Monday, May 31, 2010

Basket Case

The cats are very glad we're home!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Enroute to Victoria


Today's a mostly at-sea day; we arrive in Victoria around 6:00 PM and leave again at 11:30 PM. Gary's pacing the deck as I type this, but it's gray and cold out and I'm a little sore from yesterday, so I'm taking it easy in the Internet lounge.

This morning we attended a mandatory disembarkation briefing, which included the warning to leave an outfit out to wear tomorrow (suitcases will be picked up from outside doors by 1:00 a.m.). Every cruise, evidently, someone forgets this and winds up, shivering and embarrassed, wearing a cruise bathrobe or sheet in the terminal.

We plan to have an early dinner on the ship tonight and then go for a stroll in Victoria. I don't know what will be open in the evening, but it's supposed to be a pretty city, so that should be pleasant if the weather's nice enough. We requested a late (9-9:30 a.m.) disembarkation tomorrow, so we don't have to get up at dawn.

We're hoping to cruise the Mexican Riviera next spring break; I may even try to book that today. We've figured out that there are two kinds of people in the world, camping people and crusing people, and we're definitely the second.

Before we left for the cruise, we had dinner with some Seattle friends who've bought a small plot of land in the San Juan islands. They refer to it fondly as "the nettle zone;" they camp there and rip out invasive species. They hope to build some kind of low-tech shelter, but because putting in plumbing from the nearest road would be too expensive, instead they've invested in a hand pump so they can get water from a well at the bottom of the hill and use buckets to haul it up to the top, where their property is.

When we arrive in Seattle tomorrow, we'll be staying overnight with a friend who loves to backpack. She's told us rollicking stories about hiking in thunderstorms and getting covered with mud.

Our friends love these trips. Such trips would be our idea of hell. But I guess cruising would be our friends' idea of hell, too. I'm trying to overcome my gnawing sense of guilt (yes, Claire, that was guilt, not quilt!) about being overly bourgeois and insufficiently woodsy: I'm happy to hug trees, but only if there's indoor plumbing and good food nearby.

Yesterday, the ship's environmental officer gave a talk (which we didn't attend) about how Holland America's the industry leader in environmentally responsible cruising. Gary said with a sigh, "We should go to that so we can rationalize cruising to all our green friends." He also pointed out that if you divide the oil the ship uses by 2,400 people (guests and crew) and factor in the oil savings from none of those people driving cars that week, it's probably not nearly as bad as it sounds. This is, after all, mass transit! And we have only one car at home, and it gets good mileage, and we drive it very little (I have a three-mile commute to work), so all things considered, we're not such horrible people. Right?

Re photos: Stacey, I forgot to post the cat one, but I have it; I'll post it when we're back in Seattle tomorrow. mybabyjohn, here's a photo of the owl pin. I'll snap a photo of the yarn this afternoon and post it tomorrow.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ketchikan


Ketchikan! Another charming Alaska coastal town chockful of shopping!

Gary stayed on the ship, as I suspected he would. I went into town and bought a small fortune in qiviut-blend yarn; after much agonizing, I also broke my "no jewelry" rule by buying a gorgeous owl pin made by a local guy. It's exquisite work (ebony, silver and abalone) and I haven't seen anything else like it, which -- after three days in port shops -- is high praise indeed. At least some of the yarn will become gifts, and the pin may, too.

Gary and I met up back in the stateroom and went to the dining room for a yummy high-calorie lunch (crab cakes, salmon wellington and chocolate cake, in my case). Then I went to the gym and worked out really hard for an hour, which left me feeling virtuous but probably only burned off half a forkful of the high-calorie lunch.

We're en route to Victoria now, honking our way through thick fog. In ninety minutes, we'll have a high-calorie dinner, followed by our string friends. People now come up to us and say, "You were listening to the quartet the other night, weren't you?" I've also been greeted with, "You're the lady who knits!" and "You're the lady who types so fast."

Yes, I am a woman of many talents. Oh, about knitting. Never knit lace on a cruise ship in Alaska, because if you do, someone will yell, "Whale! Breach!" and everyone will race to the windows and you will, too, scattering yarn and needles and stitch holders. It takes an hour to recover from a whale sighting while you're knitting lace. (Lee, you can chalk the errors in your socks up to whales!) Luckily, we also saw a whale during dinner.

The steward in the string-quartet lounge, who now calls us "Sir Gary" and "Miss Susan," has become very protective of us, and is very alarmed whenever we aren't together. The night Gary watched a movie, I went to the lounge early, and the steward kept wringing his hands and asking, "But where's Sir Gary? Isn't he with you? Did you eat dinner together?" Last night I went up to the stateroom a few minutes early, and when Gary got back he told me, laughing, that the steward had been all kinds of alarmed. "Where did Miss Susan go? Why didn't you go with her?"

