Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Can't Make This Stuff Up


Okay, so not only does the Google Maps app on my BlackBerry insist on bouncing my location back and forth between Reno and Seattle, but it puts me in different places in Reno, and always in the same place in Seattle.

And when I zoomed into the Seattle location, it's two blocks from Seattle Central Community College, where I spent six weeks at the Clarion West SF/F writing workshop in 1985 (heavens, but that was a long time ago!).

So what's going on here? Did I leave my heart in Seattle, or am I mourning my lost writerly youth, and is my BlackBerry somehow sensing this?

Insert Twilight Zone music here.

Grand Rounds


This week's edition is up, and I'm delighted to be included.

Happy reading!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Now THESE Are Cats!


Yesterday I picked up some groceries, and when I left the supermarket, I saw a group of people outside gathered around a woman who was giving away free kittens. They were, of course, adorable, and it was very difficult for me not to take them home myself!

This silver tabby had already been claimed, and will be making her new home with two other cats and a dog.

This guy reminds me of Bali at the same age. Everyone was exclaiming at his blue eyes, but they'll probably change color when he gets older. There was another black kitten, but I didn't get a good photo.

These are sweet little darlings, and their human mom seemed very loving towards them (even though I kept having to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "And when you've found homes for all the kittens, you're going to have their mother spayed, right? Right?"). If she can't find homes for them, she'll take them to the Humane Society. I hope they all find their way to wonderful new families!

In other news, my father has his cell phone now, and called me on it this weekend. He can feel it vibrate but can't hear it ring, so my sister's trying to find some superloud ringtones to download. Does anyone have any tips on where to find these?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mystery Animal

My mother claims that Figaro doesn't look like a cat, or at least, not as much as Bali and Harley do. (This despite the fact that Bali, by popular acclamation, is known as "Bali-bear," "Little Bear," or "puppy-cat.")


My mother can't tell me what animal he does look like, though, so I'm hoping my readers can solve the mystery. If you came upon Figgy in the wild -- with ears, even though they don't show in this shot -- what would you think you were seeing?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Making Peace With God


Note: I first posted this piece almost two years ago, but I'm reposting it, because I think the issues it discusses are increasingly urgent. I know not everyone will agree with my opinions, but I hope you'll at least find food for thought.

Thank you for reading.


*

Quite a while ago now, one of my hospital patients, an older gentleman, looked up at me from his gurney and laughed when I told him I was a volunteer chaplain. "Young lady, I made my peace with God before you were born."

"Good for you," I said. "How did you do that?"

So he told me.

He'd worked for the OSS in WWII. He got dropped behind enemy lines to assassinate people. "I was very young. The work sounded exciting before I started. I had no idea what it would do to me. You can't imagine what it's like to kill another human being, until you've done it.

"When I came home, I made a vow to God that I would never again intentionally hurt another person. And I never have."

Last spring, Gary and I went to Maui with friends. I'd read about breadfruit and wanted to try it, so one day we stopped at a fruit stand. The man who ran the place had long hair, lots of hemp jewelry, and a dreamy look in his eyes. He looked like a walking stereotype of a New Age flower child.

I admired a wooden cross he was wearing. He smiled and said, "Thank you. One of my patients gave it to me. It's from Africa."

"One of your patients? Are you a doctor or nurse?"

"I'm a spiritual healer," he told us. And then he told us that a long time ago, he'd been Special Forces, until he became disillusioned with the work and started to question what he was doing, and why. His loss of faith in the U.S. government was so profound that he left the country for a while, living in exile. When he came back home, it was to work as a healer.

When we went back to the car with our breadfruit, I said, "Special Forces? Aren't they the people who learn, like, seven ways to kill somebody with one finger?"

"Yeah," Gary said, and shook his head. "That guy went from being a spiritual killer to being a spiritual healer."

I thought immediately of my OSS patient. Both of these men made their peace with God by making peace with other people. I wonder how many other former military personnel have done the same thing.

I've met a lot of scarred veterans at the hospital, and other places. They're haunted by what they've seen and by what they've done, even when they did those things for reasons they believed were just. I think a lot of us don't want to think about what we ask of our military when we ask them to kill for us. We don't want to acknowledge the cost. We want to believe that if someone deems a death necessary, that death won't hurt the person charged with making it happen.

