Monday, November 19, 2018

Cruise Ship Fun

Friends had tried without success to get me on a cruise ship for years. There were so many reasons I refused to go. Now that we're back from our first 6 day, 5 night trip to Cabo San Lucas aboard the Ruby Princess, I can't wait to go on our next cruise.

We walked the decks checking out things from one end to another. When we could, we took the stairs. We enjoyed delicious meals at the buffet in the Horizon Court, ate at the Crown Grill and the Botticelli Room. We stopped in at the casino and spent one dollar, visited Club Fusion for a frozen Marguerita, dropped by the International Cafe to try some dreamy chocolate mousse, watched line dancing on the Lido Deck, and Zumba exercise classes at the pool. We rode the tender to the port of Cabo where we shopped for souvenirs. There was never a dull moment during our short voyage.

The star of the Investigation Discovery TV Series, Homicide Hunter, Joe Kenda sat patiently for hours signing autographs for his book, I Will Find You. For the Kenda Cruisers, there were question and answer sessions with prizes, an off-shore lunch in Cabo, and other activities for his numerous fans aboard the ship.

Another Kenda Cruise is planned for next October from NY to Halifax Canada. Search #KendaCruise and Jim Seeley of VIP Tours Cruises and events on Facebook for details.

Beyond the celebrity events there were more things to do like attend the theater production, Magic To Do, a delightful live musical. We watched Grease and The Incredibles 2 movies on the big screen under the stars. With all the food and exercise, we found ourselves too exhausted to stay up late enough to attend the disco party and costume party events.

As long as you practice safe health standards like disinfecting objects like door handles, TV remotes, room telephones and bathroom shelves, you stand an excellent chance of remaining healthy while cruising. We brought packets of disposable wipes and used them often. There were multiple stations with Purell dispensers, too, especially at the buffet.

The food was amazing, the soft motion of the ship en route was calming, the entertainment and the joy of having cell phones off provided a much-needed break from workplace stress.

We truly came back refreshed and new again. We're already signed up for a future trip! Bon Voyage.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Remembering Paula - 2017

2016 September
Nothing could have taken me more by surprise than the news my best friend shared with me late in May this year. I hadn't heard from her for a couple of weeks after leaving a voice mail message. That was unusual. Although we live over 1,200 miles apart, over the years we've kept in touch by phone, visits and our annual trek to the Florida Gulf Shores for our vacation together each year in September.

I came home that day to a voice mail message. Paula was hoarse, apologizing for her voice and for not getting back with me quickly. It was my turn to play phone tag and when I called her back she shared the worst news possible. She had spent the last ten days in the hospital undergoing numerous tests, being poked, prodded and left to wait for a cell phone call from her doctor who told her some really bad news. She had Pancreatic Cancer.

1983 in Dallas
After forty plus years of friendship, what do you say to someone whose prognosis is bleak at best?

Paula had battled with her weight for the entire time I'd known her, struggling to get to that optimal size 10 she always longed to achieve.

During the seventies and eighties when we worked at a hair salon together, she'd lost a considerable amount of weight, going from a size 24 to a size 16. She looked fabulous and kept it off for the next few years, hovering at that plateau, a barrier she couldn't seem to surpass.

For her birthday in 1983, during the height of the "Dallas" TV show heyday, Paula came to Texas for a visit. Of course, we visited the Gold Twin Towers where JR's office was supposedly located.

In the nineties, she lost more weight and was thrilled to shop and actually find things that fit her new size fourteen.
1995 at my Dad's house in Winter Park FL

1997 at Universal Studio's Kongfrontation in Orlando

After the century changed to 2000, while we were scouring resale shops together, gathering merchandise to sell in my collectibles store, she had spring in her step, more energy, and was pleased with her progress slimming down to a size 12.

