Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010? Really?

Apparently, it's December 31st. The past month has just disappeared like maybe it always does when you're waiting and waiting and waiting. It's good for my psyche--learning to be patient. There's really not much I can do to make this baby show up. It should remind me in general to be remember there's only so much control I have over anything time-dependent.

So to remember what 2000 looked like and see if ten years is a good, patience-rewarding kind of time, I compare.

In 1999, Erik and I were dating but not married. We spent Y2K New Year's hiding out from the electronic apocalypse in Torrey. In June 2000, Erik and I went on a pre-honeymoon to England and Ireland (also, the James Joyce conference). In August, we got married. Friends and family came from all over the country and from all over the valley. I never new family could be so big. Thank you friends and family! For our regular honeymoon, we went backpacking in the Wind Rivers where we saw a black bear and a moose (it takes patience to hike far enough to see a bear, and to wait out the bear. We probably should have waited out the dangerous thunderstorm too). In 2001, my nephew Cam was born--he, like getting married, enbiggened my sense of family I would sometimes cry after babysitting having to leave him to go home. I hosted a writing retreat in Torrey for thirty of my grad school friends. I had lived in Utah my whole life and spent almost no time in the red rock desert. In the 2000's, thanks to Erik, I made up for that.

I also took my PhD exams. That was painful and an agony the opposite of patience.

In 2002, against my always-protestations, we got Cleo the dog. When we found out she had hip dysplasia and had to have two surgeries to fix the hips and she had to wait three weeks to walk, I got a better sense of patience through her. Of course, now, she just tries that patience by needing to be let out in the middle of the night. Plus, the Olympics. Yay.

In 2003 we went to Hawaii. This marked the beginning of my fear of flying which has now just morphed into my hatred of flying. I used to think I was afraid the plane would crash; now I think it was just a matter of fear of being trapped on the plane, not being allowed to get up to use the bathroom. I'm glad to see that that fear has been, in 2009 with the newest, inane TSA regulations, fully realized. We also went to New York for a ten day extravaganza with my sisters and then with my fellow grad students for the Salt Lake 8 reading.

2004. My niece Lily was born in September. Perhaps, if I love my niece and nephew so much, I should get on this baby-having plan. Start thinking about actually finishing PhD.

2005. Patience: Pregnant! Impatience: Zoe born almost two months early. Patience: Zoe in NICU for 20 days. Still. Best year ever. Plus, patience: finally graduating, finally getting a job. Go on job market.

2006. Craziest year ever: I went on three campus interviews. Took Zoe for some. I'm not sure if I attribute this to impatience but I did sneak Z and Erik on one job interview. I still fear that she got the dreaded RSV from my inability to be parted from her from another 4-5 days. Much patience: Zoe in hospital for 8 days. In terms of now, I must remember I'd rather be home waiting for the baby than in the hospital waiting for the baby.
Then, I crazily got a job. In Michigan. Leaving friends and family and niece and nephew. Far far from home. Good job. I made many, many friends there fast. I miss them but I don't miss the airplane ride with its several connections and the crazy hard weather. I don't mind snow but ice freaks me out.
Also, NEA. 2006: Big, if crazy, year.

2007. Niagara Falls. Hmm. Some years are a little limited. Patience? Had a good time anyway, whatever I was waiting for. Did apply for new job, impatient to get back west.

2008. Got a new job. Sad to leave my friends in Michigan. Glad to be heading back to the desert and my family.

2009. Crazy year. Who gets pregnant in 2009 and stays pregnant until 2010? I've been pregnant for some of all four seasons. Enmaddening. Patience. Working on it.
Also, Book. This Noisy Egg. Due to come out in early 2010. It took awhile for my book to be published, but I'm so excited. The anticipation, for both the baby and the book, as I wait for them to arrive, are worth, (and are not too trying since I'm now confident in their eventual arrival,) the wait. 2010 bodes well.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Gifts: The order

The stages of gift opening.
I first noticed it in my nephew and now that Z is older, I see it in her too. The Christmas calculation. As she opens toy upon toy each one registers in her head in some sort of hierarchy. The hierarchy goes:
1. I must play with now and abandon opening all other presents.
2. I will register this toy and ask for it by brand name after presents are opened.
3. I will set aside but later require in order to play make toys 1 and 2 more enjoyable.
4. This toy is cute but I’m way too old for it.
5. This toy is cool but too old for me.
6. When are my parents going to quit buying me this kind of crap?
7. Clothes. I will wear this after I step on them trying to get to toy numbers, 1, 2, or 3.
8. Clothes. I will never wear that.
9. Jammies. Did you really need to wrap these?
10. Gloves. My hands are plenty warm thank you, playing with these many presents.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Every week

Every week that I'm still pregnant past Zoe's preterm birth another superstition falls by the wayside. Most every possible reason I could come up with as to why Z was born early has fallen victim to logic.

The superstitions, erased:

Stress doesn't do it. Then: the lit mag's budget was cut in half. As editor, it was to be my primary source of income for the next year. Egg worked 60 hour weeks. I was finishing my dissertation. I'd never been pregnant before. Now: tenure-track, program director, furlough, Egg tries his hand at freelancing, Z coughs, book needs fine-tuning, book needs rewriting, book is coming out! but needs serious proofreading and marketing, economy, H1n1, Z's cough cough cough all fall long. (Maybe stress is the antidote to preterm labor. They don't call me Dr. for nothing.)

Lifting stuff doesn't do it. Then: garage sale, baby showers, gardening, nephew. Now: laundry, Christmas presents, ridiculously heavy school bag, daughter. (Admittedly, I gave lifting a rest between weeks 28-35 but now, I lift and lift on the off chance something will kick off this party. No avail.)

Exercise doesn't do it. Then: hiked the foothills behind the capitol. Now: ran, then walked, the forest (now not so much walking with the snow and the laziness. Not exercising also doesn't do it.)

Baby gifts don't do it. Then: several massive baby showers. Now: several individual gifts, still amounting massively.

Falling down doesn't do it. Then: didn't fall. Now: fell on Friday. Scraped my knee. Tore the one of two pair of maternity pants I like. Still, nothing.

Visiting the hospital doesn't do it. Then: never had opportunity to go on the tour before Z was born. Now: went on tour. Had a little PTSD. Hate the hospital. Asked about wireless. Felt a little better when I heard I could indeed be online whilst giving birth.

Altitude doesn't do it. Then: 4,400 feet elevation. Now: 7,000 feet elevation. Nope. Not so much.

There are a few other possibilities but whenever I ask the doctors (then and now) what might have happened with Z, they shrug. No one really knows. With this pregnancy, we could have started weekly progesterone shots when I began my first trimester but no one really knew how much that would help. It helps for babies born before 32 weeks but maybe not so much for water-breaking, 33 weekers. When I asked if we should start them, the doctors shrugged and asked me what I thought. I told them they only call me Dr. for fun. Egg thinks Z was just impatient. That thought makes me imagine Z in there with some really sharp fingernails stabbing the amniotic sac until she got her way. Possibly, but then what would make this one any more patient? Same genes. Same stubborn way. Maybe this one stubbornly wants to stay in.

This is good. Really good. I didn't even mention that I'd gotten past the Z date here because that too would have been superstitious and jinxy. But now I'm afraid of full term. Big babies. C-Sections. Only three weeks off before the whole thing (see stress) starts again.

Still. I'm mostly on break as of tonight. Maybe I can write this week. The last week. Ever. I wrote a lot during Z's first year but that was absent my current, very good but very full, (see stress) life. I'm going to write about the other possibilities of how these things work. And how they don't.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Long night

It snowed all day. There was an inch on the ground when I woke up. By ten, Erik had shoveled the first six off the driveway. It went on like that all day. Z went to school for a couple hours but E picked her, after stopping by the store for snacks, up by lunchtime. They closed campus. I didn't have to go anywhere. Classes are over. I just have portfolios to grade. If there was a good time to be snowed in, it was this week. Except that I'm 35.5 weeks pregnant and possibly prone to early labor. Two feet of snow and the road hadn't been plowed yet.

So Erik kept the driveway clear and I made hollandaise sauce for the salmon while counting Braxton-Hicks contractions. I seem to always get contractions when I cook. They usually go away. And they did. Z went to bed at 8. We watched the Closer and the new Men of a Certain Age (sidenote: Eh. Maybe the show will make it. Not quite convinced).

Something made me wake up at midnight. I went to the living to look out at the streetlight. It was still snowing. Sideways. The Ponderosa Trees, which are made for this weather (one hopes) were bending over like I'd never seen them. I moved away from the living room--the room surrounded by the tallest trees--in case this wind and snow was too extreme, even for them. 35 mph winds and a dry, dry summer. Maybe the dryness had loosened their roots from the ground.

I went back to bed only to hear the barking seal cough of the croupy child. By the time I got to Z's room, she couldn't stop coughing and couldn't catch her breath. Her vocal cords were inflamed and snake-like mucus had wrapped itself around them. Hospital or no? I thought of our friend's kid Tyler, who, with the croup, had truly stopped breathing and turned blue. They lived 2 minutes from the hospital. We were, in the snow, at least 20 minutes away.

