Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My aching feet

One of the minor annoyances of my chemo regimen is sensitive feet that swell and burn if I do too much walking or standing. It has the lovely name of HFS - Hand Foot Syndrome and to a lesser extent involves the same symptoms for your hands. (So, yes, i've given up hand stands, back springs, cartwheels and walking around on my hands)

I've tried quite a few creams and remedies. In fact it's an impressive list.(by last count 19 different creams) The funny thing is I always feel my latest solution will be THE ONE. (kind of like looking for love) I start cautiously with it, then begin to believe it's really going to work, tell a friend that "This may be it," maybe even post the news on a message board: "I'm in love with my Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil!"  I'm ecstatically happy for a week or so. Then, as in a relationship, little things start to creep up. I wake up one night after an active day with red hot feet, despite my new foot regimen. My fingertips seem numb again. Is the rose off the bloom? the ardor cooling?

I continue for a few more weeks, then read a post where someone swears by Heel-tastic (not available in stores) or Vitamin E pills (easy to swallow) or Henna paste (turns your feet orange) and I consider a dalliance. Before I know it, I'm cheating and my half finished jar of Udder Cream or Bag Balm sits disconsolately on the dresser. "You may have helped dairy cows from becoming chapped in the harsh Vermont environment," I say,"but you're just not working for me. I'm restless. I need to mooove on." Often I do return and cycle through the same relationships. "Hello Miracle Heel Fix. Good to see you again, Oatmeal Fortified Collagen Cream."

I alternate between the solid, corporate all-American types like Eczema Therapy, Calming Itch Relief Treatment or Pain Relieving Foot Cream (the kind of guys your Mom would love) versus the racy, James Dean-Marlon Brando wild ones that appeal to your rebellious spirit. Yes, I'm talking about you Hemp Protector (do I smoke it or slather it on?), African Honey and Beeswax Butter (good enough to eat), Aloe Sensual Body Butter (dangerous!) and Cooling Peppermint Organic Rescue Treatment (hippies to the rescue). 

The latest idea for HFS that I read on Pub Med (NIH website that lists research papers) described a clinical trial that uses nicotine patches. So don't be surprised this summer if you see me patched up and sporting a smokeless, artificial cigarette. 
Lauren Bacall: so sexy, but did we ever see her feet?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tipping Point

Don't want to gross you out or make you paranoid about having an iced cold drink at my house, but we have a problem with the ice cube machine in the fridge. Lately it's been producing one brown streaked cube at the front of the maker. The rest of the ice cubes look fine, but every other day or so you have to break off the cloudy, brown stalactite and then rummage through the cube bin to make sure one didn't drop down to start a stalagmite. Gee- a bit of Howe Caverns or Oregon Caves in my own kitchen.

What causes this--rust? brown lichen? mold? oil seeping in from somewhere? Thousands of years of water flowing over limestone? (no, that would be the cave). Perhaps it's the arsenic that my water company reported has been found in one of their wells--not to worry, they've shut down that one well. Wouldn't want to get cancer or anything!

It doesn't really matter where the problem comes from. The point is it's a new daily task to be added to the list or get fixed or just tolerate. (Don't worry, I'm not even thinking of DIY fixes. Remember the sidewalk lights project? The score still stands at 3 lights working; 5 not.)

So far, I've opted just to tolerate it, but I know one morning I'll wake up and know that TODAY it must be dealt with. It's my own private tipping point (apologies to Malcolm Gladwell)

In my family, especially on my mother's side, the tipping point was set extravagantly high. Once my aunt ordered a welcome mat for the bungalow and it was shipped with their last name misspelled. Most people would have returned it immediately, but my aunt and uncle said it was still a good mat and maybe their name had too many "n's" in it anyway. They also labored with a hand cranking can opener that was painful to operate, as its dull blade gnawed around the top of the can. Buy a new one? Why be so wasteful?  

Is it so bad that I grew up in a house where the upstairs renovation was never completed and shiny, silver insulation without benefit of sheetrocking greeted you as you ascended the stairs? My father just never got around to it and we all got used to it.  As a bonus for our high tipping point, the next generation of grandchildren have fond memories of going to Grandma's and sleeping under the silver eaves.

I have a theory that people with high tipping points are happier. They don't obsess about details; they take life as it comes.  Not original, I know. In fact I think I used my Don't Sweat the Small Stuff coffee mug today. Hmm, nice rainy day to read or write and celebrate the first full day of summer...and, yeah, a short time out to spelunk into the freezer. Happy summer!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Degrees of Separation

I weathered my first solo trip to Westbury, Long Island yesterday to see Beth and Dave's new apartment and drop off the frozen wedding cake in time for their first anniversary.
On the deck

Nice kitchen!
I made the 48 mile trip in a relatively easy hour and 15 minutes, but why does it seem like such an epic journey? Part of it has to be the fact that you cross two major bridges ( a bridge too far?) and part is the anxiety of what will confront you on the road--accidents, construction, lanes closed in anticipation of construction, Yankee or Mets game traffic, beachgoers, bad weather, crazy drivers, car-eating potholes.....and being on the Grand Central as it approaches the Van Wyck Expressway. 

