Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

For Thanksgiving, we went to Cape Cod to celebrate with Kevin's family. Kevin's mother and aunt Mary made all of the delicious Thanksgiving dinner because they are amazing! Kevin's grandmother Ruth made her two of her famous apple pies. Andrew came from Florida to celebrate both Thanksgiving and his 29th birthday.

Thanksgiving 2012
The five Clous on Thanksgiving: Andrew, Kathy, James, Kevin, and me

We also had uncle Dick and cousin Chris there, so it was a very full and loud house. In fact, we were only quiet when we started eating the delicious meal. We didn't have the whole family there though. We were missing aunt Nesie, uncle Steve, and Kevin's cousin Katie. His aunt Nesie and uncle Steve couldn't be there because they were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary in Hawaii, but they did call us in between climbing a volcano and going to the beach. What a perfect way to celebrate such a special anniversary!

Thanksgiving 2012
Thanksgiving dinner!

James enjoyed his second Thanksgiving dinner ever. Last year he only had the sides, but this year he got turkey and pie as well so he was a pretty happy guy. Except for the entire time he wasn't eating, when he spent the afternoon chasing the dog and running all over grandma's house so that Kevin and I were exhausted by the time the party was over.

Thanksgiving 2012
James feeding himself Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving 2012
Someone stuck his finger in the pie, but I'm not telling who did it

In leui of a birthday cake, Andrew blew out some candles on the apple pie. His real birthday treat is next weekend when the Clous are visiting him in Florida and taking him to a Patriots v. Dolphins game.  We're excited to go!

Thanksgiving 2012
Andrew's 29th birthday!

After dinner, Kevin got psyched for the evening Patriots v. Jets game by changing James into his new Brady jersey and tossing the football with him. James and his little jersey must be good luck for the Patriots because they won! Woo!

Thanksgiving 2012
Ready for some football!

Thanksgiving 2012
James loves loves loves the dog Harry

We're not big into shopping on Black Friday (or shopping much at all actually) so on Friday we went went for a hike around Nauset Marsh Trail. I really liked it because it's beautiful, a fairly short 3-mile hike, and most importantly, flat!

Nauset Marsh Trail 2012
Nauset Trail Marsh

Nauset Marsh Trail 2012
Nauset Beach

That evening we went to the 28 Club, which I haven't been back to since we had our wedding welcome party there, so I was long overdue. I had a lot of fun, which some of you already know about because you may have received some drinking-and-texting love from me.

Cape Cod- Nov 2012
Andrew and Kevin at 28 Club

Our first married Thanksgiving in 2009, and our first Thanksgiving with James in 2011. Other Thanksgivings here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lessons from Cancer

It's been two years since I lost my dad. Two years since I learned what it means to lose someone you truly love and who loves you. It means this: it's been two years since I've seen my dad, heard his voice, shared the joy in my life with him, seen him laugh, given him a hug. It doesn't really get better; it gets different. It arguably gets worse, because I miss him two years more than I did before. It is so much worse than I could have imagined.

Ever since it happened I thought I should write a post about what I learned about dealing with cancer and death. Maybe there's something I could say to help someone who reads this. For family, friends, and for the person dealing with their own death, it is really hard to know what the right thing to do is. There are definitely things to do, say, or not say that can make a difference in how everyone feels after the fact. My "lessons" might not apply to everyone, and applying many of these lessons can be very challenging, but I wanted to give something to the people navigating a terrible diagnosis for the first time. Something like this might have helped me at the time. It's hard for people who have gone through it to share it with you, either because they don't want to or can't remember it, or because they believe each situation is too unique for their help to apply. And when you're going through something like this, you don't exactly have the time, energy, or desire to run out and buy a self-help book. So maybe this can help someone.

*** Don't feel obligated to read the rest of this. Maybe it's enough to just know that it's here in case you or someone you know needs it one day. I hope you never need it. 

My dad turned 61 on Friday, July 16th.  The next Monday evening, when I was still at work late, I got a call from my mother, hysterically crying because my dad had just been diagnosed with a tumor in his brain. I was at the hospital the next day when the doctor told us it was kidney cancer in his brain, lungs, and his one kidney. I remember calling him on his birthday and I remember how depressed he was to be turning 61.  I also remember how much he wanted to turn 62 when he was diagnosed just a few days later.
    Lesson 1 (for patients and caregivers): You have to remain ever vigilant about your health and the health of your loved ones. My dad first had cancer in 1998 and got a "clean bill of health" in 2003 at the cancer 5-year mark. This is just a statistical line though. Cancer can come back 10 or 20 years later. Other diseases can arise as well. You have to go for regular checkups and blood tests and always report any strange symptoms to your doctor. You should ask your loved ones when they last went for a checkup and ask about the details of the checkup. I'm sorry if that's an awkward conversation to have, but please consider the alternative.
    This is the most important lesson. Despite all my other advice, often the only thing that can save someone is early diagnosis. 
    Lesson 2 (for the patients and future patients): One of the best gifts you can give to people who love you is to live your life with happiness. When someone loves you, your suffering is their suffering. It is not easy to be happy. It is not easy! But it's not selfish either. It's a gift to those around you.

    Lesson 3 (for supportive friends): Complaining about old age and wrinkles and aches is insensitive. It's a stab at all the people personally dealing with health problems or who have family members who died young. Especially in this day of Facebook, you don't know what the person reading your complaint is going through in their life. I'm not trying to pass judgment on complaining-- goodness know I complain about all sorts of meaningless things-- I am asking you to be cognizant of the suffering all around you. Being old is like being rich.
Kevin and I had been hoping to get pregnant, but when my dad got sick we figured it wasn't going to happen after all this month. The morning after I returned from the first hospital visit, I got so dizzy I almost passed out. I figured it was the stress of the event, but now I think it could have been an early pregnancy symptom.

While visiting the Soward Family I started to suspect that something was amiss, and as I got more and more tired in the following week, I finally took an early test that confirmed I was pregnant.

Dad got brain radiosurgery, a noninvasive but traumatic outpatient procedure.  He had the choice to try this before resorting to regular brain surgery, and it was very tempting because it was noninvasive. But regular brain surgery had a better chance of being effective and doing so more quickly, so in retrospect in might have been a better though more frightening choice. He was also put on medication to prevent post-op seizures.

After the radiosurgery, Dad developed a lot of leg pain, and it turned out that the hospital never scanned his arms or his legs and he had tumors in both. They offered him an embolization for the tumor in his leg.
    Lesson 4 (for the caregivers): This is a hard one. If your loved one has a life-threatening illness, you need to become a part-time specialist and nurse. The doctors will resist you in this endeavor, but the truth is that doctors and nurses have a lot of patients and make a lot of mistakes.  When your loved one is diagnosed you need to ask for the primary sources of their diagnosis. I should have asked for his body scans.  As soon as he had leg pain, I would have known they hadn't scanned his extremities. Instead, I assumed that they had, and that my dad had some unrelated pain. Preventable mistakes happened over and over again. You should read medication prescriptions and doses yourself and not just rely on the nurse's explanation. If at any point any doctor or nurse exhibits confusion on any topic, you need to follow up and personally understand what the confusion is. You need to ask about the risks of every single procedure. The doctors don't always volunteer that information because they feel like they have already weighed the potential risks for you, but they might lack some of the information about your loved one that you possess. 
    You need to do this yourself. It's not a job that can be passed on to others, because it's not just about being effectual, it's also about self-forgiveness and knowing you did all you could. I am not saying that you are likely to save your loved one by doing all this. Obviously the doctors are more qualified to do that. But you can save your loved one a lot of discomfort and save yourself the resulting heartache and guilt.
The end of August was truly awful. Chrissy's mom passed away from cancer. Due to my dad's brain radiosurgery he was on antiseizure medication, but the doctor made a mistake on his prescription and because of that he had a seizure on a Thursday, and he again lost his ability to speak or walk. The doctors advised us to up his antiseizure medication and wait for him to improve again. (See above, check the medications and prescriptions.)

