Today was a pretty rough day. I got some news I’ve been hoping to get for some time, and it’s really good news. Almost better than good and it will help my home life a lot. All day at my desk, I fought distraction from my work at hand because what I am working on is proving difficult to learn and even harder to master, yet I must do it to accomplish a goal that I set for the project at work. And to top it all off (not really), I heard that Sally Ride died on the same day that a friend reported on Twitter that her father died unexpectedly.
Through all of this I managed to set aside the good news, make some progress on the stuff at work to the point where I might actually accomplish something this week, and yet I found myself quite moved by my friend’s announcement. I kept coming back to it, more than once over the course of the afternoon.
Her father died, unexpectedly. They were waiting on finding out whether or not he had cancer. Again. And she lost her mother just over a year ago. This is more than my mind can grasp. And I want to say things about how sorry I am, but I keep getting the impression that I’m focusing on my feelings and what I want to say or do and it just doesn’t seem right.
I’ve read that when someone loses a close family member, that it’s not the best thing to say “Let me know if I can help in any way.” The person is not in a state of mind to ask for anything. That sometimes it’s simply better to go over and help. Clean the dishes, mow the lawn, take them out to lunch, or just be there sitting quietly with them.
But when that person is a country away and in all honesty you don’t know them that well, what can you do? I find myself circling back to how I would feel if I lost both of my parents and how sad and heartbroken I would be. And I find that’s about all I can do. Sit with that sadness, be with it for my friend. Feel it. Find out what color it is? How does it make me feel physically? What does it smell like?
This is the best I can hope to do, I think. I can’t lighten this burden, I can’t take it away, and nor would I want to. As godawful as this is, I wouldn’t do that because this is what makes us who we are.
In the end, it comes around to more than sympathy, an honest attempt at approaching empathy for something you’ve never experienced yourself, but know you will one day.
Oh, and the rest of the stuff that happened today? It’ll wait until tomorrow.
This week was my birthday. A “milestone” birthday that everyone else thinks is significant, but I was not planning on making a big deal of it. I don’t consider it that much of a huge accomplishment to reach the age of 40. It’s not like I did anything except take reasonably good care of myself and not get hit by a bus.
My wife, however, had different ideas.
On Tuesday, she contacted me at work and asked if I wanted to go to our favorite fast casual restaurant for dinner. Of course, I agreed. It’s tasty and we had a coupon for a free entree. So she picked me up at the Metro and we had dinner and it was nice. When we got home, I was putting my leftovers in the fridge when I turned around to see a bunch of cards hanging from the chandelier in our dining room.
Now, it’s not unknown for my wife to do fun things with stuff like this. I thought she probably just thought it would be fun to spruce things up a bit and hang the cards from ribbons on the chandelier instead of placing them on the top of the piano like we normally do. We have plenty of ribbon that we are unlikely to use anytime soon, and so that was one fun thing to do with it. On the table was a small box, too. And then she brought out a cake. Yay! It’s a little birthday at home. I am content.
Then I start looking at the cards and the box more closely. The cards are not from the usual places. I don’t have family in Boston. Or Alabama. And there’s far more than family members. That’s a lot of cards. The box has an airmail sticker on the outside and it’s a bit beat up, as if it went a long way. And it was sent from Australia. Huh? What’s going on here.
So I start taking them off of the chandelier and see that they are from all over the place. Some have names, some don’t. I start to realize that there’s been a conspiracy here. My wife has contacted many of our online friends and they have sent cards for my birthday. This is really awesome. People from California, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, Utah, Massachusetts, Oregon, Florida, Alabama and others took the time to find a card, write something nice in it and send it. My wife held onto all of them for days.
Oh, and the box from Australia? Chocolate that you can only get there. Cadbury Footy Bites and two, count them, two!, packages of Tim Tams that you can’t get in the U.S. This is awesome!
