Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jogging the Memory

Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened thru the ages just like wine

Quiet thought come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories,
Sweet memories...

Elvis Presley
A few days before Christmas, I was amazed – and pleasantly surprised  – to see a well-known landmark from the days I lived in Gardena as the photo that day on Bing. A wonderful photograph by Mat Rick (www. of the pier at Manhattan Beach, decorated for Christmas.

When we were kids and Dad took us to the beach, we did not go to Manhattan Beach. He liked swimming at Hermosa Beach, which is a few miles down the coast. But as we grew older and swimming in the ocean was less important than simply “being” at the ocean, we tended to gravitate to Manhattan Beach because the area has a nicer ambiance, parking is available for people who can’t walk very far, and as a bonus, the pier has a small aquarium at the end with educational exhibits.

In November 2010, I took our boy to California for Dad’s birthday. By that time, we knew our son probably would not live very much longer. In June he had been given 6 months to live and we knew time was running out. I wanted my family to see him – and him to see them –  before he died.

We had a wonderful visit (which I wrote about in several posts in November 2010).

And on one very nearly perfect November day, I drove us to the Manhattan Beach pier and we got our feet wet.

I had not looked at the photos of that trip for a long time. But I knew I had a picture of the pier at almost the same angle as the beautiful photograph that had just appeared on Bing.

And so I did.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Practically perfect...

Yesterday went well. Inviting our friend for dinner was a very good thing for us and for her as well. The meal was practically perfect, but not quite…

"It wouldn't be Christmas," my husband says, "without some sort of Leilani disaster."

Fixing pie continues to present challenges. What happened yesterday wasn't exactly a disaster, but the presentation suffered a bit. The crumb crust I made from vanilla cookies for the banana cream pie that was dessert at yesterday's meal was like concrete and very difficult to cut with the knife. And after I did finally mange to wrestle the piece I was trying to serve to our guest onto the spatula, I flipped it upside down on her plate. And the crust was in chunks.

The misadventures yesterday with the pie, and our ability to laugh at them -- and probably just as important my ability to laugh at myself -- were a blessing in disguise. Yesterday was such a joy.
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

I think all of us got a good dose of medicine yesterday, and I am hoping our bones were nourished as well.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Almost Here!

As Christmas was barely looming on the horizon, I was hoping to write something meaningful and contemplative and perhaps even a little profound and kept waiting for the Muse to strike. And now it is the night before the night before Christmas and the  Muse appears not to be in a striking mood. So it goes…

In the last few years I’ve found myself struggling with feelings of sadness as Christmas approaches, but it hasn’t been so bad this year.

The thing I am remembering now as I reflect on the last Christmas we spent with our boy, who was in the nursing home with only a few weeks yet to live, was that he had made a gallant effort to get a Christmas present together for us earlier in the month, before his condition deteriorated so badly. I was so touched by that: he was not just thinking about himself and what was happening to him.

Well, it is hard not to think about what was happening that Christmas and hard not to remember past Christmases with my mom and my wonderful aunts who have died – and why should I not remember those things – but what me helped so much this this year is that we were able to get the focus off of ourselves a bit and were able to do something for someone else who needed help. It felt very good to have been blessed enough that we could do that.

And another thing keeping me from wallowing in the bog as the day approaches is that must get my house in order.

Yes! I must. The house is a wreck, and I have lots to clean and dust.

We normally have a quiet Christmas at home by ourselves, but this year I learned that our friend Judy was going to be alone this Christmas and I invited her for dinner. This will be the second Christmas for her since her husband died, and I am so glad she accepted our invitation.

Nigella Lawson gave an interview on National Public Radio some years ago that I never forgot. She said

Sometimes if you cook in a complicated way, your tension translates to your guests. They'll have a much better time having chili and baked potatoes than they would if you did roast duck with a wild cherry sauce and then had to lie down and cry for a while.

I am always -- always -- nervous about cooking for other people, so I am fixing something I have fixed hundreds of times before (well, okay, not 100s—but often) and it always turns out tasting wonderful and so I don’t have to worry about that. And even if the house isn’t perfect, that’s okay too.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Not a Contest

At the close of the wonderful meal we had on Thursday with our friends and some of their friends (one couple we did not know), one of the other guests started asking us to tell what we were thankful for.

Like us, she has no family in the area, and so we have had Thanksgiving dinner there with her on several occasions. She has done this in the past. Richard was prepared, and so he pointed at me, and said "I am thankful for her...."

I was next in line, and I was not prepared. I was scrambling to think of what to say, and the first thing that popped into my mind was how I thankful I was that we had a new roof over our heads and that God had provided the finances for us to pay for it. I did not go into the details of just how much stress our leaking roof had caused in connection with Richard's ADD and his paralysis in making a decision -- so his ability to pick up the phone and arrange for this was such an incredible relief.

As she went around the table asking everybody, the responses started to become more and more spiritual, which was perfectly fine, but we both began to feel uncomfortable and almost embarrassed that our responses were mostly material than spiritual.

Richard commented today that it almost felt like it was a contest. I absolutely don't want to discount anybody else's response about what they said they were thankful -- I absolutely believe these were genuine and accurate reflections of how they were feeling inside -- but doggone it, I really am thankful for my new roof!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Roof Over Our Heads

Very early on Thanksgiving morning, Dad would set up the metal food grinder and get out fruit and sugar – I think it was oranges, apples, and cranberries – and into the top of the grinder they would go. I got to turn the handle, and what a wonderful popping sound it made as the fruit was ground up for Thanksgiving relish (I get quite the same satisfying feeling when I put a blood-filled tick in a bowl of water and crush it with a pair of pliers, but that’s a story for another time). That special time with my Dad is one I cherish. Since we moved here, it has been “Friendsgiving,” and we have indeed been blessed with friends who have opened their homes to us for a day of food and fellowship.

I am so thankful for all of these people that God has put in our path.

I am also very thankful that we have a new roof over our heads. The crew came out on Monday. They had to do more than just replace old shingles with new ones. They replaced rotten boards, removed a chimney, and removed two skylights. Even so, they managed to finish the job in the early afternoon on Tuesday – just in time – because by late afternoon, it began to rain.

For the first time in quite a while we were able to stand by the front door (which is actually the back door) without watching water drip from the ceiling and pour down the wall. It is wonderful to once again be able to close a door that opens and shuts without having to be forced and to walk on a carpet that is not wet.

He has already ripped out some of the ruined drywall, and the carpet will have to replaced eventually, along with the insulation on two of the walls, but … it’s dry.

I am also very thankful that I have been able to earn the money (at this stage in our lives, I earn more money than he does) without worrying about “how are we going to pay for this?”

We heard a sermon last week on being thankful in all circumstances (give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus, I Thess 5:18)..

Sometimes it seems hard to do this – obviously we are not always thankful "for" the circumstance we find ourselves in, but keeping our focus where it belongs allows us to be thankful no matter what (OK, sermon over).

I am trying to cultivate an attitude of Thanksgiving every day -- not just on one special day in the year

At any rate, happy Thanksgiving!
I think that is a better thing than thanksgiving: thanks-living. How is this to be done? By a general cheerfulness of manner, by an obedience to the command of Him by whose mercy we live, by a perpetual, constant delighting of ourselves in the Lord, and by a submission of our desires to His will
Charles Spurgeon

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

It is truly lovely when none of the stressful things one anticipates might happen actually happen.

All of the flights both coming and going were on time, and there were no unexpected gate changes at Dallas-Ft. Worth. The airline failed to provide a wheelchair when I got off the airplane at Dallas-Ft Worth, but I was able to get to the departure gate under my own power without difficulty and was allowed to pre-board the plane going to Los Angeles. That meant I could get myself and my carry-on down the aisle without whacking anybody on the way.

When I told a friend I was going to see my brothers and sister, she wanted to know if we got along.

Yes. We do get along. When our mother was alive, she frequently reminded us not to let the occasional flare-up between us get out of control, not to feed it and let it turn into a root of bitterness. “We’re not a-havin’ that in our family,” she’d say. We did have our moments when we were younger, though. The boys were sort of ornery and they teased me quite a bit. They reminded me of the time they got on my last nerve when I was doing the dishes. I came after them brandishing a cast-iron skillet and chased them down the sidewalk. What must the neighbors have thought? Fortunately for all of us, they were fast runners and I was not, and we all ended up laughing hysterically at the spectacle of ourselves.

My brother’s granddaughter turned 1 year old last Friday,

  and on Sunday our dad turned 92.

 So we had parties on Saturday and Sunday, and a good time was had by all.

 We went places and saw amazing things...

and beautiful vistas...

ate good food, and had wonderful fellowship.

It was just about perfect.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Sprouting Wings

My heart leaps up when I think about seeing Dad and my brothers and sister. I haven’t seen them or their spouses, or my nieces and their spouses for 2 years. I have never met my brother’s granddaughter. We will celebrate her first birthday next Saturday.

I leave tomorrow morning for Los Angeles. And then all of that anticipated joy is tempered with the apprehension I am trying to keep at bay about traveling there. I am not sure when traveling on an airplane stopped being fun and became so stressful and unpleasant—probably when they stopped direct flights from smaller airports and put the “hub system” in place.

I am not afraid of flying—of being in the air in the silver tube with wings—the source of stress is what happens in the terminals before the flight actually takes off.

On one trip to Los Angeles, I was allowed to board a plane in Springfield, and then was told to get off the plane because the passengers and baggage exceeded the plane’s weight limit and that I would be put an another flight. Why me? I wondered at the time. I am not morbidly obese. And then they changed their minds and let me back on the plane.

And then there is the huge Dallas-Ft. Worth terminal. I have been through that airport many times. I know how to get on the shuttles that whir around the perimeter of the terminal and get to the departure gate. But what I have found at Dallas-Ft. Worth is there is a disturbingly frequent problem of the departure gate being changed without any announcement being made. Several times I have sat at the proper gate blissfully unaware that my flight had been moved to another gate until I happened to look up and notice that I was suddenly sitting at the gate for flights to Kansas… or Louisiana… or North Carolina (take your pick) instead of Missouri. One must be constantly vigilant about watching the monitors to make sure the gate hasn’t changed and then be prepared to gallop off to the new gate. This time around, there will be no galloping.

I am not in very fast on my feet these days. Recovering from the foot operation has taken much longer than I realized it would. I will be able to manage the Springfield airport without a problem, but I have arranged for a wheelchair to meet me at the gate in Dallas.

I am so thankful I have this verse to remind me to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

He took marvelous care of me the time I had to spend the night at Dallas-Ft. Worth.

It will be fine this time around too. And if things do go wrong, He will take care of me again.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

That’s the Way the Crust Crumbles

Yesterday was the birthday of my friend’s husband. He likes apple pie, but she is coping with life-threatening illness and all that goes with it—chemotherapy, heavy-duty pain meds, exhaustion—and doesn’t feel like cooking, so I made him an apple pie.

Bought the apples and two crusts. I am not that good with homemade crust on my best day. The apples made a huge mound, and I had trouble keeping them in the tin as I began to fit the other crust over them. Then, the crust that was supposed to go on top did not come out of the pan like it was supposed to, and a big chunk of it tore off.

I patched it together as best I could on top of the mound of apples. It looked awful.

And then I discovered that one of the apples that was supposed to go in the pie had sprouted legs and walked off. I didn’t see it until after I had cobbled together the pieces of the top crust.

So I put the pie on a cookie sheet and stuck it in the oven and ate the runaway apple.

I managed not to burn the pie. However, once the pie had cooled, the crust on top collapsed and broke because apples underneath had shrunk (and a lot of the juice had bubbled out onto the cookie sheet).

I am sure the pie tasted just fine, but it looked terrible. I did not take a picture of the pie to memorialize the occasion.

I was rather embarrassed when I knocked on their door to deliver it, but deliver it I did.

While her husband got ready to go out for a celebratory late lunch with their son, I had a nice visit with her at the kitchen island while she ate some pineapple and cottage cheese for her own lunch, tiny and frail, her face still beautiful and her greenish eyes luminous, looking very Sinead O’Connor-ish with her nearly bald head, but I noticed the silvery peach fuzz was a bit longer than it was two weeks ago when I saw her last.

Richard said he admired me for continuing to plod on in the face of ongoing cooking disasters—biscuits like hockey pucks, baguettes that turned out like truncheons—and yesterday, a pie that looked like someone stepped on it. 

Sometimes I think the thought really does count, even if the result isn't quite what one expected. I hope they enjoy the pie.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Odds and Ends

Unlike some of the characters at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I have not finished my sojourn in Middle Earth and gotten on boat and sailed off into the West never to be seen again. Yes, I will be flying West in a week or so to see family in California, but I am still here very much in the middle of the country. Work has been crazy. I just haven’t been able to settle to attend to this poor neglected blog. It's been more than month since I have written anything. Yikes.

I have been expecting to get an e-mail from a woman in a nearby community, who I never see these days but who reads the blog, wondering if I am okay.

Yes. I am okay. Mostly.

Facebook is partly to blame for the silence here. I was sort of coerced into mounting a Facebook page some years ago by the issue manager for a journal I worked on. She thought it would be fun if the copyeditors who worked on the journal had Facebook pages so we could get to know each other. This was a rather radical idea, because up to that point, the journal managers kept the people who copyedited the manuscripts for that particular journal a closely guarded secret. We were not supposed to have contact with each other, and the only way I ever found out who my colleagues were was when the journal manager sent us all the same e-mail and forgot to blind the "cc" addresses.

At I found it is remarkably easy to write a very short “blurb” on Facebook  off the top of my head, and very hard and time consuming to write a thoughtful essay with something profound at the end, which the blog seems to require, and then be done with it.

So… here are a few short blurbs I have posted recently on the Facebook page (but of course, I have had to tinker with them a little because they just weren't quite right):

+ + +
Fall is in the air – finally. Someone has splattered the trees with red and orange and gold. It has been unseasonably warm (in fact, we had record high “low” overnight a few days ago), but I actually needed a light jacket yesterday when I walked the dog.

As I got out of the car at the post office to get our mail, a large group of geese flew over, probably more than 100 birds, together but in small Vs of perhaps 10 to 15 birds, constantly calling to each other, merging, and separating. They were lovely to watch as they undulated across the sky. I believe they were headed for a rest stop at a local private lake.

Nearly all of our cousins attended high school in Yuba City in central California, which may still be an agricultural community as it was when I visited them as a kid (if the drought hasn't put the orchard owners out of business), not far from the capital of Sacramento. The area is part of a great flyway and many migratory birds pass through. The athletic teams school they attended were called "The Honkers.” We used to laugh at that name, but I get why they chose it.

+ + +
What happens when you wait 4 months to get your hair cut and then finally make the phone call and lurch (I am not quite walking normally yet) into the beauty shop is that the woman who cuts your hair can’t remember how she cut it the last time because too much time has gone by. So you tell her to “cut it short.”

And she does. She cuts it short. Really short.

I am still having a bit of mirror shock. I thought ya’ll might like to see the new me.

(Now, of course, a few weeks have passed and I love it. I really do).

He is threatening to start a blog that he will call “Leilani-isms” in which he would post ridiculous statements that I have the unfortunate habit of making. Today I was trying to fry fish and wanted to set a timer so that I would make sure and cook it for the right amount of time on each side.

