Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Moving Notice

I'm closing this Blogspot and transitioning to my own domain. I'm going to close Haloscan, too.

The new site is a work in progress:

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Month Four

I realised after reviewing my post on Month Three, I started counting from the 16th, when we met with the oncologist and David started treatment. The diagnosis was actually Friday, August 12, otherwise known to me as Black Friday.

Month Four was another turning point in David's health; chronically low blood counts weren't a problem before. David had his first blood transfusion in the hospital after the wedding, but in the past two weeks he's had multiple transfusions of blood and platelets. It's because the cancer has worked its way into his bones and has been affecting his ability to produce healthy blood.

We have a better idea of what the doctors were trying to spare David from when they backed off on the treatment. They did warn us that efforts toward extending his quantity of life would reduce his quality of life, and right now that quality is at an all-time low.

Chemotherapy and radiation, respectively, is essentially toxicity and rays to destroy cancer cells, but it does damage surrounding cells, too. David suffered from fatigue back in September when he was getting radiation twice a day, but nothing like what he's experiencing now.

I want to spare David his dignity so I won't go into great detail about the side effects, but it's comparable to going 30 rounds in a boxing ring and letting the opponent have a go at you with no resistance whatsoever on your part. Fatigue sets in when the body enters a restorative state, and all his body has the energy to do is repair itself, and nothing more.

I've been trying to maintain David's caloric and nutrient intake with cases of Boost, Ensure, and whatever food he can manage to eat. He's drinking a lot of milk, water, juice, and his kidneys seem to be working properly. (The chemotherapy/growth factor info sheets recommend lots of fluids.)

All David's body wants to do now is sleep. He has no energy to work on his railway project or read or sit in his computer chair. (Auntie Cris, I'm taking your advice about a bell, but I haven't been able to find one! I'll try again tomorrow.)

There's no radiation scheduled this week, only chemotherapy. Last Friday when David had his bloodwork done at the clinic, they said he was low on platelets, so we went to Mercy Hospital that morning. We thought he'd have radiation that day, too, but the technicians said the dose on Thursday was enough for more than a week. No wonder David feels this badly. But in his weakened state, parcelling out the radiation would probably add to his overall fatigue.

Month Four has been the hardest, I hope there's some reprieve in the coming days.

Monday, December 12, 2005


I've discovered it simply isn't possible to take care of David properly, get him to his appointments and therapies, look after the house and cat, communicate with everyone I'd like, take photos or write, make up cards and packages, and hold on to my sense of humour or sanity at the same time. Something had to slide down the priority ladder, and that would be this site... and other things, like returning phone calls and replying to e-mail. It's not what I want, but something has to give and it takes a huge mental effort sometimes to do something as normal as making a phone call.

But I'm working on a new website, too, which will be revealed once I get all my Christmas stuff to the post office. That's been my priority, after David, Hugh, and the house. I'm still sticking to my guns about writing everything out by hand, which is grossly inefficient but I'm not taking any shortcuts on this one. The cards haven't been as elaborate as some, but they are all handmade.

David had a massive dose of radiation last Thursday, the largest dose to date. In fact, they had to take him off the table to give him a break, in part because there were multiple fields (his hip/back and leg/knee) and it was painful for him to lie on the table.

Thursday's radiation has turned David into a semi-zombie. I managed to get a photo of him here, on Friday night, while he was feeling up to working on his trains. But much of the time he slumps over in delirium after a few minutes and even mid-sentence. It's bordering on narcolepsy, and I try and be near him to make sure he doesn't endanger himself while he's physically unstable.

Both of his ankles are still swollen and we try to elevate them to give him some relief. David's hands shake, but he's doggedly determined to work on his trains when he's not too lethargic. We went to Lowe's (home hardware store) last week to buy wood for his train platform, so it's coming together. For both of us, working with our hands gives us something to concentrate on.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Hugh's (Almost) Big Snow Adventure

Definitely an indoor cat, Hugh makes two attempts at venturing out into the first big snowfall of December '05, then decides snow is overrated.

Music: "It's a Marshmallow World" - Dean Martin

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Airline Socks and Ridiculous Health Insurance Policies

Who keeps airline socks? Anyone? I found some in a drawer this morning and they were PERFECT for putting over David's swollen ankles to go to clinic this morning. Who knew?

It's been a long, tiring day. Both of us had a hard time getting through the prolonged time at the clinic, where the radiation machine needed maintenance and consequently delayed all the appointments. We were late getting over to the hematology and oncology clinic next door by nearly two hours!

We made good use of the wheelchairs at the clinics, too. There was a lot of back and forth between radiation, blood work, and the injection clinic today, and the cane was wholly inadequate. We requested a scrip for a wheelchair, but we didn't have time to pick one up today.

There was also the rigamarole with the increased painkiller dosage that the insurance company is not allowing the pharmacy to fulfill. Here's the beef: the insurance company puts a limit on QUANTITY of pills per month, regardless of STRENGTH -- what a load of bollocks! So, that means a patient can't modulate their dosages with multiples of smaller pills to match their pain levels because it'll exceed monthly limits. Pills don't come in all strengths, sometimes it's 20mg, sometimes 100mgs, etc. Sometimes there's a big gap between strengths and cutting the pills just crushes them. Most are too small to be precise, and they're potent. Overmedication can have major effects, which David has discovered firsthand.