Remember this Seinfeld episode on Elaine's famous drive to JFK: "....and then I hit the Van Wyck....(start at 44 seconds)  
Click here to view

I had plenty of time to think about all this as I was driving, so I came up with my own scoring system to compare how easy a trip will be. It all depends on the Degrees of Separation, which is the sum of the number of major roads and bridges travelled.  

So for my Long Island adventure, the roads and bridges included:
Rt 208- Rt 4-GWB-Cross Bronx Expressway-Harlem River Drive- FDR Drive- RFK Bridge (formerly the TriBoro)-Grand Central Parkway-Northern State Parkway-Meadowbrook Parkway

That's a whopping TEN Degrees of Separation by my calculation, including TWO bridges and goes a long way towards explaining the formidable nature of the trip. Lewis and Clarke didn't take that many turns.

Let's compare the Degrees of Separation Score for other trips:
  1. The Shore: 
    • THREE: Rt 208-Rt4- GSP
  2. Schenectady, NY:  
    • THREE: Rt 208-287-NYThruway
  3. The Bronx: 
    • FIVE: Rt 208-Rt4-GWB-Cross Bronx-Deegan
  4. Wilton,Connecticut: 
    • FIVE: Rt 208-Rt287-TappanZee Bridge-Rt287-Rt95-Rt7
  5. Brooklyn:
    • SEVEN: Rt 208-Rt4-GWB-Cross Bronx-Harlem River-FDR-Brooklyn Bridge
  6. San Francisco: 
    • SEVEN: Rt 208-Rt4-GSP-Rt73-Newark Airport-SanFran Airport-Rt1
  7. Gijon, Spain:
    • SEVEN: Rt208-Rt4-GSP-Rt73-Newark Airport-Madrid Airport-Madrid Rail Station
  8. Long Island:
    •  TEN:  the clear winner (loser)
Sure, total time elapsed and miles travelled could figure into it. One could argue that this system should apply only to road trips and not include air flights or trains, but I'm sticking to my formula of number of roads and bridges. 

What do you think? Can you offer us any epic journeys of your own?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bungalow Style

I'm writing this as I wait for the Comcast guy to come to my "shore" house (actually my mom's retirement village house which we decided not to sell). 

Since we use the house primarily in the summer, it's time to upgrade the cable and internet services. Or is it? 

As I relax in this quiet house, sitting on the enclosed back porch, I recall my own summers growing up at the shore. When school let out in June, we headed south for my grandmother's bungalow and spent lazy, happy days there until mid August. 

Everything was "bungalow style": meals served directly from the pot to minimize dishes; house designed to maximize the number of sleepers it could accommodate, with a pullout in the main room and the occasional cot on the porch. Mornings were relaxed and meant sleeping-in, a hearty breakfast, some chores, such as sweeping the rooms for the sand that inevitably got tracked in or walking down to Julian's Market for milk. We were always excited to see the Dugan Brothers Bakery truck parked at the end of the court of bungalows and hear the man yell  "Dugan--Baker--Breadman," as he walked the rows, toting his baked goods from house to house. My favorite were the chocolate cupcakes, topped with a generous slab of perfectly flat icing. The challenge was to get a bite of both frosting and cake without tipping the frosting plank and dislodging it from the rest of the cake. Too much sugar? Too many calories? No one seemed to notice.

Every day was a beach day, starting around noon. Yes, I believe that's the peak sunburn time and we had our share. Coppertone was the only suntan lotion I remember and it probably had 0 spf. You could coat your nose with white zinc oxide, like the life guards used, which blocked out everything, including any fashion sense which became critical as I approached adolescence. 

Bungalow style also included these rules: no TV, no phone. Part of vacation was getting away from it all and even when I was in college, we were still without a phone. You walked to the corner phone booth with a pocketful of change. Were people really that out of contact?  

Not having a TV did not bother me as much, as the number of TV stations was limited and summer meant reruns. As kids we would play hide and seek and run around outside or play cards or games, with the occasional treat of going on the rides at the boardwalk. In the teen years, walking the boardwalk and hanging out by the juke box was a nightly ritual. Less this sound too idyllic, I will point out that sometimes you got stuck just sitting on the rockers on the porch, listening to the relatives talk and tell the same stories over and over and over..... I retreated to the only chair with a decent reading lamp and gladly abandoned the old timers for the pleasure of a good book.

So what does vacation really mean? Are we "getting away from it all" when we bring all our technology toys with us?  Do we need to be on the grid, instantly available, still on the 24-7 clock? Or should vacation be like running away to an exotic location, a desert island, a different world, even if we're still in NJ?

A part of me still remembers the simplicity of a summer spent with nothing much to do but hang out and enjoy the beach, get sand in your shoes and accumulate stories to tell the friends back home. 

Hope all of you have a great summer and find time to just "be".  (...and yes--- to my family: we have wi-fi and 70 channels, so it's safe to come on down.)