Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas 2.0

When my son and his family decided to spend Christmas in Micronesia, I realized we would need to have two Christmas celebrations--one early with his family and one when my daughter was home on Christmas Day.  Unfortunately, my body did not cooperate for the latter celebration and I wound up having surgery to remove a large ovarian tumor on December 22.  Because the surgery was more extensive than I had hoped it would be,  I was hospitalized until the 27th and so spent Christmas in Cedars Sinai Medical Center.  I was pretty drugged up from having a difficult Christmas Eve so I only vaguely remember hearing the men's chorus singing Adeste Fideles a cappella in Latin and English in the hall midday.  Luckily since my husband is a true mensch, I had Paul's company all day in a dark and small hospital room while my daughter hang out with her grandmother.

My surgery caused me to lose blood and delayed my recovery a day while I had a blood transfusion on Wednesday.  Then on Thursday after I started drinking clear liquids again, I had another setback when my bowel refused to cooperate and pass the gas through.  Instead I belched and ultimately vomited on Christmas Eve.  I started shaking and asked the nurse for some help in an inartful way --asking if perhaps some of the meds were interacting badly with each other.  The nurse got real huffy and said essentially that I just had surgery that was all that was wrong and to just deal with it.  She stormed off and left me alone, scared and shaking.  The next day the resident took my complaint more seriously and prescribed some wonderful medication that helped with "motility" (great word) and allowed me to sleep soundly.  My sleep had been marred with nightmares the first few nights, touching on every fear I have from being fired (by the CEO himself), to attacks by insects, to violence and mayhem.  So the nightmare free sleep was quite welcome.

With the exception of the nurse on Christmas Eve, I had very nice nurses at the hospital.  Unfortunately the level of competence varied quite a bit and sometimes I got doses of meds too early or too late.  One of the nurse assistants did not know how to take blood pressure properly and thus recorded much lower BP levels for me than other nurses did when they took it properly.  As a result I did not take my BP meds in the hospital even though at the end they were probably warranted.

Even the doctors were not the best communicators.  CSMC is a teaching hospital so I was treated to residents, Grey's Anatomy style.  One of the attendings who was subbing for my doctor, showed up with an entourage of 5 residents on Christmas day to discuss my problems from the night before.  Words of wisdom from the attending: "Once you pass gas, the angels will sing and the heavens will open".   She was, of course, correct if not obvious.

One of the doctors, a young man who was assigned to my doctor and whose status was between resident and attending,  was always referred to as "The Fellow".  Never by name.  "I will discuss this with The Fellow."   "The Fellow will need to approve."  I started thinking of calling him "Jolly Good" or "JG" for short.  On the day after Christmas, I asked him his name and said I only knew him as The Fellow.  He showed me his name card which, of course, I could not see without my glasses.  So I asked again, explaining my vision limitations and he finally said his name out loud and brought his name tag closer.  It turned out he had an Arab surname, which one might speculate you would not want to shout out loud much in a Jewish hospital.  Or perhaps, as one of the residents explained, it was not an easy name to pronounce correctly and no one wanted to give offense.  I of course said thank you to him repeating his name out loud.  He smiled and seemed more human for the first time-- something all of these young doctors need to remember that their patients need and crave as much as the medical skill.

So now I am home and have had a proper turkey dinner.  We have opened presents.  Christmas 2.0 may have been interruptus but still was a pleasure to have at home after being in the hospital.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Role Reversal

Paul went to see our primary care doctor yesterday morning to get his labs done and checked.  With all of Paul's ailments, he is a regular customer of our doctor.

Interestingly, Paul said that almost all of his conversation yesterday with this doctor concerned me (Paul's wife).  What a role reversal! We decided that whoever has the more serious illness at the time gets to be the focus of this doctor's attention and for a change,  it's me and Monster Mass.  We decided that doctors are most interested in the illnesses and not in the healthy patients (oh, so boring, nothing in your labs).  Illness is their sweet spot.

Friday, December 18, 2009

At a Loss for Words for a Change.

It is true.  I have been told that you must take someone with you when you talk to your doctor about any major illness you might have because you are rendered stupid during the conversation.  I learned first hand today that my analytic abilities, of which I am so proud, evaporated when the word "cancer" was mentioned several times by an oncologist talking about options to deal with my massive growth.  Luckily, this effect did not extend to my husband who remembered all the questions we wanted to ask the doctor.  I, on the other hand, sat  mute, amazed that Paul could even think.

The "C" word.  Automatic IQ dropper.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Call From My Primary Care Doctor Today

"Hello Paul's wife.  This is Paul's (and your) doctor.  I just got the information from your Gastroenterologist about the massive tumor you have in your abdomen.  I guess it wasn't all in your head after all.  Take care. How is Paul doing by the way?"

Of course, I would never get that call since it admits I am not merely crazy.

In the call I did get, Paul's doctor (and mine) said that it looks like I am under good care. Nothing for him to do.  At least he called . . .

Monday, December 14, 2009


As I expected once I got the call Friday from the doctor's office to come in on Monday, the results of the CT scan were not good.  Apparently I have hatched a growth 20 cm in diameter at its widest spot and this growth is pushing on a few organs.  Now I have an explanation for my overwhelming fatigue some days, the trouble I was having breathing when I went upstairs, and of course all the stomach problems I have had since the beginning of our vacation in late September.  And  we have moved to the pain portion of our program as well as my looking like I am about 6 months pregnant.  Unlike a pregnancy, my monster growth is causing me chronic low level pain with spikes of sharp pain from time to time.

Now I have to have surgery but have hit the first roadblock.  The doctors my GI MD recommended would not even schedule an appointment until he sends them the CT scan and a referral.  Then I have to go see someone who will tell me the same thing presumably my GI MD said (you need surgery STAT) and then we will try to get an OR booked at Cedars Sinai.  I had my last surgery at St. Johns in Santa Monica but the practice to which I was referred supposedly specializes in removing these types of growths, which can get tricky depending on where the tentacles of the growth have gone.  So I will succumb to the recommendation of a specialist even if I have to go to the huge hospital farther away from home.  Both my son and husband have recently done time in Cedars and both thought it was a good hospital.  Of course, my friend with cancer has spent some time there too in the last few years.

Odds are the monster is benign.  But until they do the surgery and the biopsy I will not know.  So more anxiety in store for me during this holiday season.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas 1.0

My goal to simplify was supported yesterday by stomach pains all day.  As a result I did not have to trim the tree, wrap presents or do any last minute shopping.  My mother in law wound up wrapping all of my presents and my son and family, under Mom's direction, helped trimmed the tree even though they did not particularly want to. Mom put up the ornaments and became upset that there was no star for the tree. She also wanted to put on tinsel but we ran out of time. We convinced her that 80% was good enough and it turned out that when my grandchildren saw the tree, it was more than good enough.

My granddaughter was celebrating her first Christmas and was fascinated by the lights and ornaments.  In one of those unfortunate turn of events, we wound up having many more gifts for her than for my grandson.  He noticed and became a bit testy.  As we were still opening Lely's gifts, he said "Oh we should look but I think there are no more gifts for Pauly."  In typical sociopathy of the child (see Onion article ), he rejected the lovely and too advanced skateboard he had received and the overtures from his Dad to try it out when they got back from Micronesia.  He also refused at first to play with the fire truck he had coveted, having convinced himself that it was Legos and thus not what he had wanted. And he observed that he already had one of the Scooby Doo DVDs we got him, even though it is lost.  Eventually he came around and started to play with various toys. Lely, who is crawling and pulling to stand, used many of the gifts as leverage to get on her feet.

