Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mom and License

Yesterday I came home to two intersecting disasters.


First, an angry yelling husband who had opened a letter from the DMV notifying me my driver's license had been suspended due to failure to pay a speeding ticket fine at the end of September. I explained to him that I had intended to go to the trial (to try to talk down the ticket) but that I got hung up with work emergencies and was not able to go so I called the court that day to find out how much the fine would be. Court clerk said it would be up to the judge whether to give me just the ticket or failure to appear fine or whatever and I would be mailed a copy of the decision and the fine amount. That was 3 weeks ago. Last time I checked the record online (a few days later) it still said pending. I understood they were sending it and in NY I have personally seen it take 4 months to send you the fine invoice so I waited, knowing it would come eventually.


It had not come yet as of this week. So imagine my surprise when I got the suspension notice from the DMV with no prior warning! Jon was livid and we had a huge argument right in front of his parents. I will fast forward to the conclusion of this part of the story - went to the courthouse this morning to pay the fine (step 1 in getting my license back) and found that they had accidentally sent the fine amount invoice TO THE WRONG ADDRESS. Hence why I never got it. They printed off a letter stating such to give to the DMV to request the $85 reinstatement fee be waived. The DMV declined to do so, advising it was not their fault that the Prince William County court made a mistake in addressing mail. So I had to pay my fee and get my license reprinted. Blah.

$162 for the ticket + $85 reinstatement fee = too much!


Second disaster waiting for my arrival home was that the assistant we hired to take my mom and dad places when we are unavailable/at work called to tell me that she was at the doctor's office with my mom. Mom had been throwing up uncontrollably since Tuesday night and when her nurse came to see her Wed morning told her she needed to go see her dr pronto. So mom called Emma since I was at work and she didn't want to bother me. (Gah, she should have called me!). Mom's doctor told her (after she threw up on him) to go to the emergency room. So Emma took her there and I came over as soon as I could make it (I was in rush hour traffic on my way home when Emma called to tell me what was going on). Jon came with me and we sat with my mom in the emergency room till she was seen about 2.5 hours later when they began asking questions about her heart and monitoring it.


At first I thought she had food poisoning or something but they seemed to piece it together quickly as a heart issue and ordered blood tests to confirm. There is some really great tech advances in the detection of heart problems and you can read about it here: http://www.patienthealthinternational.com/conditionarchive/cond25_item7790.aspx


They wanted to conduct several tests on mom that would take most of the night so they sent Jon and I home to rest. This was late into the evening on Wed night. We stopped by to see Dad and comfort him then went home. This a.m. my mom called at 6:30am to tell me the tests were done and they were going to admit her for observation and possibly more tests and that she was going to be allowed to sleep until this afternoon when they would make a decision on the next steps. I still didn't know what was going on at that point except she mentioned something to do with heart failure and enzymes and I started googling.


Kept in contact with her today after she woke up this afternoon which was right about when I finished at the dmv and so went to the hospital to see her and get status. Met with the cardiologist – its inconclusive whether Mom had a full blown heart attack or its simply the beginning evidence of congestive heart failure [which is a chronic terminal disease where your heart slowly gets weaker and weaker and not just when you heart stops like I thought/like it sounds]. This is because she had the elevated enzyme levels of heart failure/attack but without all the other typical symptoms. Either way, her body recovered from it on its own, without any complex intervention from both the heart issue and the stomach sickness. They just gave her IV fluids and anti-nausea meds b/c she couldn't keep anything down and watched the progression of the problem till it peaked and began to come back down.


In order to determine if her heart suffered permanent damage from the episode they have to do a heart catheterization which she has refused after learning the risks. She understands without that diagnostics effort they won't be able to really see what is going on and possibly prevent a fatal heart attack in the future, but she doesn't want to endure the procedure. So they are releasing her tomorrow afternoon and want her to follow up with the cardiologist in a few weeks. They can still do some of the old fashioned stress testing to try to determine if there is heart damage, but unlike the cath it won't tell them whether it is progressing. So we wait. Took Daddy to visit her today and then home. He is really anxious as could be expected. Also had to reach out to my estranged sister and brother whom I haven't spoken to in years to let them know what was going on with Mom.


It's been a long day and I am weary.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Miami 2008

As described in my previous notes, September was a very harried month for our household. So it was perfect timing that I had arranged back in the springtime for a ladies getaway trip to the Caribbean for late September.


