Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bucket Lists

My mother asked in a recent email if the husband and/or I had made a bucket list. She said that it was too late for her to make one, but she thought we should. While I do have a mental list of places I would like to visit, I would not call it a "bucket list." That term has actually always bothered me. Preparing a list of things to do or see before one kicks the bucket stresses how finite one's existence really is. Crossing items off the list (and there is now even a website where one can post their list, cross items off, and post video of oneself doing things) seems as if you're counting down to the day and time that the last item is crossed off the list and then you answer the door to see a figure in a cloak carrying a scythe. I am compulsive enough that I write out a list of things to do each day the night before. The next morning, I fold the list and put it in my right pants or skirt (on those rare occasions when I wear one) or jacket pocket, not to look at it again except in its folded state as I chuck it into the garbage can at day's end. If I did prepare a bucket list, I would likely obsess about items I had yet to complete. I would not treat it as I do my daily list, the one never consulted and easily discarded. I have enough things to worry about; I don't need one more.

As for the list of places I would like to visit, the top two are Machu Picchu, an Incan ruin in Peru, and anywhere in Antarctica.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Birthday Bling

I recently complimented the birthday tiara of a dear friend, The Other Jean, and look what she left for me overnight! My very own birthday tiara. Heck! I may wear it on days that aren't my birthday.

So I'm wearing a tiara and my "I'm Not Dead Yet" t-shirt from Spamalot, and more people (one) have reacted to the shirt than to the tiara. Go figure. Perhaps someone will comment on it when I'm working out at the gym. I won't wear it into the shower, but I will certainly wear it for my workout.

I always like seeing what The Washington Post's horoscope has for me in its "if today is your birthday" entry. I must remember to ask younger son for his interpretation of it when he arrives this evening. Here's the published version:

This year you have an innate sense of independence. You will have opportunities to make certain situations more to your liking. If you are single, friendship will play a significant role in the meeting or development of your next relationship. If you are attached, check in with your significant others frequently to confirm that you are on the same page. Get behind a key mutual project together, and you might be surprised by how quickly the two of you can achieve that goal. Taurus can be very stubborn.

Seems somewhat rosy, but then an entry saying, "Watch out! You're going to be victimized in the coming year." probably wouldn't fly. I guess the entry above just doesn't seem that different from what I'd normally do.

Those pesky resolutions for the coming year of my life or the rest of the calendar year? I've got a couple but I think that, as older son does, I will keep them private. That will take away the chance of my flaming out in a public forum. I'll post next year at this time or perhaps on New Year's Day how I did or am doing. If I remember to. If I make the time to type something here. (I've resolved to be a more regular blogger before, and it does not work.)

I have been treating myself today, starting with a deluxe pedicure using one of the gift certificates the husband gave me. The deluxe comes from wrapping your calves in hot towels and, later, oiling them and rubbing them with hot rocks. This is pretty darn incredible in how good it feels.

I picked the loudest, shiniest color I could find because it would go with wearing a tiara. (I used a glittery polish on my last pedicure, and you would not believe how difficult it was to remove.) The technician asked if I also wanted a manicure; I declined. Had I gotten one, I guarantee that the polish would be cracked with 10 minutes of leaving the studio if not before or on my way out the door. Manicures are not my friend.

The rest of my birthday? I'm stretching it out to two days. Younger son arrives late this evening. I'm told that he and the husband will be making me a cake. Tomorrow we're having breakfast at the place with the best pancakes I've had since our favorite pancake place closed down. The we'll go to the city market for some tomatoes. I'm getting back into canning, and tomatoes are something I've always wanted to try. In my domestically healthful fantasies, I make spaghetti sauce from scratch using all natural ingredients. I also want to do some strawberry jam. Jam implies bread, and we are now out which means the bread-making is on the agenda as well. I'm trying to limit myself to things I want to do even if they are mundane such as running errands. It is nice to run errands if one can do it at a chosen pace and change the itinerary as desired.

