Wednesday, November 29, 2006

In Remission

It has been pointed out to me recently that I am quite remiss in blogging. That is true. No excuses – here I am to rectify the situation.

I find myself surrounded by blessings at the moment. Michael returned to work fulltime a month ago. Not a contract job, but a real, salaried position as a Senior Technical Writer for an oil and gas company. The pay is better and the commute much shorter than at his previous job. On Friday, we start getting insurances benefits. (If you have followed my blog much, you will know that high prescriptions costs have been very troubling for us during Michael’s lay-off.) The day Michael received his first paycheck, we celebrated by going out to dinner at Chili’s. Not glamorous, perhaps, but good food and guilt-free when the check came. Marvelous feeling, being able to buy dinner in a restaurant without worrying about the consequences.

Another special experience this month occurred in Austin. The Lutheran Social Services sponsored a marriage retreat weekend for adoptive parents that we got to attend. We simply wanted to get away. Our expectations for the weekend were not too high, other than a nice room and privacy in the evenings. It turned out to be so much better than that. The room (at the Embassy Suites North) exceeded our expectations. Apparently, they mean it when they say “suites” because we had a suite of rooms. The LSS people arranged the meals and our group ate like royalty. Not only did they provide excellent food, but the dessert table... oh, my! I love dessert, but I usually do not eat it after a meal. I ate some of everything at every meal with no qualms whatever. They served an Italian crème cake as light and fluffy as clouds, cheesecake that melted from the fork into your mouth, and a chocolate decadence cake that I could only manage a bite or two of because of its richness.

In addition to the wonderful food and fine accommodations, the retreat itself turned out to be very helpful, even for an old married couple like us. We had some fun, too. On Saturday, LSS arranged a Salsa party with instructors. Michael and I cut the rug. We may not have been the best dancers, but we did win a darling, red “hottie” bear for our work on the dance floor. When we returned to our room that evening, we found a red rose and a basket of special chocolates from Lammes Candies. I do not know Lammes, but it seemed that everyone from that area knew the company and the candy is excellent.

Also during November, I won another first place ribbon from the Houston Photographic Society for my photographic illustration “Prelude to a Postlude.” I took this photograph with 35 mm film, then had it digitized and manipulated it on Photoshop Elements. Finally, I printed it on watercolor paper. It looks like a painting, not a photograph. The picture is a close up of two roses (from my bush out front, of course) and a chocolate cake (that I made) on my Grandmother Gustafson’s cake plate. Originally, I printed the picture as an 8x10, then had it enlarged to 16x20 and printed on cold press watercolor paper at my favorite photo lab (Photographic Techniques). The resulting exquisite print is now hanging in the Stages Theatre lobby in a WIVLA show for Stages upcoming play, “5 Course Love.” I have decided that I can call myself an artist as well as a writer after winning two first place ribbons in photography this year.

I will stop here. I have my hand back in and plan to be more regular in my postings. I can not handle the disappointment of my number one fan!


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rube Goldberg Would Be Proud

My friend Cheryl sent me this illustration. It had a joke with it that I found much less interesting than the illustration. I tracked it to an original (I think) source, but no name on it. I cannot place it directly in the blog because when I do the many interesting elements do not move. Just click on the title and you will go to the original page where this Rube Goldberg device resides.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Altered Book About Minnie Fish

I recently completed an art piece for a fundraiser sponsored by Friends of Women's History at the University of Houston. The University asked WIVLA members (you can find other info about WIVLA in my blog if you look at the earlier entries) to look at the special archives collection for women's history, pick a subject/person, and create art or writing about it/her.

I choose Minnie Fisher Cunningham, an extraordinary woman who lived from 1882 to 1964 and was instrumental in women's suffrage, the National League of Women Voters, and many other important accomplishments. She is, of course, largely forgotten.

For my artwork, I decided to make an altered book and put Minnie Fish (as she was called) back into Texas history. I did that by altering the book Lone Star by Fehrenbach and putting her pictorially and figuratively in the book. The writing in the book is actually Minnie's own story of her life, which she wrote in longhand (and in third person). I found it in the archives.

My piece received a lot of attention at the gala event last night and many kind compliments. I felt very happy with the work. It did sell in the silent auction and I had to let it go home with a stranger - although she seemed like a nice stranger.

Luckily, Michael took pictures for me before the event and I have them here for you to enjoy. I created a webpage gallery with Adobe Photoshop Elements.


1: Front Cover with page markers
2: Front Cover
3: Inside Front Cover
4: Map
5: Map with foldout
6: Title page (adjacent to foldout page)
7: Introduction
8: Fisher Farm - This page has a beautiful Oak Tree image which I borrowed (with permission) from a custom tile manufacturer in Canada called Wandering Fire Pottery.)
9: Later Life

10: Education
11: Marriage
12: Poster for a Speech
13: Huntsville
14: Houston
15: Galveston
16: Austin

17: Washington
18: Inside Back Cover (Timeline)
19: Back Cover

Saturday, October 07, 2006

I got flattering results from the Celebrity Lookalike program!!

This is a slick program, easy to use, and so flattering!! Who wouldn't LOVE being told that she looks like Geena Davis, Kate Winslett, Julie Christie or Sela Ward? I never heard of Shari Arison - my top match - but apparently she's the richest woman in Israel. If you try the program, let me know who looks like YOU!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Guest Writer Rachel Talks about Lupus (click here to go the Lupus Foundation website)

This is an article Rachel wrote for her MOMS club. Rachel is a friend of mine from church who, like me, has Lupus. Rachel has given me permission to share it for Lupus Awareness Month. Her thoughts are beautifully expressed. Any comments I get, I will pass on the her.

Rachel on Lupus

I am at war with myself.

On a cellular level, in fact, my body cannot distinguish friend from foe, healthy from damaged, self from intruder. And so my immune system attacks anything and just about everything, leaving behind damaged cells and organs which cannot do their work and replacing vital organs with scartissue. I can talk about this fervently, with complete candor, or casually, as if I were teaching a course on Lupus. I have been trying to stop this battle for over ten years now.

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s not entirely true to say that I have Lupus. I have Mixed Connective Tissue Disease with features of SLE (systemic lupus erythematosis) and Polymyositis along with Interstitial Lung Disease and Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura. I have a medical history form which I put together to include my medications, history, and allergies; it currently takes up 2 ½ pages of single-spaced text. In many ways, I am just waiting for the next shoe to drop – for the next syndrome or diagnosis or expression of the message central to all of this. I’m waiting for the next way in which my body decides to break itself down. One thing is for sure. None of you will ever have the diseases I have in the combination I do. As far as my doctors can tell, I am unique. Every complication is uncharted territory. Every treatment is experimental.

I’m not writing this to tell you how to avoid Lupus (or its host of related illnesses). No one knows why some people get Lupus. It’s not contagious or linked to risk behaviors. There seems to be a genetic predisposition, but there is no established genetic link. Diet, exercise, stress, activity level, income, gender, ethnicity, and location seem to affect the severity, expression, and incidence of Lupus, but any of those links are tenuous at best. Statistics say that 1.5 million Americans already have it. Of those, 90% are women. Of those 90%, 80% are women of childbearing years (15-45). People of color are two-to-three times more likely to be diagnosed with Lupus as are their Caucasian cohorts. Believe me, I wish I could tell you how to avoid getting Lupus.

Lupus is known as ‘The Great Imitator.’ It can mimic dozens of other diseases and the average length of time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis is thought to average four years. The symptoms can be nebulous, but the diagnostic criteria call for seven of the following characteristics: photosensitivity (sensitivity to light), malar rash (butterfly or ‘wolf bite’ rash on both cheeks and across the bridge of the nose), Raynaud’s syndrome (discolored fingers in response to cold or stress), achy or swollen joints, fevers, fatigue, skin rashes, kidney damage, pleuritis, hair loss, sores in the mouth or nose, abnormal laboratory tests, and seizures. The effects of Lupus vary for individuals and can involve any tissue in the body. It can also affect thinking abilities, memory, and personality. It affects the patient’s career, finances (one of my medications is $4000 per dose), personal choices, family size, living arrangements, and appearance. Sometimes Lupus patients who are suffering greatly appear completely healthy.

Twenty years ago, anyone who thought she might be one of the above statistics had very little hope for a good future. Today, most people with Lupus can expect a normal life span and there are many very effective medications to help minimize the impact of the disease on a patient’s daily life. Treatment is tailored to the patient’s disease process, starting with anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-malarials, corticosteroids, immunomodulators, and chemotherapy. Promising advances are being made all of the time.

