Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

For the Love of Family

We travel to Houston for Christmas every year. It's a long journey because we go by car so our boys can travel with us. We have been going since the 1980's when Hubby's sister lived in an apartment and we were each pre-dogs/cats.

We used to garage sale in the summer and acquire strange Christmas presents that we would give -- and then ask the recipient to guess exactly what the item was. Hubby's sister was a computer programmer in the 1980's when that was a strange and new profession. One year she gave us used computer chips -- and we had no idea what they were. In the picture below we had decorated her balcony for some contest held in her complex.

As we all matured, Hubby's sister moved into her own townhouse. We always stayed with her and she would abandon her bed to us, sleeping either with friends or in the guest bedroom in a sleeping bag. In 1990 we started arriving with a dog. Several years later she had a cat. We added Christmas stockings into the mix for our fur children. The fireplace in this home didn't actually work but she filled it with candles so we had the correct ambiance. In the picture on the right we had spent the Christmas holiday revamping her kitchen -- and Sister had given Hubby a matching sweater for Christmas and he had given her a matching hat.

Eventually Hubby's sister moved into a very elegant townhouse with a working fireplace. That year we lit the gas logs on Christmas morning, but the temps outside were so warm we had to also run the central air conditioning. The picture on the left is of Hubby's train track. The train is a huge German toy train that has enough track to run through half the living room -- including through the glass coffee table. Notice also that the gift giving has gotten just a bit out-of-hand.

Then Hubby's sister retired from her management position with a big Texas oil company and decided that she would rent her now two townhouses for extra income. She and her two cats moved in with a good friend. We were still welcomed with open arms but it seemed prudent at that time to stay in a motel when we visited. The picture at the bottom right is of Hubby feeding Wolfie his Christmas treats while Omri, the cat, watches. Both Om and Wolf are now gone -- but they are both with us in our hearts.

After a couple of years, Hubby's sister moved into a sweet little rental property, owned by another good friend. With only bedroom, we continued to stay in a motel during Christmas week.

Last year, after a series of hurricanes in the Houston area, Hubby's sister decided to sell one townhouse and move into the more elegant one -- and we were once again back together for the entire holiday. Sister decorated, Hubby cooked, and we celebrated like a loving family should.

This year's holiday was one of the best ever. The presents we gave seemed perfect. The laughter we shared was loud and long. The carols were sung. The traditional fried chicken and potato salad were devoured. And the love was shared. Christmas belongs to family. It renews you for the upcoming year and gives you the strength to carry on. Our family may not be a traditional one and it may be small in number -- but we nurture each other, we value our unique characteristics, and we support each other's lives. There is tremendous benefit in the renewal this family brings to our lives.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Home Sweet Home

We are back from a fabulous Christmas in Houston. Temps there were in the 60's during the day and we wore short sleeves and sandals. Temps in the Heartland hover around 20 and yesterday evening 3 inches of snow fell. Still -- home looks mighty sweet.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Life in Bullet Points

Fastest update manageable:
  • Holiday party at school went well; kids had fun; Hubby brought in individual bottles of sparkling cider for the 16 Advisory teens and a package of plastic champagne flutes -- the kids were in heaven; everyone got a stocking filled with oranges, kisses, peanuts, candy canes, an ornament (all those years of buying Hallmarks at after Christmas sales) and jewelry for the girls, tools for the boys; high times for at 16 year old
  • Saw my own doctor for the gout, which I still have; no magic pill available no matter how much I beg; infection still running rampant, hence gout still hanging on; damn
  • Mother update decrees she does not need second knee replacement so she is back in her own home for the holidays after a brief hospitalization
  • Dogs see groomer tomorrow for Christmas cut; seems I need one, too -- but . . .
  • Grades delivered today for fall grad course -- eked out an A but just barely (the final paper was a B+) -- looked like from the course graph that it was my perfect attendance that managed to garner the A for the course; 4.0 grade average, Yeah! Baby!, still in tact
  • We leave for Christmas holidays on Friday after school - we're driving, of course, so the dogs can go; not nearly ready -- no packing yet, wash still undone, no wrapping -- but I have found the presents; my hope is that I can put the right gouty foot on the accelerator pedal come Saturday morning when it's my turn to drive
Happy Holidays everyone! See you on the southern side of the nation in a couple of days.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I End Up in the Emergency Room

