Saturday, December 6, 2008

I Love the ASPCA

As everyone who knows me is aware, I have been grieving the death of my cat, Tucker, who died on 6/27/08.

I finally got around to calling the ASPCA today to cancel the pet health insurance policy that I purchased for Tucker several years ago. The customer representative who took my call was named Shelley; she treated me with a kindness and compassion that I will never forget.

She pulled up my information, confirmed that my policies were for Tucker and Gus, and then asked how she could help me. I told her I needed to cancel the policy for Tucker; she asked "Oh, did something happen to Tucker?" "Yes, he died", and I could feel my throat tightening up as I started to cry. With a very sympathetic voice, she expressed her condolences and asked when he died. I felt a little embarrassed because I was calling almost 6 months after the fact, and I said "Well, it's been awhile. He died in June, but I haven't been able to bring myself to make this phone call until today." Shelley then said that she she understood and that she could cancel the policy retroactively as far back as September. I was surprised at this, because I never in a million years expected a refund. I replied "Well, I didn't expect you to go back even a day, so three months sounds very generous to me." She explained that the ASPCA permits retroactive cancellations and will give refunds because they understand that it sometimes takes awhile for a grieving pet owner to take care of any business that must be addressed following a pet's death. As Shelley gave me my confirmation number and we prepared to hang up, she said warmly, "Give Gus lots of extra hugs and attention now." I smiled through my tears and thanked her.

I have been making monthly donations to the ASPCA for several years, and I was already a big supporter. Speaking with Shelley today reaffirmed for me that my money and my support are in the right place. She was genuine, compassionate, and empathetic. It was refreshing and encouraging to find that in a total stranger, let alone in a customer service representative.

I'm in the process of composing a letter to a bigwig at the ASPCA Pet Health Insurance division in order to tell them about how marvelous Shelley was to me. I could write a million letters, though, and Shelley will never ever know what she means to me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, You've Been Rickroll'd!

I'm sorry I haven't written in awhile. I've recently been struck by a bout of writer's block/apathy, but I feel like the cobwebs are clearing. My brain is starting to clickety-clack again, and I'm full of thoughts. My mind is whirring.

To start things off, I'd like to share this video that I find to be really funny and clever. For those of you who missed it, this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade got Rickroll'd. If you're not familiar with that term, I'll explain. It's an long-running Internet joke...kind of a bait and switch if you will. A person will provide for the unassuming victim a weblink in an e-mail that he or she will claim to be relevant to the topic at hand. The victim then clicks on the weblink only to find that it leads to the music video of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up", along with the announcement "You've been Rickroll'd!" I've been a victim on several occasions, and I'm always smacking my palm against my forehead in disbelief that I have once again fallen for it.

So here it is...the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade getting Rickroll'd.

Monday, November 17, 2008


As my friend, Brooke, pointed out to me today, an update is way overdue here. I have several unfinished posts saved in my Blogger file, but I simply haven't felt motivated to finish them. For the past month or so, I have been feeling rather overwhelmed and paralyzed by my stress regarding my application for NYU's School of Social Work. The possibility of either decision has created such emotional turmoil for me. If I am rejected, then I'm overwhelmed because I'm thinking "What in the hell am I going to do!? This is it! This is my grand plan! What if they tell me 'no'?"

And then if I am accepted into the program that begins in January, I have a whole new batch of things to be stressed about: I'll have eight weeks to work my 30-day notice at work, give a 30-day notice to my landlord, get registered for classes, find my immunization records, pack up my apartment, find a new place to live, move to NY in the middle of winter (dealing with snow and frigid temperatures), tell my family and friends good-bye fight after Christmas, and hope to secure a school loan when the banks are crapping out. I've been losing sleep over this. I've had a difficult time focusing on other projects (my blog, reading my book, learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone, cleaning my apartment, etc) because I haven't known for what I'm preparing. In short, I've been in limbo.

So I guess this would be the time to say that I found out on Friday that I GOT INTO NYU!!

And now I'm mostly stress-free because I have a beautiful happy medium! I am going to NYU, but I have been accepted to the program that starts in September 2009 rather than January. Now I have eight months to prepare for this colossal move. I now have plenty of time to plan, say my good-byes, and save more money---the more money I save, the less money I have to borrow. I'll be moving to New York City in August. I can't believe I'm saying that. I have wanted to be in New York City since I visited for the first time at the age of 18 (best weekend of my life, by the way). To think that I'm going to earn my MSW with the resources of New York City at my very fingertips simply blows me away. What a brilliant opportunity this is. I don't think I've ever been this excited about anything in my life.

Let's see...what else? Oh yes! Friends, I would like for you to meet Isabel. many cats does it take before one is officially labeled a "crazy cat lady"?

Yet another kitten (another tuxedo kitty) has shown up at Chez Pam. I swear, folks, I don't go looking for them or chasing them. They come to me as if someone has given them my name and address.

