08 January 2018

beautiful misery

We decided that it would be smarter not to schedule dives for the day we arrived in El Nido, because jet lag is a jerk.

So we scheduled four of them for the next day. (I said smartER, not smart.)

I had a grand idea a few days before we left on our trip, and I had my doctor call in a prescription for the motion sickness patch. This thing had some downsides - it didn't completely get rid of my motion sickness, you can't drink on it, and it makes you sleepy, to start - but it worked pretty well the first couple of days.

So we hopped into the water and dove, three dives. And then we went back to the dive shop, where I took the night diving class, and we went back out and dove again.

I'm not going to lie, I was exhausted. I was jet lagged and dopey from the patch and, actually, diving at night is a little scary. It's really, really dark down under water.

Fortunately, we had the next day to zipline from one island to another and lay on the beach.

That night we went diving again, again in the dark, but this time with fluorescent lighting. I'm not sure that I would have done this dive if I'd known what a fluo dive meant. I thought it meant phosphorescence, but no. 

What it meant was that we wore amber lenses over our masks, and we held blue lights, and the only thing we could see at any given moment was the living thing at which we were directly shining the blue lights, which then started fluorescing, and it was extremely claustrophobic, and I don't even get claustrophobic. It was the most claustrophobic I've ever been. 

During our safety stop at 15 feet, near the end of the dive, the dive master suddenly grabbed me and pulled me toward the surface, and on the way up he grabbed J. and pulled him up, too, and it turns out that we were surrounded by tiny, lovely, blue-fluorescing jellyfish that would hurt if they touched you, and a bigger one had been right where I was going but I didn't see it.

This was kind of the story of the rest of our dives: So many pretty, dangerous jellyfish. One of our dive masters got stung (by a little one, thank goodness). I got massively motion sick, because I managed to put the second motion sickness patch on wrong so it wasn't in full contact with my skin, and then when I moved it, I managed to get some of it in my eye, so my eye dilated way too much (a known side effect) and things were blurry up close. Two people got separated from the group on one dive, and I mistakenly followed the instructor when he went to look for them instead of staying with J., who was my buddy. The instructor and I got back to J. and the group, but we had to surface early to find the missing pair. (They'd gotten lost taking photos.) We had a strong current on one dive. The whole boat got so motion sick in the large swell that I had to stand at the front staring forward while other people lay in agony inside the boat. I got a little panicky about my breathing, even though I've loved diving since the first time I went under water. 

I make it sound miserable, and sometimes it was, because diving can be, with the wetsuits and the ocean swell, but then I would look out at the gorgeous green water with the gorgeous green rocks standing up out of it, and I wanted to stay forever. 

31 December 2017

off to the Philippines

We flew out on Thanksgiving Day, to Tokyo and then Manila and then, the next morning, to El Nido, Palawan. The flight to El Nido passed over blue, blue water, with green islands scattered about, and we descended among craggy rocks rising out of the sea.

We approached the runway over that kind of blue-green that makes up dreams of tropical islands, and all of a sudden there was a jolt to the side and we were going up, up, up over the island instead of landing. 

I mean, I try to be all cool about flying. Mostly I am. Mostly I can handle turbulence and engine sound changes and rising and falling and the occasional armrest-clinging landing. I know that flying is safer than driving. But there's still a tiny part of me that has read too much about plane crashes and doesn't quite trust the science of being in the air in a metal tube.

The pilot came on and said, in his American accent ("Was that an American voice?" I asked J. when the pilot started talking in Manila) that there was a strong cross-wind and we would make a second attempt at landing. J. continued playing sudoku. I pressed my face to the window. 

We made a high circle over a ridge and a bay and a few islands, and then back down toward the bay that contained the airport. This time everything was smooth, and we landed with barely a bump.

Among the many things that I did not know about the Philippines is that it would be the first place since Liberia where I did not need so much as a thin extra layer at night. We walked out of the plane into tropical humidity, and it was glorious. 

There are no taxis or buses at El Nido airport. (This is what happens when you do little to no research before getting on a plane.)

It was fine, though, because there were tricycles, the little 100cc motorbikes with a car built over them so they have a wheel and a seat on the side. We stuffed our big scuba gear bags onto the back and J. and I squeezed into the little seat, taking turns leaning forward and back so that our broad American shoulders would fit. 

We rode through the jungle - I smiled widely the whole way, because it reminded me of Liberia - and then, after dropping our stuff off at the hotel too early to check in - we walked along the sand of the bay, looking out at the perfect ocean with the rocky islands jutting up.  

19 November 2017


I like Thanksgiving a lot. It might be my favorite holiday. No presents to buy, no decorating to do, just lots of delicious food. This year, though, J. and I are getting on a plane on Thanksgiving morning to go scuba diving in the Philippines. 

I've known that we would miss Thanksgiving for many months, ever since January when I got all excited about scuba diving and started looking at the best dive spots in the world and then checking kayak for flights costs to those spots. Fiji was $1000, which seemed pretty good. But Manila was $630 if we left on Thanksgiving Day, so we bought flights without stopping to think about it. 

