Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Carrying the load

I had a dream last night. I was on the top floor of a tall building, where I was in a florist shop, buying two balloons. I already had my arms full, but as I started down the building to the exit, I kept buying more stuff, then dropping some of what I had brought with me. My keys fell several times, and my canvas bag (where I was stuffing what I could) developed a huge tear and its contents were constantly falling out. More than once, I'd accidentally leave the balloons somewhere, and by the time I trekked back to retrieve them, they had lost their buoyancy and I had to take them back to the florist shop to have then revitalized - along the way, of course, dropping more stuff.

The interpretation of this dream is as plain as, well, the nose on my face (and the mandible, the superciliary arch, and the zygoma, found in and around my face). I've come so far in studying for my Certified Medical Transcriptionist exam that I'm starting to drop facts that I learned a couple of weeks ago. Then when I do go back and retrieve the facts, they have lost their helium and I'm therefore starting from scratch. What a confusing situation! I'm trying to stuff all this information in my brain for good, but my brain seems to have other ideas.

I certainly hope the situation resolves itself. It's a lot for a 52-year-old brain to handle.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Expressions continued

After my last post about sayings donated to our family by unsuspecting friends and relatives, I started thinking about our family expressions that we ourselves have generated.
That in turn reminded me of this story:

A guy gets sentenced to prison, and is led to his new cell. At lights out, he and his cellmate are chatting. In the background, he can hear the other prisoners talking in the darkness.
"27" he hears shouted in the darkness. Peals of laughter ring out. A different voice calls out "318". More laughter follows.

Intrigued, he asks his cellmate: "What’s the deal with calling out numbers?" "Well you gotta understand, man, that most of the guys in this wing have been in here for 20 years or more. So eventually you run out of new jokes to tell. Everyone's heard them all, in fact we all have them memorized."

"So we worked out a system where we numbered each joke. If you want to tell one, you can just call out the number."

The new prisoner chuckles. "Wow, that's neat. You think I can give it a try?" "Sure, newbie, give it a shot."

So he waits for a lull, and calls out loudly: "278!"


He tries another: "415!"

Dead silence.

He says to his cellmate, "What’s the deal?"

"What can I say, man, some people just can't tell a joke."

We have the very same setup. Over the years, our funny antics have been etched into our collective brain, and all we need to hear is a few words to bring it all back. I’ll bet everyone has times like this - when the memorable episode is intact in your mind and all it takes is a few words to make you laugh. Here’s my partial list:

“This chicken tastes kind of dry.”
“Calm down, calm down, calm down!”
“Bearland, Bearland...”
“Just jokin’.”
“What is this - rush hour in downtown Algood?”
“Hey - that’s a good name for a cookie!”
“Here’s the deal...”
“This ain’t no fake tie, it’s a tie tie.”
“...And that’s how I got gum on my glasses.”
“We saw no moose, we saw no bears...”
"It's lettuce trauma."
“That whale breached!”
“She looked just like Freddy Kruger in a bonnet.”
"Every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you."
“He’s holding it with his beak!”
"That reminds me of a commercial..."
"I'm 15 billion years old!"
"I can't get the paper off the steak to cook it."

And, just for my sister...”Show me that smile...”

Now, unless you’re a member of my family, you have no idea what those quotes mean - maybe even if you are a family member, you'd miss a few. I might as well have called out random numbers like the prisoner in the story above. But take it from me - there are some very wacky stories behind those snippets.

And that's all from our cell block today, folks!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Part of our lives

At several of our former parishes, I helped out with the music program while Ed was the pastor. I remember one specific church with a tiny choir of about 7-8 women. We were busy working on Christmas music, when I realized that none of the women had ever heard of “Lo, How a Rose,” a beautiful old, well-known (or so I had thought) Christmas carol. I took the time to teach it to them, and I remember saying, “You might hear this on TV or radio or even in a store during Christmas shopping season. You'll suddenly recognize it and think, Oh, yeah, that’s the one Carol taught us!” Oh, the significance of leaving one’s footprint for posterity!

