Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Books books books

I am reading as much as I can during the semester break. It seems like such a luxury not to have to study or complete writing assignments for school. Here's a quick run-down of what I've read lately.

The Edge of Time by Loula Grace Erdman. I had a hard time getting my hands on this book and finally had to resort to intralibrary loan. Why was I so determined to get it? Because it is on my list and so I must read it. I suppose comparisons with Little House on the Prairie are inevitable, only this little house is on the prairie of the Texas Panhandle. Bethany and Wade Cameron begin their marriage as homesteaders in the 1880s, moving to Texas from Missouri in a covered wagon. The usual things happen: drought, fire, death. I liked this book, but reading it was an uncomfortable reminder of my former delusions about character. Bethany is the typical model pioneer housewife. She is the plain cousin, and Wade's second choice for wife after the beautiful cousin, Rosemary, rejects him and marries a banker instead. Bethany keeps the dugout clean and comfortable, she gives the Bible pride of place on the center table, she makes herself pretty for her husband, she is spunky when she needs to be, and won't truck with any ungentlemanly behavior: "Why, Wade Cameron! I ought to wash your mouth out with soap!" She defers to her husband's wishes in all things. Sometimes I felt impatient with Bethany, but sometimes Erdman's writing makes the pioneer experience seem very real and Bethany-as-caricature becomes someone truly admirable. Particularly when she faces the loneliness.

The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. What struck me most about this book was the condescending blub on the jacket. "Most readers" the blurb informs, will read this and think they've read an exciting Western novel. "A more thoughtful type" will realize they've read something really special. "One in fifty" will recognize that this novel is about the psychology of the mob and how mankind caves to mob rule. Finally, "one in ten thousand" will see the Ox-Bow incident as a parable for the entire nation and the crack up of civilization. Oh really? Of course I had to know if I would be the "one in ten thousand" and didn't look at the blurb again, hoping to forget what I'd need to recognize in order to be included in that exalted group. The mob psychology bit is easy to see. This book is about a lynching. A group of men, in a town in Nevada some time in the 1800s, hear about a murder and cattle rustling and go off to take care of justice on their own. Certainly a thoughtful, well-written piece of literature, although not something with which to read yourself to sleep. Looking back at the blurb after finishing the novel, I can't honestly say that I saw it as a parable about our entire country. I can see how a case could be made for that arguement, but I didn't see it myself and I still don't regard The Ox-Bow Incident as a novel about the crack up of civilization as we know it. I guess I belong to the "one-in-fifty" crowd. Oh well.

Roughing It by Mark Twain. Mark Twain is funny. He really is. There are a few lines in this book which made me laugh out loud. It's a memoir of the time he spent in Nevada, California, and later, Hawaii, as a young man in the 1860s. The best bits are when he is describing things that actually happened to him. He does insert anecdotes heard about other people, and these fall flat. Some of the incidents have a disappointing "guess you had to be there" quality, and others are truly fascinating.

In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor. This is a novel about the Johnstown Flood, something I've been interested in ever since my parents watched a PBS documentary about it when I was a child. Later, I read The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough--a book I can not recommend highly enough. Cambor used McCullough's book as a basis for her novel. The Johnstown Flood is one of the worst natural disasters in US History. 2,200 people were killed, and the only disaster in the United States that has a higher confirmed death toll is the Galveston Hurricane in 1900 (8,000 people). McCullough's book describes how the flood happened--a mountain lake, created for Pittsburg's industrial rich, was held back with a faulty earth dam. This was a large lake--large enough for sailing. The dam broke and the entire lake washed out into the valley, destroying the city of Johnstown.

Cambor's novel is about the people--both the people of Johnstown and the people of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club. I enjoyed it, particularly her depictions of industrial Johnstown and its iron works and the danger of working in steel. The people of Johnstown lived with danger every day. Diptheria killed their children, the steel mill killed their fathers, and far above them, the faulty dam threatened them all. Also fascinating is the Johnstown people's consciousness of the danger of the dam. They felt it as a menace. It had become a sort of boogy man: "Ooh, watch out! The dam might break!"

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day. We had a great Christmas, but I am relieved that it is over. It's an enormous job for one woman to create Christmas for a family. And it was Jon's turn to work Christmas, which sucked. Now he is off for three days, so it feels like the real holiday is just beginning.

I went running on Christmas morning. How's that for hard-core? There were no cars, no people, just one other runner I met on my way back. He wished me a merry Christmas and our eyes met in solidarity. One endorphin junkie to another.

One of the advantages of having teenage children is that they like to sleep in on Christmas too. By the time I got back from my run, everybody was up and waiting to open presents. Jon, who'd had to leave for work at 06:30 missed the unwrapping. In the past, we've awakened the kids at ungodly hours so they can open presents before Jon leaves, but that is never much fun, and the smaller children would be so cranky from lack of sleep, I'd have to feed them chocolate in measured doses, throughout the day, in order to keep them reasonably happy.

My sister and her husband were here from Florida. I cooked a crown roast of pork and a spectacularly disastrous cake:

Here's a movie of the Christmas Crackers:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rental in Rome

My last exam was today, but enough of that, I am already moving on to new things, namely finding a flat for us in Rome. If one can believe the internet, Rome is teeming with unoccupied, furnished flats for the use of travelers. Indeed, the choice is so wide, I am becoming confused. On the other hand, eliminating all the flats that don't sleep six people narrows the field somewhat. Each flat looks so beautiful in the photos, I am succumbing to delusions of living like a family of sultans while we take our little two-week vacay. I found one flat that I absolutely love, but have since learned that it is already taken. The rental agent sent me a link to an alternate apartment, which, prior to my exposure to the first flat, would have been perfectly adequate, is now decidedly second rate. I didn't like the slipcovers on the sofas, and there is no charming built-in desk in the master bedroom, and the kitchen is somewhat less charming and there is no washing machine! Boo.

Clearly, it is time for a reality check. I am rejecting this apartment because I don't like the slipcovers? It's a FLAT in farking ROME!

Then there is the issue of the rental agencies. How do I know they are honest? What if I fork over the Euros, expecting a fab apartment in the Trastevere, and we are taken to a hovel next to a McDonalds in an industrial suburb? Of course I know that no rental ever looks just like it does in the photos. I was amused by the pictures of one flat in which every room was cluttered with empty wine bottles.

Also amusing, the text at one of the rental websites, cautioning renters that living in a flat is like living like a regular Roman family. There will be no maid service, no room service, no porters, and you will be cooking your own meals. That's exactly why I prefer an apartment to a hotel. I want myself and my children to experience something of what it is like to live in Italy, not just visit it. I wonder what sort of spoiled customers that particular business got.

If anyone has ever rented an apartment in a foreign city, over the internet, and has some tips for me, I would not be averse to hearing them.

Friday, December 12, 2008


It's high time I did a George post. Because isn't the entire world panting to know the doings of George-the-bunny?

We gave him a birthday party back in July, when he turned two. Drama Queen baked him unsweetened carrot and banana cupcakes.

He did not like them and being in an unfamiliar area of the house stressed him out, and he tried to escape back to his own room, just as quickly as he could.

Birthday crown for the birthday bunny.

He is such a funny bunny. He will sometimes fall in love with the children's stuffed animals. But here's the thing: the only animals that are the recipients of his vigorous attentions are the stuffed bunnies! He never goes after the stuffed dogs or bears or ducks. How does he know the stuffed bunnies are the correct species? Is it the ears? We usually keep the stuffed bunnies out of his reach, so as not to distress them.

Bunnies really do like carrots. Note the paw resting on Drama Queen's nose.

One day, Drama Queen took a bite of George's carrot, to see what he would do. He reacted immediately and vociferously. First he took small bites of the carrot and emphatically spit them out over the carpet. Then he angrily rubbed his chin all up and down the carrot. This is how bunny's claim ownership of things.

He likes to look out the window.

Being a child's pet means putting up with some indignities.

Here he is scrubbing his face of the indignity of the bow.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Studyless in Charlottesville

My children created their very own WW III right in my house, and instead of being a responsible parent and giving each child a heart-to-heart talk, after which we all held hands and sang Kumbaya, enjoyed celery sticks filled with natural peanut butter and raisins, and handcrafted an Advent wreathe out of pine cones, I yelled at the sadistic little monsters that it appears they want me to fail my exams and that I was going out to find someplace quiet to study.

So saying, I stormed out of the house and headed for Cville Coffee, which, alas, did not have a single vacant table. That did nothing to improve my mood, but I headed to a smaller coffee shop in my neighborhood, which, being somewhat off the beaten path, might have a seat. This was about 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon and at this second coffee shop, there was exactly one open seat, at the bar. Next to that, was a girl, half comatose, with two men hovering near her. I asked them if they were using the empty seat, and they said no, that I could have it, so I dumped my nursing textbooks and my coat, to save the space, and went to order my coffee.

