Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I have to say--this does feel a bit like a school assignment, even though I assigned it to myself and I really do like writing the blog. But after ten days or so of non-stop playing, it's a little shock to get back to the computer.

I really have been away from cyberspace for most of that time. Nate (younger son) and his partner, Meghan, arrived in Madison on Thursday, August 14. They'd moved out of their Somerville MA apartment a week or two before, and had been visiting various branches of Meghan's family on the east coast before heading west in their rental car. Eventually, after seeing lots of friends and more family and going to weddings east and west, they will head to Bogota, Colombia, where they both have fellowships for the next year to study and work on various aspects of environmental and human rights law. But the day after they got to Madison, we headed north to Duluth, where we met Jed (older son) and his partner, Nazgol, who had just flown into Minneapolis from France, where they were celebrating Nazgol's successful completion of her field exams for a PhD in sociology.

On Saturday 8/15 the five of us continued north, on Highway 61 (yes, the same one Bob Dylan named his second album after) along the shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais. After a bit more provisioning (we'd already loaded up at coops in Madison and Duluth, as well as the Duluth farmers' market) we turned inland on the Gunflint Trail and drove another 43 miles into the Boundary Waters, where we'd rented a cabin for the week on Gunflint Lake. And what a week it was! Perfect weather, minimal mosquitoes and black flies, endless raspberries and blueberries ripe for picking, two canoes provided with the cabin, a rental motorboat and a fine restaurant at nearby Gunflint Lodge. Lots of swimming for the other four, though I didn't venture in because the water was pretty cold, reading, fishing, canoeing, game playing, conversation, relaxing. And really beautiful scenery, even though the opposite shore (Canada) suffered a devastating forest fire last summer.

One day we all canoed across Gunflint and Magnetic Lakes; then Jed and Nate took the canoes though a rapids and we went a short distance down river, picnicking on shore just above a small waterfall. I thought I'd paddle back, because we'd had a headwind on the way across, and I could benefit from the tailwind on the return. But of course--just like biking!--the wind shifted and intensified as we started home. So I paddled across Magnetic, and then, in the interest of getting back to the cabin before we all starved, turned the paddle over to Jed before we hit Gunflint. But I was pleased with my effort.

And the exercise stood me in good stead a few days later, at the dragon boat race in Superior. We all drove down on Friday, getting to the motel just after the TeamSurvivor bus arrived from Madison. Jed, Nazgol, Nate, and Meghan did me the honor of waking up early on Saturday, in time to watch me race at about 8:15 AM. Although TeamSurvivor raced in two heats, we had more paddlers than seats in the boat, so some of us--by the luck of the draw--had to sit out one race. I was not unhappy to be on the short end: between the stiff and cold headwind, my lingering pneumonia, the difference between practice (easy) and racing (intense--the longest three minutes you can imagine), and the opportunity to spend more time with my kids, it seemed to me good fortune to have only one race! And with luck, I'll have another chance at the Oshkosh dragon boat regatta in September.

Nate and Meghan headed west toward Glacier National Park mid-afternoon Saturday. Jed, Nazgol, and I spent a delightful hour or so at the Amazing Grace Cafe in Duluth's Canal Park with some of my biking friends from Eau Claire and Madison. Angie, Janet, Renee, Rene, and Eleanor (along with six other women) had just finished a loop ride from Duluth into the Mesabi Iron Range west of the Boundary Waters (Dylan's home town of Hibbing was on the loop). We all caught up on our latest adventures, and then Jed, Nazgol, and I drove to Minneapolis, returned the rental car, re-rented it, and drove back to Madison, arriving home about 2 AM on Sunday!

