Sunday, September 30, 2007

Book review: Gifted, by Nikita Lalwani

This book is a difficult but important read for anyone who has felt unbearable pressure during childhood from their parents. Gifted is the story of Rumi, whose brilliance at mathematics propels her father, a professor himself, to push her into greater and greater achievements of excellence. Rumi's father and mother were raised in India but moved to Cardiff, Wales, before she was born. Cultural tension certainly exists in the book; not so ironically, Rumi dreams of India because of the acceptance she feels during her visits there.

Rumi's parents are a study in the classic narcissist/borderline pairing, and they conspire to rob their daughter of any chance of a normal childhood. They restrict and regiment her life so that all of her time is spent studying and nurturing her gift. Her journey is one from love of math and pride in her own talent to loathing herself, her parents, and her subject. The family is miserable and typically not self-aware; at times the parents seem a bit one-dimensional, but that's partly because they are being seen through the eyes of their child, and partly because monomaniacs always are one-dimensional.

A very interesting examination of the ways in which children's spirits can be broken, this novel will resonate with many people and open the eyes of those whose childhoods were more balanced.

Glamour shots of deer...

... and other fun on the Skyline Drive. I was going to begin this post by saying that one advantage of being single is that you can be spontaneous, hopping into the car on a moment's notice for an outdoor adventure, but it was actually my friend K, her husband, and their two girls who started this ball rolling. They decided at the last minute to head down from DC to the Skyline Drive and stay overnight. They called to see if I could meet them up there. I almost said no out of total laziness, but then I came to my senses. We met at Big Meadows -- they were staying in the lodge there. There are some gorgeous views of the Shenandoah Valley from the lodge:

The deer in this area of the park are fairly tame. They didn't come right up to us, but they didn't seem too concerned about our presence either. Here is a buck in the parking lot:

This is probably the best wildlife shot I've ever taken:

And I think this one should go on the cover of Vogue -- could she look more pretty?:

This doe seems to be telling us off:

These are my friends' children -- and also friends of mine -- we had a great time hiking around the Big Meadows:

And climbing on piles of gravel in the Park Maintenance area:

Some of the grown-ups like to clamber up as well:

I just loved this tree, growing in the meadow itself. The trunk really is as white as it looks in the picture:

We walked for a couple of hours and then ate dinner in the lodge restaurant, which was packed. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and it was nice to spend some of it outside, and great to spend time with friends. Just a perfect day.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sleep experiment, Day 3

Yesterday was a bad, bad day. I couldn't concentrate, I was having a very hard time sticking to tasks, and I was generally cranky, which is not my normal nature.

This morning I woke up feeling almost peppy. Part of it was the weather, which is cooler and less humid. But I may be getting used to sleeping 7 hours a night. I did stay in bed 20 extra minutes this morning. Rosalie cat came to visit and it's hard to resist some time snuggling with her.

The weekend may be a bit of a challenge. Something in me actively revolts against setting the alarm on the weekends, but to give this a fair trial, I probably should keep going over at least this weekend. Good "sleep hygiene," as it's called, usually entails keeping bedtime and waking up time consistent. So I'll give it a try.

Hmmm, this post is a bit flat. Perhaps I'm not as peppy as I think. Or perhaps this subject doesn't lend itself to daily reports... I'll post about this again at the one-week mark.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sleep experiment, Day 2

Well, I'm significantly more tired this morning. I stayed 20 extra minutes in bed -- but I was awake, I just really, really didn't feel like getting up. Now that I've been up for a few hours, I don't feel tired, but I do feel achy and I noticed that my frustration tolerance this morning was fairly low: I couldn't decide what to wear, changing my mind about 15 times, looking for things that I probably don't even own, breaking into a near-panic when I thought I found my khaki skirt, but it turned out to be a pair of shorts. Everything felt uncomfortable when I tried it on. I was pretty much laughing at myself throughout this but it *will* have to improve if I'm going to keep the 7 hours a night as a habit.

I think the second day of any new habit might be the worst possible day. I've promised to give this at least a week, because I don't think being tired for a week is going to do any major harm if that's what happens, and I want to give myself plenty of time to acclimate and learn to sleep more efficiently, if that's even possible. And I'm trying as much as I can to reserve judgment until at least a week has gone by.

