Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

I'm leaving for the airport shortly, but wanted to wish everyone a happy holiday. If I had more time, I'd attempt to get a picture of black-cat Bali to post, but you'll just have to imagine his fuzzy handsomeness.

Speaking of Bali, yesterday he kept trying to play with the fringe on Sharon's shawl. I finally gave him a piece of yarn, thinking he just wanted to bat it around. Instead, he slurped it up like a strand of spaghetti. I immediately called our vet, who said that since the yarn was only a few inches long, the cat should be fine, but to bring him in if he started vomiting.

So far, he's keeping down his meals, thank goodness. I'd feel really guilty if my knitting got him into medical trouble. But this confirms the wisdom of felting cat toys whenever I finally get around to making them.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Busy Busy

This morning, on my way out the door to check out housing for Dad, I turned on my cell phone and discovered that I had a message from Val, who'd called last night to tell me that the funeral's Thursday (I should have told her to call the house first; I rarely even have my cell on).

So I turned around, powered up my computer, got a ticket down tomorrow afternoon and back late Thursday evening, reserved a car, and called Val back to let her know I was coming and to ask about hotels. I got her husband Bruce and asked him to e-mail me the names of likely hotels. Then I called work and e-mailed students to cancel my classes tomorrow (I'd warned them on Monday that this might be a possibility, although I expected the funeral to be this weekend).

Then I went to the gym, where the pool was so crowded that I decided not to wait for a lane. Got into the car, feeling grumpy from lack of exercise, and shot to work to pick up Lee's shawl. Got back into the car and managed to find, fairly easily, one of the apartment complexes our friend had recommended, where I stopped to pick up applications.

The place was dismal: in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by auto-body shops, dark and musty inside. The two residents I saw both refused eye contact, staring at the floor and looking miserable. Remember Shady Rest, the shady nursing home in Bubba-Ho-Tep? The place kind of felt like that. If my friend says it's a great facility, I trust him, but my immediate gut reaction is that I don't want my father living there. So I picked up the applications, but decided not to send them to Dad and Fran (when I spoke to him later, he agreed).

The Housing Authority office was right down the street, and I didn't have to wait at all because the applications were in boxes on the walls. Yay!

I had trouble finding the second recommended apartment complex. I thought I knew from the address roughly where it was, but when I went there, no senior housing was in sight, and I was in territory even grimmer than the first stop. I finally did the sensible thing and called the manager of the building, who gave me directions.

They're two blocks from campus. It's a bright, cheery building. Residents were sitting outside, talking and joking with each other. They joked with me as I walked past. Inside, more residents were milling around and chatting. The manager showed me one of the units, which looks comparable to other apartments Dad has had, and where he's been happy.

Of course, the waiting list's six months to a year, but that was true at Shady Rest, too.

Much cheered, I went home, called the hotels whose names Bruce had sent me, managed to get a reservation at one of them (a minor miracle, given the fires, although the price was higher than advertised, undoubtedly also due to the fires), got Mapquest directions from the airport to the hotel, shot out to the post office to mail giant packages of applications and listings to Dad and Fran, and came back home to call Val and tell her where I'd be staying. I got to talk both to her and to her brother Tod; it's been ages since I've seen either of them, and they're both looking forward to seeing me again. So, as usual, the family-reunion thing will be the nicest part of the funeral.

Now I'm obsessing about packing. I'm not taking my laptop or the CPAP (which I can go one night without), but I am taking grading and knitting, and I'm trying to figure out how to get everything into the smallest possible bags so I won't have to check luggage on my planes-the-size-of-thimbles commuter flights.

I'll be pretty much out of radio contact the next few days, but I'll blog when I get back (and maybe tomorrow morning, if I wake up early enough). Have a great Halloween, everybody, and a blessed Feast of All Saints!

Buffy Times Two

This week's Grand Rounds is up, and includes my Buffy in the ER post, just in time for Halloween! Thanks for including me, Paul!

And in other Buffy news, remember this darling puppy, the one who visited my classroom and whom I christened Buffy because of her color? Another volunteer chaplain at the hospital, a former pediatric hospice coordinator, saw Buffy's picture on my blog and expressed interest in adopting the dog. Yesterday I got e-mail from her: the adoption's gone through! She and her husband are hoping to train the pup as a therapy dog, and they're going to keep the name I gave her. And now I'll get to visit her and get updates on her progress! Yay!

I'm inordinately pleased that my blog was instrumental in the placement of this blessed little beast . . . not, I'm sure, that there would have been much trouble finding a home for her, since she's such a sweetie. But I'm so glad I got to be part of it.

In Dad news, yesterday I spoke to our friend who works in the low-income housing field in this area. He was extremely helpful in giving me tips about what facilities are good and which to avoid; he also told me that the public housing here is excellent. I'll drive over to the Housing Authority office today and pick up applications, since I couldn't get a human on the phone there yesterday. My friend said, "Be prepared for a wait." I'll bring reading and knitting.

And speaking of knitting, Sharon's shawl is almost finished! I bound it off last night, wove in ends this morning, and am slightly more than halfway through the fringing (which is easy, but tedious). It's certainly not a perfect garment, but it's warm and comfy, and overall I'm really pleased with it. I hope Sharon will be, too!

Lee's shawl, on which I've knitted six inches, will now become the home project, and I'll start a third one, for myself, for work.

No word on Scott's funeral yet. I'm hoping to hear something soon so I can make travel plans.

Monday, October 29, 2007

And in other family news . . .

My father called me Friday morning and told me that he wants to move to Reno. He hasn't been happy in Philadelphia, and he really enjoyed his visit out here this summer, and this way, my sister and I will each be responsible for one parent, rather than my sister being responsible for both.

I'm happy, but also a little nervous. There's a lot of legwork to do: Dad's currently in Section 8 HUD housing, so I've printed out various lists of similar facilities here. Friday was Nevada Day, a state holiday, so I couldn't reach anyone at lots of offices, but I did get an application for one apartment building for him. There's a very nice low-income senior apartment complex a mile from here, but they're not a Section 8 building. He'd need a Section 8 voucher to be able to afford that place, and someone told me on the phone that if you're currently living in a Section 8 building (where the entire facility is subsidized), you can't get a Section 8 voucher (where the individual tenant is subsidized). That makes sense, but I need to find out if it still applies if someone's moving across the country.

Fortunately, a friend of ours is in charge of Section 8 for Nevada, so I have a call in to him. I also left a message for the social worker at the VA, where Dad will be receiving his medical care, to see if they have any leads on housing. I'm going to call HUD later today.

This is all made more complicated by the fact that Dad's longtime friend Fran, who currently lives in Illinois, wants to move here too. They want separate apartments in the same building.

Dad's going to send me a power of attorney. In the meantime, I have large documents -- housing applications, HUD lists, information about the Reno transit system for disabled passengers -- to photocopy and send to both Dad and Fran. At some point, I'm going to have to drive around and check out apartments to see if I think he'll like them.

And of course, there's emotional baggage that comes with all of this. My sister understands the logic behind the move, but is still feeling hurt and rejected (very understandably, since she and her husband worked so hard to get Dad to Philly). My father's feeling emotional about leaving my sister. At one point yesterday, they were both in tears. And I, the baby in the family and the one who's always been taken care of, am anxious about proving that I handle all this as competently as my sister has, that I can step up to the plate and be a real grown-up.

Yesterday, I mentioned that anxiety to a friend on the phone who let loose gales of laughter. "Oh, you silly! Of course you can!" And intellectually, I know I can, but I'm still anxious.