I was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to make the timer work because I didn’t have my glasses on and I couldn’t read the lettering on the small silver buttons (turns out the lettering on most of the buttons was worn off because of constant use, but never mind). I kept having to ask him to reset the timer and he was getting aggravated.

“Well,” I said, “I just don’t understand stuff.”

He looked at me in amazement and then started laughing so hard he had to sit down before he fell down. Well, it is true. I am not a stupid person but sometimes I just don’t understand stuff.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Made of Sugar

In Isaac Asimov’s a short story Rain, Rain, Go Away, a strange family, the Sakkaros, move next door to the Wrights. They always seem to be sunbathing, they rush indoors whenever there is a cloud in the sky, and the process she goes through to pour Mrs Wright a glass of water is peculiar indeed.

The Sakkaros are rather reclusive, and the Wrights decide to try to be neighborly and invite them and their son to go to a carnival. They Sakkaros check the forecast, which says it will be clear, and they agree to go with the Wrights. Everyone seems to be having a good time (the Sakkaros eat mass quantities of of cotton candy and other sugary foods). But then, the sky starts to cloud up and Mr Sakkaros hears on his portable radio that it is going to rain. The Sakkaros insist that they really need to go home. Right now.

So the Wright’s drive them home and when the husband gets out of the car to let them out of the back seat, he thinks he feels a drop.
The Sakkaros tumbled out, faces drawn with tension, muttering thanks, and started off toward their long front walk at a dead run.

 “Honestly, began Lillian, “you would think they were….”

The heavens opened and the rain came down in giant drops as though some celestial dam had suddenly burst. The top of their car was pounded with a hundred drumsticks, and halfway to their front door the Sakkaros stopped and looked despairingly upward.

Their faces blurred as the rain hit; blurred and shrank and ran together. All three shriveled, collapsing within their clothes, which sank down into three sticky-wet heaps.

And while the Wrights sat there, transfixed with horror, Lillian found herself unable to stop the completion of her remark:

“…made of sugar and afraid they would melt.”

I t occurred to me when I read the story years ago that the Sakkaros family should have carried large umbrellas “just in case.” We should have had umbrellas last Sunday.

The weather forecast on Saturday was that Sunday would be “bright and sunny.” How fortuitous for our friends, who had planned a party for Sunday for the wife, who turned 86. It was supposed to be an outdoor party on their lovely deck starting at 2 p.m..

At about 12:45, I left the house and took the Mollywog to the park so we could get some exercise before leaving for the birthday bash. Yes, friends and neighbors, I can walk now, but my gait is very lurchy and I need the crutch – or at least I think I do – for longer distances (I believe the crutch is starting to become “a crutch”). I noticed as we started off that dark clouds were forming in the distance, and there was lighting flashing and I could hear thunder rumbling. By the time had I just about finished, the sky was very dark indeed. The first drops started to fall just as we got to the car.

As we were leaving for for the 14-mile or so drive to their house, the heavens had opened and the rain was pouring down. Pouring down so hard that Richard had to slow down on the highway because the wipers could not keep up. He  parked as close as he could to the long cement walk leading up to their porch (I don't do well on gravel) and looked in vain for the umbrellas that are supposed to be in the back seat, but they weren’t there.

I found myself thinking about the Asimov story as I opened the door and got out in the pouring rain and walked—slowly, very slowly—up to the porch. By the time I got there, I was soaked.

I like to think I am sweet, but I am happy to report that I did not melt. They got me a towel, and I dried my hair. The rest of me eventually dried, too.

And we had a lovely visit with these dear people (who were the pastor of our church) and other friends and family.

By the time we were ready to come home,  the rain had stopped, so we were able to stroll back to the car without getting any soggier. And perhaps Richard will remember to put the umbrellas back in the car.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

We Are Annoyed

Even though Blomkvist was used to Salander’s penchant for shocking clothing, he was amazed that his sister had allowed her to show up to the courtroom in a black leather miniskirt with frayed seams and a black top—with the legend I AM ANNOYED—which barely covered her many tattoos.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson
We do not have black tops with the legend “I AM ANNOYED” but if we did we would be wearing them.

We don’t often eat out at a sit-down restaurant with waiters, although I suppose the great pizza place in town does count, since a server does bring the food to the table even if you stand at the counter to place your order, but sometimes you want something else besides pizza (even if it the best pizza ever).

Unfortunately, we have had two rather annoying experiences the last two times we have had a meal in a real restaurant. In mid-August we had to go to Springfield so I could get the first injection of the new osteoporosis drug that the research studies say works very well with one I just finished. Although the drug is supposed to be administered in the doctor’s office, all of the doctors refer patients to hospital ambulatory infusion centers for the injection because the drug is too much of a hassle for them to take care of -- has to be kept refrigerated, would have to be ordered from the pharmacy in town in advance, etc. The doctor who prescribed the drug is in Springfield so we went to the ambulatory infusion center at one of the hospitals there. Had Not a Doctor Bob prescribed the drug, I could have gone to the local hospital, but that's okay -- I got most of the day off.

Richard's birthday was coming up ,and he said he wanted to have lunch after the appointment at the Mediterranean restaurant, where we have had lunch twice before and thought it was very good. 

The appointment was at 11:30 but I had to wait about 2 hours for the injection because they wanted to make sure my calcium levels were good before they could give me the shot in the arm and it took that long for the laboratory to run the test. My calcium levels were very good indeed, so I got jabbed and we left to celebrate his birthday.

One of my favorite things on the restaurant's lunch menu, which I had both times we ate there, was Greek spanakopita (spinach pie). I frequently make the wrong choice at restaurants – ordering something that sounds good but doesn’t turn out to be good after all – but this was not the wrong choice the first time I ordered it, and it was wonderful the second time as well.

Yes, indeed it was.

Unfortunately, when we went there this time, Greek spanakopita was not on the lunch menu. One time at another restaurant our favorite thing to eat was not on the menu but we asked specifically if we could order it, and we could. I didn't think to ask the waiter if the spanakopita was still available, so I settled for seafood lasagne, which I admit was good—but it wasn’t what I wanted.

Richard had spaghetti with marinara sauce Italian sausage meatballs. We don't have spaghetti and marinara meat sauce very often, so he was happy to order that and he enjoyed the food, but grumbled, “Why is it that Italian food, which is mostly pasta, is so cheap to make and so outrageously expensive in restaurants.”

So we were both sort of annoyed, him by the price and me because I didn’t get what I really wanted. He said he didn’t think he wanted to eat there again. Neither did I.

Yesterday we drove to Arkansas for my follow-up appointment with the surgeon, and we had lunch at Chili's – a popular franchise restaurant in this area (it may be nationwide, I dunno). We have had several good meals at Chili’s restaurants in the past and were looking forward to our lunch.

There was a small electronic tablet on the table with all sorts of choices on the touch-screen (games, menus, etc), and I thought it might be fun to play one of the trivia games while we were waiting… and waiting… and waiting… so I punched the screen for the trivia games, but before I actually selected a game and started playing, I stopped.

We have seen so many people sitting at tables in fast food restaurants and in waiting rooms, and even in real restaurants, ignoring each other while they fiddled with electronic devices – and not just teenagers but geezers as well. I realized I was being sucked into doing the same thing – ignoring my husband while fiddling with an electronic device. So I pushed it away.

