Friday, December 31, 2010

A Few New Year's Lists

Best Things About 2010:

(Not necessarily in this order!)

Gary (always)
Sea Turtles
My viola
Music, generally
Getting my sabbatical for 2011-12

Worst Things About 2010:

Too many people I love died
I didn't get enough writing done

My Hopes for 2011:

That no one I love will die this year
That I'll write a lot, and that I'll like what I write
That other people will like what I write enough to publish it
That I'll generally be productive on my sabbatical
That I'll enjoy the Mexico cruise as much as I enjoyed the Alaska one
That we'll see whales and dolphins and sea turtles and manta rays in Mexico
That we'll find a wonderful new kitten to adopt at the end of my sabbatical (although that will be in 2012, come to think of it)
That I'll get better both at fiddling and at Spanish
That I'll knit my first sweater, or at least a vest

My Modest Resolutions

Write more
Exercise more
Practice the fiddle more
Lose some weight (even five pounds would help!)
Stop procrastinating (I've never managed this yet, but I keep hoping)
Be happier

And you, dear readers?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Last Two Days

This week's the annual Reno Chamber Music Festival, a marathon event featuring nine concerts in four days. In the past, they've done seven concerts in four days. One year, Gary and I actually attended all seven, but this was sufficiently grueling that we've scaled back and now pick and choose concerts according to the performers. This year, we're attending five concerts. We went to two yesterday and two today, and we'll go to another tomorrow.

Unfortunately -- for us, anyway -- yesterday and today's concerts were held in a church way south of here. (Reno money has migrated south, and of course the festival organizers want lots of rich people to come, so it makes sense to have a venue in their neighborhood.) The church is about a mile from the fanciest mall in town, so Gary and I have made it a tradition, on two-concert days down south, to shop and eat between concerts.

During the first concert yesterday, it started to snow. By the time we left the church, it was really snowing. We drove to the mall and shopped. I got two comfy cotton-knit cardigans on sale at Orvis, and a pair of Isotoner gloves on sale at Dillards. Luckily, I was wearing my mother's down parka with the fake-fur-trimmed hood, so I could bundle up between shops. (It's an open-air mall, and it's huge.) Then we ate dinner at the brew-and-burger place there. Partly because I'd been wandering around in the snow for a while, I ate far too much: a large plate of fish and chips followed by a bizarre dessert, a pizza cookie type thing, basically a huge chocolate chip cookie served hot out of the oven in a small pan. We were supposed to split this concoction, but it was too sweet for Gary, so I ate most of it.

Then we got back in the car to go back to the church for the second concert. It wasn't snowing by then, but everything had frozen into the proverbial skating rink. We were approaching an intersection when an SUV lost control and barreled in front of us (missing us by a few feet) and up onto the curb. Jeepers.

My little Ford Escort isn't crazy about bad weather, and getting to the church would have been pretty nerve-wracking even without the SUV near-miss. By the time we got back, we'd decided to leave our car at the church overnight and get a ride home with a friend who has 4WD, not to mention a lot of experience driving in snow.

That plan worked out well. She dropped us off last night and picked us up at eleven this morning for today's two concerts at noon and seven. The roads had cleared overnight, so my car was fine to drive again. After the first concert, I dropped Gary at the mall so he could see a movie (the new True Grit, which he liked but thinks would have been too brutal for me; we've recently seen together, and both loved, Black Swan and The King's Speech). Because we had so much time before the second concert, I dashed back up north to my gym, where I swam for an hour to stretch out my back and burn off even a crumb of the cookie monster from last night.

There's a Japanese restaurant at the mall, so Gary and I reconvened there for dinner. He'd suggested either Italian or the brew place again, but I wanted something healthy, with a menu relatively devoid of dairy and gluten. We had a large but healthy dinner of miso soup, salad, edamame, and sushi. It hit the spot! Also, the restaurant served green tea flavored with brown rice, which sounds bizarre but is absolutely delicious. I know green tea is good for me, but it usually tastes like grass. This had a wonderful nutty flavor. I loved it so much that I used my BlackBerry's Amazon app, right there in the restaurant, to order some for home.

I knit through all four concerts. I'm well begun on Christmas knitting for next year! During intermissions, various people asked me what I was working on. I hope no one thinks it's rude to knit during concerts, but I can actually concentrate better when my hands are busy.

Most of the music, as usual, has been wonderful. Alas, neither Gary nor I enjoy the longest piece on today's program, Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. The story behind the composition is indeed stirring, but the composition itself just doesn't do anything I ask of music. (After the concert, Gary and I both found ourselves wondering how many people claim to like this piece simply because they think they should on humanitarian grounds.)

Tomorrow we're going to an afternoon concert -- this one will be at the university, blessedly close to home -- and then spending a quiet evening at home. We were invited to a friend's house, but it's a bit far. I like just staying home on New Year's, which is my least favorite holiday in most of its public forms, although our friend's party would have been fun if we'd had the energy to get there. After all those concerts, though, I'd rather stay in. The cats are starting to forget what we look like!

Let's Hear it for Space Cucumbers!

My story Cucumber Gravy, originally posted on the late, lamented SciFiction site in 2001, is being reprinted in the January issue of Lightspeed Magazine. You can buy the e-book of the entire issue here, or wait until January 11, when the story will be posted on the website (I'll post a link when it's up). But $2.99's a steal, yes? And if you buy the e-issue, you get so many other goodies too!

I'm really fond of this story, which I describe as C.S. Lewis meets the Coen Brothers in the Nevada desert, and I'm very happy that it's back in print.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I just cleaned up my sidebar a bit: deleted dead links, replaced my old church with my new one, added a section for my e-books, added knitting to my profile, and so forth. I've been meaning to do this for a while now, and as with so many dreaded chores, it took much less time than I expected!

Saturday, December 25, 2010


This is a photo of the qiviut scarf I knit for Gary's mom for Christmas. Since she's opened the package, I can now post the photo!

I've already started knitting for next Christmas. Thank God for knitting, which carried me through a fairly joyless holiday. Last night we went out for dinner to our favorite restaurant, and it was nice, but somewhat subdued. The two highlights were Gary telling me that he'd always wanted to go on a cruise but never thought he'd get the chance because it's so decadent -- I didn't know it meant that much to him! -- and seeing two friends who were also eating dinner there.

We came home. I hung out and knitted for an hour or so before heading off to church. Somehow, although I can't quite figure out how from the timing, I missed a phone call from the ER in town where I don't volunteer. A bereaved relative had asked for pastoral care and they didn't have anyone there, so they were cold-calling anybody who might be able to help; somehow one of the nurses had gotten my number from an old church friend. I'd have gone if I'd known about this -- although I don't know if they'd still have wanted me once they learned I'm not clergy -- but I only got the voicemail message tonight.

My heart aches for the poor soul begging for pastoral care after a death on Christmas Eve. Horrible. I hope the hospital found someone. (flask, if you're reading this, I thought of you.)

But I didn't get the call -- maybe we got home right after they'd left the message? -- so instead I knitted and headed off to church, where my old deacon wasn't part of the service after all. He starts January 1. I sat with him, his wife, and their daughter, the reporter who did the lovely story on the closing of St. Stephen's. It was a nice service, but it was longer than we're used to, and it wasn't home. Someday it will feel like home. I just have to keep showing up.

I slept in this morning and headed off mid-morning to the ER where I do volunteer. It was a pleasant, low-key shift; I'm glad I was there, and I think at least a couple of patients were, too. No codes, thank goodness. I had a nice chat with One of My Favorite Nurses, who suggested that we and our husbands go out to dinner sometime. That would be great fun, and I hope it happens.

I also had a good conversation with the head staff chaplain, who was working today, and who said that the ER has very high rates of patient satisfaction with spiritual care. So those of us who work there (and several other volunteers, not to mention the staff chaplains, put in significantly more hours than I do) must be doing something right. The medical staff's very aware of spiritual issues, too, if only because there are often chaplains underfoot.

I came home, had a rather disjointed conversation with my sister, who didn't sound much more overjoyed with the holiday than I was, and settled down to knit and listen to my audiobook of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The reader chews the scenery -- why do people who read children's books have to ham up their performances so much? -- but it was still fitting for Christmas. This time around, I was newly struck by the scene where Aslan, walking to the stone table with Susan and Lucy, asks them to put their hands in his mane to comfort him. That's such a poignant detail. Even though I'm now hyper-aware of how Lewis is retelling the Passion, I like how he handles Gethsemane and Easter morning. The two girls stay awake; they stay with Aslan for as long as they can, and they watch what follows even when they can hardly stand to look at it, and -- just as in the Gospels -- the Daughters of Eve are the first witnesses of the resurrection.

So there you have it: a somewhat dull, sad, Christmas, but certainly there were very nice moments and a lot of reminders to be grateful.

And now to bed.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Miss You, Mom

This is the last photo I took of my mother, a year ago today.

