Saturday, February 9, 2019

Whirlwind


So many of my blogs start this way these days, and I am sorry about that. I dislike being repetitive, but I am truly unsure where to start on this one since so much has happened since I last wrote.  A lot of this happened almost a year ago and so will be shared in only the vaguest way here, and again, I’m sorry about that as some of this deserves more than a cursory mention.

The last few years have been a bit rough on my family, with so many loved and cherished family members dying with little or no advanced warning. God help us, but my generation is now the oldest remaining in my family, and we had all come to realize that the only time that we bothered to go through the effort to see each other was when there was a death in the family. First my mother, and then followed not long after by her husband. We finally decided that we had had enough of meeting with death in the air and it was time to have a family reunion that did not involve a loss. After much debate, we agreed to gather our family from all over the continent on a lake in Northern California in July. We had no way to know that we would be too late for several that we all adored. . .
First, we lost my niece – my big sisters daughter Sunshine. Sunshine was special to me in so many ways. I was “the baby” in our little family, and so Sunshine was the first person that ever “looked up” to me and maybe found something admirable in me. I adored that little girl and to this day would not hesitate to trade places with her if it were possible to bring her back.  I received that call from my sister at about 3AM, and by about 6 AM I was in my truck and headed out driving from Texas to Arizona where the family gathered around my sister. 

Only a few short months after that, I received another call. This time, it was my sister-in-law; my brother’s wife. With no warning and no serious illness that we were aware of, my sister-in-law just died on Halloween night. They were handing out candy when she told my brother that she didn’t feel well and was going to go take a nap. He found her dead in bed shortly after. Once again the family gathered with death hanging in the air around us. Just to add a little more pain to the day, my sister’s home burnt to the ground while we were at the funeral.
Also attending that funeral was my Aunt Sandy, the mother of my cousin Scott. Scott was so close to us growing up that we more or less considered ourselves brothers; we were pretty much inseparable and were often into trouble together. I took one look at my aunt and knew instantly that I’d never see her alive again. The vibrant woman that I had grown up with was gone, replaced by a heart breaking thin and frail woman in a wheel chair. I hugged her every chance that I got that day because I knew it would be the last time that I saw her, and I was sadly correct as she died only a month or so later.
So here we were, people that were smart enough to have realized that we needed to plan an event that allowed our family to get together just to enjoy each other and we had been too late. Please don’t bother offering condolences. While I appreciate the compassion that prompts them, they pretty much just open the wound again. I only tell you all of this to put everything into context.

Along about May or June, I started to notice that I was unusually short of breath anytime I did anything at all strenuous, and an ever increasing pain in the center of my chest started to grow to the point where it could no longer be ignored. I mentioned my growing concern to my wife, and being the Army veteran that she is, she assured me it was probably because I had allowed myself to get fat and out of shape, and encouraged me to get up off of my ass and do some exercise. I was pretty sure that this was more than my being out of shape as I’d been out of shape before in my life and it was a totally different feeling, but I still had to agree that it was a reasonable conclusion and so I made an effort to get more physical exercise.  Each time, the pain in the center of my chest would get ever worse as I worked up a head of steam, and the pain would only decline when I would stop jogging. I went to the doctor several times, they took several EKG’s and declared me normal at the conclusion of each one. This appeared to bolster my wife’s theory that I was just out of shape and so I’d go home and try to jog again, only to be forced to stop due to the pain. Eventually someone got the bright idea to do a cardiac stress test where they have you work out a bit on a treadmill and then do a fancy type of x-ray that lets them see how your heart is reacting to it. I had been afraid that this would be like taking your car to the mechanic and having it show no signs of the problem you took it there for, and so was oddly pleased when my chest began to hurt almost immediately after I started walking on the treadmill. At the conclusion of the test, the doctor approaches me with an odd smile on his face.
“Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.” He says.
“Okay, do tell?”
“The good news is that you are not crazy, and it’s not all in your head. The bad news is that you do have a heart problem.”
“Awesome.” I groaned.
 So yeah, like a day later I am in the Austin Heart Hospital with a widget inserted through my wrist that allowed them to snake a device through my veins all of the way from my wrist to my heart where they inserted a heart stent to open a blocked vein. I woke up part way through this process to have the doctor point to a video screen and show me where he was installing the heart stent, and then also show me a branching vein that was mostly closed. He explained that installing stents into the branching vein was a bit more complex and would have to be done in a separate procedure at a later date.  You should have seen the look on his face later that evening in my hospital room when I flat out refused to come back in a few days to have the other heart stent installed.
“I’m not sure that you understand the gravity of the situation,” says the surgeon.
“Oh no, I understand it and I thank you for your concern doc, but tomorrow I start my first vacation in over a decade. It’s not just a vacation either; it’s a family reunion that was setup specifically because we were sick of only seeing each other when someone dies!  It’s been planned for over a year and I will not miss it, and I do not intend to be the one that dies just days before it takes place.”
So the doc argued with me, my wife argued with me, and I assured them both that they should save their breath because I wasn’t coming back until after my vacation. Eventually everyone calmed down and with a stern warning from the doctor not to exert myself, we headed for home. A day later, and we packed up a rental car and headed out for two weeks of road tripping across the better part of half of the continental United States. Many years ago, we had taken a vacation to visit my family in California and we had made it a point to stop at almost everything of interest between Texas and California. We had thoroughly enjoyed that trip and so we decided to do much the same on this trip. And thus began an epic and whirl-wind journey . . . 



