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Yesterday morning, after several hours of flight delays, we began a twisting and turning descent into Bhutan’s Paro International Airport. Upon landing we proceeded through customs and a quick baggage claim to meet our guide and driver.

From the very beginning, Bhutan was breathtaking. Vast green forests, lush valleys, and steep hillsides surrounded us as we made our way from Paro to the capital Thimphu. We learned about white prayer flags to mourn the death of a loved one and the colored ones to pray for good luck. We also got to try the national food, a chili and cheese dish that will light most people’s mouths on fire. Fortunately Chris and Kai love spicy foods and I’m too stubborn to admit when my mouth is on fire. The local dishes in Bhutan have so far been exceptionally bland with the exception of the ubiquitous green chili which seems to be a mainstay in Bhutan.

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We visited the local weekend market before checking into Le Meridian Thimphu, then we headed out on foot to explore the city. There were many beautiful Bhutanese handicrafts for sale, but we held back on purchasing anything considering that it was our first night. **Five stars to Le Meridian Thimphu – an awesome contrast to the Yak and Yeti!

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Remember that time when Chris was surrounded by a throng of riled up shopkeepers in a back alley in Kathmandu? Well, we went back to that very spot last night.

A few months ago as I was planning our trip to Bhutan, I was a little bit excited when I realized that we would need two long layovers in Kathmandu. I was keen to re-visit the Monkey Temple and Darbur Square, but most of all I was excited to go back to the Yak and Yeti.

Next weekend we will have a day of sightseeing in Kathmandu, last night was just an overnight before our flight to Paro, Bhutan this morning.

When we landed in Nepal yesterday, I was really excited about our stay at the Yak and Yeti. A few years back, we stayed at the Hyatt, which was lovely, but did not seem nearly as authentic.

Upon arrival at the Yak and Yeti, it seemed as grand as I remembered it. However it quickly devolved into an experience that was much more authentic than I was expecting. Our hotel, billed as a five-star accommodation, may have been five stars when it opened, but our room had not seen an update since the 1960’s. It was dark and in disrepair with stained carpets and a mildewed shower.

On a positive note, we will not be staying there again next weekend when we pass through the city. I am eagerly and nervously awaiting some of our more obscure accommodations in Bhutan and I am still excited for the Monkey Temple next weekend!

Early this morning I found myself over the skies of the UAE removing my abaya as my aircraft began its descent into Dubai. I was on my way home from my first trip to Saudi Arabia.

What was Saudi Arabia like? Well, pretty much like anywhere else I guess. On my flight over I was a little bit nervous. Would I do something embarrassing or offensive? Would I say something stupid? Would it feel weird there?

It turns out that there was nothing to be nervous about. Sure, there are difference from the US, Dubai, or even some if the more conservative Emirates, but fundamentally people are people no matter where you go and I met some wonderful people there.

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Yes, I wore an abaya. What was that like?

Let me first tell you about shopping for my abaya. I brought Kai with me. We headed to a shopping center, or centre as they label it here, and visited a few Arabic clothing shops. The first few weren’t quite my style, I can’t put my finger on it, but they just weren’t ‘me’. Finally I went into a shop with a twenty-something Saudi lady working there and I explained what I was looking for: “I’m going to Saudi for work, so I need to buy an abaya. I may not use it ever again, so I don’t want to break the bank, but I don’t want to look like a dork either. I need to look fashionable, but work appropriate.”

She understood exactly what I was going for. Make no mistake, the abaya is a fashion statement and this felt even more true once I arrived in Saudi. The young lady at the shop found me an abaya that was trendy, but without being too edgy, appropriate for work or for wearing out at night… If you have seen those articles in fashion magazines about how to dress for work and transition seamlessly to happy hour, this is what she promised me. She hit the mark, dead on.

It was fascinating to learn that my abaya would be tailored specifically to fit me, long enough to drag on the ground but without being a tripping hazard and with sleeves at just the right length. My shayla style hijab (head scarf) was custom made to match the abaya. I was kind of stoked – this was my first custom tailored outfit.

