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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Arizona, Day 2 - The Diamondbacks Win With a Walk-off...Walk?

The front exterior of Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona

We woke up this morning to a hot day in Phoenix. After we showered and dressed, we found an IHOP and ate breakfast. I was famished because my stomach was still on Eastern time and believed it to be well after lunchtime. And then we wandered over to downtown Phoenix to look for Chase Field so we could catch the Diamondbacks game versus the Colorado Rockies. Thanks to my handy dandy Verizon Wireless navigation system on my cell phone, we found the stadium rather easily. It was still about three hours before game time, so parking was easy to find. As a matter of fact, we parked about 2 blocks away from the stadium for a measly $10! Boy, this is a far cry from catching a game at Yankee Stadium.

The gates weren't scheduled to open until around 11 a.m., so we walked around the outside of the stadium and explored our surroundings.

Giant bats outside of Chase Field

On the outside, the stadium isn't so impressive, in my humble opinion. It resembles a warehouse or an airplane hangar.


The inside, however, is magnificent! We entered the gates and rode the escalator up to the 300 level.

Looking down on the Chase Field grounds

There are some beautiful murals painted in the hallways of the stadium.

One of several murals that are painted on the hallway walls

The field is beautiful. The temperature in Phoenix today was around 102 degrees, so the roof was closed, and the A/C kept the indoor temperature to a perfect 75 degrees.

The full view from Sec 317 Row F Seat 11

Randy Johnson was the starting picture for the Diamondbacks season finale today. On a personal level, I do not care for him. However, as a baseball fan, I cannot deny his phenomenal talent; it was very exciting to watch him pitch in person. We ended up watching a real pitcher's duel between Johnson and the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez. As a matter of fact, the Rockies were winning 1-0 (thanks to a Rockies baserunner that reached base because of a throwing error by the D-backs' third basemen) up until the bottom of the 8th inning. I thought it would be a terrible shame for Johnson to pitch such a great game but to still take the loss. Chris Young came through for Johnson, however, and hit a 1-run HR in the bottom of the 8th inning. The D-backs fans LOVE Randy Johnson. They were rooting hard for him to earn win #295.

Johnson pitches to Clint Barmes

After he pitched the top of the 9th, Johnson walked back to the dugout and was met with a thunderous ovation. The crowd cheered louder and louder until Johnson emerged from the dugout to tip his hat.

The D-backs managed to load the bases in the bottom of the 9th. Chris Young was the hero again---he worked a walk off of Luis Vizcaino, and the winning run scored.

Chris Young watches game-winning ball four come across the plate.

Understandably, the D-backs were excited to win a close game, and they celebrated. The 45-year-old Johnson pitched a complete game. His final line read 2 hits, 0 earned runs, 1 walk, and 9 strikeouts. Wow. Not bad for a 45-year-old, eh?

The Diamondbacks celebrate

The Diamondback fans are great. I saw signs that read "We still love our D-backs", "We'll be back next year", and "We love you whether you're #1 or #2". These fans showed a lot of unconditional support. We Yankee fans could learn something from them.

Leaving Chase Field was just as easy as getting to it. Within 15 minutes, we were on the road towards Flagstaff, which is about 150 miles north of Phoenix. We stopped by a Walmart on our way. Kelley needed a new suitcase (the wheels were broken on her old one), and I needed a new backpack ( a cat peed in mine sometime, apparently, right before I packed it. I suspect it was Gus retaliating for my failed attempt to drag him from underneath my bed on Friday for a trip to the vet). We were treated to a beautiful and scenic drive as we climbed about 4000 ft up into the mountains of northern Arizona. When we left Phoenix, the temperature was 99 degrees F. By the time we reached Flagstaff, it had dropped to 59 degrees.

