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My mom wanted me on the board of an historical cemetery. I thought it would be awesome – it’s a great old place with lots of ghost stories and locally famous – and infamous – people buried there. Including a truckload of my ancestors.
“I need your resume,” she told me.
“Mom, I hardly think that my work history has anything to do with why I might be qualified to serve on that board.”
“So dress it up. Emphasize your genealogy research and your history research. Talk about your volunteer work.”
In other words, she wanted me to re-craft my resume entirely. Therefore, I did exactly what I always do when given an irritating assignment: I procrastinated.
A week later: “I really need your resume.”
Two weeks later: “If you don’t get me that resume I can’t nominate you.”
Three weeks later: “I need it today.”
Crap. And I was having so much fun putting it off.
“Just write something. I’ll rewrite it to suit our nomination style.”
Had she said this in the first place, I could have whipped off a few relevant paragraphs and been done with this a month ago. But she said she wanted a freaking resume. So after lunch, I sat down and wrote:
Anne has a keen interest in genealogy and history, and has done research on both in this particular cemetery, once regrettably denting the side of her car as she took a turn too sharply around a certain walled plot in the northeast corner of the place. Her interest in these disciplines began in high school, when in 1976 she won the esteemed and coveted Annual Ninth Grade History Award at All Saints Episcopal School in Vicksburg, Mississippi, mostly to prove to a certain boy that she was smarter than he was. It must have worked, because that intimidated lad has refused to this day (over 30 years later!) to come to class reunions.
Her interest was fed her freshman year at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, when given the task of charting the genealogy of Zeus’s progeny she instead charted the genealogy of the entire Greek pantheon. While mostly accurate, her work earned her a C for failing to follow directions. Her professor was not interested in reading that much. Anne didn’t really care, since being right was all that mattered. When she graduated from Colgate in 1984, her major was English, not Greek.
With no immediate better use to put an English major, Anne returned to her Arkansas roots the following year to go to law school. Anne clerked for Justice David Newbern at the Arkansas Supreme Court, then worked for a state agency or two until her secretary, one Gennifer Flowers, decided to hit the front page of the papers and not return to work. Anne opened her own law practice in 1993 and has remained in private practice ever since. Today, after 16 years in the trenches of litigation, Anne is a managing member of the law firm Almand, Orsi & Campbell, PLLC, which handles civil litigation. Both she and her cousin and law partner, Donald K. Campbell, III, have generations of ancestors buried at this cemetery, stories about whom they occasionally pull out, dust off, and tell to their children and other passers-by, whether or not such innocents are especially interested.
Anne has maintained a moderately noticeable profile among local bar and statewide bar associations. She joined a whole slew of them in 1988 immediately after getting her J.D. from UALR Law School and passing the bar. In 1993 she was made Parliamentarian of the Arkansas Association of Woman Lawyers, then served as Vice President in 1994-1995, and as President in 1995-1996. She remains a member of the group today. She has been a member of the Pulaski County Bar Association since 1988, and served as co-chair of the Hospitality Committee in 1995-1996. Likewise she retains her membership in the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, for which she chaired the Domestic Relations Division in 1997-1998. She was a member of the American Bar Association from 1988-1996, when membership became prohibitively expensive. Most of her bar activities have been through the Arkansas Bar Association, for which she has served on numerous committees, including the Real Estate Committee, Probate Law Committee, Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Committee, Women and Minorities in the Law Committee, Mock Trial Committee, Online Legal Research Committee, Civil Litigation Committee, and Access to Justice Committee.
Very conscious of the fact that not everyone has access to the legal system in a meaningful way, Anne donates her time and expertise through two of Arkansas’ legal services organizations. The Center for Arkansas Legal Services helps clients in the central Arkansas area, and Anne is one of the attorneys who accepts legal representation of clients in need who meet low income guidelines. Anne volunteers in rural areas of the state for Arkansas Volunteer Lawyers for the Elderly, another legal aid program that ensures that senior citizens with limited assets and income can access the legal system.
She has served on the boards of other historical societies, including Scott Connections in Scott, Arkansas (Director, 2007-2008), and the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Arkansas (Director, 2006-09; and Board of Managers 2009-present). This spring Anne was selected to be the state’s Regent of Gunston Hall, the Northern Virginia home of founding father George Mason, a position she will hold for the next four years.
Anne is active in several of her family’s businesses. She is on the board of directors of ARNO, Inc. and Pioneer Farms, and has served as Chairman of the Board of Three Rivers Title Services, Inc. since 1999.
For pleasure, Anne loves to grow herbs, read, and write short stories. She maintains two blogs: one is purely for pleasure and the other is purely for work. She is also working on three novels, none of which she ever expects to finish unless the Fountain of Youth is found and she drinks copiously from its non-Stygian depths.
“Very amusing, my dear. I will extract the pertinent information to send out to the rest of the Board, omitting the humor, sad though that makes me.”
She will extract the pertinent information? That means most of what I wrote will end up in the trash.
And I worked so hard to get it to her!
Did you hear? I had a softball-sized tumor removed from my neck three weeks ago.
I first noticed it about a year ago and shrugged it off, thinking it was a little lipoma that wasn’t any big deal. Then I began having trouble turning my head. The lump was getting bigger – about the size of a golf ball – and I couldn’t comfortably wear turtlenecks or even mock neck shirts. I named my lump Esmeralda, and patiently waited for her to gain sentience.
When Esmeralda started aching, I decided to go to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor, especially when I think I’m going to get bad news. I’ve already had cancer twice, so having a tumor made me think that number three was here and if I pretended it didn’t exist, it would go away. I’m a very bright girl in these matters, so I knew exactly what I was doing when I ignored the wretched thing for so long. Really.
My doctor looked at it and said that there was no question that it needed to come out. Clearly it was causing me trouble, and even if it was probably just a lipoma and not something devastating, it was in a bad place. And, he said, even for a lipoma it was, well, kind of big. There was definitely an asymmetry to my non-gazelle-like neck. A bump about the size of half a golf ball hung off the side it.
I knew all this before he told me. I knew he’d have to refer me to a surgeon. That’s why I was there, right? So, deep breath, I got the referral and made the appointment and went the next week to see when I could divorce myself from dear Esmeralda, who I was beginning to think of as my dicephalic parapagus conjoined twin.
Me ‘n’ Esmeralda before we started misspending our youth
He sent me to an otolaryngology clinic. Apparently, otolaryngologists are the guys who cut on people’s necks when the spine isn’t involved. I was glad my spine wasn’t involved, although I did wonder if that was because I simply didn’t have one. What kind of person, being possessed of a spine, was afraid of what was probably just a harmless little lipoma?
At the otolaryngology clinic, I got a CT scan of my neck. Back in the examination room, the surgeon pulled up the scan on the computer screen. “Wow, it’s really big!” he exclaimed. He showed me what to look at. The difference in the two sides of my neck were obvious. One side of the screen looked like what you’d think a neck should look like on a CT scan. By that I mean it had not much flesh and a big amount of bone. At least, that one side did. The other side? Well, it was different. Waaaay different.
There was a vast blackness that took up a lot of space on the right half of my neck. It looked as though Darth Vader himself had taken up residence there and his helmet was pushing things around. The doctor pointed out how my muscle was stretched over this dark growth, how my nerves and blood vessels were pushed out of place, and how much space the thing took up. “It’s sooo biiiig,” he said again. And again. And yet another time, just in case I hadn’t heard him before.
That’s right. Only I could have a freakishly large tumor in a place with as little flesh as my neck and not notice it for years on end. Evidently, I can’t see a damn thing with my eyes full of sand.
Lipomas usually grow just right under the skin and are fairly simple to remove. In fact, unless they become bothersome, it’s not necessary to remove them at all. Mine was different. It was under the muscle, which, the doctor graciously postulated, was probably the reason I had never realized it had been growing there for so long. It was also pressing on important nerves and blood vessels. There just isn’t a lot of room in a neck, and there’s a lot of important stuff there. Like, say, the carotid artery, which feeds blood to the brain. Which my lipoma had shoved out of place.
In fact, it had shoved things so far out of place that I was in danger of soon looking like the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick.
Fetus in Fetu: Sanju Bhagat
The problem was, the size and location of the tumor meant that a different doctor needed to do the surgery. Someone who specialized in cancers of the head and neck. Swell. The”C” word again. Fortunately, I liked the new surgeon. I liked the old one, too, but the new one was quick-witted, funny, and personable. And probably married. (sigh)
My family rallied around me. My sister went with me to the pre-surgery appointment, my mom took me to her house after the surgery so I could be pampered. Jack came to see me that night. I felt pretty raw, and my throat, complete with drainage tube, wasn’t pretty either.
Three weeks later, I’m still a little tired, but I’m fine. Some mornings it’s harder to shake off the latent effects of the anesthesia than others. Of course, staying up til 1 a.m. to finish a novel I can’t put down sort of contributes to the problem, but I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.
Brent Weeks is a new, young author and he has time to grow. I can’t wait for his next offering.
*My son, Jack, has demanded credit for cajoling me into reading this series. Here you go, son.
So now I have an awe-inspiring scar on my throat, and I can come up with plenty of tales to explain its presence.
I’ve told the story of Jack the Ripper to my wide-eyed nieces and youngest nephew (they’re 11, 8, and 6). I have the scar to prove that I narrowly escaped him.
Next I plan to work up a tale of the Bride of Frankenstein for their entertainment. I’ve already got the white hair at the temples going on, so between that and the scar, I’m not going to have to spend a lot on costuming.
The surgeon said that the tumor had to have been there for a very, very long time to be as large as it was. What I want to know is how the hell a softball manages to hide in a neck for years and only show up, finally, as a golf-ball sized bulge.