Wearing an abaya was no big deal, after all, everyone else was wearing one also, albeit more gracefully than I was. If you have ever worn an evening gown that you stepped on from time to time, that is exactly how I felt in my abaya because I was unaccustomed to how it would flow around my feet as I walked.

More about my trip.

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So I arrived in Jeddah, on the Arabian Sea, a few days ago. I was nervous as my plane landed, but that quickly dissipated as I saw more and more of my surroundings.

When I arrived in Jeddah, which is near Mecca, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people arriving from all over the world on pilgrimages to Mecca. They came alone, they came in family groups big and small, some were meeting tour groups, some came to do it on their own. Regardless of their circumstance, there was excitement and anticipation in the air.

The first places I visited were my hotel and then a women’s university. I met many fascinating young women at the university who were more mature and well spoken than most college students that I have had the opportunity to meet. They absolutely blew me away.

While traveling around Jeddah, I saw many things that would surprise you if your view of Saudi is through the lens of mainstream media. I just mentioned that I met with many well educated women, and also contrary to mainstream media, I saw many women with their hair uncovered. I also saw many women walking and going about their business alone.

All in all, it was a good trip for me. I understand that there are some challenges there, as there are in any country, but still, it was a totally different, and more positive, experience from what I expected going in. If you have a chance to visit Saudi Arabia, even if you are a woman, I suggest seizing that opportunity.

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So I got four tattoos yesterday. Wild and crazy, right? I guess not, but certainly something that I never expected to do.

In the seven weeks or so since I posted last, I’ve had a lot going on. I can’t seem to name many things that I did in that time, but I can tell you for sure that I’ve been going non-stop, full throttle all day long and flopping into bed exhausted at the end of each day. Let’s see…

Shortly after my last post, I completed chemo treatment number seven. I can’t recall if it was a “good” one or a “bad” one. I guess I’ll consider myself lucky that it doesn’t stand out in my mind as much as treatment number four does. ::shudder:: In the week following treatment number seven, I decided to get my act together with running again. It was brutal. Worse than third trimester running.

Unfortunately, my running came to a grinding halt just days after I started at it again when I got a bit too confident on my mountain bike. [Note to self: The full face helmet does not protect your whole body.] My ride was feeling a bit too good as I careened down a winding stretch of single track, patting myself on the back for almost keeping up with Chris and Alex. I was on top of the world.

Until I wasn’t.

Instead of one of those slow motion bike wrecks, this was more like biting it on a snowboard. The kind of snowboarding fall where you catch an edge and simultaneously smack your face into the snow. [What just happened?] If you have gotten on a snowboard even once, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  

One minute, I was riding my bike. A split second later, I was flying through the air in a perfect trajectory to slam, knee cap first, into a rock. I immediately decided that I couldn’t move. Someone was going to have to carry me and my bike back out of there. Then I gave a second thought to the image of Chris carrying his broken bike back through miles of this same trail a few summers earlier and I decided to get back on the horse and hope that those guys had waited for me somewhere down the trail.

Long story short, my knee was pretty badly bruised and quite painful for about three weeks, so running got put on hold for a while. Fortunately, it is mostly back to normal now and I have been running pretty regularly for the past few weeks.

About a week after my bike wreck was another significant event: my eighth and final chemo treatment. I can’t even put into words how relieved I am to have that behind me. Even the thought of having an IV makes me nauseous. Blet.

I’m nearly four weeks out from my final chemo treatment and I have reached a milestone almost as important as finishing chemo itself. My hair has gotten long enough and thick enough that I have started getting a ton of compliments on it. Earlier this week I even had a stranger pay my check at a restaurant because he liked my haircut. A stranger probably twice my age, but still. I’m amazed that I get much more positive feedback on the hairstyle that I never wanted than I ever did on the style that I maintained for years. I wonder if I had really bad hair before but just didn’t know it? I don’t especially care. Good, bad, or ugly, I’m aiming for long hair again just as fast as it will grow.

In running news, I’m still dreadfully slow, but much improved from a few weeks ago. On my first “run”, I use that term loosely, I struggled to maintain an 12:35 pace. As I expected, after pushing through a few frustrating runs, I am improving a lot and have already shaved about 2.5 minutes off of my (un?) comfortable pace. If I keep at it, I’m sure that I can get back to a level that I will be satisfied with.

