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.