Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Ide of March

I will be much happier once March 1 is past since I have about fifteen different deadlines for that date including getting all Mad Scientist's financial aid paperwork submitted—today, actually I think I finished with the last of it—submitting my own application to the University of Virginia for their RN-BSN program and all its attendant financial aid paperwork, plus submitting a proposal for a research project I'm supposed to complete as part of the Nurse Residency program I'm doing.

While that looks like just three deadlines and not fifteen, as stated, each of those tasks contains subsets of tasks such as all the essays I have to write for my application. Some are in the nature of, "Explain what the hell you've been doing with the last twenty years of your life that you're applying to college now," or "Why, exactly, do you want to want to become a BSN, when you will be doing exactly the same job and not even get a pay raise for your effort?" Then there are the fanciful essays, of which I must write one, chosen from a list of three questions.

Me, stressing out about my essays



(Actually, that was me at the moment when Jon told me he'd accidentally deleted a ton of my photos from the camera before I'd put them on the computer.)
Of the fanciful essay topics, the one I've tentatively chosen is "If you could invite any three people to dinner—living, dead, or fictional—who would they be and why?" Sounds like a fun topic, but I am totally bogged down in choices.
Q: Patience, shouldn't you be writing your essay instead of writing a blog post about writing your essay?
A: Yes!
So who should I have for dinner? There are the usual suspects: Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, jr., Einstein. Jesus is always in demand for virtual dinner parties, but I think I'd rather have His Mother. I bet the Blessed Virgin Mary could tell some stories. Others on my short list include Alexander Hamilton (what? I like him and if they take his face off the ten dollar bill and replace it with Ronald Reagan's, as I heard proposed, I will be outraged), Lord Peter Wimsey, Becky Sharp, Samuel Johnson, Iris Murdoch, Benjamin Franklin, Katherine of Aragon, St. Brigid of Ireland, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, Isaac Mizrahi, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Bill Gates—(I just bought MS Office after *years* of making do with Open Office. LOVE the blog post thingy), Lord Byron, and—how could I forget—Barak Obama. I'm sure that as soon as I publish this, ten names will come to mind.
If you could invite any three people to dinner who would YOU invite?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The un-wimpy winter

Greenland's Humboldt Glacier has taken up residence across the path we usually use to get from the front door to the car. My house faces north, so even though the temperature got well into the fifties yesterday, it is as hard as a rock. And my poor boxwood and azalea are also buried under impregnable ice mountains. Saturday I went for a run and fell on the ice. It was a spectacular fall, as I was running pretty fast and both feet flew out from under me and I was airborne for long enough to be aware of the fact that I was airborne, before the sidewalk came up to slam into my knee. I have had a large number of patients lately with fractures related to falls on the ice, so I know I'm lucky to have gotten away with a bruised knee. At any rate, I provided entertainment to all the cars stopped at the nearby traffic signal, although no one bothered to ask if I was OK. I continued my run but without much enthusiasm. It's funny that the three (and only) times I have fallen while running have been right near the Martha Jefferson Hospital ER entrance.

Thus, a brief summation of our winter woes. This is the first winter I've ever spent in Virginia in which the snow cover has lasted for weeks. I haven't seen grass in ages. Despite the inconvenience, I'm happy to have had a "real" winter for once. Two things I can't stand about Virginia are the wimpy winters and the torrid summers.

A few pictures
Everyone's favorite: the plow-induced ice wall.

Sloppy roads


The snowman ate my baby!
Drama Queen (who took most of these pictures)

The beginning of the sledding run that parallels our driveway
Sancho prefers to stay inside


Mr. McP

Drama Queen and Mr. McP at the top of the sledding hill
And at the bottom
My kids enhanced the view out my kitchen window

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Movie review

Mr. McP and I finally got to see The Lightning Thief, which I watched, not without enjoyment. We chose a Monday night--a snowy Monday night--and the theater was thinly populated with introverts like me who want to watch a movie without forced contact with a horde of other people. The movie itself: I wasn't expecting much after reading the unenthusiastic reviews, and if you expect little, you're not likely to be disappointed. Mr. McP was on the edge of his seat for much of the movie, and I was just as entertained watching his rapt little face as I was with the film.

