Yes Ma’am, Sir! 

Fun With Phonics

If I haven’t said this enough … I cannot speak or understand Tagalog. Though there are obvious words that every Fil-Am kid knows; malamig (cold), masarap (delicious), mabaho (stinky), tubig (water), kumustaka (how are you?), bakit (why?). Some phrases just get picked-up in conversation; like nagtatrabaho ka ba (are you working tonight?) or pupunta tayo sa misa (we’re going to mass).  

I may not understand it word for word, but I do get the context of what they are talking about, especially when they speak in Tag-lish. 1 That said, I love being around and listening to my family and friends when they speak Tagalog. It’s a comfort to me. It reminds me that I’m surrounded by loved ones, even if I don’t fully understand what they are saying.  

It’s funny. Even though I don’t speak the language, apparently, I’ve picked up some habits from listening to Tagalog and Taglish my entire life. Truth be told, I hadn’t even noticed it until a couple years into working full time after getting my RN license. And I didn’t even know WHY. In fact, when growing up it was something that many of us kids used to make fun of our parents, and Titas & Titos. 2  

It was the use of pronouns. You know (say it with pride, SVF 3rd Grade Sr Barbara students!), Me – You – He – She – It – They – Them.  Emphasis on the SHE and the IT … and said rapidly, as one word. 3   

Difficulty with pronouns occur with most of my family & family friends that grew up speaking Tagalog as their primary language. They often get their He/She or Him/Her confused. Many times they resort to saying They/Them, or just referring to a person simply as one run-on word “He-She.” In return, I find myself doing the same thing. Getting my pronouns mixed up. Which seems awfully strange, but I’ve been it’s not unusual that this happens if you are brought up in a two-language household. It had been no big deal for the most part … until it wasn’t.   

When I first started working full time, my co-workers found my mix-up of pronouns endearing. After the gazillionth time it became annoying. It became embarrassing to me whenever it happened, especially while talking with a patient or physician. “He-She” became a staple word in my vocabulary. It was that or, “He – <pause & blink> I mean, She” (or vice versa) every time I used a pronoun. There were times where patients or family members would look at me as if I couldn’t tell the difference between a cat and a dog. And believe me, there were many times I was told to “get glasses” or asked if I was blind and “can’t you see I’m obviously a <insert gender>.” 

Getting to Sesame Street

The last time I was in the Philippines was in 2014. Before that was when I was 9 years old. I have lots of fond memories from that trip in the ‘80’s and to this day, my cousins tease me about the time I lost my balance and fell into the sewer. “Mabaho ka na!” (You stink!)  

Going back as an adult, I was more aware of my surroundings and tried my best to be present with any interaction I had with everyone. To be honest, I did that for three reasons. Number 1): I didn’t want to get lost, since I didn’t know my way around. Number 2): I didn’t speak or understand fluent Taglish. And Number 3): I didn’t want to get kidnapped. I’m only half-kidding about that last one, but that’s what every Fil-Am kid who doesn’t speak Tagalog is told when they go to Manila.  

Believe me, any Filipino in the Philippines can spot a Fil-Am kid right on the spot. We may physically look the same, but we stand out in the crowd by our clothes, the volume of our voice, even the tone of our skin (the darker you are, the more American you are). So yes, when I’m approached at a store at one of the gazillion super malls in Manila or am seated at a restaurant and are asked what I’d like to order … they know to speak English to me. 4  And this is what I’m always greeted with:  

“Good morning (or afternoon), Ma’am, Sir”  


Have you ever called a Customer Service line for any major business and *actually* got to speak with a live person on the phone? Did the person happen to address you as “Ma’am, Sir” at any point during the conversation? Chances are you have a Customer Service Rep answering your call from the Philippines. So please be patient with them. 5

Let me tell you the reason why Filipinos get their pronouns mixed up. It’s not that we don’t know the difference. (Like I mentioned above, I’ve gotten that line more times than you think.) Or that we’re fumbling to determine your gender identity. It’s because Tagalog is a Gender-Neutral language.  

A Gender-Neutral language is one that avoids references towards a particular sex or gender. For example, gender-neutral words in English would be “Postal Worker” or “Flight Attendant,” whereas gender-specific counterparts are “Mailman” or “Stewardess.” In Tagalog, when referencing a person, the word “siya” is used for both “he” and “she” as well as “it.”  

That’s not to say that Tagalog doesn’t have any gender specific words, especially after over 3 centuries of Spanish influence. Those gender specific pronouns, just like Spanish, can be identified by their suffix: -o (Tito, Lolo, Pinoy) for masculine; -a (Tita, Lola, Pinay) for feminine. There are other gender differentiating pairs such as Ate (pronounced ah-teh) and Kuya for eldest sister/brother that are influences from China. But for the most part, when referring to a person there *is* no male or female counterpart.

Gender Fender Bender

Today, using the correct pronouns is important more than ever. Addressing a person in the way they wish to be addressed is paramount and should have NOTHING to do with gender identity in the first place.

I think back to BEFORE using the correct pronouns were, well – more pronounced. And how I would constantly get the “evil eye” from family members or be told by other health care professionals that I “needed to get my pronouns straight.” I remember how offended people would get when I goofed up simply because the language my culture speaks doesn’t have a specific pronoun for gender. And how I constantly make an effort to pause before using pronouns because of this.  

And then I wonder HOW HARD it is for people to make the effort to do the same today.   