To distract myself from sad memories, I went swimming -- the gym was a madhouse as everyone attempted to burn off a few more calories before Christmas -- and then went shopping. Last night I taught myself how to knit socks on two circular needles. It's not difficult, just a bit tricky, since the circulars tend to get tangled up in the sock, the yarn, and each other. It has the great advantage, though, that you can't lose a needle, which is something I routinely accomplish in really inconvenient places like airplanes and concerts. It has the other great advantage that trying on socks-in-progress is infinitely easier when they're on two circulars than when they're on three DPNs. So for the time being, I'm going to stick with this method.

This required me to go out and buy extra circs in sizes two and three. Along the way, I bought yarn (mostly on sale, and the non-sale stuff I paid for with the gift certificate my sister gave me for my birthday). Then I stopped by my favorite discount place and got two pairs of slacks for a total of $20. Woo-hoo! Shopping on Christmas Eve is fun when you don't have to do it.

I got home to discover that the two estate checks, my final Christmas gift from my mother, had come in today's mail.

Miss you, Mom.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

But Not That Dense

My doctor's nurse called this morning. My doctor can't offer a terribly informed opinion about this test because it's so new, but the nurse did say that while my report says I have dense breast tissue, there's no indication that the radiologist had any trouble reading the scan, which was absolutely normal. There's simply no indication for further testing, so I'm not going to do it.

As the nurse said, "Three hundred dollars is a lot to charge people for peace of mind." We talked a little about the marketing aspects of this. Like me, the nurse is offended that this company's capitalizing on women's fears of mortal illness, trying to create anxiety even when existing diagnostic exams reveal no reason for it.

In other news, I'm knitting my first pair of kneesocks, and this morning managed to do the knitting math required to calculate how many increases I need, over how many rows, for the sock to fit over my calf. We'll see how this works out. Knitting: always an adventure!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


My mammogram results came yesterday; they were normal, but the radiologist had affixed a sticker (pink, natch) to the latter saying that I'm a candidate for Sonocine. This is a whole-breast ultrasound, recommended for women with dense breast tissue, that supposedly catches small cancers that don't show up on a regular mammogram. At the radiology place where I got the mammogram, there were Sonocine posters all over the place: they're pushing this thing like it's the latest perfume. So part of me is ready to dismiss the girly pink sticker as pure medical marketing (especially since Sonocine is, I believe, headquartered here in Reno).

On the other hand, my mother's breast cancer only showed up on mammo when it had already spread to a bunch of lymph nodes, and although her outcome was excellent, the entire saga would have been much easier on everybody if they'd caught it before that. So I called the number on the girly pink sticker to ask some questions. Is this procedure covered by my insurance? No, and it costs $296.

A kind and very patient receptionist listened to my skepticism and assured me that no, the radiology place isn't sticking pink Sonocine stickers on every report that goes out, that only women with especially dense breast tissue are candidates for this procedure. (You always knew I was dense!) "But you can wait," she told me. "You don't have to do it now. Maybe it will be covered by your insurance in a few years."

The way the state budget's going, I'll be lucky if I have insurance in a few years. So I said, "I think I'm going to call my gynecologist and ask her opinion."

"Absolutely," said the kind, patient receptionist. "That's exactly what I'd do."

My gynecologist is out of the office today, but her receptionist -- who'd clearly never heard of this thing, and sounded baffled -- took a message and said she'll call me tomorrow morning. If my doc thinks it's a good idea, I'll certainly do it. I've had plenty of medical procedures that cost more money than that just for the twenty percent copay (the back MRI, most recently). In the meantime, I think I'm just rebelling against the fear-of-breast-cancer-as-big-business model that's clearly at work here, despite whatever real benefits this procedure offers.


What with snow and cold, we haven't been using our deck, but other creatures have.

I saw these tracks in the snow and thought they made a pretty pattern, so I took some snapshots. My best guess is that they were made by quail.

Yesterday I saw some rabbit tracks in our driveway, too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Toys

Staples had a shredder on sale yesterday for $29.00 (after rebate), so I got one. One of my long-term sabbatical plans is to get my filing cabinets cleaned out and organized -- there's stuff in there I literally haven't touched since we moved to Nevada thirteen years ago -- and that will include discarding ancient financial documents, so the shredder seems like a prudent investment.

Meanwhile, today the CrackBerry store had a one-day sale on the Tether program, which turns your BlackBerry into a mobile hotspot for your computer. This will be very helpful when I'm traveling with my netbook. You can connect the phone and computer via USB cable or Bluetooth, but Bluetooth eats up so much power that I'll be going the USB route. My Kindle recharging cable doubles as a USB. Very handy!

So I'm pleased. New gadgets are always fun, and now I won't have to worry about paying for internet access in hotels, airports, coffeeshops, etc. Unfortunately it won't do me any good on our Mexico cruise, since international roaming rates and cruise-ship roaming rates are both more than I want to pay, but it will be great the next time (for instance) we go to Hawai'i.

In writing news, today I talked to my editor about a new plot turn in the book. I was afraid it was too over the top, but he said it sounds workable. We had a nice chat. To my immense relief, he seems unconcerned about deadlines; his attitude is, "Give the book as much time as it needs." So I feel like I have a little more breathing room than I did before, although I still want to finish this project sooner rather than later.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone! From now on, the days get longer! What a relief!

Dawn Treader

So we indeed saw the new Narnia movie today. I enjoyed it more than Gary or our friend Katharine did, just because I'm so fond of the book. No film can capture the magic of Lewis' prose, and special effects by themselves don't do the trick.

Most magical moment for me: When the dragon's eye opens and we see Aslan reflected in it. Following closely on this was the slightly later scene when Caspian and the children are walking across the sand and the lion's shadow joins them.

I liked the treatment of the Eustace subplot the best; the stowaway child -- was she even in the book? -- seemed completely extraneous and unnecessary, and Lucy simpered entirely too much.

I'm glad I went, but I feel no need to see it again. I've downloaded the first three Narnia books from Audible, though, and look forward to listening to them!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I went to church this morning, rather than afternoon, for the ten a.m. Lessons & Carols service, which I always love. A handful of people from my old church were there, including our deacon and his wife; he's going to start serving at the new church on Christmas Eve, so I'll definitely go to that service, now that I'm going to be in town. (We had awful weather all day today -- snow, rain, snow, wind, snow -- and lots of other people have cancelled plans that involved crossing the mountains.)

It was nice to see old friends.

This church has a pre-service slideshow of various announcements and visuals. This morning, I looked up to see a slightly different version of the image above, one that acknowledged the source of the quotation as C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair. After my previous post, this was -- again -- perfect.

In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott describes her conversion as the feeling that "a little cat was following me," and says she finally told the cat -- as it wound around her ankles at her front door -- something like, "Oh, all right, you can come in."

I guess mine's a big cat.

In other news, yesterday I used my very wobbly Spanish for the first time at the hospital. I'd introduced myself to a patient and her family; the husband said they didn't speak much English, so I said I speak a little bit of Spanish. I tried to ask the patient if she wanted prayers or a warm blanket, but when I used the phrase "manta caliente" (which I'd gotten from Google Translator a few weeks ago, since it's something I say all the time at the hospital), the family merely stared at me in evident alarm. I pantomimed being cold and wrapping myself in a blanket, and she said yes, so I got her a blanket, and I believe I succeeded in asking the man if he wanted some water, which he declined. But by then they'd switched back to speaking English -- much more fluently than I speak Spanish! -- and they gave me such odd looks whenever they saw me afterwards that I hope I hadn't asked her if she wanted a spicy manta ray, or something worse. ("No, thank you. Spicy manta rays are what landed me in the ER in the first place.") Later I asked one of the housekeepers who speaks Spanish how to say "warm blanket," and she suggested "savannah caliente." I'll use that next time.

A student who's a paramedic told me the story of an English-speaking colleague of hers trying to coach a Spanish-speaking woman through labor in the back of his ambulance. He kept telling her to push, and couldn't understand why she and her husband were getting so upset at him. Turned out that the word he'd been using for push was "puta."

Ouch. I hope my own gaffe wasn't quite that awful.

Well, at least I tried. And I have to say that in all my years of studying languages (six years of French in junior high and high school, Old English in grad school, a grueling summer of intensive Latin in grad school), this is the first time I've ever tried to use another language in a real-world situation.

After my hospital shift I got a haircut and then wandered into Ross to look, unsuccessfully, for a cardigan sweater. I heard a small child sobbing, "Quiero!" and managed to deduce that he was crying, in the phrase so beloved of kids, "I want it! I want it!"

With any luck, he wasn't pestering his mom for a spicy manta ray.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Gift

Last night I got a little weepy, a combination of missing my parents and disappointment that we aren't going to San Francisco. I told Gary that to console myself, I want to see the new Narnia movie sometime this week. (We find 3D merely annoying, but have found theaters where it's playing in good old 2D.) I don't expect the film to be anywhere near as good as the book, but I read a review that said that this one's better than the other two, with more moral weight. I'm listening to an audiotape of Lewis' Surpised by Joy at the moment, so I'm in the mood.

