January 1, 2019

Last night as we were contemplating the end of 2018 and looking ahead to 2019, reading on social media sites what the famous and the not so famous were thinking, I told Mark that I felt hopeful. No specific reason or occasion, just – a feeling.

I like and can relate to what Hillary Clinton said: “In many ways, 2018 was a dark time for our country. As it ends, I’m grateful to everyone who brought light into it: activists who protected kids at the border, journalists who stood up for truth, organizers who mobilized voters for the 2018 elections, candidates who ran races with grit and inspiration, voters who made their voices heard, and absolutely everyone who marched, donated, called, and protested to fight for the values we share. Here’s to more light in 2019, and to a shared commitment to make it as bright as possible. Happy New Year.”

This morning, January 1, 2019, I woke with a smile, because it is the first day of 2019 – which is a bit silly, considering that it is just a number and the beginning of the year has been moved more than once in history. Still …


In my studio I have a desk, actually a dining table from Target, that holds my desktop computer, my calendar, papers, books, anything I need to do the book-keeping things and lesson preparation and evaluation for the studio, pictures of my husband and my children, one of my mother’s paintings, pencil sharpener, iPhone and iPad stands – the usual.

In a different room I have what we call “the money desk” – actually a dining table from Target – that holds “the money laptop” and everything financial: bills, receipts, etc., and family pictures, one of my mother’s paintings, iPhone stand, cup with pencils, etc.

On the dining table I use my personal laptop. That’s where I do most of my internet browsing, personal – and some professional – emailing, uploading and editing of the many pictures I take every day, etc.

On my nightstand is an iPad Mini, and my phone, to check email and other essentials in the morning before I get up.

I love the many different electronic ways I am able to use to stay connected, be creative and organized.

Recently, spurred on by findings on Pinterest, I realized that in addition to all these tables and desks, I would like a small desk, ideally by a window, to be able to look outside, but most importantly: electronics-free. A small desk where I can read, write, and color. Read something written on paper, hand-write and color. A small desk with perhaps a small plant or in the summer a bouquet of fresh flowers, lots of coloring pencils, a journal (or five) to write in, jot down ideas, scribble, doodle, dawdle …

The window part did not work out – all of our windows are taken, occupied by plants, benches with plants, little tables, etc. – but the small desk was bought and, today, delivered. For the moment it has found a place in the middle of the living room, in front of the fireplace, where I can look around, big window to my left.





It is perhaps ironic that I am writing this post on an electronic device, so that I can share it, electronically, on the internet …

A clean house

After much debating and then looking for a housecleaning service, and one failed attempt (lady didn’t show up), I followed the recommendation of a piano parent and had the owner of the service do a walk-through and give us an estimate. Yesterday she and two other cleaning ladies descended on the house and spent three hours thoroughly cleaning the upstairs (where we live. The downstairs studio is separate.).

The experience was unexpectedly stressful and strangely unpleasant. Knowing that complete strangers were in my bathroom, my closet, my bedroom, touching my stuff, made me very uncomfortable. It wasn’t a matter of trust, or the feeling that my privacy was being violated. There was absolutely nothing inappropriate in the way the ladies were – they were professional, doing their job. – Or maybe it *is* a matter of privacy: Mark and I (and occasionally my children when they visit from out of town) are the only ones who go into that private part of our house. We have showed the house, including bed and bathroom, to friends, but that was different because Mark and/or I were right there with them.

We knew to expect that things wouldn’t be where they were before. Our kitchen counter tops tend to get messy, the dining table houses more than dining things …  Some of the rearrangements were actually welcome; it gives me ideas for how to arrange things differently / better.  Other “cleaning up” arrangements were easily restored to how we had them before: we keep a butter dish on the counter (butter at room temperature) and somehow that dish ended up on the stovetop, etc.

By nature and nurture, I am very picky. Yesterday, when I asked a 3rd grade student whether he thought he was finished with a particular piece or whether he thought he needed a bit more time (at home, to practice), he hemmed and hawed, reluctant to answer. His mother laughed and told him not to be silly, she thought he knew that he was finished with the piece. I explained to the mother that I thought he was reluctant because he knew that I have very high standards, he knew that 99% – while pretty good – is not “finished”. He agreed that that’s what he meant.

The cleaning service was very reasonably priced, but the fact that there were three strangers in my house for three hours was a different kind of price I paid yesterday, so it is disappointing that I keep finding things that didn’t get cleaned, or not as thoroughly as I expected, considering that this particular service takes particular pride in their thoroughness.

Maybe it’s this year, this time. So much is so extreme this year: unusually high hopes, fears, roller-coaster emotions, all of which make it more important than ever that my home be my castle, a physical place where Mark and I invite good energy, good people to be with us, where we *know* that we have control over things.


I always smile to myself when I have a medical appointment on a Friday and when I leave, the receptionist says, “Have a good weekend!” I wish her the same, but think to myself, and occasionally tell her, that my weekend doesn’t start until Saturday evening. Of course, it also lasts until Monday after noon.

