Sunday, September 25, 2016

Baghdad Diaries: A Woman’s Chronicles of War and Exile

Nuha Al-Radi, a well-to-do Iraqi artist, kept a diary starting with Operation Desert Storm, the Allied operation against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and continued writing sporadically through 2002. 


Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, a former ally of the United States during the Iran-Iraq War, invaded Kuwait to gain access to the oil fields because his country needed money to rebuild after the war with Iran.  Moreover, the borders of Kuwait, established by the U.S., Great Britain and France after World War I had long been in dispute.   

While the conflict officially began in August 1990 as Operation Desert Shield, the combat phase of the war (Desert Storm) started in January 1991 and lasted about five weeks.  During this phase of the conflict, the Allied coalition flew over 100,000 sorties for forty-two consecutive days and nights, subjecting Iraq to the most intensive air bombardment in military history.
Baghdad Diaries, by Nuha Al-Radi
Vintage Books, 2003 ed
Al-Radi’s diary gives the reader a behind-the-scenes view of civilian life during the bombardment.  Al-Radi’s family was well-connected.  Her father was one of the first Iraqis to attend college in the U.S.  He studied agriculture at the University of Texas and later became the ambassador to Iran as well as ambassador to India where he served for nine years.  Al-Radi and her two siblings grew up in India and had an international and cosmopolitan upbringing.  They all studied abroad.  Al-Radi had an art degree in ceramics but later concentrated on painting and sculpture.   

This diary, which Al-Radi wrote in English, is divided into six sections: 

Prologue--She describes her family’s background to put her story into context.  The prologue was written for this 2003 edition. 

Funduq al-Saada or Hotel Paradiso (January 19, 1991-June 1991)--This part of the diary tells of the bombardment and its effect on their lives.   When the bombing begins in the middle of the night, Al-Radi gets up to stand on her balcony and watches the sky light up and listens to the barrage, while her dog Salvador Dali barks madly and runs in circles around the courtyard below.  Al-Radi lives in the northern section of Baghdad on land that includes an orchard of 161 orange trees and 66 palm trees.  Because her home is large and away from the bombing of all the bridges by the Allies, many friends and family members come to live with her, eat with her, or stay there at night during times of intense bombing.  She starts to call her home Hotel Paradiso. 

There is a party atmosphere at times.  Everyone shares their food because all food in freezers must be prepared and eaten quickly when the electricity is knocked out on the first night of bombing.  Gasoline becomes a precious commodity but sometimes they travel to other homes for social gatherings.  Mostly every night after the All Clear, they go to check on friends and family to see if they made it through the bombing.   

Access to water is sporadic in her area.  It isn’t long before Al-Radi reports that all her houseguests are using the bathroom in the orchard to save water and to fertilize the plants.  One of the older relatives refuses and goes home each day to use her toilet because her home still has water.   

As the destruction of infrastructure, factories, homes, and even a shelter for women and children continues, the death toll of civilians rises.  Al-Radi asks, “What did we do to you, George [H.W] Bush, that you hate us so?”  All Americans think of Iraqis as terrorists, oil sheikhs or women covered in black from head to toe, she writes.  Don’t they know there are ordinary Iraqis living here?   

Despite her Western connections, Al-Radi becomes bitter toward American Presidents who she feels lie to justify attacking Iraq as they seek to insure control over the oil fields.

Funduq al-Saada or Hotel Paradiso, is the most compelling section of the diary to me.  On Day 14 of the bombardment, her mother’s younger brother dies in his sleep, supposedly of a heart attack, but Al-Radi says he died of sorrow.  Her descriptions focus on the collateral damage of war:  Day 18: The birds have taken the worst beating of all.  They have sensitive souls which cannot take all this hideous noise and vibration.  All the caged love-birds have died from the shock of the blasts, while birds in the wild fly upside-down and do crazy somersaults. 

