Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Soft Furnishings for the Living and the Undead

2014 had its ups and downs in our living room.  The couch Whusband picked out from the Cabela's catalog was the main source of the highs and lows.  It reclined on the ends, but not in the middle.  It was leather.  We mostly liked it, while it lasted.  That would be about six months.

Cabela's agreed to take it back but required that it be wrapped.  Here is part of the email I sent to them on the hot summer night when we were trying to get it ready for the truck.

This couch is the last Cabela's product I will ever buy.

This whole thing has been a nightmare. 

[Whusand] sent pictures of the problem weeks ago.  Instead of either 1.) relying on those and refunding our money or 2.) sending someone to have a look and refunding our money or 3.) sending someone to pack and ship the thing back to you, we have been required to WRAP a piece of furniture that must weigh over a hundred pounds and is more than seven feet long.  

I recommend that before you require the next couch-returning customer to package their defective couch for return shipping that you try this yourselves, perhaps in the break room at customer service, so you have some sense of what it is like to accomplish such a feat in an American living room.  I'm thinking of writing to our armed forces to suggest that couch-wrapping be added to the training regimen of the Navy Seals, or perhaps it would make good television on American Ninjas.  

Are you surprised that I had no response from our friends at Cabela's?

After the couch-returning trauma we were too depleted to consider a new couch.  We've been making do with a couple of chairs for months.  One of these seems to be made of concrete wrapped in pleather and the other is a broken swivel number that requires good balancing skills.

Finally, probably because of Christmas good cheer, and good feeling, and vacation, which means we have been hanging out in the living room coping with the crappy chairs, Whusband got back on the internet and started couch shopping.  Yesterday, he sent two proposals for a new couch.  One like this:

My country, tis of thee...

And one like this:

It's even called a "Chesterfield."  Trust fund not included

My husband has always wanted a really classy sofa like that Chesterfield.  Both couches have a similar price tag.  So which to choose? Comfort, cupholders and the power to recline or Good Taste?

I showed the pictures to the Infanta who wasted no time.  Though she pointed out that you couldn't properly sleep in the home-theater seating couch (though a person could nap VERY WELL and often), it was no contest.

"That one with the buttons looks like furniture for vampires. Vampires are always pushing people down onto couches like that."

The order for the the reclining number goes in today.  Who wants to come over and watch a movie at our house in 2015?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Out of the Half Silent Planet

You know that scene in more than one old Hollywood movie, the one of a doctor slowly unwinding a bandage from some beautiful girl's face, then carefully pulling gauze pads from her eyes?

"Now, open your eyes."

The beautiful girl blinks.

We get a point-of-view shot of a blurred ping-pong ball with a few furr-edged dark shapes on its surface.  In a moment, the ping pong ball resolves into the doctor's face, eyes, hair, nose, mouth.

The girl's jaw falls open. "I can see," she says tremulously.  Her eyes show no trace of ever having been damaged (and if the movie was made before 1967, are also carefully made up). The camera cuts to the face of her mother, who's standing just behind the doctor.  Her mother is wearing a Chanel suit and crying silently, for joy, into her gloved hands (if before 1967).

"I can see!" the patient exclaims.  The mother,  and a nurse with a heart of gold, move in for hugs.  "Oh Darling!" says the mother.  "Thank God!  Thank you Dr. _____!"

The Doctor is a modest man, so his only emotion is relief.  He issues a few instructions to the nurse and the patient and maybe a warning or two, depending on the plot.

Well, with a variation or two (or twenty) I played out this scene two days ago in an examining room in our local medical center.

First variation, a biggie, it wasn't my sight that was restored.  It was my hearing.  Well, some of my hearing - in one of my ears.  The formerly deaf ear which was operated on by an ear-nose-and-throat doctor (is that less glamorous than an ophthalmologist?) just one week and two days ago.

Also, substitute "beautiful girl" for "gone-to-seed nearly fifty-something."   And my doctor, though of perfectly nice appearance, was not exactly Cary Grant.  As a real, actual doctor who can fix things that seem unfixable for actual people - including gone-to-seed nearly 50-somethings - he was better than that.

Our scene also didn't include the drama of an unwinding bandage. It did, however, include an ear  examining tool, one that lowered from the ceiling of the exam room.  My Doctor inserted into this a very small suctioning instrument.  The miracle moment for me didn't include a bandage but a slurping out, very loudly,  of an ear canal full of clotted blood and gunky, week-old bacitracin. Also, we had no audience.  The nurse, who wore scrubs (long gone are white-capped and dressed movie nurses) was off helping someone else.

"The bacitracin jams the suctioning, hold on," he said.

The key part of that last bit was "very loud."

My right ear has been dying a slow death since 2001.  In our pre-op meeting weeks ago, my doctor had blown a puff of air into both of my ears in order to get a look at my ear anatomy.  I didn't realize that any sound accompanied the puff in my right ear until he administered the same puff into my still functioning left ear.

About the only thing my right ear was good for at that point was for picking up the rumbling of say, a jet engine, if I was right next to it.  So to hear loud slurping over there was a big change.

I have a condition known as otosclerosis.  As a result, my hearing fell away, year by year, from my right ear starting in my mid thirties.  I have written about it here a couple of times. I tried hearing aids and found them a nuisance that offered little benefit.  More on that in a minute.

I had consulted with this same doctor four years ago.  At that time, he pronounced me a good candidate for hearing aids (both ears, actually) and said the risk with surgery was that I could lose the hearing I had left in my right ear.  I went away and tried hearing aids, again.  Unfruitfully.

I once saw a hearing aid described as being a flashlight in the dark.  Better than nothing, but not the same as sunlight.  Sound  filtered through a hearing aid  has always struck me as if it has been  arranged by a particularly unskillful high school AV crew - a tinny microphone that helped, some, but that was nothing like real, natural ear hearing.  Also, for some reason, good hearing aids cost a fortune. Worse still, I'm not good with accessories.  I lose jewelry, hair bands, glasses, gloves, hearing aids.

