Posts Tagged ‘husband’

The Post – What to Feed the Babies and How Salty Should the Water Be?

March 1, 2008

Just a reminder that coming up over the next week, the next few installments on the journey of my Under the Pier novel. I had to take a break from those for taxes, actually finishing some more chapter revisions, and of course, taking care of the “grandchildren.” But stay tuned. More to come on Under the Pier.

Re the grandchildren:

What wonderful goings on! Soooo many little black dots in the nursery and they are definitely swimming around. Many are hiding out in the shadows of the live rock caves. So tiny and already they know to hide and avoid “predators.”

I am feeding them three times a day with a mixture of ground up mini-freeze dried krill, some ground up flake food, a few drops of the liquid Small Fry baby fish food, and a little distilled water mixed in. We shall see how it goes. And no, I am not grinding the mini-krill with my husband’s lovely stone mortar and pestle that he uses for grinding up herbs and spices in the kitchen!!

Regarding salinity – it’s a tricky call. While Uca minax, which are the type of fiddler crabs I have, are seen furthest up the estuary in areas of lowest salinity, there seems to be evidence that for at least the first two weeks of their larval development (zoeae) , they actually survive and do better at a higher salinity. However there is also evidence that for the next (megalopae) stage to metamorphose into crab Stage 1, this species does best with the lower salinity seen in the upper estuary environment that the adults live in. I will post more information tomorrow including the links to the two papers I found today on this subject. Long story short today though, is that zoeae of all the species of fiddler crabs, seem to need a couple weeks of “being at sea,” hence higher salinity.

I’ll also explain about the three species used in one of the studies and how their selectivity for salinity levels puts them in different spots in the estuaries and thus probably keeps them from competing with each other for resources and food.

Also to come – I dug out the small microscope I had as a kid and will pick up some microscope slides. So to follow, descriptions of babies, under the glass.

A couple of other notes – courtesy again of my engineer husband. He noted a bunch of white things all over the gravel and wondered if the babies had already molted. Maybe they have but these white dots were too big and irregular in size for baby shells. I believe it’s salt crystals that didn’t dissolve in the water before I added it. I added more water to bring the salinity up closer to a marine environment. I started at 1.010 (brackish) when they were born and over the course of yesterday raised the salinity first to 1.012, then by last night 1.015. Today I’ll finish raising it to 1.020. Then in two weeks I’ll bring it back down to 1.010-1.012, the optimal range for Uca minax adults.

Sand. Again, my husband was watching the babies swim – it is amazing to see these tiny things whiz around the tank – but he shined a light to see if they would follow the beam. The article I posted in yesterday’s gift mentioned that the babies will go to the light. My husband didn’t see evidence of that, but what he noted was that many little babies had worked their way down between the gravel bits, all the way down to the bottom of the tank. Unless they figure out how to get back up to the water, they’ve had it. Now let’s face it. Their parents had a brain the size of a pinpoint. How large a brain do you thing babies the size of a pinpoint have? So the odds of them getting back to the surface are not good. I said “evolution at work. Anybody who tunnels down in the gravel probably won’t live to reproduce. ” My husband noted that gravel is less than optimal for this (engineers talk like this by the way, things are optimal, less than optimal, sub-optimal 🙂 ).

The real important point though was his next comment: “The NEXT time we do this, we should use sand.” There you have it folks. My husband has fallen in love with the fiddler crabs. In all truth, he has. He watches them, thinks about how to make their lives better, anticipates the babies getting ground up in the water filter…..those babies are lucky to have him!!!

Anyway, stay tuned for the links on those two articles about optimal (yes, OPTIMAL) salinity levels for fiddler crab larvae.

 

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The Post – Extra!!! We Are Grandparents!!! Scarlett O’Hara Delivers

February 29, 2008

I came out of the gym and my cell phone went off – the vibrating beep to indicate a text message. It apparently came earlier, but given the facility is blocked I only just received it. My husband sent it – a few simple words: We’re grandparents!” I understood immediately – our pregnant fiddler crab, Scarlett O’Hara delivered her thousands of babies.

When I left this morning, she was wandering around, not really interested in eating. Just walking around. Ed noted the same thing before he went upstairs to do some work. When he came down, he said she was just sitting there eating a shrimp pellet … and she was skinny. He did a double-take and noticed the babies were gone from her abdomen, and all these little teeny really teeny black dots, floating around the tank!!!

As soon as I got the text, I raced to PetsMart to pick up the liquid baby fish food called “Small Fry” and raced home. Did you ever notice how many asleep drivers there are on the highway when you’re trying to get home fast?