Gary and I are also hoping, given Dad's age and frail physical condition, that he'll actually be up to another move, and that once he gets to Reno, he'll have some time here to enjoy it.

Anyway, this bombshell on top of Scott's death made for quite the draining weekend.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


This morning a little after six, the phone rang. It was my cousin Val, calling to tell me that Scott died about 1:30 this morning. She said his passing was peaceful.

She and her brother Tod didn't make it out to San Diego to say goodbye to him. That's going to be especially hard on Tod, who was also a few hours too late to say goodbye when his father, my Uncle Harry, died.

Scott was a force of nature, a big guy with a booming voice. When I was a kid, he'd greet me with a reverberating "Cousin Susan!" and sweep me into a hug. He terrified me.

In 1994, I was in San Diego for the MLA Convention -- where literary academics on the job market have their first interviews -- and I arranged to have lunch with Scott. When I went down to the lobby to meet him, wondering if I'd recognize him after so many years, I heard a booming "Cousin Susan!" Once again, he swept me into a hug. This time, I wasn't terrified. Over lunch, I told him how much he'd scared me when I was a kid, and he just laughed.

"Me? How could you be scared of me?"

I'd told Scott that I wanted to take him to lunch, and he found a beautiful cafe overlooking the beach, since he knew I loved the ocean. When the check came, he insisted on paying it. During the meal, he told me fascinating stories about his spiritual life. In his twenties or thirties, he'd been diagnosed with a degenerative, supposedly incurable spinal condition. His spine was literally dissolving, and he was in excrutiating pain. His doctors wouldn't give him pain medication, because they said that if the pain went away, he'd do more than he should and hurt his back even more.

So Scott took up yoga and started meditating to deal with the pain. He told me that after a few months of this, he learned how to leave his body. He was drawn into the famous white light, where he found himself filled with bliss and the knowledge of divine love.

When he returned to his body, his back didn't hurt anymore.

The following week, he went to the doctor. Previously, Scott had been almost unable to walk. During this visit, he did a karate kick, extending his leg all the way to the top of the office door frame. The doctor squinted. "You can't be able to do that. This is impossible."

The doctor ordered x-rays. The x-rays came back completely normal: Scott's spine showed no damage at all.

Scott also told me that he was at his father's bedside when Harry died. He saw Harry's soul rise out of his body, and after the death, Scott spent time with his father's spirit during several journeys out of his own body.

I wasn't yet religious when I heard these stories; they both spooked and fascinated me, not least because Scott was a football-and-auto-mechanics kind of guy, the last person I'd have expected to be into astral encounters. But now, remembering these stories comforts me. I'm sure that Scott is with Harry and his mom Marian now, and I wonder if he left his body when he was in the ICU, if he saw his grieving wife and daughters at his bedside. If only he could have channeled the power needed to heal his liver disease, as he'd done to heal his spine! But by all accounts, his attitudes towards the illness that claimed him was rather fatalistic: he didn't do everything the doctors wanted him to do, a source of great sadness and frustration for his family.

In the shower this morning, I was trying to remember when I last saw Scott. I think it was in 1999, when I was in San Diego again for the Popular Culture Association meeting. I spent the night with Scott, his lovely wife Sandy, and their delightful daughters, Shannon and Britney. Scott was still generous and loving, but he was also moody, and it was clear to me that living with him wasn't easy for the women in his household.

I called him in 2003, when I was going to MLA in San Diego yet again -- this time to interview candidates for a job at UNR -- but we didn't manage to connect. I spoke to him on the phone when I got home to Reno; he sounded troubled and angry. I can only pray that at the end of his life, he once again found the peace he'd discovered through meditation. And I hope that when I die, I'll be welcomed into the hereafter with a booming "Cousin Susan!" and a sweeping hug.

I told Val that I want to fly down to San Diego for the funeral; she's going to let me know when the service is scheduled. Please keep Scott and everyone who loves him in your prayers.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Buffy in the ER

Last night was movie night; we're halfway through Season Two of Battlestar Galactica, but since only two of our eight friends who usually come could make it, we watched Buffy episodes instead, including the glorious musical episode Once More, With Feeling.

Gary and I have the soundtrack memorized and can sing along with all the lyrics. We tried not to inflict this on our two friends, but I did find myself singing once or twice, despite my efforts not to (rather like Spike at the beginning of Let Me Rest in Peace).

Being a Buffy fan has turned out to be surprisingly useful. Among other things, it's twice helped me connect with ER patients. One December 21st, I stopped by the bedside of a young woman who, when I identified myself as the chaplain, glared at me, held up the pentagram she was wearing around her neck, and said, "I'm a Wiccan. You don't like me."

"If you're Wiccan," I said, "it's one of your High Holy Days. Happy Winter Solstice! I'm so sorry you're in the hospital."

She softened a little bit, clearly surprised that I was familiar with Wiccan holidays, and we started chatting about her spiritual path. She mentioned a friend whose vengeance spells made her nervous, and I said, "Sounds like Anya on Buffy."

This time, she positively brightened. "Oh, I love Buffy! It's my favorite show! I've seen every episode like, seven times!"

"So what's your favorite episode?"

She laughed. "Oh, 'Once More With Feeling' -- I mean, what else?" And then she was off on a roll: we commiserated about how terrible Season Seven was, compared notes on Season Six (which we both love, although many fans don't), and agreed that Spike's really dreamy, especially with his shirt off.

I'm sure this isn't the conversation she'd expected to have with the middle-aged hospital chaplain, but I'm also pretty sure it made her feel at least a little better.

Buffy also figured prominently in a visit I had with a patient, a burly guy my age or older, in the waiting room. I complimented him on his Serenity t-shirt, and we both agreed that Joss Whedon's a brilliant story-teller, and then we started talking Buffy.

"So what's your favorite episode?" I asked him.

He laughed. "That would have to be 'Once More With Feeling,' right?" We agreed that Season Seven sucks. I don't remember his opinion on Season Six, and I decided not to ask how he feels about Spike.

These visits confirmed a sense I'd had for a while, that scripture is any story that creates and helps maintain community. Buffy, like Star Trek or any other cult show, is scripture for a lot of people, and in those two visits, it helped me find common ground with patients who might have seemed very different from me. (I also happen to think that Buffy's a deeply spiritual show, although in unconventional ways. But that's a subject for another post.)

I have a Mary Sue ER fantasy, a silly little bit of wish fulfillment that runs through my head every so often: a psych patient has come in, refusing to talk and humming a tune no one recognizes. I identify it as Going Through the Motions, start singing it, and get the patient to open up, earning lavish praise from the medical staff.

I'm sure nothing like this will never really happen. But if it did, it would be just one more example of God working in mysterious ways.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Scary Phone Calls

In the middle of my hospital shift yesterday, the charge nurse waved at me from the nursing station and said, "Susan, phone home."

"This can't be good," I said, my stomach dropping.

"Why not?"

"Because my mother's in the hospital."

But when I called Gary, the first thing he said was, "It's not your Mom." Then he said, "It's your cousin Scott."

Scott, his wife and two daughters live in San Diego. Scott's always been very generous to me, but it's been a couple of years since I've spoken to them. I've been thinking about them this week because of the fires, and I'd thought about trying to call, except that the number I have for them never seems to work. But it turned out that wasn't the problem.

Scott, who's 55 or 56 -- Gary and my sister's age -- is in an ICU (in a hospital that may have to be evacuated because of the fires), in liver failure from several chronic medical conditions, very likely dying. I talked to Scott's sister, my cousin Val, in Massachusetts, who said he was unconscious and who was trying to decide when to fly out. Val gave me his wife's cell number. I spoke briefly to his wife and offered to fly down if I can be any help at all (I'm at least out West, whereas everybody else from our side of the family is back East), but she said there's nothing I can do, and that she's getting a lot of support from her family. She sounded stunned and angry and lost, which was hardly a surprise.

I'll fly down for the funeral, if it comes to that.

Meanwhile, today I talked to my mother in the skilled-nursing facility. My sister had reported positively on the place, but my mother's not happy at all -- she said she has some issues with the professionalism of the staff -- and her physical therapy won't start until Monday. She sounded more scattered and out of it than she has in a few days, so that was alarming, too. My sister was there when I called, and she sounded very stressed when I talked to her for a few minutes.

So I'm just a little freaked out, in through here.

I finished the second half of my shift yesterday in a daze, which wasn't helped by the fact that traffic was slow (my patient tally was about half what it usually is). I talked a little about my cousin's condition to one of the nurses, who listened sympathetically, grimaced, and said, "Liver's a bad way to go." Then she put her arm around me and said, with a half-laugh, "Do you need to talk to somebody? Should I call a chaplain for you?"

I laughed. "No, that's okay. You just did for me what I do for patients. See, you can do my job!"

She shook her head. "No, thanks!" But she was a genuine help to me, and I was glad she was there.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thursday's Knitting Question, and Mom

Thanks to everybody who left suggestions on my last post; I really appreciate it. (And TC, I don't know how Maura handles everything she has on her plate, either.) The felting idea had actually occured to me shortly after I wrote that post, but I'm glad so many other people confirmed it.

Question: Can felted wool be cut like any other fabric? I have a small ball of wool I'd like to knit up to be felted; my question is whether I should a) knit up the whole thing, felt it, and then cut it into pieces to sew into cat toys, or b) knit and felt one toy at a time. The first option would be easier, if it's possible.

Meanwhile, Mom's still in the hospital. Today she'll be transferred to a skilled nursing facility, where they'll work on building up the strength she'll need to go home. Yesterday she received two transfusions of blood because of very low hemoglobin: they aren't sure what's causing that, and at some point she'll have more tests to figure it out (but her doctor told her she can wait on those). When I called her last night, she'd just had a very scary breathing episode: she'd gotten up to go to the bathroom and suddenly found herself so unable to catch her breath that she called out for help, whereupon a bunch of nurses rushed into the room. They gave her some sort of breathing treatment -- Mom doesn't retain medical information and couldn't tell me what it was -- and she's been breathing more easily since then.

Thanks, again, to everyone who's sent us encouraging thoughts. Please keep those prayers coming!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Knitting Updates and Queries

Last Friday, my friend Katharine came over for movie night. She's been knitting for a long time, and she said very nice things about my shawl: that the stitches were remarkably consistent and that it didn't look like a beginner's project. That made me feel good, of course!

Saturday at the health club, I ran into Katharine's daughter-in-law, Maura, who just had her second baby and is also in the process of finishing a doctoral dissertation and going on the job market. She is, as one might expect, very tired. But when I mentioned knitting, she perked up and said, "We should have a knitting night at Katharine's!"

Saturday evening, I saw Katharine at a concert and mentioned the kitting night possibility, and she liked the idea. So we'll be having knitting night this Thursday, and regularly thereafter, I hope. Knitting night on Thursday and movie night on Friday: that's a nice way to wind down the week!

Patricia McKillip's lovely Solstice Wood, which won the Mythopoeic Award this year, features a group of women who get together regularly to knit, crochet, sew, and do needlepoint. They call themselves the Fiber Guild, and it turns out that their needlework is magic that helps protect the world against intrusions of dangerous forces from Faerie (although, of course, it turns out to be more nuanced and complicated than that).

Berni mentioned on her blog, I think, that she wants her own Fiber Guild. Now I feel like I'll be part of one. Yay!

I now have about forty inches of Sharon's shawl and four inches of Lee's -- which will become the home project and get more attention when I've finished Sharon's -- and I'm happily planning out enough projects for the next ten years. Wheeee!

Meanwhile, two questions:

1. The tips of my thumbs and index fingers have gotten sore from pushing the points of the needles, a problem that will probably worsen when I get my Christmas circular set, which have sharp points. I have a fuzzy, pink-fur finger puppet I'm using as a thimble on my right thumb, and that's working well -- in addition to being pleasantly eccentric -- but has anyone else had this problem? And if so, what have you done about it? Is it just a matter of developing knitting callouses?

2. When we were at PetSmart last night, I was looking at the ridiculously overpriced catnip toys and thought, "Hey! I could knit little pillows and put catnip in them!" That would be a great use for odd scraps of yarn, and would also make for nice treats for the various cats in my life. However, I know some cats have a tendency to eat yarn, which is very bad for them, and I'm concerned that if a kitty became sufficiently excited by the catnip to shred the toy, disaster might ensue. Does anyone have guidance in this area? Should knitted cat toys not include catnip? Should I make simple little pillows with bells, which would still be fun toys but might be less prone to shredding?

All insights welcome! Thanks!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Prognosticating at Grand Rounds

This week's Grand Rounds is up, with a theme of prognostication. I'm honored to be included, especially since this edition includes only fifteen posts out of thirty submissions. I'm especially honored to be the first post.

I couldn't have prognosticated that, especially since I procrastinated and wrote the post about five seconds before it was due!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mom Update

Thanks very much to everyone who left encouraging comments on Friday's post. Mom's still in the hospital, still short of breath and periodically disoriented. She's now being evaluated for possible blood clots in her legs; on a more positive note, she's seen a physical therapist who's fitted her with a better back brace and also taught her to use various assistive devices for putting on socks and so forth.

She's been coherent and relatively cheerful when I've spoken to her -- at least once a day and usually twice -- but she'd really rather be home. She especially misses her beloved cats, who can neither visit nor phone.

I'm grateful for everyone's prayers, and I'm praying for all of you who also have hospitalized parents or other life challenges . . . even though, as usual, I'm being entirely too slow about answering e-mail!

Transforming Hope

Today I, with two other volunteer hospital chaplains, spoke to an incoming class of volunteers about our experiences: what we do, why we do it, what it's taught us about ourselves. Both of the other volunteers had very moving medical stories of their own. One went through the agony of almost losing a spouse to heart disease ten years ago -- of being convinced that this was the end of a beloved partner -- before a last-minute transplant turned everything around. The spouse is fine now, although no one expected that outcome during the crisis.

The other volunteer chaplain has donated a kidney to a relative, and routinely tells patients -- even those with terminal cancer -- "There's always hope. The doctors don't know everything."

I was very moved by their stories, but I found myself pondering the nature of hope. I think good pastoral care is a matter of discerning genuine hope from false hope. As a Christian, I believe in the ultimate hope of the resurrection, but I know that Good Friday has to come first. As chaplains, we're taught not to pray for seemingly impossible cures, to pray instead for acceptance of whatever the future brings.

Sometimes the seemingly impossible happens, but if it doesn't, other things are still possible. Acceptance, reconciliation, love. The successful completion of the "five last things," the last statements we need to make and hear in this life, whether to or from others, ourselves, or God:

Forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

At the moment, I know three people in various stages of cancer. One is in hospice now, engaged in making final arrangements and saying goodbyes. Another has been stunned by, and is trying to come to terms with, a recent recurrence. And the third is in the "we hope the remission holds" stage.

I suspect that the three of them, if asked, would describe three different kinds of hope:

Hope for a peaceful end.
Hope for a sudden turnaround.
Hope for current conditions to continue.