Saturdays are some of my busiest teaching days. I don’t particularly like it, but some students/families have so many other obligations during the week that Saturday is the only realistic lesson day option. One family with two students owns a restaurant and cannot realistically be gone for more than an hour in the early evening, twice a week. Other families have several siblings whose after-school activities take up time and chauffeur resources.

So, while during the week I start around 3:15 or 3:30 and teach until 7, on Saturdays I start before noon and, for now, end at 4. During the week, I often run an errand or have a medical appointment in the late morning or early afternoon, thus get to be out of the house and amongst them English. Saturdays, I am at home, in the studio, all day it seems. And I end my teaching Saturday with a rather strong desire to get out of the house. Somehow, this makes it easier to at the same time shake off the “teaching” hat and digest lessons.

It has become our habit for Mark to ask me, Saturdays when I am done teaching, “Would you like to go for a little ride?” And I smile and say, “Yes please.” He drives, I mull over – all kinds of things, I tell him stuff that happened in lessons, listen to his feedback, look out the window, sit and be. We usually stop at the Starbucks drive-through for a latte and sometimes a lemon bread. We don’t go to a store or do anything productive. Just drive around. In town, or out to the next town, maybe across the dam watching for eagles or other interesting things.

2016-01-23 17.27.51

We may be gone for half an hour, or an hour, and that’s how I start my weekend. 🙂

Christmas Letter 2015

2015 was a good year for us. Sibylle’s piano studio continues to flourish, and I am settling into my new system administration role at Kansas State University. We traveled to Pennsylvania in July so that I could attend a week long cello camp for adult beginners and we bought a new car. Sibylle continues to grow and shape the new flower beds and kitchen garden. Except for a cold around Thanksgiving we’ve both been healthy all year.

In January we traveled to Kansas City with Jonathan and one of his friends to see the symphony perform. The new performance hall is stunning and we have enjoyed all of the concerts we’ve seen there.

In April I ordered an Apple Watch, and then spent several weeks anxiously awaiting its arrival. I am thrilled with the watch; making very good use of its fitness tracking abilities. At the end of 2014 I had bought a treadmill desk for my office at work and I have walked 3 hours a day at work ever since. Between a daily walking regime and eating reasonably sized portions I have lost 23 pounds so far this year.

In June I attended cello camp here in town, hosted by my teacher. It’s three half days and it’s something I have done every year for 5 years now.

Sibylle’s studio performed two public recitals at Meadowlark Hills retirement community  in July.

At the end of July we traveled to Bryn Mawr College just outside Philadelphia so that I could attend a week long cello camp called Cellospeak for adult beginners. Both Sibylle and I found the week fascinating and very rewarding. In addition to daily lessons and group sessions there were recitals every evening by both faculty and students. Some of the student performances were outstanding, and the faculty performances were out of this world. We are looking forward to returning next year.

In September I bought a MINI Cooper S – a car I have dreamed about owning for years. The car was actually ordered the day before we flew to Bryn Mawr in July, but delivery happened September 10th. It’s a 6-speed done up in Volcanic Orange with a black roof. I love the car and use any excuse I can find to drive it.

For the third time I participated in the Gold Orchestra, which gives me ensemble play experience. This November marks the 6th anniversary of starting cello lessons.

Sibylle’s students continue to do well at both local and state competitions. In addition to teaching, she is also busy preparing to accompany two violin students on a recorded submission to the ASTACAP audition in January.

We wish our friends and family Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, and a Joyous, Prosperous and Healthy New Year 2016!

Sibylle and Mark


I first wrote the following article seven years ago and while I do not remember whether there was a specific reason for me to write it – I think it is as relevant today as it was then.


There is much controversy concerning three acts of destruction, religious controversy mostly, and then of course political.  There are people who think there need to be laws concerning these three acts – because, they argue, humankind will kill thoughtlessly, on the spur of the moment, without “good cause” unless supervised and – mostly – prohibited by law.

The three acts of destruction are:  abortion, divorce, and suicide.  Abortion kills the unborn, divorce kills a relationship, and suicide kills the self.  In an ideal world, none of the three would ever happen.  In an ideal world, we wouldn’t find out, sometimes not immediately at the beginning of the pregnancy, that there is something terribly wrong which threatens the unborn and/or the mother’s life.  In an ideal world, only women who want to become pregnant – or are willing to be pregnant – would become pregnant.  ~  In an ideal world, relationships would always be mutually respectful and loving, and strong enough to weather the storms.  ~  In an ideal world, no one would ever be in so much pain that the only way out is to kill the self.

This world is not ideal.  I doubt that a lot of people enjoy having an abortion, or going through a divorce, or the prospect of suicide – or do so lightly, on the spur of the moment.  All three acts of destruction should be the very, very last resort, after everything else has failed.  But they should remain an option.  Legal, safe, without losing one’s dignity or the respect of others.

Let’s be proactive and find ways to prevent what causes so many cases of abortion, divorce, and suicide at this time.  Don’t say “Abolish Abortion!” unless you are willing to work on both ends:  make sure that women (and men) have the means and education to prevent a pregnancy unless they want to or are willing to become pregnant; and let’s make adoption a reasonable and accepted alternative to aborting an “unwanted” child.  Teach men to treat women with respect; teach women to treat men with respect.  Make sure that every man who even thinks about raping a woman knows beyond a doubt that should he go through with it, he will be found, prosecuted and convicted.   ~  Let us educate young people, our own children and our students in school, what it means and takes to be in a committed relationship, what it means to treat each other with respect and dignity.  Let’s show them with our own example.  Teach them that hate and disrespect, sarcasm and belittling have no place in a relationship.  ~  Let us make sure that we help people who are in pain, physical as well as emotional.  Let us make sure they know that there are alternatives and that there is help.

And then, if all else fails, instead of judging or attempting to regulate people who face abortion, divorce, or suicide, let’s do our very best, and then some, to offer our support.  Don’t try to walk in their shoes; you can’t.


I am very fortunate that I get to grow things. Flowers, tomatoes, herbs, piano students …

This spring we put the three raised beds together in the kitchen garden. I added some dirt and some good soil and some cotton burr compost to welcome the plants and seeds I had purchased.
2015-04-27 backyard and kitchen gardenThe plan was to have watermelons in one bed, strawberries, carrots and parsley in the middle bed, and herbs – rosemary, oregano, French tarragon, two types of basil, borage – and a cherry tomato in the third bed. 2015-04-27 backyard and kitchen garden
Plus a line of marigolds along the long side of the beds, and some extra marigolds in the middle bed to separate the strawberries from the carrots and parsley.

The strawberry plant immediately set up camp and merrily blossomed and set fruit.
2015-04-27 backyard and kitchen gardenIt also produced one runner after the other. The carrots did ok but I only harvested a few and the ones remaining in the ground got woody (because I left them in the ground too long). I had been looking forward to fresh parsley but somehow it didn’t taste – right? good? When I discovered black swallowtail caterpillars on the parsley and the carrots I just let them be. They are not hurting any other plant, and they’ll turn into beautiful butterflies. The caterpillars helped me identify a weed among the daylilies in a different part of the backyard as a Wild Carrot: 2015-08-06 Black Swallowtail caterpillar on Wild Carrot :)

The watermelon didn’t to anything – absolutely nothing – until maybe a month ago, and by now I have one spindly-looking vine, perhaps one or two blossoms. No fruit, nothing. The borage grew well at first but then died, the French tarragon took its time to decide whether the environment in the raised bed was to its liking, but the basils, the rosemary  and the oregano grew well from the beginning.

Best plant of them all? The cherry tomato. I like cherry tomatoes and found an orange one at the local grocery store. The plant looked healthy enough but its growth has surpassed my wildest dreams. That one plant – because I didn’t stake it – covers the 4’x4′ (or 5’x5′?) bed, plus it is spilling over and has half-way covered the strawberry/parsley bed. It is also by at least a foot spilling over the edges of the bed onto the paths around it. 2015-08-30 morning . cherry tomato, taking over the kitchen gardenThe oregano is completely covered and invisible. The rosemary valiantly pushes through the tomato plant, as does the bigger of the two basil plants. The French tarragon can only be seen if you know where to look. 2015-08-30 morning . cherry tomato, taking over the kitchen gardenEvery day I gather one or two bowls full of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I have ever tasted. They taste best fresh from the vine, still warm from the sun. Almost every day I share with neighbors, students, and Mark has taken at least two bowls to work to share with colleagues. 2015-09-15 today's harvest :-)
To my utter surprise and delight, I actually *can* eat them right off the vine as they are perfectly clean: no dirt (splashing up from the ground), no insects, just tomato.

Sleep Study Report

I’ll try to watch my language, but reading the sleep study report – I am pissed.

What a waste of money and time and resources.

My complaint regarding sleep had nothing to do with what people usually mention: I have no trouble falling asleep, and while I often wake up fairly easily, I have no trouble going back to sleep if I do wake up. I have slept through thunderstorms. I don’t snore, my legs don’t twitch, I don’t grind my teeth. We have a good mattress, my pillow is supportive, and I have found the kind of combination of blankets that allows me to throw the top one off when I get too warm (early morning) and pull it back over me when I have cooled down.

No (use of) screens in the bedroom – other than phone on the night stand: no TV, not even radio. I don’t drink much caffeine anyway and hardly ever after about 4 p.m., I don’t drink alcohol (ever). I go to bed and get up in the morning at roughly the same time every day, weekend included, but not dogmatically so. Every once in a while there is a late night, or an early bedtime, and it doesn’t seem to throw me off too much.

My complaint, and the reason I do not wake up refreshed even after eight hours of sleep, is that for the second half of the night (or so, I don’t look at the time) I dream. Vivid, often disturbing dreams. It feels like I dream instead of sleep. I feel trapped in dreams. Mark has learned to wake me up and gently insist (upon my request) that I stay awake – instead of drifting back to sleep.

Even before I received the phone call from the sleep lab to schedule the study, I had second thoughts about it: no matter how perfect the sleep center room / bed / everything would be – it would be different enough to affect my sleep.

After speaking with Bonnie from the sleep lab who explained details of the sleep study I had even more reservations: she mentioned the type of study: a split night polysomnogram, meaning they were going to look for sleep apnea. I was surprised and explained that sleep apnea was the least of my concerns.

