Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cruisin' toward Cruisin'

I hate February in New England. And right now, I hate the end of January, too.

It's bitterly cold, there's so much snow piled up outside that it's nearly reached the bottom of the light pole in the front yard, and the ice is a constant source of treachery. I find myself in despair over winter and without much hope that spring, never mind summer, will ever return to New Hampshire.

But in less than a week, this melancholy will hopefully be at least briefly interrupted because I will be embarking upon a Carribbean cruise with my two best friends from high school. These are women with whom I have shared many an adventure over the decades so much fun is guaranteed.I am already warning people that I may not return from the islands until June, or perhaps July. I only hope the City of Portsmouth does not mind me telecommuting for a few months.

When the kernels of this great cruise adventure began, I was quite impressed when the unofficial tour director of our group (the one on the far right) snagged us a seven-day trip aboard a Holland America ship for just $666 each. Who would pass that up?

But what I didn't figure on was all the cost and effort required in preparation for this one-week vacation.

First, there was the matter of summer clothing. My two traveling companions currently reside in two very warm Texas cities so they have lots of it. I, of course, live in New England where one rarely needs warm weather attire (see Paragraph 2, grumble, grumble). In addition, my fitness regime has resulted in the discovery that what little summer wear I do possess is now too large. So task No. 1 was finding clothing for this trip. However, in New England we are still buying sweaters, hats and gloves, not cruise wear! That has led to untold hours of shopping on the Internet for bathing suits and other necessary apparel. As Husband No. 1 noted, the UPS trucks have been lining up outside the house for weeks.

However, as most women are all too aware, clothing worn by a model never looks like it does on a real woman. This has led to numerous trips to return merchandise to the local outlets of the online shopping venues, led by the exchange of bathing suits. (But kudos to JCPenney for offering both the model view of a bathing suit and also a photo of a normal, or even plump, woman wearing that same suit.) I thought about not getting a suit at all, given the reports of nude beaches on some of the islands, but decided that might send me well beyond my comfort zone and the people aboard the cruise ship might find this, ah, unusual. (I'm not sure cruising freestyle means naked). Therefore, my credit card is now so hot that it could melt the three feet of snow outside my window.

Not only did I need bathing suits and clothing, my sneakers were way too beat up for an excercise class with Holland America and some tropical excursions suggested the need for a raincoat. The credit card continues to smoke.

And of course, my hair must be in adequate shape to accent my new clothing. And if I'm wearing sandals, I will need a pedicure and must consider other beauty treatments, as well. Cha-ching.

Because my friends are traveling from Texas, they have no concerns about weather interrupting or delaying their plans. However, as New England is facing down yet another major snowstorm this week, I have taken precautions and scheduled myself to fly into Fort Lauderdale a day before the cruise just in case. Since I am reluctant to spend the night sitting in the airport or waiting with my suitcase at the dock, this also means renting a hotel room for the night. Cha-ching.

At this point, I believe that one could legitimately conclude that the cruise ship cost is slightly higher than first anticipated. And if I'm going to be visiting places I've never seen before, of course I need to snorkel with the stingrays on the world's third-largest coral reef off the Turk and Caicos Islands and also see volcanic remains by kayak, hiking and snorkeling while in the Virgin Islands. I did save some money when I refused to join my two wild traveling companions on a zip line tour ABOVE the rain forest, but the credit card is still close to melting by now.

Perhaps I should walk outside with it to see if it helps with clearing the front walkway. Or maybe I should conclude that the damage is now so high that another couple of nights in Fort Lauderdale won't matter.

I'll get back to you on that -- in about two weeks!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy New Year (belatedly)

I may seem a little behind here, but I am still thinking about the New Year and what it might mean for me and everyone else.

I received one inkling that 2011 might be a bit different when No. 1 son telephoned early on New Year's Eve to announce he would be unavailable for our traditional call just after midnight because he'd be at work, waiting in the shadows, to seize any illegal guns the bad guys might be shooting off to celebrate the new year.

This news was a bit unnerving on several levels, not the least of which was the realization that he likely would be trying to remove a weapon from a criminal who already had his gun out, loaded and firing. I immediately retreated to the Land of Denial, and said, "OK, thanks for calling and be safe." Then I tried not to think about this news as I returned to my volunteer duties at First Night, which involved checking buttons to make sure no freeloaders attempted to infiltrate the maritime music venue. Buttons vs. illegal guns. Perspective is everything.

Fortunately, No. 2 son was available and actually answered his cell phone at a party in Philadelphia, so at least there was some tradition left as we entered 2011. And in a far more annoying annual ritual, the amateurs are back at my gym, taking over my favorite exercise machines in their doomed attempts to attain health and fitness. It makes me want to just look them in the eye and say, "You know this won't last, so why not just give it up now -- and give me back my machine?" But I'm just biding my time, secure in the knowledge that all their good intentions will disappear soon and I'll have my routine and a less-crowded gym again.