A sunset from one of our stops on I-17 North

We were both pretty hungry at this point, so we checked into our motel and headed out immediately to grab some dinner. We found the main drag in Flagstaff and after a quick stop in Walgreen's (I discovered that Motel 6 doesn't provide hair dryers in the rooms, so I wanted to buy a small travel-sized one), we found a local joint called Stromboli's . We ordered a NY style pizza with pepperoni and fresh garlic, and it was delicious! We then headed back to the motel to crash and try to get a good night's sleep. We see the Grand Canyon tomorrow!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Arizona, Day 1 - Welcome to Phoenix

Though it's only 6:30 p.m. here, my mind and my body tell me that it's really 9:30 p.m., and I am winding down. I'm in my pajamas sitting up in bed in our hotel room/efficiency in mid-town Phoenix.

My friend, Kelley, and I caught our 9:20 a.m. flight this morning from Charlotte with little fanfare. The lines at the airport were long, but they moved quickly. We flew to Detroit for a connecting flight, where it was a chilly 61 degrees. I'd like to take a moment here to tell you how much I love the Detroit airport, primarily because of the magnificent bathrooms. The stalls are huge---it's nice to find an airport bathroom that contains stalls designed for people who might have (gasp!) luggage with them. The doors and walls are low to the ground and high to the ceiling; hence, no one can reach under or over to snatch your bags while you're sitting in a most vulnerable position. Another nifty feature is the Express Tram. It's a shuttle that carries people from terminal to terminal, and the nifty part is that the track is about 21 ft above the main floor of the airport. I know, I know...it doesn't take much to excite me. But I do have fun riding the tram and watching the action on the airport floor below me.

We had a brush with greatness on our Detroit - Phoenix flight. We sat with a pleasant gentleman who initiated an animated discussion about the upcoming election when he overheard Kelley and I mention that we were polar opposites regarding our political views. He was quiet for awhile and worked on his laptop, and then we began to talk again. He lives in Massachusetts, but received his MFA degree at UNC-Greensboro. He was fun to talk to, and he shared a picture of his adorable young daughter with us. We discussed our various reasons for traveling to Phoenix, and he mentioned that he was on a book tour. As it turns out, this fellow was author Steve Almond. He told us about his book entitled "Candyfreak", and I made a mental note to Google both his book and him. His website is very good, and the reviews that he has received are most impressive. He even received accolades from Amy Sedaris (she was brilliant in the Comedy Central series "Strangers With Candy"), one of my favorite comedians. I'll be purchasing one or two of his books online tonight after I finish this entry.

The flight itself was a long one. As time went on, I could sense the people around me growing restless. They were no longer content to sit quietly and read or listen to their iPods. Portable DVD players were being played at loud volumes, children's electronic toys could be heard bleeping and blipping noisily, and the overall noise level was growing. I thought to myself that if airlines were to ever allow passengers to use cell phones in-flight, there will be chaos. Mutiny even.

As we touched down in Phoenix, a flight attendant made a request over the P.A. system: "Due to the excessive heat outside, please pull the shades down on your windows before you leave the plane." Oy. That's never a good sign. Yes, it was a balmy 102 degrees in Phoenix, and the heat all but knocked me over when I walked off the plane. It felt like someone was blasting a hair dryer about 4 inches away from my face. It's true what they say, however...it is dry heat. So we had that going for us.

I met a cute young guy from New Jersey working behind the Enterprise rental car counter. He saw that I'm from North Carolina, and he asked how far I live from Charleston SC. He mentioned that he has a friend who plays for the Charleston River Dogs, the single A affiliate of my beloved New York Yankees. I asked his friend's name since I like to keep up with the minor league players, too. His friend's name is David Williams, and I will keep that name in mind as more Baby Bombers move up through the ranks.

