Monday, December 24, 2007

Cookie disaster

Here's what the magazine promised:

Here's what happened when I attempted it:

When will I learn not to trust recipes published in home magazines?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

2007 New Years resolution accomplished

At last. After nearly a year, I finished reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, thus fulfilling last year's New Year's resolution to read at least one book that I'd bought but hadn't yet read. And not a moment too soon. This book was a bestseller, but I bet fewer than half of the people who bought it actually read it. Alexander Hamilton was an extremely active person and prolific writer and his prose has a wordy and florid style that makes for difficult reading. Add to that complex political imbroglios and you have a biography that is a struggle to read.
Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson loathed each other. I was raised in New York, where history classes had lessons dedicated to him. Now we live in Jefferson's territory and my kids do not seem to be learning much about Hamilton in history. I distinctly remember my fourth grade teacher telling us that Burr and Hamilton dueled because Hamilton insulted Burr's daughter, an idea she must have gotten from Gore Vidal's novel Burr. In reality, no one knows what, precisely, Hamilton said about Burr to spark their dual other than that it was something “despicable.” Chernow loses his objectivity and insists, somewhat implausibly, that Burr was all but jumping with glee after the duel.
For 2008 I resolve to see the Falsies in concert, because everyone tells me how good they are, to see something--anything-- at the Gravity Lounge, because I've never been there, and try at least two new restaurants.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Benjamin Franklin

I just finished Benjamin Franklin by Edmund Morgan. Every American kid learns about Ben Franklin in history, but what I remember of those lessons is a vague montage of an old man flying a kite, writing pithy "Poor Richard" sayings, and somehow involved in establishing American independence. The school history books give the impression he was an old man his entire life.

This picture, by the way, is totally inaccurate. And no, I am not referring to the cherubs assisting in the advance of science, but rather to the fact that Franklin looks like he's about 80 years old when he did his famous kite flying experiment. In reality, he was in his early 40s. And was probably quite a looker, by all accounts. As a young man, Franklin was athletic--a powerful swimmer in a time when most people couldn't swim at all--charming and funny. Not to mention brilliant. The impression you get from reading his biography is that he was supremely charismatic. He loved people and people loved him. Women, apparently, found him irresistable, even in his old age.

Franklin was no provincial country bumpkin American. He spent years living in London, corresponded with influential people in Italy, France, Holland and other countries, was considered an authority on a variety of scientific topics, although he himself felt that devotion to public service was more important than furthering scientific knowlege. Franklin was a tinkerer, a figure-outer of things. He invented bifocals, the lightening rod, a new way of rigging ships. It was Franklin who figured out that lead is poisonous, by observing what handling lead type did to himself and other printers, plus observing and talking to painters, plumbers and glaziers (leaded glass). He also noticed that plants died in areas where lead was smelted.

Most of his life, Franklin considered himself an Englishman. He spent years devoted to a goal of a united English Empire in which the American colonies were full members, and not merely colonies. He also worked to move Pennsylvania from the rule of Proprietors, to the rule of a royal governor--thus earning the enmity of the Penn family.

When it became clear that his vision of America and England united in a single powerful empire would never happen, he devoted himself to the cause of American independence. Arguably, he was the only American sophisticated enough to parry with upper-level French government officials and lived in Paris during the American Revolution, gaining money and support from France.

The interesting thing about this book is the transition of Franklin from Englishman to American. We Americans, when studying our Revolution, emphasize the British as "other" when in fact they weren't. It's difficult to grasp the concept now, 200 years later, when we have a clearly established national identity different from the UK's, that the Revolutionary war was really a civil war--Englishmen fighting Englishmen.

I highly recommend this book although I confess I skimmed some of the more convoluted political passages.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Tree Crimes and Misdemeanors

This year's Christmas tree was shipped to us directly from Maine, via the L.L. Bean catalog. It has a distinct list to starboard, but otherwise it is the perfect balsam Christmas tree of my bourgeois dreams.

We were not always so prosperous to order our trees from L.L. Bean. Six years ago, we had a somewhat traumatic tree-hunting expedition that typifies the absurd predicaments Jon and I find ourselves in. Our children at the time were 9, 8, 5, & 2.

It started with a budget crisis...

...I remembered that Ashlawn-Highland, the home of former US president James Monroe, was giving out FREE trees. We grabbed the tree saw, and headed down route 53. Jon drove ahead in his truck, and when the kids and I spilled out of the Volvo, we saw a young couple dragging a perfect Christmas tree toward their car. When questioned, they told us that the best trees were in the vicinity of the sheep. I popped into the gift shop to make sure we understood the rules of this venture, and was told we were free to cut down any cedar tree, and that donations to Ashlawn, in any amount, were gratefully accepted. Fair enough, although I kept to myself the fact that I didn't know what a cedar tree looked like.

Our first challenge was climbing the fence into a large field with woods at its edge. There were no suitable trees in sight, and there was a disconcerting lack of sheep. But what these woods lacked in sheep and Christmas trees, they made up in other organic matter, for the area had recently been occupied by a large herd of cows. After a long and dreary walk, we stumbled on a barbed-wire fence. The trees are always more Christmas-y on the other side of the barbed wire. Boosting four small children over the barbed wire fence was considerably more difficult than climbing the first fence, but we managed it, and were deep in a wood of enormous trees of one species that I assumed was cedar. They were all much too tall, and just as we were about to give up, we spotted the sheep and a tree that appeared suitable, or at least, diminutive compared to its neighbors. There was a long stretch of trunk before the branches began, but we were confident that once trimmed down, this tree would be perfect. Jon set to work with the saw, the tree fell with a resounding Whump!, and it became horribly clear that this tree was HUGE, and that we didn't have a chance of even dragging it to the car, let alone fitting it into our living room. What also became clear was that we had committed a crime. Our first impulse was to hide the evidence. Jon quickly began sawing the tree into smaller chunks, much as an axe-murderer chops his victims into pieces that will fit into a briefcase. The kids and I dragged the amputated tree bits to another fence nearby and tossed them over. Even two year old Mr. McP was scurrying to and fro with small branches. We were just in sight of the house and Jon alternated between bellowing at us to hurry up and hissing at us to be quiet. It was at this point that I remarked that our donation had better be in cash. And so we floundered through the muck--for the cows had been here too--frantically disposing of the tree, while ducking and dodging in order to remain invisible. The sheep, curiously, seemed oblivious to the sudden burst of activity in their pasture.

Once we'd hidden the evidence of our crime, we began our search anew. We now realized that our sense of perspective was somewhat skewed but when we found a second tree, we were at least able to judge that it was much smaller than the first one. As Jon started sawing, the three youngest children started to cry. "I don't want a Christmas tree!" sobbed Drama Queen. This tree, however, turned out to be easily portable. Even better, we discovered a broad stile over which we surmounted the fence with ease. Jon put the tree into his truck and headed home, while I stopped by the gift shop, gave them $10, and left in a hurry.

When I got home, there stood Jon, holding the tree up against the house. It was several feet taller than the front porch roof. We did, however, cram that whole tree, every bit, into our stairwell, where its top nearly reached the second floor ceiling and its branches bulged through the banisters and almost completely blocked the hall.

The really amazing thing is that the following year we returned to Ashlawn for another tree.
This year's mantle, artfully arranged by Drama Queen.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Maybe local food is cheaper after all

When I was buying food at local stores, I was constantly conscious of price, and individual items are definitely more expensive at local stores. Yesterday, I tallied my spending for November--most of which was spent buying food only at local stores--and I was stunned to see that we actually spent less for food in November than we did for the past several months. In November we spent $895.24 on food. In October, $1106.83, in September, $925.97, and in August, $1018.86. This is for six people, two of whom are teens.

By "food" I mean food and not toilet paper or toothpaste or dog food or any of the other things you can buy at the supermarket. "Food" also does not include alcoholic beverages. Food bought in restaurants is a separate line item on my budget. Interestingly, in our month of buying local, we spent far less at restaurants too.

Why was shopping local cheaper even though prices are higher? I think it's because I stayed away from packaged foods, which are expensive anywhere, but are especially pricey at stores like Foods of All Nations.

I am once again rethinking how I buy food in Charlottesville.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Scenes from a marriage

Sixteen years ago today, Jon and I got married at St. Benedict's Catholic church in Buffalo, NY. It poured rain, which everyone assured us was a sign of good luck and fertility. We did have four children, so maybe they were right.

