Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Why I'm Voting For Will Ferrell

If you haven't already seen this, go check it out.

My favorite lines: "There are certain liberal agitators out there who would like you to believe my administration's not doing such a good job. These are people such as Howard Stern, Richard Clark, and the news." And "I'll use this weapon on those devil horses if I have to."

Monday, August 30, 2004

No. Freaking. Way.

You won't believe what happened to me today. I was on my way back from driving a spare key into the city for Eric (he locked his inside his car this morning) and I thought I'd drop by the vegetable market to pick up a few things for dinner. I was sitting there at a red light waiting for it to change when all of a sudden, CRASH! A lady in a Suzuki SUV rear ended me. A few seconds later when I realized what had happened the first words out of my mouth were "You've got to be kidding me." See, this is the third time I've been rear ended since October 2002. That's three times in 22 months. About once every 7 months. Surely that's not normal. The last time (December 2003) our car was totaled and I hurt my neck and upper back. I was in physical therapy for 3 months. We're still working on settling with the insurance company on that one. And now, bam! Another one to throw into the mix. Luckily, this one doesn't seem as bad. I feel whiplashed but not nearly as sore as I was last time. And the only damage to my car is a two inch dent in the bumper. So it could have been much worse, but still, what the eff? What's the deal with everyone running into me? Is my back end that attractive?

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Babies! Get in my belly!

Today was embryo transfer day. We transferred two blastocysts and decided to freeze three others that looked promising. The procedure went perfectly. In fact, the whole experience was one of the most amazing ones I've ever had, which I didn't expect at all.

We arrived at the fertility center at 8:00 a.m. and I was given a bottle of water to drink so my bladder would be nice and full for the sonogram (that helps the uterus lie flat so the doctor can easily insert the catheter loaded with the embryos.) When I was sufficiently hydrated they had me change into a hospital gown and hat and Eric changed into scrubs. We both had to wear a mask so the operating room would remain sterile. Before the procedure, Dr. A took us into the embryology lab and introduced us to the technicians who made our embryos. "Your first baby-sitters," he called them. As soon as we walked into the room I had an intense feeling that we were in a holy place. It was exactly the same feeling I have when I enter the temple. I sensed that something sacred was taking place; so many lives were being created. I had honestly never thought of it that way before so the impression surprised me greatly. The doctor let us look at our embryos through a microscope, which was incredible. He printed a picture of them for us (I'll post it once I have it scanned.)

Soon we were ready to proceed with the transfer. Dr. A had me lie flat on the operating table with my legs strapped in, then he tilted the table so that my head was lower than my feet. He asked us if we had any questions and Eric responded, "Yeah, can you give us the quiet ones?" Dr. A and and the nurses found this hilarious. One of the nurses took a sonogram of my belly so they could find a perfect little landing strip in my uterus. (It took her a few seconds to find it because my ovaries are bigger than my uterus from the OHSS and they were hogging the screen - I know, EW.) When they had located the correct position, Dr. A inserted the catheter through my cervix and up into the very top of my uterus. All I felt was some slight cramping and pressure from the speculum against my full bladder. Not fun, but not terrible by any means. Dr. A turned the sonogram screen so that Eric and I could watch and he even let E hold the transducer for a while so he could be an active participant. They load the catheter with tiny air bubbles next to the embryos so that the doctor can visualize where the embryos will be deposited, so we could see them go in. It was incredible to watch.

Afterward I had to lie flat for 30 minutes, and then I was allowed to change and go home. I'm on bed rest until tomorrow morning, which is difficult because I feel better today than I've felt in over a week. But I want to do everything right, so I'm trying to stay entertained. It's so strange to think that there are two embryos inside me right now. I keep talking to them and telling them to grab on and hold on tight, but since they're created out of my genetic material (not to mention Eric's), I don't expect them to be overly compliant. They're probably fiercely independent little buggers, so all I can do is hope they decide on their own that my womb is a good place to be.

Friday, August 27, 2004


I'm feeling miserable again today. I called Lan yesterday and she said if I didn't feel better by this morning I should come in for a sonogram. I had Eric drive me in because I was in too much pain to drive myself. Dr. Asmar did my sonogram and confirmed that I have OHSS. Luckily, it's mild enough that we should still be able to do the transfer on Sunday, provided it doesn't get worse. I can't imagine what it must be like to be severely hyperstimulated, because I wouldn't classify what I'm feeling as "mild" by any stretch. Last night I was doubled over and crying with the pain. During the ultrasound Dr. A found that my ovaries are about three times their normal size, so that's what's causing the pressure in my poor bloated tummy. (Speaking of the bloating, I damn well better be pregnant after this, because my belly is so distended I already look like I'm about four months along.) Knowing that what I'm feeling is normal and not cause for alarm actually helps a lot. I can get through it if I know it's not going to kill me. Dr. A even offered to call in a prescription for Tylenol with codeine if the pain gets too bad, but I only want to do that if I absolutely have to and so far I've been OK. I feel a bit better today than I did yesterday, so I hope that's a good sign that things will get better rather than worse. Either that or my ovaries will fulfill their threats and spontaneously combust.

On a more positive note, our embryos are growing wonderfully. We have 5 at the 8 cell stage that are Grade A (yep, embryos get graded, just like cuts of meat). And the rest of them are pretty good too. We have to decide if we want to freeze them so that we can use them in a few years when we want to conceive again. My mom remarked to me today how strange it would be to explain to our kids that they were all conceived at the same time, but born years apart. I'm not sure how I would feel knowing I was made in a petri dish. But I'd like to think once we tell them how much money we spent just to get them in my belly, they'll feel pretty darn special.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I'm not a heretic, I swear

Lately I've been experiencing something new to me. I would never bring this up in a church setting for fear of causing shock and disapproval (I need people to like me and think I'm normal) but you all won't judge me, right? Thanks.

So what I've been feeling. I guess you could call it priesthood envy. It's always bothered me that men hold the priesthood and women don't, mostly at an intellectual level, because as a feminist, it just didn't seem fair to me. This is the first time that I've felt it emotionally. It's not that I want to be a bishop or a general authority; what I'd really like is to be able to give blessings, especially to members of my family. When I'm sick or feeling particularly discouraged I'll ask my husband for a blessing. It's always a source of comfort and strength and healing. And sometimes I wish that I could do the same thing for him. The other night he was exhausted after a long day at work and struggling with the changes that are going on in his life and generally just depressed. I did my best to console him, and as I listened to his fears I found myself wishing that I could give him a blessing. In fact, I suggested that he call someone and ask for one, but he didn't want to. We have no idea who our home teachers are and he didn't feel like his need was urgent enough to bother the bishop at home late at night.

My envy is furthered by the fact that I've been reading a wonderful book called Women's Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900. It's a collection of firsthand accounts of women in the early church. This was a time when the understanding of church organization was still evolving (actually, I guess it still is now) and roles were not so clearly defined when it came to the priesthood. Women often gave blessings, seemingly without questioning whether or not they had the authority.

Patty Bartlett Sessions was a midwife who kept a daily diary during the trek west. Her entries combine details of the mundane with the spiritual. "Thursday Feb 4: My birthday. Fifty two years old in the camp of Isrial Winter Quarters. We had brandy and drank a toast to each other desireing and wishing the blessings of God to be with us all...Eliz Snow came here after me to go to a little party in the evening...Told her it was my birthday and she must bless me...I then went to the party. Had a good time singing praying speaking in toungues." A few days later: "Monday Feb 8: Finished making soap." She also writes of administering to the sick alongside her husband. "Wednesday Feb 17: I visited the sick. Mr. Sessions and I went and laid hands on the widow Holmans step daughter. She was healed."

