Sunday, July 27, 2008

I think I smiled for two hours straight

And what a fabulous way to end a mixed-bag weekend! Mama Mia was soooo much fun! My cheeks and my jaw are actually a little tired from all the grinning and laughing I did watching that flick. Meryl Streep was absolutely amazing, by the way. Who knew that woman could sing and dance like that? And despite all the campy shenanigans, she still managed to turn-out a Meryl-quality acting performance. Same can't be said of wooden Mr. Brosnan. Undoubtedly the worst singer of the bunch, still sporting that awful George Hamilton tan, and no better an actor than he was in the other 5 movies he's ever been in. Sadly, Colin Firth was relegated to second-fiddle, when his voice, handsomeness, and acting is undoubtedly better.

This capped off an otherwise groansome weekend,: my cell phone fell on the floor, leaving the screen inoperable, and a friend (unbeknown to both of us) left my house on Friday evening with my house and car keys in her bag, resulting in hours of turning the house upside down to find them, and generally being "stranded" at home for most of Saturday. Outside of this, I also completed the very glamorous tasks of shampooing the family room carpet and scrubbing every surface in our three bathrooms. On the plus side, I'm not grossed-out every time I need to pee now.

Positive observations also on the weird "sore spot" on my thigh. My Physical Therapist decided to go to town on my leg with a deep tissue massage last week. For several week's we've tried massage on a foam roller, icing it down, and heat-and-ice treatments. As you know from my posts, none of these has produced a signficant difference. Finally, last week he decided that the only thing left was (a) to push through the pain and see if a major massage would do 'something' and (b) switch to heat therapy only. The massage was excrutiating. Imagine the worst bruise you've ever had on soft tissue, now imagine a Swedish masseuse called Helga pummeling it with her thick hands for fifteen, unrelenting minutes. Ok, so my PT is a good-looking man called Eric, but telling you that softens the experience and I have to get through to you just how much it hurt!

Despite the pain, I do remember saying that the soreness seemed to shift. Its difficult to explain but the pain couldn't be replicated elsewhere in my leg before, but during the massage I started to feel it behind my leg, closer to my hamstring and the area of pain seemed to grow. Since then I've been doing the heat and yesterday I realized, while rubbing myself in with moisturizer, that the tenderness is significantly less. It's not gone completely, but now I can actually apply a decent amount of pressure before I start to feel it and the overall sensation of pain has lessened. The general, surface-level feeling of numbness has also subsided and my skin in that area feels almost exactly the same as elsewhere on my leg.

I'm not sure if this one episode did it alone or whether it was this, coupled with the fact that I have been increasingly my leg workouts and have actually started running on a treadmill again (not much, just 2-3 mins at a time). Previously I couldn't have run at all because the soreness on my soft tissue was too much but I found that the more often I did it, the less it hurt the next time.

The other good news on the hip/leg front is that I have been able to 'get to' the hip flexors that have been holding the majority of my tension and pain around my joint. Twice daily long stretches of 5-15 minutes each, one in the evening using Hubby to apply pressure, have definitely broken that muscle pattern. I still have some piriformis issues which occasionally cause my sciatic nerve to "ping" in my butt but otherwise my hip and its surrounding ligaments,tendons, and muschles, feels a good 85% of normal.

So, this is all good news.

Despite that, I think I am going to change my medical group. Prior to switching to my current physician, I was a part of Hill Physicians through my previous primary care doctor. Although I wasn't overawed with him, I did have good experiences with the quality and varity of referrals this group was able to offer me, as well as the variety of options for urgent care. When I switched to my new doctor, I automatically had to change to Mercy Medical Group and I have not been impressed with the cattle-market mentality of this group. It's very Kaiser-like, with limited referral options and cookie-cutter services. So, while I'll be sad to lose one of the best PCPs I've ever had, the reality is that you really spend the majority of your time with specialists in an HMO system and your PCP is really just the conduit to those services. Colds, flus, infections, and general medical issues can pretty much be treated by any PCP, all that really varies is bedside manner. I'm asking friends and neighbors for recommendations and hope to see if some local doctors will provide an "interview" appointment.

Any suggestions on researching doctors greatly appreciated.

God... its basically Monday again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I almost got ticketed for pumping gas!

Yes, that's right - you didn't misread. Aparently it's against the law to pump your own gas in Oregon.

Of course, I had no idea when I drew up at the last gas station before the airport.

A nice man in a Shell uniform and holding a red rag, approaches my car. My first thought is - it's one of those stations where the attendants ask you if you want them to wash your windows. He greets me, I greet him, I head toward the pumping station and begin to edit my credit card info. He says "I'll be right back" and I think ok, whatever, and get on with doing my thing. I pull the nozzle out of its holder, insert it into the car and....

"Wait! Stop! You're not supposed to do that!"

Huh? "Not supposed to do what?"

"That. This is a full-service station. The cops are right over there and they'll ticket you."

I peer around the island in disbelief and, wouldn't you believe it, a cop is sitting in his car staring at me with suspicion. Seriously, the cops are policing self-service stations to ensure the attendants don't get screwed out of their tip now? I know Portland leans a little to the left but this was ridiculous!

Finally, the guy leans in. "You're not from around here are you?"

"Um, no."

"I didn't think so. It's illegal to pump your own gas in the state of Oregon."


"Yes, illegal." He looks at the cop, who looks to all the world as if he is actually going to get out of his car and ticket me. "I'll go talk to him and explain," the attendant says, and trots off to explain that the stupid California didn't know the law.

My gas stops pumping, having topped off the tank, and the attendant hears the "clunk" of the fuel shutting off. "Stay right there! Don't do a thing!" he tells me from the other side of the island. And I waited dutifully for him to return, remove the nozzle from my care, put it back in its holder, and hand me a receipt.

Crazy! If anyone knows the reason for this seemingly random law (public safety issue?), I'd love to know it!


