Friday, November 30, 2012

beginning at the end

Yesterday was a bit like Space Mountain or Flight of Fear – one of those roller coasters in the dark where you can’t see what’s going to happen next. It started out as one of those shit days when I could hardly drag myself out of bed because I didn’t want to face another day of work. The real problem is that I am completely burnt out and uninspired by anything happening at work these days. What a waste of life to sit in a cubicle nine hours a day doing nothing that matters. The only good thing about it is the paycheck.

So there I sat, buried up to my eyeballs in virtual hell, all the while in the back of my mind debating whether I’d rather slit my wrists and bleed out slowly or just have my throat slashed open like I saw on Dexter a few weeks ago (the victim died almost instantly). I know from experience when the knife is very sharp, you hardly feel it at all. A girl I went through school with worked as a teacher in the Lucasville prison and was killed by one of her students who was already on death row. In a single swipe with a sharpened metal bed slat, he nearly cut her head off. She was in her early 30’s when this happened. To this day, I wonder why tax dollars are spent to educate people sentenced to die.

I accidentally chopped my knee with a hatchet once. It was a very cold day (below zero), which contributed. I remember seeing the slit in my jeans and thinking, “Damn, I’ve put a hole in my jeans.” I continued to chop wood and after a few minutes, started to feel a strange feeling on my knee. I stopped and checked out the slit again and found it aligned with a similar hole in the long johns I was wearing under my jeans. I saw an ever so slight hint of blood too. “Well shit! How about that! Cut my long johns too.” Still not realizing the obvious implications of the holes in my clothes, I chopped another minute and felt the weird feeling in my leg again. I stopped and checked out the holes, then adjusted my clothes a bit and found the holes aligned with similar very deep gash that made me swoon to see it. What was interesting is that it hardly bled at all until I went back into the cabin and started to warm up. I learned a valuable lesson that day about using sharp tools, and am very grateful I didn’t chop a finger or thumb off – it could have easily happened.

Sorry for the digression there….

Anyway, so it was a shit morning. Then just before noon, my academic advisor called to chat. I asked her to go ahead and schedule me into fourth-year residency next month to get it out of the way so it wouldn’t hold me up when I'm ready to submit. She suggested that since I had no specific need to go, she could defer it. If my dissertation passes the final quality review within six months of first submitting it, she will cancel the residency completely. WHAT?? I didn’t even know deferral was an option. That brightened my day considerably and now I’m officially deferred from attending residency (and still happy about that).

I got home from work yesterday and hoped to start writing Chapter 4 of my dissertation. I no more than opened files and got situated to start when the phone rang. Older Brother called which turned into a long, convoluted conversation. He doesn’t have a good grasp on reality or much of anything else besides his vodka bottle (that's mean to say, but unfortunately true). We hung up and then I called Younger Brother to get the real story. It’s a complicated situation as most things are for alcoholics. Older Brother needs to get on government assistance and find a place to live ASAP. He lived on the street when he was younger, but he won’t survive long without shelter in his current state and given the fact that it’s almost winter. I suppose Older Brother has become my new project :(

So with most of the evening shot, I tried to work again, but Gracie wanted to play. She pestered me - dropping toys beside my chair, chewing on my sleeve and chair, pulling papers off my desk , etc. Obviously she is feeling much better since her encounter with the bee’s nest. I took her for a walk hoping she would sleep afterwards. To make the long story short, after the walk before I got her shock collar back on, she escaped out the door and bolted into the neighbor’s yard. Of course she wouldn’t come when I called. I worked for 30 minutes trying to catch her. She would come almost close enough for me to catch her, but then take off…teasing me. I told her, “Fine then! Get yourself hit by a car. You better hope you die because you’re max’d out on your healthcare benefits.” That was a lie. We have no pet healthcare insurance, but Gracie’s recent bout with the bees cost me about $500. When Gracie was ready to come home, she very politely sat in our driveway at the “invisible gate” waiting for me to bring her back into the yard.

So much for Chapter 4. I wrote two sentences of the introduction and went to bed. So it begins….

