Monday, December 28, 2009

Cat in Plastic Bin

Note paw hanging over edge.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Christmas was pleasant; everyone enjoyed their loot, I think, although Mom was having trouble identifying objects and didn't seem sure what to make either of the scarf Liz crocheted for her (at Mom's express request) or of my cat belt. Oh well. I hope that somewhere along the line, she'll understand what they are and what they mean.

I got lots of nice stuff: a great travel mug, a CD of old-time fiddle music, a book of British Isles fiddle tunes, a lovely necklace (from Mom, who made it for herself from turquoise beads several years ago), and a book of artwork from the Peter Jackson LotR adaptations. Oh, and when I got here, my mother had me go through footwear she can no longer use because her feet have gotten bigger, and that netted me three pairs of boots, two pairs of shoes and some sneakers. I'll have to ship a box home; there's no way all this is fitting in my suitcase.

So then, of course, today we shopped. I got yarn for my sister and nephew's socks (and some for myself), several 2010 calendars -- two for the house and one for my purse -- and a belt on sale at the Gap. Liz got some books of crochet sock patterns and assorted calendars, and bought me a nice hat from the Gap. My nephew got a lot of new clothing. We had a fun lunch and went to a pretty (although overcrowded) museum. So it was a great day, despite absolutely pouring rain.

I've been having fun practicing my fiddle here, although my repertoire's become severely limited now that Christmas carols are no longer appropriate. Relatives and cats have all been very patient with the noise. Felicity seems to have handled travel fine, and actually sounds better here, possibly because of the greater humidity.

Okay, I'm done blogging for today, I promise. I have to go upstairs and see if Mom wants to be put to bed.

Liz and Her Sock

My sister's crocheting a pair of socks while I knit another pair. Here she is holding up her first toe.

Philly Kitty

This kitty, Quinn, is one of six in my sister's household. Luckily, they get along pretty well!

Putting Mom to Bed

Last night Mom woke me up twice. Once she yelped, I think -- my memory's hazy -- and my nephew and I both woke up (we're in rooms next to each other, down a short hall from her room) and called in unison, "Are you all right?" I got up and went to investigate; she'd just gotten back from the bathroom and was cold, so I helped her find slippers and draped a sweater over her shoulders and sat with her for a while (she was sitting on the edge of her bed) before I went back to bed. That was about 3:30, I think. Around 6:00, I heard more yelping and got up. She was still sitting on the edge of her bed. She told me that she'd lain down, but the sweater wasn't mussed, so I was skeptical. She said she was having trouble breathing; when I saw her oxygen tube on the floor, I understood why. I got it in place again and asked if I should call 911, and Mom said tartly, "Oh, good heavens, no: if we did that, they'd be here all the time." I checked her oximeter -- below 90% -- and cranked her concentrator up from 3 liters to 3.5, which helped.

She said she was still cold. I helped her lie down and covered her with blankets, and she relaxed right away. (My sister said later that a lot of her breathing trouble seems to come from fear of not being able to breathe as much as actual difficulty breathing; her O2 levels are always best when she's lying down and relaxed, rather than sitting up and tense). We talked for a while, mostly about my father ("I think about him a lot," Mom said, "but not sadly"), and then I got into bed with her and put my arm over her. My mother's often disliked physical contact, especially when she isn't feeling well, but she held my hand and squeezed it. After a whlie she seemed safely asleep, so I went rather groggily back to my own bed.

My sister woke me up several hours later for a shopping trip we'd planned yesterday; more on that in the next post. We went into Mom's room and she told my sister how I'd "put her to bed" and how much she loved it when I got into bed with her. "I loved it," she said. "Loved it. I cherished it. I wish you could do it every night." Over dinner tonight, she called me her "night-time elf."

I was very moved that she was so happy to have me there, and was so articulate about it. One of my abiding regrets about my father is that I didn't spend a lot of time just sitting with him, not nearly as much as he'd have liked (although, in fairness, I couldn't, because I was running around trying to manage both his life and my own). So putting Mom to bed was a luxury for me as well as for her, and it was also a welcome break for my sister, who's usually the one to respond to all middle-of-the-night calls.

I must say, though, that I'd rather all this hadn't happened in the middle of the night!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

We've had a pleasant day. Mom actually got dressed and came downstairs, which is -- I gather -- very rare these days. It's been hard to watch her because she has so much trouble getting around. I was especially glad to get a good picture of her; she has a terrible dowager's hump, and while her right arm is very skinny, her left is horribly swollen. I thought that was from her congestive heart failure (and it freaked me out, because my father's left arm looked like that before he died; that, and the sound of Mom's oxygen concentrator, had me in flashback mode last night), but evidently the doctor says it's not from her heart. Instead, she may have partially dislocated that shoulder in one of her falls, although it doesn't seem painful and the doctor's not sure there's anything they can do about it at this point.

So, anyhow, Mom came downstairs. I played my fiddle for her and she fell asleep -- better than running screaming, for sure -- but her home health aide said kind things about my playing, and later on, my sister got out her recorder and we played some rough duets. That was a lot of fun.

My nephew arrived this afternoon. Over dinner, I grilled him about his new girlfriend, who's a veterinary tech and sounds very nice, and like a good match for him; from her picture, she's pretty, too. We'd originally planned to open gifts tonight, but Mom wants to wait until tomorrow, so instead, we gorged ourselves on Christmas cookies.

My sister and her family have a new wireless network to which I can connect very easily -- I was never able to get on the old one -- so that makes me very happy. When I'm done with this post, I'm going to go downstairs and continue knitting a pair of socks for my sister. We'll listen to some music and probably drink some tea. I'll sleep well, since I'm jet-lagged and barely managed to prvent myself from napping today.

I hope everyone's having a wonderful holiday!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Cat Belt

For the past few months, I've been working on a doubleknit belt for my mother. I always give her a cat-related item for Christmas, so I designed this Aztec-looking kitty cat for the belt. It's a little funky, but I think she'll like it.

From this first photo, I hope you can make out the reversible design. I sewed on two rings, one on each side of the belt, as a buckle, so that's reversible too.

Here's a slightly better view of light cat on dark background.

I'm so glad I got the belt done before my trip. I enjoy doubleknitting, but it's definitely not a travel project; as you knit each row, the two strands of yarn wind around each other, so as you begin each new row, you have to untangle the strands and switch the position of the skeins. This is either soothing or tedious, depending on your point of view. It's a great thing to do while listening to music or an audiobook, but it's not TV knitting, or anything to undertake in a cramped airplane seat.

And here's a closeup of dark cat on light background. I know this animal probably isn't automatically identifiable as a cat, but my mother will get the idea!

And now, back to socks, which are ideal travel projects: compact and portable, yet using a range of techniques. Yay, socks!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Late Dates With Mozart

Our friends Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio and Jim Winn have just recorded this brilliant album. (Stephanie's the one who's giving me the violin lesson tonight; am I lucky, or what? It's probably going to be wasted on me, but it's still incredibly generous of her!)

If you like Mozart, violin, piano, or classical music, this is a treasure. Gary and I have had the tremendous privilege of hearing these pieces live, but the CD's the next best thing!

Support the arts! Buy Late Dates With Mozart! Makes a great gift idea!

Oh, and have I mentioned that the musicians are two of the nicest people on the planet? They deserve your support. Please buy their album!

Bad Day for Moms

It's one year today since Gary's dad died. I called his mother, who was a little shaky but said it really hasn't been any worse than any other day. She was fretting that she hadn't done anything to commemorate the day, so I suggested that she write. She said she might write in her journal.

Meanwhile, my sister tells me that this morning, our mother didn't remember what clam chowder is, even though she eats it every day during many months of the year. When my sister brought her some, she remembered, but it's still a scary slippage. Several hours later, I spoke to Mom on the phone and she sounded quite good; she's very much looking forward to seeing me on Wednesday, as I'm looking forward to seeing her. So far, she's shown no sign of not recognizing family, thank God.

Now I just have to hope that the weather cooperates with my travel plans!

My shift at the hospital this morning went well. First of all, I woke up on time, no mean feat these days! Patient volume was low today, which meant that the staff were all in a good mood, and I had a high percentage of good, substantive visits with the patients I did see.

This afternoon I was sad and lethargic, though, probably because of the season and the day. I've often been blue right before Christmas, even without painful family stuff. I'd been planning to get a few hours of work done on my year-end annual-evaluation materials (a massive project that always comes at the worst time of the year), but that didn't happen, so tomorrow through Tuesday, I'll really have to cram.

Oh, speaking of sleep: the bloodwork came back normal, which I guess is a good thing but is also annoying, because we're no closer to an explanation. (And while grief and depression would explain ordinary fatigue, they don't explain exercise intolerance: that suggests something physical.) I spoke to my psychiatrist, who said my recent higher meds dosage could theoretically be the problem. I'm going to try going back down to the old dose in January, but we agreed that doing it before my trip back East would be unwise. And on January 4, I have an appointment to talk to my primary-care doc. So I'm working on fixing this!

In an hour, we're going to a dinner party given by our friend Stephanie the violinist. As her Christmas present to me, she's giving me a half-hour violin lesson: very generous! (And, I hope, not too painful for her or for the other people in the building.) I'll post separately about her new album with our friend Jim.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Honolulu Here We Come!

I just booked our Spring Break trip to Honolulu. We'll be staying for eight nights in an oceanview room at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa. The hotel's right across the street from a nice swimming beach. Oooh, la la! Even with the oceanview upgrade, the package came in siginifcantly under our flight-and-hotel budget for the trip, although of course food will be an extra expense. Eating in Hawai'i is a pricy proposition. We shouldn't need a car, though, since the hotel's in the middle of everything. If we do need a car, we can rent one for the day, since there's a rental desk right there.

Our basic plan, though, is to sleep in every morning, drink coffee for several hours on our lanai overlooking the water, and then amble down to the beach for a nice swim. I'm sure we'll get some snorkeling, hiking and shopping in while we're there, too, but those aren't the top priorities.

Ahhhhhh! I can feel that island air already!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mea Culpa

Gary's complaining that I haven't been blogging. Yeah, I know. My bad.

I either haven't had a lot to say or haven't felt like saying it. This weekend, though, we got two pieces of really excellent news. One is that Gary's mom took the initiative in having a difficult conversation with some other family members; I'm going to visit after Christmas and had offered to be there to lend moral support, but she did it on her own. We're really proud of her, especially since the anniversary of her husband's death is this coming Saturday, and she's having an understandably tough time.

I hope I'm as strong as she is when I'm eighty.

The other great news is that a friend with diabetes -- but currently without job or insurance, like so many other people right now -- e-mailed me to say that he went to one of the low-income clinics in town. Huge relief! He'd just been diagnosed when his previous doctor (who'd been seeing him for nothing) went out of business (one suspects, sadly, that there's a connection), so he hadn't been treated. This has been going on for months, or maybe even a year or two, and I've been very worried, so I'm really glad he's finally getting medical attention.

Speaking of which, I'm still sleeping a ton; I slept through church this morning, having handed off this morning's preaching gig last week because I had a hunch this might happen. My bloodwork isn't back from the lab yet. I'm going to call again tomorrow. I really hope the lab results show something, and that the something is fixable. (I don't think it's depression, since I'm pretty happy when I'm awake.) Meanwhile, I've committed to preaching dates in January and February, on the improbably optimistic assumption that this thing will be fixed by then.

In weather news, we got a lot of snow this weekend. I've stayed in the house to avoid slippery driving, which meant no hospital shift yesterday (and also means that I might have stayed home this morning even had I woken up in time for church).

Fiddle update: My first jig is still very rough. I know the notes, but my fingering and bowing are mega-messy. Practice will continue. Meanwhile, I'm doing lots of exercises to try to improve my tone (scales and variations thereof), and trying to polish my two polkas, and also sounding out various Christmas carols. I'm mostly happy with my rendition of "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," and Gary's said nice things about my version of "Simple Gifts." So, come to think of it, has Charlene, who told me it was good enough for me to play in church, which I do not plan to do! The strongest piece in my repertoire is still "Mary Had A Little Lamb." I expect this to be true for a long time.

Book update: I was making good progress until this evening, when I realized that to write the next bit, I need a library book that's somewhere in the house but that I can't find. Gotta clean my study before I leave town a week from Wednesday. Not looking forward to it.

Knitting update: I finished a new pair of socks for myself -- acrylic, but very comfy -- and am starting a pair for my sister from a lovely sock yarn Inez sent me. Also still working on a Secret Non-Sock Project for my mother, which I have to finish this week! I've made up a Sock Questionnaire so that I'll be able to knit belated Christmas gifts for friends and family. My post-Christmas projects already include a pair of socks for my friend Marin (a late birthday gift) and two Christmas stockings for my friend Ann's twin boys (her family's out of town for the holidays this year, so the boys don't need them until next Christmas). I expect all that, plus the questionnaire results, to keep me busy through 2011.

Work update: Tomorrow my freshmen give me their final revisions and portfolios; tomorrow we also have our final party for the writing workshop. Tuesday I attend the Mother of All Meetings to discuss search candidates. Grades are due Thursday; I hope to have them in Wednesday, but we'll see.

Oh, Tuesday we also have back-to-back dental cleanings. Saturday we're going to a dinner party given by some friends, which will be an especially pleasant diversion from memories of last year.

Somewhere in all this, I need to compile my annual-review materials.

Boring stuff, eh? See why I haven't been blogging?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Today's Rickety Contrivance

Today I stumbled across this New York Times article about a woman with MS who felt significantly better after twenty-nine days of giving someone else a small gift every day. The article talks about the health benefits of altruism and volunteerism. Yay!

Today I also got e-mail from a church friend, relocated to the Midwest, alerting friends about Xerox's Let's Say Thanks website, which allows you to send a free postcard to someone in the military stationed overseas. There's a wide range of artwork by kids, ranging from cute to hilarious (my favorite is the Statue of Liberty looking like the Bride of Frankenstein); you can choose your favorite image and then pick a prewritten message, or write one of your own.

Fast. Easy. Fun. Free. Makes you feel good. With luck, makes the recipient feel good too. And regardless of our individual politics, heaven knows our troops need all the cheering up they can get.

Oh, also, the vet called tonight. Harley doesn't have an infection, which means he probably has cystitis, which means we're supposed to make sure he gets a lot of water. She recommended flavoring the water with chicken broth or tuna juice to make it more appealing. Harley turned his nose up at the chicken broth, although Bali was very interested. We'll try another tactic tomorrow.

And now to bed. Yeah, I'm up too late. But tomorrow's not a teaching day, so I can afford to sleep in.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Meet Sydney the Cockatiel!

Charlene, my fiddle teacher, has a new pet: a cockatiel named Sydney. Sydney's a little shy and actually doesn't like Charlene that much (she's devoted to Charlene's husband Josh), but after I fed her a treat, she decided I was okay and fluttered onto my shoulder. I grew up with parakeets, so I'm comfortable around birds. I cooed at her and kissed her feathers while she played with my earrings and ran back and forth across my back, a game that became even more fun when Charlene tried to get her to come down so I could go home. Charlene would reach for her on one of my shoulders and Sydney would run merrily to the other. Back and forth, back and forth! Birdie exercise!

She was very good during the lesson itself; just sat on her cage and chirped occasionally. Charlene's teaching me tonalization exercises and jig bowing, though I've yet to learn any jigs to which to apply it. I'm having fun, though!

If you're wondering why I've been so bad about blogging, it's not because I've been having so much fun fiddling (although I did have a lot of fun shopping, for myself, on Black Friday: very decadent). It's because that sleep thing, whatever it is, has my schedule in a shambles. I slept through my hospital shift on Saturday, which is mortifying. I managed to get to church on time on Sunday, but today I slept until 12:30. Gahhhhh!

I stopped by the lab today for the bloodwork my primary-care doc ordered -- I couldn't do it last week because of the holiday -- so with any luck, we'll get some answers soon. In the meantime, I'm scrambling to stay on top of what I need to do.

That said, back to work!

Sam's Christmas Stocking

I knit a Christmas stocking for a friend's five-year-old son, so I thought I'd post a photo of it here. The dimensions are a little bizarre -- Gary says it looks like a Seuss stocking -- but I had fun making it, and the kid won't care if it looks a little funky.

A friend at work has asked me to make stockings for her twin boys (both much older than five), but they're traveling this year during the holidays, so I'll start that project in January.

The Triune Goddess in the ER

Browsing the web the other day, I discovered that my poem The Triune Goddess in the ER, accepted last spring by Hospital Drive, the literary journal of the University of Virginia Medical School, has already been published there.

I don't think this is my best work, but I'm happy to have it published anyway.

In other writing news, I've finished revising the first hundred pages of the new novel, although I'm sure they'll have to be revised again before publication (and I have no idea when that will be, for those of you who've asked).

I fiddled and wrote every day in November. I hope I can manage close to that in December, although travel will make it difficult.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Gary!

Today is Gary's birthday. The cats pooled their allowances to get him a set of cat yoga postcards, and I gave him chocolate, two calendars and a guide book about Oahu. Tonight we're going out for a nice dinner at a Chinese restaurant Gary likes.

Happy birthday, dearest hubby! I love you. And so do the beasts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Matters Medical

We took Harley to the vet yesterday for bloodwork and urinalysis. He's been acting just fine, although he's lost a bit of weight (possibly because he's not entirely convinced about the new food, although he is eating it), but midway through his testing, the vet came back into the exam room and said gently, "I need to show you something." She held up a syringe full of his urine, which was dark red from blood. She said it had been a clean stick and his bladder looked normal on ultrasound, and that he didn't seem to be in any pain when she palpated him. The blood will interfere with the protein measurements they wanted to do, though, so he'll need another urinalysis when we've gotten this problem cleared up.

It's most likely a bladder or kidney infection, so I'm hoping it will resolve with antibiotics. We're waiting to hear back from her about test results and next steps.

Last night over dinner, Gary said, "No animals or humans are allowed to die around Christmas this year." Amen. I called his mom yesterday to acknowledge that it would have been my father-in-law's 83rd birthday, and she was grateful.

I'm having bloodwork today, too. I've been unaccountably exhausted in uncharacteristic ways (i.e. exercise makes me sleep more, not less), so my doctor wants to check hormone levels, among other things. The last time this happened, it was because of my sleep disorder, but that's being treated, so it's most likely something else. I've been doing things like sleeping through church, and even for someone who's admittedly not a morning person, that's a bit much!

Oh, I have a new favorite thing to do while I'm knitting (if we're not watching a DVD, that is): listen to audio books on my BlackBerry! I downloaded the BB software from Audible, and I've been having a great time. Their books are expensive, but they're having a Thanksgiving promotion where selected titles are free. Check it out! This will be a wonderful thing for plane trips, too.

So what am I listening to? First I checked out a History Channel program on combat medicine, and now I'm a few chapters into Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, about a deadly cholera epidemic in Victorian England. Fascinating stuff, but not for the squeamish!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Truth and Dare

Here's this morning's homily, and here's one of the photos Gary took at the Yale demonstration. During the peace at church today, one of our older parishioners walked up to me, shaking her head, and said, "New Haven! I lived for a few years on Orange Street."

"Really? I lived on Orange Street, too!"

She shuddered and said, "It was an . . . interesting place." And I suspect that she lived on a much better stretch of that road than I did. A friend who lived in a rather dodgy neighborhood in Manhattan, and who drove me back to New Haven one weekend, looked around my block and said, "Why aren't they giving you hazard pay for living here?"

When we first moved to Reno, I met someone who'd been at nursing school at Yale the precise three years I was in residence there. At the time, New Haven had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, and the nursing students helped turn this around by organizing post-partum home visits. The woman who told me this said, "I stopped doing it when we were caught in the middle of a drive-by shooting. My colleagues looked down on me for no longer supporting the cause, but I was too scared."

I should add that Yale grad students are, as far as I know, still trying to unionize, all these years later. I should also add, in the spirit of honesty, that several of my fellow GESO members accused me of rank cowardice and moral failure because, about a week before I turned in my dissertation, I wouldn't sign a letter censuring my dissertation advisor for blackballing activist students on the job market: my own sense of self-preservation took over (and as it turned out, the letter was never sent anyway).

Yale. The place was ugly all around, and brought out the worst in almost everybody. (For a wonderful anti-Yale rant that very much mirrors my own experience, check out pages 76 and 77 of Jane Tompkins' A Life in School.) The undergrads I knew were very happy there, but they lived in gated residential communities.

The Gospel is John 18:33-37.


On this, the last Sunday of the church year -- the last Sunday before Advent, when we prepare both for Jesus’s first coming and for his second -- we honor Christ the King. In this morning’s reading, though, we see Jesus side-stepping the question of whether he’s a king at all.

As a threat to the religious establishment of his day, and to the Roman occupation, Jesus knows that if he claims kingship, he will be condemned as a heretic and a traitor. His followers have betrayed and abandoned him. While he has foreseen that he must die, he is no more eager for that outcome than any of us would be. He has prayed in the garden of for that cup to pass from him. And so, when Pilate asks him bluntly, “So you are a king?” Jesus says, “You say that I am a king.” King is other people’s word for him, not his own.

He goes on, though, to say something just as threatening, if not more so. “For this I was born . . . to testify to the truth.” People who tell the truth are dangerous, because others might listen to them and decide to act on those truths. This is why those who speak truth to power are so often silenced by any means necessary. It’s why writers and intellectuals are so often imprisoned by dictators. It’s why prophets in every generation -- people as diverse as first-century apostle Saint Stephen, civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and openly gay politician Harvey Milk -- have so often been assassinated. Telling the truth about oppression, any oppression, is inherently activist, inherently radical.

In one of her books, writer Anne Lamott quotes a set of rules for life: 1. Show up. 2. Pay attention. 3. Tell the truth, and 4. Don’t be attached to the consequences. Not being attached to the consequences sometimes means being willing to pay a high price.

What does all of this have to do with kingship? After all, we don’t automatically, or even easily, associate monarchy with truth-telling. My husband and I have been watching the Showtime series The Tudors, and while historical accuracy isn’t the show’s strong suit, I suspect that Henry VIII was nearly as willing to deceive both others and himself in real life as he is in the show. This may give us pause, since our Episcopal Church is one of the indirect outcomes of his machinations. Nonetheless, while we don’t necessarily expect truth from kings and other earthly officials, we want it. We yearn for leaders who will both tell us bracing truths and take the risk of acting on them. And as a result, we recognize truth-tellers, and truth-doers, as kingly, even if the prevailing powers don’t recognize their royalty or, worse, punish them for it.

One of the messages of this morning’s Gospel is that Jesus is only our king, only our Lord, if we recognize and claim him as such. This goes along with the maxim that we can’t truly call ourselves Christians unless other people have called us Christian first, unless we have made our Christian beliefs so visible that other people naturally recognize whose truth we follow.

Of course, there are all kinds of definitions of Christianity, some of them directly at odds. Some versions of Christianity delight in welcome, while others insist on exclusion. This leaves non-Christian onlookers very understandably confused. All any of us can do is to show up, pay attention, act on the truth as we understand it, and not be attached to the consequences. Discipleship calls us to be both truth-tellers and truth-doers. Sometimes it demands a high price of us. And it calls us to honor those who have paid such prices themselves.

My first brush with genuine activism came when I was in graduate school at Yale. Yale is a rich, powerful, mostly white institution in the middle of New Haven, Connecticut: a poor, troubled, largely non-white city. The University has a long history of terrible labor relations. When I was there in the early nineties, the administration’s attitude to both students and workers seemed to be, “You should feel honored just to set foot here. You have no right to complain about anything.”

Yale teaching assistants –- the graduate students who did the bulk of undergraduate teaching -– were paid less than Yale’s own estimate of the cost of living for nine months for one person in New Haven. Yale’s housing was more expensive than city housing, although living in town literally involved taking your life in your hands whenever you went outside after dark. An undergraduate who’d ventured off-campus was fatally shot while I was there; a six-year-old girl was killed by a bullet going through the back of a schoolbus, and there were gang shootouts on the courthouse steps a block from my apartment. Meanwhile, Yale charged its grad students hefty fees for health insurance –- although university employees who worked the same number of hours got free insurance –- didn’t offer us a grievance procedure, and required us to complete our degrees on schedules often impossible for those who had to work extra jobs to make ends meet.

So we tried to form a union. Two existing unions, the ones for clerical workers and maintenance workers, teamed up with us to lend financial and practical support. Both unions had extensive experience with the Yale administration and had gone on strike many times. The clerical workers were mostly white. The maintenance workers mostly weren’t. Most of the clerical workers commuted in from the suburbs. Most of the maintenance workers were local.

One of our early attempts at activism involved a lunchtime walk-out. Grad students -– again, mostly white, and mostly middle class or better -- gathered on a sidewalk, chanting slogans and waving signs that said, “Prestige won’t pay my rent.” While our professors considered us ungrateful and rolled their eyes at our theatrics, none of us, at that point, were in danger of any reprisal. That changed several years later, when professors deliberately sabotaged the hiring prospects of activist students on the job market. Meanwhile, the Yale administration had warned the other two unions that if they joined the walk-out, if they showed solidarity with us, they would lose their jobs.

My friends and I marched up and down the sidewalk, waving our signs. My husband was there taking pictures. I felt more than a little ridiculous. I was acutely aware of how many onlookers thought we were preposterously privileged spoiled brats. Some undergrads walked past and jeered; professors hurried by, scowling, unwilling to meet our eyes.

And then, down the street, we heard the sound of many people walking in unison. Tramp tramp tramp. The steps sounded in time. Tramp tramp tramp. We gathered along the curb and peered down the road, only to see the maintenance workers -- mostly older black men who would be very hard put to find other legal jobs in New Haven -- marching to join us, proudly wearing their janitors’ uniforms and waving signs supporting our demands for fairer treatment.

They were witnessing to the truth as they understood it, and they were risking a very high price to do so. My eyes filled with tears when I saw them. I wanted to kneel. They were true kings. I saw Christ that day, long before I ever dreamed of attending church.

I believe they wound up keeping their jobs. They had marched out together, and Yale couldn’t afford to fire all of its janitors. The strategy of solidarity worked.

In this morning’s Gospel, though, Jesus is alone, in front of Pilate. His followers have fled, terrified, to save their own lives. Ultimately, Jesus forgives them, and us. But his story forces us to ask difficult questions. Who is our king? What truths do we speak and serve? Can those around us recognize our loyalties in our behavior? And if the prevailing powers try to silence those who speak the truths we cherish, what will we do? Will we run the other way, or will we march, regardless of the consequences, to join them?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Week, Another Blog Post

Remember when I used to post once a day, or sometimes even more than that? Yeah, so do I. I remember those days fondly, but don't know if I'll be getting back to them anytime soon. I'm just too busy in through here.

Various updates and bits o' news:

* I'm still fiddling and writing every day. I've now invested in a fancy Kun shoulder rest rather than my previous foam pad; the Kun's improved both my posture and my tone, although the second still has a long way to go. The sound's no longer muffled by the foam against the bottom of the instrument, though, so I'm getting more resonance. I also bought an inexpensive backpack case for the fiddle so traveling will be easier. I'm already wishing I'd spent a bit more, since this case has already developed zipper problems, but they won't endanger the instrument -- they're on the outside pouch -- so I'll use this one as long as I can.

* Harley's still letting me brush his teeth, but a few mornings ago he smelled alarmingly of urine, so on Monday we're taking him to the vet for his followup bloodwork and urinalysis. I haven't noticed the odor since then, so I hope it was just temporary.

* The book contracts came this week, and it turns out that I'll get half the advance on signing. I thought I wouldn't see any money until I delivered the manuscript, so this is good news. With that money, plus what we saved from my summer teaching gig, we're going to attempt to: 1) go to Honolulu for Spring Break, 2) get the ductwork redone in our house so we actually get some benefits from our furnace and AC, and 3) go on an Alaska cruise in May. This is both ambitious and decadent, but we're going to do our best anyway. It's been a tough year, and we're both acutely aware of having to have fun while we can.

* Monday would have been Gary's father's birthday; I'm going to try to call his mom that day. Today I got a sweet, wistful card from Fran, who often dreams about Dad and was writing to thank us for everything we did for her while she was here. I called -- I've been meaning to write her and hadn't, so I felt guilty -- and it turns out she's doing well: she has friends, is spending Thanksgiivng with family, and generally sounds more chipper than I've heard her for ages.

* Speaking of my father, the other day I got a call from the RN at his assisted-living facility. "I remember you told me after your Dad died that you'd found a place that would take partly used medications. Can you remind me where that was? I have a lot of stuff I want to donate." So I told her. I also told her that the phone call made me feel really good; Dad would thoroughly approve of medications going to the homeless-outreach clinic rather than being wasted, and her phone call made me feel as if something positive came from his death.

* Speaking of medicine, I learned this week that the Literature & Medicine program at our local VA is a go. I'm facilitating it, so I'm very happy and excited.

More news in . . . oh, in a week or so, if I run true to form. And there will be a homily tomorrow!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Good Shift

I had a long but very satisfying shift at the hospital today. It started off, I have to admit, with an act of cowardice: when I walked in, I saw a nurse trying to deal with an irate patient in the hallway. That's the kind of situation where I'm supposed to step in and calm everybody down, but I just wasn't up to it first thing in the morning. As I watched, the nurse managed to get the patient back into bed, and I thought, "I'll start with another room, and if this situation's still a problem after that, I'll step in."

I chose my other room randomly but well, since I wound up spending forty-five minutes with that patient, who responded to my introduction with, "I can't tell religious people about this."

"What is it that you can't tell religious people?"

And out came the entire story, a very sad tale of loss and family problems and self-blame. When the story was done, I said, "Why can't you talk to religious people about that?"

"Because religious people are too judgmental."

"Really? I'm religious and I try not to be judgmental --" although, of course, I'd just been judgmental, or at least cowardly, about the irate patient -- "and most of my religious friends are the same way."

"Hmmmph!" Turned out the patient has a close relative who's a hospital chaplain, "like you," but very judgmental. This relative had called the patient "a sinner" for not, in the relative's opinion, properly mourning a dead loved one.

Inwardly, I felt myself groaning. Terrific. That one must do wonderful hospital work. Just what we need: somebody else giving faith a bad name.

See what I mean when I say that I try not to be judgmental? I'm judgmental of people who are judgmental. I've been wondering how to solve that problem for years now.

Anyway, the patient kept talking about the situation, and it became clear that there was a lot of internalized guilt. I said, "You know, the problem with judgment is that it hurts. But you're judging yourself about this, aren't you? And that means you're hurting yourself."

The patient looked at me as if a lightbulb had just gone on. "Hey! You may have something there! Maybe that's part of why I hurt physically!"

Originally, the patient had said, "You can pray for me, but only when you're out of the room, not with me." But now the patient said, "I believe in God, and I know I help other people when I pray for them, but I can't pray for myself."

I said, "Well then, why don't I pray for you? May I do that?"

And I did, right there, holding the patient's hand, and afterwards the patient said, "That was nice. Thank you! That pretty much mirrored exactly what I was thinking."

If part of this patient's pain was guilt, another part was a chronic medical condition that hasn't been properly medicated or treated for the last year because of healthcare-coverage issues. So I collected a list of social agencies and clinics for the underserved and gave the list and relevant phone numbers to the patient, who happily began making plans of where to call first and even accepted a free rosary from me. "I'll treasure this because it came from you."

Talk about a feel-good visit! I love being able to combine spiritual care with connections to concrete local resources. Better yet, a few hours later the patient's nurse tracked me down and said, "Thanks so much for visiting that patient!" Evidently the patient had shown the nurse the list, talked again about the schedule for phone calls, and said what a help I'd been. This is the kind of feedback that will get me through many a quieter, or more difficult, stretch at the hospital.

Meanwhile, though, another nurse had glanced up from paperwork, seen me, and said, "Oh, there's one of you guys here today! We needed a chaplain before and I couldn't find anybody. I called the hospital operator and they had no idea who was around."

"I don't think the operators have access to the volunteer schedule. What did you need?"

"We had an irate patient who was giving a nurse a hard time."

"Oh," I said, stomach sinking. "Actually, I saw that happening, and I avoided it. I'm really sorry."

The nurse forgave me -- "it just would have kept the patient here longer and tied up your time" -- but we talked about how it would be nice if the staff had some idea who was on duty. When I first started volunteering, there was a space marked "Chaplain" on the white board where we put our names and the hours we'd be working. White boards have come and gone since then, and there hasn't been space for chaplains on them for several years now. But after my conversation with the nurse, I went up to the Case Manager and asked if we could bring back the Chaplain box, and the CM said, "Sure. I think that's a good idea. Go talk to the team leader about it."

So I did, and the team leader said, "Sure. You can put the Chaplain box right over here. This whole column is pretty much just junk notes." So we now have a Chaplain box. Hey, we're a visible part of the healthcare team again! Whaddya know!

It was now near the end of my shift. I still hadn't seen one particular patient who'd come in near the beginning, but had been surrounded by medical staff every time I passed the room. I went out to see if anyone in the waiting room needed to talk (the answer was no, since no one was there), and the intake nurse said, "Hey, there's somebody who came in a while ago who'd love to talk to you, I think."

She gave me the room number. Sure enough, it was the room I hadn't been able to get into. But by now the medical staff had cleared out, so I went in and introduced myself to the patient -- who immediately began crying -- and to a family member.

Out poured another long tale of loss and family problems and stigma and self-blame, complicated by the fact that other relatives were dismissing the patient's feelings, and using very hurtful language to do so. "I'm so sorry to tell you this horrible story. I just can't get it out of my head!"

"This is what I'm here for," I said. I dispensed more prayer and another rosary, along with lots of reassurance about God's love, and then left the room to try to hunt down another, much more specialized, community resource. I needed to Google it, and I can't get on the internet at the hospital because I don't have a staff account, but one of my favorite nurses signed me on to his account so I could do the search. Turns out that this specialized community resource has one office in Nevada, and it's in Reno. Hurrah! So I went back to the patient with the agency name and phone number, dispensed more reassurance about God's love, and then went back out into the hall with the family member, who wanted to ask me a legal question.

I didn't know. We asked the nurse, who did know, and who happened to be the nurse who'd thanked me earlier. She said, "We're giving you a lot to do today, aren't we?"

This patient was being admitted, and I'd promised to write a note asking a staff chaplain to visit, so when I went upstairs to sign out, I did that -- including enough info about the family situation so they'd send someone who wouldn't be judgmental -- and also wrote a note to fellow ER Chaplains, asking them to start signing in on the white board again.

There were lots of other patients between those two (notably a very little girl who very politely and earnestly asked me to pray with her and her mother), but those are the two who stand out.

This is the kind of shift that reminds me why I'm there.

Belated-Birthday Kitty!

Last Wednesday, in addition to being our wedding anniversary, was an even more important occasion: Bali's birthday! He's now three years old. This is a file photo of him, as he wouldn't stay still today for the camera. He was punishing me, no doubt.

How could I have forgotten his birthday? I'm a bad cat mother! Bali, I hope you'll forgive me.

(Says Sir Balthazar: "Will forgive for food. Open can, foolish human!")

Speaking of the cats, I think Harley's beginning to actively enjoy getting his teeth brushed. He always acts a bit spooked when I come at him with the toothbrush, but then he opens his mouth and doesn't fight, and he's been known to eat the paste right off the brush.

Nice kitty! I thought I might emerge from this process minus several fingers, and I'm glad to be proven wrong about that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Twenty years ago today, Gary and I met, and fourteen years ago today, we married.

We're both looking forward to the next twenty years. Go, us!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Progress and Decline

At this week's fiddle lesson I started learning Oh Those Britches Full of Stitches, here played much more ably by someone who's only had three lessons than I can play it yet. Oh well! This marks my first official foray onto the D string, although I've been playing it in secret almost since the beginning.

Charlene is also trying to teach me the correct bowing technique for "Egan's Polka," which right now is very difficult. I'm used to one bowstroke per note, so playing several notes on one stroke is new and confusing. I'm sure I'll get the hang of it after a few more days of practice, though.

In today's medical news, I went to see my pulmonologist for the sleep-study results from a few weeks ago. Gary and I had talked last night about how, although my mood's fine, I've been really tired lately and have been sleeping a ridiculously long time (like, ten or twelve hours) each night. Exercise makes me sleep more right now, whereas it usually helps me wake up earlier. The last time that happened was before I was diagnosed with my sleep disorder. Six years ago, they called it UARS -- Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome -- which meant that my blood oxygen levels weren't going down, as in true apnea, but that my airway was narrowing enough to tell my brain to wake up.

I only had the second sleep test because my insurance company required it, but after last night's conversation, I wondered if maybe my sleep disorder had gotten worse. And, lo and behold, indeed it has: I now have full-blown -- although mild -- apnea. Off the CPAP, my blood oxygen dipped to 79 percent and my sleep was very disturbed (I didn't actually stop breathing, but my breathing was very shallow). The second they put me on the CPAP, I plunged into REM sleep, which I hadn't reached until then. "You like CPAP," the pulmonologist told me.

Indeed I do. I asked him what would make a sleep disorder get worse, and he pointed out gently that I've gained twenty pounds in those six years. Some of this is due to menopausal metabolism changes and some of it's probably due to my meds (I lost twenty pounds after going off my first round of meds about ten years ago). I'm not technically overweight, but I'm at the border.

Gahhhhh. I'd love to get off the meds, but my shrink thinks that's a really, really bad idea. She thinks I have to be on something the rest of my life. Pfui!

In the meantime, they'll be dialing my CPAP up a notch, from 6 to 7. I'll be curious to see if that makes a difference.

The good news here is that insurance will definitely pay for the sleep study and the CPAP. The bad news is that I have to keep hauling the CPAP around when I travel. I wish they could make one the size of an iPod, but that doesn't seem to have happened yet.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Coupla Anniversaries

Today is, of course, the twentieth anniversary of when the Berlin Wall fell. Talking to my fiction workshop this afternoon, I realized that it's also the twenty-fifth anniversary of my first fiction sale, of a story called "The Woman Who Saved the World," to Shawna McCarthy at Asimov's.

I was still living at home then, since my mother was very supportive of my working part-time so I could spend more time on writing. She was the one who'd proposed the arrangement, in fact, after my first full-time job after college reduced me to tears every night. That was only partly because of the lack of writing time -- my boss was very, very difficult, and according to coworkers, the nine months I spent as his assistant was a record -- but whatever the factors, I gratefully accepted Mom's suggestion.

So I was working part-time in NYC and writing and submitting stories the rest of the time. On the days I worked, Mom always got home before I did; we lived in New Jersey and she worked a few towns over, whereas I had to take a bus home from Manhattan. She'd learned to recognize that stamped self-addressed envelopes contained rejections, and, as I went up the private stairs to our second-story apartment, would often be standing at the top, holding up an envelope and saying sadly, "I'm sorry, honey; your thing came back."

Because I'd sold a few poems, she'd also learned to recognize the business-size, window envelopes that contained contracts. On the evening of November 9, 1984, as I walked from the busstop into the courtyard of the garden apartments where we lived, I saw her standing in our lit window. When she spotted me, she started jumping up and down, holding up a business-size envelope. Then she opened the window and called out, "Susan! You sold a story! The Woman Who Saved the World!"

She'd held the envelope up to a lightbulb so she could make out the title on the contract. (I'm surprised she didn't steam open the envelope!) We spent the rest of the night on the phone, announcing the news to friends and relatives, although I also spent quite a bit of time dancing ecstatically around the apartment.

Going to my part-time job the next day, I kept saying to myself, "I'm a writer! I'm a real writer! Now I'll always be a real writer!" Of course, that wore off pretty quickly. These days I only feel like a real writer if I've written that day or have something fairly major forthcoming in a national publication. But I remember that evening very fondly.

The part-time job was in a Word Processing Department where almost everyone was working to make rent money while also trying to make it in the arts. We had one other writer, a painter, and several singers -- one of whom was in the City Opera Chorus -- and our boss had a PhD in French Literature from Brown. So they knew what my sale meant, and all congratulated me very warmly.

It was actually a great work environment. Most of the rest of the company (this was a snooty exective-search firm) looked down on us because we were only menial word-processors, but we had wonderful conversations when we weren't busy, and some of the people whose work we typed up realized that we were all really smart and asked us for writing help. I still remember a senior vice president sidling up to my desk, asking shyly, "Can you help me with this sentence?" That's when I started to think that I might enjoy being a writing teacher.

Also, since the higher-ups depended on us for their documents, we made out like bandits at Christmas: huge boxes of Godiva chocolates, silk scarves, and other high-class treats. The life of the starving artist wasn't so bad, at that place. Years later, right before I went to grad school, I wound up in their Corporate Communications Department as an in-house writer. The job wasn't nearly as much fun as working in Word Processing, although it certainly paid better!

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I figured out the other day that one of the happy, and unexpected, side-effects of fiddle lessons is that they're helping my writing. See, I don't expect to be any good at the fiddle. I just do it because it's fun, and if I mess up -- which is more the rule than the exception -- well, I try again. It's fun even though I'm not good at it, which means that so far, I haven't had any problem practicing every day. Practice is playtime, and I actively enjoy it even when I'm doing something fairly boring and screechy, like practicing cross-string polka bowing and sending the cats howling to the far corners of the house.

Because I'm a Professional Writer (TM), though, my writing's surrounded by all kinds of expectations: mine, my publisher's, my readers'. This creates performance anxiety, which is the mortal enemy of fun, not to mention creativity. I always tell my students that writing has to feel like playtime, but I haven't been able to follow that advice myself for quite a while. Writing's become a job.

But if I write immediately after practicing the fiddle, I'm still in "I'm doing this because it's fun, and who cares if it sucks?" space, and I can stay there for my quota of two pages a day.

This makes me very happy. The fiddle lessons have already paid for themselves!

Yesterday, Gary and I went to a noontime concert series curated by our friend Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio, who also performed in yesterday's concert. She's a world-renowned violinist, an amazing musician. Afterwards, we were chatting about my fiddle lessons, and she said that for Christmas, she'll give me a half-hour lesson.

I said, "Stephanie, I'm terrible!"

She pooh-poohed me. She's taught little kids; she's used to beginners. Of course, her Suzuki students are probably much better than I am. But she also pointed out that it can be helpful to have a lesson with a different teacher, who can phrase the same points made by your regular teacher in different ways. Since I'm still having trouble with posture and left-hand position (not to mention polka bowing!), that makes sense.

This is incredibly generous of her, and I'm very touched. I just hope that my true terribleness won't make her think worse of me.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Second Opinion

Yesterday we met with our regular vet to discuss Harley's diagnosis and treatment plan. She said that while a biopsy may make sense at some point, we're not there yet. First she wants, in a few weeks, to repeat the bloodwork -- since his results could have been due to anesthesia, which the other vet didn't tell us -- and to do a special urine test. Based on those, she'll be able to get a sense of whether a biopsy would be a good idea.

In the meantime, she recommended that we start feeding him a prescription kidney diet (which means feeding it to the other cats, too, since we always have food out). We were pretty apprehensive, since we've had bad luck trying to put cats on special diets, but -- amazingly! -- all three of them like the new stuff. We're delighted. The new food's expensive, but it's worth it to me if it helps protect Harley's health. The vet said it won't hurt the others, and since all cats tend to develop kidney problems, I'm actually happy they'll be on it.

The other thing we've done, a suggestion of mine based on internet research, was to get one of those fountain water bowls where the water's always circulating and is also filtered. That way the water stays fresher, and the cats tend to drink more, which is important for kidney issues. We have the fountain in addition to the old, regular water bowl. So far, Bali and Figgy adore the fountain; we haven't seen Harley use it yet, but I'm sure he'll get around to it at some point.

The third prong of the new treatment plan is for me to brush Harley's teeth with special kitty toothpaste (malt flavored) and a special mini kitty toothbrush. This was resoundingly unsuccessful last night, but I managed to smear a little of the cream on his mouth, so if he gets used to the taste, I'm hoping he'll gradually become more amenable to the procedure.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Episcopal Life Column

I have a column in Episcopal Life this month. I'd originally submitted it to Hope and Healing; my editor there decided it wasn't quite right for the site but forwarded it to EL, who accepted it.

Anyway, I hope y'all enjoy it.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Dream Come True

For the past week or so, I've been having academic anxiety dreams every night. They're always the kind where I have to teach but can't find my classroom, and as I wander a maze of halls and stairways, I know that if I ever do find the room, the students will all have left. They fall into the general category of "can't get there from here" dreams, and have much in common with, say, dreams where I'm rushing to catch a plane flight but can't seem to get to the gate.

This morning, I had to be at a master's oral defense in the nursing program at 9 a.m. I'm not a morning person, and sure enough, I overslept, leaving myself only time for a quick shower before I had to race out of the house. I hadn't had coffee or breakfast, and hadn't even fed the cats. I wasn't sure if I'd have time to buy coffee on campus, but it was my only option.

I knew that our street was being refinished tomorrow, but all the sawhorses had gone up today. A lot of the street was closed. I wound around sawhorses, cones, construction equipment, and other cars, and managed to get to school only a few minutes later than I would have otherwise. So far, so good.

But my parking garage is at the north end of campus, and the nursing building is on the south end, at least half a mile away. When I got out of the car and looked at my watch, it was suddenly later than I'd thought. Whoops! No time to buy coffee!

Then I decided to take a shortcut through a part of campus I don't know very well. What was I thinking?

Sure enough, I found my way blocked by construction. It was now 8:55. I could see the nursing building, but couldn't get there: the sidewalk was sealed off by chainlink fences. I ducked into the building behind me to try to find an exit past the construction site, and instead wound up wandering through unfamiliar hallways which eventually led me back to the door I'd just come in. I went back outside, walked a little farther, and went into another door, from which -- at last! -- I found an exit that was past the construction. Yay!

But then I realized that I'd overshot the nursing building, and had to go backwards and up some stairs, and when I was inside I had trouble finding the room and had to ask my way.

I arrived sweaty and breathless, convinced that I was late. Luckily, the student had been having some trouble with her AV equipment, so I was actually there on time. Even more luckily, she'd brought in large cups of Starbucks coffee for everyone on the committee. Yes! And I thoroughly enjoyed the two hours we spent discussing her project, so the race was worth it.

I'm happy to report that this nightmare is much scarier when you're asleep than when you're awake. But I still hope to avoid it in the future!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Airport Chaplains!

I don't know how many of you have access to AOL -- can anyone access it these days? -- but check out this story about airport chaplains.

How totally cool! I can think of some trips when I could have used them. I'll have to remember that they're there the next time I fly!

All Saints

Happy November! We observed All Saints' Day in church today, with a table set up for photos and mementos of loved ones. I'd brought two photos of Dad in a plastic sleeve, and one of our priests prayed with me before the service. After the service, I went around showing the pictures to various friends, since only one person there had actually met Dad while he was alive.

They all listened very patiently to my stories about Dad. They asked questions and told me how handsome he was and said I look like him, and one person said I should write a book about him. I've been told that before, most memorably by the head of a search committee who was far more interested in learning about Dad than in hearing about my fiction, which this professor would have been hiring me to write if I'd gotten the job. For that and other reasons, the suggestion rankles a bit, but I may still do it sometime.

Someone else said kindly, after I'd been rattling on for a while, "How lucky you've been to have a parent who created such good memories."

Earlier in my life -- during the decades when Dad's drinking caused no end of worry and drama -- I felt distant from him, and very resentful. For that and many other reasons, I'm glad he lived long enough for us to develop a close and loving relationship, even if he drove me crazy sometimes. He drove everybody crazy sometimes, but then, so do I.

Another church friend asked this morning, "What of him do you see in yourself?"

"I'm stubborn and argumentative," I said immediately, "and I drive people nuts."

"I thought you were just thorough," said my friend, deadpan.

I laughed. "That's a kind way of putting it!"

(Someone else I know from church informed me several years ago that he could no longer have a close friendship with me because I remind him too much of his mother, who's stubborn and argumentative. I've often wished that his mother could have met my father!)

I'm grateful that Dad passed his sense of wonder on to me, along with his depressive tendencies. And we're both bright -- actually, Dad was brilliant in many ways, and my intelligence is a dim echo of his -- but I get that from my mother, too. I wish I'd inherited a greater percentage of both of their looks, but if I had to choose between that and brains, I'd definitely stick with what I have.

Anyway, my friends at church were very tolerant this morning, since many of them have heard these stories before. I felt a pressing urge to tell them, almost as if it were Dad's funeral. At this point, I don't know when we'll be scattering his ashes. I'd thought that my sister and I would go down to the Gulf this summer, but the other day she pointed out that she can't take any vacations while my mother's living with her. So unless Mom winds up in a nursing home again -- which no one wants -- it feels like we won't have physical closure on Dad until Mom dies. Kinda morbid, but that's the situation.

In the meantime, Dad's hanging out in his little white box on his red bookshelf, all quiet and peaceful-like. Quite a change from when he was alive!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday. Gary and I, as is our Halloween custom, had dinner out -- Thai appetizers for dinner -- and then had decadent desserts and drinks at a chocolate bar in town. Then we came home and watched Scrubs, with blinds drawn and outside lights off. Yes: we are terrible people who try to avoid trick-or-treaters.

Speaking of which, this afternoon we saw a fairly grisly, but fascinating, trick-or-treater enjoying a treat in our backyard. Some kind of raptor (hawk, I think, but Gary wondered if it was a falcon) had caught and killed a smaller bird and sat in our yard methodically devouring it before flying away with the rest of the carcass. The raptor was gorgeous. Gary and Bali and I were all glued to the window, watching it. It wasn't a good day for the little bird, though.

This morning was my first hospital shift since early September. It felt good to be back, but it was a strange shift. We had some heavy-duty cases, but I barely got to talk to anyone associated with them. I spent some time trying to track down the relative of an intubated patient who'd been admitted to the ICU, but that person had evidently left the building. We had a very sick child who was being transferred to the ICU of another hospital, but that bed was so surrounded by medical folks that I never even got into the room. At the very end of my shift, the victim of a violent crime came in. The case manager asked if I'd talked to the patient, and another volunteer asked if I'd talked to the patient, and I wanted to talk to the patient, but every time I went to the room, something else was happening and it wasn't the right time.

At the end of my shift, I said to the case manager, "The police are in there interviewing right now. Do you think I should stay until that's over?"

We decided that I shouldn't; the police and other medical staff were providing support, and family would be arriving soon. So I went upstairs to sign out. But on my way out, I started feeling guilty and went back. I knocked on the door and waited for a pause in the police interview to introduce myself (the officer was very nice; we'd spoken previously in the hallway). The patient didn't want to talk, but thanked me for coming by, as did the police officer. So I left feeling a little less like I'd run out on someone in dire need.

It would have been easier if I'd known that another volunter chaplain would be there later in the day, but from the schedule, it looked like that wasn't the case. Ordinarily, I try to be pretty firm about my own boundaries -- if I let myself get into "just one more patient" mode, I'd never get out of the hospital -- but this was an unusual situation. I have to admit that I was a little relieved, though, when the patient didn't want to talk.

Thank goodness for police. I don't know how they do their jobs, but I'm glad they do.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Matters Medical and Musical

I had my sleep test last night; two hours in, the tech woke me up so he could put a CPAP on me, which means I need the CPAP, which means -- we hope -- that insurance will pay for it. The Ambien didn't knock me out as much as I expected, although it was a very small dose; it probably had some effect, though, because I certainly slept much more deeply than I did during my first sleep test six years ago.

I still haven't figured out what to do about Harley. He's the big fluffy black-and-white cat, for those of you who were wondering. Claire commented that she elected not to have an expensive biopsy on a cat because the vet couldn't describe any treatment options that would result from it. We once made the same decision, for another cat, for the same reason. But this vet seemed to be saying that there may be things we can do to prolong Harley's life and comfort, and that the test will tell us a) if that's true and b) what the correct treatment would be if it is, since the correct treatment for one of the possible conditions would quickly kill him if it were another of the possible conditions.

