Friday, January 30, 2009

Science Friday

I'm listening to Science Friday on NPR. They were talking about a planet they're studying where they've figured out that the temperature can fluctuate as much as 700 degrees in a few hours. I thought about how my oven can go from 0 to 350 in ten minutes and decided not to be impressed. (I know! My oven is not built on a planetary scale, but humor me. I felt clever.) What amused me is that soon after I had that thought, the scientist they were interviewing used oven language to illustrate how hot this planet feels when it is closest to its star on its orbit.

School is chugging along. Since clinicals are not yet in full swing, I have not experienced the full horror. That comes in two weeks. This semester we do Maternity nursing and Pediatric nursing. I thought this would be the semester where I could slack off a bit, but it turns out that there's a whole lot about obstetrics that you don't learn when you are pregnant yourself. And I did a lot of reading about birth during my pregnancies. As for peds, there will be less writing overall for the care plans. "We know you can write a pathophysiology paper," the instructor said, so we only have to write on patho per patient rather than five. And we don't have to hand in our medication sheets, which is awesome because while I'll still do a write-up about drugs with which I'm unfamiliar, I at least don't have to write up things like docusate, esomerprazole, or tylenol every single week. On the other hand, the writing may turn out to be more challenging because we have to tailor our interventions to the developmental age of the child. This means we can't just write that a four year old child who had surgery the day before will deep breathe and cough or use his incentive spirometer. We have to say HOW we'll get the child to cooperate with our intervention for every single thing we do, including vital signs. I see myself inventing little games and trying to write out the details and that is going to be a pain. And there will be a lot of IM injections in OB. I can do subcutaneous injections (such as insulin) with no prob, but IM is a little scary.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inkheart movie review

Mr. McP and I have been reading Inkheart together and we have been very excited to see the film version. Sunday, I took him and Drama Queen and Miss G to see it, even though we haven't yet finished the book.

Quick plot overview: Mo and twelve-year-old Meggie, father and daughter, are really into books. Meggie's mother "went away" mysteriously, years before and Meggie is frustrated because the circumstances surrounding her mother's disappearance have never been explained to her. When a mysterious character named Dustfinger appears, babbling about an evil "Capricorn," the truth is revealed: when Mo reads aloud, characters come out of the books to live in our Earth. Which leads to problems if he happens to be reading aloud about particularly nasty people.

Here's what's wrong with the Inkheart movie: They took a PG-13 book and toned it down to a PG movie. That might make some parents more comfortable about taking their kids to see it, but the tradeoff is a film with almost no suspense or tension. For example, in the book, it is implied that Capricorn's maids--captured from surrounding villages or read out of his book-- are also sex slaves to Capricorn and his men. In the movie, the maids are exactly what they appear, houseservants. Not that I was hoping to see some sex slavery, I'm just saying the book is far darker and scarier than the movie. Indeed, the book is full of oblique references to the true horrors of Capricorn's deeds, although none of them are spelled out specifically. If they were, this wouldn't be a children's book. In the movie, Capricorn, played by Andy Serkis, is like the genial host of his daughter's debutante ball whereas in the book he is evil personified--a person who feels no remorse, who has no pleasure other than in causing pain to others. In the book, there's an absolutely fabulous, and extremely scary escape scene, which would have translated beautifully to film. The moviemakers restructure the escape, apparently in order to put in some special effects, but the result is a scene that lacks any suspense whatsoever.

Here's what else is wrong with the Inkheart movie: It takes itself way too seriously. There is almost no humor, and almost every attempt at humor falls flat. I didn't so much as crack a smile throughout the entire movie. At times, the dialogue is awful, especially in the beginning, when Meggie says things like, "Why won't you tell me what happened to Mum?" to which Mo responds, "I will ALWAYS take care of you!" Helen Mirren, as Aunt Elinor, is supposed to function as comic relief, but they didn't give her any good lines to work with.