Once again, however, I must say I enjoyed having extra time in the evening. I was able to do some blogging, and some reading (I'm currently reading "Gifted," by Nikita Lalwani), and some hanging out with the most fabulous dogs and cat in the world. I was unable to watch more episodes of Six Feet Under because the dang flang disk wouldn't work. Which is ok, as I can exchange it at Blockbuster, and I shouldn't be in too much of a rush to watch them all anyway -- I'm already anticipating severe withdrawal when I'm done. Which could be ameliorated somewhat if I could find some other things to watch with Peter Krause in them (I've already seen Sports Night).

But enough about me... har har!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Flying too high with some guy in the sky....

... is my idea of PLENTY to do! These are some photos from our trip on Sunday.

The water looked so shimmery from the air -- I tried to capture it several times but this was the closest I got.

I have no idea where this is -- a school somewhere?

Our handsome pilot, here being welcomed to the National Capital Region. Bob has a goal of flying to every airport in Virginia. This one is the closest to the forbidden airspace encircling the DC area.

The Stafford airport terminal is temporary. Stafford opened about 5 years ago, one of the few new airports in the country. The people there were exceedingly nice and gave us free doughnuts (which are really just fried cakes, and I do love cake) and showed us the plans for their beautiful new terminal to be built in the coming year.

I strongly believe that this is the University of Mary Washington, where my mother began her college career back in the olden days when it was Mary Washington College, a sister school of the University of Virginia. She was there in the late 50's and had to dress up for Sunday dinners, not forgetting to wear gloves.

Bob in front of (obviously) the Shannon airport, which is in Fredericksburg. If you closely examine his expression, it says "take the damn picture already, and why are you holding the camera sideways?"

You have to love an airport with a friendly airport cat! The dog, alas, had the day off.
I'm pretty sure this is the James River. I'm just kind of along for the ride and often have no idea where we are, although I can usually tell in what direction we're flying, but that's just because there's a huge compass that keeps us posted.

I love how liberating being in the air is. I can look down on land I would have no chance of seeing otherwise. I like taking pictures of the rich folks' houses and feeling that "a cat may look at a king."

More rich people.

And yet another estate.

There's lots of beautiful farmland to see when flying around this area.

Here we are coming in for our landing, back in Charlottesville. It was a fabulous flight. I always say "this is my favorite hobby where I don't have to do anything."

Sleep experiment

I was reading yesterday that studies confirm that 7 hours of sleep is ideal for adults -- more or less than that amount doubles your risk of death by cardiovascular disease. (I secretly love studies that assess one's "risk of death" -- it's pretty much 100% for everyone....) I've always, always slept more than that, and felt that I needed it, and still felt like I needed even more sleep than I was getting.

These sleep studies always make me wonder if the people who sleep more actually need more sleep because they have underlying physical problems -- thus their higher mortality rate might make sense on that basis alone. And I always assumed that I was one of those people and that, at the very least, I shouldn't go through my short life exhausted.

But yesterday I thought, why not try sleeping this supposed ideal number of hours? What's the harm? The only drawback to trying it is that I might be very tired and may need to revert to my usual 9 or so hours. So I decided to give it a one or two week trial and see how it goes. Maybe I will sleep more "efficiently" and I'll definitely have more hours in the day, which would be exceedingly welcome.

Last night was my first 7-hour night. Predictably, I am a little tired today, but I did enjoy having the extra time last evening. You might think watching "Six Feet Under" is just squandering that extra time, but you would be wrong. Here at work I've been able to focus on my projects just fine, and I'm not so tired that I'm considering lying down under my desk.

I'll report more as the experiment continues...

Monday, September 24, 2007

The moon hit my eye... a big pizza pie, but I don't think I'm in love, although sometimes it's hard to tell.

