Monday, November 14, 2011

Love letters

I guess I feel a burning need to discuss my Anglophilia, post a very fun trip to London this past week.  Sure, I don't know any other languages so maybe it's just laziness on my part.  Or could it be heritage?  My grandfather's family immigrated from England (by way of Ireland of course, but that used to be a family secret) at the turn of the twentieth century and when I was a kid my relatives still embraced an awful lot of Irish and English culture within the family.  Although 70 years later it was mostly expressed in the form of insanity but also in our family food preparation, dress, commonly used words and phrases and grudges held.  
bikes and phone boxes still around in 2011
Andrew Sullivan, slightly more popular blogger than I, posted this weekend about what he misses most about England.  It got me thinking about what is special for me.  It's certainly not the people, or the weather, or even the food that keeps me coming back.  One doesn't always feel the love when it comes to these dimensions of English life.  But I relish crazy little things, like the idea of a shadow government functioning in fantasy alongside the real government.  I love that in an otherwise expensive economy for consumers, candy and tabloids are and have always been an incredible bargain.  I love all British comedy and most British TV, music and newspapers.  I love that department stores are alive and well.  I love that pubs are full in the afternoons of people drinking beer and that people smoke cigarettes (granted outside now) without looking furtive or ashamed.  I love that the whole country has shared identity through the BBC and the monarchy and the Church of England.  I love that women's fashion is always slightly slutty and that breast cleavage is freely shown and rarely mentioned.

my favorite department store

delicious meal at The Ivy after the theater,
where the star of our play came in minutes after us and sat just two tables away


I love that you can say "fuck" on television but never "bloody".  I love, and I will loosely quote Andrew Sullivan who said it most aptly, "[the lack] of religious extremism in public discourse."  I love the year round greenness of grass and the care of a garden rather than a lawn.  I love the tradition of arranging small Christmas parties at restaurants with friends and colleagues and the very dear aspect of those parties which is hand delivering Christmas cards to one another given out at the table like valentines.   I love the progressive nature of art appreciation in London within the same society that has a great misunderstanding still of what causes illness and what cures it.  This fact was never so clear to me as when Olivia's foot was runover at school by a car and while waiting for the ambulance, the school secretary made her a cup of tea.



a perfect view of parliament
So there's my love letter about my homeland.  As for my love letter about my husband, I simply state in the most British way possible, "Well done you."  I feel lucky and always slightly suspicious of being undeserving of all the love and good stuff in life that feels heaped upon me, like Mardi Gras beads on a baby.  But I'm mixing my geographic metaphors.
I am terrible at selfies

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween

Homemade soup, butternut squash, Halloween, caramel apples, crunchy leaves, golden sunlight.  It's fall and it's lovely.  And tonight, a first!   I broke my streak of 20 plus years of having way too much candy on Halloween.  I actually ran out of every single last piece of candy in the joint with over 200 pieces walking away with Packers and Yankees and ghouls and witches and princesses and ninjas.  Tiny tigers and pumpkins, round and clueless as they were cute, plunging pudgy hands into the candy bowl for candy I'm sure they would never eat.   I'm not even sure they knew it was candy, it was just colorful.  There's nothing more triumphant than running out of a reputable amount of candy.  It kind of puffs you up.  Ran out of candy, what can you do?  I'm awesome.   Really what I forget is that we don't have any candy coming in anymore on Halloween, just going out.  No bags to raid for those last few kids that show up to the party late.  I rooted through the pantry shelves and came up with single serving potato chips and Cliff bars.  But in the end it was too tragic, so after about three kids I turned out the lights.

The Chicken and Mrs. Bachmann
Our street has evolved as the new drive-in street for kids across the way.  It's an easy access street, close by, wide and car-friendly. Parents can hover at or crawl along the curb while the kids do a few houses at a time before hitting a curmudgeon's house.  Then they get a whoop or a whistle from the car and all go hopping back in the car in search of more lighted houses. When I was young, it was mere feet between neighbors, but the little legs here have to go quite a bit further between houses for a hard won snack size candy bar.  The kids come in big groups, all ages and sizes, some with costumes and some without, it really doesn't matter because most are wearing coats.  There might be several moms or dads or just older siblings leading the way.  Some families collect candy for the baby in the stroller, a favorite tradition of ours from our days in West Philly.  The kids are fearful of stepping into the foyer presumably because they've been told never to go into stranger's houses (good rule), so I have to step outside to give the candy and get a look at their costumes.  They say Trick or Treat and thank you without prompting. Some of them go off script and tell me how nice my house is which I find touching.  They feel like neighbors but I don't know where they live and I wish I knew them better.  Ally told me to stop giving two and three pieces at a time, admonishing me that I would run out.  "I heard you out there sneaking them extra pieces, Mom.  No wonder you ran out."  I know, I can't help myself.  

