21 December 2010

Welcome Winter!

We're celebrating the winter solstice today. If you don't observe one of the many religious holidays that occur this time of year, it can be a little hard to come up with a "How to Celebrate" template. Fortunately for us, a lot of the holiday symbols aren't inherently religious. Evergreens? Check. Holly? Check. Mistletoe? Check. Wreaths? Check. Sparkly lights? Check. Frost? Snow? Icicles? No problem. Presents? Anytime. Over the years we've incorporated these things with other bits from here and there into a holiday observation of which we have become rather fond. 

One of the things we do, and I don't remember whose crazy idea this was, is to experience the shortest day of the year by not using artificial light. We get up when it's light which, here in the Pacific Northwest, means we get to sleep in. We use whatever light is available during the day, and plan to be done with whatever we're doing by the time it gets dark. Since, here in the Pacific Northwest, this comes pretty darn early, the person responsible for the holiday dinner has to do some pretty intricate planning. If nothing else, by midmorning you realize that it's pretty much a reflex to turn on the light when you go in the bathroom.

As it gets dark, we listen to music because there's not much else you can do without turning on the lights. When it's dark, we light the candles, light the fire, put the tin sun ornament on the tree, open the wine, exchange presents, eat dinner, and all that.

It may not be exactly what everybody else celebrates this time of year, or exactly the way anybody else celebrates it, but we're OK with that. For us, it's all about love and family and eating too much and presents the recipient will need to return and the days starting to get longer. Not necessarily in that order.

It's getting dark. I wonder how Scarecrow is doing with dinner?

...rise up, Jock, and sing your song,
For the summer is short and the winter long,
Let's all join hands and form a chain
'Til the leaves of springtime bloom again.

19 December 2010


The other day, before I put up the post about Tuffy's birthday, Scarecrow observed that there wasn't much new material on my blog this month. Since that was true, I sat down (virtually speaking) and wrote something.

Reading it over (yes, I do that, even though it probably doesn't seem like it), I found this:

"This is all sounding rather whiny and petulant, and I don't mean it that way. Whatever point I might have been trying to make, it appears I totally missed it. In fact I should probably scratch this post and start over, but I can't think of anything else I really want to write about and at least one of my four readers is obviously restless so I'm going to post it even if I sound like a whiny jerk...."

Wait wait wait. Wait. Hold on just a minute. I'm thinking I shouldn't post what I've just written, but I'm about to do it anyway? How stupid is that? Am I really afraid "my readers" will be disappointed? Oh please. I really need to get over myself. Besides, writing for readers other than myself starts to feel an awful lot like work. Been there, done that.

So it's been kind of a thin month, content-wise, on this blog. You can thank me later.

Instead of scribbling, I've been kind of preoccupied with holiday shopping.

This time of year isn't really about Stuff. I know that. It's shallow of me to admit how much grief my gift list causes me, when it's the thought that counts, it's about love and family and being together and pretty soon the days will start getting longer. But there it is.

I have never been one of those people who can always think of the perfect gift, the one that the recipient didn't even realize they wanted until they got it, after which they can't imagine ever having lived without it. That kind of gift always involves an element of risk. I'd rather forgo the possibility of giving the recipient a pleasurable surprise if it means reducing the likelihood of witnessing speechless dismay. Give me a wish list every time.

Tuffy's good that way. She's got a wish list online, with links to everything from boxing gloves to cool chopsticks to sparkly hairpins to rubber boots. She updates it regularly. Lots of choices, but there was her birthday, in addition to the whole solstice winter holiday thing.

Scarecrow is more of a challenge. Throughout the year he mentions stuff he would have on his wish list, but come December I'll be darned if I can remember what he might have been lusting after in March or July or October.

I'm still working on it. No rush.

15 December 2010

Birthday Girl

Today is Tuffy's 21st birthday.

I guess there has to be some arbitrary age at which people are considered adult, and twenty-one is as good as any. It's not like she's really much different today than she was yesterday. In some respects she's been amazingly adult since she was five years old. In other ways I wonder if she'll ever grow up. But, officially, today's the day.

I don't know what I expected. It seems like a surprisingly unremarkable day. From my perspective, at least, something of an anti-climax.

Maybe I'm a little slow, but it wasn't until I first went into labor, 21 years ago, that I was struck by the terrifying realization that I was about to do something I could never undo. From that point on, I would always be a parent. That's when it became real. At that point, I couldn't possibly imagine her turning 21. Or 18. Or starting school. Heck, I couldn't imagine her ever being big enough to fit into six month size baby clothes. But if time flies when you're having fun, I must've been having a blast.

She's grown up to be a remarkable person -- beautiful, smart, talented, funny... I guess parents always say that about their kids. But she really is. She's athletic, like her dad. Like me, she believes that anything worth doing, is worth doing fanatically. She doesn't much like dogs, so I guess in some ways she's her own little creature.

Seems like we ought to mark the occasion somehow, although I'm not sure we'll even see her today. She was still in bed when we left for work, and she'll be at the gym by the time we get home. Her friends want to take her out to party, even though she doesn't drink.

I've been trying to think back to what I did when I turned 21, but I really don't remember. I know that by that time I had already made a couple of serious life mistakes, ones that Tuffy has thus far managed to avoid. Maybe that's because we were really good parents... but I doubt it.

Happy birthday, kiddo. Happy birthday.

06 December 2010


Long ago and far away, an eager young tech writer asked a senior software developer what protocol a server used to send configuration settings to a client device.

"PFM," the developer replied.

The tech writer looked blank.

"Pure F#@kin' Magic," he explained.


But now, many years later, I've come to believe he was probably right. Technological advances notwithstanding, I think a lot of things still rely on that protocol.

As we were leaving the UW Medical Center the other week, a woman was watching as I drove my power chair into the elevator and turned around.

"How are you doing that?," she asked.

"PFM," I wanted to reply. But I didn't. I explained about the head array control.

It might not be magic, exactly. I leave gouges in the walls and  dents in the furniture. I go backwards when I  meant to go forward, and vice versa. I whine and complain about how it makes my awkward, clunky power chair even more awkward and clunky. In spite of all that, I'm using it. I'm glad to have it. I'm keeping up with the Red Queen. That's pretty magical.

My latest adventure in assistive technology, and the reason I've been away from this blog for a couple of days, has been a search for a way to control a computer mouse without using my hands. I can get by without a keyboard. For entering text, Dragon NaturallySpeaking does fine. For moving around the desktop, it's beyond awkward. I'm not the first person to run into this problem. There are solutions. It's time to start checking them out.

The most likely-sounding options use head tracking. A webcam tracks the position of your head, and moves the cursor accordingly. They can be pricey, but there's an open-source option. I've spent the last couple of days playing around with it.

Like the head array, you wouldn't use it if you could use a regular mouse or trackball. It's a major drain on system resources. And something keeps crashing Firefox and Thunderbird. But it kinda works. No hands! How cool is that?


28 November 2010

Just Another Day in Paradise

This photo was taken around 1930 in my grandfather's grocery store in Toledo, Ohio. Standing by the counter to the left of the picture, in the long apron, is my uncle Willie. Behind him, looking proprietary, is my grandfather. To his right is one of the neighborhood kids, and then two men who sold produce to the store. The guy in the back corner is my uncle Leon. The young man at right, wearing knickers, is my dad, the baby of the family. He turned 90 yesterday.

A WWII veteran, he went to the University of Toledo on the G.I. Bill and moved to Southern California for grad school at Cal Tech. A few years later, he and my mom bought a house near the ocean. In those days, mere middle-class mortals could afford such things. My brother and I grew up in that house. My mom and dad still live there.

He got up early yesterday and went for a walk, as he does most mornings. He went to the beach and back, a walk of maybe a mile, including a significantly steep hill. He says he has to stop and rest several times on the way up, but still. Mom says when he goes all the way down to the beach he sits in a chair for the rest of the day, but still.

He has his share of health problems. In May 2008 he was in intensive care with three holes in his gut. Nobody expected him to live through the night. He worked his way back, a little at a time. He still can't do everything he used to do, but he can do a lot more than anybody ever expected. The man is a force of nature.

Whenever I ask him how things are going, he always says, "Just another day in paradise!" He says every morning when he wakes up he thinks, "Another day! And I'm here to see it!" When I was living at home I sure don't remember my dad being such a relentlessly cheerful guy. For whatever reason, he seems to have come to really appreciate what he's got, and not waste much time thinking about what he's lost. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from the old guy yet.

