Why Doing 20 Loads of Laundry on my Birthday is not Depressing and other tales of Clinical Depression

A couple weeks ago I turned 48, which, as they say, is better than the alternative. Unless the alternative is turning 28, or 38, or turning 48 and not being at all depressed.

I awoke that day to the usual Mount Washmore, as I affectionately refer to the permanent laundry art installation in our basement. It’s like an ode to the strife of the common housewife, or something like that. I’m thinking of inviting a doctoral candidate to come and write his/her dissertation on it, so rich is it in meaning and symbolism. I estimated that I was about 10 loads behind. Not the same ten loads as last week, but still a consistent ten loads. Every time I suddenly burst into action and do a few, three times that many come back into the pile, wet bedding and sweaty TaeKwonDo uniforms and mud-caked snow pants and millions of single, but bi-curious, socks.

Anyway, I was suddenly galvanized into action by turning 48 and profoundly needing and wanting to not be defined by my abject failures on all measures of modern wifehood as exemplified by Mount Washmore, I decided as a present to myself to spend the entire day at the laundromat and wash the entire. Motherfucking. Thing.

“This laundry problem does not define me!” I told myself. “This is not who I am– a laundry failure! I am adult with money and a car, I can handle this!” I even called this annoying person named Nicole, of Nicole’s Laundry Connection, and tried to get a read on how much it would cost to have her wash it all instead. She wouldn’t give me any such estimate, but I sensed that it was a lot. (I cannot recommend Nicole whatsoever. She was just horrible on the phone.)

Heaped into the van it looked like this:

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I drove over to the huge mega laundromat in the valley and still held out a shred of hope that I could pay someone else to do it. However, once there I spoke with this kindly huge squishy woman with orange foundation, who said that it was $13 each (!!!) for a twin mattress pad (I think I had four) and a standard load of ordinary laundry was, by the pound, around $10. I got the sense that it was looking at like $500 or something and decided not to veer from my quest.

It filled I believe eight jumbo washers at the laundromat, which I think hold 2-3 normal loads each. Math not being my strong suit, I can only say that my estimates of “ten loads behind” were well shy of the mark. Indeed the orange-jowled laundromat lady began to express concern, trepidation, and outright fear that I would bring in another load. Out of shame I actually left the last one unwashed in the car, because I just couldn’t face her with it. Amazingly, getting as far as all the loads in situ and washing took pretty much all day, and I had to rush off and get the kids from school, barely making it in time.

Then I had to deal with the children’s shrill whines and complaints about the project, and ply them with candy, and remind them sternly that it was my birthday, in order to get some semblance of cooperation. Elias agreed to return to ground zero with me and possibly even help. I got another $20 in quarters and let him gorge at the vending machine, which was good because once the folding began it really turned into hell on wheels. I thought the work of getting it there would be the lion’s share of the project, but in fact the two hours of solid, unrelenting folding was really where it began to suck.

Even stoked with sugar, his resolve began to fade steeply around mile twelve of the marathon.

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You see that folded stuff all along length of the counter. Yeah, that’s all ours.

I loaded everything up in reverse, calling Ben on his way home for back up for the last bit. And got it all home. Two days later I put it all away.

…. And it’s now beginning to reconvene on the basement floor, like a gathering hostile army.

Also we had an amazing series of mishaps– a tree branch fell on our car, although did not crush it, then a similar tree branch fell on our patio furniture, crushing some of it; the dog ate two pairs of prescription glasses; my front tooth broke; and the bathroom tiles fell in.

In a totally unrelated bit of news, I’ve been told now by three mental health professionals that I am suffering from Big-D Clinical Depression. Somehow I think that if I had a Hungarian laundress named Anna, who would beribbon my princess slips and also make strudel in her free time (see the old Joy of Cooking strudel recipe, this Anna is something of a family joke), and also maybe a gardener named Sergei with a white mustache who would keep the flower beds tidy all the time as well as telling the children charming stories from the old country and teaching them to whittle, as well as a maid named Polly who would be sort of grandmotherly and make me chicken soup and keep the floors scrubbed and lay out my casual attire for the day, or barring all that, if I were to spend a week or two in a hammock in the Bahamas, I think my depression would probably be cured.

But then again, maybe not. Blood tests reveal that my thyroid is essentially eating itself, and try as we do to prop it up with drugs, it is not really working. Also, I have no career, my kids are growing up, and I have failed my talent, totally not lived up to my potential such as it was. Also the other day Ben brought up this old box from the closet and one look at it just turned my stomach: I’ve been trying to write the same fucking book for 25 years.

In a wild gesture of optimism I applied to the Millay Colony, hoping that there I would get a month of sleep and — key– writing time and get some traction on a project (any project!) and feel sort of like myself again. I guess that at some point POTS pinned me to the bed one day too long and I lost track of the line between chronic fatigue and true depression. I calculate my chances of getting in at 6-7%, but I am somewhat proud of myself for pulling myself together enough to find 20 somewhat decent pages and write an artist’s statement and get the fucking thing sent off by the deadline.

I had to do that too, in the midst of a family crisis because Isaac was in the hospital at that key moment with a heart ailment. This began at the end of September, the day after our puppy was in the emergency room with aspiration pneumonia. She’s the new addition to our family, Painted Trails Lady Violet Rose, named after the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and after the fact that the day she was born, April 26, our yard was purple with violets, and so it will be each year on her birthday.

She looked like this after her first grooming.

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Seriously, this is the cutest puppy ever.

She’s a pure breed standard poodle with a lovely pedigree. Also she has a tuxedo marking on her chest, a little white soul patch, and may eventually fade to blue.

