Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Getting To Know My Grandmother

She's 83, I'm 41, and I feel like I hardly know her.  Marilyn Pacheco, my paternal grandmother, came to visit us this Christmas and I'm saddened by the fact that I don't really know much about her life, and there is so much fascinating stuff to know.

According to my dad, she moved 35 times over the years, much of that for work, whether in the dairy industry or the real estate industry.  We were firmly planted in Colorado and so we would see each other periodically, a Christmas here, a summer time vacation there.  Prior to this Christmas, I have only three firmly entrenched memories of times that we spent together:  Christmas in Lake of the Ozarks, Summer Vacation in Myrtle Beach, and a summer visit to Texas.  There are probably others, but those three are the longest and most enduring memories I have.  There was never any malice or dislike on either side, the logistics of life simply conspired to keep our families apart.  When I heard she was coming I knew I would ask her to sit for some photographs, which she gladly did.

She's always been playful, I remember that.  When I sat her down for the shots, she immediately began playing with her arm positions and she wasn't shy at all.   I thought it might be work to photograph her, but it was easy.  She gave me what  I wanted and I was struck by the color of her eyes.  I have often joked with Nikki that I look like the hockey player Peter Forsberg because of the color of his eyes.  I said this because he is Swedish, and much of the family heritage on my mother's side comes from Sweden.  The more I looked in her eyes, though, the more I realized it comes from her, to my dad, to me.   She is Irish, among other things, and her maiden name was Maluy (mail-you).  As it turns out, my eyes are Irish, and they are smiling (hey-o).

While she was here, she wanted to see the mast of the U.S.S Oakland, which is currently sitting at the entrance of the Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland.  I vaguely remembered it being there, but I had never taken the opportunity to visit the site.  Her husband of 59 years, Chuck Pacheco, served aboard the U.S.S Oakland in the Pacific Theater as a signalman and stood on the platform at the top of the mast giving and taking signals from other ships in the carrier group.  We stood there and she and my dad told stories of that time and it all came alive in my mind.  Most striking of all is that the U.S.S Oakland was berthed several thousand yards away from the Missouri at the signing of the treaty to end the war,  close enough to provide prime seating for the crew to watch the events unfold.

During the war she worked at Mare Island Naval Station in Vallejo, taking the ferry daily across the small channel to work.  Gasoline was at a premium in those days because of the war effort so she walked and took the ferry.  While the Oakland was docked for repairs, she and my grandfather would communicate via semaphore , he from the ship and she from the small apartment she lived in across the channel.

Before she left, we talked a little about family history and where her side of the family comes from.  There is some speculation that somebody in the family may be a bastard child of a royal.  Who knows if this is true, but it's fascinating to talk about.  And that's the thing: people of this age have so much to talk about and so many great stories to tell.   If you haven't already, talk to them before it's too late, listen to their stories, write them down, and definitely take photos.   Theirs has been called "The Greatest Generation".  Now I have a much better understanding of why.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

DIY'ers Rejoice!!

No Sanding!  No Priming!  No Kidding!

Anyone who has followed this blog a bit knows I find everything to be a pain in the ass.  That's why when I saw those glorious words above I was more than a little interested.  When I find things that are easy to use, I feel an obligation to bring them forward as well.  With that in mind, it brings me great pleasure to talk about the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint system.  It is definitely not a pain in the ass.

Tami Fandrei is one of the Northern California stockists (that's what they call them) and we had heard great things about the paint from friends and family.   Tami and I had long been talking about exchanging photographic services for her painting expertise, so we finally decided to get together and make it happen.  She got some photos for her website and I got a product that's not a pain in the ass.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Am I Dying?

That was my first thought when I woke up last Friday morning with this meth user staring back at me.   The good news is that  I can't look any worse if I happen to get pulled over and arrested for beating my wife with a crack pipe while slamming a Pabst Blue ribbon and then fleeing in my 1976 black Trans-Am.  I"ll just hand the arresting office my model release form allowing him use of the photograph for my mugshot.  If only I still had my mullet.

The rash had been building for about two weeks, starting on my right temple as a bright red splotch that was slightly bumpy.  I didn't think much of until I noticed that my eye began to itch and I found myself scratching it obsessively.  In addition, right side of my neck began to turn red and splotchy.  Damn, it sort of felt like it was on fire.  The swelling began shortly thereafter, resulting in the Rocky Marciano look alike you see above a few days later.  By that time, my arms had begun to turn red and the rash grew slowly each day, snaking down my arm incrementally by the hour.   Only then did I have an ingenious idea, one that occurs to most men only after the symptoms and pain have become overwhelmingly ridiculous and death seems imminent:  I should go to the doctor!   Before I went, however, I asked Nikki if it looked bad. I just needed to be sure.  I was hoping I could convince her and myself that it wasn't really bad.  She laughed.  I went.

I have found that as I get older, every pain, in my mind, seems to be pointing towards certain death.  Lower back pain: degenerative disks.  Stomach ache: cancer.  Itchy rash: AIDS.   None of it is rational, and I can convince myself either way depending on the time of day and my mood.  Either way, I typically don't want to go to the doctor because it will certainly be bad news. With my frame of mind in the right place, I left for the doctor to see how long I had to live.

The nurse checked my vital signs, all seemed normal,  but I knew differently.  The doctor came in, asked my questions, I showed him the rashes and watched him type intently on the computer in the room.  He looked serious, this can't be good I thought.  This guy has been through 10 years of schooling, he's seen it all, he knows the gravity of my situation.  I kind of feel sorry for the guy that he must break the news to me.  Slowly he turned back to me.  I looked at the floor and quietly asked, "How long do I have doc"?  "Nobody can answer that question with any certainty", he said, "but go to the grocery store and get some Benadryl and this rash should clear up in about a week or so".   "That's it?", I asked.  "Yep, you have a skin irriation, that's all".  Sufficiently humiliated, I quickly walked out and left.

I knew there had to more to it than this, so I set about doing my own research.  Nikki and I tried to pinpoint all the things that were different in our household over the last several weeks.  All we could come up with was as a possible option was the scented dryer sheets.   It made sense, I had a rash on my neck from my shirt collars and and the rash on my arms started about the same point where short sleeves end.  Although that didn't turn out to be the case, I encourage you to google "scented dryer sheets" and look at the nastiness of the ingredients contained therein.   I think it might surprise you.

The real answer came during Nikki's holiday party for work.   I was sitting at the poker table (casino night) after dinner, and ran my right hand down my left forearm and I could feel the blisters through my long sleeve shirt.  I pressed slightly harder and I could see some fluid on my shirt.  There it was, the answer I had been searching for:  Weeping blisters, a classic case of poison oak.

It should have been obvious, I take Bella walking through the hills nearly every day and there is plenty of shrubbery and tall weeds and grass.  Either I touched it directly or it transmitted from her fur to my hands.   According to my research, I can look forward to the rashes being with me for another 3-6 weeks or so.

At least I'm not dying, but I can confirm one thing without a doubt: Poison Oak is some bad shit and the itching at 2 AM may make you wish you were dead.