Friday, May 30, 2008

Camp Mimi, Week Four

Yesterday, Starman and I went to Philadelphia so that Starman could see a doctor. No, he's not sick. He's just the victim of the insanity that is the health care system in the U.S.

Short version: He's British, so when he came here, they (the immigration folks) wanted him to undergo a medical. This involved a chest X-ray, which showed some shadow. Three months later, he had another chest X-ray, and nothing had changed. (He's also quite healthy, i.e., no symptoms, so there's really no reason to think he's got lung cancer.) Nonetheless, the radiologist's report said, "get a CT scan for more information." When Starman applied for a Health Savings Account, he was turned down -- repeatedly -- because in the underwriters' eyes, he has failed to follow doctors' orders. We finally added him to my Cobra coverage just to get insurance to pay for the CT scan and a doctor to say, "No, this man is not sick." This way, maybe we can get proper insurance.

Okay, so we took the Meemster with us. She's actually a very good car dog -- relatively quiet, attentive, well-behaved, and pleasant to be with in the car. She was also very good in Philly; we rang up Hub 1.0 (we had parked in the shade near his office building) and he came downstairs to meet her. [Evidence that we're all WAY too old: I wanted Hub 1.0 to take a photo on his camera of him and the dog so that his secretary could see it. None of us -- and believe me, there's brain power to spare when you get all three of us together -- could figure out how to do it. Sorry, Katrina! We tried...]

And when it was time to walk over to the doctor's office, Mimi settled onto the back seat and slept peacefully for a couple hours. [Here's the necessary reassurances for all you pet-lovers out there: the ambient temperature was under 80 degrees, we left all four car windows cracked open, Mimi had gotten a fair amount of water to drink before we left her there, and the car was in full shade. Believe me, we would not have done this if there was even a chance she'd be uncomfortable.]

We were really reassured by her composure and calm during the day. Of course, that didn't last when we got home, so Starman took her out for a long twilight romp on the lawn to burn off some of her barky energy, but after that Mimi was much calmer. I'm overdue today to get her outside, but she's snoozing -- and snoring -- peacefully, so I'm not too stressed.

FedEx is due to deliver eight (count `em, EIGHT) new outdoor toys for her. She's actually gotten fussy -- I pulled out the red rubber Frisbee (or, to honor Hasbro's trademark, I'll just call it a throwing disk) yesterday, and Mimi looked up at me like "I don't think so," and then went over to the white 5-gallon bucket where her outdoor toys get stored, as if to see what her other options were. Uh, okay, dog. Let me see what else your majesty might like...

On Tuesday, Starman walked Mimi along the dirt track that trails along the south side of the valley we're on. The track eventually opens up, and then evolves into a dirt road named the same as ours but for "South" where ours is "North." What we hadn't appreciated was that there are houses on South Widget Road. Houses where dogs live. And one house where the dogs are allowed outside all day. Untethered. So I get a cell phone call where all I can hear is multiple dogs barking, and Starman saying something. It took multiple calls before the reception was good enough for me to figure out where he was and how I could get him and Mimi.

We were concerned that Mimi not get a complex about these dogs from this encounter, so we both went back the next day. The two dogs in question are a 9-week-old hound puppy (very unstable energy!) and a calm chocolate lab who will obey direction, but if unchecked will act as the wingman to the puppy's attacks. Mimi alternated between being nervous, submissive, anxious, and aggressive. Luckily, another set of neighbors was there, and they were able to explain about the puppy (named Pepper!). The Morgans got leads for Lily and Pepper and took them back to the owner's house. But I still think it was good for Mimi to go back. In a few months' time, if Pepper's owner gets some of the territorial aggression resolved, Mimi could get along okay with those two.

That was less than 24 hours earlier than our time in downtown Philadelphia, and certainly Mimi showed no evidence of having issues, so that's good.

Anyway, it's time I get her outside.

Um, I'm not sure about this one, but . . .

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Sister Howitzer of Reasoned Discussion.

Get yours.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meta Blogging

If you are a blogger, or just read blogs, or think about blogging, read this article. (Or not -- it's long. Your choice.)

