Friday, October 28, 2005

the phantom thyroid

And now the waiting begins.

Today at one o'clock, I had the unusual experience of having a needle inserted into my throat not once, not twice but three times with the goal of removing cells from the nodule on my thyroid for culture purposes. And no, I don't mean they'll be taken to see the London Philharmonic Orchestra, though it would be my luck for body cells of mine, even less intelligent than those in my brain, to get that experience.

The procedure was brief, and relieved somewhat by the graphic depictions on the walls of the anatomy of the throat and face. The artist rendered these pictures in such loving detail that I remarked to Dr. Van Hosen that it hurt just to look at someone whose right side of their face had been peeled off, or their throat gouged open to reveal where their different structures were. Trimming the top of the wall were wild animals gleefully stalking patients in the examination room.

Essentially, all that the procedure involved was my laying my head back and exposing my throat to the doctor. Under normal circumstances, the doctor would be considered attractive, except for two things: one, I am married; and two, she was about to stick a long, thin needle into my throat. The insertion was, she assured me, relatively painless, and I must agree. It hurt far less than middle school did.

All told, she did this three times. My throat is a little sore, and I hate it when I cough, burp or turn my neck too far because of the discomfort and swelling. The cells -- I am told they are in fact "follicular cells" -- will be centrifuged and all sorts of other medical things to develop a proper culture. I got to see them after they had been stained, but the magnification on the microscope wasn't very inspiring. They looked like purple dots. (They seemed amused that I wanted to look at them, but how often do you get the chance to see cells from your own thyroid?)

Work on the culture begins this afternoon or evening. By Monday or Tuesday at the latest they will know the state of my thyroid and we will decide what to do about this nodule then, whether to let it be or to remove my entire thyroid. A news editor I used to work with, writing about his bout with cancer, once remarked that good news is given over the phone. If it's bad, they want to see you in person.

I'll let you know what happens.

a milestone

Today, this blog received its 1,000th visit. Considering how eclectic it is, with everything from personal tsursis no one but me cares about, to odd humor and religious musings, and GOK what else, that's quite an honor.

What's neat about the traffic is where it's coming from. Most of my link traffic appears to be coming from Christian, Gay and Confused, a fascinating and well-written blog by a woman who is well, Christian and gay. For someone who claims to be confused, though, JJ writes astonishingly well and clearly. Can't recommend her site highly enough. The second-biggest source of link traffic is "Life in the Gaps," another blog written by a good friend of mine.

Yes, everyone should link to this blog, in order to aid my conquest of the world.

What's really fun, though, is the odd search terms people use to stumble upon this blog. Hydroencephalitis remains the most popular search term that leads here, a phenomenon I fuel each time I mention it. I can't help myself, though. It's too odd not to enjoy it. But at least I have a link to a useful site for people who are looking for information.

My favorite new search phrase turned up today. I've had people find this site by looking for information on rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, and all sorts of unexpected search phrases. Today, someone found me by asking the question "how do you draw daffy duck when he's coughing."

It's a good question. If anyone finds the answer, please let me know.

capitol news

Some people express their politics through serious op-ed pieces and impassioned arguments. Me, I just like to have a few laughs. The whole process, when it is not contemptible, is still laughable and more than a little sullied. I half-expected Bush to nominate his personal CPA to replace Greenspan, and can easily see the events of the following spoof (from The Markle City WOW, which I co-write) to make the nation's leading newspapers.

Bush nominates 'people's justice' for nation's high court
WASHINGTON (Oct.28, 2005) - Once Harriet Miers had withdrawn her nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation began to wait with baited breath for the person Bush would name to replace her.

Would he name a winner, a justice the entire nation could fall in behind, someone with experience, knowledge, name recognition and actual ability? Would it be a woman, or another minority? Perhaps Bush would nominate the first Asian, Arab or Hispanic, or even the nation's first openly gay justice?

Or would he blow it again and pick a loser?

"Loser," David Robinson, political analyst with the Center for Public Thought, predicted Thursday evening. "Definitely a loser."

Robinson and the rest of the nation didn't have long to wait. Bush's announcement came Friday morning, with the start of the work day at the White House.

"It gives me great pleasure to put forward the name of Judge Wapner for the U.S. Supreme Court," Bush said Friday before a press corps that has become increasingly numb with each day of the Bush presidency.

"I believe we're all familiar with Whopper's legal rulings and his proven track record of interpreting the law in a quick, concise manner on weekday afternoons. He will be justice for the people of this country, and I have no doubt he will get the court to issue rulings faster. I've been assured that if the nomination goes through by Christmas, we can get his complete crew to come along and present us with capsulated summaries of court rulings as soon as they're made.

"I wish I had thought about old Whoppy first."

Andrew Card, spokesman for the White House, was quick to deflect criticism of the nomination, which ignores the fact that Wapner, 86, has been off the air for years and fails to consider other equally untalented judges, such as Judge Judy and Mike Judge, creator of cartoons like "Beavis & Butthead" and "King of the Hill."

"We're hopeful that the Senate Judiciary Committee will ... oh God, I can't do this," he said, breaking down into tears. "For God's sake, how am I supposed to make George sound intelligent when he pulls this crap one day after another? Someone get me the Canadian embassy on the phone. I want to move."

