Monday, May 15, 2023

Pandemic Diaries - Year 3 - New York New York

 15 May 2023 

The car is repaired, our bags are almost packed, and we're nearly out the door.  Or maybe we'll be out the door on Wednesday.

But we have our little car back, looking all new and shiny, and proud of his new mirror.  And we have adventures to report from New York, so one more blog before we hit the road.


On day six of our visit, I met up with a friend and we went out to Long Island, to visit a friend of hers (dating back to childhood).  This friend is a professional artist who has done amazing work using chemicals and heat or just natural humidity to create her art.  It was incredible to see what she has done, some of it conceptional, some more representational.  And always fascinating to meet an artist and talk about their intentions versus what I see and think might be the meaning.  It was a wonderful afternoon and on into the evening, very intellectually stimulating!


The next day was Sunday, and I think Richard and I both were ready for another quiet day exploring our neighborhood and taking things slow.  We were supposed to meet a friend, but that didn't quite work out.  I thought about going to a museum, but it was chilly and wet and again, it just didn't seem like the day for that.  Unexciting, but we enjoyed our somewhat posh hotel (at least, posh for us), reading our e-readers and hot drinks, and the free food delivery that seems to be a New Yorker's right. 

Monday dawned clear and sunny, and was supposed to be the warmest day of the week.  I took the opportunity to walk up to Central Park and ride the carousel.  I passed tons of carriages with live (and smelly) horses, and turned down all offers of rides.  (I'm quite allergic to the real kind of horses.)  Had a lovely walk through the southern section of Central Park.  


Just a few statistics:  Central Park is 1.37 square miles, and is roughly 2.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide.  That would be 4 km long, .8 km wide, and 3.5 sq km in area.  This is the first landscaped park in the US, and work began in 1853.  I've been told that at least one of every tree or bush indigenous to the US is planted in Central Park, but I wouldn't swear to it.


I always enjoy the juxtaposition of the lush park with the ever-taller skyscrapers surging upward in the background.  Really, some of the newer buildings look more like monoliths than buildings where people might work or live!


My destination is always the carousel.  This is one of those fabulous huge carousels with 100 year old hand-carved-and-decorated horses, no molded plastic in sight.  The horses all have their heads thrown back or to the side and they gallop, frolic, and cavort their way around the circle.


I splurged and bought two rides, so I could try two different horses.  I've always gone for the largest horses, which are on the outside of the circle.  Bigger horse, longer ride.  As long as I could get up and then back down off the horse, fine - even though the tails usually managed to knock one sandal off my foot.  If I could reach the stirrups, fine, it fit.


But between approaching age 70 in a bit over a year, not wanting to lose a sandal, and having one hand still recuperating from surgery, I thought maybe it was time to learn a lesson from those sandals flying off.  Maybe it was time to choose a smaller horse.  I do hate succumbing to age and/or reason, but, well, discretion being the better part of valor and all that.  I went with smaller horses.  Still the up-and-down bounding horses, but toward the inner part of the carousel.

I rode a lovely jet black for my first ride, then moved to an appaloosa for my second.  The carousel operator looked at me quizzically, and I explained that I paid for two rides but still had one ticket on me.  He collected it, and proceeded to smile at me every time I circled around.  I guess not too many people splurge on a second ride.  (It was hardly a splurge, each ride is only $3.50.  Though for a child, that is a sizeable amount.)

My favorite horse, though, is one of the largest and I've never had a chance to ride him.  He's a charging stallion wearing Medieval (or Roman?) armor, a truly gallant steed shining in the sunlight!  One of the most gorgeous horses on the carousel!!

I wandered the city a bit more, and had a delightful lunch at the French restaurant Rue 57.  (It's on the corner of West 57th and 8th.)  Have the black truffle omelette, it is amazing!!!

I walked by the Petrossian building, built in 1907 to 1909.  According to the sign on the building, the ornate exterior is made from clay tiles using molds for the repeating patterns, fired and glazed.  There are dragons!!!  Really, dragons guarding the front door!!!  Okay, the sign says they're salamanders, symbol of Francis I, patron of Renaissance art, but these are fire breathing dragons with scales on their backs, not amphibians with water-absorbant skin!