At some point, my son got the "New Year's beers" he had been saving to share with his Dad--one each for the guys as we counted down to the hypothetical 2010 three weeks early and shouted "Happy New Year".  So we went through all the holiday celebrations we would miss this year with my son and his family.  It was great, notwithstanding the crabby kid who kept sneaking out to grab another Christmas cookie (He had 6 total).  When my son was that age, he would negotiate how many cookies he would get.  I would offer one and he would ask for 3.  My grandson agrees to eat only one and then sneaks more and more.  His excuse: "I just love cookies!"

So my guys are gone on their way to Hawaii for the first leg of their journey--18 hours total  on planes and a layover in Oahu of about 22 hours.  I hope they enjoy their island Christmas as much as we enjoyed having Christmas 1.0 with them.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Lite

Since I am not feeling well and my family is taking my health (or lack thereof) seriously, I have convinced my husband and son to fetch the Christmas decorations from storage this year. We are having Christmas 1.0 tonight for Bill and his family, who are leaving tomorrow for a month in Micronesia.

Typically I do not decorate the house or put up the tree until the weekend before Christmas.  I am a bit neurotic about having a tree with lights in the house for a long time and I try to have the tree as fresh as possible for Christmas and the week after.  Most of the time it works out fine to leave getting the tree until that late.  One year, however, Paul and I drove all over the South Bay because all the trees (including artificial ones) were sold out in the usual haunts.  Other years when my work schedule has been busy, I have left the trimming of the tree until as late as Christmas eve and rushed to get it done at the last minute.  Some years I have had help trimming and others I have done it alone.  There is no question that the holidays increase my work load and stress levels.

My goal every year is to simplify, simplify, simplify.  If I do not have time, holiday cards get dropped from the agenda.  We took pictures of our kids for years and I wrote a one page, sometimes funny, update of what had happened that year.  Our children had challenging teen years so the funny update was not so funny during that time and thus got shelved.  Resurrecting it has been hit and miss.

I now buy most of my gifts online because the stores have become unmanageable.  I did however this week venture out to Target at lunch time to pick up a few last minute gifts for tonight's celebration.  Target did not appear to be all that crowded.  I found a parking spot relatively easily and managed to get into the store without bumping into too many other shoppers.  Inside it was more crowded than the parking lot revealed but I was able to get what I needed relatively quickly and only with a few nudges to other shoppers to move out of the way.  However, as I was trying to get to the checkout stand, a child ran in front of my cart which forced me to stop until his mother grabbed him and then, of course, someone else sprinted in and cut ahead of me.  Grrr.  Out in the parking lot with my cart filled with large items I was well into the crosswalk when a car drove right through the stop sign and just missed me.  Double grrrr.  Shopping at malls brings out the best in us, n'est-ce pas?

So in my quest to simplify I also buy fewer gifts for those with whom I do exchange, and exchange with fewer people.  I typically give books to my colleagues at the office but I might even skip that this year since I am taking the week off before Christmas ostensibly to spend time with my daughter but probably mostly to read unless I need to have a medical procedure which is still up in the air.  (My doctor knows.  He has the results of the CT scan but I won't find out until Monday, which is not helping my stress levels either.)

So it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and I am trying my best to find some holiday cheer in all of this. My guys have just delivered the decorations and are off to get wrapping paper so my jobs can begin. Once the work is done, perhaps the spirit will come.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Health Care Option(al)

I am one of the lucky ones in America.  I have incredible health insurance that has paid for my family and me at very high levels of treatment for the past 16 years.  I do not want to jinx it but I feel blessed.  It saddens me that the Senate Democrat leadership made a deal to do away with the public option. So many tens of millions will still not be insured and those who get subsidized private insurance may still pay up to 17% of their income for that insurance.

Today I went to see a specialist for my ongoing stomach problems.  He is fairly conservative about ordering tests but decided my symptoms warranted a CT scan.  I called to get an appointment and luckily can have the scan done tomorrow (keep your fingers crossed).  The person at the diagnostics center took my insurance information and said she would call back if there were a coverage problem.  I did not hear back from her so I have to believe that the test will be covered.  Indeed I believe my policy even makes special provisions for cancer screening even if I did not have the symptoms to justify the test.  Lucky me.

 Is some form of health care legislation better than nothing?  I hope so because we are not even close to pulling away from the domination of big Insurance and big Pharma.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Leveling With You

When I was in college I came up with an idea that I grandly called the "Levels Theory".  According to the levels theory,  on the first level, people believe something is true.  Then the common wisdom comes to reverse that truth and believe the opposite.  That would be the second level.  Then again the truth believed in the first level is adopted but with the added sophistication of taking into account the second level's opposition to constitute the third level. And so on it would go.

While you might think this is my mere restating of Hegel, levels theory is not a thesis, antithesis, synthesis process.  It is thesis, antithesis, thesis+, antithesis+ and so on.  It looks at truth as more of a wave that increases amplitude with each iteration.  Yes, I understand it is a bit nutty.

However, I saw another example of it the other day when I started reading Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.  As a psychology PhD I am well steeped in notions of human behavior based on negativity--psychopathology,  Skinnerian psychology (where you can shape through appropriate rewards) and even motivational psychology based on drives and fear of failure etc.   Martin Seligman tried to take a new look at psychology when he rejected these negative forms of explanations and started to look at what ultimately was called Positive Psychology or the Psychology of Happiness.  So there you have examples of levels 1 and 2.   Ehrenreich seems to be rejecting Positive Psychology, particularly in the context of disease, because it is based on the incorrect assumption that positive thoughts will cure you.   My friends with cancer agree.  They have enough to handle with their disease.  They don't want to be responsible for its course if it takes a bad turn because somehow they were not positive enough!  And recently there were news reports that research shows "grumpy is good" as least as far as it seems to promote clearer thinking.  It would seem to me that this rejection of positive thinking and happiness as the source of all that is good must be a level 3 idea.  I am not seeing synthesis, just a reaction to the level 2 phenomenon of deifying positive psychology.

For me the jury is still out.  I am interested in what Ehrenreich has to say but keep thinking that she is more of Eeyore saying "Thanks for noticing."  But then again Randy Pausch was a self described Tigger until the end and the end did indeed come. As I recall from the Last Lecture, Pausch did not think positive thinking would change his survival outcome since he had a particularly virulent terminal cancer.  He maintained that positivity changed the quality of his last days with his family and did indeed give him opportunities and experiences he might not have otherwise had.  Maybe that's all any of us should expect from focussing on the positive.

A Fish Tale

Yesterday in a fit of pique I posted a rant on FB about my hatred of halibut.  I suppose it was partly caused by my queazy stomach.  Perhaps my husband's continuing absence contributed because after about a week of his being gone I start to get really cranky.  But I was really getting tired of dealing with the smell of  fish in my house.  I do not cook fish at home because it never comes out right.  However, my mother in law regularly cooks fish--frequently halibut-- and last night, at least on FB, I  succumbed to my latent desire to  reclaim my house so I can control its smells and the foods I am being offered to eat.

But then again, even without all the psychological explanations, I simply dislike halibut.  I remember that my mother made a creamed halibut dish frequently on Fridays when I was a child, back in the pre-Vatican 2 days when good Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays.  One day she sent me to the fish market (remember those?) to buy the halibut and my 7 or 8 year old memory could not recall the fish that started with "H" that she had asked me to buy.  So I told the fishmonger that I wanted haddock and proudly trotted home to find out my mistake.  Luckily my mother used the haddock anyway in the dish.  We decided the dish tasted better with haddock and thereafter never had the creamed halibut again.  Perhaps my lack of memory was in fact a sign that my distaste for halibut (chewy and dry even in a cream sauce) needed to be addressed.

