Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Of Reeds and Oaks

I've been puzzling something out over the past couple of days that my sister has brought to my attention a couple of times.  We Parkers are missing a key factor in our interpersonal relationships.  We don't win arguments.  We bend.  And we can't manipulate worth a damn.

We're not stupid.  At least, I don't think we're stupid.  We three Parker children have a medical degree, a law degree and a PhD. in Biochemistry.  Yet, when nut comes to crack -- we are the reed that bends in the wind and not the mighty oak.

For example, all of us were raised Methodist in a very church-centered household.  Yet, when we married, each of us adopted the faith of our spouse.  Kathyrn became Baptist, Frank became Presbyterian, and I converted to Catholicism.  Why did NONE of the switches go the other way?  In my case, Jeff simply refused to change and I followed him so the family wouldn't be split. It didn't matter as much to me.  I figured I could worship God in any church.

The other prime example is that Kathryn and I both had our tubes tied and Frank had a vasectomy. Why is it that the Parker component is always the one to make the sacrifice?  Again, in my case, Jeff -- as a cradle Catholic -- was against the whole idea and certainly wasn't going to get a vasectomy himself.  And I didn't want a Downs syndrome child at 45, so I took responsibility.  In this case, I did have a conviction and I bucked Jeff's beliefs to get my way -- but I didn't persuade him. 

I can't say if this personality quirk is positive or negative -- or, more probably neutral -- but it exists and it exists wholly apart from intelligence.  Is it a lack of conviction?  A lack of persuasiveness?  A "peace at any price" mentality?  A generous spirit?  I can't figure it out.    But it would seem to be an evolutionary disadvantage to be unable to persuade others to your viewpoint on important issues ...  just sayin'. 

For comic relief, I'm adding some video that Ally took of Andy, Genny and Sam yesterday.  First, here are Sam and Andy.  Andy is happily hopping around the exercise pen just as healthy as can be after our recent scare.  I cut a branch from the apple tree a couple of days ago and put it in there for the bunnies to nibble. 

Here's Genny, being boring.  She just wants to sit.  Honestly, that rabbit is so plump!  She's a real handful when you pick her up, while Andy seems delicate and light by comparison.  When I trimmed her for summer, her fur is all funny looking and mottled.  It must all be at different stages of growth.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Day

Today's good thing is that every day is a new start.  The last couple of days have been tense and frustrating, but every new day is a chance to get it right -- or at least right-er. 

Jeff and Kate made it safely to Japan ... a little jet-lagged but otherwise none the worse for wear.  We skyped with them for about an hour last night -- just as we were going to bed on Monday, they were starting their day on Tuesday.  They're 13 hours ahead of us. 
Otani Hotel Tokyo

View from their hotel room.  The flat green roofed building is the Imperial Palace
They're staying at lovely Otani hotel, right next to the Imperial Palace and have a great view of the gardens and the city. 

Here are some of the pictures Kate posted of the Imperial Gardens, which was about all they had seen when we spoke to them last night. 

Isn't it beautiful? 

Apparently, they're getting along okay so far in finding food to eat.  Jeff -- being Jeff -- carefully monitored the radiation and planned the stay in Japan to coincide with predicted wind patterns that would take airborne radiation away from the city.  Then he learned that the amounts of radiation in Tokyo were only slightly higher than in New York City and, in fact, much lower than you experience during the overseas flight (due to being so high in the atmosphere).  THEN he started hearing reports of radiation contaminated food.  He almost cancelled the trip and but finally went with many misgivings.  They are committed to eating only imported and pre-packaged food, at least while they're in Japan, to reduce their risk of contamination.  I hope they're able to find what they need and that they're able to deal with it.  I guess it's better than not going at all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Failure & New Beginnings

This afternoon I threw in the towel on the Summer Mystery Shawlette.   I took a good look at it last night and realized that somewhere -- about 20 rows ago -- I made a mistake that skewed the center of the shawl off center.  You can actually see it in the most recent picture I posted.  The center stripe is off center by about 12 stitches.  I tried to rip it back and start again, but it was too confusing.  I know when I'm licked. 

