17 November, 2014

Big Baby III

click here for part I or part II

Well I finally went in to the hospital in Phnom Penh today.  After waking up and thinking "maybe it will be better today" and taking one look at my leg and almost crying, I realized (and Wayne confirmed) it is not going to get better without further medical attention.

The thought of bouncing 2 hours to the city in a tuktuk did not exactly resonate well with my leg, so one of our staff drove me in his car.  He also took in his wife (a midwife) and a woman from the village and her 7 month old baby who was sick and needed medical care. 

An hour later I was dropped of at Naga Clinic, registered inside and waited to hear my name.  

First off, I had already called the clinic to make an appt. with the doctor that Wayne went to a few months ago (for leg problems also).  I called at 8:00am and she was able to see me at 10:00.  As I sat there in the waiting room it kind of hit me.  I believe this is the first time I have ever been to a doctor for a serious issue alone.  I though of all the times, well, not ALL the time, but many times when I had to go to the doctor...broken arm, ACL right knee, then the left a year later, etc..when I always had family or friends with me.

It seemed silly that at 46 years of age, I was getting teary eyes realizing I was alone.  Sometimes my life feels so adventurous and other times it feels so sheltered...anyway, I held back the tears as this spunky 60+ish Russian doctor came out.  I sat down in her office chair and she said, "What is the problem?"  

I held up my leg and she said "Oh my gosh" and immediately pointed to the bed in the room.  As I crawled up on the bed, she just kept looking at my leg and asked me all the necessary questions: what, where, when, how.  It's always kind of hard to explain how I did it, without knowing where I live or the kids or even my personality, so I did the best I could and she just shook her head.  What I really liked about her was she didn't poo poo around. Wayne had told me she's very straight forward and if there's one profession I want to be that way, it's the medical field.

Well she got out some alcohol to clean it and said "Do not scream." I thought " Why in the hell would I scream?"  then "What are you going to do to me to make me scream?"  As she gently  wiped my leg with the alcohol, she repeated it "Do not scream, okay".  Which I repeated in probably a bit too high pitched voice, "I will not scream". While inside I hoped that I did not just tell a lie!

She then walked out of the office AGAIN repeating those words!...leaving me to start to freak out about why I would scream and why would she think I would scream.  She entered again and walked to the little silver tray on wheels, depositing a mass of items upon it.  She then plopped herself down on a stool with her chest ot the level of my leg and pulled the tray to her.  I desperately searched the tray for anything shiny and calmed a bit when I only saw paper and boxes.

As she proceeded to put a generous helping of antibiotic creme all over the area and then the dressings, I suddenly realized she had been making a joke about the scream.  A very unfunny one at the time, but only because I didn't know her sarcasm.  (Later I told Wayne the story and he joked that maybe she said it to me, because he did scream when she fixed his leg, ha ha)  I then liked her more. You don't have to be politically correct in Cambodia, or fear getting sued, and it's kind of refreshing at times.

Well once she had explained to me everything that she was doing and my leg was wrapped up snug as a bug in a rug, she moved me to the other room where I received an IV cocktail full of antibiotics and other healing stuff and a shot in the bum.  That I didn't even feel!  She kind of pinched me and then stuck in the needle, so I was thinking of the pinch instead of the poke.  then she kind of scratched me a bit with one fingernail right next to the needle, so I didn't feel the medicine entering my body (which many times stings).  During the whole process I didn't know what she was doing and thought it was weird that this nurse pinched my butt and then scratched it a bit.  Not weird in a perverted way, but just maybe a cultural weirdness.  After it was over and she wiped the area where the needle entered I thought, wow that was the best shot I ever had.

I had to lay there with the IV for about 2 hours so I settled down to read the latest book on my Nook and finally dozed off.  I had the weirdest dream...

"I was in the same clinic but they were over crowded and I had to share the left of my bed with another woman.  I kind of thought, oh well, and scooted over.  Then this ancient woman and her husband who were at least 110 years old were sitting in the chair on the other side of me and the woman kept trying to get in the bed too on the other side.  I thought "no way!" and pushed her off the bed and called for the nurse.  The woman got out and then laid her head right on my leg!  I said "NO! get off my leg it hurts" and then fell asleep.  I woke up and the lady on my left was gone and the old lady was trying to get into my bed on that side, but she was all tangled up in my IV tubes and it was coming out of my arm.  I called for the nurse and the nurses were trying to get her untangled without hurting me"  

Then my phone rang and I was thankfully awoken.  But I was all disoriented and kind of sat up panting and looking around.  I thought, what else did they put in my IV cocktail?

