Feathered Aspen


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Merry Christmas, ya’ll

It’s been a lifetime since this blog began.  Four year ago, Joshua and I had just returned from a short vacation with my dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon in the Ozarks.  My dad suggested that I start a blog, and so I did.

It’s safe to say that I began much the same way that I’ve maintained the blog in years since:  with an effort not quite approaching moderation.  Three lengthy posts were followed by a few months of silence, and then a consistency which has been heretofore unrepeated.

What changed?  New Orleans.  Or rather, our departure from New Orleans.

Joshua and I joined the 2008 Teach For America corps and were placed in New Orleans.  The next two years were…  Difficult to describe.  Even now, I vacillate between an endless catalogue of the injustices I witnessed and speechlessness.  I crave a concise and accurate description that somehow encapsulates why I stayed or what it all meant, but in honesty, I’ve given up.  It’s been more than three years since we left, and since then, I’ve thought about New Orleans and those two years often.  I am no closer to an explanation than I was when I left.

Sarah, my sister-in-law, is considering a move to Denver this summer, and we decided to come back to visit before she left.  New Orleans is a strange, wonderful, and terrible city.  We wanted to revisit some of the wonderful.

Among the things that I love about New Orleans:  beautiful, brightly colored homes with gorgeous woodwork and enviable porches; the smell of magnolias and night blooming jasmine, even in December; the best pulled pork in the world; a complicated and fascinating history.

They’re still here.  We’ve walked through Holy Cross, the Bywater, the Marigny, and the French Quarter, admiring the ivy dripping from second story terraces and searching for our favorite color combinations.  We walked down St. Charles and then down Prytania, wondering who is fabulously wealthy enough to live in these palacial buildings.  In some ways, it’s even more stunning now.  More and more homes have been renovated, and it seems like every building has a fresh coat of paint.

We’ve visited The Joint, home of our favorite pulled pork sandwich, twice, and we’ve had brunch three times already.  Sarah is an endless fount of knowledge when it comes to local history, and she entertains me with anecdotal history as we make the long trek from Uptown back to the Lower Ninth Ward.

We’ve even spent time with some of our teacher friends who taught with us in the alternative school.  I’m stunned by how comfortable we are around one another.  It’s not the same as picking up exactly where we left off – we’re all in very different places now – but we have the same ease.  Everyone talks about those two years a little bit differently:  Katie and Phil see it as a painful but meaningful catalyst for their life’s work, Claire sees it as a crucible, and Joshua still holds out hope for meaning.  Strangely, it seems like I’ve forgotten the most, and whereas most of us can clearly see where our presence was beneficial, I struggle to distinguish between good and bad, positive and negative.

New Orleans is a puzzle of race, poverty, entrenched disillusionment and despair.  This is the first place where I came face to face with violence and death, and I still don’t know what to make of it.

In the same way that I struggle to sum up those two years, our time here in the past two weeks has only confirmed my confusion.  New Orleans is a special place, unlike any other city, and it is a place marked with the indelible etch of trauma:  in the crumbling streets, preserved National Guard graffiti, long list of the dead, and vacant homes in every neighborhood.

Last night, we listened.  On New Year’s Eve, it’s not unusual to hear the fire and pop of fireworks late into the night, but per usual, New Orleans takes decadence and danger to a whole new level.  It sounded like a battle.  After midnight, we lay in bed with Lily between us, watching light flicker along the walls and listening to explosions that sounded as though they were in the same room as us.  Papa Tim peered out the window and saw young children running out of their homes with lit roman candles and tossing them into the street were they would sing and burst.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to come back, to spend time with Nana, Sarah, Papa, and Granny.  I’ve loved the food and our long walks and runs.  Even better is the uninterrupted time with Lily and Joshua.  At night, we’ve watched a few movies, and I’ve slept a lot.  It’s been a good vacation.

And I’ll be happy to go home.  I miss Denver and our home.  I miss our bed.  Hopefully, there will be a dusting of snow when we return.

So thank you, New Orleans, for sharing with us the good and the bad:  your beauty and your dirty underbelly.  No, really.  You’re teaching a lesson I’m still learning.  I promise to miss your pulled pork, pretty porches and levees.  I promise to wonder how you’re doing and mourn your dead.  And if I never return, you’ll know that you’ve still managed to change me forever.

Merry Christmas from New Orleans, ya’ll, and a Happy New Year.


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Christmas in New Orleans Act 1

Traditionally Ellie and I spend our Christmas back in Minnesota.  Known as the Christmas Blitz we spend 8-12 days bouncing back and forth between our various sets of parents.  Last year was pretty difficult with Lily in tow.  This year we decided to change things up a bit and spend our break in New Orleans at my sister’s place.  Nana Yvonne came for the first week.  Papa Tim and Granny Joette are here for the second week.

While New Orleans isn’t the most kid friendly of cities, its been nice to revisit our old haunts and share some great food.  We had a lovely time with Nana, and we are currently enjoying playing with Papa and Granny.  Inspired by Ellie’s magical California vacation videos (Summer Vacation in Three Acts), I decided to make one for our Christmas in New Orleans.


