Monday, June 26, 2017

Relieved of a Burden

Me me me me me! It seems that's all I have to write about lately.  Then again, isn't one major point of writing and reading blogs to share glimpses of our lives? That's what I enjoy about the blogs that I read. I have information, but nothing you couldn't find elsewhere on google. My biggest blogging pet peeve is when bloggers share "tips" about things that anyone could either figure out for themselves or find in innumerable other blog posts or articles. Thanks, but I already know how to wear socks/make a bed/fold laundry/cook oatmeal.

ANYWAY. Seamus officially graduated from high school. We have a diploma in hand. At the last minute, he opted not to attend graduation and we were OK with that. Indeed, although all four of my children attended Charlottesville High School, we have never been to a graduation there. That might seem kind of sad to some of you, but we have had a bad relationship with the city schools and so do not feel like a part of the school community. My kids have all had some great teachers and I appreciate how they helped my children develop intellectually. There was, however, one malicious teacher who wrecked the school experience for our entire family, especially since all four of my children were in her classes.

It started with a relatively minor transgression by one of my kids, for which we apologized and gave retribution. That should have been the end of it, but the teacher talked about the transgression to other students, mocked my child to her classes, and gossiped about the incident outside of school, so even years later, my younger kids heard about it from other kids. Not only that, this teacher sent me a vitriolic email with personal attacks against me (about a completely different thing). I complained to the school principal, and was told her behavior was inappropriate and that was the end of it. This woman ruined our family's reputation because of a stupid action by fourteen year old. If I gossiped about a patient the way this teacher gossiped about my family, I would be fired. It's fucked up that the same standard doesn't apply to teachers.

Perhaps it's inappropriate to put this out there on my blog, but for ten years, I didn't say a word, except to a few close friends, while this teacher trashed us with impunity. In the grammar school years, before I felt like I was at war with the system, I was vigorously snubbed by the other parents for reasons I could never determine, although I suspected it was because I was a young parent and a stay-at-home mother. (Much disdained back then.) Charlottesville is a small town and is infected with that vicious small town mentality, where everything one does is judged, and outliers are not accepted. Having lived mostly in big cities prior to moving here, it was a major culture shock and something I'm still not reconciled to. Being gossiped about might be a minor irritation in a big city, but it's devastating in a place the size of Charlottesville. My main impression of the schools here is that once you leave elementary school, children from families that are not perceived as rich or stylish are not valued. Writing this out helped to clear my psyche from a burden, and at this point, I'm mainly feeling massive relief that I never, ever have to interact with the Charlottesville City Schools again.

Other news about Seamus, he got a job as a line cook at a local restaurant. Years ago, he expressed an interest in being a chef, but then became disenchanted with cooking. Now, the chef is teaching him things and I think he likes cooking. He's planning to study journalism and politics in college, but having professional cooking experience will always come in handy.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Life Lately

The summer is not off to a promising start. For one thing, the city has undertaken to replace the water main under our street, which I understand is necessary, will benefit us, our tax dollars at work, etc etc, but still has been an inconvenience. They started this project in March and it chiefly involves digging a trench down the middle of the street every day and filling it back in with dirt every evening, and moving enormous piles of gravel from here to there and leaving large equipment parked in the street overnight. At one point, they parked a port-a-potty right outside our neighbor's dining room window. The entire street is coated with a layer of fine white clay. On dry days, huge clouds of dust hang in the air every time a car goes by. On wet days, the street is a mud pit. Everything - our houses, our cars, our mailboxes - is filthy. My shoes are ruined. Add to this the remains of a dead bird at the mouth of our driveway. It's reduced at this point to a dirty skeleton with feathers, swarming with flies - will it ever decompose? I'm too squeamish to bury it, and I have to hold tightly to Phoebe's leash and hustle her past so she doesn't try to eat it on our way to squelch through the mud and jump the ditch and take our walk.

TL;DR Our street has been turned into a slum out of Charles Dickens.

Standing at my mailbox

Welcome to Dog Patch

Also unpromising, the month of No Time Off Whatsoever has begun. The Big Scary Go-Live is only days away. I have invitations to daily meetings at 5:30 am and other daily meetings at 10:00 pm, which I *think* I'm not required to attend. Who in the world is expected to work 5:30am-11:00pm, seven days a week? Fourth of July has been cancelled. (Really.)

Then, it's a summer of sending a kid off to college, which means dorm room supplies will soon be accumulating in the front hall and we have to attend Freshman orientation and spend a fortune on books and worry about move-in day and class registration and dorm assignment and pre-college physical and immunizations.

Needless to say, there is no vacation planned for this summer.

