23 March 2008

The Boys, in Photographs

To those of you who missed me while I was actually having a life, I love you man. To those who didn't, well, I guess you have lives all the time. Isn't that nice. No, I'm not bitter, why do you ask?

I've been insanely busy and have way too much to write about to actually do it. For now, let's go with an installment of the canine chronicles. Many of you -- okay, three of you -- have taken the time to write me and specifically ask for pictures, video, and news about the dogs. That may be more than the number of emails professing to be pining away without me.

I'm not sure how to take that.

So, without further ado, I present Batman and Mason:

Batman, rolling in the yard

Mason, after his bath last week

Batman taking a breather yesterday.

Nap time.

Mason's freakish drumsticks. Mason has odd back legs. You can't tell so much when he's walking, but sometimes he lies down like this. I can't imagine how this could be comfortable.

Mason, last summer at the dog beach.
Not a recent pic, but it makes me smile to look at it.

I should've gotten a pic of Batman playing with the new tug toy Teen Demon let him pick out at the pet store today. She'll have to be careful of his teeth ...

15 March 2008

Puke & Rally!

The son is projectile vomiting.

He woke up seemingly fine this morning, and was skillfully working my nerves about getting his driver's permit (St. Christopher, I'm ready to believe in you.), when I suggested we go pick up cinnamon rolls and coffee cream. Then things took a turn for the worse.

Male Offspring: If I had my permit, I could drive, and you could go in the store.

Me: If you had your permit, you'd be a sophomore. Oh ... you're a freshman. Sorry. Let's go.

MO: I seriously don't want to go to the store.

Me: Cinnamon rolls? Please. Lets go.

MO: [whining] My stomach feels weird.

Me: You look pretty normal to me. No fever, no swelling. Seriously, you're not driving, son.

MO: Landon's driving.

Me: Sophomore.

MO: [walking to the bathroom] Yeah, but he had his permit when he was a ...................BRRRAAAAUUUGGGHHH...........
I made him ginger & chamomile tea to settle his stomach. "Sip it slowly," I said, for the ten-thousandth time since drawing that first placebo of a Lamaze breath two decades ago. "I know," he replied, chugging it. Three minutes later the tea was hurled into the toilet with a force that made me suspect the boy was on performance-enhancing steroids.

He's in the bathtub now, mere inches from the toilet. Four episodes of hurling. Dry hurling. The boy can't even keep water down. The offspring and the dogs all have one thing in common: emergency medical situations or extreme illnesses only occur on weekends or holidays. Anything after 5pm on Friday is fair game. In this instance though, I'm not really worried. Not yet, anyway.

Male Offspring is affectionately known as the 24-hour kid when it comes to getting sick. He'll pop up with some serious projectile vomiting, or bust out with a 103.5* fever until you can practically see green ickiness wafting from his pores. During these times, the boy will be seriously sick. Until the next morning, when he wakes up feeling fairly close to fine. It's like he takes a normal 5-day sickness and condenses it into this fevered, mondo-puke-o-rama deal.

So I'm hoping he'll feel better by tomorrow. If not, it's off to the urgent care weekend clinic. Whee. As for me, I'm still coughing like a smoker in LA, even though I (finally) am feeling better. The cough just will not leave. I'm thinking I need to cast it out like the devil, with some sort of cough exorcism ritual. I'm finally starting to get caught up at work though, and am actually cleaning the house this weekend. Brain and body have just been operating in such a fog this year; I feel like one of those gross hairy moths emerging from a cocoon of illish yukkery. I'm so ready for spring, both within and and without.

In better news, this is the weekend when I can finally take Batman out for a walk. Tomorrow is Day 28 of his captivity. I haven't been able to let him run since he hurt his leg, four excruciatingly long weeks ago. You try keeping 70 pounds of crazy locked up for 4 weeks. 150 pounds, if you count Mason. Honestly though, I have to say he's been a very good dog considering he's been imprisoned for the past month.

Anyway, I've been trying to get around to everyone's cyberspaces and sling some comments around, but the online stuff has been flagging along with everything else. Such is life. Spring is coming though, and hopefully a big ol' batch of healthy for everyone along with it.
As hoped, the son is no longer feverish, no longer hurling. The 24-hour kid strikes again. He is asking for a taco and burrito dinner tonight. Always a good sign.

04 March 2008

Of Grammar and Grandparents

This celebratory day is brought to you by the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. And lest you think this particular day was chosen willy-nilly, think again:

It's not only a date, it's an imperative. So march forth on March 4th!

Clever. I was thrilled to find that you can disregard certain grammar "rules". It's true. Feel free to:

1) end a sentence with a preposition.
2) begin a sentence with a conjunction.

3) use sentence fragments with discretion.

