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.