In a letter to her husband, Bathsheba W. Smith (mother of George Albert Smith and future president of the Relief Society) writes of how she cared for her baby son when he was ill. "George Albert was sick last saterday and sunday. He had quite a feavor. I was vary uneaseey about him. I was afraid he was going to have the feavor. I took him to the fount and had him baptised and sinse then he has not had any feavor...I anointed him with oil a good many times." Baptism was used not only to initiate church membership, but also repeatedly to cleanse of sin and to cure illness.

As an older woman, Lucy Meserve Smith wrote a historical narrative of her life as a polygamous wife in the Salt Lake valley. One entry in particular provides insight into how she viewed the priesthood. "One evening after the rest of the family had retired I knelt down to pray and I was grasped by the wrist very tightly and it seemed as though there was something held over my face so it was very difficult for me to breathe or utter a word. Said i, old felloa you can figure away, but you've got the wrong pig by the ear this time...The Holy Spirit said to me they can do no harm where the name of Jesus is used with authority. I immediately rebuked them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood conferred upon me in common with my companion in the Holy Temple of our God. All that evil sensation left me immediately."

This view that the priesthood was jointly held by married men and women was prevalent in the early church, and couples often gave their children blessings together, with the mother anointing with oil and the father sealing the anointing. In 1910 President Joseph F. Smith said, "If a woman is requested to lay hands on the sick with her husband or with any other officer holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, she may do so with perfect propriety. It is no uncommon thing for a man and wife unitedly to administer to their children, and the husband being mouth, he may properly say out of courtesy, 'By authority of the holy priesthood in us vested'" (Improvement Era 10, February 1907, page 308.)

I know there must be a reason that things are done differently now. I trust the leadership of the church. But a part of me can't help feeling a bit wistful when I read of the experiences these amazing women had. One of the most beautiful traditions for me to contemplate was when women would bless one another during childbirth, anointing various parts of the body with an accompanying prayer to ease the pains of delivery. From pregnancy to watching their children get married, parenting was a team effort by the women in the Mormon community. It's probably my raging IVF hormones, but I wish our society was a bit more like that now. Except I'm really glad we have general anesthesia and epidurals.

My Fourteen Kids

Well, I survived egg retrieval on Tuesday. The whole procedure went perfectly. I was under anesthesia for about 40 minutes and woke up feeling so good that I drunkenly told the anesthesiologist, "Thanks for the great nap!" Dr. A performed the retrieval. He was able to extract 20 eggs, and as of yesterday we had 14 healthy embryos growing like crazy in their little petri dishes. This means that we have great odds of at least a few of them surviving to the blastocyst stage, 5 days after fertilization. We'll go in at 8:30 on Sunday morning for transfer, and then all we can do is wait until I go back for a beta pregnancy test. We're getting closer to the end! (Or the beginning, depending on how you look at it.)

Today, two days after retrieval, I'm feeling positively terrible. My belly is so bloated and tender that it hurts to breathe. Since I was hyperstimulated this is normal, but I have to keep an eye on my weight and make sure my fluid intake is high enough. If I gain more than 5 lbs in one day I have to call the doctor. In the meantime, all I can do is lie around the house and watch the Olympics. Walker, my kitten, has been incredibly sweet and calmer than usual for the last couple days. I think he knows I'm not feeling well. He follows me wherever I go in the apartment and is constantly at my side. Yesterday he took a nap with me, curled up against my tummy, and I woke up to him licking my chin and purring contentedly. He's like my little living heating pad.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Overachieving Ovaries

My life is pretty one-track these days. With all the time and attention it takes to complete an IVF cycle, I don't have much energy left to think about anything else. And here it comes...more IVF drama.

I've been going to my RE's office for blood draws and sonograms every day since Wednesday. It is beginning to feel like a true home away from home. I knew I was a true IVFer the day that I realized that all five of the rotating receptionists know me by name.