David takes so many different forms of medication that he's reached the insurance limits on quantity partway through the month several times. I'm sure there are other patients who run into this problem. I don't know if it's just our insurance company or if they're all like that, but even so -- you can't just switch insurance companies midstream. Plus, who sets out to even find an insurance company with higher pill limits??? it's just not something you'd anticipate, unlike common things like optical or dental coverage.

We've gone through this before, and finally acquired a letter from the insurance company to allow the pharmacy to dispense more than their normal limit. However, I found out today that the letter doesn't have a code or an official means to override the pharmacy database! I mean, what good is THAT?!?


Today's blood test results:
  1. Hemoglobin up
  2. White blood cells up
  3. Platelets still low
David has another transfusion scheduled at 9 o'clock for more platelets at Mercy Hospital. We'll have to sort out the prescription problem in the morning after the transfusion.

Christmas Tomfoolery

December 1997 - Volendam, the Netherlands.

It sounds like the beginning of a joke:

"A German, a Canadian, a Dutchie, and an Englishwoman walk into a bar..."

Ansgar drove down from Germany to meet Lucy and me in Amsterdam, where we flew in from Manchester shortly before Christmas. Fedor met up with us later and took us sightseeing in Volendam, where somebody had the bright idea for us to get dressed up!! (That person wasn't me.)

Yet, this photo has been cracking me up for nearly 8 years. We had seizures of giggles choosing our outfits ("Do you want to be the fisherman or the accordion player?"), which made it difficult for the costumers to put the multitudinous layers over our clothing and for the photographer to get us to stay still. Note the shoes.

The photo seems like a lifetime ago, but that trip was so memorable.

I've added Flash notes to the photo in Flickr -- click to enlarge and view notes.

Un/Medicated Ratio Now Back to 1:1

As you've probably guessed, the other major reason why I haven't updated this space for a while is medically-related. I write about myself, but I hesitate to write about David because I prefer if he writes about his own condition. The patient/caregiver perspectives differ, and I strive to keep a balance between us regarding the reporting of his health in the public domain. Then again, I'm always encouraging David to write because a) even cancer can't keep a good man down, and b) it's better if it comes from him. Sometimes this isn't possible, so I fill in the gaps when necessary.

Dave's Logbook: Status Report

It occurred to me that my radio silence suggested I'd Nyquil-ed myself into a four-day stupor, but it came as a surprise -- even to myself -- that I only needed two doses of it to get me through the weekend. The sickness didn't last nearly as long as I thought it would. (Thank heavens for that.) And it snowed on Saturday -- a real snow, not that quasi-snow that arrived on Thanksgiving Day while I was in New York and promptly melted -- so being stuck inside to recover from the cold was no big hardship. Driving in snow is not my idea of a good time.

I tried my best not to infect David with whatever I had, and thankfully that was the case. It was a very brief bout of symptoms, and aside from a sore throat, none were passed onto him. David had a second blood transfusion for the week on Friday, and we had our fingers crossed that Monday's blood tests showed an increase in his blood counts.

In the meantime, over the weekend all David could do was try and medicate his pain away. His left ankle swelled up like a balloon, and he phoned the on-call doctor to see if this was something to worry about. The doctor said under the circumstances this was not abnormal, and for some reason it's typically the left ankle. Hobbling about with a cane, a sore hip, knee, and a swollen ankle in our two-storey house isn't easy, so David was mostly confined to the second floor. Then his right ankle followed suit -- swelling up about the same amount as the left. We found out later from the oncologist that the swelling can be attributed to the high dosage of growth factors recently.

On Monday we went to the clinic for the blood tests, this time:
  1. Hemoglobin up
  2. White blood cells up
  3. Platelets low
The nurse consulted with the doctor, then wrote up an order for two bags of platelets at Mercy Hospital. We didn't have time to eat, we had to go directly to the hospital. Platelets don't take nearly as long to absorb as blood, but we had to wait a while before the bags were ready. With nothing to do, I made jokes about delays at the platelet farm and tried to distract David by making lists.

Since Monday, David's pain has become worse. The doctors have upped his medications again, but for the umpteenth time there's a red tape delay because the pharmacy says the insurance company won't honour the prescription, they're faxing the doctor, blah blah blah... I swear, I've said this time and again but the insurance companies have patients by the proverbial testicles here. 'It's enough to make an elephant crazy,' my Israeli friend used to say. (I'd like to hear how that sounds in Hebrew, it's probably more descriptive pre-translation.)