Happy birthday, Pop.

25 November 2010

Giving Thanks

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”
-The Buddha (Prince Gautama Siddharta, 563-483 BC)
To blogger buddies in the United States, happy Thanksgiving. To blogger buddies elsewhere, happy Thursday.

23 November 2010

Dog Years

In response to the folks who read my last post and tried to convert my age in dog years to people years, there really isn't a simple linear equivalence. Dogs are sexually mature at six months to a year, which might correspond to human of about 13. They're physically mature at two or three years, comparable to a human in their late teens or early 20s. They're mentally mature at, well, don't hold your breath. For either species. A dog might start to show its age at 7 to 9 years, like a human who can start taking advantage of the senior discount at the movies.

But it's not that simple. While small dogs tend to mature faster and live longer than large dogs, the relationship between size or weight and longevity isn't linear, either. Some breeds typically live longer than others of similar size. It all depends. If you're really interested, and not just trying to guess how old I am, here is a pretty good summary.

My conversion algorithm is proprietary, based on an imaginary giant breed with a mature weight in the neighborhood of 150 pounds. Among other inherited tendencies, the breed is prone to skeletal problems due to its bizarre tendency to walk on its hind legs. Which is to say, I just made it up. Truly, I don't feel a day over 435.

Aside from the birthday thing I wouldn't usually give my age that much thought, had I not picked up a webcam to use to try out a hands-free mouse. Those things are brutal! (The webcam, I mean, not the hands-free mouse. The mouse is kind of remarkable, about which more another time.) Seriously, I have never been under the impression that I look like Charlize Theron and I'm totally OK with that, but one of the advantages of rarely confronting oneself in the mirror was being able to imagine that I was aging gracefully, you know, along the lines of a Jessica Tandy or Jane Goodall. According to my new webcam, this is not the case.

But for 443, I look pretty darn good.

21 November 2010

Two Dog Night

It's starting to get cold here at night. Cold for Seattle, that is. It's not the same as Michigan-cold, of course, but cold enough for narrow dogs that don't carry much adipose tissue or fur for insulation. Although we provide them with dog beds, they prefer to sleep in a pile with the rest of their pack. On our bed.

Or more accurately, in our bed. They bring their wet fur and gritty little feet and cold pointy noses in from outside and hover expectantly until Scarecrow lifts the covers, letting in a rush of cold air, and they burrow to the foot of the bed, jostling for the best spot, between the humans. It can be very bracing.

If Scarecrow doesn't lift the covers, either because he's asleep or because he doesn't want the bed to be infested with cold wet whippets, one of them will insert a pointy little nose under the edge of the blankets and, in an attempt to get under the covers without assistance, will bulldoze them into a pile at the bottom of the bed with its head and possibly its shoulders under the pile. Alternatively, one of them will tromp around on top of the bed until the covers are in a small heap, and will then lay down on the heap.

Best to let them in. They warm up before too long.

After a while, the mattress starts to vibrate. They're panting. It's only a matter of time before one of them stands up and jumps off the bed, taking the covers with them.

I've read speculation that one of the benefits that canine domestication offered to both species was that sleeping together would conserve heat.

I'm not buying it.

On an unrelated note, I had another birthday yesterday. It kind of snuck up on me. You lose track, once you get to my age. That would be... let me think... 443. In dog years. But I really don't feel a day over 435.

17 November 2010

All in My Head, Part Two

After another week using the head array control to steer my power chair, I think it's working pretty well, considering.

It's not as convenient or as easy to use as a joystick, if you can use a joystick. I can tell you from personal experience, though, that it's a whole lot better than trying to use a joystick if you can't use a joystick.

For the most part I've still been keeping to a speed that can be best described as 'glacial', although I prefer to think of it as 'stately.' Or perhaps 'dignified.' Getting down hallways and through doors at home and at the warehouse where I spend my days is enough of a navigational challenge for the time being.

Turns out one of the hardest things to do is go in a straight line. My chair (Permobile C300) doesn't track worth a darn anyway. With the lateral switches on the head array being either on or off, it's hard to straighten out just a little bit. Being front wheel drive, the chair has a tendency to fishtail when going downhill. I don't remember noticing it that much with a joystick, but it's really hard to control with the head array.

We've been dinking with the position of the headrest and the lateral switches. Really small adjustments can make a huge difference in how easy this thing is to use. If the side pads are in close, it's easier to turn the chair but harder to go straight. The best position for the head rest really depends on how you're sitting in the chair, which changes during the course of the day.

To respond to the comments on my last post (which I do appreciate very much even if I hardly ever respond to them directly because I'm a lazy slime weasel), using this thing does require a fair amount of head control, but not that much range of motion.

I don't need Scarecrow's help to change the speed profile. Although I can't press the buttons on the display, I've got a separate switch I can use as a kind of mode selector. That gets me to the settings menus, where I can select a different speed profile, or change the tilt, recline, etc. Navigating the settings menus and selecting options entails a series of taps on the side and back pads of the array, which is kind of awkward but not complicated. Sure beats having to ask somebody to do it for me.

Yes, I'm still learning (the hard way) that leaning my head against the head rest when the chair is on can send it crashing into walls or furniture. The dogs? Well, they're whippets. If they can't stay out of the way of a chair set to 'glacial', there's no hope for them.

I haven't taken it out in the real world much, yet. Excursions to the UW Medical Center and the optometrist went OK. I'm feeling like I'm safe enough to give it a try, but the weather has been crummy. This being Seattle, it should stop raining sometime next July.

OK, so. Mobility problems under control, for the moment. Thanks to TinMan, Cupholder v.3 is working great. My next quest is to find a hands-free way to control the cursor on my computer.

It'll be fun!

08 November 2010

It's All in My Head

I've been using the head array control to drive my wheelchair for a couple of weeks now, and I know you're just dying to hear how it's working.


OK. Most people will never need to know this. Even people with MS will probably never need to know this. I sure as heck didn't figure that I ever would. But in the unlikely event that you should go looking for information about using a head array -- what the equipment looks like, and how you use it to steer a power chair -- I can tell you from experience that there isn't much of anything out there. Besides, Herrad at Access Denied was curious about how it works and how it looks. So, here:

This is the head array control installed on my power chair. There is a switch installed in each of the three sections of the headrest. Touching the headrest lightly activates the switch in that section. All the rest is software.

The way my chair is currently set up, touching the center section of the headrest makes the chair go forward. Touching a side section makes the chair pivot that direction. Touching the center and a side section simultaneously makes the chair veer to that side. 

Unlike a joystick, where the distance and direction you move the stick controls where you go and how fast, each of these switches is either on or off. To change speed, reverse direction, or control other chair functions (tilt, recline, etc.), you select options from menus on a control unit.

If you could see this better, you could see that it displays battery status and whether the chair is moving or on standby (duh). It also shows which speed profile is selected, and whether the chair is going forward or backward. Each of the five speed profiles is preset to accelerate, travel, turn, and decelerate at a selected speed. To change speed, you go back to the menu and choose a different profile. The profiles are configurable, but the wheelchair tech is probably the only one who has the software to do it.

This is just one example of a head array control set up. There are head arrays with more switches, fewer switches, or different kinds of switches. Newer control units are a lot cooler, but my three-year-old chair is too old to be compatible with them. The software is pretty much totally customizable.

So what's it like to use?

It takes some getting used to. You'd expect that it takes practice to direct the chair where you want to go, and that's true. It does. And you might expect that your neck gets sore, because you're using it in unaccustomed ways. That's true too. You might even expect that you need to make sure the power is off before you rest your head on the head rest. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to do this. And it's surprising how often you need to look at the display to see if you're going to go forward or backward. And it's surprising how often I forget to do this, too. It's not nearly as convenient or intuitive as a joystick. It seems like I'm always having to stop and dink around with a menu to change a setting.

Still, I have better control with the head array now than I have had for a long time using a joystick. Although it took forever and cost a lot, I've caught up with the Red Queen again. For a while.

05 November 2010

Remember remember

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot...
Maybe it's just me, but being burned in effigy every year since 1605 seems a little excessive after the man was tortured, and then sentenced to being hanged, drawn, and quartered. Even if plotting to blow up Parliament was a really bad idea.

I don't suppose it's any creepier than Halloween. Any excuse for a holiday, I guess.

Happy Guy Fawkes day?

31 October 2010

All Hallows Eve

Halloween. All Hallows Eve. Samhain.

We never get any trick-or-treaters. In the five years we've been in this house, not a one. I don't understand it.