My disdain for that fish has only gotten worse over the years.  Occasionally at a restaurant I have thought that I would try it in a different presentation and it never fails to disappoint.  So I resolve to eat halibut no more and to do my best to get it out of my house.  Otherwise I will need to buy stock in scented candles and Febreze.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

Today is the 27th anniversary of my mother's death. (In my best Debbie Downer voice, "wanh, wanh")  It is also Thanksgiving.  My mom had a massive stroke on Thanksgiving in 1982, which that year fell on November 25.  She passed away the next day.  For years I found Thanksgiving a difficult holiday but time does cause the pain of loss to dissipate.

In the past 27 years I have so much for which to be thankful.  I have a wonderful husband, two great children,  fantastic in-laws (daughter-in-law and mother-in-law) and most heart tuggingly, two wonderful grandchildren.  We live in a nice and safe community where the weather is lovely most of the time.  Today, for example, it is in the 70s, sunny and clear.  The beach was exceptionally pretty this morning with clear views of Palos Verdes and Catalina.

I am grateful to have my health.  I had a small scare about skin cancer in the past few weeks but learned yesterday that the mole I feared was harmless.  I also now know that I do have a few moles of concern which I have to watch but so far nothing that requires any other action but vigilance.

I am thankful for my friends and particularly for my friend Ann who continues to beat the odds of her life threatening cancer.

My work is stimulating and cutting edge in its own peculiar way.  Although I, like everyone else, complains about work and the work environment, particularly that of a large corporation, what I do on a day to day basis is about as good as it gets for work.  And I get paid pretty well for doing what I like.  Not too shabby.  (Please do not hold this against me, perfect masters, when I ask for a pay raise in the future since we all know I am paid below market value for what I do! :) )

I am grateful to be able to read and write as much as I do now that my children have grown up.  I am also grateful to be able to walk on the beach regularly which invigorates my body and my soul.

I am sure there are many more things for which I should be thankful.  But Chef William needs my help with the turkey and as usual we are missing some necessary ingredients so a trip to the store is required.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

By the Numbers

Ever since I studied psychology in college and later in graduate school, I have been enamored of the application of numbers and statistics to human behavior.  I even TAed an undergrad stats course in grad school (which I really had no business doing given how I  did not understand the underpinnings of Statistics) and later taught a methods course at KU, which included study design and basic statistics.  At one point I even applied for a post doc in economics foolishly thinking that my stats and psych background was perfect for analysing economic behavior.

With this history,  I find the new book SuperFreakonomics fascinating.  I was reading the chapter yesterday about large statistical analysis of the efficacy of medical treatment and thought how timely given this week's announcements of proposed changes to the screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer.  It made sense to me that if the risk of harm from false positives in ages 40-50 outweighs numerically the likelihood of finding true positives, as a society we may be better off not screening women from ages 40-50.   As Karen Kaplan wrote  yesterday in the LA Times:

After decades of focus on the upside of cancer screening, public health experts are increasingly reevaluating the wisdom of administering routine cancer screening tests to millions of asymptomatic people.
Though screening certainly saves lives, recent studies make it clear that it also leads to biopsies, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation -- even some deaths -- that otherwise would not have occurred.
That screening has a downside is not easy to accept, as evidenced by the furor over this week's recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that most women wait until age 50 to start routine mammograms, and then get them only every other year.

One of the reasons people are in an uproar over the proposed changes  is the notion that we should be able to control our health by proactive measures such as visits to doctors and screening tests.  But again, SuperFreakonomics' analysis of data involving doctor strikes show that death rates are negatively correlated with doctor visits,  i.e. the death rates went down when the doctors were on strike.

And another reason for uproar is the notion that decisions about healthcare would be made taking into account the good for all as opposed the good for each individual. Interestingly, I do not have a problem with using this rationale to limit screenings for otherwise asymptomatic people.  I do however get the chills, as I did last night, when the rationale is extended to providing chemotherapy to stage 4 cancer victims.  SuperFreakonomics argues that the numbers show that outcomes for such cancer patients   on average are not positive but the cost is astronomical. They report that a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer costs $40,000 but only extends survival by two months on average.  Should society bear the cost of this treatment if it does not change length of survival in any significant amount?

My very close friend was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in early January 2008.  The average  survival time after such a diagnosis is 8 months.   My friend has beaten that average and then some.   In the past two years she has had, she told me at lunch the other day, seven protocol of chemotherapy and her last scan showed shrinkage of the tumors.  Every additional month she has lived over the average expectancy is a blessing to her family and friends, like me.  Every day that we get to be in her presence is special.   She has pain but it appears to be manageable.  She is now in a wheelchair all the time due to the tumors' effect on her left leg and the possibility that it has destroyed bone in other places.  She needs to be hypervigilant about getting sick. But she still is able to go out to restaurants and other people's houses.  She is living her life one day at a time and I feel privileged whenever I can share time with her.

When the numbers are pushed aside by the personal experience, we all drop our scientific viewpoints and become advocates for the good of the one over the good of the many.  I think the strong history of individualism in this country makes us so susceptible to this type of reaction.  The push to bring our system of medical care in line with the rest of the developed nations in the world must always butt heads with this very powerful desire to put the needs of the individual close to us over the needs of the group.  I could try to distinguish between applying the numbers to screening vs. applying the numbers to treatment but in the final analysis, when it becomes personal, the numbers do not matter.  After all, like average survival expectancies, they do apply only to the population and do not predict any particular individual.  And who is to say that the value of those extra months and years are not worth the cost?

Palin' by Comparison

There is a wonderful article  about Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Van Meter in the December Vogue and a frightening article  about Sarah Palin by Frank Rich in today's NYT.  The Rich article discusses Palin's book, Going Rogue, as instructive about why we cannot count out Palin in the public arena even though in a recent CNN poll , 71% say she is unqualified to be president.  That same poll, however, shows that 42% see Palin in a favorable light, with 51 % viewing her unfavorably.  That second set of numbers is what is frightening and reflected in the Rich article.  Notwithstanding all the hoopla over her resignation as Alaska governor, her frequent inability to get out a coherent statement and her poor performance with Katie Couric during the election, (or maybe as Rich suggests, because of it) a large number of people like Palin, and her infatuation with the limelight and celebrity.  They think she is plain spoken and like the average American, although most average American women do not run for VP with a new Downs Syndrome baby and other children at home, including a pregnant teenager.  Why are people so willing to overlook Palin's lack of even the most rudimentary knowledge about world affairs?

Contrast Hillary Clinton who, according to the Vogue article, blew away Katie Couric with her command of the facts in a recent interview about Afghanistan.  The Vogue article also shows how sociable and charming Hillary really is despite her characterization over the years as a "ballbuster" (remember the tasteless Hillary nutcrackers during the 2008 campaign?)  And she was overwhelmingly adored by the people of Africa  on her recent trip there, although as usual the most reported incident of that trip was her unflattering clash with a Congolese student over a question about what her husband thought about the issues.  

Hillary is not only smart but she is effective and creative as SOS.  Her approach in Africa and other developing countries is to look at the "soft issues"-- including the role of women in the countries (a subject also addressed by Kristof and WuDunn's Half the Sky).  As Van Meter says about Clinton's view:

[T]he micro-economies of the poor are deeply important, and when the so-called soft issues—violence against women, food safety and agriculture, sustainable development—are not tended to, the result is chaos, instability, conflict, and war. 
Why is such an intelligent approach not given more its due by MSM?  Why instead is the MSM so intrigued by the Sarah Palin phenomenon?  To me, it shows a view of the American public as fundamentally ignorant and uninterested in anything but flash.  I hope for all our sake that view is merely a cynical one and not true.

