Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Quad Challenge

Tuesday was the day of the Quad Challenge. It was overcast and cool at 9:35 am at the start and solid rain by the 5 pm end. For those of you who may not remember, the Quad Challenge is the annual finale of Tuesday Movie Day with the twist that you must view 4 movies in one day on one ticket. Last year was exciting, eluding the many friendly employees of the AMC Theater, who had apparently just completed customer service training and made a point of greeting you as you exited the movie or passed them in the hallway. No such pressure this year. A few random employees appeared after each film to clean the theatres, but  I had the distinct feeling that I was not the only one of the patrons who had settled in for a day at the movies. Benches outside the theaters invite you to sit down, check your smartphone and plan your next move right out in the open. Was I the only furtive one, sneaking into bathrooms and plotting my next move from the privacy of a bathroom stall?

My grand plan fell apart right after the 9:35 Arthur Christmas. Although I had doublechecked the newspaper that morning, my 11:00 pick --Young Adult-- was nowhere to be found. My iPhone wasn't connecting, so I just had to improvise. I picked War Horse as the second flick and enjoyed it. I haven't seen the play, but the movie is a sentimentalized account of an extraordinary horse named Joey, raised on a farm by an English boy and sold by the father to the army for WW1 service when the family runs into financial hardship. The story traces Joey's adventures and owners from a British officer to a young French girl to an empathetic German private in charge of the horses. The movie is based on a children's book and maintains that point of view. Joey is highly anthropomorphized, feeling emotions, sacrificing for a fellow horse and nobly suffering and triumphing. It still has an emotional punch and emphasizes the humanity of soldiers as pawns of war. Spielberg reportedly filmed the movie to evoke the great old westerns of John Ford and a Hollywood era of old. The red sky over the homestead in the final scene did remind me of the end of Gone with the Wind.

Next choices were limited, so yes, I actually stepped into the theater for Mission Impossible III. I haven't seen an action film in a long time, so I had very low expectations and ended up liking it. The plot has huge gaping holes, and enough car chases, explosions and mayhem to hold me over for all of 2012, but the bits of humor were entertaining and the gadgets were interesting. What hooked me in the beginning was a Russian prisoner named Bogdan (my cousin's name) so I had to stick it out to see how he would fare. The tech guy was funny; newcomer Paula Patton was hot, and Jeremy Renner (the Hurt Locker) was fine as the last team member, led by Tom Cruise, flexing his carved pecs,  freeclimbing 100 story glass buildings in Dubai and similar crazy stunts. I thought it a little odd that the initial scenario is US vs Russia again, seemed a little Cold War-ish, but then we get the Dubai and India connections. Don't know if I'll be lining up for MI4, but the ending dropped a few lines to set up the sequel.

Now comes the sad part of the day. 5pm and the next movie is not until 6pm (We Bought a Zoo--family fare). I added another rule to the Quad Challenge--all lapses must be less than one hour and called it a night. The movies couldn't match up with last year's Oscar nominees: Black Swan, The King's speech and True Grit. This year's picks did have a theme: Believe! Believe in Santa, believe in a horse or believe you can do it. Aah, my motto for next year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

eBay: the agony and the ecstasy

I had no idea how addicting eBay can become. I posted my first item for a 3 day auction, thinking I could cash in with the last minute Christmas shoppers. The trouble with eBay is you put your item out there in the eBay universe, but you don't get automatic bid notifications to your email, so you slavishly check your account every few hours.  After you get one bid, you now feel you must check more often--every hour, every half hour?

Here's my chronology:

Friday 11pm - listed item after much debate about starting price $350 and reserve price $400 (minimum I would accept that is not visible to bidders)

Saturday 8am - listing not showing in search yet. eBay had said it might take a while, but, hey, this is only a 3 day auction. I'm losing valuable customers! Panicking...

Saturday noon-- up and running. Picture of item looks good. No bids.

Saturday 3PM--just noticed I had 2 messages--oops, one from Friday. Pepe and Jac each want to know if I'll end the auction early if they guarantee $430. I didn't know I could do that. Call eBay to find out and get a complicated set of instructions where I have to cancel this listing and re-post another with a Buy It  Now price. But if i do that and they don't respond, then I'm stuck with the higher price.  I re-read the messages.--both reflect either careless typing or not-English speakers. Hmm...and why are they so anxious to end it?  Can't we just play by the rules, people, it's only 3 days. they can tell I'm a newby (0) next to my name for completed transactions. Am I being played?

Saturday 3:30  I check out the other listings and actually write down the name codes for the 20 people bidding, cross check with all the listings. u...r is a player- 4 bids; p..a with 3. But I don't see P...e for Pepe. hmm?

Saturday 5:30 FIRST BID at starting price. Hooray! Message appears under product description :Reserve not met." What's the effect here?  Would it have been better to list a lower minimum? Worry, worry.

Saturday 9:47 pm 2 more bids so we're up to $380.

Sunday AM -- no new bids. trip into NYC to see Rockefeller Center tree and Met museum. Nice day, but I'm anxious to return to my auction. Crazy, I know.

Sunday 3pm - 3 other auctions ending over the next few hours; a friend who's an eBay whiz explains how i can check the final sale amounts: 
Am i getting greedy now? I just want to get rid of this item!

Sunday 3:41pm $395 bid from Pepe but still below my minimum. Flurry of messages from Pepe, but I'm holding firm. Watch a round of Texas hold 'em on TV for inspiration. No Pepe, I am not "all in" yet! What ever happened to Jac?--no more messages; she faded away.

Sunday 11 pm Final message from Pepe: "I respect your position. Good luck, my friend." Now I feel like it's a High Noon standoff.  "I've got to, that's the whole thing." I reply, Gary Cooper-like. 
That night I toss and turn wondering if I should lower my reserve price. I want this sale to go through and unless the miminum is met, there is no sale.

Monday 8 am. (you'll notice I'm getting up a lot earlier now--no sleeping in until 9:30--the excitement of the hunt!) 
At last! New bidder Panama comes through with a $400 bid. Whew! someone is going home with this baby, even if it's not Pepe.

Monday 8:30 I check the other sellers--exact same item and they've got bids of $450? What?!
My pageviews are up--50 people have read the ad or does that include the 33 times I've checked on it myself?  Hard to tell.

Monday 10 am - must get dressed, wrap presents, go grocery shopping.  I bet there's an eBay mobile app--There has to be!  Resist temptation. One last check and then wonder briefly about approaching the 12 hour deadline. Seems to be a watershed in eBay world. Lots of rules for before 12 hours and after 12 hours, but I'm confident I have my $400. To the A&P!

Monday 2:40 pm Woo, baby. the bids starting coming in...$420,450,460,470,480, and finally at 10:00 pm- top bidder--  $485! "Gary, this is so much fun!" I yell into the family room.

Monday 11:00pm Uh-oh. trouble on the horizon. Just out of curiosity, I checked the top bidder's address on Google maps and then the USPS--does not exist. Then an email message from him: would I consider sending the blackberry to West Africa because it was a gift to his cousin. He'd do it himself but he was currently in Belize. (both missionaries-praise the Lord). The dreaded Nigerian scam. I called eBay and they advised me to cancel the sale. Knew it was bad when the bidder ended his first message with God Bless.

Monday 11:30 pm So...back to scratch? Not quite. There's an option in eBay where you can then send a Second Chance Offer to your highest bidders to consider. But it's painstaking--you send it one at a time and give the buyer 24 hours to decide.  Back to checking every half hour!

Tuesday 9:00am eBay had said I should send the 2nd chances one at a time, but now I'm getting sick of this. Found out I can just blast it to everyone (but not Pepe -- for now. Not sure I want to give him the satisfaction that he won after all)  

Tuesday 9:15 am An M10 Security message from eBay---sounds like Judi Dench in James Bond. Or was she just M? Someone I messaged with had hacked into an account--but I can't tell which one. Presumably it was David the Missionary, but what about Pepe? Did he hack a legit user,too? This place is way too corrupt for me! Gee, it's like real life. As I always told my kids, if it looks too good, it's a scam!

Tuesday 6 pm No offers. I don't understand this. I double checked the other auctions and Johnny and Alexis were still bidding yesterday. They should jump at my offer! This is not so fun any more. I guess my addiction was short-lived after all. A careless fling. 

Tuesday 7pm A new Security message from eBay--upgraded to an M67. Yes, David the missionary is confirmed as a bad guy and eBay then deleted all my listing information and 2nd chances. I'm setting a record for calling eBay customer service. Third time is a charm? Very helpful guy answers my questions, although we have to repeat many things, starting with the spelling of my name. "F as in Fwank," he says."No, I reply patiently, "Eth as in tham--I mean, S as in Sam." Got to hand it to eBay for being an equal  opportunity employer. Speech impediment? No problem--we'll put you on the phone!  As it turned out, I had no recourse but to re-list, but now it seemed a drag.  I'd gotten no replies to my reduced offers on the 2nd chance, so I lowballed this listing. Sigh... I just want to get some money before eBay sends me another message--maybe it would be an M80 at this point.

Tuesday 9:02 pm  Annoyingly had to eat dinner and go pick up the car--Gary just doesn't understand the commitment of an eBay-er! Listed the new offering.

Tuesday 9:04 pm Saeed went for the Buy it now price, so I could dispense with the auction. 2 minute response, so I guess I really did low ball it.  

Tuesday 9:13pm Message from "wetrustinGod" -- do you have any more of these?!!  Definitely underpriced it, but what is with these guys invoking the Almighty? The God-guarantee is stronger than the eBay or PayPal buyer/seller protection.

Wedneday 9:00 am  Package is gone, money in the bank. Hooray! Don't know how soon I'll be venturing back into eBay country...

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Only 8 days until Christmas and this weekend is the last big push by shopping malls to bring in the crowds. Gary is among the rabble, heading out at 7:30 this morning to start his shopping. (I wonder if I'll see him today?)

More importantly, it is just 10 days until the Quad Challenge--4 movies in one day on one ticket! Can I do it this year? Last year I quit after three, but I'm feeling the magic and I believe it's going to happen. For one thing the movie selection looks great. Opening on Christmas Day: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (about a boy who loses his father on 9/11, based on the Jonathan Safran Foer book; War Horse, directed by Stephen Spielberg, now a Broadway play; and Iron Lady with Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Already playing that look interesting: Carnage, for those of who missed the play God of Carnage; Hugo, directed by Martin Scorcese about a boy who lives in the Paris train station. If I had to fill in, I might go to the latest Twilight movie. I already saw The Descendants with George Clooney, which was excellent, but may have been a tactical error on my part, considering it will still be playing. I'll have to check the rule book, but I don't think repeats are allowed.

