Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bag It.

Has it become standard procedure for the cashier/check out person at the store to NOT hand you your bags when you complete a purchase? Seriously... this seems to be happening more and more often lately.

I first noticed it a while back, on one of our rare trips to WalMart. We went through the checkout, paid for our purchases, and the cashier didn't bother to hand us our bags. We had to spin the little bag thingy around and get them ourselves. I just figured, "Well, that's what I get for shopping at WalMart." (Have I told y'all how much I hate WalMart?? We'll occasionally venture into the new one near us, but mostly only because they carry the brand and flavor of yogurt Mr. RM likes.)

Then it happened at Publix once or twice. On one such occasion, there was even a cashier AND a bagboy, and neither bothered to hand me my bags. They just stood there jibber jabbering with one another while I had to reach over the bag stand to get my bags.

Yesterday, it happened at Target. And not only did the young man not hand me my bags, he proceeded to start ringing up the customer behind me before I could finish gathering my bags myself! What kind of freakin' customer service is THAT?? I'm generally friendly and nice to store staff members, so it's not like they're doing it because I've pissed 'em off. What's the deal?

I know... it sounds like a trivial point. Yes, I'm perfectly capable of picking up my own bags, but it's often a bit awkward trying to wrangle them from the customer side of the checkout counter. Plus, I just think it's kind of rude for the cashier not to at least assist with the bags. It's just plain poor customer service. Or maybe it's just me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Bodhi Day

Image borrowed from the internet.
Today, Buddhists around the world are celebrating Bodhi Day. For many Buddhists, December 8th is recognized as the day that Siddhartha Guatama, after fasting and meditating beneath the Bodhi tree for 49 days, attained enlightenment and became the Buddha.

I'm not Buddhist, I'm more of a confused Taoist with Buddhist leanings, but I really like (and try to follow) a lot of the principles that Buddhism teaches. That's why I enjoy recognizing Bodhi Day as a way to honor those principles. And so I had a breakfast of rice and milk this morning, which legend says is the first meal the Buddha had upon his awakening. (Although I put a little cinnamon and sugar in mine.)

I'll also decorate my "Bodhi" tree tonight. Sure, it's really just a silk ficus tree, but it happily holds a string of colored lights (to represent the many pathways to enlightenment), a few strands of colored beads (to represent how all things are connected) and three shiny ornaments (to represent the Three Jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha). I'll also string some colored lights around my front door. And I'll try to remember to turn on the lights, and light a candle as well, for the next 30 days.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
I'll also try to remember to practice the kind of mindfulness that Buddhism teaches. Hopefully, I can keep carrying that throughout the year.

By the way, did you know that the Dalai Lama has his own Facebook page? I don't know if it's REALLY his page, but it wouldn't surprise me. He's such a cool guy! No, seriously... this dude is made of awesome. He's funny, smart, well grounded and has some solid ideas on how people should live and behave. Who wouldn't want to friend him? His page ALMOST makes me want to reconsider my steadfast avoidance of Facebook.

If you'd like to learn more about how to celebrate Bodhi Day, you can find some info here, and here, and even here. Or you can Google for yourself!

Whatever your personal beliefs, I wish you all an enlightened Bodhi Day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dysfunction Defusion

The holiday season if fast approaching, and with it comes a lot of family stress for many folks. But your ol' pal, Remarkable Monkey, is here to help. I'm gonna share an amazing technique I've discovered that can instantly defuse most common family-dysfunction situations.

I stumbled upon this miraculous technique last Christmas at my in-laws. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my husband's family and they're really nice people. They're usually pleasant to be around and we generally have a good time. That being said, like a lot of families, tensions sometimes run high on holidays. Unreasonable expectations combined with crankiness, personal issues and family members pushing each others' buttons can bring things to the boiling point. That's just not fun for me, and I don't enjoy being around that, so I figured out a way to defuse it fast.

Here's the deal... Ya know how in every church choir and/or congregation, there's always one lady who fancies herself an opera singer? And ya know how that lady will sing in a very loud operatic style, badly? (You KNOW what I'm talking about!) Next time you're at a family holiday gathering and the bickering and button-pushing are reaching critical mass, just start singing carols at the top of your lungs, church-lady style. Your family will think you've lost your mind, but it's an instant tension releaser! Works like a charm, and is usually effective by just first or second line of whatever song you choose.

I just tried it again at my in-laws on Thanksgiving this year, and not only did it help keep everyone's mood light when folks started getting testy, my bro- and sis-in-law joined in a few times!

Remember... just sing those carols really loudly, and really badly in opera style. They'll probably laugh or start researching mental facilities for you. Either way, at least YOU'll have fun! Or maybe it's just me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Seasonal Deliciousness Addendum...

I forgot to include this little item of food heaven in my previous post... Philadelphia Soft Cream Cheese in Pumpkin Spice flavor, another limited edition seasonal item. This stuff is awesome! Almost like pumpkin cheesecake in a tub! I've been spreading it on toasted whole grain Eggos and it makes them quite tasty, but I bet it would be FANTASTIC on graham crackers or even ginger snaps. Mmmmmm.... on ginger snaps..... ***drooooool!*** I'm gonna have to try that, I think.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seasonal Deliciousness...

It's that time of year... the time when we get to enjoy tasty treats that, for some reason, we usually only get this time of year. You already know how I feel about Publix Pumpkin Pie ice cream (swoooon!). I know a lot of you look forward to the autumn return of Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Latte. I had a taste of somebody's once, but wasn't crazy about it myself. I recently tried the Salted Caramel Mocha Latte (iced) though, and found it interesting enough that I'll probably eventually get another one.

Mr. Remarkable Monkey is quite fond of Chick-Fil-A's Peppermint Chocolate Chip shake. I'm not a big fan of the mint/chocolate combo in general, but he sure enjoys them! He's also been diggin' the Sam Adams Octoberfest beer.

The one thing that I REALLY wanted to try this year was Kellogg's Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts. I gave up Pop Tarts years ago, except for special occasions like vacations or hurricane watches in our area, but the lure of a pumpkin pie flavored version intrigued me. As luck would have it, I didn't get around to shopping for them until last week, when apparently it was pretty much too late. I searched several Target stores and a couple WalMarts with no luck... all were sold out. I considered ordering them from Amazon, but figured nah... I'd just wait until next year. And then an angel that I work with, who knew of my fruitless search, acquired a box from a WalMart near her parents' house... they must live in a fairly remote area outside of town or something, because nobody else could find them. So this angel bestowed a family pack box of Pumpkin Pie flavored Pop Tart goodness on me. Mmmmm! They are delish! Being the Pop Tarts that they are, they're maybe just a little too sweet, but toast one up and it's almost like a single serving pastry pocket of pumpkin pie. At 200 calories each, I've so far managed to limit myself to having just one per day, for dessert. (I'm out of Publix Pumpkin Pie ice cream at the moment anyway.)

I guess I have thing for pumpkin-y deliciousness (aside from the Pumpkin Spice Lattes, which maybe I should give another whirl). I'm thinking I need to get myself over to The Fresh Market for a loaf of their moist, delicious pumpkin bread. I'm also planning to make pumpkin bars soon for the gang at work as a thanks for their support of my efforts in the Making Strides event. I'll also make some pumpkin dog cookies for my beloved Hobey and some of his pals.

And don't even get me started on Thanksgiving... I'm already drooling just thinking about next Thursday's dinner with turkey, mashed potatoes, sliced sauteed brussels sprouts. Mr. RM will insist on green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole, also tasty. And of course, I'll be having pumpkin pie!

What are some of YOUR favorite seasonal or holiday treats?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monkey at the Movies: Moneyball

Mr. Remarkable Monkey and I finally got around to seeing "Moneyball" last week. It was pretty good. In case you don't know, it's based on the Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his quest to find a way to field a winning MLB team for the 2002 season with one of the lowest payrolls in the league.

I'm not an avid baseball fan, so some of the references and info probably went over my head, but the film holds up and is interesting for even a casual fan like myself. It's also a very quiet movie... literally. There seemed to be several scenes with periods of complete silence. That's not a bad thing... it just struck me as unusual in this era of explosions and loud rockin' soundtracks. I don't remember the last time I was in a movie theater and noticed such stillness... like everyone was trying not to munch their popcorn or rattle their candy wrappers too loudly during those quiet scenes.