I suspect, too, that these are the three main varieties of hope for all of us, in all circumstances. When things are going well, we hope they won't change. When things are going badly, we hope they will change. When it's clear, at last and despite all our efforts, that they can't get better, we hope that our exit from whatever we're leaving -- the life, the career, the marriage -- will be as calm, graceful, and painless as possible.

At each stage, we need help moving to the next, recognizing the appropriate thing to hope for. This is part of what chaplains do.

During this week's hospital shift, I visited with a patient who's had "a wonderful life," and who expressed gratitude for many blessings. The patient was ready to die, if that was what God required. The patient's spouse was not ready to end more than four decades of marriage. I listened to the patient's litany of thankfulness, and handed the weeping spouse tissues. I tried to affirm both of them.

Later, I stopped by their cubicle and learned that the patient's symptoms had been far less serious than the couple had supposed. They were going home. Both of them were beaming, and I could see the relief in the patient's face, no less than the spouse's.

I wonder if we ever really stop hoping for the miraculous turnaround. I can only pray that when this couple runs out of medical miracles, they will find faith, and acceptance, and comfort in their love for each other.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Mom's in the Hospital

My mother's back in the hospital, this time with breathing difficulties caused either by bronchitis or walking pneumonia; they're doing tests on her to try to figure out what's going on, but on the meantime she's on antibiotics.

I found out about this last night. Gary and I were at a chamber-music concert when my phone started vibrating in my purse (during intermission, fortunately!). I never keep my phone on unless I'm traveling, but I'd forgotten to turn it off after the Vegas trip. Thank goodness I had it on vibrate: I would have been mortified had it started ringing.

Anyway, by the time I fumbled through the contents of my purse to locate the buzzing monster, the caller had left a message. When I was looking for the phone, I'd figured the call would probably be a telemarketer or something, since it was 11:30 Eastern time, too late for my family to call unless something was seriously wrong.

But the phone told me I'd missed a call from my sister's cellphone, and I started to panic. This couldn't be good. I listened to her message and she said she was taking Mom to the hospital but that it wasn't "really critical," whatever that meant. I tried to call my sister's cell, but the call didn't go through because my battery was nearly dead. (One of the weirdnesses here, I later learned, is that she called my cell by accident, assuming I'd be home; she decided to leave a message anyway. But ordinarily she wouldn't have called the cell, and I wouldn't have had it on.)

At that point, the second half of the concert was about to start. "You can't do anything from here," Gary said, very sensibly. He settled in to enjoy the music. I thought about leaving to try to call Liz, but Gary couldn't get home without me, so I stayed, twitching and fretting (which was too bad, because the music was really lovely). The minute the concert was over, I raced outside the hall and tried Liz again.

This time I got through, but the call kept breaking up, so I told her I'd call her when we got home. But the next time I reached her, from a land line in our kitchen, she said, "I have to call you back. The doctor's here."

So I settled down to knit and wait. I still wasn't sure what was going on, except that Liz didn't sound overly worried. I kept having visions of sudden codes, kept imagining my mother as a patient at my own hospital. Wasn't the doctor taking a long time? It had been twenty minutes already!

I calmed my nerves somewhat with the knitting. One of the mantras I say to myself when I swim, to a three-beat pattern (would that make it a swimming waltz?), is "Help me dis/cern your will;/help me walk/in your ways." This time, since I was knitting in a K3 P3 pattern, I modified the mantra to, "Help me ac/cept your will;/help me dwell/in your peace."

It sort of worked, but I was very relieved when the phone rang. My sister said that in addition to having a lot of breathing trouble at home, Mom had been very disoriented (which could be caused by all kinds of things, including infection). My sister had called Mom's doctor, who said she should be seen, so Liz called the ambulance. "The doctor was really nice," she said. "He was very thorough; he was here for a long time."

I didn't tell her that I'd been having visions of intubations and chest compressions. I did start asking medical questions, although I should have known better, since my sister can't stand that stuff.

"She's breathing better now? They have her on oxygen?"

"Yes, and she's less disoriented, but the doctor says he still wants to see her breathing get easier."

"What was her pulse-ox when she came in?"

"I don't know!" I could just see Liz rolling her eyes. "I wasn't here when she first got here, and I wouldn't even think to ask that question! I don't even know what that means! If you want to know that, you have to ask the doctor!"

I spoke to Mom this morning; she said she felt lousy, but she sounded very oriented. All her cardiac tests checked out okay, which is a relief. She isn't sure how long she'll have to stay in the hospital, since they aren't sure what's wrong with her. She had a chest x-ray this morning and almost fell getting off the x-ray table, but the tech caught her. She's been having falling problems for a while now, and Liz and her husband are careful not to leave Mom alone. I asked Mom if she had a special hospital bracelet to alert staff to her falling risk, and she said she did, so that made me feel a little better.

Today I was supposed to chair a committee meeting at work, but four of the seven people on the committee were ill or otherwise unable to attend. The three of us who were there had a productive discussion, and then I headed back to my office to e-mail everyone else about rescheduling the meeting. And since the campus bookstore is moving to our new student center (all the way at the other end of campus!) and was having a 40%-off sale, I decided to do some retail therapy.

The place was mobbed, with very long lines. I got basic stationery supplies for my office, and also a nice straw totebag, colorful and lightweight, which I used as a shopping basket. I wound up in a slow line, and started chatting with the woman in front of me. I mentioned something about how I'd probably use the tote bag as a knitting basket (yes, another one!), and she perked up and said, "Oh, you knit, too?"

She's been knitting for twenty years, it turns out. She knits mainly socks. At my request, she showed me the ones she was wearing, which were gorgeous, knit from a bamboo-and-wool yarn. I told her that I'd like to knit socks, but that it looks intimidatingly difficult; she told me that it's easier than it looks, and gave me the name of a website devoted to sock knitting. She told me that tube socks are the easiest kind to knit. She also told me the name of a good yarn store in town, one I hadn't known about.

And now I realize that on my brain-fog-inspired detour yesterday, I passed that store. I looked at the sign and forced myself not to stop, because I was already late. The lady in line couldn't remember where the store is -- although I could have looked it up in the phone book -- but I already know, more or less. So the detour served a purpose after all!

Knitters: they're everywhere!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bad Brain Day

I've become very forgetful lately, but especially in the last few days. Yesterday I gave the cats their breakfast twice; today, according to Gary, I left the heater in my study on and also left the garage door open when I left for work! I could have sworn I closed it. Also, trying to get from campus to Ben Franklin's to buy a cloth measuring tape, I took a route that I should have known wouldn't work, that I've known for ten years doesn't work. I took it anyway, and of course wound up going far out of my way. Aaaargh!

So this is probably perimenopause, right? Gary's becoming alarmed, but I told him that forgetfulness is one of the known symptoms of perimenopause. Does anyone have any tips for correcting this? My sister gave me a book on menopause that talks about it; but, of course, I've forgotten where I put the book!

Either it's perimenopause, or knitting has shoved out all other information in my cerebral cortex.

I did eventually reach Franklin's, where I got a sixty-inch measuring tape -- perfect for measuring sixty-inch shawls -- and a pair of small folding travel scissors, so I won't get stabbed by my nail scissors whenever I reach into my knitting bag. Does anybody know if those small folding jobs are allowed on airplanes? Gary asked, and I didn't know.

I nobly did not buy yarn, although I was drooling over some Shetland wool in gorgeous colors. There was a dark red tweed to die for, and also a lovely shade of aquamarine. I met someone else who was wandering the rows of yarn, fondling the skeins with a dreamy look on her face. Outside the store, I saw two women sitting on a bench; one was teaching the other to knit.