Here's what is good about the Inkheart movie: The scenery. The book mostly takes place in Italy, and some of the movie must have been filmed there. Particularly impressive are the shots that show the long mountain climb to Capricorn's village. There is a lot to look at in this movie, thank goodness, because there's not much else about it that is entertaining. I did enjoy Paul Bettany's performance as Dustfinger, although like Helen Mirren, he was strangled by the abysmal screenplay. Some kids, of course, will not be as discerning as their parents. Mr. McP, who is nine, was literally on the edge of his seat for the entire second half of the movie. My twelve-year old said the movie was "OK" and my fifteen-year old liked it, but neither of them has read the book.

Tiny update about the gym teacher/early bus problem: Drama Queen adamantly refused to allow me to email the gym teacher. I considered going over her head, but decided to respect her wishes. It's not her fault that she had been late for class, but she immediately identified a way to correct her lateness on her own terms, which shows a sense of personal responsibility that I decided would be wrong to discourage. I don't like her out there waiting for that early bus, although at least I can wait with her for part of the week, and we've agreed that she will text me when the bus picks her up on the days that I can't wait with her.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

shiny teakettle

I decided that a shiny teakettle would be comforting. More comforting than the 85% cleaner walls my magic eraser gave me. I made the accidental discovery that when the kettle is very hot, i.e. when you've just used it to boil water, the congealed grease comes off without too much effort. Of course, there's the risk of blistering your fingertips but what are second-degree burns compared to a teakettle that looks like it lives in the house of a woman who has a cleaning staff?

Speaking of blistering, I had an internal struggle this morning over whether or not to send an email to Drama Queen's gym teacher. Drama Queen's high school allows kids to squeeze an extra class into their schedule by having the non-academic classes of gym, health, and driver's ed available an hour before school starts. If you want to participate in this, the school provides an early bus, but there's just one bus for the ENTIRE city, with few stops. Our stop is the first one and catching that bus means that Drama Queen has to stand alone in the dark on a busy corner, far from our house at 6:45am and then spend nearly an hour on the bus before getting to school. She did that for a few days at the beginning of the year until a teacher at the school who lives in our neighborhood and also has a daughter taking early gym offered to pick DQ up and drive her every day.

This has worked out great, although that teacher tends to run a little late, but all through the first semester Drama Queen had health and driver's ed and those teachers didn't mind if she was five minutes late for class. Yesterday was the first day of gym and the teacher yelled at her harshly in front of the entire class, and when she explained that she couldn't help being late because the parent who drives her is late, he told her that it was HER problem and that she needed to be on time no matter what. How, pray, is a fifteen year old girl who is entirely dependent on others for transportation, supposed to have any control over when she gets to school? Does the gym teacher expect her to buy a car and drive herself? Or maybe I should drop out of nursing school--an entire three years of my life down the toilet--just so I can drive Drama Queen to school myself and she will not miss a precious five minutes of his gym class. And so she is stuck back on the early bus--the long walk from our house in the DARK and then waiting in the freezing cold alone at 6:45am for an hour-long bus ride, just so this fucking gym teacher won't humiliate her in front of the class. On the days I don't have clinicals I can wait with her, but I can't drive her to school because on non-clinical days I have to be in class by 8:00. I wanted her to continue to ride with the teacher and to hell with the gym teacher, but Drama Queen insisted on getting up early for the bus.

Gar. I'm so worked up about it. At least she was on time today and didn't get yelled at.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I magic erasered my walls today, in anticipation of school starting. What kept going through my head as I worked was an old Bayer aspirin commercial: "If your headache is too strong for Bayer, see your doctor," only instead, I kept thinking, "If your stains are too much for Magic Eraser..." do what? Seek professional help, I guess. I did manage to eraser away about 85% of the stains in the kitchen and living room. And if 85% cleaner walls seem like cold comfort when I am struggling to write yet another care plan, cold comfort is better than no comfort.

If you've ever visited discussion boards, particularly discussion boards dedicated to parenting, you have come across threads discussing how clean your house is. There is always someone who claims that, while her house is messy, it is clean. A clean mess, which is, apparently, preferable to a space that is tidy, but dirty. Why is this preferable? Because clutter is more sanitary than finger smudges on the walls? The implication, of course, is that it's OK to be messy as long as your sink sparkles and there is no dried toothpaste on the bathroom mirror.

My house is generally tidy, but it is also kind of dirty. Since "slut" means untidy or dirty, in addition to sexually promiscuous, I guess you could call my housekeeping sluttish.