The next Friday after my dad's seizure, I stayed at my parents to help my dad while my mom went out. I two memories that stand out from that day: being grateful that I could make my dad a sandwich at lunchtime, and that he handed me one of his pillows when I sat next to him on the bed. He didn't even know I was pregnant yet, but even in his pain and sadness, he was thinking about me.
    Lesson 5 (for the caregiver): Honoring your loved ones is a gift to yourself even more than it is a gift to them. The simple act of making a sandwich or fluffing a pillow is a benediction. 
That Saturday, my mom told me that dad was getting worse, so I encouraged her to call an ambulance to bring him to the hospital. The doctors said we couldn't wait any longer to see if the brain radiosurgery would work, so he'd have to get regular brain surgery.  The day of the surgery was one of the worst days in my life, and definitely the worst day of dad's life. We followed dad all the way to just outside the operating room, and when mom stepped out right before dad went in, I told dad I was pregnant. He couldn't speak, but reached out and kissed my hand and cried.  He was eager to talk about it when he regained his speech a month later.
    Lesson 6 (for the patient and caregiver): It seemed like the right choice to get the noninvasive radiosurgery instead of skipping to the invasive regular brain surgery, but when you're dealing with a very advanced disease, you should seriously consider aggressive interventions. Obviously the interventions themselves pose a risk, especially in terms of potential infections, but the disease might pose a greater risk. You also need to consider how the intervention will affect quality of life if the person turns out to just have a short time to live. Facing that possibility is one of the hardest factors to take into consideration because you just don't want to admit to yourself that your loved one might die, and that it might happen very soon. In our case, if we'd been psychic, we would have skipped to the invasive brain surgery, not because it ultimately saved his life, but because the intervention improved the quality of life for my dad in his final months.
    Lesson 7 (for the caregiver): I definitely felt bad for myself (and for my dad) because I was going through my first pregnancy while my dad was dying. It's supposed to be a happy time, and even though the pregnancy itself made me happy, in many ways it was the worst time of my life. But I went on and there were tons of people who had lost loved ones while pregnant. There were even women who had lost one parent while pregnant the first time, and the other while pregnant the second time. There are even women who are themselves diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. There is unspeakable sadness everywhere.
    Lesson 8 (for the caregiver): I'm not sure what the exact lesson here is, but I don't think I should have told my dad about my pregnancy before he went into the brain surgery. I did so because I was afraid he might not come out of the surgery, or that he might not come out of it himself, which thankfully he did. But I should have told him either way in advance or when he had started to recover significantly. He was very emotional when I told him, and his blood pressure was unusually high during the surgery. Perhaps he was just scared during the surgery, but I would have felt awful forever if something had gone wrong because I stressed him out before the surgery. 
    I was glad that we took him almost all the way into the surgery, and waited with him until the prep team took him, because the wait can be very long for a surgery even after the patient is taken out of his or her room. I'm glad he didn't have to spend that time waiting alone.
Dad moved to rehab after the brain surgery, and started speaking again little by little. Things were extremely tough for him. He kept saying the rehab was really hard, and I was confused because my dad regularly ran 15-18 miles a week. I tried to encourage him, but in retrospect, pushing him was not what he needed. He needed a less intensive physical therapy to be more comfortable, but we had picked this facility because it had the best speech and cognitive therapy.

Ash and Janice visited that weekend to try to cheer me up. They said I could still keep doing what I was doing, but what I was doing was spending all my free time with dad, and that didn't seem possible with visitors. I felt a little out of sorts not being with my dad that weekend. But overall, they did the best thing friends can possibly do, they came to physically offer their help and solace.
    Lesson 9 (for the supportive friend): Don't just ask, "What can I do to help?" Offer specific things to help. Offer to come in person to see your friend at home or at the hospital. Send food. Send cards. Offer rides. I was so lucky to have amazing friends that did these things. Not just Ash and Janice, either. Some of my mothers friends were regular visitors in the hospital. Kevin was especially amazing throughout the illness. He educated himself on the disease, spoke to the doctors frequently, asked a lot of questions, and stayed with my parents even when I couldn't be there. I haven't forgotten what each person did for me during that period of my life, and I probably never will. 
My dad was in aggressive rehab when his leg pain increased. The doctors decided to perform a second leg embolization because the leg tumor had grown again. The first embolization was done with wires and this second one was done with alcohol, and they used a dye that possibly encouraged my dad's kidney to fail. I was worried and driving back and forth from Long Island was hard, so I took some time off work and joined my parents at the hospital every day. (This is Lesson 4 all over again. We should have asked in detail what the risks and side effects were of the leg embolization. We assumed the doctors understood the risks to his one kidney, but because these particular doctors were specialized in leg embolization, they seemed to ignore an otherwise minor risk to the kidney.)