I'm thinking of all the incidents in our marriage in which it was just the two of us, trying to get through a difficult situation--sometimes a funny situation, and sometimes not.

There was the time we installed insulation in the ceiling of our addition. Imagine cramming a futon into your joists and stapling it in place and you will know what that was like. There was the time, early in our marriage that we loaded a u-haul with all our possessions for a move to another state, and had to maneuver an entertainment center that weighed about 5,000 pounds down a long, steep narrow staircase all by ourselves. This was the first of several moves.

There was the time our dining room ceiling along with an ocean of water collapsed while we had houseguests. We closed on our first (and only) house the day before central Virginia expected the monster Hurricane Floyd. We didn't even know if we'd still have a house to move into.

There was the time Jon, replacing our toilet, got stuck in the tight space between the old toilet and the wall and I laughed and took pictures of him and then posted them on the internet.

There was the time Jon had his wisdom teeth removed, and the oral surgeon discharged him when he was barely conscious and I had to drag him to the car, and when we got home, still under the influence of the anesthesia, he ran around the house and jumped on the beds and frightened me and our two toddlers before he finally passed out.

There was the time we couldn't agree on what color to paint the living room, so I waited until he was out of town and then painted it my color all by myself.

There was the time we were stranded on the New York State thruway because Jon's car's radiator blew, and had to spend the night at a quaint inn on Lake Erie and then an entire day wandering around Northeast, PA waiting for our car to be repaired.  There was the time our newly cut Christmas tree fell off the roof of the car way out in Nelson county.

There was the death of Jon's brother, age 36 of a brain tumor, and the death of my mother, and then the death of his father, plus the deaths of many other loved ones.

There was, of course the births of all our children. Mad Scientist, the oldest--the day he was born Jon followed me around the house with a tape recorder while I threw up and tried to get away from him. Drama Queen, exactly 12 months and six days after Mad Scientist--nearly born in the car, at a railroad crossing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Miss G, born after we'd moved back from Michigan to Buffalo, and finally Mr. McP, born here in Charlottesville in 1999.

It's these experiences that make a marriage. No matter how much you fight or irritate each other, you look back on all the ordeals you survived together and realize you really have something.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Adventures on the streets of Charlottesville

My car's inspection is overdue, and today I took it to C'ville Imports. This is my third attempt to do this. The first time, I was late, and my loaner car was gone. The second time, again, no loaner car. Today, when I specifically made an appointment for a loaner, there were no loaners, although there was a customer who had promised to return his loaner first thing in the morning. The nice guy at the desk called this customer and it turned out his definition of "first thing in the morning" is around 9:30 am.

I could have waited for the loaner car to show up, but waiting at Cville Imports for over an hour with nothing to do does not appeal to me. If I'd had my cell phone, I could have called my husband to pick me up on his Vespa, but I didn't have my cell phone. I could have asked to borrow Cville Imports phone, but I am allergic to asking for favors, even small ones. I decided to walk home.

The great thing about Charlottesville is that you can walk just about anywhere, provided you are healthy and reasonably fit, which I am. Still the walk from Cville Imports, on Lewis St, which is off Fontaine Ave, to my house in Belmont is long--2.9 miles, in fact. I was wearing my running clothes, having already been for a run this morning. I could have run home, except that I was carrying the fabulous new bag I just bought at Anthropologie. If I'd run, I'd have looked like a purse snatcher. As it was, I looked decidedly eccentric, walking the city streets dressed in sloppy running clothes, and carrying a Fabulous Bag.

It was OK on JPA, where I blended into the drab line of diverse people headed to UVA, but I stood out more after I turned onto Lane Rd. One woman even clutched her purse close as she passed me. See--I did look like a purse snatcher.

I don't like walking on Cherry Ave, mainly because of the guys who hang out on the benches in front of Tonsler Park. If I'm in a huge hurry to get home from work, I will walk that way, but usually I take Main St. Walking in front of those guys is like running a gauntlet, but I figured that they wouldn't be out so early in the morning. Alas, they were there--one of them even yelled something after I passed, although I'm not sure if he was yelling at me or at a passing car.

At last I attained the top of the Cherry Ave. hill. Walking down the hill, however, a Charlottesville Police officer, waiting in the traffic jam that backs up along Elliott Ave, suddenly turned on his siren, startling me so much I almost bit off my own tongue. There was no emergency. He just wanted to get to the head of the long line of cars. Thanks asshole. How nice that police are exempt from the traffic laws they enforce on everybody else. Maybe I'm just lucky he didn't arrest me on suspicion of purse snatching.

And now I am home. If I hadn't walked, I'd still be waiting for Mr. Douchebag to return the loaner car.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Last clinical day *and* where not to eat lunch

Today was the last clinical day of the semester. I feel like celebrating. It was a good day, too. I gave a patient a shot for the first time. I've come a long way since the day I accidentally drenched the tub room at the nursing home with antiseptic. (The nurse's aide told me to turn a nozzle in order to disinfect the tub, which I did without giving a single thought to what would happen once the nozzle was turned, i.e. a stream of soap spraying out of a hose I hadn't noticed, indeed didn't find for some minutes while I fruitlessly peered under the tub for a leak.)

Next semester we spend twice as much time at the hospital. Once I'm there, it's not so bad, but I don't like the nervousness beforehand, wondering what my patient will be like, if my nurse will be mean to me, if I'll make a horrible mistake. I've had difficult patients too--personally pleasant, but physically difficult. The last four weeks in a row I had patients who were unable to move at all, and two of those patients were also unable to speak or communicate their needs.

Our clinical group celebrated our last day by finishing early and going out to lunch. Unfortunately, everyone settled on Chili's. (I put in a quiet vote for the Tavern--we needed a place with parking). I'd never eaten there before, and the experience confirmed my aversion to chain restaurants. All I could think was, "If only we were at Aqui es Mexico, I could be eating a $5 plate of deliciousness." Instead I paid $8.99--$8.99!!!!--for a bland turkey sandwich. I didn't even finish my sandwich, it was so disappointing. I wanted to order a margarita--our instructor made a point of saying that alcohol for lunch was appropriate after all we'd been through--but no one else did, and I didn't want to be the lone drunk at Chilis during lunch. The Tuesday group went to Lord Hardwicks and had beer with their lunch.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pied Beauty

I just used a tree trimmer for a purpose for which it is not intended. The little hook was handy for yanking all the grape vines off the pergola. Jon is going to kill me. I don't care.

Did Gerard Manley Hopkins say "Glory be to God for dappled things," or did he say, "Glory be to God for nasty, musty, cave-like mosquito infested things"? How lovely to sit in the dappled shade of an arbor, with the sun winking through the clean green leaves. That is what I want next summer, and not a dank green cave with a literal haystack of vines piled on top. Jon thinks differently. He does not see the disadvantage of sitting under last year's rotting grape leaves, slapping mosquitoes, and shielding your eyes from the descending bird trash. If Jon doesn't kill me, I can enjoy my clean, sunny, dappled shade next summer, and if he does, I will never have to wipe shit off anyone's ass ever again. It is a win-win situation, so go ahead and kill me Bad Boy and I will see you in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.

The former owner of our house was a landscape architect, who left behind a garden that has always intimidated me. Just before closing, she took me on a tour, and every region of our tiny 1/10 acre yard had a "concept." I could barely keep alive a pansy in a pot. I was so not ready for a garden with Concepts. She concluded the tour by waving her hand at the grape arbor, "....and, of course, pruning the vines in the fall," she said, as if this were obvious. But of course. I tried my best, and for a the first couple years, the garden looked OK, but then came the summer of the heart murmur, when I could barely get off the couch for three months, and the garden went to hell and has never recovered.

