Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Dealing with it, Part 2: The Big Empty

There must be a word for it. There's Caregiver's Burnout, Empty Nest Syndrome, Survivor's Guilt. What is the term for the feeling that you experience when the person you've been caring for, been scheduling your life around, been putting off everything else for, is suddenly gone?
It's not the first time I've felt it. My grandmother first entered a nursing home in early 1996. For the next two years my mother and I took shifts spending time with her - my mom went there after work every day, and I was there nearly every day after work from about 6:30 to about 9:00. A handful of other relatives spent some time there, and my late uncle spent a few hours each week with her. When she died in December 1998 there was suddenly a huge opening in my schedule. I could do my own thing now, live for myself. I didn't.
Little things set me off. We kept my grandmother's room well-stocked with incidentals, and kept it decorated for the seasons. In the first weeks of December, just before she died, I had started to transform her room's decorations from Autumn and Thanksgiving to Christmas. I strung up some garland, hung up some pictures, and realized she was running out of masking tape to hang up the rest of the Christmas decorations. I made a mental note to get a new roll for her room.
Masking tape.
I wept for months afterwards every time I saw a roll of tape and thought "Babki needs masking tape. I should take that to her."
Her roommate cried when I took down the Christmas decorations. Not because the room would be undecorated - her family took good care of her. No, because when the decorations were gone, it would mean that my grandmother was truly gone.
I had a lot of free time that Christmas, and in the years that followed. Empty spaces in my life that she used to occupy.
I warned a friend about it when his mother died of cancer three years ago: the hardest part will be dealing with all the free time you'll suddenly have. I warned my cousin about it when her father died of cancer three months ago. I felt it again when Haley died. I tried to fill the space, to keep up the morning walks, walking alone. I couldn't. I kept it up until I had seen everyone that we routinely ran into on our walks and told them that Haley had died. And then I stopped. I sleep later these days.
I tried to tell a friend of mine at work about it. Her mother died in the beginning of August. I think I was discussing with another friend how I could bring up that topic a few hours before my father died.
I would sometimes go on "dates" with my father, to get him out of the house on the weekend and give my mother a few hours of peace. I would take him to the barber's with me when I got a haircut, and he would get a haircut too. Afterwards I would take him on a country ramble, and then we would stop at a store and then get something for lunch. I took him out to see Revenge of the Sith on June 5th. It seemed right. He had taken me to see Star Wars 28 years earlier.
On those occasions when my mom was able to get him into the VA - the Veteran's Hospital - for "respite" care (which is defined as a respite for the caregiver, not necessarily the veteran) I would visit him every day, sometimes just for a few minutes, sometimes for much longer. When he was in the hospital in late July - or was it early August? - because of his mini-seizures, I sometimes spent hours just sitting with him.
I didn't spend much time with my father when he was in the nursing home. Maybe less than I should have, but as much as I could stand. Usually 15 minutes at a time, sometime between 6:00 and 8:00. Sometimes he was fast asleep. Sometimes he didn't know who I was. Sometimes he would call me by his brother's name. Sometimes he would ask me to help him get out of his chair. Once I took one of our cats down to him, his favorite of the four. He seemed to recognize the cat at first, but then began to ignore him and finally became annoyed with his presence. I think it was maybe the same with me. Maybe 15 minutes was all he could stand, too.
I spent more time with him after the accident. From 6:00 to 10:00 or so Friday night, the night of the accident. A few hours in the early afternoon and a few hours in the early evening the next day. A couple of hours on Sunday. From about 6:30 to 8:30 on Monday. From 6:30 to 8:00 on Tuesday.
He died on Wednesday.
Done, now. Free time in the evenings. Went grocery shopping yesterday. Went to Target and Barnes & Noble today.
Empty spaces. The Big Empty. Masking tape. Free time.
Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Lurker in the Roses

My father died last Wednesday at 1:10 in the afternoon. I arrived at the hospital a little after 2:00. My family left the hospital sometime around 3:00. We met with the undertaker at 6:30, and by 7:30 that night we had made all the arrangements: the funeral would be Saturday morning, with viewings at the funeral home on Friday from 2:00 - 4:00 and again from 7:00 - 9:00.

After I came home from the hospital but before we went to the undertaker, I decided to take some long-ignored advice.

When Haley died at the end of May, a friend suggested that maybe I should go out and take some pictures of beautiful things. But I couldn't, really. I took a few fitful pictures of bumblebees and Rhododendron blossoms, and I used it at the first "final" Blue Sundaze show in late June, but I didn't start using the camera on a regular basis again until sometime in July. But now in August my garden was in full swing, and there were lots of interesting things to take pictures of. I had actually started taking pictures in my garden Wednesday morning, and I decided to carry on, making use of the daylight that I unexpectedly had available to me.

