Friday, January 25, 2008

Life In The Fast Lane

OK, I am so busy right now that I don't have time to post, to read, to crochet, to answer e-mails, or to rest, to dance, to work out, to think....

This week, I went back to training a four day class for the first time. The students were great, so it went well. But is was exhausting. I co-taught with my boss, so the most I trained was about half of any day. It was a funny week though. On Monday, I SLEPT IN!! I have never done that. Here I am finally teaching my first full class again, with my boss, and I show up late! Ugh!! I woke up at 7:45 and I was there by 9. Since I have a one hour commute, you can figure out how fast I showered and dressed. She was great about it, but I was horrified.

A typical training day goes like this:

leave home before 7 so I can get to work before 8
Get to work, make coffee, get the room ready, do e-mails until the class shows up at 8:30
Teach until break at 10
Go to the bathroom (finally) and do e-mail at break
Teach til noon
Eat lunch while doing e-mail or attending a meeting. Or if it is Wednesday, take the client out to lunch.
Train from 1 until 4:30
Dismiss clients for the day, then do more e-mail and meetings, or let class run late if we are behind.
I don't head home until after 6 or so, so I get home around 7 or 8

I made it through and held up pretty well. I did have problems with hot and cold flashes, but I just keep putting wraps and scarves on then taking them off. Other folks don't even notice. It does wear me down a little though since I am pretty much uncomfortable most of the time still. I was able to train and work all day then get home and do whatever I needed to, I didn't come home and go straight to bed once. I did slack off on Monday though. Instead of going to the contra dance, I snugged up with the kids and watched three episodes of the Harry Dresden Files. I didn't want to wear myself out early in the week, so I took it slow.

The class had fun points too. The group was very nice and we all shared stories and laughs. I must have told a story about our new espresso maker that we got for Christmas because the next thing I knew they were asking me to bring it in. So I did. That was fun. We all had a couple of espresso breaks that day. It made the classroom smell terrific and gave us all something new to enjoy. My eldest son was pretty upset about it though. He didn't have any problem with me leaving for the day, but saying goodbye to the espresso maker was breaking his heart! I'm pretty sure that neither of my kids could survive in the wild.

I also stayed up late Wednesday crocheting hats with my niece. We were up until past 11 because a friend at work asked me to make some for his friend who is facing breast cancer for the second time. She has already lost her hair, and my friend is only in town for the week, so I was in a rush to get some hats done fast. I was not very successful. I made a practice one of a yarn that is too rough for a baldie to wear, it looks great other than that though. Then I made a fun fur one, but I reduced the last couple of rows too tight, so it ended up too small for an adult! I'm pretty proud of it any way - it is my first try with the fun fur and it is recognizable as a hat - so hey, I'm proud of it. Fortunately, my niece made a nice pom pom one, and I went through my own hat box and found a couple more that I could give away, so I was able to bring in three new hats in for her.

Then last night, I went to a meeting at my chiropractor's to learn how to do a 10 day detox program. I picked up my tub of powder, a bottle of vitamins, and a brochure.

It looks pretty reasonable, you drink the powder and take the supplements, but you are also allowed to eat a long list of organic stuff, so it is not as harsh as the cleansing programs where you live of a powder or lemon juice for days.

I am supposed to do this for ten days. I leave for NY this afternoon, so I won't start it until I get back. I'm sure I'll post all about it once I get started. Prepare for some serious whining! LOL

So here is the exciting stuff - I am going to NY for a fun girl's weekend. The other two girls who train in my department are there training a class. When they realized they would have to be there late on Friday and not fly home until Saturday, they decided to stay over the weekend and see the town. Then they invited me! I'm really looking forward to it. I leave this afternoon, and I get back home on Sunday.

Then, I unexpectedly bought a new car last weekend! It's a 2004 Lexus ES330. It was such a great deal that I could not pass it up. We have been casually looking for a car for a month or so now but we weren't planning to buy until spring. As we were researching different models over the net, we pretty much decided on another used Avalon since I've been so happy with the one that I have now. But we started to see Lexus models that were in the same price range, so we researched those. We went to the local dealership just to drive one and see if we even liked them - well, we did and the price was right. So here I am driving a bling bling ride!

It is very cute. The paint is dark blue that looks black from a distance. It has slick features like a button that you push that elevates a sunshade for the back window, wipers that have a raindrop sensor so they can self adjust, and a navigation system (um, I really do need that. I get lost frequently and usually take ridiculously complicated routes everywhere since I am so navigationally impared - it drives my husband nuts and amuses my friends to no end). The only thing is does not have that I really want is a direct connection for my iPod. It has a six CD changer, so I'm "making do" with that! But what I liked the most about it was that it is very quiet and has a nice smooth ride. If you are looking for a new car and think you can't afford a Lexus, take a look at the used ones - you will be surpised!