The food arrived and it was great.
The texture and complexity of flavors, the aromas and commingling of ingredients, the act of masticating and swallowing- food is a sensual act, not mere science. Annelies Zijderveld
I mentioned to Richard as I was eating this wonderful combination of lime-flavored rice and black beans and corn salsa, grilled peppers and onions, and chunks of prime rib, how wonderful all of the flavors were and what a wonderful sensual act eating really was and we talked about the wonderful eating scene in the movie Tom Jones, and then we finished and paid the bill – using the handy dandy electronic device to swipe the credit card and print the receipt. How convenient.

And then about an hour after we got home, he noticed that tucked in there on the charge slip for $38 plus change, which included food, tax, and tip, was an additional charge of $1.99 because I fiddled with the electronic tablet. I don't remember seeing anything on the screen that there was a charge for this. I never would have touched it had I been aware doing so was going to cost us extra. He was uhhh… angry…  Me too.

We are very annoyed (but don't have the t-shirt to wear), and Richard says we will never eat at Chili's again. I pointed out that the food was good there and we weren't compelled to use the electronic device, but he says he won’t patronize a restaurant that uses those sorts of tactics to gouge a few extra dollars out of customers. I am cringing a little because I can’t say absolutely positively that there was no notice that using the device cost $1.99 but as my brother would say, “there you have it…”

It’s a done deal.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

A bit of fog would be nice


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Carl Sandburg

It is a sweltering afternoon of a typical Missouri summer day, where the heat continues to increase as the day wears on and by about 5 p.m., walking into the microscopic great room of our house (kitchen, dining room, living room) – which is not air conditioned – from the office where I work, with its little window A/C unit, is like walking into a blast furnace.

Just about then my sweet sister, 1,500 miles away on the left side of the country, sends me an e-mail with a picture of the beach at Morro Bay, along the central California coast, that her daughter took when they went there for a wedding.

Stephen King wrote a story (which was made into a TV movie) about a fog that settles over a town and horrible monsters appear out of the fog and kill people.
Nothing horrible happens in this picture though, just a couple of curlews going about their business and staying just ahead of the waves that roll in, looking for sand crabs and other things to eat in the wash zone before they bury themselves in the sand.

We camped at the state park at Morro Bay sometimes when I was a kid. And that brings back another memory of fishing with my father off the pier at Morro Bay and catching a red snapper, and of being frightened one night by an owl hooting in a tree near our campsite.

The suburb of Los Angeles where we grew up was about 10 miles from the ocean, and in the late afternoons the breeze would come up off the ocean and often the fog would roll in, cooling everything down, and then gradually burn off in the mornings. They started coining terms for it “May Gray” and “June Gloom” almost in a complaining way.

Oh, for a bit ocean breeze and some late afternoon fog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Paying the Bill

The last time I took the dog to the vet, there was a young man with a very sick pit bull who was concluding his visit while I waited. The vet gave him detailed instructions and said she wanted to see the dog again in few days to see how the dog was getting on. And then the discussion turned to how he was going to pay the bill. He wanted to arrange to make payments, and as part of that process, they asked him for his driver’s license.

Well, there was a problem: he couldn’t give them his driver’s license because the police had confiscated it. He promised to bring the money when he came for the follow-up visit.

Somehow, I was not very surprised when he got behind the wheel of the SUV parked next to my car and drove off… so in addition to whatever he had done to lose his license, he was now “driving while revoked.”

Taking a sick pet to the vet can get very expensive very quickly:

My husband’s sister spent $15,000 or more on her dog.

My niece spent $5,000 on her cat. 

So the $156 it cost us to treat Mollywog that day and the $300 vet bill we just paid when my husband took the Squeaker in a few days ago don't seem quite that bad.

It is not hard to imagine the emotional turmoil people who are poor or who are living on a fixed income must go through when their beloved pet is sick and they have to figure out how to pay for it, or simply not take the pet in for treatment and hope it gets better.

We began taking Squeaker to that vet 16 years ago, and she was probably already 2 years old when our son gave her to us in trade for the miserable cat I had rescued from the vet, who hated us but loved him.

So she is old, and she is declining, and we don’t think she will live very much longer. So why bother? Why not let nature take its course?

Well, we have never forgiven ourselves for neglecting to properly take care of our first dog—we failed to get his teeth cleaned, an infection developed in a tooth, which made an abscess that formed a fistula into his nasal cavity, and infection spread throughout his body and caused his organs to start failing and we had to put him down—so we have to make sure for our own conscience that anything that is wrong with her that can be reasonably treated is taken care of.

So we now we know she does not have diabetes and she does not have a thyroid condition, and other things that can plague a cat are being treated.

She may indeed drop dead tomorrow, but at least we have done what we could.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Serious Booty

On Wednesday, for the first time in 2 months, I was able get in the house by walking up the stairs without him having to push me around the house in the wheelchair so I could use the ramp. Our house is on a slope, so pushing me around the house was a strenuous ordeal for him and rather scary for me (he ran me into the side of the house twice). What a relief!

Walking in the “boot” is not exactly easy, however, even with a walker. Imagine wearing a 2-inch platform-type shoe on one foot and a perfectly flat shoe on the other. Aside from the extra height, the bottom of the boot is slightly rounded to distribute the pressure evenly, which creates a rocking effect. So in addition to some added stress on the joints from having legs that are two different lengths, it is easy to loose one’s balance.

I have visited with two women recently who had similar operations on their feet and were supposed to wear a boot neither of them could do it. I understand why.

I don’t have a 2-inch platform shoe to wear on my right foot, so I initially thought wearing the boot that Richard wore after his Achilles tendon repair might be a solution.

I thought walking would be a little easier because both feet would be about even. And at first it was. But after several hours though, I realized that plan wasn’t going to work. His boot came up too high on my leg and made it difficult to bend my knee when I wanted to stand up or sit down. And with two “rocking” feet, I almost fell several times trying to get up.

The muscles in both of my legs have atrophied because of lack of use for 2 months so I tire easily. That’s okay though. I’ll get my strength back.

He did indeed hear the words he did not want to hear: I will be in the boot for 3 weeks before I can transition to a regular shoe with a brace, so he is not done with his dog walking duties. But I am happy to report that he did not become homicidal when he heard the news (see the previous post), and the surgeon survived our visit with his throat intact.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Decision-Day Approaches

He returned early this morning from taking Molly the Moron (as he has taken to calling her) on her walk, with thunder on his face, and I think he must have brooded about what went on during the walk most of the morning. He has been a trooper taking over for me with her during the past two months, but he does not like walking the dog.

She is a very difficult dog to walk if one is intending to make it a “power walk,” which is what he wants to do. If one wants to just stroll along with plenty of stops on the way, then all is good.

She only weighs 15 pounds, so it isn’t like one has to try to control a big powerful dog like a Labrador Retriever or a German Shepherd that wants to do what it wants to do and drags the hapless owner along behind.

No, the problem is that what she wants to do is to stop every 10 feet or so to sniff and check out the area for something to hunt.

Thus, for your walk, we took ourselves, and went
Out by the hedge and the tree to the open ground.
You ran, in delightful strata of wafted scent,
Over the hill without seeing the view;
Beauty is smell upon primitive smell to you:
To you, as to us, it is distant and rarely found.
Harold Monro

And if she does find something interesting, then she will dig in her heels and refuse to budge from that spot. If one isn’t careful and has forgotten to attach the safety strap that connects the harness to the collar, it will pull right off, leaving her loose.

It is particularly bad along the rights of way where he walks her because the grass is tall and teeming with small mammals and snakes.

He came back one day marveling at her athleticism. "She knew there was something in the tall grass alongside the road," he said, "and she stood there and cocked her head, listening for it, and then leaped 6 feet to get it, but it got away."

