Well, not exactly summer and certainly not much of a vacation.
After the SKOS face-to-face in Amsterdam last October and after my mother’s 6-week stay with us after knee surgery in January, it looked like I’d be home for a while, and life in general had calmed down. So in April we adopted a ‘puppy‘ from the Humane Society — a smart, 6-month old, 60-pound Labradoodle who came partially trained but with some bad habits. We think the bad habits — which included opportunistic newspaper/magazine shredding, furniture destruction, and wildly tearing around the house at top speed — may have contributed to his being left at the pound by his previous parents.
Nearly all of these habits have been cured or outgrown in the last 3 months and he’s gotten quite a bit of extra training, so Toby‘s turning into a pretty good dog (thank goodness). Getting him there has taken more work than we expected — our previous dog was 15 when he died and the dog before that was 17, so we’d totally forgotten how much work a puppy can be — and there’s still a lot of work to do. He ‘chews up’ quite a bit of of my day and isn’t always a pleasure, but it’s still nice to have a dog around again.
In May the relative ‘calm’ ended.
There’s natural gas in our area and we’ve been fending off ‘opportunities’ to lease the mineral rights to our 20 acres for years. This was easy because lease prices have always been in the sub-$100/acre range, but in May lease offers suddenly shot up to $2,500/acre and more, with royalties as high as 18% of gross, and it became a less easy decision. A local coalition formed to negotiate terms with the gas companies and there have been many meetings, discussion groups, and controversy.
The recent rush is largely due to a combination of a new deep discovery — the Marcellus Shale, 2 miles down — high gas prices, and improvements in horizontal drilling and extraction processes. The ‘improvements’ involve pumping millions of gallons (per well) of water, chemicals (many toxic), and sand into the shale at high pressure to force out the gas — a process know as fracing, a word familiar to fans of Battlestar Galactica with much the same meaning. This has raised questions about where the water will come from, and where it will go when it’s extracted along with the gas. The extracted water is very salty, sometimes mildly radioactive and laced with chemicals — as many as 10,000 gallons of toxins per well.
The state regulators are demonstrably clueless, the state legislature is eager for gas company money (recently making it much easier to get a drilling permit), and despite the promise of a nice chunk of change we’re very worried that our quiet rural area is on the verge of destruction. The Governor has required the regulators to do a thorough environmental review before granting new drilling permits, so that helps. But many of our neighbors have already signed leases, and we can be forced into a no-restrictions lease under current legislation if 60% of a drilling area has been leased. We’re probably going to sign a highly restrictive lease so that we have some control, but it’s a constant background worry.
In April a review of my grant indicated that Cornell would run out of money to pay me by the end of May, so we adjusted my salary to .2 FTE, meaning I get paid for one day a week, and will certainly be leaving Cornell when my grant runs out in September. I’ve had to focus more on consulting and haven’t been able to work continuously on the Registry this summer as I had planned. Although I’m still working on it 20 or more hours a week, I feel much less focused and much less productive.
In May, my mother (85) announced that an old family friend (Rodney, 89, widower) had asked her to marry him and she’d said yes. The wedding would be in September, she was moving to Cooperstown (90 minutes away) after the wedding, and would we sell her house and help dispose of the contents. The house was built by my paternal grandfather in the 1920’s and she’s lived there for 60 years, so there’s a lot of contents. Two weeks later, they moved the wedding date to June 29 and since she wouldn’t be spending the summer at the cottage on the lake, she asked if could we take over maintenance of that too. Things got busy in a hurry, and we put the house on the market, helped her move, and cleaned up the house (still chock full of stuff) for a series of open houses. We still haven’t decided what to do about the cottage, and it’s just sitting there this summer, open but neglected. The house, in a nation-wide falling real estate market, has generated a lot of interest but hasn’t sold and I worry we overpriced it.
The week before my mother’s wedding in June, my mother-in-law (Olga, 87, who lives near New York City, 3 hours away from us) ended up in the hospital with diverticulitis. Fortunately my sister-in-law was with her at the time, but my wife (Barb) still rushed down to help out (nobody in our family is ever alone in the hospital). Olga, feeling much better, went home from the hospital the day before my mother’s wedding (Barb drove directly from NYC to the wedding).
One week later (we’re into early July) Olga was back in the hospital suffering from a reaction to the antibiotics she was given for the diverticulitis — she was extremely weak and having trouble with her heart. This time we all went down and helped ease her transition into a nursing home for what was initially supposed to be just a short stay for rehabilitation. We had high hopes that she’d be able, and maybe even willing, to stay there permanently since it didn’t look like she’d ever be able to go back to her 3rd-floor walkup apartment and continue to live alone.
Barb and I and her sisters took turns going to NY for 3 weeks until it looked like things were stable, the nursing home staff could be trusted (or not), and we were fairly confident of the quality of her care. But we’d only left her alone in the nursing home for less than a week, when she was taken to the emergency room, suffering from pneumonia, and an overdose of blood thinner, coughing violently and vomiting blood. The same day, Olga’s sister-in-law (Alice, 90, my wife’s father’s sister), who had been in the same nursing home, went to a different hospital with pneumonia, a blood thinner overdose, and an infected gall bladder. I packed up my office so I could work if possible, and we rushed down to NY where we proceeded to shuttle back and forth between the two hospitals.
After a week in the hospital, we brought Olga home to live with us permanently (that was 2 weeks ago). She continues to be too weak to do stairs and all of the bedrooms are on the second floor, so we’ve converted the dining room into a bedroom of sorts until we can figure out a better arrangement. Setting her up with a new complement of physical therapists, visiting nurses, and doctors has been quite a challenge and it’s a very good thing that my wife’s a school social worker — she knows the agencies and has the summer off. We’re also making arrangements to clean out Olga’s apartment and redistribute the contents.
My wife’s aunt died last week, unable to survive off the respirator that surviving the pneumonia had required, and Olga, Barb, and I made yet another trip to NY for the funeral. The wake and funeral service may have been the last chance Olga’s many friends will have to chat with her and it was nice to see how many did — there’s was a significant traffic jam in the church after the mass as mourners said hello and goodbye.
Meanwhile, back in Cooperstown, my new stepfather returned from the honeymoon and almost immediately went into the hospital. His back had been bothering him for several weeks, and the long car ride home from New Jersey pushed him over the edge and after several days at home of worsening pain my mom called 911. After a couple days of tests the doctors diagnosed a large abscess on his spine and 9 hours of surgery and two weeks later he appears to be on the mend. Olga, Barb, and I drove up there on Sunday to visit them and had a lovely brunch with my mom at the Otesaga Hotel on lake Otsego.
This week has been all about trying to clear up loose ends because tomorrow my wife and I leave for two weeks on Vancouver island for a much needed vacation. My wife’s sisters will take turns coming down from Albany to stay with Olga so we can relax a bit. One of her sisters arrived today with her puppy, which will be ‘interesting’.
When we get back I need to quickly put together a short talk I’m giving with Ed Summers at the CENDI/NKOS workshop in Washington September 11th. The last time I attended a meeting out of town on September 11 was in NYC in 2001. I hope this one is much, much less eventful. And almost immediately after that I head for Berlin (the one in Germany) to attend the Dublin Core annual conference where, uniquely, I’m not presenting or helping to present a paper. Maybe, just maybe, after that things will calm down.
It’s been quite a summer.