In Memoriam: my Eureka Boss Smart Vac (2007-2018)

You survived five cats, acre upon acre of cat hair coating the carpet and furniture, and an untold weight of scattered cat litter. Oh, and a couple of visiting dogs. Vac4

You survived being bashed into furniture, although we never did find that broken off piece of the HEPA filter cover.

You survived sucking up cat toys, cheerios, and maybe even a couple of earrings (yes – you’re still professing your innocence on that). Did you suck up that broken piece of the filter cover too?

You survived running over my toes (no – my toes have not forgiven you).

You survived being dragged up and down the stairs even though you weren’t really built for that.

You survived replacement part after replacement part, including off brand parts when I couldn’t find Eureka ones.

You even survived the great Douglas Fir tree disaster of Christmas 2012, and being subsequently disassembled as I dug out every f***ing Douglas Fir needle gumming up your innards. (Never again!)

But, alas, I fear you cannot survive this malfunction of the on/off switch. What we hoped was just a stuck switch was revealed to be a failure in the electrical wiring. (By the way, cracking open this section of the vacuum is NOT included in the owner’s manual – probably for good reason – so don’t try this at home, kids.)

Are the wires supposed to cross over one another? The upper wire appears to have rubbed off the black coating from the lower one. Vac1

More importantly, is the connector on the left supposed to look like that? or is the plastic melted through? (Yes, the vacuum was unplugged during this exploratory surgery.) Vac2

Today we admit defeat, beaten by exposed wires and melted plastic. Not even Consumer Reports’ 2007 top-rated vacuum for pet hair is a match for time and electrical shorts. And, so it sits in the corner, alone, while the cats celebrate the demise of the “monster” (silly kitties – they forget they get extra treats after being terrorized on vacuuming day).

We bid adieu to “The Boss.”

Boy does the carpet look terrible.

And I’m sure there’s still more of those f***ing Douglas Fir needles hiding in some crack or crevice.

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Adventures in Screenwriting

Ever have random story ideas pop in your head, but they’re incomplete and you don’t know what to do with them? Of course you have. The notion of writing a zombie story involving sisters and/or brothers has been in my head for a while. I even had the perfect opening line: “You ate mom!”MyDeadSisterPoster1BW

But I couldn’t decide who my characters should be or who would get zombified. I’d been thinking I’d go with one of the standard horror movie tropes: the cute young sisters, but then I saw “Train to Busan” (South Korea’s surprising hit entry into the zombie genre). Two of the supporting characters are elderly sisters, In-gil and Jon-gil. In their scenes we’re shown two siblings whose relationship doesn’t seem to be that close. There’s some bickering, a little bit of chastising. But then the two women are accidentally separated during a mad dash back to the safety of the train, leaving each woman with a different group of survivors. Then you see their despair, the devastation they feel in believing the other is dead. You see how alone each woman is without her sibling. There is one moment of hope when the sisters are almost re-united, but Jong-gil falls victim to the zombies. Defeated, and angry that the actions of others caused her sister’s death, In-gil deliberately opens the door to allow the zombies in, joining her sister in death (well, in un-death – is that a word?)

Then I had my story. I decided to cast my characters as in their early 50s (approximately the actual age of me and my real sister), better to relate to them as I explored their actions and their futures, or lack thereof. This also left the script open to throwing in a menopause joke – not a hot (flash) topic in many zombie movies. I know how zombified I felt before hormone replacement therapy and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Right, ladies? If you know what I mean, raise your hands (the one not holding onto an ice pack).

Instead of a short story, I decided to turn it into a super short screenplay and entered it into the 2018 Shriekfest Horror Film Festival, the longest running horror festival in Los Angeles, founded by actress Denise Gossett (considered to be one of the most influential women in horror). I’ve submitted five other times (not in consecutive years), and placed in the finals, then the semi-finals, then finals, then semi-finals, and then finals. (I’m sensing a pattern here.) When “My Dead Sister” made the list of finalists this year, not just a semi-finalist, I was really hoping to truly break the pattern, but, alas, was not the winner. Still, I enjoyed attending the festival first weekend of October. I saw some great films (like “Amy’s in the Freezer” – a dark-humored short  – and “Echoes of Fear” – which won best supernatural horror feature). Of course there were a couple that were not so terrific, but only one I had to walk out on to prevent its lighting effects from triggering a migraine (another thing that turns me into a zombie). And I truly enjoyed meeting so many other friendly and encouraging writers, some of whom were my competition of course, but were so warm and welcoming.

Before I close, and before my real sister think I actually wished she were a zombie and therefore, you know, dead, the siblings’ relationship portrayed in the script does not reflect reality (other than a particular detail I plucked from our childhood as key to the plot). But, if she was actually dead I wish she’d be a zombie because then she’d still be around so we can hang together and drink beer. Well, I’d drink the beer and she’d eat people. But eating people is kinda gross, so, umm, anyway, love ya sis!

Call of the Indri

IndriiOf the many animals you’ve ever seen or heard in a zoo, you would never forget the Indri. If you could find one in a zoo, that is. They do not survive in captivity and are critically endangered with population numbers estimated to be well under 10,000, possibly as low as 1,000.

We were fortunate to see and hear a handful of these magnificent creatures (largest of the living lemur species) in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. I did not succeed in getting a very good recording of their beautiful, haunting voices, so I’ll link you to a Youtube video posted by Tribes Travel. Just click on the Malagasy name for the Indri, Babakoto, and you’ll be whisked away to the Madagascar rain forest (for a couple minutes anyway).

But today, I wonder how many of those voices have been silenced in the intervening months. This February, Madagascar authorities arrested Jean Yves Ratovoso, one of the leading wildlife officials whose duty it was to protect the Indri. They also seized the carcasses of 11 dead lemurs (10 Indri, 1 Diademed Sifaka). From the description of the location, I don’t believe it was in the exact same part of Andasibe we were in, but was nearby. Our guides names were Jacque and William, so likely we never met Jean Yves Ratovoso.

William_Jacque

Guides Jacque and William

I could sit here in the safety and comfort of my middle-class American existence, and denounce Ratovoso via my keyboard. But can I ever understand what he did? Poverty is rampant in Madagascar, even for those who earn a relatively reliable income from the tourism trade. Their resources are dwindling. Their society is changing, Fady (taboos) against killing or eating lemurs are no longer the deterrent they once were. Organized crime is there. And so, too, are foreigners willing to pay for a chance to eat a “forbidden” delicacy. As the natural habitats suitable for each species of lemurs are increasingly fragmented and encroached upon, their population decreases and their voices fade away. And even those who are sworn to protect them will violate that trust.

If you’re thinking of visiting Madagascar to see the lemurs, you should go soon, before the call of the Babakoto is only a fading echo.

My favorite Madagascar photo

GrayBambooLemur1This little guy (gal?), a Gray Bamboo Lemur, charmed me right away. Banana in hand, looking straight at me, little pink tongue sticking out – you can’t get much more photogenic than this.

Our encounter took place on Lemur Island, near Andasibe-Mantadia National Park on the eastern side of Madagascar. It’s a small preserve, home to a variety of rescued lemurs. It requires a canoe ride to reach it – about a 60 second canoe ride – so that adds to the entertainment value.

Many of the lemurs are habituated to humans and are easily persuaded to come check you out. The Common Brown Lemurs were the most social, while some were a little more reserved (like this guy and the Black and White Ruffed Lemur). This Gray Bamboo Lemur the only one we saw of its species on the whole trip.

GrayBambooLemur2

You may wonder what he/she is doing in this photo. Seconds before, the guide smeared some more banana on the tree trunk, so the lemur is licking it off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here, the guide is offering him a fresh green bamboo shoot, which he spent a few seconds thoughtfully chewing on before deciding we humans weren’t that interesting anymore, and leaped away in small bounds from tree to tree.

 

 

 

Adventures in Breathing

Ringtails

A month ago today, I returned home from a two week vacation on the island nation of Madagascar (off the southeast coast of Africa), an amazingly beautiful yet harsh land. I promise more on the actual trip in future blog posts. Do you love lemurs as much as I do? (I got pictures to share!)

Tonight, as I sit here near the end of my “self-imposed exile” from the office, I want to write about breathing. Any asthmatics out there? Raise your hands! Try not to wheeze or cough — you might make your co-workers think you’ve brought some horrific disease from overseas to infect them all. Got your rescue inhaler handy at all times? Good.

I’ve been pretty fortunate when it comes to my asthma. I’ve never suffered an acute attack (like you see in movies) and I’ve never landed myself in the hospital because of it. But in the last 15 or so years, I’ve experienced about a half dozen asthma “events” (as my doctor calls them) where, for a number of days, my asthma is not under control. The typical remedy has been a round of prednisone. (Only once before have I needed a second round.) Aside from needing to attend doctors’ appointments, I’ve never before missed work because of it.

Now, in the past four weeks, I’ve used a little more than 100 hours of my sick leave (yep – you read that number right – fortunately I’ve not been sick much these last few years and was able to accumulate a decent balance to draw from). I’ll see the final total when I get back to work on Monday. Browsing the internet, I saw a statistic that said asthma is the fourth leading cause of absenteeism from work for adults. Wow. I have now joined those ranks. Never thought I would. But it’s quite difficult to work when one can’t breathe, isn’t it?

You’re probably asking what this has to do with Madagascar. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. It was one of the harder trips I’ve taken and I was sick in the middle of the trip although that had more to do with sun, alcohol, and stupidity (more on that next time). Maybe that day’s illness set up my immune system for the later failure. Maybe my subsequent drop in appetite for the rest of the trip had an effect on me.

But there I was, four weeks ago, dropping onto my sofa exhausted and jet-lagged after 36 hours of travel (Antananarivo to Johannesburg to New York to Oakland). I’d spent the majority of the day sitting in La Guardia Airport waiting for my delayed flight west…sneezing and coughing. (Thanks to whichever fellow traveler gave me their cold!) It didn’t seem like such a bad cold at first, but then I was pretty much half-conscious throughout the following day. So much so that when one of my cats accidentally punctured my finger with a claw, I did not wash it. (Here’s a tip: even if you’re half-dead and barely mobile, if you get a cat scratch, WASH THE WOUND.)

You can guess where this is headed. That was late Tuesday/early Wednesday. By Friday, my finger was infected and the seemingly mild cold had morphed into a racking chest cough (the kind that hurts, making you cringe). Oh, and yes, I did attempt to go to work – I managed to get through a couple half days – then went to the doctor. She loaded me up with prednisone, some nice cough syrup, and antibiotics for the finger (tests showed it was just a common form of streptococcus something or other that my cat had gifted me with).

While the finger healed and the worst of the cough eased over the next week, my asthma symptoms did not. Back to the doctors the next Friday. More prednisone, change in asthma medications. And, yes, I did try to go to work. But I have to confess my memory is a little fuzzy. I can’t remember if I made it 4 days the first week and only 1 day the next (or if that was reversed). Hmm. I also discovered that some of my co-workers were very unhappy and complaining to my supervisor. (Somebody is apparently convinced I brought the plague back from Madagascar and was spreading it around the office with my hacking & coughing.) People don’t seem to listen when you say “it’s just asthma.”

So when I ended up back at the doctor’s during the third week, I mentioned those concerns. My doctor had already checked with an infectious disease specialist in the event that I’d picked up “an uncommon bug” – they said there was nothing to worry about. By that time I was on my third antibiotic, so not only was it pointless to test me for anything, I had long ago ceased being potentially contagious. (Fourth antibiotic if you count the anti-malaria medication I was on during the trip.) My lung x-rays were clear and all the blood tests (checking things like my thyroid, kidneys, heart, etc.) all came up average. Nothing that explained the extreme fatigue I still felt and the continued stubbornness of my asthma refusing to be reined in. So…more prednisone and a home nebulizer.

When I floated the idea of another week off work (a whole week of nothing – not even trying to do a half day or anything – just resting and recuperating)…yeah…you guessed it. My supervisor and co-workers were more than enthusiastic. Maybe I should say they were very supportive. (Either they really want me to get better or they are truly tired of listening to me cough.)

With one more day to go, I can say it’s been a successful respite. I’m no longer gasping for air when I climb the stairs, No more wheezing and coughing. I still sometimes run out of air when I’m talking and get a little hoarse, but it’s definitely not as pronounced. I think I’ve finally gotten enough sleep too. I know the cats have certainly enjoyed this week. They’ve spent most of it piled on top of me. (Yes, even the one who scratched me.)

So…when I return to work next Monday, if you hear me cough, “it’s just asthma, people” Sheesh. Let me breathe.

 

 

Remember: always lift with your legs (not your back)!

SignAtLivingstone

(Maybe they should add “No heavy lifting” at the bottom of that sign,  eh?) It happened on Day 10 of our African safari, leaving me in excruciating pain for the last five days of my vacation. There I was, preparing to check out of the David Livingstone Safari Lodge Spa in Livingstone, Zambia,  before moving on to Mfuwe Lodge in the South Luangwa National Park. If you’ve traveled as part of a group, you know the drill: place your luggage near your door (outside or inside) for the porters to collect. My backpack was all ready and sitting on a chair. I picked it up, twisted to the left, and bent over to place the backpack on the floor. Pop! (Yes, I actually heard – and felt – a pop.) There went one of the discs in my back. Those of you who’ve suffered a herniated disc (aka bulging disc) know the pain, right? Wow. Never experienced that before.

I somehow made it through the day and the short airplane ride to Mfuwe, and even through the night, but only with the last of the painkillers that were supposed to be for my migraines. (I wouldn’t be able to lay on my back or on my left side for the next several weeks.) At first, though, I didn’t think it was too bad and went through a whole day of bumpy jeep rides that just made it worse. By the next morning, I couldn’t bear it any more and inquired with the lodge staff about acquiring more pain killers. Good news: there were volunteer doctors who serviced the area lodges; bad news: it would cost $200 for the “house” call (because the doctor must actually examine you in person). I balked at that, but realized if I was going to enjoy any more bumpy safari jeeps, I’d need more pills. So there went $200 of my spending money.

The doc’s name was Janet (yep – another Janet!) and if I remember right, she was also from California. She and her husband were on a six-month rotation where a medical charity pays for the trip to Africa in exchange for the doctors providing care to the local villagers and also to tourists. She diagnosed a herniated lumbar 4-5 disc (an MRI after I got home changed that to lumbar 2-3). And she gave me pain killers! Yippee. I can say that I most definitely would not have survived those very long plane rides back home to California without them.

VervetMonkeyBut before you begin to think this is all about the pills, no, this is about the most wonderful service provided by the staff at Mfuwe Lodge. While the rest of the group went off on a jeep ride, I tried to find a comfortable spot out in the common area just in case more elephants came wandering through. The staff got me water and some crackers to snack on so the pain killers wouldn’t upset my stomach. And then…the Vervet Monkeys who had free run of  the lodge got very interested in my crackers.  They tried to steal my crackers.

ManWithSlingshotI was positive I had his name written down in my trip notes, but I can’t find it. But here he is, my hero! He got out his slingshot and nobly defended me and my crackers. And he was a good shot too! I feel terrible that I can’t find his name – but I did give him a thank you hug before we checked out.

And before I forget, many thanks to Mike and his wife Pat, fellow members of my tour group, who gave me Pat’s orthopedic seat cushion to make my trip home more bearable.

 

 

Planes, trains, and automobiles…

Just kidding! There’s no trains or automobiles in this blog post. There’s barely even an airplane (well, two airplanes).

As our plucky little group packed our belongings to leave our first campsite in the Okavango Delta (Botswana) en route to Zimbabwe, the usual questions arose. (Usual, at least, for Americans familiar with our airport security). Are there restrictions on liquids? Will we have to take off our shoes? What about electronics? Andre, our tour leader, told us not to worry because there was no security. Airstrip1

As it turned out, there wasn’t even an airport. There was one “building” with fire extinguishers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and one sign. (That’s my friend Bobbie reading it.) Airstrip2

There was just an airstrip, a lonely little windsock indicating wind direction, and us waiting for our two airplanes that began as teeny dots in the sky and grew to be, well, somewhat bigger dots once they were on the ground. Would you like to fly in one of these?

TwoPlanes

Because there’s no airport staff either, that’s our guides Josh and Mike (and Andre, not seen in this picture) loading our luggage. On the right, you can see some of the gals walking to the other plane. LoadingLuggage

Before this, the smallest plane I’ve been on was a 20 (maybe 25) seater over the Gulf of Mexico between Cozumel and Cancun. The size of this plane? Here’s an inside shot. (The backs of those two heads closest to me? That’s Wendy [aka Windy] on the left and Andre on the right.) Guess which row I’m taking this photo from? Yep, the back row! InsidePlane