Occasional Chef Wannabe- First in a series

Yesterday my foray into cooking had me trying a Hungry Girl recipe for a low calorie pumpkin pie.   The assembly looked fairly easy so after a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up all the fake carcinogenic ingredients necessary for a low cal dish, e.g. artificial sweetener in granular and syrup form, egg substitute, I started my Occasional Chef Wannabe project.  I put one of my ipods into the docking speaker station in the kitchen and searched for some calming music given that cooking always makes me anxious.  The best I could find was John Rutter Christmas Album, a series of lovely English carols sung by the Cambridge Singers.  It was 5:00 p.m. so I figured I would have the kitchen to myself while I measured and mixed.

I don't know whether it was my being in the kitchen or the music that beckoned, but suddenly my husband and mother in law decided they too had to make food in the kitchen.  Our kitchen is not that big and does not have that much counter space so having others take up counter space and get in my way looking for their own utensils got my heart racing so much that I suddenly stopped and left the room in the middle of the recipe to calm down.  Deep breathing does work--for a moment.  When I returned to make the filling, having finished the crust, my mother in law was heating up already cooked salmon in the microwave.  I heard the "pop" (she didn't) but hoped it was nothing much.  Unfortunately, when she opened the microwave we discovered the salmon had exploded everywhere and had filled the ceiling and crevices of the microwave with smelly salmon pieces.

My mother in law, uncharacteristically, cursed and then changed the curse to a more ladylike "shoot" while she spent a few minutes cleaning up.  After she finished, I went to check the damage and continued cleaning for a few more minutes.  Man, that salmon was everywhere!  I took the innards of the microwave apart (a revolving tray assembly) and scrubbed it top and bottom.  My mother in law felt bad but these things happen--and apparently must happen during my occasional forays into baking.  Hmmm pumpkin and salmon. Yum.

So back I went to finishing the pie.  I got it into the oven while hearing only twice the story of how the music reminded my mother in law of her aunt who taught piano when she was a child in England.  After the prescribed cooking time I checked the pie which did not seem done enough to me so I made an executive decision to cook it 15 minutes more and then hope for the best.  I let it cool and refrigerated it as instructed.  It smelled good and gave the house that holiday air in conjunction with the holiday music.

This morning I tried a slice for breakfast.  The first bite tasted good but as I proceeded I got a bit of an aftertaste not typical for pumpkin pie.  I do not know if it had too much pumpkin pie spice or it was the artificial sweeteners.  Typically artificial sweeteners do not bother me so I am thinking I may have put in more spice than I should have.  Hopefully someone else will try it and let me know how it is.  Calling something low cal in front of my beefy boys is a sure fire way to keep them from eating it!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Memories--Misty Memories

Yesterday a friend of mine from high school and elementary school contacted me via Facebook.  I recognized her from the picture even though her last name had changed.  We exchanged a few emails in past few days and she told me that she had found our high school chemistry teacher online and that lead her to search for others from that time period.

I do not have any memory of my high school chemistry teacher or any other high school teacher, except for  my Trig and Calculus teacher who I had for 2 years.  And I do not remember her name.  I did not even remember that the high school chemistry teacher was a man (unusual at my Catholic girls' school) and that he was very young when he taught us--same age as my next older sister.  I learned all these facts by doing some research on him.  He became a renowned neuroscientist  with major finds in the area of adult stem cell and Alzheimer's research.  He was chair of the medical faculty and neuroscience faculty at UCI, which means he has lived 50 miles away from me while doing all these amazing things in science for the past almost 40 years. (I took hs chemistry in 1969-70).  And he is going to be playing himself (!) on Criminal Minds tonight for what I understand is a theory he developed about violence running in families that have experienced extreme trauma .  I set my Tivo to record the show, in part because I am wondering if I will recognize his voice and that will bring back memories of his teaching me.

This matter of memory is fascinating and frightening at the same time.  I live with a parent whose memory is clearly deteriorating, much to her own sadness as well as ours.  I have talked to others about their experiences with their parents' memories declining.   Everyone talks about the problems of what I call the "loops" which are a sign of working memory problems.  The loop is the person asking a question, getting an answer and then a few minutes later asking the same question again--rinse and repeat many times.   My problem is not a working memory issue.  It is a complete loss of memory of certain aspects of certain periods of my life.  I remember my friends and classmates for the most part from high school.  Why do I not remember the teachers?  I vaguely recall the social science teacher with whom I took history for a few years and did an independent study my senior year.  No name, just an image.  As I said, I also recall my math teacher--but again no name.  Oddly enough I remember two nuns-- my 8th grade teacher who I rudely called (privately of course) "Bowser" and the infamous Sister Charles at my high school who taught latin and typing, neither of which I took.  I cannot recall the real name of the 8th grade nun.  But then I remember my kindergarten and first grade teachers,  Sr. Irene and Sr. Eileen as well as my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Gavigan.

Memories are a funny thing.  I think my working memory is still pretty good but these gaps in longer term memory are mystifying.  I see my mother in law also not remembering longer term events but then at times she had very good memories, or so she claims, of events from her childhood.  Maybe my old chemistry teacher--now famous neuroscientist-- can explain it to me.  Hopefully I will remember the explanation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Santa Cruzing - The Fall Edition

Autumn in Santa Cruz surprised me.  I expected crowds given that the colleges are back in session. UC Santa Cruz has 15,000 students and Cabrillo College has 13,000 so I thought the streets would be teaming with young people.  As it turned out, Santa Cruz was much quieter and mellower than in the summer.  The Holiday Inn  was half the price of the summer rates and we had no problem getting into any of the restaurants that were so busy this summer (with one exception as I will describe below).

We arrived Thursday night and immediately went to meet our daughter and her beau at the Santa Cruz Diner where I was able for the first time in my life to order from the senior menu!  I had a typical senior type meal--french toast and scrambled eggs-- nice and soft for those old teeth!  I enjoyed tucking my napkin in at my collar and tucking into a dinner special for a measly $3.49!

Friday we ran some errands--car repair, book return etc. with our college students and then headed out with g-ma to see the UCSC campus.  UCSC has a residential college system similar to but a little different from the one at Yale.  Students join a college upon matriculation and stay with that college through graduation.  The college is mostly for housing and dining but it also has faculty members who are affiliated with it (and thus have offices in the college) and offers a core course for freshmen.  I gather there are themes to the colleges.  I was told, for example, that Porter College is a liberal arts college.  See here for more information about the college system at UCSC.

UCSC also has a beautiful hilly campus with fabulous views at times of the Pacific Ocean.  Students have historically been more counterculture at this UC than other campuses (except Berkeley, of course).  Looking around at the throngs of students going to class I felt transported a bit to my own college experience in the early 70s.

We also drove to Cabrillo College which has its own fantastic views of the ocean.  However, Cabrillo was empty on that Friday.  Apparently few students take classes on Friday.  Classes are offered on MW and TTh with the Friday classes consisting of the dreaded 3 hour challenges to attention and sanity so most Cabrillo students show their smarts by avoiding Friday classes.  It was also the Friday before a holiday Monday which may have decreased the already small group of people who attend on Friday.  I had a parking lot almost all to myself which apparently is in stark contrast to parking problems at the school during the rest of the week. (Although nowhere as bad as the parking at Santa Monica College which "drove" both of my children to seek other education options when they could not attend class because they could never find any parking, not even in the satellite lots).

