Friday, December 31, 2010

Thus Concludes Another Work Year: Tomorrow We Begin Again

Earlier today, I finished out my work year for 2010-- a short, fun wedding rehearsal at Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Two nights ago I performed my last wedding of 2010. It was a small gathering at Old Pecan Street Cafe, very nice, very short. I met the couple because the groom was the son of the best friend of my ob/gyn's wife. Talk about networking. The good doc himself was in attendance and I managed to not say something like, "Isn't it nice to see me with my clothes on?"

See, I am getting more professional with every passing year.

Months ago, I made a vague promise to myself to work as little as possible in December. The universe had other plans and in the end, between writing (and rewriting and rewriting and REWRITING) a very long document for my day job, and performing weddings, and my writing coaching-- well let's just say I didn't not work in December. I pretty much worked seven days a week. That was a blessing for the most part. And while I could've done without revising the same document forty times, for the most part much of the work I did was a very pleasant distraction from what is my least favorite time of the year.

I especially love the weddings. I am now in my fifth year of performing weddings and it's one of the few jobs in my life that I haven't burnt out on. Is it ironic that I'm a twice-divorced woman who is opposed to marriage for myself? You know what I like to say: Those who can, do. Those who can't, preach.

Performing weddings is really fun because I get to put on nice clothes, everyone seems pretty happy to see me, I can stay and eat great food if I want, I get to feel very useful (my favorite feeling), it pays well and it doesn't take long.

The picture at the top, taken by the amazing Sara Bork Hamilton, is me at the scene of the my first December 2010 wedding-- that was a personal challenge. Could I, a Christmas hater, pull off being cheerful at a Christmas-themed wedding? Well what do you know-- I did. And it got the month off to a great start.

I've already got a ton booked for 2011-- the first is tomorrow: 1/1/11-- but I still have openings so if you're getting married or know someone who is, by all means give me a holler ( You can find details about my wedding services at my wedding website. Meanwhile, here are some pictures of just a few of the wedding cakes I saw this year-- I used to make wedding cakes and I can't say I'm sorry I put that behind me. But I have a great appreciation for the creativity that goes into these masterpieces. I'm also including pictures of my all-time favorite wedding cake-- that was a wedding several years ago but I'm including it here because well... you'll see why. How could I not?

my all time favorite wedding cake

not just any cake, but an anatomically correct cake

because i used to make wedding cakes, and because no one had a clue how to cut this one, the honors fell to me.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Surviving Christmas-- I Did It!

No really, you might think that I could just get over the Christmas aversion. As noted, I've been trying. But Christmas Eve is always like one of those hints-of-a-sore throat for me-- you try to ignore it, you tell yourself you're not getting a cold, but deep in your heart you know that within twenty-four hours you're going to be plowing through the Puffs and knocking back the Nyquil.

And so it was upon me. The night before, my emotional sore throat. As one will attempt-- too little, too late-- to chug down the Vitamin C and get long overdue rest in a futile attempt to stave off the inevitable cold, so too did I engage in Random Acts of the Horse is Out of the Barn But I'm Going to Pretend Otherwise in a last ditch effort to keep the inevitable Christmas as bay. But you know, even if not successful in the ultimate goal, these things did help. I allowed myself to be pulled from a crushing work deadline to offer a long knitting lesson. Then I dashed off in the rain to get a pink pedicure ten minutes before the shop closed. I procured two massive chocolate Santas to bestow upon the children of my friends, who'd invited me for Chinese food for dinner.

Then over to Vulcan Video. I love Vulcan. I love how they put up a section not long ago called RIP Mel Gibson's Career, featuring DVD's of all that asshole's movies. I love how, when I went in the night before we put Satch down, and asked them to recommend a good last movie for an old dog to watch, Austin took my request to heart, recommended a flick, then said, "Well there is an attempted suicide in this one, but the guy lives. Do you think your dog will be okay with that?" I plowed through the racks grabbing at a little of everything, purposefully selecting that which was intended to be dreary (The Ice Storm) and that which I think was unintentionally depressing (Evita with Madonna). I also got some cheerful shit. I couldn't find the original Bring It On, but wound up with Bring It On Again, a couple of discs of The Office and, on the insistence of one clerk, Stick It, the gymnastics answer to Bring It On. (I think the Vulcan guys had a running bet amongst themselves-- whoever can punk a customer into renting Stick It first gets ten bucks. "It's really good!" the guy told me. "Really good!")

The Chinese food was excellent, the company more so. I found myself surrounded by people my own age-- we make up that small group that fell right after the Baby Boom and right before Gen X. Our exhilarating discussion about the fabulous '80s was without irony and full of enthusiastic cheer to the point that I might just have to dig out some Thompson Twins soon, and play Hold Me Now on a goddamned loop. (I have a picture... pinned to my wall...)

The evil day itself dawned thankfully late for me-- I did my best to sleep through much of the morning. Then off to my neighbors' where I am charged with keeping a cat, a tankful of fish, and a couple of chickens alive for a week or so. The feathered ladies kindly left me a holiday treat-- a pair of fresh eggs which I promptly ferried home to make Warren and me some Croque Madames-- basically grilled cheese with extra butter and a fried egg on top. This was part of my larger plan to employ our combined culinary skills to try to recapture last Christmas in Paris. And let me tell you, there is nothing like fresh eggs, still warm from chicken butt, to get the day started.

My son and his father arrived and we headed off, also as planned, to Thunderbird Coffee. The nice folks there were doling out free coffee from 11-1. Henry is a bit of a star at Thunderbird-- he designed the little cards they hand out that you can get stamped until, after x number of drinks bought, you get a free one. I dropped ten bucks in the tip jar-- I so appreciate people who work on Christmas day, then it was home to open the gifts.

I know, I know-- I claim to avoid the holiday altogether. But I have a kid who happens to not hate the 25th and so, in compromise-- and to try to continue to make up for the year he was three and I, not understanding he didn't yet grasp sarcasm, told him when he woke up late that he'd missed the celebration, a story I hate but that is legend in our family-- I get him a few very carefully selected treats. Warren, our token Jew, sat patiently watching as Hen and Big Red and I swapped a few things. Henry, bless his big fat beautiful heart, made Big Red and me the most fabulous posters of all time, pictured up above. We gave him silkscreening lessons. I also got him a few awesome books from Domy-- if you haven't been to Domy, you better go soon.

Warren commenced to making us all falafel, to remind me of that cool neighborhood in Paris where the Chasids and the C'homosexuals live side-by-side. There's a falafel place there that is so good people line up for blocks waiting for their turn. Warren, I am happy to say, put those French-Israelis to shame.

A couple of Hen's friends came by and for reasons I will never understand decided to listen to as much Fleetwood Mac as they could find on the Internet. My son hearts Stevie Nicks. I'm not sure how that happened but there are worse habits and as long as he doesn't name any of his future children Rhiannon, I'm okay with it.

Mostly we just sat around and watched the dogs, who obliged us with some very central casting maneuvers, namely tolerating the costumes I insisted on wedging them into. Dante was the real star this year-- as our latest pack member this was his first big holiday with us. In the months since he's arrived, I'm happy to report that all skittishness has melted away and that the other dogs taught him that not only is he allowed to sleep on the furniture, it is actually a requirement if he wants to stay with us. Granted this results in some fairly canine-porno moments around here, but Dante sprawled belly up and spread eagled will never hold a candle to Bubbles' ongoing insistence on humping Tatum's neck at every able opportunity, but most especially when there is techno music playing.

The kids were patient enough to hang out until I could finish knitting Henry's scarf, which he very kindly pretended to be surprised was for him, even though I said, about forty times, "Hey kids, can you just hang out a few more minutes while I finish this?"

At long last, the gang cleared out, the dogs went to bed, and Warren and I settled in to finish watching the bleak Ice Storm, started so many hours before. This we followed up with I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can, featuring the recently deceased Jill Clayburgh (I mean, while she was still alive) in the role of Valium-addled Barbara Gordon. Bonus points to me for picking this movie which, in addition to being at least as dark as my views on Christmas, was also so awful as to transcend and become a bit of a comedy. We had a most wonderful Mystery Science time of it.

Then even Warren left me, so that I could indulge my lone wolf ways. I took one final trip to Paris courtesy of a big chocolat chaud I created from about two ounces of milk and about ten ounces of dark chocolate bar. My teeth remain coated in the stuff. Then a hot lavender bath whilst listening to Stephen King's Under the Dome read fantastically by Raul Esparza (you have GOT to get this audiobook) and off to sleep, grateful to have made it safely through the day.

Next up: 2011. Bring It On.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In My Eye: The Light The Heat

“She’s breaking the record for anesthesia,” I hear one of the nurses say. Or at least I think that’s what I hear her say. The funny thing about anesthesia is you never really know for sure what they said. Or what you said. Or really what did happen in there. Actually, that’s more than funny-- it’s good, because honestly I did not want to know precisely how the doctor scraped (or popped or pulled or nudged) the cataract out of my eye. Hell, maybe he shouted it out. Nor do I want to know details about how he used something involving a diamond to correct my astigmatism, though I did point out to some friends that was the closest in my life I ever came to having a diamond on my person. I had no temptation to Google photos or even illustrations of the procedure. I just wanted it done. And I wanted out of there.

