Tuesday, May 10, 2011

overhaul of week 7

My day trip to Rüdesheim was one of the best days of my life. I can't remember that day without smiling. It wasn't the presence of my boyfriend that made it so wonderful, although that didn't hurt matters. What made this one of the most precious days of my life was the overwhelming love from my boyfriend's Oma and Opa. That day they were my grandparents. I borrowed them but I'm not afraid to say I would have stolen them if I had to! Thankfully Christian is sweet and was willing to share.

The whole day was perfect. All of the details like the overpriced shops, the filthy pay to use bathroom, and the shop keeper who thought I was a dumb American who wouldn't argue about being ripped off (he was wrong) are just that, little details. It's been almost a year and I still feel like my chest is going to explode when I think back on that day. They were the grandparents I had always dreamed of. It didn't matter that they spoke fast Spanish and rusty German, I didn't need their words. They freely gave their love and that was something I had waited 23 years to find in a set of grandparents. I hurt my face from smiling so much. When we got home that night I collapsed on the bed and "basked." Christian was checking his email and would periodically turn around to see what I was doing. Each time he looked at me I did something spastic like kick my feet in the air while announcing, "Still basking!"

The first stop on our trip was to see Niederwalddenkmal. I am borderline possessed with German history and there isn't anything that screams Germany quite like a ten and a half meter tall monument of Germania. It is set up high overlooking gorgeous views of the Rhein but I couldn't stop staring at it. I was so enthralled that I snapped far too many pictures and then requested that Christian take pictures of me in front of it. Then, realizing that for once we had someone to take a photo of both of us, we asked Oma and Opa to take our picture with it. When Opa handed the camera back to me to check and make sure it was okay I had to laugh. He had zoomed in on our faces. I was standing with my gorgeous German in front of the symbol of Germany and he just captured our faces. That was what mattered the most to Opa. We laughed and asked for another picture and Oma tried to explain to her husband but we never got a full shot of the statue and us. Looking back I am so glad that there is the picture of us holding each other up and laughing. The monument was amazing but it paled in comparison to being young and in love.

After a very silly trip through the nearby birds of prey exhibit full of overheated and exhausted owls and hawks we headed down the hill. We all strolled the quaint little streets and gawked in the windows. Being in a country that lacked national pride was strange for me and it was heaven to finally find German souveniers.  As we walked, I held hands with Chistian and Oma and Opa held hands. I couldn't stop smiling at them and hoping that Christian and I would be like that in our 80s. I have never met a couple more in love than those two. He looked at her like she was his brand new bride.

The weather was perfect and we ate outside. Lunch was another exercise in absurdity when I tried to grab an opportunity to pay for lunch. They had been treating me to different things and I desperately wanted to pay my way. I excused myself and went inside to find our waitress. She ignored me and went outside to announce to Christian and his grandparents that she had no idea what I was talking about. The one time I had the jump on Opa and the waitress didn't speak English! I was embarrassed but everyone got a big kick out of it. After lunch had settled and we were walking around again I tried to pay for eis. I got my money to the counter at the same time Opa did but the rascal cashier took one look at me, one look at Opa, and apologized to me as he took Opa's money.

On the ride back to Frankfurt I fell asleep in the backseat. I was like a contented child after a long day in the sun. Even the Cola Lite I had filled my system with wasn't enough to keep my eyes open. I listened to them quietly chatting in Spanish and snuggled Christian and the next thing I knew they were chuckling and shaking me awake to go inside the house. I'm so blessed to have had the chance to call them mine for a month.

14 - The Neti-Chronicles

Am I really going to use something that is labeled a “nose bidet’? I’m finding this hard to believe. The specialist says it will help so I know I need to use it but I’m more than slightly alarmed by the idea. I’m not buying all of the claims that it is a pleasant or soothing sensation. I’ve been putting it off for too long though. I need to do my research and whip up a batch of salty sinus soothing sensation!