Anyway, it was a splurging kind of a day!

Oh, there's always something to look at and talk about in New York.  I was on my way back to our hotel, walking by Carnegie Hall.  There was a woman maybe my age, maybe a bit older, walking across the street in the opposite direction I was heading.  She was wearing a hot pink top and shorts, with matching swim cap and fins.  Seriously, walking in hot pink fins.  But from her shoulders to her fingertips, her body was wrapped in bright blue plastic rope.  She was just walking, staring straight ahead, stone-faced.

As I reached the opposite sidewalk, I turned to look at her from the back.  I noticed a younger woman whip out her phone and take a photo.  I asked her, "So, what kind of statement do you think she is making?"  She laughed and said she didn't know, what did I think she meant to say?  I replied that I had absolutely no clue.  We both laughed, and that was our entire interaction.

But I'm still thinking about the rope-wrapped woman.  SO many questions!  How did she even get the rope around herself?  There were no hanging pieces!  How did she get out of a building?  How does someone even walk along a street while wearing swim fin????  What does it all mean????

Yeah, welcome to New York.

Tuesday was our cram-in-everyone-else day - breakfast with a friend and old college friend of Richard's, who has visited us when we lived in St. Thomas.  She's doing interesting volunteer work with the Audubon Society in the city, some of which includes mitigating the impact of all these huge glass megalithic buildings have on migrating birds.  Always interesting to talk to her!

In the evening we met up with my two nephews who live a bit north of the city but whose jobs are based here - wonderful young men, always a delightful to see them!  (All the joys of children but zero work for us - we love being aunt and uncle!)  We had a three hour meal back at Rue 57 - burgers for the men, and tagliatelle with black truffles for me.  Yes, I am addicted to black truffles.  Not that we ate for three hours, we probably lingered for an hour just talking and laughing and catching up on life!

Our ten days in New York were over much too soon - we made it to Penn Station to catch our train to Philadelphia, and then hopped on a commuter train back to NJ.  We're winding up the east coast portion of the spring, and will be heading west shortly.

But New York is always a delightful interlude.  We have so many friends and family in the metropolitan area, and there is always something interesting happening.  As well as delicious food.

We'll be back!

Friday, May 5, 2023

Pandemic Diaries - Year 3 - A New York State of Mind (sorry, Billy Joel)

5 May 2023

I know, I somehow missed April.  Between physical therapy sessions twice a week for me (plus daily at home), and Richard going to PT three times a week, we were just busy.  Then re-packing all of our stuff, and cleaning our cute little St. Augustine house, the month just sped by.  Before we knew it, we needed to either drive north, or figure out another option.  (We did have a few beach visits, so enjoy the sunny photos.)

My hand really was not ready for driving some thousand plus miles, not even for sharing that trip.  So Richard and I decided sure, let's try the train again, maybe it will be better with a larger room and not on Christmas Eve.  We splurged for the full size room, twice the size of the "roomette," so we could spread out a bit more.  And the upper bunk actually had a ladder!  I could even crawl on my hands and knees on that upper bunk.  However, it's still a two-inch-thick pad on a metal plank, and while it might be fun for a child, it isn't optimal for a senior citizen.  Oh well, it saved us about sixteen hours of driving, so we were happy.  (I've included a few photos from the train, so you can see our room.  If we ever do the auto train again, we might need to just book two roomettes - at least that is the thin pad on top of seat cushions, so it's a bit softer than that upper bunk.)

We spent a week in New Jersey with S & J, my in-laws (Richard's brother and sister-in-law).  Richard had a minor car accident in which the right mirror was knocked off, so we needed to leave the car to get that repaired.  (Just as well, parking in New York city is always an issue.)  But we all had a big family event in Philadelphia, so off we went for a family weekend.  It was a wonderful double Bat Mitzvah, where two cousins who are best friends did a beautiful job reading from the Torah, we saw tons of cousins, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and grand-nieces and -nephews.  Lots of dancing, almost as much talking, and even a bagel brunch the next morning.