ironically the mime is stuck outside the glass door
Halloween is a special night for me, from growing up in the trick or treating capital of the world, Narberth, PA to starting a Halloween tradition in West Philly that continues today and now to Madison where I'm mostly the nice older lady who is a soft touch.   Ah, whatever.  It's one night and no need for limits.  As my neighbor posted on Facebook tonight, and I paraphrase, "if I ever get tired of cute little princesses and pumpkins ringing my doorbell, commence with the beatings."
http://ucreview.com/eve-of-all-hollows-celebrated-in-spruce-hill-p3031-1.htm

Friday, October 14, 2011

Six weeks. I know I know.

Sometimes it takes six weeks to think of something to write about something that doesn't begin with "those darn kids of mine..."  That's all I'm saying.  They are mind suckers.  Only I didn't say sucker.

This week I'm feeling my dinosaur bones creak but I'm loving it because finally it has been revealed to me where my knowledge of the past is relevant!   In the event of a power outage.

early morning fog over the Wisconsin Capitol


As part of our clinic's emergency preparedness, we have been walking through the steps we would need to take in the event of a cut in the power to our computers.  Everything is automated in our little corner of the health care world, from parking to registration to filling prescriptions at Walgreens.  The paper chart is gone, the consultation forms are gone, the prescription pads are gone--all information is stored in one giant program on the computer for the entire organization.  And for most people, they can't remember working any another way.  Coming from the school district where paper is still very much alive, this change to the paperless health care setting was probably the biggest shock to me, and it still is.

I run with what we call in nursing, the pumps and pearls crowd.   Most of them are younger than me by about a decade.  It keeps my wardrobe hip but in my brain I quietly identify with the ladies who wear Christmas sweaters and Sketchers.  I run in a fast circle of power pals in business attire, attending meetings to discuss and strategize about things that nurses in patient care couldn't begin to care about and don't need to because I'm there.   I do believe, I do believe, I do believe.   It's been a learning curve over the first year to see the value in what I do.    Policy, standards, regulatory, organizational, evidence based practice, quality improvement, meaningful use--buzzy buzz words that mostly make sense to me now.  But I also clean clinic rooms between patients, I hold kids during procedures, I talk to parents pissed off because they've waited two hours to see the doctor and I help lost people find their way.  I'm the rarest of pumps and pearls--I'm also a mensch.   They've embraced me.  It's been a year.  Hurray, I'm through it.

Kansas butterfly


So, back to "downtime".  I can't even go into the details of an absurd conversation about coming up with a plan for running clinic during a full power outage. We can run as long as 90 minutes behind schedule when we're working with full power.  Really, we're going to try to see patients with no power?  I'm thinking we just tell everybody to go home.  (and that right there is why I'm not in charge)  I was willing, however, to entertain the possibility of how we would run clinic without the use of computers.  The sheer notion of developing a work flow involving pen and paper or gasp, talking face to face is always perplexing for everyone in the group EXCEPT this woman of  a certain age who during the dry run sat blithly in a chair and chirped, "...Heaven forbid we might have to use paper or talk to one another!" The group ignored the sarcasm and communicated with weary glances that this woman should sit quietly and keep thoughts of the good old days to herself while the real grown ups talked.  Fine, whatever.

Late autumn Kansas sunflower 


Them: "So, how will radiology know that patients are sitting out here in the waiting room?"
Me: "Somebody could walk back there and actually talk to the radiology tech."
Them: "Shut up Julie."
Them: "Anyway, and how will the lab know that the family has checked in?"
Me: "The lab person could walk down the hallway and talk to the front desk staff or vice versa?"
Them: "No, that won't work."


I'm just trying to keep it real.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

One stick at a time

The words haven't been coming to me this summer.  Frustratingly, I've started lots of posts never to finish them.  
Daytime firepit...who knew you could enjoy that?  My dad's a rulebreaker.

Our new lake house is a pleasant distraction from my distraction.  The house faces west so the sun is a long time coming over the trees to the dock, but it makes for a pretty morning with the creep of the light over the rooftop cutting through the trees, casting the brightest light and deepest shadows in the yard. Superimposed fern silhouettes layer one over another in a feathery pattern of every possible shade of green.  It's peaceful and natural.  But then when that gets boring, just follow me five miles up the road for cocktail hour and a cooked meal in Minocqua.

The paths begin to take shape
Olivia's gone to college and she's thriving according to local reports.  I'm more than surviving and less than thriving with her departure. It's just weird.  But as I've told my friends, all the registration stuff for high school came in the mail and none of it had Olivia's name on it so I knew she had to go.  You don't have to be independent but you can't stay here.


My dad and I headed north last weekend for a look at our house and it took him all of ten minutes before his knees were in the dirt.  A huge woodpile/mudpile had been plowed/bobcatted against a little grove of trees to clear the way for digging up the old septic tank.  A giant mess of tangled cut wood, plants and dirt that had been burrowed and co-opted by chipmunks who clucked and scampered and scolded whenever anybody came near.  So much literal dead wood, I couldn't face it!  Chip tried to tackle it a few weeks ago and I made him stop.  It seemed insurmountable.  But piece by piece, my dad, who doesn't heed me like Chip does, began to root through the pile pieces one by one for the most burnable to least burnable wood and stacked it painstakingly.

"Dad, stop. It's too much."
"Why should I stop?  I love working like this."
"How can you love it?  It's overwhelming.  I don't even know where to begin out here in the yard, there's so much debris."
"Jul, you just move it one stick at a time until it's done."



One stick at a time.  Big tasks have been scary lately.  I don't know if it's been the unsettling nature of sending a kid to college, going back to work, or just getting older.  But my dad's simple words freed me for the weekend, by simply telling me to start the task.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The heat was on.

Blistering heat.  It's finally moving east but the past week has been like a long plane ride for me. Trapped and airless days and nights strung together, stuck either inside work or inside the house.  I felt and behaved like a caged wild beast.


I pushed myself to go to the Concert on the Square this week despite the hysteria that it would be so hot people would die trying.  And what a good decision it was.  The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, incidentally conducted by our darling friend and neighbor Andrew Sewell, performs Wednesday evenings on the grounds of the Capitol (that's with an O, teachers) all summer.  It's free and a blanket and a bottle is the standard minimum-full on picnic dinners are common. It's a wine swillin' crowd generally.   What's stopping anybody from attending is a mystery to me.  This week, Andrew had recruited Revival, an ABBA tribute band, for the orchestra to accompany.  The band used the rotunda as their back stage and "took the stage" in a grand fashion on the Capitol steps to the sounds of a whoop whoop whoop of a chopper, as if they had somehow just landed downtown from Sweden just for us!  Hilariously cheesy but in the final analysis they brought some musical chops.  Showmanship if nothing else with gold capes and entreaties for getting the crowd on its feet, which they accomplished and was no small feat given the temperature.

Back in the day, when I was at the mercy of the disc jockey on WFIL FM radio, I was not a fan of ABBA, despite enduring the song Fernando incessantly.  The soaring melodies and the Swinglish lyrics made no sense to me as a kid, but then again, I hadn't yet traveled beyond Ohio and I loved the band, Kiss.  I'm not here to judge.

My friend Martha, with whom I braved the temperatures only to be rewarded with a cup of homemade gazpacho for my trouble, is a cellist and a lifelong musician/biology nerd by her description.  When I told her I didn't go for ABBA as a kid because I was pretty hard core rock, she replied, "For me, ABBA was hard core."  That was funny and of course, a little sad.  But the thing is,  I did eventually grow up and  began to see the merits of pop in my life.  And I'm not giving Mamma Mia any credit for this because I think that show, despite it's popularity with women, is lame-O!

Nearly 100 degrees.  Shout out to Chip Hunter for throwing out our blanket and
babysitting it until mid afternoon when the temperature was more like 120 degrees.
The ABBA allure has got to be about its retro-ness and also generational shareability.  As a middle-ager, you hear an ABBA song and for good or bad, you remember a moment or an event or even a vibe from the past.  I don't even think you have to like the music to experience the nostalgia.  And the crazy thing is, at the height of their stardom in the seventies, the band was probably the least popular in the United States than anywhere in the world.  I guess that's the thing about retro is that it's more popular in its resurrection than it ever was in its hey day.