The reason I've had to go in every day is that on Wednesday I started showing signs of being hyperstimulated. (See OHSS.) Basically, that means that my ovaries are proving themselves to be little overachievers (in stark contrast to the rest of me, which lately has been stuck in slacker mode.) On Wednesday, Lan decided to reduce my Gonal-F injections from two to one vial a day. On Friday, she reduced it to one half a vial a day. And on Saturday afternoon I got a call that said, "Your estradiol levels are sky high. Stop all stimulation drugs." The idea was to help my ovaries "coast" for a while in hopes of slowing down egg production to a more reasonable level (i.e. one that won't cause them to explode, which is what it feels like they're about to do right now.) During my sonogram this morning the weekend RE didn't even bother to count my follicles because there were so many. I knew it was bad when the first sonogram image came up on the screen and the nurse who was there to record the measurements said, "Oh, lordy. I'm going to have to sit down for this one."

I waited on pins and needles for my afternoon call from the nurse and was relieved to hear that my estradiol levels are back to a safer level. I'll give myself the HCG shot tonight, which tells my body to go ahead and ovulate, and I'll have the egg retrieval on Tuesday (pushed up from Wednesday, yay!) and then with any luck we'll be able to proceed with the embryo transfer three to five days later.

And then, maybe my poor hardworking ovaries will get a break.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Excellent Responder

I had my first monitoring appointment today to see how I'm responding to the stimulation drugs. I'm happy to report that I am an excellent responder! In fact, I'm responding a bit too well. Lan could see 12 follicles on one ovary and 16 on the other. (In theory, each follicle develops one egg, although I'm told that there are normally more eggs than can be seen by ultrasound.) In order to avoid becoming overstimulated, I have to reduce my dosage of Gonal-F to one vial a day instead of two and for the next five days I have to go in every morning for bloodwork and a sonogram. That's right: every day for five days. I'll be spending lots of quality time on the beltway.

Monday, August 16, 2004


On Saturday I had an ultrasound to see if the Lupron has been doing its job. Eric came along with me and saw the whole internal sonogram process for the first time. (He was appropriately squeamish and sympathetic) Because Dr. B had a busy morning, my coordinating nurse Lan did the ultrasound. I love Lan. She's a petite Chinese-American woman with a strong accent who is simultaneously sweet and efficient. And she was much more gentle with the magic wand than Dr. B is, which I greatly appreciated. She turned the screen to show me what she was looking at. "See that? That your uterus. Next time, I wanna see babies in there."

My ovaries are nice and suppressed, just as they should be at this point, so it's on to the next step: stimulation drugs. I'm on a cocktail of Gonal-F and Repronex as well as a reduced dosage of Lupron. Lan showed me how to mix the three medications into just one shot, for which I will bless her name forever. I'm getting used to the injections, but if I can take one instead of three I'm not going to argue!

In other news, E and I have decided we want to move when our lease is up at the end of September. He's tired of spending three or more hours a day commuting, and we're both tired of our ward. During Relief Society yesterday someone asked me if I was new in the ward. Since we've been here for a year now, and are very involved in ward activities, our callings, etc, it's an illustration of how transient this area is. People don't get to know each other. We want to be somewhere where we'd feel a bit more grounded, especially once we have kids. Right now we're thinking about moving to downtown DC. This would be a huge change for us but I think it would be exciting. We'd get to know the city better and E would have an easy time getting to work and more time with me. Since he's been working so hard (lately it's pretty normal for him to work 70+ hours a week) it would make his life much easier to have more time at home. We've always thought we'd like to build a house in the country, have some property, and deal with the commute in order to have peace and quiet and space at home. If we move downtown, we'll be able to see the other side of it and experience what that's like. And I'm always up for new experiences.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Red Tent

Since graduating from college last year, one of the greatest pleasures I have discovered is reading. That may sound odd, considering that I was an English major and did nothing but read (and write about what I read) for a good four years. The difference is, now I can read whatever I want to, and I can do it at my own pace. I've re-read a lot of the books I had read hurriedly for classes and discovered new ideas I missed the first time. I've re-read the entire works of Orson Scott Card and was reminded of why I fell in love with his writing at the age of 13. Yesterday on my way to take a bath (ah, the luxury of my life!) I picked up my copy of The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I enjoyed it the first time I read it several years ago, and this time it took hold of me so completely that I didn't even notice the bath water growing cold around me until my cat jumped up onto the side of the tub and peered down at me like I was crazy.

