Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday. Gary and I, as is our Halloween custom, had dinner out -- Thai appetizers for dinner -- and then had decadent desserts and drinks at a chocolate bar in town. Then we came home and watched Scrubs, with blinds drawn and outside lights off. Yes: we are terrible people who try to avoid trick-or-treaters.

Speaking of which, this afternoon we saw a fairly grisly, but fascinating, trick-or-treater enjoying a treat in our backyard. Some kind of raptor (hawk, I think, but Gary wondered if it was a falcon) had caught and killed a smaller bird and sat in our yard methodically devouring it before flying away with the rest of the carcass. The raptor was gorgeous. Gary and Bali and I were all glued to the window, watching it. It wasn't a good day for the little bird, though.

This morning was my first hospital shift since early September. It felt good to be back, but it was a strange shift. We had some heavy-duty cases, but I barely got to talk to anyone associated with them. I spent some time trying to track down the relative of an intubated patient who'd been admitted to the ICU, but that person had evidently left the building. We had a very sick child who was being transferred to the ICU of another hospital, but that bed was so surrounded by medical folks that I never even got into the room. At the very end of my shift, the victim of a violent crime came in. The case manager asked if I'd talked to the patient, and another volunteer asked if I'd talked to the patient, and I wanted to talk to the patient, but every time I went to the room, something else was happening and it wasn't the right time.

At the end of my shift, I said to the case manager, "The police are in there interviewing right now. Do you think I should stay until that's over?"

We decided that I shouldn't; the police and other medical staff were providing support, and family would be arriving soon. So I went upstairs to sign out. But on my way out, I started feeling guilty and went back. I knocked on the door and waited for a pause in the police interview to introduce myself (the officer was very nice; we'd spoken previously in the hallway). The patient didn't want to talk, but thanked me for coming by, as did the police officer. So I left feeling a little less like I'd run out on someone in dire need.

It would have been easier if I'd known that another volunter chaplain would be there later in the day, but from the schedule, it looked like that wasn't the case. Ordinarily, I try to be pretty firm about my own boundaries -- if I let myself get into "just one more patient" mode, I'd never get out of the hospital -- but this was an unusual situation. I have to admit that I was a little relieved, though, when the patient didn't want to talk.

Thank goodness for police. I don't know how they do their jobs, but I'm glad they do.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Matters Medical and Musical

I had my sleep test last night; two hours in, the tech woke me up so he could put a CPAP on me, which means I need the CPAP, which means -- we hope -- that insurance will pay for it. The Ambien didn't knock me out as much as I expected, although it was a very small dose; it probably had some effect, though, because I certainly slept much more deeply than I did during my first sleep test six years ago.

I still haven't figured out what to do about Harley. He's the big fluffy black-and-white cat, for those of you who were wondering. Claire commented that she elected not to have an expensive biopsy on a cat because the vet couldn't describe any treatment options that would result from it. We once made the same decision, for another cat, for the same reason. But this vet seemed to be saying that there may be things we can do to prolong Harley's life and comfort, and that the test will tell us a) if that's true and b) what the correct treatment would be if it is, since the correct treatment for one of the possible conditions would quickly kill him if it were another of the possible conditions.

We won't be opting for kidney transplant or dialysis, both of which are now available for cats. That's entirely too much suffering and expense for everyone involved. But if a course of steroids or antibiotics would help him, I'll happily go there. And while I might not put a much older cat through a biopsy, Harley's still fairly young, and I'd like to keep him around as long as possible. I love all our cats, but Harley's special.

Anyway, I've asked to meet with our regular vet (she's at the same hospital but wasn't there the day Harley had his dental and bloodwork) for a second opinion. For one thing, I want to talk to somebody who values cats more than curtains, or at least understands that we do. I'm sure the vet we talked to the other day didn't mean that the way it came out, but the comment bothered me. And since Gary and I came away with very different impressions of what she told us, I hope he'll come to this meeting too, so we'll at least be working with the same basic understanding of the situation.

In much happier news, my fiddle tone's getting better. I thought it was, but then Gary said it was, which made me really happy. I'm diligently practicing Egan's Polka and Angeline the Baker, although my versions are simpler and much, much slower than these YouTube examples. Charlene has me practicing a technique called "polka bowing;" she was impressed at how quickly I picked it up during this week's lesson, but I can't seem to do what she wants me to do with it at home. Gahhhh! She says that next week, I'll receive official permission to use the D string, but I suspect that depends on how well I do with the other stuff.

Anyway, fiddling makes me happy. Happy is good.

Oh: and tomorrow, I'm back to volunteering at the hospital. Yay!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oh, Heck

Yes, I know: I used to post once a day, but in through here I seem to be posting once a week. I've been busy. I have tons of grading to do, as always, and we're getting flooded with applications for our new poetry position. This is great, but reading them is time-consuming.

I've been thinking a lot about the new book and think I have some things figured out now, although I haven't actually gotten any writing done. But I believe I have more of a handle on the theme and plot than I have before. We'll see if I'm right about that!

I came home early from convention to try to get grading done. It sort of worked, but last weekend was still incredibly hectic.

I'm still practicing the fiddle every day, and feel as if I'm getting worse instead of better, but Charlene assures me that's normal. She's sick today, so we've rescheduled this week's lesson until Thursday. Thursday's also my sleep test.

Elsewhere in medical news, yesterday I talked to my freshmen a little bit about medical ethics and all the complicated factors that go into life-and-death decisions in hospitals: whether to continue with treatment, whether to unplug the machines. Driving home, I remembered agonizing over whether it was time for Dad to go into hospice, and was very relieved to be out of that territory.

And then, this afternoon, the vet called to tell us that Harley has kidney disease.

He's had borderline kidney values for years now, but they've remained pretty stable. We thought they might even be normal for him. This morning we brought him in for dental work and were afraid he might have to have teeth extracted. Turns out his teeth were fine, but his creatinine level's shot way up since March, when he last had bloodwork.

This isn't good news. The vet said that by the time damage shows up in the bloodwork, the animal's already lost 75% of kidney function. Harley's been acting normal -- although a little more clingy than usual, now that I think of it -- but he hasn't stopped eating or started gulping water, and he still uses the litterbox properly, so we really didn't have any signs.

The question is what to do now. There are four different conditions that could be causing these lab values. None are curable. Three can be treated, though, which could extend length and comfort of life. The issue is that the treatment for one of the four conditions is deadly for another, and to find out which one Harley has, he needs at least $1,000 of further testing, including a kidney biopsy.

The vet couldn't give us any kinds of figures about life expectancy, because some cats can continue happily for years and some die much more quickly. Harley's only ten, which is young for his kidneys to be doing this badly, but we had another cat once with even worse numbers who defeated the odds and lived for a long time. Harley doesn't seem at all unhappy right now; in fact, he's been playing and chasing the other cats around the house.

Gary's gut instinct is to do nothing and let nature take its course. My gut instinct -- partly because I'm an INFJ and always feel better having as much information as possible -- is to go ahead and do the tests, so at least we'll know what we're looking at. I'd feel really guilty if Harley died and I didn't know if I could have given him a longer life.

I said to the vet, "What would you do if he were your cat?"

She said promptly, "I wouldn't pay that much money, because I need new curtains for my house. I just spent $1,800 on my dog, though."

Well, okay. For her, curtains are more important than a cat. But for me, Harley's more important than a lot of things that would cost that much or more: Hawai'i over spring break; a $1,000 fiddle camp someone told me about today, an event that sounds like a blast and that I'd love to attend; WisCon (which I probably wouldn't have attended this year anyway). So I'm still inclined to go for it. He'll hate the tests, of course, but if he has something treatable and we can buy him even an extra six months . . . that's worth $1,000 to me. Would it be worth the discomfort to him?

He can't tell us. That's what makes this situation so difficult.

The vet advised us to wait a few weeks anyway, to let him recover from the indignities of dental work. (I'm also supposed to start brushing his teeth every day. Oh, joy.)

In the meantime, he's been very talkative and affectionate since he got home from the vet's, and keeps jumping into my lap. Why, here he is now.

