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Throwback Thursday: Fear Factor

TBTI decided to get into the Throw Back Thursday action this week, after a chance conversation revealed I am NOT the only person on the planet with a (completely rational!) fear of ladybugs. Please forgive me for the seasonally-inappropriate Christmas theme.

This piece was originally published as A Ladybug Christmas on The Evening Sun website, evesun.com.

Enjoy!

My coworkers and I trundled into work this morning, bleary eyed from all that Christmas cheer. After deadline we spent some time swapping tales of our all-to-brief holiday.

Theirs were spent either hopping from one house to another, or hosting a slew of friends and family for the Yuletide festivities. Though less hectic, mine was no less enjoyable.

With my siblings spread out across the East Coast (in New Hampshire, Tennessee and the Florida Keys), it was just me and my parents this year. It was the first one I’ve spent at home in entirely too long.

We opened presents in the morning, a process that was interrupted repeatedly by phone calls from other loved ones wishing us a merry holiday.

I love to watch people open gifts I’ve picked out for them. For me, finding that perfect gift is the best part of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I like getting presents, too. And I think Santa was pretty good to me this year.

At least I thought so until I a gift my mother described as “the funny one.”

She told me this as I was fishing a non-descript white box out of a festive bag piled high with red and green tissue paper. Hmmm… Funny, I thought, what could she mean by that. My confusion grew when I opened the box to find what appeared to be a clear, hand-blown glass ornament. It was only after I turned the globe in my hand that I saw what my mother thought was so amusing.

The glass ball had one adornment: A crimson glass ladybug perched on verdant green leaf.

My mother thought this was hysterical, and was practically rolling on the floor. Me? Not so much. You see, I don’t like lady bugs. In fact, I’ll go one step further and say I’m scared to death of them.

Most people are afraid of things like spiders or snakes, flying maybe, or the color chartreuse. But not me. I can take all of those nasties in stride. But put a tiny little bug most people think of as cute in front of me and I start quaking in my boots.

My phobia dates back about ten years. I was living in Arlington, VA at the time, and had traveled up to visit my parents one weekend. I was exhausted when I arrived, and ended up falling asleep when I brought my bags upstairs. I woke a couple of hours later with a tickle in my ear. A tickle which turned into a buzzing.

When the incessant noise stopped for a moment, my wits returned. And I was able to connect the beastie driving me to the brink of insanity with the number of ladybugs I could now clearly see all over the window sill and bedside lamp.

Then it started buzzing again and all I could think about was the fact that I was at least 20 minutes away from medical attention and that I was going to lose my mind if I had to wait that long to get it out.

Luckily, my mother came to my rescue. Apparently, Stagnaro kids have a long history of getting things stuck in our ears. In the upper recesses of our king-sized medicine cabinet, she located the ear syringe she’d used to extricate a bean from my bother Ken’s aural cavity 20 or 30 years before. With it, she was able to drive the infernal lady bug from my ear and restore my sanity.

The experience basically scarred me forever. But, as evidenced by the ornament, the rest of my family finds it quite humorous.

The rest of the day passed pleasantly enough. We listened to some Christmas music, did some snowmobiling, and yes, finally watched A Christmas Story. (I did enjoy it, but I’m not sure I would classify it as life-changing, not in relation to my ladybug experience anyway.)

Because it was just the three of us, we decided to forgo our usual roast turkey and I roasted a loin of pork instead. It was a delicious ending to the day.

When I went to bed a little earlier than usual, my parents didn’t seem to notice. They thought I was worn out from the snowmobiling, but really I just wanted for a bit of peace and quiet. It may be a full year until Christmas comes around again, but I’ll need every bit of it to properly plot my ladybug revenge.

Like my holiday leftovers, it will be a dish better served cold.

Originally published on December 26, 2008 on evesun.com.

Boris and the Baby Spiders: Why I won’t be sleeping again…ever.

This is Boris. Not the Boris from tonight's adventure, but one I was on more civil terms with. He lived in our bathroom for a few months, before meeting an untimely end in the bath.

This is Boris. Not the Boris from tonight’s adventure, but one I was on more civil terms with. He lived in our bathroom for a few months, before meeting an untimely end in the bath.

I don’t like spiders. I don’t know many people who do, but I REALLY don’t like them.

However, I’ve made peace with their presence here in the Dominican Republic. As long as they are big enough for me to keep an eye on, aren’t too active in their movements and pull their weight around the house (i.e. do their part to decimate the mosquito population), we can peacefully co-exist.