And now? I could balance the checkbook, but that seems more like work. The statement's not going anywhere; doing the act of balancing it can wait. Maybe I'll do the New York Times crossword. Or not. It's my birthday (the 61st one as in I am now 60), and I'll do whatever I damn well please for a day or two.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

About Those Resolutions ...

Can I have a mulligan for recent resolutions such as those I made a year ago or six months ago? A do-over? I don't even want to look back and see what they were. I just know I didn't meet the ones I remember making. I came close on the "run the Charlottesville Ten Miler" one, and I did get a very special medal for running the Jean Ten Miler, but that's only one of several. Oh well (said with appropriate inflection).

Back in March, I reflected on how this has been far from the year I expected. It has since occurred to me that expecting that what I want to happen or do will happen or will get done is perhaps more than a bit conceited. Who am I to tell the deity(ies) that my will be done, not theirs? So let's just say that the year from last year's birthday and the six months from New Year's Day were not what I wanted. I certainly did not want a do-over on rotator cuff repair, especially when it appears that this one was a total tear. In terms of a positive side to the surgery, being unable to do some things I never really got back to after the first shoulder respite is making me realize how much I do want to get back to them, that I miss them more than I had thought. As before, shoulder rehab is making me slow down, but I'm not sure I want to put that forward as a good thing. Slowing down because one has to is far different from slowing down because one wants to. The biggest positive has probably been the reminder of how strong some of my friendships are. I just hope those friends know that if they ever need anything from me, to ask as freely as I may have asked them. That's what friends are for, right?

I go back and forth about whether I should do any sort of resolutions this year. Sixty is something of a milestone birthday after all. I'll potentially have to check one box down on a survey-type question of how old I am. I should be eligible for a wider range of discounts should I remember to ask about them. (I had to show my ID once to prove to the clerk I was over 55.) I don't expect I shall feel any wiser. What besides wisdom is supposed to come with growing old? Nothing immediately comes to mind. Wait! Isn't forgetfulness age-related at least stereotypically? Perhaps that's why I can't recall any other accompaniments of aging.

So, if you're waiting for some resolutions about which you can nag me throughout the coming year, they aren't coming today. I'll still be 59 tomorrow and the next day and even the day after that. Three whole days! That seems plenty of time to go back and forth a bit more.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

I do love the opening line of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book even if  it isn't exactly descriptive of tomorrow. It will be a scalpel, not a knife, and there won't be darkness except, I hope, for me. I woke up very, very briefly during my 1982 IT band release surgery and heard the doctor talk about drawing a line on my leg. As it turned out, that was when he was showing someone how to do the actual incision. I am very glad I did not know that at the time.

The husband and I went out for a belated anniversary dinner last night. I suggested we go out while I could still cut my meat on my own. Tomorrow, I revert to the childlike passing of the plate to a parent who slices the meat both ways into neat little squares. On the way home, I mentioned that perhaps the best thing about the surgery is that after, painful and slow though  it may be, I can feel as if I am doing something even if it's just letting my arm dangle and move like a pendulum. There's a long-range goal of getting a left shoulder back. Up to now, the goal has been pretty much don't screw anything up before the surgery, and I've been doing that long enough (I stopped my regular physical training workouts in either late January or the very start of February) that it's gotten pretty old..

Even though I'm looking forward to the surgery, I do have some nervousness. I'd be worried if I didn't. I signed all the waivers with the lists of all the things that could go wrong. I have an advance directive on file even if older son is worried he might have to make the call if the husband croaks in the waiting room while I'm still technically alive. I trust the surgeon. He did my right shoulder in 2014, and I waited for him to be able to do the left, now.

