Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Than Enough

We're supposed to be on the road to Arkansas right now to spend the holiday with my family. That's not going to happen, though, because we woke up this morning and stepped into a pool of water when we got out of bed. A pipe in the wall broke and our bedroom and the guest room were flooded.

We've had a team of plumbers here since early this morning, and an emergency water damage company has set up a giant humidifier to dry out the rooms that got wet. It is going to cost a FORTUNE to fix. The new wood floor in our bedroom is completely ruined, plus the plumbers had to cut huge pieces of sheet-rock out of the wall in our room to find the pipe that was leaking. And the thing that's particularly galling is that the leak was caused by the people who installed the floor in our room. Apparently when they were replacing the quarter-rounds, they hit a nail into the pipe. It didn't start leaking until cooler weather caused the pipes to contract, and then it was a gusher.



We have already learnt several new things, like the fact that our homeowners insurance doesn't cover the cost of the plumbers. So, even if the insurance covers everything else, we're still on the hook for $4,000. The floor installers are sending someone out on Monday, and we're hoping that they'll cover at least part of the cost since they're responsible for the damage. We're certain of that because we found the exact nail that caused the breech.

It would be easy enough to have a real melt-down at this point because in addition to this little nightmare, we have a lot of other sudden financial setbacks (who hasn't in this economy?). But I still have so much to be thankful for that I'm not going to flip out (yet). Instead, I'm just going to think about the good things and not worry. DH and I have each other, and we have our dogs (and kitty). We have some excellent steaks in the freezer we can defrost for our dinner tomorrow. We have our families.

That's more than enough.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Halts Acquisitions

According to Publishers Weekly, HMH has temporarily stopped acquiring new manuscripts. I suppose it's not surprising considering the doldrums in the economy, but wow...

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Right. Wow...

... a number of agents said they have never heard of a publisher going so far as to instruct its editors to stop acquiring. “I’ve been in the business a long time and at a couple of houses I worked at, when things were bad, we were asked to cut back,” said agent Jonathon Lazear. “But I’ve never heard of anything so public.” Lazear added that, in the past two weeks, business has been more “sluggish” than it had been all year. Another agent who had also heard about the no-acquisitions policy at HMH called the move “very scary” and said it's indicative of an industry climate worse than any he’s ever seen.


Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oh. My. God.

I was evangelized yesterday. By three very nice people – two ladies and a man – who apparently live nearby and who wanted to tell me that if I had not yet found a "church home" in the area that I was welcome to attend their Baptist church. I was a bit taken aback, but rather than slamming the door in their faces, I decided to stand out on the front porch and chat with them for a while. I'm fascinated by religion and it seemed like a good opportunity to either learn something about my new neighbors or to convince them that I ought to be burnt at the stake!

"I am Catholic," I told them, and then I shut up and waited to hear how that would be received.

One of the two nice ladies whose names utterly escaped me said, "Oh! Well that's good. Catholic is good. We are the same in many ways. We all believe that Jesus Christ is our savior."

"Uh huh," I said.

The man looked at his shoes.

The other lady piped up. "Even though you're Catholic, we believe you'll go to heaven, as long as you're saved. We believe you have to be saved; you won't go based on good works alone. Are you saved? Are you sure you'll go to heaven?"

Am I sure I'll go to heaven? If I don't lie, the only answer to that can be, "Hell NO! I'm not sure I'll go to heaven." Of course I'm not going to say that to them, so, naturally, I lied. "Yes; I'm sure I'm sure I'll go to heaven," I said.

"That's good," said Lady #2, nodding vigorously. "That's really good. It means you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior."

"Uh huh," I said. I considered mentioning that he was here just yesterday, and that I had told him that yes; he was indeed my personal savior, but that seemed like overkill, so I shut up and nodded along with Lady #2.

The man smiled vaguely and looked at his shoes again.

In spite of her assertion that "We are the same in many ways," Lady #1 seemed a bit doubtful about my confidence in being heaven-bound. Unless she is good at spotting liars, or is a bit of a liar herself, I'm not sure why since I wasn't dressed like a hooker and I wasn't openly drunk. "My mother is Catholic," she said. "She thinks good works are enough. You don't think that, do you?"

Uhhhhh. WTF? Okay, I admit it; this is the kind of thing that brings my inner witch to life. Remember that scene in the first Indiana Jones movie when they open the Ark of the Covenant and the holy spirit pours out and turns everyone who looks at it to ashes? Well, that's about the closest I can get to describing the temper that her question incited in me.

If her mother is Catholic, then she knows good and well what she is asking – even though I've acknowledged a fundamental agreement in beliefs – i.e., Christ as savior -- she's attempting to get me to disavow a cornerstone of my faith: that what you do matters.

The funny thing is that I'm not a good Catholic. In fact, I'm hardly Catholic at all. I was raised Protestant, and I identify most closely with the Episcopal faith. But this idea that "good works" are irrelevant is infuriating to me. I absolutely reject the idea that I can gabble some bullshit about Christ being my Saviour, and then go out and murder somebody and because I am "saved" I will go to heaven, no problem. I believe in atonement. I believe in redemption. However, I do not believe in this bizarre "I can snort coke and knock off a liquor store, but as long as I accept Christ as my personal savior, I'm cool and all is well," stuff.

I suspect the man on the porch may have seen the first Indiana Jones movie and recognized the signs of the holy spirit rising within me because he suddenly spoke up. "Do you or your husband play tennis?" he asked. "We're always looking for new members here at the club."

He meant the neighborhood club, not the church club, so he was obviously trying to stop the train wreck before it happened. I decided to help him stop the train wreck because it's such a pointless one.

I gave him my best smile. "My husband does. He was just talking about it. You'll probably see him there soon."

He turned to the others. "Ladies, I think we should be going. It's getting late." He smiled back at me. We were in collusion.

It was good.
I thanked them for stopping by and told them if I was ever in the market for a new "church home," I would certainly consider stopping by their church, but that was a lie too.

I have a lot of Baptist friends and family and I have nothing but the highest regard for them. But apart from cursing and the occasional lie, I really am Christian and I have deeply held beliefs and practices that only fit within the Catholic or the Episcopal/Anglican churches because of their historicity. My faith is abiding; I don't pick and choose, so even though it would be convenient to decide to accept Jesus in this easy way and not have to worry about "good works," for me, that would be a bigger lie. I definitely believe that God would judge me harshly for that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

That Old Hedonic Treadmill

My grandfather's sister, Marion Barber Crawford, died on Monday at the age of 91. I'm not noting this because I want sympathy; I wasn't close to her and I didn't know her well, and I don't intend to display some kind of inappropriate crocodile tears. However, she was Papa's sister and Auntie and Daddy's aunt, and I had been hoping to interview her for my upcoming project on Arkansas history, and I am sorry she is gone.

I considered going to the funeral, which will be held in Warren, Arkansas on Saturday, but it's a long drive and we're planning a trip to Arkansas in a couple of weeks for Thanksgiving, so Auntie and I thought it was best that I just send flowers, since DH wouldn't be able to go with me and I'm not quite ready, health-wise, to make a drive that long (9+ hours) on my own.

It's just as well that I don't go, since, as I said, I hardly knew Marion, and it's a really long drive, but also because my publishing business is about to cause me to pull my hair out and I probably ought to go wig shopping instead. (How's that for shallow???) Really, I don't think the stupidity of the FEMA hurricane recovery efforts have anything on what small publishers have to go through on a daily basis.

e.g., The company who used to do my covers have gone out of business. Arrgghghh, I have the artwork I want to use for my next book. I have the back cover text. I FINALLY have the ISBN. I've nearly got the typesets. Final edits to come (Sorry Gillian). But now I need someone to put the cover together in a decent-looking and acceptable format. I do NOT want to deal with some a$$hat artist who wants to charge me $10k for a 15 minute Photo Shop job. Sigh…

It's a good thing I'm an essentially happy person, or I'd never get through it all. What? You didn't know I was a happy person? I suppose you wouldn't based on the stuff I write since it mostly comes across like chronic misery. But oddly enough, I think that's how it works. It's like that hedonic treadmill thing. Big ups and big downs only affect me for a little while and then I return to my baseline, which is generally happy. And when I write about my ups and downs and annoyances, I return there faster.

In fact, I'm about to return there now. With a margarita. I have wireless and a cellphone. There's no reason in the world that I can't pull out my hair in my new backyard, which is … not half bad.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Let it Rain

It's raining. There's a first time for everything, and this is the first time it's rained since I've moved to San Antonio. It's a nice, soft, pattering rain that immediately reminded me of the frequent comments I heard about Washington state from silly people who live in non-rainy climates. "Oh, I LOVE rainy days," they'd say. "You can just stay indoors and curl up with a book."

Right. You can do that if you live in a place where it doesn't rain almost every day for nine months out of the year. If you intend to wait out the rain in the Pacific Northwest, you'd better be retired, independently wealthy, and stocked up with a LOT of books! If not, I can pretty much guarantee you will not be able to spend all the rainy days curled up in front of the fire. I think you would probably go mad, and at the very least, your muscles would atrophy. You have to go outside and live. In the rain. It gets old. Fast.

Here, however, this nice, soft, pattering rain is a lovely break after weeks and weeks and weeks of perfect sunny weather. And yes; now that I don't have to deal with endless rainy days, I like them again. I may even resort to curling up with a book myself since I'm having one of those days where I wonder if I'm not going to lose my mind.