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

good and bad at the mountain top

Looks like it’s been a week since anything was added out here to the blog.  If I had been a Neanderthal woman living thousands of years ago (or ever how long people in various monkey-like forms have walked this planet), my cave walls probably wouldn’t have any drawings on them. Maybe that is the real source of my communication deficiencies – I just haven’t evolved yet. I have plenty of company though…many people are still like animals in one way or another. 

Things have been very hectic this past week. My survey is closing tonight!!!! I have enough data so now I leap into the next phase of my study. That is VERY good news. A friend (also working on her dissertation) said her chairwoman told her that once the data is collected, you have peaked the dissertation mountain. It should all be downhill from here on out. Dear God – please make that true!! Then again, she is doing a qualitative study and mine is quantitative. These are completely different methods, so what she said might only apply to qualitative studies. I’d ask my chairman but he doesn’t want to hear from me unless it’s something important (at least that is the impression he gives).

Other good news is that the four-day holiday weekend provided spare time to clean my house. It’s cleaner right now than it’s been since July 2008 when I started back to school. It’s W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L when the house is not wrecked, and so much nicer to be home when there isn’t a mess needing attention everywhere I look. With the music room (aka the living room) clean, I’ve been playing piano every evening. I mostly avoided the room for years because everything in it reminded me that work needed to be done.  Here are photos since it may never look like this again in my lifetime.


Bad news: my alcoholic brother is bad off again. I’ll drive over and try to visit him this weekend. Even a simple 30-minute visit is very complicated. It’s hard to find him awake and sober.  Also, Someone’s daughter got in trouble this past weekend for speeding and drinking, and will be spending some time in jail (maybe rehab too…but jail is mandatory). Someone is very upset about it, but jail might get her attention. Then again, jail time had no impact on my brother other than to keep him out of trouble for a few months at a time.

Other bad news is that on Saturday, poor Gracie had a severe allergic reaction. We weren’t sure what was wrong (she was not herself) and by late Saturday night, I started to suspect she was poisoned or allergic to something. Her head and neck swelled, we could see hives under her fur (really weird looking), she was wheezing, coughing, and shivering. At 2:00 AM Sunday morning, I thought she might not make it through the night so we drove her to the nearest emergency vet clinic and they gave her shots of Benedryl and steroid that improved her remarkably.  Sunday night, she started nasty gastro issues, so I took her to our vet Monday morning. They kept her for the day and gave her an IV and more steroids. She is much better today, but still scratching. The vet said she counted 15 bee stings before she stopped counting them - she has many more than that.  Someone is going to look for the bee’s nest this afternoon. I hope he finds it before Gracie gets into it again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

icing on the cake

Indeed – very good things are happening for me lately. The board sent an email stating I now have full board approval for the changes I requested. It’s especially good news given that I’ve almost got enough participants to close my survey.

Just four more people need to complete a survey to reach the minimum number that enables me to move forward. There are 16 on the string – 25% need to follow through for me and I will call it DONE!! Well, perhaps I will call it done if Dr Chairman ever answers my email and approves closing the survey…and if 4 more will be so kind as to log in and answer the damn questions. Surely it’s not too much to ask, or is it?

In light of this recent approval and success, I’m feeling quite capable and competent with my research project. It’s an unusual thing for me to think things are going to turn out OK regarding anything in my life. With that in mind, I refuse to get too happy about it. It’s really not a good thing to be so pessimistic all the time, but this is me and the way I was made. I do wonder if there are more pessimists than optimists in our world, or if the numbers are about even?

The fact is, I oftentimes pretend to be optimistic even when I think failure is imminent and highly probable. Part of my job is helping people with problems on their PCs. Do you want somebody changing stuff on your PC who hasn’t a clue what he’s doing? Of course not. But I’m not going to add to the person’s distress by saying “Gee, I’ve never seen anything like this before and it’s probably dire, so just give me a few minutes to waste your time monkey around and see if anything I change helps or hurts.” Actually, most of the time I know what I’m doing, but it’s good to be able to act geekier and more optimistic than I am if the client is difficult (i.e. mouthy or just cranky) or what’s worse, thinks he knows more than me. Sometimes he does know more than me. :(

It’s a four-day weekend coming up for me – short work week. Hallelujah! We have people coming for dinner Saturday so I want to get our pigsty house cleaned up. It’ll be like shoveling snow in a blizzard with kids at home on break starting Wednesday. They’ll invite friends over to stay and no doubt there’ll be a pack of girls taking showers, cooking, and eating around the clock. It’s OK, someday I will miss having all that nonstop entertainment and activity in our house.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

hurry up and wait

This old woman is getting mighty impatient!  I have to get 67 people to complete my survey.   Right now I have 57!!  Eleven more people have consented but have not yet logged into the survey site.  Five more have asked to participate but haven’t returned a consent form.  The anticipation of it all.   Who wants me to just get it done already and shut up about it (besides me????)?????   

My plans for today were grandiose.  I wanted to scrub all the bathrooms and uncarpeted floors, clear all junk out of the living room and give it all a thorough cleaning, and load donation boxes into my van.  BUT....and isn’t there always a but?...Someone insisted that today will be the last decent golf day of the year.  OK, so I did my wifely duty and played golf with the old man.  He takes great delight in harassing me on the golf course. 

Someone and I went over some playing-with-me basic rules while changing shoes and getting ourselves situated to play.  He is not ever supposed to say, “Hit you another one”,” lay you one out”, or anything else that sounds like he’s trying to tell me what to do.  JEEZ, don’t tell me what to do – ever!!  Obviously Someone has never read Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book.  It’s a two-stroke penalty to give unsolicited advice on the golf course.  He forces me to levy the penalty on him all the time (not really, I don’t keep his score or mine.  I just tell him he needs to add 2 and shut his mouth). 
Don't tell me what to do!
Anyway, I DID keep score on the #17 hole at Sandy Creek today.  I’ve played the red tees (ladies tees) all summer because I don’t play often these days - I’m out of practice.  I killed my drive – hit it sweet and it had enough top spin to roll about 90 yards from the pin (the cup was about 20 yards back from the front of the green).  The #17 green is slightly elevated and today it had a lot of dry leaves on it.  My second shot hit the green , rolled towards the pin, and disappeared.  It looked like it went in but I refused to get my hopes up.  I told myself it was only hidden by leaves or it rolled off the back and probably was sitting in the second cut of fringe.  F**K!!  But no, I walked up and there was my white Top Flight Plus 4 in the hole.  EAGLE!!!  Fun times.    

I declared my accomplishment to my non-golfing daughters on the way home.  This was the conversation:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

hawk love

Hawks are one of my most favorite birds. They are fairly common around here – I’m privileged to see or at least hear one a few times a week. Usually, they are perched on a power line or fence post watching over a big field or a smaller lot with unmowed grass and weeds. No doubt the magnificent bird of prey is looking for something to move so it can swoop down and grab its dinner in those sharp talons.
Sandy Spears takes lovely pictures of hawks

I’ve oftentimes watched them fly and glide overhead. They shriek when they are up in the air. I don’t know if they do that because it makes little rodents on the ground scurry for cover or maybe they are calling to another hawk. These birds are lovely with many shades of brown and tan in their feathers. They are delightful to me but perhaps not so much if one killed my kitten or puppy – I’ve heard that happens.

One time, while sitting at a traffic light on a very hectic day, I looked up and saw a hawk gliding overhead. I thought to myself, what a lucky creature to have the wide open sky to fly around in, to never have to sit at a desk all day long, and to never have to worry about stupid stuff. I lost myself in this fantasy (trading places with the hawk) until the car behind me honked to bring me back to reality – the light had changed to green. It was then I spied the decal on the back window of the pickup truck right in front of me. The owner of the truck was obviously a hunter. He had bird dog decals and one that said, “If it flies, it dies.” That abruptly ended my fantasy about being a hawk.

photo by Sandy Spears

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

reacquainting myself with the kitchen

Thanksgiving has been a holiday I’ve sort of blown off completely the past 10 years.  Good American tradition dictates we must cook huge varieties of food, and eat it all in one dinner.  It’s crazy!  I bet our founding fathers didn’t overdo it the way we celebrate now.  Since I married Someone, we have always gone to his parents’ house for every holiday dinner.  Someone’s mother will cook for days, and then each family who comes for dinner brings something too.  I already know what will be on the table this year – turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, beans, broccoli cheese casserole, deviled eggs, home-made dinner rolls, cranberry salad, fruit salad, and at least three kinds of pie, chocolate cake, and an assortment of cookies.  Add to that whatever I decide to make – vegetable casserole or salad.  There will be lots of people there because Someone has a huge clan of family – at least 25 people will show up.

