Thursday, October 27, 2005

Splash Mountain has a winter setting?

I was at the HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH with three friends on a rainy Sunday autumn afternoon. It was one of those days where everything just felt right. Sure, it was raining and we didn't have rain coats or umbrellas, but we were at Disneyland AND California Adventure, and not much could disappoint us. If football players and golfers do their things in the rain, then what was stopping us?

We had a superlative time playing all day; at one point we contemplated seeing if we could break the world record for riding "The Tower of Terror" so many times in a row. We ate Churros, corn chowder, and ice cream, and we drank Mint Juleps, iced mochas, Coca-Colas, and anything else that tempted us in the moment. Our eyes teared up in the inspirational film "Golden Dreams" (narrated by the golden goddess Whoopi Goldberg,) as we saw a version of California history summed in 20 minutes that didn't overlook the sacrifices and contributions that minority groups made. It was a day of mirth and magic...until sun-down...

My friend Jay really wanted to ride Splash Mountain, but being as though we were already a little damp from the Anaheim showers, Thommy and Geoffrey were less willing to board the logs. But of course, Susan, who considers herself a "Disneyland" aficionado (Well, at least a novice Disneyland aficionado...there are some mega-dorks out there that I would someday aspire to be like, but for now we'll just say I am a Junior-Varsity Disney Dork. I don't own Marc Davis sketch books, but I have seen them. I know that the Splash Mountain characters use to be housed on the beloved America Sings attraction; and I miss the People Movers and Mission to Mars because you knew you could always get on those rides sans waiting in line even on the most crowded days at the park) insisted that the ride is on its winter setting, which means the ride is designed for passengers to experience less "splashing" than one might experience in say the warmer summer months.

"We won't get wet on Splash Moutain; its on the 'winter setting.'" I promised. I swore someone once told me that all the water rides have seasonal settings, and when it's colder out, they turn the water that sprays you as you barrel down the drop to a lower setting. On the summer setting, when you come down from the big daddy drop, there are faucets that basically spray you with water like a hose, and on the winter setting, the extra water streams are turned's a good idea in theory, I swear...I insisted that since all my other Disney knowledge is correct, that we'd be fine on the ride and it wouldn't be that bad. Afterall, who would ride it on a rainy day if they knew they'd get cold and wet afterwards? Apparently, a lot of people...

I decided to survey a small sampling of people as they exited the ride, to see how wet they became. Never mind that most people's clothes were splashed with water, so asking them if they experienced some extra H20 was somewhat unncessary, I still asked. Of the five people I talked to, 3 people got wet on the ride (but I knew they were TRYING to get wet by leaning into the splashes...), 1 person was just wet from the rain, and I think the fifth person was just really sweaty from taking extended artillery practice at the shooting gallery in Adventureland just before.

So I sat in the front of our log, with Thommy, Geoffrey, and Jay beind me, and also some other strangers who are now immortalized on my blog in the blurry picture above that I pirated from the photo screen at the end of the ride. And how many times did I get splashed, or doused? Not one time, not two times, but every time we went down any sort of descension at all, the water found me!

Winter setting - bah! This was like on peak summer setting...After the big-drop, I looked like a wet puppy dog. My head was dripping with thick ride water, mascara was running down my cheeks, my jeans were three shades darker blue than before, and my tee shirt and sweat shirt were soaked through to my skin; But it was so fun! Luckily, I was wearing a velour sweatshirt that soaked up the dirty ride water like a sponge. As we trudged back to main street, I dragged my sopping shoes and the boys walked slowly next to me because they were laughing so hard. Water still dripped from my face, and my little crooked pinky fingers were turning white and frozen. But of course, we couldn't go home just yet because we had to wait for our 2nd fast pass for the new Space Mountain to become valid....

Thankfully, Space Mountain was on the indoor winter setting, and the heat in line turned up extra high, so I dried off quickly in line, and returned to a just slightly damp state for the car ride back to L.A.