The first place of note that we stopped at was the grave of Billy the Kid. Much to my surprise, neither one of my children had any idea who the heck Billy the Kid was, and so they were a tad less than thrilled about it. Still, it was along the way, and so we stopped.
 

 




















Our next stop was the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. For those of you that have never heard of it, the Petrified Forest is a large stretch of desert that once was forest, and it is littered with the now fossilized remains of trees. Some of these fossils are the size of pebbles, and some are quite large portions of the original trees. Considering that my son has expressed an interest in becoming a paleontologist, I thought that this would be a really cool experience for him.
 







 Moving on, we stopped at Meteor Crater in Arizona. Everyone in the car started laughing when I played the theme song to “2001: A Space Odyssey” as we were making our way up the long drive to the crater. Space and earth science are both two of my favorite subjects and so I spent a good part of the drive pontificating on and on about how the large hill that we were approaching was not made by your typical geologic event, but by the impact of a meteor. I’m pretty sure that I failed to excite either child. What can I say, it was a tough crowd.






We hadn’t really intended to stop at the Grand Canyon as we figured that it would take too long, and we did have a reunion to get to, but the more I thought about it as we were passing all of the exits for it, the more I just couldn’t bear the thought of taking my children right past one of the biggest wonders of the world and not stopping.  Everyone thinks that they have a concept of what the Grand Canyon is, but trust me, you don’t have a clue unless you have seen it. All of the photos and videos in the world just cannot give you a proper sense of the scale of the thing, nor a proper appreciation of it. It’s something that you really must behold with your own senses. 





 
Next, we headed out across Death Valley to Big Pine California and had a bit more adventure along the way than we had anticipated. I really don’t recall a year later the exact route that we took, but I think it was HWY 168 that we took through the mountains and then down into Big Pine. Now the fun came into this when after driving for hours without another car in sight, you find yourself on the top of a HUGE mountain, at midnight, the road turns into dirt, and then becomes an endless series of sharp switchbacks with cliffs on the side. It really becomes interesting when you realize that you are down to less than a quarter of a tank of fuel, haven’t seen a human being or building in three hours, and you are starting to think that you may have screwed up really bad. We did have a moment of levity though when we reached the crest of the mountain. Both children were asleep in the back and so I whispered to my wife that I was going to stop the SUV for a moment, shut it all off, and then just stand outside in the peace and quiet, hundreds of miles from any other human being, their lights, and their noise. For some reason, the thought of one truly quiet moment really appealed to me, so I pulled to the side, turned the car off, stepped out, and closed the door behind me. After a brief moment, the interior lights went out and I prepared to soak in some peace of mind. I was to be disappointed though, because suddenly there was a knocking on the window behind me. I chose to ignore it.
“Daddy . . .” says my daughter, knocking on the window again. I hear my wife shushing her and trying to quietly explain that she needs to be silent for a moment, but of course there isn’t another sound for hundreds of miles so this is all very loud and more than a little annoying given that it is ruining the very purpose of my stopping. Still, in a moment the quiet begins to settle and my heart rate slows, and I anticipate the first truly quiet moment that I have had since I was a teenager . . .    Nope. With all of the subtlety of a freight train, the peace is utterly destroyed when the car horn starts to blow over and over, with the lights flashing in sync. Apparently my wife had locked the door when I got out, and when my daughter tried to open the damned thing, it set off the alarm. I’ve gotta admit that I was absolutely furious for a good five minutes, but ultimately we all laughed like hell at the absurdity of the thing. Now fully awake, adrenaline coursing through my veins, we made our way down the scary scary dirt road switch backs into Big Pine.


