Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Update On Scraps

Scraps went to her oncologist today.  The oncologist is our gal and she's Scraps' gal, too.  She's an amazing doctor.  Not Scraps, the oncologist.  In the first week of August, you may recall, she predicted that Scraps might last the week.  Imagine, then, her surprise to see Scraps today.  Perhaps it was more shock than surprise.
"You mean," she gasped, "that she still jumps up on the bed?"
We were surprised to hear ourselves say that yes, she still jumps up on the bed.
"You mean," she again gasped, "that she walks down the hall to the cat box?"
We began to wonder if we did, indeed, mean that but, of course, since she does walk down the hall we realized that we did mean it.
The veterinary oncologist is astonished.
"I've never seen anything like this," she said.
She said a lot of other stuff, too, but all of it boiled down to the acknowledgment that Scraps, like her hero Mehitabel the Cat, wants to keep right on dancing.
Of course, we get it that Scraps is beginning to wrap things up.  Pretty soon -- probably very soon -- either she or we or the oncologist will call it quits and Scraps will journey in a different direction.
But, oh my, what a wonderful and amazing time she will have had of it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What To Do When You Can't See The Bumps

All was smooth and well yesterday on the Jet Blue flight from New York's JFK to our own little Burbank airport until about six thousand feet before landing.  The pilot came on and said there was nothing to be done about it.  We were in for a rough few minutes.  Apparently the Verdugo Mountains were doing their thing with the air currents.  Minutes after the pilot made his announcement the plane began demonstrating the many different positions it could be in at the same time.  It didn't seem that bad to me but the flight attendants also made announcements about how to keep from throwing up.  When the plane landed a few people applauded.  I'm not sure about the intended recipient of the applause.  Was it the pilot or God?  At any rate, here are the instructions from the flight attendants:  Don't look out the window.  Make sure the overhead vent is wide open and blowing on you.  Look straight ahead.  Keep an air sickness bag handy.  There's little chance for a metaphor there unless it's stay focused on the future.  Looking out the window only tells you where you've been or where you are right at that moment which, as everyone on the plane knew, was passing through some of life's rough, invisible bumps.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thankful Day

Happy Thanksgiving.  Even if you don't like turkey or can be with friends or family declaring a day to appreciate what we have is a pretty good idea.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beware A DMV Bearing Gifts

Sometime in the middle of September I received in the mail a congratulatory notice from the California Department of Motor Vehicles informing me that I - because of some outstanding personal accomplishment - was eligible to renew my driver's license on line.  I went immediately to my computer to enjoy the reward only to discover that the DMV website was down.  One thing lead to another in my busy and amazingly productive life and I didn't get back to the website until the first week of October.  Not to worry, though, because my congratulatory and instructional letter informed me that I would have my new driver's license in the mail within five days of on line completion.  I was still two months away from an expired license.  This time I easily got on the web site, completed the application, gave a credit card number for the fee and began marking the five day waiting period off on my calendar.  The five days grew to almost the two months left of my license.  I tried calling the DMV but was put on hold where I stayed for well over thirty minutes.  I planned my next attempt at calling around my work schedule.  I set aside a block of time to do paperwork, used the speaker phone and, after going through a myriad of punch this number if you want that service selections was finally put on hold where I remained for well over an hour.  I've never gotten so much paperwork done at one time in my entire professional career.  Finally a human came on the line.  I was told that it actually takes about three months to renew on line but I would receive a temporary license if I wanted to do so within two weeks.  That was getting close to driving with an expired license time but I had no options left.  Yes, please, I begged for the temporary license and was assured that one would mosey down my way from Sacramento.  Two weeks to the day later, at the very moment my license was to expire, my new plastic sort of permanent license arrived in the mail.  Three days later I received my temporary license.  I'm thinking I should use the temporary one until it expires and then start using my more or less permanent one.  And I suppose just about anything is better than waiting at the DMV for several hours.  So all in all this renew on line thing worked out pretty well, I guess.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Do You Remember Where You Were?

