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Friday, March 28, 2014

Just an Ordinary Day

"The stars are windows from heaven where angels peek through" 



It was an ordinary morning 5 years ago today.  A cup of coffee on the couch, staying in as everything still looked white and cold outside.  There was no sign of spring in sight.  I called home and my Dad answered the phone and related where everyone was and what they were all doing.  Not far into the conversation I heard the other extension pick up.  "Hi Beag!" Jaycena said, using a nickname for me.  She reminded me that this was the weekend volleyball tournament that she was playing in and had been looking forward too for a couple of weeks.  She told me how it had been going so far, which games were left to play, and after a few minutes left the conversation to go back to me and my Dad.  She broke back in and said "Bye Beag, love you."  "Love you too, have fun."  I remember remarking to my Dad after that what an awesome kid she was, as it never ceased to amaze me that she never went through a phase where she was too old or too cool to make time for her aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins, and never dropped the affectionate banter when she turned 14, or 15, or 16.  She had brightened my day, as always.

I didn't know, on that ordinary morning 5 years ago, that that was our last goodbye.  I didn't know that I would receive a phone call that night that would forever change who I am, and everyone who knew her and her friends Brooke and Laramie.

I can say that 5 years doesn't make it easier.  You may be surprised to hear that it actually gets harder.  You see, at one year, I knew she would be 17 and would be in Grade 11.  That she would still be a setter on the volleyball team, be giving her little brother a hard time but still looking out for him in that way that older siblings do as they treat their younger counterparts as an old favorite and familiar possession.  I knew she would be driving the little red car, wearing a favorite hoodie, carrying her ipod everywhere.  When I would see her friend's facebook updates, I knew she would have been at that tournament, celebrating that friend's birthday, hanging at the park.  It was the same 2 years out, except this was the big senior year.  She would graduate.  I looked at dresses online and chose one that I imagined her picking...bright orange organza and silk, shining like she did.   At 3 years, I knew she would be in secondary school.  But I didn't know if she would have chosen a College or University.  Would she still have wanted to do graphic design like she did when she was 15 and 16?  At 4 years, I knew she would still be in college or University.  But when a new Taylor Swift song came out I wondered if she would still love it, or if her tastes in music would have changed.  I wondered but was no longer certain if she would still prefer Silver brand jeans, Lu Lu Lemon, and Hollister.  She would be old enough to be engaged if she wanted to be.  Would she be hoping to travel, or maybe shopping for wedding dresses, or just enjoying making her place in the world? 

Today when I think of the girl I knew so well I am pained by mystery.  If she chose college she could be done, whereas in University she would be third year.  She may or may not be in the workforce or a student.  She could be anywhere.  She might be travelling.  She might be single, she might be engaged.  And after 5 years of not seeing her changes, likes, and dislikes, she could really be anyone.  The only thing I know is I would love her.  She would make me laugh, and smile.  I am pretty sure she would meet me with a hug at the door.

No, 5 years is not easier.  And there is no such thing as an ordinary day.  I miss you terribly, but celebrate my memories and the joy of knowing you daily.  Love you today, always, and forever Jaycena.  Shine bright Laramie and Brooke.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hanging in the Plaza Premier Lounge

I normally don't bother with the airport lounges.  My exception is the 6 hour layover between Toronto and Regina on my flights home from Bermuda.  The Plaza Premier Lounge in Lester B Pearson is located right after the security area, before you go down the escalator to the gates.  The admission fee is based on the number of hours you stay, rather than a daily rate.  Food and beverages are included (including alcoholic ones), as well as cozy chairs, computers and internet access, and showers.  What more could you ask for really?

And so here I sit, cozied in using up the free internet, wondering what I should blog about today since I have been negligent as of late.  I don't have access to any of my pictures, so the usual adventures will have to wait to be caught up on.  I guess I am limited to the events of my day thus far, the dreaded downs of the ups and downs of air travel.  Here's how it went so far.

I tried to check in online, but I was not allowed to do so from my destination.  When I went to call the taxi I realized the flight was delayed...this was actually an up as it allowed me more time at home with the kitties before heading to the airport.  When I got to the airport and checked in, I was horrified to see that my seat assignment was a middle seat.  I hate being wedged between others.  I like my space.  I tried to choose another seat, but there were only 4 seats available on the whole plane...all of them middle seats.  The only plus was that it was row 14, so at least I would be among the first to get off the plane.  I got to my seat to find someone sitting in it.  She was assigned the aisle seat but was just sitting in mine.  I offered to let her keep it, but she had no intention of staying there, for some reason she just wanted to be in it until I was.  Strange.  As I sat down, the window seat passenger arrived and we all piled back out into the aisle and back in again.  And then...the talking started.  I am one of those people who can randomly talk to strangers for hours on some days, and on others happily stare out the window or into my book and enjoy anonymity.  I am tired, I have a cold, and a crappy seat assignment, and every intention in the world of just reading my book until this is over.  Except my neighbour is still chatting.  And in a way where a response is required...lots of questions.  She is a lovely lady, and it turns out I have even met the people she was staying with, but I just wasn't feeling all that sociable.  She explained to me that she still had the newspaper she flew down with the last week, the courses she was taking, the reviews she had read of the book in my hand, a list of books she likes, a discussion she had with another member of a book club about Hemingway when she was in the Southern Hemisphere (and I can explain exactly why she was there, for how long, and where she has been since and in between if you like).  Again, lovely lady, interesting life experiences.  But we haven't even started taxiing yet.

Some people pride themselves on travelling light.  I pride myself on transporting as much of my life with me as fits in the baggage allowance wherever I go.  I know all the tricks and trade, I can calculate the weight of my luggage to 49.5 pounds each without fail, and I know for a fact that no one ever weighs the carry on to make sure it's less than 35 pounds.  And my personal item is my purse, which deceptively is capable of carrying enough for a savvy traveller to live on for about 6 months while backpacking.  Therefore, I did a mental inventory of the resources I had available, and decided to offer up my novel since she expressed interest.  I had an arsenal of literature available between my feet in the kindle in the purse, and also pulled out a pair of headphones from the last Delta flight I was on and plugged into the entertainment system.  There were 5 movies I thought I would enjoy, but the Book Thief was the one I chose.  Through the headsets I could hear my neighbour, still in deep conversation with me.  She had seen the movie, and yes, I had read the book, so she was wondering if I knew if the funeral in the beginning was from the Orthodox culture, and why did Liesl's mother send her away at the beginning of the movie.  As I watched the movie, stopping to hit rewind many many times when interrupted by my neighbour who wanted to talk about passages in the book I had just loaned her, I teared up several times and thought they did a wonderful job of casting.  The movie was well done, but as usual, the book has some touches that I thought the movie missed.  For example, they introduce the narrator, Death, at the beginning and at the end, but completely obliterate him for the rest of the movie.  In the book, Death tells the story of Liesl, and often he is watching her in scenes...but the movie does not portray this.  As well, one of the most touching quotes of the book is altered, and in a diminishing way.  I won't say who, but Death says that when he comes for one of the characters, something like this (forgive me, it's from memory), "His soul sat up to meet me.  The best ones always do.  He was light as a child.  For so much of his soul was already given away to other places, other memories.  A glass of champagne in the summer.  The whisper of music on a breeze."  OK, I may have the analogies at the end wrong, but that's the point.  The movie simply says, "His soul was light as a child's" and some other much less moving words.  I will say that the observations of death at the end of the movie are almost better in the spoken word than the written.  I believe the final words of the movie were death saying, "I am haunted by humans."

