Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Do You Know What it Means...


in my head, it is always a little foggy...
It was ten years ago this week that I set out on what, in my head, was the most daring adventure I had thus far embarked upon…

You see, it was ten years ago that, despite all the red flags of meeting strangers over the internet (social media was still in its MySpace phase and wasn’t even dubbed social media at this point in time), I was offered the chance to go to New Orleans and meet up with a handful of total strangers.

Well, physically total strangers. 

Yet I knew these people intimately. Well, as intimately as fake names allowed. Most members used nom de pleums. Mine being CyanSKye, my take on Blue Sky. The name came complete with a pin-up girl on a swing and a theme song. 


Blue Skies, of course.


This was the first time my on-line writing group was to meet.

In person. 


About a year prior to this event I wrote on a website known as Writer’s Café. It was fun and exciting and most importantly, it provided feedback to thousands of would be writers. I sort of weaseled my way into one of the groups there – the Vicious Circle. Where, based on the romanticized life of Dorothy Parker and her contemporaries, the organizer of the group hoped to encourage each member to support one another through honest but non-threatening critique.

Within the year our group had grown and split from Writer’s Café to form its own website changing the name to Vicious Writers.

I would come home from late night shifts at work and anxiously log on to to see what had been said about my latest posting. And through those comments, friendships were formed, encouraged by forum topics ranging from grammar tips (run by Smoking Quills) to a story prompt round robin dubbed Sparks Diner (hostessed by MelStevens and MissVish…)


I was a little skeptical but truly wanted to meet these interesting, diverse people.

My husband was a whole lot skeptical and a very good sport, as this meeting was to take place on his FIFTIETH birthday…

But he is ever the indulgent thrill-seeker and with a little discussion over just how crazy these people were liable to be, he decided to come with my sister and me. 


He questioned this choice almost immediately when, while still on the tarmac, my sister and I raised suspicion with our nearly continuous laughter.

My sister and I reassured the flight attendant that we weren’t really mentally unstable. I am pretty sure he slipped the attendant a couple bucks and the plane took off without further issue.


There is something about New Orleans.

The heat, humidity. The history.

The proximity to the Mississippi. 


Our organizer set our ‘conference’ at the Dauphine New Orleans, in the heart of the French Quarter. (Conference is such a strong word…while we did have a businessy meeting of sorts, it was nearly immediately disrupted by Zombie finger puppets and exotic gifts of Timmy Ho’s coffee direct from Canada.)


We had our rooms there as well. Within a few minutes of check-in, we had exuberantly bumped into three other members, also staying there. There was no awkwardness.

There may have been a little awkwardness. But those Zombie finger puppets are great ice-breakers.
writers, on a balcony
And we quickly learned that our on-line personas were more extensions of our writing styles, enough of our true selves had fueled those posts that it was easy to know the person behind those words.  Quillz was a loving as her critiques, JJ as adorable as his hilarious, well thought out jokes. MissVish had an edge, albeit soft, James was as scholarly as he was mischievous. Nazarea was exotic and sweet.

And Damian, our leader, well, he felt like a brother. Generous, irritating and always hogging the bathroom.

(just a quess…)


Post ‘meeting’ we walked through the Quarter to Café Amelie for dinner.

What do you get when you take eight writers and their guests to dinner in a historic restaurant in a romantic city?

You get hours of laughs, threats of NO pictures of people EATING , and a lengthy discussion over why petit fours are called petit fours. (My favorite being that there are four, so it’s easier to share…)
discussing the finer points of semi vs full on colons...
After dinner we walked through the French Quarter and ended at Café DuMonde for coffee and readings and hat exchange. In one of those Who’s on First routines, we managed to blow through an entire order pad, trying to relay our café au lait and beignet orders to the waiter. 


I feel he was probably drunk.

Or at least wishing he was…
this poor guy...
Coffees served the table settled down and each member took a turn reading a portion of their own writing. Not at all awkward…for the other diners…or my husband….

There was a smattering of applause here and there. 
starting with basics, this is a book...
And some rather loud ducks, if I recall….


The weekend moved forward with multiple excursions, alone, or in various groups. We ended our weekend together in the beautiful bar at the Dauphine for a group picture, minus a couple of folks with other obligations. 
just a few, the rest are there in spirit.
We had been to New Orleans once before, as newlyweds. At that time in my life, everything was exciting and momentous. 


This trip, several years post children, job changes, and Katrina, we found a slightly different New Orleans. It felt a little more difficult to find blues and jazz playing in the Quarter, replaced by karaoke and techno dance. 


We never found our first gumbo shack, but we did find Deanie’s, and the most adorable breakfast spot – Annette’s , run by a sweet lady from Morocco who told us her story of escape at the end of WW2. She claimed to be Alex Baldwin’s favorite restaurant, complete with a photo of the two. But she really won my heart by leaving the entire coffee carafe at our table. The restaurant sized carafe…


And through a twist of fate we were on the shore of the Mississippi as the battleship USS New York made her way from the shipyard to NYC to be commissioned. She was built from steel, salvaged from the Trade Towers.


Yet, while the city felt a little different, deep down, New Orleans was the same. The city will always hold a little mystery, a little magic…


That little breakfast spot is no longer open.


Vicious Writers is no longer a group.

Creative differences, relationship changes…all the things that can befall a diverse group of creative styles.

No matter.


I will always feel connected to this group of talented people. They live all over the world, have drifted into and out of my life.

They encouraged me and gave me the confidence to call myself a Writer.



Happy Anniversary to Each and Every Vicious Writer.

Keep writing, my friends.

Blue Skies. Nothing but...


(I'm back! New Laptop! New ideas! See you again soon!)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Read 'em and Weep


I am writing this on a beautiful Easter Sunday.
So, I am trying to keep my compassion to the forefront.

It's been awhile since I have written about nursing.
While it's my chosen career, I have always hesitated to flaunt the fact. I was not 'called' to this job, but I have found that, over the years, my love of my fellow nurses has become quite fierce.

And once again, our people need defending.

Let's get the facts first:
Washington State has a bill in their senate which would mandate uninterrupted meal and rest periods for nurses.
Senator Maureen Walsh, Republican, gave an argument against this bill stating that in smaller hospitals, the nurses probably play cards for a significant part of their day.

In a way, she wasn't wrong.

From the first day of clinicals, I 'played cards' – those would be the 4x5 file cards on which Care Plans are written. For nursing students, these were a way to learn about each diagnosis, its treatment and then a devised plan of care for each individual patient. We were required to do three of these plans per patient for each clinical day. At first it was only one patient and plan but as our learning advanced it was multiple patients and multiple plans. All needing to be done in the evening before the early morning clinicals, after a day of lectures and study.

I also played 'cards' with those wonderful MedCards. These were smaller 3x5 cards on which were written EVERY medication the above patient was on, the drug's classification, action, side effects and doses.

Today, those plans and medcards are digital.
But so are poker cards so guess I can see how someone might be confused.

Senator Walsh's comment has generated a flurry of memes on social media, all in regards to the Cards nurses play.
We play with CARDizem, NiCARDipine – just two of the CARDiac drugs used to save lives.
My current fav is the black and white of Florence Nightingale dealing black jack circa 1800's...
They are pretty hilarious.
And naturally, someone began complaining asking why, if we were offended, are memes the best way to show it.

It's one of those 'If I don't laugh, I'll cry' situations.

Earlier this week I read a story about a nurse in Louisiana who was attacked by a patient during her job and a week later died, most likely of injuries incurred in that attack.

Does this sound like a person who wants to be known as working in a profession that 'plays cards' for most of the day?

Thankfully, the legal system has determined this a homicide.

I say 'thankfully' as for most of my career we were to look the other way when a patient became physical. The reasoning being, these people are not themselves. And, we are there to help.

But, our world has gotten less reasonable.
And nursing has gotten more and more difficult.
We have gone from 8 hour shifts, covering a 'team' of 8-10 patients with the help of one or two aides, to 10 or 12 hour shifts in a 'primary care' environment of 4 to 6 to 8 patients with only one or two aides on the entire unit.
These patients are sicker, the medications and instrumentation more complicated and the environment more volatile.
And the nursing population is getting older.
We need more people to enter this career.

And how is this going to happen when people like Senator Walsh seems to believe all nurses do is sit around a play cards?

But, now that I think about it, maybe we should adopt her philosophy....