I'm at the airport at an ungodly hour again. It's 5:30am and I'm waiting for my flight to Portland to start boarding. In the meantime, I wanted to share this story I heard in the car on the way here, on NPR.

For those of you who have ever said "the government already gets too much of my check", think about the words of the gentleman at the end of this radio segment and ask yourself this: "If the same thing happened to me or someone I love, would I be any better off?"

MS Patient Falls Into American Insurance Gap
by Joanne Silberner
(Click title above to hear audio or, if you prefer, read below)

July 24, 2008 · Just outside the storybook English village of Buckland, 55-year-old Briton Linda Oatley is getting ready for something she considers torture.

Oatley is in a mirror-lined room filled with cheerful blue workout mats, big red and orange exercise balls, weight racks and other devices. Wheelchairs and canes are lined up along the walls.

She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, and she now comes to the Chilterns MS Centre once a week for physical therapy.

On the day of our visit, she's in a group class. She's lying on her back, with an orange exercise ball under her knees. Her physical therapist wants Oatley to keep the ball still while she lifts her right leg off.

She groans as she lifts her leg off the large ball.

"It's hard for me to do; it stretches me because this is where my problem is, in the hip, and it hurts to do this action," she says, gritting her teeth. "It's a tough exercise for me."

Oatley pays the equivalent of $30 a week for her physical therapy sessions at the center. And it's a donation, not a fee. The Chilterns MS Centre is run by a charity, with some government funding.

But Oatley has never seen a bill for the rest of her medical care, such as her prescription drugs, doctors' appointments, MRIs and lab tests. That care is paid for by Britain's National Health Service. It's a government-run system, funded by income taxes, that provides health care to all residents.

After Oatley's workout session, she grabs a cup of tea. Sitting on a bench outside the center, she describes what happened to her nearly 10 years ago.

"I felt these odd sensations, in both legs actually," she recalls. "This is weird, but it felt warm on the inside, and when I would take a bath or a shower, the hot water felt cold and the cold water felt hot."

She made an appointment with her general practitioner, who promptly referred her to a specialist.

"He recommended, that very day, an MRI scan, a pulmonary function test, an X-ray and a blood test," she says. "And so all that was done that afternoon, and I went back the very next week for the results."

The tests showed multiple sclerosis, a chronic, degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system.

When Oatley was first diagnosed, there were several new drugs available in the United States that were thought to slow or stop the disease, at a cost of thousands of dollars per month. But in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service was waiting for more data on the effectiveness of the medications. So Oatley paid for one of the drugs, Copaxone, herself at first. Then the NHS approved the drug for her type of MS. At that point, the NHS gave her Copaxone free and delivered her prescription to her home every month.

"And they gave me my money back," she adds. "So they reimbursed me the 5,000 pounds I had spent. How cool is that? I thought I'd died and gone to heaven."

Medically, she's happy with what she's getting now: twice-yearly appointments with a neurologist and prescription drugs delivered free to her home.

And if she has a flare-up, she can go to the doctor without a wait.

Her only gripe is that the NHS provides only a limited amount of physical therapy, and that's why she's at the Chilterns MS Centre.

Oatley's situation is a stark contrast to that of Americans diagnosed with MS who have limited or no health insurance. They have to wait more than two years before Medicare, the federal health insurance plan, will pay for treatment. When Congress and the president expanded Social Security and Medicare to the disabled in 1973, they put a two-year waiting period onto Medicare to keep costs down.

Oatley is appalled to hear this. It would be overwhelming, she says, to be diagnosed with such a potentially devastating disease — and then to be left on your own to figure out how to pay for medical care.

"I wouldn't know where to start," she says. "I would think it would be just so mentally debilitating. I think I would have topped myself. That's a euphemism for killing yourself."
She asks, what do Americans in that situation do?

Those without insurance often find themselves in a two-year waiting period.

Jeffrey Rubin, a 41-year-old living in northeast Philadelphia, was diagnosed with MS in 2006. Two years later, he spends most of his days in a rented house, taking care of his 4-year-old daughter, Taryn.

He and Taryn read together and practice numbers and the alphabet, until his three other children come home. But there are no trips to the park. Even with a cane, Rubin can walk only half a block.

Rubin's medicines are lined up on a high shelf in his kitchen.

He takes about nine medications for his disease. Every day he injects Copaxone, which slows down the course of the disease. It costs about $2,000 a month. He takes a twice-a-day pill for his back. That prescription costs more than $200 a month. A drug for migraines costs $400 a month. A lot of the medicines make him feel even more tired, so he takes one to help keep him awake — that costs $1,000 for a month's supply.

When Rubin was in his late 30s, he felt pretty comfortable with his life. He supervised quality control at a medical packaging company. He had health insurance. His wife, Kristin, was a homemaker, and they had bought a house a few blocks from where he went to high school.
He had his first MS attack Memorial Day weekend in 2006. He was working a midnight shift, when suddenly a big black circle appeared in the middle of his visual field. The left side of his body went numb; the right side was riddled with pain. He went to the hospital, and while he recovered somewhat from the attack, he was no longer strong enough to work.

He eventually lost his job, and he couldn't pay for his health insurance on his own.

He recalls thinking, "I don't have the money. I'm already paying, of course, my mortgage, utilities. What am I going to do? I don't know what to do now. Everything just came closing down."

He asked for money from his elderly parents and borrowed money from friends. Neighbors and strangers dropped off food. His doctors gave him drug samples, but not enough. He came up with strategies to make his drugs last longer, but that worried him.

"If I don't take all my medications, who knows what's going to happen?" Several studies have shown that stress can make MS worse.

Rubin did get Medicaid, state medical assistance, but none of his doctors belonged to the program. When he went to fill his prescriptions, the pharmacies said he wasn't covered. He stopped paying his mortgage so he could pay some of his medical bills. Then the mortgage company claimed his house.

