Saturday, December 27, 2008

An attempt to plan my reading year

Since I became an audiobook fan over two years ago, I often have two books "in progress" at any given time, one in print and one in audio. But for the past couple of months, I've had three or four books going most of the time. My current audio is Villette by Charlotte Bronte, and it's a good 22 hours long. Since I often listen while cleaning the house, those weekends where I have things scheduled (like wall-to-wall basketball), or when I'm achy and under the weather, I get little or no cleaning done, and so I make no progress with Villette. I've also had a library book, recently renewed for the second time but I really need to just give up on it, a collection of essays on literature and life called A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World by Morris Dickstein. I like what I've read - thus keep renewing it - but haven't read enough and know I won't be able to finish it in the next few weeks - so I'll return it soon, and perhaps it will cross my path again someday. I've also had two books I sort of alternated depending on my mood: my book group's selection for December, How Fiction Works by James Wood, and my LibraryThing Early Reviewer book, Soldier's Heart by Elizabeth Samet. I finally finished the latter last evening.

So where am I now? I've only got about four hours left of Villette, so I'm hopeful I'll be done before the year ends. (I think that will put me at 47 books finished in 2008, which is really excellent when you consider how busy our lives are!) My book group has chosen short stories by Chekhov for January, and Crime and Punishment for February, and luckily I own a collection by Chekhov PLUS the Dostoevsky novel, so will attempt to read both of those before we meet to discuss them. (I read Crime and Punishment a LONG time ago; it should be good to revisit it.) There's also going to be a discussion at TSCPL in late January about the novel Atonement, and I checked out the CD in hopes of making that my next audiobook after Villette.

Beyond those three, I don't have definite plans, but there are books that have been "calling" to me from my shelves in recent months, that I hope to get to in 2009. I think the one I've had the longest is Vanity Fair, so despite its length, it's on my short list of "likely leisure reading" for the coming year. Other novels that are in my sights: Brookland by Emily Barton, The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Keep by Jennifer Egan, Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, and The Lightning Keeper by Starling Lawrence. I'm also looking forward to reading a second collection of stories by Lydia Davis, called Varieties of Disturbance. I just got that one for Christmas, so it's the "newest" (to me) book on my potential list for 2009. I've picked up several books of poetry in the past two months as well, including four on Black Friday. They all look good, and unlike the novels I listed, they're all quite short and should be quick reads. ;-)

I continue to struggle with emotional eating and my love of fattening coffeehouse drinks. One book I had on my wish list for a long time was The Hungry Self: Women, Eating, and Identity by Kim Chernin. I found and bought it not long ago, and would like to fit that in between novels, and sooner than later. I've also had a bizarre kind of thought, that what I need to do is replace my addiction to food and sugary beverages with a "safer" addiction. If it were possible for me to get hooked on exercise, that would be the best thing, hands down, no question -- but seriously, ME, addicted to exercise??? That seems VERY unlikely to happen. But what if I could feed my love of reading, what if I could "binge" on books? And I don't mean just BUYING more books, though I certainly LOVE buying them and having them, but READING and "sampling" them, FEEDING myself with words, DEVOURING and INGESTING them - the books I already own. I saw a book some weeks ago that seemed to reflect this train of thought, and yes, it was an impulse purchase: Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania by Avital Ronell. This and the Chernin book are on my short list of non-fiction for the first months of the new year.

I have been writing this post off and on for about three hours. Jeff has said a couple times, "You're still writing that?" (And standing behind me a moment ago, he said, "Oh, this is the part where you talk about what's going on right now..." That Jeff, he can be funny, and then other times he thinks he's being funny but he's not.) But I'm glad I got a bit of an outline started - what I'm reading, what I plan to read soon, and the next batch of books on my radar. Just one small step toward getting my head in order.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A video tribute to Papa

Jeff and I posted our first YouTube video last night. I did most of the prep work, loading and editing digital photos and scanning older pictures. Jeff selected the photos and arranged them, basically in chronological order, and chose the song that's playing in the background, "I Find Your Love" by Beth Nielsen Chapman. I called the video "If He was Your PaPa," not knowing that Jeff had used "If He was Your Dad" in the video's title screen. Ah well, no big deal. After we posted it, we watched it with Sue, Kyle, and Ryan, and we all cried - even Jeff, a little bit. We've been able to take some extra time, the past few days, to remember Papa, to grieve his absence, to appreciate the love he gave to all of us.

At church last night, the minister talked about waiting, and his message was that we're all essentially waiting for heaven. There's some truth in that for us, that we're waiting to see Papa again, and I'm waiting to see my own father. Waiting is longing, and sadness, but also expectation, hope, and faith.

Someday soon, we all will be together, if the Fates allow.
Until then, we'll have to muddle through, somehow.

We wish you happy memories, both old and new, this Christmas. May peace be with you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas comedy: "The 12 Pains of Christmas"

Now I'm at the extreme opposite end of the holiday music spectrum. I searched YouTube for the video for "The 12 Pains of Christmas" by Bob Rivers Comedy Corp., which has been one of my favorites since the very first time I heard it - I was about 15. I think I found the "official" music video from the mid-80s, but there are a bunch more made by "12 Pains" devotees that are also worth a look. I found this one yesterday, with all the parts played by one guy, and in most of them he's lip-syncing the words too, not just doing the actions. I thought to myself, "Now THIS is a true '12 Pains of Christmas' lover." Of the several versions I watched, this one made me laugh the hardest. Happy Holidays to all, and don't take a sip of your beverage until this song is over because it might end up all over your keyboard.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A midnight clear

I really like this movie, a little-known film called A Midnight Clear, which I first saw a good 15 years ago. It's based on a book by William Wharton, and the cast includes Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, and Kevin Dillon. But even more than the film, the song they play over the closing credits is astounding, easily one of the most haunting Christmas songs I've ever heard. It's "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" sung by a woman called Sam Phillips. (I just learned that she was previously known as Leslie Phillips and sang contemporary Christian music.) I've never seen it available anywhere. Watch the video, listen to the music - and the song starts in earnest after Gary Sinise's yelling ;-) - and you WON'T be disappointed.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I can't find the time to tell you

When I was young, maybe six or seven, I remember one time I was sitting on my dad's lap, listening to records with him. A song came on that I didn't recognize, and I asked him what it was. He said, "I Can't Find the Time to Tell You."

I was quiet for a few seconds, but then I asked, "Why can't you tell me?"

He said, "No, that is the title, 'I Can't Find the Time to Tell You.'"

"Ohhhh." I got it.

Lately I've been thinking about time, and how I never seem to have enough of it. More specifically, I've noticed that I rarely read on my breaks at work (though I currently have two print books going, and one more to read for book group next week - and one audiobook), and don't write enough blogs/journal entries/poems as I'd like to. I think one of the big reasons for this is a lack of focus. I'm not too skilled at multi-tasking, but instead, I do most things slowly, methodically, carefully, thoroughly. When I wash the dishes by hand, you know those suckers are clean and well-rinsed. That's just the way I am.

I've said before that, throughout college and grad school, I always felt like I never had enough time to do all the things I wanted to do, or that I should have done, but it wasn't until after Kyle was born that I truly wished there were more hours in the day. When I want to spend a solid hour doing something just for me - primarily reading or writing - without interruption --- well, usually it isn't possible, there will be interruptions maybe 97% of the time.

I know, I know, family is important - and yes, I love my husband and children - and probably I sound selfish writing in this Greta Garbo mode, like I'm whining that I want more time and space for my own stuff - me me me! But when I can give myself over to a big juicy novel, or work out some confusing thoughts or rough emotions on paper or through the keyboard, it makes me feel so much better. It usually makes my head more peaceful and my heart happier - and don't these results make me a better wife and mother, and perhaps a better person? Maybe so --- but still, there's that TIME requirement.

Why I don't often read, and don't even blog too often, when I'm at work: my breaks and lunchtime aren't that long, so it can be really hard to get that focus that I mentioned above. Fifteen or twenty minutes is probably long enough to become immersed in a novel, but I don't want to sink into it and then have to put it down and go back to work. And crafting a blog entry (or anything else) isn't a quick thing, either: I started this one around 740am (Jeff got me here a few minutes earlier than usual, and I start work at eight) - and now I'm at the end of my afternoon break, almost 325pm. I'm inwardly debating: do I post it as is, or wait until tomorrow to add a bit more and do some polishing - in short, to make this jumble more coherent?

Decisions, decisions, and I don't have time for them, I need to get back to work!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy anniversary, with a little help from the Flintstones

Jeff and I got married eleven years ago today. Time flies when you're too damn busy! But we're all right -- we have each other, and we even still like each other most of the time! ;-)

I thought of this song and video this morning. I remember that my mom and I both LOVED this bit when I was a kid, and she'd sing it on her wedding anniversary. Happy memories.

All Quiet: the book on war

Our book discussion group selected All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque for our November meeting. Before we started talking about it a few months ago, I didn't really know more than the title, and hadn't been interested in finding out more. But now I've read it, and I'm very glad we chose it. War is a horror, and ought to be seen as the last possible option. The ones who fight should not be seen as pawns; they are people, all people.

A couple of sections that struck me hardest (from the translation by A. W. Wheen):

Haie Westhus drags off with a great wound in his back through which the lung pulses at every breath. I can only press his hand; "It's all up, Paul," he groans and he bites his arm because of the pain.

We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole; a lance corporal crawls a mile and a half on his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the dressing station and over his clasped hands bulge his intestines; we see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces; we find one man who has held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. The sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end.

Still the little piece of convulsed earth in which we lie is held. We have yielded no more than a few hundred yards of it as a prize to the enemy. But on every yard there lies a dead man.

Here is a description of what the narrator, Paul, sees in the hospital where he is recuperating:

Two fellows die of tetanus. Their skin turns pale, their limbs stiffen, at last only their eyes live--stubbornly. Many of the wounded have their shattered limbs hanging free in the air from a gallows; underneath the wound a basin is placed into which drips the pus. Every two or three hours the vessel is emptied. Other men lie in stretching bandages with heavy weights hanging from the end of the bed. I see intestine wounds that are constantly full of excreta. The surgeon's clerk shows me X-ray photographs of completely smashed hip-bones, knees, and shoulders.

A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round. And this is only one hospital, one single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me. What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up and came before them and proffered our account? What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is over? Through the years our business has been killing;--it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us?

Indeed, what will happen afterwards? What good can come from war, in which fathers send sons away into the world -- to kill others, and perhaps be killed themselves? For what?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A poem that knocked my socks off

I saw a poem a day or two ago on Poetry Daily that awed me. Be warned, it's dark, but I was so impressed with it, I had to share it. It's called "Death by My Son," by Frank Giampietro. I might have to track down more of his work. Read the poem here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Governor of New York proposes large cut in budget for libraries

Read about it in Library Journal here.

Thanks to Library Stuff for posting the headline.

Morning conversation

Me: "Another fun breakfast at home."

Jeff: "For you?"

Me: "No, for the boys. I like eating at home."

Jeff: "Oh yes, another breakfast, with three nutritious servings of Yelling and Screaming. And Fit-Throwing."

Me: "And Bitching and Complaining."

Sigh. It was so much easier when the boys were eating most breakfasts at school. But Ryan says he doesn't like eating there, so now they're back to eating at home most mornings. But it seems that Ryan just doesn't like to eat, period, a lot of the time, whether at school or at home, so his breakfast at home is accompanied by almost constant badgering from Jeff, me, and often Grandma: "You have to eat! That's not enough, eat more! What a waste!" Etc., etc., etc. Kyle isn't as bad about it, but he often needs reminding, too: "It's getting late, finish your cereal!" Etc., etc. Oh, morning time. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Last Thursday evening was the third grade music program at school, so our family went to watch Kyle do his thing, and Sue rode with us. It was hard, as everything these days is hard, but we seemed to be doing okay, clapping and smiling, and even chuckling at some of the more amusing parts. Then toward the end of the program, the kids sang a song called "Helping Me Grow." Yes, it was sappy and sentimental, about grown-ups helping their kids to grow big and strong and stay healthy, and just taking care of them in general. Yes, I started crying. I was sitting next to Sue, and after a bit, I looked over at her, and she was stifling her tears, and I put my arm around her and put my head on her shoulder for a bit, and we were sitting in the front row, and I didn't care that some kids saw tears running down my face. I thought, Papa should be here.

I tried to put a word to how I felt, and found it: cheated. Papa had been to all the boys' music programs in the past, and would have been at this one, too - and surely WAS there, in spirit - but we've been cheated of his presence, his warmth, his dedication. His love for our little boys goes on, but he isn't here to show and express it to them, to hug them, laugh with them, teach them. I cried because my sons, and their cousins, have been cheated.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What we're doing: basketball

I realize I've been too quiet lately; I wish I had more time to write here. I wish I had more time, period. But, here's what our family has been up to the past few weeks:

being sick with fever / sore throat / virus / whatever,
work and school,
I spent several days last week in Baton Rouge at a work conference,
work and school,
grocery shopping,
Kyle's school music program is tonight,
getting ready for Halloween,

Yeah, that's most of it. We signed Kyle up for basketball at SportZone and the YMCA, and we signed Ryan up for YMCA - so that's potentially six hours of basketball per week, if you figure one hour for each game and one hour of practice for each team. Ryan had two games last Saturday, plus his team pictures - on their first day of playing! Kyle had a game Friday evening at SportZone, and Saturday morning at the Y (though not physically at the Y, which would make things a little easier - no, his games are at an elementary school that's maybe a ten-minute drive from the Y). To top it off, Jeff had signed up to coach Ryan's team, with Rick as his assistant coach and Jesse on the same team, but at the coaches' meeting, Jeff found out that a coach for Kyle's Y team hadn't been finalized - so yes, Jeff is coaching that team, too. So, to the potential six hours of actual basketball (because the SportZone team hasn't practiced the last couple weeks, other conflicts), add all of Jeff's preparation time for practice and games, and our travel time back and forth, and yeah, we're basically doing basketball almost every day. And, Jeff's city league team will be playing on Wednesdays starting next week. He's been doing that close to 20 years now...hmmm, I gotta ask him when he actually started that, IF he even remembers. ;-) Anyway, not much time to write, hope I can write again by about Thanksgiving, and maybe report on something besides basketball. Maybe.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Book 3 of 5: a pleasant change of pace

As with book 1, I was introduced to book 3 at the Attleboro Public Library. I finished my degree at Smith College in December 1995, and moved back to my hometown of Attleboro, Massachusetts, to figure out which route to take next in my life. Probably in March or April of 1996, I was browsing the book stacks and found The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman. It was probably the second edition, published in 1978. (The first edition appeared in 1960.) I own the third edition, from 1988, and the fourth edition, retitled The New Lifetime Reading Plan, and co-authored by John S. Major.

This was the first "book about books" that I remember reading, and I fell in love with it. And, although I'd already earned a Bachelor's in English, one result of my non-traditional educational path was that I hadn't necessarily read all those books that "everyone" reads in school. Fadiman's "mini-essays" about writers and works in The Lifetime Reading Plan made some of those classics more approachable, and made them seem more interesting.

Here are some of Fadiman's comments about authors:

On E. M. Forster's inclusion "in our short, highly debatable list of twentieth-century novelists ... One reason is that he is considered among the finest of them by the most perceptive critics. Finest, not greatest. The latter adjective somehow seems inappropriate to Forster; he would have rejected it himself."

About Jane Austen: "a writer so charming that it seems clumsy to call her a classic."

The opening of Fadiman's remarks on Friedrich Nietzsche: "The rhapsodic singer of the strong, triumphant, joyful superman led a life of failure, loneliness, obscurity, and physical pain." A bit later, he writes, "At times he writes like a genius. At times he writes like a fool, as if he had never been in touch with ordinary realities. (His views on women, for example, are those of a man who simply didn't know any very well.)"

And, some of his comments about specific works:

On Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: "at bottom the origins of this strange book are untraceable. It was spewed up out of a volcanic, untrained, uncritical, but marvelous imagination. It had no true forebears. It has had no true successors."

Of Joyce's Ulysses: "It is one of the most original works of imagination in the language. It broke not one trail, but hundreds."

"Of all the autobiographies ever written, perhaps the most powerful and influential is the Confessions," he writes of Saint Augustine's life story.

Making the case for Crime and Punishment over The Brothers Karamazov, IF you plan to read only one Dostoevsky novel:

Crime and Punishment is a simpler, more unified [book], with a
strong detective-story plot of great interest. It can be read as
a straight thriller. It can be read as a vision. It can be read on
planes in between these two. From its murky, gripping, intolerably
vivid pages you emerge with the feeling that you have lived and
suffered a lifetime. Its action takes nine days.

In short, Fadiman speaks to the reader as a friend, and the reader can't help trusting his opinions, and wanting to get to know these books and authors better - sort of like, "Clifton says this book is cool, I gotta check it out for myself." Or at least that's how it's been for me, and that's half the reason I own so many books I haven't read...yet. ;-)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Book 2 of my most influential five

When I was a teenager - often depressed, no self-esteem, thinking of death and hurting myself - I bought a used paperback anthology of poetry by women. I had heard of Sylvia Plath, and might already have read The Bell Jar, but hadn't yet been exposed to her poetry. The book's introduction quoted these lines from one of her most famous poems, "Lady Lazarus":

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

From the time I read those lines, and then purchased my first copy of Ariel, no poet has affected me as much as Sylvia Plath, and Ariel is her masterwork. The despair, the anger, the frantic energy, the power and bravado, the isolation, and the way the speakers in the poems say things we don't often let ourselves say - it is a remarkable, screaming achievement. She ends "Lady Lazarus" this way:

Herr God, Herr Lucifer,

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

I don't memorize many poems, but there are lines from some of Plath's poems - primarily from Ariel - that I've ingested, that come to my mind unbidden. "I didn't want any flowers, I only wanted / To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty," she writes in "Tulips." "These are the isolate, slow faults / That kill, that kill, that kill," the closing of the poem "Elm." These are the last lines of "Edge," the last poem Plath wrote:

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

From another famous poem - or perhaps infamous is a better word - called "Daddy":

I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.

And then, "The Moon and the Yew Tree," which began as a writing exercise, but took on a life of its own. My favorite lines: "This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary. / The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue." "The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right, / White as a knuckle and terribly upset." "The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary. / Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls." "The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild. / And the message of the yew tree is blackness -- blackness and silence."

Sylvia Plath's poems, and especially those in Ariel, have influenced my thoughts, my own writing, my judgment of other writers' work, and even my very life, as the initial reason I applied to Smith College is because she attended Smith. Her influence upon me is nearly incalculable.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Five books that have influenced me the most: Book 1

A couple months ago, a friend from my book discussion group suggested that members choose the five books that have most influenced / impacted them - not one's "favorite books" nor necessarily what one considers the "best books" read so far, but books which had some significant, lasting impact on the member's thinking, ideas, or way of life - with an explanation of WHY it impacted the reader. Other members agreed it was a good idea that would lead to some very interesting discussion, though a couple people were hesitant to participate - and all felt limiting to five would be very difficult.

I have a decent list of titles in mind, may need to cut down to five, but there are two or three that must be included. The first of these is I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, edited by Ellen Bass and Louise Thornton. It was published in 1983, and I found it at Attleboro Public Library, probably in the fall of 1985, when I was 14 and a freshman in high school. The content and styles of the pieces vary widely, and some of them "stayed with me" more than others, but it was the lengthy introduction by Ellen Bass that really hit home for me.

I don't know much at all about repressed memories, or about "false memories," so I won't address those topics beyond my own limited experience. What I do know is, while the knowledge of what happened to me was never repressed, buried, forgotten, there were details, and certain aspects of the incidents, that had slipped to the back of my mind. Reading the introduction to this book, I remembered that I had tried to say no - not at first, and not every time, but more often as time went on - and at least a couple times, I was able to resist.

Finding and reading this book when I was 14, when I was beginning to feel the enormity of what had happened to me - this was quite some time after the abuse had ended - brought home the realization that it was abuse, because I had tried to say no, and more often than not, saying no was not enough, and it happened anyway. I wasn't to blame, I wasn't just bad and dirty - I had tried to "be good," to stop it from happening again, to protect myself. Like the girls in the book, the girls that Ellen Bass wrote about in that powerful essay, I wasn't to blame, it wasn't my fault.

The shame, the guilt, the self-blame - for me, it is all still there, several layers below my grown-up self. I try to "manage" it, to keep it down, and for the most part, I can. But once in a while, and often with little warning, I erupt, and it pours from me. I believe that people can change, that we aren't necessarily "trapped" into being the same as we were last month, last year, five years ago, and we might be quite different next year, or five years from now. But part of what makes me "me" - and what makes you "you" - is the things that happened in my life (and in your life, in all our lives) last month, last year, five years ago, back as far as I (we) can remember. We can change, and we do change, but the deeper it lies, the harder it is to touch. I can change my clothes, change my hair, but can I change my heart? I don't know.

I credit Ellen Bass, Louise Thornton, and all the brave women whose writing appears in the book I Never Told Anyone, for reminding me that I tried to resist, encouraging me to find my own voice, and helping me to feel I might be someone worthwhile after all.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Voices in my head, these days

It has been two weeks since Gerald passed away. We are meeting with his doctor later this afternoon to hear more about the results of blood tests taken in the emergency room, and any other information from the hospital records that might help us understand how he became so sick so very fast.

The first days after his death, a few old poems started cycling through my mind. As reading and writing have sustained me through many difficult times in my life, it makes sense that familiar poems will approach me when I, and those closest to me, are troubled and sad. Reading poems or books, or keeping a journal, might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm sure they've brought some comfort to many other people in distress. So, I wanted to share some of the voices I've had in my head these two long weeks.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
---by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

The Bustle in a House
---by Emily Dickinson

The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth —

The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity.

Heart! We will forget him!
---by Emily Dickinson

Heart! We will forget him!
You and I - tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave -
I will forget the light!

When you have done, pray tell me
That I may straight begin!
Haste! lest while you're lagging
I remember him!

Nothing Gold Can Stay
---by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Finally, this is one of my favorite quotes, and has been since I found it in an old edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations when I was twelve years old. It's attributed to George William Childs.
Do not keep the alabaster boxes of your love
and tenderness sealed up until your friends are
dead. Fill their lives with sweetness. Speak
approving, cheering words while their ears
can hear them, and while their hearts can
be thrilled and made happier by them.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How long do you hope for a miracle?

That was a question I asked Jeff in the Intensive Care family waiting room on Friday, September 19, 2008. My father-in-law's condition was not improving. He was on a ventilator, and hadn't taken a breath on his own since about 6am that day, when he'd collapsed at home. His kidney had stopped working, his lungs had failed, his blood pressure wasn't going up even with the maximum amounts of three different BP medications streaming into his veins. His pupils were fixed and dilated, and he'd remained unresponsive. Even in the morning hours, the ER doctor had warned us that no one could be sure how long Gerald had gone without oxygen, that even if he were revived, there might be brain damage.

But that was earlier in the day, when we had hope. They told us that he wouldn't wake up until the following day, at least - maybe in two days. Somewhere around lunch time (not that anyone ate a lot), the cardiologist told us that Gerald's heart muscles were actually quite strong, but if his blood pressure didn't come up soon, the medications to increase his BP would begin to damage his heart. Still, he said, think positive, be strong, have hope.

Late in the afternoon, Jeff's sister Stacy came back to the waiting room in tears, but angry. Gerald had been seen by a cardiologist and a pulmonary specialist, but the nurses had been waiting for the kidney specialist. Now, Stacy said, the staff seemed less concerned about the kidney specialist coming by. Then, the nurses and the pulmonary specialist began asking Sue, as tactfully as they could, what should be done if Gerald's heart stops again? The scenario was something like this: they could do CPR again, but if it was successful, there was essentially no chance at that point of him surviving without being hooked up to machines. It was around this time that I wondered, Should we just hope now that his heart keeps beating? Because once it stops, it's all over. Or were we beyond hope by then?

I remember Rick, Stacy's husband, coming back from Gerald's bedside, and saying, "He was fighting all day, he couldn't fight any more." Oh God. It can't be real, this can't be. What will happen to us all now, without him? Kyle said, "Everything will be different now, nothing will be the same as it was." He sobbed. When he was angry at me and Jeff, he called Papa. When he had news to share, he called Papa. Kyle and Papa were running a team in Jeff's online fantasy football league; whenever Kyle saw they'd been offered a trade, he called Papa to talk about whether they should take it. Kyle knew my in-laws' phone number before he learned his own! Papa loved all six of his grandsons, but Kyle was the first, and until he was 2 1/2 and Ryan was born, he was the only grandchild. Kyle and Papa had always been buddies, and I couldn't imagine Kyle losing Papa at only eight years old, still young enough to climb on Papa's big, comfortable lap. Kyle, my little son.

I remember hugging Sue tightly and saying, "I feel terrible for you, I feel terrible for you." They'd celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this past April. They didn't have many separate interests; they did nearly everything together. It is hard to think of one without the other, but suddenly, inexplicably, only one is left. Surely Gerald is in heaven - he was a good, kind, responsible man - but I can't help thinking he'd still rather be down here with Sue, and with his children, watching his grandsons grow up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The book sale

The following paragraph is taken from the book Biblioholism: the Literary Addiction by Tom Raabe:
The book world was also intense in those days [mid-1800s to early 1900s]. Fights
occasionally broke out in bookstore aisles. When the English translation of The Devil on Two Sticks came out, the books were gobbled up insatiably, to the point that, when two noblemen entered a shop where one copy of the book remained, the lords drew swords. Only the intervention of the bookseller with a borrowed copy of the casus bellus precluded the letting of blood. When John Morley's Life of Gladstone came out in 1903, the chaotic scene in the Macmillan offices made the run on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire look like a couple of tykes arguing over who gets The Cat in the Hat at the neighborhood bookmobile. Today, the only place one experiences this sort of intensity is at the martial arts exhibitions that are euphemistically called "Friends of the Library" sales (pp. 117-118).

Ah yes, the "Friends of the Library" book sale. It's one of my two favorite days of the year - the other being Groundhog Day. The annual sale of the Friends of Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library begins this Friday evening - 6pm to 9pm, Friends members only, but memberships are sold at the door if you don't have one and you really don't want to wait till Saturday - and is open to the "general public" most of the day Saturday, and a few hours on Sunday afternoon. I'm a bit envious of those towns that have two sales each year (usually fall and spring), while TSCPL only has one, in September. But oh, what a sale it is!

I love how Raabe compares these sales to "martial arts exhibitions." I've never seen fighting at the local sale, but speaking only for myself, the "sort of intensity" he mentions is not necessarily an overstatement. I start working on my "wishlist" of potential purchases several days before the sale - this year's list is already in progress. Approaching the Expocentre close to when the sale opens, I feel a wonderful excitement, a sense of possibility, and rather than going all the way to the end of the line, I wait a couple minutes for people to go into the Hall, and the line to shorten, and then I get at the end when it's closer to me.

Once I'm in there, I've got my list in my hand, and I'm ALL BUSINESS. I always see at least one person I know, usually a few - either members of my book group, no surprise there, or people from work. But there's no time for chatting - I limit conversation to maybe 30 seconds, and even during that time, I'm scanning whatever table I happened to stop near, my eyeballs doing some combination of gymnastics and sprints across the spines, catching titles and authors as they go. I make my way through at least half of the inventory - there being some categories and topics that don't interest me - and I stay for at least two hours, becoming warm, tired, a bit frantic to find one or two titles that really MUST be there somewhere! I check my list frequently, move books set on top of the piles to see what's underneath, skim through boxes under the tables for books that haven't been laid out yet, and periodically assess what I've picked up to see if there are any I've since decided not to buy. Example: often the third or fourth book I pick up will be deemed "not worthy" once I've found an eighth or ninth book (one that was actually on my list), and especially if that third or fourth book costs maybe three dollars, when most of my choices are two dollars or less. There's impulse buying, yes, but also time to consider which books and how many to buy on impulse.

I already own over 300 books that I haven't read, according to my LibraryThing catalog. You might be thinking, Does she really need to go to this sale and buy another ten, fifteen, twenty books, most of which will remain unread by the time next year's sale rolls around? But I wouldn't think such a thing - not go to the sale?!?!? I love the sale!!! It's the kind of thing where I think to myself in mid-May, "Only four more months till the library book sale!" I can't not go to the sale. And, they also have DVDs, videos, and CDs, and the past couple years, Jeff goes in with me and looks at kids' books and movies, and we have a list of items that Stacy and Grandma want us to look for, and a book or DVD might be included with the Christmas gifts if it's in good condition. And you can't beat the prices! Yeah, you bet I'm going. If you see me there, you can say hello if you want to, and I appreciate it, but if I'm distracted - I will be distracted - please understand, it's nothing personal, I'm just a woman on a mission, building my life's library.

Friday, September 5, 2008

No more donations

I've made my last blood donation. I waited more than a year and a half after the last one, when I nearly passed out, but yesterday, they were having another blood drive at work, and I thought I'd give it a try. I got through most of it, then almost passed out again. Nope, I'm not going to give any more.

This makes me a little sad. The first time I donated blood was in 1991, when I was 20 years old. My grandfather (my mom's father) died in September of that year, and I donated at a blood drive at Community College of Rhode Island (that would be "See See Ah Rye" in Rhode Islandese) about a month after his death. When I was done, I remember feeling really good, the best I'd felt since Grandpa died. For a long time after, I associated blood donations with a measure of contentment, a happy inner peace.

At least once, here in Topeka, I wasn't allowed to donate because my blood pressure was too low. While I was at Smith, I donated once or twice, and I remember one of the workers walking by me and wondering what was taking so long. She looked at my paperwork and said, "Oh, no wonder, your blood pressure is 80." (It was actually 88/60, but yeah, probably too low, they shouldn't have let me donate.) I can't say for sure if that was the same donation that resulted in "the bruise," but it probably was. That would have been during the 1993-1994 school year. I had a bruise on my arm for over two weeks! I got worried after a while when I felt a bump under there, called Health Services, and they said it was probably nothing to worry about - if I recall correctly, it was basically a kind of scab under my skin. (Oh, okay, that sounds great!) A few days after my donation, this picture was taken:

The flash was bright, but even so, you can see the gray area on the bend in my arm. Before it finally went away, that thing turned all kinds of colors. But still, it didn't prevent me from continuing to donate blood, when there was a blood drive I could fit into my schedule.

But in early December 2006, the last time I tried to donate before yesterday, I had a bad reaction for the first time. The woman had told me to squeeze my hand every three to five seconds, which I later guessed was probably faster than was good for me - because I had never had a bad time before, only a bruise, so if that's not the reason, I don't know what it was. After that, I was sort of afraid to donate again, which is why I waited so long - until yesterday.

It's weird how fast it happens: I'm lying there, my breath and my chest start to feel just a little different, and then I'm suddenly warm all over and everything looks surreal, and when I try to close my eyes, the blood drive workers say, "Open your eyes, keep your eyes open!" and yesterday I could feel drops of sweat falling down each side of my neck. Then they tilt me back, and put one ice pack on the front of my neck, and one under the back of my neck. They give me apple juice, and ask about every thirty seconds, "How are you doing?" and then, "Are you doing okay?" And the thing is, you can't be sure how you are, it just feels too unreal. They had an Abbott and Costello DVD on, up on a big screen, and it was the disc menu, and I just kept looking straight ahead at it - "Don't close your eyes, keep them open!" - and thinking to myself "Play All, Episode 1, Episode 2, Bonus Features," and again, "Play All, Episode 1, Episode 2," and I nearly said it out loud, "Play All, Episode 1..." By the time you really are "okay," you don't have to think about the question when they ask you. If they ask and you aren't sure, request some juice, and just keep breathing. And whatever you do, don't close your eyes!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A new poem

As the subject line says, I wrote a new poem. As usual, this shouldn't be considered a final version, as I may decide to change any or all of it in future.


My head got stuck in the jaws of anger
today; crazy hijacked my afternoon.

It doesn’t last, I say, it doesn’t last –
and I pretend to listen and believe,

as though I were a creditable source.
And that’s the truth, it doesn’t last – but damn,

it always, always crashes back – and ten
by twenty thousand times, it kicks me down.

But I am sitting here, I am alive.
I try to find some solace in these words,

some meaning in the pain, again, again,
a measure of protection … for next time.

The roaring storm is no more than a sigh
when set against the years that fly away.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Random thought

The old saying goes that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. My own great affection for food notwithstanding, I had a thought recently that the best way to a woman's heart is through her mind.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Finished another excellent book

Today, I finished listening to the audio version of The book thief by Markus Zusak. I just wrote this in my "50 Book Challenge" list on LibraryThing:

30. The book thief - finished listening to it this afternoon, crying near the end, but not quite sobbing, as the boys had a couple of friends over, and the last thing any of the kids needed was to see me looking like a wreck with red splotches and tears in place of my regular face. (My sons are too familiar with the sight to be surprised, but could have been VERY embarrassed had either of the friends seen me.) I wasn't doing housecleaning as I listened to the last sections, I was eager to just HEAR it, to find out what happened.

It's not really a sad book, but there's a good deal of black comedy in it. It takes place in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death, but is also populated by rich and interesting characters. It's both a tribute and a cautionary tale about the power of words, reading, and books. It is magnificent, and I love it. In a way, it reminds me of To kill a mockingbird, in that it seems like a story set free into the world, whole and complete, each sentence just as it should be, all parts perfect and necessary.

Next audio - I don't know. It's a bit like when I finished Middlemarch in the spring (though it's not even half so long!) - I don't want to let go of the book thief and her friends.

There are so many wonderful books in the world, and a good number of marvelous books in my own collection that I haven't read yet. I wanted The book thief for several months before I bought it (maybe last December), and the same with The glass castle. When my book group chose to read Middlemarch earlier this year, my one-dollar copy from the Smith College book store still had the receipt inside...from 1994. I've fallen in love with these three books this year, three books that I had already bought with no immediate plan to read them (an understatement in the case of the George Eliot novel!), that brought me great pleasure when I made time to read them, whether months or years after they came into my bookcases.

To read an excellent book is sometimes to live within it, to even breathe it, to hold it to your heart at the same time that you offer it to others: "This book is great, you just have to read it, it's amazing!" But for me, there's also a kind of tension that comes with a wonderful book: to want to go back to Middlemarch (for example), while my real life requires me here in Topeka. In spite of that, I know I'm so lucky - my real life is pretty good, and so many people have never been to Middlemarch at all! For those who love to read, the world is so much larger, no matter the miles they travel (or not) in "real life," and my shelves are full of places I haven't seen yet, that I'll be honored to visit, and glad to keep in my mind ever after.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"It's Hot in Topeka"

The past several days have been hot, hot, hot. We took the boys swimming on Saturday, and Jeff and I both got a bit sunburned. I barely left the house on Sunday, and was only too glad to be in the AC at work yesterday. There was a heat advisory for all three days. Last evening, at 930pm, it was still 90 degrees, and the heat index was maybe 96 - just dreadful. Today we're having a "cooldown," sort of, expecting a high of only 92 degrees. And maybe some rain soon, if we're lucky.

We saw this on the Cartoon Network a year or so ago. The show is called "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends," and in this bit, Bloo hears the weather forecast for Topeka, and then runs with it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My mother, and her hair styles, through the years

I talked with Jerilyn last Tuesday after she visited my mom, and she said she'd spent about 90 minutes with her. They had a good conversation, including my mom asking why she's getting hospice services, and Jerilyn saying that my mom had really been declining earlier in the year, so she had needed the extra care. (I haven't heard anything official yet about ending her hospice services, so I think we're status quo for at least a couple more weeks.) My mom told Jerilyn, it wasn't that she had wanted to die, she just didn't really want to live; she'd felt apathetic about life. Jerilyn told me that, medically, there's not much going on with her, and she was doing all right cognitively as well, asking about a few topics they'd touched on two weeks before, during Jerilyn's last visit (prior to a week's vacation). So, she's still holding steady.

Jerilyn also asked me if I had any pictures of my mom when she was younger, and at various stages through her life. She said she was really curious to see what my mom had looked like when she was younger, but also on a more practical level, some new pictures would give them some new things to talk about, because "we've pretty much talked out" the half dozen or so photos she has displayed now. She and my mom had agreed that "Marie probably has a lot of the old pictures," and I assured her that I did. I told Jerilyn that after my dad died, I'd worked around some of the junk (and the roaches) in the old apartment, specifically looking for things like photo albums and my dad's high school yearbook - the things that could never be replaced if they were lost or ruined - and I'd packed them up and had them shipped to Kansas a while later. (My brother did most of the work in the old apartment, I'll give him that. My time was very limited, so I just focused on finding and getting out what I wanted to keep, while he had to do most of the disposal.) I promised Jerilyn I'd get some photos together and send them to my mom as soon as I could.

As I looked through some of the old photo albums this past Friday (Jeff and I took Friday and today off from work, because Saturday was Ryan's birthday), I marveled at how creative my mom used to be with her hair. I only remember her having long straight hair when I was young, and then late in my elementary school years, or during my time in middle school, she started getting it cut more regularly, and never had it that long again. (I can still hear her saying, "I said I wouldn't cut my hair until the end of the Vietnam War. I didn't know it would last that long.") And, I remember seeing curlers in our apartment at some point, but I don't remember my mom using them, or doing anything to really "style" her hair, as she obviously did in her teen and young adult years.

My mom was born in August 1945, and in the first picture, she's almost three years old. Note the photos with animals - that's actually why I added that first one with the cat. I believe that my mom has always liked animals better than people, but I can't recall if she actually said that, or if it's just a feeling I've long had about her. Most or all of the black and white photos were probably taken at my grandparents' house in Norton, Massachusetts. My grandmother is better at getting dates written on photos than anyone else I've ever known, so most of the dates you see below are thanks to her record keeping.

August 14, 1948

November 4, 1959
(this is one of my favorite pictures of my mom; she was 14 years old)

July 1960

September 25, 1960

October 16, 1962 (with Cindy)

October 20, 1963

February 15, 1964

1964 - actual date (& name of cat) not known

September 11, 1964 (with "Little Kitty" - aka Scuffy)

November 24, 1965

July 4, 1967

My parents' wedding, in Attleboro, Mass., July 11, 1970:
Grandma B. (my dad's stepmother), Ma, Da, Aunt Anne (my dad's youngest sister), and Grandpa B. (my dad's father)

Date uncertain, probably 1972 or 1973: Ma, me, Da, Lee

September 3, 1979: me, Ma, Lee; at Rehoboth Fair, in Mass.

July 14, 1984: Lee, Ma, Da, me

November 17, 1984: Da and Ma (with shorter hair than July photo)

May 1995, my graduation from Smith College: Lee, me, Da, Ma

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When you gonna love you... ?

A couple of co-workers of mine spent all day today at the library annex, instead of coming back to the headquarters building in the afternoon. They were getting a lot accomplished, so figured they'd keep on the rest of the day. I was thinking about this on the way to Wal-Mart this evening, and I was - I guess "envious" is close to what I was feeling, though the thoughts spun into anger - mainly directed at myself, as usual. I was asking myself, "Why the hell can't I get anything done? Why am I never that productive? What the fuck is wrong with me anyway?"

I was able to push the mood aside - must be a good thing that Wal-Mart is less than ten minutes from our house, not much time to get riled up about stuff - and the actual shopping trip was all right, just LONG because I had to return something and stood in line at Customer Service for close to 15 minutes. I thought about getting an iced coffee from the McDonald's inside the store, before the endless wait at Customer Service, but was able to resist the temptation.

On the way home, I was listening to Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes CD, and the next song cued up was "Winter." I turned out of the parking lot onto 37th St., and had tears in my eyes before I got to the 37th and Burlingame intersection. The start of the song is about a little girl outside on a cold winter day with her dad: "I put my hand in my father's glove," she says. And the chorus just moved my heart, and I imagined my dad...not really saying the words, but that the words must certainly express what he felt for me:

When you gonna make up your mind?
When you gonna love you as much as I do?

And then the last verse:

Hair is gray and the fires are burning,
So many dreams on the shelf.
You say, "I wanted you to be proud of me."
I always wanted that myself.

My dad was proud of me, and did love me, as well as he could - and in his way, far better than I've ever loved myself. And heaven help me, I miss him so much tonight, more than in a long time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rainy Friday

Here's the video for the song "Rain" by Patty Griffin. It's the opening track on her album A Thousand Kisses, and it's incredible and simply beautiful.

It was cloudy as we were driving to work this morning, and within ten minutes after Jeff dropped me off, the rain had started. It's not too bad, but might have thunderstorms later today.

I was awake for well over an hour during the night, and started a new book, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods by Umberto Eco. I read the first chapter. Needless to say, I'm tired this morning. But, thank God it's Friday.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Coming up for air - finally - maybe

It's Monday evening. I started reading The glass castle by Jeannette Walls last Thursday evening, and was immediately hooked. I spent as much time reading over the weekend as I could, and finished the book today at the end of my lunch break. For about the last half hour, I've been reading a few websites about the book and author, including a really long interview. (Great interview, but several typos in it!) As I noted in my short post on LibraryThing (in my list of books I'm reading this year - message 36), I hardly know where to begin. I just want to tell everyone, "You've GOT to read this book!"

There's a short video of Jeannette Walls and her mom (and some of her mom's artwork) on the Simon & Schuster website. Yep, some of her mom's artwork - but it really is quite good.

I've spent too much time alone this evening and must check in with Jeff and the kids, but one last book note: my copy of The glass castle still had the receipt in it. I bought it at Hastings on October 21, 2006, along with Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Wickett's Remedy by Myla Goldberg (buy two, get one free). Having now read all three books, I've gotta say, what an excellent book day it turned out to be.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Warm day, cool ice

I used some of my free time today, during this slow and lovely holiday weekend, to search for videos on YouTube. No, those were not very productive parts of the day, but I started a list of favorites, and am now glad to share one here.

I've always enjoyed watching figure skating, but it wasn't until the 1994 Olympics that I began to follow figure skating, to watch as much as I could, and learn lots of skaters' names, histories, and programs - not as in TV programs, but as in short or long, technical or artistic. It was a big Olympics because of the Nancy Kerrigan - Tonya Harding "rivalry," and the incident at the US Championships where Nancy was whacked on the knee (and yes, Tonya was part of the plan). But by the time the competition had ended, it was Oksana Baiul, the 16-year-old orphan from Ukraine, who had won the gold medal. It was Oksana's skating, her incredible grace on the ice, like no one I'd ever seen before, that had won my heart.

This is one of the programs she skated at the Exhibition following the 1994 Olympics, though I don't think this video is of that same performance, but a bit later that year - she was still 16. The music is "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saens, part of his piece called The Carnival of the Animals. I purchased a Saint-Saens CD because I loved the music so much. I could watch Oksana skate this program every day, and never grow tired of it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

My LibraryThing anniversary: ah, Book Love!

I created my LibraryThing account one year ago today, and immediately started adding books. There are now 710 books in my catalog, which is still not all the books I own. I have to confess, once I got the bulk of the literature and fiction done (most of which is in "the red room" in the basement), I haven't been as ambitious. Most of what I've added in about the last three months are the new books - I HAVE been pretty good about adding them within a few days of acquiring them.

I've learned two big things about my personal library since joining LibraryThing. First, though I obviously have a LOT of books, I actually thought I had more of them. I don't have a strong positive or negative feeling about that discovery, just that it surprised me. What can I say, I'm not a big numbers person. Second, I own A GREAT AMOUNT of books that I haven't read yet. That finding IS a little embarrassing. I knew I had a lot of unread books, but of the 710 items in there, today, 311 have the tag "tbr," indicating they're still "to be read." I could NOT buy books for five years and still have things to read!

While I spent last year's July 4th holiday between the glow of my computer screen and the hush of my crowded bookshelves, I hope tomorrow to do some cleaning and organizing at home while listening to my audio of The age of innocence - I'm leading the book group discussion this coming Tuesday - and to catch up on some e-mails, primarily responding to those kind friends and family who have actually read some of these blog posts and followed up with a note to me! You know who you are! Thank you SO MUCH, I'll write you back very soon!!!

And now, the end of my lunch break, must get back to work. Oh - the FIRST thing I'll do tomorrow: sleep in, at least until seven. :-)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Tell her that I love her." Huh?

While I was in Seattle almost two weeks ago, Jerilyn left a message on the machine at home, reporting an excellent visit she had with my mother at the nursing home. I called Jerilyn back last Monday - so, six days ago - and she reiterated how different my mom had seemed from the woman she usually saw. They had a really good conversation, and my mom said some really perceptive, amusing things. She was wearing a cute shirt, and was more alert overall than usual. She's been eating better, taking her meds. Jerilyn said that she only cried when she talked about my brother not coming to visit her - as Jerilyn called it, "appropriately sad," rather than continuous weeping for any reason or maybe none at all. They discussed possible reasons why he still had not come, agreeing at least part of it was simply avoidance / denial - much the way he drinks so as not to have to deal with or think about things that bother him.

In the days since I talked with Jerilyn, I've called the nursing home a couple times, and also talked to my grandmother last Wednesday evening - the same day she'd visited my mom, lucky coincidence. The nurses have confirmed that the improvements in eating and mood have continued these past few weeks, and my grandmother also reported having a good visit with her, the only drop in her mood, again, when they talked about my brother not visiting. She's by no means active - she still sleeps a lot, and doesn't go to the day room for meals - but for no reason we can clearly identify, she continues to be markedly better in recent weeks than she had been for MONTHS before.

It only occurred to me recently that, as she's doing better and is no longer on MRSA precautions (FINALLY), I could try to talk with her on the phone. She has no phone in her room, so this requires a nurse or aide to bring her out in her wheelchair to the nurses' station to talk with me. I called this afternoon to try to speak with her, and the nurse said, "She's in bed, but I'll ask her if she'd like to come and talk to you." I waited a minute, listening to the same on-hold music that Wedgemere has been playing for years, and then the nurse came back. "She said she doesn't want to come to the phone, but she said to tell you that she loves you."

I thought, "Huh?" And then I said, "Wow, she said that?" "Yes." "Wow, she doesn't say that too often." I stopped before saying, I don't remember her ever saying that to me unless I'd just said it to her first. After verifying with the nurse that the improvements have continued, I said, "Please just give her my love, too," and thanked her.

So that is the latest news about my mom. Part of me is really glad, relieved, that the positive turn of a few weeks ago has continued. Part of me is wondering, "Who is this person and what has she done with my mother?" But I push the question aside, and remain thankful that she's been so much better these past few weeks. However long it lasts, relative contentment is a blessing for her, and knowing she's not suffering as greatly as she did in the winter and spring, makes me feel blessed, too. As she herself would say, "We take what we can get."

Monday, June 23, 2008

The 36 hour day

Last Wednesday, June 18, I woke up at 7am Pacific Time, in Seattle. My SLA activities started a bit late; I'd decided not to attend a morning session, and instead, I had a leisurely breakfast in one of the hotel's restaurants, then took a bus to the Seattle Public Library. After looking around and taking a few pictures - though I forgot to get any of the outside, as I was trying hard not to miss the bus - I got back to the Convention Center in time to have a sandwich and attend a 1215pm session.

After exchanging a couple of voice messages with my taxi-share person, a woman named Alexa who was (like me) taking a late flight out of Seattle/Tacoma, I met her outside the big rooms where they were having the closing general session. I also ran into a new acquaintance named Jennifer, so the three of us sat together. Alexa and I stayed about an hour and fifteen minutes, then decided to leave.

We ended up heading for the water, and taking a one hour harbor tour, which turned out to be really neat. (Yes, although it WAS a bit chilly, I'm glad Alexa talked me into going.) We then had dinner at Ivar's, and I ordered halibut, which was very good. I'm glad Aunt Anne made that when I was visiting in April, so I've added it to my "list of safe things to order in real restaurants." After dinner, we hoofed it back to the hotel to meet the car and head to the airport. (I NEED to add that I had left my suitcase at the hotel that morning after checking out, but carried my laptop case, stuffed with papers and things I'd collected, around all day. At times it felt a little like weightlifting, even more so when I was walking uphill or climbing stairs.)

All in all, in spite of my heavy laptop, Wednesday was good. At the airport, Alexa and I sat together for about another hour and a half, had some coffee, and I worked on my laptop a little bit while she did some writing. My flight was scheduled to leave at 1140pm, but was already delayed to 1210am when I got to the airport, so I knew I would need some caffeine to keep me going. Alexa and I headed to our separate gates by about 1030pm, as she was leaving around 11. She told me to "say hi to Jeff - I feel like I know him!"

And then, the waiting. I don't remember now how long that delay ended up being, if it was 1220am or even later. I do know that when I tried to transfer in Dallas, I went to the wrong gate, and though it was only JUST THEN time for my flight to leave (about 625am Central Time - two hours later than Seattle time), the woman at the gate I'd gone to quickly checked and said, "That flight is gone." She said they'd already scheduled me for the next one, due to leave at 835am. The other thing I know is that I hadn't slept on that first flight, so had been awake over 20 hours. (I slept on my first flight to Arizona in January 1996, some of the time between Boston and Chicago. That's the only time I remember definitely sleeping on a plane.)

The flight out of Seattle was late coming back from Dallas because it had encountered bad weather. That's the same reason my 835am flight didn't get out of Dallas till somewhere around 1030am. (But that flight I missed - why of course that one got out exactly on time! Dammit to hell.) I made calls to Jeff, and sent him text messages to update him when our calls got cut off - and when I actually had news to share; because of the storms, they couldn't give us good guesses about when we'd get the hell out of there. Jeff had planned to be late to work, but in the end he took the whole day off. He had the boys with him, and they tried to pass time as best they could - hanging out at the Legends mall, though none of the stores were open; the boys had a good time just running wild all around the place.

I was so happy to land, and to find that Jeff had brought a blanket and pillow so I could stretch out and get some sleep on the way back from the airport. We left KCI around noon, got home at 120pm, and I got to bed as soon as I could. I was up from about 645pm to 830pm, had some cereal, talked to Jeff and the boys, sent a book group e-mail, then went back to bed. It's still bizarre to think about any of it happening on Thursday. To me, it just seemed like a really way too long Wednesday. A WAY too long, wacky Wednesday, the first half really good, and the rest possessed by demons.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Up too late, and tired

Today was such a good day up until the past hour or so, I feel bad posting at all when I feel so sour. I think maybe I'm just not good at networking. I did have a good talk near the end with Sandy from Louisiana, but aside from that, I wish I'd left the open house by 915pm, come back here to my hotel room, and stretched out on the comfy chair with my feet up on the ottoman and an open book in my hands. The session I'd planned to go to from 8 to 9am doesn't sound too compelling, so I might just sleep in, and go to the afternoon sessions instead - or just show up late to the 8am. Except for the 7am meeting when I'd made a wrong turn leaving the hotel, I think I've gotten to everything else within five minutes of the start. Lots of people come and go, it wouldn't be a big deal. I'm worn out, and tired, and my feet hurt, and I can't wait to go to bed.

On a brighter note: Elliott Bay Books was wonderful. I bought three books, two used and one bargain. I'll see the public library tomorrow, and will go home happy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quick note on Monday in Seattle

Another good day today. Interesting and informative sessions - though I only stayed in my afternoon session for an hour instead of 90 minutes, just tired at that point, and the third speaker's topic wasn't as relevant to me as the other two. Got to see Meghan, an old friend from Smith, and we had lunch together. (It was a box lunch included in our registration fee, during a time period when there were no sessions - a conflict-free networking lunch - yay!) She introduced me to some fellow Chemistry librarians, all really funny and friendly. I went out to dinner with Arlene, my University of Minnesota transportation colleague, and friend. We ate at The Library Bistro and Bookstore Bar - EXCELLENT hamburger, hit the spot - and then we browsed at Arundel Books, right next door. After browsing, we bought - two each. I got Romola by George Eliot, in two smaller hardcover volumes in a slipcase, in such good shape, at a great price - so cool!!! - and a paperback of Waiting by Ha Jin, which won the National Book Award. I read a glowing review of his newest book, and hadn't really heard of him before that, but it sounded like the kind of stuff I tend to like, so that put him on my radar. So, in spite of the fact that I turned right instead of left when I came out of my hotel this morning at 7 am, making me even later than I already was, today turned out well. I'm looking forward to more Transportation Division stuff tomorrow. :-)

First day of SLA Conference - a good start

It's the very end of day one of my first Special Libraries Association conference, in my first trip to Seattle, Washington. Much of today was the GTRIC meeting (Government Transportation Research Information Committee), the main event for members of SLA's Transportation Division. It was a great program, very informative, and so cool to put faces with names and meet people I'd exchanged e-mails with but had never actually seen before. One of my newer colleagues is also one of my LibraryThing friends! (And speaking of LT, that got a mention from an OCLC visitor who did a short talk. Cool cool cool.) Also spent some time looking at vendor booths, went to the opening session, and then did some chatting with friends and meeting new colleagues at a gathering of the Solo Division. Am wiped out, and supposed to go to a 7 am meeting (if I'm conscious), so gotta close and get to sleep. But had to say, I had a good day, and am looking forward to getting better acquainted with some fellow transportation people, and attending some interesting sessions this week. (And seeing Meghan, visiting the public library, and getting to a good book store. Yes, I will do a couple fun things just for me!)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Update on Ma, June 11th

I talked to Linda, my mom's hospice nurse, about an hour ago. No major changes, but still a bit to report.
  • She's eating better than when I visited, but not as well as a couple weeks back - "about 30%" of the food she's given.
  • She has gained one pound, so her weight is an even 100.
  • A sore area that's been on her right big toe since I was there weeks ago, became infected late last week. She's on an antibiotic for that, and so far, no troublesome side effects from that medicine.
  • She's taking her meds fairly well, but has still been weepy and upset.
  • One reason she's been weepy and upset: my brother was supposed to visit her last Friday, and never did. Jerilyn, the hospice social worker, had called him to say she hoped to meet him that day, and Linda said Jerilyn was there from noon to 5pm on Friday so she could meet him and discuss Ma's condition. Needless to say, Ma was very disappointed.
  • Ma continues to sleep a lot of the time. I don't blame her one bit.

I need to call my grandmother soon - today or this evening - to chat about my mom, and find out how she's been doing as well. And, I can find out if she's talked with my brother at all in the last two weeks or so. Argh. Argh argh.

Better now

Yesterday was much better than Monday, and I think I'm "stable" now and "back to normal" - normal for me, anyway. ;-)

I haven't gotten any detailed updates on my mother in some time, but hope to touch base with someone today - actually have SEVERAL calls on my list of things to do. I'll pass along the latest about my mom as soon as I can.

I found out Monday that my cousin Valerie had her baby girl on Friday, June 6th. They named her Marissa. Val's sister Heidi said that all were doing well, so very good news on that front.

Time to start another day of work, and preparation for my trip. Eek!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Poem written at 3 am

Yesterday afternoon was very bad. I started crying at lunchtime, and cried off and on for several hours. I finally called Jeff to ask him to leave work early, to pick me up and take me home. I left at 330 pm. I'd cried myself to a headache, and my eyes were so sore. After some rest, and a listen to one of the depression treatment CDs that Lynn gave me a while back, I was better. Not super, but better.

I woke around 230 am, and a poem seemed to start writing itself in my head. I got up a bit before 3, found a notebook with some blank sheets in it, and started writing. By 330, I was done. I may do some editing later, but for now, it seems not bad, and says what I meant to say.


In my dream I
move the knife
along my left arm,

creating pain
that can be seen,
where before

the pain had lain
inside my head,

Like an artist
carving, I push
and glide the knife,

releasing blood
to add some color
to the sculpture,

paint streaming red
throughout, then pooling
in the crevices.

When I wake,
my blood runs black
on paper,

my tools not
knife and blood,
but pen and ink.

Out of tears,
finally quiet,
I put this weary day

to bed, pull the covers
over that sad girl
who cannot stand

herself. I write this poem.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I really *do* have a sense of humor

Lest any casual readers get the impression that I take myself, and life in general, too seriously (and I confess that sometimes this is true), I have to share something that had me laughing quite a bit.

A couple weeks ago, we got some junk mail from Geico. (We don't have Geico insurance.) On the outside of the envelope was the note, "Important information about your RV." (Nope, we definitely don't have an RV.) The letter inside begins with this:

You live an active lifestyle. You're young at heart. And odds are, most of the great things you've experienced happened while traveling with your RV.

The greeting on this letter? "Dear William Burke." Yes, the mail was addressed to my dad, who has been dead for three years, and never had an RV, or a car, or even a driver's license, in all his life. (And he never lived at our address, you'd think we wouldn't STILL be getting his mail, but we do!) Quick, read it again, with feeling, and a smile of contentment:

You live an active lifestyle. You're young at heart.

Yes, I'm sure my dad is living an active lifestyle. God, I can't even type it without laughing! But the best part is, my dad himself would get a hearty laugh out of this. I said soon after he died, when trying to write his obituary, there was nothing he liked better than a good laugh, except maybe a good meal. Have a chuckle and a second helping today, in honor of my dad. :-)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Change for the better in my mother

Unexpected good news: I talked today with Linda, the hospice nurse, and found that my mother is now eating much better than she has in months. I had called the nursing home yesterday and talked to the nurse assigned to her for that shift, and she had said my mom ate fairly well at lunch, some mashed potatoes and squash. And, I talked to my grandmother for a while this evening, and when she visited on Wednesday, my mom was asleep much of the time, but she had also been told that my mom's appetite had improved. I'm not sure when this change occurred, if it's just the past several days, or since last week, but it's the most positive news we've had in a long while.

I did ask Linda what this means for her hospice care. For the time being, she'll continue with hospice, adding that "extra layer" of care beyond the regular services of the nursing facility. It's true that her physical condition, which had already put her heart at risk before her eating slowed so much, is still far from good. If she's able to eat "normal" kinds and amounts of food - perhaps half or two-thirds of most meals, and not go overboard with candy and those things - she'll gain back some weight, and won't starve to death, which I was so afraid of when I learned she'd lost 15 pounds in two weeks. But although she shouldn't be as weak then as she's been the last few months, she'll have the same kinds of physical problems that she had six months ago and more. A person can't smoke cigarettes for 40 years, eat poorly, and not exercise, and expect their body to serve them well indefinitely. Her body has rebelled for years already, and feeding it is very good, no question, but I don't think this will bring about miraculous changes.

I am working this out in my mind as I'm writing. What I mean is, given that her hospice diagnosis was end stage cardiac disease, her eating again doesn't change the precarious situation her heart is in. I think it's more likely, though, that she'll be here longer than we had come to expect in recent weeks. I do see this as very good news, a positive sign where I had stopped hoping for one. I'm so glad for it, glad to be wrong.

OH - almost forgot. A while after I talked to her assigned nurse yesterday, someone else at the nursing home called me to say they planned to move my mom out of her private room. She confirmed that the MRSA infection my mom has had for MANY WEEKS had finally cleared up (meaning, three successive cultures came back with negative results), within the past week or so, but they didn't want to move her from the private room until someone else needed it. That being the case now, they planned to move her to another room today. I hope she gets a roommate she's able to talk with, so that she might be a little less lonely.

Busy, busy, busy, and Bee

TGIF. The past week to ten days has been sooooo busy. A summary is in order.

Wed., May 21 - Kyle and Ryan's last day of school

Thur., May 22 - Jut and Lisa and the twins arrived very late evening

Fri., May 23 - Jeff and I took day off work. Visit with Jut & family at Papa and Grandma's house, then to Lawrence (Jut & family plus our family, eight total in two vehicles even though gas is OUTRAGEOUS) in afternoon to visit KU and do a little shopping. (I bought three books at The Dusty Bookshelf, including Emily Dickinson's complete poems, pleased with my purchase there.) We did not have dinner in Lawrence, but came back to Grandma's for dinner. (Actually, Grandma cooked a significant amount over these few days, and once set out sandwich ingredients for us. Many meals at Grandma and Papa's house.)

Sat., May 24 - I walked to Hasting's in the morning, then Jeff, Jut, and Lisa met me there and we all did some kid-free browsing. :-) In the afternoon, I cleaned the kitchen and listened to my audio of Moll Flanders. I think this was the evening we watched Bee Movie. Here's my plug: if you think Jerry Seinfeld is funny at least half the time, you need to watch Bee Movie. It doesn't matter whether you have kids or not, just rent it for yourself. Borrow a kid to watch it with if that makes you feel better, but I'm telling you, you don't need that excuse: if you like Jerry, you'll like Bee Movie.

Sun., May 25 - Large brunch at Papa and Grandma's house, then cake and presents for the twins' upcoming birthday (I think it's actually today), lots of eating and taking pictures and some videotaping. Later in the day, the twins napped while Jeff and our boys went with Jut and Lisa to see the new Indiana Jones movie. I was happy to stay home alone and clean the bathrooms while - yes, you know it - listening to more of Moll Flanders. I'm really liking it, SHOULD finish it this weekend. We got pizza for dinner. :-)

Mon., May 26 - Jut & family and our family went to Chuck E. Cheese's so all the kids could play games and wander about at an age-appropriate level. Kyle likes to see how many points he can get in the basketball shooting game. At one point, he and Jut were shooting side by side, and they each finished with 61 points. I love watching Kyle do basketball, it makes me so proud of him and proud to be his mom. Later, minus the twins, we went to Barnes & Noble for a while, and then everyone else went to Kohl's while I kept looking in B&N next door. After they dragged me away (got two new books!), we went to the Sports Center, where Kyle drove a go-cart and Ryan & I played mini-golf. In the evening, big family gathering at Bretta's house (Bretta being one of Jeff's cousins) - with plenty of food, as usual, but not much food that our sons would eat, also as usual.

Tue., May 27 - Jut and Lisa and the twins left very early for Kansas City, to fly back to California. Papa and Grandma drove them. Kyle and Ryan started their four-morning basketball camp at 8 am, and I went with them, then waited till Papa could come take my place after getting back from the airport. I got to work at 930 am - not too bad. In the evening, Ryan had a T-ball game.

Wed., May 28 - In addition to basketball camp, this day was also the kick-off of the children's summer reading program at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library. I left work before 2 pm to get the boys from Papa and Grandma's, then we went to the library for longer than I had planned. I brought them back to work with me for the last hour and a half of the day.

Thursday and Friday - Basketball camp, and Jeff takes Friday morning off. But after the excitement of Jut and Lisa and the twins visiting, things are starting to settle back down into a more "normal" busyness - or at least what's normal for the summer months. Still got a few more T-ball games to go!