A few weeks ago, I was getting home after work. I opened my car door and placed my left foot on the ground as I leaned over to gather my belongings from the passenger's seat. I heard a soft high-pitched "mew". My ears perked up, and I listened....there it went again---"mew". I looked down, and there is this tiny black and white kitten standing next to my foot and staring up at me (much like she is in the above photo). Again, she pleadingly said "mew" as she placed her paw on the top of my shoe. Well of course I'm going to pick her up and take her in; who didn't already see that one coming? She practically dove into my neck, snuggling and nestling there, and she purred like a lawn mower.

As with Milo, I started out insisting that I could not keep her, and I fervently looked for another home. I e-mailed friends and I contacted rescues. My friends at work were checking with their families and friends.

Long story short---she's staying. Sigh.

I took her to the vet, and she is definitely a female. She weighs 4 pounds, and it is estimated that she's 4 months old. I'm happy to report that she's negative for FIV, leukemia, and worms. She received her rabies shot, as well as her first FIV vaccine. In a couple of weeks, she'll go back for her leukemia vaccine, as well as her 2nd FIV booster.

She's made herself right at home. As a matter of fact, I think she has the nerve to try to establish herself as the alpha kitty in a home containing three males---a geriatric, a young adult, and a pre-teen. Jasper (the young adult) sneaked up behind her as she was eating and harmlessly began to sniff her. She whirled around, hissing and growling, and he immediately backed down. She turned back around and resumed eating. "You go, girl!" I thought to myself. In spite of her feistiness (some would call it brattiness), the boys have made her feel at home. Gus tolerates her (which is pretty high praise coming from Gus). She and Milo have become fast friends, and they wrestle, stalk, and chase each other. Jasper gets in on the action, too. I'm going to have to give my downstairs neighbors a little extra something at Christmas for being so kind and patient; I have no doubt that they can hear every kitty footstep, especially when they're dashing around at midnight.

I took a great trip to Charleston SC a couple of weeks ago. I'll write about that in my next post.

And that is what's going on with me. I'm thinking I'll probably start a new blog once I get to NYC. It'll be about the move, adjusting, living in NYC, and being a grad student at the age of 42.

I'll let you know when that one's up an running.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Barack Obama!

Praise the Lord and Pass the Mylanta

Against my better judgement, I'm glued to the TV watching election coverage on CNN. I swore that I wouldn't do this. I'm very nervous and excited about this election; as a result, I'm experiencing some----er, gastrointestinal distress.

I called Mom because I just knew she was doing the same...and she was.

It's way too early to call as of now (8:11 EST), but it's looking good for Obama right now.

But I think we all know that anything can happen. I'm prepared to celebrate, but I'm also preparing to concede.

Monday, November 3, 2008

All I Want for Election Day is... wake up on Wednesday morning and to know definitively who my new President is. I do not want recounts. I do not want to hear about malfunctioning voting machines. I do not want to hear unsubstantiated claims of a "stolen" election---and if there is a claim, then it sure as Hell had better be strongly substantiated. I can't take another Day After Election Day like the past two.

I want to wake up on Wednesday and either 1) Celebrate Obama's election or 2) Accept McCain's election and start moving towards a point in which I can support him.

I want to be rid of the horribly absurd mudslinging political ads. I'm over it. I'm done.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The John McCain I Used To Know and Like

Up until about a year ago, John McCain was a man that I liked and would have gladly accepted as President. At one point, I even said that I would vote for him some day if he were to run for office. But McCain has morphed into someone that I neither like nor respect since he received the nomination for the Republican party.

I caught a glimpse of the old John McCain on SNL last night, and it was really good to see him.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This Just Makes Me Laugh...

Attention, All Electioneers: You're Not the Boss of Me!

I always dread navigating the flocks of electioneers who rush me as I'm approaching the voting place. Previously, I've always politely smiled and accepted the flyers and cards being shoved into my hand and then thrown them away after I got inside.

As I pulled into a parking space today, I saw the lot of them sitting around in their chairs, talking amongst themselves. I exited my car, and they all poked their heads up like lions who have spotted an antelope. I felt myself becoming increasingly irritated as I saw them moving towards me in a big clump; this time, I smiled and said "Thank you, everyone, but I'm already decided...your cards and flyers won't change a thing", and I placed my hands behind my back. I think I offended them, which truly was not my intention...I just wanted them to understand that their stacks of propaganda will have no bearing on my vote--I'm not so easily swayed.

As they walked away from me, they still shouted out their candidates' names and urged me to vote for them. Ah, well. At least I didn't have to find a trash can once I got inside.

Does anyone else feel irritated by the electioneers, or am I just a brat who doesn't like being told what to do?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What? Going Out On a Weeknight!?

I drove to Charlotte tonight to meet my sister-in-law, Erica, and our friend, Eva, for an evening at the theater. They both work at the Mecklenburg County courthouse; I picked them up outside of the building, and we headed over to the McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square in uptown Charlotte. It's a beautiful and intimate little venue. The last time I was there was in 1988 with my friend Jada, and we saw Suzanne Vega perform.

"Traces" was wonderful! It's performance art, and it has a Cirque de Soleil-meets-Stomp feel to it.

