Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy holidays from the land of the 'Holiday blizzard'!

Holiday blizzard fun
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
after shoveling two feet of snow off my sidewalk, i headed downtown to explore. most everyone is traversing the roads using snowshoes or cross-country skis though there are a couple people on clearer roads using mountain bikes.

it is wonderful and cheery outside. neighbors and strangers chatting, Christmas music blaring from houses as they shovel their walks, dogs galumphing through snowbanks and chasing squirrels up trees. everything that a White Christmas should have.

now i am home snug with a Christmas movie on the set and ready to finish a Christmas present for my sister-in-law with a cat on my lap and a song in my heart!

everyone have a merry, merry!

with love, j

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

my Christmas 'letter'

my life has been peppered with happenings since last i wrote. research has been frantic yet slow. i have been working doggedly to complete the lingering bits of three different projects. all continue to thwart my efforts, dragging on slowly. still, progress is being made and i am hopeful to have all the bench work complete by the new year or end of January at the latest. once i pull that together, i will be left with writing up the papers, finishing my dissertation, preparing for and sitting my defense. today was spent on a combination of lab work and inroads into the papers. December is always hideous this way since research abstracts for the Internal Medicine College are due the first Friday of January. blech.

i have been offered a job, an Assistant Professorship (tenure-track) in Internal Medicine at UT Knoxville. the department is just wonderful and i absolutely love the faculty. Grandma would have been so very happy about this job - it is a shame it all didn't come together sooner, but i can hear her so clearly in my head saying, 'I am just so proud of you, honey. You deserve it.'

i just returned from a second interview/prelim negotiations a week ago. they understand i need to finish my PhD and are aiming for a July 1 start date. aside from the sheer honor of being offered 'one of the most coveted IM positions in academia,' this job offers the added blessing of placing me within a few short hours drive of my Mom. living this close, we could even do weekend 'playdates'! right now, i am threading my way through the bog of negotiations and details. along the way, i stumbled across an useful primer online that has been very enlightening. the biggest challenge for me right now is maintaining objectivity, important since one really can never change things in academia once an offer is accepted. oy. it is hard to see how this could go awry but anything can happen so no "Change of Address' forms yet!

TraV is incredibly proud of me, or so he keeps saying, and will be making the move with me if things work out wrt UTK. a bit scary - okay, a lot scary - as this is the first time a someone has ever made a choice like this, chosen me per se, instead of choosing something that takes them away from me.

unfortunately, it seems that the house is finally reaping the 'rewards' of so many plumbing problems. i have been quite bogged down with headaches, malaise, and allergies since the heat kicked on this fall. after trying high allergen heat filters, electrostatic vent filter covers, aggressive spring cleaning etc, i am fairly certain that there is some sort of toxic mold thriving in the vent system. this has placed me in a bit of a pickle, since it seems crazy [not to mention expensive] to move now and then possibly again in just a few months. i finally called the landlady and explained the situation, asking her to have the vents cleaned. she is going to look into the matter and get back to me once she finds someone reputable. i would be willing to pay half the cost if i have to (it'd certainly be cheaper than moving) but i cannot stay if something doesn't give. TraV has taken to calling my place the 'House of Doom'. the cats both are suffering allergies, he gets draggy when here and i am simply worn through.

last Monday i started with a nasty headache that became a migrane by Thursday. Thursday i also ended up with vomiting, fever and chills, and Friday i actually had to go to the hospital for IV fluids and shots. i have never suffered such severe pain before (as proven by pain beating brain and me going to the hospital) and all i can say is Halleluyah for Western medicine (and Denny for giving me a ride to the doc)... the doc thinks i had migraine compounded by a nasty virus; i am still recovering to some degree. when you start out run down and toxic, it is kinda hard to fight the crud, you know?

Christmas is fast approaching. it has been a challenging quandary for me this year. somehow, this year it seems more important than ever that Christmas be celebrated by giving 'out'. after much thought, i have finally committed to a course of good works in lieu of presents. for example, i have purchased a slew of toys for the pediatric unit at PVH that will be donated in people's honor instead of buying things for them directly and so on and so forth. it definitely feels more 'right' to me, more in keeping with Carol Bird's wishes as it were, but time is short till Christmas and my energy not what it should be.

my Christmas tree
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
i picked up two new Christmas albums (new to me that is) - Ultra-Lounge Christmas Cocktails vol 2 and 3 that are bringing me much pleasure, though Fairytale of New York and Please Daddy, don't get drunk on Christmas will always have their place. Christmas movies are in high season and i shamelessly wallow in them, watching a dead son heal his family, a slew of Santas bring hope to a slew of children, Peter Falk bring together a 'lost' town, James Caan learn the true meaning of Christmas, and Amahl's encounter with the 3 kings.

it is a season of happy endings and hope, two things of which a girl can never have enough. this is what i think of as i sit and bask in the lights from my lovely tree, brimming over with delights for unsuspecting little ones, while i knit another baby sweater or scarf.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Avalanche hockey scarf knitting pattern

TraVy in his Av scarf
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.

I used Caron Simply Soft yarn to make this, basically because they had the exact right colors.

Blue, burgundy/red, and white yarn.
Needles: US8 and US6

Using larger size needles, CO ~36 stitches. Knit in whatever pattern you want until almost out of yarn then bind off all stitches. I did a 'key' variation of 12 rows as follows:
Row 1: K2, P3, repeat to last 2 stitches. End with K2.
Row 2: P2, K3, repeat to last 2 stitches. End with P2.
Repeat rows 1 and 2 three times.
Row 9: P2, K3, repeat to last 2 stitches. End with P2.
Row 10: K2, P3, repeat to last 2 stitches. End with K2.
Repeat rows 9 & 10 once.
Start over with Row 1.

The ‘A’:
Using smaller size needles, CO 3 stitches. Purl all stitches on wrong side rows.
Row 1: K1, m3, K1.
Row 3: K1, m1, K1, m1, K1.
Row 5: K2, m1, K1, m1, K2.
Row 7: K2, m1, K2, m1, K1, m1, K1.
Row 9: K2, m1, K7, m1, K1.
Row 11: K2, m1, K8, m1, K2.
Row 13: K2, m1 K5. Using separate yarn, K5, m1, K2. Work each side separately.
Rows 15, 17, 19, and 21: K2, m1, K3, K2tog; sl1over, K3, m1, K2.
Row 23: K first side, CO 5, K second side using first yarn. (This is the beginning of the crossbar in the A.)
Rows 25 and 27: K2, m1, K to last 3, m1, K2.
Row 29: K2, m1, K9. Attach second yarn, cast off 5, K9, m1, K2.
Rows 31, 33, and 35: K2, m1, K to last 2, K2tog. Reverse pattern for second side.
Row 36 (wrong side): Purl first yarn. Cast off 3 with second yarn, P remaining.
Row 37: K2, m1, K to end. Cast off 6, K to end.
Row 38: Purl first yarn. CP 9, P to end.
Row 39: K2, m1, K to end. Cast off all stitches on second side.
Row 40: Cast off all stitches.

The wavy lines:
Using smaller size needles, CO 3 stitches. Work in stockinette for varying lengths. Cast off.

Sew ‘A’ on one end using remaining blue yarn. Sew wavy lines in place using blue yarn.