I quickly got Scarlett out of the nursery tank as my husband reminded me, because at this point, Scarlett’s maternal instincts are probably done. In fact she may view them as floating “cheeseburgers” and start munching. So I moved her back into the main tank. It was like she never left. Not even a second to re-adjust for her. She just walked over to the live rock and started picking off algae and eating. Kind of like “Ahhhh – good to be home.” I don’t think Admiral Byrd has noticed her return yet. Not sure about Melanie Hamilton. She’s been in seclusion since Scarlett O’Hara left the main tank, probably hiding out from Admiral Byrd who has been waving his claw non-stop these days. I expect Melanie may be relieved to have Scarlett back.

Anyway, just had to let you all know she has successfully birthed. I will keep you posted on what happens from here. We’ll see how many, if any, of the babies survive!!! 🙂

The Post – My Husband, Alias Fiddler Crab Midwife

February 28, 2008

Again I will note, it is my husband who thought of something crucial. I’d finally gotten the new tank so the water is clear, the nitrites aren’t too high, Scarlett O’Hara is calm and exploring the tank. I got the main tank’s water changed, so it too is in great shape. Feeling satisfied with the world, I commented that now all we need to do is wait for the birth.

My husband turned and said: “I’ve been meaning to ask you something that bothered me. You have the water filter running in the nursery tank. When the microscopic babies are born, won’t they all get sucked into the filter material?”

“OH MY GOD.” The man is right. We’ll come down some morning and Scarlett will have delivered and there’ll be no babies in the tank – just this primal cry of the thousands emitting from the cloth and charcoal filter material – the crab baby equivalent of “Oh the humanity!!”

I first thought maybe I could just pull out the filter material and just leave the water pump running, but again, my engineer husband said, “Well that will be okay I guess while they’re microscopic. But what happens when they start to grow and get a little bigger? They’ll get sucked through the pump and won’t that grind them all up?”

“OH MY GOD again.” You know, for a person who started this whole thing out with “So, we’ve spent $4 on fiddler crabs and a $100 on support gear,” and laughed at the endeavor, he is the one the babies should thank if they make it because he is the one paying such close attention to their every need. When I hedged about spending yet another $30 on a tank heater, he was like, “But won’t they need heat?”

In any event, I ran to Petsmart to buy a tank bubbler. There’s all kinds – wands, rocks, bars, then there’s pumps – all kinds of those, not to mention you have to buy the right pump to handle the volume of your tank and the right sized wand to stretch across your tank, then there’s the check valve you have to install if the pump is going to be below the aquarium instead of above it – keeps the water from backflowing into the pump in case of power loss….you get the picture. I finally settled on a pump for aquariums up to 20 gallons instead of 10. Wanted something with more power to push air in there. And I selected a wand to extend across the back of the tank to create a curtain of bubbles. I thought that might circulate the oxgen better than a bubble rock. It won’t filter the water, but hopefully the huge live rock and the bacteria I’ve already seeded the tank with from the old filter backing, will be enough to jump-start the nitrogen cycle without the filter running. The bubbler will give them fresh air. So, keep your fingers crossed.

At least Scarlett O’Hara seems to like it. She climbs up on the wand and sits there with bubbles flowing up around her. I hope she thinks it’s “surf” and releases the babies soon. My husband wonders if she is scurrying around the tank so much because it’s getting close and she’s frantically trying to find that right spot to let them go and be carried out “into the open ocean.” Sigh.

Truly, those fiddler babies owe him a lot. He is the true fiddler dad. Admiral Byrd may be oblivious and not care, but my husband surely does. It’s that whole “Caring is Catchy,” thing.

The Post – Twenty Years of Marriage

February 27, 2008

A time out, today, from both my writing journey posts and my fiddler crab posts. No new info on the latter yet, by the way. It’s like pregnant women past their due date – you just wait and don’t ask if the contractions have started yet.

Today is a special day. It is our twentieth wedding anniversary. It is a milestone, and worth taking time out to honor. The years have gone quickly, sprinkled with child-raising, dogs, sick parents, near-death experiences, heart-ache, joy, aging. A good mix for life I’d say. As I’ve noted, we are both geeks in our own ways, and as such, we understand each other. I just wanted to take a moment today to honor my best friend, and I figured he would enjoy and understand the movie reference below. He and I speak in movie references – lines from movies that capture the emotion of a moment for us. Over the years we have accumulated a collection of lines from hundreds of movies. They have become a kind of coded communication between us.

This particular movie is called 84 Charing Cross Road. Anne Bancroft stars. Her husband, Mel Brooks, purchased the rights to produce it – his gift of love to her, knowing how much she loved the story.

