By Arlington County (Downed Power Lines Pole, uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

By Arlington County (Downed Power Lines Pole, uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

A recent article in the journal “Science,” which garnered national news attention, found that most people (especially men) would rather endure electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts.

When a storm took the power out in my neighborhood for ten hours this weekend, I didn’t even have the option of an invigorating zap. Talk about being alone with one’s thoughts. I couldn’t drive anywhere that had power because my garage door opens via electricity, and the double-wide door is too heavy to open manually by myself.

The article, led by Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, described the results of eleven studies, which found that when left alone in a room by themselves for six to fifteen minutes, people would rather do mundane tasks than sit and think, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves given the alternative of being alone with their thoughts.

Sixty-seven percent of men gave themselves at least one shock during the thinking period. On average, study participants zapped themselves 1.47 times in a fifteen-minute interval, not including one “outlier” who administered one hundred ninety shocks to himself. (!)

The authors contend the problem is that thinking is too complicated and our minds are too unruly. Without the training offered by meditation and other techniques, they say that the “untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.” I think this is true, and it’s something that Elizabeth Gilbert learned in her book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Since reading her book a few years ago, I’ve been dabbling in some meditation and mind-focusing techniques. But given my peri-menopausal-messed-up-hormonal-state at times, these attempts can be challenging.

But the attempts seemed to have served me well during the power outage. Had I been desperate, I could have biked somewhere, but truth is, I rather enjoyed living without electricity for a while. As if it were all planned, I had plenty of no-cook food available, an 800-page book (“Written in My Own Heart’s Blood” by Diana Gabaldon) and an outdoors painting job to keep me occupied. Sure, I went through Facebook and Email withdrawal, but when the power finally came back on, I found I didn’t miss much.

In fact, unlike the study participants, I wasn’t afraid to sit and think (and better yet, feel!) The lack of distractions helped me piece together an emotional puzzle I’ve been working on for four years. I can’t say that I liked what I discovered, but at least the picture on the puzzle is much clearer.

Connecting (or not) with Pets

RIP Sparky, 2007-2014.

RIP Sparky, 2007-2014.

Sparky the Guinea Pig died a few days ago. Actually, I had her euthanized. Her back legs stopped working. She didn’t seem in pain or anything – was still eating and drinking as usual. She just couldn’t move very well.

Sparky is a girl piggy that we bought almost seven years ago at the insistence of my youngest son, who wanted another pet. She’s been healthy and sweet for all that time, except for her recent development. Since Sparky was ancient for a guinea pig, and because I am the one who has been caring for her all that time, I wasn’t keen on going to heroic measures to save her. I did spend time doing Internet research on her condition and discovered it could be caused by many factors but a calcium deficiency was the most likely in our case. By the time I discovered that, she had been ill for about four days — it took a while to figure out what was going on because she didn’t move around much to begin with.

The instructions described use of a liquid form of calcium designed for human consumption. I called around all the local pharmacies, but couldn’t find any available. I found some through mail order, but that would have taken several days to arrive, and I wanted something soon. I described Sparky’s plight to a friend and she found that Pet Co had liquid calcium, so I went there the same day. But when I got to the store, the supplements they had for guinea pigs didn’t have any calcium in them, so I ended up buying one designed for lizards. I mean, calcium is calcium, right?

We did the three-day course of treatment, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. And now, Sparky was moving around even less, so that she wasn’t getting enough water to drink unless I moved her over to her bottle. That’s no way for her to live, so, call me heartless, I made the appointment to have her euthanized.

When the time came, I packed her in a box filled with a deep comfy layer of bedding and went to the vet. I filled out the paperwork and handed her over without a fuss or any desire to see her through the procedure. The experience was markedly different from when I had to have my cat of 14 years euthanized. For that, I was a blubbering pile of Marie goo. It got me thinking about what made the difference.

I suspect one reason is that I never really connected with Sparky. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t “get” guinea pigs. I had never had one before, and although we read books about them, the emotional connection wasn’t there. The cute “popcorn” jumps they do just seemed spastic. In the beginning, we took Sparky out to cuddle and let her roam around, but she had a habit of peeing in one’s lap and she nipped hard with her beaver-like teeth. So that didn’t help. About a year after we got Sparky, we got our dog, Buddy. We were worried about his reaction to her, so we took Sparky out less often after that.

