It’s been a travelin’ kind of May!

I have been on the road, so to speak, for almost the entire month of May! Sorry for the lack of updates, as I haven’t really figured out how to post through the app. It is on my to-do list to learn at some point. I had so many pictures (too many pictures!), and I kept putting this off until I get them organized…but I have given up and since I am about to leave on ANOTHER adventure, I figured I better get this one caught up!

I’m going to break this down by destination, and just do some short snippets. The entire experience has been amazing, and I hope it gives you some ideas for traveling, as well! Links to the pictures are in each title. Feel free to poke around the album to see other pictures, too.

Plus, I get back, and everything is green!

May 20, 2015

May 20, 2015

ATHENS – aka “AthensFest 2015”

As mentioned before, my mom runs a cooking forum on DelphiForums, and within the group that posts there, they organize these ‘fests’, a gathering of three or more members in some locale. This time around, dear Evelyn organized one in her hometown of Athens, Greece. Mom asked me if I would like to go…haha, she didn’t have to ask the AntiCook twice!

With her usual flair, Mom booked us into a brothel. And you think I might be kidding? No, it has a reputation among the cab drivers! Even so, the rooms are cheap (and they do rent by something other than the hour), relatively clean, and breakfast is included in the low, low price. I think during the summer they cater more to tour groups rather than their ‘other’ clientele, but we still go to sit on the gold couch and watch the women hawk their wares.

TRAVEL TIP: We used a service called “WelcomePickUps” for Athens. They are only available in Athens and Istanbul, but I can’t recommend them enough. Spiro was my driver from the airport, and then we hired him for the day to take us to Delphi and Thermopalyae. It was great having a ‘private’ driver to wait on us as we climbed the ruins, to drive us to lunch and through the crazy Athens traffic. The pick up from the airport was sooooo nice, as well, and the company was fantastic in every respect. Very reasonable rates, too.

Pictures from AthensFest 2015

SANTORINI

Oh wow! This place is as beautiful as the pictures! I have always imagined visiting Santorini, with the white buildings and blue domed roofs, and when I did, it was just as I had imagined! Our rental through Kastro Suites, was perfectly situated. It was a bit large for just the three of us, but the location was perfect (at least for me). Our patio opened on to the public path, and while I wouldn’t want to LIVE there, having the tourists and the donkeys climbing past us was all part of the charm.

My husband and I went to the Akrotiri ruins, and from there, we attempted to break our necks climbing up and then down to the red beach. I think we were climbing on goat paths that even goats weren’t dumb enough to utilize, all so I could get some red volcanic sand for my collection. 🙂

Pictures from Santorini

ATHENS – redux

We’re back at the brothel…it feels just like home. This is the one time we got a ‘bad’ room: the ac wasn’t working, nor the fridge. Went downstairs to let them know, and by the time we got back from our tours that day, we had a new room with working items. It may not be the prettiest place in town, but the customer service is great (and I’m trying to say that without it being an innuendo…) 🙂

ABRUZZO REGION, Italy aka “Cooking school”

We arrived at the Rome airport, but because we were coming from within the EU, the directions from the cooking school weren’t accurate (they were for the US/Canada guests), and a fire in the Rome airport a few days previously had rerouted things. But it all worked out, and soon we were picked up on and on the bus to Abruzzo, an approximately 4 hour ride, in which we were consistently terrified by our driver, who texted while driving the bus, drifting into the oncoming lane and shoulder, and who didn’t understand English. But, that aside, we made it alive and were ready to go.

The place where we stayed and where the school was is beautiful.  It was rather cold up in the mountains, but the views were amazing. All of us in the class were there on the Groupon deal (essentially a BOGO deal). We met some amazing travelers, mostly older women and couples, who have been on adventures all over the world! Everyone seemed to get along quite well, and I even found two other women who didn’t drink wine there. We were the popular ones to sit next to.

