Friday, May 19, 2023

A short explanation for my blog

Welcome to my blog, thanks for stopping by.

A little about the name and the reason for my blog:

It takes a tragedy (or two) for most people to realize just how fleeting life and happiness are. I am no exception. Three years ago I was in the midst of a nervous breakdown. The pit in my stomach started the moment I woke up and realized I had to go into work and didn't dissipate until sometime Saturday afternoon (that is the Saturdays I was not working, which were few and far between). Then, one of my friends who was two years younger than me passed away suddenly and I thought to myself, if that happened to me I would have lived the last decade of my life in misery. I quit my soul sucking IT job three weeks later.

One year later my sister was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and two people I went to High School with were diagnosed with cancer. That was my realization that life goes by in the blink of an eye and I was determined to live my life. I resolved to follow my passions. My three main passions are writing, traveling and photography. This blog will be my repository for those passions.

Glad to have you along on my journey ... Don't Blink

Monday, May 1, 2023

Fear of Flying

I have always been a nervous person. Exacerbated by a long illness and stressful job, I developed a pretty sever panic disorder in my 20's. Until that time I was never a great flyer but I would do it without too much trouble. I was really only scared at takeoff and turbulence, until I flew through a tornado in central Florida. About 25 minutes into a very bumpy flight the pilot came on the loudspeaker and said, “Flight crew on the ground.” The flight crew dropped to the ground and lay down in the aisle. As soon as they did, the plane started rolling and dropping so far, that if I didn’t have my seatbelt on I would have hit my head on the ceiling. This didn’t last more than 30 seconds but in my mind it was at least 30 minutes. We then flew another 2 hours back to Chicago in thunderstorms. I was curled up in fetal position crying for most of it. I tried to fly a few times after that, but I now had PTSD from that flight, couple with the panic disorder. The panic attacks started a month before I flew and continued during vacation as I anticipated the flight back. Eventually I decided it just wasn’t worth the misery and spent the next 25 years crisscrossing the country on Amtrak.
3 years ago, coming close to a nervous breakdown, I quit corporate America. The panic disorder I had had for the last 25 years was suddenly gone, literally overnight. Surprise! I can not begin to describe the freedom and joy that comes from not having the constant fear and panic you've known you're whole adult life.
To celebrate my father’s eightieth birthday we decided to take a family trip, an Alaskan cruise. In my usual fashion, I booked my cross-country Amtrak sleeper car from Chicago to Seattle, where I had to arrive 2 days early to make sure I was there in time to catch the train with my family for Vancouver. Amtrak is notorious for being up to a day late on their cross-country routes. There was no end to the grief my family gave me for not flying.

Boosted by my newfound lack of anxiety and a plethora of Xanax in my pocket, I decided to bite the bullet and fly. You’re probably thinking I flew back on a jet to Chicago. You would be wrong. I, in my ultimate wisdom, decided that the first flight I was going to take in 25 years would be a 6-seat floatplane into the middle of Misty Fjords national park. Although terrifying, it was the most amazing thing I had done in my life up to that point.

Yes I was as scared as I looked. At one point the pilot said "I think I see something down there, lets go take a look."
I shouted, "Let's not!"
But that did teach me that I could get over my fears. The world was now mine. All the places I had been dreaming about going to for the last 25 years, I now could. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Boom Boom boat