By now we had been on the road for something like three days, and so we were a little less than bright eyed and bushy tailed the next morning when we headed out to Yosemite. Yosemite was an absolutely incredible thing to experience. I cannot do it justice with words, and certainly cannot compete with others who have already tried to do so, so I will pretty much leave it at that. Absolutely incredible place to visit and drive through, and I strongly advise you to check it out if you ever have the chance. After many more hours of driving, we at last found ourselves at the lake in Northern California that we had all agreed upon for the reunion.











The whole concept of the reunion had been to get together without a death being the focal point, but of course that was out the window as we lost three cherished members of our family mere months before. We still tried to make the most of it though, and tried not to dwell on those that were missing. All in all, we spent a very pleasant week there and I was glad that my younger children were finally getting the chance to meet people from my side of the family. The bad news is that the grueling schedule of the prior week began to take its toll on me and I grew tired pretty quickly every day. I don’t advise getting heart stents installed and then heading out the next day on a cross country road trip. It grew awkward a couple of times when I had to beg off early, because I had made it a point to not tell anyone about my heart problems as I thought that my sister had had quite enough on her plate lately and didn’t need the worry.
I had let my sister know that seeing the giant redwoods was on my bucket list of things to do before I died, and so I was delighted to find that a trip had been planned for everyone to go for a hike through them. Oh. My. God. Seeing these huge and ancient trees was one of the most awe inspiring things that I have ever done. I’m sure that it’s a personal preference thing based upon opinion, but I think I’d even place seeing them above seeing the Grand Canyon. It’s almost a religious experience to see something that huge and that old that is still living.  
















After about a week hanging out at the lake with my extended family, we headed for home – via Salmon Idaho. . .
My wifes mother had suffered a serious stroke a couple of years ago and wasn’t doing so hot, so we were making it a point to visit her as it was a somewhat feasible thing to do on our road trip. Things didn’t go as well as one might have hoped though, as her mom ended up having to be taken to the hospital that night by ambulance. We stayed a day or two, visiting her off and on in the hospital. It was a bit awkward though, as the stroke had left her unable to speak. At last the day came when we had no choice and had to head back home as the children would have to go back to school and I had to get my ass back to get some more heart stents installed. We had intended to pass through Yellowstone on the way home, but my mother-in-law being in the hospital, combined with my own exhaustion pretty much ruled that out. The remainder of the drive home was no frills, no landmarks, and only stopping to get a good nights sleep in hotels.  My mother-in-law died a couple of weeks after we got home . . .

This time they had to install the heart stents through a large vein in my groin, and yes, this was just about as much fun as you might imagine. They ended up having to install four more heart stents, and due to a few relatively minor complications, I ended up spending three days in the hospital recovering. When it finally came time to start the checking out process, I received a visit from quite a few people of differing specialties. One of them was in their rehab program and she handed me an arm load of material and strongly advised me to join their program. It turns out that it requires three visits a week to exercise while they monitor your heart, and so I declined. When she politely objected, I had to explain that I travel for my living and would have to quite in order to participate in a program that required me to be there three times a week. I wasn’t terribly surprised when she implied that I might need to evaluate my priorities – work or life? I assured her of two relevant things:
1 – If I lost my job, I wouldn’t be able to afford the rehab anyway
2 – I’d rather shuffle off of this mortal coil, giving my wife and children the life insurance, than to lose my job and see them homeless.
My priorities are in the right place, they just aren’t where she expected them to be. 