Kidney failure would be fatal for my father because without a functioning kidney his cancer medication wouldn't work. Kevin and I had been waiting until after our next appointment to tell our mothers that we were pregnant (I had already told my dad), but the circumstances were scary enough that I thought it would be best to tell my mother on Monday night so that she could enjoy the news with dad.

Dad started his dialysis on Monday. This time we did ask about the risks in advance because by now we had learned our lesson. We insisted the doctors be specific because in the previous procedures any negative consequence that he could suffer, he did suffer. The doctor thought we were being crazy. He listed some potential risks and we considered it and then approved the procedure. We begged him to be careful. It was a complete nightmare because he had a rare allergic reaction. It was so rare that the doctor had not even mentioned that it was a possibility. They only had an alternate treatment available because 1 other woman had the same reaction somewhat recently. He did okay with the alternate treatment but he was still having trouble recovering from the allergic

Afterward the dialysis, he started feeling a little better than he had during the weekend, and mom was in okay spirits. So I told my mother right then that I was pregnant. She started crying and hugging Kevin and didn't let go, until I insisted on my turn for a hug. Dad pretended to be surprised, but I busted him. I showed mom the sonogram picture, but dad was interrupted by a follow-up ct-scan, so I showed him the following day after his second dialysis treatment. His kidney started working again on its own by the end of the week. Dad went back to rehab.

Dad was in rehab and fighting cancer when he got an infection. After a few days at the hospital they were trying to release him, but my mom and I argued that he was not better and it turned out he had a blockage in his kidney.  So then he had a kidney-bladder stint surgery we had been hoping to avoid.
    Lesson 10 (for the patient and caregiver): This one is very specific. Getting an infection especially while in rehab is really common. Not all people in rehab are suffering from cancer or immune disorders so preventing infection might not be on the staff's radar in the same way it is in a hospital. Since someone with cancer already has a weaken system from fighting cancer and often also from the cancer treatment, and because an infection delays cancer treatment, getting an infection can be fatal. It is very important to do everything possible to avoid infection including alerting staff about the risk and trying to monitor as much as you can yourself.
While this was going on, Kevin's mom visited, and now that I was 3 months along, we told her I was pregnant.  She was super happy.  We also showed all our parents a videotaped sonogram of the baby. I had to work that weekend, both at the hospital and at the office. Ugh.

Dad came home from rehab and we had dinner together in Ramsey.  He couldn't really enjoy his meal, but it was our last dinner all together at the table.

I was 4 Months pregnant, I felt the baby move, and I had a sonogram where the doctor couldn't see much, but guessed the baby was a boy.  My dad continued to think I was going to have a girl, maybe because he was used to my mom, me, and my mom's friends, and he couldn't imagine not being surrounded by women.

Dad got his final procedure, and probably the one I regret the most, his leg radiation.  It didn't work and it seemed just to cause him more pain. After the radiation, we found out that he didn't have much time left because his calcium was increasing and his tumors were growing larger.

I was lost in a mix of denial and grief and wasn't able to properly say goodbye. Dad passed away on the morning of November 21.
    Lesson 11 (for the caregiver, but also for the patient): Knowing when to say goodbye is one of the hardest things you'll ever face. You want to be hopeful. How can you encourage your loved one if you're saying goodbye? We had so many scares particularly the week that his kidney failed that I felt like we would pull out of the calcium increase as well because he was receiving medication for it. Doctors won't be clear with you. But there will come a moment when it's too late-- and that moment might come suddenly and unexpectedly so you need to try to say something to your loved one. Something to hold on to afterwards.

    If you can do nothing else, then you have to hedge your goodbye. Something like, "If I lost you, I would miss you so much forever. I hope you know how much I love you. You are a wonderful father/mother/etc. I don't want this to be goodbye." Saying goodbye can be very painful, but not saying goodbye can hurt a lot later as well.

