On the Town

I did a lot of walking last week, through and beneath the streets of Manhattan. The first half of the trip was business, the second half, pleasure—spending time with my sister to celebrate our birthdays, which are three weeks apart. And celebrate, we did.

From dinner at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, where the waitstaff are all Broadway hopefuls who belt out show tunes, to a walking tour of SOHO, Little Italy and Chinatown; from a lovely stroll up the High Line to a gourmet dinner and an outstanding performance of To Kill a Mockingbird—we had a great time. The weather was beautiful, for the most part. Our hotel off Times Square was surprisingly quiet. We discovered an excellent diner for breakfast and another for some of the best apple strudel I’ve ever tasted. And we started brainstorming our next trip together.

I’m happy to report that my new sneakers worked out pretty well. My feet certainly got tired, but not as tired as they usually do, and without significant neuropathy. Also notable: as I schlepped through the subway, to and from commuter rail, New Yorkers helped to carry my carry-on up and down steep staircases. Without my ever having to ask. Angels are everywhere.

Along the way, I enjoyed wonderful art, on the street and at the Met. Here’s a sampling for your viewing pleasure:

Art Deco with words for our times at Rockefeller Center

Also seen at Rockefeller Center

In front of 30 Rock

Street art in SOHO

Artistic and delicious pastry at Ferrara in Little Italy

Statue of Chang Kai Shek in Chinatown

Street art across from the Whitney Museum entrance to the High Line

Gardening on the High Line

High Line mural

Art Deco murals and design at the Hotel Edison

The Beatle’s original instruments at the Met’s “Play It Loud” exhibit . . .

. . . and some very decorative guitars

Berlin artist Alicja Kwade’s “ParaPivot” rooftop installation at the Met . . .

. . . and a spectacular view of the NYC skyline beyond Central Park

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

 

‘Tis the Season

April showers (and we’ve had plenty) certainly bring May flowers in my neighborhood. White-blossomed cherry trees and cream-colored callery pears, fuchsia magnolias and pink weeping cherries, along with maples unfurling pale green and purple leaves, grace sidewalks and lawns. White and violet violets speckle lawns that grow lusher by the day. The air smells delightful. With all the rain of late, pollen is subdued, and I haven’t started sneezing, yet.

In keeping with the season, another sign of spring has emerged: I have an infected ulcer in my left thumb. This spiked suddenly last Monday. Fortunately, it’s responding to antibiotics, which seem to be a perennial part of my world at this time of year. A good thing, because I’m traveling this week to New York for a mix of business and pleasure.

As my thumb became irritated, I wondered if I’d aggravated it by typing. Then I realized that I never use it to type. I’ve adapted to so many finger injuries over the decades that I automatically compensate for fingers that can’t comfortably or effectively strike the keys. Which made me wonder: How many fingers am I actually using to touch-type?

This is a bit like asking a centipede how it walks. I really have to stop and notice what I’m doing automatically, which can lead to more typos. But the answer is this: I use my pinky and ring fingers on my left hand, and my thumb, ring finger and pinky on my right. And I can still type quickly enough so that my thoughts translate almost immediately to the computer screen. It helps, significantly, to use an Apple “chiclet” keyboard, which has nearly flat keys with an easy touch, and a minimal rise so it’s easy on my wrists.

When my hands fell apart with severe ulcers two years ago (also in the spring), I learned to use Dragon dictation software to write. It was certainly a big help and enabled me to keep writing. But dictation taps a different part of the brain than writing brain-to-hands, and I will keep typing, even with only five fingers, as long as I can, because it is simply faster and more intuitive.

And so, I am dashing off this entry before I leave on my travels. Looking forward to fresh adventures—and to seeing how the flowers have grow when I come home.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Travel Hacks

This past weekend, I tried a new way to travel to Philadelphia to see my younger daughter. Our small regional airport now offers twice daily, non-stop American Eagle Shuttle flights⎯and so far, for a reasonable price. The airport is ten minutes from my home, as opposed to an hour-plus drive to Logan in Boston or other regional airports. And the flight itself takes less than an hour, as opposed to a slightly longer flight from Boston or
a six-hour drive.