She looked like this en route from her night in the ER to her day in the care of the normal vet.

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She has her IV port and nasal oxygen tube still in place.

Anyway, I had just transported her home from the vet with a sheaf of discharge instructions when Ben called me to say that there had been a serious incident and Isaac was in the ER. I took the Lord’s name in vain, which Elias apparently heard over the phone, because when I came into the ER room and saw Isaac there, I said, “Jesus Christ!” And both the kids laughed and said, “She did it AGAIN!!!”

This is how Isaac looked at the time.

IV and oxygen!

IV and oxygen!

 

He had been swimming and, long story short, his heart went up to 230 bpm, and ultimately they had to give him an IV drug to stop it– meaning, stop his heart. It was SVT– supraventricular tachycardia. This went into what turned out to be a full month of in and out of the hospital. Lots of painful pokes and IVs and scary alien-abduction experiences for him and ulcer-inducing stress for Ben and me and Elias. We all bore up fairly well during the ordeal, and Isaac had a procedure to repair the malfunctioning doo-dad in his heart. But the aftermath included some emotional breakdowns for each of us in turn, as might be expected. This process sucked up the whole month of October.

Isaac is well now, but I think I’m still in the midst of my emotional breakdown, a slow unrelenting descent. It doesn’t feel much like sadness, as you might expect. It feels more like tar, quick sand, wet cement, or something like that. I have People tending to it, on the case, trying to get me out of it. I have a therapist, who referred me to another therapist, and to a psychiatrist who is trying to figure out my meds. I’m supposed to go get a blood draw even as we speak.

I would eat kale, but eating has lost its luster. I go to the grocery store and stand there, unsure of my next move. I used to be all about cooking and now I have little idea what, how or why one would do that. At times I feel that without chocolate I would definitely not live to see another day. Other times, everything tastes like cardboard and the growling in my stomach is truly a burden. Some days it feels like a huge accomplishment that I managed to get the kids to school and also (!!) put clothes on myself!!! Can the bar really go any lower?

Puppy fetch sometimes cheers me up a bit. She’s very fuzzy and her ears fly in the breeze and her exuberance is infectious. We got a kitten too. He’s Pouncer, and he belongs to Elias, although we all love him. (Except Ben, who’s not keen on our furry friends.)

In closing, a cute picture we can all enjoy, a boy and his birthday kitten.

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Also, we can remember that one day, probably thirty years ago, I looked and felt like this:

Maybe I can be like that again, at least emotionally.

Maybe I can be like that again, at least emotionally.

 

 

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Joie de Vivre: Le Troisieme

I’m home today, sitting beside a very sick, wan little boy. My heart’s delight, Elias, was up half the night with a horrible stomach flu and now is weak and pale and frail looking. I’ve talked to the nurse once already. He seems to be done vomiting and now we’re carefully giving him sips of water every ten minutes to see if he can keep it down.

In the meantime, I’m keeping watch over him but must sit quietly on the couch beside him, and have time to return to beautiful Paris in happier times.

On Wednesday morning of that lovely week, Ben and the boys decided to climb to the top of Notre Dame and see the gargoyles. It was a cheery, sunny morning. The previous day they had waited in the line in the rain for a while and then given up. But on this bright day, they got an early start. After my struggles vs the stairs of the Eiffel Tower, I decided not to try the Notre Dame tower climb. Later the boys and Ben said it was MUCH easier! They had a wonderful time up there! (please note, you can always click on a picture to make him larger.)

Yummy children! Munch!

Yummy children! Munch!

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Isaac wore his Minecraft creeper hoodie the entire time, surely appalling the French nation. Here is Le Creeper with Notre Dame.

But I had another goal on my list, have a quiet French breakfast and then shop for beautiful scarves. The breakfast place I had in mind turned out to be closed– the hours of things in Paris always seemed rather odd. Like the excellent coffee shop we discovered, but it didn’t open until 9:30 a.m.?? Strange French people! Don’t you want a cup a emporter on the way to work? Apparently not. I walked around on Ile St. Louis a bit and eventually found a different place with a nice view of the Seine. There I attempted to get my laptop to work – I had a vision of doing the NYT puzzle in Paris! But, no. Technical difficulties. I had a lovely time, though, sipping cafe creme and watching all the fine people strolling along the fleuve.

And the scarf shopping element went beautifully. I had heard good things about Dawali, and lo there was a shop right on our Ile. After breakfast I walked over there with a plan to find the perfect scarf or scarves for my new life a chic Paris-visitor. The shop girl was wonderful, and after the usual tango as to which language would be best, we compromised by both speaking both. She helped me choose the best scarf options– one square silk one and one long rectangular light wool scarf with beading along the edges. She also gave me an elaborate tying lesson. And she said she would like to visit the USA one time, because she wants “to keep an open mind.” (Hm.)

A word about Paris fashion. … To me, coming from the land of clogs and jeans and general American mom sloppiness, Paris fashion was a challenge. I dreaded being one of THOSE Americans you could pick out at twenty paces in Paris. You know, the ones who weigh BEAUCOUP, and always show up in appliquéd sweatshirts and big baggy jeans and hideous huge athletic footwear. The footwear and the weight issues combined seemed the tell-tale combination. I make no claims to being thin, but Americans, please! Must you be so, SO…egregiously  large??? Every once in a while I would luck out and the large person would be German, but not in those shoes. The Germans would never wear them either. So pre-Paris I spent some time and effort on finding good quality footwear that would not mark me as one of, well, let’s face it, my tribe.