Gout is considered a form of crystal deposition arthritis, hence the name, gouty arthritis. Uric acid, a chemical that is found in the serum component of our blood, is the key to understanding gout. Excessively high levels of uric acid lead to the deposition of monosodium urate crystals into joints and certain subcutaneous spaces in the body.

Most acute gouty attacks occur in the late hours of the night. As we sleep, our bodies tend to focus on the primary metabolic functions such as digestion, breathing, etc. The extremities, such as the feet tend to cool as a result of this 'lack of attention'. As they cool, and if the dissolved amount of uric acid is high enough, the result is the change of uric acid from a liquid to a crystal. The hallmark symptoms of gout is the acute onset, usually at night with severe pain.

The symptoms of gout usually appear at night and come on like a freight train. The weight of the bed sheets is often intolerable. One joint or several may be involved. The most common site is the first metatarsal phalangeal joint (big toe joint). The pain is described as crushing and excruciating. Attacks tend to last several days.


Yes, I was struck down on Saturday morning with gout -- and the symptoms and the incredible pain continued until 10 p.m. when Hubby bundled me to the E.R. for diagnosis, some pain pills which did nothing to alleviate the pain, and eventually an IV filled with antibiotics, because my white count was very high, anti-nausea medication and heavy-duty pain meds. Finally sweet relief.

I've been loopy all day -- but the big toe on my right foot is improving and I can stand -- if not completely upright -- at least I can once again shuffle along.

Gout is awful. The pain has been incredible. And I lost the entire weekend before Christmas vacation -- a weekend that was supposed to be filled with all kinds of errands and activities and church and packing for Christmas. But I'm recovering. Blessings all around.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Getting One's Just Desserts

So, after months of silence -- hell, years of non-communication -- my mother called me on Friday of last week. However, when I answered the phone she asked for someone else. I told her, politely, she had the wrong number, and without us ever acknowledging each other she hung up.

Back fill is that sometime in October, I suddenly told Hubby that I was having premonitions that she was in trouble, probably rapidly failing health and that I wouldn't be surprised to hear that she had had to move into a nursing home. She's 81 years old after all, lives totally alone -- well, as alone as a woman with a huge pile of money can be, considering she can afford all the care she needs.

On Tuesday night she had her best friend call me because 1. she had received our Christmas card in the mail and 2. she had also received her Christmas gift from UPS. I had ordered an assortment of old-time food stuff from the Vermont Country Store, things she and I had enjoyed eating when I was a kid: plum pudding and hard sauce, oyster stew, Vermont cheese, and B&M brown bread, special crackers, etc.

Mother, herself, could not call me -- but she had her friend call and say that she would enjoy knowing something about my life. I was totally honest. I told the friend I was done with the situation. I would acknowledge Mother on holidays and her birthday because I felt she didn't have anyone left who would remember she was alive. Certainly there is no other living family other than me. I would send things like flowers and food and warm nighties but I was no longer making a personal investment in the situation. The 35 years she had tried to hurt me in every way she could think of had finally taken their last toll two years ago and I WAS D.O.N.E.! The family that had stood by me during those 35 years, even if not blood relations, would be the family I choose to include and support with my love and affection.

The friend said Mother had been thinking that she might like to send Hubby and me a gift for Christmas, something other than the pears from Harry and David that she had sent every single Christmas for the last 15 years. Four pears -- that's what we got every year. Granted, they are very good pears, but still . . .

