Monday, March 31, 2008

Saved by a vinyl floor.

Another source of happiness: Our wonderful contractor has agreed to help us with our disaster of a bathroom. Jon demolished most of the old tiles on the shower until it looked like this.

I couldn't figure out how to remove the old shower pan.

The reason for that turned out to be that it weighs 200 pounds. Seriously. To get it out of the house we had to bring a wheelbarrow right up to the bathroom, and it took four of us to maneuver the thing up into the wheelbarrow, out the door and into our contractor's truck--all of us at risk for smashed fingers.

What I feared was that under the shower pan, which you can see is not in the greatest shape, we'd find something like this:

Instead, we found this:
Whoever put the shower in put it right on top of the vinyl floor, which did a beautiful job of protecting the joists and subfloor from moisture. This bathroom is in a 1960's addition to our house. We are trying to unify the house and make it all appear to have been built during the same time, and this bathroom is the last bit of 1960's awfulness. That awful vinyl had been tiled over and I spent weeks tearing out the old tiles. Once the shower is reframed, I can finally, finally, put in the vintage black and white honeycomb tiles I bought for this bathroom floor. The shower will be white subway tiles with a thin black band near the top.

What a relief to see our contractor bounce up and down and say, "I don't need to repair this floor." The shower framing, on the other hand, was rotted beyond repair, so it all came down, leaving our bathroom looking like this.
For now. A new shower pan is on order.

Another interesting outcome of this project is that we discovered a second basement we never knew we had. There's a basement under most of the house, and a tiny (24"X12") wooden door near the ground at the very back of the house. I thought this led to a crawl space, and never once have I gone in there, assuming that the size of the door was an indicator of the size of the space. Jon had to go down there when the plumber pulled out the shower pipes and discovered not the crawlspace we were expecting, but a large room, albeit with a dirt floor, but a room all the same. He claims it's big enough to serve as a storage for large items like the lawn mower--if we ever get around to enlarging the door.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day in the life of a nursing student

Nursing school is killing me and wrecking my family. I suspect it's also killing my classmates and wrecking their families too. That's just the way it is.

Still, sometimes the whole situation seems comically absurd. For example, my patient last week. I nagged him all day Wednesday about washing his hair and he refused. Friday, he decided that this was the day, and the moment he chose was when orders had just been put in for transportation to pick him up and take him to a test. "Let's git 'er done," he said. Transportation is notoriously slow, and how long does it take to stick your head under the tap and give your hair a quick wash? I felt we could manage.

It takes forever for the water to heat up but it is finally a temperature that pleases the patient and he sticks his head under the tap, I put some shampoo on him and start rubbing, only he's not happy with the stingy amount of shampoo, and keeps asking for more, and I keep adding nickel sized amounts to his hand, and he's never satisfied, and finally he growls, "Come on, honey, dump it out," and I end up putting half a bottle of Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo on his head.

Now the sink is stopped up, as are all the sinks in all the rooms at this particular hospital. The patient looks like a hypoxic Santa Claus, standing there with his head a monster of frothy white lather, waiting for the sink to drain. Which it does, ever so slowly and all the while I am remembering that transportation is on the way. Then I notice blood in the sink because now he's having a freaking nosebleed, which he assures me happens all the time, because of his anticoagulants. The sink finally drains, I stick his head under and rinse him, get him back to the bed, and we manage the nosebleed with tissues, and like a miracle, transportation shows up just as I've got him presentable.

Off we go, only my patient is on isolation, so it's fresh yellow gowns for all, and I have to wear gloves as well, and as we leave the room, I grab a box of tissues in case my patient's nose starts bleeding again.

The test will take place in the Old Hospital--approximately thirty miles from my patient's room. The nursing students' afternoon conference is starting in an hour and lateness is frowned on. My plan is to stay with my patient for a little while and leave in time to get back to the unit, but now I see that this is hopeless because the route to the test is so circuitous that the only way I'd be able to find my way back would be to blaze a trail or sprinkle bread crumbs in my wake, and I left my white paint at home today.

So anyway, there I am, walking through the hospital, carrying a box of tissues, my yellow gown screaming "CONTAMINATED" to all who see me. I feel silly and superfluous, carrying the box of tissues and trotting after the transportation person who is pushing the wheelchair, and I imagine myself telling the lab people that I am the bearer of the tissues and wondering if they will think that is funny, and then I decide that they probably have no sense of humor down in the testing lab, and it turns out I have no chance to say it anyway, because when we get to the lab, everybody is freaked out because of our yellow gowns and they act like the patient's isolation status is a Big Surprise.

They leave us alone in a corridor, for quite a long time, and my patient tells me about that time he was incarcerated, and about how oxycontin is synthetic heroin. Finally, a room is ready for us, and the test proceeds.

My patient dubiously eyes the plastic booth he has to sit in. "It looks like a gas chamber for one," he says, and it does look suspiciously airtight. The technician doesn't think that's funny and she says, "No, we're not Nazis heeere,” in the booming, fake-jolly tone that some health care professionals use for patients they think might be unpredictable. The patient says. “Do I have to sit in that uncomfortable chair?” And he says to me, “Git in there and switch that chair out,” and I hasten forward for a second and then realize that he is kidding. The shampoo seems to have made him a little frisky. The technician lady sticks with her booming jolly-voice strategy.

I have now been standing for ages, but can't sit down or touch anything because I have been in contact with an isolation patient, and I realize I can't even put the box of tissues down because I took it out of an isolation room. The technician, however, does not wear a gown, and she touches the patient's nasal canula with her bare hands, but I'm sure she doesn't want a nursing student telling her how to do her job, so I keep my mouth shut and study the box of tissues, which were made in Wisconsin and are of abysmal quality.

At last, at last, the test is over, and for the trip back we get the new hottie transportation guy that my work friends and I have been ogling. Hottie transportation guy turns out to be friendly, and expects me to walk next to him rather than trotting behind and the trip back to the unit seems shorter. I am still carrying the box of tissues, which we didn't need after all and I realize that I have been holding it for nearly an hour and a half. I am very, very late for my conference.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Domestic disaster and School Scam

This morning, I busted my ass to get two loads of laundry done before it was time to leave for my 9:30 class. Our dryer is broken, and before I left, I got all of the first load, and some of the second, hanging on the clothesline. My bedsheets looked so clean and white, flapping in the sunshine and the brisk breeze. Off I went to pharmacology, where I took an exam and then sat through a lecture on drugs used to treat hypertension. How I hate the nursing school practice of giving lectures immediately after exams! Anyway, I got home by noon, looking forward to making my bed with clean white sheets that smelled of fresh air.

What did I find? The high winds had popped one of the clothespins off my bottom sheet and it was no longer flapping whitely in the breeze. It was now hanging forlornly by one corner, its other end dragging through the mud. The brisk breeze helped ensure that the sheet scoured the mud not unlike a brillo pad on a sink. I had to rewash it, and rehang it and what happened? The clothespin popped again, and once again the sheet was dragged through the mud, although this time, I noticed in time to prevent the sheet from becoming thoroughly dirty.

Then Mr. McP came home from school with a fat, calligraphy-ed envelope. Inside was a letter on blue paper with a gold seal at the top announcing the National Center for Early Academic Excellence National Young Scholar's Program. The gold seal looked vaguely presidential, and I noticed this organization is based in Washington, DC and thought that Mr. McP had been recognized for academic excellence. I read the letter aloud to Mr. McP, which told us he'd been “nominated” by his reading teacher to attend a week long enrichment camp in Bethesda, MD this summer. I wondered if it was something like the Virginia Governor's School, which my daughter Drama Queen participated in, and which was a great experience.

As I read on, however, I began to get suspicious and my growing suspicions coincided with Mr. McP's growing excitement. This is no special recognition for kids who “demonstrate exceptional maturity, scholastic merit and leadership ability.” It's the biggest bunch of bullshit I've ever read.

“Age has never been a barrier to is often easy to identify at an early age those who have the potential to serve as future leaders...We are convinced that, in an atmosphere designed to stimulate the creativity, wonder and curiosity that is the gift of childhood, we can also challenge and motivate these young scholars to begin purposefully developing their natural ability to lead, to achieve and to excel...We have been told Mr. McP has the maturity we seek, as well as the strength of character and leadership ability that will enable him to get the most out of this unparalleled opportunity...Upon your son's successful completion of the Program, he will receive the official National Young Scholars Program Certificate of Achievement. You may also request a press release to distribute to your local media....The NYSP curriculum was developed under the direction of Dr. Donna J. Snyder...[with] a Master's Degree in School Administration and Curriculum Development and holding a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction ...NYSP has applied for accreditation to the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools...NYSP daily dress attire includes sold shorts or pants, preferably khaki, a solid white or navy blue top...Acceptable shirts may include a solid button-down short sleeve, button-down long sleeve, solid nave or white T-shirt or polo shirt...Tuition is $1,970 for six days.”