This year I will get it presentable again, and near the top of the list is to tame the grape arbor. I have no school this week, and am spending my time in the garden, getting things cleaned up and cleared away so I will have a fresh playing field next spring.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Buying local (ish)

Several weeks have passed since I decided to try and feed my family on foods bought at local shops only. Here's what's good about avoiding major supermarkets:
  1. Quality. The food is of superior quality in most instances—exceptions noted below.
  2. Local. Obviously, not all food sold at local stores is locally produced, but at least there is some local food available, and not only produce. Cville Market even sells locally milled flour, Wade's Mill—their white flour makes delicious bread and pretzels, although is perhaps a tad sturdy for my daintier baked goods. I bake a lot-- so much that I use a cannister that holds fifteen pounds of flour. I have no patience for wimpy canisters that can't even hold a full five pound bag.
  3. Less Waste. I've found that we waste less food because I am mindful of everything that I buy. At the supermarket, it's so easy to mindlessly load up your cart.
  4. We're eating more whole foods, fewer packaged foods, because of the problem of Cost—see below.
Here's what's bad about avoiding the supermarket.
  1. Cost. Food is much more expensive, particularly packaged food like cold cereal, cookies, etc.
  2. Time. Although I used to waste a lot of time at the supermarket, I find I'm making more trips to the store because there is no way I can buy enough food to feed a family of six people for a whole week at a small store, mainly because certain stores are good for certain things, and not so good for other things, so there's no one-stop shopping. For example, I prefer to buy eggs at C'ville Market, but don't like their meat selection so much. I have to drive all the way across town to Foods of All Nations for meat, unless I remember the butcher in the Main Street Market, which I usually don't. Produce is good anywhere you go, but I am not happy with the butter at any local store. You have your choice of super-expensive organic butter, or low-end brand inferior butter. Cville Market's butter comes in giant one-pound blocks, which you must cut into quarters yourself. Not that it's difficult to quarter a pound of butter, but then you have the problem of re-wrapping the pieces.
  3. Variety. There are some things I either can't get at local stores, or won't pay local-store prices for. Splenda, for example. Tuna—they do have tuna at Reid's, and probably Foods of All Nations too, but what is the difference between buying Starkist tuna at a local shop, and buying Starkist tuna at Harris-Teeter? Baking supplies are another issue. I've already mentioned flour and butter, but other baking supplies like chocolate chips, are either ridiculously expensive or unavailable in local stores. Again, why should I pay $4.50 for a bag of chocolate chips, when the same brand is on sale at Food Lion for $2.00? And chocolate chips are a staple in our house. If the kids are whining about having nothing to eat, I can whip up a batch of cookies and everybody is happy.
I'm thinking that I'll make a once-a-month trek to the supermarket and stock up on the types of things that supermarkets are good for, and the rest of the time stick to IY and C'ville Market.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fast times at Charlottesville High

In compliance with No Child Left Behind, Charlottesville city public schools are giving an anonymous survey about drug use to all students in grades 4-12. I have two children at Charlottesville High school and was sent a letter about the survey (two letters, in fact--you'd think they'd attempt to save postage and paper and send one letter per household, but whatever).
I remember taking a similar survey when I was in seventh or eighth grade. I also remember lying and claiming to have tried all kinds of drugs I'd never even been in the same room with.

Here's why these surveys are stupid: kids don't tell the truth on them. My daughter Drama Queen, a 9th grader, told me today that her honors English class took the survey together today and every kid in the class lied about his or her race. One classmate claimed to have been using cocaine since the age of ten. Another put down that he had threatened other children with guns, indeed, that he took a gun to school with him every day. My son Mad Scientist recalled preposterous answers that some of his friends had put on their surveys.

It will be amusing to see the screaming headlines a few months hence.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Remembering Sweet Valley High and other dreadful books

My friend turned me on to The Dairi Burger, a most excellent blog, and now I can't tear myself away from it. If only—if only!--I had thought to reread all the Sweet Valley High books and recap them in snarky fashion on my blog, I too could be featured in the Seattle Times. Oh well. My favorite entry so far is Sluts don't make good cheerleaders.
But while we are on the subject of dreadful children's lit, let's take a trip down memory lane. I started this entry with the assumption that most people have at least heard of Sweet Valley High—a series about a pair of perfect twin sisters and their high school crowd set in Sweet Valley, CA. (Quick! Everyone get down to The Oracle office! Liz Wakefield just lost one of her matching barrettes!) The books came out in the eighties, and were really aimed at tweens. I was in high school, working in a public library and while brainy college bound prep school girls were not the books' intended audience I would sometimes read them for their ironic pleasures.
When I was younger, I lacked that sense of irony. The tradition of trying to brainwash children through literature is well established. I remember reading one of my grandmother's books—I was about seven at the time. The book, whose title escapes me, was about a girl, an impossibly saintly girl—I think her name is Griselda—who is about to make her First Holy Communion. Alas! She's an orphan and lives with a cruel, anti-Catholic guardian, who locks poor Griselda in the cellar, and as a result, Griselda nearly misses making her first communion, but she is rescued by a Kind Benefactor (Catholic, of course) and lifted out of her sad situation.
At this same period of my life I was an enthusiastic reader of two of my mom's old books, Wopsy, the Adventures of a Guardian Angel, and Wopsy Again by Gerald F. Scriven which, I have discovered, now sell for quite a lot of money on the used book circuit. My mother would see me with “Wopsy” and groan, “You're not reading that again, are you?” I couldn't help it. I loved Wopsy and the religious intolerance and racism went right over my head.
Wopsy is set in an African village with a Catholic mission nearby. An African toddler is burned in his mother's cooking fire. The priest is sent for and sees an opportunity to baptize the child, whose soul, we are told, turns from black to a clean white. Meanwhile, Wopsy, a young and, we gather, somewhat naughty angel, is assigned to be the toddler's guardian angel. The baby's name is —wait for it—Shiny. And so it goes, with “Father John” the priest, who rides the countryside on his motorbike, which the villagers call his “Tiki-tiki” and Shiny's mother who grumbles a lot and brews the banana beer (banana beer?) and Shiny's father, who, it is hinted, is a somewhat shady character, mainly because he resists Christianity, and of course, Shiny, who is always getting into trouble despite the busy Wopsy whispering in his ear all the time.
Sweet Valley High to Wopsy pretty much runs the gamut of awful books aimed at children and the presses are still churning. Now we have Goosebumps and Magic Tree House, Animorphs and American Girls.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The real Shakespeare was Shakespeare

I just finished Bill Bryson's engaging (and brief) biography of William Shakespeare. Very little concrete fact is available about Shakespeare's life, so this slim volume is padded with fascinating tidbits about life in England in the late 1500's, in Bryson's ebullient style. The concluding chapter addresses the theories of the anti-Stratfordists--those who believe that Shakespeare never actually wrote his plays.

If there is anywhere a bigger group of killjoys than the anti-Stratfordists, I don't want to know about them. I was first introduced to the idea that Shakespeare may have been a fraud my freshman year in college, when my English professor claimed that Shakespeare was not one person at all, but an umbrella name for a diverse group of playwrights.

It all started with the delightfully mad American scholar Delia Bacon who became convinced that Sir Francis Bacon (no relation) was the real Shakespeare. Her arguments were impressive enough to win the support of worthies the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathanial Hawthorne. (Hawthorne wrote the preface to her book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspeare Unfolded and immediately regretted it, saying afterwards, "I will never be kind to anybody again as long as I live." Lesson: always read the book you have agreed to provide a preface for. ) Bacon traveled to England and was so sure that the proof to her notions lay buried with Shakespeare that she actually bribed a guard to leave her alone in the church with Shakespeare's tomb. She had planned to open the tomb, but couldn't bring herself to go through with it. Delia Bacon eventually died in an institution.

She was the first of many who for some reason, could not accept that an ordinary middle class man from Stratford could be the author of so many brilliant plays and sonnets. Other possible Shakespeares were Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke and Christopher Marlowe (who was killed in a barroom brawl long before many of Shakespeare's plays were even written.) The Earl of Oxford also died before Shakespeare. Why the need to tear a person down? Is it that some people are so insecure about their own lack of brilliance that they can't accept brilliance in someone else? I prefer to believe in the possibility of greatness.

*I took that quote from Hawthorne from Shakespeare, the World as Stage by Bill Bryson. The facts about Delia Bacon came from this book and also Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity and Rotten Luck by Paul Collins.

Refreshing this post. It's childish, but I'm getting annoyed that there are a couple blogs linked to Cville blogs that seem to refresh themselves automatically, filling most of the first page and pushing the more interesting entries out of site. Not that I'm presuming that this blog is one that is interesting, but other people's are and I'd rather see their latest entries on the front page and not a repeat of the same posts that were up a week ago and won't go away.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bill Bryson and other topics

It was such a beautiful day today, I decided to walk downtown, brave the trainload of tourists and immerse myself in the scene. I browsed in Two French Hens, which has been one of my favorite Charlottesville shops, since the days when it was Terracottage, and located in a tiny shop on West Main, near the train station. I went to Eloise and bought a sweatshirt. I browsed in Elsie's Garden, and that store on the mall with all the comfortable shoes--Two by Two? or something. The one that used to be one shop, but has since branched into two--one half selling clothes, the other shoes.