Here is a picture of me and Isaac at the Rodin Museum, with my beautiful new scarf and the shoes I settled on, comfortable attractive (but sheesh $$$$) Naots.

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The colors in this picture, even pre-Instagram, are off. My coat is purple and the scarf is navy-indigo with sort of opalescent beading on the edges. And if one must wear support stockings like an old granny, at least let them be black, as shown!

That being said, I would not like to live in a place where one’s appearance is such a constant focus. The process of getting up and making myself look half way decent soon grew tiresome. Wearing make-up AND an ironed blouse??? I felt like I had to dress as I would to go out to a nice dinner every single minute, and my children were supposed to look presentable, too, no less!

Anyway, this was the last day we had any more gumption less for official tourist activities. After the boys and Ben went to Notre Dame, and I got my scarves, we rendezvoused set out for a castle. We took a cab over to Chateau de Vincennes. It’s a nice little castle, all right. I especially liked the big empty chapel, with its tall stained glass windows.

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Elias managed to bump this glass table and the guard came trotting over.

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Isaac wanted a picture of this model of the whole castle, so he could recreate it in Minecraft.

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Elias went to no small effort to climb into this nook thing and stand there like a statue.

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Le Creeper strikes again.

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Isaac visits the room where Marquis de Sade spent many years imprisoned and writing his crazy writings. Luckily Isaac can’t read French!

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 Our idea after that was to stop and have a brioche, and then cab it over to the Musee Rodin. This is how the kids looked in the cab.

SO eager to see another musee!

SO eager to see another musee!

It was due to the extreme exhaustion beginning to grip us that the Musee Rodin was our last museum of the trip. It is a lovely place, though. It’s mostly a beautiful garden, and although it was very early spring I found a few things already blooming.

Beautiful Peony with ruffly petticoats.

Beautiful Peony with ruffly petticoats.

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Le Petit Penseur

Just chillin' at the Gates of Hell.

Just chillin’ at the Gates of Hell.

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During our walk through Rodin’s house, Isaac observed a sculpture of a naked woman, extremely exposed, indeed looking like she was prepping for a PAP smear, and he asked, “Do you think the whole point of art is so those artists could look at naked ladies?” Good question!

 

I did not take this picture of Iris Messenger of the Gods, but have found it on the internet for you. Now picture it life sized and eye level to your 11 year old son, the future gynecologist.

I did not take this picture of Iris Messenger of the Gods, but have found it on the internet for you. Now picture it life sized and eye level to your 11 year old son, the future gynecologist.

However, in a lighter and more age-appropriate note, while walking to the boat to go back to our Ile, we came across a series of mazes painted on the pavement for our enjoyment.

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The next day, we all agreed we were complete and finally musee’d out. I asked Isaac what he like best about Paris so far, and he said, “Meringues!” So I suggested that we use that as our focus for the day. This evolved into a quest to find the best meringue in Paris, which then expanded to include the best Macarons also, due to the scarcity of meringues. We split up– Ben and Elias headed a la droit, up into the 3rd Arrondissment, and Isaac and I headed a la gauche, down around St. Germain-des-Pres.

Along our travels, we came to a wonderful comic book store, which had every possible comic book in both French and English, as well as many action figures and other accessories. Isaac was especially taken with these huge, real Lord of the Rings swords.

That would be fun to bring one of these home on the plane! And they were like E200.

That would be fun to bring one of these home on the plane! And they were like E200.

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Meanwhile, Elias and Ben found one more musee to peek into. The Musee des Arts et Metiers, which they both loved. They wanted to show Isaac and me, but we never made it back there.

Now, as to our quest for meringues. We found them. We found the holy grail of meringues in Paris. They reside at the wonderfully named Aux Merveilleux de Fred. These are etherial little clouds, about the size of eggs. (They come in many sizes, but we got minis because we wanted to taste them all.) They consist of a fragile shell of meringue (like the topping on lemon meringue pie, but crisp all the way through), coated with something splendid, such as shaved chocolate, and filled with flavored whipped cream. The effect is light and rich at the same time, crisp, shattering and all around sublime.

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They all have names like “the incredible,” “the eccentric” and my favorite, “the sans culottes” (the without knickers– a reference to a group during the French Revolution.)

Ben and Elias tracked down many, many macaron. Again, these are light and egg-white based, with a crispy shell and sandwiched around a filled interior. Many flavors, raspberry being Elias’s all time favorite.

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However, the whole taste-test conceit did not succeed. Each child simply ate as much of the ones he liked as humanly possible. I loved the meringues, but almost immediately got sugared out, and Ben just didn’t want any of them at all. As a reason to fan out and explore the city, though, it worked quite well. Isaac and I just had a nice afternoon walking around St. Germain. We also went to this amazing place called La Patisserie des Reves, “the pastry shop of dreams.” I wish I had a photo of the shop. You can look at the website to get the gist of it. It was minimal and spare, with these glass cloches dangling on cords from the ceiling, and under each one would be a gem-like confection of some kind. They were displayed like works of art, which was fitting. As it turned out, they didn’t actually have any meringues, but I bought two things that were meringue-based. A lemon meringue tart and a ball-shaped thing that involved concentric spheres of chocolate and hazelnut cream in a meringue shell. The lady wrapped everything up in a beautiful box with a ribbon and put in a “pastry of dreams” bag that I decided to keep as one of my prized souvenirs.  That experiment ended in something of a sugar coma.