So next time you're at Disneyland, about to board Splash Mountain, don't take their signs lightly - Y'may just get wet, winter, spring, summer or fall...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In sickness and in health...

Do you take this woman, to be your lawfully wedded wife, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, as long as we both shall live?

This is the phrase almost any one who’s ever been to or seen a traditional western wedding ceremony can identify as being part of the standard wedding vows. I think I’ve been familiar with these words since I was 5 or 6.

Growing up, I always hosted grand weddings – for my Barbie Dolls, my stuffed animals (usually Ms. Kitty was the blushing bride, and Ted the Walrus, who was shorter than Ms. Kitty but just as lovely, was the proud groom,) and I think I even once officiated the nuptials of my She-Ra doll to my brother’s He-Man figure. (Don’t tell Matt, but you should have seen the rock He-Man gave his very own princess of power, very impressive, even for a Master of the Universe.)

Bling or no bling, the point is that over and over again as a child, I would mock the words that priests, judges, and of course, brides and grooms say at weddings. “In sickness, and in health, as long as we both shall live...” But never did these words mean so much as they did when I saw my dad with my mom when she was in the hospital.

During about day 4 of my mom’s hospital stay back in February, she was feeling better, all things considered. The “suicide watch” seemed to be calming down, and she had made up her mind to fight the battle against ovarian cancer. But really, what choice did she have? The pure shock and devastation was still hidden under her surface, but she sat upright in her hospital bed with determination and dignity, ready to get home and ready to start her chemotherapy treatments as soon as possible. Sure, she had questions, but more than anything, she was ready to start solving the problem, as moms often want to do.

However, before she could go home, she had to gain her strength back. Let’s step back for a second and think of how active my mom is. She is a horsewoman, and though she knows how, she doesn’t mess around with English and polo ponies - my mom is a COWGIRL. She rides western, and she doesn’t stop at just jogging and loping the horse, but she does reining and working-cow horse events, where she makes her horse race down the fence, perform slide-stops, spins, AND runs a cow up and down the fence. She is tough. She is active. So seeing her in the hospital and bed-ridden, lacking the strength to walk without the help of someone else wasn’t easy to digest.

But, it was when my dad would help her out of bed, arrange her IV cords, and other various hospital devices in such a way that she could push her rolling-IV monitor stand with one hand, and hold onto his arm with her other hand, that I realized the true meaning of “in sickness and in health.”

Up until this point, my parents had been fairly lucky. Illness and hospitals were new developments in our lives – at least for Mom and Dad. But seeing the way he supported her, the way she leaned on him for strength, the way he slowed down his usual brisk pace to assist her slow, pained baby-steps, the way they seemed so in-sync with each other, like they could just carry on walking like two arms beating a slow and steady bass drum…Step, step, step, step. Their eyes staring down at the floor, conversing about the newborn babies in the hospital, how many chairs I’d snatched from the hospital waiting room so Mom’s many visitors could have places to sit in her room, or what flavor Jell-O the nurses would bring in her next meal, they kept up their pace with each step, moving forward. Once a day, then several times a day they would take these walks side-by-side.

I supposed this is what they’ve been doing for the past 40-plus years. You just don’t take notice of as many things during the “in health” times of life. That’s one thing that adverse times will bring – perspective and promise. Perspective on all the things to be grateful for - all the health you had before you got sick, and promise for all the health you’ll have after you’ve healed. And promise for the renewed vivacity that only comes with the perspective of having survived a difficult walk.

As long as we both shall live.
I do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Pastor Visits

The reason for the creation of this blog is almost entirely selfish...but I suppose I can assuage my Catholic guilt momentarily and rest assured that anything like a journal, is supposed to primarily be about oneself - representative of the author's voice, thus in the very nature of it is selfishness. I take that back. I suppose there are journals where writers share thoughts about politics, religion, the environment, Davey Jones, Tom Cruise, tap dancing, or any other myriad topics that they choose to write about. One could argue that for a writer to share thoughts about topics that aren't only about the author's life, then they wouldn't be selfish...this is not one of those. This is designed to be therapy for me, gosh darn it, and what kind of therapy would this be if I weren't true to my own voice in what I shared?