Card was whisked away by officers of Homeland Security and has not been seen since.

Officials in Canada, Mexico, and forty other countries indicated they would be unable to process any asylum requests by Card for months or years, owing to the backlog caused by the heavy emigration from America over the last five years.

Students await results of inquiry into tattletale
MARKLE CITY, Utah (Oct. 28, 2005) - Students at Washington Hills Elementary School remain on edge today as they wait for the shoe to drop in a lengthy investigation into the leaking of confidential schoolyard information to teachers.

Third-graders Carl Rovers and Scooter Libby are under the most suspicion for taking part in the tattling, back when they were in first grade. At the time, classmate Georgey Porgie had kissed several of the girls and made them cry on the precept that the girls were smuggling cooties into the school and had to be stopped before they could cause an outbreak.

Another classmate, Joey Wilson, earlier that day had looked inside the girls' purses and claims to have found no trace of cooties anywhere. When he published his findings in an assignment for composition class, another of the classmates told teacher Miss Miller that Wilson had been playing Cops and Robbers with little Valerie Plamingo, in violation of the school's Zero Tolerance rules, and had even said, "Bang bang, you're dead. I shot you!" to her.

Wilson and Plamingo were suspended from the school for three days and forced to attend violence sensitization classes for another four months. Wilson believes that he and Plamingo were outed to punish him for criticizing Porgie's pre-emptive kissing escapades.

Emmett Fitzgerald, the first boy in the classroom to learn how to tie real shoelaces and not just Velcro, was commissioned by his classmates toward the end of the school year to determine who the tattletale was. Rovers and Libby are considered prime suspects.

If Fitzgerald names either boy today as the guilty party, it is likely he will be beat up during recess and will go back inside wearing his underpants on his head. Unnamed sources say that this will be an improvement.

well, that's embarassing

Somewhere down at Evangeline's school, there is a list of member families. I am sure that next to our name is a black mark that says "bad parents."

Sometime yesterday morning, a water main in the city broke. Water service to the school temporarily was disrupted, and even after it was reinstated, the water was dirty and unsafe to drink until the lines could be flushed properly. So around 11 a.m., school officials made the decision to close the school and send the students home. School employees started calling parents, using the emergency contact information we gave them at the start of the year.

The first problem was that Natasha was home and on the computer. The incoming call kicked her offline, but since there's no way to switch over to an incoming call once it goes into voice mail, she just logged back in and finished what she was doing. Meanwhile, I kept busy making lunch since Thursday was the big Halloween event at Rachel's preschool and I was supposed to help, especially since it also was her school birthday party.

Around noon, as we pulled out of the driveway, Natasha told me she thinks we might have a voice mail message. I quipped that it was probably Evangeline's school calling. Natasha told me that wasn't funny, and we went to Rachel's preschool, had a great time and left around 2:40 p.m. so we could be reasonably close to Evangeline's pickup time.

A little past 3 o'clock, we roll into the school lot. I was surprised to see it empty already since there's usually a few stragglers, and school only gets out at 2:45 p.m. anyway.

Natasha went inside to get Evangeline and discovered that school had been closed for more than three hours, and Evangeline had been the only student there for about two hours. Evangeline's teacher was pleasant but (I'm sure) slightly annoyed. When we got home, I found a voice mail message from her teacher making the initial call, two followup phone calls on our answering machine, and an e-mail from a member of the board of trustees. Natasha went to her office and found another message or two waiting on her work voice mail.

This morning I took Evangeline to school, groveled some more, and was told by the teacher and the teacher's assistant that they need the number for Rachel's preschool in case this happens again. Natasha and I are racking our brains to decide whom we know well enough in the area to ask them to pick up Evangeline in an emergency.

Being stabbed in the throat looks better all the time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

alone

It's the second day since my wife went out of town on business. She's due back this evening, just after dinner, and we're all looking forward to her routine.

The girls have been fairly upbeat about it, and haven't been pining after her since she left, but to be honest, I didn't expect they would. I've been doing the stay-at-home routine for the past year, and the girls are pretty well accustomed to having me in the role of the only parent around during the day. It's just that that's been temporarily extended into the evening as well. (That's not to say it's been without incident of we-want-Mommy-itis. Since my wife usually comes home for lunch, Rachel was excited to hear the mail carrier at the door Tuesday, since she thought that meant it was her mother.)

Night time has been different, though. For starters, both girls have decided to sleep with me. I don't mind that, to be honest, even though the elder child is turning 6 this week and I'm sure there are some busybodies who hate the notion of co-sleeping with a passion, and would be appalled that somebody else's 6-year-old might want to join her parents in their bed periodically. (As long as there's room, I don't mind.)

Monday night went pretty smoothly. We were all in bed, lights out a little past 9, and we were all out cold not long after that. We slept smoothly, too, until 6 a.m., when R. woke up and started hitting me for being on the wrong part of the bed and keeping her from where her mother usually sleeps. Yes, it was milk time. Rachel took it pretty badly that her mother wasn't available, and got out of bed to go looking for her. At last she decided I was telling the truth, and at 6:30 a.m., she went back to bed and back to sleep. I stayed up, and got an early start on the day, since I would have to get Evangeline up at 7 a.m. anyway to get her ready for school.