According to the new tape measure, I now have thirty inches of Sharon's shawl, which means that it's half done. Hurrah! I can't wait to see it finished. I'm going to have to buy some new yarn for the fringe, though. The Lion Homespun turns into friz much too easily when it's left hanging loose; various people recommend knotting the ends, but I think it's safer to buy matching yarn that will fringe properly.

I'll of course have to learn to cast off, but I'll deal with that when I get there!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New Knitting Bag, With Occupant

The other day I bought a junky (but practical and colorful!) bag at Ross to hold lots of knitting. Of course the cats have had to investigate it: Bali especially likes to lie inside and pounce on the yarn when it moves. They've all camped out in the bag, but Figaro's the only one of whom I got good photos.

Bali likes to lie next to the yarn so he can pounce on it; Figgy and Harley like to lie on top of the yarn, as if it's an egg they're hatching.

As you can see, the new bag is just the right size to hold a cat, even if he's feeling shy and wants to hide.

And if he doesn't want to hide, why, that works too.

I knit through a med-school meeting this morning. First I asked if anyone would mind, and one of the staff chaplains from my hospital started teasing me. "Yes, Susan, I find knitting highly offensive. If there's anything I can't stand, it's knitting!"

Bad news on the med-school front: my current teaching schedule prevents me from attending a lot of interesting events, but I thought I'd be able to go to more in the spring. It turns out, though, that my chair sent me the wrong schedule . . . so I can't get to the stuff I want to get to during the spring semester, either!

This is frustrating, but I'll live. At least I get to teach my Tolkien course again this spring: yay!

I wonder how Tolkien felt about knitting.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Grand Rounds, and More Knitting Obsession

This week's Grand Rounds is up, with an emergency-medicine theme! It's an unusually small edition, and I'm looking forward to reading it (and also grateful to have been included).

Meanwhile, I've started a second knitting project, for work. The home project will be the main one and the work project will be the secondary one, and when I finish the current home project, the work project will move into the main position and I'll start a new one at work.

I've now done 25 inches (out of 60) of Sharon's shawl, which is the home project.

Today I knitted -- is "knitted" or "knit" the proper past tense? -- the first nine rows of Lee's shawl, which I'm doing in a small checkerboard pattern.

I'm planning a shawl for myself and another for my friend Alex, if he'd like one. I'd also like to knit and felt a laptop sleeve, since my teensy computer carrying case is still a little too large for my tiny VAIO.

I bought a second pair of circular needles, metal this time, for work. I boiled them to soften the cable, but it's still trying to imitate a Slinky. Does anyone have a good method for straightening cables?

In writing news, my literary agent reports a fair amount of foreign interest in my three novels. We'll see if anything comes of this, but it would be very cool to have one or more books translated into Italian, German or Russian! I told Gary that foreign sales might bring in more money for knitting supplies, and he rolled his eyes and said, "You don't get to buy more knitting supplies until you actually finish a project!"

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Good Morning for E-Mail

This morning I got a very moving e-mail from my friend Alex, who has two special-needs kids, about my previous post. Alex has been working on a CD of songs about his fathering experiences, and he confirmed the value of transforming pain into art.

I also had an e-mail from our bishop-elect, Dan Edwards, saying that he enjoyed my blog account of convention and looks forward to meeting me. How cool is that? Although now I'm a little embarrassed, since my convention posts were mostly about knitting, sneezing, and lions, rather than anything more overtly sacred.

But it's all sacred, right?

The Sacred Sneeze. That would be a great name for a church band!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Narrating Trauma

I've posted here before about the work I'm doing with the University of Nevada School of Medicine, helping them integrate more narrative medicine into the curriculum. Since I have a PhD in English and volunteer in an emergency department, the UNSOM folks like having me there, and I certainly like being there; it's a place where I can integrate several areas of my life that otherwise seem far-flung.

In the ED itself, I think of myself as practicing a kind of narrative medicine, encouraging patients to tell stories and listening carefully to what they say. But I'm well aware that most of the medical staff has very little time to do anything similar (which is why chaplains are so important!). In the ED, narrative medicine seems like a luxury better suited to slower-paced specialties where caregivers develop relationships with their patients over time.

And that's a real shame, because for patients able to speak at all, turning their fear and worry into narrative can have powerful healing effects.

A few weeks ago, I gave a very basic lecture on trauma theory to my freshman composition class. Trauma -- used here more broadly than medical caregivers define it -- is any event that overwhelms the individual's ability to cope. Trauma takes many forms, but all of them share certain characteristics.

1. Trauma is unpredictable and uncontrollable.

2. It threatens the individual with death, not-being.

3. It threatens and undermines meaning, toppling previous belief systems.

4. Because it is so overwhelming, the individual carries it inside even when it appears, to outside observers, to have ended. It is always now and always here.

5. Because it is so overwhelming, it is extremely difficult to talk about: partly because it defies language, partly because the individual fears invoking it again, and partly because often, no one wants to listen, or is able to understand.

And yet talking about the trauma, shaping it into narrative -- a story -- is essential, because narrative is the opposite of trauma:

1. Storytellers control what happens in the story, so telling a story about the trauma gives the victim control over it, the very control that was lacking in the event itself.

2. Telling a story is a way of asserting survival and existence: "This happened to me, but I'm still here to talk about it."

3. Telling stories is how we make meaning of what has happened to us, shaping chaos into coherence.

4. Telling a story about trauma externalizes the trauma, moving it from the victim's brain and body into public space. Story-telling helps survivors birth their own experience.

5. Shaping the trauma into language, taming it into a tale, helps survivors "rejoin the land of the living" by casting what has happened to them into shared language. Stories build a bridge of words and images between the trauma and the rest of life.

This is why I believe that narrative is as vitally important in the emergency department as it is anywhere else in medicine. Of course, many ED patients are unable to speak, and of those who can, some may be so overwhelmed that it will be days or weeks before they can begin processing what has happened to them. But we've all met ED patients or visitors who compulsively narrate what has brought them there, who repeat the same tale to everyone who enters the room: even if the doctor's already heard it, even if most of the details have no possible bearing on anything medical.

"I was eating a tuna-fish sandwich, and he just keeled over into his tomato soup, and then I was trying to pull his face out of the bowl and call 911 at the same time, and oh, gosh, these slacks are covered with tomato soup, aren't they?"

"I was in Home Depot buying nails when I felt this crushing pain in my chest, and one of those guys pushing a huge lumber cart asked me if I was okay, and I couldn't answer! It was so scary not to be able to talk. It reminded me of that time in third grade when the other kids pushed me into the water and held me down, and the guy with the lumber was kneeling down next to me, and I didn't know how I'd wound up on the floor, and I'd dropped my nails and I wanted to pick them up, but he kept telling me just to stay there, the ambulance was coming."

Compulsive repetition of such stories isn't just a sign of shock. It's an essential coping strategy: the speaker is desperately trying to regain control by turning the event into a known, predictable narrative.

If your ED has a chaplain, social worker, or someone else whose primary job is to listen, by all means try to have that person visit the room.

If you're a medical caregiver and you have two extra seconds, by all means listen, and try -- without interrupting -- to give some active sign that you've heard. Body language and facial expressions count for a lot here.

But what if there's no chaplain or social worker in sight? What if the department's so busy that you don't have two extra seconds to spend listening to anyone?