  1. Half Tagalog, Half English ↩︎
  2. Aunts & Uncles ↩︎
  3. Lame, I know, but us Catholic school kids had to find a way to swear back then! ↩︎
  4. Most Filipinos are bilingual as, during the 50 years of US occupation of the Philippine Islands, many elementary schools taught in English and required students to only speak English during class  ↩︎
  5. Not only because it’s not their fault that you’ve been on hold for so long, but it’s just outright rude. ↩︎

Pride (In The Name of Love)

Lyrics (of course) by U2

Can you believe it’s already June? As a kid, I remember loving this month. It always signaled the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation. The never-ending days of bike rides to swim classes twice a week and to the library on other days. To staying out late with friends until the streetlights went on and you knew it was time to come back home. And for many Gen X-ers, it entailed eating a lot of cereal or Eggos for breakfast and figuring out how to make mac & cheese or hot dogs or pizza bagels for lunch.  

But we survived our middle school, early 80’s years. And we thrived. Without video games (until Atari was readily available for us) or cable (until MTV was in every household). And God knows there was nothing close to internet social media at that time … unless you had a pen pal from another state or country.  

One Man Come In the Name of Love

Maybe I was just a naïve 10–12-year-old Filipino American Catholic school girl (there was no such thing as “pre-teen” back in my day), but I feel like everything was just so innocent back then. Sure, there was crime (McGruff the Crime Dog anyone?) and kidnapping (“It’s 10pm, do you know where your children are?”), but it doesn’t seem as pronounced as it is today. It could be from the 24-hour news cycle. Or the internet. Or social media. But geez, I feel that if I was at that age today, I’d be overwhelmed with too much stimuli.  

So yeah. It’s JUNE. And what does the month of June mean today, in modern times. Pride Month … or as I’ve seen multiple people post on FB: The most uncomfortable month of the year for homophobes.  

Do you know why June was chosen as the nationally recognized month? It’s in reference to the Stonewall Riots that started in the early hours on June 28, 1969.  The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village NYC was a popular restaurant and bar for gay men and those on the fringe in the late 60’s. In that early morning in June, a series of spontaneous and violent protests against the NYC police who raided the Stonewall Inn erupted.  This was not the first uprising among the homosexual community and the NYC police in the past, though this one lasted for several days.  

One Man He Resist

Today the Stonewall Inn has been named at as the defining moment of the Gay Rights Movement in the US and around the world.In 1999, Clinton initially declared June as Gay & Lesbian Pride Month. Twelve years later in 2011, Obama amended Pride Month to include the whole LGBTQ+ community.  

On June 24, 2016, Obama also designated Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park, and the surrounding streets as Stonewall National Monument, making it the first US National Monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights. 

And so now is the time I start to reflect on why this month is special to me …  

One Boy (Girl?) Washed Up On An Empty Beach

It’s amazing how far along this naïve Fil-Am Catholic school girl has come along from her sheltered life since those middle school and high school days. Especially when it comes to diversity in the rainbow sense of the word. I mean, I knew what “bakla” meant (feminine male, gay in Tagalog), but to talk about sexual preference was always (still is for many first gen Fil-Am kids with their parents) a taboo subject. (More on this in a separate post.) There was no such talk about “coming out of the closet.” It wasn’t until living up at Oakland University that I became more comfortable talking about sexual orientation and identity. I mean, that’s what college is for, right? Expanding your horizons and learning more about life?  

One of my best friends from Nursing School came out to me a year after we graduated. When he did, I was incredibly happy for him, but I was not at all surprised. I had a strong suspicion he was gay, but I figured he’d tell me when he was ready. In fact, I think he was more surprised at my reaction than I was with his announcement. I remember telling him that I had a feeling all along, but really thought nothing of it, which was the honest-to-God truth.  

One Boy (Not) Betrayed By A Kiss

To me it had nothing to do with what his sexual orientation was, but rather what his character was like. And he was that kind, funny, neurotic, immensely smart and sharp-witted type of guy that was THE best type of friend and “war buddy” you’d want to survive Nursing school. This is the type of lab / study partner that went deep in the trenches of clinicals, care plans and bedpans. He went headfirst alongside you and picked you up or dragged you when you needed it … and you would do the same when he needed the swift kick in the butt. He’s also the same guy that would drive in a blizzard to pick me up for clinicals only to find out that our university had called a “Snow Day” for the first time in decades. And the same guy who would NEVER ask questions when my roommate and I asked him to drive us somewhere in his VW Golf. He’s also the same guy who I’d drop anything I was doing if he needed my help. Even if it has been 20+ years since we’ve seen each other.  

In The Name Of Love

Being in Nursing, I’ve had the privilege of working, meeting, and caring for people from all walks of life:  of all different ethnic / social / economic backgrounds, of any gender identity or sexual preference, whether someone is homeless or an immigrant or even both.  The point here being is that none of this matter when it comes down to the individual. In Health Care, that makes sense – it’s a whole team of people working TOWARDS a person’s health goal, whether it’s to improve, to maintain, or even to accept.  

Except, why doesn’t everyone’s individuality matter when it comes to things even more important than health? Let’s say … like marriage, housing, religion, or any type of services otherwise provided to cisgender heterosexual people?  What if these same issues were happening to your loved one; your child, for instance? Would your religion – or rather your FEAR – keep you from being present for them?  

Would YOUR pride stand in the way of accepting YOUR loved one just the way they are? 