I've discussed hiring someone to clean for me, but this brings a whole host of other problems that I don't want to contemplate. As I cleaned my walls today, I thought I could just call an agency and ask for a one-time emergency clean. Then I imagined coming home at the end of the day, only to discover that the cleaning people could not work in a house in which some of the electrical faceplates are missing (hazardous!) or charge quadruple for people with dogs (disgusting!) or found my cleaning products to be inadequate and made me run to the store numerous times for the correct products, and that would be like reliving the day of the tile contracter, and I definitely don't want to do that.

Then again, if I hired someone, my house might be one of those places in which the sun slanting through the windows is free of dust motes, the teakettle on the stove sparkles like a mirror, there is no dust collecting on the tops of the baseboards, there are no butter knives in the couch cusions, the children always behave perfectly and the mother is gorgeous and fashionable and a good cook.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bits and pieces

There is not a whole lot going on here. I am trying to savor my last days of the winter break, but the first day of the spring semester is fast approaching. Did you ever see the movie Lady Jane? It's a superb historical drama, made in the 1980s, starring Helena Bonham-Carter in the title role. There's one scene in which Lady Jane, who's fifteen years old, has a tantrum when she's informed that she will be married off to a man that her parents have chosen for her, for their convenience, and with no thought for her own. It's a really good tantrum, with Jane screaming, "I will not!" like a three-year old and pulling an entire table top of silver onto the floor. Her mother has to beat her, brutally, in order to make her consent to the marriage. At one point, Jane is given a break from the beating, but when she still refuses the match, she is hauled back onto the beating chair. Which is how I feel about school right now. Like I am on a break between one beating and another and soon--next Friday, to be exact--cruel hands will drag me back to the beating chair for 17 weeks of hell. Would that I could scream, "I will not!" and throw the silver around.

But what can you do?

Meanwhile, Mr. McP and I are reading Inkheart as fast as we can, so that we can see the movie when it comes out. It's a really good book. A bit slow to start, but once it gets going, it's really suspenseful. I am enjoying it as much as Mr. McP. And the movie looks fabulous.

I tried felting today. You are supposed to do your felting in the washing machine, but I think it's wasteful to fill the washer with hot water to felt a tiny wool bag. And I hardly ever use a hot wash cycle. Honestly, warm is adequate. So my knitting instructions included a no-washing machine alternative method of felting. Using a bucket and a clean, new plunger, you can get the desired result with far less water waste. I plunged away for vigorously, and although I could see that the piece had started to felt, the process was slow. After about twenty minutes, I decided that maybe I'd do a load of towels. The washing-machine method is much faster and easier than the plunger method. Still, my piece did not turn out as thick and small as I wanted. I was hoping for a bag somewhat larger than my cell phone, and instead I have a bag large enough for, well, about two pounds of flour. I'm wondering if I can wash it again. Will it shrink more, or is the size now stable? People who felt: can you advise me?

I'm watching The English Patient, but the movie is at a scary spot--Caravagio has been captured by the Nazis, and you know he's going to get tortured and we'll find out why his hands are deformed and hidden behind little black mitts--and I don't know what to do. I can't bear to watch the torture scene, so I am stuck. And the movie is due back tomorrow.

Mad Scientist is about to start the spring semester too. Last year he was failing all his classes and spending the school day skipping class and wandering in the woods. Now he has a 3.6 gpa, took the PSATs and got a perfect score, an 80--translates to an 800 on the SATs--on the verbal section, a 77 (770) on the writing, and a somewhat disappointing but still respectable 62 (620) on the math. So far he is fulfilling the requirements to be accepted at UVA in 2010 and overall is much happier.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Magic controversy

We almost got kicked out of a restaurant over a magic trick. My nephew is in town, interviewing for med school, and on Saturday we took him and the kids to a nice restaurant. It's not the sort of place that you take kids to, but my youngest is almost 10, and all my kids behave decently in public. They save their bad behavior for when we're at home. Lucky me.

Anyway, Mr. McP, age 9, has lately become interested in magic tricks and even shows a talent for it. He has been mastering a series of tricks in which he makes a small red light appear and disappear. For example, he will pretend to swallow the light, and then make it come out of his ear. There are a million clever red light tricks, which you can see for yourself if you visit youtube.

So, they seated our table of seven people at a long banquette along the back wall on the upper floor of the restaurant. While we waited for someone to take our drink order Mr. McP took out his red light and went through his repertoire of tricks, one of which involved "inhaling" the red light through his mouth. My nephew has also become good at red light tricks and he and Mr. McP quietly pretended to throw the red light back and forth at each other across the table. Then Jon got involved, and he also started inhaling the red light and then producing it from out of his pocket. The red light is great fun! I swear we weren't making any undo noise, and it didn't seem to me that we could be disturbing other diners. Indeed, a woman sitting behind us was so spellbound, she ceased listening to her companion and stared at us almost continuously, her mouth agape.

Then I noticed the hostess ascend the stairs and give us a hard stare from across the room. She strode purposefully, and, it seemed to me, somewhat angrily, toward us. I couldn't imagine what the trouble was but it was obvious she was extremely displeased with our table. At this point, Mr. McP was giving his red light a rest and we were all engaged in innocent conversation. The hostess stopped behind our table--Jon, Mad Scientist and my nephew had their backs to her and did not notice her--and she paced back and forth a few times, raking our table with a hard, angry gaze. We had made reservations, but I began to worry that we'd been given the wrong table and were going to be asked to leave. I was just about to ask her if there was a problem, when she signaled something to our server and stalked away.

The incident bothered me throughout the meal, and I decided the hostess was a meanypants who objected to people who bring children to restaurants, or that she had taken it into her head that we were not cool enough for this place, or something along those lines. Mr. McP began his tricks again, when the answer dawned on me. Someone had seen the red light and had assumed we were smoking! I can see how this could happen, especially since part of the trick involved inhaling the red light through the mouth. Still, the absence of the sight or smell of smoke might have been a clue. And the fact that it was a nine year old boy doing most of the "smoking."

Friday, January 09, 2009

More books

Last night, someone asked me how I'm spending my days while on break and I said, "Well, I read," and then I couldn't think of anything else so I finished, lamely, with "and I clean." That's not all I do. I play with my new phone and I check my facebook and I run the sort of dreary errands that one must do--buying printer paper, going to the bank, buying textbooks for next semester, getting my teeth cleaned, taking Drama Queen to the hairdresser's for a fix of her do-it-yourself bangs.

But I am so enjoying the luxury of being able to read and read and read and know there's nothing particularly pressing that I have to get to. Here are reviews of two more books I've read lately.

All is Vanity by Christina Schwarz. When I got this from the library, I noticed the author is in Oprah's Book Club--for The Book of Ruth--but I decided not to hold it against her. Snobbery is vulgar. And I was rewarded because All is Vanity is really, really good, albeit somewhat uncomfortable for people, such as myself, who think they'll finally make their mark on the world with a brilliant piece of literature. It's a book about the image we try to present to the public, and the subtlties that tell others what we're like, or what we want them to think we're like. The Amazon customer reviewers hate this book because it isn't like The Book of Ruth. Not having read it, I can't make a comparison, but I think All is Vanity is funny, insightful, and well-written. Quick plot overview: Margaret foolishly quits her teaching job and makes a public announcement that she will use the time off to write a novel. She has never been published before. Meanwhile, her best friend, already struggling in LA's consumerist, image-conscious society, suddenly faces even more pressure to keep up with the Joneses after her husband lands a lucrative museum job. What ensues are the part hilarious, part sobering consequences of worrying about what others think of you.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. This book, the title of which is a reference to the Victorian Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog, by Jerome K. Jerome, is science fiction, but don't let that scare you. I'm not much of a science fiction fan, but To Say Nothing of the Dog is like what we'd have if Barbara Pym had written science fiction. In other words, awsome. Technically set in Oxford in the year 2057, the characters spend much of their time in 1888, because they are time travelers. Quick plot overview: In 2057, the overbearing Lady Schrapnell is building a recreation of Coventry Cathedral, which was bombed in WWII. She is rebuilding right down to the last detail, including the Bishops' Bird Stump, a hideous Victorian object that is some sort of flower receptacle. In exchange for a generous donation to Oxford's Time Travel Project, Lady Schrapnell has use of a stable of historians who she sends back through time to research what the original cathedral was like and to find out what happened to the Bishop's Bird Stump, last seen in the cathedral shortly before the bombing, but unaccounted for in the rubble or the items rescued from it. Bringing objects from the past into the present is thought to be impossible, until one historian impulsively brings something back from 1888, causing a mad scramble to fix her error before the course of history is changed.

