Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Because Claire Asked


Here's a photo of the new red buttons in my mother's actual button basket, the only one I ever remember her using. I spent many happy hours going through her buttons when I was a kid.

The basket's pretty beaten up, but I can't bear to get rid of it. Ironically, the button closure on the outside has broken off, so I may need to buy a new button for the button box. Oooooh! An excuse to go back to JoAnn's!

Button Heaven!


I'm blogging from a Starbucks on the new mini-machine. It wouldn't connect at work, but my regular laptop doesn't connect at work either. It connected fine here, which bodes well for travel.

I went to my favorite yarn store to look for buttons today, but she didn't have any. "I get my buttons at JoAnn's," she said, and told me how to get there. I think maybe I was there a million years ago looking for yarn and was disappointed in the selection, so I promptly forgot about the place.

Their yarn selection's indeed very limited, but their button selection's fabulous: an entire wall and a half of everything you could think of. After much agonizing -- and a consultation with one of the clerks -- I bought three large, red, asymmetrical buttons for the scarf. I'll post a picture when it's done.

I'll definitely be going back there. I had to restrain myself from buying far more buttons than I need at the moment. One project at a time!

I am going to start a button box at home, though. Fun!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Be Very Afraid


After I got home from the hospital today, I took a nap. I woke up with a weight on my chest to find this looking down at me.

Aieeee!

Translation: "Supid human. Why aren't you upright and feeding moi?"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Buttons, Anyone?


The homily went fine; the mom of the baby being baptized even asked for a copy, so that was a nice compliment. I preach next on July 24, on Jesus' parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew: mustard seeds, pearls of great price, hidden treasure.

Meanwhile, today I decided that the new scarf will need buttons so it can be used as a longish cowl (since it will be too short as a scarf), and that sent me off on an idea about using small bits of yarn to knit skinny necklace-like scarves fastened with buttons -- one loop gives you a necklace, wrap it around a few times and you have something more like a scarf -- which sent me on a button hunt. Lace would work well for this, since it provides lots of natural buttonholes. Of course, it may be a daft idea, but I'll try a few of them and see how they come out.

It turns out there are a lot of different kinds of buttons, and a lot of places to buy them on the internet (well, of course). Looking at all of them quickly made me dizzy, and anyway I don't think trying to match yarn color to monitor images is very safe, so I've decided that I'll only buy buttons in person. I stopped by Franklin's on my way to the second church service, but they didn't have anything very interesting, or anything that worked with the current scarf. Next I'll try the yarn stores in town. Do thrift or antique stores sell buttons? I guess I can call and ask.

This new little side hobby could waste hours of time.

Also, if I don't find anything I like in town -- or maybe even if I do -- I may take a road trip to a button shop near Sacramento (if they have a storefront rather than just being online, which I have to check). It looks like they have an amazing selection.

I have some antler and horn buttons a friend got in Alaska for me, so now I'm trying to figure out what yarn they'll go with. Also, check out this totally cool art-deco button (sorry for the blurry image; my phone's camera doesn't do well with close-ups of little things). I've had this since I was a child; I don't even remember if it came from my mother's button box or from a grandmother, but I loved it as a kid and have kept it all these years. Very occasionally, it pays to be a pack rat. There's only one of it, and it doesn't go with any of my current yarn. I'll have to buy special yarn for it.

Hey! A reason to buy more yarn! Bwah hah hah!

I wonder if my July 24 homily will wind up being about buttons.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Seen and Unseen


Here's tomorrow's homily. The Gospel's John 14:15-21.

I had trouble with this one; for one thing, John's my least favorite Gospel, since Jesus' speechifying there sets my teeth on edge. Yeah, he speechifies elsewhere, too (Sermon on the Mount, anyone?), but to me -- and I know this is probably heretical -- John makes him sound like a pompous stuffed shirt. I like him much better when he's feeding and healing people. So sue me.

In my old parish, we always had an agape meal on Maundy Thursday, and while we were gnawing our fruit and nuts, one of our priests would read the High Priestly Prayer -- John 17 -- which even our clergy took to calling the I-Am-the-Walrus prayer, since "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us," sounds a bit too much like, "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together." So one priest would solemnly read John 17, and we'd all say Amen, and then another priest would say, "Coo coo ka choo," and we'd all laugh.

But tomorrow's Gospel reading's from John, and also it's Memorial Day, and also we're doing a baptism (for a baby who's the grandchild of a parishioner but lives elsewhere). So this is one of those hodge-podge homilies that's all over the map. It's short, but that works with a baptism, and Atheist Gary has given it his seal of approval.

Speaking of clouds, it's snowing now. Ick!

*

For a little over a year now, my sister and I have been orphans. Our father died in March 2009; our mother, divorced from him many decades earlier, died in April 2010. Our parents are no longer with us in the flesh.

I miss them terribly. I miss their delight in the Reno landscape, my father’s love of music and my mother’s love of hand-crafted jewelry, the meals I shared with them. I miss hearing their voices on the phone.

At the same time, though, I am surrounded by reminders of them. Whenever I see quail, I remember how Mom and I watched a mother quail and her approximately seventeen hundred tiny chicks cross the road during a drive to Virginia City. Whenever I see a dramatic Nevada cloudscape, I remember how Dad loved to watch the changing colors of the sky. I wear my mother’s earrings and use the dining room chairs she gave us when my husband and I bought our house. Artwork we inherited from both of my parents hangs on our walls. When I sit on our back deck, I remember how much Dad loved sitting there, too.

In the months immediately after my parents’ deaths, these reminders were exquisitely painful. Everything reminded me of them, but I couldn’t touch them or hear their voices or ask their advice. The process of working through my grief, though, has gradually transformed each source of pain into a source of comfort. I can’t touch my parents, but I can touch things they touched. I can no longer hear their voices on the telephone, but I can hear them in my head whenever I want or need to, and occasionally even when I’d rather not. I can’t ask their advice, but years of knowing them has left me with a strong sense of what they would say. When I need the comfort of memories not my own, I can talk to other people who knew and loved them: my sister, my husband, cousins and friends.

My parents are no longer in the flesh, but they are everywhere in the world. They both dwell within me and surround me. The world no longer sees them; other people who look at clouds and quail see only clouds and quail, not my parents. But I see them. Technically, I am an orphan, but I have not been left orphaned. My parents live on in memory and in tradition.

This coming Thursday, June 2, forty days after Easter, the Christian church will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus, who has been walking around breaking bread and cooking fish and generally carrying on like somebody who never died, is going away again. He’s going to live with his Father.

The Gospels of Mark and Luke describe the Ascension, although very briefly. Mark says that Jesus “was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” Luke tells us that while Jesus was blessing his followers,“he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven.” Matthew and John don’t describe the Ascension at all. Because our three-year cycle of Scripture readings – the lectionary used by the Episcopal Church and many other churches – is focusing on John right now, the editors have had to do a bit of fancy footwork. This morning’s reading comes from the instructions Jesus gave his disciples before the Crucifixion, before Easter. But they work just fine before the Ascension, too.

In a little while the world will no longer see me, Jesus tells his friends, but you will see me. I will not leave you orphaned. I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

That Advocate is the Holy Spirit, who will descend upon the disciples at Pentecost, forty-nine days after Easter. This year, that’s June 12. On Pentecost, the Spirit arrives in rushing wind and tongues of flame, bestowing gifts of healing and prophecy. This astonishing and joyous event transforms Jesus’ rag-tag collection of followers into the church, the body that still keeps Jesus’ commandments alive in memory and in tradition, even though he is no longer present in the flesh.

Our faith assures us that Christ is alive. He will come again, in God’s good time; we will join him someday. But right now, he’s sitting at the right hand of God, dwelling in a far country we can’t reach via car or airplane. Telephones, e-mail and Skype don’t work there. Prayer works, but sometimes there’s static on the line: we aren’t sure what we’ve heard, or if we’ve been heard. The Spirit blows through us, bringing us messages, but sometimes we wonder if those are just our imaginations. The Gospel message of love, forgiveness and eternal life stirs our souls, but those words were written so long ago, and sometimes we find ourselves doubting or questioning them. We want Jesus with us here, now. We miss him terribly, just as the disciples must have missed him after the Ascension.

Our life in the church, the life we begin at baptism, teaches us to look for him even where others cannot see him. The church is a family of people who love God as much as we do, a family related by the water of baptism and by the bread and wine of the eucharist. We are all the beloved descendants of that first rag-tag group of followers.

We welcome Esten into this family today. We pray that one day he will welcome others. We trust that he, too, will learn to see Christ even where others do not.

We pray for Esten to know that although our Lord is no longer with us in the flesh, he is everywhere in the world. We pray for Esten’s church family to teach him to see Christ in bread and wine, in water and wind, in the faces of those he loves, and in the faces of strangers, even when those strangers are enemies. We pray that Esten will learn the discipline of seeking Christ in “the least of these:” in the hungry and homeless, prisoners and the outcast, those who are ill and those who are despised. With Esten, we promise to do Christ’s work in the world, striving for justice and peace.

Jesus, like everyone we honor this Memorial Day -- all of those we love but see no longer -- both dwells within us and surrounds us. We can hear him in our heads whenever we want or need to, and sometimes even when we’d rather not. When we need the comfort of memories not our own, we can talk to other people who know and love him: clergy, fellow parishioners, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We find him in creation even as we carry his name and his legacy into places of woundedness and destruction. In the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”

All of which is simply a long way of saying what we’ve said for several weeks now, the words we will repeat every Easter season until we ourselves go to join the Father, trusting that those who love us will see us, too, shining in the world around them. “The Lord is risen. Alleluia, alleluia!”

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hunkering Down


It's frickin' freezing here: we may get snow tomorrow night! Some Memorial Day.

Yeah, it's our fault. We never should have had that awning installed.

Anyway, look who's being smart and cuddling up with a blanket.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tiny Treats


"There was coffee. Life would go on."

These lines are from William Gibson's brilliant short story "The Winter Market," and pretty much sum up my and Gary's take on mornings. (We use the quotation all the time; it's one of our tag lines.) So imagine our distress this morning when our industrial-strength coffee maker died. We have an emergency-backup French press, so we survived, although we consider the coffee quality inferior. Tonight we went shopping for a new coffee maker, though.

We got a Krups at Bed, Bath & Beyond. It was pretty pricy, but this is an essential home item, so it's worth the investment. Then we went next door to World Market, because Gary was thinking about getting more Adirondack chairs for our deck.

"Honey," I said, "we have enough chairs." In fact, we have chairs stacked in the garage we don't even use regularly. We used them for Dad's memorial service last July; we'll use them again for our Worldcon dinner party this coming August. We need them when we need them, but we just don't entertain that much.

So we didn't get any more chairs. Gary got a $29 side table, though, because he couldn't stand the idea of going into Memorial Day Weekend without any deck furniture to assemble.

Meanwhile, I browsed around the store. I love World Market because it has some of everything, and also brings back happy memories. In 2001, I spent Christmas with my father in Mississippi. He'd had quadruple bypass about a month beforehand, and he really needed me there. It was very much a turning point for the better in our relationship. Before I went down, I asked if he wanted anything from Reno for Christmas, and he said, "A baby elephant." So I went to World Market and got a bunch of elephant stuff: elephant ornaments, an elephant mug, an elephant wall hook, an elephant picture frame, and so forth. That shopping expedition was really fun -- one of my best Christmas memories -- and since then, the elephant items at World Market have always cheered me up.

I needed cheering up today. I'm fed up with the book (although I'm doggedly plowing through it), completely stuck on -- and panicking about -- the homily I have to write for Sunday, being pecked to death by small pieces of paperwork from a blizzard of sources, and basically out of sorts. I worked out on the elliptical for forty minutes before dinner, which helped quite a bit, but I was still cranky.

So I wandered through World Market, smiling at elephant soap dishes and paperweights and wall hangings and mosaics. I didn't buy any elephant things, though. There's just too much stuff in the house (including the elephant gifts I gave Dad that Christmas, and inherited after he died), and anyway, we'd just gotten the expensive coffee maker. I decided I could get a few very small items if they'd get used up, rather than sitting and gathering dust. So I bought two dark chocolate caramels with sea salt (a decadent little treat Gary and I shared in the car on the way home), a small box of fruit-shaped marzipan (because I love marzipan and my mother always gave me some for Christmas), a small tube of jasmine-scented hand lotion for my purse, and a slightly larger bottle of orange-scented body lotion to use after I shower.

Now my hands smell good, and I've eaten a little chocolate, and I have the marzipan stored away as a future treat. So I'm feeling better.