My first photo was of one really beautiful blossom on my Double Delight rosebush.
I first became aware of Double Delight roses during a visit to Disneyworld years ago - probably in 1997. The rose gardens are one of the best-kept secrets at Disneyworld, and are generally ignored by most visitors. My mom and I had the gardens to ourselves that day, save for a family of Japanese tourists who found the roses infinitely fascinating. Years later, suckered by the ease with which I was able to grow my Royal Highness bush, I decided to branch out into other varieties, including the beautiful Double Delight I remembered so fondly. Unfortunately, Double Delight is nothing like Royal Highness: it produces only a few blossom-bearing shoots, a profusion of non-blossom-bearing spikes, and is considered a delicacy by little green cutworms. Its scent is gaudy and overpowering, but at their best the blossoms are extremely beautiful.
Royal Highness was my first rosebush, and while it is extremely vigorous and easy to grow and has a beautifully classical rose scent, its blossoms are less petal-dense and tend to go from the first opening of the bud to the last petal fall in just a few days. Still, it produces vast numbers of blossoms throughout the season - this rose is part of the third (and probably final) flush for this summer, which started about a week before I took the photo. (The first and second flushes happened in the first and last weeks of June, respectively.)
I was a little disappointed when I reviewed this picture shortly after I had taken it and spotted what I thought was a bit of bud or a dead leaf caught within the petals of the rose, ruining the effect of the delicate shading of pink seen in the petals. On a whim I zoomed in on the image to the limit of my camera's zoom function, and got a bit of a surprise. Whatever was lodged in the petals had legs and eyes - eyes that were looking straight at me.
I had a feeling I knew what it was, but I decided to get a few other images from different angles before I tried looking it up in my Audubon Field Guide. Unfortunately, while it was surprisingly easy to get a good picture accidentally, it was very hard to get a close-up of the hidden insect intentionally. At least the little critter hadn't moved from its chosen blossom since I had first photographed it.
(Notice that the eyes are again turned towards the camera. This is one alert insect!)

The Audubon Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders identified it as an Ambush Bug, a little insect about half the size of the fingernail on my pinky - maybe 1/2" long by 1/4" wide - that lurks inside of flowers and waits for unsuspecting bees or butterflies to come by. And when they do - POW! The Ambush Bug strikes, using those powerful-looking forelimbs to kill its prey, which is usually several times larger than the deadly Ambush Bug itself.
It's a jungle out there. My garden is the setting for daily dramas as predators and prey fight for survival. The Ambush Bug is a subtle reminder of this, although by no means is it the only killer lurking in the garden. But those other, less subtle killers will have to wait a while to have their stories told.

It never ends

Just got word that my uncle in Maryland is in the final stage of his heart failure. Nine years ago my grandmother's greatest fear was that he would die before she did. The fact that he didn't - the fact that all of my grandmother's children outlived her - was the greatest gift she could have received.

Guess I shouldn't put away the wedding/funeral suit just yet.

Dealing with it, part 1

I was just getting used to the idea of my father not living in the house with us anymore when now I have to get used to the idea of him not living at all.
It's not right and it's not fair. Nursing homes shouldn't let people fall and hit their heads. I was steeling myself for a long, slow descent into Alzheimer's, a death that could take years - like it did for Ronald Reagan, like it has been for a friend's father. Instead his life was cut short. I would almost count it as a mixed blessing, if I didn't know how much a head injury hurts. A lot of people say "Well, I hope he wasn't in any pain", but I know he was. So I'm trying to deal with that.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Funky Grasshopper

I spotted this grasshopper hanging out in my butterfly bush this past Thursday. At first my mind only registered the fact that it was a grasshopper, but after a second or two I decided to run inside and grab my camera. I never remembered seeing a grasshopper quite like this, with a blue-green body and yellow legs covered with inverted black chevrons that made it look like it had come straight from an episode of Pimp My Exoskeleton.

A few minutes with my handy Audubon Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders (what, you thought I knew fun facts about Praying Mantises and Silver-Spotted Skippers right off the top of my head?) suggested that I had photographed a Differental Grasshopper. There are a few other possible candidates - a surprising number of different types of grasshoppers have those markings on their legs - but the Differential Grasshopper seemed like the best fit with what I had seen.

I spotted a few other interesting things in my butterfly bush this past week. You could actually do a whole nature documentary based on the things that like to lurk in or visit my butterfly bush, and you could probably get an entire season of documentaries out of looking at everything that lives in my small suburban lawn. I have a few other photos to show, but those will have to wait until I have more time.

22 beagles need homes!!!

A little bit of business I can take care of right away. Beagles! Get your Beagles!

If you live within striking distance of Cornell and can take in a young female Beagle, please let Danielle know. Thanks!

-----Original Message-----
From: Danielle Buttke
Sent: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 14:11:18 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 22 beagles need homes!!!

Sorry for the mass email, but we need help!

Many of you are familiar with the research beagles that we have/will all have the opportunity to work with throughout the vet curriculum. There is a colony of 22 female beagles that have been used for the sole purpose of oocyte collection (ie, no experimentation) that now need homes or they will be euthanized, some as early as next week. They are all incredibly sweet dogs, mostly around 1-2 years of age, very docile, and none of them bark. While none of them are currently housetrained, every dog that we have adopted out has been successfully trained and made a wonderful pet.

if you know of anyone that might need a female beagle, please let me know ASAP or they will be euthanized!!


Danielle Buttke

I'm back

Back to blogging. Back at work. When I get home I'll post some of the stuff I've been gathering up.

Thank you to everyone for all of your kind thoughts, words, and deeds. They are appreciated and will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Portrait of my Father

This picture was taken May 8, 2005 in the late afternoon. It was Mother's Day, and we had had a big family get-together at my uncle's house up the street - we all realized it was a going away party for my uncle, who had just come back from the hospital and would go back in a week for the last time. It was also the last time that my sister saw our dog Haley - who she had found some 11 years earlier living in a drainage ditch in Maryland - alive. (Both my uncle and my dog would die two weeks after this photo was taken.)

I had returned from the party and was sitting at the kitchen table reviewing the photos of my cousins' children at play when I looked up and was struck by the similarity of the scene before me to the painting commonly known as "Whistler's Mother" (I believe it is more formally known as A Study In Gray and Black.) My father is sitting in his chair watching TV - which is how he had spent much of the previous six months, since increasing unsteadiness and confusion had curtailed his neighborhood walks.

Some explanation of the things in the photo. The blocky effect seen in the wall is a JPEG artifact. The pink Post-It note that says "DO NOT USE" is taped over a malfunctioning lightswitch, one of two that controlled the kitchen ceiling fan.
The marks along the edge of the doorway are height measurements for my nephews, my mother, and me. The fan-like object that appears to be facing my father is actually a pinwheel on a much closer rocker, a favorite toy of our cats (one of which is laying on the back of the rocker next to the pinwheel.)

The funeral is Saturday morning - 8:30 at the funeral home, 9:00 services at the church. Viewing is Friday, sometime in the afternoon and then 7:00 - 9:00 in the evening. I'll send a link to the online obituary and directions to the funeral home, church, and cemetery tomorrow to anybody who needs it - just let me know.

The funeral will be held Saturday at 8:30 from Earl W. Lohman Funeral Home, 14 W. Green St., Nanticoke, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 9 in St. Mary's Church, Nanticoke. Interment will be in St. Mary's Cemetery, Hanover Township. Friends may call Friday, 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m.


My father died about a minute after my mom called me at work. He was dead before I even started that last post.

My thanks to everyone who has kept my father and my family in their thoughts and prayers.

Respiratory distress

His breathing is getting shallower and shallower. Crap.

I'm leaving work now to head to the hospital.

I look at the world and I notice it's turning

Yesterday was a bit of a step back with my father. While he was mostly asleep - not a good sign - he was also agitated, to the point that he was given a sedative simply so an I.V. drip could be inserted. He was unresponsive for most of the day, though he roused a bit between 7:45 and 8:00 - which was good, because that allowed a nurse to actually give him medication by mouth. We'll see if today he becomes more coherent and alert, or slips deeper into unconsciousness.
Life goes on, with or without our consent. Things are still happening. People are making outrageous statements that I'd like to respond to. My cousin is opening a Nursery School. I saw (and photographed) a really cool spider in my garden this morning. A friend's school is looking for a home for 22 beagles. At some point I'd like to blog about this stuff. But not right now.
I'll keep you posted on any new developments.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

CAT scans and cat photos

The CAT scan done on my father during his ER assessment Friday night (at least two hours after he arrived at the ER and anywhere up to 12 hours after his fall, depending on when it took place, which we'll probably never know) indicated the presence of two "bleeds" (their term, not mine) on the back of his brain, one on either side. It also indicated evidence of an older bleed that had not shown up in CAT scans taken during his previous hospital admission three weeks earlier - suggesting that he had had a fall in the intervening time (unreported to us) that had resulted in head trauma.

A CAT scan taken yesterday did not indicate any major change in his condition - the bleeding has stopped, the bleeds have not worsened, but they have not reduced in size. My father seems to be gradually recovering his abilities to communicate and interact, though I fear that the aphasia that was a major result of his stroke ten years ago has returned. There are ways of dealing with and assessing this; ten years ago I used an instant camera to take photos of familiar things - my mother, our cat, McDonald's Golden Arches - and used them as flashcards to see what he could identify. (He got the cat right away - and then proceeded to identify every person in the photos by the cat's name.)

So what happens when these bruises on his brain begin to break up? I have no idea. For now, we will just have to continue to wait and see.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Update on my father

My father is recovering at the hospital, very slowly. Each day he is exhibiting a new set of symptoms and new capabilities. On Saturday he was raving and incoherent and incapable of swallowing; yesterday he was responding appropriately to questions, making occasional short but coherent statements, and was able to take liquids. Thank you to everyone who is keeping us in their thoughts and prayers.

It's not all smooth going. The accident, it turns out, happened Friday morning, but we were not contacted (and he was not sent to the hospital) until after 4:00 in the afternoon. I don't even know if basic first aid was provided at the time, like a cold pack to the head to reduce swelling. At the emergency room Friday night, the Filipino doctor on duty asked me (in broken English) whether we wanted my father to undergo surgery to try to stop the bleeding and reduce the swelling. (This was not a clear-cut decision, since the risks of surgery might have outweighed the potential benefits, and the prognosis for recovery was roughly the same whether or not he underwent surgery.) He tried to consult a neurosurgeon for input, but there was none on duty or even available on call. He was able to get in touch with one who was not on call (and was, I believe, on vacation) who recommended - strictly off the record - against surgery. Yesterday I was berated by a Chinese neurosurgeon (in broken English) who wanted to know "If not want surgery, why send to hospital?" I didn't think to respond at that moment that I would rather see my father receive palliative care at a hospital than, say, die in a puddle of his own vomit at the nursing home. But I couldn't think of this at the time because my mind was occupied with visions of tearing the neurosurgeon limb from limb.

(And what if this Chinese neurosurgeon who barely spoke English had been consulted by the Filipino E.R. doctor who barely spoke English? What kind of communication could they have? And God help us all if a non-English speaking patient or family member were thrown into the mix. And we thought it was bad when pharmacists couldn't read doctors' handwriting!)

I think I'll save most of my opinion of the state of health care in this country for some other time. For now, suffice it to say that it looks like my father is not in imminent danger of death at this moment. But only time will help us to establish what the new normal will be for him.

Friday, August 19, 2005

And now this

I got a call at work today at 4:00. My father had fallen at the nursing home and struck his head, and now was vomiting. Would I like him to be taken to the hospital?

Let me fill you in on the story so far. After having a stroke ten years ago my father began to gradually exhibit the signs of encroaching dementia, most likely Alzheimer's. His dementia has increased significantly in the last six months or so, and has worsened dramatically since the beginning of July. At that time we had him checked into the hospital to see if what he was displaying was actually a bad reaction to some new medications. (It wasn't.) While visiting him, my mom contracted a nasty strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that gave her tremendous gastrointestinal distress and landed her in a different hospital for nearly a week. While she was in that hospital, my father was discharged from his hospital and transferred to a nursing home just down the street from our house.

After my mom got home we began the routine of visits to my father. But after a week or so he began to experience mini-seizures of about 5 seconds duration. These got to the point that he was sent back to the hospital for another week or week and a half. After some medication adjustments were made, his seizures got to a point where he could be transferred back to the nursing home.

My mom and my sister had a vacation in Florida planned for months. (It was actually a work trip for my sister, but my mom was going along for a vacation.) Now my mom had a lot of trepidation about going on this vacation. Finally, at the urging of her doctor, she decided to go.

That was last Sunday. I have visited my father every day since then, and he has exhibited symptoms ranging from advanced Alzheimer's to basic drug-induced stupor. Some days he didn't recognize me. Some days he was asleep and unresponsive, in his padded recliner on wheels with a combination meal tray/restraint.

So how, you might ask, could someone confined to a padded recliner on wheels with a combination meal tray / restraint manage to fall and hit his head?

Well, if you're old enough to remember when high chairs didn't come with baby-restraining crotch straps, you'll have a fairly good idea of what I think happened. I don't know for certain that he slipped out from under the tray to freedom and a trip to the emergency room, but I imagine that's what happened.

My mom is cutting her vacation short by two days. She and my sister are flying back tomorrow.

My father has subdural hematomas. Bleeding on the brain. Two of them. In twenty-four hours, he may die as a result. We have to wait and see.

UPDATE (Saturday, August 20, 5:10 PM): My father made it through the night and his condition does not appear to be worsening. But he is much worse than he was before the accident. Where he would sometimes talk about random nonsensical things and call me by his late brother's name, now he is simply spouting a jumble of incoherent and unconnected words - every third or fourth one being his brother's name. We hold pseudo-conversations - if the word jumble sounds like a yes or no question, or a question of place, or a request to bring something to him, I will answer in a way that seems appropriate to what I imagine the question was. This seems to satisfy him. He was having seizures (well, the nurses said they weren't technically seizures, but I don't know what the technical term is) every five to ten minutes until I sat him nearly fully upright in bed. In one of his few coherent moments, he asked for water - and in the absence of any available doctors or nurses or "nothing by mouth" ("NPO") instructions, I gave him a sip - which he promptly spit up, so I think he has lost the ability to swallow. He then began to dry-heave, and I was afraid he was going to actually vomit, which is why I sat him up in the first place. That was a few hours ago. I'm heading back now.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The trick is to keep breathing

This is my allergy season. Usually this time of year my head is a mess, with red burning eyes, constant sneezing, and mucus pouring out of my nose or running down my throat when I'm trying to sleep, causing me to occasionally stop breathing in the night unless I take an antihistamine to kill my symptoms and relax my body.

Not this year. Something else is happening this year.

I don't know what it is. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and a lot of little knowledge is a sure path to self-diagnosing hypochondria. But my symptoms scare me, probably not as much as they should. These include:

- Occasional breathing paralysis. I basically exhale and forget how to inhale, and I have to reboot my respiratory system. Not fun as you're heading into sleep. Also not fun when you're driving from a bar 40 miles from your house at 2:30 in the morning after seeing a friend's band. This is rare, but it happened as recently as Monday. In a meeting.

- Difficulty fully inflating my lungs. I have to give the bellows an extra-hard yank to get them from the half-full to the completely-full position. This, like all the symptoms that follow, just started this past weekend. This one happens off and on during the day, but the rest are experienced when I'm trying to go to sleep.

- Esophagal problems when I lie down. It feels like my esophagus is getting crimped, and this is usually accompanied by breathing problems. Fortunately I have one of those corduroy pillows with arms that I can prop myself on.

- Protracted belching when I lie on my left side. WTF?

- Difficulty swallowing. Not something you think about until you reflexively try to swallow, and then have to try five times to get it to happen.

- An oozing sensation in my chest as I start to drift off to sleep, as of liquid leaving the area of my heart and lungs, followed by...

- A swelling sensation in my extremities - usually whichever arm is lower, whichever side of my chest is lower, and eventually, my throat and my head.

After some time (or a lot of time) I will manage to fall asleep. And when I wake up, ALL of the symptoms are gone. If I've gotten up too early, I can go back to sleep without any effort. I can position my head and neck any way I like without having throat problems.

OK. Maybe just a weird variation on hayfever. Maybe something much worse. I took an antihistamine - Benadryl - a while ago to possibly stifle these symptoms and help me to fall asleep. (Considering I only got between two and three hours of sleep last night, this shouldn't be hard.)

Whatever. Now you know. And it's in writing.

But any concerns I had for myself faded when I read Sammie's latest post (the one from Thursday, August 18, 2005). Damn, girl. Good luck with that. Please wish her the best, and remember her in your prayers.

UPDATE (8/19/2005, 6:39 AM): Had a good night last night. None of these sympoms except the swallowing thing. Was it the Benadryl? Or has whatever this is run its course?

Also, last night I got three more spam comments. I deleted them. If this keeps up, I may have to switch to an "Anonymous comments not allowed" policy.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sunset over Nanticoke, August 6, 2005

Every once in a while Nanticoke is treated to a truly spectacular sunset. Last Saturday was one of those times. The clouds looked like glowing embers, and the sky was shades of blue I don't have words for yet.

These photos were taken with my Nikon Coolpix 4100 digital camera. I must have felt at the time that the colors in this first photo were not entirely accurate, because I changed the setting on my camera from "Sunrise/Sunset" to "Dusk/Dawn." (This was technically correct, since the sun was actually below the horizon as I took these photos.)

So are these colors more accurate? Honestly, I don't know. Sitting here now, it seems to me that the colors are artificially rich. Maybe the "Dusk/Dawn" setting on my camera does something to the color saturation curves. The human eye does something similar in low-light conditions, and a photographer using a film camera would have probably chosen ISO 400 film and made some changes to the exposure settings. Is this cheating? I don't know. But I checked each photo as I took it, and I apparently was satisfied with what I was getting. And I can assure you that no further processing was done to these photos on my computer (other than to shrink them down to a postable size.)

The sunset reflected in the front window of my house.

Another view of the western sky from my front yard. This picture was taken about three minutes after the first one.

The view from my back yard, looking past my house. This is my usual location for observing Mercury (which, when it appears in the evenings, can sometimes be seen in the vicinity of the telephone pole and distant rooftops, hiding among the utility wires.)

The same view as in the previous shot, but zoomed-in (using the camera, not the computer.) Note the corner of the roof and the telephone pole, seen in the lower left of the previous photo.

I'd like to thank Rima and everyone else who encouraged me to get off my duff and get myself a digital camera. No chemicals were used in getting these photos from my camera to your eyes.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Blue Sundaze: The End, Part 2

Blue Sundaze played its second and possibly final "final" show at Wellington's in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania on Friday, August 5. While it took the crowd a little while to warm up to the band, as the night wore on the patrons became more enthusiastic about the music and the people playing it.

There was a decent crowd at Wellington's, despite the fact that those who came to see the New Order tribute band "Blue Sunday" may have felt like they had been hoodwinked. Note that being in one of the most affluent parts of Northeastern PA does not mean that you will not run into egregious spelling errors - like the handwritten "LIVE BANb" sign on the right. Mantis of Certain Doom is offscreen.

Yes, there were even people dancing. Notice the amazing overhead shot made possible by the photographer extending his arms - and the camera - as far above his head as he could. Good thing there's a little video screen on the back that let me line up the shot from a distance of over two feet and a viewing angle of about 5 degrees.

The final Blue Sundaze photo - for now. Note Rose's wild action hair.

There may be more Blue Sundaze shows in the future, possibly during holidays. But for now, it looks like the band has played it's last regularly scheduled show. But, hey, I've said that before...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Bureaucracy and paperwork

I have never really had much of an issue with bureaucracy. I think this is because at my heart I am a bureaucrat myself. I understand the need for records, the need for paperwork, the ned to make sure all the details are worked out before the "go" signal is given. In my 13 years at my current job* I have been responsible for creating many bits of paperwork for other people to fill out. I have always strived to keep these forms as streamlined as possible to collect the maximum amount of usable data with the least amount of input. Generally people don't have too many complaints about things they have to fill out for me, and I can always provide them with feedback on how this data is used and why it is collected.

It seems that I exist in a state of bureaucratic grace. I can slide easily though Customs, even when I need to have my bags thoroughly inspected, because I instinctively know how to walk up to the right inspector, and I know how to behave in a way that puts them at ease. If you get hostile, they get more hostile. If you become annoyed, they will decide it's time to have a little fun with you, and you may find yourself missing your flight because they've decided to search every page of every book you have with you for any subversive content. (This actually happened to a foreign writer entering the country. When she became antsy about being delayed and missing her connecting flight, the goons at Customs decided to go through her journals page by page. She missed her flight, and the inspectors probably had a good laugh at the bar afterwards.) Be at ease, project an aura of peace and tranquility, and go with the flow. It will help if you study Taoism before you get to the customs area.

Yes, I don't usually run into bureaucratic problems, but my immunity does not extend to family and friends. From them I have learned two things:

1. The INS - Immigration and Naturalization Service - has made legal immigration a nightmarish, multi-year ordeal involving repeated submissions of reams of paperwork and copies of records, numerous trips to the INS office, and requiring more fingerprinting sessions than your average mass murderer, apparently in an attempt to encourage illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants involve less paperwork for INS, and if they start to get uppity about things like being subjected to slave labor conditions by unethical employers, they can be deported without much fuss.

2. Nursing homes have made the procedure of getting a spouse placed in long-term care maddeningly difficult, requiring copies of pretty much every piece of paperwork ever generated in that person's lifetime, in order to encourage the placing of pillows over the faces of the elderly and infirm until they are no longer nursing home candidates.

*Which has consisted of four different jobs in two different buildings for three different corporate entities (or four, depending on whether you count a company as being a different company after a merger.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The return of Super G!

Super G (formerly of My Distractions In This Modern Age) has returned with a kinder, gentler blog: The Hurricane's Eye - A Place Where Everything Is Calm. Set aside your wrath, find your center, and stop over for a visit. Just watch out for the wall cloud.

(Funny thing is, I once considered spinning off a second blog that went the other way - an angry political blog. But I found that what Mr. John Lydon once sang is true: anger is an energy, and channeling your anger into words can be extremely draining. Not to mention bad for you. But I've still left the option open.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Mantis of Certain Doom

During one of the between-set breaks at the Blue Sundaze show this past Friday, I stepped outside to see two of the patrons squatting next to a the tire of an SUV in the parking lot. When I heard the phrase "like in that old movie", I knew that they had spotted a Praying Mantis.

Most living things have a strong survival instinct, but not Praying Mantises, particularly not this one, which seemed to think that the rearward underside of an SUV tire was an ideal location to set up shop. When this particular species, the European Mantis, was introduced from Europe in 1899, the terror that should have accompanied the arrival of an exotic voracious carnivorous insect was tempered by the fact that Gypsy Moths were at that time making a point of what a bad idea it is to introduce an exotic voracious herbivorous insect in the hope of jump-starting a domestic silk industry. The European Mantis failed to address the Gypsy Moth problem, and failed to develop into a problem of its own, when it turned out that its preferred prey was other Praying Mantises.

I like Praying Mantises, and ladybugs, and butterflies. From a distance these look like cute little insects, but up close they are as interesting and violent as any big game in darkest Africa. While Mantises are taking a break from eating each other they will tear into other insects, catching them in their claws and nibbling off their delicious, delicious heads while the poor dears cry "Please help me! Please help me!" in their adorable little helium-pitched voices. The young stages of ladybugs are known as "lions" for their predatory habits - God help you if you're an Aphid and there's a ladybug lion about. And butterflies look so pretty from a distance, but up close they're all freaky and nightmarish, with huge eyes and furry bodies and long, coiled sucking proboscises that pop out of their heads and taste receptors in their clawed feet. Plus their caterpillars provide an illustrative example of one of the cruelest and most horrible fates in the living world when a predatory wasp injects its eggs into the body of a caterpillar which is eventually eaten from within over a period of time by the growing young while it is kept mercilessly alive for as long as possible.

Not wanting to see such an interesting insect squished as soon as the driver of the SUV decided to leave the bar, I took the radical step of interfering with its self-determination by scooping it in my hands and placing it on a nearby railing for further study.
It should be noted that this Mantis was only about 3.5 or 4 inches long. (The focus on my lens at this distance is so tight that the insect's abdomen and hindlegs are in focus while its thorax, head and forelegs are out of focus.) Also, the white spots outlined in black on its forelimbs (near where its "armpits" would be if it had them) are not physical damage or a fungal infection as I initally surmised, but are actually a normal part of the physiology of the European Mantis and are a primary indicator for distinguishing it from other species of Mantids.

So what happened to the Mantis of Certain Doom? I have no idea. I left it on the railing and went back for the band's next set, and when I came out again it was gone. With any luck it was off eating Gypsy Moths. Odds are it just got eaten by another Mantis.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Last night (and this morning) was the second and (probably) final "final" Blue Sundaze show.

It was a bit of a surprise for all involved. A friend of the band accidentally double-booked himself for Friday night, and needed to find a replacement to fulfill one of his commitments. Rose from Blue Sundaze is always eager to play out, and it didn't take much convincing to get the other members of the band to drag their equipment some 35 miles upstream to a bar in one of the more affluent parts of Northeastern PA.*

The show was good, as always. But early in the night somebody decided to start yelling "FREEBIRD!" after every song.

Now I have nothing against Lynyrd Skynyrd. I think they created some of the most intelligent (Mr. Saturday Night Special, That Smell), thoughtful (Simple Kind of Man, Tuesday's Gone) and funny (Gimme Three Steps) songs in '70's popular culture (although Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and, of course, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath would certainly give them a run for their money.) Free Bird is, in and of itself, a good song, if perhaps a bit overrated. But the amusement value of the "Freebird!" phenomenon (yelling out "Freebird!" in-between songs in an attempt to convince the band to play the song, and you think that this will be persuasive because you are a drunken inbred redneck hick) and the related meta-phenomenon (yelling out "Freebird!" because you think it's funny, and don't mind that everyone assumes you are a drunken inbred redneck hick) wears thin pretty fast. Really, two dozen repetitions is probably the maximum number a reasonable person could expect to be permitted to make before being dragged from their stool and pounded into unrecognizable organic paste in the woods behind the bar by the band's oversized and generally tolerant photographer.

But violent fantasies aside, I think that there is one easy fix for the "Freebird!" phenomenon: I think every band, regardless of genre, regardless of any other consideration, should learn to play Free Bird.

And not just learn it. Learn to play it well. Learn to play it without irony. Maybe learn a few other songs by Skynyrd, too. (My votes are for Simple Kind of Man and Tuesday's Gone.) And then, if anybody from the crowd yells out "Freebird!" the band could immediately play a note-perfect version of the song. (The other songs could be used if the alternate "Play some Skynyrd, man!" is shouted from the audience. I myself am guilty of yelling this.)

Yes, if someone calls for Free Bird, you play Free Bird. Once.

And after that, anyone calling for it gets pounded to paste.

*This meant that instead of drunken trailer trash and skanky ho's, the bar was full of glassy-eyed coked-up frat boys in golf visors, khaki shorts and docksiders. I'm starting to wonder if I'm really not a "people person".

Friday, August 05, 2005

Final Unanswerable answered!

A few months ago I posted a list of four musical unanswerables, questions that had been bugging me for years that I hadn't been able to answer on my own. Two involved Billy Idol, and these were answered by visiting Billy Idol fans. The other two yielded to some good old-fashioned internet sleuthing.

The final Unanswerable was: Who was the platinum-haired dancer in David Bowie's Fame '90 video - the one who does a flip over his back?

The answer: Louise LeCavalier!

Hooray! Now on to more burning questions. As soon as I can think of some.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

More insects in my garden

The first time I ever saw a hummingbird moth was in my grandmother's garden more than 20 years ago. I would guess that it was hanging around her Phlox, since they were pink and the one I managed to photograph this past weekend seemed to have a predilection for pink flowers.

Hummingbird moths are easily mistaken for hummingbirds - probably more easily mistaken for hummingbirds than they are for moths, which they, like all the hawkmoths, resemble almost not at all: they move like hummingbirds, they sound like hummingbirds, they feed like hummingbirds, and they look like hummingbirds - at first glance. Closer inspection usually leads you to notice the partially transparent wings, the antennae, and the very un-birdlike extra sets of legs. "Closer inspection" itself is a hint: hummingbirds are very skittish and will usually propel themselves away from any approaching hulks of humanity. Hummingbird moths will let you get right up next to them, as long as you don't make any sudden moves.

Hummingbird moths are very unusual-looking creatures. This is actually true of most insects - and, hell, most animals in general, when you get down to it. But most people don't take the time to get down to it. Hummingbird moths are not rare, at least in my neck of the woods, and are very active in the day. Hang out around some pink trumpet-shaped flowers (like these petunias) long enough this weekend and odds are you'll get to see one on your own - provided you live in a part of the world where they also live. It would help to have some kids along for the ride. Not so they could scream and run away or try to squish the poor beasties, but so they could start to learn to appreciate the enormous diversity of nature in their own back yards.

I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed with the lack of color among the visitors to my butterfly bushes. Besides the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies, the most common critters hanging around are the smaller Silver-Spotted Skippers.

Skippers are interesting to me for one major reason: they are neither butterflies nor moths, but are actually a third sort of big-winged insect that has characteristics in common with both. (I just found this out yesterday morning.)

I also find their coloration interesting. While the large white spot on the wings may serve to break up their overall outline, I can't shake the impression that they look like dark brown butterflies that have just been crapped on by a bird.

Do birds generally avoid eating things that they have crapped on? (This would explain why no birds have ever attempted to eat my car.)

I have not paid close enough attention in the past to know what the cycles of insects are in my own back yard. Will there come a time when my butterfly bushes will be covered with Monarch butterflies? Will something even more remarkable than a hummingbird moth come swooping out of the sky? I don't know. But I will keep my eyes open, and my camera handy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bush weighs in on "Intelligent Design"

I've been trying to say something about this latest in a series of actions (the one-week early nomination of a possible "stealth" candidate as a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor, the recess appointment of John Bolton as U.N.-hating U.S. ambassador to the U.N.) that seem to be designed to deflect attention away from the fact that Karl "Turd Blossom"* Rove is hard pressed to extract any sort of blossom from the ginormous turd that he has turned into. I could sputter something about really not giving a damn about the opinions of a draft-dodging born-again cokehead on matters of science and education, but hell, he is the President of the United States.

If you don't know what the pseudoscientific "theory" of "Intelligent Design" is, I'm not going to provide any links to sites which might attempt to provide it with some legitimacy. Let's just say that 1) it's pseudo-science, not science, 2) it's a religious doctrine formerly known as "Scientific Creationism", 3) it rehashes in a shoddy way arguments that were made much more skillfully many years ago by theologians and religious philosophers who didn't see the need to dress them up and call them science, 4) again, it's not science, and 5) arguments to the contrary are a load of crap.

But I'm sputtering. I'm not making a logical, rational argument here. You know what? This is an emotional issue for me. I've studied science all my life, every day of my life. When someone who has only touched on science in a peripheral, cursory way presumes to be in a position to make declarations about what is and is not "science", I get pissed off.

Adam Felber handles it better. Read his Fanatical Apathy post The Return of the Lobster. He has links to even better arguments, from people who actually know science.

Yet another reason why anyone who voted for this dumbass President, and especially anyone who encouraged others to vote for him, should hang his or her head in shame. This is your fault.

*A nickname coined by George "Dubya" Bush, not Garry Trudeau, despite what a few small-brained folks in Providence and Austin seem to think.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

One more last chance

Once again I turn the blog over to Rose from Blue Sundaze:

dear ::insert your name here::
i hope you all have been well. i would like to take a moment and discuss something very serious- a modern day miracle. a guitarist whom derrick and i know (henceforth known as SAINT john quinn, or SAINT q-ball, depending on how you know him...) has accidentally double booked his band, which means that he had to cancel one of them.... and he gave it to US!!! derrick and i (and im ASSUMING ray and john) were hoping to have one more good jam before the resident hen leaves for school but didnt think it would happen (which is WHY its a miracle)...
in other words,
BLUE SUNDAZE WILL PERFORM ITS FINAL LAST GIG OF THE SUMMER AT WELLINGTONS IN CLARK SUMMIT THIS FRIDAY THE 5TH OF AUGUST FROM 10PM- 2AM. (i hope no one on this list is color blind and cant see blue... if you are you should really get that checked out...)

its very easy to find, and not far from tunkhannock, which isnt really far from dallas, which isnt very far from wilkes-barre, dupont, or are directions:

that is all.

rose+ ray+ john+ derrick = blue sundaze (like a pill, always take with plenty of fluids... preferably of the beer variety)

ps- there will be a group of us praising st. q-ball and all of his good deeds this saturday at 5 facing mecca- come and join.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Apologies in advance

George W. Bush has bypassed the Senate and has made a recess appointment of John Bolton to serve as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

This is exactly the sort of thing we have all come to expect from the Dubya administration. First he nominated a highly controversial and extremely divisive candidate to the position; then he refused to turn over relevant documents to the people who were responsible for the approval or rejection of the candidate; then, when it looked like his candidate would not be approved, he simply exploited a loophole in the rules to get his way anyway. It's all very reminiscent of the way Dubya himself came to power in the first place.

When Clinton was president, people who didn't like him proudly displayed bumper stickers declaring that he wasn't their president. Today that same sort of bumper sticker would be considered treasonous.

Bush occupies the White House. But he doesn't represent me. He doesn't speak for me. And this clown that he was only able to appoint to the U.N. by bypassing the constitutional mechanisms for approval doesn't speak for me either.

But we're stuck with both of them for a while. Sometimes shit happens in a democracy. Please bear with us.

Apologies in advance.