Just for the record, this is a difficult pattern to follow.  Wendy, who made it up, knits shawls all the time and seems to use a sort of "short hand" for things that she takes for granted.  The chart required you to knit a portion, then knit a section multiple times, then knit to the end, knit one, go to the beginning again, knit a portion, knit a section multiple times and then the end section again -- all for one row.  I just found it too confusing. 

I think I'll try a beaded scarf pattern I saw at for this yarn. It's called the Kernel Scarf and looks a lot more straight-forward than that stupid mystery shawlette.  

In other news, last spring Jeff told Kate that as a graduation present she could choose a destination for a Daddy/Daughter trip. She chose Japan and Korea!  Jeff just bought the tickets yesterday and they're leaving on Sunday for two weeks.  Kate's been learning Korean for weeks and they're planning to meet a friend of hers who lives in Seoul there.  It should be an adventure to remember.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Magic of Listening

Yesterday, I blogged about listening to the storm pass by.  Today, I have another listening topic.  It seems like everything I've been reading recently has to do with paying attention.  I'm reading a book called The Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, in which the author emphasizes the importance of truly listening to other people's stories -- and being listened to in return -- for our mental health. Similarly, The Essence of Christian Meditation by William E. DeWitt focusses on paying attention in every aspect of life.

Have you ever noticed that when you get the same message over and over again, it's like someone is trying to tell you -- maybe teach you -- something?  That's how I feel. 

Anyway, yesterday I went to the doctor for a check up and met with the same nurse that I've been meeting with for years.  She seemed a little tense and withdrawn so I said a few pleasant words.  Then I remembered that Larry (her boss) had been praising her to me the other day and I figured she would be glad to hear that, so I repeated his praise.  The effect was remarkable.  She started opening up and I reminded myself to give her my full attention.  Her husband has recently been diagnosed with throat cancer and she's had a very tough month of waiting on test results.  Larry has been very supportive and helpful and she's grateful for that, and she's even more grateful that the test results showed that the cancer hasn't spread.  Her tension and pre-occupied demeanor were caused by worrying about her husband.  As I continued to listen, she told me about a trip they're planning to Las Vegas to visit her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend/fiancee and how they're going to work around the chemotherapy to get there.  In the end, she ran out to her desk and came back with a stack of photos from her other daughter's wedding and pointed everyone out to me proudly from her three year old grandson, who pooped out during the reception, to her potential in-laws, the parents of the boyfriend/fiancee out west. 

It was a memorable visit.  I think I eased some of her anxiety by listening and I received the gift of sharing in her life a little.  That's the kind of thing that really matters.  And I don't think it would have happened if I hadn't been carefully listening and showing her that she had my full attention. 

BTW, Larry is very pleased with my progress.  All my blood test results are very good (except the cholesterol, which is hereditary).  They show I'm getting correct nutrition, the diabetes is completely under control, my liver is undamaged, my iron is fine, and my blood pressure is also good.  The only medication he's prescribing for me is Nexium,  which is essentially an antacid.  He's been checking me every 3 months, but now he says he'll see me in 6 months.  What a difference a year makes. 

Keep Larry in your prayers.  He called early this morning to ask Jeff to meet him at the emergency room.  He may have a kidney stone and he's in a lot of pain.  It's not life-threatening or anything -- but I hear it's really unpleasant.     

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Sound of Thunder

Wet Backyard
It's a wet, wet, rainy day.  This morning I woke up about 7:30 and there was a thunderstorm rolling through, so I rolled over and slept until 9:30. When I finally got up and got dressed, another storm was approaching and I decided to wait it out before heading to the gym.  So, I sat quietly in the dark with my eyes closed and listened to the storm -- half-meditating and half just experiencing the thunder.  It was a very pleasant 20 minutes. 

For Sam, not so much.  Dogs are great in that they live entirely in the moment.  Most of the time, that's a good thing.  But when it's thundering, that also means that Sam can't distract himself by thinking of other things.  The storm is there in the moment with him.  He decided the safest place was just under my chair, so he squeezed in there and waited for the thunder to fade. 

Yesterday, while Jeff was taking a Father's Day snooze, I finally plied some corriedale I've had on my spinning wheel for months.  It's in three shades of green from light to medium to dark and I navaho plied the singles to keep the colors separate.  When I knit it up, it should start out one color, change to the next and then end with the last.  I'm thinking maybe a hat ....

My summer mystery shawl is also proceeding slowly but surely.  This is a pattern that Wendy Johnson put on her blog as a mystery knit along.  I don't usually knit shawls because I seldom wear them, but this sounded like fun and I had a skein of fingering yarn just perfect for the project.  Of course, unlike Wendy, I'm plodding along at it.  I don't know how she manages to turn out a shawl every couple of days.  The woman's insane.  The knit along was over a couple of weeks ago and I'm still on part three of four.  I guess the advantage to that is that I get to see everyone else's finished results and so I know what the "mystery" shawl will look like. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Today's good thing is that the scale finally tipped below 200 and stayed there!  I vowed that I wouldn't report it until it stayed below 200 for three days in a row because of the variability of weight and the vagaries of scales in general.  Last weekend it tipped below 200 for two days and then popped right back up, much to my dismay.  But for the past three days, I have been in the 100s!!!  I know it's only a pound difference one way or another, but it's a mental hurdle for me. 

Last Sunday, Kate and I went shopping and I reached another goal -- I actually shopped in the regular ladies department!  I didn't have to go to the Women's or Plus Size departments.  I actually bought a pair of capri pants in the ladies petite department -- and they FIT!  Of course, it was the largest size the petite department offered, but it was the REGULAR LADIES DEPARTMENT. 

Anyone who has never experienced the Women's department probably can't understand the mild humiliation of having to go to a completely different department from the other ladies.  There is less selection, most of the pants are polyester, most of the tops are tent-like -- it's simply less stylish and poorer quality.  In nicer stores, the dressing rooms are actually larger -- and that's nice -- but, overall, you don't want to be in the Women's department.  

After watching me try on several t-shirts, Kate insisted that I go directly to the lingerie department and buy some new bras.  I've been wearing the old ones because they're comfortable -- apparently too comfortable.  I had a lady measure me and I needed to go down by three sizes and one cup size.  Even I had to admit that the t-shirts looked better with the correct size bra underneath (even though it felt tight).

So, that's my news of the day.  I hope it doesn't bounce back up tomorrow.  There are no guarantees -- I've been eating chocolate covered almonds (a compromise between healthy protein-filled almonds and delicious chocolate). :) 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Storms and Calm

Jolly Orchid
Things have settled down around here and all is well.  Jeff had a huge temper tantrum last night and everyone was upset, but he has calmed down and we've talked out some of our family differences. 

The combination of the pain of the shingles, not sleeping well, overstress at work, and having teenage daughters all came to a head.  And it certainly sparked some lively conversation.  I'm afraid, however, that he doesn't fully appreciate how things he says in anger can cause wounds that aren't healed by a simple "I'm sorry," or even "I didn't mean it."  I have 54 years of maturity and over 30 years with him, but teenage girls are more fragile. It may be a long time before this temper tantrum is truly forgotten. Everyone in the world is broken in some way and we all have to figure out how to live together anyway. 

Today's good things are goldfinches.  I saw one dart in front of the car on my way home from the gym this morning.  It was just a flash of yellow and gone, but it was startlingly bright. 

My indoor garden is going well.  The Jolly Orchid miniature african violets are in riotous bloom and there are a lot of buds too.  It's nice to have a touch of nature down here in the damn-p basement. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Do Over

Okay, let's start over.  Look what my daughter brought me from France!  Isn't it just perfect?!  It's a little pill box with a rabbit on it.  The rabbit image is taken from a medieval tapestry and she bought it for me at the Louvre.  It couldn't be more perfect, the rabbit, the medieval tapestry, and it has a useful function too.  That was so thoughtful of her. 