As for the sleep study itself, first the good: both technicians were excellent in their respect for me. There was never any indication that Mark was anything but welcome there to stay with me until I was going to sleep. Both technicians, instead of loudly knocking on the door, tapped lightly with their fingers, opened the door an inch and said my name, then waited for me to acknowledge them. They answered questions and were intent on making sure that I was comfortable.

Unfortunately, the temperature in the room was freezing all night long even though one of the technicians adjusted the thermostat when I said that I was cold. He offered a second blanket but it was a cotton blanket that added only weight, no warmth. The bed was massively uncomfortable: the mattress hard enough to make my hips and left knee scream sooner or later no matter how I lay, and it felt like it was covered in plastic: my back was covered in (cold) sweat.

The sensors attached to my scalp had tiny points that felt like there was a little pebble on the pillow, digging into my head. Since there were at least six (Mark thinks he remembers a dozen) sensors attached to my scalp and face there was no way for me to lie that didn’t make at least one of them dig into my head. The only thing I could change was which one of them would dig …

In order to get the best reading, I was told to give them “as much back sleep as possible”. Normally, I sleep on my side, changing throughout the night. Being a first-born I tend to do as I am told so I tried to sleep on my back.

I was uncomfortable but did go to sleep. After I don’t know how long I kept waking up because I just couldn’t get comfortable enough. I thought about saying “This isn’t working, I am going home” but being a first-born I don’t do that kind of thing.

In the early morning, being half-awake, bored and frustrated, I listened to several instances of running water – probably the other sleep study patient, using the bathroom, maybe taking a shower. Soft voices, sneezing, morning sounds.

At around 6:15 there was a light tap on the door: time to take the sensors and belts off. One of the technicians then shared some of his findings with me.

No surprise to me, there was no sleep apnea, just a couple of instances of “hypopneas”. He did say that those happened when I was on my back, in REM sleep. His suggestion? Try sleeping on your side.

He thought he might have heard me snore, lightly, for a bit, but he wasn’t sure.

He noted that my REM sleep was less than normal, and that my sleep efficiency was only 76% (normal is at least 90%).

Since the physician who would write up the report was a pulmonary specialist, the data collected and used focused on respiratory disturbances (of which there were few). I would be much more interested in a neurologist’s take on the data.

Today I received a copy of the report in the mail. More details, numbers – “21 respiratory, 3 limb movement and 166 spontaneous arousals” etc. -, impression and recommendations.

“Impression: sleep stage disturbance, hypersomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, insufficient sleep”.


Hypersomnia is “prolonged nighttime sleep” and/or daytime fatigue (how would he know, the data being from a SLEEP study?) – ??

Earlier in the report it says, “snoring very light and sporadic” and “1 obstructive apneas, 0 central apneas, 0 mixed and 9 hypopneas”. How that yields an impression of “obstructive sleep apnea” and “snoring” I don’t know,

His “Recommendation: consider ENT consult for airway evaluation related to snoring; instruct the patient on proper sleep hygiene to improve sleep quality; avoidance of alcohol at bedtime, due to its negative consequence on sleep quality; follow up in 2-4 weeks with PCP for further discussion.”

The alcohol bit gets me the most I think: the papers I had to fill out prior to the study specifically asked about caffeine and alcohol consumption. To me, avoiding alcohol at bedtime would be part of “proper sleep hygiene”, in the same vein as avoiding strenuous exercise, heavy meals right before bed, etc. = nothing that has to be mentioned separately unless it is a known issue.

Both the “Impressions” and the “Recommendations” sound like canned responses that have little to do with the actual data.

What a waste.

Heart Health

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been plagued by recurrent headaches, all of which are a little different from each other. Often it is difficult to tell whether it’s a migraine or a tension headache – it’s probably both: starting as a migraine and then adding tension from being tense because of the pain. Add a bit of sinus trouble due to rapidly changing weather / pressure. Unpleasant.

In order to avoid medication-induced (rebound) headaches I am reluctant to take my prescription meds, instead I try to wait and see if the headache goes away by itself. Sometimes it does but often it doesn’t in which case I am left with a headache so bad that it only slowly responds to medication.

Last week I had a pretty bad – but not really bad (yet) – headache that just wouldn’t go away. It ended up getting worse and keeping me awake, I was unable to go to sleep. After midnight I was fed up and, looking for something that would kick butt (more so than the usual Fioricet), I took two of the Tylenol #3 (= with codeine) that my then-dentist had prescribed last summer for post-crown-prep pain. Because three or so years ago I had an adverse reaction to morphine when I was in the ER for what turned out to be gallbladder issues, I had never taken any of the Tylenol #3 – both morphine and codeine are opioids -; I didn’t want to take a chance getting sick from the codeine. But this time I didn’t care. I figured it couldn’t be that bad.

Tylenol kicks in mercifully fast. This time, so did the side effects (from the codeine, I assume): nausea, stomach pain that started above the stomach and extended to below and then around the left side into lower back, sweating, dizziness. The nausea responded to peptobismol and then phenergan, but the pain just wouldn’t go away. I tried walking around, sitting and putting my head between my knees – the pressure on my stomach felt good -, and ended up sitting in the recliner for quite a while.