The first thing I notice is that my neti-pot isn’t the classy kind. I am too cheap to spring for the porcelain model and I’m instead going to rock out with a “free sample” version that my nose and throat doctor gave me. Although, on the plus side it doesn’t have the appearance of one model from Norway that looks like it belongs in an adult store. I’m not an expert on the topic and it may be the name of “rhino horn” that is throwing me but something just isn’t right with that one. To be honest, mine is rather boring compared to the other models. Mine isn’t even shaped in a way that is conducive to singing “I’m a little teapot” or rather, “my nose is a little teacup.” The variety of designs is astonishing. They even sell more decorative ones for when you apparently need your sinus cleaner to make a fashion statement.

I learned something terrifying in my studies. Oprah recommends it. In my opinion, anything Oprah recommends is either painful or depressing. Or, if you’ve ever read something from her book club: both. Why does Oprah need something to wash out her sinuses? Can’t she employ an army of little people to hose down the old nose each night? I’m a do it yourself kind of girl though. I’m also afraid I’ll now be having nightmares about oomph-loompas coming at my nose with garden hoses. Great.

I found the videos about neti-pots more hilarious than informative. I’m also noticing a strong connection between mullets and the neti-pot. I wonder if I will have to get a new hairdo if I start using this thing on a regular basis? I have to say that it is already helping me. They say laughter is the best medicine and I haven’t laughed as hard as I did during mustache-man’s infomercial in a long time. I now know that I can talk while I am cleansing my nose. After how many years of marriage does that become something you are comfortable doing? My Mum is insisting on supervising me the first time I use it but that’s due to the fact that she’s afraid I’ll manage to drown myself due to my abnormal sinus situation. She loves me no matter what anyway. I like to take my prosthesis out every now and then and yell, “Ma, get my teeth!” just for kicks. I feel that most people probably don’t have that same kind of bond and I’m a little disturbed that he felt the need to reassure me that I can continue my normal conversation. I’m also more than a bit disturbed by the disclaimer that it is nothing like waterboarding torture. That's good to know because I was worried!

All kidding aside I have learned a lot about sinus cleansing. I hope that it is as life-changing as all of these testimonials claim. Ireland was the only relief I have had in my chronic sinus infections since I had my surgeries. A container filled with salt water is slightly cheaper. Speaking of costs, I’m extremely relieved to see that you can mix your own solution. I need to pick up non-iodized salt tomorrow. The general consensus is that ¼ of a teaspoon per 8 ounces of warm water is all I need. Why do people pay for already measured packets? That’s a new level of lazy.

I’m truly amazed by how popular these things are. I find it rather maddening that it wasn’t suggested that I try one before! There are actual blogs devoted entirely to talking about neti-pots and sinus cleansing! And if that wasn’t amazing enough, I have discovered that several entire books were written on the subject. I’m in awe of this phenomenon. It’s used for allergies and most sites talk a lot about how it helps the cilia function but that is useless to me. I have a “damaged mucociliary transport system.” Basically, my body isn’t doing the job so I need to do it manually. I don’t even have the cilia that they are so enthralled with discussing.

I feel a little bit intimidated that it is linked to Ayurveda because I studied a lot of Ayurvedic techniques when I was considering an apprenticeship as a massage therapist. I was a bit turned off of the idea when I read so many completely off the wall and sometimes dangerous treatments. But, I’m all about alternative medicine if it will actually work and I continue to experiment with anything from licorice pills for IBS (all I can say: ouch!) to fish oil for my dry eyes (works brilliantly and I no longer have “plugs”). Anything that will keep me from needing so many antibiotics would be a wonderful thing. Sinus irrigation is a lot simpler than I had imagined. It is also a lot more popular. Now, if all the kids were jumping off a bridge I wouldn’t jump too but snorting water? That I’ll do!

Monday, May 9, 2011


Vier Minuten

I started this movie expecting to hate it. I had read a review that said something along the lines of “this movie is not a movie to enjoy, just watch.” Well, that didn’t sound appealing to me. I’ve watched too many movies that in my opinion, people just pretend  to “get.” I was afraid this would be one of those overly pretentious movies that people say you “should watch“ that leave me wanting to bang my head against a wall. I don’t understand the concept of not enjoying a movie if it is a quality movie. And if I don’t get something, I say so. Vier Minuten wasn’t at all like I was expecting. Bleibtreu and Herzsprung were phenomenal. The emotions didn’t feel forced. This movie has so much raw emotion and they handle it well. I’m anxious to watch more movies with these incredible actresses. I was completely drawn in. It is a very dark and emotional movie and is certainly a far cry from standard movies these days. I watched it over a month ago and it is still fluttering through my mind. The characters were frustrating and complex but somehow I wanted Jenny to have her sense of accomplishment. Jenny’s self-destruction was painful and the layers of why each woman became who they are both shed light on and confused the picture. Nobody was perfect. There were no “good characters” or “bad characters.” I didn’t feel like the movie was spoon feeding me how I should feel about them. Too many modern movies have no faith in the viewers and spell everything out to us. This was the highest quality “new” movie that I have watched in a long time. The good and the bad were jumbled together and complicated like they are in real life. This is the most cryptic review I’ve ever done but discussing the specific pieces would ruin part of the movie’s appeal, I think. As I’m reflecting on what to say about this movie I realize that removing pieces from this movie would be like taking pieces out of a puzzle. It doesn’t have the same effect. It manages to be frantic but slow and dark but hopeful. It is a whirlwind movie experience. I love that everyone will walk away with this movie with a different impression. Everyone will extract different parts that replay in their minds. I think that this is the first recently made “movie that makes you think” type of movie that I have enjoyed in a very long time. I credit that fact to their faith in their work. They let the movie lead you wherever it is you might go. They don’t tell you or push any specific idea on you.

And the last “vier minuten” or rather, four minutes?
Absolutely breathtaking.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


If you asked me to find a symbol of my childhood I would hand you a copy of a well-worn, taped together, yellowing “Little House in the Big Woods.” The entire series is on the shelf in the library at my parent’s house but this was the book that started it all. It says $3.50 in the top left-hand  corner but this book is worth so much to me.

My Mother first read the book to me and my brother when I was too little to make a lot of sense out of what was being read. We loved being read to and these were her favorite books as a child as well. The first memories I have of this book and of my life are simply of cuddling with my Mum and brother. I enjoyed hearing my Mum read and the simple joy of being together with my family as we read about another family. A family from 1870 and beyond came to life in our house in 1980 and beyond.

The constant sibling fights and my brother’s endless need to pick at me to make me squawk became suspended while we listened to my Mother’s voice. We begged her to read the books constantly. A few years later, after the first reading through of the books I requested that she read them to me again. My brother sat through the entire re-reading of the series. By the time she read the books through again I was ready to start at the beginning and read them myself! I have no idea how many times I read these pages or listened to my Mum bring the words to life. Sometimes we would all be under the covers at night but my favorite times were when we sat in the living room by our own woodstove. I could imagine myself being Laura that much easier with the setting of the fire in front of me. I was a farm girl and Laura Ingalls Wilder was my hero. The way the Laura is staring lovingly down at the doll in her arms on the cover of the book is exactly the way I must look gazing down at the book in my lap today.

I have set the scene for myself again.  I’ve built a fire in the fireplace and I’m snuggled in a pile of blankets to revisit why I fell in love with these books over and over. This “Once upon a time….” was the beginning of my lifelong love affair with books. Each one of the thousands of books I have picked up in the 20 years since I first heard about Laura and her sister Mary is due to the magic I found within these pages. In a way everything I have read since the Little House books has been an attempt to find the love I had for this series.

I remember so much of the books even though it has been years since I read them. I remember being horrified by them being excited on slaughtering day because they would get a pig tail and Pa would blow up the pig’s bladder for them to use as a ball. That was a lesson for me and my brother… children happy to have a blown up bladder to play with. I remember pretending to be them as they played in their attic in the winter months surrounded by the food that was being stored for the winter. I vaguely recall begging my father to grow big pumpkins so I could sit on them like tables and chairs like Laura and Mary did. If I sit and think about it so much of their stories come back to me. They are beautifully written and all the more engaging for children when you talk about how this was the author’s childhood. She had not only an interesting story to tell but knew how to tell it. Clearly Laura inherited Pa’s gift for telling stories. Opening any page pulls up how she creates vivid images with her words, “They were cosy and comfortable in their little house made of logs, with the snow drifted around it and the wind crying because it could not get in by the fire.”

Someday, when I am blessed with a family of my own I will start reading the series to them. Since my own children are many years in the future I will content myself with reading them to other peoples children. This summer I have the pleasure of fulltime care of an eight year old farm girl. She’s not hooked on books yet but my plan is to read the series to her over the summer and see where it takes us. I have a feeling she will fall in love. I certainly fell in love with Little House in the Big Woods. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I shimmy to my seat next to the window. As long as I have one side that isn’t stranger I can stay sane. First things first, I snatch up my wee little pillow and blanket to make sure I have them. The blanket works well to cover my lap for some semblance of decency when I tuck my legs up underneath me while wearing a dress. I kick my duffel bag into its standard place at my feet. My flats get kicked off and I wedge them underneath my bag. Next I need to peel off my layers of jacket, scarf, sweater, and long sleeved shirt to tuck in at my side. Never mind if it is the middle of summer - these items of clothing serve as a pillow in place of the airline one that is the size of a breath mint.  Plus they are that much less weight in my dangerously close to the weight limit suitcase. My travel policy is to wear several more layers than your standard bag lady in the middle of winter.

I hold my breath until I see who sits down next to me. “Please not a creepy, fat, smelly man. Please not a creepy, fat, smelly man.” I’ve been next to screaming infants, a vomiting toddler, and a six year old who had been traveling for the prior 12 hours with only intermittent naps but for some reason I dread the “creepy, fat, and smelly man” the most. I blame the trip back from Ireland where the man sitting behind me looked just like the rapist in the movie I was watching. That was one trip I had a sore neck from glances over my shoulder and not the awkward angle napping. I can plan everything but I know I cannot plan this. Still, I figure a few prayers won’t hurt anything. Does God have more important worries than if my right side smells like B.O. from sitting next to Captain Hygiene for eight hours? Obviously, but I put a word in just in case there is a slow moment. 

While I await my neighbor-fate I go about arranging everything I have planned. Puzzle book, iPod, magazine, and two books are slid out of my duffle bag’s side pocket and stacked on the top of my bag. The planning of airplane books is critical. I always bring one book of a frightening length that looks like the reading of it will be a serious labor. A good guideline is if it is too heavy to hold up for bathtub reading. That is the size book I need for eight hours in the air. Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic I need to have a serious interest in the protagonists’ life and enough pages to get me over the million more miles to go. My second book choice is something “fluffy.” It might be a quick read but it probably has comedic value and something in it that will redeem my mid-flight feelings of hatred toward everyone else on the plane. Selection of the puzzle book is also crucial. Never make the mistake of thinking you can write your sudoku or fill-it-in numbers into those little boxes in the middle of turbulence. If you want to write in it on a plane, go for the Gramma books. If the front cover doesn’t say “LARGE PRINT” in letters larger than two inches - step away. A bump will happen and that four will end up taking up three boxes, it is more or less guaranteed. Another important consideration in the selection of puzzles is neighbor elbows. The magazine is there for something to read while you wait to catch a flight attendant. It is whatever crap women’s magazine they sold at the airport. I don’t have the patience to wait for someone to walk by but I am incapable of not shutting the world around me out if I have a good book. Magazines are also great for when you need daydream time.