We gave Kate and Jeff their gifts from France too, which I helped to pick out while I was there.  Kate got a travel poster for her dorm and a blue beaded necklace from the street fair and Jeff got a pamphlet from St. Arbogast church in Surbourg, an old (WWII, we think) shell casing, and a French military insignia from the regimental artillery. 

Gripe-Fest 2011

I'm feeling angry today and I'm not sure exactly why.  I feel impotent and ineffective.  So far today:
  • I received news that a friend of mine from high school, who I haven't seen for probably 20 years, just lost her youngest son, 23, to a mysterious illness.  The visitation is tomorrow, two hours away in Lexington.  I'd like to go, both to support her and to connect with many of my old friends, but it would take a lot of time away from my job.
  • Due to sleeping late and talking with another high school friend about my friend's tragedy, I didn't really start my eight hour work day until 12:15.  That always makes me feel stressed out, especially since I only logged 5 hours yesterday due to going to Lexington to (a) pick up Ally from the airport from France and (b) delivering Dad's birthday and Father's Day presents.
  • Ally has had an earache for the past two weeks, so I made her an appointment to see her pediatrician this afternoon.  She hasn't switched to an adult doctor yet and the pediatrician says that kids often stay there until they're out of college.  Jeff wants to know, am I planning to take her to the appointment?  I hadn't planned on it -- she's almost 21 years old.  So, he decides that he's going to take her. For some reason that just makes me furious.  The way he coddles and over-protects her makes me crazy -- and I'm also afraid that it gives her the impression that I don't care about her as much as he does.  He's willing to drop huge responsibilities at a high-paying job to be by her side.  I won't be pulled away from my crappy $18/hour job to lend a hand. But she'll never learn to take care of herself if he won't trust her to do it.
  • Jeff also wants to know what I have planned for this evening (code for "What's for dinner?).  Ally has been living on bread and cheese in France and wants some meat for dinner. 
    • I had planned to make an Indian dish with chicken and rice -- Ally loves Indian -- but that's not good enough.  Jeff wants steak or ribs or something more meaty for her.  
    • Kate is going to a friend's graduation party.  So, it's very likely that Jeff and Ally will be going out for a steak dinner together and I will be left at home to make up my work hours. 
    • This also makes me mad.  Not so much because I'm left out -- I can't eat steak anyway -- but more because my plan was deemed inadequate and not sufficiently cognizant of Ally's needs.  
    • I offered to make steak -- there's some in the freezer -- but he thinks the patio area is too dirty with rabbit stuff to do any cooking there without a major clean-up effort.  We didn't have any propane anyway.     
I suppose that's enough belly-aching for a while.  This is supposed to be a positive and uplifting blog, not a gripe-fest.  Sometimes, though, it helps to just get things off my chest and to crystalize a problem in words. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Extraordinary Kindness

Just to catch up a little, I feel like I need to write a brief tribute to some of the people who made my trip to France more memorable and pleasant. 
  • First, the gentleman at the flea market who treated us like family and gave us kisses and "cadeaux."  I'll always remember him.
  • The prize for good samaritan goes to the lady at the train station who took pity on me.  After I asked where to get tickets, she directed me downstairs to the booth and then, later, followed me down to be sure I was in the right place.  When she saw the line -- and time running out -- she pulled me out of line to use an automated ticket machine, which required French beyond my abilities. When the machine failed to work, she bullied her way to the front of the line, explained to the ticket lady in French that I needed to go next and got me a ticket.  She really went above and beyond -- and risked missing her own train -- to help me.   
  • Another helpful person was the man at Air France in Basel, to whom I reported my missing luggage.  He gave me a pre-packaged kit with everything needed for an overnight stay, tracked down my missing bag, arranged for it to be sent to my hotel in Strasbourg and then closed up his office so he could walk me around the airport to show me where I could buy a European cell phone and where I could catch the train to Strasbourgh. 
The French sometimes get a bad rap for being rude and unfriendly, but that was not my experience at all.  In fact, the only rude people I met on the whole trip were the TSA officers at Newark airport! 