Community colleges in California are experiencing huge enrollments and significant budget cuts right now, making it difficult to attend a public college in CA.  The UC and Cal State universities have raised tuition and cut budgets forcing more students into the community college system.    Most of the schools have wait lists a full month before the classes starts and lines of students out around the building to get into courses on from a wait list.  At CCSF someone put up signs saying a course was closed, even though it wasn't, to get an advantage of getting in from the wait list.  CCSF reportedly now has over 100,000 students, up from 70,000 last year and making it by far the largest college in the state.  Hats off to the students who navigate the CA community college system.

But I digress.  Back to the Santa Cruz trip.  Friday night we had dinner at Kianti's ,  a pizza/pasta place in downtown Cruz.  Last time I tried to go there on a weekend evening, the wait was over an hour, but this time we walked right in.  The fun part of that dinner was the show put on by the wait staff.   It turned out our  waiter was the star of the show,  twirling rubber pizzas while dancing to "Footloose" and jumping on a ledge between tables.  The rest of the staff had choreographed steps to three or four songs--  e.g. "Dancing Queen" and something from Grease.

Santa Cruz has a very nice independent bookstore,  Bookshop Santa Cruz .  We went there twice although I spent most of my time there on my iPhone reading an e-book.  We also went to Walnut Avenue Cafe twice because g-ma loved the blueberry pancakes beyond measure and the rest of us thought our food was good too.  This restaurant was the only one where we had to wait.  On Sunday morning we had a 40 minute wait but luckily there was a Starbucks around the corner where we drank coffee outside with a screaming female schizophrenic ("What are you looking at you rich dick!!" insert more unmentionable invective)  while waiting for our table.  Santa Cruz downtown is a showcase for the state of mental health care in our state.  Many of the homeless seem to be schizophrenic and paranoid, which raises the age old question of how to deal with the homeless mentally ill.  Like the subject of the Soloist,  these people do not always want to come inside where it can get crowded with the presence of all their demons.  I leave that subject for another day.

Saturday we left the Cruz and spent a lovely day in San Francisco.  We lunched in Sausalito and enjoyed a perfect sunny view of the city and the water.  Pelicans entertained.  During the evening we went to a reception at a Peruvian restaurant where Paul was honored for his work in settling the Wiwa case in NY.
The CHP gave us a parting gift on the way back to Santa Cruz that evening-- a fix it ticket for not having a current registration sticker on the car.  Santa Cruz police also noticed that problem and gave us a ticket the next day for parking without a current registration sticker.  What cities will do for money!

Sunday we headed home on El Camino Real for most of the way.  I found a wonderful Lebanese restaurant on Yelp in Santa Barbara called Cafe Zaytoon.  I had chicken shwarma of magnificent taste and quantities.  The atmosphere was quite lovely too with firepit tables throughout the courtyard.  My friend David told me zaytoon is a variant of the arabic word "zaytun" which means olive.  Interestingly in the trivia contest of the night I bested my husband who believed Lebanese spoke Arabic when in fact as I said they spoke Lebanese, which is derived from Arabic and Aramaic but its own separate language.

Eventually we got home after being in gridlock on the 405 as the result of a 5 car pileup.  Although the delay was annoying, I was grateful we were in the gridlock and not in the cars that were part of the pileup.

Monday, November 9, 2009

At the River

I attended my friend Paul's funeral three weeks ago and was reminded today of it while listening to an account of Justice Scalia crying openly and publicly at the funeral service of  Chief Justice Rehnquist.  I admire people who are secure enough in themselves to cry in public.  I am so uncomfortable crying in public that I was embarassed when I started to weep at the funeral during a performance of Aaron Copland's arrangement of "Shall We Gather At the River".  Part of the problem may be that I have always cried easily when emotionally hurt and that has happened too often in the work setting.  Like Tom Hanks said in  A League of Their Own, "There's no crying in baseball" --or in the workplace if you are a woman.  So I get upset when the tears start to flow as if it were such a bad thing to cry anywhere.  I hate to be viewed as an "emotional woman" or "hysterical". But sometimes it is ok to cry, such as at the funerals of friends.

"At the River" is a wonderful hymn which I had the pleasure of learning a few years ago when I sang with the LMU Community Chorus, although the version we did combined that hymn with another song, "Deep River."  At the funeral, the hymn was sung by a baritone with tenor overtones.  Here is a young baritone  I found on Youtube singing the Aaron Copland version.  It gives me the chills.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day and die Deutschen

I spent the day with the German copyright lawyers today at the American German Copyright Summit held at Villa Aurora just above PCH off Sunset.  It is the second year in a row I have attended and I am scheduled to speak again this year.  Last year we were all abuzz about the presidential election and the Germans enjoyed partying into the wee hours in Century City after Obama was elected.   I left the Summit early that day to go watch the returns with my family.  This year I left early with a vague intention of voting in the local elections but never made it to the polls.  I tried to go this morning to my normal polling place but, although it was still a polling place, it had my address listed at a different location for this election. The peripatetic polling place.  I was already late for the Summit and the correct polling place was out of the way so I decided to forego voting at that time.  I must say that I was not particularly educated about the choices.  My only desire was to vote against a former neighbor who, in my opinion, would not make a good city councilman.  In particular I was offended by his telephone marketing campaign which smeared another member of the city counsel.  My son said there was a similar smear in poster form out on the main drag in our town.  But I did not do my civic duty and vote against the candidate not of my choice.

I always feel a bit bad when I do not vote.  I can only count a few times over the years when I have not.  One time I voted with almost no information about a local candidate and helped elect someone who I later discovered had very different views of the world than I.  Luckily there is not much harm that can come from what these local council people can do, as far as I can tell.  Conservative or liberal council members- the city seems to run about the same . . .until the next construction project to beautify Pier Avenue, which I understand starts in January.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You Sir (Madam) Are No Davy Crockett!

Although I grew up in upstate New York spending my summers swimming, fishing and boating in a spring fed lake,  I am basically now a city girl.  I have lived in Los Angeles for almost 35 years and am pretty good about navigating the issues of a major international city.  Traffic, parking, crime, car chases, lines at Starbucks I can handle.  What I do not expect to handle is confronting wild life at my front door. 

A few months ago my son opened the front door to a skunk. The critter had moved into our neighborhood and apparently was the origin of the middle of the night smell which I thought was someone's espresso machine.  I heard the skunk sprayed one of our neighbor's dogs.  So far we have been lucky since our old Aussie mix has lived outside for his 14 1/2 years.  

Last night, however, our cockalier, Novella, who stays inside, went crazy barking at the front door  around 9 p.m.   My husband and I both looked out but no one was there.  After about a half hour of Novella's incessant yapping, I looked outside and saw what I first thought was our tabby cat.  Then I saw another larger animal.  I figured the skunk had returned and the cat was getting away.  So I turned on the light to discover a huge raccoon.  This raccoon was as big as, if not bigger than, Novella, who weighs about 25 pounds.  I yelled at it to scare it away and then another huge raccoon appeared.  And then a third, all as big as each other and running amok around the cat dishes.  I yelled again and banged on the window.  They moved away for a nanosecond and then came right back as bold as can be, all the while looking at me as if to say "What? What?".  Then I opened the door and tried to shoo them with a broom and they came right up to the broom and started to charge the front door.  I slammed the door and they started pounding their clawy paws on our door.  I felt like we were under siege by a local gang --fearless and bent on retaliating for any gesture we took against them.

Until now my experience with raccoons has been limited to the cartoon kind and the virtual kind.  These guys were not like the ones in Off the Mark and they certainly did not go away with a few clicks of a mouse like the ones chewing up your neighbors' crops in Farmville.  These guys were thugs who dared us to try to come after them.

