Saturday, April 25, 2015

What NOT to Wear When Hiking

When we went to Santa Fe, one of the things we wanted to do was go on a hike.  We usually go to Tent Rocks, but we wanted to try someplace new, so we asked my friend Catherine for some advice.

Catherine and I at her library at Santa Fe Prep.
Now, you might notice that Catherine is very fit and athletic.  When I asked Catherine for some advice on trails, I figured she would look at me and take notice of my general shape and remember my eating habits (we did just eat lunch and I did just have a milk shake and split fries with her). But no, she looked at Fred and saw his slender hiking frame and super hiker fitness level and remembered that he had ordered the super skinny yogurt man meal or whatever something that isn't fried and isn't greasy and is good for you is called these days.

"Why don't you try the Chamisa trail? It is a nice hike and has some elevations and some great views," she said.  Did you notice how she snuck those elevations in there? I didn't.  I really didn't.

"Sounds lovely," I said.  I was thinking about my green chile cheeseburger and how good the fries were and if Fred would want to go back and get some more.  Probably not.

Fred on the Chamisa Trail.
So, the next day, we got ready for a nice hike.  I put together my outfit and Fred put on his hiking clothes.

After about 10 minutes in the car, I asked, "How far up do you think this trail is?"

We had been driving up a road to the ski trail and the road just kept going up and up and up.  We hadn't seen our trail yet.

"Keep going," Fred said.  We kept going.

At 7800 ft, we found the sign for Chamisa Trail.  Remember, we live at sea level.  We don't have mountains we were are.  Fifty feet above sea level is considered a big deal. Really. Don't laugh. I live on a mountain.  It's 50 ft above sea level.  I get winded walking up to it.

"Ah.  7800 feet. This will be interesting."

I pull over and we get out of the car.  There are several cars parked on both sides of the road indicating what a popular trail this is.

Chamisa Trail, a ravine on the left and mountain on the right.  Trees all around.
We begin to walk up the trail. And I do mean walk UP the trail.  It is all uphill.  I'm wheezing and panting and sounding like a wounded bear and we haven't even rounded the first bend.  As we turn the corner, we see this young family approaching.  The dad is carrying his two daughters, one is in his arms and the other is on his back.  As they get closer, it appears that these girls are IN MIDDLE SCHOOL.

What is wrong with this trail that even young children can't handle it?!!

I look at the dad and say, "Tough hike."

"Don't I know it."  He plods forward.  His wife comes after with a baby in a baby sack in front of her.  She is smiling.  How far did you walk, I want to ask, but they are past us and it is too late.

I turn to Fred.  "We don't have water!"


"The water is in the car."

"I'll go get it," he says and jogs easily back to the car.  I spend my time trying to breathe normally and not think about what lies ahead.
Fred looking very handsome on the Chamisa Trail.
 Fred returns with nary a huff or a puff and hands me a large bottle of water, which I put into my hiking purse, which also carries my long lens, and my sweater and a few other things I might need. I'm beginning to think perhaps I haven't gotten the outfit right for this outing.  For one thing, I don't even have real tennis shoes on.  I have skechers on.  Who wears skechers to a hike?  What was I thinking?  Where were my tennis shoes?  And why does Fred always look like he belongs on a ranch? And I always look like that sidekick character who falls off the horse or down the ravine.

My hiking purse.  It's lovely isn't it? A big burlap bag
with an Indian design.  It is about 2.5 ft by 2.5 ft big.
We start hiking in earnest.  It is a lovely day and there is a nice breeze.  The trail is only about 3 feet wide, but that's ok.  I can handle that.  I'm looking for views and ask Fred if he sees any as he is out in front.

View of the narrow trail.

View of Fred way out front.
Just when we are getting going, along comes this group of really old lady hikers.  And they are hiking really fast.  Like, get out of my way fast.  And they all have matching hiking outfits.  AND they all have hiking sticks!

Sticks!  We need sticks for this trail?!

Seriously, is there a dress code for this hike? These old ladies are wearing hiker couture: REI, Columbia.  Not to mention, they are walking really FAST.  Also, they didn't pant or wheeze or gasp.  Nor did they grab onto a tree and yell out, "Hey, slow down, I'm dying here!"  I don't know anyone who did that....

Old lady hikers with sticks.
I snapped a secret photo.


He turned and looked at me.

"I want a stick!" I pointed at the old ladies who were disappearing around the bend at a fast clip.  "We need to find me a stick."

Fred shook his head and continued to walk.  I looked for a stick.