October is Lupus Awareness Month. So, now that you are aware that someone you know has Lupus, I urge you to talk to your family and friends about it. Visit the Lupus Foundation of America’s website for more information Wear a rubber bracelet if it helps you. Add your two-cents’ worth to the debate over stem cell therapy, if you wish. Just please be aware.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

One Gb of Bliss

We love to hate our computers, don’t we? My most recent computer, which I bought new from Dell two years ago, drove me crazy until last week. The damn thing just ran so slow. I did not notice it at first, but it before very long, I had a problem.

Now, I run a lot of memory hungry software, like Abobe Photoshop Elements, and I have a lot of images on my computer. Over the years, my files have built up, too. There’s a lot on my machine. So I thought that or spyware caused my slowness problems.

I tried everything recommended on Geek Radio (on KPFT, Pacifica, here in Houston) but nothing worked. When I tried to clean up files, the machine said I didn’t need to defrag, or the files were already compressed. When I looked at a system pie chart, it showed that I had over half my memory available – or, I should say, allegedly available, because it didn’t seem to be there for me.

I ran spyware programs and malware programs and nothing turned up worth mentioning. The problem had me stymied and truly frustrated. In the course of trying to fix this, I had the massive computer meltdown that I mentioned here last month. It ended up with the Geek Squad coming out. My agent did fix the immediate computer problem, but I wanted him to do something about the slow, dragging computer, too.

After checking it out, the agent told me that I only had 128 Mb of RAM on my machine!! Who knew? I guess I thought Dell would put in enough basics to run a computer. But they didn’t and I never even checked that out. The Geek Squad agent told me to buy some more RAM and install it, preferably 512 Mb. Now, 512 Mb used to be the most RAM you could put on a computer. Not anymore.

When I started researching this, I discovered that 1 Gb RAM (okay, 1 Gb SDRAM) is now available. And that’s what I bought.

Think about it. One byte is one item of information, on or off, yes or no. One Kb is a thousand bytes of information. One Mb is a million bytes of information. One Gb is a BILLION bytes of information. My computer went from moving data around with 128 million bytes of memory to using one billion bytes of memory. Does it ever zip now!!!

It took me about a week to get the part ordered and a few days for it to arrive. I opened it and checked for damage, but then I just ignored it for about a week. I wanted to install it, but the process daunted me. I would have to pull my computer out from the darkest recesses of my desk – I mean, the farthest left rear corner, where it was STRAPPED to a hanging computer holder from IKEA – and I would have to detangle wires that had spawned offspring since I plugged them in all neat and tidy last year. I would have to face dust bunnies with fangs.

You get the picture. Finally, a frustrating day of waiting more than computing, I just did it. And you know, it wasn’t actually bad.

The last time I installed RAM memory, it was on a Compact computer. There were a lot of very small screws, the whole case had to be coaxed off, the case had sharp edges, and the insides were mostly wires that had to be very carefully negotiated. The documentation was confusing and the writer was definitely not a native English speaker. Is it any wonder I didn’t want to do it again?

But Dell has improved the process greatly. First, I only had to take off one panel, not the whole cover. And there were no screws to undo, not even one. The insides were dusty, yes, but not a jumble of wires. (Perhaps we can thank micro-miniaturization for that.) I could see my target immediately. The directions were clear and written in actual idiomatic English – what a treat.

Bad English Aside: Once, I bought my daughter a plastic wallet, a kid thing you understand. Inside was an identification card. It had spaces for NAME, ADDRESS, TELEPHONE, HAIR (color, I presume), EYES (again, color), and NOSE. What information do you think they expected you to enter about your nose? Perky? Roman? Runny?

Back to the computer. I popped out the old memory – might as well put it in another one of our machines – and popped in the new. Easy as pie. Slipped the cover on, turned the latch, and bingo! I was done.

I set the computer up in the front right-hand corner of my desk where I would forever more be able to get at the back of it without crawling on my belly through dust bunnies. I straightened out the cords and admonished them to stop reproducing. I rearranged the whole top of my desk because the monitor didn’t reach after I moved the computer. It looked perfect and I was ready to rock and roll.

With trembling hands, I pushed in the power button and waited. But what’s this? Zip, zap, zoop – there’s no waiting. It’s Windows in the blink of an eye. The background programs are loaded in another blink. Before I can say, “Hot dog!” my computer is waiting for me.

Well, you can imagine. I have been in computer heaven for the last week. Sometimes I turn it off and on just to watch it. Today we had two – count them – two power failures while I wrote this blog entry and it hardly fazed me. I have found my bliss: one gigabyte of SDRAM memory installed with my own two hands. Can it get any better than this?


Monday, September 11, 2006

"Making a Mark" with Texas Children's Cancer Center

What a wonderful day I had with my Girl Scout Troop on Sunday. My troop is intimate, just two girls, but we have a great time together. Tori (my daughter) and her friend Gabby earned their Silver Award this weekend working at the Making a Mark art show opening at the Texas Children's Cancer Center at Texas Children's Hospital.

The Silver Award is hard to earn. It requires that each girl commit to many hours of service and leadership, earn several badges, including badges on career and business, and complete the 4B Challenge. After all that is done - we spent a year on it - the girls must devise and complete a 50 hours community service project.

Tori and Gabby did their service project for the Cancer Center. Besides helping to set up the art show, they staffed two of the three arts and crafts tables during the opening, helping the most darling children you ever saw create imaginative art. But their project involved more than that. Gabby and Tori assembled 300 kits to make keychain decorations from pony beads and delivered them to Carol Herron, who runs the art program for Texas Children's Cancer Center, on Sunday.

I am very proud of Gabby and Tori. They earned their Bronze Award (the Junior Girl Scout equivalent) as 6th graders and their Silver Award (Cadette Girl Scout level) as 10th graders. Now that they are Senor Girl Scouts (effective in October) they can look forward to earning their Gold Award in the next three years. The Gold Award is a major achievement, similar to the Eagle Scout Award.

Congratulations to Tori and Gabby. I am so proud to be their Girl Scout advisor!!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Silver Awards and September errata

September makes me think of cooler weather. As a child, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, September meant jackets in the evenings and early morning hours. Warm sunny afternoons morphed into chilly nights. Schools days began with the exhilarating feeling of sucking cold air into your lungs as you waited for the bus in the morning. By the time you came home in the afternoon, it seemed like summer again. September felt good, not too hot and not too cold.

Of course, living in Houston, the cooling off is marginal and hardly invigorating; however, temperatures did moderate last week, with several days of mere 80 degree weather. That slight cooling off, combined with the lower angle of the sun's rays, remind my body that fall is here and make me long for crisp, clear jacket weather. It will sneak up on us in late October, most likely.

It started raining sometime in the middle of last night, a steady downpour without thunder and lightning, the kind of rain that makes me want to stay in bed and pretend to be asleep. This morning I stayed in bed actually asleep, which I shouldn't have, because I had a 7:45 A.M. date. If my ride had not called me at 7:50 A.M. to say she would be there in five minutes, I'd have been in real trouble.

Tori and I had to go to Texas Children's Cancer Center today with fellow Girl Scout, Gabby, and her mother, Anne. Tori and Gabby are completing a service project for the Cancer Center in order to earn their Girl Scout Silver Award. The cancer Center sponsors and annual art exhibit of works by children/patients at their center and around the world. Gabby and Tori helped set up the art exhibit today and tomorrow will operate the arts and crafts booth during its opening reception.

In addition to assisting with the actual art show, Tori and Gabby also made 300 pony bead kits to give to patients and their siblings at the Cancer Center. If you don't know what a pony bead is, let me enlighten you!

Pony Bead Aside: These colorful beads are the kind that girls use to decorate their hair. Made of plastic, they are 9 mm around and come in every shade and hue imaginable. We ordered ours from a wholesale company I found on the web and got quite a nice price for them. Instead of paying $5.99 for a bag of several hundred, we paid $2.99 per bag of 1000. This is particularly good when you consider that we needed 20,000 beads to make our kits!