But this year I also enjoyed a New Year activity that I wouldn't mind seeing become an annual tradition. I joined six other women last weekend in a fun ritual designed to rid ourselves of negatives from 2010 and replace them with our wishes and hopes for 2011.

Not only was this a delightful new perspective on New Year's resolutions for me, it was a positive reminder of the power of words. Energized by good food and wine, we each wrote our 2010 negatives on small pieces of colorful paper and then three them into a roaring fire. By writing down these feelings, incidents or names of people --- and then destroying them -- we were able to use words to symbolically bring closure to the past year so we could move freely into the new one. As a writer, I revere words -- and what they can convey, how they are able to inspire us, and the stories they can tell. But I never thought burning them might be an act of hope.

Next, we listed our wishes and desires for 2011 on lovely notepaper to be carried in "pretty little purses" throughout the year. My colorful Chinese brocade bag now holds 17 wishes for 2011 and yes, "finish my book" is one of them. But I also wrote "live with joy," "imagine the possibilities," and "count my blessings." And I am hopeful that this act of cherishing my 2011 wishes and desires by recording them (and carrying them in a "pretty little purse") will help them come true.

I did some "Google" searching so I could share a few pithy quotes that were more literary than I am capable of producing about the importance of words in our lives. I liked this one by Charles Capps:

Words are the most powerful thing in the universe... Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind."

Do you believe in the power of words? Which ones would be on your list of wishes for 2011? Do you believe that writing them down can help them become reality?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Of things medical....

I think it's entirely possible that there are red warning notes attached to my files in offices throughout the area to alert medical professionals that they are dealing with a difficult patient.

Consider my dentist's office, which I diligently visit twice annually for a dental cleaning, as does the rest of my family. And nearly every time, the hygienist advises it's time for my annual X-rays and I remind her that I will be declining her lovely offer due to my concern over radiation. I then suggest that perhaps she should repeat her request to me and my children next year, in two years, or maybe not ever again.

This never goes over well with the perky dental hygienists. But my radiation fears are well-known (weren't the Russians going to kill us with it?) to those who made fun of me during all the years I refused to have a microwave oven in my house or to use a cell phone -- although in the interest of full disclosure, I will confess to having eventually surrendered to the convenience of both.

But not to to the annual dental X-rays. I mean, think about it: If the dentist sees a cavity developing via these X-rays, nothing can be done about it anyway until the cavity comes to the surface so it can be filled, right? I have no intention of absorbing extra radiation just to give the dentist an early warning system -- and a few extra bucks in his or her bank account. As you might imagine, this attitude is not warmly embraced at my dental office.

But I was vindicated last week when I heard the former president of the American Cancer Society say on the Dr. Oz show that she won't have dental X-rays either because of radiation concerns.

She made the comment in the context of a piece on the burgeoning rate of thyroid cancer in this country -- and the fact that 75 percent of the cases involve women. And what is a cause of thyroid cancer? Too much radiation.

Although the medical professionals on the program were reluctant to point a finger at any one source, it's pretty easy to figure out where women receive more radiation then men --mammograms. The doctors weren't telling women not to get mammograms, noting their ability to reveal cancer, but they did observe that radiation into the breast "scatters" -- as it does from dental X-rays -- into other parts of the body. They recommended requesting lead aprons that include a piece to cover the thyroid any time you undergo any type of X-ray. That seems reasonable, especially if you enjoy getting those dental bite-wing X-rays every year.

Another place where my medical file has a warning label is the eye doctor's office, the target of numerous telephone calls and visits in my recent quest to replace my glasses with contacts. The adventure continues. A few weeks ago I lost a contact at work so I had to sheepishly call to ask that it be reordered (the eye doctor's office is now on speed dial and I see more of the folks who work there than my children). The lens was on back order so for the following week I returned to my glasses, which did not seem to be working as well as before. In fact, some days I could see better without them.

Five days after I lost the lens, I rubbed my eye during a musical performance at the local theater. You guessed it -- out came the missing contact. I couldn't stop laughing because I was positive I had taken another contact out of that same eye five days earlier. This meant either I had put two contacts in one eye at the same time OR removed one from my right eye and didn't realize it was still on my finger while I removed the one from my left eye, causing me to leave the right eye contact behind. This also explained why my glasses didn't seem to be working like they should.

At my next visit to the eye doctor, I could see that his eyebrows were inching progressivley higher as he read the many notes in my chart recorded by his friendly staff after each of my calls. When I told him about the double-contacts experience, he calmly replied that this process takes time for adjustment.

"But how do you adjust for operator error?" I asked. He laughed, then assured me that the record was held by a guy who put three contacts, each on top of the other, in the same eye. I think he might have been lying but it did make me feel better.

And, as far as I can tell, there was no radiation involved, either.