Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Funeral

On Monday, my friend Yevgenia died. She was wonderful. A year older than me and with a smile that could light up the whole planet. She was gracious, kind, well-organized, driven and recently we had talked about working together. She was a financial planner and she was going to refer clients to me. We had dropped out of touch for a month or two and I had just been thinking I needed to get back with her when I heard the news.

Her death was very unexpected and even though I thought I'd be okay, I found myself unable to stop crying at work the next day. I left early and took today off, too, since the funeral was in the middle of the day.

The funeral was beautiful and very, very sad. Yevgenia's simple wooden coffin was carried and set above her grave. The family stood and tore their clothing. The rabbi prayed and read Psalms. He spoke on her life and her willingness to live it fully. He said there were lessons to be learned from Yevgenia's life.

She had many serious struggles with her health throughout her life, but she didn't let that keep her from living. The rabbi spoke about her zeal for life and the way she exemplified gratitude in the way she lived. He told us that we should think of her example as we try to feel gratitude in the simple things we take for granted, like eating an apple. He suggested we thank God that despite all over which He has dominion, He has allowed us to be in the same place and time as this apple and enjoy the pleasure of eating it.

He told us to live in the present and keep moving forward. He said that despite what burned out comedians say, Judaism doesn't embrace the concept of guilt. He said that guilt is to morality what pain is to health; a sign that something needs to be fixed. We don't need to feel like we have to vacation in guilt--we need to fix what's wrong and move on.

Then he spoke about an act of true kindness. He said we don't often have the opportunity to do something for someone when they are completely incapable of paying us back in some way. He then offered us the opportunity to help cover Yevgenia's coffin with dirt when it was lowered into the grave. When I took my turn, I tried to shovel in the biggest load that I could because I wanted her to know how much of a difference she'd made in my life. I had known her since my first year of college. She was kind and generous, and felt like an automatic friend from the moment I met her. Every time I'd see her, she had a big smile on her face. She helped me through some difficult times. We reconnected at alumni weekend at Case last fall and spoke, e-mailed and met. She made me feel like I wasn't alone in trying to make a go of it, and in sharp contrast to my serious self doubt, she was consistently encouraging and made me feel like my success was inevitable.

Her funeral was held in a small cemetery. Every inch of the winding road that snaked through it was dedicated to parking for her funeral service, and by the time we arrived, we were diverted to park across the street, along with many others. There were at least 200 people there and given the short period between when she died and when her funeral was held, I know that was just a tiny fraction of the people that she inspired with her love, friendship, unconditional kindness and sharp mind. As I watched Brandon shovel a little more dirt into the grave after the service had ended, I felt a sudden surge of hope and I knew that while her body lay in the coffin below, her spirit lived on and her grieving family would see her again.

As much as Yevgenia's death impacted me, I know there were many people far closer to her. Her sweet husband, her family, her former roommates and her best friends. I feel like an interloper sharing my grief with theirs. But the lesson I learned from Yevgenia's life is that there is no contact so small that it can't make a great impact for good. Her implicit faith in me and her support as we exchanged infertility war stories meant the world to me, even though we only spent a few hours together in the past year. I am filled with gratitude for having known her and thank God for the knowledge that some day I will be able to tell her so face to face.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I cut my finger today while I was doing dishes. I dropped a glass vase in the sink. Since I have the reflexes of an awesome ninja-catwoman hybrid, I am usually able to catch things that fell, but today, when I tried, I was just a millisecond too late and my hand and the vase became one!
As a kid, you wonder how you'll know if a cut needs stitches--it turns out you just know. There was a lot of blood. Blood on the sink, blood on the vase, blood on the floor. I grabbed a paper towel and put pressure on it. Some very kind friends (including our G.P.) were willing to help us out so I went into my doctor's office instead of having to go to the E.R. I had to keep pressure on the cut and have it elevated. I did so for about an hour--but the bleeding still didn't stop!
My Cut. You can see the hanging flap at the bottom. My doc cut away that flap and used scissors to even out the jagged edges so that my skin would close more smoothly.

Next, he washed it out with a lot of saline solution. It stung a little. Also there was a ton of blood running down the back of my hand--so much that I thought I maybe had another cut I didn't notice before.

All clean? It had been washed thoroughly--even rubbed down with alcohol--but it would NOT stop bleeding.

At this point, the depth of the cut became apparent. At the top of the cut you can see that the subcutaneous fat is sticking out--there was some at the bottom of the cut, too. There was a medical student who was helping. He didn't get the chance to do much except switch out my super bloody paper towels.

Now it got serious. The doc told me that the next part would hurt a lot and that I needed to hold my finger really still for the Lidocaine. Surprisingly up until this point, it really didn't hurt that much. It felt like a cut, but even though it looks horrific I wasn't in agony or anything.

He wasn't kidding when he said it would hurt. He stuck the needle in like a quarter inch (which is pretty deep for a finger) and started to fill it up with Lidocaine. The pain was intense for the first second or two of the shot and then there was just the very uncomfortable sensation of your finger being inflated. To fully numb the site he gave me about five of these shots--some of which he stuck in a half inch or so. The worst part was feeling the skin on my knuckle expand as my finger got fatter and fatter. I was more agitated by that than by the pain from the shot.