We picked up our white Chevy Impala and found our way to the hotel. We were extremely hungry as neither of us had eaten much today. We decided that when in Rome, we should do as the Romans...so we looked for some regional cuisine to have for dinner. I flipped through the yellow pages, and I found a restaurant in Tempe called Z Tejas that offers southwestern cuisine. The food was absolutely delicious! Instead of the usual basket of rolls or muffins, this place serves up a pan of freshly baked cornbread, and it's even still in the iron skillet when it's brought to the table. There were actually kernels of corn in it, and it was served with honey butter. And yes. I took a picture of it.


I ordered Jack's 5-Cheese Macaroni & Achiote Chicken. To call it "delicious" is a gross understatement. It's made with bleu, Jack, cheddar, parmesan, and Romano cheeses, finished with toasted bacon gratin (I copied that straight from the menu). I could eat that stuff everyday until I die, and I would never ever get sick of it. I'm serious.

Kelley ordered a frozen margarita that was much too strong for tastes, so it was mostly untouched. Had I not been driving later, I would have gladly helped her out---in spite of the fact that my history with tequila is not so favorable. It happened during my freshman year in college, but hey--that's another blog post altogether.

So tomorrow it's off to Chase Field to watch the Diamondbacks take on the Colorado Rockies. There's not much at stake at this point, as both teams are already eliminated from playoff contention. However, I will get to see the great Randy Johnson pitch. I am looking forward to that, although I'm still pissed that he wasn't so great during his brief stint with the Yankees. Anyway, he can throw the hell out of a baseball; as my brother Grant advised, "Don't blink." I am also excited about seeing a new (to me, anyway) baseball stadium.

And that is it for Day 1. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Final Game at Yankee Stadium

7:52 p.m. - Whitey Ford was just introduced. Could he be any cuter??

7:54 p.m. - There's Catfish Hunter's widow to represent her husband tonight. I'm already a little weepy. She just joined Whitey and Don Larsen on the mound...she asks "Am I the only broad?"

7:55 p.m. - They're not booing! They're saying "Gooooooooooooose!"

7:57 p.m. - There's David Wells. Meh.

8:01 p.m. - Oh boy. Bobby Murcer's wife and children. I'm this close to openly weeping at this point. The reception they're receiving is beautiful.

8:02 p.m. - One word: BERNIE!!!! I LOVE him! I'm still mad at the Yankees for not offering him a contract in 2007.

8:04 p.m. - Bernie's standing ovation is still going on. Wow!

8:06 p.m. - They're still screaming and chanting his name. :)

8:10 p.m. - The starting line up for the last game at the real Yankee Stadium is introduced. Lukewarm receptions for A-Rod, Giambi, and Cano.

8:13 p.m. - YAYYY!! Jorge to catch the ceremonial first pitch!!!! I was just thinking how sad it is that he's on the DL and not able to catch tonight. And Babe Ruth's daughter will throw the pitch. How wonderful!

8:21 p.m. - A very touching commercial...Yogi Berra reminiscing about Yankee Stadium. "Yankee Stadium will still be right here" as he gestures towards his heart. **tear**

8:23 p.m. - I would have given almost anything to be there tonight. I mean that. If I had $10,000 to pay for a field seat tonight, I would have gladly paid it. I'm serious.

8:26 p.m. - Thank you, Joe Morgan, for choosing this moment to remind everyone "This is no Game 7, because the Yankees will be eliminated from the playoffs this year." What a jerk.

8:31 p.m. - Awwww. Jorge is out at Monument Park taking pictures. What a nice reminder that most of these guys are simply baseball fans---just like me.

8:36 p.m. - Here we go. The last first pitch. Sigh.

8:46 p.m. - The Red Sox won today. That means that any Yankees loss from here on out will ensure that the Red Sox clinch at least the Wild Card, and the Yankees will then be officially eliminated from the playoffs. Please don't let that happen tonight. Not this game.

8:49 p.m - Hey!! Andy just got his 2000th strikeout. Yay.

8:50 p.m. - Hey!! Andy just gave up a triple. Boo.

8:52 p.m. - Boo! Kevin Millah!! (Millar)

8:55 p.m. - Crap! 1-0, Orioles. Settle down, Andrew.