They have this to say about sentence fragments:
We’ve been told not to use them, but when we do it with a light hand, they can improve the flow of our writing, making it easier to understand.

This is a huge relief. I know what you're thinking. Please, Cowbell does that shit all the time. That's true. My blog writing does tend to be more casual, particularly when I'm getting my bitch on, but the truth is, I am a grammar freak. I even do proofreading and editing for cold, hard cash. In official writing, I would never write a sentence such as, "And I'm all about some ice cream," or "That's where I'm at," but it works here.

Anyway, knowing that I can righteously begin a sentence with "but" or end a sentence with "to" makes me happy. Yes, I do it anyway, but now I won't feel like my grandparents are shaking their heads disapprovingly from the clouds.

Thank you, SPOGG. I salute you.

So, my grandparents.

How I wish they'd lived to see National Grammar Day. My maternal grandmother entered the world in 1907, the only girl born to a farming family in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Her own grandmother took a look at this squalling, newborn girl-child and remarked to her daughter (my grandma's mother), "You may as well throw her in the river, May. A girl's just another mouth to feed on a farm."

Luckily, my great-grandmother ignored her mother's advice and did not throw my grandmother into the river. My grandma went to school, worked on the farm, helped to run the house and take care of her brothers, and eventually became a teacher. She later earned a master's degree in English, despite being "just a girl" from a generation in which women were lucky if they ended up with a high school diploma.

When I think of my younger years at Grandma's house, I think of books and the color blue. Grandma loved both. There was blue in every room, and at Christmas time, the house and tree were always wrapped in blue lights.

My grandma was 40 years old by the time she had my mom and uncle (he was born in January; my mom that December, 11 months later) so I didn't know her until she was in her 60s. She didn't run around and play baseball with us, and she wasn't much of a cookie baker either, although she kept a steady supply of those miniature, individual ice cream bowls in her freezer, each accompanied by a tiny wooden spoon. What Grandma did was read and tell stories. She also still taught, driving off to her classes in her blue Plymouth Duster, wearing a smart pantsuit, her beautiful white hair brushing her shoulders. Grandma was an artist as well, something she passed on to my mom, and which trickled down through me and my sister, to our own children, exploding full force in the Bohemian. I credit my artistic skills, somewhat diluted, and definitely dusty from neglect, to my grandmother.

We loved hearing Grandma's childhood stories, usually about some mischief involving her older brother, my great-uncle Ted. We especially loved hearing stories of when our own mother was a girl. I felt like I was being let in on a secret. She would also make up wonderful stories with animals and invented countries. The worst was when she'd insist we make up the ending ourselves! We wanted her ending, but she wanted us to think for ourselves.

Grandma wasn't one for gifting us with underwear or Barbie dolls at Christmas. She bought lots of books, and had even more in her house. Grandma read to us from the time we were babies, as did Mom. I did the same with my kids, and so did my sister. When people hear that I learned to read at four, and that my kids learned at three and four, they attribute it to "being smart", but I don't think so.  (Okay, we're smart, but that's not what was going on.) It has more to do with constant exposure to the written word, adults never assuming a child is too young to learn, and with making books and stories more exciting than toys.

My Grandpa George, whom Grandma would eventually marry, was a self-educated man. He was born in Chicago, but spent time in Norway as a child. His mother, who had come to the US from somewhere near Oslo, had two sons, Grandpa being the younger. She committed suicide, the story goes, by drinking a large amount of Lysol or some sort of lye-based cleaner. My grandfather was the one who discovered her body.

He was 10 years old.

Grandpa George had dropped out of school by the 8th grade, but he never neglected his education. He served in WWII, and did various apprenticeships, coming up through the ranks, becoming a journalist the hard way. By the time I came along, he wrote a regular newspaper column and had once run his own radio show. I can still hear him doing the sign-off in his booming bass, to make us laugh, "And that's the news ... by George!"

Grandpa had an enormous printing press in the basement, a cast iron beast that dwarfed me. Its weight was measured in tons and it made an unholy racket. It was an old-school press, where the ink is rolled across a huge platter and the type is actually metal letters, set in careful lines. The walls were lined with drawer upon thin drawer of movable type, higher than my head, containing the letters and words formed in my grandfather's mind.

Grandpa told stories as well, fantastical tales told with gusto in a resonant timbre, which had Grandma shaking her head, admonishing, "Now don't you go putting wild ideas in those girls' heads, George," which did nothing but encourage him.

Ever since I can remember, Grandpa would quiz us with vocabulary words before we could sit down to eat. "Where is your proboscis?" he'd ask. My sister pointed to her knee. "Well, my chickadee, that's no proboscis, but that bone is called your patella. Say it! Patella!" Giggling, we'd point to our eyes. "What?!" he'd roar, "One's proboscis is not made for ocular work! The eyes handle the ocular responsibilities of one's body!" (rolling his eyes around like a madman) "The proboscis is meant to inhale! To detect an arrrrroma!" (rolling the "r" until we shrieked)

And don't even think about mumbling around Grandpa. "Enunciate your words, young lady! We come from a long line of enunciators! I'll not have mumbling in this house!"