One easy answer is, "There will be someone to listen later, in or out of the hospital," and of course that's true. But I suspect that the earlier this process begins, the better. And so, if patients or bedside visitors are able to write, why not encourage them to start putting their stories down on paper? I've linked here before to this article about the healing effects of writing. I've often told my ED patients about this, and they're almost often intrigued. Several times, I've given a patient pen, paper, and encouragement to write the story down. It seemed to help.

If nothing else, writing is something to do, something to focus on during an overwhelming time in a chaotic environment. And paper always listens, even when people can't. The paper will contain the story until other people can make the time to listen too.

Mea Culpa!

I forgot to link to this week's Grand Rounds! Sorry the link is so late!

It looks like a great edition, and I still wish I'd gotten something written for it. Oh well! Meanwhile, I have four hours before the deadline for this week's edition . . . Ack!

Blogging from the Airport

I got to the airport ridiculously early, anticipating hassles. My new African knitting bag won't quite fit into my suitcase, so I thought I might have to check something; and indeed, a woman downstairs gave me a hard time. But the TSA folks were very mellow and told me I'd be fine because everything I have with me is small.

The only hassle was that, after I'd carefully removed my CPAP from my luggage and put it in the bin with my laptop, it had to be hand-inspected after all! If I'd known they were going to do that, I'd have let them take it out of the suitcase.


So now I'm hours early for my flight: more time to grade and knit! And blog, of course. The Vegas airport has genuine 100% free wireless, which is very decent of them.

The second skein of yarn's going more easily than the first did. Yay!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Buffy the Puppy

Here's the darling baby who came to my class the other day. (Thanks to Nancy J for the photo!) Isn't she the sweetest puppy in the world?

Is that high-pitched sound I hear all of my readers squealing?

Knitting Crisis, and a Present

I was knitting along steadily this morning, all through the budget discussion and vote on new folks for various diocesan committees and councils, until suddenly, not far from the end of the skein, the yarn just . . . dissolved: separated into its component parts, which left me knitting with what felt like spider silk. It was very unsettling. I was in the middle of a row, which isn't a good place to join new yarn, so I managed to knit (very carefully!) with the insubstantial stuff to the end of the row. I've now knit two rows with a new skein, so I think I'm over the crisis, but it was scary.

Meanwhile, I'd been browsing a table of African crafts in the vendors' room. The fellow who died two weeks was very active in development efforts over there, and a number of us had felt his absence at that table -- which he always manned -- very keenly. I'd been back two or three times to look at various woven bags: all of them would have been good for carrying knitting, but the issue's how to get them back home, given my limited luggage. But finally, this afternoon, I saw one I just loved, and bought it. I'll cram it into my suitcase somehow!

When I brought it up to the payment area, the young African man who'd been patiently watching me dither over bags reached over and dropped something inside. "A bonus," he told me. It's a lovely necklace made of wooden beads carved to look like animals, and one's a lion, so it will be a great reminder of the MGM expedition, too.

I'm wearing it now. It makes me very happy!

Knitting Heaven and Earth

I'm loving this book, which I started reading over breakfast this morning. I'd woken up at the bizarre hour of 4:15, couldn't get back to sleep, and decided to treat myself to an eggs-and-bacon breakfast in the coffee shop, where breakfast is much better than the flavorless dinner I had last night.

The Lydon book's beautifully written, thoughtful, and very moving. Here's one of my favorite passages:
I have come to believe that love is ultimately mysterious, a gift from the Creator, a gift of grace. Our happiness comes from loving and being loved, and the work we do with our hands is tied in with it. "Hands to work, hearts to God," the Shakers used to say. Can it be that we become more capable of loving when our hands engage in creation, and that those around us who are hurting or vulnerable are soothed and succored by being tied to the movements of our hands? (41)
I wonder if Gary feels this way about cooking. (Do you, Gar? Minus the God part, I mean, which I know you don't believe?) I realize that for a while now, I've been wistfully jealous of his ability to make caring concrete with food. Now I feel like I have a way to do the same thing with yarn, although it will be quite a while before my creations are as satisfying to the senses as his!

In other news, I took some Claritin last night, and it's helping a little, although I still feel like my sinuses are stuffed with oatmeal. The back's better, though.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Bishops and Lions and Books, Oh My!

The tenth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada will be the Rev. Dan Edwards, elected on the second ballot. He was close to the top of my list, so I'm very happy. And since the process was completed so quickly, we get the afternoon and evening off, which is great, because I'm having massive allergy attacks and have been sneezing so much that my back's gone into spasms.

I sneezed and knitted my way through the election, as friends supplied me with tissues (I quickly ran out of my own) and ibuprofen for the back pain. I always seem to get sick at convention; I think it's probably because conventions in Nevada are almost always held in and around casino hotels, and even if you have a nonsmoking room, as I do, you're always going to have to breathe some smoke on the casino floor, which one invariably has to cross to get from anywhere to anywhere else.

I'm still having fun, though!

Getting here was a tiny bit stressful. My knitting needles sailed through security with nary a raised eyebrow, but there's a new CPAP rule. When I first started using CPAP, each machine had to be inspected by hand. Then they stopped doing that. Then they started again. Now they've decided that CPAPs don't have to be inspected individually, but do need to be removed from luggage and put in their own bins, like laptop computers. Oy!

Then my plane was delayed for an hour, which meant that we arrived in Vegas at 4:00 instead of 3:00. The hotel airport shuttle was scheduled to leave at 4:15; the next one wasn't until 6:30. The minute the plane landed, I called the hotel and asked if they could ask the shuttle to wait for me, but they explained that they have no way to contact the shuttle: no radio, no cellphone. Double oy!

So I raced through the Vegas airport, which is approximately the size of New Zealand, and after going to two wrong spots, finally found my hotel shuttle -- just as it was pulling out of its parking spot. I raced in front of it, waving my arms, and the driver pulled back into the parking space. Yay! Talk about the nick of time!

After I'd checked into my room, which has a nice view of the mountains, I went downstairs to buy some bottled water for my CPAP. In the hotel gift shop, I ran into our friends Ned and Janet, and we decided to have dinner together. Ned had celebrated his birthday at the MGM Grand, and some friends gave him $50 worth of chips; he suggested going there and cashing in the chips to use towards dinner, which we did (he and Janet had driven down, so they had a car).

I have to say, I really do love the sheer exuberance of the Strip. All that energy makes me happy! At the MGM, we went to an absolutely terrific sushi restaurant: the food was great, the service was prompt -- something I'm not used to in hotels -- and all three of us loved our food. The decor was amazing, too: behind the sushi bar was a light-show type display which changed colors and designs every few minutes. It was very beautiful. And Ned and Janet very graciously bought my dinner, a treat I hadn't expected!

And then we went to the lion habitat. The MGM Grand has lions, see; they're on a ranch, but there's also a lovely lion habitat at the hotel -- with trees and water and lots of romping room -- where two lions at a time are on display in six-hour shifts. Two male lions were there when we went to look at them, and they were just lovely, with their faces like flowers and their huge paws. For a while, they were directly on the other side of the glass from us, and one of them had his paw up against the glass. I was close enough to see their amber eyes and their eyelashes. Two human keepers were in the enclosure; they had two large, much-bitten rubber balls, and one of the lions was playing, lazily batting the ball when the keeper tossed it to him. And then the lions would roll on their backs, or lick each other. They acted just like giant house cats. I was quite smitten with them, although I'm not quite as brave as Janet, who said she would have gone into the enclosure herself in a red-hot second.

Seeing the lions made the weekend for me: I don't even care that I'm sneezing and spasming! I have to get Gary to the MGM Grand -- he's never seen the Strip -- to eat sushi and look at lions.