8:56 p.m. - ESPN keeps listing lots of Yankee Stadium facts and figures in the ticker at the bottom of the screen. I'm learning so much! Note to self: Look for DVD and/or book documenting entire history of Yankee Stadium.

9:26 p.m. - 3-run HR from Hot Johnny Damon!! I LOVE that man! So cute...jumping up and high-fiving in the dugout! So so cute.

9:36 p.m. - I say again---I LOVE Johnny Damon. My heart will break if he's not a Yankee next year.

9:46 p.m. - Crap! O's tie it up...3-3. Middle of the 4th.

9:48 p.m. - No matter how many times I watch the footage of Chris Chambliss' walk-off ALCS-winning HR against the Royals in 1976, I never stop getting pissed and frustrated at those idiot fans who charged the field and blocked the basepaths before Chambliss finished running the bases. The look of panic and frustration on his face as he's shoving people to the side and pushing them down really stresses me out. Don't those pinheads know that the HR doesn't count if each of the bases are not touched?? Arrrgggh.

9:54 p.m. - A 2-run shot by Jose Molina! Yanks take the lead!! Suh-weet. I wonder if he will be the last Yankee to hit a HR in Yankee Stadium...?

10:03 p.m. - It was a rough start, but it looks as if vintage Andy has found his way to the mound. That was a very quick inning for him. Yanks are up 5-3, middle of the 5th.

10:10 p.m. - Did they just say "official closing ceremony" in November? ROAD TRIP!!!

10:11 p.m. - Joe Morgan and Jon Miller are speculating that A-Rod hasn't been accepted by Yankees fans because he hasn't won a World Series ring. Bullhockey. A-Rod hasn't been accepted by the fans because he is a selfish mercenary. A-Rod could win 10 WS rings with the Yankees, and I will still believe that he hasn't earned his pinstripes. Johnny Damon and Xavier Nady haven't won WS rings with the Yankees either, but they are Yankees, as far as I'm concerned--because of their work ethics and apparent joy for playing baseball.

10:19 p.m. - The night's over for Andy Pettitte...and he did well! He's in line for the W. The crowd chanted his name over and over again until he finally came out of the dugout and acknowledged them. It's up to the bullpen now. Eeep!

10:22 p.m.- Look at Reggie Jackson! He just took a picture with a young fan...and Reggie himself took the picture! He held the camera up in front of them and snapped it. What a good guy.

10:27 p.m. - Jose Veras is doing okay. There are 2 outs, but there are also 2 men on base. Joe G's bringing Phil Coke to get this last out.

10:34 p.m. - Struck. Him. Out!!!

10:37 p.m. - Reggie Jackson's in the broadcast booth. I love listening to his stories. I remember watching Game 6 of the 1977 World Series when Reggie hit those 3 HRs. I was 10 years old, and that was the moment I fell in love with the Yankees mystique.

10:57 p.m. - Good job, Joba!

10:59 p.m. - This Irish Tenor guy's voice moves me to tears. I'm usually not a "God Bless the U.S. of A!" type of person...but looking at the American flag while listening to him sing "God Bless America" is pretty damned touching.

11:12 p.m. - Yikes! That was ugly...thank you, O's! Yanks up 6-3, middle of the 7th.

11:17 p.m. - O's helped us out a little bit there, too. Oy.

11:18 p.m. - Pudge on deck!!! (swoon)

11:19 p.m. - Cano with a sac fly...Yanks up 7-3!!

11:20 p.m.. - Hmmmm...by my count, the O's should have two errors rather than one. I guess the scorer is feeling generous tonight.

11:24 p.m. - Of course, you let Mo close it out tonight. It doesn't matter if it's a save situation or not. You give the ball to Mo for the last game at the real Yankee Stadium.

11:29 p.m. - Joe G is letting the youngsters play. Cody Ransom and Brett Gardner are in. What a great memory in their young careers.