The pink pillbox hat would soon be covered with his blood and we would all of us know in a heartbeat that Camelot was closed and shuttered.  Nothing made sense that day.  My brother located me in the foreign language laboratory where I was pretending to care about learning to speak French.  I don't know how he found me.  I was unaware that he even knew my schedule.  But there he was standing in front of me.  Tears were rolling down his face and he was trying to speak. 
I took off my headphones just in time to hear him say, "He's dead."  Somehow I knew he wasn't talking about our father, who had years left to live, or about any other relative or even about some movie star we both admired.  I knew just from looking at him that, indeed, he was dead.  Nevertheless, I asked in true little sister fashion, "Who?"  "The President," he said.  "They shot him.  He's dead."  I got up and together we walked from the language laboratory and onto a campus where thousands of people - students and teachers and custodians and visitors - walked slowly from place to place weeping.  People gathered during those first few days not to talk but to just gather.  And wander pointlessly from place to place.  Theaters closed and the country knew coast to coast sadness.
That's where we were and I will never forget that day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just A Scraps Update

Perhaps by this time you've forgotten that Scraps the Dying Cat is still alive.  Well, she is.  Still alive.  She's not just hanging on, mind you.  She's eating and walking around and complaining when breakfast or dinner is late -- you know -- being a cat.
Yeah, she's still got that growing tumor which she apparently has decided to ignore.  Of course, she's not as lively as she once was but even without the tumor that might be that case.  Scraps is, after all, fifteen or sixteen years old.  A gal is bound to begin slowing down eventually.
At any rate, Scraps says she'll keep us posted.
She's given new meaning to staying in the moment and to not making assumptions about longevity.  Every night I say to her, "Goodnight.  Maybe I'll see you in the morning."
And every morning I'm surprised that I am, indeed, seeing her alive and, except for the fact that she's dying, well.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Airport Security Solution Worth Considering

Every weekday morning I wake up to the Stephanie Miller talk radio show.  She's on here in LaLaLand from six until nine on 1150 AM.  When the show first started she had a hard time getting guests so one of her co-hosts Jim Ward simply did impersonations of guests they would have liked to have on the show.  Now the show has grown with guests galore.  Still people call in to offer their opinions on various world situations.  The other morning a caller presented his/her solution to the increased TSA activities at airports.  Everyone going through security has to enter a sealed capsule for a few seconds.  Any explosives on or in the person in the capsule will be detonated.  No explosives no explosion.  Yes explosives an explosion.  The caller also pointed out that no more would be airplane bombers would have to be arrested and put on trial.  The only inconvenience would be that the sealed capsules might have to be cleaned up every once in awhile.
Just something to think about while standing in the see through scanner or getting our business patted down or explored while trying to fly home for the holidays.

Birthday Rain

I woke up to a wonderful birthday gift -- rain.  For most of today it has rained.  And every drop that fell was just for me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

But This Is Different

The first publication of Steel Cut Press http://SteelCutPress.com is now available.  But This Is Different is a novel written by constant witsend blogger Mary Walker Baron.  Please visit the web site and, if the mood strikes you, buy the book.  You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Well This Is Terrifying

Sarah Palin has finally stated that she will run for president and that she can beat Obama.  My hair is standing on end and my blood is running cold.  What if she did not only run but win?  I find the whole thing to terrifying to contemplate and yet what if it's possible?  Every fiber in my body screams NO WAY but stupider things have happened especially lately.  This possibility must be considered and taken very seriously.  We've got a lot more to fear than fear itself here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sweetest Smell

I discovered today that the sweetest, most intoxicating smell imaginable is a book never before opened, freshly printed.  Today I opened the novel I wrote, But This Is Different, and breathed in intoxicating magic.
I'll tell you more about this book later.
For now, know that it exists cover to cover.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Let Us Remember Her

On this date thirty-two years ago Dr. Margaret Mead died.  In her life she changed the way we think about life and the way we live our lives.

Here, in tribute, are a few of her more famous quotes:

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.

Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man. 

I learned the value of hard work by working hard. 

I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had. 

And the words that have most influenced me are those that appear above her picture on this page.  We can change the world.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thank You William Saletan

This is part of a piece that appeared in Slate.com on Friday.  I hope more and more and more people in positions to be read and heard voice such opinions.

Pelosi's Triumph -- Democrats didn't lose the battle of 2010. They won it.

