Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fiddle Lesson #2

Today I learned how to use my nifty electronic tuner. I expect it will make my life much easier!

Today I was also officially allowed to touch bow to strings. Right now, we're concentrating on the A and E strings (and when we begin official TTLS practice, probably next week, it will be in A; I'd been playing it in G). My homework is to play a simple rhythm repeatedly on those strings, aiming for the best tone and form I can muster.

Charlene seems pleased with my progress. She says I'm a good student because I actually practice: evidently most adults don't! I was shocked. I thought not-practicing would be far more of a problem with kids than with grown-ups. She says, though, that while many older people are enthusiastic about learning to play, they simply don't put in the time. I told her I was practicing 30-60 minutes a day, and she said that's enough, that she wouldn't recommend more than that at this stage.

I mean, geez. Why spend the money on rental and lessons, and the time on lessons, if you aren't going to do the work?

Today I also made my plane reservations to fly back to Philly for Christmas. Gary, who's allergic both to travel and to family gatherings, will stay here to mind the cats and attend an annual chamber-music series we both enjoy, and that I'll be sorry to miss. He and I will have our own Christmas before we leave. I'll miss him, but my Mom's really looking forward to seeing me, and anyway I have to go for work, since I'm on a search committee that will be interviewing at the MLA.

Holiday catalogs are arriving already. I don't have time to knit for everyone this year, so I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Get people small fun stuff, probably.

Sigh. Remember when the madness used to start after Thanksgiving, not over a month before Halloween?

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Column Up

My latest Hope and Healing column, Going to Work, is up.

Happy reading!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pretty Mellow, I'd Say

In a comment on my previous post, Inez asked how the cats are responding to the violin.

When the case came into the house, they all had to sniff it thoroughly. They've shown no inclination to climb inside it when it's open, although I don't plan to push my luck on that!

Bali went through a very brief period of thinking that the bow was a cat toy (because everything's a cat toy), but was easily dissauded. Good thing, that.

As for my playing -- if we can even grace it with that word -- the cats seem to be taking the noise in stride. Gary was at a movie this afternoon, so I took the opportunity to take Felicity downstairs and practice for an hour. I had the practice mute on so I wouldn't horrify the neighbors any more than necessary, but Harley was napping three feet away from me, in the pose shown above, and didn't twitch a whisker the entire time.

Of course, maybe he was just stunned into paralysis.

I'm becoming more confident with TTLS, and have now started sounding out A Mighty Fortress is Our God. It's great fun (for me, anyway!).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Buddha Kitty

I love it when they tuck their paws like that!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Katharine's Green Violin

Here's a picture our friend Stephanie took of me with Katharine's green violin, on the Saturday morning when the current madness began. (I'm typing this blog entry holding Felicity under my chin: practice practice practice!) Of course, I'm holding everything incorrectly; the photo's notable mainly because my shirt matches the instrument so nicely. But Gary likes the picture and scanned it for me, so I decided to post it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ecce Felis!

And yes, I know my Latin's probably wrong. You get the idea, though!

One of the reasons we fell in love with our house when we were house-shopping was the kitty mailbox out front, a yellow-and-brown striped tabby. (The former owner was nicknamed "Cat" but owned three dogs. Go figure.) The mailbox was perfect for us, and also served as a great landmark for guests trying to find our house. Over the years, though, the old mailbox faded and splintered. Recently, its tail broke off. So we decided to see if we could get another one.

An internet search turned up a company that will hand-paint a mailbox to look like your cat if you send them photos. So we sent them photos of the elegant Figaro, above.

And here's the mailbox, which arrived today. Naturally, it's a lot fatter than Figgy, because mailboxes aren't that long and skinny. But we're delighted with it, and especially with the metal whiskers. I couldn't stop smiling when I pulled into the driveway and saw it for the first time.

Rest in peace, old mailbox. Welcome, new mailbox!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strange Day

I had a lot of strange dreams last night. I don't remember most of them, but the last one I had before I woke up stuck with me. In the dream, Dad's phone number was still programmed into my cellphone, and I dialed it by accident, and he answered. I was surprised, because he was dead, but we had a friendly chat. But he was vague and out of it -- pretty much the way he was the last few days of his life -- and couldn't really tell me where he was or how he was.