Poor Novella was so spooked by the raccoon experience that she barked at regular intervals all night--about every 15 minutes--even though the marauders had moved on to scavenge other environs.  We put her in a room as far away from the front door as we could and she still barked and yapped every 15 minutes.  It was as if she could still smell them and was upset every time she re-experienced their presence.

Today, after getting suggestions from friends that included firearms, tanning and raccoon en papillote, I called the city to find out if they would do something about these critters.  Animal control left me a message that their trapping expert was out until tomorrow so I am hoping we get through tonight without any more raccoon drama.  I had visions of coming home tonight after dark and having the gang of 3 waiting for me at the front door, demanding food or other vigorish.

Instead I turned the corner to see first a city employee of some type in an unmarked car which gave me pause.  Had our neighbors from hell called the city about Novella's raccoon-induced barking fit last night?  Then I realized all the street lights were out--for blocks.  We are having a bad wind storm and I had already played dodge ball in my car with large branches or palm fronds on the way home.  I walked into the house to find my poor mother in law alone and disoriented in the pitch dark.  Luckily I had just bought some new flash lights this weekend at Costco (so I had a lot of them) and was able to give her one while I lit candles throughout the house.  

Raccoons and no electricity.  I felt a bit like a frontier woman who had no idea what to do in the frontier. How would I heat up dinner? Luckily the lights came back on in a half hour and I am reminded of how far we have come from the frontier as I threw my Whole Foods turkey meatloaf in the microwave.   And no, I am not interested in a raccoon coat or hat!

Monday, October 26, 2009

What Goes Around

I am a "fan" of Smith College on Facebook.  Many days there are very interesting articles and news for us alums.   A few weeks ago, however, I got embroiled in a discussion with other Smithies about the propriety of Smith having cheerleaders.  I am not opposed to the cheerleaders although I still cringe at the thought of girls cheering on those who are actually doing the sports.  I went through this issue already with my daughter who wanted to cheer in middle school and high school even though I preferred she play soccer, a sport she played well for many years.  She did cheer for a while but eventually gave it up.

The problem I had with the discourse about cheerleading on the Smith fanpage was a comment by someone who said in substance how can anyone object to women cheering on women.  Get out of the 1970s.  I had to reply that young women enjoy the rights and equalities they do because of those of us who in the 70s insisted that we needed to do it differently from our mothers' generation.  We would work and have families.  We would get "real" professional jobs, not jobs like secretary and teacher.  We would insist that we be treated equally.  And it was not always easy.  We were underpaid.  We were not given childcare leave. We were treated with disdain if we got pregnant because we obviously did not take our careers seriously.  I lost my secretary and almost lost my office when I gave birth to my daughter because of the belief that I clearly would not come back to work, even though I already was a working mother.

So I found it annoying to be treated like a fossil of the 70s because I would rather see girls play than cheer others playing.  Girls did not play sports when I was growing up so those of us who worked to ensure our daughters would have that choice should be celebrated, not denigrated.

Then I read a passage in Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women that pointed out that before the 60s a professional woman could not be described in the media without making a feminine reference such as female doctor or lawyer and grandmother.   I use that description for myself on this blog and it did not even occur to me that in years before I came of age, such a description was ultimately denigrating to a woman who could not be seen solely as a professional.  I chose the description because I have the luxury of having both the career and the family--even grandchildren--that others fought for me to have.  I am proud to be able to have both.  I also hope I appreciate the frame of mind of those who made it possible for me to have both, just as I would like the young women today to understand the viewpoint of those of us from the 70s.

Did I Get it Wrong?

Last night while I was watching the end of the Angels-Yankees series, desperately rooting for a decent play by the California team, I saw what I thought was my "favorite" Cialis commercial.  A somewhat good looking old guy was talking to himself in the window about his erectile dysfunction problem.  I was in the room with a number of people and therefore was only paying partial attention to the commercial.  Something seemed off though.  The guy was older and suddenly there was dialogue I did not remember.  The coup de grace was the end where the Viagra logo came up.

What?   Viagra has a commercial with a guy talking to himself in the window?  (An issue, I might add, that may also require medical attention.)  I thought it was the Cialis commercial that did that!  Did I get it wrong about the brand those many times I saw the commercial earlier in the playoff series?  Or did one of those drug companies rip off the other's idea for the commercial?

HMMM.  If the two drugs are indistinguishable and the commercials are the same, how will I know what to buy?  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Now You're Really Cooking

For most of my adult life I have had fantasies of cooking gourmet meals.  I buy cookbooks and magazines with the intent of fixing various culinary treats but usually I do not whip up anything from those books and magazines.  I always have an excuse for not cooking, similar to those that I and others concoct for not exercising--too tired, not enough time, not really interested at the moment it must happen.

I am fascinated by someone like Julie Powell who spent a year cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I am just about done with Powell's book on the experience and find her tolerance for the chore of cooking amazing, notwithstanding her many emotional breakdowns.  I am familiar with the breakdowns while cooking.  And I am not a connoisseur of French cooking in any event so her particular task does not tempt me in the least.  (Although it must be tempting others given that the sales of Child's cookbook have skyrocketed since the movie came out).

I am however tempted by the notion of taking a cookbook and systematically working through it.  So I keep buying cookbooks, many times while on vacation because when I am more relaxed cooking seems more feasible.  Last spring it was Hungry Girl's tome, purchased after our trip to Santa Fe.  I have not cooked anything from that book yet, but several times I have bought the ingredients for one or more of the recipes.  On this last vacation I picked up in one of the National Park bookstores, of all places, a cookbook called Southwest Slow Cooking.  The title has a sensual sound to it.  And the best part about it is the promise that the recipes can all be accomplished in a slow cooker, aka crockpot.

I own two crockpots of slightly different shapes.  I make stews, tagines (aka stews) and soupy type dishes in them.  I have tried roasts and they turn out like stews.  This new cookbook seems to suggest that dishes other than stews are possible in the slow cooker.  So today I put together something called Southwest Chicken and Rice.  I spent about two hours going to three different stores to get the ingredients, which I thought I could just throw in the pot--set it and forget it.  Unfortunately, there was more chopping and cutting and screaming about where my various utensils have gone than I had expected even though I typically read recipes looking for the hidden work so I can avoid it.  It took me a half hour to assemble the materials in the pot, more than I expected but less than any self-respecting cook would expect to spend fixing a meal.  

You see, I do not want my cooking to take any time or involve any work.

While reading Julie and Julia I keep saying ,"Why are you doing that?  Couldn't a butcher do that for you?".  Many of her vignettes concern cutting up various animals or crustaceans.  Others involve sauces which  I have always found inscrutable--except for basic white sauce and cheese sauce as taught to me by my mother.  Again, all of these tasks require time, patience and a fundamental interest in the process.  I just want to eat good food, not live with it.

One interesting thing that happened today in my assembling the ingredients of the dish, which is now slow cooking away in the kitchen, is the discovery that my hands truly do not work anymore as they once did.  I had tremendous trouble using the hand can opener and I had to open six cans of vegetables for this dish. (See why I was lulled into thinking it was easy.  It called for canned goods as ingredients.  How hard can that be?)  I have come to the sad conclusion that I must purchase an electric can opener.  Thirty five years of living in apartments or houses and I have never owned an electric can opener.  But after today's experience I think the time has come.  Luckily my hands still work well enough to type or I will be acquiring voice recognition software, like one of my friends, to write this blog.

