Tag Archives: vacation

Test driving the new brain

In my last post, I explained the process my husband was undergoing for brain surgery. I’m happy to report that the results are better than either of us were expecting. I’ve described his off and on periods before, but this video shows his results better than I can explain. The “task” is to go back and forth between two pieces of tape as fast as he can. In the first snippet, he is completely “off,” no DBS, no meds. In the second, both are working together.

The beauty of his DBS device is—even when his meds are “off”—he still has about 70-75% mobility, compared to about 20% without the device (see the chart below). As you might imagine, this has been life-changing. (Editor’s note: That’s not a word I use lightly—I once wrote an article about getting braces as an adult and the magazine publisher wanted to edit it to have me say it was life-changing but I refused to put straighter teeth in that category. My teeth weren’t horrible to begin with and it was really more of a vanity thing.)

For the first couple of days we were stunned—we kept waiting for Oskar to go “off” to the extent he had previously and it never happened. Well, actually it did one evening when we were going out to dinner. Oskar felt the familiar slowness associated with being truly “off” and we were both a bit depressed—thinking the results had been too good to be true—only to discover afterward that he had accidentally shut off the device. He pressed the on button and surged back to mobility. It was truly a miracle.

Oskar and I realized over the next week or so that many things that had been difficult or impossible for him to do while “off” were, once again, on the table…such as:

  • Driving
  • Cooking
  • Going to Target (invariably, if Oskar tried to go to Target while his meds were on, they’d crash on him just as he was needing to maneuver the checkout line/payment process)
  • Visiting his deceased mom’s elderly partner, Harold (see driving, above)
  • Riding a bike
  • Hiking
  • Standing while waiting for a table at a restaurant
  • Taking walks around the park
  • Sight-seeing

Actually, that last one was my realization and I thought, “What better way to test-drive his new brain than by going on vacation?” We had had a grueling, busy winter and were ready for some fun in the sun, so we booked a spontaneous trip to California to visit some friends and Oskar’s little sister—and to see how much of a contribution his DBS device would make to our vacation.

DBS_chart

The vacation was enlightening. The first night, we stayed with my high-school friend Dot and her husband. We had a fun afternoon and dinner out, catching up on Dot’s new hobbies (painting and pottery—which reminded me that I have to make time for more art in my own life) and her husband’s acting career.

The next day, after going out for breakfast, Dot was chained to her home waiting on an important delivery, so I decided to take Oskar on the hike we had done with Dot and my girls on our last visit, in a park near her house. I remembered the trail as being fairly long, but not too strenuous, and it had beautiful views of the LA area. Still, it was the type of hike that Oskar would have had problems with in the past—but I wanted to see if the “New Oskar” could handle it. We found the trailhead and headed up the path. The trail went up…and up…and up… I kept asking him, “Are you okay?” “How are you doing?” “Do you need to rest?” and each time he said, “No, I’m fine…” And here’s the thing: He WAS fine.

The next day, we went to meet Oskar’s little sister and her husband. They’re both scientists working for a biotech company and have a lovely home in Thousand Oaks. We had dinner at an interesting outside restaurant in the Santa Monica mountains. The next morning, we sat out in the backyard contemplating how to spend the day. (Interesting observation: Oskar’s sister and husband have a lovely backyard, complete with swimming pool, but don’t spend much time in it. “Do you entertain out here?” I asked, thinking of my love for outdoor parties. “No, not really” was the reply. It was a clear geographical difference—in Minnesota, it’s nearly mandatory that if it’s nice, you’re outside. No debates. We don’t have a lot of nice, warm weather, so we cherish every sunny day, and nobody knows how to celebrate the beauty of summer like a Minnesotan. California, on the other hand, sees so many nice days that its residents TAKE IT FOR GRANTED. This is nearly an unforgiveable sin, but our hosts did a good job of indulging our craving for Vitamin D.)

We grabbed a bottle of champagne and headed to an oyster food truck that parks along the ocean in Ventura. We ordered a variety of oysters—raw, fried, baked—and had a picnic on the beach. It was awesome. Oddly, my sister-in-law had gone running on the beach past the food truck many times, but had never stopped for oysters. So our visit prompted her and her husband to try it out. How many great experiences do we all overlook in our own hometowns, and how many cool things might we discover if we looked at our city through the eyes of a tourist?

