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November 17th, 1998

(no subject)

Yes, I'm back -- yet again! I suppose it's ironic that, pretty much by definition, when nothing is going on in my life, I have plenty of time to tell you about it, but when I have plenty going on in my life, I have little time to tell you about it. Judging by the long gap since my last update, you can infer that my life has been busy.

Four major events have occurred in the last couple of months. In increasing order of importance: I proposed completely changing my responsibilities at work; I bought a new computer; I moved; and my mother passed away.

The first one isn't particularly interesting to talk about. For the last couple of years, I've been responsible for the web site at the Illinois EPA. In recent months it has become increasingly apparent to me that our web development process just isn't working very well. Basically, if anyone wants something put on our web site, they send it to me. This means, first of all, that I'm an extremely busy fellow, particularly since the web site is only one of my job duties. Secondly, it means that our web site has a random hodge-podge of information, pretty much unconnected and disorganized. There might be the most extremely detailed information about one program area, but not even the most basic information about another program area. This makes it difficult to find information, to say the least.

I wrote up an 8-page memo discussing the problems with our current procedures and proposing, basically, that I turn over 90% of web development responsibilities to a team of a dozen people, drawn from the rest of the agency. That would free me up to do things like Java programming and writing database queries, rather than what has evolved into basically glorified word processing.

The second event was buying a new computer. What a story that makes! Way back on July 29, I ordered a new computer from Gateway -- a 400MHz Pentium II with 128MB RAM, Voodoo2 3D video card, DVD drive, ZIP, tape backup, theater sound system, etc. It was scheduled to ship on August 5. Well, on August 7 I received a postcard from Gateway, saying that "due to circumstances beyond our control," my order was delayed and would ship by August 21. Oh, bother. Time passed. On August 21, I received a postcard from Gateway saying that "due to circumstances beyond our control," my order was delayed and would ship by September 22. Ack! Should I cancel my order, or keep it? Decisions, decisions.

Then I learned that Intel would be releasing the 450MHz Pentium II on August 30. That would mean I could change my order to the faster chip. Sure, why not. So, after Gateway announces that they are selling 450MHz systems, I call them and change my order. There is plenty of confusion with getting the order changed, and eventually the sales critter just starts over from scratch and gives me a new order number. Time passes. September 22 comes and goes. Finally, on October 5, my new computer arrives -- twice!

Yes, sure enough, when I was given a new order number, the sales critter somehow managed to not cancel the previous order, so when the UPS truck rolled up, out hopped two computers. That wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that Gateway also charged my credit card for two computers.

Well, eventually I got all of that straightened out, so I am now the proud owner of a brand spanking new screaming demon of a computer -- that can't receive e-mail! Yes, somehow or other I managed to totally hose the e-mail software on this machine. It came with Microsoft Home Essentials preinstalled. I owned Microsoft Office 97, which I loaded. I then downloaded the Office service release patch and installed it.

Unbeknownst to me, although Office 97 and Home Essentials both include Word 97, they install in separate directories. This means two copies of Word 97 are on the machine. My suspicion is that the service release patch saw the two copies, got confused, and patched the wrong one. Microsoft Outlook uses Word as its text editor, so when I went to start Outlook, it complained about a wrong DLL version when attempting to start Word. When I received the error message, I decided to uninstall Outlook and start over. Somewhere in that process I uninstalled something that I shouldn't have, and now my Internet e-mail is totally hosed. Since then I've been using my old computer to read e-mail, which isn't the most convenient thing in the world, but it works. I'm sure I'll eventually get e-mail working on this machine, but I've been too busy (naturally) to work on it!

Next, after getting my new computer in early October, I moved at the end of October! This meant that the middle of October was spent packing pretty much every waking moment when I was home. Actually, it began with me rather calmly going through everything, carefully sorting things, discarding junk, and generally being quite organized. As time passed, however, there was less sorting, less discarding, and more frantically tossing into boxes! I moved roughly 150 boxes of stuff, and I'll guess that probably a third of that is stuff that I'll just wind up throwing out -- or else just shoving into the back of closets like I did at the old place!

Anyway, I really like my new place -- I'm renting a house! Here are the specs: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2-car garage, great room, large kitchen, breakfast nook, fireplace, and deck! It's at the end of a very short cul de sac on the extreme west end of Springfield, so there is virtually no traffic. Although it's in the city limits, it's almost in the country. You can go three blocks to a cornfield and not much farther will bring you to horses!

My favorite room, however, is the great room. It's very large (naturally), with a cathedral ceiling, a fireplace, and sliding glass doors leading out onto a deck in the back yard. I love it! The back yard itself is filled with plenty of trees, particularly pine trees, and I love that, too. In short, I like my new place!