So, with David's increasing pain (he says it's the worst ever since the diagnosis, 11 on the typical 1-10 pain scale), my tasks have changed. I've been trying to modifying the house to accommodate David's current physical state. We bought a few things to try and make things easier for him:
  • padded seat for the commode ("for my bony ass")
  • in-shower seat (it's still difficult for him to get in and out of the tub, though)
  • bed tray, etc.
Last night I rearranged his clothes so he can reach them easier. He can't go down the stairs, so I fetch things, and may well tie a basket onto Hugh so he can be useful and play sherpa rather than trip me up all the time trying to race me down the steps.

We're also spending more of David's waking time together. He sleeps in the spare bedroom because the single bed is softer and lower, making it easier for him to get in and out. It's too small for the both of us. Pain wakes him up, and it paralyses him for the first hour or so until his medication kicks in. Unfortunately waking up happens several times a day and is unavoidable. Only after the painkillers take hold does he feel more like a human being. Until then, I try and come up with some way to distract him, a story or a conversation, but usually he just lays there quietly in a dark haze of pain until the drugs make their way into his system.

For David, waking up is awful and dreaded. He calls out and I rush over from the bedroom to give him his pills and a drink to wash them down. He can't move his legs. Yesterday I had to wheel him to the bathroom with an office chair. This is how it goes. Not always, but when it's bad... it's off the scale.

That's why it was such a relief for David to hear the magical words "We'll radiate you on Thursday".

I did a double-take.

It looked more like a system crash than a mileage reading!

'I Wouldn't Belong to a Club That Would Have Me As a Member'

Famous words by Groucho Marx.

I did, in fact, join a photography club earlier this evening:

Northeast Photography Club

There was a mixup on the website, so I actually showed up an hour early along with two others, so we three had a good natter while waiting for the rest to arrive. The club formed in 1989, so it's a well-established organisation with a board, critiques, competitions, themes, published catalogues, and regular exhibitions in venues such as Penn State and Everhart Museum. In other words, nothing like my summer o' love with Vandigicam, but culturally speaking, in line with what I would expect for an East Coast formation of photography enthusiasts.

My goals are to discover the best of both worlds, meet people, and be more in touch with the community. This is the best place to start, I think. Also, there should be at least one Canadian in every mix! At the very least to spread the little-known fact that not all of Canada is held hostage in winter by subzero (Celsius) temperatures!

Now that my shutterbugging is shifting to film, it's probably the optimal time to join such a group. There was a slideshow presentation and I'm ashamed to say I don't possess a single slide. I haven't shot slide film since high school. Photography books were passed around, and when I filled out the membership form I had a conspicuous blank space at 'workshops taken' and 'published works'. One of the members was recently published in Photography magazine for an architecture shot. Yes, I have much to learn from this group. I'll be reading my 'photography fundamentals' books over the holidays and have a lot of cramming to do before the next meeting (in January). There is a juried Club show in March, and I'd like to submit at least one photograph that'll pass muster.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

We've Been Pulling Overtime Here at Santa's Workshop

I've been absent around these parts for a number of reasons...

... but let's start with the good stuff, shall we?

Yesterday the five Ms (Maribeth, Megan, Madeleine, Michael, and Melissa) received Christmas package 1 of 2. Which was a complete surprise since I only mailed it last FRIDAY. For a box, four days between Pennsylvania and BC is remarkable, especially over a weekend!

When I took the package to the post office, it was with more than a twinge of sadness. This will be my very first Christmas without the Ms since the first one (Melissa) came into this world in 1999. I'm not a huge fan of Christmas, but watching small children opening presents is something I've come to cherish very much since they were old enough for parent-sanctioned paper shredding.

Yesterday I found two voicemail messages from Melissa, at home and on my mobile phone, asking if they could open their box. It did not escape Melissa, very astute child of six that she is, that the box was devoid of any markings such as "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS!" Although, when I phoned her last Thursday, she asked me if I received their Christmas calendar.

Me: "Oh, you mean the envelope marked 'DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS!'?"
Melissa: *giggle*
Me: "OK, let's just pretend I didn't hear that."

I put the kids in suspense for a while, humming and hawing over whether they could vulture-pounce the package. I asked their mother about the other Christmas packages -- there must be something left to squeal over on Christmas Day, right? -- and she informed me that the parcels from Maine must remain unopened until The Big Day.


"Well," I said, "there is another package due to arrive because the other two batches (special deliveries from some friends abroad) have not been shipped to me yet. So..."

--squeeeeee!!! eeeee!!!!!!--

"... I think it's alright for them to go ahead and open it. Release the hounds!"

I brought my PowerBook over to David and we had some belly laughs over the video clips of the kids with their loot. They have no clue what's coming next, but some of the things in the package should keep them occupied until then. I'm not saying any more! Melissa can read now!

In anticipation of a seasonal post office backlog, I've been keeping busy trying to get my Christmas parcels out the door asap. I decided that THIS IS THE YEAR when I'll be on top of things, and perhaps rather foolishly decided to make my own greeting cards. From scratch. No two alike. From mostly recycled materials I've found around the house.

I pulled an all-nighter the previous evening toiling in Santa's Workshop, snipping and folding and gluing and crafting and wrapping and writing and measuring and--

--oh yes, anyway, things have been rather handiwork-oriented lately. Low-tech rather than high-tech. I don't have a large workspace, so a modicum of cleanup is required every 90 seconds or so. Very slow process, this cardmaking business. It's winter and the windows are closed, the solvents must be getting to me.