It was the first official trip for my newest meetup group, NoVA Travelers (http://travel.meetup.com/1256). I formed this meetup in early summer at the request of several of the members from my other meetups (http://cooking.meetup.com/343 and http://walkers.meetup.com218) who reported that they enjoyed the short weekend trips I'd planned for those groups and looked forward to longer adventures. The basic operating principles of the group are as follows - I take input from members on destinations they'd like to visit, coordinate that info with the marketing and promotions info I am receiving on a daily basis from various travel agencies, consolidators, and transportation providers (such as the airlines or railways themselves) to find great deals for group trips. Depending on the location we either book a tour with a predetermined itinerary - or I research and plan an itinerary that I lead us on. We have our second group trip this weekend in NYC. We're doing a culinary tour of NYC and I'll be leading the group through 4 city sections [Little Italy, Chinatown, Astoria, and SoHO] while giving a talk on the history of each section and NYC overall. There will be a chocolate tasting as well as tastings and full meals in each city section. Nine of us are going and it should be a lot of fun. My compensation for the work is having my trip costs paid by the trip fees charged to the remaining members, so it works out for everyone as the cost is still much lower than on a commercial tour.


Anyway, for the Miami trip, we began with a weekend in South Beach from Sept 19th- 22nd. We stayed at Le Fountaine Bleu which is an AMAZING luxury resort. We had a one bedroom suite and attached studio suite. Marble bathrooms, bidet, Private ocean beach, spicy cabana boys to bring us iced cucumber slices and fresh water at the beach,amazing views off our private balcony, 7th floor rooftop pool, and more (And the hotel was only $130 a night per room thanks to the arrangements I'd negotiated ahead of time- an extreme discount off the normal $400 nightly rates.) Service was amazing and we all fell in love with the place. We crammed a lot of activity into the weekend from sightseeing in South Beach (the restaurants, the shops, the nightclubs!) and the heart of Miami (we went to Jungle Island - a sanctuary for rescued tropical animals and Little Havana-good cigars!) and everyone had a good time. We even rubbed noses with the quasi-famous, meeting Christopher Nolan's (directed The Dark Knight) brother at The Big Pink (a popular Miami restaurant in South Beach).


Monday morning rolled around and one of our members had to defect home (alas, work was calling) while the rest of us boarded the Carnival cruise ship Imagination for a 5 day Caribbean cruise. We had a day at Key West, another at Cozumel, and the rest of the time at sea. It was very lovely and just the sort of relaxation I needed. In Key West, a few of us grouped together to walk the city while another member ventured off on her own and another took an excursion tour offered by the ship focusing on Hemingway. In Cozumel, two of the members went on their own to see the city while three of us enjoyed an excursion tour that focused on sailing, snorkeling and then playing at a private beach. They had a water trampoline at the beach and that was very awesome (you swim out to it and climb on it and jump jump jump). There were also hammocks, plenty of beach chairs, and horses for riding. The cruise itself was lovely with plenty of the normal cruise amenities - spa (we had their massages and they were great!), pool and hot tub on the lido deck, funky drinks, late night dance clubs, fancy tea parties, formal night, tons of great food and music, and cheesy shows. I really hope to get an even bigger group assembled for our next cruise in the winter (a short and affordable Bahamas cruise).


Although the trip was fun, getting back home to see my husband was nice too after 7 days apart. And slowly I started to slip back into the regular patterns of life at home, although it took me a few days to adjust my sleep schedule and settle for just 3 meals a day. Heehee. :)


I think you are really going to laugh at the pics from the Miami trip - especially the ones from our cigar factory experience. You've got to see those! I've put them in a public album here:

http://www.new.facebook.com/album.php?aid=62528&l=b4345&id=603259739


So that pretty much wraps up September. Now you see why I've been out of touch since August- busy busy busy. But things are settling down now. Other than this weekend, we've got no trips planned until November and no major projects or interruptions. Just the peace of ordinary life.