By this year, my kids were increasingly functioning like service animals when we were out together.  "Mom, he asked you a question," my son or daughter would say with an embarrassed air.  I would turn and find a waiter or some passer by.  "She's half death," my son would then announce to the poor stranger whom I had ignored.  (At least that's what it sounded like to me).  People whose voices fall within a certain low register were nearly completely inaudible to me.  Something had to be done.

As you know if you've been paying attention here, I went to see Kate Bush sing in London at the end of September.  I was worried about what I wouldn't hear at the concert.   I got a new custom-made prosthesis for my powerful hearing aid before the event.  The audiologist who fitted it was full of praise for the surgeon with whom I had by then made an appointment.

Kate Bush went fine, but see aforementioned AV crew reference.  I took off the hearing aid part way through the show. It was loud enough that I don't think I missed anything important, though her banter was lost on me.  Shortly after getting back from London, I saw the Doctor.

This time, he said I had a 96 percent chance of improved hearing if I went under his little tiny knife.  He doubted my right ear could be corrected to be as good as the left.  But I had heard enough.  We scheduled the surgery to take place within two weeks of that pronouncement.

The surgery for otosclerosis has been around for a long time now.  It was first performed in 1956 on "54-year-old housewife," as per Wikipedia, who "could no longer hear, even with a hearing aid."  It involves cutting loose the stuck stapes bone - the "stirrup" you learned about in third grade - and drilling a little hole in the foot plate thereof and inserting a new prosthetic piston to carry sound waves.

I am writing this about 48 hours after my non-movie scene of gurgling suctioning.  My first week post-op, even my first moments post-op, offered me sounds I hadn't heard in years - a conversation from the next bed to my right, my own heart beat in my right ear etc. but yesterday was the first day with nothing left in my ear from the surgery, except some residual swelling.  I took the new ear for a spin.  After a few hours, I had to retreat to my bed.

I got a little sick to my stomach, maybe from the messed up middle ear, or maybe because I was overstimulated.

 I had been warned by my father, who has the same condition (as yet to be corrected but he's following along), that many people complain post surgery how noisy the world is.  Yesterday that was me.  This functioning, or even only half functioning right ear is going to take some getting used to.  When did dishes clatter so? When did car doors slam with such force?  Putting a jar in the refrigerator includes sound?  Who knew?  I went to a couple of grocery stores yesterday but then had to run home to my empty house and put some ear medicine and cotton ball into that new ear.  My God, even this Macbook keyboard makes sounds?  Everything, except speech, with which I am still struggling, seemed assaultive. I've been in a half silent planet for so long...

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not complaining.  I'm just trying to describe how startling it is to get back a lost sense.  I assume I'll get used to it and I hope that one day my grandchildren will be happy to see me - instead of dreading having to shout short conversations at an old lady.

On the day of my surgery, the nurse in pre-op who collected my glasses left a little card in the plastic bag with my glasses case.  It notes, for purposes of any future MRI scans, that I have a middle-ear prosthesis.  It's the size of a hair.  So, while my little restored ear story may not be movie material, and while Jesus himself may not have laid hands upon me an unstopped my ear, it is miracle enough and drama enough for me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

We've Seen the Movie Version...

One problem with this Ebola outbreak is that this first part reads like an airport thriller by a not particularly imaginative writer.

Opening scene. A two-year-old suffers and dies horribly in an African rain forest.  A grief-stricken mother weeps over the body of her dead child, then, a few days later dies herself.  Next scene, French doctors are testifying to government panels all around the western world about what a disaster this outbreak really is.  They plead for help on CNN and FOX and BBC...  The doctor who knows the most about the disease in the whole world goes directly to a bureaucrat from [insert name of international organization or western government here] and tries to paint a picture of the terror that awaits.  The bureaucrat leans back in his desk chair and fiddles with a pencil smartphone.  The doctor does his best to persuade the bureaucrat that a lot of money needs to be spent and RIGHT NOW! "Terrible. Truly.  But Africa is far away, and those footing the bill, while sympathetic, don't really want to foot that bill."  The doctor pounds the armrests of his smaller chair.  Next scene: an apparently well man gets on a plane in west Africa and heads for a family reunion in Dallas.  Once in his seat, he flashes back to the dying daughter of the friend.  He sees again her face as he helped her from the cab back into her home because the African hospital had no room for her.  He also begins to feel just a little hot...

In the film version of this book, we all know the final scene.  It is Brad Pitt (or equivalent) leaning on a hoe behind a ruined McMansion.  Brad is wearing a dirty make-shift garment tied at his shrunken waist with a piece of clothes line.  Behind him, wraith-like children with wild, dirty hair, cringe and cower.  The more violent survivors  - the ones who always travel in packs and have teeth as bad as their morals - have come to take the potato crop that Brad's family has only just managed to store in what was once their home theater.  Brad tells the kids to get inside and brandishes the hoe...

We know this story, or feel like we do.  We've seen this plot over and over for years and this IS HOW THE END BEGINS. No wonder people are panicking.

Well, a few people.

Most of us here in the west are probably just a little bit worried.  I'll put myself in that category. True,  I would not have been happy to have been on that plane with the nurse who got sick right after she got off of it.

In my better moments,  however, I remember the actual, currently suffering victims of this terrible disease, and the bravery and goodness of those who have pitched in to help them.  That is the current reality - it is also, for the time being, the only reality.  So, note to self and anyone else who has been pulled through this same thought pattern: save your concern for those who really need and deserve it now.  Brad and the rest of us are almost certain to be fine.  In the meantime there are thousands of sick people who need help and helpers who need support.  Helping them would be actually useful, and also do a little something to foreclose the hackneyed ending we've been conditioned to expect.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

FitBit and Wild Bats

More on this is a minute...

I suppose that would be in contrast to tame bats?

Anyway, just stopping by on a Saturday morning to wave hello and to join the chorus of those extolling (or lamenting a little) the Fitbit.  David Sedaris wrote about his Fitbit experience here.

