Archive for December, 2008


Year End

Please.  Let this year end.  I am so tired of bad news.  I like to think I am a news junkie, but I can’t really listen since the election.  The radio is on, but I can’t make my brain comprehend or focus.  It is easier to just say everything is fubar and go on with my day.  But, you simply can’t escape it.  My company is ending the year in a situation worse than it has seen in a decade.  I’m not concerned about my position, yet, but there will be changes and possible cut backs.  Couple this news with the report that the unemployment rate is at 7% or the figure of 10 million people out of work (the most ever in total numbers, although not as great of percentage) and no wonder there is a general sense of trepidation.

Then Israel had to start this new phase in the never-ending war.  Do I understand why they’re bombing Gaza?  Of course and I respect their right to defend themselves.  Hamas bombing Israeli territory gives them that right.  Yet, I can’t help but feel for the Palestinians.  I see their side, too.  Everyone thinks that the war is over and settled; it has never been over for them.  Shoved in a corner with barriers to independence and economic stability, who wouldn’t still hold a grudge? But, they haven’t helped their cause with their methods.  This, I’m afraid, will end up just being another sad chapter, deepening the divisions and exacerbating the age old problems, adding more causes to feud about ages hence.

This latest crisis is just one more thing.  Long ago I shed my Christian faith, but I can’t stop thinking “wars and rumors of wars” or noticing the fires or earthquakes or disease.  Everything seems to add up to what a guy alone on island wrote nearly 2,000 years ago.  Scrolling through channels over the weekend, I came upon A Distant Thunder.  This was a film shown in the 70’s to scare people to Christ, including us little kids.  I paused to watch and relive my childhood.  My husband nudged me and nodded at the boy.  Right.  No reason to scare him, or scar him perhaps.  The brief little moment brought back lots of memories – backward masking and demons on album covers.  Ah, that time of innocence when Satan was everywhere and everyone was on the lookout for the antichrist.  We never had anyone possessed by a devil in my evangelical church, but we heard about it from the visiting preachers as they told of their battles with the demons.  Come out!  People were healed of all manner of things by a guy in a bad wig and a blue polyester suit on the UHF stations late at night.  We went from faith healers on TV to the doctrine of prosperity – “Got wants you to be rich!”  Now, it seems we are cycling back to that fearful time.  Oh! Ok, now  I get why people are thinking Obama is the antichrist.

Is it bad that I have a song in my head – Tom Wait’s Chocolate Jesus?

We all have a lot of hopes pinned on Obama.  He isn’t the antichrist and he’s not our chocolate Jesus either.  He’s no messiah.  Things are still going to be bad 1/21/09 and it is probably going to get worse before it  gets better and it is going to require us all to do something to make it better.  The low numbers from retailers this holiday season seems to indicate that maybe we are starting to get that.  (The discussion of why we should spend now to save the economy and then save later is a discussion for another day.)

It is going to get better, though.  I do believe that.  Normally at year’s end I wax nostalgic and get teary at Auld Lang Syne.  This year I can hardly wait for the clock to turn over, close the books on 2008 and start fresh.  I am ready to go to work.


Why I can’t stand dogs but appreciate their appeal

I’ve been curious and surprised by how many people have responded to the previous post “I don’t like dogs”.  When I read Prolix’s post, I agreed with him.  Dogs drive me crazy when they are in the house.  What surprised me was that there were no angry responses talking about how wonderful dogs are.  Prolix, you’re not alone it seems.


My current aggravation with dogs doesn’t even involve the presence of a dog.  It stems more from dog owners.  Grant it, my co-worker annoys me to no end on a good day, but today I have had to listen to her tell the story about her dog getting out on Christmas to other dog owners no less than four times today.  It simply is not that extraordinary of a story.  Yet, she stops the other dog owners in the building as they go by and strikes up a conversation about her dog.  I have heard them exchange tales of what they purchased their dogs for Christmas.  I know that the pet store has doggy treats in a Christmas tin on sale – and really the dogs don’t care about the package.  After these little exchanges, I got in my car to grab lunch and, as fate would have it, heard a piece of an interview with a vet about how wonderful dogs are.  The first question I heard the interviewer ask was about the trends in treatment for dogs, to go to extreme measures.  She mentioned how chemo was now being used for dogs.  Really?  I can’t help but just want to scream “It is a dog!” and think about how many humans need treatments that they can’t afford and people are doing this for dogs! The vet explained how people now consider dogs like their children.  He didn’t pause at all when he said that people feel the same way about their dogs as he does about his daughter.  Even the interview was taken aback by that and questioned him.  He didn’t call pet owners “pet owners”, rather, he called them “pet parents”.  I’m not a pet person.  Period.  They are messy and I have enough responsibility without something shedding and slobbering and wanting to be taken out to poop on my lawn – which I will have to then pick up!  Don’t even get me started on the little boxes of plastic bags that dog walkers are suppose to take to pick up the poop with, which then gets thrown into a trash container, which goes to landfill.  Plastic wrapped poop that won’t biodegrade for ages!  Brilliant.