And so monday ends and I am happy, my wife is tickled pink and quite proud of herself for pulling this off. Yes, she is quite proud of herself. And it’s well deserved. And you see that there is more blog post here. Let’s continue…
Kate picks me up at the Metro again, we have a doctor’s appointment. In the car is another box! And an Express Mail envelope! These are obviously latecomers, of which we knew we’d have a few.
The express mail envelope is surprising. Someone spent almost $20 to send a card for me. Brian, really, you could have waited. I open the express mail envelope and inside is a beat-to-hell wrinkled-up yellow greeting card envelope. Inside is a card and it has a monkey on it. This is not surprising seeing as this is a fellow Jonathan Coulton fan. Then I open the card. And it’s signed by Jonathan Coulton. With an added message “Not enough monkeys!”. This. is. AWESOME! Wow. I am floored.
In the box is an equally cool gift. It’s from our friends Tara and Sean in Utah who know I have an affinity for the space program. In the box, along with a lovely card (Tara does have a way with words) and a little space rocket toy. I look at it more closely and it’s a ballpoint pen in the shape of an Ares rocket. And, to top it off, it’s spring loaded and it launches! I can’t wait to open this up. I think I’ll take it to work and keep it on my desk. If someone needs a pen, I’ll say, “Ok, stand back and get ready to catch. 3…2…1… Liftoff!” I tried it this weekend and launching it from the dining room table, it comes within a foot of hitting the top of our 9 foot ceilings.
And so I get a second day of birthday excitement and fun.
Not much happens on thursday and friday. We’re cleaning house looking forward to a visit from our friends Thera and Josh as they drive back home from the beach.
So Thera and Josh arrive. I’m cooking something for my lunch this week. And it’s cooling on the stove when they arrive.
At some poing, they remember that they have some stuff in the car that needs to be put into the fridge. I go outside and help get the stuff out of the car, I return to put the stuff in the fridge and as I come out of the kitchen, I see someone in the grass outside out patio and I thought it was workmen or some neighbors or kids walking by. So I look out the window more closely and I see a t-shirt that I recognize from JoCo Cruise Crazy 2 and Molly. The person in the t-shirt ducks behind a wall, but I can still see Molly out there.
I turn to Josh and say “Josh, what’s going on here?”
“I don’t know anything“, he replies.What’s going on here. Why is Molly outside my patio?
I glance outside again and I see people carrying stuff. Nerds. Carrying stuff! “Josh, what is going on?”
“Really, I don’t know anything about this!”
So at this point I realize that my wife has organized something. Again. I go into the back room, and I say “Kate, What did you do?!”
She calls back through the door, “I’m in the bathroom!”
So I go back outside and Josh is still in the living room, Thera is nowhere to be found, and there are still a dozen nerds on my back porch. I’m shocked and surprised and finally open the door and start letting people in. Suddenly there are a dozen sea monkeys in our condo carrying food and drinks and snacks, salad and cake and all sorts of things. A card is shoved in my hand. A gift bag. A large gift bag. Wow.
Needless to say, I’m still shocked and still surprised but I soon realize that our little living room and dining area won’t hold this many people. So I say “Let’s move the couch over here” and like some sort of domestic Transformer, the room is suddenly reconfigured to hold more people. Kate is bringing out chairs and people are settling down and I’m floored.
Presents are opened, games are played, cake is eaten, everyone has a good time and I thanked numerous times for getting older and giving everyone a reason to have a party.
After all this, Kate asks me some questions about how the day went. And she makes the point that sometimes things are celebrated in ways that you don’t expect it and that sometimes the things you expect aren’t the things you want. And that sometimes things that you don’t want to celebrate should be celebrated anyway because they are important as much as you don’t want to admit it.
This week I turned 40 years old. I don’t feel it, people tell me I don’t look it, I hope I don’t act it (except at work). But what really happened is that I got to spend this week with someone who loves me in ways I am still learning about, and I got to celebrate it a second time with an amazing group of friendly, kind, generous and amazing people.
This week I’ve been sick. Now, I’ve had my share of illnesses over the years. Flu, mono, the occasional so-tired-I-sleep-for 18-hours-straight, seasonal allergies (it’s like being sick 8 weeks out of the year!), but this time seemed different somehow.
So here’s how the story goes…
A good friend is moving across the country. We decide to throw her a party on saturday. It’s nice, it’s fun, we’ll see our friends, we’ll have a fond farewell. Photographs, card games, good times, munchies, root beer, cake.
Hey, wait… who invited the norovirus?
24 hours after the party ended, my wife and I got sick. So sick that our bellies decided to disobey the standard rules of digestion and forcefully evict, without a warrant or barely a warning, the food we’d eaten over the past 24 hours. Needless to say, Sunday night was pretty rough. Between bouts of queasiness, praying that it will pass without having to kneel before the (thankfully recently sanitized) toilet, visiting the toilet more than once, and trying to get some sleep, it was almost a miracle we made it through the night.
After things started to calm down at 1am, I thought I’d warn our guests that we’d been sick and to see if any of them had come down with anything. I started a group chat with them on Facebook. Sadly, within an hour of my initial post, someone else was feeling queasy. And by the end of the next day, a good 60% of our guests had the same symptoms.
Monday comes and we’re wiped out. I don’t think I’ve ever been more tired in my life. Not when I biked a metric century (62 miles) without being prepared for it. Not when I tried to walk 5 miles home and ended up walking 15 (didn’t quite make it home.) Not even when I had mono (two weeks in bed.) I realize now that b monday morning, we effectively hadn’t eaten in nearly 36 hours, and had about 4-5 hours of uncomfortable sleep. Not a great combination. And to top it off, having an upset stomach, to put it mildly, meant that we had no interest in eating anything whatsoever.
I somehow made my way to the grocery store that morning to stock up on Pedialyte (yay! On sale!), juices, crackers, soup, and other gentle foods to ease our bodies back into the idea of digestion. I think I must have been an odd sight: 8am in the grocery, barely showered and groomed, trudging through the store, taking upwards of 30-35 minutes to pick up a selection of items that filled one grocery bag, at a time when most normal people are just getting to their desks.
The rest of the day passes in a blur, more or less. After we moved the furniture around in the living room, converting the floor to a bed by way of the mattress from the hide-a-bed sofa, and turning on the TV, we zoned out, make sure we each always had water and juice, and checked our email as we could. Sleeping now and again, resting, hoping that the crackers I ate thirty minutes ago will stay down, even though my stomach is threatening another rebel uprising.
By and large, with enough sleep and managing the 101º fever, things begin to move back to a state of normal. We were able to commiserate with our friends, taking comfort in the shared experience and that in the end, there’s really no one to blame. It could be that someone, anyone, picked up the virus and it spread rapidly with all the hugging and handshaking going on. But we were able to support each other and offer advice and sometimes that’s a good thing to have.
Everything is better today, with the exception that our guest of honor at the party had to delay her trip by a few days. Fortunately she was able to work things out with her soon-to-be ex-landlord to stay a few more days and I hope that the airline said “Why of course we’ll change your ticket for free, Ma’am. We’d rather you just keep that nice little virus to yourself!”. (Somehow, I don’t think it went down like that.)
But what this all boils down to is that I have come to have a much greater appreciation for illness than I did before. Typically and historically I have a pretty strong immune system and don’t fall ill often. I like to think of it as a trade-off for fighting grass pollen two months out of the year. So usually when I do get sick, I’m a miserable, insufferable, whiny, bitch about it. This time around, I somehow found a way of accepting it and I think I gained a greater understanding and empathy for those who have chronic or other severe illnesses. For me, there are few things worse than vomiting, which in my case is pretty bad. It made me think about cancer patients going through chemotherapy and how they face this sort of thing week after week and I can only get a glimpse of how they find the strength to continue to go on with the treatments again and again. Lying on the living room floor for two days, I think about people who have CFS or other chronic illnesses and how it feels to have what seems like a two ton weight on your entire body such that simply sitting up takes all the strength you have. And yet these people still hold jobs and have families and lives. It’s amazing.