It’s the true story of a New York City writer, Helene Hanff – a person kind of like me – no bullsh–, doesn’t mince words, very “unglamorous.” She has a sharp, but kind sense of humor and a great heart. Helene LOVED English literature, but in late 1940s New York City where the movie begins, she could not find any English literature books except at the library. Then she discovered Marks & Co. and began a decades-long correspondence with them. The story is told through her letters. From the opening of the movie:

“October 5, 1949, to Marks and Co., 84 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2, England. Gentlemen, Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase “antiquarian bookseller” scares me somewhat as I equate antique with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions. I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have any clean second-hand copies of any of the books on the list for no more than $5 each, would you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?”

Thus begins her relationship with the very proper bookseller at Marks & Co., “FPD.” FPD, over letters and time becomes Frank Doel, then simply, “Frank.” It’s a love story, but not the usual kind. They live an ocean apart, have different lives, and he is married with daughters. Happily married. So no, there are no hot sex scenes, the crutch of most modern movies. Yet it is a love story, anyway, because true love at its deepest is about caring, generosity, and the connection of souls. It is not limited by the relationship but can be felt for spouses, friends, relatives, neighbors. Their friendship enlarges their lives, expanding to include his wife, neighbors, daughters, other workers at the bookshop, her friends. Their love is about adding something to each of their lives, not taking things away or destroying things. It is about understanding each other, and that is the quality of love that sustains it, whether in marriage or friendship, well into old age. And frankly, a marriage that lasts well into old age is as much about friendship, as anything else.

Throughout the movie, she revels in the old books she buys, books better for having been owned by someone else first. Again, it is a love of connection to others, even those she never met. She says: “I love inscriptions on fly-leafs and notes in margins. I like the camaraderie-sense of turning pages someone else turned and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.” She can’t get enough of the books. Frank finds them for her.

By the end of the movie, he is “Frankie” to her, and she tells him, “You’re the only soul alive who understands me.” It’s a sentiment that reflects a bond where you are known deeply, valued, and most importantly, accepted. Your truth is safe in the hands of another. Whether two people are the same or very different matters not if there is acceptance. When someone knows our deepest places, our vulnerabilities, and accepts us, they give us the best of gifts. The wish to be understood and accepted is one of the bonds that links us all. These are things I have felt for and from my husband.

At one point a friend of Helene’s made it to England and visited the book store. She wrote Helene with a description:

“It’s the loveliest old shop straight out of Dickens. You would go absolutely out of your mind over it….It’s dim inside. You can smell the shop before you see it. It’s a lovely smell. I can’t articulate it easily but it combines must and dust and age and walls of wood and floors of wood…The shelves go on forever. They go up to the ceiling and they’re very old and kind of gray, like old oak that absorbed so much dust over the years they no longer are their true color.”

Such a visceral, sensual description. It was a description both my husband and I fell in love with immediately when we heard it. It is a place we hope yet, to be.

At one point in the movie Helene writes to Frank:

“I require a book of love poems with Spring coming on. No Keats or Shelley. Send me poets who can make love without slobbering. Wyatt or Johnson or somebody. Use your own judgment. Just a nice book, preferably small enough to stick in a slacks pocket and take to Central Park.”

Late in the movie, Frank is shown, reflecting on her as a Yeats love poem runs through his mind. The moment, and the poem, are my gifts to my husband, my best friend. Thank you for these last 20 years. They’ve gone so fast. I’d like 20 times 20 more, and if time allows, I’d like yet to walk into 84 Charing Cross Road with you.

So to “Eddie,” all my love, and to you and all romantics out there, a poet who can make love without slobbering:

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths,
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939). The Wind Among the Reeds. 1899.

The Post – Is Birth Imminent?

February 24, 2008

I will be returning soon to the evolution of my novel, Under the Pier, but given the goings-on here, I have to take some time to tell of events unfolding in the fiddler crab world.

I decided to see if it is possible to raise at least a few of Scarlett O’Hara’s and Admiral Byrd’s babies, should they survive birth. It’s a long shot, but I want to try. Scarlett looked really pregnant yesterday – that abdomen of hers is large and when she pushes at it, it’s like jelly. I have these observations again from my husband.

It is TRUE LOVE when your husband acts as midwife for your pregnant fiddler crab, keeping close eye on her while I ran out today to get a chunk of live rock for the aquarium. He even called me on my cell phone at the aquarium store to tell me that Scarlett was picking at the larval mass, pulling out a brown thread here and there and planting it in the gravel. He felt birth was getting close and I should hurry home with the live rock. I tell you, is that a friend or not? How many people would call you on your cell phone to let you know your fiddler crab is getting ready to deliver? 🙂

To back up, we went to Petsmart last night and picked up a new 10-gallon aquarium, tank top, light, light bulb, thermometer….. yes, another whole set-up. My husband is laughing but then, he is a geek, just one with different interests, so he respects this endeavor I’m involved in.

