Monday, October 16, 2017

Something to Occupy my Time

Jon's health woes continue. As soon as the fuss about the GI bleed settled down, he developed severe pain in his unbroken foot, which turned out to be gout. Caused, according to the doctor, by the GI bleed that left a lot of blood for his body to break down, and also from moving less because of the broken foot. Having just one kidney didn't help either. Let's hope this is the last thing.  At the moment things are a bit better. He got his cast off and is in a boot instead, although still on crutches and non-weight bearing, and the worst of the gout seems to have passed.

What I really want to write about is what I've been doing lately. Because the second stage of empty nesting is to take on a bunch of projects. (You'll recall that the first stage is wandering around your house like a ghost, wondering what to do with your time.)

The first project is to fix my front porch, which was truly an eyesore. It has never been particularly pleasant, and in the eighteen years we've lived here, we've gotten into the bad habit of dumping anything that's unwanted or too dirty to bring inside onto the porch. Not only that, the porch served as a workshop, so the floor, in addition to being filthy, was covered with blobs of paint, varnish, caulk, linseed oil, and other random chemicals. In our defense, our house is on a private lot, not fully visible from the street, so it was really just us who suffered from it. The thing is, when you live with something really bad, you cease to notice it after a while.

A few pictures of how horrible it was:

Weapons-grade filth

The first step was to get rid of all the crap. I put my bike away. I put the rocking chair at the curb with a "free" sign on it. It was gone within the hour. The Christmas tree stand had been living on the porch because it's such a pain to take it down to the basement. WHY, IN EIGHTEEN YEARS HAD IT NEVER OCCURRED TO ME TO JUST KEEP IT IN THE COAT CLOSET WITH THE ORNAMENTS?

I'm guessing that the original porch was wood that rotted and that someone replaced it with concrete. For sure, those are not the original porch pillars, which someone replaced with wrought iron. The owners previous to us found the current posts in a barn and put them up in place of the wrought iron. The two posts that are agains the house, half embedded in stucco are the original ones. After the clearing came the scrubbing.

And the patching of the cracks. 

This crack looked a lot larger once I cleaned all the dirt out of it.

If you follow my instagram stories, where I've been documenting in real time, you may have seen where this project is heading, but I'll stop for now. There's still quite a bit to do, though in real life I'm further along than I've shown here. This project has been a lovely distraction from political and broken foot misery.

Speaking of Instagram stories, that's where I've been amusing myself lately. I love creating stories out of my days, in an ephemeral format that disappears after twenty-four hours. The stories are where I throw pictures that aren't good enough for my feed. I also love watching other people's stories. There seem to be people whose entire career and fame come from their Instagram stories. Snapchat has had the same thing for longer, but I prefer Instagram. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell

When I saw that Elizabeth Gaskell, the author of the delicious Cranford books, as well as Wives and Daughters and North and South, had written a biography of Charlotte Bronte, I knew I had to read it without delay. I was not disappointed. If you're feeling like you'd like to read a biography, any biography, or if you want to read about Charlotte Bronte specifically, I highly recommend this book.

I got my copy at UVA's Alderman Library

Probably like most of you, I had a general conception of Charlotte Bronte's life - isolated in a parsonage in Yorkshire with her siblings and strict father. This is generally accurate, but there are a lot of details I didn't know. For example, I didn't know there were two older Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth who both died in childhood. Maria was the model for the Helen Burns character in Jane Eyre and like Helen, she died at school after enduring cruel treatment there. Also, Bronte did enjoy some modest financial success from her novels and got about in the literary world more than I realized, although she was painfully introverted and encounters with strangers were debilitating for her. 

Charlotte Bronte

Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell and Bronte were friends and this biography was published in 1857, only two years after Bronte died. Bronte's father and friends were still living and shared their letters with her. The result is as complete a picture of Charlotte Bronte as I think you'll find anywhere, written in an accessible, beautifully descriptive style. I also liked Gaskell's treatment of the famed introversion of the Bronte sisters. All three sisters were close and enjoyed each other's company, but were acutely miserable when they had to go out into the world and mix with others. Gaskell describes this as a simple fact, no more unusual than their hair color or height. It's just nice to see introversion accepted as it is, rather than presented as a disability that needs to be overcome. On a personal level, this book has inspired me to write more than anything else I've read recently. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

A GI bleed, a hurricane, and the nazis return.

It turns out we weren't quite out of the woods with Jon's foot surgery. He had been taking ibuprofen over the six days that elapsed between his foot injury and his surgery. After surgery, he was told to take an aspirin daily to prevent blood clots. And so, a week after surgery he was back in the hospital with a GI bleed, a potentially life-threatening condition.

We're lucky that the ED is almost like a second home. Ian works there now and he stayed with Jon and me while he waited to be admitted. It was like a party with staff popping in to say hi. Ian streamed The Mighty Boosh (with Greek subtitles, because internet) on the computer in the room. Then we watched Father Ted and even got our super-cute ER intern interested in it. I wouldn't dream of trying to convert someone to Catholicism, but we take every opportunity to share the Gospel of Father Ted. We were as jolly as it's possible to be when you're bleeding internally.

Jon's bleed turned out to be relatively small. It responded quickly to an esomeprazole drip and after a night in the hospital and an endoscopy he was diagnosed with an NSAID-related ulcer and sent home.

Meanwhile, Brigid, down in New Orleans, was sitting directly in the path of Hurricane Nate. Her neighborhood is very low-lying and before the storm hit, she went to stay with a friend on higher ground. Then the hurricane veered slightly east, so NOLA didn't get the worst of it after all and she weathered the storm safely.

And finally, fucking nazi terrorists invaded Charlottesville again on Saturday night. The mayor of Charlottesville tweeted that they were looking at "legal options." Cville City Council have been warned repeatedly since August 12th that the nazis had pledged to return, and when it actually happened, they were unprepared. City police meanwhile, appear to be complicit with the nazis and flat out refuse to arrest them, though they run stop signs and march around in public with burning torches. This is now the fourth Richard Spencer-initiated invasion since May and the city still can't manage to stop them. Here's the thing, Richard Spencer is a terrorist and should be investigated as such. In particular, someone needs to take a look at who is funding his group. I don't think it's a coincidence that they chant "Russia is our friend" while they wave their ridiculous torches in our city parks. Spencer has been waging a guerrilla war on Charlottesville for five months and nothing official has been done to stop him.

But meanwhile, Mike Pence spent at least $250,000 of taxpayer money to fly to Indianapolis in order to demonstrate how much he hates black people. No condemnation for what happened in Charlottesville this weekend from the president or from our puffed-up, bloviating, Trump ass-licking congressman, Tom Garrett.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Mostly Jon-related

Jon's surgery went forward as scheduled and he's now recovering at home and doing well. I'm looking forward to a relatively quiet week in which Jon doesn't have to work. It's going to be tough after that when he'll need a ride to and from work every day. Our house, with its narrow doorways, rickety stairs, and uneven surfaces is far from ideal for a person with a disability. Our bedroom doorway is so cramped that the coiled TV cable behind the door narrowed the space enough that he couldn't get through it safely on crutches. That cable has been sitting there, in my way and unused, since we bought the house eighteen years ago! The first evening, I uncoiled it and tossed it out the window, and in the morning, severed it with a cable cutter.  (It is too firmly painted to the window frame to disconnect it the normal way.) If we haven't wanted cable TV in the bedroom by this time, I doubt we ever will. And cable is pretty much obsolete isn't it? (We have fiberoptic internet now.) Needless to say, we had quite a time getting from the car to the house after surgery and the post-anesthesia wooziness did not help matters.

Post-op and ready to go home

In other Jon-related news, I can now share that he's a finalist (one of six) for the 2017 National Compassionate Caregiver of the Year Award from the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care. We've known about this since the summer, but were told to keep it a secret until the official announcement was made. We'll be going to Boston for the award dinner when the winner will be named. Jon will still be on crutches then, and we're not flying together, so there are a few logistical challenges, but I'm sure it will work out.

One more thing - I haven't forgotten that this is something of a book blog. I'm currently reading The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell, and it is excellent. Gaskell is a great writer herself, so it's a pleasure to read. Also, she knew Charlotte Bronte personally and wrote the biography shortly after her death when many who knew her were still alive. This is what I read while waiting for Jon in surgery, in the surgical family waiting room, among all the other people whose phones rang incessantly. The ringing phones were to be expected, of course. The ring tones, however were a bit of a shock. I'm not out in public during the day very often, and most of the people in my office either have their phones silenced or stick with the apple default ring. I'm not trying to complain, but I have to say that if you choose the "Western Gun Song" from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as your ring tone, (WHY?) I don't want to sit near you when I'm reading a biography of Charlotte Bronte.

Anyhoo, I haven't written about books much because I've been reading multiple books by the same few authors and I thought I'd do a post about each once I have finished reading through them. Which authors? O. Douglas, Margery Sharp, Anthony Trollope, and our old friend Angela Thirkell.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Checking in

Hey folks, just checking in. Things got a bit crazy around here. First, my car needed a new clutch, so I was without a car for several days and had to walk two and from work each day. Walking six miles a day really cut into my blogging time. On the heels of that, Jon fell while walking home and broke his foot pretty badly. You may recall that he broke his foot a year ago, right before I left for Iceland. This is a completely new and different injury. He has a Lisfranc fracture, which is when the ligament that holds your metatarsals to the tarsals is torn and the bones are ripped apart. He must be completely non-weight bearing on his broken foot for the next eight weeks or so. Which means that any type of household job that involves driving, or standing on two legs (walking the dogs, mowing the lawn) is now done 100% by me.