The breeds that were combined to create the Schnauzer (which she almost certainly is) were highly motivated to hunt, and she has all of their genes operating at full force in the instincts that drive her to obsess about catching and killing things. I have stopped trying to keep a tally of things she has killed (or almost killed if we were quick enough to rescue it) but the list includes shrews (at least 2), a squirrel, voles, mice, lizards, and several birds, and attempts to kill at least 2 snakes, which brought my heart into my throat worrying that it might be a copperhead she was going after.

He wasn't marveling at her today, though. Over lunch he turned to me and said,

“If he tells you you can’t walk for another 3 weeks I am going for the guy’s throat. I am becoming homicidal.”


It is too much to hope that I will be fully bipedal after tomorrow’s visit, but if I am allowed to at least partially walk with the boot and crutches, I might be able to get myself and the knee walker to the park and resume walking the Mollywog.

Keeping fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kindness of Strangers

Once upon a time I started reading the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books by the author writing under the name of Lemony Snicket about three children whose “lives are filled with bad luck and misery. All of the stories about these three children are unhappy and wretched and will most likely fill you with deep despair…” and this quote from the author’s Web site is totally accurate. I started checking them out from the library. I read a few books in the series but finally quit because they really were just too depressing.

When unfortunate events befall our friends, however, we just can’t “quit” because what has happened to them is sad and depressing. Last summer a series of unfortunate events befell Judy, the woman who I consider my best friend. Her husband died of cancer on August 21. Charlie donated his body to a medical research institute, and she began to plan his memorial service and set the date in October.

However, those plans came to an abrupt halt because at the beginning of October, she fell off a step stool and broke the bones in her lower leg. She thinks she fell because the bones actually broke first. The break was very bad. The operation to permanently fix her leg had to be delayed because of the swelling, so during the first operation a temporary “erector set” was attached to her leg to keep it stable. Her leg was permanently repaired some weeks later... plates, pins, bone grafts. It took the orthopedic surgeon 9 hours to do it.

She was in the nursing home from October 2 until a day or two before Christmas. I became part of the cadre who went to her house during this time and fetched and carried and did “stuff” and visited her at the nursing home, where I met some delightful folk. I think it quite a remarkable testimony to Judy’s personality and how she affects people that her many friends were not just “fair weather” friends. They did not put her on the shelf, so to speak, because of the depressing things that were happening to her. She was not abandoned. In fact, two separate sets of friends invited her into their homes after she left the nursing home for some further rehab before she finally returned to her house.

And so Judy once again began planning Charlie’s memorial service, and we gathered on Saturday to honor his memory. It was quite a lovely tribute to him. She and the friends who helped her did an amazing job of presenting Charlie’s life in pictures and in displays of the things he was interested in, including books, the pottery he made, and the Native American artifacts and arrowheads he had collected along the way.

One feels that it is not quite right to say they had “fun” at a memorial service, but there were some very lighthearted moments after the service was over and the buffet was served.

Richard and I were among the first people through the buffet line, and we were sitting at a table by ourselves. I don’t know how long the table would have remained empty except for us, but I’ll never know because a woman named Marideth Sisco, a member of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship Charlie and Judy belong to, got up from where she was sitting at another table and came over and sat across from Richard, saying, “You shouldn’t be sitting by yourselves. You need someone to talk to.”

We knew who she was, yes indeed we did, but she had no clue who we were. We were strangers.

Marideth Sisco is a local celebrity. She has a regular program on the local National Public Radio station, and she gained some national attention by performing some of the music on the soundtrack of the film Winter's Bone, which won the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival the year it was released.

And because she was sitting at our table, others from the UU Fellowship, who probably would not have sat there otherwise, also drifted over, and lively conversation erupted.

Her act of kindness, which I appreciated very much, meant we did not spend the meal isolated and feeling awkward. I'm thinking this is a "go and do likewise" situation for the future.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

How Big Was It?

Well, it was pretty darn big. But before I go further, I better start at the beginning.

In the beginning, I was born with no aptitude whatsoever for mathematics. I got good grades in elementary school except in two subjects: handwriting and mathematics. My parents could do something about my bad handwriting – “When you start junior high school, you will take typing,” my father thundered at me. And they bought me Royal typewriter for 6th grade graduation.

However, they couldn't do anything about my problems with math, and they just about went nuts trying to help me. Later when I was in high school, they even hired a tutor for a while, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I got really good grades in all of the other subjects I took through junior high, and when I started high school I was immediately shunted into the “college prep” track, which meant I got to take some serious math classes – no “dumbbell math” for me, no sirree.

I’ll spare the stories of my struggles with algebra 1 and 2 (one of which I had to take over in summer school) and geometry 1 and 2, and finally, trigonometry.

My high school counselor was a math teacher, and I think she was very disappointed that she couldn’t persuade me into calculus, but the hands writing on the report cards by this point were pretty conclusive, and I had had ENOUGH. Enough, I say.

I started college with the intent of becoming a biologist in the footsteps of my beloved Aunt Betty, but my ineptitude in math scuttled those plans, and so I studied history and American culture, which prepared me very well for being a teacher, but that plan got changed as well and so I ended up working at a newspaper and editing manuscripts.

But back to how big it was. One of the manuscripts I worked on this week was by authors who have made use of innovations in software to develop a technique where they can create 3D models of lung tumors from 2D imaging studies. For certain kinds of cancer, putting the patient through an operation is futile if the tumor is a certain size, which is sometimes hard to tell from the 2D images.

They reported tumor volumes of various sizes, including 500 and 450 cubic centimeters, etc.

Then I started thinking about it, which nearly got me into trouble. Just as a linear measurement, 500 cm seemed rather large: 500 cm is a little over 16 feet, so then extrapolating that out, 500 cubic centimeters would be the equivalent of 16 cubic feet, which is the size of a refrigerator.

Obviously, one cannot have a tumor the size of a refrigerator in their chest. Ridiculous.

Then I got to thinking some more and realized I almost certainly had misunderstood something. The minister of our church has taught math at the college level, so I figured she could help, and indeed she did. She explained what was wrong with my logic in such a kind and gentle way. Bless her. She suggested I calculate the volume of one of my books, which I did, and it all became clear. 

But the worst thing that almost happened is that I had put a query in the manuscript to the authors pointing all this out (ie, 500 cubic centimeters was the equivalent size of a refrigerator). I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I had not removed that query before I sent the manuscript back.

No, that’s not true – I can imagine very well what might have happened… and it isn’t pretty.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Starting the Day Off Right

“…the dawn chorus would subside in another hour, but the wood thrush would persist for a long time into the morning, then pick up again in the early evening or even at midday if it was cloudy… she lived with the wood thrushes for company…” Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver

As Richard was preparing dinner in the kitchen the other day, he called to me, “Do you know what a red-winged blackbird sounds like?”

“Well yes, I do…”

“Come listen to this, then, and tell me if this is a red-winged blackbird."

It takes me a minute to turn around from in front of the computer and maneuver the knee scooter so I can get on it and into the kitchen, thinking that by time I get there the bird will have shut up and flown away.

But no, just as I arrive at the counter next to him, I hear it.

Not a red-winged blackbird, although I can understand why he might think it is. No, what we are hearing is the clear flute-like song of the wood thrush.

Years ago when we attended a church that had a rather late service in the mornings, we ate breakfast in bed and watched the Sunday Morning program hosted by Charles Kuralt. I remember one program ending with a video segment of some woods where a wood thrush was singing, with the voice over lamenting that the habitat of this bird was shrinking and wondering if the song of this bird would someday be silenced.   

Perhaps in some places this has come true, but not here, not on our little bit of land in south central Missouri.

The last thing I heard last night before I fell asleep was the noise of incredibly loud fireworks being set off by our neighbor. I assume these were the full-size skyrockets or else firecrackers the size of hot dogs. I remember how much fun July 4 was when I was a kid, and I am very happy they were enjoying the fireworks with their children and also that they stopped by 10 p.m.