In fact, he is working on setting up his own blog that will have all kinds of tweaky things that reflect his interests. When it’s up and running, I’ll be sure to mention it. He finds the most unusual and interesting things out there. To give you a sample of the man, when we are out on a date it is not unusual to walk through the parking lot and have him explain to me the mechanisms for the inner workings of car backup lights and such. I just love it. Going somewhere with him is always interesting and an adventure. Sometime I’ll have to share how he and I hunted down the overgrown boarded up command bunker for a former Nike missile launch site in Newport News VA. 🙂 But a story for another time. Those are the kinds of dates I love. Anyway, I’ll let you know when his geek site is up and running.

To get back to fiddlers, I spent last night setting up the tank. This time I started with distilled water. We have a small water distiller and I proceeded to use up our drinking supply to make up salt water for the “nursery tank.” Mixed up Instant Ocean powder in the distilled water, set up the filter, and within a couple of hours, got the water parameters just about where I wanted them: pH 7.8, alkalinity 180, hardness >300, chlorine, Nitrite, and nitrates all zero. Salinity was about 1.008, a little lower than I wanted because I want this tank’s water to be an almost exact match for the main tank.

This morning I used some marine buffer to bump the pH up to 8.0 and alkalinity closer to 300. Added a bit more Instant Ocean to get the salinity up to 1.010. I seeded the new filter with a strip of “very well colonized” filter material from the old tank to jump start the nitrogen cycle, and brought home from Fish Pros the MOST amazing chunk of live rock – ALREADY had all kinds of marine invertebrates and microscopic algae on it because it had been in another tank that had just been dis-assembled. So, the live rock is well underway growing organisms and probably has another dose of nitrogen-fixing bacteria ready to go.

I debated about what to do with Scarlett O’Hara, leave her in the old tank and struggle with where to release her babies or put her in the new tank with plenty of room for all. Finally decided to take a chance and I’ve moved her into the new tank. She seems to be doing okay in spite of being rattled by being moved. I’m hoping it didn’t disturb her too much. It always shakes them up a bit to move them around. I have done my best to make her a good nursery and here she is free from Admiral Byrd’s claw-waving. I even took the heater from the old tank and gave it to her in the new one. I ordered a new heater for the main tank which should be here Wed. But I figured Melanie Hamilton and Admiral Byrd will be fine for a couple days with the tank lights to keep them warm. I figured “momma” needed it more.

By the way, the tank heater I use is a small one geared for 3 gal aquariums. It’s pre-set and can be mounted sideways with suction cups, and there’s no risk if it touches the gravel. It’s a Marineland Shatterproof Heater (10 watts) part number VTMD10 and found it online at That Pet Place.  Since my tanks are only a third full of water (to allow space for the crabs to get out in air), regular heaters won’t work. Not enough water for them to be fully submerged. And regular heaters are generally large and have to be vertical.  This guy is short and can be sideways. Keeps the tank in the range of about 78-80 degrees F. So for what it’s worth.

So…the nursery is up and running. So very much hoping that 1) Scarlett will do okay in the new tank; I would feel terrible if she doesn’t make it because of the move 2) the babies do okay.

Then all we have to worry about is how to sell off many many many many many grandchildren? 🙂 I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, if you want to have a few seconds of just staring at some nice marine creatures swimming amidst coral, click on the Instant Ocean link above. Neat intro.

The Post – Extra! Scarlett O’Hara is Pregnant

February 17, 2008

Well, that is life for you. One minute you’re choking in the ER, the next maybe we’ll be surrogate grandparents for our fiddler crabs?

Again, it is my husband, the one who made fun of my fiddler crab project, who notices changes in the fiddler crab tank.

We have noticed Scarlett O’Hara on occasion, seeming interested in Admiral Byrd. Admiral Byrd of course, ALWAYS waves his claw even when no one is around. My husband explained this is a guy thing – you always stand around looking cool, just in case. Well, apparently things happen when the lights go out.

For the last 2 days my husband has mentioned, with concern in his voice, that Scarlett O’Hara has been climbing all the way up the water filter, almost to the top of the tank, and has been hanging out up there. We just thought she wanted to be queen of all she surveyed and liked being up high.

Today he looked at her and said: “I think Scarlett is going to have babies! Do fiddler crabs carry their eggs on their abdomen?” I glanced at her and there was this wad of brownish spongy stuff tucked against her abdomen, underneath her mandibles.

Sure enough, a glance at a web site of the Fiddler Crab Life Cycle, shows pictures of pregnant females carrying hundreds of thousands of fertilized eggs on their abdomen. The pictures look just like Scarlett O’Hara. So, she’s pregnant!!!!