In a nutshell, we went on some amazing tours, fixed some amazing food, and ate even better. I know I gained weight in Greece, and I know I added to it in Italy. Everything is fixed with fresh ingredients, full fat, and lots of olive oil, of course!

Pictures from Abruzzo

BALTIC CRUISE – STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

This was the first stop on the 3 day Baltic cruise aboard the St. Peter Line’s Princess Anastasia ship. The ship looks like a throwback to the 80’s, which it probably is, but overall, and for the price, the cruise isn’t a bad deal. I’ve done it once before, but it was in March, very cold and wet. This time around was late May, and it was just cold. Well, chilly. We hardly spent any time on the decks, but that was alright, as we spent our days out sightseeing.

In Stockholm, there are a couple of must-see places. Definitely the Vasa Museum. It was still interesting my second time there, and I think the girls enjoyed it, too. In a nutshell, the museum houses a ship that went down in the harbor on its maiden voyage, due to poor design.

BALTIC CRUISE – TALLINN, ESTONIA

Ah, Tallinn. My hubby met us here, having come in on the Eckerd Line ferry, just to see us. We went and ate at Old Hansa House, dropped Mom off at a wine shop, then walked around and toured the old city while he gave his history report. We had a “bowl of decent elk soup”, which is always very good, and the girls tried moose sausage and a wild game meat pie.

BALTIC CRUISE – ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

MeetMeTaxi was amazing for this. If you have a group together (4-6 people), skip the ferry bus and use these folks. Our driver, Vladimir, drove us around to see about a dozen landmarks, gave us a running commentary on the history, and sat with my mom while I and the girls went into Hermitage. We were able to stop for pictures, and he waited for us outside the Church on the Spilled Blood while we toured and took pictures there. It was not a bad price at all, the van was comfortable, and it was a lifesaver for those of us who can’t walk far distances any longer.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the cruise, as I had been on it before, and wanted to experience without being behind the camera lens. Most of the pictures I took were with my daughter’s phone, for her, so I don’t have them. We also took the ferry out to Suomenlinna, and the bus to  Korkeasaari Zoo. I’ll post about those trips when I get THOSE pictures organized!

Sad face.

My youngest daughter left today, to return to the States (and 74+ degree weather…). I was missing her before we even got off the bus. I think she had a good trip, as she is making plans to find some friend who can scrape up the money for a ticket and come back in May. Found them a really good fare (under $900) through Iceland. We’ll see if it works out.

Gonna make cooking my goal for 2015. Found a list of 26 Foods Everyone Should Know How to Cook in their 20s. I’m a bit older than that (just a tad), but since my nickname is The AntiCook…well, better late than never. And my mom bought me an online cooking course for Christmas…which I need to start doing. Yeah, yeah…plans and all that shit.

Just getting back into a routine and making a list of people I need to call or go see tomorrow and Tuesday to get things moving along. Fuck bureaucracy.

Here’s a picture of my daughter and I to make me feel better. But I miss her, all my girls, so much! Waah. /emotion

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Walking, walking, walking

One of my daily goals is to get 12,000 steps a day, per my FitBit. I have been nailing it almost every day! I started using the MapMyWalk app, mainly so that when I return, I can show my route to Wellu and be able to say, “This is where I went…” because I sure as fuck can’t remember when I get home! “Uhm…it was down the street, up a hill, down this muddy path, through some woods…yeah, I just made it back by sheer luck.” Here’s today’s path:

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A little over two miles. Slow miles, because you-know-who has to sniff every freaking bush and pole and rock and clump of dirt or ice or snow…but still, two miles is a goodly distance for me these days.

Today actually was a pretty day, and here it is, past mid-December in Helsinki, and I was sweating under my coat. I had it unzipped when I got home, and I was just steps away from actually taking it off. But then I would have had to haul it around with me.

December 20, 2014, nearly 9:15am. Look...blue sky!

December 20, 2014, nearly 9:15am. Look…blue sky! Sorta.