When I returned with my coffee, the two men were regarding my books with interest. We established that I was a nursing student, that I have an exam tomorrow, and that we all lived in the neighborhood. The men were very pleased to learn this and we all congratulated eachother, but the girl jerked awake and gave me a baleful look. It became apparent that they were all very drunk.

I've added this helpful diagram.

They also had a dog with them, that they called Sinjin, which, I believe is spelled St. John. St. John wandered into the kitchen, while I was ordering my coffee alarming the barrista, who shooed him out. I noticed the two men surreptitiously cleaning a puddle on the floor beneath their chair and I wondered if St. John had had a wee. But there appeared to be ice cubes and broken glass on the floor too, so I may have wondered wrong. At any rate, no one at the shop complained or asked to have the dog removed, and St. John himself spent the rest of the time sitting near the door, away from his owners, as if he were ashamed to be seen with them.

I sat down with my coffee and one of the men, who looked disconcertingly familiar, pointed to my textbook. "Light reading," he said hopefully, and when I didn't laugh he repeated himself. The other man spoke to me at length about his work. Now, I'm no Carrie Nation. If people want to get drunk or use drugs on a Sunday morning, that's their business, I really don't care, but I couldn't help thinking that it was too unfair, the way the gods were conspiring to prevent me from getting any studying done today. Still, I had taken the last available coffee shop seat in all of Charlottesville and it would take a lot more than three impaired people and some possible dog wee to drive me out of it. I wasn't going anywhere. Besides, my three new friends were far less disruptive than my children had been.

I began to study, as diligently as I could. The girl next to me made incoherent moaning sounds, and her two escorts were most solicitous. They wondered if her kidneys were OK. Did she want to go home and have a backrub? ("Please, please," I thought.) But no, she wanted another coffee.

Meanwhile, I became aware that the familiar-looking man was reading over my shoulder. I had my textbook open on my lap, and my notebook open on the bar so that I could take notes as I read. I ignored him, although I had to fight an urge to burst out laughing. It was all so ridiculous, and little like one of those nightmares where you try ceaselessly to accomplish something and are forever blocked by different silly things. Finally, when his head was almost in my lap, I looked at him as if to say, "May I help you?" He straightened his spine and pointed his index finger skyward, as if he were about to make an important oration and slurred, "Ketoacidosis for $200, Alex."

They left eventually, but not before the other man repeated his entire tale about his work, which is tangentially connected with nursing. They also admired my studying, and told me I was a "badass" but I think they meant it in a nice way. As I said, I'd rather deal with friendly drunks than fighting children.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


We watched In Bruges the other night. It's a good movie, but the description on the DVD case is highly misleading. It promotes this film as a hilarious comedy--a laugh a minute from oafish criminals who fall bassackwards into adventure while resting in Bruges after completing a job. So I wasn't prepared for how sad and disturbing it turned out to be. OK, I am not an idiot. I knew that In Bruges wouldn't be funny the way that Elf is funny, but I was expecting something along the lines of that film where Hugh Grant plays an art thief. Is there a movie in which Hugh Grant plays an art thief? Ah yes, here it is: Small Time Crooks. He may have been a bank robber instead. Now that is a funny film. In Bruges has funny moments, definitely, but there's an overwhelming sadness to it. Still, it's a gorgeous film with superb acting.

Watching In Bruges prompted me to take a second look at Ralph Fiennes, who is gorgeous too. Sorry for sounding like a silly school girl, but Ralph Fiennes is hot. How did I not notice this before? Maybe because the only other character I'd seem him play is Voldemort. Yesterday I rented The End of the Affair, a movie I've always steered clear of because the picture on the cover of the DVD looks a lot like the picture on the cover of The Notebook, and The Notebook, you may or may not be surprised to hear, is the worst movie of all time. Now I realize I was being grossly unfair in avoiding The End of the Affair based on its poor cover art. I know the platitude, of course, but sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, but not in the case of The End of the Affair DVD case.

But why am I watching all these movies when final exams are approaching? Procrastinating, of course. I devote far to much time to my own relaxation, and far too little to the things I have to do. It's a game I play with myself in which I see what results the bare minimum of effort can get me. So far, I haven't lost the game, in that I've gotten As on all my exams so far this semester, and all the previous semesters too. Sometimes I lose the game in other areas of my life, such as when I discovered I'd neglected to order new checks, and now I have run out completely and my new checks won't arrive until December 9th and the bills are piling up and I'm not sure I trust online bill paying. I had time to read You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, but I didn't have time to order checks. And I had time to attend two concerts (Southern Culture on the Skids and a Corey Harris acoustic show) but I did not have time to get my car inspected. If I get a ticket, I'll definitely have lost that game.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I meant to spend Thanksgiving weekend touching up my resume and applying for nursing jobs. Because now is the time to do this, if you are graduating in May. So I brought up the resume I created last fall, with intent to dust it off and add in my clinical experience, and I realized that my resume is really, really pathetic. Pitiful, really. Pitiful and pathetic.

How did I get to the age of 40 without ever having made a meaningful contribution to society? Unless you consider writing book reviews for the now-defunct East/West Books newsletter in Buffalo, NY to be a meaningful contribution. No? What about spending four years earning a degree with which I have done nothing other than select excellent books for myself at the library? Up to now, my life experience, as presented on my current resume is as inappropriate to a nursing job as if I had listed the following skills: Can parallel park a minivan in downtown Charlottesville. Can use 'milieu' in a sentence. Has well over 100 friends on Facebook.

Seriously, my resume is a catalog of what an insubstantial piece of fluff I have been my entire life.

But that sounds so self-pitying! With the nursing shortage I can probably get some sort of job so don't worry about me, but I do wish there was a less stark method than the resume of selling oneself to a future employer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Protect us from science fair

It's that time of year again: Science Fair time. I remember my consternation when I discovered, when Mad Scientist was in 7th grade and had to do his first science fair project, that science fair is a yearly event, starting in 7th grade and lasting through 12th, and that all four of my children would have to participate. That's twenty-four science fair projects, folks. These are the things you don't think about when you're young and want lots of babies.

The completed project is due in January, or possibly February, but now is the time that the children declare their project and fill out the necessary forms. Miss G, who is in 7th grade, needed more security clearance for her science fair project, than she did to get her US passport. Safety is, of course, a big concern. We don't want our budding scientist to build a particle accelerator that will accelerate his personal particles, or his family's, or possibly his next-door neighbor's, into oblivion. Miss G's forms were particularly focused experimentation on humans or "other vertebrates." Apparently, it is acceptable to torture frogs and other non-vertebrates. Actually, I think the species most likely to suffer torture from the science fair are parents, but there is no special form to protect us.

I know, some parents lovingly help their children create electric dog food dispensers or teach mice to blow on a tiny flute in response to a fluttering red ribbon or whatever. And there's nothing wrong with that. If you are that type of parent, fair play to you and no hard feelings. I, (obviously) am not that sort of parent.

Except for once, when Drama Queen was in 2nd grade and had a teacher who was fond of projects. For the first project, on Egypt, Drama Queen sculpted a replica of the Sphinx from paper clay. It was a good effort, for a seven year old, and she did it all by herself. I helped her bring the Sphinx into school on the day it was due, and saw an array of parent-made projects--I swear there was a freaking life-sized replica of King Tut's tomb. DQ's little Sphinx made a poor showing, and the teacher was enthusiastically gushing over all the projects that the parents had done and ignored DQ's. This led to the awkward (for the teacher) incident in which the principal came to survey the projects and witnessed DQ quietly sneak out of her chair and steal her project from the table and sneak it to the cloakroom where she hid it in her backpack. Apparently, the teacher may have been reprimmanded for not noticing DQ's actions. At least that's what was implied later when I was told about the incident at a "child study" meeting involving the teacher, principal, a social worker and child psychologist because the teacher was concerned about DQ's self-esteem.

Anyway, the second project came along, this one on China. I had decided that if this teacher wanted a parent-made project, she was going to get a parent-made project. DQ's topic was silk worms. At the best fine fabrics shop in town, I bought traditional Chinese silk and a silk of narrow pink & white stripes. From the Chinese silk, I made a doll-sized traditional Chinese native costume. From the striped silk, I made a doll-sized replica regency gown, with train and hand embroidery--this to represent the historical era in which Americans were importing silk from China. I lent DQ my antique dolls to model the clothes and set up a miniature loom in order to demonstrate the weaving process. We brought all these things to school and the teacher went ga-ga over it. At a later conference, she mentioned how great "her"--meaning Drama Queen's-- China project had been. I would have been happier if she'd told me she was disappointed that Drama Queen hadn't made a project by herself, as she had when they'd studied Egypt.

Since then, we've had teachers who do insist that children do their own work on projects. There have even been a few--may they be canonized--who set aside class time for project completion so the parents need never be involved at all.

So the silk project was the only time I was ever a successful parent project facilitator. Well, there was the time I took pity on Mad Scientist and helped him recreate a model of an animal cell. I thought I was so clever for using clear jello for the protoplasm, and blue jello for the nucleus and strips of gum for the endoplastic reticulum, only I was sadly unaware of the ban on food in projects and mice got into the classroom and ate Mad Scientist's cell and the teacher was not impressed at all.

Where was I? Right, Science Fair. With Mad Scientist in college, and Drama Queen in 10th grade, I now have just fifteen Science Fair projects to go.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

paper mache as a weapon of mass destruction

Who knew paper mache could be a weapon of mass-destruction? Or at least, the weapon that mass-destructed my dining room. I was writing my nursing care plan, as I do every Thursday, and suddenly there were gobs of rock-hard flour and water paste on the dining room table and one of my forks was indelibly coated with a rock-hard paper mache veneer, and on the table--a gen-u-wine antique farmhouse table-- a mass of soggy cardboard, shredded newspaper and flour-and-water paste in various stages of hardness.

And I wondered, how did this happen? I remembered hours ago, hearing my nine year old, Mr. McP ask, "Where is the stapler?" I remembered Mr. McP showing up at my elbow every few minutes displaying a somewhat tubular object made of cereal box cardboard, cut into strips and stapled. I remembered that the tubular object had eventually taken the form of some sort of giraffe puppet, but I was so engrossed in my care plan that I did not heed what otherwise would have been clear warning signs that a major mess was about to happen. Mr. McP, bless his little heart, mixed his own flour and water to a consistency satisfactory to him, shredded a large pile of newspaper, and coated his giraffe puppet with it.

Actually, this isn't such a great story. It's just that when I saw the mess, I thought, "here is an example of how paper mache could be used as a weapon of mass destruction" and I liked the phrase so much, I had to use it in a blog entry, which I have, three times, including the title.

The point is, when I am writing a care plan, I can't pay attention to anything else, and when my children ask me questions, such as, for example, "Are you planning to cook dinner tonight?" I will say, "Are you kidding me? It's Thursday." Maybe they ate paper mache for dinner. I don't know, or care. Actually, I think they ate pop tarts.

The other point is that I just finished writing my last nursing care plan of the semester: five pathophysiology papers, one pathopysiology synthesis, analysis of all meds (tommorrow's patient is taking twenty-six different medications), a list of nursing diagnoses--11 diagnoses for this patient, plus an organized schedule of what my nursing interventions will be, covering every hour from 08:00 to 14:00. These will help me attain my goals for my patient, of where there are 11, to match her diagnoses. She will maintain an optimal cardiac output and optimal gas exchange! She will maintain an optimal fluid balance! She will not fall and hit her head and die of a massive head bleed! She will maintain optimal tissue perfusion to her perphery and to her myocardium! She will commit to quit smoking and she will state two strategies for weight loss! She doesn't know it, but I have a very busy day planned for her tomorrow. As one of my instructors says, "You don't go to the hospital to rest."

I will not have to do this again until the end of January, so I am quite giddy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Times have changed

I stole this picture from my high school alumnae group at facebook. (We were taught to say "alumnae" because it's a girls' school.) Anyway, this picture is from the mother-daughter senior breakfast. I think this was the class of '85's breakfast, which was not my class, but close enough.

Check the moms smoking in the school cafeteria! Also, the groovy '80s rainbow painting on the pillars. I remember when they redecorated the cafeteria, which was in the basement. It was a big deal and the new paint was thought to be very modern and up-and-coming.

*Apology to people who may sub to me through google or bloglines. I keep reposting this entry because it's not showing up on C'ville blogs. This has been happening a lot lately. I always have to repost an entry three or four times in order for it to show up. :(

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Psych nursing

Yesterday was my penultimate psych clinical day at Western State Hospital. It was really the last "real" clinical day because next week, we will leave the hospital at noon and go out to lunch with our instructor, which is the tradition for the final clinical day in every class.

The whole experience of clinicals at Western State was a lot more rewarding than I expected it to be. The first day the mental hospital setting seemed mysterious and scary. Would one of us be assaulted? Yelled at? I didn't know what to expect. I had no idea how I was supposed to interact with the patients or what to say. I imagined making an innocent comment that would send a patient off on a tirade.

I worked on a locked, all-male unit of about twenty patients. The staff have been unvariably friendly and helpful. Although I was assigned to one particular patient, I've gotten to know the other men on the unit. They are a group of men who are funny, intelligent and caring. There is a camaraderie among them and sometimes I felt like I was at a boys' boarding school rather than a mental hospital.

There is a cafe at Western State, in the "mall" where many of the patients go for their group therapy classes. The cafe is staffed by, and patronized by patients. My patient works there every morning before group, so it has become my habit to hang around in the cafe in the mornings. It has a sort of groovy retro atmosphere--totally by accident and not by design. Yesterday I sat at the counter on one of the vintage bar stools. The cafe was crowded. Next to me was a patient I recognized from one of my patient's classes. Next to her was a guy who introduced himself to me as "Ed." I knew the people working behind the counter and I recognized many of the other people in the cafe. I drank my coffee and watched my patient make fried egg sandwichs and listened while a patient told me about her grandchildren. I realized I was the only person in the room who wasn't psychotic, but I felt totally comfortable.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Seen in Charlottesville

Isn't it a beautiful day in C'ville today? I saw two things of interest while running errands after class this afternoon. First of all, the city posted a sign at the intersection of Market St. & 9th, reminding drivers that they must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. I think this sign is aimed at people on Market St. who are trying to turn right onto 9th. Yes, drivers, you have a green light, but so do the pedestrians crossing 9th St. at the same time. I'm glad the city is addressing the problem of drivers turning into crosswalks. Nothing pisses me off more than people who think that just because they are behind the wheel of a car, they are entitled to plow past pedestrians. For God's sakes, people: THE PEDESTRIAN HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY. In the last week at two separate times, I saw two women, one with small children, who were menaced by drivers while trying to cross streets downtown. Both these women were crossing the streets correctly and following rules related to pedestrian crossings. I'll say it again: THE PEDESTRIAN HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY, GODDAMMIT. I don't care how much you want to save Tibet or visualize whirled peas or love Mother Earth--if you ram your car at pedestrians, you are an asshole.

The other thing I saw is related to that obnoxious 1-800-GOTJUNK company. The signs they post all over town sure are obnoxious. I'm wondering if they have been cited for posting illegal signs, because it appears their new advertising ploy is to dress a guy in a jacket that advertises the company and have him stand at a busy street corner holding up a sign that says "GOT JUNK?" At least, that is what I saw at the corner of Market St. & Ridge/McIntire today.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


The whole notion of "weekend" is somewhat angst-ified. At least, it is if you read certain periodicals, such as I do, that tell you that on the weekend you must pursue fun and relaxation with the same industry with which you pursue your paycheck during the week. If, by the end of Saturday, you haven't visited the farmer's market, browsed an antique shop, taken a long hike or bike ride, handcrafted a birdhouse or a decorative wreathe, and lovingly prepared a hot stew and homemade cupcakes then what the hell is the matter with you? Sundays are supposed to be for sleeping in or lazing around with the newspaper, but I've noticed an awful lot of bustle in the streets on Sundays, long before I have managed to change out of my pajamas. If you haven't braved the line at the bagel shop by 11:00am then you are a Loser. Our chief entertainment on Sunday mornings is to watch the men who've just been released from the drunk tank struggle up the hill back into town.

Actually, I did make it to Bodo's Bagels this morning, by 9:30, even, when the line, while long, doesn't extend out the door. Usually, I don't mind standing in line at Bodo's because it is always a good opportunity for people watching, and everybody is cheerful because they know they're about to get bagels. Today, however I stood directly behind a woman with two small children, which ordinarily would not be a problem, except that every time the woman moved up in line, she wouldn't check to see that her children were following her, and the fact is, they weren't following her, so there was often a long gap, at the beginning of which was the woman, and at the end, her children with me standing directly behind them trying to assume an unconcerned facial expression when in acuality I was really irritated with this woman for not paying attention. I worried that the people behind me expected me to do something about the situation (like what? give the kids a gentle shove?) or even worse, that the people behind me thought that these two children were mine and that I was at fault for the long line gap. In the end, the older kid, who was all of three, would notice periodically that his mother was far ahead of him and remind his little brother, who was probably two, to catch up, and the line would once again move forward, and the mother was completely oblivious the entire time.

Anyway. For us this weekend, the weather was fine and my children spent much of their time engaged in wholesome outdoor activity with other kids in the neighborhood--they took our rakes to the little park across the street and raked up the mother of all leaf piles to jump in. It was unfortunate that Jon had to work this weekend but I am used to that.

How was everybody's weekend?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Day jitters

The last Obama worker to stop at my house cautioned me to expect a two-hour wait in line to vote. Seriously? In my neighborhood precinct in a city of barely 40,000 people? Since I pass close to my polling place on my morning run, my plan is to run a bit earlier tomorrow and stop there on my way back home, right at 6:00am when they open.

Last night, I actually had a nightmare about voting. This year in Charlottesville, we are offered the choice of voting electronically or using a paper ballot. I can't decide which to chose, although I'm leaning toward paper, since I've heard that it is easier to tamper with electronic votes. Since paper hasn't been used here since 2000, there will be special instructions available for the people who chose paper. A friend of mine volunteers at my voting precicnt, something she has always done with great cheerfulness and competance, but last night, in my dream, she presented me with an L.L. Bean Christmas catalog and told me the instructions for paper voting would be found therein. I flipped through pages of dog beds and balsam wreaths, but found no voting instructions, until my friend impatiently took the catalog from me and pulled from it a tiny piece of purple paper she had inserted in it. The tiny piece of purple paper directed me to a "voting class" for which there was a long, disorganized line--the type of line in which it's difficult to tell whose turn is next, the type of line that causes me the most anxiety.

I never did manage to vote in that dream, but awoke soaked in sweat and with a vague sense of terror. I was awake for several minutes before I realized that my anxiety was related to the dream, and that election day hadn't happened yet.

Is anyone else subliminally worried about election day chaos this year?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hair before and after

So people want before/after pics. I'm kind of shy about posting pictures of myself here.

Hair before.

Hair after, although this picture doesn't do justice to it. The stylist must have removed five pounds of hair.

Here's Mr. McP on Halloween. This costume was a big hit wherever we went. Nearly everybody guessed (correctly) that he was Ben Franklin, although a few guessed George Washington, and two people wondered if he was Beethoven.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I should be studying, but instead I am frittering. I like to live dangerously, as far as exams are concerned.

Yesterday I called a hair salon that is new to me but that I wanted to try and by some miracle they were able to give me an appointment today with one of their stylists who usually has a four to five week waiting period. I avoid getting my haircut, since while the experience usually has gratifying results, I have spent a lot of time fretting that I am not entertaining enough to the stylist because I am not brimming with chitchat. And I hate those salon sinks that as often as not, leave me with a tender, bruised spot on the back of my head. And I am awkward about leaving a tip--how to do it unobtrusively, with no vulgar fumbling through one's wallet. Nowadays, of course, you can leave the tip on the credit card bill, a fabulous step forward for society, but last night I read that stylists prefer a cash tip because then it is not reported to the IRS which left me in a last minute dilemma about whether I should fumble or just use the credit card. (I used the credit card.)

When I was little, my mother believed firmly in Short Haircuts for Little Girls. The result was that I looked like Christopher Robin, which was probably the look she was aiming for anyway, and perhaps if I could go back in time and see myself with objective, adult eyes, I'd admit that I looked elegant in an artless British boarding school sort of way, but at the time I thought I was hideous.

What I'm saying is that haircuts rank near the top of what I consider socially awkward, possibly emotionally damaging situations.

Then there's the issue of my hair being so thick, it borders on the freakish so that if I don't keep up with haircuts (which I don't) I look like I am wearing a heavy hair shawl. Stylists tend to run late when working with me because my hair takes so long to dry. This in turn makes me feel guilty for making them get backed up, and sometimes I am tempted to apologize, but I restrain myself because I don't want to be passive-aggressive, and anyway, it's not my fault I was born with a grizzly bear's pelt on my head.

Anyway, today's experience was fabulous, although it started out awkward when I got to the door and couldn't open it, and then wondered if perhaps I needed to be buzzed in, and no doubt looked very foolish to the people inside, watching me through the glass, as I hunted for a non-existent doorbell. At least I had the sense to try the door again (it had stuck) before I knocked and made an even bigger ass of myself.

Despite the sticky door, I think I will switch permanently to this new salon, where, after consulting with the stylist, I was left in the hands (literally) of a young apprentice who rubbed oil into my hair and massaged my neck and head with such skill that I wondered if I could marry him. The shampoo did not give me a bruised head this time, and the haircut is fabulous.

I don't even know why I am writing about all this, other than to delay having to start studying for my med-surg exam tomorrow. I did, however, stock up on more Yerba Mate. During the last set of exams, I scored 98 and 96, and no doubt the Yerba Mate and my lucky bra were responsible. Yerba mate, you recall, is the stimulating beverage of Argentina. The last time I drank it, I was so stimulated I crashed my Toyota into my old Volvo that is gently composting itself in a corner of the driveway. Actually, that's an exaggeration. I crash my Toyota into the Volvo all the time, and I'm sure the yerba mate had nothing to do with it.

On to studying. At least my lucky bra is clean.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Imagine how you'd feel if you had a dog that most people thought was ugly and did not refrain from telling you so, but that you loved and knew was your all-time perfect soul mate of a pet. That is how I feel about my house. I seriously believe that it was predestined that Jon and I and our kids would live in this house. I've lived in other places I liked, but the minute I walked through the door of this house, I knew it was mine.

I realize that most Americans consider less than ideal a house that has no closets in the bedrooms, no shower upstairs, no indoor access to the basement, no working doorbell, no "master suite" (vulgar term, anyway) no jacuzzi tub, no garage, no breakfast bar, no trash compacter, no pantry, no cathedral ceilings, no craft room, no game room, no more than seven linear feet of counter space and windows that need to be propped open with sticks. I don't care about those things. Not much, anyway. (It would be nice to have a shower on the second floor and not have to shlep my clothes downstairs every morning and my pajamas back upstairs after my shower. But I am used to that.) Actually, I like the inconveniences of my house. There's an expression: Pain builds character. So does having to adapt to your surroundings. Or having to don your cricket stomping boots every time you need make an expedition to the basement. I know none of my children will ever survey their college dorm and say, "What, no walk-in closet?"

Not that everybody hates my house. Some people love it. And it's not that I require everybody to love my house, but it would be nice if people who didn't like it kept that opinion to themselves. Over the years I've been wounded more than a few times by people who felt the need to tell me what a dump I live in. Admittedly we do have the shabbiest house on the block, but we are the only house on the block with four children, or indeed, any children. So, I am sensitive to criticism and we're expecting house guests this weekend--Jon's mother and sister-in-law and I'm worried how the sister-in-law will react to our house since she's never seen it. Not that she's a mean, hypercritical person. She's a fabulous, fun-loving sort of person, but she's from Buffalo, where even people of modest means live in nice houses, and people of more than modest means, like Jon's family, live in houses that few people in Charlottesville could aspire to. Because housing is cheap in Buffalo and it is expensive in Charlottesville. I think we did pretty well--at age 30 to have bought a 1600 square foot farmhouse within walking distance of downtown. That's lucky for this market, or for what the market was when we bought our house. But the Buffalo people come to visit and I sense that they feel we've let the side down, have dropped a notch (or several notches) on the social scale. I am bracing myself for the initial reaction. Once that's out of the way, I'm sure we'll have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Burr and other books

I just finished rereading Burr, by Gore Vidal, a book that was so compelling for me, that the first time I read it--about five years ago--I embarked and a self study of Aaron Burr and his times that involved reading three biographies of Aaron Burr, two biographies of Alexander Hamilton, the John Adams biography by David McCullough, two novels about Burr & Hamilton, the collected letters of Aaron Burr, and some other general books about early American history. Naturally, this was all most enlightening and I was amused to discover that one of the Hamilton biographers had plagiarized--lifted a passage word for word from and did not cite it--one of the Burr biographers. Since the Burr biographer is certainly dead, and the Hamilton biographer is probably dead, there wasn't much to do with this information except smile quietly and one day put it in my blog. Also amusing, one day as I was driving through Charlottesville, I stopped at a light behind a car whose license plate read "BURRITE" which is what followers of Burr called themselves. This is something you'd never expect to see in Charlottesville, where most people are extremely fond of Thomas Jefferson, who was an even more bitter enemy to Aaron Burr than Alexander Hamilton was.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


We ordered pizza from Domino's last night. We don't usually order from Domino's, but Mr. McP had been awarded a coupon for a free 10" cheese pizza--a perk for being named Citizen of the Week at his school.

I hate those free pizza coupons. Your kid pesters you incessantly until you redeem it, and since a single 10" pizza can not feed an entire family, you are thus forced to order more pizza, and the value of your free pizza is entirely lost. Or, you can take your kid out for a private lunch, just the two of you, except that my kids can smell a free lunch for a sibling that they weren't invited to from a mile away and it is easier and less stressful to just fork over the dollars and provide pizza for all.

So, Dominoes. When you call you get a long message encouraging you to order online, and it seemed like no one was ever going to pick up the phone, so I did as encouraged and ordered online, and in the process adopted a dim view of the Domino's corporation. For one thing, they refused to accept my coupon and also refused to allow me to defer payment until pickup time, so I had to pay for the entire order up front. Even more annoying was the assault on my sensibilities of corporate pizza culture's idea of what the American pizza consumer expects from his on-line pizza purveyor. As soon as I placed the order, I was informed that "Logan" was "custom-making" my pizza. A frankly phallic "pizza tracker" appeared across my screen, allowing me to track by the minute what stage of development my pizza had reached. The final indignity was that I was asked to tell them which political party I am affiliated with. Are you kidding me? I just gave these people my name, address, telephone number, email address and credit card number and now they want to know if I'm a Democrat or a Republican? I don't think so. It's not that prefer to keep my political leanings a deep, dark secret, but I do think it's rude to solicit this type of information from people, even if you are a corporate pizza giant. Especially if you are a corporate pizza giant.

I was quite irritated by the time the pizza tracker announced that my pizza was "ready for pickup" and half planned to give "Logan" a tiny piece of my mind, but he turned out to be very nice and was sincerely sorry that my coupon was rejected, and that he couldn't refund me the price of my "free" 10" pizza. It isn't his fault he works for the supreme douchebag of corporations.

Usually when we want corporate pizza, we order from Papa John's since they have managed to not piss me off too much, although their pizza is mediocre. We used to go to the Pizza Hut on E. High St.--I think it has been closed down, and with good reason. One day, it started pouring rain, just as I was about to pay for the pizza. The clerk said, "Wait a minute--I have to go close my car windows," and she dashed away, leaving me alone and fuming at the counter. My car windows were open too, but I didn't try to interrupt the transaction because I had been taught that it is rude to keep people waiting.

The next time I went to Pizza Hut, Miss Wait-here-while-I-run-to-my-car was manning the counter again. This time she was shouting into the telephone, "Hey, can you come in and cover for Marlene because she's sick as a dog." I looked at Marlene. She really did look sick as a dog. Not only that, she was assembling a pizza. She had, most likely, assembled my pizza! I was faced with a terrible choice: Reject the pizza and go home and cook dinner for six angry people, or take my chances with the pizza that Marlene Sick-as-a-Dog Pizza girl had made. I reflected that pizza ovens reach a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit and placed my bet with Marlene. We did not get sick, but needless to say, that is the last time we ever ordered from Pizza Hut.

I have yet to find a decent pizza in Charlottesville. Don't talk to me about Christian's--yes, their slices are delicious, but they're too respendent with gourmet ingredients to be considered real pizza. Real pizza--I find that my grasp of written language is inadequate to desribe real pizza. All I can say is, I know it when I see it, and I've never seen it in Charlottesville. I have heard good things about Fabio's but the one time I tried to order from them, their phone was disconnected. Perhaps one day I shall bestow upon them my custom.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Passports for six, please.

I feel like I should make a public apology to everybody who tried to get a passport in Charlottesville today, around 11:30am. By the time we were finished processing all six of our applications, there was a very, very long line outside the passport office.

We had to take the kids out of school in order to get our passports. Back in--oh, July--I picked up the applications from the post office, and was told that all six of us had to appear together in order to get our applications processed. It took until to today to achieve a day in which Jon and I were both free *and* the post office was open.

Sarah Palin got some flack for not getting a passport until last year, and I felt sorry for her as she squirmed under Katie Couric's sophisticated questioning. I have little in common with Sarah Palin, but I can relate to her on this issue. The only thing I regret about my life so far is that I have never traveled outside the US and Canada. In high school, my French class took a trip to France over Easter vacation, but my parents wouldn't let me go. My senior year in college, my French teacher offered me an opportunity to live in Paris for a month and teach English to high school students there. She would have put me up with relatives of hers in Paris, so all I needed was a plane ticket, which I couldn't afford and my parents refused to pay for. So I became a nanny in Buffalo instead. Bitter? Yes, I'm afraid I am. Soon after that I got married and produced four babies in six years and thus international travel became wildly impractical for years and years thereafter.

Now, our plan is to take a major family vacation in the interval between my graduation from nursing school and the time I actually start working as a nurse. It will be expensive, but I feel it will be money well spent, if only for the fact that my children will never be the only ones at a cocktail party who've never been to Europe. Our first plan was to go to Ireland and rent a cottage for a month and use it as a base for exploring the British Isles. Then I worried Ireland would be rainy and depressing and decided that Morocco and Egypt would be lovely and sunny, but friends dissuaded us so we settled on Turkey. Somehow we got soured on Turkey and chose Croatia, which I still think would be ideal--Roman ruins and beaches along the Adriatic, but now Jon is saying he wants to go to Ireland, so we are back to our original plan, except that we might go to Rome instead.

So the applications are on their way to the State Department, with one of my personal checks stapled to each, plus a $150 fee to the Postal Service. I've had this task on my to do list for months.

There's the issue of the passport photos. There is a clear quality ratio between our passport photos and the CVS employee who took them. Miss G looks cute--she was the last one of us to get her photo taken, weeks after the rest of us had done it. Jon and Mad Scientist made their own trip to CVS one day and they both look, if not exactly gorgeous, at least not embarrassing to themselves. Drama Queen, Mr. McP and I all had our photos taken by the same CVS clerk, and she instantly, although unintentionally, provided me with a new way to amuse people, because all I have to do is produce these three pictures and whoever sees them erupts into hysterical laughter. Poor Drama Queen. She is, in real life, an extraordinarily pretty fifteen year old--even though it's her mother who says it--but her passport photo is certainly the least flattering picture ever taken of her. Mr. McP fared even worse and it is his photo that makes my friends laugh the hardest. In trying to adjust the photo to conform to regulations, the CVS clerk distorted his face to the point that he looks like he has fetal alcohol syndrome.

As for myself--remember when I complained that my new driver's license photo made me look like a sex-starved, uptight middle manager named "Kathy" who lives in a dreary apartment by the interstate and who spends her evenings listening to the ticking of her biological clock? In my passport photo I am "Cheryl" who is out of jail on a work release program, lives in the Sunnyvale Trailer Court and spends all her money on lottery tickets and cigarettes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In a meeting

One of the requirements for nursing school this year is that I attend an AA meeting or other substance abuse support group. I did this last night. The meeting itself was fine, and everybody was nice to the nursing student. I had trouble finding the location, which turned out to be a shed behind a house on a dark and somewhat scary block of Market St. After driving up and down the same block, and not finding the correct building, I parked in the street and started out on foot. Did I mention how dark it was?

Eventually, I came upon a house, and a man just coming out the door asked me if I was going to the meeting. I said I was and gratefully allowed him to lead me around to the shed in the back. I never would have found it on my own. So the man was very friendly, and as we approached the shed he said, "Hey, let's trick these guys and pretend we're together." Then he told me about how he lived in the house (a rehab center, I learned later) and had just cleaned the kitchen and someone had thrown little bits of toilet paper all over the place, and it would be a good joke on them. Before I had time to register what he meant by "together" he had grabbed my hand and before I knew what was happening, I entered the AA meeting walking hand in hand with a completely strange man. I am not good at being assertive, but I did quickly extricate my hand and find a seat.

The meeting came to order and while I should have been paying attention, I was going over the events of the last two minutes, in ever greater horror. I had allowed a complete stranger to lead me to a shed out back of a house in an iffy neighborhood, on the flimsy pretext that we were both going to "the meeting." I had somehow not anticipated that he might try to hit on me. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?

I had been given a worksheet to fill out after the meeting. At the bottom was posted the following warning:

You are not allowed to provide any direct patient care during this observational experience. If there is an emergency situation, you can contact the course coordinator: Ms. Instructor at--(434)-555-1234 or (434) 555-0000.

I spend considerable minutes wondering, a.) in what situation would I ever be tempted to perform "direct patient care" at an AA meeting, and b.) What sort of emergency might arise at an AA meeting in which my FIRST action would be to call my instructor at home.

I also spent a not inconsiderable amount of time planning how to get safely back to my car, which was parked some distance down the street, without the hand-holder wanting to escort me there, which turned out not to be a problem.

Monday, October 13, 2008


After class today I bought a new pair of jeans. This is a major undertaking, as I'm sure my female readers will appreciate. I decided not to mess around and went straight to the boutique that is known in Charlottesville for its jeans. And by some glorious wonder, the stars were in alignment, I was chock full of good karma, or whatever, the very pair of jeans that I liked best also happened to be on sale. And I wasn't bargain hunting, because where the perfect pair of jeans is concerned, you can't skimp.

I bought a pair with a higher rise. Not mom jeans! Please don't ever picture me in mom jeans. I mean I bought a pair that I can sit down in without exposing my entire buttocks. I flatter myself, possibly, but I think I was the first person to recognize that low waistbands are flattering. I was tugging my waistbands down around my hips back in the '80s, when mom jeans reigned supreme. I would buy boys jeans at the Gap, too large so they'd ride low, and I probably looked sloppy, but at least no picture of a teenage me in mom jeans will ever surface to embarrass me.

So, fit is important, where jeans are concerned, obviously, but color is equally important. I rejected one pair that fit well, but was too dark. Super dark denim looks good on some people, but not on me. I guess this is because I am a product of my generation, when faded jeans were cool, and dark denim said, "My mom buys my clothes at Sears." Too light, on the other hand, is catastrophic. There's nothing like looking like your body is supported by twin beached whales.

Anyway, mission accomplished. One pair of well-fitting, medium, darkish blue jeans, marked down by 75%.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Rockin' elementary school

Jackson-Via elementary gets coolness points for having a live rock band at their PTO fundraiser last night. I don't know who the band was, but their performance added a certain je ne sais quoi to the typical school carnival. And Jackson-Via was the rockingest school at last weekend's Kid Pan Alley. My Mr. McP, along with the Jackson-Via Liberty Chorus, performed in seven out of eighteen numbers, (alongside real local musicians--this wasn't a kiddie show) and J-V was the only city elementary school to perform.

So the PTO fundraiser was fun, which I wasn't expecting, because in general I am allergic to PTO functions. A few years ago, I served as co-president of the Burnley-Moran PTO, and after that, made it a gift to myself to never, ever get involved with any PTO again as long as I live. Still, I felt a little guilty for strolling freely through the carnival and not manning a booth like all the other parents. But someone needs to attend these events, right? If everybody is working, what kind of event is it? I was in attendence, and as such, was doing my part. Or so I told myself.

I remember when Burnley-Moran did their big fundraiser carnival, in the weeks before the event we asked parents to donate unwanted stuffed animals, that could be used as prizes. This the parents did with alacrity, because most parents secretly hate stuffed animals. I know I happily got rid of loads of stuffed animals I never wanted to see again. But here is how this system fails: your kids go to the carnival and win lots of prizes and you come home with a car full of other people's unwanted stuffed animals. And the other parents go home with your unwanted stuffed animals, and the next year, everybody re-donates the same animals and the cycle begins anew.

That year I was co-president, Mr. McP won a carnival-quality stuffed bunny that was three times larger than himself. Not to mention all the other bunnies, dogs, bears and ducks we brought home that day, despite the fact that I stealthily took some of the more objectionable of my kids' prizes away and returned them to the game booths. It took two years for Mr. McP to get tired of that bunny and allow me to get rid of it.

Continuing with last week's theme about how expensive gas is in Charlottesville, compared to other parts of Virginia: My sister and her husband are in Richmond this weekend, and they told me they paid $2.94/gallon for gas there! WTF? Within state boundaries, I don't see any reason for such a price disparity. Yesterday, I noticed that gas at Stoney's--the closest gas station to my house--is selling for $3.88/gallon. Almost a dollar difference between cities in the same state, just 50 miles apart?

Monday, October 06, 2008

What to wear

I love clothes. One of the great conflicts of my life is not being able to adorn myself as I see fit, due to money constraints, and my plan for my very first paycheck as a nurse is to order absolutely everything I want from the anthropologie catalog.

Last year I complained that all the clothes were so ugly, there was nothing I wanted to buy. This is still the case, as far as Charlottesville chains are concerned. For the past year, I have not found a single thing at the Charlottesville Banana Republic that I consider wearable. The other chains are similarly ho-hum. J. Crew does a nice chino, but how many pairs of chinos can one woman own? Anthropologie is the bomb for pants. I bought these from them recently and they are fabulous.

And also this jacket, which I worry makes me look like Sarah Palin, although my friends assure me it doesn't. Drama Queen told me it is hideous, but she is fifteen, so do I really want her advice? It closes down the front with about 500 teeny-tiny hooks. I literally can not do them myself and I've nicknamed it my life-of-leisure jacket because I need a personal lady's maid to dress me on the days I wear it.

Meanwhile, I took my daughters out to buy a few things and was stunned by the ugliness of the clothes. And by the dearth of long-sleeved shirts. Why are there no long-sleeved shirts? The stores were loaded with totally inappropriate tank tops, and skimpy tee-shirts. There were turtlenecks at the Gap, which I thought were nice, but my girls assured me that nobody in Virginia wears turtlenecks. Why? I wear turtlenecks. I love turtlenecks. We left the mall without having bought a single shirt. I told the girls we'd look online, and we'll probably try Boden which has some nice things, but they are usually sold out of the very item you most want to buy.

Charlottesville has fun boutiques--my favorite is Eloise, but I also like Bittersweet, and Elsie's Garden. And Pearl for fabulous bags. It was a sad day for me when Dixie Divas had closed. Now where am I suppsed to buy a dress if I am invited to a wedding? Still, the boutiques are expensive, so I can usually buy just one or two things a year at them. My niece is coming to visit this weekend and I think I we will do the C'ville boutique tour because it's fun to look even if you aren't buying.

That is all. I feel guilty for my woe-is-me-nursing-school-is-so-hard post. It is hard, but surviving it does give you a powerful sense of accomplishment. And there's a reason for all that work: you need to know your meds, and analyzing your patient's meds each week is the best way to learn, since no pharm class could possibly teach all of them. And I used wonder why we weren't required to take pathophysiology, and now I realize it's because we teach it to ourselves, writing all those pathophysiology classes. They could, however, back down on the kicking people out of nursing school thing because that is what's really stressing me out.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Nursing school blah

Thursday and Friday are like one horrible, endless day. I know I shouldn't complain, because nobody forced me to go to nursing school, but if I'd known it was going to be like this, I might not have gone. I figured nursing school would like an easier, cheaper, shorter version of medical school, but it isn't like that at all.

On Thursday, I go to the hospital--noonish--and get my patient assignment. This week there was a note telling us to select our own patients. I picked mine based on the fact that she had a nice Irish name and that her physician described her as "very pleasant" in the H&P, and because I wanted to steer clear of the alarming number of GI bleeds and altered mental status patients on the floor this week. At this hospital, we are not allowed to print anything, so I spend about an hour and a half copying by hand all the information from her chart and filling out an assessment form. Once I get home, I must select five diagnoses that this patient has--whatever she's in the hospital for plus things from her previous medical history to make five things--and write a pathophysiology paper on EACH of her five diseases and relate my patients presentation with each disease. Each paper must have sources cited in correct APA format, and each usually turns out to be one and a half pages. Then I write a sixth paper called the pathophysiology synthesis, describing how her various diseases are interconnected and how they affect eachother, plus describe discharge planning, teaching, and follow-up care needed. This is usually one page. Next I must write up a description of each of her meds--the drug, its class, her dose, route, the usual dose, why she's taking it, side effects and nursing interventions necessary when giving each med. There are usually six-eight pages of writing about the meds. Then I have to assign "nursing diagnoses" to my patient. A nursing diagnosis, unlike a medical diagnosis, is a description of a human response to a medical or psychological problem. Something like "impaired gas exchange related to decreased pulmonary perfusion secondary to pulmonary embolism as manifested by cyanosis and O2 sat of 80%." Each patient has between 8-12 nursing diagnoses. Each diagnosis is paired with a goal we have for our patient to accomplish, such as "patient will manifest optimal gas exchange as manifested by nailbeds remaining pink and O2 sats >95%" Last is our intervention sheet, in which we list every nursing action we plan to do for the patient--meds, teaching, labs--for each diagnosis to help our patient reach the goals we've set.

All said and done, it's about 20 pages that you have to write, starting at noon on Thursday and ready to be handed in at 07:00 Friday. And if you don't have it--if you're missing so much as a single pathophysiology--you are sent home from the hospital in disgrace and given a "U" day. If you get more than two "U" days, you are kicked out of nursing school.

On Friday, you must be at the hospital at 07:00. If you are late more than four times, you are kicked out of nursing school. We have pre-conference for about half an hour and describe our patients, and what our plans are for them that day. Then we get out and care for our patients. We are expected to do everything the regular nurse would do, plus all the things the nurses' aides usually do, and you'd better not screw up in any big way because doing so will get you kicked out of nursing school. Today, my "very pleasant lady" was discharged by 10:00am, so I helped a nurse with some other patients and got to do some interesting things. When the day is over--2:30pm-- we need to evaluate our care plans, note if our goals were met or not and write up revisions to our plan if our goals were not met. We also need to evaluate each medication the patient took--were there side effects, did the drug do what it was supposed to do, how were vital signs and lab results affected by the meds. All this information is emailed to the instructor so that she can grade the total package of paperwork.

Grading is different from other college programs. It's not like you get a B and move on to the next week. You get "U", "NI" or "S" and you are required to get at least one S by the end of the semester or you are kicked out of nursing school. I got my "S" last week, thank God.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fun with food

Now that my 21-day Oprah detox diet is over, I need a new focus. The diet was a semi-success: I lost five pounds, but my neuroreceptors still can not be trusted around sugar. I am adding foods like fish to my diet, but still avoiding sugar and wheat.