And in the middle of that conversation about Mother wondering what we might like as a Christmas gift, the friend told us that Mother had bought the town she lives in a fire truck. Not a toy truck, mind you. The entire real red fire engine. The one they had was old and run down and sometimes they could not get up the mountain roads to isolated cabins. So she bought them a new truck.

For 35 years we've gotten pears and gifts from Goodwill and once a set of stuffed cloth wise men.

I've told myself over and over that she can't hurt me anymore, that she won't make me mad. Still -- over $100,000 for a fire truck -- while I get four pears every year?

I understand that she and my dad made me independent and self-reliant and I have the skills to take care of myself. I know that she was the sole heir for my grandfather's money and she can do with it as she chooses. But goddamn -- what a small fraction of that kind of money would have made in our lives all these years while we drove second hand cars and lived in a tiny bungalow and worked every days of our lives to meet the bills!

If, as the saying goes, you reap what you sow, just exactly what does this say about me?

I understand she's failing in health, a broken hip requiring a replacement, new knees that are not healing properly, twelve thousand a month in home care services because she's terrified of going into a nursing home, some dementia. Maybe she's reaping just a bit of what she's sown, too.

Certainly, neither of us are happy about the situation. We can't resolve it, fix it, or even patch over it for "old time's sake." She won't talk to me; I can't talk to her, not even for a fraction of what that new fire truck cost. It's a total impasse. How sad. How unutterably sad.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

2007 Family Christmas Card

Season's Greetings --
Hubby, Milly, Gus (left) and Fritzy (right)

The 2007 Family Christmas Letter

Two years ago we spent a magical night in an enchanted wood and that story became our 2005 Christmas card. Many responded that they cried with us over our heartbreak at our dog’s death.

Immediately following that mystical woodland trek, of course, our lives took even more highly dramatic turns: the life-threatening cranial aneurysm of Hubby the day after Easter in 2006; the loss of my job in May and the subsequent decision in August to return to teaching in a new district and an unknown school after a 16 year absence; the need to re-enter graduate school to earn certification to teach a whole new curriculum; and the arthritic knees that wouldn’t regain strength after a prolonged hospitalization.

Each turn of events, though heart rending in the moment, brought us a new outlook on life, a deeper understanding of our needs and blessings.

In 2007 we can honestly say, that right now, in this place and at this moment, we feel a happiness that we have never known before. We’re traveled this year, spent time with loved ones and dear friends, and reveled in freedom. Our family is healthy and active. We learned to share a deep love and a generosity of spirit that has brought peace and beauty into our lives.

Holiday cards shouldn’t bring tears; they should tell stories of joy and thanksgiving. The magic from that evening in 2005 came full circle in 2007 and we are so grateful to be celebrating our family, our friends, our careers, our joys, and yes, even our lives.

In 2005 we wished that each of you could share in the sprinkling of magic dust that we experienced in those wonder-filled woods. This year we wish even more for you: may the happiness that infuses our lives at this moment surround you and bring you “tidings of great joy.”

Have the merriest Christmas ever and a completely blissful new year! With all our love --

Hubby, Milly, Fritzy, and Gus

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Santas Come in All Forms -- and Genders

Today is the day teachers everywhere pray for -- a snow day (well, actually, more an ice day, but still . . . ). Schools in the entire metro area were called off by 10 p.m. last night -- and then, of course, the weather did not get as bad as expected, but we were already snuggled in for along winter's nap.

I went to bed last night at 9 p.m. and finally woke up completely (at my age we get up a couple of times a night) at 9:30 a.m. I had really been tired. The laundry had been done over the weekend and yes, the presents to travel to Houston still haven't been sorted, but the day just called for a snuggle down with a good book.

Grad school whipped my ass this semester. I simply couldn't manage to get right what the prof wanted -- and she wanted a lot, mostly paper after paper. Sometimes I'd come close, but others I'd lose points for not using the comma correctly. Any interjection of humor brought out her red pen slashes and plenty of point deductions. By the time the final paper was due, I only had 94% of the points available -- and I knew that my final paper was all helter-skelter. Aware that my 4.0 grade average was more than in jeopardy, I stressed out big time. Stress and overwork sometimes shut down my ability to concentrate on my biggest reliever other than music -- mystery novel reading. I have read a lot of news magazines and every People that's delivered, but I haven't been able to chunk out chapters in novels. Three books sit open, read about a third of the way in, before I'd give up.