I consider this position to be incredibly adult given my gut instinct is to shriek like a little girl. And did I mention the spiders I’m referring to are cane spiders. The smallest I’ve seen are the size of my palm. The SMALLEST.

And I’m willing to co-exist with them. Pretty bad ass, right?

Yeah. Not so much, as it turns out.

Earlier this evening, I spotted one of these cane spiders. We’ll call him Boris. Because Boris is a good name for a spider, and for my own sanity, I like to think all spiders are male. I should think the reasoning behind that is self-evident. It’s cute that they call baby spiders ‘spiderlings’ and all, but there is no place in my world for them.

This Boris was a little more active than I would have liked. He also appeared to be holding something. That thought made me uncomfortable, but I wrote it off as poor lighting. Because seriously, who’s ever heard of a spider carrying anything.

I was willing to keep to my peace agreement, but Boris made a fatal mistake. Rather than staying put on the wall, he scurried down to floor level. Which is when Frederica pounced.

She’s my new hero. And yes, she will be getting extra treats.

A female cane spider carrying around her egg sack. (Photo Cred: Maui.net)

A female cane spider carrying around her egg sack.
(Photo Cred: Maui.net)

After the brief flurry of activity was over, I noticed something on the floor. It was white and the size of a silver dollar only thicker, and sort of lumpy. With horror, I realized that Boris had really been a Bertha.

My first thought was to flush it as soon as I could, but Frederica was one step ahead of me.

I bent to give her a good scratch when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.

I bent down to the wall to take a better look. That’s when I lost my mind.

I don’t know how many baby spiders escaped. And, for my sanity, I can’t even allow my mind to contemplate how many were in that sack. Thank goodness for Frederica. Because what if they’d hatched while I was holding it…

Ok, Melissa. Breathe.

There was NO WAY I was letting those little Boris’ run around…growing to be the size of my hand…procreating…

I used the only thing I had on hand – Deep Woods Off. Much to my relief, it stopped them in their tracks.

And now, I’m going to brew myself a pot of strong Dominican coffee. Because, as I have no idea how many more Baby Boris’ are running around out there, there’s no chance I’ll be sleeping tonight.

Or anytime in the foreseeable future.

Maybe sometime in mid-2017.

The Night Air

IMG_7047It was impossible for me to sleep on the plane. I tried, but despite my exhaustion, I was still too keyed up from the day’s drama. Which had started when we discovered our original flight was delayed and only intensified as we attempted to rebook our travel plans in a way that would allow my four travel companions and I to enjoy our much-needed Caribbean getaway.

We wouldn’t have made it without the intervention of the kindest woman on the planet – who happened to be a rep for a competing airline. With her help, we were booked on a flight that very evening. The only problem was we had to find our own way to JFK.

Nothing a pedal-to-the-metal dash from Syracuse to Queens – through Manhattan during rush hour – couldn’t solve. Well, along with a slew of frantic calls and messages to iron out all of the supporting details. Like how we were going to get to our final destination considering we were flying into a different airport and the best way to avoid the $30-a-day parking fee at JFK.

All that scrambling was worth it to know we weren’t going to have to scrap the entire adventure. Because NOTHING was going to stand between me and a rum-laded cocktail on the beach, damn it.

I don’t think I really started to breath again until we were on the ground in Santiago. We still weren’t yet at our destination – a small seaside town just east of Puerto Plata – but we were in the Dominican Republic at last.

The mindless trudge through the airport – clearing immigration and customs, retrieving our bags – is all a blur. As we waited for our rental car, I slipped out of my sweater and into a pair of sandals, and pushed through the double doors that separated us from tropical paradise.

Ostensibly I was looking for our taxi driver. (A necessity since there wasn’t a chance all five of us AND our luggage were going to fit in the modest rental we’d reserved.) But really, I just needed to take a moment to appreciate our journey thus far.

It was 2 a.m. local time, and the fronds on the parking lot palm trees hung limply in the still night air. I inhaled, filling my lungs with the thick, humid air. It tasted both foreign and familiar, bringing me back to the year I lived in South Florida.

My mind was on the drive ahead of us. The hour and a half it would take us to drive through the mountains to Costambar. And the two-weeks of much needed decompression before me. It was a welcome distraction from the career transition I was in.

I had no way of knowing how the trip would change my life in so many ways.IMG_7317

…How inexplicably drawn to this island I’d be.

…How it would become the setting for a whole new life, a chance to live out dreams I never dared admit I had.

…How our change of travel plans – which landed us in Santiago in the middle of the night rather than in the middle of the afternoon in Puerto Plata – would cause me to cross paths with my future husband.

