Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for April 2013

12-year Veteran NBA Player Jason Collins Comes Out as Gay in Sports Illustrated Article

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Today was a watershed moment in American sports history, because today was the day that Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran center in the National Basketball Association, came out as gay.  Collins is the first-ever professional athlete in any of the four major professional sports — hockey, baseball, basketball, or football — to come out while he’s still playing.

My first reaction: Hallelujah!

Then I read Jason Collins’ three-page, first-person story in Sports Illustrated (written with Franz Lidz).  There are many relevant things here, including why Collins felt the need to come out, what his background is (he’s Christian and believes in Jesus, who promoted tolerance and mutual understanding), and why being gay is not a choice.

Instead, it’s just who Collins is, right along with his basketball ability, his love for history and the civil rights struggle, and many other admirable qualities.

Here’s a relevant quote from the third page of the SI story:

Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road. Former players like Tim Hardaway, who said “I hate gay people” (and then became a supporter of gay rights), fuel homophobia. Tim is an adult. He’s entitled to his opinion. God bless America. Still, if I’m up against an intolerant player, I’ll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on.

I agree.

Speaking of Tim Hardaway, as Collins said, Hardaway has completely changed his opinion.  Michael Rosenberg wrote at Sports Illustrated about how others have reacted to Jason Collins’ groundbreaking announcement — remember, Collins is the first-ever pro athlete to come out as gay in a major male American professional sport while he’s still an active player — and he included a quote from Hardaway:

Several years ago, (Tim) Hardaway made some harsh anti-gay comments, and the backlash was severe enough that Hardaway decided to educate himself about homosexuality. His views have changed radically. He told me he was wrong several years ago, and that gay people deserve the same rights that heterosexuals have.

Hardaway, who now works for the Miami Heat, also said this:

“If people on teams were to come out, people would get over it and accept it and move forward. I really do think that. Any sport. If one person or two people, whoever, comes out in any sport, that sport will accept it and go from there.”

My second reaction: Amen!

Then I read this story by openly lesbian professional tennis player Martina Navratilova, also at SI.  Navratilova knows a great deal about professional pressure to remain closeted, as she was the first major pro sports player in any league to come out as lesbian back in 1981.

Navratilova praises Collins, which makes sense, and then gives a brief history of how difficult it’s been up until the past few years to get support in any professional sports league for gay rights, including the ability to be open about your sexuality rather than closeted.  But she stumbles a bit, in my opinion at least, when she references the late, great Reggie White.

White, as any Packers fan knows, was one of the greatest defensive ends in the National Football League (see this link from Packers.com that summarizes White’s career nicely), and was enshrined in the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 2006.  He was also a Christian minister, and had been raised with fundamentalist Southern Christian values.  Because of this, while White loved everyone, he was not particularly tolerant of gays and lesbians and actually took part in a well-advertised TV campaign to try and get GLBT people to “cease” their homosexuality.

This was offensive, and both the NFL and the Green Bay Packers objected — but for the wrong reason as they were more upset that Reggie actually wore his football jersey in the ads than anything else.

White also could be verbally awkward, as when he went to address the Wisconsin Legislature in March of 1998.  White said something about how Asians are endlessly inventive that sounded awful, like a racial stereotype, rather than the compliment he had intended.  And his comments about other races, including African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans were no better.

All of these things caused White to lose out on a professional announcing gig after he finished playing football.  So White did suffer censure.

White died in 2004.  And at the time, he was attempting to educate himself in ancient Aramaic, as he believed that certain scriptures of the Bible may have suffered by translation — which means that he had apparently had a consciousness raising of sorts.  But he didn’t get the time he needed to learn more, as he died of sleep apnea.  (Here’s a link to the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation, which is located in West Allis, Wisconsin.)

Now, whether this means White would’ve evolved on this issue is unknown.  But I do know that in 2004, President Obama was against gay marriage.  Hillary R. Clinton, while adamantly for gay rights in most senses, was also against gay marriage, as was her husband the former President.  Tim Hardaway was still against gay rights (which, to be fair, Obama and the two Clintons were for), and hadn’t yet educated himself on this issue.  And there were many, many people in all walks of life who said ignorant and bigoted things about GLBT Americans — so Reggie White was not alone.

Look.  I met Reggie White in the summer of 1996.  He was promoting one of his books, which was a Christian missive about how you need to make the most of every day you’re on this Earth and treat people with kindness and respect.  I got to talk with him for fifteen or twenty minutes, without handlers of any sort, as I apparently impressed him because I didn’t ask for an autograph and just talked with him as a real, live human being.  (Thank God/dess for book tours, eh?)

I related to White as a minister, and didn’t see him solely as a great football player.  And White was a compassionate, caring man — he wanted to know what was going on in my life, and he gave me some advice that’s stuck with me to this day.

I truly believe that had White lived to see 2013, between his studies of Aramaic (he even was studying the Torah itself) and his knowledge of people and his love for everyone, he most likely would’ve changed his opinion.  He may have even worked with Athlete Ally, which is a group of straight athletes supporting gay athletes — something that didn’t exist in 2004.

We all have to remember that when White died, he was only 43.  He lived a good life.  He loved God (who he couldn’t help but see as male, but also saw as all-inclusive — I know this from talking with him).  He cared about everyone, and he loved everyone.