I am probably a little bit in love with the moon tonight because it is so pretty. And I felt something akin to love today when a doctor called my work "meticulous" and a colleague consulted me on a design issue. Plus I am in love with the hairy beasts that share my home and I was generally feeling love for my fellow humans when I encountered them. But I digress. Here is a woefully inadequate attempt to capture the beauty of the moon:

I know, I know -- it's a hazy spherical object. Things only got worse after this:

Sadly, I'm not all that steady with the camera. Someone needs a tripod... anyway, then I decided I needed some perspective, and got this:

...which I think is kind of pretty in an amateur photographer sort of way.

Hope you got to see the moon tonight and experience the amore.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Blog block

It's like writer's block, only more ridiculous. Who needs topics? Who needs deep thoughts? Why not just post whatever's going on and be done with it?

The truth is, I'm still feeling a bit blah. And I have mixed feelings, actually I have negative feelings about focusing on my health so much. I want to be able to rise above, to be able to engage with the world even when I don't feel at the top of my game. But I am finding that very hard to do, so then I think I should just wait and things will get better.

I don't think that I should count on things always getting better, though. Everyone's health declines, eventually. I was at physical therapy this morning, and someone there said that he keeps hoping that his health will improve, and he's been hoping that for four years. With chronic conditions, the best one can hope for is to manage them and lead as happy a life as possible. I have a (no longer appropriate) young person's view of illness: wait a while, and it will get better. I think I need to adjust, and not always be waiting for something which may or may not happen. I'm killing time too much of the time.

Luckily, one way that I've always enjoyed spending time still transports me no matter how I feel: reading. I've been reading up a storm, but not always posting about it -- what do I have to say about Suite Francaise that has not already been said much better than I could say it? And sometimes I am reading books that I won't admit to, like mysteries or chick lit. But today I'm off to the library to check out some well-reviewed books that are on my to-read list.

So most of the weekend, I will probably still be resting and reading. Oh, except for the part when I'll be *flying*! My friend is a pilot and is kindly allowing me to accompany him. Talk about rising above!

Reading and flying -- just the right balance for this weekend, I think.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Feelin' better, now that we're through...

...Feelin' better now I'm over YOU, erythema multiforme!

Today's the first day I really woke up feeling like myself. I'm alert. I'm interested in the world. I'm enjoying the crisp and lovely fall weather. I'm only as hideous as I usually am, not moreso.

It's almost impossible to fathom feeling better when one is feeling so unwell. I kept reassuring myself that I was getting proper treatment and that I wouldn't be sick forever, and that did help a lot. I decided the whole thing was a test to see if I could have something seriously go wrong and not worry too much about it. I was too immersed in it to actually worry about it, if that makes sense.

But it did get me thinking about some serious issues, which I didn't allow myself to think about when I was sick because that's a rule I have, but now I want to spend some time thinking about them. One topic has to do with self-acceptance: warts, skin rashes, and whatever else may happen physically. And the other has to do with ways of maintaining focus and concentrating on meaningful work even when I'm not 100% healthy. Last week, I was just too sick to do anything but survive for a few days, so that's what I did. But now I'm talking about low-level chronic pain, or low-energy days -- I'd like to get better on removing my focus from how bad I feel and putting it somewhere that could contribute to making me feel better.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I'm just like you...

... I live in a place, I do some kind of work, I like cookies, I just watched every episode of the Sarah Silverman Show, I have earlobes the size of half-dollars, I'm covered in a red, itchy rash from head to toe, and I'm very fond of keeping my airways open. I think you know what I'm talking about. Yes, breathing. I like to breathe. So far so good.

Melissa said that I should blog about this illness because it's funny. But is it, IS IT REALLY?? Or maybe she meant I'm funny. Who the hell knows what she was talking about? I can barely understand spoken and/or written English right now. Every time I look at a book or a computer my incredibly blotchy and hideous hands are right there! Leading to my blotchy arms, and even though I have on clothing with the most coverage possible -- yes, it's my first burqa -- I know that the hideousness that is my skin is everywhere.

When I must go out, which I have tried to avoid, I skulk around trying to look all inconspicuous in that special way that only a 6 foot tall woman covered in hives can look -- that's pretty damn inconspicuous, I think you'll agree.

