Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fixing Up The Place To Sell

It's 4 AM and I am still in Augusta. I slept for three hours after we returned from dinner last night by way of the storage locker where Mums has been putting what little furniture remains to her (her condo is half the size of the house she is leaving), then popped awake. My brother just got up, and is driving back to Charleston in these wee hours, going to work, and then returning here this evening after he does laundry and takes a nap. I intend to drive to DC today with the "big wugga-wugga truck" (as I refer to Daddy's diesel), which is packed with the next-to-last load of my worldly possessions, those which are too big to fit into my amazing expanding Honda (so my friends claim, having seen how much I can stuff into it). Susan and Alan have invited me over for New Years, and I'd like to spend a couple of days straightening my apartment around these last pieces of furniture before turning around and heading back South to help Mums with further household fix-up chores.

Holy cow at the chores. My fingertips are raw from five hours of rubbing oiled steel wool over brass doorknobs, locks and handles, all of which were grossly tarnished and corroded from 26 years of exposure to the elements. The four or five real estate agents that Mums consulted (separately, so as to compare and contrast their recommendations for spiffing up the house to appeal to potential buyers) agreed that new locks ought to be installed, and so at great expense she had bought new ones and had them re-keyed. When my brother went to install them Tuesday night, however, he found that the maker had changed the design just slightly, yet significantly enough that the new locks wouldn't fit in the preexisting holes in the doors. After much tinkering, jiggling, swearing, and several trips to area hardware stores, it was determined that the best solution to this (latest) setback in house-prep was painstakingly polishing the old fixtures, and praying that the useless new ones could be returned to the store whence they came. Hence, both Bob and I were elbow-deep in teak oil, gun oil, metal polish, steel wool, and Dremel tool bits for hours. I've still got grey crud under my nails, despite two good showers.

The house has been repainted. A day or so after the painter left, a plumber and his apprentice arrived to fix a couple of irritating bathroom issues and install new faucets in the kitchen and laundry room. I overheard the senior man telling his acolyte that one had to sing or hum when installing faucets so they didn't develop leaks. He must not have chosen the right tune, because yesterday Mums found damp under the sink--they're going to have to come back to touch up the job. Purely coincidentally, after the plumbers left, the toilet in another bathroom upstairs started leaking, and the water made a spot on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom, which means that not only will this be the third visit the plumbers have made in eight days, but also the ceiling has to be painted for the second time in ten!

This task will be done by the fellow who's been working on the outdoor paintwork (just the front porch and the doors--thank God the exterior is brick!). This fellow is a part-time firefighter and full-time good ol' boy who occasionally says, "I'm not trying to be a smart-butt." Given his Southern accent (even stronger than mine), he sits on the second part of the sanitized term, dividing it into semi-detached halves, like a Parker House roll: buh-uht. Does a great job painting, and can talk the hind legs off a billy goat.

Besides the painting, the plumbing, and the polishing, I've been caulking, cleaning, and drilling. The new hardware for the bathroom cabinets didn't fit exactly (never does, does it?), and so we had to fill, sand and paint over the old holes before installing the new hinges. I had to painstakingly grind out cracked grout from between bathroom and laundry room tiles--I am so glad Dremel makes an attachment for this!--so that Mums can re-grout. My brother put up new ceiling fans in the bedrooms, installed light fixtures in the bathrooms, and re-wired several things that Mums and I were just too frustrated to attempt. And let's not even mention the face-plates for the switches and plugs--those took a full day to re-attach all over the house.

There's still a lot to do--the cabinet doors still haven't been reinstalled, one of the fans in the bathrooms is making a loud noise, and the hardwood floors need buffing, and other such matters--but I think even Mums would agree that we have made a tremendous amount of progress and that the end of our work is in sight. We plan to list the house by February 1, and God willing, it will sell promptly. Mums' condo is framed (they poured the foundation ten days ago, and already have the bones of the building in place) and seems to be on target for its scheduled completion date of April 1. And then come the inevitable new house settling-in quirks!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Cat Contemplations

We spent Christmas Day with Grandmommy in middle Georgia. There were only five of us, and three dogs, who were sequestered on the (heated) back porch when not being allowed out to frolic in the fenced-in backyard. There were no decorations—Grandmommy, who used to change out even her curtains for Christmas-themed ones, didn’t have so much as a wreath on the door—and the mood was unusually subdued. There was good food to eat, and plenty, as is normal for any Grandmommy visit, but the loss of both Daddy and Granddaddy sat with us at the table and sapped the already gray day of any holiday zest.

After lunch, my sweet sister-in-law, Isabelle, and I sat down to pour over the text of the children’s book I composed about the first adventures of a Russian kitten (I hope that we will produce an entire series centered on his character, but we’re just in the early stages now!) and decide on the number and contents of the illustrations she is creating to go with my story. Isabelle is a fantastic artist—she’s getting a Fine Arts degree from a school in Atlanta, and her ink drawings are among the best I’ve seen. And I am particular, really something of a snob when it comes to the visual arts. We’re considering self-publishing the book (high-quality—maybe contracting with a small but reputable company with some distribution contacts, or forming our own and establishing those connections for ourselves!) and selling through Amazon and independent booksellers, but I want to consider our options carefully over the next few months and approach this project from a solid business perspective so as to assure (insofar as it lies within our purview) success.

Thinking about the book and watching Isabelle and Nate with their dogs made me consider: While you can scare a cat, you can never intimidate one. A cat may regard you with deep suspicion and avoid you like the plague, or hiss and spit when you approach it, but it will never come cringing up to you, hugging the floor, and in the most abject “I am dirt and behold you are my master” fashion, piddle on the carpet to show its unworthiness. You will never see even the lowliest feline abase itself in such a way. In its regular interaction with its housemates, human and animal, if a cat pees on something outside its designated litterbox, it does so for reasons of incontinence, contempt, or pique, not humility. I also discovered today that I am apparently allergic to dogs (my nose ran constantly), whereas most cats do not affect me allergenwise.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A House Disheveled

I'm not even vacuuming before I leave town this time. There are stacks of books and papers and boxes and what-used-to-be-stacks-but-are-now-just-toppled-piles-of-miscellany all over my apartment. It's a disaster. But I'm too tired to clean, and any attempt to straighten would just delay my departure, which has already been delayed because I was grading final exams. Russian history essay exams. One fellow typed (his handwriting was so illegible on the previous tests that we sent him to the learning issues center to type this one) seven single-spaced pages in the allotted two hours. HOLY COW. There were almost forty students in the class, and reading each essay--and the word-processed one wasn't alone for length--and writing comments and coming up with grades took two days. It was nine last night before I finished. And then I have two other projects which I'm just abandoning in mid-stride in order to get out of town for Christmas. Today I've been running errands. Getting my oil changed--I had a $5 coupon, and I was overdue. They tried to convince me I needed a radiator flush, too, to the tune of $89.99. They offered me a 10% discount (when I asked them if there were any coupons for this service), but then said I couldn't use my $5 oil change coupon in addition. Sorry, can't afford it, I told them. Maybe with a 20% discount I might have considered it. Or maybe not.

The King's Speech is the best movie I've seen in years. It will be my first Blu-ray purchase...when I finally find an Internet-capable player that costs less than $125.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Look Back in Apathy

How can you consider yourself an adult of any cosmopolitan aspirations without knowing the basics of kosher rules? Especially when you are in training to be a nurse, you’d think that being aware that ham was off-menu and meat and milk don’t mix would be basic. It’s like the Tylenol-alcohol combo and other drug interactions—the nurses are the last-ditch defense between doctors (and nutritionists) and the patient.

S Dawg said she put an extra exam on a desk where no one was sitting and remarked “that’s for Elijah” and none of the other test-takers got it.

You miss so much when you can’t appreciate witty Biblical or historical allusions.

She asked me what organizational theories my colleagues were espousing these days, and I said they were still genuflecting at the altar of Foucault, but that they were also keen on using oceans, rivers and lakes as hubs of area studies: Atlantic World History, Pacific World History, Amazonian History and so forth. In other words, historians are now hovering over the waters.

In another return to past precedents, would John Ruskin have approved of the architecture of Facebook? S Dawg says one reason she’s not a subscriber (unlike our mother—you can “friend” her if you choose) is that she adheres to an Enlightenment notion of individuality (and individual privacy). You know, wherein your worth is not judged by the number of connections (real, or purchased in batches of 100) you maintain…like some insecure Tween getting everyone—even complete strangers—to sign her yearbook, to build her selfworth. [Is it only a coincidence that my heavily-penned yearbooks from first grade through college are on the couch behind me as I type?]

Thus, is Facebook a digital Gothicizing of society? Having discarded post-modernity, are we now looping philosophically like dying snakes, twisting ourselves into virtual gargoyles on electronic temples in an effort to find some meaning to life? It does put a new twist on the text about “living stones”…

I have 35+ essay Russian History exams to grade before I can leave town. It snowed last night. I want to curl up among my Grandmommy quilts and sleep instead of doing anything. This coming Sunday would have been Granddaddy's 94th birthday, and Saturday is the funeral of a sweet old man in my Sunday School class.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


A State Department friend found it hilarious and ridiculous that after the recent Wikileaks disclosures of the thousands of classified documents (which I haven't yet had time to read--must find the time before they disappear!) from U.S. diplomatic sources, a general email was sent out to SD employees saying that although the information was now available to the public, they weren't allowed to access it from their work computers because it was still classified! Nutso, and really counterproductive, because of course any halfway curious SD drone otherwise uninterested in the data was now wild (thanks to the tantalizing prohibition) to read as much as he could. And, come on, if it's been declassified either de jure or de facto, it's in the public domain, and saying it's off-limits is silly—especially if you are dying to know what your boss REALLY thinks about her diplomatic counterparts.

At any rate, I checked Drudge for the first time ages this evening, and Lo! Interpol has a warrant out on the Wikileaks guy, after two women in Sweden claim other sort of leakage entirely…

It sounds so much like a Steig Larsson novel I can barely stand it.

If this isn’t a setup (and even to a militant non-conspiracy theorist like myself, it has a peculiarly convenient odor about it—there’s got to be a hefty payment to an offshore bank account somewhere to one of the duo of regretful blonds), U.S. government officials are sacrificing thank offerings to the gods tonight.

I’m just waiting for this headline: LOOSE CHICKS SINK LEAKS.