It’s hard to see in the picture, but there was blue sky there, and by mid-day, there was a lot more of it showing up, too.

Here’s some adorable pictures of Shiva from our walk for you to enjoy:

Cave exploring Shiva!

Cave exploring Shiva!

Watching the other dog from the relative safety of the table top

Watching the other dog from the relative safety of the table top

Last night, we snacked on some of the best wild boar…yum yum!

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That’s some smoked wild boar ham, perfectly aged white cheddar, some Marie Kulta crackers, served up in a cute Moominmomma plate, next to my Moominmaid notebook, on top of my Moominmomma placemat. Too bad you can’t see all the other Moomin goodness on my desk, too. Too bad you can’t taste that wild boar goodness, either. Sorry, not sorry.

We went to go visit some friends near Itäkeskus, and took Shiva with us. She behaved very good, even around their five-year-old, and only barked at his mom a little bit. Until she was petted, and that seemed to appease her. She’s so easy. We had pastries, then we bundled up and headed out to the dog park for a bit. There, she played with a huge old Husky mix named Brutus and a hound dog puppy named Major. I would have taken pictures…but forgot my phone. Oops.

Tomorrow, we head to the Forum to run some errands, then we have to pack! Then on to Oulu Monday….then I return on Friday to get my daughter on Saturday and we take the train to Lapland! OMG….can’t wait!!!

Day 20 Challenge Question: Describe someone whom you’ve lost in your life and the sadness that you feel.

Wow, can’t do this one today. Today is too happy of a day. So let’s just change it to: What makes today a happy day?

Celebrating my middle daughter’s 21st birthday!! OMG…she’s a grownup!! Now she can legally order drinks! Check out this cutie pie!! It would only better if I could be with her.

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My middlest baby, today!!

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Wow, what a day!

Today was a whirlwind of activity, the day starting late, unfortunately. Woke up at around 9:30am, and took the Shiva-dog out for her walk. And here’s the picture of today’s view through the window. More light, since this picture was taken an hour later than I usually take them! Late, I’m late!

December 18, 2014

December 18, 2014

I had my life coaching meeting today at the Pasila library at 1:00pm. I hardly had time to get Shiva back from her walk, clean up and then head back out the door! I managed to catch the bus and the train with no problem (damn, I am getting good at this!), and headed up to the library. I had to admit that I haven’t opened up the page on my blog yet to detail this little project, plus I hadn’t journaled for two of the days. We did some exercises to help with the focus, narrowing it down. I gave them some feedback on the process, and we parted ways.

I checked out my very first books at the library!

barcode

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I haven’t checked out books at any library in ages, but it was really easy here. There’s a touch screen that allows you to read the images in English, then you insert your card in the reader. Each of the books has a barcode, and there is a tray that you slide the book into, and a scanner reads the bar code. I would have taken pictures, but there were people in line behind me. Just trust me when I say that it’s really easy! After you’re done, you can have it print a receipt, which will give you all the due dates for your books. Easy-peasy!

After this, I hopped back on the train and went to finally go visit a fellow American, Tracie, who writes the blog Beets + Birch (see link at the right). Wow! She is even more amazing in person than she is via her blog! Her apartment looks like something out of a magazine, but comfy and inviting. We spent about an hour chatting about this and that, and we will definitely get together again. I had to leave as I had yet another obligation to get to, but she sent me out with this lovely gift of cookies!

wrapped so pretty!

wrapped so pretty!

deliciousness inside!

deliciousness inside!

the red string now adorns my sad xmas tree

the red string now adorns my sad xmas tree

Upon leaving, I was digging in my purse for my bus pass, and found the chocolate bar that I had brought to give to her. So there in the parking lot, I unceremoniously thrust it in her hands. Sorry! But thank you so much for the cookies and hot chocolate, totally yum!!