So, thank you to the people who made the trip memorable.  Your little (and big) acts of kindness made a difference to me.   

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I've Had the Sweet, Now for the Bitter

It's been "interesting" around here since Monday morning.  Here are the highlights:
  • Despite 2 set alarms and a requested wake up call from the hotel, I was not awakened early Monday morning in Strasbourg and so missed my flight home.  
    • My cell phone alarm didn't work because the phone had no cell signal and a special "feature" turns it off to save battery when there is no signal available. I turned it on, tested the alarm to be sure it was working, went to sleep confident it was working, and then it quietly turned itself off. 
    •  I don't know why the alarm on the computer didn't go off and I also don't know why the hotel staff failed to wake me.   
  • Anyway, it was a mess and I had to wait hours in the Strasbourg airport while a very patient and polite Air France attendant attempted to reroute me home through Paris to Newark and then Cincinnati.  It was a very long day. 
  • When I got home late Monday night, after 20 hours on the road, I learned that Jeff has come down with shingles -- a very painful nerve disease caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.  Fortunately, Larry diagnosed it immediately and put him on a medicine that should make it milder and of shorter duration.  But it's not helping his mood any.  As an aside -- I'm not positive I've ever had chicken pox.  Mom was never sure one summer whether I had it or whether I was just covered with bug bites.  So, a whopping case of adult chicken pox may be on the horizon for me. 
  • The selection of bushes, roses, and perennials that I ordered arrived while I was gone and Kate and Jeff stuck them in the garage, still in the plastic, in the sweltering heat.  I hope some of them survive. 
  • Wednesday morning, the power went off for a while and when it came back on the shock was apparently too much for our piece-of-crap big screen TV.  Jeff researched it online and there is a flaw in the design that sometimes causes two relays to try to turn the set on simultaneously -- and so they fight it out. No one wins.  Every fix suggested online failed (this also helped Jeff's mood ... ) so it was time to buy a new TV.   I was glad in a way because I've always hated that big 52" behemoth. 
    • It dominates the family room.
    • Every year or two, its light bulb burns out and the replacement costs about $250. A repairman has to do it because the housing is defectively designed.   
    • Did I mention it's HUGE?
    • The stereo speakers are broken -- one just comes on intermittently and buzzes.
    • I will gladly kick that baby to the curb.
  • We went to Best Buy and bought a slightly more modestly sized 46" flat screen -- brought it home -- and were completely unable to get it to work.  I worked on it until 2 am this morning.  Nothing.  It refused to detect any signal.  When Toshiba tech support opened this morning, I worked with a tech for at least an hour and still nothing.  He suggests we return it to the store.  UGH!  Jeff finally got it working a little this morning, but it's still not doing what it's supposed to do.
Okay.  Now for the bright side.  I'm really grasping here.
  • No one in my immediate family is dead and I got back from Europe safely. 
  • My four tomato plants are growing and a couple even have blooms already. 
  • Kate tidied up the house so it wasn't a disaster when I returned home. 
  • I lost 2 pounds while I was in France, so I'm tantalizingly close to being below 200 lbs.  Only 1.4 lbs stand between me and being in the 100s instead of the 200s.  It may be silly, but it's a huge psychological difference to me. 
  • I've been able to handle all the "challenges" pretty well.  I haven't fallen apart or sunk into a funk.  I can cope. 
Tomorrow I'll work on having a more positive focus and maybe some more pictures from the Strasbourg trip. As my high school French class friend, Molly, would say, "Tien ta menton en haute, petite tigre." (Keep your chin up, little tiger.)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Oh, Barbara, you slut!