Now my understanding from something I read, was that female fiddler crabs burrowed down into the sand 23 inches or so, to lay their eggs. So I felt assured we would not be contending with “babies.” In fact, maybe that’s why Scarlett’s been climbing on top of the water filter. Maybe she’s been looking for someplace deep to lay her eggs.

However this same website on the fiddler crab life cycle indicates that female fiddler crabs RELEASE their fertilized eggs into the water and they float around as plankton. When they molt and get big enough, then there’s JUVENILE CRABS running around the tank.

My husband’s reaction was almost identical to 20 years ago when I invited him to have lunch with me at the hospital one weekend when I was working, so I could tell him the results of a certain pregnancy test I had just run: “Oh my God.” My husband said, “I’m not ready to be a grandfather yet, especially to a few hundred thousand fiddler crabs . . . ” But you and I both know, if there’s babies in the tank, he’ll be watching over them and concerned about them.

Now another site I found, About.com’s Keeping fiddler crabs as pets, (which by the way is a GREAT summary of how to raise fiddler crabs in general AND has instructions on setting up a brackish water tank) indicates it’s near to impossible to raise the babies in captivity. Apparently the babies need to go out into deep ocean water to grow then return to the brackish water estuary when they are older.

Well we shall see. Who knows? We may yet have BABIES in the tank!!!!! 🙂 So, the $4 fiddler crabs, with the >$100 of support gear so I could establish a brackish water tank so they wouldn’t die, have apparently not only not died, but thrived! Now we may need ANOTHER TANK so the thousands of babies have a home. Anybody want to buy some fiddler crabs? I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the pregnancy.

Stay tuned this week for pictures of the pregnant mom!

The Gift

February 17, 2008

After intense things, while it’s important to reflect and absorb the full depth and impact of the event, it is also good to return to humor. My husband found this web site with cute animal pictures and funny quotations. Though it’s not a fiddler crab, I give you “I Has a Stik.”

The Post – Another Side Trip – In an Instant, Life Changes – The ER and Patton

February 17, 2008

One minute you are moving through your day, clearing tasks off of your to-do list and anticipating all the things you will still tackle during the rest of the afternoon. The next moment you’re wondering if you will make it through the afternoon, and can you ever get what is choking you, out of your throat? In an instant, life changes.

I talked the other day about “awareness and staying in the present moment” in relation to my racquetball game. Shift to the future and you blow the present shot. The same thing happens in life.

My meditation class talks every week about paying attention to what you are doing, and that anything can be a meditation if you do it mindfully, full of awareness. I never thought about this extending to swallowing pills. I also never thought about how I swallow pills as a possible life-altering moment.

It’s something we do automatically. Grab the pills, toss them back, throw in a mouthful of water, all while in motion through the day’s to-do list. As you tip your head back to swallow, your mind is already on the afternoon’s plans and everything you want to get done. Suddenly there is this sense of something horribly wrong.

It is said that when we are in pain, our world narrows. While that’s usually said about emotional pain and our tendency to pull away and close down our connections to the world, the same is true of physical pain.

In just a second or two, the brain, reacting to that sense of something horribly wrong, starts reeling in the attention and cranking down the focus. It shifts gears from 4 p.m. back to 2 p.m. Within another second or two, it registers panic and pain. It tries to rally its resources to deal with the emergency. Whatever was on your mind before evaporates. It is suddenly incredibly irrelevant. You may never get to it.

Now focused very much in the present the brain is frantically trying to get a clear picture of what the hell is happening. It’s processing emergency signals from several places in your body simultaneously – heart rate, throat, blood pressure, lungs, mouth, cervical nerves. The eyes bulge, hands go up to the throat, and the left brain finally grasps that the pills you swallowed without thinking, tumbled down the wrong way. In a one-in-a-million shot they’ve lodged side by side in your esophagus and are blocking the whole passage.

At the same time you’re looking for a waste basket to throw up in and get those things out of you, additional panic shoots through you. The brain has further grasped that not only can’t you swallow, but that the water you took with the pills has backed up into all of your air passages and is now choking you. Inside your head you hear the liquid close off passages. For an odd moment, like time standing still, you notice that the sounds in your head right now are the same as when you’ve dived underwater and everything is flooding with fluid. Except you’re not in someone’s pool. You’re standing in an office wondering if you’ll ever take another breath.

The breath. All those meditation classes. Come back to the breath. Breathe in your pain and fear, breathe out caring and calm. But even the breath has been taken from you. Panic. Focus. Panic. Focus. The battle in the brain begins because it knows if panic wins, you may lose the battle completely.