I'm posting a video that I found on You Tube. Words can't describe must watch for yourself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Brother, the Heavyweight Champion!

Permit me, if you will, a moment to brag about the eldest of my three baby brothers.

Firstly, here is some background: Grant is very athletic, and he loves to play. He channeled this energy for awhile by playing in a men's baseball league. However, he was forced to hang up his cleats a couple of years ago when an old childhood injury (badly broken arm that never properly healed) flared up, and he was unable to continue to play. Never one to give up and remain idle, Grant merely went out and found a new passion. Initially, he learned how to box simply as a method of working out and staying in shape. However, he ended up tapping into a natural talent that I don't think anyone knew existed. It turns out that Grant is good at boxing. I mean really good. At the age of 37, he began to fight competitively on a toughman circuit that is highly regulated by the North Carolina Boxing Commission.

In October of 2007, I attended Grant's first competitive match in Salisbury NC. He was fighting in a lighter weight class than he fights now. Frankly, I thought he looked way too thin. His weight just didn't seem to suit his 6'3" frame. He was TKO'd in his first fight; he ended up on the ground more than once, and the ringside doctor was the one who ended the fight. It was difficult to watch; not because Grant lost, but because I knew how disappointed he was. He had been working and training exceptionally hard.

In his usual fashion, Grant didn't give up. He got back up on his feet (literally and figuratively) and went about trying to figure out how to build a better mousetrap. After conferring with some guys who had been in the business for awhile, Grant decided he would bulk up and fight at a higher weight---the heavyweight class. This lighter weight simply wasn't working for him. He took some time off from fighting, and he trained. And trained. And trained.

The following January (a mere 3 months later), we all traveled to Mooresville NC to watch Grant debut in the heavyweight class. He won 5 fights over a course of 2 nights, and he won the tournament! He's been kicking ass and taking names ever since. He's weighing in now in the neighborhood of 205ish pounds.

So flash forward to this past weekend: we were back in Salisbury almost a year to the day when Grant started fighting and was soundly beaten in this very same building. Talk about coming full circle...

He won his fight on Friday night---TKO in the 2nd or 3rd round (forgive me, Brother...I can't remember which!). We all returned on Saturday night to watch him continue to move through the tournament. By the way, when I say "all", I mean Grant's huge entourage. Grant is pretty lovable, and he is loved dearly by many people. On Saturday night, his entourage consisted of his wife, our mother, another one of our brothers and his wife, our aunt, me, and several of Grant's childhood friends.

Grant waits for his TKO to be called on Saturday night

You know...I just have to say here that I am both amazed and embarrassed at how having someone I love in the boxing ring so easily brings out my inner white trash redneck. Up until Grant's fight, I was cool and calm. I applauded politely when the other fights' winners were declared. I quietly snacked on my king-sized bag of peanut M&M's while I watched other people's husbands, brothers, sons, and friends enter the ring. And yet, when my brother was in the ring and involved in a fierce battle for the heavyweight championship, I was shocked to hear "Stick 'em, Grant!!" and "Knock 'em on his ass, Grant!!" raging out of my mouth while my fists were clenched.

The championship bout was about as close as it can be. It went all three rounds, and it was a split decision. Grant was declared the winner, and we went nuts! Another trophy and another $500 prize for Grant and Erica (the deal is that Grant gets the trophy, and Erica gets the money--which is compensation for severe emotional distress caused by watching her husband fight and get knocked around). His opponent's group obbbbvioussssly disagreed with the decision, and they were quite vocal in their disappointment. At first, I took it really personally, and I wanted to challenge each of them to a slap fight. However, my cool head prevailed, and I realized that I would have been booing and scowling if the decision had gone in the other direction. They love their guy as much as I love mine, I guess. So I decided to let it drop. This time.

Next fight is next month in Morganton NC. I'll be there with bells on.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Arizona, Day 6 - Heading Home and My Final Thoughts

The trip home went off without a hitch. There were no cancelled or delay flights. Our rental car passed inspection---no dents, scrapes, or dings.

We had a 3-hour delay in Memphis, so I got to explore the airport a little (which is something I love to do, per my nerd tendencies). As we were descending into Memphis, I started to go over in my head some of Memphis' characteristics. Let's see...there's Graceland, the NBA's Grizzlies, blues music, and BBQ. As soon as we got off the plane, I smelled BBQ!! I literally began to salivate, as I was extremely hungry. I followed my nose to the food court where I found Interstate Barbecue, and I headed towards it like a fly towards a fresh cow paddy. For around $9, I got a huge heapin' serving of sliced barbecued beef, baked beans (the best I've ever had), hush puppies, bread, cole slaw, and iced tea. I sat down in the crowded food court and inhaled every crumb and drop. The sauce was tangier than my beloved NC BBQ. I wouldn't call it better or worse...just distinctively different. It was delicious!

There was plenty of time to kill, so we walked around and explored as we headed towards our gate. There's a restaurant in the Memphis airport that features a live band playing some Memphis blues. The music was thumping! It sounded great!

