Pasteurized….

i don’t get sick.  Seriously, i have – for reasons unknown to me – developed the immune system of a cockroach during the course of my life.  In the past ten years, i can COUNT the number of times i’ve been sick.  A bout with strep 10 years ago, a few rounds of the pesky 24-hour stomach virus (one delightfully timed to coincide with Girl Scout Cookie deliveries).  Mononucleosis, contracted in the Cambodian jungle trip in 2006 (initially mistaken for Malaria).

Head colds?  Rare.  Maybe twice.  That was until this season.  i have had the same fucking cold – passed to others for mutation prior to return to my nasal cavities – THREE times.  It’s a minor annoyance, and costs me about $10 in Kleenex each time.  But i’m sick of it.  Since November, my head has been weighed down with extraneous lugubrious secretions and i can’t stand it…

Friday night, returning from a happy hour drunk fest work, both of my children were home.  i made the mistake of whining about being sick, as i curled up under a blanket in the living room.

The Boy:  Wow.  She’s really starting to fall apart…

The Girl:  Really.  Do you think it’s time we had her put down?

The Boy:  Yeah… starting to get pathetic, isn’t she?

daisyfae:  Hey!  It’s a fucking cold!  But you know i don’t get sick… how many times have you seen me sick?

The Girl:  Should we take her for a ride in the country?

The Boy:  C’mon, Mom!  It’ll be nice!  We’ll take you out to a field, where you can frolic around with a lot of other middle-aged women…

The Killing Fields

Eleventh row, window seat, of an Air Tran 737 out of Atlanta last month.  Startled from deep sleep – and the darkest memory – it was about the last place i expected to wake up…

The dream was vivid.  Not really a dream, but a flashback.  Memories of a single morning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia* in October, 2006.  No idea what triggered the recollection.  Maybe lurking work frustrations and exhaustion teamed up to rattle my subconscious and put my petty worries into perspective. 

It worked. 

When The Girl and i saw the itinerary for our day in Phnom Penh, we agreed that it was about the strangest five hour travel session imaginable.  Not exactly “Art Museum, Shopping at Nordstrom, Down time at the Spa”…

0800-0930:  Choeung Ek, The Killing Field

0930-1100:  Genocide Museum (Tuol Sleng)

1100-1300:  Shopping/Lunch at the Russian Market

Students and parents were herded onto a bus, and we left the city.  The congestion, noise and traffic faded away, and soon we were dieseling our way through small villages, rudely splashing pedestrians and bicyclists with mud as they went about their business. 

The landscape changed again.  Green and lush, rolling hills. We arrived at Choeung Ek.  There was sparse signage, cattle grazing nearby and no other visitors at that hour of the morning.

Between 1975 and 1979**, the Khmer Rouge executed an estimated 2.2 – 2.5 million Cambodians – from a starting population of about 7 million.  First rounding up politicians, and opposition leaders, they soon after moved on to the educated classes:  doctors, engineers, teachers.  Families of doctors, engineers, teachers… and soon, simply anyone deemed unsympathetic.

After detention, torture and confession, prisoners were murdered at provincial dumping grounds – the killing fields.  So here we were, a tour bus of privileged students and their parents.  No formal tour, we were told to wander the fields.  Small placards were posted near partially excavated hollows in the ground.  “Mass grave of 166 victims”, “Mass grave of 90 victims”.  And on and on…

As we walked, the sun was rising higher in the sky, making the day inappropriately cheerful.  A gnarled, stately tree stood next to a large pit.  This was “the killing tree”.  Rather than waste bullets on the smallest victims, the babies and small children were held by the feet, their skulls smashed against the sturdy trunk, before they were thrown into the pit.  A faint stain is visible at the base of the tree.   “Mass grave of 450 victims”.  And on and on…

We walked along in stunned silence.  There was nothing to say.  Stopping along the path, turning to take it all in, i felt something under my foot.  i distractedly reached down to pick up the bright white stone, from the dirt path.  Not a stone.  A tooth.  A human molar…

Never in my life have i felt such anguish.  Almost 9,000 humans were brutally exterminated in this pastoral field.  i stepped on the tooth of a murdered man.  i sobbed uncontrollably.  Not really sure how long i was down, but The Girl startled me back to my senses with “I think we have to go now, Mom.  Are you ok?” 

