Pike's Peak in Colorado, USA.

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While on holiday, we off-roaded, following the forestry roads high up the peaks into logging country. Tourist types typically keep to the highways and attractions requiring little physical effort. You run into, across or past them on the well-worn trails of 3 km or less and at the venues close to the main roads. You will not find them up a mountain. Especially this time of year with the Canadian summer only officially beginning.

Our first off-road experience took us to Fenwick Falls, a sweet little waterfall up past Canal Flats. Gravel roads and not another person for over four hours as Rob rambled us up and up the mountain in search of Fenwick Lake, a mountain lake that feeds the creek and falls of the same name.

At times, riding shot-gun, I could literally look out my window at the thin air followed by a sheer drop to the river valley below. I have learned though not to do this too much because it’s quite terrifying.

The first time I ever rode  up a mountain, seemingly on the clouds, was back in 1999 on my honeymoon in Colorado. Will decided we should follow the rest of the lemmings to the top of Pike’s Peak. There is a monorail, but he had an issue with heights and refused. He had to be in control to contain his pesky (and in his opinion not at all manly) vertical aversion.

So up the mountain we went and nearing the top, the road is bald, narrow and framed with air. The first time I glanced out the window, I was keenly aware that inches separated our truck from taking flight. And I burst into tears.

I cried the last miles and Will, who couldn’t turn back and couldn’t take his hand off the wheel to take mine because the traffic was too heavy, tried to console me with reassurances about his superior driving skills. Not once did he chide me or try to talk me out of being afraid. He just allowed me to be a girl about the whole thing and when we got to the top, he walked us around until I felt brave enough to ride back down.

Riding down is also hugging the mountain, which isn’t nearly as bad.

I tell the story only because Edie and Silver were also on holiday in the Columbia River Valley this past week and the campground they stayed in could only be accessed through mountain roads. Edie, at shotgun, discovered what I did long ago – shotgun riding up a mountain really sucks.

“She looks down and bursts into tears every time,” Silver confided to Rob when we stopped for a picnic during another off-road adventure later in the week.

When Rob told me, I smiled. I couldn’t help it. The women of men who drive trucks up mountains eventually cultivate some measure of zen though I can’t personally say I enjoy heights or living a bit dangerously, as Rob thinks everyone should.

It’s funny because I can ride up a mountain now and only just phantom brake, but I hate climbing or standing close to edges. Twelve years ago I couldn’t ride but stood on the edge overlooking steep canyons while Will watched nervously from a distance. Change is reversal? Or just change?

We hiked the Hoodoos and due to the erosion, some of the trail is narrow and slippery with sand. I was all for going around but Rob coaxed Dee and I out. I was vocal about my fear. Some of it is actually bad knees. Climbing – down especially – hurts and I am keenly aware that it wouldn’t take much to strain or pop something. But worry about Dee is also a factor.

When we discussed Edie’s tear bursts, I reminded him that just because I don’t cry doesn’t mean I am not frightened. I simply tell him when I am scared and/or uncomfortable. Voicing terror works wonders. It’s an age thing and it’s also grounded in the fact that I don’t feel a need to “man up” for Rob. He is well aware of my weenie side and apparently is fine with it.

Interestingly Edie also has the same trepidation about driving trucks that I had back in the long ago days. Will had a Silverado and I avoided driving it like she declines to drive Silver’s truck.

I didn’t counsel her about the shot-gun position. I could tell she felt a bit foolish. Indeed, it is not something I expected because she is so like my sister DNOS, fearless and strong. But she will be fine. Eventually, she will concentrate on the horizon or on Silver or – perhaps one day – wee people in the backseat and the sheer drop to her side won’t hold much power because it won’t have her undivided attention. Change. Happens to all of us.

Medieval dentist removing tooth

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It’s becoming a Dickensian serial novel with today’s installment to detail, among other things, the fact that my back molar is freakishly designed with “extra” nerve roots. Or whatever the dental terms for the root canals are.