The Ravine is great.
 I just couldn't find a good stick.  So, I sat down. I needed to reevaluate this hike.  This hike, where we were going. Whether I wanted to continue.  I was not enamored with Chamisa.

It was at that moment when a running woman appeared.  She quickly approaching Fred.  I had my bottle of water out and was watching her well dressed self.  She slowed a little as she caught sight of me.  As she came near, she said,

"My, what a lovely purse you have."

My eyes narrowed.  "Thank you."  I tracked her as she ran past and around the corner.  Then I turned to Fred.

"Did you hear that?"

Fred wrinkled his brow.  "What?  She said it was lovely."

"That was hiker speak for 'what kind of moron are you?'" I started gesticulating wildly in the direction she had disappeared. "She meant, "Did you think there was a TJ Maxx out here in the mountains? Were you planning on going shopping out here?"

"I don't think so."

 I gazed back in her direction.  I whispered, "I do."

"Fred, I think it is time for us to go back," I said.  "My purse just got really heavy."
Me with my totally wrong hiking outfit.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Photography Tour of Taos with Steven Bundy

On our vacations I usually try to find something unusual to do.  Last year I did bike tours of Paris, the year before it was horseback riding in Madras, NM.  So, this year, I thought since I have been trying to up my game in photography, that we would try to do something related to that.  So, I booked us a day with a photographer: Steven Bundy (Website, ).  I did the usual research and was very pleased with the reviews I found on  tripadvisor and with the awards that he has won and the museums that have purchased his work.

But mostly, it seemed like he knew what he was doing AND he would be a fun guy to spend some time with.  So, we chose the high road to Taos tour.

It was a delightful day!

So, what can you expect from a day with Steven?

Photo by Fred McLean. Cheryl on rock with camera.
Steven is watching from a distance behind.
Let me start first by telling you about us.  I am an experienced beginner.  I have a Canon Rebel T3 with several nice lenses that I have been using for several years.  However, I rarely get off the several different programming buttons.  My goal for the day was to learn how to do that and develop the confidence to do that.

My husband shoots photos with his phone exclusively.  I had borrowed a Canon for him to use on this trip. He just wanted to learn how to use a nice digital camera and decide if that was something he wanted to do.

My worry was he wouldn't like the day at all and we were scheduled to be gone from 9 am until 7:30 pm. Oh, and all of these photos are taken by Cheryl McLean, unless otherwise stated.
Photo 1.  Wood Cross with a wood fence trailing off into distance.
 We met at Steven's house and we got into his very clean and very nice and comfortable extended cab truck.  There were back roads were going to be traversing and having an SUV or truck was going to be necessary.  But his vehicle was super comfortable.  Our first stop was in the city and that was where got our first lesson on aperture priority and how to use this setting of our camera.  
Photo 2.  Wood Cross with a wood fence trailing off into distance, narrow version.
 I also learned about white balance.  My friend Gabriele had tried to teach me all of this as well, but I had never had the confidence to go it alone on this setting.  Today I had 8 hours to shoot this way. I was determined to try.
Photo 3.  Old adobe building with wood cross and snow capped peak in distance.
Crumbling adobe fence to the right.
Steven also told us to use the histogram setting for our photo display.  That lets you see if you are too over or under exposed.  For each photo I would try the white balance option of + or - and see what the difference made in the histogram.
Photo 4.  Old adobe building with blue door.
He also talked to us about placement, what to look for, and what made a good composition.
Photo 5.  Adobe church side view with shadows.
Sometimes he would set the shot up for us, like with the above photo of the church.

Photo 6.  Beautiful NM valley.
 Other times, he would let us decide what to take and then either make suggestions or corrections.

Photo 9. Crazy colorful road memorial.
 Now on some shots, like the above, I had a hard time finding the right angle.  This memorial had a lot going on. Fred's shot is probably better than mine.

Photo 10. Metal bridge.
The bridge and the bridge corner were interesting to shoot.  I don't think I am very good at architectural photos.  I think that is a specialty that takes a particular eye.

Photo 11. Bridge corner.
 Frankly, I wouldn't have even seen the corners as a likely shot if Steven hadn't pointed them out. They are pretty.
Photo 12. Dirt road.
 I really like roads and streams and churches.

Photo 13. Back of adobe church.
Sometimes the backs of churches are more interesting. Odd, isn't it.
Photo 14. Old wooden church with a wire fence.
All along the way, Steven had a cooler packed with snacks and cold water and sodas. Everything was thought of and taken care of.
Photo 15. Rusty roof with dormer.