The next day was our last day in Paris, Friday. As a last hurrah on the “best of” theme, we set out to find the best eclair. Again, this was a good reason to set out on an expedition of some kind, and the kids were behind it. The best eclair in Paris (okay, well, this is what I’m told, it was the only one I had!) resides at 51 rue Montorguiel, near Les Halles. We walked up to Stohrer to see for ourselves. And yes, the eclairs are excellent.

The remaining half of the best chocolate eclair in Paris. It was very dense and cold, and very deeply chocolaty.

The remaining half of the best chocolate eclair in Paris. It was very dense and cold, and very deeply chocolaty.

Along the way, the children chased pigeons around in front of the Pompidou.

IMG_6017And also rode in a very nice double-decker carrousel:

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We devoted the rest of the day to child’s play. We decided that the kids could not absorb one other iota of cultural enrichment, and just need to run around and be kids. Plus it was just a lovely day. So we headed over to the Luxembourg Gardens and spent many hours there. First we fed the ducks.

Elias and his friend, M. le Canard.

Elias and his friend, M. le Canard.

They had this nice play area that you actually pay a couple Euros to get into. There we spent the next many hours, mostly on this large climbing spider web thing, and on this little zipline type deal, which the kids rode endlessly while Ben and I reclined on a park bench.

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Isaac made friends with some of the multi-national kids there.

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We took a break for lunch at a lovely little outdoor cafe in the Jardins, and then played some more. When we finally got home in the late afternoon, everyone was quite tired. Ben was, I think in retrospect, really starting to come down with the flu. But it was our last night, so I dragged us out for crepes one last time. And such wonderful crepes they were! Buckwheat (gluten free) lacy affairs, filled with scallops and leeks, for instance. Followed by a visit to the what surely is the best salty caramel shop in Paris, if not the world, and a long walk home through the bustling Marais.

Then, it was all just about packing and setting the apartment to rights.

We did on that last day manage to get admonished by a French old bitty who lived downstairs from us. Perhaps this completed our French experience perfectly! What visit to Paris with children would be complete without a scolding from a native. It was poor timing that the one moment the kids decided to drop their hoodies down the five-story stairwell was the very moment that she, who I had not seen once all week, appeared. It was perhaps even worse timing that I was not stopping them from the hoodie dropping project (please note: it was not harmful. It could not hit anyone. It was silent. It was rather beautiful to watch it fall. It was a wonderful physics experiment. But I say all this as an American of the Free-to-be-you-and-me generation. I don’t think Madame La Veille Francaise thought any of these things!)

I think it took tremendous self discipline to NOT drop things down this stairwell, especially when we went up and down it so many times and there was never anyone else there. They held out until the last day.

I think it took tremendous self discipline to NOT drop things down this stairwell, especially when we went up and down it so many times and there was never anyone else there. They held out until the last day.

So when I peered down to see the long fall, I was confronted with this angry little wrinkled face scowling up at me from the landing below. Surely, this is simply not done! The lady complained about them JUMPING ALL THE DAY. And also harming her flowers! (A jade plant, which had lost a few leaves due to dryness, I would say. The children really did not touch it or abuse it in anyway.)

Now, in our defense, we were not in the apartment all that much, see preceding posts about what we were doing, and when home 90% of the time the kids were stunned and exhausted into a silent gaze at a flickering screen of one kind or another. BUT that being said there were a couple interludes of roughhousing, and possibly toy gun/sword fighting,  which in those old Medieval buildings probably did seem very loud.

But it was our last night, so we just packed quietly and left early the next morning, putting the poor old woman out of her misery. She had an oppressed little girl with her, who I know would never dream of doing anything in any way rambunctious! I told the apartment guy and the cabby about the scolding– really I wanted him to know about it in case she complained– and this launched them both on long critiques of the French culture and especially the unsmiling French old people. They were completely on our team and indeed apologized to US of all things, about their stifling morays.

It’s a buttoned-up land, there is no doubt.

But it comes in a complete package, doesn’t it? You have to dress nicely, and be quiet and respectful. But on the other hand, you get to see beautiful things almost everywhere you look, you eat beautiful food, and experience a culture where elegance is the just the norm.

On the other hand, the morning after our long, long journey home, when Ben was flat out sick as a dog, and I was quite sick but the slightly more ambulatory of the two, it was rather a relief to head out to the grocery store in a ratty sweater and a pony tail, a shirt I had slept in, no blouse, no make-up, actually looking like death. I found so many in my sisterhood of Sunday morning shoppers, nearly out in their pajamas and slippers so unkempt were they! And indeed in the past two weeks, I have been looking with great fondness on our schlumpy and disheveled population, clodding around in their oversized shoes, wearing hoodies well into their middle age, jeans abounding, baggy sweat pants, fleece, so many wrinkled, and mismatched masses happily oblivious to the grotesque fashion faux pas that they take as normal life.

One time walking along in Paris, I asked Isaac what he thinks about Americans now that he’s been in London and Paris. He said, “We’re big, we’re loud, we’re sloppy, and we’re a lot of fun!”

Yes, I loved LOVED being in Paris, AND…. it’s also good to be home in the sweet old USA.

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Joie de Vivre, part deux

A couple things I missed mentioning yesterday, that I feel are worthy of mention. On Sunday, (Tour Eiffel was on Monday) we went to church. I wanted to see and hear the massive organ at St. Sulplice, and for some bizarre reason I thought that hearing a Catholic church service in French would be intriguing for the children. I don’t know why I thought that, really. I think I was picturing smells-n-bells and lots of pomp and fuss. Also there was the gnomon, this ancient sundial calendar type deal, that I hear played a role in The Da Vinci Code. I thought the kids would be interested in it. And the Great Organ, see below. It didn’t work out like that. St. Sulplice was and is of course, just stone cold lovely.

