In Sickness & In Health

As we head to Ladigue this weekend to celebrate our first anniversary I cannot help but recall how we have lived out our marriage vows this year. I would be remiss if I did not share the struggles as well as the bliss. If you believe that I have spent every day on the beach sipping cocktails then here is your reality check. While it was miserable at the time I am grateful for the experience as I can literally feel my body is stronger from having lived through it.

As you may recall, the hairy caterpillar and other obstacles along the way have stopped me in my tracks and reminded me that while I am healthy I am certainly not invincible. Adjusting to a tropical climate is not for the faint of heart. It is claimed by medical professionals that immune systems are built to be stronger in the tropics. This makes perfect sense if you consider the petri dishes from science class. Germs and disease grow more rapidly in heat hence the body needs to be stronger. Having grown up in the frozen tundra of Minnesota I am acclimating one new germ or insect at a time.

MC was called away on a business trip to Nigeria a week after we returned home from the states. When he got back he recounted having caught a bug while he was there and had spent a day in bed with a headache and nausea. The morning after his return I had planned to volunteer with a South African veterinary team on LaDigue sterilizing animals. I got up early only to head straight to the bathroom. I was not going anywhere. I texted a heartfelt apology as I know from my years in management there are few things worse than working shorthanded. I went back to bed at 6am and awoke at eleven feeling better.

The following morning I set out to purchase a new ferry ticket and off I went. In hindsight I was feeling great that morning however I still should have known better. One of the key differences between Seychelles and the US is healthcare. I have spent a lifetime in positions feeling guilty if I ever took a single sick day, much less two. Here there is a sense of strong compassion and humanity involved in health. They respect the body’s need for rest and not only do not question but actually support the recovery time needed. Employees are granted thirty days sick allowance per calendar year which is quadruple that of the average American company. The impact of the climate definitely makes a difference and requires you, willing or not, to slow down your pace. Perhaps having been on a whirlwind American tour recently I had forgotten this important lesson. Nonetheless, my fate having been sealed, I rented a bike upon arrival and joined the team in their roadside shack.

This island does not have veterinary services of any kind yet is home to thousands of animals. I was trained to clean the surgical area, place lubricant in their eyes and pull their tongue out to the side to prepare for their sterilization service. The day was busy from beginning to end including this guy who trusted me enough to hold him tight only to be betrayed by a shot in his behind.

I was astounded at the passion and skills of the team. They were dedicated beyond measure to make a difference in this community. We broke only for a quick sandwich and lots of coconuts throughout the day to stay hydrated. This was definitely my saving grace.

I mentioned to the local coordinator from the shelter with which I had volunteered that if there was a room for me to stay I would spend the night and work another day. She said one of the locals who I had briefly met in passing had offered her place and so it was decided. I accompanied them back to their quaint villa for dinner. I offered to filet their purchased fish and got busy breaking down a few trevaly. In demonstrating for the vet tech how it was done I mentioned I was getting a headache. I wondered if it was just a stiff neck resulting from the odd physical positions of the day. She brought me a pill afterwards and I relaxed on the veranda as they made dinner. When it was ready the vet insisted I eat even though I was not feeling up to it.

We met the young local German tour guide back at the clinic and thankfully she brought me a small light to find my way following her back to her place. After 6:30pm this place goes completely dark. Looking back I recall feeling my body collapsing at this point. She gave me a quick tour of my room and bathroom and told me to make myself at home. Oh, the irony. Moments after she left me I was purging in her toilet! I took a hot shower and collapsed for the next twelve hours. When I awoke my head felt as though it was in a vice. It took me several minutes to remember where I was. I noticed a kind note leaving instructions on how to lock up. With my phone dying and no charger I texted MC and informed him I would try to find a flight home. I really have no idea how I managed the strength to bike to the vet clinic to apologize and then further yet to the jetty. While I dreaded it I found an afternoon ferry and decided it was quicker and more familiar so I booked it. I sent MC a text requesting pick up with 3% charge left on my phone. I made the first leg from LaDigue to Praslin okay but knew Praslin to Mahe would be a different story. After years of assisting others with sea sickness it was finally my turn. I had never felt this horrible in my life.

MC practically carried me to the car and drove home. All I wanted was our bed. By this point all of my senses felt multiplied by a thousand. The diesel from the boat had engulfed me and made me nauseous, the singing of birds seemed to be coming through a megaphone, any glimpse of light blinded me and my whole head throbbed beyond anything I can articulate. For four days I did not move. If you are questioning as MC did why I was not interested in going to the doctor I will share my reasons. First of all I did not think I could physically make the trip. I could barely walk because of the nausea. That being said I did know that my vital signs were okay and I was able to stay hydrated so I did not believe it was an emergency. I felt as though my body wanted only to be left alone. Secondly, I knew that the trip would mean two things. Being around other sick people which frightened my last drop of immune strength. Moreso, however, I believed they would admit me into the hospital which terrified me. Not only have I never been admitted to any hospital much less a foreign one but all I could visualize was loud echoes in a concrete building that would destroy my already throbbing head. Obviously I did not want to be alone there when I could be alone in our peaceful bed.