Some of us also want to believe that people who've killed for reasons we don't consider just can't be forgiven, can't change, can't be redeemed. These people, many of us believe, deserve to die: but the people charged with making those deaths happen must, of course, be exempt from any ill effects, because their actions are just.

Here's a New Yorker article about the trauma experienced by soldiers in Iraq who've taken lives. Here's a link to "Witness to an Execution," an NPR story about the prison employees who work on Death Row in Huntsville, Texas. These people believe in what they're doing. It still takes a toll on them.

"You can't imagine what it's like to kill another human being, until you've done it." The good news is that people who've killed can heal, and heal others: they can get better. They can make their peace with God. At least two of them have.

Surely others can, too. But surely our military and prison personnel would be better off if they didn't have to. And surely our death-row inmates -- and the prison staff who care for them -- would be better off if we acknowledged that at least some of them, too, can change.

I'm not quite able to label myself a pacifist; I'm a reluctant adherant of just-war theory. (I also believe that very few conflicts meet the stringent definition of a just war.) I imagine that my OSS patient and the Special-Forces spiritual healer might be, too, although we didn't discuss it. Returning combat veterans need our love and support and prayers. They need our help as they seek healing.

We can begin to help them by making our own vow: a promise never to forget the magnitude of what we've asked of them.

Fluffernutter


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Covey o' Quail

These guys hang around in our (minimalist, as you can tell) backyard, providing perennial entertainment for cats and humans. When they walk, their topknots bob up and down, making them look like wind-up toys. So cute!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Warming the Socks


If you look werry, werry carefully, you can see a cat in the back of this drawer. Putting laundry away is quite the furry adventure around here (so's making the bed).

And in other news, this week's Grand Rounds is up. Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My New Blue Shoes

My free Danskos came today! I'm delighted; I love them! Thanks so much, LeAnne! They made my week, even though it's only Tuesday (and especially because today was one of those days when I couldn't seem to do anything right, which meant that new shoes I didn't even have to shop for were just the ticket). Dansko rocks!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Please lend a hand!


I've written here before about my friend Jessica's wonderful blog project, These Hands of Ours. For a while, she was posting gorgeous photos of women's hands every day, but then her posting rate slowed down, because people weren't sending her material. In an e-mail, she told me that she thinks women "our age" are shy about photographing their hands.

C'mon, ladies! You all do wonderful things with your hands: cooking, healing, writing, creating, caressing, caretaking, gardening, crafting, blessing. Please share what you do with Jessica, and with the world. All of our hands are beautiful!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Project Dad 'N Fran


Plans continue apace. Last night Gary and I went to the Verizon store, where I got two simple, easily readable -- I hope -- cell phones for Dad and Fran and upgraded to a three-line family plan that will work out to about $30-40 more a month. That's a small price for the insurance of knowing that they can make a call in a roadside or medical emergency.

I'm programming the phones with my numbers and my sister's, and of course Dad's has Fran's number programmed, and vice versa. For some reason the phones won't let me put 911 on speed dial, which is bizarre, but I'm setting up speed dial for each of our personal numbers. Because the phones are the same model, I've given them different ring tones, and I'm going to get some large, bright stickers at the dollar store and put different stickers on each phone so they're recognizable.

When all of this is done, I'll send the phones to Dad and Fran so they'll have them for the trip. I don't expect them to need the phones often, but when they do, they'll have them. Like I said, it's insurance, and Dad and Fran seem genuinely touched that I'm doing this.

I looked into Jitterbug, which makes very easy-to-read phones for seniors, but their start-up costs are prohibitive. So I hope these little phones work out okay.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Persistence of Memory


I woke up feeling sad this morning, puzzled over why, and then realized that twenty years ago today, one of my college roommates killed herself.

Our bodies remember these things even when our minds aren't conscious of them.

Rest in peace, Sumi. I hope you know now how much everyone here loved and valued and admired you, and how much we still mourn your final, irrevocable decision.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's Really Happening!