The three worst parts about the surgery were these:

  • The big argument I had with the pre-op nurse on the phone last week.
  • The anxiety the day before surgery.
  • The fucking massive splitting headache the morning of surgery, which revealed to me the caffeine addict that I am.

When I went for my pre-op appointment weeks ago, a totally rocking nurse (or PA or whatever she was) proved herself to be a good listener. She was cheerful and efficient and heard me when I said I’m uninsured and set me up with samples enough to hopefully avoid the need to pay for expensive post-op eye drops. I made it clear to her that I have anxiety issues.

I always explain my anxiety to medical personnel before a procedure, laying out the information calmly the same way I would explain, say, an allergy to certain medications. I believe it is important for them to know, in advance, that the notion of having sharp instruments near my body causes a very strong reaction that can make it hard on all of us. I like to make a pre-game plan which typically involves anti-anxiety medication in advance of the procedure.

So I told this nurse that it was really important to me that I be allowed one valium (or even a half-valium) before surgery. She said she’d check with the doctor. She called a few days later saying it wouldn’t be a problem. Ah, that was easy.

Not so fast.

Last week, another nurse, the pre-op nurse, called to go over details. I asked her to confirm I’d be getting valium. “We don’t do that,” she said.

See, this is why I double-check these things. Because if you don’t get it all worked out ahead of time, you might not get what you want—or in my case, what I need. Pre-op Nurse and I went around and around and in her tone I thought I read a cross between annoyance and suspicion that I was angling to get my hands on recreational pharmaceuticals. I emphasized to her I wanted a prescription for a single pill. I explained that before my hysterectomy the anesthesiologist had no trouble with the request. And even before my last wisdom tooth pull I got a blessing to take some painkillers in advance.

I think maybe people who don’t have anxiety as a part of their daily landscape think those of us who say we do must be exaggerating. Maybe they’ve never had an anxiety attack. Maybe they don’t understand the crippling effect.

Annoyed, I explained to her that the other nurse said valium would be no problem. I then got off the phone and started calling around. I called my doctor’s office and left his assistant a message. I called the anesthesiologist practice and was told they never know until the day of surgery who will be assigned, so I couldn’t be put in touch with that person. After a round of calls, I finally got a call back from the doc’s assistant who helped to clear up the matter. She explained that the first nurse, who said valium would be fine, failed to mention that that she meant liquid valium would be administered once my IV was in. It had been lost in translation that I wanted oral valium.

Sigh. So next I explained that my anxiety flares up around IVs.

You see, when I was in the hospital post-hysterectomy, my IV popped out of my vein—but not out of my hand—in the middle of the night. Despite the synthetic morphine coursing through me, I woke up in the middle of the night to a discomfort I discovered was an enormous skin balloon where my hand had once been. Two women in their early twenties—an LVN and someone with even less training than that—came in and assured me they could get a new IV going. Even in my stupor I knew they could not. I have rolling veins, I’ve been mis-stuck a million times. I asked for a doctor. They refused. And for the better part of an hour they literally took a stab (and another and another) at their task, chatting with me the whole time, telling me about their personal problems, the anti-depressants one was on, and so on until, at last, one said, “Well, you were right. I can’t get it.”

At which point an anesthesiologist was at long last called and he popped that needle right in on the first try.

Back to my latest pre-surgery annoyance. Having cleared up the misunderstanding (liquid vs. solid valium) I called up the pre-op nurse who seemed to think I was nothing but a pain in her ass. She was argumentative. So was I. I suppose we both felt defensive. She actually said to me, “You don’t know what we know.” Well, duh. To her I explained that what is her daily routine—she’s around eye surgery all the time—is a big fat fucking deal to me and that any surgery is, to me, major surgery. And I told her that I wanted to feel listened to. At long last, to shut me up, she mumbled something about hearing me and said something like, “Well they can probably give you some liquid valium orally but it will taste terrible.” She did not say what I wanted to hear, which was that she would get to the bottom of this and hook me up.

The day before surgery, the doctor’s assistant called to say there would be no valium, that this was the anesthesiologist’s department. Hold on, what? At some point I’d been told by the pre-op nurse it was the doctor’s department. And so, in the end I felt like the only thing my phone calls had perhaps achieved was to red flag me as a nutcase, a high maintenance patient. I shut up then, gave up the fight, and decided I would soldier through, no matter what, because I really wanted to be able to see again.

The day before surgery I was an absolute wreck. I recognized this and took careful steps to put myself at ease, calling friends, talking it through, having dinner with my knitting group, distracting myself.

Morning of, I woke up and the no-caffeine headache kicked in almost immediately. My doctor operates midday so I knew it would be about eight hours til I could caffeinate. Now I felt like the junkie the pre-op nurse seemed to believe me to be. I might as well have been on an episode of Mod Squad, curled up on a dirty sheetless mattress under a dangling bare bulb sweating and shaking. A cleaver halved my skull. I tried not to watch the clock. I tried to bang out one last work deadline before Warren came to ferry me to the surgery center.

Once we arrived, it was time to pay. As an aside here—to all of you who bought my books and t-shirts, or made flat out donations, or paid me in advance for future services, or hired me to perform your weddings, or in any other fashion supplied me with cash—THANK YOU. After three months of working triple time, I walked into that office uninsured but ready to pay. The downside? They broke it into three separate payments: doctor, surgical suite, anesthesiologist. After they ran the first charge on my debit card ($1800) the second charge wouldn’t go through. And why was that? I can only guess my bank assumed someone had stolen my card and decided to go on a spending spree at an eye surgery center. They declined the second transaction. (I was able, fortunately, to rectify things by whipping out my checkbook.)

And now, back to pre-op. The nurse—thankfully not the one I argued with—said she understood I’d requested that the anesthesiologist put in my IV but she asked if she could please try it, that she was quite good. I was so worn out by then, from the anxiety, the lack of caffeine, the lack of sleep the night before, and the knowledge that patients are so rarely heard, that I thought what the hell. I agreed she could try. And then she informed me, after we talked about my anxiety, that she did have something oral she could give me—not valium, but something. Really? Why hadn’t anyone told me this before? Had I known this in advance it would have saved me many hours of fretting.

As the nurse prepped my hand for the IV, the anesthesiologist—trim, looking like he’d just come back from a long run, sporting a leopard print scrub cap—came over to tell me a few things. Looking at my chart, he said, “I see you had a valium this morning.”

“No,” I said. “I did not. Because nobody would give me one.”

“I gave her something though,” said the nurse.

“Well I’ll hook you up with something as soon as the IV is in,” he said.

I told him that was all well and good, but that my anxiety was mostly centered around getting the fucking IV in the first place. This gave him pause. Then a sting in my right hand as the nurse shot me up with something to numb me. I didn’t watch. I did feel the actual IV go in. And a few minutes later she admitted she’d hit something—what did she call it?— but that she didn’t want to tell me when it happened because she didn’t want to upset me. You know maybe she should have skipped telling me at all. Definitely TMI, but let me temper that by stressing that this nurse was extremely nice, extremely efficient, and truly did appear to have heard my thoughts on anxiety, which she did not dismiss. It was not her fault she encountered a problem—I have crappy veins—and it wasn’t like she poked me four hundred times.

After that they did hook me up with something strong and after that it was a blur. I’m up on a table and they’re draping my eye. I’m nodding in and out. I do hear one nurse yell at me—is she annoyed?—to OPEN YOUR EYE. OPEN YOUR EYE. I am too slurry to tell her what I am vaguely thinking which is that, as with foreigners and deaf people, yelling at me is not going to get me to hear better. I want to tell her—I think I try to tell her—that as when I was in labor and the midwife said push, “My brain hears you but my muscles won’t cooperate.”

I think she undrapes my eye, then redrapes it, then starts to cut a hole around my eye and her scissors poke my face, dangerously close to my eye, which I try to tell her. Only, again, I still have no idea if I said these things out loud. I do hear her talking to another nurse about holiday plans and I wonder if I’m annoying her because if only I would cooperate she could focus on her Christmas conversation.

Then the clockwork orange device is in place. And I’m out. More people. Weird shapes and colors. Do I ask who’s there? I think I do. The doctor says he’s here. I must still be mumbling. Someone says, “Give her some more…” And someone else says, “She’s already had two…” they talk in medical lingo, measurements and medicines I do not know. That’s when I think I hear someone say, “She’s breaking a record for anesthesia.”

What does this mean? Has my anxiety prompted my brain to fight surrender? Am I talking? Are they trying to shut me up?

And then before I know it, I’m slumped over in a wheelchair and a nurse is asking me if I want cranberry juice or apple juice and I’m thinking, “I want a goddamned quadruple espresso.” At which point the IV nurse pipes up, “She wants coffee.” Now, we’d discussed the coffee situation earlier and she said other patients—sloppy groggy people spilling hot liquids on themselves—had ruined it for the rest of us. No coffee in post-op. But because she’d listened and truly heard me, she honored my request. Someone handed me a styro of creamy, sticky sweet doctor’s office coffee and it was like nectar from the gods.