So, lots of good things to look forward to, even after a wonderful Christmas with all three kids coming home. Yippee!  All my best to all of you.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Masquerading as a New Yorker

Don't worry, I know we're past Halloween and in the midst of the Holidays, but on my recent visits to the city, I've been masquerading as a New Yorker, trying to shed my boring, suburban middle-aged self. I went in last week for a reception/cocktail hour for an organization I work with and I got all spiffed up in metropolitan black. Tossed aside my ever ready New Balance cross trainers and wished I could don some 4 inch heeled black boots, but settled for my black suede slip ons. (Ok- Aerosoles--definitely screamed comfort over class.)

The previous week I had opted for a NJ transit bus over the train and that was a huge mistake. I could have driven to Montreal by the time I got to the city, so this time I was confident in my itinerary. I happened to be visiting the city the same evening that President Obama was in town for some fundraisers, but I thought I had outmaneuvered the mid town traffic by taking the train to Hoboken instead of Penn Station.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Path train in Hoboken, only to hear the announcement that the Path line to 33rd street was temporarily closed and I'd have to take the train to World Trade Center. Slight grumblings from the crowd. Some people do blame the President for everything, as in:   "Raining today--damn Obama!"; "Tree fell in my yard."--damn that Obama. "Got a ticket for speeding" --damn you know who. In this case, though, as we poured into the waiting WTC train, I was shocked to find myself muttering under my breath--"Damn Obama," but quickly followed by "Maybe I'll see him!"  That didn't exactly make sense, since the train was now whisking us away from the areas he was visiting.

Here's where my cool New York matron outfit (is she from the Upper East Side?) failed me. I panicked and grabbed the guy next to me by the lapels, "What do I do when I get to WTC?" He was helpful, smiled, removed my hands from his jacket, brushed off some imaginary lint and explained I could take the A,C or E back uptown. I thought for a moment he might be someone famous--shaved head, oversized black rimmed glasses, jeans and red PF flyers. Was this a masquerade on his part?  He did bear a slight resemblance to Justin Timberlake or ...someone. Maybe he was doing a little research for his next role?

I composed myself, sat down and took out my cell phone like everyone else, but of course, no connectivity in the subterranean world.--at least on my iPhone. So, what were all these other people doing--scrolling up and down to read emails, playing games, faking it? I tried in vain to get to to figure out where I was going next, but had to discreetly nudge my cardboard book mark, embossed with a map of the NY transit system, out of my handbag. Vision being what it is, I then deftly hid the bookmark in front of my iPhone and moved it within 2 inches of my eyes. Nicely done, I thought, as I quickly surmised that I needed to walk over to the City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge subway stop and take the 6 train. I shoved everything back in my bag and realized that no one seemed to notice or care what I was doing. Ah, that New York thing. So now I'm sitting people-watching which is not a cool NY subway thing to do, so I quickly close my eyes and rock out, if I accidentally make eye contact with anyone. But I don't have the earbuds in--damn!

Rush hour now at the World Trade Center station and yes, my mouth gapes a little, taking in the scene of that 2 story high escalator jammed with people in both directions. Once out on the street I head uptown first before cutting over to the east. I walk purposefully enough to fool an out of towner who asks me for directions to the subway. I look at her pitifully and decide not to tell her she missed the easy access from the Path station, but instead re-direct her to the Church St station. (I think).  I pictured her later still circling those busy blocks, becoming more desperate when no subway entrance appeared. I just hope she didn't ask the same cop I did because he seemed to respond in not-English. I thought fluency in English would be an NYPD requirement?

At last I saw the 6 station, but no worries. If I go in the wrong direction, I could visit Scott in Brooklyn. I reached my destination, iTrulli restaurant on 27th st, without further ado and like the three wise men, returned home by a different route to avoid further difficulties, taking a cab to Penn station with a few friends from the party.

My next escapade into New York will be Tuesday to see a taping of the Anderson Cooper talk show. I watched it the other day to check out the crowd and they didn't seem to be as nicely dressed as those on the Martha Stewart show, which my sister-in-law had also attended. They were wearing the recommended bright primary colors. So, how to get a NY outfit that's not entirely black--a challenge, but I think I can manage it--maybe bright green jacket over all black.  The guest is Melissa McCarthy--I hope they don't make us watch the bathroom clip from Bridesmaids and I hope the gift is not the DVD!

One more trip planned after that--to play the Stray Boots 5th Avenue game zone. (Check it out!) The 5th Avenue windows were always a favorite outing for Gary and me when the kids were younger--Rockefeller Center, St Patrick's, Trump Tower, FAO Schwarz.  Seems like ages ago, before I started indulging in my Walter Mitty lifestyle. I didn't seem to mind then being the suburban mom with brood in tow, outfitted in our ski jackets and practical boots. Isn't life funny?

Friday, December 2, 2011


As a logical, solutions-oriented kind of person (I just re-took the Meyers-Briggs), I'm always in awe of creativity. On a recent trip to Boston I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), located across the bridge into South Boston, not far from the Convention Center. I didn't know much about the place, which made the recent exhibit on dance and art even more surprising and rewarding. 
The ICA sign is a bit off-putting in this area that was originally shipyards and industrial buildings. Is this a modern warehouse for the IGA food markets? 

The view from the water side is completely different and inside the museum there are two outstanding places to view the harbor. The first is an expansive view from a windowed corridor, where I took this picture.

The second is a more intimate, tiered view that focuses just on a narrower subset of waves. When I visited, there was also an inviting, complementary installation of wave shapes overhead in the small seating area. You could also view dance performances on wide screened monitors while sitting there. My favorite was a tribute to the Nijinsky/Nureyev ballet Afternoon of a Faun with that wonderful music. I listen to it now and it still evokes the sunny afternoon, watching the gentle ripples of the harbor, and feeling peaceful.

Other favorites of mine in the exhibit:
Janine Antoni drawing with Loving Care Black dye and her long hair:
You'll never feel the same about coloring your hair!

Another of her creations was an entire canvas composed of mascara from her eyelashes. You know how you sometimes brush up against the bathroom mirror and leave a delicate pattern of your lashes? Well, imagine a whole page of these--talk about getting close to your work.

There were other works created unconventionally without using hands or brushes. One involved a basketball bouncing on a painted surface. Another had three snails do the work--although that must have taken awhile. Gimmicky or art, I don't know, but if art is supposed to give you a new way of looking at the world, it certainly gave me some laughs and opened my unmascaraed eyes to innovative interactions with everyday objects.

One of the most interesting was Trisha Brown's Floor of the Forest: rows of ropes, hung with oversized shirts and pants. A single dancer appeared when I was there, and "interacted" with the installation - snaking her way from one shirt/pants to another, hanging below the ropes and often resembling a cocoon, bat, insect or reptile. Shadows cast on the floor added to the performance. Here's a cut from YouTube with 3 dancers to give you some idea, but as they had to be there.

So if you're in Boston before the Dance/Draw show closes on January 16, take a look. An added bonus: the museum "guards" are all art or art history students, happy to talk about the installations and art works. A fun afternoon!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Our Newest National Park

Wouldn't this be a great place to work?

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones signed an agreement two weeks ago dedicating Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park as the 397th national park. Hopefully there will be some money to make this come true. The planning phase is slotted to last three years.

Sunday was such a beautiful day that Gary and I decided to revisit the falls, which we hadn't done since the summer of 1989, when Nana and Grandpa were here from Florida. I always had a busy agenda of sightseeing planned when they came. One time when we were trekking across the Bronx Zoo in 95 degree humidity, Nana commented, "You know we're happy just to sit on your deck and watch the kids play." But it was a nice day back then in '89 and everyone enjoyed the falls. Notice how leafy green everything was that summer.  One other thing stands out as being different. See if you can pick it out:

Summer 1989
Fall 2011

Did you spot the difference? No fencing back in 1989. You could go right up to the stone wall. The spiked fencing was added later.
Who's the skinny guy with the triathlon shirt? Some things have changed and some haven't!
Apparently he wouldn't have any clothes if he didn't run races.
Notable: Eric sticking out his tongue and me with a curly perm.
Me with straight hair and a rainbow
The other big difference between 1989 and 2011? In the pre-digital world, we took 5 pictures. Sunday Gary took 25. Here are a few more:

Alexander Hamilton, who saw the falls as a source of power to build an industrial city where anyone could work and achieve the American Dream.

The power plant has been operating since 1914. Hamilton had created the initial corporation - SUM- Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures.

Scaffolding on power plant to the left

View from the top of the falls

View of Paterson from downriver

Monday, November 14, 2011

It can't be November already

Wow! another fast week with a two day breast cancer advocacy meeting in New York City and a weekend trip to Long Island.(Yes, it was 10 degrees of separation!)

I also spent a lot of time working on the MBCN website, preparing to insert the videos of the speakers from our October 29 conference. Here's a sneak peak of me telling my story and introducing the first general session, Ask the Experts.  
(scroll down to bottom of page and click on my talk) 

Former Ridgewood Toastmasters: please note that your speech evaluations should not exceed 1 minute and should take the familiar form of a praise sandwich: Positive-negative-positive. You might start off with: "I liked Ginny's professional plaid jacket"; followed by I counted 9 ums and thought she looked down too much and ending with "she seemed to be enjoying herself!"  (I'm sure you all remember the drill from our RTM days.)

Keeping it short this week. Enjoy the last of the leaves--our Japanese maple has finally turned its glorious shade of red.

The same little tree 24 years ago:

A Lawrence Taylor Giants Fan with his little brother
How cute were they?!

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Thank Goodness it's Saturday. Yes, such a crazy week that I couldn't even write this blog yesterday under the more familiar TGIF label.

me and my cancer pals
Last weekend I was in Baltimore for our annual conference --Empowerment through Education -- for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN). Empowerment!  Harkening back to the 60's feminist movement, you would think that word has seen its day, but it definitely summed up how most of us felt after the conference. Very inspiring to connect with others living with Stage IV--many who are much worse off than I am-- but still pushing along and embracing life. We had excellent speakers from Johns Hopkins and glimmers of research hope in new areas of immunotherapy and epigenetics.