Suddenly the water drains out and you can breathe. The breath. Come back to the breath. You’ve been given another shot. Don’t blow it. The brain is in command. Stay in the moment. Just this moment. Breathe – just one breath. Assess. What’s your next move? Think. Take stock. Breathe again. Just one breath.

You determine you can’t swallow except for tiny amounts. Okay. Focus. One swallow at a time. Look around. What are your options? Get help. Someone to be here in case they have to call 911. You remember the pills are large. Hard. Coated. They’re not going to dissolve. You need assistance. Get to the ER.

Someone stays with you. They’re trying to help. It’s a comfort and calms you, even though you can’t really respond. You’re using all your focus and energy on “Breathe – just one breath. Swallow – slowly. You cringe. Intense pain shoots up your throat as the liquid shoves the pills against the esophagus wall and ever so slowly drips around them and down your throat. Breathe. It takes a few seconds to swallow saliva that you normally don’t even notice is there. A few seconds more and the swallow is finished. Take another breath.

The brain starts to race – how long will it take my husband to get here? How long to get down the street? How long to the ER? How long before they can do something to make this better? Panic. The brain takes charge again. Stop. Stay in the present. Breathe. Swallow.

Every shift of the car gears hurts. You want to be sick. Take a breath. Swallow. Another bump. Breathe. Rounding the corner. Still a mile to go. Breathe. Swallow. Traffic backing up. Panic rising. Breathe. Swallow. Close your eyes. The ER doesn’t exist. Just this moment. Breathe, swallow. Breathe, swallow. Lean forward because it doesn’t hurt so much. Breathe. Swallow. You turn into the hospital. The ride to the door might as well be an eternity. Close your eyes. Breathe, swallow.

You struggle through admissions. Whisper name, date of birth, insurance, address. Breathe. Swallow. The nurse typing in your vitals seems to be taking forever. Will you ever get relief? Come back to the moment. Breathe. Just one breath. You spot your blood pressure and heart rate. It scares you. Close your eyes. Breathe. Swallowing is harder. Lean forward. Get ready. Breathe, swallow, tighten your fist to take your mind off the pain in your throat. Breathe. Stay calm.

I know my husband is there. His presence is calming. I can’t respond to him. Can’t even focus on him because I am focused on breathe, swallow. For a second I feel his hand on my back. Its warmth relaxes me, radiates through my muscles. Calms them. But I can’t tell him yet. Just breathe. Swallow.

The doctor is approaching the room. Breathe. Swallow. You stare past the doctor and see a room across the department that looks just like the one your husband almost died in a little over a year ago . . . when he almost choked to death. Breathe. Swallow. The nurse pushes in the needle for the IV line. Breathe. Swallow. Meds are moving through your veins. Breathe. Swallow. Breathe. Swallow. Calm. The meds are calming. The muscles in your throat unlock. Breathe. Swallow. Suddenly, a tiny burp. Air is moving up. Breathe. Swallow. They give you water. Tiny sips. It slides down your throat. Pills shift and hurt. Breathe. Swallow. Ever so slowly, the burps get bigger. The sips of water larger. The medicine slows your heart rate. Your blood pressure has dropped. You can swallow and breathe without total concentration. Will you ever take another pill unawares?

Joan Didion wrote a book, The Year of Magical Thinking, about what it was like the year after her husband died of a massive heart attack. She was with him when it happened. It happened in an instant. In that moment as he fell, dead, everything changed.

Even as Kate Braestrup stared at her husband’s cereal bowl in the sink that morning, he already lay dead in his state police car, killed when another vehicle lost control and crashed into him. Her life changed in that instant as she described in her book, Here If You Need Me. Lee and Bob Woodruff wrote a book, In An Instant. He was covering a story for ABC News in Iraq when an IED exploded near his vehicle. In an instant he nearly died. In an instant everything in her day changed dramatically.

It happens so often. It happens to everyone. Yet we all try to ignore that an end will come. We pretend that reality doesn’t exist even though it does. In an instant we are reminded that though we think we are masters of our fate, we never are. It’s out of our hands.

Friday night, terrified after what had happened to my day, my body, and with the calming effects of the valium wearing off, I scrambled to put myself in a place that brought me back to a time where I felt I had power. I retreated to the movie, Patton, about the controversial, powerful, and legendary World War II general, George S. Patton, Jr. His nickname, given by his men, was “Old Blood and Guts.” He never retreated.

It’s a standing joke in my house, that especially when I was younger, I was Patton. I was the general. I ran the situations. Whatever needed doing, I gave the order or executed the action. Failure or retreat was not in my vocabulary. Back then, my thought was, work hard enough, push hard enough, refuse to be defeated or back off, and you can do, achieve, overcome anything.