My father and Fran will be moving to Reno the weekend of October 18-19. She's in Chicago and can get nonstop flights to Reno, but the only nonstop from Philly is to Sacramento, two hours from here over the Sierra Nevada. And Dad's flight gets in at 9 PM. So Gary and I will drive to Sacramento to pick him up; we'll all stay in a hotel that evening, and then we'll drive back to Reno the next day. I don't want to drive across the mountains after dark (that drive's challenging even in daylight), especially during a time of year when there might be below-freezing temperatures and bad road conditions.

This morning, when I talked to Dad, he had the whole thing planned. He'd fly in Saturday the 18th and Fran would fly in Sunday the 19th; we'd pick her up in Reno on our way back from Sacramento. He asked me to book the flights on his credit card, but to call Fran first to confirm her understanding of the arrangements. Good thing I did, because she thinks she's flying in on Saturday. Oy! So I told her to call him and have him call me.

Meanwhile, Gary and I had hoped to have their apartment minimally furnished with extra stuff of our own when they got here, so they could move right into their new place while they were waiting for their movers. Having them stay at our house is problematic because neither of them do very well with stairs -- our guest bedroom's on the second floor, and there's no shower on the first floor -- and because Fran likes cats even less than my father does.

But we can't get into the apartment until Dad and Fran have signed the lease, which they have to do in person. So first thing Monday 10/20, I'll drive them over to sign the lease, and then drive them back to my house, and then go to work to teach until 7:00 PM. On Tuesday, we'll try to get the apartment set up; I imagine we'll have to rent a van. That way, at least they'll only have to spend a few days at our house.

Fran's having her car towed to my house. I'd initially thought she was going to sell her car there and buy another one here, and I'm really glad we don't have to go through that hassle.

In the meantime, Gary and I need to shop for some furniture they'll need.

Busy busy!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bali-Ball

Here's Bali playing his favorite sport.

video

Bali-Bag

Here's my boy, having his way with a plastic grocery bag. He loves to lick plastic, too: you'll see him doing that a bit at the end.

video

Monday, September 15, 2008

Step Right Up For Grand Rounds!


This week's edition is up, with a lively medicine-show theme. Thanks for including me, MJ!

Another Silly Home Movie

video

Yes, well, this is pretty lame, but I had fun with it, even if Harley didn't!

I initially tried to get a video of the adorable quail in our backyard, but this camera doesn't zoom, so that was a wash. We also had a jackrabbit in our yard last night, but I didn't get the camera turned on in time to get footage even had getting footage been possible, which it probably wouldn't have been. (How's that for a tangled sentence?)

In other news, yesterday's homily was much more warmly received than I'd expected. At our liturgy committee meeting, we divvied up future preaching dates: I'll be doing 10/4 (the Feast of St. Francis), 11/23 (the Parable of the Nations, which is probably my favorite Gospel passage, although this is a family service, so I have to make the homily kid-friendly), and both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I've done Christmas morning a lot, since it's a tiny service and I like to give the exhausted priest a break from preaching, but this will be the first time I've done Christmas Eve, which is one of those cast-of-thousands, pews-crammed-with-strangers-we'll-never-see-again, smells-and-bells occasions. I'll definitely have to take Claritin before that one, so the incense doesn't make me choke or lose my voice!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Keeping the Books


Here's today's homily. The readings are Exodus 14:19-31 and Matthew 18:21-35.

This one was an emotional and theological challenge for me, and I hope I didn't get too personal at the end. I'll be interested to see how the congregation responds!

*

Three years ago, I preached on today’s lectionary readings. In 2005, these readings fell on Sunday, September 11, when New Orleans had just flooded after Katrina. I talked about the horror of drowning: about how, after Katrina, it was difficult to take any pleasure in the death of the Egyptians, even if they were supposed to be the bad guys. In my discussion of the Gospel, I talked about the difficulty of forgiving terrorists and of forgiving FEMA: of forgiving those whose acts -- both of commission and of omission -- resulted in thousands of deaths.