Everything went well, except for a glitch with the WEATHER. Snow flurries at 7 am on Saturday discouraged many of our local registrants from venturing out on the highways, so our attendance was down slightly. 

Backyard destruction
The big W became the word of the week. I arrived home on Sunday at 5pm to no power in our house. We ate out, spent the evening at Gary's office and then headed home and straight to bed. Pretty cozy under mounds of blankets, but I was looking for that warmed up brick that the early Americans put at the foot of the bed. We didn't have power restored until Wednesday at 6 pm--a four day stretch that's the longest we've ever gone without power (other than camping trips!) I use the term "we" loosely, since I toughed it out at the shore for three days.

a lone surfer

rolling surf at the shore
Our helpful utility company posted vague updates like "90% of customers will have power restored by Wednesday midnight; the remaining 10% by Sunday."  Later updated this to 90% by Thursday midnight.... But were we in the elite 10%? They also hosted free distribution of dry ice, but with no explanation of how you would use it. 

The last time I thought about dry ice was probably when I was in 4th grade at St. Luke's Parochial School. On the rare occasion of a vanilla dixie cup treat for the class, dry ice was used to keep the ice cream cold. It was steamy, mysterious and dangerous. One of the bigger boys, usually Rudy Poselivic or Freddie Galucci, was designated Dry Ice Man and given the padded gloves to remove the ice, which burns the skin on contact. They were our heroes for braving potential injury so we could all enjoy the ice cream. But do people today know about dry ice? Would they have the voice of Sister Mary Perpetua haunting their memories to be careful with that "burning" ice?

I ended the week with some long waits in doctor offices and infusion suites, another casualty of the storm, with rearranged appointments and shorthanded staff.

Wouldn't these have made great Halloween shoes?
So we missed Halloween, but hopefully have a greater appreciation for our dependence on power and a greater faith in our resiliency in responding to difficult circumstances.
Yes, I'm being resilient!

Today is a beautiful day, but since it's the first weekend we're home in the last month, some attention must be paid to THE LIST. Nothing says Thanksgiving like moving the dining room furniture into the living room and vice versa. You'd think we've got the strategy down now after so many years, but somehow we always end up with someone backed into a corner surrounded by furniture or a table and couch vying for the same limited territory in the front hall. Promises to be an exciting day!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

visiting NYC

I love to go into the city--museums, plays, just hanging out.

But one of my favorite parts of a day in the city is returning home by commuter bus. The noise and bustle of the city slips away as the bus exits Route 208 onto treelined Wyckoff Avenue. You can't help but be impressed with the fall colors, although they're muted this year.  And here's the kicker:

I exit the bus at the park and ride lot and head back toward the rows of cars, but as everyone else clicks their remotes and hops into their cars, I keep walking. It's like a movie ending.  I go beyond the limits of the blacktop parking lot and across the now abandoned grass of a baseball field. "Where is that crazy lady going?" someone might comment as they back out of their parking spot. A chain link fence surrounds the outfield and a casual glance might miss the gate that roughly lines up with center field. I enter the gate and slip down a narrow dirt path where the overgrown bushes of summer have now been pared back to reveal a wooden plank bridge spanning the tiny creek. I emerge from the reeds on the other side and find myself in a magical world of...

No, not magical, just back on my suburban cul de sac, but it feels like I've officially passed from one state of mind to another.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Crazy for Katie

I spent a lovely weekend in the Charleston, South Carolina area, staying at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. I bowed out of the 36 hole K family golf marathon on Saturday and opted for a visit to historic Charleston and Fort Sumter. Hate to admit it, but I signed on for a Gray Line Tour, along with other gray heads who prefer to ride around in a mini-van and save the feet. Ah, that it should come to this. I actually enjoyed it, although the corny tour guide commentary got a little annoying at times. Saw the many beautiful historic houses in Charleston (from the outside) and then headed for the boat ride out to Fort Sumter at the head of the harbor. It would have been nice to have an extra day to actually walk through some of the homes.

Like Alcatraz, the line for the boat to Sumter includes a photographer who takes your picture in front of a green screen that they later fill in with the Fort Sumter template. The photographer spilled the beans--celebrity sighting expected for our tour. I was all excited. Who says we're not all a little enthralled with tv personalities?  I spotted no one on the boat, listened to the informative ranger talk and walked around the rubble of the fort. Particularly enjoyed the beautiful views and the well laid out path with historic markers explaining the siege of Fort Sumter and subsequent occupation by the Confederates for the remainder of the Civil War.

Enough already--here's the good part. I'm in the museum and hear the distinctive voice of Katie calling to her daughter Ellie to look at an exhibit right next to me. "Wow, Katie Couric," I gushed. "I'd heard you were supposed to be here today. Good luck with your new show."  She smiled and thanked me and proceeded to the next display. The museum is circular with window-like openings between the rooms, reminiscent of the apertures in the fort where the cannons poked out, so I double backed the other way, peering through to check their progress. Otherwise known as stalking Katie Couric!  Here's a picture Katie posted on Facebook.

Katie Couric's photo Ellie and me at Ft Sumter! A beautiful day and we r loving charleston!

Can you spot me in the shadows behind Katie?
I'd make a terrible paparazzi. Here are my only two pictures, taken surreptitiously. 