Anyway, the movie gives you and inside look at what it took to build that 2002 A's team, and what it took to turn their slow start into a winning season. It wasn't easy. Billy Beane and his assistant GM Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) were trying to do things much differently than other MLB teams. Brand had earned an economics degree from Yale, and had a completely different approach on how to draft players. Together, they implemented Brand's system, and though it didn't win them the World Series, it got them close. It also made an impression on other teams, which is evident in the film's closing scenes. (Think 2004 Red Sox.)

One thing in the movie that bothered me was Pitt's frequent use of "dip", and the accompanying spitting into cups, etc. I realize he was probably trying to be true to the real life Billy Beane, but I found it terribly distracting and totally unnecessary. If it had somehow been integral to the plot or the character, it may not have seemed so gratuitous. But it didn't really add anything, and I would hate for younger boys to think it's cool since Brad Pitt did it in that baseball movie.

Overall, it was definitely worth the price of a matinee. Not sure how much longer it will be in theaters, so catch it quick or check it out on dvd, pay-per-view, Netflix or however you prefer to watch movies at home.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloweener...

I wore this to work today since it's Halloween.
Them: "Hey Remarkable Monkey, nice halloween hat. What's the B stand for?"

Me: "I'm a witch with a capital B... duh."

Them: "How is that different from any other day?"

Me: "Today I'm wearing a hat."

Them: "Where's your broom?"

Me: "I shoved it up someone's ass for asking stupid questions and making snarky remarks."

(Previous conversation happened only in good fun.)

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guess They've Never Seen a Pink Ribbon...

So... my funbags continue to provide me with hours of "entertainment". Get this... the benefits summary of my health insurance plan states that it covers "Preventive Mammography (within recognized standard guidelines)" at 100% with no deductible. And yet, they are denying coverage of the annual mammogram I had in July because it was a "diagnostic" mammogram and not a "screening" mammogram. WTF???? Seriously? Damn insurance company bastards!

Nowhere in any of the materials that I can find does it say diagnostic mammograms are not included. Any reasonable person would infer that one annual mammogram, regardless of how it's coded when billed, would be covered, right? Every annual mammogram I've had until now has always been covered as part of the 100% pre-deductible preventive care stuff, and they've been "diagnostic" for at least the past five or six years thanks to my dense breast tissue, cysts and family history. This is the first time I've run into this situation, and it stinks.

This is a new insurance company for me since my employer seems to change plans almost every year trying to save money. Fortunately, although I have $5,000 deductible, my employer generously covers a large percentage of it, so this mammogram will ultimately end up on their dime. But what about women who's employers don't help out with deductible costs? What happens when they go in for their annual mammogram, thinking it's covered under their preventive package, and then get stuck with a $400+ bill? If their budget is much tighter than mine, it would be difficult for them to come up with the funds to pay it. And it would probably lead to many women skipping this life-saving preventive tool! It's just not right, I tell ya. I won't mention this craptacular insurance company's name, but I will tell you that it rhymes with "oven tree".

The billing department at the facility where I had my mammogram done said they're seeing this situation more often. I did some quick Google research this afternoon, and learned that some companies do not make a distinction between "diagnostic" and "screening" mammograms... both are covered at 100% pre-deductible as part of their preventive packages. Kudos to those companies! That's the way it SHOULD be done. A mammogram is preventive regardless of whether it's diagnostic or simple screening, and it should be covered as part of any pre-deductible preventive package that includes mammography.

I've gotten nowhere arguing this point with my S.O.B. insurance company, but a customer service manager there DID suggest that I file a grievance/appeal, which I will do. I also contacted every local network media outlet today and suggested they look into this situation, since October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month is coming to a close in a week. I doubt any of them actually will, but I hope they do because I really think women need to be aware of it.

It's wrong, wrong WRONG! Well, I think so anyway. But maybe it's just me.

Ladies, don't let it keep you from getting your annual mammogram... most of you won't be getting the "diagnostic" version anyway, but just be aware of it. Check your benefits coverage, and work with your healthcare provider to try and avoid these *%&@# insurance issues. Take care of your boobies!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pack 'Em Like Sardines...

I traveled by air recently, which is never much fun these days. All things considered, this trip wasn't too bad, with two flight legs each way. Aside from a slight delay from our point of origin (both going AND on our return trip), everything was pretty much on schedule. The planes on all four flights were packed though, and as we boarded each one, I had to wonder why the hell the airlines insist on boarding from front to back.

If you've flown recently, you know the drill... They begin the boarding process by allowing first class passengers and those who need assistance to board first. Then they call each "zone" one by one, starting with the front of the plane and working toward the back of the plane. This is what doesn't make sense, and I'll tell you why: Boarding front to back causes slow boarding and uncomfortable passengers.

Think about it... as passengers seated near the front get on the plane, they pause to put their carry-on luggage in the racks before sitting. Meanwhile, the passengers behind them are forced to stop and wait until they're done and sit down. So now you have people standing in the narrow aisle of the plane with their luggage, waiting for the aisle to clear so they can move along. As the plane slowly fills, the passengers already seated in the front are in peril of getting banged around by other boarding passengers as they struggle down the aisle toward the rear of the plane with their luggage.

Seems like it would be a whole lot easier and quicker to load the plane from back to front. Sure, go ahead and let your high-dollar first class fares on first if you want, but then board the rest of the lemmings back to front. Once the rearmost passengers from, say, Zone 5 are on board, Zone 4 passengers could board without having to wait for Zone 5 passengers to get their luggage into the bins and sit down. Then Zone 3 could board faster, etc. etc. Don't you think that would help prevent passengers from having to stand in the aisles waiting to get to their seat location?

I think it would be a better, more efficient, more comfortable way to do it. But maybe it's just me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Treats for the Ta-Tas...

Pink Ribbon Pink Lemonade Bars
I'm well on my way to meeting my fundraising goal for the upcoming Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event, but I'm still a little short. So I recently made some lemon bars to take to work to try and coax some donations out of my coworkers. But in honor of the reason behind them, I decided to tint 'em pink. Then I had an idea to REALLY tie it all together with the purpose... I masked off part of the surface with ribbon cutouts before sprinkling the powdered sugar on top, and voila! Pink Ribbon Pink Lemonade Bars!

The extra effort was worth it. I think they turned out looking fabulous, if I do say so myself. And thanks to my generous co-workers, they got me $23 closer to my goal! Not too shabby.

I sent some pink tinted Rice Krispies treats to work with my husband this morning... here's hoping his coworkers are as generous as mine!

We're nearly halfway through October, which is breast cancer awareness month. Don't forget to schedule your annual mammogram and breast exam ladies, and be sure to support anyone you know who is fundraising for the cause this month if you can! Even small donations make a difference... they add up!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

We Lost Our Jobs



The world lost a true visionary yesterday when Steve Jobs, the co-founder and public face of Apple, apparently succumbed to pancreatic cancer. The world as we know it is a vastly different place than it would have been without his contributions. Think about it:

Macintosh computers changed the way we work, and made home computers friendly and accessible to the common man.

Pixar Studios, which Steve Jobs got involved with after his temporary ouster from Apple, changed the way animated movies are made, creating new programs to improve computer graphic animation (and they continue to innovate).

iPod changed the way we listen to and store music.

iTunes changed the way we purchase music and video.

iPhone changed pretty much everything about mobile phones.

As a graphic designer, I'm not sure I'd still be doing what I do for a living if not for Steve Jobs and the innovations that Apple brought to the industry. Twenty-five or so years ago, there was a dynamic shift in the graphic design world due to the arrival of the Macintosh computer on the scene. A few years later, at my first job in the business, I was lucky enough to work for a company that embraced the new technology of the Mac. Even so, we still had to produce a lot of paste-up mechanicals, which included cutting rubylith and amberlith for simple separations, calculating cropping and resizing of photographs, and shooting and developing stats on the big stat camera in the darkroom. Creating "camera-ready art" actually included a camera! And a huge one at that... not the kind we'd all be carrying in our mobile phones a couple decades later.