The service folks are all incredibly sweet. Maybe it's an act, but if so, it's a really good one.

Towel Monkey Close-Up

Towel Monkey

The stewards saw Gary's sunglasses on a table and put them on the monkey themselves. Very nifty!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Juneau and Sitka


We've had our first two shore excursions. Juneau was pretty much a bust. I did find the yarn store (right on the main drag) and bought some gorgeous Alaska-made sock yarn, and we took a tram ride to the top of Mount Roberts, a beautiful place. However, we hadn't planned well enough, so we were left with large chunks of time and no way to fill them. We tried hiking on the mountain, but I wasn't dressed properly, and Gary couldn't abide the over-crowded shopping areas down below. I was also unaccountably exhausted. We wound up wandering disconsolately around the docks, waiting for our salmon-bake bus to leave.

Overall, the two lessons of yesterday were, "Do lots of planning for shore trips" and "eat all your meals on the boat." We ate lunch in a cafe with terrible service and marginal food. The salmon bake, meanwhile, was outright awful: the salmon was rubbery and featured a sauce of, I kid you not, sugar water. Everything was served out of giant steam tables in a clearing in the woods. I'm not sure what I was picturing, but that wasn't it. I also didn't think it was possible for me not to like salmon, but that place proved me wrong.

We did hear a terrific family string band at one of the tourist centers, and I bought one of their CDs, so that was nice. We were incredibly happy to be back on the boat, though!

Sitka went a lot better. We had a 2:00 excursion to the Raptor Center; Gary announced that he was staying on the boat until then, which left me the morning to shop by myself, a much better arrangement for both of us. I had a great time. The yarn store was too far for me to get to except by cab, but since they didn't have qiviut-merino blend yarn, the only thing I wanted there was very small stitch markers for socks. The woman who owns the shop was driving into town, so she met me at a quilt store to sell me the markers. Perfect!

I also got a small and inexpensive, but very pretty, piece of art glass, a gift for our cat sitter, and a pair of cotton/bamboo capris on sale. When I met up with Gary for the raptor trip, we were both in a good mood, and we both loved the Raptor Center. Beautiful birds and nice people who love animals and volunteer their time to rehabilitate them: no downside!

Now I'm in the library on the boat, glancing back towards the picture windows at all the tiny islands as we leave Sitka. Did I mention what wonderful weather we had today? Warm, sunny, perfect. Also, Sitka's a sweet little town and feels like a place where real people live, which wasn't true of the parts of Juneau we saw.

Yesterday I complimented our steward on the origami animals and asked if he does cats. He said he'd do his best. The creature we found in our stateroom this afternoon looks more like a rabbit, but he certainly gets an A for effort. I'll post a picture tomorrow.

Tomorrow we'll be in Ketchikan, but only for about four hours. I suspect Gary will stay on the boat again while I yarn shop. Yay, yarn!

Great Horned Owl at Sitka Raptor Center

Towel-Origami Swan

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eagle 2

Eagle 1

This female bald eagle was shot through the eye and is being rehabilitated at the Juneau Raptor Center.

Glacier

Towel-Origami Bear

Glacier and Mountain

Glacier with Bit o' Blue to Right

Glacier Bay from Ship's Lounge 2

Glacier Bay from Ship's Lounge 1

Towel Penguin 2

Towel Penguin 1

Mountains in the Mist

Taken on the choppy first day.

Formal Gary

Glaciers and Salmon and Bears, Oh My!


We saw glaciers! We saw one glacier calve, like, four times. This particular glacier, the name of which I can’t remember, moves seven feet a day, which makes it the speed demon of the glacierverse.

The eeriest thing about glaciers is the beautiful blue light inside the cracks in the ice. The on-board naturalist described this as a function of very high-pressure ice formation, which produces ice with different optical properties than the stuff we put in our drinks. All I know is that the blue light’s beautiful and otherworldly, like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie. I got a photo that shows a tiny bit of it: nothing like the real-life effect, but enough to give you some idea. I’ll post that tomorrow, along with a string of other photos.

I lied. I took pictures of Glacier Bay. So sue me.

Also, the naturalist announced that he saw a brown bear fishing on a beach. Gary saw the brown bear walking. Many other passengers saw the brown bear, too. All I saw was a gigantic gray rock. Later, another passenger told me kindly that the bear was some yards to the right of the rock, and was in fact much smaller than the rock, “a little brown speck.” That made me feel a bit better.

We may see more whales this evening. First, though, Gary and I are having dinner in the super-fancy restaurant, where I’ll do my very best to have no salmon, since at lunch I had the salmon appetizer followed by the salmon entrees.

In my next life, I’ll be a salmon. Or possibly a brown bear.

Later:

We like this ship, really. We love this ship. We’d live on this ship if we could. But we do get plenty of giggles from the decor, and the super-fancy restaurant outdoes itself in Outrageous Cruise Tacky. The chairs, although comfortable, are contorted pewter and black leather and look like something designed by the villain in a Tim Burton film. The carpet’s plain blue, extremely restrained by cruise standards, but the ceiling more than makes up for this by featuring bizarre blue and red platter-like objects shaped like jellyfish and suspended by chrome fixtures. These aren’t lights. I don’t know what they are. I don’t know what function they serve. Some cruise exec probably looked at early plans for the place, scratched his or her head, and said, “Hey, great work on the chairs! But the ceiling isn’t ugly and weird enough by half! You’d better do something about that, especially since you’re using plain blue carpet!”

The designer must have been on drugs. Supporting this theory, the finishing touch of the decor is a continuous mural of the Dutch masters, painted on glass panels and backlit. The Dutch guys look a little glassy-eyed themselves. Also, the Maitre D apparently graduated from the House of Slytherin, or possibly Castle Dracula. Thin, smarmy, too many teeth. I’m sure he’s a lovely person, but if I saw him on the street, I’d be scared.

The food’s really good, I have to say. But the design strangeness extends to the plates and silverware. Individually, the elements are understated and elegant, unlike the general decor. But the elegant steak knives, if one places them on the elegant plates, slide elegantly into the food, which meant that several times I had to wipe filet mignon juice and garlic mashed potatoes off my knife with my napkin (the first time the knife traveled, I asked for a new one, but after that I just cleaned it up as best I could). Clearly, the servers need to test-drive the place settings.

I do give them high marks for desserts. Immediately after I’d ordered the decadent chocolate volcano, they brought us a small plate of decadent chocolate truffles. Good thing I bought a large pair of sweatpants in the giftshop today.

The highlight of dinner was a whale sighting. Someone at the next table, next to the window, pointed and called out, “Whale!” and everyone got up to look out the window, and sure enough, a humpback slapped the water with his fin. We all applauded, even the wait-staff. (I forgot to mention before that the first time we saw the glacier calve, a woman standing next to me called out, “Thank you!” I believe there was applause that time, too.)

Now we’re in our usual spot, listening to the string quartet. The waiter in this lounge now greets us as “Miss Susan and Mr. Gary,” chats with us about our day, and remembers our favorite drinks.

We love cruising. We just have to do something about the interior decoration. Over dinner, we fantasized about starting a cruise line decorated entirely in Shaker style, or maybe Arts & Crafts for people who really want fancy surroundings.

Tomorrow: Juneau, where we’ll ride a tramway, attend a salmon bake, and shop for yarn (well, I’ll do that; Gary will be bored). I’ll also post tons of photos. Aren’t blogs great? If vacation photos bore you, you can just skip over them, instead of being confined to someone’s living room during endless slide presentations.

Oh, and we’ve met some really interesting people. The ship’s librarian is a musical-comedy actress who reads and writes SF/F; when I told her I did too, she asked me who my publisher was, and went very wide-eyed when I said, “Tor Books.” Meanwhile, we’ve been listening to chamber music every evening with a charming engineer named Steve, a serious amateur violinist (or possibly semi-pro; he has a lot of gigs) who also reads SF/F. All the best people!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Critters


Monday Evening

I’m writing this after dinner, as we sit in our favorite little lounge listening to the string quartet and, as usual, watching the water roll by outside. Conditions are calmer now, but a lot of people skipped dinner because of seasickness. We had a nice chat with a dad and his eleven-year-old son; mom and daughter had stayed in their stateroom. One amusing dinner detail was that the waiters brought each table, as part of dessert, a large plate of cotton candy. Evidently they had extra from some event during the day. I’ve never had cotton candy in an Italian restaurant! Actually, I’ve never had cotton candy in any restaurant.