I also stopped in the library and got a pleasant jolt when I saw, sitting on the new books shelf, a brand-new book by Bill Bryson! I didn't know he'd written anything--it seems like "Thunderbolt Kid" just came out, and I haven't even read that one yet. This latest book is Shakespeare: The World as Stage and I am so excited to read it.

Friday, November 02, 2007


I have now gone a full week without shopping at a chain supermarket. Today I went to Foods of All Nations. I think the entire world is having a bad day today. Usually, I love "Foods..." but today I had to fight through an impossible traffic jam just to get there, then there were parking spaces--I finally found one at the opposite end of the parking lot. (Popped into a little toy shop down at that end of Ivy Square. The Nazi action figures left me feeling a bit dazed.) Then I had to dodge drivers who weren't watching for pedestrians, then fight through more crowds in "Foods..." where there was a collection of rude customers today--shopping cart collisions, snarky eye-rolling, a woman talking loudly into her cell phone about how someone shouldn't worry because "she's definitely one of us," which left me feeling vaguely sad and rejected. The staff was polite, as always. I struggled out of the store with my potatoes and salad greens, my British tea and my cheap tahini, only to risk getting run over again on the way back to my car. I'm not saying I will never shop at "Foods" again, but I will definitely never shop there on a Friday afternoon again.

Last night, I nearly cheated. My daughter needed a treat to share with her class. She would not accept homemade cookies, since she's at the age when homemade cookies are embarrassing. Stoney's was closed, and Food Lion, just a quick drive down Avon St. was so tempting. I stayed strong, and we went to Reid's.

Summary so far: avoiding supermarkets means eating more whole foods and having access to more locally produced foods. I bought less packaged food this week, and I'm buying smaller amounts of food at a time because it's very difficult to buy enough to last six people for an entire week at the locally owned shops.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I forgot to mention an important local food source: Bodo's Bagels. :)

Thank you, everyone for the suggestions. I'm noticing a small shift in my thinking. Bodo's for example. I used to view bagels from Bodo's as a special treat and something to be bought infrequently. The main reason I used to shop at Giant was because their bagels are better than Harris-Teeter's. So why not just buy all our bagels at Bodo's? My kids love them in lunchboxes and they're only $0.10 more per bagel than at Giant.

Still, all food and nothing else makes Patience a dull girl. I survived another clinical day, and got to see a lumbar puncture done--with xray to guide the doctor when he put the needle in. Cool. I've never seen cerebral-spinal fluid before. Three more clinical days to go this semester. I also have an exam Friday, so must get away from the computer and start studying.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Food project

Beer is going to be a problem. If only the Beer Run were open!
I ought to be keeping track of certain variables in my local food stores only project. The most important ones to me are
  • cost
  • quality
  • variety--does the store carry what I need?
  • convenience
Yesterday I spent $110, divided evenly between Integral Yoga, where I bought produce, bulk baker's yeast, cumin, rice, tortilla chips, vanilla yogurt, milk, and expeller pressed safflower oil, and Reid's where I bought two boxes of Cheerios, nutella, baking chocolate, a 5# bag of flour, peanut butter chips (for cookies) brown sugar and other things I can't remember now. Today, I popped into Feast and bought the eggs I couldn't get yesterday, plain yogurt, a bag of salad greens, some chicken salad, and some organic boneless chicken breasts at the organic butcher in the Main St. Market. I spent $23.

I was disappointed that Integral Yoga didn't have tortillas made with wheat flour and seems to only carry tortillas made with various alternative grains like spelt and brown rice. Yes, I ally myself with the mainstream wheat-eater. I guess I'm fortunate not to be allergic to wheat, but as I considered the package of spelt tortillas, I wondered if I could be allergic to spelt and frankly, brown rice tortillas are not very appealing.

Tonight I mixed the plain yogurt with curry powder, garlic and cumin, marinated the chicken in it, and made a stir fry of the chicken with rice and broccoli and spinach from IY plus frozen peas left over from the evil supermarket chain.

Lunch boxes are also going to be a problem. I have to pack lunches for four children every day. Buying food in the school cafeteria is unthinkable.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Today, I just could not face grocery shopping in the rain. I decided to skip the supermarket (I usually go to Harris-Teeter @ Barracks Rd or the Pantops Giant) and make do with whatever I could find at Integral Yoga.

This got me thinking: how long could I go without buying any food at a major supermarket chain? Not that I never shop at local stores. I often shop at Cville Market and make periodic IY runs for some bulk items that I can't get anywhere else. I walk past Feast on my way home from work, and sometimes pop in for a few items--but not too many, since I have to carry them all the way home to Belmont.

A project is forming in my mind. Can my household of six people shop only at locally owned food stores? And for how long? A week? A month?

The closest food store to me is Stoney's, on Avon St.--about a two minute walk from my house. Stoney's is like the Room of Requirement (from the Harry Potter books.) No matter what you need, you will find it at Stoney's. I once ran out of molasses in the middle of making something that required molasses. Stoney's had it. Work gloves, respirator masks, almond extract, apples, hairnets (for ballet) Stoney's is the place.

These are my store choices (in order of their distance from my house)
  1. Stoneys plus other Belmont delis.
  2. Feast (and other shops in the West Main Market)
  3. Cville Market
  4. Reid's
  5. Integral Yoga
  6. Foods of All Nations--all the way across town, but has the biggest selection, and isn't as expensive as everyone says. They have the cheapest tahini in town, anyway. And the best tea.
It's probably not such a wise idea to embark on a sociological project when I am so busy with school, but I am so sick of wandering around huge supermarkets, negotiating their parking lots, and being forced to use their VIC cards or MVP cards or whatever in order to "qualify" for sale prices.

Today at Integral Yoga, I bought enough foods to make dinner for several nights (although it irritates me no end that they don't sell eggs there. I know, it's their store, they have the right to sell what they want and I hope I don't get hate comments from people who don't eat eggs, but the lack of eggs is the main reason I eschew IY in favor of Cville Market most of the time.

After IY, I stopped across the street at Reid's. A long time ago, I made disparaging remarks about the atmosphere at Reid's and got blasted in a comment. I don't mean to put down Reid's. It is ugly inside, but they have the cheapest Nutella in town, carry Fair Trade coffee, and don't make you sign up for a stupid bonus card. I do have two words for Reids, though: automatic doors. Please.

Until further notice, I'll only be shopping at the stores listed above. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

An entertaining spectacle

Nothing like displaying your near-naked body to the entire neighborhood at 11:30 on a sunny Saturday morning. It happened like this: Just stepping out of the bath, I heard pathetic whimperings coming from the next room. I wrapped myself in a towel and went to investigate. My daughters, Drama Queen and Miss G were out on the front porch roof repairing a Halloween banner they'd made. They'd instructed their little brother, Mr. McP to hold the window open for them. The window is heavy and the storm window had fallen, so he was holding both. I took the window burden from him and immediately the storm window came completely loose and swung out of the frame. What's the best way to call attention to yourself when you are standing in an open window, wearing nothing but a towel? Scream “Goddammit!” repeatedly and as loudly as possible.
Drama Queen miraculously caught the storm window before it shattered on the porch roof, and I somehow managed to hold up the heavy sash, maneuver the storm window into the house, and not let my towel fall off—which it wanted to do very much.
So my corner of Belmont got to enjoy the sight of a crazy screaming naked lady who apparently lets her kids play on the roof.
Other than that it was a fun weekend. We got together with friends on Saturday and Sunday and last night we ate dinner at the C&O on the dime of the pharmaceutical industry.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Politics of clean

What is clean? It's almost become a political issue. My house is not clean these days. It is neat, because I ruthlessly and recklessly trash everything that irritates me. I once threw a functioning blender into the garbage. Indeed, even now, the bundt pan my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas several years ago is in the trash, awaiting collection because I realized the other day that I never have, nor will I ever want to bake a bundt cake. (I donate to charity things that are useful, but this pan is in a somewhat dented, not to mention dirty and disgusting state, so it is not Salvation Army-worthy.) But now you can see why I say cleaning is political.

Some people drink alcohol to excess, or douse their pain with pills. I throw things away. But “neat” and “clean” are not the same thing, as is becoming obvious to me because the crud on top of the baseboards is spreading and there are food stains on the wall of the room that, before our addition was the dining room, and that we now call “the old dining room” for lack of a better name. Today I realized that the applesauce Mad Scientist lobbed at the living room ceiling nigh on two years ago is still there.