Finally it was over and the doctor knowing Wayne's capable skills allowed me to go home with all my medication and injections and not have to stay in the hospital for 5 days.  Although I saw the rooms and thought it would be like a short stint at a relaxation spa with full catered meals from whatever restaurant was in the area, but that was one expense that just wasn't necessary.

Final ITEMIZED bill for an uninsured person; which by the way, I   have I never had a full itemized bill voluntarily given to me in a US hospital. 

Dr. fee $60 (this includes her wonderful attitude, compassion, and off-the-wall humor)

Injection $6
IV therapy $6
Room fee for the day $30
Seven different drugs for the IV - $108

That's a total of $210 dollars for me to walk into a hospital get treated for major symptoms and walk back out.  Uninsured.

And the other bonus, for my medicines is:

Fourteen injections of Rocephin (Ceftriaxone) 1 gram each (2 grams a day for 7 days) - $164 - or $11.60 a gram
Seven injection of Solu-Medrol (Methylprednisolone) 40mg (1 time a day for 7 days) - $3.42 - upon closer inspection of the bill, they only charged me for one bottle of this, instead of 7!  That's not right!  I will have to take the receipt and the prescription back in with me and pay the difference.

I also am to take in tablet form:
Flagyl 250mg (3 x a day) - $5.00 - or $.25 a tablet
Diclo-Denk 100mg (2x a day) - $1.80 - or $.18 a tablet (I love saying "I'm on Diclo-Denk")
Daily for 10 days 

She also prescribed packets of Cicatryl ointment ($5.74 or $.41 a pack) to put all over the infected area and Urgotul (a mesh thin bandage strip to put over the ointment, but under the gauze) - $15. - or $1.50 a strip - enough ointment and bandage for 10 days.

That's a total of $193.36 for medicines that will heal me all up.  Not my co-pay, but the total bill from the pharmacy.

So what's a girl to do with all this extra cash she brought to PP expecting the worse?  Well, after a Istanbul Spinach Wrap from Vego I headed to Lucky's Supermarket where you can get any and all kinds of "Western foods".  I splurged on junk food!  When I am sick I may loose my appetite for a day or two, but then I crave comfort food!  Bad for you comfort food, things I NEVER eat here, but gorge on at Mom's house (I gained over 5 pounds the last time I was home!)

I treated myself to a gut breaking cartful of Nacho Chips Doritos, Lays Potato Chips(2 plain, 1 seaweed flavored), Cheetos, Pringles, Bean Dip, French Onion Dip, Jalapeno Cheese Dip, Mac and Cheese in a box(2), a large block of Cheddar Cheese, Blue Cheese, Mozzarella Cheese, Brie, I bought Brie for gosh sake! 

For those of you who graciously support my stay here, please rest assured that I also put in the cart: Olives (green and black), Tortillas, Jalapeno's, Nori Roasted Seaweed, Virgin Olive Oil, Tomato Paste, Pasta, Cashews, dried Black Beans, and 3 small baguettes.

I'm embarrassed to admit the total but it was much less than the medical bill! (can you imagine what it would have been if I had not eaten lunch first?) And pending another major accident, it won't happen again any time soon.   

I'll keep you updated on my leg's reaction to the antibiotics and thank you for your support, prayers and encouragement to me during this time. I never forget the privilege I have in this country.  Although wonderful health care exists in 'under-developed' or 'poor' countries, it is not available for most.  I could afford the $400 for a day of medical care with a foreign educated doctor, but many families live on that kind of money for an entire year.  Of course Cambodian's are becoming more educated and resourceful, but even so, a good monthly salary will rarely earn you more than $400. 

I was able to ride in free comfort to the city in an air-conditioned car.  The vast majority would have scraped together their yearly earnings and/or borrowed or stole money to sit in a mid-size car along with up to 10 or more other people (for $2 a ride) to get to the city where they may wait for hours to see an over-worked doctor working in an under-staffed, ill-equiped hospital.

If I was in a life-threatening medical emergency, I could be airlifted to a Hospital in Thailand, which by Forbes Magazine is among the best places in Asia for top-rate hospital care at reasonable prices.  I would get better, the mother of 4 with the same problem living in the village one kilometre from me would die.  