Besides an amusing plot and witty writing, this book contains fascinating tidbits of information about how tiny details changed history, and how even the most insignificant thing can be of monstrous importance. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 05, 2009


It started with the weedwhacker. It was 1998, and Jon unpacked it on the living room floor while I moaned about affluence. It started with a weedwhacker, but where would it end? A leaf blower? A crepe pan? A shiny new minivan with a bow on the hood, parked in the driveway on Christmas morning? I don't know where our path to affluence is going to end, but I'll tell you where it is right now: it's where one cell phone, shared between six people is an unbearable deprivation.

If you were to travel back to the year of my birth, and tell people that you had a phone that you could carry with you anywhere and use it whenever you wanted and that you could make long distance calls for free, send text messages, and take pictures with it, they'd think it was something out of science fiction. Now, at any given moment, no matter where we happen to be, each of us can be in instant contact with hundreds of people. Soon we'll be texting our pizza orders from the top of Mt. Everest. And yet Miss G, who is already engaged in almost uninterrupted simultaneous conversations with several friends at a time, via facebook or IM, is behaving like she will have a stroke if she does not get her new cell phone RIGHT NOW.

I had to resort to "Back when I was a kid..." Back when I was a kid, people didn't own their phones. AT&T owned them. If you wanted to add a line you had to get permission from AT&T and go to their store and if they determined that you were worthy, they would rent you a phone and your monthly bill would increase because you had to pay for each line. Or you could get an illegal phone. My aunt and uncle had a phone in every freaking room in their house, including the basement. All but two of them were illegal, i.e. not sanctioned by AT&T. You could tell which ones were illegal because they didn't ring. Then came the big shake-up of "Ma Bell," some time during the Reagan years and suddenly the phones that AT&T had grudgingly allowed us to borrow were our very own to keep and you could have as many phones as you wanted and the phone company wouldn't know the difference.

And yet our troubles were not over. My parents were thrifty and had "limited phone." This meant that we were only allowed so much time each month to talk on our phone and were charged extra if we exceeded the limit--and the limit was stingy, if I recall correctly. Something like twelve hours per month, which translates to 144 minutes. My teenage years were shadowed with, "Get off the phone! Can't you remember that we have limited phone?" By the time my sister got to high school, my parents caved and we got "unlimited phone."

And then there was the party line. Actually, party lines were long out-of-date when I was growing up, except in Canada, where my aunt and uncle, they of the illegal phones, had a cottage. I would spend extended periods there, in the summers, with my cousin, and the party line was a source of both amusement and irritation. When the phone rang, you listened to the tone because each party had its own ring: three shorts, or one long, two shorts, etc, and when you heard your tone, you knew the call was for your house. My cousin and I would sometimes try to eavesdrop on other conversations, but people have an irritating habit of knowing when someone is listening to them. The annoying thing about the party line is that if you want to use the phone, but someone else on the party line is talking, you can't make your call until they get off. I remember one time, my cousin met a boy she liked. His name was John Smith, or something like that, and she decided to try and find him by calling all the "Smiths" in the phone book and asking for John. This caused much exasperation down the party line and we'd hear people picking up their phones and then slamming them down in a huff because we weren't done with our task. I think someone finally told us to get the hell off the phone. And it's not like I'm 100 years old. This was in the 1980s.

My sister-in-law had one of the first cell phones. This was in the early '90s. It was HUGE and she'd hook it onto the side of her bag--it was far too big to fit in the bag; an incongruous look with an evening gown. Nowadays, the only thing smaller than a cell phone that you are likely to find in a woman's purse is a tampon.