Afterward, we went to a microbrewery and continued our day of indulgence. Later, we went up the coast and met an old college friend of Oskar’s at another microbrewery. (Do you see a theme here?)

IMG_3109The next few days were spent in the Santa Barbara wine country and one day consisted of a long day trip up to Big Sur and Carmel. All along our trip, I was evaluating how Oskar was handling things. He was able to drive more than he normally would (although I drove most of the PCH, he took the wheel for most of the route home).

On our last full day, we visited a number of wineries. We noticed that for the first time since Oskar’s DBS device had been switched on, he was experiencing some noticeable “off-time.” This tempered our “New Brain—New Life!” outlook a bit, and we were both a little quiet and reflective. What seemed too good to be true apparently was.

We returned home and back in his everyday environment, Oskar quickly rebounded to his new-and-improved self. We decided that Oskar’s off periods while on vacation were caused by a little too much beer and wine, combined with him taking a more lax approach to his medication schedule.

The vacation had mixed results… We learned that Oskar’s surgical success didn’t mean he was cured, but we also discovered that it was possible to turn back time to a point where Parkinson’s didn’t rule our lives. And we have to admit, we’re pretty excited about that!

 

 

Getting to “Sold”

Dear Readers, It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but I don’t want you to think I’ve taken this absence lightly. We know our legions of followers depend on our dysfunctional tales to help them feel good about themselves, and KitKat and I are loath to disappoint. I want to take this moment to thank you for indulging me in my prolonged absence and assure you that the dry spell is nearly over. I hope that when you read what I’ve been up to, you can forgive me my negligence… And now, where has Stormy been the last three months?

Moving prep can kill you.

Moving prep can kill you.

Well, last year I mentioned that my husband and I were going to downsize. Part of this is just due to entering a new phase of our lives—our kids are grown and starting their own lives. At the same time, it’s also a concession to my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease. Twelve years into this disease, certain things have become difficult—and although he’s still able to do quite a bit when his meds are working, we’d both rather he didn’t have to spend his “quality time” doing routine household chores and yard work. After the holidays, we consulted with a realtor friend of my brother’s and decided we’d try to list our house in the spring. (In Minnesota, there’s a definite season to house-hunting and it peaks in April/May.)

Originally, I had a very pragmatic outlook to moving and told myself (and my husband) that we’d first focus on selling our house and then take our time finding the perfect new home. After all, we have a vacation condo (“urban cabin”) about 40 minutes away that we could live in temporarily if needed. Well, this strategy lasted about one week. I started thinking about the limitations involved in moving to our vacation condo—impossible for my husband to drive to his personal trainer appts., harder to see my elderly parents, farther away from other friends and relatives, longer drive to work—and decided I just wanted to get the process over with. (As I like to say, I’m fine with change—it’s changing, I can’t stand. Yet that’s the action verb that gets one to a new stage in life. It’s unavoidable—like death and taxes.)

I think that the power is the principle. The principle of moving forward, as though you have the confidence to move forward, eventually gives you confidence when you look back and see what you’ve done.

– Robert Downey, Jr.

It’s also a fact that I tend to become a little obsessed over things like this—as my husband could attest—and so I started poring over online listings looking for our new home. This process was both exciting and frustrating. After so many years in the same house, it was exhilarating to think, “I can have a big walk-in closet!” “I can have a big master bathroom!” But it was also discouraging to realize that my husband’s illness meant we couldn’t pursue some properties—like the cool old brownstone in St. Paul with tons of character that required the owners to walk a long flight of stairs to reach the house from the detached garage out back (a perilous journey in the winter for someone whose meds aren’t working).

In mid-March we went to an open house for a property that showed promise. It was in one of our favorite areas of town and, although it wasn’t perfect, it “ticked enough of the boxes” to warrant serious consideration. Unfortunately, there were two major problems for us. 1) They didn’t allow dogs and 2) We were about to leave for a week long trip for Mexico. I decided I would just relax, enjoy our vacation fully and reassess the condo situation once we returned (if the unit had not been sold by that time).