Friday, November 10, 2006

'how to' guide for patient advocacy

i was recently asked to provide tips for a friend on successful patient advocacy given my long track record with Mom and Grandma. i am including those tips below. the one most important thing i would say is that anyone who wishes to successfully survive a serious illness needs at least one patient advocate. although it is helpful if this person has a medical background, that does not mean that a medical person doesn't need an advocate. nor does it mean that a family with no 'medical' people is doomed.

important things:
1. find out EVERY doctor that is working on the case and which doctor is responsible for each problem. in doing this with both my mother and grandmother, i discovered several problems that were not being addressed by anyone as doctors worried about stepping on each other's toes. also, pre-emptively identify when doctors are going to be going off clinics and who their replacements will be so that things that can be are wrapped up before shift changes.
2. once you find out the complete listing of problems, rank the biggest 2-3 and ake sure to speak directly with the doctors managing those problems. make sure that you have a clear understanding of the associated plans for problems that will span multiple doctors. that way you can catch when things veer off course or are forgotten.
3. write EVERYTHING down. ask doctors to spell their names and words (even if you think you know) so that they know you are doing this, esp if the advocate is working over the phone. repeat back information that seems incomplete, conflicting or that you suspect is fragmented. that way, you point out the inconsistencies without actually pointing them out and making the doctor defensive.
4. find out a convenient time to talk to each doctor and set it as an expectation that you will do so. this needs to be done explicitly or you will be forgotten. realistically, without a set update time, it is almost impossible for even those people who are 'on the scene' to get info as the doc comes in when he is free and basically looks at the chart, says things are fine and leaves. a lot of times they will NOT share information on new problems because people tend to assume someone else already has and the nurse usually isn't at liberty to be specific or particularly informative.
5. make sure to find out every single medication and dosage administered as well as every test. it is easy for something to get carried over at a loading dosage throughout a stay or for an empiric/ pre-emptive treatment to be continued once a cause is already ruled out, esp if the doctors change on a case. having to list all the drugs and dosages to someone often causes doctors to catch such errors before you could.

now, all of the above requires more time from the doctors and more attention to [insert patient name]'s case. to offset this:
1. reiterate appreciation for their attention each time they do something extra ('I just want to thank you again for taking the time to round with me. I know how very busy you are and will be as brief as possible.').
2. express unequivocal understanding when non-lifethreatening procedures and treatments are delayed ('We understand. We certainly want for the patients with more pressing needs to be attended to first--we know that same attention will be focused on [insert name] first when he needs it.').
3. send chocolates to the floor caring for your [insert patient] or some similar treat every 2-3 days with a note thanking the staff for their caring attention and patience.
4. most importantly, reiterate to each doctor something like this: 'I understand it is hard to chat with me on top of everything else. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am the token medical in the family and it greatly eases my family's concern when I am 'in the know' and can reexplain things to them when they get confused. As I am sure you are quite aware of, non-medicals can get easily overwhelmed and forget the 'whys' a lot. By explaining once to me, I can explain 10 times to them and keep them calm and compliant.'

if you are not medical, go with something like this: 'I understand it is hard to chat with me on top of everything else. it greatly eases my family's concern to know that one person is keeping track of all the information so we can learn more on our own time. by having everything written down, i can reexplain things to different family members when they get involved or get confused. As I am sure you are quite aware of, patients and family members can get easily overwhelmed and forget the 'whys'. By explaining once to me, I can explain 10 times to each involved family member and keep them calm and out of everyone's hair.'
5. read about the disease, tests, and treatments being discussed. now, no one would expect you to become a doctor or disease specialist, but you can improve your odds of getting good care if you know the right questions to ask. reliable 'plain speak' about medical issues can be found at WebMD or its more technical 'sister' eMedicine.

getting updates basically revolves around being polite but doggedly persistent and informed but not a know-it-all. if things aren't right, do not hesitate to say so and be committed to being a friendly but immovable rock until they are fixed.

finally, don't forget to take care of yourself. if you don't, who will be left to be the advocate?

what about Eliza?

with the recent wins in the US House and Senate, CO Governor seat, and the two local races I cared about, i find this continuous running through my head:

Pickering Tonight, old man, you did it!
You did it! You did it! You said that you would do it,
And indeed you did. I thought that you would rue it;
I doubted you'd do it. But now I must admit it
That succeed you did. You should get a medal
Or be even made a knight. Henry It was nothing.
Really nothing. Pickering All alone you hurdled
Ev'ry obstacle in sight. Henry Now, wait! Now, wait!
Give credit where it's due, A lot of the glory goes to you.
Pickering But you're the one who did it,
Who did it, who did it! As sturdy as Gibraltar,
Not a second did you falter. There's no doubt about it,
You did it! I must have aged a year tonight.
At times I thought I'd die of fright.

first because it is silly and jubilant, but now more consistently because i see the mainsteam politicos and progressive blogoshere vying for credit.

the self-trumpetting vindicatory talk on the blogosphere is the greater disappointment, because it sends a message of superiority that may alienate the new young progressives that generally refuse to label themselves 'liberals' because of the connotation of preachy self-righteousness. these individuals are a big part of the great victory and their alienation could have disastrous consequences in '08. they are, to a large degree, the Eliza of this story.

ah well. hopefully my concerns are just the result of overcautiousness because this victory has been so very long in coming.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

the big black time suck of political volunteering

since i took on the Webmaster gig for my house district candidate, it has been remarkable how little time i have left for writing. this mainly reflects the challenges of a local campaign where everyone also must tend to 'day jobs' and the cost-effective (read free) solutions to problems often require MacGyvering. it has been an amazing experience though, at the same time, a depressing one. over the last 8 plus months, close scrutiny of the new and baffling ways candidates (mine excluded of course) have found to decivilize our society has led to an almost unavoidable funk. now, thankfully, the torture has ended (at least until i next take leave of my senses and volunteer for a campaign).

happily, not only has the darkness ended, it has been replaced by a beautiful, shiny day. the US House has been retaken with a margin so wide as to classify as a mandate. the AP reports that Tester's and Webb's leads will hold and Dems gain control of the US Senate. Rumsfeld has resigned. Hastert has announced he's tucked his tail firmly between his legs. in my personal House District, McClusckey-the incumbent Republican who went centrist last cycle after narrowly escaping defeat to John Kefalas- was defeated by the John Kefales by three times the margin last year. Kefalas, proving himself to be who he promised, sent this message out:

I would also like to thank State Representative Bob McCluskey for his public service. I know that almost half the voters preferred the incumbent, and I hope to win their trust and support in the coming months. I will strive to represent all of House District 52, not just those who voted for me.

This is not my victory alone. It is our victory. It shows you can still get elected to the people's house without big money, pollsters, consultants, spin-doctors or focus groups, and without going negative.

the wait last night was almost intolerable, as the results slowly slipped across the ticker on the bottom of the page. eventually, i 'broke' into the Business Center and essentially became the the 'ready room.' it was the first time i have been referred to as a wonk, and by more than one person mind you! i was terribly entertained.

in the end, my candidate - whose fate i am sure you are anxiously awaiting - handily outstripped his opponent by over a twenty point margin! we were all very proud as you can imagine.

so it has been a good day, a very good day.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"After Pat's Birthday"

Below follows an article written by Kevin Tillman and originally posted here. be prepared to shed many tears.

Pat and Kevin Tillman

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:
Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.

Brother and Friend of Pat Tillman,
Kevin Tillman

things to know...

Jon Kyl Rick Renzi J.D. Hayworth John Doolittle Richard Pombo Brian Bilbray Marilyn Musgrave Doug Lamborn Rick O'Donnell Christopher Shays Vernon Buchanan Joe Negron Clay Shaw Bill Sali Mark Kirk Dennis Hastert Chris Chocola John Hostettler Mike Whalen Jim Ryun Anne Northup Geoff Davis Michael Steele Gil Gutknecht Michele Bachmann Jim Talent Conrad Burns Jon Porter Charlie Bass Mike Ferguson Heather Wilson Peter King John Sweeney Tom Reynolds Randy Kuhl Robin Hayes Charles Taylor Steve Chabot Jean Schmidt Deborah Pryce Joy Padgett Melissa Hart Curt Weldon Mike Fitzpatrick Don Sherwood Lincoln Chafee Bob Corker George Allen Frank Wolf Mike McGavick Dave Reichert Ned Lamont Ben Cardin Debbie Stabenow Claire McCaskill Jon Tester Bob Menendez Harold Ford James Webb John Salazar Jim Marshall John Barrow Leonard Boswell Melissa Bean Phil Hare Julia Carson Brad Miller John Murtha Alan Mollohan Gabrielle Giffords Diane Farrell Chris Murphy Ed Perlmutter Bruce Braley Tammy Duckworth Joe Donnelly Brad Ellsworth Baron Hill Christine Jennings Tim Mahoney Ron Klein John Yarmuth Heath Shuler Patty Wetterling Patricia Madrid Kirsten Gillibrand Michael Arcuri Jack Davis Mary Jo Kilroy Zack Space Lois Murphy Patrick Murphy Joe Sestak Chris Carney Phil Kellam Steve Kagen

But, if I said something that was truly offensive, please let me know what it was so I can retract it and use it on someone I want to offend (you sonsofbitches know who you are!)
--democommie | 10.22.05 - 10:53 am

Thursday, September 21, 2006


today, in the midst of my gym work-out, my iPod experienced what appears to be some sort of terminal processor error. i cannot reset it with control 'keys' nor find any place in which to stick a safety pin. in retrospect, this has probably been coming on for over a week given problems syncing with my newly repaired iBook etc.

it seems sick somehow, but i cannot help but be amused by the continuing technological revolt. it begs the question, 'can Schadenfreude be self-referential?' or is this merely a reflection of the increasing daily awareness of an 'old-new' mantra of mine, 'life is too short...'

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Paula’s Press Release Volume V

there has been much sorrow and loss of late, though some has been accompanied by the privilege of reflection and sharing. i owe an entry about Grandma's memorial service, i know, but for now i delight in presenting some good news. attached please find Paula's most recent 'release.' for those who may not know, Paula is my 30-year old cousin diagnosed this last Christmas eve with an inoperable brain tumor...

Celebrate Life pin
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin’ for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there’s nothin’ but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin’ but blue skies

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.
(Johnny Nash: I can see clearly now)

Normally, I have religious type songs popping into my mind at critical points in my life these days. Today, it was Johnny Nash’s Bright Sun-Shiny Day that jumped into my mind while driving home from Mayo Clinic’s Gonda Building. I take my last chemo pills tonight @ 10 pm. This will end my final round of chemotherapy, and will be the end of any scheduled treatments for my well-attended to tumor.

Throughout my treatment, I have had many obstacles. I was unable to drive from January through July. The Mayo Clinic computer server went down my second day of radiation and I had to wait over one hour to finish the treatment. I had nausea and vomiting throughout my chemotherapy, although the doctors had assured me prior to taking the medication that I probably would have no side effects. I had a bought with serious depression in May (nothing new, but never fun). My medical insurance was cut through my workplace (luckily I had Pat’s insurance coverage to back mine up). I had chemo-related anemia. I had an anaphylactic reaction to IV iron. I had to go through 4+ hours of mental testing to be sure my brain was functioning correctly (it is, by the way). I did, however, get diagnosed with ADD/ADHD tendencies (surprise, I know). Pat found out he has sleep apnea and was getting 0% REM or deep sleep. My computer was in for service more than it was available for my use at home. Pat returned to coaching football and teaching math (football takes him to Rochester for practices and meetings 7 days a week). I had a “negative encounter” with a friend’s dog. Oh yeah, I also was blessed with the stomach flu last week.

Although there were obstacles, there were many sun-shiny days as well. I have made so many new friends, found out so much more about myself, my husband, and my children than I ever thought I could. I have also learned that I need to take time for myself and to do things just for me. I have become a true Christian, believing that there is a higher power guiding our every step here on Earth. With typing the last sentence, another song has barged into my brain. It is the song “Earth and All Stars” (p. 558, Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, Mpls). I won’t type all of the lyrics, just the refrain, which says, “He has done marvelous things, I too will praise him with a new song”.

The picture of the pin at the beginning of this note is what I received from Mayo today, signifying the end of my chemotherapy. Dr. Buckner mentioned last week that patients receiving IV chemo get a pin when they complete their treatment. I said “Where’s my pin? I want a pin.” He said “I shouldn’t have said anything”. So today, I marched right on up to the chemotherapy unit desk and said “I want my freaking pin”. Not really, just kidding. I did go up to the desk today, but I asked quite politely if I could possibly have a pin since I was finishing chemo tonight. They graciously brought one out and placed it in my hand. I cried. I haven’t been able to set it down or let it out of my sight since I received it this morning. What a blessing to have made it this far and still be as spunky as I always have been. I really am seeing clearly now.

I will continue to have MRI’s and blood tests every 3 months for three years. As far as anyone can say, there shouldn’t be any tumor growth that will need attention for many years. Please pray for this to be true.

You haven’t heard the last from me yet, I’ll continue to send updates every once in a while. And PLEASE, continue to send me your updates as well.

My love to you all,


Monday, September 18, 2006


i broke with a migraine the day after Labor Day that only appears to be letting up right now. my computer died on the 7th and had to be sent in for repairs. this tipped me over the edge of the cliff of nervous breakdowns, but TraV helped me levitate back right up until he made our dinner with rancid butter on the 11th... happily, neither of us ate much before discovering the problem, and the thought was so kind as to outweigh the resultant hunger.

i flew out on the 12th for 2 days of interviews for a tenure track faculty position at UTK. it was a great trip although the daunting schedule (2 1/2 15 hour interview days) combined with raucous debauchery in the hotel (no, not mine) left me totally dead.

on Saturday, i got up, packed, lifted my hex on the loud hotel inhabitants and drove from Knoxville to Nashville. i arrived with a couple hours to spare before my Grandma's memorial service. the service and dinner were wonderful and joyful celebrations, in their own way, of a spirited saucy lady. (more on this hopefully to come.)

Sunday morning, the remaining family met for a long brunch, filled with enough laughter to leave my cheeks and stomach aching. then back to Denver and crashing at TraV's. it is silly how we miss each other when apart but that brings its own pleasure.

today i raced home, beating the FedEx driver by a mere 5 minutes. newly functional computer in hand - the processor had to be replaced - i spent today unpacking, cleaning up after the cats and trying to sort through the files on the loaner computer, jump drive, external back-up and laptop.

this has, quite unfortunately, left me very little time to study for Talk Like a Pirate Day. happily, i lucked into a tutorial that has brought me up to speed.

tomorrow i look forward to shiverin' yer timbers, you salty sea dogs! but fer now, i'm off to lash my moors and put this buxom wench to rest...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


everyone has their own personal emergency morale infusion (PEMI) resources.

this is mine.

sure, it is a ridiculously silly TV commercial. it wasn't previously available online, so i would have to wait for the right time slot and watch watch watch for it.

until now.

the good people at Good Times have hooked me up for which i am incredibly grateful...

so i am sharing the wealth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Osburn, Marguerite (Mickey) Hodges...

Mickey Osburn
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
Osburn, Marguerite (Mickey) Hodges, age 83 of Nashville. Died August 13. She will be dearly missed by the surviving family: Paul and Trudy Hodges, Frank and Diane Osburn, Pamela and Roland Schneller, and seven grandchildren. Besides raising 3 children (son Michael, deceased), she was active in banking and civil service (Disabilities Appeals Referee, Railroad Retirement Board). Mickey was an intrepid world traveler, visiting countries on four continents, a member of the Stones River Women's Club, Friends of the Donelson Library and a volunteer in schools, a loving Stephen's Minister at First Presbyterian Church, Nashville.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, September 16, 4:00 pm at McKendree Village, 4343 Lebanon Road, Hermitage. In lieu of flowers, please send memorial gifts to Alive Hospice of Nashville.

Monday, August 14, 2006

two minds meet

today i grieve for her death.
today i rejoice in her birth.

today i see the ship battered by the seas and winds of her last voyage.
today i see the ship as trim and fine as when she was first made.

today i hear her laughing at a story just beyond the veil - ha. ha. ha. - each laugh its own statement, punctuated and clear.
today i hear her chuckle aloud as she read the comics.

today i hear her rage at the laborious and long path of death.
today i hear her rage that my mother voted for Nixon.

today i hear her worry at me for my tears over her pain.
today i hear her worry at me to sit and rest. please!

today i remember the flutter as nurses and loved ones endeavor to make her comfortable.
today i remember the rastafari and the sailor with the machete bringing her comfort on a quay.

today i feel her peace as she promised me she knew we all loved her.
today i feel her peace as she promised me she loved me.

today i feel her sorrow for the children she must leave.
today i feel her sorrow at a child lost.

today i know she is in a better place.
today i know mine is a better world for having had her in it.

today i grieve over her death, my loss, but i rejoice again for this, her last birth.
today there are two minds but they support one another, complement one another.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

the birthing is complete

after a long arduous labor some 11 days long, Grandma successfully birthed into her new life at 6 o'clock Nashville time. it is joyous indeed for her to be now in a place where God's love can be felt so much more clearly, where beloved ones like her son Michael can be rejoined, and where she can laugh once more like the strong and sweet spirit she was - unfettered by pain or shortness of breath.

it is this we must remember and in which we should rejoice - even as we respect and acknowledge the sorrow of our own loss.

the family would respectfully ask that those wishing to send flowers make donations instead to Alive Hospice in her name so that the peaceful and protected passing Mickey was allowed may remain available for others.

please feel free to share cherished anecdotes in the comments.

Friday, August 11, 2006

calling cards welcome

in my last post, i forgot to stress that all of Grandma's friends and loved ones are welcome to visit her. she appears to have disassociated from her body for the most part, but i believe she still takes comfort in quiet company. visiting hours are 24-7, though certain safety precautions are encouraged late at night.

please feel free to call one of the family for specifics on her location.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

casting off the moorings

given how things had been progressing, Mom and Roland went on to work for a little bit Monday and i drove over to visit Grandma. i arrived right at the start of visiting hours to find her finishing up a bath with her carepartner. she was much, much worse than she had been to date, pleading and winded, though the carepartner was so kind and sweet with her. the nurse gave her her pills with a tiny swallow of water which she partially aspirated into her airway. though she coughed and coughed, Grandma could not get her airway clear. her agitation persisted and her struggles to cough up the fluid intensified. the nurses had already given all her pain medications and could not give her anything else for anxiety. after about a half an hour of trying to calm her, i could feel hysteria building. this is saying a lot given everything we have been through in the past year and a half. there was no way i could maintain the morning watch alone.

my mind cast about for anything that might bring her calm. her favorite pastor was going to be visiting later in the afternoon. i called Mom to get the pastor's cell - if she could come sooner, perhaps it would help. Mom called for me; she and Roland left for the hospital straightaway. the next 30 minutes crawled by. just as Mom and Rol arrived, the RT came in. after nebulization, Civogne performed NT suctioning to clear the airway. this is remarkably horrible to experience but was truly necessary to ease Grandma's misery.

after that, she was so terribly exhausted that she fell into a sleep of sorts. Sandra, the pastor, arrived and prayed with us for a time. this seemed to sooth Grandma and certainly helped sooth us. Sandra also gave us information on a place called Alive Hospice. after that, Grandma pretty much slept until ~5pm. they woke her giving a shot, after which she did not sleep for hours, and at which point we pretty much drew the line in the sand regarding any treatments outside of pain medication.

a wonderful admissions nurse from Alive Hospice turned around from her drive home to meet with us and get Mickey's paperwork ready for admission to Alive. she stayed an hour and a half completing paperwork and was just an incredible comfort.

Tuesday was better. Grandma had some restlessness but was fairly quiet overall. mentally, she seemed to be pretty much checcked out. the transfer was initially scheduled between 8-12 but the ambulance could not be arranged until 2-2:30pm. they arrived right at 2:30 and Grandma and i headed down to the ambulance right around 3pm. unfortunately, the ambulance AC died while they were upstairs with us. it was ~ 110F inside, obviously unacceptable. so back into the ER to figure out a solution then back to the room to wait for the new ambulance. during this whole time, Grandma was getting more and more miserable - the gurneys are just so very narrow and pokey. she was vocalized, i was crying and eventually even the burly EMT started tearing up.

the poor EMTs came back around 4:30 with the new ambulance and we left the hospital at 5 o'clock on the dot. we made astonishingly good time to Alive Hospice. hydrangeas were waiting in the room to welcome her. the staff is just wonderful and they settled Grandma in. instantly they had her on better and less invasive pain medications. the staffing is excellent - they currently have 7 inpatients in the unit, 3 nurses, a charge nurse, 2 carepartners, a chaplain, a social worker and a doctor.

in the meantime, both Brian and Frank arrived from out of town. we visited a few minutes at the new facility then left Grandma to rest. yesterday, the carepartners gave her a bath for which she was quite peaceful. they brushed her hair and tucked in stuffed animals under her arms. she was much much more peaceful and generally seemed mentally absent even when looking around. this is a very positive sign, suggesting she may be entering the last phase of dying.

one last thing to share today. this is a passage from the end of book provided by the hospice center:

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: "Here she comes!"

And that is dying.

-Henry Van Dyke

Monday, August 07, 2006

breaking up is hard to do

it has been a couple days since i wrote, but things have been so peculiar i did not really know what to say.

after Friday's distance and progress on transition, Grandma took a step 'back' by re-anchoring to her body Saturday. her vitals continued to stablize though she didn't seem to really make progress. mentally she was much more with us. she told stories, laughed at little quips and was generally engaged. she described with delight her new favorite show Meerkat Manor and dreamt of meerkats. she demanded coffee and butter pecan ice cream, chatted up TraV and picked on her brother. i did not write then, even though there were many 'choice moments' because i did not know what to say.

yesterday, Grandma was much more like she had been on Thursday. she was sore everywhere, unable to settle or sleep, and alternately petulant and angry about her continued existence. she had had an episode of sorts in the night and was, for a while, restricted on all liquids. she wheedled, whined, scolded, and cursed until the doctor reversed the orders.

after a couple of talks with us and the nurses, the doctor said he felt he had a much better feel for her case and that she was not really making gains. he moved her to another ward and dramatically decreased her instrumentation, transitioning more to 'comfort care.'

the new ward is very nice and the nurses so far are fabulous. the visiting hours are much wider, flowers are allowed, and Grandma has no machines around to beep and pulse, except the IV fluid pump. while we were with her she tried to bite out her IV catheter and kept deliberately removing her nasal insufflation. over the course of the afternoon, it became clear that this was an attempt at 'stopping'. since her observation is also pared down, she may eventually succeed in desaturating to arrest. then again, this may drag on one way or another at length.

i cannot yet divine whether God is not ready to let Grandma die or whether it is more that separating from one's body through death - just like separating through meditation - requires practice. the new ward visiting hours start at 11am, at which time i hope to have a better idea where she is headed.

Friday, August 04, 2006

how to figure 'one thing' out

Grandma continues to deteriorate but in a very positive way. her medical status is much more stable yet i suspect her ties to her body much more fragmented.

Grandma was much more peaceful overall today. mentally she was much more withdrawn and had 'let go' of icky details of the last couple days. this distance was more marked than expected based on and temporally inconsistent with her medications. much more of her conversations seem to be with either people on the other side of the veil or with memories. these are very, very positive changes as they are consistent with the early stages in the transition to death.

it is a peculiar thing to be rejoicing in this transition, to be reveling on some level in every negative prognostic sign. even as i find myself joyful and grateful for every clue that Grandma is separating from her 'mortal vessel', i cannot stop the tears. so terribly proud i am of her strength and caring and joy, so happy that her pain seems to be easing. at the same time, so destroyed to see this moment i simply could not imagine closing in and knowing soon she will not be there to tease and to tell the story of 'Dos Margaritas.'

as i mentioned above, today her dialogue was much less present. at the same time, overall the conversation was much less pleading, much less tortured. Mickey laughed several times today. not the laugh-devolving-into-a-coughing-jag of the past, but a wonderful and naughty chuckle. at one point, i asked what she was laughing about. 'just love to laugh,' she said. that she does - i will never forget the joy of overhearing Mickey reading the comics. she is the only person i have ever known to laugh outloud while doing so.

Grandma spoke of crossing a bridge and told me there was 'just one thing I need to figure out.' it took me a while but i think that thing was dying. then she asked, 'When will the adventure begin?' 'Soon,' I promised, 'soon.' 'I just love you all so very much. I am just so tired, so tired.' 'We know. We love you too. It is okay. You cross any bridge you want. We are just so very proud of you, so very proud.'

that we are. so proud and honored to have known her all these years and loved her so dearly.

Paul, her brother, and his wife Trudy arrived last night; they met us first thing to go to the hospital this morning. we checked in with Paul and Trudy tonight in case they thought we were 'circling' in our desire for her passing. Paul chuckled and cried some but said, 'Well, if there was any doubt, it would have been gone when we walked in. The first words out of Mickey's mouth were, "I told them I wanted to die."'

she has repeated this clearly several times and i pointed out that this was between her and God. she seems to be doing her best. she said she wanted to go to Jimmy Kellys and said it has been the happiest of times. i would agree. our time as a family has been precious and full.

Mickey is indeed a brilliant spark, filling the sky of our existence with her sass and her sensibilities. i hope this next adventure begins for her as soon as is right and that it is filled with as much sparkle and wonder as such a jewel deserves.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

medical intransigence or God's will?

it has been a hard day. it was immediately apparent this morning that Grandma is sliding. as soon as i arrived, she said she was mad at me but she would not tell me why. she was quite clear and vehement about this.