Everywhere we go in Strasbourg, we're confronted by naughty Barbara.  Barbara seems to think it's fun to giggle and run around town in her underwear saying "C'est moi!"  Frankly, we're shocked by this behavior.  ;) 

Today, both Ally and I were tired from all of our adventures and decided to have a low key day at the Orangerie Park. The park is a huge green space in Strasbourg that was originally designed for the Empress Josephine's pleasure in 1802.  In more egalitarian fashion, it's now a public park and today it was packed with the families of Strasbourg enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.  Ally, additionally, enjoyed this chocolate waffle. 

Ally and I were more interested in the animal population than the people population.  The stork is the symbol of the Alsace region and there are LOTS of storks in this park.  Ally got to herd one (a step up from herding pigeons) and I got to see a mother feeding a nestful of baby storks.

After that we located the elusive children's petting zoo.  The animals didn't pay us  much attention until we learned the universal language of animal love -- food.  Fortunately, it was available for 1/2 a euro in little cups and Ally soon earned the attention of all the animals. 

Today was my last day with Ally in Strasbourg.  We had a really good time, but tomorrow I head back to Cincinnati -- really early tomorrow -- like 6:50 am, be at the airport at 4:50 am.  So, I guess I'd better try to get some rest. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bargain Hunting in Strasbourg

Ally is great.  She's the only one in my family who really appreciates bargain hunting.  So, of course, when we learned there was a Flea Market on Saturdays in Strasbourg, we were there.

We started with the book fair, but all the books were in French -- go figure.  Then we went on to the Flea Market.  Now I'm no novice at this flea market stuff.  I found a brooch that I liked that was marked 2 euro (about $3) and I started bargaining.  The seller insisted he couldn't sell it for less and tried to sell me the brooch and a wooden box together for 5 euro.  Not to be outdone, I countered that I would take the brooch for 2 euro if he would throw in these three old buttons.  A deal was made. 

Snoopy and his master
Our day was really made by this fellow, though.  He didn't speak much English except to say "Oh my God," and "hotdog," but he charmed us with his kindness and we communicated pretty well with our hit or miss attempts at French.  Ally made friends with his dog, Snoopy, and we "conversed" pleasantly for quite a while.  I bought a necklace and asked him if he would throw in this costume pearl bracelet that had a broken clasp and he agreed (I easily fixed the bracelet as soon as I returned to the hotel). He must have gotten fond of us because he presented Ally with this necklace -- "a cadeaux," he said, a gift -- and asked for a kiss for it.  She kissed him on the cheek.  Then, probably fearing that I felt left out, he gave me this little rhinestone cross as a cadeaux.  When we parted he insisted on kissing us both on each cheek in the French fashion.  We felt like we had made a friend. 

Broken bracelet, now fixed

Ally wearing her cadeaux

Quick Update From France

I just have a few minutes, but I wanted to record some highlights.  I arrived in Strasbourg on Thursday afternoon and Ally and I went to see the cathedral -- almost everything was closed because it was a national holiday. 

Yesterday, Friday, we picked up a rental car and drove to Surbourg, the place Jeff's ancestors came from hundreds of years ago.  The town is mostly new and the only place we could identify that might have dated from the time of Jeff's people was the church of St. Arbogast, parts of which date back to the 1600s. 

After Surbourg, we drove on to Saverne and went hiking in the nearby mountains.  We found a little grotto dedicated to Saint Vit (?) and it was lovely.  I was proud of myself for traversing the steep stone steps down the mountainside to the grotto -- a year ago, I couldn't have done it. 

We ended up with a fantastic dinner at a restaurant in the center of Saverne.  I had a chicken pot pie to die for and Ally had some lamb. 

We had a great day -- time for another one!  Here are some pictures:

My rather austere but clean and cheap hotel room

St. Arbogast church in Surbourg


Inside St. Arbogast Church

Ally hiking in the mountains

Me sitting in the grotto

The steps leading down to the grotto

View of Saverne from up on the mountain

At the restaurant in Saverne

The restaurant in Saverne -- we ate al fresco

A statue of Mary in the grotto