It’s three years later, and once again, it’s storm season. We learned some lessons from Katrina, and the current crop of hurricanes in the Gulf has resulted in less damage and fewer deaths. But there’s as much tragedy in the world as there’s ever been, as much hurt and rage, as much desire to see those who have wronged us destroyed. The need for forgiveness never goes away, and it never gets any easier. The more necessary it is, the more difficult it becomes.

I have a hunch that when Peter asks Jesus if he needs to forgive “as many as seven times,” he hopes that Jesus will let him off lightly. Maybe he expects Jesus to praise him for being willing to perform the herculean task of forgiving seven times. “Why, Peter! Matthew spilled his coffee all over your best robe, and then had the nerve to snap at you for getting in his way, and you’re willing to forgive him seven times? What a saint you are!”

But Jesus rarely does what anyone expects, and this time is no different. Instead of giving Peter a pat on the back for being so generous, he raises the stakes. “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven.” However much we’re willing to forgive, Jesus says, we need to multiply that number by eleven. He illustrates this concept with a rather frightening parable about debt, book-keeping, and forgiveness. If the king -- an obvious stand-in for God -- has forgiven us our debts, we must forgive others exactly the same way. Otherwise, not only will our full debt be restored, but we’ll be handed over to be tortured. Thanks, Jesus. How very reassuring.

I’d like to think that this is a figure of speech, a metaphor for the internal torture we go through when we refuse to forgive, when we’re consumed with anger and desire for revenge. As writer Anne Lamott reminds us, “Refusing to forgive is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” When we forgive, we can move on. We can stop brooding on how we’ve been wronged and begin to rebuild damaged relationships. Forgiveness restores our freedom.

There is a danger here, though, vividly illustrated by Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Speaking of Sin. Taylor attended Yale Divinity School, and became furious when she could never find the books she needed in the library. “When I asked the librarian what was going on,” she says, “he told me that the Divinity School had the highest theft rate of any graduate school in the university.” Shocked, she asked why. He said: “Grace . . . . You guys figure all has been forgiven ahead of time, so you go ahead and take what you want” (52).

I don’t think Jesus died on the cross so his followers could steal library books. But as long as there have been Christians, some of them have used Jesus as a “get out of jail free” card, as an excuse for bad behavior rather than as a model of good behavior. This is why forgiveness is nearly meaningless without genuine repentance. To be forgiven, we have to admit what we’ve done wrong, and be willing to stop doing it. In the parable Jesus told this morning, both of the slaves who owe money fall on their knees in front of their debtors and say, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you the debt.” They know what they owe and plan to repay it, even if it takes them a while. They’re keeping books, not stealing them.

Grace, the theological concept the Yale librarian blamed for the high theft rate, is defined as an “unearned gift freely given.” The book thieves at Yale didn’t wait to be given anything; instead, they took what they wanted. If they came back to the library and said, “I owe you $150 in late fees for this book; have patience with me, and I will pay you the debt,” the librarian would have the choice of dispensing grace, of saying, “Your debt is forgiven.” Because they haven’t confessed their crime, they are instead banking on what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace,” the expectation of forgiveness without repentance and amendment of life. In other words, I expect you to keep forgiving me even though I keep doing things wrong and don’t even own up to them. Your forgiveness becomes my license to sin.

Anger in the church is sometimes seen as a sin, as a refusal to forgive, a failure of Christian practice and patience. But I think it’s important to remember that, when people are misbehaving and refusing to admit what they’ve done, anger is important. Anger is the gift that fuels prophecy, that gives us the energy and strength to stand up and say, “This is wrong, and it has to change. You can’t just keep stealing library books.” When those who have wronged us, in the church or outside it, refuse to say that they’re sorry, forgiveness is not only misplaced but potentially dangerous. If no one stands up and talks about the problem, soon there won’t be any books left at all. Forgiveness frees us, but accountability has to come first.

This is, as some of you know, a painfully personal topic for me. Over the past several years, I’ve had run-ins with several church officials -- not at St. Stephen’s, let me emphasize -- who have treated me and others badly and refused to admit it. I’d love to forgive these people. I want to forgive these people. But for me to forgive them, they need to say a simple “I’m sorry” and take their share of responsibility for what went wrong. They have, more or less point blank, refused to do this. As a result, I’ve struggled with feeling trapped in my own anger. I’ve found other ways to try to move past what happened, but the process has been much more difficult than it needed to be. My letting go has been less a matter of forgiveness than of grief, sorrow, and resignation. Forgiveness would have been so much more pleasant for everyone involved.