The size of the thing was apparently really impressive. Every time I call his office his nurse exclaims, “Oh, you’re the one with that really huge lipoma!” Every time. Every stinkin’ time. I’m beginning to wonder if I ought not to have saved the damn thing and taken it on the road. I could have made a living in the sideshow as the girl with the softball in her neck.
“It’s soooo big!” the statement is made in the context of, well, first of all, a man. And it’s said by an admiring woman, or at least one that is either thrilled or terrified at the prospect of something that huge… you know. I’m a woman and male doctors have been saying “It’s soooo big!” to me. It’s unsettling.
Maybe I should have had the thing cut in two and used it for a boob job.Next time, if there is a next time, I’m going to think that through carefully.
Do you ever wish you had known at 23 what you know now?
At 23 I was passionate, opinionated, brave, and uncertain. I was passionate in my relationships, opinionated about what was right, brave to do what terrified me, and uncertain that I could do it. At 47, of course, I’m still passionate and opinionated. I bravely embrace change, just like I always have, even though a part of me is terrified by it. But instead of being uncertain about my abilities, I am only uncertain as to how to help my own child bridge this awkward abyss between childhood and adulthood. Being even more passionately opinionated in my dotage keeps the rest of the uncertainty at bay.
Knowing what I know now, I would make my 23 year old self choose differently about some pretty substantial things. I would require my 23 year old self to make it on my own where the weather was tolerable. I definitely would not allow my 23 year old self to return to Arkansas. The summers are just too damn brutal.
Sure, I should have gone to graduate school. But I should have gone for history or literature, not law school. I should have followed my own dream, not someone else’s. It wasn’t my idea to go to law school. My dad planted that seed, and although I don’t regret having a career that I can pick up or put down at any time, I do wish it was more transportable. (How do I hate the summers in Arkansas? Let me count the ways…)
There is lots of advice I would give my younger self.
* Follow your dreams. You want to study paleoarcheology, be a writer, go on a dinosaur dig, or live in Greenwich Village? Do it. Don’t mistake the dreams other people have for you as your own dream. Be sure of whose dream you’re following.
* Travel. Everywhere. Maintain your rucksack in good condition and stash money away for no purpose other than to pay for plane tickets, cheap meals in exotic places, and museum fees. It’s okay to sleep in a train station or on the steps of a cathedral in Europe when you’re 23.
* It’s not love. At least not yet. Lust, pheromones, and heat, yes. But it is not love and you can live without that person because someone else will be along shortly to scratch the itch. For the love of Pete, don’t get married, start having babies, and acquire a mortgage yet. You’ve got too much to see and do before you’re chained down to all of that. Love doesn’t develop until the bright flush of physical desire dissipates and you’re used to each other’s most annoying habits and bodily functions, and you’ve decided not to commit either murder or seppuku over them.
* Run toward things, not away from them. I was terrified of looking for something different, but I hated – absolutely hated – my sales job just after college. It was worse than waiting tables, and I was truly horrible at that. But going back to school a year graduating from college was a cop out. I made the decision to go back to school – and back home – because I hated my job. I made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. I was running away, not running toward something. There have been so many times I have wished I could take a mulligan on that one.
* If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. If you can’t move to a new place by loading everything you own in your car, you have too much crap. Get rid of it and don’t buy more. It’ll save on the interest you pay for those credit cards, and it will simplify your life. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. Unless it’s prescribed medication.
* There is no reason to be bored, ever. With so much in the world to see, do, and make, boredom should not be a concept within your realm of familiarity. If you’re bored, it’s because you won’t open your eyes to the world around you. Go to a park. Visit a museum. Watch a river flow. Go to a bookstore or library.
* It’s okay to fail. Fear of failure prevents us from doing so many things, and more often than not it is a hollow fear. Robert Sculler asked, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” We should never assume failure. If we assume failure, we try nothing and therefore achieve nothing.
* Screwing up is okay, too. Stupid mistakes are also a way to learn. Granted, they aren’t the best way, or the least painful way, but they are effective. And the next time, we slow down and think things through more carefully.
What advice would you make your younger self heed?
Spring is a miserable time of year.
First, there’s the weather. The damnable, changeable, hot-then-cold-again weather. The tornado, thunderstorm, wildly fluctuating barometric pressure, what the hell do I wear today, blustery, windy, knock me on my ass, fifty degree temperature spread in a day weather.
Then there’s the plants. You think it’s warm. There has been a recent series of beautiful warm spring days so you go to the local nursery and buy plants. You know, those tender annuals or baby herbs or vegetables just sprouted that make your mouth water with the promise of zucchini to come and tomatoes heavy on the vine. You put them in your car. You ferry them home. You place them where you want them and tamp the cool soil around their delicate stems, and after spending a day soaking up natural Vitamin D you go to bed, tired but fulfilled from a day playing the farmer, only to wake up shivering because you turned off the heat and the indoor temperature now matches the outdoor temperature of about 27 degrees and all the work you did yesterday is for naught. You vow next year to give it a week even after the frost-free date before you buy so much as a single packet of parsley seeds, knowing full well that spring’s siren song of false seduction will lure you to the nursery for that fateful waste of valuable money on plants doomed to die by the next sunrise.
The very worst part of spring, though, has to be the trees. Tall, bare-limbed, they stretch themselves and shake off the winter by emitting tentative tendrils of leaves, and before even the first leaf is full formed, the oaks go into full rut.
Oaks are horny bastards.
Because of the oaks, heinous fuckery most foul is visited upon me. Each fall the acorns hit my deck sounding like scatter shot, someone’s Daisy BB gun with an automatic clip, a terrorist squirrel at the helm of a acorn-grenade launching Gatling gun, firing hell bent for leather at my precious darling deck which never hurt anyone. Acorns are the demon-spawn of oaks. To create those diabolical children, the oaks engage in a springtime orgy that makes Bacchus himself blush at the pure wanton sex those oaks put out there for all the world to see.
The mighty oaks are masculinity personified. Baring their knotted chests, in Spring they take a deep breath and grimace, and from every pore pop squiggly spermatozoa, wiggling and waggling at other oaks, daring the other oaks to take a breath themselves and shoot back tentacles of spermatozoa in a war of silly string battle-inspired posturing and thrusting. It is indeed heinous fuckery most foul, as the foul squigglies waft their pollen and fill my unsuspecting gutters with their decaying carcasses.
Victims of these oaken battles of male dominance are cars, covered in a greenish yellow dust that hides the metallic grays and greens and reds. Victims also are the furniture, helplessly stationary in their designated positions, the flat planes of which act as a breeding ground not for acorns but for that same greenish yellow film that coats unprotected patio furniture and wafts into the cracks of car windows someone forgot to roll up.
Victim also are my sinuses, and Jack’s, and the sinuses of my receptionist (who I think has had a sinus condition since November). The virile oaks seek to splash their splooge on every available surface, in hopes that all the world will turn into acorns proving their masculine Darwinian fitness. In Spring, we walk through breezes of tree splooge morning, noon and night. Those damnable trees believe, like so many Arab IMers, that the world is a woman, open and panting for their splooge to fall fertile on something and make an acorn of it.
There is a scene in Christopher Moore’s classic Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings in which a pair of female oceanographers are studying sperm whales, and upon seeing a mating pair are delighted at their rare good fortune – until, that is, the female whale moves one way and the male moves the other just at the moment of his ecstasy. The two women are drowned in a sea of sperm whale splooge and instantly turn lesbian, seeking never again to encounter such a substance again.
That is also the novel in which I first encountered the term “heinous fuckery most foul,” uttered by a caucasian Rastafarian surfer called Kona.
My nose is stuffed so much I can’t sniffle. My cough barks deep within my chest. Today, I identify totally with those two female oceanographers. If I never experience tree splooge again, it will be too soon.
The oaks are virile indeed.
Breast cancer has taken the lives of women we knew and loved, and has made the lived of other women we know and love very difficult. Has anyone’s life been unaffected by it? Don’t we all know someone who has had breast cancer?
The Susan G. Komen Foundation is the beneficiary of a Three-Day Walk for a cure for breast cancer. The walk is a National Philanthropic Trust project, aimed at nationwide and even worldwide participation.
With money for cancer research, more women diagnosed with breast cancer can be like my friend Ellen, who miraculously survived with a spontaneous remission despite being given a death sentence by her doctor, and my aunt Jackie, who survived with successful treatment. I can name others who have recovered and others who, sadly, have not. My cousin Margaret, my neighbor Sassy, my old friend Faye…. all have been the unlucky victims of this insidious disease.
As many of you reading this blog know, I’ve had cancer twice. I’ve not had breast cancer, but my nightmares tell me to I expect to. None of us are safe.
Please donate to this worthy cause.
My friend Kathi, who happens to be my former husband’s girlfriend, is participating in the three day walk in October. If you don’t participate yourself, please donate to her effort to raise money for a cure.
Is it weird that I ask you to support Kathi? She’s dating my ex-husband, after all. If you don’t already know, Skip and I have a wonderful relationship – much better than when we were married – and it all revolves around a certain boy who is closing in on adulthood. Our son Jack is sixteen, personable, creative, and reasonably well-adjusted despite his parents’ divorce. Skip and I have worked hard to make sure we work together for Jack’s sake. He is the single most important thing in our lives. Skip and I encourage each other constantly, talk almost daily, and support each other’s goals, hopes and dreams. We call each other for support and to vent. We still like each other. Thank the gods we divorced before we could develop hatred for one another!
I support Kathi not only because she is my friend and Jack’s possible future stepmom, but because she is actually doing something for a cause I believe in strongly. If you don’t participate in the walk yourself, support someone who is. Support Kathi!
The link will get you to the page where you can donate money to the cause. Five dollars, ten, any amount you can contribute will help. Please help!