Embargo (November 3, 1994- June 1995)—The embargo is almost total, with strict regulation of food imports and medical supplies.   Al-Radi reports that poverty and hunger are on the rise among the populace.  There is a shortage of everything, burglary increases, and Baghdad is no longer a safe city.   

Exile (June 23, 1995- March 4, 1996)—Bribes must be paid to leave and return to Iraq.  She gets herself declared illiterate with just a thumbprint on her documentation because it’s cheaper to leave and return if the government thinks you are illiterate.  Everyone is getting sick from the effects of exposure to the burning oil wells and refineries, which caused pollution of air, water and soil.  People who can afford it go to Amman, Jordan for medical treatment.   Educated people who have the means leave the county.  She writes of a surgeon trying to become a butcher and an engineer a waiter. 

Identity (June 9, 1996-November 27, 2002)—Sporadic entries cover this timeframe as Al-Radi is all over the globe, from London and the U.S. to various countries in the Middle East.  She has continued to do her art, so some travel is in conjunction with art shows. 

Postscript (March 3, 2003)—Al-Radi lives in Beirut in an apartment building next to the Saudi embassy.  From her window she can see a slice of sky and one palm tree that is planted at the embassy.  She contrasts this with her lost paradise of her Baghdad orchard.  Again Iraq’s citizens wait for the U.S. to attack them, so George W. and Dick Cheney can finish what George H. W. Bush started. 

She asks:  What is the difference between Iraq invading and occupying Kuwait in 1990 and America invading and occupying Iraq in 2003?  The most powerful nation in the world with the latest weapons of mass destruction is attacking a small country that has been pre-emptively stripped of its defences…In the name of peace and humanity, thousands have to be killed.  In the name of liberation, in the name of democracy, there will be a military occupation. 

Nuha Al-Radi died in 2004 at age 63 of leukemia.

This book provided me with a different perspective on the Iraqi conflicts.  She mentions Saddam Hussein matter-of-factly and barely touches on religion.  It's a simple book but I found it fascinating.  Combined with the other books I'm reading about this region of the country, it makes me sad to think how much has been destroyed in this cradle of civilization. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Kitchen Window: A Throwback Post

I was reminded that I had written this essay when a friend mentioned wanting a window in her kitchen, but she added that all she would be looking at was her car in the garage.  Our kitchen window now looks out on our new cedar fence, a large thermometer Ricky mounted to the fence, a piece of Ricky’s original blacksmith art, a crape myrtle tree trunk, and part of a banana magnolia bush.  Before Ricky and I moved into our present home, we lived in a modest duplex a block from our current residence.   Our previous kitchen window view was more diverse.
Duplex door

I remember my mother talking about a newly constructed house she had just visited.  “Well, it’s very nice but I wouldn’t want it.  I wouldn’t have a house without a window over the kitchen sink.  I want to see outside while I work in the kitchen.”

I agree with my mother.  Even with today’s automatic dishwashers and microwave quick meals from the freezer, a kitchen window is still essential to a well-designed kitchen. 

The view from the kitchen window doesn’t have to be fancy.  A couple of bird feeders and a bird bath encircled by a rather disreputable-looking flower garden are in the foreground of my kitchen window scene.  Despite the neglect I heap upon my flowers, occasionally a large, purple iris, a hardy pink tulip, or lavender hyacinth blooms in the garden.  Each blossom is something to celebrate and ooh and ahh over. 
Tallow tree next to the ditch in autumn
Ditch with autumn leaves from tallow tree
I also have a tree outside my window—a tallow tree.  Tallow trees are considered trash trees.  They grow fast in the Deep South and are proliferate reproducers.   They don’t usually grow large, and they “self-prune” so they rain twigs in the yard.  Our tallow tree is big because of its location beside a four foot deep concrete drainage ditch that guarantees a good water supply.