And there will be coffee tomorrow morning. Life will go on.

Scarf Info for Maggie


Since you asked, the pattern is Barbara Walker's Indian Cross Stitch (third down on this page) although mine doesn't look nearly as neat or pretty as hers. I only wrap three times rather than four, which may make a difference, because I found four times too loose.

It's an easy pattern: four rows of garter stitch, a row where you wrap the extra stitches, and a row where you slip them (dropping the wraps), cross and knit. That part's a little tricky, but not inherently difficult. It's not TV knitting, though.

The yarn's a variegated sock yarn with short color repeats. I don't remember what it's called; I got it on clearance at a yarn store in Massachusetts two years ago, and have long since lost the label. I think the pattern would work fine with any yarn, but the short color repeats really make it pop, producing the "school of tropical fish" effect mbj noted. Fingering's a good weight, too. I think it would work really well in Plymouth's Happy Feet yarn, for instance.

I'm really sorry that I don't know what this yarn is -- although I think it may have been the last skein of a discontinued style or colorway -- because I suspect I'm only going to have enough of it to make about twenty-five inches of this thing, which isn't long enough for a scarf. A short table runner? A collar fastened with a pin? I'll figure something out.

Meanwhile, the baby sweater is going tortuously slowly, because I have to rip one sleeve, and I hate ripping, so I keep working on the scarf instead. The baby was just born, but this is a six-month size, and I don't think I'll be seeing his mom for a while, so I have time.

In an act of supremely foolish self-confidence, I finally ordered the wool for Gary's sweater. He wants a cardigan, and it has to have pockets, and he'd also like cables. He says the cables are optional, but I found a cardigan-with-pockets pattern with cabled sleeves, so that's what I'm going to attempt. Given how long the baby sweater's taken me, I shudder to think how many decades I'll be working on this one.

This is one of those sweaters you knit in pieces and then sew together, and I can't sew to save my life, but the owner of my local yarn shop will help me (if I ever get the pieces finished). The other day I ran in there in a panic about the baby sweater, and called out, "Florrie! I need you!" the minute I got in the door. Another patron, sitting and knitting at the front table, started laughing and said, "You have no idea how often I've heard people run in here and say that exact thing! I've said it myself."

Thank goodnesss for yarn stores.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Woo-hoo!


I'm blogging on the new machine! It works fine. It even has Chrome pre-installed, although in an older version that won't let me use the apps store. It does everything I need it to do for a basic road machine, though.

Bad battery, but I'll just keep it plugged in. I'm happy!

New Scarf in Progress


It will look better when it's blocked, but I think it's pretty even now.

In other knitting news, the church group may not work out for scheduling reasons: between vestry meetings, choir practice, classes, and other commitments, I don't think we can get more than two people in the same place at the same time. So we may need to just meet with the quilting group after all.

Nertz!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie 7-Inch Computerini


Oh dear. That sounds obscene, doesn't it?

For lo these many months, I've been looking for a seven-inch technogadget -- something small enough to fit in my purse -- that will give me easy access to e-mail and the internet, especially Blogger and Google Docs. I wanted something ultra-portable and ultra-cheap for short trips (like Mythcon) and local coffeeshop jaunts, occasions when hauling my netbook around is just a bit more trouble than it's worth.

The obvious candidate would be a tablet, but I really wanted something with a physical keyboard (and without a pricey phone contract). I'd thought about unlocked versions of the Samsung Galaxy Tab or Dell Streak, combined with a Bluetooth keyboard, but playing with the tablets at local stores hadn't made me sufficiently enthusiastic to justify their price tags.

I love Google's Chrome browser and have eagerly followed news of Chrome-based netbooks, but the first ones being released are even larger than my current netbook, not to mention (as many people have noted) ridiculously expensive for something that's basically a smart terminal.

I really wanted a seven-inch netbook. ASUS used to make them, but doesn't anymore -- the smallest netbook currently available is 10.1", and I own one of those -- and I kept reading snarky articles asking why anyone would want a netbook now that tablets are here, anyway.

Keyboards, that's why. Some of us still type!

Tonight, lo and behold, I discovered on Amazon a pair of used ASUS 7-inch netbooks for $150, and after conferring with Gary, snapped one of them up. As he said, at that price, it makes sense to try the machine out. The customer reviews praise it for internet and e-mail, which is exactly how I plan to use it. Everyone says the keyboard's small, but so are my hands. The machine runs Linux, but I believe I can install Chrome on it (and if not, I'll still be able to get to gmail and Google Docs, which is what matters). If the thing sucks or completely doesn't work, I'll return it, but this may be exactly what I've needed. If it works, I'll have an upstairs desktop, a downstairs/deck netbook, and a purse netbook.

I'd still bring the 10.1 netbook on longer trips, especially if I'm working on resident files (the ASUS doesn't have much storage). But for cloud computing, this could be pretty nifty.

Making a List


I attended the early service at church today so I could be at the ministry fair afterwards. I can't remember the last time I managed to get to church at 9:00 a.m., so this was a small miracle. (Good prep for preaching, too, which I'm doing next Sunday, although then we'll be on the summer schedule of one service at 10:00 -- rather than two at 9:00 and 11:00 -- along with the evening service at 5:00.)

For some reason, probably just because I was tired, I got a little weepy during the service. Watching the deacon, who served at my old church and is now at this one, I found myself wondering if I did the right thing withdrawing from ordination. That hasn't bothered me for a long time -- like, years -- so I think it really was just my fatigue.

The ministry fair was fine. I got seven people to sign up for a possible knitting group, mainly by dint of snagging anyone who walked past my table and asking brightly, "Do you knit?" (One woman fell over in hysterical giggles: I gather she's tried, unsuccessfully.) If the person expressed even the slightest glimmer of interest -- as in "Well, ten years ago I gave half a second's thought to maybe learning one day" or, "Fifteen years ago I knit two stitches and then gave up" or, "I dunno, but yarn's kinda pretty" -- I beamed and produced my sign-up list. "Excellent! Sign here!"

I didn't even make them sign in blood.

Of course, I'll be happy if any of them show up at an actual meeting. I'm sure some of them signed the list just to get me to leave them alone. But the guy sitting next to me, representing Ushers, had a blank piece of paper (undoubtedly because he was much more polite than I was and didn't strong-arm anyone), and one of the priests walked by, glanced at my list, and said, "Hey! You got a lot of people!"