But he didn’t get to live another nine years.  And in those nine years, anything could’ve happened.

That’s why I wish Navratilova had picked a still-living athlete with a homophobic stance.  Because there are still quite a number of those, and with one of those she could’ve had a good, spirited and honest debate as to why whomever she’d picked is still so closed-minded in this day and age.

But as she didn’t — and as I’m a Packers fan who once got to speak with Reggie White at great length — I felt I should respond.  Because it’s only right . . . White was a great man in many respects, but yes, he was flawed on this issue.

Still.  He was a great man, and he is now deceased.  It is time to let the dead rest, while we continue to support progress in all aspects of American life.

Answering Questions

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Folks, here are the questions I’ve been asked the most over the past week-plus:

Q: When will you start talking about the Milwaukee Brewers winning streak?

A: Today, I suppose.

Really, I’ve watched the Brewers with great interest over the past nine games.  (Well, I always watch with great interest.)  I’ve appreciated that they’re winning, that their pitching has improved, and that most of the hitters are starting to come around (with the noted, and glaring, exceptions of Rickie Weeks and Alex Gonzalez).

But I’ve been sick the entire time.  And unless something really captivates me — and possibly even if it does (such as Jean Segura’s amazing feat of running the bases backward and getting away with it) — I just haven’t had the energy or health to comment on it.

Still, I’ve enjoyed watching the Brewers play.  And I hope their much improved play will continue, even though at some point their current winning streak will come to an end.

Q: Barb, will you be playing the next concert with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Community Band?

A: No, unfortunately not.

I’ve been feeling very poorly for the past five or six weeks, folks.  I just haven’t had much energy.  And I continue to feel lousy, which is not conducive to playing a woodwind instrument, to editing, or too much in the way of writing, either.

But I urge everyone to go out and support the Community Band, some of the best music being played in the Southeast Wisconsin area that has mostly been overlooked.

Q: What’s the status of your writing and editing?

A: Right now, I remain in a holding pattern.  The bronchitis I’ve been dealing with seems significantly better, yes, but I don’t feel that much better.  My concentration has not improved, my energy level has remained very low, and I’m concerned as to why.

Until I can regain some concentration, I just can’t do that much.  Which is why my blog hasn’t had an entry since last Saturday’s book review and after-action report . . . and it’s why no editing of substance has been done in nearly two weeks.

Believe you me, I’d rather be healthy.  (Or at least healthier.)

Q: What’s going on with ELFY?

A: ELFY remains on the schedule at Twilight Times Books, bless them.  That’s all I can report right now.

Q: Do you plan to bring any of your husband Michael’s stories back out any time soon?

A: Actually, I do.  But I must have more energy to first make sure they read well, then try to do the file conversions for e-books — something I’m not particularly good at, and something that worries me.  So I need to be feeling better in order to get this done . . . eventually, I should feel better.  (Right?)

Q: Why is your health so bad right now?

A: Beats me, but I wish I knew because I’d put a stop to it, pronto.

That’s all I know, but I hope this question-and-answer blog has been informative.  Further information waits upon events, as always . . . maybe that’s all we can do in this life, is wait upon events no matter how much we, ourselves, want to be seen as acting rather than reacting.

Rest assured that when there’s some good news to report, I will be very glad to report it.  (Promise.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 24, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Just reviewed K.E. Kimbriel’s “Hidden Fires” at SBR

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Folks, I was very pleased to feel well enough to review Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES, the only book I’d not yet reviewed over at Shiny Book Review (SBR) in her excellent Chronicles of Nuala series.  HIDDEN FIRES continues the story of Sheel Atare and his wife, Darame the former free-trader (consummate con-artist) and introduces several new characters, including the naïve young would-be free-trader, Garth Kristinsson, his love interest, Lucy of Dielaan, and the next head of the powerful Dielaan family/clan, Rex.

Now, if you’ve already seen my review, you know I gave this book a slightly lesser grade than the two others, as I gave HIDDEN FIRES an A-minus.  (FIRES OF NUALA received an A-plus.  FIRE SANCTUARY received a solid A.)  I loved this book, thought the writing and world building and plot were great, loved most of the characters (and really, most is all you get in any book), but considering the other two were so exceptionally good . . . and even considering that in many ways I enjoyed this one the best of the three, particularly because of the romance involved (two good romances, even), I just didn’t feel right giving it a full A.

It’s weird, sometimes, how I grade books.  There are books I absolutely adore that aren’t worthy of A grades at all (not an A-plus, A, or A-minus) . . . for example, one of my favorite comfort books is P.C. Cast’s GODDESS OF SPRING, which has a great heroine in forty-three-year-old Carolina “Lina” Francesca Santoro, and a fine, sexy, brooding and misunderstood hero in Hades, Lord of the Underworld.  Lina is a baker from our world who’s in trouble; her newest bakery is failing despite her many talents, and she needs help.  She prays to Demeter, finding a prayer in an old cookbook, and ends up being exchanged for six months with Demeter’s daughter Persephone.  In that short span of time, she meets up with Hades, falls in love with him, but knows she cannot stay — and it doesn’t help when Demeter fails to realize that Hades truly is in love with Lina, either.

