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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

We went to Charleston (to Bob's house), ate probably a quarter of a cow's worth of steak, and Nate gave his wife a brace of dueling pistols with walnut grips as her Christmas present. A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Skating Through

I went ice-skating this evening for the first time in years. Lots of fun, once I got the right size boots--I even remembered a bit of backwards technique, but not how to stop, so I had to settle for decelerating in circles. Fell down only a few times, and then not in full career--I've had lots of practice falling, so I didn't hurt myself.

Stopped at home for only an hour yesterday on my journey from Mebane, NC, to Macon, GA--long enough to dry a load of still-damp clean clothes (thank you, Paxifist!) and change vehicles. Mums and I were in Macon by 6 PM, where my aunt had the curb, the driveway and the sidewalk lined with luminaries. My brother Nate and his wife, Alexandra, had driven my grandparents from Dublin--they'd arrived much later than planned, because Nate had had to do a major plumbing repair on Grandmommy's kitchen sink before they left, involving the replacement of more than 15 feet of almost wholly clogged cast-iron pipe with new, larger plastic. He'd spent hours crawling underneath the house, first trying to snake the drain, then tracing the extent of the problem. My brother is amazing--like Daddy, he can do anything around the house, and do it well. The sink drains better now than it has in over a decade. Grandmommy said, "Nate was such a blessing to us." Yes, he is--and those years working as a plumber and carpenter in Atlanta certainly weren't wasted! Granddaddy, ever the packrat, claims that the broken metal pipes lying in the yard can be re-used, "they just need to have the sand flushed out of them." It's not sand (I inspected them)--it's sludge the consistency of concrete, and there's no way to budge it (the opening through which the water was slowly draining was the diameter of a pencil, the muck having closed off the rest of the 2-inch pipe during its 50 years of use). I hope my uncle manages to get the junk to the dump before Granddaddy hatches some other salvage plan.

Granddaddy had an excellent time at my aunt's Christmas party--he teased the young folks and repeatedly stole (or attempted to steal) my cousin's wife's Santa hat. Grandmommy held her newest great-grandbaby, the much-cooed over little Edward, who slept through all the festivities. I got buttonholed by the father-in-law of an in-law, a horticulturalist with Asberger's, who proceeded to tell me all about edible plants, including a variety of Biblical gourd, that can be grown in areas averaging less than 10 inches of rainfall per year. After the party, Mums and I drove Grandmommy and Granddaddy back to Dublin, and we all retired to bed once Grandmommy had showed off her Christmas cactus (a present from my Boston aunt), and the three-foot-tall tree in the living room, decorated with handmade ornaments, colored lights, and a white floss and paper angel that has perched atop every tree in the house for the past half-century.

This morning, Granddaddy was thoroughly confused. He was convinced that Nate and Alexandra, the visitors of the day before, had been his old shipmate and his wife from Minnesota, and kept asking why they'd had to leave, if they'd said goodbye. The shipmate in question has now been dead about five years--a sweet man, whom I enjoyed getting to know at one of the last USS Portland reunions Granddaddy and Grandmommy attended, in Dallas, TX, about ten years ago. I don't think Nate resembles the old fellow in the least, but Granddaddy was sure that he'd been there.

Grandmommy says, rightly, that God's been giving her a lot of strength to deal with Granddaddy's confused spells, and that the anti-depressants he has been prescribed have been a Godsend--Granddaddy used to get very upset when she'd try to explain how things actually were, but now he takes it with a general good-humor, joking, like he did this morning, "It's not me that's confused, it's everybody else that's confused!" I just hug him and tell him I love him. Frequently, the vague spells will be interpolated with episodes of complete mental clarity, and it's disconcerting--is it just strong patterns re-asserting themselves, or has everything actually clicked into place? At age 93 (Granddaddy's birthday was this past Saturday), he's earned the right to be spacey, but it's tough to witness someone you love losing their marbles, even if they themselves are a whole lot less miserable about it than they were when the symptoms manifested at first. Physically, he is still in great shape, which sometimes makes the problem harder to handle, because he thinks he can do what he's always done--change the oil in the car, for instance, though he loses track of what he's doing half-way through the process (which resulted in having to have a wrecker tow the leaking vehicle to a service station recently for $200 worth of repairs). Grandmommy is awesome--she said today that she knows that other people have it a whole lot worse, that she is so grateful for the people who call, particularly those relatives that have had to deal with similar issues in Granddaddy's siblings.