Come one and all, join the ranks of NURSES!
Learn how to start IV's and give medications safely!
Learn how to identify critical cardiac rhythms and treat them before your patient dies!
Learn how to simultaneously care for the guy who just killed a family of four in a drunken car accident, comfort a young woman who has terminal cancer, recover a fresh kidney transplant patient! All while basking in the luxurious spa-like atmosphere of the clean utility room where you quickly grab a granola bar half-way through your 12 hour shift because eating and drinking in patient care areas is not allowed and 'resources' are stretched so that lunch break may not happen.
Find the strength inside yourself to repeat these things daily and still see hope in this world! Because that is the only way its possible to return day after day to a profession that has lost the respect it so well deserves.

Now deal my hand.
I'm ready to place a bet...

My cap. Note the bobby pin rust stain in the center...


(For more of my nursing posts, check out the tab 'It's a Living' at the top of the page.)




Monday, March 11, 2019

Empty Pages


Well, hello again!
It's been a while, I admit.

Only two months worth of Facebook reminders that 'your friends haven't heard from The Coast of Illinois'...

And I had such big plans for writing this year...
Actually, I didn't.
Oh, I have ideas, but the motivation for putting them out into the universe has been lacking. Blame it on too many grey winter days, that pesky thing called 'work' or just plain apathy.
Can't really say.

It is such a strange feeling to stare at an empty page and have so many things swimming around in my head but no real way to get those ideas to travel the distance from grey matter along the great nerve highway to finally land via ink pen or computer at their destination, on the right....

What finally got me here?
This beautiful book.

This is a exquisite example of Yunjin brocade. This type of brocade is over 700 years old and serves as a royal tribute and is of great historical and cultural importance in China. This type of weaving is still done by hand, not with automated machinery. The information card included with the book says it best:
"The Yunjin Brocade is woven with unique ring jacquard card which adopts the silk thread and the cotton thread to record all the information of the pattern designs in the method of keeping records by tying knots in primitive times, and all these informations is passed to the hands of the thread puller on the wooden loom....it is passed down merely by the handicraftsman orally and by the heart memory..."
What a wonderful description – passing down information, through fabric and words and memories.
the inside cover. little pockets! a bookmark! a dragon! the yellow information booklet is at the top of the photo. it is written in Chinese characters with just a few paragraphs in English on the back.
I was given this journal as a thank you from two Chinese nurses who came to visit our medical facility. One of our anesthesiologist dropped the two in my hands one day, asking that I show them around so they could see how our recovery room worked. I love teaching and showing people our facility and these ladies were eager to see how our Western medicine compared to their Eastern version. Except that they spoke little English and I speak NO version of any of the multiple Chinese languages.
We did a lot of broken sentences and hand gestures. There was a lot of 'watch this', followed by discussion between the two and then the woman who spoke most English would ask for clarification.
I handed them off to one of my co-workers, who is from China, hoping at least one of the three would have a dialect in common. She faired slightly better than I did. But in the end, we managed to show them our routine, got them a tour of the ICU when we transferred a patient there, and while they learned about our work, I learned a little about theirs.
The next day they moved on to another area of the hospital but at the end of the week the ladies stopped by to thank us and gave us each one of these beautiul books.
They had no idea what the gift of a journal means to a writer. Especially such a lovely journal.

As something of a 'paper' addict, I was dying to use the journal, but didn't want to just put anything into it. I have multiple notebooks lying around the house, in purses and suitcases with random notes and ideas in each and every one.
I didn't want this particular book to become another purgatory of ideas.
So, it lay taunting me on my desk for nearly a year.

As the New Year and a random, luxurious weekend trip loomed closer, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect time to use this special book.
The bravery of these women, coming to a country so different from their own, to learn from total strangers who they could barely talk to, was not lost on me. Nor was the story of the beautiful brocade on the journal.

It seemed that this book needed to be honored in a tradition of bravery and adventure.
After all, travel is the best way to learn that we are each, hardly different from one another in ways that matter most.

2019 is rather notable for my husband and I. We are planning a return to the British Virgin Islands in May. This trip has been in the works since we left the BVI five years ago after taking sailing lessons there. Lord knows, there will be many stories.
And God willing, there will be many more stories of travels long planned and surprise trips met with a 'why not' attitude.

The first story in this Journal is our visit to The Moorings, a luxurious property in Islamorada, Florida.
It is a nice mix of planning as well as 'why not'.
I'll be sharing it with you in the coming month.

Promise.