My sister is the queen of health fads, a veritable fount of information about what is the latest trend in eating well. Right now she's into a program led by one Brendan Frazier. It's called Vega, "the Complete Wholefood Health Optimizer." It's almost like she's joined a cult, to hear her go on about this nutritional system which is all about consuming plant-based whole foods. "So you're a vegetarian now?" I asked her.

"No," she replied. "I'm a convenientarian." Meaning she sticks to the plant-based program when it is convenient, but relaxes her standards for parties and restaurants.

My sister is the one who turned me on to goji berries. I find their taste somewhat less than optimal, but she is stronger-willed than I and forces down a shot of goji berry juice every day. Two years ago, she was in town visiting and we went on a quest for goji berry juice. Integral Yoga was fresh out, but we bought some sort of cold fermented tea called Kombucha instead. My sister said it would be a good stepping stone into the world of miracle foods. I turned my car out onto busy Preston Ave, my sister handed me the open bottle of Kombucha, I was aware of an oddly familiar smell and then I experienced a taste so foul I nearly lost control of the car. My sister took the bottle away. "If you can't handle Kombucha, you are not ready for goji berries," she said.

About half an hour later, I realized what the familiar smell was. Did you ever leave a baby bottle of apple juice in your car for about two weeks during a hot summer? That is the scent of Kombucha.

Now my sister has told me to try Yerba Mate, the herbal stimulant of Argentina. I went to Integral Yoga yesterday and studied the Yerba Mate display. I wanted the cheapest option, since I suspected that Yerba Mate, like Kombucha and goji berries, would be somewhat disappointing in the taste department. There aren't really any cheap options, since my sister had warned me a way from the bags and told me I had to drink it loose leaf. My choices were a one-pound sack of Yerba mate leaf, unsmoked, or a half pound of smoked Yerba mate--both the same price. I went with the unsmoked, because smoking is bad. The label makes fantastic claims. If I drink Yerba mate, I will be stimulated. I will experience incredible "mental clarity." I will develop intelligence superior to all others. I will be able to operate power tools with my mind, and I will lose twenty pounds overnight. (Implied.) I will also be drinking twenty-times more antioxidants than are found in other herbally stimulating beverages. Just the thing for exam week.

I tried some last night. I did feel stimulated! My God, the mental clarity!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Summer reading

A quick recap of what I read over the summer: I read a lot of Southern fiction. One book that stands out is Joe by Larry Brown. It's the story of dirt-poor Mississippi people. Grim, but Larry Brown can really write.

Handling Sin by Michael Malone. I had high hopes because it got universal five star reviews at Amazon, but I couldn't even finish it. It's the story of an uptight North Carolina insurance salesman who's sent on a wild and crazy quest by his zany old father. That sounds like it has possibilities, but the book was an endless stream of events that had little meaning other to inject more craziness into the story. I suspect Malone wrote it with the idea that it would be made into a movie. Actually, it would probably make a decent movie, but as a novel, it is not good.

Duel of Eagles by Jeff Long. This is nonfiction about the Alamo and the history leading up to it. I stopped reading about 150 pages in after realizing that every single person in the story was an utter scumbag and I didn't want to read about them anymore. I'm now trying again with Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie and William Barret Travis by William C. Davis. It's somewhat better, but not what you would call a light read.

I read two books about teaching: Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman and I'm Not Complaining, by Ruth Adam. Up the Down Staircase was a huge bestseller in its day, translated into several languages and made into a movie. I wasn't impressed. It touches on serious issues, but in a glib and superficial way. That whole “if I can touch just ONE child it will all be worth it” schtick is just tired. I suppose if I were actually a public high school teacher, I would have found the ridiculous memos from the office funnier.

I'm Not Complaining, on the other hand, is an utterly unsentimental novel about a teacher in a poor industrial town in northern England in the 1930s. I thought it was excellent, probably the best book I read all summer. The narrator's view of her school, the children, the town, is completely unclouded by idealism. She tells it like it is, and that, in our politically correct world, is very refreshing. Also part of the story is her relations with the other teachers. Modern readers might find her harsh. If she thinks her friend is behaving like a slut, she'll come out and say, “I think you're behaving like a trashy little slut.” Even I had a hard time understanding her scorn for the factory owner who tries to make life better for the children by providing parties and food. It's not that she doesn't care, it's just that she knows what she's up against. Highly recommended.

I just finished A Summons to Memphis, elegantly written by Peter Taylor. It's the story of how a family is damaged by being uprooted from Nashville and moving to Memphis, in the 1930s. The author was (perhaps still is) an English professor at the University of Virginia.

Now reading a Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout, in addition to my book about the Alamo.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

neuroreceptors and nursing students

I wrote a few days ago about my new detox diet. A lot of people commented on the vileness of fake cheese. Others were concerned about the presence of soy in a detoxifying diet. Still others wondered if it was wise to accept diet advice from Oprah. I realized that my goal is not detoxifying, so much as retraining my neuroreceptors. Because my neuroreceptors like sugar. They like sugar a lot.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday I auditioned cakes. I did this by baking cakes whose recipes I hadn't tried yet. This was a lot of fun for the whole family. I think I baked six cakes in two weeks. By the end of the experiment my neuroreceptors were not unlike Rush Limbaugh after an oxycontin bender. Is bender the right word? I am not up on the drug culture jargon. At any rate, my neuroreceptors are now in a rehab program imposed by me and facilitated by Oprah. They are doing well and have not had sugar (or wheat, dairy, gluten, meat or alcohol) for neary two weeks.

Speaking of neuroreceptors, yesterday was my first “real” day at the state mental hospital. We are a group of nine students with one instructor who said that first morning, “They have some very exciting patients for all of you.”

Actually, I don't have a problem working with psych patients. What concerns me is that we are to spend the bulk of our time interacting therapeutically with our patients, in other words, talking to them, and of all the things I am bad at, the thing I am worst at of all is talking to people I don't know. Especially talking to them about deep and personal things. Back in my first semester, I was doing some sort of assigned assessment on my patient and I needed to find out how many times a day he brushed his teeth. I couldn't imagine asking such an intrusive question of anyone and I pulled aside one of my classmates and asked her how she had gotten this information out of her patient. She said, “I asked him, 'How many times a day do your brush your teeth?'” So simple,yet so difficult for me.

Still, the day was not without its funny sides. When we got to the unit where I will be working, a patient noticed us right away and started yelling, “Where's my girl nursing student? You girl nursing students, if one of you gets me, you meet me on the Barbour Mall!” Then he pounded on the windows of the nursing station with his fists—the nursing stations are all locked offices—and screamed, “I WANT ONE OF THOSE GIRL NURSING STUDENTS. YOU SEND MY GIRL NURSING STUDENT TO MEET ME IN THE BARBOUR MALL!” (The patients attend group therapy in various “malls.”) Our instructor observed that the patients seemed very excited to have nursing students on the unit.

And so the day went. I think my psych experience will be interesting, and possibly somewhat rewarding, but like most introverts, I become completely drained after prolonged interaction with other people so I anticipate being totally exhausted at the end of each clinical day. My overall first impression of Western State Hospital is of a place where the staff are sincerely trying to help the patients get well.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Back to N school

Nursing school started two weeks ago. My life has returned to the school year routine. I will live quietly and virtuously. I will be unable to think of the future beyond tomorrow, or the end of the week, at the most. I will perform only the most essential household chores. At the end of September, after the first test is over, I will feel a surge of confidence and think that maybe I can get through this after all. Toward the end of October, I will burst into tears, throw my textbooks into a corner and watch 14 straight episodes of Trailer Park Boys. By the end of November, I will be almost too exhausted to function.

Last week we took the big math test on which you have to get 90% or get kicked out of nursing school. We do this test every semester. I got a 100% and I'm glad I don't have to worry about it until next semester.

I'll be going to Western State once a week for my psych clinical. We had a tour last week and were told, rather ominously, "If your patient tells you to meet him by the pines, don't go." I will be on a locked unit, so chances are we won't have access to the pines. We were all given keys so we can get in and out of the units, and my group had to have special swipe cards made as well. My psych center ID photo is better than my license photo and a lot better than my passport photo.

Then I'll be at Martha Jefferson Hospital one day a week on a cardiac floor. We spent the last two weeks familiarizing ourselves with their computer charting system. I've done all my other clinicals at UVA. This will be my first week there with a real patient to take care of. I hope I don't see anyone I know. Martha Jefferson is the hospital where the People One Knows go. I rarely see anyone I know at UVA, as far as patients go.

Then there's lecture two days a week as well, plus one day for writing up all the clinical preparation.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Grumpy at Charlottesville High

Do these jeans make my ass look forty?
I'm 40 today. Just the other day, I read in a magazine that 50 is the new 30, so I guess that means I'm 20. I've been dreading this day for the past year, but now I've been 40 for a whole thirteen hours and I can say it's not too bad. I know several women in the forties who are fabulous and youthful and attractive, so maybe my life isn't over yet. It hasn't been a birthday sort of day, which is fine.. I went running and visited the recycling center and the library. I cleaned a wad of gum out of the dryer, I treated my living room for fleas and Mad Scientist and I have just finished putting the first coat of paint on my dining room. I could have done without the gum or the fleas, but overall it hasn't been a terrible day. Jon is working all weekend which sucks, but what can you do?

