Showing posts from December, 2006


Robb and I had a lot of time to talk in the car the other day. Apparently, his therapists told him how impressed they are with him for both his determined attitude and focus, and also what we call his "body awareness." He mentioned this, because at some point he realized that nobody was going to come knocking on our door with an offer to heal him, and that if we was going to get better, his improvement was his own responsibilty. He was going to have to do the work, and nobody could do that for him. I thought about that for a second, and told Robb that if he kept talking like that, I was going to burst into tears. I'm so proud of him, and all the hard work that he has done since he broke his back and injured his spinal cord. We drove on a bit further and I said, "So I guess you're not going to make any New Year's Resolutions, huh?" And we both burst out laughing. Did someone drop a house on Robb, or what??? Pictured above are Robb's new ankle brace

Little Green Men, and Big Grey Birds

For quite some time, Robb and I have been talking about driving out to Lodi, California to see the Sandhill Cranes that overwinter there, and to do a little bit of letterboxing. The thing that had been holding us back from this rather long road-trip was Robb's inability to sit for long periods of time. However, like so many aspects of his recovery, this has been slowly (almost imperceptibly even) improving. We stopped for gas at the craziest convenience store we had ever seen. A space ship had crashed through its roof, and the place was swarming with aliens, exploring American fast food culture. This fellow was guzzling milk. And where there's milk, there are bound to be cats. Even in the parking lot of a convenience store, there are wonderful things to be found. For example, there were a number of Cedar Waxwings in the trees. I love these birds. They are so sleek and sexy. Being interested in history, were compelled to stop in to the country's first A&W root bee

busy beavers

One wonders what the beaver who chomped on this fence post was thinking? Was he hoping to bring home the barbed wire as well, to keep intruders out of his lodge? We've been busy little beavers, too. We'll tell you about our goings-on soon enough. (This photo was taken at the Consumnes River Preserve , where we went to look at the Sandhill Cranes today.)


Today, Robb picks up the orthotic devices that will, hopefully, improve his walking. I know that they work with springs, but other than that, I have no idea what these things will look like, as they seem to have been designed especially for Robb. I'll bet they don't look like any of these.

What is a Scenic Artist, anyway?

I work as a theatrical scenic artist, and prior to Robb's accident so did he (in between acting gigs). As a scenic artist, I am responsible for all the surface treatments on stage scenery and props. The designer provides a model, and paint information, like this: And the carpenters and scenic artists make something like this: The colors are a little "off" in both photographs. If we did our work correctly, these should be a perfect match. Pretty cool, huh? For a closer look at this process, click here .

twas the day after christmas...

...and we went for a stroll at Arrowhead Marsh. Robb was very tired from seeing a movie the night before (our first movie at a theater in almost a year!) so he mostly used the wheelchair. Robb still cannot sit in one place for long periods of time without "paying the price" the next day. The vultures were swooping close overhead. Usually, these birds fly so high that you can't really see their faces . This group seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. And one tree in particular was appealing to raptors. We stopped to photograph this white tailed kite , which was chased off by this hawk, who allowed me to take a number of photos, and eventually was replaced by this fellow. This is a large park. One wonders what was so attractive about this particular tree. We really like this park, and come here often. It is laid out well for wheelchair usage, and we always see something interesting. This is an eared grebe . I love its fluffy petticoats. Sorry, I'm still

Merry Christmas to All

Robb and I want to wish everyone a very happy holiday season, and to thank you for your kindness throughout the past year. May all your days be filled with joy.

A Rare Bird

Although I wasn't feeling very well, Robb convinced me to drive out to Arrowhead Marsh near the Oakland Airport, which is home to the Federally Endangered California Clapper Rail . This is a very rare and shy bird , whose quickly-disappearing backside we often see at this marsh. The fact that they are crepuscular (active at dusk) makes for some particularly lousy photographs. Some of the pictures I took had the quality of photos of Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster. Here's a map of the range of this bird, where you can see how few homes remain for this interesting chicken-sized creature. We did see other birds. Buffleheads . (Love that name!) And the eternally crabby-looking Anna's Hummingbird .

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

In the past four days, we have experienced three minor earthquakes. The one on Wednesday was so minor that I didn't even notice it. Robb was convinced that there was a cat fight going on under the bed during this morning's quake. Last night and this morning's quakes were among the very few earthquakes that we have experienced that have had sound associated with them. In both cases, there were rumblings, but the excitement was over almost as soon as they began. Generally, it is difficult to tell if what we feel around here is actually an earthquake, or just the neighbors moving the furniture around. These recent quakes all seem to have been centered a few miles away, in the Berkeley hills. I wonder if anyone had ornaments knocked off their Christmas trees? For a map of the recent quakes, click here . Oddly, the very first earthquake I ever experienced was at my sister's apartment in Brooklyn, on my birthday. We were up late, talking. Her husband Neil and our dad

How's Lisa?

I'm sick with a tenacious cold, and am dragging around at home today. I had taken the day off from work, yesterday, to try to get all of my Christmas tasks accomplished. This would be a foolish and stressful activity to undertake in good health, and I suspect I was a sorry sight as I tried and failed to get everything done. Several sales people made comments like, "How are you? Surviving?" I have to imagine that this wasn't what they said to their other customers. Christmas is going to be even more low-key than I had anticipated. I really don't mind, but I suspect Robb is secretly disappointed. I know he wishes he could pick up the slack for me, but that isn't possible right now.

put a spring in your step

A couple of months ago, I had the idea that if somehow my shoes were spring-loaded, I might be able to achieve what, for me, is the hardest part of walking –– pushing off with my toes. I talked to my physical therapist about this and she arranged a consultation with an orthotist who recommended a pair of custom-made prosthetics to do the job. Yesterday, I went for a fitting for my new ankle braces. Things have changed a lot since the days of plaster bandages, or since the times I’ve had “life-casts” made of my face for theatrical make-up classes. The orthotist, Jesse, first covered my feet and legs below the knee with cotton stockings, on which he marked the position of a few landmarks like my ankle bones and toes. Then he immersed a roll of fiberglass tape in a pail of warm water and wrapped this around my legs. As he was doing this, we were continually chatting. I was in the middle of a sentence when I noticed that Jesse had a mat knife in his hand. He started cutting down the front

no adventures this weekend

I had to work all weekend (in an unheated scene shop -- brrr), so Robb and I don't have any interesting adventures to report on. Robb did walk down to the lake, and checked in on the migratory waterfowl, but there was no letterboxing or the like. Whilst waiting for paint to dry at work, I've been knitting. I also met my incoming intern, whose father, it seems, had a very similar injury to Robb's when she was very young. She says the last time she saw her father walk was when she was in the first grade.

Student Driver

Despite all the difficulties with the hand controls the other day, my driving lesson went really well. This was my second time around with this instructor, Jeannine, and we had a good time. It's still a bit odd to drive without using my feet. Coordinating braking and accelerating with a single bar is tricky but as with anything new: practice make perfect. At one point in the lesson, driving around the town of Vallejo and the former army base at Mare Island, we had to stop at a pedestrian crosswalk where some complicated street crossing was taking place. I reminded Jeannine of the joke we made the last time we went driving –– whenever something unusual and challenging happened on the road in front of me I accused her of hiring those responsible. During the last lesson a road construction truck suddenly stopped and started unloading in the middle of a residential street, someone ran a stop sign, children were playing along the side of the road. It just went on and on. No sooner did I

some girls get all the brakes!

Today was the day for us to pick up our freshly adapted car, and for Robb to have another session with his driving instructor. We had been looking forward to a new kind of freedom for Robb, but instead things went awry. First, we realized that the handle that controls the gas and brake pedals is nowhere near the turn signal lever. In this configuration, Robb would have to take his hand off the controls in order to signal. The photo on the left shows my hand on the controls, and if you follow the line of my index finger, you'll see that it is nowhere near the turn signal lever. We pointed this out to the mechanic, and he seemed remarkably nonplussed, and basically blew off our concerns. While Robb was having his driving lesson, I sat in our car, and knitted and stewed and mentally re-designed the hand controls. Finally, I went into the offices and laid out my concerns. I had the woman in the office come out to the car and showed her the problem. I drew her a picture of how we c

a fertile imagination for disaster

I'm one of those people who is very creative in my worrying. Some people are really inventive cooks, or have a brilliantly original fashion sense. One of my great creative talents is my ability to concoct elaborate and often irrational scenarios for disaster. In no particular order. I'm worried that the company that is installing the adaptive driving devices is going to cut huge holes in our car. This is not entirely unfounded, because for some reason the plan for our car had been something along the lines of: chop a huge hole, install an un-needed instructor's brake, neglect to install the needed equipment, remove the instructor's brake, and leave a gaping hole in the nicest car we've ever owned. Lately, I've been feeling like a parent of a fifteen year old, who is about to start driving. I'm totally convinced that Robb is going to crash our new car, and we won't be able to afford to replace it. In really creatively destructive moments, I convince

busy, busy...

A lot of people ask me what Robb does during the week, and I just have to laugh, because I imagine that they think he's sitting around the house, wearing fuzzy slippers, and watching soap operas. Robb's schedule is jam-packed with physical therapy, doctor's appointments, and whatnot. This week, he actually had a visit with a doctor that didn't relate to his spinal cord injury. Wow. It seems that the evening coughing may be related to allergies, so Robb is trying out some medications for that. The coughing itself is bad enough, but it really wracks Robb's back. Robb worked with a new physical therapist yesterday, doing Feldenkrais exercises. Amazingly, after almost ten months, there are still discoveries to be made. We really are getting the hand-controls put in the car today. Our nurse case manager had to don armor and go into battle to keep the company from installing and removing the instructor's brake in our car. (Cut a gigantic hole in my beautiful n

is it driving us crazy?

This week we may, or may not, be having hand controls installed in our car. A few months ago, Robb had driving evaluation and it was decided that he should have a control bar installed in the car to operate the throttle and brake. After waiting for the controls to be prescribed, evaluated, ordered and authorized, and replacing our car that inconveniently was smashed, today we finally got a call to schedule the installation. Arranging schedules and transportation was like one of those logic puzzles where you have to ferry across a river with a seemingly incompatible passengers and cargo. It took about six or seven phone calls, but finally everything was arranged. Only one or two nagging questions remained: What was this we heard about installing (and then removing) an "instructor's brake" on the passenger side and why should a simple, mechanical hand control device be called a "MPS Nano-Controller?" Turns out, the shop doing the work may have been directed t

checking out the local wildlife

Robb and I are city dwellers, but we are lucky enough to live near Lake Merritt , which is a tidal estuary, and major over-wintering spot for migratory waterfowl. I hadn't taken the new camera down to the lake, until today. This is one of my favorite local birds, a Black-Crowned Night Heron . I love these huge, grumpy-looking fellows. This is a female Scaup . Hundreds and hundreds of Scaups spend the winter on the lake. We really cannot tell the Greater and Lesser Scaups apart. An Eared Grebe and an American Coot . Robb and I affectionately call these grebes "muffin butts." They puff up their "petticoats" just before they dive. We also joke that all we have to do to see a grebe dive out of sight, is to say the word "grebe." This Snowy Egret was shuffling around the edges of the lake, trying to stir up food with its bright yellow feet. When Robb and I worked as volunteers for the International Bird Rescue Research Center , one of the projects