I laughed and described my tactics. This priest was in my preaching class, so we go way back. "Ahhh," he said, grinning. "It's that diaconal gift, even though you decided not to be ordained." (As I've said before, priests bless and deacons nag.)

I promptly teared up again. "Y'know, for some reason I was thinking about that today. I still think I made the right decision, but . . . ."

"I know," he said, looking sympathetic, and patted my arm and moved on.

I'm curious to see if this new regret/nostalgia lingers, or if it's really just a brain blip produced by not quite enough sleep. In the meantime, I've e-mailed everyone on my list to try to set up an organizational meeting. We'll see if this happens. It would be fun, but may be redundant, since there's a very active quilting group in the parish. One of the quilters told me that knitters would be welcome to join them, so if a separate group doesn't work out, I may just go to some of their meetings. They meet once a month, and I'd hoped for a weekly gathering, but that may be too ambitious.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Black on Black


The End of the World -- Again


So yeah, no Rapture. Not, mind you, that I expected it, but I feel sorry for all the folks who gave away their life savings or whatever, and now have to figure out a Plan B. A friend of mine commented the other day, "Oh, I'd be one of the people left down here, but that's okay, because I really wouldn't want to spend eternity with the others." I agree with him whole-heartedly. This is another way of saying, I guess, that we all get the heaven we deserve.

In any case, I spent all morning at church, but not planning for Judgment Day. It was a "getting to know you" session for those of us from my old church to meet some of the people from my new church. We shared bits of our history -- most of these intensely moving -- and wrote a group prayer at the end. (This was a quintessentially Episcopal document which, in the thanksgiving section, included the phrase "Thanks for postponing the Rapture.")

Because the session had been advertised as four hours long (and indeed ran that long), I brought knitting, a pretty new scarf I'm working on. Knitting's the only way I can survive marathon meetings, even when they're fascinating. At the end we were chatting about the Ministry Fair tomorrow, and I said, "So is there a knitting group here?"

The rector, sitting next to me, turned to look at the scarf and said, "There is now." So I'll attempt to drag myself out of bed early enough tomorrow to go to the Ministry Fair with a sign-up sheet and clipboard to see if anybody else wants to get together to knit.

In other news, I'm about fifty pages into this phase of the revision. If I can keep going at this rate, I should indeed have the book done before Mythcon, although I wouldn't be surprised if a snag somewhere slows me down.

My first short shift at the hospital went fine. My tally at the end of the two hours was a whopping 59 -- which is about average for a four-hour shift -- so my hunch that two two-hour shifts will let me visit more people may indeed be true. I don't think the numbers will always be that high, though. The ER was extremely busy, and lots of people asked for prayer, but there was no one with whom I had to spend a lot of time, which translated into lots of visits, because I was able to keep moving. If there were fewer people in the department, or if more of them had deeper needs calling for longer visits, the numbers would be lower (not that my supervisors really care: it's not like we have a quota or anything, but they do want us to do basic bean counting).

It was strange being there during the week, when the hospital's so much more populated! Signing in, I said hello to no fewer than three staff chaplains. I asked if I should still respond to non-ER codes, and was told, "No, we'll do it." In a way that's a relief, and in a way it feels like a bit of a demotion. Since the professional chaplains respond to all codes, I'll probably be playing a much smaller role even during ER codes: get there first, provide whatever comfort I can, and stand aside when the professionals show up. When my sabbatical ends I'll have to go back to working Saturdays, though, which means they'll probably want me on codes again (if only because an on-call staff chaplain can take longer to arrive than someone already in the building).

As the most recent shift showed, however, there will still be enough to keep me plenty busy. And a lot of patients love being visited by volunteers; they're moved and fascinated that people just like them do this, and ask lots of questions about whether they might be able to do it, too. We're an important part of the hospital ecosystem.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mary Sue on the Moors


Tonight we went to see the latest film version of Jane Eyre. Gary suggested it since I'm an English professor, which means it should be just my cup o' tea.

Please note: I love Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. I love the little-known The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by the least famous Bronte sister, Anne (in fact, I wrote part of my doctoral dissertation about it). But Charlotte Bronte bores me. I find both Jane Eyre and Villette dull and humorless; both of their heroines strike me as utterly self-involved drips.

A Victorianist colleague who loves Jane Eyre, and hates Wuthering Heights, once informed me that most people hate one and love the other, and strongly implied that smart people prefer JE whereas ignorati with no taste prefer WH. I stand by my guns.

I'd hoped to like the movie anyway, but neither Gary nor I enjoyed it. The actress playing Jane gave her all the personality and character of a doorknob. Her two suitors are both despicable and unconvincing. Even Bertha was boring. I mean, c'mon: if you can't make the madwoman in the attic colorful and compelling, something's wrong!

Watching the film, it suddenly struck me that Jane's a classic Mary Sue. She's an orphan who suffers terrible, unmerited abuse, but rises above it to become very accomplished, but of course is totally modest, but is nonetheless so fascinating that all the men she meets fall in love with her while most of the women turn snippy and jealous. She endures angst, unrequited love, rejection and exile, but nobly and selflessly forgives all the despicable people who done her wrong, and then -- surprise! -- discovers that she's really a wealthy heiress (previously defrauded by the despicable people who done her wrong), at which point she gets the guy.

In other words: too good to be true, which means boring. Aaaah: so that's why I've never liked her!

And yes, I know, Jane Eyre's an important book that captures the oppression of women in nineteenth-century England. That's fine. But Emily Bronte and Anne Bronte and Jane Austen do the same thing, and -- for my money -- are a lot more entertaining. They can laugh at their characters. Their characters can laugh at themselves. They're just more fun to read, okay?

Your mileage may vary, as does the mileage of the author of this blog post, who ponders the issue of whether JE is an MS, and decides she's not. The author of this review, on the other hand, agrees with me. Granted, it's a review of the film, which probably suffers from the problem much more than the book does, although I don't intend to reread the book anytime soon to find out.

Monday, May 16, 2011

DIY Art Therapy


At the end of my last lesson with Charlene, she said, "Thank you for all your hard work." The statement caught me a little off guard. I've been very, very conscious of how bad my playing is; although I do have some abilities -- as Charlene said, "You have a good ear; if I play a tune for you, you can play it back to me" -- I don't speak the language of music and would never consider myself a musician. I'm somebody who enjoys scratching out very rough tunes on the viola.