“Seriously?” I exclaimed upon opening the envelope left on the desk by our cabin steward.
“What?” my friend and cabin-mate Ann asked.
“They are asking for our height, weight and shoe size for snorkeling in Corsica. There were no weight restrictions in the excursion description. Even better, they want it in centimeters, kilograms and European shoe size.”
“I’m sure they just need to have the correct equipment waiting for us,” Ann replied, unusually optimistic for her.
“What did we do before smart phones?” I chirped, doing a search on pound to kilogram conversion.
The port in Corsica was packed with people. Though we were the only large cruise ship in the port, there was excursion stands set up everywhere. We took the three-block walk into the town square to have lunch before our snorkeling trip. The town was filled with the most incredible farmer’s market I’ve ever been in. Spanish olives in every shape, size and hue packed brightly colored carts. Meats, cheeses and produce rounded out the cornucopia. I purchased a half-kilogram of my favorite olives and we sat down to enjoy a crusty sandwich and people watch.
Most of the excursion stands were gone or unoccupied when we returned back to the dock. It took much asking around in broken French to figure out which small piece of fence we needed to be lined up by.
A slight, very tanned women in her late-sixties wearing a wetsuit halfway pulled down to her waist approached us with a clipboard. When she was satisfied that everyone was accounted for, we took the long walk to the other side of the port.  Once there they commenced handing out wetsuits and flippers.
I looked at the black piece of neoprene in disbelief. I wasn’t going to squeeze into that if my life depended on it.  After several attempts, I finally called the attention of our tour guide, who was busy helping everyone, including my friend into their suits.
“This is not going to fit me,” I told her. This elicited a litany of French, none of which I understood.
“Voila,” a man exited the tiny shack with what looked like Andre the Giant’s wetsuit. It was a full suit, long sleeves and pants and at least 6’5” long.
I shook my head and tears filled my eyes.
“They knew my height and weight, if I was too fat to snorkel why didn’t they tell me instead of humiliating me like this?” I asked my friend, who had just finished squeezing into her suit.
The cute athletic girl next to me tried to comfort me, although sweet, just made me feel even worse.
The tour operator was at a loss. Between my broken French and her broken English I finally figured out that the wetsuits were not for the cold, but for buoyancy.
“Can’t I just wear a life preserver?” I asked.
“Ah, oui,” she sung and disappeared into the little shack and reemerged with this giant orange half circle, which I stuck around my waist making me look like a child at the pool with a big floatie around their waist.
As we approached the dock we pass nice power boat after power boat until we came to what I now know is called a hard bottom inflatable. Just like it sounds, it’s an inflatable boat with no seats, just a floor. You sit on the sides of the boat and hang on to a rope that runs along the top.
                       (I did not take this picture, found it on google for reference)
“Anyone who get sea sick stay in the back,” our tour guide instructed. This should have been my first clue. My friend, who is prone to seasickness sat at the back of the boat next to the pilot and held on to the metal stairs. I sat on the other side of the stairs, as close as I could get to them with this big orange piece of foam around my waist.
All was fine and dandy until we left the harbor and were out in open water. The boat would hit one of the five-foot swells, go airborne and then hit the water with an incredible force, bouncing us in the air, one rope the only thing stopping us from being tossed into the sea. The boat sped up and the waves came at us faster and faster until there was only a few second break between crashes. I gripped the rope as tight as possible, even though with every crash my knuckle scraped the rubber. Boom… Boom… Boom… Boom...
“How long is the ride?” one of the passengers asked.
“40 minutes,” our guide answered.
I looked around. Some faces registered fear, some annoyance, one poor girl in her early twenties was already green, sitting on the floor, a baseball cap pulled over her head, her younger sister trying to comfort her.  I was feeling something between fear and annoyance.
“There’s something wrong with the boat,” my friend half-whispered, half-yelled over the sounds of the engine and ocean.
Our pilot, who was probably in his seventies, was pushing buttons and pulling levers while our tour guide was on her cell phone, presumably trying to figure out what was wrong with the boat and when or if they could get a replacement out there. The engine cut out and we were bobbing up and down in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. My annoyance/fear ratio suddenly shifted all the way to the fear side. What if a storm came up? What if there was a rogue wave? What if they didn’t have another ship? We were almost a half hour from shore. And what about this poor girl who I was sure was going to be heaving over the side any moment.
After bobbing around for 20 or so minutes it was a discovered that the 9-year-old boy that had been crawling around the floor of the boat, actually messed with one of the switches on the engine and that was why we stopped. With great relief they put whatever switch it was back in its correct position, turned the key and the engine came back to life.