I'm not sure how it works that I can get a confluence of events that is so maddening; I think it must have something to do with my horoscope! My cat, for example, has conceived a fatal attraction to the plant my mother-in-law sent me when I was in the hospital. It's pretty thing in a basket, and even though I'm usually a plant-killer, I thought I would try to keep it alive. Part of it is a fern and part is something else, probably poison, and apparently, Tabitha NEEDS to eat it. She has never been a cat who would jump on the table, so after noticing her interest, I moved the plant to the table, thinking she'd stay away from it. Not a chance. I walked into the kitchen this morning to find her sitting in the middle of the table, breakfasting on my plant. She was sick shortly thereafter, so I assume that whatever she ingested is not a worry any longer. I think I'll give the plant to DH to take to his office.

That was just one of the maddening bits of the day. Bowker, the keeper of the ISBNs was the perpetrator of another one. I, well, my company, owns a block of ISBNs. We paid for them ages ago. I'm ready to register two new books that we're about to publish. All very straightforward, no? Of course it couldn't be straightforward. I haven't yet unpacked all my moving boxes, and probably won't be able to get to them for a while, and I'm not sure where the paper copy of the list of ISBNs is located. I'm a registered member of Bowker, so I thought I'd just look them up online.

Except.

When I signed into Bowkerlink, they would only show me the ISBNs for books I'd already published, unless I paid them $25. Even though it is the same site I use to register the books under the new ISBNs, they hide those damn numbers unless I pay their extortion. Isn't that helpful? I paid the $25. Under protest.

The final maddening thing has left me flummoxed – sort of like Elmer Fudd trying to get the best of Bugs Bunny (never going to happen). It's so peculiar, it's difficult to even explain. The week before we went to Lake Charles, I got a call from the real estate agent who sold our house there. She said the people who'd bought it had received a box that was sent to me and wanted to know how to get it to me. Of course it's been three and half years since we moved and I couldn't imagine what was in the box, but I told her we would be in town and we'd pick it up when we were there. And we did.

After marveling over how amazing it is that we were able to stay in touch and still receive this box, we opened it. It was a box of returns. Book returns. They didn't enclose a packing slip or original invoice. They were from Amazon. GAHHHH!

Several questions come to mind. Say, like, why did Amazon order 43 copies of this book in September and return 9? Those are strange numbers. Also, if they were able to sell 32 copies, then why not hang on to the other 9? They turned around and ordered 22 copies in October! But I have to eat the shipping. That's seriously galling.

The Elmer Fudd part of this is trying to figure out how to fix the shipping address used for the returns. My God. Somewhere in "the Internets" my address is wrong and I have no idea where. I have looked at every place I can think of to change it, and none of them list my old Lake Charles address. Where in the world did they get this and how do I fix it?

I feel half-demented trying to solve this, so I think I'm going to give up for now. Instead, I'm going watch my favorite stupid movie, Les Visiteurs. I found it on youtube and I intend to justify this by telling myself that watching a French movie, even one so incredibly puerile as Les Visiteurs is a good way of improving my French.

Right.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Arrgghhh -- Make it STOP

Spending last week in Lake Charles was wonderful. I played the slot machines exactly once and I won $130. I then proceeded to make myself sick with a terrific hamburger and a HUGE double-margarita -- totally worth it. I learned that Hurricane Ike flooded our old neighborhood. That made me feel really sad, but also relieved that it never happened to us once while we lived there.

We saw quite a few old friends. In every case, we somehow ended up talking about -- surprise -- politics. I had forgotten how different politics are in Louisiana; I can't explain it, but they just are. In the course of four enthusiastic ... um ... discussions, I was told by two people that Barack Obama is not a natural born American citizen and therefore, should not be eligible to become president. Unlike most of what seems to be the rest of the country, I'm not a huge Obama fan, but even so, I thought those comments were stupid and I didn't hesitate to mention it.

Regardless of who is elected, and I believe it will be Obama, I will be SO glad to have this damned election over and done with. I admit that I don't like either candidate, but it really doesn't matter what I think because I was in the hospital on the deadline for registering to vote, so I don't get to vote anyway. It will be the first time in my adult life that I'll have missed voting in an election. I suppose it shouldn't bother me much anyway because if I still lived in Washington, my vote either way wouldn't have mattered because Obama is certain to win there. And here, in Texas, McCain is almost certain to win, so my vote wouldn't have mattered here either. It would only have mattered to me.

Tomorrow night Gillian and I are going to have a virtual election party with virtual election cake and then, I can sigh and say, Thank God it is over -- except for the bitching and moaning, which is bound to last at least four years!

Arrrgggghhhh...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Roulez! Roulette!

DH was out of town last week and, except for the brief visit of my uncle DB and his wife VM, margarita-expert and life saver of Prissy, I saw no one all week. No one human anyway. I did see the horrid little chihuahua belonging to the people who live behind us. I saw that because it dug a hole under the fence and was waiting for me when I took the dogs outside. Pippin immediately proceeded to chase it into the narrow gap between the pool and the fence -- a gap lined with prickley palm trees -- and engage it in battle. I had to climb in there after him to break up the dog-fight. I was not a happy camper, and if my toe wasn't still broken, I would have seriously considered drop-kicking the little rat-faced monster back over the wall. Instead I hauled Pip out by the tail and screamed curses at the rat till it was scared enough to go back on its own. I shoved a piece of stone into the gap, hoping it would be enough to prevent further incursions, but I have my doubts.

DH had another business trip this week, to Port Arthur, Texas. Since that only requires a drive of about 6 hours, rather than enduring another 5 days of stomach-hurting, toe-aching, dog-fighting solitude, I decided to go with him. We arrived last night, and thus far, accompanying him is turning out to be more entertaining than staying home. The drive itself would have been interminable, except DH was driving my new car and he obliged me with impressions of old-school race car driver Jackie Stewart about our "fine European touring sedan."

"Drive spectacular!" he said. I have to admit, DH does a remarkably funny version of a Scottish accent.

I, in turn, obliged him with shrieking harridan impressions about "Veering!" and "Speeding!" and, "Dammit if you don't slow down you are GOING to get a SPEEDING TICKET!" Yeah; I'm sure he was really amused by that.

Port Arthur, which was hit pretty hard by Hurricane Ike, has never had much in the way of hotels, but it's nearly impossible to get a room in those they have because FEMA, in their glorious ineptitude, hasn't, even after 6+ weeks, done much to help the victims repair their houses, so, naturally, the hotels are filled with storm victims. The nearest hotel room we found turned out to be 60 miles away, in our old home, Lake Charles, Louisiana. However unhappy DH is about driving 120 miles to and from the hotel to his meetings, staying in Lake Charles is not a problem for me.

What's also not a problem is that the hotel room we found is in L'Auberge du Lac, the fancy high-rise casino they were building here when we moved away. I'm not a fan of casinos, but this place is a completely different world to the other local casinos. For one thing, it's massive; according to the brochure, it's 26 stories tall. For another thing, unlike most other casinos on the Gulf Coast (except for Beau Rivage in Mississippi), rather than being a hotel next to a ridiculous little river-boat, it's land-based, and it has a golf course, a huge pool, bunches of restaurants, and tons of high-end shops.

DH knew someone who got us the special comp rate reserved for "members" (i.e., high rollers) and apparently we've been flagged as such because people keep asking me, "Do you feel lucky?" So far, I managed to stick to smiling vaguely and nodding rather than saying anything for fear that what would come out of my mouth would be along the lines of, "Actually, since you asked, I don't feel particularly lucky right now because I'm in heinous pain from a recent major surgery and a broken toe; my arms and legs are covered with scratches from breaking up a dog fight; I've paid a deposit to the phone company for a line that hasn't been turned on although it was supposed to be last Friday; and THIS HOTEL decided to test the fire alarm system at the break of dawn so there was NO chance of sleeping in. How about YOU? Do YOU feel lucky?" Ahem ... I'm afraid that might be construed as slightly threatening, so it seems prudent to smile and nod.

I'd intended to spend today in one of my favorite pursuits: drinking mai tais in a cabana by the pool, but alas, a cold front has come through and the high temperature is only supposed to reach 65F, so that's a non-starter. This leaves me with the choice of limping, Quaisimodo-like, down to the casino or the shops -- neither of which seems very intelligent considering the morning news headlines are all about the world economy circling the drain.

On second thought, perhaps I will hit the casino. I got to have one of my favorite Southern delicacies for breakfast this morning: grits. Maybe that means my luck is turning. Hell, it can't get much worse without someone (probably ME) actually being dead! I need to find my one-and-only pair of shoes that still fits; I think have a date with the one-armed bandit (and maybe, just maybe, an indoor mai tai).

:-)

Bon chance a moi -- laissez les bon temps roulez!

p.s. I find it annoying that I can't get accented characters to work on my keyboard. Just so's you know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sometimes you just have to laugh

A lot has happened since my last post about my surgery woes. Three days after that post, I had some complications and got to spend another fun-filled week in the hospital, complete with the beloved NG tube and additional pain killers.

My mother came to stay with me and she fell in love with my dogs -- Prissy's future may well lie in Arkansas.

DH took care of supervising the movers and our pitiful possessions were deposited into our new house. We are living there now, in towering piles of boxes that I'm not yet well enough to unpack. I try to do a couple each day and DH does a few more when he gets home at night, but it's a slow process for sure.