The injured part is that gappy bit where the knobbly bones meet the long skinny ones.

Not to make this all about me. We didn't realize, at first, that his foot was broken, so Jon spent all Wednesday night at home without treatment, which wasn't too bad until the middle of the night when the agonizing muscle spasms started. Thursday morning, I dropped him at the ER and went off to work.  That might seem heartless, but we both worked there, so it's a familiar place and holds no fear for us. They got him diagnosed and put in a temporary cast and given crutches and by mid-morning and he just went straight upstairs to work.

Jon's having surgery to repair his foot on Thursday, if his general health allows, which it might not. His blood pressure was really high at his pre-surgery workup. One thing I haven't mentioned here is that we found out a few years ago that he has an aneurysm in his ascending aorta, right where it's leaving the heart. There's a doctor monitoring the aneurysm and it's been stable. If it gets bigger, he'd need a surgical repair. Anyway, all this is rather worrisome when you're facing the additional stress of surgery. And work is really difficult for him too. He's a consult nurse, so he's not providing direct bedside care, but getting around on crutches is really difficult. He uses a wheelchair in the hospital, but has to also carry his crutches so he can get into patient rooms and other tight spaces. It generally sucks. We're trying to borrow a knee scooter from someone who doesn't need it anymore. If that doesn't work, we'll order one from amazon. They're literally six times more expensive if you get one from a medical supply store. Even the doctor told Jon to just find one on Craigslist.

Ian and I did go to Richmond on Saturday to have lunch with Seamus and Grace. That's been another big worry, watching Seamus adjust to college and dorm life. We did have a wonderful lunch at Perly's Delicatessen, which I highly recommend if you're ever in Richmond. Jon had to stay home though. Then we walked from Grace's house to Maymont, an old estate turned into a public park and garden, and walked around for a bit - another RVA experience that I recommend if you're ever in the area.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Charlottesville Post August 12

Several times on this blog, I have voiced my frustration with the disparity between Charlottesville's much-touted public image as a charming, friendly college town and the ugly reality for its residents who aren't rich, white, and well connected. The terrorist attack here on August 12th shredded our glowing public profile and as Charlottesville City Council hires a PR firm to fix our image, city residents of all backgrounds grapple with the serious issues in our community and try to find a way to fix them. And as city residents have spoken out at city council and town hall meetings, the depths to which the local government betrayed us becomes more evident.

At the very first city council meeting, a few days after August 12, mayor Mike Signer started the meeting by threatening anyone who got out of order with arrest. (I wasn't there in person, but was watching the live feed.) Then the audience was forced to sit through an interminable period of business as usual, while council members read irrelevant proclamations and took plenty of time to voice their own thoughts. The audience was remarkably patient, I thought, because even at home, I was jumping in my seat, especially when a council member made a dig at the crowd, surmising that there wasn't room in the chamber for one of HER invited guests because of the large audience that evening.  In the face of this breathtaking insensitivity, a few audience members began to speak out of turn. Mayor Mike Signor ordered them dragged out of the room by police and arrested. This mayor is a liberal democrat who enjoys preening for the media and fatuously declared Charlottesville the "Capital of the Resistance" back in January.

It's going to take a lot more than platitudes to fix this town.

After the arrests, the meeting dissolved into chaos, the councilors fled the chambers, and a group of protestors rushed the desk with a huge banner inscribed with BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS. Eventually, Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy returned to the room and upended the usual meeting procedure and said that anyone who wanted to speak could do so, for one minute each, and the remaining four councilors trickled back into the room, although Signor fled again when one speaker seemed angrier than the others. And the people spoke. They spoke at this meeting, and at the town hall a week later, and at the next city council meeting. The outpouring of stories and experiences of betrayal is horrifying.  Here's some of what came out of these meetings:

