Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Long Deferred Privilege

 Having gone to bed unreasonably early, it wasn’t a surprise when I woke up promptly at 4:00 am.  I made myself stay in bed another hour, trying to compromise as much as possible between time zones. Why compromise? Why not just keep to my own schedule even in a new place? Because I would get up at 2:00 am and go to bed before sundown, that’s why! Not the best way to maximize a tropical respite.

With only 6 days on the ground, we planned to make the most of every minute. But ah, the best laid plans of mice and women… First, we reckoned without several days’ worth of getting lost. We also hadn’t accounted for the possibility of a hurricane.

By the time the wheels went up on our Hawaiian Airlines jet, we already knew that the storm currently known as Tropical Storm Ana would impact our plans, and might even strengthen into a hurricane. Forecasters weren’t entirely sure about the timing, but it looked like we could only be sure of one full day and a few hours of the next for any swimming or other outdoor activities. So we wanted to be out and about early.

David wanted to leave by 6:30, so we were all up early. At 6:32, horrified that my dawdling had already caused me to be 2 minutes late, I put on my backpack, said good-bye to Mom and Tina, and went out. I thought David would just leave with whoever was ready first (me!) and the rest would follow after a few minutes. Well, he was still waiting 20 minutes or so later, when I finally went back up to see what was keeping them. “We were waiting for you!” they exclaimed.

So we got lost 20 minutes later than we would’ve otherwise.
First stop, Pearl Harbor. That one was pretty easy to find. It was our first time out on the Arizona Memorial, a sobering reminder of war, death, and heroism. It also put Grandma’s and Grandpa’s lives into a little more perspective, since they came to teach in Hawaii only 11 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At a time when anti-Japanese sentiment was still high, they invited numerous students into their home without asking to see their passports first. Many of those students, now grown and with their own families and even grandchildren, became so much a part of the family that they’re still our aunties, uncles, and cousins (and always will be!). We delighted in the mystification of our classmates when they saw us with our cousins, since we didn’t look any sort of Asian at all. These American genetics can be tricky things!
It all just goes to show that love is thicker than water or blood.

The Arizona Memorial sank just off Ford Island, which was another heavily bombed area. I didn’t realize so many locations were hit and some of them twice. The boilers still rise above the water, and cute little tropical fish still swim only a few feet from the bubbles of oil that rise to the surface every few seconds, then spread in a rainbow ripple that drifts out to sea.

That one site is a burial place for not only the thousands that died that day, some in the explosions and some trapped in unreachable pockets of dwindling air, but also for many of their fellow servicemen who died as elderly veterans, and chose to be cremated so they could rejoin their friends.

Memorial Chapel
It’s a peaceful place today, with only a few stark, rusted reminders of the violence and death that warm December day. Over the shadow of the great ship float the scattered petals of pink plumerias, bobbing their way around the spots of oil as they journey to the Pacific. Each day, Japanese and Americans stand side by side to silently honor the dead. It’s a far cry from those not-so-long-ago days of surprise attack, death, suspicion, and egregious civil rights violations of our own citizens. The lessons are still there for us to learn, of what the finest nation on earth is willing to do in the name of fear. 
And how much has changed since then. At least back then, the lines in the conflict were clear-cut. Each side knew whom they were fighting. There was a clear-cut goal, and a well-defined victory. Where today the enemy hides among us, among our allies, often concealing themselves among women and children, and can’t be fought or defeated using the old standards of warfare. Where, indeed, there isn’t even any way to be sure that we’ve won, or ever can win. And the greatest weapon isn’t guns or bombs, but stark terror.

Definitely a quiet, thought-provoking place. 

Upon the Hallowed Shore

Also known as, No Swimming for You.

We landed upon the steaming shore of Oahu, stepped off the plane, and began making immediate plans to join a nudist colony. Montana sweaters were cast aside and spat upon. It’s a good thing we didn’t have clippers, or we would’ve shaved our heads before even reaching the car rental.

As soon as we got in our car, we cranked the AC all the way to Arctic, so we could get lost in full comfort. That’s important.

If we’d only gotten lost once, or twice…..or even only three times, we probably would’ve made it swimming that day. But we had to pick up our Amazing Special Treat of homemade-from-scratch BBQ veggie shish-kebabs, plus meet to finalize the details and sound checks for the memorial.

Mom spent much of the trip explaining, as we wandered around involuntarily exploring, how very much the road system had changed since she was last there. They’ve added in all sorts of freeways and bypasses, mazes of ramps, swirls of over- and underpasses…it can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated. Especially since there’s a surplus of traffic and a shortage of exits. If you miss it, you’re going to see a fair amount of new territory before turning around. (On the other hand, if you miss the same exit more than once, you may be seeing familiar territory. It’s all relative.)

The freeways are a trifle different than what we’re used to in other ways, too. Not that there are any freeways very close to us, but the ones that are less distant are pretty much 75 mph. And you get on them, and you actually go 75 mph. The majority of Hawaiian freeways we went on had a speed limit of about 45. Some of the time you even got up to 45. If you’re comparing that to our idea of a freeway, it doesn’t look so good. But if you compare it to the previous system of painfully working your way through clogged surface streets and several million traffic lights, it’s quite an innovation.

So that if you miss your exit and have to go 10 miles before you can exit again, the 20-mile detour only takes you a little over a half an hour, even in rush hour. The traffic is a small price to pay for the experience of going to Paradise.

Despite the delicious in-flight vegetarian meal, we were starving by the time we landed—just after noon local time, and just past breakfast Montana Stomach Time. And what better place to go than Andy’s Sandwiches, a terrific little diner owned by former students of Grandma and Grandpa? There was no better place, so to Andy’s we went.

Mom and Tina got cucumber sandwiches so fat they had to be held together with decorative toothpicks. I ordered the burrito, which included a veggie meat so realistic that one customer had come back to complain angrily that her vegetarian meal wasn’t vegetarian. (Even though it was.)

After a few minutes, Andy himself stepped from behind the counter to talk to Tina and me a little more. He turned to me first. “Which one are you?”

Thinking he was about to serve our food, I answered, “I’m the burrito.”

There was a long pause. When my dear, loving sister could compose herself, she choked out, “No, he means WHO ARE YOU?” The whole rest of the meal, Certain People could be heard cackling to themselves. “I’m the burrito! Aaahahahaaaa.”
I maintain it was a perfectly understandable mistake. 
Even though we didn't get to go swimming, at least we had a few moments to catch the sunset at the Ala Moana beach. I even got a few fun time exposures of some paddle boarders out on the calm ocean waters, and even more fun time exposures of Waikiki and Diamond Head.

With a great struggle, I kept my eyes open till shortly after midnight. Which was only 8:00 pm local time. Four-year-olds were just finishing their baths when I started snoozing. But it was dark, and that’s all I cared about.

Roused briefly by a burst of noise from the dorm students, I groggily wondered, “Don’t they even give them a curfew?” A few moments later, I remembered the four hour time difference, and that for them it was only 8:30. It’s going to be 2:00 am for me before they go to bed, was all I remember thinking before falling asleep again.

Nagging Coughs and Angora Elbows

Note: The following tropical series is from October. It is now January. No one who knows me will be surprised, since my Christmas letters alone are running more than a decade late. Besides, I thought it would be fun to wait until a frozen, snowy day and then visit Hawaii all over again, at least in my memory.

Very kind family members and friends chipped in so I could go on this lovely trip, since Hawaii is not in my normal operating budget. And, as you'll see, it was a mission trip. Really. 

          *                  *                    *

We’ve already had our first snowflakes here in Montana, though not enough to stick. It’s been well below freezing almost every night. The trees are almost naked. A few weeks ago, I would’ve told you that it couldn’t be a better time for a tropical trip. That was before the Ebola outbreak.

