Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Sense a Theme Here

Every ICCC conference has a theme. I suspect most conferences in general have themes. The one from last week was "Christ, Color and Context," and it was appropriate in a way, considering the way at least the youth activities played out. I'm not going to enumerate all the details--it was a positive experience overall, I'd say, but it took a lot of emotional energy, as the demographics of the group were approximately 33% Caucasian kids, 66% African American kids, no discernable other ethnicities, and most of the kids from both these groups did not appear to run in very diverse circles. Speaking from experience, you can have all the non-racist, Christian goodwill in the world, but unless you interact with people who have different backgrounds from you on a regular basis, you're going to step on some toes (and have yours stepped on) fairly often in your initial forays into diversity. Given all this, I think things went pretty well in the end (and I got to see it first hand because a few other youth leaders and I decided it was kind of silly to have only one adult run an entire youth programme for 57 teens . . . which is how the set-up was initially). I'm just saying--the theme was fairly appropos.

Meanwhile, though, within the hotel and independent of the conference (one hopes, though ominous soundtrack music might go well here), there was this other kind of "theme" going on. After the nice old lady made her comment in the elevator about all of us "going to L," a compressor in some fridge in the building overheated and all the alarms in the 24-storey hotel went off at 3 o'clock one fine morning. The number of people who didn't trek down all the flights of stairs to the front of the hotel would have been alarming if the fire or whatever it was hadn't been contained. As it was, everyone's sleep got interrupted and left us all crankier the next day . . . when the same compressor overheated again. Firetrucks went to and from our hotel all week, it seemed, the elevators kept breaking down, and on the last night our floor smelled about to overheat again.

Also, one morning my breakfast purchase total at the hotel Starbucks was $5.91. I didn't feel the need to give a dollar tip, but 50 cents seemed measly, so I wrote 75 cents on the receipt . . . only to discover (because my math-brain is stunted) that that made the dollar amount $6.66. It is no credit to me and my resistance of my superstitious nature that I couldn't bring myself to leave it like that, but I suppose the baristas were happier that I gave them a dollar in the end.

In spite of the lovely room-service breakfast that "my" teens and I had on the last day, courtesy of some generous friends, I don't think it's entirely unreasonable that the girls and I nicknamed our hotel the "Hellton" by the end of the week . . .
Photos: ICCCYouth2009, photo by jennw2ns. Room Service, photo by jennw2ns. The H__ton, photo by jennw2ns

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In a Handbasket

I am at the ICCC conference in St. Louis. Both the conference and our lodgings are at a fairly unimpressive Hilton, made slightly more impressive by its proximity both to the Arch and the Cardinals' ball field.

Yesterday I was making my way down to the in-house Starbucks for a little stimulant-assistance before spending a whole day with youth. The elevator filled up gradually on the way down, as most people seemed to have a similar goal in mind. The last group of people in were a few older ladies from this church conference.

"Oh," said one of these nice ladies cheerily, looking at the wall of buttons and seeing only the one for the Lobby lit up. "We're all going to the same place. We're all going to L."

I almost pointed out what she had said. Then I thought better of it. But I'm still snickering.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I have a weird dog.

Somebody (I forget who--maybe a few of you) recently said, "All dogs are weird."

I know, but listen, okay? My dog is very shy. He's just starting to actually approach people at work, instead of waiting for them to approach him. And his approach is always very halting and cautious, even if he ends up kissing their hands--never bouncing and enthusiastic like you would expect from a small dog. (He does, however, continue to greet me with bouncing and tail-wagging, which is gratifying.)

He is afraid of loud noises, low noises, and anything that might possibly be construed as a "bang." Unlike some animals (and maybe people), when he gets scared, it stops up his digestive tract entirely. On the Fourth of July when I took him outside for his nightly "business," he dragged me around the entire block in terror and never did get said business done. In the car on the way to work, he will hyperventilate through the entire commute if I drive with the windows open or if enough motorcycles pass us.

All this, and yet he loves the vacuum cleaner. Today I vacuumed and he followed me from room to room with a smile on his face, watching the lighted attachment go back and forth over the floor. He didn't let it get too close . . . but he didn't let it get too far, either. Maybe he thinks its some strange sort of dog--although he didn't attempt to sniff its hindquarters, so maybe not.

Anyway, I like my strange little backwards doggy. But I wish I had a better idea what was going on in his head.

It Pays to Ask

Today I stopped in at the hospital to find out if I could talk to my doctor about that letter I received earlier in the week.

Diane-Who-Remembers-Me was there, which was great, since she remembers me. (Well, she would--she helped me fill out my leave of absence forms when Starbucks was being a little obtuse about them.) "Hi, Diane!" I said, "I had a test last week and . . . "

"Ohhh," she said, "You got one of those stupid letters, didn't you?"

I wasn't sure how to answer this question, and before I could she said, "The one that says there's an area that they think is benign? They're talking about your scar tissue. Let me show you the actual report they sent to the doctor."

