Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pain, Pain Go Away!

Ever have one of those weeks that starts out calmly enough, like a sunny country drive, then suddenly and unexpectedly hauls butt around the bend, roars downhill and comes to a screeching halt in the parking lot of crapola?

That's what the past week has been like for me.

The "normal" aches and pains I experience have turned evil and inflicted upon me a wretched and roaring pain in my neck and shoulders. Not content to stay localized, though, it then spread to my low back and hips, rendering me pretty much useless and rather immobile for most of the week. It started, ironically, after a massage which was supposed to, of course, relax the muscles. Oddly the adverse occurred as she had somehow managed to jam and prod so much that the muscles reacted by cramping up and clamping down.

This is very disgruntling for me. For goodness sake, I have things to do! People to see! A garden to tend! I haven't been able to get out and get my much-needed errands done since, until two days ago, I could barely turn my head, not a real asset when you're trying to drive. And sitting at the computer, well, forget more than five minutes at any one stretch. So I get up, check email, write one in reply, walk around the house, lay down. Get up, read a little, go back to bed. This has been the pitiful rhythm of my days. I tried reading, but holding the book aloft exacerbated the shoulder pain. I tried to sit up and read, but sitting for very long caused screaming response from my back and hip muscles. Ditto with watching TV. All tendons seem in mutiny and I'm caught in the crossfire. I resorted to listening to the radio while lying in bed. I discovered that the music of my era, the tunes we so loved in high school and college, are now being played on the "oldies" station. (Just when, praytell, was eighties music relegated to the classification of "oldies"? I prefer to think of them as "rock classics", thankyouverymuch. And if I am going to listen to "oldies", it darn well better be older than I can remember.) That further depressed me. I switched over to talk radio, but about ten minutes of that had my muscles more tense, and the cat running scared, as I yelled at the radio and the half-witted drivel streaming out of my speakers. I popped in jazz CDs.

I tried Tylenol. Nada. Bumped it up to Motrin. Dulled it a bit, not much. On to Aleve. Nary a blip. I slathered on cooling gels and muscle rub creams. I'm now contemplating the possible efficacy of using Limoncello medicinally.

I have learned from experience not to share these instances with too many people. In the past if I mentioned health issues, I received responses that ranged from "OH, I've got just the thing for you. I know it will help. I sell this line of vitamins and for only $139.95 I will get you a starter pack, okay?"; to "Suck it up, kid, pain is a part of life"; and, the glazed-over eyes accompanied by an expression that clearly communicates, "Ummm, when I asked 'how are you' it was part of a greeting, not because I really wanted a response." Thankfully, there are also those blessed ones who respond sympathetically and genuinely, who will lift my spirits by making me laugh or being helpful, or who just exhibit concern. My sister, for example, has become a little 'meals on wheels', bringing me lunches. My uncle Dean can commiserate since he is in pain with sciatica and he never, ever fails to make me laugh. Bryan, of course, wants to jump into action and fix it all, and he picks up all the slack when I'm out of commission. Miss Underestimator, a fellow blogette, offered a muscular relaxation technique she garnered through her shoulder rehab experience. My mom -God bless mothers!- voiced her "oh no's" with a concerned voice, then got livid and said, "You should call that quack massage therapist and tell her....".

I started feeling a little better yesterday, so, foolishly, I went to Italian class. At last week's class I had had my confidence bolstered as I had understood - get this! - nearly every word spoken in conversation. I was so proud, I wanted to repeat the experience. Instead, the pain resumed due to the uncomfortable classroom chairs. It distracted me; I understood nary a thing. Sad, frustrated, I limped home and crawled back into bed.

Today I'm still going through the up-and-down cycle. I've been writing this in five minutes increments. And now, again, my time online is up; back to a prone position with a heating pad. Now where did I put that Beach Boys CD?

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Thursday, April 14, 2005

An Addiction in Living Color

I have recently come to realize that I have to face reality, to see the hard, cold fact that I am an addict. It has been difficult to admit. I've found that I have sought solace and comfort in this addiction. And now I can no longer stay in a state of denial. The substance of choice is the Sorrento Web Cam.

I log on to this site and look upon the image it beams to me as my very own street scene, the neighborhood in which I dwell with a view onto the little dramas and activities played out below. I pretend that, instead of a prospect out my window over wind-swept sagebrush, this is my vista. I have an apartment in a stone building (at least 300 years old), it was formerly a palazzo that has now been subdivided into about twenty apartments with a private central courtyard. I have old foot-worn stone steps leading up to my hand-hewn wood door with a heavy iron knocker. I gaze out my window periodically to see what is going on in the piazza below. I see my neighbors and fellow townspeople going about their daily lives, shopping - perhaps for a bouquet of flowers to take to dinner tonight at friends, or maybe for a new blouse in the latest spring style, or maybe they're just out for their ritual afternoon tiny cup of espresso. I watch as they pass in their tiny cars or zip through the street on their vespas.

I always enjoy watching the Sorrento passeggiata as everyone is out for their regular evening stroll, arm in arm, calling out to one another, stopping in the street to chat. I am, I imagine, out on my little balcony watering the colorful cascades of flowers, their containers an assortment of sizes and hues, along with my requisite pots of culinary herbs and I call out, "Ciao Angelo," and "Buona sera, Signora Verde. Come sta oggi?," leaning on my wrought iron balcony railing and chatting (in Italian and effortlessly, of course) with my neighbors below.