Time to go pat the kitty.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Up in Tahoe

So today, after a very late start (partly because of the book offer), I drove up to South Lake Tahoe for our diocesan convention. The convention really starts tomorrow morning, but I wanted to get here tonight, since I'm not a morning person and business begins at 9 a.m.

The hotel offers "mountainview" rooms or "lakeview" rooms; the second are more expensive. So I booked the first, but was delighted to find that I can see a sliver of the lake anyway.

In other respects, though, the room's bizarre. I'm used to accomodations for business travelers, which this clearly isn't. Not only isn't there a coffee maker in the room -- a startling depature from the norm, although room coffee is always too weak for me anyway -- but there are only two outlets in the main room. They're across the room from the bed and almost the entire length of the room from a very small table, too heavy to move, which offers the only working surface.

The most immediate problem this poses is how to plug in the CPAP. I called housekeeping and they brought me an extension cord, which will work. I'd hoped they'd point out outlets I'd missed, but no such luck. So at night I'll recharge my computer from a bathroom outlet and use the two outlets in the room to run the CPAP and recharge my BlackBerry. Oy!

Also, the lighting's pretty lousy, and the chairs are uncomfortable. Yeah, I know. Hotel management doesn't want me in my room. They want me downstairs, giving all my money to the casino. Sorry, guys. I'm already shelling out enough of my money for internet access, at an exorbitant $12/day. For the sake of efficiency -- since I have stacks of grading to do when I'm not at the convention -- I decided to have a continental breakfast delivered to my room each morning, so I can have my coffee in the room while getting work done and won't have to shower and dress to run downstairs for java. That's $11/day, too, although the good news is that there's a Starbucks on-premises and room service will deliver from there, so I'll get real coffee, stuff strong enough to deserve the name.

This is all terribly decadent, but I have to have internet to keep on top of applications for the search committee I'm on, and I have to have coffee to feel like a human being, and it's nice to feel like a human being without having to leave the room. And hey, we may still have some zombiebucks available, plus I just sold a novel, although I won't see any of that advance for quite a while (payment used to be half on signing and half on delivery, but now it's half on delivery and half on publication).

The good news is that, since casinos never want you to leave their walls, there are always lots of places to eat, ranging from the expensive to the reasonably reasonable. I had dinner -- a tasty sandwich and fresh salad -- at the Hard Rock Cafe downstairs. Hotel restaurants usually take forever, but the service was very speedy, and my waitress was great. She seemed genuinely touched when I told her I'd tip in cash instead of on my credit card, so she wouldn't be taxed on the tip. "That's above and beyond the call of duty," she told me. But being a casino waitress has to one of the tougher jobs around, and I never understand how service workers in Tahoe can afford the rents, so if I can save her a buck or two in taxes, great.

And so to bed. I hope that Starbucks comes on time!

TSWP Unveiled!

Back in June, when I was in New York, my agent told me that Tor had requested a mainstream -- i.e., not fantasy or SF -- novel from me. She told me to prepare a proposal post-haste, which I did. And then we waited.

This morning, Tor made an offer. They'll be publishing my fourth novel, currently entitled Mending the Moon. It's about four elderly women who are close friends (and Episcopalians!); when one of them is killed, the other three have to make sense of what's happened and find ways to go forward with their own lives, while also helping their friend's adopted son. Right now the first draft is about half written, although a lot will have to change; the manuscript's due September 1, 2010, although I hope to have it done before then.

Above is an image of the talisman I bought in Northhampton this summer. I'd been looking for a moon image, and the art-glass sculpture was perfect!

Wish me luck, please. I'll post periodically about my progress.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bad Morning, Good Afternoon

I woke up this morning at 9:15 -- with fifteen minutes to get to church -- and didn't even try to make it. I rolled back over and closed my eyes. At 11:30, Gary wandered into the bedroom and said, "It looks like one of us is still in bed?"

At that point, I dragged myself upright (after he'd kindly brought me coffee!), although I felt like every limb was fifty pounds heavier. I wasn't sick; it was either depression or a grief reaction or, most likely, some combination of the two.