This is a fact I take to heart.  It is one I cannot change at this time.  This is the part of "White Privilege" I live with.  The idea that one life will be saved over another all because of money.

As Gail posted recently:
“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world.”
Chief Strategist & Co-founder, Partners In Health

14 November, 2014

Big Baby part II

I feel really silly now posting about the painful stitches.  They were of course, but now below the stitches, I have a big black bruise and my lower shin is inflamed.  I believe I just bruised my shin bone, but it's up there in the top 5 most painful things I have ever felt.

Here's a photo of the culprit:

As I mentioned in the first post, the whole thing started out innocently enough - I mean, I just wanted to be queen for a moment.  Somnang's the one I finally pushed off into the water to achieve my short-lived fame as the reigning queen of the plastic blue land.  He's also the one who came running up after me right after Wayne stitched me up and jumped in the air and landed with his legs spread and fists wide in the air and said "I'm the queen!" laughing so hard.

Well today, a stayed in bed most of the day with my leg elevated.  I finally couldn't stand it any longer in my room, so I hobble to the Cafe on crutches, the kids were cracking me up saying "I'm the QUEEN!"  Even in my pain I have to laugh because as Heang said, "you did it to yourself".

Srey Pov performed Coin Therapy on me tonight.  It's an alternative medicine technique which the girls have done for me a couple of times.  It looks terrible especially on my white skin, but it doesn't hurt and it makes me feel better.

Well, here's my leg three days after:

and 5 days after:

6 days after and heading in to the Doctor!

Pretty gross huh?

11 November, 2014

Biggest Baby

I feel like such a big baby right now...

It all started with a gleam in my eye on a sweltering day.  I walked out of the cafe and saw a group of our boys playing in the water.  Most had their backs towards me; a perfect opportunity to jump in to the water and dunk a few heads before they even knew what hit them.

I slowly crept towards them while removing my shoes and glasses.  Right when a few were turning around I pounced!  I jumped onto a small cement barrier and high into the water right at the edge of their group.  

What should have been a refreshing experience immediately turned into confusion...I jumped and both of my shins slammed into something big! 

It seems the boys had overturned this very large blue container that they like to play with in the water.  It's best remembered as a key prop in our Ice Bucket Challenge.

Wayne has a blog post on the Wat Opot site about the boys playing in the water with it also:  click here

So this blue thing was turned over and floating about two feet under the water.  In my excitement to surprise the boys, I didn't notice that they were positioned higher than they should have been in the deep water...My shins hurt after the jump and upon realizing what I jumped on, I started to laugh.  I figured I bruised them bad but it didn't stop me from standing on it and becoming queen of the blue thing; well until they ganged up on me and my reign ended with a not-so-graceful fall off my throne.

At that point I figured I would crawl out since my legs were starting to hurt.  As I got out someone yelled "Melinda cheaum (blood)"  I looked down and there was a small but deep gash in my right shin.  I limped over to Wayne and casually said "Do you think this needs stitches" to which he replied "Yeah".  

I've mentioned it before that in Cambodia (and many countries) they do not have easy access to anesthesia, so you are stitched up cold turkey.  The kids here are super tough and do not cry from pain easily.  It's nothing for Wayne to stitch up a head or foot and everything in between with the patient patiently enduring it.

It's been kind of a running joke that I not-so-secretely wished to have stitches here.  It was usually a good hearted conversation between me and Kate, such as "I wish I would get hurt so you can stitch me up".  When I actually was faced with the fact that I did indeed have to get some stitches; that a needle would be forced into and out of my skin without so much as a painkiller, the humor quickly dissolved.

As Wayne readied the 'clinic' I had Rortana run to get me a towel since I was still soaking wet.  As I busied myself putting the towel on the desk and positioning myself with easy access to my shin, I started to feel nauseous.  Why in the hell did I ever think I wanted this!  This is going to hurt BAD!  

I like to think I have a high tolerance for pain but as soon as that needle pierced my tender hurt skin, I thought I was going to throw up.  There was a small crowd of children outside the window and I tried to play it calm, but IT HURT!  SHIT it HURT!  When Wayne tied it off I again thought I would throw up!  I could feel everything!  I could feel the cut being brought together as the string was tied into a knot.  I looked down and thought "thank goodness it's over" but then I looked again and said "I don't think it needs another stitch, right?" and Wayne replied, It probably needs another one.  