Another 15 minutes of BoomBoom and we made it to the spot and weighed anchor. When I jumped into the salt water the knuckle that had been rubbed raw scraping on the boat, stung so bad I never noticed how cold the water was. I tooled around, my GroPro pointed towards the cool reefs, rock formations and what few fish were out there.  Soon it was time to climb in the boom boom boat and head back.
The trip back, although hard on the finger and the nerves was uneventful. I loved the actual snorkeling part. If I would have known what I’d have to go through, not to mention the humiliation for no apparent reason, I’m not sure I would have done it. But it was an experience and I’m always grateful for new experiences.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


I looked at the name on the caller ID and my stomach tightened.
“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t supposed to call you,” my sister’s caregiver was out of sorts.
I glance at the boarding time on the gate desk 7:00 am, and then at the time on my phone. “That’s okay, I have a half hour before my flight boards, what happened?”
“Your sister fell in the shower and I can’t get her up. She stood up to rinse herself off, she said she was dizzy and then she went down.”
“Shit,” I said. My friend next to me asked me what was going on. I mouthed, “My sister.”
My mind jumped into crisis mode. Was she going to be okay? Should I get on the plane? Should I call my parents? Should I call a friend to help the caregiver get her up?
“Is she hurt? Is she conscience?”
“She’s alert, but I think she bruised her knee and she won’t help at all when I try to get her up.”
“Hang up with me and call the paramedics. They may not need to take her to the hospital, but you are going to need them to help you get her up. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
I hang up the phone and dial my mother. I was so meticulous making sure everything was in place for every contingency. I had a phone tree for the caregivers to call if there was an issue. I was sixth on that list.
“I’m handling it,” my mother said by way of greeting.
“Should I stay home?” The pit in my told me I should stay, but if I stayed home not only would I ruin my vacation, but the vacation of the friend I was traveling with.
“No. go. She’s okay, enjoy your vacation.”
I pushed back the feeling of impending crisis and got on the plane. I purchased the Wi-Fi so that at least I could be in contact while in the air. 
For those who have not read my first blog, my sister has a rare form of early onset dementia called frontal-temporal-dementia or FTD. I am her primary caregiver.
I did receive texts while in the air.
“They took the shower door off.”
“She’s out of the bathroom, paramedics checked her out.”
“She’s in bed sleeping.”
She didn’t go to the hospital, at least that was something. I put on a movie and tried to relax on the last 2 and a half hours of the flight.
  The Cancun airport was chaotic. There were lines of tourist booths crisscrossing the building just as we exited customs. All we wanted was a cab to our hotel, and one of the guides shuffled us from booth to booth until we got to the right one. We paid in advance for round trip, which I didn’t really like, but no one was doing one-way trips.
I was still tense from the drama before we left, not to mention the whopping three hours of sleep I got the night before. Despite that I felt great pleasure walking out into the humidity and heat. I had been in the single digits when we left Chicago.
Our hotel, the Golden Purnassus, was about as I expected, needed modernizing but nice. For some reason, I was expecting it to be like it was in Jamaica with everyone aggressively trying to either sell you something or braid your hair. We didn’t run into that in Cancun. For the most part everyone was very nice and helpful and though there were people selling hats, sunglasses, shot glasses, seashells and yes hair braiding on the beach, they were by no means aggressive and politely took no thank you for an answer.

The first thing they did when we walked in was put a drink in our hand and seat us on a couch. A while later someone came over to us to check us in and give us a wrist band and literature on where to get what in the hotel. I had asked for the third floor, as was suggested by every review, but they put us on the second. I could see why people suggested that. The huge open lobby, loud and bustling with people, was open to the second floor. We were going to hear everything. I tried to talk to the woman behind the desk, but being Christmas week, my pleas fell on deaf ears.
Our first order of business after we settle in was to have lunch at the buffet and then head out to the beach. I had called home twice since we landed and everything seemed to be going okay. The shower door would have to be addressed at some point, but for now I could let it go. She was sleeping, as far as I knew crisis was over and I could answer the call of sunshine and waves.