I imagine we have left our mark in one way or another on every church we served. It is also true that they have left their marks on us, and therefore, they join all the other characters in our ongoing life story. This applies not only to people we met in church, of course. From casual acquaintances to family members, our memories are full of the people we have known - their quirks, their accents, and the wonderful characteristics that made each one of them unique.

After blogging about Aunt Bessie last week, I did some reminiscing with Ed about the various phrases we use on a frequent basis - phrases that immediately remind us of people from our distant (and not so distant) past. These folks, living and dead, probably never imagined they had become part of our linguistic repertoire.

I remember one preacher we heard at a revival. He preached a lengthy sermon, as one is wont to do in revivals, but at one point he said excitedly, “Yeah, that’s the ticket!” The way he said it was so funny, we have never forgotten it. Now when Ed and I agree with a plan, we both say, “Yeah, that’s the ticket!” All this from a guy we only met once and will never see again. I can’t even remember his name.

After Ed gave up drinking, the United Methodist Church required that he go see a psychiatrist for evaluation before they would let him pursue a path to the ministry. Ed remembers that this doctor wrote very little on his notes, but one sentence stood out, an observation which irritates Ed to this day. The doctor wrote: “The patient is stiff and rotund.” Ed, of course, has to defend himself, which he has done on a regular basis in the ensuing years. “Of course I was stiff and rotund!” he explains. “The doctor had this huge, overstuffed leather couch that when you sat down on it, you sank at least 8 inches. I was very overweight back then and couldn’t get up out of that damn couch!” Ever since then, when we feel lethargic and bloated, we say we are “stiff and rotund.” It still gives me a chuckle.

We had a sweet parishioner who was a grand, old Southern lady with an equally charming Southern drawl. During one hot summer, she told us that when she was little and it got this hot, she used to “go lay on the kitchen floor under the table, on the linoleum” to get relief. She stretched out the syllables in "linoleum" in the traditional Southern way. Now when it gets hot, we say we need to lie down “on the linoleum” to get cool. Thanks, Mrs. Johnson, you charming Southern belle.

The tradition continues to this day. Ed’s doctor said a couple of years ago that his cardiac risk assessment was something like 20% risk of having a heart attack in the next decade. The doctor kept saying, “That’s HUUUGE! That’s HUUUGE!” in an agitated fashion. Even though Ed thought that if he were a gambler, a 20% chance of losing sounded great and he would take it to Vegas in a heartbeat, he couldn’t keep from chuckling about the way that doctor said the word “huge.” Of course, every time a statistic comes up, we have to mimic dear Dr. Trenkle.

One year, a religious fundamentalist was arguing with us about how old the earth was. When asked about the Grand Canyon and other geological marvels, he replied, “Oh, God just created those with the APPEARANCE of age.” For years after that, every time we passed an old house or building that we had not noticed before, we comment on it and say that it must have been built the day before “with the appearance of age.”

My point is that all these folks have inadvertently given us ongoing laughter in our lives, and I sincerely thank them for their generosity, even though they were clueless as to their part in our little production. They’ve been a part of our lives ever since. And that...well, that’s just HUUUGE!!!

And Aunt Bessie’s phrase? Her favorite expression was “Oh, foot!” when she was aggravated, but the one we still jokingly use when our visitors depart (with a true Aunt Bessie-style half-grin/half smirk): “Come back when you can’t stay so long.”

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Good Life

We are now into one month of our downsizing lifestyle change. I started to say “experiment,” but that word is really not accurate. I’ll consider the “no TV except ABC and PBS” an experiment (so far a successful one), but the rest is basically forming thoughts and plans and actions about how we want to live the rest of our lives.

This is the house where we will grow old(er). I reflect on old age more than I used to, and, as is usually the case, Aunt Bessie pops into my head. My great-aunt Bessie was a character. Country born and bred, childless, heavy smoker for most of her life (until she quit cold turkey) - she was one of the most intriguing people I have ever known. She finally got too old to live independently, though, and so our mom checked around for an assisted-living facility for her. I went with her a couple of times to check them out.

One was especially notable. It was a huge complex, in 3 parts. You entered when you were fairly independent. It had the characteristics of a grand retirement home, with the luxury that entailed. They had parties, activities, hobby groups, meals in a fancy dining room - all the accoutrements of retirement in style. One day you would be partying with your friends, living the wild life, and the next day you would forget to take your pills, or sustain a wrist fracture, or developed arthritis - something that would hint that for you, it is time to move down to the next level - Assisted Living.

In Assisted Living, you still had activities and fun, but you had extra help. Here is one assisted living facility’s description:
Activities of Daily Living – On average, assisted living residents need help with two ADLs. The chart below shows the various ADLs and the percentage of residents needing help with them.
Activities of Daily Living, % of Residents Needing Help
Bathing 68%
Dressing 47%
Toileting 34%
Transferring 25%
Eating 22%
Other Common Services -- A full 91 percent of assisted living residents need help with housework, while 86 percent need help managing their medications.

So you move to the Assisted Living part of the complex and you’re having a grand time (even though maybe you can’t remember all of it), you age a little, you get more medical problems, and finally, you get full-blown dementia or break a hip and are bedbound. So what do you do? You are moved to the third part of the complex - the Nursing Home. And we all know what happens there.

At the time we were looking over this facility for Aunt Bessie, I remember discussing it with Ed. “Do you realize,” I remember saying, “that when you enter the first part of the complex, the basic retirement home, that you know you are never leaving? That they will just move you from one section to the other, then to the funeral home?” The facility sales rep promoted that as a great advantage to their place, but that just struck me as creepy at the time.

We lived in a town years later that had one nursing home and one funeral home, and they were right beside each other. Ed thoughtfully said he figured they’d just install some kind of giant chute going from the former to the latter for ease of transfer.

Ed and I talk about death, I guess, quite a lot. Some people might consider us morbid, but really, we're not. For one thing, it’s something we know will happen to all of us, so there’s no use skirting around the issue. For another, we’ve been in the ministry so long, it’s a subject that we are comfortable with. For another, we’re both in the second half of our lives, and it is pertinent not only to us, but to the many friends we have seen die over the last few years.

We were reading an AARP article about ways to make your home amenable to senior living. They suggested wide doors which will accommodate wheelchairs, handles on the doors instead of knobs (because the knobs are hard to grasp when one has arthritis), and a minimal amount of steps. We finished reading the article, looked up at each other, and we both had the same thought. This house has all of those things. This is our house not only for our present selves; this is the house for our old selves. This is the last house we will ever live in. We see our future.

We, of course, don’t really know what in detail the future holds, how well we will progress physically or mentally (hey - no sarcastic comments here, please!), how many or few years we will be blessed with. Nevertheless, we are in a small house that suits us, surrounded by things that remind us of those we love, things to challenge us, and things to bring us pleasure. I patiently wait for the dial-up to move me around the Internet, thankful that I am even connected. We laugh at the local ABC weatherman and the fact that we use rabbit ears to get two free channels. We can pick up the phone at any time and call our kids or talk to family down South. We are warm and cozy with a fire made of wood that Ed sawed and split himself, eating delicious meals that he cooked, sleeping under a quilt that I made, and marveling at the blanket of snow outside the door, with our loyal Aussie Babe snoozing at our feet.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I'm GRRRREAT! (For a while)

Life has a way of balancing things out.

I am a relentless organizer. I have my thread spools on the wall, organized by color. I have my fabric in boxes with pull-out drawers, organized by color, then by prints and solids. I am in the process of putting all my books in “Delicious Library,” an Apple computer software program which records all one's personal library information. I have a place to put all the 2006 income tax forms from the bank. And one of the first things I have done in my new office is to buy, label, and organize a 2-drawer file cabinet.

I get a great deal of satisfaction to be able to put my finger on something instantly. Need some birth certificates? I’ve got them. Need a car title? Just look in the folder. Need proof of rabies shot? Need the last oil bill? Need an appliance handbook? Just see me. I have everything, and I know where it is.