So basically, my thought for the day, is that if you haven't read the Book Thief by Markus Zusac (again, from memory, but something like that), you should.  I am famously biased for preferring female authors.  This is a rare and wonderful exception.  It is really a wonderful tale with a unique twist.  I had no idea it was considered a children's book until I saw it posted there on Amazon (heck of a big book for children).

Oh, did my flights get better?  Well, my neighbour decided to let the back of the plane off first so we could keep chatting.  I then quickly cleared customs...which is amazing because one thing I am not used to after living for 5 years in a stone house without central heat, is how HOT room temperature is in North America.  As I dragged my 3 suitcases and giant purse through the airport in my winter boots and a sweater, with a cold, I broke into a sweat.  I thoroughly expected a pat down or suspicious person search.  My neighbour from the plane caught up to me again, and it turns out she was travelling with her 15 year old son.  I now know why she was so happy to have my company.  The terrible two's are nothing.  The terrible teens are the real test of parenthood.  This surly creature towered over her in stature, but emotionally toddled beside her throwing a temper tantrum.  "Shut up."  "I don't care."  "Good.  I don't ever WANT to go anywhere with you again."  I'm sure he's not a bad kid.  Just at that stage where he is embarrased to be in public with his mom.  Still young enough to be tired and overwrought by being stuck in a packed plane.  I must confess that I slowly fell back and ducked into a corner before they saw me.  Like THAT doesn't make me look even more airport suspicious.  Sweaty. nervous, and hiding in a corner before the security checkpoint.

Next stop, Regina, Saskatchewan. In the mean time...I found the lounge.  Internet.  And Wine.  And am here safe and sound, so will smile at the experience and call it a success.  Hope you are all having a good day!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Housesitting and Petsitting

There is a phenomenon in Bermuda known as "The house sit."  This is a concept I have rarely heard of back home, but it is very common in Bermuda.  When you go away, instead of asking a friend to check the mail or come in and feed the pets, you get someone to move in while you are away.  I suspect this is based on the premise of "trading up" in the world, a concept made possible by Bermuda's extremely high real estate and rental values.  If you have a house, you simply ask someone who has an apartment, and they are usually more than happy to uproot themselves and live out of a suitcase, often driving an hour or more to work, to have a vacation at your house so long as you have something they don't have.  Better beach access.  Better view.  Bigger kitchen.  A spare room so you can invite friends and family to the island.  Or, on a dry year, just the ability to use their water rather than your own limited supply (sad but true).  I have known people who rent tiny, dingy studio apartments because they know they can secure a house sit every few weeks, often for weeks at a time, and live in a property they cannot personally afford, and so are content to take a low end apartment because they don't plan on being there unless they have to be.  One girl I know had as many as 8 guests fly in while the owners were away, and, so long as there are no damages, the owners don't really complain.  After all, their property is safe from break ins, and their pets have full time care.

Because I have pets, and because living in someone else's space is my idea of a stressor rather than a vacation, I have never been one to house sit.  And sadly, because I don't really have good beach access or a view, and only a one bedroom apartment, albeit a new and nice one, I don't get a lot of offers to house sit when I am away.  Add into that the fact that my cats are lovely, but occasionally demanding, and the fluffy one bites, and it's not easy to find someone to take care of them at all when I go.  I would like to thank all the previous friends who have braved caring for my furballs, especially for Siobhan, the only person to actually house sit, but, when one has been on the road too much, there are also professional pet services on the island.

I got a couple of inquiries about this earlier this month, and so can say that the service I found first and have tried and liked is Passion Paw Paws.  Even the name sounds great!  The owner, Sarita, can stay over as a house sit, or if you prefer she can come in once or twice a day for 30 min sessions to feed and play with your pets.  She will send you email updates of how the day went, and photos of your furry friends (aka proof of life) to make your travel a little more care free.  They take very detailed information of your pets' likes and dislikes, hiding spots, feeding routines, and special requests (Lexi for example likes cheese slices, but only if handed to her in tiny squares that she can lick off your fingertips.  While this isn't exactly part of her daily nutrition regime, it's a good icebreaker for kitty sitter and bitey cat).  I have been quite happy with the service, and have recommended her to others.  So if no one considers your situation a trade up, you can always call in the professionals!

Noah's Ark also has some pet sitter recommendations, and while I haven't tried them, they were well recommended, so do call them if you are looking for some suggestions of who to call.

Overall, pet sitters are a lot less stressful on my pets than boarding, so if you are going away, I recommend you give Passion Paw Paws a try.

Friday, March 21, 2014

My weekend morning

I may only be Friday, but in the life of this shift worker, it's my first of two days off, and so this is like my Saturday morning!  I am starting the morning off as all lazy mornings...a nice sleep in, some cuddles form my impatient kitties who are happy to wake me so I can feed them, and a nice cup of coffee.  I relented and paid $12 for a tiny bag of Starbucks coffee grinds this week...5 years later and I still can't get use to the sticker shock of grocery shopping in Bermuda.  $10 gets more than twice as much in the US or Canada.  The second book I read this week was kind of a bland novel, The Peach Keeper, but it had a great ode to coffee.

" Coffee...was tied to all sorts of memories, different for each person.  Sunday mornings, friendly get togethers, a favorite grandfather long since gone, the AA meeting that saved their life.  Coffee meant something to people.  Most found their lives miserable without it.  Coffee was a lot like love that way.  And because Rachel believed in love, she believed in coffee, too."

The to do list is long and impossible today, and so I may just leave it lie.  My bike is overdue for an oil change.  There are no drive through oil changes in Bermuda.  The dealership makes you drop it off at 8am, and usually they call at 5 to tell you its done.  A perfect waste of a day off, and so I will continue to avoid it today.  There is grocery shopping to do, which has to be done with a bit of a critical eye.  I am down to my last 17 weeks on the island.  I find myself looking at items in the store and rather than assessing it a best price for unit of volume, I am trying to calculate usage.  I hate wasting things.  But on an international move, everything non-essential has to be thrown out or given away.  My whole life needs to fit in a couple of suitcases.  And so, I while I know I will be driving home from the store with 42 pounds of kitty litter precariously balanced on the bike, I will probably spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decide which size of box I should buy for dryer sheets.  I have already resigned myself to rationing the ketchup so I don't need another bottle in the next 3 months.  Which reminds me I should clean the fridge.  The jar of olives my sister bought when she was cooking her on a visit 2 years ago is still in there.  Plus the Tahini for when I thought I would make my own humus (possibly one of my worst ideas, I may never eat chickpeas again).  The longtails are back, and Susara and I were hoping to photograph them, but, rain prevailed so that is tabled for another day.