No, i wasn’t.  Far from it… but we made our way back to the bus, and rode off in silence with the rest of the group.  And on to the next stop on the itinerary: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Security Prison S-21)   

As i lurched forward in my seat on the Air Tran jet, it was all there.  As if i’d just been to the killing fields the day before. 

Perspective.  Use it or lose it.

Photo by: Michael Darter

 photo from here:   i am apparently not the only one to have encountered teeth of the dead in the killing field…

* The Girl was spending a Semester at Sea, and i accepted the opportunity to meet up with her in Asia.  Her ship sailed into Saigon, Vietnam and we took a side trip to Cambodia.  One of the strangest sentences i ever read in an e-mail was “Hey, Ma.  Guess I’ll see you in Saigon.”

** Just after the Vietnam War.  And the years i spent in high school…

Your roots are showing, dear…

With a major construction project underway for my laboratory, many offices have been relocated in a “musical chairs” dance that was underway before i arrived in my new job last June.  We have now reached the steady-state condition for the next two years, which has all of the “Management-Like Objects” working out of modular offices, located in the parking lot. 

Trailers*. These are the things that are rented out as temporary offices, classrooms, or as construction site headquarters. Ours are quite nice, but have been around the block a few times. Literally.  They are not new… but they are cushy!  

It’s a “Quintuple-wide” — five modules, with over twenty individual offices, a kitchenette and a conference room!  i was mostly excited that the ladies room has THREE STALLS!  Of the twenty managers/tech advisors in the modular offices?  There are only three women – we can each have our own toilet! Luxury! 

Recent events, however, have truly exposed my trailer park origins to my new colleagues.  If they weren’t sure what they were dealing with before?  They are now… 

Incident A:  The Wednesday before Christmas Eve, there were only a few of us in the office. Our Division Admin, Allen, had brought in a 12-pack of Sam Adam’s finest lager to celebrate the holiday. As the five of us gathered in the kitchenette area, we realized we didn’t have a bottle opener. Rooting through the kitchen drawers, i found a couple of cork screws, some old plumbing parts, but no bottle opener.  

“Wait?  Plumbing parts?”  Looking again, i saw what it was…  a small bit of tygon tubing, attached to a copper “L-joint”, which was covered by a plastic bag.  Oh shit.  i knew what it was.  Without thinking, i pulled it from the drawer, pulled off the plastic bag and took a sniff… A one-hit pipe.  Loaded with burnt weed!  SHIT, SHIT and DOUBLE SHIT!  

Of the five of us assembled, only Allen realized what i’d just found…  we had to explain it to the other guys, and then figure out what to do with it.  My fingerprints were all over it, so the initial thought of putting it on the boss’ desk was discarded quickly.  Obviously leftover from a prior occupant, we disposed of the contraband, but not before ol’ daisyfae got tagged as “worldly”.  

Incident B:  Returning to my trailer office after a lunch hour visit to the gym, i was surprised to see a gaggle of nerds huddling outside the adjacent office.  There was an adorable young man in the middle of the pack, furiously wedging a piece of plastic in the door jamb.  “VK has locked his keys in his office, and there is no spare”.  Dropping my purse, shoes and coat in my office, i went to look.  The adorable young man was from the facilities office, and had managed to get his personal ID card wedged in the door attempting to slide open the lock.   

With the modular offices, each door lock system was different, so i went to find a similar door lock on an open office.  Getting the ‘lay of the door’, i then went to the supply cabinet, looking for a long, flexible metal ruler.  Striking out, i found a workable piece of hard plastic. 

Adorable Facilities Boy and i jimmied with the lock a bit, but it still wouldn’t budge.  The “manly men” were now arriving, with screwdrivers and pry bars and were planning to somehow disassemble the door.  Regrouping momentarily, one of the nerdier guys, RD,  and i went back to look at the other door… 

We realized we’d have a shot at going “up and over”, through the drop ceiling with a coat hanger to open the handle from the inside.  But it was a “pull down” handle…  Rather than up and over?  Under and up!  Scavenging a couple of metal hangers, i built the tool quickly, as the testosterone-level outside the door was rising at an alarming rate… they were prying the door frame… 

RD and i stepped up, and i informed them to turn down the “Man Factor” momentarily, as we were “going MacGyver on that bad boy”.  Laughing, one of the guys looked at his watch and said “You’ve got 20 seconds before the bomb goes off… GO!”  Fifteen seconds later?  i slid the coat hanger under the door, hooked it, pulled down, and popped the door open – under the direction of RD, who was peeking through the window.  