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12 Days of Christmas: Over the River and through the Woods…

Christmas was a whirlwind, so a photo-journal will have to document what I am to weary to catalogue:

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On Christmas Eve, a sick Lily opened a few gifts while leaning back against mom and having photos taken by Grandma (and dad).2

Opening the gifts was as much fun and playing with them once they were opened.

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On Christmas morning, Joshua and I tried to go for a run, but it was just to darn cold, and we lost steam less than a 1/2 mile from the house.  Instead, we got dressed and relaxed with Papa Tim, Granny Joette, and Auntie Sarah.

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And we opened some more gifts.5

Some good toys 🙂6

Lots of fun 🙂7

A telephone from Auntie Sarah.8

Auntie Sarah and Dad have the same expression:  JEALOUSY.

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Some kisses.

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Irish cream and coffee…

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The requisite family photos (above:  Gaetano, Joshua, Sarah, Ellie, and Jacquelyn)

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The kiddos (Joshua, Sarah, and Gaetano)

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Papa, Joshua (thank you, good sir), Sarah, Gaetano, and Joette

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The whole fam (except Lily, who’s napping).

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Cousin JoJo came over.  Lily perked up, but JoJo was not impressed. (Dixie and Shannon in the background.)

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JoJo soaks up some Joette love.

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Joette, JoJo, me, and Lily.

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Got your nose (and mom’s necklace).

We were toasty warm despite the chill outside, and Christmas morning was filled with catching up, opening gifts, and sipping coffee.  It was so nice to see everyone!  Lily was still feeling sick, so she was not her usual cheery self.  Gift opening and Christmas greetings were a bit overwhelming, and she spent much of the morning napping, crying, and blowing snot into mom’s velvet dress.

In the afternoon, the three of us (and Thibodeaux and Oscar) piled into the car with Auntie Sarah, and we drove to Stokholm, Wisconsin, where Nana Yvonne and Grumpy Dave live.

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It was quite the drive.  Truly “over the hills and through the woods to grandmother’s house” we went.  So much so that we had to take a little pitstop so that Marge could barf (seriously.  Only it was Sarah, not Margie.).

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But is sure was pretty.  By Pepin in the little town of Maidenrock, we looked out over bluffs down to the frozen lake below.  I don’t have a picture of the whole thing, but here’s a photo from the web:

The place is absolutely beautiful.  Unfortunately, some f***ers (you’ll pardon my french) have set up camp along the river and are fracking oil, injecting nasty chemicals into the ground and contaminating the water supply.

Of course, Evil People (oh excuse me, corporations) always put a positive spin on raping the earth.

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Finally we made it to Nana and Grumpy’s.  They live in a perfectly stunning little farmhouse outside of Stokholm, and the two of them have made it very cozy and charming with tons of Nana’s artwork, lots of photos, and good colors.  Nana even got Lily an old-fashioned wooden high chair to eat at the dinner table.  Clearly, Lily approved of Nana’s good taste.

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After a good long nap in the car, Lily was a smiles again.

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She spent some time on Daddy’s shoulders.  You can tell she’s feeling better but still sick.  Her eyes don’t quite open when she’s not feeling well.

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Cuddles with Auntie.  Sarah bought Lily her Christmas outfit.  My favorite part is her little red socks 🙂

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Nana made fried tacos for Christmas dinner.  They were delish 🙂

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The blue-eyed Minnesota genes.

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My good looking husband.

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Mom and Lily on the couch.

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Oscar cuddles with stuffed Oscar.

I’d like to say that we spent the rest of the evening as we usually do, drinking wine, playing games, and opening gifts.  But Lily had other ideas.  Midway through Yahtzee, she started to squirm in earnest, and I spent the rest of the evening trying to comfort her.  It’s so nice to see everyone, and it’s hard being so far away from family, but the go around at Christmas is difficult.

I find myself feeling guilty (cracks about Catholic, midwestern guilt appreciated here) the whole time.  I feel guilty that our jobs have taken us so far away from family, guilty that a 19 hour drive back to family and a change in climate and routine has made Lily sick.  I feel guilty that we aren’t spending enough time with everyone and that they don’t get to see Lily at her best.  I feel guilty that the culmination of a long, very cramped and very stressful car ride coupled with strange beds, a sick baby, and too much time spent driving to and fro has made me cranky and anxious.

I love Minnesota, especially in winter, and I’m not being sarcastic.  I know most people are when they say that.  I’m one of those rarer breeds who love the winter because I love snow.  I love the weak, pink light that the sun makes as it descends below the flat, cold skyline.  I love the swish of my skis against icy snow and running when my breath makes puffs of steam in the air.  I love how ice crystals form on my eyelashes and the flyaways that have escaped my hat and neckwarmer.  I love the contrast of bare branches against all the white.

And I love my mom.  I love how she makes every space that she lives in a home.  Her hodge-podge furniture that she’s found (for free, mostly) and saved, the fabrics that she’s found (for free, mostly) and salvaged, and the artwork that she’s made or discovered (for free, mostly) creates this collage of earthy colors, homey vignettes, and well, spaces that just speak “Eunice.”