It's basically a pedometer with a wireless internet connection that tracks your activity.  I bought one, the lower-end model that attaches to clothing or can be carried in a bag, soon after reading about DS's experience.  I was, apparently, late to the game, however.  My secretary was there at my unboxing.  She yelled "You got a Fitbit?!"  My colleague in the next cube had, I learned then, been wearing one for months.  (She's a perfectly maintained individual, I might add).

My Fitbit has become in the last few weeks the Dragon Mother I never had.  It reports daily on my movements.  It makes happy faces when I am walking and sick faces when I am not.  The goal is 10,000 steps a day.  To get to that, I find that I need to take a proper walk, at least one, sometime during the day.

I think I have noticed at least a little health benefit.  I have more breath on uphill climbs, but the greater one has been the walking in weathers and conditions that I would have otherwise avoided.  My best walks so far have been in near dark and or in slight drizzle.  The wildflower situation here in Vermont is, at the moment, spectacular. And the Queen Ann's Lace and Goldenrod and all that, as well as all the green of the ferns and leaves, never looks better than in the wet and the gloaming.

Last night, it was nearly 8 PM before I got out of the house and that basically means "dark" at this time of year.  It was a proper summer night, though, with several neighbors entertaining outdoors, with porch lights lit, murmured conversations, campfire-scented air.  I saw the big moon reflected off the spine of a metal barn roof, the hills around the valley where we live silhouetted against a dark blue sky, and bats.  Lots of bats.  This was really good because we have been worried about bat populations here lately. They flapped around overhead in that mad bat fashion, as could only be traced by an autistic kid with an etch a sketch.

What a treat.  Thank you Ma FitBit.

And that was the second time this week where my Fitbit paid such a dividend.  The other day, when I dropped off Shackleton for his cross country practice in a mountainy-neighborhood on the other side of town, I walked instead of getting back into the car to run errands.  I had my iPhone with me and snapped a few pictures.  One is at the top of this post.  (File under, "otherwise I would have missed this").  Here are a couple of others.

Apparently you have to leave your couch to see these things.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Today: Cleaning Up the Summer and Thank God for Kate Bush

An ill-fitting window fan and a hastily (badly) installed air conditioner meant winged and crawly things had easy access to our house this summer.  So long as you were under an inch or so in diameter, it was come on in!  The air is ON.

So, today I have been sweeping up the bits of moths, spiders, lady bugs, wasps, etc. that survive when the rest of bug has turned to dust.  These bits collected in every corner of every room.  There was a thin layer of tiny, light-colored bugs on the living room floor in front of the window fan.  They were too small to be identified.  I think they must have tried to come through the fan blades.  This didn't work out well for them.  There is still a Daddy Long Legs hanging out (literally) over the dog's dish.  Hand-to-heart, the thing could straddle and Eggo.  It has been clinging to the side of the cupboard for days, still as stone.  It looks so delicate, though, that it felt like murder to sweep it away. I left it.  A proper spider, a miniature version of that one in the Lord of Rings, did not fare so well.  It scurried out from under a baseboard while I was sweeping and I stomped it instinctively.  I felt a bit bad about this but at least I was quick and it was trespassing.

I also cleaned my 13-year-old son's room today.  (He is now off at school and so unable to eject me as soon as I open his door).  I rounded up some items there for Goodwill.  I found two pairs of sneakers from last year, now two sizes too small for him and too dirty and torn for Goodwill.  These went into the trash in the kitchen.  One, a basketball shoe, sat disconcertingly on top of the pile and gave me the whim whams as I went to and fro, it looked so much like a disembodied foot.   I heard a news story recently about how feet in shoes tend to wash up on certain shorelines.  Apparently corpses in water tend to break apart at the ankles and the feet go drifting.  More cleaning ensued.  Now the shoes are covered by other trash and it's safe to get a Diet Coke.

My summer was short and lame.  I did not go swimming once.  This has never happened before in my nearly 50 years.  I had some surgery in mid July (just when the water temperature in our Vermont wild rivers might be getting tolerable).  Bathing was then forbidden for weeks.  No proper vacation either.  (See note re: surgery).

The good news is that I have a trip to England on my horizon now, and closing fast.  (I just called my doctor to get my "airplane medicine" and my credit card company to put them on notice).  The Infanta is my travel companion.  Why England in September?  Well, Kate Bush is, as you should know, giving a series of concerts in London in these next few weeks.  In a fraught moment last May, I managed to snag two tickets.  KB opened the shows this week.  I have been reading the reviews at every lull for the past 48 hours.  Every one has fallen in that narrow spectrum between glowing and "I"M WETTING MYSELF."  I can't wait.  My step mother is coming to stay with Shackleton.  She can be relied upon not to let the place go to wrack and ruin in the four days that we'll be gone.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Read This

Because it's fantastic.

It's an excerpt from a short Talk of the Town essay called "Howard's Apartment." It was written by Maeve Brennan, who wrote for The New Yorker as the "Long-Winded Lady" from 1951 to 1984.

This piece was published on November 11, 1967.

The setup: The Long-Winded Lady is house-sitting for a friend in a two-room Greenwich Village apartment on the third floor of a brownstone.  Her friend's apartment is in the rear of the building.  There is a party going on in the front apartment.  She hears the party in bursts, as the door opens and closes with each guest's arrival.  She is alone, listening to the party, and thinking of herself as a Goldilocks-style intruder in her friend's apartment when a rain storm sweeps in:

As the rose leaves fluttered, welcoming the downpour, the ailanthus trembled all over, and the flat red-and-black side of a large apartment building half a block away shone with color. Wherever the rain fell there was color, and the rain fell everywhere.  At the first moment of the storm, when the lightning flashed and the rain came thundering down, I stood up from the green velvet sofa where I am sitting and walked across to close the door to the terrace, and when I turned back, the room had become dim - nothing left of the brightness that had filled it all day. Now the room is vague and insubstantial and shows itself for what it really is - the accidental setting of an enigmatic but disquieting dream that I have dreamed before, in past rooms, and will dream again in rooms I have not yet seen.  It is a dream without people. The rain has gathered the room and me into the invisible world where there is no night and no day, and where walls and mirrors and trees and buildings are formed of advancing and retreating sound.  At this moment it is easy to see how mountains and oceans are created and erased by a shift in the light, and to understand that the solid earth may shrink without warning to the vanishing point underneath our feet.  The rain falls steeply, making cliffs as it falls, and its force has turned the room into a cave that is real only because it is hollow - a sounding place in which here is only one sound.  In the profound silence that rises here now, even echo and memory fade away.

A good friend of mine hunted down the 1997 reprint of the 1969 original collection of Brennan's Talk of the Town essays.  My copy, as per the publisher's note, includes a few essays that were not collected back in 1969.    I have kept the book next to my bed, along with Brennan's short story collection, The Springs of Affection (same friend).  The 1997 book is again out of print and there is no  e-book version.  This is proof that there is something really wrong with human beings.  

I have read both of my Brennan books in spurts, like you might eat some particularly expensive, complex cheese.  Each story or essay gives me so much to think about I can only manage a few pages before I have to stop and sleep.  In case you're wondering, this is high praise.

I'm not good enough at writing to put into words what makes these essays so good.  They are personal to Maeve Brennan, but also universal.  The incidents about which she writes are small New York incidents that are also common to us all.  E.g., a man on the subway offers her his seat and she, startled, says no thanks, I'm getting off at the next stop.  She starts thinking about what a nice, polite man he is, and how lucky his wife is, and then realizes she has two stops to go, and feels terrible because he will have misunderstood why she declined his offer. 

I find myself stopping at about every third sentence to wonder about Brennan's biography.  She came to New York with her Irish diplomat father when she was 17.  She became a New Yorker - to her toes - but not a fancy one.   (Although the Irish claim her, quite reasonably, as one of her own, q.v.).  From the essays you get the impression that she spent most of her New York time alone, on subways and sidewalks, in low-rent hotels, coffee shops, and bars. She was very beautiful, as the photo on the cover of my paperback shows, and she wrote about fashion at Harper's Bazaar before the New Yorker took her up.  Her romantic life was, however, a disaster.  She died alone, mentally ill, and camped out a lot of the time in one of the women's bathrooms at the New Yorker's old offices.   I visited those offices once, in about 1992.  I wish I had known she might have been lurking there. I wouldn't have known who she was, of course, and she might have whacked me with a shopping bag or otherwise terrified me, but I would treasure such an encounter now. Reading her essays tonight it occurs to me she was talented to the point of doom, like van Gogh.  If I was running the world, she would be as famous as he is.

I like to do you who stop by here favors sometime, and I am counting this post as one such.  If the excerpt I chose didn't blow you away, I hope you'll still look for the book.  It's full of other marvels, not quite so opaque, or that at least that you will come back here and look again some other time, maybe when things are strangely quiet.

Thanks to my friend who thought I would like Maeve Brennan.  Right again.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

In Which I Ponder Hummingbirds and Final Dissolution

Not so peaceful as it seems...
There’s a conflict situation at our hummingbird feeder. I suppose I am to blame since I hung up the “food” (four parts water to one part sugar.  Hummingbirds are mainly constituted of low-rent kool aid).  I think the birds themselves, however, must also bear some of the responsibility.  Probably actual flowers, which deliver less of hit, are more nutritious and maybe include IQ-boosting nutrients.

It’s funny/peculiar that this hummingbird conflict is between the red and the white – throated, that is.  Like the Lancastrians v. Yorkists, various Russians v. one another, Red Baron v. Snoopy, what have you. 

The red-throated hummingbird flies at the white-throated one as soon as white throat makes a move to the perch.  They wheel and circle one another at a fabulous speed, seeming to be made of liquid.  (Which, as noted, they are).  They don’t make contact with one another, at least not that I can tell.  Perhaps there is some evolutionary line in the sand that stops them at intimidation only.

I have read that a hummingbird weighs as much as a cork, as much as a penny.  They are in that category of real animals that ought to be fictional – like narwhals, luna moths, possibly giraffes, possibly people.

Nature makes me think about religion.  I have been thinking about nature and religion particularly this week, not only because of the hummingbirds but because I had surgery on Tuesday – an actual one, like in the movies where they wheel you down a hallway on a gurney into a room with a lot of people waiting for you with gowns and shower caps.  (“Ovary-free in 2014” is a slogan that keeps running through my mind, though where I would print it and what it might do for me.)

As luck would have it I have inherited from my father’s side of the family the now notorious BRCA2 gene.  This gene is probably why three of his seven sisters have had breast cancer… so far. 
 I was advised that having my ovaries removed drops nearly to zero my chance of ovarian cancer, which makes sense and which otherwise was statistically about one in three (although no one in the family has had that yet).  This is also supposed to cut my risk of breast cancer in half.  So, out they have gone.  Sadly, it now seems to me, without any ceremony. 

I learned years ago in my first serious job after college, in the fundraising unit of an engineering college in upstate New York, that most people (at least those people worth pursuing for fundraising purposes) spend the first half of life piling up money and possessions and the rest of their lives getting rid of them.  The key for the fundraiser is to strike at the right moment on the downhill side.  Assembly.  Disassembly.

It occurred to me that the same can be said about every other essential thing in life.  Half, maybe two thirds building up (kids, ourselves etc.) then the rest in launching or losing those things.  My kids are teenagers.  My daughter can drive.  I am often not sure if she’s even in the house these days.  I sent her a text yesterday asking her to get me some Altoids at the drug store (I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth since surgery) and she wrote back that she was still up in her room.  My hearing is more than half gone.  My eyes fading. I can’t read anything with small type without removing my glasses.  “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans ovaries, sans everything.”   Well, not quite sans everything, yet, but any fundraisers out there might want to start their engines.