We won't be opting for kidney transplant or dialysis, both of which are now available for cats. That's entirely too much suffering and expense for everyone involved. But if a course of steroids or antibiotics would help him, I'll happily go there. And while I might not put a much older cat through a biopsy, Harley's still fairly young, and I'd like to keep him around as long as possible. I love all our cats, but Harley's special.

Anyway, I've asked to meet with our regular vet (she's at the same hospital but wasn't there the day Harley had his dental and bloodwork) for a second opinion. For one thing, I want to talk to somebody who values cats more than curtains, or at least understands that we do. I'm sure the vet we talked to the other day didn't mean that the way it came out, but the comment bothered me. And since Gary and I came away with very different impressions of what she told us, I hope he'll come to this meeting too, so we'll at least be working with the same basic understanding of the situation.

In much happier news, my fiddle tone's getting better. I thought it was, but then Gary said it was, which made me really happy. I'm diligently practicing Egan's Polka and Angeline the Baker, although my versions are simpler and much, much slower than these YouTube examples. Charlene has me practicing a technique called "polka bowing;" she was impressed at how quickly I picked it up during this week's lesson, but I can't seem to do what she wants me to do with it at home. Gahhhh! She says that next week, I'll receive official permission to use the D string, but I suspect that depends on how well I do with the other stuff.

Anyway, fiddling makes me happy. Happy is good.

Oh: and tomorrow, I'm back to volunteering at the hospital. Yay!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oh, Heck

Yes, I know: I used to post once a day, but in through here I seem to be posting once a week. I've been busy. I have tons of grading to do, as always, and we're getting flooded with applications for our new poetry position. This is great, but reading them is time-consuming.

I've been thinking a lot about the new book and think I have some things figured out now, although I haven't actually gotten any writing done. But I believe I have more of a handle on the theme and plot than I have before. We'll see if I'm right about that!

I came home early from convention to try to get grading done. It sort of worked, but last weekend was still incredibly hectic.

I'm still practicing the fiddle every day, and feel as if I'm getting worse instead of better, but Charlene assures me that's normal. She's sick today, so we've rescheduled this week's lesson until Thursday. Thursday's also my sleep test.

Elsewhere in medical news, yesterday I talked to my freshmen a little bit about medical ethics and all the complicated factors that go into life-and-death decisions in hospitals: whether to continue with treatment, whether to unplug the machines. Driving home, I remembered agonizing over whether it was time for Dad to go into hospice, and was very relieved to be out of that territory.

And then, this afternoon, the vet called to tell us that Harley has kidney disease.

He's had borderline kidney values for years now, but they've remained pretty stable. We thought they might even be normal for him. This morning we brought him in for dental work and were afraid he might have to have teeth extracted. Turns out his teeth were fine, but his creatinine level's shot way up since March, when he last had bloodwork.

This isn't good news. The vet said that by the time damage shows up in the bloodwork, the animal's already lost 75% of kidney function. Harley's been acting normal -- although a little more clingy than usual, now that I think of it -- but he hasn't stopped eating or started gulping water, and he still uses the litterbox properly, so we really didn't have any signs.

The question is what to do now. There are four different conditions that could be causing these lab values. None are curable. Three can be treated, though, which could extend length and comfort of life. The issue is that the treatment for one of the four conditions is deadly for another, and to find out which one Harley has, he needs at least $1,000 of further testing, including a kidney biopsy.

The vet couldn't give us any kinds of figures about life expectancy, because some cats can continue happily for years and some die much more quickly. Harley's only ten, which is young for his kidneys to be doing this badly, but we had another cat once with even worse numbers who defeated the odds and lived for a long time. Harley doesn't seem at all unhappy right now; in fact, he's been playing and chasing the other cats around the house.

Gary's gut instinct is to do nothing and let nature take its course. My gut instinct -- partly because I'm an INFJ and always feel better having as much information as possible -- is to go ahead and do the tests, so at least we'll know what we're looking at. I'd feel really guilty if Harley died and I didn't know if I could have given him a longer life.

I said to the vet, "What would you do if he were your cat?"

She said promptly, "I wouldn't pay that much money, because I need new curtains for my house. I just spent $1,800 on my dog, though."

Well, okay. For her, curtains are more important than a cat. But for me, Harley's more important than a lot of things that would cost that much or more: Hawai'i over spring break; a $1,000 fiddle camp someone told me about today, an event that sounds like a blast and that I'd love to attend; WisCon (which I probably wouldn't have attended this year anyway). So I'm still inclined to go for it. He'll hate the tests, of course, but if he has something treatable and we can buy him even an extra six months . . . that's worth $1,000 to me. Would it be worth the discomfort to him?

He can't tell us. That's what makes this situation so difficult.

The vet advised us to wait a few weeks anyway, to let him recover from the indignities of dental work. (I'm also supposed to start brushing his teeth every day. Oh, joy.)

In the meantime, he's been very talkative and affectionate since he got home from the vet's, and keeps jumping into my lap. Why, here he is now.

Time to go pat the kitty.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Up in Tahoe

So today, after a very late start (partly because of the book offer), I drove up to South Lake Tahoe for our diocesan convention. The convention really starts tomorrow morning, but I wanted to get here tonight, since I'm not a morning person and business begins at 9 a.m.

The hotel offers "mountainview" rooms or "lakeview" rooms; the second are more expensive. So I booked the first, but was delighted to find that I can see a sliver of the lake anyway.

In other respects, though, the room's bizarre. I'm used to accomodations for business travelers, which this clearly isn't. Not only isn't there a coffee maker in the room -- a startling depature from the norm, although room coffee is always too weak for me anyway -- but there are only two outlets in the main room. They're across the room from the bed and almost the entire length of the room from a very small table, too heavy to move, which offers the only working surface.

The most immediate problem this poses is how to plug in the CPAP. I called housekeeping and they brought me an extension cord, which will work. I'd hoped they'd point out outlets I'd missed, but no such luck. So at night I'll recharge my computer from a bathroom outlet and use the two outlets in the room to run the CPAP and recharge my BlackBerry. Oy!

Also, the lighting's pretty lousy, and the chairs are uncomfortable. Yeah, I know. Hotel management doesn't want me in my room. They want me downstairs, giving all my money to the casino. Sorry, guys. I'm already shelling out enough of my money for internet access, at an exorbitant $12/day. For the sake of efficiency -- since I have stacks of grading to do when I'm not at the convention -- I decided to have a continental breakfast delivered to my room each morning, so I can have my coffee in the room while getting work done and won't have to shower and dress to run downstairs for java. That's $11/day, too, although the good news is that there's a Starbucks on-premises and room service will deliver from there, so I'll get real coffee, stuff strong enough to deserve the name.

This is all terribly decadent, but I have to have internet to keep on top of applications for the search committee I'm on, and I have to have coffee to feel like a human being, and it's nice to feel like a human being without having to leave the room. And hey, we may still have some zombiebucks available, plus I just sold a novel, although I won't see any of that advance for quite a while (payment used to be half on signing and half on delivery, but now it's half on delivery and half on publication).

The good news is that, since casinos never want you to leave their walls, there are always lots of places to eat, ranging from the expensive to the reasonably reasonable. I had dinner -- a tasty sandwich and fresh salad -- at the Hard Rock Cafe downstairs. Hotel restaurants usually take forever, but the service was very speedy, and my waitress was great. She seemed genuinely touched when I told her I'd tip in cash instead of on my credit card, so she wouldn't be taxed on the tip. "That's above and beyond the call of duty," she told me. But being a casino waitress has to one of the tougher jobs around, and I never understand how service workers in Tahoe can afford the rents, so if I can save her a buck or two in taxes, great.

And so to bed. I hope that Starbucks comes on time!

TSWP Unveiled!

Back in June, when I was in New York, my agent told me that Tor had requested a mainstream -- i.e., not fantasy or SF -- novel from me. She told me to prepare a proposal post-haste, which I did. And then we waited.

This morning, Tor made an offer. They'll be publishing my fourth novel, currently entitled Mending the Moon. It's about four elderly women who are close friends (and Episcopalians!); when one of them is killed, the other three have to make sense of what's happened and find ways to go forward with their own lives, while also helping their friend's adopted son. Right now the first draft is about half written, although a lot will have to change; the manuscript's due September 1, 2010, although I hope to have it done before then.

Above is an image of the talisman I bought in Northhampton this summer. I'd been looking for a moon image, and the art-glass sculpture was perfect!

Wish me luck, please. I'll post periodically about my progress.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bad Morning, Good Afternoon

I woke up this morning at 9:15 -- with fifteen minutes to get to church -- and didn't even try to make it. I rolled back over and closed my eyes. At 11:30, Gary wandered into the bedroom and said, "It looks like one of us is still in bed?"

