Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018: The Fourth Quarter Summary

Well, as I expected, my showing in the fourth quarter was pretty weak. And apparently I never got around to finishing a quarter 3 summary. So I’ll write this one, and go back and fill in quarter 3.

I did manage to complete eight books, although some of them were quite short and one was actually a children’s book that my son Joshua read to me.

Books Completed

  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
  • Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock (the first of three novels in the 2014 Gollancz omnibus edition Elric: The Moonbeam Roads)
  • The Wrecks of Time by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (finished)
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (in progress)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Joshua read it to us as a bedtime story)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Of the Moorcock novels, none was really a standout, although The Ice Schooner was the most engaging of this lot. I enjoyed The Freeze-Frame Revolution quite a bit. The Bloody Chamber is the real standout here, although the sexual politics it embodies are not simple, contemporary, or necessarily comfortable. This book of stories could easily be the major text for a seminar class.

I read these additional short stories by Peter Watts:

  • “The Island” by Peter Watts (2009 Novelette)
  • “Giants” by Peter Watts (short story)
  • “Hotshot” by Peter Watts (short story)

All are available on the author’s web site.

I didn’t manage to watch very many full-length movies this quarter. I recall only three:

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016 film)
  • Iron Man (2008 film)
  • Millions (2004 film)

The first Fantastic Beasts movie I can recommend, although not all that highly. Iron Man is a very good take on the superhero movie, better than most of the recent Marvel adaptations. Millions is an impressive and magical film, and quite fun, although the ending is a big weak.

I watched all of Series 11 of Doctor Who, with the exception of the final episode, “”The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos," which we just haven’t gotten to yet. There’s also the New Year’s special, which will be broadcast today, called “Resolution.” That will be available via the iTunes store tomorrow, and we’ll watch it when time allows.

The episodes we watched are:

  • “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”
  • “The Ghost Monument”
  • “Rosa”
  • “Arachnids in the UK”
  • “The Tsuranga Conundrum”
  • “Demons of the Punjab”
  • “Kerblam!”
  • “The Witchfinders”
  • “It Takes You Away”

I just polled the family, and we’re having a hard time deciding on a favorite. Several people voted for “Arachnids in the UK,” which had wonderful special effects. It also completely failed to have a coherent ending. Several people mentioned “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” mostly because of the wonderful little spaceship-eating monster. Grace mentioned “Demons of the Punjab” and I agree with her — it told the best human-centered story. But our main feeling towards most of these episodes is disappointment. Many of them have great premises, or great scenes, but overall just fail to really fire on all cylinders.

I’m not going to list the Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu episodes; I just don’t have much to say about them, although the kids loved them.

I want to mention one album in particular that I listened to heavily in the fourth quarter, and that is Akhnaten by Philip Glass. I got my copies in the form of discs 14 and 15 of The Complete Sony Recordings. This composition rewards study, and the recording richly rewards repeat listening — it’s just remarkable. As I mentioned in the blog, I would love to see this performed live.

Finally, there are a number of books that I started, or read part of; some of these I will eventually finish; some I won’t. Some will remain on my shelves to dip into in the future. Some might wind up on the give-away pile. I will definitely finish reading Grace The Haunting of Hill House. I’ll definitely finish reading the kids The Fellowship of the Ring.

Books Started or Continued

  • The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock
  • Mistress of Mistresses by E. R. Eddison
  • Luke (Revised New American Bible, 1986-1990 edition)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime story reading; re-reading for me)
  • The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin
  • Cluttering: Current Views on its Nature, Diagnosis, and Treatment by Yvonne van Zaalen and Isabella K. Reichel
  • The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton (in progress)
  • The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin (bedtime story reading)
  • A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

Ypsilanti, Michigan
January 1st, 2019

Sunday, December 30th and Monday, December 31st, 2018

Sunday

I’m continuing right on from my notes on Saturday. I got to bed pretty late last night, and I kept forgetting to take my night-time medications, so I wound up taking them well after midnight, instead of at 9 p.m. when I was supposed to take them. This meant that I was groggy this morning. I intended to get up and make progress in the kitchen, and make breakfast for everyone, but I wound up spending extra time soaking in the tub before I felt up to facing the kitchen. While I was in the tub, the kids made a big pan of scrambled eggs — with way too much salt. So they wound up wasting quite a few eggs. When I got into the kitchen, I had to restart the dishwasher again — once again, something had gone wrong, and the soap was undissolved in the bottom of the dishwasher. I really hope this dishwasher isn’t dying. We’ve used it hard, but for under two years. But I don’t really know how old it is. Maybe it’s ready to give out.

The bathtub drain was running very slowly last night, leading me to look for drain cleaner, realize we didn’t have any more, and add it to a shopping list.

I made a pot of the Café du Monde coffee and turned it into bulletproof coffee. We didn’t have any grass-fed butter, as we were out of the Kerrygold butter, but we had some Challenge butter, purchased for Christmas baking and never used, and more coconut oil, and some chocolate chips. So that gave me and Grace a small energy boost.

Grace and I talked for a while. She revealed that she was craving tacos. Then our housemate came down to talk to Grace, and it turned out that our housemate was craving tacos, too. The kitchen was in no condition to make tacos and we were missing most of the ingredients. I was willing to go get ingredients, but didn’t want to have to spend three hours cleaning up the kitchen before it was ready to make lunch, so I pushed for getting takeout tacos. We dithered around for some time before deciding on a plan. I would take our housemate to Kroger to get drain cleaner and rainbow glitter glue — another shopping list item for an art project that was planned for today. She’d get some baby formula and a few other items covered by WIC. Then we’d go out to La Marqueza Taqueria on East Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. None of us had ever been there.

So I loaded up some returnable bottles and got our housemate to Kroger. As usual, she had some strange trouble with WIC at the checkout. They were able to ring everything up, and all the items were marked on the shelf as covered by WIC, and she supposedly had enough money left on her card to cover the items, but the system just wouldn’t process her card for some reason. They sent her to the customer service desk, but she was fed up, and I don’t blame her, because it seems like that entire system is designed to humiliate WIC shoppers in front of everyone else in the store. And so she left her groceries and stood at the front of the store waiting for me. I was a few places behind her in line and bought my items, and had them ring up her items as well, because I really just wanted to get us out of there, so we could go get our tacos!

La Marqueza is a very unassuming place. We ordered six beef and six pork tacos, an order of nachos, and a quesadilla. While we were waiting I drank a glass of horchata. We didn’t have long to wait, and soon brought home all the tacos that Grace and our housemate could possibly handle. Everything was really good! So we hope to go back there soon.

After cleaning up the food, the kids decided that they wanted to build the Velociraptor Chase Lego set after all. So they worked on that. Grace, still exhausted, went back into the bedroom to nurse the baby and I wound up alone in the kitchen again, cleaning the stovetop and cast-iron pans and baking trays and emptying one dishwasher load and starting another, while periodically running back into the bathroom to put two rounds of drain cleaner down the bathtub drain. There’s still more to do in the kitchen but it’s now a quarter to ten, and I’ve been catching up on the journal for an hour and forty-five minutes, and I have to work tomorrow, so I’m not sure how much more I will do tonight. I took my medications, so they will be kicking in and making me sleepy shortly. I expect tomorrow to be a very slow day at work.

Our friend Alice apparently passed her virus off to Elanor, who has been coughing horribly. Veronica’s been feeding her broth and tea and she’s now getting a bath. We are trying to keep her away from Chi, because we really don’t want Chi, who is only sixteen days old today, to wind up with a virus. We’re just not sure his immune system is up to the challenge. This also means we are trying to keep Elanor away from her mom, which is also a challenge.

I expect tomorrow to be a quiet day in the office.

Monday

It’s the last day of 2018.

After putting away my laptop last night, I did a little more work on the kitchen. I didn’t get it completely cleaned, but I did get it to the point where the sink was mostly empty, the counters were mostly clear, and it was ready for me to make bulletproof coffee in the morning without having to make room or clean anything.

We didn’t really have dinner last night, since most of us were still pretty well filled up from our taco feast. The kids who refused to eat any of it went to bed hungry. The exception was Elanor — she had a hacky cough last night, and a lot of snot. We fed her broth, and hibiscus tea with honey, and elderberry extract. She seems to have been whacked with a virus, which might be the one that our friend Alice brought. So we are trying to keep her away from baby Chi. It might be a hopeless quest, to keep a virus from spreading around a crowded household full of kids, but we are trying.

I slept later than I intended to. It was gray and rainy again this morning, and had frozen up in patches, including our dirt road, and my office parking lot. I drove to Joe and Rosie’s and had a toasted bagel with peanut butter and a small coffee before work, and read a few pages of The Black Corridor, the third novel of three in the Traveling to Utopia omnibus of novels by Michael Moorcock; I read the other two, The Wrecks of Time and The Ice Schooner this year. I won’t finish The Black Corridor this year, but it’s not very long, so I should be able to finish it early in 2019.

It turned out I had left half my horchata from La Marqueza Taqueria in the car. It was actually frozen, but after sitting on my desk for an hour or two, it was a nice treat.

At work, only three of us were in, and only to catch up on some paperwork and e-mail messages. Human Resources decreed that on New Year’s Eve, they would count four hours as a full day. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I ordered a baby carrier, for myself, to replace the New Native carrier that I used to have. Grace sent my old carrier to Syria a few years ago, thinking we probably weren’t going to have more babies. They’ve gone up in price — a lot. It cost $87.50 for what is essentially a single piece of cloth sewn into a sling. I don’t remember exactly what they cost fourteen years ago, but it wasn’t $87.50. I could grumble about that, but I also know I’m not going to make a damned carrier, so I just bit my tongue and bought it.

I’m hoping that I will be able to use it to carry baby Chi on some walks while he’s still too small for the backpack-style baby carrier. Maybe I can use it while walking on the treadmill. I always liked the New Native design more than other baby carriers I’ve tried. It’s a very simple design, just a folded piece of cloth stitched together. It’s much simpler than the more elaborate designs Grace sometimes wears. You put it around your body over one shoulder, diagonally, like you are just won the Miss Universe pageant. Then you open up the fold and stuff the baby in there. It’s pretty foolproof. Veronica used to love to ride around with me that way. I remember taking her to Trader Joe’s with me when she was just a few days old.

I will head to Meijer for a few groceries. Grace wants to make greens, black-eyed peas, and corn bread on New Year’s Day. We also need toilet paper and paper towels, and sparkling water and orange juice for mimosas (well, faux-mosas).