A community of birds, squirrels, and cats live and play around the tallow tree.  Brilliant red cardinals, raucous blue jays, and red-throated finches have all been observed at the bird feeders that hang from the limbs of the tallow tree.  Woodpeckers and flickers eat insects up and down the trunk. 
One of the neighborhood cats beside the ditch
Behind the tallow tree is the concrete-lined drainage ditch that now has a weathered natural stone look.  A daily parade can be observed from the kitchen window as neighborhood children and an assortment of cats use the ditch as a thoroughfare.   At night the ditch is more sinister, its walls filled with large flying tree roaches.  Sometimes the ditch serves as an escape route for those trying to elude the police.  When it rains, the ditch is a roaring torrent of rushing water, scary to watch.
Flooding ditch  fills garage and garage apartment entrance during torrential rains
Elderberries, honeysuckle and wild morning glories grow along the old wooden fence that separates our neighbor’s yard from the ditch.  Each spring a dogwood with white blossoms peeks over the fence, and a royal star magnolia blooms bravely, almost lost in a jungle of vines.

The window connects me with my neighborhood…with life outside my home.  I wouldn’t have a house without a window over the kitchen sink.  You don’t have to either—hand me that sledge hammer. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Exploding Eggs and Happy Toes

The day started off at a leisurely pace befitting one who is retired and who stayed up until 2:00 am.  I needed to do a major grocery store run, but I like to procrastinate tackling this inevitable chore.  I pride myself on stretching the time between trips.  What can I conjure up from our larder, becomes the question of the day.  This morning’s answer was tuna salad.  I’ll just boil a couple eggs, because I have a can of tuna, celery, pickle relish, mayonnaise.  It was going to be a very dull, but sufficient, lunch. 
I failed to take into account the power of social media. 
I put the eggs on to boil.  Ricky leaves to run errands, and I sit down at the kitchen table.  I notice a couple Facebook private messages that have popped up my phone.  I start to answer them but realize it would be much quicker to do on the computer.  The dog and I both retreat to the library, and soon I’m sucked down into that Facebook sinkhole. 
Sometime later Treble and I are startled to hear what sounds like a gunshot coming from the back of the house.  We check it out.  One egg has exploded sending bits of shell and egg white all over the stove top.  I grab the saucepan, put it in the sink under running water, turn off the range, turn on the vent fan (exploding egg is not a pleasant aroma) and start to clean up, helped by Treble who is delighted to find bits of egg all over the floor.  I dump the rest of the burnt eggs, wipe down the stove, spray Febreze throughout the downstairs, clean the saucepan, and think about an alternative lunch. 
Alternative lunch of leftover rice from green peppers and fig bread
All’s well that ends well.  I've learned a valuable lesson.  Never assume you'll remember you have something cooking on the stove.  Set a timer.  Maintain eye contact with aforementioned stove.
It's still a great Friday.  I have happy toes, a luxury at the end of summer.  My annual dilemma is, “Does a woman need pretty toenails with sandal season waning?”  My answer is always yes, so I don’t know why I continue to ask the question.
Treble poses with my happy toes!
Other positives: I still have another whole loaf of the fig bread I made—and it’s delicious if I do say so myself.
Loaf of homemade fig bread
I have two new bottles of Bella Nonnas olive oil, a luxury item that has become an essential in our pantry.
Olive Oil from Bella Nonnas
And our little family has a new game to play this weekend: “How far do pieces of an exploding egg travel?”  “Who can find the piece that went the farthest?”    The current winner is me.  I found an identifiable morsel on the kitchen table, nine feet away from the stove.  And we haven’t even started to examine the ceiling!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Rites of Autumn

We are entering my favorite time of the year.  I love the promise of cooler weather, even if in Louisiana, we don’t actually experience the cooler weather.  My husband always announces at the first of September, “Thank goodness, only two more months of summer!”  An exaggeration, I hope, although the weatherman has been hinting at temperatures that could approach 100 degrees in some parts of the Ark-La-Tex this week.