Still. She'd had it before. I, unlike Tyler's parents, had albuteral and a breathing machine. I plugged it in and sat her up. She hacked and pressed the mask to her face as if the machine was producing oxygen. It wasn't. Just medicine. But it worked a little. I was sitting there, thinking how lucky we were to have a nebulizer, electricity, heat, medicine and a big bed we could all fit in. And then the power started to flicker. There was no way we could stay here without electricity. The nebulizer was the only thing that kept us from the ER. The lights flickered and the pine needles bent to brush the windows. The wind was louder than the machine. Z's cough was louder than both. The albuterol helped a little but we needed to get the swelling down. We had both children's ibuprofen and tylenol. I gave her some of both and then took her into the bathroom and ran a hot shower. I sat with Z in my arms on the toilet until the steam opened her throat and she could inhale all the way to the bottom of her lungs.

The ibuprofen/tylenol combo seemed reduce the swelling. The power stayed on. I gave her another half an albuterol. I lay down with her until she said I was making her too hot. That was a sign she would probably make it without going to the hospital. I went back to my bed. She coughed again at 5 but not like before. The trees were still bending in the wind but not breaking. I fell back asleep.

This morning, the road is plowed, Erik is halfway done shoveling the new foot of snow, Z is outside helping him in her snow pants and boots. We're still here. The sun is shining which means one is really not snowed in. Which is too bad. Because in the daytime, being snowed in is a comforting luxury.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


I'm behind. It's December 3rd. Today is the last class of what shouldn't have been such a grueling semester. I figured out what a good part of the complaining has been about. I'm about 13 times less efficient than usual. Or at least I've convinced myself that's what's happening. It's not facebook; it's pregnancy. We will continue to believe that until January. And then we will blame "the unknown," as my sister and her kids call incoming baby, for further lack of productivity.
I talked to my doctor yesterday. I've never been this pregnant before, I said. It's weird. It's kind of OK. I like seeing weird alien-like movement underneath my stomach skin. But I'm also pretty done. It's been stressful trying to make it past Zoe's over-early birth date. Now that I'm two weeks past, I'm like really? It takes this long to make a full-size baby. I'm at 37 weeks on the solstice. That seems sufficient to me (and to the doctors. That's what they consider fully full term). Did I mention the unknown's head measures two weeks ahead of schedule. So if I'm 35 weeks on Sunday, his head measures 37? Is this efficient, Mr. Unknown? I think not.

So for boring reminders mainly for me so I can continue in my inefficient efficiency, I must make a list of things to do before I forget and fall back into the hole that is facebook. I'll have to do this weekly, at least, since my short-term memory is not what it once was. And once, it was composed of sieves and sand.

Before December 11:
  1. Contact College of Arts and Letters PR person about Spring events by Dec. 11 Include book signing? Can I have two signings in Flagstaff? Is that over-reaching?
  2. Rewrite foundation grant letter. Apparently, I did it all wrong.
  3. Grade portfolios.
  4. Go by office at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday to pick up said portfolios.
  5. Make meeting with Sustainability Masters student for prospectus meeting.
  6. Explain Creative Writing assessment plan to chair and Administrative Assistants.
  7. Finalize recruitment letter.
  8. Write 3 more critiques.
  9. Organize these 8 letters of rec into their myriad forms, folders, envelopes, independent online stations, Interfolio. Try to get right student's letter in right envelope. Proofread one more time?
  10. Order books for Spring. Book orders were due Oct. 15. but I still haven't settled on the books.
  11. Send contract for American West poems.
  12. Visit hospital.
  13. Address labels for review copies of poetry book!
  14. Take Z to see Where the Wild Things Are. It can't be more scary than the Christmas Carol we saw thanks to our real estate agent.
OK. That's not too much as long as I'm not forgetting anything. It's the forgetting and then remember at the wrong time and then forgetting again part that fails me. Dear blog, don't fail me now. Maybe I can get this dude to send little taser-like messages to me every 15 minutes that I'm not working on one of these listeds. The internet/blogs are made of electrons. They should do more than suck my brain in.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Competency vs. Incompetency

The first job I had after I graduated from Reed was at OWA. I was a good administrative assistant when I worked at a small trade association for Oregon Wines. I could run a mail merge, layout a newsletter, sell ads in our association’s directory, draft business letters, balance the books. I wasn’t great. I neglected to file. I made typographical errors. But I was OK at it. I could host in-office wine tastings, plan a three-day conference, design formal invitations for big fund raising events. The fact that I got paid half as much as my predecessor helped my boss be patient while I learned the ropes. I must have done well enough because when my boss left to be a lobbyist for the American Winery Association, I was promoted—not to executive director, the position my boss left, but to Administrator which meant I did all the stuff I did before, plus organized the monthly board meetings, attended lobbying meetings, corresponded with members and made sure members paid their dues and advertisers paid their invoices. I wasn’t great at it. I was 22. I was the only person left in the office. It wasn’t easy to have no one to go to for help but I lasted for another year and now I have mad mail merge skills and can desktop publish four-color, full-bleed brochures.
Today, over at Dean Dad, Dean Dad has embarked on a fight with Michael Berube over tenure. I get some of Dean Dad’s points. Tenure, when you end up with tenured shirkers, does kind of suck. But I mostly agree with the comments from anonymous comment #7—that tenure is a trade off for a more reasonable salary. My dad in 1987 made as much as I do in now. The idea that in an economic slump, I would be one of the last to let go gives me some extra kind of compensation when, especially at this point in the semester, I can’t imagine how I’ll get it all done—the letters of rec, the grant proposals, the recruitment campaign, nominations for contests and awards, portfolio grading. The promise of tenure is an economic one—if I do all this, then maybe, even probably, it will be worth a sustained, even though non-monetary, reward.
But the problem isn’t just this immediate economy. It isn’t just tenure as an additional, separate carrot as salary. As Ivory said, also in the comments, “The real issue is that academics can't kick the dust of a place of their heels and go elsewhere to work. It puts them at a terrible disadvantage in negotiating with their employer. As long as people keep going to grad school vastly in excess of the number of jobs available at the end of the pipeline, this will continue. The real remedy is for folks to make sure they have marketable skills so that the alternative to starvation is something other than endless adjuncting or postdocing. Knowing that you could tell your department chair to shove off for a job you would really enjoy is enormously freeing - it helps mentally deal with the slings and arrows of academic life because you know you're there by choice, not because you don't have any other choice.”
The economic problem isn’t really with the tenure system. It’s the idea that there are so few jobs and so many of us applying for them that lets the university value us so little. There are 300 people who could do my job. More. 1000. I’m lucky to have a job. I’m lucky.
It makes it hard to ask for much when the mantra running in the back of your mind is always “I’m lucky to have a job. I’m lucky to have this job.” So while I have competent, marketable skills like desktop publishing and mail-merging, I am completely incompetent to ask for anything more. I employ my desktop publishing, mail merge skills and even my budget-making skills for my job. I teach and advise and recruit. I go to meetings and organize meetings and think, if I would do the administrative part at 22 for $14,000 a year, certainly I can do it for what I make now. The eight years that went into teacher-training and writing make up for the rest of my salary. I am lucky to have a job. And yet, even in the mid-nineties that salary was still half a joke. When I took over for my boss, I did his work and my work for a fraction of the executive director’s former salary. My negotiation skills were as bad then as they are now.
I’ve never wanted to make a ton of money. That wasn’t the point. I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to write and teach. I wanted my SOE to be clear and the rewards for fulfilling it obvious. I wanted tenure not necessarily because it meant security or even academic freedom but because it was something I could work toward that wasn’t money, that I didn’t have to negotiate for. The rules for reward were established. They weren’t tucked into the folds of your negotiating skills bag of tricks. Since I have none, I end up better off in a “here’s what you came for, here’s what you get” kind of situation. If I knew jobs existed that said in 7 years, if you work your butt off, we’ll increase your salary by x-amount, I would have liked it too. I liked the idea of established reward. The world of negotiating is foreign to me. I read the Chronicle Forums and get freaked out by the general sentiment there that if you don’t ask for it when negotiating your contract, you’ve lost your chance at negotiating at all. The problem with negotiating at contract time is that you want the job. You played your hand pretty openly when you went ahead and applied for the job and came for the interview. There are 300 people who applied for my job. You don’t feel a lot of negotiating power when you can feel that crowd of people rolling their eyes at you, saying, I could do that job. As well as you. Better than you.
Conceivably, I could take my mail merge and desktop publishing skills (and now, with web-design!) skills and go (not that these skills are in such high demand). I’d flush 8 years of PhD school down the drain but I’m sure I could, as Ivory says, go elsewhere to work. My mom’s always reminding me that they’re always hiring technical writers at her work. But I don’t want to. I like the chair of the department. I like my colleagues. I like my students. And, when everything seems right in the world, I like the ratio of teaching to service to research. But even with the promise of tenure, when the service becomes, at the almost-end of the semester becomes almost 80% of the job and when the appreciation for the research and the teaching dips to nearly zero, I feel like I’m 22 again and mail merging and desktop publishing for $14,000 a year. I would like to ask for a little sign that I’ve gone above and beyond—a tenure plus something else kind of reward, something that would indicate that they would like me, not just the 300 others who could do the job but me in particular to stay. But that would send me to the negotiating table where I know, in the back of my head, that I’m just lucky to have a job.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Someone's Head

Someone's head, I'm not naming names, measured 35 weeks yesterday. Since that someone is only thirty-two weeks and two days old, that makes the head extra large. Zoe's head is very big. Her head is bigger than mine. Back in GR, the doctor thought her head so big, she should have an MRI. The MRI showed that Zoe has a big head. It is now known that big heads are the norm for Zoes and certain someones. The big head is fine. Good news even. Big heads are just great, once they're on the outside. Those of us who bear the big heads wish that perhaps the heads would grow big only once they're on the outside.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Not writing

I was writing, maybe, once. Earlier in the semester. But then the we had company. And then the swine flu. Zoe was out of school for seven full days. She also seems to have given up her nap. Erik is in the midst of scraping the cottage cheese ceilings (don't worry. No asbestos. We had it checked by a lovely lab in Sacramento). He's retaping and remudding and sanding and it will look lovely but the whole house is awash in a fine mist of drywall sand. Especially the living room where I usually write.
Did I mention Zoe gave up her naps? That means Saturday and Sunday afternoons are no longer dedicated writing days. Also, Mondays are now reserved for prep for Tuesdays. On Tuesdays, the line of advisees is so long that I have stayed an extra hour or worked to get someone's transcript fixed on a Friday. Wednesdays are meetings and special recruitment days. The summer program I'm in charge of needs me to begin to plan it. John D'Agata is coming in February and since I'm taking off three weeks in January for the baby, I need to get a jump start on that now. And I have 7 letters of recommendation to write.
But the worst part is, I'm starting to drop balls, which makes it hard to write. What was I thinking? How is this book supposed to work? Did I want to talk about my grandmother or how much bacon I ate for breakfast? I did something stupid on Sunday that resulted in me looking like a complete idiot. I also am literally dropping things like salt and woodchips and grapes and pieces of drywall mud all over the floor. I have 32 emails in my inbox (and, because of Sunday's error, I've tried to be very careful about my emails) and a research proposal due. Plus, Sunday morning, before I made this massive email screw up, I edited the book one last time. I caught some things. I'm sure, in my mental state, I missed a few more. Zoe's cough returned. I knew it would. The rumor about the swine flu is that it keeps on coming back in new and more intriguing forms. When she coughs, there's no sleep. So when I go to write, even for the hour I have today when Erik took Z to the park (she's off for Veteran's Day), instead of writing, I forget even what my project is and check my email which I'm not allowed to check. Food. The Apocalypse. So why do I end up writing about my doctor's visit? Or blogging? If nothing else, blogging counts as writing. Perhaps this post isn't entirely blithering. Perhaps I can take that confidence over to the Word doc over there, waiting for me.
And yet, I come into the living room, turn on the gas fireplace and realize, my lap top no longer fits on my lap.

Monday, November 02, 2009

H1N1--at least I hope it was

The pathology of the H1N1 progressed like this at our house:
On Monday, Zoe’s nose runs. It runs all the way through Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, she was grumpy and feverish. On Friday, I call the doctor’s office. The nurses say to watch for lethargy and for respiratory distress. I tell the nurse that the doctor promised to prescribe Tamiflu. The nurse says no. There is a nationwide shortage. And Tamiflu comes with side effects. If she turns blue, take her to the ER, they say.
On the one hand, I feel better. They have confidence that my kid, even with her Reactive Airway Disorder, could kick this thing. On the other hand, if they aren’t giving Tamiflu to my asthmatic kid, who were they saving it for?
I sniff and hung up. I have had a stuffy nose for days. To sleep, or rather, to not sleep, I have to turn onto one side, let my sinuses drain into one nostril and then turn to my other to drain the other side. I imagine white blood cells attacking, attacking and then succumbing, succumbing. My mother- and sister-in-law are coming to town. I hate the idea of inviting them to come and take a dip in the flu germ bath that is our house. I turn and turn and don’t sleep. As if not sleeping is a vaccine. As if worry acts as some kind of Lysol.
Is insomnia a symptom of the H1N1? Are insomnia, worry, and overzealous phone-calling underlying conditions? If so, perhaps that’s why pregnant women succumb more than others. Or is it just that it’s already so hard to breathe. Insomnia, worry and phone calling are each conditions of struggling breath.
Saturday, Sunday and Monday—rebound! Zoe is up and around and not collapsing in my arms. We go to get our 8:10 and 8:15 o’clock shots. The nurse said as long as she wasn’t wheezing or didn’t have a fever, Zoe could get her shot. She was not wheezing between 8:00 and 8:30. I hope wheezing or fevering at the exact moment of the shot is what the nurses meant.
That night, Erik and I have to go to Phoenix for the Regional Emmy’s. Have to go might be overstating it a bit, but Erik bought a tuxedo. After the vaccine, I feel slightly less frantic about the swirling, imminent flu of death. I write directions to the hospital on a yellow notepad. I also include directions to the Thai restaurant to mark my sense of perspective and balance. She’s on the mend. I couldn’t have written directions for Thai if I thought she was still that sick.
We return on Sunday. Zoe has survived the night. No one else has as much as a sniffle. I thought this thing was the contagion to end all contagions. Apparently not, as we go to the brew pub for dinner and then return to drink wine and watch Madmen.
On Monday, the fever returns. Her grandmother leaves and she is bereft. So bereft that she sleeps for two days. By Tuesday night, she’s all cough and shivers. A relapse. Is this lethargy? Is it my lethargy that lets her sleep and can’t bring myself to panic. Perhaps this is how the flu kills. After seven days of worrying about it, you find you can’t any more. Tuesday night, I finally sleep. In the morning, Zoe is coughing but no more than with a usual cold. We have albuterol and a nebulizer. A cough I’m used to. Thursday night, she has an ear ache. She’s never had an ear ache in her life. Maybe this is how the flu kills. By confounding me.
By Friday, she’s back to her normal, ear ache free cough. By Saturday, she’s dressed for Halloween. I want to dress up as the swine flu but I don’t want to tempt the fates. Instead, I go as a Volkswagen bug since I’m big as a car. “Bug” is as close as I want to get to “germ.” Erik wears his tux and takes Zoe’s floaty tube with him to go as a Titanic survivor. Swine flu survivor to boot. So far. I knock on wood. Although we didn’t win the Emmy, the tux gets double use. And Zoe goes as a witch—perhaps it was some kind of Wiccan magic that kept the flu from taking her down. Or maybe we’re just waiting for relapse number three. Apparently, the vaccine can manage only so much protection. At night, I still turn, drain one nostril, turn, drain the other but in between the turning, I sleep.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Name change

OK. Barrow Street will begin advertising for This Noisy Egg on November 5th. This leads me to believe I need to professionalize up my blog title. How sad for Otterbutt. I'm not sure about nikwalk. I also like Otterbutter but still, not particularly professional. Since all my email addresses are nikwalk AT something or the other, I thought this would make the blog findable but not overly so.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blog abuse

I like how when I go write a new post, up around the Blogger login, there's a button to push to "report abuse." Blog abuse. What is it? It's certainly not posting enough. It's also potentially posting too often. In my case, the blog is the repository for all manner of complaining--whining abuse. But, as previously noted, when I rejoice and have nice things to say about the world on the blog, the world slaps me down for acting with such hubris. It's better that I abuse the blog thusly. Report me if you must.

This week is no different in the complainy department. The complaints are different but the gist remains the same. One good bit of news--I resolved some of the tension in the class of sensitive and insensitives by handing out midterm grades. Nothing seems as dorky as handing out grades to graduate students in a workshop but I think the students appreciated knowing that I was keeping tabs on everyone. As long as I could confirm I was overseeing, they seemed less stressed out about their workshop ego and could worry about their grade ego. Oh how the world loves a grade.

In bad news, I haven't slept in 3 days. 1 day, I awakened (p.s. I like to say woke up but perhaps that's incorrect or too informal? An editor I knew once went through all my woke ups in a novel and changed them to awaken.) I was worried that Zoe's runny nose would turn into the swine flu. I also was cold and worried that I couldn't write a positive, uplifting poem but mostly I was worried about the flu. In the morning, who woke up with the flu? Zoe. As if ny not sleeping could have prevented it. Not only did I have to think about (brief complaining interruption: oooh Deer! 4 adults and 3 babies. I want to give them an apple. I won't.) all the various consequences I'd read about the flu--pneumonia, pulmonary embolisms, constricted airways--and revisit Z's previous scary respiratory run-ins, I had to think about my mother-in-law and sister-in-law who were coming to town. Hey everybody, come visit! Catch the swine flu! We're hosting a two for one deal--respiratory distress and insomnia!

And I had to think about the story in the NY Times about a pregnant woman's desperate bout with the flu.

I was desperate about getting the vaccine. I had woken up (awakened) at 7 on Monday morning when the county opened appointment lines for the vaccine for Saturday. I called and called. Busy signal. Dial tone. Voice mail. Finally I got through. Two appointments for Saturday at 8:10 and 8:15 a.m.

Whenever I have an appointment before 9 a.m. I really can't sleep.

Apparently, not for two nights because I slept little both Thursday and Friday nights.
I fretted all Thursday night that Z couldn't get her vaccine because she would have a fever or would be wheezing. I was afraid I'd have the flu before I could get the shot. And it doesn't matter anyway. It takes 2 weeks for the vaccine to really take effect.
I woke up (awakened. Man that sounds pretentious) at 4. I really almost fell back asleep. And then I didn't.

Now, I'm going to see if I can wake Z up and, if she's not wheezing and has no fever, will put her in the car and take her to the County Health Department for a vaccine for a thing she probably already has.

I knew better than to complain that the vaccines were going to be given on a Saturday. The Saturday of the Emmy's. I will have to sleep through the show but at least the regional Emmy event is in the valley. I'm not looking forward to 90 degree weather in October but I am looking forward to the oxygen. It's hard enough to sleep up here, let alone breathe.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not that nice

I had a sense that posting a non-complaining post would result in a turn of events. Usually, when I see a hawk, I take that as a good sign, that today will be a great day, maybe even something great will happen. Yesterday though, the hawk I saw was being tailed by 5 ravens. Ravens trump hawks in the high altitude desert. They gang up, harass the hawk away from his meat.
Somewhat like students.
The day started off bad with a student complaining of meanness in workshop. The day is already unsalvagable. I bounce between being mad at the student for complaining and not developing a thick, workshop resistant skin to being frustrated at the student(s) in the class who are making me have to deal with this. I didn't see anything disrespectful go down but if I don't nip it in the bud, I'll get low evals on "created a respectful learning environment." And yet, if I do say something to the students (one of whom, I guess, rolled his eyes at something someone else said), this student will dig in harder, thinking the class is full of over-sensitives. If I don't say something, I run the risk of being cited for not looking out for all students. When you raise students behavior as an issue in class, the class seems to begin to break apart. Sides are taken. In this case, it will be the sensitives against the insensitives. The insensitives, upon my instruction, will try to be more sensitive. The sensitives will start being insensitive. The insensitives, better at insensitivity, will return to their insensitive ways and shut the sensitives down. Now, instead of class being a fruitful exchange of ideas, it will be a class where I say, "that's enough, student" and "if you can't say anything constructive, don't say anything at all." This isn't how a grad class should go.
So, as I spent two hours trying to decide if I should intervene, knowing that this might make the rest of the semester a long and painful one, I held my advising hours in the advising center. I advised: one grad student who had her own student problems, one student who I asked if she was feeling in anyway disrespected (since the sensitive student had claimed it was this student who had someone's eyes rolled in her general direction), one student who wanted to further explain his anti-abortion poem, and one I-would-graduate-if-I-take-six-classes-next-semester undergraduate. In between, a campus tour arrived and said they were told I'd give them a tour of the English Department. Never having given one and not sure what they were expecting, I listed the program requirements and made a long list of career options for the English Major off the top of my head. Advertising, publishing, nonprofit administration and computer management--all jobs I'd had. One of the parents asked, so you teach graphic design? I argued, it wasn't so much the graphic design that I learned as an English major but how to think critically and learn on my own. I knew that's what I was supposed to say. I've been trained will in the promotion of the liberal arts. I did not mention that it wasnt' so much the 14 persuasive papers I wrote on Jany Eyre that taught me how to think critically but the way I could convince people that my ability to read Jane Eyre allowed me to think critically. The advertising and self-promotion aspect of the English BA is what I learned to sell. And was selling it here.
Afterward, I decided to talk to the students in their office about the eye rolling. They of course apologized but then didn't talk much during class. The senstive did not show up to class. Having become, over time, an insensitve in workshop, I'm trying very hard to manage the senstivies but classroom management is an exhausting and not particularly rewarding task. Everyone's on edge and now have to sell the class on how this is a "respectful learning environment" even if it feels more like Kindergarten. I'd rather sell them on the many-job opportunities that await them with their English BA.
Egg made delicious soup for dinner. That was the highpoint. The day ended, or rather wouldn't end, on a low point because I couldn't sleep. I think I carry all my stress in my back and with a baby in my front, I couldn't get comfortable. I felt stretchy and broken and chagrined for ever writing anything nice about October.

Monday, October 12, 2009

October is nice

Although there have been a few moments of lameness--exhaustion and a flotilla of failed festivals, primarily--October is good. I like the fall best. I still am finding about 12 hours a week to write which, considering we're mid-semester, is pretty decent. Nothing like the impending noise machine that an infant brings to keep you typing, I suppose. I need some readers though and haven't had much luck finding a writing group here. I think a long distance group must be coordinated but, as I'm a little spacey as of now, I'm not making much progress.

I went for my 27th week OB appointment today. So far, so good, knock on wood. I'm still freaking out about the swine flu but I can't get anyone in the health care field to freak out with me so I guess I'll freak out on my own, with the help of Yahoo. Except for a slightly low hematocrit, all my blood tests look good--no signs of preeclampsia and my blood pressure is hanging in there. I also passed my gestational diabetes test which is good news because I'm already having a hard time finding enough food that's interesting to eat--I'd have a hard time cutting down carbs, although they're not my primary staple. So far, this baby will be made from mostly almonds, yogurt, bananas and peaches. And bacon.

Erik's mom and sister are coming down for a few days so we can leave Zoe up here and go down to the Regional Emmy's Festival. This better be better than the other festivals we've attended this year. The Apple Fest, the October Fest (actually canceled) and the Autumn Fest were all a big fail. Z got to jump in a bouncy machine for one of them but otherwise, $5 pumpkins, no apples, $6 brats and bands covering James Taylor do not a festival make. The Emmy event will be more expensive--$150 for me and Erik plus a room at the Sheraton but at least I won't have to stand in line for the port-a-potty.

The book is still making it's way out. We've got blurbs, cover. Now the manuscript is in copyediting for a potential release date of December 1st. If it weren't for my low hematocrit/exhaustion, the 12 hours a week of writing I don't want to give up, the bad festivals and impending Emmy's, I would start up some sort of publicity machine. Self-promotion sucks worse than an Arizonian festival.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Yahoo--the late-night panic-inducer

Every night, one last time before I go to bed, I check the headlines on Yahoo. I don’t know why I do this. Obviously to guarantee fitful sleep. It works. Last night, I checked again the “White house administration to campaign for H1N1 vaccinations.” As usual, when I click on any link related to health, the story indicates my imminent death. This time, the story read that pregnant women are especially encouraged to get vaccinated. They are the highest priority since they die at exponentially higher rates than others. 6 times as often. Only 28 pregnant women have died of H1N1 from April to August but still, the 6 times as often as others who contracted the swine flu freaked me out.

I went to bed. I couldn’t breathe well because we’d had the wood-burning stove going all day and there were woody particulates in the air. I kept having to change sides to use a clear nostril. It’s hard enough to breathe when you’re pregnant, let alone, when you have a stuffy nose. I suppose it's nearly impossibly if you have the swine flu. I imagine Z with her lungs' asthma-type response to colds breathing even less well than my doubly-demanded ones. I think of ways I can prevent me or Z from succumbing. I can teach online. I’ll take Zoe out of school on extreme flu days (that would be Tuesdays and Fridays right?). We can start mainlining Tamiflu now.

I can already tell the whole vaccination attempt will be a disaster. Z has been 3 times to get her regular flu shot and has been turned away by her doctor (for wheezing), by a nurse (for a high temperature), and by the pharmacy (for not being 18). Then, she was scheduled for a shot this coming Tuesday and they canceled that appointment because they’re out of that vaccine. This doesn’t bode well. I called the county health people who are supposedly in charge of distributing the H1N1 vaccine. I asked them what their distribution plan was. They weren’t sure yet. I should call back next week. Um. You have no plan yet? I’ve been waiting for the vaccine since July and you have no plan? I would like to be on a list. Some list. Any list for my pregnant self and asthma-prone kid. I asked my ob/gyn. She said, hmm. Yeah. I don’t know if we’re getting any vaccine.

Perhaps I can make my own batch of vaccine. Find a kid whose had the flu. Borrow a little blood for some home-grown inoculation serum.

I have started stalking the county health building. I call every day to see if the shipment has come in yet. I write a letter to the editor but that would have to be succinct and to the point but sometimes I think the most healthful thing to do is to stop reading Yahoo headlines before bed.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Guest Post

Guest posting today over at Pansy Poetics.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cookies and Butter

It's very bad to go for 2 weeks without posting because then all the things I was going to post about, I didn't post which leads to a meandering and pointless update.

I've been cooking again with a little more joy. Last Friday, not the 25th but the 18th, was a great day. I sat outside and wrote for 5 hours, picked up Z from school, and made cookies. Oatmeal cookies. I haven't made cookies in ten years because I can't eat fewer than four at a time. But now I'm pregnant so four seems like a reasonable number of cookies to eat. Plus, they're filled with all that nutritious oatmeal and butter. Friday the 18th was a great day. Then, things went down hill with a trip to Sedona's Apple Fest where, upon arrival, we learned all the apple blossoms had frozen the spring before. So it was really more like a sell-your-jewelry-in-a-stall fest. And I didn't need any jewelry. Then, other lame and annoying things happened like a complaint about workshop comments, three meetings on Wednesday, a rejection on a manuscript and a meeting on a Friday morning. Dumb week.

But this weekend, things began to improve. Speaking of butter. Erik and Zoe and I made butter in a Nalgene container (BPA's be damned) yesterday. We took some whipping cream and a marble and shook. And by we, I mean mostly Erik. Zoe hit herself in the head. I lost muscle interest early. Then, when we couldn't hear the marble anymore, we poured out the "butter." Erik was like, this is just whipping cream. He also wondered why we didn't use the Kitchen Aid. We knew it could make whipping cream. He also thought this was going to be the most expensive butter ever made ($3 for Horizon's Organic Cream). Or rather the most expensive whipping cream. The whipping cream tasted good but it wasn't butter. I investigated on the internets what went wrong and discovered that you shake the cream until you can't hear the marble any more. Then, you're halfway done (that's the whipping cream). You keep shaking until you can hear the marble again. Then, the butter has separated from the milk. You pour off the buttermilk and then wash the butter. Erik admitted that it was super fun and that the butter tasted good. All half a cup of it. It's not cost-effective but the process leaves you with the feeling of self-sufficiency. I'd like to think that if the end of the world were upon us, and if I had a cow, I could make earth's most precious resource with the aid of a Nalgene bottle, a marble, and Erik's willingness to shake.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Spontaneous Camping

It looked like it was going to rain. At least in part of the sky it did. You can see for a long way up here. Part of the sky was black as a parking lot. Another was dotted with white clouds, round but light looking. Another part was blue as a popsicle. I had 10 hours of work scheduled. The house was a mess. We didn't sleep much last week. Zoe had a bad fever for two days. I woke up at 3:45 one morning and didn't go back to sleep until 6.Z still was recovering from a three-week long cold. It was cold. At least at night. The furnace had kicked on the night before. We had no groceries.

And yet, whatever. It would only take an hour to pack the car. I could work while Erik packed. Zoe really, really wanted to go because you know, camp. It has fires. And tents.
By 2:30 we were ready. We stopped at the store for brats and hot dogs, chips and yogurt. And cookies. We wouldn't starve.

Erik drove down logging roads, toward oak creek canyon. We got deeper into forest where dispersed camping spots became more and more dispersed the deeper we went in. As usual, and we'd drive by one camping spot, and say, maybe this one is it. But maybe there's an even better one just a little bit further ahead. We do this a lot, keep looking for the best spot. We drove deeper in. Zoe fell asleep. The problem with this always-a-better-spot mode of camping spot choosing? Sometimes, we look so long it gets dark. Sometimes, we look so long, we have to turn around and go home. It was already 5:00. It gets dark here at 7. We drove so far, we ended up on a ridge that overlooked what was maybe the back part of Oak Creek. The road ended there. If there had been a fire pit, we would have stayed. Instead, we went back two spots to a place with a fire pit and a clearing in the trees.

Erik put up the tent and Zoe and I unrolled the sleeping bags. We made brats. Easy. We made a fire. Zoe fell asleep on her dad's lap. We could hear some lowing in the woods. We decided it must be elk. The clouds moved past and we could see stars. Erik was right. The star I was calling north was not, in fact, the north star at all. Still, I pointed out Orion correctly.

We waited until at least nine, which was impressive, since it had been truly dark for an hour and a half, to go to bed.

Of course, no one slept. Zoe snored. She got a charley horse. Also, in the 3-person tent, Zoe, Erik, me, and Cleo do not really fit. I can't sleep on my stomach except that's the only way I can sleep is on my stomach but on the hard ground, The New Addition (tm Fellner), objects. I turn on my left side and the ground chips away at the bone in my shoulder. I turn onto my right and the ground grinds into my hip. I turn. I get up to pee. I flop and get the sleeping bag all tied up around me and Zoe's sweating because she's sleeping in my too-hot sleeping bag and I have the sleeping bag I got at Wolfe's 20 years ago that is square (which my feet thank god for) and flannel lined and perfect except the part that I was lying on before becomes the part that's on top of me now and the zipper's making it's way down as if the sleeping bag is trying to wring me out. I watch the moon come up which is how I know my north star was really a south-in-the-sky star. The hunters on their ATV's drove by before even the first crack of light. I must have slept a little because I swore at them for waking me up. And then I felt bad for the elk they would be hunting. And then I got up to pee again. (Only my friend Misty knows how many times I pee a night when I'm camping. Erik and Zoe can sleep through it but the tent-zipper sound is tied directly to Misty's disaster-sensory-system. She's been known to abandon the tent and sleep far away from me. She's also been known though to give up the out-of-tent sleeping and put up with me when the mice start to crawl around in her hair, forcing a similar kind of sleep-flexibility on her.)

And yet, even though I didn't sleep much at all and I had gotten no work done and the house was a mess when we got back, it was the most fun I'd had in a long time. Camping, if one thing, teaches you not to be rigid. You don't need a spatula to cook hashbrowns. You don't need a cup to drink your coffee; a bowl works just fine. You don't need to sleep because it's cold outside and you're warm inside your tent. Camping puts a soldering iron to your rigid-- I must sleep, I must have ketchup, I must use toilet paper--metal rivets.

And, I have a plan for next camping trip. First of all, I'd been rigid even in my camping methods. I've always used a sleeping bag because that's what you take camping, right? But I hate them. I get too hot and I get oragami'd in them so tight I can't get out. I'm taking a lesson from Jo's blog and taking many, many blankets, and maybe a mattress camping next time but I am not wedging myself into a straight-jacket-sleep-destroyer unless I'm backpacking. It never occurred to me, because what I gain by being rigid I make up for by being unimaginative, that you could not sleep outside without a sleeping bag contraption. I probably still won't sleep and I'll still feel bad that the house is a mess and I didn't get any work done but at least I will be able to toss and turn rigidity-free.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


I have recently discovered the reason why pregnant women wear overalls--regular pants don't fit and maternity pants, with nothing to grab onto but gravity, fall down. Overalls stretch out and hold on not by any usual pant-holding mechanism like hips or butts but via the sturdy, steadfast, non-morphing shoulders.

Would that I would be caught dead in them. But who knows? Maybe the sheer physics of the pants will persuade me?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Too much health care?

2009 has been another banner health year for my health insurance company. It hasn’t been as grim as the 2005, the year Zoe was born and was in the NICA for 3 weeks ($60,000), but unlike 2005, when the NICU stay was inevitable and necessary, some of the health care administered to me seemed entirely due to the fact I had good insurance. In January, my doctor discovered I had high blood pressure. Not really surprising since I’d been prehypertensive before and living at high elevations can exacerbate hypertension. Plus, my dad had high blood pressure and my grandmother had high blood pressure. Circumstance predicted I would too. Not great news but not the end of the world either—The cardiologist I was sent to prescribed good medications and the smallest dose seemed to manage the symptoms well. But the cardiologist wanted to be sure it was just run-of-the-mill hypertension. So he scheduled me for a CT scan and an echo-cardiogram. The echo-cardiogram was painful. The CT scan stressful. Both were normal.
Maybe I wouldn’t be writing this if the scans hadn’t been normal but all evidence suggested they would be. Perhaps if the mediation hadn’t worked then maybe the cardiologist should have run those tests. Perhaps if I had any symptoms, chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, then he should have run the tests. But what was it to him, the tests? My time and a big check to him..
A couple of weeks after the echo, I got a bill in the mail for $3,460 for the procedure. This wasn’t good for my heart. $3,460 for an hour long ultrasound test that was administered by a insensitive tech? I’m sure the big bucks were for the machine as much as the cardiologist and the tech. I freaked out, called the office. Obviously, my insurance just hadn’t tracked. They fixed it. No problem. Except when I received the statement from the insurance company, the cost of the procedure, $3,460 showed in the left hand column. To the right, the amount allowed by the insurance company. It read $789. The cost of the procedure had been reduced, thanks to the bargaining power of the insurance company, to less than a quarter as much. If I hadn’t been insured, I would have owed that original amount. If my insurance company had less sway, they would have owed more. Did I even need that $3,460 procedure? Would the cardiologist have asked me if I wanted it or could afford it if I didn’t have insurance? How would I be “healthier” if I had to add $3,500 to my debt?
I know I’m lucky. To have insurance. To not have anything truly funky going on with my heart. To have access to doctors and to medicine. But that’s what it is—pure luck that I have a job with health insurance. Why should I be so lucky and someone else who may need the test more than I not be able to afford or not be offered the test in the first place be so unlucky? Too much health care for the lucky ones sucks the health care right away from the not so lucky.
*I didn’t name my health insurance company for fear they would somehow find this, get pissed off, and kick me off their policy. Because luck only holds for so long.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More Complaining

I think I shall change the name of the blog from Otterbutt to the Complainer. I think that sounds more professional and more accurately describes the content found here.
The return to the semester has put me in a sour mood. Every second seems chock full of things to do and, my only release, blogs, appear to have been abandoned for more interesting territory. As Dr. Write says on Facebook (where, I fear everyone has gone), the only thing left good on the internet is the Go Fug Yourself website. It's almost enough, but on the weekends, when you're writing recommendations, and sticking evidence of scholarly activity in a binder, working on a grant, figuring out why takes 24 hours to make your website available, when you think you backed up all your files before your computer went kaput somewhere between Rome and Bari but you realize that you are missing some important, annual review file files and all your responses to your students from last year that you like to use to make writing the letters of recommendation specific, when putting your kid to nap (or discovering that this is the weekend that the nap will be forsaken), writing the proposal that you can't write, that your agent says, be funnier!, when you're grumpy and you can't be funny, you want something to go to on the internets, like Go Fug Yourself but they don't update on the weekends and neither does anyone else and you can't decide what to make for dinner, when the pizza you grilled last night turned out floppy and so you really don't feel like making anything tonight and when you stretch your muscles because if you don't then your body never wakes up but then if you do you over stretch and walk around all old-woman like anyway, and when you got another rejection from The Normal School and were only a semi-finalist for a novel contest, and when your regular clothes are all too small and your new pregnancy clothes are still too big and you really want a popsicle but you're all out, then even Go Fug Yourself is not enough.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Complainer

Some people won't do it but if I don't, the as-of-late-untouched-blog will prove insurmountable and I'll never be able to return so here I go with the complaints. Please forgive me in advance.

Start-up funds: Where did they go? One day I had some money. Then the next day, I bought a computer and some books. Now that I have to use start-up funds for travel, I'm wishing I bought a much cheaper computer (would an iPhone have sufficed?) and read far fewer books. Or at least read them on the cheap computer or iPhone for free even as I complain that no one buys books anymore. How can they? The start-up funds are gone.

Advising Center. No I can't get you into a math class. I can barely get you into an English class.

Pre-class-beginning discussions with students: Don't spoil it! If we talk about the class now, what will we talk about on the first day???

Book cover: If I didn't tell you I have a book of poems coming out, well I do. I feel very, very happy about it but I am not 100% certain that I will have the cover art I worked hard to get the permissions for and who I asked my good friend to go through the book and help find a piece that she felt fit the book the best. This makes me crabby even though I know, I'm very, very lucky.

Agent: Again. I'm very lucky and I actually adore my agent but she thinks I need a beloved blog or a revered restaurant to launch my writing career. Is this not a beloved blog? Don't I already have a writing career nascent and small-press-y/lit-maggy though it is?

Hornets: Yesterday, Erik was poking at the ceiling above the staircase where some drywall had fallen. When I hear, "Nik, will you come look at this," I know it's time to barricade myself in the laundry room. Which I did until Erik called someone who rushed out and dusted the hornets nest. I did let Erik into my barricaded room but he brought a bee with him, who was pissed at him and stung him. Erik's not entirely persuaded that the dusting of the bees was an awfully harsh response. I'm a hypocrite for wanting both no bees and no hurt bees. They're hornets, he reminds me as he shows me his swollen arm.

No rain: The cobwebs from my last post. Perhaps you were afraid they had swallowed me and that's why I hadn't updated my blog. They had.

University Graduate Committee: We meet in August? Really? In some building I've never heard of? And you're going to ask for volunteers for the review committee and I'm going to have to avert my eyes and stare hard at the floor for at least ten minutes and may have to whip out the excuse that I'll be on maternity leave next semester.

Maternity leave: We don't actually have maternity leave at my U.

Being pregnant: Didn't I tell you I was pregnant? If not, it's because I don't like people to know I had sex but now you can tell by looking at me which means everyone knows. And I walk sometimes with that cliche'd hand on my back. Embarrassing all around.

Classroom: I forgot I agreed to have my class on the first floor, across from the English Office where now the powers that be (e.g. the Administrative Assistant) can record my every move. Are they just talking in there? Is she giving them writing time in class? Does she really put her feet on the desk? Even when she's pregnant?

Milkweed: A rejection letter from then about my water and wine book from Monday that is still harshing my groove.

The end of the world: I can't eat fish or I will deform my unborn child with the mercury that courses through its once coursing veins. It's hot in Flag. It won't rain.

Laundry: Laundry

Friday's email: Few and far between.

Dinner: We're having fish tacos. Good thing I'm not that hungry.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


In my mind, I think I title a post every three months or so "vultures." If not, I apologize. If so, I think I'm due for one.

Today, Cleo and I went running out in the woods behind the house. We get barely passed the fence when I see on a snag 12 hunch-backed turkey vultures. You know they're turkey vulturs when they're heads are disproportionately smaller than their bodies like Beeker on the Muppets. The snag sits right on the trail and lo though I love vultures, I don't feel particularly safe walking under them. I don't want them to fly off. I don't want them to poop on my head. I don't want them to cruise down and run off with me or my 90 pound dog (unlikely, but vultures are big and travel in groups). So I walk to the right around the snag and what is in front of me but another snag filled with more vultures. I see a guy walking up the trail and though I love vultures, I'm happy to see him so he can bear witness to the vultures flying off with me or can grab my shoe and tell me to hold on. His dog runs over to mine and I'm like, it's cool (meaning the dogs are cool, meaning "I love vultures, even if they are staring at me). But the dog running sends the vultures flying, so I of course duck, thinking they'll fly right into my face or decide that someone must pay for all this skag-sitting-disturbance and they'll decide to carry me off. But instead of taking me by the shoulders and letting me know who's boss around these parts, they just fly off and form one of their dead-thing-sighting gyres.

Sometimes I worry that we live in a place where the predominant wildlife is scavenger--ravens, vultures, coyotes, flies. Maybe we all live in that place.

I also worry that there are more vultures here this year than last. It's been very dry this non-monsoon season. I imagine all the thirst-dead creatures lying out in the woods or off of the road. At least the vultures won't be thirsty.

It seriously needs to rain. It's so bad that whereever you walk, you have to wave through cobwebs. That's how the world will end. Not because of drought or flood but cobwebs blocking our entrances and exits, no rain to wash them out. And the vultures will just patiently watch.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Brought to you by the letter Z

Do you know what Gleed means? It means in a tiny, soft voice you take the drapes and take them down to make a coat out of them and draw small circles for the buttons.

Do you know what Zeek means? It means you take a little frog and play with him.

Do you know what alik means? It means you take your iPod and dance around.

All asked and answered while Z read Harry Potter to me. Who needs drugs when you have a 4 year old?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This Overwhelming

This overwhelming good feeling is the Sudafed isn't it? Or maybe the afterglow of the eclipse? Or the fact that I've resigned myself to the No of the would-be blurbist and now am actually enjoying writing to the famous poets of the world--with much lower expectations. Or perhaps this proposal of the food book is the one. Or is it the fact that two good friends await my arrival in Sedona for some swimming and barbecue fun? Either way, drug me up on the Sudafed and get me to Sedona. I'm feeling summer today for the first time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Writing Day That Isn't

It was a crazy long weekend revolving around Zoe's birthday.Thursday was birthday proper which entailed swimming, Fratelli's for pizza and dancing in the square. Friday we threw a party--12 adults, 8 kids, many bratwurst--turkey, veg, and regular. Cleo the dog was the party fouler by harassing the babies and the crotches at the door and eating a hot dog off one of the kid's plates. Then, we had to recover all day Saturday which involved watching many already-seen movies. Yesterday, farmer's market and a special night called Erik went upstairs to watch TV so Z and I could watch Mamma Mia. The movie was as bad as the musical on broadway but it was pretty fun to watch with Z who had a million questions about veils, weddings, bachelor parties, mom's who paint toenails (dad's the toenail painter around here), and smart questions about, why are they singing now, isn't the wedding starting? And, why didn't Sophie just tell her mom the truth? And, why does his (Pierce Brosnan's) face look so silly? Indeed. When Pierce broke into song, it was hard to cling to his suaver Remington Steele days.
Yesterday, I got some work on this new proposal done (because I wanted to write this proposal 6 times) but the ambition has been shanghaid by needing to withdraw an essay and poems from other mags, which I hate doing, and by getting rejected by two potential blurbists in one day. Two. In one day. No one told me getting blurbs would be so heartbreaking. I thank jacket copy gods everywhere for the two I do have.
So now, I should eat lunch. And then Z comes home.
Perhaps this afternoon there will be some long as I'm not derailed by more Monday rejection.

ETA: I also felt compelled to make wheat berry tabbouleh since wheat berries are falling out of my cupboards. Pretty good. Too much lemon juice. I conquered too much lemon with feta.
Also, I washed some sheets and made a bed. And I still have some time left today, right?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Almost Z's Birthday

4 is old. 4 is like totally back-off, unless, of course, I need you to sit in the back seat with me. 4 is I can crack an egg and scramble it but, for some reason, I need your help getting me a tissue. 4 is I can't wear these shoes, or these shoes, or these shoes. Where are my shoes? 4 is that exact number of clothes changes per day. 4 is why doesn't dad like yellow flowers to which dad says he just doesn't like the yellow-flowered invasive butter bush to which she turns and asks me, why doesn't dad like yellow flowers? 4 is bracelets and necklaces. 4 is Frosted Mini wheats and salmon but no strawberry juice on my carrot. 4 is lost bracelets and lost necklaces. 4 is I want to go outside. 4 is it's too hot. 4 is I want to sit in the other room. 4 is may I have some more milk please. 4 is swimming lessons and gymnastics. 4 is I want to give you one more hug and one more kiss. 4 is why do I have two toothbrushes downstairs? Two. Toothbrushes. 4 is which peach is ready for me. 4 is don't sing that song it gets stuck in my head. 4 is feeding Cleo a scoop of dog food, tapping on the food in the bowl and saying, I like to keep it organized. 4 is me saying, Z sometimes you drive me crazy, and 4 says, Sometimes YOU drive me crazy. 4 wonders why in the song "On Top of Spaghetti,” is there cheese on the spaghetti? 4 agrees knowingly when I answer, "It's Parmesan." 4 asks, Why does the meatball roll right out the door? Was the door wide open? 4 tells me she likes to move it, move it. 4 is saying to me, you shouldn't have dropped it. 4 is singing songs about getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving in the car. 4 is getting everyone a napkin. 4 is wanting to go to Fratelli's for pizza every day. 4 is thinking it's hilarious to hold up 3 fingers and say, no this is 4. If only it were so 4, because 4, 4 is old.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Electronics

Part of the difficulty in travel was assuming I'd have my laptop at the villa. They had wireless! I could type by the pool. More importantly, I could google important sites to visit, research more deeply the history of the region, find out where to go for dinner, figure out what the 7 hour siesta was about. Without that, I really had no way into places. I felt like a passive observer--more like traveling when I was a young kid. Being in the backseat of Erik's parents' rental car probably attributed a little to that feeling too.

The good part was that I really disconnected. So much that I've been a little better since I've been home. I had a loaner computer without wireless so I was connected via an anachronistic wire to my DSL. I couldn't move it around so I left it behind. I watched whole television shows that I already thought I'd seen, like Burn Notice, and realized that 90 percent of the show I hadn't really paid attention to. It was like getting another whole season in!
The sadder, and embarrassing news, is that my Kindle is already lost. I'm only admitting it because I believe in blogging the lost. I was on the last flight of a 28 hour trip (including layovers) from Rome. Z was asleep, shoeless and saying "Stop it" when I tried to wake her up when we landed. I was all concerned about how I could get her milk that late since the airport shops would surely be closed (needless concern: Paradise Bakery in airport and restaurant in hotel still open). I remember reading it right before take off, asking Erik if it counted as an electronic device. I decided it did and I put it in the dreaded back seat pocket. Then I turned on CNN, watched about Michael Jackson's cardiac arrest, then coma, then death, then fell asleep. I woke up, gathered up everything except for the expensive reading machine. I've spent the last 1.5 weeks calling Delta and harassing their poor lost and found folks but to no avail.

1 Lesson learned here: books, one by one are cheaper.
2 Lesson learned here: milk is cheaper than Kindles.
3 Lesson learned here: don't forget stuff.
Hopeful lesson to be learned: blogging the lost a surefire way to have materials returned.

Other electronic disasters included forgetting the iPod with my Italian lessons on them (which was OK since I'd had the lessons burned into my earbudded head), the microphone on Erik's camera breaking, and of course Z's nebulizer. She still has a bit of a cough. Perhaps I could make a trade with the lost and found gods: one cough for one Kindle.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Zoe abroad

I'm not sure what made us think Z would have fun on a trip to Italy. When we first talked about going, her cousins had planned to come. We chose a place with a pool and an ocean and a kitchen so we weren't going, going all the time but we went a lot and she did so well, even though her cousins didn't come. She walked miles upon miles on cobblestone streets. She drove in the car uncomplainingly for hours. She slept strangely and scratched her bug bites with good humor. 

She has always spoken Italian--she's been saying 'a' for 'to' since the she started to talk, as in this morning's "read a book a me," but now she's added  'mama' inflecting the 2nd syllable all latinate and lilt-y. She also says 'bella' and 'grazie' in a whisper but the coolest part is just that she understands language and culture a little bit. She wonders what people speak in Utah (Erik answers, "Texan drawl") and she wonders why girls here where tops on their swimming suits and why they don't in Italy. She also thought that the villa was Italy and that Rome was Rome and neither the twain shall meet but you could see the mental cogs that clicked as she understood 'gelato' was also 'ice cream.'

She still complains that her feet hurt--a week after all the walking but her mosquito bites have healed and her cough is almost gone and for now she remembers Italy fondly. When you ask her what her favorite thing about the trip was she answers the snowman with a headband, the bad cats, the frogs, the lizards. The fauna seems to have made more of an impression than the flora, even the fruit!, and who wouldn't have fond memories of Italian, headbanded, snowmen?

All the fruit in Puglia

The good parts of the trip were very good. When we arrived at the villa, after a somewhat disheartening drive by some very soviet looking apartment buildings and through towns of cardboard-flimsy buildings and over roads more hole than pot, we met Paolo, the son of the owner and our English speaking host. He pointed out the coffee, the semi-stocked mini-fridge and the fact we had to pay in cash. Except for the cash part, which would prove one of the stickingest points of the trip, we were happy there was cold milk and cold, fresh cherries in the fridge. Z could live on cherries and milk. 
Paolo invited us to pick any fruit on the fruit trees. This was early June. What fruit could possibly be ready? I was already amazed about the cherries but then we saw the peaches. Walking around the villa's couple of acres I found lemons, oranges, pears, apricots, figs, some weird caterpillar looking fruit under which Milo, the caretaker, draped a huge net to catch the falling fruit. Apparently, in this region of Italy, this is also how they collect olives. Most of the olive oil in Italy comes from this region but since they collect the olives with the net, which means the olives are a little over-ripe, it's not as high quality as the olives that are collected directly from the branch. These fruits were more starchy than sweet. I was the only ones who ate them. 
Not all the fruit was ripe yet and while we had a few peaches from the tree abutting one of the stone huts, Paolo and his girlfriend came by and collected them all one day. There was another peach tree but it wasn't ready yet. The figs were almost ready and we ate a couple. We pulled some almost ripe apricots and plums--still tart but pretty delicious.
Around the town of Lecce and in different cities we found even more fruit. Watermelon in June! More cherries. We went through pounds of peaches. While there weren't as many berries as you'd imagine, Z did find some strawberries. To complement her obligatory "Spaghetti con il burro," we also learned to order "Frutta da Stagione." One time, the seasonal fruit included a whole half a watermelon. Apparently Erik isn't much of a still life photographer so I don't have any pictures of the monstrosity but when he served the melon, the table looked very Flinstone-esque.
We had melon and prosciutto and kiwis. Oranges and apricots. I'm not sure in what world all these fruits are seasonal simultaneously. I attribute it to the dual ocean breeze but for someone who loves fruit more than other foods, and whose mother-in-law and daughter who love it as much, the bounty was more than welcoming. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The long story

Scroll down. I have many posts. I'm trying to make amends for my lame-ass blogging.