We landed in Charlotte around 10 p.m., and I walked into my apartment just a few minutes ago.

Here are some final thoughts about Arizona:

1. I cannot get over how kind and friendly the people are in Arizona. And I don't mean just the people within the tourist industry who are paid to be friendly; I mean the people who work at Walmart, Circle K, Denny's, and the Arizona Diamondbacks souvenir store. I've never met a friendlier bunch. When they said "Have a nice day!", I think they actually meant it.

2. North Carolina could learn something from the Arizona Department of Transportation. If there is an interstate exit off of which there is no gas station, food, or hotels, then the exit sign is labeled "No services available". Doesn't it make sense to do this? You know to keep on going if you're looking for gas or a place to pee.

3. It's a cliche, but there really is a difference between the humidity-filled NC heat and the dry heat in AZ. While the sun is intense, the higher temperatures are much more bearable when the air around you isn't filled with oppressive humidity. I'll never again make fun of someone when I hear them say "Well, it's not the heat that makes it feel so's the humidty."

4. While much of the AZ landscape looks completely different from that in NC, I was surprised at the many forests in AZ. In my ignorance, I expected nothing except sand, roadrunners, and tumbleweeds. And maybe an armadillo.

I enjoyed my trip immensely, and it was everything I had hoped it would be; I would definitely like to spend more time there. However, the western half of the U.S. will never feel like home to me. I'm an East Coast girl through and through. It's good to be home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Arizona, Day 5 - The Navajo Nation and Grand Canyon National Park

The view from the Denny's parking lot. I'll say again that Page AZ is surrounded by some gorgeous scenery!

We woke up this morning, and we got on the road at a fairly decent hour. We grabbed some breakfast at Denny's, and we were on the road again.

AZ Hwy 89 is beautiful in the daylight! As I suspected based on our nighttime drive a couple of nights ago, there is not much there in the way of goods and services; however, the scenery is breathtaking. I did not realize that we had driven through the Navajo nation on our way into Page.

A glimpse of the beautiful Navajo reservation
Another view of the Navajo reservation

As we were driving through, we stopped and met some Navajos who were selling handmade folk art. The pieces were gorgeous, and I was amazed that all of it was made by hand. I wanted literally every single piece that I examined. I could very easily have spent 100's of dollars at this roadside stand. Much of it had been made by a woman named Elsi; the lady who was selling her pieces was Elsi's niece. The niece shared with me the Navajo lore and history that was the inspiration for the pieces that I bought.

The roadside stand where I bought my Navajo folk art

My very favorite piece that I bought is my storyteller bear. According to Elsi's niece, the bear symbolizes strength and courage in the Navajo culture. It is hand carved out of clay. The art that you see on it is made with sand, and the sand is kept in place with tree sap. See the fine black lines going through it? That is horsehair art. It's hair from a horse's tail or mane, and it has been fired into the clay using a special technique.

My storyteller bear

Next, my eye caught a beautiful Christmas ornament that Elsi created, and it was also made of clay. You can see horsehair art used here, as well. The depiction of a Navajo on the horse is symbolic for "end of the line". This made me a little sad, because it represents the loss of many elements of Navajo culture through the years...the systemic and mandated elimination of their traditions and customs. Happily, the Navajo are currently working to revive many of those very traditions and customs.

My clay Christmas ornament

Finally, I found a gorgeous bracelet! It's made of silver, turquoise, and apple coral (which I had never heard of before).

My new bracelet

As we were driving across the Navajo reservation, we listened to a public radio station that serves the western Navajo nation--KGHR. They play quite a large variety of contemporary music---everything from The Archies to Van Morrison to Green Day to Los Lonely Boys. However, they also play traditional Navajo music, as well as contemporary songs about the history and plight of the Navajo people. Both English and the Navajo dialect were spoken. I thought it was quite fascinating, and listening to it as we drove made the trek through the Navajo nation feel surreal to me. I felt sad as I looked around the beautiful landscape and saw small communities consisting of shacks, campers, and trailers. It drove home the fact that we weren't merely passing through a tourist trap; these people live here. This is their home...their community. They are born here, live here, work here, and die here. I would like to visit this area again; next time, however, I want to educate myself about Navajo history and culture.

We drove through the Grand Canyon National Park again. It is much better in the daylight, I have to say. I took more pictures from various lookout points. These photos came out much better than the sunset tour, I think. Perhaps it was because we didn't have the smoky haze with which to contend this time.

I have been fascinated by all of the different countries being represented among my tourist brethren. I've heard very little English being spoken during this trip. Today, I've heard German, French, Japanese, and Arabic being spoken...and those are just the languages that I recognize. When I do hear English being spoken, it is often with a British or Australian accent.