Katie coming up the gangplank to the boat

Katie and Ellie waiting for the car to pick them up after the tour.
On the boat ride back, I strolled up to the front of the boat and found a spot on the rail, three people away from Katie. I debated making my move and when Katie went to sit on the top step of the stairway leading to the lower deck, I sidled over to her and plopped down.

I have to say she is genuinely friendly and definitely charismatic. You can see why she's a great interviewer because she puts you at ease and you feel like you're talking to a long lost friend from high school. We discussed breast cancer, her work with Stand Up to Cancer and, of course, Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. We shook hands and I was thrilled that I had gotten up the courage to speak to this wonderful lady, who has had more than her fair share of cancer loss between her husband who died of colon cancer and her sister who had pancreatic cancer. And, no, for the record, she didn't ask me what newspapers or magazines I read!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 13 is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day

In the middle of Pinktober, one day was set aside by Congress in 2009 to bring greater attention and awareness to the 155,000 of us who will never be pink ribbon survivors, but are surviving every day, living with advanced breast cancer, also known as Stage IV or metastatic breast cancer. Most of us began with an earlier stage of cancer and thought we were safe, cured, permanently in remission. Yet, 40,000 of us continue to die each year, a number unchanged in the last 10 years, despite the "progress" in the government's 40 year war on cancer.

I work with Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, the organization that lobbied for October 13 and continues to fight for more research dollars for treatments to extend our lives. We strive to raise awareness with the public and the breast cancer community about metastatic disease and to educate patients to be their own best advocates in their treatment decisions.

On this day, I would like to honor all the wonderful people I've met and worked with who have metastatic cancer, who continue to work for the cause, raise their families, support each other and live every day to the fullest.  Yes, our statistics are challenging and we often despair where all that breast cancer money goes, but today of all days we deserve a little Emily...

Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all, 

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm. 

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Top 10 things I learned about Spain.

10. Graffiti abounds.
  9. Always dress up. Where are my stilettos? I have to walk the baby in the park.
  8. Even if you don't speak English, you can still listen to American music and wear American tee shirts.
  7. Why eat 3 meals a day when you can have 5?
  6. Supersize me must have started here--big portions.
  5. Promenade on Sunday with family, friends, old and young.
  4. If you miss your college drinking days, go to a sideria and sample the hard cider shots, poured into your glass from a height of three feet.
  3. Vegetables are optional--didn't see one all week.
  2. Stumped on what to serve on your buffet table? Consider this: cook and cure a haunch of an animal, mount it with hoof intact and cover with a towel. Slice as needed.

...and the number one thing I learned about Spanish culture...
  1. Tomorrow is another day - manana, manana.

Friday, September 30, 2011

It's all about the bike

Hola. Me llamo Cervelo.
I am your guest blogger today to tell you about the K's adventure in Espana for the World Duathlon Championship. If you remember from an earlier blog, Ginny had solicited your advice on the best way to travel with three people and two bikes from Madrid to Gijon, a city on the Northern Asturian coastline that was the scene of the race . Since then, son Eric dropped out because of running injuries, so the intrepid travelers were just Ginny, Gary!

I was thrilled in Newark Airport when Senor Gary upgraded my ride from ordinary baggage to oversized first class. I was put in an exclusive area with other bike boxes, golf clubs and large packages. From Madrid Airport I rode in a taxi to our lovely downtown hotel which had been a former embassy building. Here is the view my Senor and Senora had from their room:

from the balcony at Hotel Insur Palacio San Martin

....while I was in basement storage. (Not that I'm complaining--I had a pleasant stay with a few other bikes, who somehow thought I should speak Italian and were a little disappointed when they learned I was from New Jersey.)

Meanwhile, out in Madrid, my Senor and Senora also enjoyed a visit to the Prado, Madrid's famous art museum, like the Louvre or the Metropolitan museum in New York. They can now tell the difference (most of the time) among the three most famous Spanish artists: Goya, El Greco and Velasquez, but please don't embarrass them by asking in a month or so because I'm sure they'll have them mixed up.

They also said they liked the Royal Palace and their tour guide, Patricia, who smiled and seemed to actually like American tourists. In each room she would say: "Remember this room. In my opinion it has the most beautiful (Pick one: chandelier, painting, rug, furniture) in the palace and in all of (pick one: Madrid, Spain, the world), in my opinion."

On Wednesday, another taxi van arrived and I briefly enjoyed the 80 degree Madrid weather before being wheeled into the Estacion de Chamartin. (train station). Inside we waited for the via (platform) to display on the overhead schedule, just like Penn Station and NJ Transit. Gary saw other Team USAers dragging their huge bike boxes behind them and went to talk with them. Muy grande problema. Bike boxes not allowed on the train. Such discrimination! What would I, poor Cervelo do? Luckily an enterprising Team USA guy named Bucky took charge and rented a truck and driver.

Now my real fun began. I waved goodbye to my Senor and Senora, as they boarded the sleek train. Ginny was ready to settle in and read book #2 for the trip. There were 10 of us who got to know each other as we waited for the driver to arrive a few hours later. We would be in Gijon by midnight. But the Spanish do not worry about arrival times and firm dates. Manana, manana is good enough. We took our time. I do not want to elaborate too much because Ginny and Gary might get jealous but I did love the leisurely 2 hour dinner that began at 10 pm, a stop for some flamenco dancing, a sidra(hard apple cider) nightcap, some Asturian bagpipe music, a stay in a country inn, blanca y negra cafe (dark coffee with hot milk) in the morning, a stroll through the mountains and our arrival in Gijon just in time for a late morning empanada snack. So what if the trip took 17 hours instead of 7--we were there! And Senor Gary was waiting with a grave look on his face.