The Red Tent is a fictional retelling of Genesis 34, the story of Dinah the daughter of Jacob. Following the Jewish tradition of midrash, Diamant makes Dinah the narrator of her own story. In a simple but poetic voice, Dinah recounts the history of her family. Some aspects are familiar - the jealousy between Leah and Rachel, Jacob's wrestling with the angel, the sons of Jacob slaughtering the men of Shechem.

The difference is Dinah's voice. She speaks to the reader as if to a friend sitting in the same room. "We have been lost to each other for so long," she says in the prologue. "My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust. This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing." The heart of her story is in the traditions of her mothers, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah. She tells about the work of their daily life: gardening, tending animals, cooking, spinning wool, carrying water, making beer. At a young age she becomes a midwife and learns how to use herbs, incantations, and birthing bricks to help mothers deliver their babies.

She also describes the religious traditions of the women, which were completely separate from those of the men. Long before the revelation of the ten commandments and the injunction to "have no other gods before me," Diamant speculates that the women likely worshipped a pantheon of goddesses. Some of those mentioned are Gula, goddess of healing, Taweret, goddess of maternity and childbirth, and Innana, the Great Mother and the Queen of Heaven.

The center of the women's spiritual lives is the red tent, the place where they gather together to separate themselves from the men while menstruating or giving birth. Far from being a punishment for impurity, this was a time of rejoicing and celebrating life; as Leah puts it, "In the red tent, the truth is known. In the red tent, where days pass like a gentle stream, as the gift of Innana courses through us, cleansing the body of the last month's death, preparing the body to receive the new month's life, women give thanks -- for repose and restoration, for the knowledge that life comes from between our legs, and that life costs blood."

The women's lives revolve around fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth. The first time I read the story, I was fascinated by this at an intellectual level. Diamant provides many details about the herbs the women used for contraception, the prayers they uttered to induce labor, and the lengths they went to in order to achieve pregnancy. I guess it shouldn't have surprised me that this time, my interest was much more personal. I cried as I read the story of Rachel, who was infertile for many years before finally conceiving. "Rachel could not smile at her sister while her own body remained fruitless. She was often away from the family's tents, seeking the counsel of Inna, who had a seemingly endless list of concoctions and strategies to open her womb. Rachel tried every remedy, every potion, every rumored cure. She wore only red and yellow -- the colors of life's blood and the talisman for healthy menstruation. She slept with her belly against trees said to be sacred to local goddesses. Whenever she saw running water, she lay down in it, hoping for the life of the river to inspire life within her ... But all these things did nothing for Rachel's womb."

I relate to her feelings of desperation, to her willingness to try anything. That's the same thing I feel as I give myself shots each day and go to seeminlgy endless doctors appointments. And I count myself lucky that I was born in a time when effective treatments are available to me.

But there is something they had then that is missing now. Inside the red tent, the women care for one another and remind each other of the miracle of their bodies. While giving birth, the woman in labor is held up on three sides by her sisters while a midwife catches the baby. After the baby is born, they all care for the newborn and the mother until she is well enough to resume her normal life. The world we live in now is very different. Fertility treatments are not discussed openly, and are often kept a secret. Women give birth in hospitals with a husband and often no other women in the room. When she goes home with a new baby, she does it alone, unless she is lucky enough to have a mother who lives near by who can help. We live our lives largely separate from the support of other women. And at this particular time in my life, I grieve that loss.

Dinah speaks from the past, reminding us of the stories that are missing and urging us to remember them. "And now you come to me -- women with hands and feet soft as a queen's, with more cooking pots than you need, so safe in childbed and so free with your tongues. You come hungry for the story that was lost. You crave words to fill the great silence that swallowed me, my mothers, and my grandmothers before them...It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing." At the end of the book, Dinah leaves us with a promise that if we remember her story we won't be alone. "Blessings on your eyes and on your children. Blessings on the ground beneath you. Wherever you walk, I go with you."