Grandma's urine output is in the tank and she has been much more withdrawn. her glucose control is better but she is now running a mean blood pressure of roughly 55mmHg. they are backing off meds but the changes are slow. she did not cough much or curse today and instead allowed her breathing to drag against the goo in her airway. overall her breathing is more labored even with extensive bronchodilator therapy and, heartbreakingly, her sparkle gone.

we met with the doctor after a couple hours. he agreed she was much worse and suggested putting her back on the ventilator. Mom and i pressed him with regard to her problems, prognosis, and the long-term quality of life issues. after thrashing through everything, he reversed himself and said he wouldn't put her on a vent unless she specifically wanted it. we then went and laid everything out for Grandma and asked her what she wanted. she said she did not to go back on the ventilator and that she was ready to die, that she wanted to die. we told her she would have to negotiate with God on that one.

i realized at this point that the reason she was angry with me is because i had told her yesterday that she couldn't quit. it seemed the right call at the time, like it was a hard day but reasonable for day 1 off the vent. i do not regret it but - at the same time - today is obviously a different kettle of fish. i told her that it was okay to die, that she didn't have to keep trying, at least not for our sakes. after that, Grandma became much more interactive.

the doctor agreed to get her a 'little something' to take the edge off and started her on Xanax. this made her sleepy but much much less miserable. ironically, her breathing and oxygenation have also improved. that isn't to say she isn't still suffering.

she kept moaning and saying 'Oh God.' at one point she said, 'Why is it so hard to die?' i said, 'Well. They have built up a whole industry around keeping people alive.' she gave the only chuckle i heard all day. 'That's sure true,' she said. realistically, since control of her lungs, heart, blood pressure and kidneys has been co-opted through oxygen supplementation, inhalant therapies, and intravenous and oral medications, it will indeed be quite difficult for her successfully stop.

Mom said, 'It'll be okay. You don't have to be afraid.' 'I'm not afraid of dying,' she replied.

Grandma slept for a while before waking. 'Oh God,' she said. i said 'Yeah, he is one hard negotiator, isn't he?' 'He sure is...' 'Well, you keep at it. See if you guys can't come to terms.'

she woke once more to tell Roland and me, 'I'm stuck.' it took us a minute to realize she meant stuck between living and dying. i said it was probably like one of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. not too bad but the first step is a doozy. a minister friend of all of ours, Sandra, came by to visit and pray with us. it seemed to offer some succor.

we left Grandma asleep, wrapped in our love, with many prayers to God to make up his mind with alacrity and stop her suffering one way or another. now we will just have to see what exactly He decides.

i find myself quite troubled - where exactly does the line fall between God's will and medical capacity?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Grandma is broken

Friday morning my grandmother had an episode of severe respiratory distress that necessitated ambulance transport and ventilatory support. she remained on a ventilator until yesterday. this is an update i wrote yesterday:

just wanted to get out a little update on Mickey. the doctors determined she had pneumonia in the base of her left lung, which probably caused 'the incident' Friday, versus it being an irreversible deterioration. the pneumonia is slowly responding (based on rads and her temperature) and her coloration is quite improved. Mickey's oxygenating ability remained pretty terrible over the weekend; the secretions from her lungs were quite thick but have improved slowly.

this morning, given persistently improved parameters, she was taken off the ventilator and extubated. Grandma has had a lot of challenge in clearing her airway and has had recurrent bronchospasm. she is on pretty aggressive inhalation treatments to try and help with that. it has been very rough today and we are unsure if she will exhaust and require re-intubation tonight. i am guessing 20-30% chance that she will have to be reintubated to rest and then retry in another day or two. obviously that would be a setback, but not yet a decision of quality vs quantity of life.

toward the end of the day, Grandma was able to talk a little though she was still somewhat out of it and her interests were immediate 'miseries,' most notably the nasogastric tube. i give even odds on it being out in the morning regardless of doctor interests... we mainly stuck to a binary blink system so she could conserve energy for breathing. she did know us and said she trusted me (to be honest) when i promised things would be a lot better soon if she could stay calm (to help with the breathing) and work on strength of her coughing. i reminded her i always kept my two 'rules' with Mom and would be playing by the same rules with her: 1. Never lie. 2. Never promise something i couldn't deliver.

her pulmonologist is very good and i like him a lot. her nurses are also top rate. the doctor let me stay with her for the extubation and the nurses thanked me for staying, saying that she certainly seemed to respond better when i gave their 'orders' to her, esp when they had to do nasotracheal suctioning. overall, we are just very grateful to have her in such good and open hands, and we count on her and God to determine what is the right thing to happen.

i have shared all of your well wishes. tomorrow we should have a better idea where the cards may fall.

Grandma made it through the night without either reintubation or removal of her feeding tube. nasal swab culture came back positive for MRSA; vancomycin has been started. kidney function is being monitored fairly closely and medications were adjusted after a drop in urine output last night. nasotracheal suction for sputum culture today was unsuccessful.

the propofol wore off during the night and now Grandma is much more alert. this, of course, is a double-edged sword. the upside is that we can better assess her mental status. the downside is that she is miserable and feels tortured by every little thing that is happening. she cannot get comfortable and still struggles to breathe in spite of intravenous and inhalant therapies. Grandma did try and laugh a couple times today and her swearing is increasing, both things i take as good signs.

the waiting game continues. i will try and keep everyone updated.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

GOP plays hardball, DCCC rolls over and pees on self

DCCC Fundraising Video: A New Direction for America

the DCCC finally did something right and made a good ad. of course the GOP throws a fit. proving even a monkey can type Shakespeare by chance once, the DCCC pulled the ad.

if the rest of the world worked this way, ie. speaking the truth is just spin, ads campaigning against smoking by the AMA for example would have to be pulled for highlighting images of lung cancer because the doctors were using 'these horrible deaths' to benefit their cause ...

Monday, July 17, 2006

our young activism will frag your old elitism

(cross-posted from a comment i made on MyDD)

i am a young voter working on a local campaign where young voters may turn the race. although my people recognize that they are NOT young voters and have placed me on point for mobilizing young voter turnout, i find it incomprehensible how few people overall have bothered to learn about us.

repeatedly i have found myself biting my tongue as Baby Boomers lecture me on how i don't know anything about young voters, that all the research performed at Harvard is bunk and that the only way to get young voters to turn out is to rent limos to drive them to the polls. in spite of the level of debate one can easily find on MyS, in chat rooms and at coffeeshops about important legislation, i am told that young voters aren't informed, don't care and will only turn out if there is some immediate payoff (like a limo ride) in it for them. and i find myself thinking...

'It will serve you right if we don't turn out if this is the way you are going to view and treat us.'

'Apparently, activism in the iPod generation doesn't count the way it did in the LP age,' my cynical side snarks, 'or at least not as much given the persistence of self-righteous dismissal by Baby Boomers and the MSM even when it occurs at remarkable levels, across partisan divides, and changes the political landscape.'

traditional political bodies continue to speak down to young voters - when they bother to speak to them at all - and drive them further away with polemic rhetoric. contemporary attempts to improve things using the 'old' protest system generally fail, and an insidious hopelessness pervades young voter consciousness.

so now we begin a new approach...

young activists have begun to move away from traditional protests and toward more organized yet non-partisan activism through groups like The League of Pissed-off Voters. they speak among themselves, investigate issues on their own, spurn traditional and untrusted news sources, and make their own organizing decisions more and more outside the framework of partisanship.

if they want to keep their issues on the table long-term, Baby Boomers had best take note because we are mobilizing our roommates, turning up at the polls in increasing numbers, and voting our issues, and as much as i hate to quote Mayer, he is right,

"one day our generation is gonna rule the population."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

why Ken Gordon rocks...

from his most recent newsletter (i'll link to it as soon as it is up on their webpage):

Petition in support of Fair Elections: Tom Vilsack, the Governor of Iowa, recognizes the critical role that Secretaries of State sometimes play in shaping the outcome of important elections. To highlight the importance of having fair, honest and impartial election officers, his organization is delivering a "VOTES Declaration" petition to all 50 current Secretaries of State. (VOTES stands for Verifiable, Objective, Tough, Equal and Secure.)

If you care about free, fair and honest elections go to to read and sign the petition. It doesn't cost anything.

The current administration in Washington has done nothing to provide access to affordable health care for people. It has done nothing to help people who are not wealthy or in the pharmaceutical or oil industry. It can either face the justified wrath of the people in the next election or it can divert the attention of the people to some "other," for instance illegal immigrants, which they tell you are the source of your problems.

"Don't let them trick you either here or in Washington.

Smite them with your votes."

go ahead. do it. smite them. all it takes is registering to vote. heck, if you get an absentee ballot, you can even smite them from your home while the Chromehounds server is resetting.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Salazar supports something besides the erosion of civil liberties

"Finally, this week also saw the National Park Service unveil new proposed management rules which restore the 90-year-old management principle to “First, do no harm” and abandon efforts to institute a less protective approach to park management. Over the past year and a half, I have repeatedly pushed former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, current Interior Secretary Kempthorne, National Parks Service Director Fran Mainella, and others in the Administration to re-think their proposed rules which would have decreased protections for National Parks. I am delighted that they have done so."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

teen runaways- UPDATED

my brother's 14 year-old stepdaughter ran away from home. [i will post more details when i am up to it.] she has been missing over 48 hours now. we are all limited to praying and hoping and waiting. one thing i have discovered is the paucity of resources for families in this situation (or dealing with other 'troubled teen issues) and the difficulty finding them. it is an excellent example of how hard it is to find anything on the internet when there is a buck to be made (witness the huge number of 'informational sites' designed to convince you to ship your kid to their affiliated boot camps). in addition, it a) demonstrates how few states actually have resources for helping at-risk or troubled teens and b) how limited the national resources appear to be (at least on the surface). the one listing i found for resources organized b state jumped directly from Idaho to Kentucky with nothing in Illinois, Iowa, or Indiana.

so far, this is what i have found. please post any other reputable resources in comments as they would be very welcome. also, if i have been 'tricked' regarding any of the below resources, please let me know. i will report our experience with them as it unfolds.

Just in Case... Runaway: a brochure from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on handling all aspects of responding to a runaway situation. so far this is most helpful thing out there and some of the steps should be taken within the first hours if possible so download right away if you are in a similar situation.

Team Hope: The mission of Team H.O.P.E. is to assist families with missing children by offering counsel, resources, empowerment and emotional support from a trained volunteer, who has had or still has a missing child.

National Runaway Switchboard: We are the federally-designated national communication system (hotline and website) for runaway and homeless youth.

Focus Adolescent Services: Focus Adolescent Services is an internet clearinghouse of information and resources on teen and family issues to help and support families with troubled and at-risk teens.

Another article on what to do.


UPDATE 10:30pm 6/22
after being missing close to 72 hours, my niece has been 'caught' and is currently headed home. we are certainly not out of the woods, esp given she is not coming home of her own choice, but at least we know she is safe for now. we are taking a careful and supportive approach in the hopes of truly sorting out what is going on and helping her find safer ways to express her feelings.

thank you all so very much for your support–


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

what i did on my summer vacation

well, i had intended to tell the story of my road trip to Arizona. unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, i remained so swamped with work that there simply wasn't time before my trip home. instead, it looks like i get to tell the story of my trip home, which is even more entertaining.

Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
TraV being the best boyfriend ever, or perhaps just hedging his hero points for some future act of dopey manness, flew out to Phoenix to make the 989 mile road trip home with me.he did this even knowing that Elise threw up the first 200 miles of the trip out and Head did this incredibly pathetic smoke alarm mew every four seconds for the first 250 miles each day. (now that is a keeper!)

we tried to set out early but with checking out, loading a month's stuff in the car, loading the cats in the car, it was a generous ten o'clock before we hit the highway. the first couple hours went as about expected. Elise dry heaved and Head mewed as pathetically as could be anticipated–and then some. i drove us out of town and up past Flagstaff while TraV napped. we stopped for lunch and TraV took over driving while we grooved to excellent tunes on Star 97.5. once we hit the end of their transmitter range, the trip slowly slipped downward.

the Jackrabbit- classic kitch
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
although we did enjoy The Jackrabbit, an old standby from Route 66, the desert was wide, the cats unhappy, and the AC inconsistent. the day took a sharp downward turn when Head escaped at a filling station where there were about 15 Harleys revving and cruising. he shot pretty quickly toward the wide expanses but luckily TraV and a stranger were able to corner him. TraV tried to grab him and Head shot over his shoulder to be caught midair by the stranger. it was a miracle of reflexes. after that, i was a bit of a stress mess for too long, and we had a bit of a squabble.

things started to perk up again when we hit the 'Museum of the Americas International Petrified Forest – Dinosaur Park'. from their 'informational fact sheet' and map, i quote: " This facility of the dream of those who created it." alas, we did not get to enjoy the 3 mile loop of painted desert with dinosaur casts in 'lifelike' poses as we lost the light.

snack time
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
there was no way we were going to be make it to the halfway point (Santa Fe) that night or even the second best (Albuquerque) before dinner. as we passed through Gallup, we started trying to decide whether to stop for food in Grants and continue on thereafter or to stop in Grants/Acoma for the night. though the process of finding a hotel on the fly is much easier since the advent of the cell phone, the reputable hotels (with restaurants) were full up and the Holiday Inn Express overpriced with only one room and no dinner option. that left us with choices of the Sands Motel (vintage 66) which only had a smoking room or Albuquerque. somewhere in here, i remembered there was a casino with an attached hotel just past Grants. i found a phone number on an ad in the AAA Guide Book and called. they only had a suite left but it was just a touch more than the room at the Holiday Inn Express. because it was part of a casino, we figured it was worth the difference for knowing there would be good availability of drinks, dinner and possibly a little entertainment to relax us after the long day. we settled on the casino in Acoma though TraV repeatedly insisted he didn't want to be in a coma. of course, this took forever for us to sort out so we ended up missing the exit and involved more bickering. (what can i say? we were tired, stressed out and hungry, driving in the middle of ghost town USA.)

the casino/hotel is Big Sky Hotel, though after our stay TraV decided it should be renamed. (more on that later.) we were checked in by a somewhat surly clod and first tried to settle the cats in. of course, they were not allowed and so this led to more stress. the suite seemed nice enough though the jacuzzi was a premade liner with a paucity of jets and the lamps were missing light bulbs. in addition, it apparently was high school graduation week and our room was directly over an incredibly loud party on the main floor. still, it was this or 1 1/2 more hours on the road.

after a long search of the room and 'Guide to Amenities', we proved to ourselved there was no menu or option for room service. not a huge deal as we were looking forward to a beer or three (TraV's words) to relax after all our misadventures and bickering. we figured we would just eat in the bar. so we set off downstairs to discover there was no bar. we had happened upon what is probably the only dry casino in the west. this bothered us much more than would seem reasonable given how little we typically drink, but we had really be counting on the winddown ritual of a drink. ah well. we could make the best of it with dinner in the main restaurant and possibly a little blackjack for TraV.

we found the main restaurant and waited to be seated in the haze of cigarette smoke at the entryway.

and waited.

and waited.

and waited.

finally, after about 10 minutes of being ignored, a lady finally came over and asked if we wanted the buffet. she had menus in her hand and so TraV asked whether it would be possible to order something to take up to our room. she sighed exaggeratedly and said, 'If you wanted that, why didn't you order room service?'

we explained that we had found no evidence of room service in our room at which point she cut us off to say, 'The menu is IN the drawer.' TraV pointed out that he had looked in ALL the drawers twice which she disputed. to avoid this dragging out, TraV asked if we could take a menu to our room to review so we could place an order.

'No. You can't have one of our menus. If you want a menu for room service and can't find yours, you will have to talk to the desk. Otherwise, you can look at this menu and order from me and then wait and take your order up.' this was apparently her idea of a compromise. somehow, this didn't strike us as much of a solution, especially given that this was outcome of us giving ourselves a little 'treat' so we headed to the front desk, where i explained our experience and provided my own set of choices to the front desk man who had checked us in: either give us a menu and a light bulb NOW or give us our money back and we will push on through to Albuquerque. after a few moments of sullen silence, he forked over the menu and promised a maintenance man would be up soon.

back in the room, we reviewed the menu and i went to comfort the cats (who were freaking out) while TraV placed our order. first try: 'Room service. Can I help you?' raucous noise–giggling and music– in the background. 'Yes, I would like to place an order.' 'Please hold.'

and hold

and hold

and hold.

TraV finally hung up and redialled. this time there was no answer at all after~30 rings. he tried again and after 15 rings, they finally answered. same girl.

'Room service.'
'Yes. I was trying to place an order but got stuck on hold.'
'What do you want?'
TraV starts to give the order but gets cut off.