Before we came down, I had checked to see if we could snorkel off the beach. When I went outside I knew the answer was no. Although the water was crystal blue, the waves were big enough to surf on, and there were plenty of people body surfing and boogie boarding, but no one was actually surfing. Part of the reason I had chosen this resort was for the prominently displayed beach beds in all the marketing material. The beach beds were there, but they were all empty and had a tacky handwritten sign hanging from one of the posts that said $80. That was not worth it to me, and obviously everyone one else, because they remained empty the entire week we were there. I commented, probably way too many times, to my friend that if they dropped the price to $25 they would probably have rented them and at least made some money off them.

Dinner was an adventure. We were very excited to see how the food in our all-inclusive resort was. I was floored to find out that despite having six restaurants, and being in Mexico, there was nowhere in the resort to get Mexican food. With the help of our concierge, who I had a bit of a crush on, we went out to eat for dinner most of the rest of the trip and the food was wonderful.
One evening on the way back on the bus from dinner 3 guitar players got on the bus. We were all having a great time as they were playing, and everyone was singing. I looked to my left out the window and next to us was a jeep with a flatbed on it. The flatbed had a mounted machine gun a Federale wearing a black mask standing next to it. I knew that there had been some issues with the cartels on the other side of the hotel zone, but the juxtaposition of the singing bus and the scary guy next to it with a machine gun was very disturbing.
On day three of our trip, we booked an excursion to Chichen Itza. It was a very long bus ride. We stopped for lunch at this small area to watch women make tortillas, eat very mediocre buffet food and get ripped off at a souvenir store. If you go on this excursion, never buy at the store the bus takes you to. There are venders lined up, hundreds of them, at Chichen Itza and you can barter with them and get the same stuff, or even better quality for a lot less.
If you didn’t know, Chichen Itza is an ancient Mayan community with the famous temple “El Castillo” built to worship the serpent got Kulcucan. During the solstice El Castillo was built in such a way that the light would make it look like a serpent was slithering down the sides. 

and several other buildings. Thousands of Mayans worshiped here. The structures are amazing, especially when you consider when they were built. Our guide was fantastic, explaining the types of activities that went on there and demonstrating the echo effect of clapping directly in front of El Castillo and the sound bouncing off the 98 steps at different times causing a bird chirping sound to come back at you. People used to be able to climb El Castillo and go inside, but thanks to stupid ignorant Americans who were defacing it, taking pieces of it for souvenirs and even urinating in the inside prayer rooms, it is no longer permitted. This was a huge disappointment to me.

There is also a ball court where they would play Pok-a-tok. The players would have to get a ball 20 feet in the air and through a small hoop using nothing but their feet and hips. The captain of the winning team would then be sacrificed to Kulcacan. I was so inspired by this I’ve begun to right a short story, or possibly a novella about a ball player.

When we finished with the guide and were left on our own, I decided to go see the oldest known astrological observatory. Unfortunately, either my map reading skills left something to be desired or their maps did. I never found it. I did however buy way too many souvenirs.
On the bus ride back, I received a phone call that my sister was in the hospital. A main component of her form of dementia is an extreme apathy. My 18-year-old goddaughter was taking care of my sister and my sister went into the bath room and after 2 hours of trying to coax her off the toilet she finally called the paramedics for the second time in two days. This time they admitted her. She was so dehydrated she was in kidney failure for the third time. Sometimes if someone doesn’t prompt her she simply doesn’t drink for days at a time.
My unbelievably mature goddaughter was with her for 28 hours. Arranged for her mother, my best friend, to get power of attorney. She sent me a picture of the two of them in my sister’s hospital bed. It was a very sweet picture of my goddaughter kissing my sister, but all I saw was my sister’s empty eyes.
The rest of the bus was asleep and I was on the phone with the hospital and my parents. I told my mother that I would fly home the next day. She told me that her and my father already had plane tickets and I should enjoy my vacation. The guilt of being on vacation while my octogenarian parents, one with rheumatoid arthritis, flew into a Chicago winter. But they insisted. One thing that was abundantly clear is that my sister could no longer live alone. We needed to get 24-hour care for her. While I was on the bus, instead of sleeping like everyone else, I spent an hour on the phone with my parents coming up with a game plan.
The next day was surreal. I spend my day going between standing in an ocean gloriously playing in the waves, to sitting on my beach chair calling doctors, hospitals, parents and potential caregivers.
I needed a distraction from everything, so we went for the evening to the permanent installation of Cirque du Solier. If you every get a chance to go to this, do it. It’s an hour and a half from Cancun in the middle of the Mayan jungle. The structure fits in perfectly with the nature that surrounds it.