My 21st anniversary is in two days and though I haven't been well enough to manage a gift for DH, my health problems must have seriously freaked him out because he has given me the gift of a lifetime -- my dream car -- a blue Mercedes E350! We needed a car, but it was because his was failing, and it was his turn to get a new one -- not a common occurrence for us since we literally drive our cars until they're ready for the junkyard. Cars may not sound romantic to you, but DH is a typical engineer (and guy) who adores anything to do with engines, so for him to give up his chance for a car, and to buy one so over the top nearly blew me away. It was so sweet of him that it made me cry in a way that even diamonds wouldn't have done. I can't really get out of the house to shop and it's too late for deliveries, so poor DH is going to have to wait for his gift -- I'll never come up with anything that will equal what he gave me, but he reads this sometimes, so I need to tell him he has my undying love (and he would have even without the car).

I have had exactly one spin in my new chariot, after foregoing pain pills so I wouldn't kill myself or anyone else while I was doing it. I can hardly wait until I'm better so I can give it a real roadtest. That's going to a bit longer than I expected because yesterday, I broke my damn toe! I caught it on a box and nearly tore it right off my foot.

Like I said -- sometimes you just have to laugh!

C'est la vie.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Improbability

Warning: this post contains gross health details that you may want to avoid!

You know how, in some books, you’ll come upon a plot twist so unbelievable, so absurd, so manufactured to fit an implausible story line, that you throw the book at the wall in disgust? You know the ones: the long-lost rich relative conveniently dies, leaving a poor earnest orphan rich beyond her wildest dreams, or alternatively, leaving a cool house in Tuscany/France/fill-in-place-here. Or, maybe it’s about a man who falls in love with a woman simply by seeing her photograph (or in the course of a single meeting) and spends ginormous amounts of time and money trying to find her – and, of course, he DOES and she immediately falls in love with him too. There are any number of variations, including ones that don’t involve at least one super-rich person, but the common thread is that they always lead to the implausible situation. I had one of those plot twists in real life this week, which, in a book, I would have instantly scoffed at. Seriously – I’d have considered a book with this plot twist a total wall-banger.

What happened? Well, to explain, I have to go back a bit – to when we first moved to Washington. We’d only been there a couple of days; literally, the movers were still at my house unpacking. I got a terrible stomach pain, and I had to go to the Emergency Room. It turned out that I had a partial intestinal obstruction, a condition that can be life threatening, and I had to spend my first week on Whidbey Island in the hospital. There are only two treatments for an intestinal blockage: conservative treatment, which involves having a nasogastric (NG) tube put through your nose into your stomach for several days, while at the same time, not having any food or water, so your digestive system can rest – and surgery. Conservative treatment is hideous – I wouldn’t wish an NG tube on my worst enemy – but it’s always the preferred treatment because with surgery, there’s an uncomfortably large risk that the blockage will re-occur. If conservative treatment fails, or if the blockage is complete, rather than partial, then surgery is required. Without surgery, your intestines will die, and then you, too, will die. It’s a complex situation, but the treatment decision is pretty simple.

I was lucky that time because the conservative treatment worked, mostly. I continued to have a blockage, but it resolved enough that I was able to manage it by being super careful about what I ate – no fiber, including one of my favorites, berries – and no food at all when I felt it getting worse. Still, I considered myself lucky because the surgery was supposed to be so risky and painful that it seemed like a much worse alternative. Because it was so horrible to go through, I spent a lot of time working out the events that led up to getting sick so I could avoid them in the future. When it happened, I’d just completed the long-distance drive from Texas to Washington, and I was in the process of unpacking my stuff in the new house. I was also completely overloaded with stress and “to do” list items and I hadn’t been eating right at all.

Naturally, I thought of all those things when I was planning my recent move to Texas – so many of the same elements were due to be repeated, in an almost identical fashion. But I was really careful, in spite of my moaning about Prissy, to space out my driving so that I wouldn’t be spending so much time each day in the car, and DH came to Washington to help with the movers, so I wouldn’t have to deal with that on my own.

And it seemed as if my careful plans had worked, in spite of all the problems we had getting back to Texas. By Saturday, I was feeling OK and DH and I went out to look at cars (his is on its last legs), with plans to visit the mall afterwards to see if I could pick up some hot-weather clothing at an end-of-season sale. We were at the mall when I got an awful pain in my stomach. At first, I thought it was just the Mexican food I’d eaten the night before and I tried to ignore it. But it got worse and I told DH I thought we’d better go. He must have known something really bad was happening because he knows I have to be nearly dying to cut a shopping trip short!

DH asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, and at first, I said no, so we went back to the apartment, where I lay down and tried to wait out the pain – I still thought (hoped) it might go away – I didn’t immediately think it had anything to do with my obstruction. But it got worse and worse. In fact, it got so bad, I thought I really might be dying, and I finally, reluctantly, agreed with DH that I needed to go to the hospital after all.

He took me to a hospital that he knew of because it was on one of his running-routes, a fortunate choice too, because it turned out to be one of the best in the city. The waiting room was crowded and my heart sank because I wasn’t sure how long I was going to last sitting upright in a hard chair, but there was a nurse doing triage and she sent me back to a room (with a bed) right away.

I saw the doctor and gave him my history, and he sent me for a CT scan, the results of which produced my bizarre plot twist. My pain was caused by an intestinal blockage, and this time it was complete. In other words, conservative treatment was not an option. I needed surgery right away because my small intestine was ischemic, which meant it was starved of blood supply and was already beginning to die. It was just too bizarre to think that the first blockage was caused by the events surrounding my move from Texas to Washington, and this new one was caused by moving back! As I said, if I’d read it in a book, I’d never have believed it; I’d have pitched the book at the wall.

I had surgery last Sunday (today is Friday), and it was even worse than I’d imagined it could be. The surgeon, who was terrific, started out trying to just open up the blockage with a small incision and a laparoscope, but when he got inside, he found sections of dead bowel, so he had to convert the surgery to a complete open (big incision) one and he had to do a complete resection of my small intestine, which involved cutting out the dead bits and sewing the remaining, healthy bits back together.

I went into the surgery hoping to come out with just a small laparoscopy scar and no blockage, and I came out with no blockage (yay!), but with a huge 5-inch long vertical scar, plus another small vertical scar and accompanying drain. In addition, I given a central line because my veins were insufficient for the IVs I needed. For the uninitiated – like me, till I had one, a central line is a kind of IV port with caps on it where different needles can be inserted, while leaving others free for drawing blood and giving injections. The central line was startling because it’s much larger and more permanent looking than a regular IV, and it was placed in the most uncomfortable position on my neck. And it was “installed” there, not just stuck on with tape. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, even though the conservative treatment hadn’t been an option, I was stuck with an NG tube too. ~Shudder!

I’ll tell you what – it’s a pretty big attitude adjustment to go from looking at David Meister dresses at Neiman Marcus on Saturday, to facing the surgery I just described on Sunday.

There was one bright side to all this misery – I got an immediate payback for moving to Texas. DH called Auntie on Sunday to tell her about my surgery and she arrived in my room on Monday. She was a God-send. She spent every day this week keeping me company; she took care of the dogs while DH was at work; she brought me magazines and face cream; she helped bring home some of the gorgeous flowers I received so I could enjoy them at home; she even brought ME home from the hospital because DH was in a meeting he couldn’t get out of when I was finally released, and, now that I’m home, she’s making me my grandmother’s favorite baked custard, which is fabulous because there are very few things that I’m allowed to have, but that’s one of them. She’d have come to Washington if I’d asked her to, but because we weren’t so far away, she was able to get here in time to really make a difference. I expect she’ll read this at some point, so here’s to you, Nancy Barber. You are the best!

Auntie’s going back to Little Rock tomorrow, and I have a huge long recovery ahead, but I’m not as down as I might have been otherwise because I’m so grateful for all the support I received from my friends and family. In addition to Auntie coming to stay with me, my Uncle Mack and Aunt Shirley and my mother sent me amazing flowers. And, most importantly, DH went so far above and beyond to take care of me that I still cannot believe it. Even though his back has to be KILLING him by now, DH spent every night in a chair in my room so I didn’t have to be alone. Every night he stayed – all night. And he brought me every single thing I asked for, e.g. he raced out to get me a hair dryer on a moment’s notice because I got to have an unexpected shower and I was going to be cold if I couldn’t dry my hair. Gillian called me twice and talked for hours, although it must have been seriously expensive; and my friends on Penman Review cheered me up by playing along with the pathetic missives I sent from my mobile phone.

Thanks to all of you. I love you all. God bless you.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Close Call

We had a lot of things to do last week.

Move out of our house in Washington. Check.
Sell our house in Washington. Check.
Fly back to Texas so we could buy our new house. Ahem.

The movers were terrific; they had everything packed and loaded by noon on Thursday. We were really pleased about that because we had rescheduled our original flight, which was supposed to go through Houston on Friday, for Thursday night, so that we could get into San Antonio before Hurricane Ike closed the airport. We were all set to start the long drive to the airport when the call came in from Continental Airlines -- our red-eye flight was departing as planned, but they weren't allowing any pets on the flight, which meant that, for all intents and purposes, our flight was cancelled because we had to get Tabitha, our kitty, to Texas too.

