Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

A little Christmas corner at my desk
The culture around Christmas in pediatrics is sticky and sad at times.  Nobody wants a kid to be sick anytime, let alone around the holidays, and that's the sad bit.  And most kids getting care over the holidays are very sick.  The sticky part is making hospitals and clinics places that are festive yet functional, warm yet professional, happy while acknowledging of the dead seriousness that families are facing.

One of my first Christmases as a nurse I was promoted for desperate staffing purposes then demoted immediately after.  One isn’t ready to be the charge nurse until the more senior nurses don’t want to work a holiday.  Understandably, only the sickest of kids are hospitalized over the holidays and the care  is more complicated and potentially fraught with disaster, and managed by the least experienced nurses.  But we all know how nurses roll.  We rise to the task as one would expect.  I've been lucky to work in places that strongly supported nursing and with some very good karma my working Christmases have been busy and complicated but never dangerous.  That was the Christmas when I put my big girl pants on in caring for a dying boy.

Since then I think mostly about his parents on Christmas eve and the privilege it was to share their family's very intimate experience.   I wasn’t his regular caregiver prior to the holiday and after Christmas, although I was added to his team of nurses, I was benched in favor of his regular nurses. He died a week or so after Christmas.  I sobbed at his funeral along with his friends and family because I was too green to know how unhelpful that was to his parents.  One of those “didn’t know what I didn’t know” things before I became a parent myself. 

My few days off this year are nothing compared to my school nurse winter breaks that went on forever, but that didn't always feel great. Leaving for a two week holiday as a school nurse, I knew that many of my kids were not going to enjoy the holidays like my own children would.  Their parents would still need to work and often their family chaos didn't observe Christmas, so they would likely be left alone a lot or farmed out to last minute child care or even end up being the child care for younger siblings for the full two weeks.  Gifts and celebrations are typically sparse in the lives of kids who find comfort in their school health offices with regularity.  It's a needy bunch.  It seemed harsh to be there so fully for them five days a week and then disappear for two weeks…let alone the summer.    Nursing's a culture and just a few days off feels right.

Watching for Santa over the horizon

So the weight of the season for some falls a little heavier on me since I've become a parent, but at the same time an easy ability to enjoy the little things comes without having to work at it.  All Americans would do well to step back and think about sick kids over the holidays as bad as that may sound.  It would make the lines at the mall seem tolerable and everybody would drive a little less like bats out of hell in the parking lot.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cheer cheer cheer....I'm full of it

the only men "man" enough to hang with the cookie crowd and help with the math...3 women bring 3 dozen,
1 woman brings 4 dozen, 1 woman brings 5 dozen and 19 women bring 6 dozen.  What is the maximum that everyone can take on the first pass so everybody gets at least one of each cookie?  
Just shoot me.
I'm Christmasing myself silly the past few days.  Two parties this weekend, one for Chip's students and one for the ladies for the annual neighborhood cookie exchange.  Mulled wine and Mexican food thoughtfully prepared by local awesome restaurant go surprisingly well together.

Family strategizing before the exchange

The snow came this weekend and because it was preceded by a little sleet that made all the trees sticky, our neighborhood was quickly transformed into a treacherous winter wonderland.

Chip's students built us a snowman on their way out.  A+ for each of them I say!

Then there's my annual obsession with A Christmas Carol.  I am impressed with just how many versions there are on TV this year and as I write I'm watching George C. Scott do Patton do Ebenezer Scrooge.  A few days ago it was Albert Finney as Scrooge and Alec Guinness as Marley in a musical version.  Completely obscure versions indeed.  I'm impressed with just how sick Tiny Tim looks in the George C. Scott version tonight.

And two daughters have two birthdays in the past few weeks and so we're now the parents of an adult...

and a sweet 16.

It's always holiday madness for us at this time of year and I suppose we'd have it no other way.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas in NYC

Flatiron Building
"It will be like this until after New Year's."

