Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing.... 

While trying to fix yet more technical difficulties, I ran across this item from "Chronicles of Fibromyalgia". I bet lots of us have heard something similar to this:

She Doesn't Do Anything to Make Herself Better

It's tricky to know how to respond when you get that statement. Unless you already know the person to whom is being referred, the truth could be any number of things. Some people believe you aren't doing anything unless you are on loads of prescription medication, while others think if you are medicated you must just be an addict and not really sick. Some are sure the solution is supplementation and special diets; while this does help some of us, it is very expensive and does not benefit every person with fibromyalgia the same way. Many who are healthy think that one with fibromyalgia can just push past the exhaustion and that doing so will keep us from dwelling on being ill. It might be a temporary distraction, but the usual end result is becoming even sicker. And those of us who have cut way back on family get-togethers, public events, and leaving the house in general ARE actually taking steps to get better by not exacerbating our symptoms. But of course to a healthy person, it looks a lot more like laziness.

Not gonna vouch for the proposed "reform".... 

Got this from the Facebook page of People For the American Way. It's about why the voucher system for Medicare is not the way to go:

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Private Plans Won't Save Medicare Money

While I realize there are some retirees who can easily afford to pay more for their health care, I wonder if the Republicans have conveniently forgotten that the DISABLED also use Medicare? As in disabled people trying to live on the average of $1000 per month they might receive on SSDI or SSI if they are lucky. If these vouchers become the law of the land, over HALF the income of many disabled people will have to go to insurance. This does not include medication, which is outrageously expensive under the current Medicare plan if you are unfortunate enough to fall into the doughnut hole every year, which I do. Once you hit that doughnut hole, you will not be eligible for catastrophic coverage for your prescriptions until you have paid $4700 out of pocket. I know very few disabled people who could pay for both their medication and their insurance under the proposed plan.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Styles of humor and their effect on health.... 

Another from "The Laughing Cure" series in Psychology Today. Apparently, not all humor is created equal:

Laughter - Certain Types - Can Be the Best Medicine

It always puzzles me when people think female comedians are not as funny as men. Are we still so stuck on gender stereotypes that we are offended when a woman isn't demure and delicate? I believe in equal opportunity laughter.

Try watching this without at least cracking a smile..... 

Cuckoo for coconut water.... 

Another item from a fibromyalgia Facebook page. Perhaps not the best written page, but an adequate intro to the subject:

Coconut water nutrition facts and health benefits

I now drink 8oz. of coconut water per day. I would drink more, but it does contain carbs, and I would have to cut something else out of my diet to make room for it. It was a bit of an acquired taste, but like green tea, once I started drinking it every day, I began to like it and even crave it.

One supplement, many benefits.... 

This also came from a fibromyalgia Facebook page. It's extremely detailed, but contains useful information:

The Role of Magnesium in Fibromyalgia

Without magnesium supplements, the twitches and spasms in my muscles get so out of control that I can barely use the affected areas. I have to take a great deal more than the RDA recommended amount to get results, though. I've had the best luck with magnesium glycinate capsules and ionized magnesium citrate in liquid form.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The wisdom of not jumping to conclusions.... 

Got this link from a fibromyalgia Facebook page. It states why doctors should rule out other ailments before giving a diagnosis of fibromyalgia:

Conditions with Similar Symptoms

While the article is generally good, I'm not thrilled with their implication that multiple chemical sensitivity could be a psychological condition. I've known too many perfectly healthy people who became quite physically ill when their home or workplace was remodeled, and some never fully regained their health. Also, I think it is underestimated how much overlap there is amongst medical conditions. Especially once you develop an autoimmune disease, you become predisposed to acquiring additional ailments. I call this the "buffet option". I've had celiac disease most of my life, chronic myofascial pain since I was 13, and the following within the last 15 years: Sjogren's syndrome, fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, periodic limb movement disorder, chronic migraine, diabetes, hypothyroidism, Raynaud's, and asthma.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

LOVE this! 

Found this in Psychology Today's series on laughter. While most of these aren't necessarily laugh out loud funny, they'll probably make you smile, and the photos are ADORABLE:

Irresistible and Funny Quotes about Love to Brighten Your Day

I am totally caught up now with the articles that were on my browser except for the "Laughing Cure" series, which I will peruse over the next few days. My next project will be editing vacation photos. And at some point, I will return to cleaning out my e-mail in-box and posting the articles that have been languishing there.

It's just not in the best interest of America.... 

Came across this on Roger Ebert's blog. I agree that we seem to be on a precipice:

Don't tear down that wall!