THAT is the point of Pride Month. It is NOT – and I say this because I hear this EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. – meant to throw one’s “gayness” or “queerness” into the rest of the world’s face.  It’s to celebrate the fact that every person, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation is allowed to freely express their individuality with PRIDE. 

What More In The Name of Love?

We had nosebleed seats, but was able to catch U2 during the The Joshua Tree 20th Anniversary Tour

Filipino Lessons Learned

For those that don’t know, May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It’s a month for our nation to reflect on how Asians and Pacific Islander, including Native Hawaiians played an important part in the history of the United States. 

I could probably go on about how Chinese Immigrants pretty much built the Transcontinental Railroad. Or how Filipino American farmers in California were the first to walk off the grape fields, prompting the beginning of the Delano Grape Strike led by Cezar Chavez.1   

I can even remind everyone that Filipinos were the first Asians ever to set foot in the Americas. Most are told that the first colony in the United States was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 by English settlers. However 20 years prior to this, on October 18, 1587, Filipino sailors working on a Spanish ship arrived to what is now known as Morro Bay, California.


IF LIFE GIVES YOU MELONS, YOU MIGHT BE DYSLEXIC

The story I choose to tell today is one that many of my Filipino American may be aware of, but do not know much about it. After all, I had only known tidbits of it until our recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.

When I was in high school, I was at a party for one of my many distantly related Tita’s from my Dad’s side of my family. At that party was a cousin twice removed of my 5th aunt’s husband’s sister’s daughter’s son – oh who am I kidding … we’re all related somehow, aren’t we? Seriously though, I was speaking with a cousin of one of my cousin’s who lived in Mississippi. For some reason, we ended up talking about where many of the Filipino Communities are in North America. In the Metro Detroit area today, I’d say Bloomfield Hills, Sterling Heights, and Canton. This cousin mentioned cities in his area, but also mentioned that New Orleans had the largest Filipino Communities because that’s where the first Filipinos settled in North America.

To hear this information was a surprise for me. I always thought that it would be California or even New York, as that’s where most of my Gen-X friends’ parents or grandparents came into the US. Since then, I wanted to learn more about this. However, at that time, research involved things called encyclopedias or microfiches. It involved finding books utilizing the Dewey Decimal System after finding books by subject or author in things called card catalogues.2


THE EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM …
BUT THE SECOND MOUSE GETS THE CHEESE

When our travels as Eclipse Chasers took us south to Arkansas this past April, Hubby and I decided to knock off a few more States on our quest to visit all 50 States and Louisiana was one of them. Both of us had been to New Orleans separately for work, but never together and not long enough to enjoy the city. I planned for us to stay three nights there, just so we can enjoy Crescent City at our leisure. While planning, I wanted to see if I could visit the area where the first Filipinos settled. Now that Google existed, I was able to find much more information about my heritage. And the first thing I found was astounding. 

Not only was New Orleans – or rather southern Louisiana – the first settlement of Filipinos in the Americas, but these Filipinos were one of the very first Asian American settlements in the Americas. Imagine that!


WHEN THE CAT’S AWAY, THE MICE WILL PLAY

So, here’s the story. Close to two centuries after that first landing in Morro Bay, Filipino sailors – again enslaved by Spain grew tired of their abuse and deserted the ships. They hid in the marshlands of Louisiana and eventually settled into a bayou about 30 miles southeast of New Orleans. The area was isolated, prone to storms and mosquito infested (much like many rural areas in the Philippines), but it was a perfect place to hide from the Spainards. They eventually became known as the Manilamen.

Along with other enslaved people and other people of color, the Manilamen built a small fishing village they called Saint Malo. They built small houses of wood and palmetto fronds on stilts, much like nipa huts or bahay kubo homes in the Philippines. They became skilled fishermen, as the lands – deeper into the wetlands than most were willing to travel or work, proved fertile for fish in the spring, shrimp in the summer, and oysters in the fall.

As fisherman, the Manilamen contributed to the local seafood industry (and eventually the entire region) to make Louisiana one of the largest exporters of shrimp nationwide. First, they used our methods of drying shrimp and smoking fish (tinapa!) to preserve food before the invention of refrigeration. Then the Manilamen revolutionized the shrimp drying industry by utilizing a method used in the Philippines to speed up the process of separating shrimp shells from its meat. This method, known as “Dancing the Shrimp,” did this by dancing and stomping on piles of shrimp in a circular motion. This made Saint Malo a wholesale market for local sea merchants. In later years, Filipinos in Louisiana thrived were well-known in the industry and eventually several shrimping facilities came to use the same method. 


YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER,
BUT YOU CAN JUDGE A PERSON BY THEIR SHOES

Because of its remote location and prime fishing spot, Saint Malo was often a port of departure for tourists wanting to go fishing further south into the shores towards the Gulf of Mexico. Though many local New Orleanians knew of the Manilamen, there was not much documented about them. 

However, stories in New Orleans about them – most of them folk lore — existed. It’s been mentioned in letters and journals that the Manilamen of Saint Malo were uncivilized and that the living conditions were uninhabitable. That there was no governance in their society – police, courts, laws, for example. The Manilamen were said to be savages as the village was made up of only tribal men. They had been described as prehistoric savages that despised women and would do great harm to any female they encountered. While it was true that the village was originally all Filipino men – as slaves from the Spanish ships that they fled from, the Manilamen did have wives and children. As they became more integrated with their local society, they would marry and raise families in New Orleans while staying at Saint Malo to work during the week.

Because of racist immigration laws such as the Nationality Act of 1790, Asian women were not allowed entry into the United States. In addition, there were racist laws that prohibited marriage between white and non-white people. And so the Manilamen instead married women from other communities of color. Many married into nearby Isleño, Cajun, and indigenous communities.


THE COCONUT DOES NOT FALL FAR FROM THE TREE

In the late 1800’s on the southern end of Louisiana, another group of Filipino fishermen and sailors lead by local fisherman Quintin de la Cruz, established Manila Village. It was one of several Filipino shrimp drying facilities in the area which also housed the workers and their families in nipa huts or bahay kubo homes around the edges of the shrimp drying platforms. Not far from Manila Village, a smaller version of Manila Village was built by a group of Filipinos led by John (Juan Roxas) Rojas called Clark Cheniere.

By the 1930’s the shrimp drying industry had reached their peak and improved methods of canning and refrigeration meant less manual labor was needed. In addition, storms were always a constant threat to the area which drove many families to higher grounds. Saint Malo was destroyed during the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915. A storm in 1947 destroyed most of Manila Village and in 1965, Hurricane Betsy flattened the entire village. Though not confirmed, I believe Clark Cheniere may have been destroyed during the same hurricane. 


BETTER LATE THAN NEVER, BUT NEVER LATE IS BETTER

So this is how on a hot April day, Hubby and I ended up at the Los Isleños Museum Complex in St Bernard LA, standing next to the historic marker for Saint Malo. After a lot of research on the interwebs, I stumbled upon the Filipino LA website which helps make the stories of Filipino Louisiana available to the public. This then led to finding about about Saint Malo, the Manilamen, and Manila Village. Further research led me to Louisiana State Markers and their locations. While Saint Malo no longer exists, a marker was set up in St Bernard Parish closest to where Saint Malo would have been.3

There are two other markers for Manila Village and Clark Cheniere located on Manila Plaza in front of Jean Lafitte Town Hall in Jefferson Parish. I wish we had more time, but we couldn’t drive to both locations within the time frame that we were in New Orleans. 


WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE CALAMANSI JUICE

While in New Orleans proper, we did make a visit to the NPS French Quarter Visitor Center. The displays went through the history of New Orleans and how it became an important port of call in the trade industry. They talked about the lands and the population and its indigenous population. It also spoke of its Creole, Spanish, and French history … but no mention of any Filipino history.

Strange, I thought. Especially since the research I did indicated that Filipinos played a huge part of the New Orleans and Louisiana history. Of course I had to ask one of the park rangers about this. To my surprise, they were well aware of the history of the Maniliamen and Manila Village. Both park rangers talked about how they used to have a huge display about the Filipino contributions to the region. They even talked about the “Dancing the Shrimp” method and the houses on stilts.  Apparently a few years back, they revamped the displays in that visitor center and most of the Filipino displays were removed.

Reflecting on it now, the markers for Manila Village and Clark Cheniere were close to the NPS Bataria Preserve within the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve. This would have probably taken us closer to where the villages were at. And perhaps this visitor center would’ve had more information about Filipinos in Louisiana. Maybe on another trip we will get down there to visit it. D’oh!


IF THE SHOE FITS, WEAR IT

If you are Filipino and are ever in The Big Easy, Crescent City, NOLA, Nawlins, Birthplace of Jazz, or any other name you’d like to call New Orleans, I highly recommend checking these places out. There isn’t much to see, but knowing that your ancestors had been one of the first Asian Americans to settle in the Americas at that location is pretty damn cool.


PS. Hope you enjoyed the titles of each section 😂 Most of my Filipino American friends would know that these are phrases many of our parents have used on us in the past

  1. Only after being prompted by the Filipino Union Leader that led the first strike, Larry Itliong ↩︎
  2. Basically it was way before the advent of the internet and AOL or AltaVista or AskJeeves. If you don’t know any of those search engines then you are definitely Gen-Y ↩︎
  3. Of note, Islenos are descendents of colonists of Spanish Louisiana between 1778 and 1783 who were primarly from the Canary Islands and intermarried with other communities such as Filipinos, French, Creoles, and Hispanic Americans. This is why the Saint Malo marker is at the Los Islenos Museum Complex. ↩︎

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Wow. That sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it? Sorry to disappoint, but this isn’t a post where I get incredibly morose about some blah blah blah … 

Nah, this is just one of those ones where I brag about what I’ve been up to or where The Ohana has been. 

By the way, I started calling Hubby & I and our kiddos “The Ohana” a few years back after adding Kirby into our lives. He is, after all … our son. He may have four paws, lots of fur, and can only speak in beagle-tongue, but he’s ours to nurture and protect. 

This October, we added Kira to The Ohana. She’s a senior beagle-greyhound mix we rescued from I Heart Dogs Rescue and Animal Haven in Warren MI. 

OHANA MEANS FAMILY

We had talked about adopting another dog, but since being turned down a few years ago, I was pretty gun shy about trying to adopt again. I mean … talk about being an infertile, who couldn’t have kids, decided against adoption because of the fear of failure from a not being able to have kids PLUS feeling even more of a loss from the devastating failure of IVF … imagine being rejected by a rescue group by trying to adopt A DOG. Yes … that’s why it took a while to want to try to rescue again. 