But what Charlene said made me think, "Huh. Yeah, I have worked hard at this, haven't I?" And, more to the point, when I've been able to let go of my deeply ingrained perfectionist streak, I've enjoyed it.

The perfectionist thing goes way back. I'll spare you the history; suffice it to say that for many years, I was one of those unhappy people who measured my worth by my external accomplishments, especially grades. This tends, or tended in my case anyway, to turn into a glass-half-empty mindset: I measured myself according to what I hadn't done, and if you think that way, you'll always consider yourself a failure, because there's always someone who's done more.

I've been struggling with this issue lately at work. For one thing, academics are increasingly being evaluated as much by what they haven't done as by what they have, which is why I won't be going up for full professor. I have to keep reminding myself that even if I don't have the "national profile" required for promotion, I have published four books (with more on the way, I hope), and also perform community service I wouldn't have time for were I serving on MLA committees. The non-promotion situation, though, has re-sensitized me to how stressful glass-half-empty thinking is on colleagues and other people around me.

It's a tricky issue. Several of my students this semester have been very upset that I graded them on the results of their work, rather than on their effort. My response, and that of most professors I know, is that I have no way to measure relative effort, and that other arenas of human experience (most jobs, for instance) evaluate on results, too. Learning to come to terms with that is an important part of a college education.

At the same time, though, I always try to tell my students that their grades are not the measure of their personal worth. I know many of them don't believe me; if they did, the grades wouldn't upset them so much in the first place, and at that age, I sure didn't believe anybody who told me the same thing. I'm always heartened by students who maybe didn't get perfect grades, but who say that they enjoyed the class, or learned something, or acquired a new skill. In other words, the students who are looking at what they have, and not at what they don't: glass-half-full folk. They're so much healthier than I was in college.

Another way of defining this is process thinking versus product thinking. Both are important, but in different ways and for different purposes, and if you enjoy a process, you've gained something even if no one else appreciates the product. (One of the problems with academic promotion procedures right now is that the range of acceptable products has tightened considerably.)

It needs to be said that some of this stuff is a function of consumer culture, which encourages to focus on what we don't have so we'll go buy it. As an inveterate shopper, I'm very familiar with that pattern.

So, anyway. Today, as previously advertised, I sat down to start revising the latest novel. I did fine; I'm about ten pages in. But the next two sections, the ones scheduled for tomorrow, will require a lot of changes and some major plot rethinking, and I felt my stomach clenching up about it even today. Gotta get it right gotta get it right gotta get it right.

That mantra serves a purpose, but at this stage it's counter-productive. It's classic glass-half-empty thinking, because I'm looking at what's wrong, what isn't there: at lack, rather than possibility.

I played the viola for a while, since that always gets me to loosen up. Playing the viola means giving myself permission to do something badly, just because it's fun.

Then I decided to go shopping for a Magic Revision Pencil (inveterate shopper!). I like soft, dark pencils, and the number two I used this morning wasn't cutting it. Staples didn't have anything softer. After a few other unproductive stops, I wound up buying a drawing pencil at an art-supply store.

And that reminded me how much I like drawing. As a kid, I had a modest amount of artistic talent and drew and painted up a storm, to the lavish praise of the adults around me. I loved it. But as I got older and fell further into glass-half-empty, I became shyer about the visual stuff. I wasn't good enough. I wasn't skilled enough. I wasn't a Real Artist. This is of course either completely true or utter hogwash, depending on your point of view. I'll never be in MOMA or be paid for my artwork, but I have as much right to draw, paint and doodle as anybody else.

Back in 2006, inspired in part by a course I'd taken on art as spiritual practice, I briefly kept a drawing journal. Every day I'd produce a little doodle. Some are quite pretty; some are hideous; all of them were absorbing and fun. But after a while, I became too self-conscious about that project, too, and put the sketchbook away.

Today I took it out again. I sharpened up my colored pencils and doodled for an hour or so. The product will never be in MOMA, but the process made me very happy. As kids know, and as adults too often forget, coloring's a blast! (I can't remember who said, "All five year olds know they can draw. All fifteen year olds know they can't," but it's spot on.)

I hope to do one of these a day. I think the drawing journal -- along with the viola and knitting -- will help me stay relaxed on the writing front. And anything that creates joy should be maximized.

Basking


We have a bit of sunshine this morning after all!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

That's What We Get for Putting Up the Awning


I reread the draft today; it needs a heckuva lot of work, but I already knew that. Tomorrow I'll start editing by hand, marking up the manuscript in pencil: a combination of line editing and plot revisions. I'm hoping to do seven pages a day, although that may be too ambitious.

Thing is, I was really hoping to do the work while sitting outside on our lovely deck, under our lovely awning. But noooooo, because -- after eighty-five-degree, sunny weather last Friday -- we're back down in the forties and fifties, with rain and snow flurries predicted through the week. It's also been really windy (as in National Weather Service alerts advising people to lash down their lawn furniture).

Sigh. I'm really glad we got a retractable awning this time; it's snug and safe against the house. And I'm sure the sun will return long before I'm done editing. But I want my outside office back!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Neat!


I just had a long chat with my sister, who told me that she and her husband have booked their first cruise (on my and Gary's beloved Holland America Line). They're doing a Montreal to Boston trip this summer. Liz went to college in Montreal, at McGill, so I think it will be a very rich experience for her.

I'm jealous, since I've been wanting to do that particular itinerary! Well, someday. I'm also delighted for them, and envy them the experience of cruising for the first time. I just hope they enjoy it even a fraction as much as Gary and I do.

She and her husband had been wanting to try cruising even before Gary and I became addicted to it, but she said, "I knew you'd be happy we're doing this."

Yes, indeed! I can't wait to hear about their trip.

Last Long Shift for a While


As previously advertised, one of my adjustments during my sabbatical will be to break my four-hours-a-week at the hospital into two two-hour shifts during the workweek, rather than doing it all at once on Saturday (the only time I can manage during the academic year because of teaching and meetings). Shifts can run long anyway; last week I was there for five hours. I usually take a meal break, but visiting patients can be hard on the feet -- I do a lot of standing and walking -- and of course the work's sometimes, although not always, emotionally draining.

Today's shift, the last four-hour one before the new schedule, turned into four-and-a-half because there was a code just as I was about to sign out. (I think the staff chaplain who's usually there on Saturdays must be on vacation, because I was the only spiritual-care person who responded to the code, although it turned out the family didn't really want me there. The nurses were doing a fabulous job taking care of them, as well as the patient.) Then it turned into almost five, because a visually impaired visitor needed help finding a room -- so did I, since I barely know that part of the hospital! -- and then, just as I was leaving through the waiting room, a relative snagged me, angry over not being able to go back and visit a patient.

Sometimes it's hard to get out of the building.

It was a good shift. I had interesting conversations with patients. I helped someone who's feeling very isolated brainstorm about possible support systems. I saw cute kids and visited with fascinating older folks; I love hearing their stories! Quite a few people both asked for prayer and responded positively to it. The patient who coded didn't die. The work was smooth and steady -- busy but not too intense -- until the overtime stretch.

Still, it was really good to get home, take a shower, and curl up with a cat for a few minutes. Now I'm going to go downstairs and make a pot of tea. Then I hope to settle into rereading the rough draft of the novel, which I indeed finished last night, so I can start figuring out the billion and one things I need to fix.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Technical Difficulties


Blogger was down most of yesterday, and some comments I'd approved and posted before the shutdown appear to have vanished. Claire and Jean, please be assured that I did read and appreciate your comments! I hope Blogger restores them at some point, if that's possible.

Transitions


Yesterday I saw my chiropractor and asked if she could recommend a new PCP. She immediately gave me a list of names of doctors her own patients love. One of the people she recommended very highly is a Nurse Practitioner who works with an MD who's also trained in medical acupuncture. I'd already heard good things about him and had been considering checking him out -- here's his bio, which I find both honest and compelling (I especially like his definition of illness as "the human experience of disease," which is a precise and helpful distinction) -- so that was an easy sell, especially since he's on my insurance! I've had good results from acupuncture for my sinusitis, although I'm skeptical about a lot of "energy work," especially Reiki.

When I got home yesterday I called and got an appointment with the NP for 10:30 this morning. How convenient is that? As a plus, she's considerably closer to my house than my old PCP (although the office park where she's located is an absolute maze, and I kept getting lost).

I think she's great: warm, personable, empathetic, a great listener. She looked at me instead of at her computer, although like everyone else these days, the practice uses electronic medical records. She had, for a wonder, heard of Narrative Medicine! She shares my skepticism about the energy stuff and says she's had a hard time wrapping her head around acupuncture, but she keeps seeing patients respond really well to it, so that's convinced her. She adores the doctor. When I said, "I've decided that allopathic medicine is great for acute illness and life-threatening stuff like cancer and heart disease, but holistic medicine is better at treating chronic problems," she nodded vigorously and said, "That's so well put. I'm going to use that."

She recommended a new orthopedist, a knee specialist who's doing her own knee replacement next week. (Ouch!)

She talked about the fact that normal lab values -- while they can reassure you that you don't have cancer or whatever -- aren't a reason to dismiss complaints that people aren't feeling well. (My old doc's response tends to be, "You're fine. Your bloodwork's splendid.") She said, "You don't need more lab work or pharmaceuticals. You need to be treated as a whole person. We need to monitor your depression to make sure it doesn't become a problem, and we need to help you work through your grief." She asked if I was currently in therapy; I said I've stopped getting good results from talk therapy, although I process a lot through the blog, and that led us into a discussion of writing and healing. She hadn't known about James Pennebaker's research -- here's his writing and health homepage -- and was fascinated.

So her recommendation is that I see the doctor for a consultation; I have an appointment with him for June 9. When I left, she both shook my hand and hugged me. My old doctor's fallen into a pattern of walking away without a backward glance, not even responding to "thank you" or "good bye."

So I'm feeling vastly relieved and cautiously optimistic. A small voice in my head is saying, "You know these folks will burn out in five years, just like everybody else you've seen," but I'm trying to ignore it. And even if it's true, five years is better than nothing. So thank you to all of you who urged me not to settle for a doctor with whom I'd become uncomfortable!

In other news, today's my last fiddle lesson with Charlene. Her husband has a job in Madison, Wisconsin, which of course is one of the coolest places on earth, and has a much better music scene than Reno does. They're moving later this month.

I'm hoping, at some point today, to finish the extraordinarily rough first draft of Mending the Moon, and then to start revising like a maniac. I'd love to have it done by Mythcon, although that may be overly optimistic.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Distorto-Cat!


Because you also haven't seen the other cat for a while. He hasn't turned into a giraffe, I promise: it's just a weirdness of the lens.

Joanna Russ


I was sad to learn -- somewhat after the fact -- that renowned science-fiction author and critic Joanna Russ died at the end of April. She was a wonderful and vastly important writer, and it's a huge loss to the field and to her many friends.

I've taught various of Joanna's work over the years, and it never fails to inspire heated class discussion and unusually good work from students. In fact, two of the best papers I've ever read were responses to her novel The Female Man. My somewhat conservative Nevada students, even or especially the women, argued passionately with the book, but it resulted in some terrific writing. (We get a lot of "I'm not a feminist" disclaimers around here from young women who don't quite realize that they owe their voting rights and access to higher education, among other things, to the very hard work of many of their foremothers.)

That was many years ago. I should teach the book again, since I'm constantly looking for ways to slice through student apathy and disengagement. Anything that inspires discussion is a blessing.

I never met Joanna personally, but I absolutely treasure a note she sent me praising my story "Ever After." I was incredibly moved that anything I wrote had meant so much to someone I so admired.

Rest in peace, Joanna. You'll be missed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Confusion Abounds

in 2002 or 2003, I went to urgent care with sudden scary knee pain, had x-rays, and was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and a worn meniscus.

Since then, many medical folks have told me that worn meniscus can't be diagnosed with x-rays, but have confirmed that I have arthritis based on pain, popping sounds when I move the joint, and so forth. My rheumatologist agreed with the arthritis dx and gave me Relafen as an NSAID, because ibuprofen chews up my stomach too much.

Then my pharmacist told me that Relafen isn't an NSAID; he says it's a muscle relaxant.

Today, my orthopedist said I don't have arthritis but do have patellar tracking disorder: my kneecaps in both knees are off-kilter and don't move where they're supposed to, causing wear and tear and pain, although my right knee is much worse than my left. (He also says Relafen is an NSAID, and the All-Knowing Internet seems to agree; I'll tell my pharmacist this when I see him, since he was treating me a little like a drug addict for taking the stuff.) Orthodoc claims the condition's strictly structural and due to genetics, and says the only effective treatment of the cause -- rather than the symptoms -- is arthoscopic knee surgery to release the lateral ligaments.

First he said that surgery was a last resort, to be used only when the steroid shots don't work anymore. (He gave me shot #2 today, although shot #1 was nine months ago, which doesn't seem like a bad record.) Then, when I asked more questions, he said it was actually better to have the surgery sooner rather than later, because the longer you wait, the more damage is caused by the kneecap moving the wrong way. He said there's no downside to the surgery and that recovery time is quick. He had his nurse give me my diagnosis code and the surgical procedure code, so I could call my insurance company to find out what it would cost.

Important note: Orthodoc's retiring in a month -- he's been driven out of the business by the difficulty of trying to run a solo practice in today's insurance environment -- so he wouldn't be performing the surgery even if I had it. He has no financial incentive to push surgery, in other words (plus I was referred to him by a friend who says he's conservative in terms of surgery).

However, internet research suggests that this surgery a) actually is a last resort, b) often doesn't work (and may actually destabilize the knee), and c) involves lots of agonizing postop pain and weeks or months of PT even when it does work. The sites I've read say that full recovery can take up to a year.

No thanks.

Meanwhile, I think Orthodoc's nurse gave me the wrong codes, because when I Googled them, they were about meniscus tears and surgical repair of same, rather than kneecap issues.

My brain hurts. Thanks to the shot, my knee hurts less than it did, although not as much less as it did after shot #1. We'll see how it does over the next few weeks, though.

Awning

Big. Nice. Easier to unfurl than to furl, so at some point we may want to invest in a motor, but being able to get it out of wind and weather -- even with significant expenditures of upper-body strength -- is a real plus.

I have my summer office back! Yay!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Feeling Old


My grades are in, and I'm celebrating with a round of doctor's appointments. Sigh.

Ever since the migraine from the Black Lagoon, which after all was over a month ago, I've had annoying headaches. So today I hied myself to my friendly Primary Care Provider, who called in a script for antibiotics. He agrees with my assessment that it may be a sinus infection.

Meanwhile, my right knee has gotten really crunchy again, and stairs are once again a challenge, so tomorrow I'm returning to my friendly Orthopod for another cortisone shot. I was complaining about this to my PCP -- between my back, my knee, and various other creaky bits, the pain-somewhere-every-day thing makes me feel more like I'm eighty than like I'm fifty -- but he wasn't very interested. Without taking his eyes off his PDA, he said that I just have to keep up my exercise, or I'll feel even worse.

Lovely.

Also, I seem to have gained back the few pounds I'd lost, which is more than a little discouraging. I told the PCP about that, too, but he just grunted (still looking at the PDA). I'm sure he hears such complaints all the time; still, I've started to hate having to see him for anything, since the contact feels so impersonal. I'm not sure any other primary-care folks in town are any better, though. It seems to be the nature of the territory.

The Orthopod is more personable, or was the last time I saw him, anyway. My chiropractor's infinitely more personable; she spends no longer with me per appointment than my PCP does (an average of ten minutes), but I feel like she sees me as a whole person, not just a presenting symptom. Of course, she sees me every week, which makes a difference. She also makes much more eye contact, with makes a huge difference.

Elsewhere in health news, my current CPAP mask has started to ooze blue silicone goo, so I got online to order another and discovered that my favorite mask's being discontinued. Horrors! So I ordered three. The website where I buy them now requires a prescription even for a mask. What in the world? Is there a big black market in CPAP masks? Are people using them to snort illicit substances? I can't imagine why access to these things needs to be controlled.

But it does, evidently. Conveniently, the website offers to contact your doctor for the script, so I entered my pulmonologist's name . . . and up popped her group-practice name, address and phone number. These folks are good!

With any luck, my knee will feel markedly better tomorrow, and my head will feel markedly better within the next ten days, and my back will remain at the not-happy-but-not-screaming level. Then maybe I'll start to feel a few decades younger.

My current decrepitude is so frustrating at least partly because I feel like I do so much right. I don't smoke; I drink hardly anything (an inch of wine every two weeks, at most); I take my vitamins, wear my seatbelt, eat pretty darn well, and exercise religiously. But, like the good doc said, I guess there's no way to know how much worse I'd feel otherwise.

Tomorrow we're getting our new awning, which will make sitting outside much easier than it is now. Sunshine will help.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

That End of the Hall


The ER where I volunteer has a particular set of rooms often used for psychiatric cases. They feature things like steel shutters that pull down over equipment panels, so someone who's acting out can't destroy medical gizmos. Even without such special features, the staff tends to cluster the psych patients close together so that sitters -- staff charged to watch them -- and/or security have only one area to cover.

The rooms were lively today. One patient kept begging to use the cell phones of passersby, and ultimately got into a yelling match with a doctor while security guards and nurses looked on. (It's hard to say who was more frustrated, the doctor or the patient.) Another patient wound up in four-point restraint. "One arm up, one down!" the nurse instructed the security guards who'd be trussing up the patient. She later told me that if both arms are down, the patient can still head-butt someone who, for instance, is changing an IV. If one arm's down at the patient's side and another's over the patient's head, movement's much more restricted. And then we had a frequent flyer, someone notorious in the department and whom I've met at least twice over the last few years, who had already been in two other times this week.

Psych patients have to be medically cleared before they can be sent to psych hospitals (and have to wait for beds to become available in those facilities). They also have to be evaluated by a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychiatric social worker. These individuals aren't dedicated to one department, or even one hospital. They're on call and float among all the hospitals in the area, which means that it can take hours for them to show up.

When you add all these factors together, some psych patients wind up being held in the ER for forty-eight hours. This would be nearly intolerable for any patient, but psych patients are, by definition, already emotionally unstable. Nobody likes waiting in an ER; psych patients are probably less able to handle long wait times than anyone else, and they wind up with the longest wait times of all.

Let's do a thought experiment. Imagine an average citizen who isn't already depressed, paranoid, or feeling violent towards self or others. Maybe you're picturing yourself; maybe you're picturing someone you think is better adjusted than you are. Now, stick this person in a small white room. Deprive this person of all clothing and other personal possessions -- since just about anything you can imagine could conceivably become an instrument of destruction -- and give your patient a humiliating hospital gown instead. Outside the door, park an aide or nurse who peers in at regular intervals.