I do not remember much. I barely had the energy or voice to reassure MC who was extremely concerned. Days began to blur. My faith just told me I would be okay and that all I had to do was breathe. My physical strength had diminished greatly so I took a few falls during the day while MC was at work. In hindsight I can at least chuckle at the thought as I would have gone viral had there been hidden cameras. The thing is when you fall on a tile floor you panic which causes perspiration. A Slip ‘n Slide ensues and an hour later you finally have crawled back to bed because it’s safer than trying to get on your feet. That being said it was of course terrifying for MC to notice the bruises and allow his mind to wander into horrific scenes. This was a very difficult test for both of us. Trusting and believing of this magnitude were obstacles we had not been forced to overcome up to this point in our relationship. He was an angel and I found a new sense of gratitude for his kind and patient heart.

Around day eight I believe I felt I could make the trip to the clinic. My head, although still very sore, had diminished to be tolerable. MC booked an appointment and accompanied me. There are two options here. There is government operated healthcare that is free of charge and there are a few private clinics. MC decided he wanted to be completely thorough just to be sure so we opted for the latter.

Here is where the significant difference comes in between countries. I am sharing this so you can visualize the comparison, not to start a debate. While most Americans will probably agree that the healthcare system is completely flawed at this point, I am not certain they would understand to what extent it is until they have an experience abroad such as this. I will not pretend the technology matches the United States. It does not come close.

The clinic was at the end of a strip mall. It has three rooms with a small attached pharmacy. I checked in and waited approximately ten minutes before being called in to the small nurses room. The woman kindly measured my temperature, weight and blood pressure before taking a sample. She inquired about my symptoms and advised that the doctor would see me in fifteen minutes once the lab results were complete. The physician was a Belgian woman in her fifties. She was quite thorough and asked a lot of questions. Her demeanor was kind and caring. She reviewed the blood test and performed a full physical exam. Her diagnosis was inflammation in the center of my forehead. While I had not noticed anything physically it was quite tender to her touch. She deduced that the area would definitely affect the ears and nose as well as causing nausea and issues with balance. She wrote down prescriptions and accompanied us to the pharmacy to fill them as well as giving me instructions on doses. At this point I was so shocked at the level of care that it took me a minute to compute the currency conversion of what the cashier was charging MC. The blood work, doctor visit and prescriptions totaled $62. As you might imagine, I was speechless.

The antibiotics took effect within twenty-four hours and recovery began. It took another week to feel human again and then I began rebuilding my strength. When I finally had an appetite and was excited about eating I had tears in my eyes. These are the little things we think we do not take for granted and yet we do. We only get one body, one life. I am committed to making mine count. To keep it strong, to feed it well, to move it out of respect for the fact that I can. So many people see exercise as a curse or a chore. They choose to be miserable doing it and it works against their body instead of being in tune with it. I love being outdoors and celebrating what my body is capable of. To breathe in nature, listen to the birds singing and be thankful I have decided that health is my priority. It is an amazing gift I am more grateful for than ever!

The colorful photo above is a reminder that each day we are given is a blessing. Never let a sunset go by without being thankful!

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Dear Mom,

I am listening to the birds sing today and thinking of you. Happy 85th Birthday!

I struggle to believe I have lived twenty-five years without you. Although I certainly did not understand it then I trust that it was meant to be the way our stories unfolded. I know that the grief I felt enabled me to feel compassion and lend genuine support to friends along the way that have lost loved ones. In those few moments of comforting others I found a way to be grateful for the loss in my own journey.

You always taught me to see the best in everyone and every situation. I have practiced carrying that forth in a world now filled with negativity. Thank you for showing me the strength to be a believer despite my surroundings. I now know that we choose our own happiness and it all comes from within. I hope that one day others will find a way to release their expectations and simply love themselves. It is not easy but thankfully you gave me the foundation. I am blessed to have figured out eventually how to build on it.

It is no surprise that I have fallen in love with the simple life in which you and dad raised me. A time when every day we found pleasure in the little things and never worried about tomorrow because we were too busy appreciating what today had to offer. It was not just through my child eyes but the way you two lived life and brought us up. Slowing down these last couple of years is the best thing I have ever done for myself. It has helped me to think clearly, to allow my crazy imagination to run free and to follow my love for cooking and writing.

Your sense of adventure has obviously rubbed off on me. While dad was content to stay home you were always exploring ideas and trying new places. Despite being from a tiny rural town you introduced me to theater and travel. It opened my eyes. I think of you often and know that I was intended to see destinations you did not get the time to. I appreciate them through my eyes as well as yours so in essence we are traveling together. I know you are always with me. I see it in my plants growing, the birds singing to me and the random smile from a stranger. I know it is you.

Thank you for gifting me my passion for cooking! With ten children to feed I do not know how you did it with patience and a smile. You actually enjoyed it! How is that possible? I am so grateful for my time as your sous chef. I am certain now that you know my motive then was to get out of doing dishes but nonetheless I learned so much from you. You taught me the basics of great flavors, fresh ingredients and that time loosens all muscles into mouth watering deliciousness. If I had only one wish it would be to enjoy a meal with you. I often think about what that might be. Considering how you tortured me with that garden fresh tomato as a child I may need to return the gesture to see the look on your face when you try sushi. Just like that tomato I thought was going to kill me I know you would end up enjoying raw seafood just as much as I do.

I miss your physical presence so much my eyes leak. I checked on my older siblings and inlaws a few months back just like you asked me to. Not surprisingly they are all doing great. The food was amazing as always and my heart filled with joy to see my siblings thoroughly enjoying their roles as grandparents. That is exactly how I remember you! I may be biased but your grandchildren and great grandchildren are beautiful people and full of fun personalities. I see a little of you in each of them. You will forever influence our family with your unconditional love and laughter.

Please give dad a big hug for me. He would be so proud of my low utility bills! Tell him he was right and money does indeed not grow on trees but here in the Seychelles delicious fruit does and that is an even bigger blessing!

All my love,

Barbie

Minnesota Bound

I pondered long and hard after writing the last post wondering how in the world I could begin to put these two weeks into words. Literally and figuratively. At nearly five times the length of my normal post, San Diego Devoured was an enormous undertaking for several reasons. First, how to choose just a few photos? Next, swyping and editing a piece of that length on a smartphone is borderline crazy. I was having issues both technically and personally trying to adapt to the new laptop I purchased in the US. Then it dawned on me. A picture is worth a thousand words. I have so many photos from Minnesota that I cannot possibly choose just a few. I decided to step outside my comfort zone and try something a little different. I cannot recall every single day anyway and while the blog thing was new to me two years ago it no longer is. I cannot stay stuck in this technology trap because it scares me. I really just want to cook, travel, photograph and write. I do not want to get frustrated or impatient trying a new format. We must be open to change however and I should practice what I preach so here it goes. Out with the old, in with the new! A new Lenovo laptop that I can actually type on like normal people do. A new Samsung S8 for sharper photos and we are off and running. I pondered that purchase far longer than I should have as I noticed on the flight home that my S7 Edge was actually coming apart at the seams under my cover. It was an amazing, hardy companion with a burnt in keyboard in its last few months. Time to turn over a new leaf!

Unlike San Diego where I spent five years of my life making new friends and memories, Minnesota is my home. My history. Arriving at Minneapolis, St Paul International was very emotional. The landing is directly over Forts Snelling National cemetery where both of my parents were laid to rest. I have not been home in two years which is the longest I have ever been away. When I left I was not even sure when I would be back. Home! These are the people and the places I needed to share with MC. This is the piece of my puzzle he has only heard about. Would it all come together for him? Would he understand what I love about it and yet why I felt I needed to go? With those thoughts and a silent prayer to Mom and Dad I wiped away the tears and got off the plane.

I was caught off guard by this beautiful soul hugging me from out of nowhere in the terminal entrance. I did not see her coming and despite her being half my size she hit me like an NFL defensive lineman going after the quarterback. Sue is my best friend of over forty years. Her hugs are like magic! She has supported, encouraged and inspired me more than anyone else in this world. I do not recall and cannot imagine life without her. As Meredith says in Grey’s Anatomy, She is my person.

Our suite at Sue and Joe’s home was beautifully decorated by their daughter Soffi.

We visited my home town of Cologne, Minnesota. It took about five minutes! It’s size has nearly tripled since I was a child. I recall the sign back then saying Population 539. My brother still lives in the house where I grew up so MC got the full tour down memory lane.

We drove up the hill to see the Saint Bernard’s school where Sue and I got in to all kinds of trouble from first to sixth grade. You probably think I am joking. I believe we were the only two children to ever be suspended. We gave the nuns a run for their money, that is for sure! Despite it all, I think we turned out pretty good. While we were definitely adventurous, even back then we still had a solid foundation.

Next up was the family and friends picnic at Lake Nikomis. We brought with us hats that were handmade by an 83-year old woman in the Seychelles. It was our way of sharing the islands with our loved ones.

My Aunt Mona and Uncle Bob definitely stole the show and looked like newlyweds!

See how easy it is to pick up the relaxing island vibes?

MC was welcomed with open arms by seven of my nine siblings. We caught up with the other two along the way during our visit.

The week began with Costco shopping. While I was busy filling a suitcase with pillows, towels and a much needed Kirkland Signature cookware set, MC picked out a pair of prescription sunglasses that make him look like a Hollywood movie star. Sue could not help but treat him to the ultimate in American cuisine, the $1.50 hotdog and soda combo. It was a priceless photo opportunity!

After a day of shopping we had a few days of fun seeing The Jason Show being filmed with our friend Char and riding the lightrail into Minneapolis to catch a few innings of a Minnesota Twins baseball game.

You are probably wondering where the food is right? Well Minnesota is farm country which means delicious burgers and steaks the size of your head. We started off at my personal favorite Matt’s for a juicy Lucy. What is that you say? It is a delicious burger stuffed with molten cheese. It not only became MC’s fast favorite but was also visited by the former US president. He may have had better security than us but we went back for seconds a week later!

We only dined out a handful of times because quite frankly meals shared at home with Sue, Joe and Soffi are not only more delicious than any restaurant but also what I miss most. As you can see we share a passion for food!

Joey Jo Joe, as we call him, is a master at the grill and also smokes some crazy good brisket, ribs and pork butts. He is in fact in the final stage of launching his own BBQ rub. You can bet that made it in to our suitcases!

After walking beautiful Lake Harriet I found a place called Naviya’s Thai Brasserie to treat MC to the chili heat he had been missing from home. Obviously it was a hit! This was typical of many of our meals here. The camera did not eat first and that is quite okay. We were living in the moments and enjoying every bite. This meal was so delicious it has resulted in future travel plans.

After a week in the cities we headed out to my brother’s ranch in Lester Prairie. If we thought we were going to enjoy a relaxing, quiet weekend we were in for a surprise! A tour of the soap factory where he works and a stop at a craft brewery en route set the stage for the fun that was headed our way.

As you can see they got along well. Don’t they just look like trouble? MC was like a kid in a candy store. Mark let him play with all the toys!

Who enjoys mowing the lawn this much? MC does! He would have cut all one hundred acres if the majority had not been planted with crops.

He even got a chance to get out fishing thanks to my cousins. We were welcomed for a delicious fish fry dinner at their campgrounds despite the fact that we did not catch a single fish!

After a wonderful boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka Sunday we got up at the crack of dawn Monday to help milk the cows. (Okay, we were probably more nuisance than help to be honest.) When in Minnesota you have to visit a farm for the full country experience. The Boelke family of Cologne has been providing milk for the community for over sixty years.

Another must is the small town bar. There is none better or more welcoming than Heimey’s Place in New Germany. Apparently they get a little crazy here as there are bras hanging from the moose rack!Husband and wife team Jim and Ann serve up delicious home cooking and cold craft beer. What’s not to love?

Three of my nieces joined us for a slumber party our last night in the country. We set off on a crazy ride through the woods (pictured up top) on a gator I am certain was not meant for the capacity of six. I made my aunt’s lasagna recipe for all to enjoy and then the boys miraculously disappeared when facials were mentioned. The girls received my not-so-secret Greek yogurt and instant coffee mask. Everyone deserves to be pampered!

Back at Sue and Joe’s for our final few days the Bourbon Brothers caused trouble in the neighborhood by sending out the aroma of flip flop chicken. This meal was deemed top of the culinary list by MC.

Thighs squirted with beer every few minutes and finished with butter and sea salt results in juicy chicken and crispy skin. How can you go wrong?

Soffi taught MC how to enjoy his first smore. This girl knows how to live life to the fullest! We finished the night with scary campfire stories.

Sadly, the final suitcase Jenga eventually had to be dealt with. The larger two maxed out at 49.5 pounds. With the majority of coffee in the Seychelles being instant (I know. Very strange for an African country, right?) we were beyond grateful for our Caribou Coffee gifts to help us stock up! We arrived with two backpacks and a small carry on. We left with two backpacks and five suitcases. Not bad considering I had not really shopped in two years!

The goal was to introduce MC to America. The title of this post comes from a local television series that highlights the beauty of what Minnesota has to offer. It’s longtime host Ron Schara recently retired. I think MC lived the essence of his show in his two week tour. The fields, lakes, fishing and fun people are what my home state is all about.

In case you are wondering my favorite bite of the entire trip was a thick chewy gingerbread cookie. My sister’s recipe made with love and decorated by my niece Erica. It tasted like home!

I could not ask for anything more than this stamp of approval from my bestie. I am blessed beyond belief to have them both in my life!

Never goodbye. Until next time Minnesota…we love you all!