I slowed down my breathing and unclenched my hands from the sides of the desk and endured another stitch.  Even as I type this I am getting nauseous, half of the pain is knowing that the needle punctured my skin twice.  I can still feel it going in, slicing through my tender tissue and back out the other end.  

You try to think about it without squirming?   Can't do it can you?

I have a whole new understanding for the following posts and a whole new respect for the people.


I am now laying in my bed on the computer and the girls just came in to check on me and brought me a cup of hot tea...maybe being injured isn't that bad after all.

10 November, 2014

Cambodia travel.

I had the opportunity to travel with Mujin from the Douglas A. Campbell Foundation to some remote regions in the northwest of Cambodia.  Mujin was going there to check up on 5 water wells they financed the previous year through an organization called Lotus Outreach Cambodia (LOCAM).  

I had never been in this part of the country and the scenery was beautiful and so different than the rice paddy fields I am used to.

It took us about 3 hours to get to the town of Pursat and then another 2 hours to drive to the first well.  It took a little longer because of the cattle roadblocks and difficult roads…

At one point we drove through water that would have been up to my waist!

After ditching the car because the road was becoming impossible,

  we started out on foot.

In the first village we went to, all the people who have access to the well were present.  For each well, every family who uses the well must pay a one time fee of 10,000 Khmer riel, ($2.50 USD) and then 500 Khmer riel (about .12 USD) a month for upkeep of the well.  Each well supports up to 30 families.

We visited 4 more wells each in very remote areas except for one. 

The villages are made up of IDP’s or Internally displaced people.  These are people the government displaced because they wanted the land the families were living on.  They uprooted families (some of them had been living in areas for generations) and placed them in mismatched units in land formerly un-occupied.  Land that is beautiful and lush during the rainy season, but 6 months out of the year, they will not have water nearby, thus the need for a well.  

It's unfortunate that the people who need the most assistance are the ones that live so far away from the main stream.  I live in a rural area, but I'm only 1 and a half hours from the capital city and only 10 minutes from the main highway to get there.  

It's ironic that I absolutely LOVE mountains and oceans, but was born and raised in Kansas, the 7th flattest state in the US and now reside in a relatively flat land surrounded by rice fields.  My short stints in  coastal Spain

mountainous Austria, (and that's a real photo, not some cheesy backdrop!)

and on the river in Belize sustained my environmental ascetic pleasure... 

But to really get to the people in need, you must be prepared to trek down the roads less traveled and plan to stay for a long while.  None of this fly by night NGO do gooders who want to write home about "all the help they are giving the poor helpless people".  I do not live in an area where people commonly die from lack of water or from common dirty water related diseases.  

Traveling to these areas gave me a microscopic glimpse into poverty, depression, displacement and feelings of utter helplessness from people who do not have many choices in life.  But it also gave me a small glimpse of the appreciation for things (albeit few) that the people do have and the happiness and joy they do experience living with what they have.

Mujin and I talked about the difference between poverty and miserable poverty.   You can be very poor and lead a happy life.  But to be very poor and miserable is another factor all together.  The people we saw were poor, but not miserable.  They definitely benefited from the wells their villages were given - and they will really be appreciative during the 6 months when they will have no other water source, but in general (frustration over their inability to secure land rights aside) they were not in miserable poverty.

How would I handle personally being involved in the lives of those who are experiencing miserable poverty?  

That's a good question.

26 September, 2014

ALS Challenge - Wat Opot Children's Community

Oh the infamous Ice Bucket Challenge.  I saw postings of it a month ago and though “Wha…?”  They were postings from my friends in the US.  Many miles from where I sit typing.  I figured, oh another funny thing to watch.  I didn’t google it, I went on living my life. 

Then low and behold, it made it's way to my neck of the woods  It wasn’t long before I was tagged by my beloved godson.  Okay, now I must get serious about it.  Just what was the Ice Bucket Challenge?  Of course I had heard of Lou Gehrig’s disease….but ALS?  After research and video’s that brought me to tears, I decided that whether we complete the challenge or not, the kids should know about this.

Our kids take medicine every morning and evening to stay alive.  Without the medication, they would die.  Gail’s book talks about a time where they did just that.  Die.  No medicine, no chance of survival.  I don’t know that Wat Opot, although  I have witnessed the death of Lan Krome here.  A heart wrenching pain of loss.  What was it like to see that every day?