Included was a short letter addressed to “Master Mr. McP” telling him how special he is, and how if he enrolls in this program he can chose one of three “Discovery Strands” to study: Crime Scene Investigation: The Amazing Science of Detection, Going Green: Quest to Save the Environment, or World Explorers: Discovering People, Customs and Cultures. There was also a copy of the daily schedule which includes “Leadership Group Meeting, Discovery Strand Meeting, a Teambuilder activity, a thirty-five minute “recreation time” another Leadership Group Meeting, and, after dinner, “Evening Team Time.”

What a lot of puffed up nonsense!

My tuition for an entire semester of nursing school (ten credits) was $823.

The letter also told us that eight children from Mr. McP's school had been nominated. This is Jackson-Via. Do you think there are eight kids at Jackson-freaking-Via whose parents can afford $2000/week summer camps?

Parents of Charlottesville, would you send your child to a six day camp that cost $1,970, not including the expense of getting him to Maryland and picking him up six days later. Parents are also cautioned to send their child with money he'll need for souvenirs and “extra toiletries.” (How many toiletries does a nine year old need for six days?) Anyway, would you send your child to this camp that offers vague, dubiously enriching leadership meetings and lessons on “world cultures” or “crime scene investigation”?

The worst part of all this is that Mr. McP, who was very excited about the whole thing, overheard me telling Jon that I thought it was a scam.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Paddy's Day?

St. Patrick's Day ranks close to the bottom in my holiday rankings, even though, I am, as my father-in-law used to say, "as Irish as Paddy's pig."

I don't know what my problem is--maybe it is as simple as the fact that green is an unflattering color, and the sudden appearance of flocks of green-appareled people is somewhat jarring. Especially in the morning. Ditto the sparkly shamrock-antennae headbands.

This probably happened to a lot of us today: you walked into school, or work, or wherever, and saw the sea of green, and thought, "Shit." I got the same shock, although I didn't "forget" to wear green, I deliberately avoided it, since green gives my skin the hue of an old cheese. If the St. Patrick's Day color was a nice charcoal, I'd be all over it. Green makes most white people look sickly, and coincidentally, most Irish (or people pretending to be Irish) also happen to be white.

And then there is this peculiar Virginia custom of pinching people who fail to wear green on St. Patrick's day. No one ever did that in Buffalo, where I grew up. Speaking of growing up, back in Buffalo we wore uniforms to school, and St. Patrick's day was a day when we were allowed to wear what we wanted, provided it was green. It turned into an annual wardrobe crisis for me, especially since sadistic school rules said that if you didn't wear green, you had to wear your uniform, or else get detention. One year, one of my brother's friends showed up to school dressed head to toe in green, just as the rules decreed. To the great consternation of the principal, he chose to wear a green dress that belonged to his grandmother, green pumps and a green handbag. He was sent home.

Or maybe I was traumatized by a different childhood event. My mother, as far as I can recall, never cooked corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day. But she would make Irish coffee, which always looked delicious, what with all the whipped cream on top. One year--I was about nine years old--I asked my mother for a taste of the Irish coffee, and she let me sip from her cup, and the bitter, unsweetened, whiskey and coffee taste came as a huge shock, when I was expecting something akin to coffee flavored ice cream.

My mother was sensible in not preparing corned beef and cabbage, since it is one of the most unappetizing meals imaginable. Jon insists on it, so I prepare it, but I draw the line at boiled cabbage. No, no, no. I prefer to chop it up and saute it in butter, with caraway seeds, if I have them. I do love Irish soda bread, particularly when it's spread with cream cheese and strawberry jam. Our friends are coming for dinner tonight, so I think I'll visit The Pioneer Woman Cooks and she if she has any suggestions on how to make corned beef edible.

My dad's role in the celebration of St. Patrick's day was to take us to Buffalo's St. Patrick's day parade, which was always fun, although I remember it was also often freezing cold and there was usually a stiff breeze. And in Buffalo, a breeze isn't considered stiff unless it can literally lift you off your feet. Still, we went every year and we all enjoyed it, although I recall my mom would stay home, and she probably enjoyed that too.

I wanted to include a picture of Buffalo's St. Patrick's Day parade, but couldn't find one, so I'll include a picture of the Old First Ward in Buffalo, which is where the Irish first settled, later moving to South Buffalo, where my mother grew up and which is still very Irish. Obviously, the neighborhood has seen better days, although I'm hearing that there's a revival going on. I love the grain elevator in the background. When I did crew, we'd be rowing through the canal on the backside of those very elevators.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The dryer died, and hooray for Stoney's

The dryer died. Like I need more to do right now. It died suddenly, which made me suspicious but then I remembered that our dishwasher died in exactly the same sudden way. And it is fourteen years old, after all.