No blood, no guts, and no permanent damage to a rented trailer.  Adorable Facilities Boy high-fived me, and suggested we keep my tool as a “spare key” if needed again… 

But it was the comment i dropped this morning at the staff meeting that sealed it… 

Incident C:  There have been serious budget cuts over the past year.  With the start of the new year, our janitorial services contract has been scaled back.  We are now responsible for “Self-Trashing”.  Rather than have our custodian empty our office trash cans, we are expected to tie them neatly, and take them to a central covered office dumpster, which will be emptied weekly. 

Naturally, there was a bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth over this, but we all know that it’s not negotiable.  My suggestion:  “Can’t we just throw it on the lawn?  It IS a trailer, right?” 

On Bubba, On Billy Bob...

* For the past year, on all planning documents, they were referred to as the “Wind-Relocatables”, or “METH LAB Division”, for “Modular Exploratory Technology Housing – Labs and Bureaucracy” Division. i placed the ceremonial “Pink Flamingos” beside the door on my first day in the trailers…

Not “resolve” exactly… Not really…

Not resolutions.  It’s more like leaning into the wind.  And a cold fucking wind at that, at this particular moment…  Things on my mind.  Some things that must be dealt with over the next several months…

Books:  “i’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s me”.  i say this nearly every night, to the lonely foot-high stack of bound paper resting at my bedside.  i slyly avert my eyes from the smaller stack that sits beside my comfy chair in the living room.  But this must change.  i’ve nearly completed “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“, which is important reading for anyone who eats. 

Rather than launch directly into “In Defense of Food” (Pollan’s second book, which helps you deal with the problems uncovered in his previous book), i’ve vowed to beat through Dr. James Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren” to get a bead on the science of climate change.  Gonna have to bust this up with some good porn erotica or i’ll be cutting myself by spring…

Body:  Fairly religious in my use of “fitday” last year, i knocked off almost 40 pounds.  But i’m still about 20 pounds short of my goal – which isn’t a weight goal, as much as a body fat* goal.  There is a personal trainer in my near future.  i hate it, and i’ll never be “done”.  Nor will i give up bacon, booze or chocolate.  But onward…

Balance:  i took ‘fucking off’ to an entirely new level last year.  While i need to do something professionally useful, i fully intend to continue my quest to “fart around” as much as possible – But NOW?  With focus and skills development!  Planning a ski trip in February – under the gentle guidance of two professional ski instructors!  Starting “Stress & Rescue” SCUBA classes this week.  Rosetta Stone French is glaring at me from the end table.  Oh, and i never did finish updating my bedroom** when i moved into the new place…  Planning to make new linens.  Yes.  That means “sew”.  Can’t be that hard.  It’s just a bunch of rectangles and squares, right? 

Bed:  My mother is still living on a bed in my niece’s living room – no end in sight.  This is bullshit for all involved.  The war games are underway, and i’ll be infiltrating the Trailer Park this weekend to get the pieces in motion.  And likely come home with a snootful of mildew and cat dander… Mom’s 82.  To say she’s at the “Two Minute Warning” is optimistic.  She deserves a better quality of life than a ward bed in a trailer park flophouse…

Seriously.  These are not resolutions.  i haven’t made a resolution in decades.  Just some thoughts as i lean into the frigid wind.  Suppose it could be worse…. i could be that*** blogger…

It's c-c-c-cold....

image found here

* Due to breast cancer in 2006, when i hit menopause in a few years, i shall go through it without hormone supplements – Commando!  Rather than go to an armored “Menstrual Hut” for three years, i’m going to hit it with everything i’ve got.  Which means muscle.  The best way to weather it is to be strong and lean.  In 2006, i skipped the hormonal chemo, and committed to lose fat.  i’m late.  Should have been there a couple years ago…

** Got the comfy reading chair and fluffy bed.  Need new linens, a dresser, to hang a few items on the walls.  And install the ‘coffee bar’.  Always wanted a coffee bar in my fucking bedroom.  i’m THAT lazy…

*** My blogdaddy.  He’s been working on his graduate studies, amongst other things.  So now he writes about the weather.  But he writes eloquently about it, doesn’t he?

Nicely done

The week before Christmas, i went to have lunch with Edna again.  Her daughter-in-law took the opportunity to scoot out for some necessary shopping – and a caregiver break.  Hauling in some home made chicken noodle soup, zucchini bread* and oatmeal cookies, we had a chance to just sit and catch up a bit.

