News, updates, and happenings with the Kragnes family: Phil, our Seeing Eye Dogs, and (me) Rebecca.

Archive for May, 2013

Something Which Makes My Blood Boil

people who know me well would probably say I am generally not a vengeful person, and I know revenge isn’t exactly a Christian virtue. I read a story circulating on guide dog related lists which has made me so mad! I’ll provide the direct link at the bottom of this post and will paraphrase here. A female customer was scared of a Yellow Lab guide dog in a grocery store who had its “work clothes” (harness etc.) on and was helping a blind woman. The scared customer demanded the woman with the dog leave the store, and when that didn’t happen, she picked up a bottle of bleach and sprayed this dog in the eyes and back. Later the customer said it was a mistake and attributed to a mental health condition for which she takes medication.

Before getting my Seeing Eye Dogs, I was afraid of dogs, and I cringe when remembering a particular incident in my past. I was staying at the home of a college friend with a loose dog who jumped on me, and this scared me severely! Finally, they gave me a squeaky toy the dog didn’t like in order to keep it away from me, and I used it liberally to make sure. I learned later that it put the dog under so much stress that it was ill for a few days, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to tell that person how sorry I was. Its full impact never hit me before getting over my fear and loving dogs of my own.

However, even I who was very afraid of dogs still respected the roll of controlled, working dogs. I just asked their handlers not to let them get near me, and handlers were very compassionate about my request. I try to extend the same courtesy to people who are truly afraid of my dogs. The only exception to this is cab drivers who ask very unreasonable things which would make the dog uncomfortable throughout our trip.

I can only assume this grocery store had multiple aisles, and if this woman was so afraid, she could have vacated to another aisle to avoid the dog. I made an effort to avoid dogs if and when I could when I was afraid. I really do understand the irrational behavior of being fearful, because — before having dogs of my own — I cried and even screamed when loose dogs jumped on me. I don’t buy for a moment that the spraying was an irrational behavior brought on by a fear. The customer asked the woman to take the dog out first and then sprayed. She also admitted later she didn’t think dogs should be in grocery stores. I may have had more compassion if the spray had come out of the clear blue. We’ve all heard of the fight of flight response, and some people fight.

I am appalled at attributing such onerous behavior to a mental illness. Please keep in mind that I have a master’s in Community Counseling, so I know a few things about mental illness and the stigma which goes along with it. I also take medication for depression, have friends with other mental illnesses, and understand all too well how even well-educated people discount mental illness as hogwash or at least not as important / viable / urgent as physical illness. I believe this customer is acting far more cowardly by trying to hide behind a mental illness to rationalize this hideous act than her fear of dogs.

The good news is that the Lab appeared uninjured, and I hope that’s true. Something like that can not only physically injure a working dog but can mentally traumatize him/her — in extreme cases preventing their work from continuing in the same or similar environments.

My dad and I rarely agree on anything politically. I’m liberal, and he’s conservative. I don’t like the death penalty and remember us discussing a case in which he said he would be glad to be on the firing squad which killed the guilty man. I believe I’m incapable of killing, but I find we have something in common. I believe the punishment should fit the grocery customer’s crime. a just sentence would be for this woman to have bleach sprayed in her eyes. I’d never do this outside the law, but not only would I be happy to be on a firing squad of spray bottles, I’d be happy to personally administer this punishment. I’d make damn sure this woman would have a good education on why blind people need guide dogs and what it’s like to be blind … like for the rest of her life. I don’t generally feel this way very often, but this makes my blood boil enough to imagine being gleeful while spritzing bleach in her eyes and taking her vision.

Link to story: 0520_1_animal-cruelty-big-dog-bleach


the Lack of Green Applause

I have to confess I’m a little afraid to write this post. I’m really afraid I’m going to get some scolding comments, but if it helps just one musician out there (and not necessarily me) I’ll take whatever comes my way as a result of this. At the Malt Shop, I have good and bad nights in terms of tips. The Malt Shop “pays” its musicians with a free meal, and rarely have I had a bad night in that department. But tips are something else altogether.

Phil and I have speculated about what makes a good tip night. He proposes the theory that good tip nights are likely to happen when fewer people visit the restaurant. People feel more responsible to tip when fewer are there. If it isn’t a great night on an empty dining room night, I understand. People can’t give a lot, and if there aren’t many people, it’s usually bad for me and for the servers. I’ve seen validity of both arguments. I’ve also seen nights with a packed house where tips have been really good, because even if everyone gives a buck, I come out with an average night between $30 and $40. A great night is above $50, and when they happen, they are wonderful. Usually, I can tell when I’ll have an average or great night, The house is packed, and many people stop to compliment me on the way out. I also over -hear conversations about how good the music is at tables.

I must say a quick word about applause. Many people wonder why I play and don’t pause very long between sets. I try to discourage applause, although when it breaks out, I try to be gracious about it. Servers have asked me why I don’t want applause, and the answer is simple. If people applaud, they feel they have fulfilled their responsibility and don’t tip. The compliments on the way out often are accompanied by their putting something in the tip jar. I don’t always hear it, but the compliment gives me the excuse to thank them. There is a flip side to not pausing too long. Some people don’t know that I can talk to them while playing, and Phil has wondered whether pausing to be available for people to talk to me would be a good idea. I do offer my business cards with contact information, so people can get ahold of me later. One lady apparently didn’t want to interrupt me last night, took my card, and said she’d be calling to hire me for a fundraiser. Sounds great!

The servers who know me know that if possible, I will tip them. Apparently, I am the only musician currently who does this. The others have the understanding that with a free meal, they don’t have to tip. Servers do a lot of kind things for me during the whole night. They keep my water filled, help me put out the CD’s to look nice, and set up my sign and tip bowl with display lite (which turns different colors) under it. They understand when I have a bad night, and I have to give them less. This is mainly because when I have good nights, I try to give more to compensate for the bad ones. The meals are $15, and I give 20%. So on an average night, it’s $3. On a great night it may be $4 or $5, because there are plenty of nights when I have to give $2 or $1. There are nights when they won’t take anything at all, because they know what a rotten night it was. Servers are aware that I have brought business to them, because we’ve heard people say they specifically come in on Sunday nights to hear me.

Last night was looking like it would be average, so imagine my shock immediately after I was done when there was only $8 in the bowl. Playing for three hours with very few pauses other than to drink water is exhausting, but if I make $30, that’s $10 an hour — not an uncommon wage and actually quite good in this economy. I was making less than $3 an hour last night.

My Paratransit rides each way are $3, and please don’t write to me about why I shouldn’t use Paratransit! I have my reasons. That’s the first set of scoldings of which I’m afraid. I can also hear people saying that I should just be grateful for whatever I get, because I agreed to the terms. There will be good nights and bad nights, and I should just suck it up and not waste people’s time writing about this. Most of the time, I don’t write about this in great detail on a bad night, so I have followed this advice for the most part. But I hope my statements above provide some justification about why I am writing about this topic today. Now for the third set of scoldings. If you choose to scold me on this, you can’t possibly scold me anymore than I have scolded myself. I was caught in a very vulnerable moment last night. Tears were running down my face, and a very nice lady came up and said that although she plays classical music, she’d love to be able to do what I do. She told me I was talented. I thanked her and apologized for the tears running down my face. I know I should have stopped right there, but I didn’t . I told her about making $8, and I know I should have kept my mouth shut. Yes, she gave more and a few other tips trickled in as well. I had an average night after all, and because of my initial $8, my waitress wouldn’t take the tip I offered.

Last night was a great night for compliments, but I’ve had nights on which I didn’t think I moved people at all and rare nights where I heard negative things about my selections. My sign says I take requests, but rather than doing that, they had to grumble. It’s hard to work your buns off for hours and not see any result whatsoever. Music can be a psychologically difficult profession.

I’ve heard two excuses for people not tipping. The first is they can’t afford it or weren’t prepared to hear the music and tip accordingly. Lack of preparation, I can understand, although the restaurant has been willing to charge a little extra to the credit cards and give them change back. But if one is going out to eat, one should be able to afford a buck or two for unexpected service. Certainly I treasure when I get the higher bills than ones, but it isn’t expected. The second excuse of tipping is more tricky. There are people who think I am paid by the restaurant and thus don’t tip. I’ve had people tell me about musicians who have crass signs saying something like “Not paid by restaurant. I do this for tips”. I’ve tried to avoid doing that, but I am getting to the point where I may have to have a sign which says I am not a restaurant employee and appreciate tips.

So why am I whining, griping, and complaining to you all? I hope you’ll think of me and look for a tip jar the next time you hear a musician — especially in a restaurant. Certainly if the musician is polluting the air with noise, you don’t owe them a thing. If they are making your experience a little more pleasant, throw in a buck or two. If they are really outstanding and you can afford to do so, consider a five or more. You’ll be helping them, because you’ll be covering for the people who enjoy the music but won’t tip.

a pretty good few days

First a quick update on Zane. He’s done with the anti-nausea pills, and there have been no more incidents. We’ll finish the pupcid in his food, and the vet says if the regurgitating doesn’t start again (which I don’t think it will) we can go on with life off of the medication.

Phil has been back at work this week and went to the hand specialist on Tuesday. There is no infection, and it just needs time to heal. Unfortunately, he still keeps bumping it, and despite the band aids, it still throbs — especially when he’s lying down for some weird reason.

The last few days have included a couple of cool events. First, Phil’s new supervisor (the job for which he applied) was announced. You wouldn’t think that would be good news, but Phil told me almost from the start if he didn’t get the position, there was a particular person in his office with whom he felt he could work very well as a supervisee. That person got the job. I’ve actually heard Phil talk very respectfully about Scott from almost the time Scott started. Scott has more managerial experience, and he told Phil the interview was very intensive on managerial skills. Meanwhile, Phil had his final performance review with his retiring supervisor Peggy, and they seemed to agree on almost everything included in the pretty glowing review. Her goodbye gathering is this coming week, and Phil has had some involvement with part of its planning.

Phil got his new hearing aids this past week. The first day one of them stopped working, which really bummed him out. It turns out there was some wax build-up on it. When that happened in the other ear a few days later, he did his best to get the wax off, and it worked again. Before hearing aids, I had to yell across the house if he was in another room. Our house is not that big, but I thought this was par for the course. I don’t have to yell across rooms and actually find I can speak at a lower volume to him when we are in the same room than I have in a while. He has been telling me when he hears subtle noises the dogs make which were absent before his hearing aids. There were many times before hearing aids that I’d ask if he heard something, and he said no. I don’t think either of us realized how much he was missing. He has a way of plugging the hearing aids into his iPhone and a little chord to use with his hearing aids at ATM machines with speech.

Then for the second weekend in a row, Phil went to dialysis in the early morning, and we had an event in the afternoon. He loves getting dialysis out of the way in the mornings, and we both hope for more of these opportunities. It’s unusual for us to have Saturday events, because of dialysis. Phil’s most frequent tandem bike pilot in the past year named Nickolai is going for military training in Texas for the summer and early fall. Originally, we were supposed to have Nickolai and another friend of his over to our place for a cookout Friday the 11, but that was one of the days Phil wasn’t feeling well. A couple weeks ago, Nickolai extended an invitation for a going-away party his parents were having for him today. Originally, it was slated to be at a park, and I wasn’t very sure about attending. I’m not an outdoors person as most people probably know. The grilled food would have been good, but morning rain might have put a crimp in the setup. Then it was moved to his parents’ home, and an indoor event made me a lot less leery. Things started a little late, and in typical Metro Mobility fashion when things are running late, we arrived early. They had a delicious mid-day meal of sandwiches, chips and salsa, salads, fruit and yummy desserts.

Nickolai’s mom Deb is a classical piano teacher, and his dad Jim plays harmonica and violin. Jim plays classically with sheet music but also does other styles like blue grass, country, and good old rock and roll both with lead sheets and by ear. You probably know where this is going. Jim and I had a jam session I wish had been able to go on much longer. Deb’s piano was tuned so well, and we discovered we use the same piano tuner. Oh the music! We did some Stevie Wonder and some Elton John. He improvises very well and can carry the melody easily when he knows the song. I wish we’d had more time, but I had to play for church. The cantor felt she needed a lot of practice time with me, so we had to leave right at four. Jim had to play for a wedding and was leaving about the same time. I friended Jim on Facebook, and I’m hoping perhaps we can get together for fun and something might develop professionally. I met a singer at the Malt Shop last weekend who took my business card, because he needs accompanists who play the same pop stuff I do. . It’s fun to make these connections and frankly just to interact in person more than I have most of the winter.