This year, I’m going to cook a big dinner on Saturday after the Holiday.  Sarah and her very handy, very tall, very Irish “significant boyfriend” are invited, and I’m inviting my brothers.  As on any weekend, there will likely be a gaggle of teen girlfriends at our house who will have dinner with us as well.  Sarah always has Thanksgiving dinner with her father’s family. They have a big get-together like Someone’s family.  My brothers have no girlfriends to have Thanksgiving dinner with this year, so maybe they will come and try out my cooking.  We’ll see how it goes, but I’m really looking forward to it this year. If it does all turn out unfit for consumption, we’ll just order pizza. Surely some of it will be OK.  With enough beer and bourbon, anything I fix will be fine (because it won’t have any taste at all with enough beer and bourbon :)

Thanksgiving was a non-event for me for many years.  My grandmother hated to cook and disliked holidays because of the cooking involved.  We didn’t have much family so we usually had a larger than typical dinner, but it wasn’t a big celebration or anything.

When I started dating my first husband (and then for those years we were married), his family’s holidays were a very big deal and I was always invited.  A huge crowd of people came.  They brought out the fancy china, table linens, crystal, and silverware, always had holiday decorations, tons of food, and lots of drinking afterwards.  It was like a big family party, and it was always a good time.

Sarah with her dad
Then came the years after we divorced... Sarah and her dad went to his parents’ house for holidays.  I stayed home, or sometimes I drove over to help my grandmother cook.  This is about the time she started showing signs of Alzheimer’s and cooking became more challenging for her (and a bit dangerous sometimes).  A couple of times, Sarah’s babysitter invited me to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family – she thought people shouldn't be alone on a holiday.  I really didn’t mind though...I found plenty to entertain myself with.
Then I met and married Someone.  His family goes all out for holidays too.  But for the past 10 years until just a few years ago, I was very preoccupied with caring for my grandparents (while working full time, with my own family to deal with, add going back to school).  Life has been a blur until my grandparents finally died, coursework ended, the girls can do much more for themselves, and now at last....I’m getting my life back. 
Sometimes, now that I’m finding free time, I just don’t know what to do with myself.  What did I do when I had so much spare time?  Cooking for Thanksgiving is going to be fun.  I’m even looking through cookbooks – Thanksgiving 2012 will be a new adventure in my own kitchen. 
kitchen science

Sunday, November 11, 2012

do or die shopping

It’s Sunday night and I’m not ready to end the weekend.  It was way too short and tomorrow morning starts five more days of hell.  Can you tell I’m burnt out on my job?  I’m also a bit disappointed about my survey – specifically, the lack of activity over the weekend.   To date, 48 have completed it, nine have consented but not taken it, and four said they wanted to take it but haven’t returned consent forms.  I have to get 67 people – I need to shake more trees and see who falls out.  I hoped to get 117, but looks like that number will have to remain a fantasy if I'm to finish before age 95.        

Yesterday, I took Erin and Emily to Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky for another arts workshop – this one was about architecture.  Transylvania is a very old place – it was founded in 1780 and is the 16th oldest university in the U.S.  It has gigantic old trees on campus and some old buildings – it’s small but lovely, and in a pretty part of town surrounded by really old, very large Victorian houses.  Lexington is about three weeks behind us as far as weather goes – some of their trees still have lots of leaves.
pretty maples
old restored building with gigantic columns
magnificent old maple - at least 400 years old
I dropped the girls at their workshop and set off to start Christmas shopping.  What a ridiculous prospect!  I’m not in the mood to start and nothing looked appealing.  Still, the stores were full of people getting it done.  No doubt Someone’s mother and sisters have already bought and wrapped gifts, but Someone’s wife (me) just can’t find any holiday spirit until the holiday is near and I feel pressured to get presents for people.  Why is that?  I love Christmas, but shopping is a drag.