Back on topic...Without mapping out what I hope my blog will explore over the next several weeks, months, or years, or however long this entertains me, I can already imagine that much of my thoughts will be about my mom's recent diagnosis with cancer. Yeah! Uplifting. But readers, rest assured, in between passages of sheer poignancy and heart felt emotion, there will be some dang hilarious parts, too. After all, if you can't laugh at your own life, or the lives of your good friends, then what's the point in living?

I digress...

It was about 3 days after we received the news. My mom was still in the hospital in Goleta, California, looking as beautiful as ever. She sat upright in her hospital bed, with the mattress curved like a boomerang, wearing a lavender fuzzy robe over her stock hospital gown, brown curly hair tousled and messy, but still looking gorgeous in only the way that my mom can pull off. She always smiled the biggest when she had visitors other than family members. I think that's a Southern thing. When she smiled her "I have visitors smile" the image she projected seemed so near to that of the old pictures I've looked at time and again of her in the hospital after she had me 26 years ago. In those pictures, she was beaming with only the joy that a new mother could have, arms folded behind her head, grinning with excitement and anticipation of what was to come with the birth of her new baby through all her exhaustion of labor.

This day she looked so similar, but instead of her grinning with excitement about a new baby, this time, in Feb of 2006, she was grinning through fear of the unknown. She'd been diagnosed with primary peritoneal cancer - a kind of cancer similar to ovarian cancer, only she no longer had her ovaries, so the doctors couldn't dub it officially "ovarian cancer," even though the way the cancer cells behaved in p.p.c. is very similar to that of ovarian cancer.

My family had been at the hospital practically around the clock. Between my dad, my brothers, my sister-law, oldest brother's girlfriend, my boyfriend, and other close friends, she was barely alone long enough to hear the soft buzz of the ugly fluorescent light on the wall above her bed.

On this night, there was a knock at the door, around 8:00 pm, and who walked in? The pastor from the local Presbyterian Church and his wife. Did I mention we're Catholic? Some people might think this is a problem, since often times, it is believed that Catholics think that their religion is superior to all other religions, so why would they bother with anyone who did not share the identical beliefs? Well, if some people feel this way, I am NOT in this group. I always appreciated my Catholic upbringing; after all, it was in going to weekly mass that I learned ways to sit still and quiet for 55 minutes without fighting with my brothers, how to eat dry Cheerios without crunching so much that the old ladies in front of me would crane their necks in disdain, and where to draw on the back of the church bulletin without scribbling over any of the sections that my mom or dad would actually want to read. As I grew older, and actually started reading the bible on my own, and not just reading my CCD books or handouts kept in my Peachee folder, I became more open to other forms of Christianity, often participating in a lot of the youth group functions at the Presbyterian church rather than at my own church. This was because my best friend went, and because I enjoyed singing in the Presbyterian church services because the pitch and key seemed more "pop" ish to me, and I preferred acoustic guitar and piano to the pipe organ.

Is this about my mom? Of course...getting there...

So in walks the pastor, we'll call him Ken. Ken is a wonderful man. Ken is almost 7 feet tall, and every time I see him, he seems taller. He kind of looks like a Ken doll, with floppy dirty blonde hair, and fairly tanned skin. He also has that permanent smile like a Ken doll has; no matter what he's preaching about: death, the end of the world, pancake breakfasts, baptism, he always has the same pleasant expression on his face. And I suppose he has nice white teeth like Ken, too, which could be a nice shout-out to my dad, who's his dentist...