We made it back to Phoenix around 8:30 p.m. or so. At this point, we were both pretty worn out. Although we've had a great time (except for the hospital thing), we're both ready to get the hell home. I love to travel, but I'm always ready to get back to my home base for awhile. We found our hotel with relative ease. I had my usual battle with the electronic key card (Kelley got it open on her first try...but then, she's much more patient than I), but we made it into the room. We were both craving McDonald's, for some reason. We got semi-settled, and we headed out again. I wanted to go ahead and fill up the gas tank so those rat bastards at the car rental place wouldn't charge a jillion dollars (roughly) if we returned the car on empty. The gods smiled upon us; my GPS led us to a nearby gas station...and there was a McDonald's right next door! We hit McD's first and then headed over to the gas station. As I pumped gas, Kelley started to clean the thousands of dead bugs off of our windshield. A Latino gentleman came running out of nowhere, exclaiming "Mami! Let me do that for you!" He was a kind and friendly fellow; we talked as he wiped down our car. It turns out that he's homeless. He was a construction worker and came from CA with his truck and his tools. He found work right away, and he was living a pretty good life. A few months ago, his truck and tools were stolen. He lost his job and, eventually, his home. In spite of this, however, he had such a sweet spirit and an exceptional outlook on life. He talked openly about his belief in God, as well as his approach towards life and his recent bout of rotten luck. He had virtually no possessions, yet he was one of the most generous people I've ever met. Kelley and I were running low on cash; she gave him a couple of bucks, and he accepted it humbly and gratefully.

Since we had a refrigerator in our room, we decided to buy some milk and cereal for breakfast the following morning; now we can eat a quick (and cheap) breakfast in our hotel room and get straight to the airport to catch our noon flight.

I'm exhausted. I should sleep juuust fine tonight.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Arizona, Day 4 - The Colorado River and Glen Canyon

I woke up around 9:30 this morning; I slept pretty hard after my long day and night. I spoke to Kelley who informed me that the doc wanted to run IV antibiotics throughout the day, and then he would reassess tonight; he may possibly discharge her then. Kelley assured me that she was okay, and she encouraged me to go on our scheduled tour so that I could take lots of pics to share with her later.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Page AZ is located right in the middle of some beautiful scenery. As you may recall, it was pitch black dark when we arrived in Page last night, and we could see nothing in the distance. When I walked out to the motel parking lot this morning, the view took my breath away! Who knew that this was there last night?
The view from the Motel 6 parking lot...that's our car you see here

I headed over to the Colorado River Discovery store to meet the guide and my tour group. I checked in, and I browsed around the store. I realized that I had forgotten my Yankees cap, so I bought a floppy hat to wear during the trip. The AZ sun is pretty fierce, and my fair Irish skin burns after about 3 minutes in the sun if I'm not wearing any protection.

The Colorado River Discovery Store on 6th Ave in Page AZ

We boarded the motorcoach, and we were on our way to the Glen Canyon Dam for the start of our trip.

The view from my seat on the motorcoach

The scenery on our way to the dam

We arrived at the "top of the tower" or the top of the dam which is where our journey was to begin. There is a 2-mile tunnel through which we had to go to get to the bottom of the dam; the tunnel goes through solid rock. We're on government property at this point, so per Homeland Security procedure, we had to disembark the bus prior to entering the tunnel so that a security sweep could be performed. Our bags had to go down in a separate vehicle so we loaded them onto another truck while we were waiting. We then boarded the bus again and rode through a dark tunnel. I sat with a nice lady from Canada, and we chatted a bit during this ride. Neither of us understood the purpose of the bags going down in a separate vehicle; they were never searched or x-rayed...and the other "vehicle" was the unsecured back of a pick-up truck.

Awaiting completion of the security sweep

We disembarked again at the bottom of the dam where our bags were awaiting our arrival. We were required to wear hard hats as we walked down towards the boats because of rocks and pebbles that may fall from the canyon walls, as well as objects that people may throw from the top of it (!).

Walking down to the docks

Our group divided into two smaller groups, and we boarded our boats. They were motorized pontoon boats. Our guide's name was Josh, and he was pretty cute. He also knew his stuff! He was full of information about the river and the canyon, and his passion for his job really shone through.

Our cute patootie guide, Josh

Once again, my tour group consisted of several nationalities. There were three Americans aboard---a married couple and me. The married couple also happened to be from western North Carolina, same as me! There were two Australian families, two British couples, a Canadian family, and a couple from Denmark. I enjoyed talking to the Danes; their English was good, though we did have a few moments when we played an impromptu game of charades--if they weren't sure of a word in English, they would act it out. They were really sweet, and they were good sports. We laughed a lot during our brief struggles to communicate.