This is a book that I love, yes, but it gets a solid B from me (maybe a B-plus on a good day) for several reasons.  One, there are some really odd editing things going on in that book — stuff Ms. Cast probably couldn’t do anything about when the book first came out, but in the many reprintings since should’ve been addressed.  Two, I hate to say it, but I did not buy Persephone’s transformation at all.  While we do see some of Persephone in our world, she never once throws a hissy fit at being exchanged against her will by her mother Demeter — because, you see, Persephone did not consent to this whatsoever — and really, I would’ve expected at least one.  (Wouldn’t most people be upset if they were in their youth and first blush of beauty one minute, and in a forty-three-year-old body the next?)  But rather than being upset, Persephone insists on “upgrading” Lina’s body by exercising, dieting, and revamping Lina’s wardrobe.

Huh?

Another book I’ve read again and again is by Linnea Sinclair, GABRIEL’S GHOST.  This, too, is a fine B-level effort by Ms. Sinclair rather than an A, mostly because there were elements of the plot that didn’t seem to fit as well as in other novels by Ms. Sinclair (such as the excellent AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS or even THE DOWN-HOME ZOMBIE BLUES).  Here, I loved the main characters, hated the characters Ms. Sinclair wanted me to hate, and enjoyed the rousing action-adventure — yet there was something in this book that left me feeling unsettled.

This, my friends, is the difference between an A-level of any sort and a B-level of any sort.

So what you see in my review tonight of Ms. Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, plan to read it many times in the future, and will never forget the characters nor the situations they’re in nor the world in which all this action takes place.  I thought the characters were great and did what they were supposed to, and felt that the returning “mains” — Sheel and Darame — were solid characters that felt real in every possible respect.  And I believed that the other two “new mains,” Lucy and Garth, were realistic, honestly written characters that were probably damned difficult to deal with due to Lucy’s rather odd self-abnegation (during most of HIDDEN FIRES, I kept wondering, “What does Lucy want?  Not what Rex Dielaan wants — not even what Quin, the good Dielaan wants — what does Lucy want?”  But Lucy, herself, never once asked that question of herself.) and Garth’s obvious naïveté while thinking he’s a big-time man of the worlds.

As a writer, these were Ms. Kimbriel’s characters.  They make perfect sense, in context.  And I believed them, in context.

But as people, they don’t completely make sense to me.  Even on Nuala, it seems to me that most of the women are very strong individuals whether they’re healers, Ragärees, or are farmers way out in the Ciedärlien, so why Lucy has so little sense of self — it’s not even a lack of self-esteem so much as seeing Lucy, herself, as important in the cosmic scheme of things (or at least in the microcosmic scheme of things) — is worrisome.

Granted, Ms. Kimbriel couldn’t go there in HIDDEN FIRES because it wasn’t Lucy’s story, exactly.  Lucy was a pawn, not a queen, and certainly not a Ragäree — she knew she’d been raised as a glorified “brood mare,” resented it, and wanted more for herself, but — spoiler alerts beyond this mark  — backed the wrong horse.

Big time.

And Lucy needed to back that wrong horse so we’d see her eventual redemption, an arc done particularly well by Ms. Kimbriel as Lucy, once again, is a character where very little of who she actually is comes out in anything she says.

While Garth needed to be exactly who he was — a naïve man, yet fundamentally honest enough in his own, twisty way to figure out how to keep Rex Dielaan from hurting everything (including Lucy), even if it meant joining forces with Darame Atarae in the process.

Anyway.  This book is exactly what it needs to be, but those two characters were difficult to root for in certain respects despite Ms. Kimbriel’s charming way of writing them.  (Not her fault Lucy wouldn’t talk with her, after all.  Characters are funny that way.)  That’s why even though I adored the book, and thought it’s in many ways the strongest of the three — particularly in the romance department — it received an A-minus.

One final thing about grades, though: Recently at SBR I’ve read a number of books that have been wonderful.  This is not always the case, as long-term readers of my book reviews already know.  For a trilogy to get no lower than an A-minus out of me for all three books is astonishingly good, and might even be a first.

And the series, as a whole, is a solid A.  Which rarely, if ever, happens.

So the upshot is this: Aside from Stephanie Osborn’s great Displaced Detective series (book four will be reviewed by me, here at my own blog, in the coming weeks), I haven’t read three books I’ve liked more in a very, very long time.

Really.  You owe it to yourself to read what Ms. Kimbriel has written, is writing and will write.

So do yourself a favor.  Go buy one of her excellent books.  Then settle down to read.

Elsewise, you’ll be missing something extraordinary.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 20, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Internet Memes Aside, Can Anything Stop US Gun Violence?

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Folks, I’m still much more sick than well, so I hope this post will make sense.  But I’m so tired of watching talking heads discuss various efforts in Washington, D.C., to curb gun violence as none of them seem to really understand what’s at stake.

What’s worse is the latest Internet meme, which goes something like this:

Right-wing gun owner (it’s always someone from the right, as if there are no left-wing gun owners, a logical fallacy): I told off a bunch of granola-eating hippie chicks at the sports bar yesterday!

Right-wing gun owner’s friend:  Really?

RWGO:  Yeah!  I told those hippies that if an intruder was in their house, dammit, they’d want a gun and they’d want it fast!

RWGOF:  Yeah?  Then what happened?

RWGO:  They agreed, put their tails between their legs, and left.  How about that?

First off, this meme has got to go for a number of reasons.

  1. It states the problem in extremely simplistic terms.
  2. RWGO always wins, because the granola eating hippie chicks are always stupid and can’t reason their way out of a paper bag.
  3. There’s never any mention of those legitimately trying to curb the spread of gun violence in the United States, such as the various police departments, elements of the U.S. Armed Forces (especially the National Guard and the Army Reserve), and the Border Patrol agents . .  . because guess what?   Curbing illegal guns coming in from Mexico, which has been mentioned many times on Fox News and other right-wing media sources, is also part of stopping the spread of gun violence!

Look.  The National Rifle Association has a much bigger media and lobbying presence than they probably deserve.  And the NRA’s stated message on curbing gun violence in this country (such as what happened in Aurora, CO, in Arizona, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School) is this: “The only way you can stop a bad man with a gun is by having a good man with a gun right there.”  Which is, in and of itself, an extremely simplistic message if you come right down to it.

There has to be a better way.   And I’m thinking that as the United States Senate couldn’t even come up with a simple agreement on background checks — something 86% of the country supports (including most Republicans and gun owners of all political persuasions) — we’re going to have to look outside the Congress to do it.

So whom should be we looking at, if the Congress is not capable or qualified to study this issue?  (Or perhaps even to ask the right questions, if the recent debate on the various amendments is any judge.  Mind, I appreciate principled objection, but so many of the legislators who voted against the background check legislation seemed like the blind leading the blind.)

Perhaps we need to look at the various police departments, to start with.  What do most sheriffs suggest when it comes to gun violence?  Do they think background checks will help?  (Why, or why not?)

Next, there is one thing most of my right-wing friends have agreed with from day one, and that’s that everyone who owns a gun should be properly trained.  I think that mandating a certain number of hours at the firing range for all gun owners (but most especially new ones) might be something various state legislatures can pursue.  And if you want to be stationed in a school (or you’re already a teacher, principal, or the like), taking an extra course on how to deal with pressure situations would not be amiss.

Because taking the training may at least help curb the incidents where someone who isn’t trained has a gun, and it goes off.  (Like Plaxico Burress.)  Sometimes, no one is hurt when this happens, but most of the time, someone is hurt or killed.

Finally, there needs to be a determination of what kinds of mental illness are the most dangerous.  One of the very few decent points I’ve heard from any right-wing pundits is that mental illness is a slippery slope.  Grief is often classified as a mental illness (it isn’t); having panic attacks is classified as a mental illness (which isn’t anywhere near as severe as someone overtly psychotic); someone who’s bipolar but always takes his/her medicine is still mentally ill, but has a controlled illness — and should not that person have a gun if he or she wants one?

Back to the Internet meme, though.

If someone came up to me in a coffee house, or in a sports bar, and said to me, “Hey, Barb!  I know you don’t like guns, but if someone was in your house and had a gun and was ten feet away, wouldn’t you want one?,” do you want to know my answer?

“Hell, no, I don’t want one!”  I’d say.  “I’d rather have a baseball bat.  That’s something where, even if the intruder gets it away from me, I’d at least get one good whack in — and it might even work to knock that gun out of the guy’s hand.”

Because, really.   I know I don’t like guns, I’ve not been trained to use one, and even if I went and learned at a rifle range or whatnot, I’d still be way below par because it’s really not my skill.  (Plus, hello?  I have carpal tunnel syndrome.  This wouldn’t make it easy for me to control a firearm.  Just sayin’.)

At any rate, what I’m trying to get at is that somehow, the left and right are now so polarized that Internet memes, like the one I discussed before, are taken at face value by many of my right-leaning friends.  And that’s as wrong as someone saying, “Background checks will get rid of all gun violence!,” something my right-leaning friends would automatically abhor (and rightly).

At this point, I don’t know what the hopes are for an honest dialogue among regular, honest Americans of all political persuasions.  I tend to think that way too many of my left-leaning friends don’t know any right-leaning people (or if they do, they don’t see any value in most of what they say), and that it’s the same way for my right-leaning friends — they see very little value in whatever their counterparts on the left (or in the center) have to say.

That’s sad.  That’s even shameful, considering how we as a country were founded because of a bunch of ornery dissenters.

But it’s where we’re at.  And because I’ve seen this Internet meme one too many times in the past twenty-four to forty-eight hours, I just had to speak up and say, “This meme is stupid.  Can’t we all use some logic, and just figure out a solution to these problems already?”

Because one thing’s for sure.  Our Congress is not about to do thing one about it.

———

Note: This is a heavily divisive issue.  Many of my friends on both sides have hair triggers and are extremely upset.  I want a dialogue, something that hasn’t yet occurred at the national level — I’d like to know what, if anything, aside from better training for people who own firearms might offer some hope to those who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence.

Further note: Comments must be polite, or they will be deleted.  (You have been warned.)

Terror in Boston on Patriots’ Day

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Yesterday, I thought the only thing of importance I’d do all day was to go in and pick up my prescription for antibiotics.

Sure, I knew it was Patriots’ Day in Boston, and that the Boston Marathon was underway.  But I hadn’t a clue that by midway Monday afternoon, over 180 people would be hurt and at least three killed due to at least two bombs.

These were cowardly acts of terrorism, though no one’s sure as of yet whether we’re dealing with a foreign threat or if this came from our own people (domestic terrorism).

At any rate, I picked up my medication, saw the typical highlights of people running in Boston (sans results; they’d just started), and went to get some rest.

When I got back up again, the airwaves were filled with scenes of horror and violence, along with many scenes of heroism from first responders and other, trained medical and non-medical personnel.  They confirmed both the worst in humanity (the bombs) and the best (the heroism) in one, fell swoop.

Pete Williams of NBC and MSNBC has had the best reportage so far, and what he’s said as of 11:00 AM CDT is this: There are many leads.  There are many, many pictures that have been turned into the Boston Police Department, the FBI, and other agencies.  And as much as is humanly possible, all available leads will be checked out, while the time values on all the pictures will be synchronized in order to perhaps find something, anything, out of the ordinary.

And thus find whoever did this.

As a writer, there’s much I could speculate upon at this time, I suppose.  There are aspects of the two known bombs that worry me, most particularly the fact that one of the bombs, according to Boston resident and former WTMJ-620 AM sports anchor Trenni Kusnierik, exploded at a well-known running store.  (She was interviewed by WTMJ-TV, Channel 4 in Milwaukee, and her interview was shown around 10:35 p.m.)  And the very fact that something so terrible could happen at an innocent sporting event — one in which 96 different countries took part — sickens me beyond anything this nasty bronchitis could ever do.

All I know is this: I hope the FBI and the Boston PD will find whoever did this, and prosecute this person or people to the fullest extent of the law.  Because runners should be safe at the Boston Marathon.

And so should the spectators.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 16, 2013 at 11:30 am

Went to U-C Clinic, Have Bronchitis

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Folks, as you know from today’s earlier blog, I have been sick for not one, not two, but five long weeks.  And I’ve been to the local urgent care clinic, Prompt Care, at least twice before . . . once I’d been given antibiotics for a sinus infection, the second time I’d been given prednisone and sent home again.

Well, today I went back to the same clinic and saw a different doctor.  This particular doctor has seen me several times in the past few years, as this particular clinic serves a lot of people in my particular situation (low income/underinsured/uninsured) but has a rotational physician system (this is why you don’t see the same doctor every time).  Anyway, he said three things:

  1. I have acute bronchitis,
  2. I do need an antibiotic, and
  3. He doesn’t know how this was missed the last time I was in there, as he agreed I’ve been sick with this for at least the last three weeks by looking over the notes the last doctor left (they were consistent, but not as bad, as what I presented with today).

We have a very nice pharmacy here that gives out a certain amount of free antibiotics a year, and I’m going to take advantage of this free program tomorrow when they open up.   (I also was prescribed a cough syrup to help me sleep at night.)

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same as before — rest as much as possible, drink as many hot liquids as possible (tea with honey, again, or clear soup) to break up the phlegm and work to tolerance (he was surprised I could work at all under the circumstances, and said that I’m much more ill than he can ever recall seeing me — which, considering he works at an urgent care clinic and has seen me ill many, many times, is really saying something).

Anyway, that’s the update.  But I’d still like any thought you might have, including anything regarding holistic cures, because this illness is obviously very, very far from over.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 14, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Still Really Sick

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Folks, if I knew what was going on for sure, I’d have put a stop to all this coughing, wheezing, and sneezing weeks ago.

Seriously.

I’ve counted up how long I’ve been sick and it’s been at least five weeks.  I have been to the doctor twice in that time (Prompt Care; all I can access and afford).  Once I was given antibiotics; the second time I was given prednisone, mostly because I have been on antibiotics five times since late October and the doctor was afraid the antibiotics were not helping.

As a woodwind musician, I have better lung capacity than most.  And I found out years ago that it is possible for me to have a bad bronchitis or even pneumonia and have it not sound nearly as bad as it is due to my extra lung capacity.

I wonder if this is why I keep staying sick and nothing seems to improve.

I am going to have to go back to the doctor again in the next few days, and I will do it.  I’m not looking forward to it, mostly because I know I have limited energy and I hate wasting my time on things that are intensely frustrating (like the doctors telling me I’ve already had five courses of antibiotics since October, so this can’t possibly be an infection).**  But I don’t see a choice; I’m going to have to go, and I’m going to have to insist that they do a chest X-ray if I continue to cough like this for another twenty-four hours.

This is why my editing (paying work) remains way behind and I have absolutely no idea when it can be finished — something that’s never before happened, even when I’ve been extremely sick.  But usually, within three to four weeks, I’ll start to have a bit of physical energy, stop coughing, my sinuses will drain and then I’ve been able to get caught up again.

Not this time, I fear.

Those of you who pray, I’d appreciate some support right now.  And for those of you who don’t, please wish me well, send positive energy if you have any, or even send along your best home remedies for nasty coughs that don’t go away.  (Maybe it’ll help, and it certainly can’t hurt.)