Photo 16. Crazy house with two dormers.

Photo 17. Dormer with wide view of roof.

Photo 18. Las Trampa church using my 24-105 lens.
Now this is where you can see the difference a lens makes.  Here is my average lens (24-105 mm, which is my walking around lens).
Photo 19. Las Trampas church using the wide angle lens.
Much better view of stairs leading up to church.
 But to get a super nice shot, Steven suggested that I use the wide angle lens.

Photo by Steven Bundy: Fred and Cheryl at Las Trampas.
I still cut off the stairway a bit.  I need to look more carefully into the viewfinder and take several shots.
Photo 20. View of Truchas. Snow capped peaks in background.

Photo 21. Falling down shed.  Fred's favorite kind!

Photo 22. Truchas church.
This was a hard church to shoot.  It was in the middle of everything.
Photo 23.  Another view of the Truchas church.

Photo 24.  This is a puzzle photo.  There is something unusual hanging from the cross.
Photos 24, 25, and 26 get you closer and closer.  Photo of the exterior of a building with a white cross in the corner where a fence meets the edge of the building.  A wire birdcage hangs from the cross.

Photo 25.  This is a puzzle photo.  There is something unusual hanging from the cross.
Photos 24, 25, and 26 get you closer and closer.  Photo of the exterior of a building with a white cross in the corner where a fence meets the edge of the building.  A wire birdcage hangs from the cross.

Photo 26.  This is a puzzle photo.  It is a skull inside the birdcage.  So weird.
 I just like the fact that someone stuck a skull in a birdcage and hung it from a cross.  That is so weird.
Photo 27. Photo of Steve and Fred talking about their photos.

Photo 28.  Before my wide angle lens. The Chimayo Sanctuary.

Photo 29. Chimayo gates.

Photo 30 After the wide angle lens. Chimayo Sanctuary.

 Again, I should have looked more closely at my shot and gotten the doors fully, but I do like the shot.

Photo 31. Rushing water.

 We learned about how to catch the effect of rushing water, which was such a cool effect.  That was using our tripods with a long exposure.
Photo 32. The earthships.
 I love the sky on these next shots as the sun was getting ready to set.  These houses are called earthships because they are a special type of bioengineering houses.
Photo 33. The earthships, view of the front of one.

Photo 34. The earthships, view of the second strange one that is grey with sparkles.

Photo 35.  My one coyote photo.
 Our trip to find big horned sheep was a bust.  They were all hiding.  But we were successful in finding a coyote.  I didn't change my ISO setting up high enough to catch the swiftly moving coyote, but I did get one nice shot of him.
Photo 36. Night photography: so cool! The Taos church at night with statue in foreground.
 What I enjoyed the best, though, was our instruction on night photography and using the tripod with the St. Francis church.  It is one of the church's that Ansel Adams really loved.
Photo 37. Taos church side view with side lights.  Full dark.
 Using a long exposure to capture all the available light and varying the white balance created these amazing blue skies from skies that appeared to be night black to my eyes.

Photo 38. The back of the St. Francis church: this shot just stunned me by how cool it turned out to be.
Not that I am amazing, just that the shot turned out really interesting and unexpected.
If you want to see the photograph that Ansel Adams took of the St. Francis church, you have to use the link.  They are very finicky with his photos.  8-)

Here is what he said about the church
What impressed Adams about this structure?When he first saw the church, Adams was impressed by it's "magnificent form" and its "rigorous and simple design and structure." The photograph of this church was shot from the rear, which was the angle that Adams thought made it "one of the great architectural monuments of America." He wrote in Elements, "it is not really large, but it appears immense. The forms are fully functional; the massive rear buttress and the secondary buttress to the left are organically related to the basic masses of adobe, and all together seem an outcropping of the earth rather than merely an object constructed upon it." (Examples - The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams, pp 90-93)

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our day and think of Steven as a friend of ours.  He is a lovely person, very easy to talk to, to learn from and to be with.  Not only that, but we learned a lot that we can use for our next trip.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Wicked Witch of the West

Lapse of Judgement 

Why would anyone book a 6 am flight? Obviously, someone would be having a lapse in judgement. Perhaps they would be thinking, "I get up at 5:30, 6 am shouldn't be a problem." Not realizing that 6 am isn't the crux of the matter.  Six am is when you board the plane.  Six am is way down the road.  Six is when the flight actually LEAVES.

