The State of My Health

  • My new retinoschisis medication makes it harder for me to stay hydrated, and it seems to have worsened my tinnitus. Otherwise I’ve been doing OK with it. My eyes at least feel stronger. That is, I’ve had fewer bleary-eyed days since the medication switch. At my eye doctor’s appointment this week, photographs of my retinas revealed no improvement, but also no worsening. I’ll take that as a win.
  • I went in for routine bloodwork recently. The lab took five (!) vials of blood. The test results were mostly good, but my vitamin D levels are lower than recommended, and there was another minor anomaly that I should probably talk to my doctor about that. However, first I have to go get more blood drawn, because the lab apparently screwed up and didn’t run one of the panels. And of course it will require 12 hour fasting. Ugh.
  • I got another bill from the hospital this week. It said that I’d better pay up or the hospital will send the bill to collections. Geez, would they just get on with it already! I told them I wasn’t going to pay. They’re just wasting paper every time they send me a bill. Meanwhile, sort of ironically, the effects of the cortisone shot have now worn off. I’m back to limping. And to think it’s because I sprained my knee playing basketball in gym class back when I was in middle school. Funny how such a small thing can stay with you all your life and turn into a big problem over time.
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  • Yesterday was my music lesson, so I had to drive myself there. While I was on my way home, a rock flew into my windshield. I saw it coming and was powerless to stop it. It hit with such a loud crack, I said, “Son of a #@$%#!” I hadn’t been driving fast or through debris or behind a truck, so I can’t even imagine where the rock came from or how it could hit so hard. It chipped and cracked the glass. I’m not happy that my nice new car now has this scar, but I think my insurance includes full glass coverage, and I’m hoping I can get it fixed without a big fuss.
  • Middle-school report cards came out a couple of days ago. My husband and I were surprised to see that Livia had gotten a 2+ in one of her classes. I mentioned the grade to her, and she was also surprised. The next time she was in school, she asked her teacher, “How can I do better than a 2+ next time?” And her teacher said, “2+? That’s not right. I gave you a 4+!” So her teacher fixed the grade, and everyone is happy now. Well, except that the mistake had come from Livia’s grade being accidentally swapped with another student’s, so somewhere out there is a poor kid who went from a 4+ to a 2+ 🙁
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Dreaming of Summer

The last few weeks have been brutal. I can’t seem to get enough sleep. I’ve had no energy for anything but TV, and I’ve been falling asleep while watching it.

As if I didn’t already have enough trouble waking in the mornings, my alarm clock broke a couple of weeks back. Instead of the radio turning on at the appointed time, the clock made a pathetic “zzzt” sound and then returned to silence. Poor thing was all worn out, just like me.

So I stopped setting the alarm on that clock and started using my phone’s alarm to wake me. Then, one night the clock’s alarm mysteriously turned on, and it would not allow itself to be turned off. If this was a sign from the Universe that I needed to WAKE UP, all I can say to that is I KNOW.

The kids complain about having to get up so early, too. They cite scientific studies showing that teens naturally stay up late and need more sleep. They rail about how stupid the school schedule is. All I can say to that is I KNOW. And all I can do is hope that they manage to get through their remaining school years better than I got through mine.

We could all use a break from the early hours, that’s for sure, and one will be coming up fairly soon. The kids are about 2/3 of the way through the school year now. We’ve only got to get through three more months of this early-morning torture. Then will come the leisurely days of summer. A respite. I am so looking forward to that.

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Reading Report: Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is the story of Billie Jo, a girl growing up on a farm in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years of the mid-1930s. When a terrible household accident kills her mother and scars her hands, her life as she knows it is over. Her family’s farm is failing from dust storms and drought, and her wounded hands keep her from playing the piano and escaping into music. But nothing lasts forever, not even the bad times, and Billie Jo can heal, body and spirit, if she lets herself.

I read Out of the Dust because it’s on the list of Top 100 Children’s Books. This book gets a lot of attention because it’s a novel in verse, but the verse element is not a selling feature for me. Though I’ve developed a better appreciation for modern poetry over the last few years, a lot of free verse still seems like nothing more than abbreviated prose broken up into short lines. In the end, I was too caught up in the story to pay much attention to the poetry. Whatever else it may or may not do for the story, it certainly makes the narrative compact and powerful. I give the book an A grade and my recommendation.

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Family Talk

I got an automated call the other day. It was supposedly from the hospital with which I have a pay dispute. The robotic voice asked me to call the hospital back at their “business office,” but the phone number it gave me is not listed anywhere on the hospital’s website. So I guess the bill has already gone to collections. That was quick! It’s another way in which hospital billing practices stink.