Even in the Deep South, fall rituals arrive whether Louisiana is in synch weather-wise or not.  For instance, it’s football time in the SEC!  I have to admit I enjoy watching college football on Saturdays.  The roar of the crowd takes me back to Volunteer days, attending football games at the University of Tennessee.  After the game, friends would often come to our on-campus apartment to eat supper.   Anyone who drove to the game wanted to wait for the traffic to clear and restaurants were packed.  My ex-husband and I were too poor to offer anything other than spaghetti to a hungry crowd of twenty-something graduate students, but no one complained.  Now my husband Ricky and I watch college football from the comfort of our recliners, cheering for our favorite teams while we snack on Earl Campbell sausage. 
I have other fall rituals.  I love fall magazines, full of pumpkins, gourds, autumn leaves, and the colors of fall.  I like fall festivals and holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving.   I have a few decorations that say fall is here.  There’s a small Mickey Mouse Dracula snow globe and witches and crones and black cat decorations and noise makers and jack-o-lanterns.  Some would say I’ve fully embraced my inner child.
Gourd Jack-o-lantern
For Thanksgiving, I’m such a turkey, I have a turkey collection.

No matter what the outside temperatures are, the hint of fall sends me into the kitchen to cook.  Sometimes I try recipes found in magazines.  Last week I made the Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms and Collards from the October Country Living magazine.  Here is the recipe from the magazine. Everyone who tasted it seemed to like it. 
Creamy Polenta with Mushrooms and Collards
I still have frozen blueberries from the summer, so I’ve made two batches of blueberry muffins and one of banana blueberry muffins. 
Blueberry Banana Muffin

We harvested the last of our green peppers, so naturally I fixed stuffed peppers for supper.
Peppers from our trough garden
Stuffed Peppers
I’m not boasting of any culinary talents here.   I’m just having fun anticipating the return of cooler weather and enjoying my annual rites that welcome autumn’s arrival, which will be here—someday, eventually, just wait for it….it’s on its way.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Who Can Resist the Annual Centenary College Book Sale?

As my knee healed, I decided I was able to attend the huge (80,000 items—books and record albums) book sale that is a fundraiser for Centenary College, the Methodist liberal arts college in our neighborhood.  Equipped with my cane and a rolling backpack, I swore I would stop shopping once my backpack was full.  In addition to  selecting books for me to read, I was hunting for inexpensive children’s literature and young adult books for our Little Free Library (LFL).  Well, it didn’t take long to fill up my backpack.  I completed my purchase before Ricky finished looking through the record albums, a first! 

I came home with a couple dozen books with a total cost under $25.  That's a bargain I couldn't resist.  About half the books were ones I planned to read before assigning them to our LFL, and half the books were for the children's shelf in our LFL.  I've already started reading the mysteries I purchased, but I selected books from other genre, too.
Murder in Murray Hill, by Victoria Thompson
Berkley Prime Crime, 2014

I’ve read others in this Gaslight Series and enjoy the characters and the setting in nineteenth century New York.  Midwife Sarah Brandt’s situation has changed in this book.  Her suitor Frank Malloy, a New York policeman, inherited money so they can now afford to get married.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is Frank is dismissed from his police position because all the other officers are too jealous and resentful to work with him.  Malloy was fired while he was in the middle of the investigation of a missing young woman. The woman's distraught father hires Malloy to pursue the case privately, not trusting the police to do a thorough job.  Malloy, with Sarah’s help, uncovers a serial sexual predator preying on homely and lonely women who seek husbands through Lonely Hearts newspaper ads.  The women that Malloy and Sarah rescue want vengeance and peace of mind in a society that tends to blame the victims.  Malloy must decide how justice will be served in this case.  