Anyway, Chewy (our dog before Gracie) was my last ditch effort to make Christmas special for the girls (who were maybe ages 11, 3, and 3 then).  I had been traveling a lot for work and (as usual) hadn’t got much of anything ready for Christmas; it was less than a week away.  Someone was ticked with me for putting off the shopping and the house looking like Scrooge lived there (no tree or decorations up yet).  I got home from the airport; it was quite late on Friday night.  I was tired, he was mad, and we had an ugly argument.  I got up early the next morning, determined to make Christmas happen, and went straight to the mall with no idea what to buy anyone.  Of course the twins were little and easy –  any toys would be fine.   Someone and Sarah were much harder to shop for. 

Sarah only wanted a horse so of course she was going to be disappointed with anything I bought.  I found a few things for Someone – we’ve never been much in the habit of exchanging extravagant gifts.  I walked past the pet store and they had mutt puppies in a pen out front  – cute and only $25, but we hadn’t talked about getting a dog.  I walked past them and wandered the mall.  I bought a few things for Sarah, but nothing was exciting.  Terribly depressed because I knew none of the gifts were anything special, I saw the puppies again and decided to get one.  They had only one female left, so I took her. 
So, the puppy was a surprise for everyone...even me.  The kids were delighted.  We had a large round pen we used for the twins when they were babies that was stored in our basement.  I brought it upstairs and set it up in the kitchen for our puppy.  Someone came home from work, walked into the kitchen where I was folding laundry, and saw our new puppy asleep in the pen.

“What’s that?”  he asked.
“It’s a puppy.”  I replied.
“What’s it doing here?”  he questioned.
“It’s sleeping.” I answered.
“No, why is it here?”  (he was getting short and snappy at that point).
“It’s a present for the kids, and for you.  Merry Christmas.” I said cheerfully.
He was anything but delighted and even questioned my sanity.  I had no excuses - I offered that it was perhaps a lapse of good judgment, but more that nothing else seemed good enough.  But seeing that the kids were excited and delighted, he accepted that we now had a dog.  What a good sport!  Eventually (it took a few years) Someone and Chewy became very good pals.  Chewy was a great family dog, but sadly she died of lung cancer in November, 2009.  We still miss her.  

Sarah with Chewy

Friday, November 9, 2012

device possession

It’s been a very busy week for me. Lots (too much) going on at work, lots going on at home, and lots going on with my survey which is a very, VERY good thing. With any luck at all, I’ll be finished collecting data by Thanksgiving – you know I’ll be giving thanks for every person who was kind enough to take my survey. I’ll be even more thankful for every person who was wonderful enough to recruit others to take the survey for me. And now, more than ever, I understand what it was meant when professors told me that nobody can finish a dissertation without relying on a network of people. Learning to network was (and still is) a tremendous challenge for me – I don’t like depending on other people for anything. I’m not a people person, but since no alternatives were available, I’m much more of a people person than I was three years ago.

The other challenge for me is just forcing myself to pick up the phone or go talk to somebody. I should have been born without a mouth. There would be all kinds of advantages to that. Weight control would not be an issue. Nobody would expect me to talk EVER. I’d never have to visit a dentist. There would be one less place to get cancer. Of course, the down side is looking like a freak – that’s a pretty big disadvantage. I’m not a beautiful person but it could all be much worse. So yes, God, if you’re reading this, thanks for making me a person who falls in the middle of the what-looks-normal continuum.

I’ve started watching a TV show recently, Long Island Medium. This is a reality show where the star (Theresa) claims to be able to communicate with people who have “crossed over”. Of course, it’s a TV show that gets edited and produced for TV, so you have to wonder how real she is and what happens when she is doing a reading that we don’t see on the show. I’d like to believe she is and can do what the TV show portrays, but there’s really nobody who is dead that I want to communicate with. For that matter, there aren’t a lot of live people I want to communicate with :)

Anyway, since I’ve been watching that show, I’m starting to wonder about an old Samsung cell phone in our kitchen drawer that is turned off (powered off), and yet every morning at 7:15 AM, it wakes up and a very loud alarm goes off. The phone hasn’t been charged for at least a year, probably more. The battery should be dead by now, but it’s not…perhaps because it’s turned off? I turned the phone on a few months ago and confirmed no alarms are set on it. I could just take the battery out, but I’ve decided there’s a spirit who wants to communicate with us and is using the cell phone. Perhaps it only wants us to not sleep so long on the weekends.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

it's coming...