Yesterday when I got home from school a medium sized box from California awaited me. It was from my good friend Joyce. Joyce was my boss from 1993 until 2002. We both worked for the #3 Telecom Company during that time. But all good things must eventually end - and this had certainly been a very good gig for me. I had the opportunity to work with a brilliant and caring boss who oversaw a staff of really bright, achieving women in an environment that was nurturing and creative. It was the best job I've ever had -- not the job I'm best at -- but certainly the best in terms of professional growth and personal happiness. In 2001 I was eased, with lots of love, out of my contractor gig for the company, and within two years Joyce left to follow her husband into new ventures.

But we stay in touch, e-mails here and there, her visits to town to see friends and relatives. She wrote me a wonderful recommendation when I decided to return to teaching. I know she's always there, just a note or phone call away. And yesterday she was my own personal Santa, for in the box was a bevy of new novels -- for both Hubby and me. He couldn't grab the new Parker quickly enough, wrapped himself in the comforter -- and didn't emerge until lights out. On my part I read the new selection from a silly little series set in the 1930's -- and found myself mellowing and relaxing -- and once again able to take release from my favorite pastime.

I'm not nearly the good friend to Joyce as she is to me. But I thank her with all my heart -- for the eight years we worked together -- and for remaining my dear friend after. She truly brought Christmas into our home. Many, many thanks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lengths to Which Your Friends Will Go

A week or so ago a dear friend had hip replacement surgery. Several weeks prior to that, on an overcast but fairly warm autumnal Sunday afternoon, our friend treated us to a unique experience. His wife owns a horse, smallish but quite sturdy. They had built a four passenger cart for the horse to pull and acquired all the requisite accoutrement, including period clothing. They are often requested at small town parades and old west re-enactments. We had shown interest in their stories and so they invited us out into the hinterland to savor the experience of an authentic horse / wagon ride.

After a lovely post-church lunch, we ambled down the highway a piece, arrived at a picturesque riding stable and Deb went into get the horse, while Lou gathered equipment. Except the horse was sure that winter had arrived and cart rides were a thing of the past until spring and Deb had the devil's own time making that horse agree to be "carted."

Lou, working in pain the entire time with a screaming disintegrating hip, helped Deb with the mare and also heaved and toted and carried and buckled and generally did a yeoman's job. Hubby and I watched in amazement from the sidelines.

The gear for the horse is gorgeous -- all leather and studs.

Then the cart came out of the trailer -- beautifully stained wood and hunter green paint -- and perfect in size and shape.

The horse relented, was harnessed, and we heaved ourselves into the cart -- and then the fun began. Lou drove and we were whisked back into time, riding gloriously happy behind the mare.

Up and around the trails we rode, at first clutching the sides with white knuckles, but eventually realizing this was a lot more fun that we had thought.

Eventually we all tired, and we clamored down. Lou and Deb had another hour's work ahead of them but they sent us onward, saying the drudgery was in the details and they wanted us to remember only the fun.

And what fun it had been.

Now Lou has a new hip and is in recovery, doing just fine, thankfully. We're glad, not only because we want our friend hale and hearty for our concert gigs but also -- we hear they have a boat, too . . . .

Sunday, December 09, 2007


For the past 60 years our little bungalow has had galvanized pipes which meant, of course, that the corroding in them decreased the water pressure just a little more each year, until this year, when we suddenly were down to a mere trickle, if that.

Also the pipes were springing leaks at an alarming rate. When Hubby was hospitalized in April of 2006 the second night he was there I came home to a flooding basement. I had to sneak into the hospital at 1 a.m. to ask him just where the heck the shut-off valve was to the water (I was too stressed to remember -- and the hospital phones to patient rooms shut down at midnight).

