Thursday, June 29, 2017

More Family News

What with our youngest graduating from high school and going away to school, and becoming bona fide empty nesters, this is a summer of change. Another big change is that my daughter Brigid is moving to New Orleans! She's been in Richmond since graduating from the art school at VCU, teaching at a community art center and also working in a thrift store. Now she has sold her belongings and is moving down there on the train with two suitcases and a bicycle. She has a place to live - a shotgun house in Mid City, with a friend who needed another roommate - but she'll need to find a job.

I had concerns, but Brigid has used her previous semester abroad to shut them down.

Me: But, I think New Orleans has a lot of crime.
Brigid: Mom, I lived in Cape Town.
Me: But it's so hot!
Brigid: Mom, I lived in Africa.
Me: But it's a 24-hour train ride!
Brigid: Mom, it was an 18-hour flight to Cape Town

And if you'll bear with me for sharing past trauma once again, imagine, if you will, sending your daughter across the world by herself. You use an app to track her long flight down the length of the globe from Amsterdam to Cape Town and you know the moment she has landed. And then, imagine that your first contact with your daughter, shortly after landing, is a photo sent via Instagram, of a swollen and slightly bloody arm with the caption, "I threw up nearly 30 times and had to get an IV on the plane." And then RADIO SILENCE FOR HOURS.

I emailed the director of the study abroad program at University of Cape Town, and he responded to say that Brigid had arrived at the school safely, but was very unwell and they were taking her to the hospital. This was my worst fear - something I'd been obsessing over for months prior to departure - that Brigid would get sick in Cape Town and need to be hospitalized. And now, on the very first day, my worst fear was realized!

Slowly, via email, the full story came out. Brigid had gotten ill on the flight. It was one of those situations where the flight crew have to ask if there is a doctor on the plane. There was a passenger who happened to be a pediatrician and he started an IV on Brigid. (I don't know his identity, but I thank him from the bottom of my heart.) I learned that planes are stocked with IV fluids but the crew isn't trained to administer them, so they have to rely on passenger help. After spending a day in a Cape Town ER, getting more IV fluids, Brigid recovered. Incidentally, I had been worried about the cost of healthcare, although we had purchased a travel health insurance plan. In the end, a day in the ER with IV fluids and nursing care cost about $110. Brigid was able to pay for the visit with cash. When I traveled to Cape Town myself, to visit, I packed my suitcase with a veritable pharmacy of anti-nausea meds for Brigid's flight home.

So the point of telling you all this is that compared to Cape Town (and her other solo trip overseas, to work in Switzerland for a summer) the move to NOLA isn't nearly as scary. I'm quite excited for her, actually. And now, New Orleans has moved up the travel bucket list, from "a place I'd like to visit someday" to "must visit ASAP."

The whole family. The extra boy in the middle is Grace's boyfriend.


On Sunday, we all went to Richmond for a good-bye gathering. It's uncommon for all six of us to be together and we had a really lovely evening. We hung out at Brigid's house, where she and her roommate were finishing up their yard sale and then we went out for dinner and walked to the Oregon Hill overlook to take pictures.



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.