Archive for December, 2011

Polar Express

December 24, 2011

Polar Express


The Polar Express is one of my all-time favorite Christmas picture books. When I was a school librarian, I read it to second grade students every year. That’s the year that real doubt about Santa sets in for most of them.

The Grand Canyon Railway, run out of Williams, Arizona, has a Polar Express train that operates in November, December, and January. I had been two years ago with my son, his wife, and then three year-old Abby. We went up and back in one day. It’s a three hour trip from Phoenix.

This year I arranged for a trip to the Polar Express for me, Abby, and another of her grandmothers, Barb. Being cost conscious, I eschewed the hotel- tickets package and booked the tickets directly and used Expedia for the hotel, which served free breakfast. We saved over a hundred dollars! Barb and I are a good tag team with Abby. Both of us are secure in the fact that our granddaughter loves us and we don’t compete for her attention. We take turns with the nitty gritty details.

There was a snow storm a few days before our trip, so my son insisted that we take his huge truck with four wheel drive. Barb is used to driving trucks, and agreed to do all the driving. I picked Abby up from pre-school at 9:30 and we were on the road by 10. Abby has a DVD player and enjoyed “Beezus and Ramona” in the back seat. Barb and I chatted up front.

When we got ten miles from Munds Park, (25 miles south of Flagstaff,) there was lots of snow on the ground but the highway was clear. We stopped in Flag at a newly remodeled MacDonald’s. Abby enjoyed the new play area.

Abby and Barb at the MacDonald's climbing wall

When we reached Williams, we had a hard time finding the train depot, even with the address and a Garmin. We finally drove to it, picked up our tickets, and easily found our hotel a few miles away. We rested for a few hours before going back to the depot. I entertained Abby while Barb drank a glass of wine and read. Good thing we went early as it is difficult to park. We boarded the 5:30 Polar Express.  Abby was in her pajamas, as were most of the other children. There were quite a few family groups with adults and kids in matching jammies.

Aboard the Polar Express

The chefs, in charge of the passengers, told us the rules. They passed out hot cocoa and large snikerdoocle cookies.

There was a gorgeous sunset as we pulled out of Williams.

We went through a “time tunnel” where the children were encouraged to yell to make the train travel faster. The time tunnel was needed to make the 7,000 mile trip to the North Pole.

The conductor, dressed like the one in the book, passed through our train car as the book was being read over the loud speaker.

Then the passengers and chef sang Christmas Carols. We finally arrived at the North Pole, at Santa’s village. The jolly old man was out there waving. The train turned around and stopped long enough for him to come aboard. Santa went through each car and gave each child a silver bell. (And some adults like me and Barb who asked for one.)

It was cold for us desert rats when we got off the train at 7:15. We went to a restaurant for dinner but ate quickly as we saw that Abby was fading fast. Barb did the getting to bed thing with Abby and got up with her early the next morning. When I got up, I took Abby to the breakfast room of the hotel so Barb could get back into bed for some leisure.

We finally all got coordinated and went outside in the fifteen degree weather to build a snowman. Barb grew up in southern California and I in New Jersey. She deferred to me as the snowman expert. The snow was too powdery to make a big snowman, but we found some packed balls in the snow that had been plowed. We used goldfish crackers to make the face. I helped Abby and another child build it. Just as quickly they knocked it down.

Abby had fun lying in the snow, making angels.

She ate snow, tromped in it, and had a great time. We went back through Flag to pick up some yummy bread at The Village Baker and again visit the MacDonald’s and its playground.

Abby was unbelievably well behaved. As were Barb and I. I hope to make a book about our trip and publish it on Barb and I are looking forward to taking our youngest granddaughter, Savannah, in a few years. It’s great being Granny Annie.

Cataract Surgery

December 15, 2011

Cataract Surgery

 It started out with a trip to the optometrist at Eye Masters. It had been a year since my last eye exam, and I just wasn’t seeing well out of my right “distance” eye. I had lasik surgery over ten years ago and got “monovision” where one eye is set for distance and one for close up. I’d had the same thing when I wore contact lenses. That way I never needed reading glasses.

Dr. Bassett was a nice guy. He tried to figure out a new prescription but he couldn’t get the right eye corrected. He did some further looking in my eye and announced that I had a posterior subcapsular cataract. He referred me to Southwestern Eye Center for surgery. One of their centers is close to my home.

Of course I went home and looked it up on the internet. It figures I would get a cataract that mostly young people get. It grows in the middle of the lens. My friend Betty took me to the appointment with Dr. Campion because he needed to dilate my eyes, meaning you couldn’t drive yourself home. I was informed that I had cataracts on both eyes and needed surgery on both, one at a time. I went back another time to have a water test to get measurements for the new lenses to be implanted.

I have health insurance. The operation was over $5500 but my part was $558. I filled the prescription for the two types of eye drops I would need to put in before and after surgery. No generic is available so my co-pay was $75.00 each! Dr. Campion’s office had given me a card to get $35.00 off one of the co-pays.

Donna, my good friend and neighbor, offered to take me to the surgery, which was in north Phoenix. We arrived at 1:20 p.m and I was immediately taken to the surgical area. Nurses put three different drops in my eyes, hooked me up to a heart monitor, and stuck in an IV. A nurse anesthetist administered the “twilight” drug. I fell asleep for a short time but woke up before being wheeled to the operating theater. I heard everything and felt pressure and a little pain during the surgery. They got me up and on the road by 2:15!