"Um, what do you mean, we can go, but our cat can't?" I asked the guy from Continental. "Do people often just abandon their pets if you arbitrarily refuse to honor their reservations?"

"Noooo...," he said, "...but the hurricane..."

"What about it?" I asked. "It affects pets first? There'll be extra turbulence cause there's a little cat on board?" I may have sounded a tad bit sarcastic there, but oh well.

"Um...," he was clearly stunned. "Management..."

"Right," I said. "Good answer. Thanks a bunch."

I hung up on him and asked DH what he thought we ought to do. DH thought we ought to reschedule our flight and not worry. I, being the anti-Pollyanna, thought DH was nuts. I called our real estate agent in Texas and told her we might not make it to the closing of our new house on Monday and asked her what we ought to do. I expected her to tell me that it wouldn't be a problem to reschedule the closing, but without coming right out and saying it, she implied that we might lose the house if we didn't close on time.

The seller was supposed to close on his own new house on Monday as well, and there was a backup offer on the house we wanted from the very first day we made the offer. The possibility existed that the seller could use that as a reason to break our contract and accept the other offer. But the seller's new house closing was IN HOUSTON. It was obvious that his closing was NOT going to happen on time. The realtor said she'd check with him about postponing and get back to me. She did and the news was not good -- he insisted his own closing was going forward, and that ours had to go forward as well.

Our realtor is very nice, but she didn't seem to understand that we might not be able to wave a wand and appear in San Antonio on Monday. "Can't you just kennel your cat?" she asked.

It took me a while to explain that this was our last trip, and that we couldn't leave our cat in a kennel indefinitely, and that I had no idea when I'd be able to come back and get her. I finally had to tell her that if she didn't figure something out, the deal was probably off. Once I managed to get that point across, things changed quickly. She contacted the title company handling the transaction, and they found a local notary who would meet us with the closing papers, which we could sign on Friday afternoon. The notary would then send the papers overnight to San Antonio, so they'd be there in time on Monday. Funny how "impossible" things can be made to happen when there's money on the line!

Then we were left with the other problem -- getting back to San Antonio in time for DH to appear at his new job on Monday. We spent Thursday night sleeping on the floor of our empty house in Washington, trying to figure out how to do this.

DH called around to all the airlines and finally found a flight on United that went through Denver on Saturday. United doesn't have the special pet program that Continental does, and in fact, United are complete idiots about pets because they suggested that we put Tabitha in the hold, but then they said they couldn't put her on the connecting flight, so she'd arrive on the same flight the next day. I didn't want to put her in the hold in the first place, but the idea of leaving her in some God-forsaken baggage area overnight was impossible, so we arranged to take her on the flight.

We signed our house papers on Friday and spent that night at the W Hotel in Seattle. It was fabulous having a bed again after spending the previous night on the floor. Saturday morning we headed over to the airport bright and early to be sure we had plenty of time to check in since we expected it take longer with Tabitha in tow.

The airport was a freaking nightmare~! I swore last year that I would never fly United Airlines again, and if they hadn't been the only game in San Antonio this past weekend, I would have kept that resolve. As it is, we probably would have been better to keep it anyway -- they are just pathetic. In addition to the hurricane, there was bad weather in Chicago and San Francisco, and there were several hundred people waiting in line to check in! We waited in line for 3 hours, and we were still waiting when our flight departed -- without us.

When we finally got up to the desk, the gate agent was kind and apologetic and she booked us a flight for the next day, this time via Los Angeles. She also gave us each a $100 certificate for future travel (yeah, right; like I'll fly United any time soon), but that was it. So we had to find an airport hotel that would accept cats -- NOT an easy task -- people travel with dogs, but who brings their cat? By this time, there were about 400 people in line, and some of them were turning into an ugly mob -- United got a manager out there to talk to them, something they should have done hours earlier. Since they were having so many weather problems, they should have called in extra people to work to reduce the line, but I suppose they've fired them all so the management can still take home big bonuses. Whatever.

On Sunday, we went back to the airport and waited two more hours to check in, and were finally able to do so. United got their revenge on me for my animosity because they marked my ticket as requiring an extra security check, so while DH and Tabitha were able to sail through, I was forced to be hassled and felt up by my favourite folks, the TSA, before proceeding to the gate, where we learnt that the status of our flight was "delayed." Indefinitely.

At this point, DH informed the people standing near him that he could completely understand why people sometimes went insane on airplanes and defecated on the drinks cart -- and I didn't even shush him because I agreed, although I admit that I sincerely hoped he wasn't thinking of doing so. Fortunately, before we were required to consider that possibility any further, we were told that our flight would only be an hour late, and we would probably still make our connection to San Antonio.

And we did. We arrived there on Sunday night. DH made it to work on time. Our house papers arrived on Monday morning and we were there to deliver the cheque for the house in person. As we expected, the seller of the house was not able to close on his house in Houston; his closing was delayed by 10 days because (Surprise!) there was a hurricane there, you know. Our kitty was a champ -- she was stuck in a carrier for more than 12 hours and she never made a peep. Our furniture will not be here until 4 October, but we are all, including our animals, here, safe and sound, in Texas now.

Thank God. I thought it was never going to happen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Welcome Home?

The movers cleared out our house in Washington yesterday and we were supposed to leave on the 11:50 pm flight. We had moved up the flight because it had a connection through Houston and we were concerned about the possibility of weather delays caused by Hurricane Ike. At the time we changed our flight, it appeared that Ike would pass well to the south west of Houston, so we weren't that concerned. Fast-forward two days -- Houston was in the direct path and the airport was scheduled to close about an hour after our flight to San Antonio was due to depart.

We were all set to get on the plane, in spite of the risk of being caught in the Houston Intercontinental airport during the storm -- a distinct possibility if our flight was delayed for any reason. We didn't get on the plane, however, because although our flight was still on schedule, Continental called yesterday and said that kitty's flight was cancelled! Kitty was supposed to fly in Continental's special climate controlled pet section, but they decided to cancel pet flights before doing the same for the rest of the flights. Kitty has to go WITH US, though, so we were out of luck.

The only real reason that it mattered was because we completed the sale of our house in Washington on Friday morning, and we're supposed to close on our new house in Texas on Monday morning and it will be a big problem for us if we lose the new house. DH got the company travel agents on it and they found us, including kitty, another flight for Saturday that goes through Denver and flies directly into San Antonio. We're still not sure whether it will happen though since the weather is going to be dicey across the southwest, so we also got the seller and the title company on the case and they were able to get the closing papers to a notary on Whidbey Island, and we did a contingent signing of the papers this afternoon. If we can't make it to the closing on Monday, then all we'll have to do is to wire the money to the seller on Monday and we'll own our new house.

This whole week has been incredibly fraught, and last night was pretty close to the culmination of it. After we found out that the airline wouldn't take kitty, we had to work the phones to get the new airline reservations and to get the sellers' title company into gear to do something to save the deal on our new house. It is, incidentally, amazing what can be accomplished by phone when people think a lot of money is on the line to be lost. Originally, we were told there was no way we could buy the new house without signing the papers in person, but funnily enough, that seemed to change when DH informed them that he works with contracts on a daily basis and Hurricane Ike falls into the category of "force majeure" (act of God) and we were ready, willing, and able to execute the contract and therefore, it was on the other party to do everything in their power to bring the deal to fruition (I've always hated contracts, but those BIG words come in handy sometimes) -- and, suddenly, a notary was located on Whidbey Island who would meet us with the proper papers and who would send them overnight so they'd arrive in time, even if we did not.

So, we signed our papers and we spent last night sleeping on the floor of our empty house. Tonight we are in a swanky hotel in Seattle, with our fingers crossed both for our flight to leave as planned tomorrow and also for all our friends in Houston and Lake Charles who are getting hammered by Ike tonight.

It is bizarre to us that the Gulf Coast has not had a major hurricane since our own experience with Hurricane Rita in 2005, just before we moved to Washington, and now, our old and favourite places are facing devastation tonight with Hurricane Ike. We've been phoning our friends to see if they need help -- if we arrive back in Texas tomorrow, we're ready to help them in any way we can. If any of our friends, and you know who you are, need us, please call on our cell phones and let us know. We should be in San Antonio on Saturday evening and you can stay with us, or if you need us to come to you with ice, etc. we will be there as soon as the authorities will let us through. For our Lake Charles friends, we know the levee is breached in Cameron, and our thoughts are with you. We believe you'll be OK, but if you need us, just call us and we'll do whatever we can to help. As for our Houston friends, y'all are in the path. We're praying that you all make it through, but if you need us, let us know. We are praying for you...











Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Peace of Mind or Piece of My Mind?

This whole week is turning into a comedy of errors. Every hour seems to bring a new absurdity to light. DH called the phone company yesterday to tell them we wanted to cancel our service as of Friday. Of course, the phone company has a fancy automated message -- press 1 for this; press 2 for that. And they list an amazing array of options in that message; I know because DH used speaker phone to call them. You can press a button for all kinds of cool additional services -- even high speed internet. You cannot, however, cancel your basic phone service from the automated message. To cancel, the message said, you must stay on the line until a customer service representative is available. The message then said that there was an approximately 30 minute wait, but you could leave your name and number and the next available customer service representative would call you back.