The Macintosh changed all that. Creating a layout became a fluid task, with the ability to change things like size and position on the fly. The whole process became exponentially faster and easier. It kinda seems that making tasks exponentially faster and easier is a common theme with all Apple products. And those products keep on spawning copycats and imitators, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I'll freely admit I'm a staunch Macophile and Apple fan.

It was only 10 years ago, on October 23, 2001, that Apple launched the iPod. Can you remember life without a portable music library and player? The first iPhone debuted just four years ago. Most people today can't live without one, or at least some kind of smart phone.

The Mac. The iPod. The iPhone. They changed everything. As my husband said, Steve Jobs was a world shaker. I don't know what the world will be like without him in it, but I'm guessing it will probably shake a lot less.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

20 Years? Nevermind!

It was September 24, 1991 when Nirvana's Nevermind was released. Has it really been 20 years? I've been enjoying listening to the tracks and some great covers on Minnesota Public Radio's The Current this past week, in celebration of the anniversary of its release. For some reason, I haven't listened to the CD in ages. Maybe because for some reason it never got imported to my iPod. And you know what? With the possible exception of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which was played to death on commercial radio, all the tracks still sound fresh and relevant.

I remember the day I got the record 20 years ago. I used to frequently stop by a great little indie record shop on my way home from work, the now defunct Vinyl Fever (R.I.P.). I can't remember what prompted me to buy it... I think I may have heard it playing in the shop. It was right around the release date, and it was the freshest, coolest sound I'd heard in a long time. It so raw, and honest, and so... rock n' roll.

I remember playing the CD for my then-bandmate, now-husband. I said, "You've gotta hear this band!" He listened, and said that all the songs sounded the same. (I will never let him live that comment down, by the way!) But within a week or two, he was playing that CD every single day when I got home from work. Every single day. We ended up covering a couple of the songs with our band, and Nirvana really influenced Mr. Remarkable Monkey's songwriting. That record was a game changer not just for us, but for the entire music world. It ushered in the "Seattle sound" of the time, later known as "grunge". Unfortunately, as with all musical genres, commercial success brought with it scores of mediocre copycats. Grunge eventually became a watered-down shadow of itself. But dust off that old Nevermind CD, or listen to it for the first time... it still shines!

While you're at it, pull out your copy of Pearl Jam's Ten, another great frontrunner of the grunge sound and 20 years old this year, released about a month before Nirvana's Nevermind. It was also played to death on commercial radio in the early 90's, but if you haven't heard it in a while, you'll be surprised at how great it still sounds.

Want to explore the original Seattle sound a little more? Try these:
- Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger
- Mudhoney's SuperFuzz BigMuff EP
- Mother Love Bone's Apple


Or pick up an old SubPop Records compilation CD if you can find one. And don't forget Nirvana's earlier release Bleach, and subsequent CDs, Incesticide and In Utero. Explore some other non-Seattle alternative bands of the time, like Dinasaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. Check out some early Jane's Addiction, early Smashing Pumpkins, early 90s Red Hot Chili Peppers, maybe even a little early Radiohead. That music was a big part of the soundtrack of my somewhat misspent youth, back in the days of my early adulthood, when the world was still wide open in front of me and my youthful dreams were still a possibility. And after all this time, they're still damn fun to listen to!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gotta Get A Fix!

 Oh, snap! Look what's back on Publix store shelves! (AND it's on sale this week. Woot!) This stuff is like crack to me. On one hand, I'm SOOO happy to see it in stock already. On the other hand, it seems a bit too early for a holiday-ish flavor.

I don't care... I'm gettin' me some!

Oooohhh yeah, Baby! That's the stuff!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Preparing to Become a Temporary Spud

Gonna be watching a lot of TV in the next two or three weeks. The fall season is upon us, with new episodes and new shows. CBS starts it off for us tonight, with the return of How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men. I don't know how long I'll bother to watch the Men... I'd kinda lost interest in it a season or two ago... but I'm looking forward to seeing how they kill off Charlie and bring in Ashton Kutcher's character. Not a big fan of Kutcher's either. Angus T. Jones (Jake) and Conchata Ferrell (Berta) are the best part of the show these days if you ask me.

After all the "Tiger Blood" and "Winning" hoopla and the rest of Charlie Sheen's mental meltdown craziness this summer, it was nice to see him last night on the Emmy Award show, looking sober and healthy (though a bit too thin). Kudos to him for wishing his former cast members success with the show. I kept waiting for the sucker punch, but it looks like he was actually sincere. Bless his heart, maybe he really has gotten himself together.

Photo: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Speaking of the Emmy Awards, the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series stole the show with their pageant finalists gimmick. High-larious! And did you catch Martha Plimpton in that lineup? She looked absolutely STUNNING in that gorgeous dress! She's come a long way since The Goonies!

You go, Martha!

AP Photo: Chris Pizzello

Martha in "The Goonies"
Warner Bros. 1985




Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alright now!

Maybe it's just me, but every time I see a bottle of Sweet Leaf Tea, I think of the classic 1971 Black Sabbath song of the same name. It makes me giggle a little bit because part of the tea company's logo is a cartoon of the grandmother of one of the founders. And then Mr. Remarkable Monkey and I will start doing the song: "Dah nah... nah nah naaah... nah nah! Dah nah... nah nah naaah... nah nah!" I gotta wonder if Grandma Mimi has ever heard the song.

   And then I wonder if the founders actually DID name their company with that song in mind. Seems plausible, considering the idea was born while one of the founders was living on a sailboat in the Florida Keys. Sounds like a sweet leaf kinda lifestyle to me... and one WOULD probably experience frequent cravings for a quenching beverage if partaking of THAT kind of sweet leaf often.


I checked out Sweet Leaf Tea's website, and it seems like a cool company. And their bottled tea isn't bad, although the southern girl in me prefers fresh brewed.

"Dah nah... nah nah naaah... nah nah!"
That song will be in your head all day now.
You're welcome.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Ten Years Later

Photo from 911memorial.org webcam.
Photo credit: Craig Ruttle. From newsday.com website.
Has it really been 10 years since the 9/11 attacks? On one hand, it seems like only yesterday. On the other hand, it seems like a lifetime ago. I saw images of the memorial park at Ground Zero today... with the two square waterfalls in the footprint of the towers, etched with the victims' names. It struck me as beautifully simple and elegant at first. Then it occurred to me how the water cascading down into the footprints of those buildings seemed reminiscent of the towers perpetually collapsing. Maybe that's what the designer intended, so we'd never forget how so many lost their lives there. As if anyone could.

Like just about everyone who was over the age of five or six at the time, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at 9:03 a.m. that Tuesday morning 10 years ago today. I remember noticing what a beautiful day it was here that morning... warm but not very humid, with a cloudless deep blue sky. I was sitting at my desk at work, when a coworker came in and said "Did you hear? A plane crashed into the World Trade Center." When the second plane hit the towers, we all knew it was no accident. My first thought was "Bet Osama Bin Laden is behind it."

My second thought was "Oh shit... my mom and her husband are traveling back from a trip to Italy today... I know she's coming through New York to Chicago (they lived in Illinois at the time)... Is she safe?" I was relieved to learn a short time later that the flights that hit the twin towers originated in Boston, so Mom wouldn't have been on them. Then I started wondering if she'd be able to to get home at all, since flights were being grounded after the third and fourth crashes at the Pentagon and the field near Shanksville, PA. I had no way to reach her... she didn't have a cell phone at the time, and I doubt it would have been on if she had. It wasn't until much later that day when she called me from home that I learned for sure she was safe.

Here's where it gets a little freaky... they flew into New York City very late the night before, and were supposed to have flown on to Chicago that night. There was a problem with the connecting plane, however, and all the other flight crews were already at their max allowed hours. So the airline rescheduled them on a 9:00 or 10:00 flight to Chicago the next morning and put them up for the rest of the night in NYC. When they brought the passengers back to the airport at around 5:00 a.m. the next morning, my mom explained to the ticket agent that they'd been up travelling for more than 24 hours and asked if she could bump them to first class. The ticket agent said, "No, but I can get you on an earlier flight." So instead of the 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. flight, which probably would have been grounded, they flew out of LaGuardia at 7:00-ish the morning of the 11th. My mom told me that as they took off and flew over the city, she glanced out the window and said "Oh look! There's the World Trade Center!" Little did she (or anyone) know that a plane like theirs would smash into that landmark less than two hours later.