I'm excited about this trip. I have a whole new regulator/dive computer/octopus set, thanks to J. thinking ahead on my birthday and a quick trip to my favorite dive shop. (My own! My very own regulator and dive computer!) We have eight dives scheduled, including my first two night dives. (I also bought a dive light at the dive shop.) The island looks stunning. 

I also started feeling a little sad about not getting to have Thanksgiving dinner. Wherefore the pies?

So I managed to talk J. into having a pie and game night last night. He also wanted mashed potatoes, so we made those. And corn pudding and burgers and brats. Because what says Thanksgiving like burgers and brats? 

We invited people over, and we did the cooking and baking, and we ate the delicious things. And now we have leftovers until we get on the plane. I just had a veggie burger with a side of mashed potatoes and corn pudding. 

I'd call that winning Thanksgiving.

08 November 2017


My neck has been hurting for a year. Sometimes a little better, sometimes a little worse. It’s mostly uncomfortable to sit, slightly less uncomfortable to stand or lie down. 

I blamed it on the bed and the pillow, but I changed both of those (the pillow multiple times). I blamed it on climbing, but I got belay glasses so that I don’t have to look up when my climbing partner is up on the wall. I blamed it on the drive, but I thought this bigger car would be better for my body than the little one was, not worse.

I went on vacation and nothing changed. I went to the chiropractor and nothing changed. I got massages every month and nothing changed.

Last week I was climbing with a group of women, and one of them, who practices Chinese medicine, mentioned that she does both Chinese medicine and physical therapy for her back.

A lightbulb went off. 

There are professionals covered by insurance whose job it is to make pain like this go away. 

I had my first PT appointment this morning. I dutifully wrote down all the things about my wrist surgeries and my ulnar nerve problems and my shoulder catching. 

The PT moved my arm and had me move my head and measured all sorts of things. At one point, she had me sit straight, hands on my lap, and she ran her fingers down my arms.

“Can you feel one more than the other?” she asked.

“I think your right hand is actually colder than the left,” I said. 

She switched her hands. 

Nope. I just can’t feel what’s happening to my right arm as much as I can what’s happening to my left.

So that’s weird. 

It turns out that those same nerves - the median and ulnar nerves - that have long bugged me in my hand have now decided to bug me in my neck. I’ve cricked them up somehow. Nerve problems seem to be my thing.

Now I have a bunch of exercises and things to do. And my $100 pillow just arrived (ordered before the appointment). I’m hoping there is hope on the horizon.

But also, I’m still going climbing tonight. 

30 October 2017


I will admit that I was a little anxious about whether we were going to find a place to watch the eclipse. This is because the entirety of our plan was "drive into the zone, preferable somewhere remote."

Only we don't live somewhere remote, and the stories of the projected traffic struck fear into the heart of a person who commutes 2+ hours a day. The idea of more time in the car, stuck in traffic, made me feel slightly ill. I tried to talk the rest of the team into leaving earlier or making a more concrete plan, but everyone else thought it would be fine.

Sunday afternoon, we packed up the Subaru with tents and all the camping gear, and off we set.

Just inside the national forest, we stopped at a ranger station, where they gave us a map with the non-reservable sites highlighted, and then we just guessed. We picked a campground and drove.

When we drove into the campground we'd chosen, there were empty spots. There was even, upon inspection, a big, quiet spot down a little trail next to the creek, with two tables and space for multiple tents. We couldn't even hear our nearest neighbors. 

The guys took the tiny hatchet that I gave J. for his birthday and used it to hack at a fallen tree to break off pieces for firewood, and then JT took the hatchet from them and crouched down, holding it in both hands, and chipped away until she broke off a piece. 

In the morning, we lounged about making breakfast. There were eggs on the stove.

Jeff put on the eclipse glasses just to see how they worked, and suddenly said, "It's already happening!" 

We turned off the eggs, scrambled around for chairs and the rest of the eclipse glasses, and looked up.

There was a bite out of the sun. 

We all sat for the next forty five minutes, looking up, enthralled. 

When the sun disappeared through the glasses, we all tentatively took them off, and then we couldn't help ourselves. We whooped and shouted. We laughed. 

"The world is divided into two kinds of people," JT said, after the light had returned. "People who have seen totality, and people who haven't."

"Totality or bust."

We're already planning for Mexico in 2024.

19 August 2017

what happened when we went camping:

What happened when we went camping: 

(Not all camping. Just this particular camping.) 

We forgot the dog. It's not our dog, but J. was supposed to dog sit for some neighbors and the days got mixed up. We were already out of network and 90 minutes out of town in crazy Friday afternoon traffic when he saw the text asking if they could drop the dog off Saturday morning. He sent a response on the wifi at the ranger station, but we didn’t know until later whether they would be able to find someone else.

