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Windows and Doors

Let’s be perfectly clear. When you become a parent, your job description cannot be Googled. Your pediatrician doesn’t hand you a handbook. Here’s my one big piece of advice – don’t try and be your child’s “friend.” She or he will have grandparents, cousins and friends of their own some day to complain to about all the stupid rules they grew up with; no belly rings, no tattoos; no crying in public – what you didn’t have those rules?

If you’re lucky, your adult child may become a friend. Someday they will thank you for those rules! But I can tell you one thing I’m really glad we didn’t have when my kids were little – smart phones! Because teenagers have been breaking our rules since time immemorial and sneaking out of windows in the middle of the night. Only right here in Blackburg, VA, a thirteen year old girl, a vulnerable liver transplant recipient, arranged on her phone to meet with two VA Tech students outside her window in the pre-dawn light.

And after finding her body across the state line, prosecutors found out about her murderers, both student predators, David Eisenhauer, 18 and Natalie Keepers, 19, by searching their cell history:

But the prosecutor said messages on the girl’s phone led to the suspects, and accused the college freshmen of deciding together in a fast-food restaurant that Eisenhauer would cut her throat. Defense lawyers argued that Keepers’ mental health could unravel behind bars.” http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/state/both-tech-students-plotted-to-kill-girl-prosecutor-says/article_0ea7ac28-cbb3-11e5-8e92-ef91c22cfffe.html

Now this young college woman, Keepers, someone with such promise who wanted to study aerospace engineering, is asking the court to allow her to take ALL her anti-anxiety medicine in jail…so she can get a tattoo?! Of a semi-colon…maybe she’ll write the next Orange is the New Black screenplay?

I had never heard of the App Eisenhauer and his victim were using to disguise their communication, but Kik is basically a way to disguise messages and photos, so naturally teens love it, it’s virtually impossible for parents to monitor. And there’s the problem. Because if I did have a teenager now, you can bet I’d have all their passwords and be randomly monitoring them! I may masquerade as a liberal, free-thinker type, but my inward tiger mom would take over for sure. And I’m not just talking about girls, young boys can be fodder for digital predators too.

“When you give your kid a phone, ‘it’s almost like taking your front door off your house'” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/02/04/kik-messaging-app-scrutinized-wake-va-teens-murder/79826224/

Last year it was Snapchat, and you can be sure next year there will be a new messaging App for teens, a way to evade their parents’ eyes and rules. While we were in Puerto Rico, we visited a man who was expecting his young grandchildren to arrive soon from Maryland. I looked at his tropical oasis with a beautiful, completely open, unfenced pool. Wasn’t this a hazard? He said of course they kept eagle eyes on the children, but he only had three rules for them:

  1. Be a good listener
  2. Be careful
  3. Make good decisions

My brother Michael had a saying for his kids, “Always do the right and proper thing.” In this day and age, when young women may now have to register for the draft along with young men, http://bigstory.ap.org/a3a36a7b1fa74379910088d9220994b8 I would only add one more rule about smart phones.

Do something, anything people. Put them down at dinner? Leave them charging in the living room and not next to their bed? Delay giving your child a phone for as long as humanly possible? If we parents and grandparents can’t model sane, non-addictive cell phone usage, why should we expect the same from them?

The snow is almost gone, the mountains are back into focus. I am heartsick for those parents. I’d like to not write about anymore missing girls, or some stranger luring them out of their house through an open window.  IMG_3804

 

In Other News

After the Great Grandparents suffered through a six hour delay at an airport in Puerto Rico, we all arrived safely sleep-deprived in our respective beds. And now that I can think semi-clearly again, I’m aghast at all the Iowa caucus news. Would it be correct to say, “Who Cares?” IF it snows, IF young people show up, IF If if only it would stop! The last time an Iowa winner of either party actually won the nomination was when?

Yet Iowa’s tremendous influence has little to do with the delegates the state will eventually send to the parties’ nominating conventions. Instead, the caucuses are important because of how they can change the political world’s perceptions of who can win.                                                                             http://www.vox.com/2016/2/1/10880714/iowa-caucus-2016-time-schedule-poll

OK so it’s all about “the political world’s perception.” Not about facts or statistics, or anything semi-logical. Not about We. The. People. – Good. To. Know. I’ll tell you what’s on my mind, that damnable little mosquito that’s carrying around the Zica virus all ready to start a world-wide pandemic!

An emergency meeting of the World Health Organization is being held to discuss the “explosive” spread of the Zika virus. The meeting in Geneva will decide whether to declare a global emergency. WHO officials have described Zika as moving “…from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.”Most cases will have no symptoms but the virus has been linked to brain abnormalities in thousands of babies in Brazil.