Christmas cards are pretty cheap in bulk and I could get more written up and posted, but sometimes I just do things the hard way because I'm a sucker for handmade things. I figure, now that I'm not working (still waiting for my work permit) and looking after David at home, I should put my resourcefulness to the test and see what I can do about reusing things we already have in the way of paper and the sheer tonnage of packing materials accumulated from all the online purchases we do now.

If you'd like to receive a handmade Christmas/New Year card from me, just drop me an e-mail to gailontheweb [at] with your postal address and keep an eye out for my distinctive handwriting that screams 'anal-retentiveness'!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Fieldings Are Medicated

I don't recall ever taking Nyquil before, but its sedative properties are legendary, I've been told. Thusly, I spent much of the day in an unconscious state. Deservedly so -- I can't cough or sneeze in my sleep, right? It was a pleasant reprieve. When I sleep, it's just like sleep mode on a computer: things happen in the background, functions requiring motor skills cease and desist. Sheer genetic luck, I suppose, that I can sleep uninterrupted.

Me being mostly unconscious is a real role reversal in our household, since David is usually the one who gets KO'ed with pills. He said last night he was an insomniac, but this morning he brought me breakfast in bed. Lucky me!

Treatment is always discontinued on the weekends, so it does feel like a weekend for us. We don't have to go to any appointments. David's been catching up on his writing, and if I hold off on the Nyquil a little longer, I should be able to scare up some video clips, too.

David finally finished the last installment of his story about how he acquired our 1954 Piper Tri-Pacer. The links, forthwith:

The Story of 02P

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Friday, December 02, 2005

Friday Update: another blood transfusion

Mixed news from the bloodwork:

1) Platelets up
2) White blood counts up
3) Hemoglobin barely moved

After the shot of the growth factor, Neupogen, an order was written up for another two units of blood at Mercy Hospital right away. We just had enough time to grab lunch (yes, Mercy Hospital's food is that bad), then run home and grab a book and David's hospital bracelet from Wednesday so they don't have to type and cross him for platelets again. From what he said, they do have to do that for hemoglobin every time, however.

The whole process will take all afternoon, so I'm home to rest and keep my germs to myself. And before I get too caught up reading about the history of blood transfusions on Wikipedia.

The Week Thus Far

I've been meaning to write up the rest of the story of my first trip to the vet with Hugh, but I've been feeling under the weather the last couple of days with cold symptoms. I've been trying to head them off at the pass because the last thing I want to do is to infect David. A bad cold would likely send him to the hospital.

So far it started with a sore throat, now cold symptoms like sneezing and coughing. I hope it doesn't progress to the flu.

On Monday the bloodwork showed David's counts to be far below safe levels for treatment. Tuesday a meeting was called to reassess his overall situation and to develop new strategy, because the cancer is by all accounts spreading but his current condition makes radiation unsafe. David's pain levels are increasing, and the x-ray of his leg last week confirmed it to be a new area of concern. Chemo was scheduled right after the meeting. Yesterday David spent most of the day in the hospital getting a transfusion of two units of blood, a unit of platelets, followed by growth factor injections. Today it was back to the clinic for two more injections. In the morning we are due to return to the clinic for more bloodwork to see if it's safe for radiation to resume on Monday. I hope so, because our available options are narrowing (no, disappearing) with the dropping blood counts.

Low blood counts spell trouble:
  1. Chemotherapy is unsafe
  2. Radiation is unsafe
  3. Disqualification from clinical trials
Because David's blood counts can't seem to be raised naturally by his body (because the cancer is attacking bone marrow), the only other means to boost them is artificially, with blood transfusions and growth factor injections. But those can only do so much, the rest is up to his body.

This is a critical time for us. It's hard for me to post these updates... writing ones like this make me tear up at the keyboard, but I try and write while he's resting and be with him when he's awake. I feel it's the best way to spend as much quality time with David as I can while keeping people updated. Thanks for tuning in.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How We Are NOT Going to Dress Hugh

[photo by rustyrabbit]
I mentioned a yarmulke, possibly, but not this.

This is Rustyrabbit's cat, Buddy, putting on his "cheese" face. The kitty's giving Hugh a run for his money in the photogenic department. See here and here to see what I mean. He's a real... er, poser.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You brought me to the vet. I hate you.

Since David is busy having a blood transfusion, I committed the ultimate act of bravery: taking Hugh to the vet for his shots. Believe you me, I wasn't looking forward to it, especially after all the stories I heard about previous trips to the vet. But I suspected he was having some other problems, so it had to be done.

To make a long story short, we survived. More on this later.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Chemo Today

ADDITION: Tuesday, 11pm

Dave's Logbook: Name, Rank and Medical Report

An Ode to the Lowly Hydrant

Hey! My photo of this hydrant in front of the Rockefeller Center was featured in Utata!