It’s of course possible -- and the individuals involved would, I suspect, heartily embrace this theory -- that my wounds are all in my own head, that these people behaved perfectly properly. But the fact that they know they’ve hurt me, and don’t seem to care, is a red flag.

I pray for these people, wish them well, would help them however I could. But I’ve stopped hoping that they’ll change, which in itself is a cause of grief. Instead, I’ve promised myself and God that to the extent I am able, I won’t be the cause of keeping anyone else trapped in anger. If I’ve hurt someone, I’ll do my very best to recognize and confess my own sin. If I own up to what I’ve done wrong and do my best to change, that will give the other person, and God, the chance to forgive me. My wrongdoing will then become, not an intolerable burden -- the stone sealing the tomb of my own conscience -- but an opportunity for true grace, for the unearned gift of renewed and unending life as that stone is rolled away.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty of chances to practice this noble resolution, and I’m also sure that there will be plenty of times when I’ll fail miserably at it. But as Christians, we are called first and foremost to love our neighbors, to care when we have hurt them and to make amends. We’re called to return our library books, even when they’re decades late. If we can get the courage to walk up to the desk, we may just find that we’ve been forgiven. But we need to remember that grace is neither cheap nor free. We have been forgiven our debts by God, who keeps His own books, and who will happily pay our fines as soon as we admit that we owe them.

Amen.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hard Time


You're covered with large, intricate tattoos. You're also handsome, and you know it. I can feel you turning on the charm, and I wonder how many women you've seduced with it. I don't trust you.

But you're a patient in our ER, and I'm the chaplain, and I know I'm not supposed to judge you. So even though I want to leave the room, I sit down instead. I know you can't hurt me here. "I like your tattoos. Will you tell me about them?" When patients tell me their stories, I can almost always find common ground with them.

So you tell me about the tattoos, glibly and at length, although a lot of what you say doesn't make much sense. There's complicated personal symbolism here. You talk about your totem animal, about the names and portraits of your lover and child, about the barbed wire on your shoulder, surrounded by skulls. "That's about prison," you tell me matter-of-factly. "The skulls are the souls inside."

"You were in prison?" I ask. "For how long?"

You grimace. "Twelve years, and two on probation. They got fourteen years of my life."

Twelve years, I think. That's hard time. You must have done something really bad. But you're out now, off probation. I'm not here to judge.

I point to a tattoo on your arm, which looks like gang insignia to me. "Is that from prison? I've heard you have to join a gang there to survive."

You nod. "I got it in prison, but I didn't join a gang. I walked alone. I'm not a racist. I like other people." I wonder if you're telling the truth, and if you really walked alone, how you survived. But I wasn't there, so I have to believe you.

"How long have you been out?"

You grimace again. "Five years."

"I've heard it's really hard to come out. I've heard other guys who've been in prison talk about reentry."

You nod, and when you speak again, something in your voice has changed. The BS is gone. You're no longer trying to charm me. You're telling me the truth. "Yeah, it is hard. It's really hard. There's too much choice, you know? You go into a store and there are twelve kinds of crackers on the shelves and you just stand there, frozen. It's too much to take in."

"Oh, no kidding! I feel that way when my husband and I go to the store, and I've never been in prison." You laugh, and I think about the time I stood in front of the wall of canned tomatoes and counted how many different kinds there were. Factoring in brand, preparation, and size, I came up with over a hundred different kinds of canned tomatoes.

I've found our common ground.

"And you don't know how to be with people," you tell me, "what to say to them. You don't know the rules anymore. I still haven't gotten used to it. That's why I'm homeless now. I'm more comfortable with the guys on the street, because they don't lie or steal from you."

I catch a whiff of BS again, or at least of strangeness. For one thing, I've seen a lot of homeless people here, and you don't fit the description. You're too clean and well-groomed. And I'm curious about this claim that homeless people are more honest than the rest of us. I want to ask you about that.