I grew up on, and at least partly in, Narnia. My sister read me The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was pretty small, and I went on to devour the others on my own. I haven't reread the books for many decades now, although the boxed set my mother bought me when I was a child sits loyally on my bookshelves, but a typed copy of Puddleglum's famous quotation from The Silver Chair -- the long speech that concludes, "I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it" -- is taped above my desk.

I was completely smitten with Aslan when I was a kid, partly because he was such a great character and partly because I loved cats, big or small, anyway. I think I've written here before about how my own imaginary world, called "Aleia" (complete with maps, including the annexed territories of Narnia and Oz) was populated with my favorite characters from other stories, as well as a number of my own. Chief among the residents were Aslan and Elsa, the lioness from Born Free, who married, mated, and had litters of rollicking cubs.

My aunt and uncle went to Africa when I was a kid, and I begged my uncle to bring back a picture of a lion for me. I was grievously disappointed when he sent me a postcard of a lion: I'd wanted him to meet a lion, talk to it, and take a snapshot. A few years later, when I learned that the real-life Elsa had died some time before -- and I hadn't even known it -- I sobbed for days. It was my first taste of real grief.

In fifth grade, when my mother moved to a larger apartment and I was terrified over the move (have I mentioned that I was a strange, neurotic little girl?), Mom put a poster in my new room to reconcile me to the space. The poster was a large black-and-white photograph of a male lion with a tiny tabby kitten curled between its paws. I loved it.

I'm more than half-convinced that my immersion in the Narnia books made me a sleeper Christian decades before I ever dreamed of going to church. I'm sure C.S. Lewis would approve.

So, anyway. Last night I babbled about all of this to Gary for a while. An hour or so later, when we settled down to watch our current DVD -- the fourth season of The Tudors -- he came downstairs with a rolled-up poster and said, "Here. This is your Christmas gift." (Hours earlier, when we'd decided not to go to San Francisco, almost his first words were, "This doesn't mean we have to buy each other Christmas presents, does it?" We'd decided that the trip would be our gift to each other, and Gary loathes everything to do with the holiday.)

It's the poster of Aslan shown at the top of this post. Gary had snagged a free copy when he went to another movie, and had forgotten he had it until last night.

How perfect is that?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Snow Day

It's been snowing here all day. I'd planned to go to the gym today, to go to the garage for a minor car repair, and to go to my fiddle lesson. Instead, I've just stayed inside. (Charlene called this morning and said that if I wanted to cancel because of weather, it was fine with her.)

Forecasts are for us to get socked with a series of winter storms from now until early next week, and then maybe around Christmas, too. This was the lead story in the paper this morning, with warnings about avalanches, floods, high winds, and possible power outages. Motorists, especially in the mountains, are alerted to be prepared for "slow and hazardous" travel, and to make sure they've brought lots of food, water and blankets.

So we've just made our formal decision not to go to San Francisco, and are cancelling reservations. Sigh.

We'll see if I get to the hospital tomorrow.

Tomorrow's two years since my father's terrible trip from the Palo Alto VA back to Reno, through a Sierra blizzard with only one oxygen tank (described in this post), and Sunday is two years since Gary's dad died. So this weather seems to be a historical pattern. With any luck, though, everyone we love will remain alive this weekend.


I just finished my first cowl in this totally awesome reversible pattern. Easy: just knits and purls! Fun! Infinitely adjustable! Warm, soft and comfortable! This one's pure wool. When I've knit down the pure wool in my stash, I'll definitely do some of these in superwash.

The pattern calls for the cowl to be seven inches high, but I doubled that to make it easier to use as a hat/scarf combo. (The pattern's a Ravelry download, so anyone who's interested can find it there.) The next one I make will begin and end with a garter-stitch border, since the top and bottom of the finished cowl aren't as neat as I'd like. Overall, though, great pattern!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jangle Bells

Readers please note: In this post, I express a number of minority, and perhaps heretical, opinions. If you disagree with me, that's fine, but please don't flame me for having a different take on things.

Okay, so: The last few days have been a bit stressful. Yesterday my sister called to talk to me about closing out Mom's estate before the end of the calendar year, which the lawyer had recommmended. I hadn't seen this coming, and although the procedures she outlined on the phone weren't that complicated, they sent me into a tizzy. I went totally into scarcity space: hyperventilating oh-my-god-I'm-gonna-starve-to-death-in-a-cardboard-box mode.

On the face of it, this makes no sense. Why would one feel a sudden surge of panic on learning that one's acquiring several thousand unexpected dollars? At the time, I couldn't analyze it past the point of recognizing that financial matters always send me into a cold sweat. To calm my nerves, I went to the gym and swam for an hour. That sort of worked, although the perky Christmas music in the lockerroom left me with the strong and un-Christian urge to take a flamethrower to Frosty the Snowman. (I heard two other women complaining about the music, so I wasn't alone in my reaction.)

After the swim, I managed to get more of a handle on why I'd gone off the deep end, so to speak. After this, there will be no more estate. This is really the end, finis, the last money I'll get from my mother, and it's coming at the darkest time of the year, and on the heels of a conversation Gary and I had with a financial advisor who told us that I have to work for at least another fifteen years; I'd hoped for only ten. (And yes, I know: at least I have a job! And I'm indeed grateful!)

Once I'd figured that out, I started organizing my Christmas packages to the East Coast. It always amazes me how long wrapping takes; I'd economized -- probably unwisely -- by packing the wrapped gifts in old boxes we had in the garage, which meant that I had to wrap the boxes in plain brown wrapping paper to cover old Amazon labels and so forth.

I thought I had enough brown wrapping paper. I did, sort of, but only if I covered each box in two or three pieces of the stuff, which led to lots of fun with packing tape -- our only roll was playing "let's hide the end so you can't find it!" -- especially since Bali and Figgy had gotten into my study and were prancing through boxes and wrapping paper, getting themselves stuck to the tape, and so forth. The upshot of this ridiculous situation was that I spent all night wrapping two frigging boxes and went to sleep in a really bad mood.

I woke up this morning, feeling only marginally less cranky, to find the promised e-mailed documents from the attorney. I printed them out, ran around getting stuff notarized and mailed (the post office lines were shorter than I expected, and the boxes should arrive next week), and dashed home for lunch. I called my sister to tell her that I'd mailed the legal stuff, and discovered that she'd just been in a minor car accident -- she'd skidded into another car in snow -- and was very shaken up, despite no damage to people and only minor damage to cars.

That conversation made me a few minutes late for my beloved annual mammogram, which I've been superstitiously nervous about because my mother's breast cancer was diagnosed the Christmas after her father died. (This was in 1987; obviously she survived it, although the cancer was far advanced even though the mammogram supposedly caught it early.) No one I know enjoys these procedures, anyway: a friend who refuses to undergo them says, "I'll let them do that to me when men start having annual cancer screenings in which their testicles are smashed between two plates."

I don't agree with this sentiment, but I sympathize. Even for modestly endowed women like me, mammograms hurt. Also, I recently taught Barbara Ehrenreich's scathing and brilliant Welcome to Cancerland to my freshman-comp class, so her critiques of breast-cancer culture were fresh in my mind. Ehrenreich is deeply alarmed by the consumerization of breast cancer, which normalizes it and helps transform it into a rite of passage rather than a huge injustice perpetrated upon women's bodies by environmental toxins. (My completely non-activist mother's first words, after her diagnosis, were, "Well, that's what I get for living in New Jersey all these years." Even she got the environmental connection.) Ehrenreich cites studies that call into serious question the efficacy both of current screening methods and current treatments, and points out that if people gave their money directly to cancer research -- rather than supporting runs, walks and rallies with large overhead costs, or buying pink-beribboned teddy bears, jewelry, etc. and so forth -- we might make more headway against the disease. She's especially withering on how the rhetoric of breast cancer, with its pink everything, infantilizes women. In short, she thinks women are being lulled into complacency, whereas anger at the situation might result in more effective action (think Act Up).

Ehrenreich dislikes the color pink. So do I. So does my friend who refuses to get mammograms, who was ecstatic when I told her about the Ehrenreich essay. She hadn't known that anyone else felt the same way.

So I was thinking about all of that while sitting in the very crowded waiting room. I waited over thirty minutes, and finally all of us in the outer waiting room were summoned into the inner waiting room, which was warmer and more comfortable. There we found a large bin of hideous pink plastic Christmas ornaments in shiny purple mesh gift bags. A beaming hospital employee invited each of us to take one home.

I saw pink. Channeling Ehrenreich, I said to the beaming hospital employee, "I have a question. Wouldn't the money that went into manufacturing these ornaments be better spent on actual cancer research?"

She didn't even blink. "Yes. Yes, it would." (Good for you, lady!)

I gave her a brief overview of Ehrenreich. A woman at the other end of the room looked interested and asked me some questions as she cradled her pink ornament. Everyone else ignored us. ("If we don't look at her, maybe she'll go away.")