We’ll start the year with our annual Lord of the Rings movie marathon. The extended editions are cool, but I think this year we might watch the shorter theatrical versions. I think I’ve got a set of those versions in the basement. At least, I hope I do.

I’ll probably work tomorrow on writing summary of what I read and watched in the fourth quarter, and get that posted. It’s been a terrible quarter for getting reading done. My totals will be way down. But I think I still have some tomorrows ahead of me.

In fact, it’s been a terrible year in many ways — full of stress and anxiety and ugly politics and awful news. We’re still here. May 2019 be better for you, and for all of us.

The Last Hours

It’s the first, and we have just started our Lord of the Rings marathon, watching the theatrical editions instead of the extended editions. I came back to fill in the details of the last few hours of 2018.

I left the office about 3:15, and ran out to Costco. It was rainy and foggy, and I needed to run the car’s air conditioner to clear the fog from the windows. On the way to Costco, I heard on the radio, or thought I heard, that Airport Boulevard was closed at State Street due to flooding, so I decided to get off at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and take Lohr to Ellsworth to the other part of Airport Boulevard to get into Costco, then go back up Lohr to Ann Arbor-Saline Road to get on I-94. In retrospect, though, I think they were probably talking about Airport Drive, not Airport Boulevard. They connect, but Airport Drive is a little further south (and services the actual municipal airport).

At Costco I bought orange juice, La Croix water in the tall cans, celery, apples, bagged salads, eggs, butter, bagels, two bags of Shishito peppers, and industrial-size packages of paper towels and toilet paper. My plan for New Year’s Day breakfast was scrambled eggs, blistered Shishito peppers, and toasted bagels, with our faux-mosas.

Costco was hopping. I had to wait quite some time to check out. Then I went to GFS on Carpenter Road, and bought Jiffy Mix for cornbread and ham hocks. Then it was on to Meijer. I knew it was a bad idea to go to Meijer on New Year’s Eve, but Grace wanted black-eyed peas, and they are the only local store where I’ve been able to find them. Meijer was crowded. I found that the space on the shelf where they stock black-eyed peas was completely empty. So I went to ask someone at the customer service desk. That required about twenty minutes in line. They confirmed that they had no more black-eyed pease. So I went back and picked up a couple of bags of red beans, a couple of bags of split peas, and a couple of bags of pinto beans, in case Grace and our housemate wanted to do something different — a red beans and dirty rice thing, a split pea soup thing, or maybe even a refried beans thing. Then it took me another twenty or thirty minutes to check out.

When I got back in the car, Grace had been sending me text messages. I had left my phone in the car, apparently under the ridiculously optimistic assumption that I’d be able to get in and out of Meijer quickly. Our housemate was making chili, and we were out of diced tomatoes. So I told Grace that I would get gas and try one more place — the little Mexican grocery near Textile off of Carpenter.

That little grocery has hundreds of bags of beans of different types, occupying yards and yards of shelf space. But there were only five cans of diced tomatoes in the whole store, and they were quite hard to find. I’m still confused as to how they could stock so many beans and so few tomatoes. Aren’t tomatoes pretty much a staple of Mexican cooking? Anyway, I finally found the tomatoes, but they did not have black-eyed peas. So then, home. It had taken me three hours to run a few errands. I was pretty sick of the whole thing by the time I got home.

Our housemate was finishing up a pot of chili, made with ground bison, and a pot of packaged Velveeta macaroni and cheese, and assembled one of the Costco Caesar salads. I got the groceries put away, leaving the orange juice and La Croix water in my car to stay cold, since there wasn’t room for it in the refrigerator, and I didn’t want the kids to get into them until New Year’s Day.

I think we’re just going to have to order a case of some nice heirloom black-eyed peas.

The three older kids had an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party — their piano teacher invited them. I really didn’t want to go out again, but Grace was feeling well enough to drive them, so after dinner and after the kids did some cleanup, she ran them up to their piano teacher’s house.

Millions

We watched a movie on our housemate’s computer, plugged into our TV. It’s one of Grace’s favorite movies: Millions from 2004. I actually have a DVD of this movie on order and we should be getting it in the mail in a few days. Having read the description, it sounded like a pretty conventional children’s morality tale.

Millions turned out to be something quite different. It’s actually a much odder movie that partakes heavily of magical realism, a real genre-bender. It’s sort of a blend of Home Alone, Stand By Me, and Household Saints; it also reminds me of the old TV show Joan of Arcadia, but with more visual pyrotechnics. It’s really fun, and I enjoyed it more than I expected. The screenplay contains many clever little bits of setup that pay off later in the form of jokes playing out in the backgrounds, or in minor subplots. The movie’s only real flaws center around its ending. It has a couple of endings, and they both feel a little gratuitous and unconvincing: one is a bit too maudlin, and one is a bit to joyful. The whole storyline stretches credulity a little bit, but the meetings with saints are funny and moving, and the back-story about the crime that sets the plot in motion is funny and brilliant.

We’ll have a DVD shortly, and we’ll no doubt watch this one again.

Last Words

I will write a summary of quarter 4. I might write some kind of epilogue, or afterword to the whole year-long journal; I’m not sure yet. But it will be a 2019 project, for the “director’s cut,” or book form of the blog, rather than something completed in 2018. After today’s post, I’m going to put this weekly format on hiatus, at least for a while. I will write differently in 2019. I’m not yet sure just what I’ll write.

Even without the quarter 4 summary, I’ve exceeded 450,000 words. If I turn the text into an OpenOffice document with pandoc, it’s over 780 pages long. I have started a project to go back and edit the posts, but haven’t even completed editing the posts from the first quarter yet. It’s long!

I had hopes that I’d end this year-long writing project with some sort of a bang — a long autobiographical essay, or a number of book or film reviews — basically, something to close it out well. Instead it feels like we are just barely managing to get the basics accomplished, and my free time is being squeezed down to nothing. The medications are helping my anxiety level, but also making me tired. Maybe I need to feel that tiredness for a while, and get some extra sleep.

That’s a whimper to end the year on, not a bang. But maybe a whimper is just more realistic. The holidays have always been a hard time for me, and we have additional challenges this year. I remain hopeful that things will improve in 2019 — that we’ll finally sell the house, that we’ll find more help in practical matters, that our financial situation will stabilize, etc. I’m optimistic because I have to be. How does the saying go? “Hope is a discipline.” I follow @prisonculture on Twitter and I think I might have first read this in her tweet:

Before i [sic] log off. One thing. Many years ago, I heard a nun who was giving a speech say “hope is a discipline.” It stuck with me and became a sort of mantra for me. I understood her to be saying that hope is a practice.

I hope to keep practicing hope, and remember how richly we have been blessed.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned This Week

  • The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock (in the Gollancz omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia)
  • Millions (2004 film)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
Sunday, December 30th and Monday, December 31st, 2018

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Sunday

“It Takes You Away”

Last night after dinner we managed to watch another episode of Doctor Who, called “It Takes You Away.” This episode starts in a promising way. Our gang comes across a boarded-up farmhouse in rural Norway. Inside they find a blind teen-aged girl named Hanne, hiding in a closet against the coming of a monster. Hanne’s father is missing; her mother is dead. There’s a lot of delicious ambiguity in the opening minutes. Is the “girl” not what she seems? Is the monster, which we only hear and don’t see, invisible? After all, if the monster is invisible, the sighted don’t really have much of an advantage in fighting it.

Further exploration of the farmhouse reveals a mirror that is also a portal; the portal opens on a series of dark and grim cavernous passages. This is an “anti-zone,” a buffer zone between planes that are not “allowed” to come into contact with each other. In the anti-zone the gang meets a creature called Ribbons of the Seven Stomachs, and encounter the delightfully-named “flesh moths.” This has to be one of the all-time lowest-budget locations ever used since the 2009 reboot. Menace is conveyed with a fog machine, colored lights, and animated moths. Ribbons is a completely thrown-away character. We’re left wondering what the point of all this was, if it wasn’t just to pad out the episode.

As an expeditionary team explores the anti-zone, Ryan, left behind to guard Hanne, discovers that the sound of the monster is being produced by a recording played over speakers hidden around the property.

The expeditionary team reaches another portal, and enters what appears to be a mirror image of the same farmhouse. Inside they find Hanne’s father, with someone who appears to be Hanne’s mother. Then Graham’s deceased wife Grace shows up.

I kept expecting this episode to settle down a bit and spin its story elements back inward for a while, rather than spinning them out further. The story’s treatment of the “but you can’t be here, you’re dead” people are very, very reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris. That book is largely about the inability of people to accept the things they feel are impossible, at the cost of much pain. The Solitract seems like an interesting idea as well — but did we need another conscious entity plucked from before the start of the Universe, rather than something that already exists in the immense history of Doctor Who? It feels like too much, to me. “Solitract” sounds like it means “solitary place,” and that describes well the dimension or universe where the Solitract exists. And… did it have to manifest as a crudely animated talking frog?

I think the frog might be an oblique reference to Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams. In that book, a man named Prak is given an overdose of truth serum, which causes him to tell all the truth. Anyone who hears it goes insane, so Prak is placed in solitary confinement until the drug wears off. When our heroes find him, as part of their quest to find the ultimate Question, he’s done telling the truth:

“Oh, I can’t remember any of it now,” said Prak. “I thought of writing some of it down, but first I couldn’t find a pencil, and then I thought, why bother?”

There was a long silence, during which they thought they could feel the Universe age a little. Prak stared into the torchlight.

“None of it?” said Arthur at last. “You can remember none of it?”

“No. Except most of the good bits were about frogs, I remember that.”

Suddenly he was hooting with laughter again and stamping his feet on the ground.

“You would not believe some of the things about frogs,” he gasped. “Come on let’s go and find ourselves a frog. Boy, will I ever see them in a new light!”

So, again — not a bad episode, and there are some nice science fiction tropes going on in this one. But again, it’s entirely self-contained. At the end, The Doctor leaves the Solitract in its solitary place, Hanne and her father are going to head back to Oslo, and the gang is off on another adventure. I’ve actually been expecting Grace to show up; they’ve telegraphed that pretty hard, with Graham’s ongoing grief. But I expected her presence to leave some lasting influence on the story. I guess they’ve been keeping that in reserve so that Graham can appear to enter a new phase of his grief by choosing to give up the faux-Grace. But I don’t really feel like that payoff has been worth the wait.