Many people I have talked to are surprised that, as a Christian, I am so opposed to merging religion and government. I am told this is a Christian nation, and the majority rules. How can this be if our First Amendment states there shall be no establishment of religion? We are NOT a Christian-based government, but one that preserves the freedom of all to practice the religion of one's choice, or no religion at all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Time for a butterfly break! 

This was posted by a member on the Fibrohugs Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Observations from a "Pushed" Girl.... 

For the past several weeks, I have been watching with interest a television show on the Sundance Channel called "Push Girls". It features women confined to wheelchairs who are still able to lead active and glamorous lives (one is a dancer, one is a model, one is a personal trainer, and one is considering competitive swimming). One subject that inevitably comes up is dealing with people who have no clue how to act around those who are wheelchair-bound.

I am fortunate enough to be able to walk, but that ability is quite limited. If I go further than the length of a city block or two without rest, my autoimmune fatigue will  become so severe I simply cannot take another step. I once had to be practically carried by my husband when this happened to me in the middle of a grocery store. The last straw was when I almost missed my flight at an airport after I came close to fainting halfway down a concourse. In 2005, I became a part-time wheelchair user whenever I needed to travel further than my legs would take me.

I recently got to take a short vacation during which I used my wheelchair three days in a row. While doing so, I thought about the Push Girls and realized that I am in the unique position of being both in the walking and rolling worlds. I cannot propel my own chair, though, due to arthritis and weakness in my hands and intolerance of repetitive activity, so my husband must do this for me. Consider me a "pushed" girl.

Thought I might provide some general information/reminders regarding wheelchairs to those are fully able-bodied and then some suggestions to those who might be trying a wheelchair for the first time.

For those who walk:

1. Don't judge. It will not always be obvious why someone is in the chair, and glaring at them or making snide comments is usually unnecessary. You never know - you may find yourself in your own wheelchair someday hearing people demanding bluntly what's supposed to be wrong with you.

2. Don't ignore. While you might be doing this thinking that it's a better solution than staring, by pretending that the person in the wheelchair isn't there at all, you might be missing out on an opportunity to meet someone great. When my husband pushes my chair, people sometimes assume that I cannot communicate, and talk to my husband about me without glancing at me at all, even though I am looking right at them and smiling at them. That is insulting.

3. Watch where you're going. This has become a real problem since smart phones have become so popular. I have had people walk right into the side of my wheelchair, so engrossed were they in texting. And perhaps this isn't common knowledge, but people in wheelchairs often don't have their feet straight down under them; non-customized chairs have footrests that protrude quite a distance, and if you have large feet like I do (size 10!), they end up way out in front of the chair, making them prime targets for absent-minded walkers to trip over them. I was at a stand-up comedy venue during my vacation with my chair at the end of a row replacing one of the usual seats, and within the space of ten minutes, three people had crashed into my feet, and two ran into the back of the wheelchair. That is extremely painful for some of us.

4. Share the space. Give people in wheelchairs the same consideration that you ought to be giving everyone else. I sometimes find myself being out-raced for an elevator by people who are pushing strollers. Your destination is no more important than mine. When a line has formed, don't cut in front of someone in a wheelchair just because they are sitting down and you think they won't mind waiting longer. And if you see a person in a wheelchair taking a photograph, don't intentionally walk into their shot. That happens to me a lot. And whatever you do, keep your vehicle out of the handicapped parking spaces and grids unless you are handicapped or are assisting someone who is.

5. Realize a person whose wheelchair is being pushed can't stop on a dime. In loud crowded places, my husband can't always hear me ask him to stop the chair, and I cannot see behind me for acknowledgment that he heard me. Also, my husband doesn't always see that my feet are too close to the person ahead of me. This can create some awkward situations. During my trip, I was behind a woman who was walking quickly to pass me and then once in front of me stopped suddenly. I moved my feet out of the way, but the foot rest on the wheelchair nicked the woman's bare ankle. She shrieked in pain, and although I apologized profusely, she began screaming profanities at me under the impression that I had done this intentionally. Then the man she was with advanced on me, and for a second, I thought there might be a fist fight right there in the Mall of America. Seeing that no amount of apologizing was doing any good, my husband quickly steered the chair into an opening in the crowd, and fortunately, we weren't followed. So please know that people in pushed chairs aren't intentionally playing bumper cars with you.