    Lesson 12 (for the patient and the caregiver): One sure sign that this is your last chance to say goodbye is if the doctors start a high morphine drip to control pain. Again, this is not something the doctors will necessarily explain to you ahead of the fact. At certain levels the patient can no longer stay awake or communicate. The last thing you want to do is cause your loved one pain by taking them off the morphine drip, so you need to say goodbye before the drip is increased to sleep-inducing levels.
We spent Thanksgiving with my mom sitting on her bed. At 20 weeks we went to the sonogram that told us the baby's gender. My mom came with us, and she cried when the doctor said it was a boy. She already knew that we planned on naming the baby after my dad if the baby was a boy.

Lesson 13 (for the caregivers): Consider honoring your loved ones while they're still alive. Before he got sick, I actually did try to change my middle name to Shute (my dad's last name) when I got married but it wasn't a straight-forward process and I was told I had to go to court to do it. I never got around to it, and he wasn't alive to see me name my son after him either. I was lucky that my mother told him I was going to, but it's not quite the same.

Lesson 14 (for the caregiver): Forgive yourself and your loved one as soon and as completely as you can. Ultimately, nothing we could have done would have saved him because his cancer was much more aggressive than we realized. It took him in just 4 short months. There is no point in holding on to anger. There is no point in going to war with the universe. When you're ready, try to be as happy as you can be. Your loved one would want you to be happy, not unhappy. The love they gave you is still there, and it is powerful enough to lift you up if you let it.

My dad and I at my wedding.

Have a happy healthy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your family, and love them as hard as you can.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Girls' Weekend in Warwick 2012

So then I went back to Warwick last weekend. Yes, really. Some of my college friends and I had decided to go visit Ash months before Superstorm Sandy and the Nor'easter had caused me to live in Ash's place and my mom's for an extended time. So back I went!

Actually, I was pretty excited because I wanted to see my friends and Warwick had just given me a little taste when I'd stayed there the week before because a lot of places were still missing power. Warwick is very charming.

I was supposed to take the bus up with Christina, but sadly the storm set her family back too much this week with work and no daycare for their little one. She was very missed.  I braved the bus on my own and discovered parts of New Jersey I'd never seen before. Megan drove up with Laurie and Janice from the Virginia-DC-Maryland area (one lady from each state). Shortly after everyone arrived on Saturday afternoon we had cheese and crackers for lunch.  The wine came minutes later when we went to the Warwick winery for a tasting. I especially liked the Harvest Moon wine we tried, a white with a strong grapefruit flavor that led me to dub it "a breakfast wine." The time has come! Afterwards, we bought a bottle of their famous cider and sat to enjoy it and listen to live music.

Girls' Weekend 2012
Janice, me, Laurie, Ash, and Megan doing the wine tasting at Warwick Winery

Girls' Weekend 2012
Enjoying live music at the Winery

So we were already having a lot of fun, after our first stop, and then Ash suggested dinner at a Cuban-Latin restaurant called Coquito. I was a little dubious because I'm kind of a Cuban food expert, but it was delicioso. Especially the maduros and yuca fries. And the Coquito mojito was coconuty and amazing.

Girls' Weekend 2012
Janice and Megan at Coquito restaurant

After dinner we went to Eddie's Roadhouse for drinks. We had so much fun on Saturday night. More fun than we little old ladies are used to perhaps. We ended the night on the couch trying to regain energy by watching some truly awful CIS episodes (but only because Laurie refused to watch some truly awful SVU).

It worked! The next morning we were so energized that after Megan and Ash went hiking (the rest of us slept in) we went to brunch and then walked around the Warwick shops all day. We also went to the cute little Farmers Market.

Girls' Weekend 2012
Walking Main Street in Warwick

Girls' Weekend 2012
Walking to brunch at Le Petite Cuisine

Girls' Weekend 2012
At the Warwick Farmer's Market

Then we had a total food binge on Laurie's homemade cookies, Ash's homemade pie, and a million snacks Janice brought. I am still recovering from the horror of my weigh-in.