I pondered whether going to the ER would do any good – but what could they do for me? Give me more painkillers?

After about four hours, the pain fairly suddenly subsided and I was able to go back to bed and sleep.

Jonathan who works as a CNA in a hospital said that my symptoms were awfully similar to a (female) patient who had come to the hospital and ended up having a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms for women can be startlingly different from the stereotypical (male) symptoms. Lovingly, he said that I was “a woman of a certain age”, and having my heart health checked out may not be a bad idea, if for no other reason than to have a baseline for what’s “normal” for me.

My doctor agreed and set up an appointment for a stress test. Which happened today. Treadmill, three minutes at a moderate pace and a 10% incline, then speeding up and more incline for another three minutes, then faster and steeper, all at three minute intervals, and so on. The goal was to get my heart rate up to 148 and see how long I could keep going (faster and steeper) before I couldn’t anymore. The speed wasn’t a problem, I think I could have gone faster and longer, but the incline was hell on my legs. I am not used to running uphill. Well, I am not used to running, period.

In my normal daily life, I move a lot, I don’t sit still for long, I always have a reason to get up, for something, anything. But I never exert myself. Sprinting up the stairs to answer the door is about all the “exercise” I get. So it didn’t take long at all for my heart to be at 148. I was able to keep going (very fast walking, almost jogging in the end) for 8 minutes, uphill, when I was way out of breath and had had enough = wouldn’t be able to continue. After a 30 second cool-down period, I was able/allowed to sit down. When I wondered out loud that an athlete who is in top shape could keep this up for much longer, the radiologist said “seventeen minutes” has been the maximum – but added that of course most of the people she sees on the treadmill have some kind of heart problem (or at least suspected problem). The 17 minutes was a rather competitive (but also very healthy) 16-yr old.

The curious thing now is that for several hours after the test I felt as invigorated as I was exhausted. I can now understand from (admittedly limited) experience why people love to run. How it can become an addiction – want to get that feeling again! Must run! And why everyone who is NOT depressed tells the depressed that exercise is invigorating and will make them feel better. Unfortunately, it takes energy to get going and running BEFORE you reap the benefit of having run, the energy that comes from having run. And energy is one of the things that someone who is depressed simply doesn’t have.

The radiologist said the data will be sent to a cardiologist to review, and then to my doctor to share with me. She didn’t see anything unusual, and the fact that I was able to keep going for 8 minutes (they need 6 minutes to do the test) and had neither chest pain nor any other symptoms – other than being out of breath – was a good sign.

Neither Jonathan nor my doctor nor Mark nor I think there is any kind of heart problem, but it’ll be nice to have the baseline of what is normal for me.

The weather is frightful

It’s been snowy and cold this winter, not so much here in Kansas, but to the East. Even here in Kansas though, I hear people say, I am so tired of the cold, I am sooo ready for spring.

People, it’s the middle of the second half of February – what do you expect? It won’t be spring for another couple weeks.

Winter, when everything loses color, when it is cold, too cold to even change the water, uh, ice, in the birdbath, winter is the perfect time for dreaming. I’ve been researching roses – Thanks, David Austin, for the catalog – and other blooming things.

And when in December I realized that it was too late to plant the crocus and daffodil bulbs in the ground, along the new wall, and around the trees, I put them in pots, left outside to get nice and cold and then, when the temperatures were regularly below freezing, brought them into the cold but frost free garage. The crocus were the first to send up some leaves, then the daffodils. Which is when I brought them into the house. While the daffodils are still content with just leaves, the crocus have exploded into bloom:

morning crocus

The white stuff is DE, diatomaceous earth, sprinkled on liberally to combat the mold flies which have taken up winter residence in our plants again. As soon as it’s not freezing anymore, I’ll take the pot outside to get some fresh air.

Soon, the daffodils should be blooming, too – I hope -, and then, not too much longer after that, there will be blooming trees and bushes outside, and spring flowers, and then in May, roses.

Dreaming is good.




I get three types of headaches: migraines most frequently, sinus headaches, and occasional tension headaches.

A migraine usually comes on in the afternoon and keeps getting worse, but even if I don’t take my prescription medication I can usually sleep it off. Not taking prescription migraine meds is not a good idea though as the pain tends to cause nausea which of course makes me miserable, plus the growing pain and overall heightened sensitivity to light and sound and smell makes me squint and frown and not move as freely which adds tension which may add a tension headache on top of the migraine. Fortunately, by now I don’t get migraines often, and as long as I take medication at the onset of a migraine I am usually ok by the next day.

Sinus headaches feel red-hot behind and around my eye. I am taking two types of prescription medications which cause dry mouth which actually means dry everything: my sinuses feel like they are as dried out as a Southwest desert, so it is not stuffed sinuses which cause my headache which means that typical sinus meds don’t work. Hot and spicy food makes me sweat to the point that I have to pat the running sweat off my face every couple minutes – but I never need to blow my nose. Using a neti pot helps a bit but not enough. The one thing that does help reliably is watching a sentimental sappy movie that makes me cry and consequently blow my nose.