We always got a few brave souls at our old house; kids who knew there was a house at the end of that long, dark, scary driveway, even if you couldn't see it from the street.

When we moved here, I figured we'd attract a swarm of little ghosties in ghoulies. OK, the driveway is kind of steep, but it's not very long, and from the street you can see there are two houses once you get up here. And we're not out in the middle of nowhere. It's a normal suburban neighborhood, one that I would once have considered a reasonably target-rich environment. We don't go crazy with Halloween decorations, I admit, but we did put out a jack-o'-lantern for the first year or two. We quit when it didn't seem to make any difference.

This year, it will be different. This year, we will be visited by every trick-or-treater in western Washington state. This year, they will come.

This year, we didn't buy any candy.

On a Halloween-ish note, Scarecrow passed along a video clip of some clogging mummies. It's too good not to share:

Every time I watch it, I find myself thinking there are couple of steps I could steal. Even though that train left the station long ago, I can't seem to help it. I do the same thing when I listen to somebody play banjo. "Oooh, that's cool! I could do that!"

I can't, of course. I probably couldn't then, truth be told. I never was much of a musician. But I played when I could. I danced when I could. That's going to have to be good enough.

That's good enough.

26 October 2010

15 in 15

On Facebook (this is my penance for being one of those creepy moms who lurks on Facebook, spying on my kid) Tuffy tacked me on to a list of friends she challenged to come up with a list of books I've read that stuck with me; 15 books in 15 minutes. I usually hate these chain letter type quizzes, but this sounds like fun.

The rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends (or, if you're lazy like me, whichever number seems appropriate), including me, because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. Do yours before you read anyone else's....

OK, here we go...

The Once and Future King, T. H. White
Sociobiology, E.O. Wilson
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie
The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould
Horton Hatches the Egg, Dr. Seuss
Emma, Jane Austen
Small Gods, Terry Pratchett
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
The First Circle, Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Big Red, Jim Kjelgaard
Introduction to Population Genetics Theory, C.C. Li
The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Moby Dick, Herman Melville

I probably spent more than 15 minutes, but not a lot more. I'm kind of surprised at some of the things that bubbled up from my subconscious to wind up on the list. Some are books I haven't thought about in... decades. Big Red? Where did that come from? They're not all books I loved. For example, I had a love/hate relationship with Intro to Population Genetics Theory. And I definitely did not love Moby Dick. It was assigned in one of the few English classes I ever had to take. This was back at the dawn of time, you realize, but it really stuck with me. It really stuck with me. The book and the class about did me in. Tuffy, English major that she is, loved it.

I found it got easier to come up with books as I went along. By the time I got to the end, I was having to choose between books with equally valid claim to a place on the list. For some authors, it was hard to pick one book that stuck with me more than others. Sherman Alexie? Terry Pratchett? Stephen Jay Gould? Toni Morrison? If they wrote it, and I read it, it stuck with me.

Well, that was fun. Comparing my list to Tuffy's, I look like a troglodyte. I haven't even read most of the stuff on her list, and wouldn't be inclined to try. It looks like work.

Maybe that's why I wasn't an English major.

22 October 2010

Murder in Kenmore

I live in Kenmore, a suburb of Seattle at the north end of Lake Washington. About 6:30 the other evening I was sitting in the car while Scarecrow went in to Safeway to pick up a prescription. I was just sitting, not thinking about anything much, when after a while I noticed that crows had been flying overhead for kind of a long time. As I watched, they continued to fly overhead. Sometimes I could see 10 crows, sometimes maybe 50, sometimes only one or two, but for as long as I sat there I could see crows flying northward over the parking lot to their evening roost. I'd say I was there for about 15 minutes. When we left to drive home, they were still flying overhead.

That's a lot of crows. A murder of crows.

Their winter roost is a mile or so from our house. Every evening this time of year American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) congregate in this area in large numbers. Really large numbers. Tens of thousands. John Marzluff, a guy at UW who studies them, says the local crow population began to expand during '70s and since then has "increased 30-fold."

"It wasn't really a comeback," he says, "it was an invasion."

Crows are not your rare, exotic, or retiring bird. Even I can watch them. You don't have to creep up on them, stealthily, in inaccessible places, using a long-range spotting scope, at the crack of dawn, hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse. If you want to watch crows, toss a couple of Cheetos out there and you'll have more of them than you can keep track of. (Marzluff used Cheetos as bait when he was netting birds for his study. He says they're like crack to crows.)

Nothing bashful about crows. They are raucous and noisy and disputatious. They're smart and social and amazingly adaptable. They can figure out a way to live pretty much anywhere.

I really like them.

I admit, though, that watching them, I can't tell one from another. They have the advantage of me in that regard.

Is That a Caveman or Dick Cheney? Crows Know the Difference

20 October 2010

The "D" in DME

So, about the head array control on my power chair. Because I know you were dying to hear.

The initial speed and acceleration settings were way too energetic for negotiating tight spaces. Or even for negotiating pretty roomy but not entirely wide-open spaces. This is a switch control, remember. It's either on or it's off. Go or don't. I've spent the last couple of days trying really hard not to ram into things. With only moderate success.

The chair I used when I was trying to decide if I wanted to install the head array was much easier to control, so I knew it was possible. On Monday I called Mike the Wheelchair Guy about adjusting the settings. This morning he came and did it. I now have a Granny Gear for getting in and out of the van, or creeping down the hall and turning through the door to the bathroom. Without damage to walls or woodwork. Much better.

The new control uses a micro-switch to turn on, toggle between forward/back, select the speed range, and control seat functions.  The switch emits a rather loud chirp whenever I tap it. That's obtrusive but tolerable, since hitting the switch inadvertently and turning the chair on without realizing it would be bad. If I press the switch and hold it, I can turn the chair off. This causes the switch to scream loudly for 5 seconds.

Five seconds is a lot longer than you'd think, when you're making a really irritating noise and there's no way to shut it off.

I asked Mike the Wheelchair Guy if there was a way to make this stop. He said he didn't think so, but he'd check with the manufacturer. Still, if it turns out to be the worst thing about this new setup, I'm OK with that.

In the course of crashing about over the last few days, I managed to get my new drink holder hung up on the edge of the door when I was getting out of the van. Scarecrow got me loose, but in doing so broke the cupholder. (In situations like this, Scarecrow is not likely to take a tentative approach. As my dad is fond of saying, "Don't force it. Get a bigger hammer.") This made us both very sad.

Scarecrow told TinMan what had happened, admitting that he had subjected the cupholder to serious abuse. TinMan allowed as how that might be the case, but maintained that the D in DME ought to stand for Durable.

He is at work on cupholder v.3.

15 October 2010


Having finally decided to get a head array control installed on my power chair, and given Mike the Wheelchair Guy the go-ahead to get the parts, I was starting to think it had been kind of a long time since I'd heard anything. (I'm bad like that. I take forever to decide what I want, but once I make up my mind, I want it yesterday!) I even put a note on my calendar to call and pester them. Then, on Wednesday, they called to say they had the stuff and wanted to see if Mike could take my chair off to the shop for a while on Thursday, that would be yesterday, to install everything.

You bet, I says.

So that's what happened. He picked up my chair, took it away for a couple of hours, and brought it back with a head array control. I was too tired yesterday afternoon to mess with it much, beyond noticing that I need a speed that's slower than Slow. Unlike the proportional speed control you get with a joystick, the switches in the head array are either on or off. To get moving, the chair starts off with a surge of speed that's a little faster than it's set to go. Even at the slowest speed setting, that's a little too exciting for negotiating tight spaces. Easy fix, but I'll need to get Mike to do it. They don't let me mess with the software, which is probably just as well.

Thus far, I'd say that I do not love it. Navigating menus to control various functions is something I have to think about. I still need to use a couple of micro switches, and can't figure out where to put them. The steering on this buggy is pretty darned touchy. But I can see that all these things will get better with tweaking and practice. And it sure beats having Scarecrow drag me around.

And then there's the Patient Lift. Mike brought that yesterday, too. Yeah, I know we need it. We've been all over that. If something happened to Scarecrow, I couldn't go to the bathroom until he was better. I get it. But it's huge. Huge. When we remodeled the house to make it accessible, we neglected to add a wing for storage of durable medical equipment. There's the power chair. And the charger. And the shower chair. And the passenger seat from the van that we took out so I don't have to sit in the back. When you're not using it, all this stuff has to go someplace. And now this ginormous patient lift. Which is really big. Did I mention that?

Maybe we can leave it in the middle of the living room, and string it up with twinkly lights.

11 October 2010

Inspiration-Free Zone

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

-- Samuel Johnson

I'm starting to accumulate partially-written posts that I set aside for one reason or another. Sometimes I didn't know what I wanted to say. Sometimes I knew what I wanted to say, but decided it wasn't interesting enough to write about. This being a typically self-indulgent blog, I don't give a moment's consideration to whether it would be interesting to read, but I need to find the writing at least mildly entertaining. Sometimes I'd be chugging away on something and I'd think, 'Nah. This is starting to feel like work.' And I'd stop. Hey. I can do that.

When I had a regular day job, waiting for inspiration to strike wasn't an option. If I felt inspired (not very likely, considering the subject matter), I would write. If I didn't feel inspired, I would write anyway. That's what writers do.

I don't think I ever would've said I love to write. My situation was better summarized by a quote I took from Linda Ellerbee, which she attributed to her grandmother:

"If you don't read, you can't write, and if you can't write, you must work for a living."
For me, writing always beat working for a living.

I'm not a writer anymore. I'm a retired person. I don't need to write. If I feel like writing, I do. If I'm not inspired, I don't have to. I'm accumulating partially-finished blog posts, but that's OK. I may come back and finish some of them. Others may never see the light of an LCD display, and that's OK too.

While I'm nattering on about inspiration, I should make it clear that I'm talking only about being on the receiving end, myself. If you're looking to be uplifted and inspired, keep looking. This is not the place for you. I'm not good at it. Plenty of bloggers strive to be inspirational, and do it much better than I. If you need inspiration, try one of them.

While I'm writing about what I don't write about, I could add that I don't blog about MS symptoms, either, unless I have them, or MS treatments, unless I'm taking them. There are plenty of websites that do a much better job of that than I would.

At this point, I could go back and try to figure out what I was writing about. But that would start to feel like work.

01 October 2010

Bareit's Busy Day

Jasmine is not really all that fond of squeaky toys. Nylabones are OK. Dental chewies are nice. Scarecrow's knitting bag, however, is irresistible.

This is what we found when we came home the other day:

Bareit was obviously involved in this escapade. He likes to take his toys outside. Through the dining room...

Into the kitchen...

Through the kitchen to the utility room...

Through the utility room...

Out the (narrow) dog door...

Around the corner...

And out into the yard.

Note to whippets: if you want Scarecrow to finish your new sweaters before the weather gets cold, you'll want to stop doing this, even if he forgets to put his knitting bag were you can't reach it. Assuming there is such a place.

29 September 2010

Where Did I Go Wrong?

Tuffy started her junior year at UW today. She's an English major.

Nothing wrong with being an English major. Some of my best friends were English majors. I just never expected my daughter would be one.

Looking back, I guess I should've seen it coming. She has always been a relentlessly verbal child. She had rules of grammar, even for made-up words. Instead of 'forget', for example, she used to say 'getfor.' But if it happened in the past, she would say 'gotfor.' Perhaps I should've realized it was a bad sign for a toddler to conjugate made-up verbs.

Instead, I was encouraged when she referred to a pair of objects as 'two ones.' I thought it reflected a sound understanding of basic mathematical concepts. And she always did fine in math and science -- at least as well as I ever did.

So where did I go wrong?

We always spent family vacations outdoors; camping, hiking, birdwatching. We bred and showed dogs, and more recently worked with retired racing greyhounds. How could she not grow up to be a little naturalist? A mini-me?

I held out hope last quarter when she took a comparative psychology class from David Barash. Animal behavior is fascinating, and if Barash teaches anywhere near as well as he writes, it should be a great class. How could she not be sucked in?

She liked the class. She did fine. She's still an English major.

It's not the prospect of dire job prospects that concerns me. A zoology degree doesn't buy you much, either. I spent the majority of my working life as a tech writer. She'll find something to do. That's not the problem.

It's just that whole nature-nurture thing. The idea that a child is a blank slate.

Nope. No blank slate here. Some behavior must be hard-wired. My daughter is an English major.

It could be worse, I suppose. She could be majoring in psychology. Or philosophy. Or she could be dealing drugs. Or voting Republican.

I'll deal.

28 September 2010

Last Chance

For the past week or so it seems like I've been inundated by e-mail inviting me to donate now and help end MS. Well, that would be cool, wouldn't it? Right now, they say, we are closer to ending MS than ever before! (The exclamation mark is theirs.) They couldn't say that if it weren't true, could they? The missive I got this morning says if I donate by midnight tonight I will help accelerate their efforts to end MS forever. Imagine that. I'd better hurry. Wouldn't want to miss the midnight deadline; maybe they stop accepting donations.


I don't mean to rag on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. They do a lot of good stuff, and I've taken advantage of their services on several occasions over the years. I realize that if they want to accomplish anything, they have to raise money. I know that. Services cost money. Research costs big money. They obviously don't know that MS already costs me plenty. How could they? How could they know that every nickel I spend on this stupid disease feels like money down a rat hole? And that apparently bottomless rat hole, my friends, has taken a lot of my nickels.

Although it totally hacks me off, I can almost ignore the tone of their communications. Some marketing/PR person probably spent a long time on the wording of those solicitations. They were probably reviewed and scrutinized and tested on focus groups. They can't help it if I don't belong to their target audience. I never liked writing that stuff, I was never any good at it, and I really don't like reading it. It sets off my manipulation detectors. Exclamation marks make me suspicious.

I'm waiting for the point of this post to become apparent, and starting to think it's not gonna happen. I don't know why this makes me so cranky. It just does.

The MS Society wants me to donate?

Nah. I don't think so. I spend enough on MS already.

27 September 2010

Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head

As weird MS symptoms go, I was thinking this one had to take the cake. It almost felt like... a drop of water on my face. But it's the middle of the night, and I'm lying in bed. How crazy is that? Maybe I dreamed it.

In the morning, there was a smallish puddle of water on the windowsill above my head. OK, so I didn't imagine it. And it had rained that night. But it wasn't windy, and even if it had been, the window is under a broad eave. The outside of the window -- a brand-new window, by the way -- was dry. There's no water anywhere else. Why was there water on the windowsill?

The next night it rained again, and yes, we did indeed have a leak in the roof. It was dripping right through our brand-new sheetrock ceiling, onto the head of the bed. Scarecrow set out buckets to catch the worst of the drips, and moved the bed away from the drainage. We went back to sleep as best we could, listening to water plink into buckets.

In the morning he went up in the attic to find our roof perforated by a tree branch about 18 inches long, maybe 2 inches in diameter. Yeah, that would do it.

Now we remember that some weeks earlier we had been sitting around the house one afternoon when we heard/felt a huge WHUMP!!, like maybe a large tree branch landed on the roof. This happens from time to time. We have a row of black cottonwoods along one side of our house, and they drop stuff. The trade-off for this known risk to the roof is that they provide very effective and inexpensive air-conditioning during those rare spells of hot Seattle summer weather. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

When Scarecrow checked it out he didn't see anything on the roof, but there was a really really really big branch in the front yard. Maybe it just clipped a corner, made a lot of noise but didn't do any damage? We figured we'd dodged a bullet. A limb that size could have caused some serious grief.

Turns out we did dodge a bullet -- a limb that size would've taken out our roof -- but we weren't entirely unscathed. The thing that actually made the noise was a much smaller branch that punched a hole right through the roof, into the attic, where you couldn't really see it from the outside. You wouldn't notice until it started to rain.

Scarecrow cobbled together a patch, and one of the guys who worked on our house during our remodeling project came by and patched his patch. It must've worked. This was a couple of weeks ago, and it hasn't rained since.

21 September 2010

The Last Day of Summer

The sun's not up yet when the alarm goes off in the morning, and the leaves are starting to turn. The days really get shorter fast, this time of year. I'm resigned to fall.

I can celebrate winter -- even if it's gloomy, the days are getting longer. I can celebrate spring -- the trees leaf out, and everything goes green. I can celebrate summer -- the days start early and go late, and they're occasionally even sunny. But fall -- I'm resigned to fall.

Even in Michigan, where the crisp fall days were a welcome relief from the hot muggy summer, and the sugar maples in September looked like they had batteries, I couldn't help but anticipate the cold, dark days coming up. Once the leaves were down, fall was gray, gloomy, and seemed like it went on for a really long time.

Around here, the fall foliage is not nearly as colorful. The deciduous trees let go of their leaves without much fanfare. Scarecrow and Tuffy shovel them into limp, sodden piles that nobody would be much tempted to jump into.