Three days later my happy ass was on an airplane to go provide a week of training to John Deere. Remember I told you that the heart stents were installed through a large vein in my groin area? Yeah, that ended up scaring the holy living shit outta me, because while I was at John Deere, the entire inside of one thigh turned a nice dark shade of red/blue all of the way down to my knee. I called the hospital in a complete panic but was assured that it was almost certainly just normal results of blood that had already leaked during the procedure. It would have been just grand if they had warned me in advance that this might happen. All of this was now months ago and I am fully recovered, but at the time it was scary as hell.

I have made many trips for work since then, but very few as Kim. I’m just too tired all of the time, and frankly everything has sort of taken its toll on me. I feel old and I look like it too. I’m actually kind of stunned at how much I have aged in the last year. I’ve seen that happen to others but never anticipated it happening to me, and I have to say that I am not delighted with it.






My last trip was to New Jersey this week. Fortunately the weather had improved from the prior week, because I had been scared to death that it was going to be in the negative teens for my trip. In the end, it turned out to be quite nice while I was there, so I really can’t complain. My company has recently reached an agreement with United Airlines, and so I once again find myself flying the one airline that I absolutely hate. Many years ago, they destroyed a $1,500 guitar of mine and refused to accept responsibility for it. It’s case was undamaged, but the guitar inside was shattered, leading me to the conclusion that the guitar was taken from its case, damaged, then put back, but United didn’t see it that way. The only thing they offered was $50 off of my next United flight. I told them that they could keep their money because I would never step foot on another United Airlines aircraft again. A few years later, my company tried to make me fly on them again and I was still so angry that I told them they had a choice to make – United Airlines or me, because if you try and force me to fly on United again, I quit. Apparently they valued me, because the threat was not put to the test.  Welp, I’m older now so it wont be so easy to find a comparable job, and I have a wonderful heart condition that requires expensive drugs and doctors, so I’m no longer willing to threaten to quit. Yep - my happy ass flew United Airlines again for the first time in over a decade.
When I landed in Philadelphia, I apparently managed to make my way to the baggage area for the wrong concourse, and once you leave the secure area, the only way to get to the other concourse was outside.  I didn’t even have the energy to get pissed off when I was making my way down the sidewalk and some asshole yells “You’re a dude!” clear across the street to me.  Thanks man, because I had no freaking idea what I am and really needed you to clarify it for me. Thanks so much. . .

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bright Eyed Immigrant


There was an elderly woman that sat next to me in the gate area of the Knoxville flight to Atlanta. She was probably in her early 70s and had the most brilliant blue eyes that I have ever seen. We traded a few pleasantries and then she put her nose in her book, and I put my nose in mine.
After making the flight from Knoxville to Atlanta and having a two hour layover, we were both kind of amused as she once again took a seat next to me, this time in the gate area for Austin. Anyway, we struck up an actual conversation this time, but it was interrupted as she took a phone call, presumably from family or friends. I wasn’t exactly ease dropping, but she was sitting right next to me as she had her conversation so there was no trouble realizing that it wasn’t English. I’ve traveled a lot in my life and can often identify a language even if I can’t speak it, but I couldn’t quite figure out what hers was and so I asked her when she got off of the phone.
“Do you mind if I ask what language that is? It sounds similar to German but not quite.”
“I’m Dutch.” Replies this lady with brilliant blue eyes.
“Am I right that it has similarities to German?” I asked her.
“It does,” she replied, “But as much as I don’t like the Germans, I’d have to admit that their language has some nuances that ours doesn’t have. “ Through our discussion I learned that she had come to America 40 years ago as a physician. Making it as a female physician 40 years ago impressed me and I told her as much. She further impressed me by being modest about it. I told her that as the parent of a daughter and having two granddaughters, I loved to see that women were succeeding in fields that were once the sole domain of men. As an example, I’ve seen a clear and unambiguous increase in the number of female pilots in the last five years or so.
Next we started talking about immigrants and the new attitudes and apparent hostility of Americans toward them. You should have seen the look in her eyes as she assured me that she had lived through WWII and had seen this very thing happen before; she had seen a society blaming their problems on immigrants and becoming hostile toward them. It didn’t work out so well for anyone involved – not the Germans, certainly not the Jews, and it didn’t do the world as whole a bit of good.

What a thought that 40 years ago America welcomed this physician with the brilliant eyes to our nation and profited in so many ways from her addition to our country, and yet today they would discourage her from coming. There was a lot more to this conversation than I can't possibly share, but my eyes were watering as we wrapped it up. In the end, she actually reassured me.
“America is a wonderful and rich place. It will come back to its senses.” 
I hope so my friend, I hope so . . .

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Practice Makes Perfect


OK – First things first! I’ve seriously considered getting off of Facebook lately because quite frankly,   I think it’s seriously hurtful to the soul to read so much negativity over and over, day after day. I don’t mean to trivialize their loss or their pain in any way, don’t get me wrong, but the heart and soul can only take so much of negativity and sadness. As I mentioned the other day, I spent a good deal of time repairing my damaged blogs a few days ago, and so obviously I was reviewing a good number of my own posts. Guess what?  I discovered that I am guilty of the very thing I just spoke about – posting negativity over and over and over. I think it becomes something of a feedback loop, where once you get into that loop, it just keeps feeding upon itself and it goes faster and faster until it’s out of control and you are lost and overwhelmed by it. This doesn’t rise to the level of a guarantee or a promise, but I intend to try and devote some effort to not focusing on the negative stuff so much on my blog.  I’ll still tell y’all when bad shit happens, but I am going to try not to focus on it so much.


You know how I’m always yapping about how heavy my baggage and toolbox are? Yeah, I had to giggle as I was getting on the shuttle bus from the airport parking lot and the shuttle bus driver had to stop and use both hands to lift my tool box onto the bus. I’m starting to think that maybe I am not in quite as bad a shape as I had thought I was! Don’t worry though, because I at least gave him a decent tip.

I was happily seated on the airplane, and with the boarding process all but complete, I’d begun to think that I was going to be lucky and the center seat next to me just might end up being empty. Not so though, as in the end a young lady came to claim the seat. She made a very brief nod to me toward the center seat but then didn’t give me a chance to get up as she started to make her way between me and the seat in front of me.
“Hold on, I don’t mind getting up to let you in!” I assured her. Not to be dissuaded, she continued working her way to her seat despite the idiot (me) that was partially blocking her way. Gotta hand it to her – she made it, and she did it without stomping all over my feet, so she gets points there. The thing that sort of nagged at me though is that every time we spoke to each other, she went well out of her way to say “Ma’am” repeatedly. While I deeply appreciate her trying so hard to be decent, after about the tenth “Ma’am” in five minutes, you’re sort of over doing it to the point that it’s almost as bad as just calling me sir. Still, she was trying to be a decent human being, so many hugs to you young lady.
I had two hours to kill in the Atlanta airport, and so I headed to the Delta Sky Club nearest to my gate. For the uninitiated, this is more or less the airlines country club. I don’t have the money to join, but they let you pay with miles that you have earned, and I have plenty of those! I handed my ticket to one of their customer service folks to check in and he scans the barcode.
“Welcome Mr. Huddle!” he says. Ok, so I decided right there that maybe having the young lady on the airplane over do the “Miss” thing wasn’t so bad after all.
“Do you prefer Mr. or Miss?” he asks relatively softly, as though it has just occurred to him that I may not particularly care for him saying “Mr.” so loudly.
“Mrs. Would definitely be preferred, thank you.” I answered him, trying not to let my irritation show.
“Well then, welcome back Mrs. Huddle!” he said with a smile, then handed me my ticket back.

When I got to Knoxville, there was no shortage of people staring at me as I waited for my luggage, but I’ve accepted this as the cost of being out and about. I did get a smile though as I schlepped my bags to the rental car lot and heard a woman speaking from behind me.
“Girl, you’ve got it going on with those heels. I can hardly do this in flats but you make it look easy!”
“That’s from lots and lots of practice.” I said, looking over my shoulder and giving her a grin.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Still working on the old ones

So my blog has gone from Myspace, moved it to Yahoo 360 when Myspace became so overwhelmed with adds, and then when the did away with Yahoo360, I then moved it to Blogspot.com. Somewhere in all of that moving, exporting, importing, cutting and pasting, a lot of things got screwed up.

I am trying to decide if it is my drive to not be part of something half assed or if is my ego that has prompted me to go back through and try and fix my older posts. So far I've killed almost the entire day trying to repair damaged posts and there are a lot more to go! Still working on it . . .

