Tuesday, June 30, 2009

how I spent my morning

Sprucing up the flower beds I replanted last year -- raking out the leaves and dealing with the volunteers.

I think I tweaked my neck, though. Ow. And it was feeling so much better, too.


The forecast was for scattered thunderstorms, highs in the low 70s.

The reality was a clear blue sky and 75 degrees by 10AM.

A beach day!

On the plus side: blue sky, warm temps

On the minus side: no waves, freezing water. It hasn't been sunny enough for it to warm up much at all.

Solution? Dig a hole.

DD's project, brothers helping out

The boys quickly got bored.

For once, peace between them

DD did not, and achieved her goal of digging down to the water she knew she would hit eventually.


I filled it in before we left.

Monday, June 29, 2009

wild things

We woke late to a light, steady rain. Nobody felt like hustling to do anything; breakfast was late, and lunch was, too. But just before 2PM the clouds parted and we saw blue sky. With the temperature hovering in that sweet spot between too cold and too warm, we headed south to the Zooquarium.

We've been going there for ages, and the kids are really too old for it now, but still, DD wanted to go. The boys did not mind. I reminded her several times that we might not get to see the hedgehog, and indeed, when we arrived, we saw that the African wildlife show had been at 10 this morning.

Fortunately for us, one of the workers there has her own very friendly hedgehog, and she brought her out for us to see. We had an extended semi-private hedgehog visit, and she was very sweet and so comfortable around people that Beth, her keeper, told us that Malaika simply won't roll up into a ball or do that adorable little sneeze-bark, she's just too friendly.

Malaika, a small, prickly angel

After our hedgehog visit, we went through the aquarium and the zoo proper. In the cool weather, all the animals were up and about, even one of the raccoons, and they are always sleeping. We saw the live animal demonstration of the great horned owl, and learned interesting things like their feathers are shaped so they can swoop down silently on their prey, and they can lift three times their weight. I was surprised to hear that Maestro, fully grown and about 8 years old, only weighs about 4 pounds. He looks a lot bigger than that, but I have to remember it's mostly feathers.

Maestro, the great horned owl

Off-exhibit, we saw several wild rabbits venturing under the fence to nibble on the greens along the zoo paths. I'm sure they feel very safe there. This baby rabbit is hands down the cutest wild thing I've ever seen.

Fearless baby bunny, enjoying clover

As for these three, they enjoyed themselves, yes, and got completely silly on the train. When they were younger, they could play on it without irony, but today they were just being goofy.


A little bit wild sometimes, yes, but wonderful.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

back to the garden

Friday was "new tv day". Mom's television died early last week and my best efforts to find the magic "screen" control were to no avail, so Friday was spent getting the new set. After a ridiculous amount of waiting around, we abandoned the local Wal-Mart (really the only option in Falmouth proper) for the Best Buy down in Hyannis, where I ended up getting a 42-inch Panasonic, based on two main criteria: it was a decent price for the feature set (1080p, 3 HDMI inputs, etc), and it fit in the car. (The price has gone up since we bought it! Weird.)

Friday evening, my brother set it up, and Saturday morning, we got the old behemoth into the car and took it down to what used to be the dump but is now called something like the Waste Management Facility. Even with a bigger screen, the living room seems bigger because the new tv is so much less massive. The picture is gorgeous, too.

The rest of Saturday was odd, the kids weren't in the mood to do anything, and we alternated clouds and sun all day. The temperature barely hit 70. By two o'clock I'd had it with the perpetual video games, and forced them all out to the beach. The two younger ones swam, DS1 could not have been less interested, and only went out because I made him. It pains me to see him turning into a disaffected teen already. At least the younger ones had fun.

Making castles with "silly sand"

Sunday morning I had fun photoshopping the new tv onto the fireplace. (I just used the old Paint application.) My father, God rest his soul, always said that someday he'd get a tv to hang on the fireplace, well before flat screens ever existed. My mother has always detested the idea, so this is the closest we'll ever come to liberating the living room from the encumbrances of the television stand:

Quick-and-Dirty Photoshop puts "Wheel of Fortune" on the TV, and the TV on the fireplace.