  • White supremacist groups posted widely on social media about their plans for violence on August 12th. Citizens warned both UVA and local government but nothing effective was done. There was a very late attempt to have the rally moved to a different park, but it was defeated in federal court.
  • White supremacist groups posted about planned targeted violence in African-American housing projects in Charlottesville. Residents asked for help and were ignored.
  • An event was scheduled for the same day intended to give free school supplies to low income children. White supremacists posted on social media, their intent to raid this event and stab the children. Residents asked for help and were ignored.
  • A group of people were trapped in a church on the night of Friday, August 11, surrounded by torch-bearing terrorists.
  • Members of the Jewish synagogue had asked for protection, but were trapped inside on August 12, while nazis marched outside their door. They eventually fled from a side entrance, carrying the Torah with them.
  • UVA police did absolutely nothing when a small group of counter-protesters were completely surrounded by torch-bearing nazis who threw fuel on them and tried to light them on fire and burn them alive. (Pictured above.)
  • City of Charlottesville and state police witnessed beatings, pepper-sprayings, and even a man firing a gun into the crowd and did nothing. (In contrast, peaceful counter-protesters after the KKK rally were mercilessly teargassed simply for being in the street, which was closed to traffic.)
  • The white nationalist terrorists arrived three hours before the time of their permit and police did nothing to stop them.
  • A man who moved here from another state and thought it was great until it dawned on him that you never see people of color except in service roles.
  • Multiple accounts of harassment in neighborhoods by roving terrorists.
  • Multiple accounts of people describing how they were abused at the rally.
  • Multiple accounts of people begging the police to help them and being ignored.
  • Multiple accounts of street medics offering aid when police wouldn't.
  • After the terrorist attack in which a car was driven across a pedestrianized area, straight into the crowd, killing one woman and injuring many more, an armored vehicle drove to the crowd, blocking access for emergency vehicles and pointing guns at the victims of the attack.
  • A woman described chasing nazis out of her neighborhood in the days after the attack.
  • A woman tearfully described how her daughter's legs were crushed by the terrorist's car and how her daughter wasn't included in the final injury count because only people taken to UVA hospital were counted. Her multiple requests to include those taken to the community hospital in the total injured were ignored.
  • General racial and social inequity in Charlottesville, such as lack of affordable housing, targeted harassment of POC by police via "stop and frisk" practices, unfair racial bias in removing children from their homes and putting them into foster care, city recently imposing steep parking fees on hourly workers in the city, despite vociferous opposition from residents.
  • The terrorists have pledged to return and continue the violence.
  • August 12 was not a rally, it was an invasion by a hostile army, intent on doing harm. Please take a minute to imagine how you would feel if your town were to be overrun by a large group of armed, violent, hostile people, with a proclaimed intent of doing harm to local residents, who ran amuck for an evening and the entire next day while police stood by and did not try to stop them.
One of many public threats of violence prior to August 12th

I was in Buffalo for the town hall meeting, but I emailed all the council members about the three men who tried to kill me on Monday, August 14th. I suggested that 911 dispatchers be trained to recognize terrorism when calls like mine come in. The only councilor who responded was Wes Bellamy, who asked if I was OK.

  1. Charlottesville City Council rolled over onto their backs for the white supremacist terrorists in precisely the same way they have always rolled over onto their backs for developers who won't build affordable housing and who trample on residents' rights on a daily basis.
  2. Living in a white supremacist town like Charlottesville is degrading for EVERYONE, not just the oppressed. 
  3. In the current climate, if you are an active opponent of white supremacy you're treated as an enemy of the state - as has now been demonstrated multiple times here in Charlottesville.
  4. There is no going "back to normal" for Charlottesville. We must exorcise the deep-seated racism and classism in this community.
  5. Up until recently, Charlottesville was very much a "that would never happen here" kind of place. Well, it happened here. And it could happen again anywhere. DON'T let white supremacy get a toehold in your community.
Jon and I are starting to get involved in Nikuyah Walker's campaign for city council. She's an independent candidate, who announced she was running long before the A12 events, but she has really emerged as a leader since. I'm tired of city councilors who run on a liberal platform and then screw residents the minute they're elected. The first city council meeting can be viewed here, at the Charlottesville Daily Progress' facebook page. The town hall can be viewed here. I can't find a link to the third meeting, but it was recorded live. (I realize no one is going to spend nine hours watching these, but I'm linking as validation for what I've described.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Adjusting to the Empty Nest

The empty nest is WEIRD you guys. Take grocery shopping. Now, for our weekly shopping, I use one of those stunted half-carts, like I'm geriatric or something. And yet, just weeks ago, I was embarrassed about being such an obvious mom, staggering up to the checkout with my cart piled high with Wegmans "family packs." And there's hardly any laundry and few dishes to do.

I come home from work and there's literally nothing to do, except take the dogs out. Once that's done, I'm wandering around the house like a ghost. Jon gets home much later than I do. I COULD be cleaning and organizing, but I don't feel like it. As I said before, it's like there's a hole in your life, and it takes a while for it to fill in. Mostly, I'm just playing with instagram face filters. :/

And yet, barely two weeks into our empty nestdom, Ian had an issue with his apartment and moved in with us for a few days, and Seamus came home for Labor Day weekend. He likes school and says he's learning a lot. But now Ian is back in his own place and Seamus is on his way back to school.

I did think that once all the kids were out, I'd do a major overhaul and redecorating of the house. I guess all the money that we spent on tuition has put a damper on that, but we are currently getting our roof painted. It was way overdue for a paint job and we're changing the color from red to green!

The sun is so bright, you can't see the green primer on the upper roof.

I do have my knitting. I've been working on a large new yarn bomb for weeks. Remember when I said that I had to be photographed for a feature in the local weekly paper? That's been published. As I expected, the picture turned out to be horribly unflattering. I look all scowly, jowly, and hippy. As you may recall, it had been a terrible day overall and I wasn't at my best when the picture was taken. Link here - you need to scroll almost to the bottom. I'm under the best "silent protest" header.

Current yarnbombing project. It's meant to circle a 90" tree.

Oh, and it was my birthday last week. I'm 49! Forty-fucking nine. I planned my mini-vacation very poorly in not also taking this day off. As it was, I returned to work on my birthday. I spent the evening in the laundromat with Ian, but then Jon took us out to dinner at Mas, one of my favorite restaurants.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

In which I have a disastrous vacation

As a treat, to celebrate the end of what I knew would be a difficult summer, I booked a mini vacation in Buffalo so that I could attend a family reunion of my mother's side of my family. I was looking forward to getting together with cousins I haven't seen in years. I also bought a ticket to the Silo City Vertical tour, in which you get to climb to the top of some of the abandoned grain elevators on the Buffalo River. The tour warns that you can't be afraid of heights, and must be able to climb 100 feet and ascend a ladder, but I thought I could handle it.

When I planned this trip, I didn't realize that Charlottesville would be invaded by terrorists and that I would be somewhat of a wreck over it. I'll fill you in in a later post about what has been happening in Charlottesville lately, but we are a seriously traumatized community. And I don't know if this contributed to what happened to me this weekend, but I do have a history of experiencing complete physical collapse in the face of great stress. Not that these are imaginary illnesses - they're real - but stress does compromise the immune system.

Landing over beautiful Lake Erie

I arrived in Buffalo Friday afternoon and had dinner with my mother-in-law. I stayed in an airbnb apartment in downtown Buffalo - a very nice urban apartment on a street that one wouldn't have dreamed of living on back when I was still living in Buffalo.

Saturday, I had big plans to eat an indulgent breakfast at my favorite cafe and then do the Silo City Vertical tour. Later, I was supposed to have dinner with my father and his wife and my brother and sister. I woke up with a terrible headache, which I believed was the result of drinking a glass of wine with my mother-in-law, while also being dehydrated from flight. Drinking water didn't help, so I napped instead of going to breakfast and managed to get myself up and out for the tour, but I had a bad feeling about it.

Ominously we were all given flashlights and warned about a 100-foot spiral staircase. "Anyone have vertigo? Anyone?" I didn't speak up and stayed for the first bit of the tour, where we stayed on the ground and heard the history of how Buffalo became a great shipping center, but I was feeling steadily worse and had begun yawning excessively, which is something I do before I throw up. (Curious - does anyone else yawn a lot before vomiting?) As we were about to begin the ascent, I spoke up and said I couldn't continue on the tour. The guides were so kind and said I could return the next day if I was feeling better. So I left, and I know I made the right decision because I threw up in the car as I was driving home. (Add the intersection of Michigan Ave & Swan St to the list of public places I've thrown up in.) Despite being ill, I did manage to take a few pictures.

Seen at the entrance to "silo city" Classic Buffalo.

It's amazing how an abandoned industrial site can be so beautiful

Buffalo River - we used to row past these silos when I was a rower
I was astonished that this huge vertical structure was on rails and could move.
In the distance are the General Mills elevators - still active and where Cheerios are baked to this day.
The wind off Lake Erie sends the smell of baking Cheerios miles inland through the city.

I spent the rest of the day in bed with cold sweats and vomiting and an excruciating headache. I was too sick to read. I looked at my phone a bit but the news about Houston and the pardon of Joe Arpaio made me feel even worse and I felt guilty about feeling so bad when others were much worse off. To be alone and sick is very frightening, and to be alone and sick in a strange apartment away from home is even more frightening. My sister offered to bring ginger ale and other aid, but I declined. I didn't even think I could get down the stairs to let her into my building. Of course I had many sympathetic texts from Jon, but there really wasn't anything he could do to help. I began to be afraid for my safety. My neck was killing me. What if I had meningitis? What if I became so dehydrated I developed an altered mental status? I'd drunk half a glass of water over the course of the day and thrown most of it back up. I realized I'd forgotten to bring my insurance card. I was too weak to even turn over in bed. It was horrible.