I love how she cooks.  It’s probably one of the first things that I tell people about her.  When I’m trying to describe my mom, I explain how she cooks.  You know that cliche saying about how “Indians used the whole animal”?  Well, that’s my mom.  If you were to look in the fridge or the pantry and ascertained that there is absolutely nothing in there (oh sure, maybe some rice, an apple, a few wilted fronds of kale, one small head of broccoli, the heel of a loaf of bread, and the back end of a wedge of parmesean) and what is left could not possibly be assembled into anything that remotely resembles a palatable meal, my mother is here to prove you wrong.  She’ll whip up a meal with her trusty iron skillet, and it will be sublime.  It always is.

I love sitting down and making art with my mom.  I love that she’s always making something: music or soulful conversation, art or food.  I may tease her, because frankly, going “meta” all the time can drive me bonkers, but I love that my mom has made a life that speaks for her.

I love my dad.  He gets me, or at least he gives the impression that he gets me.  He might think I’m off the charts or something, but I feel “gotten” when I’m with him.  He laughs at my acerbic observations and just generally makes me feel far wittier than I deserve.  He asks great questions without me feeling like I’m being interviewed, and he always seems interested in the answers.  He’s smart and loving, and he treats people well.  We can talk and talk, and we love to run together.  He lets me know that he’s proud of me for things that feel like, well, duh, normal.  And when he lets me know that he’s proud, it feels pretty nice like, well, I guess I am pretty cool.

Ironically, I think his opinion matter more than almost anyone’s to me, and yet, I can’t remember the last time he’s given it.  I think dad just wants to see what I’ll do next, and he doesn’t need to lead or influence behind the scenes.  Maybe that’s the teacher in him.  He did his part; he did the best he could, and now he’s content to see me use the things I’ve learned to make something new and different.

I love Mandy, her conversation, and her will.  I love how she gets excited and knows exactly what she wants.  I love Eamon and how he wears his hat cocked to one side and his pajama pants way too short.  I love how he sit next to me on the couch and puts his head on my shoulder.

I love Hannah.  I love how she’s forging an identity all her own, and even though she loves people to pieces  she won’t let them push her around.

And then there’s Joshua’s side of the family.  They’ve welcomed me with a generosity and familiarity that is humbling.  Papa Tim and Granny Joette are constantly providing.  Their time, skill, and care are such steady forces in our lives.  Nana Yvonne and Grumpy Dave have a special place for each of us in their homes and hearts, and every time I spend time with them, I am reminded again how well they have loved their families.  Their priorities are very clear.

So of course I want to share all of this with Lily.  I want her to have relationships with these wonderful and important people, and I want her to “get” Minnesota.  But it’s hard.  We’re still figuring it out.

30In the meantime, we’re living out of overflowing suitcases and abiding by a master schedule so that we can spend time with everyone.

That’s all from Stockholm, where the men are hard of hearing, the women wear “progressive” lenses, and the children are snarky.


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12 Days of Christmas: 4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens, and 2 Turtle Doves

Days 2 and 3:

We spent another couple of days with Grandma Eunice.  With Lily feeling under the weather, we didn’t do too much, but it was nice to just spend time with one another.

On Day 2, we did have an outing at the Art Museum, and although Lily didn’t seem too impressed, it was nice to walk around in a warm place.  It’s been pretty cold outside, and we’re trying to avoid the chill for Lily’s sake.  We explored the Japanese Landscapes, the American West, and Prairie Architecture before we got tired and retreated back to my mom’s place.

a respite beautiful grandma dad and me family hens for hen light lovely museumd are serious business... not as cool as the science museum slightly bored stairs twin cities

 

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing, playing on the living room floor and opening a couple more gifts from Grandma (flannel!  Someone was reading my Recipe post :)).

a fine cranium a spot in the sun musician nap play with me play sleep this is how you...

 

That night was terrible.  Lily’s cough has gotten worse, she’s pulling on her ear, teething, and seriously constipated.  Sleeping in a different bed and building a pillow mound to help alleviate the cough means that I was sore all over and not very well rested.  Co-sleeping is awesome, but traveling and sickness do pose some difficulties.

Joshua let me sleep in a bit more, and then we headed to Grandma’s.  While Grandma had some alone time with Lily, Joshua and I ran 9 miles!  It’s not the farthest either of us has ever urn, but it is the farthest I’ve gone since before I got pregnant, so I felt pretty darn proud of myself.  As we ran around Nokomis, we even saw a coyote, and that made us run a little faster.

We spent the rest of Christmas Eve trying to make Lily as comfortable as possible.  Joshua has more to share there, and I absolutely refuse to post pictures of poop on the blog, but suffice it to say that Lily was VERY backed up.  Brittaney told me about self-weaning, and we went a little crazy with solids.  Lily had little scraps of grapes, prunes, egg, oatmeal, squash soup, apple, clementine, and banana, and then she didn’t poo for four days.

Poor thing screamed and pushed and pushed, and then dad had to take matters into his own hands.

I took a bath with Lily and she was finally able to work one out on her own.  Not so cleanly.

While Lily slept a fevered sleep on my chest, Joshua wrapped presents, Grandma cooked up delicious food (falafel chili, pizza tostadas…), and we played with Grandma’s cacophony of instruments, singing Rudolph the Rednosed Raindeer and Jingle Bells.