Today is the last day of summer. I'm looking at blue sky outside my window. Fall doesn't start until tomorrow.

18 September 2010

Use Your Words

For toddlers, using newly-acquired language skills is really hard. Preschool teachers are always reminding kids to "Use your words", instead of using a right roundhouse to express their feelings more directly. Even my relentlessly verbal daughter would sometimes resort to "point and grunt", and, when her rudimentary vocabulary proved frustratingly inadequate, was occasionally reduced to smacking a schoolmate upside the head. (Some things never change. Eighteen years later Tuffy is still relentlessly verbal, and still smacks people upside the head. At least now she does it at the gym.)

On one occasion a teacher broke up a physical altercation between two little boys, telling them to use their words. One of the combatants marched up to the other, got right in his face, and shouted, "WORDS!!!"

My dad tells a story about a long-ago conversation between his older brother and a high school counselor. My uncle did well in science and math, but saw no point in studying English. When the counselor pointed out that mastery of grammar and spelling would make my uncle better able to express himself, my uncle replied, "I ain't never had no trouble expressin' myself." I'm not sure the story is really relevant, but I've always liked it. My uncle was a real jerk.

I've always thought I had a reasonable facility with words. Now that I find myself having to use words and nothing else, I'm learning that it's a lot harder than you'd think.

For example.

One of our regular weekend tasks is clearing off the detritus that accumulates on top of the desk in the office. It's something I used to do myself, because Scarecrow doesn't much care where stuff winds up. Now that I can't shuffle or file papers myself, I need Scarecrow to open envelopes, extract contents, sort stuff into piles to be paid, or filed, or otherwise dealt with, and file the papers that we need to keep. It sounds easy enough. The physical part of manipulating paper isn't something you have to think about. Until you have to do it using your words.

To keep things simple, let's assume I can actually think of the words I want to use, which is not always the case. The routine goes something like this:

"Can I see that? No, the other one... the one on the left. On the left. Put it on my keyboard, so I can see it. The first page. The one on the top. Closer. Not that close. OK, can I see the next page? No, the backside... turn the page over. You can recycle the rest of the stuff. Where did that come from? No, not that... keep the statement, the first two pages. Put it in the pile to be paid. The second pile. Second from the left. Stack it so I can see the balance and the due date. OK, that was easy. Next?"

The only reason it goes as easily as it does is that Scarecrow has developed an uncanny ability to read my mind. If I had to do this chore with anybody else, it would be a lot harder.

Situations that take a whole lot of words to do something really easy come up all the time. You have no idea. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, but I tell you what: when all you've got is the thousand words, just being able to do the point part of "point and grunt" would save me about 10 zillion words a day. And I'm not exaggerating.

Sometimes I just want to whap somebody upside the head.

09 September 2010

Weenie Whippet

The other morning I was lying in bed, trying to pretend it wasn't morning yet. Scarecrow, having fed the dogs and started the coffee, had progressed to the bathroom phase of his morning routine.

Suddenly, from the other end of the house I heard a prolonged, agonized SCREEEEAMM!! followed by chesty, I Am a Very Big Dog!!-sounding barking.


Scarecrow obviously didn't hear it, couldn't hear me, and there wasn't a darn thing I could do about it besides imagine a rat... or a squirrel... no, an opossum... no, maybe a raccoon! coming through the dog door. I have a very active imagination, but none of the things I was imagining would be good. Scarecrow was still in the bathroom.

Presently, everything was quiet. Jasmine trotted down the hall and jumped on the bed. No sign of copious blood loss. I know Bareit was in his crate, so unless our local vermin are very determined and exceptionally talented, he was OK.


I never realized how long Scarecrow spends in the bathroom in the morning.

Anyway, when he finally came out, I told him what I had heard and suggested he might want to go down and check it out.

He found a mouse in the kitchen sink. Munched.

Apparently Jaz encountered the mouse in the course of her usual morning inspection of the kitchen counter. The mouse, being outweighed some 300 to 1, got the worst of it, but didn't go down without a fight. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the mouse I heard screaming. It was our weenie whippet.

So far, the effectiveness of various mouse eradication systems we have implemented stack up as follows:
  • kitchen trash can     4 (that I know of)
  • mousetrap              1
  • whippet                 1
If we were to award a score for drama, however, the whippet would definitely win. it's a good thing she's cute.

04 September 2010

Doc Ock

It might not be quite as cool as this, but it's pretty close.

TinMan (Scarecrow's senior sibling) was pretty sure he could design and build a better hands-free cupholder than the one I had. I needed something that would attach to my chair or a table, and hold a drink where I could get to it without needing to use my hands. To my surprise, there weren't a lot of commercially available devices that would do this. The closest thing I could find was a bright yellow plastic baby bottle holder that worked, kind of, but broke the first week I had it.

TinMan was all over this. Scarecrow sent him photos and measurements of my chair, and the two of them had lengthy discussions about various design and material options. He contacted the chair manufacturer (Permobile) for dimensions of possible attachment sites. He put his son, who was home from summer session for a one-week summer break, to work building it. (Sorry, Tin Jr. This was not my idea!)

It arrived Thursday, and I've got to say it's pretty cool. There are brackets to attach it to either side of my chair so it reaches around over my shoulder, and it's quick to install or remove. It can also attach to a plate that slides under the seat cushion. The gooseneck is flexible (duh), swings out of the way, and is attached to a telescoping rod for height adjustment. The cup holder part snaps onto the end of the gooseneck. Designed for use on a boat, it's self-leveling, so tilting my chair back doesn't dump the contents of the cup in my face. It's no uglier than the rest of my power chair, in fact, it kind of blends in. And it's sturdy. It may just be a cupholder, but this puts the durable in durable medical equipment.

Although in my past-tense day job I've been through lots of software development cycles, this is my first experience with hardware development so I don't know if you'd call this a prototype, or an alpha, or a beta, or what. Anyway, I expect software and hardware development are similar in that having the first example be perfect in every way would:
  1. be a miracle, and
  2. take all the fun out of it
So, yeah. I'm having to take back what I said about engineers being impervious to user feedback. TinMan and Scarecrow have already been modifying the attachment bracket, so installation and removal will be quicker. The gooseneck needs to be able to support more weight without sagging (hence the tasteful and stylish lightweight plastic cup in the photo, a relic of the days when Tuffy, who is now 20, could order from the kids' menu in a restaurant). The self-leveling cupholder is a brilliant idea, but it turns out, in practice, that you want more control over the position and angle of the cup than this allows. I expect this batch of fixes is only the first of many rounds of tweaks and adjustments.

But you know, for now, I can drink (from a lightweight cup) without pestering anybody for help. Scarecrow doesn't have to keep handing me my drink at meals. And the utilitarian design, far from detracting from its appeal, makes me feel like Doc Ock. How cool is that?

TinMan said he could build a better cupholder than the one I had. And he was right.

30 August 2010

Enablers Needed

The wheelchair guy has figured out what bits I need to install a head array control on my power chair, and my insurance company has graciously granted the regal okey-dokey. My coinsurance is 20%, and they'll let me pay half now, and half at installation. So we're good, right?

So, yeah. There's that 20%, and 20% of the lift, and 20% of the lung vac... But here's the thing. 20% of a big number can still be a pretty big number. Especially if there are dollar signs attached.

And what is it going to get me? For now, I would be able to drive my monster robo-chair more-or-less safely, and adjust the seat without help. I would be able to get out of the house, without leaving a trail of devastation and chaos in my wake. At least, not all the time. That would be cool. But for how long? We would be throwing a significant chunk of change at a solution for a progressive disease. Another run with the Red Queen. If I knew I would be able to use it for a year, say, it would be easier to commit. For six months? Maybe. For only a month or two of enhanced mobility, it probably wouldn't be worth it. And, of course, there's no way to know.

it's not like I can't think of other things to do with that money besides pouring it down the MS rathole. Assuming that MS always has first priority when allocating family resources just seems wrong to me.

But it would be cool to walk through the park across the street with Scarecrow and the dogs. It would be very cool.

27 August 2010

Balancing Act

Balancing my checkbook is a job I find myself saving for a time when I need to feel like I have control over something. When I can't do anything about anything else, I can balance my checkbook. I can be totally obsessive about chasing down that three cent discrepancy. I can make the numbers line up. This is something I can do.

