Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wednesday: The Big Switch

Deb worked from home on Wednesday and we sat together at the kitchen table and worked on our laptops in companionable semi-silence.

I was trying to load my pictures onto her Shutterfly account and punctuated failed attempts with curses.

Chris was flying in at 8 pm and I was planning to join him at his hotel. The logistics were tough without a car and complicated by the fact that my suitcase qualified
for its own zipcode.
Debbie was kind enough to take me to the hotel in Arlington at great inconvenience to herself.

Mike picked Chris up at the airport and they had tapas for dinner at Jaleo.

I usually get homesick about this time but seeing Chris helped a lot.

On Thursday, I took the hotel shuttle to the Metro and headed into Georgetown on a
mission to take lots of pictures of old buildings.
Another long day of walking and walking. I was looking for interesting textures and was repeatedly attracted to the embellishments on the facades of old buildings.

I headed for the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, yet another site I have never visited. Along the way, I stopped at tiny Renwick Gallery, across the street from the White House and the home of a great arts and crafts collection. Renwick Gallery

How can you resist a crochet covered tricycle? The walls of the Grand Hall upstairs are covered with paintings.

I meandered to the National Museum of Women in Art. It is not a Smithsonian and costs $10. Anywhere else, I wouldn't have blinked but DC has me jaded.  I guess I'm not the only one: aguy was complaining about paying $10 to see just one Frida Kahlo.


My Childhood Lunch Box is in the Smithsonian

This is it. Amazing memories. The game on the back was the closest I ever got to owning Mystery Date.

I haven't been to the Museum of American History since I was in high school and I have to say it was disappointing.

I remember it feeling like an attic full of treasures. Now its treasures are well lit, beautifully organized and displayed. But they seem so few. A much smaller percentage of its holdings are on display and I miss the jumble of it.

About half the museum's exhibits were related to machinery and inventions which I think of as belonging to a museum of science and industry and which I find boring.

Here is Julia Child's kitchen so you can pretend you are Amy Adams.

There is Charley McCarthy and Jim Henson's first TV puppets.

Over there is Archie Bunker's chair, Michael Jackson's hat and the ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz and a Dumbo from the Disneyland ride.

But somehow the mystery and enchantment are gone.

I didn't stay long. As long as I was there, I went next door to Natural History.

I would rather see live animals in a zoo than taxidermied ones in a diorama. Bones are interesting, though. They make beautiful patterns.

I am not as enamored with dinosaur skeletons as most boys (even men) are but check out those teeth!

There was an interesting exhibit on race and a fascinating look at forensic anthropology called Written in the Bone that examines 17th-century bone "biographies" of colonists at Jamestown, Virginia, and in wealthy St. Mary’s City, Maryland. Amazing stories that made me feel just like Temperence Brennan.

 By this time I was tired. My feet hurt.

One of the best things about the DC museums is free lockers. I wore my winter coat, a sweater and a scarf but it was toasty inside. And the weather was gorgeous at lunchtime. 

Though by the time I ended up at the Sculpture Garden, it was cool and cloudy. Isn't this metal tree amazing?

I went to the National Gallery of Art, still free but not part of the Smithsonian. I was amazed at the collection: Rembrant, daVinci, Renoir, VerMeer. Every time I entered a new gallery, I'd be amazed. I was too tired to really appreciate it all though.

I took the Metro to Eastern Market (a terrifying challenge for me, even though it's so much like BART) and met Mike. We bought supplies at the market and then went to his apartment for dinner. His narrow stairs were daunting after about 10 hours on my feet.

My job was to peel the acorn squash. They have a deep grooves that the peeler couldn't reach. I finally sliced it and then peeled it. How I was supposed to do it? There must be a better way.

Mike made his own chicken broth for quinoa and roasted squash stuffing with turkey sausage, with a raw kale salad with lemon vinagerette. Delicious! I am so proud of his culinary abilities and feel inspired to try my hand again. We had a lovely time chatting with Mike's wonderful roommate Matt and and his girlfriend Liz. They walked me to Union Station and Deb picked me up in Bethesda. By then I was tired enough to crawl.

Tuesday in the District

Deb's wonderful neighbor, Anna, gave me a ride into DC on Tuesday morning. I meandered down to the mall.

I had the Mall to myself that early, not even joggers were on the path. It was peaceful and quiet and the leaves were changing colors thanks to the earlier cold snap.

The squirrels were busily gathering nuts and wondered if I was hiding anything.

As I was walking through the Constitution Gardens, a flock of Canadian geese came in, scaring away the ducks. Another sign of fall. 
I was alone at the Lincoln Memorial (except for a couple of park rangers who seemed determined to wreck my photos. Suddenly large buses disgorged a multitude of teenagers paying more attention to their cell phones than their surroundings. Time to move on.