Yes, as soon as I finished organizing my new file cabinet (in alphabetical order, of course), I sat back to admire it. I could just feel the halo appearing above my head. What a great organizer I am! What a planner!

Well, when I get a feeling of bursting pride in myself, I do well to remember the past. My personal history assures me that I won’t have long to bask in my glory, for something will always happen to bring me back to reality. That’s just the way my world works.

In this instance, it was the Geico bill. Geico, our car insurance company, sends us our renewal and the appropriate ID cards for both our automobiles twice a year. Just twice a year. You’d think I could keep up with that. Well, apparently I can’t. Oh, I can pull out the Geico packet from 4 years ago. It’s in that brand new folder marked “Geico.” But as far as the packet we got just last week - I can’t find it anywhere.

I can blame it on the fact that our mailbox is now half a mile away, and we pick up the mail as we drive by, so things can get misplaced in the car. I can blame it on the fact that I am still a little discombobulated because of the move. I can even blame it on Ed - well, I wish I could, but this time he had nothing to do with it. I remember getting the packet out of the mailbox, showing it to Ed, saying, “Here is our new policy and here are our ID cards.” That’s the last thing I remember.

I have a spanking brand new file cabinet with new hanging folders. I have a gorgeous new roll-top desk to organize my office. Yet, one of the most important things we have received in the mail in the last week is nowhere to be found.

Oh yeah, Carol - You’re a great organizer. Cream of the crop. Donald Trump material.

So I asked Geico to re-send the packet, and they graciously are doing so. It still grates on me, though. I will learn one of these days not to rate myself so highly. That sense of accomplishment is always fleeting.

The same thing happens to me at work. On the days I’m flying through my transcription at the speed of light, racking up the lines, not having to look anything up (or if I do, finding it immediately), understanding every doctoral mumble, it never fails that I will find out I have made some kind of stupid error. One minute I think I’m the most competent transcriptionist in the whole world, and the next minute, I’m reduced almost to tears of humiliation. Sigh.

The only good thing to come out of this Geico mess was this: In the same mail delivery, I also received my 10% off card from Jo-Ann Fabrics, good for the next year. That card is sitting on my desk in front of me this very minute. At least I know what’s too important to lose.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Name that Name

One of the interesting parts of my job as a medical transcriptionist is hearing various patient names - really a microcosm of society. I’ve heard some doozies, that’s for sure. Some I just laugh at, and some I feel sorry for. Sometimes when I come across a first/last name combination for a female that is pretty bad, I wonder if she was unfortunately born under that name, or - heaven forbid - chose to marry it, leaving her forever known as...well, I won’t state a specific one here, but I assure you, anyone would do a double take on hearing this name combo for the first time.

I not only get to see creative patient names - I am exposed to a whole slew of medical eponyms, too. (An eponym is a person for whom something is thought to be named, which in my world includes surgical instruments, diseases, syndromes, techniques, etc.) Some of these consist of one last name, but when two or more geniuses get together, you can get one heck of a name. Charcot-Marie-Tooth, for instance. That’s a mouthful of a disease, isn’t it?

Some guy has a last name of Pfannenstiel, and the next thing you know, his name is lent to a surgical incision (one which I have myself, by the way). Most C-sections start off with a Pfannenstiel incision, which I have to remember how to spell for my certified medical transcription (CMT) exam. When I’m at work, I just use the code “PF” and out pops the word Pfannenstiel. For the exam, I won’t have such luxury, and all this information will have to be in my head. Why couldn’t the poor guy’s name have been Smith?

The moral of my story is this: If you are a creative medical type, and if you think in the future that you will invent some great medical instrument or discover a new disease or technique, please take a moment to pause and think of all the medical students and transcriptionists all over the world who will have to spell (and discern audibly) your name. If appropriate, ask forgiveness. Thank you. You may now return to your laboratories.

Monday, January 08, 2007

TV, O where art thou?

Today's Shoe comic strip is hilarious. The main character is turning on his TV with a remote, sighing, "Geez...If I had a nickel for every hour I've spent watching this mindless tube..." and the next panel shows him thinking, "I could buy one of those HD plasma babies!"

We’re doing pretty well with TV withdrawal. For one thing, when you remove a lot of choices in your life, your life automatically gets easier. When you only have two (marginally optimal quality) channels to choose from (ABC and PBS), there is no harrowing decision-making to be done. Either you watch the crazy weatherman on channel 7, or you watch Sesame Street. It’s so simple, it’s remarkable!

Of course, now that we’re in the rural area, we are getting almost daily mailings from the satellite TV companies, bragging about their 180 channels. 180 channels? Come on, now! That’s just asking you to sit down, make yourself comfortable, and stare at the screen until bedtime and beyond. At least it would be for us. Maybe other people have more resistance. Even the fact that we would watch mainly educational channels does not mitigate the harmful effects of our being perpetual (albeit knowledgeable) couch potatoes.

The TV is still in the living room, its “rabbit ears” antenna reaching in vain to find a good signal somewhere. But it really doesn’t bother me. I have some things of far more importance and interest in there - Ed in a chair nearby, and my quilting hoop in front of me!

Friday, January 05, 2007

There's a reason for that...

Although Rachel did extremely well losing her pregnancy weight shortly after giving birth, it is a common fact that many women continue to use the excuse of “I just had a baby” to explain their corpulence long after the fact. It is also true that there comes a time (maybe when their youngest child is graduating from high school) when such a woman feels that old stand-by excuse has at last become inappropriate, and as such, she suddenly has to either lose the extra weight or come up with a more plausible reason for her girth.

We moved into this house on December 21. That means we have been here 2 weeks and 1 day. Up until now, we have had the perfect excuse for our unorganized mess, the perfect excuse for not being able to do the tasks that we want to accomplish. What the heck, give us a break! we said. We just moved!

Alas, as in the case of the postpartum woman who needs to come up with another plan, the time is drawing near for our perfectly valid excuse to have run its course, and we will have to hold ourselves accountable for how we spend our time, money, and energy. If we wait until every last picture is hung and every last room is painted, we’d still be living in limbo.

No, I believe now is the time to start in earnest on the work we have set out to do with our lives. I’ll miss having that handy excuse at my beck and call. I’ll work on the weight, too, but give me a break, will you? After all, I just had a baby...almost 24 years ago!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

He's no Seinfeld

Ever since we moved, Matt has been trying to get us to buy some old-fashioned “rabbit ears” to try to get at least a couple of stations on the TV. Not for the shows - he just knows how much I miss seeing the news, and how much Ed wants to see the weather forecast.

So we went to Target and bought the rabbit ears. It took Ed (technologically-challenged Ed) several attempts to hook the TV up to the VCR a few days back, so I was understandably worried about how he could hook up the antennae. Fortunately, it was pretty quickly, and we set about to find a signal.

No NBC, no CBS. Yes! ABC! Not our favorite news program, but we are desperate these days. Ed maneuvered the rabbit ears around while I surveyed the screen, clicking the remote. We ended up with only two stations - ABC and PBS. OK, not bad, we thought. It would do.

The next few minutes were spent trying to turn the rabbit ears around to varying positions to see how good a picture we could get. Ed was the contortionist, while I sat comfortably in a rocking chair giving feedback. “ little better...a little worse.” I felt as if I were in the optometrist’s office. It seemed kind of humorous that here we were in the 21st century, pleading with old-fashioned antennae to do something that we have taken for granted with cable. Moreover, I had a guilty pleasure feeling that I was stealing something. After paying for cable TV for decades, we were finally getting something FREE! Yeah! So what if it’s only two stations? So what if it hiccups and jumps and fades from color to black and white and back again? It’s FREE!

We watched the clock for 6 p.m., something we haven’t done in a while, anxiously anticipating our first local newscast. Oh my....there certainly were a lot of commercials. We forgot about those blasted commercials - one of the reasons we enjoyed not having TV. Finally the weatherman appeared. We sat back to savor it.

Unfortunately, this guy considered himself Mr. Entertainer. It was totally distracting. He wasn’t a low-key kind of entertainer that another weather person might have been. He was entirely annoying. “And this weather system is OUTTA HERE!!” (at which point he waved at the map). “SEE YA!!!!!” he shouted.

Ed and I just looked at each other. I started laughing and he was scowling and shaking his head. But this was it. We had no other choice for weather forecasts.

If that weren’t enough, half of the weather/news report consisted of commercials. Our old station would say, “Weather is brought to you by....” and name the furniture company or grocery store. That was it. On this ABC affiliate, they apparently have to work the sponsor several times into the script. “Our weather is brought to you by XXX, Bucksport Road. Hey, they sell fabric and drapes, and, hey, it’s for people who are into fiber arts! Hey, I don’t have a clue what fiber arts is - hey, maybe you don’t either - so why don’t you go down to XXX on Bucksport Road and ask them? Hey...”

The next night, I begged Ed to give the guy another chance. I had to beg hard - this weather guy was really getting to him. He finally relented, and we turned it on again. This time the guy was talking about a front approaching, initially in a quiet, nonchalant way. “Hey, looks like we’re in the clear, no rain, no snow...unless there might be a front coming into the picture... LIKE THIS ONE!” He screamed as he pounced on the weather system in the midwest, and he seemed to think it was funny that he probably gave old people heart attacks and made them have a urinary accident (not that this happened to us, but I’m sure it did to other people).

I don’t know whether we’ll get to watch Mr. Entertainer anymore. I don’t know if Ed is really up to it. But, hey - it’s FREE!

Monday, January 01, 2007

On Board

Hardly anyone does ironing anymore. I certainly don’t as a rule, but after unpacking my clothes at the end of the big move, I had a few things that had become too wrinkled to wear, so I plugged in the iron and gave them a pressing.

It’s a shame our culture has separated itself from the act of ironing. With the fluid, back and forth, almost hypnotic motions, it’s almost like the yoga of housework. It gives one plenty of time for thinking or daydreaming.

Mama said she didn’t even get a washing machine until after I was a few years old, and even then, we always hung the wet laundry on the clothesline, as we didn’t have a dryer. She never had a dishwashing machine. It’s interesting that so many of our household chores have been taken over by machines - but ironing has pretty much stayed the same for a few generations. More of our chores are automated, but our relationship with the electric iron has changed substantially little over the years.

Back when I was growing up, I had to stand at the ironing board just about every morning. Mama made most of our clothes, which consisted primarily of thin cotton shifts in the summer and heavier cotton jumpers in the winter. That way she didn’t have to set in sleeves and worry with buttonholes. These cotton dresses, however, had to be ironed, and not only ironed, but starched. So every morning before school, I wet down my dress with spray starch (I can still remember that smell of the hot iron hitting that moist fabric) and pressed my dress to a wrinkle-free crisp, which, of course, lasted until I sat down in the car to go to school.

When I was in 9th grade, Mama had to go into the hospital to have a hysterectomy, and would be gone for a week or two. She was so worried that the household couldn’t function without her, especially where Daddy was concerned. Daddy worked as a bank teller, and as such, had to wear suits and ties and freshly ironed shirts every day. So Mama took me in her bedroom shortly before she left for the hospital and taught me how to carefully iron a man’s shirt. She taught me that I should first start with the back yoke, then move on to the rest of the shirt in a certain order. She taught me how to press around the buttons, how to iron the sleeves, and finally, how to hang the shirt up properly to preserve my hard work. She also tried to cook several casseroles for us to thaw and I’m sure had other plans for her impending absence, but I remember the ironing lesson most - and what immense responsibility I had been given to make sure my Daddy’s shirts were perfectly pressed.

It’s also true that Mama couldn’t relax on a family vacation until she was certain she had turned her iron off before leaving on the trip. I was relieved when they created irons that turned themselves off, so with my many worries in life, that’s one less to agonize about.

I’m glad I don’t have to spend entire days ironing as women did in the past. But I don’t complain if I have a few items to press once in a while. It’s very little investment of time, considering what a remarkable result is effected. So I stand there, moving my arm back and forth, back and forth, lost in thought, and I smile.