2003 at Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida

In 2009, she was proud to tell me that she finally bought her first pair of size 10 shorts. Not the kind with elastic waist, either. These were the button and zip shorts she'd always dreamed she would wear.
T.C. and Zoey in 2006

Our shopping trip to Publix before we hit the beach was one unlike most of the others over the past thirty years. Instead of picking up several desserts for the week, we bought only half of a Key Lime Pie, one of our all time favorites. The wide variety of breads we generally bought was reduced to hot dog and hamburger buns and sandwich bread for our lunches. Our usual snacks like potato chips, ice cream, bags of cookies, apple strudel and chocolate candy were reduced to only a few of these choices. I was proud of her restraint and mine as well. I usually went home a few pounds heavier after our vacation.

I had no idea at the time that something was going wrong with her digestive tract. She'd already been through two years of agonizing pain and a long battle to find a doctor who would perform hip replacement surgery as she was still in her fifties. Her osteoarthritis had destroyed her hip joint making it nearly impossible for her to walk. Our shopping trips to favorite places like Donation Station, Goodwill and other thrift stores became rare with less enthusiasm from my friend whose every step radiated pain.

2004 at Dad's in Lehigh Acres FL
By 2015, she underwent spinal fusion surgery, fusing five vertebra together and cervical surgery fusing several vertebra in her neck. The symptoms of numbness in her hands, the unexpected falls and other more disturbing side effects improved and she looked great. I was proud of her resilience and resolve. And then came the bad news.

In 2017, around Mother's Day, Paula was admitted to the hospital where her diagnosis would change the course of her remaining time on this earth. In July, I flew down to Florida to relieve her mother who had been caring for Paula as she grew weaker each day. By then, she had essentially stopped eating due to the gastric reactions she would experience after ingesting any kind of food.

I'll never forget her saying, "Don't think the irony of this disease is lost on me. All my life I've struggled to lose weight and now I'm dying of starvation."

2009 at her house in Tampa
My friend was in Stage 4 of cancer. Too far gone to take the chemotherapy which at best would prolong her life a few months to a couple of years. But she was resilient, still hoping to beat this deadly disease that took her down a path to where she resembled a victim of anorexia with skeletal bones showing.

Even to the end, she remained grateful for the small comforts and blessings of life: friends who loved her dearly; two precious dogs whose awareness of her situation was clear in their actions; a mother who never expected to outlive her daughter after her own devastating illness the prior year. Paula had dedicated her daily life to her mother's recovery after nearly losing her to a massive CDEF infection in 2015.

I look at photos of what was for forty years my friend's house "in the hood", always comfortable, warm and lived in. I cherish the memories of T.C. Wilson, her cockatiel who sang and talked to the dogs that came and always left too soon. We shared their losses of hers and mine through the years. I recall our many talks over cups of coffee in her living room watching out the front window as her neighborhood changed with time. I remember her words of comfort and open arms after my dad passed away and I stayed at her house after his funeral. We spoke so often of the days when we would ultimately lose our mothers as we shared the responsibility for their care in their elder years. So much in common with the caregiver responsibilities of our mothers along with their live in friend. Ellie, and Mom's sister Louise. Never in a million years did I expect to lose my best friend.

Nevy, Zoey and TC were good friends
When the new year arrives in a couple of days my words will change to "last year" I lost my friend, Paula. "Last year" I lost my Mother in September. Last year I lost Aunt Louise in October. For a couple of more days it still sounds like yesterday and the loss is still fresh.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Me, Too...What Kind of Fool Am I?

Right now, women and men all over the world are saying "Me, too," in solidarity of abuse and harassment they've suffered. Some are quick to ask, "Why did you wait so long to say anything?" I think I can answer that.

There is a huge portion of shame associated with being assaulted which is often compounded by a sense of guilt for letting it happen and for putting ourselves in a position to be vulnerable. And then, sometimes women make foolish choices about trust issues.

You may not guess it to look at me now but I was once a number. In fact, that was a bit of a problem everywhere I ever worked. For example, that boss at a Fortune 500 company that invited me to join him for dinner. He was on temporary assignment from South Africa and didn't know anybody in town. He explained, "You have to eat something. So do I. Why don't we have a meal together?" He'd been kind enough to let me use the Watts line - a free long distance service before cell phones - to phone my boyfriend in another state. We talked on the phone for an hour nearly every night after the other office workers went home.