4:15 am is when we got up. 4:30 is when we left the house.  Now you should probably ask, when should we have actually woken up? 

3:30 am.  Yes, 3:30.

But we did not.

45 Minutes

So, when we got to the ticket counter we have two bags that need to be checked and there is this big sign that says:


OMG! It is 5:05, our flight leaves at 6:00.  We are in a huge line.  There is a school group in front of us and a school group swarming the self serve kiosks.  What should we do?  Fred didn't want to leave the line, so I went to try the kiosks.  It is now 5:11.

I logged in and entered our destination.

Blink, Blink.

Blink. Blink.

It looks to me like the kiosk is going to process our tickets, so I wave Fred out of the line. Error.  It can't find our reservation.  Do I have a flight number? Crap. 5:14. 

Then an attendant calls out, "Is anyone on the 6 am flight to Dallas?"  My hand shoots up like that obnoxious know it all student in class. I immediately abandon the kiosk and start to run to the attendant.  Fred yells out, "NO! Come back."

I'm torn.  Someone official has said to come over to them.  Yet, there is my husband who is saying that the kiosk is working and we should place our faith in it. My head just might explode.

I go back to the kiosk, but look longingly at the 20 people who are now in line and being helped.

I now have fear brain.  We have entered the 45 minute zone and my brain is not functioning clearly.  I'm not reading the questions fast enough and Fred is saying, "Press no. Press continue."

An attendant comes over and says, " I don't want you to get timed out." This statement makes me feel comforted and nervous both at the same time.  She hovers over the kiosk.

We finally get our bags checked, our tickets in hand and make it to security where Fred is whisked away to precheck and I am forced to stay behind in security hell with the commoners.  

Security Hell

I tell myself that it is ok.  I will still make the plane. 

The line is moving fairly fast and I am practicing smiling. There are two TSA agents taking boarding passes.  One of them is chatting everyone up and being friendly. "That's nice." I think.  "I would rather have a friendly guard than an unfriendly guard." But secretly I am timing him against the unsmiling agent to his right and watching the people whiz by him in his line as the chatty agent is asking a family about their trip and talking about Mickey Mouse.  Honestly! The boy is wearing a blue wizards hat. I could just scream. 

"It's Harry Potter! Don't you recognize a wizard hat when you see it?" But, I don't think that would get me through the line any faster, so when I get up to him, I just smile and greet him effusively.

Oddly, he doesn't want to chat with me.

At the line through screening a TSA agent tells a dad in front of me about being sure to push his luggage into the machine and onto the conveyor belt. 

I, of course, not wanting to be chastised for anything, take this bit of advice to heart and start pushing all of my stuff into the machine.  I'm waiting with my hand on my bag for the machine to start up so that I can give it a big push, when the passenger next to me says, 

"It doesn't do any good to push when the machine isn't moving."

Are you kidding me?  I narrowed my eyes and looked up at the TSA agent.  The agent looked at the guy next to me and gave him a "Dude, don't even" look. I thought, cool.  I'll let TSA handle that one.


We slept the whole flight, so when we got off the plane and had a layover and time for breakfast we were walking zombies. Au Bon Pain was the only place with food nearby, so we staggered up and like cave people we pointed and grunted our order.

Fred immediately disappeared into the crowd and I had a sudden need for napkins.  The lady behind the counter had given me a croissant and I really wanted some napkins and I just couldn't find them.  Mind you, I have on Fred's mom's blue down coat, which makes me look like the Micheline tire man.  I have a HUGE diaper/camera bag that must weight 50 pounds and a big ass purse.  Add to that, I am randomly turning to the left and to the right as I think I see a napkin out of the corner of my eye and I am bumping into people with each turn.

Think of me as a big blue pinball, hitting lots of random people in the Au Bon Pain bakery.




"Excuse me."


"My fault!"

I'm also looking for Fred and turning this way and that.  No Fred.  I'm calling out. "Fred?"




"Fred?" Dammit, where is he? Has he wandered off again? Can't he just stay in one place?


It was like a game of Marco Polo in Au Bon Pain.  Seriously.  I'm lucky there isn't a camera crew following me. 

Sandwich Alzheimer's

The lady calls out my sandwich and I go to get it.  I look in the bag and there are two sandwiches in there.  I give her back the bag. 

"This isn't mine." She tilts her head and looks at me with her eyebrows raised.  She nods affirmatively and points at the bag.  I walk away toward Fred.  She calls out order 74.  I ask Fred for our receipt and what our order was. He says 72 and hands me the receipt.  It says 74.  I suddenly realize that Fred had ordered a sandwich too. 