A group of veterans was being honored at the WWII memorial but I was more intrigued by the spiderweb decorating one of the eagles.

There is a lot of construction on the Mall as they renovate the Reflecting Pool and repair the lawns. I am used to seeing the Mall full of tents and people as it is during summer months.

Sunday and Monday

After a delicious breakfast of Eggs a la Bill, I drove the kids back into town. I hurried back for Olivia's Halloween piano recital.

All the kids were in costume. It was adorable - and terrifying! 27 kids bumbling through interminable medleys?

In truth, it wasn't bad at all. Each piece was about two minutes long. And some of the older kids were really good. Olivia was first and performed faultlessly. She didn't look nervous but she says she was.



Monday was Halloween and Olivia had no school (teacher work day). So we went to see Puss In Boots (NOT 3D). Olivia dressed all in light orange, wore her boots and her mom's hat with a feather so she looked like Puss. I taught her how to remove her hat with a flourish and bow. Adorable!

The movie was very cute but Deb thought the story got in the way of the entertainment and Olivia actually fell asleep. She said she couldn't sleep the night before so it can't be all blamed on the script. We changed seats right before the show started and apparently Olivia left her hat behind. As we were leaving the theater, she remembered and thus began a half hour of searching the theater, running up and down to different lost and found spots. Finally, as we had given up all hope, an employee ran after us, waving the hat. Whew!

But the drama took its toll on an already tired Olivia. Even though she had begged for Thai shrimp before the movie, once it was ordered she just wanted to go home. She rallied enough to want to go to the book store but crumbled once we got there. Home, please!

All did not bode well for a late night of trick or treating followed by an early morning return to school after a long weekend.  But after an hour or two of "chillaxing" in front of the TV, she led the neighborhood kids in a race to every house. After she got her loot, she'd yell, "Thanks! Next house!" The highlight was a full-sized Hershey Bar. Her Slytherin pillowcase was bulging by the end of the night.

Long Time Gone

I arrived in DC about 4 in the afternoon on Oct. 28. Bill and Olivia met me in his chick magnet pickup truck. I was dragging a huge suitcase since I was going to be away from home for ten long days, my longest time away from home in many years. Also Chris's first time home alone in the lifetimes of our cats. Would they survive? Would he?

Next Iron Chef: Olivia
When we arrived at Hotel Kuran, Deb put us to work right away making cake pops. You mix baked cake with canned icing to make balls that you freeze. Then you poke a stick in and decorate with melted icing that tastes like paraffin. Fun, if not the most delicious treat.

Next day, all hands on deck to decorate the house and cook for the imminent party. I made brownies and immediately washed the bowl so as not to be tempted (to the chagrin of  the non-allergic around me). Deb made poached salmon and baked brie. She really goes all out for this party: orange and purple lights, bats, ravens, skeletons, spiders everywhere. Even scary guest towels in the bathrooms.

I had to ship my Elizabethan costume with its many petticoats and massive hooped skirt ahead of time since I didn't want to pay Virgin Airlines $25 for an additional suitcase.

I borrowed Debbie's car to drive through the untimely sleet and snow to pick up Mike and Liz. Thank god for GPS. We also picked up some gluten-free vodka so Mike could make me cocktails.

Olivia was not really happy to see Mike in his card sharp duds. She was overjoyed, thrilled, ecstatic. She is his biggest fan, more than even Robin's mom.

Olivia was a natural Draco Malfoy with her white blond hair. But she was Draco from the later books where we learn that he's not all bad. Deb was a swashbuckling pirate. 

Despite the fact that I hate parties (especially ones where I don't know everyone), I had a great time. I enjoyed chatting with Mike and telling Liz (who was a pirate for the evening) all the good stories about Mike growing up.

Mike supplied me with drinks. The third one was straight vodka. He wanted to see if I could tell. I could and he drank it.  
I was not the drunkest person at the party, though. In fact, except for Bill and Liz, I may have be the soberest over 21.

The kids were confined to the basement because of the horrendous weather. Mike and Liz ventured down a few times, against the advice of the parents, and reported that it was like a scene from Lord of the Flies.
The parents stayed far away from their kids and drank wine and chatted and relaxed, pretending for a short time that they were still childless.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Words, Wine and Wit

Last night was a late one. It was the annual fundraiser for Legal Services for Children, Words, Wine and Wit, featuring Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.

First one of the agency's clients spoke about his experience as an undocumented minor and how the agency helped him to stay with his sister and brother-in-law. Inspirational.

Dave Barry told a great story about the joys of embarrassing your middle-school children, including the opportunity of driving the weiner mobile. Life-long mental trauma: totally worth it.