It's me and my doctor. The ickiest part of this experience for me was just before this, when he cut off pieces of my skin around the cut. Right now he's starting stitches. He started with a big one in the middle of the cut that he tied off four times. Then he made a stitch on either side. My cut was still bleeding the whole time.

Even with three stitches in, I was still bleeding. Your finger has two little arteries that go up the sides and I swear it was like a teeny, oozing arterial spurt. I could see it coming out with my pulse.

This is what I look like when I'm carefully listening to instructions. No boot camp til Monday. Check. If it starts heavily bleeding or really hurts, call the office because that's a sign of infection. Check. Brandon should take you to brunch. Check. You'll notice I'm applying pressure still, even after being all bandaged up because it STILL hasn't stopped bleeding.
Anyway, I definitely learned my lesson and will not be doing dishes again for a long, long time. Brandon and I went to the Inn on Coventry for an awesome brunch (I specifically asked my doc to recommend it to Brandon as part of my medical treatment).

The bleeding finally stopped (it started again just a tiny bit when I hugged Greta too enthusiastically). In the hour or two after my stitches, the lidocaine wore off and it started to feel like my skin had been cut, washed, poked with needles, cut again and had four nylon threads tied through it, but I imagine that's only to be expected. I took some ibuprofen (I know, bleeding risk, but if I hadn't bled to death out of the cut by then, a few more drops couldn't hurt) and felt fine. Now it generally only hurts if I flex my finger too much.

Special thanks to my very kind, patient doctor and his sweet wife and as always, to my wonderful supporter/dynamite cameraman Brandon. And to med student Nick who tried to clean off my bloodstained hands with an alcohol wipe and was mostly unsuccessful. I mocked him until I tried to do it myself later--suddenly I understand where Lady Macbeth was coming from. BAM! Surgery and Shakespeare all in one day!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Audio Games for the Blind

Brandon's been working hard on creating video games, sometimes with excellent support from me, and sometimes with zero patience from the old ball and chain.

This weekend was a no patience kind of time. I've been working to death on my first ever summary judgment motion, which I finally turned in on Friday. It was 33 pages long (written  entirely by me, with some snippets from cases and laws thrown in), accompanied by two affidavits, six affidavit exhibits, 55 pictures and 2 hours of video footage that all had to be analyzed, collated, numbered, duplicated, proofread, and finally shipped off by yours truly. So I wanted a weekend to party down with my Bran muffin, play video games, eat a ton of pizza, and go to sample day with my buddy.

Brandon wrenched this all away from me by making plans (well in advance and which I was well aware of) to participate in a group "game jam" this weekend with his Cleveland video game designer group.

My big accomplishment this weekend was thus making a super snug nap cave.

I may not have been the first one in the family with this idea. Oddly enough, the Diet Dr. Pepper has no effect on Greta's ability to sleep 20-22 hours a day.
Unfortunately, the pads are too small to stretch your legs out all the way and you wake up feeling totally horrible, but something about it also induces huge, happy naps that last for hours. 

Anyway, so Brandon came home every once in a while and I'd try to entrap him into staying. He did go to lunch with me on Saturday, but for the rest of the time, kept his eye on the prize, much to my horror.

It occurs to me that it might be nice for Brandon to have a patient, loving and unconditionally supportive wife. Maybe if the IVF kills me, he'll be luckier the next time around.

So...the theme for the games that all these groups were getting together to work on was the sound of a beating heart. Creep.y.

My one supportive act this weekend was to suggest a theme based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Telltale Heart aka a poem that has permanently made me uncomfortable with the sound of a beating heart--even if it's my own.

My suggestion was to have it be something along the lines of whack a mole, but with the murderer having all these hearts pop up from underground and he has to kill them before they make him go crazy. (It's not my fault that everything I imagine is horrible.)

Brandon actually liked my idea, and took it one step further to create a game that was designed specifically for the visually impaired. He commissioned one of the team artists to create floating "insanity" pictures that had nothing to do with the game, so a non-visually impaired player wouldn't be totally unstimulated, but then the artist flaked so when you play it, you see a pulsating red and black screen and nothing more. He made the sound so it interacts with a stereo speaker system (it works with headphones and to some degree with computer speakers as long as they have a stereo type output.) You hear the heartbeat and touch (or click) the part of the screen that it's coming from. You can play it here.

I have it on good authority that if you play it and give it a good rating, you will get a cookie from Brandon.

I'm so proud of Brandon for his hard work and for always working to learn new code languages and for putting in hours and hours working toward his goals.

Hey--retroactive support is better than none :)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Winter Wreath

One of my fun projects this year is going to be finding discount  and clearance flowers and ribbons and creating a monthly wreath out of the fake evergreen wreath Brando bought me for Christmas.

This is my first one!!!

 I'm trying to use my Canon Elph more but I'm not very good at deciding flash or not flash so here's one of each!

