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Better

Cherry blossoms in DC

We’re still in the hospital. We’ve been here for 30 days.

Please consider that for a moment. 30 days.

If Esteban were a heroin addict, he’d be out by now. If a zombie plague had broken out, civilization would have collapsed by now.

The parking attendants now don’t believe me when I tell them I’m a visitor. They think I work here. I do, actually, just not the way they think.

I have a routine (skip this paragraph because it’s very boring): Wake up at Kathy’s House, take a shower, get dressed (no make up, yoga pants, the same pair of Brooks running shoes that I’ve been wearing every day for a month because they’re the only shoes I brought with me, hoodie sweatshirt, wet hair), hit the communal kitchen to stock up my backpack (purses are worthless) with supplies for the day (Uncrustable, a few sticks of pre-wrapped string cheese, a few Sobe 0 calorie Lifewater things, sometimes filling my Nalgene with iced coffee), sign out of the facility (a requirement) and then drive the half mile to the hospital, pull into the parking ramp up to the fourth floor, grimace at the flute “From a Distance“, walk a very long hallway past a bunch of CT scans of past procedures and medical studies, cut through Cardiology (or as Melinda called it, “Cardio”) then settle into the spare recliner on the far side of the hospital bed and log into the shitty network to start my day job. Sometime around lunch, I’ll meander down to the cafeteria, where I know the staff by name (Alvina is my favorite, by far, but I also like Me because she has the perfect Grumpy Cat expression all the time. I too am a human Grumpy Cat and I understand that it’s not your fault, it’s just your face) and know to avoid the steam tables most of the time and most of the soups are delicious but also will give you the worst unhappy tummy, but not nearly as bad as the curry, which is SO VERY delicious but will give you distress that makes you wonder if they’re drumming up more business for the Gastro wing, because holy crap. Esteban now watches the clock for me and reminds me when I’m about to be SOL because the cafeteria is about to stop serving dinner at 6:30. Sometime after 9 pm, I pack up my stuff, bid Esteban a good night, tell him I love him, then walk back down the long hallway, past the pictures of the insides of strangers, out the door into the parking ramp, and back to the family housing, park and sign back in. I usually grab some more Sobe Lifewaters out of my car into my little shelf inside the middle refrigerator.  Then I go up to my room, try to either open the windows and turn on the fan I bought to air it out, or crank up the AC to blow away the mustiness. Then I send Esteban a text message, telling him that I love him, which he won’t notice until he turns on his phone around 2 am to listen to a podcast when he can’t sleep.

Then I try to stream video on the wifi to watch while I try to fall asleep but usually give up after the fourth buffer/loading incident and instead watch the same episode of Downton Abbey  that resides on my iPad. I’ve been watching it pretty much every night of the last month. It has become comfort viewing.

Thomas really never had a chance, man. He was an asshole from the get go.

Then I wake up and the cycle begins again. The only difference is how big my laundry pile is and the occasional run to Walgreens between the hospital and the family care facility –

– which I’ve caught myself calling “home” more than once.

So, yeah, that happened.

*

Our 14th wedding anniversary was this week. I almost didn’t want to mention it to him, because it would be just another reminder that time is passing us by as we sit here, waiting for something invisible to happen inside his body, something that is hard to understand and difficult to measure, and involves a lot of hand-waving and long Latin words and $5K radiological tests. But in the end I did wish him a happy anniversary and then he made a sad face that sitting in the hospital, watching reruns of The Mentalist and NCIS isn’t our ideal or even remotely awesome way to spend our anniversary.

What I don’t say is that four weeks ago, I was wondering if we wouldn’t make it a whole 14 years, that our tongue-in-cheek motto of “Lucky 13″ would be foreshadowing the marital vow that ends in “do us part.” What I don’t say is that when I say “I’m just happy to be spending it with you” it’s not just a Hallmark platitude but rather because I was horror-thinking a future without him, and what’s more, I couldn’t remember how we had spent our 13th wedding anniversary and it was making me sad that I had forgotten already the anniversary that might have been the last.

Esteban is getting better. There’s at least another week more to go in the hospital, probably more, but we are in the end game now. He’s off the IV antibiotics. He’s off the IV painkillers. He’s off supplemental oxygen. He’s off many of the things that made you think “That there is a very sick person” when you looked at him. He still has an IV hookup overnight for his nutritional intake, but even that is in transition. Things are going well.

Except inside my head.

I’m getting there. I haven’t cried or lost control for at least two weeks (which is amazing considering how bad the week prior was) but then someone commended me for my grace under these circumstances and then I walked away and lost my shit for exactly 40 seconds.  Then I got it back, pulled it all back continued on as planned. One more day. One more day. Just get through today.

It is so much better than the alternate universes that have transpired in my head over the course of the last month. I just keep reminding myself that.

*

I wish you guys could see how much better he’s doing. I wish you could see how slowly he’s come back to life, how he is now more present in conversations, how he can now walk quickly down the hallway without bracing himself along the railings.  More importantly, I wish he could see it when he gets discouraged and talks about how much time has passed, about how he doesn’t want to go outside because he’s worried he’ll be filled with dispair.

It’s getting better. It really is. I just have to remember how far we’ve come.

Esteban is getting better. This is doable.

It has to be.

Distance

 

milwaukee angel

When you enter the hospital from the fourth floor parking garage, there’s always only one song on the Muzak: a flute-only version of “From a Distance”. Whenever I enter or leave the hospital, it gets stuck in my head.

I think it’s supposed to be comforting, but when your husband is lying in ICU with a ventilator doing his breathing for him, they are dark and lonely lyrics. God is watching this from a distance? Because the world looks blue and green from a distance and it doesn’t look like we’re at war and it looks like there is no disease? And Esteban is lying in a goddamned bed, terribly riddled with sepsis due to his stomach getting nicked with an instrument during surgery, requiring a second surgery that sent him into the ICU?

Fuck that. Fuck flutes. Fuck that song. Fuck Bette Midler. Fuck everything.