She went away for a few minutes and came back with a photocopy of the report. She showed me the relevant documentation. In normal-people terms, it basically said what I already know, which is that these particular imaging tests don't really give them a ton of information for me, and that I have a scar.

Well, duh. I knew I was going to have to have follow-ups (using various testing methods) every six months or so. They do have to keep an eye on these things. But there isn't really an area of concern, even though there is an area they have to watch, if that makes any sense.

"They don't have a good form letter for this," said Diane. "So they send out that anxiety-inducing one every time." It sounds like it isn't the first time she's had this conversation.

I know I'm at risk, but I'm not more at risk than I was before I got that letter, and I guess I think that for now? I'm okay.

Thanks for praying. You can do that as much as you like.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Echos of Last Year

In response to my last post, Jeff commented, "A common thread in these dreams is the idea that you've got a medical issue that part of you knows needs to be checked out but some how you ended up not doing it. I wonder if you've got anxiety, perhaps related to the cancer, that you're not having as much medical care as you should."

"Oh," I thought, dismissively. "That's a pretty good theory, but actually I've had a lot of check-ups recently and they've all been in the clear." If anything, that would have been last year, when I had a lump I could feel but which didn't show up in initial testing and which no one really thought was anything to worry about. It did occur to me that the check-ups themselves were maybe triggering the dreams--maybe they were dredging up memories of last year. Anyway, whatever the case, I feel that I am in good hands and that I'm being well-monitored.

But . . . today I got the official report back from a medical exam I had last week. It says, "Your recent imaging exam . . . showed an area that we believe to be benign (not a concern). However, you should have a follow-up to confirm that this area does not change."

What? Not again. At least it (whatever "it" is) showed up this time. And the follow up appointment was scheduled for me and isn't until mid-January. So I guess they really aren't all that worried. But they weren't before. They thought it was benign before. I kind of don't care if it is benign. I just don't want anymore "areas of concern." I want to be able to get away with not having chemo, and I want the cancer never to come back, and . . . well, yeah. That's pretty much it.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Grandma Grosser used to keep Reader's Digests in the bathroom. I must have been pretty young when I started reading the jokes, which probably explains a lot about my sense of humour. As I got a little older, I started reading the articles, too, if they weren't too boring, and I remember once reading something that said people who had a lot of nightmares were usually very creative and had a greater chance than other people of going crazy.

This was not overly comforting to me at age 14 or however old I was when I ran across it. It was bad enough not knowing who my friends were on any given day. Now I learned that Yay! I was creative! (already knew that) and Boo! I was going to end up insane! This all because I had had nightmares (or at the very least extremely vivid dreams) ever since I could remember. My childhood bedtime prayers had always included a request that I would have "a good sleep with happy dreams." It rarely worked, although I kept praying it for years without seeming to have been too terribly disillusioned by the lack of results.

Or maybe it was just a really delayed result. I don't have nightmares much anymore, and when I do have them, they generally seem to be of a repetitious variety, so I'm not very frightened. There is, of course, always the suspense as to whether the "bad guy" chasing me through the secret passages of a house is going to find me this time, but this kind of thing has happened so often that it doesn't usually really induce genuine fear anymore.

This past week, though, I've been having lots of weird dreams again. I don't remember them as well as I usually do. They just haven't been very restful. And at least two of them have involved blood. In one of them, a blood vessel burst in my eye, but instead of making that rather alarming red patch that such things cause, it burst externally, so that my eye was actually slowly oozing blood. I could see with it and everything, but it was pretty annoying having to continually wipe blood out of my eye. It was even more annoying that everybody around me in the dream was so grossed out by it that none of them would help. Everyone kept saying, "You really need to go to the doctor. You really need to get that checked out." But apparently I was incapable of getting to the doctor on my own, or else other more grave things kept happening to other people who we had to help more urgently or something, and no one was willing to bring me to the doctor themselves.

The other dream was just two nights ago. A lot of things happened in it, but one of the things was that someone kicked or punched me in the mouth or something, and loosened my teeth. We (whoever "we" were) decided to just leave it and hope that they'd firm up again, but shortly before I woke up, one of the teeth loosened instead, and blood started oozing from around it, too.

So now I'm wondering. What's going on in my head? And what's this blood stuff? And is there some kind of connexion between the fact that one dream was about an eye and one was about a tooth, and "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"? I don't think I'm feeling particularly vengeful toward anyone . . .

Oh. Except maybe Sleepy's. Which is a little ironic, really . . .

The Dance of Joy

Yesterday I had a whole lot of work and health related driving around to do, and I couldn't really take Oscar with me, but I didn't want to leave him stuck in his crate at home for 10 hours, so I brought him to the Milk Guy's. He loves those other dogs. He was certainly happy to be dropped off there, and, separation anxiety notwithstanding, it was a relief to leave him somewhere that I knew he'd be happy and I could be free to do all the running around I needed.