I also got a massage last weekend to help me prepare for this rigorous week. I got the same auyervedic one (sorry I know I spelled that wrong, but I just can't motivate myself to look it up right now) and I tried something else too. Last time I did the sweat lodge tent thing. This time I tried this oil blessing ritual. I was on a massage table on these warm water bed kind of cushions, that alone was very nice. Then, the therapist put a metal bowl with a small hole in the bottom over my forehead. The warm, scented oil flowed onto my forehead and spilled over my hair where it was caught in a basin. I could hear a pump, so I'm guessing it went back up a little tube to the bowl so it could keep pouring. It sounded relaxing (and good for my hair) and it is supposed to help with cognitive functions, so I tried it. I really enjoyed it. It was blissfully relaxing.

Last Sunday, we went over to our dear friends' house for a fabulous feast (bbq shrimp, salad, quinoa salad, fruit salad, broiled talapia and more, I can't even remember all of it now), then we all settled into their basement to watch another episode of Star Wars. You might remember that while I was doing chemo, I would go to their hous the Sunday before a new treatment and we would watch one of the Star Wars films. Their eldest daughter had never seen them, so we are watching them in chronological order with her. This was so wonderful for me. The night before a treatment is a rough time. It is very hard to get your mind off what you are going to do the next day and how you are going to feel. But at their house, I would snuggle up in a comforter, surrounded by wonderful people, with a full tummy, and watch Star Wars for the first time through her daughter's eyes. It was magical then, and it is magical now. We still have two of the movies left to go.

Oh one last thing. Guess what I'm asking for for my birthday! A "gameboy for old people". A friend of mine got a DS Lite for Christmas and he loaded it with Brain Age games and this other game called Flash Focus (uh, I think that is what it was called. Hmmm. I better start doing those brain age games asap) that is supposed to help you improve your vision. So I want to get one and play the games to help me sharpen my focus, improve my memory and maybe avoid bifocals. Cracks me up that I seem to be making my way into the AARP demographic and they have video games just for us!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Signs of Progress

Last night I went to sleep around midnight. That's pretty normal since last spring. Here's the cool part though, I didn't wake up at 4 - I woke up at 10!!! I missed most of the old folks show because I was ASLEEP! I haven't been able to sleep for more than six hours in months.

I also had a very busy week, though a short one due to the holiday. I stayed up late on New Year's and went dancing a bit.

Tuesday, I worked in my home office for about 7 hours straight on trying to close out the year and clean up my desk. I made a lot of progress, but somehow there are still piles on my desk and plenty more to work on this weekend - HOW does that happen? LOL

Wednesday I worked from home since we had enough snow on the ground to completely mess up the highways.

Thursday, I went into the office, worked a long day then went out for drinks (I tried a new trick. I didn't really want to drink, but I wanted to be polite. So I ordered a Pinot Grigio. I had the feeling that the wine at that bar would be awful - and it was. So I took a few sips, but really spent the whole time drinking my water, so if you are out with friends and don't really want to drink - try ordering a bad glass of wine!) for a friend's birthday and then shopping at Kenwood and Trader Joe's with a friend. (I went a little crazy at the Lush counter in Macy's - check them out at - they have a store in Venice too which is the first time I saw their bubble bath offerings that look like some kid's playdough art project.)

Friday, back at the office for a long day, got home and went out to a local little bar because a friend of mine was the musical act and he needed some friends to come out and support him so he gets invited to play there again. That was fun. A couple of weeks ago, I sent him an e-mail recommending that he learn the Elton John song "Rocket Man". I never got a reply so I forgot about it. Well, he had learned it and he played it for me! I loved it. He plays guitar and has a great voice for ballads so that song was a great fit for him. It didn't take a lot of energy to just sit there and listen, but I can't remember a week where I would be up for even that by Friday night. I might have gone before, but I would not have enjoyed it, I would have just endured it.

Saturday, I went clothes shopping while the boys cooled their heals at Borders. I tried stuff on at J. Jill, Anne Taylor and Banana Republic. Not long ago, just two weeks ago, it would have been too much for me to walk to all three stores, and there is no way I could have gathered all the clothes that I did, or had the energy to try them all on. What I got out of that was a couple of amazing skirts that were on sale, one amazing skirt that wasn't and a terrific pair of jeans - and more important than that - I felt jubilent because I was doing all the things I wanted to do! I felt normal!