September Transitions

September was a busy month in our household and one of ups and downs. You've already read about our Savannah trip that began the month…and I'll write again soon about the Miami+Mexico trip that came at the end of the month. Sandwiched between those trips was a major endeavor: project move-a-parent. :)


I worked diligently the first 2 weeks in September to get a lease arranged for my parents with a senior apartment complex the next town over (Woodbridge, VA), purchased all the furniture they would need for them home as well as household supplies (linens, dishes, etc), and had all the utilities turned on in their name at their new home. Tried to get as much set up for them so that when they arrived they could just slip into easy living at their new place. They're on the 3rd floor so it was a lot of trips back and forth from the car with things! Several days I was over at their apartment from the time I got off work until well after midnight putting the final touches on things. All the while trying to keep up with major work deadlines as well.


Finally the big moment came and on Friday Sept 12th I flew to El Paso, TX. From the airport there I rented a car and drove to Roswell, NM (3 hours) where my parents live. Visited with my folks a bit but primarily spent Friday evening helping them pack up their clothes, medicines and essential financial docs to bring with them. Everything else was staying behind as the investor buying their property was buying it as-is. Spent a lot of time shredding old financial records and talking Mom out of taking things that were not essential. Saturday morning we attended the closing on the house and then my parents' friends came over to say their goodbyes. Soon we were off, on our way to El Paso. We stopped at the cemetery in town so that Daddy could have one last look at his parents grave, but nobody could remember where in the cemetery it was! We got to El Paso, spent the night and then Sunday morning flew back to the DC area. One of my good friends Dani met us at the airport, as did Jonathan, knowing we had too much stuff for just 1 car. It was pretty overwhelming. Basically from Wed the 10th- that Sunday evening I'd had maybe a total of 8 hours of sleep. I was exhausted.


We dropped my parents off at their new place and as the weeks wore on they became more settled in their apartment. There were a lot of doctor appointments the first two weeks but things have calmed down now. We did find out that my dad has severe cataracts to the point that he can barely see. He just didn't want to tell anyone before and hadn't been properly examined by an eye doctor for a long time.


I am very glad my parents are here, but it has been a big adjustment for everyone. I haven't lived at home since I was 14 and I haven't lived in the same town as my parents since I was 20. We are all still working out living so close together and how to relate to each other now that I'm grown and they're needing more help with things.

Savannah Trip 2008

You've been missing out on the details of my daily life since I've not written a major update since August.


Let's begin there and slowly cover the gap between then and now over a series of notes.


At the end of August, for Labor Day Weekend, Jon and I drove down to Savannah, GA for a little Holiday getaway. We stayed at a simple motel in one area of the city not too far from the historic district.


We arrived on a Friday afternoon and our first stop was Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House. Every insider's guide to Savannah listed this historic restaurant as a "must-experience" event. Website is here: http://www.mrswilkes.com/ . Jon and I definitely agree with the experts- this place is not to be missed! The historic boarding house serves up authentic Southern Cuisine for lunch and dinner family style. As we came into the restaurant, we were seated with other guests around a communal table. Then the food procession began. There was fried chicken, sausages, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, grilled corn, beans and rice, stewed green, fried okra, baked beans, summer squash casserole, sweet potato casserole, fresh rolls, coleslaw, black eyed peas, butter beans, succotash, and a whole bunch of other dishes I can't remember. And fresh sweet tea [that was everywhere in Savannah!] and lemonade. Once we had eaten our fill, they brought dessert. Woo boy it was all so delicious. And affordable. We had lovely conversations with the other guests at our table - a couple from Chicago, a couple from Texas, and a single lady from I-don't-remember-where.


After lunch, we walked around the neighborhood where the boarding house was and admired the beautiful mansions before heading back to our hotel for a nap. It had been a long drive and the heavy lunch left us sleepy. Plus the southern heat was really oppressive.


Once we had a chance to nap and swim at the motel we were ready to head back to the historic district for our evening activities. We did some sightseeing of the squares closest to our dinner destination [the square that holds the John Wesley statue] as well as the riverfront area. For dinner, we enjoyed a spectacular meal at the Olde Pink House, another "must-see" from the travel guides and local advisors. We both had the company special which was flounder cooked Thai-style in a ginger sauce. It's a very unique presentation - the chef scores the fish with a diamond pattern on each side and then pan fries the fish (skin on and not deboned) with the special sauce. The scoring allows one to use a fork to puncture a particular diamond section which then perfectly and cleanly separates from the bone ready for eating. It was something new for both Jon and myself and tasted delicious. We found the entire staff to be so kind. I've been to a lot of places in the USA and I've honestly never met such nice people in my entire life. Even in the rest of the south. That was a repeated pattern we noticed in Savannah- how generous and good-spirited its residents are. The chef from the restaurant was truly top notch- he competed on Iron Chef [the series on the food network] a few seasons ago against one of the Iron Chefs.