Another reason is that she was my son’s pet, so I felt like it was his responsibility to connect with her more than mine. And he did try, but as he got older and busier, that fell by the wayside and Sparky’s care fell to me. She became an obligation, not a joy.

I feel bad that I never connected with Sparky. I can connect to dogs, cats, birds, and even fish. (I taught my catfish to wink at me.) We had a hamster once, and I never connected with him, either. Maybe I’m just not a rodent person. Have you ever had a pet you didn’t connect with? Do you think there are just some types of pets you aren’t designed for? I’d be interested to hear.

Minnesota Nice Meets Hollywood (and it isn’t pretty)


The minister at my church gave a sermon on “Minnesota Nice” last Sunday. When he read the Wikipedia definition of it, my mouth almost dropped open. (If I wasn’t Minnesotan, my mouth would have dropped ALL the way open.) He was describing a great deal of my personality:

Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation. It can also refer to traffic behavior, such as slowing down to allow another driver to enter a lane in front of the other person. . . . Some traits typical of this stereotype are also generally applied to neighboring Wisconsinites and Canadians. Similar attributes are also ascribed to Scandinavians, with whom Minnesotans share much cultural heritage.

I never knew Minnesota nice had its own Wikipedia entry. I’ve read books and watched the movie (“How to Talk Minnesotan”), but I’d never seen the personality type spelled out so clearly before. The minister went on to explain what Scandinavian traditions could have inspired this behavior and how they are rooted in “the good of the group” mentality. In general, people were supposed to work together and not call attention to themselves for the betterment of everyone.

Although not Scandinavian, I am a fifth-generation Minnesotan. The Minnesota nice philosophy has had plenty of time to seep up into my ancestors and me from the soil. It’s been absorbed into my family from neighbors and community. I’ve found I have to work to overcome it in a greater society that values individualism and charisma. Self-deprecation, after all, makes it difficult to find a job, sell a product or attract a mate (unless that mate is also into Minnesota nice and recognizes it for what it is). I’ve also found I measure people from the perspective of Minnesota nice. I mistrust anyone who is too confident or self-promoting. I suspect they do it to cover up insecurities, but it also goes against the code of Minnesota nice.

I and another co-worker once took a news producer from Hollywood on an overnight trip up the North Shore of Lake Superior to the famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to film a spot for “Good Morning America.” That man could talk, and self-promote.

By the next day, when we were driving back to civilization, he could tell he was out of place. He complained that I and my coworker (also a Minnesotan) didn’t talk enough. “Maybe we don’t have anything to say,” was the reply. He didn’t know how to deal with that. We weren’t trying to be mean — we had been worn out by talking over the course of his tour and didn’t know how to relate to his foreign personality type. He gave up after that and we rode along in blissful silence — blissful for us, awkward for him.

Back to the sermon. The point of it was that Minnesota nice isn’t enough. It’s too constricting and confining – allows for too little self-love. There’s got to be a happy medium between self-sacrifice for the good of the group and self-love that promotes a fulfilling life. I’d like to think that I’ve learned this during my life, sometimes the hard way. Although it goes against my nature, I can brag when I have to, and I’ve learned how to appreciate certain traits and aspects of my personality. But I doubt I’ll ever feel comfortable around people like Mr. Hollywood.

Remembering Larry Oakes

Larry Oakes

A few days ago, when most of the rest of the world was watching the Olympic opening ceremonies, I joined about seventy other people at an evening tribute for a noted Minnesota journalist. Larry Oakes was a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and before that, the Duluth News Tribune. He covered the crime beat and northern Minnesota stories.

Back in the 1980s, he was a few years ahead of me in journalism school. By the time I became the environmental reporter for the college newspaper (the Minnesota Daily), he had already moved on to an internship with the Minneapolis paper, and his name was legend among the Daily staff.

