He's researching dishes and menus, making choices and doubting himself, deciding and then undoing his decisions -- all the agonies of creativity. I will make one other thing this weekend at Liv's request -- Moroccan chickpea soup. We've made it every winter for the last few years and it's always a hit.

And from a broader view, it's been an interesting week:

  • watching the public option cling to life
  • hearing Lindsey Graham dismiss Glen Beck
  • finding John Ensign back on the front page
  • Michelle Bachmann is as always amusing (sex clinics?)
  • John Boehner's vapid words are always obscured by his preternatural tan
  • Sarah Palin is without question the gift that keeps on giving