The lounge waiter just brought brandy for Gary, ice water for me, and chocolate for both of us. Have I mentioned that we enjoy being decadent? We’ve discussed the fact that we should be suffering liberal guilt (the ship gets thirty-two inches per gallon of oil, an especially poignant statistic given the hideous situation in the Gulf), but, while we are thinking about the issues, we can’t make ourselves be unhappy. We’re also contributing to the welfare of the mostly Filipino staff, many of whom are probably sending money home –- a fifteen percent tip is added automatically to our bill, with an option to increase when we leave, and we certainly plan to increase! –- and we’re also doing our bit for the Alaska economy.

The service here is really phenomenal, so the decision to tip more than fifteen percent is easy. Because my laptop still wouldn’t connect, and the Internet Manager couldn’t figure out how to fix it, I went to the front desk and wound up having my laptop peered at by the IT guy in the communications department, who usually doesn’t deal with passengers. He decided that the problem was with the ship’s system, not my laptop, and restarted the ship’s system (!) to try to fix it, even though I told him I can connect with a cable. My wireless still won’t connect -– or rather, it says it’s connected but won’t bring up any webpages –- but I really appreciated the time he took to try to help me.

When we got back to our room after dinner, we discovered not only the usual turn-down chocolates on the bed, but a very nice Holland America tote bag: also an adorable penguin, made of towels folded origami style, perched on one of the pillows. I took pictures of it, and will be posting that and other photos (views of water, Gary in his formal duds) when we’re in Juneau on Wednesday. The photos are on the phone; it’s easiest to e-mail them to Blogger from the phone, but the data rates on the ship are horrendous, so I’ll wait until I’m on terra firma.

Each stateroom has a mailbox just outside the door. The service includes a morning news summary geared to the guest’s home port -– ours is from the New York Times, but we noticed one mailbox with an Australian summary -– and a list of the next day’s events (delivered every evening). The mailbox also contains coupons, event announcements, and maps of the next day’s destination. Getting junk mail on a cruise is pretty funny, but we appreciate all the information.

Naturalists will be narrating our visit to Glacier Bay tomorrow, and the bow will also be open (it was closed today, probably because of bad weather). Gary and I plan to get up early to get in We’re breakfast, and maybe a workout, before the critter-and-glacier-watching starts. We want to get to the bow as soon as it opens.

Must eat more chocolate now. More tomorrow!

Tuesday Midday

Today’s as calm and sunny as yesterday was gray and grim. We’re in mega-gorgeous Glacier Bay; I haven’t bothered to take photos because you can find lots online. We’ve seen lots of whale blows, two whale tails, a ton of dolphins, and lots of seals, who bob their shiny black heads above the water and look around curiously. No super-closeup views of these critters, but it’s still a lot fun.

I just took a brisk 1.3 mile walk around the promenade deck with Gary, who’s still walking while I hang out in the room. When he gets back, we’ll eat lunch. This afternoon: calving glaciers, if we’re lucky. This evening: more string quartet!

Last night I discovered that the ship has musical microenvironments: lovely string quartet giving way to bad piano bar, replaced in turn by wretched karaoke/disco –- depending on what’s happening in the nightclub –- which in turn fades into the beeps and boops of the casino, all of this culminating in the utterly execrable Vegas lounge acts in the showroom. Another passenger (who knits socks!) recommended a piano act last night, so Gary and I went to the showroom to check it out. We lasted about thirty seconds before making a beeline back to the safety of the strong quartet.

Ah, Gary’s back. Time for lunch!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rollin'


The seas are somewhat rough today, so we’ve had lots of fun keeping our balance. Our room-service breakfast tray slid a few inches but didn’t fall. After breakfast, Gary did an hour’s worth of laps around the promenade deck, despite the bad weather, and I walked for an hour on one of the gym treadmills (which I was lucky to snag when someone else stepped off it). After our workouts, each of us showered, an exciting exercise in keeping one hand always firmly clenched around a handhold.

Luckily, neither of us has been seasick. One of our lunch companions was, but left the table to find the infirmary –- and free seasickness meds -- before the situation got critical. Her husband, a diver who specializes in hyperbaric physiology and has trained Navy Seals, entertained us with stories of his two near-death experiences in underwater caves. Our lunches were excellent. It’s too bad the diver’s wife couldn’t enjoy it as much!

Then we browsed the ship’s shops and the art exhibit. The shops were more reasonable than I expected, although I saw nothing I wanted to buy. I was tempted by a white fleece pullover embroidered with polar bears, but since tomato sauce travels from other continents to land on me whenever I’m wearing white, I decided against it. Meanwhile, we’ve coined a new term, “cruise art,” to describe garish imitations of the styles of famous artists, on canvases with auction prices starting at $7,500. This category goes along with the older ones of “fan art” and “thrift shop art.”