I am really grateful to God for my family--we've all got our handicaps, but they are a relationally solid bunch, sticking close when the going gets tough. And ready to identify and fix the problem when it's something correctable, like when old pipes get clogged.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Vivid, Sugar-Fueled Prose in the Offing...But What About the Cons?

Dex loved my baklava, but he misattributed it (emailing BOTH Susan and me with thanks) and so a marriage proposal to yours truly was not forthcoming. Darn. I have told him that if he drives over from Atlanta to see me during Christmas break, I will make him his own personal panful, but I'm not holding my breath. I do need someone to go see Sherlock Holmes with, too. Perhaps I can bribe someone else into accompanying me--there are other men willing to squire a girl to the cinema in exchange for sweets.

Am spending tonight with Paxifist and Deacon Paul, since my best efforts to get out of town, and away from the sixteen inches of snow that fell over the weekend on Arlington, were insufficient to pull my car out from under its personal snowbank and up the icy hill that is Calvert Street and through the rush hour-level interstate traffic which crawled along at 35 mph for hours on end. After 7 hours in the car this afternoon, I decided that turning in at Mebane (rather than spending another 6 hours driving on to Augusta), was the prudent choice.

I am sugared out. Not only have I eaten a goodly amount of the two panfuls of baklava that I made for Saturday's blizzarded-out Christmas party, today I have also dined on cookies (Paxifist had a plateful waiting for me) and spooned in a peppermint Blizzard acquired from a Richmond-area Dairy Queen. Gack. But yummy, all the same. If I were prone to diabetes, I'd be in a coma right now.

Susan and Steven and I had confirmed via eVite over 24 people for our holiday soiree on Saturday. And then the snow began falling. And kept falling. And then the Metro shut down, the roads became impassible, and we had to change the venue. The guest list shrank to seven as everyone not within a few hundred yards was snowed in. Everyone, that is, except the NPV, who proved his Michigan-born chops by showing up a bit tardily, clad in rugged snow boots and a sense of Yukon-mountain-man accomplishment, having trekked all the way from Vienna, VA, digging out stranded motorists along the way.

Sunday evening we had a sort of second party, as some of the guests who'd been unable to make the previous evening's cosy festivities came to help us eat the salmon and shrimp which had been marooned at Steven's apartment on Saturday. He and Susan sauteed the shrimp in champagne and cream and ladled it over pasta, cooked the salmon in some delicious combination of honey and dill and shredded it onto toasted baguette rounds topped with a thin layer of cream cheese, and did something else ingenious with a vegetable. We had (more) baklava and homemade pumpkin pie for dessert.

The Foreign Service Exam is coming up at the end of February. I have two months in which to cram an incredible amount of preparatory studying. Deacon Paul has lent me a book on life in the Foreign Service and the thirteen basic parameters on which applicants are judged. Thirteen HAS always been my lucky number!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sweet Tooth, Books and Headache

I had one of the worst migraines of my life last night. I thought I'd just eaten something that had disagreed with me, as I got more and more nauseated as the afternoon wore on, but this turned out to be presage of a headache. Before I left work (30 minutes early, after only 8.5 hours of sales), I was in the bathroom genuflecting before the porcelain god, puking up bile. Lovely image, I know. Gosh, it was nasty--I haven't felt that bad in ages. I would cheerfully have trepanned myself if that would have done any good, besides ripping my hair out in handfuls. Took two extra-strength Advil (I would also have eaten poisonous caterpillars if someone had told me they'd get rid of the pain). It was at or below freezing outside, but I knew I had to be alert enough to drive myself home, so on a coworker's advice I rolled down my window. The motor gave out--the pane wouldn't rise more than an inch from its pocket, no matter how I hauled on and coaxed it. So, willy-nilly, I had some impressive windchill the half-hour commute home. My face was numb, but the good result was I was no longer barfy. In bed by 8 PM, dead asleep for 14 hours. No nausea or headache today. I feel great.

I had a game-night with Olivia, her roommate, and the NPV on Wednesday--we played Carcassone again and this time I got trounced, deliberately. [Just you wait, Henry 'iggins!] Having returned The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (a justifiably lesser-known Douglas Adams) I borrowed another of Olivia's book collection--the Evelyn Waugh newspapering satire Scoop, which I finished this morning. Amusing, in a mild, genteel way--having cut my teeth on P.J. O'Rourke, I found it less side-splitting than a previous generation may have, though still worth a read. The NPV recommended Waugh's Black Mischief, which is next on my reading list, sometime after I finish the second Mark Cohen mystery Bluetick Revenge, the sequel to the Fractal Murders, which has proved excellent for distraction when I am spending an hour on the incline-trainer at the gym. Mums sent me a copy of David King's new Red Star Over Russia, which I also read this morning, which explains why I am so behind-hand with my to-do-list for today.

My sweet-tooth should be satisfied, somewhat, starting this evening, when I put together a pan of homemade baklava for Susan's, Steven's and my Christmas party tomorrow night. I do hope that I get to go to the market tomorrow, but the forecast is currently calling for almost a foot of snow between now and then...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Annum Horribilis?

Mums surgery on Wednesday went well, and she was home from the hospital by Friday evening, crediting her early release to the diligent application of makeup--if a woman puts on lipstick, she always looks better.

Tuesday I started my new part-time job up in Bethesda. Wednesday I had the all-day show at the Episcopal Day School, then Thursday I was back in Bethesda again, and Friday, when I was only supposed to work from noon until 4 PM, I actually ended up working until 1:10 AM Saturday morning--thirteen straight hours. On Thursday, Rachel, my boss, had advertised the half a houseful of contemporary (some handmade, all expensive) furniture and accent pieces that we were to receive via movers at 3 PM Friday, and we'd been fielding calls and drop-in shoppers since the moment the ad appeared in the Washington Post, assuring them that it would be on the floor and priced at the moment we opened at 11 AM Saturday morning. Well, 3 PM came and went, and no movers. Rachel called the consignor--a widower in his 40s whose late wife had decorated their mansion (he couldn't bear to live in the house anymore, had moved into an apartment, and was consigning all the furniture)--and he'd gotten the dates mixed. Panic and prayer ensued, and the movers agreed (thank God!) to reschedule for later in the evening. Beltway traffic at rush hour is infamous, and the truck hit it full-on. Rachel, her boyfriend, the only other employee who could stay late and I went out for dinner and were back in plenty of time to clear the rest of the available floorspace for the load on the truck, which didn't arrive until 8:30 PM. Rachel's boyfriend had to leave about 9 PM, and we three women were shifting furniture, handing mirrors, rearranging lamps and carpets and so forth until well after midnight. I left at 1:10 AM, knowing that it would take me at least half an hour to drive home, and that I had to get up at 7:15 in order to make it to the market on time.

A sadness of the evening was when the consignor was helping us to unpack, and discovered that the dresser he was selling was still full of his wife's things--Coach purses, silk scarves and gloves. He started to cry. It was awful. Poor, poor man. To be in your forties and to have lost your spouse, someone you had simply expected would be with you into old age, is dreadful, but perhaps no more dreadful than any other great sorrow that comes to us frail human beings. Two of Anita's closest friends lost their fathers to heart attacks in the last two weeks--one was raking leaves in his Charlottesville, VA, back yard, the other was at home in Armenia. I hate death and loss, illness and debilitation.

And, selfishly, I hate the pending loss of Susan as my roommate. Steven wants to marry her this coming summer, and however much I approve of him, and am happy for the two of them, I am already suffering spells of desperate loneliness as I anticipate her departure. I had hoped that I would not be left by myself, and though I knew that sooner or later some fellow would recognize her excellent qualities (they couldn't all be clueless, I reasoned aright), I had prayed, in my own grasping way, that it wouldn't be until I was somehow getting settled, too. And here I am, as the song says, again on my own, in a peculiar limbo, and in the midst of a flare-up of my OCD, unsure where I am going to be in the next six months, whether I should stay in DC at all, what would be best and healthiest, given my shaky emotional condition and my just slightly improved financial state.

This year has been a series of blows, none fatal, but all painful and disorienting: from Mums' illness, chemotherapy and surgeries to my joblessness, my father's fatigue, my grandfather's deterioration and Grandmommy's concern over him, my misplacement of my affections, the confusion over my scholastic future, my worry about the strength of the marital relationships of my friends. I feel like I've been reeling from assaults on my temporal foundations, that I haven't learned as much spiritually from the process as I might have. I am sorely in need of encouragement. If I had a husband or boyfriend, I think I would be spending most of my time curled up in his arms, saying only "hold me," else not speaking. Is a man willing to do this, or is this also a fantasy? I'm not sure I could bear right now to think that it is. It would be grand to have someone who would be willing to pray for you, but otherwise shut up and not give useless advice--sometimes, just sitting, patting someone's back and listening to her is the best of love's gifts.

I'm starting to get teary again, and the library is going to close in 20 minutes. Gold's Gym closes at 8 PM on Sundays, so I can't exercise like I wanted to. I'm reading Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita for the first time and thoroughly enjoying it--it's perfect for the 1:15 commute on the Metro to Bethesda.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Indigo Knees and Cold Daylight

I woke up at 3:43 AM, and couldn't get back to sleep this morning, so I worked on my computer for two hours (I HATE not having Internet access at home--I would have kept on, but there were things to do that required a web connection to complete), then dressed and walked to school while dawn broke. I'm starting to make a habit of this earlybirdyness, and it's disturbing, because my nightowledness has not disappeared accordingly. So (except for this weekend, when I was making up for my last week's mad work), I've been averaging about 4-5 hours rest a night, when I am, as I told my brother when we were heading across country on 6-7 hours a night, "an 8-10 hour girl" (to which he responded, "no, you're a 12-14 hour girl." But, I digress.) Thus, I'm sitting in the window of the Saxby's coffee shop two blocks from the Georgetown front gate and sipping a gigantic skim chai latte and eating an apple fritter. It's a treat, and they have a five-bar open wireless connection. The icy outside air is cooling my sweater-clad back, and my insides are warm from the tea--a surprisingly pleasant sensation-combination.

Two trips to Augusta ago, I went shopping with my mother. I hate shopping, but this excursion was mercifully short and successful. Because (at least prior to the consumption of today's apple fritter) my gym-use has paid off by trimming my tail, I was able to find three pairs of jeans that fit. Three! We were at Ross, so none was priced at more than $20, and then of course it was Senior Citizen Discount Day, so Mums got an extra 5 or 10% off. However long I spend at the gym, it will never affect my height, and jeans-designers must think all women are 6', instead of my proved-average 5'4", so all three pairs were way long. I got them hemmed at a local cleaners' in DC, and now they are perfect. But one is colored with natural indigo dye, and this had an unusual effect on my person.

Readers all have figured out that I am quite uncoordinated, frequently falling down, tripping over obstacles, dropping things. This has happened on such a regular basis throughout my life that nowadays I don't even notice when it happens, or not to remember it for more than a few minutes, til the initial throbbing and/or bleeding stops. So when I was getting undressed for my evening shower, I thought at first I'd bruised my knees. But they were blue all over, and so uniformly. Took me a second, but then I realized that my knees were indigoed from the jeans. It was something of a relief.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Mad (and Madly Successful) Week

I worked more than 50 hours in four days at Georgetown this week, hosting the Sixth Annual Phi Alpha Theta Arts and Crafts Sale. In contrast to previous years, it started slowly (for Georgetown--what would be spectacular for everywhere else on the planet) and then picked up pace day by day. Friday, when I was alone staffing the table, people were literally waving money at me because I was so overwhelmed by customers. So, though cumulative sales were more modest than in previous years (this despite an extra day), the overall effect was a happy one, and I was pleased and tired out all at once. Thank God it rained/snowed Saturday, because I needed time to recover.

This week I start my new part-time sales job at a gallery up in Bethesda--it's pretty much full-time for the holiday, and then drops back to more friendly-to-full-time-dissertation-research hours in January. I'm happy to have even minimum-wage work--not being able to afford to feed myself was getting tiresome. And the environment is pleasant, the mean age of the other salespeople 75, and the prospects for continuing to sell my own jewelry designs through the store good (they just sent me a check for four pairs of earrings vended in the last month). Maybe I'll also have time to wander the area (full of trendy little boutiques) and find other willing retail outlets.

Wednesday is an all-day (8 AM to 8 PM) show at St. Clement's, an Episcopal day school in Alexandria--my friend Leah (who helped me all Thursday a Georgetown) set up this gig as a fundraiser for her son's school. I've got to replenish my earring supply between now and then, as Friday's customers thinned my inventory considerably. And there's a couple of necklaces that I've been dreaming of making--one with multicolored pearls and Swarovski crystals is twinkling seductively in my mind's eye.

So, I'm crazy busy. No word yet from literary agents. I'm editing (for $$) a fellow grad student's paper.