Girls' Weekend 2012
Ash showing us the brussel sprouts in her garden. Why weren't we eating these instead?

Girls' Weekend 2012
At Ash's place, missing Christina

I had such a wonderful time and I love these women so much that I am already dreaming about our next girls' weekend!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Updated Diary of a Refugee 2012

We're home! Our place had no power for a total of 7 days, luckily we were able to spend 5 of those at Ash's place.

Day 1: Monday, October 29th
In Long Island, Superstorm Sandy produced up to 75 mile-per-hour gusts. At our place, we lost power around 2 p.m. on Monday, and for some reason it clicked back on around 5:30 p.m. I cleaned the entire apartment after the power went out. We cleverly ordered pizza for dinner before our neighborhood lost power. We were in high spirits and James entertained us at night by singing and dancing.

Day 2: Tuesday, October 30th
Getting up with James at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning in the dark was not fun. I started getting bored and antsy so we took a walk around the neighborhood. Kevin stood in a long line for some Dunkin Donuts coffee. That evening I started getting cold and we knew the temperature was dropping. We had cold spaghetti for dinner because our stove is electric not gas. There was less dancing Tuesday night and more huddling for warmth. I wrote more about Monday and Tuesday here.

Superstorm Sandy 2012
Blackout dinner: Cold spaghetti by dinner

Day 3: Wednesday, October 31st
Wednesday afternoon we drove up to Ash's house. We heard news of the devastation in the area for the first time. We saw crazy mile-long lines for gas in New Jersey. It was Halloween so we dressed up James and let him run around. Ash's parents are also staying with her because they lost power. Ash made us an awesome hot meal for dinner.

Halloween 2012
Those are not tiger feet!

Day 4: Thursday, November 1st
Ash didn't have to go to work today, but because she had 5 noisy people staying with her she wasn't able to sleep Wednesday night, and spent some time making up for that on Thursday. I got up with James at 5 a.m. and we did our thing, and Kevin got up a little later and went hiking in Sterling Forest. When he got back, Kevin, James, and I walked around the main street, but most places didn't have power so we came back without actually going inside anywhere.

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012
In Ash's backyard

Day 5: Friday, November 2nd
Ash's birthday! Sadly, she had to go to work so we missed her for most of the day. We tried going to the main street again, but places still didn't have power so we went to the grocery store and picked up some supplies and birthday goodies. I wrote more about Ash's birthday here.

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012
Chilling with Ash on her birthday

Day 6: Saturday, November 3rd
Kevin tried to get gas, and despite waiting in two lines, he wasn't able to get any. Now we were worried that even if we got power back, we'd have no gas to actually get back. I didn't worry for too long though because Ash and I had plans to go to a spa and get sushi. Yay!

Warwick, NY- November 2012
The Clous squeezed into the guest bathroom (Ash thought it was funny)

Day 7: Sunday, November 4th
This morning was  the end of daylight savings.  You know what's worse than the end of daylight savings with a toddler who will want to get up an hour earlier according to the clock? The end of daylight savings when you're a staying with a friend because you lost power in a storm. True story.

Warwick, NY- November 2012
James coping with the end of Daylight Savings time

Kevin successfully got gas in the morning, so he relaxed by going hiking in Sterling Forest again. We walked to Main Street again and this time some of the places were finally open. We got a call from our neighbor that power came back, but we decided to stay through the day to spend more time with Ash. Kevin, Ash, James, and I went to Pennington Farm.

Warwick, NY- November 2012
Ash trying to train James to be a stair gargoyle

Days 8-9: Monday, November 5th- Tuesday, November 6th
And on Monday we were back in our place with power, heat, cable, and internet! Hurray!

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012
No one is happier than Harley. James chased him every day yelling, "Cat! Cat!"

Tuesday was a normal day with no natural disasters.

Days 10-11: Wednesday, November 7th- Thursday, November 8th
Except, then the Nor'easter hit us on Wednesday, and we lost power and heat in the middle of the night. It was cold in our apartment without heat, so Thursday afternoon James and I went to stay with my mom. Of course, the power came back as soon as we got to my mom's. 