*

Over a month ago, we had a fairly normal Saturday. I woke up because our new dog had some kind of massive poop incident in her crate, necessitating two hours of hazmat duties on my part. To put that behind us, we went shopping and then went antiquing in part of our quest to find the perfect midcentury modern/Danish credenza to use as a TV stand so that we can get rid of our ridiculously old television. We had a late lunch and then a very light dinner. Esteban had an upset stomach so he didn’t eat much.

Around 1 am that night, he woke me up and said he hadn’t gone to bed because his stomach ache had turned into stomach agony. He was white and shaking and couldn’t sit down without groaning. At the emergency room, they gave him drugs and then after six hours, were ready to release him when the surgeon took a look at his tests and said “Wait one minute.”

They then pumped his stomach continually for the next 100 hours and wanted to split him like a trout and try to figure out what was going on with his stomach. Then they did a CT scan and found out that his massive hiatal hernia had now allowed his stomach to move up through his diaphragm and it was entirely up in his chest cavity, nestling up to his lungs.

Right. We transferred to a Milwaukee hospital with a gastro specialist. By then, the stomach pain had stopped (because the stomach had untwisted). After two days there, the rock star surgeon decided that he wasn’t an emergency situation, so he’d send us home with instructions not to eat anything hearty and come back in two weeks. We went home and ate a lot of noodles and mashed potato meals.  We went back to Milwaukee and prepped for an expected three days in the hospital. The surgeon spent six hours putting his stomach back into position laparoscopically and then repairing the football-sized sac and giant rip in his diaphragm. The nurse called down into the waiting room and said that the entire surgery went perfectly. The day after, he had a test to ensure that his stomach was okay (the test was all clear) and he got to eat a little and drink a little. He was cranky after 24 hours, which was to be expected, and we were set for release the next day.

However, the next morning, he had pain. Bad pain. His vitals were normal, so they were convinced he was constipated (a pretty typical side effect of anesthesia and also the pain drugs he was getting), so they gave him oral laxatives and instructed him to keep drinking more water. Then he stopped peeing. After almost 20 hours of pain, the night nurse and I convinced the on-call that something wasn’t right and they ran blood tests, which revealed that despite picture perfect vitals, his kidneys were shutting down. They ordered another GI at 4 am, which showed his stomach was leaking into his peritoneum and the resulting sepsis was shutting down his organs. They rushed him into the OR very early Sunday morning.

*

We’ve now been in the hospital for three weeks. Esteban spent about 24 hours on the ventilator and then fought for his life, battling massive sepsis and a dance with septic shock. They pushed an additional 30 litres of fluid into his body to flush out the poison.

He almost died.

*

I haven’t found concrete mortality rates for septic shock. I’ve seen anywhere from 40% to 70% mortality rate, but I think that higher number is probably at risk populations, like the elderly and very very young. Esteban is strong. Esteban is healthy. Esteban quit smoking a month ago, which also greatly improved his lung quality and helped him survive. Esteban’s odds of survival were never worse than 50/50.

Regardless, those odds are pretty awful.

*

On Monday, when the “almost died” in that preceding sentence was a “might or might not die” I was trying to be strong. I had slept the previous night in a conference room in the bottom floor of the hospital (because family members can’t sleep in the ICU) and the night before that had been spent in a chair next to Esteban’s bed and/or arguing with the on-call about running the additional blood tests. I was trying to be strong and I was failing.

It was like trying to walk up a hill with a bucket filled with too much liquid. I would be doing something completely normal and then I’d start crying. If anyone looked at me the wrong way, I’d cry. If someone tilted their head, blammo, crying. If I thought too hard about the lyrics to “From a Distance” and about how far away God was, my head started leaking.

I was so mad. I was so mad at these people who were supposed to be exceptional, people who we had chosen particularly because they were awesome, and they had all fucked up. I kept asking questions and pushing them to explain their decisions, kept suggesting other possible causes for his symptoms. I started to feel like Cassandra, predicting the causes of symptoms and snafus, while the doctors kept poo-pooing the annoying wife with all the stern looks punctuated by tears. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t have listened to me either.

*

Still. He almost died.

*

We’ve been here for three weeks. We’ve been here long enough to get to know all of the nurses. I call one of the surgical residents by her first name now, something she says “You’ve earned it” since she’s usually the one waking me up during their 6 am rounds (I have been sleeping in a chair next to his bed). The staff in the hospital cafeteria now know me enough to question why I didn’t get an oatmeal cookie (because I’m trying to cut back on sugar, thanks).

Esteban is getting better, very slowly. After three weeks, his test results still agree that he’s undeniably “sick”, but the same word that we use to apply to common colds is hardly adequate to what he’s been through and continues to fight. Sepsis takes a long time for the body to eradicate completely.  He’s just no longer in critical danger of passing away.

He almost died. The flute still reminds me that God is watching us whenever I walk out into the parking garage.

*

It’s a cliche but you really do get to understand who your true friends are during times of crisis. My coworkers sent a bouquet of flowers in the shape of a puppy I named Grover Cleveland, the mascot of room 27. I had four offers from friends who were willing to get on a plane and fly to Milwaukee to hold my hand. Esteban’s best friend Markus actually did get on a plane and come out here for several days while he was in ICU. Several of our friends have sent gifts of food to Esteban’s nurses, which has resulted in them treating us like royalty on the ward. Mopie sent me a cache of Candy Crush Saga lives to keep me occupied with random distractions. My coworkers are forgiving an obscene amount of absence and also, covering nearly all of my day-to-day tasks without even batting an eye. We are incredibly fortunate.

And then there’s the other side. Some people are just not present. I’ve learned that “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do” is not actually an invitation to ask the speaker to do something, but instead code of “I’m going to say this thing to make me feel better but I actually don’t want to do anything and will turn down any of your suggestions that are inconvenient to me or involve driving two hours.” My family, about 120 miles away, have yet to make an appearance or even send a card (although my sister and niece did record a video on her husband’s phone for Esteban, which was nice).

Sometimes I wonder if people just don’t realize how ill he actually is, or maybe they’ve already given up on us. Sometimes I have anger that I know isn’t appropriately placed. I get angry really easily and then I feel guilty. And then I don’t know what I feel.