Sandwich Alzheimer's.  That was my bag.  I go back.  

"That's my sandwich." The lady is not smiling now and she rather aggressively shoves the bag at me.  I go back and sit down by Fred.

"That lady thinks I'm nuts." I tell him.

Just then a very chipper young mom with her smartly outfitted toddler join the line and order.  They are joined by their cute grandmother.  They all order like normal human beings, smiling and laughing and acting as if they are fully awake and loving life.  They probably have all their brain cells too.

Just you wait, I think, turning into the wicked witch of the west, a 6 am flight one day will get you and your little pretties too!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Gordon Ramsay's Beef Wellington: Fail

Well, I knew it was hard to do.  And I was lucky in the fact that it was just Fred and I who were eating it.  So, I didn't have an epic fail for dinner.  Just a regular fail.

Still, it was sad.  I had such high hopes.

I watched his video twice.

Gordon Ramsay's Video on Beef Wellington

The Groceries

First there was shopping for everything.  Did you notice that he mentions chestnuts.  Have you ever worked with chestnuts?  Well, fortunately, I have.  They are a pain in the a**.  And you don't just toss them into a bowl and crumble them up, Gordon.  They need processing.  AND, if you are in the US, where we don't eat chestnuts, you have to have a specialty store that will actually carry them.  Thank you Whole Foods.  

Chestnuts are covered in a thick, brown outer skin.  You can't just peel them.  You have to score an X on them and then roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Then when they POP, or look popped, you can take them out and peel them.  That is where the pain in the ... comes in.  

But Gordon says, it adds a nutty flavor and Damn It, I'm doing what Gordon says.  

While I'm at Whole Food, I get the meat.  Filet mignon.  OMG.  Now I know why the article I read said it was ruinously expensive.  I asked for enough for two to try the recipe and the butcher gave me a roast that went from the tip of my finger to my elbow!  SERIOUSLY?!!!  But did I say, "You are insane?!"  No.  Because he was the butcher.  He was the expert and I had asked for his advice.  And if I now said, "You are nuts, that roast could feed Godzilla AND Mothra." That would be mean.  I nicely took the roast and said, "Thank you so much."  Besides which, he had worked so hard on trimming it. I felt bad.

And then I looked at the price. OMG.  We don't even eat beef that much.  Why are we eating this alone?  I curse the heavens.

I go home and unpack the groceries.  No prosciutto.  Crap.  Out to another store for prosciutto.  

And it has to be thin.  Paper thin. 

Cooking the Wellington: My First Mistake

My first mistake is in thinking that all will go smoothly.  I forget that the puff pastry has to be defrosted.  So I tell Fred that we can wait an hour to get started.  We will start at 5.  It only takes 30 min. to cook.  

15 minutes in the fridge for the filet to chill.  Another 15 to chill.  That's another 30.  That's an hour.


The mushrooms need to cook, but that shouldn't take long.  Chestnuts.  Oh yeah.  Gotta roast them.  Poo.  Do that now.  

What am I forgetting.

Freaking puff pastry!  It takes 2 hours to thaw!!!!  Show stopper.  

We need to start NOW!! We start on the chestnuts, the mushrooms.  Fred gets started on a red wine and shallot sauce to go on the side.  I have a white bean salad in the fridge waiting for us.  

I sear the filet and that's when I realize that this roast is really unwieldy.  It doesn't really fit in the pan to sear nicely.  Grr.  I'm trying to do the Gordon trick of searing it on the edge of the pan, but my fat, long roast is not cooperating, plus it isn't wrapped, and it keeps falling apart.  ARGH!!!  I know there are parts that aren't seared.  I pull it out.  

Fine.  I get the mustard out.  I can't find the pastry brush.  Gordon, why can't I use a knife?  A knife works just fine.  I spread mustard on with a knife and it looks exactly the same as the brushed on mustard.  Score one for me.

I put the filet in the fridge.  Wait, should it go in the fridge? Oh, I forgot.  I don't care.

Putting the Wellington Together: Second Mistake

I set up the plastic wrap.  Wait a minute.  Gordon has special plastic wrap.  I think he failed to mention that you need to have plastic wrap that is at least 8 inches on either side of a ridiculously small Wellington roast so that  you can do your neat little cheffy flips and rolls.  Where do you find this enormously large and long plastic wrap: at the Gordon Ramsay store, I bet.

Holy hell.  