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Don't mind me, it's just the Lupron talking

I've been taking Lupron for seven days now. So far it's gone well. The worst side effect has been the headaches. They start every day at around 2 in the afternoon and grow steadily worse until I go to bed. I'm very lucky that I don't have to deal with stress from work or school. I can lie down whenever I need to, do yoga, cook, and just focus on getting through this cycle.

The part I was most worried about - actually giving myself the injections - in reality has been the easiest. The first time I did it I sat there with the syringe pointed at my belly for 10 minutes before I finally got up the courage to plunge it in. I did it - and all I could think was, "Is that it?" The Lupron needle is so tiny that I barely feel it going in. The medication itself does sting for a while afterwards, but it's nothing terrible and I feel much better now about the prospect of giving myself heparin injections for nine months if I am lucky enough to become pregnant.

Other than the headaches, the only thing I can complain about is the mood swings. And really, Eric should be the one to complain about that. For a while he was puzzled every time I'd have an uncharacteristic outburst, but now he seems to be catching on to the fact that I'm going to be crazy as a loon for the next little while. He's been marvelous about everything so far.

I have a tentative calendar for how this cycle will go. Come on and follow the bouncing fertility ball with me!

Phase One: Ovarian Suppression
August 4-13 Lupron 10 units daily; Dexamethasone .5 mg daily

Phase Two: Ovulation Induction
August 14-24 Gonal-F 2 vials daily, Repronex 1 vial daily; Lupron 5 units daily; Doxycycline 100 mg daily (E will take this as well to prepare his sperm for ICSI); baby aspirin therapy
I'll be closely monitored during ovulation induction with daily visits to the RE for blood draws and ultrasounds.

Phase Three: Egg retrieval
August 25 I'll be under IV sedation (hallelujah!) while the doctor aspirates multiple eggs from my ovaries using a long needle.
Begin progesterone-in-oil injections; begin heparin injections.
E will give a sample of his sperm the same day, and the lab techs will combine a few of the good swimmers with a few of my eggs through ICSI (a procedure that has only existed for a few years in which a single sperm is injected with a needle directly into the egg. It is used in cases of severe male factor.)

Phase Four: Embryo Transfer
August 28-30 Depending on how well they develop, up to 3 embryos will be transferred into my uterus either 3 or 5 days after they are created in the lab.
Continue progesterone-in-oil and heparin injections.

Phase Five: Beta Test
September ? This is where we find out if it worked or not. If it did, I'll continue PIO and heparin shots; if not, we'll decide whether to go straight on to attempt #2 or take a break.

The really scary part is that anywhere along the way the whole thing could fall to pieces. I could be a poor responder and not produce enough eggs. I could produce too many eggs and develop OHSS (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome) which can be very dangerous and result in a canceled cycle. Our embryos could fail to thrive in the lab. Or they could simply fail to implant after the transfer. As straightforward as the process seems to be, there is so much that could go wrong. Our chances of success are about as good as they possibly can be, but I'm doing my best to prepare myself for disappointment. I'm assuming we'll have to do this several times before succeeding. That way if it happens on the first try, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

And we're go!

Today is the official start of IVF/ICSI cycle number one. Yesterday I had a hysteroscopy to follow up on the D&C I had during my lap in June. They removed several polyps, and before we begin the IVF process we had to make sure those hadn't resurrected themselves. My first hysteroscopy was last October, and it was a breeze. I actually enjoyed it because the nurse turned the TV screen so that I could see the images they captured of inside my uterus. This time...all I can say is holy frijoles! As soon as the hysteroscope was in I had cramping like I've never experienced before (and I have endometriosis!) I think my innards were still sore from the lap/D&C because every time Dr. B moved the instrument it felt like she was stabbing me from the inside. Luckily the whole procedure was over in about 5 minutes.