6. Help out when it is obvious someone is struggling. Most of the time, people in wheelchairs, or the person pushing them, get along quite capably. But sometimes there are roadblocks. The automatic door opener might not work. A store might have too narrow an aisle and something gets caught on a wheel. An elevator might have one of those old-fashioned gates that you have to hold open to get in or out. A sidewalk or ramp might be so steep that the footrests on the chair jam against it. Or that metal strip in a doorway might be too high to easily push the chair over it. Sometimes just holding the door open can be a great help to the person who is temporarily stuck. If you're not sure whether someone wants your assistance, just ask.

For wheelchair newbies:

1. Try before you buy. Insurance doesn't always pay for a wheelchair unless a doctor certifies that you meet particular requirements. And sometimes you might not be certain yourself whether you need one. Six months after the incident of stranding myself in an airport, I was invited to a three-day convention. I was concerned that I would only have enough energy for a few hours total, so as an experiment, I rented a wheelchair for the weekend. In my case, sitting in the chair instead of walking allowed me to participate in the convention for up to five hours on each of the three days, a vast improvement. With that knowledge, I was able to work with the doctor to get the proper paperwork to acquire my own wheelchair. If you only need a chair on rare occasions, such as in exceptionally large airports or superstores, you can generally get by with what they have on hand, if they are not all in use.

2. If you decide to own one, personalize it. There are two reasons for doing this. One is that most non-customized wheelchairs look pretty much the same: navy blue seat, back and armrests; metal footrests; black plastic handle covers. Unless you are in it full-time, it will be easy to get it confused with other chairs should you need to stow it on an airplane or use it in a hospital. I have had my chair lost not once but twice: once by an airline, and once by a hospital. The hospital never did find mine and had to replace it, unfortunately with a cheaper less comfortable model. So when I got my new chair, I decided to make it hard to miss: I put hot pink duct tape on the wheel rims and my name in silver permanent marker on all detachable pieces. Since then, it has never been misplaced. The other reason you might want to decorate your wheelchair is that it can make a potentially depressing piece of equipment a little more fun. People come up to me and tell me they like my pink wheels.

3. Get comfy. If you have chronic pain and/or extreme fatigue, make it as easy on yourself as you can. A baseball stadium seat cushion can make long stretches of sitting a little more bearable. And even though you won't be walking on them, you might want to wear closed-toe shoes to protect your toes from the backs of elevators and from the people who might trip over your feet. I also find comfortable clothes to be less exhausting for some reason.

4. Welcome to the world of short people. The world can look very different from a sitting position. A line can seem endless because you can't see past the people standing in front of you. Countertops in shops and restaurants are so high you might not be able to make eye contact with the employees or be able to reach a credit card scanner or a level surface to write a check. Guardrails at places like the zoo are often right at your eye level, making it a challenge to take photographs or even see the animals. On the plus side, kids in strollers seem to like having grown-ups face-to-face with them; I get lots of waves and smiles from children. Others in wheelchairs and scooters will often give at least a nod of encouragement, and some will strike up conversations while you're killing time waiting for an elevator or a car to arrive.

5. Be patient. Because you're sitting lower and require more physical space to get through a crowd, you may find yourself waiting longer to get from point A to point B. Allow plenty of extra time when going to appointments, shows and airports. You might have to use a special entrance, go far out of your way to find an elevator or ramp, or have to go through the "special screening" security line at the airport. At a general admission venue, you may need to be placed in a special area before everyone else is seated; otherwise, if you're late and end up in the back, whenever people stand, you won't be able to see anything. Venues with reserved seating will often have wheelchair spaces available with no one in front of you if you book early enough. Airlines like to board wheelchair passengers first, sometimes as much as 45 minutes before the rest of the airplane. You'll also need extra time at the airport to arrange for your wheelchair to be stowed under the plane.

6. There will be gawkers. Don't let this deter you. During my vacation, there was one particular woman who regarded me with disgust, staring pointedly at my perfectly healthy-looking legs (I was wearing basketball shorts). When she looked up at my face, I flashed her a toothy grin, which startled her at first, and then she appeared embarrassed. I always choose to smile at that those who stare because a certain number of them realize they are being rude and then smile back. And even when I don't win any friends, I do no harm by being pleasant.

7. Be assertive when necessary. If you come across unsafe conditions, store aisles too narrow to navigate, malfunctioning automatic doors, people parking on the handicapped grid blocking access to vehicle doors, or flagrant discrimination by a business, by all means speak up, not just for yourself, but on behalf of anyone else in a wheelchair who may come along. Throwing a temper tantrum may get you ignored, but if you look people directly in the eye and speak with an air of calm authority, you are more likely to be taken seriously. Ask for a manager or a police officer, fill out paperwork, write a letter, whatever is appropriate for the situation.