Your patient will be given food and warm blankets, and may even have a private bathroom. A chaplain may stop by for a chat. Doctors and nurses will show up for a medical evaluation early on, but after that, no one can tell the patient how soon the person performing the psych evaluation will arrive, because no one knows. Once the psych evaluation has taken place, no one can tell the patient how soon a bed will be available at the facility across town. Once a bed opens up, it's anyone's guess when transport will show up. If the patient wants to leave, she or he will be told, "No, you're on a legal hold." Everyone will try to be as nice as possible, but if the patient starts getting cranky, the attitude of the staff is likely to go downhill fast. In most cases -- for reasons I don't entirely understand myself -- the patient won't have access to whatever medication he or she was taking (or not taking) at home. And all of this could go on for up to two days.

At the end of those two days, is your average citizen feeling depressed or paranoid yet? Fighting an urge to scream at people? Looking for things to throw?

Yeah. I thought so.

This system would drive the sanest of us bonkers, and the people subjected to it are already fragile. It stinks. Patients and staff both hate it, and too often vent their frustration on each other as the easiest accessible targets. Patients don't understand why they can't get their meds: they're in a hospital, aren't they? Providers don't understand why patients can't be more reasonable, and resent bad behavior even when that behavior's a symptom of the condition for which the patient is seeking treatment. It certainly doesn't help if the bad behavior involves attempted violence to staff. Even patients (psych or otherwise) who've walked into the hospital tend to start getting rebellious after ten or twelve hours; people who've been brought in against their will are even more unhappy.

Nobody was happy today. I usually like psych patients, but I found this bunch as exhausting as everyone else did (although my heart breaks for our frequent flyer, who's a very sad case). I was on the fringes of a staff kvetch-fest that featured people offering passionate rants about how much they hate dealing with psych patients. They want to be sympathetic; they try to be sympathetic. But they're overworked and have a million other urgent tasks to perform for patients for whom the ER is the front line, not a way station.

"The system's broken," I said. "It's like taking somebody with a broken leg and saying, 'Okay, we're gonna make you stand in a corner for forty-eight hours, on your broken leg, and we're not gonna give you pain meds.'"

People laughed. "That's pretty good, for a chaplain," said one of the docs. (We chaplains are a slow bunch, but we catch on eventually.) A case manager said, "You're right. The system is broken. Can you think of ways to fix it? Would you work on that?" (I think she was being serious, not sarcastic, although I may have missed some nuances in the general haze of fatigue and exasperation. Gary's response, when I told him about this later, was, "Are they paying you a consulting fee?")

"I think what we need is a dedicated psych ER," I said, "and that won't happen." The case manager sighed, nodded, and walked away.

Actually, we don't even need a dedicated psych ER. We do need a few ER staff who are dedicated to psych patients and who'll attend to their needs as quickly as everyone else attends to the purely medical cases. And, most of all, we need a ton more community mental-health resources. If we had those, some of these patients wouldn't wind up in the ER at all, and others would have more options about where to go post-ER.

None of that's going to happen, either, not in this economy. Those kinds of services are the things that get cut when money's tight. (And I've done enough research to know that the conditions I'm describing aren't limited to our area.) And, of course, many psychiatric patients can't pay for their care, which makes everything worse.

One patient today wound up being discharged, a huge relief for everybody. The frequent flyer asked me solemnly if I loved Jesus, and when I smiled and nodded, sang me a song he wrote about being friends with God. Then he rolled over to take a nap, which was probably the most sensible way for him to spend his time. I don't know what happened to the patient in restraints. For all I know, he and the frequent flyer are still in their respective small white rooms, all these hours later, frustrating a new shift of medical staff.

Really, there's got to be a way to do better by these folks. The question is how to do it without spending extra money. If anyone has any idea how to answer that, please let me know.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Ready for a Break


I've been very bad about posting, largely because, while there's a lot going on -- notably family medical concerns and an annoying situation with an alarming student -- most of it's stuff I can't discuss in any detail here. Let's just say that, while I'm glad classes are over, I've had better weeks.

Among other things, I've been entirely too conscious of non-stop Mother's Day advertising, which makes me miss Mom. My new church runs a very busy food pantry, and they solicited donations in honor of mothers, so I made one in memory of my mother and in thanksgiving for Gary's mom (who'll get a nice card from the church). That helped a little bit, but I'll be glad when the holiday's over for another year.

On the bright side:

Classes are over, except for the final I'm giving next week.

I've been chipping away at the book manuscript, mostly managing to write 1,000 words a day. I'm not happy with the results, but at least I have something to revise.

I've been exercising a lot, and have managed to lose a few pounds. I'm no longer officially-according-to-my-BMI overweight, although I'd like to lose a lot more (if only to give my back and knee a break: both have been complaining mightily lately).

I'm reading a wonderful book: Chris Adrian's new novel The Great Night.

Gary and I attended an astonishingly accomplished graduate viola recital last night.

Speaking of violas, I've started practicing mine again, and I'm having fun with it, even if the results aren't even remotely accomplished.

Gary and I just finished watching the first season of David Simon's new series Treme, which we loved (and I don't even like jazz!). I found the post-Katrina New Orleans setting especially poignant because my father still lived on the Gulf Coast when all of that was happening.

Last week I covered a class for a colleague who was dealing with a family emergency. This wasn't a big deal, especially since it was a really fun class. It's the kind of thing all of us do for each other whenever it's necessary. Colleagues covered for me when my parents died, for instance. Everybody hopes it won't be necessary, because you don't want your co-workers to be dealing with crises, but I don't think anyone expects any acknowledgment except a simple "thanks so much" (and depending on circumstances, even that's optional).

The colleague for whom I covered has a really impressive jewelry collection -- and this is coming from me, so that's saying something -- and we've periodically admired each other's pieces. I don't remember talking to her about turtles, but at some point she must have picked up on how much I like them, because earlier this week I discovered in my mailbox a thank-you card taped to a box containing this stunning item.

I was very nearly speechless (and coming from me, that's saying something!).

I've worn the pendant several times already and have gotten lots of compliments on it. Right now, the turtle's an especially timely reminder of things I need to remember:

* Hiding under your shell is fine, but you need to stick your neck out to get anywhere.
* It's okay to go slowly as long as you keep moving.
* Only carry as much as you need.

So that was my week, o gentle readers. How are all of you?