I'm not buying the autopsy or the obituary (voiced by the people who blame the Democrats). In the national exit poll, voters were split  on health care. Unemployment is at nearly 10 percent. Democrats lost a lot of seats that were never really theirs, and those who voted against the bill lost at a higher rate than did those who voted for it.  But if health care did cost the party its majority, so what? The bill was more important than the election.
I realize that sounds crazy. We've become so obsessed with who wins or loses in politics that we've forgotten what the winning and losing are about. Partisans fixate on punishing their enemies in the next campaign. Reporters, in the name of objectivity, refuse to judge anything but the Election Day score card. Politicians rationalize their self-preservation by imagining themselves as dynasty builders. They think this is the big picture.
They're wrong. The big picture isn't about winning or keeping power. It's about using it. I've made  this argument before but David Frum, the former speechwriter to President Bush, has made it better. In March, when Democrats secured enough votes to pass the bill, he castigated fellow conservatives who looked forward to punishing Pelosi and President Obama "with a big win in the November 2010 elections." Frum observed:
Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now. … No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the "doughnut hole" and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents' insurance coverage?
Exactly. A party that loses a House seat can win it back two years later, as Republicans just proved. But a party that loses a legislative fight against a middle-class health care entitlement never restores the old order. Pretty soon, Republicans will be claiming the program as their own. Indeed, one of their favorite arguments against this year's health care bill was that it would cut funding for Medicare. Now they're pledging to rescind those cuts. In 30 years, they'll be accusing Democrats of defunding Obamacare.
Most bills aren't more important than elections. This one was.

The article continues but that's the heart of it.  Go to Slate.com to read the rest of it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

We Won't Lose Nancy, At Least

I'm thrilled spitless, as my high school Spanish teacher said upon discovering that I had been chosen to be a foreign exchange student to Bogota, that Nancy Pelosi will remain in the House leadership and in fact will be the Minority Leader.  She crafted a brilliant plan so that none of the House Democrats wanting to be in leadership would lose.
No one loses.
No longer two heart beats away from the presidency she at least can still help guide us through these incredibly troubled times.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Finally Finding Common Ground

All day every working day I sit with brave people who suffer from one form or another of severe mental illness.  For the past several weeks one particularly depressed woman and I have faced each other for an hour a week she letting go and giving up and I coaxing and cajoling her to hang on for just another week.
The other day I decided to stop coaxing and stop cajoling and instead just visit and hope that taking a break from the often intensity of individual therapy might do more for her spirit than all of my other best efforts.
For the first several minutes we sat in silence.  Finally I asked her if she liked to read.  I like to read so it seemed a reasonable question to ask someone else.
Her face lit up and she said that she like a good mystery.  I asked her if she had ever read any of the Alex Cross books by James Patterson.  I don't know why I chose that particular fictional detective/psychologist or that particular author.  I could have chosen the indefatigable Alex Delaware or even my own favorite Kay Scarpetta.  But without rhyme, reason, or even thought I chose Alex Cross.
Her face brightened.  Come to find out she had read all of the Alex Cross books and was eagerly awaiting the new one coming out in a couple of weeks.  She was able to tell me how Alex got the third child.  She frowned when I explained that I hadn't read the books in order nor had I read them all and so was confused on many details.  She even told me about Nana's health crisis which I hadn't known about but will doubtless discover when I pick up another of the series.
We spoke for all of the scheduled session, she doing most of the talking and smiling most of that time.
Books can change lives and give meaning to them.
My new best therapy tool -- books.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Honor the Warriors

And work toward the end of war.  All wars.  Forever.
Always Faithful.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Some People Just Don't Know How To Have Fun

The stranded Carnival cruise ship with over four thousand people on board is expected to slosh into San Diego sometime tomorrow.  People are trapped on board.  Even without the fire and the loss of engines, aren't passengers on a cruise ship kind of trapped anyway?  Suppose someone decides, under normal circumstances, that they want off.  What are the options?
Apparently since the engine room fire there has been no cell phone service.  Luckily, though, one member of one stranded family was able to constantly update her Facebook page.  The United States Navy has delivered and continues to deliver crab meat, croissants, pop tarts and Spam.   The trip is free to everyone on board.  They get their money back, they get to shut off their cell phones, and they get to eat junk food with no guilt because aside from the tons of other non perishable junk food already on board they can eat Navy junk food.  I wonder why no one is mentioning the gallons and gallons of booze for which cruise ships are famous.  Huh?  Come on.  Do we really think there has been one sober person on that ship since the engines quit running?  Would you be sober?
The Carnival Cruise Line people have got to be kicking themselves.  They could have charged double for this cruise instead of giving it away for free.  Junk food, no cell phones, and enough booze to float, well, a cruise ship.
This time next year the lines waiting to buy tickets for a planned adventure such as this will be around the dock and only the very rich will be able to afford the price of the tickets.
Mark my words.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thirty Four And A Half Million

That's right.  As of right now thirty four and a half million people in the country have no health insurance.  Where, you might ask, do they receive medical treatment then.  Good question.  They go to emergency rooms.  How, you might ask, do they pay for the medical services they receive at the emergency rooms.  Good question.  They don't.  Who, you might ask, does pay for their medical services, then.  Good question.  We do.  One way or another we, the tax payers, pay for the health care of the uninsured.  Surely it makes more sense to pay for this health care up front instead of through the back door of an emergency room.
So, as the new political leaderships seek to dismantle what pathetic progress was made toward universal health care, perhaps someone will be willing to point out that we already have universal health care just in a far more expensive, far more indirect manner than, oh, simply saying we're willing to provide this basic and fiscally responsible service.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I got a pretty good education at the State University of New York at Albany, and I have fond memories of the old place, even though they are now trying to make it sound more elegant by calling it "the University at Albany". Therefore, I was stunned to see the following announcement on Facebook about a month ago:

This past Friday the University at Albany announced that it will be eliminating the French B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. programs as well as dismissing 7 professors of French, 3 professors of Russian, 2 professors in Italian, and one in Latin. This leaves Spanish as the sole Department in the "Department of Languages." In addition the theater and classics department will be phased out and eliminated by 2012.
Let me think this through, the way I was taught to think in my liberal arts and sciences college education. The Department of Languages will consist of one language. Why teach them; let's just all speak English. No classics. Who needs to know Latin, the basis for all Romance languages...oh, right, there aren't going to be any, except Spanish. Who needs to read those old Greeks who understood the human psyche so well that they are still relevant today. Well, you could always stage one of their plays. Oops, no you can't, no theater. Really, it's better that way; why put ideas into these kids' heads that they could make a living at acting? Pretty soon, a college degree will consist of exactly those courses that are necessary to get a job. And that will be called an education.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Looking Down On The Five

Not too long ago we bought a book called 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles.  The within 60 miles refers to 60 miles from downtown Los Angeles.  One of the first things a person doubtless notices after the death of a beloved pet dog is a dramatic reduction in daily exercise.  Dogs are great for countless reasons but one not too obvious reason is that they like and need to take walks.
So book in hand we drove to Elysian Park this morning to hike the not quite two hour loop called the Wildflower Trail.
Elysian Park is the oldest park in Los Angeles and second in size to Griffith Park.  In 1950 the park grudgingly made room for Dodger Stadium.  The whole area is also known as Chavez Ravine.
The hardest part about this first of hopefully many hikes from our new book was finding the trail head.  We finally started, we later learned, toward the end of the trail.  That false start ended abruptly on what might have been Stadium Way.  We never quite figured that out.  So we back tracked and hiked the Wildflower Trail from end to beginning which we decided was one good way to find the trail head.
The hike was beautiful.  The trail was not crowded but not empty with hikers and their dogs and everyone seemed happy -- even the Standard Poodle who did look a bit out of place on a dirt trail instead of on Fifth Avenue.
On this hike we could look down on the Golden State Freeway (the I-Five), down on the buildings of downtown Los Angeles, and down on the buildings of Glendale.
There were no wild flowers but there were plenty of birds and sunshine.
The next time I'm stuck in traffic on the Five I will think of the day I looked down on the whole thing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

We're Slipping Away

Every so often the United Nations publishes its Quality of Life report listing the best and the worst places on the planet for, well obviously, quality of life.  This country hasn't been number one for awhile now.  Norway, according to the report, is the place to be.  So are Australia and New Zealand.  This country according to this report slipped down to number eleven for quality of life.  The main reason for the slip, according to the United Nations, was our loss of a middle class.
The other day I was talking to someone who suffers from a pretty severe mental illness.  She was pretty steamed about the elections.  She had voted and wasn't happy that the Republicans had reclaimed the House of Representatives.  She also worries that she will lose her Medicare benefits.  "You think I'm crazy now," she laughed.  "Wait until I can't see a psychiatrist of get medications,"
The day before she and I spoke she had called fifty Republicans -- leaders and every day people -- and expressed her fears about the economy and about health care and, yes, about the quality of her life and of the lives of her family and friends.  She told me that she intended to either call or email fifty people a day.  "We've got to make sure we are heard," she said.
I was impressed.  Am I going to make fifty calls a day to save or restore my quality of life?  Probably not.  I'll just watch it slip away.
I'm comforted to know that someone will be making those calls, though.  And who knows.  Maybe if I talk to enough people who society declares insane often enough I will have the courage and the conviction to start making calls myself.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Arizona Did What?

Writers have an ethical obligation to the characters they create.  We don't kill them off just because we feel like it and we don't have them betray their own characters just because we want to change the story.
I feel strongly about this.  So imagine my confusion and my anger when the character of Arizona, of the television series Grey's Anatomy, just before boarding the plane to take her and Callie to Africa, told Callie to take a hike.  Okay, I get it that perhaps contract disputes made it necessary to get the character of Arizona out of the series or any other issue that might have made that necessary but come on.  At least be true to the character.  The character of Arizona would never, as created, done what whoever that was at the airport last night did to Callie.
Okay.  It's just a television program and television programs aren't noted for fine script work but give us a break.  At least give the plot time to not betray its own characters.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Lot Can Happen In A Week

And it has, indeed, been a long, sad, painful week.  I'm not talking about the Republican take over of the House of Representatives though that was certainly sad and painful.
A week ago today Barney Google The Dog died.
Slowly the pain of this huge loss is being accompanied by amazing and delightful memories.
He had his own toy box.  He used to take toys out, scatter them on the floor, and search until he found the exact toy he wanted.  Of course, he'd never return the other toys to the box.  That was our job and we delighted in performing those duties.  I mean, how many street dogs from Pomona, carted off by the Humane Society, and awaiting their own execution rescued just in time from a woman named Enid from the All Retriever Rescue Society wind up in the lap of luxury with their own toy box?  Not nearly enough, I'm thinking.  So we delighted in putting his toys back in his toy box.
He got a bed time snack every night at 9:30 -- four dog biscuits.  He loved his bed time snacks and, even without a watch, knew each night when it was snack time.  Without fail he made certain that we, also, knew that snack time had arrived.
And just days before he died, he almost caught that lizard!
Barney was an amazing dog.
We were lucky to have him in our lives.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Welcome Home, Jerry Brown

Okay.  So last night was pretty awful.  There were, though, bright spots.  Meg one hundred forty one million dollars of her own money lost.  Jerry Brown goes back to Sacramento and not a moment too soon.  Barbara Boxer goes back to Washington as does Adam Schiff.  I hope Nancy Pelosi stays on the job.  I don't even understand why there's talk that she won't.  So she won't be Speaker of the House for awhile but the country still needs her.
I think we're in for a scary time different from previous scary times.
At least the commercials are over.
It's been a tough summer and fall.
But last night wasn't as bad as it could have been and so there's still hope.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Too Close To Call

Scraps The Dying Cat is in pizza induced euphoria while the rest of this household watches the returns waiting for the polls of our own state to close.
Too close to call.
But not too close to feel very frightened.
Pass the pizza, Scraps.
And pour yourself another glass of wine, too.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tomorrow Is The Day

I will vote tomorrow and hope for the best.  These are scary times and I can barely stand hearing one more commercial full of slander and fiction on behalf of a right wing candidate.  This morning I drove to work listening only to the beating of my heart.  I couldn't even listen to NPR because someone was rambling on about how the Democrats will lose the House and the Senate and how Obama will be impeached and how this and how that.
At least by Wednesday this should all be over except, of course, for the states needing to hand count and hand recount challenged ballots.
Remember when character counted for something?  Remember when the truth was something more than a springboard for deceit?
I'm tired.
And I will vote tomorrow because my vote, at least in my dreams, still matters.