As she and her husband flew from NYC to Chicago that morning, they were blissfully unaware of the events unfolding that were fundamentally changing our country. When they landed in Chicago, they grabbed their bags, picked up their car and started the 3- or 4-hour drive to their home. They were listening to CDs on the ride, and only turned on the radio when they got close to their town. That's when they first heard the reports of the attacks. She said they thought it was a hoax, like Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" radio drama. It wasn't until they were home and saw the news on TV that they realized it was real. That's when she called me. I can't tell you how glad I am that she was on that early flight instead of a later one.

I also found out later that my cousin was in NYC that day for a meeting that was to be held in one of buildings in the World Trade Center compound, though I don't think it was in one of the twin towers. She and her group of coworkers were among the masses who walked across the bridge to New Jersey after the attacks. I don't know if she was still in the immediate area when the towers fell. If I remember correctly, she was stranded for several days at the NJ home of her company's president, along with the rest of her group, until she was able to arrange transportation back home to the Carolinas.

While I feel fortunate that I lost no loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, I think we ALL lost a little piece of our souls that day. It's still difficult to accept that there is such barbaric evil in the world... that a handful of human beings could so willfully and callously inflict such immediate and horrific damage to other human beings. It would have been terrible enough just to have flown the planes into the twin towers... I don't think even the perpetrators foresaw the subsequent collapse and the exponentially increased trauma it caused, though I'm sure they WOULD have planned it that way if possible. And on top of the grief I felt already, I was sickened at seeing the joyous street celebrations by some Islamic groups in the Middle East at the news of our tragedy.

Because of this act of terrorism and the cruel celebration of it by a few Islamic extremists, Muslims everywhere now seem to be looked at with suspicion and distrust. I think that's a shame. I don't think it's right to judge an entire group of people by the act of a few. The truth is, ANY group that has the potential to spin off extremist factions can be just as dangerous and deadly as the 9/11 attackers, and have been in the past. There's the homegrown Oklahoma City and Atlanta Olympics bombings, perpetrated by our own citizens. Centruries ago, Christians had the Crusades and later the Spanish Inquisition, and even today have been responsible for deadly bombings of women's health clinics and the murder of gays because of their differing beliefs. The Nazis committed genocide based on racial and cultural differences, and the KKK lynched and brutalized others based on race. Since the beginning of time, history is full of examples of man's inhumanity against man, motivated by nothing other than differences between groups. I wonder if it will ever end. I know that in the long run, things never turn out as the perpetrators of such terrorism hope for. We, as Americans, were NOT beaten by the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

People are resilient, and I still believe mankind is mostly good. So why all the unnecessary bloodshed? It seems the basic principle of every major religion essentially boils down to the Golden Rule of "treat others as you would like to be treated". Why can't we all just do that?

The Dalai Lama once said, "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

He also said, "Love and kindness are the very basis of society. If we lose these feelings, society will face tremendous difficulties; the survival of humanity will be endangered."

I don't personally ascribe to any organized religion, but I have to wonder what the world would be like if everyone was Buddhist. I can't imagine that terrorists and hatred could exist in such a world. It's a beautiful thought.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Time Marches On

My grandma had a birthday a few days ago. She's the only grandparent I have left. She turned 90-something I think... 95? 96? I can't remember. Which is probably okay because I don't think she remembers which birthday it is either. In fact, I'm not sure she was even aware it WAS her birthday. Dementia is gripping her tighter and tighter these days. But I knew it was her birthday and I thought about her.

I haven't seen her in more than a few years. She lives in a small town too far away for me to visit with any regularity. It takes an expensive plane trip and a fairly long drive regardless of what airport I'd fly into. And although it makes me feel sad (and a little guilty) that I haven't seen her in so long, I also wonder if maybe that's not such a bad thing. It's difficult to watch someone you love deteriorate and succumb to age (or any other illness or disease). I miss my Gma terribly, but the only benefit of not being able to see her often is that in my mind, she's still the vibrant, sassy woman I've known all my life, and not the increasingly frail and addled old lady who recently had to move to a more comprehensive care facility.

My Gma is a pistol, for sure! She was always independent-minded, brash and outspoken. She took very little sass, but could dish it out with the best of 'em! She's always been quite a fine, strong Southern woman. I'm lucky to have inherited some of her traits, even a few of the quirkier ones... like vocalizing random odd noises (kind of my own personal sound effects) and not being able to sit still without jiggling a foot or leg. She seemed pretty fearless to me, and self assured. That's how I'd like to remember her. Might be harder to do that if I saw her often in her current state. Although I WILL go and see her if the opportunity arises, because I love her and miss her.

Another loved one chalking up a big-number birthday is my beloved dog Hobey. We think his birthday is around Labor Day, and he's turning 11 this year. He's still a pistol himself, though he's showing more and more signs of age as well. He's a big dog, so 11 is pretty dang old! But he's really healthy and we're doing all we can to ward off senior canine issues. We're fortunate that he's in such great shape! He seems much younger than he is.

But there are times when I can't help but think of the inevitable... that one day in the not-to-distant future, I'll have to say a final goodbye to each of those two loved ones who are so special to me. I try not to dwell on it. I know it's part of life, although it's one of the saddest parts. You can't stop time... it just keeps flowing forward no matter what. So I try to enjoy my dog while he's here and in good health, and I think of my Gma often even though I can't visit and she probably wouldn't know me if did. And just like everybody else, I sometimes have to remind myself to appreciate each day as it comes. Time won't wait for you to catch up.

*Tick*Tick*Tick*

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's not about the swag, but...

When my mom was undergoing treatment for breast cancer a few years ago, I formed a team to participate in my area's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5k walk event. I figured I couldn't really do much to help my mom aside from giving her emotional support... I couldn't take the chemo and radiation for her, couldn't make her cancer disappear, couldn't snap my fingers and make the situation go away... but I COULD raise a few bucks for breast cancer research in her honor. Thanks to some fabulous teammates, our team ranked pretty high in fundraising for our event. If I recall correctly, I think we were number two, and one of our members was number one in fundraising by an individual. (We were all so proud of her!)

I haven't done it again since then, so when a good pal told me she was thinking of forming a team for this year's Making Strides event and asked if I'd be interested in joining her, I immediately said "Hell yeah!" She got the team registered last week, and thanks to a few crazy generous donations (Mom, Dad and a wonderful angel who wishes to remain anonymous) I've already exceeded my fundraising goal of $500. Woohooo! I'm thinking I should probably bump my goal a bit higher, considering there's still over a month and a half until the event. I'd LIKE to raise a gajillion dollars, but times are tight these days so I'd settle for $750 or $1000. Take THAT, breast cancer!

Anyway, I was looking at the sheet from the American Cancer Society that lists the "awards" for individual fundraising. You know how it works... depending on the amount you raise, you can choose a plastic cup or a tote bag or some other kind of tchotchke emblazoned with a pink ribbon and the event logo. It's a really nice thing for the ACS to do, but what the heck do I need another plastic cup or tote bag or tchotchke for? Don't get me wrong... I'm not in this thing for the prizes... but if you're gonna bestow awards in appreciation of the participants' fundraising efforts, why not make it something really useful instead of just a souvenir? And I had an idea for that...

You may recall that I've recently discovered Nordrostm's incredible lingerie department, right? Nordstrom's, that magical place where you can find just about any size bra you could ever need IN STOCK! (I love them.) But their bras are not inexpensive. So as an optional alternative to the pink-ribbon-emblazoned souvenirs, wouldn't it be cool if the Making Strides folks could work out a partnership with Nordstrom, and offer gifts cards worth $5 for every $100 raised that could be used in their bra department? Just think of the great PR it would be for Nordstrom, AND it would bring shoppers into their store. I think it's a great idea. But maybe it's just me.

At any rate, it won't happen this year, so I guess I'll just enjoy my plastic cup or tote bag. Like I said, I'm not participating for the awards anyway. My greatest reward is just knowing I've done a small part to help fight breast cancer. And to be fair, it really IS a nice-looking tote bag.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good Night, Irene!