Visiting Nana- November 2012
At Nana's on Friday

Days 12-13: Friday, November 9th- Saturday, November 10th
Kevin came to get us on Friday and I was home for a few hours before I left for Girls' Weekend on Saturday morning.

In 13 days, I was able to be at home with power all day for 3 or 4 of those days (depending on whether you count last Friday or not since I could have been home but wasn't).

Monday, November 12, 2012

Visiting Nana- November 2012

Thanks to the Nor'easter we got to spend some quality refugee time at Nana's apartment on Thursday and Friday. James had lots of fun. He stole Nana's hats. He stole Nana's glasses. He stole Nana's hairbrush. Perhaps he was acting out because of natural disasters put him off his game. Or because he missed his Dada, who wasn't taking shelter with us. In any case, he's happy to be home as of Friday afternoon.

Visiting Nana- November 2012
Cowboy James

Visiting Nana- November 2012
Busted stealing Nana's glasses

Visiting Nana- November 2012
The glasses sure do look cute on him.

Visiting Nana- November 2012
After he stole Nana's hairbrush

Visiting Nana- November 2012
Trying to get a photo without the hairbrush in his mouth

Visiting Nana- November 2012
Sad without the hairbrush.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Nor'easter 2012

All our unnatural weather events have to have catchy names now. I'm not sure when this started exactly but the first one I remember was "Snowmageddon" or "Snowpocalypse" in DC at the beginning of 2010. Since then everything has to have it's own crazy name, and often times several names. Hurricane Sandy was renamed Superstorm Sandy when it stopped technically being a hurricane, but because it was also close to Halloween and ruined a lot of Halloween events it was also called Frankenstorm in NY. The latest and greatest is the"Nor'easter" or "Nor'Easterpocalypse." Yeah, I know, not terribly clever, but there it is.

Our first snowfall of the season coming right on the heels of Superstorm Sandy is a mess. A lot of places in New Jersey and New York haven't gotten power back and the temperatures are dropping. In Long Island by us it started snowing at 10:30 a.m. and it kept going all day. We were definitely nervous about losing power again, and every time there was a strong gust Kevin got visibly nervous. Since we didn't lose power through 4:30 p.m. we decided to take James out. His first snowfall was last October, but he was only 6 months old so he barely noticed it, much less enjoyed it. He seemed to like the snow well enough, but he wasn't crazy about it, so we didn't stay out too long. He did manage to track tons of mud and snow into the house though, so he got that part right.

First Snow of 2012
James, shoveling snow

First Snow of 2012
Fun in the backyard

First Snow of 2012
My street on Wednesday

So everything was winter white and charming and I enjoyed a hot chocolate before bed, but it's Long Island, so you know this story does not end well. We lost power around 1 a.m., which is not a huge big deal, but when James woke up and realized it was cold, he had to be moved to our bed. We had a total of 7 inches of snow! And Kevin had to go to work the next morning so James and I were left alone without power or heat. Besides being extremely boring this was getting painful, but we were trying to be brave in hopes that the power would come back on by the afternoon. But after lunch I gave up and asked my mom to come get me and James. As we arrived at her place around 2:30 p.m., my neighbor Frank called me and told me the power was back on. Seriously. So I'm still here. I told Kevin not to even bother rescuing us, since the next storm is surely on its way, he can just come join us when he's ready.

Day After Nor'easter 2012
View out my Window on Thursday morning

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election Day 2012

Voting is really important to me. My family immigrated here from Cuba after Fidel Castro took over and instituted a dictatorship. Since the world was in the throes of the Cold War, the American government expedited the naturalization of Cuban immigrants fleeing communism. Even though their experience was significantly better than that of the average immigrant today, now that I'm older I sometimes think about the hardship of leaving the only country you've ever known and moving to a country where you can't even speak the language. My grandparents were around my age now when they moved here. Growing up, I heard over and over again about the importance of voting to secure democracy and personal freedom. If you don't vote you probably don't matter to any of the political parties. I've always thought it is a privilege to be counted. It is a precious right.

So obviously, I hope you voted! While I think the ideas and ideals that this election hinged on are of crucial importance, I don't take your vote personally. I know that all my friends, Republican or Democrat, love our country, and fiercely want our country to improve so that we leave an even better country to our children. We just disagree on how to do it, or even sometimes we agree on how to do it, but disagree on which candidate will actually do it.