Sunday afternoon my sister and her younger grandson visited, and we went back to Spohr Gardens. It was a good day for the gardens, cool with occasional sun breaking through the clouds. The kids didn't mind too much being chased out of the house again:

And they're off!

Perhaps some day I will look back on these 60-degree days wistfully, as I melt in Arizona's 100-degree-plus weather. Today is not one of those days.

Inviting, isn't it?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

blue sky

Almost forgot what it looked like. Here, the Old Mill at the Heritage Gardens.

We finally saw some sun this afternoon. I dragged the kids out to The Heritage Museums and Gardens, a quick half-hour drive away in Sandwich.

Wandering around the labrynth

It was gorgeous, but we really needed bug repellant; the mosquitos interfered greatly with our enjoyment of the beautiful gardens. We spent most of our time wandering the many trails, but finally headed indoors to escape the bugs.

I love the really tall trees.

Continuing this summer's tradition of taking advantage of things we've already paid for, admission was free because we are members of the Desert Botanical Garden, another lovely (and usually bug-free) place to spend a sunny day.

meds, etc

I saw Dr. C, my TMD/headache doctor just before we left AZ. He was interested to hear that the neck issues I had been having were caused by cervical radiculitis, and when he heard that I'd been taking ibuprofen to keep the head and neck pain under control, he recommended a therapeutic dose of 600 mg, three times a day. I checked it out with Dr. S, my spine doctor, who OK'd it, and I've been on it ever since. It helps tremendously with the neck pain, which has subsided considerably.

It also has helped alleviate almost all my Sjogren's symptoms... and the gastroparesis, too. I haven't taken any Domperidone in over a week, and while I do have the occasional feeling of queasiness, it's nothing that I want to medicate. Taking Domperidone at this point is a guarantee of the return of "rapid transit" issues. While this is not conclusive proof that the gastroparesis is auto-immune (it could just be coincidence that I'm recovering at the same time I'm taking the anti-inflammatory), it is really nice to be able to stop taking a prescription, even though I have started taking another medicine.

I was going to say that surprisingly, my rheumatoid arthritis has been very quiet this trip, in spite of the cold and damp -- but then I remembered that 600 mg of ibuprofen three times a day, and surely that's helping. Last year I took Aleve all summer just to survive. Ibuprofen works better and it doesn't mess up my blood sugar, but I think that long-term it's going to wreck something else, so when we get home I need to give my rheumatologist a call and see what she says.

Meanwhile, the neck: I have a back-of-the-skull headache right now and I don't know why. The neck itself rarely hurts, what usually bothers me is my left shoulder muscles, and I don't know why that should be, either. I feel best on days I don't spend sitting in front of the computer. Driving for hours isn't so great, either, and I did two hours today, broken up into 4 half-hour chunks. I use my neck pillow while driving and it helps tremendously.

I'm pretty good about doing my physical therapy for my neck. Most of the exercises and stretches are easy and I do them at least once a day. One is killer and I try to do it at least once a day but sometimes I don't. I think I am making progress, but I am using Biofreeze a couple of times a day on my tense shoulder and neck muscles, and that helps, too.

My neurological symptoms have abated significantly. I no longer have the dead/numb/tingling feeling in my right shoulder or arm, or along my right side. I am conscious of right-side weakness from time to time, but I don't know if that will ever change given my surgery. My neck still feels numb and today my right ear was hot for about 15 minutes after one of the drives (that's a strange, annoying feeling), which is the worst neuro symptom I've had since we arrived. In general, I think things are going pretty well.