Lucky for me the bike mechanic put me together, so I did not have to worry about Gary assembling me with his new torque wrench.  One turn too many and the bike seat might crack. Gijon was beautiful-- a lovely stretch of beach--San Lorenzo Playa-- and finally I had the good view:

Gary took me out for a spin after the opening ceremonies. Here is Team USA:
Team USA on their way to the Opening Ceremonies in the old city

I loved the 38 kilometer (23 mile)  bike course. It wandered through the town, along the beach road and up a nice, challenging 8 km hill into the surrounding countryside with villas tucked away behind stone walls. I was glad we avoided the industrial sections because there is a lot of chemical and metal processing industry in this city of 260,000.

I don't know if you can see well in these pictures, but my friends, the other bikes, all sat in the windows of the hotel looking out over the beach and waiting for race day!
A bike in every window!

Race day was a comfortable, beautiful day and Gary was very happy with his results-33 out of 41 in his age group. No medals, but a good day.

We returned to Madrid via bus(them) and truck(me). Here I am with Gary for a final voyage with my old pals Cannondale, Kestrel and Eddy Merckx. I was excited it was the same truck company, but, alas, a driver who focused on getting to Madrid directly.

I think my Senor and Senora enjoyed their trip very much. Gary didn't talk or think about work for a whole week and Ginny didn't talk or think about the upcoming breast cancer conference for a whole week. Now that's a vacation!

As for me, I seem to be having some trouble with jet lag. Can't seem to get my wheels back on and get moving about. But one thing I learned: Manana, manana.

Good to be home, but I feel like I'm all in pieces! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

My digital 2 year old

Relax, dear readers, the angry breast cancer chick has submerged temporarily and the breezy, fluffmeister has returned with this good report:

Finally, I've joined the 21st century and gotten a smart phone--an i-Phone. I love it, but it reminds me of the old days when I had a 2 year old. The phone rings a jazz piano riff for calls, salsa music for texts and pings for emails. The constant pinging of the phone when emails arrive is like the sweet, insistent voice of a toddler- Ma, Ma, Ping, Ping.  I was never much good at showing the toddler who was boss, so I'm a little worried that I may become the slave to my demanding phone. So don't be surprised if you call me and get the voice mail, I'm just practicing a little parental discipline.

Buying the phone was a story in itself. For one thing, my family share plan never seemed to show my line as eligible for a new phone.  I later learned that eligibility can be switched to a different line and, come to think of it, someone in the family has already had an iPhone, Blackberry and Droid, while I've been waiting to trade up on my Samsung fliptop.

I initially visited a Verizon store in Brick one rainy afternoon. My assigned salesman, Megan, greeted me: 

Megan: What do you want today?
me: an i-Phone
Megan: No, you don't and here's why.....blah, blah, blah
me: But I still want an iPhone. My husband has an iMac and he wants me to learn to use the phone and teach him. (he's even slower to change than I am)
Megan: (puzzled look on her apple cheeked face) that's not what people usually say...they usually just say they want it because everyone else has it.

Undeterred, she persisted with her sales script.

Megan: Games are much cheaper on a Droid. With Apple you'll pay a lot more. Angry Birds is $4.95---a month!
Me: Megan, look at me. I'm 60 years old. Do I look like I want a phone so I can play Angry Birds?

She looked long and hard but it was clear Megan was not going to sell me an iPhone, so I left.

Coincidentally, the same son with the multiple phones was home one Friday without his phone charger. I offered to drop the phone at the Verizon in town for a free recharge, while I got groceries. When I returned to pick up the phone, it wasn't quite done, so i had time to talk to Ian, my efficient young tech salesman. 

Me: I'd like to get an iPhone
Ian: 16g or 32? 
me: 16
Ian: black or white
me: huh? white. Don't you want to talk me out of it?
Ian: why would I?

I explained my adventure with Megan and Ian shrugged. Clearly Megan had raised valid issues, which I guessed Ian agreed with, but he knew his customers.

me: I want something easy
Ian:(shrugging) the iPhone is for you.

Another customer asked  about how soon iPhone 5 would be replacing the iPhone4 and the manager promptly replied that Apple had released no details or availability date yet.

Customer: But it will be different and better-- right?
Ian: it probably has a big 5 on it and that would be enough to get people to line up around the block.

A bit cynical, but Ian got the job done. Halfway through our transaction, the employee door opened and out stepped Ian2--his twin brother. Wow. They must have fun fooling customers. What if I hadn't seen him?

Me:(imagining how it would go if I returned tomorrow)  "Ian, remember I was in here yesterday and you said ....
Ian 2: I've never seen you before, M'am.
me: But I bought this iPhone4 and there's a problem....
Ian2:  (shrugs--just like his brother) So..

It does take a bit of practice to use the keyboard and it took me so long to enter my correct email and password that an exasperated Ian1 told me to write it down and he'd enter it for me!
And I didn't think I was really that old.....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Andrea Mitchell

The cancer blogs and message boards are buzzing today with the news that Andrea Mitchell has an early stage cancer and announced it on her program.