The hospital employee told me about various hospital projects that do contribute directly to research. Good for them! She and the patient with the ornament decided, between them, that the point of the ornaments was to "give people hope." Hey, if a tacky plastic ornament gives them hope, good for them. I, personally, don't find Christmas trees festooned with kitschy reminders of serious illnesses profoundly hopeful, but we all know how weird I am.

Finally they called me in. I got squashed. The tech was very deft; everyone was very nice. This is the place I always go, because they're very deft and very nice, and the one time I got called back for further scrutiny of an "area of concern" (which turned out to be a shadow), the male doctor was immensely kind and spent much more time talking to me than the situation actually warranted. That interpersonal skill is worth dumptrucks of plastic ornaments.

I went from the mammo place to the gym, where I worked out for forty-five minutes on the elliptical, traveling 3.3 miles and burning 350 calories. I was very pleased with myself, but leaving the gym, I discovered the lobby festooned with pink and white balloons and "See Pink!" banners, as more and more people (including musicians with instrument cases) piled into the building. Some kind of breast-cancer fundraiser was underway. The club staff assured me the money would go to research, which makes me wonder if the refreshments and music were donated.

I blew my workout on three yummy cookies from the tables piled high with treats. I went home to find more treats from my sister: a box of chocolate-dipped fruit. Yum. Goodbye, workout.

At least, thank God, my sister's okay after her accident. And Gary and I will now have a slightly larger financial cushion during my sabbatical. And -- this is the really exciting news -- I just performed my first felted join in a knitting project, and am thoroughly enchanted. No ends to weave in! Yay!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I've heard teaching described as an exercise in plagiarism. Most of us cheerfully use approaches, material and exercise we've gotten from colleagues, and most of us also cheerfully share our approaches, material and exercises with colleagues. I do plenty of this myself, although -- mindful to model academic accountability for my students -- I try always to acknowledge my sources.

At the same time, syllabi are intellectual property. Professors put weeks, if not months, of work into these documents. Actually, it probably amounts to years, when you think about all the background reading and thought that culminates in designing a course. Many of my professor friends no longer post syllabi on websites, for instance, because they don't want strangers just lifting their work.

I'll always share syllabi with colleagues in my own department, especially graduate students designing their own courses on similar subjects. But last week, I got an e-mail from a stranger (who shall remain nameless and de-identified, to use HIPAA language) who plans to teach a freshman-comp course about narrative and medicine, and who more or less demanded a copy of my syllabus from this fall. This individual also asked if I'd be willing to read an essay he plans to submit to medical-humanities publications.

The tone and cluelessness of this letter left a seriously bad taste in my mouth. First of all, I spent a long time writing that syllabus, and I'm not just going to hand it over to a stranger. Design your own course, dude! Also, c'mon: it's mid-December, when academics are up to their necks in grading. If you're an academic yourself, surely you know this? And if you're an academic, you must be aware that we all have our own writing to do. No, I don't have time to read your essay. (I have a long-standing policy of only reading manuscripts by current students, unless I'm doing a formal manuscript review for a press, something for which I'll be paid and/or receive service credit from my department.)

Aside: I know that the world is full of people who assume that writers, and writing teachers, greet unsolicited manuscripts with cries of joy because they have nothing else to do with their time. "A 900-page novel about telekinetic gophers! Riddled with grammatical errors! Printed in green ink on butcher paper! In a shoebox! Be still, my heart! My life's dream has been fulfilled!"

Okay, obviously I'm being unkind and sarcastic here. I can identify with the desperation of beginning writers -- been there, felt that -- but there are accepted ways to get people to read your work. Take a class. Enroll in a workshop. Do your homework, and by all that's holy learn the conventions of the field. Be professional or be toast.

I'm sure my correspondent's unread essay was, at least, professionally formatted. But I wouldn't expect a college instructor to fall into the arrogance of sending his work to a stranger without an explicit invitation.

Annoyed, I put off answering this missive until this morning, when I informed him, as nicely as possible, that I wasn't comfortable sharing my writing assignments until he told me how he planned to acknowledge them as my work, not his. (I also reminded him that composition instructors need to be very sensitive to tone in their own writing, since it's something we try to teach our students.) I did send him a list of the reading my students had most enjoyed. I closed, though, by saying that I was sorry I didn't have time to read his essay.

I clicked on "send" and then saw that I had a new e-mail from him. Our e-mails had crossed in cyberspace. His second one copied the text of the first and repeated, with evident exasperation, his demand that I send him my syllabus. He'd also attached his essay so I could read it.


Dude: it's mid-December, when you may safely expect fellow academics to take a week to answer an e-mail. No, I'm not going to read your fracking essay -- find someone who actually knows you to do that -- and if you want my writing assignments, you'd #!$%* well better footnote me on your syllabus.


I've deleted the second e-mail, since he now has my response to the first. Frankly, I think I was generous to share any information with him at all. I'll still send him my writing assignments if he can promise me that they'll be acknowledged; I'm very curious to see how he'll respond to that request.

In happier news, I turned in my grades yesterday. In even less happy news, grim weather's forecast for the mountains for Saturday through Wednesday, so we may not get to San Francisco at all. Pray for sunshine!

Later: I got back a much nicer e-mail than the other two -- and he seems genuinely engaged with the subject -- so I went ahead and sent him some material. I'm glad the conversation ended better than it started!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Back in the Saddle

I went to the hospital this weekend for the first time in, like, forever, since my various ailments have kept me away. It was a good shift; many of my visits seemed especially meaningful to patients, and I also had a nice conversation with a nurse I haven't seen in a while.

In church on Sunday, I had the pleasure of listening to a friend preach. He was in my preaching class (he's a priest now), and he's very gifted. The homily was beautifully crafted and well delivered, the best sermon I've heard in a long time. Afterwards, when I complimented him, he said, "Thanks! And speaking of which, are you interested in doing any preaching here?"

I told him I am. He's going to mention it to the rector. I'm very happy; one reason I chose this parish is because I thought I might have a chance of preaching again, but I didn't expect the subject to come up this soon.

This week's a bit crazy. I'll be handing in grades tomorrow, but the week's still filled with meetings and other work tasks, including preparation of annual-review materials, a chore which always takes at least three days. I'm trying to get the first draft of my novel done by the time classes start on January 18, but I just got a revision request on an essay I submitted to a volume on Tolkien, and the new version's due January 15. (We were supposed to get revision requests in October, but the editor's been ill; I can certainly relate to that kind of delay!) I'm also behind on Christmas knitting, which absolutely has to be done by the end of this week, so I can get packages in the mail before our trip to San Francisco.

At least, we hope we'll be going to San Francisco. Weather forecasts are grim: if we can make it over the mountains, it's supposed to rain all week in the city. So even if we get there, I may not get my Christmas walk on the beach after all.

Oh well. We can always hit the museums. If we wind up stuck here for Christmas, I'll probably spend part of the day at the hospital, since anyone in the ER that day will need extra comfort. But as much as I love my volunteer work, I'd rather be in San Francisco!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Little Pack Mule

Remember a few days ago, when I said I'd spent some writing money on yet another backpack purse? Well, it arrived, and I think it's finally what I've wanted for several years now. This little beauty, a mere 8 by 10 by 4.5 inches, is the Victorinox Flex Pack, known elsewhere as the Swiss Army Flex Pack.

This pack solves several problems of previous packback purses I've owned. The straps are wide enough not to cut into my shoulders (for some reason, entirely too many women's backpacks have spaghetti straps), and the back's padded for comfort. The hardware on said straps -- which are infinitely adjustable via sliding buckles -- allows me to attach my cellphone case on one side, and a keyring with a whistle and mini-flashlight on the other. This keeps those objects in the front and gives me instant access to them. The pack's very lightweight, even fully loaded. There's a top carry loop which can double as a handle if you want to carry the pack like a purse.

And don't let the pack's tiny size fool you. Mine currently contains:

In the main compartment:

* My wallet, zipped securely into a pocket on the back wall.

* My Kindle.

* My journal.

* A sock-knitting project.

* A small case of knitting notions.

* A small notebook in which I record purchases.

* My business-card case.

* A cosmetic mirror and comb (tucked into an elastic pocket).

* My thumb drive (in the other elastic pocket).

In the top front pocket:

* A bottle of eyeglass cleaning solution.

* A microfiber cloth for wiping clean said eyeglasses.

In the front organizer pocket:

* Three pens and a Japanese folding fan (for those menopausal hot flashes), all of which fit neatly in a slash pocket. I was afraid that the lack of pen loops would be a drawback, but having unstructured space for pens is actually better.

* Lip balm, hand balm, eye drops, and Advil in another slash pocket.

* My lucky beach rocks in a small zippered mesh pocket.

* My small appointment calendar and a pack of tissues.

There's also a key fob, which I'm not using.

Oh, yeah, and there's a zipout mesh pocket on one side which will hold a water bottle or umbrella.

Security Features

I'm paranoid about purses. I've had three stolen: one was cut off my body by a guy on a bicyle wielding a knife -- in broad daylight on a very busy street in New York City -- and another was snatched as I walked back to my mother's apartment in New Jersey. To be fair, those two were easily snatchable, even though the first was a cross-body bag, because my hands were full with other things: lesson learned! But one wants to be able to carry other things, yes? The third bag was lifted from the back of my chair in a restaurant in New York.