DH left his name and number and then moved on the next absurdity. A couple of things about that one: 1) we're really lucky that DH received a relocation home buyout with his new job; the market is terrible here and our house isn't going to sell until it picks up, which could be years; 2) our house is over 100 years old, but it was essentially rebuilt from the ground up about five years ago. It had new everything, including new windows and a new roof, which we're sure of because we had the house inspected when we bought it two and a half years ago. The relocation company decided they needed to have the roof specially inspected by an inspector from Portland OREGON. That's hundreds of miles away. Our former realtor talked them out of that, but he's former now because he got so irritated with them he said he couldn't work with them!

In addition to the comedy of errors with the inspections, the relo company now says they didn't receive the notarized forms we sent them last week. The purchase of our new house, which is supposed to happen on Monday, is dependent on receiving the equity from this house, and that is dependent on those forms. The receipt is, naturally, in Texas -- because we expected them to let us know if they didn't receive the forms. And they did -- the day before the absolute deadline. We have no idea whether we'll get our new house in Texas now.

And finally, we were supposed to fly back to Texas on Friday morning (with our kitty), but now, Hurricane Ike is projected to come in on Friday night. It's only going to be tropical storm strength in San Antonio, but there are no direct flights from Seattle, so we have to connect in Houston, which may be evacuating by then, depending on the forecast. We've changed our reservation to the red-eye on Thursday night, and we have our fingers crossed that we'll make it back before they close the airport. Kitty is already locked in the bathroom to keep her from getting out (and lost) while the door is open for the movers. She's utterly miserable. If our flight doesn't happen, and it may not, there's no telling how long she'll have to stay locked in her cage.

Life's a beach. To be continued... if we survive!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pleasant Activity -- NOT!

For a person who hates to fly, I find it bizarre that I am on the verge of making the Continental Silver Elite frequent flyer program this year. We flew from San Antonio to Seattle yesterday to complete the final stage of packing and moving our stuff out of the house. The flight itself was fine, but I had a brief interlude of hyperventilating for a few minutes after we took off. I can laugh about it later, but I have to admit that the slightest deviation from what I think of as the normal pattern freaks me right out.

Yeah; I know I'm an idiot, but I just can't help it. When the plane takes off, it usually ascends fairly rapidly, and then a flight attendant makes some pointless announcement thanking me for flying their crappy airline and telling me they have mixed drinks available for $5 and that someone will be along shortly if I wish to purchase headphones for the movie. I don't care what the announcement says (unless it's telling me to assume the crash position); I only care that it does happen. My logic for caring is that I've concluded that if something happens to the plane on take-off, the flight attendants probably aren't going to be worrying about collecting my dollar for headphones!

So yesterday we took off and I waited for the announcement that helps me stop panicking. I've trained myself to remain calm when the engines switch from a sort of high pitched whine to a roar. That normally happens at a certain altitude, and it normally happens within the first two minutes after take-off. The announcement generally follows the change in the engine sounds within about a minute. I know when it usually happens because I time it. So I waited for the announcement. And I waited. The window shade was down because it was really sunny and hot, so at first, I looked at my watch instead of looking out the window. After about 5 minutes, I noticed that my ears weren't popping as they normally do as the plane increases its altitude. I raised the window shade ... and started hyperventilating.

My ears weren't popping because we were still so low to the ground. Too low. I must have made a little gasp because DH asked me what was wrong. I pointed at the window.

"Oh yeah," he nodded, "that's the Woodlands. I hear they have a really nice mall."

"Um ... right," I said. "That's the mall right there. I think I can read the license plates on the cars!"

DH laughed, but I wasn't kidding! I was, in fact, trying to work out whether to head for the forward exit when we crashed or the one behind us since we were midway between them.

Six minutes passed, and then seven -- no ear pops and no announcement. "Don't you think we're flying awfully low?" I asked him.

"Maybe, but what's the big deal? It's not as if anything is wrong. We're still in the air."

"Why don't they make the announcement then?"

He looked bewildered. "What announcement?"

"You know," I said. "The one about the drinks and earphones."

"Who cares? Nobody listens to that anyway."

"Holy Mother of God," I said. "Of course nobody listens to that dumb announcement, but when they make it, it means the flight attendants aren't making burial arrangements!"

DH laughed again. "Holy Mother of God? You are such a goofball." He's entertained by my occasional bouts of melodrama.

I looked at my watch again. "It's been eight minutes. Do you think we should try for the forward exit or the rear one?"

"I think you should stop hyperventilating," he said. "You're going to pass out if you don't quit that. I'm going to read my book, but maybe you should ask the guy sitting next to the door if he would change seats with you. That way you can be the first one out when we crash."

I informed him that he sucked and he agreed with me and went back to reading his book.

The announcement was made after 9 minutes. I had a ginger ale.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Wild Wild West or Nightmare on Highway 10

Pip and I made it to San Antonio on Sunday, as planned. Prissy made it here too. Barely. She would not have, if not for divine intervention. i.e., She would not have made it if my uncle had not married VM, who happens to be a goddess.

What happened? Well, for one thing, doggie Xanax does NOT work. At least it doesn't for Prissy. I gave her one, as the vet instructed, about an hour before we left the house. Prissy's carrier wouldn't fit in my car, so I made her what I thought was a nice secure-feeling nest in the back seat. I wedged her bed, which is a sheepskin covered foam thing, into the space between the two front seats to keep her from jumping on me while I was driving, and then we left.

Prissy melted down. I don't mean this in the sense of getting a little upset; I mean she went f#$% crazy. She bounced all over the backseat of the car, all the while making this horrible sort of keening sound. After about 15 miles, I stopped and gave her another Xanax. The first one clearly wasn't working, and she was completely hysterical. We started off again, with me telling myself that the second Xanax would help and that surely she'd get used to being in the car and calm down.

I was wrong. By the time we caught up with the last remnants of Seattle rush-hour traffic, Prissy's keening was so loud that I couldn't even hear the stereo. And then she started lunging. Prissy isn't a big dog -- she only weighs about 22 pounds -- but she's muscular and strong, and that, combined with being hysterical, allowed her to knock down the foam bed barrier I had put between the seats.

If the thought of wrestling with a hysterical yelping pug while navigating through bumper to bumper traffic going 60+ miles per hour doesn't make you nervous, then your disposition is much steadier than mine. Of course there was nowhere to stop; we were on an expressway filled with people trying to get to work. Talking to her didn't work. Yelling at her didn't work. Pushing her back with my elbow didn't work. I slung my right arm across the gap in the seats and held on for dear life. It was pretty grim.

I finally made it to the exit for the road heading east. At that point, I was still hopeful that once we were out of heavy traffic (and noise), the Xanax would kick in and she would settle down. It was not to be. I wrestled with her across Snoqualmie Pass, and ultimately, all the way to Boise. In more than 8 hours of driving, Prissy never stopped lunging and keening for more than 15 minutes. By the time we got to VM's house, I was on the verge of tears. I was also on the verge of wringing Prissy's neck with my bare hands.

Still, I was hopeful that she'd calm down once we got out of the car at VM's house. When we did that, it wasn't hot, so I put Prissy in the garage, along with her bed and a chew-toy in hopes that some quiet time outside of the car would help her calm down. Nothing doing. She keened and bounced off the walls the entire night. Neither VM nor I got any sleep. By this time, I had about decided that something was so terribly wrong with Prissy that she'd never be all right again. I was on the verge of taking to a local vet and asking him to put her down.

I called DH and told him this and he convinced me not to do it ... yet. We decided that the best plan was to find her a carrier that would fit in my car before I left Boise, so at least her lunging wouldn't cause an accident. After that, I planned to give her one more day. If she hadn't calmed down somewhat by my next stop, then I intended to take her to a vet to see if there was anything they could do to help her ... or it would be the end of Prissy's line.

I should note that while I don't adore Prissy, I am a dog person, and the only reason I would even consider this is because I was desperate. And because Prissy was so freaked out, I was afraid that she was permanently broken. DH said later that he tried to convince me not to do anything drastic because he knew that I'd feel like crap later, and that I'd probably never stop kicking myself. And, of course, he was right.

VM was awesome in all of this. She was calm. She was patient. She was tolerant about the fact that a hysterical keening dog was bouncing off the walls of her garage all night long, preventing her from getting any sleep whatsoever. I know VM didn't get any sleep because I was standing out on the patio with Prissy at 1:30 in the morning and VM came out there and hung around with me. The next morning VM helped me find a place that had carriers in stock and she went with me to get one. She also made an awesome coffee cake for breakfast! (And margaritas the night before, which I truly needed...)

Once we got on the road again, Prissy continued being hysterical for a few hours. But just when I thought I was going to have to look for a vet at our next stop, Ely, Nevada, the gaps between her bouts of keening started to get longer. Gradually, gradually, she settled down. When we stopped for the night, I was ready to give her a chance until the next day. She was hysterical in the hotel for a while, but then she settled down there too. And so, Prissy survived.

We spent the night after Ely with my friends in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. I wish I could have stayed there longer. My friends have a beautiful house and I would love to see more of that area -- it's an amazing-looking place. But we needed to get to Texas, so there was no lingering.

In addition to Boise, Ely, and Lake Havasu City, we also spent a night in Lordsburg, New Mexico and Ft. Stockton, Texas. Pip was an angel the whole time. He never made a squeak in the car.

This drive was definitely up there with the most difficult things I've done in my life, and I was too distracted to appreciate the scenery, but the American West is stunning. I've seen parts of it before, but I've never driven on the smaller roads that I used this time. The smaller roads allow you to see more than just the highway -- you really feel like you're THERE.

I hope to see more of the West someday, without a crazy dog in tow. Speaking of towing -- I think it would be a good idea to institute a law whereby people driving ginormous recreational vehicles that are towing massive trucks, boats, and other vehicles behind them, should be required to submit to a mental status test every 100 miles or so. I can understand why you'd want to tow a car or a boat behind an RV; those things are too big to drive around once you get to your destination, so you'd want to park it and use the smaller vehicle (or ride around in your boat). What I can't understand is why so many of the people who do this appear to believe they're cruising in a Maserati!

Heelllooo, people. You cannot make lightning-quick lane changes going uphill in a 40-foot land-yacht while dragging a Suburban behind you. As far as I'm concerned, attempting to do this puts you in the same category as Prissy, and you need your head examined!@

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Good Luck DH and JM: Accenture Chicago Triathlon!

DH and his brother JM are at the starting line right now for the largest triathlon in the world: the Accenture Chicago Triathlon! I wish I could have been there to see them, but I wasn't able to go since I have to get my dogs down to Texas. DH nearly canceled, but he and his brother had been planning this since February and they've worked so hard to be ready for it -- I'm glad he decided to go after all, even though I couldn't go too.

The distances in this race are twice as long as the ones in the triathlon they did a couple of weeks ago here on Whidbey Island (although without the hills). And the field is HUGE -- 9,000 participants. In fact, the field is so large, DH and his brother aren't even in the same wave of starts. JM has already finished his swim (time 29:47) and DH doesn't start for another 5 minutes.

Although I couldn't be there in person, I'm still having fun tracking their progress because they set me up to get text messages when they complete each leg of the race and I'll get to watch them cross the finish line because it's being broadcast live on the web.

I will probably be back with more on this later... because I'm required to congratulate them (and brag)...

JM had a decent transition (3:19) and DH has begun his swim -- Oh I have my fingers crossed that he's able to swim straight! He's fast, but that's his worst problem; he doesn't like to take his head out of the water to look where he's going because he's used to the lanes in the pool, but this swim is in Lake Michigan...

Woohoo! DH finished his swim in 32:38! He's the Man! (I was worried -- this swim was twice as long as the one in the Whidbey triathlon)... NOW he's ready for the part of the race he's great at. Go Mike!!!!

DH only had an OK transition (3:45), so JM has a real lead on him now. They began the bike race with JM at 33:06 and DH at 36:23. So, JM has a solid head start. It'll be interesting to see if DH can catch up to him. The rivalry between brothers is an amazing thing to watch -- it's all in good fun, though, and they're both good sports. JH was the best man at our wedding and they're great friends as well as brothers.

JM is looking great on this one! His total bike time was 1:12:29 and his transition to the run was 3:25, so he's started his run at 1:49. DH is in the wave after JM's, so it'll be awhile before I'll know how he's doing on his borrowed bike. I hope he's able to hang in there.

DH was phenomenal on the bike! His total bike time was 56.18 and his transition was only 2:28, so he completely made up the lead JM had and started his run at 1:35:09 (JM started at 1:49:00).

JM just finished the race -- his complete time was 2:40:49. Congrats bro-in-law! Now we just have to see how DH does.

All that hill training really paid off. DH finished the race in 2:19:06. Wow!

Whoops! Alas, DH had a flat tire just before the end of the the bike race and he had to walk it in, so his results aren't valid. He was still able to complete the run, and his time for that was 43:57. But he didn't get an complete time for the race after all. Oh well, he still did a great job anyway.

Congrats to both JM and DH!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Anti-Pollyanna!

I seem to spend a lot of time defending myself against charges of being a pessimist. That's because, in America, we worship, along with extroverts, optimists.

For example, the other day, I was talking to the real estate agent we're working with in San Antonio. I said I wanted flood insurance for our house there. She said we didn't need it because our house wasn't in the 100-year flood plain. I said I wanted it anyway.

"Why?" she asked, "the lender doesn't require it."

"No," I said, "but if we ever get water damage, our regular homeowners' insurance won't cover it."

"But that house has never flooded," she said. "Even though we had a 100-year flood several years ago. YOU'RE A REAL PESSIMIST AREN'T YOU?"

I smiled and didn't say anything -- because she is nice -- but I wanted to tell her that in my opinion there is a difference between being a pessimist and being a moron!

And there is a BIG difference between believing something is GOING to happen and acknowledging the possibility that it MIGHT happen. According to floodsafety.com, San Antonio is one of the most flash flood prone areas in North America. I do not BELIEVE my new house is going to flood, but just in case it does, I would like to be insured against financial ruin. Because the house is NOT in a flood plain, the cost will be minimal. To me, that's not being a pessimist, that's simply a smart strategy to protect my investment in my house.

I'm not sure if it's because I grew up in a rural area or what, but I generally tend to plan for taking care of things in a variety of adverse circumstances. That doesn't mean I believe they're going to happen, but just in case they do, I want to be able to deal with them. For example, when I get on a plane, I actually look at the safety card in the seat pocket. And yes; I count the number of rows between me and the exit instead of zoning out. I don't do these things because I'm a pessimist; if I thought my plane was going to crash, I'd never get on it. In fact, in one way, I'm a true optimist, because I believe that even if my plane were to crash, I would survive because I know how to get out!

One interesting thing I've noticed is that to be classed as an optimist, you have to pretend that bad stuff is never going to happen. I think that's great and I wish I could do it. The problem for me is that my dad, the person I loved most in the world, died when I was 21. That pretty much destroyed any chance of me pretending bad stuff couldn't happen and set me on my path to becoming the anti-Pollyanna. The other interesting thing is that I find survival quite satisfying. I have no trouble whatsoever accepting that bad stuff will happen occasionally because I believe I will surmount it.

I generally feel quite positive about the future, in spite of the random bad stuff that will be coming down the pike, because I know that I will have done my best to plan for it. Personal responsibility is the key here rather than pinning my hopes on random good fortune, although good stuff will come too. But that's the thing -- in order to feel the satisfaction, you actually have to THINK about the possibility of a situation in advance, even if it isn't pleasant, and you have to consider the options, and then you have to make a decision and mentally file it away somewhere. It's like counting the seats between you and the exit -- if you wait until the plane is going down, it's too late.

I learned an important lesson about all this during the Hurricane Rita evacuation. You have to help yourself; you can't wait for people in authority to help you or tell when to do it. If we had listened to the police who were guarding that route, we would have run out of gas and our dogs would have died of heatstroke, and maybe we ourselves would have died. It was only when we decided to help ourselves, unlike most of the others who were evacuating, that we were able to get clear of the road.

It isn't easy to break free of the herd, but that's what it takes to protect yourself sometimes. I thought of that when the real estate agent told me that I wasn't required to get flood insurance -- the herd isn't required to have it, even though they live in the flash flood capital of North America. But since it isn't prohibitively expensive, I WILL HAVE IT and if it rains, SO WHAT. If my plane goes down, the herd is welcome to try to count the rows between their seat and the exit, but I will already know, and if it is possible, I WILL MAKE IT OFF THE PLANE.

You can call me Pollyanna.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Small Amazing World

I'm back in Washington now, trying to figure out how to transport three animals to Texas (easier said than done). Since DH's new job is also with a new company, he doesn't really have the freedom to take a lot of time off to come back and forth to help me with this move. That presents a problem because two of our animals are flat-faced dogs that cannot fly in the hold of a plane, which means I could only take one at a time if I were to fly. The result appears to be a long-distance road trip in my mustang with the two doggies, and then a plane flight for kitty later when we come back to move the furniture. According to Google maps, I am looking at a drive of 2,326 miles. Pip isn't a problem; he loves the car, but Prissy acts like the Tasmanian devil when she even gets near the car. In other words, it's sure to be a nightmare, and that's a pretty long drive!

When I look at the map, the world -- heck, even the US -- seems like a huge, scary place, but I had an interesting experience on Saturday that reassures me that it's manageable. What happened? DH met a guy, DS, in the coffee room at his new job. They got to talking and it turned out that DS and his wife are from Arkansas. DH told him I was too and mentioned the little town in which I was born. Wonder of wonders, it turns out that not only had DS heard of the town where I was born, he and his wife were from the same town. The odds of that are almost astronomical!

DH and DS were so amazed by the coincidence that they made arrangements for us all to go out to dinner on Saturday night, so we did. DS and his wife JS were absolutely lovely. We were able to talk about the place where the three of us are from, and it took all of two minutes for DS and I to realise that his grandfather was my great-grandmother's little brother!!! Not only that but his great-grandmother was my -great-great-grandmother's sister!

Holy cow -- we are cousins in two different ways!!!

San Antonio is nearly 600 miles away from where we were born. Maybe the world isn't so big after all...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Instant Karma

I'm in San Antonio this week, looking for a new place to live. Several people have told me they think the moving we've done sounds exciting. Whenever I hear anything like that, I get a sense of cognitive dissonance – whatever excitement I may have felt about our moves when I was younger has drained away entirely. All I feel now is dismay and exhaustion and the vague sense that I am carrying some pretty bad karma. I sometimes feel as if I am the ultimate homebody, destined to never have a true home.

Because of that, I seek to recreate *home* wherever I live. It doesn't always look the same on the outside – in fact, it rarely does – but on the inside, it's unmistakable. Of course, that makes finding the right place a real challenge. When I discuss real estate with others, they tell me about their own house criteria: size, number of bedrooms and baths, price per square foot, neighborhood, school district, etc. I pay attention to those things too, but the additional, and most important, criterion for me is that I have to be able to envision the place as home.

That's also the reason why I don't like to rent a house instead of buying (if I can manage it, and so far, I've been lucky enough to do so) – *home* doesn't have neutral colors. Landlords don't like random (bright) paint jobs, and they don't like pets. They also don't like it when you tear out the carpet, but home doesn't have carpet, All of which presents a problem with living in a house I don't own.

A lot of people buy houses as an investment, although I suspect most of those people are pretty unhappy right now, but my primary goal is to have a nice place to live that I can paint in the colors I like, and where no one will bother me about having pets. We always lose money when we move, but each time, it's been for DH's job and it has ultimately seemed inevitable.

So here I am again with the need to find a new doctor, a new dentist, a new vet for the dogs. We'll search out new restaurants, and where the library is located, and which is the best grocery store. Before we can do that, though, we have to find a place to live.

Looking at a bunch of houses in quick succession feels strange, particularly when the houses aren't vacant. In some ways it's like trying on shoes – will this fit? But in other ways, it almost feels as if you're trying on someone else's life – if I live here, who will I be? Someone who lives in THIS house is a gourmet cook (professional range). The lady of THIS house has a perfect manicure (everything absolutely coordinated). The man who lives here is a hunter (deer heads on the wall and built in gun racks). The family who lives here has a lot of children (swings and sandboxes).

After a while, it all begins to run together until I wish I could fall back on school districts and prices per square foot, but I can't because I'm destined to search for my ever elusive home. I wish I could believe in instant karma – that if I bought the absolutely coordinated house, I would suddenly be able to have a perfect manicure. Or I could get the one with the sandbox and suddenly have a lot of kids. Life doesn't work that way, however, so no matter how much I'd like to change it, my karma remains what it is, and no amount of trying on the lives of others is going to alter it. A new town and a new home is not like a new pair of shoes. It isn't smooth and uncreased and unbroken – when you move, you take your baggage with you. You're an old pair of shoes, whether you want to believe it or not.

I was reflecting on this yesterday when I walked into a nice suburban-looking house inside the city limits. On the outside, it was significantly different from the houses I've chosen in the past. It isn't an old farmhouse, nor a former rectory, nor an historic bungalow. In fact, it's not even old, unless you consider a house built in 1989 to be old. It's an unprepossessing house – nothing romantic about it -- the only truly noteworthy thing it has is a beautiful pool. But as soon as I walked in the front door, I recognised it: home.

I told the agent to cancel the rest of our appointments so we could go back to her office to draw up an offer. DH hadn't even seen it yet, but I knew he would love it (he did). Another offer for that house came in right after we made ours (both offers for full asking price). If there is the slightest glitch in the buying process, the seller will be able to simply accept the other offer, so we have no idea whether we'll get the house or not.

I hope we do; I want to go home!

If we don't, well, maybe that would be instant karma.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Swansong Triathlon

DH is in San Antonio now, midway through the first week at his new job. This is not an easy week for us since everything in our lives is completely up in the air.

Before he left on Sunday, though, my hubby had a nice ending to our brief time here in Washington. His brother, JM, came out from Chicago and they both participated in the Whidbey Island Triathlon.

We had dinner the night before the race with our neighbor, MR, who was participating in a team with her nephew (he was going to do the swim and she was planning to do the ride and the run) and her husband. A couple of racer-doctors from Bellingham, who were staying with them because they couldn't find a hotel on the island were also at dinner. We had a great time.



On the morning of the race (Saturday), it was typical weather here -- cloudy and not that warm (under 60 F. in fact) and the swim was the first thing on the agenda. They had to swim 800 meters in a lake, then ride their bikes for 19.5 miles, and then, finally, finish up with a 3.8 mile run.

DH and his brother took their bikes in JM's rental car and I took my own car. I also took Pip to keep me company since I figured I'd be spending a lot of time waiting around between the different parts of the race. I had no trouble finding a parking space along the road, but DH and JM couldn't find one after they unloaded the bikes and they almost missed the race altogether.

About 3 minutes before the start of the race, I was nervously standing at the entrance to the park looking for them, and then I saw them running furiously down the road toward me. They were both carrying their wetsuits and JM was barefooted!

When they got close enough to hear me, I started yelling at them to hurry, but I needn't have; they were half-way to being in a panic already. DH flung off all his clothes except his bike shorts and pulled on the wetsuit and then he took off towards the water. I chased him and made him stop for a quick photo! JM ignored me so there isn't one of him.




JM beat DH in the swim, and there is a photo of him coming out of the water.



DH didn't do as well in the swim as he did in the rest of the race, but I love that lime green cap he has on his head. You can't see it well in the photo, but I also love the fact that's he's grinning like a nut as he's coming out of the water. I asked him why later and he said he wasn't sure, but that it might have been because he was happy that he didn't drown.



Unlike nearly everyone else in the race, DH has an ancient rusted bike that he bought used 10 years ago. JM had brought his slick new bike with him from Chicago. JM told me that he was feeling sorry for DH because of having to ride such a heavy old bike, particularly since JM got such a good head start on him in the swim, until DH cruised right by him and left him in the dust! DH ROCKED that bike ride!

I saw them both finish, but I didn't get any photos because Pip was the star of the sidelines at that point and I was busy defending him from an idiot child who caused Pip to part with a thick section of his tail.

Then there was the run and DH rocked that too. After several years of injuries, it was amazing to see him do so well. In fact, DH came in 28th overall in the run, out of a field of nearly 300! That's not by age; that's over the entire field.



In spite of his bad swim, DH did much better than his goal of finishing in 2:15. His actual time was 1:55:36! JM did pretty well too, in spite of being bigger and younger [g] -- his time was 2:02:55.



Except for losing part of his tail, Pip did the best of all. He got to ride in the car; he got to ride in his carrier (he adores that thing so much he sleeps on top of it); and he got all the little girls at the race to pet him.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Overtaken

I had every intention of writing more about my trip to England, but as soon as I got home, my life was overtaken by events.

First, a quick wrap-up of the trip:

I had a brilliant time meeting my favourite author, Elizabeth Chadwick and her friend Alison. EC's DH is gorgeous; her house is beautiful; her garden is amazing; and, her chocolate cake is awe-inspiring (yes; I have my priorities straight). We went to Swaton to see the effigy of Nicholaa de la Haye, but the church was locked and the key holder was not home, so we did not get in. Note that we did not actually do any damage to the church while we were trying. [g]

The rest of the week was spent site-seeing in a very "busy" manner, probably more so than I would normally like, but I did enjoy spending time with Auntie and I do love England. Next year, however, I think we are going to have to eschew the tour and find a holiday cottage instead. The primary reason we didn't do it this time was because I was leery of driving in the UK, but I'm a good driver and I've decided that if I pick up a hire car outside of London, I will be OK.

And now for the events that overtook me when I got home:

DH accepted a new job, and we are moving back to Texas. Seriously!

And it is happening fast; he is starting his new job on Monday, 4 August.

Yikes!!!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Shacking up at the Savoy???

Time for the second part of my English odyssey!

To my amazement, we arrived early and customs was a breeze. I was met by a cheerfully efficient driver who took my suitcase and trotted off toward the car. I had gone maybe a quarter of the way across the parking lot when I realised that I was breathing like a winded nag. The driver, OTH, who was quite overweight, a good 15 years older than me, and dragging my heavy suitcase, was rapidly pulling away.

Oh my God, I thought, I can't keep up with that chubby little man pulling my case. I probably have a blood clot! I'm going to drop dead in Heathrow parking lot-- I wonder if my travel insurance will pay for shipping my body home.

Fortunately, my sensible side quickly reasserted itself. “You don't have a blood clot, you daft cow. You have 3 hours of a screaming brat on top of very little sleep. Man up and get your ass in the damned car.” And that's what I did.

On my first night in town, I had dinner with MS, SS, and their adorable daughter Jessica, who appeared to enjoy the puppet princess I brought her. It was fortunate for me that she accompanied her parents as I read the sign that said “ look left,” promptly “looked right” and would have walked into traffic if Jessica had not grabbed my hand and stopped me.

Auntie arrived bright and early the next day and we went off to the V&A for a look at whatever we could set our greedy eyes on in the brief time that we had – alas, there is never enough time to do the V&A properly. I had to be physically restrained from hieing off into the textiles collection, never to be heard from again.

We are with this tour group and after the V&A, we had our first dinner with the group. Everyone seemed very nice and they were all chatting politely about other trips they had taken with the tour company. I, of course, have never taken any sort of tour before and I found myself a bit lost for words to describe the kind of holidays I have enjoyed in the past.

I will pick a hotel in a place that I want to go and sort of stick there for a while,” I said.

But what do you DO?” someone asked.

Well ... I can't say exactly ... I look at whatever is around the place that I've chosen. Like with my trip to London – I called it 'shacking up at the Savoy--'” I meant to go on and say that I stayed at the Savoy and went to see everything in easy reach of the hotel. I wanted to know what it was like to be right THERE. That was the point of the trip. But I never got that far because when I uttered the words 'shacking up at the Savoy' there was a collective gasp – as if I had claimed to be shacking up with Harry Potter or something!

The tour guide said something witty about Winston Churchill liking to shack up at the Savoy but, with the exception of Auntie, who knows how awful I am, all the other ladies in the group looked absolutely scandalized. I tried to appear mortified, but I admit that I was secretly delighted – as long as Auntie wasn't offended, then being a bit scandalous is right up my alley.

The next day we visited Kenwood House and Hampstead Heath, and then, joy of joys, we scored tickets for Spamalot. We were packed like sardines on the tube, but it was well worth it. The performance was brilliant!

Yesterday we went to Flatford Mill, and stopped off for evensong in Norwich Cathedral. They had a bunch of visiting bishops on-hand in preparation for the Lambeth conference, which is happening this week. There was supposed to be free tea for everyone afterwards, but it's just as well I had my tea beforehand because I was ejected from evensong on a mobile phone violation – and it wasn't even my phone!

What happened was that I don't have a mobile that works in the UK, so I had given Auntie's number to DH. I was supposed to remind Auntie to turn off that phone before we went into the church. She forgot and I forgot and naturally, DH chose a moment about 1/3 of the way into the service to ring. Auntie dug in her bag for the phone and it took nearly 4 rings for her to get it. It looked like she was having trouble making sure it was off, so I asked if she wanted me to take it away and make sure it was off. She handed it to me, so I slipped out toward the aisle, intending to simply take a side chair, while I examined the phone closely to be sure it was completely off. Suddenly, it began chirping to indicate there was voice mail, and then, while I was trying to shut it down the rest of the way, the damned thing started ringing again – except it doesn't ring; it plays a song. A nearby usher opened the door and said, “Would you like to go outside? PLEASE!” It was not a question.

I went outside – the call was from DH, so I waited out the rest of the service chatting in the arcade. I could still hear the singing although I fear I missed the immortal words of the Bishops of ... somewhere, and ... somewhere else. Oh well. The lawns were pretty.

I am now at The Dales Hotel in Sheringham. Today we checked out the beach at Sheringham; we rode the steam train to Cromer; we looked at the shops at Holt; we went to see the seals at Blakeney Point; we did other things too numerous to mention. I am completely and utterly exhausted. Tomorrow I am off to Nottingham via Norwich.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Wing and a Prayer -- and a Taser Would Have Been Nice

So far, so good. Please be indulgent on spelling & grammar errors -- posting from an internet cafe -- proofing time = $$$!

I made it to the airport hours early, thanks to my extreme paranoia over missed ferries and rush-hour traffic. DH was kind enough to drive me so that I didn't have to deal with public transportation AND paranoia. I'd spent so much time rushing around getting ready, that I only realized when we were nearly to the airport that I hadn't eaten anything all day – I was starving! Of course, that made me wonder what else I'd forgotten – Doh! – earrings. I hadn't planned to bring any fancy jewelry, but I have pierced ears and I meant to bring a pair of earrings. Normally, I would have been wearing them, but nowadays, you can't be sure even something so tiny won't set off the alarm at airport security and get the TSA baboons chattering (and feeling you up), so I pack them now. Except that I didn't.

Still, I was SO early, it wasn't going to be a problem. SeaTac airport has some excellent restaurants in the main terminal and better still, they have a shop there full of things made by local artists. I had plenty of time to get something to eat, and then duck into the artist shop and buy a cute pair of earrings – and better still, I actually had an excuse to buy something in that shop. I normally go in there, look around wistfully, and drag myself away because it's stupid to pay airport prices for anything. However, in this case, airport prices are a bargain when you compare them to what I would pay if I waited till I got to London. Case closed!

So, that was the plan. Check my luggage. Go through security. Get something to eat. Buy some earrings. Oh, and hit the Barnes & Noble for a book or two to read on the plane. I hadn't had chance to get books either. I have some e-books on Lili (EeePC) but the flight is 10 hours and I wasn't sure I would be able to charge Lili on the plane. (I reserved a seat that supposedly had PC power, but you never know).

I checked my one bag with no problem. I went through security with a handbag and a carry-on. My carry-on and I also had no problem. The gibbering idiots who man the TSA station apparently did not like my handbag. They X-rayed it twice and then they upended it into a plastic bin. Fine. It's not like there was any contraband in there. In addition to my wallet, my travelers' cheques, and my passport cover, a couple of stray aspirin and a piece of gum fell out. The fact that they felt they needed to do this isn't an issue – security is security – it's the way that they treat you while they're doing it that's so annoying.

For one thing, they bark orders at your barefooted self.

"Is this your bag ma'am?”

"Step over here, ma'am, you're holding up the rest of the line.”

Well, DUH, I'm holding up the rest of the line. My carry-on bag with my laptop has just gone through and is down at the other end, with my shoes, while you've just dumped the entire contents of my purse into a plastic box 20 feet away. I would like to leave this area with my purse AND my laptop and my shoes, thank you very much, you f***** baboon!

I was finally able to retrieve and reassemble all of my belongings and make my way off to the terminal. The purse dumping incident ruffled my feathers a bit, and I stayed on auto-pilot while I got on the tram to the international terminal. That's when I remembered the international terminal isn't the one with the nifty artist shop, the good restaurants, and the bookstore. The international terminal is really crappy. They have one Burger King, one cocktail lounge, and one coffee shop. They have a newsstand, but no bookstore, and the only other shop in that terminal is the duty free shop. And the doors on the tram slid closed just as I remembered this. Damn!

I had a hamburger at Burger King, although I needn't have – to my surprise, there have been THREE meal services on the flight. I bought three less than arresting novels at the newsstand. And, I found a pair of tolerable earrings at the duty free. It could have been better, but it could have been worse.

The flight itself has been pretty good as well. It isn't full and I lucked into getting a short row of two seats to myself, which meant I was able to put up the arm rest and curl up and sleep for a few hours.

At this point I would like to thank the unnamed physician who answered the call for help with the medical emergency. The repeated requests for assistance made it sound pretty urgent – I wonder if we wouldn't have had to divert to Nova Scotia if you hadn't been here. In any case, I realize you probably won't be compensated, so thank you for interrupting your flight to help.

And on the flip side – no thanks whatsoever to the father who had to be scolded by the flight attendant for allowing your small son to run up and down the aisles of the darkened plane, pressing the flight attendant call buttons and turning on the overhead lights over OTHER PEOPLES' SEATS while you read the Wall Street Journal.

I think most people understand that it's difficult to travel with small children, particularly on such a long flight. They get tired; they get bored. It's tough on them; it's tough on you. Other passengers know this. We don't expect your child to be the model of perfection for 10 hours straight.

We do, however, expect you to pull your head out of your bony ass and tell him to be quiet when he's yelling LA LA LA at the top of his lungs at 3:00 in the morning on a red-eye flight on which EVERY other person is trying to sleep. And we do expect you to attempt to restrain him when he is running – RUNNING – up and down the aisles of the plane, pressing OUR flight attendant call buttons and OUR overhead light buttons!

The flight attendant who asked you to please keep your child in his seat was the soul of restraint. When she pointed out that the seat control panel is not a toy, I wanted to hug her. Your reply, “He is a child. What can I do?” was completely inappropriate. You were lucky you did not say that to me because I would have been happy to tell you what you could do (and I very much doubt that you would have liked it!)

Apparently, the threat of an incident report was sufficient inducement to you to put down the Wall Street Journal. I think you escaped mildly. When I was waiting for the toilet, the woman in the row ahead of me came out – she said she wished she could taser you!

We are over Birmingham now, and starting our descent. Thus endeth part one of my journey.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lie Back and Think of England

Take your dirty mind out of the gutter; I didn't mean it THAT way. I'm thinking of England because I'm leaving for the airport in a little while and I'm going over the last-minute details of what I need to take. I reckon the most important thing I need to take is an attitude adjustment because I have really got into a habit of casting a jaundiced eye on everything to do with travel. That makes me sad because when I was younger, I loved to travel. Now, I REALLY have to want to go somewhere, in order to force myself to make the effort.

So ... as of this minute ... I am on holiday. I am going to have a wonderful trip. Nothing is going to go wrong. The flight will be on-time and uneventful. I will sleep on the plane and when I wake up, I will not look like shit (yeah right). There will be no delay at customs and the car I have arranged to meet me, will be waiting to take me to the Vanderbilt Hotel. I will arrive in time to take a shower before I meet my friends for dinner. Their daughter will like the puppet princess I have packed in my luggage for her. All will be well.

Friday morning, Auntie's uneventful flight will also be on-time and we will have a fun weekend exploring London. It won't hurt that our hotel is across the street from Harrods and the V&A Museum. On Sunday, we'll go on to The Dales hotel in Sheringham for our sojourn in East Anglia. On Tuesday, I will not miss the train, nor be involved in a train crash, when I go to meet my favourite author, Elizabeth Chadwick. When I arrive at her house, I will do my best not to mortally offend her or any of her friends or family. All will be well.

When I visit Sandringham with Auntie, I will not destroy any priceless antiques. All will be well.

On this trip, I will be involved in no auto accidents, no street altercations, no polical demonstrations. In short, it will be a lovely holiday, on which we will visit interesting sites and meet lovely people. All will be well.

I am open to the abundance of the universe.

I'm really bad at this. I'm taking my new EEEPC, now named Lili. Depending on internet access, there may be reports of just how "well" it all is. (g)