We sat right there, in those very little chairs. And I say very little in both sense of the phrase. Are pews just an American thing?

We sat right there, in those very little chairs. And I say “very little” in both senses of the phrase. Are pews just an American thing?

But the service was in fact rather dull, even to me, and I could understand some of it whereas the boys and Ben could not at all. They were painfully squirmy and I almost took them out. Ben and I had a whispered disagreement about it– he insisted that we see it through, whereas I worried about disturbing others. Not a pleasant moment. We stayed to the eventual end. The organ was great, but I sensed that it was pearls before the swine. (From wikipedia: “Though using many materials from Clicquot’s French Classical organ, it is considered to be Cavaillé-Coll’s magnum opus, featuring 102 speaking stops, and is perhaps the most impressive instrument of the romantic French symphonic-organ era.“) I couldn’t tell all the miraculous shades of coloration, or anything like that. It was like being served a fine wine and sort of going, “Okaaaay, I guess….” I really wished my dad had been there to hear it, because it would’ve meant a lot more to him.

For Isaac, the definite highlight was that there were pigeons indoors. He thought this was worthy of his presentation back at school and took pains to document them.

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Throughout the trip, it was interesting to me what struck Isaac as worthy of documentation. I never knew when he would be moved to ask me for my phone to capture something. The pigeons delighted him. In addition to many pigeons pictures he also took a lengthy video, walking behind one through many parts of the great church.

Similarly, on the topic of bird photography, later that day we split up. Elias was determined to see the Musee du Moyen Ages (the museum of the middle ages). Ben wanted to see it too; it was even on his official list. We had walked past it on the way to St. Sulplice, and Elias kept saying, “I wanna see that fort!” Meanwhile, I was equally hell bent on seeing the bird market, which was only on Sundays on Ile de la Cite. I reasoned that we could see that Musee any time. But whatever, divide and conquer. Isaac and I went birding and Elias and Ben went back in time. Isaac took millions of photos of birds and also little furry critters, such as adorable dwarf baby bunnies with their tiny ears! And little chinchillas and guinea pigs!

OMG!!! The tiny ears!!!

OMG!!! The tiny ears!!!

I thought this blue fellow was especially handsome.

I thought this blue fellow was especially handsome.

Also that day, while walking along through Paris, Isaac and I came upon a screaming German lady. The situation was seemingly somewhere between a lover’s quarrel and a domestic dispute, held on a doorstep of an otherwise quiet street. The blond and chic young woman was off her rocker entirely and full on screaming in German at a stoic and silent man. What happened before or after this I don’t know. We couldn’t understand a word she was saying, but I could understand the tone for sure. Obviously, this was the flip side of a deep passion between them. I sensed that she was enraged because he had cheated on her, but this is based on nothing. It was all in German. (Later Ben said that I was being sexist, and perhaps she was just batshit crazy.) As we walked down the street away from this public confrontation, we kept hearing wafts of her shrieks. This led Isaac to question me in detail about adult relationships and led to a long conversation on the subject. Indeed, days later he still kept bring up “the angry German lady” as one of the key sights he had seen in Paris.

But I suppose that Isaac’s favorite thing of the entire day was the Butt Tree. Yes, after walking through a stunning collection of orchids for sale (I wanted them all!) we came to a potted tree, maybe 4-5 feet in height, that bore an uncanny resemblance to one’s most amusing body part.

I think some comical French person must've turned it to face out, towards the passers by, don't you?

I think some comical French person must’ve turned it to face out, towards the passers by, don’t you?

Also, that fine day, we encountered the world’s shortest hail storm. I filmed nearly all of it, which came to just 18 seconds.

Here's a still photo of it. Wouldn't it be great if I could get the video to load? But no.

Here’s a still photo of it. Wouldn’t it be great if I could get the video to load? But no.

We went to the Louvre, of course. You have to nail the Louvre, just to do it. It’s not that it’s fun, per se. It’s just– you must. Il faut le faire, et c’est tout. We did have a tip from Ben’s dad about a secret entrance in the Tuilleries, which we found and utilized. It led us down some stairs into what amounts to a very high-end underground mall, and thus circumvented the long lines at the Pei pyramid. But needless to say it was still packed to the gills. We did this on a Monday. Was that a good or bad day? I have no idea. Anyway, hot and packed are the words that come to mind. We targeted only two things: the Mona Lisa and the David painting of Napolean’s coronation. The boys wormed their way in through the crowd to see the Mona Lisa up close, while Ben and I hung back. Isaac took a photo or two.

This officially proves that we were there and we saw it, and that's all this is about.

This officially proves that we were there and we saw it, and that’s all this is about.

I wanted Elias to see the David, only because I thought he would love the hugeness and the grandeur of it. I was not disappointed.

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But after that, or even before, Isaac declared, “My cultural saturation is at maximum.” We had to escape and escaping was not at all easy. Just the endless signs and corridors and the stairs leading here and there and the difficulty is finding the way out to freedom. And… Elias still had designs on the gift shop. Ben courageously agreed to take him into the center of hell while Isaac and I beat a hasty retreat to the air outside. When Ben and Elias emerged, however, they were empty handed. Elias was in tears and there was a meltdown. It had to with what he could and could not afford with his spending money. Luckily, this was one of only a rare few meltdowns of the whole week. Lesser children would’ve been crushed many times over by all the intense demands, stimulation and overwhelming options of this fine city. But ours held up tremendously. It helped that we pre-lubricated the whole affair with spending money, which we gave them in Euros at Christmas time. However, even ample spending money has limits– and that’s a painful reality to confront when you’re seven.