I don't get the chance, though, because the doctor comes in.

"I'll come back in a little while," I tell you, and go to visit other patients.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later -- not long at all -- I go by your room. You're not there. You're gone. You've left, or they've discharged you. You're back out there now, still doing hard time in a different kind of prison.

I remember something you told me. "When you get out of prison, you have to learn how to buy cheese again."

May you learn to buy cheese, friend, and may you always have enough to eat.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bali on the Silver Screen

video

So here's the first video I've ever taken, courtesy of the BlackBerry. This isn't exactly thrilling cinema ("Bali Looks Baffled! Susan Coos and Clucks Like a Demented Chicken!") but I'll try to get more entertaining clips from now on. I just wanted to see if I could film something and then post it.

I haven't figured out how to post videos using Mail-to-Blogger. Anyone know?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Getting Arty

Last night I took a bunch of arty shots of cats, three of which I'm posting today. (I originally posted five, but two were too dark and didn't show up, so I deleted those posts.) I had fun taking them, and I hope people enjoy looking at them!

Study in Contrast

Benediction

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

UNR Waterfowl

There's a small manmade pond behind the English building. The weather was so gorgeous today that I went out there between classes and took pictures of birds. This isn't a great photo, but it will give you some idea of the sheer density of geese and swans (also ducks, although not in this photo) inhabiting this thimble of water.

In the spring we watch fondly as mama birds parade fuzzy chicks up and down campus, and anxiously as nesting owls divebomb fuzzy chicks for dinner. In the fall, we listen to the haunting calls of the geese and watch wistfully as they fly in V formations overhead.

And in both these seasons, we watch our footing, since the campus is carpeted in birdshit. I like the birds anyway, but other people are less fond of them!

Medical Goodies


First, this week's Grand Rounds is up. Happy reading!

Second, last night we had our first meeting of the Literature & Medicine discussion group, which I'm facilitating at one of our local hospitals. Those of us on the planning side were nervous about attendance, and indeed only a handful of people showed up (although more have said they want to come next time), but we had a lively and thoughtful discussion, and I think everyone enjoyed it. I certainly did. I can't wait until the October meeting!

And third, yesterday I had acupuncture for the first time.

I liked the acupuncture, which I think helped unclog my sinuses. The preceding diagnostic procedures, however, put my Western skeptic brain into screaming "Warning, Will Robinson!" mode. See, you hold a brass rod that attaches by a wire to a machine with a platform on top; another wire from the other side of the machine is attached to a probe which the clinicians jams into meridian points on your hands and feet to see how well your organ systems are functioning. The machine beeps and whines as a colored bar shoots up on a computer screen to show function level. What made me skeptical is that a) the level seems to vary according to probe pressure and how long it's held there, and b) my very nice nurse practitioner began this procedure by explaining that the actual doctor -- who's an MD as well as having acupuncture certification -- might have to redo some of the readings, because "he's more sensitive than I am and communicates with this machine better."

Um, okay. Some people are better at reading, oh, x-rays than others. Maybe it's like that.

But then, after the initial readings -- which showed that I have an alarmingly "stagnant liver" (which doesn't mean what it would in Western medicine) -- the diagnosis continues with treatment testing. This is done by putting vials of herbs on the machine platform and retaking the readings to see if the high ones are now low. If so, that means this herb will help you.

The APN was having trouble finding herbs that would balance me, so the doctor came in. "How does this work?" I asked him. "How can the machine tell what herbs are in the vials if they're in glass?"

"Electromagnetic fields," he said cheerfully, and proceeded to do a little demo. He'd found a herb that would balance me very nicely, according to the machine. He had me put the tip of my left thumb to the tip of my left forefinger, like an "OK" sign, and tried to pull them apart while I resisted. "Your kidney readings are fine," he said. "If I try to do this while I'm pointing at your kidneys, I can't do it, but if I try to do it while I'm pointing at your liver, which is weak, I can pull your fingers apart easily." This was indeed true, but I suspected either a different grip on his part or the power of suggestion on mine. Then he put the vial of the herbs that will help my stagnant liver in my right hand, and said, "See? Now if I point at your liver, I can't pry your fingers apart anymore."