Kirby’s adoption story is pretty short. He was rescued from a high-kill shelter in Ohio and brought to the Animal Welfare Society of Southeastern Michigan located in Madison Heights MI. After a month of looking on Petfinder for that perfect beagle, we found him and the very next day was at the rescue shelter right when it opened. We took one look at the cutest 1 year old, 15 lb beagle-Jack Russell Terrier (we think) mix; and — with one little wag of the tail, he won our hearts and has been with us now for 10 years. He’s turning silver in a lot of areas and is slowing down a but, but he is both as sweet and as charming as the first day we took him home. 

Kira’s adoption story, was a little more heartbreaking. She was found by Warren Police one night wandering the streets and brought into the rescue group. The police felt that their city pound was no place for an older dog and begged I Heart Dogs Rescue and Animal Haven to take her in. So they did, even though they were overfilled and had a waitlist for families wanting to surrender their pets due to financial situation, etc. The next day, one of the volunteers saw Kira and mentioned that a man & woman came in wanting to surrender this same pet about a week ago because his elderly father was moving somewhere where he couldn’t take pets and they couldn’t find a home for her. Unfortunately they left without even putting their names on a waitlist. 

We only heard that story AFTER we met her as an Ohana. While Kirby sniffed and basically ignored Kira for the rest of the time, at least he didn’t bite, bark, or bear his teeth. So yeah, after hearing that story, we knew we had to take Kira home. It took a while for the two of them to get used to each other – Kirby still is very protective of his food and toys and Kira is always wanting to be the center of attention — they have both decided they can live and sleep next to each other in harmony. As much as two 11-year old dogs with personalities of perpetual 3-year old siblings would. SO curious. SO stubborn. SO. Frickin. Adorable. 

NO ONE GETS LEFT BEHIND

Anyway, back to the “Darkness” and the “Old Friend.” Since adopting Kirby, The Ohana had stopped doing vacations that required putting Kirby in the care of someone else. Therefore, we’ve been doing a lot of road-trips around North America. We started out small … Northern MI including the UP, Toronto & London Ontario, etc. And then we started doing more; the first major one in 2017 when we drove cross-country from Detroit to Santa Monica, getting on & off Route 66 and heading back by way of Yellowstone, Mt Rushmore and Chicago. On that trip is when we bought a US National Park Passport Book and decided we would try to go to as many National Parks and Historic Sites as we could. To date, we have been to 23 of the 63 US National Parks and are hoping to see all of the ones in the Continental US.

This brings me to the title of this post. I am currently sitting in a hotel room in Hot Springs Arkansas. “Why?,” you may ask. Well, for a few reasons. 1) We are hoping to hit every US State (with or without the pups), which we’re actually down to 2 after this trip. 2) We have an opportunity to get a US National Park Passport Stamp from Hot Springs National Park. And, 3) the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse. 

I FELL INTO A BURNING RING OF FIRE

Yeah, I know. We went with the hype. But to be fair … this is actually the SECOND time we drove to see a Total Solar Eclipse. A couple weeks before the 2017 Nashville Eclipse, Hubby & I thought, “Well, we’ve never been to Nashville, so … hey, why not?” Plus, Hubby got me a Canon E80D camera for my birthday that year and we thought it would be fun to try it out on something we’d see probably only once in our lifetime. 

Or so we thought. 

After seeing that Total Solar Eclipse, we were hooked. It was pretty amazing to watch how the whole landscape changed from a bright, warm sky to a “quick sunset” to midnight and then back to day in a matter of minutes. It was eerie to watch the shadows of the trees and of people switch quickly from one side to the other and then back again. Strange to hear birds peeping one minute, then a brief silence and then crickets chirping. Basically we were wonderstruck. The totality lasted only 1 minute and 56 seconds, but — since I was trying to take as many pictures as I could — it seemed like it was only seconds. Thank goodness for remote shutters, so I could at least see the Ring of Fire with my own two eyes! 

I WENT DOWN, DOWN, DOWN

Driving home on that trip, Hubby & I were already planning for the next Total Solar Eclipse for 2024, which seemed AGES away. Where would we see it? Did we want to go somewhere warm (it would be in April after all; Michigan springs are fickle) or did we want to go somewhere warmer? I can tell you this, by 2022 I was already reserving an AirBNB in Cleveland on Lake Erie so we’d at least have one place just in case. 

Obviously we decided on Hot Springs National Park for the above reasons and last year around this time I was booking hotel rooms for this trip. I ended up settling for a hotel in Maumelle, Arkansas, a town on the outskirts of Little Rock and about an hour north of Hot Springs. And after seeing the area around Hot Springs Village, I am glad I chose Maumelle. The city is spread out and not too crowded. The best feature, though, was a small park in front of the Arkansas River directly behind the hotel I booked. That’s where where The Ohana and maybe less than 75 people witnessed the eclipse. 

In Nashville, I was able to take photos of the all the stages of the eclipse; which included photos of Bailey’s Beads, the Corona, and the “Diamond Ring.” (Click HERE to see a collage of the shots I took in one photo.) We had bought the right filter for my lens and prepped ourselves thoroughly on how to set up the camera and when to leave or remove the filter to take the best photos. We even had all the manual settings down to a tee. I was SO ecstatic when I saw how the pictures turned out. They weren’t as sharp as they could have been, but afterwards, I found out that there was a small amount of unexpected cloud coverage that came in while we were in the totality stage. Nonetheless, I was proud I was able to get those photos. 