Lots of hope

I’m relieved to tell you that even though there were no red flags in the blood work, a different vet in the same practice called to give me the results. Unlike the one I talked to yesterday, she seems to think that Zane might have Esophagitis which is an irritation of the esophagus treated with a form of Pepcid (lovingly called Pupcid) and the anti-nausea medication called something like Serenin. I thought I may have heard Zane bring up food, but I can’t find any piles. He worked all afternoon with no incident. It was so stinking hot that after picking up the medications from the vet, we babied ourselves with a cab ride home. So he has several days of the anti-nausea medication and even more Pupcid. Then we wait and see. The vet today seems to think that with how quickly this started, it’s not necessarily this mega Esophagus thing. Only time will tell, but I am going to assume that Zane and I will be together for a while. If he starts regurgitating again after this treatment, then we go for the Barium test which is the one tracking food with dye in it. That test is the one which will tell us more definitively about whether he has Mega Esophagus. I am hopeful we will not have to go down that path.

In Suspense About Whether Zane Will Continue Working With Me

Of the things I expected to learn today, I can’t say that learning the difference between vomiting and regurgitating was one of them. But there is a difference. Zane has been bringing up his food the last few weeks and days with more and more frequency. It happened twice at the Malt Shop last night, several times this morning, and in the vet lobby this afternoon. We were startled to discover he’d lost 3.5 pounds since he was at the vet two and a half weeks ago for his physical. The vet explained that distinct, loud sounds of vomiting brings up substances from the stomach. Regurgitating is when the dog very quietly lets loose the food which has been stopped in his Esophagus. Zane was right next to me at the Malt Shop, and I didn’t hear him do anything. He’s also been very good at hiding it here at home. Mega-Esophagus is a condition in which the muscles of the esophagus can’t perform the job of squeezing the food into the stomach. It is a neuro-muscular condition tied to auto immune disease.

The vet gave Zane an anti-nausea shot, and the vet says if it is regurgitation, it will happen anyway. Blood work has also been sent to screen for infections or thyroid problems. If this problem is related to them, it is treatable. If not, Zane may have to retire soon. He can have a quality life as a pet, as long as his people are willing to liquefy his food and feed him on a higher surface. I can’t worry about whether Zane is going to bring up food in public, and that is why if it is this regurgitation, he will need to retire. It’s not often that I pray for an infection or a thyroid issue, but either would be a best scenario. He has a little less energy than normal, but his tail still wags. He eats and drinks with gusto, but he just can’t seem to keep it down. His work to and from the buses was pretty good all things considered. We’ll learn more about the blood work tomorrow, and if everything is normal there’s one more test which may be performed to ensure that’s what it is. He eats a bit of food with some dye in it. Then they x-ray the esophagus and stomach after a couple of minutes to track where the food is. If it’s still in the esophagus, we have our answer. If the blood work is normal though this may be a moot point. Stay tune for tomorrow’s episode of when Rebecca’s Stomach Turns. The tear ducts have been doing over-time, and I have a couple people who have said they want to be considered when Zane retires. They probably aren’t counting on a dog who may throw up more if not fed in a precise way.

After Wedding reflections

Normally at weddings, I have some roll other than a guest, and most of the time, it’s as a musician. When Kelly and Earle’s wedding was being planned, I was in the throes of multiple hospitalizations for Phil, and I had no idea what life would be like by the time May 11 rolled around. Certainly a little part of me wanted to contribute to their special day, but the larger part of me was pretty happy to just be a guest with no worries about performing.

May 11 is a special day for Phil and me, too, because 18 years ago yesterday, we met in person for the first time at the MPLS airport. He flew in to meet me and spend the weekend instead of attending his graduation. I chose to forgo my June graduation ceremony the next year for our Pre-Cana as wedding classes are known in the Catholic church.

Our attendance at yesterday’s ceremony started out rough and got smoother. Our Metro Mobility ride was so late that we came in the church doors right as the wedding party was ready to walk in the sanctuary. Then the people seating us didn’t realize Phil and I were spouses and at first put us in separate pews. They realized their mistake and brought me to him, and I felt so conspicuous! I hoped I wasn’t ruining Kelly’s big moment because of their mistake. I wanted to be invisible as I sat down in the seat next to Phil to read the braille program. People must have been standing before we entered the sanctuary or soon after. I realized Earle sang a song to Kelly as she came down the aisle only after reading it in the program, and of course everyone else was standing. Boy, did I feel like a dope!
I checked into 4-Square to get rid of some of the fidgetiness which came from my embarrassment and was tuned in for the most important parts of the ceremony. Because we use speech on our iPhones, along with the pretty inconspicuous ear buds (the ones I lost last weekend), we have a nice privacy curtain producing a blank screen, so no one has to know we’re using our iPhones at all.

Phil and I lost each other in the receiving line. Garron led Phil a few people ahead in line, because it wasn’t entirely clear where it began. I was really impressed with how the buffet was handled. There were several people behind the table serving up individual things and asking what kind of chicken did we want, dark or white meat? Did we want mac and cheese? Potato salad? Coleslaw? White or wheat roll? and did we want fruit? Other people were there to carry our plates and help us find seats if we wanted them to. Because of the number of people, the gym and the fellowship hall were used for the feast, and there were plenty of people to help with punch, water, coffee, and cake. A lot of the Twin Cities blind community was there yesterday — particularly those of us who used guide dogs, and it was clear that a lot of thought was put into offering help while maintaining our dignity. I was reunited with my husband in the fellowship hall after going through the line. I met up with several people — both in line and at our table — whom I hadn’t seen for years. A couple of them were kids when I last spoke to them, and were very much young adults yesterday! We grabbed a metro ride which was on time to take me to church to play 5:30 Mass, and Phil rode home from there on the city bus.

When I was a little girl, I tried to collect napkins from each wedding I attended. That didn’t last very long though, so now I try to remember something which stood out for me about the wedding. Everyone says our distinct moment was the blessing of the dogs. Those into music remember me singing with my sisters. One of the pastors officiating at the wedding yesterday is a very good friend of mine, and I complimented her on the blessing of the hands. When we attend weddings together, I often reach over and hold Phil’s hand at some point in the ceremony. Because of his recent hand issues, I didn’t do that yesterday, and I have to say I missed it. Fortunately, the blessing was written in my program, so I can copy it for all of you. If all of it doesn’t make it in the e-mail version, I’ll send another entry with just this part below.

Blessing of the Hands

These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever.
These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future.
These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other. These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief fills your mind. These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and tears of joy.
These are the hands that will help you to hold your family as one. These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it. These are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch. And lastly, these are the hands which will together reach out in prayer, supplication, and praise to our mighty Lord. In return these hands will feel the strength of Jesus’ hands as you three journey together.

Negative and Positive E-mail

Phil was at dialysis last night when I received a very disturbing e-mail from one of the lists to which I am subscribed. It came from the account of a man who had written he felt suicidal about a week before. He was experiencing some heavy Internet bullying which just didn’t stop. The e-mail last night was from a cousin of his saying he did it by hanging himself. When I read about his suicidal feelings last week, I definitely said some prayers for him over the next few days, but I didn’t reach out. The man who killed himself disclosed he had mental illness, and ironically he seemed to have a strong faith as well. I felt very badly for the next 24 hours wondering if I could have made a difference. Today I learned other list members had been reaching out and talking to him for years . They expressed frustration that they couldn’t contact anyone in his country to try to get him help. I don’t feel quite so badly, but it does raise questions about how responsible we are to get someone help in these situations.

Phil has been home the last couple of days with motion sickness. He gets this every once in a while when muscles are tense. He originally thought it was from some pain medication, but that has passed. His fingers are still hurting, despite seeing the primary care physician who put him on antibiotics. He sees the hand specialists Tuesday.

We were to have a cook-out with friends tonight. it would have been the perfect night for it weather-wise, but Phil wouldn’t have been up to it. He has dialysis tomorrow, and then we are to go to a wedding tomorrow afternoon. I hope I don’t have to go by myself.

The great part about him being home is that he was able to make a couple of valuable suggestions regarding the informational note I am starting to send to event planners. A Google search is pulling up results for event planners in the Twin Cities. I polished the note today and sent a couple. One planner has already requested more information and the sample file of a Malt Shop performance. I put the link to it in another entry, but in case there are new people reading who would like it, I’ll close with it here.

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