Not a Girl Detective, by Susan Kandel
Wm Morrow, 2005

Cece Caruso is a biographer researching the life of Carolyn Keene, the pseudonym for a pool of ghostwriters working for the Stratemeyer Publishing Syndicate who gave the world Nancy Drew books (plus a host of other series).  This publishing group churned out the popular Nancy Drew mystery series starting in 1930.  As a child, I loved Nancy Drew so I liked the premise of this mystery: a biographer researches the people behind the Nancy Drew series and, in turn, solves mysteries herself.  The plot rapidly becomes a hot mess though--it meanders all over.  The characters aren't engaging, and their actions don't make sense.  Descriptions of Cece's vintage clothes were fun, and I liked the facts about the original Nancy Drew books that were sprinkled throughout the book.  For example, the ghostwriter most responsible for depicting Nancy as a feisty heroine was Mildred A. Wirt Benson who penned 23 of the original 30 books.  I have the quasi-scholarly book, Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak on my library shelf.  I should have read it instead.

Death on Blackheath, by Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, 20014

The familiar cast of characters returns in Perry's novel set in London during the waning years of the Victorian era.  Thomas Pitt now is commander of law enforcement's Special Branch, which is concerned with protecting the security of the nation.  When a lady's maid is missing from an important scientist's household and mutilated bodies of young women turn up in the gravel pits nearby, Pitt must decide how this is connected to the scientist's household and if treason is involved.  Pitt's wife Charlotte, her sister Emily and husband Jack, Lady Vespasia and the former head of Special Branch, Victor Narraway all assist in resolving the case.  These recurring characters feel like old friends.  Many of Perry's books have an element of the macabre in them, and this one is no exception.  The motivation of the villain stretches believability, but all-in-all, I found reading this book to be a satisfying way to spend an evening.

While I love escapist reading, I also like to read books with more substance.  I've been reading  books about the Middle East found on my library shelves.  Each one has provided me with insights into current events in this troubled region.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reading and Recuperating, Part II

When I look around my library, I’m inundated with books waiting to be read, or at least examined before I assign them to our Little Free Library.  I decided to read books from my shelves next as I continued on my road to recovery.  Besides we needed to refresh the offerings in our LFL by switching out books.

The Black Ice, by Michael Connelly
Grand Central Publishing, 1993

It’s Christmas but LAPD detective Harry Bosch has no holiday plans, so when he hears over the police scanner that a body has been found in a two-bit hotel, he’s curious.  It should be his case since he’s on call but it’s immediately referred to Robbery-Homicide and one of the highest ranking officers in the department.  This doesn’t sit well with Harry, and he soon manipulates his way into the investigation.  An undercover cop is dead, an apparent suicide, but what is his connection to the Mexican drug trade in black ice--coke, heroin and PCP “rocked” together.  A typical Bosch book--violent, intricately plotted, with a moral dilemma that Harry does his best to resolve.  I have to admit I bought this paperback a couple months ago despite having tons of books waiting to be read. I wanted to read one of the first Harry Bosch police procedurals, because the early books give insight into Harry Bosch’s character and provide background for later novels. 

Death is Disposable, by Even Marshall
Worldwide Mystery, 2012
This is the first of a series featuring a New York Sanitation Department garage supervisor Anna Winthrop.  This unlikely scenario works when you consider that sanitation workers go everywhere in New York City and see what others don’t.  Anna befriends a homeless man who is later found dead behind her apartment building, making her a suspect.  Anna decides to find out more about the homeless man who she knew as Isaiah in hopes that she can discover his killer.  The plot meanders at times, but this book was better than I thought it would be.  The premise was so unlikely that every time I started to put it in our LFL, I would get curious all over again.  A mystery series featuring garbage collection?!?  Finally I just decided to read it.

Murder Is Binding, by Lorna Barrett
Berkley Prime Crime, 2008
Tricia Miles is proprietor of a mystery bookstore, Haven't Got a Clue, in the fictional town of Stoneham, New Hampshire.  The entire downtown is devoted to different kinds of book stores, or shops related to books (my kind of town), so maybe that’s one reason I enjoyed this cozy mystery.  When the owner of the cookbook shop next to Tricia’s shop is murdered, Tricia decides to find the murderer because the police seem to think she did it.  I had started reading this book before and didn’t care for it, but this time I grew to like the characters--Tricia, her annoying sister Angelica, the local newspaper owner/editor and the book store employees.  There are now ten books in this series, and I would read more if they appeared in my Little Free Library.  I swear I’m not buying any more books for a long time.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Reading and Recuperating, Part I

The backdrop to my knee surgery recovery for the first two weeks was the Summer Olympics, paired with channel surfing, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.  I’m not a television watcher but I didn’t feel up to reading, so I was doubly glad when I felt better and got off the pain pills.  I began to read again and gave myself permission to read purely for fun and escape.  Therefore, I was delighted when two friends with whom I regularly share books dropped by for a visit, bringing cozy mysteries and box lunches from Heavenly Ham.

The Cracked Spine, by Paige Shelton
Minotaur Books, 2016

A cozy Scottish mystery set in an Edinborough bookshop where Kansas native Delaney Nichols has agreed to work, sight unseen.  She applied for the job and was hired while she was still in the states.  Her eccentric boss Edwin McAlister has two other employees, Rosie and Hamlet.   Shortly after her arrival, Delaney is able to rent a cottage owned by a taxi driver and his wife who befriend her, and a local pub keeper provides romantic interest.  The setting was fun, the mystery was forgettable.  The author gives Delaney special powers that seem unnecessary.  The plot also strains credulity when an heretofore unknown copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio of plays is uncovered, then disappears,  The last person to have it is found dead and Delaney is determined to find the murderer because the police investigators seem to suspect her new colleagues.

Mrs. Jeffries Wins the Prize, by Emily Brightwell
Berkley Prime Crime, 2016

The ladies of the Mayfair Orchid and Exotic Plant Society play for keeps in this latest installment of the Victorian Mystery series featuring Mrs. Jeffries, the housekeeper for Scotland Yard Police Inspector Witherspoon.  Mrs. Jeffries, assisted by the entire downstairs staff and a few neighbors, helps her boss investigate his murder cases unbeknownst to him.  Mrs. Jeffries must determine which society matron stabbed to death a dealer in rare flowers and then subtly guide Inspector Witherspoon to reach the same conclusion.  It’s the recurring characters that make this cozy mystery entertaining.

These mysteries my friend loaned me provided comfort and entertainment as I recuperated, a pleasant escape from being a patient.  I raid my library book shelves for mysteries to read in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

My Total Knee Replacement Surgery is a Success

My third bit of advice regarding total knee replacement surgery:  it's important that you prepare physically for your knee surgery.  While I'm not in any way a svelte, hard body, I did start working out about a year before my knee surgery in anticipation of the operation.  I signed up for TRX Camps for Baby Boomers at Willis Knighton, North, coupled with a pool class with low impact exercises done in a heated pool at LSU Health Sciences Center.  I exercised religiously to tighten my core and strengthen my upper and lower body. 

To learn more about TRX, click here

Pete Holman, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) at TRX says, "Whatever your fitness goals, this [TRX] workout system can accommodate anyone from senior citizens with injuries to Olympic-level athletes."  I believe I'm proof of the former.
Conditioning made a HUGE difference, but it’s also the reason I cried during my initial physical therapy home health appointment.  I had a drill sergeant PT and he wanted me to engage my quads to straighten my knee.  I thought I was doing it, but he kept saying, “Tighten those muscles, you aren’t doing anything.”  I knew I had built up my quads, and I couldn’t understand why I was unable to do well on the exercise.  Tears of pain and frustration ran down my face as Ricky and the PT watched me.  I later figured out that the spinal block that they used to deaden my knee didn’t wear off completely, for me, until almost 12 days after surgery.  I knew something was amiss but it took returning to normal for me to realize what was wrong with my body in the beginning. 

There is pain with this surgery, but drugs and ice packs help.  I approached my therapy like I did my workouts.  I wore my exercise clothing, prepared a large cup of ice water, and worked and sweated every day doing the exercises whether the PT came or not.  My husband says I’m a compliant patient.  One afternoon I was sobbing as I tried to straighten and bend my knee but I didn’t give up.  My drill sergeant PT, a perfectionist, was rarely satisfied with my progress but when he was absent and another PT came, he told me my first guy was being too hard on me.  PT#2 said I was doing really well and ready for out-patient therapy.  (Actually I liked Drill Sergeant PT and credit him with much of my progress.)  Currently, I’ve had two weeks of out-patient therapy and resumed my pool exercise class.  Next week, eight weeks after my surgery, I’ll have my final PT sessions. 

Now everything becomes therapy, says my TRX instructor who has also had a knee joint replacement.  (Unfortunately, it's too early to return to TRX, my favorite exercise program.)  Trips to the grocery store, going up and down the stairs to my bedroom (I no longer stay in the middle of the living room), getting up from a chair—or, as one of my physical therapists told me, “If it’s physical, it’s therapy.”   
My 8" scar!
I continue on the road to regaining full strength and mobility in my right knee.  Unfortunately, as soon as I make enough progress, I’ll have to get a new left knee joint.  However, if this right knee experience is any indication of what I might expect, I may do it as a Christmas present to myself. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Total Knee Joint Replacement Surgery Can Be Fun

I never knew getting a total knee joint replacement could be fun.  I’m not saying the surgery, which I’ve heard two doctors describe as bloody, was fun, but I was knocked out so I have no complaints there.  When I interviewed my surgeon before I decided on a doctor, I asked him about infection control.  He told me it was important not to touch the open wound.  I’m not sure what his other patients have been like, but that would be the least of his worries with me.   Touching an open wound, looking at an open wound--neither appears on my curiosity list.  Besides my knee was so protected after surgery with a thick, waterproof bandage, I don’t know how a person would even get to the incision. 

We don’t have a downstairs bedroom so we had to create one for me to stay in, post-op.  In our living room, known at our house as the music room because of my husband’s large vinyl collection, the sofa turns into a bed.  Ricky put a portable memory foam mattress on the thin sofa mattress, creating a comfortable bed.  I packed up lounging clothes and toiletries in a laundry basket, and I was ready for my new quarters.  
View from my music room bed with bouquet

Treble and me lying on the music room bed
I could have stayed in the guest cottage behind our house, but living in the middle of our music room meant the household revolved around me.  Ricky couldn’t sneak downstairs for coffee in the morning without waking me.  This meant I got served coffee and a breakfast of fresh fruit and some sort of pastry or quick bread in bed every morning. 

This is where I need to say that if you are going to have fun with your total knee replacement, you must first select a caring and knowledgeable partner.  My husband Ricky is adorable and smart and kind.  He is also a retired nurse.  So, when I needed some modifications for handicapped accessibility, he was on it.  When I needed a shot in the stomach every morning for three weeks to avoid blood clots, he was on it.  As wonderful as Ricky was, he came to look forward to his daily trip to the local Walgreen’s.  It seemed like there was always something I needed that we didn’t have.  I quickly stopped apologizing when I realized the trip to Walgreens represented freedom for Ricky each afternoon.

Secondly, you must select awesome friends.  And you have to start years in advance of your surgery to secure these, so don’t wait to the last minute to find the perfect partner or friends.  While Ricky was holding down the fort in those first two weeks, my friends were insuring that we wouldn’t starve.  Good friends in New Orleans sent an edible arrangement of fresh fruit.   
Edible Arrangement

Pork loin dinner
My best friend prepared several meals, and she and another friend from work brought me a goody basket I ate from for days—hummus, banana bread, fresh pimento cheese, flatbread, almonds and dried fruit. My friend and TRX instructor prepared two healthy meals for Ricky and me that actually fed us multiple days.  Long- time friends dropped by for a visit and brought sweet goodies and a gift certificate from our neighborhood bakery.   My former boss and her sister brought me chicken salad from my favorite restaurant and small decadent chocolate cakes.  My across-the-street friend and neighbor came by to visit bringing little goodies each time.  A good friend who had recently moved to another state sent us pizza delivery one night.  My writing group also supplied sustenance-- from pastas to guacamole to gelato. 

One neighbor loaned me all sorts of adaptive equipment.   My sister-in-law wired a bouquet of flowers.  Get well cards arrived each day in the mail.  My sisters in Virginia called frequently to check on me.  Two friends came and stayed with me so Ricky could escape to a near-by town one Sunday to visit friends and attend a benefit for an ailing musician.  I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such considerate friends. 
A good caregiver and wonderful friends are the factors that made my knee replacement “fun,” but tomorrow I’ll talk about what made my knee replacement successful.

Friday, September 16, 2016

How I Spent my Summer Vacation, or Surgery Countdown

It’s been awhile since I updated my blog.  Basically my entire summer centered around my mental countdown to July 27 when I was scheduled to have a total right knee replacement.

My last post featured my husband’s trip to Guatemala.  When he got back in town, we hosted a retirement party for one of his former colleagues from the V.A. Hospital.  Our home, cottage and backyard filled with people, stories and laughter while our stomachs filled with food and drink.  This was to be the first of several summer gatherings with people that we used to work with and still enjoy.
Retirement party for one of the V.A. docs at the Great Raft Brewery

Support supper for one of the Early Head Start teachers as she faced breast cancer surgery
It wouldn’t be summer without a beach trip.  Less than a week after Ricky's return from Guatemala, he and I drove to South Carolina to meet my sisters and their husbands in Myrtle Beach.  Ricky and I learned the hard way that there is a difference between 2nd Street North, Myrtle Beach and 2nd Street, North Myrtle Beach, but we eventually found the condo.  Sun bathing, exploring, relaxing, visiting, and eating were the preferred activities for the week.

Celebrating our last night at the beach

Ricky and I celebrated the Fourth of July with lots of bangs and flashes, beer and burgers at my friend Melissa’s house.  The men enjoyed the fireworks as much as the children. 
Fourth of July Fireworks in Suburbia

Another special summer treat was a visit with my long-time friend Emmilee in her gorgeous, rambling house beside the Ouachita River.  Several times over the years, family members have added on to the old family home place, which makes the floor plan unique.  It was easy to take a wrong turn in the morning and end up in the old kitchen instead of the current kitchen, or at one of five outside doors but not the one you were looking for. 
Brunch at Emmilee's
Deck and Screened Porch
Ricky and I loved sitting on one of the screened-in porches overlooking the river, drinking coffee, and visiting with Emmilee.  Ricky fished from the river bank and explored the property, while I gravitated to the extensive libraries in the home.  Emmilee has a wall of cookbooks in her study, while her late husband’s library takes up multiple rooms.  I knew her late husband well from my days as adjunct instructor at LSU-Shreveport where he was a philosophy of education professor. 

His home library reflects his life and contains multiple book shelves devoted to different philosophers—John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, a general Social Foundations of Education section, plus a book case of Louisiana books.  I was both in heaven and overwhelmed as I looked through all the shelves.  Emmilee had generously offered for me to take any books that I wanted for my library.  Ultimately I selected books that would remind me of Joe and those that I would enjoy reading.   It was hard not to take bring home boxes and boxes of books but I restrained myself.  The books I selected now occupy a prominent spot in my library, and a framed print Emmilee gave me from the library hangs on the wall.  I can look around my library and relive this trip any time I want.

Tomorrow's post--I Get a New Knee!