We didn't have much to talk about, since I couldn't get a coherent answer out of him. So I told him I had to go, and he said, sounding annoyed and plaintive, "Stay on the phone! Just talk to me for ten minutes!"

And then I woke up, feeling sad and guilty. While he was alive, he kept wanting to see more of me, to spend more quality time with me, but I was always running around coordinating medical care, trying to juggle his life on top of mine. We very rarely got the chance simply to visit. Now I regret that, although I'm not sure what else I could have done. But the dream left me feeling like I'd let him down, abandoned him, refused to honor his wishes.

Sad. Guilty.

Anyway, I spent the morning working at home, and then dashed to the gym for a quick swim before my first class. I had plenty of time, and ordinarily would have gotten to campus at least half an hour before the class started.

Instead, as I was leaving the gym, I managed to lock my keys and my cellphone inside my car. Aaaaargh! I raced back to the health club, used their phone to call AAA, raced back to the garage to wait for AAA, raced back to the gym, ten minutes after AAA should have arrived, to call work and have someone tell my class to start without me (it's a workshop class, so that's possible), and then raced back to the garage again and found AAA waiting for me.

I managed to get to class only about fifteen minutes late, and we got everything done I'd wanted to do, but it was still a discombobulating start to the workday.

And then, in my second class, only twelve of twenty students showed up. I know that several people were sick -- including someone who came to class and whom I sent home, with strict orders not to come back until he'd been fever-free for twenty-four hours -- but it was still an awfully low census. And that kind of situation raises difficult teaching issues: do you cover material all the students will need, even if almost half are missing, or do you veer from your lesson plan into "extra" stuff, or what? I wound up more or less doing the first, but I really wish more of them had been there.

Oh well.

On a happier note, I've now found a reasonably comfortable fiddle position -- although I think I'm still going to buy a gel chinrest -- and managed to keep Felicity anchored, with only minor hand adjustments, for sixteen minutes. Not bad! I just hope I was using the correct position; Gary wasn't sure. Felicity was parallel to the floor, but not along the same line as my back, if that makes sense. She was at an angle to my back.

I've been concentrating on the fiddle and really need to catch up with the bow. In the meantime, though, I've been disobeying instructions and touching bow to strings. Last night I figured out basic scales (my technique and tone both suck, but I'm getting some sense of how the instrument works), and even managed to scratch one out with my eyes closed, not looking at the tape markers on the fingerboard. And tonight I topped that by sounding out a very wobbly, scratchy version of the first bar or so of that infamous melody . . . the bane of violin students and their loved ones everywhere . . . the tune that sets neighborhood dogs howling and drives apartment dwellers mad . . . (drumroll, please), the dreaded "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

I've always hated "TTLS." I even threw a hissy fit when Charlene mentioned it last week, and made her promise that I'd get to start with something else instead. But having produced a scratchy, wobbly version of the first few notes, I now find I'm much fonder of it.

Funny how that works!

On a somber note again, I realized tonight, with a start, that the wood-and-varnish smell of the body of the fiddle reminds me a lot of how Dad's boat always smelled. The scroll, though, smells sweet and spicy, a bit like cinnamon. It reminds me of Christmas.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Felicity Fiddle

Today I met Charlene at the local music store. She liked the first violin we looked at, a brand-new Strobel I've now named Felicity Fiddle. While she and the luthier were chatting, I picked up Felicity and the bow to see if I could get a noise.

I did. It wasn't too awful, even. Charlene noted approvingly that I was very careful; Tim, the luthier, noted approvingly that I was playing with the edge of the hairs, which is evidently the correct technique.

My first lesson was also today, at Charlene's apartment. She showed me how to hold the fiddle and the bow, and gave me a CD of fiddle tunes played at various speeds. My homework this week is: a) to listen to the CD every available moment, b) to practice clamping the fiddle between my chin and left shoulder with no support from my left hand (Charlene deftly rigged up a sponge shoulder rest for me, holding it in place with a rubber band -- "rubber bands are a violinist's best friends!" -- and also gave me a flannel cleaning cloth to help cushion the chin rest), and c) to practice holding the bow the proper way, resting on the thumb and pivoting up and down with pressure applied from the index finger and pinkie. My bow is equipped with another rubber band to help me find the best place for my thumb, and with a Dr. Scholl's style corn cushion to remind me where exactly to put the tip of my pinkie.