And what's with all this swearing? Well, I'm pretty sure I have some of that old 'roid rage. You know how it is, I scream at people from my car, I have no patience for anything, and I skulk around until I hear some kid say "Mommy, what's wrong with that lady?" and then I throw off my burqa and roar "ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME? ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME?????!!!" until the kid starts to cry. It's just who I am now. There are things you just have to accept about yourself.

I missed most of the work week but was forced to drag myself in today, but now I think I can hole up for a couple more days and perhaps I'll be feeling fine by Monday... or perhaps I'll start wheezing and I'll have to use my EpiPen and call 911. Who knows? I'm flexible -- and I love surprises. I know I would appreciate life even more after a few near death experiences.

Or maybe I would appreciate life a really, really lot if I could just go out of the house without looking like a monster and feeling like a slug.

Oh, did I mention my new sexy, husky voice -- you know, the kind you only get when you look hideous? So if any of you handsome gents get a sexy phone call over the weekend, try to visualize me in my usual goddess-type glory. I would really appreciate it.

Thank you for indulging me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Erythema multiforme

Or, "Ew, yuck."

I was stricken on Monday with a severe allergic reaction to a medication I was taking. I basically have hives from head to toe, with total coverage on my trunk and parts of my arms. Yes, I am feeling extremely attractive.

I am also now the proud owner of an EpiPen. The doctor didn't feel that I should be walking around without one, considering the severity of this reaction.

I have a fever and I'm sleeping constantly, only much of the time it isn't exactly sleeping, but more of that "twilight state" -- the hypnogenic state. So my dreams/hallucinations have been outstanding. No, I'm not going to share.

So that's why I've been out of it blogwise (and workwise, and friendwise, and otherwise). I'm on steroids now, hear me roar! so I'm looking forward to improving soon.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

To the beach!

I took the crazy dog pictured in the post below and the two other crazy dogs and we all went for an impromptu visit to Virginia Beach for two days. It was way fun. Naturally, I did not get any pictures because nothing in life has prepared me to handle 3 dogs and a camera all at the same time.

We stayed in a nice, pet-friendly Holiday Inn (the Surfside), which is right on the Boardwalk and where all the rooms are ocean front. Everyone got to ride in an elevator, a new experience for most of us -- not me, though, as I am an old hand at the elevators.

Only one of my dogs actually likes to swim, and it isn't the retriever mix, who's actually more of an anti-retriever -- it's Zoe, the cockerchow and perfect lady referred to in this blog's title. She and I went out by ourselves to swim, and we had a blast (aside from the guilt pangs at leaving the other dogs in the room). She likes to take a dip, then roll around in the sand, then chase the seagulls, and then come running at me with this crazed expression of total dog joy on her face. This was repeated many times until I became totally exhausted (I know, it doesn't sound like *I* was doing much...).

I thought the beach would be totally deserted but there were lots of people there and the weather was divine. I was initially dismayed to find there was a Shriner's convention in town, and further dismayed when the Shriners started yelling out their windows at each other, but they eventually gathered together somewhere and presumably yelled at each other there, out of earshot of moi. (Confidential to J: in case you're a Shriner Lady, as I believe they're called, I've got nothing against them, seriously!)

We took a lot of long walks in the surf, we met a lot of other dogs, there was a Dairy Queen next door, and all in all we had a blast. And then I was glad to get home and have a whole long weekend to recover, as I am stupidly a bit sunburnt and my muscles are cramping from overdoing things. But it was great to have a mini-break -- I love the ocean so much!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

An end of worrying

I had some major, looming things to worry about last week and today they are all gone, because everything turned out to be fine. Since I spend a fair amount of my life worrying, I also like to worry about worrying, and never is this more true than when something I was worried about is suddenly shown to be no worry at all. Then I reflect on how much time I spent worrying needlessly, in the hope that the next time I get worried about something, I can remember the times I worried needlessly.

And isn't all worrying ultimately needless, anyway? Even if what one fears comes to pass, how exactly does it help to have worried about it? I'm not talking about *thinking* about what one fears -- it can be useful to think about the worst that could happen and devise strategies in case such a thing did happen. I'm talking about worrying, obsessing really, over something that is completely out of your control (while ignoring other matters, such as work, that are in your control, as one of my friends likes to point out to me, for which I'm grateful).