Yet, last night, as we spent Christmas with my step-dad, I couldn’t help but want to play with the young Labrador that the home has for the residents.  He is quiet and will mind.  He wants you to play with him and will bring you his toys and lay them at your feet.  He pleads to you with his soft-brown eyes and he is just so cute.  Not cute enough for me to touch his slobbery toys, but I did hook one with the toe of my shoe and toss it to him.  My little kick didn’t give him much of a challenge, so I went to the nurses’ station and asked for a glove.  Even through the glove I could feel that cool slobber on the mushy rag toy, still I threw the toy down the hall and rewarded him with a pat every time he brought it back.  I’m glad the dog is there.  He brings comfort to the residents and makes the place seem like more of a home.  I’m glad he is there for my boy to play with when we visit.  And, as surprised as I am, I’m glad I get to play with him too – now that I thought of using the glove.  Still, I’m glad he stays when I leave.  I understand the appeal of a pet, the love and comfort.  I simply think the cost outweighs the benefit.


Taking all that into consideration, I still don’t really want to hear stories about co-workers’ dogs and I still think it is crazy to spend fortunes on medical treatments for pets. 


the joy of christmas

I love Christmas. There is a part of me that will always be the child using the gold garland as a boa, dancing around the house and skipping over strings of lights my dad was testing. More than any one present on Christmas morning, my best memories are of getting ready for Christmas, the decorating, the cooking, the mounds of presents to wrap. For most of my life, it was not uncommon to be up to 2 or 3 in the morning Christmas Eve trying to help my mom finish wrapping presents. We would drink coffee and often call in reinforcements, my cousin and then later, my sister-in-law. We would drink coffee and snack and talk over It’s A Wonderful Life playing in the background.

Not to take anything away from Christmas morning. From getting up as a child to see the wonder of all the packages under the tree to later, gathering at the house with our spouses and children and grandchildren. The party ever growing bigger and bigger and the children getting lost in the mounds of torn wrapping paper. Christmas dinner served after the paper was gathered and cleared away. Everyone playing with their new toys and other family and friends stopping by throughout the day.

This year has been different. There was no traditional late night wrapping fest and no trip up to the ancestral home. I will not see my siblings until they travel down over the weekend. After dinner at my house last night with mom and our dear friend, we spent the evening with my step-dad. He was not happy. Other residents had been allowed to leave and come back. He couldn’t understand why he could not. He was angry and frustrated and what can you say? We say that he has to have the doctor’s approval to do that and he does not. I think that there is no way we could do it. He is tended in every way, requiring assistance in every manner. I understand his frustration and what to think that maybe we could, but we can’t. We cannot do it physically and psychologically it would be so much harder for him to ever leave and have to go back. I left to go get him a shake. He is fed with a feeding tube, but we are “pleasure feeding” him small little tastes of things that he loves. I drove to three different places before finding a place open. Driving back, I went by closed stores with the signs dark. I drove by a Wal-Mart with the parking lot empty.

Then I understood the joy of Christmas for me is not about so many of the other things. It is about how for just that short little moment, so very brief, that everything stops. There is no place to shop. Restaurants close. You can’t just run out and pick up that one more thing. Sure, there are places open, more and more each year. Yet, in general, things stop. People are forced to pause and take a breath. If we are lucky, we have those that we love around us to share this moment. As I drove down the streets that seemed so much darker without all the neon signs, I realized that I did have that. It may not be the normal Christmas with all our traditions, but I have gotten what I need. I tucked in my boy after he put out cookies and milk for Santa and my husband and I set to work doing what parents all over the world do, creating little bits of magic by eating cookies and drinking milk and putting out gifts. And it is magic. To see the boy get just what he asked Santa for and all the things that he wished for from us. He smiled and played and ripped into everything. Mom was there watching, too. It was just the four of us, so much quieter than when we are all together, but still the key is that we were together.

Now I am at work and my mom is with step-dad. Not everything stops. Still that moment was shared and stored away for all the times throughout the year when we are running and scurrying about and we need to reflect back on what it means to pause and come together.


Traditions change. Somewhere in all those years of late night wrapping binges it became a tradition for me to wrap the last package – one of my own – out of the scraps. (I never peeked to see what it was.) I would use all the bits of paper and ribbon discarded from all the previous packages, mixing and matching into some horrific combinations. Remember, we are talking late nights. I guess I got a little giddy, but it the tradition stuck. This year, my siblings and I insisted that our mom not buy us gifts. So, I didn’t even think about this little tradition. But this morning I got a picture sent to me on my phone. My niece wanted me to know that she had wrapped her last present to keep the tradition going. She will never understand what that little gift meant to me. I will say that her package looks much better than mine ever did!



Solstice and Solace

This has been the most stressful of holidays. There has seemingly been no time for anything. There has been the stress of the state of the world and economy, both generally and personally. There is the stress of Christmas falling in the middle of the week and working in an industry that doesn’t pause for mere holidays. I will be working Christmas day and every other day this week. It leaves little time to find that ‘warm fuzzy’ as we gather around the tree. There is also the stress of the unknown and new, or temporary, traditions. We will not be in our ancestral home with my mom and step-dad. That house went undecorated for Christmas for the first time in my lifetime. It will sit idle and empty on Christmas day for the first time ever.

All these are small and insignificant stressors when compared to the overarching concern for my step-dad. Friday, I spent several hours going over paperwork and signing forms to move him into hospice care. We found a wonderful location for him, brand new and less than a mile from my house and not much farther from my mom’s. It is set up like a home and they specialize in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It could not be a better situation. Nevertheless, signing the paperwork was emotionally draining. Sitting down and discussing the meaning of hospice, that the care is comfort not curative, touches a raw nerve no matter how much you know and understand that it is exactly what is needed. The responsibility of signing the paperwork weighed on me as they informed me of possibly additional fees in the future that had not been previously discussed at all. I stopped. My step-dad was about an hour away from being there. I called my insurance agent. Thank god I’ve known her and worked with her for half my life. She assured me several times before I would sign. It is such an unbelievable game. You have to know the right person to get the wheels moving. You have to work at a company that provides insurance. You have to fight them every step of the way. If you don’t have insurance or your insurance won’t pay for care I simply do not understand how anyone could do it, although I know they do.

Shortly after I finished signing, my mom and nephew came in, followed shortly by my step-dad in the ambulance. He did well upon arrival. He was tired but was so relieved to be in pajamas instead of a hospital gown, to be in a room that looked like a room, to not be hooked up to monitors. He had family and friends in and out all evening, setting up his room and making him feel at home. He did well Saturday, sitting in the living room and watching TV in a recliner. He seems happier, although yesterday was not his best day. It is a relief to have found a place for him after looking at several. To have it so close where we can be there more and at a moment’s notice is comforting.

Yesterday, working around the house, I couldn’t stop crying. I was crying over minor things that mean so little in the grand scheme, but really it was just a release. There has been so much tension, so much stress I just had to let it out. I just couldn’t stop. I cried through making out dinner for Solstice. Last year I decided that we needed a day where just the family could celebrate, just husband, our boy and me. Just a moment over dinner to say goodbye to the past and hello to the new as the sun reaches the furthest angle. We light the Yule log and have a nice dinner with a “Sun” cake for dessert (just a cake decorated with a sun). The brief moment meant a lot to me, as silly as maybe it seems.

Last night was our company Christmas party. I just couldn’t bring myself to go. I stayed home and tried to finish up wrapping gifts. I feel like I am getting closer to being ready and then a commercial comes on to remind me that Christmas is on Thursday and I panic. Maybe next year I will plan better.