Most of the conversation was on the subject of Edna’s frustrations with the current situation.  She bemoaned her loss of independence, as well as the general annoyance of having people living with her – even if it was for her own care and safety.  Family drama was at the forefront as well, with holidays bringing conflicting familial obligations and logistics nightmares.

Complaining that her daughter-in-law wouldn’t let her do anything, she offered me a cup of coffee.  Getting the message loud and clear, i stood back and let her go fix me a cup.  Terminally ill, and rail thin, she managed it quite well.  Tasted pretty good, too, with some of those oatmeal cookies.

Once she’d vented, she moved on to the subject of death.  She said “I just want to be done with it”.  It was her plan to send her son and daughter-in-law back home after the holidays and let go.  She was ready. 

The home health care nurse, provided by Hospice, came by for a visit while i was there.  Edna weighed in at 59 pounds.  That’s about 35 pounds less than my dog weighs.  With the approval of the nurse, we planned a short visit with the people at work after the new year.  So long as Edna brought her walker, the nurse said it should be ok for a short outing.

Her plans for New Year’s Eve?  Stop taking her medications that morning and open a bottle of Zinfandel that night!  A gentle reminder from the nurse that given her weight, a drink or two would probably be plenty.  Edna suddenly seemed slightly hard of hearing…

i got the call early this morning that Edna died before dawn.  As she wanted it, she was home, she was asleep, and without pain.  She donated her body to the local medical school, and they were there to retrieve her body within a couple hours.  She requested no memorial service, no funeral, and no fuss. 

Though i’ll probably wait a week, i will check in with her daughter-in-law to see if she was able to open that bottle of wine…

Thank you, Miss Edna.  It has been my pleasure…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Another friend provided the soup and bread, as my cooking is often suspect.  When we were trying to put weight on Edna, i made her a strawberry banana smoothie, infused with protein powder.  This led to a rather serious bout of greased intestines, so Edna accused me of trying to kill her.  We all agreed that it would be best for me to stick to cookies in the future…

Beat it

Primal.  From the deepest recesses of our dinosaur brain, we know how to do it.  It defies geography.  Defies culture.  Toddlers do it, along with their monkey cousins.

Drumming. 

Beats and rhythm come from inside us, perhaps driven by the heartbeat.  It’s spiritual – on an individual as well as communal level.  Sometimes we hit the downbeat, content to be the backbone.  Other times we need to be the backbeat, or find just the right break rhythm. 

There is no wrong way to do it.  How many activities are that foolproof?

Once again, i spent a portion of my New Year’s Eve at a houseparty.  This year, after stumbling my way through a 5K “resolution run” at 8:00 pm.  Despite being tired from my slog through darkened residential streets with 800 other folks who couldn’t get dates, i found sufficient energy to hit the dance floor around 10:30 and pogo* my way into the new year. 

Three hours on the dance floor, interspersed with a little drum therapy.  Magic.  Especially the drumming.  My friend keeps a collection of percussion instruments on hand – from conga drums, to maracas and bells.  As the music spins, we either dance or drum.  Or in my case, both. 

If you’ve never done it, i recommend it.  You don’t need lessons, you don’t need anything other than your hands.  Put on some music and start to it.  Close your eyes.  Feel it.  Being drunk or stoned isn’t necessary.  Try different ways of hitting something to get different sounds.  Different surfaces** make different noises, too.

But most therapeutic for me are the big drums.  Yes, the rumors are true:  daisyfae likes her big congas.  So many variations on the sound, the feel.  i’d like to be faster.  i’d like to be more consistent.  But it really doesn’t matter.  It feels great.  Among other plans for 2010, i’m thinking there be some luscious congas in my future…

letting go...

* One of my favorite things about this party is that there is no countdown.  No one glued to a television, watching a ball glide down a pole to signal the start of the festivities.  We’re already dancing.  Somewhere around midnight?  Someone eventually notices that we’re there… Last night?  DJ handed out bottles of champagne in the middle of a Scissors Sisters song (“Take Your Momma Out”), but we waited for it to finish…  DJ made the announcement, while the music continued… and we danced on…

** My dog makes a particularly satisfying drum.  He has a great “chest thump”, and as long as i don’t get carried away, he likes to be drummed.  Leather furniture is good, too…