Peace Studies.  Yeah I learned so much in Peace Studies.  In Spain, so much theory made it seem likely that I could save the world; I mean, how hard could it be?  My semesters in Austria threw me into reality, a reality that regardless of what I know, I may not see the change in my lifetime.   It was kind of thrown into my face.  It may have seemed a bleak future of some, but for me, I accepted the challenge to “Be the change I want to see in the world”.  For me, that meant: to treat others how I would like to be treated.  However your religion translates that, you can’t possibly screw up another’s life living like that.  (Extreme addictions excluded).

I digress…where was I?  Oh yeah ALS Ice Bucket Challenge…

Well, I don’t have warm water to bathe in here.  If I may get so personal, my showering routine consists of dipping a dipper into a vat of water.  Water that gets pumped from our well into a large tank raised above the buildings and then flows into a small cement vat of water that is in my bathroom.

That’s why the challenge from my nephew took so long to complete.  Not only did I have to figure in how to make it challenging, I had 40 kids to fit into the equation.  Wayne and  I tossed it around for weeks….and he came up with the idea in the video.  Once that was decided, we really felt it necessary to inform the kids of the in's and out's of ALS.  

Some of them had heard of it and in Phnon Penh people were accepting the challenge and then were encouraged to donate to a local hospital.  All good and well, I thought the kids should know the origins of the challenge….so, many gathered around my computer and we “googled it”.  So many questions.  Good questions!  The Why’s the How’s and again, the Why’s.  I answered the best I could and resorted to the ALS website for the facts.

We also watch the challenge accepted by my mother, my cousin and others the kids  could relate to.

We then decided that tomorrow was the day!  So without further adieu, here is is:

03 September, 2014


It's Wednesday evening and I'm sitting in my room listening to the girls winding down for the evening.  I have 2 puppies under my bed and 3 cats on it, the fan is blowing steadily as the evening is a bit warm.  I sit and sit...wanting to write about all the wonderful things in my life, but I hesitate.

Now I'm on the floor watching the puppies play with Pineapple, the kitten who doesn't know he's a feline.  Pineapple is much faster and of course can climb up on the bed or couch, which he does regularly, seemingly just to taunt the vertically challenged pups.  There's also Coconut who likes to watch the others play, but isn't quite sure how to join in.  Lazy just hisses at them all if they so much as glance her way.

You see this is safe, to go on and on about the 4 legged creatures who have one way or another made their way to Wat Opot.  The pups, Lucy and Ben are siblings or half-siblings or perhaps not related at all, they were rescued by PPAWS and brought to Phnom Penh for medical care and to find new homes. Neither Ben or Lucy ever knew their father(s), their mother(s) didn't really have much say in the matter when they became pregnant.  Ben and Lucy are lucky.  They now have a really great home, playmates (2 and 4 legged ones), nutritious food and a nice soft blanket to sleep on.

Yes, talking about the animals is safe. The kittens, Coconut and Pineapple, were given to me by a women who's promiscuous mama cat no longer wanted to care for them and the woman didn't either.  I guess they were getting more demanding in their needs and the thought of feeding hungry little mouths didn't appeal to the woman, hmmm...interesting how that happens.  Shirking responsibilities.

Now I could have refused the tiny kittens, told the woman they were better off with their biological mother, even if she would no longer care for them.  I guess the puppies too, could have been left unwanted, unloved and eventually in the same boat as their homeless parents.  

Safely talking about animals and posting cute photo's of them, and not of the children in my care.  No, to talk about the kids would be some sort of dirty crime!  Posting photos - I was told recently - is exploitation.  Seriously?  Those holier-than-thou certainly know everything there is to know about keeping children safe and happy. A child who lives in a children's home couldn't possibly be better off than with his or her biological family?  An uncle who doesn't want his nephew should be forced to care for him, right?  I mean they are blood related and all...

A little girl who's parents died of AIDS complications went to live with her grandparents.  Her extended family knew she was HIV+ but they didn't put her on  the lifesaving ART medicine, didn't even take her to the doctor, didn't enroll her in school.  She was unwanted and finally given up by the grandparents.  Sick and uneducated...but she should be with her biological family right?  Grandparents who don't want her, other relatives who don't want her.  Under no circumstances should she be allowed to live in a nurturing environment, with many other kids she can relate to, right?

A child near death survived and is doing fine, but I guess her and her frail mother should be kicked out of the children's community they live in.  They probably should be forced to make it on their own, right?

The little boy, who's on the autistic scale who used to throw knives at his overworked underpaid garment factory employed mother.  Not being able to leave him with relatives, she brought him to a children's home where he can be supervised.  If she hadn't...surely he wouldn't have actually hurt her as he got older and stronger... surely she wouldn't have hurt him?

The little boy who parents consisted of a young bar girl and a now deceased HIV+ drug addict man shouldn't have been brought to a children's home?  God forbid he grow up to be educated and healthy. 

Keeping unhealthy families together, hmmm...how does that work in a country with no social services? Maybe some nice generous well-meaning organization can pay the adults to take care of them?  Yeah, because money will make them love the kids.  Of course that would work!  Of course the adults would use the money to educate, feed and clothe the kids and not spend it on their own destructive habits.

Beaten and broken children, sick and unhealthy children, unwanted precious human beings over the years have found a nurturing environment within Wat Opot. Some of those children have been reintegrated back into their extended family, with the reintegration process consisting of multiple home studies, monthly family visits which slows subsides over the course of a year and then bi-yearly check-ups to make sure the child is in a healthy environment.  

This is not possible for many of the kids, though, so they are living with caregivers who love not because they share the same DNA, but because they share the same compassion.  Caregivers who double as the parents some of these children never knew.   Caregivers who like to post photo's of their kids to show off how cute and funny they can be.  To keep others who care about the kids informed of their progress and growth.

Exploitation? Throw the first stone. (oh, after you delete all the photo's of your kids from social media)

Awww...look at how cute Coconut the kitten is!

07 August, 2014

Female Opt Out.

I have a new title!  FEMALE OPT OUT.  I put it in all caps because that is how it was said over and over as I waited to get a pat down at Los Angeles International Airport when I left the US a couple of months ago, although it seems like yesterday.  “FEMALE OPT OUT” was shouted as I stood watching innocent passenger by innocent passenger walk into a glass portal, raise their hands, and watch rotating mechanisms go up and down and around their body.  I watched as each came out seemingly unharmed, seemingly.    “FEMALE OPT OUT” once more as I nicely asked if my laptop, shoes and carryon luggage would be safe as I am here and they have gone through the conveyor belt and are over there, pointing through the radar machine.  A look of “not on my watch” crossed briefly over the nice security man’s face as he once more yelled “FEMALE OPT OUT”, this time with a little more gusto as he told me to keep an eye on my items.

Whereas in Gulfport Mississippi the security female looked a bit unsettled when I opted out of the radiation “it’s merely waves” machine, this big city woman had seen my kind before.  She dutifully explained the pat-down procedures she would use, such as using the back of her hands when going over my ‘ahem’, private parts. I kept a small smile as I stated, “Yes, I understand”, “Yep”, Yes ma’am”, “No Problem.”   It was over in minutes and I was allowed to go about my way – radiation free.

My experience in LAX has only been positive.  People are nice here, but they look at you.  Like really look at you as if at any moment they will catch a glimpse of a Hollywood actor.  It’s a little discerning at first, but once you look back as intently and smile; it becomes somewhat of a game.  I thought of putting my scarf over my head as if I was someone who wanted my identity hidden, but it wasn’t worth the effort. I enjoy my anonymity and if people want to look, let them look, my younger days where I was told I resembled Meg Ryan, Susan Dey and on occasion Reba Macintyre are long gone.

This was very evident when walking by the expensive shops in the airport.  Dear Miss Giorgio Armani wouldn’t-last-but-a-minute-in-my-world worker, please do not judge!  Ms. Coach employee, I could indeed afford one of your overpriced ridiculously oversized purses, but choose not to (I’ll feed my kids for 2 weeks instead!) so don’t turn your head away from me.  It’s like I am the “clothed” poor Pretty Woman character.  I dress for airplane comfort and did you notice my Starbucks cup in my hand – I splurged, just not in your store.  You didn’t look long enough to see my “Under Armor” pants – those thing are expensive enough to be in your store and what about my Kipling bag, it’s a real one from Paris!  Okay, so maybe my pants are a bit worn and my bag is almost 20 years old, but I bought it when the Franc was still the French currency, which should be worth something, right?  It’s sort of vintage; isn’t vintage cool?

Just because I’m a FEMALE OPT OUT doesn’t mean I don’t have taste; maybe I’ll head over to the duty free Vodka store, they are smiling at me as I type a few feet away, they are busier anyway and probably don’t work on commission – maybe they give free samples? 

I also was reminded of polite greetings.  LAX is under construction and there are nonsensical signs in the wrong places, such as “No Standing or Waiting” prominently displayed next to newly installed pay phones.  Trying to find Tom Bradley Terminal was comical – it wouldn’t have been so if I didn’t have 5 hours to kill, though.  I consider myself pretty airport savvy and can make my way around international airports with ease, but long story short, I’m glad I was raised with a finely tuned sense of humor.  As I tried to erase the look of confusion from my face, I realized that actually, the confused look has advantages to the perceptive.  People are more apt to help if you look as if you just landed from another planet.

When I quickly asked a woman where I could get a cup of coffee (it was 9:30 and I hadn’t had a drop!!), she smiled and answered with “Good Morning”.  I looked at her as a person this time instead of an information booth, smiled and replied with a heartfelt “Good Morning”.  She then smiled back and gave me the directions I requested. 

Living in DC years ago, I became a part of the rat race for awhile, I still kept a slow, pretty much non-materialistic existence, but at times the stress of life in the city reared it’s ugly head.  Once while boarding a non-familiar bus I abruptly approached the driver and inquired about its destination.  It was early morning and the large female driver looked at me and in a rather snide voice said “Good Morning”.  I hurriedly said “Good morning and repeated my question”.  She answered and as I sat down I rolled my eyes and thought, “Someone’s having a bad morning”.

Then as I watched more and more people rush by her and deposited their coins with not so much as a glance at the woman who they have entrusted their life with (for a short while), I had another much more sobering thought.  Could it be that “I” was the one having a bad morning?  As I sat there sad, wanting to apologize, but not having the nerve to do so, my conscious worked overtime.  I watched her in the rearview mirror and felt heavy hearted.  She diligently drove a busload of people day in and day out while being reminded everyday how invisible and insignificant she really was to her passengers. 

Although I am confident that on occasion I have forgotten how I felt on the bus that day, I believe I have righted my wrong many times over.  And although I cannot give my mother a one-way ticket to heaven (as my cousin, who is a newly ordained Catholic priest, stated he can give to his parents…but he did say they have to make it to St. Peter first!) I can do my best to make her proud of the FEMALE OPT OUT that she brought into this world.

Smile, acknowledge, compliment and make someone’s life a little brighter.

12 June, 2014


When you leave your home for a vacation it’s assumed that when you get back, your kids and animals will all be there, and your house (albeit not in the shape you left it) will be the same.  This is not necessarily true in my case.  My chosen life is a delicate balance of 2 families across the globe from one another. 

One family has known me for 46 years, the other a mere 3 ½.  Both families fulfill the most basic of human needs – Love, but in different ways.  In one family, we laugh so hard “the tears run down our legs” and in the other I cry at the ever changing challenges that I have no control over.  In one family, I sit outside and relax in the cool breeze, in the other; I sit outside in the heat and do anything but relax.

One family demands my time, the other gives me plenty. In one home I sit in the air-conditioned comfort, the other I find myself overjoyed at the slightest breeze that makes its way through my open window. 

My life would not be complete without both…I’ve written about grief before, the loss of a loved one.  In order to grieve you must care and in order to care you must open your heart and in order to open your heart you must be prepared to grieve.

Loss comes in various forms, death being the most evident.  Grief comes from a loss of presence and at this time in my life, I am grieving for 3 little boys; one in particular.  The little boys have gone home to their parents (seemingly) for good.  They are no longer a part of my life, but although I am sad, I cannot imagine never having them be a brief part of it.  

Too many questions....Will they go to school?  Will they grow up healthy?  Will they be happy? Will I ever forget little arms hugging me so tight around my neck?

I cannot answer these questions and it’s probably better that I can't, as there’s no guarantee that the answer will be ‘yes’ to any of them.  The only assurance is that their parents did not have to take them back, but they wanted to and that has to be enough to satisfy my broken heart.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine life without the ups and down that comes with allowing yourself to have a family, but sometimes for a very brief grieving moment in time, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want one…and then you remember all the reasons why or maybe you remember just three of them.