8. Think of the wheelchair as just another mode of transportation. Some people with chronic illness who would benefit from using a wheelchair refuse to do so out of guilt or embarrassment. They see it as a visible sign of defeat or an invitation for pity. It is just a chair with wheels. If it enables you to do more than you could without it, use it proudly.

9. You are not a baggage cart. If you use a wheelchair because of significant pain or fatigue, travel lightly. Loading up your arms and lap with heavy items your family or friends want you to hold for them gets uncomfortable and tiring pretty fast. One thing you can do is get a bag that attaches to the back of your chair. I use one to store a jacket, snacks, drinking water, or even in place of a purse if it is going to be a long day.

10. Acknowledge kindness. When others go out of their way to help you out, be sure to thank them. Positive feedback will encourage them to be kind to others as well. People have assisted me in getting my wheelchair over non-accessible curbs, have retrieved items off the top shelf in stores, and I've even had doors held open for me by kids who couldn't be older than nine or ten.

So whether you belong to the walking or rolling world or spend part-time in each, common courtesy will get you a long way toward where you want to go. Push on.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Famous words on health.... 

The latest Toni Bernhard article on Psychology Today. I am now nearly caught up with all the links on my browser:

"Make Good Medicine from the Suffering of Illness" and Other Quotations on Health

I particularly like the Susan Sontag quote. Being ill does seem an entirely different life that being well.

More reasons why the Bible defense doesn't hold up.... 

Found this flowchart on Elephant Journal. Some of you might be offended, but I found it amusing:

How to explain to an unconvinced Christian that homosexuality isn't sinful.

I have to admit I'm a reluctant Christian because of its reputation of being intolerant. I'm more of a "live and let live" sort because I believe tolerance was one of the most important things Jesus was trying to teach.

Wow! You gotta read this..... 

Just pulled this off a fibromyalgia/ME Facebook page. I have already sent my e-mail of thanks:

President Obama asks NIH & DHHS to elevate priority of chronic fatigue syndrome

Whatever we can do to legitimize ME and similar ailments will make it more likely that we can get to the bottom of it and find real solutions. I'm tired of reading descriptions of fibromyalgia and ME that contain the phrases "poorly understood" and "unknown cause".

Sunday, August 19, 2012

All together now: awwwww! 

The title of the slide show is "35 Animals Hanging Out with Miniature Versions of Themselves". Enjoy!

If you don't have anything nice to say.... 

Another from Toni Bernhard's column. This is a followup to an earlier piece:

More On: What Those with Chronic Pain or Illness Don't Want to Hear You Say

One thing I'm hearing more often is: "Oh, yeah, EVERYBODY seems to have fibromyalgia these days", usually accompanied by an eye roll. I realize the diagnosis is becoming more common, but sometimes it is implied that I have this particular ailment just to be trendy. It sure wasn't trendy back in 1997 when I first got sick.

Friday, August 17, 2012

I has cute kittehs! 

In a nod to the therapeutic power of laughter (and a link provided by Psychology Today), I thought I should share a "best of" page of LOLcats:

15 Funniest LOLcats Ever

In poking around the "I Can Has Cheezburger" site, I found more adorable and/or amusing stuff I plan to share when I get the chance. I am also working on an article about wheelchair etiquette and occasionally editing a few of my vacation pix. It all gives the appearance of spending a great deal of time with nothing finished to show for it, heh heh.

You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.... 

 Another Toni Bernhard article, this one for a different publication. It's about when we confuse our wants with the key to our happiness:

Taming the Want Monster

It is really easy to be felled by this monster when you're chronically ill since so many of your memories of when you were happiest are tied to activities you can no longer do. But I believe it is highly worthwhile, whatever your circumstances, to learn to be happy with your life just as it is. It didn't happen for me overnight, and I am certainly not free from want, but I have learned to see the beauty in what I already have, material or otherwise.

How closely do we REALLY want to follow the laws of the Old Testament? 

The argument many make against homosexuality is that the Bible forbids it. But many have conveniently forgotten other things, commonplace today, forbidden by the Old Testament, as described in this clip from "The West Wing":

When your muscles seem to have minds of their own.... 

Have had this sitting on my browser for awhile. It's about a very common and very frustrating set of symptoms of fibromyalgia:

Muscle Twitching and Weakness

I have both problems. I have had unexplained weakness in my hands ever since my stroke-like episode in 1998. And uncontrollable muscle twitching, especially in my sleep, was one of my very first fibromyalgia symptoms. The most consistent problem is the muscles in my feet and calves; sometimes my husband will look at me when I'm sleeping and my toes are wiggling around like they are waving to him. I was diagnosed with periodic limb movement disorder in 2005 I think. But pretty much any muscle in my body develops a tic from time to time. When the weather is excessively hot and humid, I'll be twitching all over the place. Over time, the muscles become extremely fatigued and sore. It's quite a chore keeping them from being all knotted up all the time.

Finally! Social Security acknowledges fibromyalgia! 

A few weeks ago, news came out that people with fibromyalgia have been hoping for. Here are two articles about it, one from an insurance point of view and one from a disability lawyer's point of view:

Social Security Ruling, SSR 12-2p; Titles II and XVI: Evaluation of Fibromyalgia

Social Security Ruling 12-2P - Evaluation of Fibromyalgia - Some Good News, Some Questions

I was not awarded SSDI on the basis of fibromyalgia because at the time it wasn't acknowledged as a potentially disabling ailment. Neither was Sjogren's, but that has since been rectified. My claim was approved based upon "complex multi-system immune disease of unknown etiology". When you don't have a disease specifically listed in Social Security's Blue Book, they must decide if the sum total of the ailments you do have constitute an impairment severe enough to be disabling. In my case, yes, but over the years, many with fibromyalgia who are at least as ill as I am have had their SSDI claims denied. Maybe now they will have some traction in getting approved.

Prioritizing is a priority..... 

One of my original Fibrohugs friends posted this on her FibroTV site. It probably should hold true for just about anyone, but especially when you're sick:

Choosing Your Battles Wisely with Chronic Illness

This was a tough lesson for me to learn as I used to get wound up over the tiniest things, but I eventually I deduced that I was either going to have to mellow out or get used to making myself sicker than I needed to be. Oh, I still have a terrible temper, but it flares up less often and for shorter periods of time. When you have limited energy, it just isn't worthwhile to remain ticked off for hours about someone who cut you off in traffic. Better to save my energy for resolving things that are truly important.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

When I'm happy that you're happy.... 

This Toni Bernhard article came out, ironically, the day after I returned from my little vacation. But I can relate soooo well to what she says:

Please Join Me as I Try to Transform Envy into Joy

I often say that I live vicariously through other people's vacations. But it took me awhile to stop being jealous of their fun times. One of the reasons I put up with Facebook is that you get a chance to see where your friends have gone and what they look like now. Realistically, the only way I'm gonna get to visit Russia or England or Japan or Italy is through virtual journeys. And those can be fun in their own way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Potentially exciting medical news..... 

Got this off of a fibromyalgia Facebook page a few weeks ago. I found it pretty encouraging:

New drug class promising intervention for neuroinflammatory disorders (Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, MS, more)

Three of my relatives died from Alzheimer's, one of them being my grandmother. My grandfather dropped dead of a stroke when he was just 45 years old. And I have measurable evidence of brain damage. You might say I have a vested interest in whether these tests result in a new treatment for neuroinflammatory disease.

The polar opposite of brain fog.... 

One of Toni Bernhard's articles from a few weeks back. If you haven't heard of this phenomenon before, it's fascinating:

What If You Remembered Every Single Day of Your Life - In Detail?

I still have an above-average memory for past events. Nothing like the woman in the article, of course, but my memory goes back to when I was eighteen months old and went with my parents to the beach and was afraid of the waves. Maybe that's why it is so frustrating to me now that I retain so little of what has happened since I got sick in 1997. I remember what I wore to school on my first day of kindergarten (a jumper with a hideous orange sweater), but I can't remember to return an e-mail the day after I receive one.

Embracing the learning curve.... 

Fourth time I've tried to post this to my blog; my browser is REALLY not liking the new Facebook format and keeps freezing up. But this is worth the effort:

10 Things I've Learned from Living with Chronic Illness

It's refreshing to read about rheumatoid arthritis from a guy's point of view, since the vast majority of people who get it are women. I completely agree about the difficulty of balancing the need for activity with the need for rest. I've been sick 15 years and still mess it up from time to time.

Smile! It really is good for you! 

I may have posted this before. If not, enjoy, and if so, it bears a repeat:

There's Magic in Your Smile

My Facebook page has been switched to the dreaded Timeline, and the page keeps freezing up every time I load it. I think one thing that could help is to get rid of all the articles that have piled up on my browser for several weeks that I've been meaning to post. So expect a flurry of posts while I do my "housecleaning".