The appointment was at nine, and so confident was I of getting in and out in the allotted hour and a half that I had a list of errands I planned to run before heading back home to meet up with a yoga friend I’m working with this fall.

But it was for naught.

Three hours I sat, or rather reclined, in the dentist’s chair with my mouth open most of the time to prevent the sharp pokey thing (another technical dental term) from stabbing my exposed tooth innards (today’s episode will swim in medical labels, so bear with me).

On a positive note, I am no longer a walking pus factory. The infection, between draining and a short eternity on antibiotics, is “cured”. Which is  no small thing, as I can recall only a handful of times in my entire life that I have felt that ill.

On the other hand, I have concrete proof that I am some sort of mutant. Well, okay, more proof.

I knew that I had just three wisdom teeth. Humanity is slowly giving rise to beings who lack all the quaint reminders of our early evolution – like wisdom teeth and the appendix. Eventually, in theory, humans will stop being born with these useless things at all.

In her excavations, the dentist discovered that my molar has four root canals instead of the normal three and that the fourth one is in the wrong place.

My friend was surprised to find me upright, having lunch (no great feat as it was soup) and eager to visit. The impression I get of root canals from others leads me to wonder why the Bush administration didn’t employ their widespread use at Gitmo.

While it was uncomfortable, and there were ouchy moments (forgive me for getting technical again), I haven’t been incapacitated with pain and really wasn’t dreading today’s appointment.

The key to good root canal is a dentist who isn’t stingy with Novocaine but is also not ham-fisted in the application. When ears and eyeballs go numb, the dentist clearly graduated in the bottom half of his/her class. Since that is not the norm, but certainly worth scouring a person’s portion of the earth for in my opinion, I have to wonder what happens to those who graduate dental college with honors. Alien abduction?

Unless lamenting the time suck and the fact that my only distraction was television count as horrors for anyone else, I have fared quite well.

No one should really be forced to watch The View.

But, barring anything unforeseen – and isn’t everything really? – I won’t have to go back until the beginning of October when the only awful thing that awaits is fitting for a crown.

So, it was not the best or the worst of times comparatively speaking though I hope to live a long time without revisiting anything of its like again.

I am big on being prepared. Even if the preparation consists of nothing more than periodic dress rehearsals in my daydreams.

It’s weird to daydream about disaster and tragedy, but I was the little girl whose Barbies’ were all widowed women. And I was the teen who stared out the window of Sister Jean Freund’s South American history class and fantasized Red Dawn scenario’s. The readiness is all, as Hamlet would say once he quit whining.

During last summer’s mini-health alert, Rob put a file together for me containing all the “just in case” information. It was overkill. But it helped knowing that neither of us would be forced to wade through boxes in search of policy numbers and phone contacts. Sometimes having the details worked through in advance makes it easier to face the unthinkable.

But when he had his heart-attack, I realized that I had no idea where the file had gotten to. In our perpetual state of renovation, the minutia of life shifts from room to room, depending on where the hot reno action is taking place.

Rob took the office apart right after Christmas and the contents of the room were scattered in totes, boxes and file cabinets between the living and dining rooms. The file vanished into the triangle.

We’ve been putting the office back together these last few days, and Rob decided we needed an I.C.E. binder.

In case of emergency – crack open.

There are two of them and they have a prominent place in the organizing cabinet. Everything pertinent to life after one of our death’s is there.

“You’ll need it, ” he said, “as it’s clear now that you will outlive me.”

I scoffed and reminded him that I could be wiped out in an instant on the road from town or at the intersection. And for all we actually know, my heart could be riddled with disease just waiting to surprise us.

But I am always cognizant of the promise I made before we married, that I would let him go first. Even though it’s not my call, I did offer and the universe has a way of taking one at one’s word in these matters.

At any rate, Rob was quite sober yesterday as we discussed the I.C.E. book. He’s chafed a bit this last week. He is still on driving restriction, forbidden to engage in work even via email and bored out of his mind.