Dave and Ridley met as members of the band, Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of authors who play for literacy charities.  Other band members include Stephen King, Amy Tan, Maya Angelou, Cynthia Heimel, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Sam Barry,  Scott Turow, Joel Selvin, James McBride, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Fulghum, Matt Groening, Tad Bartimus, Greg Iles. Apparently, Ridley is the only member who could play an instrument and actually practiced before gigs.

 Amy Tan (with her husband Lou and her Yorkie Bombo) was there to support her homies.

Robin saved the day when I lost my camera memory card and she loaned me hers. Chris came straight from the airport.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Eye, Eye, Eye!

After getting the bad news about my eyesight, I was very depressed. But after a couple of weekly visits, the doctor said it looked like the histoplasmosis was going dormant again. The active spot was turning into a scar and, although I would never regain my lost sight, I wasn't losing any more. So then I got to visit every other week, then once a month, then in six weeks.
amsler grid
But I never made it to six weeks because I noticed that the blurry spot had grown significantly in the fifth week. 
I have an Amsler Grid on my bathroom mirror. Every day, I close one eye and focus on the dot in the center. If the lines appear straight and parallel, all is well. In my left eye, there had been a blank spot in the bottom right. Suddenly, the blob swallowed the center dot. I noticed it was getting worse on Wednesday. Someone was asking me to sign a form and I literally couldn't see the spot she was indicating.
I made an emergency appointment for Friday. When the doctor's assistant tested my vision, I could barely make out the biggest E on the chart. I started to cry.
It was even worse than the first time because I had been feeling like I dodged a bullet and now I was back to feeling hopeless. They dilated my eyes and took a mess o' pictures again.  Dr. Ranchod decided to do another retinal angiography.
I had gotten blood drawn that morning and the tech had problems getting a vein so both my arms were bruised and red and irritated from the tape she put on despite my protestations. Then Dr. Ranchod tried to start an IV for the dye and couldn't catch a vein in either arm or my right hand. Yow! I have to sit really still with my chin in the strap so when they finally get the dye in, they can take a picture. All the while, he's digging around with a needle trying to pierce a vein. Fun.
The angiograph showed that the histo hadn't reactivated again. Instead, new abnormal blood vessels had formed in the choroid, a layer of blood vessels that provide oxygen and nutrients to the eye. It looked like a giant volcano in back of my eye. This is called choroidal neovascularization and Dr. Ranchod recommended treating it with a series of shots of Avastin which seals off the blood vessels and reduces the swelling. Oh, did I mention that the shots would be administered IN THE EYE????
And he didn't want to wait. He was ready to shoot me immediately. First the nurse put ananesthetic drops in my eye. Then she pulled my lower lid away and stuffed the pocket below my eye with anaesthetic-soaked cotton. Then she put a layer of ananesthetic gel over my eye. Then the doctor put on an eye speculum (another reason to hate that word) to keep my eye open. I was so terrified, I thought I would pass out. He assured me that I wouldn't be able to see the needle coming at me and I didn't. But I felt it and jumped six inches. After some antibiotic drops, it was all over. I told Debbie about the Avastin shot because she is my medical expert. She said that the FDA was trying to pull Avastin's approval but I assured her that it was an off-label use anyway.
My eye was watering and I wasn't supposed to touch it. I was trying to keep it closed whille driving home. It felt like there was grit in my eye. I was shaking and trying not to cry because that would make it worse.
Then the car dinged and all the warning lights on the dashboard lit up: the triangle with an exclamation point, the car with a an exclamation point, the letters PS and a battery. "Danger, Will Robinson!"
I made it home. Chris looked at it and said it was the power steering (PS) and I had an appointment at the dealership already because of a power steering recall. So our wonderful mechanic, Kunio, recommended taking it to the dealer to find out what was wrong.
That same day I received notice in the mail that I didn't get into the Lafayette or Alameda or Montclair Craft Fairs.
It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I blame Ohio

Well, I've spent an interesting week visiting many doctors.

A couple of months ago, I noticed a blurry spot in my left eye, like this:
After spending a couple of weeks trying to clean my glasses or get rid of a nonexistent eyelash, I went to my optometrist and explained what I was experiencing.

About 20 years ago, when I first saw him, he told me that I had scar tissue on my retina called histo spots that were caused by a histoplasmosis infection during childhood.

Dark places are histo spots

Histoplasmosis is a caused by a fungus that thrives in river valleys and is carried by birds and bats (I knew there was a reason for my animosity). He has tracked my scars, which are around the edge of my retina) for 20 years and noted no change and no significant damage to vision. He did not find any change this time either.

Last week, since the spot was still there despite my best efforts to deny it (maybe it's a floater? maybe a reaction to light changes?), I saw my primary care physyician who referred me to an opthamologist. She thought it was probably a pinpoint tear in the retina since I still "saw" it when my eyes were closed.