The pony beads are strung together on cording or ribbon in, usually, animal patterns, to make keychain decorations and zipper pulls. Gabby and Tori choose to assemble kits for a penguin, a dragonfly, and a lion. In each kit, the girls put the correct assortment of beads, a lanyard clip, a yard and a half of cording, illustrated instructions, and a business card identifying their troop as the donors. They spent many hours sorting beads, creating a veritable assembly line in my kitchen. It's nice to think of 300 children happily making the decorations.

The Girl Scout Silver Award is one of three awards that a Girl Scout can earn. For Junior G.S. it is the Bronze Award; for Cadette G.S. it is the Silver Award; and for Senior G.S. it is the Gold Award. Each one requires harder and harder accomplishments. At each level, a girl must earn service hours, leadership hours, and multiple badges, plus other requirements. A major service project tops off the work. For Bronze it is a 35 hour project, for Silver it is a 50 hour project, and for Gold it is a 75 hour project. Projects must meet certain Girl Scout conditions to be approved.

Earning these awards is a major accomplishment for anyone and very few actually put in the work to do it. Tori and Gabby both earned Bronze Awards in 6th grade and are now finishing their Silver Awards - with only days to spare - in the 10th grade! (The last date before they lose eligibility to earn this award is September 30 because they have now bridged up to Senior Girl Scouts.) Earning their Gold Award comes next, but, right now, neither one of the girls really wants to think about it, and who can blame them?

I am their troop leader and get to go along on almost all of their activities as chaperone and driver. Lucky me, because Girl Scout activities are usually fun. Today, however, Anne was our designated driver and I was supposed to sleep in. That plan came to an abrupt end when Alexandra (my eldest) had another fainting spell at work and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. She ended up at St. Luke's in the Medical Center, certainly an inconvenient location for us any day except today. St. Luke's is across the drive from Texas Children's! So I rolled out of bed way too early on a rainy Saturday morning and hitched a ride in the troop transport.

While Tori, Gabby, Gabby's sister Christa, and Anne worked at the Cancer Center, I visited Alexandra. She is feeling much better, a little disheartened at being in the hospital - which will cost her a minimum of $250 - yet again when there is really no benefit to being there. She has syncope - sing co pee - which is fainting or losing consciousness temporarily. The syncope may or may not be associated with her recently diagnosed problem of complex migraines and her recently discovered friend Larry (a calcified colloid cyst near her third ventricle). An episode of syncope triggered her long summer of ill health, hospitalizations, and related issues.

Say a prayer, light a candle, chant, or whatever it is you do for Alexandra's return to equilibrium. (And I mean that in its broadest sense!!)

I am going to go to the Houston Ballet tonight with my husband for a few hours of blissful removal from reality. Hope your evening is as pleasant.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Tomorrow is my mother's 84th birthday: happy birthday to you in Helena, Mother.

I sent her a book of postcards featuring the quilts of Gees Bend, a collection of rural quilts from the women who live in Gees Bend, Alabama that I saw at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The quilts are unique, colorful and unlike any quilts I've seen before. This website has some pictures of the quilts:

My mother is a quilter. She maintains a modest demeanor about her quilting, but it is impressive to most people. She took up quilting in the early 1990s, beginning with a difficult type of quilting called Cathedral Window. My aunt Donna tried to show me how to make a Cathedral Window quilt. After watching her and taking the instructions home with me, I failed miserably at it. (In my own defense, it is very complicated to do.)

So I packed up all the supplies I had purchased and mailed them, with the instructions, to Mother. She had never even heard of Cathedral Window quilts before then, but she promptly made a pillow and wall hanging and sent them back to me. Later, I got a larger wall hanging, which is in my foyer right now. From there, Mother turned to queen-sized bed quilts. She used twin flat sheets to make the backing of the quilt and each one required seven twin sheets. A lot of fabric!! Then the individual "stained glass" squares had to be cut and appliqued on to the quilt. Hundreds of them.

The old theory on this type of quilt said that they had to be random patterns, but Mother did not think so. After the first few, she got out her graph paper and started graphing designs. Each box on the graph paper became a square of the stained glass. Doing this, she developed elaborate patterns, from an English garden, the hearts, to a Native American style pattern. Her choices of colors and fabrics is impeccable and detailed. For example, Alix's quilt has large hearts created from blocks of the stained glass fabric and each square of printed fabric in the quilt also has a heart pattern in it. This is Alix's wedding quilt.

Mother made a quilt for each of her daughters, daughter-in-laws, and granddaughters (for their weddings). Then she started making quilts for her sons and grandsons. Then for great-grandchildren. About five years ago, she stopped making Cathedral Window quilts and started piecing and quilting traditional quilts instead. Over the last 15 years, Mother has constructed more than 60 quilts, most of then queen-sized. Recently, she mostly makes crib quilts for the many great- grandchildren who keep coming along. This quilt is an example of her traditional quilting. She made for my late nephew Steven.

Last year for her birthday, I made her a quilt book commemorating her life as a quilter. All my siblings and all their children contributed photographs for the book. Each one also offered a comment that I included in the book. It pleased Mother a lot. When she no longer makes quilts, I am to update the book and make it available to the family.

Mother told me that she would not make any more quilts except baby quilts after she completed mine. I am thrilled to have her "last" quilt. She complained that the quality and workmanship were not up to her standards, but when I saw the quilt I couldn't tell why. It looks just beautiful to me.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Writing about my birthday and various ages and stages of life reminded me about a panoramic photograph I composed last winter. The photos include me as a five-year-old with the ballerina doll I received for my birthday; as a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis; as a young mother with Alexandra at 19 months; and as a 50-year-old at my "It's Good to Be Queen" birthday party.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ain't Birthdays Grand?

Today I turned 56 - a nice round number divisible by 2, 4, 7, 8, 14, and 28. My son Nick is almost 28, so that makes me twice his age, something I didn’t think about when I was 28 and he was an infant. I do not mind being 56 though. It just seems a little unreal to me. My older children – 32 and 27 – are ages that I feel like more than I feel like 56.

Perhaps once you become an adult, it no longer matters what age you are in terms of how you feel inside. I have felt grown-up for so many years that I can no longer fathom it. Did my childhood exist?

I wish I had more vivid memories of my childhood. When I read memoirs of people’s youths, I am always astonished by the details they recall. Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood comes to mind.

Even today, I feel that I do not notice or know enough about the world around me. Except for a few well-known ones, I do not know the names of trees and flowers and birds. The names of songs and the artists who sing them escape me for the most part. I cannot remember actors’ names or movie titles, let alone the minutiae of producers and directors that others seem to have command of. I cannot even remember the names of most authors or books I read, which is ironic because reading and writing are so important to me.

If I ever stumbled onto the set of a quiz show, I would be humiliated in short order. Trivial Pursuits is not my best board game. And yet, I am engaged in the world, well-read, up on current events. I take it all in, but most of it does not stick.

Feelings stick, though. Emotional content resonates vividly for me. I may not remember the kind of tree I am sitting under, but I know absolutely how I felt under that tree. So perhaps I just have different radar than other people, picking up on context, not content.

This is a digression from my intended discourse, something I frequently do, as my writing colleague, Winston, is apt to remind me. But I do not mind digressions. They are often the most interesting parts of life to me.

Back to my birthday before I digress again. My friends and family helped me to celebrate in the most lovely and loving way. My mother called to wish me a happy birthday for her and my father, and to tell me she planned to mail me a quilt tomorrow, her “last quilt” as she put it. (Although I know she will be making more crib quilts, the babies just keep coming in our family.) My dear friends, Cheryl and Dan, sent me an exquisite – and tasty – edible arrangement of melons and pineapple. We ate some of it with dinner tonight and enjoyed every bite.

Nick and Julia gave me a lovely amber necklace that Julia bought in Prague over the summer. Michael and Tori gave me three wonderful books – Four Souls by Louise Erdrich, Conqueror’s Moon by Julian May, and 500 Pitchers from Lark Books. Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite writers, a fellow North Dakotan who I have had the pleasure of hearing read. Julian May is another favorite, a sci-fi writer. I collect pitchers, and my friend and writing colleague Tom Perry has a pitcher featured in the compendium (page 405). So you can see that these books all made me very happy. In addition, Michael and Tori gave me several coupons for special help on everything from car washes to sorting files. What nice people!

Alix plans to give me flowers for the planter boxes Michael built for our pergola as soon as she is out of the hospital, but her real gift to me will be recovering her health. When I first became ill with lupus 17 years ago, my mother told me how upset she felt about my illness. I understand those feelings so much better now that my own daughter is ill. The sense of helplessness feels overwhelming. Mothers are supposed to be able to make things better and I can hardly stand it that I cannot do that.