We dragged our carcasses home much diminished by our three hour Louvre-ing. And later that day it was Eiffel Tower time! On that, see previous post.

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Although it was patently insane to do Louvre and Eiffel on the same day, I’m glad we got them done early.  I had been lobbying to go to Versailles before we went to the Louvre, but after that experience I could that Versailles would have been really, really miserable, like the Louvre only more so.

On Tuesday, it was raining. Ben wanted to wander. He loves to get lost on foot in big cities and no everyone shares this trait. We walked through St. Germain des Pres to see a couple surprises he wanted to show us– especially me. First off, was Shakespeare and Co., the famous English language bookstore in Paris. I’ve been there before, but HEAVEN!!! You just want to stay forever and live there and just…. it’s perfect. I read that they still have this sort of de facto “hotel” for young and penniless writers, in which you can trade work at the shop for the option to sleep somewhere in the store at night. So after hours every nook and bench and bit of carpet becomes someone’s bed, because what’s important is obviously one’s work! And being in Paris at all costs! Plus there is a huge white cat you can pet, and old typewriters everywhere to play or work with, and a piano which people play at will. When we were there all this romance was only heightened by the drumming rain outside. Oh, I wanted to abandon everything and sleep there, on the floor, forever!

Photos were not allowed, but I did sneak one of Elias working in a diminutive writer’s nook.

It was brimming with thoughts and scraps of poetry from previous visitors.

It was brimming with thoughts and scraps of poetry from previous visitors.

We walked along through the rainy streets, that in general looked like this:

IMG_5846 IMG_5847Isaac began to complain that Daddy had no clue where he was going, and I tried to convince him that the point was not the destination but the journey itself. We were wandering around in Paris in the rain, and that was indeed the goal. But wet and hungry and footsore, Isaac did not find much solace in this philosophy. He wanted to get there, wherever it was. Finally Ben was forced to reveal what he was looking for, Les Deux Magots, because lacking language skills he did not know how to ask. He was trying to come upon it and surprise me, but eventually I had to step in and get assistance in French from a passer by.

We found it and had lunch there, which was nice in itself. But the raspberry and rose macaron at the end stands out as a special culinary gem. IMG_5853 IMG_5854

Isaac however did not like his Deux Magots food at all, and soon got a Nutella crepe on the street. This became his desired breakfast, lunch and dinner, snack, dessert and tea. He would’ve eaten at least ten a day, and nothing else, had we not refused to allow it. Anyway, he consumed this wonderful thing in a cab, en route to Les Invalides, another high point.

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The place was FULL of GUNS!!!

The largest cannon and the largest cannon balls we have ever seen!!!

The largest cannon and the largest cannon balls we have ever seen!!! Look at the size of these puppies!

Indeed, perhaps the best possible thing is that they each bought themselves a very nice, well made replica gun. Later, at home…

Choices based not only on price, but also on what size fit comfortably into the hand.

Choices based not only on price, but also on what size fit comfortably into the hand. Elias’s gun was actually a Spanish ladies’ weapon, although the cashier and I conspired in French to keep him from knowing that. Notice that they each have another thing of value in the opposite hand– Isaac a baguette and Elias his DS.

Okay, I’m gonna post this and take a break. More to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Joie de Vivre, part 1

Ah, Paris. Paris at any time of year is wonderful, but Paris on the very cusp of newborn spring? Sublime. The tempestuous skies flashing alternate sun and storms, like an existential philosopher wrestling with the meaning of life, like Le Petit Prince, bursting into tears at the cruel thought that an imaginary sheep might eat a distant four-thorned rose, and bursting again into gales of ringing laughter at thought of his pilot friend falling from another planet.

Paris in March, en vacanes, avec des enfants. No, it will be a struggle to write this my native clunky and unyielding language, that blunt instrument, rather than the supple and sinuous language that springs from the very special French soil.

Thus: we just got back from a week in Paris. Here are some highlights.

Of course, no trans-Atlantic journey would be complete without Isaac falling ill just beforehand. As last year when we went to London, Isaac chose this particular week to be stricken with a bad virus. But he was in good spirits and medically cleared to fly, although he coughed all night on the plane, and surely vectored it to many around him. What do you really do in these cases? I don’t know, but I did feel bad about it on several levels. The flight, as always, was tough on everyone. Here we are at the outset, so cheery. Why, it was only 9 pm and we were going on a trip! (please note: photos, they will become large if you click upon them.)

As one wry Facebook friend commented, "1958 called and it wants its airplane tie back."

As one wry Facebook friend commented, “1958 called and it wants its airplane tie back.”

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Selfie with my baby.

Elias and I had a brief adventure: due to unfortunate circumstances I won’t detail, we were the very last to get off the plane, and by then the doors had been locked to the airport, and everyone we asked either ignored us or gestured vaguely “a la droit” and then others scolded us for wandering around in the loading area, and it was raining severely and it was one of those walk-down-the -stairs-onto-the-tarmac-and-walk-up-other-stairs-to-the-airport deals and I couldn’t remember any French whatsoever because of the non-sleepage of the proceeding night. None of this was anyone’s fault really. Well, the flight attendants, who had many problems of their own, and were fighting amongst themselves in French about this grossly obese American blues or possibly Zydeco musician who needed a wheel chair and had to yet walk down and up all these stairs somehow? He was a prickly character too, surly, with a lot of ink. And when we were finally let into the airport and walked through many long corridors, we found the young man with the wheelchair waiting pointlessly at the end of an undoable journey far from his non-ambulatory charge? I blame all this on Charles de Gaulle, for whom the airport is named.