And yes it’s in Puerto Rico so you can be darn sure we sprayed our room and ourselves daily. Even though my childbearing years are long over, who knows what else this pesky virus can transmit. Don’t forget I lost a part of my vision to West Nile while living in the swanky swamps of Rumson, NJ. Now the leaders in world health are convening to answer some questions about this bug; but I asked my own personal doctor, the Groom who is an Internist!

He told me Zika is similar to Dengue and Chickunguyna http://www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/

But what we don’t know is whether it carries one or two serotypes... or four! What is a serotype you might ask? Just like all humans are a little different, all viruses are slightly different too, but they are differentiated by a small strain of a microorganism. You’ve heard how the first bite with Dengue is pretty uneventful and it’s the second bite that really gets you sick. That’s because the serotype – which is like a strand of DNA – is different from one virus to another. So we know Dengue has four different serotypes: “Researchers also observed that during a second infection with dengue, the cytotoxic T cells produced by the immune system provide only partial immunity against the new dengue serotype. The cytotoxic T cells do not effectively clear the virus from the body, and they release excess quantities of molecules called cytokines. In normal quantities, cytokines help the immune response; however, in high quantities, cytokines can produce serious inflammation and tissue damage such as leakage from the capillaries…” http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/host-response-to-the-dengue-virus-22402106

And who wants leaky capillaries? Or micro-encephalic babies? When will the first Zica infected person come to North America and become the host to another mosquito who will then pass on its serotype to someone else? What’s the best way to keep from becoming a Zica host? DEET http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/01/30/464740275/whats-the-best-way-to-keep-mosquitoes-from-biting

So while Iowans debate Capitalism vs Social Democracies, I would advise anyone even thinking of getting pregnant to delay their travel to the following countries http://www.bbc.com/news/health-35441675

Because this mosquito is a real mensch. The Love Bug told us a mensch is “Someone who is shareful!” And sharing serotypes can be tricky.  _87917914_zika_virus_map_624.jpg

 

 

 

This is my first trip to Puerto Rico. I listen to the surf pounding the shore as we fall asleep. The dogs will bark us awake in the morning as motorcycles zip through the neighborhood. For some reason, I can’t stop singing that song from West Side Story. 

“Let it sink back in the ocean…”

The island is not what I expected. There are Wendy’s and Burger Kings everywhere. We lose WiFi every afternoon and sometimes the power goes with it. We drive by clean laundry on fence posts, and I can’t understand why every other block needs a Walgreens. 

Is this the United States or what? It’s a self-governing commonwealth also known as a territory. I feel like I’m in a developing country with benefits; only I’m not quite sure what they are. We visited a beach where the lighthouse was closed and sitting next to it was an abandoned nuclear facility. 

Today I saw three wild dogs kill a huge lizard. It was horrifying. 

The problem for its citizens – and believe me the people of Puerto Rico are warm and welcoming – is a government with 70 Billion dollars of debt. The Wall Street Journal just reported a plan to restructure the debt, making the plan public and swapping securities for bonds. Look for the the official announcement on Monday. 

That’s all well and good. Hopefully their economy will turn around soon. This island is a strategic base for our armed forces. At times I felt like we landed in the middle of a spy novel!

 Meanwhile we’ll be dropping Great Grandma Ada and Hudson off at the airport tomorrow. They missed the big blizzard preferring to watch pelicans dive for their dinner. I hope the snow melts before they touch down!   

 

Snow Birds

Our snowfall wasn’t quite as bad as the weathermen predicted. About 20 inches give or take a bar-b-que grill. We never lost power, so laundry was done and vegetable soup was simmering on the stove. 

It was fun for awhile. We played Scrabble. We started organizing “The Book” since my writing is sprinkled among Zip drives, Word and plain old fashioned papers. We also bought a wireless speaker (Sonos) and Bob spent hours making playlists, or trying to recreate albums digitally. The 21st Century is still calling my name. 

Schools continue to be closed and yesterday we dropped by a dentist to check Bob’s tooth. After getting an Rx for an antibiotic we walked outside to see a magnificent red tailed hawk sitting on my car’s windshield wipers. He was looking inside, maybe wondering if that baby seat was edible? It must have been a warm spot to check for vermin but he flew off before either of us could grab our cell phones.  