11:31 p.m. - The O's are looking very Bad News Bear-ish for the last couple of innings.

11:32 p.m. - Derek Jeter is 0-5 tonight. That ain't right.

11:33 p.m. - "Enter Sandman" is being played for the last time at Yankee Stadium now...announcing the entrance of MARIANO RIVERA! If you have never been at Yankee Stadium while Metallica blares over the P.A. system as Mo comes onto the field, then you will never understand how it feels to be there--no matter how hard I try to explain it. Electric!!!

11:37 p.m. - Out 1. I can't believe the final game at Yankee Stadium is almost over.

11:39 p.m. - 2 down.

11:39 p.m. - Jeter is leaving the game to a huge ovation. He comes out of the dugout to tip his hat. What a moment.

11:41 p.m. - The Yankees win! Thaaaaaaaaaaaaa Yankees win the final game at Yankee Stadium 7-3! I could just cry.

11:43 p.m. - Jose Molina (of The Catching Molinas) hit the final HR at Yankee Stadium. How about that?

11:43 p.m. - Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York" is blaring over the P.A. system at Yankee Stadium for the last time. I could just cry.

11:45 p.m. - Players from both sides are scooping up dirt from the pitcher's mound. Even the stars want a souvenir!

11:46 p.m. - Jorge looks like he could cry. How disappointing for him to not be able to catch tonight. I could just cry.

11:47 p.m. - The Captain is speaking to the crowd, and each player is tipping his cap to the fans. I am now wiping tears from my face.

11:52 p.m. - Watching The Captain lead the entire team as they walk around the perimeter of the stadium and interact with fans is not helping matters for me, emotionally speaking.

11:56 p.m. - What a marvelous celebration! No one seems to want to leave. Players are lingering around on the field, and the stands are still full. I guess everyone's coming to the realization that this is the last time they'll ever be in Yankee Stadium, and they want to savor it.

11:57 p.m. - I love Mariano Rivera's accent.

Midnight - Goodbye, Yankee Stadium. Thank you for everything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

All Cried Out---Not

I thought I had finished all of my crying over Tucker. However, I discovered two nights ago that this is not the case after all.

The night that Tucker died, I paid the vet clinic almost $400; I put it on a credit card with no qualms because 1) Tucker was worth every penny and more...and 2) I knew that I would receive some reimbursement from my pet insurance policy. I have put off filing the claim because it was too painful to have to deal with it at the time. I even considered not filing at all because I simply did not want to re-live any of it (you have to complete a narrative explanation of the medical event). But as I looked over my Capital One statement on Sunday night, it occurred to me that I need to file this claim so that I can get my balance paid down. Besides, it had already been 2 months and 18 days since he'd died (but who's counting?); that was ample time for me to get myself into a better emotional state, right?


I began to fill out the claim form, and--to my surprise--I cried. As I wrote his name, his gender, and his breed, the tears began to flow. By the time I finished writing the entire blow-by-blow for the narrative portion, I was sobbing as hard as I did on the night that he died. I cried for a good half hour afterwards until I finally fell asleep.

I called the after hours clinic yesterday to ask if I could take the claim form there this week so that the attending vet (Dr. Ewing) could sign it. I started to cry during the conversation, and I kept crying afterwards. I'm quite certain that I'll cry when I enter the clinic tomorrow night and wait for Dr. Ewing to sign my form.

Last night, I forced myself to watch videos I made of Tucker. This was the first time I've watched any of them since he died. I thought that I should just bite the bullet and meet my grief head on. Over and over and over again I watched the video I've posted here. I cried each time I watched it, but in a good way. I felt liberated and relieved after having done so.

I wanted to share the video here, but the file was too big to upload onto Blogger. Much to my chagrin, I posted it on You Tube so that I can embed it here. I'm reluctant to use You Tube because this video is very special to me, and I really do not want to expose it to the cowardly Internet idiots who post abusive and mean-spirited comments while they hide behind their online anonymity. Therefore, I have disabled the comments function on You Tube. The idiots can look but they can't touch.