Finally, our older dog, Sancho, is deteriorating. He's a doberman/lab mix and turned thirteen in January. He'd been walking a bit stiffly, but one day, his walking seemed very abnormal indeed, and the next day his back legs were mostly paralyzed. We were convinced he had a spinal cord tumor, since this is how our old old dog Luna died and I had to summon Ian - Sancho is his dog especially - to come home and say a final goodbye. (You probably think I was overreacting, but I was having flashbacks to Luna's last day of life.) The vet confirmed that the problem is Sancho's spinal cord, but he's not convinced it's a tumor. It might just be a bad back. "The top half of the dog," the vet boomed at us, "is totally normal."  We were overjoyed that we wouldn't have to put Sancho down and we're treating him with steroids. Meanwhile, we've taken the cushion off the couch and turned the living room into a geriatric dog unit. We had to put the couch frame in the hall, where it doesn't fit, but I guess it will come in handy for piling the dorm room supplies, so there's that.

Sancho doesn't appear to be in pain, so that's a blessing. He's also not incontinent, but getting him outside to relieve himself is a major ordeal that requires two people: one to restrain Phoebe and one to use every possible enticement to get Sancho out the door, such as pretending we see a squirrel. (Hence the need to restrain Phoebe.) It's pitiful to see him staggering, but he flat out refuses to move if we support his hind legs in a towel, as the vet taught us. If we try to carry him, he growls and we know from experience that he will bite out of fear. None of this is fun for any of us, least of all Sancho. Still, he's been on the steroids for three days now and it seems his hind legs are slightly less apt to collapse under him. It's a such a subtle improvement, it might just be wishful thinking. We'll see.

All of this dog drama happened on the day of the congressional baseball practice shooting and the Grenfell Tower fire in London and I was feeling unwell in general and trying to work from home and was reduced to tears by pissy work-related phone call from a doctor while I thought my dog was dying and then the terrible tension of waiting for the vet's verdict, so it was altogether an absolutely awful day.

Sancho on the day the paralysis started.

Our living room, for the foreseeable future.

But, to go full circle back to the water pipe project: In order to connect the new main to our house, it would have been necessary to tear up our driveway which would have torn up the invisible dog fence we embedded under the drive many years ago. I made a big fuss with firmly worded emails to the city with underlined sentences about how our dog was aggressive with other dogs and how the invisible fence was the only way to contain him. All I wanted was for them to find the fence line and splice it back together. What they did instead was obtain an enormous boring machine. The street is about six feet higher than our driveway, so they bored vertically into the street to the level of our waterline, then tunneled under a hill and our driveway, popped a small hole in the drive and hooked up the water, leaving the fence intact.

Of course, I'm appreciative of the effort they put into this. The irony of course, is that two weeks after the pipes were connected the big, scary, dog who needs this fence became paralyzed and now couldn't catch an infant and we no longer need the dog fence. Oh well. I suspect the street crew were pleased to get to use seriously big equipment that they don't usually need. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

The final chapter in this tale of woe is that Charlottesville has come to the attention of Neo-Nazis and the KKK, all because of a stupid statue of Robert E. Lee in a city park. Saturday night, a band of Nazis tried to cause trouble downtown, but there were no takers. The KKK is planning a demonstration here in July and there's an alt-right "March on Charlottesville" planned for August. It reminds me of the early 1990s, when we lived in Buffalo, which was taken over by radical, hateful, toxic pro-lifers. Both groups pretend to have innocuous agendas - "preserving history" and "respecting life" but in both cases, they are really about hatred, control, and suppression of women and minorities. Seriously, what a joke that people who say they're preserving history have amnesia about World War II.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Monica Dickens

I've been on a Monica Dickens kick lately and I'm going to explain why you should be too. Monica Dickens was the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens. Born in 1915, she was raised in an upper-middle class family in London. She wrote thirty books for adults, published between 1939 and 1993 and thirteen children's books. She died in 1992.

Monica Dickens

You may recall that I wrote recently about Dear Dr. Lily, (post here) which I mostly enjoyed, but had some reservations about. Despite my mixed feelings about this particular novel, I liked Dickens' style and wanted to read more of her.

Next, I read The Landlord's Daughter (1968), choosing it because it's the only Monica Dickens novel at my library. I liked this novel better than Dear Dr. Lily, although both books venture into dark and creepy territory. It's about a young woman named Charlotte, aka "Charlie" a rather large, earnest, bumbling girl who is awkward in the upper middle class society she's been raised in. Charlie works as the gym mistress at a girls' school and one evening experiences a mishap - one of the crazy freak accidents that could happen to anyone. It's both horrifying and ridiculous and I read the scene with my fist crammed into my mouth because it was so suspenseful. This accident leads to her encounter with a stranger that will change the course of her entire life in a not altogether positive way. And that's really all I can say because there's a bit of a mystery that I don't want to spoil. The whole story is told in flashbacks, after Charlie's death.