Three more hours until the dish is done.  Cross your fingers.  I would mine but they are getting too gnarled to cross!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Vacation 2009 Part 2

I finally got around this evening to downloading my pictures to my computer from the second half of the vacation and enjoyed the memories of that part of the trip.  We got some good shots even with the stormy weather of Canyonlands from Grand View Point Overlook.  The formations have three layers -- with basins and rims.  The lowest basin contains the Colorado River which we had hoped to be on in a jet boat until the wind caused our trip to be canceled shortly after we left the dock.  The view from above was spectacular nonetheless.

That night we ate at the Moab Brewery where I had a surprisingly good greek salad.  Paul
 tested the fall brew--I only had a sip due to persistent stomach problems that pestered me throughout the trip but I did my best to ignore.  When we got back to the B & B it started pouring.  I was sitting in the living room of the main building and saw a large buck and a doe walk right by the window between that building and the one where we were staying.  The deer are very accustomed to people at the B & B and will even look at you when you take their picture.  I did not have my camera handy that evening but was able to get a herd of doe in my camera sights the next morning as we were getting ready to leave.

We took the road through Blanding, Utah with the plan to have lunch at the new hotel and restaurant in Monument Valley called the View.   We decided to look for an advertised Dinosaur Museum in Blanding because my grandson requested dinosaurs for his gift (probably indeed expecting us to bring back real dinosaurs).  We took a wrong turn and wound up at a state park called Edge of the Cedars Park which sported its own museum of ancient pueblo artifacts including a very interesting ancient pueblo dwelling.  Then we found the Dinosaur Museum which I had planned to skip except for the shop but Paul decided to pay for our entry.  It turns out that I qualified for a senior discount for the first time at this Museum.  We were the only ones visiting and the display/collection was surprisingly good.  That area of southwestern Utah is a treasure trove of dinosaur and very old artifacts.  The museum was started by archeologists who work in that "triangle" area.

Unfortunately these two stops put us on track to miss lunch at the View restaurant.
We walked in a few minutes after 2 p.m. and they had stopped serving. So we grabbed a to-go sandwich and looked at the view and the nicely decorated interior lobby of the View hotel. I was particularly fascinated by a floor to ceiling post which had large kachinas displayed on ledges.  I also liked the dishes holding cacti and tried unsuccessfully to purchase one in several different stores.

Finally we arrived at the Grand Canyon just before sunset from an eastern approach which was different from what we took the last time.  We stopped at a lighthouse type structure and saw the sunset over the Canyon.  I forgot my camera but Paul had his point and shoot so we got a few pictures of that particular view point of the Canyon.  We then moved on to the Thunderbird Lodge on the Rim where our room had a partial view of the Canyon.  The next morning we took a walk along the Rim to El Tovar to have breakfast and then returned the same way, capturing the Canyon at different points of the morning light.  

Next:  Sedona:  Land of the Red Rocks and Sweat Houses.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Who Watches the Baseball Playoffs on TV?

Apparently only old guys who cannot get it up or who have prostrate "problems".  Or so the advertisers must believe.  I have never seen so many commercials for Cialis and drugs for prostrate enlargement etc. as I have in the past few days watching baseball playoffs with my favorite old guy.  The Cialis commercial is particularly irritating.  The man is walking to the doctor's and his mirror image is encouraging him to talk to their doctor about their erectile dysfunction problem.  The guy who is walking says "Shhh.  I don't want to talk about it."  To which I reply, "I don't want to HEAR about it!"

Perhaps all the money the drug companies spend advertising these medicines for erectile dysfunction could be better spent.  I'm just saying.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Yesterday at the Grand Canyon, my husband took the above picture and sent to a friend with the title "Perspective".  Traveling through the American Southwest with its geological wonders does tend to make you think about perspective.  We stopped in a dinosaur museum in Blanding, Utah run by archeologists who have found,  in the triangle area near the Four Corners, evidence of life hundreds of millions years old.  One petrified tree we saw was 275 million years old. When you realize how long the rocks we see and even life has been on this planet, you understand that human history is de minimus in comparison.  All those problems we have in our lives should be put in perspective.

I have been suffering from some minor physical discomforts on this trip which I will not describe (TMI) but which are unfortunately distracting me. While feeling sorry for myself this morning,  I got hit with another dose of perspective.  I just found out that another friend of mine is gravely ill.  He is on life support having suffered a heart attack during chemotherapy.  This man was a brilliant chemist and a very active member of our community.  He got me involved in the board of the youth soccer league and I ultimately took over his job as regional commissioner.  He was also very active in his church, which I attended for a while, largely to sing in the choir but also to search for some spirituality that I never found but my friend had in abundance.  His life was steeped in service.  His family intends to take him off life support tonight and I am so sad that I have not had the opportunity to spend more time with him.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vacation 2009 Part 1

A bad day on vacation is better than a good day at the office. 

So far our vacation has been better than the office but has not been as fantastic as we had hoped.

The first day out went well.  We stopped at a few outlet malls on the drive to St. George.  At the one in Barstow, which is in the middle of nowhere, we were amused that we were the only customers speaking English.  Love to see those euros and yen flowing into the California economy.  I managed to find some Skecher walking shoes that are supposed to enhance your workout while walking.  At the outlet mall in Nevada, we found new dishes at the Williams Sonoma outlet.  We made it to St. George at a reasonable hour and had a decent night's sleep in the Ramada, which I choose because it is next to the only Starbucks in town. (Unlike in Los Angeles, the Starbucks in Utah are few and far between.

The next day, unfortunately, started with bad news for Paul involving his work.  He spent many hours that day on his iPhone trying to cope.  We headed out to Moab after a hearty breakfast at Bear Paw Cafe.  Most of the day went fine until I was stopped for speeding on I-70 not too far from the turnoff for Moab.  Luckily for me I got a warning instead of a ticket.  But it is always annoying and frightening to be stopped by the State Police and asked questions about where you are going and what you are doing in Utah.  

Saturday we headed out to Arches for a beautiful morning of hiking and taking pictures.   I started to feel like Gumby so we went back to our B&B after a late lunch.  I fell asleep for 3 hours and Paul discovered that his expensive Nikon was broken and none of the Arches pictures he took were recorded on the memory card, including ones I did not take because I did not climb everywhere he did.  He spent time trying to figure out what was wrong but apparently the problem is in the camera and not the memory card. Needless to say my photography nut husband is not happy.

Today we went to take a jet boat trip down the Colorado River.  We had been worried about the rain which was forecasted and had threatened all morning.  We get on the boat and head down the river about 5-10 minutes and suddenly the boat turns perpendicular to the direction we should be going.  Since it is a flat boat, the current and wind made it impossible to make even the first turn on the river so we headed back to the dock for a refund.  Paul and I were lucky we had a car to drive to Canyonlands but not as lucky with the weather.  Between wind and rain, the views were spectacular but hard to capture on the point and shoot cameras we have as backups to Paul's spiffy Nikon.  We ended the day luckily with a very good meal and our proprietors' home made chocolate chip cookies.

I really am having a great time.  Bad days on vacation are better than a good day at the office.  It's not even close.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On the Road Again

We are heading out tomorrow for another road trip through the southwest. This year we are heading to St. George, Moab, Grand Canyon and Sedona. St. George is really just a stopover but because we spent a fair amount of time there the year our young'un went to school there, we have a few haunts we like to visit.

After St. George, we have three nights planned at a B & B outside Moab. We stayed there last year and loved the people and the resident deer. We decided we needed more time in the Moab area than we had last year to explore the natural wonders of the area. If the weather holds (unfortunately rain is forecast--we have to go on vacation to see rain), we plan to visit Arches and take a boat trip into Canyonlands.