I was trying to keep my face from twitching. (When I described this to Gary, later, he said, "This guy needs to get an act in Vegas.") But a good friend of mine swears by this doctor, so I was trying very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. "What causes a stagnant liver?" I asked him.

"Internalized anger," he said promptly. This is, of course, a classic cause of depression, and I can't count how many psychiatrists have told me the same thing. And when I talked to the doctor about antidepressants, he was very clear and thoughtful and smart about what they do and what they can't do. In Chinese medicine, a stagnant liver would also cause allergies, so that ties together neatly.

On the other hand, depression and allergies were my two chief complaints on my new-patient paperwork and during my initial interview with the APN, so is he telling me what he already knows I want to hear?

As I say, I did like the acupuncture, and I'm going back in two weeks for more. And this guy's covered by my insurance, which confers a certain legitimacy. In the meantime, I'm taking Chinese herbs, which a) smell yucky, b) aren't covered by my insurance, and are more expensive than my OTC meds, and c) have to be taken in vast quantities (twelve pills a day, in my case). It's too soon to tell if they're doing anything, but I wonder if I can continue with acupuncture but discontinue the herbs. Oh, and he's trying to formulate a homeopathic remedy for my stagnant liver. When he talked about what the liver herbs should do for me, he mentioned relief of symptoms I hadn't told him I had, which was interesting. On the other hand, they're common depression symptoms, so again, maybe that was just a good guess on his part.

The jury will be out for a while on this one. But it's an adventure, that's for sure!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bali, Just Because

Isn't he gorgeous? I love how the yellow in the pottery behind him matches his eyes.

He's lying on the dinner table here, by the way. We have friends who swear that they've trained their cats to stay off the furniture, but we've never had luck training cats. They train us.

We Got Your Zombies Right Here


My story "Beautiful Stuff" has been reprinted in John Joseph Adams' zombie anthology The Living Dead.

Perfect for everyone on your Halloween gift list! And since this is easily my most political story, the pre-election timing's very fitting, too. And what with this week being the anniversary of 9/11, which is really what the story's about, well . . . the release date couldn't have been more appropriate.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Praying Mantis

I worked out before church today, and as I was leaving the gym, I saw this little critter.

Cool!

Happy Birthday to Me!


I'm forty-eight today. This isn't my happiest birthday ever, since I'm mainly aware of everything I haven't accomplished writing-wise for the last year; nonetheless, as Gary always points out, it's better than the alternative!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sweet Dreams?

I think of this as Figgy's Buddha expression: Cat of Contentment Attains Enlightenment. But our friend Jim looked at the photo and said, "It looks to me like he's hatching such evil plots that if you knew about them, your hair would curl."

What do you think?

Gary's Balloon Pix


Gary and I were having a bit of a competition yesterday morning; he had the regular camera and I had my BlackBerry, and we were both trying to get the best shots. He got some fabulous ones, including this photo of a balloon right next to our house.

He's also informed me that if I don't post his balloon pix, he won't give me my birthday presents tomorrow. *Sniff!* I believe this is a joke, but why take the chance? Plus, who doesn't love more cool balloon pix?

When the WWJD/WDJD balloon landed on our street, Gary ran around to the other side of the house to get this photo.

Renoites love it when balloons land near them. Sometimes the people inside the baskets give out small souvenirs, although I don't believe that happened in this case.

Here's a shot from our backyard, which shows several balloons. Actually, the sky was full of them, but they didn't show up well in photos I took because I had to face into the sun to take the pictures. So I'm glad Gary got this shot, which is much better than any of my similar ones!

And here's the obligatory, "Look, WWJD/WDJD is right over our heads!" photo.

This morning we went to a friend's house to watch balloons, but the show this morning wasn't nearly as dramatic as yesterdays. The wind was in the wrong direction and was blowing the balloons away from us. We had a nice time, though, and saw lots of cute kids!

Friday, September 05, 2008

All You Can See

Close One

The WWJD balloon came down right behind our neighbor's house, and then took off again.