Though the trip was lovely, as documented in Erik's pictures, it was also traumatic. Most of the trauma can be ascribed to operator error. Italy is a foreign foreign country and it was more difficult than I thought it would be to get the nuance of things. It was hard just barely knowing the language but harder was not knowing the customs. The south of Italy partakes in the longest siesta I've ever heard of. From 1 or 2 until 7 or 8 at night, everything was shut. Grocery stores and museums, restaurants and shops. That's a long time not to be able to do much--thank god we had the villa and the ocean for swimming. But with the Z, we couldn't stay up too late and because we were at the villa, we mostly cooked dinner at home. But if we had plans for a short trip to a little town in the morning, we couldn't shop and go. We had to plan and shop for dinner, drop the food off at the villa, and then travel out. With 7 people (at the height of my mom's visit) that didn't happen much. So we ate a lot of salami and cheese, tomatoes and fruit for dinner, which was good but wasn't exactly the cooking adventure I'd hoped to embrace.
But the true trauma started early. First was the laptop. People. I'm addicted. It was so hard to reorganize how I'd planned to acquaint myself with Puglia. I figured I would do as I do at home--learn a little about something, go home and Google it, then go out and discover some more. But as it was, I was only able to see the surface of things--to imagine how baroque was baroque, how poisonous was oleander, if Gallipoli was more interesting than Santa Maria de Leuca (answer: yes). It was like flying blind. Plus I couldn't blog. Plus I couldn't write.
Also. Z had a pretty bad cough upon flying over. No problem. We brought the nebulizer and an outlet adapter. And yet. I did not bring a voltage adapter. And, apparently, the nebulizer needed one because as I was administering the albuterol to Z, the machine started to hiss. And then smoke. And then kaboom. The first night there. 3.5 more weeks to go without her breathing treatments. Should we go home or risk pneumonia? Every day, the cough would get better. And then worse. She still has a cough. (Now that we're home, we have a new nebulizer).
Then, there were the bugs. The first day, we left the doors open. Erik woke up with a mosquito bite on his eye that made him look like the pirate he always wanted to be. Z looked like she had measles. When we came back from Siena (she stayed with Erik's parents at the villa while we took the train), I had hoped she would be mosquito bite and cough free. Instead, she had even more bites all over her face and was coughing like crazy. Erik's parents had asked the villa's owners, who speak no English, where a doctor was. The hosts, having been more recently acquainted with measles, had Z stick out her tongue where no spots or whiteness or something could be found. Safely diagnosed it was hard to take the girl who looked like she had measles/leprosy out to lunches. I practiced saying morso di zanzarra over and over but as usual when I tried to tell jokes in Italian, the Italians looked at me like I was just covering for having the swine flu.
We also learned there were these contraptions in our stone houses (read: stone huts) that you could plug into the wall and insert a "Vape" which would "vaporize" the mosquitoes. When I die 4 years from now, you'll know it was from the fog of pesticide I inhaled while in the southern part of Italy.
Some of our meals were a consequence of our general stupidity. If there's no one eating there, should have been our motto, don't go. But we were often desperate for lunch or dinner and the Italians seemed to eat at times not in any way in alignment with ours. One day, we went for what turned out to be a feast. Antipasti, I ordered for us all--figuring cheese and salumi would be safe. He asked "Antipasti di terre or di mare?" I swear I said di terre but really, this guy with one squiwampous eye, he didn't want us to order di terre. No we were by the sea and he wanted to impress us with his 15 ways with squid. Squid with oil. Squid, di salento, squared and roasted, squid with tomatoes. Also, eggplant that looked squid innards. And calamari, fried on a stick. And roasted peppers roasted until they were slimy like squid. And Z's obligatory spaghetti with butter which was all overcooked tentacles. The only edible bit was the zucchini frittata. When he asked if we'd like more, I finally got to use the word Basta!
Also, on our trip back from Siena, I was in a grumpy mood and, when he asked which train we needed to change to at Empoli, I meanly said, the one to Pisa duh. Then I marched off to the bathroom. He went to the platform. When the train came to Livorna, I saw him over there but assumed he wouldn't get on. It didn't say Pisa. But then, when the train pulled away, I couldn't find him. He did get on! I couldn't decide what to do. I was sure he was destined for some weird town far off our path. Our flight back to Bari wasn't for 4 more hours. I decided to wait in Empoli. It took me two hours to figure out the train to Livorna also went to Pisa. I jumped on the train, assuming he would be waiting at the airport for me. I actually imagined the running into each other's arms reunion scenario that should mark all good Italian vacations. But this one? He was not at the airport. We were down to 1.5 hours until our flight. The trains came every half hour. He wasn't on the next or the next. We wouldn't make the flight. He had my passport, I had the tickets. We would be trapped, and mad, in Pisa. Finally, on the 4:30 train, he appeared. Our flight was at 5. The check-in desk was closed. We ran to security but they wouldn't let us on without having our visas stamped. We went to the ticket counter. She claimed to have no stamp. No one else from RyanAir was around. Finally, the security woman called someone, she came and escorted us to the ticket counter, where the woman did indeed have a stamp and stamped our passes without the slight look of chagrin. We made it to our flight, which ended up being 30 minutes late any way.
The 30 minutes ended up being its own problem because the train from Bari to Lecce left at 7. It was an hour flight to Bari. The cab ride? About 40 minutes. We showed up at the train station at 6:58. The train was there. We went to buy our tickets. There was a line. And then the train was gone. The next one came two hours later leaving us to have to take a 50 euro cab ride from Lecce to our villa to find our measle-ridden looking child. Who itched and coughed for 2 weeks straight (fortunately, my mom let Z sleep in her clean, bug free apartment for the week she was there with her cortaid cream and albuterol inhaler. My mom probably saved Z's life. Or at least made it possible for us to still have fun with the poor, tortured baby.
There is more but I don't want to sound too complain-y. Most of the trouble really was just me, not knowing. Next post: The best parts.


And then we spent 3 days in Rome. These were good days except maybe the last one when we were so exhausted and we went to the Vatican and so the entire populous of the earth on one piazza and had two horrible meals. We were pretty beat by then but Z is the biggest trooper in the world--walking all over the Palladium and the Vatican Museums and all around the town. I can't believe she did all she did.

P.S. Each of these pictures, but the one of himself, was taken by Erik.

The last week in Puglia

The last week was a little rough. I missed my mom and was getting a little tired of speaking Italian badly and eating pizza.
But we still managed to hit the beach again, as well as return to Otranto since the Cathedral had been closed on our first visit (note--siesta from 13:00 to 19:00 sometimes includes tourist sites). We drove to grottoes (sea caves) and decided Castro was the most beautiful town on the coast.

My mom arrives!

The second week was action packed because my mom was in Lecce for only a week. We had the white city of Ostuni to visit, the Ionian sea to swim in near Gallipoli, Otranto's castle and cathedral to see, plus much swimming to do at the villa. The high point of food might have been the fish I made on the grill at the villa although Erik and Bart (mom's boyfriend) both had good pasta with mussels (cozze).

The highpoint of this week, of which Erik took no pictures, was the fruit extravaganza at the La Fontanelle beach near S. Roca Beach. After swimming for awhile, Z was hungry. We asked the bar (having now figured out how to rent an umbrella and beach chairs (pay 20 euro)), if they had fruit cups. They kept saying 2 minutes, 2 minutes. Every 2 minutes, we'd go check. About 40 minutes later, we're standing at the bar and everyone starts to come in from the ocean. A man on a speaker phone is yelling about frutta. There's a line. We're confused. I mean, we like fruit but it doesn't usually achieve celebrity status. People had their cameras out for the huge tray--the size of a kitchen table, that was delivered to the people. And then champagne popped. All for free. Z ate more fruit than her share but there was plenty--watermelon, kiwi, cherries. Delicioso. From then on, we started ordering Z Frutta da stagione (seasonal fruit) almost as often as we ordered her spaghetti with butter.


That weekend was our crazy trip back across the country. Erik and I woke up at 4:30 on Saturday morning. Rick drove us to the Lecce train station (after much lost-getting). We caught the 5:07 train to Bari, took a crazy taxi cab (also 30 Euro) to the Bari airport, flew to Pisa and took the train to Siena.
Our hotel, the Pensione Piazza Ravizza, was lovely. Siena is gorgeous. Miriam, she who runs the school with which our school is affiliated, took us to lunch, told us about how Siena and Florence were each in the running for Italian cultural center. Siena lost but thanks to said loss, the city has retained a lot of its medieval character, with a few baroque touches, as seen in the Duomo.

The rest of the week 1

Our thought behind this trip was to go somewhere where we could experience the great food, the culture and still make sure Z would have some fun. Hence the villa with a pool and our close location to two coasts--the heel of the boot divides the Adriatic from the Ionian seas. We went to the Adriatic that first Thursday. We didn't quite get how the whole umbrella/lounge chair thing worked so we just went to lunch and ordered great mussels au gratin, proscuitto with melon, and Z's omnipresent spaghetti with butter. Erik's mom, the veg, ordered seafood pasta which might have been her undoing but she tried a shrimp and some scallops. At least she didn't order the spaghetti ai ricci which, we discovered later, was spag with sea urchins.

Back from Italy Lecce 1

It was lovely. In many ways.
This is the positive post. I'll have a "What I wanted from Italy, what I got," more grumpy post tomorrow. But today. Today I will try to detail all of the great adventure that was great.

One negative that will have to come first: My hard drive crashed on the first day. It worked in Rome. I turned on the laptop at the aeroporto and then turned it off when they wanted 9.99 E to access the internet. When we got to the "villa" (quotation marks explained soon), I turned it on and the black screen with white letters read: "No internal drive found. Please press F1. Try to re-seat drive." F1 pressed. Hard drive reseated (using kitchen knife to unscrew small screws). Nothing but black screen from now on.

So. Hard drive free I got to "enjoy" my vacation in the manner that one enjoys rehab.

We flew from Rome to Brindisi, Zoe, Erik and I. We actually met up with Erik's parents in Brindisi, then drove, thanks to in-laws renting a car, toward Lecce, the main city near our villa-compound. We arrived at the compound at 4:00, tired but determined to stay awake until at least 8. Our hosts left us with some snacks upon which we snacked and then we ventured into Merine (Ma--REEN--ay) to the Non Solo Cafe (meaning they never close--unlike everything else between the hours of 13:00 and 19:00). My Italian comes in a tiny bit handy so we can get a table but Erik's stepdad, Rick, does a better job actually ordering us whole pizzas rather than the pizza-sandwiches available at the counter. I order us some house wine (rosso) and we eat what we can and then drive back to finally sleep.
The next day, we go into Lecce. They call this the Florence of the South. Having never been to Florence, I'll have to take their word for it.
Here's a picture of Lecce. We spent much time here since this book shop was across the street from the Internet Point--which I visited once a week or so. The first food was among the best. We tended to eat big lunches out and dinners at home. At this somewhat British-themed restaurant, we ate Ravioli with walnut sauce, pizza, and antipasti with duck prosciutto, wild boar, and some kind of delicious goose lardo.