Finally, he declared bankruptcy.

After a fight with the Social Security Administration and a letter from one of his senators, Rubin finally qualified for government disability payments from Social Security. But he still isn't eligible for government health insurance through Medicare.

Rubin is one of 250,000 people with disabling conditions such as MS, cancer or schizophrenia who are stuck in this waiting period without insurance, according to an estimate from the Commonwealth Fund.

Recently, Kristin Rubin got a job with the charter school the kids attend, and the family now has health insurance through her job. But the insurance comes with co-payments, and since Jeff gets a lot of care, the co-payments add up.

He admits he once contemplated suicide — as a way to ease the financial burden on his wife.

Tallying The Scorecard

So the scorecard comes to this.

Linda Oatley of Buckland, England, had several months' delay in getting coverage for a new treatment. She also has to pay a small fee for weekly physical therapy. Overall, she's happy with the National Health Service.

"In the end, if you ask the right questions, go to the right places, you can get the care you need from the get-go," she says.

And the scorecard for Jeff Rubin? A year and a half of cutting drug dosages, a repossessed house and bankruptcy.

A few years ago, he wouldn't have supported a British-style system, with its slower drug approvals and limited ability to pick your own doctors.

Now, he feels differently. He says his healthy friends might not agree, but the free care from the start that Linda Oatley got and the ability to focus on his illness and not his finances sound pretty good.

"Unless you fall into this type of situation, you just don't understand it," he says.

Rubin's two-year waiting period is up in December, at which point he'll receive health coverage from Medicare.

Produced by Vikki Valentine

Footnote: The United States spends on average $6,402 per person annually on medical care. Great Britain spends a little over half that — while providing health coverage for all residents and scoring higher than the U.S. on basic measures of good health, such as life expectancy

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A letter to the Democractic Republic of the Congo

Francine is 23 years old. She has only had a few years of schooling, cannot read or write more than her name, and lives in a hut without electricity or running water in a place she does not call home. Francine looks after two children, one of which is her own son, the other is her younger sister. She had another son but he is dead. We do not know why or how or how old he was at the time. She has no job because few are available and, even if there were opportunities for her, she lacks the skills or capital to take advantage of them.

Which is where a British girl in California - me - and an organization called Women for Women come in.

Meet my new 'sister', from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In one of life's lucky dips, Francine and I have been paired together by Women for Women, a non-religious organization that has empowered over 153,000 women survivors of war to move toward economic self-sufficiency with a year-long program of direct aid, rights education, job skills training and small business development. Women for Women has distributed $42 million in direct aid, microcredit loans, and other program services since it began in 1994 and has mobilized more than 125,000 women and men in 105 countries worldwide to reach out and support women survivors of war - one woman at a time.

For an initial set-up fee of $30 and a monthly commitment of $27, I will be helping Francine follow the path of those 153,000 women across the globe. In addition to the small donations I am providing (you cannot commit more - it's a set fee), I will be writing letters to Francine each month to share with her the details of my life, in the hopes that I can buoy her spirits and make her feel cared-for and supported as she attempts to strive for better things in her life. If I am lucky, Francine will be able to find someone to write a letter back to me on her behalf once in a while, and I will get to learn more about her and her life too. I so hope to hear from her, even though replying may be unimaginably difficult for someone without the skills to read or write. It would be wonderful to hear how my sponsorship and Women for Women is helping her.

I found out about Women for Women in Time Magazine, who did a profile on the organization's founder, Zainab Salbi, a few months ago. Zainab Salbi's was the privileged Iraqi daughter of Saddam Hussein's personal pilot. At 20 she entered into an arranged marriage with an Iraqi man living in the U.S., at the behest of her mother. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait just one month later, all communication with her family was severed and she was left with an abusive husband in a country she didn't know. In 1993, Salbi read about women in Bosnia's so-called rape camps and was appalled by the slow response of the international community. Impassioned by her own experiences in Iraq and as an abused wife, she raised funds through a church in the Washington area and founded Women for Women International later that year.

It was a timely article for me, since I had recently finished two books about the Lost Boys of Sudan - God Grew Tired of Us and A Long Way Gone - both of which detailed some of the horrors of the conflicts in Africa, and (separately) had been looking at perhaps going on a volunteer vacation in the next two years to an underprivileged country. Basically, I have been increasingly touched by hearing about the misfortune of those less fortunate than me and, feeling greatful for my own life, wanted to find a way to make a meaningful difference. Of course, I could have just given money to a charity (UNICEF has been my charity of choice) but I have always felt, just a little, that donating money to these kinds of organizations is like throwing your money in a fountain - someone's going to benefit from it at some point, but who knows who and when or why? So, Women for Women seemed perfect for me and, I hope, for my new sister Francine.

Accompanying the very basic question-and-answer information about Francine, was a four page fact-sheet on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). It's a page-turner, let me tell you. A different horror-story in every paragraph for a country slap-bang in the middle of African and it's many conflicts (it is bordered by 9 other countries, including Rwanda) and, like many of those other countries, has gone from Belgian colonial rule to a string of power-grabbing dictators. DNR had it's first democratic election in most of its citizen's memory in 2006 but still conflict between rival factions and tribes threatens to send the country back into turmoil, and hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are struggling to regain some sense of normalcy after the war. Like Francine, many Congolese are displaced, chased from their home by the conflicts, have lost family members to to the war, and are left with no education, no skills, no jobs, no services, no money, no home, and little hope.

It's a grim reality that I just can't even imagine. A small 1.5"x1" digital photo is stapled to the top right of Francine's fact sheet and I've spent a lot of time looking at it, trying to discern something deeper from the look in Francine's eyes, or the way she is dressed, or her expression. She is standing in front of what looks like a mud wall and she looks older than her 25 years, for sure. She appears slender, has short, afro hair, and is wearing a white shirt that looks like it is cut for a man. Her reluctance to break a smile seems to hint at, perhaps, a distrust of the camera, photographer, or perhaps the process she is entering herself into. In short, I can't determine anything from her photo other than a superficial likeness.