In any event, things quickly improved. I ate breakfast and felt a little more human, and then discovered that some folks on Ravelry had very kindly left comments telling me how to solve the double-knitting problem that's been plaguing me. Finally figuring out a new technique, and getting it to work when I picked up my project, made me feel much better.

It was now about 1:15, and Gary had left for a hike. I showered, dressed, packed up my lunch and some ice water, and got into the car to drive to Pyramid Lake, a place Dad loved and never got to see again during the five months he actually lived here. I'd written on my calendar months ago that I'd drive out there today in his memory, so I decided keep that promise to him and to myself.

The drive was very pleasant. I listened to fiddle tunes, ate my lunch, and admired the landscape. As you can see from the above photo, we had cloudy weather today, which meant that the water was steel-gray, rather than the striking turquoise it displays on sunny days. This picture can't do justice to the lake, but hardly any photo can. It's a place people have to see for themselves, and they generally either respond in terror because it's so stark and dramatic, or love it because, well, it's so stark and dramatic. Dad loved it; so does my mother, and so do I.

I didn't stay there long, but I stopped into a store that sells Piaute crafts (Pyramid Lake's on a rez). I found birthday gifts for my sister and a friend and a Christmas gift for Gary. My father would have especially liked the gift I found for Liz, so that made me happy.

When I got home, I practiced the fiddle. I'm happy to report that Felicity's been just fine (fit as a fiddle!) since I got her fixed again on Friday. Yesterday I even managed to straighten the listing bridge without breaking anything. What a relief! I can't say that I've been sounding much better this week, but I don't think I'm sounding worse, either.

So that was my day. On the way to the lake, I thought about writing a poem when I got there, but I was feeling singularly uninspired. At least the drive got me out of the house, though, which was exactly what I needed today.

Next weekend I'll be up at Lake Tahoe for our annual diocesan convention, where I'll get more than enough church to make up for having missed it today.

Cat in Luggage

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stations of the Cross

Tomorrow's the anniversary of when Dad moved out of his Philadelphia apartment and collasped in my sister's house. The day after that's the anniversary of when he left the hospital AMA to catch his flight west: the last time Liz saw him alive, the last evening I saw him without oxygen. The day after that is the anniversary of when he collapsed in our garage.

This is all weighing on me. I have five months of Lent coming up until the anniversary of his death, and it just occurred to me that maybe I should turn this into a creative project and try to generate my own stations of the cross . . . probably in the form of poems, since I lack the artistic skill to make visual icons. (Repeat ad infinitum: "It's all material.")

I have a friend who isn't sensitive to anniversaries at all. Her mom died a few years ago, and I asked her if that anniversary or her mother's birthday is difficult for her, and she looked at me like I was insane and said, "No. I don't even notice them." But the literature says this is normal, which reassures me.

If I post any parts of this project, will everyone stop reading the blog because it's too gloomy? And have any of you done projects like this yourself?


Yesterday I took Felicity into the shop, where the luthier fixed her up and also told me that it's important to tune with the pegs every day.

So this morning I tried that, and broke a string. Aaaaargh!

Back to the shop we go. I'm finding tuning more difficult than playing, even with my nifty electronic tuner. Is that normal?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009



Pop Goes Felicity

This morning I took Felicity out of her case to squeeze in half an hour of practice before work. At my lesson yesterday, Charlene taught me the beginning of a polka and told me to keep practicing Mary/Lamb with the metronome, and also worked with me on better hand position. I was eager to practice all that.

Felicity had been in fine tune yesterday, and normally I only have to make slight adjustments each time I take her out of the case. This morning, the D, A, and E strings were fine, but the G string was a mess, so loose it was flopping against the fingerboard. Perplexed, I tried to tighten the pegs.

Big mistake. There was a loud crack, and the bridge went flying across the room.

Panicked, I called Charlene, who assured me with some amusement that I hadn't broken my violin, that this happens all the time and is easy for luthiers to fix. She said temperature changes can affect strings like that, although I don't know why the G string would be the only one affected. So I'll be taking Felicity into the shop tomorrow, since I didn't have time today.

This is the first day since starting lessons that I haven't practiced. But at least I had a really good excuse.

Da Boids! Da Boids!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Honest Critic

Today my sister Skyped me, and I had a nice chat with her and my mother. My sister showed me some masks she'd made in an art workshop. I played bits o' fiddle tunes for her and my mother.

I'd practiced a lot today -- two hours -- and was tired; that, and nervousness at being in front of an audience, even a virtual one, probably accounted for the fact that my never-too-polished technique was shakier than usual. I wobbled through Mary and her little lamb, and then said, "I'm sure I'll be better by the time I see you guys in December."

"Yes," my mother said politely, "that will be lucky for all of us."

Heh! Doesn't pull any punches, that one! She actually recognized my equally shaky rendition of "Good King Wenceslas," though, so there's hope.

I should add in my own defense that my sister had asked -- nay, demanded -- that I get out the violin. So it was a command performance. Bet they don't do that again. Bwah hah hah! (And pity the poor neighbors, since I haven't been using my practice mute lately.)

Future Knitting Project

Last year, after I posted about walking the labyrinth in San Francisco, a friend sent me a pewter finger labyrinth. (Thanks again, Danielle!) Tonight I was tracing it when I suddenly realized that a labyrinth would make a very cool double-knitting pattern. For ease of charting, I found the square labyrinth above, which will be easier to transfer to graph paper than some of the other versions.

I won't be getting to this anytime soon, but it would be a terrific -- if time-consuming and ambitious -- pattern for a prayer shawl or lap blanket. If I'd thought of it sooner, I'd have attempted to make a couple of these for Christmas gifts, but that won't be happening now. The project queue has just gotten longer, though.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reno in 2011!

Reno is hosting the World Science Fiction Convention in 2011, and this weekend the bid committee flew in to look at the facilities and generally get a feel for the place. My friend Arthur Chenin invited me to a planning meeting this afternoon and a party this evening.

I felt a little out of place at the planning meeting, since I don't generally attend cons with large gaming, costuming and media elements. This WorldCon will also have an academic track, though, and that should be interesting, not to mention the fact that Gary and I look forward to catching up with many out-of-town friends. (Inez and Claire, we're holding spaces for you at Chez Palwick-Meyer. We're so glad neither of you is allergic to cats!) A lot of my students will be interested in the gaming and media events; unfortunately, WorldCon registration is expensive, and I don't know yet what the day rates will be. Someone tossed out the figure of $50, which is still a lot on a student budget. But I think maybe volunteers get discounts? At some cons they do, anyway. I need to ask about that.

I also just have to say that the Atlantis, one of the two main convention hotels -- and the one where we met today -- is already one of the most surreal spots on earth, even without costumed SF fans wandering around. I find all casinos jarring, with their chaotic color schemes and constant noise and blinking lights. Add an underwater/vaguely Caribbean theme and things get even stranger: a sushi bar plunked down in the middle of a bunch of slot machines; fake thatched huts which, from one floor up, look like segments of a sandworm, or possibly giant hairballs; a bunch of potted plants with a lifesized plastic lion lolling underneath them. I never knew lions were aquatic. Maybe the lion's responsible for the hairballs? Upstairs, in the suite where the party was held, I was very puzzled by strange, vaguely phallic projections on the arms of the chairs, until I viewed them from another angle and realized they were dolphins. (And I wasn't even drinking!)

The party was a lot of fun, with good company and nice snacks, including an excellent batch of cookies Gary baked this afternoon. I was especially moved by learning that someone on the committee reads my blog regularly and used to live near Hopewell Junction; she said she'd been hoping to meet Dad so they could talk about HJ, and told me how sorry she was that he'd died.

Me too.

Also, at the planning meeting I sat in front of a dapper fellow named Ben who wore a bow tie and looked awfully familiar. I kept thinking, "Is that Ben Yalow? It can't be. I remember Ben Yalow from my first Star Trek Convention in New York City in 1973."

He introduced himself at the party. He remembered me from when I lived in New York, although probably from my post-college days in the 80s. It was indeed Ben Yalow.

Wow. This is what's amazing about the science-fiction community: you can go to a party across the continent from where you grew up and run into someone you first encountered when you were twelve, and furthermore, you have a bunch of other people in common. Someone else at the party, a woman I met years ago -- in 1992 or thereabouts -- recently stayed with some old SF friends of mine, and gave me an update on them and their kids.

So I'm now a fully registered member of the convention, and hope to get to be on some programming. I'm sure I'll be reporting here periodically. Hard to believe that it's almost two years away!

In fiddle news, I've now sounded out credible versions of "Good King Wenceslas" and "All Creatures of Our God and King," although I have a lot of practicing to do to make them sound decent.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Playing Catch-Up

Yeah, I know. I'm really behind.

Wednesday was a gala day. I learned that I'll be getting a big fat royalty check from my story in The Living Dead, an anthology of tales about zombies. The book reprints my story "Beautiful Stuff," which you can also find in my collection The Fate of Mice. (Read my zombie story, along with ten other great stories that have nothing to do with zombies! Makes a great gift idea! Christmas is coming!)

To tell you the truth, I don't get the current zombie craze. As I've remarked to my fiction workshop, they're pretty boring monsters. But TLD has been selling like hotcakes, and as a result, my share of the royalties is not only more than I've made in royalties on my last three books -- not difficult, since they haven't earned royalties -- but is in fact more than my advance for The Fate of Mice. Oh, man. Of course, it doesn't hurt to be in a book with Clive Barker and Stephen King. But still.

So, yeah, we'll be getting a nice bunch o' zombie bucks. Also, Wednesday I learned that I'll be teaching my Tolkien course again in Spring 2011, this time as a semi-lecture course with a cap of fifty students (rather than the usual thirty-three), because the department's desperate to increase enrollments. Hey, just doing my bit to get us through the budget crisis . . . we'll see if this works, but whatever happens, I'll enjoy teaching Tolkien.

Yesterday I received my box o' sock-knitting goodies from Inez, who sent me a bunch of lovely KnitPicks DPNs, some nifty cardboard tubes for holding DPNs and the projects attached to them, four skeins of colorful sock yarn, and a handy little canvas project bag which you can hang from your wrist or from the arm of a chair. This is an extremely useful accessory in places like airplanes, where you want to make sure that your yarn doesn't fall onto the floor and unroll down the aisle, tripping flight attendants and wreaking havoc.

Yesterday I went to see my psychiatrist, who giggled a lot when I told her about fiddle lessons, but thinks they're probably good for me. Then I zipped over to Franklin's Crafts and spent some zombie bucks on fun boucle yarn to make Christmas stockings for three kids, all children of friends. Then I went to another doctor's appointment, this time at the sleep center, since my insurance company is saying they'll no longer pay for my CPAP if I don't have a repeat sleep test (I haven't had one since the first one six years ago). After asking me if I wouldn't like some surgery to remove excess tissue in my throat -- said surgery would leave me with a sore throat and difficulty swallowing for three weeks, and wouldn't even necessarily work, so I declined -- the good doc scheduled me for a sleep test in a few weeks. He also gave me a script for three Ambien so I'll be able to sleep that night, since last time that was a problem. (Hey, you try sleeping in a strange bed while you're wired with more gadgets than the space shuttle, especially when the other people in the sleep lab are snoring like chainsaws, since that's what gets folks into these places. Sleep labs need much better soundproofing than this one has.)

I said, "Ambien? Isn't that the stuff where you get up in your sleep, drive across the country, and eat a supermarket?"

"There can be some retrograde amnesia," the doctor said brightly, "but you won't do anything you wouldn't do ordinarily."

"Oh. Okay. You'd better hide the chocolate, then."

He laughed. "We will. We'll hide the chocolate."

Last night I went to Katharine's to knit and fiddle around with the fiddle. Katharine and Pamela were properly complimentary about my version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb," and even started teaching me "Simple Gifts," but Katharine's attempt to get me to play rhythm flopped. I got completely lost in all the competing notes. Hey, gimme a break: I've only been taking lessons for three weeks! So we knit and ate cookies instead.

Today, Gary and I headed up to scenic Truckee, California for lunch and shopping. He got some odds and ends at their kitchen store. I spent some more zombie bucks on a new skirt and pair of slacks -- both on significant sale -- and then we went to a new (to me) yarn store up there. I liked it a lot, and spent even more zombie bucks on yet another pair of DPNs (ebony, this time, and 7" long rather than the 6" ones from Inez) and yet more sock yarn for Gary. One of these days I'll knit a pair of socks that doesn't slide down around his ankles. I will! I will! I swear it! If it's the last thing I do, I'll never be hungry again!

Oh, wait. Wrong story.

I had a lot of fun practicing the fiddle this evening, largely because I decided not to use the practice mute. After warming up with TTLS and FJ (Frere Jacques), I launched into many successive versions of MHaLL, starting at 70 bpm and working up to, I think, 90. Charlene wants me to get to 100 with good tone. That probably won't happen this week, but I'm heading in the right direction. When I got too bored with Mary and her little lamb, I practiced "Simple Gifts" and "A Mighty Fortress is our God." They're much rougher than Mary or Jacques, let alone the dreaded TTLS, but Gary recognized "Simple Gifts," so I must be doing something right.

I'm going to try to learn some Christmas carols so I can play them for the Philly family when I'm there. I talked to my mother today and asked her if she had any requests. She said, "Not that I can think of, but maybe I will when you're here."

"When I'm there," I said, "your request will probably be for me to stop playing."

Next weekend is the one-year anniversary of Dad's arrival in Reno. Last night I cried some at Katharine's house. Today I got a little sad when Gary and I ate lunch in Truckee, because the restaurant we always to go there was one of Dad's favorites from previous visits, and he never got there after he moved to Reno.

Ah, well. I swam for fifty minutes before dinner. That should help my mood.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

More Socks & Fiddle

Gary's second pair of hiking socks fit better than the first, although he's still concerned that the tops may be too loose. We won't know for sure until he takes them out on the trail, though.

Meanwhile, I had my third fiddle lesson today and actually learned a tune: "Mary Had a Little Lamb." The fingering would be easy, if getting my fingers where Charlene wants them didn't make me feel like my arm's being twisted out of its socket. If my left hand's doing what it should, my bow hold inevitably disintegrates, and when the bow hold's okay, the left hand's out of position, or I'm moving my shoulders too much, or my bow isn't straight. Plus my tone's cruddy, although I trust that will improve with practice.

I've ordered a metronome, which should arrive from Amazon on Thursday. Charlene wanted me to get one, because she says I'm trying to play faster than my brain can think. My homework's to start playing with the metronome at 70 bpm, and gradually get faster until I reach 100 bpm, maintaining good tone along the way. This may take a while!

Does anybody have any tips on how I can get my left hand into position without feeling like I'm trying to become Gumby?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Socks & Fiddle

Tiny updates:

First, the orange socks fit Marin perfectly. Yay!

Secondly, when Gary was hiking yesterday, I practiced the fiddle without the practice mute. The cats didn't sleep through this. Figaro came and rubbed frantically against my legs, and Harley yowled -- nay, yodelled -- downstairs.

From now on, I'll use the practice mute.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


After the animal blessing yesterday, I got together at a coffee house with my talented and delightful former writing students Jody and Christian Lindke, who are visiting from L.A. with their eighteen-month old twins, Nora and Cleo. We took over a corner of the coffee house, which quickly became festooned with toys, sippy cups and dropped food. Jody told me that at home, the family eats on the floor, so the girls were enchanted by dropping their food and watching it fall. Gravity! So much fun!

They also enjoyed the "buzzy bee" game, which I remember my father playing with me when I was small. It's the one where you make a buzzing noise while spiraling your index finger towards the baby's nose or stomach, which you then tickle. Both girls liked this a lot, and would lean towards my finger as it approached. At one point I played with both of them at once, and they both leaned their noses into my fingers. Cute!

They also like giving and getting kisses. And did I mention throwing things? When the throwing event was starting to reach Olympic proportions, we took them outside for a walk. Jody and Christian have baby harnesses and leashes; Jody said, "I was ambivalent about these before the girls were born, but they're absolutely essential now." We walked the babies to a nearby school athletic field, where they had great fun with some kickballs we found lying around. One of the twins also discovered a wet, muddy nerf football, which she carried by the simple expedient of biting it and holding it in her mouth, so she could also carry the kickball and her toys. Said Jody, with a sigh, "It's a really good thing we believe in strengthening their immune systems."

All in all, a thoroughly fun get-together. I hope they come back to Reno soon!

Blessing the Beasties

Yesterday we had our annual Blessing of the Animals at church, in honor of the Feast of St. Francis. There was a smaller numerical turnout than usual, but we got bigger animals, including a miniature donkey -- shown above with the goddaughter of some parishioners -- a mule and a horse.

I took this first picture (thanks to Gary for cropping it for me); the rest are all courtesy of Serwind Netzler, the husband of one of our priests, Sherryl. Our new part-time rector, Joe Duggan, co-blessed the animals with Sherryl.

Here's Sherryl with another of the great big critters. We've never had farm animals before, and they were a real treat. I especially appreciated the dark cross on the back of the donkey, who may be returning on Palm Sunday.

On the other hand, this year we had no birds, fish, lizards or snakes, who are usually all well represented. We missed them!

We did, however, get to pray over intrepid explorer Myrtle the Turtle, who lives with our friends Ned and Janet -- as well as a number of other turtles, both indoor and outdoor, fish and cats -- and who's a regular at the ceremony. Myrtle's surely the most blessed turtle in Northern Nevada, or possibly in the entire state. Look at her go! You can tell she's a turtle with a mission.

While nothing fazes Myrtle, Ned and Janet's cat Oscar looked considerably more uncomfortable. He was a trouper, though, and behaved admirably.

I don't bring our cats, because they'd panic and yowl, and would generally react as if they were being cursed, not blessed. Other years, I've brought photos of them to be blessed, but yesterday morning I was running late and didn't get a chance to print any out before I left the house.

Here are two adorable puppies. They were for sale, and I'd have loved to bring one of them home, but a) puppies are too much work and b) Gary intensely dislikes dogs. It was nice to have a chance to pat them, though. One was very friendly; the other was shy. I was told it was their first time outside.

It was a lovely event. I just hope we get more participants next year!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Happy October!

October's always been one of my favorite months, and when I offered to knit my friend Marin a pair of socks, she chose a color called October. I finished them today, fittingly enough. Gary took this photo; it's at a bit of an odd angle and makes the foot of the sock look longer than the leg, but actually, they're about equal in length. Also, to get good lighting he took these photos on our smooth-top stove, over which he'd laid a blanket, which is why you can see the bizarre chicken photo off to the right.

In case you can't make it out, the photo shows two clenched chicken feet sticking straight out of a cooking pot. My sister brought the picture back from college in the late sixties or early seventies, and my mother had it in her kitchen for years, and now we have it in ours. So it's a family heirloom. We're a bit weird, but you always knew that. And yes, the poor chicken obviously needs socks!

In other news, I went over to Katharine's to knit tonight, and she brought out the green fiddle, and she and Pamela -- who play violin and cello, respectively -- gave me some pointers. They decided that next week I should bring Felicity, as well as my knitting, and we'll all play together. What I can play with two notes (maybe three by then?) I don't know, but they said I can be the rhythm section. Anyway, we had great fun coming up with band names (Strange Strings? Seismic Strings?), and we named the green violin Verity. I told them that by next week, I expect the other instruments to have names, too.

Silly Strings? The Stringalongs?

Anyway, I was touched that they didn't wince too visibly when I played my two notes. Obviously women of great self-restraint! But they both are or have been music teachers, a field in which stoicism is a professional necessity.

Oh, Katharine confirmed Charlene's report that adults don't practice. Many of her adult voice students don't practice, either. She said, "They expect to get it all during their lessons."

Huh. Not me. I don't expect to get more than a quarter of it even with daily practice.