Of course just about the time that I get it all right, Blogspot.com will shut down or something. Sigh. . .

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

It's a Tide Pod!



So I put my backpack onto the x-ray machines conveyor belt as I always do, but much to my surprise, the operator slides it off into the “needs a hand inspection slot” after it rolled out of the machine instead of sending it on to me.
“I think you have a water bottle in there. Someone will be right with you.” He told me.
“Damn. Sorry about that!” I told him. “You would think I’d have the system down by now wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah, you’re here like every week!” he replied with a grin and then moved on to his next bag.
So there I waited for someone to come and dig the stupid water bottle out of my pack. I waited, and I waited, and I waited. . . After about 5 minutes, a TSA inspector finally approached me . . . and then veered off to the machine next to our x-ray to inspect someone else’s bag who had not been waiting as I had! After she inspected this other persons bag, she just walked off! No exaggeration, I probably stood there for a good solid 10 minutes waiting for some super special TSA inspector to finally decide that I was worthy of dealing with. I’m pretty sure that this is the first time that the TSA in the Austin airport ever did anything to piss me off and I’m still trying to decide if I was just being too sensitive?
Got to the Denver area with nothing else to write about. Even though I’d been at it for over 14 hours and my makeup showed it, I went ahead and went to a decent dinner when I got to Greeley Colorado. I had the chicken and shrimp carbonara at the Olive Garden and gotta say that I loved everything about it except the calories! Dinner all done, I headed to my hotel to call it a night, but as I was putting my stuff away I noticed a long sun dress that I brought with me to try on. I had bought it because I actually thought it was kind of cute, and unlike most sundresses, it didn’t require breasts and cleavage to wear it. I had to grin though as I took it out of the bag, because my wife and daughter both had made their opinions abundantly clear about the dress when they saw me wash it and hang it to take upstairs. As I was putting the dress on a hanger, I heard my daughter speak from a few feet behind me.



“What is that?” she asked, placing heavy emphasis on the word “that” to make it clear that she didn’t like it in the least little bit.
“Umm, it’s a dress?” I replied, no doubt with a deer in the headlights look. At that point, she put her hand over her mouth and made a production of laughing while sort of kind of acting like she was trying not to.
“What?! It’s cute!” I demanded, getting defensive.
“Dude, it’s a tide pod!” She quipped, and then both her and my wife busted out laughing. I turned and looked at the tide pod . . . err . . dress again and had to sigh, because now that she pointed it out, that was all that I could picture. In an instant it went from “Cute Sundress” to the “Tide pod dress”. I’ve got a stubborn streak though, so I took it with me on this trip just to see what I’d look like in it. Yeah, it’s going in the giveaway pile when I get home.






Today got off to a pretty good start, with my quickly and efficiently repairing my customers spectrometer. They had tried to replace a consumable component on their own, but couldn’t get it right, and so they brought me out to figure out what they were doing wrong. In a bit more than three hours, I had the thing done and was headed back to my hotel room where I got cleaned up and headed out for a movie and a day of shopping! I found four records that I like: two Gordon Lightfoot’s, a Linda Ronstadt, and a Dolly Parton, so I was off to a good start. Next I headed to JC Penny’s where I received huge grins from everyone that walked past me. You know, the “Oh look at the funny cross dresser!” grins that completely destroy your confidence? Yeah, that grin. So anyway, there I am looking for clothes that just might fit my fat ass when the customer I had taken care of that morning called me.
“Hey, I’m having trouble getting it to dry out. We didn’t have this problem before you worked on it today. Would you mind coming back?”  I looked at the time – 330 PM. I looked at my skirt and heels – ‘yeah, that’s kind of a problem’ I thought to myself with a mental giggle. I started doing the math in my head; let’s see, 10 minutes to get back to the hotel, 25 minutes to shower and change, 30 minute drive out to the customer. Sigh . . .
“Yeah, no worries. Give me about an hour to get there.”
No way around it, the job has to come first, so that was one of the shortest Kim days I’ve ever had. I went from a remarkably short work day to a damned late one and didn’t get back to the hotel until after 8 PM. Gotta be up at 3 AM again to head to the airport, so I’m outta here!