This month Hubby found a another, newer leak in the basement. He's frustrated by his lack of strength to fix these things himself, but he's more than capable of supervising help. In came a little crew that he'd gathered (I don't ask myself where these men come from, I just accept them as they parade through and then camp out in the basement) and they spent the next four days fighting pipe leaks in the basement.

Each time one pipe was fixed, another one sprang a leak. Initially, they determined that three major leaks existed but as they removed one corroded pipe after another, they sort of lost count. I'd like to say we put in copper piping, but we didn't. We went plastic all the way -- so much cheaper.

For two days this week we had no water in the house. The first night we couldn't even flush the toilet, much less take a bath. The second night they saw to it that at least the toilet would semi-flush. Dishes piled up in the sink, everything under each sink was unloaded and strewn on the floors, and pipe joints appeared everywhere. Also, they drilled new holes in the floor to bring new piping into the bath and kitchen, creating mounds of nasty sawdust.

By putting on blinders and shutting down, I managed to exist through the chaos. Suddenly, Hubby claimed they were done. "You can take a bath tonight, Babe," hubby proudly announced. I trudged through the debris now littering my bathroom floor and cabinets, and dutifully turned on the water -- and -- AND -- a full stream of hot water poured -- NO GUSHED -- from the faucet. I hadn't seen that much water in . . .well . . . maybe fifteen years.

I'm still learning how to adjust the new faucets (hot water actually must now be mixed with cold - what a unique thought!) while I'm slowly cleaning up the messes (there's even plastic piping in the living -- I ask you, how did they get the pipe into the living room?). But it's wonderful to have fully functioning water streams in this house. This has been a great Christmas gift.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

In Anticipation of Glad Tidings

Hubby bought a tree for my classroom this year. Last year, my first year back after a 16 year stint in business, I didn't have my own room. But this year I do, so Hubby got the kids a tree. It's one of those fiber optic trees so it doesn't really look good unless the room is pitch black, but the kids like it anyway.

My para went nuts. She decided the kids had to make ornaments. Now these are high school kids so I looked at her a bit askance, but . . . on Monday and Tuesday I took the days away from school to write my final paper for my grad class . . . and my para took the time to have my 4th block study skills kids make ornaments and -- get this -- hang their stockings around the tree. I came back on Wednesday to find the far corner of the room a veritable Christmas fantasy land. Eighteen stockings, all purchased by the para, each with the respective kid's name, have been hung around the tree. Snowflakes have been made and padded with scrap paper to be dimensional. Ribbons have been curled and draped. The African-American dancing Santa, gifted to hubby some years back, stands proudly next to the tree while all my classroom stuffed Schnauzers are peeking out from under the branched. The boom box, dialed to the 24 hour Christmas station, plays soft carols and we have lit the cinnamon candles. It is very festive.

So, even though we are having freezing rain and dire predictions for ice storms, Hubby and I went out to the dollar stores today and loaded up on odds and ends to fill the stockings. Monday I'm going to cart in a huge box of weird stuff, hand over the tissue paper, and tell my para to find herself a couple of elves and get busy stuffing those stockings.

The Christmas spirit abounds.

Friday, December 07, 2007

We Do the Shows

For Thanksgiving the family met in Branson, MO for a trip we had been planning since the end of July. We saw the shows, we dined, we shopped, and we laughed. It was a marvelous vacation.

Hubby and I had been to Branson pre huge remodel, when the town was a one road village with Silver Dollar City up the mountain road from motel row. That had been fun in the 1970's, just a three hour jaunt from home with pretty scenery and fudge shops for snacks. Then Branson became the #2 (or is it #3) destination vacation spot in the nation -- and we avoided the place like the plague.

Every year, though, I'd see the local ads for the Christmas shows -- Andy Williams, the Rockets, Shoji -- and I'd lust. Country music will never be our thing, but Broadway and good crooning is very entertaining. The Baldnabbers is a definite no but Andy Williams -- well, we grew up with his TV shows.

So, in July we contacted the Houston family and we all agreed on a set of shows we thought we might enjoy, we found a hotel that took the dogs and made the humans happy in the bargain -- and we booked the trip.

Wednesday before Thanksgiving we met around 1 p.m. at the hotel -- the Houston contingent flew in and we rented a car for our drive down through the Ozarks. The weather was rainy but not too cold. That evening we saw Andy Williams -- the best of the shows, actually. The man is 80 years old and still sings moderately well, dances, has a 10 piece orchestra to accompany him and lots of interesting side acts.

Thanksgiving day we shopped -- yes, stores were open -- and saw the 12 Irish Tenors, another good show. We took the Silver Dollar City Trail of Lights tour, the worst of the events, before turning in. Next morning at 7 a.m. we hit the outlet mall sales before seeing two more shows: Manheim Steamroller and Shoji (who happened to be Hubby and my second favorite show). Saturday we saw the Shanghai Acrobats and went to the Branson Belle Steamboat for dinner and another good show. Sunday we came home.

Branson is affordable, highly entertaining, and an all round good vacation spot. We'll be going again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I got tagged!

. . . by snugpug (see picture on right -- Queeni, Rupert, & Snugpug) to do this meme on behalf of Fritzy and Gus.

Fritzy's top 7 annoyances because Fritzy can be quite the picky boy:

1. Anyone who actually manages to pass him by without stopping to make over him and tell him just exactly how "itty bitty pretty" he really is. Ignore him and he may snap at you.

2. Children who dare to run by the car while he is vigilantly guarding it from marauding hordes of wild beasts -- or whatever Fritzy thinks he's actually guarding the vehicle from.

3. Mama's who try to climb into bed after he has cozily settled himself under the covers for a long winter's nap.

4. A housemate who is huddled in front of the warm air vent at 5 a.m. when the humans are stirring and temperature is hovering around 65 degrees in the house.

5. Anyone who would deign to offer up raw veggies to eat instead of prime rib, shrimp, or pork chop bones.

6. A younger housemate who gets to the ball quicker after it has been tossed for him to catch.

7. Full anal glands -- they MUST be emptied every month, or woe to the person upon whose lap he decides to perch.

Gus does not have 7 annoyances -- he has only one very large one:

#1 and only: a very bum left rear leg that hurts pretty much all the time for no reason that highly expensive x-rays can determine and requires him to take medication every morning of his life and not be able to jump at all (especially onto the bed where Fritzy can loll around at will and get all the human attention because he can leap like a frog).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Holidays

I just got another of those annoying e-mails about saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" to prove I'm a good Christian God-fearing woman who wants to celebrate the birth of Christ. This is the fourth one I've received in the last two weeks -- and they make me angry.

It's highly egotistical to believe that the only holiday being celebrated in December / January is the birth of Christ. There is nothing wrong in including all the celebrations in my "Happy Holiday" salutation. There is nothing politically correct about it -- it's just good, kind decency of character and sensitivity of spirit.

So bah and humbug to all those "good decent Christians" who must force Christ down everyone throats in December. I'm proud to say "Happy Holidays" -- that makes me part of the human race, not just part of the Christian community.

And as an evil aside, at least three of the Merry Christmas enforcers were people who DON'T go to church -- or only show up when it's convenient. I, however, go to church nearly every Sunday of the year. Granted, it's partly to support Hubby who is the music director at our little church -- but I'm still there, serving God and the community in which the church resides. And those folks think they have the right and duty to tell me how to wish my family and friends the greetings of the season. Phooey on them!

The second to last fall graduate class was tonight -- and I presented my final paper to the class and turned it in to the professor. Talk about feeling relieved! Maybe I can even find some time to write a little on this blog now -- and wish everyone a "Happy Holiday" while I'm at it.