The Rigging

Right Over Our Heads

We went out on our deck to balloon watch, and these guys yelled "Good morning!" to us.

What Would Jesus Drive?

A hot-air balloon, of course!

Figgy Sees a Balloon

The Great Reno Balloon races are this weekend, and this year, a number of balloons came right over our house. The cats were both fascinated and alarmed, especially since at close range, hot-air balloons sound like Darth Vader.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

These Hands of Ours

My friend Jessica has started a wonderful project, a blog called These Hands of Ours. She's collecting photos of women's hands doing things that are important to them, along with descriptions of the images.

Here's the e-mail she sent out, which is also the sidebar of the blog:
I started a project for my 45th birthday. I'm gathering the hands of inspiring women - photos, self-portraits, snap shots. Women who have inspired me over many years, and the women who inspire them.

Thinking about the things I love about myself, I see a reflection of many women. And I'm creating a portrait - a photo montage of that - including text people send and any links to their own inspiration, websites or blogs.

It's through the women in my life that I am appreciating all the things I've done with those hands, the places they have traveled, the people they have hugged.

I wonder if we can create a huge quilt of inspired hands?

Pass it forward.

Love, Jessica
September 4th, 2008
Greenwich, Connecticut, USA
Above is the photo I sent Jessica (many thanks to Gary for taking it!), and here's the text:
I use my hands for lots of things -- writing, patting my cats, fetching blankets and water and toys for patients at the hospital where I volunteer -- but I rarely delight in my hands as much as when I'm knitting. I learned to knit last fall, and I've knit every day since then. I started with a prayer shawl for a friend whose husband was dying, and since then, I've made many shawls and scarves, and two balaclavas, although I have yet to tackle anything with sleeves.

Knitting reminds me that beautiful things are created stitch by stitch, one small loop at a time. It teaches me patience and perspective. It is both creation and recreation, inspiration and healing. I'm a lay preacher at my church, and last Christmas I preached about knitting as incarnation, as embodiment, the making visible of the holy. Knitting participates in the beautiful Jewish concept of "tikkun olam," the repair of the world; and when my hands use needles and yarn to make something warm and useful, so do I.
So there you have it. If you like this idea, please send Jessica a photo of your hands, with accompanying text. The e-mail address is thesehandsofours(at)yahoo(dot(com).

And let your female friends know! Pass the word!

Oh, and speaking of women (and men!) doing invaluable things with their hands, the latest edition of Change of Shift, the nursing blog carnival, is up and ready for your reading pleasure! Watching nurses in the ER makes me infinitely grateful for our hands and everything they do.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Were you expecting some books with that?

Here's a color shot of the birthday beast. Someday I'll write text posts again!

Birthday Boy

Figaro the Fabulous is four years old today. Happy birthday, Figgy. May you have many, many more!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

Stop Taking My Picture!

Yes, I know, the cats are becoming very annoyed with me. And Gary won't let me take his picture at all: he throws a towel over his head when he sees me coming.

I'll stop soon, I promise.

But not just yet.

Bwah hah hah!

Twins

Gary likes this second reflection picture too, so I decided to post it. (And this is also a test to see if I can keep the "sent from my Blackberry" message from appearing on the blog.)

Later: It worked! Yay!

Chaplain Sighting!


Last night, Gary and I were watching (on DVD, since we've indeed canceled our TV subscription) the creepy but brilliant Dexter, about a sympathetic serial killer. Dexter works as a forensic specialist for the Miami police, when he's not killing bad guys himself, and in this episode, one of the officers in the department had been forced to shoot and kill a perp, the second time in a month he'd been put in that position. His boss, worried about psychological fallout, tried to convince him to seek counseling. "The department's chaplain has a good ear," she told him.

"Chaplain!" Gary said, pumping his fist in the air. "They have a chaplain!"

Of course, we don't get to meet this character, but at least the existence of chaplains is acknowledged. Now if only medical shows could follow suit!

Harley Sees His Ghost

I got this shot while Harley was looking out the sliding glass doors to our deck. Cool effect, if I do say so myself!

And Lee, I don't know how many pixels. Sorry!

Later: Gary informs me that it's two megapixels. Thanks, Gar!