That night, as we headed out to our first meal together, my boss said he needed to drop by his motel to pick up his jacket. It was a frightfully cold night.

He said, "Come on up. Don't sit out here in the car, freezing your you know what off."

So I did. That's when he pounced against my protests of "NO!" and threw me on the bed. I told him clearly it would NOT be consensual if he continued.

The next day at work he let me know that I would advance no further in my role at the workplace unless I went out with him again. I quit my job. Try explaining your "reasons for leaving the last job" at your next job interview. That's just not happening.

Another time, I was on a date with a pilot whom I'd met through a mutual friend while I was working as a flight attendant. We went out on a pleasant adventure to the brand new Playboy Club in town where he paid me a lot of attention and showed me off to his friends. We had fun and said goodnight as he dropped me at my apartment door. The next time he called, he invited me over to his apartment for steaks and a home cooked meal. After we spent our post dinner time at the community pool and hot tub we returned to his apartment to change into dry clothes. That's when he decided to throw me down on the carpet and jump on top of me. My protests were ignored. Besides, who was I going to tell? I had willingly set myself up for this, or so I thought.

Perhaps the most significant breach of protocol happened when I was still in high school and my teacher decided to give me some after school tutoring and unsolicited attention. I was only sixteen at the time, vulnerable to the angst of teenage depression. We skipped school one day, met at a local university parking lot and drove ninety minutes to another town.There, he took me to the woods and taught me to shoot a rifle after which we went to a local eatery where he ordered me a whiskey sour, my first taste of liquor. On a blanket at the beach afterward, I thwarted his advances and luckily, he respected my wishes. The next week I dropped his class and signed up for Advanced Home Economics instead. Still, he stalked me in the halls and I wasn't the only one.

I could go on and on. After all, I lived and worked through the seventies, where innuendos, groping and butt slapping in the workplace were common events. No play, no pay. What astounds me now is the vast number of other women (and men) coming forward to admit the same things have happened to them. Why didn't I tell someone? Who would have believed me?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

For the Good Times

The heartbreak isn't over but I'm beginning to see the light. I've never lost a best friend before. 

Yesterday I was measuring the refrigerator for a replacement. After eighteen years, the old one has finally given up on making things cold. All of a sudden, a magnet jumped off the side wall. When I fished it out from the narrow space between the counter and the appliance, I realized it was the magnet my best friend gave me many years ago. It seemed like a sign to me that she's still with me. I smiled for the first time since Friday when she passed away.

The magnet reminded me of the time at her house when I was raiding her refrigerator and slammed the door too hard. Her little ceramic angel magnet fell off and broke in two. The head rolled underneath and was lost in the dark kingdom of dust bunnies. She'd had to leave town unexpectedly, following the loss of her grandmother and my return flight was not changeable, so I waited alone to go home. I wrote her a short, sorrowful note of apology with an offer to buy her a new magnet to replace the one I ruined. She forgave me with no hesitation and the matter was closed.

My next trip to her house, I was amazed to find the angel magnet hanging proudly on the front of the refrigerator door. She'd found the lost piece and glued it back together. I carefully closed the door on the cold realm of leftovers and sodas and smiled.

My friend will never call me again. We will never walk on the beach looking for shells. Or watch the glorious beauty of sunset we like did so many times on our vacations together. Somehow, I cling to the hope that we are still together, even if separated by life and death, and that one day we will again walk along the shore in awe of God's handiwork.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Banana Pudding with Homemade Custard

Sometimes I crave something that reminds me of summer and childhood. Years ago, we made this recipe with Nabisco Vanilla Wafers and Instant Banana Pudding.

These days, I prefer the taste of the homemade custard that takes only minutes to cook and the flavor alone makes up for the time invested. It's also easy cleanup as only one medium saucepan is needed.