Obviously, anybody who really wants my purse is going to be able to get it: I won't sacrifice my life for my Kindle, or even my socks-in-progress. But the Flex Pack has several very useful security features. The zippers slide into elastic zipper garages, which would make them more difficult for a pickpocket to open. The straps are not only pleasingly thick, but reinforced with wire, making them slash-resistant.

Finally, the fabric's strong nylon, also slash-resistant (and probably weather-resistant into the bargain, useful when the bag contains a Kindle).

The only weak spot I can see is that, because this pack can also be used as a cross-body or waistpack should one choose (hence the name Flex Pack), the straps attach to the main body of the back with quick-release buckles. Theoretically, a clever thief, or a pair of them, could reach out and release the buckles and then yank the pack from one's back, although one hopes they'd search out easier targets. To address this problem, I've ordered some cable keyrings I'll use to attach the two parts of the buckle. I'll use another of the keyrings to anchor the bag to my chair back or leg if I'm in a public place, to prevent its growing legs.

And the downside?

Because we don't live in a perfect world, the Flex Pack has two drawbacks. First, the price is a bit steep, although many good purses cost a lot more. I think it's worth every penny, obviously, but for several decades of my life I wouldn't have dreamed of spending this much money on a bag.

Secondly, it's not sexy. If you're looking for an elegant or pretty backback purse, look elsewhere. This is a black square with zippers. It's not going to win any awards for aesthetics, although the design's pleasingly clean. But although my other packback purses are prettier, this one's superior in every other respect.

Also, if you want something big, this isn't your bag. If you want something small but sturdy, it's perfect!

There you go. That's my review.

And in other news, I finished my Christmas shopping today (all but the knitting!).

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Last Service

The story about St. Stephen's last service -- it's a mini-documentary sound clip with photos -- was posted on the website after all. I just missed it. Here is it.

Liz Margerum, the reporter, did a gorgeous job on this. Her dad's our deacon. In the sound clip, you can hear him choke up as he's reading the Gospel. (The long pause is when he was trying to get his voice back under control; he choked up anyway as he kept reading.)

I'm so glad she did this.

Things Seen and Unseen

I have a new column up at Church Health Reader. This one's particularly fitting for anyone who's having a blue Christmas, so I'm glad they posted it this month.

I also like their pregnancy focus for Advent. Sunday's homily was about how the church has traditionally described Advent as a time of waiting, and how "nesting" -- the compulsive urge women often feel late in pregnancy to create clean, safe places for themselves and their babies -- may be a better metaphor. Our job in Advent is to organize God's nursery, to create a place in ourselves and our lives for the divine.

Works for me!

Monday, December 06, 2010


I just got back from teaching my last two formal classes of the semester (although my students and I have to attend a poster presentation on Saturday). Driving home, I thought about how I always used to call my mother and say, "I'm done with classes!", and how I can't do that anymore.

So I was already feeling a little weepy when I pulled into the garage. Getting out of the car, I glanced up at a shelf and saw a red-berry Christmas tree, a small tabletop one that Gary and I bought one year when Mom visited for Christmas. We never decorate just for ourselves, but we did for her.

Seeing the tree undid me completely.

This is just going to keep happening for a while, especially through the holidays. I'm so glad we're going to San Francisco.


My copies of the Italian edition of Flying in Place arrived this weekend. See how pretty? It's in Italian! It's on Kindle! Flying in Place is all over the place!

I stayed home from the hospital on Saturday, again, because I still had a wretched cough and didn't want to alarm anyone in the ER. I intended to be virtuous and get a lot of work done. Ha.

Well, okay, maybe, if you define knitting as work (which I don't, exactly). I woke up, finished one pair of socks, started another pair of socks, worked on my qiviut scarf, went for a short swim to stretch out my back, went to the yarn store, where I worked some more on the qiviut scarf and bought a new pair of circular needles, and then came home, where -- to test the new needles, 'natch -- I stayed up entirely too late knitting a completely addictive cowl. Cowls are great! They're scarves! They're hats! They're fun and stretchy! I foresee many cowls as Christmas gifts next year.

On Sunday, sleeping off my knitting hangover, I was in bed until noon (eeek!), and got up feeling roughly as energetic as the young lady on the Italian FliP cover. Had a fiddle lesson, went to church, and drove Gary to a concert at the university; instead of going to the concert myself, I worked in the library to make up for time lost to knitting.

Today's the last day of formal classes, although I still have various piles o' grading and administrative tasks, and a poster session my freshman are required to attend on Saturday. But we're definitely in the home stretch.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Words to the Wise

This gem courtesy of YouTube via the Mythsoc listserv.

I'm going to show this to my fiction workshop on Monday. Too unbelievably funny, precisely because it's so true. I've heard would-be writers say all of these things.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sleeping on His Head


My voice isn't entirely back, but it's mostly back, and I feel somewhat less like a sodden sandbag than I did yesterday.

I learned yesterday that one of my short stories, "Gestella" -- my eco-feminist werewolf story, and one of the two or three darkest things I've written -- is being reprinted in an urban fantasy anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale. The volume, as yet untitled, will be published by Tachyon. I'll post more when I get more info.

In the meantime, the small advance will allow me to buy myself a Christmas gift of, heaven help me, yet another backpack bag. I now own an embarrassing number of these things, but I'm still looking for the perfect one, and for various reasons, I think this one will address a number of problems I've had with others. Namely: I think it will hold what I need it to hold without being too heavy (unlike my otherwise beloved Baggallini Brussels bag, which was doing a number on my back), and it looks like the straps are both thick enough not to cut into my shoulders -- I hate the skinny straps on most women's purse-backpacks -- and adjustable enough to ensure a snug fit.

If it works out, I'll let you know. If not, I'll return it and continue the quest.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Still Croaking

My voice isn't entirely gone, but it's still mostly gone, and what I have is very croaky and feels like it could give out at any moment. So I called in sick. I'm afraid that if I tried to teach today, I'd lose my voice entirely.

I've e-mailed my students about rearranged class schedules. (How did any of us function before e-mail?) I always build a little slack into the semester so I can afford to be absent if necessary.

Sigh. I shouldn't have talked as much as I did yesterday. I'll be better about that today.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No Hablo Nada

I'm sure that's completely incorrect Spanish, but the translation is, "My cold has morphed into laryngitis and I can barely speak." I croaked my way through today's Spanish lesson, through a phone call from an old church friend who now lives in Massachusetts, and through a phone call from another church friend -- here in Reno -- who was just calling to see how I was doing on the first post-closure Sunday.

It looks like the paper will never run that story about our last Sunday. I may be able to get copies of the photos anyway, since I know the reporter's parents. At some point, I'll post my own pictures, although they're of things -- the altar, the view from the parish hall -- rather than of people. My people shots didn't come out well, and I knew the reporter had that covered, so I didn't worry about it. Now I just hope I'll have a chance to see her shots.

Anyway, I'm doing okay, considering that I have amost no voice. I swam a little and went to the tiny, peaceful 5 PM service at my new church. Now I'm going to grade for a few hours. Whatever I don't get done tonight, I can finish tomorrow morning. If I have any voice at all tomorrow, I'll croak my way through classes; if not, I'll e-mail in sick.

I hope next year is less eventful than this last one has been. I also hope I get better soon, and stay that way for a while. These constant physical stresses -- the bad knee! the bad back! the bad cold! -- are becoming very tiresome.

On a more cheerful note, Gary and I both think that maybe Bali's shedding less. Maybe the Feliway's working.

Happy Advent, everyone.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Oh, the Excitement!

I just learned that there's a place in Reno that makes gluten-free pizza (and if I bring my soy cheese, they'll make it with that, although the guy I spoke to on the phone said that would be a first for them).

I'm so excited! I've so missed pizza!

Also, today we booked a shore excursion for our cruise. In Puerta Vallarta, we'll be taking a six-and-a-half hour catamaran ride which includes whale watching, dolphin watching, snorkeling, lunch, and -- conditions permitting -- a stop at a nice beach. All this for $79 per person, which is a positive steal compared to most shore excursions. We'd be thrilled to see whales and dolphins and turtles again, and mantas for the first time, although of course wildlife sightings can't be guaranteed.

I'm researching places in Mazatlan and Cabo where we can snorkel right off the beach. Once I have that nailed down, I'll start investigating art galleries and dining options (although we can always eat on the ship). Our Alaska trip taught us to plan ahead for times in port, to avoid the black hole of ticky-tacky tourist hell. I enjoy a little of that, but a little goes a long way, and Gary loathes even a little.

Here in Reno, it's snowing, making my fantasies of warm, sunny Mexico even more alluring.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Now, here's a grateful cat! Note kneading paws.

So far, the Feliway seems to be making Figgy more lovey-dovey. We can't tell yet if it's helping Bali. He's still shedding huge hunks o' fur. He seems a little calmer to me than he has, but I may just be imagining it.