After all, the bad thing either will or will not happen. Instead of being so vague, let me just say that in this case I was awaiting the outcome of some medical tests, which turned out to be negative (in that good way that is only true of medical tests). I kept trying to diagnose myself over the internet, which should probably be outlawed, or perhaps some kind of filter akin to parental filters could be devised for the semi-hypochondriacal. I worried and worried and cried and couldn't sleep, and everything turned out to be fine.

Of course I'm happy, but I want that time back.

At the very least, I want to not spend any more time like that in the future. I don't know how to accomplish this, exactly. One of my favorite bosses once said to me "good people worry" -- I'm not sure what I think of that now. Some things I think it's right to worry about, such as other people's feelings -- that's a worry that can influence one's behavior toward others.

It's possible that useless fretting has its roots in a lack of one's ability to handle whatever happens, so I could work on bolstering that confidence -- after all, I've handled everything that's come my way so far.

In the interest of worrying less, I share this image of someone who clearly never worries at all:

Monday, September 3, 2007

Walking down Main Street in Charlottesville

This stretch is part of my daily walk from the hospital to my car.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Book review: The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

I'll probably only review books that I really like -- I'll tell you what I liked, and if it sounds appealing to you, you might like the book as well.

The Emperor's Children is a model of character development, and has an omniscient narrator, which I love. This narrator, this author, seems to understand everything about everybody, and has a real eye and ear for people's motivations, behavior, and foibles. None of the characters are perfect, here, but all are understandable and perfect in their own way.

It's hard to sum up what the book is "about" -- events, some romantic, some work-related, some violent, befall the characters and have an impact on them. I think the most appealing aspect for me was that everyone's errors are really understandable in light of who they are and where they've come from.

The title, of course, refers to the sartorially challenged emperor of the fairy tale, and at first I thought it meant that the children of the "emperor" -- in this case, Murray Thwaite, a cultural critic who isn't necessarily wiser than the rest of the culture -- were all fakes and phonies. But now I think it's more that Messud shows them all as they are, alone in their rooms, stripped of the pretense we all wear to appear in the world.

As Murray's daughter, Marina, his nephew, Bootie, and Marina's friends, Danielle and Julius move through the book, all are making great efforts to grow up and find themselves. It's like a coming of age book, but most of them have already "come of age" -- they are taking on the next phase of their adult lives, most of them for the first time becoming disillusioned with Thwaite and the culture he represents -- which, much to Messud's credit, she herself does not condemn, representing this disillusionment as a necessary part of the growth of a new generation. Murray is not a one-sided figure of fun; he is, in his own way, as sympathetic a character as any of the "young people."

One of my favorite parts of the book was an episode in which Danielle muses on laughter and how it changes in adulthood. There are many such touches in the book -- many observations about modern and not-so-modern life that are especially apt.

I had a bit of trouble getting into this book at first -- the characters didn't seem very likeable -- but soon I was mesmerized. I highly recommend it.

Puttering around

I find few things so delightful as a day of just puttering around, or even part of a day. In fact, if I go too long without puttering, a feeling of unease comes over me -- so I sometimes have to force it into my schedule, no matter how busy I am. Luckily, I'm not often that busy. I like to be alone to think and to putter and I've arranged my life in a way that I can usually do that, at least on the weekends.

Some might say that puttering doesn't accomplish much, and I have to say, I'm not one of those who thinks I must be constantly accomplishing something. When I get to the end of a day of puttering, I usually feel happy -- so I did accomplish something, after all.

When I look back on what I've done during my puttering days, there's usually some reading, some dog interaction, maybe some physical activity, these days maybe some blogging, other internet explorations, and (also recently) an episode or 2 of Six Feet Under. This morning I changed bags again -- which, if you go by the time I spend doing it, must be one of my favorite activities -- tried and failed (so far) to make a web banner, gave a fair number of puppy belly rubs (job one, according to certain individuals), and here I am posting.

I may take my puttering out into the larger world this afternoon, as I'm feeling the pull of "going into town" as we say out here in the sticks.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The mantis prays for us all

Found in the hospital gift shop

Please, I'm begging you, do NOT give this book to anyone who is in the hospital: