The Best Christmas Ever

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Presents under the tree, turkey in the oven, friends and family gathered ‘round, phone calls from loved ones far away. These are the kinds of things which make a perfect Christmas.

But the perfect Christmas isn’t always the best Christmas – that one Christmas which remains in the forefront of your memory.

I usually spend my holidays with good friends who ‘adopted’ me into their family years ago. And it’s usually a rollicking good time: food, laughter, some liquor, playing with the kids, playing games ranging from Fluxx, to Munchkin, to Chez Geek, to Battle Cattle, to Give Me The Brain.

But last year, those four “disease vectors” (otherwise known as my friends’ four young children) had brought home a nasty flu bug which was making its rounds through the family. They didn’t want to infect anyone else. Christmas got cancelled.

I thought about making other plans, but I knew that 2012 would be the last Christmas for my beloved cat, Turtle. She was 16 and her kidneys were failing. And she was painfully thin. I decided to stay home and devote my holiday to her.

I tried to get her interested in the cat toys I opened, but it was the other three kitties who pounced on the fluffy mice and wrapping paper. Turtle only wanted to climb into my lap. laptime So after all the gifts were opened, and my hot chocolate all gone, I put on a DVD and we cuddled in the big chair. She was never much for curling up into a ball on my lap except on occasion. So she took her usual position: stretched out across my torso, her head resting on my right shoulder.

(As a kitten, Turtle would plant her face in the side of my neck while kneading it with her paws and sucking on my skin. [I’m told that’s a sign she was weened too early.] Ever since, she’s been most comfortable when she’s as close as possible to my face. We would often sleep cheek to cheek.)

So we spent Christmas like that, her face next to mine, my arms wrapped around her, keeping her warm. It was the last day I heard her purr. And it was the best, most rewarding, Christmas I’ve ever spent, for she would be gone eleven days later.

Sometimes you don’t need to do anything for Christmas except spend some time with a loved one: person or pet. And you don’t need to give anything except some love. Image

Slices of Migraine Pie..and weird dreams

The neighbors fighting; doors slamming; cursing at 1:00 a.m.

“Meoowwl” The cat howling way across the room for no apparent reason at 2:38 a.m. (Note to self: yelling at the cat to shut up does not make him shut up.)

“Fwap, fwap, fwap” The sound of a car with a flat tire driving down the street at 4:56 a.m.

The grinding and banging of the garbage truck at 5:35 a.m.

Its urgent mission now over, the distinctive engine sound of a fire truck returning to its station a few minutes later.

If you’ve been awake during the night, willingly or unwillingly, these might be some of the sounds intruding upon you. When you’ve got a migraine, and you’re waiting for the medication to take effect, they can be heightened to mere annoyances preventing your mind…your brain…from relaxing, or to the point of severe pain. Migraine sufferers will know what I’m talking about. Others will think “but it’s just a headache.”

It’s not just a headache. Migraines can be debilitating, interfering with your ability to live a normal life. But they can also be oddly…revealing. As your brain navigates its way through the twists and turns it feels like it’s doing, your thoughts alight – usually briefly – on the ordinary problems of the day or, if you’re a writer like me, upon ideas and story plots. Or maybe the pain (or is it the meds?) sends your mind twirling around in a bizarre series of dream images that will become mere flickers of memory the next day.

Do you remember your dreams? I usually don’t, but every so often one or the other will be so vivid, or repeat a theme dreamt before, that it outlasts the pain, the medication, or a much appreciated good night’s sleep.

About a week ago in the middle of a migraine came such an image. It was brief. I think. I don’t remember the details, but I do know that I was in a house. Again. It was my house, yet not my house.

It’s a recurring theme in my dreams (although not usually during migraines): The House. Or so I like to call it. I can’t say how many times this theme has cropped up, nor is it a regular – predictable – event, but it’s happened several times over the years, starting quite some time ago. Out of curiosity, I have searched online on some of those dream interpretation websites, for a meaning behind this dream, but of course, those sites are contradictory and not entirely useful.

All I really know is that I find myself in The House (sometimes it starts out as an apartment) and that The House continually expands. I discover new doors, new rooms. Sometimes it’s rooms off the kitchen, sometimes it’s extra bedrooms. And sometimes, like the last time I can most vividly remember this dream (maybe a couple years ago?) it’s hidden rooms off the basement.

I’m never afraid in the dream. It’s more like a journey of discovery and I’m thrilled to step into a new room I didn’t know I had. It’s sometimes exciting, sometimes wondrous. And, gee, I didn’t know I owned so many books! Yes, the last House included – down in that ever-expanding basement – a huge library. The kind of library you might see in fantasy movies where the library shelves climb the walls so high it’s dizzying to look up at all those tomes. I don’t know the names of any of the books on my library shelves. I recall not stepping that far into the room – only sensing how deep it was. Instead, my attention was drawn onward and outward.

The House finally did end (the first time I can remember an actual ending to The House in any of the dreams). But I guess it didn’t really end. In the last room was an open rear wall…and a beach. Yes, my basement opened onto a beach. It was a pale sand beach, kind of foggy. I could hear waves crashing onto shore somewhere close by.

I don’t remember stepping out onto the beach. I just remember thinking “wow!” And that’s all. The dream ended there.

Some days I still wonder what those dreams mean. But maybe it’s not important. Or maybe it’s just really simple. Suddenly I have this urge to go to Hawaii, or Tahiti, or Key West, or the Maldives….

Roads Not Yet Taken

During the past few months I’ve talked about places I’ve been, but only hinted at all those other wonderful places I’d like to visit on our beautiful planet.  With a new year fast approaching, it has come time to plan…and to dream…of future travels.

I don’t think of it as a bucket list. To me, that’s always sounded like you’re trying to score points in some strange competition just before you die. I don’t want to be one of those people who wait until they’re retired to go around the world (and around and around). After all, can you be totally assured that you’ll be able to travel when you’re 70?  You may not have the finances or the health (the physical mobility). As I once said to friends while explaining why I go the places I go: “I’m choosing the furthest destinations, the most diffcult to get to, now before I’m unable. I’ll visit places closer to home when I’m old and decrepit.”

Not that I won’t sneak in a short hop to one of my dream destinations: Chaco Canyon, New Mexico Image (home to ancestral Puebloan peoples between 850 and 1250 AD). As an archeaology major, I’ve always been fascinated by ancient ruins and what they tell us about the cultures who built them. Visit Chaco’s National Park Service website to learn more about this fascinating place. Maybe we’ll see each other there.

The other place on my short list is Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania). ImageClimbing to the summit  has long been a dream of mine, although I’m not 100% certain of the origins of that dream. I believe I was first introduced to the idea through Willard Price, an author I’ve mentioned previously.  Although I don’t recall his teenage heros, Hal and Roger, ever actually visitng Mount Kilimanjaro, many of Price’s books take place on the African continent (African Adventure, Elephant Adventure, Safari Adventure, Lion Adventure, Gorilla Adventure). Amazing how books we read as children can have such a lasting effect upon us!

While dreams are fun, and necessary!, we can’t just dream. We have to live. So Chaco and Kilimanjaro aren’t just on my list, they’re on my next-five-years list. Planning is under way.

Now, if I can just keep myself from getting distracted by all sorts of other interesting places which seem to continually pop up in travel brochures, National Geographic Traveler magazine, or on Discovery Channel specials. Does this happen to you? I see yet another new place, and my list just keeps growing: Mongolia, Bhutan,ImageEaster Island, Croatia, Churchill (Manitoba), Palau, Key West, Costa Rica, Belize, Midway Island, etc., etc., etc.

Where do you want to go?

The Deep Blue

“It’s okay senorita, it’s all right.”

I’m not sure how long I stood on the platform of the dive boat, weighted down by the 30+ pounds of scuba gear, but long enough for the crew to offer me multiple encouragements and probably start placing bets with each other on how long it would take me to actually get off the boat and into the water.

“Big step, senorita, take big step.”

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It was only my second time with a scuba tank on my back (not counting the first lesson in the four-foot deep pool). The prospect of stepping off into the air, where only the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico awaited me, was terrifying. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s afraid of the water, but there probably aren’t too many of us aquaphobes who deliberately seek out water activities. (And pay good money to do it!)

So here I was, standing on a dive boat off the Mexican island of Cozumel, while Carla – my instructor from Dive Palancar – beckoned from below and the crew reassured me that everything would be okay. I had a tight grip on the railing even as I had one foot lifted in the air, ready to step off.

Why was I here? Why did the thought of submerging my head under water scare me so? (I don’t know about you, but the sensation of water coming up over my chin freaks me out.) The only bad experience I’d had in the water came during childhood when I was 6 or 7. We were fairly new to the neighborhood when the red-headed girl who lived in the green house at the end of the street invited me over. (I want to say her name was Amy, but Amy may have been the blonde girl who lived on the street behind us instead.) I was thrilled to get an invitation from a popular girl with a swimming pool in her backyard. It was one of the those huge above-ground pools – maybe eight or ten feet deep – surrounded by an even taller fence to keep out trespassers…or keep others in.

Not long after we had jumped into the pool, the red-headed little devil began playing rough. She grabbed me, pushing me down, holding my head under water. Somehow I got away from her and climbed back up the ladder. I don’t remember all I said, but it definitely included “I don’t like you” and “I don’t want to play with you any more” and “I’m going home.”

Well, that caused a tantrum to erupt. She started yelling and screaming at me “You said you would play with me!! That means you have to stay and play with me!!” and on and on. I headed for the gate. Her brother, a couple years older, promptly headed me off, and blocked my exit. (Where were the little bastards’ parents? I have no idea.)

As they both yelled at me, I began to cry and – finally – started screaming. Fortunately, my older siblings had made friends with the kids a couple doors up the street and were outside playing. They thought the scream sounded familiar and came to investigate. They rescued me. Thanks Laurie and Doug!!

I had been taking swimming lessons at the local junior high before that incident. I had been the darling of the class, diving down to grab the rings the teacher threw into the pool. Afterwards, I would cower under the bench and refuse to come out. The teacher gave up on me. I’m not sure how long it was before I stopped going at all.

“It’s okay, mademoiselle, take big step.” (Apparently one of the dive crew was French.)

This was not childhood. I could let go. Finally I took the “big step” (like you see in some movies: the diver lifts one foot up and essentially walks off the boat, not the falling off backwards like you see in others.) As promised, my BCD vest – filled with air – brought me back up to the surface to meet Carla, and allow her to guide me down to our target depth of forty feet. Yes, I panicked a bit. I wasn’t equalizing the pressure in my ears correctly and that’s quite painful! After a brief return to the surface where Carla patiently calmed me down, we descended again. And stayed down.

I had difficulty maintaining my depth and proper buoyancy, so Carla did spend a lot of time holding on to me and guiding me along the reef, but that was fine with me. (She’d asked my permission, while still on the boat, if she could grab me if needed.)

It was an amazing experience. The corals are beautiful and the fish are amazing. We saw a small nurse shark, enough lobsters to feed my family, huge crabs, barracudas, a moray eel, and several sea turtles – including one who was eating coral while we watched. We were fairly close to it, but after a brief glance at us it went back to eating. That was really cool!

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Am I glad I did it? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. In fact, I did it again the very next day. And, yes, I did hesitate once again while standing on the dive platform. But it didn’t take me as long to get in the water…because, this time, the boat crew pushed me in.