Well, my plastic wrap is crap.   Great, I have to pull out great swaths of it and then layer them.  Then comes the prosciutto.  Oh, remember when I said I was getting really thin prosciutto?  That was a mistake.  All of my prosciutto is whisper thin and I am trying to untangle them from their neighbor.  

Oh, please save me from deli specialists who listen and give you what you ask for.  I need sheets to layer, not these cloud-like vaporous prosciutto wannabees.  I try to lay them down to make a sheet.  

Fine.  Fine. Just fine.

I spoon the mushroom chestnut mixture on top.  Oh, did Gordon mention you can only spread in one direction?  Because my prosciutto is coming up.  Crap.  Gordon, you are leaving a lot out.  Maybe it is all my fault.  I should have had thicker ham.  I'm sure Gordon isn't at fault.  He never is.

I get the filet out.  I plop it down.  I need more plastic wrap.  Can I quit now?  


I try to add plastic wrap to the left hand side.  It sucks.  I'm over it.  I decide that the left hand side doesn't exist.  I just won't look over there.  

I start to roll it like Gordon did.  It sort of works.  Sort of, because my mushrooms are gooshing out of the bottom.  Is that normal?  Should I scrape them off?  Or leave them.  Gordon!  You aren't very helpful.  I'm leaving them.  I'm sure that is a mistake.  I have left the realm of good decisions and am wandering around in kitchen hell.

I try to finish rolling it with plastic wrap and do the fancy thing Gordon does.  My plastic wrap laughs at me.

I give up and throw it in the fridge.  Fred and I go watch Maleficent. It is 7:30 pm.

I do the same for the puff pastry and we finally get the Wellington in the oven at 8 pm.  

Gordon says (play the video if you don't believe me) to cook it at 200 for 30 minutes.  I found the BBC recipe that said 220 for 30 minutes.  So, being the rule follower I am, I put the over at 220 for 30 minutes.


At 8:30, we look at it and it is doughy.  not brown and crispy at all.  I turn on the broiler.  Fake it, is my thought.  I'm HUNGRY.

It browns.  We take it out.  We slice it.  It is raw.

Fred uses the thermometer.  83 degrees.

GAHHHHHH.  Gordon!  You are nuts.  200 for 30 minutes is not how you cook meat.

We try for 15 more minutes.  97.

Finally, my hunger knows no bounds.  I up it to 320 for 20 minutes and we get an internal temp of 110.  We eat it.  

It tastes good.  It is after 9.  Way after 9.  Still, I will never make this annoying dish again.

Aren't you glad you didn't come for dinner?


Still One More Mistake!

I post this and then a friend points out that Gordon is in England.  Land of Celsius.

OMG.  200 degrees Celsius is 392 degrees Fahrenheit.  Did I really make that mistake?  So, if we had just used our common sense and said, 220 degrees seems wrong.  Really wrong.  Instead of blindly thinking that everything that Gordon says must be blindly obeyed, I could have eaten at 8:30.

Gordon, you really need to be much more comprehensive in these videos of yours.  Like, I'm in England, silly Americans.  Please make note of this as all my recipes are only for the English and will drive you Americans crazy on purpose.

Does Jamie Oliver do this too?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Brain at 50

About six weeks ago a shooting pain started in my right elbow.  I thought it would go away, so I ignored it.  After all, at 50, lots of things hurt.  But it didn't go away.  It got more frequent and my co-worker seemed concerned and said I should take some aspirin.

That got me worried.  I did a little digging and was able to diagnose myself with deep vein thrombosis. Yeah, I was going to take aspirin FOR SURE!  I made an appointment with the doctor. My symptoms got a little better.

In the meantime, I'd become a little congested and on the day of my appointment, I had a full on head cold. On the drive over to the doctor's office, I called Fred. "Is the doctor on Keene Road or Belcher?"

"Belcher!" He said it with a tone in his voice like he was completely amazed that I would not know what road the doctor was on.  It had been two years since I've been to the doctor's office, but still.  I should have remembered.  I said thanks and hung up.

I did give one or two thoughts as to why I didn't remember, but soon was concentrating on traffic, which did seem to require more of my attention that morning.

When I got to the doctor's office, they gave me a form to fill out because it had been two years since I had been in.  I started to fill it out and stopped at the social security number section. The first five went pretty well.  Then, the last four digits were a bit of a problem.  I got the first two, but the second two, hmmmm.  Did they go this way or this way? I just put a little question mark next to the numbers.