I didn’t meet Larry in person until I ended up back in Duluth working as a water science writer for the university’s Minnesota Sea Grant program. I was on the other end of the journalism profession now – a public relations hack who was trying to convince journalists to write about my organization’s research. We had lunch a few times as colleagues to talk over story ideas. Every time, I came away bowled over by his experience, not to mention his square-jawed good looks.

Some of my story ideas worked for him, some didn’t. That’s the way it goes. I do recall that Larry and a local radio news director, Mike Simonson, were especially helpful with one of the most popular stories of my career (so far!), which involved organizing a taste testing event for Great Lakes sea lamprey. We got the mayor together with the university chancellor and some other notable locals to taste dishes prepared by a volunteer gourmet chef who cooked lamprey several different ways for ratings.

After Larry married, he showed up at the same birthing class that my former husband and I were taking. Unfortunately, his wife was too sick from her pregnancy to attend, so I never met her. I felt sorry for him going through the classes alone, so I stood in as his partner sometimes when the activities required one. As the years passed, we also met at funerals and other local events. I recall thinking that Larry looked really rough at some of these events. I wondered if he had an illness or some other problem.

As it turns out, he suffered from depression and he also ended up having a stroke. Although he recovered enough from the stroke to resume his writing career, friends say he was never the same after it. In the end, the combination of factors and other things that perhaps only he knows were too much, and he took his life a year ago.

A journalism scholarship was created in his name at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The event I attended (instead of watching the Olympics) was to celebrate the creation of the scholarship and its first student recipient. I had mixed feelings watching the recipient (who wore the requisite gray vest of a journalist for the event). I was excited that he has this opportunity to help with his schooling, also scared for him. Starting out in anything is so hard. There’s always the conflict between what you want and what society will let you do. The process of figuring out your place can be terrifying, and well, depressing. But society has given him this chance, and hopefully, it’s what he really wants to do with his life.

The weird thing about the event was that I ended up sitting next to Gail, who was Larry’s hairstylist of over twenty years. I didn’t recognize her at first until I remembered I sat next to her at Larry’s funeral, also. It says something about Larry’s character that he went to the same stylist for so long — something about loyalty, friendship, and respect. Gail was lovely to talk to, and she and her friend kept me company until my friend for the evening arrived.

The world lost a great writer when depression took Larry. Although he sought help, it didn’t work for some reason. The heavy hands of depression have molded my family, my friends, and me. I lost my adopted sister to it; my father suffers from it and even at ninety-five is on depression medication. I have experienced bouts of situational depression, mainly tied to the impossible personal relationships that seem my specialty.

For me, depression is a signal that something needs changing, and that I either need to figure out how best to do that, or I need to let things run their course and just hang in there until they change. Some things I can handle myself. Some things the world needs to handle, and I need to have the wisdom to let it happen. It’s sort of like starting out in your career. There are things you want and things society wants. Finding the balance between the two is the trick.

I can’t stress how much reaching out for help is important if you have depression. It doesn’t necessarily have to be help from a professional. Sometimes friends can be better. Don’t worry about burdening them. Keeping it all locked up inside you is what kills. Sharing the burden makes it lighter – spreads it around. The world has lost too many talented people to depression. Please don’t let yourself be the next one.

Ding, Dong, Rachel’s Gone! The Rachel Files: Weeks 12-14

English: George Clooney at the 2009 Venice Fil...

Sorry George. I wouldn’t even live with someone like you until I recover from my last roommate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I drove my temporary roommate, Rachel, to the airport at 5:45 this morning, to visit her ailing mother in another state. She’ll return in three weeks, but plans on moving somewhere else then. The separation has taken much longer than I hoped, but it’s finally happening!

I will miss her help walking my dog, doing dishes, and assisting with housework (except when she was overzealous). But I will not miss her clogging up my plumbing (which happened again during this most recent time period), and the general weirdness that goes with her condition. I will also not miss finding her used floss on my living room floor, and, I hate to say it, she was starting to ruin my furniture with her bulk.

On the way to the airport, she apologized for her “inconsiderate and inconsistent” behavior. I tried not to discount her statement (because it’s true!) but I didn’t want her to leave feeling bad. I told her it was a learning experience for me and my son. It helped open our eyes to the challenges that some people face.