There are 5 main ingredients needed other than bananas and vanilla wafers. Most of these items I keep on hand in my pantry.

Ingredients for the Custard

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar - or use 12 packets of Stevia sweetener or Sucralose
  • 4 Tablespoons of powdered corn starch
  • 1/4 cup of Karo corn syrup
  • 2 egg yolks - It's easy to separate the yolks from the whites. See below.
  • 2 cups of whole milk - You can also substitute 2% milk.

After the pudding thickens add:

  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract or sometimes I use banana extract if I have it.
To prepare the dish you'll need

  • Vanilla wafers and two bananas.
The key to making delicious pudding or custard is in the attention to stirring. Plan to dedicate 15 minutes of your undivided attention to this. Constant stirring eliminates the need for a double boiler and keeps the pudding from scorching and sticking to the pan.

Start with a heavy duty medium sized pan.

Measure out the sugar or sweetener right into the cold pan.

Add the corn starch and Karo syrup.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks by using a knife to crack the egg or strike it gently on a the edge of the counter.

Over a separate container, allow the egg white to drip through half of the shell.

Pour the egg yolk into the pan with the dry ingredients.

Pour about half a cup of the milk into the ingredients and stir with a whisk to form a paste.

Add the remaining milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.

Set a timer for about 20 minutes. Depending on your stove, it takes from 15 - 20 minutes for the mixture to come to a boil. At the first sign of boiling, remove the pan from the heat and add the pat of butter and vanilla extract. Stir and allow to cool a bit while you prepare the dish.

Line a casserole dish with a layer of Vanilla Wafers. 
Slice the bananas over the wafers.
Pour the cooked pudding custard over the top.
End with another layer of bananas and finish with the custard. Sometimes I crumble a few Vanilla wafers over the top. 

Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours and serve with whipped cream.

I hope you enjoy this family favorite dessert.

Monday, July 10, 2017

5 Hours in the Emergency Room

Sitting in the ER on the day before a holiday can be frustrating. Truth is, it can be frustrating anytime, any day. A visitor tends to notice the small, bothersome things, like debris on the floor or black scuff marks on the wheels of the gurney. The patient, on the other hand, notices only the delay in getting the proper care or pain medication that they are screaming for at the moment.

The constant bleeping noise of the blood pressure monitor, left running while the patient is taken to some mysterious location for CT Scans and Sonograms becomes the heartbeat of the room.

The wail of other emergency transport vehicles sounds loud as they echo down the deserted hallways, first a siren, later only flashing red and blue lights before the transport team makes their way past us to one of eighty rooms in the ER.

A lonely housekeeper pushes the hospital equivalent of a Swiffer down the linoleum tile. I almost asked when our room will be swabbed as well, but I didn't. Instead, I concentrated on the blaring volume of the TV where the soap opera plays its own version of drama. My companion, the patient's mother, stares without blinking at the screen catching up on her stories so she can relay updates to her daughter when she returns.

Minutes tick by on the clock in the room, the hands moving ever so slowly as we wait for some sort of results or decisions. After an hour, I go out in search of my missing friend.

"They said she'd only be gone a few minutes," I tell someone kind enough to stop.

"Oh, the techs have no idea how long it takes," the radiologist informs me as I'm pacing the halls under the x-ray sign. "I'll find out what happened to her." He asks her name again. I tell him.

At that moment, a door opens and they roll her back to the same location on the dirty floor of the ER room where it rested before. Someone else comes in the room with the same questions that have been answered a number of times. I wonder what is the point of entering data into the computer when no one can find it again.

The doctor on staff, who's substituting for the regular doctor who's on holiday, who is filling in for the patient's primary care physician, asks if my friend has an Advanced Directive and a Living Will. Although expected, this brings to light the severity of the situation and the possibilities of the outcome.

Five hours of staring at the photo on the wall opposite the ER room, the nurse finally tells us that a room assignment has been made. They roll the patient down the hall, with a brief stop in front of the nurses' station to add Dilaudid to the IV drip We follow the gurney through two buildings and up an elevator to the south wing on the fourth floor where we settle into an ice cold room, thankfully, a private room with a window, where the questions resume with a familiarity that is unnerving and redundant.