It was a lovely time spent with Grandma…  And that’s all from Minneapolis, where the streets have lovely names like Longfellow, Nokomis, Hiawatha, and Minnehaha, the gardens are grown for victory, and the art museums are free.


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The Long Journey Home

December 24, 2010

On Christmas Eve morning, I woke up to a woman asking me if she could draw my blood. Trying out my voice for the first time in hours, I told her she could.

Joshua looked over at me and wished me a Happy Christmas Eve. I resolved to get the hell out of this hospital.

It took two more hours to get a nurse to give me pain meds and another two more hours to get a doctor to come and see me. In the mean time, I slept and Joshua called the Urgent Care that we had visited on our first day. Apparently, they had the results of my culture back, but they wouldn’t share it with anyone but a doctor.

When my favorite (sarcasm) doctor finally arrived, she told us that I couldn’t leave because the culture hadn’t come back yet. When we told her that it had come back from the Urgent Care, she said that it hadn’t; we were wrong. Giving her the phone number we had just called, we asked her to try again.

Apparently, our culture had come back, and the doctor went out to get the fax. When she came back, she handed us a sheet of paper and explained that my culture had revealed an extremely rare bacteria with a resistance to all but one anti-biotic. The bacteria is not quite as resistant to ciprofloxcin – which might explain why that antibiotic had been able to stave off the infection for a week – but ultimately, it was able to resist and grow back.

Getting the culture back meant that our doctor was able to prescribe both the correct antibiotic and a course of painkillers for the next week. Basically, everything the hospital was doing – pumping me with fluids, monitoring my temperature, giving me painkillers and antibiotics – we can do at home. Even so, I would have to sign a waiver, acknowledging that my doctor didn’t want to discharge me quite yet. It had only been 12 hours since my temperature was at 102, and their policy was to wait until 24 hours after the presence of a fever.

Warily, I penned my signature. While I want to get out of here, and I definitely want to spend Christmas Eve in my new house with family, any insurance coverage we might have definitely will not cover me if I have to readmit myself.

Mom came to pick us up, and back at the house, I showered. Joshua ran to Walgreens to fill up my prescriptions, and after a piece of toast and a round of goodbyes, Joshua and I were out the door and on our way to the new house.

It takes about an hour to get from St. Paul to Ellsworth, and I woke up just we turned off onto the country road that would lead us home. Still feeling weak, and still feeling as though I’m not quite sure what has happened in the past day, week, six months, I reached out and grabbed Joshua’s arm. Steering over the snow and ice, looking out at rolling, frozen white fields dotted with silos and barns and farms, my husband turned his head to look at me. We’re going home, he said.

December 23, 2010

I spent the day before Christmas Eve lying in a hospital bed. My dad, Mandy, Hannah, and Eamon came to visit me, and they welcomed me home. Mom came in before and after work, and so did Yvonne. The room was filled with family for the whole day, and although I was feeling somewhat more stable, the pain in my side remained. With the pain meds, I fell in and out of sleep, and mostly, I my visitors spent time watching me, telling me stories, or talking to one another. I wasn’t much for conversation.

My third doctor decided that I needed to have a CT Scan, and reassured again and again that either the Travel Insurance or Minnesota Aid would cover it, I agreed. Later in the day, when everyone had left for the afternoon, the Social Worker came in and although I was half sleeping, I overheard her say that we did not qualify for Minnesota Aid. Feeling absolutely panicked by the prospect of a medical bill nearing 10 thousand dollars, I began to sob, and it was a long while before Joshua could calm me down enough to explain to me that we qualify for another form of aid and that, while it’s not retroactive, that doesn’t mean that we’ll have a 10 thousand dollar bill at the end of all of this.

Ugh. More happened today, but I’d almost rather forget it. I had my fourth doctor, and while the three before her hadn’t hesitated to diagnose me with a kidney infection, this woman insisted on calling my condition a UTI. To make matters worse, she spoke to me like I was a little child and explained how people get infections and how you can prevent yourself from getting an infection even thought I had already told her that this has actually been a chronic problem that has occured upwards of 25 times in the past six years and that I’ve been told this very same information over and over again.

The doctor looked at my chart again. Well, we don’t know which bacteria is causing the problem, so I’m just putting you on a broad spectrum anti-biotic until we get the culture back from our tests. The CT Scan didn’t show much, except for an inflamed kidney, so as soon as you’re ready, we should be able to get you out of here.

Once she had left, both Joshua and I vented. She seemed to know the least out of all of the doctors, and yet, she was already talking about discharging me. In the mean time, I was still running a fever.

December 22, 2010

As it was, I didn’t have to wait until the morning. In the middle of the night, I found myself barely able to walk, and by 6 AM, I could only lie in one position, my side hurt so much. Joshua looked up an Urgent Care and made an appointment for 7 AM. Waking up my mom, they both dressed me (because I could no longer tie my own shoe laces or get out of bed myself) and got me in the car.

At WestHealth Urgent Care, I entered the waiting room clutching my side, gasping with pain, and tears leaking out all over my face. Joshua filled out all of my paperwork, and we were admitted into a little room where they quickly got urine sample and drew blood.