It turned into a rainy weekend, but Richard and I headed to New York City for a little ten day break, and that's where we are right now.  It's been cold and rainy, but we're managing with layers and raincoats.  We're staying in a nice hotel somewhat north of Times Square, somewhat midtown south of Central Park.  I haven't gone over to ride the carousel yet, but will definitely do that before we leave.


Actually, we wandered around our neighborhood our first day, and just enjoyed the city.  We both grew up close enough for city visits, and Richard lived here for years.  So we both have familiar places to visit, and favorite foods we want to eat.


On our second day, I had an appointment with one of my favorite hairdressers.  Yes, I know, not everyone maintains hairdressers in more than one location around the world.  But my hair grows shaggy rather quickly, and certain stylists seem to do better with my hair than others.  So my guy George, here in New York, gave me a fabulous cut four years ago.  He's at the same salon, and they were able to book an appointment.  Turns out he also remembered me (I was surprised, I don't feel memorable!), and I now have another great cut from him.  We both seemed to click as friends, and enjoyed catching up on each other's travels.  It was a wonderful afternoon on the Upper West Side, and an easy subway ride there and back.  (In my lifetime, subways have shifted from tokens to ride cards, and now cardless rides!  Just swipe a debit or credit card with a chip over the reader, and off you go through the turnstile!  Contactless rides, and SO much faster than a taxi!)

Day three, we had lunch with Richard's cousin, who came in from Long Island.  Lots of talk, lots of eating, and even more laughing.  We have an amusing selfie from his phone, and the photo is on both our phones.  But we're both low-tech people and have zero clue how to get the photo from a flip-phone to a computer, so no, I can't post it here.

I spent day four with a friend down in the Lower East Side, or at least what used to be the Lower East Side.  Neighborhoods shift, boundaries blur, and we're never quite sure.  Anyway, another easy subway ride - our hotel is well-located!  We met at Katz's deli, which opened in 1888, according to one of the employees!  We both had my favorites, a bowl of matzoh ball soup (delicious), a slice of cheesecake (a little slice of heaven), and a Dr. Brown's diet soda (cream soda for me, of course).  We ended up sitting next to an Italian family, so I had a small conversation in my minimal Italian, and helped the little girl build a tower out of napkin holders and condiment bottles.  We said our arrivedercis, and headed to The New Museum.  They had an interesting exhibit showing varied works by Wangechi Mutu, a Kenyan artist who went to school in the US.  Her works are in a variety of media, often mixed, and explore themes of life, death, exploitation, creation, and a synthesis of human/animal/mythical/mechanical bodies.  Yes, hard to describe.  That's why museum educators are so essential!  We had a wonderful educator show us around, and she led us through discussions trying to explore, interpret, and understand what the artist was saying through these artworks.  Then we had time in the museum's studio where we could create mini collage sculptures that were our synthesis of some of the themes of Wangechi Mutu's artwork.  (We started with little boxes - I cut and reshaped my box so it came out like a mini Carnival parade float with a canopy.  I made the outside all pink and frilly, and inside the canopy was reflective silver with a plastic beetle.  It was sort of playing with external societal stereotypes of what is feminine, with all the typical frilly pink, and the internal feelings which don't conform to those norms, and might even include such "masculine" behaviors as liking insects (gasp!).  Playing with what qualifies as feminine and masculine, and trying to blur those lines.  Because none of us are all one or the other, and who defines what is masculine or feminine anyway?)  It was fun, and if I lived in New York I'd be able to attend similar workshops at quite a few museums around the city - that would be wonderful!!!

Today is our fifth day here in the city, and we opted to make it a slow day.  Our backs and knees are tired, we're no longer as young as we feel we are inside, and it's another chilly day.  So, a little more exploring our neighborhood, and a little more relaxing.  At least I have time to catch up on blogging!


Our next five days include more meet ups with family and friends, more wanderings, and of course more eating.  We've enjoyed the diverse menus of the city, ranging from Jewish American to Irish pub food to Asian to Italian trattorias.  And the occasional French patisserie.

No celebrity sightings yet, but I will keep you posted!