I could forgive the ponderous dialogue, the embarrassing sword play-substituting-for-sex, the, Oh GOD, that's PIERCE BROSNAN as Chiron? (he looks awful and his acting is worse), the obvious Harry Potter knockoff (imagine Hogwarts turned into a camp in the Adirondacks with housing curiously unsuited to the cold northern New York climate) for the plot point that makes New Jersey the first stop on the road to hell and Steve Coogan's performance as Hades, although he only gets about three minutes of screen time. Sean Bean, another of my favorites, plays Zeus, and he isn't bad if you can accept Zeus as a tough guy from the north of England who wears a leather jacket. Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) is forgettable and Melina Kanakaredes as Athena, comes across as a mute version of the psychology chick on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson is not without charm but Catherine Keener as his mother looks like all her nutrition comes from these four food groups: cigarettes, pepsi, vodka, and more cigarettes. You wonder what Poseidon saw in her. Hogwarts "Camp" is for young demigods, and from the looks of it, the gods were extraordinarily busy seventeen years ago. Overall, I give Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief a "meh."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Faith in humanity lost and restored

I should have known better. I should have known not to try to see a movie on the day it opens and I should have known better than to attempt to go anywhere in Charlottesville on a Friday afternoon. For some reason, I agreed to take Mr. McP to see Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief. He has been obsessed with the books, although so far he has only read the first one since they are impossible to get at the library. We have been trying to get the second volume for a year--a year!--and all copies are always checked out, with holds. He is getting a boxed set for his birthday.

And so we set out, about 3:30pm on Friday and immediately hit the mother of all traffic jams. But why would I even attempt to drive on a Friday afternoon in Charlottesville? We've lived here for twelve years, and one of the first things we learned is that every Friday afternoon, approximately ten million people gaily hop in their cars and drive like idiots. Where are they all going? I have no freaking clue. It's rush hour to the 20th power. I have spent the last twelve years *not* driving places on Fridays and today I broke my perfect record due to motherguilt and a ten year old boy who needed comforting after the terrible ordeal of having to confess to his math teacher that he'd lost the homework assignment.

We progressed at the rate of about an inch every five minutes, up Emmet St., which I once heard compared to a fallopian tube--an apt description. Charlottesvillians are crappy drivers, but at least they are articulate. When we finally got to the theater, more than twenty minutes late, we got the last parking space--the one that was already occupied by a snowbank. There was a fair number of people milling about in front of the ticket window. Great, on top of everything else, now we'd have to mingle with a crowd of mouthbreathing troglodytes. I could tell they were troglodytes from the vantage of my snowbank. Let's just say I have a talent.

We assumed our place in line. I was hoping that since we were late, the other people were buying tickets to other movies. More people got into place behind us, one of whom boomed a question, loud enough for the entire crowd, but possibly meant just for her friends: "Is this, like, the line to get in?" No, it's, like, the line to get your eyes clawed out by the irate woman in front of you if you assault her eardrums with any more fat-headed questions. She went on to declaim at length about how it was a two hour movie and did NOT have a complicated plot and so it didn't matter if they'd missed the beginning and anyway, she was gonna see this GODDAMMED movie no matter what. Then I saw a ballpoint-lettered sign, taped to the ticket window: Lightning Thief SOLD OUT. I couldn't decide if I should be disappointed at missing the movie or relieved at not having to share air space with the girl behind me, who was clearly the sort who talks loudly in movies and uses your seat back as a drum. Mr. McP, of course, chose to be disappointed.

On the way home I mentally berated myself for my inability to do supposedly normal things like see a movie on a Friday, without having a nervous breakdown. I was also irrationally irritated with all the people who had clogged the roads and filled the theater, and yet, I was one of them, so what right had I to be annoyed? As we neared downtown, I spotted a driver who had been pulled over by the police. In a city as small as Charlottesville, you tend to recognize the different police officers, and this one is one of my favorites. He looks like the protagonist of a children's picture book titled The Jolly Policeman. The driver, a forty-something woman, was standing outside her car getting a stern lecture from the Jolly Policeman. She must have done something very foolish or reckless, but she looked like a nice person in general, and who doesn't stoop to the foolish or reckless once in a while when faced with impossible traffic? The beautiful thing about this scene, which I was privileged to observe for several seconds as the traffic crawled past, was the face of the woman. She had carefully composed her facial expression to reflect seriousness and intense focus on the Jolly Policeman's lecture, yet despite the care with which she had arranged her features, it was obvious that her inner thoughts were along the lines of, "OH GOD, THIS SUCKS!" Indeed, her mental turmoil was emitting an almost tangible energy and something about the contrast between her demeanor with the Jolly Policeman and her distressed thought waves made me feel better about our disastrous afternoon. Here was no troglodyte.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

College admissions flesh market

About a year ago, I spotted a book at the library. I can't remember the title, but it was something about "packaging" your child for college. In other words, it was a guidebook for parents on how to market their child so as to successfully beat all the competition and get into college. I skimmed a few chapters and what I read was so abhorrent, so depressing, I left the library under a black cloud which stayed with me for the rest of the day. I didn't check the book out. Its affect on me was such that I feared even seeing the cover again. The book described the world of college admissions as cutthroat as the deck of a pirate ship--a literal meat market. Millions of kids are competing for a precious few college acceptances. Will your child be chosen or rejected? Will his failure to be elected student council president, or your failure to sign him up for the correct enrichment activities, get him into the correct kindergarten, ruin his prospects forever? How can you maximize your child's SAT scores? How can you make him write the BEST POSSIBLE admissions essay? How should he "market" himself at the interview? The book was the embodiment of the worst sort of competitive parenting. Its mindset is the reason that so many high achieving students cheat--if Mad Scientist's and Drama Queen's observations of their classmates can be considered representative.

Mad Scientist has been accepted at Canisius College. Not only accepted, but offered a generous scholarship. He hasn't gotten an official letter yet, but the admissions office called him yesterday to say that the letter they'd sent him showed an incorrect amount for his scholarship because they'd decided to offer him an even bigger scholarship. The fact that we didn't get the letter yet says a lot about the difference between the postal service in the South--where I've seen local letters take a week to reach their destination, compared to the postal service in the North--where you can mail a letter late in the afternoon and it will be delivered by the next morning. But that's not the point.

The point is that this is the kid who got an F in health--health for crissakes--because he made a bonfire of his notebook and class work. This is the kid for whom we had agonized meetings with teachers and school administrators about his self-destructive habits. This is the kid about whom the school secretary called me with a shaking voice to tell me that his backpack had been found in a random backyard in the city and did I know where he was. This is the kid who was on the road to being expelled and who I allowed to drop out of high school because his misery in public school was so extreme. This is the kid I despaired of ever getting into any college, let alone winning a scholarship.

The school, Canisius, OK, it's not Harvard, but it's a solid, private, Jesuit, liberal arts college. (Let me know in the comments if you've heard of it.) It was founded in the 1870s, when Catholics kept themselves to themselves, at least as far as education went. My father graduated from Canisius in 1965. Jon's father was a Canisius alumnus too, as are most of mine and Jon's male relatives. (Canisius did not admit female students until the 1970s.) Jon and I are both graduates of Canisius. It's a relentlessly preppy school, the sort of college where the student body is more conservative than the faculty. (How I hated the smug "Young Republicans" when I was a student there, and George H. W. Bush was president.) Then again, Mad Scientist is conservative himself and might fit in better than I did. Canisius graduates tend to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, pillars-of-the-community businessmen and obscure congressmen from insignificant districts. Perhaps not a lot of fashion designers or film producers, but respectable citizens, and within the fabric of the student body there are vibrant, creative, intelligent people. I'm really pleased.

So you see? No need to pimp your child for the holy grail of college acceptance.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The importance of Chinese restaurants

We weathered the storm in comfort, although I have heard that there are many households in an around Charlottesville without power. Our power almost never goes out--something to do with our proximity to the University Hospital, and when it does go out, we're among the first to get it back. Still, when I was doing my Wii Fit workout yesterday, the power kept flickering, which was enough each time to turn off the Wii and force me to start my workout from scratch which was most annoying, particularly because I felt I had done an exceptionally fine Sun Salutation and never got to see my score.

Jon and I engaged in the sort of bickering that snowed-in couples do. For some reason I found his devotion to shoveling the driveway insufferable. It's a wasted effort, I said. You're going to hurt your back, I said. You're going to bitch about "I spent my whole day off SHOVELING," I said. Our driveway is so steep that we always park the car in the street during snow storms. So who cares about the driveway? Jon growled about wanting to get the car down into the driveway sometime before Easter. I think it's romantic to load the groceries onto a sled and slide them down the hill to the house. Whatever, I lost that argument and the driveway is more or less shoveled, but not clear enough to risk taking the car down.

In the evening, a crowd of our friends, just off their shift in the ER, stopped by. Now I had five hungry guests and we had just eaten the last fish stick. There was lots of beer, fortunately, and we discovered a Chinese restaurant willing to deliver through the snow. And they did. Where would American society be without Chinese restaurants to help us in emergencies?

The only worrisome moment was after our friends left. Mr. McP, after eating some pistachios, announced that now his face felt tight and his chin and cheeks were red and stinging. Really? He chooses the snowmeggadon in which to develop a nut allergy? I gave him a whopping dose of benadryl--never let yourself run out of benadryl, people--and sat up with him for two hours, but his symptoms never got worse and he is fine today. I'm hoping it wasn't an allergy at all but just the salt irritating his frost-nipped little cheeks.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Spending the storm in a bar and revealing my Irish heritage

The "Snowmageddon" as people are calling it, has started. I worked night shift last night, and packed the bare essentials-- a pair of underwear, some contact lens solution, two library books--in case I would be required to stay at the hospital. I missed the email telling the Thursday night shift to be sure to pack 72 hours worth of clean clothes and to arrange child care--like it's so easy to arrange child care at the last minute.

My shift was buzzing with talk about the possibility of getting locked in. I had been fairly cheerful about packing my single pair of underwear, but when the concept of actually being LOCKED IN by my employer and forced to stay and work sank in, I was a tad traumatized. The first image that comes to mind when you think of locked-in employees is sweat shop factory fires. Luckily for me, the day shift nurses made it to work--it had only barely started snowing by 07:00--and I was able to leave on time, feeling extraordinarily lucky. I'm not scheduled again until Tuesday.

And now the snow is falling, gently but steadily. I awoke at noon and discovered Jon had gone to his favorite bar with two of the neighbors. My kids were mildly scandalized, as evidenced by this little conversation between Mad Scientist and myself.

Mad Scientist: Isn't it inappropriate to start drinking in a bar before noon?
Me: Usually, but there are a few times when it's acceptable, such as St. Patrick's Day, and, and..
Mad Scientist: And funerals?
Me: Yes, funerals, and..
Mad Scientist: And big-ass snowstorms.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Snowbound with Patience


The first time I ever drove a car was in the snow. It was my parents' philosophy that good snow drivers are created by early exposure to snowy conditions, so one snowy Sunday morning, my dad took me to the unplowed parking lot at the mall and let me get my snow legs. (Wheels?) I nearly crashed into a stop sign, but that was the only time I ever lost control of a car in the snow. And since I grew up in Buffalo, where the video posted above illustrates the sort of conditions we dealt with, I feel entitled to call myself an experienced snow driver. And we never had four wheel drive, or anti-lock breaks. We didn't even have front wheel drive.

This year we're having a pretty snowy winter in Virginia. It's starting to feel like The Long Winter from the Little House series. And we're supposed to get possibly three-to-four more feet of snow this weekend, plus another storm on Tuesday. I see plenty of people here who drive capably in the snow, but I see plenty of others who clearly should not be on the road. I though I'd post a few pointers about snow driving.
  • Speed: Some people make the mistake of driving as slowly as possible, thinking that is safer. Actually, crawling along at 2mph will just get you stuck, along with everyone else who is behind you. You don't want to drive so fast that you're reckless, either, but you need some momentum or you'll never get up the hills. A good rule of thumb is to go about 5-10 mph less than the speed limit, but speed up if you're going up a hill.
  • DON'T STOP when you're going up a hill.
  • Your brakes can be your worst enemy. Use them sparingly. Obviously, you do need to stop sometimes. The key is to anticipate when you will need to stop and take your foot off the gas and coast so the loss of momentum will reduce your need for the brakes. And when you do press the brake pedal, do it gently.
  • Leave extra space--a lot of extra space-- between yourself and the car in front of you. This will allow you to defend yourself if that person loses control of his car. It allows you to create extra momentum for yourself if the driver in front of you is the crawl-up-the-hill type, and prevents you from having to make sudden stops.
  • You don't want to make any sudden motions. Never slam on the brakes. If you're approaching a curve or need to turn, coast to it, don't brake for it. Then accelerate when you're about halfway into the turn.
  • Pay attention. Especially pay attention to traffic lights. Don't approach a stale green light going full speed, or you will end up having to chose between running a red light or stopping suddenly and losing control of your car.
  • Pack a shovel in your car.
  • Don't be one of those assholes who think that because they have four wheel drive, they can drive recklessly.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

From the desk of Mrs. Vivian Incubator-Jones

One of my favorite pastimes, one in which I indulge all too infrequently, is to watch movies from the 1940s. I love their middle class snobbery, their sexism, the clothes, the sets, the silly plots, the humor. So when I read in one of my shelter mags that a woman had decorated her house based on the movie Mrs. Miniver, I knew I had to see it.

Mrs. Miniver starts with an emphatic scene of double-decker buses. England! Better and better. Greer Garson, the star, is on a bus, looking troubled. She fights her way off and hurries against busy street traffic with the air of someone rushing to a deathbed. She enters a shop and inexplicably buys a bit of roadkill to wear on her head then hurries home with her guilty purchase. Meanwhile, Mr. Miniver is buying himself a new car. It's like an ocean liner on wheels. There's a charming bedroom scene (twin beds) where Mr. Miniver tries to introduce the new car by saying he had another flat tire and Mrs. Miniver generously tells him to go ahead and buy a new tire, and then models the roadkill for him for which he shows a marked lack of enthusiasm.

And so I thought I was in for a comfortable domestic drama: Hollywood's idea of Middle America's idea of Merrie Olde England, where there's a man you address as "Vicar" when you meet him on the train, an elderly lady aristocrat who behaves like a contender for Monty Python's "Upper Class Twit of the Year" award, the young son who goes off to Oxford to learn how to be a bore, and the Miniver's chintzy house, which is like Beverly Hills meets Ottery St. Catchpole. Then the War begins and things take a darker turn, although I still thought the movie would end with Mrs. Miniver selling the roadkill at a jumble sale to benefit the RAF. Actually, the ending, which would otherwise be cheesy, is poignant when you realize that the movie was made in 1942, with the outcome of the war still unknown. Apparently Mrs. Miniver won a ton of Oscars and I feel a little guilty for making fun of it. I would watch it again, definitely.

Then last night, my daughters and I saw Sherlock Holmes. I was really excited to see this movie, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed. It's such a silly movie. There are some good scenes, definitely, and clever dialogue between Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law--unfortunately uglified with Victorian facial hair. I almost didn't recognize him. I do recognize that of all historical periods, the Victorian era had the most unattractive men.) I think my main problem with this movie is that it isn't good enough for Robert Downey Jr., or for Sherlock Holmes. It's a nice try, but a tad too brutish, both physically and intellectually.