We forgot the rain fly for the tent. The weekend before, a tree dripped sap on it camping out at B.’s parents’ house, so we left it out to clean it, and there it stayed, uncleaned, during a busy week and while we packed everything for this weekend. I thought of it soon after we left the ranger station, and J. and E. and I speculated on whether this would mean sleeping in the car or curled up on the floor of E. and B.’s tent. 

Fortunately, when we got to the camp site, we found that B. had packed a 9’x9’ tarp that E. picked up once on sale at rei, and when tied just so over the tent, it blocked all the rain and gave a beautiful view of the lake. It was more exposed to wind, but the wind didn’t get that bad in the trees. 

We forgot to fill the car up with gas. This we also remembered around the ranger station, having passed many, many gas stations between Gone West and the depths of the woods. We were headed two hours up into the mountains, with the nearest gas station 30 miles away on dirt roads. It was risky.

We planned to drive back out through State City so we could stop at the nearest gas station (adding an hour to the drive), but when we hit the intersection on the way home, the car said we had 70 miles of gas left, and the sign said we had 47 miles to the first town on the direct route back to Gone West, so we chanced it and headed straight toward home. B. and E. followed us in case we ran out of gas.

It turns out that when a Subaru says 70 miles of gas left after driving 30 miles of dirt road, it still has many miles of lovely paved road left in it, especially when that lovely paved road is mostly downhill. The gauge still said it had 70 miles to go after the 47 mile drive. 

And then, to top off the weekend, B. stepped in a hole that turned out to be a rusting culvert and it gouged a 2-3 inch long gash in his leg, about half an inch deep. I tried to wash it out, and someone who works as a medical assistant in an orthopedist's office (and, more importantly, is a mom of teenagers) came from a neighboring campsite came to look at it, and the consensus was that we needed a real doctor, not butterfly bandages and tap water. 

The nearest urgent care was 2.5 hours away in State City, and it was closed. The nearest emergency room was 2 hours away.

Math problem: if you leave your campsite at 6 pm to drive to an emergency room 2 hours away, and it takes 3.5 hours to be seen and cleaned and stitched at the emergency room and you still need to fill up on gas and snacks because no one has eaten dinner, and it takes 2 hours to drive back, what time will you get back to your campsite?

The answer is 2:12 am. 

Meanwhile, sitting in the waiting room in a little country hospital, we read about what happened in Charlottesville. 

There are actual Nazis marching unashamed in our streets, making KKK and Nazi salutes, and the president of this country can’t bring himself to denounce them. He says there are “two sides.”

Let’s be clear: what happened in Charlottesville is not the fault of people who oppose Nazis and the KKK. There are not two equally justified sides. There is one side that espouses hatred, and that is one side that opposes hatred based on race, gender, or religion. 

Pick your side.

03 June 2017


When I first started commuting to State City every day, people kept saying, "Oh, are you going to listen to audiobooks?" And of course I was not going to listen to audiobooks, because I am a visual person, people, a visual person, and I read books, not listen to them. 

I listened to music, and then when I found that gave me too much time to think about how other people on the road were driving, I switched to NPR, and then there was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad election, and I couldn't listen to NPR anymore because the news made me furious (so many awful things being done to so many people), and I went back to music.

One day, on a drive back from Central Ski Town that devolved into a blizzard up on the mountain, J. put on an audiobook. I was driving, wearing my glasses, and the starbursts I saw through the glasses whenever a car passed driving the other way nearly blinded me through the driving snow. 

But in the background was this story playing through the speakers. I got caught up in the story as I drove, and it let my kinesthetic brain focus on the road while my auditory brain listened to the words.*

The book was so good.

I promptly listened to all the books J. owned on aud!ble, and when I ran out of those, I had him buy some more, and when I ran out of those, I downloaded the library app and started borrowing audiobooks from them. I tried podcasts somewhere in between, but they didn't draw me into a story in the same way.

Turns out stories are exactly what I needed to take my mind off the hour of commuting in the morning and evening. Don't get me wrong, I still have a little bit of brain left over to notice how inefficient it is when everyone drives in the two left lanes and the right lane sits empty, but I don't have the brain space to get so frustrated by it. My stress level has decreased dramatically. I almost don't mind the commute.

I guess it helps that I finally got a car with bluet00th that will start right up with the audiobook when I get in the car. Without bluet00th, this would be impossible. I'd be in my old ways of propping the phone up on the speedometer and trying to turn it up loud enough to be heard over the road noise when I needed to listen to something on my phone. Or headphones, I guess. That's awkward while driving.

(Side note: now that I have a car with a push button start, I am flummoxed by other people's cars. What is this key of which you speak? I reach automatically to push the button and turn the car off, and there is no button. How does this even work? 20 years of muscle memory, gone in just a few months.)

* I took an adult learning class once, and they taught us that if you are, like me, primarily a visual learner, second a kinesthetic learner, and least an auditory learner, you probably need to do something kinesthetic while listening, in order to process the information.