Noting something that's probably nothing, but I want to have the reference: about 2 inches below my collar bone, there is a lump just to the left of my sternum. On the right side, there is nothing. At first I thought it was just muscle tissue overlaying the ribs, but since it's absent on the right, I think it's weird. It's a little tender if I push on it, whereas is if I poke the (non-lumpy) right side, it feels just fine. I don't know what the heck it is and again (I tell myself) it's probably nothing, but I noticed it and I wanted to record it here so I remember to ask my endo about it when I see her in August. (Why the endo? Because I had metastases to my upper chest, that's why. Of course they got it all, but still.)

Last -- my last refill prescription for Cytomel came in as generic. It's only 10 mcg a day, I figure it's not going to kill me, and it's much less expensive than the branded Cytomel. Besides, I need a new prescription, which I will get ... when I see the endo in August.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

mini get-away

We took a vacation from our vacation.

Our first destination, Boston's Museum of Science

Tuesday morning, not as early as I would have liked, we hit the road for Boston, to visit The Museum of Science. It originally opened in 1972, and my Mom joined as soon as possible -- maybe even before it opened. We met my sister and her grandson there, and four hours flew by. We saw the show in the Theater of Electricity, with the largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generators ever:

My (grand? great?)nephew was thrilled to be picked as a volunteer in the show and did a fine job at demonstrating how strong magnetic force can be. We also saw a live animal talk about scorpions (which are both arthropods and arachnids), and wandered through several of the exhibit halls. The Collections room held an abundance of beautiful objects.

We ended our day at the museum with the IMAX movie, Mystic India, which was both interesting and beautiful in subject matter and presentation.

After the museum, we headed north in horrific rush-hour traffic to our hotel with its indoor waterpark. The kids enjoyed it, although they may have enjoyed their room service supper and breakfast more. Overall impression of the waterpark: fun, but also very noisy, humid, and a bit stuffy. We escaped to the outdoor jacuzzi where it was considerably quieter and the air, though cold, was much fresher. It was odd being at a water park with no sun shining down! The park itself is well-laid out with four huge water slides (the stairs up, and pool where you land, are both inside, the slides themselves are outside), plus two smaller slides and many tiny ones, plus various water jets, play pools, and a tubing river surrounding the central area. It wasn't too crowded and the kids enjoyed finally being able to play in some water.

Our wristbands were good until 3PM but we cleared out about 2-ish, and headed back to the Museum. It was my idea; we spent so much time at the shows on Tuesday that there were huge chunks of the museum we didn't get to see. We spent another two hours there today, and got to see a lot more, although ideally you would visit often for an hour or two, and only visit one or two galleries during that time to really see everything. There is just so much there to see and do, it's a bit overwhelming.

Of course we stayed too late, and got stuck in traffic, again.

Speed Limit 45? I wish!

I was so bored in the stop-and-go traffic I started taking pictures in the tunnel. Beauty can be found where we least expect it. We stopped for dinner and a new tank of gas on the way back to Mom's, and finally got here about 9:30PM. Next time, I'll know better: hang out and have dinner in Boston and wait for the traffic to dissipate (about 7PM, I'd say), and end up getting back earlier.

The kids amazed me today by reading nearly non-stop all the time we were in the car. It made for a very quiet, pleasant ride, even with the horrible traffic and gloomy weather. Tomorrow's forecast contains the word "sun", so here's hoping.

Monday, June 22, 2009


You gotta have faith.

It's raining. It rained all day, and it will be raining for the foreseeable future. So, there goes the rationale for being here during summer vacation, as opposed to being at home -- here, supposedly, we can go to the beach. It's fun, it's outdoors, it's free... it's cold, windy, and enveloped in fog, even when it's not being pelted by rain.

So, we're trying to make the best of it, but it seems like things are breaking down all around us. Mom's television died yesterday -- some research showed that Sony Trinitrons with no video but everything else OK can be fixed by a simple tweak, once you get the back off. So I got the back off (no small feat) but can't find the two screws that are supposed to be there to adjust the video.

DS1 wanted to watch a DVD, and with the TV out, he popped it into Mom's iMac, which promptly starting grinding, and now will not eject it. I tried restarting, I even tried the firmware option (fun), but no dice: lots of noises, none of them good, but still no DVD.