This morning I woke up to the song of the wood thrush very near the bedroom window. What a lovely way to start the day.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Adventures in breadmaking

The last time I made bread for Richard, I explained where the whole wheat flour was on top of the cabinet in the room where I keep it, and he dutifully brought me the right container with the whole wheat flour.

When it came time to make bread again earlier in the week, I asked him to get the whole wheat flour and just assumed he would remember where it was and bring me the right container.

Unfortunately, I keep the corn meal I use to make the concoction I feed the birds during the winter in an identical container on top of a different cabinet. Unfortunately, this is white cornmeal, which was on sale and is fine for the birds, and it is about the same color as the white whole wheat flour that I happen to be using at the moment. There is no obvious difference between the two.

Of course, he brought me the cornmeal instead of the whole wheat flour, but it didn’t register that I was adding to the yeast 2 cups of cornmeal to every 1 cup of white flour instead of 2 cups of whole wheat flour. I thought it didn’t feel quite right – sort of gritty -- when I was kneading it, but it wasn’t until it had risen once and I began shaping the dough into loaves that I realized what had happened.

I abandoned the loaves and patted it into the cast iron skillet and went ahead and put it in the oven to rise again, I asked him to get the other container.

I started over with the whole wheat flour. The regular bread went into the baguette pans and they both went in the oven to bake. In the meantime, Richard produced two labels so that the containers are now marked and this won’t happen again.

I figured the cornmeal “bread” would be similar to regular cornbread. It isn’t. It doesn’t taste like bread and it doesn’t taste like cornbread. Its not horrible, but it isn’t all that great.

The bread that I baked along with the cornmeal bread wasn’t exactly a rousing success either, because I left it in the oven just a little too long. It didn’t burn, exactly, but it is too brown. He has a recipe for garlic toast which is quite good and that is what he is using it for.

Sometimes mistakes in the kitchen turn out to be quite good, but this wasn’t one of them.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Adventures in Marriage

Each of us wages a private battle each day between the
grand fantasies we have for ourselves and what actually happens. 
Cathy Guisewite
Yesterday was our 45th wedding anniversary. Marriage to Richard has been an adventure, some of the rows have been hard to hoe – full of rocks and weeds and thistles – and some have been lovely and easy to work. We have been through some wonderful times together and some hard ones as well. There have been times when I wanted to throw in the towel and give up, and others where our marriage has been the life preserver.

Would I do it again? You betcha.

Yesterday was not, however, one of our better days. Yes, we had a good experience at church. Our pastor gave another dynamite sermon -- we have been going there for more than year now and have yet to hear her deliver a clunker -- but things were a little up and down for the rest of the day.

Richard told me some time ago:

I am very organized and methodical person who exists in a world of utter chaos of my own creation.

And sometimes he handles the “chaos” better than at other times, and during those "other times" he becomes cross and grumpy. Yesterday was one of the cross and grumpy days. He mostly can’t help the chaos because of his attention deficit disorder, which is getting increasingly worse.

But two good things did happen yesterday: He gave me a beautiful card by way of apology, and he told me is going to see the neurologist, whose name we were given some time ago and who is supposed to be able to treat adults with attention deficit disorder. This is tricky medically because the older adults who need the drugs that are used to treat attention deficit disorder also usually have high blood pressure, which the drugs can affect. He doesn’t hold out much hope that she will be able to treat him. He thinks she will probably just want to send him to a psychiatrist, which he will absolutely not do, but it is worth a shot. Anything is worth a shot if it will help him.

So, we actually celebrated today because our favorite place to eat in town is not open on Sunday.

But now with a full belly and the afternoon tick-tocking away, I am thinking of the older of my two brothers, the serious and sober one, and the hilariously funny one, the one who always insists that we “point” in photographs (which I posted recently) who is right now at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center being prepared for the second operation on his sinus cavity.

He had been having trouble with his left sinus for some time, and during a recent operation to fix it, the doctor removed a mass he thought was benign. But further testing at a specialized laboratory showed that it was an extremely rare form of cancer with an even rarer presentation. This cancer is usually attached to the bones of the sinus cavity and then spreads to the brain. In his case, it was “free floating” and almost certainly has not spread through the bones into the brain. It was a “bad news/good news” sort of a situation.

This operation, which is being done by a specialist, is to make sure there are no cancer cells in the bones. He may lose his sense of smell on that side, and he will have to have radiation therapy. But they have given him a good prognosis. I will not be surprised if he ends up as a case report in a medical journal.

He called me a little while ago, while he and his wife were waiting, just to say “Hi.” I tried to give him an encouraging word. He is basically the spiritual leader of our family, so I feel somewhat inadequate. I botched my quote of the scripture that God will keep us under the shelter of his wings, and he quoted at me Isaiah 55:12: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace...” in reference to what the anesthesiologist was going to be shooting into the intravenous catheter, and we had a good laugh.

The men in our family tend to live long lives, and this brother needs to grow old bones and watch his granddaughter grow up. I am praying that he will.

My sister and other brother will be there in a while to sit with his wife and keep her company. I’d be there too, if I could.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Adventures in waiting rooms

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else
Charles Dickens
As we were leaving the doctor’s clinic after our “two-for-one” follow-up visit for our respective left feet, he turned and said, “You know, that whole deal in the waiting room reminded me of the Group W bench.”

Yes, indeed, it did.

“Group W bench” not ringing any bells? Then you’ll need to get a cup of coffee or something cool to drink, relax, and spend about 20 minutes listening to Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant.”

As with the waiting rooms in most doctors’ clinics, this doctor’s waiting room is usually packed with people. He appears to be the only podiatrist serving Northern Arkansas. No, we don’t live in Arkansas, but it is actually closer for us to drive to Arkansas to see him than it would be to see the nearest podiatrist in Missouri, who is about 90 miles away. He has a lot of patients – too many patients, in fact – and as with most doctors, he is usually overbooked.

But on this particular day, perhaps 8 people were in the waiting room when we arrived.

Although there were plenty of seats to choose from, I ended up sitting in the empty seat next to a woman and her great granddaughter because where Richard chose to sit was on the wrong side of the knee scooter, and I would not have been able to get off and on it again easily and would have had to turn around, which would have put me heading in the wrong direction when it came time for our appointment, which meant I would have had to turn around again...

Richard got out his materials and began working on one of the articles that was due in a few days, and I got out the book I was planning to read, but instead of reading the book, I began visiting with the woman next to me and her great granddaughter. We had a grand old time trading stories about the ailments with our feet that had brought us to the office and other injuries we had sustained over the years and our jobs and all sorts of stuff.

Soon there were only 4 of us who were actual patients: a woman who was sitting with her back to us (I never did see her face) and who was doing something on a tablet, the woman next to me, and Richard. Then, another woman walked in, stopped, looked at us in surprise, and commented she had never seen the waiting room this empty.

She signed in, took her seat, and began to tell us one funny story after another about doctor’s waiting rooms culminating in a particularly hilarious story about being left naked in an examination room, forgotten, while the office began shutting down for the night. And then the other woman who was there put her tablet away and also told a story about being forgotten in an examination room and also convinced she was going to be locked in for the night.

So we offered opinions about what we would do if we were accidentally locked in. That was a no-brainer, we concluded. We’d go to the front desk and use the office telephone to call for help.

Having sorted that out, she began a discussion of the pitfalls of hip replacement surgery  -- sometimes during the operation the nerves going to the feet get cut and then there are problems with the foot (she was wearing a brace for that reason). Turns out the other woman also had the same problem but was using a walker instead of wearing a brace.

Then it was our turn to see the doctor, so we never heard the end of the tale. The foot is doing well, but I won't be able to walk on it for about another month.

That last patient who came before we were called in for our appointment definitely lightened the burden of waiting for everyone there and was a very useful person indeed. She managed to morph the shared boredom and isolation of an interminable wait into a communal event of shared laughter and joy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

From a Distance...

I have long since run out of fingers and toes with which to count the number of family gatherings and celebrations that I have missed since we moved here. With rare exception, I can only experience these vicariously through telephone conversations and the pictures that they send me.

I do not remember the last time I was in Southern California for a Father’s Day celebration, and I regret that I missed this one as well.

This one had special significance, because it was the first Father’s Day that our Dad has been great grandfather and the first one that my brother has been a grandfather.

By the time the paterfamilias reaches 91, at least in these parts, there are usually 5 generations present in the photograph. It didn’t work out that way in our family, but I am very thankful that we can at least have a photo of 4 generations. 

I am so excited for my brother that he gets to be grandpa to this little girl. I know he is going to be a great one. He knows how to have fun and have adventures, and she is going to have a wonderful time.

At some point in the distant past, our grandfather, who died in 1986, 2 days before his 94th birthday (my sister went to the facility where he was being cared for with birthday balloons only to find he had just died, poor thing), started a tradition of “pointing...”

when photographs are being taken...

 And the four of us have carried it right on.

Wish I could have been there this time to point too… Maybe next year…

Friday, June 17, 2016

Take it off.... take it all off

Those of us of a certain age will definitely remember the incredibly clever Noxema shaving cream commercial, where a beautiful blond woman urged men to “take it off, take it all off,” and the actor scraped the razor over his shaving cream-covered face in time to the David Rose Stripper music.

This actually isn’t about shaving, but the commercial came to mind toward the the end of our visit with Richard’s long-time friend (R) and his long-time girlfriend (C). R and C have been a couple for 10 years now – maintaining separate residences but traveling together and enjoying each other’s company. We have heard a lot about her over the years and were very happy to finally meet her. We were nervous about what she would be like. She is a lovely woman.

Richard and R met when they were about 10 years old, and both of them are now on the far side of 70, so we’re talking about a friendship of more than 60 years. R left Southern California for Seattle about the same time that we left Southern California in our meandering fashion to arrive here. They skype regularly and have seen each other on occasion over the years, the last time was several years ago.

We did have a nice visit with them. We had a good dinner and pleasant conversation at the restaurant and a nice visit afterward in our hot little house, which was clean enough so that it wasn’t a total embarrassment.

They came back for another hour so the next morning before they headed off to Charleston. 

R had very interesting things to talk about. He has decided to study calculus to keep his brain occupied (I guess!), and he is an amateur astronomer and goes to "star parties" and we chased some rabbits along the way,  but then the conversation took on sort of a surreal quality, and I listened growing incredulity as R and C urged us--with great enthusiasm--to join them on a cruise, which, oh by the way, just happens to be a “clothing optional” cruise.

What?!? Clothing optional? Are you kidding?

“Oh yeah,” he says, “you have to wear clothes while the ship is in port, but once the ship leaves port and passes a certain point, the captain blows a whistle and everyone who wants to, takes off their clothes. And almost everybody does.”

“It's not sexual,” C says. “At first I though it was going to be 20-year-old guys walking around with … well, you know…” she says, “but it isn’t like that all.”

“Let me tell you about Mary (not her real name),” R says. “She is the woman who takes the money and she weighs about 300 pounds…” and he goes on to give a few more details about what the 300-pound Mary looks like without her clothes on. “She’s comfortable in her skin,” he says.

Yeah, well. I don’t have anything against people who want to get together and take their clothes off; in fact, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it if that is what they want to do. Even Christian people get together and take their clothes off (there are a number of Web sites for Christian naturists), and they indeed make some very interesting points about nudity.

But for me? I am not exactly comfortable in my skin to begin with (I could stand to lose about 40 about pounds, if you get my drift), and there would no way on God’s green earth that I would take my clothes off in front of Richard’s friend. I certainly don’t want to see him nude. No, thank you!

The next “clothing optional” cruise they are planning to go on, in 2017, will have a stop in Cuba. They are very excited. We are not excited. I do not believe we will be be joining them.

There will be no “taking it off… taking it all off…”

Monday, June 13, 2016

Visitors: Expected and Unexpected

Aunt Elner’s house was a disaster, with pictures hung all over the wall helter-skelter… and her front porch was a mess. She had all kinds of things strewn everywhere: rocks, pinecones, shells, birds’ nests…
Fannie Flagg, Can’t Wait to get to Heaven
Our house very much resembles the description of Aunt Elner’s front porch. I have collections of birds’ nests, rocks, dead insects, jars of pickled reptiles, amphibians, and embryos, skulls of small creatures, and on it goes, all over the house, not just on the porch. My friend Judy once said she thought she could come and spend some time just looking at all the stuff I have on shelves and window sills because she said she seems to notice something new each time she visits.

Richard’s long-time friend and his long-time girlfriend, who live in Seattle, are due here in the next couple of hours for a visit. They are headed to one of the Carolinas for a family event and decided to stop by here. He has been here before, quite a few years ago now, so he will have some recollection of our house, but I have a bad feeling about what his companion is going to think. Of course I can’t do anything about that but still…

There is too much stuff structurally wrong with the house--part of the ceiling looks like it is going to fall down at any minute, the “fronts” have pulled off several of the drawers in the kitchen cabinets, the linoleum on the floor is cracked and pieces are missing—several remodeling projects that were started have not been finished…so fixing those things is not in the picture, but we have been working like maniacs for the last couple of days trying to make it look a little better than it has been.

Not too much dusting is going on, but the most egregious of the cobweb streamers have been knocked down, the bathroom is cleaned, the floors vacuumed. I am somewhat limited in my ability to do anything because I must get around the house on the knee walker, but yesterday I was working my way around the perimeter of the house with the “webster” and arrived at the kitchen at about the same time that Richard was preparing food at the counter.

I knew what was going to happen as soon as I started in on the curtain above the kitchen counter and sure enough….

“Do you really have to do that right NOW?”

But then something totally unexpected happened… and I would have stopped even if he hadn’t been there because….

“Richard, look up there" said I, pointing to the curtain that I had just breezed over with the webster.

He looked up there.

“Is that a fake spider?” He says in a very surprised voice. It is not an unreasonable question because I have a large fake spider by my computer.

“No, it most certainly is not!”

 What we had there on the curtain, friends and neighbors, was a huge fishing spider.

How huge was it? Well, I wasn't able to take a picture of this visitor, but here is a picture of one that I saw in our basement about 6 years ago.

 The board that it is on is about4 inches wide. Does that help explain why he wasn’t real anxious to let it live with us in the house?

After some discussion about how he was going to catch it and take it outside (and it moved incredibly fast for such a large insect), he eventually caught it in a large plastic bowl with a lid and let it go by the compost heap.

Now I am hoping that no more unexpected visitors join the party

Monday, May 30, 2016

Non Impediti Ratione Cogitationis

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana
 My father was an automobile mechanic, so I grew up hearing a lot about transmissions and master cylinders and differentials, brakes, valves, heads, gaskets, and the like. The smells that bring back some of the fondest memories of childhood for me are not necessarily freshly baked bread from the oven or cookies or something wonderful cooking on the stove (although of course I love these smells as well).

No, what I remember with the most fondness are the smells my father brought in the house with him at the end of the day—lube grease, solvent that he cleaned parts with—the smells of a working garage where cars are fixed. Even today if I happen to go into the garage where our cars are repaired, it brings back so many wonderful memories of my dad. Well, that’s all to try to explain why I have enjoyed listening over the years to Car Talk, the public radio program hosted by Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, or by any other name, Tom and Ray Magliozzi.

Sadly, Tom Magliozzi died in 2014, but the programs continue to air. Tom’s self-proclaimed motto was

Non Impediti Ratione Cogitationis, or
“unencumbered by the thought process”

which is how I seem to be behaving since last Thursday in connection with my adventures with the knee scooter.

Just to expand a little bit on the scooter adventures, which I wrote about a few days ago.

My husband watches me trying to negotiate myself through the house and shakes his head. “This is too painful to watch,” he says

I suspect he had far more trouble using the scooter in his office than I am having in the house because it is such a congested mess in there, but I didn't actually witness any of this going on—I just heard groans, the yelling, and the colorful language—because about the only time I go in his office is when he calls me in so I can see the spectacular mess he has created (Fort Richard—piles of tubs that have found their way around his chair to the point where he is just about blocked in) or to to hunt down the cat if we have forgotten to close the door to the room once she is in the house for the evening. There are hundreds of places to hide in there and we don’t want to shut her up in that room overnight.

Maneuvering through the house is really is not getting that much easier, but perhaps it will. Especially if I remember some of the mistakes I have made and don’t continue to repeat them. And what are the chances of that? Slim to none?

So much of what I do during the day is unencumbered by the thought process; I mean, if just thought ahead a little bit to what I need to do. For example...  at about 9:30 this morning I decide it is time for a second cup of coffee and to visit the bathroom, so I position myself on the scooter and propel myself into the kitchen. I coast by the kitchen counter, pour the coffee in the measuring cup that I use to it heat it up in, make the right-hand turn to coast by the microwave, pause, put the coffee in and get it going, and then maneuver myself around (which morphs the 3-point "Y-turn" into a 7- or 8-point turn) so I am going into the bathroom backwards (for this reason I find it is better to visit the bathroom before the need becomes urgent).

By the time I come out of the bathroom the coffee is done. I am headed in the right direction for the return trip to my working space—so far so good, except I have forgotten to bring with me the insulated “mini-mega mug” I am using for my coffee. It is still sitting on the 18-gallon tub next to my chair (I have learned the hard way not to leave any liquid where it can spill on the computer keyboard). So, I have to go back into my working space, get the mug, turn around (again, this is excruciating—I almost inevitably get stuck so I have to muscle the scooter around), head back into the kitchen with the mug, transfer the coffee, add the stuff to make it palatable, then turn around (again) and head back to the computer.

Thinking all the while to myself.

This is ridiculous. Use your head next time. Don’t do this again!!

And then at about 1:30 or so I decided I would like some iced tea (it’s sort of a hot, muggy day) and that it might be a good idea to visit the bathroom again. So, I heave myself out of the chair and onto the scooter and wind up at the kitchen counter… wait for it… wait for it… without the mug. So I  get to go through the whole routine again.

Am I ever going to get it? I dunno. I hope so.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Done At Last... Done At Last

We are pretty much all aware by now that there are things we can do––and the things we should not do––to help keep us healthy. Unfortunately, sometimes the genes we inherit from our ancestors stack the deck against us, and all of our efforts to stave off what looks like the inevitable don’t have quite the result we hoped for.

I had known for a long time that I was at high risk for osteoporisis, so I did everything I knew to do to keep my bones as strong as I could. As “Not a Dr Bob” pointed out when he told me the news that I had compression fractures in my upper back and my DEXA scan results were grim – “If you hadn’t done all of that stuff, you might be in even worse shape…”

So he sent me off to see an interventional radiologist about a procedure where they inject plastic cement into fractured vertebrae to prop them up, but he decided I was not in bad enough shape for that procedure at the time so he prescribed a year of a very expensive osteoporisis drug that I had to inject every morning.

There was a great deal of stress associated with this drug, but it didn’t have to do with the injections. It had to do with fighting with the insurance company to pay for even part of the cost, and the requirement that the drug had to be kept cold in the refrigerator. It had to do with increasingly inept UPS delivery practices that had the insulated overnight packages with 3 months of the drug in cold packs being delivered to our neighbor’s house on a day when they were not home and sitting there for an hour or two in the hot sun before we realized the driver had made mistake… or riding around in the hot truck all day long instead of being delivered first in the morning… Had to have backup plans in place in case we had a power failure that lasted more than a couple of hours—and indeed, some friends in town were kind enough to keep the drug for me overnight once when the power went out.

The injections were not a problem: getting the drug out every morning while my coffee was heating, attaching the needle to the pen,

grabbing a pinch of belly fat (of which there was plenty), and pushing the plunger to deliver the dose came to be part of the daily routine.

And then suddenly there was only one pen left in the refrigerator, and before too long I had injected myself for the last time.

The interventional radiologist’s very capable assistant has been in touch, and as soon as the repair on my foot has healed, I’ll be heading back for another osteoporisis drug that has shown good results when used after the one I just finished.

But in the meantime, I’m done at last… done at last.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Foot or How I Learn to Drive the Knee Scooter

You two should write a book about the experiences of having foot surgery. Bet it would be a mix of comical and “I’m seriously going to kill someone.” K.M.c.L.

Behold The Foot.
The phenomenon that occurs when a body part (particularly an appendage) has something wrong with it and becomes the total focus of attention.

My left foot began breaking down a year ago, right about the same time the blood clot developed in that leg. For quite a while I thought that the problem in the foot was a consequence of the blood clot. But I was wrong.

After my husband's Achilles tendon repair in early March, the surgeon who did the operation came in to talk to me about what went on, and I asked him to look at my foot to see if he could tell me if it was a vascular problem or an orthopedic problem. He very kindly agreed to do that (without an appointment!). He eyeballed my foot, grabbed it, and pressed hard near the ankle, and I about went through the roof.

"Does that hurt?" He wants to know.

"Oh yeah."

"You have a flat foot deformity," he says, "that's my wagon wheel."

And so last Thursday he grabbed the wagon wheel and worked on my foot for about 2 hours to rebuild the arch and fix the torn tendons and some other stuff that he explained to my dearly beloved in the postoperative conference who, of course, did not remember most of it.

So far so good, I think. I have not had to take a pain pill since early Sunday morning, so I feel much better because my foot has stopped hurting and the pain medication made me very sleepy and muddle headed. There has been a lot of publicity lately about the problem of people becoming addicted to opioid pain medications, so I get it that it happens. The pain relief was great, but I don't like the way it made me feel, so I am very glad I don't have to take any more.

I watched my husband sail through the house on the knee scooter for about 8 weeks, and complain about it (but it is much better than crutches, he assured me), while he recovered from his foot operation, and now it is my turn to drive the knee scooter while I wait until the new and improved foot emerges from the cast/wrapping (which feels like it weighs about 30 pounds) in a few weeks and continues to heal until I am cleared to walk again. about 8 weeks.

I am gradually figuring it out, but I frequently find that I have gotten myself in ridiculous positions where I can barely move forward or backward and a "3-point Y turn" is impossible and I have to muscle the thing around so I can get going in the right direction. 

We have an incredibly tiny bathroom, and my dearly beloved suggested that if I were to back in, it might make transferring from the scooter to the commode a little easier. He was right -- backing in is no easy feat though and sometimes I am not sure whether I am going to make it in time.

It didn't take too long to realize that running over the toes on my good foot with the scooter was a bad thing, and so I have become much aware of where my right foot is and a lot more careful. I am sure there will be quite a few more lessons to be learned before I can walk again. 

I spent about 6 weeks fetching and carrying for my husband, and now it is his turn to fetch and carry for me. I don't think he is quite ready to "kill me," but the strain is beginning to show.