Ziplines in the jungle were a fun distraction from house-hunting.

Ziplines in the jungle were a fun distraction from house-hunting.

However, during our vacation I found myself keeping one eye on the listing, and during the week a couple of additional properties popped up that were worth looking into as well. I was starting to feel more confident that we would ultimately find something that would work for us.

The morning after our vacation, I emailed our realtor three properties that we wanted to see. We wanted to go back to “the one that ticked the boxes” for a closer look, and there were two new places we wanted to check out. He responded that the two new ones were already off the market, but he’d scheduled a return visit to the condo we had seen before vacation. It seemed like a sign.

Blossom and Pixie in younger days

Blossom and Pixie in younger days

When we went back the second time, we took a closer look at the place and started talking about how we would redecorate, where we would put furniture and what we would do to make the condo “ours”…We were both able to envision ourselves living there fairly easily, but we still had the issue of our dog. I asked my youngest, college-age Blossom, whether she’d consider taking our elderly Westie. (In Pixie’s eyes, Blossom has always been her one true master.) And she graciously agreed to help us out her by taking on custody of her childhood companion. After that was settled, we made an offer on the condo that was under the asking price and were thrilled when the buyers accepted it quickly. One half of our journey was complete!

However, there was still the small detail of selling our house. So we dove headfirst into the arduous process of getting our house ready to list. This was no minor task. After 25 years, there were a myriad of small repairs needed: painting, pintucking our bricks, replacing fixtures and outlets, staining woodwork. Fixing the broken windows, quite literally. And cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. (Our realtor recommended everything be “surgically clean,” which is a notch or two higher than my personal bar: “the illusion of clean.”)

Our realtor always lists on Fridays and holds an open house the first weekend—part of a strategy to generate interest quickly—so we set a personal deadline for listing our house. A week before our self-imposed deadline, we knew we wouldn’t make it. My ADD was kicking in, so if I had to go into a new room to find a paintbrush or tape, I’d be distracted by 10 other things that needed doing. This meant there were half-packed boxes and half-finished projects EVERYWHERE and the clutter was stressing me out, making it even harder to focus. There was still way too much to do. Moreover, we were both incredibly tired, and I hadn’t been feeling well either—but since we now had a closing date set for our new place, we were determined to push through and finish.

The Lean Mean Cleaning Machine (Will work for food!)

The Lean Mean Cleaning Machine (Will work for food!)

I sent a “HELP!” text to my two sisters who live closest and they both volunteered their services immediately. I’ve mentioned before that I have a challenging relationship with my mom—but my sisters make up for it in love and support. I know that I can call on them for anything and they’ll be there. Because most of them were already teenagers when I was born, they did a lot of the heavy lifting involved in raising me when I was little and served as great sounding boards when I was a teen/young adult myself. After buying my sisters a nice breakfast, I proceeded to work them like slaves the rest of the day. But by the end of the weekend, we finally turned a corner and I could see that we would in fact make our deadline. We were ecstatic to actually see the finish line ahead.

First thing Friday morning, I searched the Internet for our listing and there it was: For Sale. The professionally taken photos of the surgically clean rooms—completely devoid of any family photos or usual signs of life (like ironing boards and dirty laundry)—looked nothing to me like the house I had lived in all of these years. But it looked good, nonetheless. So much so that text messages for showing requests arrived all day and over the course of the first two days, there were about eight private showings in addition to the open house. By Sunday morning we had FIVE offers—the best one a full $20k over our asking price. Even better, when we received the paperwork for the offer, we discovered that the buyer was the son of one of my husband’s college buddies. It was the icing on the cake to know that our house was going to a young couple, just starting out, that seem to love it as much as we do.