Jon said, “Just go and buy a new one today.” Typical man remark. Does he think buying a dryer is no different than buying a toaster? When, pray, am I supposed to do this? I do not have time to shop for dryers. I do not have time to wait around for someone to deliver it and install it. I barely have time to blog about buying a dryer. And there is no way I will allow Jon to pick a dryer for me. I'm annoyed that Ron Martin Appliance went out of business, because that is where we've always bought our appliances. I will not shop at Sears. I hate the high pressure salesmen who are always lurking in the Sears appliance department. But it appears that the only other option in Charlottesville is Lowe's, which doesn't thrill me either. It's times like this that I miss New York, where I would have had more than two appliance stores to chose from.

But all this talk of buying driers is moot, anyway, because I have no intention of buying one at this time. I'm turning to my clothesline. There are neighborhood associations that ban hanging laundry, or so I've heard, and I'm glad I don't live in a neighborhood like that. I like the sight of the backyard clothesline. I used to frequently hang our clothes, as did some of our neighbors, and I felt it gave the neighborhood a friendly feeling.

Anyway, this morning, I was feeling stressed and unhappy because yesterday's last load of laundry was still wet, and I was going to have to drive all the way to Kmart after my pharmacology class to buy clothespins. Then I remembered Stoney's.

I know I criticized the Harry Potter books, but I did say J.K. Rowling is a gifted storyteller, and I like the creativity in her plots, such as the “room of requirement.” Stoney's is my personal room of requirement. No matter what I need Stoney's has it. So instead of wasting forty-five minutes driving to and from K-Mart, I walked to Stoneys, which takes two minutes. At first, I couldn't find the clothespins. I found fish hooks, cup holders, mousetraps, and something that must have been the prototype for the oven bag. There were pigs feet, and styrofoam cups, brown lunch bags, extension cords, dust masks, and brooms. At last, I found the clothespins, stored near boxes of laundry starch that have probably been sitting on the shelf since 1977. (Did you know starch will lift grease stains off your upholstery?) Hooray for Stoney's.

I'm not jumping for joy at hanging all my laundry—probably until May, when I won't be in school and will have time to research driers and pick the best one—but I can manage. When I was first married, I didn't have a washer and drier, and we lived in an ancient house that didn't even have hook ups. I had to take all our laundry to the laundromat, even when I had two babies in cloth diapers—cloth diapers that I washed myself. Our apartment was the second floor flat, and I was alone all day with a newborn and a 12 month old. At least twice a week, I would have to drag the heavy diaper pail, plus all our other laundry plus two babies down the stairs and out to the car and off to the laundromat. Nothing I have ever done in my life was as hard as that. Not even being a full time nursing student with a part time job and four children is as hard as my life without a washing machine was. When the baby was five months old, Jon left graduate school and we moved back to Buffalo, NY, into another ancient house, although thankfully, one with washer and dryer hook ups, and my mother promptly bought us a washer and dryer—the very same ones I have today.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reading Harry Potter aloud

Usually, I love reading aloud to my children. Before I even had kids, what I most looked forward to about having kids was reading out loud to them all my favorite childhood books: Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, the Little House books, Betsy-Tacy, Anne of Green Gables, the Wizard of Oz series. Given my love of reading out loud, I was unprepared for how grueling it would be to read the Harry Potter series to my son.

Last summer, however, with the Order of the Phoenix movie about to be released, and “Deathly Hallows” right on its heels, I decided to grit my teeth and just get it over with. Because Mr. McP really, really, really wanted me to read these books to him. It was June when we started. September had come and gone before we even finished “Sorcerer's Stone.” After that, I realized I'd better pick up the pace, or I'd be finishing Deathly Hallows about the same time my survivors were arranging some deathly hallows for me.

Why are these books such a punishment? J.K. Rowling is a truly gifted story teller. Unfortunately she's not such a great writer. I know, sacrilege! How dare I? OK, maybe she is a really great writer with a really wimpy editor. There is a staggering amount of excess verbiage. I've been mentally editing as I read aloud, skipping over every “very” “rather” and “large” plus all the other pointless adjectives and descriptive padding. Sometimes I skip whole pages, eyes racing ahead of my voice to see where the interminable quidditch match commentary offers a phrase that I can splice into the last sentence I just read aloud.