And so, it is with the weight of all this history behind me, that I finally, grudgingly, accepted the fact that we need more cell phones. The kids have been begging me for ages. Drama Queen stated her case in a long letter. (Did I know that fifteen year old girls are more likely to be abducted than girls of any other age?) And it's not like we're a family that can't share. The six of us share a single closet. During our bathroom renovation, we shared a single toilet for over a month. We share a computer. (Sharing one computer among six people is much, much more difficult than sharing one toilet.) And up until now, we shared a cell phone. Yesterday I caved and upgraded to a family plan and bought four new phones, each with a tiny pullout QWERTY keyboard and reorienting screen and camera. Our plan allows us to share 1500 minutes--it sounds stingy, but remember the measly 144 minutes we had when I was growing up-- plus unlimited minutes on nights and weekends plus unlimited texting. Because why would you want to talk to someone when you could text him instead?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Craving atmosphere in 2008

In the nick of time, I fulfilled my last 2008 New Year's Resolution. I made three resolutions last year, based on my craving for a certain atmosphere rather than a desire to improve myself:

1.) Eat at The Flat, the tiny Creperie on Water St. that has fascinated me every time I pass it on the bus. It's just a tiny take out window in front of the bus stop, squeezed between a loading dock and another building. To me, it is evocative of an urban scene, something we in Prettyville are always chasing.

2.) I resolved to see The Falsies--a Charlottesville band, which I did not do, but I did attend a party at which the lead singer was also a guest, so I'm counting that one as fulfilled too.

3.) My last resolution was to attend a show at the Gravity Lounge--a downtown music venue. The name "Gravity Lounge" made me imagine a rarified atmosphere of people who dress better than me and who are serious about music. My radio station--a no-commericals "community radio" station that plays "alternative" music, was endlessly promoting Gravity Lounge shows of bands I'd never heard of. I imagined a secret club of coolness. Plus, the name made me wonder if there was a health fad devoted to gravity that I was unaware of.

Yesterday, (New Year's Eve) I finally made it to the crepe place. I had a chicken, spinach, onion and cheddar crepe and ate it in a sunny corner of their patio while I read a library book. Perhaps I will return and try the nutella crepe, or even treat the kids to the butter/sugar/cinnamon.

As for my other resolution, I've now attended three shows at the Gravity Lounge, the first being an experimental jazz show. We met a bunch of people from work and during the break, we drank beers on the sidewalk in front of the bar so that some of us could smoke. One of our friends, who'd just returned from a trip to Tennessee, remarked that if we tried taking our beers out of the bar in Tennessee, we'd probably be shot. Conversation turned to a doctor we know who gives a lot of rectal exams--not because he is creepy, but because he is anal thorough. Another friend, who'd just returned from dispensing free health care in the third world, remarked that a doctor who tried that in some of the countries she'd visited would be beheaded.

We returned to the show: "This is very serious jazz," the man next to me remarked. Indeed it was. It was supposed to be a tribute to Bob Dylan, and I'd naively assumed the band would be performing Bob Dylan tunes, which they were, although so deconstructed they were hardly recognizable as music, let alone as Bob Dylan.

This reminded me of some stop sign grafitti I'd seen in our neighborhood. Are you familiar with stop sign grafitti? When someone uses the "Stop" to impart an important message for society:

Our old neighborhood on Buffalo's west side had :"Wearing Fur," "Rape," "War," and "Eating Meat" scrawled on all our stop signs. One day I was jogging in my own neighborhood here in Charlottesville and saw that someone had scribbled "DECONSTRUCTING EVERYTHING" on our stop sign, and I thought it made a neat comparison about life in Buffalo vs. life in Charlottesville and the priorities of the citizens of these two cities. Also, I am sure the STOP WEARING FUR signs are exactly as we left them, back in 1998, whereas STOP DECONSTRUCTING EVERYTHING was quickly replaced with a clean stop sign. It was close to the road that tourists take when they drive to Monticello.

Anyway, I listened to the very serious jazz and after I'd exhausted the thought topic of stop signs, I thought about how we lived in a place in which people can drink beers on sidewalks without getting shot (although not smoke cigarettes in bars) and give rectal exams without fear of beheading and what a fine example of a free society that was. I think I was on my second beer at that point.

At any rate, the Gravity Lounge no longer holds any mystery for me.

If you were to scrawl something on a stop sign, what would it be?