The thing is that we people, hummingbirds, giraffes etc. get only one spin of the wheel.  Once around.  At least that’s the only part we can perceive.  One up, one down, and out.  The wheel itself, however, keeps going.  Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “there lives the dearest freshness, deep down things.”  All that used up leaf litter is not really at the end of the line, just the end of the line as a leaf.

Is this any help?  I don’t know.  I have to take my son to a guitar lesson now. There are, at least,  (mercifully) distractions.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Top Ten Witch Names

I was just reading the Guardian online when I came across an article about recommended debut books. The article was written by a young woman (as per her picture) whose first name is Hephziba.

Really? I thought.  Is it possible, that someone born in the last forty years could have been named "Hephziba?"  Even in England? Was there a curse involved? An evil fairy at the christening?

So, having had a completely useless, non magical day, I'm hoping to pull out a last-minute productivity save by compiling my own list of the top ten witch names.

10. Baba Yaga

9.  Hester

8. Tabitha

7. Joan Sparkfingers

6. Endora

5. Strega Nona

4. Luciferella

3. Glinda

2. Enya

1.  Hephziba.

I'm going to bed now. I may revise this. Let me know if you have suggestions.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The People Who Normally Live Here Aren't Here

Shackleton is at Y Camp for two weeks.  The Infanta is with her boyfriend's family in New Jersey for 10 days.  (Somehow, she has become 16, acquired a driver's license, a job, and a boyfriend.  How has this happened?)

Whusband and I had a strange dinner last night after we dropped Shack at camp.  Just the two of us,  looking at each other and wondering how we were supposed to act.  Whusband accidentally set one place too many (the Infanta hardly ever eats at home these days).   Now even Whusband has left here.  He went up to the old farm today to oversee some workpeople who are battling the carpenter ants that have not quite completely disassembled the ugly front porch there.  (I was kind of rooting for the ants but Whusband insists that the farmhouse not be allowed to fall into its cellar hole quite yet).

OK. I still have Maisy. Also, the World Cup, which filled the afternoon hours after I got home from work.  And this blog.

Oh dear.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Kindness of Reviewers

I had forgotten that this big shot reviewer had agreed, months ago, to look at my book.

Then this appeared.  Grady Harp hath spoken.

Soo.  Big help to find such kind words on what was maybe the worst day at my regular job in the last seven years.

Monday, June 09, 2014

It Had Seemed Like Such A Good Idea...

The bird realized on the third day, that is, one day too late, that she had chosen badly, disastrously, really.   This building, with its inviting beams, joined at just the right angle for a sparrow-sized nest, was not abandoned.  The people and their dog, that's right a DOG, had apparently just been away for a couple of days.

Why had the big, overhead door been left open? Whose fault was that?  Not hers.  But she had been beguiled by  that beckoning, yawning space.  Now, with three eggs settled into her carefully woven nest, a sweet little nest that some philistine collector might purloin at any moment, they were all stuck.  She couldn't move the eggs.  She couldn't sit on them - not for very long at least.  The people and their cars were in and out and in and out, and the DOG - a yapppy little one, at all hours of the day and half the night.  The garage door flew up and down frequently and terrifyingly.  Car doors slammed.  Voices and car radios, boomed - it was a nightmare.

And today, a fresh horror.  The big human mother had been in to sweep the garage floor, raising clouds of dust and dead leaves and whacking away at spiderwebs overhead and in the windows with a broom.  She wielded the thing like a battle ax.  She hadn't seemed to notice the nest or if she had, she hadn't let on. But the sparrow's heart, which normally throbbed at 460 beats a minute, had double timed it and nearly exploded out of her chest.  The cheap corn broom had come close, so close.

The bird was pretty sure the eggs were safe for now.  The people had not spotted the nest.  There would have been a fuss.  They had seen her, though.  The woman and the boy, twice now had come upon her, and she'd flown out in a terror.  The woman was tall.  The bird was going to have to be careful or she'd get a talon stuck in her great head of human hair. The woman had remarked to the boy something about how creepy it was to have a wild bird get really close to you.  "They're fine in the trees and stuff but it's weird when they get close."

Ha! the bird had thought as she had winged it to a tree at the edge of the drive where she watched and waited anxiously. Right back at you, fatty.

It was still warm. The eggs might be OK with her hopping off and on, for awhile at least. But if these monsters persisted in occupying the garage she couldn't go on like this until her eggs hatched.  Oh the bird life, oh the wretchedness.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

This Was Posted on Twitter by a Famous Literary Agent

David Mitchell's agent (David Mitchell is my absolute favorite living writer) put this on Twitter this morning so it must be OK for me to put it here.  Even on a Sunday.  I hope you are all enjoying a weekend of spectacular June weather as we are in Vermont.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hot Off the Presses (But Will Cool in the Mail - Don't Worry).

Hey all.

Just FYI, I have just finished a little (70 page) compilation of some of my writing just to tide over my public as they await my next magnum opus.  (Anybody remember the "fan base" from "Flight of the Choncords"?  My public is a little like that.)  It's called The Tiny Confinements Miscellany and some of it is funny, or supposed to be.

The book should soon be available as an ebook on Amazon, where you will be able to check out sample pages, borrow for free etc. (though it will be priced in the range of a chocolate bar once the e-version is ready so you don't have to start saving now).  In the meantime, for those who simply must have the paperback, it's out there right now if you'd like one.

Here's the link to the one place where you can order it right away if you simply can't wait.

I heart you all.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I Know More Than a Few Candidates for This Place

Saturday, May 10, 2014

OK, Point Up and LOOK MODERN

I wonder if any of these models saved the helmets (or the boots and dresses or white sun/moon? glasses)?  Terrible to think someone probably just threw them away eventually, once the refrigerator was launched.

Friday, May 09, 2014

You Don't Have to Tweet, But it Helps

I am supposed to be writing something substantial but instead I am spending my paltry strength on Twitter.

Here's my output so far tonight.

I thought of a few more! (I sense I am boring you, but when have I let that stop me?)

Add your own fun ideas below or on Twitter!  Also, I have this.