Dinner and a show are definitely getting checked off the list today though.  Tonight is the annual "Hasty Pudding," sometimes referred to as the Tranny Show.  Every year a group of students from the Harvard Drama Club come down and do a parody/musical/comedy/satire...and it's typically an all male cast with a lot of female roles.  I have made every show for 5 years, so happy to catch it once more on my final year.  It is sometimes hard to tell beneath the costumes and makeup that they aren't women...well, large women, but I have found myself listening to them hit the high notes beneath their sequined costumes and wondering.  They have covered aliens, the cold war, Russian fairy tales, and much more, so am definitely looking forward to this evening out with Helen, Carol, Beatty, and Siobhan.  Here is a picture with the cast from the last year -- should be another night of good laughs!
Harvard Hasty Pudding

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Everyday Ramblings

Oops, I did it again, I have been a bad blogger, silent for several days.  I know where the story left off, and logically that is where I should begin.  But, I am not feeling that magic.  Inside my head are just random ramblings and observations today.  But maybe that's better than leaving the blog idle.  So, here we go.

First rambling.  I am noticing way to many lyrical pop culture references in my blogs lately.  Today's opening line would be quoting Britney Spears.  Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers was all I could sing when I posted some pictures beneath the bridge at Dockyard a while back.  I think it started with the Rock Superstar reference when I was roaming the Gibbons Gardens.  My coworkers have been suffering with me finishing their sentences with song lyrics for a few weeks now, although I secretly think they enjoy it.

Second rambling.  Even though my surgery was minor, I cannot believe how tired I still am!  OK, that may be a whine rather than a ramble, and it doubles as an excuse why the blog has been idle.  I'm sure the St. Patrick's Day outing had nothing to do with me being tired all week.

More seriously, having been off work while recuperating, I spent an incredible amount of time fanatically watching the news.  Specifically, I have been unable to turn away from Malaysian Flight 370 coverage, and read every theory in almost every paper of any country that prints in English.  Like the rest of the world, I want to know the outcome, and am baffled by all of the uncertainty involved.  I realize how much we have changed, and how a lack of immediate access to answers and information feels outrageous...even though I grew up communicating with friends via letter mail and researching homework in the encyclopedia.  More importantly, I can imagine the anguish of the families, and feel we should be able to do more in this day and age.  But perhaps that impatience isn't rational.

My news watching has also made me realize that I have not paid enough attention to some other parts of the world.  When I heard that Kazakhstan and China were taking the lead in the Northern Sector search for MH370, I went "Kazakhstan??  Really?"  Because the entire sum of knowledge I have of Kazakhstan comes from a single article years ago in National Geographic talking about the people and resources of each of the "new Stans" post Russia.  I really have been in a bubble.  Syria. Crimea, and Russia vs the Ukraine.  The West African Lion is "virtually extinct."  When I start to think about all of this it makes my head swim.  What is our role in all of this?  Are we simply meant to witness?  What can one person do?  What can I do?  Probably the most significant yet convenient thing each of us can do it to be aware, and to spread awareness.  We are all armchair journalists with facebook and tweeter, whether we choose to share jokes, gossip, causes, information, or campaigns.  When a cause has an audience, the odds of it receiving aid and facilitating change become greater.  One person, one decision at a time.  Maybe I can't stop the inevitable.  But, as with donations to animal shelters and rescue agencies, maybe I can save one lion.  Maybe preserve something for a generation.  Educate one child.  Well, then we all can.  And suddenly there are enough lions.  Less hungry children, who maybe grow up to be Doctors and Scientists and build a more harmonious world.  What if it just needs the momentum of a comparative few to "keep paying it forward," until it leads to a significant shift?  To refer back to something I read, it is worse to do nothing than too little just because it isn't enough.

(Somehow in that last paragraph the song "When the Children Cry," but White Lion, came into my head.  It's a good fit.  And it shows that the issue of situational song lyrics getting stuck in my head is still ongoing for another day.  But I really am going to give to Lion Aid.)

The other thing I did while I was recuperating was read.  The day that the media announced that Canada had officially pulled its military out of Afghanistan, I opened up "The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul."  Over the past 12 years how I think of Afghanistan has changed.  Before 9/11, I thought of the loss of women's rights when I thought of Afghanistan.  The resurgence of the Taliban.  I remember after 9/11 some coworkers trying to make heads or tails out of why our military was going to Afghanistan, and who these Taliban guys were, and being shocked that I could give a pretty decent summary.  As always, my diligent reading of National Geographic had covered all of this many months before North America became involved in the conflict.  Our association with Afghanistan and the Taliban gave way to Afghanistan and Terrorist groups like Al-Queda, then simply to war, and drugs.  I think many people, including myself, forgot about a time when we looked at the oppression of women as the worst thing happening in Afghanistan.  As I turned the pages, I remembered that a generation of women were stripped of their rights, not only to be forced under the burkha, denied education and employment, and forbidden to drive, but had the most basic human rights taken away,  were imprisoned, sold, or killed.

When we think of the years that many militaries were stationed in Afghanistan, we obviously think of being at war with terror, and almost as an afterthought, a war on drugs from the region.  But have things changed for the people of Afghanistan in those years?  The oppressed?  Well, I don't remember hearing a lot about this in the news (but I am not always a news junkie), but it was 2004 that Afghanistan changed its Constitution to give equal rights to men and women.  October of 2004 was the first time women were allowed to vote in decades (for it was not always an oppressive state).  Yet in 2009, the Shia law was passed, which meant a woman could not leave her home without permission, nor could she ever refuse sexual relations with her husband.  Yup.  They made it law.  This pops up again in 2010 in the Shiite law for Muslims.  And as the world starts talking about leaving Afghanistan, civilian deaths peak in 2011 at the hands of the Taliban.  However in 2011, over 2 millions girls have returned to schools in Afghanistan.  A poll showed 72% felt their lives had improved over the past decade of foreign occupation.  86% feared a return to Taliban rule.  Life expectancy increased from 42 to 62 years of age.  There are still child brides.  Some factions are currently working to repeal or amend the Law for Elimination of Violence against women that was passed a sparse 4 years ago.  Our militaries made a difference.  I believe that absolutely.  But Afghanistan still has some difficult and disturbing internal conflicts to negotiate.

To leave on a lighter more literary note, I just wanted to share three quotes from the book that struck me.  I am not going to say why, and maybe out of the context of the book they are not as striking, but both of these sections made me stop and think.  I hope you like them.

"'It's one of those things that mark your life, as in before...and after.'  She turned her head to the darkening sky and breathed in deeply, her chest lifting.  'Just look at those stars.  Wherever you are -- in London, in LA, in Sierra Leone, in Kabul -- the sky is still the sky.  At least something is certain, no matter where you are in the world or whether it's before or after.  But I used to be different.'"

"Grief is a great teacher when it sends us back to serve and bless the living.  Thus, even when they are gone, the departed are with us, moving us to live as they wished themselves to live."

"Only as children when we're too young to understand the signs do we love unrequitedly.  If you love, it's because you feel its power reflected back on you."

Friday, March 14, 2014

My First Surgery

This blog is called my first surgery.  I'd like to report that I quietly snuck back to med school and was blogging about this experience as a fully functional surgeon, but alas, I don't like the sight of a flesh wound, and therefore I am still a lab tech, and my role in the hospital this time was as patient rather than professional.  I wasn't sure I wanted to write about this, but knowing that a friend back home is going through some more tests today for some health issues compelled me to write a little bit about it, just a show of solidarity.

I have acquired a total of 3 stitches in two separate incidents prior to this in my whole life.  Both were biopsies, prearranged and with local anaesthetic.  Both were also almost 25 years ago.  And so I have lived happily in the labs, hallways and cafeterias of the hospital most of my adult without ever having to be a patient.  I thought I had filled my quota with my admissions for childhood asthma.