On my retirement income this is not a task for the faint of heart, mind. Like watching a train wreck, it can really get my heart racing. When I still had my day job, I could be reasonably confident that the balance, when I got to the bottom of the page, would be positive. Now it's somewhat more exciting. The number at the bottom of the page is another thing I can't entirely control, but whatever its value, I can sure as heck make sure the bank thinks it's the same as I do.

I need to balance my checkbook.

23 August 2010

Forever Young

Why don't you ever hear anybody lamenting the fact that middle age is wasted on the middle-aged?

I just finished reading Best Love, Rosie by Nuala O'Faolain, a wonderful Irish writer with the coolest name I've ever heard. It's about a woman trying to figure out middle age. Being about there myself, it got me thinking.

I remember being startled the first time I heard a woman my age refer to herself as middle-aged. Wait... she's the same age I am. If she's middle-aged, that would mean... Really? Middle-aged? Me? How can this be?

I still feel young, which is clearly at odds with reality, and getting odder all the time. People must think of me as old. I've got gray hair, and creaky joints. I'm quadri-frackin'-plegic, for criminy sake. But I still think of myself as young. When does the inside catch up with the outside? Does it ever?

I don't think I'm particularly phobic about the prospect of getting old. I don't agonize over every line and wrinkle. In fact, I can't remember when I last looked in a mirror. I don't dye my hair. I wish I could do a lot of things that I can no longer do, but that's more an MS thing than a getting old thing.

I remember my grandmother saying, in her Yiddish accent, 'I'm getting younger and younger, every day.' I never really knew what she meant by that.

I still don't.

18 August 2010

Letting Go

This is the ad I posted on craigslist:

Vintage Raleigh Alyeska Touring Bike

Classic loaded touring bike, purchased new in 1988. It has been greatly loved, gently ridden, and well cared for. After sitting for a while it needs new tires and general maintenance, but otherwise is in excellent condition. Includes cateye cyclocomputer, two water bottle holders.

Color - Bordeaux/Rose
Frame Size - 21"
Frame - 555 chrome moly double-butted main tubes
Frame/Drop-outs - Forged vertical
Fork - High tensile, forged end, low rider braze-on
Handlebar - Kusuki WPR-B randonneur style
Stem - Kusuki "WIN" AH
Seatpost - Alloy micro-adjust
Crankset - S.R. Triple one-piece forged alloy. Detachable alloy rings 50/45/32 -- 170mm
Freewheel - 14-30 -- 6 speed -- gold
Hubs - Sansin RE-50, large flange alloy. Q.R -- sealed, 36° front, 40° rear
Gearing - 18 speed -- 29 to 96
Front Derailleur - Shimano Z206
Rear Derailleur - Shimano Z505GS
Shifter - Shimano Z408 down tube braze-on
Brakes - Dia-compe 960/161 gum hoods, alloy cantilever
Rims - Araya SP-30 27 x 1 1/4 alloy, 36° front, 40° rear
Tires - 27 x 1 1/4 skin wall
Pedals - S.R. SP 154, alloy quill type
Grips - Grab On foam

There's no point keeping it. It's not like I'm going to be able to ride it anymore, and it doesn't fit Tuffy. But still.

I bought it when I lived in Michigan. Lansing is a great place to ride a bike. In five minutes you're out of town, on country roads. No traffic to speak of. No hills. Of course, you've got to like cornfields. We had plenty of destinations. There was the ice cream store in DeWitt, the Quality Dairy in Mason, the dairy store at MSU, the place in Wacousta that made killer shakes and meatball sandwiches. No wonder I never lost any weight riding that darned bike.

Tuffy went for her first bike ride when she was four months old, riding in a car seat strapped into a Cannondale bike trailer. (She was born in the middle of December; we didn't get decent riding weather until April.) Scarecrow pulled the trailer and I rode behind, watching a little hand or foot appear above the edge of the car seat. Scarecrow was a much stronger rider than I, but that trailer was the great equalizer. Pack it with stuff for a weekend camping trip, and I could keep up, no problem.

Several people have responded to the ad. There are a lot of bicyclists in Seattle, and it's a pretty cool old bike. Somebody will take it.

But I will be sorry to see it go.

12 August 2010

Everybody's an Engineer

I know a lot of engineers. My dad's an engineer. My brother was an auto mechanic, and is now an electrician, so is an engineer in a practical sense. I worked with more software developers than I can remember. Some of my best friends are engineers. (Scarecrow is not an engineer. Might this be significant?) If there is one personality trait that engineers share, it's that they're never happier than when they've got something to build. Whether it's a machine or a software program, tell them, "I need something that will do XYZ...", and they're off.

After my post the other day about trying to find a no-hands beverage holder, I wasn't surprised to find that a lot of people were surprised that there weren't very many off-the-shelf choices available. What surprised me was the number of people who suggested something that might work.

Scarecrow's brother (I'll call him TinMan), was on the phone that very afternoon. TinMan is an engineer, for real. He designs and manufactures large machines. He has a machine shop, and a son who is an engineering student, conveniently home from college for the summer. His son is, as yet, blissfully ignorant of the project his dad has in mind for him. TinMan asked Scarecrow to send photos of my chair, so he could decide how a cupholder might best be attached. They discussed at length the best way to hold a cup. He says he can come up with something better than what I've got.

For as long as I can remember, my mom found the solutions my dad designed and built for household problems to be a seriously mixed blessing. Missile guidance systems are one thing; an indoor clothesline is something entirely else. While they generally performed the task for which they were intended, the execution was frequently not at all what my mom had in mind. Whatever the problem, my dad was always pretty sure that his solution was the best way to solve it. He was not real receptive to what we would call "user input." I thought it was just my dad, but I've since come to believe it's an engineer thing.

When TinMan says he can design and build a better hands-free beverage holder that I've got now, I believe him. He's a talented guy, with a lot of resources at his disposal. And I appreciate the heck out of the fact that he's even interested in having a go at it. And he reads this blog so I can't say anything bad about him even if I wanted to, which I don't. I'll leave him to do his engineer thing, and I won't try to tell him how it should be done. He wouldn't listen anyway. He's an engineer.

He'll come up with something that works better than the yellow plastic baby bottle holder I've got now, for sure. It is, after all, a pretty low bar. As durable medical equipment goes, it wasn't very. It already broke.

11 August 2010

Lost Post

We lost our Internet connection for a while yesterday afternoon. The idiot who lives next door to us was doing some ill-advised excavation in front of his house. He had a contractor out there moving around a bunch of dirt and some really big rocks, and cutting a drain in our shared driveway. It wasn't actually his property he was working on. Part of it is ours, part is a utility easement along the street, and part  belongs to the neighbor on the other side, who was already pretty cranky about this project. I don't know what-all he managed to break, but there were a bunch of utility trucks parked out there and flaggers directing traffic and a bunch of people trying to put everything back together. Since he didn't get a permit, the city is not too happy about this development. This is all going to cost him some serious money. I take some comfort (I think the word is schadenfreude) from the fact that the idiot next door has caused himself a great deal of grief. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But in the meantime, our Internet connection was down.

No 'net.

You don't realize how much you expect it to be there, until it's not. No 'net. No e-mail. No phone, since our home phone is VoIP. No IM, which is the way I usually let Scarecrow know I need some help, even if he's just in the next room. We don't have a TV, but no streaming movies from Netflix. I've got some real paper books, and a couple of e-books on my laptop, but no browsing the library online. The Greyhound Pets newsletter is on Google docs, so I can't work on that. I can't balance my checkbook, because I can't get to the bank's webpage. I can't update my blog. Why do I all of a sudden want to update my blog?

So I wrote a blog post, figuring I'd publish it when we got our Internet connection back. I shut my laptop down without saving it, and I forget what I wrote. I'm sure it was brilliant, just brilliant, but now it's gone.

But we've got our Internet connection back. Maybe I'll balance my checkbook.

06 August 2010

Gotta Want It

There have been times in my life when I knew that pursuing a particular course of action would invite ridicule, and test my capacity to endure public humiliation. Sometimes I did it anyway. If I wanted it bad enough.

An example that comes painfully to mind was competing in obedience trials with a Gordon setter. Although Gordons are lovely dogs, people looking for an obedience prospect don't typically choose one, for good reason. It's not that they're stupid. They've just been bred to have, how shall we say?, an independent turn of mind. In consequence, commands are likely to be perceived as suggestions. Instant and unquestioning obedience will never be at the top of their list of priorities. That's just the way they are. I knew that.