I've read it. It's an interesting but rather scary account of an edgy twentysomething in New York City who blogged, got a job blogging, blogged some more, got accused of blogging, and ultimately decided it was okay to write all about it in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. It made me think about "over-sharing." I don't think I've pissed anyone off about what I have, or haven't, written here, although I have recently been reminded that blogging about something is NOT an acceptable substitute to actually telling someone something. "You read about it here first," is not a good motto for a blogger to have.

At the same time, I've been thinking about the unusual intimacy, or simulacrum thereof, that arises from reading the blog of someone that you don't know. I read someone's blog -- no one I've actually met -- and I have the illusion that I would really like her if I met her in person. But I'm not likely to meet her, and while I think it's more likely than not that I actually would like her, I have to concede I'll never find out. Even if we did meet, we wouldn't become friends. Those are the odds. I'm just happy I get to read her blog, and through that blog, get a sense of her life.

She (this woman; I'll call her Ava for no particular reason) seems remarkably level-headed. She has a job, she has hobbies, she has relationships that are both professional and personal. She doesn't write about anything too intimate on her blog, but blogging is intimate no matter what, so I know more about Ava than I otherwise would. One of the things I like about her is that she seems pretty happy in her life. There's precious little angst in her blog.

A few months ago, Ava made a reference to needing a new "tumor doctor." That was all she wrote, and while I concluded she has, or has had, cancer, I didn't get all worked up about it. Ava does too much to be actively fighting cancer. I don't know from personal experience, but I get the impression that it takes time to fight cancer, and if you don't actually write about those activities in your blog, then your discussions of the non-cancer-fighting activities would reveal the blank spots left from times spent fighting cancer. Chemo, radiation, recovering from chemo & radiation, tests, waiting for test results -- it's all pretty time- and energy-consuming. Or so I gather.

I started reading Ava's blog about six months ago. It's a challenge when you start reading a blog whether you want to read the backlog. I didn't bother with Ava's blog; she posts pretty frequently so I didn't go through withdrawal and need archival material to fill the silence. But the other day, Ava posted about how this summer she wasn't going to get a new MRI to look at her existing brain tumor. She's done it in past summers, but she wasn't going to this summer.


Now I needed more information. I went back to last summer's posts, and sure enough, there's a mention of going to the doctor with the huge tropical fish tank to learn that there's been no change. This isn't the traditional cancer survivor, whose tumor was excised but who is living out the five year cancer-free period so crucial in longevity statistics. Of course, there's still stuff I don't know. Is Ava's tumor benign? That would explain a lot; in that scenario, it can't be surgically removed, but she still needs to take meds to keep it from growing because if it grew, it could put pressure on the optic nerve, for example. (She's promised a friend that if she starts to go blind, she'll get to an emergency room.)

At this point, I'm torn. I have no idea what Ava's life is like -- I don't have a tumor growing or not growing inside of me (at least, I hope not...) -- and to the extent that I have a chronic illness requiring drugs, it's a pretty easy drug to take with no side-effects or ancillary concerns. By contrast, Ava's meds cause her to be unable to eat breakfast. Now that's just plain unfair. If I were her, I'd make the traditional time for brunch be 4 p.m. and stare down anyone who didn't want eggs Benedict at teatime!

But then I started to think about what I do know. In a much larger context, I know what it's like to have something monstrously unfair happen, something that sucks, something that changes everything. Who I am, and the life I lead, is all defined and shaped by what happened to me when I was a child. I wouldn't wish my childhood on anyone, but I wouldn't redo those years if given the option. If the abuse and molestation hadn't happened, I wouldn't be me. I can't endorse what happened, but I still celebrate what I've done in my life.

Does that qualify me to empathize with Ava's brain tumor? I rather think not. And I'm not even sure that sympathy is called for. Ava's a wicked cool person. Why focus on the sucky part of her life and not celebrate all the cool things she is and does?

So, here I am thinking about blogging, the curiously detached intimacy of sharing life details on the Internet (in my case, about a dozen friends and maybe one stranger) and reading the life details of other people who aren't much more famous than I am, when the NYTimes publishes a long thing on the topic. Well, not precisely on the same topic, but in the general realm. I don't want Ava to be sorry she posted about her tumor. I don't want Starman or Hub 1.0 sorry that I write occasionally about them. I like blogging, and I'd hate it if I abused the privileges it gives me. And I'd hate it if I made someone like Ava regret the fact that a virtual stranger feels an odd connection with her.