Today

Things haven’t gone brilliantly today. Grace’s blood pressure has been creeping up, so I asked her to go back on nifedipine. This will knock her for a loop, leaving her dizzy and nursing a headache all day, but I was just not comfortable with the numbers she was getting, and I don’t want to have to rush her back to the hospital. It’s more of a burden on me, though, since she can’t do much supervision of the kids, and we wanted to get out to buy a few things. I’m not sure she’ll be able to walk around a store.

I haven’t had anything to eat yet today. The kids were up and wanted to do some cooking, so we gave Sam instructions on how to roast some potatoes. He promptly ignored them, putting oil on some potatoes, then putting them on a cookie sheet rather than a baking dish and putting it in the oven. The oil of course then drizzled all over the inside of the oven and made a big smoking mess.

I got up and out to the kitchen and spent some time picking more broken glass out of the garbage disposal. Yesterday at some point Grace heard a glass breaking, and kept asking the kids to find out where it went, but no one could find broken glass anywhere. One of them must have thrown a glass into the sink. If they had not removed the wire screen over the drain, which is supposed to remain there, it wouldn’t have all gone into the disposal. But it did, so there I was. I can’t really where gloves for that job, since I need to feel for the little bits of glass stuck in the holes in the bottom of the disposal. I always wind up with a number of shallow cuts on my fingers when I do this. But I got the disposal working again.

Then I had to take apart the bottom of the oven again and clean that. It turns out there weren’t any gloves anyway. In case you’ve never experienced it, the feel of oven cleaner getting into shallow cuts all over your fingers is really quite something.

So I’m not in the best mood on Christmas Eve Eve Day. And now it’s time to pay some bills that I haven’t managed to get to yet. I’m sure that will help. I did read a couple more stories in The Bloody Chamber. It continues to be really enjoyable. I’ve only got two stories left.

Monday

Later yesterday afternon Grace felt up to doing a little bit of shopping so I took her to Meijer. We bought ingredients for egg rolls, a can of Café du Monde coffee, more celery for juicing, some flour and sugar for baking, and a number of small stocking stuffer gifts: socks and underwear, and bags of pistachios. They were completely out of egg roll wrappers, but they did have the smaller square wonton wrappers and round potsticker wrappers. Meijer was very crowded and it took a very long time to check out. Grace didn’t have much energy left to give by the time we left Meijer. She had run out of Percoset and her pain level was creeping up.

We got back home and unloaded things and again begged the kids to work on their kitchen cleanup chores. Then was then past time for me to put Benjamin in the car — Grace asked me to take him with me because he was the one she most wanted out of the house for a while — and head to Detroit Metro Airport to pick up Grace’s old friend Alice. It’s been a long while since I have gone to Detroit Metro and I was trying to follow signs to the airport entrances off of I-275, but wound up heading north on I-275 from I-94 instead of south, and so had to get off and loop around, and so was somewhat late to pick her up. The arrival lanes were packed with cars, but the freeways themselves were not, so we got Alice back to our home without difficulties.

As I write this now it’s about 8:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve and I’m trying to figure out what happened between then and now. When I got home last night Veronica had, instead of doing the kitchen cleanup we requested, gone to bed early. In fact we were two dishwasher loads behind, because the dishwasher load that should have been completed and put away much earlier in the day had apparently gotten stalled when someone opened the dishwasher and didn’t restart it. So we were pretty angry about that — Veronica going to bed with the dishwasher full of dirty dishes, the sink full of dirty dishes, and the counter covered with more dirty dishes. She swore up and down that she would get up early and take care of dishes in time for me to make breakfast before our housemate needed to start her planned cooking for Christmas.

You can probably guess how that went.

So we had a very late breakfast — I made a pot of coffee, and then a batch of blueberry pancakes, and then another batch of blueberry pancakes and a pan of cheesy scrambed eggs because everyone was very hungry. Then I spent a little time planning with Grace and decided to run to GFS, and then to Costco with our friend Alice so she could get some vegetarian food. GFS did not have the main thing I was looking for: egg roll wrappers. They also didn’t have pre-made eggnog, which Veronica requested. I picked up some steel-cut oats, some Earl Grey tea from Harney and Sons for Grace, a container of wasabi peas (another festive Christmas food), and some vegetable broth. It was looking quite unlikely that the egg-rolls-from-scratch plan was going to come together, so I also bought three boxes of frozen egg rolls: chicken, shrimp, and vegetable.

Our housemate called my cell phone and asked me to bring her four foil pans for the food she was cooking, so she could transport it to her boyfriend’s mother’s apartment, and some brown sugar for the ham. I was actually in the process of loading up my car when I got her call, so she got me in the nick of time — it took only a few more minutes to run in and grab those things.

When I got home I had been planning to run to Costco, but Alice was asleep, and it didn’t seem worthwhile to run to Costco on Christmas Eve for only eggs and eggnog. I did some consultation with Grace about whether we would need anything else for Christmas Even and Christmas Day, and concluded that we could get by and it would be fine if I went back with a bigger shopping list the day after Christmas.

A little while later Grace and the kids decided how we were going to get people to Mass with one car with four seats, and I put the fourth seat back in the Element. The plan was that I would take Grace for 4:30 Mass, and then I’d take the three oldest kids Christmas morning. Grace is still moving pretty slow, so we were quite late, but Grace received communion, Malachi was adorable and peaceful the whole time, and lots of people were excited to meet him. After Mass Grace inquired as to whether she had won a silent auction item she bid on, a few weeks ago. It turned out that she had. It’s a vintage toy baby carriage with baby doll. So we brought that home and stuck it in the garage, and it will be a gift for both Elanor and Veronica.

On the way back we stopped at Stony Creek Liquors and Marketplace near the church. If you try to look up their web site, don’t — it appears that their domain has been hijacked and redirects to some kind of Russian porn site, much to my surprise.

I hadn’t been in that liquor store yet and I was startled by how big it is inside — it looked like a small liquor store occupying part of a building. But it looks like the whole building is the store, and in fact they have a massive selection of beer and liquor and there is a small deli counter in there, too. They had one carton of eggnog left — possibly the last one in Washtenaw County. We also got a six pack of a nice Michigan stout. I picked up a peanut butter-flavored Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll because I was excited to see it in the store, but Grace tasted it as I drove us home and it turned out to be horribly stale, so it went right in the trash.

When I got back home it was time to load up the car with our housemate, one of her daughters, and her baby son in his car seat. The rest of my car was entirely filled with the gifts she was taking to her boyfriend’s mother’s apartment for their Christmas celebration and the trays of food she worked on this afternoon — ham, yams, green beans, and mashed potatoes. On the way I commiserated with our housemate about how bad the kids had been about finishing their chores, and how we were going to have a Christmas Eve dinner of reheated frozen egg rolls because they weren’t willing to do the kitchen work required to cook egg rolls from scratch. I got her and her kids and her things delivered to the apartment, and then of course I got lost on the way back, so I blundered around a bit until I could find a freeway entrance, which let me take a route I knew how to navigate, instead of the maze of surface streets with their roundabouts and curves and numerous renamings.

When I got back, the kids had apparently had a come-to-Jesus moment, and with Alice’s help had done a bunch of kitch cleanup and were actually in the process of prepping all the fillings for won tons. So as I write this, I’m enjoying some slices of black pepper-coated salami and some wasabi peas while the kids finish up that job and heat up a pot of lard on the stove. I will do the actual deep-frying for safety reasons.

Elanor had been taking a nap, and when she woke up and came into the kitchen, we were horrified to discover that she had apparently taken a spill on the front porch and scraped her forehead and skinned the tip of her nose on the concrete. So she looks like hell, but she’s in her usual good spirits. I’m happy that we won’t be taking her to Mass tomorrow morning, looking like that.

Grace did not take her nifedipine this morning but instead had Joshua make her a big glass of celery juice. We have reproduced the startling result that Grace had in the hospital — the celery, apple, and lemon juice cocktail in fact caused a dramatic drop in her blood pressure. She monitored it for the rest of the afternoon and into this evening, taking it every two hours, and it has normalized, but not spiked much above a healthy level. So we’re going to try to get her back into a regimen involving daily celery juice, but perhaps a smaller amount twice a day. We’ll watch her and if her blood pressure starts to get dangerously high, she’ll have to go on the nifedipine, at least her evening dose, until we find a better solution.

It’s time for me to go deep-fry the wontons in lard left over from our friends’ pig. Merry Christmas, and Excelsior!

Tuesday

I’m catching up on the day after Christmas. I described most of Christmas Eve already, and there isn’t much more to tell. The egg rolls in the form of wontons were quite tasty, and the kids had a good time making them. Grace and I weren’t up to distributing the pistachios, socks, and underwear into the kids’ bags, so we left that for Christmas Day. I called my father and brought him up to date on the situation with Chi, Grace, and the rest of us.

On Christmas Day I got up early with my alarm and got myself bathed, and then woke up the three oldest kids to go to Mass. I wanted us to get there early, which we did, because I thought the Mass might be very crowded, and it wasn’t. Veronica, Sam, and Joshua were reasonably well-behaved. I found out that what I suspected was true — they wanted to go to the 10:00 Mass because they thought there would be coffee and donuts afterwards, as there are on most weekend morning Masses. But they didn’t do that on Christmas, and I wasn’t surprised — I think most people wanted to go home to their own Christmas celebrations rather than socialize at church.

When we got home, our friend Alice took the kids outside to play while Grace and I opened up packages of socks and underwear and distributed them, with the bags of pistachios, into the kids’ gift bags, and brought in the old baby carriage and doll for Veronica and Elanor. Our friend Alice had brought them a small assortment of vintage treasures to pick from including a vintage hippie purse, which Grace claimed. While we were sorting things, our housemate called to request a ride. We told her we would be there soon but we were going to open gifts first. After that was done, since I don’t really know the way there and back very well, and Grace was feeling well enough to take a short drive, Grace took the car to go pick up our housemate and her children.

After the kids all opened up their bags, we spent the afternoon lollygagging around. We ate the reheated frozen egg rolls and Grace and I finally got to see Iron Man, the 2009 movie, on DVD, and we cleaned up the kitchen, and there isn’t much else to tell about our Christmas except that towards evening, Grace’s blood pressure was creeping up a bit. So I asked her to take her nighttime dose of nifedipine, which she did, with a plan to have her use her celery juice in the morning and monitor it and see if she could skip her noon dose.