The final step in a happy flight is to fish out whatever food I have smuggled. I know better than to rely on the cat food the airlines love to serve (I’m looking at you Aer Lingus). I have successfully smuggled a ridiculous variety of food. Whether it was Irish flapjacks, gourmet German chocolates, or Russian crackers I have always managed to sneak something in my bag to ward off hunger. Fancy German chocolates are the reason one Israeli child is still alive after announcing for the 2391827439283rd time that he was “bored” and making the word bored sound like it had eight or more syllables. I know I can’t rely on the airline to serve me good food and even if they do I know they won’t necessarily package it in a way that I can open with my neuropathy hands so I always pack comfort food.

I still harbor some doubts that terrorists weren’t happy fliers who just happened to get stuck next to some of the children I have been stuck next to but I have figured out how to make flying more pleasant. It has been an ugly, sweaty, suffocating, freezing, uncomfortable and ridiculous process but I have finally found how to not tear my hair out on flights. I know what I look like bald and it’s worth a little extra work to prevent the tearing out of my hair, trust me.


every attempt at this week is rubbish

It is my opinion that all of my attempts belong in my recycle bin.


I’m sitting in the teacher’s room watching the marker circling “mistake” after “mistake.” I want to scream. Horrified doesn‘t begin to explain how I feel right now. “What was she even thinking?!” the teacher remarks as she finds another error and continues sweeping the marker in large circles around all of the offending material. I want to know what the teacher is thinking. She’s correcting the papers of five and six year old children. No child left behind? No paper left unmarked. Gone is any sense of accomplishment these children would have had in their papers. There is no reward for effort. You are either right or wrong. It’s disgusting. Inventive spelling is mocked, not praised. Verbs tenses that are used wrong receive rolls of eyes, with no consideration that the children are learning to apply some of the rules of the English language to their writing. It may not be correct but it’s obvious that they have learned something about their language and are trying it out.

Kindergarten in America is completely wrong for children. Five and six year olds should be learning from their play, not from worksheets. Assessing children so much is ridiculous. The absurdity of what children are expected to learn is just beyond words. Whoever made the decision about what we should be doing with children in kindergarten is obviously not acquainted with any children. They are children! Not miniature adults. If curriculum gets pushed down anymore every child I know will fail kindergarten. Never mind what the real childhood experts say - test them! Test them now!

When I was in kindergarten I went for half a day. Kindergarten was for getting used to school. It was an introduction to socializing and spending time away from Mommy. Now we’re teaching them geometry concepts. The have to write. They have to read. If they cannot accomplish these tasks to the satisfaction of their teacher then we think there is something wrong with them. Never mind how subjective the grading of some of these naz- I mean teachers is! Information is forced on them. Instead of children’s interest dictating the information we can teach it is something all planned out before anyone knows anything about the individual children. I understand that the world has changed and schools need to teach more to make up for what parents are no longer doing but it is ridiculous. Small children do not learn in the same way that older children do. The people who understand how and what children need to learn to best set the stage for learning later on are being ignored. On what planet does this make sense? You cannot dictate that they are going to learn in the way that you specify. And just because some idiot somewhere thinks a child should learn something doesn’t mean that they even can. They’re five years old! Why can we not accept that maybe they aren’t ready? Some children just aren’t ready for the things we push upon them. But instead of helping them developing the fine motor skills that they need to hold a pencil through different motor building activities like play dough and simple game we force them to write.

We’re creating children that are going to hate school. Reading and writing aren’t viewed as a fun way of expression and learning. They are becoming chores for them. Non-threatening and enjoyable experiences when they are young help them learn better when they are older. Just because we might be able to teach them these concepts at this age doesn’t mean that it is the best foundation for the rest of their lives. We pay so much attention to assessing and the end product that we lose track of the process. And we certainly lose track of the most important part of teaching: the students.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


The George Mitchell Scholarship changed my life. My trip to Ireland in the Spring of 2010 changed the way I view myself and the way I view the world. I not only got to explore a gorgeous country but I also met amazing people. These people changed the way I view friendship and even the way I see myself. Being in a different country pushed the limits of what I could do and pushed me toward things I had never thought of doing. Ireland was, in many ways, a renewal for me. I was feeling frustrated with my energy level, out of place due to having been gone from college on my medical leave, and in a relationship that was stagnating. Getting on that plane for my first ever flight to move to another country may have seemed crazy but I just can't imagine what life would be like if I hadn't taken that leap of faith.

The first amazing thing that happened in Ireland was meeting Breige. I had known Breige online for years but we weren't especially close. When I made plans to meet up with her so she could show me around town and help me find places to buy pillows, a fan, and a heating pad I had no idea the friendship that was waiting for me. I was feeling overwhelmed and sitting in Mc Donald's on the corner of Patrick Street with my usual chocolate milkshake when I met my future best friend. We spent the rest of that day shopping and spent as much time together as we could while I was in Ireland. For two people who had never talked much it was like we couldn't shut up. It felt like we had known each other our entire lives. We never had awkward moments and for the first time in my life I could say I had a true friend. Having just lost a lot of my friends during my fight against cancer it felt good to be close friends with someone again. But more than that, I feel like I finally have a friendship that will last. Ocean or not we still talk almost every single day. She is the reason I recently bought speech to text software. I have far too much to say to rely on neuropathy hands to communicate with Breige! But on the topic of communication, I don't think I could ever communicate to anyone what a gift our friendship has been. Breige restored my faith in friendship. She showed me that true friends may be hard to find but they are worth the wait and worth traveling anywhere to find.

Ireland helped me out of a relationship that hadn't gone anywhere and wasn't going to.  I should have ended the relationship sooner but hadn't managed to. I've always hated breakups and kept putting it off. What should have been the straw that broke the camel's back didn't even push me over the edge. I guess in the back of my mind I knew as soon as I left the country it would be over. I remember saying goodbye to his cat and sobbing my heart out because I knew I wouldn't see her again. Corny as it sounds I suppose my heart knew what my mind hadn't realized yet. I was halfway over the Atlantic I realized that I could, and would, make the break. Knowing that I had won this once in a lifetime chance to study abroad and all that was ahead of me I realized how stupid it was for me to settle. Was he a horrible monster? No, but he also wasn't right for me. The breakup isn't the significant part of this story (although I do still miss that cat very much). Even though it is embarrassing to realize, it took being over the ocean and headed to another country to tip my self-esteem back where it should be. I've always been confident and gone after what I wanted but too much time wishing and wanting only to be healthy again had destroyed my image of myself. My confidence started rebuilding in economy class and kept growing in the months that followed.

I cannot talk about Ireland without talking about how it gave me an insane love for traveling. Each weekend I would hop on a bus and travel to a different part of the country. I explored the most amazing places. Each lovely little town was so rich with history. I also took a trip with my mother over to England and realized that ferry travel is not my thing. But London was so gorgeous and realizing that I could see all of these places I have read about and studied was incredible. The Tower of London took me breath away. I almost cried to be standing in the places that Anne Boleyn had stood. I love our country but the history in Europe is astonishing. I'm not sure how many small towns in Ireland I traveled to but there was always something worth seeing. Traveling around Ireland and England made me realize how much of the world there is to see and just how badly I want to see it. If I hadn't gone to Ireland I would have thought about going to Europe but I don't think I would have made the dreams a reality.

Thinking of all that Ireland gave me and continues to give me amazes me. I can barely scratch the surface of all the ways that going there changed my life. It was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. It was exhausting but it was worth every second. I don't know what my life would be right now if I hadn't won that scholarship. I knew going there was a once in a lifetime chance but I had no idea how many positive changes it would make in my life.