But today we are duty bound to pick up some other snow birds in Puerto Rico. Ada and Hudson liked Florida so much last winter, they decided to spend January in the Carribean sun. Unfortunately our planes’s captain called out sick – so delays ensue and plans get changed. We can’t quite blame the weather, but still I long for those days when airlines went out of their way to make things up for you. Today, we will most likely get a voucher for a hotel room and maybe a hot meal!??

Hope all your travel plans go smoothly! Fly friendly y’all.  

 

All you Northerners, feeling all self-rightious about a little Nor’easter, listen up. The South is used to a “dusting” every winter that usually melts by the next day. A few feet of snow is enough to freeze time, close schools and have everybody switch into total hibernation mode. In fact, a cheer went up on the Lawn when UVA cancelled today’s classes a few minutes ago!

Milk has been flying off store shelves, and bread will disappear altogether. For some odd reason, wine and beer are always available in grocery stores and gas stations! Seems we have our priorities straight down here.

As a former Yankee, I feel it’s my duty to list the things I love about snow…

  1.  Hey, it’s pure. So pure you can collect a little in a cup and pour some maple syrup over it to make a New Englandy snow cone!
  2.  It’s an instant slide. Even if you don’t have a sled, you can clean off a trash can lid and have instant fun. No makeshift lid, use a cardboard box. Find a hill.
  3.  Snow is an instant anger management tool, have a snowball fight and nobody gets hurt! Warning, if ice is present avoid this activity.
  4. Thanks to the movie Frozen, everybody can practice their inner Dr Frankenstein skills. Build a snowman, give him a carrot nose. I used to build snow women too!
  5. Now make that snowman a margarita, since we all know Olaf really loves the beach.
  6.  It muffles sound. Think about that, it’s like you’re in a padded room so that animal and bird sounds are amplified. It’s much easier to stay present in the snow.
  7.  People are just plain nicer. It’s like we’re all getting ready for this impending disaster (snow) so we may as well talk to perfect strangers. It’s that post 9/11 syndrome – but it’s pre #Snowmageddon2016
  8. Snow will kill all those nasty bugs: ticks, and fleas with West Nile and such. And believe me, we have BIG bugs in the South.
  9.  Speaking of fleas, if you have a furry friend, you will have endless giggles throwing a ball into the snow and watching them try to find it! This will not work with Corgis, it could injure them.
  10.  Snow is beautiful. In a Nordic, wintry, wonderful way that people who live in the Caribbean can only dream about. You can ski and snowboard! It makes us strong and sturdy; it makes us long for Spring. Having only one season would seem like a one dimensional life.

So I hope this helps you feel a little better about our upcoming storm. Back in the Berkshire Mountains, this was No. Big. Deal…we had a woodstove for cooking and warmth, the kids had thermals and snowsuits and mittens and hats and boots and built forts in the driveway while waiting for the school bus. Life goes on, only just a little slower in the South. Here is the Bride on her cross-country skis at about the Bug’s age in our old backyard, where two to three feet of snow was always eagerly anticipated. May everyone stay safe and may the power stay on, amen.  Snow Bunny 20160122

Yes, I’m a child of the 60s. That was my coming of age decade. But instead of going to Woodstock and taking the fast lane, I was living the life of a newlywed in Cambridge. MA. Shopping for groceries in the same corner store with Julia Child, walking the cobblestone streets and learning to love New England.

Up until that point I had seen only one band live and in concert. The Byrds, an LA wannabe Beatles-type folk outfit, played at an MIT mixer in 1967; this Freshman at Emerson College was invited by an engineering student. And that was it. No love-ins, no more rock concerts. You might say that I missed out on most of the rock music revolution of my generation.

“Bob went to Woodstock and I went to Westchester.”

But after my divorce and marrying Bob, moving back to NJ in 1985, I had a second chance at the fast lane with NY just a short train ride away and the Garden State Arts Center in our own backyard. My cousin Jamie took me to see the Stones for my 50th birthday. The Boss was a ubiquitous presence in town. And in the 90s, my friend Betsy, who is married to a musician/promoter turned agent, danced in the aisles with me at my first Eagles concert.

In the wake of the Eagles’ guitarist and cofounder Glenn Frey’s death yesterday, I’ve been reliving my life in lyrics. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/glenn-frey-eagles-guitarist-dead-at-67-20160118

Most people don’t know that the Eagles became a band as a direct result of touring with Linda Ronstadt. She was one of my favorites. In fact, Bob and I would sometimes entertain friends at parties singing “Prisoner in Disguise” together, with Bob on guitar and harmony.

You think the love you never had might save you
But true love takes a little time
You can touch it with your fingers
And try to believe your eyes
Is it love or a lie?

