North Carolina spring

Ancient grandmother and young J, with Grandma passing on thousands of years of knitting lore to J, who took to it beautifully. She’s a sharp young woman!

Shortly before they head off to a three-year assignment in Italy (Italy!!!!!! ITALY!!!!!), I was blessed to get to visit eldest son Bassmaster and family in their current assignment in North Carolina, which, while they’re in a nice place and all… is not the Guam they loved so much.

When my boys were infants–actually, even before they were born–I began praying that one day they’d find the right spouse, the one who would complement and support them and whom they could provide the same goodness for. I’m thrilled to say they’ve all found fiercely loyal, intelligent, strong, loving women who do exactly that, and I love my DILs to pieces (not least for putting up with my sons’ … sometimes strange … behavior and proclivities).

This was one of the most relaxing visits I’ve had with them. I don’t often get to see Bassmaster’s family because they’re all over the world, or at least the country, and when they were in the same place for a long time, I didn’t have a job that allowed any paid vacation, so it was harder to visit. And heavens forfend Bassmaster should transcend his family role as the Noncommunicator and actually bring everyone to come visit me!

Young granddaughter J wanted me to teach her to knit on this visit. I’m more than thrilled to do that, although you can’t really teach a kid to knit in a week or so. There are too many details. But bless her, she managed to overcome my inability to explain what has become instinctive to me, and as shown, she knitted quite a respectable scarf for Lion (including a button to hold it into position!). She’s part of the long, long, long-standing tradition of my family: We are Makers. Her dad is also a Maker. Her great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were Makers. We are happiest when we’re using our hands to create things, sometimes of beauty, sometimes of… well, learning and improvement. But we use our hands and minds to bring into the world things that would not otherwise be there. I treasured the time to spend with her, showing her how to recognize and correct mistakes, fixing things she wasn’t quite up to, and just snuggling together on the couch companionably knitting together. Sure, there are lots of other “making” things I could teach her, but this is the one she was presently interested in.

A big proponent of art as a method of self-expression, the creation of beauty in an increasingly ugly world, and the development of skills such as Seeing (which is different from looking or seeing), I got her some watercolor pencils and paper hoping I could suck her into that universe, but maybe not yet. She wasn’t all that interested. I hope that her time in Italy, where some of the world’s most astoundingly beautiful art and science was first created/discovered (Michelangelo’s David… the Mona Lisa… Giotto… the Sistine Chapel… Modigliani… da Vinci… Galileo… oh, words and mixed-up time periods fail) will, I hope, awe and inspire her to create her own vision of the world as she’d like it to be, because she has a good eye and great creativity, and it would be really lovely to have a granddaughter who loves art as much as I do.

But even if she doesn’t, I’ll love her to pieces. She’s a marvelous young woman, smart, clever, older in some ways than her years and in others a bit younger. I hope like anything I get to visit them in Italy (for an extended enough period that we can visit other countries; though it’s a stretch, HOW I would love to trail around the country of my ancestors, Ireland. And I do have friends there whom we could visit! That is as much a part of her and my son’s heritage as the Italian-English side, and with a much older and different art tradition (J, look up Celtic art, especially ancient Celtic art, and you’ll see what I mean. The ancients somehow managed a combination of complexity, beauty, and reverence for their world, an understanding of their interconnectedness with their world, that has seldom, if ever, been matched). And there’s always the much-removed third cousin in England who’s a baronet with an Elizabethan manor house, and with whose father and himself I corresponded for several years. I’m sure he’d welcome a visit from the American cousins (ha ha ha)!

Since the above photo is the only one we managed to remember to take, we were all remiss—madly remiss—in the photo-taking category (should I be calling that the modern “image-taking”? I don’t care. I’m old. I spent 50 years taking photos professionally. They will remain photos to me as long as light is involved in their production).

I had wonderful, below-the-surface talks with my DIL J and elder granddaughter J (do we have a family blog-friendly nickname for either that I don’t know? There are a lot of Js in that outfit–Mom, granddaughter 1, grandson-in-law 1, granddaughter 2–as well as my son, many of which lasted well past midnight even though they had to go to work the next day. I wish we’d been able to carry some of those forward into daytime conversations, although the requirements of work and household things made that a little difficult.

One of the giggliest things of the visit was watching J play with her VR set, which I believe she’s named Optimus Prime. It’s a hoot watching her do all kinds of physical machinations for no apparent reason, although to her the VR is utterly absorbing and all the movements make perfect sense.

A great and I hope abiding joy was a lengthy conversation with my eldest granddaughter, another J, with whom I sat up til about 3 a.m.. the night before I left for home talking about values and family differences and the difficulty of being in a parent’s eyes a child whose opinions don’t count. I’ve been there; as an only child, even when I was professionally respected, my parents routinely dismissed my values and opinions as immature and unworthy. Not that J and Bassmaster don’t respect J-the-granddaughter, but it’s hard to be a young adult and try to assert opinions that are different from those of your parents. Even in my 40s, I had difficulty getting my parents to respect my choices and beliefs; it’s so much, SO much harder in your 20s, and my heart is with J and her new husband J (whom sadly I didn’t get to meet as he was on TDY) as they begin to make their way together in the world.