Things were looking pretty sketchy weather-wise earlier this week, with big bad-ass Irene churning in the southern Atlantic. She pounded parts of the Caribbean and the Bahamas and seemed ready to pummel the Mid-Atlantic states as a Categeory 3 storm. Fortunately, the bitch got a little anexoric before hitting the outerbanks, weakening to a strong Category 1. 

While she left a few deaths and plenty of damage in her wake (and still is tonight as she continues her northward trek into Canada), things could have easily been MUCH worse. On her way north toward NYC, she blew through several major metropolitan areas. Can you imagine what might have happened had she traipsed through those cities as a stronger storm? That's a scary thought! I know a few people who live in her path, so I am mightily relieved that she lost a lot of her power before swirling through.

Those of us who live in the southern Atlantic states know all too well that although hurricane season officially began on June 1st, it's only just now really getting cranked up. Early- to mid-September is the peak, just around the corner. And while Irene is currently exiting the stage, Tropical Storm Jose has already popped up near Bermuda. Not much is expected of him, but a new tropical wave has also rolled off the coast of Africa with a 70% chance of developing into a storm. Something we'll have to keep an eye on over the next week or two.

Batten down the hatches and hold on to your hats, kids... this hurricane season could get a lot bumpier before it's over!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Monkey at the Movies: The Help

One of my husband's favorite things to do is go to the movies. We try to go at least once a month, and it's usually on Sunday mornings (at some AMC Theaters, it's only $6 before noon). So I figured maybe I'd post an occasional review here, since I already did one (Horrible Bosses). Not that my opinion counts for much, but it might help you decide what flick you want to see on your next date night... As long as you don't mind it coming a bit late in the game... we're not crazy about crowded theaters, so we generally don't see movies until at least a week or two after the release date.

When I thought of having this blog's movie review post titles begin with "Monkey at the Movies:", I googled that phrase. There were really only a couple blogs already using it, which later combined into one (they were both by the same guy), and it doesn't appear to be currently active. So with a respectful nod to GeekMonkey (great confused minds think alike), I'm running with it.

Last night we saw The Help. I'd been meaning to read the book since I designed the invitation for my mom's book club luncheon when they read it a year and a half ago. I could NOT bring myself to see the movie until I read the book, so I bought it last week and finished it over the weekend. It's a wonderful book! I knew I was going to enjoy it when after only about 30 pages in, I had already laughed out loud four or five times.

The movie is also wonderful. I have to say, they took a lot of liberties with the book. (I'm sure they had to modify things to keep it within a 2-hour-or-so timeframe.) There are some pretty major differences in some details and plot lines, but the gist of the story remains intact. Emma Stone wowed me again with another engaging performance in her role as Skeeter (she was great in Crazy Stupid Love, not reviewed here but highly recommended). And who knew sweet little Ronny Howard's daughter (Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly) could be so convincing as a completely evil bitch?? Viola Davis portrayed a gentle strength and courage as Aibileen. Paired with Octavia Spencer's brash and veracious Minnie, it's a delicious combo. The movie is studded with other actors who are always fun to watch... Sissy Spacek gives Missus Walters a lighthearted flair. Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan imbues her character with a stubborn toughness that I didn't infer from the book. I was disappointed in Cicely Tyson's portrayal of Constantine... maybe it's just me, but Ms. Tyson seems to play the same character the same way in every film I've seen her in over the past couple decades. From the book, I envisioned a less feeble, more self-assured Constantine.

Overall, the movie works. At 2 hours 17 minutes, it's a bit long, but it keeps moving so it never "feels" long. There are laugh-out-loud moments, and some that may bring a few tears (I heard several weepy sniffs around me in the theater near the end). Don't get the wrong idea... it's not a tear-jerker by any means, and the overall message is a positive one. And can I just say, although America still has plenty of racial issues, as a country we sure have come a long way since the early 60's! It's hard to believe people ever thought that way, and that some still do. I also have to say that I may never look at a chocolate pie again without chuckling.

Monkey at the Movies rating? A whole bunch of bananas!

Monday, August 15, 2011

What would your mother think?

Mr. Remarkable Monkey and I went out for dinner Saturday night. He was in the mood for Mexican. We decided on a local non-chain joint that I've been to a few times, and it's always good. We knew it would be crowded... after all, it was 7:30 on a Saturday night when we arrived. The hostess added our name to the list, and we retired to the outdoor patio area to people-watch while we waited for a table.

Eventually, a group of six or eight college-age looking kids arrived. They were fairly oblivious to those around them, talking loudly to each other and invading the other patrons' personal spaces. They also seemed to be dressed for a kegger, not a Saturday night dinner at a fairly nice restaurant. Mr. RM and I immediately dubbed them an H.O.D. (herd of douchbags).

Most of the guys were dressed just on the slightly overly casual side... shorts and t-shirts, not too bad... with one or two of them in tank tops. Tank tops? Really? But what I thought was particularly in poor taste were the girls. They weren't dressed like tramps... that may have been slightly better. They were in short shorts and hoodies. HOODIES!! It was about 90 degrees and humid, and these chicks were wearing heavy, long-sleeved HOODIES! Why???

First of all, it's hot outside. What in the world do you need to wear a hoodie for? If you think it will be cold inside, carry a sweater or jacket with you. Secondly, you're going to a "real" restaurant... not McDonald's, not Panera, not the college cafeteria. Didn't your mother teach you how to dress appropriately? You're gonna wear that out to dinner, on what looked like a group date? What kind of white trash are you? Have some self-respect, for Pete's sake. I mean really... I'm a pretty casual dresser, but that's just ridiculous. If I'M thinking you're under-dressed, it's really bad! You could at least put on a nice shirt to go with those hoochie shorts you're wearing. Carry your poorly-attired ass down to Taco Bell if you're gonna go out for dinner dressed like that.

I guess that's what they did in the end... they decided the wait for a table was too long. Maybe they were worried about losing their buzz. **siiiighh**

On a side note, our dinner was delicious. And there were no other fashion traumas. Until we were almost ready to go. The couple seated to my left had gone, and another couple got their table next. They were dressed okay, but the guy had evidently bathed in "Eu de Club Boy" or whatever his stinky cologne was called. I could hardly breathe. Thankfully, I had already finished dinner and was just sipping my margarita and nibbling chips. But here's a tip on cologne and perfume... less is better. Nobody wants to smell you from six feet away. Or maybe it's just me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Municipal Principles...

There's a small park in our neighborhood. For a long time, it was pretty much a haven for vagrants, drug dealers and vandalizing punks. We rarely saw anyone else use it. A few years ago, we started walking our dog there. We'd walk around the grounds and think to ourselves "This could be a really nice park... too bad it's such a shithole." Park maintenance staff? About the only time we saw them, they were sitting at the picnic tables under the shelter playing cards and smoking. Park security? They seemed more interested in yelling at us to put our dog on a leash than anything else (even when we were the only ones in the park... which we usually were).

After a while, it occurred to us to start picking up some of the litter that was so generously strewn about, since no one else seemed to take responsibility for doing it. Some of the more vile things we'd regularly find were used condoms just steps away from the playground equipment, drug paraphernalia and cooked spoons, glass beer bottles shattered on the basketball court and picnic areas, and soiled clothing and underpants. Some disgusting waste of life even took a crap in one of the baby swings. Once, there was a marijuana plant growing in the cracks of the cement under one of the picnic shelters. We left it there to see how big it would get before Park Maintenance noticed and removed it. It was there growing happily for a couple weeks. My guess is some stoner probably unearthed it and took it home to replant. (To be honest, we actually thought about doing that ourselves!)

I had been battling with City Hall on another neighborhood issue at the time, and I mentioned the sad state of our neighborhood park to my city councilman in an e-mail. He forwarded it on to the head of the Parks Department, who forwarded it on to the Chief of Police. Apparently, the cops were aware of the rampant drug activity going on there, and the Chief indicated he'd look into stepping up patrols in the area. Meanwhile, we kept using the park and doing our best to keep up with the trash and discourage the "unsavory" characters from hanging around. I'll tell ya, people waiting to buy or sell drugs really don't like it when you just stare at them. It's kinda funny to watch them fidget for a while, then make a call and slink off. And they REALLY don't want you to see their license plates!

Eventually, the shady activities seemed to decrease a bit, and other dog owners began to use the park. (Not all of them were good about picking up after their pets, but that's another story.) Then a couple years ago, a new Parks Department District Supervisor was assigned to our area. The old rusty fence was replaced. Then the playground equipment was touched up and got a new rubbery cushion and lots of new mulch. New trees were planted. The picnic shelters were repaired and painted and BBQ grills were put in. Park Maintenance staff routinely came in and cleaned up. The new supervisor really worked hard to make a difference in our park. And ya know what? People started using the park as it was intended... softball practice, peewee football practice, even jr. lacrosse practice, family picnics and birthday parties. Slowly, it has become a nice, thriving neighborhood park once again. We still have the occasional vagrant and vandal, but nothing like it was just three or four years ago. We call Park Security when we see a transient dude sleeping on the picnic benches or hanging around, and they usually say "Thanks. We'll send someone out."

Usually. One morning last week, there was a homeless dude sitting at the table under one of the picnic shelters. I'm not comfortable confronting these guys... I don't know who they are or what their story is, or if they're violent or packing weapons or whacked out on drugs. So when we got to the other end of the park, I called Park Security. Here's the gist of how the call went:

Me: "Hi, I want to report a vagrant hanging out in (insert park name here) Park."
Security: "Where is he?"
Me: "Sitting at the table right beside the playground equipment."
Security: "What's he doing?"
Me: "Uh... sitting there."
Security: "Well, we can't kick him out for sitting there. If he was exposing himself or defacating in public or being a nuisance...."
Me: "So... even though the sign posted at the gate clearly states 'No Loitering', you won't enforce it?"
Security: "We can't kick him out for being homeless. He has a right to use the park."
Me: "Well I'll tell you, I really wouldn't feel safe in the park alone with him there, and I sure as heck wouldn't be comfortable bringing kids here."
Security: "That's why we recommend people go to (bigger park name) Park, or (bigger park name) Park. There's safety in numbers."
Me: "So... you're telling me that I SHOULDN'T use my own neighborhood park if I'm uncomfortable with vagrants loitering in it? That I should drive 20 minutes away to another park? Is that how my tax dollars work now?"
Security: "You can try calling the Police non-emergency number. I can give it to you if you want."
Me: "No thanks... I have that number already. Thanks very much and have a lovely day."

WTF???? Now, I'm not insensitive to the plight of the homeless, especially in the current economy. That being said, I have a real problem with transient men hanging around what is essentially a neighborhood playground! Is it just me? Or does it seem extremely inappropriate to you, too? And for the security staff of the Parks Department to tell me to use another park if I'm uncomfortable with it just seems grossly negligent. Maybe I'm just overly fearful of the park reverting back to the sorry state it was in before, especially if security can't (or won't) enforce the posted rules. If they won't enforce the loitering policy, what about the other rules? Are they arbitrary too? I wonder.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Aloha... and how!

They're not big, but they sure are pretty!
Remember the post a few weeks ago with photos of our plumeria and pineapple plants? Well, not sure if it was because of the recent thunderstorms, or if the plants just got too big, but the four pineapple fruits that were growing on our two plants all sort of drooped severely at the stems. They broke completely off when my fabulous husband was watering them yesterday, but fortunately one was ripe, one was almost ripe, and the other two MIGHT ripen off the plant. Probably will... I'm sure they don't ship 'em from Hawaii already fully ripened, right?
Cut off the crown, and save it!
Trim the sides...
...then halve lengthwise and slice.
So... we cut up the beautiful, golden ripe one last night... I can't even begin to tell you how delicious it was! It was still warm from the sunshine outside. So sweet, so juicy! You can get "fresh" pineapple at the grocery store, but it won't taste anything like this little baby did!
And I got to have the rest of it with my lunch. Mmmmmm! Jealous? You should be. It tasted amazing!
Yummy!

If you live where it's warm enough, you can grow your own delicious pineapple. All you need is the crown from a store-bought pineapple and a little patience. (That's what we used.) It takes about two years in the right conditions (warm, sunny, humid) to get a fruit. But while you're waiting for the fruit to grow, the pineapple plant is a damn fine looking plant in my opinion. Sharp and pointy though, so be sure to plant it where you won't bump into it often (ouch!), or in a big pot you can move.

There's probably a correct way to root the crown, but we just stick in some water until we're ready to plant it in the ground or a pot. I wouldn't leave it longer than a day or two, though. A little MiracleGro when you plant it probably wouldn't hurt, either.

Good luck if ya decide to try it!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sad Membership...

The so-called "27 Club" gained a new member last week when the talented and troubled Amy Winehouse was found dead in her apartment. Cause of death is as yet undetermined, but given the singer's recent history, a safe bet would be drug overdose. If that theory bears out, we'll still probably never know whether it was accidental or intentional. And really, it's none of our business. Either way, it's another heartbreaking chapter in music history, and will only add to the sad mystique of the "27 Club".

Brian Jones.
Jimi Hendrix.
Janis Joplin.
Jim Morrison.
Kurt Cobain.

Those are the "major" stars in the 27 Club. There are lots of others, with varying degrees of reknown, but these five are the most well known. Despite having only released two studio albums, Amy Winehouse will likely be thought of along with those top five who died at age 27, arguably at the height of their respective careers. Her addictions and public antics aside, she had an amazing voice and a fresh way of phrasing things.

That's really the saddest part of it... all that talent lost. Can you imagine what new musical ground Jimi Hendrix would have broken if he had lived even another 20 years? Or what further impact Kurt Cobain and Nirvana might have had on rock/alternative music had he not opted to check out early? It boggles the mind! Such a waste.

So is it the 27th year that's a curse? It think it's just a coincidence. A lot of people who are insanely creative and talented in some way seem to be, well, a little insane. It seems as though very gifted people battle a lot of demons. History is littered with examples. (Hello... Van Gogh, anyone?)

Do great artists HAVE to suffer for their art, and abuse themselves and/or die tragically? I think not. There are also plenty of examples of immensely talented people coping with their lives (and demons) successfully. (Picasso, hell... even Keith Richards is still around!)

Granted, with success often comes excess, and that almost certainly contributes to some of these untimely deaths. But I have to wonder if better coping skills play a part in avoiding them, and whether a troubled soul like Ms. Winehouse would have come to a tragic end at some point anyway without those coping skills. I don't know what the answer is. I just know it's damn shame to needlessly lose a talent like that. Amy, I hope you're finally at peace.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Adventures in Breast Health Part 3: Results and Risk Management

Well, Campers... are ya ready for the big reveal? Wanna know what the biopsy results were? The breast specialist's office called me when they got them the day before my follow-up appointment to let me know...  Just as expected, the tests came back negative. Normal. Nothing to worry about... at least for now. Here's what the report said:
DIAGNOSIS
Breast (Left, 10 o'clock, 5 cm from nipple), core needle biopsy:
- nonprolferative fibrocystic changes.
- no atypia or malignancy detected.

COMMENT: The fibrocystic changes include stromal fibrosis, adenosis, and slight duct epithelial hyperplasia.
What does all that mean? Basically, that I have lumpy boobs (which we already knew), but nothing cancerous. At least for now.

So on to the follow-up with the fabulous ARNP (Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner) that is my breast specialist from the breast surgery medical group I was referred to last year. She is awesome. She checked the biopsy site and said it looked like it was healing fine, no edema (swelling), no bruising. She did a breast exam, and pointed out a lumpy cyst or two for me to feel... they were familiar (I've felt them there before), but I'll keep an eye on 'em. Then we talked about my future adventures in breast health. Let me tell ya... sounds like it's gonna keep on being interesting. I'll explain...

I am now officially in the "high risk" group. Last year, I was rated at 18.7%. This year, based on a whole bunch of factors, I am now rated at 21.4%. Or maybe it was 18.4% last year and 21.7% this year... can't remember. Regardless, 20% is the magic number. If you cross that line, you are considered at high risk for developing breast cancer at some point in your lifetime. Well heck... I was damn close to 20% last year, so it's not that big of a difference. BUT... now that I am officially high risk, it makes me a candidate for breast MRI.

Oh boy. Yep. Back on THAT rollercoaster after all! But at least now it is actually warranted. And here's why, as my breast specialist so eloquently put it: "At this point, mammograms are pretty much useless for you. You're too dense." Well, it ain't the first time someone has called me dense! I CAN be a little slow on the uptake at times. But what she meant was that my breast tissue is so dense that a cancerous tumor could easily be hidden on a mammogram. A mammo is still good for showing calcifications, but all those lumpy, dense fibroids hanging out in my funbags would help hide any pesky tumors that might decide to camp out there. An MRI will smoke 'em out. And that's a good thing.

Unfortunately, it's also possible that the MRIs could lead to more biopsies because more suspicious (but benign) areas may show up on the images. But that's okay... I feel the same way as the 2-year survivor PA who performed my biopsy does: If you see ANYTHING remotely suspicious, stick a needle in it and let's find out for sure! I'd much rather sit through a few needle sticks every year than miss a cancer in the early stages and have to endure THAT kind of treatment. (Seriously... I cannot stress enough how painless the biopsy was.) Not sure yet how often they'll want to do the MRIs. Could be every six months, or once a year, or every other year. Depends on what they find after the one I'm supposed to get six months from now.

So I'll be scheduling a breast MRI in December if I've met my deductible by then, or January if I haven't so that the out of pocket cost can go toward next year's. Yeah... chalk up another penalty courtesy of my boobs: I get to pay for an expensive MRI or two every year. Even with my insurance plan's discounted rate, it's gonna be pricey. I'll have to squeeze our tight budget just a little more. And just like with the small band/big cup syndrome, I'm left wondering what women who have the same breast issues as mine but smaller budgets do. What do they have to give up to get the screening they need? How will I afford regular MRIs myself if I ever lose my insurance or they opt not to cover them? Would I have to risk developing an undetected cancer because I can't pay for an MRI that would catch it? Probably. Fingers crossed I'll never have to make that choice. My heart goes out to the women who do.

I am also now required to have a manual breast exam twice a year. (By a professional. Sorry... I'm not looking for volunteers!) I already get one at my annual "well-woman" visit. I can't remember if my GP does one at my annual physical, which coincidentally and conveniently usually falls about 6 moths after my well-woman exam. If not, I'll just call for an appointment with the specialist. What the heck... it will get me closer to meeting my deductible, right?

So all is well for now, and my current adventures in breast health are complete for the moment. Who knows what kind of circus will crop up when I get the MRI at the end of this year. But I'll definitely share the fun with y'all! Hopefully, it will help put you at ease if you find yourself in a similar situation.



This has been a public service post. And now, back to our (ir)regular programming.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adventures in Breast Health Part 2: The Left Jab

The preparation info sheet for my scheduled breast biopsy recommended that I "wear a snug fitting bra, preferably a sports bra" the day of the procedure. As I mentioned in Part 1, it's difficult to find a bra in my size at all, let alone a sports bra. A friend recently clued me in to Nordstrom's lingerie department... I was gobsmacked! They actually carry (and keep in stock!) lots of small band/large cup sizes! It was almost like Nirvana for a petite but overly-endowed girl like me. So off to Nordstrom I went, in search of a 34DDD sports bra to wear to my biopsy appointment. I was pretty sure I'd find one there, though I held out no hope of finding one without an underwire. (Do they even make them without one at that cup size?)

A very helpful sales associate assisted me in locating the sports bras in my size, and also pointed me in the direction of a sales rack with other bras in my size. Woot woot! Then I went to try some on (I've learned to NEVER buy a bra without trying it on). Now, my boobs really don't seem any bigger to me, so maybe companies are just making their bra sizes run small these days, because my helpful sales associate took one look at one of the 34DDD bras I tried and suggested that I was probably a 34G (that's 4 Ds). WTF???? Seriously??? As if it isn't freakin' hard enough already to find a dang bra!!! Oh joy. Anyway, thankfully Nordstrom has even my new voluminous size IN STOCK!! Not a lot of variety, but enough, and some pretty ones too! I left with a new sports bra (yes, with underwires) and two other bras, just cuz they were pretty and on sale. But here's the deal... even on sale, they weren't cheap by any means. My heart goes out to all ladies who suffer from the small band/big cup size syndrome. If your budget is tight, how the heck can you afford a 34G bra, on the rare occasions that you can find one in stock at a place like Norsdstom? It was a stretch for me to squeeze it into the budget. And really, is it that small of a niche market that more companies wouldn't make and/or carry them? Really?

So, on to the biopsy. I arrived at the hospital's breast center at 8:00 am for my 8:30 vacuum assisted needle biopsy appointment as requested. I was sent down to the biopsy scheduler's office to sign some papers, then back to the breast center waiting room. The ultrasound tech called for me at about 8:40 or so, and led me over to the procedure room. She had me swap my bra and shirt for a hospital gown, and explained everything they were going to do. I was told to lie face-up on the gurney (with a nice comfy pillow), and she confirmed via sonogram the location of the area they wanted to biopsy. It was just about center, above the nipple of my left breast, exactly where it was on the previous sonogram. (She also took a quick look at my lymph nodes and said they looked normal, though she's not really supposed to say anything about what she sees.) She marked the area with a pen. So far, so good.

Then the physician's assistant (PA) who would be performing the biopsy came in. She explained everything to me again, and answered any questions I had. Then we got started. First, she confirmed which breast (left) and wrote "yes" on it, in case any of the three of us in the room forgot at some point. (It's funny, but they have to do that just to be safe.) Then she cleaned the area with some cold stuff. At this point, the tech zeroed in with the sonogram to guide the PA to the area in question. The PA started with several injections of a local anesthetic (xylocaine, I think). She said to let her know if I felt anything after the first couple tiny pinpricks. I did not. I'm guessing she made the small incision next (I didn't feel anything), and then inserted the bigger biopsy needle. I was watching the needle come in on the sonogram screen, but seriously did not feel a thing! When the needle tip was in the area they wanted to sample, the PA said "you'll hear a click in a second..." And then I heard a loud click, kind of like a spring release or something. I didn't feel anything except maybe the very slightest tiniest bit of pressure... barely noticeable at all. The PA confirmed that the click was a tissue sample being taken. They took several samples, maybe five or six or seven, all guided by the sonogram. Finally, a tiny surgical clip was placed in the area they tested, as a marker for future reference. It's the size of a sesame seed and made of titanium. With the marker in place, the PA removed the needle and held gauze on the incision to stop the very little bleeding there, while the tech labeled the sample container for the lab. Then they put some special surgical tapes over the incision, and then taped a small piece of gauze over that. I was only in the procedure room for a total of about 20 minutes, beginning to end! Quick and virtually pain-free!

(Not to tell other people's stories, but the tech had been through a fine needle aspiration like the one I had done last year, and the PA had the same procedure she just performed on me a couple years ago... she's now a two-year breast cancer survivor! It's comforting to know that they've been through it and know what it's like to be the patient. They also know first-hand how important it is to have the tests done correctly!)

One final step left, and that was to have a mammogram of my left breast to make sure the surgical clip was in the right spot and showing up as it should. And no, they don't squash your boob as tightly for that as with a normal mammo. They just need to make sure the marker shows up. After a few minutes of waiting in the "inner" waiting room of the breast imaging center, the mammography tech said everything was in place and I was free to go. Less than two hours for the entire visit, beginning to end, and absolutely no pain.

Well, the procedure itself was painless. I DID have just a little bit of discomfort yesterday evening, but very minimal. I wouldn't even call it pain, really. A couple Tylenol knocked it right out. I HAVE felt a very few twinges of minor pain for a second or two every now and then, but not many. I also have a couple cool little round gel ice packs that I can insert into my bra if I start feeling any discomfort. So yeah, I'd still stay the whole thing has been almost completely pain-free.

I gotta say, that breast center is amazing. Every person I've come in contact with there has been so pleasant and helpful. I even got a call from the "nurse navigator" this morning, who was just checking in to see if everything was okay. LOVE them!!  I'm glad I have access to such a great breast center. They seem to be up-to-date with current medical advances and guidelines. The needle biopsy I underwent was SO much less invasive than an open biopsy. Ask your doctor if it's an option for you if you ever need a biopsy. In most cases, it should be the preferred method.