This impending move has been weighing heavily on my mind for the last five years or longer. To have everything turn out better than I expected was a much-needed reminder that in this dog-eat-dog world, sometimes life throws you a bone and it’s best to just wag your tail and savor the sweet taste of success. 😉

Running away from home… Cali style

As I mentioned in my last post, KitKat’s tale of Vegas fun inspired me to schedule a trip with my two best girls—my darling daughters. The impetus for the trip was to use an airfare credit my youngest had, and the premise was visiting a high school friend who had moved to LA a few years earlier. However, as I mentioned in my last post, the real motivation was trying to regain my sanity by getting out of my frenetic rut and spending some quality time with my girls.

First of all, I was just pleased that my daughters wanted to travel with me. It’s true I was paying for everything except the one plane ticket, but even so, I can’t imagine myself at that age wanting to take a trip with my mother to visit one of her friends—or at any age, for that matter. Our tastes are just too different.

I’d never taken a trip with just my girls before, but from our family excursions I knew that traveling with Lucky (22) and Blossom (19) would be akin to vacationing with The Odd Couple. Indeed. To illustrate my point, we were leaving on an early Thursday a.m. flight, so I asked my girls to drive home from their respective cities Wednesday afternoon with everything packed. Blossom arrived two days early to babysit for KitKat (whose regular summer sitter was unavailable) and had her suitcase ready and waiting in the living room the day before. Felix Unger all the way.

Lucky started the long drive home on Wednesday afternoon, forgot her contact lenses, realized it an hour into the drive, returned to her apartment to get them, and finally made it down to our house at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday night—a bit bedraggled and with a suitcase full of dirty laundry that still needed to be washed. Clearly our Oscar Madison.

Both girls were ready by the appointed time on Thursday morning, though. So after a quick trip through the security lines, we were sitting on the tarmac, waiting for stormy weather to pass. We touched down a bit late at LAX and got our rental car. Blossom (our Felix) was my human GPS. She pulled up all of our destinations on her smartphone and gave me real-time directions out of the rental car area and smoothly onto one of LA’s infamous multi-lane freeways toward my friend’s house. (Her quick-draw-with-an-app skills also came in handy later, when we were looking for a pharmacy and grocery store.)

I already knew my girls would click with my high school friend. Dot is just one of those people who can make friends with anyone—because she is interested in everyone and everything. In fact, her pseudonym comes from her role in a high school performance where she played an Uber-Geek with complete and utter commitment (something the self-conscious Stormy wouldn’t have been able to accomplish at 16). As Lucky said after meeting her, “I love her. She just radiates positive energy.” Not a bad sort to hang out with 😉 which is good, because that was our plan: An unstructured vacay comprised of some cheesy Hollywood/LA type of activities and lots of hanging out.

That first afternoon we hung out at Dot’s pool and plotted the rest of our visit. We decided to tackle Universal Studios the next day. Since Lucky graduated with a film degree and Blossom was deprived of the Disney Experience bestowed upon her older siblings, it seemed like a clever way to kill two birds with one stone. Or in my case, entertain two diverse daughters with several hundred dollars in admission and overpriced burgers.

Universal Studios was a blast. It had been a long time since I had been to an amusement park, and I was amazed by what can be done with computer generated special effects. Likewise, the studio tour was fun—spotting familiar scenes like the town square from Back to the Future (a favorite movie for our family of Michael J. Fox fans). Throughout the day, I was acutely aware that it would have been a very different experience with my husband. The crowds, long lines and sprawling theme park would have been challenging for him to navigate. It was fun to have the freedom to explore all parts of the park and not be worried about wearing out my spouse.

That evening, we went to the Hollywood Fringe Festival to see one of Dot’s friends perform. It was a sweet, engrossing play and our front-row seats put us nearly on stage in the tiny theater. After spending all day at the theme park, we were a bit tired. But since we were trying to pack as much as we could into a short vacation, we were glad we were able to catch this unique performance during our trip.

Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage's handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.

Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage’s handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.