However, 5 or 6 years ago I noticed that I felt like I was slowing down, or getting old.  I wasn't able to do everything that I was used to doing without feeling tired.  I had had a habit of operating on 4 hours sleep most nights in order to get everything done, and so I thought I had just pushed too hard for too long, and accepted fatigue as part of getting older (yes, I have always thought 30 was ancient!).  After I moved to Bermuda I noticed that it was even worse.  If I didn't HAVE to do anything, I could lay in bed and sleep, something I had never done before in my life.  For the first time, exercise was draining and something I had to force myself to do instead of doing for enjoyment.  My niece Jaycena had been killed earlier that year, and it so damn near killed me as well that I just assumed grief was what made me feel so different.  The following year I began to wonder if I was depressed and just unable to recover from that grief.  I finally went to my general practitioner, and although my Calcium level was high, everything else was OK.  That summer, as the sun came out and a new group of friends gave me the energy to go out, explore, and enjoy the island, I felt a lot better.  When January came round again, I found myself lethargic and ready to sleep the month away again.  When I ran out of prescriptions for my routine asthma inhalers, I had to go back to the Dr.  Routine bloodwork again showed a high Calcium, and to his credit he forwarded me on for an ultrasound right there and then as the body regulates its Calcium like a cache of gold, and any variation indicates and endocrine problem.  There are only a few possible scenarios.  Vitamin D deficiency, non-symptomatic presentation of a MEN gene mutation, and primary hyperparathyroidism.  The ultrasound was negative, meaning that none of the 4 parathyroid glands showed enlargement typical of hyperparathyroidism, nor would that be typical in my age group.  Frankly, that type of adenoma is rare, affecting 0.03% of adults, typically after the age of 60.  Vitamin D deficiency fits better with the case study of a Caucasian Canadian female in my age group.  So the Radiologist referred me to the endocrinologist (Dr. Annabel Fountain in Bermuda who is great should anyone else find themselves in this predicament) who did further tests which indicated a low but not deficient Vitamin D level, increased parathyroid hormone production, and an obvious hypercalcemia.  Since I did report feeling better during the summer, which fits with Vitamin D deficiency,  it was thought that I could indeed just be a flower that needed lots of sunlight.

Nope.  Monitoring of the levels showed that my calcium could dip up and down, but it never fell into normal range again.  Parathyroid hormone levels decreased with Vitamin D supplements, but clearly the off switch was broken.  Genetic screening was negative.  Bone density scans showed osteopenia, proving that the excess calcium leaching out of my system was coming from the breakdown of my skeleton.  My endocrinologist scratched her head at the non-classical picture that was emerging, and consulted with colleagues overseas, but the process of elimination, the only diagnosis possible was primary hyperparathyroidism, caused by a rogue gland that we could not see on imaging.  The next step was to try a nuclear scan, to inject a radioactive dye with a specific target to see if one of the four glands might not be enlarged, but be hyperactive.  It too was negative.  Surgery is the only correction for primary hyerparathyroidism.  With the information as to which gland needs to be removed, it can be a short surgery, approximately 2 hours.  With no target, it can take up to 8 hours, and be unsuccessful, later requiring further exploratory surgeries.  This is not a venture my endocrinologist wanted to send me off to with the information we had.  And so we waited and monitored it for another year.  The next bone density scan showed a marked bone loss.  I still felt old and tired and not my old self.  And so, because this is a low incidence illness, I was referred overseas to an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, hence all the Boston trips in this blog the last few months.

I fell a little bit in love with Mass General Hospital.  Every member of staff I dealt with had a smile on their face.  There were no surly desk clerks, no short tempered responses to questions for directions from random busy people, I was never rushed out of an appointment like a nuisance, but instead every thing was carefully explained, and every person waited patiently after they explained in case I wanted to ask any questions.  In addition to having a great reputation (MGH stands for Mass General Hospital, but when a radiologist here asked where I was having surgery and I replied MGH, he said "Man's Greatest Hospital, that's great news!"), the pride of labour and employee satisfaction shines out of every individual I encountered there.  I told my family that I was happy to be in a place in my life that if I need surgery, that everybody in the room that gets to stay awake will at least have attended Harvard.  My first Dr. was an endocrinologist, Dr. Guiseppe Barbesino, who again I would highly recommend.  He personally performed another ultrasound to ensure that no adenoma was visible, reviewed results, and reconfirmed the diagnosis and the outcome.  "You need surgery.  You are too young to survive this disease."  I had been on the fence on whether surgery would really be necessary, and if I could possibly avoid it, or delay it until it got bigger, just out of a general aversion to being unconscious (and terrifyingly out of control) and having my body cut open.  It freaks me out a bit.  I was not admitting it, but the idea scared me.  A lot.  But those gently stated words and a description of the complications that would damage heart and kidneys and make me brittle made me understand there was no real choice to make here.  He carefully laid out a plan of action, and promised I would be referred to the very best surgeon there was for this type of surgery, and scheduled a 4DCT scan.

On my next visit to Boston, I went for the 4DCT Scan and meeting with a surgeon.  The CT scan feels a little weird as the heat washes over your body, but I had been sufficiently warned of every sensation I would feel by the 2 awesome techs doing the procedure.  They also let me know that this particular test had been pioneered by Mass General's very own Dr. Hunter, that he was the only person who read the scans, and that he was successful in 96% of cases in finding the adenoma.  I later pulled up the research, and his paper was just published in July 2013, and so I was certainly receiving the most cutting edge technology available.  After that it was off to meet the surgeon, Dr. Gaz, and I did so armed with my little checklist of questions to ask.  While sitting in the waiting room, I noticed the sign "Department of Gastrointestinal and Endocrine Surgery, Mass General Cancer Center."  What a strange place for my appointment, I thought, I don't have cancer.  I just have some cells proliferating out of control.  "Oh, crap," I thought, as the realization sunk in.  The good news is there are some situations where cells go wild, but in a way that they are contained and not a danger of moving to other areas, and aside from office signs, they don't even warrant the use of the C-word because they are totally survivable and totally manageable.  So much so that we just give them another name, like primary hyperparathyroidism.  Dr. Gaz is considered the best by everyone I talked to, but, all my research shows that one should be certain their surgeon has done this type of surgery many many times.  And so, after he explained all the complications, and also basically that they wouldn't happen under his hand, I asked him how many times he had done this before.  The answer was "Nine-thousand, nine hundred and..." Good enough for me!  I could only hope my question didn't come across as totally offensive at that point.  I figured if it did, I would just wake up from surgery with a scar on my neck that read "10,001 and awesome," or something like that.  But I jest.  Dr. Gaz is incredibly professional and skilled, and every person I talked to pre and post op told me how very lucky I was to have him for a surgeon.  He is know not just for successful surgery, but for leaving almost no scars, and for being protective and diligent with his patients.  Once again, I was lucky to be right where I was.  Dr. Barbesinso called me in the next morning to go over the results and Dr. Hunter had identified an area with 80% confidence where he believed I had an adenoma.  While that is a long way from 100%, it was a heck of a lot further away from the 0% we were at earlier in the process, and a very good sign indeed.

In 2 weeks, I was back in Boston for surgery.  Once this became a little real to me, that is when I started to feel a little vulnerable.  I didn't want anybody else around.  Initially I thought it would be fun to meet up with friends in the city, maybe have family fly out and visit, but the closer it came to it, the more I realized I wanted to hide away in privacy until it was all over.  I knew I would eventually be more open about it, but I wanted to get it over with, alone, and as soon as possible.  And so I swore my 5 immediate coworkers to silence and headed off quietly to Boston.  I relented when a few friends and family insisted that someone be there in case of emergency, in case the anaesthetic left me queasy for a few days, or there were complications.  So, who better than a nurse, who was available at the time, and who I had travelled and roomed with before.  Enter Margaret, who came down after being warned I may be incredibly grumpy (in addition to my uneasiness about surgery, apparently disconnecting parts of the endocrine system can make you incredibly grumpy for a while, enough so that the handout tells you to warn your family and friends that your personality changes should not be permanent).  She quietly flew in the night before surgery where we had a quick dinner at Foggo de Chau (this is a Brazilian steakhouse chain that you MUST eat at, just because it's fun.  You don't order, you flip your card to green or red, and when it's green, you are bombarded by waiters with skewers of meat...it's literally a frenzy of people trying to feed you until you quickly flip the card back to red), and first thing in the morning it was off to the OR.

In keeping with my being impressed with Mass General, my surgery was scheduled for 11:45 and I was asked to check in at 9am.  At 9:45 I was already being wheeled into the induction room, as the amazing Dr. Gaz had already completed his first 8am procedure ahead of schedule.  No matter how good any facility is, the TV series Scrubs was so popular because it exaggerates some very true quirks of working in a hospital.  Firstly, the lab is both reviled and feared by everyone in the hospital, mostly because I truly don't think anyone knows what we actually do.  I have decided the last thing you ever want to do when anyone approaches you with a needle is to answer their question about what you do for a living with the words "I'm a lab tech."  Nobody wants to insert a needle into a lab tech, and it is likely to induce shaking and require a do over, and the lab tech is not likely to be able to withhold from giving advice, which although successful, is probably not appreciated and would not have been needed had everyone remained ignorant to the profession of the patient in the first place.  The second truth is that the best doctors have to be extremely confident, and there is a satisfying comfort in knowing that the residents are at least moderately afraid of the physician molding them.  There is also a hierarchy that trickles down, the rewards of advancement being skill, the pride of surviving the earlier years, and the joy of knowing more than the newbie below you.  I saw all of this play out as the team descended upon me in the induction room, the introductions being a little hard to catch, but "Hi, I'm the surgical resident," definitely got my attention amid the swab going up my nose and the needle being poked at my hand.  "WAIT...resident?  Are you scrubbing in on this?  What part are you doing and what is Dr. Gaz doing?"  Having worked many years in a teaching hospital and knowing how well the oversight and training goes, this really should not have been my response, but...it was out before I could think about it.  "Well, it's not a one man job, someone has to clamp and stuff," he said.  "OK, you may clamp," I said.  While drawing the line on my neck with a purple marker for the incision, I knew that they would try to follow any natural crease to minimize the appearance of a scar.  While feeling what seemed to be a really really long line being drawn, one person said, "I don't think your line is straight, see how it veers off there?"  Bless him.  However, when I said I didn't catch his name, "You are Dr.....?" the rest of the team were quick to respond.  "He's not a DOCTOR, he's a medical student."  So, knowing that he was just there to observe explained that my line was probably not straight yet following the perfect natural path.  But I appreciated him speaking up, it takes a lot when you are the littlest fish in the pond.  At that point I just laughed and said "This really is a lot like Scrubs.  Doesn't the student get a name too though?"  I am not sure if this is all comforting to other people, but for me, this is the most comfortable thing, and this is where I finally relaxed.  This is the element I know and understand, and I knew that I was in excellent hands, that were not in the slightest bit worried about this procedure, because it was routine, normal, possibly even boring for them.  As they wheeled me into the theatre, the student quietly leaned in and showed me his id badge "My name is Kutar," he said with a little smile.  He deserved a name, and I am sure one day he will be a doctor with his own nameless minions to command.  Next thing I knew there was an oxygen mask and I was being asked to breathe deeply to fill my lungs with oxygen, which I knew was a step before before they put me under, so I figured I had a few seconds left to prepare.  On the third breath I realized I was getting no further warning...and finished that thought a few hours later in the recovery room.

The surgery was a success.  The surgical resident stopped in to check on me and said all had gone well.  I woke up without nausea.  There was no hoarseness, which is good because the surgery can damage the vocal chords, but Dr. Gaz is too skilled for that.  There was no irritation from the breathing tube.  My nurse asked if I felt any pain and I said I can feel a little sensation on the left....and then I was asleep again for a few hours.  Those IV meds are quick.  The next time I woke up and was asked I just said no, and quietly ate my ice chips.  Another hour later and I was slurping back a Venti Peppermint latte compliments of my private nurse Margaret, and settled in for the night with my Kindle and snack supply that Margaret had also brought.  I slept away most of the day and night, and had a warning that Dr. Gaz's residents would be in very early to check on me, probably 5 or 6 am.  At 4am, a nursing student was sent in to draw my morning labs.  He too made the mistake of asking about my profession, which caused his hands to shake uncontrollably while he stared at the little x he had drawn on my arm in the dark.  However, I did not have the side effect of being grumpy that they forewarned me about, in fact, although exhausted, I felt better inside than I had in years.  And so at 4:30am, the old teaching tech side resurfaced and I patiently guided him through the second attempt and directly into a good vein, and then told the nurse who poked her head in how awesome he had just done all by himself.  Reassurance precedes confidence after all.  As daylight dawned and the hospital woke up, Dr. Gaz appeared in my room before I sighted any residents to remove the surgical dressing and replace the external stitches with steristrips.  He gave me all of my lab results, intra and post operatively down to the picogram (knowing a lab tech would never be satisfied with anything less than the exact numbers rather than "everything looks good"), as well as the pathology report from the cryostat frozen section, and a disclaimer that the adenoma was trickier to find and deeper than expected, making him have to extend the incision, something he was obviously not happy about, being renowned for his tiny incision sites.  No less than 5 minutes after he left, 2 young attractive men in scrubs skidded into the opening of my door, looking all of about 23 or 24 years old.  Ah, my resident's have arrived, I thought.  "Hi, we're Dr. Gaz's residents," they said, eyes obviously taking in the lack of a dressing on my neck that they were supposed to change, and the opened sterile packaging fresh on the bedside.  "He's already been here hasn't he," the tall one said nervously.  'Yes, less than 5 minutes ago.  If you run you may head him off at the next patient."  "Thanks!" they said and they rushed off as fast as they could go.  Another Scrubs moment, I thought.

A few hours later, I had my discharge papers and was cleared to go.  It took a lot longer than expected, but I suspect they hung on to me because I was the easiest patient imaginable, fully able to disconnect myself from 02 sats, iv, and compression booties to move about, and be reconnected and sitting innocently in my bed when they nurse came to check why there was a beep on the monitor a few minutes earlier.  When I was discharged, they would have to trade me in for another patient who probably needed a bit more maintenance.

When I left the airport, I saw this billboard for MGH Cancer Center while I stood in line at Dunkin Donuts at Logan International.  It's a bit blurry, but the important part is this, "A partial list of amazing things Greg can do.  Have coffee.  Walk the Dog.  Wash the car.  Dinner with Janet."  It made me smile.  I have my health.  Life is really that simple.


So, 2 weeks later, the dressings are off, and I have a thin purple line that will likely fade and look natural in a short period of time.  My calcium levels have dropped, and instead of being high, I will have to monitor being a little low while my system recalibrates.  When I start getting tingling and numbness, I reach for the calcium supplements, but this too should fade over the next few weeks.  I have needed a lot of sleep in the recovery period.  Like 12-14 hours, and after 4 hours of being awake I am ready for a nap.  This too is part of the process.  Medically, there is no guarantee that I will feel better, or more energetic, but the measurable complications of the adenoma have been thwarted.  I am lucky enough to know another patient, a friend who went through this a year earlier, and she said within about 3 months she was feeling much much better.  And so that's what I am hoping for.  In the mean time, I just decided to tell this little but long story today with that friend of mine in mind who is going through their own medical experience.  Because I know how draining the process is.  That it makes you feel tired.  Vulnerable.  Irritated at the lack of answers, the lack of control.  That it can change your mood and how you live day to day.  And it's not something you get until you do it.  I am thankful for the excellent care and expertise that was made available to me at Mass General.  I am excited and hopeful to get back my old hyperactive exhaustingly busy self...she has been missed.  And I am wishing the best news for a friend today.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bewitched by Salem

I have always latched onto stories of history that deal with the human element, ao of course the Salem witch trials burned into my young mind many years ago.  In history books that discuss bloodlines, politics, and machinery updates and war dates page after page after page, the persecution of witches stands out from the norm.  Unlike the chapter discussing pagan rituals versus the growing power of the Church, Salem epitomizes the historical conflict whereby superstition and hysteria reigned over an already difficult life in a new world, when evil truly conquered good as fear overtook reality.  Salem will forever be famously infamous for its 19 court ordered hangings (and 1 execution via being "prest to death" slowly under heavy rocks) of accused witches, guilty only of failing to confess to the crime.  Beyond the history, intermingled with the legends, are theories involving greed, desperation, envy, politics, religion, and even mycology (delusions induced by the toxins in a mould affecting the grain supply)...how much more intrigue could I ask for?

And so on my last trip to Boston, knowing it would be off season by possibly my last chance to view Salem with my own eyes, I was determined to make my way there.  Ironically, this was much easier to do than I expected.  I took the subway from my hotel to the North Station stop, paid $13.50 for a return trip to Salem on the commuter rail, and chugged along for about 40 minutes down the tracks to Salem.  A sleepy little New England town.
Commuter rail stop in Salem, Massachusetts
Salem appears harmless today, in our world of light and information.  But if I picture myself alongside it's still waters, rickety shacks, and spooky trees in the darkness of the colonial life in 1692, I could get a little creeped out by stories of witches and demons.
The burying point in Salem

In the summer I can picture the money flowing through all of the little sights around town.  The Witch House, The Witch Dungeon, The Griffin Theatre, The Witch Museum, Town Hall (which houses yet another witch museum), the house of Monsters, and even the Pirate Museum.  Fortunately for my pocketbook, all of these things were closed for the season, as were most of the curiosity shops.  While I managed to get a wonderful T-shirt for my sister (insert evil grin here), the only other thing I managed to buy was a coffee and Belgian Waffle at the awesome cafe across from what I can only call a witch supermarket, Hex.  Some of the only things open at 10am on a February weekday were the witchcraft stores.  The first one I went into was playing a Lifehouse song on the radio, so I deemed it not authentic.  Hex was just the right level to creep me out a little bit with all the voodoo dolls and all.  They were sadly lacking a cat, so I knew they weren't authentic either.
When in Rome...
This was after Feb 14...I can only assume Valentine's Voodoo dolls after Feb 15th, and that the gentlemen of Salem choose their Valentine's gifts wisely.
Inside the awesome cafe, the waitresses were wearing their best small town rebellion couture, demonstrated by one goth waitress and one in a 80's attire, oversize top with one shoulder out and legwarmers with a faded denim skirt and runners.  I left with a strange longing for 1990, and a smug satisfaction that my favorite old looks are still awesome, even if only in Salem.
Offers tours, but not in February

As in Boston, a red line marks the tourist path through Salem.  I followed it as far as I could wander, mostly taking pictures of the closed signs along the route.
The famous Witch Museum and Dungeon...closed of course
Which house?  The closed one of course.
Closed
Town Hall and Museum -- Closed
The only other thing roaming the streets of Salem was a squirrel.
Just a squirrel looking for nuts...and it found me
The Burying Point
Fortunately the burial ground is open during daylight hour.  This old cemetery is noted more for housing the judge of the witch trials than the witches themselves.  A second cemetery is located outside of town (in 1692 there was Salem Town and Salem Village, modern Salem is Salem Town).  And of course in the center of the burial grounds is the obligatory creepy old tree, twisted like the souls of its residents of the period no doubt.  Liked the tree so much you get it in both black and white at the beginning of the blog and color now.
Twisted tree growing above some of the twisted souls that condemned 20 to die in Salem in 1692
The Witch Memorial is a quiet clearing of trees with some words inscribed in the ground and a nearby wall.  While the snow obscured much of it, this area has stone benches, each inscribed with the name of on of the executed, their date and method of execution.  In this small village, where over 200 were accused of witchcraft, those who confessed to be witches were spared, so long as they named others who should be accused and tried.  Those who stood up for truth an denied the claim spared other innocents, but paid the ultimate price.  As many as 8 members of this small community were hanged on a single day.  Some of their words, recorded in court, will hold fascination for centuries to come I expect.  Mary Bradley saying "I do plead not guilty.  I am wholly innocent of such wickedness," and being sentenced to hang for her honesty and integrity.  Martha Carrier's logic "I a wronged.  It is a shameful thing that you should mind these folks that are out of their wits," fell on deaf ears as she was condemned and executed.  Margaret Jacobs told the courts that "They told me that I would not confess I should be put down into the dungeon and be would be hanged, but if I would confess I should save my life."  She too was executed.  And poor Giles Corey who saw his wife hanged in the first round of executions refused a trial when his turn came, knowing there was no winning...and so they piled stones upon him until he was crushed.  It is still a powerful history to think on, and one that changed many legal principles in its wake.
The Witch Memorial (note the benches in the walls, one with each victim's name)
Aside from it's haunting history, Salem also has a shipping history, and its earliest upper class were involved in trade.  I wasn't expecting to come across this beautiful ship, but low and behold I found the USS Friendship peacefully docked on glimmering waters.  It turns out the Friendship was built in the wooden building by where she sits now, back in 1796.  She sailed to China 16 times, as well as Sumatra, Java, Madras, London, Hamburg, St. Petersburg, and Archangel among her many trips to buy sugar, coffee, and exotic spices for the colonies.  She was captured by the British in 1812.
The USS Friendship at her birthplace in Salem

She's a beaut!
On one final stop, I found an open attraction.  The House of Seven Gables.  Having absolutely no idea what this was, I quickly shelled out $12 for the privilege to run to catch up to a tour that had just started.  The house of seven gables was a period home of a wealthy merchant in which Nathaniel Hawthorne had been a frequent guest, and due to the unusual nature of a home with seven gables, it became the title of one of his books.  On the tour, we learned about the roof structure that comprises a gable, and trekked up hidden staircases which were added on after Hawthorne's time to delight tourists who were familiar with the mysterious movements of one of the characters through the house, which was described in great detail apparently.  Nathaniel Hawthorne grew up nearby, and his birth home was purchased by the historical society and placed on the same property when it was set for destruction.  It's current location hosts another spooky old tree, which was obviously not outside his window when he was younger or his writing would have been creepier.  I did not know that he grew up in Salem, it kind of makes "The Scarlet Letter," almost more interesting knowing that one of his ancestors was a judge in the Salem Witch Trials.
The House of Seven Gables
View from the merchant's house
The birth home of Nathaniel Hawthorme

One last tidbit of Salem information -- the TV series "Bewitched" was filmed here for 8 episodes in June 1970 while its normal studio was repaired after a fire.  A statue of Samantha stands in Salem today.
Samantha from Bewitched
So that was my quick journey into, and out of Salem.  I was afraid they would keep me, but I made it out OK!  Despite being off season, I was still bewitched by the history and the quaintness of this little town, and glad I made the trip out betwixt my other obligations.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Royal Naval Dockyards

Ah, Dockyard.  How shall I tackle the blog about Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyards?  It is the most obvious site to blog about but also the most difficult because there is actually a lot going on there.  It is the first place most cruise ship passengers will see as they all disembark since Dockyard is now the only port for the large cruise ships.  The massive luxury liners of the moment cannot navigate the smaller channel to the Eastern Town of St. George's or into Hamilton, and so all now arrive into Dockyard (The Veedham docked in Hamilton in 2013 but does not seem to be scheduled in 2014 but has promised to come back in 2015).

If you are arriving from North America, you will probably be taken by the "old world charm" of the site, as I was when I first saw the Clocktower Mall.  The Royal Naval Dockyard is the largest fortress on the island, but certainly not the oldest.  Fort St. Catherine has been around since 1612.  Construction on the Royal Naval Dockyard began in 1809, by the British of course, in the years after American won its independence from them.  Bermuda's was a vital trade and military base.  The British military remained at Dockyard in Bermuda until about 1957.  The Clocktower mall may appear broken on one side, but in fact the South tower is a clock and the North Tower has only one arm because it is a tidal clock, which was set each day to mark high tide for sailors.
Royal Naval Dockyard
Dockyard, from another angle, another time
Tourists and locals alike have a lot to do while in Dockyard.  Most of my guests find this to be their one of their favorite experiences on the island.  I always make sure to take them to Dockyard Glassworks and the Bermuda Rum Cake Company.  In this building, one can watch a live glassblowing display, as artisans make animal ornaments, dishes, vases, and more which is really quite interesting.  In addition to what you might expect, they also make colorful jewellery, awesome Christmas decorations (who doesn't want a Christmas ornament with a little gecko sitting on top), and practical glassware.  The Bermuda Rum Cake Company has some free samples -- but only if you are of legal drinking age (for good reason).  Most times people find something at this stop that they absolutely must take home.
The Glassworks artists at work

A little further around the corner and you will find Snorkel Park and the mini golf range.  This area has been developed with the cruise ship passengers in mind, and so is usually too busy for my liking, but it is a fabulous area within walking distance from the ships for shore excursions.  Continuing beyond that you will find the Frog and Onion, a very nice old pub atmosphere with dark wood, candelabras, and it is also Bermuda's only brewery is you wish to sample some local ales.  They also comes in Schooner size.
Dinner at the charming Frog and Onion during Barb's visit

Dev domonstrating the difference between a pint and a schooner
The Dockyards Art Center and the Craft Market have many things to take home, including pink sand jewellery, silver crafted longtails and moongates, banana leaf angels (some of those are on the family Christmas trees at home, I love them), and many other local crafts.  One can also buy delicious pepper jams in various flavours like "Storm Force" or "Hurricane Force."  Or, you could pick up one of my photos if you reeeally wanted to.  My friends Dev and Sue also currently have some of theirs available for sale there.  I always love to stop at the Pastry Shop for a chocolate croissant, and I noticed on my last visit to Dockyard that the shop is doing so well that they have expanded into a little cafe and bar on the upper level on the building that they are in.  The mall has lots of little knick knacks for the visitors, and most cannot resist a purchase at E.R. Aubrey, a local jeweller producing gemstones like the Bermuda Lucky Stone and the Ocean Mist very pretty stones made for the Bermuda market as I understand it.
Dockyard's eco-lawnmowers below the commissioner's house
The real point of Dockyard though, is the museum.  A steal of a deal, the $10 admission get you into the museum, which encompasses what was "The Keep" of the Fort.  The Keep in an old Fort was the area in which the military could make a final stand.  It is usually surrounded by a moat, high and thick walls, a lot of artillery, and everything the soldiers would need to hold off an enemy until reinforcements arrived.  Weapons storage, kitchens, water storage, and in this case, the Commissioner's House was enclosed in the keep.  The museum does a good job of providing information about Bermuda's history, with each building being a different display.  Racing ships in one, sunken treasure from the reef wrecks in another, the military history from the 1600's to the present, the role of Bermuda in WWI and II, and slavery in the Commissioner's House.
The Olson's found this a fun place for the family to go
I also had a great time
Plenty of good places to stuff a baby for photo opportunities
View from the Commissioner's front door
Beyond the walls of the Keep lays a huge historical site
My sisters (one by choice, crazy girl) on the wall above the prisoner's cells...and a little cave
Also housed in the Keep is Dophin Quest Bermuda, and included in the price of admission to the museum one can view the dolphins and watch free shows.  You can also make the experience a little more personal.  I know a lot of people are concerned about animals in enclosures, it was also my first question.  I had the opportunity to volunteer with Dolphin Quest when the dolphins were calving a few years back, and spent many nights sitting at the side of their pools, watching them play, swim, counting their breaths and watching for contractions (the benefit of shift work is that I could go out after my shift ended at midnight and stay til 4am, just me, a staff member, and the dolphins).  What I saw were happy, interactive, and engaged animals...both at day and night.  I never felt that they were anything other than happy.  And one of my best days on the island was the day I got to go and swim with some of the new mom's, and watch their babies learn...there is such thing as a clumsy dolphin.
Me and Bailey (photo by Dolphin Quest)
What always surprises me about the Royal Naval Dockyards is how large the site actually is.  Outside of everything I have mentioned, there is a lot of space available for use.  Building after building after building waiting to be reclaimed.  Some are currently being refurbished for reopening, and it is one thing I will be sad to miss once I am gone, as the site is absolutely fascinating to me and I would love to see inside some of those buildings when they open.  If you are visiting Bermuda, come to Dockyard early and plan to spend a whole day here.  They also have a weekly market, and many special events over the summer.  And don't forget the dolphins, the experience is quite soulful and worth every penny.
Some of the many buildings not in use
 Overall, there is much to see and do in Dockyard, and as time goes by I think it will get busier and bigger.  It is an absolute must for all visitors to the island, and a treat for us locals.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Road Not Taken

My Road Less Traveled One Day
"Two Roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both,
And be one traveller long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth."

-- Robert Frost


We all know the poem.  I HOPE we all know the poem, and about the dilemma in paths, and the outcome.  Robert Frost had it rough.  I have 20.6 square miles, 5 years, and a scooter.  I get to take all the paths before I go.  It would drive me nuts to leave the island for good and see some photo in National Geographic of the world's most pristine beauty, and realize it was in my backyard and I missed it.  If that happens, I at least want to be the photographer.

As it happens, there is a road that I usually avoid because the derelict building on the corner gives me the creeps.  It's where the road curves just before the police station in Somerset, an area where I once thought to myself "I would hate to get stranded here late at night."  It is also, the precise location where I heard pieces falling off my old bike, Little Red, after dark one evening while driving to the movie theatre out in Dockyard.  As scary as that seemed at the time (in retrospect I was a little overly anxious for nothing), it did earn me some "street cred," because when I told two colleagues on Monday morning that I had dropped a tranny in Somerset, they later confided that in their Australian and Kiwi use of the terms they truly did not take that to mean a problem with the transmission of my bike, but rather thought for several days that I was the type to go around provoking and winning physical altercations with transvestites.  The easy part about my blog is that I don't have to make anything up, although sometimes I am remiss to admit that.

Anyway, if you don't follow the main road around the curve, but go straight past the dilapidated building, the first thing that you will come across is Cambridge Beaches, a nice hotel that I have only ever visited via sea aboard the Cactus.  I did not go on the ground to take any photos, but drove a little further around the bend an that there is a Somerset Long Bay Park (we also have a Warwick Long Bay).
Somerset Long Bay Park
This is another spot with a lot of grounds and a lot of open quiet space to enjoy.  This beach is in between Cambridge Beaches and Nine Beaches Resort, and right at the edge of the park in the photo above.
A gorgeous palette of pastels...and I cannot hide that my camera needs a good cleaning.
9 Beaches is currently closed for renovations.  A 55 Million Dollar renovation according to the website, but set to open in 2015.  The 9 Beaches concept is a good one.  They call these units "executive tents."  The structures are built on stilts, soft sided, but have all the amenities of indoor living, and yes that includes indoor plumbing.  The rare complaint that I saw on Trip Advisor from past guests was that the sound of the ocean was too loud to fall asleep to.
9 Beaches
The area was so beautiful that it was hard to pick which photo was my favorite.  But the series of photos is absolutely one of my new favorites.  The water had some greens as well as blues in this area, and reminded me of one of my favorite old songs by "The Cure," in which Robert Smith woefully sings "and so we watched the sun fall off the edge of the deep green sea..." lyrics I always loved as I had never thought of the sea as being anything other than blue growing up in Saskatchewan.
Adrift at Daniel's Head Road
Breathtaking Bermuda
And just as an added bonus, I found what I can only describe as another "duck sanctuary."  I parked the bike to look around and, believe it or not, a car pulled up behind me and the woman driving stepped out and said "Do you like ducks?"  I was wondering if she had read my blog, but then she pulled out a loaf of bread and they came out of the woodwork, plus a couple of geese.  There was this really interesting little duck in the mix...check this guy out as the last photo of the day.  This little pond and surrounding area by Daniel's Head Road is funded by the Bermuda Audubon Society.
Space Duck (aka Wood Duck or Aix sponsa, the red eyes are a masculine feature in this fellow)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Trip Down Memory Lane


They always say the fun is in the journey rather than the destination.  Today I decided to share a few photos that I stopped to snap while on the way to somewhere else.  This first two photos are a before and after from some housing developments on the West End, aka out by Dockyard (which I would kind of think of as the North End, but it is not so).  The building below is pretty beat up, and presumably unoccupied.  But as recently as last year some of its neighbours looked to be in the same shape, but showed obvious signs of habitation...things like laundry lines and chairs on the patios.
Change is everywhere in the West End right now
It was a pleasant surprise to see something new popping up in their stead.  For those of you looking for the sea glass beach...turn left when you hit these new homes.
I was drawn to these new pastel homes, they style looking more American than Bermudian to my untrained eye
I also stopped to take this picture of a quiet river scene.
On the banks of the Bermudian River...not
This is a tough shot to get in Bermuda because there are no rivers in Bermuda.  In fact, we have no freshwater source at all except rainfall.  All the water that we drink and shower with is collected in a cistern beneath our homes.  If there is a water table in Bermuda, it's only got salt water.  But, this little ocean inlet looks a lot like a pretty river, and was one of those rewards for pulling over and backtracking when a flash of unfamiliar hit my periphery while zooming down the road on my scooter at the legal 35 km per hour.

There is a little gatehouse on the bridge entering Dockyard.  I stopped to photograph it, and when looking through the bars could see a white cross on the rocks beyond it.  Another quiet roadside memorial to someone's beloved.
The Gatehouse

There is also a stately home in this area which I always presumed was left over from the naval presence at Dockyard.  It is close to but not within the confines of the old Fort, but the structure reminds me of the Commissioner's House.  I was surprised to drive up the little path to this spot and simply find it to be a private residence with a beautiful view.

Old style homes with a view
The view that comes with the house
I also cannot count the amount of times I have driven past this next little spot and never stopped. When I finally did I had to laugh, as the name is clearly marked and it is a rather notorious little spot that I have been to before...but by sea rather than by land.  This would be the site of a rather famous annual event known as "The Non-Mariner's Race," which takes place at the end of the annual Cup Match Holiday (we take 2 days off for Bermuda's Emancipation Day and the ends of the island become rivals for the 2 day Cricket Match).  Due to the rivalry, try to avoid wearing red, blue, or blue and blue or blue and red, as any combination will be interpreted as support of one of the teams by everyone local that you meet during the day.  Any other time of the year these colors are fine, but the last weekend of July/first weekend of August, it's easier to just wear pink or something.  The Non-Mariner's Race is a short race of home made vessels that are most definitely not seaworthy, which is part of the fun.  Rafts, blow up toys, lawnmower powered crafts, etc will all be entered.  Most spectators look on from boats, as a good percent of the island population sails or motors into the area and "ties up" with other boats turning this area into a very large and disparate floating raft of ships and bodies.  This annual, quasi controlled chaos takes place near Mangrove Bay.

I dug through some old digital snapshots looking for a photo of this event, and ended up taking a stroll down memory lane as I came across a couple of pictures taken from the race 2010.  A lot has changed, as it does in an Ex-Pat community.  I am the only one on board that day that is still in Bermuda today.  Our vessel was "The Cactus" with Captain Clarke, the Newfie Rogue of the Bermuda Seas.  Can you pick him out of the photo below?  I wonder if he dresses the same in Vancouver now.

Life is tough in Bermuda
More of the boats can be seen behind Lisa's portrait.  Lisa's work has taken her to Colorado and now Boston.

Lisa with the Non-Mariner's Armada behind her
Selfie of Cherie, Lou and me.  Both are on the mainland now.
Overboard at Mangrove Bay...we never know where this one will turn up next but one of the last pictures I saw on facebook was titled, "The Sheik of Qatar".  They were kidding.  Well, mostly.
But fast forward 3.5 years to a nice spring day and Mangrove Bay looks a bit more tranquil.
I wonder what type of tree this is?  Please don't tell me mangrove...
And these are the treasures of my spare time as of late.  Hope you enjoyed them.