After I took Rachel’s suitcase to the ticket counter, I gave her a hug and wished her a good trip. I’m so glad she found a way to make her trip happen. I hope it will be a good experience for her, and that it will provide some closure for her with her mother.

I figure three months is a very respectable amount of time to share one’s home on a volunteer basis. My son and I are looking forward to having our home back to ourselves. I think it’s given us a new appreciation for one another, and, as I mentioned in previous entries, the experience totally cured me of the half-empty nest feelings I was having when my oldest son moved out.

Now I am likely to enjoy and guard my privacy much too fiercely. One of my girlfriends asked me if I would let George Clooney live with me if he wanted. I replied, “Not even George Clooney.” Sorry guys! (Smirk)

The Rachel Files: Weeks 10-11 and the voicemail message

Answer machine

Answer machine (Photo credit: Insight Imaging: John A Ryan Photography)

It began with a voicemail message from Rachel’s husband. He mentioned it was important that Rachel call her mother’s conservator in another state. Unfortunately, Rachel found out her mother is dying.

But there’s another worrisome thing about his voicemail: it means her husband knows where Rachel is staying. He has anger management issues, which is one of the reasons she left him. From what I can tell, it seems to be more emotional than physical abuse – that’s why she’s not at a women’s shelter or something. Even so, the jig is up and it’s more urgent than ever that Rachel find another place to live.

When she and I talked about her moving in, she had been living with someone else for two months after escaping her home. I asked if I had to worry about her husband coming to my house. She assured me that although her adult daughter (who lives with her husband) knew where she was staying, she would not divulge that information to her husband. After all, she hadn’t done so for her previous address.

Guess what? Rachel says her daughter got mad at her and spilled my phone number. It’s not hard to find my address from that. It’s safe to assume if he has the number, he knows where we live. So, we are working to find her other living quarters as soon as possible, and looking for ways to get her out to California to see her mother with the help of our church. What a mess.

I’m not really that fearful. Maybe I should be. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t taking precautions. (Sorry for the double-negative.) Who knew a simple voicemail message could bring such drama? Let’s hope things don’t get any more dramatic.

The Rachel Files: Weeks 8-9, anger management and the electrical poltergeist

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

Angry Talk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rachel indirectly asked me the other day if I was angry with her. Her question was perfectly reasonable, given the plumbing issue, the food issue, and her general invasion of my personal space. My answer surprised me. No, I’m not angry. In this case, anger would serve no purpose. It would be like being angry at the wind for blowing. It’s not like Rachel is doing any of these behaviors on purpose – they are a consequence of her condition. Being angry at her isn’t going to change her behavior or make her condition go away. It would only make our living situation even more uncomfortable.

On the other hand, if I discovered she WAS doing her actions on purpose, I would be angry. But I really don’t think that’s the case. I may vent to friends and co-workers (and this blog) about her issues, but I don’t hold any lingering grudges. It is what it is.

Last week, I returned from my second trip during her stay to find the house in good order, except for a few electrical things that Rachel had no control over. For instance, I arrived home at midnight to the annoying low-battery beep of a smoke detector. Rachel spends most of her time downstairs, and the smoke detector was upstairs, so she didn’t hear it very well. And what sounds she did hear, she mistook for the chirping of our guinea pig.

After one false start figuring out which of the seven detectors it could be, I changed the battery so that I could fall into bed and sleep uninterrupted. My trip occurred during the changeover in daylight savings time, so before finally closing my eyes, I needed to adjust the time on my digital clock. Right after I did so, the clock’s numeral display mysteriously disappeared. Granted, the device was seven years old, but I was beginning to feel jinxed – like my return was draining the life out of all things electrical.

The next day was no better. The display on my home thermostat started blinking “low battery.” I made a special trip to the store to get a pack of double-As, but alas, they were low on power, too. The thermostat won’t work without power, and I was too busy for another trip to the store, so we suffered through a cold day until I could get another pack. This time, I made sure to get the kind that can hold a charge for ten years. We now have heat again – a handy thing when outside temps are only 20 degrees F.

Anyway, this post finds Rachel still living with me. She has not had any luck finding another place. And it’s not like I can really be mad about that either, since her moving is dependent on the willingness of others. She’s been advertising and soliciting other people. It’s just that nothing has worked yet. Rachel was getting stressed about it, but I assured her I understood she was doing what she could. And it’s not like I’m going to throw her out into the frigid outdoors on a certain date.

But I long to have my house back to myself, especially with the Holidays approaching, and I know my son does, too. We’ll just have to muddle through a while longer, deal with issues as they arise, and go with the flow.

Anyone want a roommate? (Grin)

Who Knew Science Writing was Such a Hotbed of Intrigue?

Light Bulb

Light Bulb (Photo credit: CraftyGoat)

I recently returned from a National Association of Science Writers (NASW) Conference. I’m not sure of the exact count, but my guess is that it drew about 300 writers from across the country, and even a few from overseas.

An example of the kind of people who attend these annual conferences: on the short leg of my trip from Orlando to Gainesville, FL, there were only three of us on the plane. The flight attendant made us sit in the tail section, “to balance things out,” since the crew was in the front. We all sat together and got to talking. I was in the company of a co-founder of the online science magazine, “Matter,” who was flying in from London, and an editor for a new magazine in New York City called “Nautilus.” Myself, I write about Wisconsin water science for my day job. In the evenings, I write eco-mystic romance novels that are science-inspired.

The conference was great and informative, but it was overshadowed by a scandal, of which I was blissfully ignorant until the final session, which was entitled, “The XX Question.” The description made it sound like the session was about the role of women in science writing – how influential are they even though they are a prominent part of the profession compared to the past, how does their pay and recognition compare to that of male science writers?

While the standing-room-only session touched on those things, it was really about sexual harassment of women in the profession by sources and editors, and it offered an opportunity for discussion of the aforementioned “scandal.”

The scandal was that the blog editor for “Scientific American” magazine, and a prominent speaker at past NASW conferences, was accused of harassing several women who wrote for him. No overt details were given during the presentation, but from later research, I learned the accusations consisted of sexual conversations and unsolicited touching. Basically, his shtick was that he was in an asexual marriage and he wanted these women to take pity on him and have sex with him — never mind that he was in a position to publish or decline their work.

The ironic thing was that the issue came to light indirectly, when a woman biologist claimed harassment by an editor of another publication on Scientific American’s blog. The magazine’s treatment of the blog post prompted some women writers to name people involved in other instances of perceived harassment.

Now I realize the following might sound really insensitive and crass, but I found myself wondering why the Scientific American blog editor targeted science writers instead of prostitutes. I suppose the draw was that the science writers were legal and cheaper, plus maybe he knew he had some power over them, whether he consciously acknowledged it or not.

The discussion panel featured four female writers and editors, most of whom described experiences they’ve had with sexual harassment on the job. Their experiences ranged from men being mean and dismissive of them, presumably because of their gender, to men being WAY too friendly and imaginative. Most of the harassment seemed aimed at freelance writers, since they are in the vulnerable position of begging for work from multiple (often male) sources. The panelists and audience members did a good job of venting and not ranting, and it was heartening to see some metaphorical light bulbs turning on over many male heads in the audience.

After hearing the panelists’ experiences, I felt fortunate that I have not been harassed in my work as a science writer. However, I’ve mainly worked for organizations that are funding researchers, and, if I am to think crassly again, the researchers didn’t want to piss off the organization that is funding them. But I have experienced harassment as a member of a Forest Service trail crew and as a wildland fire fighter. So it is not unknown to me, and I found some creative (and highly effective) ways to deal with it, that I will perhaps get into in a different post.

But those were situations where I was basically outnumbered and living with men, out in the wilderness where civilized modes of conduct often seem distant and a bit silly. That harassment occurred was not that surprising to me. But these were women working in cities and offices, meeting with men in suits and ties. I guess it goes to show that respectful modes of conduct can disintegrate anywhere, and also that science writing has many more challenges than simply figuring out the right word to use in a story.

The Rachel Files: Week 7 and the real cost of toilet paper

Photo credit: Heather Cowper

Photo credit: Heather Cowper

So I mentioned at the end of my last entry that my house suffered under the care of my temporary roommate, Rachel, while I was gone for four days to a conference. I’m not even going to get into what happened with my dog, son, and elderly parents while I was gone, because none of these are connected to her. Suffice it to say that lately, my little world seems to fall apart if I’m not around, temporary roommate or not.