I have two experiences that guide my way of thinking about partisan politics. First, I was raised Republican and became a liberal in between the 1988 election when I supported President George H.W. Bush, and the 1992 election when I supported President Bill Clinton. Sadly, I was too young to vote for either. Luckily, my Republican family didn't disown me! They listened to me and some of them even moved towards the middle, though my grandfather stayed staunchly Republican. A person is not the sum total of their politics. It's crazy that I even need to say that, but the popular reaction to the election makes me think that it is worth emphasizing.

My other guiding experience is that I got a Masters in Legislative Affairs in 2004. Even back then, we were reading books about polarizing partisanship. I read an essay by Fleisher and Bond arguing that historically, the United States has been characterized by weak partisanship, but Congress and the presidency became more partisan in the 1980s, as measured by "the percentage of roll call votes on which a majority of Democrats voted against a majority of Republicans." It has grown worse and worse over the years, and the political parties regularly fan the flames of fear and anger to win votes. But it's not real! The two parties are not so different in ideology and even less so in their actions. And the people who are members of the two parties have even more in common. Of course there are real issues worth campaigning and voting on, but these issues are rarely a reason to give up on your friends or family that don't agree.

On Tuesday, I took James with me to vote. I hope that he grows to be a good citizen who votes with conviction. I will teach him my values, but ultimately, whom he votes for is his business. I will love him just the same if he votes differently than I do. I feel the same way about all my friends.

Election Day 2012
The polls! James is currently not interested
in politics at all, but juice is another issue.

"What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth, the belief that our destiny is shared -- that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, so that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great."
- President Barack Obama, November 6, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pennings Farm and Market 2012

We'd been in Warwick for a bunch of days when we heard we got power back on Sunday afternoon.  I wasn't super eager to leave Ash immediately though, and Kevin doesn't work on Mondays, so it made sense to stay and spend more time together. We walked up and down the main street in Warwick, and then we had a little more time so we decided to go to Pennings Farm. Lately I've been really obsessed with taking James to farms, and I'd scoped out Pennings when we were in Warwick for New Years Day in 2010.

Pennings Farm- November 2012
At the Pennings Farm Petting Zoo

Pennings Farm- November 2012
As of this weekend, James can say, "Ash!"

James was only moderatly interested in the animals, and he was less interested in the animals than he was in Ash's cat, Harley.  In fact, he definitely called the goat, "cat."

Pennings Farm- November 2012
James thinks goats are just big cats.

Pennings Farm- November 2012
Riding the toddler train

Pennings Farm- November 2012
Peekaboo with Ash

The market itself is really nice, and you can buy fresh produce from the farm, or buy a warm meal or snack. We got sweet potato fries and pumpkin soup. There was also a bar inside the market with local beers and ciders. Kevin was particularly pleased that they had a television playing football. James was a little terror inside the market though and I had to chase him and repeatedly take tomatoes and traffic cones away from him.

Pennings Farm- November 2012
Okay, I stopped to take a picture one time.
That probably sends the wrong message, huh?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012

As previously discussed, Ash's parents and the Clous invaded her home because of Superstorm Sandy. So when her birthday rolled around on Friday, we had a built-in party. After work on Friday night, her parents took her to dinner, and when she got back we had two birthday cakes (I failed to coordinate with her mom) and two previously purchased ice creams. She also had multiple flowers and a balloon. Yay!

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012
Ash and her parents

There was some difficulty operating the candle lighter and hilarity ensued.

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012
Having a little trouble here.

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012
We got it! I bet she's wishing the Clous never leave. Ha!

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012
Ash's dad is secretly still mesmerized by the lighter.

Ash's 33rd Birthday 2012
Ash gives him a little tutorial.

After a gluttonous evening, Ash and I decided we need to spoil ourselves even more and spent the afternoon at a local spa, and then picked up enormous amounts of sushi for dinner.

Warwick, NY- November 2012
At the spa, pre-massage. We don't look stressed at all though.

Fun! Let's celebrate Ash's birthday again next week? Yes, please.
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