So, the only thing to do in my first letter to Francine today, was to talk about me. I tried, as much as possible, to be honest about who I am and how I live without sounding patronizing or without rubbing her nose in her own misfortune. The booklet from Women for Women said that many 'sisters' are excited to hear about the lives of their sponsors and are empowered by hearing about another woman living a better, freer life. I also let Francine know that I am an open person and encourage her questions about what I write, or my life in general. For instance, I shared with her that I am originally from England, am childless by choice at 33, consider my two dogs to be my 'children', and travel around the world for pleasure. (I wasn't quite this blunt but I'm sure you're seeing where I'm going with this.) This may be incredibly ignorant or patronizing of me, but I have to imagine that all of these details are about as alien to someone whose daily reality involves staying alive, as living without electricity and running water is to me.

So, my letter and some photos of me, Hubby and my ‘kids’, head off into cyberspace this afternoon. Hopefully I’ll get something back from Francine but, if not, I plan to write another letter next month anyway. After all, for once, this isn’t about me.

If you would like to learn more about Women for Women and sponsoring a women in an underprivileged country, you can visit their website at

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Some people live in completely alternate language realities

I'm sitting at the gate at Seattle airport, waiting to board my flight (which I've just overheard is 20 minutes delayed, although nothing on any board says it is) and the guy next to me is on the phone with a co-worker. His entire 40 minute bitching session has been almost completely indecipherable to me. It has been going something like this: "Dude! But the Version 6 composite release shouldn't interfere with the system 8 update. The sequel servers should interface with the JP6 and reload the back-end network asp. The TSP is fine, dude. These frickin' people are kindergardeners. It sucks."

Exactly what I was thinking.

Back at the airport

Noooooooooo! I'm not off galavanting for pleasure again. Today I'm heading up to Seattle to host a training for a new client. So, it's 5:40am and I'm sitting at gate A13, waiting to board. Good news: no posted delays (which, as we've learned, does not mean 'no delays') and a plane awaits at the end of the concourse.

More later...

6:14am... Edited to add:

Well, we supposedly take off in less than 30 minutes and I don't see a plane or a revised boarding time. It's looking suspiciously like the ole "on time" bait-and-switch.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The peanut butter jam

Did you know that you can get rid of scratches on your favorite CD using creamy peanut butter?

It's true! I saw it on Good Morning America this morning.

You simply grab a jar of jiffy, rub it into the CD scuff mark in small, circular motions (not 'around the disk') and then wipe it off, inside to outside (not in a circle). The oils in the peanut butter fill the scuff mark. The key is to use a coffee filter to wipe it off - aparently the coffee filter is made of 100%, unbleached cotton and so won't damage the disk.


Friday, July 11, 2008

An hour (plus) of my valuable time

Hotel California's CAW is always providing stellar examples of how incredibly stupid customers never cease to amaze her (or us) in the retail trade. Here's one from the other side of the fence. One of those maddening experiences with a technical support representative, no doubt sitting somewhere in Delhi (apologies to my Indian friends - I lova ya!), following the on-screen prompts of their customer support program like a little robot...

(In this dialogue "You" is obviously ME)
  • Rep: Hi, my name is XYZ. How may I help you?
  • You: When I went to remove my wireless adaptor from my USB hole today, the USB connector stayed in the hole and the rest of the key came out without it. I cannot re-attach and it will not turn on.
  • Rep:Can you please confirm the model number of your product?
  • You: wusb600n
  • Rep: Can I also have its serial number and from which country are you based in?
  • You: I am in the U.S. The serial # is xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Rep: Thanks. I believe that the problem here is a PHYSICAL HARDWARE issue where WUSB600N adapter seems to have been cut in half?
  • Rep: Its USB connector got disconnected from the adapter itself....
  • You: Well, yes, the two components are disconnected
  • Rep: I see. What happened before this?
  • You: Nothing. Everything was working fine. I needed to remove the adaptor to pack away my laptop and one part came out, the rest stayed in.
  • Rep: Its just disintegrated by itself, right?
  • You: Right. I just pulled it out normally. Nothing unusual. It looks like it just came unstuck. Both components are in good shape otherwise.
  • Rep: Sorry for the delay.Let me again make sure that I fully understood your concern. The adapter itself has its PHYSICAL components detached from itself, right?
  • You: YES. The metal connector part that goes into the USB slot is still in there. The plastic part came away from it when I went to remove it from the slot. So yes, the physical components are detatched.
  • Rep: Sorry for the inconvenience.How long have you had the device and can I have its serial number?
  • You: I gave you the serial number already. I have had the device since May 12th 2008Rey
  • Rep: Sorry. I am just making sure its the same serial number. Anyway, do you still have its receipt?
  • You: Nothing has changed in the last few minutes. Yes, I still have the receipt.
  • Rep: Excellent! I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you. Your device is already qualified for replacement.
  • You: Great.
  • Rep: However, you should still try contacting our RMA department about the problem.
  • You: What?
  • Rep:The number is 1-800-xxx-xxxx for more informatiom on your RMA pplication. Wait for the voice prompt to give you further instructions on connecting to the RMA department.
  • You: I've been on here with you for 15 minutes and waiting a further 30 before that. You can't authorize an RMA?
  • Rep: I am only following a strict company policy.I hope you understand. After this session, I'll do what I can. As for now, you should try contacting our RMA department for more info.
  • You: Well, no, I don't understand how a technical support department and the return authorization department are not in communication with one another. But then I'm not surprised either. Do I have a reference # when I call them?
  • Rep: Case number of this session will be generated 5 minutes after disconnecting. Our RMA agents on the phone will be able to review this session.
  • You: Ok.
  • Rep: They can pull this up. Just use the same email address. Do you have any other questions that I can help you with today?
  • You: Doubtful.