Iron Man

Iron Man is generally ranked as one of the best movies to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, and after finally watching it, Grace and I agree with this assessment. I was impressed that in the midst of all the explosions and iron suit special effects (some of which actually look slightly dated and unconvincing on the small screen after only a decade), the storyline of the movie is actually quite character-driven, and the actors in the lead roles, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, and Gwyneth Paltrow, are all very good. Many scenes are also very well-written, to the point where in parts we feel more like we’re watching a serious dramatic film, where events are layered with symbolic meaning. This is nowhere so evident as in the hilarious, gross, and touching scene (yes, all three at once) where Paltrow has to help Downey replace the tiny reactor that powers an electromatic to keep his heart working.

Downey’s role in the story was a tricky one — he has to convince you that he’s the billionaire head of a weapons company, and that he doesn’t feel any moral qualms about this. But then he has to convince you that he’s had enough of a change of heart to risk destroying his father’s company and alienating everyone else in the firm. Downey navigates this beautifully by underplaying scenes that might easily have become preachy and unconvincing. According to Wikipedia:

There was much improvisation in dialogue scenes, because the script was not completed when filming began… Favreau [the director] felt that improvisation would make the film feel more natural… [i]t was Downey’s idea to have Stark hold a news conference on the floor, and he created the speech Stark makes when demonstrating the Jericho weapon… Bridges described this approach as “a $200 million student film,” and noted that it caused stress for Marvel executives when the stars were trying to come up with dialogue on the day of filming scenes.

I had the feeling, watching some of these scenes, that ad-libbing or at least writing on the fly might have been involved, and in my view these scenes really sell the story. Grace and I were both impressed with the way the screenplay ties up loose ends and captures details from the perspectives of multiple characters. For example, there’s a scene earlier in the film where Downey dances with Paltrow at a party and they nearly kiss. Downey has to race off for more drama. But near the end of the movie, we hear Paltrow recount the evening from her perspective, and it is a nice touch that does something that a lot of superhero films don’t bother to do, which is to remind us that assistants and sidekicks and friends and lovers of superheroes are people that have perspectives.

Downey is very appealing as the protagonist of this movie, and his role does something else I find interesting. Downey is not actually a large man, or immensely muscle-bound, although of course he’s fit. And so, much of the physical presence he displays in the film is actually created by his acting. He convinces the viewers that he’s burlier and more imposing than Downey really is by his confident movement. And I also like the way in which, even in his iron suit, Downey discovers many moments in which he can’t win by force, and has to outsmart his enemies instead.

Grace had some qualms about the portrayal of Arabs in this film, and I had a few too, although as she put it “I wasn’t immediately revolted, the way I often am.” I think the role of Pepper Potts is worthy of some discussion about female characters in superhero films. I’m not really familiar with the old comic book Iron Man, but I’m sure the original role was pretty appalling, and I’m happy they gave her character more agency in the film.

The film runs 124 minutes, and there’s just about nothing I would actually edit out to make it tighter. It could lose a minute or two here and there, but for the most part, it doesn’t drag. And I was pleased that by the time we got to the big showdown, I actually was interested enough in the characters to care what happened. That’s not true of a lot of superhero films.

Wednesday

The day after Christmas has also been a bit of a snooze, which is far from a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. This morning I gave Chi his first bath. He’s still only twelve days old, so it was more like a thorough soak of his bottom half and a light rinse of his top half. He seemed completely unperturbed by the process, and didn’t fuss at all.

I ran out this morning to get a couple of boxes of donuts from Tim Horton’s. Our housemate brought down her laptop and set it up for the kids to watch the movie Pixels, which I’ve never seen. I watched the first half-hour or so and decided I didn’t need to see the rest. Grace had her celery juice this morning and her blood pressure is comfortably in the safe zone, so she will again skip her afternoon dose of nifedipine, and we’ll watch it and see if she needs an evening dose.

This afternoon I’ll run out to get laundry detergent and pick up a few things at Costco. The tentative plan is for me to go back to work tomorrow, and Alice to stay until Saturday.

Thursday

Yesterday afternoon I went to The Little Seedling store for more laundry detergent, but they didn’t have any more jugs of the Allen’s Naturally that we’ve been using. So I had to go next door to Arbor Farms and pick up a smaller jug of Seventh Generation detergent instead, along with a couple of bottles of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, and a few packages of cheese for Alice. In the checkout line, the woman bagging my things said that I looked like I belonged in the Bee Gees. This kind of made my day!

Then I went on to Costco.

Grace and I had received our annual 2% reward in the form of a paper certificate. I was able to cash this in at the counter and use it to pay for another year’s membership, and take the rest in cash. I put the cash towards a load of groceries. We needed to stock up on celery, apples, bananas, oranges, size 4 diapers (Elanor is outgrowing size 3), eggs, frozen crab cakes for Friday’s dinner, bags of salad, corn chips and salsa, and boxes and cans of coconut milk.

The rest of the evening consisted of a lot of cooking and cleanup work. Alice made nachos and roasted brussels sprouts. I cooked a package of steaks from Costco. These were larger than the lamb steaks, so I pan-fried them a couple at a time in our biggest cast-iron pan, then finished them in the oven at 425 degrees — two minutes on a side in the pan, then seven minutes in the oven. For seasoning, I gave them a light coating of salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Some of them also got smoked paprika. I used the pan drippings to make a quick gravy using corn starch, white wine vinegar, and mustard powder. They were delicious. I sliced up one of the leftover steaks to take to work along with some of the multi-grain bread.

Grace’s blood pressure continues to be too high for my comfort. She measured it last night before bed, when she was due for another dose of labetalol, and after having morning and evening glasses of celery juice. It seems pretty clear that the labetalol is not keeping it level — the doses don’t last long enough. We’ve established that the celery juice has a strong antihypertensive effect, but it also doesn’t seem to keep it level over time. Grace will see her obstetrician tomorrow for a follow-up appointment. We’re also working on a plan for who she should see next.

While the kids were finishing up some hand-washing and Grace was working through her e-mail backlog, I read the last two stories in The Bloody Chamber. One of them is “The Company of Wolves,” in which Carter clearly honed the language to a fine point — it’s loaded with alliteration and really beautiful turns of phrase.

Back to Work

Our friend Alice is still here so it seemed reasonable to go into work, to avoid taking any unpaid days. Grace needed the car today, because the kids are back into scheduled activities. So she and Chi rode in with me this morning, so that she could take the car back home. A number of my co-workers were out, so it was pretty quiet upstairs. I went through the backlog of e-mail and started getting my head back into some of my LabVIEW code. Grace came out to get me this evening as well. I’ve got more leftover steak and bread, as well as some frozen burritos and yogurt, left to eat tomorrow. I should be paid tonight, although most of it is goint to go right to the Team One account.

The weather has been strange. We had a little sun yesterday, but for the most part it has been gray and overcast for almost two weeks. Today it is about forty degrees, and tomorrow it is supposed to be over fifty. We got only a very light sprinkling of snow on Christmas Day. I’m grateful that we’ve passed the shortest day of the year, but we could really use a little more sun.

Friday

Grace came to get me from the office last night about 7:15 p.m., bringing Chi with her, and drove me home. She reported that the kids had been grazing on and off during the day, and that she didn’t have any real plan for dinner. So I suggested we stop at Blaze Pizza on Washtenaw. I think the last time we got their pizzas was last January, as reported in this blog. I had them make a meat lover’s, a veggie, a white, and a barbecue chicken. When we got home I was quite happy to discover that the house and the kitchen were in great shape — our housemate, Alice, and Grace had managed to keep the kids on track with cleaning chores.

Grace had me examine her incision. Worryingly, there is some slight bleeding happening, on one side. The other side seems to be healing fine. There was no sign of infection that I could detect, but it seems like she might have torn some stitches, maybe in a fall she took earlier in the week. So I’m glad that she is seeing her doctor today.

I was so distracted last night that I think I may have taken my evening medications twice. I use an alarm on my phone to remind me, but if I’m driving or very busy, I silence the alarm and just remind myself to take the pills later. I can’t really be sure, but the side effects of Celexa seemed more severe than usual last night and this morning. Oops.

This morning I drove in with Alice so that she could take the car back home, and asked her to go with Grace to her appointment this afternoon in case she needs assistance. So I will be carless today. I stopped at Joe and Rosie’s and got a coffee and a couple of day-old pastries for me and a tea for Alice.

I’m planning to go to Costco after work, although that might be complicated by the car situation. We’ll have the crab cakes for our Friday dinner. Alice will leave by a noon flight on Saturday.

The kids have been watching an awful lot of movies and TV shows. After New Year’s Day, we’ll call their holiday TV-watching binge over, and put the TV back in the basement.

Saturday

Once again I’m playing catch-up. I was hoping to have more time, on these last few days of the year, to reflect on things, maybe finish a few books in progress, and come up with some insightful digressions, instead of just reporting what happened. But it seems that at present I am barely able to even keep up. So I’m writing this on Sunday night at about 7:30 p.m. after a dizzying weekend and I have some more chores to do before bedtime.

Grace gave me an update about her obstetrics appointment She did not get to see her obstetrician, and was seen instead by a nurse practitioner at the practice who consulted with a physician on call. The physician did not examine her. She got some specific recommendations on the blood pressure ranges they consider to be hazardous. The nurse practitioner examined her incision, but did not palpate her abdomen. She told Grace that everything looked like it was within the range of normal healing. But I’m not really satisfied — no one felt the difference between the two sides of her belly. I hope that she will soon be able to see her obstetrician who made the incision, and get a more thorough examination.

Grace picked me up at my office Friday evening. I was expecting her about 7:15, which would have left us plenty of time for a Costco trip since they close at 8:30, but she got there about twenty to eight, so it was almost eight when we got to Costco. She had baby Chi with her in the car, and was not feeling up to racing around the story with me, so I did the racing around myself while we exchanged text messages. This time I bought mostly fruit, vegetables, and salad. Benjamin wanted more pot pies. Joshua wanted french fries and sausages. They didn’t have frozen french fries — their frozen sweet potato fries seem to be only a seasonal item. Grace wanted honey. Pippin wanted a surprise, to I got him a box of Taiwanese pineapple cakes. I also got some chicken legs. Our friend Alice wanted vegetables so she could pack some for her return trip, and hummus, so I bought a big vegetable tray and a box of little packs of hummus. I got the Kirkland brand (Costco’s house brand), because I am boycotting Sabra. I also got another bag of chips and a seven-layer dip, for no good reason other than I was craving it.