'We aren't serving those things today. Today we are only serving a limited menu.' she rattled off the 12 choices and then impatiently repeated them at the same speed while TraV tried to sort things out. TraV gave up and put her on speakerphone and had her repeat it again to us both. i still have no idea what the list was but heard something i recognized and so ordered that. TraV sent me to take a bath while he waited for the total. ten minutes passed and i was starting to wonder what was up. TraV popped his head in–'I'm still on hold waiting for the total.' another ten minutes and he finally gave up and hung up.

by this time, we just wanted to get to sleep as fast as possible so we could check out as soon as possible. the food was only ten minutes later than initially promised and was tasty for what it was but we were exhausted and getting depressed. on top of it all, we had forgotten to order beverages in the midst of it all so TraV went to the soda machine on our floor, and then to the one on the second floor, and then to the ground floor before finding a machine that would allow him to buy a beverage.

after a lackluster showing for our dinner, we collapsed about 1 am with the alarm set for 8am. we slept well enough, in spite of the giggling and screaming and thumping music and checked out of the Big Suck Helltel post-haste in the morning.

adfsback on the road, we made fairly decent time through Albuquerque, Santa Fe and heading up to Las Vegas–Las Vegas, New Mexico that is, home of the man who killed Billy the Kid. the only notable event occurred when TraV ran over a suicidal chipmunk that attacked the car (twice). we comforted ourselves that perhaps this sacrifice to the goddess of road trips would aid us in securing a less eventful trip. we stopped in Vegas for lunch, and after great searching found an open restaurant and nearby shady spot for the car. the Plaza Hotel–housing the restaurant and saloon–was historic (incredibly old) with excellent photos and history to share.

from there, it is a long no-man's-land to the Colorado border. all the alleged 'towns' are ghost remnants from the Gold rush with none of 'Modern Services' or 'Restaurants' that are so loudly touted on navigation signs. this would not normally be a problem as i am often irked by urban sprawl and enjoy gazing at wide expanses, but this leg of the trip was in keeping with everything else.

i had taken back over driving when we left Vegas and TraV was drifting in and out of a covert nap when suddenly all hell broke loose on the dashboard. the thermostat gauge had been intermittently flatllining since my road trip to Phoenix and was now doing so with increasing frequency. however, the new thing was a sudden and foreboding flashing of the 'Check Engine' light that continued a while and then went to a non-flashing state about the time i hit a place we could pull off. things looked quite unassuming under the hood, so we started by checking the oil (somewhat low–this relates to an ongoing mystery leak the mechanics have mever been able to pinpoint) and coolant (also maybe somewhat low). we topped them off and then headed along the road to find a service station to pick up replacement supplies. having no other ideas and knowing there would be no luck finding a mechanic on a Sunday in the middle of a holiday weekend, we decided to get back on the road.

TraV took over driving. now, Esther (the car) and i have been through a lot together but we had never experienced a flashing 'Check Engine' light so i pulled out the manual. this is what the manual had to say:

"When the 'Check Engine' light is flashing, severe catalytic converter damage and power loss may follow."

being sensible, TraV started contigency planning out loud for if Esther did in fact experience severe catalytic converter failure, which led to more bickering because i wasn't ready to think about abandoning my car, however temporarily, in New Mexico and was too upset to clearly explain this to him. (poor TraV–between my PTSD and excessive recent travel–it is remarkable that he tolerates me at all!) eventually we were able to untangle things and find a happy medium for coping with this new issue. in the meantime, the heat gauge red-lined, which i had not seen before but which TraV had seen and unsuccessfully tried to convey to me when the original check engine light flare-up occurred. we stopped, again, to pop the hood and stare at the engine as it continued its mild-mannered idling. finally, we decided the gauge or its wiring was the issue and the engine was probably not going to implode–and what could we do anyway, if it were to try? we decided to ignore all the lights and instead go by the engine performance and hope for the best. i kept a close eye on the cats just in case need arose for emergency extraction though...

thankfully, other than arriving much later than we would have liked, the rest of the trip passed uneventfully. the car did not explode, no cats went free range and we appear to still really like each other in spite of all the disasters... maybe the chipmunk sacrifice helped after all...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Fly me to the moon...

Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
i make a good auntie. although i have been behind on uploading the pictures, i must admit i rock. not that i am the true visionary in the group. TraV holds that title. it was TraV who made all the right choices for ship controls from the voice distortion unit to the laser guns.

anyway, it was all for a very good cause. it was for Liam's third birthday. Liam is just the coolest kid.

my current favorite Liam trick:
Brack, Liam's dad, asks him, "Do you love Mommy?"
of course, Liam's response, a resounding "Yes!"
then, "Do you love Daddy?"
another resounding "Yes!"
this goes on until we have exhausted everyone Liam knows, all the way down to the pet turtle.
then, "Do you love George Bush?"
an emphatic head shake. "NO! George Bush is trouble."

anyway, check out the rest of the rocket ship photos to appreciate the bubble windows, laser guns with gunports, and advanced navigation system. if this career as a specialist doesn't work out, perhaps i can get a job with NASA?

Friday, April 21, 2006

immigration and the living wage

i spent most of the night on the phone with my lil brother, a very smart, wonderful man. he is a general contractor in Iowa, owns his own business with 4 guys working for him. he does excellent work and looks out for his guys, no one would argue that, but he hasn't worked in 5 weeks.

now, that isn't to say he hasn't been working. he has been working his butt off trying to land a contract but to no avail.he has called everyone he knows, but no luck. the funny thing is there are $300,000 condos going up all over the area, yet no one has anything corporate to offer.

just last week, he had this bid on a big project that he thought was really going to bail things out. insulation work at 65 ft for a big facility. his bid came in at $28,000. that comes out to $115/sq ft plus soffit cost, or $25 over market cost. the next lowest bid was 35K and the one above that 52K. at the last minute, a bid came in at 17K and he lost the contract. here is what my brother says:

almost half. that is almost half our bid. at 65 feet mind you. there is no way anyone could do that unless there ain't a guy on the project that speaks a lick of English. i'm not passing judgment or nothin'-i mean everyone has got to eat-but there is just no way to beat that.

besides breaking my heart, because he is after all my baby brother and i cannot protect him, two things stood out.
1. my brother may not be able to hold his business together much longer given the unfair market pressures of an illegal workforce, but he has the sense not to blame the immigrants for also just trying to put food on the table.
2. no one should be risking their lives/welfare working for so little.

these to me are the talking points of immigration reform:
1. we need to crack down and hard on employers to give US workers a fighting chance and decrease the incentive for illegal immigration.
2. if we don't make a living wage a priority for all workers, there will always be someone more desperate for food and more willing to sacrifice safety and quality.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

i <3 Ken Gordon

i thought i was pretty sold on Ken when he walked all the way across the state to save Colorado, decided he was without doubt the bee's knees when he jumped out of the airplane, and declared i couldn't be more sold when he reported in his newsletter about his son's struggle over whether cookies are leavened or not.

i was wrong.

Contact: Ken Gordon
Thursday, April 20,

DENVER-Secretary of State candidate Ken Gordon announced today that he will make himself available to assist the Republican Party in the counting of votes at their May 20th convention.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Republican Gubernatorial candidate Marc Holtzman is considering circumventing the convention process, citing "too many unanswered questions" and "a potential for widespread fraud and manipulation" in the handling and counting of ballots. Holtzman faces Congressman Bob Beauprez in the Republican primary.

In a news report in the Rocky Mountain News, Dick Leggitt, Holtzman campaign manager, pointed out that at the 2004 Republican convention, 400 more people voted than attended.

"The Holtzman-Spradley campaign appears to have legitimate concerns about the ability of the Republicans to accurately count the votes in their own preference poll," said Gordon. "In the interest of bipartisan cooperation, I am glad to offer the Republican candidates my assistance in the counting of votes at their convention."

"I am completely neutral in the race between Mr. Holtzman and Congressman Beauprez. I think that neither candidate is any better than the other," Gordon added.