Oh, I forgot to mention that we got pretty fabulous convention goodies, including zippered badge holders containing not only our badge, but meal tickets and -- get this -- business cards with our names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses in case we meet new friends we want to have that info. The goody bag also included beautiful crocheted crosses made by a prison inmate, a bag of snacks, and -- because this is Las Vegas -- a deck of Elvis playing cards.

The dealer's room isn't quite as large or varied as usual, but what's there is nice. I walked over to the National Cathedral Bookstore table and found myself looking down at a display of books about knitting! How perfect is that? So I bought a copy of Knitting Heaven and Earth, by Susan Gordon Lydon.

On the downside, the hotel indeed charges twelve dollars a day for internet access. But I really wanted to post this stuff, not to mention checking e-mail, so I went for it.

At 6:00, I'm meeting folks from my parish for dinner, and then I'll probably come back to the room and try to get some grading done.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Knitting in the News

There's a nice story in the paper this morning about a charity knitting project. Yay, needlecraft!

I'm posting this from Gary's computer because mine's packed for the trip, so Bali's playing his favorite game with me: dropping one of the pipecleaner mousies Gary made for him on the keyboard, so I'll throw it for him and he can fetch it (over and over and over and over). He loves this game, especially if we throw the mousie onto chairs or tables so the fetching process is a bit more complicated. He'll drop pipecleaner mousies onto the dinner table, too, but he's never done it with me at my computer. I guess he views Gary's as the "time to play fetch" station.

In a month, he won't be a kitten anymore! He'll be a fullgrown cat. But of course, he'll always be our baby kitty.

And in other news, this is my 500th blog post. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Odds and Ends

Yesterday I went swimming at the gym; I felt slower than usual, especially since the woman in the lane next to me was zipping along at Olympic speeds. I always joke that if I swam any more slowly, I'd be going backwards, unless I'm doing the backstroke, in which case I'd be going forwards.

But after my shower, I saw the other swimmer in the locker room, and she beamed at me and said, "I love watching you swim! You're just the Energizer Bunny: you never stop! You just keep going! You're inspiring!"

"But I'm really slow," I said, laughing.

"But you just keep going! I got into the pool today and saw you and thought, 'There she is, the Energizer Bunny!'"

I was flattered, and I told her so, but I do so dislike pink. Can we redo the Energizer Bunny in another color?

Meanwhile, I now have a foot of the prayer shawl, which means it's one-fifth done! Woo-hoo! I really love zoning out to music while I knit, and I think I've gotten better about balancing knitting with grading. The other day at work, I knitted through my first meeting, which worked out very well: I was able to pay sufficient attention both to my stitches and to the university business at hand, so the time felt doubly productive.

I anticipate getting lots of knitting done at Diocesan Convention this weekend. I'm leaving tomorrow: wish me luck getting my knitting needles on the plane!

The convention hotel supposedly has free wireless, but in my experience, too many hotels say that and then charge. So we'll see what happens. But if I have the time, energy, and internet access to post, I will.

St. Stephen's Goes to the Dogs!

Here are the pooch pics from Sunday's Blessing of the Animals, a few days late! All the dogs were very sweet. The two big Akitas in this first photo are both therapy dogs; one's terrific with autistic children, according to his very proud human mom.

Click on any of the thumbnails to enlarge. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I Lied

I thought I was going to get the dog pics posted today, but no such luck. I'm feeling better, but the time crunch continues!

Tomorrow, I hope.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Blessing of the Beasts, Part I

I have twenty-odd photos from the Blessing of the Animals, so I'm going to post them in two groups, starting with cats and other non-dogs (canines were by far the most numerous population). This first snapshot is of Vonice Reed, our guest from the Nevada Humane Society, who brought two sick kittens with her: they have upper respiratory disease, and she was taking them home to humidify them. Don't worry: she kept them away from other cats! Young parishioner Conner is helping her hold the baby kitties.

Here's Shelby with her great big kitty! Everyone remarked on how calm he was around all the dogs.

(By the way, if you want to look at any of these photos in more detail, just click to enlarge.)

Because most kitties wouldn't have been that calm around all the dogs, some of us, like this little girl, brought photos of our cats instead. I had pictures of our three guys, but I didn't think to ask anyone to take a photo of me with them.

And moving on to other non-dogs, heeeeere's a hedgehog! I'd always wanted to see one of these in person, and this hedgie was indeed very cute, but didn't like being petted very much. Companion person Carolyn warned us to pat his stomach, not his thorny back, but every time we tried to touch his stomach, he jumped. He must have thought we were a bunch of veterinarians, poor baby!

Here's Conner again with Myrtle the Turtle, whom he was babysitting for our friends Ned and Janet. As you can tell, Conner was making the rounds while his parents tended to their two large dogs, whom you'll see tomorrow!

And here's Janet with two of their baby turtles. They aren't Myrtle's babies; Ned and Janet own some land that a friend's using as a turtle farm, so that's where they get their babies, who have a lovely pond in their backyard to swim in.

Boa constrictor, anyone? I asked Debbie, the snake's person, if she wasn't worried about the snake constricting around her neck, but she says that this snake doesn't constrict at all, not even when it eats. (It doesn't eat live food, which may be part of the reason.)

And here's the Rev. Sherry Dunn, one of our wonderful clergy. She was really a trouper yesterday, since she was the only one of our wonderful clergy who could make it to the blessing, and thus had to bless all the animals herself. She's a bit more nervous around some of the animals -- especially the snake, I think! -- than some of the other clergy, so I think it was a bit nerve-wracking for her. But she handled everything with consummate grace, as always.

Tomorrow: lots and lots of dogs!

And speaking of dogs, today one of my workshop students, who fosters puppies for the SPCA, brought a ten-week old blonde lab pup to class. The cuteness quotient was through the roof. Several of us kept fighting over who was going to hold the puppy next, especially since this was the world's best puppy: she didn't bark during the whole class and was perfectly happy to be passed from one set of arms to another, instead of running around on the floor. My student said she's always like that, Mellow Pup.

I promptly named her Buffy because of her coloring, and hogged her for the first half of the class: professor's perogative! After class, several of us escorted the puppy-mom, who was carrying the pup, back to the English building; another student was going to babysit Buffy during mom's next class. We put her on the ground, and she wriggled between my ankles. I moved a few steps, and she followed me and wriggled between my ankles again. "She wants to go home with you," said my student, and I would have been really tempted, if Gary didn't actively dislike dogs.

Actually, I wouldn't have been tempted, because I don't need raising a pup on top of other projects, and I know this little beauty will get a great home somewhere. But I was tempted to be tempted!

In knitting news, I now have nine inches of the first prayer shawl. If I can keep knitting an inch a day (six rows), I should have it done at the beginning of December.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


The Blessing of the Animals went very well, and I got some great pictures, which I'll try to post tomorrow.

My homily went . . . okay. I may post it or may not; it's not one of my favorites.

Because I've spent entirely too much fracking time knitting this week, I haven't gotten other stuff done. Exercise, sleep and grading have all suffered, and as a result -- entirely predictable! you have no one to blame but yourself, Susan! -- I once again felt like a warmed-over cowpie this morning, moodwise.

Swimming helped, as it always does (moral of this story: don't skip exercise!) but the next priority is to get to sleep before midnight. I got tomorrow's absolutely essential grading done tonight, and will probably get more done tomorrow morning; but right now, I need to get to bed.

I thought I could do the grading and have time to write a Grand Rounds submission, but it wasn't meant to be. Which means I'll miss GR this week, which means that I'll undoubtedly wind up back in TTLB microorganism land. Oh well. I've evolved before, and can evolve again.