Today I had my baseline ultrasound (date with the dildocam) to see if the birth control pills have suppressed my ovaries enough. They have, so Dr. B gave me the green light to begin Lupron injections tonight. That is, assuming my meds arrive today. They were supposed to come yesterday but there was a mix-up in shipping at Freedom Drug. The last person I spoke to assured me that I would receive them between 8:00 and 3:00 today, but it's now after 2 and there's no FedEx guy in sight. So we'll see what happens. I'm more than a little nervous about injecting myself; I'm trying to be a grown-up about it and mostly succeeding by forcing myself to think about other things.

The most surreal part of today's appointment was making out the check to the fertility center. We're participating in their shared-risk program, in which they require you to pay the full amount for 6 cycles up front. I won't shock you by mentioning amounts, but let's just say it'll be a long, long time before I write a check that large again.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Back from vacation...and fatter than ever!

Well, I promised to return with great tales of familial dysfunction, and I am as good as my word.

On our way to the Outer Banks we stopped off in Williamsburg to have a short visit with my grandmother. We have a cute nickname for her which all the grandkids use, but after this trip I think I’ll have to come up with a more descriptive name to call her. (Not to her face, of course.) Within minutes of being in her presence, she looked discerningly at Eric and me and said, “Hmm, both of you have put on quite a bit of weight.” Now, after knowing her for 26 years I’ve come to expect her to be downright bitchy most of the time, but somehow it still shocks me when she says things like that. “Thanks for noticing,” was the best response I could come up with. A few minutes later when E and I had left the room my dad (who has been under a great deal of professional stress lately and is literally on the verge of a breakdown) took his mother aside and sternly told her she had been rude and demanded that she apologize to us. She refused, then asked my sister, “Were you raised to disrespect your elders?” A few minutes later we left, and our vacation was off to a joyful start.

The week at the beach was actually rather uneventful this year, which is a good thing. Because of my dad’s emotional state, my parents decided to rent their own house separate from the rest of the extended family. This turned out to be a great move; most of the drama usually involves one of my uncles saying something inflammatory and my dad freaking out about it. This year he could just go over to his own house when he started getting annoyed. Also, because everyone was aware he’s having a hard time, there was much less provocation than there has been in years past. My uncles like to stir the pot, and my dad isn't the best at letting things go once he's been stirred.

I think the best part was hanging out with my cousins. There are 12 of us, and we only see each other once or twice a year. I had a great time sitting in the hot tub late at night talking with Alyssa and Hannah, who are 16 and 17 and both getting ready to apply to college. Every time I see them I’m shocked at how much they’ve grown, and impressed with the wonderful people they’re becoming.

Another fun part was that my aunt Carrie brought her mother Gunga along (that's not her real name, just her grandma name.) It was nice to have a grandmotherly person there, especially since Gunga is the exact opposite of my own grandmother in every way and is one of the sweetest women in the country.

On Thursday night at dinner all of us remarked that the week had gone exceptionally well. The weather was perfect, the water was warm, we ate amazing food every day, and we were all getting along. In retrospect, we really should have seen it coming. On Friday morning my uncle and my dad had a run-in about what to do for dinner that night. I won't get into detail because frankly it's extremely silly and boring. Suffice it to say, words were exchanged. That evening we all went to see The Village (which I loved) and back at the house we all sat in the living room having a nice discussion about the film’s meaning. I wasn’t in the room when it happened, but apparently someone said something that provoked my dad in just the right way and a nasty, nasty argument promptly ensued. It ended with my parents back at their own house and my uncle fuming at ours until late at night when he seemed to calm down a bit after sitting out on the deck by himself and coming back with an oddly grassy smell.

On Saturday morning they apologized and everything was OK again. Just in time for Eric and me to head back home.

So to summarize, we had a good time, and we are now more tired, tan, and fat than we were when we left. Long live the family reunion.

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