Utata: in front of Rockefeller Center

Funny, that. I shot this hydrant specifically for the Flickr group called The Birdsill Holly Society, and it ends up here.

'The Birdsill Holly Society' is one of my favourite Flickr photo pools; I actively seek out interesting hydrants for it, which guarantees at least a stare or two from passersby. I took this in front of NBC Studios, so it was more like three or four stares.

Three Cheers For Recycling


The other night I successfully completed my first attempt at creating a photo book, and I used recycled materials:
  • cardboard from shipments
  • ribbon from gifts received
  • an old tablecloth dug out of David's junk storage containers
It's amazing how much stuff can be recycled rather than buying things new. At the same time, I can't believe the things that people throw away. Just the other week I saw two perfectly usable ride-on toy cars that kids could still use, sitting on the curb. Every seven days the same neighbours put out no less than FIVE giant rubbish bins on wheels stuffed to the gills. We barely fill two medium-capacity bags between two adults, so how does a family of five manage to accumulate 400% more garbage than we do???

I went to the dollar store yesterday near our house for the first time, and I'm feeling guilty as a result of it. Why?

I found large numbers of items which EASILY cost more than $1 to produce. Dollar stores are everywhere, and how they manage to make a profit is that everything comes from China, where the labour costs next to nothing. I've never been entirely comfortable with the idea of supporting an economy with such an atrocious record of human rights violations, especially one where obviously people are not getting paid a working wage. If they were, we'd be paying more than a dollar for many of those goods on the shelves. I'm not saying most of the inventory is worth much more than that -- the stuff barely holds together after it leaves the store -- but there's still the cost of human labour in addition to machinery, importing, distribution, etc.

It's not that I wish to pay ridiculous sums of money for cheap goods at a big box store rather than a dollar store. Dollar stores have a limited selection of goods, anyway, they're not direct competitors for any one type of store. There will always be a market for cheap goods. But what makes things worse is that because the items are so incredibly cheap, we don't think twice about throwing them away. Then buying more of the same! It's not really the act of buying that I'm railing against, it's the consumption-quick disposal-consumption cycle that gets fed by the steady increase of a wider selection of disposable goods at prices which cannot support fair costs for labour. They may not label themselves as "The Disposable Goods Store", but society views dollar stores that way. Either our desire for quality items (manufactured by people getting paid properly) is diminished, or our consideration for the energy that is required to make a product is superseded by what we're willing to pay for it. In other words, we don't care if Chinese people work for pennies as long as we don't pay more than pennies.

How this relates to me fumbling around with making a photo book from recycled materials is that it took me so long to create the damn thing that I had time to ask myself the following questions:

"How much would I pay for someone to make this for me?"
"How much is the other person worth to me that I would make this for them?"
"How much easier it would be if I just BOUGHT one?!?"
"What can I do to make this easier next time?"
"Do Chinese people ask themselves, 'Why would a Westerner pay for such crap?'"

Monday, November 28, 2005

Because Nothing Says 'Thanksgiving' Like Inflatable Advertising

[photo by gail on the web]

We stayed in the perfect location to see the parade, less than two blocks away. We didn't even have to check out first -- we had enough time to see the parade, have brunch, return to the hotel, then check out. It's a good thing, too, the subways along Broadway looked pretty crowded.

We got showered, dressed, headed down the street and lo and behold -- there was SpongeBob SquarePants floating by! We even managed to make our way to the barriers at West 58th, which was good for my cousin, who's a head shorter than I am, and I'm 5'3" (160cm)! Kids were hoisted onto shoulders, but I couldn't very well do that for Maureen.

The forecast was for rain or snow, but we got neither -- a few drops splattered for less than five minutes, but otherwise the weather held out, with even some sunny periods. The organisers only cancel the parade due to high winds, which can cause the helium-filled balloons to knock over posts into the crowd. I only found out later, via the news on my mobile phone, that towards the end of the parade there was an accident involving a young girl and her older sister, sending them to the hospital with minor injuries.

The parade itself seemed shorter than I'd expected; for the Mother of All Parades in the U.S. I was expecting something bigger, maybe. I'd never seen the parade on television, even though this marks its 79th year, I'd only heard about it. After all, there is no Macy's in Canada (or any other country, for that matter, apart from U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam). But it's the most popular parade, probably owing to those huge inflatable balloons that anyone can see, even little people. Most parades just have floats, which are less visible but don't require dozens of handlers.

I brought the Pentax K-1000 and two lenses (50mm and 80-200mm zoom), the Canon A80, three flash cards, and an extra sweater, hoping to get some good crowd shots. Fat chance! I had even less room to move than in Times Square for New Year's -- there was NO WAY I could even move my hand far enough down the barrel to use the zoom, it was that tight. It's a good thing I'm not claustrophobic. Plus, the jostling and cloudy weather weren't conducive to careful film shooting and manual adjustments; it made more sense to use the digicam. I let Maureen move to the barrier for a better view, and I hung back a little, aiming for higher angle photos and using the Canon's vari-angle screen to fake some height. I'm sure the people behind me must've been annoyed every time my arm shot up to take video or a photo, but that's what we short people must do!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

NYC Recap: Hudson Hotel

My cousin who lives in upstate New York is moving to California in a few weeks, so we decided to spend Thanksgiving together in New York City before she left the East Coast and David would have dinner with his mother.