Read more: Linda Ronstadt – Prisoner In Disguise Lyrics | MetroLyrics

And the Big Chill would never cease to sing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” every Thanksgiving – to our kids’ utter disdain – a song made famous by a guy the Eagles threw out of their band!

Recently we cleared out our music system, giving away 30 years worth of speakers and amps. The only thing Bob wanted to keep was the turntable. When I asked my hair stylist what he would buy now for a sound system, he said, “Are you analog or digital?”

Well I’m not sure. I suspect I’m a little of both. We are not “gamers,” and we don’t need a wall of sound set up around the TV. I remember when the Rocker started playing with the Parlor Mob. He had all sorts of pedals to recreate the kind of distortion our early bands had on their albums. After fronting with his first heavy metal band in our garage during high school, I found this new band’s sound somehow achingly familiar. My friend DeeDee even downloaded some of PM’s greatest hits!

I spent the weekend in Nashville, it was a quick grandbaby visit. A chance to catch up on butterfly kisses and teach the Love Bug how to rock the Twist. Yep, I had Chubby Checker on YouTube, and clapped while the Groom played guitar, Buddha Baby pounded a keyboard, and my Bug was on the harmonica.

When you marry an Emergency Physician, you marry a nomad. Bob always thrived on risk and adventure, he loved breezing into a new town and fixing a hospital ED. I was always the opposite, hating to rip out my roots, starting over with “no place to arrive.”  Trying to bloom again every single time

I guess I’m still in the slow lane. RIP Mr Frey.      IMG_3743

 

I’ve never heard of a book getting so much pre-publication press. The Bride sent us the NYTimes Book Review and pre-ordered it from her fabulous Nashville bookstore. Bob pre-ordered it on his Kindle. Then right after Parnassus uploaded Ann Patchett’s new year book recommendations on their blog, Musing, she sent out another special edition to sing the praises of a previously unknown author http://parnassusmusing.net

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi – Ann said

I’m making it my personal mission to urge everyone to buy it and read it, in part because the author isn’t around to do his own promotion, and in part because he’s left behind a wife and a young child who should get the royalties. I want everyone to read this book because it’s a brilliant piece of writing and a singular and profound piece of thinking, but it’s also more than that: When Breath Becomes Air makes us stop and think about how gorgeous life is, how heart-wrenching and brief and amazing. Paul Kalanithi’s life was short but utterly essential, as our lives are, in very different ways, short and essential.

From what I hear, every store in the country has sold out of this book!

Dr Kalanithi was a neurosurgical resident at Yale when he began to feel the symptoms of his disease. Metastatic cancer had flooded his body, his lungs were peppered with tumors. Time stood still. Should he and his wife have a baby? Would he ever be able to practice in a field he’d spent nearly half of his life studying and preparing for; could he learn how to die in such a short time. He had been a student for so long, obtaining two BAs and an MA in Literature at Stanford. Then still searching, he received another MA in Philosophy at Cambridge. Finally medical school, with a residency in Neurological Surgery, followed by a post-doc Fellowship in Neuroscience.

We know what this life is like, the Groom is in his last year of a Fellowship in Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine. They have been waiting to buy a house, waiting for that academic posting, waiting.

Dr Kalanithi was almost finished with his training, when he would have to reverse course, and become the patient. But from everything I’ve read, his writing is sublime. He takes us on the adventure of his life, from being home-schooled in Arizona, to his first introduction to a cadaver in medical school. Witnessing both birth, and death in the same day. Not every doctor can craft a perfect expository essay, but it seems his steep background in literature uniquely prepared him to write his own biography. He started typing during chemo.

Knowing how this will end, normally I’d pass on this book. I’d say no to the pain of reading what happens around us every day. Aunt Sue died of lung cancer last year, Bob became a patient last Fall suffering complications from spine surgery. The Groom’s mentor at Vanderbilt succumbed to pancreatic cancer right before Christmas – a physician who was so loved at Vandy, his nurses stayed at his bedside round the clock for weeks before he died. My brother Mike and Brian. And then there is my own Father, dying at 47 from brain cancer, when I was seven months old.

But I’ll be next to pick up Bob’s Kindle. Maybe I’ll learn how to live each day as if it is my last. I’ve always wondered what that phrase would mean to me. Would I start trying to squeeze 20 or 30 more years into the time I had left, check off my bucket list, or would I relax and simply enjoy each moment? Accepting the fact that we will all die, and choosing to live life with grace in spite of that, is our highest calling.

I only have a picture of my Father on my desk, Dr Kalanithi’s daughter will have so much more.

IMG_3738

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