Monday, March 6, 2023

Pandemic Diaries - Year 3 - The Saga of the Hands

6 March, 2023


Well, February has come and gone and I have not posted a blog.  I've been busy with other things.  Nothing exciting, nor fun.  But one of those necessary things that needs to be dealt with to continue living and being able to do everything I would like to do.


Over the summer, I realized my hands were beginning to look like turtles.  Yes, a bit dry, but what I really mean is that my thumbs were beginning to look like they were retracting into my hands.  Rather the way a turtle pulls its head into its shell.  I wasn't sure what turtle hands indicated, so I talked to my primary care provider.  She sent me to a hand specialist orthopedic doctor, who took x-rays and showed me that I basically had worn out my thumb joints.  Actually not so much the thumb itself, but the joint below the thumb where the bone meets the wrist.  The little bone probably has its own name, one of those something-carpal-somethings, I don't know.


All I knew was that my thumbs were beginning to retract into the hands, it was becoming more difficult to do fine motor skills such as drawing, and my thumbs ached if I use them excessively.  At any rate, the hand specialist said I was ready for surgery.  They explained what needed to be done, and what the surgery would entail.  The recuperation period would include being in a splint or brace for a total of six to eight weeks, as well as physical therapy.  (If you want the surgical details, they can be found online.  I'll skip the details here.)


The first photo shows my left hand with the magically retracting turtle thumb.  As soon as we arrived in Florida, Richard and I went to a medical practice we had visited two years ago.  One of my requests was a referral to the regional hand specialist.  I had to wait for an appointment to see a doctor who would be able to write the referral to the orthopedic hand specialist.  It took a while to see the hand person, but once I was there and said that I was looking for a permanent solution, they were very quick to schedule appointments to see the surgeon himself and set a date for the surgery.


This gave me plenty of time to prepare for not having the use of my right hand for a six to eight week.  I cooked and froze food and meals, I cleaned and washed, and tried to make sure I would be able to be independent while only having the use of my left hand.


And yes Siri is typing this blog post for me, although she does tend to make quite a few errors and I will need to go back and manually (left handedly) correct Siri's mistakes.


I had the actual surgery on February 16.  The second photo shows my hand all wrapped up in bandages, then a splint or brace so that I could not move my thumb, and the whole thing wrapped in an ACE bandage.  It was uncomfortable, but the anesthesiologist had administered a nerve block so that my arm from the elbow to my fingers was totally numb.  I did not realize that numb also meant I could not make that body part move.  The post surgery nurse recommended I sleep in the recliner that first night.  Our couch has recliner seats at each end, so Richard and I spent my first post surgical night sleeping on our couch.  I propped my arm up on a group of pillows by my side, but at one point I woke up because my arm had actually fallen into my face!!  Yes, not the way one wants to wake up.


The nerve block turned out to be wonderful however.  It kept me from feeling any pain whatsoever for the first twenty-four hours after surgery.  I do have pain medication, which I took on the recommended regular basis for the first several days.  After that I tapered off to medication as needed because it made me fall asleep within an hour or two.


After the first week, I was sent to physical therapy.  There is not much that can be done for the first four to six weeks because soft tissue needs time to heal.  My therapist explained we would start with very limited motion exercises, and she made sure that I was raising and lowering my fingers, curling them into a partial fist, and extending them straight up.  She also took off the post surgical bandaging, and created a fancy-dancy brace for my arm which mobilizes my thumb but allows me the use of my other fingers.  The basic brace comes in black, but each patient has a choice of colors for the Velcro straps which keep the brace closed.  I of course chose hot pink because it coordinates with most of my summer wardrobe!  Just because I am recuperating does not mean I cannot be a fashionista.


I think I'm starting my third week of wearing the black brace and will have my third physical therapy appointment on Wednesday.  We are still working on finger motion but have added taking the brace off twice per day, gently washing the two small incision sites, and then gently rubbing the area with a soft cloth.  It turns out having a fabric sleeve and brace on the arm for roughly twenty hours a day sensitizes the skin. This means the least little irritation becomes excruciatingly painful.  So rubbing with the soft cloth helps to desensitize the skin.