Absolutely miserable, I cried and sniveled as they took my temperature, blood pressure, and poked me in the back. When the doctor came in, he confirmed our suspicions: with an elevated white blood cell count, nitrates in my urine, and serious back pain, the tentative diagnosis was a Kidney Infection. Just to make sure, the doctor wanted to take a CT scan. He wanted to make sure that it wasn’t kidney stones, appendicitis, or an abscess in my kidney.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to happen. My dad has put me back on his insurance until I get a job, but that doesn’t kick in until January 1. Our travel insurance ended yesterday. We’re paying for this out of pocket, and already, our visit has cost us 650 dollars. A CT scan would cost nearly 2000.

The doctor tells us that we’re playing with fire, but he understands. Instead, he puts me on a program of anti-biotics by injection for the next three days, and he tells us that if I start to feel worse, that I need to admit myself to the ER. For the rest of the visit, he hooks me up to an IV, and I receive a liter of water and extra-strength ibuprofen. He explains that he doesn’t want to give me anything stronger because he wants me to be able to gauge if things get worse.

Just before I leave, two nurses come in to administer the anti-biotics. Working in sync, they inject large needles into each ass cheek, and I shriek. This is no Iv, and this is not drawing blood. This stuff hurts, and afterward, I feel like I’ve just done the stairmaster for four hours.

Back at home, I go to bed. Joshua looks up the details of our travel insurance on-line and comes in to tell me that there’s hope: the policy says that they cover treatment for any conditions that started while traveling, and when he called the agency to clarify, they said that we would just have to send in our medical bills and see. So, it’s not entirely reassuring, but it’s not ‘NO’ either.

In addition, Joshua looks up Minnesota Aid, and he thinks that we qualify, given our monthly income (zero) and assets. He’s looking hopeful about the whole thing, and reassured, I again fall asleep.

A few hours later, I wake up with cold sweats. Joshua has left to go see his dad, but he’ll be back later in the day. Mom comes in to check on me, but I’m still tired, and I just go back to sleep.

Around 5 PM, I decide to take a shower and change out of my jammies. They’re wet from cold sweats, and I’m enchanted with the ability to wear something different every day. In the other room, Mom starts making some soup for me to eat, and once I’ve done showering, I sit with her in the dining room and slowly sip a bowl of lentil soup.

I’ve only been upright for a half hour, but I’m already feeling tired again, and I pad over to the couch to check out what’s on Netflix. Mom and I watch a terrible film called the Japanese Story (so very, very weird), and afterward, I watch the Bounty Hunter and part of Ondine. Sometime during the middle of Bounty Hunter my side starts to hurt again. It never really stopped hurting, and I’ve never been a very good judge of what hurts more or less or the same, but I suspect that it’s hurting more. When I try to laugh at funny scenes in the Bounty Hunter, I feel a searing pain in my side, and soon, it just hurts to breathe.

Mom leaves to take David to his home, and I try to lie as still as possible, so that my side doesn’t hurt. Joshua comes home about 30 minutes later, and by that time, I’m gasping little tiny breaths and shivering with the pain. Crouching by my side, he asks me if I want to go to the hospital, and the answer is no. I don’t like hospitals; I hate waiting rooms; and we’re not sure that we have insurance. The answer is definitely no.

It’s also ‘yes’ because I’m terrified. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in so much pain.

Joshua looks up an ER on-line, and when Mom comes home, they again put socks and shoes on me and bundle me into the car. We drive to Fairview Riverside, and Mom drops us off at the waiting room. Inside, there are only a couple of people (one man with an ice pack over what appears to be a couple missing teeth), and although this should be reassuring to me, I’m too busy focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, gingerly lowering myself onto a seat, and wiping the resulting tears from my face.

Mom comes in, and I tell Joshua to tell me about his visit with his dad and my dad. Mom smooths the hair out of my face, and they ask me if I need water, tissues. Eventually, they say my name over the speaker.

Walking to the reception desk makes me cry again, but the triage nurse and receptionist are really nice. They give me a whole box of kleenex, and when we tell them that we don’t have insurance, they shake their heads in sympathy and bemoan our country’s medical system and the fat cats who get rich off of other people’s pain.

After a few questions and a number assignation to my level of pain (I said 8, and they looked at me and said, maybe more like a 10?), they got me into a wheelchair and rolled me into a large room with a bed. After they left, Joshua changed me into the hospital robe, wiping away the tears that leaked out the whole time. It hurt like hell to move.

I peed into another cup, and another nurse to another four vials of blood. A doctor came in and examined me, and looking at the blood and urine results from earlier in the morning, she seconded the first doctor’s opinion: I have a kidney infection. She also said that I needed to be admitted. While she didn’t think that I needed a CT Scan – the chances of me having any of those other conditions are very small, and I’m almost a textbook case of someone with a kidney infection – my pain levels were hard to manage outside of the hospital, and she wanted me on morphine and an IV for the next 24 hours.

It was more money, and I was still worried about the insurance, but I wasn’t about to object. I could barely move, and after the first dose of morphine, the pain had let up enough that I was already falling asleep. Pain pills meant sleep, and sleep meant getting better.