So, worth the experiment. The plane is small, as in one row of single seats on the left, and double seats on the right. Cozy, to say the least. There is also no room in the overhead compartments for regular wheeled carry-on luggage. But they offer you a valet check
for your bag.

This is a great option for me, because it means that you leave your bag at the end of the flight bridge before boarding and retrieve it on the tarmac in Philly (process is reversed for the return flight). It’s great because (a) I don’t have to hassle with asking someone to put my bag overhead since I can’t do  it myself, (b) I don’t have to pay a baggage check fee and (c) retrieval is quick and easy (no waiting at the baggage claim conveyor belt and dragging my bag off before it moves away, also a challenge for my hands).

The other advantage of the small plane: being able to sit by myself in a single seat on the left. While I didn’t need to get up during the short flight, I could easily have done so. And I had the window, too. Best of both worlds.

Recently, when traveling alone, I’ve been stepping up to the gate counter when they ask for volunteers to place bags inside the plane because the flight is too full for everyone’s carry-ons to fit overhead. I get a free checked bag, and since the claim-check is given at the gate, there’s significantly less chance of my bag getting misplaced. I may have to wait at baggage claim to retrieve my carry-on, but it makes boarding and deplaning (who came up with that word?) much easier on my hands.

The only disadvantage of flying from my local airport is no TSA Pre-check. The airport is just too small. So I have to go through the rigamarole of shoes and liquids and all that. But since the airport is so small, there’s virtually no TSA line, and the agents are more patient and friendly. The same was actually true for my evening flight back from the shuttle terminal at Philadelphia International (though the TSA agents were gruffer). It takes me longer than most to put all my stuff in the bins and move it to the conveyor belt, so it’s nice to avoid all the pressure of hustling because others are waiting in line.

So, here’s to regional airports and shuttle flights! It’s not always an option, but if you can, there are some genuine advantages that ease some of the physical and mental stress of travel. Oh, and the flight was a breeze.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

The Poppies Grow

Sunday dawned sunny and brisk here, one of those sharp-shadowed November days when the light accentuates every ridge of bark and edge of brick like a finely detailed etching. I bundled up in multiple layers and headed downtown for our city’s annual Veteran’s Day parade, not out of habit, but because this was no ordinary November 11. It marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and I wanted to be present.

For the past few years years, I have been working on a novel set in the Great War, in 1915, and my research has given me a deep respect for the tremendous sacrifices made during that horrific conflagration, as well as for the ways in which the Treaty of Versailles that redrew post-war boundaries on three continents shaped so many of the geopolitical conflicts that we face today.

Four summers ago, Al and I traveled to Europe so that I could gain a stronger sense of place for my novel. We walked overgrown trenches, witnessed corroded but still live munitions that continue to emerge from Belgian soil (the so-called Iron Harvest), paid respects to row upon row of white grave markers in military cemeteries, discovered delicate red-orange poppies waving in Flanders Fields. They flourish in old battlefields because they favor earth that has been disturbed.

And the earth was disturbed, shredded, pounded to a muddy, barren pulp. Millions upon millions died defending, gaining, losing, regaining mere yards of turf between the trenches. In the end, the so-called peace treaty for the War to End All Wars imposed such economic hardship on Germany for its aggression that Teutonic desire for revenge set the stage for World War II.

I thought about all this as I watched the bag piper stride beneath an archway made of a huge American flag held up by two opposing fire truck ladders, as a handful of aging Marines in their red jackets and caps passed me carrying the Stars and Stripes, as units of JROTC high school students marched by in uniforms, as police rumbled past on motorcycles. The crowd was thin but respectful. A little girl handed me an American flag to wave. My fingers went numb every time I took a picture, because it was just that kind of chilly New England fall day.

The parade culminated at a memorial to World War I veterans that marks one of the entry points to the city’s downtown. I had passed it many times over the years, but never actually entered—a semi-circular granite wall engraved with the names of battles where Americans died in the War’s last year, surrounding a modest plaza with a flagpole. The mayor spoke of local residents who served and died in the War. He drew parallels between then and now and the divisive, dangerous politics of our times. Other city officials made a few remarks and laid a red-white-and-blue wreath at the flagpole’s base. A soldier read In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.

When we were in Belgium, we visited the site of the field dressing station where Lieutenant Colonel McCrae, a Canadian surgeon, artist and poet, saved soldier’s lives and wrote his famous memorial lines. That is where we found the poppies, still growing. They were wild, scattered amidst the high grass, smaller than I had expected.

McCrae’s poem ends thus: “If ye break faith with us who die | We shall not sleep, though poppies grow | In Flanders Fields.” On this centennial, with so much at risk in the world, I hope and pray that we can remember the somber lessons of World War I, the tremendous sacrifice of life, the hardships and grief and loss, and find our way through this difficult time to true and lasting global trust and cooperation for the betterment of all. Nothing less than the future of our planet hangs in the balance.

Poppies in Flanders Fields, Belgium

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Back Home

Home from our summer travels for about a week-and-a-half, but already it seems like a long time ago that we were away. That’s the strange thing about vacations. You’re completely immersed in your environs while you’re there, but once you’re back, it’s almost as if you never left.

Which is why I keep a travel journal, and we take plenty of pictures (especially my dear husband). If a tourist walks in a city and leaves without a record, was she really there?

Yes, I was, with Al—in Prague, Bratislava, Vienna and Berlin. Sixteen days, four countries, a crash course in European history, spectacular scenery, wonderful art. This trip was also personal: the bookends of our itinerary were designed to honor the memory of my great grandparents, who were murdered in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust.

My mother’s father, a professor of engineering at the Technische Universität Berlin, saw the writing on the wall in 1935 when he lost his position because he was Jewish. In 1936, after five months of searching for work in the U.S., he was able to find a good job and make a new home for my grandmother and mother. But, despite a heroic effort, he was unable to convince his elderly parents, who loved their homeland, that they should emigrate, as well, until it was far too late for them to escape the Nazis. They were transported to what is now called Terezín, a concentration camp about an hour’s drive from Prague, in August of 1942, and died there in early winter of 1943.

No one in my family has ever gone to Terezín. So, with a private tour guide, we visited the camp and learned details of my great grandparents’ final months. We lit candles in their memory. Later, at the end of our journey, we joined friends in Berlin for the placement of two Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones,” which are memorial cobblestones placed in the sidewalk next to the home where victims of the Shoah last lived of their own free will. These were powerful experiences for me, which I am only beginning to process and understand. It is one thing to know the history of World War II in the abstract, and quite another to confront such horrors in the lives of your own family.

We enjoyed uplifting experiences, as well: fairytale scenery in Prague, a day trip to Slovakia’s High Tatras amidst the Carpathian Mountains; a visit to a medieval silver mining town, also in Slovakia, one of several UNESCO World Heritage sites that we saw during our travels; extraordinary artwork by two of my favorite painters, Egon Schiele and Paul Klee, in Vienna and Berlin. And, oh, yes, some very delicious food. My hands held up, my feet wore out, but I’m so grateful that we were able to honor my great grandparents’ memory and have another overseas adventure, whatever the challenges—physical and emotional.

Here are a few highlights:

View of Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge

John Lennon Wall, Prague

Mucha stained glass window in St. Vitas’s Cathedral, Prague

Devin Castle ruins, Bratislava

High Tatras, Slovakia

Old Castle fortress, Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia

Belvedere Palace and Museum, Vienna

1936 Olympic champion Jesse Owens’ name carved in the wall of the Berlin Olympiastadion (top left column)

“Landschaft in Blau” (Landscape in Blue) by Paul Klee, 1917, Berggruen Museum, Berlin

The Stolpersteine honoring my great grandparents, Berlin

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

What Comes Next

This Friday marks the one year anniversary of my hands falling apart—literally. This is not easy to think about, even as I’ve been recording my experience and its aftermath these past twelve months. It makes me cringe.

At the same time, I’ve grown quite accustomed to my “revised” hands. I was noticing this the other day when I was working on a sewing project. I had no trouble negotiating my sewing machine, handling the fabric, moving my fingers around the needle and presser foot, winding the bobbin, pinning and unpinning. I still have to be mindful of how I position my hands, but mostly it’s become second nature.

Remembering how all this started, however, is scary. I had no idea what I was in for, and it was not only painful when my very severe ulcers lifted up to expose bone, but also revolting. I don’t think I fully allowed myself to acknowledge that at the time. Some kind of internal coping mechanism, combined with my writer’s indefatigable inquisitiveness, took over. (“Oh, wow, that’s what my knuckle bones look like!”)

Fortunately, in this case, curiosity did not kill the cat but enabled her to persevere. I didn’t let my deteriorating hands stop us from taking an extraordinary trip to Iceland and Norway; in fact, as I wrote at the time, it propelled me to seek out beauty to boost my courage for whatever lay ahead. I benefited greatly from my very supportive husband, without whom that trip would have been impossible.

August is just around the corner, and we are a few weeks out from another trip abroad. I am very grateful that my hands are in relatively good shape at present, with only two bandages, including one on my right thumb that is protecting an exposed clump of gray calcium that has yet to exit the finger pad. I am debating whether to ask my hand surgeon to remove it for me or just let nature take its course. My nose is healing from surgery two weeks ago. I am praying that we will avoid any health issues or other emergencies this year.

There is just no way to know what comes next. I can only hope that my well of resilience remains deep. I hope the same for you, Dear Reader, wherever your summer travels may take you.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Image Credit: David Monje

48 Hours

It’s been nearly 30 years since I visited our nation’s capital. This past weekend, Al and I packed in a slew of sightseeing in Washington, D.C., around a family celebration in Virginia. In just over 48 hours, we visited the National Gallery, Lincoln Memorial at night, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (also at night), Supreme Court, Capitol grounds, Newseum, National Gallery Sculpture Garden, National Archives, Hirshhorn Museum and National Gallery East. On Saturday morning, in sweltering heat, we participated in the Families Belong Together protest rally in Lafayette Park, next to the White House.

I walked my feet off. It was worth it. The highlight of DC, for me, was seeing the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives. The parchment is huge, the writing faded, the signatures inscribed by human hands. The ideals endure. I was reminded by an exhibit about women’s suffrage at the National Archives and the chiseled words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address at the Lincoln Memorial of how much struggle and acrimony is embedded in our nation’s history. I felt the power and protection of the First Amendment in Lafayette Park.

Here are some of my favorite images from our trip:

The conclusion of Lincoln’s second inaugural address at the Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial at night

Seen in a garden on our way to Capitol Hill

Protesters outside the Supreme Court

Heading toward the U.S. Capitol Building

Section of the Berlin Wall at the Newseum

National Gallery Sculpture Garden

Families Belong Together protest in Lafayette Park

Calder sculptures at the National Gallery East

Saul Steinberg, Untitled (A Conversation), National Gallery East

Le Gourmet, Picasso, National Gallery East

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Time Out

Sometimes I feel as if my head is going to explode from our nation’s vicious politics. So it was a great pleasure and privilege to go with Al to one of our favorite getaways on Sunday, Block Island, just off the Rhode Island coast, for a relaxing Father’s Day. The weather was perfect; the sky, azure with wisps of clouds; the water, emerald and sapphire. I stayed away from my news feeds. Best of all—no crowds. Public school is not yet out, so it was the calm before tourist season begins

I read, watched Al brave 58°F water, walked the beach, took photos and collected stones and sea glass. I got my feet wet, too, even if my toes turned purple. (Added bonus: walking barefoot on wet sand helped me to remove a nasty corn from my left foot that had re-emerged shortly after my podiatrist took it out a couple of weeks ago, a huge relief and boost in my ability to walk without pain.) After supper and some shopping, we sailed back to the coast on the ferry’s upper deck, enjoying a beautiful sunset. Just what the doctor ordered.

Here’s a taste of our visit. Enjoy!

                    

 

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com. Please view Privacy Policy here.

Wanderlust

So . . . we ended up with two feet of snow from Skylar last week, and now we’re expecting another five to ten inches from the next Nor’easter, Toby, on Wednesday night into Thursday morning. (Who comes up with these names, anyway?) Fortunately, we’ve had some melting in-between.

But I’m really getting tired of this weather pattern. And I’m starting to yearn for our next travel adventure to somewhere beautiful and warm in the summer. Which brings me to the topic of traveling with scleroderma, or any other disabling disease, for that matter.

Travel is strenuous when you’re healthy. All the more so, when you have to deal with all the possible complexities of this disease. But I’m determined to keep visiting new parts of the world (new to me) and discovering other cultures and viewpoints, as long as I’m able, one way or another. The benefits of always learning and growing far outweigh the fatigue factor. So I’ve gathered a few travel resources that address some of the biggest issues for those of us living with some form of disability, below.

Many of the resources out there focus on wheelchair accessibility. Some also address the broader issues of traveling with a disability that is less visible—and therefore more readily dismissed by people who should know better. I’ve selected a range, here, to help you get started on your own travel adventure:

Lonely Planet Accessible Travel Online Resource: This free PDF includes a wealth of information, from a huge list of online resources to tips for traveling with access issues. Lonely Planet guides are a favorite of mine, and the fact that they make this one a free download is a big plus.

Rick Steves’ Tips for Travelers with Disabilities: You may know Rick Steves from his PBS travel program. This blog post list basic, common-sense tips for planning ahead, especially if you need a wheelchair accessible hotel room or wonder how to find accessible bathrooms in a foreign country.

Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH): Founded in 1976, SATH offers travel resources, information for travel agents, plus travel tips and access information for people living with a wide range of disabilities.

Travelling with SclerodermaThis PDF download from Scleroderma Australia provides a great summary of how to travel with oxygen if your lungs are compromised.

Disabled Traveler/ SmarterTravel: Another useful blogpost with a roundup of online resources.

“What We Get Right About Accessible Travel” from CNTraveler: From my favorite travel podcast, here’s an episode featuring Alysia Kezerian, founder of the Instagram account Wheelies Around the World, and Traveler contributor Julia Buckley, author of Heal Me: In Search of a Cure. Both women travel extensively; both have disabilities. Kezerian has relied on a wheelchair since a spinal cord injury in her twenties, and Buckley lives with a rare disease that causes joint dislocation. Well worth a listen, for practical advice and a lot of inspiration.

Happy trails!

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Between Storms

Last weekend’s Nor’easter was supposed to dump up to a foot of snow on our fair city, but we lucked out with only rain and wind and no loss of power in our area. Tomorrow, however, we are in for it—possibly a foot to 18 inches, if the forecast is to be believed for Central Massachusetts.

In the meantime, Al and I managed to escape for a visit with Emily, our younger daughter, in Philly, to see her apartment and meet her colleagues at work and take in some of the city’s many highlights. So it was on Monday that we went to the annual PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, which is the largest and longest running such event in the U.S. Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, it certainly lived up to its reputation.

And so, Dear Reader, to help us all escape from winter storms and stressful news of late, here are some of my favorite images from our visit. Be sure to take a close look at the last one—it’s made entirely of pressed flowers.

 

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.