This year I would know what to do better, after all we were “eclipse chasers” and now had experience taking photos. What could go wrong? 

AND THE FLAMES WENT HIGHER

Well for starters, I realized when we were at the point of no return, that I forgot our tripod at home. This meant going to a local Big Box store in Maumelle when we arrived. Then, while getting my camera ready the night before and getting reacquainted with settings and tips (read: Google tips), I realized I forgot the correct filter in order to take shots during the the partial eclipse stages.1 This meant that being able to focus on the actual “subject” (aka THE SUN) couldn’t be done until the total eclipse stage occurred. Which was fine, because really … that — The Ring of Fire was the money shot I really wanted. 

So with settings in place, same camera from last time on new cheap Big Box tripod, and more Totality Time than last (3 min, 37 sec), I thought … okay, I got this. But woh, those almost 4 minutes flew by. Especially since I thought the picture wasn’t in focus. Or that the photo was going to be too dark. Or worse, too light. Did the flash go off? What the frick’n frack? Turn to Hubby, “Take a photo with your iPhone NOW! I’m not getting it!” And finally, “Wow, that’s spectacular! Dang Nabbit! I didn’t capture it on film!”

Cue sound: wah wah waaaaah

AND IT BURN, BURN, BURNS

It WAS indeed, spectacular. It was so much brighter than the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. The Ring of Fire was much larger that I remember from almost 7 years ago. I had read somewhere — or maybe heard (it’s hard to remember with all the coverage leading up to the event) that this eclipse was supposed to be brighter than usual. Something about how solar flares were less active in 2017 and that this year, the sun was closer to earth and solar flare activity was at its maximum. I kinda poo-poo’d that, but when looking at it, I thought about that fact and wondered if that was why the Ring of Fire was so breath-taking. 

I was so angry at myself that I wasn’t able to catch that moment. So mad that I didn’t even want to look at previews of the photos on my camera. Even after we retuned to the hotel later that afternoon, I refused to transfer the photos to iCloud. Finally, I got curious when the thought of comparing the 2017 and 2024 eclipse got the best of me. 

THE RING OF FIRE

While the photos were transferring to iCloud, I pulled up the photos from 2017 and specifically the Ring of Fire from that eclipse. Right off the bat, I was shocked. It was nowhere near as amaze-balls as the one I just observed. Beautiful, yes. And still a little fuzzy from the small amount of unexpected cloud coverage, but it was still as beautiful as I remembered. Just not brilliant as the one we just witnessed.

Now I was reeaaalllly mad and prayed to the powers that be that I got at least ONE good photo. I’d even settle for a blurry one, but I just wanted one that showed how bright it was. And then I saw these photos:


Followed by THIS photo:

2024 Total Solar Eclipse, Little Rock AR

Not just Brilliant. Brilliant like a DIAMOND — a HALO of sorts.

Thank you all that is Good in the world, thank you Angels above!! By pure chance, I managed to get — not just this photo, but a few other ones … followed by about  dozen blurred ones. But I got it. I got Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. 

Just for comparison, this is the Ring of Fire shot I was able to get in Nashville.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse, Nashville:
A little fuzzy from the small amount of unexpected cloud coverage

THE RING OF FIRE

Now I can leave Hot Springs AR, having checked off another State off of our list. Plus we added another  Stamp in our National Park Passport book, since we (read: me) drank some water fed directly from the Hot Springs. Unfortunately we were unable to actually have a “bath” (read: sit in hot spring-fed pool) in one of the natural spring bath houses.2*

Next up on this road trip is NOLA. Hubby & I have both been there, but separately and for work. So this will be the first time for us together as an Ohana. Then it’s through Mississippi and Alabama, knocking a total of 4 more States off of our list. Only two States left after that! (We’re now looking at you, Montana and, surprisingly, Wisconsin — WTF?)

Hopefully more to post on the road. But don’t hold your breath! LOL

  1. Similar to human eyes, camera lenses can get damaged by directly being pointed at the sun ↩︎
  2. Note to self: Don’t expect sit in a hot spring-fed pool or get a hot-spring spa massage on Tuesdays at the Quapaw Bath House. They’re closed. Unless you want to go the the Buckstaff Bath House which still operates as an old school bath house and separates Men & Women into different pools.  ↩︎

Let’s Begin (Again), Shall We?

I admit, I’ve stayed quiet on my blog for a long period of time. Part of it was that I felt it took a lot of time to maintain it. Other times I felt like I had nothing of importance to say. But I do have a lot I want to get off my chest. It has just taken me this long to realize that I needed to get back to doing it in my “safe place.” Where I can hopefully get clarity by bringing these heavy, intense – sometimes crushing, “the whole weight of the world is on my shoulder” thoughts out of my mind.

So, – as in the incredible mini-series that EVERY woman should watch, “Let’s begin, shall we?”

I still need to read the book …

While I have a lot more pressing things on my mind, the one that I think I want to address first was one I should have written two weeks ago. Truth be told, it should have been written the day that Roe v Wade got overturned, but maybe – in my self-deprecating, “the world is on the brink of collapsing” attitude, I couldn’t find a way or the energy to write it.

No. What forced me to sit down and write was concerning the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos in storage are still considered unborn children under state law. That was on February 16th. I should have written something then. Or I should have pushed myself more when two of only eight IVF clinics paused ALL treatment, including those at the most critical part of the cycle – the transfer of the embryos into the uterus.