I was privileged to see Bassmaster’s and Mom J’s utterly gorgeous work with exotic and found woods, combined sometimes with epoxy and sometimes not, which they are doing in the garage (or were; I expect they won’t be in Italy). Bassmaster’s granddad (my dad) would be so very proud of him for trying these new things, working out the problems involved, and coming up with beautiful and useful finished objects, notably charcuterie boards. I fear I was not, however, very helpful in any way. Well, none of us is perfect.

We laughed. We had fun (at least I did). We ate wonderful Peruvian and Italian food (though I was surprised I couldn’t understand a word of the Peruvians’ Spanish). We kicked back and did nothing. We watched bad TV and laughed about it. The only thing we missed out on was that granddaughter 2 J said she wanted to hear Family Stories from my side, and boy, do I have them. But we got wrapped up in day-to-day things and forgot. Perhaps while she’s in Italy I can write them down for her and mail them over (if they can figure a way not to lose them, because at my age there’s no guarantee I might be able to write them again!).

North Carolina itself was lovely, with spring breaking forth quite a bit before it does here in New Mexico. I walked about a mile and a half a day, despite hip and SI joint issues, and enjoyed the blossoms (to which, miraculously, I seemed not to be allergic). The hardest thing: My ancestral family comes from the South. I grew up with people speaking South. I had to literally bite my tongue not to fall into the slow, lazy rhythms of Southern speech while I was there, for fear of making people think I was mocking them.

And then, all too soon, the visit was over and I had to come home. I mean, it’s nice and all to get back into your own bed and routines, but I adore my children and their families. Given a choice, I’d spend a lot more time with them than I do. Like most people’s kids, despite their (mild) imperfections, they are in my eyes perfect.

Thank you, Bassmaster, J, J, and J, for a wonderful visit. Here’s to an even better one in Italy soon!

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Birthdays, Christmases, and utter gullibility

All the motley clan, in the traditional disorganized fashion.

My antennae should have pricked when Northwood sent an email: “You’re coming up here on X weekend. I got tickets for you. Here’s the information.” It’s not usually like him to make plans without consulting me. But he didn’t.

So come Travel Day, when Mountain and Northwood picked me up, I had no suspicions. We reached his house. He was standing maybe 10 feet in front of me and, I think, had on a white t-shirt. I bent down to unlace my boots.

When I stood up, something was seriously wrong with Northwood’s face. It was too long, and his hair was the wrong color and cut… even his t-shirt was now dark. I was a good three or four breaths into a heart attack before I realized it wasn’t Northwood—it was Eldest, Bassmaster, with a smirk on his face (he’s the best at smirks).

I think I shrieked, and grabbed the nearly-middle-aged man for a hug (he gives the best hugs ever)—I hadn’t seen him in almost four years—and giggles and snickers accompanied the rest of his clan as they came out from various hideyholes. Much hugging and laughter and, on my part, tears and sniffles ensued.

Bassmaster and Mrs. Bassmaster, who always go to her family’s in South Dakota for the holidays, told me a bald-faced lie about why they were there. It amounted to “the blizzard (which really existed and was really bad) closed all the roads (I didn’t think to ask why that mattered if they’d flown), so we had to hole up here ’til things settle down. We’ll probably be leaving in the morning.” Gullible Mom (where she came from, I don’t know) swallowed it, proverbial hook, line, and sinker. Mrs. B. later said it was seriously difficult to look me in the eye and lie like that, but I don’t think it bothered Bassmaster!

They all know I go to bed at a ridiculously early hour because appallingly long sleep hygiene. But they poured me a little sample of whiskey, and in a favorite Bassmaster trick, kept refilling it while I was looking elsewhere. The annoying thing is this always seems to work, because I’m paying attention to the people, not the glass.

They kept me up, anyway, for another hour or two, when I heard a third male voice around the corner, and Snaotheus sauntered cheekily into the room. “Hi, Mom!” he said, as if this was no big deal. Predictably, I shrieked again and repeated the weepy-sniffles routine, and the rest of his clan joined us, causing yet more hugging and laughter.

This was the first time all three sons had been together with me and their families in about seven years—since Northwood’s wedding—and the first time the cousins had all been together ever, since Mountain is only three (and naturally monopolized my time—she’s too little to understand spreading one grandmother across five kids, one of whom is a newly married adult whom I didn’t get to talk to enough).

This event came about because, during the October visit to Northwood’s, he asked, “Mom, if you could have anything in the world for your birthday, what would it be?”

“To get to spend some time with you and your brothers and your families, all together,” I responded. “That would be the best gift ever.” (At my age, it could also be the last time.) Apparently he not only really heard me, but told Snaotheus, who is rather good at cat-wrangling, and back-chatter began about how to make this happen. Bassmaster was the last to be able to commit and the other two were a little concerned he might not make it, but he came through. He and Mrs. B. have recently gotten into creating utterly gorgeous charcuterie boards from spalted woods, exotic forest finds, epoxies of various colors and shimmers, and in several different shapes. Bassmaster had brought a flame maple one for me (which unfortunately will be at Northwood’s until the next time Northwood comes here, because it wasn’t going to fit easily in any plane-worthy container) and I think spalted maple for Mrs. Northwood. Gorgeous work; his grandpa would be so proud to see him doing such lovely woodworking. (Actually, their grandpa would be inordinately proud of the fine, accomplished men they’ve all become.)