I was absolutely fried on Sunday, even though I slept in to 10:30, probably the latest I've slept in years, and all we did was grocery shop and go to an Obama fundraiser for a short time! But by yesterday (when I should have been writing the blog), I'd recovered enough to do a bunch of errands and then head out to House on the Rock to show Nazgol one of the area's prime tourist attractions. I remembered the place as totally exhausting, but in fact, it was a lot of fun. I think they've reorganized the exhibits so they're not as overwhelming as they used to be. Or I'm older. Or something! Anyway that--and eating out and watching a movie--was what I was doing yesterday instead of blogging.

Vacation continues this week with a short jaunt to Chicago--and next week, it's back to reality, with a CT scan and an appointment with the oncologist and, who knows, maybe even chemo. But I'll post again before that happens!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Having too much fun...

...to post last week or today. But tomorrow, I promise! And I'll fill you in on all I've been doing while away from cyberspace. Thanks to all who've expressed concern, but my silence does not mean I've taken to my bed!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Picture Me.....

Today you get stories in pictures. The first (actually illustrated by the photo below) is a story I told a couple of weeks ago, about the wonderful bike ride I took on Mackinac Island the day before my biking friends headed out on their Upper Peninsula loop. Angie Mayr took this picture. It shows Janet Zimmerman (on the left) and me, and a tiny part of Lake Michigan.

Since that day (which really was a high point in the annals of my biking history), I've done two more short rides. As I think I reported, on the last day of the UP ride, I did the first 11 miles, into a headwind, not knowing that I had pneumonia. And this past week, on Friday, my friend Bonnie Wiesel and I rode from my house to the Olbrich Botanic Garden on Madison's east side (6 or 7 miles one-way) to see the butterfly exhibit. We saw quite a few butterflies emerging from their chrysalises--an amazing sight, because it happens literally in the blink of an eye. But really, I thought the people watching outdid the butterflies. I haven't seen so many babies and toddlers in decades! Plus little herds of day care kids and day campers, each herd wearing t-shirts of a particular identifying color. After we'd had our fill of butterflies and children, we walked a bit in the outside gardens, ate our Power Bars, and rode home. It was a beautiful day, and a lovely ride, for which I have Bonnie to thank, since it was her idea.

The other picture is more recent--from last Tuesday's reading in Chicago. Six of the contributors to the anthology Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes read at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, part of a summer-long Read Green, Live Green project sponsored by the Chicago Public Library. The participants: in the front row, Alison Swan, who edited the book and lives in Saugatuck, Michigan; Gail Louise Siegel, from Evanston, Illinois; and me. In the back row: Judith Arcana, who came all the way from Portland, Oregon (she used to be a Chicagoan); Susan Firer, currently Poet Laureate of Milwaukee; and Donna Seaman, of Chicago, who initiated the reading. Not shown in the photo: the great blue heron, the V of geese, and the rat who joined us as we read in the courtyard behind the museum. (To be honest, I didn't see the rat, but others did.)

The reading was an amazing event, well attended by an enthusiastic audience, including many people who were taking part in a workshop on the Great Lakes. The library provided an elegant reception spread of delicious hors d'oeuvres, and in addition to paying us honoraria, put us up in the Talbott Hotel downtown. I'm not accustomed to staying in hotels that provide terry cloth bathrobes and turn down the covers (leaving little chocolates on the pillows) before bedtime. But I could get used to it!

I had been concerned that, because of the pneumonia, I wouldn't be able to go to Chicago. But I was--and am--feeling much better, and the driving was a breeze, especially because my friend Janet lent me her I-Pass and I just whizzed through the innumerable toll plazas on I-90.

Now, on to the next adventure: getting together with my sons and my daughters-out-law at a cabin in the Boundary Waters (northern Minnesota). More on that next week!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Exciting Addendum

I know, I've already posted today's blog, but I just had to share this with you. I am getting ready to go to Chicago tomorrow to participate in a reading, and I decided to see if I could wear earrings. Because of the neuropathy, it's been many months since I could put earrings into my pierced ear-holes--I simply couldn't feel the holes, and I also couldn't put the tiny earring backs on the posts. The last time I tried, I gave up in total frustration after fifteen minutes of vain (I admit it) attempts. Attempts in vain.