I've considered hiring a cleaning lady. Friends were telling us about their wonderful cleaning lady, and how she is looking for more clients, and it was on the tip of my tongue to get her phone number. But then my friend said, “I just tell her what to do, and she does it.” Therein lies the problem, because I would have no idea what to tell the cleaning lady to do. What would I say? “Please clean the applesauce off the ceiling,” ? And why should that be necessary? Isn't the meaning of cleaning understood?

Then there's the matter of products. One must provide products and a vacuum for one's cleaning lady. I am lost when it comes to cleaning products. Out of a sense of environmental responsibility, I buy one environmentally friendly brand of all-purpose spray and use it for everything. I suspect this is not correct. For years, I resisted buying toilet bowl cleaner, because of my earth-friendly proclivities. I poured silly things like baking soda into my toilets, and as you can imagine, they got themselves into a shocking state. Now I do buy toilet bowl cleaner, but justify it by the fact that I clean my toilets so seldom, I'm probably not making much of an impact.

Today after school I executed a mini cleaning frenzy. I used my environmentally friendly spray on the bathroom vanity. I dusted the bathroom shelves and threw things away. I cleaned the stovetop, and a particularly dirty section of baseboard in the kitchen. I wiped the dog paw prints off the front door and cleaned the food off the wall of the old dining room. The applesauce on the ceiling remains.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Dear John Letter

Dear Jon,
Dried lavender in the spaghetti sauce is not a happy combination.
Aileen (AKA Patience)

Jon is proud of his sauce, and rightly so, because it's good. He will often make his sauce for dinner when I am too tired to cook, and I appreciate that. A few weeks ago, I detected a new and troubling flavor in the sauce. It was one of those things that I felt I ought to be able to identify, but couldn't. "I think it might be the tarragon" he said. I didn't think dried tarragon that has sat on the shelves for at least three years would make that much of an impact but I didn't say so. The other night, the strange flavor was still present in the sauce, only this time I saw the bottle of dried lavender out on the counter amongst the other sauce spices.

I'd bought the lavender after seeing a recipe for a lavender cake I wanted to try, but after taking a whiff, I decided I didn't want to make a lavender cake after all. It smelled nothing like I expected it to. Not that you want your food to smell like air fresheners and cleaning products, but still, it was a let-down. So the bottle sat, unused, until fully half of it disappeared into two pots of sauce.

On another note, today is foley catheter day in skills lab.

We've rapidly progressed through the skills, starting with handwashing and bedmaking, then onto vital signs and more. The last couple weeks were hanging IV fluids, changing the tubing and flushing the line (which I did with a real patient on Monday. I was proud of myself. Jon rolled his eyes.) Then came sterile technique. From that I learned that I will never be an OR nurse as I contaminated my sterile field repeatedly. Alas, nurses have to use sterile technique outside of the OR, such as when inserting foleys. I think the only skills left this semester are NG tubes, more with IVs and IM & SQ injections.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Porch life

Here's a picture of our fabulous Halloween wreath. (Did I mention directions can be found in this month's Country Home magazine?)

I took some other pictures of our messy porch. My porch gives the impression of slovenliness. I was not raised in the type of household where life's detritus tends to collect on the front porch and neither was my husband. And yet, my front porch looks like something that would fit right in on Green Acres. I was raised in a house so immaculate you were afraid to touch anything. My father's whole family is extraordinarily tidy. This summer, at my aunt's house, there was a crisis involving a toad that was headed into the pool's filter. She told me to get a stick, and I couldn't find a single twig, so immaculate was her back yard. Perhaps my porch is a sort of rebellion.

This is the woodburning stove we removed from the living room complete with "Trhyme" game. I still haven't listed it on Craigslist or Freecycle, although I fully intend to do so.

Mad Scientist's socks and satchel.

How many people have a well-thumbed copy of Locke on their porch? (This is Mad Scientist's reading choice, not mine.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

snobbery vs laziness

Master's or Associates?

Back in May, my happiness in getting accepted to nursing school was almost immediately killed by the comments of some the nurses I work with--”You won't get anywhere with an associates degree!” or similar remarks. Later, some of my relatives reacted with visible wincing or treated with condescension my announcement about nursing school.

UVA has a Clinical Nurse Leader program designed for people who already have a bachelor's degree in something else. After an intense 24 months of study, you graduate with a master's in nursing. I considered applying last year but felt too preoccupied with all I needed to do just to get admitted to the associates program. Now I wonder if I made a mistake. I have a couple of friends in the CNL program and they praise it to the skies, and earlier this month I decided I would definitely apply—I have completed all the prerequisites and there's even a chance they'll accept my old GRE scores, if I can only figure out how to find them.

Starting the CNL program would mean waiting another year until actually being able to work as a nurse. Two years ago, I was a full time at-home mother with no ambition beyond finding a part time job so that I could have a little money for nice shoes and lunches out with friends. Do I really want to get into an expensive, intense program like UVA's? Currently, there's a fellowship for the CNL students—each student gets $17,000 which pretty much covers tuition for the year, and one of my friends in the program said he heard it was going to be extended another year. That's great, but what do I do if it ends after my first year and am stuck with a huge tuition bill right at the moment when I'll be getting ready to send Mad Scientist to college?

Do I care enough about nursing to get a master's in it? Before I've ever practiced as a nurse? We invited one of our friends in the program to watch a movie with us, but he declined, saying he had to “read about leadership.” Do I want to spend 24 straight months reading about leadership and nursing theory? I hate nursing theory. I hate the whole process of nursing school—agonizing over care plans, writing assessments and having to redo them until they're perfect. I have loads of writing assignments for clinicals, and it's not like you can hand in a care plan and get a “C” and be told to do better. If it isn't perfect, you have to redo it until it is perfect, along with your new writing assignments. Not to mention (this week at least) 240 page reading assignment for theory class.

A few weeks ago I was happily imagining myself as part of the master's program, but I think its appeal to me is mainly snob appeal. I'd rather be known as a UVA student than a PVCC student. Do I really want to go through the whole application process and a rigorous program just for snobbery? It's so much more gracious to hold my head up high about my two year degree and not be affected by people's comments. Conversely, should I avoid the CNL program just out of laziness? Because I don't relish more research papers? I would be half way through the nursing program I'm already in, and most of my credits would not transfer, if I were to go to UVA.

I'm not asking for advice, just getting my thoughts out. Any sensible person would probably say, “Just apply and see what happens.” That's probably what I'd tell someone else in my situation. We'll see, but right now I'm leaning toward sticking it out at the community college.

As Jon pointed out, already having a bachelor's—even though it is not in nursing—will still help me be a better nurse. As an associates degree nurse, if I ever really feel the need to further my education, the hospital I work for will pay me to do so.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


If the weather doesn't cool down soon, I can't be held responsible for my actions.

Today I felt like crap--overstuffed sinuses, ears plugged with fluid, deaf (or nearly) and carrying a 300 pound head on my neck. It's my weekend off and I'd looked forward to visiting the Alderman library and stocking up. I got there about 10:30 this morning and discovered the library doesn't open until 1:00pm today, due to fall break.

I did return at 1:00--I really wanted some new books to read--but by that time I felt even sicker. I have a fear of passing out in public places. I never actually have passed out in public (or at all) but I've come close enough to it to be fully sensible of how embarrassing that would be. The only thing worse than passing out in public would be to pass out somewhere in the stacks at the Alderman library on a Sunday, where you could lie for hours, undiscovered.

I didn't pass out, but my fluid-stuffed head made me feel something like a pumpkin tottering around on a dandelion stalk.

I did fully restock my bedside table with the following titles:

Bruce Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare
Mollie Peer: or the Underground Adventures of the Moosepath League by Van Reid
The Man Who Tried to Save the World: The Dangerous Life and Mysterious Disappearance of an American Hero by Scott Anderson
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph Ellis
The Funeral Makers, Once Upon a Time on the Banks, and The Weight of Winter by Cathie Pelletier

If any of them turn out to be exceptional, I'll write a review.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation

This was the summer we painted the exterior our house ourselves. It was supposed to be "we"--ideally it would have been "he." One Saturday early in June Jon announced that today was the day to start to paint. I put up strong resistance to this idea but in the end, lost the battle and went to Meadowbrook Hardware and selected a quart of gray paint called "swordplay" for the house and "vintage wedding" (white) for the trim. Jon slapped a 3'X3' area of paint on the front of the house, we squinted at it, said, "meh, it's OK," and Jon returned to the store and bought several gallons.