The resigned and weary words of my longtime city dwelling friend as we gazed out the window of our restaurant at a stalled 9th Avenue at midnight Saturday.  A constant state of Black Friday frenzy from Thanksgiving until January 2nd.  Times Square, theaters, restaurants, department stores--all literally clogged with people to the point of them oozing out and more dramatically at times being birthed from doorways onto the sidewalks.  Hundreds of people inside squeezing around awkwardly placed Christmas display tables that literally prevent and trap shoppers from actually shopping.  There is a point of saturation not observed during Christmas time when the displays feel more like barricades rather than lovely things to look at.

Sex and the City view

Stylish wreaths becoming a world class city

But for two days we were ready for anything the crowds could dish out because we have been shopping together for nearly 30 years and well, we've got sharp elbows.  Ally and I flew in for a quick weekend to our respective hosts, the uncles for her, the ladies for me.  Such a seamless trip that I worked most of the day Friday and she went to school and yet both of us were dining and in my case wining by 9:30pm in Manhattan.  All thanks to a direct flight from Madison to LaGuardia that is beyond simple in this day of body scanners and yellow alerts.  Must not be a terrorist preferred route.

me and the birthday girl

Coffee together, our collective favorite part of the day together when we can laze over our cups and catch up on our news in our PJ's.  The marathon shopping day began at 10am and ended at 6pm, six miles or 16,000 steps according to the pedometer of the middle aged. Rockefeller Center, Saks, The Strand, Fishs Eddy, ABC, Union Square Christmas Market, Mario Batali's Eataly (too crowded to eat but not to smell, touch and see).  Pooped out finally at a CVS near Union Square.

Rockefeller Center.
The tree's behind us but you'll have to take my word for it.
They have always been my personal shoppers going all the way back to Uptown Square and Filene's Basement--the real one.  And it's only the rarest of friends that can pick a fragrance for you and I would trust any of them to do that.  Whatever makes them able to do that also gives them the ability to combine Lillet and gin in a perfect martini and dates, dolmades and cheese into a delicious appetizer plate.  I need a recipe to work it, but that's just not their style.  They are all artists and my best friends and no wordsmithing can describe my love for them.

My manager, stylist and agent in deep negotiations about
what direction my fragrance needs to move

Blood orange martinis, Sprite and a Bourbon Bloody Mary at the Vynyl Diner
in Hells Kitchen.  Great place for a bite to eat after the theater.  The blood
theme relates to our show, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

But so as not to end on a treacly note, I've got to just make a plea to the regular New Yorkers who have felt it necessary to dip their fingers far too deep into the Dippity Doo cosmetic surgery jar.  For Jesus sake, how much collagen can a face take?  The thing of it is there's a growing army of women and men with faces altered into cartoonish and ghoulish scowls as if that's the new normal for people of a little older certain age than me, wearing clothes off the rack and shopping for lettuce.   It is not a look, people!  And I can't help thinking it's just more of the same from a generation and a half that refuses to let go of their youth.   Maybe at your granddaughter's wedding you are the rocking-est granny in the photo but once you go to animate that look of plastic puffiness punctuated by padded cheekbones and misshapen lips it's all a bit grotesque.  When regular folks shopping at Duane Reade resemble Joan Rivers, we've got problems as a society.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tdot and Dimmer's big day

He calls himself the Dimmer.  Or did we name him that?  I can’t remember, it’s been so long.  The most tragically hip friend in our Rolodex has finally taken time out of his busy life amassing every pop culture tidbit in North America to take a beautiful bride, and she who would have him until death do you part, we salute you.
The Honourable Mr. and Mrs. Dimmer
Greig's 91 year old mom and her 94 year old sister who traveled for the wedding from Victoria!
They both outpaced us all the entire evening.
These friends all met at Oxford 25 years ago, the smarty pants lot of them.  
Deb and Phil flanking the groom got married 18 years ago
Chip and I almost 23
Greig apparently more finicky than the rest of us
I knew them as genius freaks of nature.   I was Chip's American girlfriend with a 6 month work visa who had marched across the Atlantic to keep an eye on her boyfriend and live her townie life to their gownie existence.   We shared drinks and laughs and parties at Christmas among other foggy memories.  Globally, the U.S. was engaged in battles with Libya, the American dollar was strong, Princess Di was having babies, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Feed the World was a hit song, strangely we played squash, we read The Herald Tribune and we ate the occasional full English at the St. Giles cafe to sop up a night on the town.  