Loaded spalted maple charcuterie board.
Everybody involved in making fleischkuechle and knephla for those famously rib-sticking ND foods.

Thus ensued a weekend during which we didn’t do a lot but talk and laugh and construct NoDak foods that involved everyone, a lot of dough, and a great big mess. The first evening Mountain made me read 23 books for her (her entire weekly allotment of library books plus a bunch of others). The pace didn’t slow much on other days, either. The girl loves her stories!

This may have been around book 18. Or earlier. Or later. (In the background, on the green bench, is the World’s Longest Lego Man made from all the Lego man pieces from the sons’ childhoods.)

Chilkat, Chilkoot, and Miss J spent a lot of time (with the occasional interruption—erm, contribution—from Mountain) building things with the Legos from their fathers’ childhoods—the good kind, that were intended to spur imaginative building, not the confounded kits they put out today that are basically complicated showpieces that nobody’s going to want to take apart to build something else with. One of their creations was the longest Lego man ever, constructed of all the bodies, torsos, and all the heads the brothers had collected over roughly 15 years. He filled the entire green bench to the right.

The only cousin missing is the adult Mrs. JJO
And the obligatory gingerbread house, in progress. Mountain made sure there was LOTS of glittery pink sugar on top. The others attempted more artistic approaches.

Bassmaster fired up the grill outside to fry the fleischkuechle we made (involving several slightly confused arguments about who remembered what about how they were made). We wound up with enough knephla soup to feed an army (and it was miraculously all gone by the time we left).

Fleischkuechle in all its deep-fried, seasoned-hamburger-laden glory.

Lots of beer and whiskey of many varieties was consumed, and on Sunday they went to breweries and I stayed home with the littles (read: mostly Mountain). While Mountain was napping, Miss J took the opportunity to ask me to teach her to knit; this time, rather than the yellow pencils and Kevlar cord we had to work with in Guam, we had actual needles and garden twine. It didn’t work a whole lot better, but when I see her next—hopefully soon—we will get the right tools and materials for the girl!

Chilkoot riding Mountain’s “tiny bike.” He also tried–and if he’d just pedaled one more time, would have gotten–the unicycle going. His father tried it and fell off… probably to the detriment of his bad back.

Real life intruded on Monday, when the Bassmasters had to go home; I came home Tuesday, and the Snaotheus clan headed out later on Tuesday. I’m sure the Northwoods were glad to get their gigantimous house back (it’s a miracle it held us all) and their usual routines back in place.

But ah, what a weekend. Individually, I’ve had Best Visits Ever with each of my sons over the years; this easily takes top prize as The Ultimate Top-of-the-line Best Visit Ever Involving All My Offspring and Descendants. It was fabulous. Thank you, guys and families, for taking the time and expense to come from both sides of the continent for me, and to Northwood for hosting; I love you all beyond all counting.

All the cousins and the Auld One.
Sons not cooperating with their mother–nothing new there!

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Visits and holidays, tra-la, tra-lee

This fall has had more travel than has occurred since Snaotheus and I drove down here summer before last.

First came a delightful visit with the Northwood family, wherein I not only got to read to my heart’s content to The Divine Miss M, but also to play train and dominoes and other games with her (most of the rules of which changed at whim, but hey, she’s little and I’m tolerant).

This started out as matching numbers, then morphed into making a road, then a train track. The girl has imagination!

We got to take a little hike out near a lake and watch prairie dogs, who weren’t the least bit worried about the presence of people, and down whose holes (especially by the trail) said Miss M kept wanting to peer, against all grandmotherly advice. She’s an adventurer, that one, and her parents are encouraging that trait. Good for them, I say. She’s pretty fearless, but has a good sense of when she might be getting outside her limits.

Prairie dogs got nothin’ on Dad for getting big smiles.

We also ate good food, some of which came from their garden, and I brought some home (the butternut squash was maaahvelous). And they decided that even though it wasn’t my birthday, it was close enough that I needed to have a cake. While L directed the show, Northwood and Miss M constructed a dark chocolate cake from scratch and L made a dark chocolate frosting whose name I’ve forgotten, but it was a buttercream made, I believe, on a pudding base so it wasn’t quite as rich and heavy as buttercream frosting normally is. (It was beyond scrumptious.) Once they put it together, Miss M shook sprinkles all over it, licked the dispenser, and sprinkled more for good measure. Northwood made a big G from chocolate chips and voila! Cake made and decorated. (It was fabulous, too. I brought some home, froze it, and had it on my actual birthday.)

I don’t think she was supposed to be sneaking batter licks at this point, but she did!
And there it was, waiting for us to dig in!

Despite declarations to the contrary, Miss M wasn’t quite ready to swap out her push-bike (can’t remember what they’re really called) for her pedal bike, even when Northwood took the pedals off so she could glide using her familiar feet as brakes. She’ll get there, if she hasn’t by now.

Northwood found a maybe 7′ Y-shaped tree branch on the ground and immediately declared it perfect for a huge slingshot, so the next half hour or so passed pleasantly watching him, neighbors, and neighbors’ children try to set it up, using, IIRC, resistance bands for the “sling” part, so they could shoot a soccer ball to the moon. They did manage to get it to go about 30′ before the branch broke.

I was also able to get measurements on the inimitable Doggo, so that I could make a Dreadful Sweater for him. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like any of the ones in the eponymous book involving Lester, but it was truly dreadful.

It was kind of novel having an entire (basement) floor to myself. Their house is enormous, and must seem like a palace to them after their little NoCal apartment. Miss M makes the most of the space, too, although she’s very good about keeping her toys in the playroom (because there is a tape boundary past which toys are not allowed, and if they transgress or are transgressed by an unthinking little hand, they go into time-out).

There is nothing in this world I enjoy more than spending time with my kids and their families. I think they think I’m a little kooky in that I don’t care if we actually do anything touristy–the closest we got was exploring the farmers’ market, going to M’s favorite playground, hitting the library, and going out to the prairie dogs and another lake–I just enjoy their company. Watching M and Northwood walk along fences three feet off the ground was entertaining enough!

Northwood showing M an old-style record player and explaining how the sound was contained in the ridges on the disc (at the library). I think he might have been more fascinated than she was.

Later on, Snaotheus and KrisDi brought me out for Thanksgiving. Both Snaotheus and I missed the kids’ “Seussicals” musical production (he was in Japan; I at home), but later in the visit we did get to see them perform downtown, where they sang a few numbers and did very well. I’m really proud of their progress and the confidence they have when performing. Theater has been good for them, and that confidence will be a great tool for them in the next few tumultuous years.

Rotten photo, thanks to Trogdor.

They also stuffed me full of delicious food, as per usual, and with the kids in school most days and Snaotheus and KrisDi working, I was able to get almost all my current test-knit vest finished (though I left behind a few stitch markers, also as per usual, though KrisDi found one. She’s amazing). Turkey Day was also fabulous, with all the usual suspects in attendance both on and around the table. I got to meet wee D, the newest addition to the Dubs clan, who is the cheerfulest, most agreeable little guy a person could ask for. And cute, too!

I am not going to discuss the treacherous wet yellow leaf pile that, after a three-block trek uphill, disguised a rock that grabbed my boot and threw me to the ground. My SI joint is still sore, but I didn’t break.

Snaotheus and KrisDi not-arguing over Boggle in the Fremont brewery. They have very different word-finding styles.

Got in lots of good visiting and laughter, and watched Chilkoot working diligently on his Lego jeep while his sister largely messed around with a dozen or so of the 3,678 stuffed toys she has. There may not actually be that many, but I’ll swear they multiply in the dark!

We even managed to get them to go outside one sunny day!
Chilkoot getting ready for his first throw with a boomerang. He actually got it to come back a couple of times!

The kids and I played a few games, one of which was in my Old Lady Opinion a horror (Cheaters’ Monopoly), which I couldn’t quite get the hang of and which had Chilkoot in tears a couple of times before I called a halt so they could eat dinner. They didn’t go back to it, so next morning I just put it all in its box. Monopoly is a brutal enough game without sanctioned cheating–this was like legalizing corruption in a corrupt society. Hmm. No apt comparisons there, eh?

While at least two thirds of my fellow plane riders each way were not wearing masks, I had on my ultra-super-fitting N-95 with the soft plastic rim (the same kind I used as an EMT when needed), that once adjusted properly doesn’t let in or out a molecule of extraneous air, and kept it on, dehydration and hunger be damned. It’s weeks later, and I still feel fine (except for the usual culprits), so I’m thinking it worked. Yay for infection control!

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My birthday stripper

My youngest (well, all of them, really) loves to wind me up. After my birthday last week, Northwood announced he was going to send a stripper to my house.

I told him gee, I was going to make plans to be out of the country that day.

“I’ll send one that’ll wait for you,” he responded.

“You do and I’ll haunt you so bad you’ll never have a minute’s peace!” I threatened back.

“Just watch,” he said. “Your stripper will show up next Friday. Be ready!”

Today is next Friday.

My stripper just showed up.

It’s a precision wire stripper, for 20 to 30 gauge, copper wire only, please.

You gotta love a kid like that!

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Threescore years and ten

and counting.

I’ve hit my Biblical threshold (threescore and ten = 70, in case you don’t remember what a score is). Even though every day before that was a gift, somehow every day since has felt like an extra-special gift. I’m sure that will fade with time, but for now, I’m enjoying the heck out of it. It’s good to feel grateful for being alive… still. Despite everything that’s tried (and trying) to kill me off.

Therefore, I’ve decided I’m going to do a Grandpa.

He took up cello at 68 because he’d always wanted to play it and never had the chance (he played violin and viola as long as I can remember, but cellos are expensive; he came into a small inheritance and bought one, then found and restored the pawn shop one you boys remember [it was later appraised at $10,000], which sounded much better than his “boughten” one, and which your father subsequently ruined by leaving it in the basement. I had to sell it for $250). He enjoyed it immensely for 10 years before he fell over dead one morning.

I’ve always wanted to play saxophone. I was shunted first from bass clarinet (which looks ridiculous on an 8-year-old child) to clarinet, even though I pleaded for sax… because it suited what the band director needed.

Screw that.

I’m looking around for a decent used alto sax and (assuming I can find one; I have a former music-teacher friend and two woodwind repair shops on the lookout for me, but there doesn’t seem to be one single band/orchestral instrument rental/sales place in Abq, which is WEIRD in a city of 800,000, and yes, I’ve contacted the school system) I intend to have a blast playing it. Even used ones aren’t cheap (if I can get a decent one for $700, it’ll be a steal; $900 makes me squeak but is more likely), but I’m living on gifted time. Why not do some things I want to do, have always wanted to do, and enjoy them as much as possible ’til I fall over? Plus, saxes tend to require a more definite touch than clarinets and flutes; hence Trogdor should be less of a problem even if I can’t find a mitigating waveform/frequency (but I think I will).

Yes, I could get a cheap-ass Chinese kit for $200. It would likely require $500 in work to be playable. It would sound like run-over tin cans. Not going there. My ear is too educated for that (remember, I’ve been reading and playing music since I was 2). I want to enjoy this, not fight with it.

Wish me luck in the hunt.

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Ripped-up ‘dream’ house

They say that dreaming about a house is really dreaming about your life—if you believe that sort of thing. It seems dream interpretation people in general hold pretty strongly to that line of thought. Look it up some time.

It’s been years since I had a “house” dream, and until this they’ve always been great, adventurous fun—a completely new house to explore, or a familiar house with new rooms and/or really interesting, beautiful, unusual, or ultra-futuristic things in the rooms, or unfamiliar but friendly and fascinating people to talk to. Each time, a new, unexplored room or area would appear. Sometimes a new (sports!) car would be in the garage or the driveway. Once the house contained a complete new apartment within itself, and another time a superbly equipped new kitchen with all the appliances turquoise. They were entertaining dreams. I liked them. I also haven’t had one in probably eight or ten years.

Last night I had an unsettling “house” dream—the first like this. The house was mine—I knew that, though I couldn’t tell it from looking. Wallpaper and drywall were ripped off and hanging, broken and shedding gypsum. Holes had been kicked and hammered in the walls; electrical wires, plumbing, and similar internal structure torn out and left lying, some of it rusty, on the floor. Smoking green fluids pooled here and there, leaving holes around them. Complete inside walls had been torn out, exploded, or otherwise destroyed. Construction disaster covered floors in piles that it took some effort to climb over or get around. Floor joists stuck up, broken, looking for a chance to stab a person in the chest (or it felt that way in the dream). Appliances were pulled out, twisted out of shape, sparking, and kind of frightening. The ceilings, roof, and exterior were in equally bad shape. It looked as if a hurricane and tornado had collided and fought it out on my poor wee house.

I remember feeling appalled, but not surprised or angry; I just started cleaning. My kids were there. They were livid, trying to clean things up, and seriously angry.

My children’s father was also there. Just watching.


I don’t know what to think about this. I don’t believe dreams in general have any real meaning; yet I don’t see how something like that could have anything to do with consolidating memories, solving problems (which I’ve had happen many times in dreams), or anything on that order. Nor do I think of my life as a wreck. It has wrecky parts, but so does everyone else’s.

It’s a mystery, and I hope it doesn’t come back!

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More than 70 years…

… and this is still happening. Talk about a bottomless well of abysmal ignorance.

Me to Alaska Airlines:

Dear Alaska,

I like flying your airline. It has a direct flight to my son’s place, for one thing. And it’s at our local airport! With planes and everything! And tarmac! Only problem is…

My son just tried to get one of your customer service agents to change the name on my ticket to match the name on my TSA Pre-check info. I live in NEW MEXICO.

Please to notice NEW.

We have been a state—one of the 50!—since 1912, and since then have had enough bozos across the country not know that that our state magazine has been able to publish, every month for at least the 60+ years I’ve been alive, a piece called “One of Our 50 Is Missing.” That’s 828 articles about eight hundred twenty-eight ignoramuses who think we’re foreigners.

Guess why? Because somebody, somewhere, ALWAYS insists that we’re a foreign country, and subject to all sorts of extra fees and costs. Which is what this CS agent demanded my son shell out.


ONE. HUNDRED. TEN. YEARS. 110, in case that helps. We are home to the oldest continuously inhabited city in the entire United States.

Please to inform your customer service people of this. We do tend to get a little tetchy about it after this long. And I would really rather not switch airlines.

Thank you ever so much

Alaska back to me:

Hi. We do not charge to change the name on a reservation, and that would need to go through our reservation department at 800-252-7522 or text 82008. They would be happy to assist 🙂

– Brandy

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Naming the Beast, Part 1

Being heartily fed up with calling the tremor “the tremor” or “the damned shaky hands,” I have decided to name it.

I’ll grant it’s a bit of a throwback, but here it is: That monster is now Trogdor the Treminator.

Who knows which of my stinking chronic conditions will be next? Oh, the tension!

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I have news for you, Google Maps.

Even though I am a child of l-o-n-g distances and have driven longer ones (3,000 miles in three days once, alone), I had a little trepidation about driving the 500+ miles to Northwood’s house. It’s been, after all, more than two decades since that last long drive, 100-200 is about the most I’ve done in quite a long time, and I have sleep issues that didn’t exist then.

Add to that the fact that I have no maps (next time, I bring my old atlas tattered and torn); I have to depend on Google. When it tells you “go this way to avoid that,” and you’re looking at your phone screen, there’s no way to check out the geographical context and see if it’s making a geographically reasonable recommendation. That’s probably why people drive into rivers and oceans and off cliffs while using Google Maps.

Then there’s the “intermittent fatigue” thing; since my lengthy (three-month-plus) bout with extremely severe GI issues, starting last February (which I’m sure has turned out to be long covid but I didn’t test so can’t prove it), I’ve been hit usually around mid-morning with the kind of fatigue you get after surgery. Not the “yawn, gee, I’m tired” kind, but the “I feel fine, I’ll go do this, it’s going well, WALL SMACK THUNK” kind that unpredictably knocks you if not on your ass, at least onto whatever horizontal surface is nearby.

So yeah, I was a little apprehensive about the drive, and that doesn’t help, either. But all was going well—I only drank three or four ounces of the Ultra-Strong Coffee I took with me around the time the wall usually rises up and growls “feed me,” and wasn’t doing badly.

Pulling off the freeway at Raton to get gas, I picked up some snack stuff, too. Started to head back to the freeway when the Google voice—I’ll swear it had a frantic inflection—said, “Turn right on US 64 to avoid a two and a half hour construction slowdown on I-25 north.” (Read the italics as if the world is ending.)

I debated ignoring it, but decided not to. US highways in NM can be a little rough, but they’re usually pretty good. So I drove my 27 miles, turned left, and (O, foolish me) listened to Google. “Turn right on County Road 34.1 and…”

Oh, shit! I thought. I knew what this meant for the probably 800 miles to get back to the freeway. See, many county roads in NM are dirt. Not even graveled. Just rutted dirt with potholes the size of Rhode Island, often little more than single lanes, and studded every quarter-mile or so with poorly to un-maintained cattle guards.

Evidently, no one has ever informed Google of this fact.

And I was right. All told it was about a 70-mile detour (to get me from Raton to Trinidad, Colo.—about 30 miles apart), all but 27 of which was on squirrelly dirt roads with a max suspension-saving speed limit of about 45. I tried to take delight in seeing four pronghorn antelopes, two longhorn cattle, a bunch of black angus, and a few listless, bored horses. It didn’t help, though I did think about trading the car for one of the horses and heading out as the crow flies rather than the road twists.

Eventually, it got me back to the freeway, and possibly even around the 2.5-hour construction delay. But it had taken 70 miles and three full hours to “save” me from that delay.

I was no longer inclined to trust Google Maps, and the journey wasn’t even half over.

By the time I did finally arrive (suspension intact!), I’d learned that sometime in the last 20 years, it’s become a Thing to rocket through downtown Denver at 90 mph; run into delays for three crashes (other people’s, thank goodness) and a stalled car (ditto); and had Google tell me to get off I-25 north to stay on I-25 north. A lot of construction was going on in that area, and once again, the Goog didn’t know what the ever-lovin’ peewaddins it was doing: I got off, went halfway around an unfinished traffic circle, then right back onto the same I-25 I’d been on and would have been a quarter-mile farther along had I ignored it.

By the time I arrived at Northwood’s it was about two hours later than I’d expected (I guess 90 mph made up some of that 40 mph time, eh?) and I was utterly drained and useless. Fortunately my granddaughter, The Divine Miss M, is generous with her energy and unflagging cheerfulness, and Northwood and Mrs. Northwood are … well, Mrs. Northwood is a kind and welcoming hostess. My son, of course, just kind of shrugged at me and the two of them looked at each other a few times during my tale and grinned: “Oh, yeah, we forgot about that part.”

Lest that not be enough, we have also now set up my hand-me-down iPhone from Snaotheus, which means I have no idea how trustworthy this version of Google Maps will be. Once I get to I-25 south, I am not getting off it for love, money, nor anything else but gas.

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Adios, R

R passed peacefully this evening, with L, two of his kids, and a spouse or two there reading to him and playing cello. They’d moved him to a quiet hospice room with lots of windows and light, and fresh air blowing through, along with more privacy. I don’t think a person could ask for a better exit. Mind how you go, LeftBrain; may your journey over the black sand be swift and sure, and the party be richer for your presence. Much love to you and yours, L.

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Bad days become worse days

It’s been a tough week here in Albuquerque. And more so in Tennessee.

I’ve been the intermediary between a knitting friend and the many people we know in common while her husband has been in an induced coma in cardiac ICU. Today, Google kicked me over the top.

L, R, and some friends were hanging out the other day when R, her husband, just dropped to the floor. He’s had A-fib for a while, but I thought it was pretty well controlled. He had no pulse, so they immediately started chest compressions.

(Aside: CPR has a much better reputation than it deserves. Most people believe the CPR stories they see on medical dramas are true, and they aren’t. They don’t do the compressions properly or in the right place (given what they can do with props, it wouldn’t be difficult to make it look right), and there’s only like a 20% survival rate overall–not just among young, middle-aged, or old people, but all people who have CPR done outside a hospital. Surveys show most people think survival rate is around 75%, and with no neurological damage. Among people my age, that survival-to-discharge-from-hospital number drops precipitously (like to 5%) and also comes with danger of broken ribs, lacerated livers, and more. The first three or four days afterwards are quite dangerous, especially for the brain. No one, but no one, pops up immediately after CPR and says, “Oh, what a lovely day! Let’s go for a six-mile run!” This is why I have a DNR. If my heart stops while I’m eating ice cream with you, just let that be my last sight.)

At the hospital, the bloodwork showed no enzymes indicating heart damage (so no MI–myocardial infarction, or heart attack). The best they could figure was some weird electrical pulse and the A-fib collided at the wrong time. They put R in an induced coma (to prevent some of those dangerous things) and yesterday, started trying to bring him out.

He was unresponsive.

He remained unresponsive.

They did an MRI, and L heard the words “global hypoxic event” along with some others she didn’t quite catch (or take in). “Global hypoxic event” means the brain was deprived of oxygen long enough to have affected function in all of its systems, and no way to know how much. It is not a phrase you ever want to hear; it most likely means “the heart may be beating, but no one is home nor will ever be again.” In fact, L said, “I think he’s gone. We may have saved his body, but everything that makes him who he is is gone.”

So today she and her kids made the decision to withdraw life support. I don’t know the status right now; she’ll call or text when she has the bandwidth for it. His body could live for an undetermined amount of time, or it could go quickly. I hope for a quick, gentle exit for all their sakes.

In all this, I’ve been delivering bad news to our common friends, sometimes a couple of times a day, and fielding/passing along love and sympathy. I had no idea how painful bearing nothing but bad news could be. But it is excruciating.

Today, I had to tell everyone that R was gone. That tore me up badly enough that I wasn’t sure I could even make it to the endocrinology appointment made last October.

I had to drive way way out to the new guy’s, and just as I got to the part of town I don’t know at all, Google suddenly decided to cut out voice direction (it’s not reception; I’ve driven out there before with no problem). On these freeways, you don’t pull over and stop to try to figure out the problem if you value your life and your car. All I could do was balance the damn phone on my knee, try to read the badly reflecting screen, read signs, add “in 1.3 miles” to what was on my odometer, watch traffic, avoid crazy drivers, try not to look like a crazy driver, and hope. It is a flat-out miracle that I got there in one piece. I still have no idea why that happened, but 25 miles of that was about all the extra stress I could handle for one day.

When their touch-screen check-in didn’t work, I lost it. Fortunately, they were very kind and helped me get at least a tiny grip, so I could get into the exam room before I started to blubber.

I managed to get through the appointment OK; and I got home. Those are miracles enough for one day. My heart is broken for L and her family, and she’s far enough away that I can do nothing practical to help her except take this little burden of message-delivering off her shoulders. I’m glad to be able to do that, even though it hurts. I can’t imagine the pain she’s enduring (with her usual clear-eyed courage, pragmatism, and dignity), moving from half of a happy couple with lots of retirement plans to a widow so suddenly and unexpectedly.

This is so unfair. Sometimes, life sucks like a brand-new jet engine.

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I just sat on

my foxgloving “dinner.”

Which was a bowl of cereal I’d set on the couch while I went to get something. When I came back maybe 90 seconds later–okay, maybe 120–I’d forgotten it was there. Didn’t even look. Just sat on it.

A bowl of cereal.

Apparently I have a really flat ass, because not a drop of cereal, protein powder, or almond milk left the bowl or transfered itself to my person.

Man, I am SO calling that a win. And laughing my ass off. I can be such a dope!

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Hey, sir!

For the second time this week, a store clerk (in two different stores) called me “sir.” Given that I’m about as cis-het as you can get, I find this both humorous and bizarre. This has never happened before, even though I’ve had super-short hair for, golly, six or eight years now. I don’t quite know what to think.

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Yet another mil(l)estone

The thing about getting older is that you start to lose parts of yourself. They don’t seem like important parts at first–it’s harder to bend over to pick things up, it takes longer to do things, you know that drill.

But then you start losing things that are part of your identity. Parts without which you can’t imagine still being yourself.

That bloody tremor is one of those things. It’s reached a point such that I have to hold with both hands a small measuring cup filled with water in order to pour it straight-ish (no guarantees). Using my fountain pens went out the door years ago. The only way I can type half decently is to anchor my hands and wrists to the keyboard and only use my fingers (which still double- and triple-tap keys, but trying to hold my hands in proper typing position provides only gibberish). It’s stolen my precision, my accuracy, the things that made me good at much of my profession (and things I really enjoy doing). I can’t reliably cut up vegetables without putting, let’s say, a little too much of myself into my work, so I just don’t cook anymore.

After trying for 10 years in Bellingham to get one of my neurologists to refer me to occupational therapy, my new one here immediately thought that was an eminently reasonable request, particularly given my reactions (read: really bad) to the only two A-team drugs that exist for tremors.

I saw my new hand therapist today and came home with four more sheets of exercises to add to the 1.5″ folder of PT exercises I already have for various failing body parts. She was quite optimistic that I’ll be able to gain more control over the hands (and the neck) than I now have, so we shall see. (She also confirmed that yes, I am hypermobile, which is why I have a lot of joint instability [my entire childhood was spent wrapped up in Ace bandages. Every day I do a series of exercises to self-correct sacroiliac (SI) joint alignment]. I’m just grateful it doesn’t seem to be severe enough that one of the ghastly syndromes that can accompany it–like Ehlers-Danlos or Marfan’s–has descended on me. Or at least not horrifically.)

I’ll never be able to do good calligraphy again, but if I can just get so I can actually write legibly, and maybe draw without a painful grip on the pencil, I’ll be content.

She was quite intrigued with the little weighted glove I’d made using fabric, elastic, and bird shot. It would be more helpful if I remembered to keep it where I can reach it when I need it.

In another discouraging loss that’s been coming for a while: Yesterday, I wanted to open a jar of bread-and-butter pickles. It took like ten minutes of grunting and squeezing and pulling with the grippy gloves before I finally could pop the seal. And my hands hurt so badly afterwards. Mom’s arthritis is in every joint in both hands, and it is not interested in what I want to do; only in what it can prevent. There goes another little bit of competence.

I stopped by a friend’s today to pick up some extra garden produce she has, and she’s found a spiffy tool for breaking that seal. It’s called a Jarkey, and looks like this:

She has one and says they’re the bomb. A little lip on the underside slides beneath the cap and pops the seal, after which you can just open it. What a concept! I’m very grateful to her for getting it for me. Until I can buy Man Hands somewhere, this will do. Pickle jars, beware! (The wide-mouth jars hurt more to open than narrower ones. Probably something to do with leverage and strength.)

And now, back to some editing.

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The restaurant fracas-see

My immigrants’ group takes our two Honduran boys to lunch every Thursday at a different restaurant. One of our guys, Steve, loves picking out the restaurant and always insists on paying for everyone (he’s a sweetie). Today, it was just the four of us at A Taste of the Caribbean, a little downtown place that was quite awkward to get to.

Our waiter was an attractive young man with really nice dreads. When he brought drinks, I noted that it might be wise to bring a pitcher of water (for me) to save himself some steps when I needed refills. “Gotcha,” he said. It never showed up.

We ordered: some yuca (you can get that at Walmart here!!) fries, cod fritters, a pulled-pork sandwich, an actual plate with recognizable meat and rice, and a shrimp salad. None of these is difficult or time-consuming to prepare, but we didn’t get our food for an hour. Steve’s fritters were way overdone; I was hoping the batter was dark because spicy, but no. Brayan said his rice was meh and David pulled all the tomato bits and raw onion out of his salad. (He has a surprising number of food quirks for a guy who grew up poor in Honduras–or maybe didn’t have access to some things and never developed a taste for them.)

When Steve handed the Kid a 50 to pay for the food, he mentioned that since it had taken so long to get it to us, perhaps they were understaffed. He was quite pleasant about it.

Kid leaned over me and the table and got up in Steve’s face (his elbow was in mine). “This is a family business. You can’t talk to people here like at McDonald’s. You gotta treat me with respect. Don’t talk to me like that.”

Steve didn’t escalate; he just handed the kid the $50 and said, “We’re ready to leave now, thank you.”

The kid put the $50 in the cash register and walked back into the kitchen. And didn’t come out. We sat there another 10 minutes before he brought out someone else’s food, and Steve mentioned on Kid’s way past that he’d like his change, please. Kid ignored him, went back into the kitchen.

Another 10 minutes (we’d been there an hour and a half now), and Steve went up to the counter. No one was there, but an older woman was between the back of the counter and the kitchen, so Steve went behind the counter to ask her for his change so as not to make a loud, everybody-look thing out of it.

While he’s talking to what I assume was the kid’s mother, Kid comes charging out of the kitchen, fists balled up, yelling, “You can’t be back here! You tryin’ to rob us? Get away from the cash register!” and other less complimentary things.

Now, Steve is like my age and has had a stroke, so his left side doesn’t work really well. He looks about as intimidating (and dishonest) as a hamster. Kid is young and strong. Assumed-mom moved in front of Steve; an older man (Dad?) came out of the kitchen and grabbed Kid from behind in a bearhug. I could hear what sounded like calm-down noises coming from him, but Kid is kicking and flailing and yelling. Brayan and David (our kids), and the roughly 6’2″ man sitting next to us with his family, all got up and headed for the melee. The man next to us actually got in there and, being three times Kid’s height, walked him backwards while probably-Dad pulled him back into the kitchen.

Steve did eventually get his change, but the Honduran boys were mumbling extremely uncomplimentary things in Spanish about not treating customers that way and some even less complimentary things I didn’t quite catch (and it’s probably a good thing).

We, at least, will not be back, and I suspect the other four tables of people will think several times before they go there again, too. I’m not sure if Kid needs anger management, drugs, to stop taking drugs, was really angry about something else, or what, but wow. I have honestly never ever seen that kind of thing happen in a restaurant. Occasionally in a cowboy bar, but never a restaurant.

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