Another digression threatens; back to my point. I am surrounded by people who love me. What a joy that is. All the frustrations I have had lately seem inconsequential stacked up against the happiness in my life. I feel blessed.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Week of Computer Torture

In my last brief entry, I noted that I had a problem with my computer and would provide more detail later. It is now later - over a week later - and the experience I had has been tortuous. I am still trying to get a refund from the company in question, so I won't trash them yet ... If they do give me a refund, I will have something much nicer to say about them than if they don't.

My computer has been running so dang slow. That proved so frustrating, that I finally decided I had to fix it. First I ran Adaware, Spybot, and Windows Defender thinking that I must have some malware hosing up my system. But almost nothing turned up - four or five suspicious things that did not turn out to be anything bad. I did notice that I had been getting some error messages, though, so I looked the error messages up on the net. That led me to "Registry Errors," which led me to registry fixing software. I looked at several and read a review site, then picked the "best" one and purchased it. It cost $37, which is a lot, but if it fixed my problems, money well spent.

Did it fix my problems? No. It crashed my system. It took me a whole day just to get back up and limping, not running. I worked with my system for a week. I rebooted it from my installation CD. I had numerous email conversations with the software manufacturer. I did everything they told me to do and everything I could think of or research to do. No good. Finally, on Thursday, I called the Geek Squad. They could not schedule an agent for me until Monday!!!

Monday, a nice young man named Stacy came to my house to get things going. I had, by Sunday, actually gotten my system functional - as opposed to non-functional - so Stacy did not have to completely restore it, but he fixed the problems that the registry fix program had caused and got me running semi-fast. At least, faster than I had before this whole debacle started.

And, most importantly, he identified my underlying problem: I need more memory for background processes. I only have 128 mb, apparently the equivalent of a tricycle. He recommended I go for a 1 gig memory board, which I am getting.

Meanwhile, back to the registry program, I asked them for a refund. They hedged for a week, asking me to let them try to fix it. Well, I did, but they did not. Finally, Monday, after paying the Geek Squad their well-deserved $159 fee, I told the software company to pay me the refund and forget helping me. (Their idea of help when my system wouldn't boot was to tell me to go to the Start menu and run the restore program!!) And I haven't heard from them since. I did put a dispute on my credit card account and I will pursue this. I cannot stand paying for something that not only did not work, but actually harmed my computer.

That is all I'm going to say unless they refuse to give me a refund. If I do not get my refund, I will curse their name all over my blog and my website and anywhere else I can think of ...


Monday, August 07, 2006

Equilibrium is not a drug, but it sure feels good

Rant Reconsidered
My equilibrium is restored. It seems I cannot maintain negativity very long (which I view as a good thing). The particular problem that sent me spiraling into a rant of epic proportion in my last blog – Medicare’s enormously screwed up prescription program - resolved enough to make the difference in my attitude.

I discovered that if I bought my prescriptions every month instead of every three months, I could break the costs into more manageable chunks. Also, the insurance company I use for Medicare Part D – Humana – built some price breaks into the price I have to pay, so my end cost proved to be somewhat less than the pharmacy had quoted me. These two things helped a lot. The spill-over costs I will either have to charge on a credit card – which I really LOATH doing – or forego the medications. I am considering giving up at least one of my most expensive drugs – Aricept - although I am not happy at the possibly of losing some of my mental acuity. That’s another discussion though.

One other thing. The doughnut hole is not as big as the pharmacist told me. I do not have to spend to $5,100 before I get coverage again this year; I just have to spend to $3,200. That means that I may get to the virtually free zone before December 31, 2006. We’ll see.

Regardless, I am still angry with the Congress and Senate for enacting such bad legislation. There must be many people out there who are far worse off than I. What are they going to do?

I feel another episode of ranting come on, so let’s leave that topic behind for now.

Computer Happiness
My computer runs so slow, it makes me crazy. I alternate between screaming at it and despairing about it. I began to avoid sitting at my computer even when I needed to do work there.

I tried everything I could think of or read about, to no avail. Then, tonight, I looked up one of my error codes on the internet - an access violation code. Lo and behold, I discovered registry errors. And I discovered that I had an enormous number of them, over 500. After investigating recommended software, I purchased a program and ran it. Voila!! My computer is running very fast and steady. I feel wonderful. If this proves to be reliable, I will tell you more about the problem, product, and process in a future blog.


P.S. I realize this entry is a bit unfocused, but I felt that after my monumental negativity earlier this week, I needed to at least reassure you that I am not stuck there.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Thoughts on Epilepsy, Reading, Doughnut Holes, and Watermelon Pickles

A hard night for me, but more on that later. I cover so much territory in this blog that I have included subheads in bold type. Feel free to skip around as you like. Note bene: "Doughnut Holes" is a rant, and NOT about food. Everything else, I hope, reflects my typical good humor.


First, the news on Alix. The neurologist saw her last week and changed her diagnosis to "epilepsy due to diabetes." Since June 9, she has had the following diagnoses: Colloid cyst, epilepsy due to drug reaction, colloid cyst, epilepsy due to diabetes. The only thing we are sure of - thanks to the detailed images of an amazing contrast MRI - is that Alix does not have a colloid cyst. She intended to have another EEG this week, but last I heard planned to change doctors tonight so she can see another neurologist for a second opinion. (She originally enrolled at work in a big clinic-system medical practice and they will not let her go outside of their three neurologists for a second opinion.) I remain concerned for Alix's well-being, but cannot do more than sit on the sidelines and give her moral support. That feels inadequate to me.

On reading, I can now report successful completion of my quest to read four hundred (400) books in twenty years. I finished John Irving's memoir "My Movie Business" on Saturday and thus had two whole days to savor my feat. I suppose I could have read another book, but after reading seventeen (17) books in the last three months to achieve my goal, I am slightly read-out now. What I would like right now is a very juicy book that I can get lost in - a good single-book sci-fi thriller would be great.

You might wonder, if you do not know me well, how I happened to know that I met this high-water mark in reading on July 29, 2006. It happens that for Mother's Day in 1986, my (then young) children presented me with a lovely blank book. After several weeks of contemplation, I decided to create a book journal and record books as I read them. So I have for twenty years, sometimes faithfully and sometimes playing catch-up after a few delinquent months.

In May 2006, I realized that a BIG anniversary approached, so I undertook to get all the way to the impressively round number of 400. Which I did. In subsequent blogs, I may leaf through the book and offer a sample of my reviews and thoughts on books good and otherwise.

Doughnut holes is the topic that makes my evening so difficult and actually has me downcast. I speak of the infamous Medicare Prescription Plan D doughnut hole whereby the insured (me and millions of other wretches like me) has incurred $2,250 worth of drug costs year-to-date and is therefore not covered for any prescriptions until the total of drug costs exceeds $5,100 in a year. The bottom line: my next $2,850 worth of drugs will be totally out-of-pocket, something I cannot afford.

I had the good fortune to have drugs left over when the new plan started, so I did not have to use the Medicare plan until March of this year. Since March (4 months in case you are counting), my drugs have cost $2,250. There are 4 months left of this year, hence I am reasonably sure of $562 per month in drug expenses. EXCEPT, that I buy my drugs in three-month increments, so I am actually going to need $1,125 in August for drugs and another $1,125 in December. Sadly, I do not have this kind of money lying around - or even in the bank. (And PULLEASE do not roll your eyes about our lack of foresight. Hardly anyone has enough foresight to account for a chronic illness that knocks one out of the workforce in the heart of one's productive years. At least I paid for Long Term Disability insurance, which has saved us more than once. If YOU do not have it, I recommend you remedy the oversight promptly.)

Our family has endured two hard years of unemployment for the breadwinner. (Note to new readers, I am disabled due to Lupus, which keeps me from working and causes my high drug costs.) I feel so bad for Michael because his diligent job search has been practically fruitless. (I say practically because he does manage to earn a few short duration contract jobs here and there from his contacts.)

Michael blames himself; I blame age-ism. Maybe prospects will be better for our kids' generation because of the smaller available workforce, but right now, plenty of younger people want Michael's professional level job and will take less money than he has made due to his years of experience. Of course, they will not be as savvy and probably not as hardworking and dedicated, but what does that matter in the corporate world of bottom lines?