Really?  I've been coming here for 16 years.  You don't know my social security number by now?  I can't help you.  (Actually, I really can't help you because I actually can't remember the order of those last two numbers.  Figure it out yourselves.).

The nurse called my name.  I grabbed a tissue on my way in.  I was really congested.  We went back to the room and she began to ask me questions about what medications I took:

"How much of that?" She asked.

"Three." I grabbed a tissue and sneezed.  Would my head explode?  So much pressure.

"No.  How many milligrams?" She had my chart filled with 16 years of information in front of her.

My head was pounding.  I was sweating. It was like the road question.  Belcher or Keene.  And the social security number.  "I don't know." She looked at the chart and wrote down a number.

"How about this one?"

"Oh. Just the one big pill." She was giving me an odd look.  I started to get worried.  Was I supposed to have all this memorized?  I remembered my neurologist had given me a card to write all of this prescription nonsense down.  I looked for it.  I didn't have it.

She consulted the chart and wrote something down.  Damn.

"And this one?" Am I getting graded on this? Is there a camera in here?

"Point one two five." Woot! Score one for me.  I stop myself from fist pumping.  The next three were as needed, so yea me.  But the last one I didn't know.

"I don't know." She went back to her disappointed look. She glanced in her file and wrote it down.  Damn it.  If she had all the answers, why did she continue to ask me? Honestly! Why didn't I remember the strengths?  Why didn't I remember the street the doctor was on? Why didn't I remember my SSN?

Wait a minute.  I'm 50 now.  Do I have Alzheimer's?

I wait until she leaves and then I pulled out my iPhone and looked up symptoms of Alzheimer's.  I looked at the stages of Alzheimer's.
  1. Stage 1 no impairment.  OK 
  2. Stage 2 memory lapses. Check.  Got those.  Street names.  Forgot them.
  3. Stage 3 trouble remembering names, with memory. Check.  Forget names all the time.
  4. Stage 4 Impaired ability to perform challenging mental arithmetic — for example, counting backward from 100 by 7s
At this point I thought to myself

100...93....................OMG! I have Alzheimer's! There was no way I could count back from 100 by 7s. Who does that?

Then my doctor walked in.

"And what are you here for today?" She said.

I looked up at her from where I was sitting with my iPhone in my hand, still glowing with the stage 4 diagnosis and said, "Well, I thought I was here because my elbow hurt, but I think now that I have stage 4 Alzheimer's. I mean, I just turned fifty, and now I can't remember what street you are on or my medications. "

She started to laugh.  "You sound a little congested.  Are you feeling ok?"

"No.  I have a cold."

Turns out a cold will screw with your brain just as much as Alzheimer's, although I'm not really all that good with the counting backward, but at least I can get past 93!  And I don't advise self diagnosis while at the doctor's office while you have a head cold! Or if you are the least bit of a hypochondriac, which evidently, I must fall into that category.

I do advise that you see your doctor every year.  That makes remembering what road they are on much easier.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Turning 50: Who Knew I Had Such Poetic Friends?

I turned 50 on Friday and contrary to what the media leads you to believe, it was quite an enjoyable experience. I've never been one to lament the turning of the years, so I didn't expect to gnash my teeth or have a nervous breakdown, but this joyful bit of harmony has been quite a boon.

Fred and I decided that in lieu of a present that we would just have a nice dinner out with friends.  So, we invited friends to dinner and we had that dinner last night.  My mom, who is ever thoughtful, bought lovely flowers for the table: 

The lovely bouquet that mom bought for the table.  I sat by it. It had yellow, pink and orange flowers.
My good friend Nancy, who also raises guide dog puppies seen with me below, was very sweet and got me a birthday tiara (how can you have a birthday without one?!) and balloons. 

Cheryl and Nancy.  Cheryl has her tiara on and it matches her purple dress. How did Nancy know?
When Nancy asked Fred about the tiara and balloons I think Fred got a little nervous and didn't know what to say. Nancy just told him not to say anything and she would handle it!  It worked out great!

The balloons were awesome.  They are at home now.
Fred had asked people not to bring gifts, but to bring a poem or funny card instead.  Several of our friends did write amazing poems. And I am realizing now that I didn't get photos with everyone! Poo! 

Susan, Cheryl and Nancy
It has been so much fun to add all of the amazing puppy raiser friends into our lives.  We consider ourselves very blessed since we have moved to Florida to have such a nice friend group.  It was really special to have this dinner and know that we truly do have lovely, kind friends.