Tension headaches usually start in the neck and work their way around my head, causing every muscle on my head to be sore and painful. These kinds of headaches tend to stick around: where lying down in a dark and quiet (and odor-free) room works wonders for a migraine, a tension headache is not helped by either of these.

Mark’s gentle massage works best, but I feel that while I have very little control over the cause of a migraine (change in the weather, or sensory assault and sleep deprivation such as in trans-Atlantic flight) and sinus headaches, I do have the most control over preventing tension headaches: posture is big, not sitting or standing still for too long, not squinting (sunglasses!) or frowning (which unfortunately I do in order to be facially expressive when teaching – I am working on that one), avoiding general stress etc.

Now it seems I found a new source of tension headaches: dental work. In May of last year I had some crown prep work done which takes an hour and 15 minutes and requires, if it’s the last tooth in the back, a very wide open mouth with lots of force exerted into the jaw for a very long time. I probably unconsciously tried to counter that force by pushing my jaw against it, causing some nastily unhappy muscles, tendons, ligaments – whatever it is that moves the jaw. On top of the lengthy and stressful crown prep, I had a perio maintenance cleaning which also takes about an hour. I wish someone in the office had told me that having a cleaning literally = five minutes after a crown prep might be too stressful for the jaw. Of course, during the cleaning, the temporary crown popped off so there was another 15 minutes in the chair after the cleaning to reattach the temporary crown. It took seven weeks before I didn’t need painkillers anymore: it was not the tooth that was sore but the entire jaw, into the ear, both sides.

The cleaning and exam I had in September didn’t seem to aggravate things, but three weeks ago I had another cleaning and it seemed to set off another round of sore jaw => another week of Mobic, and Neurontin, which keeps the pain under control (and hopefully addresses any inflammatory things going on) and eventually allows it to subside.

Then yesterday, I had an initial consult with an orthodontist. Dr Hayden doesn’t waste time. Putting his fingers on the jaw joint (“everybody has TMJ – the J stands for joint; the disorder is called TMD”) he commanded, “Open. Close. Open. Close. Push left. Open. Close. Push right. More right. As much right as you can. Open. Close. Open as wide as you can. Close.” and so it went on and on and on. Dentists’ chairs are not the most comfortable to begin with, for the head and neck, and doing all kinds of weird things with my jaw, pulling muscles and whatever else is in there into all kinds of unusual directions, was the perfect recipe for a tension headache. It was not terrible, just terribly distracting – like someone pulling on one hair, repeatedly, at random intervals. I spent a puny night, took painkillers with breakfast, took a nap and 20 hours later was ok again.

I am normally very conscious of not clenching my teeth, and my students often hear, “Lips touching, teeth apart” when their intense focus seems to invade their jaw and mouth. For myself, I will have to keep in mind, for future dental work, that I perhaps need more time and/or definitely be very conscious of what I do with my jaw when some dentist or orthodontist has their hands in my mouth.

Thoughts on Life-Threatening Illness

If I should ever get a difficult and potentially life-threatening disease I will have a difficult and potentially life-threatening disease.  I will have a disease / an illness that requires medical help.  It will be a disease, an illness, not a battle or a fight that is mine to win or lose.  I will try to find the best treatment available, I will look at as many options as possible, but I will not try to “beat this”.  I do not live my life as a battle, in order to win.  I try to live as gracefully and honestly as possible.

If I should die from this illness, I will die.  I will not succumb, nor will I have lost the fight or the battle.  I will especially not have lost a “courageous battle” –  what’s the alternative: a “cowardly battle”?

People in this country are so embarrassingly quick to make predictions about the outcome of ball games, diseases, etc.  “I just KNOW we will win this time!”  Then, when we don’t win:  “Oh, well, guess I was wrong.  But I just KNOW that NEXT time we will win!”  Don’t people listen to themselves?  Don’t they realize how dumb they sound when they “know!” something that’ll happen in the future?

If you even so much as think of telling me, “You can beat this!”  –  in order to “support” me  –  better think again.  First of all, how do you know?  You had a private audience with God who personally told you that I will not die?  Yes?  You have a crystal ball?  Secondly, I’m not in this to beat anything or anyone.  To me, if a difficult and life-threatening disease should happen to be part of my life, it is a disease, an illness, not a battle.  If you want to support me, bring me good food and seasonal flowers.  Help me take care of the things I can’t take care of.  Listen and hold my hand, but please don’t “encourage” me to “fight!” because you think I must win this battle. If you want to pray for me, pray for strength and grace and honesty, not to “beat this!”  If your outlook on life is one of winning and losing and you cannot stand the thought of not fighting, please realize that there is no place for you in my life.

Xeni Jardin:
Cancer is a biological process of cells refusing to do what they should inside our bodies, not a “fight” that weaker souls among us “lose.”
(tweet from April 22, 2013)


The thing about memorial services is that everyone has all these wonderful things to say about the deceased and I always wonder, “Did you tell him while he was still alive??”