On top of this, the individual at the center of this story was a born clown. She was never happier than when she was the center of attention. She loved to make people laugh. You can imagine where this is going, and that's pretty much the way it went. Her interpretation of commands issued when she had the show ring all to herself were amazingly creative and, I admit, pretty darned funny, although it took me a while to appreciate the humor. She collected a devoted gallery of spectators who could be counted on to show up at ringside to see what she would come up with this time. She eventually earned an obedience title, even ranking among the top 10 Gordons in obedience in the nation that year, although it might only have been the top seven or eight, since I'm not sure there were 10 Gordons competing in obedience that year because most people know better than to try this. In the pursuit of this goal, I learned that my capacity for public humiliation is greater than I ever imagined. Gotta want it.

I don't remember when I last could pick up a cup and drink out of it like a normal person. It was that long ago. I'm almost getting used to drinking everything with a straw. Coffee, hot as well as iced. Wine. Beer. Scotch. But a straw only solves part of the problem. A drink with a straw is still no use to me unless it's sitting on a table where I can reach it by bending over (a maneuver of which I suspect Emily Post would never approve), or there's somebody to hold it for me. What I wanted was a way to drink wherever I happened to be, without having to pester anybody for help. Preferably without creating a spectacle, although I can do spectacle, if need be.

I didn't expect it to be that hard. I am not, after all, the first quadriplegic on the planet. I wasn't surprised that the bountiful array of cupholders available for walkers or wheelchairs generally assume the user can extract the cup from the holder and convey it to the user's mouth. Most people can, but that's not what I need. We could rig something with a mic stand and boom, but I was hoping to find something a little more portable. I eventually located only two commercially-available devices that would attach to my chair or a table and hold a drink where I could get to it. Only one looked like it might work for me.

This particular example of assistive technology was intended to clamp onto a stroller or crib and hold a baby bottle, hence the Fisher-Price color scheme. So much for being inconspicuous. There was no choice of color. The plastic clamp is about as sturdy as it appears in the picture, which is to say, not very. It can support maybe 12 ounces of liquid in a lightweight cup. My 16-oz double-wall stainless steel insulated coffee cup with a full load of coffee is definitely not happenin'. It's huge and bright yellow and looks like, well, like a baby bottle holder. But it works. Scarecrow can load it up and go about his business, and I can drink whenever I want. I had forgotten how cool that was. If it makes my ginormous black Robo-monster power chair look even more ridiculous than it did before, Ch. MacTyke's Heartbreaker CD showed me I can deal with worse than that. Way worse than that.

In Patrick's immortal words, "Freedom is always fashionable." You've just gotta want it.

31 July 2010

Vacation. ish.

We are on day five of a vacation. Of sorts.

I'm having a little trouble figuring out how to do it. Used to be, we'd take a couple of weeks and go someplace. First, we'd have to find a time when Scarecrow and I could both take off of work, and Tuffy would be out of school. Some years, it seemed like trying to find this chunk of time was like solving an n-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. We'd usually be camping, of one style or another, or going up to Scarecrow's family's cottage in northern Ontario, which is like camping except with a roof and it takes a lot longer to sweep the dust and mouse poop out of the cottage than it does to set up a tent. Or we'd go visit family somewhere, which is not like camping and we'd have to be nice. Before we left there'd be planning and organizing and packing, then there would be places to go and people to meet and things to do. And then we would come home.

This is different. For Scarecrow you could call it a staycation, or more precisely a FixStuffAroundTheHousecation because he's got a list of stuff to fix that he will never live long enough to finish even if he works from sun up to sun down and finally goes back to work to get some rest. For me, particularly since I no longer have a day job and still can't really steer my power chair well enough to go anyplace, it's not much different than any other time except if the weather's nice I can sit out in the backyard instead of being cooped up in one office or another. So I'm doing what I always do, which is nothing much. If I'm not doing anything, why would I need a vacation from doing it? And what would I do instead?

So I guess I feel like I should be doing something different from what I usually do, but I don't know what that would be. If life is like being on permanent vacation, who am I to complain?

19 July 2010

Mighty Hunters

Note to local squirrels: whippets are really fast.

Note to whippets: squirrels bite.

PS to note to whippets: if you get past the bitey part, squirrels make a noise kind of like a squeaky toy.

PPS to note to whippets: the squeaker doesn't last very long.

15 July 2010

Publish or Perish

Sometimes (like now) I find myself trying to come up with a blog post just because it seems like it's time. It's been a while since the last one. I don't have anything in particular to go on about. It just seems like it's time. Why is that, I wonder?

I don't have to do this. It's not like my livelihood depends on it, or there is information only I can convey, or anybody cares whether I write anything or not. I'm not trying to amuse or educate or entertain an audience because, aside from a handful of blogger buddies, I don't have one. My day-to-day routine is no more interesting than anybody else's. I don't confront and surmount, or fail to surmount, heroic challenges. I can't share deep philosophical insights, because I don't have any. I don't know the solution to anyone else's problems. Everyone around here knows what the weather has been like, and nobody else cares. I don't need the discipline of writing everyday. Been there, done that. Sometimes I'm just doing it for me, because trying to write about a thing can be a good way to sort through what I really think about it. I get that. But is there any point in trying to scratch together a post when I really don't have anything in mind to write about?

For the past, oh, 30 years or so, I've always had a deadline. Always. Sometimes more than one. While it's never been literally Publish or Perish, it has usually been Publish or Something Really Bad Is Going to Happen. There has always been a date by which I had to have something ready to publish. It's not always imminent, huge, looming, taking precedence over everything else, blotting out the sun. But it's always been there.

Now it's kind of fun to not post anything, because I don't have to.

Sometimes sitting down and writing just because I ought to turns up some unexpected things.

Today it didn't.

09 July 2010

Feeding the Mosquitoes

An entomology grad student and amateur photographer I once knew had a photograph on his office wall, a close-up of a female mosquito dining on what was obviously a human arm, the blood she had already ingested clearly visible through her translucent abdomen.

People seeing the photo for the first time always had the same response:

"Whose arm was that?"

Who in their right mind would stick their arm into a cage full of hungry mosquitoes, and sit still while one drank her fill?

Another time, Scarecrow and I were up at his family's cottage in northern Ontario. Against my better judgment, we took a canoe out on the lake at sunset.

"They're flying around, but they're not biting," he said.

"They're not biting you. I'm getting lightheaded," I replied.

When we bought our house I thought it would be nice that it was across the street from a park. There was even a paved path through the park, so I could roll along when Scarecrow took the dogs for a walk. Perhaps I should have given a little more thought to what the name Swamp Creek might imply about a park.

After a relentlessly gloomy spring, we're finally expecting a weekend of sunshine and blue sky. I'm looking forward to spending as much of it as I can out in the yard. This is not without risk, you understand, particularly in the evening. It's an interesting experience to watch a mosquito land on your person and begin tanking up, and not be able to do anything about it.

But what the heck. Live dangerously. It will be worth it.

08 July 2010

Welcome to Jurassic Park

Whenever I think about using a patient lift, I see the scene in Jurassic Park where they've got a cow in a sling, and they're lowering it into the dinosaur pen.

Some of the adaptations I've had to make to accommodate advancing MS-related disability have been fairly easy for me. Not physically, or financially, necessarily, but emotionally; acknowledging that it was a step I needed to take. Cane? Manual wheelchair? Adaptive driving controls? No problem. Makes life easier. Voice recognition software? Sounds kind of cool. Other adaptations, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I fought tooth and nail, long past the point where a reasonable person would've given in. Nothing rational, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Letting someone help me eat? Sorry, no. Power wheelchair? No. No way. Don't want to go there.

Patient lift?

The rehab medicine guy wrote me a prescription for a lift the first time I saw him, over a year ago. I took it, thought "Yeah, yeah, whatever, I'm not even close to needing this," and stashed it someplace. Last time I saw him, he wrote me another one. As much as I'd like to lose this one too, I need to get real. Before we can realistically expect anyone to provide home care backup or respite for Scarecrow, we need to have a lift.

If Scarecrow and Tuffy hadn't been wrestlers, we would've had to resort to this long ago. They're both strong, fit, and know how to move another person around. Even so, as Scarecrow has had to provide more and more of the muscle power, the antics involved in transfers and getting dressed have evolved from a fairly conventional stand and pivot to a series of bizarre contortions that I can't reasonably expect anyone else to manage. It's getting harder and harder for Scarecrow to do it. It's not safe.

So, the lift. We're there. It's time.