Martha and I watched over the course of the evening as pockets of people began standing up to dance or sway, young and old folks, moms and daughters, girlfriends, little kids, and even a few guys.  We were swept up in the good feeling of the crowd and the music made the heat almost a non-issue.  My kid and her friends knew all the words to the songs and they were eventually up dancing, although not until moving to a secure location away from me and Martha and our attempts to mimic all of the choreography of the background singers.  Arm movements are easy to do from a beach chair but it does sometimes cause you to spill your wine, so it's important to take care.

New generation ABBA fans

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Reunion 2011

Northwoods sky
My first official weekend at our cabin.  Alone with the dog.  Everybody else is busy as usual so Minnie and I ventured north to welcome a new bed being delivered and start surveying the work ahead.  I'm surprised because I think there is more work outside than in.  Paths are overgrown both front and back and I'm reminded of Burnt Offerings, the movie (and book) about a family that buys a rundown old house with a crazy lady in the attic and the mom becomes obsessed with the house to the point of maybe murdering her family, I think?   I can't quite remember the whole story but I do remember that as the house got fixed up, she got crazier and eventually the family runs away and leaves her to be the new old lady in the attic.  Hmmmmm.



The past week has been full of 2 year old.  The former preemie who battled uphill for much of her first year is now a skinny, wily, fast grabbing (no kidding, knives!), bilingual, sassyfrass beauty.  And the gift and blessing is that...she knows me.  I can tell by the way she looks at me that I'm a notch above random stranger.  We have a connection and it's love, baby.  Her parents are wonderful but they are like blurry shapes that satellite around our love affair.   That's the cold hard truth and I can write freely since my blog doesn't penetrate the Great Firewall of China.

Genius marketing that set us apart and above the Lutz Family Reunion
An amazing journey to Kansas for a 66 person-strong Hunter Family Reunion.  Amazing in that our family (and that means America) is beginning to reflect the colors of our world.  Chinese, African-American, Filipino, Latino in-laws and descendants blending in with each subsequent generation.  The Hunters are turning beautifully brown.

Aunt Judy and Aunt Ann get the shirts divided up by family


second cousins



um....what a production this was.  you can see the level of cooperation on their faces


A quilt of all the t-shirts over the years
Grabbing a signal at The Vine in Minocqua with a glass of syrah beside me while Misty Mountain Hop plays overhead.  I must remember this in February.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jello at my age

A woman of a certain age acknowledges she has occasions for flights of fancy but when she has jello shots two weekends in a row, it makes her reflective.

My tailgating buddy
The first week out of school has gone by so after going into liquid state, the girls have re-materialized into solid form and are into the swing of their summer rituals:  babysitting, diving, running, piano playing, malling, lunching, TV watching.  Jobs you ask?  Well....Chip and I have them.

The cats are having the summer I used to have as a kid.  Out at 9am, home at 9pm.  Dirty and up to no good, holding back their stories because I would worry.

Darling girls at Jimmy Buffett, beautiful and chill
My first summer working in 10 years so far?  Difficult.  Teachers, stay-at-home moms and part-time professionals make up my social circle so while they’re working hard for their kids this summer back and forth to camps, the pool, family vacations, they are “off” in my mind.  I wake up each morning wishing I could just sit in my garden and drink coffee for a few hours then head to the pool or take a bike ride or a paddle or even just clean out a closet.  But then I remember how much that work pays.  I want to say that it makes me savor the weekends and that I make the most of that time, but really it just makes me greedy and anxious for more.  I’m still adjusting, is the politically correct answer and the one people close to me want to hear because they love me.  I’m crabby and unsettled, is the reality.

Glow bracelets really complete an outfit
Outdoor lunch with a friend, Jimmy Buffett, Trivia Night at the pool, gardening, family reunion, glass of wine on the patio…our grown-up summer rituals have also begun.  Despite the feeling that there's never quite enough time on the weekends, all possibilities are entertained and planning is rich with verdant and abundant blooms like my garden.  Not until my ferns start to get crispy and I begin to look at weeds and think, “meh…” will I feel that wistful slide of summer on the down slope.   I hope at that point I can look back and feel like I found that balance, enjoying both summer and working simultaneously.  Jimmy Buffett works all summer, I tell myself.

The sun sets behind a sea of happy drunks--the steep grade of the hill at Alpine Valley
is a cruel joke on all these people after dark.  Many of those above us on the hill were below us later in the evening,
not of their own accord.