I slurped it down in the car, Warren laughing as he listened to me make the usual round of post-op phone calls—my mother, my son, his father— and attempt, unsuccessfully, to sound clearheaded. Even I, in my grogginess, understand that I am not accomplishing this task well. I hear my mother ask, “How are you?” And my mind is looking around for a sentence to reassure her.

Finally, I settle on a description. “I am FUCKED UP mom.”

Oops. Later, after ten more gallons of coffee, a hot lavender bath, a sleep-of-the-dead nap, and a plateful of sushi and a mince pie leftover from Knit Knight, I’ll start to feel a little more myself. I’ll text my mom, “Sorry about the F bomb.” And she’ll text back that it’s quite all right.

As Warren drives me through the streets of Austin later on, I’ll notice that halo effect they warned me about, where every single streetlight suddenly looks like a huge Ferris wheel of color, and even the tiniest dashboard light appears to be something twinkly and related to Christmas. Oh great, now with my new bionic eye, I will get a little bit of Christmas. Every single day. For the rest of my life.

Small price to pay for being able to see again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Are You Sitting Down? I Have CHEERFUL Christmas News.

This week for my Austinist blurt, I trotted out my latest semi-recycled rant about the stupidity of Christmas. I also noted that this year, as I am both stuck in the country and sick and tired of falling into a holiday depression-- which invariably hits when I am stuck in the country in December-- I am trying to re-approach the situation. So while I am far, far away from actually planning a celebration, I'm focusing on keeping things as upbeat as I can. As much as one can will away depression (and I realize this is not always possible because I happen to also have some brain chemistry depression issues) I am willing it away.

The universe has thus far been cooperating. Thank you universe. I've been so busy with work I haven't had time to wallow. I hit a couple of spectacular Hanukkah parties and I am totally down with Hanukkah since I do not have any familial or cultural baggage with Other People's Traditions. Plus, hello? Latkes. Yes. Yes. YES.

I was also delighted to note that, once again, the city (or somebody) has decorated the old air traffic control tower over at Mueller. Now, first of all, the fact that they didn't tear that thing down when they moved the airport is an excellent example of why I love Austin. There it is, the Eiffel Tower of Austin, as I like to think of it. I walk by it nearly every day and it cheers me up. In addition to cheering me up in general, it cheers me up because it reminds me of my friend, Hank Stuever, who is as in love with the thing as I am. As it happens, Hank wrote a really cool book about Christmas, called Tinsel, which I read last year in Paris, on Christmas, and which you should read, too. And it especially cheers me up when it's decorated not because I like the season (we've already covered that) but just because... well it's FUNNY. Isn't it?

So far, though, my favorite part of this month -- besides my son's birthday of course-- is that I quite accidentally found myself fulfilling a little girl's holiday wish. I got a note recently from a friend who mentioned her daughter was really wanting to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the NYC Rockettes at Bass Concert Hall. The tickets are a bit on the steep side so my friend was wondering if I might recommend an alternative holiday show, something produced locally and more within budget. I think maybe I suggested the Nutcracker and that, I thought, was that.

But then, yesterday, totally out of the blue, four unsolicited tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular fell into my lap. I hadn't (consciously or actively) asked for them. I hadn't even thought about asking for them. And yet, suddenly, a note arrived asking me if I wanted them. Thinking this couldn't possibly be true, or that I'd mixed up which show my friend's kid wanted to see, I checked with her . That was the show alright. And so, ta-da, the Grinch is actually sending a little girl, her mom, her grandmother, and another little girl to the show. I cannot take nor do I wish for any credit for this. I was just randomly in the right place at the right time. Isn't that swell?

If you'd like to go to the show-- well, I can't get you tickets. But if you click here, you can buy some tickets of your own. Warren and I were lucky enough to catch many musicals at Bass this past year and boy did we have fun. So go ahead, treat yourself.

And now, some pictures from my not-so-horrible-this-year holiday season to date:

[henry showing off the bitching fingerless gloves I made for him for his birthday. here he and rebound impersonate each other.]

[no shit, this is challah bread santa claus]

[warren humors my hanukkah fetish. that pie tin on the table with candles in it is my makeshift menorah]

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Call for Nominees: 2011 Kick Ass Awards!

Hi Everyone,
So I took off 2010 from holding the Kick Ass Awards, but I'm bringing back KAA for 2011. As many of you know, this is an event I started years ago-- 2004 maybe? Maybe earlier. Doesn't matter. Point is, I like to honor folks who do great things behind the scenes and don't get recognition for their good deeds. We do a speech about each winner's excellence and present her/him with a trophy (pictured above). The event is, if I do say so for myself, always totally super ass-kicking fun. I'd tell you a list of past winners but honestly, I don't keep a list. I will say I've probably given out over a hundred of these by now.

The 2011 Kick Ass Awards will be held on January 9th (aka Spike's Birthday Eve) at BookPeople, co-sponsor of the event. I'm going to hit up the Austinist as a sponsor, too-- they helped out in 2009. And if anyone out there also wants to be a sponsor, just let me know-- I run this thing on a shoestring budget (usually under $500) so even small sponsor donations help.

MOST IMPORTANTLY-- I am seeking nominees for the upcoming awards. Do you know someone who Kicks Ass? Who is just all around spectacular? If so, please email me at asap. Let me know who your nominee is and why s/he kicks ass. Also let me know if you can likely get that person to the event (we like to surprise winners so you have to pretty much lie to get them there). And let me know if you'd be willing to give a three-minute speech about the ass-kicking nature of your nominee. Please, no more than two nominees per person. Also please DO NOT TELL YOUR NOMINEE. As much as I wish I could give a trophy to all nominees, I tried that at least one year and the event went on for about four hours. For 2011 I'll select 20 - 25 recipients.

As ever-- please please please help me get the word out. Let's take time to recognize all the quiet heroes out there.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Loving Memory of My Amazing Friend Isabel


I first met Isabel in September 2009, on Monhegan Island, Maine. I knew instantly she was one of those incredibly rare people we are lucky to meet-- someone entirely different from the others, someone with a telltale otherworldly aura. In the space of just a few days, Isabel changed my life with her gentle nature, encouraging words, and the gleeful way she greeted each day (literally, greeted the sunrise). We became pen pals.

When I was planning to return to Monhegan this past September, I let her know. My heart soared when she wrote to say that she would definitely be able to join me. We only had a couple of days together but, again, those days were so uplifting for me. Isabel was truly one of those Magic People that can put everyone they encounter right at ease. Her life story, what I knew of it, was fascinating. She was also working on a book about Mary Baker Eddy that I was eager to read.

Most recently, I emailed her to ask her about a book she'd recommended to me. She wrote back to say my timing was excellent, that she'd actually just packed up a copy of the book to put in the mail to me. That's how Isabel worked-- intuitively. I got the news last night that she died suddenly last week, the day before Thanksgiving. Though in reality we only spent, perhaps, eight days of our lives together, I feel as if I've lost a lifetime friend. I am so bummed. I can hear her voice in my head, with its faint English accent, suggesting that I channel my grief toward enjoying life's little details. And I will. But first I mourn.

Here is an excerpt of a column I wrote last year about meeting Isabel. I called her Bella in the piece. That first meeting came when I was wrestling with some internal demons.

Then something happened. I was in Maine to attend a knitting retreat and one night, during group knit, I happened to sit beside an older woman. Bella was not part of the retreat, but she was staying in our rooming house, and she knits, so she joined us. Did you ever meet someone who so instantly strikes you as the personification of calm that you wish to carry that person with you in your pocket the rest of your life?

Bella told me, in a lovely English accent, that she’s been visiting the island for over forty years. She detailed, in such a delicious manner, the sunrises she always seeks out, making them sound like the best experience anyone could have ever. Better than any meal you’ve eaten, any love affair you’ve had, any passionate physical exchange you’ve engaged in. Such were her marketing skills that I hauled my ass out of bed the next morning before dawn, hiked up to a little summit, and then, in the clearing, I stood still for a moment.

Bella sat atop a cliff, the picture of serenity, gazing across a glassy ocean. I made a little noise to let her know I was there and she beckoned me over. The clouds precluded precisely the spectacular show she’d described the night before, but it was no less wonderful. Because as Bella spoke in her calming voice, and passed along her binoculars, and noted the different birds - “Listen! That’s a chickadee!”— I thought to myself, on the heels of so much self-created ugly, just how much beauty there is in this world. A ridiculous abundance of it. So much so that, should we choose to, were we able, we could skip nearly all the ugly and just wrap ourselves in the beauty.

As we prepared to head back, Bella extracted what appeared to be a whistle from her pocket. She swung it open and revealed it for what it was—a jeweler’s loupe. Carefully she’d bend down to the tiniest flower, peer through her loupe, and then offer me a turn. “Isn’t that MAGNIFICENT?!” she would proclaim, as an intricate, detailed world came into focus.

A couple of days later at breakfast, I heard some of Bella’s story. By then, I was not at all surprised to learn that she is a Healer with a capital H. That is her job. She spoke of it softly, answered my questions, didn’t make a fuss over it. Sort of like she just knew her role in the universe and she played it, just the same way our waitress did hers, ferrying out plates of eggs and toast.

I flew back to Austin carrying images of Bella in my heart.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I Clean My Gun and Dream of Galveston

Warren and I ran away to the beach for a few days, my goal being to escape the start of the godforsaken holiday season. It's my least favorite time of the year though I make exceptions for my boy's December birthday and plates of latkes, both of which are, thankfully, in my immediate future.

My Galveston friends have talked for years about converting the space above their garage into a little apartment which I like to refer to as Spike's Writing Garret (they humor me and go along with this). They started the project earlier this year and just finished it. It is my new favorite place in the world and if I could retire down there tomorrow I'd do it. Don't get me wrong, I HEART AUSTIN. But my failure to live at the beach full time confuses me. I am, in the presence of a large body of salt water (yes, even the Gulf of Mexico), about the cheeriest human you could run into. Countless lifetime grudges are forgotten. Pesky deadlines don't get to me. I sleep better. I eat like a damn king (courtesy of the culinary genius of my friends). I take super long walks with the dogs on the beach. And sometimes-- like yesterday-- I ride my stunning beach cruiser to the Bolivar Peninsula Ferry and take that boat across and back watching for dolphins. (We saw several yesterday.)

Oh well, we're back to reality now. But now that I've got my own writing garret I'm heading back down as soon as I can. Galveston is full of inspiration for writers, like these lyrics from Glen Campbell:

Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston

(rebound waits at the bottom of the stairs to the writer's garret. those are steep steps and she is a fat girl. what a combo.)

(not eating turkey is never a problem when paula's cooking. there's chipoltle peppers in them thar sweet potatoes. OMG. they yam what they yam.)

(me supervising the making of dinner whilst knitting.)

(my writer's garret features a baby 4-foot clawfoot tub in a spacious bathroom with hardwood floors. this room is also known as the canine suite.)

(i cannot reveal my source but let me just say my austin hatch chilie pepper dealer hooked me up. these went into the apple pie. really.)

(the team of chefs that toiled for my pleasure.)

(this is a fridge magnet at my friend's house. it's made from a picture of henry when he was around 2. one of my favorite hen pics.)

(another picture on the fridge-- that's me at around age 32 when i was pretending to be a badass leaning on the hood of my '67 chevy pickup.)

(this is bemba, sort of like peanut butter cheetohs. you get them in israel. you eat them at the beach. we brought some back and saved them for this trip.)

(we'll just let this picture speak 1,000 words on its own.)

(the long ride home-- note the look of martydom on rebound's face (left) and pissed offedness on bubbles.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Eye for an Eye? How About a Book for an Eye?

(i can't see clearly now that spain is gone. i can't see all obstacles in my way.)

Good lord, look at the time. Another day hath raced past. How does it happen? I had the intent of writing a very long post tonight that somehow incorporated an update on my latest Vibrams, tales of my adventures-of-late in sewing (really!), news of my messed up eyeball, and, possibly, about 70 pictures I've been meaning to share since, oh, around August. Alas, I have this in-bed-by-midnight rule I try to adhere to lest I get cranky (well, crankier than usual). Thus I will stick with a note about the Vibrams and my eyeball and we'll pick up the rest later.

So, Vibrams (which, I had no idea, are pronounced VEE-brams, not VI-brams!)-- after all that bragging I did in my last post, instant karma or some other mustn't-get-too-excited rule kicked in. After wearing the new woolies for a day, my big toenails felt like they were going to fall off and I was in screaming pain. Being a stubborn Capricorn, I thought I could break the shoes. Wrong. The shoes broke me. Cutting to chase, I did a little research and chatted with a customer service rep and discovered the woolies run a little small since they are made with heavier, recycled rubber. I have since shipped mine back and have been promised another pair is on the way and I CAN'T WAIT. Meanwhile, if you order some, be sure to go a little big. They have good charts at their website. And if it helps, know that I'm a size 8.5 US so I usually order 40EU in the Vibrams. I'm just bumping up to a 41 and hoping that was the right choice. If not, I'll let you know.

Now, about that eyeball. Well, I went to see Steven Dell yesterday, who is, yes, related to that other Dell. SD is reputed to be the best eye guy in our city, and also is, I think, pretty well-known in bigger circles. He's a pretty no nonsense guy and didn't really fall for my ongoing, anxiety driven attempts to make medical types laugh. That's cool. I don't care if he's a Republican frankly. I just want my eyeball fixed.

The good news is: I don't have a cataract. The bad news is: I have two cataracts. Yep, one in each eye. I haven't even noticed the left one yet, either because it's very small or because the right one is so fucking miserable that I can't even be bothered with the left one. As I am an uninsured American, I have to pony up cash to get the right cataract removed. Then I will save up and hopefully get the left one taken care of in 2011. A bionic lens (which would restore perfect vision sans glasses) runs around $6k. Fortunately, I like wearing glasses. As I was saying to a friend recently, my glasses are like Wonder Woman's Invisible Airplane. I sort of feel protected with a little layer between me and the world. So I'm going for the basic $3000 replacement which, since I'm paying cash, comes with a no-extra-charge astigmatism correction. (Done with a diamond! That's the closest I'll ever get to a diamond. Wait, a joke: the Other Dell Diamond. I think I'll try that out on SD next time I see him.)

Where was I? Oh, so yeah, I scheduled surgery for December 22nd, which means I'll have an excellent excuse to skip Christmas. Not that I need an excuse, but sometimes well-meaning friends think they'll be the ones to finally break through and make me enjoy Jesus's birthday. People? It ain't gonna happen. If you want to give me a bejeweled pirate eyepatch, so be it. But beyond that, I'm holing up over here and ignoring the 25th.

(all i want for christmas. well, that and $3000)

I have some good news, which I haven't been talking about much lately. I got a day job. It's just a short term, three-month gig, covering for someone on maternity leave. I'm not discussing where I'm working, in part because I signed a NDA and in part because I want to keep my Office Girl life separate from my Loudmouth Life. Because I really, really like this job, you know? Pity it doesn't give me fodder for cynical posts about office work, but really, that's not so bad. The steady paycheck means that I can apply all of my side-gig money directly to getting my eye fixed.

So, that's where you come in. I have had several friends offer to throw me a benefit. That is so nice it makes me want to cry. On the other hand, I have, with all gratitude, gently declined. Couple of reasons for this. First, back in 2005, Chris & Co. threw a benefit to get my foot fixed. That was SO nice, and the surgeon waived his fee, and all of that made the impossible possible. Without all that help I'd still be walking with a cane. But that was then and this is now. I've been building my various business endeavors, I'm not going to be laid up after surgery so I don't have to worry about missing work. So all I really need is to move some units over here. Since I'm The Product, that means I have to get over my disdain for marketing me.

Wait, I can hear you saying, "But Spike, you have 1500 FB Friends and you know everyone. You're a marketing genius." To which I say, "Well, shucks, I guess maybe I am." However, one thing I HATE doing is doing a hard sell of my books, workshops, etc. I like to believe that people who are interested will find me. I don't want to be like the Girl Scout Cookie peddler, trying to force diabetes on the masses courtesy of a combination of cute-and-guilt.

But it's time for me to trot out cute-and-guilt. First, some visuals to help push you in the right direction...


(think of all the costumes she'll have to forgo if you don't help defray my surgery expenses by buying my books!)

(where you will go if you don't help me!)

If you will all help me get the word out about my workshops, that would be tremendously helpful. There are the Kids' Holiday Craft Workshops. And there are the Winter Writing Workshops for adults.

Beyond that, there are the Take Me Back to Austin, TX (Right Now) t-shirts, available at BookWoman and Hill Country Weavers. And... okay, building up to it... my new quilt book drops on 11/21-- that's just a few days away. Here's what it looks like:

(you actually can judge this book by it's amazing cover. the inside rocks, too!)

While it's true you can pick up a copy on the cheap at Amazon, I happen to have around a dozen here at the house. They retail for $40. If you know a quilting fanatic and would like to gift one of these books, I am asking for a $50 donation which gets you a book, signed and personalized, wrapped real pretty for the holiday, and shipped wherever you want in the U.S. You can email me for more details and/or hit the DONATE button over there to your right. No, not there, up a little... right! There!

Getting back to the cataract itself. So I asked SD why, at my youngish age, I might have developed cataracts, beyond the fact that I am an over-achiever. SD says they don't know for sure, but it could be genetic, or it might be all that smoking I did, and/or it could be related to UV exposure. Bingo. People? I am from NEW JERSEY where it is REQUIRED BY LAW that you spend as much time between Memorial Day and Labor Day lying on the beach, slathered in baby oil, dragging on ciggies. I mean, it's my BIRTHRIGHT. And since I like to think that cigarettes really weren't that bad for me, I must, by default BLAME MY ANCESTORS.

(one of my ancestors)

Good, so we have a reason.

Now, if you will-- please let me know if you want one of the new quilting books. I can also hook y'all up with my first quilting book, Quilty As Charged, for $23, which includes wrapping, postage and handling (and I promise you, I will HANDLE it.)

That's all I got for you tonight.
One Blind Mouse