Every day is something different. Every day is a fear of test results, worry that the white blood cell count will stop its slow descent toward healthy and bounce in the other direction. Every day being sick starts to feel more normal. Every day, we’re feeling the support coming from near and far.

I’ve alternated between feeling extremely alone and feeling extraordinarily supported and loved.

*

I’ve had a room at Kathy’s House for almost a month. It’s a non-profit facility and they’ve been kind enough to let me crash and use as needed, which is nice because most of the time, I have been sleeping in a chair in the hospital room and then cut out for about an hour to run over to the house and take a shower and change clothes. They don’t charge me for my room but do ask for a donation, whatever we can afford, typically about $75 a day. If you are looking for a worthwhile cause to support, Kathy’s House has been an amazing resource and one that has absolutely eased the stress of being here. You can even donate toward my stay if you say it’s to support Wendy in room 31.

*

Last night, June stayed here in Milwaukee with us. We left the grounds of the hospital for a rare meal, and talked with the waitstaff about why she’s seen me twice in four days. I explained that one of my favorite restaurants just happened to be the most convenient eatery that wasn’t the hospital cafeteria (a lucky coincidence). And they said that when Esteban is out of the hospital and able to eat food again, he could go to Maxie’s and dinner would be on them.

Even through the worst nightmare of our lives, I’m still surprised and delighted by how genuinely good people are.

*

That song is wrong. Things don’t look fine from a distance. They don’t look fine at all. I’m still trying to work all of this out in my head myself.

But for some of our friends, the distance doesn’t matter.

When we were young

CES 057

Oh, that picture up there? That’s just me with Felicia Day. What, you don’t hang out with celebrities during your business trips?

I am doing a big technology conference in Vegas this week. It’s been filled with celebrities (I’ve seen Rohan Marley so often that I’m beginning to feel like he’s part of my family) and rich food and not enough water and entirely too much walking. I pulled a muscle in my back and hate how I look on camera. Also, my hotel room smells like the body fluids of a thousand strangers. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it, honestly, because this has been personally and professionally a great week.

Usually, business conferences are pretty lonely affairs for me. I eat a lot of room service and watch a lot of broadcast television and Hulu. However, through some happy coincidences, my bff Jake was in town and willing to act as camera support team for me. While the conference certainly has its share of party opportunities, we were both wearing our professional hats this trip, so there was perilously little rock star life.

Ok, for about three hours, we did pretend we were rock stars.

What you should know about me is that I get a LOT of email from publicity folks. A LOT. Like, I kind of space out and ignore most of them. So when I got an invite to an app developer party, I didn’t really pay attention to it.

Then I heard a rumor about that party. The rumor was unsubstantiated but it was still a pretty believable rumor that one particular band would be the entertainment for the private party. One particular band that I have, in the past, paid a ridiculous amount of money to see and for said ridiculous money, was in the “VIP” seating which wasn’t very VIP at all. I’m sorry, but if the concert tickets are almost as much as a brand new car payment, you should pretty much be sitting at the feet of one Mister Brandon Flowers. You should be able to touch him if you were so inclined (I am not so inclined, but the option is all I ask).

And the tech people, they know how to throw a good party. They ALL throw good parties. In fact, I had to choose between skipping a party where I KNEW that Maroon 5 was playing or going to the party with the rumored entertainment that was one of my absolute favorite bands in the universe. I mean, as hot as Adam Levine is purportedly, I would much rather gaze upon the man who asked “Are we human or are we dancer?” And this party? This rumored party? It was in a tiny club venue. Maybe 400 people there, while the Maroon 5 thing would have like 100,001 people there. Yeah, it was worth a trip across Dean Martin Drive to check that out.

Life is good, my dear reader, life is good.  Against the stage, front and center. Jake caught a drum stick. I got the lead singer’s set list. The lead singer and I had a moment or fourteen. It was…the experience of a lifetime, let’s just leave it at that. They are a beautiful band.

Tonight, I’m alone in the city of neon, on the back end of a whirlwind tour of duty. I had another slew of parties tonight (one with lady bloggers, one with Alecia Keys as the entertainment and some kind of star-studded thing with Ms. Day, or Fel as she told me to call her*) but I’m going to play it less Golden God and more Golden Girl tonight. Three solid days of schlepping my shitbox work laptop, full camera, iPad, microphone and all the assorted ephemera that attaches itself to tradeshows has destroyed my shoulders like you wouldn’t believe. I’m getting old, dear reader, woe I am so old and broken. But at least I can manage to party it out for a few hours a month.

I think the answer to the question, though, is that we are human 99% of the time… but if we’re lucky, if we’re really really lucky, we get to spend the other 1% as dancer.

photo(3)

*She did actually not tell me to call her that.

Still waters

Anemone

Every New Year’s Eve, I used to have a tradition: wrap up the last year and look at how far we’ve come. About half a dozen years ago, this turned into the Year End Video. I planned that thing months in advance, coaxing my friends to provide B-roll. It was even an inside joke whether a person was funny enough to make the Year End Video, in the way that we are funny assholes sometimes (this is absolutely true… me especially, heavy on the asshole sometimes).

Last year, I didn’t do a Year End Video.

When people asked about it, I said that I was pretty sure that no one would notice if I stopped. That’s how I do things: Distract by putting people on the defense. Of course, it wasn’t even true. Looking at my blog’s stats, I can tell you that people did notice — there was a huge traffic spike here on New Year’s Eve 2011, looking for that video.

You know, if we’re being honest here, 2011 kind of kicked my ass. The terminal illness and death of my grandmother was psychologically wearing on me. Our friend Jesse (and Esteban’s cousin) unexpectedly passed away at the age of 41 in October, and it kind of destroyed what little equilibrium I’d managed to recover after my grandmother’s passing. The video is supposed to be a joyful thing. It’s supposed to make people smile. They still make me smile. But when it came to making the video last year, I just couldn’t. I just… couldn’t. I felt selfish in a way that I can’t really explain. A year later, I still can’t explain it but I’m feeling selfish again.