After dinner we wandered through the downtown district for a bit and then returned to the hotel to sleep.


Next morning, we were up bright and early to go back to the historic district for a tour. We drove to the address for the Grey Line tour since they are the most affordable and recommended and all we found was the office of Old Savannah Tours. The lady behind the counter told us that the Grey Line tour company was out of business and so we could tour with them instead. They were a bit pricier, but we didn't have any other options [we thought]. So of course, after boarding the trolley, which raises our viewpoint over the skyline, we see that the Grey Line tour company is right across the fence and we had just driven in to the wrong side of the parking lot. Old Savannah Tours= scam artists!!!! There is no way though could be right next door to their major competitor and not know that they were still in business. I wanted to throw a tantrum and get off and demand a refund but Jon asked me not to make a stink over a few dollars. The tour itself was fine. Took us by all of the historic squares (Savannah was a planned city whereby mansions were planted around squares every few blocks.) We took a lot of pictures, got off and did a lot of walking (the trolley has on/off privileges all day) and toured the Juliette Gordon Lowe home which was special for me, having been a girl scout for 10 years. (Juliette Gordon Lowe was a childless woman who God gifted to serve with her husband in other ways in her community, including the founding of the Girl Scouts based on the Boy Scout model.) Another point of interest on this day was witnessing the spectacle of police and onlookers in front of the Cotton Exchange building. It seems some lady fell asleep at the wheel, plowed her car through some hedges and into a very old and valuable terra cotta Lion Statue. Once her car hit the fountain the force propelled the car into the air and it crashed into the front doors of the Exchange. The impact was so strong it shattered the windows on the second story of the Exchange and crushed the top of her car. The driver came away with nothing more than a few scratches. But city officials were wringing their hands over the historic and priceless statue.


We had a simple lunch by the riverfront (hot dogs) and saved our appetites for the dinner we were anticipating at Paula Deen's restaurant. I love the lady, and Jon enjoys watching her as well. We've seen her in person a couple of times as she has come to Washington, D.C. for the annual Metro Cooking Faire. She's an amazing cook and another example of God empowering someone to excellence as her beginnings were humble and her life fraught with struggle for most of early years. Her signature restaurant however was a disappointment. The food was merely average compared to the boarding house the day before and combined with the price (>$20) and the wait time (we had to stand in line for a half hour in the morning to get tickets for the buffet in the evening, plus wait 30+ minutes to be seated once we got there in the evening) made it a dinner I regretted.


After dinner we toured the riverfront area again, stopping to sample and buy fresh pralines for our friends back home and stopping at Wet Willie's famous frozen drink bar for a quick refresher. Eventually we made our way back to the motel for the evening, spent.


Sunday morning we drove to Tybee Island to spend the full day at the ocean. The city was having a Labor Day celebration with live music and other activities under their pier, but we spent most of the day relaxing on our blankets/towels a few yards from the water. The relaxing pace continued into the evening when we took some candid photos of ourselves before heading back to the hotel for the evening.


There are pictures documenting our entire weekend, including the squares, the mansions, and even the car accident, online. Just click here to go to my facebook album:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=62526&l=67be1&id=603259739

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Keeping up with Livejournal Friends

I created an lj account for the purpose of befriending people I want to keep up with in terms of their friends-only journal entries as well as joining communities I'd like to continue reading such as Fatshionista and poor_skills. I will not be posting blog/journal entries to the lj account; look for those to remain here on this blog at http://songsofgratitude.blogspot.com as well as my goings on at facebook: http://www.new.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603259739.


The new lj account is: jennireads.livejournal.com. If you'd like to add me, I'd appreciate it. :)

Is Anybody Still Out There?

So here we are in October. Looking back, I realize I've not posted an update since August. I've been traveling, working, and keeping up with friends though facebook, email, and meetup. I have so much to write about now that I'd love to have an audience digest. But in order for that to work itself out I must actually have an audience. The question is, do I still have one? I suspect that much of my readership may have fallen off during my 2 month hiatus from active blogging.


Is there anyone out there reading this, or will my question echo into the silence of the internet? I'd like to know before I invest time in posting entries here at http://songsofgratitude.blogspot.com