We set Mad Scientist to work scrubbing the stucco with a tsp and bleach solution and I took the younger kids to Mint Springs and Jon stayed behind to paint. When I returned from the lake, the entire front of the house was purple. Not gray. The purple paint contrasted oddly with the old trim color-a yellowish cream--making our house look not unlike an Easter egg. A neighbor came out to laugh at my discomfiture and told us the house looked "phat."

Thus began the summer of painting.

Our labors were interrupted when Jon's father died. We spent two and a half weeks in New York, and while we were there Jon broke his 10th rib playing extreme frisbee with his nephews. When we got home, he was unable to paint and I did the rest of the work myself.

I scraped the trim--sometimes scraping through 100 years accumulation of paint. I removed the window sashes, repaired the sash cords, removed and replaced cracked glazing compound. (I broke so many panes, the people at Virginia Glass must think I am either an exceptionally careless person, or have anger management issues.) I painted the sashes and the front door raspberry red to contrast with the purple house and the white trim.

Prior to this summer, I'd had a fear of ladders. The front and back of the house didn't require much ladder work because I could stand on the porches and roofs. When it came time to do the sides I had to overcome this fear. By the end of the summer, I could extend our ladder as far as it would go, climb as high as was safe and paint with confidence. I learned how to balance the ladder on uneven ground. The west side of our house is nearly three stories high. I still need to paint most of the trim on that side, but the rest of the house is finished (other than the porch floor.)



Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mr. McP

My eight year old is still so funny about language. Today I told him to check the table of contents of my cookbooks for cookie chapters so he could find a recipe to try.

Mr. McP: Table of contents? I thought that was when you went to a judge.

Me: ??

Mr. McP: you know, when you sue someone, I thought you went to the Table of Contents.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I'm shaken up over the story that two local farmers were handcuffed and arrested because of a discrepancy over the type of price tag labels they use. (Link courtesy of Cvillenews)

According to the Hook news blog and Cvillenews not only were the owners of Double H farm arrested, Virginia authorities visited a local restaurant that had pork products from Double H farm and "denatured" the products on the spot--rendering them inedible by pouring bleach on them.

Does this not strike you as unnecessarily violent? Shouldn't handcuffs be reserved for people who are dangerous? Did the VDACS really need ten agents plus two additional people to arrest the couple--who are in their 60s? Was it necessary to force them to ride in separate cars after arrest? Can you imagine the scene in the restaurant kitchens where state officials showed up and started pouring bleach on the food?

Would owners of a large business ever be treated in this manner? I remember when Wal-mart was exposed for labeling products made in China as "Made in America." Were Wal-mart executives arrested? Merchandise destroyed?

We can't have state sanctioned thugs using excessive force and violence.

I understand that regulations are put in place to protect consumer health and keep us from getting ripped off. Why are confusing unit pricing labels in grocery stores never under close scrutiny by the VDACS? (Like when different brands of the same type of product have a different unit pricing standard--Brand A will be labeled $X/pound and brand B will be labeled $X per ounce making it difficult to compare prices without a calculator.) I'd love to see stores get disciplined for that. And haven't the latest major outbreaks of foodborne illness had their source from foods produced by large corporations, such as the salmonella contaminated Peter Pan peanut butter or the bagged salads that gave people e-coli.

Forgive this disorganized and possibly badly spelled post. My kids are bugging me for use of the computer.

I'm thinking of writing some letters to the appropriate authorities because no way should a state agricultural department have the authority to act in this way. (And it's not the first time--I remember a relatively recent Hook article about a Virginia farm whose hogs were systematically destroyed with no advance warning to their owners, in what must have been a violent and traumatic scene. )

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jazz Age

I've just finished reading Zelda: a Biography by Nancy Milford. Zelda & Scott Fitzgerald were the Sid & Nancy of the Jazz Age. Zelda, as most people know, spent nearly the last twenty years of her life in and out of different posh mental institutions. It's a sad story, and it seems that she and Scott were never happy together. Milford doesn't spend much time trying to guess why Zelda went insane. It seems to me that her life paralleled that of a firecracker--a big explosion all at once and then nothing. She spent the years leading up to her descent into madness frantically trying to make something of herself as a ballet dancer, in what I see as a desperate attempt to regain her youth.

You can't have a biography of Zelda, without much mention of her famous husband. I've never really liked the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read Tender is the Night last year and had a hard time getting through it. I do like his short stories, particularly "The Ice Palace." This biography has led me to reconsider Fitzgerald as an important American writer. I think I may re-read The Great Gatsby, and read some of his other novels as well.

I feel an affinity with the Jazz Age generation. Isn't it true that children tend to reject the ideals of their parents' generation and identify better with their grandparents? My parents were early wave baby boomers--my mom and Mick Jagger were born the same year. My grandfather, born in 1903 (and my grandmother, born in 1905) were just a few years younger than F. Scott Fitzgerald and his contemporaries. My grandfather told stories of drinking in speakeasies during prohibition and liked to tease my grandmother and call her a flapper, although she always insisted she wasn't any such thing. Flapper grandmother or not, they knew how to live well and did so without any bourgeois hand-wringing about it.

My own generation (unfortunately named "generation X") grew up in the shadow of the baby boomers. They were our baby sitters, our friends' mean older brothers, and in my case, our parents. I felt oppressed on almost a daily basis by the baby boomer nostalgia that became popular as I entered my teens. The Jazz Age generation grew up not under the shadow of another generation, but under that of a powerful cultural influence--Victorianism. Born just as Queen Victoria was dying, they successfully shook off the inhibitions of the Victorian Age. Their frenzied post-war partying was short-lived, since the Depression and World War II soon put an end to it. My own generation, rather than feeling carefree after the end of a major war, felt oppressed by the cold war and all its implications. Why care about anything when someone in power need only "push a button" and destroy the entire world? This led to our reputation for being "slackers"--cynical and selfish-appearing in the eyes of the idealistic baby boomers. And yet I can see a link between our cynicism and the Jazz Age's hedonism.

Or maybe I'm just being ridiculous. Don't forget, I call my site Fatuous Observations for a reason.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fun with the personals

I used to amuse myself by reading the personal ads. Of particular interest was the "I saw you" section, which, I suppose many people read, half hoping, half fearing to see themselves depicted in it. Eventually I lost interest and yesterday read through the Hook cafe column for the first time in a few years.

One notable change: people write their ads themselves. Back in the day, you dictated your message or wrote it on an index card and mailed it to the paper or whatever. One year I thought it would be hilarious to post a fake "I saw you" ad directed at my husband as an April Fool's joke, and I definitely recall you couldn't just write your message yourself into a an internet text box as apparently, you do now. The difference? The messages are now untouched by the kindly hand of an editor.

If you want to capture Lady Fair, this may not be the right way to go about it: (ditto for Prince Charming.)


Note: all caps are probably not a wise choice.


When using humor, proceed with caution.

Atrophied, scab-encrusted dirtball ISO short/chubby/loudmouthed/trashy tart, adept at car-repair/rope tricks. Hey, that's not right!!! Intelligent/educated/romantic/well-built single-white-male in-search-of smart/sexy/athletic single-white/Asian-female...

Actually, I thought that was funny until, "Hey, that's not right!!!" I'd like to have seen him stick to asking for a loudmouthed tart and see what came along.

Beware of the image you present

Laid back love having fun I enjoy being outdoors walking and talking to someone who will pay attention, and is not afraid to share their dreams. I believe in staying in good physical condition and want someone who feels the same way. I can also enjoy a good movie. I just finished watching "notebook" loved it.

I don't think so. If this guy really loved The Notebook, then he is a total weenie. The other alternative is, he picked the movie he thought most appeals to women and claimed he loved it in order to attract them. If this is the case, he's a shameless panderer, and also has a low opinion of women. The Notebook? It must be the worst movie ever made. I've C&P'd a review I once wrote of it at my xanga site:

The Notebook: It's boy meets girl in the South amid the backdrop of inauthentic 1940's fashions. Poor boy. Rich girl. Her snobby parents break them up. “He's trash! Trash!” screams Joan Allen, playing the role of Mother. Joan Allen is Wrong. We know he isn't trash because he reads Poetry and Sam Shepherd is his daddy. The girl, “Allie” is forced to study Latin, but what she really wants to do is Paint. (Naturally.) And so it goes in predictable fashion. Hackneyed story aside, this movie is just careless. In one scene, Allie and Noah are rowing on a river in the midst of a massive flock of white birds. He tells her they usually migrate to some other place and will be gone soon. But here's the thing: some of the birds are geese, and some are swans. Do birds of different species migrate together? I don't know anything about birds, but I can tell a goose from a swan, and if I were a Hollywood screenwriter, I wouldn't feature a great damn flock of migrating birds unless I'd gotten one of my minions to research the habits of such birds. But that's just me.

Also comic: the nursing home scene at the end. The old lady is freaking out and the doctor says, “Give me two c.c.s.” Just like that. (I had the subtitles on.) Two c.c.s, without specifying two c.c.s of what, as if a c.c. is a tangible thing in its own right like two aspirins or two smacks in the head.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Old GRE scores?

I took my GREs long ago and have lost my scores. Does anyone know how I can get them? I went to the GRE website, which had no information on that topic.

Learning to be a nurse is like being a newborn baby. The most basic tasks become hideously complicated when you are doing them with a patient who has mobility or cognitive issues (or both).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The eye the ear and the nose

My macula densa hurts.

Today was ear nose and throat day in my health assessment class. Using the opthamaloscope takes some getting used to, and the only people to practice on are other students. We were warned to approach the eye from an angle and not hit the macula directly with the light, but I think this is what my partner did--and she examined my eyes many, many times. Ever since class I've had a tiny headache. Imagine a pinpoint of pain with a diameter of about 2mm somewhere behind your eye. My own view through the opthamaloscope was pretty cool. I saw my partner's optic disk and was able to identify some blood vessels. You focus in on the pupil, trying to achieve the "red reflex" which is when your patient suddenly turns into an alien with a bright red light where her pupil usually is.

My partner insisted she saw a cobwebby substance on both my retinas, which freaked me out a bit. When I took microbiology, we were taught that white bits on the retina were signs of the sorts of super scary diseases that always get featured on the TV show House. (That show, in fact, seems to take many diseases straight out of my micro textbook.) I requested a second opinion from a different student who assured me the backside of my eyeballs look normal. There's a load off my mind.

Then we looked at a model with slides depicting abnormalities of the ocular fundus behind his eyes. My partner and I decided to take the model into a large dark supply closet, where we thought we'd get a better view. Unfortunately, the slides slipped out of place in the transfer. Looking through an opthamaloscope in a pitch-dark room at a tiny circle which will only reflect the scope's light straight back at you? Like looking at the freaking sun. I stumbled across the darkened closet, clutching my head and moaning about my burned-out retina.

As for the ears and nose portion of the class--frankly, I think I prefer to keep my eardrums private. You really don't want someone who doesn't know what the f** she's doing sticking a probe into your ear. As a woman, the word "speculum" makes me uncomfortable. "Nasal speculum" is just weird and disturbing. Our instructor warned us not to probe too deeply into the nose, but my partner dug around as if she thought she'd left her car keys in there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Survived clinical and more

I survived my first clinical day. I was somewhat disconcerted to come across an empty curio cabinet, instead of "Curio cabinet with Mexican display." But since I am here, writing about it, you can all deduce that I am not still lost in the vast and very very posh nursing home.

I think some of the CNAs resented us. I picked up a vibe. Indeed, the CNA who gave me a patient to take in to lunch seemed to enjoy scaring me as she warned me about my patient's proclivity for hitting people. He didn't hit me, he was, in fact, charming, with a courtly way of speaking that reminded me of my grandfather. And, it turned out "feeding" did in fact mean literally feeding a patient who is unable to feed him or herself.

But All Nursing School and No Play makes Patience a Dull Girl. Here's a conversation I had with my 8 year old, who asks a lot of impossible questions.

Mr. McP: Mom, what do you think Cousin John thought the first time he saw Harry Potter?

Me: How could I possibly know that! Why do you always ask me questions that I can't answer?

Mr. McP: Because you're funny when you're frustrated. And you make a funny face.

And here I thought he was just very curious.

Here's what I've been reading lately: Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity and Rotten Luck by Paul Collins. It's about thirteen people with Big Ideas that didn't pan out, such as John Banvard who was hailed by Queen Victoria as the greatest artist of the age. And yet why haven't we all heard of him? There are also a few interesting tidbits about other more famous historic characters who were influenced by these people. Who knew that Edgar Allan Poe was a great believer in John Symme's theory that the Earth is hollow and also populated with sentient, human-like beings? (And who knew that Poe died of rabies? I always thought he died of drinking too much and sleeping in ditches.) There's also a minor character who has the best name I've ever heard: Cyrus Reed Teed. I like to imagine writing a novel about someone with that name.

I also read Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler about the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, and the history of museums in general. That sounds really boring, but it isn't.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Tomorrow is my first clinical day. I'm doing long term care for three weeks and then moving to a gen med floor at UVA. I'm not nervous--I know we spend much of the first day in an orientation and then, according to my clinical calendar, we meet and feed our patient. I don't know if this means literally feed the patient or deliver a lunch tray and get acquainted.

Our uniforms are strictly dictated, right down to the color of our socks (white). I still need to iron my school patch onto the sleeve (it must be the left sleeve) of my scrub top, but other than that, I am ready to report at 7:00am.

Today I did a dry run to make sure I could find the facility. It is the size of a small country--an entire separate community for the elderly, who, depending on their level of independence, live in detached cottages, apartment complexes, or a skilled nursing facility. The whole place is very posh with lush landscaping, immaculate and attractive buildings and a uniformed guard at the entrance.

My clinical instructor left us detailed instructions of breathtaking complexity on how to find the unit where we'll be working. A long paragraph details our route from our cars to the unit and involves numerous landmarks such as a grandfather clock, a "curio cabinet with a Mexican display," a "Rotunda room," (whatever that is) a restaurant, a bank, a hair salon, a pool, a foyer that is "boarded up because it's under construction," (how will we know it's a foyer if it's boarded up?) a grand staircase, and an elevator, which we are not to use.

The letter concludes telling us that the most important thing to remember is that the Starbucks across the street opens at 6:00am. An important fact indeed. I am torn about stopping for a coffee on the way. If I do, I'm at risk of needing to use the bathroom eight times over the course of the morning. OTOH, stopping at Starbucks means I will certainly run into some of my classmates--who will be obvious because of our screaming royal blue scrubs--and then we can all go over to the facility together, thus meaning less of a chance that I will spend an eternity lost in the facility, constantly coming up on the "curio cabinet with a Mexican display" as evidence that I'm going in circles.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mauve bus

I'm curious is there are any other Charlottesville City Schools parents out there who are having issues with the "Mauve" bus. Because we sure are. Here it is, the third week of school, and my husband and I have already made two calls to the bus garage to complain. That's two more calls than we have made in the past ten years of having children in CCS.

Today, for the third time in three weeks, my two children who go to Charlottesville High School were left behind at school and I had to pick them up. Why? Because the children are supposed to associate their bus route with a color, but on some days the mauve bus doesn't arrive and the kids who ride it are supposed to take a bus of a different color. Which would be fine if more than the minimal effort were made to notify the children.

When I picked my children up at school today--which was a huge inconvenience, Belmont isn't exactly next-door to CHS's neighborhood--I went into the office to complain. All the administrators were in a meeting, but clerical staff I spoke to were sympathetic and also were not at all surprised that it was mauve bus I had issues with. One staff member interrupted the meeting and an assistant administrator came out to talk to me. He blamed the problem partly on the fact that the buses are always late this year and partly on the fact that the kids aren't paying attention when he walks among the crowd notifying them of the bus change. When I said that more effort could be used to notify the kids and suggested the use of a megaphone, his facial expression closed and he seemed defensive.

So let me get this straight: Charlottesville High School has about 1,000 students. Half pick up their buses at the Performing Arts Center, the other half (including mine) at the main school entrance. In other words, you have 500 noisy teenagers milling around outside the front entrance and one man walking around announcing the bus change without any voice enhancer such as a megaphone and it's the children's fault that they miss the bus?

Before speaking to the administrator, I called the bus garage, but unfortunately the person who answered the phone did not seem to have the intellectual capacity to form or understand complex sentences. When I asked to be put in touch with the correct person to whom I could complain, I was put on indefinite hold.