I considered getting more red meat but just felt a little burned out on red meat. It also seems like I am starting to get a little bit of gout. I was complaining to Grace about a stabbing pain in the ball of my big toe. I thought it might be a plantar wart, but couldn’t find one. Grace suggested gout, so I looked it up on some web sites such as the Mayo Clinic’s web site. The diagrams showing the common location of the pain describe my symptoms exactly. So I will talk about it with my doctor — I see him again in a few days. There’s a possibility it might be related to the blood pressure medication I’m taking, although certainly I could stand to get back onto a healthier diet and exercise regimen.

Speaking of exercise regimen, Grace and I are giving serious thought to spending the rest of my end-of-year bonus on a treadmill. I know that I’d use it, and I think if we put it in the bedroom, she would use it, too, and we could also allow some of the kids to use it, with supervision.

On the way out of the Costco parking lot, I realized that one of my headlights is out. Again. It seems like I just had them both replaced!

When we got home, we put the crab cakes in the oven, then served them with the vegetable tray and the seven-layer dip. Our friend Alice ate a good portion of the dip and chips for dinner. I had hoped that the kids would like the crab cakes, but they didn’t really seem to enjoy them very much.

After dinner, we spent the rest of the evening arguing with the kids about their chores until it was quite late, and eventually went to bed.

Grace’s blood pressure was worry8ingly high again at bedtime, even an hour after her dose of labetalol. So she took another dose of nifedipine, the one with the nasty side effects. This pretty much guaranteed that she was going to feel like crap the next day, exhausted and headachey.

The Next Day

It wasn’t a great night’s sleep — our little Chi is not a bad sleeper as newborns go, but he wakes us up a couple of times. I got up and threw on some extremely casual clothes to go to the Greyhound station in Detroit — jeans with a ripped-out leg, and a button-down shirt that is too ratty to wear to work. I was anxious and hated to just wait around the house while Grace and Alice finished getting ready, so I ran out to get myself a coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit at Tim Horton’s, and to gas up the car. I had been planning to gas it up on the way home from Costco Friday night but I forgot. That’s one of the hazards of getting into a conversation with my wife — I forget my regular routine.

We pulled out of the driveway about ten minutes to eleven and made it to the Greyhound station by 11:45, dropped off Alice, and then got back onto route 10. I asked Grace if she wanted to go ahead and go to the Lego store in Troy at the Somerset Collection mall, as this was something I had hoped to do, in order to get the kids a big Lego set as a post-Christmas gift. She thought that was a good idea so we went there. Grace was not too keen on walking, but fortunately there is a walkway from the parking structure into the mall. Grace needed to eat, so we stopped at a place in the food court called Honey Tree and picked on a strange assortment of food — a chicken shawarma sandwich, a cucumber dill salad, a piece of spanakopita, a bowl of clam chowder, and a bottle of cranberry juice. Everything was pretty good except for the clam chowder, which we both agreed was not worth eating.

We made our way to the Lego store. Grace came in with me for a few minutes, but Chi wanted to nurse again, so we found her a bench and then I went back in. I was considering some of the big, big Lego Ninjago sets like the Ninjago City set or the Ninjago City Docks set. After looking at them in person, though, I decided they were just too big and had too many pieces; they were marked for ages 16 and up, and tagged for expert builders. I think Veronica (14) and Sam (12) could manage sets like that over a few days, but not while surrounded by siblings demanding to participate. I think Grace and I would enjoy it, though, if we had some down time to work on it! I also wasn’t thrilled about spending $230 or $300 on a single set, especially since Grace wanted a Duplo set for Elanor and the younger kids, and I wanted to pick out an “in-between” set for kids who felt too old for the Duplo set and too young for the Ninjago sets.

I wound up solving this by buying a somewhat smaller set, the Destiny’s Bounty, and another one, the Temple of Resurrection. So I bought those two, the Duplo Playground set, and for the middle ages, I chose a Jurassic World Velociraptor Chase set. So I got four sets for a bit more than the price of the giant Ninjago City set. I looked wistfully — again — at the eight hundred dollar Millennium Falcon set on the way out.

We were ready to go, but Grace was feeling flattened, and told me that she needed something to get her up off the bench. So I went on a hunt for a coffee drink. That took some time. None of the storefronts in the food court sold coffee at all. There was a Starbucks, two floors below. There was a very long line at the Starbucks. But I finally was able to bring her back a peppermint mocha, which gave her enough energy to walk to the car. I had to pick up some candy at a little bulk candy place, including some candies in the shape of Lego bricks that actually snap together (well, sort of).

The drive back home was very long, especially since we had to stop so that Grace could nurse baby Chi again. The kids were very excited to see the huge Lego bags holding Lego sets. Veronica in particular was really excited about the Temple of Resurrection — apparently it contains some little masks that she is thrilled to have, although I could not explain why even if I tried. They did not seem excited about the Velociratpor Chase set, though. So we decided they would put together the Destiny’s Bounty ship on the table, and the smaller kids could work on the Duplo set on the floor, and the other two sets would go in our room until later.

Grace had promised our housemate that she would take her to Once Upon a Child, the used clothing store in Ypsilanti, so they left me with baby Chi and headed out again. The kids came to me to complain that some pieces were missing from the Destiny’s Bounty set. Then they found one or two of them, so I’m not sure if any were actually missing, although it wouldn’t be out of the question. If so, it was only a couple of small bricks, and I had to explain to them that I wasn’t going to be able to drive all the way back to Troy anytime soon — they would just have to muddle along as best they could.

When Grace and our housemate got back, our housemate was craving soup. So we improvised a chicken soup in the Instant Pot — we sauteed chopped celery, onion, and carrots, she browned one of the packs of chicken legs in a cast-iron pan, then we put them together in the pot with the two quarts of vegetable broth that Alice didn’t use, along with a bag of the leftover pork and cabbage filling we had made for egg rolls on Christmas Eve. The result was quite tasty.

After getting a dishwasher load going, I helped Grace get herself washed. She is not allowed to bathe her incision fully, and she has been feeling too unstable to take a regular shower. So we put a little water in the tub, so that it stayed below her incision, and she soaped herself and I hosed her off with a spray bottle. She took off the rest of her tape strips, which were loose by now. We didn’t see any more bleeding, so that was encouraging. She does not like to wear the compression belt, but we wrapped her belly up with an ace bandage.

Her blood pressure was high again — so, more nifedipine.

I do have one more book that I’ve been meaning to mention. I’ve been reading a little bit of E. R. Eddison’s Mistress of Mistresses. This is the first book of his Zimiamvia Trilogy. It follows The Worm Ouroborous and seems to take place in another part of the same world, and features a character, Lessingham, who is present in the introductory chapter of The Worm Ouroborous as an observer.

Mistress is a less straightforward and more challenging book. It was the first of the trilogy to be published, but it is chronologically the last of the three. In the first chapter, “The Overture,” we learn that Lessingham, apparently a man of our world, has died. Most of the chapter consists of his best friend recounting a brief history of their friendship to a mysterious woman. Then, the two seal up Lessingham’s corpse in a room, open a secret panel above his bed, which hides a portrait of his dead wife, and burn down the castle. It’s a deeply romantic conceit, and a bit gothic as well. In the next chapter we meet Lessingham again, but it’s a different Lessingham — Lessingham in the afterlife, or a sort of ur-Lessingham, of which the earthly one was a sort of copy. I don’t really claim to know what is going on yet, as I have really only finished the first chapter. But if you’re reading Eddison, you’re probably not really reading him for the story; you’re probably, like me, reading him for the amazing beauty of the his language, and descriptive world-building:

I can see you now, if I shut my eyes; in memory I see you, staring at the Lynxfoot Wall: your kingdom to be, as I very well know you then resolved (and soon performed your resolve): that hundred miles of ridge and peak and precipice, of mountains of Alpine stature and seeming, but sunk to the neck in the Atlantic stream and so turned to islands of an unwonted fierceness, close set, so that seen from afar no breach appears nor sea-way betwixt them. So sharp cut was their outline that night, and so unimaginably nicked and jagged, against the rosy radiance to the north which was sunset and sunrise in one, that for the moment they seemed feigned mountains cut out of smoky crystal and set up against a painted sky. For a moment only; for there was the talking of the waves under our bows, and the wind in our faces, and, as time went by with still that unaltering scene before us, every now and again the flight and wild cry of a black-backed gull, to remind us that this was salt sea and open air and land ahead. And yet it was hard then to conceive that here was real land, with the common things of life and houses of men, under that bower of light where the mutations of night and day seemed to have been miraculously slowed down; as if nature had fallen entranced with her own beauty mirrored in that sheen of primrose light. Vividly, as it had been but a minute since instead of a quarter of a century, I see you standing beside me at the taffrail, with that light upon your lean and weather-beaten face, staring north with a proud, alert, and piercing look, the whole frame and posture of you alive with action and resolution and command. And I can hear the very accent of your voice in the only two things you said in all that four hours’ crossing: first, ‘The sea-board of Demonland.’ Then, an hour later, I should think, very low and dream-like, ‘This is the first sip of Eternity.’

Demonland is the location where the events of The Worm Ouroborous start; it is on the planet Mercury, or at least some version of the planet Mercury.

Mistress of Mistresses clearly won’t be of interest to everyone. I’m still not sure if I’m going to finish reading it. I first picked up the trilogy and Worm in a used bookstore in Erie perhaps back when I was, I think, back in high school, perhaps in 1982 or 1983. I read The Worm Ouroborous back then, with some difficulty. I have since read it and enjoyed it more, and will very likely read it again. But the books of the Zimiamvia trilogy, although fascinating, I couldn’t really penetrate back then. As well as being fantasy novels, they contain deep and antiquated digressions into religion and philosophy. I’m not going to force myself through chapters if my eyes continue to glaze over. But now, thirty-five or more years later, maybe they will open up to me and pull me in.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned This Week

  • Mistress of Mistresses by E. R. Eddison (started)
  • Iron Man (2008 Film)
  • “It Takes You Away” (Doctor Who Series 11 episode)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (finished)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, December 22nd, 2018

Sunday

I’m back at home and it’s aabout 10:30 p.m., and it’s been another long day. Fortunately I got a full night’s sleep last night, so I was pretty well-equipped to handle it. As I was getting ready this morning I bumped into our housemate who was making breakfast for her kids. I gave her a couple of our reusable plastic mousetraps and asked her to put them in the upstairs bathroom with a little peanut butter as bait.