One night we plan to spend on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Our motel reportedly has a view of the rim. I am mostly looking forward to seeing the sunrise and then having breakfast at the El Tovar Hotel, which has the rugged elegance to which I aspire.

Then we are on to our familiar stomping grounds in Sedona, specifically we have 4 days planned at the Enchantment Resort. We are hoping to take some hikes in Sedona this time if Paul's back holds up.

As usual, I cannot wait!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Le Weekend

Today is Monday and back to the office after the weekend. Since I am not Jewish, I went to work today unlike most of senior management at the studio. It was a quiet day. But not as quiet as my weekend. I did almost nothing all weekend except lie in bed and sleep. And I feel guilty instead of good. Where does this guilt over not doing anything productive come from?

As far back as I can remember being a semi-responsible person--let's say starting in high school--I had work to do on the weekend. In high school and college there was always course work to do over the weekend. I can remember in college in particular always spending some part of Sunday in the library, even if I had gone away for the weekend.

When I moved to LA to attend UCLA grad school, the weekend was no different from weekdays. Grad students worked 7 days a week. I always went to my office in Franz Hall on the weekend to catch up on some research or writing or grading papers. That habit carried over during my time as a researcher at USC and an assistant professor at KU. Law school was also the same. Too much work and not enough time so I always wound up working on the weekend. By then I was married to a lovable workaholic who works 7 days a week almost all the time. I remember many Saturday nights at home with hubby working so I would try to work too.

Then I worked for law firms for almost 9 years. The life of a law firm associate is one of 7 day work too, particularly when you have billable hour targets to meet. And I had children, who also took up my time on the weekend. And I had to spend the weekends doing errands, filling the larder and cleaning the house.

When I started working at the studio 16 years ago I discovered that almost no one worked at the office during the weekend. The weekends really were your time although sometimes there was some work to finish at home. At that time, however, my children played sports on the weekends year round and one of them was on a traveling team for several years. And as if I did not have enough to do, since I still had to do errands on the weekend, I joined the board and eventually took over the job for two years of running our community's recreational youth soccer league (AYSO) --which serviced over 3000 players.

Even after the sports ended, I started scheduling hobbies on the weekend--piano lessons for 5 years, singing in choirs, gardening. This year, however, I have given up all the hobbies and activities. My weekends are tabula rasa. Most of the time I still have plenty to do--library, food shopping, walking on the beach, other errands. But recently I find myself sleeping most of the weekend. This past weekend I needed to get my car washed and pick up conditioner I left at the hairdressers. I did neither thing. I dragged myself out to Costco with my son but did not make it to the garden store which was our other planned destination. I had lunch with my husband but ate all my other meals in bed. I slept and read a little. Mostly I slept. And I felt completely  depressed that I had spent another "unproductive" weekend.

Habits of activity die hard so I attribute my guilt over inactivity to spending all those years overbooked. I also sometimes think that our time here is so precious. I should sleep when I am dead. But unfortunately once you take on the mantle of the sloth, as I did this past weekend, it is hard to shed it. And Catholics, even lapsed ones, find sloth to be a deadly sin.

From the Pocket Catholic Catechism:

Sloth is the desire for ease, even at the expense of doing the known will of God. Whatever we do in life requires effort. Everything we do is to be a means of salvation. The slothful person is unwilling to do what God wants because of the effort it takes to do it. Sloth becomes a sin when it slows down and even brings to a halt the energy we must expend in using the means to salvation.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Page from the Bush Playbook

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized this week reportedly in response to treatment for anemia. She has pancreatic cancer so one must believe that the anemia is associated with the disease or the treatments she is taking for the disease. As I have written before in this blog, I am very fond of Justice Ginsberg and although she says that she hopes to stay on the court for at least another 5 years, she may need or want to retire at the end of this term. Thus it is likely that President Obama will have to appoint another justice within the next year.

Obama is developing a reputation as a middle of the roader. See e.g. the Washington Post article by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Obama's last choice for Supreme Court supports that reputation, as far as I can tell. However, he must break with this proclivity and appoint someone like Ginsburg to the next open seat. Obama needs to be more like W and appoint people with more definite values (this time left leaning) just as W appointed two (!) highly conservative justices during his administration.

Otherwise we will continue to suffer the fallout of the Bush administration. A May 2009 article in the New Yorker by Jeffrey Toobin demonstrates why. As Toobin wrote:

After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

What that means for us is the potential loss of civil rights to which we have become accustomed. A Roberts dominated court could eliminate the following:
  • rights of African- Americans-Roberts already signaled his intentions to cut protections to African- Americans in last term's case involving section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which the Court ultimately upheld but narrowed such that local governments now have the option not to obtain Justice Department approval before making changes to their election laws or rules. As Toobin points out, these rules include "from the location of polling places to the boundaries of congressional districts." Roberts also supported the overturning of the Seattle School District integration plan in 2007 and found that the rights of white New haven firefighters were violated under Title VII of the civil rights act.

  • abortion- six of the current nine justices are Catholic, in comparison to under 25% of the American population. Roberts already supported the upholding of the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2007.

  • women's rights in employment- Roberts supported the decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear which imposed virtually impossible standards on those suing for discrimination. In that case the woman plaintiff was seeking equal pay for equal work.

  • rights to pursue torturers- Roberts dissented in Boumediene v. Bush, which upheld rights of those held in Guantanamo to a "prompt hearing" on challenges to detention. If the AG ever decides to pursue those who justified and allowed torture in the Bush Adminstration, we can safely predict where a Roberts led court would come out.

So, if Obama must name another justice in the coming year or so, I hope he recognizes what is at stake and takes pains to find someone who is ideologically like Ginsburg. Otherwise Bush's legacy of conservatism will rear its ugly head for a very long time in the Supreme Court.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Come Together Right Now

Since I have been reading a lot recently about the Bush administration's isolationism, I am probably more sensitive to and interested in certain news the past few days.  Obama has supported and other leaders have agreed for a permanent shift of international economic discussions from G7 to G20.  In addition, Obama garnered support from other nations to confront Iran on its secret nuclear plant filled with Pakistani centrifuges and located near Yum in a highly protected area.  Here are two instances, thus, where Obama shows his global view  in contrast to the last administration's blinkered view of the world where our nation's perspective was the only important factor. 

The shift to G20 only reflects the reality of the world.  The 19 nation member plus the EU reportedly represent 90% of the world's GDP.  It includes the new rising economies and according to the NYT:  
The member countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United States. The European Union is also a member, represented by the rotating council presidency and the European Central Bank.

It makes sense to have this group meet rather than the traditional big industrial countries of the G7, United States, Britain, France, Canada, Italy, Germany and Japan.  We need to adjust to the reality that growth of economies throughout the world affects us all.

The second event reflects Obama's desire to approach problems with multiple allies rather than the show Bush put on to justify the desire to invade Iraq. Obama is trying to enlist a number of countries including Russia  and China to put pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear capabilities and comply with international nuclear proliferation treaties. Hopefully the international community will respond and not be affected by its experience regarding Iraq.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Full Sail Ahead?

My oldest sister, a pioneering soul who got me started on Facebook, goes sailing every September on the Lewis R. French, "America's Oldest Windjammer". I am thinking about joining her next September. As part of the trip, the guests have to help with furling and unfurling the sails, working the ropes, etc. I worry about the lack of strength in my hands due to arthritis. But my sister has plenty of experience taking care of me on the water. When I was 5 and she was 18, I believe, she drove me across a lake during a storm by stowing me under the deck. I actually remember the feeling of safety which may explain why I sometimes crawl under my desk when events at work get too overwhelming!

Here are some photos of the schooner from its website. Tell me if you think I can hack this type of sailing.