Tuesday night was not as smooth. We were all in bed, lights out at 9, and R. was out cold almost immediately. E. lingered a little longer, but was gone by 9:30.

At 11 p.m., R. either awoke or started having night terrors, but she screamed at the top of her lungs for a few minutes. I moved her back into her own room, so she wouldn't wake her sister, and stayed with her until the screaming subsided and she was mostly quiet, except for the occasional noise that indicated she was self-comforting herself back to sleep. Once I was satisfied she was OK, I went back to bed.

At 2 a.m., she came back into my bedroom, asked for her mother, and then went to sleep on the floor by the bed. I covered her up with a blanket, and let her sleep there, until 5:30 a.m., when she climbed into bed, got upset to discover that her older sister had moved during the night to the spot where R. had started, asked me for a drink of water, and then curled up beside meand went back to sleep.

E.'s contribution during all this was to moan in her sleep, "But now we'll never know what the recipes really are!"

And now it's time to rouse the elder child to get ready for school.

Monday, October 24, 2005

return of the thyroid

All I have left to look forward to now is being stabbed in the throat this Friday.

My initial consultation with the endocrinologist today about the nodule on my thyroid went swimmingly. The results of my blood work are in, and I am not suffering from hypothyroidism, which means the fatigue and lethargy that dog me really are just laziness. (Damn.) The doctor had other reassuring news: About 30 percent of adults get these nodules, only about 5 percent of them are malignant, and virtually no one dies from thyroid cancer.

Sorry if you were getting your hopes up.

On Friday, the doctor will aspirate the nodule with a thin, thin needle. (I just love medical words like "aspirate." They make me sound so educated.) The cells she collects will be studied for malignancy, at which point we will consider our options, namely leaving it alone, performing a second biopsy for more throat-stabbing excitement, and scheduling a thyroidectomy, which again is exceedingly unlikely. Because of the nature of thyroids and their nodules, the statistical likelihood of a false negative or false positive is negligible. (I thought to ask.)

So like I said, the appointment went nicely. Rachel went along because Natasha is out of town for work today through Wednesday, but she was even better behaved than I was. (Seriously. She colored in her coloring book and sang, and played quietly on the floor. I was busy making jokes, like when the doctor was checking me for symptoms. "No, no memory loss. What were the other things you asked about?")

So, Friday it is. With any luck, she will remember the nodule is in my thyroid, and no one will convince her to check my jugular or heart instead.

spider-man

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before that my elder daughter loves Spider-Man. She enjoys him so much that she has seen both Spider-Man movies, has got me to borrow DVD collections of the most recent cartoon show, has a Spider-Man futon she loves, and has even made some construction paper Spider-Man window decorations with help from her father. Her upcoming sixth birthday party is planned around a Spider-Man theme, complete with Spider-Man crafts, gift bags, and games like "Pin the Mask on Spider-Man."

Her enthusiasm has gone noticed at school, where she has a Spider-Man backpack and where she wears Spider-Man sneakers. Not one but several other children have mentioned to her that Spider-Man is for boys, and girls can't like him. So she told me Friday, while we were waiting to be seen at the dentist.

I hate gendertyping, so I love it when it's easy to poke it in the eye.

"They're wrong," I said. "Do you like Spider-Man?"

"Yes," Evangeline replied.

"And are you a boy, or a girl?"

"A girl," she said, and then it hit her: Her classmates really were wrong. Girls can like Spider-Man too. Her smile was like the sunrise climbing over the horizon in the morning as the realization set in. It was nice for me, too. I got to reassure my daughter that she's OK.

I just hope it's this easy next time, too.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

the thyroid strikes back

Investigation into the nodule on my thyroid has advanced further. The ultrasound revealed it is a solid mass, about the size of a pingpong ball. It is not filled with fluid, which means it is not a cyst. I'm scheduled to see an endocrinologist on Monday for an initial consultation, a medical form of a premeeting to establish the agenda for the actual meeting, and if necessary, they will arrange for someone to stab me in the throat next Friday for the biopsy.

The doctor, upon my followup visit, was impressed with my layman's knowledge of thyroid nodules and conditions -- what was I supposed to do, wallow in ignorance? -- and had me go get some blood at LabCorp., to see if I'm suffering from hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism seems unlikely since I've been more lethargic than overactive, and haven't really had any unexplained losses in weight. (I wish.)

The fellow who drew the blood must have had a hard time finding the vein. I have a bruise about the size of a dime where the needle went in. It's still mildly sore, too.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

parent-teacher conference

We had our first real meeting with Evangeline's teacher Tuesday, as part of a parent-teacher conference to set goals for Evangeline's education during the first trimester of school.

I don't remember anything like this in the schools I had growing up. Back then, if there were a parent-teacher conference, it would be in response to a problem academically, behavorially or socially. Here, we actually got to help set Evangeline's goals and provide feedback on what the teacher was thinking.

To say I was pleased with Evangeline's academic performance to date is something of an understatement. She is not just doing well academically, she has blown the bell curve out of the water. Some of this surely is due to our decision to homeschool her last year, for kindergarten; I'm sure much of it has to do with the wonderful preschool experience she had at Somerset Presbyterian when she was 3 and 4; and a lot of it just has to do with how she's wired.