I went to visit Grace and little Malachi this morning, grabbing a small mocha and a tuna sandwich on my way up to her room. Grace was pretty exhausted. She had not been able to get any significant sleep during the night. Malachi did well, though — he’s passed his blood sugar screening. So for a couple of hours I held him, and had him suck on my finger while I dribbled the last of the donor milk into his mouth from a plastic syringe, while Grace got a little sleep.

Grace’s blood pressure had another “overshoot” back up too high, so there was a lot of back-and-forth with the doctor on call about making small tweaks to her medication schedule. Apparently they are generally more worried about the low numbers she had than the elevated numbers she had this morning.

There’s not much to tell about the afternoon. The mother/baby unit doesn’t have spare patient meals on hand sometimes the way the labor and delivery unit does, and I missed lunch at the cafeteria downstairs, so I had to make do with snacks from Joe’s Java, the cafe and shop. Grace and I had a little time to talk about things. She told me that our housemate wouldn’t set the mousetraps. I asked her why she thought that, and her answer was that, basically, she just seems to refuse to do anything we ask her to do, including putting her laundry in the laundry bin instead of on the floor. It seems to be a matter of principle for her, the way it seems to be for some adolescents.

The Haunting of Hill House

I read Grace the rest of chapter 3 of The Haunting of Hill House. Our protagonist Eleanor has now met up with the rest of the cast including Dr. Montague and they begin having conversations as a group. There is some hilarious dialogue in these scenes. Dr. Montague unspools a long story about the history of Hill House. We’re about a third of the way through a novel about a haunted house, and nothing supernatural or frightening has actually happened yet. Jackson is taking her time to really create her setting and characters here.

The Concert

At about a quarter to five I left to go pick up Pippin and Joshua, make sure they were dressed for the Christmas concert, and take them there. They at least had their black pants and dress shirts on. Joshua had his dress black shoes and socks on but Pippin did not — he had his Crocs on. I put on both their ties and tied them, cleaned up a few additional spots on Pippin’s shirt, and asked Joshua to help Pippin get his dress shoes on. He showed up at the door with his shoes on and I think I just assumed that he had his black socks on too, but I found out later he had no socks on.

I drove them to First Presbyterian. They were supposed to be at the church no later than 6:15. We actually got there at 5:45 and I found a place to park in the church parking lot, which was a lot better than how we had to do it last year, parking in a structure. There was a service going on so the choir folks weren’t ready for the kids yet. So I decided to take them for a brief walk, in order to get some food into them, to help make sure no one had a meltdown due to low blood sugar. Unfortunately neither of them had brought a jacket, either. But it was in the forties and we didn’t have far to walk. I took them into a Subway, and we split a roast beef sub. I asked the “sandwich artist” to cut it into quarters. I insisted that we couldn’t have any kind of sauce on the sub, and could eat only the baked, not fried, chips, and couldn’t eat any chips with barbecue flavoring. This was all for the sake of their shirts and ties.

Pippin had agreed to a roast beef sub and I added lettuce and tomato and pickles, but when it came time to eat it, he apparently had a big problem with lettuce and tomato and pickles. I don’t know why. He regularly eats those things at other times. He also complained bitterly that there was “too much air” in his small bag of chips. (Pippin always seems to want things that don’t exist, like a bag of chips with no air in it. Grace says he’s like someone insisting on a kosher ham.) Pippin spent most of the time he had to eat the food complaining about it instead. I pulled all the additions off of Pippin’s sub, set the timer on my phone for two minutes, and told them that was the amount of time they had before we had to leave in order to get back to the church on time. Pippin ate most of his quarter of the sub and we got out of there, and made it back to the church in time for Joshua and Pippin to go in and meet up with their group. I bought a ticket and found a seat pretty close to the front.

The concert went very smoothly from my perspective. My boys were in the first choir, for younger kids. There are three choirs. The music got gradually more complex. Then for the last few songs, they brought all three choirs together, which made for a huge crowd of kids. Pippin was on the far left edge of the group and unfortunately I couldn’t see him very clearly from where I was sitting. During the first song of the full choir he was turning around and seemed to be bumping into or shoving a girl in front of him. I couldn’t tell exactly what was happening or who started it, but there was some kind of altercation going on between the two of them. He got some kind of a warning hand sign from the choir director and I thought he had settled down. But then as the group was doing a kind of spoken-word introduction for the second song, the choir director had to gesture for one of her assistant directors to come and remove him from the group. So Pippin had to spend the rest of the show standing next to the assistant choir director not with the group, but against the far left wall of the sanctuary.

After the show ended and we could turn our phones back on, I explained to Grace what had happened via text message. She was not pleased. There was a reception afterwards. I spoke to the choir director and apologized for Pippin’s behavior. I asked her if she knew what exactly had happened. She didn’t, but Pippin was definitely being disruptive and not focusing on his performance. I didn’t know the girl or her parents and didn’t see her at the reception. Pippin really should apologize to her, and to them.

I drove the boys back to St. Joe’s to say goodnight to Grace and baby Malachi. They’ve already taken to calling him — “Chi.” It’s part of “Malachi,” but it also sounds like Kai, a character in Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu.

As I drove, I told Pippin and Joshua a few of my thoughts. I told them that there were different ways that a child could wind up disrupting a performance and the audience (containing a lot of parents, of course) would be more sympathetic to some of them, and less sympathetic to others. If a child throws up from nerves, or passes out, the choir directors and parents would take care of that child and everyone would feel considerable sympathy. I don’t think any of the audience members would blame the child for an attack of nerves, or for getting dizzy after standing too long packed into an overheated sanctuary. But if a child gets into a fight of some kind, like Pippin did, and gets a warning, and then continues to disrupt the performance, most people will tend to think badly of the parents.

I wasn’t sure what we were going to do with Pippin. If the choir director wanted to give him some kind of disciplinary measure like making him sit out the next concert, or putting him on some kind of probation, I would fully support that decision — Pippin had earned it. But after Grace grilled Pippin for a while about his behavior, she decided that he really just isn’t ready for this. So we will pull him out of choir. Joshua, who was actually old enough to move on to the next-older group of kids, but who stayed behind to support Pippin, might be able to move up now. Pippin needs some time to work on his self-discipline and interpersonal skills. It’s disappointing. But he’s my son, and I can’t really say that I matured quickly, because that would be a big lie. Pippin might be the one who is most like I was as a child, mild autism and all.

Grace’s blood pressure hadn’t really settled down yet, so the medical staff added a second medication. She’s not having the lows and highs she had Friday, but her system definitely hasn’t become stable yet. She managed to get a shower, to wash her incision. It’s not bleeding or leaking any fluid but she had lost a tape strip and apparently it had separated a bit. So I’m not entirely convinced that she’ll be ready to come home tomorrow, although Malachi is cleared to go.

I hope she can get a good night’s sleep. I’ll get back over there tomorrow morning to check on everyone.

When I got home the house wasn’t too much of a mess. An no, our housemate had not set the mousetraps I asked her to set. They were still sitting on the kitchen counter. And the stove is crusted with grease and spills, and the bottom of the oven is full of burned-on spills.

I only took two more days off this week and it looks like I’ll have to spend a part of at least one of them deep-cleaning the stove and oven again, hopefully before someone starts a fire. If I need to, I’ll take another day or two, but taking more days now will mean I’ll have to go into work during the week of Christmas.

It’s about 11:30. Goodnight!

Monday

I’m writing this at about 6:45 Tuesday morning, as I didn’t get a chance to write last night.

I slept fairly late again Monday morning — apparently I was still catching up on sleep. I made it to Grace’s room sometime after 10:00 with a double mocha and a couple of sandwiches in hand. I brought in the baby car seat with me, expecting that all three of us would be going home about 3:00. But when I got in, I learned that Grace had been cleared to go home. So, we got packed up, and went through the process of readjusting the straps in the car seat to hold a baby smaller than Eleanor. We had Grace in her wheelchair out in the hall, and we were on our way down to the lobby, where I was going to get the car warmed up, loaded with bags, and then bring it up to the front driveway to load Grace and the baby in his car seat.

On our way out the door one of the nurses took another blood pressure reading. This one was actually apparently a mistake — she wasn’t scheduled for any more readings. But it was very high. So they took more readings, including one with a manual sphygmomanometer. (I got second place in a college spelling be with that word.) Her numbers were very bad. I think the highest reading was around 190 over 120.

So, it was back into bed for Grace while various doctors tried to figure out what to do with her medications. The gave her another long-acting procardia, and more labetalol. Then another short-acting procardia on top of that. Her pressures came down a little, but not nearly enough. I spent several extremely pleasant hours, on and off, holding baby Malachi on my lap and on my chest, whenever he was done nursing with Grace. Pleasant hours, except of course for the fear that my wife and companion and the mother of my children was going to blow a gasket.

Grace was not able to see her regular gynecologist and apparently it was a very busy afternoon and evening for births. So, mostly, we waited. Towards evening they took her back to the labor and delivery unit, because they are set up there with equipment that can do automatic monitoring of blood pressure at whatever interval they want. So we were getting readings every 15 minutes.

Her diastolic gradually came down to 150s and then to 140s, but her systolic was then down into the 60s or so. I wasn’t writing these down. The procardia gave her diarrhea and a headache, which is her usual reaction to procardia. Her pain level started to creep up, so she asked for tylenol and, later, percoset. We are wondering if some of her blood pressure problem might be in response to pain.

I read Grace another part of a chapter of The Haunting of Hill House, with many interruptions. We are into some parts with very funny dialog, and getting more details about the strange geometry and furnishings of Hill House.

Malachi continued to want to be held all the time, whether he was nursing or sleeping. When I left we were trying to get him to accept being swaddled and sleeping in the bin. I asked a nurse to track down a pacifier. We very rarely use them but it seemed like it was time to try one, because I had to take my pinky finger home.

We made some arrangements for a couple of people to drop in and check on the kids Tuesday. Our friend Joy is planning to come visit on Wednesday.

I had left my bag at home because I thought we were coming home, and I didn’t want to have an extra bag to carry. This meant I had also accidentally left my blood pressure medication at home. I normally take it about 1:30 in the afternoon, but I didn’t get a dose, so towards evening I was getting a bit of a headache, too. I did not want to complicate matters by asking if they would take my blood pressure, so resolved to just take all my pills when I got home.