But I'm not writing today to talk about my birthday. I thought I'd describe the meeting I went to at Charlottesville High School. There's a new principal this year, so this was a sort of meet and greet, question and answer type thing. I had been having a terrible, horrible, very bad day and I arrived at the meeting in no mood for dealing with anybody. The meeting was in the library, or “media center” as they call it these days and soon after I settled into a seat, two women sat next to me. They noticed the powerpoint set up and groaned. “Are you the parent of a 9th grader?” the one next to me asked. I told her no, I had a 10th grader, and they told me how they'd already seen this powerpoint at the 9th grade orientation. I gathered they didn't want to see it again. One woman approached the principal to ask if he could talk first and then give the powerpoint, since they'd already heard it and the other said to me, “I'm sorry you got stuck sitting next to the grumpy troublemakers.” Are you kidding me? Considering the mood I was in, the only person I didn't actively want to punch in the face was a grumpy troublemaker. At last, a group I can identify with.

Alas, it was necessary to begin with the powerpoint, and the grumpy troublemakers were right: it was pretty lame. It started with a list of random facts such as “In China, their students at the top 25% in IQ number more than all American students together. China has more honors students than we have students.” More facts followed, mainly about China I wondered how all these facts related to students at Charlottesville High School specifically, but no explanation was forthcoming. The focus changed to rapidly changing technology, we need to prepare kids for jobs that don't even exist yet, yada yada. “Our kids are content creators!” thundered the principal, at which point a parent sitting behind me burst into a frenzied outbreak of applause.

Next came the question and answer portion of the meeting. A parent sitting behind me—I suspect she was the applauder—spoke very earnestly about something. She was so afraid of using language that might offend that she couched her remarks in a way that made it very hard to understand what she was saying, although I think the gist was, “We need to get the poor parents more involved in their kids' education.” Finally, frustrated at the limits that middle class guilt put on her ability to express herself, she burst out, “I'm passionate about caring.” The principal looked relieved and everybody in the room assumed grave expressions of acquiescence. It appeared we were all on board with caring about Caring.

Other parents asked questions. I asked about the overcrowded honors classes. Apparently, some kids will drop honors and go down to advanced, and the classes will be less crowded. (Later, I passed this fact on the Drama Queen and she said, “Are you kidding me? There are more kids coming into the classes every day.”)

The principal spoke enthusiastically about differentiation—grouping kids of different levels in classes together with the teacher meeting the needs of all the students simultaneously—and a few parents spoke up and described a mixed level Chemistry class from last year as a disaster. I think Mad Scientist was in that class.

One parent wondered if all children should be in honors classes. Her remarks were complex, but I think her point was that all children would benefit from honors-type instruction, and I think she's probably right, although if you started an initiative like that in high school, it would be much too late. The “Quest” program pulls gifted and “high potential” children out of the classroom for special enrichment activities, but, even though all four of my children have participated in Quest, I think it's ridiculous—borderline criminal—that these activities are withheld from the other students. If anything, a child functioning at a lower level might benefit more from the enrichment activities than a gifted child who probably has parents who are enriching his life at home on a daily basis.

Another parent said that it was unnecessary to worry about changing technology. Give our kids a strong foundation in math, science, and literature, and they will adapt to new technology as it develops, he said. I wanted to burst into a frenzied outbreak of applause, but I didn't. The principal agreed and then said fatuously that he would include “critical thinking” and “team building” right along with math, science and literature as fundamentals that must be taught.

Team building? Are you effing kidding me? And why does everybody want to teach critical thinking? Doesn't every single person of average intelligence use critical thinking every day? Am I crazy for thinking this? I can't think of a moment when I'm not using critical thinking. And I was taught by nuns. They didn't hold with any new-fangled notions. The nuns' message was “You will learn this, or you will die.” These nuns could teach a stick to read. With a stick. So, we thought critically and realized that if we didn't want to die, we'd better learn what we were taught, and that was that. Being taught how to think was like being taught how to eat.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What I did on my summer vacation

Ithaca, Day 2

The “free breakfast” provided by our hotel was inedible. The coffee, undrinkable. But why would I expect better from the Discomfort Inn?

I needed an excuse to visit Wegmans anyway. We bought enough food to carry us through until dinner, and coffee besides. Wegmans is awesome. While standing at the deli, I controlled a desire to take a picture of the display of fine meats. Here's what the Wegmans deli does that is awesome: they preslice their cold cuts ahead of time. You go to order, say, a pound of turkey, and there is all the meat, nicely fluffed and ready for you. Unlike every freaking store in Charlottesville, where all the meat is displayed as scary solid pink lumps wrapped tightly in plastic, and if you order some, you have to wait twenty minutes for the deli person to unwrap it and heave it onto the slicer and then slice it too thick.

I didn't take a picture of the deli, but I couldn't resist asking Drama Queen to take a few discrete photos of Wegmans' fabulousness. In this photo, I am speaking to Drama Queen through my clenched teeth. I am saying, “Don't take my picture in Wegmans. Don't take my picture in Wegmans.” Because I couldn't imagine anything more hokey than posing oneself in a supermarket.

Here's a mile long display of yogurt. That's ALL yogurt, folks.

Our first event of the day was a hike to Taughannock Falls, the tallest free-falling waterfall in the eastern US. The guidebooks say it's disappointing in the summer because the creek sometimes dries up, but NY is having a rainy summer this year. It was an easy, level hike along the bottom of a gorge. As we progressed, the gorge walls rose higher and higher above us until we reached the falls.

Miss G, Drama Queen, Jon and Mad Scientist by Taughannock Falls.

Jon and me.

The water was low, so we hiked back in the creek bed and stopped to rest, enjoying a rare moment of family harmony. The kids discovered skipping stones. Mad Scientist was able to skip a stone five or six times, sometimes skipping a stone all the way across the creek, where it would shatter on the opposite bank. The rocks were shale and you could break them with your hands.

Miss G found a fossil.

Later, we went to Buttermilk Falls. You drive to the top of its gorge. The road up was incredibly steep and twisty. Living in Charlottesville, I'm used to hills, but this hill was scary. We hiked our way down the gorge along a series of waterfalls. It was a stunning hike and my pictures don't do it justice. It must be a sight to see in the spring.

As we descended, the water descended faster, and was ever farther below the trail, which was stone, and soaking wet. Sometimes there was a low rail to keep you from falling over the edge into the falls, and sometimes there wasn't. The wetness of the trail worried me. It hadn't been raining and I imagined the creek suddenly roaring to life and filling the entire gorge. Then I realized that water was dripping from between the layers of rock in the gorge walls as if squeezed from a sponge.

Buttermilk Creek. I love the erosion patterns.

Cool rock chimney.

I worried we would slip on the wet rocks and die. Water was dripping out between layers of rock all along the trail.

At the bottom of the long hike, the falls end in a natural pool where you can swim. The water was what my German grandfather would have called “refreshing,” i.e. ice cold. The pool was crowded with what I instantly recognized as New York City people. Long forgotten memories of my childhood in upstate New York came to the surface: You'd get home from a day in some attraction or other and say with irritation, “It was full of New York City people.” They are unmistakable. Eventually, they got on their tour bus and returned to NYC, while we rested and I tried not to think about the long hike back up to the car and the drive down the scary, twisty road.

Jon and Drama Queen.

Hiking back up to the car

We went to downtown Ithaca for dinner. Jon spotted a place called the Lost Dog Cafe. It looked like a dive to me, and the map of the world tablecloths on the patio said “vegetarian.” The girls and I wanted to try a place called “Mustard” which was painted a cheery yellow and advertised comfort food, which I felt I deserved, but Jon was not at all impressed with Mustard, so we settled the question by stocking up on New York State wine and asking the wine store guy what he thought and he recommended Lost Dog, and we were not disappointed. My martini came in a Charlottesville sized glass, there was a kid's menu that had options other than “pasta with butter” and “natural peanut butter on bread” and the food was excellent. It was cheaper than Moosewood too. We ordered dessert and still the total was a lot less than what we paid at Moosewood.

Getting ready for dinner.

And that was it. We drove back to C'ville the next day. It was a long drive; scarcely shorter than the drive from C'ville to Buffalo, even though Ithaca is significantly further south.

The kids found ways to amuse themselves.

Edited to wonder why this piece didn't show up on Charlottesville Blogs. Trying again. I had a terrible time with blogger today, getting my pictures to upload and then the whole piece refused to publish due to some sort of HTML error. Blogger sucks, btw. If you're shopping for a blog hosting site, choose something else.