Gary’s now on Deck 1 checking out their DVD collection, while I’m in the library on Deck 10, composing this entry on my laptop. My wireless still won’t connect, but there’s a desk with a cable connection, thank goodness!

Tonight’s the first formal night. We have reservations at the smallest of the ship’s restaurants, an Italian place. Tomorrow, I believe, we have our first dinner in the super-fancy restaurant, which requires a small extra fee per person. We’ll be eating all other meals in the regular sit-down restaurant, which offers infinitely better food and ambiance than the buffet.

Tomorrow at eleven we arrive in Glacier Bay and begin whale-watching. Yay!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Crusin'


I'm writing this in the Internet Lounge of our cruise ship. Most annoyingly, my laptop won't connect, which means I can't compose offline and then just cut and paste, which also means that composition time counts against my precious quota of minutes. Grrrr! So my shipboard posts will be brief.

Anyway, so far we love cruising. Gary really loves cruising, since he loves both expanses of open water and good food, both of which cruises offer in abundance. The food is very good, and our stateroom is a marvel of compactness, offering a surprising amount of storage space considering that the bed fills nearly the entire room. We really like our little verandah, too, although we did find a cigarette butt on it (a surprising number of people smoke, and during the mandatory gather-at-your-lifeboat stations safety drill, we heard a lecture about how smokers shouldn't just toss their cig butts off their verandah, since said butts are likely to wind up on a lower verandah).

Watching the water move past is hypnotic. We're avoiding the loud spaces (the postage-stamp-sized pool, the disco, etc.) and focusing on quiet: the lovely library with comfy reading chairs looking out on the water, the lounge where we just listened to a string quartet while also looking out at the water, the calm and pleasant restaurant where we ate dinner and looked out at the . . . yeah, you're sensing a theme here. The ship specializes in extremely large windows. It's really nice.

We've been told that the gym's impossible to get into, but the promenade deck is a third of a mile around, so we plan to do some fitness walking tomorrow, weather permitting. We're both really glad we decided to do this. Various of our friends are really into very low-tech camping, but we're really into plumbing and good food.

Call us decadent. We plead guilty.

Friday, May 21, 2010

And the Winner is . . . .


First of all, let me say that all the entries were terrific: entertaining, well-written, imaginative. I'm really impressed, and I hope everyone else enjoyed reading all the responses as much as I did! If I could knit socks for all of you, I would (and I'll knit socks for any of you who ask anyway; you'll just have to wait longer, possibly into the next millenium).

Needless to say, the excellence of the field made picking a winner very difficult. But I had to pick one, so I did. Our winner, by a hair, is Tiel Ansari's Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming.

Congratulations, Tiel! I'll be e-mailing you a sock questionnaire.

As for Gwenn, Pete, Lucy, and mybabyjohn: if you'd like some socks and are willing to wait a long time, e-mail me and I'll send you a questionnaire, too. And Katharine, I'll see what I can do in the double-knitting department!

This was great fun, and I hope to do it again soon. Who knows what Gary will find up in the hills?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cygnets 6

Cygnets 5

Cygnets 4

Cygnets 3

Cygnets 2

Cygnets 1

These little guys live in Manzanita "Lake," the artificial pond behind the English Building.

My Sister's Cats


Before Mom died, my sister had six cats. She and her husband have now decided that they want to work towards having a cat-free household, largely so they can exercise their newfound freedom by traveling.

The oldest, sickest cat was put down yesterday.

They'll keep a slightly younger, less sick cat until she has to be put down too.

My nephew will take another cat when he and his girlfriend move into a house in February.

That leaves three: a female and two males, all spayed/neutered, all declawed (which means they have to be kept indoors). One or both of the male cats have been urinating on furniture, but they're also exceptionally friendly and sweet.

Philly shelters are full, and rescue organizations have waiting lists. If you know anyone in Philadelphia or vicinity who might be willing to help these animals, please let me know! I know it's kitten season, and older cats are harder to place under the best of circumstances, but my mother especially loved the two males, and I can't bear to think of them winding up in a shelter and being euthanized. My sister can wait a little while to rehome them, but not forever.

I'd take them myself, but our three cats have claws (even though they're inside animals), and I also know how stressful it is for cats to be shipped across the country. We did that with our three New Jersey cats when we moved to Reno, and it was a miserable experience. But if anyone in Reno can take them -- and they needn't all be kept together -- I'd pay the shipping costs rather than see them put in a shelter.

Please spread the word; we need all the help we can get!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Friends

Excellent Entries!