The third Monica Dickens book I read was Mariana (1940) one of her earliest novels. This is a lighter story than the other two: a semi-autobiographical account of a young girl growing up in London in the 1920s and '30s. It reminded me somewhat of the Cazelet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard. There's a family estate in the country, a handsome cousin she loves and numerous annoying girl cousins. It turns out, Monica Dickens is very funny. She's brilliant at depicting those times when you're utterly failing at something that seems to come quite easily to everyone else. I can really relate to that and I snort-laughed out loud during one scene. Highly recommended.

Finally, I read One Pair of Hands, Dickens' first book. (1939) This is a memoir of the time she spent, as a young woman, working as a servant, a "cook general" which seems to be someone who's in charge of cooking and most of the housework. Dickens was from a privileged background, so this career decision must have been viewed as eccentric in the extreme, but she doesn't dwell much on her family's reaction. Over the course of a year and a half or two years, she worked in several households. She was treated well in some places and badly in others. Dickens did take a cooking course before embarking on this career, but she really didn't know what she was doing, so much of the book describes domestic disasters that she strives to hide from her employers. After all, how is anyone to know that you dropped their nicely roasted chicken on the floor, or used their expensive port in a stew because you drank all the cooking sherry? There's also a colorful cast of characters in the tradesmen she deals with and fellow servants. And this is what I love the most about Monica Dickens - she is not a snob. She pitches right in with the other servants, never holds herself above. She really must have been a fun person to have as a friend.

Now I'm eager to read more of her, particularly One Pair of Feet, her memoir about her time working as a nurse. Have any of you read Monica Dickens?

Monday, June 05, 2017

A Birthday and a Protest

You're probably getting bored with my protest recaps, so I'll be brief. I have been to more protests since January (six total) than I have in my entire life. It's getting to be addicting. This time it was the March for Truth, a nationwide protest to demand a thorough investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign, his administration, and the Russian government. The idea of the march was conceived before Trump fired FBI director James Comey and the subsequent appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel for the investigation. Still, the Trump administration seems to be trying to find new ways to obstruct the process, which means it's all the more important that the truth come out.

So that was the object of this march, which occurred the day after Brigid's birthday, so my son Ian and I drove to Richmond to attend the march with Brigid and my other daughter Grace and then celebrate Brigid's birthday. Jon and Seamus were both working and couldn't come with us.

We walked from Brigid's house in the Oregon Hill neighborhood of Richmond, to the state capitol building. We got there late because I'm a protest veteran now and most of the speeches at the pre-march rallies are a lot of people all saying the same thing. They had a whole hour dedicated to speeches, but fifteen minutes was plenty. We ran into Tom Periello, formerly our congressman and now running for governor of Virginia. We all shook hands and I idiotically said, "It's nice to meet you Tom Periello."

Then we marched through downtown Richmond, shouting the usual anti-Trump slogans. My kids' favorite was, "We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!" At the end of the march, a lot of us stayed on Broad Street and shouteded our slogans at the passing traffic. Many drivers honked in solidarity. Go to Style Weekly for the full story - the kids and I are in the foreground of their picture!

We rested at Brigid's for a bit and ate birthday cake, and later went to The Black Sheep, one of our favorite restaurants in RVA. If you're ever in Richmond, I recommend it highly!

Getting ready to march

Brigid made this sign

Brigid with another protester with an earth-themed sign.

Brigid's cat, Binky, who enjoys wearing accessories.

The marches continue. Next weekend is the Equality March in Washington, with sister marches around the country, including one in Charlottesville. (And Buffalo too!) We have friends coming that day, so I might not make it. Anyone planning to march for equality?

(I promise that the next couple of posts will not be political!)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Last Day in Lisbon

We spent the morning shopping.  Overall we didn't buy very much, but the post-Christmas sales were irresistible. Brigid desperately needed a new winter coat, and we found a beautiful coat that was a good deal, even with the euro/dollar exchange and the 3% foreign transaction fee.  The other kids got a few little fashion doo-dahs and I bought myself a hand-painted tile depicting a tram and a sweet little pitcher.  I love its elegant shape and the cheerful blue and yellow flowers.

There are ceramics everywhere in Lisbon, but many are churned out for the mass market and did not appeal to me.  I bought my pottery at a little shop that has been making their own ceramics by hand since the 1700s. (She said smugly.)

Later, Seamus and Brigid and I walked to the Museu Art Antiga.  Here is some of what we saw.

I liked this statue, but neglected to write down which saint it is, thinking it would be obvious to me later.  Well, it wasn't.  Sorry.

A detail from The Temptation of St. Anthony by Hieronymous Bosch c. 1500

More from The Temptation of St. Anthony.  This was our favorite painting.

St. Jerome in his study by Albrecht Durer

All I remember about this painting is that it's a portrait of a sculptor.

Detail of a Persian carpet

Our landlady told us about a Tuesday flea market that's sort of a local secret.  It closed at 6:00pm.  At 5:00-ish, I glanced at my map and predicted that it would be a fifteen minute walk to the market.  Forty-five minutes later, we arrived, somewhat fretful, at the market, which was just shutting down.  Many of the tents were packed up already.  What we did see was piles of random junk--old cell phones, CDs--the sort of trash you wouldn't bother to garbage pick if it was out at the curb for free.  It reminded me of the Porta Portese market in Rome, which the guidebooks say is the ultimate flea market experience, and which turned out to be miles of tables on which were dumped made-in-China tee shirts and other items too downmarket for a bargain bin at Wal-mart.  Then there was the forty-five minute walk home.  The experience wasn't entirely a waste, as spotted the domed edifice that popped up in most views of the east side of Lisbon, but that I'd never been able to locate.  It's a church--I believe construction began in the 1700s, but the dome was not complete until the 1960s, so it has become a symbol of projects that take way too long to complete.  We didn't get any closer, because it was getting dark and we were tired.

For our last night, we went to our favorite restaurant--the one with the amazing tapas.  Mine was the lone vote for the other tapas place with the waiter who looks like Gael Garcia Bernal, but I was overruled.  

Speaking of restaurants, we saw the word "farta" associated with a few restaurants in the area, which made us giggle.  In Portuguese, it means abundance.

We have come to the end of the Lisbon tales.  With Ian and Brigid so grown up, this may be the last trip we'll ever take as a family, although all the kids have asked if we can go to California and see the giant redwoods, and I'm tempted to try to bring that off some day.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

In which Charlottesville tells racists to piss off

You may have seen Charlottesville in the news over the weekend. That nazi weenie, Richard Spencer, (a UVA alum) came to town to push his white supremacist agenda and protest the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in a local park. During the day, Spencer spoke to people who'd been bused here from as far as Ohio. His message is offensive, but we have freedom of assembly and the right to free speech in this country. Things got weird after dark, when they had a torchlight rally in the park.

Picture from Charlottesville's daily newspaper, the Daily Progress. Seriously, they're just missing their white hoods and a burning cross.

On Sunday, Jon got a text from our neighbor, about a second rally - a candlelight vigil to protest the white supremacists. We were told that news of this rally was to be spread by word of mouth, text, or email only. No social media sharing. Of course I had to attend, and I wondered just how many people would appear for an event that hadn't been officially advertised. Sunday nights in downtown Charlottesville are usually pretty quiet, but last night, lots of people were out on the street just before 9:00 pm, purposefully walking toward Lee Park. Of course it's hard to judge the size of a crowd when you're in it and it's dark, but I'd say we numbered in the hundreds. Many people brought their own candles and others were handing out candles to those of us who didn't think to bring one.

As with other protests I've been to in Charlottesville, I knew or recognized many in the crowd - people I know from work, our kids' schools, and our neighborhood. This was the real Charlottesville community unlike the bused-in alt-right crowd from Saturday.

Here are a few pictures that I took - obviously not great taken in the dark with a phone. I'm so glad that the Charlottesville community was able to get together and respond in this way to the white supremacists. And I'm grateful to our neighbor for letting us know about it.

The controversial statue in the background.

We definitely outnumbered the nazis.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Fifty Classics Project

Five years ago, I joined a blogger project which involved pledging to read fifty classic works of literature over the course of five years. My own five year deadline was in March, and I failed to meet the goal. What? But you read so much! I do read a lot, but my Fifty Classics list was separate from my main list, which I am super-obsessive about. I know it sounds crazy, but it was difficult for me to deviate from my master book list. Anyway, I did read almost all of the books, but eight are left unread. (Although of those, five were rereads, so I'm really just three books short.) Look at me, cheating on this no-consequence vanity project! "Classic" by the way was loosely defined for this project so you might not agree with some of my choices.

Here are the books I did manage to read:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I've seen this named as the greatest work of all literature. I struggled with it, I admit, although I bought what everyone says is the best translation. It was the war scenes that confused me.

The Virginians by William Makepeace Thackeray. It's been a long time, but I vaguely remember that this is about a young American man, during colonial times, trying to make his fortune in England and being roundly cheated by everyone. Or maybe I am confusing it with Henry Esmond?

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. A reread from my college days. Not sure I'm much more enlightened the second time around.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Grim, but I really liked it for some reason. Seamus is on a Faulkner kick lately and he liked it too.

Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner. Another reread. I just really am too stupid for Faulkner.

The Hamlet by William Faulkner. Better in the sense that I could at least follow the plot.

The Mansion by William Faulkner. Ditto.

Dead Souls by Gogol. A work colleague told me that this book is hilarious, but I didn't really see it. Too stupid for Gogol too, apparently.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  I got a bad translation and it read like a very dark British boys' boarding school book, in which characters say things like, "Jolly good!"

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A better translation this time. I rather enjoyed this story, but it's a major time commitment.

The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell. Boswell and Johnson were good friends and this book is as much a chronicle of a friendship as it is the life of Samuel Johnson. A must read if you want to have any pretense of being educated.

Yeats - The Autobiography. I was familiar with the poetry of William Butler Yeats, but not as familiar with his work in the theater or his major role in the revival of Irish literature. Having read it made a lot of what I saw in the Dublin Writers' Museum make sense.

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams. Great-grandson of John Adams, this is the autobiography of an American aristocrat. Very dry but affecting at times. We see eyewitness account of John Quincy Adams, described by a young child. Adams watched his sister die of tetanus. There is not a single mention of his wife, Clover Hooper Adams, who committed suicide in 1885. The famous Adams Monument in Rock Creek Cemetery was commissioned in her memory.

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf. What does a woman need to be a writer? To this day, it's hard for women to get away from their responsibilities to write.

The Red and the Black by Stendhal. I picked this one because in college, one of my professors made a joke about Stendhal that he apparently thought was uproariously funny and not a single person in the class got it. So the joke sank like a stone, but it inspired me to make a point of reading something by Stendhal. Still don't get the joke though.

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov. I vaguely remember this as a story about a college faculty member who has a lot of bad luck. I really can't stand Nabokov.

Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. I picked this because it was my Grandfather's professed all-time favorite book. This is a rollicking tale of four men and their adventures traveling around England. I loved it.

Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. I like travel literature - and I've read quite a bit from the Victorian era, but I thought this was unnecessarily nasty.

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Absorbing tale about Nicholas and Kate Nickleby and their struggles with their evil uncle. This was a reread from college and I appreciated it much more this time around. There are two really good film adaptations of this book.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. Didn't care for it. Read it only as a prerequisite to the horror novel Drood by Dan Simmons.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Another reread from college. I think this is my favorite of all Dickens' novels.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Creepy Victorian tale of a beautiful young woman whose life is nearly destroyed by her evil husband.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.  Another mildly creepy mystery. At times tedious, at others amusing.

Old Man Goriot by Honore de Balzac. Balzac was the other author mentioned in the joke about Stendhal that I didn't get. Not sure what's so funny. This book was super depressing.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Can you believe I'd never read these until now? A very readable collection of short stories.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Actually three novellas in one volume. A classic cozy book and the BBC adaptation with Eileen Atkins and Judi Dench is excellent.

Ulysses by James Joyce. I basically crammed this book into my head. But now I can hold my head up at the "Bloomsday" celebration in our pub. I dragged Jon all over Dublin, retracing Leopold Bloom's steps. He did not enjoy it.

The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford. I don't remember much, but something about an affair and a suicide.

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. Deeply cynical story of a marriage.

Point Counterpoint by Aldous Huxley. Somewhat difficult novel about arty intellectuals in England.

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth. Funny and obscene story of a Jewish man and his sexual angst.

The Diary of John Evelyn. John Evelyn was born in 1620 to a wealthy family. He lived through much of the upheaval in England in the 17th century.

A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne.

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. This is a reread, although why I read it even once, let alone twice is beyond me. It is funny, and Ian really likes it.

Framely Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. Picking up the Barsetshire series where I left off years ago. This is about a young clergyman who gets into serious and embarrassing financial trouble.

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope. A charming Victorian love story.

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope. A very morally upright clergyman is accused of theft. Possibly my favorite book in the series, although I really love them all.

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope. The first in the Palliser series.

Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope. Second book in the Palliser series.

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope. A reread and the third book in the Palliser series.

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope. Fourth book in the Palliser series.

These are the books I didn't get to:

The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope. Fifth book in the Palliser series. I just checked this one out of the library, so I'll be reading it soon.

The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope. Last book in the Palliser series.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A reread. I didn't like it all that much the first time, so I'm not sure why I added this one to the list. I don't think I'll bother with it.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. One of the Canadian boys I used to hang around with in the summer when I was in college really wanted me to read this, so I did and I loved it. I still have the paperback copy he gave me, but several of the pages fell out so I've never been able to reread it.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Another reread, and I loved the movie too.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Of course I've read this one before. A lot of people dislike this book, but I see Fanny as funny and shy, not priggish.

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. We read this in high school and I remember I really liked it, so wanted to reread.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Climate March and other things.

Another's weekend, another march. Actually, I'm disappointed that I opted to attend the local climate march in Charlottesville, rather than going to the one in Washington. I thought it would be too much to go up to D.C. two weekends in a row. Now I think it would have been worth it to have been a part of that crowd. I know the focus of this blog has gotten really political lately and I hope I'm not boring you. I won't rest until that motherfucker in the White House is behind bars.

Charlottesville Climate March

The Charlottesville march was well-attended, from what I could tell, although of a much smaller scale than the big city marches. This being Charlottesville, we were led by a group playing ukeleles, and we were taught three protest songs, which, once we were on the march, were abandoned for yelling "No More Oil, No More Coal, Keep Your Carbon in the Soil!" All the outdoor tables on the downtown mall were crowded with people eating lunch and who watched us march past, some approvingly, but some with bemusement or disdain. Whatever. It's not like there's a secret, clean planet for all the rich people to move to when the rest of us are screwed. We're all stuck with this mess and we ought to work together to fix it.

I took the opportunity to hang another yarn bomb downtown

This is the time of year when everything seems to be in fast forward mode. Seamus graduates from high school in a few weeks. He's not sure if he wants to attend the ceremony - my other kids skipped it - and he was absent the day that the kids were supposed to order their caps and gowns, although apparently there are extras we can buy. I don't care either way, I'm just really happy to permanently sever my association with the Charlottesville Public School System.

I know from past experience that the summer before you send a child off to college is a real ordeal. You must put aside prime summer real estate time to attend freshman orientation; you hemorrhage money, amassing the many, many things your child will need at school; and the child himself (or herself) tends to be surly, reckless, and moody. I've heard this is because they are afraid to leave home, so act out to the point that you are heartily glad not to have to see each other until parents' weekend (or Thanksgiving, even). At which point you have a joyful reunion and your child is a darling again.

Seamus applied to two colleges, George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He was accepted at both and plans to study political science and journalism. It was tough to decide between the two, but Seamus didn't like the vibe in Fairfax, and then VCU offered him a scholarship, so that settled it and he's off to Richmond in August. And here I want to give a shout out to my friend Not Beehive, whose witty comments you've probably read here. Her daughter is in Seamus' class at Charlottesville High and she was accepted into the engineering schools at the University of Virginia and - wait for it - Cornell! You go girl!

In addition to this, we're preparing for another massive go-live, "Epic, Phase 2" which means no time off for anyone in the health system for an interminable period, right in the middle of summer. My team, in addition to no vacation, will be working round-the-clock twelve hour shifts. I'm actually having what I think is a PTSD-type flashback to the horrors of working day/night rotating shifts as an acute care nurse. I predict two weeks of constant weeping and erratic behavior. So anyway, no vacation for us, but I did manage to schedule Seamus' orientation after the PTO block out. There are going to be a hell of a lot of cranky people in Charlottesville in June and July, so watch out.

Monday, April 24, 2017

March for Science

I saw a lot of brilliant, creative signs at the march,
but this one succinctly summed up my own feelings.

On Saturday, I attended the March for Science in Washington D.C. This march was intended for scientists, but also "science enthusiasts." I'm an analyst which is similar to a scientist, only we work with data and not the natural world. Anyway, it's not like you had to show your science cred to participate, although it was clear that many, many people at the march were genuine scientists.

Originally, three of my children were going to go with me, but for various reasons, had to cancel. That was OK because I had plans to meet with a friend who was traveling down to the march from Pennsylvania. Brigid made this fantastic sign for me out of an old shower curtain. "Mama" = Mother Earth.

I rode up on a bus full of other marchers and when we arrived and parked at RFK Stadium, I set off alone on the three and a half mile walk to the Washington Monument. It was a nice walk and, as at the Women's March, many of the houses along the way had pro-immigration, anti-racist, and anti-Trump signs displayed in their yards or windows. Trump seems to be deeply unpopular in Washington. 

One of the signs I liked - Approaching the security checkpoint.

The crowd swelled as I approached the monument and we were all funneled through a security checkpoint for a bag search. Once through security, the crowd was very tightly packed, and it had started to rain. I draped my handy waterproof banner over my back like a cloak, and it did a good job of keeping me dry, but people kept stepping on it, and the wetter it got, the harder it was to hold around myself. Then I realized that the ink was running off and my fingernails were black, so I reluctantly folded it up and carried it in one hand. 

Selfie with Shower Curtain

It was, I have to admit, intensely uncomfortable. The rain was lashing down now and it was cold and muddy, with medieval-grade filth in a wide margin all around the portapotties. (Which were, I was pleased to note, "Don's Johns" - the same used at the inauguration and about which Trump insisted that the word Don be covered up.) I stood on a manhole cover - a tiny island in the mud, while my friend and I kept missing eachother's texts and my brain began another weary round of depression thoughts. What a stupid and useless person I must be, not to be able to manage a shower curtain and an iphone simultaneously in the pouring rain. 

We cared enough to brave these muddy conditions

Rain lashing down. Mine wasn't the only sign with runny ink.
(Actually, I saw another sign that said, "Now I AM a mad scientist.")

But then my friend Laura and her daughter and their friend found me on my manhole cover island and things were better after that. It was still raining and freezing, but it was nice to be together. The first part of the event was a rally with speeches and music. (I arrived just in time to hear Bill Nye speak!) At 2:00pm, the actual march started, in which we would all walk to the Capitol Building. We were eager to march, if only because moving might help us warm up a bit. The entire rally area was fenced off, with the only exit through the narrow security checkpoint. Luckily, someone realized that this wasn't a good situation and took away some of the fencing and we all poured out into the street. The crowd was so dense, that after the initial surge, we stood at a standstill for quite a long time. The rain cleared for a bit, but then started again.

Here are a few pictures I took - the conditions for photography were terrible.

Crowd density during the march

Above is my friend Laura's daughter's sign. It perfectly captures what I wish politicians would understand. Climate change trumps everything! If we don't have a planet, we have nothing. Do jerks like Trump really not care that they are destroying life for future generations? Is it really worth it to sacrifice the lives of billions of people so that a tiny few can get rich? This shortsightedness for the sake of instant gratification is truly baffling to me. And, and, let's just say that climate change isn't caused by human behavior? Even if that were true, WHERE IS THE HARM IN REDUCING EMISSIONS AND INVESTING IN GREEN ENERGY? It could be an economic boom, I DON'T understand the resistance to it.

Steminist - very nice

Eventually we started moving and marched our way up to the Capitol, where the march ended. The program suggested that everyone would "peacefully disperse" at the end of the march, which is more or less what happened, although a lot of people stuck around to take pictures. On a tree near the Capitol Reflecting Pool, Laura and I hung a yarnbomb I'd made for the occasion. It was gratifying to step away from the tree and immediately see a group of people notice it and take pictures.

Impeach Trump

Laura took this picture of me at the end of the march.
Nice capture of the random Buffalo Bills poncho! Go Buffalo!

My bus wasn't scheduled to leave Washington until 7:00 PM, so I had three hours to kill. We walked in the general direction of RFK stadium and stopped in a burrito place. I'd eaten nothing since 6:00 am. It was so good to get out of the cold and sit down! The actual air temperature wasn't really all that cold - upper forties or low fifties - but when you are soaking wet from head to toe in fifty degree weather for over five hours, you are very cold indeed. My hands and arms were so cold and wet I was unable to unzip my jacket, could barely pick up a pen to sign the receipt for my meal, and was unable to sign my name but managed a sort of scrawl. But the food was delicious and the warm bowl returned the function to my hands. I dug into my bag for the sweater I'd packed and found it buried under the wet and inky shower curtain I'd stuffed into the bag and carried all over town. Laura's bus left at 5:00, so they said good bye. I found a cozy coffee shop on North Carolina Ave and waited there with a latte until it was time to get my bus.

Despite the rain and discomfort, I'm glad I attended the March for Science. If a march has a good turnout, it sends the message to our elected representatives that the people are serious about this issue. I read here that the estimated attendance at the DC march was 40,000 people. That's a lot of people who were willing to give up their Saturday and endure being cold and wet for the sake of humanity and the sake of our planet. Without science, we are doomed.

Did any of you make it to your local march, or the one in DC? Anyone have plans to attend the Climate March this Saturday? (I'm not, it's a bit much for me to go to DC two weekends in a row, but if there's a sister climate march in Charlottesville, I'll go to it.)

Monday, April 17, 2017

last week

Last week was terrible. So terrible that on Tuesday, when I went upstairs after work to put my things away, and discovered that flying ants were swarming all over the windows in one of the bedrooms, I just shrugged and decided to deal with it later. And then just went about my business, with ants swarming everywhere. And here is the thing: the ant swarm was only the third-worst thing to happen to me that week AND IT WAS ONLY TUESDAY.

On Tuesdays I go to a support group thing, so I went to that and left the ants to themselves. I told my support group about the worst worst thing and I'd meant to mention the ants, sort of as a humorous icebreaker, but I'd completely forgotten about them by that time. And when I got home, most of the ants had gone back to the nest. There were a few stragglers that I sprayed with Raid. I had, at least, remembered to go to Wegmans for ant spray, and also spent a fair amount of time browsing in the kitchen and dining aisles because that's what I do when I'm upset now. It is soothing to peruse kitchen linens in cheerful colors and clever gadgets and lovely unstained cutting boards.

Anyway, this is not my first rodeo with flying ants. Jon and I have lived in a number of sketchy rentals in our time and have had encounters with all kinds of pests. And in this case, the ants haven't reappeared, but I suppose they are lurking - there's no way my halfhearted spraying could have killed them all.  We'll have to hire an exterminator which will be a nuisance. Only now we're about to be at war with North Korea and maybe also Germany and Australia and whoever else Trump decides to insult today, so the ants and I are both doomed.

This post isn't really going anywhere. I wrote it because it struck me that if a flying ant swarm in your house ranks low on your list of problems, then it should be recorded. That's all. I hope your lives are going as well as possible, considering we're all living under an emotionally abusive dictator who possesses only animal intelligence and has no impulse control. Here's to a better week.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Table for One

Last week, Jon, Ian, and Seamus went on an all-boys trip to Colorado; staying in Boulder as a base and hiking in the mountains every day. Meanwhile the girls went up to Buffalo to visit family and see a comedian they really like. (Joe Rogan.) So I was the only Bartels in Virginia for the week.

I won't bore you with the details of my cleaning spree - although I did empty, clean, and paint this little cupboard in my kitchen. I got the inspiration from bruktogblandet - a Swedish instagram account that I follow.  I just used leftover paint that I already had on hand. I follow so many home-focused Swedish instagram accounts, I'm starting to feel like I should learn Swedish.

Hasn't been painted in sixteen years

After - also freshly painted white on the inside

The Inspiration:
I was without a car for the week, which was fine, although my commute to and from work was a long three mile walk each way. (Usually, I drive partway there and walk the last mile.) Since my bike accident last year, I can't face cycling. One day I was lazy and took an uber to get home. I also took Thursday and Friday off from work, so I could have a little spring break too.

I spent my evenings watching Suffragette. It has a great cast, with some of my favorites like Helena Bonham-Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne Marie Duff, Romola Garai, and Carey Mulligan. I encourage you to watch it too, although it's an uncomfortable film and it will make you very angry and determined to smash the patriarchy for good. In light of Trump and the things he says, and the way a bunch of old white men sit around deciding women's health care, men's attitudes to women haven't changed at all since 1910.

One major bummer - I'd booked an appointment for a hair cut and highlights on Friday. I waited nearly two months for this appointment and my hair looks awful, so I was really looking forward to it. When I arrived, my stylist wasn't there and the other people working there told me he was on vacation on Puerto Rico. Honestly, it's pretty shitty to book a vacation and not take care to check your schedule and notify your clients. I walked home, fuming, and called him and left a voicemail about the mixup. I wasn't rude, and even gave him an out, suggesting that the scheduling website that he uses had something wrong with it. He texted me to apologize and told me to let him know if I had trouble scheduling another appointment. Oh, so I'm supposed to again go through the scheduling site that you apparently ignore and "let you know" if I have difficulty?  This is a guy who insists on a full 24-hours notice if you want to cancel your appointment with him and not get charged. So I'm in the market for a new hair stylist.

I know it's small and petty to be upset about a thing like that, in the context of people being killed in chemical attacks in Syria. My head has not been in a good place lately. OF COURSE, as soon as I write a post about how citalopram and a sun lamp cured my depression, I find myself depressed again. I don't want to increase my meds, so I'm going to hold out hope that I'll feel better once terrible April is over. At least I'm not quite as bad as I was last year.

The walk to the hairdresser wasn't a total waste of time because I hung up this yarn bomb on the way there. This is the "downtown" section of my neighborhood, full of restaurants and busy with tourists and locals every evening, so  lot of people will see it.

I also hung this one on my walk to work one day

I didn't want to end the day (my last day of solitude as the boys were on their way home) on a sour note, so I took myself out to dinner, to Mas, our favorite restaurant in Cville. This is a very popular, busy, and fashionable restaurant  In my depressed state, it was difficult to do this, but I also didn't want to sit at home and wallow in misery. (Maybe the citalopram is still working after all. The pre-citalopram me would have done exactly that.)

My slattern hair and I walked boldly into the restaurant and found a spot at the bar. By the time I'd drunk a quarter of my margarita, I started to feel better and had a lovely dinner of two tapas dishes: the pork empanada that is always sold out when Jon and I come here for dinner (I ate early, so it was still available) and one of my favorite dishes in all of Charlottesville: the brioche slice, sizzling in a tiny cast iron skillet and covered with manchego cheese and lovely vanilla-perfumed apricot jam. I was lucky because it's not on the menu every night, and even when we do order it, I have to share it and only get a couple of bites. It was nice having the whole thing to myself.

Yummy yummy brioche

I did feel like an oddity though, a woman alone at dinner. I have no trouble eating lunch or breakfast alone, or even dinner alone when I'm traveling, but I feel really conspicuous and out of place in a local restaurant. Like, I have no business taking up a bar stool or wasting a server's time when I'm alone. Do you feel that way, or can you take yourself out to dinner with ease?