 You get a tower of very yummy hors d'oeuvres and Champaign. The show itself did not disappoint. It was about a grandfather who disappears and his granddaughter searching for him. Besides the wonderful story and artwork, the performers, acrobats, contortionists, where incredible.

The next day I found out that they were releasing my sister from the hospital and sending her to a nursing home. She probably needed to be in the nursing home with the occupational therapists for at least a week, but thanks to our wonderful healthcare system, her new insurance was not going to cover skilled nursing facilities after December 31st, three days from now. Since I was going onto Isla Mujeres island snorkeling the next day and out of communication, we needed to get everything into place that day. With me interviewing and my mother checking references, we settled on a full-time caregiver. She was going to work the first 2 weeks while we found someone to work weekends.
Isla was beautiful. Calm, crystal blue waters. I found this dive shop with 14 thousand reviews on trip advisor. We had booked a group snorkel trip. When we arrived at the dive shop, we were pleased to discover that no one else had booked on our tour and it was just us. We received our instruction and equipment. My friend was very nervous and kept making the owner promise that nothing would happen to her. Ultimately, she chickened out and was content to just hang out on the boat. That left a guide all to myself. As per usual for me, the life vest pushed itself up my ample chest and was trying to both choke me from the front and shove my face into the water from behind. Life vests are required in Mexico less for saving lives and more to prevent people from diving down and ruining the reefs. My guide was wonderful enough to let me take my vest off and just sling an arm through it. The rest of the experience was incredible. We saw schools of brightly colored fish, some stingrays and barracudas. I loved every minute of it.

Shopping on Isla is great. If you want Mexican silver and not get ripped off, Isla is the place to go. I picked up a silver and precious stone necklace for my goddaughter to thank her for taking such good care of my sister. I also picked up a silver necklace of the Mayan calendar for my friend that was taking care of my dogs. Without the support I have from family and friends who might as well be family, I don’t think I would make it.
Just when you think it’s safe…
I woke up the day of my flight back. I grabbed my shorts and top to go down to the buffet for breakfast. I lift my leg to put it into the shorts and something in my back popped. The pain is beyond excruciating. My friend knocks on my door and I hobble, half -dressed, to open it. I’m sobbing. After taking a handful of Advil, we found a chair that I could tolerate, and she went down to find out about a doctor and to grab us some food. When she got back upstairs I was still unable to move. Like my knight in shining armor, she packed my suitcase and helped me get into my clothes. We found out that if we wanted to see the doctor, it would be 2 hours and $150 and he probably couldn’t do anything for me.
My poor friend had to carry my backpack and purse as well as her own. We did get a wheel chair in both airports which made it easier. The flight back was not too bad. I tried to stand as much as possible, so as not to stiffen up. The Lyft home, we went to my house first, so she could help me inside with my luggage, and then she went home.
The next day, I hobbled to the nursing home to visit my sister and my parents. She was looking better, but mentally you could tell she’d declined. After visiting my family, I went to the chiropractor. Turns out your back is not a fan of standing for hours in pounding waves. He diagnosed me with a sprained back and said that he couldn’t do anything, it was just going to have to heal on its own.
Three months later and my back is finally healed enough to where I can work out. The caregiver situation is finally stable … for now.