Theater Class

The Russian history students in the class I am TAing this term had two options for their final project. They could write a standard research paper, or they could write and perform (or produce) a drama drawn from the historical sources. Today was the day that the theatrically-inclined groups or individuals presented their work to the class.

I realize that when I was in college I did not have access to the technology that these folks do, but notwithstanding that, I do not think I would have had the guts or the skills to create what they did. Besides plays, there were two animated films—one was a hand-drawn cartoon interlude between live-action play scenes, the other was the tale of Boris Godunov told entirely with red Solo cups. One play ended with a filmed sword-fight finale (quite well-choreographed), and another group did a whole live-action movie about the succession crisis that launched the Time of Troubles.

Besides the required historical narrative, there were allusions to Young Frankenstein and Star Wars, and a truly bizarre range of musical styles—from Russian rap to Spamalot and classical piano—to accompany the action. Of course, the acting was uneven, and the production values would have made James Cameron cringe, but given that these were not film-school students, and these were projects created at the same time that papers were due and tests were to be studied for in other subjects, they were a marvel. And funny. I wish they had uploaded them to YouTube…maybe they will eventually.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Quick Update

Quick update re: the state of KYP’s world.

No, I haven’t died, been hospitalized, or even come down with the sniffles, though I have been sneezing a bit from the cold (considerable) and the dust (occasional). I have been working four part-time jobs like a madwoman; last week, I managed to get in more than 60 hours of semi-profitable labor in six days (Tuesday through Sunday), so as a consequence I am fried mentally and physically. There simply hasn't been time to write, though there have been (notwithstanding the pedantry of this post) plenty of interesting events, conversations and observations to write about.

Periodic fits of pushups have been my own formal exercise of late, as one can drop behind one’s tableclothed jewelry display and pretend to be looking for boxes while actually pistoning up and down insanely without anyone noticing. Or maybe they have noticed and just silently assumed that I’ve gone round the bend. I will have if I don’t get to the gym soon.

I bought a Persian rug for my living room to replace the one that’s too big and upside down (the front is too ugly to show--the back is pretty, but having the pile down makes the whole thing "creep" along the floor, so it develops dangerous wrinkles). I plan to sell the unbeloved one.

My dissertation advisor wants to meet with me this Thursday evening. I am terrified, as I have nothing to show her. The rationale behind my crazy work schedule this semester is to have made enough money by Christmas to afford to be able to work on my dissertation full-time next term. I have almost accomplished this. I am not going to get a TV until I have at least two chapters written. A film-fest on a flatscreen will be my reward to myself. I plan to sit on my new rug with my new gigantic Polish pottery punchbowl filled to the rim with hot buttered popcorn and veg out. But only after I have turned in two chapters. By March, maybe?

Ira wants the revised book manuscript in hand in the next two weeks. Have promised to send it to her by 20 December. A Californian who knows about the project also wants to read it, but he has no leads on publication venues. I have written myself a note to approach university presses in the Midwest.

My Christmas party is coming up on 11 December. I need to get the house organized and clean, and food prepared. And I have several jewelry commissions to finish between now and then!

Must go shower, have a short quiet time (also much neglected of late) and grade papers. The children are doing Russian history skits and videos tomorrow, and I want to give the professor their final tests before he starts harassing me about them.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving and Birthday

My birthday was today--my brothers and Mums called, as did several friends and my dear Grandmommy. My sister and her offspring said "Happy Birthday" to me yesterday. Paxifist, with whom I stayed Friday night, treated me to "Tangled" (which we both enjoyed), and Anita took me out to Sunday brunch today, after she and I and a girl who sells pottery at the market moved all our stuff into the History Department in preparation for the first day of our annual History Honor Society fundraising sale on Tuesday.

Today was the first Sunday in Advent. This morning's sermon was on the text of Isaiah 9:1-7. It begins: "But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish." And it concludes: "The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this." I thought this was a thoroughly good text for my birthday, and for my next year, if not for the rest of my life. I look forward to God's removal of my gloom after this difficult time.

Thanksgiving was delicious, as is usual--on my father's side of the family, we favor the potluck smorgasbord model over any set menu, which means that each group brings an assortment of main and dessert dishes, enough to feed three times their number, and when the whole assortment is together, we've more than 30 people and enough food to treat the crew of the USS Bob Hope. I'd made two 9x13" pans of baklava, and less than half a panful was eaten, because there were multiple cakes, more than half a dozen pies, and other sweets, and that after a huge meal with some fifteen to twenty dishes that left me only capable of stuffing in two cookies and a tiny triangle of my own Greek confection before having to stand up in agony from my swollen belly.

I'm a Southern Greek, so I put chopped pecans in my baklava, along with the more traditional walnuts and almonds. I'm making two more panfuls for the Christmas party I'm hosting next week. I'm also making cupcakes. I haven't yet decided (besides salad) what's going to comprise the savory dish for my guests, but I'm set as far as desserts go. And I'm fine beverage-wise: 6 six-packs of orange soda and 5 of ginger beer. I am mulling over whether to lay in some ice, but at the rate the temperature is dropping outdoors all I may have to do is stack the drinks in the shrubbery and they'll be so cold a sip will freeze your teeth.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I arrived in Georgia at three this morning. The house isn’t home anymore, though it looks the same from the outside. Mums was long asleep, and I was tired, but I wandered around for a while before I found a place to lie down. In every room, upstairs and down, the remaining furniture had been shoved to the center of the floor with lamps and blankets and books piled on top. Brown paper is laid everywhere on tile and hardwood, and window frames are taped. The walls are daubed with new paint and spackling compound. Light fixtures have been removed entirely or are hanging by wires rather than screwed in. Pictures, paintings, and family photographs are propped in closets and in the kitchen, ready to be swaddled in bubble wrap and packed. All the shower curtains and the portable mirrors in the bathrooms are down, and tools are lying in the tubs and on the countertops. A thin powder of sheetrock dust has spread over everything.

I finally unearthed a couch in the living room and climbed over into this makeshift nest for a few hours’ rest. But a neighbor’s dog was barking, and it kept up an unceasing “woo, woo” for an hour, while I fantasized all sorts of inhumane ways of dispatching the beast. Finally, I found a roll of paper towels and stuffed shredded bits in my ears, which I then clamped between a brace of cushions. Thus muffled, I managed to fall asleep.

Today, after hitting the gym, Mums and I did more prep work for my Atlanta brother’s anticipated return at the end of the week to continue the painting. Nate’s already accomplished an amazing amount—my other brother, Bob, who did a bunch of fixture-work this past weekend, hasn’t shirked, either. Together, they are saving Mums at least $7,000 in remodeling costs necessary to the anticipated listing of the house for sale February 1.

I’m unsettled—I’m the sort who clings to mementos as a sort of Bladerunner-style evidence of my own past existence: that’s a contributing factor to my becoming a historian. I want to keep memories and friends, people and their stories. Losing Daddy hurts and hurts, burning like an old wound, and cutting free of all the ephemera that surrounded him the last quarter century—books, furniture, the house itself—is to me further discombobulating, however much I recognize its being the natural course of things. I don’t feel whole at times anymore. Today I have been very sorrowful. Not actively crying (much), or even unhappy (strange as that may sound), but just like I am made of lead inside, wistful at the weird blankness of the world without my father and grandfather. Thanksgiving, and then my birthday (this coming Sunday), are going to be hard.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Creativity and Cider

I haven't felt like making much jewelry the past six weeks, but this evening I've been struck with a fit of creativity and have made (or completed) five necklaces. The Georgetown show is looming in my consciousness, and I'm already wondering how many bracelets and pairs of earrings I can create for that four-day event and the two-day event at a friend's house in DC that immediately follows.

Saturday the market was slow, but I made the table and finished a book (The Catsitters by James Wolcott, which didn't have the tightest plot, but did have several rib-tickling sections of snappy dialogue which made the read entirely worthwhile).

This Thursday I lead the Russian History class discussion of Anna Labzina's Days of a Russian Noblewoman. I am requiring the children to turn in questions about the text, so as both to assure that they will have read it, and to provide some ignition fuel for the 75-minutes of chitchat about the contents.

I purchased some of the best and some of the worst hard apple cider I've ever tasted during last Thursday's run to Total Wine out in Falls Church, VA. I like cider that actually is redolent of apples, and found a delightful (and low-alcohol) variety in Kerisac Cider, a "product of France" confection of fermented apple juice and carbon dioxide (essentially sparking apple cider with a tiny kick). After this pleasant experience, I was exponentially repulsed by a putrescent amalgam of old tennis shoes and budget beer bottled under the label Doc's Draft Original Hard Apple Cider, which featured the script tagline "The Great American Cider." The word "awful" is the mildest term I can apply to this vomitous stuff. I took one stomach-churning sip and dumped my glass, and the remainder of the entire 22-oz bottle, down the kitchen drain. The sink gurgled in agony for a full five minutes--I hope it cleaned the pipes. The smell still leaking from the empty bottle is enough to curdle milk.

I am looking forward to Saturday night, when my friend Leah (whose birthday was today!) and I are going to dinner and then to see the latest Harry Potter on IMAX!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rats and Relationships

I’d always thought rats were nocturnal creatures. Perhaps this was a misunderstanding fueled by Hollywood movies, wherein rats are the stock animal background in any scenes featuring darkness, dankness, or general creepiness. So when the rat scuttled in front of me this morning when I was stopped at a light at 10:30 (almost noon if we hadn’t just switched to daylight savings time), I was surprised. It was a vigorous little creature, hustling across what was at that point a six-lane urban road. It reached the concrete median in the center, climbed deliberately over the three-inch obstacle, and immediately was struck by a car zooming in the opposite direction. One moment it was running about its rodent business, a millisecond later it was dead. A second car’s tire flipped the body a foot down the road—it was so light that certainly neither the driver of the deadly car or the other knew that a tiny life had been snuffed out.

I don’t mean to get all sentimental about a rat. Despite Ratatouille and other revisionist histories, I am aware that the little beasts frequently carry all sorts of nasty germs, in addition to the natural destructiveness wrought by their teeth and claws. I don’t lament sail-squirrels. But it’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything so alive die so unexpectedly, unnoticed. I once saw a pickup truck deliberately run over a tortoise—and I yelled and screamed invective at the &#(!@ driver (may he rot)—but tortoises are slow, defensive in posture at all times, not quick and nasty like rats. And human beings.

On a considerably less sentimental note, I am tired of well-meaning people giving me advice about dating! One sweet friend (married) recently cautioned me about hanging out with my guy friends because other guys will get the impression that I’m taken and not ask me out. Or, rather, the only guys who’ll ask me will be non-Christians—“Christian guys will just assume you are and stay away.” Well, hell. I’ve been asked out exactly ONCE in the last thirteen years by a Christian guy, when I have been obviously, demonstrably single the whole time, so it’s not like the SA’s (Granddaddy’s term—you can guess what it stands for) are lining up one way or the other! So either I can’t win for losing, or I just have to go on and live my life, effectually saying that if the fellows in question don’t have the guts (or—let’s call a spade a spade, the BALLS) to make any move, that’s their problem, not mine. I have asked several friends to set me up with folks they know, but thus far this hasn’t yielded anything. Of course, the friends in question may be shaking their collective heads over my sorry case, muttering, “K’s a nice girl, heart of gold, but she’s just a wee bit crusty…” My language is certainly worse around fellow believers (and on this blog) than it is in public, and that may turn off precisely the Godly sort of man that I’d love to be married to. Crumbs. But what you see is what you get—there’s no pretense in me. There it is, as my father would say.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Keeping Busy

Forget the old image of a candle aflame at both ends and replace it with the picture of a pool of molten wax in a skillet over a blue flame, a wizened wick floating uselessly in the middle of the sizzling liquid, like a damned soul in the lake of fire. That’s my schedule lately.

2:30 AM. I’ve just gotten home from Georgetown, where I finished over 10 hours’ worth of painstaking grading of the second round of “quizzes” (tests) administered in the History of Russia I class. I had a few perfect scores, but most people’s marks hovered around 70%. They could have done better—a full third of the grade was comprised of an essay, and the professor had given them the question ahead of time! The rest of the test was four short answers, also from a list provided beforehand. I’ve only had one student all semester come to my office hours.

This past Thursday evening, after working at Georgetown, I went with Dex to the annual Romanian Christian Enterprises fundraiser. Like reading the new history of the Tuskegee Airmen, Freedom Flyers, attending the event was simultaneously encouraging and sobering, the small but steadily-growing victories of rescuing one orphan child at a time standing in stark contrast to the looming evil affecting thousands of such young unfortunates who languish in state custody every year.

I worked until 1:15 AM Saturday morning, helping to set up an estate sale in a posh flat over near the National Cathedral. [Wednesday I had spent six hours in closets and a cellar in a DC duplex, throwing away wastepaper and sorting financial documents to be given to the executors of another estate—all this detritus must be cleared before we can get down to the serious business of tagging and pricing.] I had to be up again at 7 AM to return to the Arlington Market with my jewelry wares, a day that proved surprisingly successful. I had already committed to going out with friends to a restaurant at the National Harbor that evening, so when I got back from my last fit of pleasant socializing at 10 PM, I was more than ready for bed, thanking God that I had an extra hour (Daylight Savings could not have come at a better time) for sleeping before church!

Keeping busy, despite fatigue, is one way that I’m shoring up my shaky emotional state—I keep wanting to call Daddy and tell him what I’m doing, ask his advice about things. Having him gone is like having one of my limbs torn away, which is ironic, because when we kids really irritated him with our needs, or he was feeling dramatic, Daddy would tell us that he’d “cut off his right arm” for us. At the Romanian Christian Enterprises meeting (they fed us, then there was a sit-down program, followed by dessert), a little girl was sitting in her father’s lap at the end of our row. He’d rub her small back occasionally, and it reminded me of the small affectionate gestures I miss so much—Daddy rubbing or patting my head, in particular. It always made me feel so loved and cared for, from the time I was a toddler. I miss him so much, even though he thought my jobs—from estate sales to jewelry making—were a waste of my time and talents. But his was a loyal opposition, and one that is hard to live without.

But one day at a time, one small victory at a time.... It is my nature (and I suspect that of a lot of other people) to want to arrive at a neat, complete solution to problems and concerns in a moment, to accomplish a goal in a single grand gesture, rather than realizing redemption and success in almost all facets of human existence are the results of a long, messy, and frequently painful process. As when rescuing children or challenging racism, our weak and sinful selves are used by God to build and heal relationships over time. Sanctification is not immediate, however much we wish it were--and we must rely on grace every single step of the way.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


You all will be happy to know that when the heavy poop comes down, I'll be ready to add a dash of flavor to the otherwise indigestable post-apocalyptic food... I cleaned out my spice cabinet this evening, and discovered (in addition to the new bottle of vanilla I just bought, under the impression that I was totally out)...THREE more full bottles of vanilla extract, several bottles of real almond extract (and one bottle of the fake stuff), one of peppermint extract, two bottles of lemon extract, and a bottle of anise extract. I can only surmise that they've been multiplying in the dark at the back of my kitchen cabinet--well, there is alcohol involved...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Baked and Toned

Toned (despite a smoked turkey leg) and sepia toned.

I'm exhausted. I slept 12.5 hours last night, worked all day (estate sale, since Anita's out of town and I didn't feel like freezing my buns off alone) and tonight I plan to go to bed again at 8:30 and sleep as long as possible...I can't go to early church because the Marine Corps Marathon cuts me off from civilization between seven and ten. If they've opened the road before 11, I may be able to go to the late service.

My heat has finally been restored to functionality...not that I'd had it on, because I like to sleep with it cold, and I've been gone all day, every day. But it has been below freezing outdoors, and when I arrived at the estate sale this morning, the temperature indoors there was 62, so I turned on the heat. By mid-afternoon, with the sun pouring through the windows (contemporary style house, lots of glass), we were broiling in our own juices, and I had to switch on the AC.

I was going to go to a Halloween party this weekend, but I'm just too tired to go back out once I get a shower. At least I got to dress up once in October, for the Renaissance Fair!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Downsizing, Upgrading and Rearranging

As of yesterday morning, I no longer have a television. Truthfully, I was not using it as a television before, just as a glorified video screen on which to watch movies from my large DVD collection, but I decided to put it in an estate sale and see if I could get some few dollars for it. I got the set (a 28-inch analog behemoth that weighed between fifty and sixty pounds) for free years ago from Dex, whose neighbor was getting rid of it. Now, I’m collecting dollars, slowly, from such random sources to purchase a new, larger, high-definition flat screen TV, which I won’t use as a TV either--still, it will make for a far superior home theater experience, and take up less room, despite its greater width.

All of Daddy’s remaining clothes and shoes are also at the sale in Bethesda. Any money gleaned from them will also go toward this hypothetical entertainment system. I think he would approve.

Except for the odd rainy day, the weather’s been beautiful, and I’ve taken advantage by walking to school. Autumn means the crabapple trees are laden with thick clusters of rosy, inedible fruit, and ornamental landscapes are being changed to reflect the cooler temperatures. In other words, it’s pansy season.

Tuesday afternoon, when I turned into the Key Bridge Marriot parking lot, a huge yellow rental moving van with a hydraulic lift on the back was stopped in the No Parking zone. Aboard were dozens of those steel bakery carts, the square-column sort about five feet tall with ten shelves which are rolled out of industrial-size ovens stacked with trays upon trays of loaves of fresh bread, croissants and pastries. Instead of baked goods, these were stacked with flats of blooming pansies, probably 500 plants per cart. Several of these loaded carts were already sitting on the sunny asphalt, while another was descending with a fat man on the lift from the truck. When I walked back from school hours later, the truck was gone and all the pansies were installed in the flowerbeds.

I love fall walks. There are drifts of yellow and tangerine leaves on the stone steps leading up to campus, the sort of picture that might be turned into the basis for a wonderfully complex jigsaw puzzle.

My sister has just diagnosed me as an extrovert, a label I never, ever, thought anyone would put on me, though it is true that lately my social life has been particularly active. Not only have I been keeping busy with TAing (my first student came to see me for help during my office hours this week!), and with estate sale work (we are booked solid through the beginning of 2011!), I’ve had friends over for dinner and tea, and gone over to other friends’ for dinner and tea, and driven to the Maryland Renaissance Fair (in costume, of course—my friend is supposed to send me a picture), I also helped out with a friend’s wedding reception.

I missed the exciting denouement of the service (the kiss) because I had to duck out early to make sure that the sliced cheese that Susan and I had carefully arranged on large platters was out on the tables in the fellowship hall with the plastic wrap removed before everyone started flooding in. There was no bouquet-catching (bloody or otherwise), but it was a truly happy occasion for me and for the more than 150 people who assembled to fellowship and wash down the cheese, crackers, grapes and nuts with apple cider and ice water. There was white-iced spice cake and flame-colored roses and gerber daisies. Beautiful and fun, with little waste of food or energy, the whole event was planned in less than six weeks, since the Marine groom is likely to be shipped to Afghanistan soon, and the bride wisely chose to forego some celebratory details in favor of more pre-separation married time. There were still flowers and candles aplenty, small children warbling during the service and running around at the reception, heartfelt toasts to the happy couple, and—in lieu of the usual paper guest book—the groom’s mother had pieced a quilt of fabrics representing the interests and experiences of husband and wife, which, stitched together into a new creation of blended beauty, was bordered in white, a plain area for those who attended the wedding to sign in permanent marker with their best wishes and congratulations. I thought this a lovely image and gift to bless their marriage.

I continue to downsize and rearrange my possessions, with an eye to upgrading not only my household technology, and my creative output (maybe not jewelry, yet something attractive and lucrative!), but also my connections with my friends. I want to have more people over to visit, to make my living space open and comfortable for guests. The first major test of my progress towards this goal is my upcoming Christmas party (already slated for early December, before everyone’s holiday calendars fill to bursting), to which I’ve invited a large number of sweet people, each of whom has been so kind to me this last difficult year. I think I may even set up a tent with hot refreshments and a space heater out in the apartment courtyard if my little apartment reaches overflow capacity. I fell asleep last night dreaming about this. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


My trivia team won the week last night, thanks to yours truly, who remembered the most trivial smidgen of trivia--film-related, of course--for the bonus question in the final round, which put us over the top by a single point. Nobody else got the bonus, which made me feel pretty good...that, and having my key lime pie (my indulgence of the evening) paid for by the gift certificate prize. I then went to the gym for two hours to expunge the effects of the pie.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wisdom Hath Builded Her House

The professor for the Medieval Russian History class I am assisting was off at a conference today, so I was responsible for teaching the class of 37 students, or rather leading this intellectually ragtag and somewhat unmotivated bunch in a discussion of the Domostroi, a sixteenth-century samizdat of sorts which remained popular for several hundred years after its initial appearance during the reign of Ivan the Awesome.

Thanks to prayer and preparation, the hour and twenty minute session went well, from my point of view. I got a little less than half the members of the class to speak up (an extraordinary number, given their usual laconic spirit), and we covered most of the material that I'd wanted to mention, though it wasn't in depth, because maybe five of the 37 have any biblical literacy whatsoever, and so most of the in-text allusions were lost on them. I mentioned Joseph's service with Potiphar (we were talking about the role of the slave-steward in wealthy Russian households) and only a handful pricked up their ears with any understanding of what I was talking about.

What I found shocking was that the American translator of the manuscript, who spent a dozen years tracking down the original manuscripts, ascertaining alterations in the text (there was a short version and a long version, and addtional material was added over the years--the identity of the original author or authors is still disputed, though it has been attributed to Sylvestr, a Kremlin priest) was clearly not so familiar with the Biblical sources herself. For example, in one footnote, tracing a quotation to Corinthians, she says that Paul is referring to an Old Testament passage (from Exodus) and "exaggerated" the numbers involved, when he is clearly referring to quite a different passage (in Numbers), where the information syncs up. Does she truly think that Paul, a student of the famous rabbi Gamaliel, would be so careless or impolitic as to misrepresent scripture, making three thousand into twenty-three thousand at the stroke of a pen--an error his contemporaries would have immediately seized upon to discredit him? Furthermore, she does not recognize the clear parallels between Sylvestr's letter to his son and the Book of Nehemiah, given the personal history of the Orthodox priest (FYI, Orthodox priests can marry and have families) in rebuilding Kremlin churches at the behest of an imperial ruler. I would have loved to explore this in detail with the students, but I knew it would be completely over their heads.

So, we talked instead about marriage customs, the preservation of personal honor, wife-beating, religious practice, diet, and locking up the household valuables from light-fingered slave/servants. I told them what the professor wanted me to emphasize about the arrangement of the household along monastic lines, with the father/abbot at the top, the mother/abbess beneath him, and the steward operating below and between them and their numerous children, retainers, and dependents. We discussed the practical advice aplenty, and even some rather repulsive recipes, besides instructions for the creation of a variety of meads. And turnip dishes.

I hope the children learned something. I enjoyed myself.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hidden Treasure, Bloated Rat Carcasses, "Good Vibrations?" and Shoulder Pain

On Sunday, it had been a month since Granddaddy's death, and tomorrow it will have been four months since Daddy's. I'm keeping VERY busy, although I've decided to quit the weekly jewelry vending come Christmas. I've lost a considerable amount on un-sales-remunerated booth fees over the last three weeks, putting "unpaid" to my growing conviction that this particular hobby has reached the end of its lucrative career. I'll still be fixing items for friends, and doing commission pieces, but I'm hoping to deplete the better part of my inventory between now and the new year. I'm appealing to friends to host sales, and am looking forward to my annual Georgetown fundraiser.

My left shoulder aches because I got my flu shot today and forgot to do the usual post-injection gyrations to keep the muscle from seizing up, so there's pain clear down to my wrist. I expect a good night's sleep to put all to rights.

The estate sales have resumed, and one finds such unexpected things while rooting through other people's a vibrator and a dead rat. The vibrator, was, I hope, a tasteless gag gift, being still in its box and tucked far under a bathroom sink. So gross. Almost as gross was the bloated rat carcass in the middle of the cellar floor at another house. Now that the putrid body has been removed, I am going to break out my stash of N-95 masks and long sleeved shirts to retrieve the treasures from below--and there are some beautiful things, it being the old home of two gay antique dealers.

I continue to be grateful for all the friends who call and email to check on me. I do continue to have bouts of melancholy, and am somewhat lonely at home with no one to keep me company, but I have had a succession of visitors over to eat and talk, which is pleasant. I am making some real progress at last on my dissertation, although I will not have Chapter 1 finished by this Friday!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Cat Emissions

So, (this is last night) I’ve just gotten off the phone with my mom, who’s suggested that a doctor would consider me an excellent candidate for a hysterectomy. I’m 35, right? SHE may have totally given up on the usefulness of my reproductive organs, but I haven’t. Not yet. Not entirely, anyway. Now, I’m sipping a Sangiovese and raspberry lemonade concoction that I’ve tossed together in a gold-lined cup with “Forever” in gothic lettering on the side (my nod to Picardo and The Society of S) and thinking about flatulent cats.

Oh, yes, I’m babysitting for a delightful pair of farting felines, while their family is away at a wedding. I don’t mean that to sound—if you’ll pardon the expression—catty at all. They are sweet, sweet kitties. Friendly, affectionate, soft, sleek fur, bouncy—the sort of animals even an ailurophobic might grant were alluring (albeit from a distance). But they have one teeny, weeny, fragrant flaw: occasionally (it’s not constant or too frequent, thank God) one or the both of them will let loose a silent, noxious expulsion of profound stink. They’ll be winding around your ankles in an ecstasy of happy purring and suddenly this…odor…undulates upwards, and you think “Whoa, what DID the cat just drag in?” Hopefully, Bonnie and Clyde (the fuzzy beasts in question) will outgrow the gas-passing (they are only six months old). Their human mamma has them on a combination of probiotics and special tinned catfood, which has helped with other digestive issues.

It’s pleasant to be distracted by such a minor, hilarious problem as flatulent cats. Just this week, the parents of two friendly acquaintances have been diagnosed with potentially terminal conditions. And yesterday I received a CD of Granddaddy’s funeral service from Grandmommy. My cousin Daniel wrote an excellent reflection on his wife’s blog about Granddaddy’s influence on his life (and his remark about how everyone ought to own a cat!)--their blog is much nicer than mine because of the beautiful pictures in each and every post! The very real weights of mortality slide onto my shoulders and those of my friends with little warning. But thank God with the real comfort that He is in control. Otherwise, just going forward would seem a condemnation rather than a blessing. You’ve got to take the farts with the purrs and fur.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Suffrage, Sushi and Sleeplessness

I registered to vote in Arlington yesterday. Unlike the DMV, where they required several forms of legal documentation of my identity and citizenship (including my passport) before they’d issue me a license, the Board of Elections didn’t even ask me to show picture ID when I filled out their form! So, driving a car is considered more an issue of national security than voting for government leadership?

I’ve kept unusual hours of late. Staying up until 2 AM is not that odd for me—in fact, it’s pretty standard—but getting up at 6:30 the next morning and heading to school to work on dissertation stuff before the sun has fully risen is scary. Perhaps my subconscious is getting even with me for procrastinating on the project. Or maybe my wakefulness is due to the combination of a pineapple-blueberry cocktail and California rolls at dinner last night (a military officer girlfriend treated me). Either way, I’ve been jolting out of my bed at dawn to open my laptop and stare bleary-eyed at jpeg files of German textbooks. Chapter 1 is due to my advisor by October 15—I should mention that this date has been revised several times, as members of my family keep dying. I’d prefer not to have to ask for another extension!

Of course, besides endowing me with unusual diligence in my studies, insufficient sleep and/or the consumption of great sushi is leading me to contemplate the Great Philosophical Questions: e.g. Is it wrong to pop corn in corn oil? Isn’t this the vegetable equivalent of stewing a calf in its mother’s milk?

Obviously, I need a nap. And some calmingly bland instant oatmeal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

So Long, Fortune Cookie

When I was little, some three decades ago, all Chinese restaurants in the United States (or all those that I visited) had what I’ll term a “pre-revolutionary” décor. The places were Orientalists’ dreams, little oases of the mythic, exotic East. Frequently dark, the only illumination came from antique-style palace lanterns: hexagonal light fixtures of carved wood (or wood-simulating resin) in the shape of roaring dragons or elaborate curlicues, set with painted paper or glass panes, and hung with long, red silk tassels. I loved these lanterns, hanging like jewels in an Aladdin’s cave, their tiny glowing pictures of princesses and peasants giving glimpses of imaginary lands.

Tiny paper parasols, and sometimes little plastic monkeys, came in children’s drinks, and my sister and I could play for hours with these miniature toys. There were chopsticks embossed with red characters next to each plate, and from dusty speakers somewhere overhead in the darkness twangy non-octave music. Between that and the padparadsha-colored sweet and sour sauce, I was in heaven. But the best part of the meal was at the end...when we were given our fortune cookies.

I love fortune cookies. I like the way they taste—from childhood I have always thought that they must be the perfect reproduction of the Israelite's heaven-sent manna in the wilderness: “wafers made with honey”—and I love cracking them open and discovering the little slips of paper inside, printed with magical insights.

These paper oracles used to make cheerful prophecies: “You will soon find money,” “You will meet a handsome stranger.” Then, over the years, I noticed that they had morphed into complimentary personal observations: “You are well-liked by many people,” “You are intelligent and witty.”

Coincidentally, around the same time that state lotteries started becoming popular, bakers began utilizing the previously-blank side of the paper by printing strings of lucky numbers on the back of the slips.

More recently, vocabulary words have joined the numbers (reinforcing the fiction of the “education lottery,” maybe), so unlucky readers could “learn Chinese” while they were digesting dessert. (How, from reading poor approximations, one is supposed to learn Chinese—a language where tones are all-important, inflections distinguishing between words that are roughly transcribed the same way in Latin characters—I don’t know).

But these are not the innovations I deplore: just last week, I found that the fortune-cookie manufacturers have now forgone buttering you up before encouraging you to gamble and commit linguistic assassination… My last “fortune” read: “A new wardrobe brings great joy and change to your life.”

Unless this is a Sign From Above informing me that I am grievously out of style and in desperate need of a makeover (I suppose I shouldn’t rule this out completely), this is stark evidence that the fortune cookie, as originated, is dead, and the didactic consumerist cookie has taken its place. I suppose the next one I crack open will tell me that I need to buy a new computer and get my eyebrows waxed.

Alas, like the modern chrome and steel Chinese restaurant, with its abstract murals and sleek fluorescent lighting, there’s a lack of mystique in the modern fortune cookie, a materialism I had thought this confection rose sweetly above.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Led by two police cruisers, the funeral procession pulled slowly out of the United Methodist Church parking lot around 12:15. I drove Grandmommy's car behind the hearse, she in the front passenger seat, my mom and her middle sister in the back. Every single car we passed in either direction pulled over or stopped in respect for the passing dead and mourners, though we were on the main road through the center of town. One guy who was out jogging stopped and sat down, watching. God bless each of those people--it was such a gracious gesture, probably not seen outside small town America.

There were about 150 people at the 11 AM service, a good turn-out for a funeral that was publicized only by word-of-mouth (the Dublin paper didn't publish the obituary until early this afternoon, after the internment). Caregivers from the Benton House (the Alzheimers facility where Granddaddy had stayed just less than two months, entering three weeks after my father's funeral and leaving three weeks ago, when he fractured his hip) came. Grandmommy hugged them all, tearfully repeating how grateful she was for their kindness to her husband.

So many people came who had worked with Granddaddy at the VA (he was one of the head facilities management guys there for some 40 years) or at the construction company where he was an estimator (where he worked for almost a decade after he left the VA and couldn't stand being retired), fellow WWII veterans, members of the UMC Sunday School class, the Men's Prayer Breakfast, the American Legion post where he'd been a member for over 60 years, and members of the Boy Scout troop which he'd led back in the 1950s. Even the funeral director in charge of arrangements had known him for half a century.

The blue felted casket was draped with a large American flag. Granddaddy would have been so proud to see that, and his four grandsons all lined up as pallbearers, one in the uniform of a Navy Lieutenant. Grandmommy, the strongest, Godliest lady I have ever known, was in tears in the other front pew, supported by her three daughters, with us granddaughters with them. For sixty-three years Grandmommy and Granddaddy have been thought of, spoken of, and loved as a single entity, and now they are parted by death.

At the viewing Sunday evening, Granddaddy's old Navy uniform, the red braid and medals little dimmed, were displayed on an easel next to the casket. The flat screen played a DVD of a film a Boston-based interviewer had made of her weekend visit with Grandmommy and Granddaddy about six years ago, getting them to talk about their experiences. So many of the visitors were enthralled by the video that a small crowd ended up standing in a semi-circle, glued to the screen, laughing at the stories. The hard-of-hearing folks also raised the volume to a decidedly unfunereal level, and I had to rush to dampen it when one of the undertakers seemed on the verge of going into shock.

To my eyes, Granddaddy's prepared body did not look much like him. Mums and Grandmommy (Grandmommy and one of my cousins had been holding his hands when he died Friday afternoon) both commented how good he looked, but they had seen him most recently, when he was in distress, the last couple of weeks, when he had lost some forty pounds from his normal weight of 168 (which he maintained from about age 20 until just a few months ago--he could still wear his Navy uniform 70 years after he'd acquired it), and as Mums said, "looked like death." The skin was unnaturally pale, the lips in a grim line his never ever were, his crew-cut hair angled in, and someone had attempted to manicure his work-broken nails. It was a wizened husk, the occupant obviously absent, and (like Daddy's body), cold and hard to the touch.

The music at the funeral was lovely. We sang the Navy hymn, and were played out by the jaunty "Anchors Away." At the cemetery, a naval honor guard was waiting, a woman and one man all in white, with a bugler--his instrument tucked under one arm, standing off to the side. After the pastor's words, the simple notes of Taps were blown while two members of the guard raised and held the flag over the casket. They then carefully folded it, regulation-style (as Granddaddy did every day, and taught all us grandchildren to do), and then the officer at their head knelt and presented the star-spangled triangle to a weeping Grandmommy, with thanks for Granddaddy's service.

Today was the last day that Granddaddy's flag at home will be flown. My brother took it out and raised it to the top of the pole, then lowered it to half mast. A cool Georgia autumn breeze caught it and displayed the colors proudly in the morning light, and it remained on display until nightfall, when I drove away to return to Augusta. Grandmommy called me on my cell phone to make sure I got in safely. "We love you," she said, still speaking for both her and Granddaddy. "I love you," I told her.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


My dear Granddaddy, my mother's father, died yesterday afternoon in Dublin, GA. One of my cousins wrote a lovely, brief tribute to him on her own blog. I don't think I could have said it better, and I don't have such beautiful pictures. I am driving down to GA today. The funeral is scheduled for Monday afternoon. I miss him so much.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Russian Way of Death

Classes at Georgetown began last Wednesday, and I have been assigned to TA the undergraduate early Russian history class, in which there are more students than squirrel-hides in a packet (a standard unit of medieval Russian trade-currency, from which the modern word "sorok"--40--is derived). Electronic devices are verboten in the room, and so the students and I are handwriting our notes, which is a pleasant retro exercise, unencumbered by the distractions of internet chatting or cell phone texting.

Having recently read Mary Roach's entertaining Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (her visit to UT's Body Farm was briefer than that of Patricia Cornwell's fictional investigator, but as piquant in its own observations), and having promised a friend of mine that while he was daily writing 1500 words during the month of September on what could become the next English-language bestseller, I would be penning my dissertation, I was encouraged to investigate Russian funerary and mortuary practices. After all, Pirogov had to have obtained the cadavers he sliced for his anatomical studies from some source, and there was some back-story to his having been embalmed for public display, a curious amalgam of Orthodox religious tradition and secular scientific innovation. I thus have two bags full of books from Lauinger Library on the subject of death and burial, and a scheduled meeting with my adviser on Thursday afternoon. Her brother-in-law died of lymphoma just a few weeks ago (he was in his forties), so her own view of my necrocentric study may be jaundiced.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Am Sunburnt…

But there is nothing quite as refreshing as sinking chin-deep into warm, churning surf and letting the seafoam bubbles tickle your nose like salty champagne. The two days at Folly Beach, SC, have been glorious, worth the faun-like tan dapples that have developed on my forehead from spotty application of spray sunscreen. I spent hours in the ocean--until even my palms and the soles of my feet had turned pale (well, paler) and pruney--leaping waves like a demented jack-in-the-box and keeping a sharp eye out for hostile dorsal fins. While I frolicked in the jade-colored water pretending to be five rather than thirty-five, Mums walked up and down the shore (she’s a “by-the-sea” person, not an “in-the-sea” person) and then retired to a dune-top pavilion to read. It’s been a great vacation, as I had hoped.

To me, good vacations also must include good, memorable dining experiences, and we did well in that regard before we even glimpsed the Atlantic. My friend Dex had recommended I get in touch with the O’Henrys, old friends of his who’d hosted me and Susan and Midori on our visit to Charleston last year, and so I phoned them Saturday and made arrangements for the two of them to meet me and Mums for dinner Sunday night at one of my favorite local restaurants, Slightly North of Broad. I cannot speak too highly of the O’Henrys, who possess the great gift of hospitality of character (being able to make even total strangers immediately comfortable and welcome in their company, not merely in their home). Mums thoroughly enjoyed the evening, as I knew she would. And the food and the service were (as always) superb. Read the online menu and drool.

Monday’s main meal (before we ventured out to the beach) was consumed at the Hominy Grill, which Mrs. O’Henry had recommended for their shrimp and grits and their heavenly chocolate mousse. We ate out on the patio under a parasol and drank the best ice-cold sweet tea I’ve tasted in ages. Sunny after the morning rainstorm, the temperature was in the low nineties, and drops of condensation ran off our glasses and fell through the screen table onto our legs, where they traced cool trails down to our sandled feet. A flock of resident sparrows hopped around expectantly, waiting for us to drop cornbread crumbs. One boldly sat right by my chair until I tossed it a bit of bread, which it immediately seized in its beak and ran off carrying, too burdened to fly. I was too full to finish my own four-star meal.

In the Hominy Grill bathroom, there was a framed picture of actor Anthony Hopkins mugging with two restaurant employees during his visit. SNOB’s ladies’ room featured autographed book jackets—one by famous lowcountry author Pat Conroy hung right next to the toilet. Maybe someday a book of mine will make it into the toilet…or at least by it.

As to books, I am anxious to read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which is the flavor du jour of the literate public. Mums and I stopped by a tiny bookstore called the Ravenous Reader on our return from the beach this evening, and the owner told us she’d sold seven copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo today alone. Not wanting to leave a rare independent bookstore emptyhanded, I found a cute book for my niece and nephew: Splat the Cat. I think they'll like it--especially as my niece (a newly-hatched bookworm) is trying to teach her little brother how to read. Even if this story doesn't do the trick (he's only two, after all), I think he will like it being read to him, and she will enjoy reading it to herself.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I'm A Marshmallow

...Mums is not. We've been hitting the gym every day (after Mums gets out of her kickboxing classes and does over two hundred pushups and walks on the treadmill in our former dining room for an hour or so). I'll bounce on the elliptical for half to three quarters of an hour and then head to the exercise bike and thence to various machines for arm strengthening. I'm usually oblivious to my surroundings until the arm workouts, because I'm anesthetizing myself with a book, but at that point I can't hold onto my reading, and am aware of the assortment of pudgy middle-aged men and young jocks in the room. Wee little Mums'll be over at the free weights, cheerfully curling a pair of 40-lb. barbells, or doing unaided pullups on a rack, her back muscles rippling. I hope I'm such fantastic condition when her age. Heck, I wish I could be half that lean and cut now. Frankly, though, I'm too lazy to put in the time, or the crunches, though I do envy her her eight-pack abs.

The probate of Daddy's will took all of about five minutes. We waited for about half an hour for the snow-haired clerk or judge or whatever she was (her secretary was too busy chatting to inform her that we'd arrived) to usher us back into a room framed with pictures of historical landmarks and ask Mums to swear that no, Daddy hadn't divorced her since his will was made six years ago, and no, he didn't have any other children other than us four living ones. Our family lawyer and the judge were both fine old Southern bluebloods, with soft patrician accents that have long been heard in the halls of the mighty hereabouts (and which notoriously can be used to such devastatingly mean, sarcastic effect on those deemed to have transgressed), so the proceedings, brief as they were, had an air of timeless propriety.

I had to get a new cell phone this afternoon. The old one died on the drive back from DC Wednesday, and upon examination it was found that damp had corroded the interior. As I had not dropped the thing in any puddles or dowsed it with liquid, I could only surmise that the DC humidity had done it in (with which hypothesis the Verizon clerk agreed). Thankfully, with rebate the new phone only cost $20. It has a little QWERTY keyboard inside for texting, and I think a low-resolution camera somewhere aboard. I hope it lasts longer than its predecessor, which I obtained less than a year ago. Mums jokes that she's going to be permanently indentured to Verizon, since every time one of us has an issue with his or her phone, the contract is extended two years from the service change date.

I plan to be back in DC August 20. Tomorrow, Mums wants me to help her pick out colors for her new condo (we spent time today at Lowes looking at paint for the house, since we've got to get rid of all the wallpaper and replace it with neutral tones in order to get the place ready to sell), and then Sunday afternoon we intend to drive to my brother's in Charleston. He, of course, has not called to acknowledge our imminent advent, but we figure we'll camp out on his front lawn until he gets home from evening church and then waylay him on his way to the door.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reading, Clothing, Traveling, Crying

I’ve been reading, not writing, the last two weeks: mystery novels, primarily, but also Rick Riordan’s young adult Percy Jackson mythology adventure series. The mysteries have ranged from pure fluff (Laura Levine) to beautifully literary (Boris Akunin). I’ve also spent a lot of time in the gym (reading the books on the stairmaster, the elliptical machine and the stationary bike), which sweaty activity is evidenced by the stench emitted by my recycled exercise pants which I'm wearing one last trip to Gold's before tomorrow's planned trip to GA.

I’ve also broken down and realized that my clothes (including the exercise togs) are pretty worn, and so I went shopping. I hate shopping, except maybe for books. I realize that (despite the regular trips to the gym) I have Titianesque thighs, and the new fad of “skinny” pants, doesn’t, if you’ll pardon the pun, sit well on my figure. I found two pairs of slacks to fit my outsize posterior at Target but they were so large in the waist that I had to have them taken in by the seamstress at the local cleaners.

[Warning to my four male readers: possible TMI in this paragraph.] There was no hope in the underwear department. The lingerie section was full of push up bras with so much lift I was afraid my bosoms were going to explode upward out of the cups like rocket-propelled grenades. And there were thong panties and silly “boy shorts” everywhere. Whatever happened to normal women’s underwear? You know, the sort made out of your basic cotton and elastic that covered the acreage without trying to landscape it like a PGA golf course?

The library’s going to close in just a few minutes, so I need to finish up and go to Gold’s. I’m planning to spend Sunday through Wednesday at my Charleston brother’s with my mother, at the beach. Daddy’s will is being probated this Friday, and Mums says she's got too much paperwork to do to have a vacation, but I think it'l do us both good. I’ve been trying to use endorphins and fiction to buoy my sagging spirits, but I’m crying almost every night as I fall asleep, remembering Daddy. Thanks for your prayers.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

All Men Are Liars

Little makes me more upset than to learn that someone with whom I have worked, whom I have trusted, is a thief. Far more angering is the fact that this person claims to be a Christian. Is there a special place in hell for such people?

There is an almost tangible cloud of petty hatred hanging over the DC area of late, and I don't think this is exclusively a reflection of low-level depression and middling sorrow on my part. I have seen people just being nasty to each other--on the road, in person--repeatedly, from furious explosions of road rage to yelling accusations of all sorts of malfeasance. I've personally witnessed two cases of domestic violence in public, and heard of more.

I am tired, yet grateful for the girlfriends who have phoned, asking me to walks and dinner and the pool. I haven't been able to take all of these pleasant offers of distraction (last week I worked more than 50 hours, besides changing my residency to VA), but I have thoroughly appreciated them and those who have extended them. My Charleston brother has told me I can crash at his place for a weekend, so I plan an escape to the beach (a non-oily one) in the next two weeks. And maybe do a bit of dissertation-writing, too.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Learning Patience?

Was planning to change my residency, license, tags and so forth to Virginia today, but am still waiting for my new china cabinet to be delivered. "Sometime this afternoon," the mover said, which isn't terribly specific. I don't want to commit to the DMV, and sit, cell-phoneless, in the official waiting area for hours while my cabinet is on a truck somewhere; the mover doesn't usually come to my area (he's more of a DC/MD man), and so it was sheer grace that he happened to be making another Northern VA delivery and was going to be in the vicinity. The cabinet--which was built in Egypt, according to its original owner--has lots of glass and a marble top, so I knew that I couldn't hope to shift it myself, even with the help of friends, hence the waiting on a professional.

As to patience-building exercises, I may well have mentioned on the blog that a few months ago I got a tax delinquency notice from DC. They said I'd underpaid on my 2009 sales taxes, which was total baloney--they'd cashed the check for the full amount I owed back in January, days after they received it. So, I'd called and told them it was in error, and the woman at the office said they'd investigate and get back to me: No need for me to submit further documentation, "Don't call us, we'll call you," that sort of thing.

You can imagine my chagrin when last Monday I got a certified letter from the tax office saying that not only was I delinquent, I was delinquent in redressing this delinquency, and they were just about to put a lien on my property, publish my name on the Internet, and/or turn me over to collections: the financial equivalents of chopping off a hostage’s digits and mailing them to their loved ones in little packages. Only this time the digits were my own. And lest we forget, when it comes to disputes with tax offices, the taxpayer is considered guilty until proven innocent, not vice versa. Freak-out time.

First, I tried calling the number on the delinquency form. It rang, and rang. And rang. No answer. Repeated tries. No answer. Then I went on the Internet and looked up the general office number. I went through the usual "press 2 for x option" automated system, and kept getting the following response for my pains: "You have reached a non-working DC government number." Peachy. Finally, I just randomly pressed another number and got a human being in a completely different area of the office who gave me the contact information for a specific case investigative officer. Who, of course, was not picking up his phone. But at least he had an answering machine, which promised to get back to me in 24 hours. Left detailed message.

Twenty-four hours later, forty-eight hours later, still no response. Well, heck, I thought, I'm driving back up to DC on Friday, I'll go to the tax office in person on Monday. Asked my Sunday School class and texted a group of friends to pray. Monday morning, carefully gathered up all my documentation, including my sales order booklets and copies of the cancelled check and took the metro over to Union Station. The temperature hovered in the mid-90s, and I was wearing nice jeans, because I thought they might treat me better if I didn't look like a total slob. Walked the quarter mile to where the tax office was. Or where it used to be, but was no longer, I discovered. The doors to the building were locked, and there was a big redevelopment/office space available sign in front.

Called my mom, who started laughing when I told her what had happened. She looked up the new office address for me--it was two miles away, other side of Capitol Hill. All I could think was, "Thank God I put on sunscreen," and, later, "...and for public water fountains." Talk about cooking in ones own juices--sitting at the market on Saturday without any sales was bad enough, trekking across DC in the steamy height of summer, carrying a backpack full of tax documents made me feel like sin-burdened Christian in the Slough of Despond.

All the prayers for resolution were answered, though. When I finally walked into the deliciously air-conditioned new DC government building at 1101 Fourth Street SW, there was no line--I didn't even have to sit down in the waiting area before a little bell chimed and an electronic voice announced that my number was being served at Window 12. There, I didn't really have to explain anything, either--I just told the woman that I had been sent a delinquency notice for money I didn't owe, she pulled up my account on her computer, and three minutes of silent typing later she handed me a print-out that said my account was clear. I immediately felt 15 lbs lighter, and I don't think that was just the water-weight I sweated off walking!

I didn't notice until I got home that the printout was dated July 26, 2010, rather than July 19. Does this mean I'm still allegedly in arrears until my account is magically set to rights next Monday?

I'm just not going to worry about it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Daddyisms and Granddaddy Visit

Some of the nicest men I have known in my life are inveterate and unrepentant punsters, prone to come up with witticisms in a heartbeat, and sometimes to create euphemisms that become part of their peculiar parlance, obscure to the uninitiated. Some samples from my father’s repertoire:

In the car on the way to visit my grandparents circa September 1998, we were listening to an NPR report on Arab-Israeli relations when he suddenly spouted:

“Peace process hot
Peace process cold
Peace process is a crock
Twenty years old.”

An overweight person gobbling away at a restaurant was “Committing suicide by fork.”

An already obese individual was “Suffering from advanced biscuit poisoning.”

On a vacation to the Pacific Northwest with my mom and youngest brother, every time they entered a stand of large trees, he exclaimed: “The forest prime-weevil.”

[My siblings will have to add examples in the comment section—these were just a few that sprang to my mind.]

I visited my grandparents today. Not only is it hard to see Daddy’s personal effects gone from the Augusta house—the little reminder note on the garage door that read “STOP! Do you have your beeper? Your pass key? [Etc.]” was one of the first to be discarded—seeing furniture and pictures missing from Grandmommy’s house (items that have been used to furnish Granddaddy’s new room at the Alzheimer’s care center) was even more upsetting.

When I was born, Daddy was in the Army, and so we’d moved some 14 times before I was a teenager, but Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s house was always a constant. Granddaddy’s desk was always in the corner of their bedroom, their certificate of marriage hanging in a silver frame over it. He’d always sit at the head of the table at mealtimes, Grandmommy on his left, and he’d ask the same simple blessing. Today, the desk was gone, and the wedding certificate in its frame was in the closet on the floor, and Grandmommy sat at the head of the table.

We went to visit Granddaddy after lunch. It’s a nice facility—clean, new, lots of light, with an inner courtyard for the residents to enjoy—very comfortable and un-hospitalish, with no unpleasant odors and friendly staff, but it was heartbreaking to see Granddaddy there, even in the lovely room which my aunt had worked so hard to make familiar for him, with a Grandmommy quilt on the bed, his desk below a wall of family pictures, and patriotic memorabilia from his World War II service. Granddaddy didn’t know me or my mother (his eldest daughter). He was convinced there was another resident with his same name somewhere close. He could barely walk, and his voice had sunk to almost a whisper, his once-bright blue eyes fading like ink in a sunburnt photograph. It was so bizarre to see him old. Granddaddy’s always been so capable, even this last Christmas he was hopping around, stealing my cousin’s Santa hat and teasing younger relatives, but it’s like he’s aged twenty years in the space of seven months; my mother says his condition has deteriorated markedly in just six weeks. Grandmommy, whom I have only seen close to tears once—a month ago, when Daddy died—was blinking them back when we left, but (as has been her lifelong habit) resolutely focusing on the blessings of their relationship: “We had sixty-three years together.”

I am a self-centered person in many ways, deplorably ignorant of and insensitive to the sufferings and pain of others, but I do pray that God will use what has happened in the last month to make me more sensitive, more aware, and considerably less narcissistic than I have been, to know when to speak and when to silently listen.

Back to DC tomorrow, hopefully to the Arlington Market Saturday and church Sunday.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One Month

It's been a month since Daddy died, and I'm only starting to mourn. Mums is still sick (she's been struggling with severe nausea for over five weeks now), and though externally she looks great and super-fit, she's feeling water-weak. Granddaddy was admitted to a special Alzheimer's resident care facility late Sunday night. Grandmommy is so sad, though she knows it is necessary. And the DC tax office is threatening to turn me over to collections for taxes I don't owe (and never have!); of course, I can't get through to anyone there via telephone, and I won't be in DC until next week at the earliest. I want to curl up and be held and let cry and cry.

Friday, July 09, 2010

International Relations: Deplorable and Delicious

Last summer, in the international airport in Moscow, I made the acquaintance of Zhenya, an attractive, but shallow and materialistic young Russian woman, who was coming to the US to study English and live as the fiancée of a divorced Russian emigre almost twice her age. She asked me to sit next to her on the plane, and we talked (in a mixture of Russian and English) the whole ten-hour trip to Washington—about the superficial things with which she was obsessed (fashion, expensive cars, money), her family in Kazan and her studies in Environmental Engineering, and how I thought she shouldn’t live with this guy she barely knew. We exchanged contact information, and for a few months we got together every six weeks or so for coffee, and once (as previously blogged, last fall) to go to a museum with her obviously possessive fiancé and a more pleasant friend of his. I had her over to my apartment for tea one afternoon and showed her some of the jewelry I made. What was irritating was how she always wanted to know what this or that cost, how much the apartment rent was, was my diamond pendant real? And so forth.

In time, her “boyfriend” became abusive, and she temporarily moved out, to live with a friend from school. Around the same time, she also discovered that she was pregnant. She’d previously been begging me to find her a “nice American man,” and this entreaty intensified. I always put her off, told her I didn’t know any—well, I do know quite a few, but none that I’d be so cruel to as to have recommended him take a romantic interest in her (not because of the pregnancy, but because of her character)! She also kept pressing me to “help her find a job” etc., but aside from giving her advice, I left it up to her—after all, as a foreign student, most jobs were not legally available to her.

As to her pregnancy and housing issues, I told her about a local crisis pregnancy center and accompanied her to an appointment there, and told her about a good Russian Baptist church and took her to one of their services. In both cases, I was impressed by the people in each place and she was not interested in relying on their help; the director of the pregnancy center advised me against the trap of enablement, and told me to let her make her own decisions. So, after she moved back in with her fiancé, I quit any further communication. What was the point? I’m not a one-woman Salvation Army center, and she was clearly an energy leach, with no genuine reform of her lifestyle.

So, no communication for months, and then she emailed me the day before my father’s funeral, saying that she’d moved out permanently, and “could you find me a good man.” I didn’t respond—I thought, “Good for her” (for FINALLY moving out), but her renewed appeal for a “good man” when I’d just lost my own great Daddy simply reinforced my determination to avoid her. Life is not a Disney movie with handsome princes waiting in the wings to rescue damsels in distress—particularly clingy damsels of questionable morals and no backbone. Rescue-minded royalty is even in short supply for those of us with semi-solid morals and hard heads.

Yesterday, out of the blue, she texted me and then telephoned me (from an unfamiliar number, since identified as “Zhenya! Ignore!” in my address book—I hung up on her when I realized who it was: “Can’t talk now, I’m in a store.” ) to say that she was getting a restraining order against the father of her unborn child. Lovely. Not that he doesn’t richly deserve it, but even less reason for me to want any involvement whatsoever—domestic violence practitioners so often threaten also those they suspect of helping their “loved” ones.

I’d go to the ends of the earth for a real friend, someone I knew was in trouble, who genuinely wanted to get out of a bad situation, but I’d also expect that they’d take advantage of any other external aid available, not just come to me alone, expecting me to magically solve their problems without their having to lift a finger. This girl is bad news, making bad, bad choices, and I refuse to be pulled down with her. I do feel thoroughly sorry for her baby—what parents!

In happier news, I went with Leah and a Lebanese friend of hers to a Greek restaurant in Old Town Alexandria last night after her martial arts class. Hercules, a Greek instructor for the State Department, whom I know from his visits to my and Anita’s jewelry booth at the Arlington Market, was singing traditional music inside. We sat outdoors (as the weather had at last cooled down to the point where being in a garden outdoors didn’t mean being cooked in one’s own juices), listened to the songs and watched other diners dance around the tables inside. Leah’s friend had grown up in Australia, and she told us about her elopement with her husband and the parties on three continents that their relatives had insisted on throwing them in lieu of a wedding.

After the delicious meal, Hercules came outside to sit at our table, rolled his eyes dramatically at our compliments on his music, and burbled to us about his own daughter’s upcoming marriage in Greece to a Finnish guy she met in London. It will be a small wedding, by native standards—150 guests instead of the whole village of 700. If I ever have the opportunity to marry, I—who have actually heretofore wanted a church wedding—want only a minister and a couple of witnesses with me and my husband at the ceremony. It would have been worth it to have a formal wedding if my father were around to enjoy it, but now it’d be too fraught with bitter-sweet emotion. He would have loved the Greek restaurant, and I’ll bet he would have gotten up and danced with the others whose feet were tapping too fervently to keep still in their seats.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Catching Up

So, in the intervening weekends since my last post, I've attended two more weddings--one for a second cousin in Lexington, SC, and the other for my Bethesda gallery boss, in Annapolis, MD. I'm kind of "weddinged out." I realize that one is supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice, but I've lately been much more able to weep with others who are weeping. Still, all in all, both weddings were pleasant events, and I got through them with a cordial expression on my face and plenty of makeup. I did have to go outside and cry during the last one, as the bride is as Greek as I am, and her father danced with her to Greek music at the Annapolis Yacht Club, where the masts of moored sailboats surrounded us. Daddy would have loved it--sailboats AND Greek music?!--and I would have called him to tell him about it, too. Instead, I phoned my sister, who can be trusted to commiserate and not spout any sentimentalist clap-trap about how "he's watching over you" or "he's seeing you here." Bull hockey. God is watching me, but Daddy is otherwise involved in heaven.

I continue to be blessed with friends who help me--getting me out of the house and distracted, or providing muscle for my ongoing redecoration of my apartment, or sitting with me into the wee hours when I can't sleep for thinking about Daddy. Others have phoned and reminded me that they are praying for me and my family, and I continue to get a trickle of snail-mail sympathy cards. I need this more now, it seems, that the adrenalin and subconscious refusal to believe that this is all real are wearing thin.

My dear Granddaddy is not doing well--he didn't recognize who I was when I called to wish him and Grandmommy a Happy Fourth of July. Grandmommy sounded tired--and, for the first time, really old. She loved Daddy dearly, and he'd been giving her advice about Granddaddy's and her own health for years. We're all realizing how much we depended on him.

I'm back working at the Bethesda gallery and at the estate sales. Three weeks ago, my primary post for the week was going to be the story of the painting that I bought at a sale, owned for 24 hours, and then had to return.

Susan took almost all the wall-art in the apartment when she moved out, and I've been desperate to decorate. At one sale that I was working in Kensington, MD, I saw a lovely impressionist/pointillist garden scene, painted in oil, framed in gilded wood, about three feet high and two wide. The art dealer who advises my boss sneered delicately at it, said it was alright for a "ready made" picture, and told her to price it around $300.

I thought it was pretty, and would make a lovely centerpiece for my living room, so I went ahead, wrote a check for it, and took it home (shoving it over the front seats of my little Honda Accord, so it was balanced behind my head, threatening instant concussion in case of an accident) two days before the sale began. The next day, when I went in for work, my boss told me that she hated to do it, but she had to ask for me to return the painting. Turns out the artist, Lillian McKendrick, was a mid-twentieth-century painter of Russian parentage whose work is now considered fairly collectible. Her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other exclusive places, and those pieces available to private collectors sell for about $15,000 a pop. Now, if I had bought the picture at the sale, I would have been able to keep it, and counted it as one of the "great buys" of my career thus far, but as I am an employee of the sale organizer and purchased it prior to the sale's official kick-off, ethically I was bound to return it. So I did. My boss returned my check and paid me $75 for my trouble, which helped to assuage my feelings somewhat. But it was kind of a bummer still--after all, I hadn't bought it because I thought it was a collector's item worth a bundle, I'd bought it because I liked it! But I comforted myself with the notion that not only had I been (briefly) the owner of a good oil painting, but that my taste in art was also demonstrably better than the so-called professional dealer's.

Snap taken of the picture before I returned it:

Pretty, yes?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


My siblings, grandparents, mom and I have all appreciated the many sympathy cards that we have received over the past nine days. What we have most appreciated are the handwritten notes that have supplemented the pre-composed remarks printed on the cards--anyone can sign their name to generic thoughts, but it takes genuine effort to pen your own! Some of these individual remarks have been more than just a few lines of compassion, real little stories about Daddy's effect on the writer's life. I'd like to share one example, addressed to my mother by the sister of my father's best friend Sam:

Dear [EK],

I was shocked and saddened to hear of [your husband's] death. Even though I didn't see him often, I cried, realizing how much I will miss his exuberant warmth & sincere concern for people.

I worked with him in the University [Hospital] Recovery Room for almost 4 yrs (~1990-1994). I was shy & insecure then, but my spirit always lifted when I heard his voice (he always chattered as he brought his patients from OR to PACU). He talked to everyone, but he always made a special point to talk to me (since I was Sam's sister!). He sincerely wanted to know how I was doing. My best friend (Heather) also was a nurse there and said that he made everyone feel that way.

[Your husband] was so different from the other doctors there. Often they would make disparaging comments about their wives, but [your husband] glowed when he spoke of you & of his kids. He once said "EK is far more intelligent than I am." Frankly, it was refreshing and a joy to see a man who was happy in his marriage.

[Your husband] was also humble. One evening in PACU, we were bombarded with patients (& only 2 nurses). [Your husband] was on call & as he rolled his patient in, he asked "How can I help?" He then helped me transport a patient up to the floor. I've never had another physician volunteer to help in such a way

I will really miss him. My heart hurts for you and your children to lose him at such a young age. He was a man who practiced his faith every day. I will be praying for you and your family.

I am so grateful that Daddy made comparatively small decisions (talking to people, really listening to them, recognizing needs and reacting to do what he could to meet them) that had such a huge positive effect on others' lives. My grief at missing him is growing, as the adrenalin which marked my first week of reaction to the news of his death is wearing off.

Monday, I was shaking with nervous energy all day, filling my car with items to take to Goodwill, creating an enormous pile of Susan's stuff in the living room, vacuuming and dusting, even behind long-unshifted furniture. I tore down almost all the curtains, threw away papers, watered my erstwhile "garden." Yesterday, I was desperate to get out of the house. Susan's parents invited me to meet them and the newlyweds for brunch, and then I went to Leah's house for an hour, stopping to drop off the Goodwill load and retrieve a rug from the cleaner's on the way. Then I went directly to Maryland to work on an estate sale. I knew I was near the breaking point. I finally really, truly broke down in body-convulsing sobs when I was in the client's closet, tagging clothes, and ran across a show-polishing kit. The sight and scent triggered memories of Daddy polishing his shoes when I was little, and I cried and cried and cried. It was the first time I'd let myself feel the horror of not having him here, knowing that in this lifetime, however long I live, I'll never get to speak to him again, never hug him, never share weird dreams with him, never hear him carping about how I'm selling myself short, accomplishmentswise. It's just awful, the worst thing I've gone through thus far. If I have car trouble, computer trouble, technical questions, medical issues, financial concerns, I'll have to deal with them some other way than by calling him and asking him for advice. He'll never again tell me how beautiful I am, how smart I am, how I have funny-looking feet, or how I ought to bleach my hair blond. It's so weird, surreal, and so forth, to be sitting at the computer where he sat just ten days ago (I drove back down to GA today) and know that he won't come slamming through the door: Crash! thump, thump, thump, to get something off his desk or lie down on the couch behind me to play solitaire on his PDA.

I miss his calling patients (also while lying on the couch, taking notes):

"Hello, this is Dr. P--I'm calling for Jane Doe. Who am I speaking with? Ms. Doe, I'm an anesthesiologist and I'm putting you to sleep for Dr. Smith tomorrow. I understand you're having surgery on your left knee--is that right? Now, why are you having that surgery? Hm. Well, I need to ask you a few questions. Do you have any diabetes? Hypertension? Free-bleeding tendencies? Hepatitis? Have you ever had any heart problems? Uh-huh. What was the name of your cardiologist? Did he give you a stress test? What were the results? Are you a smoker? How many packs a day? Have you had any surgery before? When was that? Did you have any problems with anesthesia? Any chance you might be pregnant? Now, do you take any medications regularly? What's the dosage on that? Now, for your safety, it's important that your stomach's empty tomorrow when I put you to sleep. Have you already had supper? Good. Now, until midnight tonight you can have clear liquids only. After midnight, don't take anything by mouth--that means no ice, no chewing gum, no water. Except, I want you to take that [name of medicine] with just a sip of water when you wake up in the morning. Now, how tall are you and how much do you weigh? Do you have any questions I can answer for you? All right, I'll see you tomorrow at the hospital--remember, take that [medicine] with just a sip of water, but nothing else. Bye-bye."

It was always interesting listening to Daddy's side of these nightly dialogues because people's symptoms and situations varied so much: some people had a whole litany of past surgeries, complaints about pain, lists of medications, and questions. Others had shockingly bad height/weight ratios, which Daddy repeated carefully to himself as he made his notes, and I and my mother would roll our eyes at each other as Daddy kindly repeated: "Five-two, three hundred twenty-five pounds."

What was neat to me was how Daddy almost always remembered his past patients--even ones that he'd sedated for procedures decades earlier--and so many requested his services when they had to go under the knife again. I suppose there's nothing like trusting the guy who's breathing for you when you are out cold on an operating table. I am proud that Daddy always did good work in a compassionate way. I miss him terribly.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Funeral And A Wedding

Paxifist and Mary drove all the way from Mebane, NC, and Rockville, MD, respectively, to attend the viewing Tuesday evening and Daddy’s funeral Wednesday afternoon. Leah had to attend another friend’s father’s funeral Wednesday and so flew down that night, only to get stuck in Atlanta until Thursday morning, when the other two retrieved her and the three of them came over to spend several hours entertaining my fantastically energetic niece and nephew while the rest of my family stumbled around the house in various states of stupor and tears or fled to exercise. They then whisked me away northwards, so I would be back in DC in time for Susan’s wedding rehearsal Friday.

Tuesday morning my mother and I and my sister and sister-in-law went to the funeral home (Thomas Poteet and Sons on Davis Road in Augusta—they did a superb job, kind and professional) bringing Daddy’s glasses and wedding ring so they could be put on his body before the viewing. They ushered us into the huge parlor where the casket was, and there were flowers all along the wall, even from my cousin’s workplace and mine. My mom really appreciated the flowers. My father’s body looked like him—though there was a spot on the side of his nose from his falling dead they’d had to cover with foundation, and the inner edge of his lips seemed plastic—but his hands were shriveled claws, and they and his face were hard from the embalming fluid. I kept thinking about Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility as my mother’s face crumpled and my sister clipped a lock of his hair for a memento. The undertaker told us that we could bring pictures to display during the viewing that evening, and so when we got back home I ransacked the walls and shelves for photographs. The empty hooks were appalling.

The viewing went on for four hours instead of the scheduled two. We arrived a little after five (it wasn’t supposed to begin until 6), and the line, which at times stretched outside the funeral home, didn’t disappear until after nine (the event technically ended at 8). The most terrible sight for me was watching my stoic Navy brother Bob—whom I haven’t seen cry since he was a toddler—burst into tears upon seeing the silent contents of the silvery casket. The four of us kids went out of the parlor and sat on a couch, teary and numb, as relatives and friends began arriving early. Almost all my cousins (one is in her residency in obstetrics in Pennsylvania and had tried desperately to find a flight and simply couldn’t, the other two work in Colorado), on both sides of the family, came, and my aunts and uncles. Nurses from the hospital—a handful still in their scrubs, straight from work—came (some had worked with Daddy for over 25 years, and all were kind—one had been talking about heaven with Daddy while they worked together on Friday), and doctors (some were obviously preening themselves on their sensitivity in showing up, my Atlanta brother Nate noted later), folks from church, including an Indian missionary and his wife, who told my mother that Daddy had saved his life by correctly diagnosing his hepatitis years ago, and the owner of the Indian restaurant my parents loved, who told me how much she loved his dancing to the Bollywood music whenever they came in to eat. So many of them said over and over how much he clearly loved Mums and how proud he had been of his children, how he talked about us all the time. People I’d never met before knew our names and our interests, and spoke repeatedly about how willing Daddy was to help them, how much he knew, how smart he believed his wife and we kids were.

In the funeral home chapel.

The funeral was lovely. I had typed up most of the order of service and the words to the hymns. Probably a decade ago, for some reason I’d asked Daddy what was his favorite hymn, and as we’d flipped through the hymnal he’d flagged literally every other one: “I want this one sung at my funeral”. After fifty pages or so, I’d run out of Post-it notes, and realized that, like me, he just loved the great Church “oldies.” So Mums picked out three of her favorites, which meant he would have approved of all of them. She also wrote the bio for the back of the bulletin. Daddy’s photo, which appeared on the front of the funeral home pamphlet, she had made just Sunday morning. Daddy was ushering at church, and Mums is in charge of the church pictorial directory, and so she was in the vestibule snapping pictures of members as they arrived for the service. She was getting frustrated with the camera (no matter what she did, she was still getting background shadows), and Daddy came over to calm her down, and said, “Why don’t you take a picture of me?” So she did. It was the last one she took.

I was a bit late—due to truly unprecedentedly awful Beltway traffic—to Susan’s wedding rehearsal on Friday. Forty-five minutes, actually. Her sister, the matron of honor, was even later. I started sobbing several times during rehearsal and wondered how I was going to get through the wedding. Her parents had told everyone about Daddy, though, so they didn’t look at me weirdly. The honey-baked ham my mother had insisted I take with me in a cooler when I left home was consumed at the rehearsal dinner afterwards. Shakespeare proved opportune once again, as the “funeral meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables” though not with the tragic Hamlet aftereffects. I spent the night at Leah’s. Kitten therapy in the middle of the night courtesy of Bonnie and Clyde, a brother-sister pair of little purrers she recently acquired from a rescue organization. I haven’t been sleeping well, waking up all face-swollen, which makes me wonder if I’ve been crying in my sleep.

I didn’t cry before or at the wedding, and managed to smile and smile and not be a villain. It seemed uncommonly short, and I wondered why my feet were aching in my silver shoes afterwards when Susan’s brother commented that the service had lasted seventy-five minutes. My sense of time is skewed. The wedding party went in a limo to some fountains in Crystal City for pictures (several quincinera parties had the same idea on this warm, sunny Saturday) and thence to the hotel for the reception. I didn’t have to duck out until the father-daughter dance, which was emotionally overwhelming. Thank God, Leah came along in Mums’ place as my “date” to keep an eye on me. The food was delicious. I was losing my self-control again when another bridesmaid distracted me by taking me out on the dance floor. Later, I danced with the NPV, Lad, and a Burundian named Michel, all of whom rocked and twirled me so I could think of little else except trying to keep time and on my feet. Incidentally, the NPV had gone all the way to David's Bridal in Springfield to get the ring pillow that I was responsible for supplying. It was a joyful wedding, and Susan and Steven bade us goodnight a little after nine. I can honestly say I enjoyed myself, but the Tolkien observation about feeling “thin and stretched” emotionally, like “butter over too little bread” hit me Sunday morning.

Current and Former Calvert Girls flank a dapper Mr. B

The happy newlyweds in the limo on the way to the reception.

Dex drove me to church on my request. I don’t think I would have made it otherwise. I didn’t cry until I was safe in Sunday school, having not shed a tear during the Father’s Day Ephesians 6:5 sermon. I was hugged until I felt safe and loved. So many dear fellow believers, fellow travelers, in my class. Thank God for my church. They prayed for me and my mom and our family, and you could hear the whispered “yes, Lords” and “Amens” rising from around the room. Sunday afternoon naps are also a gift from God. I wish I could sleep even more, but my apartment’s a wreck, and I spent the whole day today cleaning it. Flora, a former fashion designer from Alabama, is helping me turn the chaos into orderly interior design. It's already coming together beautifully, just thanks to her rearranging items I already own.