The next day was our “tourist” day. We went into Hollywood to see the famous sign (from a distance), tour the Walk of Fame and people watch. Afterward, we drove to Santa Monica and had a late lunch on the pier. Lucky was excited to play in the ocean—she couldn’t recall the earlier Disney trip to Florida that Blossom missed and had no real memory of swimming in the ocean as a child. After a long day, we got home early in the evening, but Lucky wasn’t ready to call it a night just yet. She said, “You know, if I was on vacation with my friends, we’d probably go to a club or something.” I said, “You know, if I was traveling with my friends, we’d probably do the same thing.” So Lucky determined we should go back to Universal and explore the “City Walk” portion of the park—which is basically shops and restaurants and rather reminiscent of our own third-floor Mall of America. And Blossom, being Blossom, was happy to go with the flow.

hiking_LASunday was our last full day, and after the previous two jam-packed days, we decided to dial it down a bit. We texted Dot in the a.m. to see if she wanted to go hiking, and she led us on a beautiful trail up in the hills. Afterward, we hung out in her pool again, where Blossom (my usually practical child) learned you shouldn’t try to scoop a bee out of a swimming pool with your bare hand.

Dot is married to an actor. He’s not Brad-Pitt-with-paparazzi-hiding-in-the-bushes famous, but he’s recognizable, respected and steadily working…while still able to live a pretty normal life. (Which, when you think about it, is probably the level of success one should strive for, if one goes into that business.) He joined us at the pool where the girls got a big kick out of talking with him and realizing that—even though they’ve seen him in multiple TV roles—he’s a pretty normal guy, all in all.

Later that afternoon, we drove through Topanga Canyon and up the coast to Malibu to meet my husband’s sister and her husband for a seaside dinner on the deck at Duke’s. Lucky ordered King Crab legs and kept her eye out for dolphins and whales (no luck spotting them, though). I had fish tacos and the house specialty—a Mai Tai. It was fun catching up with my sibs-in-law, and I was envious that what was a vacation outing for us was just another Sunday night for them. Our Minnesota summer has been turbulent from the start, so the consistently 80-and-Sunny LA weather was mighty attractive.

Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom's new boyfriend...

Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom’s new boyfriend…

On our last day, our agenda centered around going home: Get up, shower, pack, hang out by the pool for an hour, have lunch, return the rental car and check in at the airport. (Can you see my control-freak side rearing its head?) I had timed out how long we had for each activity, but Lucky (Oscar) wasn’t operating on my timetable. We got into a bit of a tiff about it…the result of too much togetherness, I think. The fact is, I could travel with Blossom for a year and experience nary a kerfluffle—we’re just that compatible, and she’s a great traveling companion. On the other hand, Lucky and I are not much alike in terms of our hobbies, but we’re emotional twins. I’ve just been on the planet longer that she has, so I’ve learned how to fake my confidence. It frustrates me to see her wrestle with the same insecurities I had at her age when I know—KNOW!—that she has such strength and competence and intelligence inside of her. But I also realize she has to figure that out for herself, so I apologized to her once we were both in a better mood.

We arrived home tired and slightly crabby, but with some fun memories to carry us through the next long winter. All in all, the trip was a success. Not only for me getting a rare chance to spend time with my darling girls, but for being able to take a “vacation” from Parkinson’s—something, sadly, my husband can’t do. I think there are more such forays in my future (as long as I’m paying). After all, there’s some truth to this adage:

If momma ain't happy

Because I know that when I’m happy, everyone around me is happier, too. I just hope Lucky learns this lesson sooner than I did. And, more importantly, realizes that her happiness is in her hands.

 

Forcing Spring…

“Forcing” is a gardening term that refers to the process of causing a plant to flower before its natural season. This is done by mimicking the conditions of winter and spring in quick succession in order to make a bulb bloom. While I’ve never done this (I take a very Darwinian approach to my gardening—no coddling or special effort), I determined that this year—this miserable 2014 that has been the 8th coldest on record since 1864 in Minnesota—I needed to  “bloom” before my natural season. Last year, spring was late in coming and that’s simply not going to be acceptable this year. We need it. WE NEED IT…NOW!!!

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” 
― Mark Twain


So, to take matters into my own hands, I decided I would “force” spring. First off, I chose a date. March 1st, seemed like a great time for spring to begin, and in fact, it’s considered the first day of “meteorological spring.” I’m not sure what that means, but it seemed like a good omen.