Evangeline has a Renaissance brain, and is equally good at this time at artistic expression and mathematics. Creativity and logic are both tasks she can handle easily.

One of the things that Evangeline's teacher has been impressed with since the beginning is her reading ability. When Evangeline learned to read last fall, she took to it immediately, and rapidly moved from "Dick and Jane"-level books to chapter books. When school started in Septemeber, she lacked the patience to wait for me to read the next chapter of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and usually would plow on ahead, reading three or four chapters on her own.

Zoë remarked that she has been amazed how well Evangeline reads aloud. She's not just reading, mind you; she's reading with inflection and feeling, and when she reads dialogue, she even uses different voices for the different characters. (Not surprising, since Natasha and I have done that whenever we've read her stories, since she was an infant.)

She also is impressed with Evangeline's spelling prowess. Last week, she asked Evangeline to spell California, and her only error was to spell it with a Y instead of the second I. That's largely because Evangeline is a visual learner -- she sees the words written that way when she reads them, and remembers it for future reference -- but we encourage that by encouraging her to figure out the spelling herself when she's writing something.

Other areas where she's exceeding expectations for her age include the well-developed stories she tells, the artistic detail she brings to pictures she draws (no surprise, since she's been taking formal art lessons for the past year), her attentiveness during circle time (she was familiar with that from preschool), her ability to work well with others, and her math skills.

It turns out that Evangeline's math and language skills are so advanced that her teachers don't have the materials in the classroom to challenge her adequately. I'd suspected as much, since the math work she's been bringing home has consisted of really simple addition problems, like 2 + 3, and the English work has involved things like words with the short-I sound. Evangeline has been doing double-digit addition and subtraction for months now, and I've been giving her extra math problems at home in order to keep her skills up.

What they're going to do is to borrow some material from the third- and fourth-grade teachers and give Evangeline reading assignments from there. She'll get to do dioramas and reading comprehension questions for reading; for math, they'll be sending home more challenging worksheets, also culled from the older grades.

The downside to all this is that, although Evangeline is well rounded, her artistic side is a little too predominant. Drawing usually is a part of the assignments Evangeline brings home; she's supposed to draw an illustration for the math word problems, and draw another picture for her reading response, and so on. The instructor at the art academy has stressed from day one that Evangeline should take her time when she's drawing, since good art requires patience, hard work and time.

I'm sure you can see the problem. The school assignments are geared toward students who will finish drawing in something like 10 minutes. In 10 minutes, Evangeline has maybe figured out what exactly she wants to draw, and where to place the elements of her drawing. If she's moving really fast, she may even have started her sloppy copy. This leads to a lot more time being spent on art at a move-at-your-own pace school than is really necessary or wise.

On Tuesday, Zoë told me, Evangeline spent 75 minutes coloring a drawing everyone else had finished on Monday. She still wasn't done. It had a lot of detail, though -- individually colored raindrops, and a night sky behind them that had been very painstakingly filled in with black crayon.

Time management, obviously, is one of the areas where Evangeline needs improvement.

So the deal we struck, with Evangeline's full agreement, is that since good art takes time and should not be rushed, Evangeline gets 10 minutes to work on the drawing at school, and then after that, she gets to take the drawing home, where there will be plenty of time to finish it.

(I had suggested they should head the whole time management problem off at the source, and teach me better skills in that area, but they weren't much moved by my proposal.)

The other problem they commented on is that Evangeline doesn't participate fully in gym class. This completely failed to catch me by surprise. When I try to get Evangeline to walk some place with me, she starts complaining after a block that she needs a break, that her legs are falling asleep, and so on. She apparently has done the same thing in gym class, but Zoë and the teaching assistant, Anna, had no ideas to offer on getting improvements.

Besides time management, Evangeline's goals for December are to master money concepts and to do a research project on Barbies. The money is important because she doesn't "get" the money thing. She's forever forgetting which coins are worth which amount and doesn't get the connection between dollars and cents.

The Barbie project was her idea. I suggested Roald Dahl since she's enjoyed the books of his that she's read, but she wanted to do Barbies, so Barbies it is. My brain is melting already from the mere thought of helping her research this.

By and large, I've been pleased with how well Evangeline has done at school. I was a little nervous about how well she would adapt, since she can be quiet around people she doesn't know, and I wondered how well she would assert herself and the knowledge she already possessed at the start of the year. (That was one of the reasons I let the teacher know myself that Evangeline was reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," that she could do double-digit arithmetic, and a few other things.)

I also had some concern over how Evangeline would fare socially. She's an intelligent girl, but she's also creative, independent and her own creature, all things that can count against her in school, where the unwritten rule so often is "You're different, and that's wrong." Adults usually consider her a cutup, because she'll shout things like "Help, help, I'm being oppressed!" when I tickle her, knows the Éowyn-Nazgul exchange, and says "have fun storming the castle!" as a form of goodbye.

Well, it also helps that she's witty, engages in word play with a startling facility for a 5-year-old and ... well, you get the idea. She's one of a kind, which can be a tremendous liability in school, even if it's not a liability at home.