Is it me or is it not logical to assume that many technical support requests result in a replacement product being needed? Would it not make sense that the RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) Department would have some kind of system whereby a technical support rep could communicate their approval for the replacement part (based upon their flow-chart of pre-approved approval processes and "policies"), obtain from the customer the pertinent information to return the part (name, address, phone), and then submit the RMA to the RMA department for shipping. Think of the efficiency! Instead of two different people obtaining the same information from the customer, entering into two separate data-entry points, they would only need to hire one person and all the information could be housed in one record. Egads! I am a genius.

Some days technology is nothing but a pain in rear. Not only does it go wrong (often) but when it does, technology itself turns the customer service process into a maddening, depersonalized, parade of time-wasting stupidity and mind-boggling ineffiiciency. The time wasted is mine (the customer's), the productivity wasted is mine (the customer's), and the people making all the profits and savings (by hiring some nimwit in Delhi) can't even be bothered to ensure their departments and systems work together.

The phone number the rep gave me, sent me to an 800 number with NO OPTION for an RMA Department. Also, the email with the case# never materialized. So, I got back through to someone in the tech support department who took all the same information again (in brief), put me on hold for 10 minutes and then came back with a case number and a new 800 number to call for "Customer Care" (an oxymoron). I called that number and aparently it's "unavailable from my calling area". So, back to the first 800# and this time trying a different set of random number selections to get me to someone with a brain and some common-sense.

Finally, after entering enough numbers to equal the total money spent on the Iraq war, I reached an RMA representative who proceeded to peform the complex and highly specialized task of taking my name, address, and phone number. (Now I see why they needed to separate the departments - different skillsets!) She then proceeded to place a $100 hold on my credit card for the priviledge of shipping me out a replacement part and then informed me that I would be responsible for the shipping costs when returning the defective part - which of course has to be done with a tracking # and insurance, and the receipt of which would remove the hold on my credit card. So none of that inexpensive snail mail.

By which time it was 11:30am and the only meaningful thing I had managed to achieve was a headache.


I stepped outside my door this morning at 4:30 to head out to the gym and was immediately overcome by an unfamiliar feeling... a cool breeze! Arriving home later on, I rushed around the house opening every window in sight and turning on all the fans. Fresh air that doesn't cost a dime! I need to get it in the house early, trap it in, and then at about 11am, lock it down - closing the windows and the blinds.

Of course, I'm now sitting in my office with the window open and I have to confess to being just a little chilly. I actually have goose-bumps on my arms. I'm not complaining, mind you, I can always put on a sweater.

I'm not normally this fanatical about saving $$ but our AC sucks, our double-paned windows are old, and our 2-story house is a bitch to cool. Since this is my first real summer in this house, I'm trying to decrease the eye-crossing shock of opening my electricity bill this month. Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's coming... July 18th!

Just hearing these songs makes me giddy with happiness and excitement. This is the soundtrack of my childhood and my favorite on-stage musical. Of course, I am going to see it!

Pull out that polyester, those platform sandals, and bop away...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Hi Honey! I'm Home!


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!

This is the only test I can honestly say I didn't give a hoot about passing. I'm sure none of you are surprised by the result.

You can take the test here - they also have a test for men.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The power of travel. The power of human connection.

My sister-in-law sent this to me by email today. This sums up, I think, much better than I ever could, why I love to and want to continue to travel all over the world.

Watch the video and then read the article below....Maybe I just needed to be a little less academically motivated!?

July 8, 2008
A Private Dance?
Four Million Web Fans Say No

There are no weekend box office charts for online videos. But if there were, near or at the very top of the list right now might well be a four-and-a-half-minute video called “Dancing,” which more than four million people have viewed on YouTube, and perhaps another million on other sites, in the just over two weeks since it appeared. It’s the online equivalent of a platinum hit, seeping from one computer to the next like a virus.

The title is not misleading. “Dancing” shows a guy dancing: a big, doughy-looking fellow in shorts and hiking boots performing an arm-swinging, knee-pumping step that could charitably be called goofy. It’s the kind of semi-ironic dance that boys do by themselves at junior high mixers when they’re too embarrassed to partner with actual girls.

The dancer is Matt Harding, the 31-year-old creator of the video, and with some New Agey-sounding music playing in the background, he turns up, grinning and bouncing, in 69 different locations, including India, Kuwait, Bhutan, Tonga, Timbuktu and the Nellis Airspace in Nevada, where he performs the dance in zero gravity.

He started doing it at work, years ago, when he was living in Brisbane, Australia. “I’d dance at lunchtime or during an awkward pause or just to annoy people,” Mr. Harding said. “It was sort of a nervous tic.”

Now he’s on the streets in Mumbai one minute, balanced on the Giant’s Causeway rock formation in Northern Ireland the next, and then he’s in a tulip field in the Netherlands or in front of a geyser in Iceland. Sometimes Mr. Harding dances alone. On a Christmas Island beach he has an audience of crabs, and on Madagascar he performs for lemurs.

But more often — and this accounts for much of the video’s appeal — he’s in the company of others: South African street children in Soweto, bushmen in New Guinea, Bollywood-style dancers in India, some oddly costumed waitresses in Tokyo, crowds of free spirits in Paris, Madrid and rainy Montreal, all copying, or trying to, his flailing chicken-step. Mr. Harding even dances for a lone military policeman (unmoved to join him) in the Korean demilitarized zone.
In many ways “Dancing” is an almost perfect piece of Internet art: it’s short, pleasingly weird and so minimal in its content that it’s open to a multitude of interpretations. It could be a little commercial for one-world feel-goodism. It could be an allegory of American foreign policy: a bumptious foreigner turning up all over the world and answering just to his own inner music. Or it could be about nothing at all — just a guy dancing.