Talk about adding insult to injury, I not only have to accept adaptive equipment I really really really never wanted to use, I have to go through the hellish process involved in procuring durable medical equipment to get it. I'm still trying to get a head array control for my power chair, for criminy sake. Not happy. Not even a little bit. Don't tell me how lucky I am to have insurance that will cover most of the cost. I'm not ready to look on the bright side. I need to be crabby for a little while. Don't tell me it's my fault for having put it off so long. I'm not ready to be reasonable.

Welcome to Jurassic Park.

30 June 2010

Are You Listening to Me?

On the way home yesterday, there was a piece on NPR about a blogger who asked what you might say to your 20-year-old self, if you had the chance. One of those If I Knew Then What I Know Now sorts of things. As a topic for a blog post, it sounds kind of intriguing. Also self-indulgent, self-absorbed, all about me... what's not to like? Totally my kind of thing.

Not that I think there's anything I could say that would make a dent in my 20-year-old self's hard head. I was a stubborn, self-centered, not particularly likable control freak. If there was something I wanted, I would do whatever it took to make it happen, even if it meant running roughshod over other people. I had no social skills to speak of. What can you say to a person like that?

I know she won't listen. But for what it's worth:
  • Most of the things you wake up at three o'clock in the morning worrying about will never happen. If there's nothing you can do about it, right then, go back to sleep. Preemptive worrying is a waste of time.
  • You do not need a man in your life. Fortunately the men you have been/will be involved with are all good people; you'll be lucky that way. They are just not right for you. Fear of being alone is not a solid basis for a partnership. Learn to be by yourself and like it.
  • You will never in a million years imagine the kind of guy you will eventually wind up with. Never in a million years. You'll be lucky to have him, for sure. He's just not what you would expect. Ever.
  • You're not fat. The women in your mother's family, back to the flood, have big butts. There's nothing you can do about it.
  • It's OK to be goal-oriented. A certain amount of determination is not a bad thing. That doesn't mean you have to be such a little s#!t about it.
  • If there are things you really want to do, do them while you can. I'm just sayin'.
  • You don't control nearly as much as you think you do. I know it's hard to let go. Believe me, I do. Try asking yourself, "500 years from now, what will it matter?"
That's enough for now, but I'm not through with you. We'll come back to this. Are you listening to me?

25 June 2010

Greyhound Gig

One of the things on my list of Things to Do After I Retire was to volunteer for something. It seemed like a good idea. Isn't that what everybody says they're going to do after they retire? One ought to make a contribution somehow, oughtn't one, even if one isn't paid for it? The trick would be finding something I can actually do.

The obvious victim was Greyhound Pets, Inc. Scarecrow and I have volunteered with this group since we adopted our first retired racer in 1997, but haven't been as active lately as we used to be. We used to host regular meet-and-greets at local pet supply stores and a nearby shopping center, and I can't do that very well anymore. We played music for their annual adoption fair, and I can't do that anymore at all. Their current webmaster has everything under control, thankyouverymuch. I wouldn't be much help at the kennel. It was not entirely clear to me what I could do, volunteer-wise.

As it turns out, GPI needs a newsletter editor.

Hey, I can do that!

Ironically, since we lost our last greyhound a couple of months ago, I'm editing The Bark. I don't think I'm overcommitted. Due to budgetary constraints, it only comes out twice a year and it's only 16 pages long. There are three people working on it. The next issue doesn't come out until November. It's not a high-stress job. I can do this.

It's kind of nice to have a deadline again.

24 June 2010

The Lung Vac

Seems like I've had a flurry of doctor appointments lately. Two weeks ago, I checked in with the rehab medicine guy. Since I was whining about being short of breath, he referred me to a guy in the pulmonary clinic. I expected it would be a total waste of everybody's time; they would listen to my chest, decide I didn't have pneumonia or asthma, and send me on my way. The rehab guy allowed as how that might be the case, but said he was referring me to somebody with a particular interest in neuromuscular disorders. I was pretty sure they wouldn't find anything wrong, and if they did, there wouldn't be anything they could do about it. But I went.

So last week I show up at the pulmonary clinic. After some puffing and blowing, they tell me my lung capacity is about 50% of normal, and ask if I have any trouble coughing. Well, yeah, as it happens, I do. Giving in to my penchant for overstatement (hyperbole is the best thing ever!), I tell them I'm afraid if I ever get a respiratory infection, I'm toast. So they make me an appointment with a respiratory therapist.

So on Monday I see the respiratory therapist. After some more puffing and blowing, he tells me if I ever get a respiratory infection, I'm toast. Somehow it's more disquieting, coming from him. He gives me a thing that looks like a purple balloon with a hose, and takes Scarecrow and me through some exercises that he describes as range of motion for the lungs. Then he pulls up a machine that is basically a vacuum cleaner with a mask attached. It blows air into your lungs, then sucks it out. It feels... weird. It sounds like, well, like a vacuum cleaner.

The dogs are going to hate this.

21 June 2010

Summer Solstice

Celebrating summer solstice today, the longest day of the year. The longest chilly, grey, dreary, gloomy day of the year.

Don't get me wrong. I love living in a place where it starts to get light at 4:30 in the morning this time of year, and isn't really dark until almost 10 at night. I love living in a place that's green all year round, and ferns grow wild. I realize that the flipside of these things is that you get about 15 minutes of daylight in the dead of winter, and it rains a lot. I realize there is a price to be paid. But really, even in Seattle, by mid-June a glimpse of blue sky at some point during the day ought not be a remarkable occurrence. This year, it is. A friend referred to it as June-uary.

So, today is the first day of summer. I'm ready.

18 June 2010

Time Flies...

One year ago today was my last day of gainful employment.

It's not an anniversary to celebrate. I wasn't ready to retire. Although my job wasn't my passion -- I was a tech writer, for Pete's sake -- it was interesting, challenging, and I was good at it. It accounted for much of my self image, provided most of my social interactions, and was a reliable source of nerdy techie toys. And, of course, there was the paycheck.

Sometimes I think I should've thrown in the towel sooner than I did. Other times I wonder how I managed to hang on so long.

Other than the significant and painful drop in income, I expected the transition from working to not to be more painful than it was. Since I was already working in a remote, empty office at Bob's Books and Day Care Center, the only difference in my day-to-day routine was that I didn't do any work. Every morning the realization that I don't have to actually accomplish anything still comes as a real relief. I still feel guilty about not having to do any work, and about feeling relieved that I don't have to do any work.

At first, I spent a lot of time getting disentangled from my former day job, and getting disability insurance and SSDI set up. Since then, I'm afraid I've been lamentably indolent. I have made no inroads on the lists of things I thought I would do after I retired. I expected to be bored, but I haven't been. Perhaps I'm just easily amused.

They say time flies when you're having fun. I must be having fun.

17 June 2010

Who Am I Hiding From?

I'm still trying to figure out what anonymity means in the blog world, and how anonymous I really am, and how anonymous I want to be. I don't use my name in this blog or in my profile, but really, come on. This is the Internet. If somebody wanted to find out who 'zoomdoggies' is, it wouldn't be hard. So who am I hiding from?

The majority of people who read this blog -- all four of them -- don't know me. We will probably never meet in person. Why do I need to be anonymous to people who don't know me anyway?

I don't. I'm hiding from people I know.

A lot of the stuff that comes up in this blog I wouldn't talk about with most of my family, friends, or acquaintances. It would feel extremely weird, being with them in person, knowing they had read some of these posts. I couldn't say why that is. It's not that they don't know I have MS. I mean, duh. Somehow, it's easy to expose the gory details to people I don't know and will never know. Sharing them with people I know is hard.

It's not that I try to keep the blog secret or anything. This is the Internet, for Pete's sake. I know Scarecrow reads it, and I admit I consciously try not to write anything that's going to piss him off. A couple-three friends know about it; people who, for one reason or another, I trust to read past all the MS and disability stuff and still be my friend. It seems rather a lot to ask, so I generally don't.

I think this came to mind today because I missed the chance to meet some Seattle bloggers, and a couple of not-Seattle bloggers, live and in person. It sounded like a fun get-together and I was really looking forward to it, but the stars just didn't line up. I'm mildly devastated, but I'm dealing with it.

Anyway, it got me thinking. From reading their blogs, I feel like I kind of know these people, even though I really don't. How would it feel once they went from being kind of anonymous to being people I've actually met in person? Even though I still don't know them, it would feel more like I do. Would thinking that people I actually know might be reading what I write change the kind of thing I'd be inclined to write about?

As it turns out, I won't have to confront that question just yet. Maybe I'll find out next time.