Actually, I can explain it. I don’t want to but I can and probably should explain it.

When my grandmother was going through chemo, through rounds upon rounds of appointments and tests, she loved to look at the fish tanks. There are elaborate salt water fish tanks at pretty much every oncologist or cancer doctor’s office. At the hospital, where we’d spend hours and hours, there was even a big round one that takes up an entire column, where you can play hide and seek with the colorful fish. My grandmother liked the yellow ones the best, while I was fond of the shrimp. They always seemed so jaunty, like perhaps they should be wearing top hats and maybe spats. They are the Fred Astaire of the salt water set. There’s a big fish tank in the radiologist’s office too, where last December they did various things to my left breast and its very deep, very suspicious mass.

So that’s why I didn’t want to make a Year End Video last year. Last December, after what had already been a hell biscuit of a bummer year that I was really hoping to see gone, my annual mammogram showed something suspicious. So I had to go back and get another, more awful, terrorizing hold-your-breath-while-we-rip-your-tit-off test (and of course, while this was going on, my head was still killing me from Hodor’s timely departure). And then a very weirdly intimate ultrasound that would have been very sexy with its bulbous wand and all the KY Jelly and low lights and the technician who kept telling me that she was going to put pressure on my nipple, except, you know, it was the opposite of that. And then I got in my car and cried and then went home and demanded sushi.

So something had to go and it was the Year End Video. Instead I was going to a variety of medical tests and then spending time eating lots of raw fish and mulling upon the certainty that my left boob was going to become my ex-boob and full of distinct memories of the oncology ward and how chemo makes everything smell weird, like foot insoles and turns your toilet into a bowl of poison.

The mass looks a lot like a miniature fan coral. I’d like to believe that Nemo and Dorie are in there, going “Whoa, that’s NOT cancer.” But of course, these are the silly things you think when you’re staring at the umpteenth fish tank at the umpteenth doctor’s office, except now you’re there for your own scary thing inside your very own body, the thing that just might be killing you without your permission.

That’s why I wanted sushi last New Year’s Eve. Fuck you, fish tanks.

My little coral fan is being monitored. It waves at me from the lab films. I’ll get to visit it again this week for what will be my fourth boob smashification in 370 days (certainly that can’t be good for your boob, right? I mean, why is “Hulk smash” a viable medical test? Who thought of that?). Last time, the radiologist was almost entirely sure it’s not cancer. I have two friends who were told that it probably wasn’t cancer too and wouldn’t you know it, they both found themselves in chemo lounges, sitting in woefully awful hospital recliners, making nice with nurses and sipping V8 juice and probably staring at more and more fish tanks. Those ladies are healthy and alive and both have been declared cancer free by people who know these things. They are both glowing and beautiful and everyone in the world wishes that they should be as lucky as these ladies, who are both the poster girls for chemotherapy.

I’ve spent a year thinking about the thing in my boob. Sometimes I tell Esteban “My cancer is itchy!” when I’m digging around in my boob pit (Life Reality #573: big boobs have itchy boob pits. It’s yet another downside to having a giant rack) because I’m a funny asshole that way. It’s the only way I can deal with it. I wasn’t actually going to tell people about this Thing In My Boob. I told like four people I think, and two of them wear lab coats. I didn’t really want it to turn into a huge attention thing or anything, because it’s probably nothing, absolutely nothing. In my head, I know this. In my yed, that is. Maybe Hodor was helping me be brave.

My friend Tex passed away on Christmas night after a seven month battle with pancreatic cancer. And you know what? It’s fucking bullshit, that’s what. It’s awful and unfair and when I visited Tex and his wife Fredlet earlier this month, my heart was breaking and so full of love for both of them that I almost missed my plane because any day that goes from seeing a very ill friend to having to get patted down by the TSA and then jammed onto a plane seat seems like the very worst of all possible hells.

And then I get mad at myself for being upset about my little coral reef under the dome, about this little dense mass of indeterminate diagnosis that is very probably just my boob being a drama queen. And then I feel a little bit like a cry baby for not doing the Year End Video again this year.

Maybe fish tanks are a good thing. Maybe they act as a distraction, a perfectly contained little world when the one outside is falling apart. Maybe they remind us that the world is capable of wonderful acts of beauty and grace.

It certainly won’t be by the end of the day, but 2011 needs its Year End Video. It was a fucking asshole of a year, but god damn it, we were all in it together.

 

 

The boss of all of us

I am still way sick. So sick. My chest feels like I’m carrying a few pounds of gravel in my lungs and the worst part is that I’m exhausted but not tired, if that makes any sense. The good news is that while the official strep culture results won’t be in for another 24 hours, the preliminary results show that my little petri dish isn’t growing anything, so I’m cleared to fly. The bad news, of course, is that just because I’m not contagious, doesn’t mean that I’m actually healthy.

I’m SO looking forward to humping it across the MSP concourse tomorrow.

For lack of a better Holidailies entry (because how many times can I tell you about sitting on the couch and feeling faint? This many) here is probably my favorite video of Avi and Jincy of all time. You see, Avi weighs a trim 21 pounds (trim, that is, for a pug) while Jincy is all of 10 and a half pounds. That’s right, she’s conveniently half the size of the pug. However, she has one very distinct advantage over the pug’s girth — Strategy.

I call this video “The Flinch”. And lo, it is awesome. Premise: Avi has just been given the best toy in all of pugdom: a Sobe Life Water bottle filled with pug treats. It has escaped her into the kitchen, so she has to go get it and bring it back to the den, where the cat is lurking. Hilarity, it ensues.

The flinch

Let my Cameron goooooo……

Yesterday I woke up with a massive sore throat.

“I’m sick!” I croaked at Esteban, which carried along with it the unspoken request that he would take the dog out for her morning constitutional, take the garbage and the recyclables out the curb and then drive the dog to day care. There was a lot packed into those words and it’s a card I don’t often play, so he took care of those duties like a champ. While he was off making our lives go, I slowly rose from bed with shaking limbs and felt the weight of the world pressing on my head. Sore throat, fever, body aches and a headache? Yeah, not good sir, not good.

I toughed it through the work day, more or less relying upon the kindess of my coworkers (I work with rock stars, seriously) but knowing that my throat only hurts like that for exactly one reason: Strep. I felt lousier as the day progressed, but when I started sneezing and sniffling after work and felt the energy basically drain from my body, I knew that I had to go in for a throat culture.

The nice thing about going to Urgent Care during the dinner hour is that it’s pretty empty.  I got a ton of prescriptions, including two that needed In Person attention at the pharmacy, and headed off to the drug store. There, I wandered around the building like a space cadet, waiting for my various pills and syrups to be measured and allotted.

There is nothing more fun than wandering around Walgreens when you’re feverish. There are only like eight aisles at my neighborhood store, but I got lost at least twice. I basically just looked at everything with the mindset of a child. The Christmas aisle was especially delightful. I contemplated buying a very small, very bad replica of the leg lamp from A Christmas Story and then spied some gumdrops on a stick, just out in the open where anyone could feast upon them. I almost popped one in my mouth (even though I hate gum drops) because they looked delicious when it slowly dawned upon me that they were just Christmas decorations meant to look like gum drops. On a stick. That’s when it dawned on me that I probably shouldn’t have driven myself there, because damn.

When you have a fever, the best entertainment in the world can be had by just standing in front of the magazine rack. So many exclamation points! So many smiling pop stars and perfect teeth. The promise of a better humanity is laid out in 20 point font on those glossy covers. It’s a beautiful thing.

They finally called my name to give me my various drugs, where I found that I had abandoned my medical records up at the counter. The pharmacist is happily an old hat at recognizing the signs of extreme fever, so she just added it to my medication bundle and sent me on my way, along with my random purchases of a giant Flintstones vitamins, cashew Turtles candies, a Consumer Reports magazine and a box of fancy Kleenex. Shopping with a fever is not recommended if you are trying to save money.

I went back home and then sat on the couch staring at nothing until Esteban gently pointed out that it wasn’t lame to go to bed at 8:30 if you are sick. Good thing I keep that boy around, because otherwise I’d just sit up trying to keep my cred legit to the point of ridiculousness.

I feel a little badly about the entire Christmas shenanigans. Right now, I have done absolutely nothing around the house. I had planned on putting up a tree this week but between my being ill and Esteban shopping for a new vehicle, there has not been a single stocking hung nor fairy light strung. And I’m worse today (this blog entry courtesy of the sweet spot of my cold meds. Apparently behind-the-counter Sudafed makes you either a zombie or falling asleep except for one glorious hour when you can more or less function normally. And I can’t take the Prednisone that will make me feel better until they determine that it’s not strep, which won’t be until tomorrow) to the point that I doubt I could even make it down the basement stairs in one piece, much less hauling our cavalcade of seasonal merriment up the post WWII ridiculously unsafe steps. Fa la la la laaaaacrrrrrrroak!

And tomorrow, I pack. I should be getting the official clearance that I am not contagious tomorrow (here’s hoping that I’m wrong and that my Death Throat is not indeed strep) which means I leave for a BFF weekend in Everwood on Friday, followed by a week in Boston and then the beginning of our Christmas hijinx in Chicago, where Esteban will meet up with me and we will trip the light fantastic.

Just writing that paragraph has worn me out. Apparently the window of opportunity for my Sudafed clarity is closing.

Take a hot date to your next holiday party

I would never make it as a food blogger, even though I love to cook for multiple reasons. First, when I’m in the crazy cooking mood, I usually don’t want to stop and grab my camera, tripod and all the whatnots needed to take a decent photo. Second, we have insufficient lighting in the kitchen, so the white balance in the photos is totally off if you don’t use a flash. And everyone knows that you NEVER use a flash on food. It exposes all the calories.

However, I would be cruel to keep from you the easiest and most impressive recipe that I’ve ever concocted. It’s even easier than Bacon-wrapped dates (which has the entire recipe right in the name) because you don’t have to cook anything. In fact, you could literally make this without a kitchen, as long as you had a sharp knife and a spoon. Similar to cutting meth, actually.

If you want to impress your relatives and friends with your fanciness, try these appetizers. They’re sweet, they’re salty, they have a punch of umami and a little kick of heat. They’re vegetarian, gluten-free, wheat-free and even could be nut-free if you wanted. And weirdly, they’re not even terribly unhealthy, as goat cheese has way less fat than cream cheese, plus it is loaded with protein.

Ready? Let’s get started. First decide whether you want to make the dates fast or if you want to have fewer dirty dishes.

Ingredients:

  • 24 Pitted dates
  • 4 ounces of plain chevre
  • 24 roasted almonds, pecans, pistachios or anything crunchy that you adore
  • Flavor component (Chipolte salt, Vulcan salt, Frank’s Red Hot, wasabi, whatever)

Tools:

Faster way: Kitchen Aid with the paddle attachment, kitchen sheers, piping bag

Cleaner way: Sharp knife, smallish spoon

Instructions:

First, slice into dates.

Faster Way: If you’re using the kitchen sheers, this is pretty easy to do, as you’ll be using the holes left by the automated date pitting mechanism to guide you.

Cleaner Way: If you’re using the point of your sharp knife, just be careful not to slice into the bottom half of the date. You’ll create a little pocket for the goat cheese-y goodness.

Then, fill the dates with the chevre.

Faster Way : Throw the chevre into the stand mixer and whip some air into it. This should take at least a few minutes on high, and you’ll have to scrape down the bowl a few times, but it makes piping the chevre into the dates much easier. If you’re using a liquid flavor component, something like wasabi paste or Sriracha sauce, mix that into the chevre now. If you’ve got a powder based flavor component, then you can decide whether you want to incorporate it into the chevre at this stage OR you can hold off and sprinkle it later. Once the chevre has increased by at least 50% in volume, spoon it into your pastry bag and then pipe it into the sliced dates. I recommend this method if you’re making more than two dozen little nibbles, because it goes really really fast.