———–

** Note: The doctor I saw last week had no doubt I was sick.  He just didn’t think this was an infection, and I didn’t present in a way that was symptomatic for pneumonia.  But I’m wondering if, because of the one time I actually was diagnosed and how many times I had to go back (three) before I got a chest X-ray and thus a diagnosis, I just don’t present in the usual and expected way due to being a woodwind musician since the age of ten or eleven.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Baseball Second-Guessing . . . Does it Ever Work?

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Folks, as I continue to watch my favorite baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, stumble out of the gate, I have revisited a few of my baseball blogs from the past week-plus.  Some of the comments I’ve made obviously were insightful — I suggested bringing up Blake Lalli, mostly because we need three catchers if two of them are likely to play due to being short-handed on the infield — but some were clearly not.

I wonder, sometimes, if this is how Brewers manager Ron Roenicke feels.  Roenicke has all sorts of stats available to him that I’m not likely to ever see — even in these days of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play), and other esoteric stats — and yet, he, too, can be wrong and get second-guessed.  Frequently.

Now, I’m still not backing off what I said last night about Rickie Weeks.  Weeks has a well-known tendency when in a serious slump to wave at the outside fastball.  He’s done it for years, he’s unlikely to ever change, and because of this, he’s not the world’s best hitter to have up in a clutch situation.

Batting Weeks fourth was possibly the best choice considering the others tried at clean-up since Aramis Ramirez went on the 15-day DL (Alex Gonzalez and Jonathan Lucroy) did not do well.  At least it was a change, and with change comes the possibility for better even if it doesn’t always happen.

My blog last night (the first half of it, anyway) was more about how frustrated I was that Weeks wasn’t pinch-hit for by either Martin Maldonado or Lalli, both of whom were still sitting on the bench.  Maldonado has been an acceptable hitter with some power, while Lalli is a bit of an unknown quantity and might’ve taken St. Louis Cardinals’ closer Mitchell Boggs by surprise.  And either of them could’ve done the same thing as Weeks — struck out on four pitches (the MLB recapper says only three, which I find odd) — but with greater panache.

That is, if panache matters in a 2-0 loss where the Brewers only garnered two hits, one by Nori Aoki in the first and one by Jean Segura in the ninth.

Speaking of Segura, I’m glad his injury wasn’t serious enough to put him on the DL.  I’d called for that when I thought there was absolutely no way the Brewers would bring up another position player except by putting one of their few reasonably healthy ones on the DL; considering how Segura and Aoki are among the few bright spots on the team (Braun is hitting for contact and has a .406 average, though he took “the collar” with an 0-4 with 3 Ks last evening), it would’ve been a shame to shut Segura down.

So that’s a suggestion I made that obviously would’ve been a bad move for the team.  And since I go off all the time about how I don’t understand this, that, or the other move by Roenicke, I may as well admit when a move I’d have made definitely wouldn’t have worked.

And two other suggestions I made — those of bringing Chris Capuano onto the Brewers and putting Chris Narveson back in the starting rotation for the Brewers — obviously won’t work at the moment, either.  Capuano should get several weeks in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation now that former Brewers ace Zack Greinke is on the DL due to an injury to his collarbone sustained in a recent bench-clearing brawl with the San Diego Padres.  (Carlos Quentin, who precipitated that brawl for the Padres, has been given an eight-game suspension.  He’s appealing, so he’s still playing, but eventually he’ll have to sit.)  And Narveson is on the DL with a blister on his pitching hand, so he’s obviously not a candidate for the rotation at this time.

One other suggestion I made requires more thought and far more information — that of sending Wily Peralta back down to AAA ball.  Peralta had a good, solid start against the Cubs on Tuesday evening despite some horrible weather.  But because it was so cold, and no one hit particularly well in that game for either side, it’s possible that Peralta’s performance looked a bit better than it actually was.

Even so, Peralta now has one terrible outing, and one good one.  His ERA remains higher than it should be at 4.50 in twelve innings of work.  I’m not convinced he’s the best answer over time, but he’s probably the best pitcher the Brewers have available unless they want to bring up Hiram Burgos from AAA Nashville.  (Or until Capuano becomes available again down the line, providing “Cappy” can stay healthy.)

The main thing to remember with the Brewers right now, if you’re an ardent fan, is this: it’s still a young season.  Anything can happen, no matter how bad things look right now.  We have had some good pitching from Kyle Lohse and Jim Henderson (with relievers Figaro, Gorzelanny and even Gonzalez looking better every game) and some good hitting from Aoki, Segura, and Ryan Braun.  Alex Gonzalez’s fielding all over the infield has been solid.  Yuniesky Betancourt hasn’t been bad, especially considering he was a very late signee and had no Spring Training with the club.  And so far, Maldonado has continued his hitting ways, as in a limited sample (four games), he’s hitting .286 thus far.

So it’s not hopeless.

Just remember, fellow fans, that it’s much easier for us to second-guess.  I don’t often say something like this, because it is blindingly obvious, but here goes: Since we’re not there in the clubhouse, and we don’t know who has what nagging injury to deal with, or who may have come in hung over that might temporarily be in Roenicke’s doghouse for good reason, or who has the flu and can suit up to make things look good on the bench but can’t really play, we don’t have all the facts most of the time.

All of that said: I’d still have put in Maldonado, or maybe Lalli, to pinch-hit for Weeks last night.  (I stand by that and will stick to it.)  Though they are at least playing today — Maldonado’s catching for Yovani Gallardo, and Lalli is about to make his first-ever big-league start at first base — so maybe they’ll spark the Brewers to a big win.

Here’s hoping.

Quick Hits for April ’13, Pt. 1

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Folks, you know me and my “quick hits” blogs, right?

As I’m still way, way, way under the weather, I may end up writing even more of them than usual this month, thus the appellation “part 1” . . . at any rate, let’s get to it.

First off, what is with my Milwaukee Brewers baseball team?  Pitcher Kyle Lohse has gone out there and pitched two solid games thus far — the only pitcher who’s done so to date — and has an 0-1 record to show for it due to the Brewers lack of contact hitting.  (Or any other hitting, either, to be exact.)

Tonight’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals is a case in point.  The Brewers, down 2-0, had two men on (Nori Aoki and Jean Segura) in the top of the ninth with only one out and Ryan Braun at the plate.  While Braun battled, he ended up striking out against Cardinals’ closer Mitchell Boggs.

But Braun has been having neck spasms, and while he’s still hitting decently for contact, he’s not at his peak.  So in this case, even though he struck out in the clutch rather than advance the runners (or better yet, get a hit already), I’ll let it slide.

However, nothing excuses Brewers manager Ron Roenicke for sending Rickie Weeks to the plate after Braun.  I understand that Roenicke really didn’t have much in the way of cleanup hitter possibilities tonight when he made out his line-up.  I also understand that Weeks, when he’s on, is a power hitter and thus, by definition, could conceivably be a cleanup hitter one of these years.

But right now, Weeks looks awful.  Batting a dreadful .222 with one HR and one RBI, Weeks waved feebly at a few low and away fastballs — always his nemesis — and struck out on four pitches.

Game over.

Really, Roenicke should’ve sent up anyone else.  Even one of the other pitchers, if that’s the best he could do (though as far as I am aware, both Lalli and Maldonado were on the bench and available to pinch hit).  Because under the circumstances, Weeks was going to do exactly what he did — strike out — and everyone in the ballpark knew it . . . except perhaps for Roenicke.

That being said, Roenicke has had bad back spasms lately, which is a sign of great stress.  I feel for him in that respect, because I, too, have had bad back spasms and they’re no fun at all.

I’m sure Roenicke is doing his best with what little he has to work with.  I just wish he’d have a few more healthy players, that’s all . . . and while I’m not happy with some of his managerial decisions (letting Weeks stay up there to hit among them), I don’t think it’s time to fire him just yet.

Now on to something much, much different.

I’m absolutely disgusted with the reports that domestic violence expert Alyce LaViolette has been attacked online via Twitter and Facebook postings due to her testimony in the high-profile Jodi Arias murder trial.  Arias is alleged to have murdered Travis Alexander (that Arias killed Alexander is not in doubt, as there’s been a confession and no one disputes it; the only thing disputed is motive), and Ms. LaViolette, as a domestic violence expert, has been asked to explain what she thinks of the written and recorded behavior of victim Travis Alexander.

Alexander, you see, was into some really kinky things.  He liked phone sex (though oddly enough, the phone sex I’ve heard discussed on HLN seems rather dispassionate except for the dirty words), he liked to humiliate Arias (though Arias didn’t see to have much of a problem with it in the one phone sex recording that has been played recently — since Ms. LaViolette came onboard, and since I started paying attention to what is going on there), he could say mean and vicious things to Arias (as seen in his text messages and IMs to Arias when Alexander was in a bad mood), and in many ways Alexander seems to have had not only a bad temper, but an abusive one.

And Ms. LaViolette said so.

But because she’s been a bit of an awkward witness — it seems like she wasn’t really expecting District Attorney Juan Martinez’s “bulldog” style (Martinez may be the meanest DA in America today considering how he’s treated several defense witnesses, not just Ms. LaViolette) — people have attacked her online.

And also because there’s definitely an “us-vs.-them” mentality going on here — people mostly do not like Arias (I, myself, do not like what I’ve seen), and thus they want to put Alexander on a pedestal even though he was obviously not a choirboy (if you’ve heard or read anything he wrote or said to Arias in a bad mood, you know he’s most definitely a sinner) — these people have attacked Ms. LaViolette because they cannot get at Arias.

And the attacks have been vicious according to several online reports (take a look here, here and here).

Put simply, there is no place for this in a civilized society.  ZeroBecause going after a witness online due to her giving her expert opinion in court — whether you like her opinion or not, whether it’s well-stated or not, whether you think she’s biased, or not — is plain, flat wrong.

So that’s it for the first “Quick Hits” column of April.  What did you think?  (Drop me a comment, if you so desire.  But be polite.  Life’s too short for anything less.)

Losing the Family Pet

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A week ago, one of my family’s dogs died.

Blackie was a sweet-tempered, forty-two pound Cocker spaniel who enjoyed food, walks, driving in the car, and being around human beings.  We were endlessly fascinating to him, and he to us — especially as he had two younger compatriots to keep an eye on that were always getting into mischief.