The groom serenades his bride to "I Want it That Way" by the Backstreet Boys as is customary in Canada.
I can't claim anything special about my old friends versus other people's old friends save mine are dear to me and they are indeed mine.  What is it about these friends from my college years?  I can't shake them and I don't want to.   Old friends are in their own china cabinet of memories, to be taken out and admired and put back with care for later.  Old friends are  forever young in my mind's eye and they remind me of what I like about myself.  Our days were saturated with each other, and we moved through events and choices and shaped one another to be the people who we would ultimately become.   That imprinting makes it hard to lose one another even in periods of relationship laziness or long gaps between seeing each other. Face time is not required.  

If only we get together for the very important occasions as our lives go whizzing by, then I am contented and happy with that.  I hope they are, too.

Purse hanger.  Priceless.

Congratulations Greig and Sarah.  If not before, we'll see you at Olivia's wedding.  Or Chip's second!  
Greig yelling for security

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Toronto weekend with body scan please

We secreted out of the country this weekend for a wedding in Toronto, leaving our kids alone as one does.   I didn't exactly spread this information around in the week leading up to our departure because I had a little bit of worry and guilt boarding a plane with my passport while my kids were still asleep in their beds.  But they are good and responsible kids who didn't really get out of their pajamas all weekend.  Instead of moping or getting up to no good, they used their benign lockdown to get a lot of homework done, the DVR cleaned out, their rooms picked up and to invent a grilled turkey and provolone sandwich that was apparently delicious.  Olivia being one week from her 18th birthday, we felt confident that our 36 hour trip was a ticketable offense at best.

That's a relief piece of art hanging on the side of the building giving the illusion of
fabric and paint at the same time.   Just wonderful.

Or should I say offence?   

Toronto is a city in Canada.  And that's all I got.  I had lunch, dinner and breakfast there, plus some nachos when our return flight was cancelled and rescheduled three hours later.   We were there for one purpose only, a free meal with open bar.  

But it's the getting there that makes it interesting.  For a more hilarious account of the new TSA fondling sequence and a more sobering take on the reasoning behind it, read the two links below. 

First the funny:
Then, the not so funny:

Chip and I opted out of the body splatter or scatter, rather, just to see what it was like to go through the  heightened pat down.  I'm in health care and he's a researcher. We could easily take a pat down.  Do your worst, TSA.  And actually I had my mammogram last week so I thought maybe it would be wise to wait at least a few weeks to irradiate myself again.  I simply asked to go through the metal detector and did so without anybody touching me. Clearly I don't look like a terrorist.  But Chip and his wild eyebrows...when he requested to go through the metal detector, the guy yelled "MALE OPT OUT!"  If you read the link above you will understand when I tell you that the TSA guy moved in like a doctor and did meet resistance on my husband.  The picture below is confusing in that it appears Chip was enjoying the opt out.

He really is a people person.
In all seriousness, he would not opt out again.  I'll let him weigh in in the comments section about anything I've got inaccurate or incomplete.  His reaction was mixed and I'll put words in his mouth, "wow that was thorough and yet the sad thing is it's still not effective enough because I could have hidden something in my ass and they aren't willing to look there."  He would never actually say that  because he's a classy guy, but he said as much to his unclassy wife who paraphrased it for him.  He described his experience as no "patting" whatsoever since the guy's hands never left his body.  I believe his words were, "It was more of a caress."   

Part 2, the wedding!  I need another day to cull the herd of pictures.  A cute flowergirl to start. 

flower girl and ringbearer

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The Mister is home.  Life is returning to normal.  He's still getting up at 4am and while I should want that to get better for him, really for me, it's nice that the coffee is always ready when I get yeah.
Kansas sunset

Now I know there's a lot of hard evidence out there that says hearing about other people's dreams is dead boring.  And yet, I shall tell you my dream anyway.