Cleaner Way: Using the spoon, nudge a teaspoon or so of the chevre into each date. It might not look beautiful but that’s ok, because it will be super delicious. I found that it works better if the chevre is REALLY cold so that it stays more or less solid as you’re doing this. You can kind of use your fingers to mold it into a dome if you want too.

Is the time getting short? Then stop. These dates are good to go and I promise you they’re delicious just as they are. But if you want to take it the next step, kick it up.

Next, flavor it up. I used Vulcan Salt from The Spice House, which is somewhat like a spicy vinegary flavor, akin to a Louisiana hot sauce or perhaps a buffalo wing sauce. You could really use whatever you wanted, though to give it a kick. Sprinkle your desired flavor component onto the top of the goat cheese. If you choose something colorful, you’ll have the added benefit of making it very pretty too.

Once again, if you’re tired of dealing with these dates, stop. They’re even more delicious. You’re good. But if you want to add just another notch, to bring in a texture component that will really make the juxtaposition of that meaty date and the silky chevre shine, there’s one more thing you can do (it takes about 40 seconds.)

Stick your almond or other nut into the top of the chevre. See, I told you it wouldn’t take very long. Organize on a pretty plate and that’s that. You’ll have people chasing you down at parties, begging you to reveal the recipe, and I guarantee they’ll be gone before you know it.

Trucking

One of the annoying things about traveling is that your life keeps happening off screen while you’re away. For instance, Christmas is just two and a half weeks away from today! How did you guys let that happen?

Also, Esteban’s truck has been misbehaving for about a year. The mechanics at the dealership haven’t been able to figure out the problem but have nicely narrowed it down to either one $2000 repair or a different $2000 repair. Sadly, they wouldn’t know which one it was until they had performed one and the problem was still happening. His truck has also developed some weird personality quirks that were associated with several thousand dollars of their own, so we’ve come to the realization that it is time to throw money at a completely different vehicle.

However, you know what makes car shopping really difficult? Being in a different time zone. Thus, we’ve been sneaking away whenever we have spare time to drive to various car lots and look into the windows of Dodge Rams and other vehicles. Esteban’s not in love with short bed trucks nor the extended cab scenario that has become the norm in the Upper Midwest, but since we get tons of snow (usually, anyway) and ice, four wheel drive is a necessity and those trucks tend to have the extended cab short bed situation.

So yesterday, we woke up fairly early, got dressed and went to get our dog from Grandma and Grandpa’s. Then I went home and made some appetizers and two pecan pies for a holiday party we were attending, while Esteban went out to the grocery store to pick up some food (since our refrigerator is barren and sort of smelly after our various travels). Then, once the pies were cooling, we hopped into my car and trolled various car lots, looking for The One.

The One was not to be found in the car lots of northern Coldington.

During that jaunt, it dawned on me that my pottery studio was having its open house this weekend (it’s mostly closed during December because everyone’s busy) and I had missed the kiln opening night due to the Weetacon fall event, so if I wanted to get the pottery I made for Christmas presents (which is in two and a half weeks!) it was probably going to be my best shot. However, with the various pre-party preparation that had to go down, there was no way to get all the way to Appleton (about 40 miles from my house) and back and still make the party on time. See, I’m slowly beginning to regain my ability to estimate time properly after my dismal failing on Friday.

So this morning, we headed in the direction of the pottery studio and checked out a dozen car lots along the way. It was kind of a nice morning, oddly enough. The snow we saw in Minneapolis on Friday evening has made its way across Wisconsin and was starting to fall gently. At one point, Esteban had enough snow swiped off a window sticker to make a snowball and playfully tossed it in the air.  Even though we found even fewer potential heirs to the throne, it was a nice way to spend a Sunday morning.

Afterward, we hit the pottery studio, gathered up far more pottery than I remembered making (seriously, I swear it multiplies) and checked out some non-pottery art that was in for the open house. There were some dog paintings that were absolutely charming and some wool felted ball jewelry things that I’m kind of in love with. I really admire people who can make things that are lovely enough to sell. I always feel like my ham-fisted whatnots need to come with dowries when I give them away. Here, let me pay you to take this malformed tray/cup/paperweight item. Please don’t smash it until I’m out of earshot, okay?

Hopefully we’ll find a new vehicle before the end of the year, but I suspect that with Christmas (so close! OMGWTF!?) and my next trip (which has now been upgraded from a two-city trip to a three-city trip. I know, right?) it’s probably a lofty goal.

But now, I’m ensconced on the love seat with a sleepy pug and I’m going to play catch up on my writer’s workshop commitments and maybe, just maybe, going to eat some pecan pie. Life, she is good.

The captain has turned on the seatbelt light

My great intentions for Holidailies are slowly becoming delusional, that is clear.

On Wednesday morning, I left Esteban in our suite in the Venetian, hopped into a cab and headed to the airport, where I was headed to San Jose for 22 hours. I had overzealous intentions there — I hoped to hop over to see my friends Fred and Tex and also do a flyby hugging of Mopie and my niece-by-proxy Mina, along with meeting my boss about important stuff and his boss, about even more important stuff, and also spend about four hours at a fancy dinner with fancy people in downtown San Jose. On top of this, I was flying into SFO, but my rental car was sitting at San Jose Airport, through a pique of clusterfuckery that I won’t even get into.

I landed and was making great time, as I only had carryon luggage and was seated in the forward cabin, plus I used Uber to snag a car almost immediately. I made it to the rental lot at San Jose airport with plenty of time to spare, and was absolutely starved, so when I passed an In N Out Burger, of course I had to swing in and snag a cheeseburger. Ah In N Out Burger, your fries still suck so hard.

My boss wanted to meet as soon as I got to the hotel, but we didn’t have firm plans, so I thought… hmmm, I could swing up and hit some quality time with Fred and Tex right NOW and then just meet up with him later. However, guilt and commitment overwhelmed me and I didn’t really want to tell him that I couldn’t meet with him when he wanted me to because I was chatting up friends on company time. So I parked the car, checked into my room and then texted him. And then waited. And waited. And then waited some more. Then he finally texted me and said that we’d meet in two hours because he had something else going on. Gaaah! I totally could have made it to Fred’s house and back if I had just gone there first. Ah well. I caught up on American Horror Story instead, which turned out to be a sorely needed moment of No Brain Engagement that I had been missing during this trip. Certainly I had a million other things I should have been doing, but the brain apparently needed to just shut down and watch Jessica Lange being amazing.

Sidebar: Seriously, I think Jessica Lange’s gorgeousnesss has prevented the world from seeing how truly fantastic she is as an actor. I would argue that she’s Meryl Streep amazing. Consider the fact that she positively disappeared into her role in Grey Gardens while Meryl Streep was going down on Tommy Lee Jones in the awkward “Baby Boomers Can’t Get It Up” movie. Discuss in the comments.

I met up with my boss in a piano bar (See also: things that never happen unless one is on the road) and we talked about the state of the nation and how Ralph Lauren makes the best ties in the universe (not really). Then we had our fancy dinner of fanciness and I had a dorky moment of squee talking to the CIO of Tivo, Inc. Seriously, though, San Jose has the ALL THE BEST companies.

I hung out with the movers and shakers until I could beg off due to the jet lag. You see, I managed to maintain my CST cicadian rhythms in Vegas, because I never went outside, and I was hoping to keep one more day of the 5:30 am automatic wake ups so that I could pack up and get onto the 880 before the traffic surge. I set an alarm just in case, and wouldn’t you know it, my time outside in the San Jose sunlight was enough to throw me back a little bit. I was slower than I wanted getting up and dressed, and then wasn’t really considering how freaking far everything is. In my mind, I always think San Jose is 20 miles away from Oakland, but it’s more like twice that and I am stupid.

Then the valet took forever to get the car, so I didn’t get out onto the road until about 7:10 am. This was, by the way, not early enough. I hit the road, hoping to swing by Mo’s house before she had to leave for work, but when I hit traffic after ten miles and came to an actual stop on the freeway for 5 minutes, I was quickly realizing that I’d never make it before she needed to leave. I pulled the plug on that plan when I was just getting to Hayward at 7:45 and dashed off my apologies to Mo and Mina. Alas, it was not meant to be this trip. See previous entry about there never being enough time.

I turned and headed to Fred’s, and just to show how completely backwards my planning is, I only got there fifteen minutes earlier than I had planned (underlining the reality that there had been no realistic way to do both visits and I am totally bad at estimating time when I travel). I had a delightful visit with Fred and Tex and got to meet their kitties and see the gorgeous new digs (seriously coveting their light-filled kitchen/family room space overlooking an old orchard) and spend some time hanging out. Then it was off to the airport.

I have a bad habit when I fly out of San Jose where I totally miss the flight and end up on a later flight. Knowing that, I take the latest flight I can get to give me ample room. Then, my crazy thought process wants to fill up that extra time with stuff, thinking I have a cushion and plenty of room to spare. It was this logic that had me looking for the nearest Ike’s sandwich shop. I thought that I could get a Menage a Trois to go and then eat it on the plane.

This, by the way, was insanity. The nearest Ike’s was in Stanford, a good 20 minutes past the airport. They bake your bread to order. It was almost lunch time, so there would undoubtedly be a huge line, plus the normal huge wait for your sandwich, then another 20 minutes. I thought: Well, it’s 11:00 right now, my plane doesn’t board until 12:40, so it’s so crazy that it just might work! I drove along with this plan in my addled brain for at least fifteen minutes and then decided that I was letting my stomach override reason, since I still had to put gas in the rental, get it back, catch a shuttle and do the various security pat downs and crap. So I skipped my plan for breakfast/lunch and headed directly to the airport…

…where I learned that my plane didn’t BOARD at 12:40, it actually DEPARTED at 12:40. It was boarding ten minutes after I arrived at the security line, e-boarding pass in hand.

And THAT is how I keep almost missing flights out of San Jose. I am my own worst enemy.

I don’t wonder though if it’s not some kind of Freudian self-sabotage, that I don’t really want to leave and that I keep resisting the departure. I could easily see myself living in the Bay Area if it didn’t cost eight million dollars and also, if Esteban would ever resign himself to a winter without snow.

Obviously I had no time to grab anything to nosh, since my plane was boarding almost immediately. I got settled onto the plane and had a fairly uneventful flight, punctuated only by the delightful moment when I noticed the guy across the aisle from me was watching the exact same episode of The Walking Dead on his iPad that I was, only I was about half an hour further into the episode. Ha! I love the future.

We flew into the dark, literally, as the accelerated sunset is kind of freaky when you’re flying eastward. One minute, it’s sunny, then you look up again and it’s all rosy and then the next time you look, it’s completely pitch black. As we got closer to Minneapolis, we could see snowflakes shimmering around the landing lights. I thought “Delightful!”, not realizing that those pretty Christmas-y snowflakes were about to create another travel nightmare.

We landed twenty minutes earlier than expected. I was glad because my connection was going to be somewhat tight — an hour between landing and takeoff doesn’t seem like a bad connection, but when you factor in the fact that MSP is the world’s longest airport and the regional flights leave out of C concourse, it’s a good half hour of walking to arrive just as your flight starts to board. So I was feeling really good about landing early. Maybe I’d have time to actually get something to eat! I spent the taxing time wishing that my adoration of ChikFilA’s carrot salad could make me forget their homophobic support of inequality.

However, once we were on the tarmac, we couldn’t get to the gates because there were planes on the de-icing pads, blocking the way. I had needed to go to the bathroom about fifteen minutes before we landed but figured I could wait until deplaning and use a Real Human-sized bathroom (plus, someone rotten egg bombed the forward cabin lav and it smelled like raw sewage out in the cabin, so I really didn’t want to go into some kind of ass-gas death chamber). I texted Esteban to let him know that I was on the ground in MSP, and as it turned out, he was ALSO at MSP, still waiting to take off in his connecting flight to GRB (he was on the earlier connection). Things were that backed up.