My grandparents, each in their own way, loved language. Whether written or spoken, it permeated their house without us even being aware of it. My mother and uncle each grew up to become language aficionados in their own ways, before passing it on, in turn, to my generation.

So yes, I am a grammar freak. It's in my genes. As a child, I could diagram a sentence down to the tiniest detail. I used to ask my teacher for the most complicated sentence she could come up with. I may not have been able to balance an equation like the math-whiz kids, but my sentence diagrams were the stuff of legend. I don't know if US schools even teach sentence diagramming these days. I used to keep lists of interesting vocabulary words, and yes, as a matter of fact, I did read the dictionary.

To this day, I am far too easily amused by grammar humor, such as the title of Martha Brockenbrough's book, Things That Make Us [Sic]. How clever is that?

I loved the book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. That title is a scream! It comes from a sign found at a zoo's panda exhibit, meant to convey the fact that shoots and leaves are the mainstays of the panda's diet. The addition of the commas, however, has the panda suddenly doing a dine and dash -- eating, then grabbing its rifle for a shooting rampage, and finally leaving the scene. Come on! That's funny stuff, now.

Is it really just me? Fine. Whatever.

Anyway, that's the story of why National Grammar Day has put me in mind of my grandparents, and why I think they'd get such a kick out of it. Happy National Grammar Day, everyone. Now I have to go call the Bohemian and indulge in some geeky grammar humor which she will, no doubt, appreciate. She comes by it honestly, too.

03 March 2008

Remote Area Medical: on the Homefront

Remember the guy from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom? Not Marlon Perkins, I mean the guy who actually did all the work, the guy down in the trenches with the alligators and water buffalo, before Steve Irwin even knew what a croc was. That man is Stan Brock. I saw him on 60 Minutes tonight, but he wasn't sporting his trademark khakis.

Mr. Brock heads up a different kind of wild kingdom these days. He founded Remote Area Medical (RAM), a volunteer organization that brings needed medicine and medical care to remote locations around the planet. He takes no salary, and lives at the headquarters in Tennessee, a former elementary school. He pilots the planes himself. The medical personnel, all volunteers, parachute to their destinations, and serve without benefit of showers, electricity, or other modern conveniences. Medical supplies are donated. RAM expeditions go to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, East Africa, India, Nepal, Guyana, and Tanzania.

Now here's the shocking part: currently, 60% of RAM's expeditions are right here, in the good old US of A. New Orleans, yes, but also Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. That's right, instead of deploying its resources to "remote areas", as per the original intent, turns out RAM's services are needed right here, in the richest country in the world.

60 Minutes covered Brock and his team setting up a two day no-cost clinic in Tennessee. The people waiting to be seen were from six states. People slept in their cars, or stood in below-freezing weather, not wanting to chance their shot at medical treatment. They were issued numbered tickets, in order of arrival. The RAM team treated over 900 people.

They turned away 400 more.

Some of the stories were just heart breaking. Like the guy who slept in the parking lot all night, hoping to be one of the lucky ones to make it in. He'd had a heart attack a couple of years before, and had had treatment at that time, but he couldn't afford the follow up care. He'd also been living with an infected tooth for weeks. Yes, actually, he does have health insurance, through his job as a truck driver, but the deductible is $500. He couldn't afford it. He noted that he was fortunate in that he had a vehicle for the two hour drive and all night wait.

There was an elderly woman, in tears because her ticket number was too high to make the cutoff. She was on social security and needed glasses. The interviewer asked what she'd do now, and she hesitated, finally saying she had friends and a church, "... but I hate to ask," she said, breaking into tears. "I've worked all my life ... I hate to ask." (RAM volunteers did end up seeing her, and issued her glasses)

A 28-year-old mother of three had been treated for cervical cancer two years prior. She was supposed to be getting Pap smears every six months, and follow-up care. With three kids and her husband's job loss last year, they couldn't afford it. She got her first Pap smear since the surgery.
Another woman confided it had been 25 years since her last breast exam.

The interviewer asked one of the volunteer doctors who these folks were, this crowd of people so desperate for medical care.
They're the working poor, middle of their lives, most with families, most not substance abusers, and most employed without adequate insurance ...

These folks are people just like you and me. Most of the people seen during those two days are working hard, paying (or have long paid) into a system that is not taking care of them or their families. American families have a right to expect health care from a system we're contributing to. Given the current expeditions of Remote Area Medical, it doesn't look like that's the case.