"What is your name and date of birth?"
"Do you have an Advanced Directive? A Living will?"
"What is your level of pain on a scale of one to ten. A ten?"
"What prescription pain medications do you take at home?"

An hour later, the shift changes and the night nurse comes in with the same list of questions. By now, we're preparing flash cards with the answers to save energy.

My friend is in Stage IV of Pancreatic cancer, unable to eat, barely able to walk, and each question answered requires serious effort at speaking. We turn the air conditioner setting warmer from 65 to a more pleasant 75 degrees, take our positions on the hard folding chairs provided and wait.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Beach Therapy Please

Tomorrow my best friend will face the hardest day of her life. She's scheduled for an appointment at the cancer center to find out what options she has.

Our days go way back in time, way back to working in a hair salon, sitting for our real estate exams, climbing the corporate ladder, each trying to be a good step-mother to our ex's only child. We've faced hardship and joy together over the decades and now, she faces the hardest times ahead.

I think of her comforting me during my darkest days and realize there's no comparison to what she must be going through. Even now, in these days of bad news, P.E.T. scans, emergency room visits, missed diagnoses and pain, she keeps reminding me that God is in control. She is assured that He will do what's best for her and help her get through whatever lies ahead.

The last time I saw her, I couldn't believe my eyes. She was thinner than I had ever seen her. She has always battled extra weight, up thirty pounds, down ten, up twenty, down five. Now, she tells me she weighs only a few pounds more than I do. Down a hundred.That's not necessarily a good thing.

We've shared a week together on the beach at her timeshare right on the Gulf nearly every September since 1988. The memories we made won't fit into any photo album. There are thousands of scenes in my mind, captured along the way. Seagulls soaring, dolphins swimming, surf roiling, Hurricane Gilbert, poolside chats, beach strolls, sangria toasts, apple strudel, Beach Boy Video and precious time together with no cell phone anywhere near.

We've spent thousands of hours sharing personal issues, dilemmas, new jobs, joy, unemployment, stories of our past lives and loves. She has truly been a sister to me and a genuine friend in thick and thin. Time for some beach therapy.

I'm thinking of her today and praying.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Corporate Obscurity

It was toward the end of a dozen years with a multi-billion dollar corporation that I found myself on a list of employees whose value to the company had come into question. The unfortunate group was assigned to a "special project," which may sound like something desirable that would distinguish or redeem us. Not so for the corporate professional whose contributing days had run their course.

Each of us knew this was a make or break situation. We were in the pool given a monumental task that we knew was destined for failure. There was minimal chance that when the task was completed that success would lead us to a new position within the company. We were living in limbo land.

There were participants from many departments of various levels, grades, and specialties, yet, despite our wins in the past, we now faced that dreaded outcome: "separation from the company" which would end our careers.
Still, most of us took on the responsibilities with chins held high, our stiff upper lips pursed into dogged expressions, and our noses planted firmly on the grindstone.

Our job was to inventory company assets scattered through the facilities of its outsourced transportation company and find discrepancies in the millions of dollars of equipment that had gone missing from the books. For the best part of five weeks, we traveled from city to city across the United States serving in the heat of blistering warehouses in Atlanta, Boston, New Jersey, Florida and other, more obscure towns.

The members of our team, for the most part, grew closer through our mutually shared yet unspoken knowledge of upcoming doom. Each of us hoped somehow to distinguish ourselves in some creative way and regain our misplaced importance to the corporate entity. Our futures depended on making the right impressions with those token "safe" employees who joined us from time to time to interject a sense of validity to our efforts. If only we could make the right connection, impress the holder of an open personnel requisition, perhaps befriend someone who could keep us afloat in a top-heavy, overburdened ship with excess cargo.

The rumors of upcoming layoffs floated among us in the evenings when we gathered for the dinner meal. Those were times when the most desperate tried their hardest to find a listening ear, to work out some deal to keep themselves on the payroll. Doomed alliances were pushed to the limit by intense competition for any safe place left within the organization.

As we toiled in our unaccustomed manual labor roles of the temporary assignment, we brushed elbows with Vice Presidents and departmental leaders whose objective during their brief tenure among us was assessment of team members.

As the hours, days and weeks passed, the stays at adequate but less than luxurious hotels continued. We sweated, washed our clothes in motel laundromats, ate take-out food, sang songs and whistled while we worked, and grew as close as our tenuous situation would allow. When we concluded our round-about inventory tour, our diverse team members returned to their respective home bases and awaited our fates.

To our immense surprise, the project was deemed an unqualified success. We located and documented millions of dollars of elusive inventory and turned our ill-fated mission around. Many were able to secure jobs in new areas within the company. Our assignment became a test of our adaptability to change. Those who were able to embrace the uncertainty and plow through were awarded a cash bonus and handed an engraved plaque of recognition by the Senior Vice President.

It was a memorable moment in the trial by fire of the corporate worker.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Salad - 50 Ways to Lose Your Blubber

Trying to lose a few pounds at my age has become a real challenge. Two years ago I decided to lose ten pounds. I'm not discouraged. I've only got twenty more pounds to go. "All I had was a salad." Go figure.

This is a favorite with Iceberg lettuce, chopped Roma tomatoes, drained black beans and sliced fresh strawberries. Where I've been going wrong is with the dressing. If you read the label, two tablespoons is an average serving with 140 calories. I usually quadruple that amount. (I may be underestimating a bit.) This week I decided to try something different. I've been using Balsamic Vinaigrette mixed with Zesty Italian Lite dressing and I've lost two pounds.
This was lunch on Monday: Iceberg lettuce, chopped celery, sliced baby carrots, chopped beefsteak tomatoes and dressing. What's missing is the mountain of cheese that I usually shred over the top of this "low-fat" meal. Of course, I've skipped the Simply Dipped Nutty Buddy ice cream cone afterward, too. How droll.
For variety, there's rolled up deli turkey, 15 calories per slice, and rather than the entire tomato, I used only half. What a sacrifice!
This one's also a favorite with baby spinach leaves, deli turkey and half of an avocado. I like to sprinkle a little lemon juice over the top to keep it from browning too quickly. Usually, there's no danger of that since it's gone in 60 seconds. Just kidding. It usually lasts three minutes while I watch an episode of Snapped: Killer Couples or Lt. Joe Kenda on TV.
Here's another way to use up that Costco-size Hillshire's Farm Deli Turkey in the economical five-gallon tub. I back-slid on this one and added shredded cheddar cheese, but to make up for it, there's fresh grapes. So I'm good, right?
Okay, here I'm really falling off the wagon with this tuna salad and its high calorie mayonnaise. Please help me, I'm falling. Down one pound and back up two. Aaaccck!
Getting better all the time with these added black olives, half a boiled egg, Garbanzo beans (for protein) and two rolled up slices of deli ham at 25 calories each. Oh, don't forget the Roma tomatoes and the half cup of Ranch Dressing.
Now, you're cooking. Avocado, black beans, grilled chicken breast, Roma tomatoes over Iceberg lettuce. Yes, now, that's a meal in itself. But wait, what about the dressing?
Venturing way out on a limb with Artisan type lettuce, otherwise, same stuff, different day. Black beans, Roma tomatoes, boiled egg, hold the salt - I'm on a diet. Ah, never mind. What good is an egg without salt?
Better. Tuna with no mayonnaise, sliced baby carrots, baby spinach, Iceberg lettuce, paprika. Uh oh. Giant bowl.
Really branching out now. Adding diced Bell pepper, rolled ham with Swiss cheese, boiled egg, Spinach and Iceberg lettuce. Feeling happy. Have a nice day. Ok. Google won't let me add more images so that's it for now. Eat healthy. Drum roll. Here's Paul Simon, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.