Donna and I went to our favorite neighborhood diner, Randy’s, for a late lunch, since I hadn’t been able to eat or drink anything all day. Here’s a picture of me with my patch.

An hour after surgery

I took two generic Aleve when my eye started to hurt. That didn’t help at all. By 5:30 I had alternately throbbing and piercing pain in my eye. It took four phone calls to get the doctor on duty, but he told me to take off the patch and put in one of the drops and to take Tylenol.

Donna offered to go to get the Tylenol. She found none on the shelf as there has been a recall, but she picked up a generic acetaminophen. I took two but it still hurt. Two hours later I put more drops in, as instructed by the on-call doctor. He called back to see how I was doing and I reported that the pain had gone from a 9 to a 5 on a scale of ten. He commented that it was going in the right direction. I took another two  acetaminophen pills and the pain went completely away. I had a good night’s sleep.

Donna took me to the appointment with Dr. Campion early the next morning. The nurses cleaned my eye and tested it. My vision was already much better and totally clear, no cloudiness or fog! And the world looked so much brighter out of my right eye. I guess everyone’s lens yellows as we age. Now I had a new one and saw true colors.

I have to wear a clear patch at night and have a rigid schedule of drops every day for a month. Although I can have the other eye done within a month, I think I’ll wait a while. I have to save up the money, anyway. I wish I was 65 and on Medicare. Imagine wanting to be older than you are!

Vegas as a Single Senior

December 12, 2011

Vegas as a Single Senior

 I went to Las Vegas over the weekend with Elissa, one of my best friends, and another Single Senior. The day we went up there was one of those clear blue crisp ones and the drive up was leisurely. The occasion was Tammy, Elissa’s daughter’s, fortieth birthday. We were especially celebrating because Tammy had a sudden serious illness last month and almost died. She’s recovered very well.

Elissa booked us into the Paris hotel. We had little trouble finding it as the Eiffel Tower sticks up. It was a nice room with marble tile in the bathroom. And the bathroom was soundproof!

As we walked along Las Vegas Avenue at four o’clock in the afternoon, no one came up to us to offer “girls” as they had when I visited last summer with a man. Elissa asked, “Why aren’t they offering us boys?”

The beggars in Las Vegas disguise themselves as cartoon characters or celebrities.  Many have soiled and dilapidated costumes. They jingle cans, asking for change. You’re supposed to give them money to get your picture taken with them. We saw some Disney Ducks passed out on the sidewalk. Walt must be turning over in his grave.

We walked through many of the hotel lobbies and shop areas, all beautifully decorated for Christmas. We had dinner at the Grand Lux Café in the Palazzo. We were joined by Tammy, her husband Kevin and Tammy’s childhood friend and her husband. Tammy and Kevin generously paid the entire tab. They had $150 in food credits because there were some problems with their suite at the Venetian. It was brand spanking new but had an acrid smell.

We saw Jersey Boys and it was terrific. I saw the show in San Francisco several years ago and enjoyed it just as much the second time. We waited after the show and met the actors.
While wandering around the Grand Canal we saw the latest fashion must for women, a micro-mini dress that’s form fitting. I’m pretty sure the women were not wearing underwear. It looked cute on the young girls whose bodies could carry off the skimpiness. Some looked not so good, but I think it made the wearers feel sexy. We passed a bachelorette party of eight girls all wearing variations of the dress in black. One woman was full figured and popping out of the top of the dress. “Someone lied to her!” Tammy commented.

We had great desserts at the Grand Lux café. Our party of six was unusual for Vegas as none of us had a drink.

Elissa and I went back to the hotel via taxi as she was really zonked. The driver was rude. During the entire ride he was on the phone, on a personal call, in a foreign language we didn’t recognize. Where have the friendly cabbies gone? (We later had two more cab rides. The first cabbie espoused very Republican views with which I disagreed. The best one was silent.)

On Saturday morning we perused the Miracle Mile shops. Every store declared a huge sale. I did find half price cute sweatshirts for my granddaughters, but nothing else appealed to us.

We had lunch at The Sugar Factory. Las Vegas is into decadence and that certainly holds true for the portions of food. Elissa and I shared a burger but there was no way we could consume the amount of French fries that accompanied it. The smoke from the casinos, restaurants, walkways and shops got to our nasal passages. We retreated to our non-smoking hotel room.

That night the birthday party was at Delmonico’s, Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant. Both Elissa and I dressed up but neither of us chose to wear the sexy outfits we packed. Why not? Maybe Vegas is not the place for a Single Senior to feel sexy. The emphasis is on young and toned women.

More of Tammy’s friends from high school joined us for the celebration. Tammy looked spectacular!


The conversation was entertaining and the food delicious. It may have been one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. We were so full only the birthday girl had dessert. I saved the steak bone to bring home to my dog Sparky. The younger set went off for Karaoke. We declined in order to give them freer range and also not to embarrass them with our singing. We again admired the decorations.

We walked through the shops at Paris and found one that catered to fashionable senior women. Elissa bought an outfit that fit her perfectly and looked fantastic. Shopping made us hungry again, so we stopped at The Sugar Factory for a night cap of ice cream and hot fudge.

We both have had hard times in our lives these past few months. It was good to get away but neither of us “let loose” or even wanted to gamble. We just weren’t in the mood. But we both enjoyed some time away from our real lives.