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