Over the last year, Blackie’s health wasn’t as good as it had been before.  He showed obvious signs of aging, including the stark white muzzle contrasting amidst his all-black natural fur coat.  He still ate well, drank plenty of water, and got his exercise . . . but he had obviously slowed down.  He took many more naps.  He didn’t hear as well.  He startled easily.  And he had severe separation anxiety whenever his family members weren’t around, which was worse than all the rest of it put together.

Still, he remained a gentle, good-hearted dog whose only flaw was in how many times he could knock the garbage pail over in his endless search for food.

That is, until last Monday.

Something happened on that day that I cannot explain.  He started feeling poorly.  He did not want to eat, but while I noted it at the time, Blackie did eat a little bit and drank as much water as ever.  He even went outside, as he usually did, and sniffed for a long time at the yard.

That was the last time I saw him go out.

On Tuesday, he mostly lay on the couch.  He was gasping for air, and it grew worse the longer I listened.  But our vet had gone home for the day, and Blackie had only just gotten sick — so we thought we could wait.

A few hours later, Blackie somehow got off the couch and into the kitchen.  By the time I got there, the floor was full of urine-tinged blood.  Blackie lay quietly by the outside door, and before I set to clean up the floor, I petted him for a few minutes.  I told him, my voice breaking, that I knew he’d been trying to go out.  And I told him, “Good dog.”

Then I got out the bleach, put it in some hot water, and started cleaning up the floor.   My Mom helped after a few minutes.

It took quite a while, an undifferentiated moment of eternity, before both of us were able to not only clean the floor, but get Blackie back up again.  We cleaned him as best we could with paper towels as neither of us thought he could stand to be put in the tub, mostly because his legs were shaking and it was obvious he was extremely ill, then got him back up on the couch.

Mom and I discussed what to do.  There is a local animal hospital that takes patients twenty-four hours a day, but it’s also extremely expensive.  And we really wanted Blackie to see his own vet, the vet who knew him, if at all possible.

So we waited.

Overnight, I watched Blackie.  I gave him a little water — maybe he drank a half a cup, if that much — and offered him a bit of bread soaked in milk, as that had calmed him a few times in the past.  Blackie licked a bit at the milk, but could not eat.

This was an ominous sign.

Blackie insisted on being moved to his usual place in the middle of the hallway, where he could keep an eye on everyone.  It wasn’t easy, as he could barely walk by this point, but he and I made our slow and stately way to the hall, where he lay on a freshly laundered, extra-large dogbed.

I needed to get some rest, so my Mom got up to watch Blackie as we waited for the vet’s office to open up.  But when she called, it turned out that our vet was not in the office.  We were referred over to a different animal hospital that’s less expensive than the twenty-four hour one, and prepared to get Blackie ready to go.

However, when Mom wasn’t looking, Blackie must have convulsed.  She asked me to check on him as she was afraid he was dead.  There was vomit on his muzzle by the time I was able to get to him, and he was no longer breathing.  His eyes were open in puzzlement, while the other two dogs stared in shock.

It is not legal to bury your dog in your backyard where I live.  We knew that.  So we called to find out what was legal, and found that cremating your pet in a mass cremation (where you do not get to keep the ashes) would be fifty dollars.  And as that’s far more dignified of an exit than putting poor Blackie in a garbage bag — something we flatly refused to do, even though people do it all the time despite its illegality — we decided to do that.

There was a nearly four-hour wait before we could bring Blackie in to the crematory.  All that time, Blackie lay where he was, until Mom got out a sheet to carry him in.  We got Blackie to the car, where Mom flatly refused to put him in the trunk.  (I didn’t like the idea myself, but thought it might spare Mom what followed.)  Instead, Mom carried Blackie on her lap all the way to the crematory, dressed only in a sheet.

The owner of the crematory was there to help us get Blackie inside, which was a good thing as both of us were about to break down.  The kind man took our money, promised that Blackie would be cremated with dignity, and gave us a flyer about pet loss with several helpful Web sites on it.

Then we drove away again.

I haven’t discussed it publicly until now because it’s been a really rough go.  I’ve been ill with some sort of allergy along with a nasty virus, and grieving Blackie’s loss just puts the snow atop the mountain.

Besides, even though Blackie was a sweet dog, he wasn’t my favorite.

Still, I enjoyed being around him.  Blackie, like me, was a night owl, and an ideal companion for a writer.  He demanded almost nothing, and gave back so very, very much.

Basically, Blackie was a dog that had all the classic Cocker spaniel traits, good and bad.  He was a very kind-hearted dog that made canine and human friends extremely easily.  He loved everyone he met.   He adored being petted.  And he lived the life of Reilly for eleven years, the eleven years he spent in my Mom’s household after being adopted from the Humane Society.

Maybe that’s the best epitaph anyone can ever write for a dog.  “He loved everyone he met.”

I will miss that big, black dog.  And I do hope that someday, maybe in the next world that is said to be far more beautiful than our own, I’ll get to tell him one more time what a good dog he always was.  (Even when he was knocking over the garbage.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 10, 2013 at 4:40 am