To be honest, I had very mixed feelings about this.

PREP

First and foremost, I am a STRONG proponent of Women’s Rights. A woman’s decision on how she wants to handle her reproductive life is her own. In a fantasy world, a woman would have the support she would need to help her work through these choices, but we all know that many women do not. OR many women decide to make their decisions on their own. Women’s Rights. AmIRight?

Second. Regarding IVF? Well … duh. Why did I start writing this blog? I’d say it’s simple … but there’s a reason I started this blog. Go here for the extremely shortened version of our story.

Hubby and I did everything we could to have a biological child of our own. It was important to us to have created a child that was half Hubby and Half me. We wanted to see how that child would look – Would they have the unique nose that everyone on my Dad’s side of the family seemed to get? Would they have flat feet like Hubby’s side of the family gets? Would they be quiet and reserved like Hubby or loud and talkative like me? Would we be able to see and experience Nature vs Nurture with our very own eyes?

Then there’s those milestones. First smile. First words. First steps. First day at preschool, 1st grade, middle school, high school. Prom. Graduation from college or university. Wedding. Grandchildren. Every. Single. Event. We will never experience.

And NO [slamming each letter on the keyboard as I type] it is NOT THAT EASY to JUST ADOPT.

I had to accept that all those “what if’s” and milestones would never happen. I couldn’t risk the chance of more rejection and failure after what we had been through. It was important for me to put my whole body, mind, and soul into adoption. 1 By the time I got around to accepting the fact that we would never have a bio child our own, we were already in our early to mid-40’s. Which meant we’d be in our mid-60’s by the time the child graduated from high school. How fair is that for a kid to be the one person around responsible of taking care of their parents?

But I digress. (As I do so, very often.)

MIX INGREDIENTS

Anyway, here’s where the mixed feeling come into play. When we decided to try IVF, it felt like we were literally signing our whole lives away. Lots of paperwork. One of the paperwork referred to any excess embryos that may result from the cycle. Did we want to destroy them right away or freeze the remaining healthy ones they feel may survive the (for lack of better words) “dethawing” process for a Frozen Cycle? If we decided to freeze the embryos, there’s a (rather hefty) fee to keep them which gets renewed every year. I remember jokingly calling it a lease for an apartment.

New to the IVF world at the time, that paperwork seemed bizarre to us. Destroy, Freeze, or Donate. If Freezing, then:  1) In the event of death or divorce, who would maintain “property” of the embryo.” 2) In the event neither is alive nor have the mental capacity to make medical decisions, who would be the decision-maker? If Donating, then: 1) donate for research? 2) donate for surrogacy?

Weird, right? But totally makes sense if you think about it. I mean, you can’t live in an apartment free of rent without there being some repercussions, right? Pay to stay. Also, if you think of it, the wording sounds exactly like a medical Advanced Directive.

I think it was at that moment that Hubby & I fully understood the significance of what we were doing.  We had no doubt that we’d proceed with IVF. We knew that this would be the last chance for us to conceive our own child and knew that if we didn’t, we would regret not trying. That day though, it suddenly felt physically real. I don’t know what it’s like (obviously), but I guess one might compare it to a soon-to-be parent hearing their child’s heartbeat for the first time. Excited and overjoyed yet feeling a bit overwhelmed and nervous.

MARINATE

Going through an IVF cycle is brutal. It is NOT for the faint of heart. It is NOT anything I wish upon anyone – whether it’s a couple, family, or single female. It is time consuming. The prep. The daily injections. The multiple pelvic ultrasounds. Anxiously anticipating (while hormonally charged, btw) when to be told when to come in to retrieve your eggs. Praying that there are enough healthy enough to use and waiting 4-5 days to see how many embryos are viable. If there are ones healthy enough, deciding on how many embryos can be safely implanted into the uterus and – freezing any excess embryos.

Then there’s the two week waiting period (no pun intended). Trying to stay positive. Trying to “relax,” like you’ve been told a million times before since the start of your infertility journey. 2 Thinking that if you lay down more than stand, the embryos will “stick.” Basically it’s 14 days of HELL hoping that you don’t get your period. Praying that when you have your follow up visit with the IVF specialist, that the pregnancy test comes back positive. YAY if you do … You have had a successful IVF Cycle! And if you have any leftover healthy embryos, you can choose to freeze them to be used later – or not!

What if the IVF cycle fails? Or if none of the embryos are viable to be transplanted? Well … then the decision is personal for every individual or couple.

PLACE IN OVEN AND BAKE

During our IVF cycle, 13 eggs were retrieved and 8 were successfully “fertilized.” From there, only 3 embryos viable enough to use, but only 2 were implanted due to health concerns. That one embryo was frozen. I remember being so excited afterwards. I was happy, for lack of better words, that we had done the best we could do to create our own family. I felt hopeful, which was something I hadn’t felt in a while. I saw the possibility of the future I always dreamed I’d have with Hubby.

I treated my belly as if I was already pregnant and that I was carrying our possible babies, that they’d eventually grow into a healthy fetus where I could hear a heartbeat. Where at 24 weeks, I’d know that they’d be healthy (though not strong) enough to survive outside of my womb. At the time of the implantation, our IVF specialist actual presented us with a picture of the two embryos (akin to getting that first baby ultrasound picture for many others), which for YEARS I called my “Maybe Babies.”  