My father had a pay dispute with someone recently, too, and he said that he told the guy to “go pound sand.” That cracked me up, because it’s the same phrase I use when talking about that ridiculous hospital bill. The things we pick up from our parents! In this case, it’s not just the idiom that I inherited, but also the stubborn refusal to be taken advantage of. These are good things to pass along from generation to generation.

When I mentioned to my dad that I’d told the hospital to go pound sand, he suggested that I also tell them to “go shit in their hat.” That’s a colorful phrase, isn’t it? But that one’s not likely to be passed down through the generations. Were I to use it at home, my son would cry, “Language!” and my husband would announce, “Mommy has a potty mouth!” And yeah, maybe I do have a potty mouth, but if so, then we know who I got it from!

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Tired of the Silence

Today I was thinking about the idea that I’d had for a novel, and I decided that I would sit down and try to write for a moment, just to see what would happen. I opened up Scrivener, my go-to writing program. The program opened on the last file that I’d worked on, which happened to be the start of a story. At the time that I wrote it, I thought it was garbage. Reading it anew, my inner editor itched to tweak a few things, but otherwise I thought it was fine, maybe even good? I can’t judge the quality. All I can really say is that, as a reader, I wanted to know what would happen next in the story, and that’s a good sign.

That story-start was in a section of Scrivener that I’d set up for journaling, in a folder labeled “2022.” My last journal entry was from August of that year. I wrote about drought, black American flags, How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F. Walter (a book that I was reading at the time but apparently never finished), arthritis pain and other symptoms of aging, and procrastination. Cheerful. Well, at least I didn’t mention Covid. But, 2022 obviously broke my writing mojo, and I’m sure that the Pandemic had a lot to do with that.

Do I feel like I’ve gotten my writing mojo back now? I’m not sure. I’m just tired of the silence. So I created a 2024 folder in Scrivener. I don’t know if I’ll use it, but at least it will be there, beckoning.

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Thoughts on Romances

Another post from 2022 that I never published–

I read a bunch of romance novels earlier this year. I haven’t gotten around to writing one yet myself, but I had some thoughts about how I’d approach the work, based on what I did and didn’t like about the romances I’ve read so far. I wrote my thoughts down, and now I’m going to share them.

  1. A romance needs some sizzle, clash, and struggle. There are few things more boring and frustrating than a romance in which the characters like each other from the get-go and are kept apart only by their own stubbornness. I want to root for the romance, not waste time waiting for the leads to see the light.
  2. Swearing is risky and ought to be kept to a minimum. Not only can it be offensive, but if a swear is intended to denote emphasis, then swearing repeatedly erodes its power.
  3. Leave out the sex scenes. I can’t remember ever being really impressed with a sex scene, but I can remember being turned off by some of them.
  4. Short novels need to be focused. Real life is big, random and full of trivialities. People, places, things, and events aren’t always interconnected and most of them don’t mean anything. A book is different. It’s a tiny, enclosed world. Everything in it needs to work together. Keep random elements to a minimum and limit the cast of characters. Use the available space to develop the big picture, providing details that help the readers “see” the story. Everything you write into the story is a resource that you can draw on later. Leave nothing underutilized.
  5. Cell phones are romance spoilers. Texting, dating apps, and social media are a big part of modern life, and that’s important to acknowledge. Romance can be fostered over a phone or social media, but that’s not where it lives. People do a lot of socializing on their phones, but deep down they know (or ought to know) that in-person is better. Keep texting to a minimum unless it’s an integral part of the story.
  6. It’s convenient when the point of view switches back and forth between two people within a scene, because you get to know right away what both characters think about what’s happening, but it can be jarring and/or distracting. It’s best, even in a romance novel, to stick to one point of view per scene and/or chapter.
  7. Diversity among characters is good, even when it’s obviously deliberate. Better to be heavy-handed than noninclusive. The world is not the way it ought to be, and we need to “fake it until we make it.”
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SITY: Mysterious Behavior of Ants

A post from July of 2022 that I never published–

There are two things that I see ants do almost every year. One is farming. I’ve shown pictures of this in the past, but not yet this summer. Actually, I was just musing today on the fact that I hadn’t seen a single ant farm since the weather turned warm. The Gods of the Great Outdoors must have heard me and granted my wish, because I found a tiny ant farm on a clover flower that I picked for a bouquet for Livia.

Aphids on Clover
Farmer Ant

I hadn’t meant to ruin their farm, but having already picked the flower, the damage was done. I put the flower back in the grass. I hope the bugs all find a new home.

The other thing I see ants doing every year is moving their colonies. At least I think they’re moving. I see them scurrying around like mad, carrying what appear to be eggs, and I can’t imagine what else they could be doing but moving.

Three Ants
The lowest of the three is carrying something (egg? larva?).

I wonder every time, “Did something attack their nest?” According to my research, that’s a possibility, but apparently ants sometimes just up and move themselves for no obvious (to entomologists, anyway) reason.

P.S. One of the most disturbing things I have discovered while researching the native flora and fauna is how many of the search engine hits relate to destroying the very things that I’m researching. I want to know more about the ants, not kill them. Geez. Sometimes it seems as if humans have decided that they hate Nature and would rather replace everything in it with lifeless replicas.

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I took an online quiz that measures sensitivity. I figured I’d score pretty high on it, given how anxious I get from loud noises and too much activity going on around me, and I did. I got 6.3 on a scale of 7, which makes me an “orchid” (ha-ha–I’m always telling my husband that I’m a delicate flower, and here’s proof). Being an orchid may sound nice, and there may be some benefits to being one, but honestly I’d rather be a “dandelion,” able to thrive in any conditions.

This morning I decided to play hooky from work. I wasn’t feeling up to a day of hard mental labor. That’s a rarity for me. Usually I like work, because it keeps my mind occupied. Not today. I’m tired, and I don’t feel like doing anything complicated. Maybe the time change got the better of me. It usually does.

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Reading Report: Things You Learn in Your 50s

Piano Lessons: Music, Love & True Adventures by Noah Adams, A

Switching gears from that long fantasy novel, I moved on to this relatively short (248-page) memoir by Noah Adams, former host of NPR’s All Things Considered. In this book Adams chronicles a year of trying to learn to play piano as a 51-year-old adult. I stumbled across it while I was in the music section of the library, and since I was also 51 years old and attempting to learn something new, I thought it might make an interesting read.

As someone who already plays piano, I felt that Adams made several questionable calls, such as buying a brand-new Steinway upright that he couldn’t be sure he’d ever really use, as well as trying to learn to play the piano from a computer program rather than a teacher, not to mention insisting on learning Schumann’s Traumerai right away. (I had reason to revisit Traumerai myself recently, and though I wouldn’t say it’s a hard piece, I also wouldn’t classify it as beginner material. A teacher in the book calls it a third-year piece, which sounds about right.)

His mule-headedness is sometimes a bit hard to take. But, he’s a smart guy and a good narrator, and he sprinkles the book with interesting piano trivia. As a whole, I think the memoir works, and that’s why I gave it a good grade.

One thing that particularly struck a chord with me (ha-ha) was this part:

Many years ago an accomplished pianist and veteran teacher decided you could tell which youngsters were going to be able to play by just looking at them. Helen Hopekirk wrote: “You will find that all musicians have noses that are broad at the base. Always look at a new pupil’s nose, and never expect anything of a pupil who has a thin, pinched nose. If a pupil has a nose that is broad at the base, you can feel quite happy.” In recounting this story in The Great Pianists, Harold Schonberg adds; “Hopekirk had a nose that was very broad at the base.”

And I’ve been told to look for an extra-long little finger. That pianists will often have a little finger that extends well past the knuckle of the finger next to it. This is interesting but probably not important: Josef Hoffmann, one of the great pianists, had rather small hands. Steinway even made special instruments for Hoffmann, with the keys scaled down just a bit.

The bit about noses is, of course, total nonsense, but funny as an anecdote. The bit about pinkies has a lot of truth to it. The right-hand pinky takes point on the melody, and the left-hand pinky takes point on the bass line, so the pinkies are crucial. Having long ones is certainly an advantage.

The video below is of a lovely piece by Schubert in which the melody is almost exclusively played by the right pinkie while other fingers of the right hand play all the harmonic filler. At times the camera focuses in on Horowitz’s hands, and there are several good shots of his left pinkie. Assuming his right pinkie matched (and why wouldn’t it?), he was blessed with long pinkies, making this piece a total cakewalk for him. (But of course, that’s only half the story. His musicality is simply stunning and has nothing to do with his physicality. In this video he’s hardly moving, seemingly half-asleep, and yet somehow all this music is coming from the piano. Amazing!)

I myself have ridiculous little pinkies. They’re not even average length, let alone extra-long. As a consequence, I struggle in ways that Horowitz could never have understood. But, I can play that Schubert piece, too. I just have to use the pedal to hold some of the melody notes, in order to keep my hands in comfortable positions, whereas Horowitz wouldn’t have needed to do that.

So I wouldn’t say that you need long pinkies to play well, but they are unfortunately needed for playing certain pieces comfortably. I wish I’d given more thought to such things when I was younger. I might have spared myself some difficulties. But, it’s those difficulties that are pushing me now to learn how to compose pieces that suit my particular skills. Sometimes we don’t realize until we’re in our 50s what it is we really ought to be working on.

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