Ironically, after months of depressing results, when people finally stop clinging to the idea of "professional" white-collar work, they cannot find bad jobs either. First, there is that age thing. Second, there is that "over-qualification" thing. Third, I guess employers just do not think people will stay in a lesser paying job when (if?) a better opportunity finally comes along. I suppose that is correct in most cases. The bottom line is that men and women like Michael are screwed and their families are screwed with them.

Before his layoff, Michael not only provided well for us financially, he had insurance. Since I am essentially uninsurable by anyone except Medicare, that benefit alone made him put up with more bullshit in his prior place of employment than anyone should have to endure. Now he is 58 years-old (almost 59) and we will probably never have good insurance again. Is it any wonder I cannot afford for my drugs? I did manage to get all but three of them changed to generics in order to keep my costs as low as possible. It meant some sacrifices for me medically, going from newer, better drugs to older, less effective ones, but I did it everywhere I could.

What's left on my brand name list is Aricept, which is an Alzheimer drug that I take to fend off the brain fog that central nervous system Lupus complications cause; Lescol XL, which my doctor insists is the only drug that will work to lower my triglycerides; and Folbee, a prescription vitamin that I take because I have a blood clotting complication with the unpronounceable name of hypohomocysteinitis.

My Aricept prescription costs $496.37 for 3 months. My Lescol XL prescription's cost for 3 months is $304.47. My Folbee is a minor $59.26 for 3 months. I take 11 other generic prescription drugs each month. Guess what has to go? Be warned, this may be as good as my blog gets, folks, because when the Aricept is out of my system I have a hard time with higher brain function. (For example, I have trouble doing crossword puzzles.)My rant has ranted out. Sorry if I bored you. I tried not to sound pathetic, but if I did, so be it. It is very hard being me tonight.


Which brings me to watermelon pickles. We cut into a lovely, perfectly ripe, seedless watermelon after dinner tonight. It tasted spectacular. As I ate, I contemplated the pale stripes on the green rind and remembered that my mother used to make watermelon pickles in my childhood. Watermelon pickles taste exquisitely good and I have not eaten one in dozens and dozens of years.

I thought about making some watermelon pickles myself and went so far as to look them up on the internet. I found a nice blog about them that I linked at the top of my blog.I gave up the notion after reading a few recipes. I cannot picture myself doing the work involved knowing that my family probably will not eat them. However, I had a wonderful trip Down Memory Lane ...

Oh, yes, I also remembered a poetry book my dear friend Ann gave me in 1968 titled “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle… and Other Modern Verse.” Rereading the title poem, by John Tobias, made me a little teary about my childhood (in the nostalgic sort of way). Here it is so you can get teary, too.

I will be cheerful again next time I write. Thank you for bearing with me.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Summer Moments: The Redstripe Ribbon Snake that Got Away

Alix saw her neurosurgeon on Friday and got good news (that leaves her in limbo.) She does not, apparently, have a colloid cyst or tumor. The anomaly that showed up on her various brain scans and MRIs is a cluster of blood vessels that is not dangerous. Unfortunately, this leaves the reason for her collapse at work and continuing headache (since May) undetermined, which makes her very unhappy indeed. That said, I am very pleased that no one is planning an excursion into the interior of her grey matter.

Summer marches onward in a hot fog. Tori went to Girl Scout camp for a week and Michael and I took the opportunity to slip off to the Texas Hill Country for some R&R with our friends Janice and Marvin. They hosted us at their lovely home in Horseshoe Bay, TX. We had a delightful time. In addition to long hours of laughing conversations and rambles around Horseshoe Bay, Michael and I took photographic side trips through Blanco, Johnson City, Perdenales Falls State Park, and Wimberley. I haven't seen the photographs yet, so I don't know how successfdul those were, but the adventures were fun!

Back to our trip. Batteries, what an invention! I have these nifty binoculars that can take photographs. I had them strapped to my fannypack when we visited Pernales Falls State Park. Climbing around on the broad expanses of rock that underlie the falls area, I noticed a slender snake at the edge of the water. With my binoculars, I could see it clearly. Young, it had great big eyes in its head and a long tapered body skinnier than a pencil. Green in overall color, the snake had a peach or coral colored stripe running down its back and a yellow stripe running down each side. Through the glasses, it looked so pretty. It posed for me for a very long time, moving occasionally so I could appreciate its sinewy grace. I wanted to take a picture, but my binoculars had no batteries.

I felt so disappointed. I needed AAA and Michael didn't have any in his camera bag. I kicked myself - figuratively - and felt even worse when I found the teensy, but perfectly formed, frog hopping around nearby that I would also have liked to photograph. Oh, well. I conteneted myself with observation for quite a long while and left it at that.

The walk down to the Falls is long and arduous. There are stone steps that seem to go on forever. We got there about two in the afternoon and stayed out in the sun for over two hours without realizing it. Suddenly, we felt so hot and tired and thirsty, perhaps incipient sunstroke victims. With difficulty, we hauled ourselves up the stairs, stopping to rest at the seating area near the top. We couldn't keep walking and while we waited, cooling off in the shade, I roamed visually around the location with my binocs.

When I went to put them away, I noticed that, hidden under the instructions at the bottom of the carrying case, I actually had those two AAA batteries I needed!! Sadly, I did not have the fortitude to climb back down those steps and look for my snake. I felt so frustrated, I can't even express it.

I learned my lessons - be prepared, then check to see if you were prepared even if you don't think you were.

Sayonara little snake. You were lovely to look at. I hope you live a long and uneventful snake-y life.


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Writers, Anomalies, Relatives, and Fun

Before I get into my personal stuff, I have literary news to share. Three of my writing colleagues/friends have recently published. Sarah Gardner published a chapbook of poems titled “How to Study Birds” which I just received from the publisher ( Winston Derden has a short story coming out in an anthology of stories titled “Able To …” about “ordinary people … extraordinary abilities” ( And Francesco Levato has just published a book of poetry titled “Marginal States” which you can find out more about at Francesco writes poetry that engages social issues. He also is co-editor, with his wife and fellow poet Lauren Matthews, of the literary magazine ink and ashes ( So check out all these excellent writers and BUY THEIR BOOKS. (One must buy the books or the authors go hungry!!)

Book Aside: I am reading like a demon in order to get ten books finished by the end of July. I have been keeping a book journal since July 1986. If I can read another ten books in the next four weeks - which I can, of course – I will have read and recorded my reviews of 400 books over the last twenty years. Twenty books a year for twenty years. That is not bad for someone who doesn’t read for a living. My reading is very eclectic, from the sublime to the mundane with pulp fiction and sci-fi thrown in for good measure, but I love books and haven’t felt the least bit put upon doing it! Maybe once I hit the 400 book/twenty year mark, I’ll review all my reviews and blog the best of the books I’ve read since 1986. Anyone interested?

Since June 9, Alix has been a huge worry for me. She collapsed at work and got a ride to the hospital in an ambulance. (Actually, it was her second time – and I’ve never even had ONE ride in an ambulance!!) The ER doctors did two CT scans and said that she had a colloid cyst or brain bleed and they kept her in the hospital. Then they did an MRI and said it wasn’t really there. Four days later, a neurologist said that she had experienced a seizure (without convulsions) due to a new medication she had started taking in May. They released her with instructions not to drive for several months (due to the danger of another seizure) and we thought everything would get back to normal shortly.

Next event, Alix saw a neurologist through her private doctor. This one ordered more tests – a contrast CT scan where they inject iodine into your veins so they can see the “anomaly” better. The new neurologist showed Alix and me the CT scan and pronounced that she had a 7.2 mm colloid cyst. Next step? See a neurosurgeon.

Thursday I took her to the neurosurgeon, who looked at the CT scan and said, “I don’t know if that’s a colloid cyst. You need more tests.” So now, Alix is waiting for a contrast MRI to be scheduled. This is very aggravating. She feels terrible – has an awful headache that has persisted for weeks – and she’s scared. Plus, she can’t work because of the headache. I wish that we could get an answer and move forward with treatment.

My own experience as the target of medicos makes me highly skeptical of this process. I have had two different doctors give me opposite opinions on the very same day about the same problem. I have bounced around the medical center like a rubber ball, frustrated and ill, getting no relief. I worry so much about that happening to Alix. Well, I can only offer my support and advice based on experience and hope it helps her work through this process.

Alix’s illness has taken a lot of my energy, but there is more going on in my life.