David's health during the week made me reassess the feasibility of this trip, but after monitoring the situation on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, we decided it was OK for me to go to New York overnight and return as planned on Thursday evening.

I used Hotwire this time to see what hotel deals were available for Midtown. I was expecting higher demand, what with it being the holidays and the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the expected crowds (estimates run in the area of 2.4 million spectators). I'd found some deals in the Upper East Side, but figured I'd gamble on getting in closer to the action along the west side, even though sites such as Hotwire don't divulge the name of the hotel or its exact location until after the purchase is made.

I lucked out this time, getting a hotel less than two blocks off Broadway, a block from Columbus Circle metro station, near Central Park West:

Hudson Hotel
356 West 58th Street

I read hotel reviews on various travel sites, and the number one complaint was how small the rooms are. I don't know if the majority of people just don't do their research or are accustomed to expansive hotel rooms, but New York is high-density living and space is at a premium. It's clearly stated on the website that the rooms are compact:
"Inspired by the romance of ocean travel, and reminiscent of a private cabin on an upscale yacht, Hudson's 1000 guest rooms - most with gorgeous views of the Private Park - have walls richly paneled in imported African wood, flowing white curtains, sleek stainless steel tables, crisp white linens, brass-riveted furniture and Starck's modern take on the classic U.S. Naval chair. Bedside lamps with allegorical images designed by renowned painter Francesco Clemente lend a spirit of dreamlike fantasy to the room."

I'm a long-time hosteller -- I'm used to tight spaces and bunk beds and sharing European-sized bathrooms, but I was curious to see how the Hudson would manage to fit 1,000 hotel rooms in a single building. This I had to see for myself!

The traffic into New York City was, in a word, nuts, but really only towards the Lincoln Tunnel and it was MUCH worse leaving the city. I arrived at Port Authority 45 minutes later than scheduled, but I took an express subway so it was really only two stops to the hotel.

I was warned by Mister M, who'd stayed at the Hudson recently, that the hotel was hard to find because it lacked signage out front, and he wasn't kidding! If you visit their website, a photo of the front entrance will fade in, and there is absolutely no sign whatsoever. At street level there are automatic doors leading towards a set of escalators, which I took a shot of here with my cameraphone. The escalators take you straight up to the lobby, which also has no mention of where you are.

Hudson Hotel
It's like entering an alternative universe, where everyone is aware of their co-ordinates. Everyone, that is, except you.

'Hmmm,' I mused, 'I must be here, then.'

That was when my cousin Maureen rushed to greet me. I was relieved to see her, since she said she would drive... rather brave, I thought. It's the eve of Thanksgiving, and I witnessed the rivers of traffic on the way in. But she said she took the bus instead, so that explains how she beat me to the hotel.

I checked in at the Anonymous Counter of Black-Garbed Reception Staff, and showed my room card to the elevator man. I guess the Hudson skimped on the card-coded elevator system to finance the ultra-trendy elegant-by-day, disco-by-night flooring seen here in my other cameraphone shots:

Hudson HotelHudson Hotel

When we exited the elevator and cruised down the corridors, it really did feel like being on a ship -- the room doors were very close together. I opened our door and immediately started laughing: this is DEFINITELY the smallest hotel room I'd ever seen! But I was impressed with how they designed the room for best use of space.

Hudson Hotel
I would never recommend a standard room for people, say, over 200lbs (91kgs). The bathroom would be too small. There is literally just enough space to open the door -- the sink is directly in front of the door. There is probably less than two feet between the toilet and the wall. The bathtub is more of a glorified shower, but if you're so inclined you could push aside the curtain and put on a show through the plexiglass wall separating the sleeping area and the bathroom. Except there's a tiny desk right below, on the other side of the glass, so it might be a more intimate show than someone, say, sitting at the desk working on a laptop might be prepared for.

The other scenario I don't recommend for a stay at the Hudson Hotel is with luggage. My cousin and I only took overnight bags, which fit fine in the closet but anything larger won't fit under the (child-sized) desk, beside the bed, or underneath it because the beds are low to the floor. There is only enough space around the bed for -- you guessed it -- one pair of legs. Amazingly, they fit a small television, stereo, and hotel bits and bobs in a tall narrow cupboard in one corner of the room beside the desk. Everything you'd find in a standard American hotel room (including an air conditioner behind the headboard!), but much smaller. Not quite Lilliputian, but similar dimensions.

I loved it -- for our purposes, this hotel was great. We didn't need more room than what we had, the bed was comfy and spacious (that's the priority!), and everything was within easy walking distance.

Practically the first item of the evening was to hit the sushi restaurant a few doors down, and it was like manna from heaven... I hadn't eaten sushi since I was in Vancouver, and it was even better and cheaper than my last sushi experience in New York. There were also three 24-hour pharmacies nearby, and I got a good deal on a 5-pack of film at the local CVS. I was so happy to be getting around on public transit, without car dependency, and the best part -- being a pedestrian again.