He doesn’t look sick at all. I had another husband who didn’t look sick to the naked  eye either once.

On his walk yesterday though, he overdid it. Went too far and then had to get himself back because he forgot to take his cell phone.

Six miles.

At about an hour and a half, I began to toy with the idea of hopping in the truck to go look for him. He was surprised to see I hadn’t when he finally got home – which is telling.

“I thought about Shelley, ” he said. “She used to walk that same loop with edema and a compression bandage on her leg and cancer spreading everywhere. If she could finish it, so could I.”

He is stubborn like that, but this morning he is still in bed at 10 AM.

In case of emergency, you break glass or open a binder. I am not there and I may never be. But I could be. So we organize, just in case.

We went into Edmonton Thursday night to see Doug Stanhope at New City.

Due to the continuing medical restrictions on Rob’s activities, I drove, which makes for tense travel under optimal conditions, but as I was driving his vehicle instead of my Avalanche and negotiating an area of the city I’ve never driven, it was particular fun.

And by “fun”, I mean not in the least bit.

Earlier in the day I caught the tail end of a conversation between two of the NOW radio deejays about a recent survey on men’s perceptions of female driving. The female they live with specifically. The results revealed that one in three actually feared for their safety, if not lives, when their women were behind the wheel.

The survey included 3,000 men and in addition to their uncontrollable fright, they shared the following hard to completely believe tidbits:

  • 1 in 10 has grabbed the wheel to prevent an accident
  • 1 in 5 find it impossible to fully relax
  • nearly all considered their driving abilities superior
  • 1 in 5 couples have argued over her driving skills
  • 1 in 10 men have asked their wives to pull over so they can drive

What specifically do men object to or feel may contribute to their premature death and/or dismemberment?

They believe that women don’t concentrate and are easily distracted from the task of driving by … everything. They also are sure that they possess a superior ability to assess conditions and react in a more timely manner.

And what are women drivers’ chief offenses?


1. Lack of concentration

2. Braking too late

3. Flicking the accelerator

4. Not avoiding rumble strips

5. Getting too close to other cars

6. Braking too hard

7. Fiddling with the stereo

8. Failure to indicate

9. Going too fast

10. Sticking in the middle lane

Four and ten I found particularly ridiculous.

I have never encountered a rumble strip that it was possible to avoid without driving on the shoulder, which in Alberta – don’t exist generally – and back in Iowa were gravel.

And the middle lane? That I don’t get. On the interstate I drove regularly back in the commuter days, the far right lane was for exiting and entrancing. People who rode that lane basically gummed up the works, making it harder to get on and impossible to exit during rush hour because no one will let you in as they inch towards work or home.

The far left was considered the “fast lane” though how there can be such a thing when the maximum speed limit is the same regardless of lane, I never understood.

What I discovered is that no matter what lane you are in, somebody – usually a guy – will get cheesed off because … he has entitlement issues and/or disillusions of superior driving skills.

I’ve had two husbands now (and a father), who have all held my driving skills in low esteem, and I’ll admit that I don’t/didn’t drive well with any one of them riding shotgun – mostly because I know I am being evaluated and found wanting, which unsurprisingly makes the whole driving process even more joyless.

In the Jalopnik article referring to the poll, one of the commenters made an excellent point. Driving skill is often related to the level of love the driver holds for driving.

Certainly I have rarely loved driving.

Rob regards it as a game and began driving at age eleven. At one point he drove semi when he was working the oil fields and driving was part of his job later on as a field operator.

My late husband took great pride in his ability to drive and his vehicles and was devastated when his illness effectively grounded him. Before he lost his sight however, he drove a cube van on a delivery route.

My father (and my mother too) grew up on a farm. He mastered all modes of transport at a young age and during his years after being discharged from the Navy in the late forties, road-tripped with his brother all over the west.

