Friday, May 25, 2018

Transplant triumph: marking a year since a remarkable event

"Cookie and Keller," aka Christene Meyers and Bruce William Keller, once again at large in the world, here
in the caves off Malta. The two travel writers and photographers are marking a year since his transplant this week. 




A YEAR AGO, Keller had been home only a few days, from a nearly seven-hour liver transplant. While he was being "reconfigured," I kept vigil on a recliner in the Intensive Care waiting room at Scripps Green Hospital.  We'd gotten "the call" at 10 p.m. after our Friday "date night" May 13. I was toweling off from a shower.

A year ago, cause for thanksgiving

Earlier, we'd walked the beach, enjoying a meal which capped a long week of building projects for him and teaching and writing for me. We were drowsy during "Hawaii Five-O" and were heading to bed. But new plan: we checked into Scripps at midnight and by 4 a.m., surgery had begun. Alone in the waiting room. I turned on TV, wrote in my journal, watched re-runs of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," checked CNN, meditated, took a walk in the moonlight and decided against calling my family because of the hour.
Keller, above in his beloved
scuba diving mode, and,
recovering with homework.
Keller and Cookie enjoyed their traditional Friday date night.
Later that evening, they learned of a potential donor.

The nurses kept me posted throughout -- much appreciated -- and at 10:40 a.m., chief surgeon Dr. Jonathan Fisher, appeared, saying Keller had done splendidly. He speculated Keller would be in the ICU several days before moving to the main hospital for  more time. I was relieved that he would continue on
Scripps' watch.  The ponderous transplant manual had me nervous -- so much to think about, to monitor. So many meds at precise times. Changes in eating. Would he be able to maneuver stairs to our second-floor bedroom?  Should I rent a hospital bed for downstairs?  Would the pain be manageable?
Dr. Fisher and cheery P.A., Joe, w/K.
I LIKED DR. Fisher, who took time to visit with me and answer my many questions.  He's a New Yorker, and we chatted about my classes at Sarah Lawrence College and his medical studies at Columbia. We'd been prepared by a huge efficient, bright and spirited team of transplant nurses, doctors and counselors. I'd been sitting in on a support group (very helpful) and had done copious homework, taking notes at every doctor visit, developing my own mental health survival kit. Our chief hepatologist, Dr. Catherine Frenette, had held our hands gamely through the long 18-month wait for a donor.

A family reunion celebrated niece Kira's wedding in Oregon in June.
Below, Keller and our niece, Peny, count out anti-rejection meds.
OUR USUAL life of international travel was surprisingly not affected -- except for changing a few dates.  As we climbed up the list, we kept closer to home, but we got the okay six months before "the call" for our annual autumn Europe foray, a delightful trip to Malaga and a 10-day trans-Atlantic crossing. I became emotional, as waiting dragged on. Near the end of the vigil, Dr. Frenette assured us that the waiting was always difficult, but to keep the faith. All would be well. My worries would be overcome. She was right!
WHEN KELLER was transported to the ICU, he did not need the customary ventilator. I speculated this his amphibious diving and sailing life contributed to his excellent lung power. He was released from Scripps on a record-breaking third day post transplant and despite my frayed nerves, we developed a routine at home as he recovered -- walking, taking small trips, getting back on his bicycle and into the water. Stalwart, he took few pain meds and has been mostly cheerful throughout. No significant personality changes, but he is a better dancer and his musical pitch has improved!
Nationally known, award winning hepatologist, Dr. Catherine
Frenette, is Keller's chief doctor during the process.
We've had few bumps in a wonderful year with family, friends, theater, and travel. We missed only two Friday date nights near the beginning. The meds have decreased from 25 to seven. The lab checks are less frequent -- from three a week, to once, to monthly. The
blood work is monitored closely, and recently, absorption of the life-saving tacrolimus was altered when Keller took his meds with coffee rather than food. This can be life-threatening, so we closely watch it.  My lone faux pas as nurse was to decrease the tacrolimus myself because it was making him tremble. I was rightfully reprimanded. Won't repeat that.
 LIFE CONTINUES for our loved ones, with challenges, tragedies and triumphs. We attended several memorial services and I wrote 
three eulogies, including one for a dear friend killed in a car crash during a Montana snow storm.
When things go wrong, hang on  
The autumn trip to southern Europe went off as planned, five
months after the May, 2017, surgery. Here, Tarragona, Spain. 
Another friend passed away after a heroic battle with cancer.  Yet another is fighting for her life. Loved ones have gone into treatment, moved, separated, changed careers, married.  We've had the pleasure of entertaining visitors from several states. We spent Christmas with niece Amarylla and family in San Francisco, logged over 100 plays since last May, spent a wonderful five weeks in Montana and delighted in a family reunion at our niece Kira's Oregon wedding.  Our annual trip to southern Europe included a magical week in Paris in November and a return to the Folies Bergere and the Eiffel Tower.
Happy, healthy, Keller bikes around Mission Bay each Saturday. Life has resumed with all its wonders.
PETS HAVE died and our friends have grieved. Nick and Nora are approaching 13, and we know what that means.
Keller and Cookie at Sea World, enjoying each day.

More than several readers of this column asked why I refer to my partner as "Keller" and not his Christian name, Bruce. Some of you know that I have lost two husbands. (No, not misplaced.  Their ashes are in urns made by my gifted potter brother, Rick.) My first husband was Bruce. My second was William.  Keller's name is Bruce William.  Thus the "Keller" moniker.
We continue to live with gratitude, hope and the awareness that nothing is permanent, and that we are all just passing through.
Treasure each moment. Carpe diem, indeed.

UP NEXT: World famous baritone Nathan Gunn dons his
kilt and several other costume suggestions to
entertain in "Nathan Gunn Flying Solo," by musical
whiz Hershey Felder.  The show runs through
June 10 at the Lyceum in Horton Plaza, as a highlight
of the 25th annual Lipinsky Jewish Arts Festival.
Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us
Fridays when we post a new take on the arts,
nature, family and travel at whereiscookie 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Royal fuss: Affection for the Royal Family traced to QEII's coronation, childhood wonder

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth, both behatted, on a royal outing celebrating her 90th birthday. The couple has sustained a long, loving partnership through many ups and downs in country and family.


Four generations of Windsors mark the line of succession to the throne.
Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth on June 2, 1953, here with
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, greeting the happy throngs. (They will

celebrate their 71st wedding anniversary in November of this year.)

'WHY DON'T you write about your fascination with the Royal Family?" my partner and fellow travel writer-photographer Bruce Keller asked me.
"You've seen more royals than most Montanans -- probably more than most Americans. And you adore the royal family and all the pomp and circumstance."
I do love "my royals."  I've met the Queen Mum and her granddaughter, Princess Anne, the Queen's only daughter.  I  perfected my curtsy in July of 1977 when I was invited to a four-day celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's 25th year on the throne. (Knees bent, one foot slightly in front of the other. No problem.)
Princess Anne meets gentle giant actor Richard Kiel, who stood 7 feet, 2 inches.
He played the character Jaws in the James Bond film, "The Spy Who Loved Me."
Princess Anne represented her mother, QEII, at the 1977  screening in London.
SO WITH the spotlight on the  wedding and honeymoon of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, I offer a few thoughts on my enduring affection for the royals -- and all things pomp and circumstance.
My love affair with them began when I was a toddler, on June 2, 1953.  I remember it well.
  Queen Mum: Beloved and always "hatted"
The occasion was Queen Elizabeth's coronation -- the first to be televised. I sat on my mum's lap (yes, we called her mummy, not mama), holding my grandmum's hand. We were glued to the set, along with 27 million others in the United Kingdom and twice that many Americans. Our three generations joined a fascinated global retinue -- my mother, her mother, I and my infant sister. It all seemed splendid. I asked if the  Queen's gown, cape and jewels were heavy. "Yes, they probably weigh half as much as the Queen," mum replied, "for "Elizabeth is a small, elegant woman, don't you know."
AS PRINCE Harry takes actress Meghan Markle to be his wife, it will be very theatrical.
"That's why you love all this," my Keller chides. "It's your theater background."
Champagne toast: Prince Harry and
Meghan Markle earlier this year.
He's right, of course.  What could be more theatrical than centuries-old coaches made of gold, tiaras that weigh more than my Yorkshire terriers, oversized hats, soldiers, horses and endless parties, receptions, concerts and, yes, curtsies. Not least: family. Meghan is changing the royal family and the way it views things. She's divorced, her mother is a proud woman of color. She's American!
I've written magazine and newspaper articles about  meeting "my two" memorable royals in July of 1977.  I was invited by United Artists and the Silver Jubilee to cover the celebration during Queen Elizabeth II's 25th anniversary as monarch.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles at their
wedding in 1981, leaving St. Paul's Cathedral
which offered more seating than Westminster.
The United Artists film, "The Spy Who Loved Me," was part of the festivities and Princess Anne attended in her mother's place.  I remember her as gracious and beautiful, in a satin gown.
Bond, James Bond (and Cookie)
She daintily shook hands with Sir Roger Moore, who played Bond, and Richard Kiel, who played his nemesis, Jaws. (Kiel's hand was huge, so Princess shook only a finger. My photos proved that.) Later, I met Queen Mum at a reception.
Queen Elizabeth II in 1984, purchasing souvenirs in
Wyoming. She bought some fishing hook ties for Philip.
I AROSE EARLY to watch Princess Diana marry Prince Charles, and sadly visited the tunnel in Paris where she met her fate. When in 1984, Queen Elizabeth II came to Wyoming to look at horses, no reporters were allowed. It was a private visit. Both she and Prince Philip liked Wyoming. An expert rider, the Queen inspected thoroughbreds, rode, hiked and kept a low profile, calling it a private vacation -- no interviews.  She did go shopping in Sheridan, dispelling the myth that she carried nothing in her purse. Friends who saw her at Ritz 
Sporting Goods in the small western town, said she paid cash for her souvenirs, including fishing hook ties for her beloved husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth I.
She based at the Wallop family ranch in Big Horn and visited the nearby Bradford-Brinton Museum. Her hosts were her friend Lady Porchester, nee Jean Margaret Wallop, a Big Horn, Wyo., native and sister of another prominent Big Horn personality, Sen. Malcolm Wallop.
The beloved late Queen Mum
hoisting a pint at a pub in Odeon
Square during Silver Jubilee.
EVEN BEFORE I became a film reviewer, I saw every movie I could about the royals-- particularly Queen Elizabeth I and later Queen Elizabeth II.  My favorite QEI actress is Glenda Jackson, although Judi Dench made a magnificent older royal.  Bette Davis had just the right amount of grit to give her QEI the proper feistiness.
Dame Judi Dench as Queen
 Elizabeth I. Many actors
have played the famous royal. 
As for the reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II has spent over 65 years on the throne and has been fodder for pop culture ever since I watched her put on that first crown -- little Cookie sitting glued to the family's first television.
She has been the subject of many impersonations -- including some irreverent ones by Monty Python and many others.  The Queen is said to have a good sense of humor -- she'd have to.
Cookie and Keller met the Queen Elizabeth when she sailed into
Long Beach. That's the ship, not the sovereign. An avowed

 "cruise junkie," Cookie has fond memories of many QEII sails.

MY FAVORITE ship by far is the now retired Queen Elizabeth II.  I crossed the Atlantic on her seven times and sailed the Norwegian fjords and Mediterranean on her. The new Queen Elizabeth is lovely, too, but my heart yearns for the days of dinner in the Queen's Grill, and an interview with Kevin Kline or Josh Logan, two of many celebs I interviewed on that venerable ship.
I'd love to interview the Queen -- or at least meet her -- but if not, I've had a good life with "my royals."  I wish Harry and Meghan my own royal best. 

One year ago, Keller had his two-week follow up with his primary transplant
surgeon, Columbia trained Dr. Jonathan Fisher, at Scripps Green Hospital.

A fabulous ensemble interacts with an appealing gaggle
of puppets in the smash hit "Avenue Q" at New Village Arts.

NEXT UP:  It's been a year of ups and a few downs, since Bruce William Keller had his successful liver transplant. Several hundred readers want to know how it's gone so -- not known for wall flower protocol -- "Nurse Cookie" tells almost all, including how Keller is doing ("fabulous," he says) and how she nearly lost her nurse's cap. Tune in and remember to explore, learn and live.

BEST BET: "Avenue Q" at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad, is the most refreshing musical to come down the recent theatrical pike in our prolific, play-loving corner of southern California. Human actors sing, dance, tease and experience life along with a gaggle of charming, hand-operated puppets. We saw the Broadway production and loved it.  But the intimate staging at New Village Arts puts the audience close-up and personal in a way the larger house couldn't. An extraordinary cast of strong voices carries out AJ Knox's snappy direction. The winning ensemble is backed by Nina Gilbert's fine musical quintet to share appealing stories and life lessons. Our opening weekend  audience was captivated: SRO with cheers and a standing ovation! The storyline follows the denizens of a sketchy New York neighborhood but their problems are universal and tenderly told -- loneliness, money woes, confusion of goals and need for purpose. Don't miss it.   

Friday, May 11, 2018

Make some Mother's Day magic: think outside the candy box

Let your imagination take sail, when planning a perfect gift for a mother or mother prototype. Consider a Hornblower cruise, which will take you under the famed Coronado Bridge in San Diego, and around San Diego Bay. Hornblower offers fabulous, relaxing water adventures from "Sights and Sips,"  to harbor or dinner cruises. Consider presenting a gift of theater  tickets in a card you present on the water!


 The company of "Animal Crackers" featured a brilliant
Groucho and Harpo, and brought down the house at
Cygnet Theatre in Old Town San Diego. Cygnet's year-round
season just featured a brilliant production of the
 Sondheim hit,  "A Little Night Music." A world premier,

"The Wind and the Breeze" opens May 16.
and  courtesy theater marketing departments 

SHE DOESN'T have to be your mother, a mother, or even female.
Christene (aka Cookie)
remembers with love
her mother Ellen, violinist

and opera singer, who
celebrated with theater.
   Follow the stairs from Horton Plaza to San Diego
 Repertory Theatre's home in the Lyceum Theatre.
  Artistic director Sam Woodhouse pushes the
envelope with smart, cutting edge dramas and the
occasional blockbuster musical. 

MOM WILL appreciate the
thoughtfulness of a ticket or season
subscription to a wonderful
theater, wherever you live.  In my 
SoCal world, consider quality offerings 
at San Diego Repertory Theatre,
Cygnet Theatre, North Coast
Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, 
San Diego Musical Theater, Lamb's
Players Theatre on Coronado and those 
smaller, adventuresome equally
professional companies such as
Roustabouts, Intrepid, Diversionary
and New Village Arts. All exemplary.
 Wherever you are, the play's the thing!
(Lamb's Players' "Noises Off," BTW,
is absolutely stunning theater.
Sharp direction, brilliant physical
bits, wonderful company. Top drawer.)
TO KICK it up a notch, consider taking
your mum date for a Hornblower sail

on San Diego Bay, say the Sips and
Sights, or a dinner cruise. Then, over
a champagne toast, present your card,
in which you've tucked a pair of
tickets for a play, concert or opera.
You can always fall back on candy,
flowers, or perfume. Sharing a
live performance is, as the
commercial says, priceless! 

North Coast Repertory Theatre is
known for its creativity, energy 
and versatility. 
Both accomplished
actor and director, David Ellenstein 
soon directs the West Coast 
premiere of "The Father" and 
plans  a stellar Rep season: 

San Diego Musical Theater presents
a season of lively musicals. "South
Pacific"  is on the boards, a lively,
tuneful production of the venerable
musical theater gem. Through May 27.

If someone has nurtured you, cared about you, or given time, love and concern, a nod of thanks on Mother's Day is appropriate.
Phil Johnson, well known San diego 
actor, stars in "A Jewish Joke," which 
is bound off-Broadway. It  debuted at
 North Coast Repertory Theatre and
 finished  a lauded sell-out run 
at Moxie Theatre, directed by North 
Coast' Rep's talented  artistic director,
 David Ellenstein. Check out "Romeo,
Romeo and Juliet" at  
OUR FAMILY's favorite way to celebrate is with a play or concert. 
San Diego Gay Men's Chorus produces
three spectacular shows a year in the
Balboa Theatre. Next up is the July

show with ABBA hits.
Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries were always highlighted with a trip to the theater, thanks to our enterprising, theater-loving mother Ellen. We miss her energy and love of theater. I still save a playbill for her, as I've done for 50 years. 

La Jolla Playhouse offers elegant staging in a beautiful venue. Many LJPH works have made it to Broadway,
recently the Tony winning "Come From Away," the
27th LJPH connected play to hit Broadway.
"Noises Off" is not to be missed at Lamb's Players Theatre.
A crack ensemble, brilliant comic timing, extraordinary
physical bits and a revolving set keep the audience
laughing. The show is held over. "Once," the Tony
winning musical, follows.