Heating up the pizza for dinner this evening, I burned the first batch under the broiler. My mother's oven is so different from mine, I should have known better, but I got distracted making plans for tomorrow and Wednesday, when hopefully I will have something more cheerful to report.

DD's unorthodox, winning style -- she plays off the bumpers masterfully.

This afternoon, we went bowling, then out for hot chocolate (Mexican mocha for me) at Coffee Obsession, then we went to check out Old Silver Beach in the rain. I would post pictures but the final glitch in today's parade of things-not-working is Blogger won't upload my photos, even after I cleared my cache and cookies and whatnot. This seems to happen from time to time and eventually it works out. Update: It works! I had to quit Firefox and restart it, and then everything was fine. Yay!

Old Silver Beach... deserted, with good reason.

My neck is bothering me after all the driving yesterday and the continued high humidity; I suppose bowling didn't help. It doesn't help that I've felt chilled most of the day, either. I am not cut out for this damp New England weather any more. But the plans for the next couple of days include a brief sojourn to a much warmer place; here's hoping it's worth the effort and expense.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

thoughts on the day

I had lots of reminders of my father today. This morning at Mass we met a friend of my mother's; she didn't recognize me as my mother's daughter so much as she recognized my brother as my mother's son -- "I look more like my father," I said, and it's true.

Later, I noticed the word "Dad" prominently labeling the really nice wooden hanger on which my blouse had hung, warning acquisitive children to back off Dad's suit hanger. Funny how those good hangers would migrate without the label.

My sister had a graduation party for her youngest daughter, recent graduate of Boston Latin, and she has photos all over her house -- and there was Dad, of course. Oh, how proud he would have been of his granddaughter! I can well imagine it.

I miss him. The happy graduation-party day was tinged with sadness. The relentless weather is getting to me, I'm sure: would I be feeling sad if I'd seen blue sky for longer than 5 minutes in the past week? Maybe. Probably. Yes - it's when we're (almost) all together that I miss him the most.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Big Blue & camp fires

They don't make 'em like this in Arizona.

Today, I had the day off. My brother took over planning and driving duties and took us all (me, my 3 kids, himself and his son) up to the Blue Hills where we climbed to the top of Big Blue, the highest free-standing point on the eastern shoreline, or something like that. It was a beautiful hike, and there's a cool old army fort and an awesome working weather observatory at the top.

This crystal globe focuses sunlight into a beam; the resulting burns are used to measure the total sunlight for the day.

At the bottom, we stopped in at the Trailside Museum, which is really charming, and was celebrating their 50th anniversary today with free admission. They have a great little collection of animals and excellent displays on the native animal life in the Blue Hills region.

After dinner, we headed to Plymouth to Camp Massasoit for a Cub Scout Campfire. My nephew's pack was having a family camping weekend, and they were holding a campfire; my brother had checked to be sure it was OK if we all came along. It was a blast. Various groups of kids from the different troops performed skits, and my nephew and my two boys did one, too, "The Duck." It went like this:

DS1 is standing towards one side of the stage. N approaches from the other side.
N (walking like a duck): Do you have any duck food?
DS1 (the storekeeper): No.
N leaves.
DS2 (the narrator): The next day...
N appears again, and walks over to DS1: Do you have any duck food?
DS1: (becoming angry) No, I told you yesterday we don't have any duck food. If you ask me again, I'll rip off your beak and nail it to the wall! (he was very dramatic)
N scurries away, frightened.
DS2: The next day...
N peaks around the corner of the stage, and sneaks up to DS1, who pretends not to notice him.
N: Do you have any nails?
DS1: No!
N: Oh, well, in that case, do you have any duck food?

This is the level of humor/entertainment that's typical of cub scout campfires. The camp staff did a great song with much enthusiasm -- there was a good deal of enthusiasm for everyone, appropriately. One family was honored for all the volunteer efforts they put in, and you could see how much everyone appreciated them.