Westin_KierlandNext, I had a work trip planned that would provide the metaphorical greenhouse needed to “mimick the conditions of spring.” The same conference that presented a mid-winter break filled with Russian gangsters and strippers in 2013 was going to be held at a beautiful resort in Scottsdale the first week in March. The conference ran from Sunday until Wednesday at noon, but a planned spring break vacation became victim to my work schedule and a $10k IRS bill, so I decided to tack two additional nights on to my work stay (one at the group rate, the other paid for with points) in order to spend a day and a half by myself, relaxing in the sunshine.

The next order of business was packing. I am absolutely sick to death of my wool skirts (lined, of course, can’t have that wool anywhere near my delicate epidermis), boots, tights and cashmere sweaters. I would be foolhardy to think I could make it through the next couple of months without resorting to wearing some of these items. Still, I decided that the heaviest ones were, as of March 1, out of rotation until next November. And I would do my best to limit the others. Meanwhile, I dug out my spring/summer clothes and pulled out a few new pieces bought just for the trip. (Even the most un-style-conscious Minnesotans have—by necessity—large wardrobes since the extreme swings in temperature require clothing for every possible situation. So, for those of us with a bit of a shopping addiction, the ever-changing local climate provides a great excuse to hit the malls.)

I spent the better part of Saturday trying on pieces I had all but forgotten, lamenting my pasty white legs, breaking out the bronzer, and packing tank tops, shorts, sunblock and a bikini. I hate trying to choose what to wear in advance—I like to factor in the weather and my mood—so I compensated by bringing enough clothing for a two-week stay.

I’ve been typing this from the plane, eager to see what my “forced spring” has in store for me.

***************************************************************************

I arrived on site to mild temps (upper 60s) and palm trees. It seemed like my forced spring was off to a good start. The conference went well, but was typically exhausting. Too many late nights with multi-course dinners and drinks. Too many days filled with long workshops and booth time in uncomfortable shoes. I reached the end of my workweek feeling a bit crabby and tired. Hanging around in Arizona suddenly seemed expensive and wasteful instead of relaxing, but since I was already committed, I changed into swimwear and headed for the pool.

Later, I walked around the local shopping area. I had thought about buying some spring clothes, but wasn’t inspired by anything. I had forced a spring environment, but forcing a spring mood was harder to achieve. I had a glass of wine in the lobby bar while reading my Kindle, already bored of my own company.

desert_flowerAfter a much-needed full night’s sleep, I felt the ice in my heart beginning to thaw—just a bit. I went for a run along the property, amazed at the fragrance of the desert flowers in bloom. (Those of you who live in warm climates will find this odd, but there really isn’t a smell to the cold—other than car exhaust, perhaps.) I had noticed my allergies were acting up, but under the circumstances, it seemed like an acceptable trade-off. KitKat is right about the restorative powers of fresh flowers. 

A mango daiquiri and spring fashion mag make for great companion

A mango daiquiri and spring fashion mag make for great companions.

Before heading back to my room, I popped into the spa to inquire about a massage and scheduled one for later in the day. I changed clothes and tested the limits of my ability to be completely unproductive while lazing by a pool. It turns out, I can do that for about three hours. Afterwards, more window shopping. Wine and an appetizer. A really nice massage. Sauna. Jacuzzi. Another short workout in the gym. A walk to Jimmy Johns and quiet dinner in my room, followed by a hot bath and another early bedtime. Perfect.

The next morning, I took another short run and my last turn by the pool. My short vacation was over, but it had served its purpose. As I head home, the temperature in Minneapolis is a “balmy” 30 (compared to the 53 days we’ve had so far with below zero temps) and my weekend is stretching out before me with little obligation. My husband and I have tickets for the Minnesota Orchestra on Saturday, and I need to run some errands and catch up with KitKat. I’ll do laundry and swap out my heavy winter clothes for my early spring clothes. I’ll start thinking about my garden and planning a party to welcome spring properly. Although it was easier to maintain a spring attitude in sunny Arizona, whether the weather in Minnesota continues to cooperate is no longer of concern to me. I know I can make the most of what I’ve got until the real thing comes along.