I saw the opthamologist on Thursday and, after triple dilating my eyes, he immediately sent me to a retina specialist. Although he didn't tell me what he thought was going on, preferring to let the retina specialist diagnose me, I heard the nurses calling to make the referral for "choroidretinis." They had to spell it several times since neither was familiar with the term. My appointment was for 9:00 a.m. the following morning, just enough time to go freak out and search the internet.

isn't he cute?

The retina specialist, Dr. Tushar Ranchod, was gorgeous!  Young enough to be my son, unfortunately. He is very intelligent and on the cutting edge of diagnosis and treatment. He has a very gentle manner, concerned but not too serious, and a melodious voice, well-designed for delivering bad news.

Retinal angiography

They dilated me and put dye in my veins (did you know it only takes about 15 seconds for the dye to make it from your arm to your eye?)Then they took many pictures of my eye (bright light!) and my urine was flourescent yellow for the rest of the day (TMI?).

I got to see all the photos onscreen. My eye looked like a lightning storm on Mars. A little scary until the doctor told me that I was looking at my normal eye and the "lightning" was the optic nerve.

OCT scan of normal retina thickness

From the "side," the OCT view of the retina is so pretty and colorful. The doctor uses one as a screen saver.

The guilty lesion looks like a volcano ready to erupt.

OCT scan of histo lesion

So. . . the diagnosis is that the histoplasmosis seems to have reactivated after more than 30 years. The new lesion is not on the periphery like the others, but closer to the macula which is responsible for centralized, high-resolution vision.

I get to see Dr. Ranchod every week for a while as they track the disease's progress. It may just stop on its own like it did before and I won't lose any more eyesight.

If it continues to grow, there is no effective treatment or cure. Steroids can reduce the inflammation but encourage the proliferation of the underlying fungus. Laser and other options kill the bad cells and those around them, resulting in a greater (but hopefully limited) loss of vision. If it continues to grow and threaten my macula, Dr. Ranchod may try some experiemental treatments to preserve some vision.

The good news (and I could use some) is that it is only in my left eye. Unfortunately, that's my stronger eye that I use predominantly. But I am not going to miss depth perception since I never had any. The histo is in my blood and it is always possible for it to reactivate in my right eye as well. In that case, I'll be looking for a new career. Any ideas?

Friday, April 29, 2011

How Attending a Paul Simon Concert Made Me Feel Old

Yeah, I got into a fight with the twenty-somethings in front of us at the Paul Simon concert and realized I am too old for this shit. I asked them to PLEASE be quiet and got mooned (by an unattractive, pasty white female butt, more's the pity).

This is how I know I'm old:
  1. I went to a Paul Simon concert. The guy is old. His first hit album was in 1965 and I remember it, therefore I am old. He didn't wear his trademark baseball cap. Fortunately though, our seats were so far away, the blinding reflection from his balding pate did not affect us. We were so far away that he was the size of my pinky. Or is that his actual height?

  2. The aroma of pot wafting through the theater was nauseating me. It's been a long time since I have been subjected to anyone smoking anything inside a building. I noticed that Chris seemed to be taking very deep breaths though.
  3. My cell phone was turned OFF during the concert and I didn't use it to talk, send or receive texts, take pictures or videotape. I guess young people are used to the distraction of a glowing screen nearby. Not me.

  4. I actually listened to the concert and didn't carry on a conversation with my companions. I figured I paid a lot to see and hear Paul Simon and I wanted to get my money's worth. I assume people around me feel the same way. Apparently some youngsters just think of a concert as background noise for their social interactions. Maybe they have a money tree at home.
  5. I didn't drink during the concert and was appalled that they allowed alcohol in the theater itself. The Fox Theater in Oakland was recently renovated and is gorgeous (for now- it won't be for long with drunks in the seats). Plus the brats in front of us kept getting up to get more booze. They probably spent as much time going back and forth as they did in their seats.
    Since I am old, I am used to people sipping champagne in the lobby during the intermission, not guzzling vodka from plastic cups in the audience. Van Morrison doesn't allow alcohol sales during his concerts. He's a cranky and old like me.
  6. My bladder couldn't last through a 2 hour concert. It's sad. I'm old. But at least I waited until the end of a song to leave and return.
The concert itself was great. He alternated new songs with old favorites. The band was impressive because they all doubled up or tripled up on other instruments, i.e. the bass played blew the sax and the drummer played a mean washboard. His voice has never been great and age is not improving it. (He needs Artie although Artie's voice is probably shot, too.) His great talent is songwriting and his new album seems to have some gems. I'll be listening to recordings a lot since I am too old for live shows now.