What is so great is that our friends from all of our walks of life, Paradyne, Berkeley and puppy raising, come together and get along.  It truly was a very enjoyable dinner last night.  The couple on the left, Bob and Suzanne along with Patrick and Theresa gave me a concrete fire hydrant, which also doubles as a fountain.  This hydrant (see below) caused quite a stir with the wait staff as they all wondered, What in the HELL did this mean?  Finally, near the end of dinner, they could stand it no longer and sent the head waitress over to me to ask.  I told them about raising guide dog puppies and that it was actually a fountain.

Fire hydrant lawn ornament for peeing or for a fountain! 8-)
It weighed a ton!  Suzanne also got me a book by Gail Sheehy living a passionate life.  Sounds interesting!

Notice everyone but me is looking away.
I reverted back to the sorority photo days in the photo above.  We used to have our formal parties and you always had a photographer walking around taking candid shots.  Candid, haha.  We would pose and shout, "Over here!"  So, you got very good at realizing where the camera was and then smiling.  This was one of those shots.  Scary.

Susan and Brian are first couple on the right hand side and then Ken and Linda are the second couple next to them down the table.  Here is Susan's poem:

Nifty Shifty
Cheryl Is Fifty
Brian picked out a very funny card.

Now, Linda and Ken were bad and got me a present (super cool crochet bowl) and a card (thank you!), and it was a little too loud for everyone to hear Ken's wonderful poem, but here it is.  He had an introduction that reference the our puppy blog and how it had made him laugh and cry and how much they enjoyed reading it.

Stopping by the hardware aisle while shopping
With (many) apologies to Robert Frost
by Ken Ko
 Whose store this is I think I know.
Our friendly local Home Depot;
Yet Jam thinks there's a men's room near;
A quite appalling place to go.

I thought I made it very clear
That we would not be stopping here,
Caught by surprise, I hadn't planned
 To turn and see Jam's hunched up rear.

If only there was some command
To stop this act in no man's land.
But he commits, so I do too.
At least, I have things well in hand.

The store has nuts, and bolts, and glue,
But I have cleanup work to do, 
And miles to go so he can poo,
And miles to go so he can poo. 

 Tremendous!  If you want to read the original story, click on the link.  It is pretty funny, but I wouldn't want to do it again.  Wait, I did.  Damn.  I need to stop doing that!!

 Now, the first couple on the right is Michele and Erik and together with their son Kelland, they came up with this limerick (and a nice gift card):

There once was a woman, CD
Who raised puppies to help people see.
   She liked to crochet little hats
   But never for cats
Yet she is still our favorite lady!

Woot! I love it.   I also love the Downton Abbey card that the couple on the left gave me: Kim and Mark.  They have been good friends for years and it was so good to have them with us at the celebration!
The Downton Abby Card. Did you notice the poo bag?

I have to say that Fred did an amazing job organizing and coordinating the whole dinner!  He was splendid.  I have the best husband there is!

Fred with balloons.
 Our friends Christy and Eliot gave me a really funny card (and a gift card) about the light at the end of the tunnel.  I actually laughed out loud.

I stole this photo of them from their facebook site,  because I don't have a shot of them together.
Here is there poem:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
If you get lost
We will put out a silver alert for you!

Aren't they sweet?!

Fred and Nancy.

Cheryl and Melisa.
Melisa, my screenwriting partner, found a fabulous screenwriting t-shirt for me and a cool Paris Tervis mug for me to use as we write. She is a very thoughtful gift giver. (A trait all my friends seem to share! I am very, very lucky.)

The final poem of the evening was written by Carrie and it was splendid!

Carrie, from her facebook page.
There once was a friend from Clearwater
Who enjoyed being her own dog walker
But one day without fear
She said, "Fred, Dear,
I think we should raise dogs for others!"

"Bingo!" Said Fred "What's the plan?
Let's try not to get in a Jam.
I've got an approach,
We should get a Coach!"
And so the adventure began.

Willow said, "I was alone.
A one dog house and my bone.
And now it's all screwy."
Her eyes got all Dewey 
 "Why wouldn't they just get a clone?
 So Birthday Girl, here's to you
 50 years, full of life and alive!
 You've got a big heart,
 You're doing your part
 Let's stay at 49.95! 

Nancy, Cheryl, Brian and Susan, with Susan clowning around!
 And finally, the gang was all there.  We had a few people who were either out of town, or sick or just couldn't make it, and we are sorry they couldn't!  We missed you!!  But we had you there in spirit.

The gang!
Thanks for making my journey to the other side of 50 a pleasant one!