The Australians were lovely people. There were three sons between the two families, and I'd say they ranged from 10-12 years old. They were cute and funny. I had brief conversation with one of them about meerkats. He learned that I'm a fan of the show "Meerkat Manor", and that broke the ice between us. One of the husbands and I struck up a conversation, and he shared with me that the two families were on a 4-week holiday touring the southwestern United States. They had been to San Francisco, Los Angeles (Disneyworld), Las Vegas, and now the Grand Canyon. He gave his wife full credit for the planning and organization of the trip. He said that he earned the money for the trip, and he showed up for it...his wife did the rest. We both agreed that Los Angeles was not the place for us. I encouraged him to visit New York City some time in his life, and he asked what the difference was between there and Los Angeles. I replied that it was hard to put my finger on it, but that it was just different, especially culturally. We talked about the differences between the east coast and west coast. I advised that the next time they visit the U.S. (according to him, it would be about ten years before they could afford another trip), they should check out the east coast. Specifically, I suggested New England, NYC, Washington DC, the NC Outer Banks, the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, and Florida. I asked about the different coasts in Australia, and he shared that the biggest battle between the two coasts is for space. There are 20 million people living in Australia (which is the same size as the lower 48 United States), but only about 20% of the total population lives in the western half; the remaining 80% lives in the eastern half.

Needless to say, our 15-mile journey was filled with beauty and awe. The weather was perfect; the skies were bright blue and dotted with fluffy white clouds. We floated during most of it, though Josh gunned the motor a few times.

About halfway through the trip, we stopped at a small beach so that we could hike and explore.

Here, we were able to hike to an area in which there are prehistoric petroglyphs visible on one of the enormous rocks. A "petroglyph" is an image that is carved into a rock, as opposed to being drawn or painted onto the surface. These petroglyphs are estimated to be hundreds to thousands of years old; they were carved by the Ancestral Puebloans, which were the area's first inhabitants. According to Josh, the Puebolans were most likely trying to communicate that this trail leads to a body of water.

After everyone stretched their legs and visited the petroglyphs, we boarded the boats and were on our way again. The tour ended at Lee's Ferry. We disembarked, bid Josh farewell (I tipped him $5, and he was very sweetly surprised and grateful), and then boarded the motorcoach to head back to Page.

The end of the line

The 1-hour ride back was filled with more beautiful scenery as we rolled through the Navajo reservation. However, I was neglected to take any pictures because I was too busy gabbing with the Canadian woman who was on my boat. Her husband, her mother-in-law, and her were on a 2-week vacation. They had the first week in Alaska and were now exploring the Grand Canyon area. She is an investment broker from Toronto, and we talked about America's financial crisis and the notorious bailout (which was voted down today, incidentally). I asked her if the Canadian economy and her clients were feeling the brunt of it yet, and she said "No, not really." According to her, the Canadian economy will most likely never fall into such lousy shape because they are highly regulated (and their regulations are actually upheld as opposed to the very loose regulations in the U.S.). She said it seems that "everytime I turn around, we're being audited."

We returned to the Colorado River Discovery store around 6 o'clock, and I called Kelley to see how things were going. She said that her antibiotics were still running, but as soon as they were finished, she was being discharged. I drove over to the hospital, we visited in her room as we waited for the meds to run out. She looked much better. The swelling was obviously down, and she looked more like herself. She was given her discharge orders and new prescriptions, and we were out the door. We found a Safeway grocery store/pharmacy, and we got her prescriptions filled. While we waited, we strolled around the store and bought some snacks. We were both pretty hungry, and wanted something to nibble on once we got to the motel. Denny's Restaurant was our next stop. After devouring our supper, we headed over to the Motel 6 and crashed. Hard.

We have about a 5-hour drive to Phoenix tomorrow, so we're going to try to hit the road fairly early. The plan is to drive back through the Navajo reservation and Grand Canyon National Park again, except we will do it during the daylight this time. Novel idea.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Arizona, Day 3 - The Grand Canyon!

AZ Hwy 64 on the way to Tusayan

We were both a little startled when we awoke this morning to find that Kelley's face was swollen, especially near and around her cheeks. She located a white patch on one of her tonsils, and she decided she'd call her doctor later on to see if perhaps he might be willing to prescribe an antibiotic over the phone (she was currently recovering from what had been diagnosed last week as strep throat). We checked out of the motel, loaded the car, and we were off again. There was a Denny's close by, so we ate a hearty breakfast. While we were there, Kelley got in touch with her doctor's office, and she was advised to visit a local urgent care center. We decided that we would go on our Grand Canyon tour and then locate an urgent care center after that. After we finished our breakfast, we were back on the road---this time to Tusayan AZ, a small community near the south entrance to the Grand Canyon, where we were scheduled to meet our guide for our Grand Canyon Sunset Tour.

The McDonald's in Tusayan AZ, our tour meeting place

We made better time than I had hoped, and we actually ended up in Tusayan a couple of hours before our tour was scheduled to begin. There is a National Geographic Visitor Center in Tusayan, so we ventured there, as it was very conveniently located across the street from McDonald's. Actually, everything is across the street or next to McDonald's...this is a tiny community.

The main drag in Tusayan as viewed from the McDonald's parking lot

We watched the Grand Canyon IMAX movie there, which not only showed some breathtaking shots of the canyon, but it also shared the history of this natural wonder.

The National Geographic Visitor Center in Tusayan

Afterwards, we did some shopping at a trading post/souvenir store. I can now honestly say that I have tasted prickly pear candy, and I do not care for it in the slightest. It's made from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. I hear that it's an acquired taste, but I didn't acquire it. It's a jelly candy, and I found it to be rather sour. I don't like sour candy, but if you do like it, then you'd probably like this stuff. I ate a piece and threw the rest away.

Finally, our meeting time of 3:30 p.m. arrived, and we drove over to the McDonald's parking lot. We met 3 British couples who were also awaiting the arrival of our guide. Joe arrived and informed the Brits that they would be on another bus with their guide, Jared. Kelley and I were assigned to Joe's bus. An Indian couple, Vijay and Meera, joined us.

Our tour vehicle...that's Kelley inside

We drove to the Quality Inn to pick up seven more passengers---two Australian families who were traveling together. Out of a total of 17 passengers on this tour, Kelley and I were the only Americans. The rest were Brits, Aussies, and Indians; Joe laughingly called it the "British Empire Tour", which I thought was a rather intelligent and clever observation. Anyway, we picked up our Aussie friends, and we were on our way.

My view in the tour vehicle...that's Joe driving

We made our way deep into the Kaibab National Forest. Joe pointed out various plants and trees that were growing there, including mistletoe and juniper trees, some of which were hundreds of years old. Camping is permitted in much of the forest; Joe showed us six miles of forest that were burned from just one campfire that was left untended. It burned up to the side of the road, jumped over the road, and continued to destroy trees on the other side.

We saw several mule deer, including a huge buck that made Joe, an avid hunter, drool. I thought they were beautiful for other reasons. We also saw a herd of elk, but they were too far into the woods to get a decent photo. I was, however, able to capture a photo of a flock of wild turkeys that we saw.

Run, turkeys, run!

One of the most interesting things that Joe showed us was a man-made watering hole that had been donated by a local sportsmen's association. Arizona is drought-ravaged, and the sportsmen's association was concerned that the wild animals would die from thirst. So the individual members donated their personal money (Joe says the National Park Service will try to take credit for it) to build this thing. It didn't come from the money made from issuing hunting licenses---it came from the members' own pockets. Tanks were built in order to store the water. Hopefully, the snow will melt and fill the tanks naturally; if not, water is hauled in on tanker trucks. They built a roof over the tanks in order to prevent it from evaporating. The result is a watering hole that never dries up. We saw a huge footprint there that Joe identified as that of a bull elk. I thought this contraption was pretty ingenious. The water looks pretty gross, but Joe said it's fine for the animals, as their systems can handle it. If humans were to drink, however, it would certainly need to be purified first.

These are the tanks that are covered by the metal roof

The "watering hole"

We then headed to Grandview Lookout where there is an active lookout ranger station. We were permitted to climb this 80-foot steel tower that was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936.

The Grandview lookout tower

From the top, you can view The Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, and the San Francisco Peaks. I'm proud to say that my 41-year-old body made it to the top with relatively mild discomfort. It was 80 feet of all stairs, baby! Needless to say, the views were breathtaking (no pun intended). I'm fine with heights---I enjoy them, even. I love getting higher and then enjoying the view. But it's the coming down part that makes me nervous. As I descended the tower, my knuckles were white; I was hanging on for dear life. It was a small price to pay, however, for the marvelous experience. We could only go up four people at a time, so we talked and explored as we awaited our turns. Joe shelled an acorn nut for me, and I ate it. It was pretty bitter and the taste was "interesting".

Joe talks with one of the Aussie families

The Aussie kids loved listening to Joe and asking him questions

Part of the Grand Canyon as viewed from the top of the tower

Looking down from the lookout tower...whew.

And then it was on to Grandview Point to view the Grand Canyon as the sun was setting. Words cannot describe what I saw, and that is the truth. There were controlled burnings going on nearby, and the smoke made the canyon a little hazy thus muting the colors. I still thought it was pretty good, though.

The pyramid-shaped peak is nicknamed "Vishnu"

This one is nicknamed "Sinking Ship"

Need I say more?

We got back to McDonald's a little after 7 p.m., and Kelley and I were eager to get back on the road, as we had a 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive to Page AZ ahead of us. By this time, Kelley's swelling and pain had increased, and she was starting to feel pretty bad. Things had most definitely gotten worse since this morning. I asked Joe if he could tell me of the closest medical clinic; he said there was one on the park (which we would be driving through). He said the next one before Page was probably in Cameron. We found the one in the park, but it was already closed. We decided we would just go to Page and find the hospital there. So we drove on. And on. And on. Had I known that AZ Hwys. 64 and 89 were so desolate and dark at night, I would have planned this part of the trip much differently. I have an adventurous spirit, and I can be rather fearless when I travel. However, I'm smart enough to know when to be creeped out and to back down when I know I've bitten off more than I can chew. For most of the 143 miles that I drove that night, I was scared and feeling very wary. I was praying. When I say "dark", I mean that the only light was coming from my headlights. There was a new moon this night, so we had no moonlight. There are very few road signs. The only reason that I knew I was going in the right direction was because of the dashboard compass. We were completely and utterly surrounded by total darkness. There were hardly any cars on the road with us. I had no idea what we were passing; we could have been on the edge of a cliff or at the edge of an expansive desert for all I know. I was keeping an eye out for the reflective eyes of wildlife (especially elk) crossing the road. Joe had sufficiently frightened me with tales of people hitting elk and dying on impact or being critically injured. If we had car trouble, we would have been on our own for the night. There was no cell phone service. We would have had to spend the night in the car and wait for morning. It was too dark to even try to walk anywhere. Kelley was getting worse, and I became increasingly afraid. She was becoming more swollen...what if her breathing became obstructed? What if her blood glucose either shot up or plummeted? I found myself trying to remember where I saw her put her glucometer and her insulin just in case I needed it. I took a mental inventory of the food we had with us---what could she eat that would bring her glucose up to a normal level? If we did have to stop, anyone could come along and do anything they wanted to with us, and no one would ever be the wiser. I silently continued to pray.