Nappers in Central Park
I found myself in a very pleasant, somewhat vintage decored and sunny hotel room, upgraded to a suite because the hotel was all out of regular rooms.  A lot of space, a really big bed with throw pillows for just me (poor Chip, he's been gone so long I forgot to bring him to my dream hotel) and as I looked around I saw what I thought to be a sitting room around a corner.  Sweet!  And so I took a peek around the corner and was surprised to see instead a dining area with a fully set dining room table.  And to the right of the table was a fully stocked bar with a staff bartender and several waitstaff standing with arms folded behind their backs, ready to serve me whatever I desired. Ooh, the ultimate female fantasy...a customer service oriented dream!

It should have tipped me off that I was dreaming because I wasn't particularly freaked out that there were five people in my hotel room that I didn't know about.  I asked why they were all there and one of the guys explained that whenever somebody took this particular hotel room, the staff for the room was called in to work.

Ally's bed where she dreams of being Mrs. Bieber
Typical.  My psyche had to ruin it of course.  I felt guilty that they all had to come to work on account of just me, and that woke me up I suppose.   Holiday Inn, by the way, called me Saturday night and listened to the airing of my grievances about Weekend at Husky Lodge.  Coincidence?  I think not.  On that front I will not relinquish ground.  They still owe me one hairless, freaked out showdog-less weekend!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Getting by

I'm on week three of parenting alone.  I'm not losing my mind but rather have gone into a one woman zone defense against life to take care of essentials only, and I'm losing the game late in the second half.  Chip is finally back for good on Friday.  That seems so far away right now I'm not even able to look forward to it yet. 

Of course, as I do, I set the bar high for absolutely no reason.  I'm still cooking dinner even though I said I wouldn't.  I didn't board the dog at the kennel even though I said I would.  The dryer broke of course because that's how the world works, so I'm hanging the laundry yet again.  I went to PetSmart, Walgreens and Bed Bath and Beyond on Sunday in a succession of errands that need no explanation if you're an American.  I put away the Halloween decorations and got the garden bedded for winter because it was warm on Sunday and we all know that it might have been the last time...for the snows can come at any time once the clocks fall back.  And I'm doing my 40 hours at work which was not something I thought I would be doing three months ago when this trip went into the calendar.

But it's all auto pilot and not a lot of joy goes with it.  It's just all the stuff that has to get done because I'm the only one to do it.  More pioneer woman than super woman.

Well, okay I'm being dramatic...but I think my facial expression is the same.
I'm lonely for Chip but it might be his fetch and run I'm really longing for; ungrateful, selfish wife that I am.  Although, I will say these girls of mine are good to me and minimally pulling their share of the load without much complaint, as well as being very fine company.  There are bright flashes of independence that shoot from beneath their eyelids when they lift them with a wink, like the aliens in Cocoon.  But they don't want to show the bright light to me too much because it just leads to more chores.
My camera is full of pictures that need downloading.  I haven't even bought my book club book for November.  The yarn basket sits full and untouched.  Pictures to be mailed, holiday planning, niece hat to be knit, Vanity Fair with Cher on the cover to be read.  It's that kind of stuff, the fun and frivolous stuff, the creative and artful side of me that isn't getting her due.  And life without the frivolous and the creative is not very merry, but rather quite perfunctory and colorless.

I'll be back soon.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Senior Day

Is it ethical for a hotel chain to take your reservation online without letting you know that your hotel will also be hosting 5,000 huskies on the same weekend?

Liv and I set off for Lawrence, KS a few days ago for Senior Day and due to my stubborness about avoiding highways that are orange in the road atlas despite their being more direct, we arrived late to our hotel.  Forebodingly too late.  Something felt immediately amiss in the parking lot as we got out of the car.  Lots of movements in the shadows.  A person walking a dog...ok, pretty normal.  But then another and another and as our eyes adjusted to the dark, we realized the entire parking lot was full of people walking dogs.  And all the same dog!  It was one of those experiences where you actually kind of take a little step back from yourself and ask yourself in a quick 10 second review of whether you're in danger or not, "am I seeing what I think I'm seeing?  I have no frame of reference for what I'm seeing.  do we need to run?" 

No offense but they all looked the same to me.  Owners and dogs.
Oh, yes I just went there.

"Your room is 433 and we apologize for the hair and the noise."   Say what now?  