And I do have two special friends in my corner, Bella and Xandra. Bella
is the rabbit, and Xandra is the guardian mermaid pictured on the card. Xandra came to me from a dearest friend before my last shoulder surgery. Xandra normally faces me as I'm using my personal laptop. She reminds me of my friend and that I have a guardian mermaid. Everyone should, really. Bella came to me from younger son's significant other, who had her own shoulder surgery in January. I commented how much I liked the stuffed rabbit she brought with her when she came for the surgery. She ordered a gray one to her brown and gave it to me. Bella is going with me tomorrow. They say that children can bring a favorite stuffed animal, and I certainly can act like a child.

I had a somewhat long list of things I wanted to get done before the surgery. I did this before the last one, too. Nesting, I suppose, since I know I'll be somewhat restricted to the house for the six weeks in which I will be unable to drive. I got the important ones done, though, which is better than I did last time when the big thing left undone was cleaning a somewhat sloven master bath. Until I no longer draw breath, I will owe a debt of gratitude to the person who came over and did that for me. She came over yesterday as well, and helped me with the biggest thing I wanted to accomplish. I moved my entire yarn stash from boxes in the basement and baskets on the main floor to the now-empty bookshelves in the room older son vacated when he bought his own home. The books are still a bit at loose ends, and I have two baskets of patterns to sort. The big thing was getting all the yarn consolidated. I think the husband was so happy to have all the baskets gone from the main floor that he didn't comment on the amount of yarn I have. Or perhaps he was in shock.

So, it's time to enjoy dinner and dessert. There is no way I'm going for more than the 12 hours between midnight and surgery without dessert. Ice cream with toppings for the win! The husband is on tap to email or Facebook friends post-surgery should I not feel like doing it. See everyone on the flip side!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Unexpected Expectations

The title of this post has been bouncing around in my head for some time now, perhaps because a lot has happened recently that I did not expect. I'm trying to think if there's any one thing on that list that I would accept as something positive on the surface, but I'm not having much luck. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I did not expect to be looking at more shoulder surgery, but it's scheduled for April 18, for the left shoulder this time. I didn't wait as long to go to Sports Medicine as I did with the right shoulder, and they did the MRI up front rather than trying physical therapy or cortisone first. And you'd think I might be in Canada; when I called to set up a consult with the same surgeon who did my right shoulder in 2014, it was five weeks before I could get in to see him. I had been wondering how the "80 percent tear" on the right side compared with the "near full-thickness tear" on the left. The doctor said the two tears were remarkably alike. He said he had to let me know that cortisone, physical therapy, and rest were alternatives to surgery, I replied that while it did feel better since I stopped doing shoulder training after I got the MRI results, I also didn't want to rest it forever. I already have physical therapy set up with the therapist I saw last time, and I know what to expect. At least this time I will be able to sleep in the recliner should I want to do so. The handle to make it go back and forth is on the right side, and I couldn't use it with the right arm being the one in a sling.

I did expect to have run the Charlottesville Ten Miler by now. It's something I've always though I should try, and my 60th year seemed a good time to do that. While I was running on the day before the MRI, it occurred to me that if there was a tear in the shoulder, I would be told to stop running.  So I ran ten miles that day. As someone told me, I ran the Jean Ten Miler. I did pick up the t-shirt, though, just as I will for the 8k race I was supposed to run this coming weekend with a former kendo buddy who started running and lost a bunch of weight. I said I'd run with her, at her pace, and cheer her on for the five miles. Fortunately, she's found some other people with whom to run.

While I knew that it was only a matter of time until older son moved into the house he bought, I did not expect to be turning to say something to him and he's not there. Lots ore readjusting going on for the husband and me, not to mention for the family dog. I suggested older son that he could send me motivating seriously or not things via email, and he has been doing that. He comes home on weekends to have some time with the dog, but it's not the same as it was. It was time for him to make the move out into the world; I just didn't expect to be missing him so much. Except for the shoulder, I would be seeing him at workout every weekday morning, but I stopped going to those even before I went to sports med for the first time.