After the official campfire, we retired to a smaller campfire with just my brother's (and his son's) troop (I may be confusing those terms) and the kids got to roast marshmallows and hot dogs over the fire, although where they found room for it all, I don't know. DS2 had a minor crisis with a marshmallow dropping off his toasting stick, but I retrieved it, brushed it off, and put it back in the fire to burn off any germs, and he was able to have his s'more after all. DD was thrilled to try JiffyPop, although popping it over the campfire without some kind of hand protection was a rather hazardous job. (DD was happy about the s'mores and the popcorn, otherwise she was rather mortified at having to attend a boy scout event, even though it was a family camping weekend and there were other girls there. She's at an age where she found the skits mostly embarrassing.)

Got home late, hustled the kids through their showers (church in the morning, no time then...) and got them to bed, and am now off to bed myself. It was a lovely day, and I hope the weather is this cooperative tomorrow.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

freelance day camp

That's what summer has become. I don't recall my mom, God bless her, ever concerning herself too much with what we did over the summer. We all went to the beach or hung out or played in the woods or something. It was fine.

Now, it's reading-math-writing-piano every morning -- not a lot of each, just enough to keep their brain cells from dying off -- and then casting around for something to do so they're not glued to various video screens for the rest of the day.

Plus, cooking, washing dishes, grocery shopping, and house work, all of which I would do if we were home in AZ but which have an overlay of slightly weird difficulty because, well, we're not home in AZ.

I have this feeling there is something I'm supposed to be doing, and I don't know what it is. I'm sure the weather (and horrific extended forecast) are contributing to my sense of frustration, but there's not a thing I can do about it, except keep looking for things to do on rainy days. I will be so happy when we finally break out of this cold and damp.

critters & trails

Another cool, cloudy day. The forecast called for rain late in the day, so I decreed we'd go to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. If it were up to the kids, they'd spend all day playing video games and building forts with blankets and chairs, or playing video games inside their forts. And eating.

Brewster is a bit of a haul from East Falmouth, but it was an easy drive today, before school is out, and before the tourist crowds hit. Later in the summer I imagine it would be pretty horrific, but for us it was only around 45 minutes, which isn't bad at all.

The museum itself is quite manageable, with a small aquarium downstairs and a great "marsh view" room on the main floor. There's an osprey's nest which they have on camera, so you get a close-up view of what's going on in the nest at all times. The marsh view itself is gorgeous, and there are plenty of bird feeders drawing the local fauna to the windows for our entertainment.

Lucky shot: photographing squirrels is hard enough, but chipmunks are impossible. This looks like some kind of gray squirrel/chipmunk cross.

View from the marsh room, left

View from the marsh room, right

We walked the wildflower loop and a little bit of the marsh trail, but didn't have time for extensive hikes -- energy was flagging, too, since the kids had a sleepover last night and didn't get to sleep until about 1AM. The trails were well-maintained and easy. Happily, sometime in the past couple of years, the children have decided that they like to walk around in nature.

Funny how we associate blueberries & summer... these won't be blue for at least another 6 weeks.

These blossoms were everywhere in the woods around the marsh.

Laurel? Raspberries? If I figure it out, I'll update.

I think the high point of the kids' day was the ice cream we got at Kate's Seafood.
Classic Cape roadside restaurant.

On the way home, DS1 commented that it was "a nice trip, but I really want to go to the beach."

So do I, baby, so do I.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Spohr Gardens

A sunny, cool day.

We ventured out in the afternoon to Spohr Gardens. I can't believe I've never been there before! We missed the profusion of rhododendrons and other spring flowers, and it was too early for all but the most precocious peonies, but the gardens were still gorgeous.

A portion of Charles Spohr's nautical collection, including an anchor from H.M.S. Bounty

Red maples provide relief from the ubiquitous green

The kids investigate the bell from 1882; mill stones arranged behind.

Calling sinners home

Inscription on the bell:
SINNERS! The sound of this bell
calls you together for the good and
eternal happiness of your souls
and to praise and glorify Christ

I'm unclear on what the possible confusion was, but Messrs. Hooper & Co left no doubt as to the piety of their purpose.

The "Flower" setting on my camera (a Fujifilm FinePixZ) does weird things to the color pallet -- this iris was purple, not blue.

The only fresh-looking cluster of rhododendron blooms in the entire garden.

Lovely pink bells capped by a speckled bloom.

Fern thicket in sunlight.

Peak peone.

From the gardens, we wandered over to Woods Hole, but the WHOI Aquarium was just closing as we arrived at 4PM. So we went to our favorite beach instead, where it wasn't as windy as I expected. I lined up all the kids for our now-classic beach shot:


Shortly after this photo was taken, my camera's battery ran out of juice. That's why I have no documentation of their first swim of the year. DD complained that even the sand was cold, and she was right, but they wanted to go swimming, so we headed home for their suits and then back again. It was, probably, too cold for DS2 and DD, but the two older boys were just fine. They all survived and now have another great shared adventure to remember in times to come.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

too cold to swim

Wood Neck Beach, Falmouth

Temperatures here in Falmouth are hovering in the mid-60s, and at times the clouds blot out the sun.

Still, I couldn't let the kids, my brother, and his son loll around the house all afternoon. It wasn't too cold to search for sea glass...

A rare alignment of cousins

and it was perfect strawberry picking weather.

At Tony Andrew's Farm

It didn't take long to pick four quart boxes of berries; two boxes disappeared in short order after dinner. The milk chocolate ganache dip provided encouragement.

Monday, June 15, 2009

back on the Cape

Saturday we (me & the kids) flew into Hartford; we spent the night at the in-laws. Sunday we staggered out of bed at 10:30, which wasn't bad considering it was nearly 2AM by the time we got to bed, what with all the excitement of travel and everything. We made our way to the Cape Sunday afternoon, with no traffic and just a little rain.

It's cool and partly cloudy here, and the forecast is similar for the rest of the week. I do hope it warms up soon!

As usual, it feels weird to be here, especially after all the school upheaval last week. I have no idea where the kids will be going to school in the fall (late summer, actually), and I don't like that kind of uncertainty. But things will be different no matter where they go, that's for sure.

With any luck tomorrow we'll do something that's worth photographing.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

this week's lessons

1. Security is an illusion.

School friends find themselves inexplicably unemployed. Their positions still exist, but their contracts were not renewed, and no reason was given (to them, or to us) for their dismissal. I'm hoping that something can be done about this, but realistically I don't know how it will work out.

2. If you're doing something you feel compelled to keep secret, that's your conscience letting you know that what you're doing is wrong.

I'm not talking about a surprise party or a gift. Those friends, now unemployed? Management canned them without warning and with well-planned, sneaky timing. They hoped it would stay under the radar and they could later say the staff "left for personal reasons." Yes, I suppose not being offered a contract is a "personal" reason.

I know Management would say, "we didn't want to upset the other staff," but that should have been another big clue that what they were doing was wrong: of course the rest of the staff would be outraged, and very, very nervous about their own ongoing status. This was not the kind of maneuver that leads to one big happy school family.

I can't think of a single thing that Management could say that could justify this decision. I can think of a few reasons, like personal dislike or wanting to bring in friends or something like that, but not one of these rises to the level of justifying unraveling the structure of the school community as they have done with these dismissals.

Apologies for the cryptic language; circumstances warrant it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

dx: cervical radiculitis

After spending the weekend worrying about what was going on in my neck, I was quickly reassured by my doctor of two things: the pain in my neck isn't psychosomatic, and what's going on in there can be treated and, with luck, easily resolved.

He termed it a "disc protrusion," with the formal diagnosis of cervical radiculitis. This is a less serious dysfunction than a slipped or herniated disc, and physical therapy was prescribed.

There must be something wrong with me that I need physical therapy so often, as if my body can't keep itself in order. This is an idea I am willing to leave unexplored, since everything that's gone wrong so far has been fixable.