Shortly upon my return from the conference, the basement toilet overflowed after I took a shower in the first floor bathroom. Not good. I called a plumber – the kind with a machine that jets water into clogged sewer lines with laser-like intensity. You all probably remember Rachel’s fondness for toilet paper. I’m sure you can all make the connection. The plumber guessed that a tree root caught the toilet paper and clogged the line.

Well, it’s clear now, and I’m several hundred dollars lighter. Bless her heart, Rachel is going to help pay for the high-tech sewer enema, but still . . . If I hadn’t already decided she needed to live somewhere else, this would have clinched it.

We had that discussion a few days before I left on my trip. I explained that I felt she needed to live somewhere where people are home more often and can keep track of her more, and that it would be good for her to live with someone who has a better understanding of her condition(s). Also, my son has not adjusted to her presence very well. Just before Rachel moved in, my situation changed (or more like my ex-husband’s situation changed) and the amount of time my son stays with me increased. If I had known that was going to happen, I doubt I would have agreed to the arrangement. But it was too late by that point.

The good news is, I am TOTALLY cured of my half-empty nest syndrome. In fact, I may never let anyone stay in my house again (smirk). Plus, I am learning first-hand about the ravages of mental illness and how crappy some of the medications are.

Word is out now to other members of my church that Rachel needs another place to stay (that’s how I found out about her plight in the first place), so I hope the situation will change in a few weeks.

But, guess who has another work trip coming up in a few days? It just never ends. . . .

The Rachel Files: Weeks 4-6 and the black eye

Black eye (orbicular bruise). Crop and Rotatio...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, I did not give her the black eye!

As I mentioned in my previous post about my temporary roommate, Rachel had apparently been making inroads into my son’s snacks even though we talked about separation of our food. Now, I don’t mind so much when someone messes with me. But when my son approached me, shaking an empty package of cashews with a look of sad hunger in his eyes, I decided the woman had to go.

We had another small summit meeting (similar to the one we had about her excessive toilet paper use) and discussed the importance of keeping to our own food. It went well, but the mother lion in me was stirred, so I decided to take a few days to figure out how to tell Rachel that I could not keep her for the full time until a housing unit opens up. We had never set a specific amount of time for her stay, but I had been hoping to do that for her.

I do want to say that it has been great having Rachel walk my dog during the day, and hearing her tips about cooking and cleaning. She is a pleasant person on a difficult journey. But she is crossing lines that are too hard for me (and my son) to adjust to, especially since I have a choice in the matter.

While I was considering how to tell her she had to find another place to stay, Rachel, who has more serious mental health issues than I realized at first, started taking new medications that pretty much zonked her out and upset her balance. One morning, at 2:30 a.m., I heard a crash downstairs where she stays. Because she sometimes does things at odd hours, I didn’t think much of it. Plus, it sounded like something had just fallen off a shelf. I was too sleepy to get up and investigate. It wasn’t until the next day when I came home from work in the evening that I discovered the cause of the sound. Apparently, Rachel had fainted in the bathroom and fallen flat on her face on the linoleum. When I entered, she sat on the couch with a bag of ice on her eye, which sported a HUGE shiner.

I felt bad A) For not caring enough to investigate the crash, B) That this terrible thing happened to her, C) That she didn’t let me know about it in a timely manner so I could get her some help. And I’m sure she wasn’t too comfortable, either! I asked her if she had a doctor she should be calling, and offered to take her someplace, but she assured me she had it covered. Although I wasn’t so sure, I was in the middle of moving my elderly parents to an assisted living home, so I took her word for it.

In her medicated befuddlement over the next few days, Rachel was also leaving burners and lights on. I had a work trip coming up where I would be gone for four days. Guess how confident I felt leaving her home alone for that long? Thankfully, she was open to the idea of having a network of people check on her and go out to lunch with her, which we put into place before I left.

That seemed to go well. My house suffered in my absence, however. More on that in the next installment!