If you can't set a good example, you can at least be a cautionary tale

In between the torrential rainstorms this weekend, Robb and I went down to the shops in our neighborhood, and to Lake Merritt to gawk at nature. While at the shops, we ran into a former assistant of mine, Shauna. Shauna told Robb about an experience she had recently. She lost her balance while working on a ladder. As she was falling backwards through the air, the story of Robb's accident flashed through her mind, and somehow she managed to she twist around like a cat and land on her feet. Shauna tells us that she keeps talking to people who work in the theater industry, and Robb's accident is very much on people's minds whenever they get up on ladders. (Here's a silly photo of all of us in 2003, hanging out on " cemetery grass " that we were about to paint for a show at Berkeley Repertory Theatre .)

all is calm, all is bright

Warning!!!!! If you are Robb's case manager, avert your eyes, NOW!!!! What follows is supposed to be a surprise! I have been trying to get a few xmas presents made, but I have decided that due to the current situation in our lives, this is going to be a very low-key holiday season. Robb can't handle the frenzy of holiday shopping, and to be honest, I can't stomach the thought of pulling off a traditionally huge Christmas, singlehandedly. I spent the better part of yesterday working on what I hope will be our presents. Making art to order is always a bit daunting. Let's hope that this project turns out well, and isn't a hideous fiasco. Otherwise, I have been trying to finish the gloves for Robb's case manager. Mister Firdusi was keeping a watchful eye on my progress. These have taken me much longer than I would have expected. Part of this is that I'm just a bit scattered in my focus, lately. And part is that I'm making this pattern up as I go. It

A New Doctor and New Prospects

Yesterday, Lisa and I went over to San Francisco for a consultation with a neurosurgeon. It was also a chance for us to (finally) meet my case manager in person. The visit was as eye-opening for her as it was to Lisa and me. Up until now, my workers' comp insurers have been planning my case based on my original surgeon's assessment that I will reach my maximum improvement in January. This, despite the fact that my physiatrist and everyone else I've talked to, say that recovery from this type of injury can take 18 months to three years (or more). It would seem that the insurance company will be resetting its calendar for my case. The other revelation from this exam is the news that the hardware in my back is subject to metal fatigue and breakage over the course of time. All we ever heard before on this subject was that my surgeon did not, as a rule, remove the hardware once the backbones successfully fused together. Immediately, both Lisa and I imagined metal rods viol

a second opinion, and a first meeting

Today, Robb meets with another neurologist. The company administering his Worker's Compensation Insurance thought this would be a good idea, and we agree. But, in some strange way, we're more excited to finally meet one of our case managers in person. Donna has been one of our guardian angels, during this long and often difficult process, and yet we have only spoken to her on the telephone. We used to go to doctor's appointments, accompanied by Linda, our field case manager, but eventually "graduated" from needing her at our side. I suspect that Donna is as interested to meet Robb as we are to meet her. (Of course, I slacked off, and did not get the gloves I was knitting for her finished in time. I'm inventing the pattern, so I've had a number of set-back, trying to figure things out.) Today's photo is from Point Reyes National Seashore . Such an amazing park! You can see a tiny sliver of coastline over my shoulder. If I am not mistaken, that&#

happy feet

Since Robb's accident, his doctors and therapists have been perplexed by the fact that he is unable to point his toes. Robb isn't bad at lifting his foot up toward his body, but cannot support any weight when he tries to go up on his toes. Usually, people with Robb's type of spinal cord injury have the opposite problem, experiencing something that I believe is called "foot drop." Robb has also heard that his condition is often seem among children with spina bifida. Yesterday, Robb met with an orthotist, who will be making an experimental set of leg braces that should assist him to bend his foot and ankle with greater strength. The orthotist seemed really excited by the prospect of creating this brace because, in his whole career, he'd only ever seen one brace that was somewhat similar. I would like to point to this as just one more example of the superlative health care that Robb is receiving. I just cannot say enough about how wonderful everyone who has