However you interpret it, you can’t watch “Dancing” for very long without feeling a little happier. The music (by Gary Schyman, a friend of Mr. Harding’s, and set to a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, sung in Bengali by Palbasha Siddique, a 17-year-old native of Bangladesh now living in Minneapolis) is both catchy and haunting. The backgrounds are often quite beautiful. And there is something sweetly touching and uplifting about the spectacle of all these different nationalities, people of almost every age and color, dancing along with an uninhibited doofus.

Children, not surprisingly, turn out to be the best at picking up on Mr. Harding’s infectious vibe. There’s frequently a grown-up, on the other hand — especially one in the front row of a crowd — who tends to ham it up and make a fool of himself.

The other remarkable thing about the “Dancing” phenomenon is that it is, to a very considerable extent, a creation of the Internet. It doesn’t just live, so to speak, on the Web; it was the Web that, more or less accidentally, brought it into being. The current video is actually the third iteration of a project that began in 2003, when a friend, using a Canon pocket camera with the capacity to record brief videos (when it was still something of a novelty), shot Mr. Harding doing his dance in Hanoi.

It was the equivalent of taking a photograph as a souvenir, Mr. Harding said in a phone conversation recently while driving with his girlfriend in Northern California. Mr. Harding, who grew up in Westport, Conn., skipped college at the suggestion of his father, who didn’t see the point of paying tuition for someone he thought was unmotivated. He has been employed in a video game store and as a designer of video games, but prefers just to travel. “It’s one thing I’m really good at,” he said.

He collected all the dancing shots from that first trip in 2003, edited them into a little video with a soundtrack from an adaptation of a traditional song from the Solomon Islands, performed by the group Deep Forest, and, at his sister’s suggestion, posted it on his Web site, (No reference intended to the “Today” show feature “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?” “I’m almost never up that early,” Mr. Harding said.)

The video went up in the fall of 2004, before YouTube or the other big video upload sites, but even so it quickly became a hit among the people trolling the Internet back then.
“It got picked up by and sites like that,” Mr. Harding recalled. “Usually, what they showed was people getting hurt or doing something really stupid, so I was bracing myself for abuse, but everyone seemed to like it.”

So did the newly formed Stride chewing gum company, which offered to underwrite Mr. Harding’s subsequent travels, virtually no strings attached. (In the 2006 version the Stride name pops up in the corner of the screen every now and then, and, in the newest video, the company is acknowledged at the very end, but amazingly, in this era of shameless commercial tie-ins, Mr. Harding is not obliged to wear a Stride T-shirt or deliver a little pitch for the product. Exactly what connection the company sees between gum and a guy dancing, but not chewing, remains a bit of a mystery.)

In 2005 Mr. Harding released a second video much like the first — exotic locations, guy dancing, New Agey music — except with better sound and camera resolution, and in 2006 he went back to Stride and asked if he could repeat the venture, this time with other people dancing along with him.

The idea first came to him in 2006, he recalled, when he was dancing with some street kids in Rwanda. “If I had tried dancing with kids in a mall in San Francisco, say, I probably would have got arrested,” he said. “But in Africa there aren’t any barriers, and there’s immediate access to this kind of joy and irreverence.”

He added: “Those first videos were something I needed to do for me, but I realized then that watching me dance was getting a little old. The new video pushes a different button — you’ve got all these different people doing the same thing. I remember thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if you could capture that?’ ”

The new video has better photography still and a score, called “Praan,” that Mr. Schyman orchestrated for a 25-piece band. For the lyrics, he and Mr. Harding decided to stick with a language other than English (because it’s less of a cliché, Mr. Harding said) — but how do you find someone who can sing Bengali? On the Internet, of course. Mr. Harding’s girlfriend, Melissa Nixon, who works for Google, discovered Ms. Siddique on YouTube.

Mr. Harding is aware that fame on the Internet is fleeting, and needs novelty for life support. On the one hand, data is never lost — it’s floating out there in cyberspace forever — but, on the other, our memories (and those of our computers) are limited and subject to constant upgrades. A video is downloaded, sent to a friend or two and then quickly forgotten. Who anymore goes back to look at that animated dancing baby that was all the rage in the ’90s? So Mr. Harding isn’t certain yet whether he wants to make a sequel.

“I wouldn’t want to make another video unless there was something to say that I hadn’t said,” he explained. “I’m going to see if there’s something more to be done, but if not, I’m happy with what there is. I don’t want to pop the bubble.”

More on the mysterious sore spot

I had a Physical Therapy appointment today and dilvulged the diagnosis/prognosis (or lack thereof) from my surgeon about the sore spot on my thigh.

I have to say it was self-affirming to see the look of disgust and confusion on my PT's face. It's not just me.

Sensing my frustration with said sore-spot, he dug deep (quite literally in some cases) to learn more about its characteristics. Pressing, rubbing, and massaging various points on my hip, butt and thigh led him to doubt that the soreness is the result of any nerve damage - a relief, sort of. The soreness is entirely localized, meaning that it only hurts in the precise spot you put pressure on, at the time you put pressure on it. If it was a nerve, he said, certain movements would trigger the pain, as would pressure elsewhere on the nerve itself - none of which happens. It's more like a bruise - it hurts only when and where you put pressure on it. So, this leads him to believe that it is a soft-tissue issue (say that ten times fast).

He thinks that the months and weeks of massage for my IT band may have caused some soft tissue damage (which wouldn't be surprising given the voracity of the manual therapy I've had in the last 3 months) but I'm not confident in that part of the diagnosis. I've had this soreness/pain since the surgery itself and I can assure you, I wasn't massaging anything then - I could barely touch it.

One thing he did literally guffaw at was the surgeon's suggestion to give me a cortisone shot. As I thought, cortisone shots are not usually administered in soft tissue but instead into joints/sockets and since this is not a joint issue, he has no idea what the surgeon is thinking.