So far I've gotten four superb entries. Two are in the comments section of the original Writing Challenge; one's linked there, and one was e-mailed to me by my friend Katharine. I'm posting it below so everyone can enjoy it. (The mountain where Gary hikes is named Peavine.)

This is a neck-and-neck competition! Keep those entries coming, folks!

*

Peavineae

“But soon, too soon the lover turns his eyes;
Again she falls, again she dies, she dies!”
- Pope

Ken was the darling of the gods. It was not simply that he was the son of the King of Peavineae, realm of the immortals. It was his voice. The rich resonance of his singing could awaken the deepest passion and kindest sympathy, and arrest all sorrow, anger, and despair. There was no guile in his heart -– only love for all beings, animate and inanimate.

Though coincident with Peavineae, the world of man lay oblivious to the dimension of the divine. It was a great sadness to the gods to witness mortal lives ruled by anxiety, fear, and hatred. Human eyes were blind to the very brilliance of the air of Peavineae, and to human ears the ethereal sound of Ken’s singing was the whining of wind across the mountains.

Often had Ken observed men and women hiking the mountain trails, exercising their bodies, or looking for nuggets of gold or other trophies. Sometimes groups of young men would bring firearms and set up targets for shooting practice. The rocks would scream with every impact of bullet or shotgun shell. The bushes that were trampled cried out in their pain, and small animals hid, trembling, in their lairs.

One early earth-morning, Ken saw a lovely mortal ascend the mountain trail. At intervals Barbie would kneel to admire the tiniest of flowers, or pause to inhale the peace and serenity around her. Overwhelmed by her beauty, Ken poured out his love in song. She turned her face to the wind, smiled, and brushed the strands of hair from her eyes. Barbie had a favorite rock where she liked to sit and look out over the expanse of the valley below. Day after day, compelled by some deep and inscrutable passion, she returned to bask in the morning sun and feel the alpine breezes in her hair.

Rarely it happens that a fog will descend upon the mountain seat of Peavineae and freezing, gild all vegetation with a lacy frosting of pogonip. At such a time the gods may choose to appear as children of humankind. Ken, in human form and dress, hid behind some bushes near the special rock, and waited for his beloved Barbie. His godly vision found her through the fog far below. She made her way slowly up the path, entranced by the magic of the crystalline landscape. As she sat, pulling her knitted shawl more warmly around her, she heard – or felt as much as heard – a low, sensual sigh. She turned to find the wind, but there was not even the slightest breeze, and the freezing fog deadened all sound from the world below.

The sigh became a song of love, as Ken moved from his hiding place and stood at Barbie’s feet. Instantly her eyes and ears were opened and she knew her lover, the hero of her heart. He appeared very tall and gloriously radiant. The air around them seemed to be electrically charged as if they stood in a vortex of immense energy. Time and space dissolved in his radiance, and she danced wildly to the sensual strains of his voice until the voice and the dance were one being.

As the fog lifted, the frost dissipated in the morning sun, and Ken’s form began to dissolve upward from his feet. Barbie could still hear his voice in the freshening breeze and feel his enveloping presence in the sparkling air. Her joy was so boundless, her mind so distracted, that she did not hear the men approaching, or the sound of the guns. She fell among the rocks, clutching incredulously at her leg until she lost consciousness.

A soft humming awakened her. She looked down upon her lifeless body. It appeared as something artificial, something plastic. She hovered for a time, feeling no remorse, and turned to go. Slowly at first, accelerating to a blinding speed, she felt herself being drawn through a dark space, filled with the specters of her ancestors. She witnessed her life played out for her as an epic movie. No remorse. Then she heard his voice. She turned back and groped passionately with her attention to follow its sound. Desperately she tracked the voice of her beloved, but she could not feel him. Onward. Faster.

There he was, his brilliance, hovering with her above the carnage. There, still, lay her cold and lifeless form. Next to her cadaver breast lay Ken’s human-form head – all that remained of his transfiguration when the maniacal gang opened fire. Ken and Barbie intoned a solemn, unison farewell to their mortal remains and ascended to the bright halls of Peavineae.

The sounds of shouting and screaming rose from the slopes of the world of man. A mob of crazed plastic figures, carrying guns of all sorts, were running pell-mell among the rocks -- brandishing as their battle standard a blood-stained shawl.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Doing My Part for the Cause


The Writing Challenge was so much fun that I decided to donate a pair of hand-knitted socks to Wiscon's Tiptree Auction. It can't compete with the hand-knitted uterus or Mary Doria Russell's brassiere, but hey. I do what I can.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Black, White, and Red

Pretty Bali

Writing Challenge: Found Objects


Today on his hike, Gary discovered, in a pile, a miniature Barbie doll, the head of a regular sized Ken doll, and several bullet shells.