I should get the result when I see my wonderful breast specialist later this week. I'm expecting the results to be negative... 80% of biopsies are. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Adventures in Breast Health Part 1: The Smash n' Grab

When I started this blog, I didn't intend to ever post any really personal information. I'm making an exception for a topic that's very important and close to my heart: breast health and breast cancer.

I'm making this exception in part because maybe it will encourage women to get their breasts examined regularly by a healthcare professional. (Sorry... your husband, boyfriend/girlfriend or that random dude you picked up at happy hour doesn't count, ladies!) And also because relating my experiences might make it less scary for someone else who may end up traveling the same path someday. So I decided to post about my latest adventures in the world of mammograms, sonograms, and other testing. Bear with me, because this first installment will be a little long, but there's some good info here

Let me start with a little background history.... I've never had a great relationship with my "girls". Most of the women on my mom's side of the family were/are short with with big boobs, and I inherited that trait. I blossomed fairly early in that department, but not unusually so. Then in the 8th grade, there were accusations from a snotty cheerleader that I "stuffed". I quickly put an end to the rumor by flashing that bitch in the hall one day. (Boy did THAT shut her up for good!) I still didn't think I was really all that overly endowed until the 9th grade, when a male pal signed my yearbook "To the girl with big tits... love, B-- (I'll withhold the guy's name in case he ever stumbles across this blog). What?? Big tits? Who, ME??? Jeez! They were just a C-cup at that point, but I guess a C-cup on a 5'2" skinny little frame look pretty big. I was never self-conscious about 'em until then.

Enter high school, and I filled out even more, ending up sporting a D-cup by graduation. Yep... STACKED at a tender young age, surrounded by wolves. At least back then they were perky! In the years since, I've added just a few extra pounds and my cup size has increased. I'm currently spilling out of a 34DDD, and gravity is doing me no favors... I require bras and bathing suits with STRUCTURE... like steel girders and winches and iron bars. It's extremely difficult it is to find 34DDD bras in stock in most stores. (Victoria's Secret... HA! Their secret is that they don't make bras for real curves.) And who wants to mail order a bra that they can't try on first? I'll give you one guess how fun bathing suit shopping is for me. It's not the few extra pounds and the touch of cellulite that make it so miserable... it's searching (usually unsuccessfully) for a suit that covers AND supports my boobs without hanging off the rest of me like a set of old curtains. Same goes for shirts and dresses to a lesser degree. They're usually either too tight across the bust or too loose everywhere else. So my "funbags" are something I have a grudging tolerance of, and not much more.

Now, add fibrocystic lumps to the mix and hilarity ensues. I had never heard of fibrocystic breasts until I found my first lump at age 25 or 26. My gyno (love her!) ordered a mammogram to confirm that it was just fibroids (it was), and I've had regular screenings since then. All results were normal until about four or five years ago. In addition to changes in my breast tissue, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Never had a family history until then. Mom was the first. (Way to blaze a trail, Ma!) Suddenly, the imaging centers were wanting to investigate mammogram findings with sonograms, and then a couple years ago, they wanted to follow the sonogram with an MRI.

Honey... you just haven't LIVED until you're lying face down on an MRI table with your boobs hanging down through the specially designed cutouts, IV drip in your arm, MRI machine banging around ya. But all results came back clean, and it was back to just the regular mammo/sono combo, but every three to six months. After about a year and a half, they cleared me to go back to just once a year. Until a year later (last year), when they wanted to do another MRI. At that point I questioned it, only because it seemed like it was turning into a big ol' merry-go-round. So I called my gyno (who has been in charge of my breast health since that first mammogram) and asked if she thought that an MRI was really the way go. That's when she decided to send me to a breast specialist.

Ooooh! Breast Specialist! Never knew there WAS such a thing! So I went to see one of the breast specialists my gyno recommended. The good news... she agreed that an MRI wouldn't really tell them what they needed to know. The not-so-good news... she said a fine needle aspiration biopsy was what needed to be done. Yikes!! The word biopsy was pretty scary to me! Made me a little nervous. But actually, the procedure is pretty quick and simple, and really not terribly painful. They just use a needle, guided by sonogram to the cysts to be investigated, and they suck out the fluid and test it. It was actually kinda cool to watch the cysts collapse on the sonogram screen. (By the way, they were investigating "complicated cysts" as opposed to "simple cysts". Complicated cysts have debris floating around in 'em. Also kinda cool to watch on the sonogram screen... like little tiny snow globes.) All tests came back normal... "See ya next year for your mammogram. We'll do a sonogram if needed".

Cut to this year. I had my annual mammogram last week. Of course they also did a sonogram (knew THAT was coming). The physician's assistant then came in and told me that the radiologist was recommending a vacuum assisted biopsy. A few days later, my breast specialist concurred. This is different than the fine needle aspiration biopsy... a bit more invasive and intensive, but still a pretty simple outpatient procedure. I found some videos that show how the procedure is done, and I'll link them. (Click the pretty colored text areas to view them.)

Am I worried? Not at all, surprisingly. My gyno just did a manual breast exam at my well-woman visit last month, and remarked that my boobs felt less lumpy. And the area they want to check out only showed up on the sonogram, not the mammogram. So it's likely that it's just a clump of fibroids (damn things). I don't expect the procedure to be very painful, though I'm sure it won't be very comfortable or fun and there will certainly be some soreness afterward. And if they DO find anything, they'll be catching it early when it's most easily treatable. Seriously... if they're gonna find something, hell yeah I want them find it as early as possible!

Even if I get the unlikey diagnosis of cancer, I'm not afraid. I personally know 3 or 4 women who have successfully fought breast cancer, including my mom. She's now a 5-year survivor! (Yay Mom!) Plus, I would probably finally get the breast reduction surgery I always wanted but never wanted to actually go through. (Now THAT'S a gruesome surgery!) Might was well do it if they're gonna be cutting bits away anyway, right? But I seriously doubt the results of my upcoming biopsy will be positive for cancer. I just don't think it's in the cards. Not yet, anyway.

So, ladies, do yourselves a favor and be sure to get your regularly scheduled "Smash n' Grab". Depsite what anyone might tell you, mammograms really aren't all that painful and they can save your life. Also, if you have chronic breast issues like fibrocystic tissue, ask if your doctor can refer you to a breast specialist. I feel SO much more at ease with a specialist checking everything out. If that's not an option, just be sure that you have a good rapport and clear communication with your doctor, AND GET REGULAR SCREENINGS!

Stay tuned... I'll post about the biopsy in Part 2 at a later date. The fun is just gettin' started!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Horrible Bosses was not horrible...

Movie poster from Warner Bros.
I had an opportunity to attend a preview screening of the movie Horrible Bosses last night. Not bad for a comedic summer flick. I mean, sure... it's one of those mostly guy-centric movies, but there was plenty in it that I found funny as well.

The three main characters, each enjoyably well-played by Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudekis, have distinct personalities and issues caused by their respective employers. As for the bosses, no surprise that Kevin Spacey turns in another scathing performance as a raging asshole... he's done it so well before and doesn't disappoint in this role. Colin Farrell is convincing as an overindulged, degenerate cokehead son who inherits his father's business. But the real surprise is Jennifer Aniston as a debauched sexual harasser.

Jennifer Aniston has always had a somewhat wholesome image, so I could hardly believe the shockingly raunchy phrases she was uttering as her character... and that's what made it so funny! I'm not even sure it was TRULY funny, but her porn-star-worthy vulgarity was so comical and unexpected given that it was coming from her. I'm guessing there will be a lot of young men with completely new fantasies about her after viewing this film. (Or maybe not so new... I don't know what goes on in the minds of young men these days, and I'm not sure I really want to!)

I don't think any other actress could have pulled off that role successfully. Ms. Aniston, who has always exuded a bit of a "girl next door" charm, has also generally given the impression that she doesn't take herself too seriously. She always seemed to have an underlying current that hinted at a wicked sense of humor. I think that's what really gives her the edge in this role, and in it she is wicked, indeed! Kudos to her for taking on such a portentous role and working it with aplomb! 

Horrible Bosses is unlikely to be in Oscar contention, but it's worth at least a matinee ticket if you enjoy movies of this genre. It opens tomorrow (Friday, July 8th). Just don't bring the kiddies!