I guess it makes me thankful that I am healthy, but at the same time I’m a bit guilty for having taken it for granted for so long.
In an earlier post, I wrote about how the only constant in life is change. Oxymoronic, I suppose.
Take a pencil. Hold it out in the palm of your hand. Is your hand steady? Does it shake? Does your hand wobble a bit, up and down. Your muscles aren’t able to hold something steady like that. Not really. They are pulling both up and down at the same time. Your brain and your eyes tell your your muscles dozens of times a second how to move to keep your palm up and in the same position holding that pencil.
I think life is sort of like that, too. We are always forced to adapt to new things, new changes, new experiences, new conditions that make up our ever-changing world. The trouble comes in when we resist those changes. We fight tooth and nail (figuratively, of course) to keep things as they were, but things are never as they were. That’s the big joke. The more we fight it, the more miserable we are.
There are certain people in my life who are unable to come to terms with the fact that I am not the same person that I was a few years ago. Circumstances and a desire to grow as a person have caused this change. What used to be the norm for me has changed and it’s hard for them to come to terms with that. What’s really hard for them to see is that this new me is a more healthier me. Maybe one day things will click.
And now that I think about it, I wonder if they themselves haven’t changed somewhat. Hard to say, really. I can’t assume anything either way. Not until I think about this some more.
In any case, life has something planned for you. Be ready for it. Big or small, it will require of you an adjustment. I guarantee it.
It’s partially a joke, because I managed to somehow book my hotel for one night when I needed four for a conference here in Chicago. I am about to check out of my room and move to another hotel for the next two nights. (They were able to accommodate me for one more night. Yay, me.)
But this really turns out to be a failure on multiple levels. Let’s break them down:
Failure #1. This one is all mine. I booked the hotel wrong on the website, I didn’t review the reservation, I didn’t review my paperwork. I take full responsibility for this one. My penance: skipping dinner with my colleagues from around the world (really!) to search for a new hotel in a city where every hotel is booked solid, except the Trump Luxury Suites (or whatever it was called) for $650 a night. (for the record, I found a room a bit further out of the city.)
Failure #2. The hotel. When you check in to a hotel, do they review your planned stay with you? “Thank you for your credit card, Mr. Richard. We have you staying for one night, checking out tomorrow by 11am. Sign here.” “Woah, wait, one night? No, I need three!” This didn’t happen. I’m not saying this is this hotel’s policy, but this has been the case in the past and it didn’t happen here. Even though we step back to Failure #1, this could have helped the situation by catching it earlier.
Failure #3. Overnight, a bill was slipped under my door for the two nights in which I stayed here. Good, procedures are being followed. They certainly weren’t being followed the night before when I didn’t get a bill for my first night’s stay. Not even a receipt. Had I received that I would have been on the phone finding a new hotel at 7am instead of 7pm and I would have a different experience and possibly a greater chance at finding a close-in hotel somewhere other that Mr. Mega-millions Luxury Motel.
I’m not blaming the hotel for this. I made the mistake. I didn’t follow my own procedure to review my trip info before I left.
But what it really brought to mind was that when we develop software and websites, it’s important to have procedures on how we do that. From planning to development to testing to documentation to usability and incorporating user feedback, we need sound processes that are always followed. This insures the highest quality product and the highest level of service to our customers, users and patrons.
And maybe you won’t be left trying to avoid sleeping on the streets of Chicago, either.
My cat died today. She was 11 and a half years old. Our little world at home will never be the same.
It was sudden, but not unexpected. She’d been sick for a while, but we did our best to make sure she didn’t suffer. I accept that our pets must die for they don’t live as long as we do, but as their owners, we must make sure that we keep them free of pain and suffering. I have to remind myself almost hourly that we did our best by her.
Now, our condo is a constant reminder of her absence. I think that’s the hardest part. From the place where her food and water constantly got in the way of my feet in the kitchen, to the sun shining in the window onto the bed, where she would lay for hours in winter soaking in the heat. Even the color of the carpet and the shades on the wall are reminiscent of the grey of her fur and the green of her eyes.
I feel cheated. Angry. Furious at the unfairness of the world. She was only 11 years old. Cats live longer than that. I knew she was getting old and had arthritis in her hips, but I wasn’t prepared for this. She got sick. She stopped eating. We took to the vet, we got her IV fluids, we tried to get her to eat. But in the end, I think it was cancer that got her. We had a biopsy taken just yesterday. The results won’t be in until next week.
I console myself that she went when she was ready to go. It was her choice, not ours. We just weren’t ready for it. We didn’t recognize the signs at the time. We rushed her to the Veterinary ER at 6am. She was gone five minutes after arrival. The staff there were exceptionally kind and understanding for people who probably see this every day. They said that some animals ‘check out’ when they go and that their body takes a little longer to figure it out. I think this was the case with our Coby. It’s going to be hard to remember things other than the glazed-over look in her eyes as I broke several traffic laws to get to the Vet as fast as I could.
When we came home, broken hearted, to an empty home, we cleaned, the activity giving us something to take our mind off. But it’s not enough. Eventually you run out of things to do. Your mind wanders back to that shadow, is that here laying there in the corner? Or you see the corner of the wall where she used to rub her cheek. Or the end of the couch that was essentially reserved for her. But the food bowl is gone, waiting to be washed and put away. The blanket on the couch is in the wash with all the towels we’d put on the floor to make cleanup easier.
How do you get through? I can just hope that the hurt is less tomorrow than it is today.
Chicken nuggets taste good. That’s an understatement. They are a marvel of food engineering made to directly push the buttons of the food-desire centers of our brains. They are arguably one of the tastiest things ever invented, and possibly one of the unhealthiest food that one can consume. I just saw an ad on television for Tyson chicken nuggets. And it was, of course, aimed directly at parents and, by extension, their children. There were children in the ad eating them and smiling and I couldn’t help but think to myself, why would any half-nutritionally-conscious parent ever give their child something like that to eat.
Sure, they are tasty and easy and there are a myraid of dipping sauces to accompany the golden nuggety goodness, but they are so bad for you! And they are marketing them directly to children!
So I comment on this to my wife and she suggest what alternative is there for a parent whose kid won’t eat anything? So I postulated that perhaps the child wouldn’t have acquired a taste for chicken nuggets if the parents hadn’t given them to the child in the first place?
And so the topic came up of what did people do when their kids didn’t like what was offered to them before there were chicken nuggets? Invented in the 1950s but first introduced to the American public in 1980, we were raised, for the most part, as children who didn’t know chicken nuggets. What did we eat before then? I guess we ate whatever was put in front of us. Our parents were, for the most part, children of depression-era parents who likely made sure they ate what was available, but as the generations went on, things changed we moved further and further away from that mindset.
Now we have super cheap, super-not-very-healthy food choices that may be on sale for $3.99 for a three pound bag of chicken nuggets. It baffles the mind the number of choices we have available to us and yet none of them are terribly healthy for us. I’ve been trying to cook most or all of the food I eat and as much work as that is, I think I do feel better for it. At the least, I can say that I’m taking in fewer chemicals than before.
So here’s to making your own food, but sometimes I just crave that golden, delicious chicken nugget.
Traditionally, spring has been pretty rough for me, and on some days, it still is. What with all the trees and flowers and grass and plants gettin’ busy. For whatever reason, that particular part of my DNA doesn’t seem to want to tell my body that the pollen isn’t bad for me, or my body continues to think it is.
But in either case, as I’ve mentioned before, I take public transit to work and that has given me the opportunity to see things I’ve never taken the time to really see before. No, it’s not the gaggle of navy officers in their dress whites that inundated the subway car one day last fall. Nor is it the arrogance and audacity of the guy who sticks his foot in the subway door and forces his way in. Nor yet is it the smooth businessman hitting on the lady standing next to him when the train was superbly crowded (punchline: “When I’m this close to a woman, we usually have drinks.”)
New Tree Growth on an evergreen tree.
No, today, its nature in the springtime. I nearly always avoid being outdoors or opening the windows during the high point of spring. Usually it’s the insanely high pollen levels that would reduce me to a sniffling, sneezing, disgusting blob of concentrated unhappy. Thanks to modern medicine (screw you, DNA!) I can do moderately well most days in the spring, with some caveats that I can handle.
So I walk to the bus and I walk to work and I stand outside waiting for the metro. And this week, on the way to the bus stop, I saw, for the first time in either my entire life or so many years that I’ve forgotten, I saw a tree growing.
Yeah, I know! Crazy, huh? Trees take years to grow! But if you look closely and look at the right time of year, you can watch it happen. Day by day, opening like the petals on a flower, a tree produces its own new sprig of leaves. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to see, but the evergreens and conifers show it most vividly in that their new growth so brightly contrasts with the old.
We’ve had a rainy winter and spring, so the ground is quite saturated. I think that’s contributing to the explosive grown in the trees this year. To be honest, we’re overdue give the dryness of the past couple of years. Even the grass is growing like mad (much to the disapproval of my nose), but it’s good to see. Very good to see.
So spring continues and summer will come, but I’m in no hurry. I’m enjoying the show.
Right now there’s quite the light and sound show going on as we get the first real downpour of the year. Except for some snow earlier this winter, we haven’t had a lot of weather come our way lately. Spring around here often brings more rain and more cloudy days, which is to be expected. “April showers bring May flowers,” as the saying goes. But this downpour feels like something wicked that comes in the burning dog days of summer when you know it’s going to cool things off only a bit and what’ll be left is the sticky, swampy humidity of Washington DC in summer.
I think I like rain because, at least in my mind, it would be the only thing that could give relief to my allergies (at least until the modern pharmaceutical industry came around) but I’m really not sure. It’s definitely fun to go play in the rain, but I certainly would do it around here, what with the giant high-voltage electrical tower (read: lightning rod) about 30 yards from my home. I seem to remember playing in the rain as a kid. At least I like to think I did. I remember many things from my childhood, but that’s not one of them.
I do recall one day, it must have been in the first grade, and it was time to go home and there was a big storm headed our way. It wasn’t a hurricane, that’s for sure, even though they were common in south Louisiana growing up. But it was not your run-of-the mill rain-shower, either. It must have been three in the afternoon, but the sky was dark like it is after sunset. And the rain was coming down hard. I remember the covered walkways we had between buildings. The water would pool up in certain places under those walkways, so it was either get your feet wet or get your head soaked. I must have run through that to get to the bus, but I don’t remember that. I have this image of the dark skies and the pouring rain and the puddle of water where the concrete was not quite level.
One of the things I miss most about rain is the lack of certain sounds when living in a condo. There are two stories above me and I no longer get to hear the rain on the roof, a calming, comforting sound if ever there was one. I have to content myself with the pluck-pluck-pluck of the water dripping on the downspout outside the window and the sound of the rain on gardens and sidewalk, cars and concrete.
Still, though, there’s nothing like a good thunderstorm. If this keeps up any longer, they’ll be calling for flood warnings down by the river tomorrow morning.
Another huge flash-boom. The storm sounds like it’s right on top of us, but there are still echos of thunder a ways off. I hope this lasts all night… I’ll sleep like a baby if it does.