Our risk of actually catching the disease is very low, but our risk of being mistaken for someone with the disease is somewhat higher. See, it’s harvest time. And not only that, but after our catastrophically late spring, it’s frantic harvest time. Farmers are in their fields day and night unless it’s raining, trying to get their just-ripened crops in before it’s too late.  And since the weather people are predicting an early winter, “too late” is coming down the pike like a greased log in a flume.

Mom and I live on each side of the grain elevator. Usually it blows her direction, but a couple weeks ago the wind shifted and sent all that chaff my way. Suddenly, I also sounded like an escapee from the local tuberculin ward. Hard to breathe, coughing day and night, even once the wind shifted back toward Mom again. And in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months, coughing, fever, and aches are some of the earliest signs of Ebola, before it passes on to serious vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhage, spots, red eyes, and death.

People are terrified of coughing people. Just the other day, a man on a plane sneezed, and jokingly said, “I have Ebola!” He was removed by the Men in Blue Suits, and later found to have nothing worse than a nasal tickle. Bad time to have a cough.

With careful nurturing, I got my cough under control just in the nick of time. Which was extra fortunate, since some of the nurturing involved strenuous exercise which has left me aching in many areas. (Yes, also a sign of Ebola, remember?)

Mom didn’t do quite as well. Despite her own nurturing, and frequent doses of dextromethorphan, she’s been coughing and sneezing like crazy. We’re trying to be thankful she doesn’t have a fever.

The trip to Billings went swimmingly. By that, I mean swimming in fur. It was the furriest Cadillac I’ve ever ridden in, in my whole life. Also the only Cadillac. (I’m more of a pickup-truck-with-no-AC-so-the-windows-are-always-down-except-in-winter kinda gal, though I’d settle for a van if need be.) Tina fared the worst. She wore a dainty traveling outfit, classy flowing black shirt with dark jeans. When I saw flowing, I do mean that it hung in attractive, rippling waves. I also mean it was flowing with border collie hair. Dripping with it. Her elbows wafted in the breeze.

Being a kind sister, I tried to cheer her up by comparing her to famous people in the Bible. People like John the Baptist, and Esau, who was “hairy all over like an garment”. I even offered to braid her elbows, all to no avail.

Mindful of planks in my own eye, I did take a moment to lightly brush off the few hairs that clung to my nether portions, but only shook off enough for several eagles to use in their nests. Tina could have knitted a life-size model of the Ark. Oh well, the youngest child usually gets the largest portions, anyway.

Despite a few white knuckles in our group, the flights to Oakland were uneventful. The shuttle ride to the nearby Motel 6 was more eventful, because there WAS NO SHUTTLE RIDE! Mom had called the place directly about a week before to arrange transportation from the airport, and the man told her not to worry – that the airport had a free shuttle that would bring us to the Motel 6 along their route.

After waiting in the post-midnight chill for over a half hour, Tina finally called them. The lady informed us that there was no shuttle of any sort that went there, and we’d have to take a taxi. After we found out how much the taxi was going to be—each way—we spent the rest of our time calculating how big of a hotel upgrade we could’ve gotten, and still paid less for the night. Turns out it was a pretty big upgrade.

We made the best of it, and the heavily manned guard shack at the entrance kept the Motel 6 from being unsavory. Still, we determined to cancel our return night, and stay somewhere more expensive (yet cheaper), with a REAL SHUTTLE THAT ACTUALLY PICKS YOU UP. Not that I’m bitter. None of us are bitter.

Nothing remained but to make the last leg in the morning, and begin looking for some sunscreen, preferably SPF 3000.

Bon voyage!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shoulda Known Better

You would think after Grandpa that I would've given up predicting - incorrectly - the ETD (Estimated Time of Death) of anyone in the family. You would be wrong. After that sweet and loving good-bye to the beautiful Isabella, she actually began to improve for a bit. In fact, she lived a full week and 3 hours after we woke Devon up at 2am to say his farewells.

Most of that time was spent in a cat bed on my bed, feted and fawned over 18 hours a day. Up until the last 2 days, anyway, where Wannabe became so concerned about her that he kept sitting on her and trying to hatch her. We had to move her into the bathroom at that point. She finally slipped away just after 5am on Sunday morning.

Since she ended up so quickly an only kitten, and with a pretty inept mother (sorry, Squishy - love ya anyway), there were many aspects of catness that she had to learn from the other cats. We got a big kick out of watching her copying the bigger guys. She learned to curl up on our bed and sleep from Wannabe. Also how to bathe. Pretty much, Squishy's idea of bathing is to stand in front of one of the other cats till they give up and wash her. I'm glad there was someone else to teach Isabella how to keep clean.

She learned how to sit erect and stare disapprovingly from Expensia, though she was too cute to be really intimidating. She learned how to play from the terrible trio I still call "The Kittens", even though they're fully grown. Several are fully over-grown. But the one thing she still didn't do was purr.

Pretty much a cat that doesn't purr is disabled. Practically defective. Bell-bell had a lot going for her, but no matter how much we lavished attention on her, not even one little brrt could be heard. We'd long since given up any hope, figuring she'd always be a non-purrer like her mother. It was the only thing that kept her from being purrfect.

Then she got sick again, and I took to mixing her antibiotics in milk. It was like magic! She even knew when it was time for the next dose, because she would follow me into the bathroom, jump from floor to toilet to drawer, and PURRRRR as loudly as she could to let me know she was ready.

That's how I'll always remember her - brave, funny, and coming into her own.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Fair Isabella

She was born on my bed. It was awkward.

Jack, aka The Cat Whisperer, is used to all the family's felines glomming onto him like a giant fur blanket. But even he was unprepared for Squishy's devotion. One day, she was lying next to him on the bed, stretched along his forearm, with both arms wrapped around his elbow, when he felt an odd firmness in her abdomen. "Hey, Dear! Come quick; I think she's in labor!"

And so she was. All over his side of the bed. When efforts to move her failed, we got a bunch of towels to put under her, trying to preserve the dignity of our comforter as much as we could. Good thing it was burgundy to start with. 

Before you know it, two little bullets were deposited onto the bed, one white, one black. The white one was dead the next morning, leaving little Isabella the sole recipient of all the kitten love in the house. As soon as she could walk, she figured out how to climb up onto the bed - Jack's side, of course - and curl up. Once in a ball, she was only about the size of an orange, and we were terrified we'd crush her in our sleep. She solved that problem by sleeping across Jack's neck. 

As she grew, she became the darling of all but 2 of the bigger cats. Elsie took the longest to win over, but even her fortified heart was at last conquered. Here is Isabella helping Elsie with a favorite pastime, on the last day of last year.

From the time she was a few months old, she was quite sick several times, needing to take antibiotics and still not doing super great. But one Friday afternoon about 3 weeks ago, she walked into my room, her hind legs not quite walking like they were supposed to. A long story and several vet bills later, we found out that she has FIP, Feline Infectious Peritonitis. It's a virus that attacks white blood cells, and there's no cure. 

Cheerful in spite of her death sentence, Isabella flopped from one part of the house to the next, still hanging out with all her big buddies, not only the other cats, but Clancy, too. She was too weak to jump off the bed without getting hurt, so she could no longer sleep with me. Many nights, I put Wannabe, our oldest tomcat, in with her for company. He's a good momma cat, and curled up with her so sweetly so she wouldn't be lonely. 

Finally, a couple nights ago, she was too weak to move around, and I let her sleep next to me, blocked in with a body pillow. Before long, she had tucked herself under the covers, draped over my shoulder like she always used to. Potto decided she was rather lacking in cleanliness, and did his best to change that.

Yesterday morning, Bella was still sitting up eating her food enthusiastically. By nightfall, her kidneys had almost entirely shut down, and she was almost gone. I was shocked that she lived through the night, and even more surprised that she's still sleeping quietly next to me as I write this. When she opens her eyes, she's not happy till she sees that I'm there with her. The kids are helping me make sure she's never alone when she wakes. 