But I just did it! Both ears! No problem! Wahoo! Obviously, the neuropathy is resolving, though it's by no means gone.

Modernity: Blessings and Curses

Well, first the blessings. The "minor virus" I reported on last Monday turned out to be pneumonia. I know, that doesn't sound like a blessing. And when the x-ray revealed that the afternoon fevers (102+ when I finally got to a thermometer on return from Michigan last Sunday) were caused by pneumonia in "three places" (lobes?), the doctor wanted to lock me up in the hospital. That struck me as a Bad Idea and I refused. So she put me on a strong antibiotic (levaquin) and a short tether, telling me that if my breathing got any worse, I should go to the ER immediately and get myself admitted.

But in fact my breathing was no worse than it has been all summer (ever since the June blooming of the Japanese lilac trees, to which I am allergic), and it is distinctly better than it was a year or even six months ago, though it is by no means what I or anyone else would consider "normal." This particular doc, who was subbing for my primary care guy, had never met me before, so she was shocked by my impaired breathing, and I think didn't believe me when I said it was no worse than usual. And apparently the first couple of days of pneumonia are the most dangerous. But I started running a fever on Friday, and I didn't see her until Monday--I was already past the first couple of days. And in fact on Saturday morning I'd felt good enough to bike 11 miles into a head wind.

Anyway, I started popping pills Monday afternoon, and they worked just fine. By Tuesday, I didn't need to take Tylenol in the afternoon; by Thursday, I didn't have a fever at all. I saw the doctor again Thursday morning, and she was much reassured--even embarrassed because she couldn't hear anything problematic when she listened to my lungs. She said that it takes 6-8 weeks for pneumonia to completely resolve in someone who has no underlying lung disease, which of couse I do have. So we'll see what happens. They can check on the pneumonia when I have my next CT scan, soon afer Labor Day.

I was supposed to take the levaquin for ten days, but yesterday morning I woke up with hives on my legs which I suspected was an allergic reaction. Went off to Urgent Care, where my suspicion was confirmed by another doctor who said to stop the antibiotic. He also said that the drug does most of its work in the first two days. I'd taken the drug for six days and he wasn't inclined to prescribe a substitute unless I relapse. I'm now allergic to four different classes of antibiotics, so that was fine with me. He did write a prescription for something I can take with me up to the Boundary Waters in a couple of weeks, in case I get sick up there where there are more loons than medical personnel.

So there you have a blessing of modernity: you contract a dread (and formerly fatal) disease, pop some pills, and are miraculously cured. Would that it worked that way for all dread diseases. Stomach cancer's a little more recalcitrant.

And then there's the saga of my new laptop, sterling example of modernity's curse. Well the laptop, which I picked up on Monday (between getting the x-ray and learning the diagnosis), is lovely. But I can't get Thunderbird, my email program, to work, and even if I could, all the addresses are stored somewhere on the old computer, not this one. What's more, I can't get the laptop to communicate with my old, reliable laser printer. Maybe this is a cable problem; maybe not. But I had to order the new cable on line, and the only way to determine if it's defective, I think, is to order another one on line and wait for it to arrive. Of course as some snippy young man at the UW IT help desk suggested, I could just buy a new printer. "They only cost $20 or $30," he said, rather impatiently. But why would I junk a perfectly serviceable, indeed wonderful, old friend? I'm afraid this was a case of generational disconnect. I guess that like my printer, I'm operating on a parallel connector, and this unhelpful and wasteful "support person" is, like my laptop, only conversant with spiffy new USB connectors.

And of course, while I was trying to get the printer to work, the word processing program, which had been running just fine, crashed, permanently, I think.

But hey, all this is just the usual curse of technology, and we know that a little time and money solves that sort of problem. So I'm not as aggravated as I might be. I'm feeling fine, and that's what really matters.