To help prevent the buildup of scar tissue, I then gently massage the entire area with cocoa butter skin lotion.  Fortunately this is what I use for my rather dry skin anyway.  We will continue with physical therapy for three or four more weeks.  After having been in the black brace for four weeks, it will be cut down to only include the thumb and around the hand, possibly ending around my wrist.  I'll wear that modified brace for two more weeks, but the soft tissue will have healed by that point. Then we begin to rebuild my strength and dexterity.


My therapy has been held with other patients, usually two or three of us sitting around a table as our therapist demonstrates what each of us need to do at that session.  So I know when I'm ready, I will be working with small pegs that go into Styrofoam, something with string, and pulling small pegs out of a huge lump of Play-Doh.  Such exciting tasks, right?


Anyway, by the time we are ready to leave Florida toward late April I should be ready to drive, although I will not be able to lift heavy luggage on my own.  Richard and I will pack our stuff and get everything back into the car, although he will need to help me pick up anything that weighs more than five pounds.


We have a family event in late April in the northeast, and then we will likely spend some time in one of our favorite cities, New York.  That will give us two or three weeks to drive across the country, before we arrive back in Washington state again for the summer.


We are working on finding another small house to rent, and I am also trying to make arrangements for surgery to repair my left hand thumb.  I will have all summer to recuperate and rebuild the strength in that thumb.  Then, hopefully, I can get back and finish some of my crochet projects which were left unfinished due to my arthritic thumbs.  I guess this is one of those art teacher problems that no one warns us about when we spend eight hours a day cutting tile and cementing it on a wall for a huge mural.  Or two murals.  Oh well, they were fun.  


And it took ten years before I began to feel any problems from overworking my hands.  So with these two surgeries, I'm hoping the arthritis stays away and I get another fifty or sixty years of use out of my hands.  That probably should be enough.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Pandemic Diaries - Year 3 - Flying South for the Winter

30 January 2023

I took a little break from posting - turns out I have arthritis in my hands.  I've learned to block out low achy pain, so I didn't notice I had a problem until my thumbs starting turning inward.  I'm in the process of taking care of that, but that will be another blog.

Between my hand issue, and still recuperating from my post-Covid pneumonia, we decided to give our car a break and take the auto train.  I hadn't heard of this previously, but it seems to be very popular!  There's a train that goes from Lorton, Virginia, to Sanford, Florida, with train cars designed to hold a batch of autos, motorcycles, and small trucks.  Passengers pay for a seat or little room on the train, as well as for their vehicle to ride on the train!  It saves almost 17 hours of driving, or nearly 900 miles.  Amtrak has all kinds of information about how much car pollution it prevents from entering the atmosphere.  (So we really didn't fly south, we trained south.)

For us, it was more about saving the stress and exertion of driving, and making it a more relaxing way of getting to our winter rental in Florida.  

We moved up the date when we'd leave New Jersey because there was a huge weather system moving through the US east coast. The day we drove to Virginia was the major day of rain - torrential rain so heavy, there were times we couldn't see the painted lane dividers on the interstate!!!  We managed to get to the hotel I had booked about ten miles from the train station, and we hunkered down for two days.  The weather system brought freezing temperatures, so everything was iced over from all that rain.  We opted to stay in, have meals delivered, and skip the ice.  

On 24 December, we drove to Lorton, checked in with Amtrak, and followed their procedures.  I took photos as some of the autos were loaded onto the rail cars, with crew members driving up ramps and into the two-storey coaches.  Each vehicle received a magnetic number, and that was the identifier for the rest of the trip.

We eventually boarded the train, found our "roomette," and got comfortable.  The roomette is tiny  - as wide across as two seats, and just long enough to lie down when the bunks are folded down.  Our car wasn't very full, and we had a really kind and helpful steward.  There were bathrooms and showers down the corridor, several other roomettes, and one or two full rooms which run across the width of the entire rail car, preventing access to the next car.  Upstairs was a similar setup, though the corridor connected to the next rail car.  

Our steward told us the kitchen was short-staffed due to the weather as well as the holiday, and that our dinners would be served in our room.  He took our orders from the limited menu, made sure we were comfortable, and said he'd be back about 10 PM to set up the bunks.

It was an interesting ride once the train left, just about 5 PM.  First, the train pulled forward so the vehicle cars could be attached.  That took quite a while, I think there were something like twenty-three rail cars hooked up to the train.  The conductor said that even though the train wasn't full, the entire train of passenger cars and train cars was still roughly half a mile long, making the auto train the longest train in the world.

As we rode along, Richard and I saw all sorts of little towns and houses  decorated for Christmas, with buildings and trees outlined in colorful lights, inflatables, and swags of greenery draped around.   Two favorites stood out:  first, someone had a Santa in his sleigh figurine, and eight "deer crossing" yellow diamond signs, with the deer all leaping across the lawn, and yes, of course, a red nose on the deer leading the team!!!  Funniest yard of decorations ever!

But the prettiest was either a park or forest adjacent to someone's house, with scattered lit-up snowflakes hanging from the trees!  The house was nice, with the "icicle" lights framing the house.  But the randomly placed glowing snowflakes really were outstanding - it looked like some random magic forest along our train route!

There were a few problems with our train ride.  Due to the staff shortage, dinners were served much later than anticipated.  Every passenger had a choice of having their meal at 5, 7, or 9 PM.  The woman two rooms down from us requested her meal at 5 PM, and she received dinner at a bit after 10 PM.  Our dinner, expected at 7, arrived about 10 as well.  Our room steward was so irate, he insisted that the head of food service come talk to the passengers in his car.  Not that it helped, but at least the head knew how many people were affected by this inefficiency.

The other issue was the upper bunk.  Our two seats faced each other, and the seats slid together while the backs slid downward, making the lower bunk.  The upper bunk folded out from the wall, a pad was put down, and then a sort of harness was snapped in place so the person up there couldn't fall out.  To climb up, there were small built-in "steps" that we used as shelves.

Well.  At bedtime, Richard lay down on the lower bunk.  The instructions for the upper bunk said to climb up the steps, bend over and get the upper half of your body onto the bunk, and crawl in.  That probably works for a child, or anyone under five feet tall.  I'm only about 5' 4", and my back hit the ceiling before I even got into crawl position!  There was no way I could do a knees-and-hands sort of crawl into that bunk!  I had to do that military belly crawl kind of thing, which of course rather messed up the sheets.  Rolling over wasn't the easiest thing either, because I could barely raise my head!  I don't think the upper bunks were designed for adults, but, well, I did manage a couple of hours sleep.  Eventually.  At least the rocking of the train lulled me to sleep.


Our room steward moved our luggage into the room across the corridor, to give us more space.  He also allowed us to sit in there so that we each could have a window and face forward.  (I really can't ride backwards, it makes me a bit ill.)  That definitely helped with our comfort when sitting, but there really wasn't much anyone could do about the sleeping arrangements.  Next time we might need to get a full size room.

Breakfast was served in the dining car, just a cold buffet sort of breakfast.  I should point out that meals are included for people who book the different room options.  People who book the seats only don't have meals included in their price; there's a cafĂ© car, or they can bring food with them on the train.  Less expensive, but also less roomy and less private.

We arrived in Sanford a bit earlier than the train usually arrives, so the train sat for a bit.  When we were able to pull up to the platform, our friendly steward helped us get everything off the train and put it on a rolling cart.  I was ready to hug this wonderful man goodbye, but, well, Covid.  We were able to wait in the train station until our car was unloaded and his number was called.  We tossed our stuff in, and drove north to Saint Augustine, where we've rented a little house for the winter.  (We did stop along the way at a Chinese restaurant.  It was Christmas Day, and everything else was closed.  It has become a tradition for anyone not celebrating Christmas to have a meal at a Chinese restaurant, so we were happy to find this place!)

So, other than the capsule-like bunk, and the delayed dinner, the train absolutely saved us time and wear on our car (and ourselves).  Especially since I wasn't fully over my bout with Covid and all the subsequent illness.


That's our update!  I'll post a bit about our house, where we're located, and anything exciting we find in our wanderings.  I'll also do a short blog about my hands - and then there will be another break while one hand heals and the other does all the work.


I promise to keep everyone posted!