So none of this gives me any concrete answers. Ultimately, I think I just have to make an appointment with my PCP and see what she suggests at this point.

In the meantime, I'm continuing the heat-and-ice dance and avoiding pressure on the area as much as possible to see if we can chill my pore, sore flesh out.

Hot! Hot! Hot!

73 degrees. Sounds like a reasonable, enjoyable, summer temperature, doesn't it? Ha! Well, not at 4:30am it isn't. That's right - it was 73 degrees as I headed out to the gym this morning and there was not a whiff of a breeze in sight. When there's not even a gulp of cool air available first thing in the morning, you know it's going to be a bad day.

The weather forecast for Sacramento is triple-digit and above temperatures for most of this week and, with little-to-no breeze, air quality in the proverbial pooper. It's so bad in neighboring Placer County that the morning news didn't even have enough "AQI" (Air Quality Index) left on their graph to measure it! There are still 300+ fires burning in California and the majority of them are in the northern part of the state. There has been a constant haze around everything now for more than 2 weeks. IT IS NOT NICE.

Quite apart from anything else I am dreading my electricity bill this month. It was $200+ last month and that was only with moderately warm weather. Our AC kicked-on at 7am this morning (we have it set to a very responsible 78 degrees) and, without the ability to open the windows to let cool air in (there is none and, anyway, it's smoky outside), it's going to be grinding away all day just to keep the house below 80. Chalk another one up to the unexpected disadvantages of working from home - higher electricity bills.

Fortunately, my Dad left just in time for the weather to go from bad to worse. Yes, the reason I have been somewhat off-the-map for the last 2.5 weeks is that my Dad was out here on his own for the first time EVER.

Since he and Mum bought a house just a mile away from me, Dad (who is recently retired) decided to come out to get some decorating and yard work done. The result was that we got to spend the most devoted father-daughter time we've had in... well... a long, long time. I've been in the U.S. for 13 years and this is the first time he's been here without Mum and the first time either of them have been out for more than 2 weeks at a time. Prior to that, while I lived with my parents in England, it's not like Dad and I routinely "hung out" together. So, this was a real treat.

Dad Visit June 08 079

Click here for some more photos of our time together.

The weather forecast in London? 59 degrees with thunderstorms. That British "summer" is looking preeeetty good about now.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

It's only going to get worse, fellow travelers

If you were reading my blog about the time I was traveling to/from Jamaica, you'll know that I have thoroughly fallen out of love with flying - something which I used to have some perverse enjoyment of and viewed as 'part of' the vacation experience.

Unfortunately, it looks like things are only going to head from bad-to-worse. I read this article today in the Sacramento Business Journal:

The Incredible Shrinking Airlines
Joe Brancatelli -
Airlines are getting smaller—fast—and that is going to have a profound and immediate effect on how you travel.

After guessing wrong on the direction of oil prices and generally reducing their hedging positions this year, the big airlines now face a world where jet fuel costs twice as much as it did a year ago. The major U.S. carriers have announced they will shrink by around 10 percent in 2008, and they will attempt to stem the red ink by slashing at their route networks and flight schedules. The longer oil stays above $100 a barrel—doesn't that sound like a blast from a much happier energy past?—the more the airlines will cut.That could mean some nasty surprises for travelers.

Here's what you need to know to help you understand the new airscape and plan for the coming weeks and months.

What You Don't Know...Some airlines have publicly trumpeted their cutbacks, all the better to underscore their parlous finances. But not everything is announced. Delta Air Lines, for example, is making sizable schedule reductions at its Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and New York hubs. The carrier has been mum on details, however, because it wants to merge with Northwest Airlines and promised various government agencies that the combination wouldn't affect capacity. The lesson: Assume nothing. The flight you thought was there yesterday may not be on the schedule tomorrow.

Long and Short Are Most Vulnerable
You're at greatest risk of having a trip disrupted if it includes very long intercontinental flights or very short domestic commuter flights. The long hauls are going because they burn fuel simply to carry enough fuel to make the long runs. In fact, one European airline executive told me that his nonstop flights to the West Coast use about 30 percent more fuel per hour than his nonstops to the East Coast. So it's not surprising that Thai Airways is dropping its New York-Bangkok route (it stops at the end of the month) or Aer Lingus is cutting its Los Angeles-Dublin run (it ends in October). Meanwhile, the short commuter hops are going because the 37- and 50-seat regional jets aren't fuel-efficient either. It just doesn't make sense anymore to operate planes that carry so few passengers per flight.

Nonstops Are Being Stopped
Airlines are also eliminating routes that overfly their big hubs. One example: American Airlines has dropped most of its nonstop flights to Austin; most travelers now must connect through American's mega-complex in Dallas/Forth Worth. As airlines retreat, the larger hubs will fare better than the smaller ones. Last week, for example, Continental Airlines announced it would reduce flights at its Cleveland hub by 13 percent. The airline's much-larger connecting complex in Newark, New Jersey, however, is only losing 3 percent of its service. And the nation's most important hub, Chicago's O'Hare Airport, will see virtually no flight reductions. The federal government has capped the number of flights at O'Hare, and neither American nor United, the carriers that dominate the airport, want to risk losing any of their takeoff and landing slots.

Fewer Flights, Fewer Seats, Fewer Cities
Sharp-eyed travelers will notice three other startling trends: Fewer flights on once-popular routes, fewer seats on the remaining flights, and many cities disappearing from the route map. One example: US Airways announced last week that it would halve its operations at Las Vegas, from 141 daily departures to 74. As American Airlines contracts both its Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, hubs, the number of available seats between these Caribbean and Latin American flight centers is falling precipitously. This spring, American's seven daily flights offered a total of more than 1,700 seats. The fall schedule still shows seven flights, but smaller aircraft will be used, cutting the daily inventory to just 1,300 seats. Continental is dropping service to 15 cities entirely in September, dumping locales both mundane (Oakland, California, and Toledo, Ohio) and exotic (Bali, Indonesia, and Cali, Colombia).