Also, we've had issues with how the mauve bus driver relates to the students. On the first day of school, she drove right past my children--who stood with a group of other CHS students. She deliberately did not pick them up--even though she admitted seeing the kids--because they weren't standing exactly where she wanted them to. She drove all the way to the school, then returned to pick up my kids who were left stranded for an hour. I had no idea this happened until that afternoon when my kids told me about it. I feel my children's safety was compromised, and I also feel the the Charlottesville City Schools are responsible for the safe transport of its students to and from school. Leaving kids stranded on a street corner for an hour endangered my children and the others waiting with them.

In another incident with this same driver, she refused to let my children on her bus because, she said, their names weren't on her list.

And it's only the third week of school.

I am furious.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Book lust

I've recently finished a tour of twentieth century literature, inspired by Nancy Pearl's book Book Lust. What follows is a brief—I'm trying to hold myself to three or fewer sentences per —impression of each book. The colored type is my way of rating the books I read. Green means Hated it, red: Just OK Blue: Liked it Purple: Loved it, definitely reread. An author's name in pink type means I want to read more of his or her work.
Edit: As I write this, I'm realizing I've forgotten a lot about what I read. I wish I'd kept a running review as I read.
100 (or so) Good Reads, Decade by Decade
Henry James' The Golden Bowl--Unreadable!
Mark Twain's The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg-- A collection of essays and stories. Not Twain's best.
G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday--Mix of suspense and philosophy. I can't remember it very clearly.
Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks--The ultimate comfort literature. I love the Germans!
Upton Sinclair's The Jungle--You'll never see sausage the same way again.
Miles Franklin's My Brilliant Career--Edgier than you'd expect from the picture of the proper Victorian girl on the cover.
Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio--Small town boy/man caught between his ambitious father and his mother, whose one fear is that he'll turn into a Striped Shirt Asshole.
D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers--Coal miner's son with demanding mother and ninny girlfriend. I didn't love this as much as most people seem to.
P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith in the City; Leave it to Psmith--P.G. Wodehouse is the bomb. Funny stuff, if you like eccentric British aristocrats.
John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps--Classic suspense novel. Very brief; must see movie in order to refresh my memory.
E.O. Somerville's The Irish R.M.--Tally ho! Endless depictions of riding horses, buying horses, looking at horses, talking about horses and little else.
E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case--Detective story, but apparently not very exciting since it left absolutely no impression on me.
Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front--Sad. A young German soldier on the front in WWI.
E.M. Forster's A Passage to India--The movie wrecked it for me, a bit. Still, I love Forster and I like books about India, so how could I go wrong with this?
Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy--Very long. Based on a real-life murder case in upstate NY.
Anita Loos's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes--The original blonde joke. The brunette gets all the good lines.
Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway--Virginia Woolf isn't so scary after all.
Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa--This book is such a classic, I was expecting an engaging portrait of life in Samoa. Instead, it reads like the dullest textbook imaginable. Huge disappointment.
Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years--Apparently, the 1920's was not a good decade for American Literature.
Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain--Excellent, but major time commitment and the last 300 pages leave you dizzy with their intellectual challenge.
Pearl Buck's The Good Earth--China...something something. I think I have alzheimer's.
John Dos Passos's 1919--I know I liked it, but can't remember much about it. Sorry.
Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon--Classic detective story. Sexy too.
James Hilton's Goodbye, Mr. Chips--Just so-so. Why does everyone get excited about this book?
Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts--Strange and disturbing.
A.J. Cronin's The Citadel--If you're good at doctoring, maybe you should stick with it and not try to write novels.
C.S. Forester's Captain Horatio Hornblower--Love Horatio! British navy in the late 1700's, early 1800's. Can't wait to read the other Horatio books.
William Faulkner's Light in August--Demanding, but worth it. I find Faulkner difficult, but I loved the Southern country utterances of main character Lena Grove.
John Hersey's Hiroshima--Account of the bombing of Hiroshima, as experienced by several survivers.
Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited--British boys at Oxford and beyond. Not bad, although I hear the movie sucked.
Edmund Crispin's The Moving Toyshop--Classic British detective story with Oxford Don detective. Fun and undemanding.
Laura Hobson's Gentlemen's Agreement--A reporter "becomes" Jewish in order to experience anti-semitism first hand. I liked it and the movie is pretty good too.
Jack Schaefer's Shane--the cheesiest novel ever written.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's Cross Creek--Memoir of life in the Florida backwoods by the author of The Yearling. Well written and my kids and I enjoyed the movie too.
Albert Camus's The Plague--Bubonic plague strikes a city in Algeria. Lots to think about.
Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories--Loved it loved it loved it. A young gay man lives in Berlin before WWII.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea--Musings on life with charming illustrations.
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man--Don't hate me, but I could not get through this.
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451-- Depressing. I always thought this title referred to a planet where the average temperature is really really hot. It's actually about book burning on Earth of the future.
Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit--Why don't married couples send the kids to bed and drink martinis together anymore?
John le Carre's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold--The Spy genre is not my thing.
Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire--Oh-so clever, but I still hated it.
Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown--Laaa! First book in a superb quartet of books about India at the end of the British Raj. You can't just read this, but must read the whole series.
Chaim Potok's The Chosen--Again, the impression I got from the title was wrong. I thought this would be based in biblical times, and instead it's about Hasidic Jews in 1940's Brooklyn.
Thornton Wilder's The Eighth Day--Midwestern family whose father is accused of murder. It's colored blue, so I guess I liked it.
Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy--Highly recommended. An autobiographical series about a young British couple who live in Bucharest at the beginning of WWII. They stay one foot ahead of the Nazis. Made into excellent miniseries called The Fortunes of war starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.
William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner--This book left me in an existential funk so deep I thought I'd never climb out.
Elizabeth Taylor's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont--Excellent. Excellent. A British lady moves into a residential hotel and passes off a young man she meets in the street as her grandson, for the benefit of nosy neighbors. Also a great movie starring Joan Plowright and Rupert Hottie McHottie Something-or-other.
Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter--You can't go wrong with Eudora Welty.
J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur--Another supberb book about India. This one is set during the 1857 Mutiny. A group of British are besieged in an inadequate shelter while violence threatens. Excellent study of human nature.
Clair Huffaker's The Cowboy and the Cossack--Cowboys drive a herd across Siberia in the 1880's.
Steven Millhauser's Edwin Mullhouse: the Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954--Fictional biography of a fictional writer. Quirky. Annoyingly quirky.
Jack Finney's --Time and Again--Time travel is an irrisistable subject for fiction, although Finney indulges in absurdly romantic comparisons of past and present. His method of achieving time travel is so clever, you almost think you can accomplish it yourself.
Ella Leffland's Rumors of Peace--Girl coming of age in California during WWII.
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children--Spot the symbolism and win a banana.
Don DeLillo's Libra-- Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories cause me to become comatose.
Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day--Complex character portrait. The movie is good, but the book is better.
Muriel Spark's A Far Cry From Kensington--Feeling very sad that I can remember so little about this book. I read it long before I actually started this list.
Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park--Cop novel set in Russia.
Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow--Jesuits in outer space! Unfortunately, even in the distant future year of 2019, the baby boomers still have a finger in every pie.
Beryl Bainbridge's The Birthday Boys--Novel about the disatrous expedition to the South Pole, led by Captain Robert Scott. Five chapters, each devoted to the point of view of one of the men who made the final trek to the pole. I cried at the end.
Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides--So crappy, I wanted to kill myself.
Leah Hager Cohen's Train Go Sorry--A worthy topic for a book--a hearing person's life among the deaf. Unfortunately, Cohen's pretentious descriptive passages--clearly she's a graduate of the "there's no such thing as a bad metaphor" school of writing--left me irritated.
Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker--another book I read long ago. Korean immigrants...political corruption...
Howard Norman's The Bird Artist--why does everyone make fun of Newfies? Every book I've ever read that's set in Newfoundland has been excellent.
Robinton Mistry's A Fine Balance--Oh geez, an Oprah book. Mistry won all kinds of prestigious awards for this book, and yet he commits the cardinal sin of fiction writers: using dialogue to convey information about the plot, as in,"Gee, things sure have changed since Dad died of colon cancer five years ago." The cruelty inflicted on some of the characters is truly sickening. Is this really modern India? (Or 1970s India, anyway.) Also, one wonders if Indira Gandhi was really the monster Mistry implies she was.
Mark Helprin's Memoir From Antproof Case--The title intriqued me and the book doesn't diappoint. Memoir written by a man living in Brazil, who stores his writings in an antproof case. He describes his character as having "some idiosynchrocies. That's like the pope saying his is "sort of" Catholic.