Has anyone counted how many sentences start with the phrase, “Harry, Ron, and Hermione”? A lot, that's how many. Not to mention the many sentences that have “Harry, Ron, and Hermione” embedded in them. Did she type that out all 10,000 times, or did she create a macro? And she never mixes it up, either. You never see “Ron, Hermione, and Harry.”

We're now on “Order of the Phoenix.” All freaking 870 pages of it. I've been scheduling reading time like doctor's appointments. Our latest thing is to take Harry Potter to the bus stop and read while Mr. McP waits for his bus. My goal is to finish “Half Blood Prince” before the movie is released, and since that is supposed to happen in November, 2008, we might just make it.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Spring Break blues

Spring Break is almost over. I had big plans for this week. I was going to read ahead in all my for all my classes. I thought I'd at least skim all the reading assignments for the rest of the semester. I was going to study for upcoming exams. I was going to get to work in my garden. I was going to paint my bedroom. I was going to pry the shower pan up from my demolished shower. I was going to go out on the town and give my fabulous new bag from Anthropologie a trial run.

This is what really happened. I watched all six hours of The Way We Live Now, as well as Margot at the Wedding, Boondocks Saints, and I've rented Master and Commander to watch on this lovely rainy Saturday. I finished reading volume 1 of Blanche Weissen Cook's biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and checked volume 2 out of the library. I read Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian--the book that the movie mentioned above is based on. Jon and I went to Beer Run one night, but it was a flat evening and we both felt somewhat dejected. I got Mad Scientist starting on homeschooling, gathered some books, did some planning.

That's it, although I did put in many hours working on a ridiculous writing assignment, a complete nursing history of the last patient I cared for, and what a pain in the ass that has been.

It will be good to get back to school, because at least then I'll have the sense of moving forward, of getting closer to the end of the semester.

Friday, March 07, 2008

She quit cleaning and now she can't stand the guilt.

Remember when I posted dramatically about my housework strike? And how two days later my son tripped over the mess in is room and put his arm right through the window?

The house hasn't been condemned, but the heavens will part and golden, winged, trumpet playing pigs will descend from them before my daughters will remember to pick their clothes up off the bathroom floor.

Seriously, Jon has stepped up to the plate. He has been doing a lot of cleaning. Unfortunately, I'm now saddled with guilt. I can't stand it that someone else is doing work that I've always felt to be my responsibility. Ridiculous, I know. I also can't stand it that he's spending his days off cleaning.

There's also the tiny problem that Jon cleans differently from how I clean, and, as hateful as this makes me sound, it gets on my nerves, just tiny, wee bit. Jon likes things to be shiny. I like things to be orderly. Between the two of us, we could probably achieve a truly fabulous house, but as it is, Jon will leave tidy piles of stuff everywhere, but glory in the dust-free state of our flat surfaces. I don't notice dust, so much, but hate clutter more than anything. All I want is for everything to be put away where it belongs. Is that too much to ask?

Jon also moves things to places where I can not find them. For example, if my neighbors are wondering why I was in my driveway at 7:00 this morning, with the contents of my recycling bin dumped out beside me, frantically sorting through a great stack of papers, it was because Jon cleaned my desk last night and moved the credit card bill--sealed, with payment inside--and this morning when I went to my desk, where bills ready to be mailed are always leaning against the lamp--because this is where I've been putting outgoing mail for the last nine freaking years-- the bill wasn't there. Turns out, he'd made a tidy pile of sundry papers and placed them between the banisters on the stairs and there lay the credit card statement, neatly hidden. I wish I'd known that before I'd dumped out the recycling in a desperate attempt to beat the garbage men.

I guess what I really want is for my house to be perfectly clean at all times, and that the cleaning is somehow controlled by me, does not inconvenience anyone, and yet does not require any effort on my part either. Maybe it's time to hire someone.

I got a notice today that Mr. McP, my youngest child, has art that will be exhibited at McGuffey all through the month of March. First Friday is tonight, and Mr. McP gave me the notice, complete with a lengthy permission slip, this morning at 7:42--three minutes before we go out to wait for his bus. There is a ten dollar entry fee, but no information as to who is getting the payment. McGuffey? Or Art in place which is sponsoring the exhibit? I made the check out to McGuffey and I'd better not hear any squawking about it. We'll go to First Friday, but I'm half afraid Mr. McP's art won't be there, since the permission slip got to me so late. WHY did they wait this long?