I wasn't even too bugged that I had to buy a size bigger since my figure is more curvy now. Before, I was pretty bummed that I've gone up a size, but now that I have more energy , I feel confident that I can work on getting my figure back in control too, so why fret about it. I have been using my treadmill here at home a lot - one of my favorite workout songs is Kanye's "Stronger" because he starts out by saying "that that don't kill me can only make me stronger" - it's kind of my work out anthem, it gets me feeling all sassy and victorious about getting through these last few months. That's what I listen to when I work out right now, sassy songs. I listen to "Sexyback" too which is a little harder because it makes me laugh and dance a bit and I wonder if I'm going to fall right off that treadmill one of these times.

OK, sure I was tired, really tired every night when I got home, but it was normal tired, not debilitating tired, and when I got up in the morning, I had the energy to get going again for another day.

I'm so glad to have time and energy for fun now, and fun is fun again - I can enjoy things. I enjoy all the things that I used to (including music, I sang with my iPod like a dork for over an hour last night because I was trying to learn the French lyrics to my new Etienne Daho CD) and I am enjoying even mundane things like doing the mail and finances every week because I have the energy and the concentration that I need to do them.

It feels so good to feel good!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Verona – The Basilica of Saint Anastasia

Verona has five churches of note. I know that because when we went to buy our tickets at St. Anastasia’s, the ticket lady asked if I wanted to buy a ticket that would cover all five churches, or just a ticket for the one church. I bought a ticket just for St. Anastasia. As you will see, later when I write about the Duomo, I did get to see one other church too.

I enjoyed these so much that next time, I will get the five church pass and I will be try to see all of them. Maybe in small doses though, since they are pretty overwhelming.

Let me preface my review of this church by saying that I got the impression that this church is pretty run of the mill by Italian standards. So if you are a world traveler or have seen many Italian churches already, this one may not even make the list of things you would like to see. But from my perspective, from a person who loves art, and has only made one trip and seen a handful of churches, I really enjoyed this one.

St. Anastasia is the largest church in Verona. It sits along the bank of the Adige River. When you approach the church from the front, you don’t get much of a feel for what is inside. The front of the church is unfinished and pretty much just plain brick. The front door does have a stone entry way with some carvings, and to the left, there is a tomb that you can see in a raised stone monument, but the overall impression is pretty plain and humble.

They started to build this church in 1290. Um, yep, I said 1290. That is one of the things that hits you when you walk around Italy and admire the architecture, the sculpture and the art – the sheer scale of things and the how long ago they were made. Not only is this building large, imposing and in some places very intricate, but it is over 600 years old. The people who built it worked without electricity. Without calculators, without penicillin, without labor laws, without Coke breaks! What on earth must that have been like? How did they do such a great job? How did they get the bricks so uniformly made and placed? What kinds of sacrifices did they make for their work? Did they work on this building for years? Through bone chilling cold and searing summers? Did whole families of painters, carvers and stone masons dedicate their professional lives to this one structure? And who the heck paid for it all?

Well, enough musing. What did it look like inside? Spectacular. First of all, I was not prepared for what I later came to recognize as the usual layout for an Italian church. They don’t just have one alter at the front, they have that one and then many others running up both sides of the church. Some of the alters are fairly small and not very deep, others are deep enough and ornate enough to qualify as a chapel. But even the plainest, smallest alter was still unspeakably beautiful.

Soaring, intricately painted ceilings are the norm, and so are gorgeous marble floors.

I found myself thinking that is must be much easier to be a practicing Catholic in Italy than it is here. To walk into a church in Italy is to be surrounded by and bathed in, glory, wonder, and splendor. Everywhere you look there are saints, angels, cherubs, Madonnas, annunciations, and crucifixions. They are portrayed so beautifully, so sumptuously, so lavishly, that you can easily believe that you are seeing just a peak of what it is like in heaven. It also makes you feel very tiny and very humble.

Some of the features that stand out in this church are the two holy water founts that are basins resting on the backs of stone hunchbacks. They managed to be somehow charming and grotesque at the same time.

In Italy, you face the very real danger of getting “churched out” – of seeing so many truly spectacular churches, alters, paintings and sculptures that you just can’t appreciate them anymore. You get overwhelmed by it all. The repetition can get to you too, you can be standing in front of the 15th annunciation painting that you’ve seen in the last half hour, kind of staring, when you suddenly realize that you are looking at a Bellini – a real Bellini. It takes a moment for you to realize that you are seeing the deepest, most translucent colors that you have ever seen. I really did get stunned enough that my brain started to have trouble processing that much beauty.