Here is the message Kathi is sending out to her friends:
I just wanted to send an update on the Breast Cancer 3Day Walk that I am doing in October.
We are asked to raise $2200 per participant and I have already raised $400 toward my goal! How exciting! Some of those donations are from people forwarding my email to their friends and I want you to know how much I truly appreciate your support. I joined a team called the “Buttercups” and our team has already raised $5,672! We are all training and getting ready for the 60 mile journey.
If you have already donated I can’t thank you enough! If you are still interested in donating here is the link to my site. You can donate online or print a donation form and mail it in. Nothing is too small and it is all tax deductible.
Thank you again!
One morning in 1999 I went to my optometrist for a routine eye exam. It was time to check the strength of my glasses and contacts. With my pupils uncomfortably dilated, Dr. Randall Teague peered into the depths of my right eye. He looked into my left eye for a quick moment, then looked into the right again. He looked for what seemed like a very long time, since he was shining a light directly through the pupil onto the retina.
“Has anyone ever told you that you have a freckle in your eye?” he asked.
I was a little startled. In fact, my neurologist had asked the same question when I was last in his office for a visit for my migraines. I told Dr. Teague this.
“You need to see a good ophthalmologist,” Dr. Teague said. He turned and reached for a phone book. “I’m going to call to make you an appointment.”
This was certainly an unusual thing to happen during an eye exam, I thought. As I sat in the darkened room, in the exam chair, I watched as Dr. Teague called the office of Bill Mabrey, a very respected Little Rock ophthalmologist, and asked to set an appointment. “She needs to be seen this afternoon,” he told the person on the other end of the conversation. I began to worry.
“Why this afternoon?” I asked. I had other plans for the day, but Dr. Teague exuded a sense of urgency.
That afternoon I went to see Dr. Mabrey, who, coincidentally, was the son of my in-laws’ neighbor and close friend. Over the past ten years I had heard of Bill Mabrey’s professional progress from his mother, who loved to talk about how well he was doing and the awards and recognition he received as an extraordinarily accomplished ophthalmologist. I knew that he was the best in Little Rock.
“You have a choroidal melanoma,” he told me that afternoon. He explained that the “freckle” in my eye was similar to a mole on the skin. It was essentially a growth of pigmented cells in the part of my eye just behind the retina. Some people have small “freckles” in their eyes, just like they have freckles on their skin, and there is no problem. When the freckle grows, though, it is considered to be a malignant tumor that has to be removed surgically.
Only 5 in a million people have choroidal melanoma. That means about 1200 people in the United States have this condition. It is rare. And it is scary as hell.
The choroidal melanoma can metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body, usually to the liver or the lungs. Aggressive action to eradicate the tumor is necessary to prevent the spread of the melanoma. Usually this means the patient loses the affected eye. It is removed to prevent the melanoma from spreading. “You will most likely have to have your eye removed,” Bill Mabrey told me. My world rocked.
I have always had a fear of blindness. When I was first given glasses at the age of 9 I was told that my eyesight would continue to decline. “How bad will it get?” I had asked the eye doctor. He replied, “Oh, eventually you’ll go blind.” He thought I understood he was kidding. I didn’t, and it wasn’t until several years later that I came to understand his remark to be flippant. But in the meantime, I was sure my eyes would soon fail me completely and I would be in a world without books, without sewing, without the fine details that I loved to give to things.
More than anything else, I use my eyes. I read. I write. I sew. I make miniatures. I cannot possibly imagine life without eyes. I can lose my hearing and be okay. Yes, I love music and movies, but losing hearing would only handicap me. Losing my sight would make life much less worth living.
The fear of blindness that had permeated my childhood and adolescence came roaring back into my life. It arrived with a powerful blow and knocked me senseless. I didn’t hear the rest of what Dr. Mabrey said, but as I left I was told to make an appointment to have an MRI done on my eye.
The only place in the state that had the equipment to do an MRI on my eye to determine the size of the tumor was the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), which is located in Little Rock. Pursuant to instructions from Dr. Mabrey’s office, I called for an appointment. It would be six weeks before they could fit me in. I made the appointment.
The next few weeks were hell. This was the second time I had been diagnosed with a cancerous condition. Jack was three years old the first time. Now he was eight. The notion of this cancer metastasizing terrified me, not so much for me but for my son. My dad had lost his mother to leukemia when he was a teenager and never recovered from the blow. I didn’t want this to happen to Jack. I was 36 years old. My grandmother died at the age of 39.
I walked around in a daze. Depression hit me hard. I spent a lot of time just going through the motions of life. Going to my law office, going home, making dinner, sitting in a daze waiting for the next blow to fall. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I spent a lot of time just staring into space. Blindness, a cancer metastasizing, the possibility of my child growing up without his mother. I couldn’t even cry. I was numb.
It’s hard for me to write about those months of my life. Even now, nearly a decade later, I can’t think of them without tears. That time was easily the lowest I have ever been, and I’ve had plenty of lows.
My sister, Susan, recognized the fact that I couldn’t function. My husband didn’t – I think maybe he was too close to the situation himself to take action. My sister, though, didn’t hesitate.
Susan researched the diagnosis. She started making phone calls. She found that there were five clinics in the US that treated choroidal melanoma. One of them was at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, just a two hour drive away. When she told me she had found the clinic, she joked that she had hoped we’d have to go to New York, where the shopping was better. I managed a smile. I was so numb I really didn’t care.
Susan got me an appointment at the clinic in Memphis for two weeks later. She cancelled the appointment at UAMS and got the records from Dr. Mabrey’s office. She was ready to drive me to Memphis when a few days before the appointment my husband said he would take me.
Ophthalmic oncology is a tiny subspecialty within ophthalmology. There are approximately 147 ophthalmic oncologists in the world. Getting a second opinion would be virtually impossible, and would most likely be done at my own expense. It wasn’t practical. If the ophthalmic oncologists at the University of Tennessee, which was also associated with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis couldn’t save my eye, it wouldn’t be saved. (Remember the plugs actor Danny Thomas used to make for St. Jude’s on television? He founded the hospital.)
That day I waited in the crowded reception room with about 40 other patients. Not everyone had the same problem I did. There were some who were blind, some who were obviously frail and feeble, and others who appeared just as healthy as I did. After what felt like a lifetime my name was called and I began a series of tests.
After an ultrasound of my eye, photographs of my retina, and two doctors peering through the enlarged pupil of my right eye, Dr. Barrett Haik told me that the spot was most likely malignant and that there were just a couple of options for treatment. One was that my eye would be removed and I would get a glass replacement. If the second option didn’t work, that’s what would ultimately happen anyway.
The second option was a radical new procedure. A tiny laser beam would be aimed through the clear pupil of my paralyzed eye and the melanoma would be burned to a pile of ash. The blood vessels feeding it and helping it to grow would be cauterized by the laser, too. The procedure had rarely been done before, and never by Dr. Haik. However, Dr. Matthew Wilson, his associate, had seen it done. It was experimental. If I did it, I might still need to have radiation treatments on the eye. Despite the laser and radiation, I might still lose my eye. Was I willing to try it? I shrugged. Sure.
It could not be done that day. The doctors would have to get the necessary equipment from St. Jude’s. I should come back in a month. New measurements could be taken by ultrasound and by photograph at that time to confirm that the spot was malignantly growing inside my eye.
I was still numb. When Skip and I explained the options to our families, the consensus was to go for the laser surgery. I was still in such a state of shock and denial that I couldn’t pick up the phone to call for the appointment. My sister came to my rescue again. She called the office in Memphis. I had an appointment to have the surgery.
This time the reception area at Dr. Haik’s office wasn’t as crowded and I was ushered in almost immediately. The pupil of my right eye was dilated with drops. Measurements were again taken with the ultrasound and the photographs. I was seated in an examination chair and given a painkiller.
The team knew what they were about to do to me would hurt and they warned me it would be uncomfortable. Still, I was unprepared for the excruciating agony of a paralytic agent being administered to the muscles around my eye by a hypodermic needle. The shot and the searing agony seemed to go on forever. When it was finally over I asked if it was a boy or a girl. I hoped, for that much pain, I had a baby girl to show for it. Jack was, alas, still sibling-less.
While they waited for the paralytic drug to take effect, Doctors Wilson and Haik talked and joked with me. I have never met a doctor whose bedside manner was better than Dr. Haik’s. He was constantly patting my hand and arm in a fatherly manner, soothing me with his soft voice, and putting me at ease with every word. He explained each step thoroughly.
He was also honest about the fact that he had never attempted the procedure he was about to perform on me. Dr. Wilson had done it, and would be supervising him. The two medical men readied the laser and talked with me and each other about what was happening. Dr. Haik bent over me and aimed the light through my pupil onto the part of the retina where the melanoma was bulging through the choroidal layer of my eye. As soon as he was confident of his aim, he activated the laser. I felt nothing.
For several minutes he directed the laser into my eye. He explained that he was burning not only the melanoma itself, but the blood vessels that were feeding it. Cauterizing those vessels was paramount: if they could still deliver nourishment to that tumor, the spot would continue to grow. All the cancerous cells had to be eradicated.
At last he was finished. He moved aside and Dr. Wilson took a look. He readied the laser and burned a little more of the area. Still, I felt nothing. Dr. Wilson backed away and removed his mask. “I think we got it all,” he grinned. I smiled with relief. It was probably the first time I had smiled in over two months.
Four weeks later I returned to the clinic for a checkup. The tumor wasn’t growing. There was just a mountain of ash where it used to be. I had a blind spot in my vision where the laser had seared the retina and damaged it permanently. A small black spot in one corner of my vision is such a small price to pay to keep my eye. Nine years later, I don’t even see it. In fact, even when I look for the blind spot I can’t find it. (I guess I’m blind to it – right?) My brain has compensated for the small gap in my vision.
I now go to Memphis once a year for a follow up exam. Last year Dr. Haik was on sabbatical and I really missed seeing him. Dr. Wilson was there, though. I adore these two men who saved my eye.
When I came across a story of a small boy who had eye cancer, and who has a gift for something else special, I decided to share this story with you. I hope you find inspiration in it. I did. I found the courage to tell you about one of the darkest periods of my life.
I have chronic daily headaches.
My migraines were diagnosed when I was 9 years old. I don’t remember the first one I had. I have always had what we called “sick headaches.” My head would pound to the point where I couldn’t speak or think, and my stomach would lurch. Then I’d lose everything I’d eaten in the last 24 hours. It might last a few hours, or it might last 3 days. However long it lasted, the hours and days were simply written out of my life.
My migraines came at irregular intervals. I would get three, four, or perhaps five a year. They were manageable with pain medications, which would help me to sleep despite the pain. Without the meds I would lie curled up and moan. Tears, unbidden, would leak from my eyes, which were screwed tightly shut to ward off light. I was prescribed codeine.
When I was in boarding school no drugs were allowed in our rooms. Even aspirin had to be deposited with the school nurse, who was there only from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nurse didn’t believe my headaches were real. She thought I was a druggie teenager seeking narcotics when I asked for my medication, so I kept a bottle of pills in my room and another in my purse. Had they been discovered, I would have been suspended or maybe even expelled. They were the only way I could even partly function when the headaches were their worst, and sometimes even then I couldn’t. I hoarded and guarded those pills. There was no way they were going to be used recreationally. Those pills were more precious than diamonds.
The world often seems brighter, louder, more active, and more intense just before a migraine hits. Sometimes before the pain begins colors suddenly take on an energetic quality, smells become more pungent, and sounds seem louder. Activity around me makes my heart beat faster. I don’t perceive it as a threat, just as too much energy that makes me uncomfortable or edgy. I get irritable. This is my “aura.” I don’t hallucinate. I don’t see anything that isn’t really there, unless the increasing intensity of my senses counts.
Sometimes a migraine hits with no warning at all. I may be calmly walking to my car and be slammed with a 2×4 to the brain. I fumble in my purse for the triptans – drugs that are designed to abort a migraine – knowing that it may be an hour or more before the pills begin to work. Another slam, and I wonder if I can drive my car home. I have to. That’s the only way I can get there. Digging back into my purse I come up with the Vicodin ES my doctor prescribed for pain that isn’t alleviated with the non-narcotic triptans. It still takes an hour before I can drive, and I am thankful I don’t have to drive far. It’s not just for my sake, either.
I call these headaches “Mike Tysons.” With the first sudden blow I am reeling; with the second I am almost unable to move, talk, walk, or look at anything. I curl into a fetal position in a small, dark, cool place and wait out the pain. I am oblivious to my surroundings except for the sounds and lights that assault my senses.
A car accident a decade ago made them worse. The headaches I got perhaps five times a year suddenly became several times a month, then several times a week, and now are almost daily.
My triggers include physical stress to my cervical spine (sleeping wrong on my pillow), soy, corn, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, the weather, seasonal allergies, irregular sleep, stress, irregular meals, alcohol, and aerobic exercise. Being in a crowd where I can’t hear well causes a headache, too – I’m talking about football games, crowded parties, and noisy restaurants.
Emotional surges can induce a migraine. When I was told my father died, one hit me immediately. Great joy can induce one, too. Winning a tough case makes me feel wonderful, and is always followed in just a couple of hours by a splittng headache. The shouts of boys playing inside on a rainy day, the birth of my favorite oldest niece and both of her siblings, a favorite song cranked to top volume, the satisfaction of a difficult job done well, the pleasure of a story completed after wrestling with the plot and characters for so long – all of these things make me feel wonderful, and all leave me with a hatchet striking my frontal lobe repeatedly.
In college, I would always get a migraine after the exam or after the term paper was turned in. I call it my neurological let-down. Once the period of stressful high productivity was over, my body and brain knew they could rest. Before I embarked on another project, a migraine would force that rest on me. The same thing happens still. I finish a brief, I’m through with a settlement conference, I leave a hearing and my head throbs. The stress is over; the migraine is just beginning.
I lose the ability to speak coherently. My brain fumbles for the right words. My fingers fumble with the Imitrex packaging. What sociopath at Glaxo-Welcome designed that packaging, anyway? It’s hard enough for someone without a migraine to open it, but someone with a migraine, who suddenly has the strength of a kitten and the coordination of a newborn has an extremely difficult time getting to the stupid pill!
Migraineurs know exactly what the ice pick in the eye feels like. We have experienced a head that literally feels about to explode, and we pull our hair in an effort to force the explosion to completion or we squeeze to hold it in. Other time we feel the vise tightening around our skulls, squeezing until we think the bones must shatter… but there’s nothing there.
Migraineurs have experienced soft pillows that are too hard. Walking up or down stairs is excruciating. Any movement causes a swell in the degree of pain, a giant THROB that suppresses all reason. Each footstep across a room creates those throbs, as does turning over in bed and sitting up to accept the glass of water and pill from someone kind enough to bring it to me. Turning one’s head during a migraine can be agony. Every migraineur understands exactly why decapitation would be a relief.
I’ve tried biofeedback, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractors, cupping, Chinese herbs, oregano, and magnesium supplements. I’ve tried several drugs that work for others, including Neurontin, Topamax (the gastro side effects of this drug were horrific), Verapamil, and Atenolol (Beta Blockers).
I’ve stopped working full time to reduce my stress levels, and moved my law office home so that I can take a nap when I need to. My bedroom is painted a dark mossy green and I have blackout curtains. I am careful to take cases that will not cause undue stress. I got out of a stressful marriage. I don’t drive more than an hour at a time because even on cloudy days the glare gets to me. Forget driving in the rain, too – windshield wipers are like strobe lights to me. They induce a headache in a very short time. Even the long shadows falling on the road through the trees in the late afternoon are enough of a strobe effect to set me off, and it only takes a few minutes.
In an effort to avoid soy and corn additives to food , I am now make almost everything I eat from scratch – I can’t eat any of the prepared meals from the frozen foods section of the grocery store, and practically no canned or packaged foods other than fruit or vegetables. My bread machine gets a great workout. I read food labels religiously.
My migraines are manageable with my current regimen of drugs, which includes an anti-seizure medication. Triptans like Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, and Relpax usually break off the headache. I use Vicodin ES for extra help in reducing the pain. I use Phenergan suppositories to quell the nausea. I take a mild muscle relaxer before bed to help keep my neck supple. I use ice packs, heating pads, and naps. I listen to cool jazz even though I really want to hear Foo Fighters. I never go anywhere without my medications. The pain killer, the triptans, the anti-nausea… I am a traveling pharmucopia.
I have also discovered a fantastic massage technique. It’s expensive, and my insurance doesn’t cover it, but once a month I go to a masseur who does myofascial release. I follow that appointment with a deep muscle massage. I have found that the massages not only help relieve muscle tension, but they help relieve stress.
Learning to live with chronic daily headache doesn’t mean giving up the fight against it. I go to my neurologist every three months, and I am always up for trying new procedures, drugs, supplements, and techniques to alleviate the pain and prevent the headaches from happening.
I am realistic about what I can do, though. Because I can’t be relied upon to be at functions (crowds stress me, and a headache is guaranteed), I do the behind-the-scenes stuff at my son’s school and for two historical societies I belong to. I wish I could do more, but I have learned the hard way that I usually have to say “no.”
Even the things I want to do will be torpedoed by a migraine. A coffee date with girlfriends, a dinner out, plans for the theater – all of these get derailed by migraines occasionally. My friends don’t understand. It’s just a headache, after all.
I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, you have a magnesium deficiency.” Nope, sorry. I tried magnesium and saw no appreciable difference in the frequency or severity of the attacks.
“Oh, you need to relax more,” I’m told. I have eliminated all possible stress from my life. It’s not just stress.
If I could tell you the number of times someone has told me about Topamax, or fever few, or acupuncture, or some other remedy! And even friends who suffer common migraine with aura don’t seem to get it. Mine occur almost every day, not once a month with my period (that stopped at 32 when the plumbing got yanked for cervical cancer). Hearing that this treatment or that treatment will “definitely” work amounts to a platitude. I want to say to them, “Don’t condescend to me. You have no idea what I’ve tried and what I’ve gone through.”
I live life one day at a time. The rare day without a migraine – today! – is a treat. I accept it with cautious pleasure. Tomorrow the drugs may work, and I’ll be able to function. The next day I may be in bed, wishing the Red Queen’s executioner would hurry up.
I have a cousin. He’s 66. He’s a medical doctor. He is currently serving six concurrent one year terms in the Berks County, Pennsylvania, Prison for six DUIs he had in the last 14 months. Two of the incidents where he was arrested involved accidents. In one accident someone was hurt, although I’m not sure how badly. It’s amazing to everyone in the family that he hasn’t killed himself yet. He lives alone when he’s not in jail. He drinks alone.
I had an aunt. She was an Olympic class equestrian. She and her horse fell in the early 1970’s at a practice for the trials for the Olympics. Her horse had to be put down and she never rode competitively again. She took solace in a bottle and in the prescriptions she was given. For more than 30 years, alone and angry because her dreams were dashed, she drank and medicated herself. She was hospitalized at least 20 times for detoxification, overdoses, and various problems with her health due to her alcoholism. When she died her blood alcohol content was .043. Yes, she drank herself to death.
Alcoholism runs hard in the genes of my family. I can point to almost any member of my grandparents generation and say, “He was an alcoholic” or “She was an alcoholic.” The alcoholics are fewer in my parents’ generation, but the ones that are alcoholics are bad ones. I remember swearing to myself growing up that I would never drink alcohol.
I did drink. In college I realized that I drank too much and too often. I thought about the alcoholics in my family. I slowed down. I slowed further in law school, and then when I married and had a baby I realized how hard it was to change a smelly diaper with a raging hangover. I slowed drinking even more.
In 1997 I was in a serious car accident. As a result of that accident the migraine headaches I have had all my life became worse. Ten years later I have a condition called “Chronic Daily Headache.” I have to take drugs to combat it. Most of the drugs don’t alter my mind, but occasionally I have to take muscle relaxers and painkillers.
Because of my headaches I have stopped drinking alcohol almost completely. Two drinks and I can guarantee myself a migraine. The margaritas aren’t worth it. I may go out with friends and sip one drink for three hours. I may drink it faster then switch to soda water. I never have more than one drink any more.
But there’s another problem. You see, addictive behavior runs in my family. And I have prescriptions for addictive medications for the pain I have almost daily.
I am afraid of these drugs. I hoarde them; I use them sparingly. I don’t want them to control my life.
Yesterday and today have been a bad days. My headache started early yesterday, but I was focused on something I was doing and didn’t take a break to get my Imitrex. By the time I was through with my project, I could barely sit at my desk. I wanted to curl up under it in a fetal position. Unbidden, tears fell down my cheeks. I staggered downstairs. The movement exacerbated the pain. I could barely think.
I fumbled for the device that contains the most powerful dose of Imitrex. It’s an injection, and thankfully it works quickly. I can use the injection no more than twice a month. I use it only when I can’t bear the pain. By the time I reached for the device, I was unable to form a coherent sentence. My thoughts were disjointed, and overlying it all was a little girl crying plaintively in my mind, “It hurts! Make it stop!”
I gave myself the shot. I took a muscle relaxer. I went to bed. I slept for three hours. When I woke, I still had a horrible headache. I took a painkiller. My head still hurt. Yet I still had to function.
I am a mother; I run a business. I have to take care of myself so I can take care of my child and my office.
I worry that I will become addicted to the painkillers. I worry that I take too many prescription drugs. I take three pills every morning in a futile attempt to control the neurological aspects of my migraines. They have helped. I shouldn’t say it’s futile. The headaches would be worse if I didn’t take them. Then there are the triptans – the drugs that actually stop the migraines. I can’t take them more than three days in a row, or I risk rebound headaches.
On days like today, when my head feels like it is split in two and one side is three times the size of the other, when a throbbing pain goes from above my left eye over the crown of my head and down into my left shoulder blade, when the pain is so bad I can’t sleep even with the soporific effect of the drugs, I despair of ever feeling good again.
The drugs don’t make me feel good. They just mask the pain. It’s still there; I just don’t care as much. I can laugh and joke and carry on a conversation with the drugs. I hate them.
I am terrified of addiction.
I am as the American Colonies were in 1775.
I know you all want to know how I could possibly be like the American Colonies were in 1775. “The simile is a stretch,” you think. You are wrong.
It will require a bit of a history lesson, so get out your notebooks and pens and pay attention.
Two hundred thirty-two years ago today, a man in Philadelphia began distributing copies of a pamphlet he had published anonymously at his own expense. The man, known as Tom Paine to his friends, had emigrated to the colony in America from England only two years before.
By the time he fortuitously met Benjamin Franklin in 1774, Paine had so far failed at everything he had ever done in life. He failed out of school at the age of twelve. By 19 he had failed at his apprenticeship to his father, a corset maker, and had gone to sea. He failed at that and returned to land work for the British government as a tax collector. By the time he was 32 he had been fired twice from that job, the second time because he agitated for higher wages, inciting others with his essays and leaflets to demand more money.
Once in Philadelphia, Paine began writing essays and contributing to a local magazine. He was a popular writer, and was widely read. He became a success.
Philadelphia’s air was full of anger and resentment against England when Paine arrived. The colonists in America felt that England was abusive towards them and despaired of Parliament even granting them self rule. Ten years before Parliament had reined in the quasi-independence that had previously existed for the colonies on the other side of the Atlantic. In repealing the Stamp Act, which was despised by the colonists, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act of 1766, and claimed for itself the “right… power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America…in all cases whatsoever.” Successively more restrictive laws were passed, and rebellion was imminent as 1775 turned into 1776.
For some reason, though, there had not been a formal rebellion against England in the colonies. As angry as the colonists were, they didn’t rise up and take arms against their English overlords. There were skirmishes here and there, and demonstrations and the like, but no organized, armed rebellion. We look back on it today and wonder, “What were they waiting for?” It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t take action.
Paine believed he knew how to package the idea of an armed rebellion so it would be more palatable to the colonists who might be sitting of the fence when it came to the issue of separation from England. He thought he had a way of convincing them to get off their dead asses and rebel. He had a way to stop them from procrastinating any longer.
And now we come to how I am like the colonies.
Hello. My name is Aramink. (Hello, Aramink.)
I am a procrastinator.
I have lousy time management skills. I let things without deadlines linger on my desk, hoping they will go away. They never do.
I am a procrastinator. Like the American colonies in 1775, I am sitting on my dead ass doing nothing (playing on Multiply) when I should be doing something constructive, something like writing, working, paying bills, balancing my checkbook, cleaning out closets, making my bed, taking a nap… well, maybe not taking a nap, but the other things certainly should be done.
The colonists were sitting around, complaining about taxes, about soldiers eating them out of farm and home, and unfair laws, just like I sit around and complain that I’m not getting out and getting things off my desk. Something had to shake up the colonists enough to actually do something about what they enjoyed complaining about so much.
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, lit the colonies on fire.
The pamphlet appeared January 10, 1776. Over 150,000 copies were sold almost immediately. Through many reprintings throughout 1776, as many as six million pamphlets reached readers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Not only did Paine write the argument that won support for the rebels among farmers and educated businessmen alike, he discussed naval strength and set out a model for the new government of a country called America. He set out a plan of action for the colonies to take so that they could wrest their independence from England. It wasn’t until the third edition of the pamphlet, published February 14, 1776, that he set out this plan, but by the time the plan was proposed, the ideas in the pamphlet had already planted seeds of rebellion in very fertile ground.
Perhaps you’ve never read this famous pamphlet, which is credited with starting the American Revolution. How did Paine stop the colonists’ procrastination and propel them into action? He focused them on the bad guy. He identified King George III as the enemy of the American Colonies and he laid out a plan for getting rid of the yoke the king had clapped on the neck of the colonies with the passage of the Declaratory Act of 1766 and those successively restrictive laws aimed at strangling the autonomy of the colonies in America.
Why did it take ten years, from 1766 to 1776, for the colonists to act?
What stirred the colonists to action? Thomas Paine giving them a target and a plan.
What stirs me into action? Deadlines. When I don’t have one, I get nothing done whatsoever. I have no Thomas Paine to stir my passions into action.
I am a procrastinator.
Yesterday I was talking to Katie about stuff I want to do but haven’t gotten around to doing. I had a laundry list of things. She laughed at me as I added more and more things to the list. “You’re a procrastinator! She declared. I admitted as much. I’ll deny anything until presented with incontrovertible proof. She had the proof.
Then she gave me an assignment.
“This afternoon, do three of these things on your list,” Katie commanded. She was kind enough to specify which three, and I was grateful. “I’m going to check with you later,” she warned.
It was about 2:30 and my eyelids were getting heavy. I had dealt with Book Club drama for two straight days and I was sleepy. I went to take a nap.
I woke up about 5:00 and returned to my computer. Oh yes, I remembered my assignment. I had to make two phone calls and mail something. Those were my tasks. I yawned and poured myself another glass of cranberry juice. Then I got an IM from Doc.
“I understand you were supposed to accomplish three tasks this afternoon,” he said. He had been talking to Katie!
I stammered. I hemmed and hawed. I did those things at least as much as one can possibly do them in an IM conversation.
“Are they done?” Doc asked. I could tell by the tone of the letters he typed that he was about to get serious with me. No, the font didn’t change. I could just tell.
I dialed the phone. I made the first phone call.
“I’ve done one,” I told Doc.
I hung up and dialed the phone again.
“I’ve done two,” I reported.
“You’re tardy on those two,” he advised me sternly, and then noted that I hadn’t done the third one at all.
“But I took a nap!” I whined, hoping for leniency since Doc is known to be fond of naps himself.
No luck. He remained stern and even got Katie into an IM conference with us.
Katie pronounced punishment. “You have to do what you didn’t do, and you have to write a blog about procrastination,” she decided.
“But I have another blog planned for tomorrow,” I protested, thinking about how I hadn’t finished my blog about Thomas Paine and his pamphlet, Common Sense.
“You must post your procrastination blog by 6 p.m. tomorrow,” Katie commanded.
Katie is a formidable mistress. I felt like a naughty kid. Doc was probably laughing at me, but he was at least pretending to be stern, too.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said meekly.
Guess what happened.
I didn’t get my Common Sense blog written last night, so it wasn’t ready to be posted this morning. And I had to do this procrastination blog, too. Today is the anniversary of the publication of Common Sense, so I really need to post that blog today, but Mistress Katie says I have to post the procrastination blog today, too.
That’s why I am comparing my procrastination with the inaction of the American colonies prior to the publication of Common Sense.
Thomas Paine set out a plan for rebellion and independence, and Katie told me I have to set out a plan to eliminate procrastination from my life.
These parallels between me and the American colonies are just downright uncanny, aren’t they?
Here’s my plan:
- I will read my email first thing in the morning and respond to it all.
- I will write the rest of the morning, unless Jane is here, and in that case I will write unless Jane has other work for me to do.
- I will break for lunch and actually eat somewhere other than over my keyboard.
- I will check my email immediately after lunch and respond to it all.
- I will run errands and get other things done as my list dictates (see below).
- I will read and write some more, as time permits.
- I will make tomorrow’s list by 5:00 every day.
- I will then allow myself to play online.
It may not be as good a plan as Thomas Paine’s was for rebellion, but it will probably help me to stop procrastinating.
I wonder if I should sign out of Messenger, too. I mean, I’m normally invisible, but I’m always here. If I hadn’t been on Messenger before 5:00, Katie might never have given me that assignment in the first place, and I might not have had to figure out how to combine a blog on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and procrastination.
It’s worth considering.
Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 71. He died five years ago and I miss him more than ever.
My Dad was my champion. His confidence in me never flagged, even when I was an angry, incorrigible teenager bent on self-destruction. He always told me, without any qualifying adjectives, phrases, or conditions whatsoever, that I could be and do anything I wanted in life. I’m 45 years old and I still believe him.
Daddy wasn’t perfect. He drank too much. You know the kind of drunk I’m talking about. He was perfectly functional during the day – had a pretty high-profile position in the little community where he lived, in fact – but evenings were a different story. He was a melancholy drunk, the kind who wanted to sing “Danny Boy” and worry about the re-institution of the draft.
No kidding: when I was a teenager the draft was one of his favorite drunken topics. He was on the county draft board during Vietnam and the experience scarred him, I think. He objected strongly to the war and did all he could to keep kids from our area from going. He had a cousin who was on the ground in Vietnam, a brother who spent his tour with the Navy just off the coast of Vietnam, and a brother in law who was about to be shipped out when his luck changed and he was sent home instead. Wars that were nothing but someone’s political agenda pissed Dad off. You can imagine what he’d think about Iraq Redux.
Dad made Christmas magical. His birthday, coming on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, meant that the whole season was special. We had a tradition when I was young, that he and my sister continued after her divorce: Christmas Eve meant a trip to the closest Wal-Mart, 40 miles away in the town of Searcy. Dad wasn’t looking for significant gifts on that trip. If he saw something perfect for someone, he’d pick it up, of course, but the purpose of the trip was really to grab silly gifts, stocking stuffers, and prepare for Pre-Christmas, a tradition our family held dear.
My family inherited Pre-Christmas from Dad’s family. The legend goes that on Christmas Eve the kids were allowed to open one gift, and the adults, being who they were, didn’t want to get left out. They started exchanging gag gifts on Christmas Eve, accompanied by really bad poetry. There was a $10 limit on any Pre-Christmas gift when I was growing up. This encouraged creativity in gift giving. A rubber chicken was always the booby prize, and one lucky person a year got it. It was a badge of honor to receive the chicken, which was always dressed up a little differently and presented with new panache.
I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey at the age of 22 and had to call my mother to find out, halfway through cooking, that the giblets were in a package in the turkey’s neck. That Pre-Christmas I got the chicken with feathers stuck in its butt, intended to resemble the turkey. The chicken’s head had been cut off and, um, things were inserted in it. I don’t remember the poem (who can remember those horrible poems?) but I assure you it was appropriately insulting. A new chicken was purchased the next year to replace the poor decapitated capon.
It is still a badge of honor to receive the chicken. Jack and his cousins would be devastated every year when they’d open their pre-Christmas gift and it wouldn’t be the chicken. We had to contrive chicken gifts for them three years in a row just to get it out of the way. It’s hard to come up with a rubber chicken idea and poem for a ten year old!
But this isn’t a blog about Pre-Christmas. Dad made Christmas special in several other ways, but I should have written about that at Christmas. At least I have blog fodder for next Christmas. No, this is a blog about my Daddy, whose birthday is today.
I was Daddy’s Girl. Dad had two daughters, but I was It. Every girl, even my sister, should be a Daddy’s Girl. Sis got double billing with me as an adult, but as children we were very definitely divided. She was Mama’s and I was Daddy’s. We sort of shared our little brother, who came along half a decade later and was the only boy.
As Daddy’s Girl I had the seat of honor. I considered it the seat of honor, anyway. I think I more or less took the seat, but I had it nonetheless. I sat on the floor at his feet when we had company. I sat to his right at the dinner table. On weekends I snuggled with him on the couch and watched John Wayne and Henry Fonda and James Stewart. If he went somewhere I was the child who accompanied him.
When I was about eleven years old I rebelled completely against going to church, which I thought was stupid and pointless. I just didn’t buy the whole “god” concept, which was no more believable than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny in my mind. The story of Jesus and the ultimate sacrifice he made seemed ridiculous, and I said so rather vehemently. Martyrdom was foolish, no matter whether it was Jesus or Galileo. The choice between burning at the stake and telling a bunch of threatening men that I lied would have been easy for me. I’d be Galileo’s twin.
But at the tender age of eleven, too young even for confirmation in the church, it was Dad who told me that before I declared myself an atheist (I had no idea there was a name for it) I needed to consider whether there was a “Mover of the First Part.” There may not be a benevolent intelligence watching us now, but at some point, something, or someone, set the thing in motion. This was my first real theology lesson. It intrigued me a lot more than any Bible story ever could.
Because of this conversation with my Dad I was agnostic for years. I had to come to intellectual grips with the concept of infinity before I could put agnosticism away completely. Thanks to my dad, I actually studied theology, philosophy and religion instead of just saying, “This whole ‘Jesus and God’ thing is nonsense, and I want no part of it.” I still study religions. Maybe I’m still agnostic in some ways. Nah….
I have my Dad’s sense of humor. All three of his children do. The three of us have all remarked on multiple occasions how glad we are that we have Dad’s quickness to laugh, that we inherited the song that was in his heart. We are all basically happy people. We are happy on the outside and we are happy inside. My brother and I both struggle with depression, a genetic problem that comes from Mom’s side of the family. Believe it or not, though, even when we are depressed and at our worst, we are still optimists with a sense of fun. We are quick-witted. We see the irony in situations that make us sad.
Like Dad, all three of his children often laugh inappropriately. At the funeral of a family friend not too long ago, my brother and I walked in together a little late. Mom and Sis sat on the other side of the church. Jay and I opened the hymnal and the book that had the funeral service in it. We read the paper program. Then I noticed what I thought was a theme to the funeral.
“Jay!” I whispered, nudging him. “Do you notice that all these hymns have something to do with being submissive to God?”
He looked. Sure enough, each hymn had something about bondage or submission. He nodded. “Do you think the deceased and his wife were into BDSM?” I asked.
He moved a step away from me and turned red, trying to keep the laughter in. The widow was and is a woman of a very strong, dominant nature, and we were on the receiving end of her dominance many times growing up. The notion of her dominating her kind, soft-spoken, wheelchair-bound husband wasn’t far-fetched at all, but the idea that she’d do it in leather and with a flogger was making us snort.
Then came the concordant reading. More submission stuff. More bondage. Both of us were trying hard to keep a straight face, and we were not doing a good job. The homily was just as bad. Accepting death as God’s will, submitting whether we want to or not…
Yes, we laugh inappropriately. We should not have read anything naughty into the chosen hymns and texts of the funeral service. We were very bad. We will now submit to be punished, but only by the widow dressed in leather. (giggle) Dad would have found that to be hilariously, and inappropriately, funny as well. Too bad he missed it.
I was Daddy’s Girl. I didn’t care one thing about disappointing my mother or doing what she wanted me to do. If I thought I had disappointed Daddy, though, it was worse than being spanked, grounded, or otherwise punished. I never wanted to let my Daddy down. When Dad got angry at me, I knew I had truly screwed up. I knew I had to fix it.
When I was in my early 20’s and living 1500 miles away from him, I had a decision to make. It was a major decision, and I wanted him to tell me I was doing the right thing. I laid out the paths I could possibly take and I asked his advice. He said, “Why are you asking me? You’re just going to do what you want to anyway.” He said it gently. I realized that he was pointing out a flaw in my nature. I wanted him to reassure me that a decision I had already made was the right one. I didn’t really want his input.
Years later, when my husband said essentially the same thing to me, I understood that even though I had tried to be more conscientious about heeding the advice I was given, I wasn’t asking for it in the right way. I still have this flaw. Thanks to my dad, I am aware of it and it gives me a really guilty feeling whenever I realize that I’ve done it again. Gee, thanks, Dad.
Dad died very suddenly, either because of an aneurysm in his aorta or more probably from a deep vein thrombosis – a blood clot. He had been having problems with numbness in his left foot for several years and no doctor had been able to determine what was wrong. It’s likely that he had a clot in that numb area that finally made it to his heart and stopped it for good. His death devastated all of us.
Jack was ten years old when Dad died. We were talking about Dad one day not long after the memorial service, and Jack put his finger on what really made my Dad special. “You know what was great about Papa? He listened.”
That was really and truly what was great about my Dad. He did listen, and he listened well. He didn’t interrupt with advice. He didn’t change the subject because he was uncomfortable. He listened, he asked relevant questions, and he led us to the answer. He wasn’t afraid of feelings. If we needed to vent, he understood that and he let us vent. He only tried to solve problems when we asked him to. He helped us see solutions and he did it with humor, diplomacy, and quiet support.
My Dad was a great man because he listened.
I hope that when I die someone can say something that good about me.
I went to college where I did, then went to law school because of my dad. I accomplished what I have because of my dad’s support and encouragement. I look at life the way I do because I am my father’s daughter. I am who I am because I was Daddy’s Girl.
I love you, Daddy. Thank you for making me me. And Happy Birthday, you old fart.
~~My sister may never forgive me.~~
Jack and I went to my sister’s for Christmas dinner. When we got there, Sis put a pork tenderloin in the oven and we gathered around the tree to open gifts. Sis’s two boys, ages 15 and 13, were there, as was my mother. We spent a lovely hour ooohing and ahhhhing over what everyone got and gave. It was a very nice time.
We were almost through opening gifts when Sis got up to go check the tenderloin. She was gone for a few minutes. The rest of us waited to open any more gifts until she returned.
We were chatting and laughing in typical Aramink family fashion when Sis tip-toed back into the living room and tapped me on the shoulder. “Come here,” she whispered.
I got to my feet and followed her into the kitchen.
“Have you ever cooked a pork tenderloin?” she asked.
“Yes,” I told her. “Lots of times.”
“Good. I have something I need to ask you, then,” she said, and opened the oven door. She reached in and pulled out the roasting pan holding the meat.
“Is it supposed to look like this?” she asked.
I gaped. I blinked.
Sis put the pan down on the counter and grinned at me real big. “Shhhh,” she said.
We walked back into the living room, and Sis beckoned to Mom.
I couldn’t help it. I was about to die laughing. When Gran headed into the kitchen, I did my best to keep three large teenage boys at bay, thinking they were too young and … ahem… tender… to witness what their mother had prepared for Christmas dinner.
I was unsuccessful. The boys barreled into the kitchen just as their grandmother was in the act of looking perplexed at the slab of meat that faced her. Gran glanced up with a quizzical look. For a second I thought she didn’t get it.
Then she burst out laughing.
The boys crowded around. “What is it? What’s so funny?” they demanded. Their mothers and grandmother were laughing too hard to tell them.
Sis headed down the hall to the bathroom before she wet her pants. When she came back, she suggested that a creamy Bearnaise sauce would be a lovely accompaniment.
That set us off again. Sis headed back to the bathroom.
We females of the family enjoyed every bite. “Mmmmmm.” “Yummy.” “This is delightful,” we said.
The boys, for some reason, opted for a meatless Christmas dinner.
And now, for the crucial question:
If a pork tenderloin is circumcised, does that make it kosher?
This part of the tour gets tricky.
You see, now I have to tell you the primary reason for the remodel. There’s no way to get to the basement without going outside.
Especially since I’m installing that “See-Mint Pond,” there just has to be a way to get there.
I hired an architect to figure this one out. At first I thought I wanted an elevator. My ceilings are high, and there is more than the 8.5 feet between floors. then, once you’re in the back yard, you still have to go upstairs to get into the basement.
Let me show you what I mean.
Let’s go out my bedroom door onto the middle level of the deck, and head down.
It’s very dark out here at night. Because I’ve been planning this remodel almost since I bought the place, I haven’t yet put lights out on the stairs that go to the basement level. That makes it even more dangerous than it is in daylight.
Remember the outside view of the deck stairs with the wood piled under them? That’s about 9′ tall. Jack’s about 5’10,” so you can sort of see here what I mean.
So: the treachery of darkness, the steepness of the yard, and rain and other bad weather all combine to make it not just inconvenient for there to be no interior staircase to the basement, but downright dangerous.
Thus, the remodel. It’s to install a staircase and the attendant basement hallway. Since I’m going to be breathing drywall dust, I thought I’d do a couple other things at the same time, but more about that later.
For now, Jack’s really excited about showing off his basement. Not only did he agree to clean it up for you, he even posed willingly for the pictures. Go figure!
The door goes to what we refer to now as “Jack’s Basement.”
Oh, who am I kidding? It will be “Jack’s Basement” as long as he’s living at home, and maybe even longer.
I lack a fish-eye lens for my digital camera, and Tallulah LeDeux hasn’t yet made it up to Little Rock to snapshoot my digs, so imagine, if you will, this picture and the next one side by side.
Jack’s basement in a very long room, with his desk and computer at one end and his bumper pool/poker table at the other.
There are only two relatively small windows, something that will change when the remodel happens – I plan to line that wall with windows just like the living room two floors up. Then I’ll hang black-out curtains, similar to what are in my bedroom, so that Jack can keep it dark in there when he wants to sleep in.
Yes, despite having a bedroom elsewhere in the house, on weekends Jack prefers to sleep on a futon in the basement. He has a pair of them that each makes into a single-size bed, so he can have a friend over, too.
Behind that attractive and much revered poster from the movie “Snakes on a Plane” (IMHO, one of the worst – yes worst – celluloid was ever wasted on) is a half bath. In the remodel, we’ll add a shower, and on the side of the wall facing the room will be an icemaker connection.
When he’s older, and gone, I will probably install a wet bar down here. By that time it will be Mom’s basement, not Jack’s basement, and I will want certain amenities. This room will be where the cabana boys hang out. Right now, the cabana boys are not old enough to drink alcohol, so I will eliminate some temptation and wait for the wet bar.
In the meantime, though, I want everyone to note what reading matter my resourceful son is studying these days.
Despite the new life forms evolving in and around the toilet, I am very proud of my budding young hero.
Back away from the bathroom, and take a look at the room from the other direction.
You see the poker table, the book cases which are overflowing and in which books are mostly double-shelved, and the beanbags, which were purchased with boys in mind but which a certain pair of dogs have laid claim to.
You’ll also see the wool Moroccan rug which was completely submerged during the flood of 2006. That rug used to be about 22×16. It’s smaller now. It’s also permanently stained with blue ink. When our dogs were puppies, they liked to eat pens. Mia ate a blue Pentel Rollerball on the rug. I realize it was in an attempt to introduce a little color into that dull white landscape of the carpet. I know it was just her compulsion for interior design leaking out of that pen. I know it was. And I refrained from beating her. Truly I did.
Jack wants you to notice all of the Star Wars figures standing around the room. He feels as though he’s among friends all the time because they join him in the basement.
It’s no accident that Padme stands near the TV.
Oh, and all those soda cans? Aside from being an ant magnet (“I rinse the cans out, Mom, I swear I do!”) they represent my offspring’s architectural impulses. It’s a pyramid. It’s art.
My son is a Star Wars geek, in case you didn’t realize that. He’s read all of the books, seen all of the movies, and can quote from the original trilogy. In fact, one of his favorite quotes is emanating from Admiral Ackbar right there on the wall. Go ahead and enlarge the photo. You’ll see.
This is Jack himself, in his usual pose. He’s playing Halo, or World of Warcraft, or Gears of War, or Assassin’s Creed, or something else that requires lots of shooting.
Of course, he’s opposed to war.
A Conscientious Objector.
That framed poster you see in the top right corner of the photo is one of Jack’s prized possessions. We bought it in New Orleans about 5 or 6 years ago. It’s a British movie poster advertising the re-release of the original trilogy, and it’s signed by Mark Hammill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and George Lucas.
At the other end of Jack’s basement are two closets. Well, only one closet actually remains. The second is not a passageway to my part of the basement: my workshop and the place where great changes will be made in the remodel.
This is all the “stuff” – the toys and tools and materials for what I enjoy doing down here in my dungeon. What is it I do?
I think there’s only one person I’ve told here in this online world, because he does something similar.
Sewing is sometimes involved in this hobby of mine. Sometimes.
Here’s part of it. See the log cabin? I built it. I’m in the process of making it look as realistic as possible, me and my Dremel and my paints.
Behind you’ll see a huge pile of dirt. More about that in a minute.
On the work table next to the log cabin is a project my youngest niece and I have been working on: her dollhouse. The walls are in the process of being painted.
Because I can never just do one thing at a time, I have a Victorian dollhouse I’m making as well. Yes, I will furnish these houses. I will make some of the furnishings and I will buy others.
I had great visions for that huge pile of dirt at one point. I envisioned model trains, snaking up and down the “mountain” through villages and forests that I would plant there.
Sadly, that project is not going to happen. instead, in the remodel. I plan to excavate that mountain – strip mine it for landscape stone – and make a room there. In fact, I plan to move my sewing room there, or make it into a bedroom. Since our house has only two bedrooms, it seems logical.
If I move my sewing room there then when I get around to remodeling the master bath, I can expand into the current sewing room for closet space.
On the right side of the picture, just off the actual part you can see, is a hobbit-sized door that leads to an unexcavated storage area. It’s where I keep the Christmas decorations. That’s right: the ones I’m not getting out this year because this year I’m Buddhist.
In the remodel, this area will be where the stairs from the middle floor end, and there will be a door cut through to Jack’s basement, right next to the closet I didn’t remove. This area will be excavated and become a hallway, with proper storage rooms off it and a door into my new sewing room or the third bedroom.
The architect and I really struggled with where to put the stairs. In an effort not to completely tear up the floor plan, at one point we thought about an elevator. Yes, really. This house is tall.
However, we then discovered that moisture was getting under the stairs and warping them. the existing stairs have to be rebuilt and the area underneath has to be waterproofed. Since we had to go under the topless turret anyway, the bright idea developed that we would simply continue the existing staircase all the way to the basement. We’re putting in another staircase directly beneath the existing one, after tearing out the existing one and making about three water and moisture barriers.
After the rains this week, I took a photo underneath the topless turret. this is what it looks like below ground level after a rain.
This is below ground level from the outside, but as you can see, the cliff on which my house is built demanded that the foundation be much lower on the inside than it is on the outside.
Wow. That’s kind of a Heinlein notion, isn’t it? Things that are a different size and shape on the inside than they are on the outside….
Those cinder blocks are the below-ground curving wall of the topless turret. And sadly, they are wet. The wetness is warping the wood of my staircase in a disturbing manner.
So that’s why the remodel, and what it’s going to consist of.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my house, my yard, my neighborhood, and my space. I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit.
Did anyone case the joint?
Back down the front hallway and to your right, just past the front door, are the stairs that spiral to what I call the second floor. It’s really the middle level of my house. It’s the level where the garage and my bedroom and – yes, my sewing room – are located. I know you all are dying to see the wench’s sewing room. This fascination with the room where I make my corsets is a bit unnerving, I must say.
Here is a view of the spiral stairs, and you can see why the topless turret has the shape it does.
They look steep and dangerous, don’t they? Our dog, Mia, fell going up these stairs once, because where the treads spiral around the rail they are too narrow even for the feet of a large dog. She refused to go up them after that, although she would go down. I fall down them all the time. I may have my nose in a book as I walk down the stairs (yes, I read when I walk – don’t you?) and I hit the narrow part of the tread and don’t hug the wall like I should. Then I skitter down on my butt. Mia finally fell down them, too, and after that she refused to go up or down the stairs. I knew I had to do something, so I bought those tacky little rugs to go on each tread and secured them in place with double-sided tape. Mia will once again go up and down the stairs, and I don’t fall nearly as often.
They’re going to change, though. Part of the remodel – remember I mentioned the remodel in the last blog? – will remove these stairs and replace then with two straight runs. The semi-circular area will be a landing. I’m going to do the stairs in the same green slate tiles that are on the floors of the upstairs and downstairs hallways for the sake of continuity.
Enough about the stairs. Watch your step as you come down though.
Remember I told you I have an art collection? I won’t bore you with the oils and watercolors etc., but you absolutely must note the crown jewel of my collection. It hangs at the bottom of these stairs. See him?
No? Can’t see him?
Well please, look closer.
Yeah, baby. It’s the King. He’s TCB right here at the bottom of my stairwell.
You know, this was the only item of contention in my divorce. I won, because truthfully, it was given to me by a very dear old friend who just happened to be my husband’s room mate in law school. (Sorry, honey – those are the breaks.)
Of course it’s velvet. Go ahead. Reach out and touch that big “E” right there.
What a hunk-a hunk-a burnin…..
To the right of Elvis is the door to the garage. There’s nothing interesting in there. Jack has his Taurus, which he named “Leroy,” and is attending some athletic event at his school. My car sits there, lonely, in the dark and otherwise empty space.
Turn around and you’ll see another long hallway.
The door to the right leads to my bedroom. The one at the end of the hall goes to the sewing room – yes, the legendary sewing room! – and the one directly across the hall from the bedroom door, which you can’t see, goes to the laundry room.
This hallway isn’t very interesting. It’s going to be completely redone in the remodel, so I haven’t done much with it at all. Besides, no one comes down here but me. Well, Jack does, occasionally, when he’s looking for clean socks or something.
George and Ursula’s cat box sits here, as does a Chinese fishbowl pot I found at a junk store. I’m going to put a plant in the pot, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
So… The laundry room.
Go into the door on the left, just ahead. Can we all crowd inside? It’s a pretty good sized room, but I should close the door to show it off. There. Thank you.
Oh, my. I have a load waiting to be folded. It appears Jack was indeed looking for clean socks recently, because the dryer door is open and the clothes are still in it.
I’m a bit embarrassed that you caught me at my housework.
I should really start another load now. Will someone help me fold these sheets? Thank you. I can use the help, and you’re kind to volunteer.
If we stand over here by the door we can see that opposite the washer and dryer is a sink and some storage. It looks to be quite the mess, doesn’t it?
Yes, I know the shelves are a cluttered mess. I know where things are, though.
The dolls? Um, well, er….
I could say that they belong to my nieces, but the truth is they were mine when I was a little girl. That brown trunk one of the dolls sits on is full of clothes I made for them when I was a kid. When my sister and mom were cleaning out Mom’s attic in the home we grew up in, before my parents moved to little Rock, they found them and gave them to me for pre-Christmas.
Pre-Christmas is another tradition I should tell you about sometime. But anyway, I have my dolls and my nieces do indeed play with them when they come over. And yes, we make doll clothes.
We make them in the sewing room. Finally, at last, you get to see the sewing room. Now that the sheets are folded (thank you, Josef) and I’ve started another load of laundry, we can leave the laundry room and head to the end of the hall where the sewing room is.
Yes, the sewing room. I know that this is the moment so many of you have been waiting for. Well, wait no longer.
And another view….
… and now turn around and look back toward the hallway, the way you came in, and you’ll see the book cases (I would hate for you to miss anything at all about this delightful room)
Can’t you just feel that anticlimax?
I sure can.
Moving right along….
Back into the hallway. Look to your right and you’ll see that I’ve hung a bunch of family photos here.
Boring, yes. But I needed someplace to put them. No, I won’t identify them all to you, except to say that the bride in the center is my grandmother, and the photo was taken in front of a stained glass pocket door in the Edwardian mansion where she grew up in Little Rock’s Quapaw Quarter. I swiped that picture from my mom, and I have no intention of giving it back. Unless she specifically asks for it, of course. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to prevent her from visiting this floor of my house, having decided that out of sight is probably out of mind and she may not try to reclaim it if she forgets I have it…
Turn left, now, and go into my bedroom.
Like the wall in the living room upstairs, the wall here in my bedroom is all windows – the better to view the treetops with, my dears. Because Juan and Enrique and their companions spend so much time in my back yard these days, lately I tend to keep the curtains drawn. It’s not that I mind them seeing anything, it’s just that, well, I’d prefer they didn’t see anything. You know.
Yes, I know you are all fascinated to see where I sleep. Well, here it is. No, I will not pose for you here in my nightie.
George (in the foreground) and his sister Ursula, grudgingly move over a bit when I turn down the covers.
It’s damned inconsiderate of me to disturb them, I know, but it also is a bonding time for us.
I’m sure that all the trolls and troglodytes out there are just waiting with bated breath to see where I strip myself to my altogether and douse myself with water. The pool isn’t built yet, so I guess I’ll indulge them and show them my bathroom.
Right this way, folks.
There it is, guys. The bathtub where I sit naked and wet. Titillating, huh.
Oh, did you notice that cranberry glass chandelier? Yes, I realize that not everyone would put a fabulously ornate chandelier in a bathroom, but this particular chandelier was bought specifically for mine. Why? Well, I’ve always wanted a palatial-feeling place in which to relax in the bubbles, perhaps with a glass of bubbly.
Call me decadent. Call me self-indulgent. Call me a wench. It’s all true.
And here’s the spot where I brush my wenchly teeth. This is just too good, isn’t it?
Turn around and you’ll see the shower, which is yet another place where I get naked and wet.
I know. I should go easy on the boys, now shouldn’t I?
But what is that? Through that distant door!
Can it be…?
Could it be…?
YESSSSS! It’s the sewing room again!
If anyone makes the mistake of saying they want more, I’ll thrill you all with a tour of the bottom floor of the house next.
Come in! Come in! Welcome! It’s so good to see you!
Here, let me take your coat. The coat closet is here in the hallway. I’ll hang it up for you.
The sofa? I inherited that. It was my great-grandmother’s. Isn’t the velvet upholstery pretty? Fortunately the cats don’t sleep on it. I’d have to brush the sofa as well as the cats if they did.
The oriental runner was my grandmother’s. Yes, it’s getting worn, but I like it and for now it’s staying right here. The slate tile floors are nice, but in the winter, especially, they can be very cold.
That horse? My ex hated it. I like it. It was painted on canvas by a street artist in India. Perhaps I’ll give you a tour of my art collection some time.
It’s a shame it’s so foggy today. If it were clear, you’d be able to see across Allsopp Park to the opposite ridge of Hillcrest. Being so high lets us look out over the treetops. Sometimes, when I sit in here, I feel like I’m in a tree house.
The cuddle chair? That’s our couch. As you can see it’s a big round chaise plenty big enough for two. Because of its circular shape, the two people sitting in it sort of naturally lean toward each other and can’t help but cuddle. Jack and I sit here with our dueling laptops and watch movies, and just hang out. I have it covered in faux emu with really fancy tassels. I’m going to make some throw pillows for it from old mink coats I got at a garage sale to really fancy it up. (I just had to throw something in about my sewing machine.)
Yes, we watch the movies on a big screen. The previous owners had hidden the television in the cabinets, but I decided to do a home theater. The people who built this house were serious audiophiles – the husband was in a band made up of doctors like himself – and they left behind four Klipsch loudspeakers that were built into the walls. You can see one of them in the photo, sort of in the middle of the wall to the right of the TV. Since my ex got the Bose in the divorce I decided to replace it with something worthy of those magnificent speakers. Jack was skeptical that I knew what I was doing. The day it was installed, Jack arrived at the house and gaped. “Did I do OK, son?” I asked. He nodded, slinging drool everywhere. What a mess. I have a problem, though. The stereo gets so hot in that cabinet that I need to vent it somehow. I’m thinking to put something like a dryer vent that goes through the exterior wall, with a fan in the cabinet to stir the air. I have to find someone willing to hang on three stories up to install it, though.
That display case is an antique French library that I restored. It’s an entire blog in and of itself.
(Since we can see and hear the TV perfectly well from the kitchen bar, please tell me why I find pop tart wrappers in the cushions of the cuddle chair, and why plates seem to stack up on the coffee table on weekends. Please explain this. Please.)
You should join me for dinner sometime.
My office is behind that wall – just to the right of that overflowing bookcase. I work from home. That’s why I’m usually around when you IM me.
My office is a mess. Don’t look too closely.
You want to see Jack’s room? Oh, dear. Well, the bed is made, but I don’t think it’s very neat or clean. I’m just giving you fair warning.
You’ll notice that his bookcase also overflows. That’s not the only place he keeps books. He’s a pretty voracious reader, I’m happy to say. We are planning on adding bookshelves when we remodel in the spring.
Yes, remodel. You’re seeing the “before” pictures.