Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Good Docs

Yesterday was a very bad day, the kind of day that involves emergency services and insurance companies. (I'm fine. I'll post about this in more detail when doing so seems prudent.) Today, thank God, was better.

The big event was going to the rheumatologist. He and his resident, between them, spent ninety minutes with me. Can you imagine? I mean, yeah, I'm a new patient, but still! Not only did they take a detailed history and do more of an actual physical than I've had for ages now, manipulating various joints, but we talked about medical education and narrative medicine and the doc's underwater photos hanging on the office wall. He dives, so I told him about Steve's family, and talked about how even though I can't do SCUBA because of sinus issues, I love to snorkel and have swum with sea turtles off Maui.

Medically, I left them puzzled. I always do this to doctors. I'm the Queen of Inconclusive Symptoms. According to the doc, the arthritis in my knee isn't connected to the positive ANA, but I don't have symptoms that would suggest what's causing the positive ANA; furthermore, everything else in my bloodwork (specifically sed rate and rheumatoid factor) is normal. He says there's no such thing as a "false positive" ANA; a positive is a positive, although some people are positive and normal otherwise. He's rechecking the ANA -- especially since the previous lab didn't give numbers, which are important -- and is also testing for antibodies specific to Sjogren's Syndrome, since I have a number of symptoms that fit with that diagnosis (but also fit with other things, like living in the driest state in the country).

It would be pretty funny if I had Sjogren's, since Gary's mom has it. Yet more proof that men marry their mothers! I don't think I have Sjogren's, though.

Anyway, we'll see what the bloodwork shows. If the antibodies aren't there and the ANA titer's low, we figure I'm fine; if antibodies are there and/or the titer's high, I've got something. I'm pretty sure I'm fine, though, except for the blasted knee.

I started having trouble with the knee about fifteen years ago, when he says I was too young for osteoarthritis, although I definitely have that now. (I've got some fluid on the knee, although only a bit.) He's put me on a new anti-inflammatory, Relafen, for the knee pain. Relafen's easier on the stomach than ibuprofen, but it's a generic and only costs $5/month, versus the $100/month the pharmacies want for Celebrex.

I'll be very happy if this stuff works. In the meantime, I'm very happy to have met two nice doctors.

I also wrote today, and knit a little, although I neither swam nor walked. Still, a much better day than yesterday!

Harley on the Bookcase

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I got home last night, after a pleasant time in Boston with my cousin Steve, his wife Barbara and their son Scott. (Their younger son Shane was at sleepaway camp in Maine.) They live in Singapore now, where Steve teaches human genetics and computational biology at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, and they showed me a lot of photos. It looks like a gorgeous place, but they warned me that it's extremely hot and humid. When I complained about the humidity in Boston, they burst out laughing and said, "Susan, this is not humid!"

Well, to someone from Reno it is. Also, Singapore's very far away (something like nineteen hours on a plane) and Gary can't stand even three hours on a plane, so I doubt we'll get there anytime soon, although I could go by myself. It would be more fun with him, though. Anyway, it was interesting to listen to their stories. All four of them are certified in SCUBA now; the highlight of their adventures so far has been diving with manta rays.

Speaking of airplanes, it turned out that I had enough frequent flyer points on United to upgrade to first class on my Boston-San Francisco leg (the small plane back to Reno doesn't even have first class). Was that ever the right move! I had plenty of room and good food, and the meal was served on linen, no less. What a treat! Of course, I was using up twelve years of points, so it will be another twelve years before I can do anything like that again. Worth waiting for, though!

This morning I got up early, worked on TSWP, swam, ate lunch, and took a three-hour nap. So much for productivity. I'm delighted to be home with Gary and the cats, but the sight of my chaotic office -- not to mention two long to-do lists -- fills me with dread.

Ah well. One has to come back to everyday life sometime.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I found my talisman today. (In bed last night, I realized that my previous blog post had talked repeatedly about "talismanic object," which is a phrase I'd immediately strike out on a student paper and replace with "talisman." I'm surprised Gary didn't call me on that!) Anyhow, Val and I went into one of her favorite shops in Northampton, which I'd somehow missed on my shopping expedition the other day, and I told them what I was looking for, and the owner immediately pulled a glass-and-wood sculpture out from underneath a shelf and said, "Here you go." She'd nailed it; it was exactly what I'd been looking for. (And yes, I'll post a photo when TSWP goes public.)

The owner said they'd had it in the shop for a while -- it was dusty -- and although it had originally been $170, she sold it to me for $65 plus tax, and even threw in free shipping to Reno. It was obviously waiting for me. Gary's taking it as a sign that TSWP was fated. We'll see if other people agree.

We also got my travel arrangements made for tomorrow. I'd thought (silly person!) that getting from Amherst to Logan Airport would be easy, given the sheer density of colleges around here, but not so. Turns out most of the students use Hartford Airport. From here to Logan, I'd have to take two busses, pay $205 for an airport shuttle (!), or do a bizarre bus-and-two-subways combo. And the knee's not great, and I have lots of luggage.

So what we've worked out is that I'll take one bus to Boston. My cousin Steve's wife Barbara will pick me up at the station, and the three of us (maybe their older boy, too? I think the younger's at camp) will have dinner and go to the Museum of Fine Arts, which is open late tomorrow, and then they'll take me to the hotel. On Saturday, I'll check out and they'll pick me up and put all my luggage in the car, and we'll go do something, and then they'll drop me at the airport for my 3:00 flight.

I'm really grateful that they're willing to do all this schlepping; it makes my life much easier! And I can't wait to see them. They moved to Singapore a year ago, but are back in Boston for their younger son's Bar Mitzvah (which I couldn't attend because it was last weekend, when I was at the Narrative Medicine workshop). I doubt I'll be getting to Singapore anytime soon, and who knows when they'll get back here, so the fact that we're all in this vicinity at the same time is a blessing.

Speaking of Bar Mitzvahs, today Val and Bruce and I went to the National Yiddish Book Center, dedicated to saving the Yiddish language. It started when a graduate student working on Yiddish put out a personal ad asking for Yiddish-language books and found himself besieged, largely by elderly people whose children and grandchildren weren't interested in the books, and who wanted to find safe homes for them. We watched a video where he tells the story of his first collecting trip. An old man had contacted him and said, "I have all these books, but I can't travel. Can you come to me?" So he did, and found the man in an apartment containing a bed, a table, and almost nothing else but books. The man insisted on telling the story of each book as he handed it over, and when they were done, he said, "Now we can go to my neighbors' apartments. They all have books for you, too." The old man lived in a twelve-story building, and every resident had books in Yiddish, and all of them insisted on telling the collector about each book as they handed it over to him. Many of them were crying.

There's also a small collection of objects found in the books: coins, pressed flowers and butterflies, a letter from Albert Einstein.

Amazing place.

Val and Bruce have started work on dinner, so I should go over to help them, and/or work on TSWP. I got a paragraph done today, which is better than nothing!

Val and Susan on top of Mt. Holyoke

Here I am (right) with my cousin. Her husband Bruce took the photo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Little Piece of Utopia

Yesterday was wonderful. When I woke up, I knit and wrote a few pages of The Secret Writng Project (hereafter referred to as TSWP). That all made me feel very virtuous.

Then I wandered around Northampton, browsing the cute little shops. At some point in nearly every significant project, I look for a talismanic object, something that represents what I'm writing about. I had a very clear image of the talismanic object I'd like for TSWP, but while I found a few things that were close, none were ideal (and all were too expensive). So I held off, and instead went to Webs, the largest yarn store in North America, which includes not only a warehouse-sized store but an actual warehouse filled with mill ends and factory seconds. This place has everything, including looms, spinning wheels, roving, you name it.

Overwhelmed, I limited myself to one skein of sale yarn and a pair of ebony circular needles. They're crafted from scrap ebony left over from making piano keyboards -- how cool is that? -- and feel fabulous, smooth and light, with just enough grip. The store sells rosewood needles, too (also glass knitting needles . . . oy!), but those were more expensive.

In the evening, Deirdre and I went to the local Y, only a few blocks from her house, which houses one of the loveliest pools I've ever seen: clean, cool, and huge. I swam for 40-45 minutes, and then we went back to Deidre's house and had a delicious dinner of grilled asparagus, tomatoes and chicken. And then Deirdre and I stayed up until midnight talking.

Fun facts about Northampton: Deirdre can't volunteer at the local Food Bank because they have too many volunteers. She's on a waiting list. Similarly, there's some homeless feeding program a friend of hers helps out with; the friend's organization (church, maybe?) can only host this once a year, though, because too many other organizations want to do it too. When I was browsing in town, I went into a boutique whose owner is deeply concerned about the fact that kids aren't getting free hot lunches during the summer, when school's out. So she's having a food drive: anyone who brings in a nonperishable food item will get a 20% discount on that person's entire purchase. She proudly described bringing something like a gazillion pounds of food to the Food Bank (where, as we now know, volunteers are drawing straws, or possibly competing in yoga tournaments, for the honor of sorting the donations).

Yowsa. Why can't the rest of the world work this way?

On the negative side, there are a lot of insects here, including biting ones. Also, entirely too much water in the air, even when it's not actually raining.

On a more serious note, after the Virginia Tech murders I wrote a post about my feelings about the death penalty. In that post, I said that the son of a family friend had committed a brutal crime and might very well be facing the death penalty. Yesterday, I learned that he was sentenced to life without parole instead. For his mother's sake, Liz and Gary and I are all very relieved. My father would have been, too. I wish he were still here so I could talk to him about it.

Today I made the switch over to my cousin Val's house. It's great to see her and her husband Bruce again. We've been having a fun, chatty visit, and tomorrow we'll tour Emily Dickinson's stomping grounds and other local attractions. Val and Bruce invited Deirdre over for dinner tomorrow night, so I'll get to see her one last time before I head on to Boston, and then back West.

And now to bed!

Deirdre and Zelda-dog

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lovely New England

I got to Penn Station hours ahead of time this morning and had a pleasant visit with my friend Alan, who works and lives nearby and popped into the waiting room to say hi. We've known each other since high school, but haven't seen each other for twenty-five years, so it was great to visit with him, however briefly.

The train ride to Amherst, through the never-ending rain (will I ever see the sun again?) was peaceful and pleasant. I got a lot of knitting done on a hostess gift for Deirdre and listened to music. I did not, alas, get any work done on the Secret Project, but I will! I promise! Soon!

Deirdre and I haven't seen each other for four years, since she moved East from Reno. She was my best friend at church and helped me through some truly gnarly times, so I was just delighted to see her again. it appears to be mutual! She gave me a very brief tour of Amherst and Northampton, both of which are so charming you could just go into sugar shock, especially after the dreary lack of architecture in many Reno neighborhoods. All the houses here look like something out of a children's story or a Christmas card (if it were winter); gingerbread trim, fantastic roofs and chimneys, lawns so green they look painted.

Deirdre said that for her first two years here, everything she saw made her exclaim, "Oh look, how cute! It's just so cute! How can everything here be so cute?"

We went out to dinner with Deirdre's boyfriend Skip and her daughter Morgan. Afterwards, Skip drove us around so I could see more of town, especially the Smith campus. (Deirdre had shown me Amherst College and UMass Amherst earlier.) Then we went back to Deirdre's house, which is as charming as everything else around here. We sat on her porch and drank tea and caught up on each other's lives, and i admired and patted, when the animals allowed it, her dog and three cats. They are, of course, very cute.

I also called my cousin Val in Amherst and made arrangements to get to her house on Wednesday. I haven't seen her since her brother's funeral two years ago, and I'm looking forward to spending time with her under happier circumstances.

Tomorrow I'm going to wander downtown -- nearly everything's within walking distance here, another plus -- and check out the shopping. Deirdre tells me that one of the yarn stores here is the largest in the country. Bwah-hah-hah! I hope they ship!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Today was the last day of the Narrative Medicine workshop. I woke up nice and early, but still rushed out the door to get to the conference on time. There was a birthday party here yesterday for Larry and Laura's daughter Nicola, who's ten today; the party activities included building geodesic domes out of toothpicks and mini-marshmallows. Very cool! But the family also has a no-shoe rule in the house, so as I came downstairs this morning, I stepped on a bent, upward-sticking toothpick. It pierced the sole of my foot, resulting in a fair amount of bleeding. So I had to hobble back up to the second floor, where Laura and the kids were, to get a bandaid.

My foot's fine now, and several doctors at the workshop told me that while it's probably a good idea to get a tetanus booster, I can wait until I get back to Reno; I don't need a $1,000 ER tetanus shot.

We did a lot of great stuff today. The morning started with a terrific lecture about Narrative Humility, the willingness to have your own perceptions twisted upside-down by a stranger's story or observation. Then we broke into small groups and did an interviewing exercise. We paired up with a partner. For five minutes, Person A told Person B whatever story felt most pressing to tell at that moment. For the next five minutes, A wrote how it had felt to tell the story, and B wrote "what you heard." This could be a verbatim transcription, observations about how A told the story, B's responses to the story, or -- most commonly -- some mixture of the three. Then, for yet another five minutes, B told a story to which A listened, after which B wrote about the telling and A about the listening.