The Siberian Husky Judges Education Seminar and Breed Study in conjunction with the National Specialty competition was being hosted by our hotel.  A hundred dogs or more IN the hotel, IN the beds!  We apologize for your being unable to breathe due to your allergies and asthma might be a better standard wish for hotel guests. 

I've been to a lot of hotels in my life.  A lot.  I love not camping.  So, I generally enjoy a new hotel sports teams staying in the hotel or prom being held in the ballroom or weddings and other human activities occurring during my stay.  Even the occasional yorkie or pomeranian in its own stroller makes my day during a hotel stay. 

This gathering, however, was a freak show to end all freak shows.  Packs of dogs in the elevators, the corridors, the lobby, out of crates and lying on beds in rooms as seen from parted window shades.  Apparently showdogs have more important work to do than learn to go through doors with their masters or approach strangers only if invited or most audaciously not to jump up on kids holding an interesting Diet Pepsi and minding their own business.  Not even a yank of the leash but a rather bored and half-hearted "Don't do that, Snowy."  Are you f'ing kidding me?  Your dog just jumped on my kid!  On Earth, we don't generally like it when dogs do that.

Around every corner, every elevator bank, every door, every column lurked yet another husky dog if not two, leashed to an aging, fussy woman, possibly in a motorized wheelchair, frocked in a denim prairie dress with an airbrushed head of a husky on its pinafore, barely in control of her disastrous wardrobe choices yet alone her massive dog(s). 

It was a little depressing watching these confused, skittish and high-strung animals bred to pull sleds and work in teams misbehave for their scary pageant mothers who treated them more like naughty toddlers than animals. If you know me even a little you know corporate Holiday Inn is going to here about it could they not?  I'm getting a free weekend somehow or this blog is going to turn into the Michael Moore of blogs bent on bringing down a giant in the hotel industry and the AKC.

Olivia's favorite comeback line sits squarely over her head

Little Liv and Little Jay
Husky dogs aside, we had a great Senior Day at KU and I did try hard not to cry during the little motivational movie they show to prospective students and their parents but again I was unsuccessful and got a little headache from stifling the tears.  That makes three for three.  These movies are genius marketing tools to lure in parents more than the kids.  I swear I don't want to go back in time, but I did really enjoy the rituals and traditions of college life.  How could a person sit stoically as "rock, chalk, rock, chalk" is being chanted in unison by thousands of students?  I'm not a robot, man!

Jefferson's in Lawrence, KS.  I may be eating more fried dill pickles here in the future.
Oh, and the pregnant mom touring KU with her daughter was not weird at all.  It did, however, require college level logic and math just to think about how it was even possible and what she might have been thinking.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pie and Music

The last of the forced family fun apple picking apples.   The kids say good riddance
to the apples and apple picking in general but they do love to eat pie.
Autumn in Wisconsin.  Apple pies, homecoming dances, crispy sounding walks, pumpkins on every doorstep, swirling orange and yellow dirt devils in breezes that cut a little deeper through my jacket every day in the slide toward winter.   A gaggle of middle aged women talking Badger and Packer football on a sunny Friday and I'm strangely amongst them.  This last bit could not have been predicted with a thousand crystal balls. 

Homecoming dresses were short this year...too short if you ask me....but nobody asked me.
My family is scattering like the leaves this weekend as Chip and Ally depart for England (him to work, her to play for a few days and fly back alone) and Liv and I traveling to KU for one final campus tour.  The college aps are going in one by one with a click click click of the return key.   I can't believe it's come to this already--how did we get here?

Proud mama at band concert

Even band concerts are coming to an end for us.  Eight years of a study in adolescence set to Sousa.  I can hardly remember a time when we didn't trudge out into the cold, dark night three to six times a year, weather be damned, to mark their progress as musicians and eat a cookie.  And as much as I’ve groaned going to each and every concert, last night I found myself distracted by the very idea that after this year we won't be sitting dutifully in this auditorium anymore. And yet the band will play on without us.  Surrounded by really good friends and my husband, a hundred kids and a hundred parents many of whom I know, suddenly I got a little afraid and a little lonely. 