Brandon liked it a lot. He said he would pay $100 for it. (He shortly thereafter clarified that if he were selling it he would charge $100 for it and expect someone else to gladly pay it.) 

Anyway, Happy January!! 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rad Christmas Gifts and a New Resolution!!

This Christmas, I made some new friends!
I just got released from primary, (I wish I felt more ambivalent about this, but I'm really just glad--it's a really hard job!) and I wanted to do something awesome for Christmas! Unfortunately, I got a little overwhelmed so I didn't get them done in time for Christmas. I did, however, manage to get them done for our last class last week. 

2 weeks ago, I had my class members (all 6 years old) draw self-portraits. Then I made clay ornaments out of their self-portraits! 

It was hard work, but a lot of fun. I hope they don't look crappy. The very hardest part were their hands. Almost all of the kids drew themselves with arms flung wide and fingers spread apart. I didn't want to sacrifice structural integrity (every doll has a metal wire skeleton for support) and put on tiny fingers that would just snap off. I finally ended up making balls on the ends of their arms, smashing them and cutting them apart into fingers. (I still think the dolls without fingers look a lot better.)

This was my masterpiece. The girl who drew this obviously has a more abstract sense. To me the picture looks almost melancholy, but years of art history and art appreciation have obviously impaired my ability to see that sometimes a stick figure is just a stick figure. A lonely figure with bowed head muses in unhappy solitude while the color and life of the rest of the world pass her by. 

This is the only one I drew with a background, since  the self-portrait itself didn't have a ton of detail. My favorite part: I made little clay versions of the butterfly shapes that are on the drawing. My least favorite part: the butterflies are almost completely covered by the girl. 

I was worried about having the names on here, but that's the only detail I'll provide. This is the first one I made. I love her hair. I think this clay doll looks more like the actual kid than any of the others. (I do want to note that the actual girl has genuine facial features, rather than a smilie face). 

One of two boys in the class--and the first doll with the fingers that I talked about before. Sorry it's sideways--I can't figure out how to rotate it!! With all the ornaments, I tried to make the features look just like they were drawn, so the smile is a little cockeyed on my clay version, too!

*sigh* another sideways picture. This girl put so much detail into her drawing, and I wanted her ornament to reflect that, too. I tried to make clay freckles, but it didn't work! They looked horrific and I couldn't make them big enough to look intentional but small enough to be distinguishable as freckles and not weird face holes or something. I meant to draw the freckles on with a pen later...but then I forgot :(
Also, she's the only one with eyes with pupils, so I layered the clay in smaller and smaller circles on top of each other.

For this girl, the hair was an issue. She drew it as brown, but in real life, it is pretty blonde. I wanted to be as true to the drawing as possible, but as someone who is mortally offended whenever anyone insinuates at all that my hair isn't blonde, I couldn't resist mixing in just a little bit of blonde.
I think her fingers turned out the best, but by the time I got it to her, one of them had already fallen off!!

This one was the first one I started on, but the last one I finished. I didn't have a drawing of the girl and so I had to figure out how to make it look like a drawing she might have drawn of herself. The scariest part of this was that I originally didn't intend to make these ornaments, but just regular figurines. So after I made the doll, I decided to shove in the ornament hook. Fortunately, the doll survived this invasive procedure. I love the way that the clay hair has worked out this time--I love the feathered look on this doll. I also tried to do eyelashes. It was sooo hard, and once again, ended up getting covered up anyway!

I didn't have a drawing for the other boy, so I ended up doing the same thing. I thought he looked like the boy from the Phantom Tollbooth, but then I looked at the cover again and I don't think that anymore. He still looks familiar, though!

This is my other project--for my Visiting Teachees. It's a travel kit! Brandon's Grandma had one of these in her car. I memorized it and then made it at home!!  You take an oven mitt, sew on a button to make it a little pouch, and then sew in a whole bunch of little snack bags filled with travel stuff. For my VTs I included stain wipes, breath mints, chapstick, disposable latex gloves, tooth flossers, and a couple extra bags just in case. I also had ibuprophen and lotion but they didn't quite fit. 
Also, there's a tension problem in my sewing machine, that I am apparently unable to resolve. The stitches look okay from the inside, but are loopy on the bottom. That indicates a problem in the lower threading, but I have been unable to solve it yet.

Oh, yeah, there were also bandaids! Once I got all the stuff together, it was surprisingly easy to put together. Again, this is the packet I made for myself and I was out of all the other stuff so the lotion and Ibuprophen fit!! Guess what? I've already saved Brandon's life with this kit!! (or given him an ibuprophen for his headache). 

In this shot, you can see how good the stitches looked from the inside. What happened on the outside?!!
Just a sample of some of the excellent and helpful goodies in my little pack!

Anyway, these gifts were fun and all of them were delivered at least a week after Christmas, which makes them extra special (or something like that). 

NOW, FOR THE RESOLUTION: IN 2013, BRANDON AND I WILL POST 50 EXAMPLES OF AWESOME, NON-FOOD PLACES TO VISIT IN NORTHEASTERN OHIO! (We realized that everywhere we went in Cleveland was a food place.)