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Ours has been quiet, even though it's also Gary's birthday. I woke up feeling worse again today, which has put a damper on things.

We went to our friend Katharine's house for dinner, and it was pleasant as always, but I felt like I was underwater. When we got home, I crashed for several hours. Now I'm grading my daily quota of papers, and when I'm done with that, we'll probably watch a little TV before I crash again.

I hope I feel better tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


When I got home from work tonight, Gary said, "Hey, you got a letter from the President of the University." It informed me that I've been awarded a sabbatical leave for the academic year 2011-12.

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Thanks be to God! ThankyaJesus!

I've been prancing around the house in delight, even though my throat's still sore and my head's still clogged. Sabbatical! Yay! Yay! Yay!

My proposal's to finish two novels and a poetry chapbook, which is a non-trivial amount of work, but at least I'll be able to concentrate on that stuff without having to teach classes at the same time. Yay!

The downside, of course, is the two-thirds salary belt-tightening, although the leave's completely worth it.

This also means we won't be getting another cat until autumn of 2012, but by then, maybe Bali will have calmed down enough to allow another animal into the household (we just got the Feliway today; I hope it works!).

Sabbatical! Yay!

Can you tell I'm happy?

Language Instruction as Cultural Critique

Today's Pimsleur lesson -- which I'll definitely have to repeat, since my clogged head made it hard for me to hear the tape clearly -- included a scene in a restaurant. Stressed-out tourist says, "I only have eight minutes to eat a sandwich."

The waiter responds, "I understand. You're American, and you have no time."

Ain't that the truth?

Eat, tourist, eat! Run, tourist, run! Run back to the dock while frantically chewing your sandwich, so your cruise ship doesn't leave without you!

Tomorrow's lesson: "Does anyone here know the Heimlich maneuver?"

I still feel like I'm underwater, but I plan to go to work today anyway. We're watching a video in both of my classes, so it should be low-key.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I woke up at six this morning with a screaming sore throat; this is much the same thing that happened to me in Auburn, and it's probably also a function of allergies. I was at a dinner party the other night where I wasn't as careful about what I ate as I should have been, so I suspect I'm being clobbered by dairy, which always goes straight to my throat and sinuses. In Auburn I felt better after a few hours. This thing seems to be hanging on longer than that, although, luckily, there's no fever.

We had a lot of snow here today. That, plus my feeling cruddy, were a bad combination. My health club's pool opened today after a two-week overhaul, and I'd really been looking forward to swimming again. Weather and health both mitigated against that, but I knew that doing laps would help my back. So, possibly unwisely, I hauled myself into the car after lunch and drove down to the gym. My half-hour swim was indeed lovely, and the driving wasn't even too bad; the hardest part was getting back up our short-but-tilted driveway when I got home, even though Gary had shoveled.

Right now my head and throat feel awful again, but at least my back and the rest of my body feel better than they did before I swam (and I really do think my ailment's allergies, and not anything contagious, or I wouldn't have gotten in the pool). We'd been thinking of going to a concert tonight, but between icy roads and the fact that I once again feel like I've been hit by a truck, we're staying home. I have a huge stack of papers to grade and had planned to start on that today, but I don't think it's going to happen. I'm going to drink a pot of peppermint tea and then crawl into bed.

The story about Sunday's service at St. Stephen's doesn't seem to be in the paper yet, which disappoints me. My friend Mary loves her socks, though! And in Spanish news, I know how how to say those all-important phrases "How much does this cost?" and "Where's the bathroom?" Today's lesson was obsessed with beer. Since I don't drink alochol, I hope a future lesson will discuss coffee.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

End of an Era

The weather stayed milder than expected, so we had our last church service this morning. It was very long and very sad. I think everybody cried, although we also had our share of laughter. A photographer from the local paper was there -- she happens to be the daughter of our deacon -- so I'll post a link to the story when it's up, probably tomorrow. She took lots of pictures and also interviewed some of us.

The photographer had said to me, "I wonder if my Dad will cry." He did. Normally reserved and quiet, he broke down while he was reading the Gospel -- the all-too-fitting crucifixion story from Luke, with bystanders mocking Jesus and telling him to save himself -- which meant that a lot of us broke down, too.

I felt worst for one of our older parishioners, who's been devastated by the church closing and who hung her head and sobbed during the final hymns. She was standing alone in her pew, weeping -- I think the people near her were afraid that reaching out would be too intrusive somehow -- so I crossed the aisle and held her. (Someone had done the same for me when I lost it during the Peace.) When she could speak again, she thanked me. Everyone's sad, but she seemed most bereft to me.

We were all invited to take Prayer Books and hymnals home with us, along with old church photo-directories and a pamphlet about our stained-glass windows. The vestry's putting together a memory book, and all of us will get a copy. I also snagged a Book of Occasional Services and Lesser Feasts and Fasts, along with a bag of Bishop's Blend coffee. I threw out my church key; the locks are being rekeyed next week anyway. The Diocese is going to lease out the building until economic conditions are better for a sale.

Several people I know are moving to the same parish I am, although we may be attending different services. A number of others go to the same health club I do, so I'll see them there. But I'm sure there were people there this morning I'll never see again.

Quite a few folks asked me if I'll keep preaching. I don't know. That's up to the Powers That Be at my new parish. Right now, I'm just going to lie low and work on healing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Easily Amused

Last night I wound up having a giggling fit in the middle of my Pimsleur Spanish lesson, which asked the student to participate in a conversation that went roughly like this (but in Spanish, of course):
"Hello! Where are you?"

"I'm in the hotel. Where are you?"

"I'm in the restaurant, but I don't have any pesos."

"You don't have any pesos?"

"No! I don't have any pesos!"

"Do you have any dollars?"

"I have two dollars, but I want pesos! Do you have any pesos?"

"No, I don't have any pesos. I only have dollars."
I had a vivid mental image of some poor schmuck, having just devoured the most expensive item on the menu of the pesos-only restaurant, going in panic through his wallet and then making a frantic call to his equally pesos-deprived traveling companion.

Moral of this story: Make sure you have enough of the local currency before you order the lobster.

This evening, we will practice the following conversation:
"I'm sorry, sir, but you will have to wash dishes in the kitchen."

"Wash dishes in the kitchen? But I don't want to wash dishes!"

"Either you wash dishes in the kitchen or we call the police."

"The police! I don't like the police! And I also don't like dishes!"

"Well then, sir, we need pesos."

"But I have no pesos! I have two dollars! Do you want two dollars?"

"We are calling the police, sir."

"Do the police want two dollars?"

"The police want you to give us pesos, sir."

"I do not like the police, and I do not have any pesos. Take me to your dishes."
In other news, we're still waiting for the snow to start, but the storm's now expected to be less severe than originally anticipated. With any luck, I'll get to church tomorrow.

Mary's Socks

For months now, I've been working on a pair of fancy lace socks for my friend Mary. We've known each other since before Gary and I moved to Nevada; she was on the search committee that hired me.

Last night, I finally finished the socks. They aren't perfect -- and this photo doesn't do them justice -- but I think they came out nicely, and I'm pleased. They took so long because this lace pattern is definitely non-TV knitting. You have to pay attention to every stitch.

Now I just hope they fit her!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Last Supper

My latest column is up over at Church Health Reader. I think this one's especially well-timed for Thanksgiving, when food is so important.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Amazon's now added the customer reviews to the Kindle Fate of Mice page.

Also, I now have six inches of the new qiviut scarf. Tonight I noticed one mistake -- a row of garter stitch that should have been stockinette -- but it's only three stitches, and I don't think it shows that much (certainly not as much as a mistake in one of the lace panels would), and I don't think it's worth trying to frog an inch and a half to fix it. So I'm leaving it as is.

A knitting error! Proof this item was handmade!

Yesterday I talked to our vet about Bali's shedding problem. She says it's probably stress, and recommended a kitty pheromone, Feliway, that's supposed to relax cats (much better than kitty prozac). The problem is that humans are instructed to put a diffuser of this stuff in the room where the cat hangs out the most, but Bali hangs out all over the place. So I'm not sure what to do. Does anyone have any ideas?

We're expecting a big snowstorm this weekend, with possible accumulations of five inches by Sunday morning. I really, really hope we don't have to cancel our last church service because of weather. That would, well, just suck.

Tonight I listened to Lesson 5 of the Pimsleur Spanish, but my brain froze often enough that I definitely need to repeat it tomorrow. They say you should go ahead if you get about eighty percent of the lesson, but I was at sixty to seventy-five tonight. That's okay; it's still fun, and there's no rush on this. Anything I learn is more than I knew before, so it's all good, although anyone listening to my hideous pronunciation might not think so.

And now, speaking of painful audio experiences, I'm going to practice my viola.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Look, Ma: I'm on Kindle!

Today I discovered that two of my books are available on Kindle (and, presumably, other e-book platforms): my first novel, Flying in Place, and my story collection, The Fate of Mice.

Weirdly, the Amazon reviews on the print edition of Flying in Place were transferred to the Kindle page, but those for The Fate of Mice weren't. Strange.

Anyway, my other two novels should be up there at some point. In the meantime, all sales will be greatly appreciated. Please pass the word!

Monday, November 15, 2010

In My Copious Spare Time

So my latest little project is to try to learn at least a teensy bit of Spanish using the Pimsleur method, not just because we're spending Spring Break in Mexico (where everyone at the resorts will speak English), but because it will be really useful at the hospital if I ever get up the courage to try to use it.

I've downloaded the first five lessons from Audible. Lessons One and Two were really fun -- one does this a little bit a day, for about half an hour -- but today I repeated Lesson Three, because I keep using the wrong verb conjugations and noun endings. Also, I'm getting tripped up by having studied French, which I didn't even think I remembered (hi, Jean!), but which is definitely affecting my pronunciation. Of course, my pronunciation is so rocky anyway that it may not matter.

At least I'm trying.

I gotta say that languages with masculine and feminine nouns are really annoying. "Morning" in Spanish is masculine; "afternoon" and "evening" are feminine. What kind of sense does that make? (Gendered nouns always drove me crazy in French, too.)

I mentioned this project to a friend who's moving to Miami, and she said that a mutual acquaintance was raving about Pimsleur, which she used to teach herself Hebrew and Greek before traveling in Israel and Greece. So I think my friend's going to try to learn some Spanish while she drives herself and her dog across the country.

Meanwhile, after two false starts -- which had me nearly in tears last night, and also up way past my bedtime -- I think I've finally succeeded in starting a knitting project with the qiviut yarn I bought in Alaska in May. Longtime readers will recall that I made a very messy scarf for my mother, from pure qiviut, two years ago. Working with that was so difficult and nervewracking -- it's like knitting with very fine, fuzzy cobwebs -- that in Alaska I was careful to buy qiviut blended with wool or silk, hoping the other fibers would make the stuff easier to handle. (The blends are also slightly less expensive, although certainly not cheap: last night I wasted some yarn I couldn't frog successfully, and it hurt!)

Tonight I knit two un-messy inches of a scarf which will, if I can keep going successfully, be very lovely, if I do say so myself. (It's a Christmas gift for someone, but I'll post pictures after Christmas if the project ends well.) I've discovered some secrets of knitting with qiviut, at least for me:

* Using the blends really does help.

* Good light's essential. Also, make sure you're calm and rested, and don't knit too much at once. If I can manage two inches a day on this scarf, I'll be happy. Fatigue leads to mistakes. Mistakes in qiviut knitting are an unmitigated disaster.

* Along with good light, contrast matters. Because I'm using dark yarn, I'm using pale needles, so I can see what I'm doing.

* Divide the pattern into very small sections with stitch markers. That way, you can make sure you have the right number of stitches in each section before going on to the next. This is especially crucial when knitting lace, which is what I'm doing and is what most people do with qiviut, because lace patterns make this oh-so-precious yarn last a bit longer. If you've just knit a lace panel, make sure you have the right number of stitches in that section before you go any further! A missing or extra yarnover is still fixable at this point, if nerve-wracking. Later, it will cause you a world of hurt and may necessitate frogging the entire project.

* Frogging qiviut, while possible, isn't easy or fun (see above): the fiber's so fuzzy, even in a blend, that it's very difficult to see what you're doing. So being slow and careful is the ticket.

* Although I usually like wooden needles, I'm using a pair of plastic circulars my mother gave me. The smoothness of the plastic, and the fact that the needles and the cable are all one piece, means there's nothing rough to snag the yarn.

* Qiviut knitting is best done without cats on the premises.

Knitting's so relaxing, isn't it? Yeah: this is what I do for fun. (I'm also knitting a really easy pair of socks for myself, on big needles with worsted yarn. That's my decompression/TV knitting, since I don't have to look at it.)

Speaking of cats, Gary and I are concerned about Bali, who's been shedding large clumps of fur. He has so much fur that it doesn't look like much is missing -- although tonight I saw a bald spot on his belly which seemed sensitive to the touch -- but we've been finding clumps all over the place. So tomorrow I have to call our vet. Both cats have been very anxious since Harley died, and I know anxiety can create skin problems for cats, so I suspect that's what's going on, but I still want to talk to our vet about it. The problem is complicated by the fact that he fears his carrying case above all things, so if the vet needs to see him, she'll need to make another house call.


On a happier note, last week my friend Claire sent me this wonderful story about a program that uses babies to combat bullying in grade school: during visits with babies, older kids learn to empathize with the baby and be gentle with it, which makes them kinder and gentler with each other, too.

Dang. As Claire said, how great a rickety contrivance is that? If my junior high school had had this program, maybe I wouldn't have gotten beaten up every day.

The story's also a wonderful riff on Christmas: God sent us a baby so we'd be nicer to each other. Works for me!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


This afternoon was our last public service at St. Stephen's. The community was invited. I recognized guests from all the other Episcopal Churches in town and from the Lutheran church across the street, the one whose congregation worshipped with us for several months after their sanctuary was damaged in a fire.

I also saw a number of old friends, including at least three people who now live out of state, and others who used to come to St. Stephen's but now belong to other parishes. The place was mobbed. As someone commented ruefully, "Y'know, if we had this many people here all the time, we wouldn't have to close."


It was a lovely service. The music was glorious -- especially with that many voices joining in on the hymns -- and the bishop's homily was sensitive and pastoral. I was nonetheless miserable through the entire liturgy, sitting there with tears running down my face. I wasn't alone: I saw other people crying, too. But I still felt very isolated, partly because some of the visitors (people I was genuinely delighted to see) brought back a welter of complicated memories, many painful.

After the service, there was a reception in the parish hall, with a lavish spread. Ordinarily I'd have stayed to eat and chat, but I was feeling claustrophobic and was still weepy, so I got out of there. Chatting probably would have made me feel better. I knew that. I still needed to get out of the building.

Next Sunday, we're having our last-service-ever. The community isn't invited to that one: it's "just us," as someone put it, which means there will be maybe twenty people there. It's going to be very hard.

After the service, I talked a bit to a friend -- also in tears -- who's already started attending her new parish (as I have), but who's finding it hard to invest in a new place. She gave St. Stephen's her all, and I think the idea of making that kind of commitment again fills her with exhaustion. Or maybe I interpreted the conversation that way just because it's how I feel. At any rate, she said that she doesn't want to get deeply involved in a new place anytime soon. "I just want to go to church." She's picked a large parish where she can be invisible; I've picked the smallest service at a mid-sized parish, where I can hang out on the margins for a while before figuring out if I want to move closer to the center.

Sitting in my pew during the service, I realized that I started attending St. Stephen's the same year we got Harley. The parish and the cat died the same year, too. Harley's death sharpened some of my grief for my mother, who was with me when I got him from the shelter; the loss of the parish is doing the same thing. Although Mom hated church, she went me with when she was visiting. She loved a Christmas Eve service where my friend Katharine sang, and I have fond memories of her listening to me preach one Christmas morning, beaming at me -- even though she hated church -- because she loved me and (for a wonder) enjoyed the homily.

I'm really glad Gary and I are getting out of town for Christmas. I think that was absolutely the right decision.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


As of this morning's ER shift, I've volunteered over 900 hours (901, to be precise) at the hospital.

There was a death today; also a birth, since we heard the telltale snippet of Brahms' Lullaby on the overhead. The death was premature. I hope the birth was full-term.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Twenty-one years ago today, Gary and I met. We began dating almost immediately thereafter.

Fifteen years ago today, Gary and I got married.

Four years ago today, Bali was born.

And, of course, it's Veterans Day.

We plan to have a lovely day, and hope all of you will do the same!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Try, Try Again

In 2001, Ellen Datlow bought my story "Cucumber Gravy" for the late, lamented Scifiction e-mag. I describe this story as "C.S. Lewis meets the Coen Brothers in the Nevada desert." I've always been very fond of it, so when the good folks at Tachyon started going through my short fiction to figure out what to put in The Fate of Mice, I hoped they'd choose CG.

They didn't. They weren't fond of the story, which features a slightly challenging central character, and they didn't think the tale fit the marketing label of "literary fantasy," which is what they were going for with my book. (Me, I'd have been fine with a marketing label of "versatile," but, you know, just try finding that section at Borders.) They're very good editors, and the collection hangs together beautifully -- largely because of their selections and ordering -- so when they said CG wouldn't be a good fit, I acquiesced, trusting them to know what they were doing.

I was a little sad, though.

A while ago, John Joseph Adams at Lightspeed sent out a request for reprints. I mentioned CG, but he said that while he loved the story, he didn't think he could use it, partly because it's too long. But a few days ago, he e-mailed me to ask if he could reprint it. Naturally, I said yes. It will be posted in January, along with a short "Author Spotlight" interview with me about the story. I'll post the link here when I have it.

I'm really glad that story will get some more readers. It's always nice when a piece that seems to have been consigned to oblivion gets to come back that way.

As many of you know, I've been publishing the occasional medical poem (and still hope to turn the ED sonnets into a chapbook; that will be one of my sabbatical projects if I get the sabbatical). Quite a while ago now, I wrote a new sonnet about an ED experience and sent it off to The Bellevue Literary Review, which is more or less the New Yorker of the medical humanities, and where I've now been rejected several times. (Getting published there is one of my new life goals.) They rejected this poem, too. Disappointed, if not terribly surprised, I sent the poem off to Pulse, another place I'd really like to be published sometime.

They rejected it. I got that note the same week -- possibly the same day -- as a lovely, warm rejection note from Sheila Williams at Asimov's, who couldn't use a long story I'd sent her.

As I constantly tell my students, writers have to learn to handle rejection, but I hadn't gotten quite that much of it in a while. I was feeling a teensy bit flattened (although Sheila's friendly note helped lessen the sting).

But it's not like this has never happened to me before, so I came up with a new longterm goal for the story, and yesterday I sat down to study the sonnet again. On a whim, I submitted it to the Annals of Internal Medicine, a major medical journal which happens to publish some poetry along with refereed scientific articles. I didn't think I had a chance of getting in, but why not try?

Like many journals these days, Annals uses a computerized manuscript tracking system. Yesterday I submitted the poem and got an e-mail acknowledgment. This morning I got another e-mail, congratulating me on having my manuscript submitted. Blinking, I reread the thing. Surely it was a computer glitch? Surely there'd been no time for anyone there even to read the poem?

But at lunchtime today, I got an official acceptance e-mail from one of the editors, talking glowingly and in great detail about the poem. Needless to say, I was flattered and delighted.

So it's been a good week, writing-wise: not just because of the publications, but because I've been reminded how important it is to persevere.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bali Again

Two More Columns

The vexed column has been corrected (save for one typo, "reclincr" for "recliner," which is probably my fault). You can read it here.

The second column, my Veteran's Day offering -- a version of an old blog post -- is here. Some of you will have seen this already, of course.

I hope you like them!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Say "Died," Please

When I was in Auburn yesterday, my Bodily Blessings editor (a completely lovely guy by the name of John Shorb), sent me links to the next two columns. The second of those was heavily borrowed from one of my blog posts a few years ago; the first was my story about my mother's death in hospice. I'll post links to these when the final versions are up.

John is a wonderful editor: smart, sensitive, skilled. But this summer an intern did some editing, and that person (whose name I don't know) appears to have both been sloppy and to have suffered from the "if it's not broken, fix it anyway" school of editing, wherein editors feel obliged to leave their own scent markings on perfectly workable prose. That approach is especially infuriating when such folks insert errors into the text.

I'm a very careful writer. I don't commit many technical errors, and my stylistic choices are deliberate and planned. I'm not perfect, and I certainly benefit from close readings by other people, but most of the editors I work with feel that my writing's very clean and doesn't need a lot of line-by-line attention. I have a small but trusted group of Ideal Readers who've proven their ability to point out places that could benefit from reworking, while staying hands-off otherwise. John Shorb is one of my Ideal Readers; so's Gary; so's Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor; so are several friends here in Reno.

Nameless Intern is not an Ideal Reader. Nameless Intern, from the evidence, may not even be a very good reader. And Nameless Intern did a hatchet job on my column about my mother's death, changing things that didn't need to be changed and removing small but crucial details.

For instance: I mention in the column that five hours after Mom went into hospice, I was on a red-eye to Philly, arriving at six in the morning after a sleepless night. Nameless Intern removed all this information, even though it conveys a crucial sense of discomfort and desperation, which in turn creates a crucial contrast with the comfort hospice offered me and my sister, as well as Mom.

There were other problems: sentences rewritten for no reason, information moved to other places (without always being removed in the original location, so one sentence occurred twice), incorrect punctuation changes. But the revision that put me over the top replaced specificity with euphemism. In the original, I talked about how my sister and I stayed at the hospital from the night before Mom died "until the undertaker wheeled away the body." This line establishes that we didn't leave the hospital until she did, until her mortal remains were removed from our mortal sight.

Nameless Intern changed the phrase to, "until she passed."

Passed? Passed? I loathe this euphemism. Say "died!" As I told John in my exasperated note, the verb "pass" makes human lives sound like gas or stool. I know many people use this word because they're afraid that any direct mention of death is somehow too harsh -- even though it's the truth -- and maybe also, if the person's religious, to convey the sense of passing to another life. (Plenty of religious folks I know just say "died," though.) But I've always hated it. Listening to other people use it sets my teeth on edge, but that's their choice. I'd never use it myself.

If Nameless Intern wants to write a column about the death of his or her mother and chooses to use the verb "pass," fine. That's her or his choice. But for someone who's never even spoken to me to apply such a heavy hand to my own story -- about one of the most difficult moments of my life, mind you -- makes me want to scream.

So, anyway, the messenger got shot: poor John got an earful about this! I sent him a copy of my original column, since Nameless Intern had made so many changes that fixing them all would have been a real headache, and said, "Please remove the current version on the site and use this instead."

He did, bless him, and apologized for the messy editing, and sent me a link to the restored version. Reading it, I discovered one typo which was my fault -- and which Nameless Intern had fixed (yay!) -- and e-mailed John about that, too.

Poor John! The life of an editor isn't easy. I hope they give him a raise.

Saturday, November 06, 2010


I apologize for the blurriness of the previous photo. It was dusk, and my camera doesn't zoom as much as I'd like. The deer were lovely, though, trust me!

The retreat center's lovely, too. Tranquil grounds and clean and comfortable rooms: very nice! Last night, I walked to a restaurant across the street and treated myself to salmon. Then I came back to my room and knitted until ten, when I went to bed, feeling very peaceful. I was hoping to wake up early enough to go out for a real restaurant (with real coffee), since I suspected the retreat center coffee would be too weak for me.

I woke up at 1:30 a.m., not feeling peaceful. My throat felt like someone had scrubbed it with steel wool and then stored the steel wool in my sinuses. I lay awake until 2:30, sneezing and coughing and feeling rotten about making so much noise (because it's a silent retreat center, you aren't supposed to make noise even during the day, and this was the middle of the night, and there was someone in the room next to mine), and then finally got back to sleep. I woke up again at 8:30, with just enough time before the retreat started to shower, dress, pack, strip my bed, bundle up linens and towels for laundry, and remake the bed sans linens, as instructed.

So much for breakfast and real coffee.

Luckily, I had Power Bars with me. Also, it turned out that the retreat center coffee was just strong enough for two mugs of it to stave off my usual caffeine-withdrawal migraine, not that I felt terribly awake. And the tranquility of the building was still lovely.

Our retreat met in a small room, since it was supposed to be a small group: seven people plus two facilitators. Four people didn't show, so it was three people and two facilitators. This gave us time to talk, which was nice, but it meant that we missed out on the diversity of experience and perspective we'd have had with more participants. Also, the material presented was really basic: Grief 101. I'd expected that, but I'd also expected that we were going to do exercises or rituals that would help us work through specific issues. That turned out not to be the case. Most of the day was talk; we did one prayer ritual in the chapel, but most of that was talk, too, except for lighting candles.

The upshot is that I didn't come away learning anything new, or learning new ways to process anything old. We also never got to the one thing I really wanted to talk about: the effect of grief on physical health. That's okay. It was still a pleasant day with nice people, and a Grief 101 refresher isn't the worst thing in the world, especially as I head into my first holiday season without my mother.

I wish I'd been feeling better physically, though, and I do wish the group had been more diverse. There was one man who'd just lost his wife, and me: the other three people (including two facilitators) were older Catholic women, one a nun, who were considerably more theologically and politically conservative than I am. At lunch, for instance, they insisted that the man sit at the head of the table, while bemoaning the fact that Kids These Days don't do anything right. I, one of the Kids, sat there thinking, "You're kidding me, right? I haven't really just been plunked in a time machine and transported back to the nineteen fifties?" (Had there been any round tables in the room, I'd have suggested moving to get around the problem, so to speak.) We also had a conversation about how too many people don't observe the proper purity laws before taking communion; you can guess where I came down on that issue! On the other hand, this particular group seemed supportive of the idea of ordaining women in the Catholic church, so that was refreshing.

If there'd been more participants, especially some my age or younger, I probably wouldn't have wound up feeling like a wild-eyed radical. In PSR courses in Berkeley, I often play the role of terribly conventional suburban square. I guess all of this is good for me: exposure to different viewpoints, etc.

The drives in both directions were not only painless (I hit only a tiny bit of construction yesterday), but breathtakingly beautiful: autumn foliage along mountain rivers with blue peaks in the distance. That may have been the most healing part of the trip. That, and seeing the deer.

So I'm glad I went, although not as glad as I'd hoped to be. I'm grateful I'll be sleeping in my own bed tonight, even if I have Heaps o' Grading to do tomorrow. I just hope the blasted cold or allergy attack or whatever it is eases off soon!