FREEZE

But of course, our IVF cycle failed. And … well, you can read the many entries on this blog to see how I dealt with it. We were so heart-broken that we forgot about the one lonely frozen embryo until it came time to renew the “lease” a year later. When we got the invoice, I stood there for a bit, frozen (no pun intended). Though they never went away, the flood gates opened and all those emotions from the day I was told the IVF cycle failed came rushing back to me. I remember that invoice sitting on our table for about a week with Hubby & I trying our best to ignore it. Yet it kept mocking us as we walked by, knowing we had to have the discussion soon. I was pretty sure we were thinking the same thing, but I just had to take some time to accept that this was going to be my answer.

When we finally sat down to talk about it, we both agreed that it didn’t make sense to keep that one last “Maybe Baby.” There was little chance it would survive the process to unfreeze, let alone have a chance of successfully resulting in a pregnancy. Plus, that would mean another round of daily injections, multiple pelvic ultrasounds, etc. All of which were NOT covered by any health insurance at the time. We couldn’t afford a Frozen Cycle. We were both financially and emotionally spent.

Being of medical background, I considered donating to science. My conscience; however, couldn’t fathom the thought of hurting our embryo. Neither Hubby or I felt comfortable donating for surrogacy either, since it felt strange knowing that our bio baby could possibly be out there and we weren’t raising them. So, we decided to do the responsible thing and let our last Maybe Baby go.

DISCARD LEFTOVERS

It was NOT an easy decision. Not just because of the logical reasons listed above. For me, it was the last chance I would ever come close to creating a life form of my own. And while I know that technically this embryo is only a few cells and not even anything REMOTE to being a living, breathing being with a heart (or any organs for that matter) … it still hurt. That glimpse of my dream future, the excitement I had on major events in my life to that point (graduation, getting my RN license, wedding) … that disappeared. I felt like I just killed any chance of that future; severed myself from that timeline of possibilities. So yeah, maybe in a way, I thought it was a symbolic murder.

Do I consider what Hubby and I did as an abortion? No. Does it hurt like hell that we did what we did? Hell to the Yes. This wasn’t a choice we ever thought we would have to make. We had other ideas of how things would turn out. We thought our IVF would be successful. We thought that if it wasn’t, we’d be able to try for a frozen cycle. But it wasn’t successful. And it wasn’t financially or worth the risk to do a frozen cycle or to pay the rather costly rental fee.

And that’s, I suppose, where the mixed feeling come from. Ours isn’t everyone else’s experience. Everyone has their RIGHT to decide how they want to proceed. The right to choose. ALL. THE. WAY.

REVIEW MISTAKES OR MISHAPS

Going back to Alabama and their Supreme Court ruling, it’s not so much their decision that I’m having a hard time with. I strongly disagree with that. Even though Alabama Legislation provided a temporary fix to restart IVF treatments in their state, I am still angry. That legislation only covers liability for the providers (-ie doctors, clinics, etc) and suppliers (labs, medical equipment companies) and still doesn’t address the main issue of women’s rights.

What I’m truly angry about is the responses from the US Legislative branch of the Federal Government. I find it repulsive that there are many Senators and Congressional Members that have stated to be “all for IVF,” but their previous actions say otherwise.

For example. US Representative House Speaker Mike Johnson has stated recently,

AND YET, he is the co-sponsor and writer of the Life at Conception Act, which defines life as beginning “at the moment of fertilization.”

A-hem. IVF = In vitro FERTILIZATION.

In the US Senate, despite being brought up a second time, the Access to Family Building Act was rejected unanimously by the Republicans. 3 Yet here we have Senator Roger Marshall, R-KS, saying,

I’m almost positive that those US Senators & House Reps are up for re-election this year and are just “playing the game” to get the votes; biding their time to win so they can go back to denying women’s reproductive rights.

I won’t even get into the Christian Evangelical side of things. That would just get me going even more.

Here’s where I get a bit confused. You’re pro-life but you don’t support artificial means of creating life. You support pregnancy but you deny funding for care that women need reproductive care the most. You don’t support any type of medications that may help prevent, not only a pregnancy (unplanned or otherwise), but help with other female related reproductive issues that have NOTHNG to do with child-bearing. You think that a woman should be kept alive to birth the baby, even though her life is severely at risk. You believe a woman should carry an unborn child to term knowing that the baby has already expired or will die immediately or shortly after birth.

That is my definition of cruel and unusual punishment. And the men (or women, I should add) who have no education or experience in practicing medicine should NOT be making or signing any legislation about what should happen to a woman and her body.

MAKE AND BE THE VOICE OF CHANGE

I have been extremely angry for a VERY long time about the reversal of Roe v Wade. For the past two years I’ve been trying to find a way to voice my opinion about it in a public manor. Sure, I’ve talked about it with other friends and like-minded peers. And sure, I’ve discussed it with some Pro-lifers, but not to the extent either of us wanted to. Over the years, I’ve become more of an introvert and prefer not to be out of the house too much. But this time … this IVF issue really hit too close to home. Which is why I finally picked up the pen – err, dusted off my keyboard – and decided to write again.

Maybe by putting words down for people to read (and hopefully learn more about the other side of any issue) will make a difference in helping people understand.

  1. If you are one of those that can do that readily, then I’m happy for you. Unfortunately, I am not. ↩︎
  2. NEVER, EVER helpful at all, BTW ↩︎
  3. Not that I mean to single out a particular political party. Okay, yeah, I do. ↩︎