Whoever writes the best story explaining how this collection of objects got there will win a pair of socks, handknit to your specifications by yours truly. I'll try to get your socks done sometime in the next three months. (If I'm already making you a pair of socks, you'll get another one.) Single-author entries only, please. If you and your ten best buddies all come up with a zinger of a story, you'll need to draw straws to see whose name goes on the entry, because knitting ten pairs of socks would take me forever.

Deadline: this coming Friday, May 21, at noon PDT.

You may post your responses in the comment section -- which would be the most fun for everyone -- or e-mail them to me (my e-mail address is under my contact info on the sidebar). I'm the sole judge, however. I'm declaring my darling hubby ineligible because he's exceptionally clever, and I'm exceptionally biased, and he already has several pairs of handknit socks and knows I'll make more for him whenever he asks. Nonetheless, he should feel free to post a story.

Rev those writing engines!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

My Mother's Day


Mother's Day was lovely. One of my favorite priests, my friend Sherry, decided weeks ago that we should have a healing service today, with special prayers and annointing offered to anyone who wanted them. That turned out to be a prescient decision: a longtime member of our congregation died two days ago, and her grieving family were there. Another parishioner has just had a recurrence of cancer; and I, of course, was feeling less jolly than I often do.

The service was personally meaningful to me for three reasons, seeming coincidences of the kind I've long since learned aren't really coincidence at all, especially at church. First, Sherry loves butterflies, and today I brought her something of my mother's, a small china box (part of Mom's extensive jewelry-storage collection) with butterflies on it. As it happened, today Sherry was wearing her beautiful ordination vestments, embroidered with large butterflies as a gift from the parish. So that was very fitting.

Secondly, one of the hymns we sang quoted the famous words from Luke 11:9, "Knock and the door shall be opened unto you." That reminded me how Mom raised her hand to knock at an invisible door before she died, just as my father had reached out to twist an invisible doorknob.

And third, Sherry preached on today's alternative Gospel, the healing story about the man to whom Jesus says, "Take up your mat and walk." I've heard the passage before, but had never noticed the detail of how long the man had been ill, and I wasn't sure I'd heard it right this morning. During the peace, I asked our deacon, "Hey, in the Gospel, has the guy been sick for twenty-eight years, or thirty-eight?"

"Thirty-eight."

My mother stopped drinking when she was thirty-eight, a miracle motivated largely by her love for me and my sister. How perfect is that?

After church, my friend Katharine and I went to the gym, where I swam for half an hour. Then we swung back home to pick up Gary before an expedition to Whole Foods. Katharine and I are both off wheat, and I'm also off dairy. Whole Foods is a mecca of gluten-free, dairy-free foods. It's not cheap, but for certain products, it's the best place in town. So I now have many yummy treats that won't wreak havoc with my digestion, although they may not do my waistline any good!

And tomorrow, I teach my last class. Hurrah!

Alternative Momhood


At the hospital yesterday, one of the nurses was wearing a gorgeous scrub top: blue and green batik with a sea-turtle pattern. When I complimented her on it, she told me a wonderful story.

Several years ago, she and her husband vacationed in Mexico. One evening they were strolling along a beach which happened to be a sea-turtle nesting site. The baby turtles were hatching, and someone called out to them, "Hey! Want to help us carry baby turtles to the water?"

So the nurse and her husband helped baby turtles reach the safety of the ocean, as birds alert for tasty pickings circled overhead. Of course, other hazards awaited the babies in the water, but their human friends had given them a head start.

I love this story. All of us can parent younguns somehow, even if it's just on the spur of the moment. Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Moving Right Along


I've now begun the process of getting off meds; it will take all summer (my doc's weaning me off very slowly), but that's just fine. I'll get there.

The weird thing is that, when I was in my psychiatrist's office, she never expressed any condolences about Mom. I'd dropped off a note last week filling her in on everything that's happened, the upshot of which was that I wanted to start decreasing my meds dosage. When I arrived for my appointment, she launched right into that subject. No word of "I'm sorry about your mother" or "So how are you doing?" She asked how my mood was, but not in the context of grief.

This struck me as decidedly odd. Maybe she figures my new therapist's doing all of that (as indeed he is), but it's only human to say something, even if it's pro forma, and this doc's usually very human. Oh well. Maybe she was having a bad day.

I woke up early this morning, got to the hospital early as a result, had a quiet and pleasant shift, and came home for lunch. Then I unpacked a big box of my mother's glass, most of which had never been unpacked when she moved from New Jersey to Philadelphia seventeen years ago. It's beautiful stuff, and the cats had a wonderful time leaping through the packing peanuts (see previous post). In New Jersey, Mom had the pieces on glass shelves mounted across windows, so the light would shine through them. Our cats are a lot more rambunctious than hers, so we need to find a place for the glass where they won't knock it down. Right now, it's crammed on top of our CD racks in the family room; that's where we keep other small breakables, and so far, they've all been safe from furry marauders. The surfaces look too busy, so we'll have to do some scaling back, but at least the glass is safe.

I teach one more class tomorrow. I have about five more papers to grade. Then I'll be done, or as done as I ever get. We leave for Alaska, via Seattle, in two weeks. Yay!

Got Packing Peanuts?


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Another Kitty Altogether


A few years ago, I visited the lion habitat at the MGM Grand when I was in Vegas for one of our diocesan conventions. I'm happy to report that these cats seem very healthy, happy, and well-cared for, and that they only spend a few hours a day being gawked at by tourists. The rest of the time, they live on a twelve-acre sanctuary.

I bought these postcards, chucked them in the Figger McGee closet in my study, and forgot about them. They recently reemerged when I emptied the closet for the New Duct Project, and the image amused me and Gary so much that he decided to scan it for me so I could put it on the blog.

Really, I think all cats think this. We're their staff, after all.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Birthday Boy!


Harley's eleven years old today. He was very irritated by my efforts to get birthday pictures of him, but I finally got this shot of him curled up in one of his favorite boxes. Note the amusing paw positions.

Happy birthday, sweet kitty!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Test and Testy


I just got a new BlackBerry -- a Curve 8530 -- and I'm trying to see if I can blog right from the phone. So far, so good.

I went back to the hospital today. I wound up spending a lot of time with an extremely agitated patient who decided that I was one of the only trustworthy people in the building (probably because the minute I walked into the room, I said, "If you want me to leave, I will," which meant that for a while, at least, I was the only person the patient wanted to stay). A nurse made it into the patient's good graces too, but only after a shoving match involving lots of shouting and banging on the door while security guards, the social worker, other nurses and I milled around outside. I'd left the room to call a social-service organization, at the patient's request.

Meanwhile, one nurse scolded me for "enabling" the patient's behavior and not understanding hospital procedures regarding agitated patients, which in fact I understand very well. Apparently other nurses were talking about what I'd done wrong, which led to the nursing supervisor informing me that since I wasn't trained to handle this kind of patient, I shouldn't be in the room. I explained that in fact I'd done nothing wrong and that I felt safe with the patient (the nurse was clearly worried about liability).

Mind you, this was after two different nurses, earlier in the shift, had treated me as completely invisible. It was a really busy day, but I was still annoyed. I'll take invisibility over being chewed out by staff, though, especially for things I didn't do.

I wound up back in the room with the patient and the one acceptable nurse, who'd talked the patient down after the shoving match, had miraculously gotten the patient to follow instructions, and was now the patient's best friend, aside from me. The patient told me repeatedly, "You make me comfortable. You're perfect for this job. You have rainbows around you."

The nurse agreed I had rainbows around me. I told the nurse how wonderful she was. We both did everything we could to reassure the patient, who kept saying plaintively, "I'm not a bad person." When the patient and the nurse realized that I'd stayed ninety minutes past the end of my shift, they both insisted I go home.

On my way upstairs to sign out, I got another lecture from a security guard who thought I'd endangered myself needlessly. I didn't bother telling him that the patient became most agitated when I left the room, and that in fact I felt far more comfortable with the patient than the scolding nurses. I actually loved talking to the patient, who between bouts of fear and anger was funny, smart, and caring. And yes, this was an unstable person who theoretically could have gone off on me at any time. But I could have gotten my car totalled on the way to the hospital, too. We all could have been killed by a meteor crashing into the building. Every single one of us is surrounded by risk, all the time. I went with my gut feelng that the patient wouldn't hurt me, and my gut was right.

I know at least some of the lecturing came from concern for my well-being, but it's still frustrating to have so little credibility after over five years of volunteering. I felt like my presence was helping (the patient clearly thought it was), so I wish the medical staff hadn't seen me as part of the problem. Patients' responses to me are far more important -- and more uniformly positive -- but patients come and go. I have to deal with the staff every week, and it's harder to do my job well when they see me as a liability rather than an asset.

Ah well. For all the chaos and frustration, I still wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. It's deeply meaningful and satisfying work, even when it's difficult.

Sleepy Cat