Friday, August 10, 2012

No ticket? No problem, heh heh.... 

The Olympic Ticket Scalper with Sir Patrick Stewart, Ryan Lochte, Simon Pegg & Maisie Williams from Patrick Stewart     

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Passing the torch.... 

This is the latest from Toni Bernhard's column. There are a few others from past weeks that I'll post later when I'm more caught up.

7 Life Lessons from the Olympics

I've really been enjoying all the coverage. Sometimes it's difficult to narrow down just how much I can watch in a 24 hour period. For me, the most inspiring story has been that of Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, who competed in track on two prosthetic legs and made it to the semi-finals. He is going to be on his country's relay team. Think of all the kids, whether missing limbs or not, who watched him run and thought how cool that was.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Another reason to weep, and pray..... 

 At my church this morning, the sermon was about interfaith peace and focused on variations of the "Golden Rule" present in many of the world's major religions. Came home full of hope, only to see this on the news:

Gunman, six others dead at Wisconsin Sikh temple 

All these people were doing was gathering at their place of worship, something millions of us do regularly without fear of harm. It is possible the men in the temple specifically were targeted because they were wearing turbans, which the shooter may have associated (incorrectly) with terrorism. This only underscores the need in the United States for the populace to learn more about the variety of faiths observed here. Wearing a turban doesn't indicate that a man is a terrorist any more than being white and living in the South makes you a member of the KKK.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Vacation 2012, part 3 - Mall of America and departure.... 

Saturday the 21st was the visit to Dan's "mecca", the Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the United States. It is a very easy drive from Eagan, parking is free, and there are lots of parking garages, which we appreciated because it was raining again. Turns out the mall was packed because of an "American Girl" event, making lines for elevators quite an ordeal because of all the strollers competing for space with my wheelchair. I imagine, though, that it would be quite crowded on any given Saturday. We were parked on the fourth level, I think, and had tickets for the SeaLife aquarium on the first level, but they were good for the whole day and not a specific time, so we could just patiently wait our turn and not worry about being late for anything.

I know what you're thinking: an aquarium in a shopping mall? How good could that possibly be? I was thinking that too. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Aside from the sting ray exhibit being closed for re-design, everything else was up and running. The aquarium is actually a series of tanks containing various types of ocean creatures and plant life. Most are quite colorful. Because the glass tanks would reflect the flash on a camera, I took photos without flash, which was quite a challenge. Some turned out quite dark, so I'll have to open those up in Photohop to see what I can salvage.

One of the tanks contained huge lion fish. There was a touch tank with chocolate chip starfish and other cool things. There were many tanks featuring different kinds and sizes of sea horses, which I thought were quite beautiful. I really liked the jellyfish tanks, which had fluorescent lighting so they would glow. The sharks were of the smaller variety, but it's still awesome when one swims right over your head. I also discovered they move much too quickly to photograph with a digital camera. There were some really huge sea turtles, but it was too dark to get any photos of them. Overall, it was a very pleasant experience, best shopping mall aquarium I've ever seen, heh heh.

Another detail about the mall that might surprise people: it contains an amusement park. Yep, roller coasters and the whole nine yards. I obviously can't do rides anymore because it's now very painful for me to be jostled at all, but I do enjoy people watching, and the higher levels of the mall (it's five stories high) have a good view of the amusement park.

After we finished our tour of the aquarium, I told Dan he could go wherever he liked as long as he pushed my chair. Since Dan is from a small town in South Dakota, he has been to this mall a million times, and he actually LIKES to shop while I generally avoid it. We now live a mile from the largest mall in South Dakota, but I have only been to six stores in it in six years. It turned out I was the one who wanted to check out a few stores here because it was all a novelty to me. And some of the stuff in the Mall of America is unique. There was a store that only sold perfume, one that only sold Crocs, and one that only sold flip flops. The places that interested me were: the Bettie Page store, which sold new clothing in 1950's designs: Happy Days, a memorabilia store featuring everything from "Gone with the Wind" to Elvis to "Twilight"; and LegoLand, which had life-sized or larger people and creatures made entirely of Lego.

Before it was all over, I'd acquired two Disney shirts on sale and a paperback book on exploring all the places Laura Ingalls Wilder had lived. We had avoided the area where the "American Girl" event was going on, but we saw enough of the rest of the mall that I got the general idea. I think we called it a day and got back to the hotel about 5pm.

The rest of the evening was spent relatively quietly as the headache I'd had most of the trip (I always get one when I'm away from home more than a few hours) had gotten worse from all the noise in the mall. Could feel myself slipping away into zombie-land, and I realized it was a very good thing we'd be going home in the morning. But I did manage to finish the sixth Stephanie Plum novel and begin the seventh one before I attempted to sleep.

We headed back on Sunday the 22nd. I'd told Dan we could play tourist some more after check out if he wanted, but I was rather exhausted and relieved when he opted to just go home. The ride going back was more painful than when we had first started out, but fortunately, my car does have fairly comfortable seats, so it wasn't nearly as excruciating as, say, flying on a commercial airline would be. We were welcomed by 100 degree weather in Sioux Falls.

Now all I have to do is recover from my post-vacation flare. Easier said than done, sigh. But this was by far the least stressful and painful vacation I've had in many years, and I have a ton of photos to show for it, IF ever I get around to editing them.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Vacation 2012, day 3 - Minneapolis.... 

On Friday the 20th, after hearing the devastating and shocking news about the shooting in Aurora, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from CNN because we had tickets to a noon art exhibition, "Rembrandt in America", the largest collection of his work ever shown in the United States. We headed to uptown Minneapolis where the Institute of Arts museum is. It was raining heavily, making it difficult to see the street signs, and we got lost. Partly it was my fault because there are two sets of numbered streets, and I got confused trying to find the intersection of 3rd and 24th. Riding in the wheelchair from the parking garage to the museum, I got absolutely soaked.

I tried not to drip on anything as we snuck into the Rembrandt exhibit a bit late. There was a large crowd already gathered inside, and since I couldn't see anything stuck in the back sitting in my wheelchair, we just waited patiently until there was room for Dan to push me closer without blocking anyone else's view. We didn't have to be out of there at any certain time, which was nice because it afforded me the luxury of reading all the informational placards about the paintings and examine the use of color and technique with my extremely amateur eye. There were 50 paintings in all. I learned a lot about Rembrandt and thought it was all pretty cool.

Then we were just going to take a peek at a few other things in the museum, but the place was huge, spread out on three levels. Every time I thought I was done looking around, I'd see something else I just had to check out. I especially liked the sculptures, an example of which is above (non-professional photos are allowed as long as you don't use flash). Before we knew it, it was 3pm, and I needed to get some food. We weren't able to get to everything that interested me, so if I ever go back to Minneapolis I need to visit the museum at least one more time, maybe two, to take it all in.

After the museum and getting lost AGAIN, we went to an uptown restaurant called Pizza Luce, where all of their pizzas can be made gluten-free. I had never had gluten-free restaurant pizza that tasted decent (what I've tried in Sioux Falls has been atrocious), so I was eager to give this a shot despite it probably being a bit outside my usual carbohydrate limit for a meal. Dan graciously volunteered to split a 10-inch pizza with me. There were some interesting gourmet choices on the menu, but we played it safe and ordered a "classic" one with pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushroom, bell pepper, onion and mozzarella. I had a Greek salad on the side. Best gluten-free restaurant pizza I've ever had. This chain has seven locations, so if I ever get to one again, I might get more adventurous and try their Shrimp al Pesto or Spanish Chicken.

After making our mouths and tummies happy, because we were near-ish to downtown Minneapolis, we went there to have a look around. Got there and found a parking garage without too much trouble, but got a little mixed up once Dan got me out in the chair. But we did locate the Nicollet Mall, which reminds me of the 16th Street Mall in Denver in that it's outdoors and accessible via shuttle. We found the statue of Mary Tyler Moore modeled on the opening credits from her TV show in the 1970's where she is in downtown Minneapolis tossing her hat in the air.

There are no skyscrapers in South Dakota, so I thought the Minneapolis skyline was impressive. We went into the tallest building in the state, which is supposed to have a lot of nice shops, but it appears the current economy has taken a toll as several have closed and the building is mostly office space now. It still looks impressive from the outside though. One nice thing about downtown is that there are indoor bridges across busy streets. They were built so people wouldn't have to freeze to death going from building to building in the winter, but we used one simply because it is much easier than trying to get a wheelchair across an intersection during rush hour.

By 6pm, I was all used up and more than ready to go back to the hotel. After only one wrong turn, we returned safely to Eagan. I alternated between watching news updates on CNN, doing stretches (I brought my Therabands) and reading in the semi-comfy chair until time to turn in. Had only gotten a few hours of sleep the two previous nights, resulting in sore and cramping muscles despite medication, a microwavable heating pad, extra strength store brand Icy Hot type patches that gave me a rash (apparently I'm allergic to the adhesive), supplemental magnesium and coconut water. But I was still in better shape than usual for a vacation, so I looked forward to one more day of sightseeing.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

At last! Vacation 2012, days 1 and 2 - arrival and St. Paul..... 

The Twin Cities were GREAT! I wouldn't mind living there if it weren't so damned cold during the winter (even worse than Sioux Falls!). I sifted through the hundreds of photos I took so I could post a few here.

We left Sioux Falls on Wednesday the 18th. Even though South Dakota is having a drought, it rained most of the way through Minnesota. I would have liked to have visited the towns associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder: Walnut Grove, Sleepy Eye and Mankato, especially since they are all on the same road, but I had to stick to the interstate since I have to have easy access to rest stops. I also would have liked to do some of the driving, but it is too fatiguing for me, so Dan drove and I navigated. We do not have GPS, a laptop, a tablet or even a cell phone, so I used Map Quest on the home computer ahead of time and printed out driving directions to each place we knew we would be going. I also brought along two city maps and an atlas for backup. Worked very well with a few exceptions.

We had a P.F. Chang's gift card, but no P.F. Chang's in Sioux Falls, so we brought the card with us as there are two in Minneapolis. Since the P.F. Chang's restaurants are on the west side of town and we were staying in an eastern suburb, we drove straight to the restaurant once we got into town to eliminate the need for doubling back. We split a gluten-free lettuce wrap, and then I had Mongolian beef with brown rice, which was awesome. Put the leftovers in our cooler to take to the hotel for lunch the next day.

We stayed in Eagan, which is straight south of St. Paul and straight east of the Mall of America. It was a no-frills room with a kitchenette, best our budget could afford. The bed was as hard as concrete and creaked horribly whenever you moved on it, but there was a nice cushioned chair with an ottoman where I could sort of relax. I brought a lot of food from home, but we got a few perishables at the grocery store like eggs, yogurt, cheese, carrots and apples. After I got settled in, I spent some quality time with a Stephanie Plum novel (part six) and called it a day.

After a night of no sleep thanks to the awful bed (even Dan complained of being sore from sleeping on it), we decided to do a dry run to the nightclub in St. Paul where Alison Arngrim, who had played Nellie Oleson on "Little House on the Prairie" would be performing her stand up routine that evening. We wanted to see how long it took to get there and where we'd be able to park.

Then since we were downtown, I asked Dan if I could take a peek at the capitol building. After visiting a memorial dedicated to the pioneers of women's suffrage, we did a self-tour of the capitol, meaning I could take pictures and rest as needed. Good thing because as with any capitol building, there are a LOT of stairs (we used the elevators once inside). The building is undergoing restoration, making the exterior less photogenic than usual, but the interior was impressive with lots of murals, statues and portraits. There is a sculpture on the front of the building covered in gold leaf with four horses representing fire, earth, wind and water.

Then we went to the nearby Cathedral of Saint Paul, which is named not after the city but the actual saint. It is really gorgeous. It is situated on a hill with great views of downtown. We did a quiet walk around the interior; I took photographs, but I won't know how many turned out because as with most cathedrals, the light coming in the stained glass windows makes the rest of the interior come out very dark. I wish I still had the cognitive function to use manual settings on the camera to compensate, but I'll have to make do with the one or two Photoshop tricks I still remember. After that, back to the hotel to rest for about five hours before our big night out.

We went to The Cabaret at Camp Bar, known for featuring many kinds of entertainment. I used my wheelchair because it was going to be a long evening for me. Alison Arngrim's show had the same title as her book, "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch". She was absolutely HILARIOUS! She had clips from "Little House" as part of the act, and at one point, she dressed up like Nellie to re-create the look from her favorite episode, the one where Laura pushed her down a steep hill in a wicker wheelchair. She took questions from the audience. I asked if she ever wanted to do an evil role on a current television show, and if so, which one? She said she thought it would be fun to appear in "Game of Thrones", maybe playing the mom of the evil boy prince. After her show, she did an autograph session. For Dan and me, she signed a photo of herself in her "Little House" costume sitting in front of the set for Nellie's Restaurant. She actually remembered me from her book signing in Sioux Falls two years ago! It was the hot pink duct tape on my wheelchair that did it. She also graciously posed for a photo with Dan and me. Went back to the hotel room wiped out but happy.

Will recount the rest of my trip in future posts. Stay tuned, heh heh.

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