Still, Evangeline is hitting it off very well with a number of children. There are a few she complains are mean, but she has friends, and whenever she leaves school at the end of the day, there are plenty of kids who say goodbye to her by name.

Monday, October 17, 2005

really cheap dvd's

I have in my possession what must be the cheapest new DVDs available for purchase in the continental United States.

Rachel and I bought them this afternoon after taking a meander down to the Stop 'N Shop supermarket in Hoover Point to grab some groceries while Evangeline was at art class. The store has a cardboard display case with about a dozen DVD titles for sale, each for one buck.

Not surpisingly, most of them were movies I'd never heard of, like "Huey Junior," a non-Disney "Aladdin" and one that looked it might be a live-action "Thief of Baghdad." Neither of those really appealed to me, although that's generally true of most of the Arabian night stories, actually. (They mostly seem to be stories of chance and fate, where the heroes rise or fall based on the whims of a djinni, rather than due to any character flaw, virtue or hard work of their own.)

What was neat was that three of them were titles I would be interested in. One of them was the animated Rankin and Bass movie, "The Hobbit"; another was a collection of Daffy Duck shorts; and a third was "Asterix and Cleopatra," which I haven't seen since I was in New Zealand. All for a buck each.

I half-expected the DVDs to be trash, and to break or freeze up ten minutes into the movie. To my surprise, no such thing happened. The girls watched Daffy Duck while I got dinner ready, and the disc played the whole time, with a clear picture and clear sound. They were older cartoons, and weren't even in icolor, but that didn't matter. It was vintage Daffy Duck in his heckler days, making life difficult for Porky Pig and others.

The gimmick, of course, is that these disks are as no-frills as you can get. They come in clamshell cases, and have no foreign language tracks, subtitles, special features or easter eggs. If you put the disk into your DVD player, it starts playing the feature immediately, with barely a minute for the copyright notice.


A menu does appear if you press the menu button, but your choices are "Play Movie," "Select Scene," "Also on DVD" and "Web site." The Also on DVD link takes you to a list of other titles available from East-West Entertainment LLC, apparently all Warner Brothers properties, and as far as selecting a scene, well, there are three of them.

That's right. "The Hobbit" is broken into three chapters, each untitled, and even the Daffy Duck scene selector doesn't let you choose a specific cartoon to start at. It's section one, two or three, and try your luck figuring out where the girls were when you turned it off.

Still, they were a buck, and there are no commercials to skip through. I can deal with it.

the artist in her element

I took a trip to an utterly alien world today on behalf of my daughter. I took her to the art supply store.

Evangeline is taking weekly art lessons at the
Academy of Art of Hoover Point, where she's learning the foundations of art in a classic setting, or something like that. At 5 years old, she's learned to draw with perspective, to use shading, and a few other techniques I don't understand. She's done triptychs, inking, wash pencils and a ton of stuff I never learned until eighth grade in the public school system, if even then.

Today it was time to buy supplies for her third-level drawing class, and I found myself walking up and down the aisles of Pearl, trying to figure out what the heck all these different graphite pencils were for. We had to buy five of them, all with a different number-letter name, and to keep myself amused, I kept wisecracking "2B, or not 2B?" as though it was the funniest joke in the world and there was anything greater than a snowball's chance in Haiti that the girls would get it.

Evangeline, of course, treated the entire trip with the utmost gravity. Normally she complains that she's tired, or that it's too heavy, if I ask her to carry so much as a grape. On Monday, she carried the handcart all around the store, and never complained once when we had to walk all the way back across the store because I was going down the list in order, and didn't realize that we had to buy light tracing paper when I was picking out 80-pound weight acid-free drawing paper.

What was truly impressive to me was when she took it upon herself to educate me about the different kinds of graphite used in pencils, and their different uses. When I wondered out loud why on earth an art student would need a blender, let alone why it would be only ¾ of an inch thick -- thinking of course of the kitchen appliance that we don't have anyway -- Evangeline immediately explained not only what blenders are for (something to do with the edge of a picture), but she told me what they're made of, what they look like, and pointed them out to me on the hook.

At art class, Evangeline continued to work on a liquid graphite drawing of a fish. (I'm not sure how the graphite is liquid, but I guess it's a soft graphite that is made even softer with water. Am I right?) She loves this class, and her teacher has told me that Evangeline is one of the most talented young children she has -- doubly impressive, since Evangeline is also possibly the youngest. I can't help but feel a little amused when I consider that her art classes at school probably involve crayons, scissors and construction paper.

The art academy is great for her, precisely because the instructors expect so much. The higher you set the bar, the more the students'll achieve.


Friday, October 14, 2005

miserable failure

So a poll has found that most Americans consider George Bush's presidency to be a failure.

Not too surprising, given the state of things in Iraq and in Louisiana, the price of gas, the return of the economy to a recession, and GOK what else. Still, I can imagine Karl Rove or someone complaining about the fickle public. Just four years ago, Bush had record approval ratings. Now, two wars, two Supreme Court justices, forty-seven vacations and an economy later, everyone hates him.

In all seriousness, if I had been polled, I'd be one of those people who says it's too early to tell. Much as I've disagreed with some of the president's policies and attitudes, you need the perspective of distance that only history can bring to really judge things like this. Lincoln was regarded at the time as one of the worst presidents of the nation's history, and nowadays he'd win an election for best-ever president, hands down. Bush has had a run of bad luck in some of the things that have gone down during his presidency: an unprecedented terror attack, a Category 5 hurricane, and a tremendous energy crunch, just to rattle off a few things outside his control.

Still, he's managed to get Saudi Arabia to actually hold municipal elections, he did oust the Taliban from Afghanistan, and that country even now is having democratic elections. He also removed Saddam Hussein, which is a good thing, although he did so under apparently fabricated or exaggerated pretenses and without a clear strategy beyond that. Iraq is now sliding briskly toward civil war, but if they actually hold elections and the country starts to stabilize, Bush might come out ahead on that too.

My best friend notes that at the time, Licoln appeared to be noncommital, diffuse, unorganized, too forgiving, and insufficiently proactive. But for all that, someone of a different mold would have split the nation in two, either by being weak like Buchanan, and unable to stop secession, or too strong and opting to crush the South rather than reintegrating it. Lincoln's temperament preserved the Union.

If Bush weathers the latest beatings to his standing and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq result in the emergence of democratic republics there, it's possible that Bush might break even or even pull out slightly ahead.

But that does seem to be the story of Bush's life, doesn't it? Just squeaking by. A man can become president, but that doesn't change who he is.



Thursday, October 13, 2005

the world shifts

It was just before six o'clock the call came. The voice on the other end was friendly but nervous, polite but apprehensive.

"Mr. L___?" she asked. "This is Dr. Chang; you saw me last week? I just got the lab results back, and we need to send you in for a biopsy."

I felt a small shudder as my world moved a little bit. I don't think I showed it too much then, though I'm sure I showed it a little. My laughter was a little forced, my joking a little harsher. It's hard to be completely natural when a doctor tells you that the lump in your throat isn't there just because your wife is so beautiful, nor because your daughters fill you with delight just by the music of their laughter, their quick minds, or the never-ending procession of art they have decorated your home with for three years.

It's hard to be completely at ease when the lump in question is about 2 centimeters across, an antiseptically metric way of saying it's nearly an inch wide, about the size of a pingpong ball, and growing on your thyroid. It's hard to be completely at ease even when you use a safely medical term like "nodule," maybe especially then, since "nodule" sounds like a Trojan horse for cyst or even tumor, words that immediately conjure images of the C-word, which is unsettling to anyone in his mid-30s.

So I won't say the C-word, though I can't help but thinking it every now and then, when it runs across my mind like an unwanted refugee from the thesaurus, looking for some place safe to stay for a while. "Nodule" sounds much nicer, and given the precise speech doctors use, it's probably more accurate anyway, even if I can't help conjuring worst-case scenarios while the world spins ever so slightly from its accustomed center.

My thyroid regulates my metabolism and also helps with thermoregulation. I know that because I looked it up in the dictionary twenty minutes ago, and because a friend of mine used to tease the Frank Burns of news editors with that information when she noticed that he always liked it a lot colder than everyone else.

What does it mean to have a nodule on thyroid? It means that next week I have to get blood work done, so the doctor can make sure my thyroid is working properly. It means I have to let a complete stranger stab me in the throat with a needle so we can find out what kind of nodule I have. It means I get to flail about a little, looking for some restored stbility and taking shelter in a Rock that is higher than I, while I wait for more information, wondering how bad it really is, and telling myself I'm really overreacting to this.

It's just after ten o'clock, and I got off the phone with one of my best friends twenty minutes ago. His voice was friendly and concerned, familiar and reassuring.

A nodule on my thyroid, eh? Well, I suppose it could be worse.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

still sick

I am so freaking tired of this cold. I have been sick for the past 12 days. It's past the point of fevers and aches, but when Rachel and I were getting ready to go to the supermarket today, I started puking once we got outside the front door and couldn't stop for about five minutes, and we ended up staying inside. I did the same thing tonight about an hour after dinner. My sinuses are clogged, and when they're not clogging, I feel like I'm drowning in a river of phlegm, or I'm coughing one up. It hurts my head, my side, and my throat, and leaves me unable to sleep decently

birthday shopping

Sometimes it pays to be as stubborn as all get-out.

The children's birthdays are coming up in just a few weeks, and we've been looking around for suitable presents. Suitable meaning presents they'll enjoy that we can afford and won't mind having after the first ten minutes. Earlier this year, we read E the entire Chronicles of Narnia and she, not surprisingly, loved them. We had rented the animated "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" from Blockbuster a year ago, and I thought that might count, especially since she remembers it fondly.

So Friday night I started the task of trying to find a copy of it for sale someplace. CBD, which has carried the movie in the past, is now selling it on DVD for $18, plus an additional $3.50 in shipping. We have a $3 discount with them, but that's still $18.50 for an 95-minute movie. Chances are the movie coming out in December will be cheaper than $18.50 when it comes out on DVD six months from now.

The fellow I talked to at Barnes & Noble knew immediately which version I was talking about -- he also hated the BBC adaptation, which left me falling asleep when I tried to watch it with the girls a few months ago -- but from what he told me, they not only don't have it in stock, none of their distributors carries it. A similar problem arose when I called Border's.