in the bleak mid-winter

My husband and I took our boy to the symphony last night to hear their Christmas performance. We are not symphony goers and we can’t tell Beethoven from Bach, but we love music. I’ve found it hard to get in the spirit this year and was hoping the outing would help. It did. There is nothing like a chorus of fifty or so middle-aged, predominantly white, tuxedo-wearing men singing with drums and rain sticks a Nigerian song about Bethlehem. There was something about their voices coming together in deep tones chanting “Betelehmu” as two men on either side sang words I could not understand but that moved me. Then in unison they clapped. Why this struck me so powerfully, I cannot tell you. They continued to sing and periodically they would add to the percussion with these precision claps. All evening I had been looking forward to hearing the pipe organ and the next song was just that. I love the way you feel it as much as you hear it. I even imagine I can feel the breath of the pipes coming to me and smell the damp metal smell of the air coming through – just like my flute smelled in junior high. As wonderful as that was, the voices of the men moved me more. I kept trying to place why. The coming together of the sounds? The coming together of white men singing a Nigerian song about Bethlehem was closer. We all stood for the sing-a-long portion. I noticed a couple in front of me swaying as they sang “Winter Wonderland” together. They were young and Asian and living in a city where we seldom see any snow. Yet, they sang it with the longing for the moment that everyone seemed to be singing it with. I never have walked through a winter wonderland, but I’ve always wanted to. I’ve never lived in a time like described in “Sleigh Ride” that looked like a Currier and Ives, and the cynical side of me doubts that those magical moments ever existed. Yet, I crave them. The orchestra moved into Silent Night and ended the night with the Christ portion of the Christmas music. My personal beliefs do not necessarily agree with the theme of the songs or the “reason for the season”. Yet, I sing the songs and embrace them as part of the Christmas experience. All my thoughts coalesced into this, that it is not what we call it. Whether you celebrate it as the birth of Christ or the end of the year or the Winter Solstice, these dark months remind us of our connection, the need to come together as one and celebrate, to light the lights to hold back the night, the cold. We gather and grow wistful for a past that we never had but want to believe is real. We believe in Santa and elves and sleighs and reach out to touch the mystery that we no longer see in our world every day. We reach back to our childhoods and back to when we felt wonder. That is Christmas.


What is cruelty?


I’m not sure why or how it always ends up that we talk about food when we go out to visit my step-dad. We all thought he had dosed off when he yelled “Catfish!” He said it clearly and it was one of the few words I had understood that day. It was also sorrowful. He exclaimed the word, but it also sounded like a moan. It broke my heart.

This has been a long struggle. He has been in the hospital for over a month and we have watched him slowly deteriorate. His multiple health issues are tinged with the beginning and advancing stages of dementia. His inability to swallow without aspirating led to the feeding tube. The feeding tube has led to the most heartbreaking moments. His exclamation of “Catfish!” only seems the most poignant because of the suddenness of it, perhaps. His numerous requests for ice cream are almost as painful. He will try to conspire with you or he will just ask for it simply. It breaks my heart every time.

Some days we go and he sleeps the entire time we are there. Sometimes he is alert and will try to speak. We struggle to decipher what he says and nod and agree when we simply cannot understand. I watch his eyes in these moments. I wonder if what I see is frustration at not being able to communicate or simply confusion in that our answers make no sense in light of his questions. He will put his head back or turn his eyes away from us in what I can only guess is resignation.

My family and I spend several hours a week with him; my mother is there every day. I simply do not understand how she does it. I am beginning to think she handles it by keeping up delusions that he is going to get better, that he will be going home. It seems almost cruel of the doctors not to be blunter. They tell her the prognosis is poor. What does that mean exactly? Does it mean he will improve? Does it mean he is dying? Should we call his kids to come see him quickly?

My cynical side has kicked in over the last few days. I watch my mother walk in and say hello to all the nurses, doctors, techs and staff by name. They are all wonderfully kind and attentive. They can be. This is a brand new hospital with only a handful of patients. They are all wonderful. But, doesn’t it also serve their interest to keep him here connected to all the monitors and tubes? Aren’t they working with the insurance company to make sure he can stay on longer because it fills a bed in a nearly empty hospital?

At what point does this excellent care become cruelty?

I keep asking myself what we are doing here. Are we just making ourselves feel better knowing that everything that can be done is being done? Whose interests are being served? My step-dad’s? His family’s? The hospital’s?



I had to smile when I heard the report about OJ being sentenced to at least 9 years for his attempted Las Vegas heist. It wasn’t the sentence that made me smile, but the last line of the story declaring that the judge had said that his previous acquittal had nothing to do with her decision. Right. You would have to be more than human for it not to have some effect. Justice may be blind, but she isn’t stupid. The original OJ trial is the ultimate symbol of judicial farce. OJ Part II is karma, even if it isn’t quite so instant.

Thinking about this made me want to look again at Larry Wilmore’s take on the case when it first happened.

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