At 2 AM, a hospital nurse came down to transport me from the ER to the 11th floor. Luckily, the room on the 11th floor could also accommodate a cot for Joshua, and for the rest of the night, we dozed off and on between nurses coming in to administer morphine and check my blood pressure and temperature.

December 21, 2010

We woke up, and Joshua checked to make sure that our flight was still scheduled for take off. It was.

David went out to get the car, and we shoulder our enormous packs. By now, they not only contain everything from our three months in Asia, but they also contain some of our things from the bike trip. They are huge, and they are heavy.

On the way to Heathrow, Joshua and David talked in the front, and I fell asleep in the back. This early in the morning the roads were completely clear, and we arrived at the terminal in less than an hour.

Heaving our packs onto our backs again, we hugged David goodbye and thanked him. It’s not easy to play host when you have a busy family and a full time job, but David did it beautifully, and we felt lucky to have a safe port away from home.

David got in the car and drove away, and as Joshua and I turned to walk into the airport, we glanced up at a sign. With a full-length photo of a young backpacker, laden down with an oversize backpack, a backpack on front, a side bag over his shoulder, and a bag in each hand, he was the spitting image of – well – us. With his ticket between his teeth, the caption read, ‘This is why we have free baggage carts.’ We laughed, and getting the message, we picked out a cart and loaded it up with our bags.

Inside, clean-up was under way, but it was clear that Heathrow was only just emerging from chaos. There were still families sleeping on pieces of torn padding and cardboard, and in the lines, there were more than a few grumpy travelers getting into arguments. The air fairly crackled with frustration.

The line for Continental was incredibly long, and we uttered a sigh of relief that David had convinced us to leave a half hour earlier. It took ages for us to get through the line, but finally, we were at the desk, our bags had been checked, and we had our tickets in hand.

On the other side of security, Heathrow was practically empty. Apparently, the airport had elected to limit their incoming and outgoing flights to International destinations, and as a result, there were very few people or flights coming in or out of London today.

By 9 AM, we had boarded our enormous plane, and we were bound for take off. Plugging our headphones into our personal entertainment systems, Joshua and I set in for the ride.

I watched Eat, Pray, Love and Going the Distance, and I have to say that they were both rather disappointing. Julia Roberts was gorgeous and so was Javier Borden, but the movie struggled to retain the things that had been so winning in the book. It lost Ms. Gilbert’s sense of humor and the complexities of her relationships. In the end, it seemed like the movie-makers had taken the easy way out and just made it into a romance.

Going th Distance was total crap, and I just wonder why I didn’t give up half way through and pick something else.

For the rest of the flight, I wrote my sixth draft of my Personal Statement. I’m not sure if it’s much better than my first draft, and it still has problems, but I’m seriously getting ready to through in the towel.

Ten hours after we had left London, we arrived in Houston. In the last hour on the plane, I had slowly begun to feel worse and worse, and by the time we were walking through Immigration, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I had a splitting headache, and all of a sudden, I had this pain beneath my ribs on the right side of my back. Every time I took a deep breath, it hurt more, and I felt so crappy, I wasn’t even able to revel in the fact that we were stateside.

At the baggage claim, we retrieved our bags without a problem, and then we began the long process of going through customs, rechecking our bags, and going through security again. I felt absolutely crappy, and by the time we were at our gate, I was ready to lay down on the filthy floor and go to sleep (which is exactly what I did).

Our plan was an hour late departing the Houston airport because it needed a tire change, and as I passed in and out of sleep, I listened to the sweet nasal twangs of a Minnesotan accent keeping us updated.

We boarded the tiny plane (just three seats across), and within minutes, we were in the air. I read to try and keep my mind off the pain in my side, and before we knew it, we were coming into Minneapolis. Down below,the streets were lit up with headlights and streetlamps, and everything had a fluffy, white cover.

We landed, disembarked, and walked down to the baggage claim. I felt so crappy that it was hard to keep my eyes fully open, but while Joshua went to get our bags, I looked out over the crowd, hoping to see a familiar face.

Sitting on one of the rows of seats, looking at his computer, was David. I walked over and poked him on the shoulder, and he looked up at me, taking off his headphones. ‘How did you see me before I saw you?’ he asked. I laughed and gave him a hug.

With our bags in tow, Joshua came to join us, and David explained that he had taken the train in. Mom was on her way, and he called her to see where she was. Announcing that she was just a couple minutes away, we all headed out into the cold to wait.

Mom came, and we hugged. I always love coming home and seeing Mom. She gives good hugs, and I’ve missed her.

Loading our bags into the trunk, we bundle into the car, and I tell Mom that I’m feeling like crap. She wants to know what I think might be going on, and with a growing feeling of dread, I tell her:

On December 9, the day that we left India, I developed a UTI. I took a course of ciprofloxcin to get rid of it, and although my condition had improved, it had never quite gone away. Now, with a serious pain in my side, I was worried that I might have a kidney infection.

Both Mom and Joshua asked if I wanted to head straight to the Emergency Room, but after being awake for nearly 24 hours, I couldn’t fathom waiting in an ER. I wanted to go to bed and see how I felt in the morning.

December 20, 2010

On our last morning in London, we woke up and went for a run. With snow under our feet, it took us nearly an hour to cover the same distance it had taken us forty-five minutes to cover in the Summer, but it felt wonderful to breathe crisp, cold air and see the city covered in a frosty layer.