 UP NEXT: With the royal wedding coming right up, join us for a royal good time.  A look back at Cookie's life as a fan of all things royal.  Her meeting of the Queen Mum and Princess Anne, her watching the coronation with her mum and grandmum as a toddler in 1953, and musings about why she loves the pomp and circumstance. Will she arise for Meghan's and Harry's wedding.  The alarm clock is set.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Come to Cannes: film festival, food, beautiful people (bring money!)


Water is central to life in Cannes, and every 
manner of vessel may be seen -- many 
worth  tens of thousands of dollars.

It is still possible to stroll parts of the harbor without crowds,
and feel a bit like the old Cannes, before its "discovery."
THE MOTTO of this glamorous southern France city is "Life is a festival."  Cannes has more galas, regattas, festivals, openings and celebrations than any other city we know.  Home to the rich, famous and outrageously attractive, Cannes is known for its affluent life style, lavish boats and beautiful people who spend a lot to stay that way. Luxurious hotels, a dream-like opulently landscaped promenade
Cannes is located north of Saint-Tropez, another fabled port. Monaco is north.
and a sexy, sandy beach invite la dolce vita -- in French, la douce vie. In English, the sweet life.
Keller and Cookie relax above Cannes. The French Riviera
has attracted visitors since Julius Caesar.  Chagall, Matisse
 and Picasso loved the beautiful harbor and perfect weather. 

IT'S ALSO "the expensive life." From any part of the harbor, plush yachts dot the sea. We joined a global gaggle of spectators in Cannes for a few recent days. To have stayed longer would have broken the bank.  Plan to spend up to $4,000 a night if you're there during the film festival (not this year for us.) Many of the town's 74,000 residents leave, cleverly renting their digs for exorbitant prices as the town's population swells to 200,000.
The theme of "captive audience" prevails.  For Cannes has that je ne sais quoi, as the French say. Even without the festival, the port's allure and glamour would bring visitors to one of the world's most picturesque ports.
"Everybody Knows" is expected to vie for the
coveted Palme d'Or at Cannes this year.
It stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. 

Cannes is full of lovely outdoor restaurants where people enjoy the sun, a
meal and of course a glass or two of wine.  This courtyard is near the Palais.
I VISITED THIS idyllic French Riviera town several times, covering "Cannes" as a guest of the festival, which is funded  by French taxpayers and corporate sponsors. The number of features to be screened this year include 61. Of those, 19 compete for the famed top prize Palme d'Or"Everybody Knows" is the hot title, my French film reviewer friends tell me.
Long before cinema and the building of the Palais des Festivals et des Congres, Cannes was a coveted destination. Founded in 1530, the resort has long been visited by traders and sun seekers.
SINCE THE 18th Century, Europeans and British aristocrats have taken holidays in Cannes, enjoying the pleasant climate, fine cuisine and tranquil setting. Queens, czars, authors, artists and stars have lived there, including Tina Turner, Pink Floyd and Usher.
The Cannes Film Festival is one of many festivals held in the town. The venue
is the Palais des Festivals, designed by architects Bennett and Druet. Opened in 
  1982, the building and is used for events, conferences and festivals year round.
There are lovely cafes, elegant but laid-back hotels and sleek, modern buildings such as the Palais, which is complete with red carpet and Allée des Étoiles – Cannes’ walk of fame. The Riviera's glamorous Cannes Film Festival attracts hundreds of stars and directors, and a unique entourage of "look alikes" who delight in being asked for their autographs and posing for photos. (Call it a Cannes Comic Con.)
Red carpet is being laid this week
readying for the May 8-19 festival.
A window box of carnations suggests
a more tranquil time for Cannes, once 
the May film festival winds down.
 The 2018 Cannes Film Festival, the 71st, is May 8-19. Actress Cate Blanchett is president of the Jury.
Cannes' beautiful white beach is one of its main draws.
Looking for something to treat the mother in your life? Doesn't have to be
a biological mom, or even a female. Consider a one-hour harbor cruise,
a Sips and Sights trek or a lavish dinner cruise on Hornblower, which
operates out of several U.S port cities.
UP NEXT: Mother's Day approaches, and we share some thoughts on celebrating -- on sea, on land, in the heart. This year, consider honoring women (and men) who may not be "mothers" but who elevate the notion of nurturing and loving to an artform. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays when we post a new and novel look at travel, nature, family, pets, food, art and whatever else strikes our fancy.