Ken Gordon kicks heiny.

this cautionary reminder courtesy of the Colorado walk website...

hat tip: johne at soapblox colorado

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

always room for one more

believing firmly that there is always room for more insanity, i have signed up to arrange a Fort Collins canvass as part of the 50 States Campaign. this probably doesn't sound that bad, if you don't know that i am leaving town on a 15 hour road trip with two cats three hours before the canvass is to occur. still, i have never stuck with the easy way and would hate to start now. (don't worry-i have an onsite partner in crime. i do the planning, she does the execution.)

so far, i have contacted all the local candidates for the mid-term election about getting their campaign literature plus/minus their participation in the event. efforts to involve the LarimerDems and CSU Young Dems continue semi-successfully. there still remains much to do and many materials to collect. it continues to astound me how much data is not centralized and how hard it can be to bring like-minded people from multiple organizations together. in any event, i would encourage all of you to find and assist with a 50 States Event near you!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

fox, meet henhouse...

is it just me or is this a bad idea?:

One proposal calls for scrapping the current system of accreditation, which has been done largely by private regional bodies, in favor of a National Accreditation Foundation that would be created by Congress and the president.

for a moment, let's leave aside the obvious problems with having an agency put together by politicians (e.g., people with political science backgrounds and with many priorities besides education) mandating standards for all types of undergraduate training in addition to overseeing the specialized fields of medicine, dentistry, law, and business (just to name a few). on the face of it, this would centralize accreditation and more closely tie the carrot (government funding) to the stick (loss of accreditation).

on the simplest level, accreditation is about assuring a minimum standard of quality and accountability for students and for future employers. how much havoc can politicians really wreak with regard to student achievement? oh wait. that isn't the only area evaluated by accreditation (bolding mine):

While each accrediting organization establishes its own standards by which institutions and programs are accredited, these standards all address similar areas, such as expected student achievement, curriculum, faculty, services and academic support for students, and financial capacity.

the FDA is mandated to address the safety of drugs and make decisions based on available science and yet emergency contraception continues to be held hostage to the Administration's stance on abortion.

by creating a National Accreditation Foundation, the Administration would essentially gain the ability to mandate all American education or lack thereof. subjects judged contentious by a politically-controlled body could be barred from the curricula (evolution, stem cell research and abortion) or forcibly introduced (creationism into the science classroom). standards limiting the ability for faculty to espouse views dissenting from the Administration's could be easily introduced.

the real surprise on this issue is how little press the potential ramifications have gotten. university presidents remain more focused on trading barbs with business recruiters (who gripe about underqualification in American graduates while continuing to lay off qualified professionals in the relentless quest to outsource all skilled labor positions to other countries).


this article brings up some interesting questions/points. unlike many in the blogoshere, i wasn't particularly shocked by this:

while 28% say he did nothing wrong.

the things i found more interesting and important are:

3 in 10 Republicans also find that Bush did something illegal or unethical.

The more closely people are following the issue, the more likely they are to say he did something illegal rather than merely unethical.

The poll, conducted April 7-9, 2006, shows that just 25% of Americans are following the matter "very" closely, while another 39% are following the issue "somewhat" closely.

to me, this is interesting/important because it shows that:

1. the stalwart unquestioning GOP base is eroding in the face of multiple scandals.
2. people aren't tuning in, possibility because the overload of 'politics as usual'/white noise has caused anergy.
3. if we can get them to tune in, Bush's support may bottom out, clearing the way for legal proceedings and 'healing.'

so the big question to me is what can be done to get people tuned back in? with the importance of the impending November elections, this no longer is an 'intellectual exercise.' given poll data on Bush and stories like this continuing to hatch, the GOP are very unlikely to maintain control if only we can get voters to plug in and turn out.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

happiness makes you lazy

things have been quite busy in the 'land of j,' but postings have been sparse-partially for fear of 'jinxing' the good, partially to avoid making too much of the bad, mainly though just out of laziness.

Mickey on moving day
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
first things first, Grandma is doing great! she was transferred from the hospital to [pulmonary] rehab just a few days after i headed home. as with all our women, she made great strides and, slightly unlike my memories of her mother, got all good marks on her 'report card'. she had a mere few days home trying to clean up the mess we made before i arrived back to help her move to her new digs. Mickey hadn't been so sure she was up for life at McKendree, what with it being full of so many 'old people', but she agreed that perhaps the time had come to not live in an apartment complex with 400 20something singles. after two days of 'You don't really need this,' i am sure she wanted nothing more than for me to get close enough for her to garrotte with her oxygen line. luckily, Mickey is naturally sunny-tempered and only beat me twice. (kidding!)

big truck, little stuff
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
Mickey's tolerance paid off big time when the movers came, for there was little to load; actually, according to the movers who go to McKendree a lot, we had just the right amount of stuff! once it was unloaded, it certainly didn't seem like 'just right' but that is always the way with boxes! because there was so little room to move, we decided to push through the unpacking process and had things mostly out within 24 hours. one more day of hard work and we found ourselves able to relax and tend to picture hanging and furniture shopping at a much more leisurely pace.

right after the move, there was a big windstorm that took out the power for over 4 hours. Mickey ended up changing her oxygen tank herself, in the hall, by the light of an emergency lantern! woman in charge, she is indeed! since then Mickey has been busy fitting bridge parties and social calls into her normal social calendar. in addition, she is doing so well medically, that her pulmonologist Dr. Miller has discontinued one of her medicines.

the biggest fly in the ointment has been the cat, Callie. she is Grandma's baby and has not generally been the nicest of creatures. unfortunately, McKendee does not allow pets and they aren't really hide-able given the twice monthly housekeeping (lucky dog, she is). Callie has gone to live with Pam and Rol, where she can still be visited by her ma at least weekly. the transition was more than a bit rough, as Callie expressed her displeasure by sneaking in to urinate on their bed, twice, but things are looking up:
'Callie is actually adapting quite well. She loves to sit on the dining room chairs and keep track of us. She virtually let me pet me yesterday. She and Glenn enjoy trading barbs, so to speak :) We think she's going to end up pretty civilized and almost pleasant.'

this is a huge relief for all for obvious reasons.

as for Mom, she has continued to have quite taxing problems with her left ear. Mom and i have been researching her symptoms and we think she has developed something called a patulous Eustachian tube. there seemed to be potential treatment options, if the diagnosis could be confirmed but we went round and round with her current ENT to no avail. he honestly appears to not care about her plight. happily, we appear to be on the verge of another miracle. Mom finally spoke to Jeanene about getting a second opinion; Jeanene got her an appointment with Dr. Shea Jr at the Shea Clinic for April 20th.

given the complexity of her case and Dr. Shea's location in Memphis, we decided we should send Dr. Shea a case summary in advance to maximize the potential benefit of her appointment. Mom emailed Dr. Shea last week and he actually called us that night to discuss her case, inform us he was certain of the diagnosis (the same we were suspecting) and to reassure us that he has a treatment solution that is fairly non-invasive. most importantly, it was obvious to us all that Dr. Shea actually understands how traumatic this condition is and really cares about its effect on Mom's quality of life. he is making arrangements on his end so that they can perform the corrective procedure, Eustachian tuboplasty, the day of Mom's appointment once they have confirmed the diagnosis. the relief this has provided has been profound for all of us, not just because of the potential cure in sight but because finally Mom has someone on her team that we trust really will give his all to help fix this horrible problem. since then, Mom has stumbled upon a number of people who have been to see Dr. Shea and they all say the same thing:
"I hear you're going to see John Shea - man's a magician."

Gordon Gee, the chancellor at Vanderbilt, actually went so far as to say he is going to write Dr. Shea to let him know how dear Mom is and to take good care of her!

with regard to me, my allergies have remained intractable and have actually be so bad as to force me to take a couple sick days. this last week, i was able to get my sass on enough to thoroughly clean the apartment, including removing and dusting all the books and moving all the furniture. knocking back the dust mites seems to have helped some, and i have some further environmental modifications in the wings.

leaving aside the allergies, i really feel the tide has started to turn. in spite of my two bum ankles, i have been exercising regularly at the gym and this week was able to carefully work out without my splints, aka torture devices. hopefully, if this keeps up, i will have the ligaments in fighting trim in time for backpacking season. research is picking up and i am [hopefully] on the cusp of getting another paper accepted for publication.

TraV in motion
Originally uploaded by jacquichris.
personally, wonderful things have also been happening... i have finally met a 'boy' with whom i really seem to fit. his name is TraV, he is always making me laugh (and vice versa), and as you can see, he is always in motion. we play videogames, watch hockey, talk politics (but not too much), and are looking forward to hiking together. most every time they talk, his Mom asks to make sure he hasn't 'screwed things up;' my friends like him so much they email me regularly to ask the same of me. Saturday will make two months, and i cannot remember the last time i was this happy. how cool is that?

the only thing left to complete my happiness would be to see the tides turning back toward a democratic America from this most Orwellian Amurka. as news like this continues to pile up and polls on every potential facet of the presidency hit record lows, one can only hope the waiting will soon be at an end. in the interim, i will keep an eye out for small islands and housing in Canada...