Since first getting my license, an arduous process that involved put myself under the microscope of my father to a point where I would actively avoid opportunities to practice driving, I was a chauffeur.

First among my friends with a license and liberal access to wheels, I ferried us about on weekends and over the summer. My new skill freed my parents to dump as many of their transportation duties on me as they could get away with as I became a taxi service for my siblings.

In university though I lived a blissful three years without driving, bumming rides if I needed them but mainly walking. I avoided even the college transit system for the most part. But student teaching and living off campus eventually put an end to my carefree days and when I moved away for my first teaching job to a city where cars were a necessary evil, I spent the next decade or so commuting with the masses.

Driving has always been a task. No different from recycling and or mowing the lawn. I happily abandon the driver’s seat to anyone who wants it more, so I think the “love of driving” comment makes a lot of sense.

Rob isn’t allowed to drive for another three weeks. Precaution and also provincial regulation. Not any different in the states really. Will’s best friend’s wife is an epileptic and she was forever being put on driving restrictions after seizures though she seldom abided by them for long.

The ride home after Doug Stanhope (which was an experience) was a bit harrowing. I am very light-sensitive. Headlights dang near blind me – more now than when I was younger though. So between the glare, the rain and the unfamiliar dash, I white-knuckled to the point where Rob suggested that I pull over and let him drive.

When we got home, I switched back to my truck to drive the babysitter home and all was well again, and a lesson was learned by all.

Well, I learned a lesson at any rate – and I made an appointment with the eye doctor. According to Rob you can get tinted glasses to deal with glare for night driving, who knew? I’ve been complaining to eye docs for years about the glare and halo effect I get at night*.

Heart attacks are growth experiences even when you didn’t have one yourself.

* No, I don’t have glaucoma. My pressure is fine. I have always seen halos and am just incredibly photosensitive. It’s worse at night only because the general darkness means my pupil is open wider and reacts more strongly to the spotlight effect of headlights and sudden changes from very dark to bright lights.

Feeling deja vu all over again and not in a good way.

I had this dream last weekend. Rob and I were making love on the living room floor of a house that was apparently ours though judging from the packing boxes and piles of stuff everywhere, we were preparing to move out.

So you took time out to have sex? Yeah, well, all work – no play – dullness ensues, so not us.

In the middle of all this stress relief, I look up and see this shadowy figure drifting towards us. All shades of grey though clearly the outline of a woman with short hair and ruffley bangs and she comes to a stop right over top us. In fact she is standing in the middle of Rob’s back but looking up and off into space.

In the dream I am too freaked out to continue and Rob is a bit annoyed because the ghost standing dead center of us didn’t bother him a bit, and then our older girls show up and the dream moves off into a completely unrelated scene as dreams have a tendency to do.

The dream occurred while we were camping at Garner Lake. It was a Saturday night and Rob came to bed complaining of flu-like symptoms which after his casual announcement of chest pains during our rather weeny-ish hike that afternoon had all my spidey-bells ringing.

But Sunday he was “fine”.

“I am fine,” he said as we drove home, even though hooking up the trailer left him clammy and grey looking. “It’s flu. Going around at work.”

Monday, he slept in. I had to wake him at nine when I got Dee up for swimming. He was dressed and eating breakfast when we left at nine-thirty. He was still sitting at the table, conducting business via his computer when we arrived home shortly after noon,

“I called in sick,” he said.

He was nauseous and winded, but dragged himself in for a 2PM meeting and stayed til after five trying to coax concessions out of various factions who’ve been holding up one of the plants major projects with what amounted to shortsightedness for weeks.

And the pattern played out again and again all week, mimicking the rainy weather – wet and muggy in the morning, sunny-ish mid-day, and cloudy wet or stormy evenings and nights.

Yesterday morning I dragged myself down for tea and a quiet breakfast before waking Dee for her last day of swim lessons to find him pensive at the table, still in his towel and frowning at the computer.

“I think I should go to the ER,” he said.

This was not a firm decision. He was waiting for me to weigh in and possibly concur with his week-long denial that something serious was afoot.

“Yes,” I said. “You should.”

Sharp chest pains in his left upper shoulder region woke him and hadn’t really subsided. Normally I would have agreed with his muscle spasm/flu assessment but not after a week and my growing sense that he was not telling me the whole truth about how he felt.

I probably should’ve driven him.

Retrospect. An interesting way to distract oneself from the bigger picture.

At around eleven, Dee and I were at the Dairy Queen and I planned to stop next at the hospital just a block of so away because I hadn’t heard from Rob yet. My cell rang and he asked where we were and remarked that he was just on his way for an x-ray.

“I was planning to make the hospital our next stop,” I told him.

Fort Saskatchewan Hospital is typical of small communities and would likely scare anyone whose never dealt with health care centers outside larger metro areas to death.

Rob had given me the number of his ER room and I breezed right by admissions, ER triage and into the thick of the emergency room with Dee in tow and not a second look from anyone but other patients in queue. I am not someone one stops and queries when I am in game mode.

“They’re treating this like I had a heart attack,” Rob told me.

The nurse, a very nice and seemingly knowledgable person – which is not standard for the Fort ER, was hooking him back up to the ecg monitor.

“You did have a heart attack then,” I said. Because he had. I was not surprised.

But he was still in denial and wouldn’t concede.

I won’t bore you with details. There are blood tests and suspect enzymes (which according to my Med Tech sister, DNOS, indicate level of damage to the muscle) and x-rays and then a battery of leveled tests that one proceeds through according to severity or emergency.

“What did the doctor say?” I asked him last night before the older girls arrived from the city. He wouldn’t let me call them until late in the afternoon.

“I asked him about the second blood test and he said there was still evidence of the enzyme and when I asked how much he said ‘if a burglar breaks into your house, does it matter whether he took $100 or $1000’,” Rob said. “Which I thought was a terrible analogy.”

I have yet to encounter the Doctor, which is lucky for him. My late husband’s doctors are probably still recovering from dealing with me and that was over five years ago now.

The Dali Lama for a doctor will not do at all.

People keep asking me how I am when I tell them that Rob has had a heart attack. Their eyes explode and their tones imply that I  don’t look the part of the wife of a man who is potentially quite ill.

I’ve been here and there is a definite sense that I shouldn’t be again. Didn’t I pass this grade? Why the remediation?

But there is no “why”, there is only “why not”, and the fact that I remember this is calming because I was not a model of grace under pressure the last time I found myself here.

If you are a Tea Party member in Mason City, Iowa, the commonalities lunge at one like bad 3-D, but to a person who reads, thinks for herself and happens to have paid attention during her early 20th century history class – the question should really be “aside from being political leaders during economically crushing times what do they have in common?”

And even that is stretching it.

The “change” bogeyman is nothing more than a political tool that they all use – Tea Partiers and Mama Grizzlies included -because it works.

Human beings are notorious for their dislike of change. Creatures who seek comfort and who mainly live within the confines of their homes unless some consumer need drives them out to the nearest shopping blight on the landscape, Americans in particular are living change at speeds that the vast majority of them never anticipated and weren’t raised with the coping skills to deal with.

The Tea Party then is little more than an adult temper tantrum about the loss of the American Dream rug beneath their feet. Turns out, that whole myth about us descending from hardy pioneer stock is really just a myth.

The people of Germany and Russia during WWI, which is the breeding ground for both Hitler’s rise and Lenin’s takeover, were dealing with the kinds of economic devastation the likes of which would send most Americans in search of corners to curl up in. To compare our current recession to children literally starving to death, as they were in Russia at the end of the first world war, is the height of self-absorption.

To their credit, the main body of the Iowa Tea Party disapproves of the Mason City billboard.

Yes, it’s a billboard, and it’s up for the coming month in Mason City, so feel free to mock and jeer across the blogosphere, but don’t expect it to have any effect on their views.