I have to admit, I was kind of surprised. With the new movie coming out in two months, this seems like the perfect time to cash in on the name recognition. I'm barely aware of what's going on with the Christian media, but even so, I'm aware they've been building to a crescendo over this, probably even bigger than with "The Lord of the Rings." (Although both men were devout Christians, Lewis was also an apologist for the faith, and his Narnia books contain some blatant allegorical meanings. Tolkien's work is deeper, but it also requires more effort to see his meanings.)

I would think someone in the movie industry would realize this, and would market the animated movie. After all, it beats the socks off the live-action version from the 1990s, and for about 20 years, it was the only movie version of any of the Narnia books. If Ralph Bakshi's best-forgotten "Lord of the Rings" disaster could be reissued in order to cash in on New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson's trilogy, why couldn't someone pull out the Bill Melendez movie?

Well, as it is, I'm not the only visionary. According to Target.com, the campy, cheesy and totally worth buying DVD will be available for purchase on Oct. 11, this Tuesday, for only $10.49. The site doesn't say if it'll be in the stores, but even if it's not, that's still going to be the best price I'm going to find.

Friday, October 07, 2005

hope for the writing bug

Over at Brothers Grinn, we've slowly started to reverse our downward movement in subscribers. We were at 1100 or so before the big hiatus, and we're now in the low 700s. That's more than a third of our readership, which isn't too surprising even if it is moderately depressing.
I'm hoping we can start to hit a stride and get some momentum again, since when we do, we're usually pretty funny, and start to pick up new readers. The way to do that, based on our previous experience, is to get the mailings going with something approaching regularity, with some regularly identified, recurring elements ... and wait for people on mailing lists and web sites to start noticing us again and pointing us out to everyone.

I think we have a potentially much higher readership than this, although if memory serves, the membership list started taking small dips followed by big surges around the time we reached 900, suggesting that that's our first natural plateau, and that if we can really push past that, we'll get hordes more through viral marketing.

Natasha had some touching words for me the other day, that she wants to see me doing more writing as well, and publishing it for money. What was touching was that she made it clear that she really believes me as a writer, and considers me a better writer than several other people we know who are already published. I had no idea she cared that much, not about the money but about the writing.

Things like that inspire me. I'm hoping we can set aside some time on a regular basis during the evening for me to write, whether Brothers Grinn stuff, A Messy Faith or (more importantly) the book. I'm also hoping I can formally collect some of the Brothers Grinn stuff we've written and try submitting it to a publisher. (That was one of my incentives for restarting this.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

hook

Ever see "Hook?" It's a 1991 movie with Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, in which Williams plays a grown-up Peter Pan who has to return to Never Never Land and rescue his kids from Hook, who has kidnapped them in an effort to have one last blow-out with his enemy. It's not exactly Spielberg's best, but it's a kid-friendly movie and we have it on DVD, and since we were all feeling sick, we decided to watch it after dinner tonight.

Not surprisingly, for the first 30 minutes or so, as the movie sets up the whole premise, the girls were uninterested. Evangeline practically fell asleep on her Spider-Man futon, and Rachel started playing with one of her educational toys that is supposed to help her learn her numbers. They finally started getting into it when Tinkerbell showed up and dragged Peter Pan back to Never Never Land, and by the time Peter Pan's memory started to come back, Evangeline was drawing a picture in full color of Tinkerbell flying above the lagoon, while mermaids sun themselves on a rock and a pirate ship sails through the background.

The best part came at the end, when Hook and Peter Pan got into their duel and the giant crocodile fell over and ate Hook. Rachel, who had been drawing a picture of the crocodile, was horrified, and drew a picture of Hook running away from the crocodile in time. For about 20 minutes after the movie, she kept complaining how mean it was that the crocodile ate Captain Hook, and it shouldn't have done that. Natasha tried to explain that Captain Hook was a bad man and the crocodile did it because Peter Pan wouldn't, and we tried explaining that it was just a pretend story with actors and no one was really eaten by anything, but Rachel wasn't having any of it. It was not nice that the crocodile had eaten someone, and it shouldn't have done that. I even offered to help her write a letter to Dustin Hoffman, saying that she didn't want him to be eaten by a crocodile, but she wouldn't budge. Crocodiles shouldn't eat people, and that's that.

I'm glad she feels this way -- like when Evangeline decided she wanted the Cinderella stories to have Cinderella living in a big room, and her stepsisters and stepmother treating her nicely, it shows that Rachel is developing the emotive skills to realize how someone else feels -- but man, this is going to eliminate a lot of children's entertainment if she really feels this way. Are there any Disney movies that don't have someone getting killed? A boulder falls on the queen in "Snow White," Ursula gets stabbed with a ship in "The Little Mermaid," Mufasa is stampeded to death by wildebeest in "The Lion King," and even Bambi's mom gets hit by a pickup and turned to roadkill. No one dies in "Pinocchio" (well, except for the title character, but he gets better), but it gave me nightmares as a kid when I saw all those kids turn into Democrats on Pleasure Island, particularly the one who can still talk as they're being shoved into crates and packed off to the salt mines. Heck, even Daffy Duck gets shot in the face and blown up with dynamite at least seventeen times in an eight-minute short. ("Elmer Fudd shouldn't have shot Daffy like that, mommy.")

The other odd thing I noticed is Rachel's choice of favorites. When she watched "Shrek," last year, she made that her nickname and even insisted "I ogre!" After Evangeline discovered the joys of Spider-Man, Rachel decided she wanted to be the Green Goblin. And now that we've shown her "Hook," she identifies with James Hook. It makes me afraid to let her watch "Jesus Christ Superstar."

harriet miers

I don't get it. Why is Harriet Miers being considered for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court?

This is a woman with no experience on the bench, no clear positions or written opinons on major legal issues, or anything else I would consider an important qualification for the court. If she weren't Bush's personal lawyer and White House counsel, no one would have heard of her. No, strike that -- if she hadn't been nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court, no one would have heard of her. About all Bush has said so far about her is that she's a churchgoing Christian, and fiercely loyal to him.

And I guess that's what it takes to be worthy of nomination. I knew I should have spent more time sucking up to politicians when I was a newspaper editor. I might have gone somewhere.

Still, this does fit Bush's pattern of appointing close friends rather than qualified friends, doesn't it? I can't remember the country, but Bush appointed as ambassador during his first time a major political ally and supporter with no diplomatic experience or familiarity with the language. More recently, there was Michael "You're doing a great job, Brownie" Brown, who royally failed with Katrina disaster relief as head of FEMA. Bush's appointment for immigration top dog under Homeland Security is someone with absolutely no experience in immigration law or related matters. And, in a related personality trait, Bush has a history of marginalizing people who aren't team players, like Colin Powell and Christie Whitman. (Though at least Christie had that habit herself when she was New Jersey governor.)

I've no idea how widespread this problem was under Clinton, of course, although Jim McGreevey was infamous for it here in New Jersey, the most celebrated case being appointing his gay lover to head the state's homeland security operations, even though Cipel lacked U.S. citizenship and therefore even the most basic national security clearance.

Monday, October 03, 2005

life in the land of the sick

Having two children in the school system is proving to be more than our immune systems can handle. At the moment, all four of us are under the weather to one extent or another.

Evangeline has it the worst, right now. She missed two days of school last week, and appeared to be better, but she woke up around 4 a.m. last night complaining of a tummyache and having a fever. Natasha gave her some children's Motrin to bring the fever down, but when we checked on her again this morning, around 10, she was hovering at 102.5 degrees again.

I got her into the bath to bring her temperature down, since you're not supposed to use Motrin twice in the same eight-hour period, and got her an appointment at the doctor's at 11:30. The diagnosis was that she apparently has bronchitis. He prescribed a potent cough medicine and an antibiotic, said she shouldn't participate in gym class this week at school, and said he wants to see her again in a week.

And of course, there's still the rest of us. Rachel just has a runny nose right now, but Natasha's also home from work and I've got some sort of chest congestion that sends me into coughing spasms when I lie down to sleep. My ears also feel like they're stuffed with cotton, which is never a good sign. I have an appointment with the doctor's office tomorrow, since they were all booked up today.

Last year, of course, when Rachel was too young for preschool and I was homeschooling Evangeline for kindergarten, we passed the entire fall and winter without any major illnesses. Now that the girls are both in school, we appear to be making up for lost time.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"and there was much rejoicing"

After about three months with a cribbed player character sheet, I finally have my hands back on the most useless player character ever to grace the world of Dungeons & Dragons.

Parker Gaiman, a character I rolled up this spring with an origin heavily based on the Lee-Kirby origin for Spider-Man, is a rogue/fighter/master spy I play for a biweekly gaming session in Branchburg. One of the other players, growing tired of my complaints how useless Parker was, suggested that I just needed to play him better, then looked over the sheet and decided, "No, you're actually playing him pretty well. He's an excellent roleplaying character, but he's not really designed for the adventure we're having."

The adventure we're having has involved a lot of encountering monsters from the D&D "Vile Book of Darkness" or some other nightmarish tome, and has resulted in Parker's narrowly escaping death about five times so far. Actually, he would have died, except we have a fairly high-level cleric in the party who has saved his skin each time.

A few months ago, I lost his sheet. Rather than roll up a new character, though, we used what the DM had stored on his laptop to recreate him, and I've been playing a shadow of the actual character, while fruitlessly looking for the original sheet.

Well, my dice, my D&D player's handbook, and my character sheet finally showed up Saturday afternoon, in the unlikeliest of places. My wife found them down in the basement, squirreled away in the box of children's clothes that the DM and his wife gave me, what, at the start of the summer, right after they moved to Branchburg?

I'm guessing I had found it was easier to carry everything with the D&D stuff packed inside the top of the box. Unfortunately, it was also easy to forget that they were there, and not easy to find things in the study when they're actually in the basement.

So now I'm back to the original sheet for Parker, but I'm still thinking his chances of surviving the campaign aren't that hot. Unfortunately, the DM just won't let us die. My best hope is to use an Uncle Ben moment to sic Parker against a band of marauding chain demons, and hope they take him out.