After a walk around Midtown, we even had dessert and coffee at a little late-night restaurant across the street from the hotel. I really missed being in a city, where the restaurants are open late for nighthawks like me.

For the Record, I'm a Bit of a Grammar Nazi

OK, I confess: this is one of my grammar pet peeves, perhaps the biggest one of all -- the usage of 'and I' versus 'and me'.

It drives me bananas when people take the 'and I' combination too far. For example:

My boss gave him and I tickets to the show.

No! Take out 'him' and see what you get? My boss gave I tickets to the show.

If you don't believe me, how about Here's what they say about it:

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is correct: 'my friend and me' or 'my friend and I'?

That depends on where you and your friend are in the sentence. In colloquial speech 'me' is often used where standard grammar requires 'I', especially when someone else is mentioned too. Sometimes people use 'I' instead of 'me', because they know 'me' is sometimes wrong, but have not understood the principle. (Others resort to 'myself', which can sound rather pompous.)

I am the subject of the sentence, but the object of the sentence is me.
If in doubt, take your friend out of the sentence.

Me and my friend went to a party last night. [Wrong]
I and my friend went to a party last night.

My friend and me went to a party last night. [Wrong]
My friend and I went to a party last night.

The mayor has invited me and my husband.
The mayor has invited I and my husband. [Wrong]

The mayor has invited my husband and me.
The mayor has invited my husband and I. [Wrong]

Incidentally, saying 'my friend and I' instead of 'I and my friend' is not better grammar, it's just being polite.

Whew, it's good to get that off my chest.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Canal Street Chooks and Their Fellow Fowl

Continuing along what appears to be a bird theme, it seems I have a thing for taking photos of chickens trussed up and hung in windows.

I took the photo at left along the south side of Canal Street near Broadway the other day with the Pentax. On a lark, I clicked on the 'chicken' tag and brought up the photo on the right, taken four months ago (from today, actually) in Chinatown in Vancouver with the Canon. I'm sure the psychiatric community has something to say about this.

More Packbawkies

Pentax K-1000

I took this from South Street Seaport, New York City, on Thursday -- Brooklyn Bridge is in the background.

In the previous post I asked for a caption for the open-mouthed gull, and Socar's poem "The Packbawky Anthem" was the first on the list (click on the photo to see the rest of the suggestions/comments -- they're all pretty good!). First posted here.

"We are the voices that herald the dawn,
Throats stretched to welcome the morning's first yawn.
We are the painters of balconies high,
Whitewashing buildings that puncture the sky.
We are the sweepers that tidy the street;
What we can't carry, we'll gratefully eat.
Like us or lump us, when all's done and said
We'll still be going when you lot are dead.

Hark as we trumpet the daybreak refrain!
Joyful and ardent, come sun or come rain.
Find us in winter, all poised on one foot,
Huddled together, our anthem to flute.
Find us in springtime, askew on the wall,
Drunken on nectar and ready to fall.
Like us or lump us, when all's done and said
We'll still be squawking when you lot are dead.

And should we, all clumsy, bespatter your brow
With feculent whitewash, don't raise a row--
Though slimy and smelly and dodgy to duck,
Our leavings are rumored to bring you good luck.
Oh, join in our chorus, come join in the song!
Thousands of jubilant birds can't be wrong!
Like us or lump us, when all's done and said
We'll still be singing when you lot are dead."

--Socar J. Myles

Thursday, November 24, 2005

{caption me}

Any suggestions for this squawker in front of the Brooklyn Bridge? (If you're in Flickr, click on the pic and add it there.)

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lincoln Tunnel Mayhem

[photo by gail on the web]
Holiday traffic into New York City.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Another Blood Transfusion

Things haven't been going so well lately, but it's never easy to write about it. How do you describe your life when you barely recognise it yourself?

David's been having major gastro-intestinal problems, and today we found out why: low blood counts. Last Wednesday the radiologist ordered some blood tests, and his platelets were reported to be too low to irradiate him that day, also Thursday and Friday. Yesterday they took more blood samples to see if his platelets were up after the radiation break, but they were not. In fact, all his counts dropped over the weekend, which took us by surprise -- why did all three drop? David seemed to be doing alright: good appetite, soreness held mostly in check by the drugs.

I'll let David's post explain further:


Yesterday the clinic requested David to notify them if he had any bleeding, so this morning when his nose started to bleed, we went straight there for more tests. After conferring with the radiologist, David's oncologist ordered a blood transfusion at Moses Taylor Hospital and an x-ray of his leg. This is David's second blood transfusion (his first at Mercy Hospital six weeks ago), the only means (at this stage) to get his counts high enough to continue treatment.

In our impromptu meeting with the oncologist this morning, we discussed the probability that in order to extend David's quantity of life, his quality of life will be compromised. We understand this on an intellectual level, but it doesn't make the situation any easier to accept. How much worse life has to be for David in the shorter term to increases his chances for a longer life is something we simply don't know.

If there's anything I'd like to ask people to do (for us and others in similar situations), it's this: please give blood if you are able. Your local blood bank thanks you, we thank you.

In Canada: Canadian Blood Services | Société canadienne du sang
In the U.S.: American Red Cross

Introducing Rachael Ashe

My friend Rachael (aka goddess_spiral) is a Vancouver-area photographer and digital artist who has recently decided to make a career move back into the field of arts from the relative financial security of working with a property management company. Anyone trying to make a living in the arts will know how daunting a prospect this is, but Rachael's from courageous stock (hi Rachael's mom!) and she's got the talent and wherewithal to pull it off.

So, without further ado, I'd like to make a proper introduction and give her work a plug.

[Photo by goddess_spiral]
Rachael's Blog

Portfolio on Flickr
Photography on Flickr
Profile on Flickr

I love Rachael's portrait work.
Her monochromes are a visual treat.
Through her lens, hands take on new expressions and feet suddenly become more interesting.

Rachael's been a wedding photographer on a boat, shot landscapes in New Zealand, temples in Japan, and graffiti around the world.

We've shot Vancouver after dark together, and share a fondness for red, in its various shades.

She's handy with the Holga, tames the Canonet, shoots cross-processed and even expired film. Check out her Photoshop creations.

Rachael can be reached at rachael [at]

Monday, November 21, 2005


decorated house - garage doors
[photo by gail on the web]
Thank you Boing Boing! Until now, I had no clue what to call these people. You know, the ones who decorate their houses to the point where you can't see the house anymore? HOUSEBLINGERS.

This house is too new to be in our neighbourhood, yes. I took this shot in Allentown (further south near Philadelphia) last December. At night it could be seen from space.

I don't have any nightshots of such houses in our neighbourhood yet, but rest assured, there are some local houseblinger zingers. They're busy buying their turkeys and baking up a storm for American Thanksgiving (this Thursday), but come this weekend, there will be lights!

Sting on

I finally found a home for my video of Sting performing "Roxanne". The video is a bit jumpy at first (what can I say? security evasion), but levels out in the second half.

May 4, 2005
Wachovia Arena, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Some Chicago

Chicagotree archway
So I was mucking around in my photo archives searching for Chicago pics, and had a tough time trying to find some decent prints to scan.

Lots of problems: poor composition, crappy exposure, grainier than a Saskatchewan silo. That's what happens when you use a point-and-shoot -- no control over anything. Seems like a big waste of money developing the film, come to think of it. I didn't own a computer until the middle of 2000, so I was scanning these -- from a trip at the end of '99 -- at internet cafés. An even bigger waste of money. (Digital cameras, despite their many shortcomings compared to film, at least let one practice technique without dropping a small fortune in developing costs.)

David and I both love Chicago, and were discussing back in the spring how much it would cost to get there. Our options:
  • Tri-Pacer
  • renting a faster plane
  • commercial airline
  • train
  • driving
The Tri-Pacer only goes around 100mph/160kph and renting a faster plane would cost us a pretty penny (especially with rising fuel costs), so we were tossing around the idea of commercial airlines or Amtrak. At the time, David wanted to save up days off to visit me in Vancouver, so we eventually abandoned the idea. But, we've since revived it for a potential honeymoon plan when David is healthy enough to make the trip (also because I can't leave the U.S. while my spouse visa is pending), so maybe a visit to Chicago will be sooner rather than later. We'll see.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wisconsin Canopy

It's shots like this that make me hanker for a fisheye lens. (And a Canon 20D.) Click on the pic for a better view of its wonderful detail.

Todd Klassy has superb angled photographs, and his Architecture and Design set beckons me back to a city like Chicago. I love the architecture in Chicago; it's my favourite non-coastal U.S. city. I wonder if I have any decent photos I can scan? *goes to check*

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

Dave's Logbook: Up There Again

Departing Cherry Ridge (N30), touch-and-go at Avoca (AVP), landing at Wyoming Valley (WBW) -- footage in separate video -- then back to Cherry Ridge.

Music: "Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines" - Ron Goodwin (20th Century Fox single #587)

Flanked by Catholics

Our house
Our house
[photo by AviatorDave]

We flew over our neighbourhood today, and I took some photos of our house with David's camera, which has a 10x zoom and image stabiliser. If you click on the left photo, you'll see notes of which house is ours -- it's on the right side, just to the left of the church parking lot. The photo on the right is zoomed in; the house is just up from the centre point.

What you see here is that we're completely surrounded. "Holy Name of Jesus" church is directly beside us, and if we were Catholic, we could attend every mass less than five minutes after brushing our teeth. The church even owns the vacant lot on the other side of us, and the rectory is beside the church.

Every day at 6 o'clock (pm, thankfully), the fake bells ring from the fake belltower, and the melodic sound of electronic bell recordings waft into our house. The neighbourhood genetic make-up is mostly Italian and Irish, so it makes sense to have a Catholic church to anchor it. It's mighty ironic, though, that we end up living next door... can I have a convenience store instead?