It was a very productive session. We heard fascinating stories, equally provocative responses to them, and then engaged in thoughtful (and thought-provoking) analysis.

After lunch, though, I started to fade. The afternoon plenary was about the process of witnessing in medicine. The speaker was very funny and told wonderful stories, but I kept looking for some overarching argument and not finding it (completely my fault, I'm sure). Then we went back to our small groups for the last time, this time without a faculty facilitator, unless we requested one; we were also given an activity, although it was optional.

My group was already down several people who'd had to leave early. When I got to the room, three of the other members were having a long discussion about saying good-bye: when it's comfortable, when it's not, good and bad ways to handle it in a group setting, etc.

Ordinarily I'd have enjoyed the conversation, but today it reminded me too much of Dad. The last time I saw him, before I left the nursing home to go back to the house for dinner, he said "good-bye," very distinctly and forcefully, twice. I didn't let myself know or think about what that meant; I missed my final chance to say farewell to him, to tell him I loved him. I don't have many regrets, but that moment of denial on my part is definitely one of them, and the conversation was like salt in a wound.

As a result, I was a bit cross and snappish during the group activity, through which we took shortcuts. For instance, we'd been given a writing exercise, but we didn't write -- just talked through the exercise -- because someone in the room was tired of writing. I think everyone had hit a wall, and a few people were impatient to leave. There wasn't the sense of focused attention there'd been for the rest of the weekend; everyone, at least to me, seemed distracted.

It was still a great weekend, though. The faculty and other students were amazing, and I feel privileged to have met them and worked with them.

Oh, I have to share a story someone told me during a break, and which I have his permission to post here. He's an addiction doctor, and we talked about how stigmatized addicts are, and he said that their medical caregivers are often stigmatized by other medical professionals, too: "Why would you want to do that? I said that my family experience has taught me never to give up on anyone, and told him my mother's story. In return, he shared a story from his own practice.

A family contacted him and asked him to admit an 83-year-old man, an alcoholic, into a detox unit. The doctor's colleagues, even the other addiction specialists, were very skeptical. "He's been drinking for so long that detoxing will probably kill him." The patient had reluctantly agreed, though, and his daughters desperately wanted him to have the treatment, so the doctor agreed. The patient was admitted for a standard seven-day stay, and discharged to home and AA meetings.

A year later, the patient's daughters called to tell the doctor that their father had just died. He'd been sober since his hospitalization, though, and they wanted to thank the doctor for what he'd done. They'd finally gotten to know their father without alcohol in his system, with that barrier removed. They'd had a year of relationship with their dad, learning who he really was for the first time, and that was priceless to them.

This is why we need doctors who aren't burned out and embittered, who are willing to see patients as people instead of stereotypes. Go, addiction medicine!

And the adventure continues. Tomorrow: Amtrak to Amherst!

Three Months

In his photo album, my father kept several Father's Day and birthday cards Liz and I had given him. The fact that today's the three-month anniversary of his death makes the Hallmark holiday much more poignant than usual.

In one of our small-group sessions at the Narrative Medicine workshop yesterday, we were given the prompt, "Write about someone whose suffering moved you," and then wrote for ten minutes. Here's what I wrote.
Ambulance Chasing

Through the ambulance window, I see your face, white and glowing. It's raining. I follow the ambulance as closely as I dare. We're on the highway, but it's late, a Monday night; there's not much traffic.

Dad, for almost all your life I feared your drowning as your father did, a suicide, that final visit to the river. They called you to identify the bloated body. For years I saw you bloated with alcohol, living on your sailboat; I feared a fall, or worse.

Instead, you moved to the desert to be near me. I never realized you could drown in the desert, too, the fluid from your CHF rising like tides responding to the moon. Tonight the paramedics said your lungs were almost full.

But you don't want to die, not now. You're going to the hospital, your face the moon I follow through the rain, my own face wet with tears.

Three weeks from now you'll die. The fluid from your skin will soak the sheets. I'll always have known it's you. I never lost you underneath the water. I kept close and watched you breathe.
This piece is about Dad's last ride to the hospital on March 2. The image of the ambulance window -- that rectangle of light, with his whiter face centered in it -- has haunted me, and I'm glad I wrote about it, even for ten minutes. I may do something more with this at some point. We'll see.

Other highlights from yesterday: Talking to Marsha Hurst about the MS program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia, which I'd dearly love to do. Taking a year off for a $50,000 (!) degree isn't feasible, though. They're trying to figure out how to start a low-residency program, which would be much more practical. That's for the future, though.

Also, I had a lovely dinner with Daphne Noyes, the Episcopal deacon and chaplain. We talked about family and loss and chaplaincy and parish life. It was a great conversation.

I didn't write yesterday, because I overslept and had to race to the workshop without even showering. I did better today -- I've had coffee and eaten breakfast, and I'm obviously blogging -- but I doubt I'll write today, either. Maybe tonight, if I'm not too tired.

Happy Father's Day, and if whomever you call father's still alive, cherish him.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Narrative Medicine Workshop, Day One

The first day of the workshop was great. Rita Charon greeted me at the door of the conference room and, when I introduced myself, said, "We're so glad you're here! We were just talking about your blog!" Evidently some of the Narrative Medicine faculty at Columbia read it; Rita told me later, "You're our PR person." That's a bit of an overstatement, but the recognition was still flattering.

During the registration meet-and-greet, I mentioned to Rita that I'm doing a Narratve Med freshman-comp course in the fall. She grabbed my arm and pulled me over to a young woman who's at the workshop to figure out if she wants to go to medical school, but whose faculty mentor from college has done a lot of work with both Narrative Med and composition. "You," Rita said to the young woman, "have to introduce Susan to Ann," and then walked off to let us get acquainted.

The participants are diverse and fascinating. There's a psychotherapist who specializes in clients with chronic and terminal illness; a writer who started a volunteer program pairing professional writers with cancer patients, who work on a writing project of their choice; an oral historian who specializes in trauma narrative; a massage therapist who treats patients with chronic pain; and a family physician practicing refugee medicine in Canada. And that's just a few of the thirty-odd people at the workshop. Quite a bit of geographical diversity, too, with attendees from Canada, the UK, Israel, and South Korea, not to mention from all over the U.S.

And, of course, three of us are chaplains (although I'm really there more as university faculty). The other two chaplains are lovely people, and the one in my small group is an amazing close reader.

It was a busy afternoon. We registered, attended two plenary sessions in an auditorium, moved back to the main conference room to sit in a large circle and introduce ourselves, and then broke into small groups (we'll be working with the same peers all weekend, although faculty will rotate) to do a bit of writing. My group's leader for the first session was Rita Charon herself, and the writing prompt was: "Tell me the story of your name." We had four minutes to write, and she asked us to read aloud exactly what we'd written. We could opt out of reading aloud if we chose, but no one did.