My Cousin Michael’s son, David, is in Houston for the summer training for a Teach for America assignment in Hawaii. We picked David up at the University of Houston on Saturday and gave him a strange tour of Houston, which included a junk shop in Montrose – specializing in used cowboy boots – and the Menil Collection museum.

Menil Aside: I just love the Magritte’s in their collection. It is such a pleasure to see so many of his paintings in one place. Magritte is a favorite of mine because of his visual humor and quirkiness.

After our drive around the area, we went home and had a scrumptious dinner. I made my delish crunchy potato salad (sans eggs, Michael hates hard-boiled eggs) and a colorful fresh fruit salad with watermelon, cantaloupe, Bing cherries, strawberries, and blueberries. Michael grilled pork ribs slathered in KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce (which he swears by). And I steamed some ears of sweet, sweet corn on the cob. Oh, did we eat well. And topped it off with snickerdoodle cookies. Yum, yum, yum. Good food, good company.

David is in his early twenties and hails from Winslow, Arizona. I haven’t seen him for several years and only rarely saw him before that. He turned out to be a fine young man, one whose company for an afternoon is a pleasure. Next weekend, we are taking him to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to see the Quilts of Gees Bend exhibit.

Quilting Aside: David’s grandmother Donna, my mother’s late sister, was an extraordinary quilter and his aunts (my cousins) quilt, too. As does my mother. Quilting is in our blood, I suppose, so going to an art exhibit about quilts is not that weird!

Today, our son Nick spent several hours with us on his way from New Orleans to Austin. We had a good time, with lots of laughing. Michael prepared a lovely brunch – scrambled eggs with green and red peppers, smoked ham, onions, and shredded cheese – plus hash browns. I contributed toast and fruit salad from last night. Alix joined us. It seemed like old times, the five of us sitting around the table eating a meal together. We had a fun, relaxing time. Not to diminish Alix and Nick’s loved ones at all, the dynamic is just different when we expand beyond our original family constellation. I enjoyed having my children all to myself for a few hours.

Friday night Michael, Tori, and I attended our friend Patti’s 50th birthday party. Happy birthday, Patti!! We had a great time. Patti put out a delicious spread of food, the band – Bil Cusak’s band – played some mean music (although too loud!!), and I got to talk to lots of my friends. A nice party. It reminded me of my own 50th birthday party – now 6 years ago – which I themed “It’s Good to be Queen” (with tanks to Mary Engelbreit). I have been thinking about throwing a party this summer. Not for my birthday, but just because it’s has been six years since I threw a big party and people have been asking … Plus, we had so many nice updates to the house lately, especially the pergola. We’ll see. If I do have a party, it will be in August.

Speaking of parties, I am having a small coffee party in a week for a friend visiting from out of town. Just a few people who have also been friends of my friend. I invited eight people and only four of them have RSVP’d. What is one supposed to do about that? Don I plan for the ones who said they were coming and hope the others don’t show up now? Do I plan for everyone I invited and risk having gobs of food left over? It is a frustrating situation to be in and one I encountered at the time of Alix’s wedding. I guess our society is really losing the niceties of good manners. Perhaps in the next few days, I will get some more phone calls.

Other than Alix’s brain anomaly (she calls it Larry), it has been a lovely weekend with a terrific party Friday, entertaining a charming guest Saturday, and enjoying the company of all my children together on Sunday. And we haven’t even gotten to the holiday yet! I hope the pleasantries continue unabated.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Blue Ribbon Bragging Rights

The pergola is lovely, but mosquitoes are driving me out at night. I must be overly sensitive to them. Michael doesn’t seem nearly as uncomfortable as I do. I need suggestions for inexpensive mosquito deterrents. A friend swears by dryer sheets tucked in your clothes and around the patio. Seems strange, but I am going to try that one. If it works, I’ll report back.

I brought the blog up-to-date on our remodeling projects. Let me comment on artistic events in my life.

In April, the Houston Photographic Society’s special category for competition was “edibles.” This led me to a great idea for a photograph. I mentioned it to Michael, who said, sagely, “That’s a good idea. I have my own ideas. Why don’t you take the picture yourself?” So I did.
The photograph is a super close-up of a slice of lime and slice of lemon suspended in club soda in a goblet in front of a royal blue backdrop. The result knocked my socks off. And it also won me a first place ribbon at the HPS competition! My first blue ribbon I ever earned.

In June, Women in the Visual and Literary Arts had its annual print show and I decided to enter. The show’s theme was “Altered States.” I decided to use my award-winning photograph and have some fun altering it. I ordered a jigsaw puzzle made from my image, then used the pieces to “pour” the lemon-lime into a black and white photograph of the same image. It took some doing.

Jigsaw Puzzle Aside: When the jigsaw puzzle arrived from the Far East (for the low, low price of $15.95 or thereabouts, I had to laugh. I couldn’t put it together!! I am usually good at jigsaws, so it is quite ironic that my own image stymied me. I blame it partly on the image, with its solid center of green lime flesh and transparent bubbles, and partly on the simplicity of the puzzle, which did not have much variety to the pieces. For example, there were no pieces without nubs, nor were there any of the cock-eyed pieces typically in a jigsaw puzzle. I got down to 17 pieces that defied arrangement. Fortunately, Victoria came along and finished it for me.

I scoured the internet for images of pouring liquids so I could see what the splash pattern should be. When I had that in my mind, I sketched it and transferred the outline (lightly) to my black and white image. I took apart the jigsaw puzzle to conform to the sketch and superimposed it on the photograph. With the left over pieces, I made a soda bottle with a flow of liquid pouring from it into the photo below. Above all of this, I have the original picture. It is titled “Lemon Lime Too.”

The exhibit opened at the Museum of Printing History last Thursday night. I had a great time at the opening and I received many compliments on my artwork. That always makes an opening more fun.

I received a fair bit of good-humored teasing about “cross-fertilization” and abandoning my writing for art, but that isn’t really a serious threat. I am considering adding an artist section to my professional resume, though. After all, I have bragging rights to a blue ribbon!!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Back in the Blogosphere

My friend Cheryl gave me hell recently because my blog is so badly neglected. I deserved every bit of it. I have been neglectful. But I feel more animated about life in general these days, so I intend to get back in the saddle and write for the blogosphere once more.

After I returned from the Vermont Studio Center, I slipped into a kind of funk. Perhaps the intensity of the work I did there – I wrote over 40,000 words of prose – merely required a period of recuperation. I found it difficult to get back into family life, housework, writing, or socializing.

I began working my way out of that in April and shook it off completely by the end of May. I continue to make a lot of progress. Here are some of the events and activities that I should have been writing about instead.

The Closet Factory: In April, Michael and I decided to fulfill a long outstanding dream by having some built-ins installed in our home. Our living room, which is very large, has a funky fireplace wall that we have never liked. The fireplace is on the right side and the cable TV outlet is on the left side. That made the fireplace look decidedly off-balance and forced an odd orientation of our furniture. So we had the Closet Factory install a media center/display case/mantle on that wall. It looks fabulous.

The wall now extends about two feet farther out on each side, so that the fireplace looks more centered. There is a mantle over the fireplace, which sets off our paintings on that wall very nicely. The stereo components now all fit in a cupboard under the TV, eliminating a rolling TV cart we’ve had for almost 20 years. There are two cupboards on the left end, by the kitchen, topped with a two-shelf display case. This unit has the added benefit of completely hiding the freestanding cabinet by the backdoor and kitchen. (We planned it that way.) On the right side of the fireplace, a tall, open display case can be seen from both the living room and the office. It balances out the cupboards on the other end. Between the TV cabinet and the mantle, they installed a media drawer that pulls out and has vertical storage shelves for DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes. It is so slick!! The mantle itself is simple, supported by three corbels. Everything is tied in together as one unit. It is lovely.

Also, I had my studio built out in the Cozy Corner. It is delightful. I have a desk, two drawers that open all the way out, two shelves that pull out, a bookshelf, vertical and horizontal cubbies, two large cupboards, and a two-drawer lateral file cabinet to the right of the desk. On the wall in front of my desk, there is a tack board covered in a lovely fabric with an abstract design in green, beige, rose, black, and off-white. It is light and airy looking. I also have a built-in desk lamp with touch controls. I am feeling very professional as I sit here and write.