When I left at about a quarter to 11, Grace hadn’t actually seen a physician for almost twelve hours, although we were told that the resident and intern were being kept in the loop, and had been asking to see whoever was available. Grace was planning to see if her old obstetrician, Dr. Fleming, might be able to come for a second opinion this morning.

When I got home, the kids had not taken the trash or recycling out, and everyone was in bed. So I had to roust a couple of kids and get them to finish that chore. The kitchen wasn’t in great shape, but I was not prepared to do anything about it. So I took my own pills and went on to bed. My last couple of text messages from Grace indicated that she still hadn’t been able to see a doctor.

Tuesday

I woke up a bit after 6:00 and could not fall back asleep for a little more rest, so I went downstairs to get my laptop and wrote the above entry for Monday. It’s about 7:15 now. I’m going to put my laptop away, get washed up and dressed, grab some kind of breakfast and coffee, and go see how Grace and the baby are doing.

Later

OK! So, it is now Friday afternoon and I have some catching up to do.

Tuesday morning I got myself back to the hospital, and shortly after I arrived the nursing staff wheeled baby Malachi back from the nursery. There was a lot of waiting around and a number of pieces of paperwork to complete. Grace had finally gotten to consult with her obstetrician and she came up with a medication plan that seemed reasonable, involving two blood pressure medications. The first one is her usual labetalol. The second one, nefedipine, is effective but the side effects are bad: diziness and an unpleasant headache. She also continued to take Percocet, which is oxycodone with acetominophen (aka paracetamol) and it seems as if the pain reliever may also have helped reduce her blood pressure.

Little Malachi at some point had another measurement of his bilirubin taken, which was the last test that might have delayed his discharge. It was normal, meaning that he showed no sign of jaundice. So he was entirely ready to come home.

We finally got out the door about 3:00 after some complicated maneuvers involving putting some bags in the car, walking to the pharmacy via a staff-only shortcut, finding out that Grace’s five prescriptions weren’t ready to pick up yet, then walking back the long way around to get back to the labor and delivery unit, walking to parking lot Q to bring my car up to the Family Birthing Center entrance, waiting for Grace to come down in a wheelchair, bringing in the car seat and getting Malachi trussed up and into the warmed-up car, then driving back to the pharmacy and leaving Grace and the baby at the main entrance, finding out that Grace’s prescriptions still weren’t ready because apparently a pill-counting machine was malfunctioning, pacing around for another half-hour, looking at compression socks in the gift shop and discovering they cost over thirty dollars, declaring “fuck that,” and, finally, getting the prescriptions and driving Grace and little Chi home.

I had a text message from my boss that my annual bonus check was at the office, and I wanted to get that into my checking account right away to avoid hitting the line of credit for any more money. So I took Veronica and Sam with me and drove out to my office, picked up my check, told my boss I needed to take Wednesday off, then drove to Meijer on Jackson to deposit the check.

As soon as I walked into Meijer, I smelled an Iron Man DVD for $9.99 — I have wanted for some time to pick up a copy of Iron Man, the first movie, but had not yet seen it on sale. There it was, back with the DVDs — for $9.99. So I bought it. Veronica also asked for a copy of the Trolls movie soundtrack, so I bought that for her too, and then unfortunately we had to listen to it in the car while we ran the rest of our errands. Then we went looking for compression socks. I found a couple of pairs for Grace to try, and none of them were anywhere near thirty dollars.

After those errands we ran out to King Shing on Carpenter and put in a big order for Chinese takeout, including several previously forbidden dishes, now that Veronica and Joshua no longer seem to have their allergies to peanuts and shrimp, respectively. We ordered dumplings, sesame balls, Ma Po tofu (my personal favorite), pad thai with chicken, beef with broccoli, orange chicken, and a fried shrimp dish. The shrimp dish was not actually very good but no one cared — and Joshua was just excited to be eating a shrimp dish again. While King Shing was cooking our order we ran to CVS pharmacy and I found another pair of compression socks for Grace to try — these were more expensive, but they were an actual medical-device brand, so I felt slightly better about spending the money on them. Then we hauled all our spoils home.

For the rest of the evening we gorged ourselves on Chinese food and new-baby appreciation, while the kids watched Iron Man, then went to bed. Everyone was excited to meet little Chi.

Wednesday

I got up and started working on overdue kitchen cleaning, first cleaning the stovetop, then reheating the leftover shrimp dish in the oven for Grace, who asked to eat it, then sprayed the oven with oven cleaner and turned on the fan and timer, thinking that I was going to get back to finishing the oven cleaning in about twenty minutes. I was then planning to run Grace and Chi to Domino’s Farms for his first pediatric appointment.

While I was doing more cleaning our housemate asked me to help her go pick up her baby son at her boyfriend’s mother’s apartment, so I ran her out there.

On the way she realized that she needed to get some more baby formula, but she didn’t have her WIC card with her. So I ran back to our house so she could get her WIC card, then drove her and her son up to Kroger. She had wanted to go to the Stony Creek Road Kroger, but I didn’t feel we had time for that, so I took her to the closer one on Carpenter Road.

I thought she was going to just run in and get formula, and calculated that I would have just enough time to get home to pick up Grace and Chi and get them to his first pediatric appointment on time. But she turned it into a big shopping trip, and apparently had trouble figuring out what was covered and what wasn’t covered by WIC. It is confusing, so I can’t entirely blame her, even though she’s had many months on WIC to figure out how to look for the WIC tags on the shelves, but somehow she wound up in the checkout line with a lot of items that weren’t approved for WIC, and so a stranger in line wound up paying for her extra items.

All this took some time. I got her back to the house about the time that Grace was supposed to be at her appointment. I had her call and tell the practice that we were going to be late, and got Chi trussed up into his car seat, and managed to get him to the appoinment only ten or fifteen minutes late.

After Chi’s appointment Grace and I took the opportunity to have a quick date, and had a late lunch at Umi Sushi. I had a wonderful bowl of tonkotsu ramen. I didn’t think it was wise for Grace to have that much sodium, so she had a less-salty dish of yakisoba with beef and reported that it was excellent.

When I got home, I wound up taking a long nap while our housemate used the kitchen. Then I finished cleaning out the oven, got a breakfast-for-dinner meal together, making a batch of chocolate chip paleo pancakes and a big batch of scrambled eggs, while Veronica assembled one of our Costco salad kits. So that was dinner. The kids screwed around wasting time for some time — about two hours. I read them a bedtime story — a few more pages from The Fellowship of the Ring, the start of the company’s journey into Moria. Again, there are more strange details in this part of the story than I remember. The “watcher” is described in positively Lovecraftian terms:

Out from the water a long sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was pale-green and luminous and wet. Its fingered end had hold of Frodo’s foot, and was dragging him into the water. Sam on his knees was now slashing at it with a knife.

When Jackson and his team developed this into a visual, the monster they portrayed has a lot of tentacles, but I don’t think they are “fingered” at the end. That’s a an unnerving and weird detail! Tolkien makes it stranger by describing the tentacles as “arms” in some passages:

The arm let go of Frodo, and Sam pulled him away, crying out for help. Twenty other arms came rippling out. The dark water boiled, and there was a hideous stench.

And Gandalf gives us some more to think about:

‘I felt that something horrible was near from the moment that my foot first touched the water,’ said Frodo. ‘What was the thing, or were there many of them?’

‘I do not know,’ answered Gandalf; ‘but the arms were all guided by one purpose. Something has crept, or has been driven out of dark waters under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.’ He did not speak aloud his thought that whatever it was that dwelt in the lake, it had seized on Frodo first among all the Company.

This is a very suggestive passage: it makes the Watcher in the Water’s back-story feel a little bit like Gollum’s back-story; Gollum also “crept… out of dark waters under the mountains.” And both were apparently drawn to the One Ring. In the Peter Jackson film, Gandalf’s statement, that “[t]here are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world,” is moved just a bit — Gandalf speaks these words after the Fellowship has left the Watcher behind, saying “We now have but one choice. We must face the long dark of Moria. Be on your guard — there are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.” In this slightly altered context, the words now foreshadow Gandalf’s encounter with the Balrog.

Thursday

Thursday morning I got myself up and out relatively early. Our friend Joy had told us that unfortunately she couldn’t make it out to visit. I had originally been hoping to work Wednesday through Friday, so that I could take the 27th, 28th, and 31st off. But it was clear that Grace needed more help. Between the nifedipene and the painkillers and the post-surgical pain itself, she wasn’t well enough to drive, or to cook meals, or to walk more than a few feet. So I had a lot to do on Thursday, because there were lots of things on the schedule.

My first errand was to go out to my office and meet with my boss. I put vacation day requests into the timekeeping system for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and used my single “floating holiday” for the 24th, and my last vacation day for the 26th. I told my boss that I might need to take the last three work days of the year as some kind of unpaid leave, possibly under the auspices of the FMLA. There is no standard way to request that in the timekeeping system, so he agreed to inquire about that on my behalf. So I asked him to prepare the unpaid leave scenario as a backup plan; if Grace is able to manage without me, I will plan to work those last few days.

After that I had a whole series of errands. I needed to run our housemate and two of her children up to the parking lot of a nearby school to meet her boyfriend, so I did that, then came back and picked up Sam, and ran him back out to Plymouth Road for a speech therapy session. Since we were right next to Umi Sushi, afterwards I got Sam a bowl of the same ramen that I had enjoyed so much the previous day. Meanwhile I tried their bibimbap. Sam enjoyed the ramen and actually finished the entire bowl. I was impressed, and told him “today, you are a man, my son.” The bibimbap at Umi Sushi was not offensively bad, but not something I would ever order again — it didn’t hold a candle to the dish as I’ve had it at some wonderful hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurants, or even at the late and much-lamented Eastern Accents.

My day of errands wasn’t done yet. I had to take Joshua to Saline for a small performance of just the Brio choir (a sub-group of the Viva Voce youth choirs) at a nursing home in Saline. His sister Veronica came along to hear him perform. That was a nice low-key event, but the residents seemed to appreciate it.

From there, I ran up to Costco and bought a relatively large load of groceries including two boxes of Duraflame logs, more red meat for Grace, fruit, shrimp for Friday’s dinner, and a few extra treats including a pecan pie and some Nutella. Then we got that all home, and put away, and had a dinner of burgers, salad, leftover pasta and beans, and the pie. After dinner, again, no one seemed to able to manage their usual evening chores. It seems like they have completely forgotten how the evening routine of cleanup, teeth-brushing, and dressing for bed goes. So we didn’t manage a story.