Finally, we came upon the city limits of Page. I saw streetlights in the distance, and I got a signal on my cell phone. I used the navigation system to find the nearest hospital, which was about 6 miles away. We went straight to Banner Health Page Hospital, which is a small hospital. However, the service there was the best I have ever seen. Ever. And I have seen a lot of hospitals. I sat with Kelley as she got registered and was then asked to sit in the waiting room. I left her momentarily to go check into the motel. If we were in for a long night in the ER, I thought it would be great if all we had to do afterwards was to flop into bed. I got us checked in and hauled all of our luggage into the room. I returned to the hospital about 20 minutes later to find that Kelley was no longer in the waiting room. I was impressed that she had already been called back to the treatment area. So I sat and watched. A guy who was pretty drunk was brought in by the cops; the left side of his face was swollen and bloody. He loudly claimed that some guy had "fucking coldcocked" him for no reason at all..."I didn't do nuthin'!" he yelled. Security had to ask him several times to be quiet and to watch his language, but to no avail. The policemen took him outside, and I heard him yelling at them at the tops of his lungs. There was also a young guy hunched over in a wheelchair, crying and holding his stomach. No one seemed particularly alarmed, including his mother and younger brother who were with him. So I sat and watched. A male nurse came out and called his name. His mother and younger brother wheeled him through the double doors. As the doors were closing I heard the nurse ask in a bored tone, "Have you been drinking again?" "Yeah", I heard the young man say.

John, the very kind and attentive patient representative asked me if I wanted to go back to the treatment area to sit with Kelley, and I accepted his invitation. Kelley and I sat (well, she laid) in Exam room #1. They have flat screen TVs in their exam rooms!! So we watched "Seinfeld" as we waited for the doctor. John (a different one than the patient rep), the nurse, was a good man. He was kind and respectful, and we enjoyed talking to him. Dr. Elizabeth Faulk was the doc on duty that night, and I just have to say that I wish she lived near me so that she could be my doctor. She actually got a pillow for Kelley and she put it in the pillow case even. She brought each of us a soda. Dr. Faulk was intelligent, helpful, humble, and informative. She knew that Kelley was a nurse, so she talked to her on a professional level while remembering that Kelley was also a sick person who was far far from home. The three of us were betting that Kelley's mono test would come back positive. Surprisingly, her mono test and her strep test came back negative. Dr. Faulk was stumped, but she remained proactive. She called an ENT guy in Flagstaff and consulted over the phone. Dr. Faulk then offered Kelley the options of being admitted to the hospital in order to be monitored and receive IV antibiotics or she could be discharged on oral antibiotics and hope for the best. Dr. Faulk left us to talk, and I told Kelley that my gut said she should remain in the hospital. Since no one had any idea of what was happening or what was going to happen, maybe we should let it play out here in the safety of a hospital rather than at the Motel 6. Kelley agreed (meanwhile, we joked about this being like an episode of "House"). She gave me a small list of things she would need overnight, and I returned to the motel and gathered them. I went back to the hospital with her stuff, and we confirmed with Dr. Faulk that Kelley would indeed be admitted. Dr. Faulk called the admitting doc, and he agreed that an inpatient admission was appropriate. Kelley had been given some morphine at this point, so she was feeling allllll right. By this time, it was 2:30 a.m., and Kelley dispatched me back to the motel so that I could get some sleep. I hated to leave her, but 1) I knew she was in great hands at this place, plus I was listed as the contact person if anything were needed and 2) I was exhausted and wanted to fall into a bed.

I had not eaten a meal since Denny's that morning, and I was famished; but there is not much available at 2:30 a.m. in Page. I did find a gas station called Maverick's. I stumbled into there and grabbed a sandwich, a can of Pringles, two granola bars, and 2 bottles of Lipton Diet Green Tea. I returned to the motel and collapsed onto the bed. I have eaten my tasty and nutritious dinner, and I'm getting ready to fall asleep to the sounds of "M*A*S*H" on TV Land.

The Colorado River trip scheduled for tomorrow is kind of iffy at this point. It will depend on what the doctor says when he sees her tomorrow. I'm hoping that it will work out for both of us to go. We shall see.