When the title was knocking around in my head, I thought there would be so many things to be profound about. The difference between theory and practice can be a wide one, and this is as much as I feel like writing right now. I guess I didn't expect that either.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hello, Blogger, My Old Friend ...

I've come to talk to you again. I'm failing abjectly at my various resolutions to blog more or at least on a more regular basis. It wasn't the fall I thought it would be, and the winter is shaping up about the same. Extra projects at work (though one is so much fun that I have to make sure I get other projects underway or done before I start this one), projects taking much, much longer than they usually do, and so on. One of the prices I pay for being able to work part-time, flexible hours, from home is that I pretty much do as I'm told. Anyway...

Back in August, I saw a Travelzoo blurb about a bargain winter three-night trip to Iceland. Iceland. Been there, loved that. The husband was up for it, so I booked us for January 11-14, before the husband has to start teaching. Our flights left from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is a three-hour drive with no stoppages around the Washington, D.C. beltway. We booked a hotel for the night before we flew out and for the night we got back. This let us leave the car somewhere for free and reduced the stress of driving up too quickly or driving back too tired. It was a good call.

I said the trip was a bargain. At least I would call $649 per person for round-trip air fare and three nights in a hotel in downtown Reykjavik a bargain. Why was it that cheap? A big reason is that the air part was not on Icelandair but on WOW, one of the new, cut-rate carriers on which you pay for almost everything separately. For example, the base fare allows you to carry on one (1) bag that weighs less that 5 kilos (11 pounds). If you want a heavier carry-on, but still only one, you pay more. To check a bag, you pay. You pay for a seat assignment, too, and for any food or drink items. The trip price included one checked bag weighing no more than 20 kilos (44 pounds) for each of us. Until we learned that, we were actually planning on going with one heavier carry-on each. Instead, we ended up each checking one bag, the two of which together weighed less than the 20 kilos each. We kept our carry-ons less than 5 kilos and willingly paid the $30 ($15 for each of us) each way to be able to sit together.

I must admit that there were people who looked at us askance when they heard we were flying WOW. Some even told us various reasons why we shouldn't. To all those folks, WOW was wonderful, and we'd fly it again in a minute. For one, while they don't enforce size limits on your carry-on, they do enforce the weight and number. After your checked luggage, if any, is weighed at check-in, the clerk weighs your carry-on. Ones that meet their appropriate weight limit are marked with a tag. Our first smile with WOW was noticing that this tag read "You shall pass." Let's hear it for channeling Monty Python. If you present your boarding pass to get on the plane and have two bags, you are turned away and told to consolidate everything into one bag. If you can't, you have to check one of them. No carry-on with a personal item on WOW. One carry-on, one only.

As you might imagine, everyone's having only one carry-on makes boarding so much smoother. More people put carry-ons underneath the seat in front of them. Passengers aren't shuffling back and forth around their seats looking for places to put their bags. They're more likely to be laughing at what is on the drape at the top of each seat, "Hi. I am your seat" or "Be my guest." If you happen to be looking in the seat-back pocket for the safety card, you might even like the air-sickness bag printed with a "Vomit-Meter." Once in the air, the flight attendants take a cart down the aisle giving passengers the chance to purchase food and/or beverages. Until garbage collection at the end of the flight, there are no more cart runs. This makes it much easier to relax and possibly get some sleep.

With so much going for it, something had to go wrong on the flight over, right? The plane was almost at capacity, meaning that there were no two seats together to which I could request for us to move to when the woman sitting to my right, in the window seat, spent most of the flight, coughing and vomiting in her sleep--I kid you not--into a large plastic shopping bag she had with her. Needless to say, I got very little sleep on that flight and was quite happy to land.

Keflavik Airport is about 45 minutes outside Reykjavik; one catches the Fly-Bus to get into the city. There really wasn't much to see on the ride it given the hour of 8:45 a.m. local time. I did a few quick photos of nothing just to capture how dark it was, Here's one of those.
Something of a non sequitur in terms of my photos. I thought long and hard about carrying my Canon DSLR with a long, zoom lens, which I used in Vietnam and on our 2010 trip here. It's big and heavy, and I worry about hitting it on something. I then thought long and hard about taking the smaller Canon with the most amazing zoom lens, which I used in Australia. Then I thought just how many times have I looked at the photos taken on those trips or how many times I'd used them for anything other than Facebook or one of my blogs. I decided to take a pocket-size Pentax point-and-shoot and not take as many photos. I didn't want to feel as though I didn't experience something because I was too busy trying to photograph it. The husband also took a pocket point-and-shoot, a Nikon.

 On our first trip to Iceland (in 2010), we didn't see snow in Reykjavik until halfway through our time there. This time, we landed in the snow and watched it snow for the first full day we were there. I was glad I'd worn my water-resistant hiking boots rather than the running shoes I often wear.
When you arrive at a hotel at 9:00 or 9:30 a.m., you can't expect your room to be ready. The very nice desk clerk instructed us to go to the breakfast buffet before it ended at 10:00. It wasn't included with what we'd paid for, so I figured the charge would be on the bill at check-out. But no, there may be not such thing as a free lunch, but we got a free breakfast.

We actually were able to get into a room right after breakfast. We stashed our bags and decided to go to a place we had not visited on our last trip, Hallgrimskirkja. This is sometimes referred to as a cathedral, but it is in fact a Lutheran church.
(photo by the husband)
You can see some unsnowy photos, including one taken from the front, here. This site also includes information about what can only be described as an unbelievable pipe organ.
This, coupled with the basic huge interior is likely why people refer to it as a cathedral. It has much in common with the cathedrals I've toured elsewhere in Europe.
(photo by the husband)

For a small price, you can go to the top of the amazing spire. It's an elevator for most of the way followed by some steps to the highest level. The view would be more colorful but no less dramatic on a sunny or at least non-snowing day.
At the very bottom center is a statue of Leif Erikkson that was there before the church was built. It was a gift from the United States in 1930, honoring the 1000th anniversary of the first meeting of Iceland's parliament.  

When the husband and I visit a city, we like to walk and use mass transit or a cab only when absolutely necessary. Despite the snow and cold, it was not necessary here. We spent a good bit of the rest of the afternoon walking, stopping for a lunch of carrot-coconut soup and fresh bread. I am going to have to look for a recipe, because that soup was quite tasty.

There were a few things I could not keep from photographing.

I've always wondered if famous people or fictional characters from the U.S. know that they are often used as marketing tools abroad. Supposedly, the Lebowski Bar has a bowling lane in it.

What I don't know is if any of the movie cast or crew has ever been there on a promotional or personal visit.

And if The Big Lebowski rates its own establishment, can Chuck Norris be left out?

And if Chuck Norris were to walk in, would the theme music from Walker, Texas Ranger play in the background?

Included in the cost of the trip was a bus tour outside the city in search of the Northern Lights. That tour was supposed to be on our first night there, but was cancelled due to the heavy cloud cover. We rebooked for the next night, in hope that the forecasts of clear skies and high auroral activity were both correct. To get ready, we spent that next day, what else, walking around Reykjavik, We left the hotel just before 11:00 a.m.
Our plan was to walk to the National Maritime Museum. Along the way, we encountered a lesson in satellite telecommunications. If you go far enough north, the dishes actually must point down in order to receive the signal.
We also encountered some graffiti I did not expect to see there.
The Maritime Museum was quite good. We arrived there just in time to take the extra tour of the Icelandic Coast Guard vessel the Odinn (the d should be curved with a line through it, but I have no idea how to get that to print here.) The Odinn was active in all three of the Cod Wars between Iceland and Britain. While I took some photos on the tour, they are mostly of engines and engine parts that I know nothing about. I do, though, know that if you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball. I just don't know if I could actually throw this wrench.
There was a special exhibit of Icelandic seawomen that I found very interesting. I especially liked the two poems that were printed at the start. 

The second one, especially, appeals to me, especially the line about laughing in the face of all danger. If I were to say that often enough, might I be able really to do it?

We got on the bus for the Northern Lights Tour between 8:30 and 9:00, The sky was clear, and the guide said the aurora forecast was still good. The plan was to go to Pingvellir, about 50 minutes out of Reykjavik. Anglicized as Thingvellir, this was the place the first Icelandic parliament met in 930. As we traveled, the guide explained a bit about the Northern Lights and why they happen. The physicist husband said she only got one detail wrong, and she got at least one right that he did not think would be mentioned. When we arrived at Pingvellir, there was another bus there. We got off the bus carefully as the ground was quite icy. Several people had brought tripods and a large array of photographic equipment. Having photographed the aurora in 2010, I this time wanted to just watch it.

Besides the icy ground, there was a brisk breeze making the wind chill quite noticeable. There was an aurora visible, stretching from one horizon to the other and passing directly overhead. It was not an obvious one; you really needed to know what to look for, After spending quite a long time, more than an hour, looking up, most of us got back on the bus to try to warm up. After 15 or 20 minutes, someone stuck their head in the door and said we might want to all come back out. It was readily apparent why we should. What had been a very faint band resembling thin clouds as much as anything was now a bright yellowish-green band with sides that pulsed in and out and with swirls of green to the outside like the bottom of the letter j. The green band resembled a broad brush stroke on which someone had taken a fine-tipped red pen and highlighted small areas along the two sides and again where the stroke hit the horizons.

If I knew what to list, I would give the link to the photo album on the Facebook page of Reykjavik Excursions, the group who ran the tour. Instead, I will put up one photo that I "borrowed" from their Facebook album. It's pretty representative of what we saw as midnight approached.
(photo from Reykjavik Excursions Facebook album)
This was the most active aurora we've seen on our various aurora-hunting trips. I know that I saw the Northern Lights as a child growing up in Montana, but I don't really recall how they looked then. The Canadian husband has seen many more auroras than I have, and he said this was right up there with the best. It was definitely worth the cost of the trip. If we had done nothing else on the trip, this alone would have been worth the journey.

It was also worth staying up until almost 2:00 a.m. after getting back to the hotel, emailing a couple of people, and generally winding down from the rush. We started a bit slowly the next day. The plan was to look for a knitting pattern for an Icelandic hat, followed by the National Museum and the Phallological Museum. Yes, that last one is basically the Penis Museum. I did find two pattern books to buy; these turned out to be the most expensive things we bought. I did not look for a pattern for this sweater
since I know that Biscuit would refuse to wear it or, if she were to wear it, she would not move until the sweater had been removed.

The National Museum was the furthest away from the hotel of all the places we visited. We didn't mind since walking was all the exercise we were getting. The day was quite sunny, offering the chance to show where the sun is at noon in mid-January.
The museum offered an almost-overwhelming look at the history of Iceland from 800 to the present. The exhibits were excellent, though, and well worth the long walk. By the time we were walking back, it was around 4:00 in the afternoon, offering another look at the sun's angle, this time from behind us.
(photo by the husband)
We did visit the Phallological Museum, more to be able to say we did than anything else. I will spare readers of this blog post the photographs I posted to my Facebook page. One of my Facebook friends guessed that the museum must have been started by a male. She was correct. I would recommend a visit only if, as with us, you want to be able to say you went there.

And so ended our quickie, two full days and three nights visit to Iceland. We saw interesting things, ate some good food, and drank some good beer. The flight home was even better than the flight over given that the person sitting next to me spent the time watching Battlestar Galactic on his laptop rather than vomiting into a shopping bag. We were glad to have made plans to spend the night at a hotel near BWI and drive home the next morning after rush hour.  I'd do it all again in a heartbeat if the timing were right.