Keep in mind, though--I left him at the house at 7.30 in the morning. And I didn't pick him up until 5. When I got there the Milk Guy's two dogs were doing their usual jumping and dancing and barking, and there was Oscar. He wasn't barking. Jumping and dancing, though? He stood up on his hind feet, spun around in a 180-degree pirouette . . . and fell over. He wasn't hurt, and it was hilarious and adorable. I only wish someone else had been there to see it . . . besides the other two dogs, I mean.

Tonight Pastor Steve and Pastor Val came over for dinner, and then I took Oscar outside for his nightly "walk." Usually he kennels up right after that, but I had a pile of dishes to do, so I let him stay in the kitchen with me, outside of his crate. He almost went into it, and then evidently decided that I had made an error by not making him go in there, but he wasn't going to fight it, so he retreated with his one toy that he likes to the end of the hallway. He kept one eye on me, though. Which was fine, because I was keeping one eye on him. I was nearly done with the dishes when he tentatively walked over to the sink area. "No, really though?" his eyes seemed to say, "Didn't you mean to put me to bed?"

Of course as soon as I told him to go in there, he wandered off back down the hallway. A little treat (he eats treats now!) soon rectified that, however. Such a good dog.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Separation Anxiety

Legend has it that when Cousin Mary Anne was about to go into Kindergarten, she got the opportunity to try out the bus ahead of time, and when she got on, her mother cried . . . even though all the bus did was circumnavigate the parking lot.

I think I kind of know how Auntie Shelley felt.

The International Council of Community Churches, to which my church belongs, has an annual conference. This year it's in St. Louis, and I'm going, and what's more, I'm bringing three of the youth with me. I've only been through St. Louis, never to it, and the three girls who are coming along are great girls, and we're staying in a Hilton, so I'm really looking forward to it. Turns out that this Hilton even allows pets, but I didn't know that when I booked our rooms or our airline tickets, so Oscar has to stay home.

The Milk Guy has very kindly offered to "kennel" him for me. "Two dogs, three dogs," he says, "What does it matter?" He already knows about Oscar's random-bladder issues, and Oscar knows him and gets along with his dogs, so it's all great.

But Oscar is really attached to me. He follows me around the house (even now that he isn't perpetually leashed) and he whines if I go upstairs for a minute and keep him shut in the kitchen and he doesn't readily go to strangers . . . although it's true the Milk Guy isn't a stranger. It's just that it's one thing to leave him at the Milk Guy's for most of a day, and another thing to leave him there for seven.

I know in reality he'll be fine. He'll pick up bad doggy habits (the Milk Guy is threatening to turn him into a beggar, but I don't actually mind) and sleep on the bed and stuff, but won't he miss me? Or won't I miss him? Or will he even remember me when I get back, or want to come home with me . . . ?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Eccentric

I'm not sure how much I want to be thought of as eccentric, but I might want to be eccentric, just a little bit . . .

Yesterday an Electrician Guy came to the church to check out the lights or something, and one of the trustees had him take a look at my office. He was afraid to step over the baby gate into the section where Oscar and I were because apparently he went to some house one time and "Cujo was up there. I'm lucky I got out alive." This was pretty hilarious--comparing Oscar with Cujo--since the one time I heard Oscar bark (at the distorted reflection of himself in the glass front of the woodstove), I think he scared himself so badly he may well never do it again. It's a shame, actually. He has quite a nice voice.

Anyway, the Electrician Guy came in and looked around and I'm not sure what he figured out, but he seemed satisfied as he stepped back over the baby gate.

"By the way," I said, conversationally, "I don't know if you know what would make this happen, but this morning when I plugged my laptop in here, the light got brighter."

The Electrician Guy looked at me as if I had just asked him did he know that in Korea school children buy silkworm larvae during recess and eat them for snacks.

"Um," I said, trying to play off the "brighter light" thing, "I don't know if that's even possible."

"Yeah . . . " he said, in a distancing sort of voice. "Maybe you can just enjoy the extra light?" He backed out of the room with a distinctly alarmed look on his face, as if I were about to turn into Cujo at any minute.

After he left, I thought about it though, and decided his reaction was not unreasonable. He had just entered an office with babygate across half of it, as well as a watercolour of Revelation 12 (woman wearing the sun . . . baby . . . seven-headed dragon) and an enormous banner from Voice of the Martyrs reading, "This Message is Illegal in 52 Countries" and Romans 1.16 on it, on the walls. The occupants of the office were a dog who doesn't bark and a youngish woman in jeans and a long grey sweater who, at the moment he entered, had been on all fours on the floor making a display board with pencils and markers for Camp Selah.

It really is sometimes surprising, even to me, that this church hired me.

But you know? I wasn't wrong about the lights getting brighter. The same exact thing happened again this morning.