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.