Anytime Mark comes home and tells me how nice it was that a co-worker, colleague, friend had done something particularly considerate, useful, nice, I tend to ask, “Did you tell him/her?” Sometimes, in order to be dramatic, I add, “- you never know if you get another chance!” People die, you know.

Four years ago, I became friends on Facebook with someone I remembered from a long time ago when I attended the UU Fellowship. Even though we live in the same town, in these last four years we ran into each other only once, at the grocery store, and awkwardly said hello and how are you and I hope things are going well. Other than that, Bob Patterson became part of my daily life: almost every day, he had something to share, something to say on Facebook, always intelligent, usually witty. I loved his dry humor. Then, a couple weeks? months? ago, I discovered that he shared things on Pinterest as well. Not often, but occasionally I would comment on his posts, sometimes he commented on mine. Nearly every day, he was there, on Facebook, and Pinterest. When he got sick, I wished him well, and we probably said Happy Birthday.

His posts made me think, they made me smile, and I loved sharing them with Mark.

Just the other day, I was particularly happy to find that Bob had shared a link to a beautiful book – I was looking forward to seeing if the library has it – and I thought, I really should tell him how much I appreciate and cherish his daily musings, his sharing of things that interest him but then this weird thought kicked in: won’t it sound weird, you know, like, inappropriate?  I mean we hardly know each other – won’t it sound creepy?

Then yesterday, mid-afternoon, as I was checking Facebook on my phone, as I do several times a day, there was a new post on Bob’s wall:

Friends of Bob,

Last night Bob passed away in his sleep. For those of you in the area, details about a service are pending.

Taylor, Josh, and Owen Patterson

It literally took my breath away, I had to read it a couple of times for it to sink in. And then it sank in, and I cried. At first it wasn’t even the pain of having lost part of my daily life. It was the pain of never having taken the time to say, “You know, Bob, I really like your posts. They make me think, make me smile. Thank you for being on Facebook every day.” The pain of regret because I had missed my chance and now I would never be able to say it to him. I, the one who urges people, “Don’t wait until someone’s memorial service to say how much they mean to you!”  – I didn’t do the most decent of human things: say Thank You.


There are many comments pouring in on Facebook. I was surprised – but shouldn’t have been – that there are a lot of people like me out there: people who may not even have met Bob in person but cherished his near-daily online musings, his comments, people who loved reading the back-and-forth between Bob and friends, people whose lives will be a little less bright and a little less warm now, without Bob.

At the same time, I also feel a – warm urgency, urgent warmth in those comments: people who usually only talked to Bob now talk to each other. There seems to be a desire, a need to connect. New friends are being made.


Bob wrote his last Facebook post on January 13. Two days later – an unusually long time for Bob to not say something – one of his friends, Danielle Beeson, posted on his wall:

Where are you Bob? Not used to not seeing you here

He “liked” the post but didn’t write a response.

It saddens me immensely that we now have to get used to not seeing him there anymore.

New Years Resolutions

I don’t like them. It seems so silly to wait until January 1 to start a new, healthier habit. Why not start as soon as you realize there is room for improvement?

So it was coincidence that I recently, shortly after the start of the new year, found a new-to-me app, reviewed on Lifehacker, that promises to “break a bad habit or build a few good ones”: it is called Way of Life, designed to “track, identify and change your habits with Way of Life’s unique color system”.

With the free app, you get to track three goals, and it couldn’t be simpler to do: choose your three goals, and every day click “yes” or “no” on the day to indicate whether you reached your goal for the day or not. Then they design graphs and charts to show you your long-term progress.

They have a long list of suggested goals, what they assume most people want to improve: eat more vegetables, less junk food, sleep more, etc and so on. You can also design your own goal.

As I looked through their suggested goals list, I was drawn to these three:

  • walk
  • be grateful
  • had a good day

For me personally, these are more valuable than tracking how many servings of veggies I eat.

I want to make more use of our treadmill – and once the temperatures climb above freezing, walk outside as well. I am not interested in “exercise” but I believe that every little bit of moving – as opposed to sitting – helps, so I walk 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there. With the treadmill I love that I don’t have to get dressed, bundled up, but I step on it wearing slippers and my robe in the morning, set it to 2-3 miles an hour and walk for a bit. Our treadmill is set up in front of the window so I get to watch the world outside, or check email, as I walk. Like so many things in life, it’s not hard to do, but you have to do it …

I live a very fortunate life: I am married to the Love of my Second Life, we live in a beautiful home, I am successful in my job that I love, for the most part we are healthy. I have many things to be grateful for, and I am, grateful. But I appreciate a little reminder, every day, to perhaps be more specific in my gratefulness.

Having a “good day” is nicely vague. Life can be aggravating, and there were several months last year that were more so than usual. It took a lot of effort not to feel pulled down. And, of course, every day there is something that doesn’t go as well as it could and perhaps should. Some days are “good” simply because nothing bad happened. Some days I am glad when I make it through the day and in the evening the house is still standing and we are all still breathing. And that’ll have to be good enough for that day. But I also want to look for things that make a day really good. Not just not bad. Not only looking back in the evening and surveying what was good, and being grateful for the good, but also looking ahead in the morning and perhaps planning? thinking about? what would make this a really good day.

Of course, for me, my three goals are connected: I will have had a good day because I am grateful, grateful for – among many other things – being able to walk. (She says, sitting at the computer …). I think I consider this more of a journey than a “resolution”.

Christmas Letter 2014

A year ago, December 2013, I asked Mark if we wanted to write a Christmas letter. He shrugged his shoulders and with a heavy sigh said, “What is there to say? ‘My dad died’?”
George Nichols had died in September 2013, shortly after his 88th birthday, completely unexpectedly and not long after he had been told at his annual physical that he was “good to go for at least another five years”. We were in shock. It seems this sudden death overshadowed everything for several weeks or months. Mark spent the following months making many trips to his childhood home, organizing, packing, and ultimately helping his brother Christopher to get the house ready to be sold in May of this year.

Music continues to play a major role in our life and brings much happiness: Mark is continuing his cello studies with David Littrell, attending weekly lessons, summer cello camp, Gold Orchestra, including the Rock Springs retreat at the end of October; and I continue to enjoy helping the students in my studio figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to playing the piano. One of the joys for Mark and me is making music together: cello and piano, cello and viola, we cherish that we are able to share our love of music.

Naturally then, the happy highlights of 2014 are musical in nature: in March, we took a trip to Chicago for the MTNA Conference. We arrived a few days early, did some shopping and wandering around the city, and were able to meet with old friends. While I was attending the conference, Mark went to the Adler Planetarium and visited WH Lee Luthiers where he played different cellos. His hope had been that in a big city like Chicago there would be at least one store that sold electric cellos – something he had been interested in for a while – but no such luck. In preparation for our trip he had contacted several string stores in Chicago ahead of time but none offered what he was looking for. He ended up buying a NS Design NXT 5-string electric cello online in May. He says it’s “Darth Vader black” 🙂  At June’s cello camp he took both cellos, and the other students got a chance to play the electric one.

In April we went to Emporia for Jonathan’s Emporia Symphony concert and two days later for the premiere performance of his new composition, NEBULAE.

Mark already had both CD’s by cellist Zoe Keating so when the opportunity arose to see her live in Omaha we jumped at the chance. Mark got to meet her after the concert May 2 and she signed the new CD we had bought.

At the end of July, we decided to trade in one of the grand pianos and invest in a new Yamaha C7, quite an upgrade but so worth it. The new piano has a bit of an attitude, lots of personality, very different from the other grand, a very smooth Kawai. The studio now has two excellent instruments with which I am thrilled and happy.

Finally, at the beginning of December we went to see Yo-Yo Ma perform three Bach Suites in McCain Auditorium here in Manhattan. Not only was the concert – predictably – exquisite, we also got to meet Mr. Ma after the concert: Mark’s cello teacher David Littrell had tried to arrange for his cello students to meet Mr. Ma after the concert for a minute or two but until the moment the door opened for the students we didn’t know whether they would be allowed to see him. Mr. Ma was gracious, enthusiastic and seemed to enjoy himself among the students as much as the students enjoyed having a chance to be in the presence of this great artist and teacher.

Two conferences for Mark this year: in April, he attended the Chef Conference in San Francisco, and in October, he went to Chicago for DevOps Days.

At the end of May I finally managed to not just smash and bruise (as usual) but actually break a little toe. But despite the impressive x-ray with a jagged broken bone the whole thing was a non-event, beyond the first few days fairly painless – although that could have been because I was on painkillers for the aftermath of a crown prep … It took seven weeks for the jaw pain to subside to the point where I didn’t need drugs anymore. A second opinion with another dentist confirmed my suspicion that there was nothing wrong with the actual dental work, but during the procedure joints and muscles had been stretched and stressed too much and the healing took a long time.

In July we started the process of having some landscaping work done – something we had talked and dreamed about for a very long time: we wanted to add a 7-8′ retaining wall to make the backyard level, add some flower beds (just the beds, outlined with steel edging, as I wanted to do the planting myself), plus another retaining wall to incorporate an existing (and very ugly) concrete retaining wall more organically into the landscape, adding stairs to get down to the lower level. The project manager of one the local landscaping firms estimated “seven to nine business days” but it was the end of October before everything was finally finished. We are very much looking forward to next spring when the flowers and bushes I planted will bloom and add color and structure to the new backyard. The new lawn will take several years to become established but we hope that the newly installed irrigation system will help keep it healthy and thriving.

Mark had been having an unexplained pain in his left foot, unlike any pain he had experienced before – it didn’t seem related to a muscle or tendon or joint. Dr Palmgren diagnosed a ganglion cyst and offered treatment options. Since this is not an emergency we haven’t quite taken the time yet to decide what to do about it.

At work, Mark recently invested in a walking desk. He is looking forward to being able to move a bit while he works, instead of sitting still all day.

For next year, we are dreaming about maybe creating a family room in the basement and turning the current TV room into an office for Mark (making good use of the woodworking tools he brought back from his father’s woodworking shop), and maybe a trip to Europe.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to our friends and family far and near,
and a joyous, prosperous and healthy New Year 2015!

Sibylle and Mark