But after that, and after we found our way to the cabbie, prearranged through our wonderful apartment rental agency (parisaddress.com! Use them!) and holding a little sign with my name on it!! Everything was pure loveliness. He brought us to the adorable little apartment on Ile St. Louis.  (Take the 360 tour on the website there, and see how cute!) And voila! We collapsed into bed, especially me and Isaac. I had my own issues with the rigors of long distance travel, as you can imagine, and Isaac developed a fever and slept all day in a sweaty heap. Ben and Elias took to the streets and explored, as well as procuring groceries and learning about the area around us.

I don’t think I ventured out at all until the next morning, when I woke up ready for action.  Now, I should add that there were some stairs involved. And when I say stairs…

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Holy Merde!

The stairs created a sort of buffer or barrier into and out of the apartment. Running back when you forgot something was, for me, not an option. It made it sort of a major undertaking. You set out for the day and returned at the end, and did not pop in or out, even for sorbet.

We discovered the Batobus right away– it’s a boat with a glassed in seating area, that goes up and down the Seine between Jardins des Plantes and the Tour Eiffel. It stops at the key tourist sites you want to see, and you can buy a ticket that allows you to hop on and hop off at will. After buying a few sets of one-day tickets, it became obvious that the Batobus would play a large role in our explorations and Ben picked up five-day passes. Thus we have many pictures like this:

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It was raining and so the Batobus helped a lot. We could still see things, while sitting down and staying dry.

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On the Batobus we came across this graffiti in English that amused Isaac no end. However, he didn’t get a picture of it for his class presentation on our first pass. Then on our second try, we found that in that direction the boat went on the wrong side of the island. I should add that as a family we all supported Isaac in his quest and went to some effort to help, because that’s just how we roll. Finally we managed to capture the greatness:

Buble but!

Buble but!

As you can see, some band of inscrutable French youths had gone to great effort (this was by no means in an easy place to access) to write “Bubble butt” in English, and then had misspelled it. I think for Isaac this combined some wonderful sense of pride in his own English usage capability, and in American exceptionalism in general, with his longstanding love of all things butt-related.

Also that day we discovered a lovely rhino outside the Musee D’Orsay:

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Very near this rhino was also the mile-long line that daunted us all week, and ultimately prevented us entirely from entering this beautiful institution. It was a rare point of sadness for me, in a trip that otherwise went so well. I could not buy the tickets online in advance, because I had no way to print them at the apartment. I should’ve remembered this issue and printed them WAY in advance, at home, in Ohio. That would’ve worked. But I didn’t, and so we just couldn’t. Oh well, add it to the list for next time!

The only thing I really took great pains to plan in advance was the trip to the Eiffel Tower. I knew the lines would be impossible. Indeed, even just purchasing tickets for the lift in advance, even months in advance (I started looking in December as soon as out dates were set) proved to be impossible. It was booked– god, a year out!?? I don’t know! But way too far out. The idea of waiting with kids in a three-hour line while being attacked by countless hawkers and scam artists just was not an option. But nor was not going up into the Tour, when in Paris with boys ages 7 and 11. How could you not do that?  However I discovered a Third Way. I booked us a table at 58 Tour Eiffel, a restaurant on the first level of the Tour. (There is another, more insanely expensive affair on the second level, but seemed kid-phobic and something like $500 a plate.) I booked and paid for this in advance, and printed the tickets and brought them with us.

This worked beautifully. I had kind of thought of it as just a crutch to get into the tower, and wasn’t expecting much from the food or the experience of dining there per se. I assumed it would be crowded and we would be seated far from the window. In fact, we got the most wonderful possible table over looking the Seine and the food was actually quite good!

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This random scattering of items was my salmon main course. Sticks of fried polenta, a grilled endive, a few other things. It was nice and hot though and surprised me.

This random scattering of items was my salmon main course. Sticks of fried polenta, a grilled endive, a few other things. It was nice and hot though and surprised me.

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The kids got chocolate Eiffel Tower cakes with their kids meal.

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This was called “variations on the theme of chocolate” or something like that.

Then, for reasons I never really got, we had to walk from the first level to the second. (There was apparently no elevator from the first to the second, and you would have to take one down to the ground and then back up to the second, and there were lines at every possible juncture in this process?) Anyway, this entailed 370 steps. Let’s just picture that for a moment. 370 steps, maybe in groups of ten, times 37??!? With POTS?? Granted, I was wearing my support stockings and as hydrated and plumped up on salt as possible, but still it was extremely arduous! The kids ran up like goats. Ben, a recent marathon runner in excellent health, strode up calmly. And I made it about half way stoically and then my resolve started to falter. What if …? What if this is really not possible? What if I can’t do it? I began begging those walking down for succor: how much farther? And they would smile sympathetically and say, “Oh, not to bad… maybe another ten flights?”

But I made it. And then we got lift tickets to the tippy top, where the lights of Paris spread out on a twinkling velvet carpet.

In this photo, you can see another special treat that Isaac and I got to see-- an eruption of fireworks!

In this photo, you can see another special treat that Isaac and I got to see– an eruption of fireworks!

We traded picture taking with a group of Italian girls, and so got this, the sole group shot of our trip.

We traded picture taking with a group of Italian girls, and so got this, the sole group shot of our trip.

That’s a good place to end this installment of our trip recap. I’ve only gotten us to Monday! But I should go. It’s maple syrup boiling time and I must tend the process! More tomorrow.