The Pergola: At the end of May, Michael and I built ourselves a 12 X 15 foot pergola over the patio. Boy, did that take some work! It has six posts, lath running across the “ceiling” every six inches, and latticework panels on top to filter the sun. We are in the process of making planter boxes for the support posts and will plant vines in them to grow across the top of the pergola. The vines we bought are two grapes (green and red), a night-blooming jasmine, a regular jasmine, and a bougainvillea. I also bought a pretty hanging plant, a Mona Lavender, which has glossy, dark green leaves with a purple underbelly and long spikes of tiny purple flowers. I potted and hung up some variegated sedum, a hummingbird feeder I got for Mother’s Day from Alix and Adam, some wind chimes, and the bird (seed) feeder. Michael and I decided to give this pergola to ourselves for our wedding anniversary about 4 years ago, so we are very pleased that it turned out so well.

That’s enough for tonight. I will continue my reprise of the last few month’s events tomorrow.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Shoulderette and Lemon Lime Too

Shoulderettes and Lemon Lime Too

My good friend, Bertie, who lives in Washington near the Canadian border, is a world-class weaver and spinner. That is not a figure of speech, although Bertie is too modest to make much of her successes. When her daughter, Eileen, got married, Bertie spun the wool into thread, then woven the fabric, and finally, sewed the wedding dress! Astonishing.

Last year, before she moved to Washington, Bertie agreed to knit something for me – a shoulderette.

Shoulderette Aside: A shoulderette is like a shawl with sleeves (if it is loose) or like a shrug (if it is snug). I first saw one in the Levenger’s catalogue 20 or so years ago. I wanted to buy it then, but thought it was a luxury. Dumb move, because I have never seen them since.

So, Bertie took several skeins of lovely, light brown wool I had been saving for years for an unnamed crocheting project of my own, and moved to Washington. In December, she told me that a package would be coming to me. The package never came. It seems that some Grinchy creature stole my shoulderette out of Bertie’s mailbox, along with her Christmas cards for friends in Houston. I felt terrible for Bertie’s lost work and my lost gift. I decided I would never own such a thing.

Miraculously, a shoulderette appeared in my mailbox last week from Bertie. Not the original one, but a second one that she made with left over yarn. Bertie is such a dear. It fits me just fine and, although it is not too cool by this time of year, last night was quite chilly and I got to wear it and show it off to the Crones. So “thank you,” Bertie, for service above and beyond the call of friendship.

On to Lemon Lime Too. The Houston Photographic Society, which I belong to by virtue of a family membership and which Michael is president of this year, has a monthly competition/critique meeting. Besides letting people show in the categories of B&W and color, the club also has a special category. This month they chose “edibles.”

I had a great idea for a photograph and told Michael about it, thinking he might take the picture. Well, he had his own ideas and suggested I take the photograph in question. So I did. It required some setup, but the results turned out beautifully. I photographed a slice of lemon and a slice of lime in a wine glass full of club soda with a blue backdrop. The picture just thrilled me. It thrilled the judge, too, because I received the first place ribbon in special categories. This is the first time I won an award for photography, but it is only the second time I have put a photograph into the competition, so maybe that’s a good sign.

How nice to get a shoulderette and a first place ribbon for Lemon Lime Too in the same week.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Early Morning Musings

It is an early morning writing session for me today. I woke up at 5:45 a.m. and decided not to try to go back to sleep because I had to get Victoria up at 6 a.m. Maybe I will catch a few more winks after she gets on the school bus at 6:45 a.m., we will see. I have a lot to do today.

Tomorrow morning, my writers’ group is meeting at my house. Tomorrow night, my family is going to see a performance of Riverdance at the Wortham Center in Houston. Very exciting. And Saturday morning Tori and I are going to Girl Scout camp for a weekend campout. I have to buy groceries for our troop. So I have quite a lot to do to get ready for these exciting events.

It is different from the Studio Center now that I am back home, that is for sure. I find myself waiting a little too long to get started on things because I have forgotten how much time everything takes. Or I have forgotten I have to do something to make certain, for example, that there is food in the house to cook. How easy and wonderful it was to have all those items taken care of, even if I did not get to pick the menus!

My office/studio is functioning quite well. My friend, Karen Smith, suggested that I have some ritual that would signal my “arrival” at work. A good idea. At Christmas, my writing colleague Zoe Nonemaker knit everyone in the Friday Morning Writers’ Group a scarf with beaded ends. It has become my writing scarf – I wore it everyday in Vermont while working on the book. So I have decided that when I put the scarf on, I am at work and no longer responsible for household tasks. It is very liberating.

Michael and I recently heard from an old friend, Dale Swoboda. Dale stood up for Michael at our wedding and we lost touch about 25 years ago. It was a surprise and a treat to hear from him. He found us on the internet – of course – and I suppose I could find most anyone from my past there if I tried hard enough. And if the person had an internet footprint, like a blog or website. Women friends are harder because they often change their names.

I dislike that, yet I did the same thing in my second marriage (to Michael). It was a pragmatic decision and I do not regret it. Devereux is a very classy name, even if just a peasant Irish one, and easier on the tongue than Gustafson, which is my maiden name (and peasant Swedish).

This is a rambling post today. Perhaps because it is 6:21 a.m. and my focus is not red-hot. I would like to get back to posting more regularly, so I may have to work on developing some cause to energize my messages. I do not see myself as a pundit, so do not expect anything political. All I could produce in that area would be rants against the Republican establishment. I feel like I am back in 1968, which is the year I went to college. Antiestablishmentarianism. That is a word that we used to make jokes about spelling when I was a kid. Did not really know what it meant then, although I do now. I had not thought of it for years.

The other day, NPR’s All Things Considered did a piece on constructed words. For a lark, they asked the audience to make up a word to describe the condition when you are about to sneeze but you do not. I thought of a great word, but I never got around to sending it in. So I am going to share it here. My word is SNIZZLE (a sneeze that fizzles). Makes me smile every time I say it.

If you do prayers, say one for my best friend Ann. She lives in Minneapolis, in case you do directional prayer work. Ann is having a very hard time with serious family issues and with finances. She has maintained a very positive attitude – better than I could have done – and is working very hard to handle the problems, but she needs more than she can provide for herself right now. So say a prayer for her. Or two or three. Thank you.

Now I will go. It’s 6:30 a.m. and Tori is prowling around, bugging me a little because she’s ready for school but it’s too early to leave and she wants company. I had better go be a mom.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Home Again

Home Again

It has been hard to write my coming home post. Not because I am sad to be home, but because I needed time to process the changes in my environment and life.

Texas is beautiful. It is spring here in a way that it won’t be in Vermont for two more months. The air is warm and moist, enough so that we turned the air conditioning on last night. That probably seems excessive to those of you who live up North, but trust me, we weren’t being wusses! Of course, since we turned it on the weather has cool down. I actually put on a sweatshirt jacket this evening.

The deciduous trees have begun to green up ever so slightly. They have a haze of yellow green around them like an aura. If you get up close, you can see the tiny leaves beginning to bud out. The pine trees are dropping pollen. Our cars, which we park near a great big pine tree in our front yard, have a golden sheen. Thankfully, no one at our house has pine allergies; people who do are all miserable right now.

The very best tree in Houston in the spring is the Mountain Laurel. Vivid purple flowers cover them, tiny blossoms that smell like heaven. I haven’t gotten close enough to one yet this year to inhale its perfume, but I plan to. Along with the sweet smell, Mountain Laurels also offer a distinctive sound – the buzz-buzz-buzzing of bees in the flowers.

One of my neighbors has a big Mountain Laurel in their backyard that I see from my kitchen window. The Mountain Laurel is my favorite tree. My favorite bush is the forsythia. It has gorgeous yellow flowers. What can I say? I am a sucker for flowering trees and shrubs.

Mountain Laurel Aside: I tried to grow a Mountain Laurel, but failed. They require special soil amendments. I can’t remember at the moment if it’s alkali or acid, but it is the same as azaleas. I did amend the soil for the little tree I planted. That didn’t seem to do the trick. Although the neighbor boys playing soccer and running over it probably didn’t help. Even when I put a fence around the tree, it just didn’t thrive. I got one season’s worth of seedpods before the tree died, which I harvested. I’ve been thinking about trying to grow one from seed. We’ll see.