Soon, probably later today or tomorrow, our precious Bella will leave us. Till then, we'll be right here. Watching over her. Making sure she knows how much we love her. Letting her fall asleep in peace.

Sweet dreams, little Bella. We'll see you again.

3 Days Ago

Friday, March 7, 2014

P90G - Weeks 7B-13A, B, and C

At long, long last, P90G has come to an end. By the time I got done repeating numerous weeks due to illnesses and tragedy (the kids’ grandpa on Jack’s side of the family died unexpectedly of liver failure), it was considerably longer than 90 days. At times, it was considerably divergent from Gentle, too.
I mentioned that for the last section, I would be making some adjustments to add some difficulty to my workouts. One of those was to phase out Air Pullups, and do Almost-real Pullups. Frankly, Air Pullups were hard enough at first. I’m now up to 8 Almost-real Pullups per set, with one toe on a chair to give a bit of a boost. (With legs the consistency of pudding by that part of the workout, it’s not as much of a boost as you might expect.) Anyway, the P90X guy said that was ok, so technically it’s not cheating.
This last change gave rise to a new event in the Feline Olympics. You already know about the Swinging Leg Dive, where the contestants wait until I’m mid-kick before trying to dart between my legs without getting hurled across the room. I've nearly perished more than once as my flying foot met fur instead of floor.
While Jack was home, he got to see the Double Shoulder Balance Lounge, where Jax stepped onto my back while I was doing a sad imitation of pushups, draping himself across my shoulders. Let me tell you, having a tubby tabby aboard increases the difficulty level quite a bit.
The new event is the Screaming Death Pullup. Damon’s enormous fluffy gray cat, Potto, is the only contender. Potto’s favorite hangout is atop the pullup bars. He lies along them, paws hanging down leopard-style, and beach ball belly hanging down sumo wrestler style. A gray sumo leopard.  If you watch all the way to the end of thisclip of Rollin’ Safari, you’ll see a leopard that looks just like Potto. Actually, most of the animals look like Potto in one way or another. 
How this works: Potto, aka The Silver Bullet, dashes across the room, vaulting neatly onto the pullup bars, and then ravages the hand invading his domain. He seems to be playing, but for a cat of his size, playing feels a lot like falling down the garbage disposal. Here I can’t even do a pullup with two hands, and Potto is already trying to motivate to use only one. Be very glad he’s not your personal trainer.
Potto as a Baby
Another interesting change was that, at the same time I got my cute little workout outfits, I also got cute little weights. Pink ones. They’re only 3lbs each, but 3lbs is more than 0lbs. Lifting something besides air totally revved things up, though not as much as if I’d used pasta sauce cans like Tina.

P90X Guy: I’m grabbin’ my 40 pounders. What about you?
Amazingly Musclebound Man (with a hint of a sneer): I’ve got my 50’s.
Trim and Beautiful Woman: 30’s for me!
Me: THREES, OKAY??????? AND THAT’S PLENTY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No, I’m not ready to post “after” pictures yet. I feel hugely better, and my overall health has already improved noticeably, but the 5 lbs I lost (without trying to lose weight—I’m only trying to get strong and fit, with weight loss being a happy byproduct over time) don’t make a visible difference yet. Let me just assure you that there are some muscles getting toned underneath the layers of fat.
What’s next?  Well, I’m already a week into P90M, with M for Medium. That means I’m working out for 30 minutes a day instead of 20—a 50% increase! Did it make a difference? Well, by Day 2, I couldn’t walk or lift my arms again. And Plyometrics, that fearsome jump training workout…don’t ask me how this works, but 30 minutes of Plyo comes out to exactly twice as long as 20 minutes.
The first Sunday after school gets out, I’m going to take the plunge to full-out P90X. Once that’s over, if I can still get out of bed, I’m going to do a totally different exercise program for a while.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s this. Exercise isn’t the good china, that you only use once in a while on special occasions—it’s a way of life. So eat well, exercise hard, and feel great! And someday you, too, might be able to almost do a pullup. Just like me.