I didn’t give him a secomd glance that night – the quiet, unassuming policeman who rode along with his former partner-turned-taxi driver. But the universe had big things planned.

Sometimes, I stand outside and fill my lungs with the night air. It’s laden with the same tropical overtones here in my new home, but also heavy with salt from the sea.

To me, it’s ripe with promise and tastes of untold stories, unforeseen adventures, true love…

and dreams come true.

Girly Girl

A rare photo of me wearing pants.

A rare photo of me wearing pants.

“I was just talking about you the other day…”

Hearing those words swelled my needy little ego almost to bursting, especially since they were uttered by one of the most popular girls in my high school graduating class. (Who cares if that graduation was already a distant memory!)

I hung on her words, anticipating what would come next. Praise for my journalistic efforts. Gushing adoration of my writing talent…

“…how I went to school with someone who wore dresses every day.”

Cue the unceremonious exit of wind from my sails.

I looked down at the skirt I was wearing, and my thoughts wandered to the preponderance of similar attire in my current wardrobe.

Even my Halloween costumes had skirts!

Even my Halloween costumes had skirts!

Until that moment, I’d actually forgotten – or perhaps blocked out is more accurate – that my mother had dressed me in dresses every day for most of my formative years. Throughout Pumpkin Shell Nursery School, and the four blissful years I spent being nurtured at the Oxford Primary School.

Well, nearly every day.

I vividly recall the first day I wore pants to school. No, they weren’t plaid, thank you very much. It was St. Patrick’s Day. And, for a reason known only to her, my mother chose that day to send me to school wearing jeans. The sole concession to the holiday was the green crayon on the otherwise blue t-shirt I had on. Never mind the fact that probably half of the dresses in my closet – yes, many of them plaid – were green.

I’d blocked all of that out – particularly those plaid dresses. But the stigma, apparently, lives on.

That conversation, and the near anxiety attack that ensued, took place about 6 years ago. I was working as a small town newspaper reporter, having just moved back to my hometown after ramming around the country for a bit. I’d lived and worked in New York City, South Florida and Western Colorado. I’d traveled and adventured in Europe, North America and one memorable foray into Asia. (China, to be exact.)

Yet here I was…still living down my reputation as The Girl Who Wore Dresses.

Do you know how hard it is to ride a Big Wheel in a dress?

Do you know how hard it is to ride a Big Wheel in a dress?

My tomboy soul let out a warrior cry of despair that quickly devolved into a pity party. Because here I was perpetuating the girly girl image I’d tried hard to outgrow.

For the record, I am not a girlie girl. Not that there’s anything wrong with being one. But in order to qualify, you have to meet certain requirements. Like both owning makeup and actually knowing how to use it. Getting your nails done on a regular basis. (And, no, once a decade doesn’t count.) We won’t even talk about the hair care products…

I’m a little too rough around the edges to qualify.

I own mascara, but there’s a good chance it has expired since the last time I wore it. I’m so bad with manicures that I actually had to get three the week of the wedding so I was photo-ready. My normal ‘pedicure’ involves slapping another layer of polish over the remnants of my last effort. My hair care routine consists of brushing it when I get out of the shower and giving it a good shake. (I do, however, wash my face now – thanks to Rodan + Fields!)
But despite all of that if you were to look in my closet today, you’d find…dresses. Lots of them. Conservatively, I’d say they make up…90 percent of my wardrobe. The very thought is exhausting... (Stolen off Facebook)Why? Because they are easy. And comfortable.

And I just really hate to wear pants.

I was thinking about that conversation, and the ripple of my mother’s insistence on dressing me in dresses for so many years, this morning. When I found myself perpetuating the cycle.

Andry’s daughter is staying with us right now, you see.

And she just looks so darn cute in dresses…

 

Follow me on Twitter… @MelissaStagnaro

I was pretty darn cute, though, you have to admit...

I was pretty darn cute, though, you have to admit…

 

America’s Health Care Crisis: A Project Chenango redux

Rebecca Sands Bliss won her insurance battle for the right to receive potentially life-saving cancer treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her story was what inspired me to pen the Project Chenango installment on Health Care.

Rebecca Sands Bliss won her insurance battle for the right to receive potentially life-saving cancer treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her story was what inspired me to pen the Project Chenango installment on Health Care.

For the last six weeks I’ve been exploring some of the biggest issues Chenango County. In doing so, my eyes have been opened – both to the extent of these challenges in my hometown and to how universal these issues truly are. Now I realize I could easily be writing about almost any community, in New York or elsewhere in the U.S.

The Evening Sun, the publication with which I’ve been collaborating on the 12-part Project Chenango series, has graciously decided to make these articles free to all readers. They, too, believe these pieces are relevant to a broader audience beyond their traditional readership.

I encourage you to read them if you haven’t already. And if one resonates with you, please share it to help broaden awareness of some of these important topics.

Over the next few weeks, I will be revisiting each of the articles in the series here on my personal blog. Doing so will give me a chance to share some of my personal thoughts on these topics, as well as additional information that either didn’t make it in to the original series, or that has come to my attention since it was published.

These Project Chenango Redux pieces will be in no particular order. But for this first piece, I’m going to revisit the most recent installment of the series.

So, without further ado, let’s talk a little bit about…Health Care.

(As always, opinions expressed here in this forum are my own. I welcome your thoughts and constructive feedback on these topics as well.)

Last night, I received a message via Facebook from Rebecca Sands Bliss, who allowed me to tell her compelling story in last week’s article.

Rebecca, for those of you who haven’t already read that piece, recently won a major battle with her insurance companies. Her reward? Receiving the potentially life-saving treatment she needs to beat the rare cancer she was diagnosed with earlier this year.

Her message last night, though, stopped me in my tracks. She’d met another person battling cancer whose treatment had also been delayed by her insurance, she told me via Facebook messenger. Only this person wasn’t as lucky as Rebecca. Because during the two months this woman was forced to wait, her cancer spread. It’s now terminal.

I was both outraged and heartbroken when I heard this. Honestly, I didn’t want or need further proof of how tragically flawed our healthcare system is.

There are brilliant scientists, doctors, nurses and other professionals all working to advance medical science – who have passion and drive to treat the whole person not just the disease. And then we have the other side of the equation: those who treat patients like a number, or a policy – not a person trying to get or stay well.

Health care reform is a difficult topic to discuss. Nothing raises the political hackles like this does, especially since you can’t talk about it without mentioning the Affordable Care Act.

I refuse to call it Obamacare because, quite honestly, I don’t want to see if your political aura tends toward red or blue. This is something we REALLY need to talk about and once it all goes bi-partisan, it’s too easy to miss the big picture.

This is more than a political football we’re talking about here, my friends. It’s peoples’ lives.

Rebecca’s story may seem like a one-off, an extreme case. But here we have another woman’s story that confirms it’s more than an aberration. How many other of those more than 500,000 new cancer cases a year experience something like this?

(More than HALF A MILLION PEOPLE diagnosed with cancer EACH YEAR. If that statistic doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.)

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg when we’re talking about the number people who are not being served well by changes made as a result of this mammoth piece of legislation. I mean, do you know anyone who has found affordable care as a result of the changes, or has easier access to care because of it? Perhaps they are out there. I’m not saying they aren’t. But this is what I’m hearing about:

Individuals and families who are drowning under ever-increasing premiums. Businesses making tough decisions about staffing as a result of their additional burden. People going without insurance because they can’t afford it. Yes, it’s a calculated risk, but they are banking on the fact that their out-of-pocket expenses plus whatever fine they may have to pay to the government will still be cheaper than the cheapest premiums they can find.

And let’s face it – those high-deductible health care plans? Useless if you can’t pay the deductible. (And see what they’re doing to small hospitals.)

The biggest myth of all is Medicare. Let me tell you, when I hear about seniors who need a part-time job after they retire just to cover their health care costs… Isn’t that a red flag? My mother pays close to $300 a month for her SUPPLEMENTAL insurance. She didn’t anticipate that expense when she and my dad saved for their retirement.

I’m not going to lie – one of my considerations when I decided to spend time in the Dominican Republic was the fact that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do – focus on my writing – and continue to pay my COBRA. It went up to over $500 roughly a month after I accepted my severance package. Here I have pretty decent coverage for around $35 a month. Yes, I had to pay cash for the surgery I had this year, but it was still a fraction of what I would have paid in the US, between premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. (And, yes, I received excellent care.)

It’s not the hospitals and providers that are to blame for all of this. They are victims of the debacle of a health care system just like the rest of us. You see a giant number on the bill sent to your insurance company or to Medicare, because they’re only getting reimbursed ‘pennies on the dollar.’ A direct quote from a hospital administrator in my article.

So who IS it benefiting? I’ll let you fill in that blank.

I’ll give you a hint, though: New York’s second largest industry may have something to do with it.

Now, if only we could stop shouting across the aisle long enough to do something about it.