I have to take a brief time-out to run our housemate back up to the school parking lot to pick up her kids. I’ll do that, then try to remember what happened today.

Friday

Well, forty minutes later, I’m still waiting to give our housemate a ride, and she’s still on the phone arguing with the person she is supposed to meet, so I’ll try to finish Friday. It’s about 6:00 p.m.

Little Malachi is a pretty good sleeper, as babies go, but our night’s sleep is still slightly disrupted as he wakes up and fusses briefly a few times during the night. So I wound up sleeping fairly late this morning. When I got up, I had a bath and made a large coffee with coconut milk, to share with Grace. I’m trying a type of Starbucks instant coffee to see if that tastes better, and is easier on my stomach, than the Trader Joe’s instant coffee. (Spoiler: it doesn’t, and isn’t.)

Then I drove Grace to Brighton for her first postpartum appointment in Brighton, which wound up being just a blood pressure check — so we drove all the way to Brighton with Chi just so Grace could have her blood pressure checked, something we could have done at home. That’s an annoyance — Grace thought she’d be seeing her obstetrician, but apparently the practice is short-staffed as we get close to Christmas. Anyway, the upshot is that Grace will go off the nifedipine, and monitor her blood pressure herself. That might help get rid of her dizziness and headache. Fortuntaely Chi seems to tolerate the car seat very well — he falls asleep shortly after the car gets moving.

Also, she will soon run out of Percoset, but they declined to give her more because it contains an opioid. They only gave her twenty pills, with an indication to take two every four hours as needed. She’s been taking them less often than that, and so they’ve lasted since Tuesday, but I’m scratching my head a bit about that, because I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect her pain to be gone the seventh day after major abdominal surgery. I’m also worried that going off the painkiller will cause her blood pressure to increase. But I guess she’ll try some combination of acetominophen and ibuprofen for the pain, and see if that is sufficient. If her blood pressure spikes dramatically she’ll go back on the nifedipine.

While I was getting ready to take Grace to her appointment, our housemate was trying to arrange to meet her boyfriend again, and I was ready to give her a quick ride up the school parking lot. But that turned into some sort of extended argument over the phone, and so they didn’t agree to meet. Now this evening apparently they are still negotiating. Meanwhile, we’re having the kids get the fireplace cleaned out, put away a batch of broth that Grace cooked in the Instant Pot last night, and heat a pot of leftover rice to eat with our shrimp and salad for dinner.

The Bloody Chamber

I’m not sure exactly when I managed to read some more stories in Angela Carter’s collection The Bloody Chamber, but in some bits of down time over the last few days, I read a couple more of them: “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” and “The Tiger’s Bride.” These are both really terrific stories — heavily symbolic, erotic, earthy, and visceral. I’m hoping that maybe I’ll be able to finish this collection before the end of 2018!

It’s going to be a strange, isolated Christmas. We’re trying to make plans to celebrate as best we can. But with one car, with only four seats, we won’t be able to take everyone to dinner at Aunt Shelley’s house, or go out to a restaurant, or even to Mass. We are planning to make egg rolls, but if Grace can’t manage to cook them, even with help, I’ll run to King Shing and we’ll get a big order of egg rolls to go.

It’s time for dinner! After dinner, the kids want to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, so that’s the tentative plan.

Saturday

It’s 6:00 in the evening. It’s pitch black out now, but we’ve made it past the shortest day of the year! Also, there’s a partial government shutdown just in time for Christmas.

Today was “consciously wasted” — Grace and I did next to nothing. We directed the kids to do the kitchen cleanup they didn’t do, last night. I had Veronica make a pan full of bacon. I made some peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, tea, and coffee, and then later some prosciutto and butter sandwiches. Shortly I’ll get moving and make some lamb chops for dinner. I gave my housemate a ride up to the school to meet her boyfriend and pick up her baby son, then drove her up to a convenience store to get some soda. Her boyfriend gave her a waffle maker, so she’s been making waffles.

One of my co-workers had given me a bag of Christmas cookies. I left the bag sitting on one of the little side counters in the kitchen. It had my name on it. There was a spare pastry from Joe and Rosie’s and a bag of homemade biscotti that I was looking forward to eating this morning with my coffee. This morning the pastry and bag of biscotti were gone. We interviewed all our kids and no one would cop to talking these items. I guess it was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

For most of the rest of the day, Grace and I just chatted and lounged around and napped while the kids watched videos. Grace got some much-needed extra sleep to aid her recovery, in between many rounds of nursing Malachi and changing his diaper. He’s blown through an astonishing number of diapers today. His little tiny baby fingers are already plumping up. You can practically see him growing. No doubt he’s already gotten back to his birth weight, and probably passed it. His little umbilical cord stump fell off. As I type this on my laptop in the dark, he’s giggling in his sleep.

For some reason my seasonal allergies are back. It’s been so warm — well above freezing every day recently — that it seems maybe I’m getting the brunt of leaf mold. I thought I might be getting a virus, but I think it’s the allergy problem I had this past summer, returning. So today I dosed myself with Claritin, Flonase, and my albuterol inhaler, and I’ll try that for a few days. I thought I could stay off it for the winter — the general advice that I’ve heard is to stop after the first hard freeze. But what do you do when the hard freeze is followed by weeks and weeks of thaws?

As the Starks don’t say in the Game of Thrones books, “winter is going.”

We got an interesting Christmas card last night from a Saginaw resident who is interested in buying our old house. He included his phone number, so I gave him a call, and we spoke for some time. Apparently he’s been watching the house for a long time. He actually approached our former realtor earlier in the year, but this was right after we had accepted the offer from the woman who eventually had to back out (after keeping the house under contract for more than a month) because her financing fell apart when she was unable to sell her home. Then apparently he also approached our second realtor a couple of months ago, but this was after we had sent our second realtor a lease with purchase option agreement to look over, and so apparently our second realtor told him it wasn’t available. Then, after leaving us hanging for a month, our second realtor decided not to take the lease, but mentioned that there was a guy who was interested. At that point, we no longer wanted to pursue any arrangement that involved that realtor, so we did not pursue it. Having been rebuffed twice, he continued to keep an eye on the house, and noticed that it had still not sold, and so looked up our contact information via public records, and sent us the card.

Could this be the Christmas Miracle we’ve become too exhausted to hope for — that we can finally sell our house? It’s too early to know yet. He’s going to look into his finance options and we’re going to see where we are with respect to our agreement with the aforementioned second realtor. If our agreement with that individual is expired, I think we could probably move ahead and accept an offer without a seller’s agent, just using an attorney to handle the closing paperwork. But — it’s very tentative right now. Still, a ray of hope on the horizon is better than no ray of hope on the horizon.

Luke

Last night we tried to catch up on Luke — we’re hopelessly behind, since we missed a week of bedtime chapters. I read a couple of chapters last night and we got somewhat bogged down trying to explain the Parable of the Unjust Steward. In trying to explain this parable, I realized that perhaps I didn’t understand it as well as I thought I did. It doesn’t seem entirely clear whether Jesus is holding the Steward up as a model, or not, and what behavior of the steward’s he is or isn’t commending. I think some historical context has been lost. Was the steward doing his master’s debtors a favor, in the hopes that they might hire him in the future, since he was losing his job? And was this shrewd, or corrupt?

Wikipedia says:

The parable on the face of it, appears to be commending dishonest behaviour. This issue is sometimes addressed by suggesting that the manager is forgoing a commission due to him personally, but some scholars disagree with this interpretation. However, although the master has “a certain grudging admiration” for the manager’s “shrewdness,” Jesus labels the manager “dishonest.” To add to the interpretations, several different sayings about money were attached to the parable here.

And also:

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the parable is about an agent who, knowing he is about to be fired for usury, repents of his sin, asking the debtors to only pay what they owe his master — rather than pay him as well.

In other words, he is forgoing his interest or agent’s fees for managing the loan. I’m not sure that I’m convinced by that argument.

I remember the added sayings about money better than I do the parable itself — the lines about being unable to serve two masters are are well-known and easy to explain. Some other lines are not so easy:

And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

I’m going to have to read some interpretive texts, I think. It makes me feel like Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade:

I’ve learned to read some. Took me four years to read the Bible. I reckon I understand a great deal of it. Wasn’t what I expected in some places.

The Fellowship of the Ring

We didn’t make a lot of progress, because Elanor was starting to fuss, but we read a few pages about the Fellowship’s progress into Moria. There were only a few passages that jumped out at me. Aragorn reassures the party that Gandalf knows what he is doing:

‘He has led us in here against our fears, but he will lead us out again, at whatever cost to himself. He is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel.’

That’s a throwaway reference that Tolkien never expanded on, in The Lord of the Rings, but it also contains a little more foreshadowing of Gandalf’s fate, in the phrase “at whatever cost to himself.” Tolkien did write more about this queen, though, and what he wrote has been published in Unfinished Tales.

There’s a brief mention in passing of the party’s traversal of a chasm more than seven feet across:

There were fissures and chasms in the walls and floor, and every now and then a crack would open right before their feet. The widest was more than seven feet across, and it was long before Pippin could summon enough courage to leap over the dreadful gap.

I asked my kids to tell me whether they thought they could leap across a seven-foot gap and to a child, they said that they certainly could. So I think we’re going to half to do an experiment, in the driveway, with a measuring tape and some chalk marks. I’m finding it hard to convince myself that the three foot six inch hobbits could jump the gap, especially the middle-aged and somewhat portly Frodo. We’ll have to do the experiment.

And, finally, in last night’s reading we were reintroduced to Gollum, who somehow managed to slip inside Moria before the Watcher slammed the doors — or perhaps he found his way in via a different route? In any case, he’s following them, just out of view:

Yet Frodo began to hear, or to imagine that he heard, something else: like the faint fall of soft bare feet. It was never loud enough, or near enough, for him to feel certain that he heard it; but once it had started it never stopped, while the Company was moving.

That’s where we stopped last night, so I’m going to stop, and go make dinner. I think I’ll pan-fry the small lamb steaks and we’ll eat those with salad and whatever leftovers look good. Maybe we’ll watch an episode of Doctor Who.

This is the 51st weekly post of 2018; I’ve only got one more full week to write about, and then a couple of extra days, and I’ll be done with 2018! I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do then, except that it will probably involve a break from writing this kind of a journal.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned This Week

  • Luke (Revised New American Bible, 1986-1990 edition)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Penguin Deluxe Trade Paperback Edition)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (in progress)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, December 22nd, 2018