Once we had showered and changed, we waved goodbye to the family and headed into London. When Joshua and I had shown David our prized poster from the National Gallery, he had laughed and told us that there’s actually a Gauguin exhibit at the Tate right now. Feeling a bit silly for our hasty poster purchase, we decided to make our way back to the Tate and check it out.

On the ground floor of the Tate, the curators arrange large-scale, temporary installations that tend to be provocative and obscure. Right now, the floor is covered in 100 million individually hand-painted sunflower seeds made out of porcelain. It’s certainly odd, but once I had read the artist’s statement and watched the film, I was absolutely in love.

On one level, the sunflower seeds are a commentary on community, individualism, and Maoist China. In a lot of Maoist propaganda, Mao was represented as the sun, and the loyal citizens were represented as Sunflowers, turned to face him. The artist also has memories of sunflower seeds as a common street food, and he associates a feeling of community with the buying, sharing, and eating of these sunflower seeds on the road.

The artist stretches this symbolism through quantity. There are 100 million sunflower seeds, and to the human eye, this seems an endless, incomprehensible number. And yet, they’ve each been hand painted. They are unique. A team of mostly women from one community were hired to painted these by the thousands. They were not artists or even painters, but they banded together to complete this formidable task.

The film is gorgeous. We see the women sitting in a large room, chatting and painting the sunflower seeds. We see the artist supervise the harvesting of the porcelain, its refinement, the sunflower seed molds, their painting, their firing… I don’t want to ruin the experience by assigning my own interpretation to the whole thing, but if you can, you should look it up.

Upstairs, we entered the Gauguin exhibit with David’s member card. It was an extensive showing, with nearly a dozen rooms and plenty of paintings from each stage of his career. I was familiar with the paintings he had done in Brittany, and once again, these were some of my favorites. I love the broad expanses of wheat, white, and red.

But while I love his colors, I’m less enchanted with Gauguin’s perspective. He loved to travel, and he loved to experience things entirely different, but he was also a narcissist and his paintings reveal his misogyny and exploitation. In the end, he was more interested in portraying his fantasies of Tahiti than its realities.

When we walked into the gallery shop at the end of the exhibit, we were relieved to discover that the poster we had bought yesterday at the National Gallery was still our favorite of all the Gauguin.

We wandered through the Tate for a little while longer, but after nearly 6 hours of art museums in two days, we’d had enough. Walking back to the train station, we hopped on a line headed for Greenwich. Joshua wanted a snack from the market, and the two of us hoped to find another bookstore for some more home inspiration.

Unfortunately, the Greenwich Market is closed on a Monday night, but we were able to find a little cafe nearby for a couple of cheese and tomato paninis. We savored them slowly, and looking at the paper, fretted about the state of Heathrow. Although the airport had not allowed news or media crews onto the premises, frustrated travelers had taken photos and film with their cell phones and leaked them to the press. On the front page, headlines announced that Heathrow was at a standstill, and the photos showed travelers sleeping in rows all over the floors. One photo captured two men in the middle of a bloody fight, and in all, it looked like chaos.

Trying to ignore our fears, we paid and headed to Waterstones. The DIY/home decor section was lacking, so instead, I read up on making your own stencils and stamps. Joshua read about radiant heating.

As the sun began to set, we decided to walk home. Our Oyster cards are nearly at zero, and we like the cool air anyway.

Back at the house, we joined the Naylor Roll family for a baked cheese and bread appetizer, pasta, and salad. The food was delicious, and afterward, we sat down in the living room to show off all of our photos.

For the rest of the night, Joshua and I packed up what was left of our things and researched our flight on-line. When we called Continental, they reassured us that the flight was scheduled to take off as planned, and we crossed our fingers. Setting the alarm for 4:30 AM, we said our goodbyes to the family and went off to bed.

December 19, 2010

On Sunday morning, we woke up, bundled up, and rode the train into London. From the London Bridge Station, we crossed Trafalgar Square and stopped to admire the frozen fountain. Families and children posed for photos, commemorating such a rare display of the arctic element.

Behind the fountain, The National British Gallery spans one whole side of the square. Made of grey stone, with columns and a wide main staircase, it looks quite formidable, but it’s open to the public, and people were streaming in the side entrance.

Inside, we picked up a map of the galleries. Containing art from the 13th to the 21st centuries, this museum is both large and monumental. Its artwork is among some of the most famous in all of Western Art History.

Thankfully, the curators have made the galleries viewer friendly, and they’ve organized the artworks by date, artist, and almost by default, movement. We immediately headed for the wings that housed the later centuries, and I slobbered over Gainsborough’s country scenes, Turner’s revolutionary atmosphere, Le Brun’s cherub-cheeked ladies, and Delaroche’s doomed Lady Jane. In the corners, I spied Delacroix’s tiny study of a dappled horse and fell in love. I saw a Caspar David Friedrich, and it was everything I had hoped it would be, and even Joshua’s jaw dropped.

I grow less and less interested in the Impressionists and their ilk, but I must say that Van Gogh’s colors still woo me and Manet is probably every bit as good as everyone always said he was. Off to the side, I see a Gauguin, but it’s even better than usual. I love his large patches of dusky, jeweled colors, but his misogyny and exploitation always seem to show through in his subject matter. Not so here; in this rare still-life, he stuck to flowers with no intrusions, and it was lovelier than everything else in the room.

From the later centuries, we head back. WE decided to make a detour through the Dutch painters, and as we examine their precise and perfect paintings, I suspect that the Dutch possess superior skills. Josh is bored.

We skip the Italian Renaissance. I have to be honest; they all look the same. Somehow, all these masterminds managed to use the exact same colors, models and I’m pretty sure they were all trying to say the same thing. Instead, we head over to the earliest centuries, where artists believed in the powers of gold paint, and no one remembers who made what. While the individual pieces don’t particularly move me, the rooms are suffused with vibrant gold, red, and blue, and without artists’ egos in the way, there is a feeling of devotion.

It’s been nearly three hours, but before we leave to make our lunch date, we stop in at the gallery shop. Grandma Vivienne has framed posters of some of the museums or exhibits that she’s been to in her living room, and I want to copy her. We browse through their posters, and amazingly, they have the odd Gauguin that we had both loved so much. That settled, we picked out a few postcards of our favorite pieces, and then we made our way to the counter.

Back outside, we wandered through the side streets of Trafalgar Square trying to find Liecester Square. Now, you might think that you pronounce each syllable in that word, but you would be wrong. It’s pronounced, ‘Lester.’

Eventually, we found Joy King Lau, our pre-arranged meeting place for lunch. Joshua and I were the first to arrive, so we made our way up to our table and made our way through a highly-caffeinated pot of tea before Ruth and Paul came.

Looking pink cheeked and just a bit travel weary, Ruth and Paul swooped in a few minutes later with tales of traveling in England through snow and ice – always an eventful and revealing experience. Then, very seriously , they informed us that there were NO FLIGHTS coming in or out of Heathrow today. Joshua and I looked at each other in horror. As far as we knew, it hadn’t been snowing for over 24 hours. What were these people doing? Sitting on their bums and drinking tea? Come on! You used to rule an empire! Saddle up!

Before David and the kids arrived, we each ordered Dim Sum, little steamed or fried dough pockets with whatever you please inside of them. We each ordered a Special Dim Sum soup, and while we waited, we continued our banter (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I may have led Ruth and Paul to believe that my husband loves sheep, and they may or may not have taken this the wrong way. Actually, they did take it the wrong way – on purpose and with much humor – and they won’t let him live it down. Joshua has been told that only the Welsh feel that way about sheep, and they’re not sure how they feel about a Welshman in the family. As a gag gift, Joshua was given Dolly, the amorous sheep.)

After a bit, our Dim Sum Special Soup came, and it was pretty good. David and the kids came soon after that, and we spent the next four hours ordering little bits of this and that, eating, chatting, and teasing one another. We had a wonderful time, but David soon confirmed Ruth and Paul’s news: there were NO FLIGHTS coming in or out of Heathrow, and there were no promises about the next couple of days.

After hours of eating and talking, everyone else at the restaurant had left, and Ruth and Paul decided that they had better be on their way too. Bundling back up, we headed outside and gave hugs all around. Joshua and I reiterated our latest invitation/demand: Ruth and Paul are to come for an extended stay on our farm. Paul can do projects of his choosing if he likes, and I can boss Ruth about in the kitchen or she can be her own boss out in the garden or with the animals. They agreed obediently.

David and the kids headed back towards home, and Joshua and I decided to stay in the city until it was time to meet up with them a little bit later for Rosemary’s carol concert. Walking over to a Waterstones, we hunkered down in the reading area with a stack of books. While Joshua read up on roofing and flooring, I read about DIY and flea-market interior design. After an hour of reading, we headed back to the train station and boarded the next train headed for Greenwich. It doesn’t take much to get us excited about the house though, and after just a few books we were rushing over our words to get out all of our new ideas. We can’t wait.

At Greenwich Station, we disembarked and walked the short distance to St. Alphage Cathedral. Inside, people were already cramming into the pews and lighting their candles. We found Rosemary, rushing about in the fray, and we wished her good luck. We found a spot to sit, and within a few minutes, David found us and joined us.

The Carol Service was comprised of nine carols and nine readings, and it was lovely. The congregation sang along with some of the carols, but mostly, the well-trained choir did their thing. Rosemary had a solo, and as she sang ‘In the Deep Midwinter,’ I realized for the first time how beautiful the lyrics are and that it was written by Christina Rosetti. Rosemary has this gorgeous, high, clear and round voice, and she sounds like she’s in perfect control even at the highest notes. When we complemented her afterward, none of it was forced: she really was the loveliest singer of the bunch.

At the end of the service, we joined the rest of the congregation in the community room for mulled wine and mince pies. Rosemary came in buzzing, and we talked to her and some of the other choir members about the songs, what they liked, disliked.

After a bit, David, Joshua, and I said goodbye to Rosemary and decided to walk home. Rather than take the train or bus, we decided to stretch our legs and walk.

Back at the house, we sat around the table, snacking on cheese and crackers and talking, and once it got late, we all headed off to bed.