In the movie, there is one scene where Patton, played by George C. Scott, speaks and my family looks at me and laughs. Patton, has been reprimanded and his command taken from him. Patton, like him or hate him, was a brilliant field commander. He also put his foot in his mouth constantly, and some of his actions were controversial. Yet he was a power to be reckoned with. He bludgeoned his way through things, though aware of the pecking order, did manage to yield some deference to God. In this scene he is speaking to his aide after being told he might be sent home from the war in disgrace:

“I feel I am destined to achieve some great thing, what I don’t know. But, this last incident is so trivial in it’s nature and so terrible in its effect, it can’t be the result of an accident. It has to be the work of God. The last great opportunity of a lifetime . . . an entire world at war, and I’m left out of it?! God will not permit this to happen!! I am going to be allowed to fulfill my destiny!!!” [LONG PAUSE] “His will be done.”

The last four words are said almost as an afterthought, Patton remembering that God just “might” have some say in things. For some reason, at that time in my life, maybe even now a little bit, my family saw a lot of me in that scene. 🙂

So Friday night, I took comfort from retreating to a place and time in life where I felt powerful and in control of everything. Yet, in truth, even as I watched that movie I knew it was just an illusion, a temporary salve for a traumatic day. None of us are really in command of our destinies, only our responses to life’s questions. Even the powerful General Patton learned that. He preferred to die in battle. Instead, in Dec of 1945 he was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of injuries in a car accident. He died a couple of weeks later from an embolism.

I took temporary sustenance from the movie, even as I am aware that we can only take charge of some things, our choices, but for the rest, there is just the one and only powerful tool we can use: stay aware in the present moment, and breathe.

The Post – A Sidetrip to Essays – But the Bus NEVER Came Up This Far on the Curb Before!

February 16, 2008

Before I start talking about the Under the Pier process, I need to address the one side that calls to me in a big way – essays. I’ve sold a couple already and I yearn to do more. While this blog is a collection of all the bits of me, perhaps the one area of my soul most fed, is the ability to “speak in essays.”

I have spent most of my time over the last 12 years calling myself a children’s writer, though I have noticed that a lot of my focus is geared toward adults. Is this a contradiction or betrayal of a certain writing path? I don’t think so. Perhaps Madeleine L’Engle handled it best. She used to hate it when she was referred to as a children’s writer, as if that was all she was or it was a special category considered “not quite a writer.” She insisted on being referred to as a writer and considered her children’s writing just one aspect of her career, though certainly not the easiest or least important. Her observation there was: “If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children.”

So in the same vein, I am first drawn to writing for children as there is the very alive open child within me who wants to speak. However, like everything else in my life, I do not fit neatly into categories. The label “children’s” writer is not totally accurate because I find, I just write. Who it fits, I leave for the readers to determine.

As to my essays, they run the range – spiritual, humorous, nature-based, flippant. One current essay is a list I keep of irreverent things to put on my tombstone: “But it was HER fault, really!” “But I had the right of way!” or “But the bus NEVER came up this far on the curb before!” – the last one from a moment at Colonial Williamsburg where my husband and son expressed concern at how close to the bus stop curb I was standing. When I reassured them the bus never comes that far up, they offered to put that one on my tombstone. 🙂

I love to write essays because my right brain revels in being able to take a single quote or line of dialogue, a comic, photograph, painting or a life question, and just write. Something that starts in the specific and ends up at a universal truth. A journey where I start with the concrete and wander around always surprised where I end up, usually someplace emotional.

In a lot of respects, though I’ve started this blog in the midst of writing a novel for upper middle-grade/Young adult readers, a lot of it so far has been more essays, journaling, unearthing the soul of the writer, rather than a lot about the Children’s Writing business. That’s okay. I need to have that soul of the writer to do that novel. The reality is, that novel has been a journey to answers in life. Maybe in a way, novels are just one long essay because the characters in those fictions worlds still ask the same life questions we all do.

This blog is also my “raw material” that I can mine at will for whatever projects come along. It’s my toy box of thoughts that I can spin into something for adults or children. Truth, is truth.

My “internship of the essay craft” has involved continuing education classes at nearby Duke University, as well questions. Always, questions. They are the catalyst for life, for growth, for wisdom. At least to me, if I stop asking questions, I stop growing. I lose the path to peace

The internship has also included reading countless books. Fiction, philosophy, spirituality, nature guides, and of course, books on essay writing. One in particular is my favorite, and has been the most useful for seeing how to first collect, then transform life experiences. I recommend it highly:

Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal – The Art of Transforming a Life into Stories, by Alexandra Johnson. She teaches memoir and creative nonfiction writing at Harvard and has been published extensively. The book is divided into three parts. It’s possible to only use one of the three at a particular time in life, or ever. The first is about having a journal – creating one, the various types, what raw material to collect; the second part is about transforming your life – finding the patterns and meaning in what you’ve collected; the third section is called “Crossover: Moving a Journal into a Creative Work.”