This was taped last October. I had just bought a new comforter set for my bed, and I was attempting to put the new bed skirt on. Tucker showed up and "helped". I love this video because you can see his bright eyes and sweet face. His facial expressions were always so sweet and knowing. He had just turned 13, but you can see how playful he was. He was definitely in touch with his inner kitten.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tina Fey IS Sarah Palin

Tina Fey and SNL listened to the cries of the masses, and they delivered! I knew she would nail it!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11

On the morning of September 11 2001, I was sitting at my desk at work trying to get caught up on some paperwork. Our receptionist informed me that I had a phone call; I picked up my phone and greeted the caller. It was my mother, and she said she was calling all of her kids just to tell us that she loved us. While I thought this was sweet, it also struck me as a little odd. I asked, "Is everything okay, Mom?" She asked if I had heard about the plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. I told her I had heard something about it, and I figured it was a small privately owned plane being piloted by someone who didn't quite know what they were doing. I mean really---how else could you explain an airplane accidentally running into the tallest building in the United States? This was the only explanation that was comprehensible to me. Mom then informed me that two planes had flown into the World Trade Center, and another plane had just crashed into the Pentagon. Mom said "I think we're under attack." I told Mom that I loved her, and I quickly hung up and went downstairs to the offices there to watch the news on television.

Co-workers, patients, and family members had already gathered around the television. Not a word was being spoken. Each person was staring blankly at the television screen as they watched the towers burning. I joined them and stared silently at the television as the CNN crew reported on the events unfolding in front of us. When the first tower collapsed, my heart simply broke. Up until that moment, I had hope that there would be more survivors than fatalities. I said out loud (to no one in particular) "I wonder how many people just died?" When the second tower collapsed, I started to cry and I had to walk away from the television.

I went home to my apartment for lunch because I wanted to call my friend who lived in the NYC suburbs and worked in Manhattan. I called her home number and was pleasantly surprised (and thrilled!) to hear her voice when she answered the phone. She had not gone to work that day, and she was home with her sons. Thankfully, she had already spoken with her husband (who also worked in Manhattan) and her brother (who worked and lived in Manhattan). They were both okay, but it didn't look like her hubby would be able to get out of Manhattan that day, so he was going to spend the night with his brother-in-law. I remember her voice sounded flat and sad.

I went back to work, but I was pretty useless for the rest of the day. We all were. One of my co-workers had a son who worked in the financial district, and we were all on edge until she finally received a phone call from him near the end of the workday. We were all relieved to know that he was safe.

I remember feeling sad and depressed for the rest of the day and for a few weeks afterwards. September 11 is a sad day for me. I watch the documentaries on The History Channel each year so that I can remember and reflect. Eight years later, the impact of that horrible day hits me just as hard as it did in 2001. I feel like it's my duty and my responsibility to remember and think about everyone who died in NYC, Washington DC, and Shanksville PA, as well as the survivors.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Though all are different, all are great" ***

As I was sitting with a dying patient the other night, her family and I began the inevitable discussion of life after death. The dying woman had been reaching her arms up towards the sky, and she periodically opened her eyes and appeared to be watching or looking at something or someone or someplace that was unseen by the rest of us. This behavior is common, and I see it at most every death with very few exceptions. Most of my patients are Christian, and they tell me they are unafraid of death because they know they are going to Heaven. However, what they are afraid of is the actual process of dying...the transition from this world into the next. Will there be pain? Will there be light? Will they make the transition by themselves? How will they know what to do? It is my personal belief that God is well aware of these fears. And so He eases that fear by sending someone from Heaven to assure the dying person and to guide them. A vast majority of my patients have conversations with people who are unseen by anyone else. More often than not, they see their deceased mothers. Sometimes it's a spouse, a father, or a child who has died. Sometimes they report seeing angels. This is what I believe was happening to the woman I was with the other night. She was seeing into the afterlife, and there were people she loved who were coming to greet her.