You can't write much in four minutes, and the prompt didn't especially interest me. I was amazed by the results, though. The group analyzed each person's short text in great detail, and in my case, at least, the results were remarkably perceptive. The other group members came out knowing a bit more about my psychology than I'd have chosen to reveal to strangers!

The point of this, of course, was that all writing reveals self, but that the writer him or herself often doesn't see what a reader will. I could have told you that from twelve years of teaching fiction workshops, but being on the receiving end from a group -- rather than one or two individuals -- was both fascinating and unnerving. (Another, even more basic point is that we learn who we are only by narrating our histories, by being our own witnesses to the creation of our own stories.)

After the small-group session, we all went out for a buffet dinner at a nearby Dominican restaurant, and then I walked the fifteen minutes home to Larry and Laura's. I'm hoping to get to sleep early tonight. For one thing, the workshop resumes at 8:30 tomorrow morning (luckily, there's a place across the street that sells very strong coffee!), and for another, I wrote a few pages of a New Secret Project today before the workshop started, and hope to write another few tomorrow.

All will be revealed when I'm able, but it's too soon now.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Moving Uptown

It rained really hard today. I was very glad to have my Goretex and my Dansko clogs, both of which are ideal for sloshing through a lot of water. The inside of my backpack got slightly wet, but the computer's okay, thank goodness. (It's in a protective neoprene sleeve, but one still worries.)

I had lunch today with John Shorb, my editor at Hope and Healing. He's signed on for another year and wants another twelve columns from me, so we came up with a list of topics. He's a great guy, smart and funny and fun to talk to, so the lunch was both productive and pleasant.

Then I went back uptown to Claire's apartment, finished packing, and -- by some miracle -- managed to get a cab right in front of her building. The cabbie had his off-duty sign on, but he was headed in my direction and agreed to give me a ride.

My friends Larry and Laura, whom I've known since college (we were all in the Princeton Science Fiction Society together) own an amazing brownstone in Harlem, at 153 and St. Nicholas. They're close to Columbia Presbyterian, so it will be easy for me to get back and forth from the Narrative Medicine workshop. And I love their house, three stories of dark, inlaid hardwood floores, (nonworking) fireplaces, tall ceilings, and beautiful details like the carved stairway bannisters. I have my own bedroom with a private bath; the door to the bathroom has a leaded window, and inside there's a deep, old-fashioned tub. The house feels like the setting for a fantasy story.

Larry told me that they bought the place for a song eight years ago, and then had to have virtually everything inside redone. But it was worth it! You don't find a lot of places like this in New York anymore; they've all been cut up into individual apartments (and Larry and Laura have a family renting a basement apartment).

Larry and Laura have two sweet and lively daughters, Nicola and Eleanor. I have to say that one of the great pleasures of this trip has been seeing my old friends parent so capably. Claire and Pete's son Nathan is a delight, and so are Larry and Laura's girls.

Once I'd gotten settled here, I headed down to the West Village -- via subway, this time -- for a sushi dinner with Ellen Datlow. Ellen has the world's coolest collection of stuff and two of the world's cutest cats (although mine are cuter, natch). We hadn't seen each other in ages, and really enjoyed catching up. Unfortunately, her father's having health issues, as is Larry's. In fact, nearly all my friends' parents are having health issues. We're at that age, aren't we?

Ooops: lots of sirens outside. I think I've discovered the downside of beinb so close to Columbia Presbyterian. But I grew up a block from a hospital, so I'm sure I'll tune the sirens out in no time.

Dinner Pic!

Here, as promised, is a photo of the gang at dinner last night. From left to right: Elena Galliard, Ed Galliard, Moi, Claire Wolf Smith, Pete Wolf Smith, Gordon Van Gelder. Ruth Singleton took the photo on Elena's camera; I'm grateful to Elena for sending it to me, and to Gary for making it small enough for my computer to handle.

A fine time was had by all!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Busy Day

This afternoon, Claire and I went to her favorite yarn shop, where I bought some silk yarn (on sale!), and where we also sat and knit for several hours. I got the knot undone! Yay! We chatted with other knitters about projects, yarn, TV shows, elementary education, and family. It was great fun.

Then I went downtown about thirty blocks to meet my agent Kay for drinks. My editor friend Patrick couldn't make it, but Kay and I had a very pleasant and productive visit. (There may be a new writing project in the works: watch this space for details.)

Then I went back uptown to meet a group of friends for dinner at an Indian restaurant. Someone else took photos -- my camera doesn't work well in spaces that dark -- which I'll post when I receive them. We chatted about mutual friends, books, politics, Unitarian jokes, handling parents' estates, and knitting.

Now I'm back in Claire and Pete's apartment. I'm simultaneously exhausted and wired, and very much looking forward to tomorrow's social whirl.

Claire at Lunch

Back in NYC

I arrived at my friend Claire's house last night, after a very pleasant trip. In my younger, more frugal, less arthritic days, I'd have taken SEPTA to Trenton and then taken NJ Transit to Penn Station, and then taken three subways to Claire's house. But now that I'm older and creakier, not to mention dragging entirely too much luggage, I decided to treat myself to Amtrak straight from Philly to NYC, followed by a cab to Claire's. Expensive, but totally worth it!

It's wonderful to see Claire and her husband and son again. It's great to be back in Manhattan; I've missed the energy of the city, although I know I'll appreciate the peace and quiet of Reno when I go back home.

My last night in Philly, I fell again -- down the two bottom stairs to the living room -- although I didn't wake anyone up that time! I now have new and interesting bruises. I haven't fallen or walked into anything since getting to Claire's, though, and I hope to remain fall-free for the rest of the trip.

Claire took the day off to hang out with me. Yay! We're going to go to her favorite knitting store, and at 5:00 I'm getting together for drinks with my agent and one of my editors, and at 7:30 there will be a group dinner with old friends I haven't seen for a long time. Tomorrow's lunch with another editor, and dinner with a third (all the editors are also friends). So it's quite the social whirl, but this is exactly the kind of reconnection, both social and professional, that I've needed after months of grief and (relative) isolation, not to mention writer's block. I'm hoping that the reconnections will help get me back into writing mode again. Claire's already helped by listening to me talk about stalled projects, and by demanding to read a piece I've been struggling with.

The knitting knot is now smaller, and I hope to have it resolved entirely by the time I leave Claire's. She points out that the tangle's a good metaphor for my creative life right now.

Gary wants me to take pictures, which I'll post when I have them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Meeting Dr. Dino

Today I sat around, trying without success to untangle the mess-o-yarn (which is, as I pointed out to Gary, a fitting metaphor for my life), and then went swimming for the first time since I've been here. Swimming felt great, except when I bashed my head against the end of the pool. The last time I did that was the week before Dad died. Tomorrow I leave for NYC, where, as Gary pointed out to me, I may be physically safer.

In the meantime, though, something really cool happened: I got e-mail from #1 Dinosaur saying, "You're in Philly? Want to meet up? It would be fun to put a face to the blog!" (Lest anyone be alarmed for my safety, my sister and I spoke to Dr. Dino on the phone several months ago, after I got an e-mail saying, "Your mom's in the hospital and homesick for pets? How about a visit from my dog?" That plan didn't work out, so we didn't meet in person, but Liz and I were fairly sure we weren't dealing with an axe murderer.)

The upshot of this was that the esteemed doc stopped by the house after dinner, and met Liz and Lloyd and Mom, and patted kitties and ate chocolate. We talked for three solid hours about blogging, writing, healthcare reform, American attitudes towards medicine, end-of-life care, cats, chocolate, family, grief, TV shows, and the challenges of running a personal practice. I can now happily report that #1 Dino is as funny and smart in person as in cyberspace. It was a terrific visit, and I hope we can do it again sometime.

One of the more interesting parts of the discussion was our debate about how to define "medicine." Dr. D. wanted to limit it to the scientific aspects, which would leave out many people on the healthcare team (chaplains, social workers, etc.). I wanted a broader definition. Okay, said Dr. D, what about breaking it into the art and science of medicine? Too blurry a dichotomy, I said. We didn't get the issue settled, but it's interesting food for thought.

Maybe the wider idea I wanted was simply 'healthcare," with science-based medicine a necessary but not sufficient component: true healthcare, in that model, is bigger than mere medicine, as essential as medicine may be. That's the best solution I can suggest right now, anyway. Healthcare incorporates science, art, policy considerations, economics, sociology, and any number of other disciplines. This leaves Dr. D's initial definition intact, but also makes medicine only part of the picture.

Anyway, it was a lively discussion, good for the brain. After Dr. D left, I watched TV with Mom and Liz. Tomorrow I'll do laundry and, i hope, swim again -- without mishap this time! -- before catching my train for Part II of the Great Adventure: New York City!

Stay tuned!

Susan Goes Boom

The guest bedroom where I'm staying is narrow. Right inside the folding door, there's a small rocking chair I had as a child. I love rocking chairs, but I also have a particular knack for bruising my ankles on the rockers. I've been tripping regularly over this one.

Last night, after everyone else was in bed, I headed to the bathroom. As I left the bedroom, I managed to put my foot through the leg of the rocking chair, which sent me crashing through the folding door -- tearing it partially off its hinges -- and into the hallway, where I knocked over one of the house's many litter boxes in the process of falling.

I landed with a very loud thump and immediately thought, Liz will think something happened to Mom. Mom came charging out of her bedroom (or creeping unusually quickly, anyway, since she has trouble walking) saw me on the floor, and said, "I thought that was a cat! I couldn't imagine what had happened!" Meanwhile, Liz had come racing up from downstairs to check on Mom.

I sat there laughing as both of them gaped at me. "I'm fine," I said, and I was, and I am this morning, too. I have a bruise on my ankle, but nothing's sore, swollen, or unusable. I have, however, moved the rocking chair into another room, the one with the broken computer.

Reminders of my stay here will include a broken computer and a damaged door. I hope I don't do anything worse before I leave!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Family Fun

Emotions are running a bit high today. My sister got upset at my mother; I got upset at my sister; my mother upset me (night unto tears) by telling me how 'needy" i am; my sister got upset at me, and around and around we go.

We all still love each other, of course. It's not like these things haven't happened before. Everybody's just especially vulnerable right now. Amazing, though, how being back in the bosom of my nuclear family can make me feel like I'm five again.

In other news, the upstairs computer still isn't working. Neither my nephew nor my brother-in-law could get it to reboot today. Everyone assures me that I didn't break it, although it may have broken while i was on it.

Knitting on the ocean scarf was going along swimmingly, so I decided to go back to the previous problem project. After some gnarly rows, i've gotten that straightened out -- I think -- so I went back to the ocean scarf, and promptly wound up with a huge tangle. The problem with rayon is that it doesn't stick to itself the way wool does, so the ball tends to fall apart. I'm keeping it in a ziplock bag with a small opening for the center-pull yarn, but a huge clump got pulled out of the center, and now the clump is completely snarled. I'm trying to untangle it and rewind it on a cardboard tube, but the tangle's proving stubborn. I'll go back to it tomorrow, when I'm feeling fresher and more patient.

So much for comfort knitting!

Another Philly Kitty!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Okay, I got AOL working and managed to download the photos. What a relief!

Mom really has trouble walking, even with a walker, and watching her try to manage stairs is awful. She can do it, but she has to cling to a bannister with both hands and haul herself up each step as if she's climbing Everest. Nonetheless, she wanted to go on the jewelry expedition today, and she wanted to take her walker, not her wheelchair, so that's what we did.

Yesterday, Liz and I went to a large craft shop where she got supplies for her students to make Father's Day gifts. I looked at the yarn, but saw nothing I liked. I did, however -- in the beading section -- find this cool agate pendant, which is solid black, although the undulations in the stone give it a subtle cross shape. The label said it was a "swirl agate" and that the shape occurs naturally (the store had them in a variety of colors), but I can't find anything like that on the Internet, so I'm suspicious. In any case, it was a neat find for under $5, so I got it, but then I needed a chain for it, which I figured I'd get while we were jewelry shopping today.

Mom wanted to buy things for me and Liz, but before that could happen, we convinced her to buy this absolutely gorgeous necklace, which also cost much more than any of us had planned to spend. It was an extravagant purchase, and it's not like she needs more jewelry, but she loved the piece, and it made her happy, and anything that can give her pleasure and energy is a good thing.

Under the circumstances, though, I didn't want her to spend a lot on me, especially since I'd picked out several things to take home: the earrings and pendant shown here, along with the chain -- which will also work for the agate -- and a tiny pair of inexpensive turquoise studs. So I told her she could buy me one of those items. She sulked and told me she'd get all of them (as the saleswomen watched with amusement), but I wore her down, so she bought me the pendant and I paid for the other things. Maybe I should have let her buy everything, because that would have made her happy, too, but Liz had only picked out one pair of earrings, and i wanted to be fair.

We had a yummy, filling lunch at a Chinese restaurant next door, and then Liz remembered that there was a yarn store somewhere in town. It took us several false starts to find the store. Liz decided to drop me there and stay in the car with Mom, who was already worn out from the hour's drive to Skippack followed by shopping and lunch. Since Mom was lying down in the back seat, though, Liz told me to take my time. I'd tried to take pictures of Mom wearing her necklace at lunch and she'd gotten annoyed at me, so I was a bit rattled. I wound up spending much longer at the yarn place than I'd intended, partly because the owner obligingly searched for a second skein of some sale yarn, with no luck, and partly because the yarn I did buy -- a gorgeous, and pricey, skein of Blue Heron rayon/metallic -- needed to be wound into a ball, which took some time even with a yarn swift and winder.

Then, when I got back outside, I couldn't find the car. Liz had to honk to get my attention. As we pulled out of the parking lot, it started pouring: can't-see-anything-even-with-wipers-on-max, instant-roadway-flooding rain, furious and loud on the roof of the car. We pulled off the road for a few minutes, hoping the rain would ease, which it finally did a bit, but then Liz stopped at a garden shop to dash inside for some plants while I stayed with Mom.

The upshot was that everyone was tired and a bit frazzled when we got home. Mom couldn't find her new necklace because she didn't realize she was still wearing it. She had so much trouble getting up from the dinner table that I was afraid she wouldn't make it at all, and she cried out in pain when I tried to help her. When we got her upstairs -- using the wonderful elevator chair Liz and her husband had installed -- her feet were swollen in a way that made me flash back to Dad (she has CHF, like he did; Liz will give her extra Lasix tomorrow if her feet are still swollen then). I was feeling complicated mixtures of grief and misery and guilt.

Liz and I had decided to do needlework -- knitting for me, crochet for her -- after Mom went to bed. I'd intended to work on my current project, which has devolved into a mess, but Liz wanted to see what the new yarn looked like knitted up, and I wanted to work on an easy, satisfying project, so I started one of my tried-and-true diagonal garter-stitch scarves. This one's for me. The yarn color is called 'deep water," and the short repeats of aqua, purple and blue, along with the glinting silver metallic thread, indeed make the scarf look like a swath of the ocean. As I hope you can see from this photo, the scarf goes very well with the whale-tail earrings i got on our first trip to Maui. The rayon's also a dream to work with, although I'm told it needs to be dry-cleaned (ugh . . . but how often does one wash scarves?).

The knitting relaxed me, which is what i wanted it to do, and now I've also blogged. Huzzah! Tomorrow, we're going to try to take Mom out for a shorter excursion, but we'll see what happens.

SNAFU Epidemic

I've been having computer problems since I got here. Neither my sister nor my nephew were able to get Sally Samsung to connect to Liz's home network, even though Vera VAIO always did fine (which means that it's not some mismatch between their Mac and my PC). No problem: I'll just use their computers, right?

This evening I'd planned a long post, with lots of photos, about our jewelry shopping trip today, my latest yarn purchase, Mom's condition and my reaction to it (short version: I've fled into comfort knitting), yada yada. But when I tried to use the upstairs computer, it got hung up switching between web pages, so i turned it off and then back on, but it didn't come back: all I got was a blank white screen, no matter how long I waited.

So now i'm downstairs, where the Mac's working, but where I can't seem to sign into AOL. And right now, I don't have the patience to thumb replies on the BlackBerry or to set up the Bluetooth keyboard; I've had it with computers tonight!

So if I owe you e-mail, I probably won't be answering it for a while, unless by some miracle AOL's working when I finish this post. If it's still not working tomorrow, I'll use the Bluetooth keyboard -- thank goodness i brought it! -- but in the meantime, i think I killed the upstairs computer.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Purry Kitty

Here's my sister patting George, their largest and most doglike kitty. Note thunderpurr at the end!


In other news, I'm having a nice visit with Mom, despite several "what planet are we on?" conversations. The weather here is vile, gray and humid, although the sun has come out a little today. I've been lazy and haven't been swimming, although I've walked a bit.

My mother pointed out, astutely, that this visit is more relaxing for me than visits have been for the past several years, because Dad's no longer with us. If he still lived in Philly, I'd be travellling back and forth; if he were still in Reno, I'd be worrying about him while I was away. This way, I can just spend time with her.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Percy Kitty

One of my sister's six cats!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

And I'm Off!

I'm blogging from the airport, waiting for my 6:30 flight. I got up at 3:30 after getting to bed at 12. Ick. And I'd tried to start packing early this time, too, but as usual, packing expanded to take up all time available to it. Also as usual, my vows to pack lightly disintegrated. I'm traveling with enough stuff for a three-month European tour. Since this trip will involve many smaller interim trips (Philly to NYC, NYC to Amherst, various subway journeys), I may very well wind up regretting that even more than usual.

I didn't accomplish everything I'd meant to before I left, but I got the absolutely most crucial stuff done. That will have to be Good Enough.

So far, Sally's a splendid travel machine. Yay, Sally!

Last night, my knee, hip and back were all screaming. They seem to be better today, although since last night, I've had a horrible taste in my mouth, which has withstood several rounds of toothpaste as well as water, etc. Weird.

I'll blog as I'm able. Be good, everybody!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Portrait of Paws

Dear Terri

Commenting on my post about the lack of chaplains on Nurse Jackie, Terri said:
Well, maybe if there were more on TV, people would insist on them in the hospital! And, I haven't jumped into this one because I really don't want to hurt your feelings, but I am training to be a professional chaplain--I do think there is a place for theological and clinical training in the work--so I don't look with optimism at models that have all the care done by volunteers with a "staff chaplain" who serves mainly as a scheduler. In your hospital, which staff are designated requestors for organ and tissue donation? Which staff assist patients with advance directives? Mortuary selection? This varies but in the system where I work chaplains are expected to do these things, also coordinate with Red Cross, military, prisons for compassionate leaves or phone calls. Chaplains also serve on the ethics board etc. Some volunteers can certainly do some of these things, but in all honesty work that is done largely by volunteers tends to become work that is seen as "less valuable" systemically, so while I do not devalue the work that you do, I do worry about the future of chaplaincy at a time when it has never been needed more.
This raises points that I think deserve their own post, so here goes.

First of all, I agree with you in being nervous about "models that have all the care done by volunteers with a 'staff chaplain' who serves mainly as a scheduler." I don't advocate such models, and this isn't how things work where I volunteer. At my hospital, the Spiritual Care Department consists of five staff chaplains, four of whom are also clergy. A half-time office employee schedules the several dozen volunteer chaplains; that's not done by actual chaplaincy staff.

Several times I've obtained advance-directive paperwork for patients, and once I helped an ER patient who'd already filled out the paperwork find someone to witness the document. I've never talked anyone through the various options, although I could if I had to. Nor have I been involved in tissue/organ donation issues, although I know those scenarios have occurred in our ER. I was working once when the Red Cross came in: the RN case manager had called them. As for mortuary selection, we have a pamphlet we give families, although many have already made their own arrangements. Again, the RN case manager or social worker usually help out with all of that, as well as notifying coroners.

I don't serve on the ethics board. I don't know any volunteers who do. I'm sure at least one of our staff chaplains does.

I don't dispute the value of professional chaplains any more than you dispute the value of volunteers. I do find it significant, though, that your examples involve the very worst situations: death. My struggle as a volunteer chaplain has been to teach medical staff that chaplains do much more than minister to the dead, dying and bereaved, that our role is to be a compassionate, non-anxious presence in any situation requiring one.

At your hospital, who comforts the anxious mom who's brought her sick firstborn to the ER when the nurses are too busy to spend much time with her, and when -- since nobody's died -- no one would think to call a staff chaplain? At my hospital, I do that, and so do other volunteers. We also deal with death, dying and grief, and we're instructed to respond to all codes in other parts of the hospital, just in case a staff chaplain isn't there. I'm frequently the only chaplain at a code, but that may be because of the hours I work. Staff chaplains and community clergy are always on call in case something comes up that a volunteer can't handle, but this usually takes the form of, "I want a priest," and several times when patients have requested priests and one hasn't shown up, I've visited instead, and usually been warmly welcomed and appreciated.

The compassionate-presence piece, though, is most of what I do. In the ER, it's rarely a choice between the patient seeing me or seeing a staff chaplain: it's a choice between their seeing me or not seeing anybody. Because I'm dedicated to this one department (except in rare cases when I'm asked to go elsewhere), I can deal with issues that are crises for the patients but that the medical staff wouldn't see as such, which means -- among other things -- that certain anxieties and resentments are defused before they have the chance to become crises for our overworked medical staff.

As far as I know, no one sees my work as "less valuable" because I'm a volunteer. The ER staff have repeatedly requested more volunteer chaplains to be scheduled there. Nurses and case managers are often visibly happy when I arrive. I think it's also significant that they very clearly think of what I do as work. "Oh, hi, Susan: how late are you working today?" A few weeks ago my husband and I went to a concert and ran into an ER nurse I know; when I introduced her to Gary, she said, "I work with your wife," not, "Your sweet little wife helps us out a few hours a week even though she's clueless and underqualified." (She wouldn't have said anything like that anyway, because she's polite, but can you hear the tone difference between the two approaches?) Shortly after that, I went in for an evening shift, something I haven't done in over a year, and a nurse I haven't seen in that long gave me a hug and said, "I saw you before and thought, 'Oh, good, she's still working for us!'"

Mind you, I think certain ER staff find me annoying, but so do people in the rest of the world. That's a personality issue, not a functional one, and being slightly abrasive sometimes makes me more effective; I'm willing to get into people's faces when I have to. As a volunteer, I think I have more immunity to do this without disrupting institutional hierarchies. When I called a homeless shelter after hours to get a bed for a patient -- something the staff had sworn would be impossible -- the case manager thanked me, even though he was one of the people who'd said "We can't do anything after hours" (and who, since then, has studiously ignored my gentle reminders that this shelter will always accept referrals from hospitals or social-service agencies).

I see myself as part of the ER team; at least some of them, I think, see me the same way. But I'm not about to put staff chaplains out of business, at my hospital or anywhere else. First of all, the arrangement at my hospital, as far as I can tell, is very unusual: most places seem to be moving toward using only professional, board-certified chaplains. I don't think you need to worry about the future of chaplaincy, except inasmuch as the increasingly stringent qualifications to do the work will raise the bar too high for people who'd be very good at the work.

I do think (and I've said this here before) that all of us need to consider the patients' perception of whomever's arrived at the bedside. When professional chaplains hear the phrase "volunteer chaplain," many of them hear, "someone who isn't qualified enough to be paid." When patients hear the phrase "volunteer chaplain," they hear, "someone who's come to be with me in my pain and fear even though she's not being paid." Volunteers are walking manifestations of grace, in the sense of free unearned gift. I can't count how many patients have said to me, "What you do is so wonderful! I'd like to do something like that someday." Maybe professional chaplains get the same response; I wouldn't know.

Alice Walker, in my favorite of her poems, says something along the lines of "Perhaps our revolution will be to value what is abundant as much as what is scarce." Volunteers are avatars of abundant compassion, rather than the scarcity of stringent professional training. The professionalization of compassion dismays me.

All that said, I know I'm going to have to do CPE sometime, because I can't work anywhere except my own hospital without it. I won't have the time, energy or money for that until I retire, though -- another ten years at the soonest -- and many people never have those resources. This isn't a tragedy; there are plenty of other places for all of us to spread our abundant compassion. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if hospital patients were graced with more of that particular resource?

Twelve Years in Reno

Twelve years ago today, I arrived in Reno. At the time, I didn't drive, didn't attend church, had never owned a house, and had done no significant volunteering.

I'd also never smelled sagebrush, never seen wild jackrabbits and coyotes, never watched weather coming in over mountains, never watched the mountains themselves, changing colors with each passing hour of the day.

A lot's changed, and I'm very grateful to be here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Black on Black

Nurse Jackie

Last night we watched the first episode of Nurse Jackie on Netflix. I like Edie Falco, but I have some problems with the show.

The story's set in what sure looks like a Level 1 trauma hospital, which is also a Catholic hospital. There are crucifixes everywhere, and -- bizarrely -- gangs of giggling nuns wearing absurdly voluminous white habits roam the hallways of the ER. I kept expecting them to break into some ensemble number from The Sound of Music. (The nuns I know wear street clothes, since habits largely went out with Vatican II; they don't travel in herds, and would know better than to giggle in an ER.)

And, you guessed it, no chaplains. Jackie does refer to a social worker at one point, which is a refreshing touch of realism, but we never see that person, and of course Jackie winds up doing grief counseling herself.

Don't get me wrong: nurses are great at grief counseling, often better than chaplains. But there'd certainly be chaplains at that hospital.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

What Remains

In a previous post, I mentioned that Mom and I end every conversation with "I love you," as my father and I also did, and that Gary's mother commented that love's always the last thing to go.

But other things are slow to fade, too. For my father, it was politics; at his most demented -- a condition we later determined to be due to medications and low O2 sats -- he was trying to ram his wheelchair through furniture so he could get to Congress to work on the energy bill.

For my mother, it's shopping, especially for jewelry.

Palwick women love jewelry, and it's a major source of bonding among us, playing the role that camping or sports play in other families. My mother and sister and I, in various combination, have spent many happy hours in jewelry and craft stores. We don't generally go for "fine" jewelry, but for the handcrafted, the one-of-a-kind, the ethnic. We much prefer turquoise or agate to diamonds. My sister and I shopped our way through the galleries of Flagstaff during a road trip a few years back; my mother and sister, for many years, enjoyed beading together, and I have many pieces made by both of them.

My mother's always had a taste for silver jewelry, Mexican or Native American. When I was growing up, we lived in walking distance of a wonderful shop called La Puerta Del Sol that featured Mexican handicrafts, really gorgeous stuff. This was before the price of silver (or pottery or wooden carvings) went through the roof, so many of the pieces were surprisingly affordable. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of Christmas shopping there for my mother with my carefully saved allowance money. I still remember how excited I was about many of the gifts I got her: a silver brooch/pendant with intricate, serpentine cutouts, a pair of wooden candlesticks for our dining-room table, a brass basket in the shape of a fish. I could never wait to see if she loved these things as much as I did, and she almost always did. As far as I know, she still has all the gifts I've mentioned, and probably many others, and her jewelry collection includes many stunning pieces she bought at La Puerta. None of us could afford them today.

She gave me and my sister a lot of jewelry as gifts, too: in our Christmas stockings, for birthdays, in care packages. Other moms sent their kids food or socks: my mother sent earrings and hand-knit sweaters. (She was a brilliant knitter, and one reason I took to knitting so late is that her skill intimidated me when I was younger.) For the past few years, she's generally sent checks for holidays, because she hardly ever gets out to shop, and even catalog shopping is too difficult for her now. But for my birthday last September, she and my sister went to the Southwest Trading Post in Skippack, PA, where they both bought me stunning bracelets. After I'd gotten them in the mail, my mother called me every day for a week to find out if I still loved the bracelet she'd chosen, signed by the artist, and if I loved it as much as she did. Of course the answers were yes. Her excitement reminded me of mine when I was a child, waiting to give her whatever Christmas gift I'd bought at La Puerta. For many months now, I've suspected that that bracelet will be the last gift she'll ever pick out by hand for me.

Today I called my sister, and we talked about the schedule for my visit there next week. The school where my sister teaches isn't out for the summer yet, so she'll only have evenings and two weekend days to spend with me. "Saturday we're going to Southwest Trading Post," she told me. "Mom wants to go."

"Well, I'm happy to do that, but if she's not up to it, we don't have to."

"It's the only thing she wants to do. She's really looking forward to it. I wouldn't make the trip, except that she wants to. So I hope she'll be up to it."

This is the woman who can barely walk, who sleeps most of the day, who needs a lot of care from family or healthcare aides, and who can't reliably remember how to use the telephone. But to shop for handmade silver jewelry with her daughters, she'll put out heroic effort.

God bless you, Mom.

Technical Details

Just after I posted last night about my wonderful iGoogle home page, the whole thing disappeared and reverted to a bland classic Google format. Gary and I scoured the net for all the info we could find on the subject, and got nowhere -- the restore feature took me back too far, and my cookies were fine -- so this morning, I had to recreate the whole thing. What a pain!

I now have even more new and wonderful gadgets, though, including one that will allow me to write blog posts straight from the iGoogle page (as I'm doing now). I can also read my AOL mail straight from the page and search the UNR library catalog. Very handy! And before anybody tells me to switch to some other e-mail program: I've had AOL since 1995 or thereabouts, and I don't want to go through the hassle of changing my e-mail address. Okay?

So, anyhow, I'm very happy with the latest setup. I just hope it stays put!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Same Old

I'm a little blue tonight. We've had a great visit with Gary's mom -- who's still blessedly fit, and blessedly herself -- but she leaves tomorrow. Next week I'll see my own mother, of course, but that's likely to be a bittersweet experience. My phone conversations with her tend to be . . . well, strange. She knows who I am, but still makes odd comments indicating that she doesn't quite understand what's going on. She ends every conversation, though, by saying, "I love you, baby."

I told Doris about that, and she said, "I think loving people is the last thing to go."

Meanwhile, I've really been missing Dad these last few days. This afternoon, Gary and Doris and I saw Up, the latest from Pixar. It's a beautiful movie, and the three of us didn't really see it as being a kids' movie, although kids will enjoy parts of it. The first section is about an old man losing his beloved wife, and it's tremendously poignant. The film really captures that sense of half of your life being gone. It made me think of Dad, and I'm sure it made Doris think of her husband Adrian. Also, there's a kid in the film who's mourning his absent father, so of course that got to me. (On a lighter note, the film features the best talking dog ever. Ever.)

Afterwards, we splurged on dinner at La Vecchia, one of our favorite resturants. It was absolutely delicious, as always. I showed Doris some pictures of Dad on my phone, and wound up crying a bit.

When we got home, I learned that a dear friend and spiritual mentor is having cancer surgery next Wednesday. According to her e-mail, it's "probably noninvasive," but the news is still plenty upsetting. She sounds optimistic, but I'm extra-sensitive to potential loss in through here. I guess that's no surprise, huh?

On a brighter note, I've been having fun customizing my Google page. Quote of the day from J.R.R. Tolkien! Art! Poetry! Moon phases! Lotsa news! Feeds to medical journals! Infinite ways to waste time! Yee-hah!

I downloaded Skype today, since Sally has a built-in webcam, but I can't find anybody I know in their directory. Bummer. I'll keep looking, though.

Also, the cats have been extra-affectionate, probably because of our weird weather. It rained again today. A solid week of rain, in Reno? I'm starting to wonder if we should start building an ark. I wore a wool sweater today and was chilly! I think the cats are so cuddlesome because they crave our body warmth, not necessarily because they adore us (although in the world of cats, it's probably the same thing).

Gotta go to bed now. Maybe the sun will be out tomorrow?

Thursday, June 04, 2009


I'm blogging from my new Samsung N110, a darling little computer: pretty, fast, convenient. I'm naming her Sally Samsung. She's going to be perfect for travel.

Gary and I have been having a great time with his mom. Yesterday we went to see Mama Mia at the performing arts center, and tonight we're going to a musical at a small local theater. Today, Doris and I went to the big, fancy mall south of town and shopped. She got a dress she really likes, and I got a skirt, five tops and a bracelet, all on sale.

Gary had stayed home to wait for Sally to arrive; when Doris and I got back, he had her all set up for me. She's truly a thing of beauty.

On the less positive side, my knee's been very cranky for days now (probably partly because we've had unprecedented amounts of rain, with thunderstorms five days in a row), and this morning, it was swollen for the first time. Not badly swollen, but Gary could see it, and the knee's definitely been stiff all day.

Grumble grumble. I hope it behaves itself while I'm traveling!