At that point, I dragged myself upright (after he'd kindly brought me coffee!), although I felt like every limb was fifty pounds heavier. I wasn't sick; it was either depression or a grief reaction or, most likely, some combination of the two.

In any event, things quickly improved. I ate breakfast and felt a little more human, and then discovered that some folks on Ravelry had very kindly left comments telling me how to solve the double-knitting problem that's been plaguing me. Finally figuring out a new technique, and getting it to work when I picked up my project, made me feel much better.

It was now about 1:15, and Gary had left for a hike. I showered, dressed, packed up my lunch and some ice water, and got into the car to drive to Pyramid Lake, a place Dad loved and never got to see again during the five months he actually lived here. I'd written on my calendar months ago that I'd drive out there today in his memory, so I decided keep that promise to him and to myself.

The drive was very pleasant. I listened to fiddle tunes, ate my lunch, and admired the landscape. As you can see from the above photo, we had cloudy weather today, which meant that the water was steel-gray, rather than the striking turquoise it displays on sunny days. This picture can't do justice to the lake, but hardly any photo can. It's a place people have to see for themselves, and they generally either respond in terror because it's so stark and dramatic, or love it because, well, it's so stark and dramatic. Dad loved it; so does my mother, and so do I.

I didn't stay there long, but I stopped into a store that sells Piaute crafts (Pyramid Lake's on a rez). I found birthday gifts for my sister and a friend and a Christmas gift for Gary. My father would have especially liked the gift I found for Liz, so that made me happy.

When I got home, I practiced the fiddle. I'm happy to report that Felicity's been just fine (fit as a fiddle!) since I got her fixed again on Friday. Yesterday I even managed to straighten the listing bridge without breaking anything. What a relief! I can't say that I've been sounding much better this week, but I don't think I'm sounding worse, either.

So that was my day. On the way to the lake, I thought about writing a poem when I got there, but I was feeling singularly uninspired. At least the drive got me out of the house, though, which was exactly what I needed today.

Next weekend I'll be up at Lake Tahoe for our annual diocesan convention, where I'll get more than enough church to make up for having missed it today.

Cat in Luggage

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stations of the Cross

Tomorrow's the anniversary of when Dad moved out of his Philadelphia apartment and collasped in my sister's house. The day after that's the anniversary of when he left the hospital AMA to catch his flight west: the last time Liz saw him alive, the last evening I saw him without oxygen. The day after that is the anniversary of when he collapsed in our garage.

This is all weighing on me. I have five months of Lent coming up until the anniversary of his death, and it just occurred to me that maybe I should turn this into a creative project and try to generate my own stations of the cross . . . probably in the form of poems, since I lack the artistic skill to make visual icons. (Repeat ad infinitum: "It's all material.")

I have a friend who isn't sensitive to anniversaries at all. Her mom died a few years ago, and I asked her if that anniversary or her mother's birthday is difficult for her, and she looked at me like I was insane and said, "No. I don't even notice them." But the literature says this is normal, which reassures me.

If I post any parts of this project, will everyone stop reading the blog because it's too gloomy? And have any of you done projects like this yourself?


Yesterday I took Felicity into the shop, where the luthier fixed her up and also told me that it's important to tune with the pegs every day.

So this morning I tried that, and broke a string. Aaaaargh!

Back to the shop we go. I'm finding tuning more difficult than playing, even with my nifty electronic tuner. Is that normal?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009



Pop Goes Felicity

This morning I took Felicity out of her case to squeeze in half an hour of practice before work. At my lesson yesterday, Charlene taught me the beginning of a polka and told me to keep practicing Mary/Lamb with the metronome, and also worked with me on better hand position. I was eager to practice all that.

Felicity had been in fine tune yesterday, and normally I only have to make slight adjustments each time I take her out of the case. This morning, the D, A, and E strings were fine, but the G string was a mess, so loose it was flopping against the fingerboard. Perplexed, I tried to tighten the pegs.

Big mistake. There was a loud crack, and the bridge went flying across the room.

Panicked, I called Charlene, who assured me with some amusement that I hadn't broken my violin, that this happens all the time and is easy for luthiers to fix. She said temperature changes can affect strings like that, although I don't know why the G string would be the only one affected. So I'll be taking Felicity into the shop tomorrow, since I didn't have time today.

This is the first day since starting lessons that I haven't practiced. But at least I had a really good excuse.

Da Boids! Da Boids!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Honest Critic

Today my sister Skyped me, and I had a nice chat with her and my mother. My sister showed me some masks she'd made in an art workshop. I played bits o' fiddle tunes for her and my mother.

I'd practiced a lot today -- two hours -- and was tired; that, and nervousness at being in front of an audience, even a virtual one, probably accounted for the fact that my never-too-polished technique was shakier than usual. I wobbled through Mary and her little lamb, and then said, "I'm sure I'll be better by the time I see you guys in December."

"Yes," my mother said politely, "that will be lucky for all of us."

Heh! Doesn't pull any punches, that one! She actually recognized my equally shaky rendition of "Good King Wenceslas," though, so there's hope.

I should add in my own defense that my sister had asked -- nay, demanded -- that I get out the violin. So it was a command performance. Bet they don't do that again. Bwah hah hah! (And pity the poor neighbors, since I haven't been using my practice mute lately.)

Future Knitting Project

Last year, after I posted about walking the labyrinth in San Francisco, a friend sent me a pewter finger labyrinth. (Thanks again, Danielle!) Tonight I was tracing it when I suddenly realized that a labyrinth would make a very cool double-knitting pattern. For ease of charting, I found the square labyrinth above, which will be easier to transfer to graph paper than some of the other versions.

I won't be getting to this anytime soon, but it would be a terrific -- if time-consuming and ambitious -- pattern for a prayer shawl or lap blanket. If I'd thought of it sooner, I'd have attempted to make a couple of these for Christmas gifts, but that won't be happening now. The project queue has just gotten longer, though.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reno in 2011!

Reno is hosting the World Science Fiction Convention in 2011, and this weekend the bid committee flew in to look at the facilities and generally get a feel for the place. My friend Arthur Chenin invited me to a planning meeting this afternoon and a party this evening.

I felt a little out of place at the planning meeting, since I don't generally attend cons with large gaming, costuming and media elements. This WorldCon will also have an academic track, though, and that should be interesting, not to mention the fact that Gary and I look forward to catching up with many out-of-town friends. (Inez and Claire, we're holding spaces for you at Chez Palwick-Meyer. We're so glad neither of you is allergic to cats!) A lot of my students will be interested in the gaming and media events; unfortunately, WorldCon registration is expensive, and I don't know yet what the day rates will be. Someone tossed out the figure of $50, which is still a lot on a student budget. But I think maybe volunteers get discounts? At some cons they do, anyway. I need to ask about that.

I also just have to say that the Atlantis, one of the two main convention hotels -- and the one where we met today -- is already one of the most surreal spots on earth, even without costumed SF fans wandering around. I find all casinos jarring, with their chaotic color schemes and constant noise and blinking lights. Add an underwater/vaguely Caribbean theme and things get even stranger: a sushi bar plunked down in the middle of a bunch of slot machines; fake thatched huts which, from one floor up, look like segments of a sandworm, or possibly giant hairballs; a bunch of potted plants with a lifesized plastic lion lolling underneath them. I never knew lions were aquatic. Maybe the lion's responsible for the hairballs? Upstairs, in the suite where the party was held, I was very puzzled by strange, vaguely phallic projections on the arms of the chairs, until I viewed them from another angle and realized they were dolphins. (And I wasn't even drinking!)

The party was a lot of fun, with good company and nice snacks, including an excellent batch of cookies Gary baked this afternoon. I was especially moved by learning that someone on the committee reads my blog regularly and used to live near Hopewell Junction; she said she'd been hoping to meet Dad so they could talk about HJ, and told me how sorry she was that he'd died.

Me too.

Also, at the planning meeting I sat in front of a dapper fellow named Ben who wore a bow tie and looked awfully familiar. I kept thinking, "Is that Ben Yalow? It can't be. I remember Ben Yalow from my first Star Trek Convention in New York City in 1973."

He introduced himself at the party. He remembered me from when I lived in New York, although probably from my post-college days in the 80s. It was indeed Ben Yalow.

Wow. This is what's amazing about the science-fiction community: you can go to a party across the continent from where you grew up and run into someone you first encountered when you were twelve, and furthermore, you have a bunch of other people in common. Someone else at the party, a woman I met years ago -- in 1992 or thereabouts -- recently stayed with some old SF friends of mine, and gave me an update on them and their kids.

So I'm now a fully registered member of the convention, and hope to get to be on some programming. I'm sure I'll be reporting here periodically. Hard to believe that it's almost two years away!

In fiddle news, I've now sounded out credible versions of "Good King Wenceslas" and "All Creatures of Our God and King," although I have a lot of practicing to do to make them sound decent.