Light Flights May Get Canned
As airlines obsess over oil—fuel now accounts for about 40 percent of a carrier's costs—a disreputable old practice called "flight consolidation" is returning. Despite what frequent flyers occasionally thought, network carriers in the past almost never canceled a scheduled flight because there were too few passengers; the airline needed the aircraft to get to its next destination to operate a subsequent flight. But with fuel costs what they are now, airlines may sometimes cancel a flight if too few passengers turn up at the gate. You'll probably be automatically re-booked on the airline's next flight. There's not much you can do if an airline abruptly cancels your flight; in fact, there's no way you can even be sure they "consolidated" your flight. All you can do is be prepared: Before you head off to the airport, get a list of other flights and connections that can get you where you need to go.

Panic Now, Book Later
If these cutbacks create a mild sensation of panic, it's understandable. But don't rush out to book flights now for trips six or eight months in the future. The airlines have raised published fares more than a dozen times this year and added a slew of new fees and restrictions. But many of the price increases are mitigated by the industry's reflexive, short-term discounting. You'd be better off waiting for the fuel-induced fare spikes to settle down. Besides, as it gets closer to departure, airlines will add discounts to help sell the remaining unsold seats. One more factor: Southwest Airlines, which is still profitable and still growing, hasn't even loaded its flight schedules and prices for travel beyond October 30. Southwest's competitors on its domestic routes will be forced to match whatever prices the new King of Skies eventually sets.

The Fine Print…American Airlines began charging most coach customers for checked bags on Sunday, June 15. United Airlines and US Airways have matched American's move to charge $15 for the first bag and $25 for the second, but their fees go into effect later in the summer.


And so the question is: Will this deter me from traveling? No. As much as I'd like to find a way to "stick it" to the airlines for making devoted travelers (and customers) like me pay for their poor business decisions, I don't see spending the rest of my life taking ridiculously expensive long weekends closer to home, as an option. BOOOORING.

$500 for...?

Today I finally received the bill for my hip surgery. The total damage (before insurance) was $29,000 or thereabouts. My portion is $500. Only about 2%, which would seem like a decent deal of course if I thought that, ultimately, the whole ordeal would have actually been worth it.

Let's do an assessment of what $500 has purchased me:

Pain: More than before the surgery*.
Stiffness: More than before the surgery.
Range of Motion: Less than before the surgery**.
Clicking: About the same as before the surgery. (Sample plains of motion, everything.)
New issues: 3 x 1/2 inch scars + nerve damage and pain in lower thigh.
Rehabilitation: $960 in Physical Therapy and Massage to date.

So, essentially, I paid $500 for 3 scars, a damaged nerve, and an ongoing therapy bill of $160 a month. Seems like I came out on the negative there, doesn't it?

The totally frustrating thing is that my gut knew it all along but I was obsessed with the "what if" of not doing it. Something about me just didn't trust that surgeon (Mr. Black D'Onofrio himself). I should have said "no way" when he agreed to be the primary on a procedure he had never done before. I realized that when, 20 minutes before the procedure, I practically hugged the co-surgeon and burst into tears on his shoulder when he came in to check on me. But I dismissed my doubts as chicken-shit fears.

My overall assessment = Bad Decision, TravelVixen.
Moral of the story/what I will take away from this = Gut instincts need to carry more weight, even if they're not entirely rational.

So, what now? Keep stretching, keep working out, hope it gets better. As for the nerve damage, no improvement since the last report a couple of weeks ago, so a neurologist referral looks likely in the near future. But if presented with any kind of option that requires an object or objects piercing my skin, the answer is QUITE CLEARLY NO.

* "before the surgery"means with injury (not pre-injury), before the surgery. I wasn't in a lot of pain before and it's not a lot of pain now but everything is relative and it's still more than before I was supposedly "fixed".

** Granted, my ROM was good before and is above average now but that's only due to 30 minutes of stretching per day and 3 hours of intensive yoga per week. The week I went on vacation and stopped the stretching, I jumped back 20 steps.

A little help with your gas

Two things I learned this morning, both to do with putting gas in that little guzzler you drive to work every day.

1) Ground-breaking news in my in-box this morning, courtesy of Mum.

Have you ever rented or borrowed a car and when arriving at the petrol station wondered...mmm, which side is the petrol filler cap?My normal solution was to stick my head out the window, strain my neck and look, try to see in the side mirrors or even get out of the car. Well ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to share with you a little secret: if you look at your petrol gauge, you will see a small icon of a petrol pump. The handle of the petrol pump will extend out on either the left or right side of the petrol pump. If your tank is on the left, the handle will be on the left. If your tank is on the right, the handle will be on the right (see photo). It's that simple!

2) As seen on GMA offers money-saving gas cards, allowing you to lock-in today's per-gallon rate for a specified, pre-paid dollar amount. So, if gas is $4.30 per gallon right now, you could be $100 of gas, or 10 gallons and, even if gas prices go up to $4.50 per gallon, you still get 10 gallons for your $100. They even have a handy little savings calculator based upon the number of miles you drive per year and your average MPG. Even based upon my meagre driving, it estimates I could save $275 a year. There is a $29.95 membership fee but if you do not save money on at least one redemption throughout the subscription year, they will refund 100% of your first year's membership fee. The card is accepted at all stations accepting USBank's Voyager card and they have a station locator on their site. Even up here in the 'ghetto, I could find several stations within 2 miles of me.

Yes, just call me your newest consumer watchdog.

(As an aside, the damn Washington Post/Harvard Review called again last night. These people are gluttons for punishment. Only this time they got me and I wasn't as nice as Hubby. Don't think they will call again. )
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