Evidently I have a very strong pinkie, probably from typing. This is a good thing.

So I've been listening and practicing between grading. The hardest part is holding the fiddle; Charlene indicated that I should aim to hold it for ten minutes, but the best I've managed so far -- I know because I downloaded a stopwatch application for my Blackberry -- is three minutes and thirty seconds, and that was distinctly painful. The angle feels unnatural, and the chin rest is really hard even with cushioning: my jaw and teeth start aching after a few minutes. I'll probably invest in a gel chinrest, which should help a bit. I've already ordered a digital tuner, due to arrive tomorrow.

I'm told that if I practice diligently this week, I may get to touch bow to strings next. (I have to admit that I've been cheating a little.)

After I first dropped Felicity back home, I dashed off to a meeting. When I came back, Gary said he'd gotten a big sound out of the fiddle. He was quite thrilled.

My other problem is that, as someone with virtually no musical training (and what little I had was decades ago), I felt like Charlene was speaking a foreign language. Interval? Fifth? Huh? Over dinner tonight, Gary -- who took seven or eight years of piano and has also had music-theory courses -- patiently explained the basics to me. I didn't even know what an octave was! He recommended that I either take a beginning music-theory course or invest in some variety of "Music Theory for Dummies" book. (I've now ordered that very item from Amazon.)

So this is going to be a lot of work. But I knew that!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Six Months

This weekend, I reminded my sister that today was the six-month anniversary of Dad's death. This morning, as I was frantically doing class prep I hadn't gotten done over the weekend -- probably an unconscious maneuver to keep busy today -- my phone rang, and it was my sister.

I told her I couldn't talk and she said, "But it's the six-month anniversary of Dad's death! And you're the one who reminded me!"

I'd honestly forgotten.

So of course then I said I could talk, and we got wistful for a few minutes and cried a little, and then I went back to frantic prep.

The rest of the day went fine, because I was too busy to be sad. I'm basically okay now, too. But it's weird to think that a year ago today, I was blogging about cell phones for Dad and Fran and planning for their arrival.

None of that went anything like we expected. I just wish Dad had gotten to have more fun here.

On a brighter note, I'm meeting Charlene at the music store tomorrow morning. We hope to find a rental fiddle that meets her specifications. Dad loved music, so I think he'd be pleased by this development (although he might grouse about its interfering with my writing). My mother's very intrigued by it, too. Anything that perks my mother's interest automatically makes me feel better!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Knitting Update

I'm currently in the middle of three pairs of socks, which is a little ridiculous. I'm working on a second pair of hiking socks for Gary, and I'm still only midway through my friend Marin's second sock, and last night I finished my first Puffy Purple Sock, shown above, for myself. As you can see, this is a very silly high-concept sock, but it actually fits well and is comfortable. It's not exactly practical -- it won't fit into most of my shoes -- but it will be great to wear with slippers in the winter.

On this sock, I tried Russian Bind-Off for the first time, since it reputedly produces a very stretchy edge. And so it does, but I got part of it backwards, which is why the top looks a bit messy. It fits like a charm, though! I need to frog the bind-off on Marin's first sock and replace it with Russian, but I'm having trouble seeing how to frog my previous bind-off, and will need expert assistance.

I'm knitting her socks on #2 DPNs. I'd been using bamboo needles, whih were as sharp as barbecue skewers and hurt my hands when I knit with them. Yesterday I spent part of my LYS gift certificate (the one from my sister) on Brittany DPNs, which have a blunter tip. What a difference! I think Marin's socks will progress more quickly now that I have more comfortable needles.

Oh, yesterday I think I also solved a technical probem I'd been having with double knitting. I hope I solved it, anyway. I feel confident enough, though, to start an actual beginner project. But only after I finish the socks!

Mood Update

I've been a gloomy camper this weekend, thanks largely to the fact that I haven't exercised. This afternoon I swam for an hour and I'm already feeling better, so I hope the upward trend continues!

Tomorrow's the six-month anniversary of Dad's death, and I'm sure that's a factor. My sister was having a hard time earlier this weekend, but she's doing better now. I can't believe that a year ago, Dad wasn't even here yet, and I was running around feverishly preparing for his arrival.

The weather was gorgeous today -- it's finally starting to feel like maybe fall's actually coming -- and Dad would have loved it. He never got to enjoy weather like this here. It makes me sad.

Fiddle Update

Yeah, I know, I've been a slug and haven't been posting. Mea culpa!

On Thursday night, Gary and Katharine and I went to hear Charlene and a friend of hers play at a local pub. She's an amazing fiddler, and her friend's pretty amazing on guitar, too. Unfortunately, the sound system was absolutely dismal, so we couldn't hear anything, even though we were directly in front of the stage. And most people at the pub had come to drink beer and talk -- or scream, given the noise level -- so that didn't help our ability to appreciate the music. But we all enjoyed meeting Charlene's husband Josh, who's charming, and two of their friends also joined us, and we were all blown away by the bit of Charlene's playing we could actually hear. We left early, though, because the bar din was really getting to us. We're all too old for that!

Charlene and I'd originally planned to meet up at the music store today so I could rent an instrument (if we can find one she's happy with), but it turns out they're closed today, so we're going to try for sometime else this week, as soon as she figures out her work schedule.

As soon as anything happens, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

MY Chair

Chasing Light

The cats love chasing the reflection from my father's watch.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Another New Project!

Woo-hoo! Charlene Adzima responded to my e-mail and is willing to take me on as a student (if we can find a workable time, since she usually teaches on Wednesday afternoons, when I'm teaching my own classes). I'm quite thrilled. I downloaded her album yesterday and love it, and she works at the University and lives and teaches not far from our house, so it all seems quite providential. And I've discovered that I can rent a student violin for a reasonable rate from our local music store.

This remains an insane undertaking on several levels, of course, and various friends and family seem alarmed, or at least very badly puzzled. I can't blame them. But I figure the worst that can happen is that I'll make a fool of myself, and hey, that's not so new!

Gary said, "You do realize you'll have to spend less time on knitting?" Yes, dear. I'm also concerned about when I'll practice; my best time would ordinarily, probably, be first thing in the morning, but I don't want to wake Gary up. If he's already up, he can wear headphones and listen to his own music.

He said, "Hey, I'll sleep on the deck."

I said, "Sweetie, if I'm as bad as I think I'll be, you'll need to sleep in another state."

There are gizmos called "practice muters" that allow you to play really quietly, to protect the ears and sanity of loved ones and neighbors. I may need to invest in one of those.

The upside of this is that music training late in life, especially on a mondo-difficult instrument like the violin, supposedly helps prevent dementia. So I'm not embarking on an ill-advised, impractical new hobby; I'm safeguarding my health!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Yet Another New Project?

This balloon touched down in the gully behind Katharine's house this morning, and Gary got this great shot. Otherwise, it was a so-so balloon year: most of them were moving away from us, and they were backlit by the sun, so we couldn't get great photos. Nertz! But we were with a bunch of good friends and there were four adorable kids in attendance -- who especially enjoyed the fact that one balloon came close, of course -- and the food was great, so we had a thoroughly good time anyway.

A strange thing happened to me, though. I love music, but I've never been very musical myself. Gary thinks I have a better ear than I think I do, but my three years of flute in junior high didn't do much for me (nor was I very good at it), and I've never particularly wanted to play any other instrument, except maybe guitar, but even that not seriously.

A lot of our friends are musicians, though. Katharine's a fabulous soprano and runs the Vocal Studies Program at UNR; Jim's a world-class pianist; and our friend Stephanie's a brilliant violinist who runs the Orchestral Studies Program at UNR. Katharine also plays violin, and Jim also plays cello, and Pamela plays a stringed instrument too, although I can't remember which at the moment (viola, maybe?), and Stephanie picked up viola when she started the UNR job two years ago and, of course, immediately played it beautifully. And Stephanie and her husband (also named Gary) have made sure that their two daughters have musical training: one studies violin and the other flute, at the ages of ten and eight. Meanwhile, my Gary's listened to thousands of hours of classical music and can discuss it in language I don't even begin to understand.

I feel very intimidated in this company. I'm delighted to serve as an outside member on music masters' committees, and I can tell a spot-on performance from a shaky one, but I don't pretend to any expertise.

Okay, so. Katharine and Jim recently returned from the Telluride Festival, where Katharine purchased a painted violin covered with pretty green leaves. She knew her granddaughter Pippa (who's five or six now? I lose track) would love it, but she made sure it would play, too. So this morning she held Pippa's hand and helped her move the bow across the strings and play "Twinkle, Twinkle."

When they were done, I asked Katharine if I could see the violin. Then I asked if I could hold the bow. Then I tried to produce a note, although I didn't even attempt to hold the instrument correctly. Jim laughed at me and said, "Now you know why I play the cello; it's a much more natural playing position!"

As far as I know, I've never even held a violin before. Violin's not even my favorite instrument; cello is. But I got a note, or several notes, from the strings. It's hard to describe the sensation. I felt as if the violin was alive, an animal I was stroking with the bow to coax it into speaking. I was very conscious of having to be gentle. And when I got a satisfying noise, a thrill ran through me.

Katharine laughed and took the violin back so she and Pippa could play with it some more. The rest of us wandered out into the backyard to look at the distant balloons. My skin was still thrumming from the violin. I said casually to Stephanie, "So are there, like, cheap beginner violins? Plastic ones, maybe?"

"You want wood," Jim told me, and Stephanie said that I could get a decent novice violin for $100, a figure that made me blanch even though I've spent it on yarn plenty of times, and will do so again. Yarn makes useful things for people, though.

"I'm forty-nine," I told her. "I mean, it's not like I'm really going to learn to play the violin!" I just wanted to coax the animal into speaking again.

When we got home, I did internet research. You can indeed get a beginner violin for about $100, but every source I've read recommends renting instead. We have a good music store in town, and I'm sure they rent instruments. But I have absolutely no interest in learning classical violin. What I love the most is Celtic fiddle music and bluegrass: folk styles, not classical.

A few Google searches later, I discovered a Celtic fiddler who lives in Reno and who, supposedly, gives lessons. I've e-mailed her to see if I might be able to take some. This is a crazy, crazy idea, right? Right? I don't have enough to do? What am I thinking? And although adult learners aren't that uncommon, violin's a notoriously difficult instrument.

But I'm not sure I've ever felt the way that violin made me feel. (Yep, the first one's free.) At some point this morning, Stephanie commented that I must have some kind of aptitude even to get a note from the violin the first time I touched it, since not everyone can do that. I have very low goals, though. I don't expect, or even want, to get good enough to perform. If I spend five years practicing scales and then give up, I'll have had fun along the way, and if I manage to pick out a fiddle tune or two, that will be even better.

And maybe this lady won't even get back to me, or won't want to take on a menopausal novice. Rationally, I know that might be best of all. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I got the car smogged, renewed my registration, and am making some grading progress. So the day wasn't entirely wasted in bizarre midlife artistic fantasies.

Friday, September 11, 2009


We woke up early this morning to watch the balloon races, but none of the hot-air balloons floated over our house. Darn! Not much wind this morning, so they more or less stayed where they were.

We did hear roaring engine noises, though, and looked out a window to see small planes flying in formation overhead. I'm not sure if this weekend is also the Air Races in Stead, or if those are next weekend (and I'm too tired and lazy right now to look it up!) but this was clearly connected somehow to that event.

As I told Gary, "Hearing very loud airplane engine noises that sound like they're heading straight for your house just isn't an experience you want on 9/11." Or any other day, really. But today especially.

Tomorrow morning we'll wake up early again -- not a natural situation for either of us! -- to go to Katharine's annual Balloon Party.

Meanwhile, my to-do list is getting longer, even though I've been able to cross off several items. My car registration expires in a week, and although we have very convenient online registration here, I do have to have the car smogged, and I just haven't been able to get that done. And yesterday my insurance company sent us a letter saying that they won't pay for my CPAP unless I have another sleep study, since my last one was six years ago. Groan.

These are very minor problems, I know, and I'm grateful. (For one thing, I have insurance, even though it's paying for less and less.) But there are so many minor problems! Twenty items on the to-do list, to be exact, and that doesn't include teaching or grading or committee work, all of which are constant presences. I feel like I'm surrounded by a swarm of stinging gnats.

One of the twenty items is mandatory training for hospital volunteers. We used to fill out short questionnaires every year to show that we knew what to do in case of fire, understood basic stuff about patient privacy and preventing falls, and so forth. The quizzes were annoying, but painless. But a few days ago, I got a letter informing me that all volunteers are required to undergo sixteen-plus hours of on-site training -- during weekday work times, mind you! -- by September 30. Since we volunteer four hours a week, that meant they were asking for more than a month's time commitment on less than a month's notice. I went to talk to the volunteer coordinator and found several people in her office venting about the same thing. It wasn't her fault, poor woman: this was handed down from On High, and she didn't have much more notice than we did.

The upshot was that I got permission to do the training online. Yay! The hospital sent me website instructions. Yay! I got onto the website without any problem. Yay! None of the twenty-four training modules I need to take are there. Boo!

I've e-mailed the education person at the hospital (hello? y'know those mandatory courses? um, where are they?), but haven't heard back yet. I'm pretty sure I can complete the supposed sixteen hours of training-and-quizzes in substantially less than sixteen hours. Even if I can't, at least I'll be in the comfort of my own home. But this particular bit of bureaucracy is still an unwelcome addition to the to-do list, particularly at a time when I'm trying to take a break from the hospital.

Oh well.

Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.

Repeat after me: It will all get done somehow. It always does.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Puss 'N' Boots

Art Critic

By the way, that's another Walter Anderson print he's looking at.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Work in Progress

Right now I'm working on two pairs of socks: some orange cotton lace ones for my friend Marin, and a pair of funny purple puffy woolen ones for me. I'd hoped to post pictures tonight, but none came out properly.

I also lost a great chance to get a hilarious video of Bali attacking my knitting. Instead of filming, I got the yarn away from him so he wouldn't bite through it, as he's done before. When I find weak places in the yarn, it's usually because he's been gnawing on it, although I've seen no sign yet that he's actually eaten any of the stuff, which could be very dangerous.

The new novel, formerly known as TSWP, progresses apace, although it hasn't yet been offered a home. Ah, well. If anything ever happens on that front, I'll post more details. Right now, I'm just trying to write a page or two a day so I don't lose heart. It's not genre -- or not very genre, anyway, although there are hints of magical realism -- and I really hope somebody buys it.

In local news, there was a massive power outage at UNR this evening, in the middle of one of my classes, but I believe it's been fixed now (the website's back up, anyway).

And tomorrow I have acres of work to do. Good night!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Taking a Break

So I saw my psychiatrist today, as advertised. She's upping my meds dosage, unless a) my insurance won't pay for it (the pharmacy's checking on that) or b) I have side effects, in which case she'll bump the current med back down and augment it with something else.

In the meantime, I'm taking another sabbatical from the hospital. She advised me to take a month to regain my energy, but I'm extending that to Halloween, since I have a lot going on in October.

To tell you the truth, I'm a little relieved (although I also feel like a wimp). I love volunteering at the hospital, but it's also exhausting -- especially on Saturday mornings, when I'd rather be sleeping in -- and I'm sufficently drained at the moment that I don't feel very useful anyway. Time to recharge the batteries.

I showed the good doc my to-do list; she shook her head and said, "I'm tired just looking at that."


Monday, September 07, 2009


I'm forty-nine today. It hasn't been the most riotous birthday; I've been feeling really down for a couple of weeks now, so much so that I'm seeing my shrink tomorrow, almost a month early, to see if I can get my meds bumped up. I've never done that before, and I hate to do it now, but I need to function, and I'm falling farther and farther behind. The to-do list is really scary, in through here. It would also be nice to stop feeling completely inadequate in every aspect of my life. Intellectually, I know I'm not -- although my memory's been so bad that I've been spacing appointments and meetings -- but my neurotransmitters need some convincing.

Despite my lethargy, there were certainly some lovely birthday moments. I video-skyped with my sister and mother, who held up a candle and sang "Happy Birthday," and Gary gave me great presents: two knitting books I wanted (one on double knitting and one on mosaic knitting, although the projects they describe are currently beyond me), a PBS video following seven doctors through training and practice, and a large, hand-colored print of two elephants from a Walter Anderson design. Anderson's the artist from Ocean Springs whose work my father loved; Dad lived two blocks from the Walter Anderson Museum, and Liz and I both gave him Anderson posters to decorate his apartment down there. I have both of those now, but Gary decided we needed more Anderson artwork, so he ordered the elephants. One of Anderson's descendents printed the silksceen; they're an Ocean Springs dynasty.

A little while ago, I suddenly sat bolt upright, said, "Oh, my God!" and raced into Gary's study. "You gave me the elephants because of Dad, right?"

He looked at me like I'd grown two heads. "I gave them to you because I know your father liked Anderson, but I picked the elephants just because I liked the design. Why are elephants important?"

"Remember when I went down to Ocean Springs after Dad's quadruple bypass in 2001? I asked him what he wanted for Christmas and he said, 'A baby elephant,' so I got him all sorts of elephant stuff, remember?"

"Oh, yeah! The elephant bells hanging downstairs."

"And the elephant keychain. And the stuffed elephant in my study. And the elephant mug I sent Liz." Somewhere in the garage, there's also a watercolor of a grown elephant with a baby elephant.

"Huh," Gary said. "Well, I knew about the Anderson connection, but the elephants were just a lucky accident."

Accident or providence, the elephants comfort me. They feel like a Happy Birthday message from Dad, as well as from Gary.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

All Hail to the Birthday Cat!

Figaro is five years old today. The time goes so quickly!

Happy Birthday, Figgle-wiggle!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Today feels like the end of summer, even though that doesn't really happen until September 21.

Last night Gary was talking about the U.S. Tennis Open, and I suddenly teared up because I remembered that when I was sixteen or so, during a very brief interest in tennis, my father got us tickets to the Open as my birthday present.

He always called me on my birthday (9/7), but last year, he didn't, so I called him instead. I could tell that he didn't remember that it was my birthday, so I reminded him, gently. He was horrified that he'd forgotten. A few days later, I got a card that said, in his shaky writing, "I love you even when I don't remember how old you are." I still have it around here somewhere, the lsat birthday card I'll ever get from my father.

Okay. Now I'm getting maudlin.

But still, it seems to me that the first birthday without a parent is a very strange occasion, since our parents are the people who make our birthdays possible. It's going to be a bittersweet day. I know he'd be happy I'm having another birthday, and would want me to have many, many more of them -- as I hope I do, too! -- but I still wish he could share it with me. (And I'm crying as I write this . . . told you I was maudlin!)

On a happier note, today's mail brought my birthday gift from my sister: a generous gift certificate to my favorite local yarn store, Deluxe Yarn Etc., an independent shop run by a retired nurse. A few days ago, Liz asked me for a list of the yarn stores here, and I didn't think anything of it. Evidently she e-mailed DYE and explained that she lived across the country and wanted to get her sister a gift certificate. She didn't mention my name, and her name's hyphenated with her husband's, but the owner, Florrie Kersey, must have recognized the "Palwick" part. She e-mailed right back and said, "I know your sister well! Call me!"

When I told Gary this story, he laughed and said, "Are you kidding? You're part of her Platinum Club!"

I said, "Oh, no. Lots of people spend much more money there than I do, believe me!"

My mother's sending a check, because she can't get out to shop anymore. I'll do my best to pick out something she'd want me to have, probably a piece of jewelry (not that I don't already have more than enough!).

I'm sure it will be a lovely birthday, especially since it's a teaching holiday. But I miss my Dad.