I'm happy for her that it was caught early--after all I was in that same place 19 years ago with a "100%" cure and am now stage IV--0% cure. I don't want to bring you down, but I need to say a few things because I don't think the general public, the media and even much of the breast cancer community understands the strong, visceral reactions that a stage IV metastatic patient feels when they hear a story like this.

1. I'M CURED:  I cringed immediately when Andrea said she "had" breast cancer. She still has it and needs to ask her doctors the definition of a breast cancer "cure".

2. EARLY DETECTION: Her positive statement that "This disease can be completely curable if you find it at the right time" is false. 20-30% of those with early stage cancer will have a recurrence, which can be metastatic.

For those of us with stage IV, we read into Andrea's statement that anyone with a more advanced diagnosis has only herself to blame. But not all cancers are detectable on mammograms and even with annual mammograms and annual checkups, people get recurrences, often metastatic.

    3. BREAST CANCER FUNDING: Focusing exclusively on prevention and early detection, pink ribbons and survivors has skewed the fundraising and the public perception of this disease. Many people (including mbc'ers) are tired of Pinktober and if you were to ask the man or woman on the street what they thought of breast cancer, they might say:
    Everybody seems to get it. It's completely treatable and curable if you're positive and have detected it early. It's one of the "better" cancers. It gets too much attention and too much funding.
    Yet, 155,000 in the US are living with metastatic breast cancer, 40,000 a year die from it. It is the number one cancer killer of women in the 20-59 age group, the leading cause of cancer death for women worldwide and the 2nd leading cause of death by cancer in the US for women, after lung cancer.

    And only an estimated 2-5% of breast cancer research funding goes to studying metastases. It's unbelievable how misguided and misdirected it's all become!

    And someone like Andrea Mitchell who is a position to report and research the full story of breast cancer disappointingly resorts to the same cliches.

    My 2 cents. Thanks for reading.

    If you want more information, read:
    plug for the home team--the organization I work with
    National Breast Cancer Coalition myths and facts about breast cancer--you'll be surprised!
    excellent, funny, perceptive blog

    PS I revised this post after calming down and taking a deep breath last night!  Whew! Thanks for reading.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011

    Emergency Preparedness

    It's amazing that the same family that can plan ahead and bring mosquito net hats and rain suits to Alaska can be so woefully unprepared for a hurricane.

    I had been purposely avoiding the 24/7 hyped TV coverage, but by last Friday, I decided to assemble our emergency items in case of power loss. Sure, we had lots of candles (with conflicting scents that, if used, would have had us drunk and dizzy on the overpowering aromas of cookie dough, winter wonderland and clean linen). But here was our working flashlight supply:

    A key ring flashlight from The Boulders Resort in AZ

    So, off I trotted to join the panicked herds searching for batteries and flashlights. I considered adding water, canned beans, tuna, and peanut butter to the list, but somehow when I got to the supermarket, I found my basket loaded with perishables: fresh fruit, steak, fish, ice cream. Who buys fish and ice cream when they're anticipating a power outage?

    Needless to say, clerks in hardware and convenience stores laughed when I asked for flashlights. Some who were already weary had placed signs up and would point in exasperation. No conversation needed. But wouldn't we be craving the sound of our fellowman's voice, if the storm really struck with full force and we were imprisoned with only our family?

    A more careful inventory of garage and basement revealed a few more gems. I had double AA's to power a yellow plastic flashlight that had been a Pharma giveaway. The handle was broken, but the light worked. Thank you, cytovene. Gary produced two headlamps from his backpack and proclaimed that was all we needed. But I persisted and found a Sears plastic toolbox, hidden behind empty gas cans on a shelf in the garage. Opening the lid, I found a bonanza:
    • two round nightlights that looked like the Easy button on the Staples commercials
    • a vintage army style flashlight with interchangeable purple, red and clear filters, a leftover from Scott's high school dalliance with the Civil Air Patrol

    Feeling pretty smug now, I took a walk around the neighborhood and was shocked to see that some people had duct-taped windows with big X's and one guy had rigged an elaborate system of pvc piping, so that all his gutters and leaders would drain directly to the street-an impressive engineering feat.

    all connected up to..
    ..the long pvc pipe to the street

    Who cared that it was 4:30 on Saturday afternoon, T minus 8 hours until Irene struck?  I raced to the local hardware stores to get some green extenders for my leaders. I knew I couldn't make it to the curb, but at least I'd track them further away from the house. Laughable. "You should have come Thursday," the young kid shrugged his shoulders. Undaunted, I knew I had duct tape at home and contemplated x'ing my kitchen picture window.  

    But then I knew--who would remove that tape the next day, razor blade away the remaining adhesive and besides what was the principle here? Did it really strengthen the window or just assure that the glass would blow out in neat, triangular pieces instead of a thousand tiny shards? 

    Cooler heads prevailed. I opened the wine, cooked the fish and settled in for our hurricane night.

    Like all non-planners, I vowed in the aftermath to re-think my emergency procedures. I've got a to-do list for a few weeks from now, when stores have replenished their supplies, to buy a Coleman lantern, a better flashlight, D batteries, leader extenders, a radio, gallon jugs of water, etc. and I know I put that list somewhere.....