Then we couldn’t pull into our gate because the plane next to our gate was too big to fit our plane there too. Then we pulled around the terminal and waited while they tried to find another gate. Minutes ticked by, a half an hour. If a passenger was out of their seat, the pilot couldn’t move the plane, so I sat there and watched my eyeballs float. Finally, an hour after we’d been on the ground, the other plane pulled away and we were allowed to go back to our original gate. THEN they couldn’t dock the jet bridge. It was like watching someone try to thread a needle while wearing gloves. It was almost like they were fucking with us. I thought the passengers were going to riot, as there were many MANY F-bombs being tossed around.

I didn’t get off the plane until 7:15. I walked and walked until I finally got out of the G concourse and then had to give up and go to the bathroom or risk peeing my pants in the main terminal. I had pretty much decided on my argument to Delta about how they needed to rent me a one-way car so that I could drive home that evening, since I knew that flight was the last one scheduled to GRB that night. Then I spotted the world’s oldest man on an empty golf cart with C terminal written on the front. I asked if he could help me make my connection by giving me a lift. He agreed and off we went, picking up other people who had been screwed by the San Jose flight of No Gate along the way. I was a bit worried that he would be an Old Man driver, but he actually put the pedal to the metal, to the point that I considered throwing on the seat belt that they give you. You go, Captain White Hair, you are awesome.

I made it to my flight after the entire plane had loaded, but it turned out that the plane was trapped by more planes de-icing and blocking the path. We finally pulled away after half an hour, only to get into the line for de-icing, where we spent another half hour.

Incidentally, Esteban managed to land, wait for his checked baggage, meet his dad and drive out to our house 20 miles from the airport to get my car and drive 20 miles back to the airport before my plane even took off.

Finally, we landed in GRB only 90 minutes later than we were scheduled (because in the air, no cops, no stops) and I met Esteban outside and we both agreed that we never wanted to travel anywhere again.

Except that I’m doing another two-city trip in just six days. But I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Longer than the line for the ladies room at a tech convention

Sometimes I think I could live in Vegas all year and still never do all of the awesome things I want to do in Vegas. For instance, I kind of want to shoot a machine gun. I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon (I think I might have flown over it once or twice, actually, but unlike Google Maps, there was no label indicating what I was viewing). I’ve never tried all of the excellent spas because I keep going back to THEBathhouse as it is awesome. I’ve never dined at Mon Ami Gabi, which people keep telling me is better than Bouchon (I do not believe this). All of these things because I keep meaning to do stuff and the other stuff keeps getting in the way.

One thing that’s been on my list of things to do forever is try an oxygen bar. Sure, it’s kind of a waste of money, but paying money to sit there and breath in fragranced air for half an hour  is probably less of a waste than dumping it onto a blackjack table and losing it in five seconds. So when I had a spare half hour during my conference and accidentally turned the wrong way on the conference hall to end up in the Venetian mall, I decided to check it out. It turned out that it was kind of awesome. Plus, they massage you and use a vibrating Tingler on your scalp. Basically my idea of heaven is to have someone Tingle me for hours on end, so money well spent. And weirdly, I really did feel in a much better mood and less tired afterwards. Was it the placebo effect? I don’t know. Probably.

It certainly didn’t help Sephora’s bottom line when I dropped in for eye cream and walked out with five new eyeliners and foundation* but no eye cream. Derp. Because I know that you guys love to experience shopping by proxy, I picked up a travel size Caudalie cleansing water (which, btw, if you haven’t tried before and you have sensitive skin, get thee to a Sephora right now and snag one… I love those freaking French cleansing waters), a pack of Philosophy’s Purity cleansing wipes (which are kind of new and super handy), and the holiday value pack from Make Up Forever that includes two big eyeliners in brown and soft black, plus four little ones in silver, purple, teal and nude. I also picked up the Yves Saint Laurent Touche Elcat foundation, but though I asked the girl for Beige 10, she handed me Beige Dore, which is too dark, so now I have to exchange it. Freaking drunken girls working at Sephora in Vegas. Also, I get no money for mentioning these things, and I can only really vouch for the cleansing water, as the other things are new to me. Well, I use Purity but this is the first time I’ve tried the wipes.

Another thing that happened yesterday is that I met Dave Barry, America’s beloved humor columnist and subject of the no-longer-in-production sitcom Dave’s World. He is taller than I thought he’d be  (it’s usually the opposite when you meet the famous. I suspect fame involves a shrinker ray, which would explain Tom Cruise)  and extremely nice. I also blathered at him for at least five minutes and he was extremely gracious about it and then I floated off and felt giddy for at least another half hour. Dave Barry!

True story: When I was a wee Weetabix, I used to inhale every bit of printed material that came into our house — sometimes four and five times — so I loved staying at my grandmothers houses because they both got the daily paper. And while I read everything in the paper –  from Erma Bombeck to Dear Abby to the obituaries and the letters to the editor and of course, the actual news — I always saved Dave Barry’s column for the last whenever I read the Sunday paper. It was like the cherry on a sundae. Between him and Mike Royko, they were the first people I’d ever read who wrote like the voice inside my head. Or like the wittier version of what happens inside my head. So when I got to shake Dave Barry’s hand and tell him that he was one of my childhood writing idols, it was kind of a Big Deal. Also, yes, he does really have that same hair — that kind of little boy haircut that wants desperately to be a mullet. Also, he wears pleated trousers. In other words, he’s exactly the guy you thought he was.

Of course, it occurred to me much later that we were at an IT conference, where he had been asked to talk to data center people. He probably thought “How sad that I inspired her to go off and become a data center person. She probably created Windows 8.”

By the way, the above picture was taken of me inside the busiest women’s bathroom at the conference this morning. The men’s bathroom had a line that wrapped out the door, through the bathroom vestibule and spilled into the main hallway. I took a picture of our bathroom, just to gloat to my male friends at the conference. I’ve attended actual writers conferences before and the bathrooms are never this empty, man. As cool as technology journalism isn’t, you have to admit that the perks are pretty awesome.

 

 

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