Sunday morning, I felt marginally less awful but was still throwing up. This time, I accepted my sister's offer of help. She didn't even have a car and took an Uber to my apartment and brought ginger ale, saltines, Advil and stayed with me for a bit, until it was time for her to go to the reunion picnic. I was able to keep down sips of ginger ale and later attempted a saltine and the Advil. By evening, I was well enough to take a shower and take the rental car out to top off the gas tank. I made it on time to my 6:30 am flight out of Buffalo and got home to Charlottesville without incident, although I still felt a bit woozy. I had a planned vacation day for today (Tuesday) and I still don't feel great - my face hurts - but I'm definitely on the mend. Ugh, what a waste.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Empty Nest and Cville Terror Aftermath

Seamus moved into his dorm on Saturday - a day I was both dreading and anticipating. To be honest, I am totally OK with being an empty nester. I've been parenting for twenty-five years, and while I love my children more than anything, I am ready for them to be launched. Also, I've learned from experience when my older children moved out, that the parent-child relationship changes after they leave. You can be less of a parent, more of a friend. (Not to say that you're absolved from all parenting duties, and seeing your child go through young-adult crises and heartbreaks is agonizing.)

That said, when a child moves out, there's a big hole in your life that takes a while to fill. But after time passes, everyone adjusts, and your kids come home for visits and holidays and it's lots of fun.

Move-in itself went smoothly. Friday night, we were woefully unprepared and not packed, but when around 10:00 pm, I finally got around to reading the move-in instructions, I learned that the check-in time for Seamus' hall and floor wasn't until 4:30 pm, which gave us a lot more time to get packed and organized.

For those of you not familiar with Virginia Commonwealth University, it's a large state university in the middle of Richmond. It's truly an urban campus, with no real defined boundary between the school and its neighborhood, known as the "Fan" a large fan-shaped area of 1800s buildings just west of downtown Richmond. Seamus preferred this to the self-contained and peaceful setting at George Mason University, the other school that accepted him.

I took a few pictures of the VCU neighborhood, walking back to the dorm after parking. Most of these buildings are part of the university. VCU is a large state school, but without the usual soulless, large, state school campus. Richmond's Fan is one of the loveliest urban neighborhoods I know.

Streets close to the dorms were closed to all but VCU students, so we were able to pull right up to the door of Seamus' dorm and unload the car. I drove off to one of the designated long-term parking areas, while Jon and Seamus waited for student volunteers to help carry his things up to his room on the 11th floor. The streets were alive with volunteers and campus police to direct people and music played out into the streets - a nice touch to relieve stress and create a festival atmosphere.

Seamus' new home

We didn't get to meet Seamus' roommate because he had already moved his stuff in and gone off somewhere when we arrived, but he left a note with his phone number, which has an out of state area code. He's a complete stranger, but his note was considerate and his belongings, neatly arranged, were similar to the sorts of things that Seamus brought, which bodes well, I think. (Significantly, he didn't bring a TV. Ian's freshman roommate brought a huge TV which he would turn on the minute he got up each day. It was enormously irritating and inconsiderate.) We picked up Grace and all went out to dinner before Jon and I drove back to Charlottesville. It's only an hour's drive from Cville to Richmond, so we are close at hand, but not too close. 

All settled in.

The move-in was successful, but not without trauma. Starting college is a stressful event for the whole family. On top of that, last week was very difficult as we tried to assimilate the feelings of having been under attack,  and then to hear Trump's remarks, calling the nazis who murdered a young woman and who threw fuel at protesters and tried to set them on fire, "fine people" and then basically saying that we deserved this violence. I didn't get more than four hours of sleep a single night this week and rogue nazis continued to terrorize us for days. On Monday evening, as I walked Phoebe, three men on scooters deliberately swerved at me and tried to run me over. I had to flatten myself into a hedge to escape and they all beeped and laughed at me as they passed. The "violence on both sides" argument is a vicious fiction in order to gaslight those of us who don't support Donald Trump. And on top of that, the terrorist attack in Barcelona was traumatic to hear about, and on top of that, the contrast between Trump's response to the Barcelona attack, compared to his response to the Charlottesville attack is sickening. Donald Trump is an irredeemable beast and he is actively engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the United States. He refuses to denounce the people who attacked Charlottesville because they are doing what he wants. Trump is a sadistic monster who enjoys seeing his opponents suffer.

On Wednesday night, 5,000 people in our community gathered on the UVA grounds to reclaim our space with a candlelight vigil. I attended, and although I think this was a healing event for many, I was overwhelmed by a crushing sense of despair. There have been few times in my life when I felt more alone and sad.  I already deleted the pictures I took (which were terrible) but here's one I shared on instagram, of people gathering in Nameless Field before the march.  Lots of spectacular pictures elsewhere.

A post shared by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

Anyway, the house is a bit lonely now, but we will be fine. I am glad this hateful summer is nearly over though.
Seamus' empty room. This is certain to become Phoebe's bed now.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Terrorist Attack on Charlottesville Virginia

I'm sure you have heard that my city, Charlottesville, Virginia, was attacked by white nationalist terrorists on Saturday, August 12th.  I didn't attend the counter-protest. I'd been dithering about it, partly wanting to go, but also worried because the white supremacists coming to the rally had been bragging about violence. Friday when I got home from work, I impulsively climbed onto the porch roof and painted a resist sign. We live less than a mile from downtown and I wanted any nazis who might park their cars in my neighborhood to know that they were not welcome.

The evening before the rally, white supremacists gathered near the University of Virginia grounds for a torchlit march, which ended in violence when they encountered a group of anti-racist UVA students and attacked them, including throwing their lit torches at people. I even heard a claim on a news video that the nazis threw fuel on people and then threw their torches. I think I speak for many locals when I saw we feel protective of UVA students. It was monstrous that they should be attacked defending their college grounds.

Saturday, the rally was supposed to start at noon, but people started assembling around 9:00 am and quickly became violent. A friend of mine who was there says that the violence was in little, self-resolving bursts. Punches thrown, then a calm, then punches thrown somewhere else, followed by calm. The city declared a local state of emergency and unlawful assembly was declared before even the official start time of the rally. That clinched it for me and I didn't go. I thought it would be a bit of a jerk move to show up after unlawful assembly had been declared. So I stayed home, glued to my twitter feed, until the horrific terrorist attack.

To explain the scene for those of you who aren't local: downtown Charlottesville has a pedestrianized street with shops and restaurants. It's a popular destination for tourists and locals alike and is always crowded on summer weekends. Two streets are allowed to cross the pedestrian mall, although with speed bumps and multiple warnings to drive slowly and yield to pedestrians. After the rally dispersed, there were still many people downtown. A car, driving at full speed charged across the pedestrianized mall and crashed straight into the crowd. Witnesses say he then reversed and slammed into the crowd again. On the eyewitness video I saw, the car was driving so fast it was a blur. One local woman was killed, 32 year old Heather Heyer. Many others were injured, some critically. Jon had been leading a retreat for health care workers and many of the participants were paged to come into the hospital and help with the multi-casualty incident.

The driver of the vehicle was apprehended about a mile from the crash scene. It is confirmed that he was a white supremacist, Trump-supporter.  I had been horrified by similar vehicular terrorist attacks in Nice and London and the fact that it had happened here, in my own town, on a street I walk on frequently was too shocking to comprehend.  And then, perhaps an hour later, the state police helicopter that had been circling the event all day, crashed. Both officers on board were killed.  Never in my life have I been in a place that was actively under attack. Yes, I was safe in my house, and my neighborhood stayed peaceful, but it was horrifying. And an innocent woman was murdered by a terrorist. We won't forget that and we won't let it happen again.

Sunday afternoon, the rally organizer (a local blogger and embodiment of toxic white male culture) had the audacity to hold a press conference. I had this crazy idea that if I attended this conference I could maybe throw a tomato at him or something. Shocking, I know, but I was brimful with rage and I thought if I could just get an opportunity to get close and just maybe gently lob something on him because he needs to be marked with humiliation for what he invited to our town. But then I thought that a tomato would be too firm so I went to Wegmans and bought the biggest, messiest, chocolattiest cream doughtnut they had. I just thought, if the opportunity presented itself, I might clap it against his shirt or smoosh it into his face. I was totally serious about it, but I didn't get an opportunity because when I got to the press conference, there was a large crowd and I couldn't get anywhere near the man. I could barely see him. We all screamed SHAME at the top of our lungs and completely drowned him out. Then someone rushed the podium and punched him and he ran away and we all chased him. We literally chased him away and the riot police came rushing in and blocked the alley he'd run down. There was a standoff for a while but nothing much was happening, so I wandered away and left the bouquet I'd bought when I was buying my assault doughnut at the impromptu memorial for Heather Heyer.

A few pics from Sunday:

My own memorial for Heather
The memorial that sprung up on the spot where Heather Heyer was murdered.

That blue hat had a swastika on it, but every time I tried to take a picture he turned his head.

Riot police protect Jason Kessler's escape

These videos are straight from my instagram. It seems they don't show up if you are reading this in a feed. Sorry! The quality is so much better than if I put them on youtube, so that's why I do it this way.

A post shared by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

It was incredibly cathartic to scream at this man. I think most people around me felt the same. We were so enraged and shocked at what happened in our community that we needed to scream. I screamed myself hoarse. People on social media called us thugs and said we were as bad as the nazis, but that is BS. Don't you DARE compare people venting their rage to terrorist murderers. I reject any claim that our behavior was bad in any way. Also, any argument about "both sides" or "violent leftists" is FALSE. This "But what about the leftists?" has become the new "But her emails." The white supremacists INVADED our town. In the weeks before the event, city council and local businesses worked together to find a way to legally prevent the rally without being guilty of a free speech violation. There was a lawsuit and a last-minute injunction by a judge saying that the rally had to be allowed to go on as planned, despite multiple claims of an expected crowd of thousands.

Sunday evening there was a vigil for Heather Heyer at the site of her death. Originally, it was to be held in a local church, but nazis threatened to attack it. Think about that. These hateful Trump supporters threatened to attack a peaceful vigil for the woman they murdered. But some republicans are trying to claim that the left is responsible for the violence. We gathered and lit candles and sang. State and local police were there to protect us from Trump's terrorists. It's always sad to hear about someone who was murdered, even if it's someone you don't know, but it's a different feeling when the murder was an intentional and vicious attack on your community. The community itself is an additional victim. This is something I hadn't realized. I would also like to thank all the people around the country who held their own vigils and rallies in support of Charlottesville.

The vigil for Heather Heyer on Sunday evening

And finally, this morning, as Phoebe and I took our pre-dawn walk, we saw a memorial of white paper luminaries that had appeared overnight in our park. The park itself, with its hilltop location, groves of ancient oaks, and the worn-down stones of a mountain range older than human memory, has always felt like a sacred space and the memorial was like a tiny paper Stonehenge, there in the dark (and literally at the intersections of Druid and Stonehenge Avenues).

Monday, August 07, 2017

Window Washing Weekend

I spent the weekend washing windows, which is way more fun that it sounds. Nothing makes you feel quite so accomplished as surveying your sparkling windows.

The window-washing cloths from Williams-Sonoma are the best. All you need is water.

Sunroom windows cleaned.
This window still had glazier's fingerprints from decades ago.

Even after cleaning, the front door and windows look rough.
It will be a future project to restore our porch.
I'm dying to get rid of that basket chair, but Jon will object.

Otherwise I'm really dissatisfied with the state of our house right now. In addition to washing windows, I scrubbed the toilets, washed the kitchen floor, vacuumed, and cleaned the microwave and yet still the house feels grimy and unpleasant. The living room is still partially dismantled so that Sancho can sleep closer to the floor. Cobwebs are taking over. No sooner do I vacuum them up than more appear. One morning we're going to wake up and find ourselves cocooned in them.

Cobweb level: Satis House

I made poke bowls for dinner for the first time. I'll eat sushi in restaurants without a qualm, so it's odd that I felt squeamish about preparing raw fish to eat at home. It was yummy and easy to prepare but I have too much poke angst to make this again.

I also spent the weekend reading Olivia in India by O. Douglas, a very charming epistolary novel about a young woman's trip to India just prior to World War I. Every book I read by O. Douglas is even better than the last. Also reading The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope, which I have been reading forever, it seems.

This summer is rushing to its conclusion. Only thirteen days until we move Seamus to his dorm at VCU. I think we have managed to get most things done. He's registered for classes, we finally submitted the dreaded immunization form. I bought twin, XL sheets, a laundry bag, and a laptop. He can take a few bath towels from home, and whatever else we need, we'll just get at Diversity Thrift on move-in day. I'm extra happy to shop there in particular because their profits benefit the LGBQT community and I learned that Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking in Richmond on move-in day. Couldn't this asshole pick a day when the city isn't already overburdened with tens of thousands of students moving in? Seriously. Isn't his team supposed to research things like this? Can't he see that not disrupting an entire city and creating a hell day for thousands of people is more important than getting his ego stroked by a group of sycophants? (Although that's probably the only thing of his that gets stroked.) It occurred to me that we could carve out some time to go and protest him, but I doubt it will be possible.

Meanwhile, Seamus and Ian left on a trip to New Orleans to visit Brigid. A brothers' trip! To visit their sister! Isn't that cute? They're going on the train, which didn't depart Cville until 10:30 pm yesterday so they both spent the day moping and I was happy to see them go. Based on what we're hearing from Brigid, the rain down there is intense, and I'm hearing worrisome tales about flooding and riding a bicycle through waist-deep water. Brigid herself got a job teaching art in a public elementary school in her neighborhood. She's also volunteering in a community garden and at a studio that teaches costume making to kids.

With everything that's been going on this summer, we have't had a proper vacation but once Seamus is settled at school, I'm going to Buffalo for a family reunion. Jon's going to the upper peninsula of Michigan for a conference in October, the two of us are going to Boston in November for a professional event for Jon, and we're going to try to squeeze in a trip to New Orleans as well.

I'll leave you with an awesome bit of craftivism that appeared overnight in our park. The letters are cut off a bit, but it says DISARM HATE. I haven't hung any yarnbombs lately because I've been working on one that's larger than anything else I've attempted so far and it's going to take a while.