This experience got my wheels to turning about religion and the various religious beliefs that exist on this great big planet of ours. It has always been my nature to question the norm. I do not question it just for the sake of being argumentative. I do not question it because I am doubting my own beliefs. Usually, I am questioning simply out of curiosity. When I'm questioning religous beliefs, I find that people get defensive and tend to end the discussion rather quickly. It's not my intention to offend people; but I do like to talk about religion from a philosophical point of view, as well as a faith-based one. I like to ask lots of "what if" questions.

A co-worker of mine, who happens to be a nurse, shared with me that a recently deceased patient of hers had reported seeing Jesus prior to her death. The patient described Jesus has being Caucasian, having rosy cheeks, and having long brown hair. My co-worker smirked and cited this vision as evidence that Jesus' physical appearance was just as she herself had always pictured it...fair-skinned with long straight brown hair. I suggested that perhaps Jesus appeared to her patient specficially in that form so that she would recognize him. Perhaps Jesus did not look anything like that while he walked on the Earth, but if had he appeared to this woman in an unfamiliar form, she would not have recognized him. She may not have been open to this vision or been comforted by it, so he appeared to her in the only form that she knew. This seemed to offend my co-worker, and I guess I had rained on her parade a little bit. Again, it was not my intention to ruffle any feathers; I was truly only speculating out loud.

I once had a deaf patient who communicated only with American Sign Language. He had been deaf since birth, and he had never spoken a word or heard one. I was sitting with him as he was dying, and suddenly his eyes flew open. He pointed at something/someone unseen by me, and he followed it around the room with his eyes and with his finger. He looked at me with an incredulous expression on his face, as if to ask "Did you see that?" There was not an interpreter present, so I couldn't ask what he saw. I wondered if he saw angels, and that lead to another speculative question: Would an angel use sign language to speak to him? If an angel truly speaks (in the verbal sense) in a vision, wouldn't it stand to reason that he or she would speak in the native tongue of the person who is having the vision? So I had this beautiful image in my head of an angel using sign language to speak to my patient. I mentioned this to another co-worker, and she was pretty adamant that the angel wouldn't need to speak sign language because the patient would be "healed" and "perfect" upon entering Heaven, and he would be able to hear. I countered with "Maybe God doesn't consider deafness to be an imperfection...maybe that's something that we mortals have decided." What if "healing" someone who has known only deafness for his entire life would be like "healing" someone because they have blue eyes? My feeling was that perhaps if this patient has never heard a spoken word before, then there would be no need for him to have the ability to hear in Heaven...? My co-worker took great offense to this and snapped "Well, I know he's going to be perfect when he gets to Heaven, and he'll be healed from his deafness!" She walked away in a bit of a huff, thereby ending our debate.

So my questions ( I mean them rhetorically, but I'm open to reading responses) are these: When a person is seeing into the afterlife as they prepare to die, do they see the afterlife as it truly exists? Or is it all about one's own personal perception? Does God (or whatever Higher Being you believe in) send visions that are tailor-made to that person's personal beliefs? Visions that are manifested in a way that is consistent with that person's own experiences?

As I mentioned earlier, the community I serve is mostly Christian. After working eleven years with this hospice, I can count the number of non-Christian patients I've served on one hand. I've never been with a non-Christian in the last moments of his or her life. I think it would be interesting to sit with a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, or a member of another world religion and observe their behavior as they die. Will they also reach to Heaven? Will they see Jesus? Will they see angels? Will they see loved ones who have died? Or will their experience be something completely different because of their different perceptions and beliefs?

I will add these questions to my "Things to Ask God When I Get To Heaven" list.
***From "The Stairs", a song by INXS, referring to the different faiths around the world