That will teach me to acquire a new hobby in the middle of the semester. What was I thinking?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Why I Love Circular Needles

In her comment on my last post, Maggie suggested that I acquire circular needles for the plane flight, so today I went to Ben Franklins Crafts, which also has lots of yummy yarn, and got a 29-inch set (the TSA limit is 31 inches, and the next largest at Ben Franklins was 34). That means that the set measures 29 inches from tip to tip, with the cable stretched between them.

I came home, knit the shawl off the straight needles onto the circular ones, and promptly fell in love. Here's why; some of these reasons were originally Maggie's, but I agree with them!

1. Everything's in one place, so there's no danger of losing a needle.

2. The cable lets me stretch the shawl out to its full width. It's very pretty, even with goofs! The length also makes stitches somewhat easier to see.

3. The knitting area is more contained. Maggie pointed out that this is an advantage in cramped airplane seats, but I've discovered another benefit: without long straight needles bobbing up and down, one's much less prone to attack from curious cats.

4. As Maggie observed in an e-mail, the circular needles distribute weight much more evenly than the straight ones do. I can already notice the difference, even with a light shawl. When I start knitting afghans and other larger things, I'm sure I'll be even more grateful. Let's hear it for ergonomics!

The one annoyance is that the nylon cable's still a little twisty, even though I softened it in hot water (as per instructions from the knitting lady at Ben Franklins) before I started. I'm sure it will loosen up in time, though.

At some point, I want to get myself some of these gorgeous needles. They make one kind with interchangeable tips and cables, which sounds extremely handy. I may ask for this set for Christmas!

Other good news: I was talking to the Knitting Lady about the TSA scissors problem, and she suggested the little thread cutter on a container of dental floss. Now, why didn't I think of that? (I did buy a pill cutter today, for pills, but the blade in it looks too much like a razor, and I suspect TSA wouldn't be amused.)

Also, I refilled my meds script, and it was much less money this month. Evidently part of the cost last time was a deductible. So that's a relief!

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Shawl So Far

It's far from perfect, especially since Bali insists on helping by pouncing on the moving needles, but it's a lot better than Ugly Garish Object, and that was only a few days ago. I'm getting more comfortable working with the yarn, although I can certainly see why other people find it problematic. So I'm feeling heartened: progress is being made.

Special thanks to Berni and Equaelegit, who left reassuring comments about Lion brand yarn on my last post, and to Inez for the knitting links.

Okay, knitting gurus, here's a question for you: Next weekend, I'm flying down to Vegas as a delegate to our diocesan convention, where we'll be electing a new bishop. I'd like to bring the knitting with me. The TSA website says that knitting needles are allowed in carry-on baggage -- the only kind I'll have, since I'm not going to check a suitcase for a mere three-day trip -- but that there's still "a possibility" that the needles might be perceived as weapons by TSA inspectors, who'll then seize them. The site recommends carrying a crochet hook with yarn to save work, and a self-addressed stamped envelope so you can mail your needles back to yourself instead of losing them.

A friend at church told me a horror story about a grandmother with circular needles having her knitting seized as a possible terrorist weapon. Does anyone know how common this kind of thing is? Has anyone flown with knitting? Do you have any tips to minimize the chances that the good TSA officers will decide that I'm a dangerous person likely to try to poke crazed holes in crew, other passengers or the plane itself with my knitting needles?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

After a Swim

Ahhhhh! So much better!

Crazy Week

So Tuesday I wound up feeling worse than I've felt in ages, depression-wise, undoubtedly in part because I didn't get to the gym. (The death didn't help, either.) Part of my funk was finding a rant on a knitting blog blasting the yarn I bought, although the post provided sources of better yarn, too.

Yesterday was a little better, although I still didn't get to the gym.

Today we're having lunch with another volunteer chaplain from the hospital, and then I have a long committee meeting at work. Tonight I'll probably try to catch up on some grading. I'm going to try to get in some laps before all of that.

Tomorrow I have to grade like crazy and work on my homily for Sunday. At least my schedule's open, though, so getting to the gym will be easier.

Saturday I go to the hospital, and grade in whatever time is left over. If I'm going to swim that day, I'll have to get to the gym at 8:00 a.m. Ooof!

Sunday I preach two services, go to the 4:00 animal blessing service, and grade in whatever time is left over. I have to get to the gym, too: Tuesday taught me that skipping that is not a good idea.

Meanwhile, the Lion yarn arrived yesterday, so I've started my first shawl. Four rows so far: wheeee! At this rate, I'll have it done in a year or so! The yarn's indeed somewhat difficult to work with, but I think it's pretty anyway. I'm going to knit up what I have (unfortunately, I ordered a lot of the stuff) and then switch to this yarn.

My friend Sharon will be my first shawl recipient. I hope she'll forgive me for not realizing before I ordered it that this yarn has a bad rep!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Surreal Day

This morning I got e-mail from one of our priests (who also sent it to another of our priests) saying that a former parishioner had died in the ER; his ex-wife and kids were still at the hospital. Could either of us make it down there?

Both of us hurried down to the ER, only to discover that our information was out of date and that the family had left hours before. We wound up going to the ex-wife's house and sitting for a little while with her, the two teenagers, and the current girlfriend of the deceased. (Also present were two large dogs and a houseguest with a young infant: animals and babies are a big comfort at a time like this.)

He was sixty and had always been in good health. He spent a lot of time on airplanes and died of a pulmonary embolism: there's nothing anybody could have done. His son kept saying, "It doesn't seem real. I had lunch with him yesterday!"

Gary's making dinner for the family now. It was the only concrete thing I could think to offer.

Meanwhile, we're getting a new roof, and today workmen came to tear the old one off, so there was lots of tromping overhead. The noise will be worse tomorrow, when the workmen start nailing on the new shingles. The cats have been pretty freaked out today. They'll be more freaked out tomorrow.

We went to Trader Joe's to shop for the dinner items, and on the way we stopped at an upscale yarn store (someplace I won't be going often, since the yarn's expensive!) where I got some real needles -- bamboo -- and a ball of practice yarn. When we got home, I started obsessing about knitting. Yesterday, I got the purl stitch down, and today, I figured out how to combine it with the knit stitch in the same row. So I'm definitely making progress: I've figured out how to do the K3 P3 pattern for the prayer shawl, which means I can start one as soon as I get the supplies, which I hope will be tomorrow. And I have to say that bamboo knitting needles are much easier to use than chopsticks!

But I didn't get to the gym today, and I haven't done any grading. I suspect I would have wound up obsessing about knitting anyway, since new hobbies are addictive, but the way the day started contributed to that focus. In the face of completely unexpected catastrophe, a project that was creative, constructive and relatively mindless was just what I needed.

In other news, this week's Grand Rounds is up, with a sprightly Charlie Brown theme. Thanks for including me, Rob!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Another Knitting Update

Here's the garish little object I'm making with my ugly yarn and chopsticks, just to practice. It's all knit. I'm still having trouble with purl, and I must be doing it wrong and clearly need a knitting friend to watch me and give me guidance -- but that won't be happening for a while, so I'm sticking with the knit stitch.

I found another shawl pattern, all in knit stitch, so I'm going to start work on that when my mail-order supplies arrive. In the meantime, Garish Object is fun to work on, even if it's not pretty. I might try to turn it into a cat toy when I decide I'm finished with it (when the better supplies arrive, probably).

Garish Object is all lumpy and everything, but at least it's getting my hands used to the motion. And considering that I've only been doing this for two days -- which were also crammed full of grading, preaching, and a hospital shift -- I think I could be doing worse!