So back to the new ink. As you may have surmised, I went to New York yesterday to get set up on the radiation machine and I came home with four tattoos. They are just tiny dots, smaller than a dot from a ball point pen. One is used to aim the radiation beam, the other three are used to triangulate my position to make sure that I am in the exact same spot for each treatment. Way more hard core than barbed wire. Duh.

It has been a very long time since I posted last. Just before my hiatus, I made a trip to New York to see my doctor at Sloan-Kettering. It was a wonderful trip, in large part because while I was there I had a clean PET scan and found out that my treatments would be reduced from six cycles of ABVD to four cycles of ABVD. I returned from New York, all keyed up to write this amazing “I’m halfway though with chemo and on top of the world” post, when suddenly things seemed to stop going my way.

A few days following that awesome PET scan, I experienced my most awful chemo aftermath to date. It happened just as I expected it to (but didn’t) the first time. I was so sick. Like wasn’t able to keep food down for almost four days sick. Like even teaspoons of water and ice chips weren’t happening sick. I’m so lucky that this has only happened once (so far). I’m also extremely fortunate that I had my mother in law in town to help Chris with Kai and to make sure that I kept attempting to consume fluids.

Before the wrath of the bad chemo treatment even subsided, another far more upsetting event unfolded. Chris’ grandmother, who he loves very much, passed away. By the time we headed out to Los Angeles to be with his family, I was physically feeling much better, but it did not seem like an appropriate time to write a blog post. I figured that I would catch up on blogging when we got home.

I was correct, but I had no idea just how long we would be gone for. Before we made it home from Los Angeles, we received more terrible news, this time about my Grandmother. Later that day we were headed from LA to New Jersey to be with my family and attend a second funeral that weekend.

Although we have been home for almost a week now, I just haven’t been in the mood to write. Instead of hiding behind my laptop, or in all likelihood, my iPhone, I wanted to spend my time holding Chris and Kai and being together, so that is what we did; I’m sure you all understand.

 

The ducks are thriving at Duke’s House, so much so that they needed to have a bit more space. We debated many possible solutions, ultimately deciding that the ducks should make their big move to the great outdoors. Although the temperatures are staying warm enough for them to be outside, they are still quite young, so they still need plenty of protection from predators and the elements. On Sunday, we headed to the hardware store to check out our options.

By late afternoon, Chris has finished up their new digs and we just needed to move the ducks themselves. Piece of cake, right?

To simplify matters, we waited for Kai to go to bed before beginning the duck wrangling process. The first method of transport that we selected was via wheelbarrow. Our strategy was to move ten ducks at a time; if anything went wrong, we did not want to have the whole badling of ducks in transit at one time.

I stood on one side of the kiddie pool to encourage them to congregate on the other side, Chris would swoop in on the side opposite me and try to grab one with each hand as they ran back toward me. He placed the ducks that he caught in the wheelbarrow where I monitored to make sure that nobody escaped. After a few go-arounds, Chris has placed ten ducks in the wheelbarrow and we began to make our way the hundred yards or so to their new home. Duke, of course, loved this game.

Chris made little progress with the wheelbarrow before deciding that it needed to remain level. Instead of rolling it, we each picked up one side of it and carried it the rest of the way, rambunctious puppy in tow.

When we finally arrived at their new home, we realized that the wheelbarrow would not fit through the gate. Duke and I stood guard as Chris unloaded the ducks. This was not ideal.

We ditched the wheelbarrow and instead found a deep cardboard box.

Back to the garage, back to wrangling ducks. Chris was getting much better at catching them, but as the population in the pool thinned out, it became obvious that the more nimble of the ducks were the ones left. This time he got ten ducks put into the cardboard box, which he carried across the yard. Much easier.

One last trip, and finally all thirty ducks had arrived at their new home. After a few last adjustments to the heat lamps and double checking their food and water, we decided that the ducks were much better outside than in our garage. I am so relieved to have them outside!