Unfortunately, two days after I moved, I received a phone call from Dad saying that Mom was in the hospital and that she had decided that she would refuse any further treatment. She had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma 12 years ago. She underwent chemo and fought it off, but a few years ago it returned. She had more treatments, but it was a downhill struggle.

For the last year or so she had been going into the hospital quite a bit. She was never bedridden for months at a time or anything like that, but she would have to go back to the hospital numerous times every month for yet another treatment or another test. Then she began having problems with an extremely low blood count. She kept going back to the hospital and getting blood transfusions, but they can't give you white blood cells, because they would simply fight against your body. As a result she was extremely susceptible to infection, and eventually got pneumonia. At that point she decided that she was tired of the fight, so she told the doctors that she didn't want any more antibiotics to fight off the infection.

I received Dad's call on Monday, November 2, which was the day my phone service was connected at the new place. Dad said that it would just be a matter of days. After I hung up the phone I cried my eyes out for several minutes. It wasn't just because I was losing my mother, which was bad enough. It was also simply stress. For weeks I had been going nonstop, getting ready for the move, and just went it seemed like things were about to get better, they very abruptly had gotten much worse. And, oddly enough, it was also because I would never been able to show her my new home. I wanted to show her the great room, the fireplace, the deck out back, the pine trees -- but now I never could. The day before I had used my camcorder to videotape a very brief tour of the place. I decided to bring the camcorder and tape with me to the hospital. If she seemed up to it, I could play back the tape in the camcorder and she could watch it in the viewfinder.

So on Monday I drove down to St. Louis to see Mom at the hospital. All of her sisters and her brother were there. She was still in pretty good shape at that point and was in good spirits. She actually looked significantly better than she had when I had seen her in the hospital a couple of weeks before that. It was hard to believe that she would be dead in a few days. I eventually showed her the videotape of the new house, which she seemed to enjoy. It didn't really show things very well, because I hadn't expected this to be my only opportunity, but it was all I had.

After a few hours I drove back to Springfield. My brother flew into St. Louis from Austin later that night. The next day (Tuesday) after visiting with her, he drive up to Springfield to stay overnight with me. On Wednesday we drove back down to St. Louis to see Mom again. When we arrived there was a sign on her door telling visitors to go to the nurse's station. She had passed away about an hour before we had arrived.

I took it well, but I was quite surprised that she had gone so quickly. On Monday she was doing quite well, so I had guess she would last until Friday. It just really hadn't occurred to me when I left her on Monday that it would be the last time I would see her.

I suspected that Dad would prefer to have some time alone, just to wander about the house and cry without worrying about who saw, so Ross and I spent Wednesday night back in Springfield, then drove down to Dad's place on Thursday. He later thanked us for that, so I guess my suspicion was correct.

The visitation was on Friday night (November 6). I was amazed, first of all, at the amount of food that neighbors brought over -- meat trays, loaves of bread, fried chicken, lasagna, even cartons of soda. Keep in mind that this is out in the country, so when I say "neighbors", I mean "people who might live 5 miles away."

Secondly, I was amazed at the number of people who showed up at the visitation. Mom had taught kindergarten in the area for 30 years, so she and Dad knew plenty of people. Plus there were people like two of my high school teachers, our neighbors from when I was in first grade, and the parents of a pseudo-girlfriend of mine from high school. I was also very impressed by the number of my brother's friends who showed up. (Six of them served as pall bearers, actually.)

Thirdly, I was amazed at how quickly all of that food was consumed by everyone who came by after the visitation and after the funeral on Saturday.

I guess Mom went about as well as she could. We all got to see her one last time when she was still in pretty good shape, and I think it's better to go that way than to spend years in bed, the way her grandparents spent the end of their lives. She had talked for quite some time about not wanting to drag things out, so I was about as prepared as one can expect to be for it.

As for me, I'm doing fine, although I still find myself periodically remembering, "Oh yeah -- Mom's dead." There's a part of me that keeps expecting this to be temporary. Ah well. Life goes on.

Dad seems to be doing fine. He came up to visit on Sunday. After showing him the new place, we took his pickup truck down to Oak Express and picked up some nice bookshelves for the great room. They're six feet tall, four feet wide -- and already completely filled with books, mainly hardbacks.

He'll eventually head down to south Texas, like every year. They've been there several times before, so he'll know plenty of people and will have plenty of things to keep him occupied, like playing shuffleboard, golfing, and generally enjoying warm weather in the middle of winter.