I had to leave to get to the apoteekki before they closed, as I had ordered my meds and needed to pick them up. Because my ‘B’ certificate hasn’t been approved yet (the queue is loooooong, apparently), I had to go ahead and pay up front, with plans to get reimbursed…to the tune of over 1880€! Ouch. Tracie’s cookies made the sting a little less painful!

Day 18 Challenge Question: Have you ever experienced kindness from a stranger?

I have, many times. From the simplest acts of helping me pick up a spilled purse, to holding one screaming child while I dealt with another, to waving me ahead of the line when I only had one item…I’ve been fortunate to be on the receiving end of many kind acts. The one, however, that sticks out in my mind the most, happened nearly 19 years ago:

My youngest daughter has a congenital birth defect. When she was less than a year old, her dad and I were flying across the country, from California to New York, for her to have some reconstructive surgery. At the time, she had a colostomy bag. Not sure if you’re aware of what happens to a colostomy bag on a flight, but suffice it to say, we went through all the diapers we had at the time. And then the plane was diverted to another airport during a storm. This airport was deserted, but there was an older lady from Long Island with us, and in typical New Yorker fashion, she ordered some poor flight attendant to leave the airport and go find diapers, which she paid for, refusing repayment. Then she proceeded to hold the littlest one while we rested, and she became our fairy godmother for the rest of the trip. The next day, she appeared at the Ronald McDonald House where we were staying, and she stayed with us for the entire 12 hour surgery wait. She came back every day to check on Victoria’s progress, and celebrated her first birthday with her there in the hospital. This was before Facebook, and sadly, we lost touch, but I never forgot her, and still think about her sweetness to this day. Bless you, Ms. Jean.

ms. jean in the leopard print blouse on the left

ms. jean in the leopard print blouse on the left

Personal rant

First off, I’m not going to apologize for this post. I have a tendency to want to keep everything in my blog pretty upbeat, and I want to focus on what I am learning about Finland (however mundane and trivial it is, it may seem), but I need to take a moment to put some anger and frustration down on the screen, to maybe get some help with what my next step is, or to at least hear that my feelings are not misplaced.

First, a little history:Threeprettygirls

I have been blessed with three lovely and wonderful daughters. You may catch glimpses of them now and then on this blog. My youngest daughter is 19, and has started at a large 1683university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  She’s doing well enough, and dealing with the usual struggles that come with being away from home for the first time, which includes she doesn’t really have a home any longer to be “away from”, a mom that lives across the ocean, a dad in another state, studying, and a chronic medical condition. That last part is very important.

She was born with a condition that is called cloaca. It is a birth defect that covers a whole spectrum of disorders, but in general, she was born with one common channel for waste, and before she was born, that did not open to the outside. So her disorder has to do with her bladder, bowel and reproductive organs. 1750She was born missing the bottom part of her spine, the part which houses the nerve endings to control those functions, so she has to use a catheter to empty her bladder every few hours, and each night she has to do an ante-grade enema to empty her bowels.

She also has some kidney issues. I can’t be sure of the technical terms, but her urologists have told us that one of her kidneys is functional, but is small and dense, and won’t grow beyond its current capabilities. The other one is hard and nearly non-functional. She is doing well enough on what she has, but she has to take care not to put stress on them, as they won’t take much. She has to be very careful with bladder infections, Victoria_00114Awhich unfortunately are part of the life of having to use a catheter.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. There is no ‘cure’, as she is missing the nerves and muscles to perform those functions, and so requires the manual intervention. Her kidney function is not chronic enough to require transplant, but hovers right above that necessity.

In spite of all this, she’s a wonder. I tend to call her brave, but she hates that term. She says its not brave to simply face each day doing what you have to do. It’s just…what you do. 1778She doesn’t have a choice in the matter, so she says she isn’t brave. So fine, she is resolute and she faces each day pretty much without complaint. Sure, her early tween years had a few of the “Why did I have to be born this way?” drama scenes, but for the most part, she has accepted the myriad of scars as her marks of battle (34 surgeries and counting), and she says she’s not disabled, just ‘differently abled’, and it’s just about going to the bathroom, so not so bad.

Except.

1748She requires catheters to go to the bathroom. There is no getting around those. If she doesn’t have catheters, she can’t pee. Can’t void her bladder. It would fill and be painful and uncomfortable and bad things would happen. As much as someone without legs needs a wheelchair, she needs these catheters. Heck, she needs them to live, or she gets infected, her kidneys shut down, and she dies. Simple as that.

When she was younger (under the age of 19), 1690she was covered under Medicaid. Mainly because the insurance that her father has (and mine, even) did not cover her urinary catheters. Excluded them, specifically. Which really sucked, as they run about $2,000 a month to get. At a little over $11 each, and she uses 180 or so a month…it is more than the average family can afford. And we pay out of pocket for her 1710feeding bags, connecting catheters and supplies for her enemas. Medicaid would also cover the gentamicin flushes that she uses to try and avoid as many bladder infections.

When she turned 19, she was to be dropped from the Medicaid program, at least as a child, and they would find a program to put her on as an adult, and she would be covered while the review was in process.

And here is the problem we have come up against:

Yesterday, she received a letter from the Medicaid office VictoriaGradsaying that upon review, she was not eligible for any of their programs, as she was “no longer disabled”. What? Seriously? And what part of the review of her medical records suggests that she is “cured”? As her sister said upon hearing this, “Call the news. There’s been a miracle.”

Needless to say, we are in a bit of a scramble. She is calling her doctors in Cincinnati to try and get more descriptive letters written. Which is another thing…Medicaid, in the past, has paid for her to fly to Ohio from Louisiana to see her doctors (yes, a TEAM of surgeons) for her annual check up, and for emergency care, because they agree that no one in the State of Louisiana is qualified to handle her issues.

VictoriaRunShe’s filing an appeal, but she says that the lady that she talked to on the phone didn’t seem all that eager to help her. When she asked what medical records were reviewed to give them that decision, the lady replies, “I can only tell you what is in the letter; you don’t qualify.”

I’m just not sure where to turn. I can’t make the phone calls for her, as she is over 18 and HIPAA doesn’t allow me to even gather information on her behalf. VictoriaYayWe don’t have any specific place to turn in a waiver so that I can. She’s stressed with school, and now she’s stressed with this. She says she can’t understand how having to use catheters to go to the bathroom doesn’t qualify for some measure of ‘disability’. We’re not asking for her to be disabled in the context of receiving Social Security payments, simply for her to be covered under a Medicaid program so she can get her medical needs covered.

If anyone has dealt with Medicaid issues for adults, and has any advice, please let me know. We are up against the clock with this, as well. Although the answer was not definitive as far as coverage while this is under appeal (Her caseworker’s answer is “I don’t know if you are covered while it’s under appeal. I don’t think so.”), we have to assume that as of the end of the month, she will no longer have coverage for her medical supplies. I’ll be putting in a call to Coloplast to see if they offer any sort of patient assistance program, but that doesn’t help us if she has an infection and needs to visit the ER, and it doesn’t help with the gentamicin flushes (which are also expensive).

She’s such a great kid…young lady, and while her birth defect is not something you can readily see, and it doesn’t keep her from doing most of the things she needs to do, it is a birth defect that can be debilitating, and should be covered by Medicaid. I don’t want to be bitter about some of the things that I see covered by Medicaid (alcoholism?) and yet my daughter is deemed ‘ineligible’ by someone who seems to be ignoring her medical history, but I can’t help but wonder at the process used. Shouldn’t we be trying to promote these kids to be as independent as possible? And it seems that because she has been successful at it, she is being punished when she needs the help. Grrr. I wish I could express my thoughts more eloquently, but this is all I have.

I hate that all this is happening and I am so far away. Thank goodness for Skype and Facebook, and hopefully the power of the Internet to help us sort this out.

Thank you for listening.