So, no slams or circles for me this weekend.  Maybe a little Mother's Day hooting and hollering, though.  Well.  Not that either.  (I neither hoot, nor holler - since I live in the north, I yell, but not this weekend since it's Mother's Day.)  Bon weekend tout le monde.  Happy Mother's Day to all those who are mothers, or have one, or who know one.



I was also a little proud of this one:

And while no one else liked it, I stand behind this one too (an exclusive for Game of Thrones fans).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shackleton, Still Speaking

My son Shackleton, who is 12, is doing the school play.  Rehearsal tonight was from 6 to 7:30 PM.  I was napping from 5 to 6 PM with the result that he didn't get any dinner (not from me anyway, he could have served himself but that's not happening).

Anyway, he had two things on his mind when he got home a few minute ago.  1.)  Money to buy a game on-line. 2.) Dinner.

As for the money, he needs my Paypal account and he knows I will say "no" unless I get some quid pro quo: work or some other form of sacrifice.  He came down the stairs shortly after arrival with a literal fistful of dollars - nine dollar bills and four quarters, to be specific.

Normally I charge him a user-fee, just to be discouraging but I was distracted by catching up with posts by my brilliant friend Lulu who got busy blogging again this winter without my noticing til tonight.  I was trying to read Lulu's posts while he stood there leaking dollars. I said I would make the deal and let him take $10 if he straightened them out - they were a mess, like Oragami created by a perverse and hateful blind person.  He said OK.  Then I made him tricolor rotini (from a box) with meatballs (from the freezer, but beautifully thawed in the Ragu that I pulled out of the fridge).  Then I got back to Lulu.  (She's a gourmet so I guess I'm noticing my poor standards particularly).

Just a few posts into my reading, Shackleton was back at my desk with his (almost) empty rotini bowl.  "First," he said, "one of the dollars fell into the dog water.  I took it out and it's drying.  Second, can the dog lick my bowl?"  (She barfs sometimes).

I said yes to the bowl licking - Maisy tolerates a little red sauce quite well.  And if I will eat from a bowl from which the dog has eaten, can I really object to a dollar that has been fished out of her water? Now he's gone for the night and I have eight dollar bills folded into my wallet but it looks like a lot more.  I'll add the damp one tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Get Out of My Way, Louisa May Alcott! Back Off Mark Twain!

And, at Number 8 We Have...

Really, I reverence Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain and Frances Hodgson Burnett but, my little book was (and is now, as I write) outranking Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Secret Garden on the Amazon best seller list for free kids e-books!

It won't last, of course, once the $2.99 price gets reapplied at midnight west coast time.  (Hurry!) And I'm not delusional.  (I know my real place vis-a-vis Louisa May and Mark - even though she's at 22 and he's number 14 as I write - I  couldn't fit them in the screen shot).  But the giveaway caught fire, oddly, briefly outpacing Catching Fire, from the Hunger Games trilogy which was also free this weekend and with which my book ran neck and neck for several days.

I can hear scoffing, I might scoff myself.

Why get excited about giving away something for free?  Who cares about the competition between free books?

Fair enough, but that competition is fierce, publishing being what it is these days.  There are thousands of downloads available for free at any given moment.  And, more important, as I have said here before, it's always been readers that I was seeking, first and foremost.  I only hope that the (to this moment ) 3,500 people who've downloaded the book these last few days will like it.  It's not lost on me that I am outranked by several books at the moment that are not famous, including Polar Bear's Big Adventure at number two.  Although I'm sure that's a fine book.

Anyway, if you downloaded a copy or bought a paper back, or will go do download one now, or if you have told a friend - or kept your mouth closed if you read it and hated it (the good reviews were surely a big help) - I thank you.  A moment in the sun with Louisa and Mark is not something I will soon forget, brief as it is likely to be.


Here's one more screen shot that my Dad took for me about an hour after I posted this yesterday.  Note the position of Up, Back, and Away in reference to that Hunger Games trilogy book, ahem.

By the time the Giveaway ended last night nearly 4,500 hundred copies had been downloaded.  Now it costs $2.99 again and the magic is gone.  I picture it plummeting in the best seller ratings the way Ian-McKellen-as-Gandalf fell with the Balrog.  But I'll always have the screenshot...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Little Book.

Today's banner is a painting by John Constable, courtesy of our own National Gallery of Art.  It is better than the view from the Last House, although that's pretty good too.

It reminded me of some of the things that inspired me to write the book that I have been going on about over here, and on the book-specific blog, for a year now.  Specifically, the beauty of the England of our imaginations.  And I never saw a picture of spring that I liked better.  I hope it gives you the same happy jolt it gave me.

I'm reflecting on this snow day at home about this last year and my experience with the book.  I just posted this over on my other blog, and I hope that any stoppers-in here who haven't already gotten a copy for themselves will do so now.  Here's that post, which is also up on my Quartersessions blog.

It's been just about a year since I approved the proofs for the book, or, as it loomed in my life for so long, THE BOOK.  While it wasn't actually available for sale until April 15 last year, I figured I would give tax  deadline day a pass and start a little early.   Also, I'm thinking of this as a celebration season rather than a single day.  I plan to have a collection of essays and stories available later this month as part of the festivities. I'll tell you more about that soon.  In the meantime, the e-book version of Up, Back, and Away will be free to download on your Kindle or Kindle app for five whole days starting tonight, midnight west coast time. (That is, March 14 to midnight March 18).

Somehow, despite the nearly solid year of the book being available to you, gentle reader, I remain obscure, not rich, not famous.  Still. I have so enjoyed this year of having a book to share with the world.  It has added a new and fascinating dimension to my existence and I have been gratified that so many people have been kind enough to tell me that they liked it.  (Or to forebear from telling me that they didn't like it).  I was able to travel to England last fall in what I thought of as my Up, Back, and Away pilgrimage that gave me the chance to see in person so many of the places I had researched for the book.  I will look back with fondness on this period to the end of my days.

I hope you'll join in my little celebration by going to the site in your own country (the download should be available worldwide) to  get your copy. If you've downloaded one previously, or bought the paperback, get busy reading and tell me what you think - at least if you liked it.
I'm also going to be giving away some paperbacks over on Goodreads.  Look to your right and click away if you want to come in for a chance on those.

Thanks again to those who have reached out to me or commented kindly online.  What I had hoped for most was readers and when I am finding those, I'm happy.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Seen and Overheard in New York

Seen in Chelsea: Photo by Sarah Velk

I was reading David Sedaris's Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls in an insomniac hour this morning.  He is a diarist, among other things, and his piece on his diary was the bit I read at 4:30 AM.  It reminded me that I wanted to get down a few bits about last weekend in NYC before I forget.  I don't have a diary, this is as close as I come, so here ya go.

Sarah and I had a rushed little dinner at the Red Flame Diner on West 44th Street on Saturday, just before we headed back to Rockefeller Center to see about those standby tickets to SNL (see the previous post).  It was early, just after six.  We got a booth by the far wall and Sarah got the seat with the view of the street.  I noticed a big family group sitting by the window, six people or so, including three little kids as I took my seat with my back to them.

My hearing, as you know if you've been following along, is more than half shot. My right ear can now pick up a jet engine firing and not much more. The left one is only so-so.  I  have had bad luck with hearing aids so I persist in au naturel quasi deafness.  Anyway, just after we'd put in our orders (cheeseburger for me, chicken wings for her), the waitress started ferrying plates passed us to the family by the window.  I heard, or thought I heard, one of the kids, about four years old, call out: "My food is here! I'm so excited! I'm so thankful that this food exists!"

"Did that kid just say, "I'm so thankful that this food exists?" I asked Sarah, quietly.  She confirmed.  I'm telling you, the enthusiasm in that voice...  Words fail. Another minute or two went by and the same voice, cutting through the background noise and my bad ears said, "Will you take a picture of these wonderful chicken nuggets?"

I couldn't hear the answer. I hope it was "yes."  

Earlier in the day Sarah and I had gone down to Chelsea where a high school friend of mine, who is now a bona fide New York painter, had a reception for a gallery show.  We people of northern Vermont do not have a lot of opportunities to ride freight elevators to gallery openings and I wasn't about to miss this one. Plus my friend is really super nice and not intimidating at all like "New York painter" might suggest.  Chelsea also obliged us in providing some echt New York downtown scenery.  Sarah has been interested in photography (read, we bought her a good camera and sent her to photo camp last summer) and she took the pictures in this post.  I love them.  Budding New York artist anyone?  I'm so thankful!

Men of Chelsea: by Sarah Velk

Monday, January 27, 2014

My Dinner with Leonardo

Plans for my dinner with Leonardo, and yes, I mean Leonardo DiCaprio (I couldn't very well mean the only other "Leonardo" we all know since has been dead for about 500 years) started a couple of months ago.  My birthday was this last weekend and I decided that my daughter and I would celebrate our January birthdays together in New York City.  (She just turned 16 and I am a little more than twice that old...)  Leo's people in the meantime were seeing what they could  do to get him into town at the same time.

As you can imagine, arrangements for this kind of thing  involving an international superstar and all (I don't mean me, silly!) are a tricky business.  It's amazing when you stop to think about it that we managed to pull it off at all, but we did!  Leo, my daughter, and I got together at 8 PM on 49th Street and had a fabulous time.

Of course, we did have to make a few compromises.   One little impediment was the crowd.  (He is Leonardo Di Caprio so that was to be expected).  We also had to forego the table, food, drinks, conversation, and eye contact.  Another little issue was that Leo had no pre-knowledge that my daughter and I were going to be meeting him that night,  or even of our existence.  Actually, we didn't know before he walked out on stage at Studio 8H at NBC that he was going to show up either.  Of course, he knows us now!  At least he might recognize us again if he could see to the back row where we were sitting, yelling for him when he made that cameo appearance during Jonah Hill's monologue on Saturday Night Live.  Still, it was so great meeting to be in the same building with him!  Of course, since I'm married and have kids and everything we had to leave it there.  What a great memory we forged, though.  We'll always have Studio 8H, won't we Leo?

Here's a YouTube video of our special moment.  (Leo looks pretty into Jonah Hill here but if you follow his eyes, he's looking up at the back to near where we were sitting):

The Way We Were

I was one of those tragic 8th-graders who could sing the words to all of the songs from Gilda Radner's one-woman show (I can still do "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals" and "Goodbye Saccharine").  I didn't maintain that same level of devotion/interest in SNL from Gilda's era to this weekend, but I've always kept on eye on the show.  When it dawned on me (after I had made hotel reservations in midtown for a Saturday night) that they might be doing a show while we were there, I started investigating the possibilities.

Please Stand By

In case you are wondering, there are three ways you can get in to see SNL:  be a VIP who knows someone (I didn't know Leo yet), win a ticket lottery that you can enter via email once a year, or  wait in line on the morning of a show for a standby number.  This number might allow you to go in if enough regular ticket holders or VIPS fail to show (you have to choose the dress rehearsal or live taping - we went with the DR because I knew I would be exhausted by 11:30).

The standby numbers (NOT tickets, mind you) are handed out beginning at 7 AM on the day of the show.  Lines sometimes form days ahead of time(I Googled "SNL Standby" before we made up our minds - there are several good blog posts about it if you're interested).  I consulted my daughter (she's a big fan of the show with designs on a job there someday) and she was game, so I decided we would add Friday night to the trip and hope for the best.

I wonder if you heard about that polar vortex thing in New York?  I had, and I was prepared with multiple layers of performance ski gear, a pair of hikers' chairs (they weigh less than two pounds and cost $89 a piece.  I had to buy them because I knew I couldn't stand for hours and I also couldn't shlep the usual beach gear down on the train and through Manhattan).

As I sat in the freezing pre-dawn cold under my tarp and sleeping bag on my $89 chair, I tried to calculate what someone would have to pay me to do any such thing.  I couldn't come up with a figure.  I had shelled out almost $400 for the extra night in the hotel room and chairs and then there was the sheer suffering of rising at 4 AM to sit with the garbage on a freezing sidewalk for three and half hours.  Our investment was, I reckoned, somewhere between $400 and beyond price.  And then, I kept reminding myself and my daughter, when we got our numbers (49 and 50) at 7:30 that morning, all we got was a chance to come back and wait that night to see if we had lined up early enough to get into the show.

Well, that and we had made friends and bonded a little in the arctic dark with our line-mates.

We had a fun little reunion with them all, inside this time, under the NBC Studios Marquee on 39th Street at 7 PM that night.  We were put in a velvet-roped chute, well separated from the privileged actual ticket holders.  We were lined up by standby number, politely but firmly, by charismatic grey-suited NBC pages.

It was surprising how our line mates looked different (I mean "better") without their hats, coats, and misery.  We lit up at the sight on one another. The woman behind us, who had morphed from a Christmas-tree shaped being into something like a ballerina, said she would never forget her standby number,  We laughed.  "It's like your SAT score, right?"  Her date showed up, also transformed from human yurt (pointed hat with ear flaps) to popinjay (bow tie, slicked down hair).  His number was one higher than the ballerina's.  When the pages started moving us out of our chute, he was cut off at one point.  It looked like maybe the ballerina might be the last standby to get a seat.  There was this terrible Sophie's Choice moment as we looked back at him, stranded, as we were moved through security. I was really happy to see that, in the end, he made it too.

About the Show

You know, it actually was amazing.  You can see it on Youtube of or wherever if you missed it. I didn't really know who Jonah Hill was, though I recognized his face (someone at work asked me who was hosting that night and all I could come up with was "Joshua Bell").  I won't forget him now, though.

The show was really funny from start to finish and watching the cameras and the floor people do their thing was a revelation.  The WORK, I thought.  What a lot of WORK.  Of course it also featured that Leonardo moment, which will probably go down in SNL history.  (Remember when Barbra Streisand jumped out of the wings to surprise Linda Richman?  I do.  I also heard Paul McCartney interviewed once about that offer Lorne Michaels made in 1976 to give the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on the show - he and John almost went down... Wouldn't that have been great?)  

The rest of the trip was filled with fabulous New York moments - several excellent meals, all that.  We didn't get to see Leo again, but who knows.  Probably he'll be in touch after he reads this blog post to invite me to dinner.  Maybe I'll enter that lottery next year.  Ta for now.

Just after the magic - my 16-year-old and others, still in the glow...

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Fun at the Gynecologic Oncologist's

First of all, I don't have a gynecological cancer, at least not as far as I know.  I'm trying to avoid having one which is why I spent my morning hanging out in an examining room for my local five-star gynecological oncologist.  Really, she was great - she started by pointing out that she owned the same pair of Danskos that I was wearing.  I then noticed that the resident and medical student who were tagging along with Five-Star were also wearing Danskos. (This happens a lot in Vermont, wherever professional women are gathered, but I digress).

I had to wait for quite awhile in that examining room and, as always when left alone in an examining room, I see what there is to see.  This one featured the first SPECULUM WARMER that I have ever seen.  I write SPECULUM WARMER like that because the typeface was huge - like 50 point.  I wondered about this.  Perhaps it was meant to calm patients who want to know why the doctor is reaching into that little microwave.  No, it's not to get a muffin  Lean Cuisine, just a nice, warm speculum.  (If there had been post-it notes in there, I would have left one saying NO MORE COFFEE IN THE SPECULUM WARMER PEOPLE!  THIS MEANS YOU!  There weren't any though).

The other thing that caught my attention was the panel that had been placed over the fluorescent lights in the ceiling above the examination table.  It was a vibrant scene of a coral reef.  Instead of "close your eyes and think of England" you can keep your eyes open and find Nemo.  There were three clown fish.  I counted. I sort of knew I would have to make fun of this, but I was also a little touched that someone, architect, nurse, doctor, whoever, took the trouble to hang a marvel of nature over those who are subject to examination.  Honestly, coral reefs always make me reflective about our creator.

I also spent a few minutes contemplating the screen saver on the laptop the nurse had left behind.  It showed the facade of the new part of the hospital in Burlington.  Like all venerable east-coast hospitals, ours has Dickensian bits linked to slightly newer bits, linked to parts of the set of Logan's Run.  The new part of our hospital, Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, reminded me very much of the Hilton at Terminal Three at Heathrow.

New Entrance at Fletcher Allen Health Care minus door person

Honestly, I was happy to have this shiny new building in which to wait for my doctors. It made me think that America really still has a lot to recommend it.  Better not to have to be the patient, of course, but when it happens you want a warm speculum, clean windows, and a tropical fish panel.  At least I do.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Why Would Anyone Care? Morrissey Autobiography Review

I am asking myself that question about my view of Morrissey's book.  (Not about the book itself, of course.  Millions want to know!) It seems an appropriately Morrissey-esque question as I serve up my opinion.  I kept thinking as I read this book how likely Morrissey would be to despise me if he knew me (he despises so many) and how I would actually be a little afraid of him if we ever met.  Not much risk of that, thankfully.  So here's the review.

AutobiographyAutobiography by Morrissey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you have ever wanted to visit Morrissey's inner life (and I guess I have) it's in here. Quel surprise! It is a difficult, uncomfortable place to spend time. He is so vulnerable and so judgmental all at once, I kept thinking as I read (or skimmed the dull Morrissey's revenge bits) that it must be exhausting to be him (or be around him). I was, however, interested to hear about his family background and to see the few photographs of family that are reproduced here. There is an incredible charisma on view there, so it is not really true that he is the son and heir of nothing in particular. Also, among the screeds and puffed out calendar entries there are passages of pure poetry. The one near the end, where he is alone on a Mexican beach and feeling tired, is a passage I intend to go back to. This is not a careful or crafted book but it's his book and he is really something special.

View all my reviews