I know the kinds of people who fall for this type of logic. I grew up next door to them in the northeast part of the state. I taught their kids for twenty years in the public school system in the center of the state. Decent enough folk, they lead with their bellies and their sense of entitlement and a recession like the one we are experiencing unnerves them. Why? Because it flies in the face of everything we Americans are taught to trust. Behave, work hard and the middle class dream is yours.

A dream that Obama favors by the way and that Lenin would have curled a lip at.

I won’t argue with the smaller print that “radical leaders prey on the fearful and naive” but I will note the irony. And the fact that the irony would be so lost on the people who designed this billboard.

UPDATE: After being up for just one week, the Mason City Tea party billboard has been covered up at the request of the group who received hundreds of threatening messages from irate Mason City folk – who apparently all know there history better than the Tea Party people. No apology was issued and the group’s spokesperson insists that people misunderstood the billboards main idea. Um … sure, dude.

Photo by Deb Nicklay/Mason City Globe Gazette

The paperback edition of the book my heavily disguised widowed dating/remarriage experience appears in is coming out in several months and the author asked if I would be willing to complete a Proust questionnaire for the appendix. Aside from feeling honored, I always like to write about myself, experiences, and feelings.

But the first question stumped me. Rob says I am just being chicken, but I don’t think so. I really don’t know how to answer it.

What is your biggest fear?

I don’t have a bigger than another fear. I don’t think I even fear things as much as I worry incessantly and run worst case scenarios on a worn out loop in the worry corner of my mind.

I used to fear never having an opportunity to experience those milestone events that we are supposed to. Like love. Marriage. Motherhood. And then I feared failing.  At Everything. Whatever the situation or great life event – I would be a failure.

But I have had opportunities. Even back in the day when I was lamenting my lack of them, they were really there. I just didn’t see them through the haze of cultural expectations.

So once I had marriage and baby and career, I feared being outed as a fake. The discovery that I was only pretending to know what I was doing but it was all just so much smoke and strategic placement of mirrors would ruin me and sending me in search of the deepest darkest cave to live out my remaining days in shame.

And when that didn’t happen, then it was loss. I feared losing what I had. Husband and child and job and home and earthly possessions – most of which came from Target.

But at some point I looked around and realized most of the things I feared were silly or were beyond my ability to do anything other than simply live beyond them. Fear sort of subsided to worry at that point – which is a problem when it results in life halting inertia – but is actually quite manageable and survivable.

Now I just have knowledge. Not that I particularly want it. In some ways fear is better because it is a sign of innocence. My innocence is consigned to the past. Bad things have happened. Bad things will again. If the past is any indicator of my survival, I’ll deal as I have always done. Where is the fear then?

In 1995 I traveled out West with my folks to visit CB and his then wife. On the trip back we found ourselves in a tiny prop plane flying in circles over the Iowa cornfields in a vain attempt to go around a thunderstorm. At one point we hit some wicked turbulence, and the plane dropped like a dead duck. It felt like that initial stomach flop one experiences as the car heads over and down the first drop on a roller coaster. Only from much higher up. Mom was in tears and Dad had his arms around her, trying to calm her. I was in the seat across the aisle by myself, and he looked over and asked,

“Are you afraid?” which was strange because I think he knew that I wasn’t.

“It’s a little late for that,” I told him. Because it was. Fear is only useful if it keeps you out of potentially dangerous situations. We were on the plane. The storm was raging and rocking us about the dark clouds. Fear was less useful than paying attention and keeping one’s wits.

The same thing applies now. I have confronted most of the fears of my younger years at some point or another. It hasn’t cured my innate need to worry, but I don’t know that I am necessarily afraid of anything. And I wonder too. Are those things we label “fears” simply unknowns and would it make more sense to call them “worries”? Or, is fear more about our reactions than about the thing itself?

Damn you, Proust.