Ken bent down from the waist and leaned forward to grab my mom's hand as she sat in this hospital bed. (Hopefully the Eucharist minister from the catholic church who'd been trying to feed my mom communion hosts every day she'd been in the hospital didn't see my mom cheating on her with another religious figure...she's allergic (or so we thought) to gluten, therefore had to deny herself any orally ingestible Jesus because of his high gluten content after his body was converted to the bread of life. ) Ken's intentions were nothing but altruistic, and it did feel nice to have visitors, whoever they were. But it was when he said "do you mind if I pray with you?" that I should have been on amber alert as to what things might come out of his mouth. After all, what did he know about my mom's condition? She was fragile, frail, handling the news that she has cancer, which came as a huge shock considering days before, right before she went into her surgery to remove what they thought was scar tissue, the doctor assured her, "well, we don't know what's wrong...but at least you don't have cancer..." Oops! His bad. She DID have cancer...of course, I am sure these things happen all the time, so any bitterness that I might seem to carry because of this doctor's diagnosis quickly fades away when I apply rational thought to the situation...Still, it does kind of suck to be told that you have cancer, not a mere 5 hours after you were just told that THE ONLY GOOD NEWS WAS THAT YOU DID NOT HAVE CANCER. Again I say, oops...

So Ken's prayer made me at first feel nervous, for fear of the "tone" his prayer might take, but then I thought, "heck, he must do this all the time. It's fine...If there is anyone that can be there for my mom right, it's Jesus, so Ken, bring on those prayers. Enlighten us. Lift all of our spirits through the Lord. We need some encouragement. And more than anything, we need hope."

But instead of just spontaneous prayer that I would have felt was appropriate, he opted to read from the bible. Not a bad choice, just maybe not the route I would have gone. When he started reading the verse "ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." was when I had to hold back with every inch of my being to not push him out the door so fast he tripped on his own robe...Was he really reading my mom the same passage that he read to my entire family my grandmother's FUNERAL? Oh yes, he was. I am sure poor Ken did not realize this. I am sure his intentions were pure. I know this. He is a good man. But my goodness, he was NOT on his game that night. Either that, or the gossip chain in Santa Ynez that day had really given him some misinformation...she was not on her DEATH bed. There are 100 other verses I could think of that would have been more appropriate in that situation.

The praying I had to do after Ken left was triple the amount of praying he did during his visit. First, I had to ask for forgiveness for thinking such ugly thoughts about a man of God. Then, I had to pray that my mom's drugs were still strong enough that she didn't really know what was going on, and that she didn't remember that was the reading he did at Dado's funeral. Finally, I had to pray for her; for the reality of her situation; for my dad, that he would be granted more strength that he already had to really look after my mom and be there for her, that he would have the strength to lean on all of us like I knew we would lean on him, that he would take care of himself and her in the hard times ahead when we couldn't be there; I prayed longer and harder, that God would show us the reasons in time why my mother, a woman not even 60, was given something like cancer, and that He would give all of us the courage and the will to lift her up to fight the battle, and win the war; I prayed for my brothers, because in all the chaos, through all the tears, and questions, even though they are men and supposedly insensitive, they were practically her biggest cheer leaders, exhibiting strength through their sadness in a way that left me awe struck; I prayed for every person who sent flowers, or a card, or their well wishes, that they would know how deeply touched the entire family was for the love and the support, and most of all, I prayed for a peaceful ending - that after all of the cancer was gone and behind us that we would all feel blessed for having survived something that so many people sadly have to deal with. And this is the prayer that do all of them, but this one the most...The day she was diagnosed, we all joined a very exclusive club. It is a club that no one chooses to join (not even smokers) but that so many people unfortunately find themselves in...a club where there are members of all stages of cancer, of all economic backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, body types, etc. But they are all loved...and they are all fighting in their own unique ways to graduate from the club - cancer free and proud. Proud to have survived one of the worst diseases plaguing our country. Proud to have stuck it out through the hard times, and to have lived to the fullest during the easier times...But most importantly, proud to have lived...

As I write all of this, I am still trying to determine exactly what I mean....there is so much inside to blurt much to share and even more to dig deep and find that I don't even know about. I look forward to it, and hopefully, with each thing that comes to the surface, everything will slowly mesh together and begin to make sense.