It seems like I no more than put up a fall picture at the top of my blog when the leaves all blew off the trees and now it’s fairly much wintery looking.  *sigh* Winter is such a dreary season.  The hills look so bare when the trees drop their leaves.  Fortunately we have some pines among the hardwoods, so I’m trading the fall picture for one of pine trees I took today.  This is how I pretend we aren't even going to have winter this year.
seasonless photo
Gracie has been a bit keyed up lately with all the nasty weather brought in by the hurricane.  She doesn’t like being outside in the cold rain, so she tends to stay in too much and then she gets destructive if the humans in the house don’t play with her and keep her entertained.  She ripped the curtains off the window, shredded a whole roll of paper towels all over the stairs, and pretty much destroyed the wool rug I try to keep in the hallway in front of the door. 
play with me
Today was a lovely day, so Someone and I took Miss Gracie out to Greenbo Lake for a long hike through the woods.  She thoroughly enjoyed it; we all did.  Except for a few people fishing around the marina, we had the place to ourselves.  The trail was covered with leaves so we had to be careful not to trip over rocks and roots that were hidden by leaves.  I wish we could let Gracie off her leash when we’re out in the woods with no people around, but if she took off to chase a deer or rabbit, we might never see her again.  I hope she would have enough sense to find her way back to us, but it’s hard to know for sure what she might do. 

Someone is off work and the girls have no school until Wednesday because Tuesday is election day.  They are all in vacation mode, but this week is just another week for me.  I really only have a few days of vacation left for 2012, but next year will be my thirtieth anniversary with my employer and I will get five more days of vacation – a total of 30 vacation days.  WOW!  Pretty awesome.  Does it seem like 30 years?  Definitely, yes.      

Saturday, November 3, 2012

going home

No blog posts happening this week – that’s what happens when I get preoccupied with things.  Keeping up with my survey has made me a busy lady this week and hallelujah for that!  I can offer a gift card now and with this ever-so-tiny bit of incentive, people are signing up to take my survey.  I’m almost halfway to the minimum number of people needed.  It’s way better than where I was, but there are many, many long miles to the finish line. 

Halloween was a nonevent this year.  Our city leaders decided that with the cold rain brought through our area by Hurricane Sandy, they should postpone Trick or Treat until November 1st.   Evidently, people skipped or went someplace else for Trick or Treat because not a single kid came to our door.  It’s too bad because Erin went all out decorating our house with spiders, ghosts, a graveyard, and a sinister jack ‘o lantern.  And now we have a giant bowl of candy nobody wants, but I imagine teen girls will take care of any unwanted junk food before it should be tossed out. 
My girls had a writing workshop today on the campus of Morehead State University, my Alma Mater. It felt a bit like going home, if it’s ever really possible to go home again.  I thoroughly enjoyed walking around campus to see what has changed since I last visited.  The campus has changed considerably and it’s a good thing to see the university thriving through expansion and improvements. 

My favorite hangout - Eagle Lake
view of campus from Eagle Lake dam
My grandmother was very displeased that I enrolled at Morehead, believing all I was going there for was to find a husband, and I could do that at the local community college just as well and for less money.  My grandfather voiced no opinion, but that was typical for him.  He rarely spoke, but I think he was OK with my decision.  I had saved enough money to pay for freshman year and because I needed no money from them, I did what I wanted.

I had no car in those days, so my grandparents drove me to campus and helped me carry my things into my dorm room.  In those days, Morehead was about a three-hour trip from where they lived.  When they said good-bye and left, it was like somebody flipped a switch – something changed.  Maybe it was me who changed.  It was early afternoon and a very hot August day, but for some reason the first thing I wanted to do was take a long, hot shower.  Perhaps the shower symbolized washing away every last trace of my former life.

After that shower, I set off to explore the campus and to go buy textbooks for my classes.  It was exhilarating to be in a place by myself and completely on my own with nobody to answer to.  That first walk down through the center of campus on my first day was a walk I will never forget.  It was like starting a new fact, it was the start of a new life for me.