So I didn't comment on her blog about her tumor. I just thought about it. And now I've written about it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Let's hear it for the noble laptop

I'm sitting in the "keeping room" at Harmony. (That is, we were told, the historical name given to a space that in modern houses is called a "great room." Basically, an open space with the kitchen, a seating area, and a dining area. The only differences are a) ours has a cosy wood stove, original woodwork, and a massive fireplace where people actually cooked 200+ years ago, and b) it's not at the back of a McMansion.)

I'm working on an English laptop computer -- you can tell this because I have a £ sign, and the quotations marks are in a weird place on the keyboard. Mimi is behind me, happily destroying a rawhide bone. We prefer this to her new game of destroying her chenille bedding inside her crate. Unfortunately, she's a very uh, oral dog. We bought her a lovely extraterrestrial-themed toy intended to be thrown by the human and caught by the dog. Well, she's not much for the catching-in-mid-air aspect of such games, but she loved retrieving it and then "playing" with it. I have photos (which I'll save for later) of what she did to it, given that it's made -- or it WAS made -- of black nylon canvas. Mimi shreds stuff. So far, she shreds stuff that we bought specifically for her to play with, but if she gets much farther with her bedding, I'm afraid that she'll be sleeping on cranberry red chenille confetti.

But the beauty of all this is that I'm in a room that was designed for people to do stuff together, or at least in parallel. The original design of the room was that someone could be cooking while someone else could be playing a game while another person could be reading. In the present instance, I'm blogging while my dog is destroying rawhide. And that's virtually the same as what they were doing during the Federalist period, if they'd had Internet access, right?

In a couple minutes, I'll whisk Mimi into her crate for the evening, then go downstairs to continue working on the baby quilt I'm making. Or maybe I'll do some ironing. Whatever. The point is, for right now, this very minute, I'm minding the dog. Which makes me feel virtuous.

[Of course, if a cat walks in the room -- and trust me, they have more sense than to do that -- the jig is up. There's no &%£*#$^ way I could get untangled from the wires fast enough to stop the dog from "playing" with the cat. But I will continue to enjoy the illusion of being responsible while multitasking.]

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lilac Season

It's Lilac Season. Yes, I know all the reasons why lilacs are a sadly deficient flower. They only bloom once a year, they make terrible cut flowers, they come in a limited range of colors, and they take forever to get to a nice size. We planted these in 2001, I think, and they're still not where I want them to be.

I don't care. I love lilacs, and they are my favorite flower. Hub 1.0 and I planted nine varietals along the road, intending for them to form a hedge (maybe in another 10 years -- ?). I made a judicious selection from a specialist lilac farm in Canada; I wanted a range of color, floret configuration (single vs. double, for example), and size. But I did pick among those said to have a nice scent.

The first three are pictured here: President Lincoln (a classic "blue" lilac), Charles Joly (the gangly red one), and Edith Cavell (a pleasant white one).

I did try photographing the entire roadside collection, but it's not a very interesting picture. Imagine a bunch of green bushes with dots of color that are barely recognizable as flowers, and you have the right idea.

This is Konigin Luise, and my goodness, she is magnificent this year. Some white lilacs are actually a slightly dirty color, but Luise here is the crispest shade -- making you think of cotton pique, lace-trimmed sheets, or fresh snow.

All the same, I'm fondest of the bluish lilac varietals. This is President Grevy.

And this is President Lincoln. I love this color.

It's funny -- if you saw this plant by itself, you'd say, "Oh, a lilac," and not really think twice about the color. But when you line them all up, you can see the wild variations in color and so forth. Kind of fun.

Baby Charm. No, that's not the official name (which is, possibly, Charm). "Charm" was described on the Canadian lilac farm's website as "pale lilac"; this flower is actually a very robust color in real life. So I don't know if we have Charm here, or what. I don't care. When I ordered all the varietals I wanted, I got the largest size they came in (36" I think), but Charm was only available in a smaller size. After we planted her, she failed to thrive, and actually got smaller!

Hub 1.0 and I worked hard to encourage Baby Charm, as we called her, to grow, and celebrated when she made it to 36". This is the first year she's produced a good show of flowers, and while she bears no resemblance to the description I got from the grower, I love her for sentimental reasons.

Another reason I have to suspecting that I may not have "Charm" here is that there's another clear mix-up in the nine that we purchased. We numbered them from 1 (at the southern end of the road) to 9 (Baby Charm at the north). Here's the list as I recorded it after we'd planted them:

1. President Lincoln (pale blue)
2. Charles Joly (reddish)
3. Edith Cavell (white)
4. Vulgaris -- (lilac)
5. Edward Gardner (pink)
6. President Grevy (bluish)
7. Konigin Luise (white)
8. Katherine Havermyer (lavender)
9. Charm (pale lilac)

Okay, so President Lincoln is clearly right, as is Charles Joly, Edith Cavell, Edward Gardner (not pictured, but a lovely, lacy pink color), President Grevy, Konigin Luise, and Katherine Havermyer (also not pictured). Because I had a small accident with a herbicide in 2003, #4 (intended to be the classic roadside lilac, Syringa Vulgaris) had a set back for a couple years. But it didn't die, and this year the lilac in that position bloomed pretty convincingly . . . pink. In fact, I'm hard pressed to see any differences between it and its neighbor, Ed Gardner. So I don't think I got what I paid for there, either.

These things happen, and there's no reason to be upset. Now, the amount of weeds in my flower beds -- that's upsetting, but now that Mimi is off lead part of the time (we didn't even make it two weeks...), I can get back to weeding. As soon as it stops raining!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Tiny Bit of Patchwork

I'll just run through all my reasons for not sewing, or doing anything quilting-related, for the past few months: the wedding, the wedding, and oh, uh, hold on, it's coming to me -- oh, right! the wedding.

But here we are, and it's no longer a valid excuse. (Yeah, right, like "oh, I need to look at the wedding photos!" is going to cut it as an excuse. I so don't think so.) Meanwhile, I'd agreed to sew a 12" block for the Chenango Piecemakers guild. The way this works is, they give you some focus fabric (in my case, it's the large scale blue & white print on the outside of the block) and then invite you to make a block on any design you want.

This proved to be a good exercise for me. I had bought a CD with a lot of blocks on it, alphabetized, and analyzed in terms of what sized pieces you need to cut. This block is called Memory Wreath; I picked it because it had large areas of the focus fabric. (In fact, the large scale print was supposed to be in the on-point square in the middle, but the amount the guild gave me wasn't large enough to cut out the large triangles and then cut out the middle square. I discovered this tiny detail just too late to reconsider my block choice, or figure out another way to cut the triangle. Hummph.)

The rest of the fabrics are from my stash. I wouldn't have this many blue & white prints except that I collected them for a full year in order to make Coffee Jones's "signature color" quilt. Even so, I fussed about over this one single square until I was happy with the final result. I like it, though, and it also helped me with sewing raw-bias triangles. (That's the hypotenuse of the triangles -- it's on the bias of the fabric, which means it can be pulled out of shape really easily.) I had problems with the Harmony Triangle Quilt, which had a lot of exposed bias edges. This time, I bought some spray starch to stiffen the pieces before I sewed. To almost all of you, this means nothing. But look closely -- the points in this block are pretty good. That means they meet up neatly without getting cut off.

So, that's the first sewing I've done in a while. Next up: the two baby quilts I said I'd make before the children in question enroll in day care...!

Friday, May 16, 2008

More from Camp Mimi (almost Week Three!)

We'll have had Mimi a full two weeks tomorrow, and a lot has happened. She's been spayed, she's peed inside the house (our bad -- a dog's notion of "indoors" and "outdoors" is not precisely the same as a human's, so we've been taking precautions since then, and all's been well), she played with her new toys, and she's learned to sit, almost when we want her to!

Here's Mimi with Starman, on the grass. She loves being outside, provided it's not raining. It's raining now, and that is not making for a happy dog. Tough. You will survive being wet... (and we'll survive the "wet dog smell").
When we first went shopping for play toys for Mimi, we fell in love with a series of realistic animals sold with AKC labels. (I am not sure I believe that a licensing deal by the American Kennel Club guarantees real quality, but at least someone has looked at the toy and said, "probably won't kill anyone..." if only to prevent an ugly lawsuit. . . Um, I'm doing that lawyer thing, aren't I? Sorry.) Here she is enjoying "Possy," her opossum toy. She's very gentle with it, if you consider gentle to be consistent with shaking it vigorously from side to side. She doesn't try to eviscerate it, though, and that's my definition of gentle.

Another AKC toy we've gotten so far is Rocky, the raccoon. We have Bunny, but that's living in the car at the moment, for car travel. We need to get a groundhog, but NOT a skunk. There's a skunk living around here -- we trapped it twice and released it both times -- but we really don't want Mimi to mess with the skunk. If she does, though, Hope (hi, Hope!) has a recipe for what to wash the dog with.

This would be that "gentle play" I was telling you about.

We're supposed to be keeping Mimi from running and jumping for two weeks following the surgery. This is harder than it seems, as she's feeling very feisty just at the moment. We've done pretty well so far, although she is very energetic when she plays with a tuggy toy, and that can't be good for the abdominal wall, can it?

Anyway, that prohibition ends on Wednesday, and we've got to decide if she comes to Philadelphia with us. (Oh, right, I forgot to mention that to Hub 1.0 -- she'd have a crate, mind you, so she wouldn't be any trouble at all . . .!) It could be that I come by myself and Starman stays at home to work with Mimi on expending lots of pent-up energy. We'll see.

We did take her to Conklin last weekend to the annual town-wide yard sale. She was good as gold with people, and particularly with kids. Sat calmly, let people pet her (pretty much everyone asks permission first, even little kids), didn't bark or squirm or anything. The only blot on her record came when she really really really wanted to meet a German Shorthair Pointer (or something of that ilk). She was heeling pretty well until we were about ten feet away, and then she lunged. The Pointer barked, and its owner hustled it away. Poor Mimi was heartbroken. Babe, don't you know it's never good to show how emotionally needy you are?

We met up in Conklin with Scott & Hope, friends of Starman's from yoga. Hope was pleased to meet Mimi but we didn't hang out very long. The next day, I was taking the long (2.6 mile) loop walk we refer to as "Cat Hill." (This is now officially a misnomer, but we called it that because it includes a steep slope to a T-junction. At the top of the hill is a house that used to have stray and feral cats living underneath it. So the slope became known as "Cat Hill" and the full walk is the Cat Hill Loop, primarily because seeing the cats was the reward for making it up the hill, and also because once you'd done that bit, you really had no reason not to keep going around for the rest of the loop. But then the old guy died, and his heirs collected all the cats, and now the only reward for getting up the slope is the knowledge that the rest of the walk is way way easier.) I'd just turned the corner and was walking along the level road north of the (former) cat house when I saw a car coming towards me. I moved onto the grass with Mimi, and promptly fell flat on my face. Who gets out of the car to check on me, but Hope! Small world we live in. (I'm fine, thanks.)

Life with a dog is good. I've lost two pounds since the beginning of the month!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Bride's Side (Part 2)

My aunt, Thacher, aka "Granny Jones" (Coffee's mother):



The Jones-Burgers:

Bean Jones, in his wedding finery:

Bride's Side (Part 1)

Now it's time for the folks I know, are related to, or used to be married to!

In addition to Starman, and Fritz, we have my friend Jay, Hub 1.0, Bean Jones (Coffee's son), and Dino Burger, Coffee's husband:

Hub 1.0:

Hub 1.0's mother, Anne. Now, admit it -- having your ex-husband at your remarriage could be a good sign, or maybe not, but there's no way his mother shows up unless everyone really is okay!

Mary Rosalind, a family friend of Hub 1.0's going way back. She was particularly pleased when he and I married, and I really adore her, so it made sense to invite her. She got some time with Anne & Hub 1.0. As it turns out, she has a lot in common, geographically speaking, with Michael & Bryony. I love it when a plan comes together...

Mary Rosalind's son, Tom. He's -- I hope I get this right -- an art historian, currently teaching at Cambridge. He wanted to come because the wedding was set at Fountains Abbey, and I was so happy that he could join us. Hub 1.0 doesn't see enough of Mary Rosalind and her kids since he moved to the U.S. (although we did attend Rob's wedding a few years ago), so it was nice they had this opportunity to get caught up.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Groom's Side (Part 2)


Nicky's husband, Fritz:

Fritz talking to Alison:

Camilla's family (Lily, Francis & Sam):

Bryony, Michael's wife, listening to his speech.

Can I tell you how wonderful Bryony was throughout this whole thing? In addition to the obvious over-and-above, such as hosting us multiple times, dealing with the wedding suits for Starman & Michael and Lucy's bridesmaid dress, and responding to countless emails from me, Bryony was a rock through the entire process. We picked Fountains Abbey because they took us there on an outing in 2006, and because of its proximity to Michael & Bryony's home. I could make a cynical comment wondering if they knew what they were getting themselves into with that excursion, but such doubts would be unfair. Bryony and Michael would do the entire thing over again if we asked them, even hosting seven people for the weekend and putting on a wonderful tea & supper party the day before the wedding. These people are complete stars in our book!

The Groom's Side (Part 1)

Not that we did this, mind you -- we didn't have ushers leading people to one side of the aisle or another. In fact, our only concern with seating was that the bridesmaids have seats up front with their mums. (The "crone" had a seat up front, but we didn't make her mother, my aunt Thacher sit there with her.)

Still, Starman's family was well represented. In the front row, going from right to left, you've got Starman, his brother Michael, Michael's son Jack, Camilla's son Sam and her husband Francis. Behind Starman are his friends Alison & Derek, and behind Jack is Camilla & Francis's daughter, Lily.

Nicky, Amelia's mother:

Lily: My friend Jay, and Alison & Derek. Derek could almost qualify for both sides of the aisle; in addition to having been Starman's co-editor of "the hardest crossword in the English language," Derek was a classmate of my cousin Dusa. They are both well-respected mathematicians, and were co-heads of their class at University. (Co-wranglers?)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

{ interlude }

Just a brief word about the photos. The brilliant Damian took 750 photographs, which he sent to us on a CD in low-resolution format. When I'm picking photos from these to upload, I'm working off a tiny thumbnail, and where there are several shots of, effectively, the same thing, I can't really distinguish the difference from the thumbnails. I may go back and swap out, say, # 403 for #402, but they all look so good, it's not a high priority at this time. It helps that the "models" are so photogenic!

What we'd really like to do is post, in effect, a video slide show with the soundtrack being Georgina's harp playing and the sounds of the wedding guests arriving. This is technically feasible (we don't have the audio yet, but it's coming) but it may take some time.

Next up: The groom's family...!

Our Attendants (Part 3)

Ah, the ubiquitous "wellies shot." What, you mean every wedding album doesn't have this picture? These were purchased specially for this wedding, and were only slightly less expensive than Coffee's dress. But worth every penny, particularly as a) they can be worn again (unlike the dress, which is a tad situation-specific), and b) they helped to ensure a dry day for tromping around Fountains Abbey. My wellies were not such a perfect color match, but they were -- unlike my specially-dyed shoes -- very comfy.

Thank you both, Coffee J. & Michael, for being so happy and attentive to us on our wedding day!

Our Attendants (Part 2)

[Starman is totally going to kill me for picking this next picture, where his eyes are closed, but it's such a nice one of Michael. On the left is Camilla, one of Starman's sisters, who is a dead ringer for Cate Blanchett, btw.]

Our Attendants (Part 1)

Coffee Jones was my "crone-of-honour" (a term that reflects both her wonderful sense of humor and our English surroundings), while his brother Michael was Starman's best man. While it's true that everyone made this event possible, these two people really stepped up, with an honourable mention to their respective spouses (to be seen in a future post), because they really stepped up too. Lots of stepping up took place!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bridesmaids (Part 4)

I slipped a couple other people in at the end.