The madness and running around of parenting feels like it will never ever end, and then it does.  For all my complaining, I wasn't quite prepared for the feelings I had last night.  And the complaining all these years has mostly been about feeling pulled in many directions at once instead of being able to enjoy one thing at a time.

With me it's always the going that's hard, not the being there.  But it's time to stop the whining and find some joy in the going before it's too late.  Starting with the winter band concert.  I'll be there with a full and joyous heart, much like the Grinch on Christmas Day.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The pictures tell a different story

There is a vital distinction between adult hospitals and children's hospitals.  Adult hospitals are icky and scary.  I limit my trips to the main hospital for emergency purposes only.  And by that I do not mean actual emergencies where I would likely get in the way.  My emergencies are my ID not working properly last week or my issued office key being on a Schneider-esque key ring that barely fit in my purse let alone my pocket.

Here are some friends at the Wisconsin-Ohio St. game
Traveling around with this giant key ring has been like walking around all day every day with the key to the gas station bathroom.  I'd go so far as to say it was a keyman's keyring in scope and practice, incongruously carrying one sad and lonely key.  And it's hard to feel like you're really making a difference in children's lives with a giant key ring bearing only one key.  A call to plant engineering led me to the hospital key shop....thus entering a realm we call, "The Twilight Zone."

"Key Shop, this is Kevin."   
"Hey good morning!  How are ya?  *silence*  Yeah, so anyway, I'm a new nurse over here in the children's clinics and the office key I was issued is on a giant key ring that I can't seem to remove."
"Well what's the number on the key?"
"Huh? Um....24"
"A 24?  Why do you have a 24 key?"
"Well, it's what they gave me and it opens my office door."
"You shouldn't have a 24 key.  Are you with housekeeping?"
"Um. No."
"We're going to need you to turn that key in and get a new one."

Here are Chip and his friends at the Wisconsin-Ohio St. game
I wish the conversation had gone even that smoothly, but the above is just a condensation for flavor of the very circular discussion that went on longer than I care to remember.  I came to the conclusion, however, that I had in my possession a master key.  So off to the key shop to handle this breach in national security and more practically, bad key ring etiquette.

The key shop is not only in the bowels of the hospital but I'd go so far as to say it's in the rectum.  Traveled to only by an elevator requiring keyed entry that goes to the shallow mantle of the earth's crust.  Luckily, lots of guys in blue shirts with their names sewn on patches on their pockets use the elevator and take great care to escort and protect a princess along her journey from the dragons or pirates or who knows really what lurks below. And I don't think they get to see a whole lot of women during the day in this particular part of the hospital.  I got more than a few second looks of a curious nature, not so common or comfortable for a woman of a certain age.   I do believe if there had been a puddle along the way, one of the nice men would have thrown a drop cloth over it for me to cross.  However, sexual assault also briefly crossed my mind.

Yesterday I went to see Donna Shalala speak at the Union Theater next to the Red Gym.  Donna is also at the game probably sitting with Barry Alvarez.  I'm home blogging.  Am I making good choices?

NO no, just kidding.  After a journey akin to several weeks of a good Prince Valiant storyline I reached the key shop, ironically secured by a keyless numbered entry pad on the door.  Argus Filch looked up from his workbench.

"Hi.  I called earlier to have my key replaced.  Are you Kevin?"
"Okay, well, I'm turning this key in  because it's stuck on this ridiculously large key ring."
"I think Kevin was supposed to make me a new key."
"Hmm....I don't see it."
*pregnant pause*
"Okay...well, I'm going to need to take the key back then because it's my only key."
"Okay, here you go." 
*pregnant pause*
"So, I'm stuck with this giant key ring, huh?"
"Oh, you don't want the key ring?"
SMASH SMASH SMASH.  Three mallet hits and the key ring broke apart.  He wordlessly returned the key to my hand.

"Well thanks, that was easy.  I guess I could have just run over it with my car. Ha ha ha"  
*third and final pregnant pause* 
"Yeah, so is it okay for me to keep this key?  Kevin seemed to have a problem with it having a 24 on it."
"Does it work ok?"
"uhhh, yes."
"Then you should take it because you're going to need it to get in your office."

Alrighty then.  What doors await!