Now, back to Vermont. My month at the Vermont Studio Center changed me as a writer by giving me the opportunity to focus on and refine my studio practice. This is such an important concept, yet something I never consciously thought about or ever discussed with anyone. Many artists at the Studio Center talked about their studio practice. We had one talk – by Brenda Hillman – about how her spiritual practice and studio practice intersect. The topic fascinated me. I had already concluded before I went to VSC that I needed a private space for my work. Now I understand why.

A place to create and time to create. Have your tools ready to go so that when you sit down, the work can flow out of you. That’s how I wrote over 40,000 words during my four weeks at VSC. I just kept sitting down to work at a desk that had all my tools ready to go. Is it that simple? I’m going to find out, aren’t I?

There is more to say about VSC and about being home. I will try to get it all said, although not tonight. I decided that my first week back would be transitional and that I would get back to my writing practice the second week. Today is the first day of the second week and I showed up at my new studio space ready to work. I am proud of myself for that. A small victory.

I also promised myself that I would get to bed at a reasonable time at night so that I could get up in the mornings and get to work, so now I will bid you adieu.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Anti-Climax at VSC

Today is anticlimactic. Everything is boxed up and ready to go except for last minute toiletries and pjs. UPS has probably picked up my box by now - I had to have it ready to go by 12:30 p.m. After lunch, I helped Rebecca in the Development Office, reviewing one last time the package for the NEA Grant that I wrote during my work exchange. Then I printed out my manuscript. Most of it. I had a few little glitches, but I would say I have 90% of the document ready to read on the plane tomorrow.

Many people have already left, everyone else is getting ready to go. It is a lot of work for the artists, more so than the writers. Tonight we may go to Morrisville to see The Pink Panther. A nice transition to reality and an antidote to boredom.

Boredom is an unexpected experience at VSC. I have been so focused and busy with my writing, plus the various evening activities around the Studio Center, that I never had time for ennui. But I don't want to work on the manuscript until I get home again and most of my toys are packed up and shipped off. So, it is the movies for me!

Last night we had Open Studio again. It delighted me to see what wonderful creations the artists made during their time here. So much diversity of form and expression. It inspires me!

There are no profound thoughts or great ideas from me today, just thankfulness that I experienced this month at VSC and hopefulness that it will happen again someday.


Vermont Studio Center Day 24

Vermont Studio Center
Day 24

Today is Wednesday, March 1, 2006. I have two more nights to spend at the Studio Center. My weeks here have been prolific and rewarding. The artists and writers who gathered here are thoughtful and talented people whose conversation I have enjoyed and whose work I have admired.

My writing progressed dramatically during my stay. I came with 4,100 coherent words and m leaving with over 45,000. The incoherent words shall remain uncounted! The encouragement I received from people who heard me read has been heartwarming and I feel more like a writer than ever in my life.

The concept of studio practice is probably the most important thing I gained while at VSC. The idea that one needs – no, deserves – a place to do one’s creative work and a routine for doing it everyday has been drummed into me by the success of having it and doing it. The artists speak quite a bit about studio practice. It is not something I have heard from writers in my acquaintance. Maybe I have just missed it. Maybe it is a fresh idea for us. Regardless, applying the studio practice concept has done wonders for my writing.

It is likely I will not post again from Vermont for a long while. Perhaps I will be here again, though. I hope to finish the writing and move on to the revisions in few months. I believe I will need another residency to complete my final draft before submitting the book for publication.

Wish me well. The working title of my book is The Requirements of Love. I am also considering The Measure of Last Resort. Perhaps it will be something altogether different. However, it will be a book – you just watch for it and buy one when it comes out!

Ciao from maple syrup country.

PS Montreal – I went to Montreal, Quebec on Saturday, February 25 with friends Barbara Israel ad Susanne Nestory. They are both wonderful painters. Barbara paints realistic scenes with great beauty and insight; Susanne paints abstracts that are marvelous studies in color and contour. I recommend the work of both artists. I will try to find web sites to refer you to for each of them. While in Montreal, we saw the Musee des Beaux Arts – such a beautiful museum! We also ate dinner at the Winston Churchill Pub. We enjoyed a splendid day and evening.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

VSC Day 21 (I think)

It is bitterly cold here today. Five degrees right now with a wind chill of minus eight. I am pressed for time and can't write much but I wanted to check in with my blog. I went to Montreal yesterday and enjoyed it very much. Went to the Musee des Beaux Arts and had dinner at the Winston Churchill Pub. I will try to write a full post and get it up tomorrow.

Ciao from COLD Vermont.

Monday, February 20, 2006

VSC Day 14

VSC Day 14
President’s Day

I made a big mistake and tried to write a blog posting directly from Blogger’s site. Bad idea. It ate my post twice! Bad Blogger.

I don’t feel like writing very much the third time, but here’s a short version.

Very productive yesterday. I wrote from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. – about 7,500 words. Makes me very happy.

Today I took a much-needed break from self-contemplation and worked in the Development Office on the NEA grant I am writing for VSC. They aren’t open, but my co-worker here, Rebecca, decided to work, so the two of us spent a pleasant day accomplishing things.

I am going to fiddle around for a while, then eat dinner, then go back to my studio to write some more.

The food here is just stupendous. So good. A different, luscious dessert every evening – bad for the waistline, good for the soul.

Already 14 days here, leaving is beginning to weigh on people and come up in conversation. We all envy the Residents who are here for two or three months. And the staff who work 30 hours a week in exchange for a stipend, studio, and meals. Did I mention the food is excellent?

I wrote this on Word and saved it before publishing to Blogger, so if it screws up again, my post will not be dead again. I hope this works.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

VSC Day 12

VSC Day 12
February 17, 2006

Today is my sister’s birthday. Happy birthday, Janet!

Very strange day. I woke up and went to breakfast, then to the quilt shop (Quilted Lily) for coaching on my quilting project. When I left my room, it was mild and overcast. When I left the dining room, it was raining. After the very helpful and pleasant coaching session, I worked up in the development office for a couple of hours, and then went to lunch. While working upstairs, the wind began to blow ferociously and the whole building shook. That definitely got my attention.

At lunchtime, I went downstairs to eat. Suddenly there was an exclamation from someone over by the windows. Huge chunks of ice from the river were breaking up and sweeping by the dining room. The water, which is usually so clear that you can see the rocks on the bottom, was roiled and brown with mud. Spring had swept down while we weren’t looking.

Except, what’s this? As we watched the ice break up, the sun came out and the rain turned in to snow! When I returned to my room after inner, the ground was green, with all the grass exposed. When I went out to dinner later, the ground was white with snow again and the air temperature had dropped very sharply. I heard that it would be 5 degrees tonight. It is lucky that the snow was light, because with our stiff winds, it would have surely been a blizzard if it had snowed at all hard.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring. I will have to re-photograph the river now that the ice broke up. I can get pictures of it reforming over the next few days.

Today is a transition day. All the two-week Residents left – or will leave tomorrow – and a few new faces appeared at dinner, new two-week residents coming in. that reminds me that I am half way through my stay at VSC. I have accomplished a great deal on the book project, not as much on the quilting project. Well, the book I most important to me.

I want to keep my momentum going these next two weeks. I want to leave here feeling I have wrung every last drop out of the experience. I want to be proud of myself.

VSC Day 11

VSC Day 11
February 16, 2006

It’s late and I’m tired, but I haven’t been able to get a posting done for a couple of days – mostly technical issues and lack of opportunity to get on the internet – so I am going to pound out a few sentences to get caught up and then post it on Friday.

Tonight the artists held open studio. Most of the artists allowed to visitors to walk through their studios; all of the studio buildings were unlocked for the evening. It just fascinated me. People here are so talented and they are doing such original work. On Wednesday night, we had residents’ slides and about eight artists showed their work. On Tuesday night – yes, Valentine’s Day – we had a reading and four Resident writers read work, including yours truly. The writing impressed me as much as the art, maybe more because I know what it takes to write well and art is somewhat of a mystery to me. Leslie McGrath (poet), Shirley Ama Ainoo (poet from Ghana), Holly Hughes (poet & essayist), and I (memoirist & playwright) read this week.

Many other activities happened, but I can’t think of all of them now. I am working in the development office 10 hours a week for my work exchange, writing an NEA grant proposal for VSC. Other than meals and the VSC activities, I am mostly writing, writing, writing – over thirty thousand new words to date!!!

I had coffee at the Bad Girls Coffee House today and I am going to take a quilting lesson tomorrow morning. My weekend promises more writing. Wish my brilliant thoughts and strong fingers.