The scene on this webcam updates every few seconds, so it's almost like real-time viewing. I put the site on my screen and leave it up and active while I'm writing or reading email or surfing the web, and then I flip it back up for a gander every once in a while. Through my voyeuristic escapades I get to see what is currently la moda in Italy this season. I get to guess who the tourists are and where they are from ("Oh that guy is definitely from Nebraska"). I get to see what the weather is like there. And of course I get to wish that I was there.

This "window gazing" has led me to two conclusions: I really am hopelessly fanatical about Italy; and I definitely need to get a life.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Land of the Cleves, Home of the Browns

Following the two weeks in my hometown for my grandpa's funeral - which included roller-coaster emotions, coming down with a nasty cold, helping my grandma move into a new apartment, and cooking Easter dinner - I was in need of a couple days' recuperation to regather my senses and reconnect with my husband before we again entered the bosom of family, this time his family, as we were attending the previously scheduled surprise party for his dad's 75th birthday. While we had already planned on being in Ohio when the news came of my grandpaI had gone earlier than expected and thus had a much lengthier stay than I'd originally anticipated, which was topped with lots of emotion...and, in short, I needed a break!

We headed to Cleveland for a couple days' interlude, and while most people wouldn't think of Cleveland as a vacation destination, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. I was able to show Bryan some of the places from my childhood memories and we ate some fantastic meals.

We chose the Hyatt at The Arcade for our respite. I had always thought that The Arcade was a beautiful building, insisting on walking into its grand space on every trip to downtown when I was a kid. I was so glad to hear that it had been salvaged and restored. The gleaming brass and immense glass ceiling are now back to their original splendor, and our guest room was placed inside what had once been office space. Standing along the railing outside our room looking into the building gave me a sense of nostalgia, and gave Bryan the feeling of being on a cruise ship. Kudos to Hyatt for their restoration, their hospitality and their very attentive service. (My one gripe? The tacky Hyatt flags marring the scope and view of the glass ceiling.) Everything else exceeded my expectations.

The Arcade stretches between Superior and Euclid Aves. in downtown Cleveland Posted by Hello

Another photo:

Another vantage point of The Arcade interior Posted by Hello

We walked around downtown and saw that Cleveland has done some cleaning up since her ultra-industrial, river-burning days. She still has some growing up to do, though. Disappointed, I saw the empty display windows and gaping darkness beyond where the grand department stores of my youth provided fond shopping trips and elegant-feeling lunches with my mom and grandma. Higbees, Halle's and May Co. are hollow shells on their street corners, like down-on-their-luck panhandlers sitting there, waiting for someone to show them some generosity, to see their goodness behind their now-gritty exteriors, to help them along. It's a crying shame. Just blocks away, the warehouse district has underdone a major revival with high-end lofts and loads of new restaurants placed inside newly-renovated and sand-blasted brick buildings. I truly hope the momentum and enthusiam from that project will carry over the few short blocks to Public Square and downtown.

We had some welcome sunny weather while we were there so we went up to the lakeshore and paid homage to the new Browns Stadium. We could only gaze in from the locked gates, but we saw what we could, glad they had rebuilt on the lake, glad that it was still an open stadium (no wussy domes for Cleveland fans!) and wishing we could be here for a game. Bryan's dream is to be back during football season for a home Browns game and the OSU-Michigan game. Someday.

Other activities:

*The Church of the Holy Oil Can, known officially as the Euclid-Epworth Methodist Church, but more widely recognized locally by its moniker due to the exterior dome and spire, the interior surprised us with a beautiful soaring ceiling, a higher dome than I had expected and gorgeous stained (and other) glass work, including two rose windows. We were greeted warmly and given a personal tour. I'd always wondered what it looked like inside.

Church of the Holy Oil Can, officially known as Euclid-Epworth Methodist Church, located in Cleveland's University Circle area. Posted by Hello

*Cleveland Art Museum, we wandered around a bit, ignoring the main attraction that all the crowds were streaming in for, the Phillips Collection. I'd seen the Phillips Gallery on a trip to DC, and we went in to the museum but didn't feel in the right minds for it. After about an hour we wondered why we were inside on a warm and sunny day, so we retreated and wandered around the grassy areas nearby.
*West Side Market and Gallucci's. Together these spots are a food-lover's paradise. We gawked at the fresh produce and the meats and pastries at the market, then stocked up on lots of Italian cheeses and salami at Gallucci's. We're incurable food tourists!

*Valerio's on Mayfield. This was our highlight, stand-out meal. Located in "Little Italy", I had been wanting to try it for about 3 years, but being closed for lunch - the time-frame I have usually been able to be in Cleveland on my trips back - I was out of luck...until now. Valerio's exceeded my hopes and we "oohed" and "aahed" our way through three courses. We enjoyed a relaxed and flavorful meal, much needed time lingering over our meal, talking and catching up after two weeks apart. I thought Bryan was going to swoon when he encountered the gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce; it was that good.

We visited other restaurants in Little Italy and on Coventry...Cleveland is a pretty good dining town. We certainly didn't go hungry and the only dilemma was narrowing down the field.

It was an enjoyable time. During the previous two weeks, my mom and sister and I had spent a lot of time going through old photos of my grandparents, of the family, of our childhood, so capping off that time by reconnecting with some of my favorite childhood memories seemed apropos.

Cleveland, thanks for the great times, then and now.

copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider