Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of 2009

It's the last day of 2009...a decade since the Millenium. I've read some great posts already today--fellow bloggers looking back over their years, the highlights, the regrets, the hopes and resolutions for next year. I'd like to do the same, but somehow it seems like such a task! How did they do it? Look back over a whole year and pick out the best, the worst, the most memorable? It would take me a very long time--and I'm not great at looking back, anyway.

Two thousand nine was a busy year, I realize now as I look back on it. It was a year of travel and health issues for me, growth and change for my son. We went on our second trip to Italy--the Amalfi Coast and Rome; we took my son out west to the Grand Canyon and surrounds. We celebrated our anniversary one month, then visited family the next month in Virginia. Over the summer, I drafted my son into working at my office, and it had a very positive effect on him in several ways. We started driving lessons around the cul-de-sac. He's continued to progress with his music and schoolwork. For the most part, the teen seems to have found balance between his father and me, without the love/hate thing that used to go on.

In mid-July, I started this blog--my first--and with this post, will have 61 posts in 2009. There were some times I wished I had written more, but I'm content with how it's gone. I love my new blogging friends, too!

Health has been an issue this year (my mother used to say you fall apart after 40--maybe it's a family trait.) I started the year with what used to be my constant wintertime sinus problems...then went to an ENT, an allergist, and soon started allergy shots, which have been a godsend. Then came the newly diagnosed hypertension, sprained ankle, and abdominal surgery...which took forever to get over. Finally, the bronchitis/asthma double whammy for the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years season.

As for the world, I've had to cheat a bit and look at summaries in the net news. (There are summaries of the year for almost every category out there--news, politics, deaths, celebrity news...you name it!)

We started the year with the Blagojevich scandal--(trying to sell Obama's Senate seat, if you can believe that!) and the inaugeration of the first black president of the U.S. Soon, '09 brought us Octo-mom, with her six other kids; the bank bailouts; and brought Slumdog Millionaire 8 Oscars. This walk down memory lane is getting fun! Soon came the collapse of AIG amid huge bonuses to executives; the exposure of Bernard Madoff's ponzi scheme which lost $65 billion for investors (many of them charities) and Chrysler declared bankruptcy in April and then GM first declares bankruptcy, then ditches Saturn, Hummer, and later Saab.

We still haven't forgotten "Swine Flu" (H1N1) which first hit the news in April; Justice David Souter retired from the Supreme Court and Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in. There were the Somali pirates, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford "hiking the Appalacian"...really with his Argentinian lover; Sarah Palin resigning as Alaska's governor. This past year brought the deaths of Walter Cronkite, Edward Kennedy, Farrah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, Michael Jackson, David Carradine, Billy Mayes, and John Travolta's son Jett.

Also in 2009 "Jon and Kate Plus 8" fell apart but two very good TV shows began: "In Plain Sight" and "The Good Wife;" the "Beer Summit" at the White House after the Henry Louis Gates Jr. incident; pythons in the Everglades; "balloon boy" and his lying parents; Tiger Woods has a scandal; the healthcare debate; the Air France jet which was lost over the Atlantic near Brazil; the space shuttle mission to repair the Hubbell telescope (previously determined to be too expensive--so glad they did that!) while the two Mars rovers continued into their sixth year exploring the red planet (they were expected to last mere months); we were bouyed by the heroic work of Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger putting the Airbus A320 down in the Hudson; and the Phillies returned to the World Series but lose to the notorious Yankees.

It has been an eventful year all around! Happy 2010 to All!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Homemade

Something about the holidays says to me "homemade" and calls for "handmade" things. Except for the unbelievable time crush, this meshes perfectly with my personality. This year, I really wanted to find something nice to make, so I spent some time searching the internet for projects. While I didn't find anything that really excited me, I saw some pictures which I adapted into this years' project. (Spoiler alert to family members who have not received theirs yet: photos included below!)

As you'll see below, I made cardinal Christmas ornaments. This project was perfect for me for several reasons. First, I like to sew; second, the year before last I taught myself a number of embroidery stitches which I have yet to use; and I love to try new things (in this case, beading and use of sequins.)

The first photo is a look at the contents of my "bag" laid out for use. I sketched the main pattern on yellow paper (one with tail up, one lower) while the white paper is the wing pattern.

The rest of the ingredients are red felt, embroidery floss, a fabric marker for tracing, pillow stuffing, ribbon for hanging, and beads, sequins and metallic thread. If using beads, don't forget beading needles, which are much thinner than regular ones (I normally use #9 or 10 for sewing and the beads do not fit over them).

After tracing the pattern onto the felt, I sketched some seasonal designs, such as holly leaves, stars and snowflakes and then embroidered/sewed them on what would be the front of the ornaments. The upper bird has holly leaves with sequin "berries." The lower cardinal is a design of beaded stars of yellow/gold glass beads.
I found that decorating them first, before cutting the precise design worked better, as you have more fabric to work with and do not ruin the sharp edge of the bird as cut out. As you see above, the next step is to cut an identical piece of red felt for the back of the cardinal. Below, I went for a more "flashy" look by tracing a wing pattern onto the bird, outlining it in a chain stitch in blue, then sewing on blue, silver and gold sequins. Next are two more, one with a green edged wing with green, silver and pink sequins, and the other is snowflakes embroidered with silver floss and two strands of gold metallic thread (I changed this to one strand on subsequent snowflakes because that much thread is difficult to work with).
Finally, I wanted to do more actual embroidery, so below are blue flowers highlighted with the yellow/gold beads. After embroidering the front, I sewed the plain back on using a blanket stitch. This is a really simple stitch which gives a decorative, squared-off edge. Before beginning, I determined where the ribbon for hanging would be by sticking a needle at the edge of the felt, near the center of the back and let it balance (head to tail). If it tilts too far forward, move the hanger forward and vise versa. While sewing the back, just add a few extra stitches to hold the ribbon on for hanging. I stuffed each bird as I attached the back, making sure the head and tail were adequately stuffed. Here's a photo with several of my Christmas cardinals, all but one finished. I am happy with how they turned out; hope everyone likes them!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas

Christmas. It brings many things. It's not at all like what we're shown on TV and in movies, though...but very little in life is.

We had some fun here, with family and good food. On Christmas eve we (hubby and his aunt, celebrating her 92nd Christmas) spent the evening wrapping and then enjoying the "Seven Fishes" together. I made appetizers of mini crab cakes and calamari salad, followed by cioppino with shellfish and shrimp and fish. With everything we sipped a fantastic Dry Riesling, perfect with seafood.

We had a quiet, enjoyable evening, reminiscing and talking about whatever. We sat around the kitchen bar/island and I put the food out as it came. After dinner, we went together to Christmas eve services at my church, which is like going home. It's always nice to be there--with our wonderful pastoral staff and congregation, we are among friends. It was a great service. We had a peaceful, enjoyable evening.

We slept in a bit on Christmas; I set an alarm but "snoozed" it until after 9. We finally decorated the tree on Christmas morning (thank heavens Santa didn't mind) and picked my teen up at noon.

The afternoon was very nice; everyone enjoyed their gifts and it was great to see lots of smiles. My son gave me a cat-a-day calendar (perfect) and a book he chose based on his recollection of an animated conversation I had had with another adult he respected about the excellent author Nelson DeMille. Again he impressed me with his thoughtfulness and attention.

By late afternoon though, everything caught up to me and I felt like I was hit by a truck. (Will I never get over this illness??) I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my son on Christmas, so, covered by blankets on the couch I watched him play his new Wii game and listened to his guitar playing. It made me happy to see him happy with his new things and to spend time with my son, as he approaches adulthood.

Christmas isn't like on TV or in movies, but we're not actors and there are no "second takes" here. There was no excited screaming or running out to the new car in the driveway with the giant red bow (I've always hated those commercials). We shared in the day, the meaning of the day, and enjoyed being a family. I enjoyed being able to give my loved ones things that made them smile--and hopefully showed that I understood them and wanted them to be happy. That's what I like about Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow Day

Now it's really beginning to look like Christmas--and a white one, at that! Here on the East coast of the U.S. we've had quite the snowstorm, in the form of a nor'easter. I would estimate we get one of these every 8 or so years (I've been through 3 now, since 1992). Other years, we have 3-4 itsy bitsy snows which are gone in a day. This snowstorm with high winds began here at 11 p.m. on Friday and ended sometime around midnight on Saturday.

Here's a look at my deck on Sunday, with 20 inches of snow and the little path I shoveled through it...at 6 p.m. on Friday. The additional 2-3 inches is from the last couple of hours of the storm.

And here's the back deck...I probably should have put the chairs away for the winter, but the teenager likes to sit out there even when it gets quite chilly.

The wind blew hard from the east (the right, in this photo) and the snow clears off the roofs on the east and drifts behind, to the left.

Unfortunately, road clearing in this area is, shall we say, sub-par. I wish the snowy roads were actually cleared, as opposed to compacting the snow into several inches of ice, making them less passable, as far as I can tell. In this picture, you can see some patches of the road. This is a good section--in town, these patches are very few and far between.

But, to their credit, all of the school districts in the area have already closed for Monday, which is good because the roads will definitely be impassable in the morning when the busses would have to run. (It's well below freezing.)

So, tomorrow is up in the air (my ex has demanded I drive my son to his house in the morning [back roads which take 20 min. on a clear day], which I am not obligated to do, therefore I am not going to do), so until my ex comes to get the young man, I'll be home for a "snow day" with my son! Hope it lasts all day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tradition!

I was going to write about something else, but Little Ms Blogger's "Question of the Week" started me thinking... You can read her nice post and many replies here, but her question was simple: What is/was your favorite holiday tradition?

When I think of "traditions" in general, I usually think of things done in childhood--at least that's how my ex meant it, when he used to wax nostalgic about the supposedly idyllic holidays of his youth. And some of that was nice; during our first few Christmases together I enjoyed how the grandparents would come over in the late morning and neighbors would drop by for visits. These and a few other traditions were nice to share with the ex's family.

Looking back at my childhood Christmases, there wasn't any emphasis on tradition. We hung stockings and had cookies and eggnog on Christmas eve and opened presents in the morning, true. But things so often "went wrong" in one way or another, that if we weren't having a problem, we were waiting for one.

The Christmas traditions I remember with pleasure are, first and foremost, waking up way before anyone else and creeping silently downstairs. There, I would light the tree and build a fire in the fireplace. Sitting in the warm glow of the flames, I would try to soak in the scene and absorb the peace.

I also remember setting up the nativity scene. As the oldest daughter (and least likely to break it) I had the honor of setting up the figures of the nativity. I remember carefully unwrapping each one--Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the shepherd, sheep, donkey, ox, camel, the three wise men...and finally Jesus in the manger. When I was younger, I remember how I used to set the scene up with baby Jesus in the center and everyone crowded around Him in a circle. They all wanted to see Him! My mother would rearrange the pieces into the more traditional setting later, so we could view the scene. One year, I spent several evenings in the basement making a wooden stable out of some wood scraps and shims--that manger scene meant so much to me that I wanted them to actually have the stable for a home.

After leaving home, the nativity was one of the first things I needed for my own holidays. I don't recall if I found one for that first Christmas, but soon I did. It was just a simple ceramic set painted in jeweltones, like my mother's, but I was so happy to have it. And every year it's there, on a piece of green velvet. Truth be told, I didn't remember setting up the nativity in a tight circle like I mentioned above until one year, when I let my son have the honor of putting it out. When he finished, one look brought that lost childhood memory back instantly. It was like seeing myself. All of the figures were gathered tightly around baby Jesus, just to see Him, to be near Him. I left our nativity as my son arranged it that year.

Another tradition which I have kept since leaving home is to go to Christmas eve church services. I wouldn't miss it. The service is the culmination of the four week season of Advent--the time of preparation for Jesus' birth. My season just would not be complete without welcoming our Savior's birth by singing "Silent Night" in a darkened, candlelit church. The peace and sense of anticipation we leave the church with is incomparable.

For a few years now, I've adopted the old Italian tradition of making the Seven Fishes for Christmas eve dinner--but that's surely better suited to a great big family dinner instead of two or three people. I'll work on that. Other than those traditions, there are the cookies. I've always baked a variety of cookies for Christmas--I love cookies, and the people around me always seem to too. I didn't realize how essential baking was to my season until several years ago. I was so busy in the weeks before Christmas that I had not even made any cookie batter, much less baked any cookies. I felt something was missing. I awoke on Christmas alone and feeling out of sorts, but with a craving for cookies. While waiting for my son, I mixed up 3 types of cookies and baked a dozen or two of each type. By the time he arrived, I was feeling the season and the house smelled like Christmas. Some traditions can cure a multitude of ills!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Tis the Season

It's beginning to look a little like Christmas--or maybe just to "feel" like Christmas--around here. The weather has turned cold, and we've had our first little bit of snow. Where I am, it began to snow after dark last week, when the temperature finally dropped, after a full day of windy rain. My car had a visible coating when I turned the porch lights on before going to bed, but when the sun came up in the morning it was gone. It counts, though--we had snow. For here, that counts as snow. We probably won't have anything measurable until January sometime. Right now I'm watching The Weather Channel, where they are reporting from the great lakes area, being pounded by lake-effect snows of nearly 2 feet. Maybe that's what's making me think about Christmas.

Unfortunately for me, I've been just too sick to do any decorating or shopping for the holiday. Hate that! It's starting to get a bit late in the season! Other than making lists in my mind and crocheting and sewing (I'll have to show those in another post) I have done nothing to usher in the season. I must get my head back together, make lists, and at least start to burn up the internet to get the shopping done.

About a Christmas tree...we actually need to do two, since I live in two places...I have no idea when they will happen. More importantly, I'm missing Advent, and listening to our sermons on iTunes just doesn't really take the place of being in my church, feeling the sense of preparation and warmth of Advent. Oh dear. Just to feel better and be a part of the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, that's what I want for Christmas this year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus

by Peter J. Gomes

Subtitled "What's so good about the good news?" this book takes to task the religious establishment and urges a return to teaching the good news Jesus taught His followers.  

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Eat, Pray, Love

by Elizabeth Gilbert

I just finished Eat, Pray, Love last night and couldn't wait to write about it.  

Friday, December 4, 2009

Viva gli italiani!

I have another new hobby. It suddenly dawned on me that there could be blogs written by Italians, about anything Italian, in Italian! I was right--there are! It took me a few minutes to figure out that in order to find them I needed to do my searches in Italian, but then I hit the "mother load." Just like in the English-speaking blogosphere, there are many hundreds (maybe thousands) of blogs in Italian!

I first tapped into the world of cooking blogs. My, oh my, there are so many! I started browsing the other night and added a bunch of blogs to my list to follow. One in particular which I loved immediately is written by a mature woman who is apparently a fantastic cook! The first night, I found her family recipie for Cappalletti in Broth. She credits her grandmother and aunt for the recipe, so I'm thinking it must be quite an old, traditional recipe.

Finding this recipie was quite a thrill since I have for years been searching for a traditional recipe for Cappelletti in Broth because I remember it so fondly from my childhood. My grandmother (nee Moretti) and her two sisters would get together on a fairly regular basis and make what seemed like massive quantities of Cappelletti together. I wish I could have been there just once. Cappelletti is a filled pasta which resembles tortellini, and theirs was filled with a mixture of meats with maybe some cheese inside as well. The filling always had a hint of spiciness, along the lines of cloves or nutmeg--so unique with the meat filling. I suspect there never was a written recipe for this wonderful dish, it was just a family tradition probably learned from their mamma and nonna.

We ate the meaty filled pasta in chicken broth, and there were always sweet brown raisins in the broth. It was like nothing else I ever ate during my childhood, all warm and brothy and sweet, with grandma back and forth from the kitchen, fussing over us. Now that I found a traditional recipe, for some reason, I just starting having the desire to make my own pasta....strange, is it?

But I digress. The new Italian blogosphere promises much--more opportunities to practice reading Italian, some links to my heritage, and a window into today's Italy too!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Read your Labels

Yesterday I finally got around to getting some medicine for this stupid cough. My doctor (the pulmonologist) usually has me take Mucinex when I start to cough. Mucinex is extended release guaifenesin--600 mg to be exact, released over 12 hours. In my discount store-of-choice, however, the only plain Mucinex was $30. There were either 40 or 48 tabs, I forget which, but that didn't matter much. THIRTY DOLLARS. I just didn't get it.

I knew guaifenesin was an old drug. I clearly remember taking it as a child, in over-the-counter cough syrup. I had some recollection from nursing school that it was plant-derived--surely not a scarce commodity. After I started thinking about it, I did a little research. Not only is it old, guaifenesin can safely be called ancient; there are records of it being used in the 1500's (albeit for syphillis) and it was grandfathered into the FDA system as an old drug.

What's more, it's all over the OTC shelves in dozens of other products. Although it took a few minutes to read the labels (since so many were combination products and I didn't want any other medications), I settled on a bottle of plain Robitussin, with 100 mg guaifenesin per tsp, and a bottle of 60 of a different mucus relief tablet--400 mg guaifenesin per tablet, to be taken every 4 hours. Total cost for both: about $6. Same drug, in sufficient quantity, for $24 less than the Mucinex. (I wonder if that's why they advertise so heavily on television?)

I also learned that the maker of extended release Mucinex developed and holds the patent for the extended release formulation--hence the price difference between it and standard release. For me, though, the convenience of that every 12 hours dosing is just not worth all the extra money! I'll just have to keep up with my dosing until this cough is better. Besides, I'm not positive I need liquified mucus in the middle of the night anyway. Cheers!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Our Special Girl

Over Halloween weekend hubby and I visited his daughter and granddaughter, who used to live nearby until a year ago--now they're six hours away. We had a delightful time! Hubby's granddaughter, Alexis, turned 3 years old earlier in October, so this was also our chance to celebrate her birthday with her.

Alexis was born in Guatemala and her adoption was finalized when she was almost 8 months old. Since then, she has grown physically, like all kids, but she has also grown to fill our hearts! It's so wonderful when we see her, she's like a little jumping bean! She bounces up, up, UP, UP!--until we catch her in a big hug. She just goes wild when she sees us, which feels incredible, and is even more heartwarming for me, a "step-grandparent."

During this last trip, the entirety of the extended families went to see one nephew play in a college football game not too far away. If you're a follower of this blog, you probably already know I'm not a huge sports fan--although I happen to know the game, in part because my ex was a coach. So, being the most distant "relative" of our player (and not a big fan anyway), I spent nearly the entire game entertaining Alexis while they cheered him on. I taught her how to use my digital camera--with me holding onto it, of course. You would never guess how delighted she was when she realized she could take pictures, and then go back and look through them, stored in the camera. We took the football players (focusing on her cousin), then it was the cheerleaders making a tower, then the play clock and endposts. Then she focused on taking grandpop, mama, mommy, auntie, grandma, grampy...every member of her extended family! She called to each by name, we held the camera, and she snapped the shot. She was fascinated and enthralled as we reviewed her pictures! I think I'm going to make an album for her so she can see her pictures, and later will have something to remember.

Alexis is the reason I'm involved in Kiva (their banner is just above my quick profile, in the margin). Kiva is a micro-lending website clearinghouse. On Kiva, anyone can make a small loan to an individual entrepeneur from the developing world. Kiva aggregates the money (as little as $25 from any individual) to loan moderate amounts (my reading of the website has shown loans are generally $500-1200). Each lender has a repayment schedule, and as long as all goes well, each loan is repaid over about a year. (There are defaults; more in certain locations and market sectors than others.) The repayment is returned to one's Kiva account, when the lender can either withdraw the money or loan it again to another entrepeneur.

Kiva operates in third world countries throughout the world to help alleviate poverty. Guatemala is an impoverished country, and Kiva has an agent there who lends to individuals. Recently, Alexis' mother forwarded a specific loan request she found on Kiva to us--from a young woman trying to establish a local grocery store in the tiny town where Alexis was born. That's when I got involved. Maybe, helping one woman and her family out of poverty in one small town might just give a little boost to our Alexis' original family. I hope so.

In fact, I intend to keep loaning specifically to Guatemalans (on a quarterly basis, I think) as there are 1-2 new requests every few weeks from there. Hopefully, helping to provide small loans to small business persons (many of whom are women) in Guatemala can, in some way, help the people who cared for Alexis and gave us the opportunity to love this wonderful little girl. I hope so.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where Does Time Go?

I haven't managed to find the time to sit down and write a post recently--unfortunately--I miss it! Life has been quite busy, with so many activities and travels going on. I've also missed reading the excellent writing of my fellow bloggers on the blogs I follow--but I caught up on some of that early this morning.

Seems the more I get back into the swing of things at work, the busier I become! Did I forget that part about work?? And it's busy too; I've had 4 new cases in 2 weeks. I'm also in an Italian class--which only has a couple more weeks before it ends (I haven't even had the time I would have liked to study my Italian, which I love, and this class moves along very quickly!) What's more, both hubby and I have started yoga classes (him for the first time, me returning from a bit of time away). He really seems to like it, and I'm very happy he's so interested in it; it's really good for one's body.

Now, we have Thanksgiving upon us in less than a week. As it always seems to, it has snuck up on me (I looked it up, and "snuck" and "sneaked" are both correct--but both sound weird!) One reason may be that we have been in the midst of an Indian Summer here, with unusually warm weather lulling me into thinking it's maybe only September. On the other hand, I have been having recurring nightmares that it's about 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve and I have not purchased a single gift for anyone, much less wrapped anything. I guess my internal calendar still works on some level.

[24 hours elapse] See what I mean about busy? I paused to think about an ending for the above, and ended up getting too busy to wrap it up! Perhaps a lesson to make posts more succinct, more topical?

Perhaps--or maybe just to limit my hobbies a little and share the computer less with the teen, since in the past 24 hours I have read some of a book, talked to a friend who lost her job yesterday (poor woman), crocheted half a hat for a certain granddaughter (actually, I crocheted some, then took out half a hat, looked for a better pattern, then crocheted half of a different hat), Jazzercised, cleaned up, and helped a friend move....perhaps I just want to do too many things. Keeps life interesting, though.

Well, I think I will stop this aimless post's wandering and try again later.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Confession

I need to confess. I'm not writing a 50,000 word novel this month as previously announced with the other NaNoWriMo fanatics. I tried. I was away on November 1, but started the next day with a creak (not a bang). I wrote about 300 words--barely got started. The idea of creating characters out of whole cloth was almost overwhelming--not because I had no ideas, but because I had so many widely varied thoughts on whom I might create.

During the last week of October (NaNoWriMo started November 1), I did some reading on character development, plot, story development, etc. It all seemed very workable; you get your plot idea, shape your characters, develop the theme...but I just didn't know how I could possibly do it without extensive outlining to know where it was all going. (I know, NaNoWriMo's motto is "no plot, no problem"--I just can't go with that.) But, in the end, the fear of creating some characters, starting a hastily conceived plot, and then potentially having all of the wrong people in my story, none of them capable of doing or being the people I needed to fulfill the plot (after maybe 20,000 words, say) is what really stopped me. Without enough time to clearly outline a good plot idea, how could one develop the right characters to fulfill it?

I actually stopped novel-writing on November third (it took this long to return here to admit it). I just could not take the time on something which was not well-prepared, which for that reason would likely end up a waste of time. I think I'm just a planner, and need some assurances that a story I would start, with characters I would create, could make it through to the end with some degree of believablilty.

Upon reflection, I think I'm more suited to a fact-based book anyway; a dream of mine would be to write a travelogue, or perhaps a memoir of sorts, or a guidebook. It's what I read, so it's what I like and know.

Also, I just am not free to spend that much time on something that I view as I described above. My Italian studies (L'italia intermezzo, Tuesday evenings) were already suffering from my normal activities, and hubby and I have started taking Yoga (him for the first time, me, a returning student), my work is all backed up since my illness, and I'm just recently feeling well enough to try to work back to my old state of physical fitness, and I'm also making things for Christmas gifts these days. So, I have a lot of other priorities right now.

Funny, I gave my whole reasoning above when I could just have explained by saying I decided not to do it because I didn't want to do it. Anyone else ever feel like that? You have to fully justify a decision (or changing your mind) to that unseen "someone," as though you'll be judged inadequate unless your reasons are "good enough"? But that's another post, I'm sure.

So, don't be looking for a novel out of me anytime soon, but you bet I'll write one after I have fully thought-out the plot and characters!

Monday, November 2, 2009

World Series

It's World Series time. If the Philadelphia Phillies weren't in it, I'm not sure I'd have noticed. But my world is filled with Phillies Phanatics. I'm a Phillies fan, but I just don't go the extra several steps to the Phanatic level. I almost feel guilty at times for my lack of true emotional dependence on the Phillies' wins and losses.

I know the game well (I've followed various games closely since 1987), I know the Phillies' players, I've watched or heard many hundreds of Phillies games over the years...but it doesn't crush my world when they lose. I had the same sort of day today (after yesterday's loss) as I would have had if the Phillies had won. Am I missing that pro-sports mega-fan gene?

Perhaps it's upbringing...we never watched pro sports in my house growing up. The Indianapolis 500 was the only sporting event I remember ever watching on TV (in the years after it was only on the radio, when we listened to it.) I did get into basketball in high school, and watched a few Boston Celtics' games at home, but I was by myself...no one else was a sports fan.

I really doubt my lack of passion for the Phils is a female thing, because my three best friends from law school absolutely live and die by the Phillies' successes and failures. One friend even goes to Clearwater for a late winter vacation every year...to see the Phils at Spring Training.

I sure would like to see those Phils win the World Series again, and I think they have the tenacity to do so, but in my world, it's also just a game. I know that many many people would differ, but those are the differences which make the world interesting.

Go Phils!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keeping Up

All kinds of uproar here in my world...we are redecorating/refurbishing the office ("we" being the partners/directors of the firm) and I have to pack up everything to vacate my office as though to move out by Monday mid-day. (I learned my "time" was up today, Thursday...it's being done in phases, of which I'm apparently in the third phase.) This, while about four cases "come to a head" and have various pleadings, etc., due. To do this would be impossible without the help of good office staff, and I think, because of the support staff who work so hard, I'll be able to make that deadline.

On other fronts, I went children's book shopping this evening. I have a reputation for giving really great books that kids and parents alike love.... The truth is, I prepare (or "cheat") depending on how you look at it. This afternoon, I researched all kinds of children's books to get some recommendations; who's won what awards, which books are "reader's choice," etc. I ended up with a list of at least 20 books I considered highly recommended and potentially good choices.

When I went to the bookstore, though, out of the approximately twenty books on my list, there were only 2 in the store. How can "brick and mortar" bookstores complain about losing sales to internet outlets when then don't even have award winning children's books in stock? I know it's a "catch-22," but it sure would be nice to have a broader selection available when you go to a bookstore.

Before making a choice for a child I'm giving a book to, I absolutely always read the book, and I must love it. These aren't meant to just be books, they are precious moments shared between parent and child.

Of the two on my list which they had available, I liked one of them. So, I did my usual digging, read about 23 children's books, and found one additional book which was very nice and another which made me laugh all the way through it. (I'm not positive a three-year-old will get all of the humor, but truth is, parents have to enjoy the books too!) With a beautiful photographic animal book on the sale display, my mission was complete.

I very much enjoy finding books for my young relatives--all the while imagining the joy with which both parent and child will read the book (if I'm successful, they will read it many, many times.) I can't help but warmly recall, while searching for good books, the uncountable number of times I sat with my own small boy, reading his favorites over and over again. I'll always fondly remember how perfectly he fit into my own crossed legged lap on the floor, or in the crook of my arm reclining on his bed as we read book after book together.

I hope beyond words that my loved ones also enjoy these times--and then the memories--of cuddling with their children while reading good books.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Intimidating or Inspirational?

It starts on Sunday. The National Novel Writing Month. I signed up, hoping it would push me into really "doing it," but now I'm nervous. I have read some articles on character development and creation; a couple on the process of writing and also several success stories from NaNoWrMo "winners."

Do I have a creative idea for a novel? I've often thought about writing books, but they usually tend to be more non-fiction. Maybe this is the wrong place to be. But maybe, just maybe, I can do it. I have been trying to think of plots, characters, and conceive of how a full length novel could play out. There are ideas...I think that's the point of the whole project. Those of us with some ideas and some desire to write a book are put to the deadline test. It's like when you know the legal arguments you need to make in your appeal brief and you know the pertinent facts, you sometimes need the looming deadline to start scratching paper with pen (figuratively speaking) to get going on it.

Then, completely out of the blue, a blogger I follow (the same one who proposed and hosted the "Solace of Leaving Early" book club) wrote a potential opening chapter for a mystery novel on her blog...and it was really good. She has imagination and writing talent. Intimidating or inspirational? Let's try for the latter. (Her blog is the creamery, here).

So, preparation continues, along with all of the rest of life. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Italian Neighbors

by Tim Parks

Another book motivated by my love of Italy--and good thing, too, or I would never have made it through.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Big Weekend

The latest excitement around our house is my teen's first Homecoming Dance. When I was a teen, Homecoming was not such a big "thing." In school, we elected the Homecoming Court and Queen, and at halftime of the football game, they rode around the track on Corvettes (courtesy of the "A" County Corvette Club), had a crowning ceremony on the 50 yard line, then took a victory lap. I'm not even sure there was a Homecoming dance throughout high school...I do remember one being held in the gym after the football game my senior year. It wasn't the greatest of moments for those of us in the band--how do you fix long hair (fluffy, 80's long hair) after having it up under a band hat all night??

Here, Homecoming is quite an event. Tonight was the football game; I dropped my son and one of his friends off earlier, after the town-wide parade and before the start of the game. I don't think another car could have parked within half a mile of the high school!

Tomorrow night is The Dance. It's such a big event my son asked me about going several weeks ago, bought tickets 2 weeks ago, and has actually thought ahead about what he will wear. The girls all have pretty dresses for the event (my son's date is wearing chocolate brown), and corsages and dinner are part of the plan. I was slated to drive them until I found out that she wanted her parents to drive. (Oh well...I've offered to take them home, so we'll see).

My son even "needed" a new dress shirt and wanted a new tie...I was able to shop in the city and found what he wanted...he wears the smallest mens size, which isn't always readily available. His suit is a charcoal grey and she's wearing brown, so I got him a white shirt and a funky Jerry Garcia tie with an abstract pattern of browns and greys with yellow highlights. (I also got a very geometric brown and blue tie, in case he didn't like Jerry, but luckily he has better taste than his father).

We ordered the corsage/boutonniere by phone yesterday. They had several possibilities, so I turned to my son to find out if he wanted to get her the rose or the carnations. His look of bewilderment didn't really surprise me, so I translated quickly: "Is she a friend or do you really like her?" Without hesitation he answered the latter, so I ordered the rose corsage with brown ribbons.

This afternoon, I made sure that he was aware that when his date and her parents come to pick him up, everyone's coming inside (since it will be raining, there will be no pretty pictures outdoors with the fall leaves), we're taking pictures, getting to meet her and her parents, etc. He said he knew....

It's so exciting! He's actually going on his first real date, and he told me really likes this girl. How can my baby be that old already! It's been like the blink of an eye.

Everyone can tell you but you can never realize, when you hold your baby in your arms, even as you enjoy all the moments of their growing up, that they really will be grown in the blink of an eye.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Anniversary Musings

Earlier this week was my first wedding anniversary. So, as any good nostalgic would, I spent last weekend reflecting on the wonderful memories I have of last year’s events.

When we decided to get married, place was always important. I like to tell the story of what can only be termed “the negotiations” back and forth between us. Church was important, but we each had our own, an hour drive apart, with issues attached to each, so both of our own churches were fairly quickly ruled out. Every few days another idea would bubble up and we’d send a quick email, or bring it up over dinner….a chapel in the National Cathedral (not just any Episcopalian can get married there) …Williamsburg….the Lee Chapel….the first Methodist church in the U.S…the only Methodist church in Rome (yes, Italy)....and many many more. I was beginning to despair that we would find the place which would be meaningful to us both. At one point I made a brainstorming list of every idea we could come up with, just to see if I could think of any more possibilities, and the list of rejected places wasn’t short.

One afternoon in August, I remembered a quaint little town near his ancestral home where we had spent an enchanted weekend almost 4 years before. It was beautiful, we both loved it, and it felt like home to us both. A quick email exchange led to an excited phone call--and we had found our place!

Two months later he proposed to me.

I have developed some pretty strong opinions about weddings over the years; what’s important and what’s not, and of course what’s a waste of money (so much of it!) So...there was never going to be a $500 cake, thousands of dollars' worth of flowers, or any grown women parading down an aisle in matching peach/pink dresses. There would be no tuxeudoed ushers, no wedding singer, no garter belt, no making 150 favors the weekend before. And, as a woman of a certain age with a lot of common sense, there was absolutely no way I was going to do the whole white gown thing again—and luckily my hubby-to-be was ok with all of this.

What was important? Family. Church. Being with the people who meant the most to us. Having FUN!! Not being stressed out, going overboard, or being self-centered. Not going crazy or worrying about making it "our day" or "perfect." And forgive my immodesty, but I'm quite proud that that's exactly what we did.

Since I've been behind in actually posting here, and I must get to bed now, I'm going to post this tonight with an awful "TO BE CONTINUED" ...and hope you return for the next installment.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Is this a good idea?

I don't know if I'm nuts, but I'm going to join the craziness that is the National Novel Writing Month! (Thank you, Monda, at No Telling, for introducing me to this insanity!)

This is a project of the non-profit Office of Letters and Light, where unsuspecting wanna-be writers sign up to join in the madness of writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. You almost have to read about it to believe it--and please do: at the NaNoWriMo website.

I'm not sure if it's an online competition or a source of encouragement, but all involved are expected to put out about 1667 words per day in the pursuit of the goal. But more importantly, to not "self-edit," to toss away all expectations of "quality" writing in pursuit of pure output. For many, (probably like me), this could be the chance of a lifetime (or at least this year)--it could be the "push" we need to simply get past the myraid of distractions, excuses, and insecurities we need to overcome to actually get something written.

I think the plan is to schedule an hour or so each day of November to sit down and pump out the words. Since I signed up, I've been trying to think of a plot...or even an idea to start me out. Steven King's book "On Writing" described his process as basically coming up with an idea and sitting down and writing about it. Maybe that will work for me!!

Anyone else have the desire to just give this a try? (How about it, Mom?) The concept of having a 50,000 word novel scrached out by December first is quite enticing, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Herbal Harvest

Yesterday was the day appointed to harvest the basil. My husband decided that his poor patch of heirloom tomatoes which we raised from seed had suffered enough, and needed to come out. (The unfortunate things caught some kind of withering disease in mid-August and slowly died with very little production.) Following that well-known wisdom of the ages, we had planted the basil among the tomatoes for better tomato flavor.

Luckily, the basil was resistant to whatever it was; it did well and didn't succomb to the withering disease. This is only one of the 7-8 plants which grew to almost four feet; a bit taller than usual because hubby fertilized his tomatoes.

After hubby's pronouncement that the tomato beds had to come out, (and anyway, fall is here, and basil will not tolerate frost), I picked it stalk by stalk, piled the stalks gently in my gathering basket, and brought in about 3 big baskets-full.

I've decided that washing all of the leaves while on the stems is best, so with a freshly sparkling sink (scoured with a bleach-based cleanser to kill germs and of course rinsed thoroughly) I loaded the stalks into the sink a half-basket at a time and rinsed them thoroughly, one by one, under the faucet spray because of the higher pressure. Then, to dry, I think it works well to put them in vertical containers. (I've tried upside-down, flat, and several other methods.) Here's a picture of the 4 vessels of air-drying stems.

And this is a closer view, just because I love basil:
Then, over the rest of the evening, we picked each green leaf off each stem, putting them onto a bed of towels to absorb any remaining water. (If you're using it right away, elmination of all moisture is nowhere near as important.) Here's one of several times we filled up the towels. (That's our cat Storm, sitting on the barstool in the background, and yes, bottles of red wine within reach are an absolute requirement for this type of tedious work.)
Our favorite way to preserve basil (and in my opinion, the best way to retain that "fresh basil" flavor) is to freeze it. I have done this for many years. After the above, we put the clean dry leaves into a food processor with several tablespoons of good olive oil (I don't measure, just pour a stream on top first, and again when it looks dry) and process. I do not take it down to a homogenous paste but instead leave it at a point where it looks like minced leaves. At this point it's coated by olive oil, which seems to lock in the natural basil oil and thus preserves the flavor of fresh basil.

The final step is to spoon the basil/oil mixture into ice cube trays. I then wrap each tray tightly in plastic wrap and freeze immediately. The next day, the cubes can be popped out and put into a ziplock bag for ease of use. I so love being able to pull out a cube or two of home raised fresh-frozen basil in mid-winter and add it to my spaghetti sauce--or anything else I cook. It's delicious and gives the full summertime flavor of fresh basil.

My first day of harvest (the "yesterday" referenced above) began around 3:30 pm and wound up around 8, resulting in 4 ice cube trays full. The next day, for some reason (??) I had a craving for spaghetti with fresh pesto and brought in another basket of stems; I processed the basil and re-filled one of the ice cube trays, seasoned a pot of tomato sauce, then made a nice big batch of pesto with the rest. Here are some basil cubes in a bag after removal from the ice cube tray.

We used another few stems to make dinner tonight, but there's still a bit more to harvest out there. I'm so happy to have nearly all of my basil preserved for the upcoming year!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Solace of Leaving Early

by Haven Kimmel

Suggested by a fellow blogger who ingeniously proposed an on-line book club, this novel is the first by Kimmel I've ever read

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Archives of "Learn Something New Every Day"

10/23/09 Journalism ideally would be free of bias, but this is not the case. For those inclined to want to know the truth instead of just to believe the claims of whomever they follow, there are great websites such as www.fair.org and www.factcheck.org (the latter focuses on checking politicians' claims). Many universities also study bias in news coverage, such as U. Michigan at http://www.umich.edu/~newsbias/index.html , which has a page of links to other interesting sites.

10/7/09 Did you ever wonder about "stink bugs?" Since they seem to take up residence in my house each fall, I did, and I learned that there are dozens of varieties, including the brown, green, harlequin, and some others that are beneficial insects (preying on crop pests) such as the Spined Soldier Bug. They are from the order Hemiptera (including true bugs), family Pentatomidae (meaning 5-sided), and are generally hard to kill. In Pennsylvania, they have recently found an oriental import, the "Brown Marmorated Stink Bug" in several counties, which may become an agricultural pest. In the end, the stink bugs in my house were just plain Brown Stink Bugs.

10/1/09 Angiotensin Converting Enzyme inhibitors (ACEI) are the most important medication in heart failure, and are commonly used for hypertension. An often unrecognized side effect is abdominal pain from intestinal swelling and/or from pancreatitis. This should be considered in new onset abdominal pain in a person on ACEI after ruling out the "major" suspects.

9/20/09 Today I saw photos of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in March 1944. I never knew that there was such a major eruption in modern times! Nearly a foot of ash, as well as rocks 5-15cm large fell on the surrounding area. Eighty five allied planes were destroyed when hot ash fell on them, burning the fabric shells and otherwise rendering them useless. Lava flowed 1.5 km from the cone, damaging at least 3 nearby villages.

9/2/09 In 1913, an international prize was offered for creation of "the best fuel, other than gasoline, capable of being used in internal combustion engines." The $100,000 prize (over $2 million today) was offered to combat rapidly increasing gasoline prices and to create a fuel which couldn't be "cornered by any nation or combination of national interests." Hmmmm.

8/30/09 The U.S. healthcare debate over universal coverage is not new. In 1943, President Roosevelt called for universal coverage in his "economic bill of rights" which included the right of all people to health care. FDR renewed this plea until his death. President Truman continued to work for universal coverage, but all of the many bills proposing universal coverage died in committee.

8/27/09 I remember learning in high school that Edward Jenner devised the first smallpox vaccination from cowpox in 1798. However, in 1776 in Boston, families (including that of John Adams) were innoculated against this dread disease: a physician would slice the upper arm and spread drainage from an active smallpox case into the wound. This would induce a more mild form of the disease, creating life-long immunity against all forms. In 1777, smallpox innoculation was mandatory for members of the Continental Army fighting the Revolutionary War. (sources: WHO.int website, John Adams by McCollough, His Excellency by Ellis)

8/24/09 A British merchant, Peter Durand, invented the first cans for food in 1810 (see Archives for canning process). In 1858 the first can opener was invented. Before the can opener, instructions on the can were to 'open with hammer and chisel'! How would you like to do that while making dinner?

8/21/09 The method of canning of food was invented in 1809 by Nicholas Appert, a French man competing for Napoleon's 12,000 franc Food Preservation Prize, which was first offered in 1795. Some sources say that he worked for 10 years on his method of boiling food, placing it in a sealed bottle, and then heating the bottle before he won the prize in 1809. Those of us who can food know that the process hasn't changed in 200 years!

8/18/09 The traffic light predates the car! In 1868, British railroad signal engineer J P Knight invented the first traffic light, a lantern with red and green signals. It was installed in front of the British House of Commons to control the flow of horse buggies and pedestrians.

8/16/09 A caterpillar does not breathe through its mouth and does not have lungs. They have pairs of spiracles on each body segment which are small round holes covered by flaps with muscles to control their opening and closing. The oxygen flows into tiny tubes and directly to each cell.

8/14/09 Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal, while China is the world's largest consumer of coal, using more than twice that of the U.S. Japan is the world's greatest importer of coal. (China produces nearly all of the coal it consumes.) Verified at the U.S. Dept. of Energy (doe.gov)

8/12/09 The Tilapia is a fresh water fish that has been farmed in Isreal for over 2500 years. Farming of tilapia is strictly regulated to prevent escape because it could take over habitats due to its prolific reproduction and fast growth. Tilapia is low in good Omega-3 fatty acids and high in bad Omega-6 fatty acids. Uh-oh.

8/5/09 The Tercel is not just a car made by Toyota. From the 14th century it has been the name of the male of a hawk species, especially the falcon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When All Else is Ruled Out--

Today is actually my first day back at work since before Labor Day weekend (9/4). I can't even describe how frustrating it has been to have surgery and then have surgeons of 2 different specialites tell me they couldn't identify the cause of my problems...then to have fevers and have several doctors tell me they don't know why. I finally saw someone I know and trust, who did a new exam and a lot of labs. He approached it as an interesting case, and explored all areas. In the end, we know (by labs) that something messed up my pancreas and I have inflammation, and by symptoms I have fevers, fatigue, nausea and diarrhea. The numbers are headed back toward normal, but I was still unsettled without an explanation.

I spent nearly all of yesterday doing research in the medical literature and I am now confident I know what happened. There have been a number of reported cases of pancreatitis triggered by ACE inhibitors. A handful of those occurred after months to years on the exact medication I was on (there are several medications in that class), and a few occurred after very short times on the medication. One abstract discussed a "typical" case as a middle aged woman with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, who had recently started an ACE inhibitor...and the author exhorted fellow ER physicians to consider ACE inhibitor reactions as the cause of the condition, as he had seen it several times. There were also 2 abstracts on cases where individuals were treated multiple times and even had surgery but the abdominal issues only resolved after discontinuation of the ACE inhibitor.

I guess for some the above might be classified as "too much information," but I tend to get scientific when I can't understand a problem, and having what I consider not only a plausible but even a "likely" explanation cheers me immeasurably. Instead of that big "WHAT IF" being out there, with this research data I can rest much more easily with a concrete explanation in my mind. Although the doctors all (but the last) discounted my inquiries about intestinal angioedema from the ACE inhibitor as much too rare an event, they did a very good job "ruling out" everything else they could think of. They literally ruled out everything they could think of, and were done. (I used the all-important question, "What else could this be?" with each of them, including residents, more than once.) My surprise is that they were content to leave it an open question. Obviously, if it were personal to them, their response would have been different.

So, adding their confidence that "it" wasn't "a, b, c, d, e, f," or "g" to my research, I am now confident that it was pancreatitis triggered by the ACE inhibitor, something not ruled out or even on their lists. So now I know what I'm watching; I don't feel afraid of the fevers, etc., and expect it all to get better, albeit over a much longer time than the surgeons realized.

So, with some pancreas-local pain and associated symptoms, and thinking pancreas-healing thoughts, I'm back at work and trying to remember what it is I do!!

Monday, September 21, 2009

I Return--

I've been quite remiss recently, in writing here. I think it's because I've been off my stride; I'm still recovering from surgery and essentially focused on that. I also signed up for Facebook--and after not quite 2 weeks, I think I'm done with it. It was nice to hear from some old friends, but for the most part, there's not much to it. People post bits of 'whatever' on there...little updates, nonsense, or unfounded, unresearched politically charged statements which they are then never required to defend or apologize for. But, that's the subject of another post.

Today, though, is just for the mundane. I need to get prescriptions, go to the allergist, and try a little walk to begin getting my strength back. Maybe I'll clean up a bit--I don't know about you, but after a weekend our house needs a bit of cleaning. (Who wants to clean on a weekend?) Hopefully I won't be too wiped out by this evening as I have the last several, but that's the path to getting back to normal, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On Writing

by Stephen King

A memoir on writing, from Stephen King to his students and fans.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Night

by Elie Wiesel

Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel's brief but riveting account of his survival in Nazi concentration camps, first published in 1958, took my breath away.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Triumph

One thing I never even considered when I started blogging was that I would discover "a whole 'nother skill" (that's local dialect, by the way). As most bloggers do (I guess), I have [re]discovered the joy of programming--and it's not your high school BASIC we're working with anymore. In the process, I have learned enough about HTML to customize my blog pages somewhat, which has pleased me inordinately.

Then, I developed a desire to have my book reviews ("Books I've Read" in the menu above) display as what they call "post summaries" with links to the whole posts, so the reader can see a list of books/authors all together. Today....I FINALLY DID IT! I won't say how many times I've worked on the programming (quite a few) before actually achieving the Post Summaries/Links format and having it be specific to those posts I wanted to apply it to--

BUT--I'm so thrilled (we must appreciate the small victories, you know) that today I put together exactly what I had envisioned: on the Book reviews only, (a major feat, considering how the formatting is typically either universal or nonexistent) you see a list of titles and authors with a "teaser" line of the review--and a link to click through to the entire review. After the work I did to learn HTML and figure out "if/else" conditionals, styles and other formatting--you've got to take a look! True, the basic HTML I worked on didn't do the trick (I found a Java programming website by 2 two excellent authors who provided the actual code which finally worked,) but at least I figured out how to add the Java code in precisely in the right spots!

I'm so pleased; now I will put up the next several book reviews I've been drafting...but the real victory is to just have my reviews--my pages--as I imagined them!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I'm Back

Funny how things work out. First, we have resolved never to toast my good health again. I'm not sure if that's what caused it, but you can't be too careful!

Friday night, we had a nice dinner out to celebrate my good results on the heart-thing. We went early, soon after work, and by late evening I had a bad belly pain. Saturday morning, it was worse, and included my entire abdomen. By Saturday night, it was apparent that I needed to go to the ER. Various tests and worsening of it all led me into surgery by Monday afternoon. For better or worse, the surgeons couldn't figure out exactly what happened--but my appendix is no longer with me, just in case. I came home from the hospital on Tuesday night to complete my recovery at home.

So--you never can tell. My dear husband and I had planned to rest and stay put for Labor Day weekend; we were going to pack a little picnic and go to a local state park for a nice afternoon. Just goes to show you that you can't always count on doing what you plan on doing!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Great News

Whew! Horray! Thank God! You get the message. I just found out that none of the horrible potential things that I've been worrying about are wrong with my heart. It's just high blood pressure. Yay!

Day before yesterday, my cardiologist had his nurse follow up with me to see how I was making out after the last med change. (My BP was still higher than it should be.) We traded phone messages, and in one I told her she could feel free to call back and tell me my echo was totally normal. The next day, she did!! Thank goodness...it was impossible to put thoughts of potential cardiomyopathy out of my head and concentrate on anything.

They also added an ACE inhibitor, which, after one dose, has really worked. My BP was so low this morning I was dizzy. A lot of coffee and some diet Coke helped a bit, and we're still good with the pressure this afternoon. I'm going to look out for the cumulative effect, but By George, I think we may have it here.

Tonight, hubby and I are going to our favorite restaurant to sit outside on the patio and celebrate the good news!! A great way to start the holiday weekend. Have a fantastic one, everyone!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

We Saw the Meteor Crater

I keep wanting to call it "Meteor Crater National Park" or "National Monument" or something, but it's actually all privately owned. I can't help thinking it might have been better if it were a National Park. (We have been to sooo many National Parks, and every single one was staffed by Rangers who seem to know everything about the site and can tell the story like nobody's business.) Anyway, about 50,000 years ago a great big meteor hit the Earth, 35 miles east of Flagstaff. Of course, Flagstaff would come into being about 49,895 years later.

Here's a view from the road as you're heading in toward the crater. You can really see how the "arid grassland" was thrust upward by the impact--and it's even more impressive if you've been driving for about 35 miles over nothing but flat desert. The raised rim is 150 ft. high, and the crater is 3/4 mile wide.

As I mentioned, it's privately owned and operated, and I suffered massive sticker shock when we got up to the entrance. (Cost to get in--adults $15, seniors 60+ $14, kids 6-17, $8...which isn't bad if you're spending half a day, but you can see the whole thing, including the movie but not the hike,[cancelled due to electrical storm] in less than an hour.) Of course after driving 35 miles east, then about 6 miles south, you might as well pay the fee to get in or you've done all that for nothing.

Inside, they have an exhibit area (not big enough to call a museum), with several meteorites to touch and many interactive exhibits for the kids. They have a 12 minute movie, during which I kept expecting information about this crater, but the movie was old and very general.
The highlight was going out on the walkway to look at the crater. Here's my teenager looking through one of the telescopes at the bottom of the crater.

And, looking right, middle, and left (below), here it is. It's reported to be 550 feet deep, rim to bottom, and 3/4 mile in diameter. There is a walkway with overlooks down maybe 30 feet below the rim.


It's about as exciting as it looks. I mean, I'm kinda interested in geology and we did see layers of rocks....but, it just didn't meet expectations--I expected to learn more.

I asked my son if he'd recommend to his friends to go there and without hesitation he said, "No, it was boring." I thought it was amazing to see the remnants of a real meteor creater on Earth (I kept thinking of the moon), but I'd be lying if I told you it wasn't a bit overblown and a bit less educational that I had hoped. Just in case you're interested, here's the website: http://www.meteorcrater.com/

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Really Good Choices I've Made

Planting the butterfly bush outside the window next to the couch. I get to see the flowers, watch the butterflies come for its nectar, and now see tiny wrens and finches come for its seeds.

Making the "office" in my oddly laid out house into another bedroom. It's changed everything and now feels like a real home.

Buying my Toyotas. The first one saved my life when many cars would've failed me, and the current one is just a great car.

Asking my husband out to lunch for the first time. A friend turned into the love of a lifetime.

Choosing my son's first daycare provider...she was a loving second mother to him for 8 years.

Getting pregnant...God gave me the greatest joy of my life.

There are probably more to list, but the everyday choices which had little effect on my life are soon forgotten, while some seemingly insignificant choices have had a lasting impact.

Sometimes we know which the "big" choices are at the time, and only hope we get them right....other times we decide to take a chance, come what may...and other times, what seems like a world ending dilemma turns out to be minor in the scheme of things. It's quite impossible to say, sometimes. In fact, as I thought over this list for the last several days, many more things than not were "still waiting to see if that turns out to be a good choice or not."

So, what are some of your Really Good Choices?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Change in the Air

Last evening I opened the laundry room window for some air. Normally, it's closed through the summer because the heat and humidity outside are far worse than the laundry room. But last evening, just as the sun was sinking into the tree-tops, the air felt just a bit fresher.

Elbows on windowsill I paused to enjoy it. I could still smell a faint hint of chlorine from the pool as it rested like a mirror out back. The crickets and cicadas chirped and droned on like so many late summer evenings. But the air was different. As I waited for the dryer, I listened and listened. I couldn't discern anything new or unusual, but something had changed--perhaps in the patterns, the urgency--maybe the laziness wasn't quite as lazy as it had been yesterday. It was so subtle that I couldn't put my finger on it until this morning.

As we left for the early morning school run, my son and I both shivered. It was only 60 degrees, after yesterday afternoon's 90. The overcast sky kept out the sun, the air was cool and dry, and a lone cricket sang hollowly. Only then did I understand what I had percieved last evening. This was the first taste of Fall. It would soon be time to say goodbye to Summer yet again, but now, right now is the time to cling to and fully savor each balmy day we have left before it's gone.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Very Happy Return to Sedona

On our family vacation this year, we introduced my son to one of my loves: Sedona, Arizona. Hubby took me there for the first time several years ago, and we've been wanting to return since then. The people we met were all very friendly, and the whole area has an open, relaxed atmosphere. Sedona's first white settlers came in 1876, and the town was officially named (after the shopkeeper's wife) and granted a post office in 1902. So, compared to much history "back east," Sedona's pretty new. In the late 1950's, spiritualists and "hippies" came to Sedona, drawn by spiritual "vortexes" (energy centers) they found in the red rocks. Now, the place is full of "new age" spiritualists and has a very relaxed feel.

Although the area has grown up a lot since we last visited, much remained the same. This time, though, in search of adventure (teenager, remember), we booked an "Extreme" Hummer tour through the mountain trails. It was fun and scary for me--here's a picture of one of the so-called-roads we first came down, then went up. (You cannot get the full idea from the picture, but it was just barely wide enough for the hummer, with a cliff-like drop off just past the trees, and the darker step-like rocks are about 14-16 inchs high each.) The teenager had a fantastic time. Both of them.



Hummer dude also took us on a tour of the named rocks. Here's Snoopy Rock (he's lying just to the right of the big squarish formation.)

We also biked in the red rocks. The still-great Bike and Bean, http://www.bike-bean.com/Sedona_Bike_And_Bean.html , still at the edge of Oak Creek, hooked us up with the perfect bikes, helmets and water, and off we went. It was darn hot, even at 9 a.m., but once my son and I discovered the exhilaration of racing down the last half mile of trail, "catching air" over moguls, riding willy-nilly over gravel and loose rocks--it was addictive. We rode back up 2 more times just to fly down. I honestly felt like a kid again. My son even called me an adrenaline junkie. Here are some pics from the farthest point in our ride...up close to the rocks.


In the foreground is part of the trail we rode; in the distance (if you click and enlarge it you might be able to see it) is the cathedral of the rocks--a Catholic church built right into the red rocks.



We had a great time tubing on the Verde River (no pictures, too wet...whose idea was it to provide us with super soakers???), and saw free range cattle along the road. We also went up to the airport, which is on top of a huge mesa, to watch the sunset and look out over Sedona. It's become quite popular, judging by the crowds that were there. On our last trip, it was very quiet and peaceful. These photos are of Sedona in the valley, encircled by the red rocks.



We had great meals--Picazzo Pizza really excelled--both in their huge salads and delicious, gourmet (or plain, for the boy) pizzas. Really good. A world away from your everyday pizza joint. It was such a pleasure being back in Sedona!

I mentioned in another post that I did a good job spraining my ankle one morning while on a power walk in Sedona. Here's the rest of the story. I was out around 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday, doing my exercising around several residential blocks behind our hotel. In a second's inattention, I planted my foot at the edge of the pavement, which was maybe 3" higher than the adjacent gravel. I'd have fallen, except for extreme hopping ability, spurred on in part by all of the cactuses growing along the roadside. (A five-hop recovery: pretty impressive.)

In the next few minutes, as I tried to determine how badly I was hurt, an angel in an Acura stopped to ask if I was ok. I gave her a typical east-coast "Oh, I'm fine," but she was too nice for that. "But you're obviously hurt--I live right here--let me give you a ride home." She assured me it was no trouble, and I accepted her generosity. Three blocks later, she pulled right up to the base of the stairway to our room. I thanked her of course, and she refused praise, but her kindness so touched me--I was so far from home, a visitor knowing no one--and she, a complete stranger, completely unbidden, was willing to lend a helping hand. There are still good people in the world. Wow.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Origami Diversion

Sometimes I need to do something different. It refreshes me to use my mind in a different way! Then, when they're done, they make nice little gifts for friends.

Peacock


Chameleon


Parrot


Phesant


Trio of Cranes

Doing origami also reminds me of my "little" brother (which I persist in calling him despite the fact that he's at least 6" taller than me), who has been an origami expert for years. One time, when I visited him while I was on a business trip, he made me a phenomenal origami bird with fluttery wings. I still have it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Interesting Choice

Well. I couldn't tolerate the side effects of the Norvasc at 10 mg so I called and told the cardiology nurse. She relayed it to a partner of my doc, who directed me to go back to 5 mg. Interesting choice. Not what I expected, since I gave them my history in detail, (I did 2 weeks on 5 mg; it wasn't enough...) and my doc told me he was leaving instructions for "medication choice B" in my chart for his vacation coverage--which I also relayed to them. But I reduced it last night, and today my diastolic is up to 101 again. Interesting choice. I'm supposed to report in on Monday (which I will do sooner if I don't like my numbers) when my doc is back.

An echocardiogram is pretty easy, if you don't mind someone pressing a hard plastic transducer into (probably in between, actually) your rib bones very firmly for half an hour. And that goopy gel all over. I though I might end up with a bruise, but I didn't. My little heart valves all look very nice--that's all you can really tell while lying on your side with your head twisted back over your opposite shoulder to see the screen 4 feet away! (Of course I watched the whole thing.) My tech was really very nice, but she wouldn't tell me any measurements at all. 'Course not. It's only the ones I used to work with for 10 years at my old hospital who would do that! Without the numbers, I know nothing, so now I wait again.

Perhaps because of the uncertainty of the above, I went into another Scheduling Frenzy yesterday. From time to time, I get to the point where I absolutely must have everything on my calendar. Perhaps it's the way we live (or is it universal?), but hubby, teenage alien and I tend to talk about doing this or that--what we need or would like to do--invitations we receive, plans--and after a while they all seem to be floating out there, but nothing has actually been set. Yesterday, per pre-arranged telephone appointment (yes, our schedules are that bad), hubby and I did calendaring through the end of October. I feel so much better!! We have "the plan." I don't think we have one free weekend throughout that time, but that's another story. At least I know that we've scheduled the things we want to do so we don't miss them. I'm looking forward to a fun fall!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Healthcare "Debate"

The "healthcare debate" in the U.S. is unbelievable to me. Having worked with sick and injured people for a good portion of my adult life, I've seen so many who have suffered needlessly and foregone appropriate, necessary medical care because they simply didn't have access to care. They respected the "system" and understood that, without "cash money," (or any realistic ability to obtain money to pay for care), they were not entitled to healthcare under our system.

This evening I heard an interview on Fresh Air with T. R. Reid, an international correspondent for the Washington Post, who has researched and personally experienced the heathcare systems of numerous countries. I would highly recommend everyone listen to this interview, from August 24, 2009, to learn a bit about how other developed countries provide healthcare coverage for everyone, while actually spending a much smaller percentage of their GDP on healthcare than the U.S.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112172939

If you can't listen to the interview, here is one of his recent articles from the Washington Post on the subject: (you may need to "sign up" with WP to view it, but it's quick, simple, and FREE, so why not?) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/21/AR2009082101778.html

There are SO many problems with the health care system in the U.S.! I think the first, and biggest, problem is that we do not believe a basic ethical principle that nearly all developed nations believe: every human being has the right to basic health care, and that rich countries have a moral obligation to provide healthcare for everyone.

This nation was founded on principles of equality (laying aside the women and slavery issues), and it seems to fly in the face of this principle that only those of means, or noble birth, or certain positions, get to have access to necessary health care to lead decent lives!! This is not what our founding fathers would have seen as equality, I dare to venture.

I really hope that we get past whatever this supposed "debate" is really about, and get on with programs that move in the direction of eliminating the health care access gap among U.S. citizens--and that the people of this country recognize that access to basic health care is a fundamental human right.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

They Like Him!

I was noticing that I hadn't written anything recently which qualified for the heading "Happy Things" and that's not how I want to be. There are so many things I am happy about!

Here's just one. This past summer, I gave my alien teenager many options for how to spend his time. Working with dogs and cats at the SPCA, for one, and several other options. He seemed absolutely unmotivated and unwilling to try anything at all. After a few days of him lying around, I informed him that he was going to be working with me. There are always things to do around an office, and I alone had enough to keep him busy for at least the first day.

After some weak protests, he very soon became comfortable at my office, and worked in the mail room and helped others with basic tasks. When he went to his dad's for a week, at least a dozen people would ask me where he was. They liked having him around. The final proof of success came this week, though, when I had a hearing in court one morning and offered to return home to pick him up for work. He could have said no thanks, but instead was very anxious to get back to the office, and when I pulled up to the house, he was totally ready to go (not the norm for this teenager). And, when he had the option to go in for a half day on Friday or not, I didn't even have to ask him because I heard him tell others that he would definitely be in on Friday--even if mom wasn't!

Friday was his last day at the office before he returned to high school. I was playing "catch-up" due to the shortened workday for us, but my son was used to walking a couple of blocks by himself to get a sandwich for lunch--in fact, he really enjoyed the independence--so he picked up lunch for both of us and brought it back. A little bit later, he texted me that he was "going out again"--not unusual, no problem.

Before I next saw the kid, one of the secretaries stopped by my office to tell me what a great young man he is, such a gentleman, so mature and well-spoken. Then the HR director passed me in the hall and complimented him again--he's so friendly, and so nice and outgoing, but not rambunctious--(her son is 4 years younger.) And our receptionist just gushed that he is such a delight, and "such a cutie!!" One mentioned that he had joined them for lunch, but I just thought they ate in the kitchen together.

On our way home I learned that 5 or 6 (you don't want to question too closely) women from our office had gone out to a nearby diner for lunch and had invited him to come along, and even though he had already eaten his sandwich, he went along with them, had a soda, and had apparently charmed them all! (It's ok with me that my son is more popular at the office than I am. I've never been into popularity contests. ;-))

Every time I think of my boy, I get a warm glow in my heart, and it's just so nice to know that he really is a sweetheart--to know that I'm not just completely taken in by the fact that he's my son. I've always thought he was someone very special, and it's just such a happy thing to know that so many other people--who wouldn't have to say a word about it--think so too!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mistakes

We have all made mistakes. We all know we will make more. But when I began realizing what the biggest mistake of my life was, it was far too late.

It's hard to go back to the beginning and fully acknowledge where that mistake actually began, but I've looked that direction before, and I know my error. I married at age 19, instead of taking a college scholarship 8 hours away by car. He was out of college. I believed he loved me, but later figured out that he only loved how he looked in my eyes. I was too young, too needy, too abused to know what actual love was. We spent 16 years together, and God gave us a beautiful, perfect son.

But we had 5 horrible years, and then it got worse. When I learned that certain other much younger women had been giving him that reflection of himself that he needed, something ended. I no longer believed that he loved me or really ever had, and I still think I'm right about that.

Since 2000, we've been apart, but only for the first year was I free of his hatefulness. During that first year, he just drank and left us alone. I called him about seeing his little boy, but he rarely showed up. I was so relieved that I didn't have to deal with him--such a weight was off my shoulders. Then began a campaign which has gone on for 8 years. Such was his need to be the "good" one while I was the "evil" one in the divorce, everything became about how I was only out for myself, while he was all about our son's "best interests."

It actually still goes on today. I just recently got an email from him objecting to the "emotional distress" he accuses me of causing my son--and many more baseless accusations--founded on absolutely no truth whatsoever, and all couched in terms of him just being concerned for the boy, all prefaced with fake pleasantries, as though he's really a friend. He either believes that I am a despicable mother (and stupid), who lives to torture her son, or he has a need to portray me this way, to absolve himself of his role in our breakup.

His second custody filing trying to get my son away from me resulted in a full psychiatric evaluation: he was diagnosed as "narcissistic" with significant control issues, and was found to be using our son for his own ends. I was "normal." After we settled in early 2008 with yet another nearly 50-50 agreement, my ex told our son that the "evaluation" came back with the recommendation that our son spend 100% of his time with my ex...but out of the "goodness of his heart," my ex allowed me to spend time with my son...when that statement could not be further than the truth.

I ignore his insulting emails as much as possible, since I've seen so many of them--I've really tried to let them roll off my back. But this time he's trying to implicate the "mediation" provision of the order, requiring a response. Of course, he has already decided that his demands are in our son's "best interests," and whatever I have to say is wrong or bad. Nothing new there--it's precisely the same pattern as the last 8 years.

So, that's my gravest mistake. I never thought it would stay with me for so long...so long after the divorce and his remarriage. It was not a mistake to have my son, he's the most precious thing in my life. But oh, how I wish I had been older, wiser, more mature, more confident.... But since that's all long past, I just need to move forward. Usually I'm unwavering on that path, but some days it's hard. Some days I feel like I'm being dragged back into that place. Heaven help me.