Italy is just full of gorgeous churches. Try seeing one. You may find that one is enough for you, or you may decide like I did, that you would love to see them all.

Verona – Juliet’s House

The play Romeo and Juliet takes place in Verona. Juliet’s house, Romeo’s house and Juliet’s tomb are all places that you can go see while you are there.

The way to Juliet’s house goes through a short tunnel. The tunnel is completely covered in graffiti. Lovers are encouraged to leave their mark on these walls. I don’t know what my problem was, but I did not find that romantic, or have any interest in reading any of the scrawled messages, I just thought it looked messy and disrespectful.

The tunnel opens onto a small courtyard. On the right is the doorway to Juliet’s house (open to tourists, but we did not go in. I've since seen pictures of it in a book that I bought as a souvenir, and next time I'm there, I will go in just to see it). You can see a couple of nicely shaped, Moorish windows and a small stone balcony that is supposed to be the balcony that Juliet stood on when talking to Romeo. To the left is a small shop, and directly ahead is a bronze statue of Juliet that has one very shiny breast. You are supposed to go up and rub her right breast three times for good luck. Pretty much everybody did while I was there and I did too.

As a tourist attraction, this little courtyard is not much and I am tempted to tell you not to waste your time going to see it.

But here is what made it worth it, not a stone balcony, not a statue, but that while you are there, you suddenly realize that Shakespeare set enough of his plays in Verona that he probably visited, and you have been walking the very same streets that he walked! His eyes may have seen the wall next to where you are standing. For all you know, after leaving this courtyard, he walked a while, found a restaurant and enjoyed some pasta and a glass of wine, just like you will. That is what makes this attraction work seeing. It made Shakespeare and all of his works more real for me, more human, and less academic. And it gave me a sense of history that I can’t get here in the U.S. Yes, I have toured Mt. Vernon and seen the place where Washington lived, and I’ve been to Monticello and seen gardens that Jefferson worked, and I enjoyed the sense of connection to history that I got from that. But this is Shakespeare!! I was pretty floored to feel any sense of connection with a man that lived in the 1500’s.

As long as we are on the topic of Shakespeare, I have a recommendation for you to consider. Get his sonnets on CD (you may even be able to get that from the library. There are some available that have famous folks like Meryl Streep and Patrick Stewart doing the reading), and play them in your car sometimes. He wrote quiet a few, and being sonnets, they are very short. What impresses me is his subject matter. He wrote the sonnets in his middle age, and his mind was much occupied with raising a family, with aging, with friendship, with love, with loss. The sonnets are casual, accessible, touching and often funny. I also find it much harder to give rude drivers the finger while I’m listening to such heady stuff, so it has probably saved me from getting into trouble!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Hat Delivery

I delivered another box of hats today.

Dr. Wonderful (um, that would be my oncologist whom I think the world of, as opposed to my stellar surgeon and amazing radiologist - hard to keep track, no?) said that they are flying out the door, and I had a new batch from my friend so I braved the elements (it is wicked cold, windy and snowy here today, wind chill got to minus 12 this morning) and dropped off a nice big box.

I love doing this.

It is my hope and dream that I will somehow figure out how to expand this effort until every chemo lady who wants a fuzzy hat can have one. I want to help thousands of chemo cuties! Thanks to my tireless friend in Florida who crochets at jet speed, I'm well on the way!

Happy New Year!

Here's my wish to you that 2008 is happy, healthy, prosperous, and all around wonderful!!

I had a great New Year's Eve. First we went to contra. I would dance a dance (with partners close to my own age this time) then sit down for one or two, then get back up and dance again. We had to leave early, so I think I got four dances, which is about an hour in. It was terrific to dance, to hear music, to catch up with folks, to see smiling faces and to see all the people who dressed up for the event. Dressing up is optional, so there were plenty in shorts or skirts and t-shirts, but there was also a lady wearing chaps and a 2008 tiara (you gotta love that) and a variety of really cute dresses from tea length to floor length. I love to see people dressed up and dancing and laughing! I'd say there had to be 300 people there so it was a great crowd. Dancing in crowded conditions can be difficult, but I only bounced off of people that I really like so I guess that's okay!

We left early to pick up the kids and walk over to a neighbor's house so we could be there in time for the toast when the ball drops. Every year since we have moved here (that's 12 years now) at midnight, we have been at a neighbor's house or at our house with all the neighbors over. I get misty every year as we all raise our glasses and I look out at their happy faces and growing families. Our busy lives drive us apart for much of the year, but we always get together on this magic night, and I am so very glad that we do.