Whether you just collect raw material, mine it for meaning, or use it to create fiction and nonfiction works, the process changes you. Like that overly used cliched example of a rock thrown in a pond, change one thing and it touches places unseen. Even keeping a list of favorite phrases over a lifetime does something deep inside to your soul and alters your outlook on life.

So I am a writer for all ages. I love to write essays, whoever reads them. They are my journey to answers. They are the playground of the right brain, and the compost pile that fertilizes the rest of my works.

The Post – Admiral Byrd was NOT Worshipping Me or The Aquarium Light

February 11, 2008

Over the last 2 days my husband noticed that Admiral Byrd has been spending a LOT of time, meaning almost ALL of his time, up on top of the gravel hill or the decorative cave rock, or the live rock, or just about anywhere else in the tank, waving his claw. He looked so funny up on the cave rock. He seemed to be staring up at the aquarium tank light, waving his claw as if paying homage to a god. We figured either he held the aquarium light or my hand in high esteem.

My husband has joked that he thinks the crabs go inside the live rock so much because it’s actually their holy site. He thinks they’ve cobbled together a crude altar made of gravel and on the altar they’ve fashioned a shrimp pellet image of their deity, the hand that feeds them . . . basically mine. As he put it, imagine that every day a hand comes down out of the sky and places steak or shrimp or pancakes in front of us. That’s what it must be like every time my hand drops algae or shrimp pellets near them.

In any event we weren’t sure why Admiral Byrd decided to spend an entire day paying homage to me or the light. Why all of the sudden? There’s been nothing new going on in the tank otherwise, all three crabs have been actually pretty placid, out and about feeding, and generally happy. Was this some sort of designated crab “Holy Day” that just happens to coincide with Lent?

As it turns out, alas, neither the aquarium light nor my hand are the object of Admiral Byrd’s devotions. Melanie Hamilton is.

From the Fiddler Crab page on the Chesapeake Bay Program’s bay restoration site:

“When looking for a mate, he stands near the edge of the burrow, often alongside a string of other males and their (similarly well-maintained) burrows, while the females, returning from foraging, walk past. The male waves his large fiddler claw until he attracts the attention of an interested female, who then stares at him for a short period.. The male resumes his claw-waving, and if the female remains receptive, the male runs toward her, then runs back to his burrow, and repeats this motion several times until she either moves on or follows him to the burrow. ”

Apparently, mating behaviors take place not just when the female forages, but also when she molts. I happened to notice this pale, upside down body lying under the water filter this morning and immediately my heart hurt. I thought “Oh no! Melanie Hamilton died!” But not so. Looking closer, I saw that it was the pale ghost of Melanie Hamilton. It was that eerie translucent white, like Scarlett O’Hara’s was, though much more petite given that Melanie Hamilton is so dainty. Melanie Hamilton sat right behind it. I would have gotten pictures for this blog but she had tucked herself and her tiny ghost so far under the water filter that I could not get a shot. If only I had fiber optic cable, maybe I could get footage! I have concluded that the fiddler crabs have designated the “under the water filter space” as the “molting place.” All 3 have used it now. I think it has enough stretching room to shrug off the old shell, but is sheltered enough to keep everyone else away while their new shell hardens.

Admiral Byrd of course, was well aware of events in the tank. He was standing just a few inches from the water filter hoping to catch her eye. Alas, while Admiral Byrd is a true romantic and his efforts were truly heroic – I mean he has to be exhausted after almost 24-hours straight claw-waving – Melanie Hamilton is having none of it. She has turned her back on him and remains secluded under the water filter.

But anyway, the mystery is solved. Admiral Byrd doesn’t give a darn about the tank light or the hand that feeds him. He apparently can sense the approach of “molting” and was doing the crab Valentine’s Day equivalent of serenading his lady.

Sorry no pictures, though. I told my husband if he ever decides to spend money on expensive jewelry or clothes for me, I would prefer one of those borescopes like they use for colonoscopies. That would work GREAT in the tank for closeups of everybody! 🙂

Coming up this week:

Now that you’ve gotten to know me a bit – a cross between sea life maniac and soulful – I’ll start to introduce some of the projects I’m working on. I’ll share what I’ve done, what I’m doing and where I see myself going. Children’s writer and illustrator, Uri Shulevitz, described three stages of a writer’s development at a conference about 12 years ago. I’ve kept them as a kind of road map in my development and will use them to describe what I’m doing.

Also to come, a Writer’s bio page of what I’ve already written.

Happy Monday!