A demain!!

 

 

 

 

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That Sinking Feeling

Wednesday it happened twice.

The first incident was in the pre-dawn darkness, when my alarm went off.  I keep it on the dresser across the room, so I just don’t keep hitting it in my sleep. I got out of bed and walked a few steps and then felt my knees gently give way. For a second I thought, “I’m going down,” but I had no choice. My hands met the carpet and then I found myself completely flat face down on the floor. Still motivated to hit the beeping alarm, I crawled a few steps and pulled myself up the front the of the dresser. Then I turned and stumbled back to bed. No witnesses, no injury, but not a good way to start the day.

Ben was already up making coffee. After lying down for few minutes, I decided to try to face the world. It crossed my mind that the stairs were dangerous, but I held on tight, took it slow, and made it. I came into the kitchen and said good morning. I wanted to tell him about the thing but also didn’t want to make a fuss. Ben is impossible to alarm, but still I downplayed it. This hasn’t happened for a long time, and its recurrence is depressing.

“I sort of fell upstairs this morning,” I said quietly.

He said, “I didn’t hear anything.”

I said, “Well, it was more of a crumpling. I didn’t fall over like a tree. And I was not hurt at all.”

“Can I help you?” he asked. I asked him to help me to the couch and get me some salt and water. I’m a salt connoisseur (-euse?) and so I added, “Try to find some of that Hawaiian  red salt.” I sat and ate the dark, crunchy salt and drank the water. Then I had some coffee and revived enough to wake up the kids and start the day. Wednesday is skiing day and usually I drop the kids off, go for a walk (or lately, I’ve been cross country skiing a little bit!), eat a post-fitness brunch at home and do the NYT crossword puzzle. (My Wednesday times are down around 12 minutes!) Then I do a grocery inventory, drive back to school, load the car with misc. kids, drive to skiing, drop off kids there, drive through the snowy Cuyahoga Valley to a rather obscure semi-organic grocery store, shop, drive back and get the kids, drive home, unpack groceries, and go on with the evening.

On this day I edited. Ben took the kids to school while I stayed on the couch. I didn’t go out and walk or ski, just tried to eat salt, drink water, elevate my feet and take it easy. I went to school around noon to get the kids and go to skiing, but I skipped the groceries. I just came home and lay back down, tried to rest. After an hour or so on the couch I had to go get the kids from skiing, where of course it was difficult to get them off the slopes. I walked around a bit and took some footage of Elias, skiing like a pro already. After a while I persuaded them to come home, drove back through the valley, and went back to my horizontal, safe position on my trusty couch.

I just felt unbalanced and weak, not dizzy in the sense of spinning around or motion sick– both of which can also happen on my bad days. Just limp and weak and skeptical of my body’s ability to maintain an upright position. Let’s face it: upright bipedalism is a ridiculous way to move through the world.

Ben got the groceries for me and I began to try to scrub some mussels I had been soaking in the fridge. But I needed a bigger bowl. I bent down to find one in a lower cupboard and then just sort of kept going down. It wasn’t a black out– it was a gray out. I tried to stand up and could see that was never going to work and then went down to one knee and then, when it was clear that I would pass out completely if I attempted to move, I just lay down on my side on the kitchen floor. This is what I like to call a choice. I like to tell myself that I’m just choosing to lie down on the kitchen floor of my own free will, when it’s really not optional at all. Ben’s feet appeared beside me.

“What can I do to help?” he asked. He had been sitting there reading something on his computer while I cooked, then noticed I was folding onto the floor.

“Will you get that bowl from the top shelf? The brown one?” I said from my horizontal fetal position. He got the bowl down for me. “Now put the mussels in it and fill it with water and see if they need scrubbing.” I heard water running and mussels rattling as he did this.

“Anything else?”

“Well, put some salt in the water and just let them soak, I guess, for a bit, while I get it together here.”

I kept lying on the floor, thinking about my view of the grunge under the cupboards. The baseboards need scrubbing, I thought. A couple weeks ago I was out for a walk with Ben and grayed out and had to lie on a park bench and look at the trees and sky. It was really a pretty view and I took a picture of it. This view was a lot less attractive, plus the added element of it sort of mocking me and my many shortcomings.

After a while I asked Ben to help me up, a perilous process. Then he supported me while I made my arduous journey to the couch. He got me water and salt and tried to keep everything as calm and ordinary as possible. I revived. Eventually I got hungry and it was getting late so I got up and cooked mussels in saffron cream, with a gluten free baguette. Ben and I didn’t talk about the incident, and I don’t think the kids even knew it had happened. Just as well. What’s the point in worrying them? We just went on with the evening as if nothing untoward was going on. We had homework and bedtime and after the kids were asleep I tried to take stock.

This is just my reality. Since this started in 2009, I’ve been to many doctors and had many tests. I’ve seen cardiologists and neurologists and audiologists. I’ve been to the vestibular and balance center. I’ve been to ENTs. I’ve been to a holistic integrated wellness doctor. I’ve had 18 months of vestibular therapy and a year of cardiac rehab. I’ve changed my diet radically, again and again. I’ve tried eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar, legumes, MSG, alcohol, all processed foods, caffeine, and tried many combinations of adding some or all back in. I’ve worn support stockings. I’ve guzzled coconut water with salt. I’ve had two endoscopies and two barium swallows. I’ve eaten radioactive eggs and been x-rayed. I’ve had endometriosis surgery, ovarian cysts removed, and a uterine ablation. I’ve been treated for acute anemia. I’ve nearly passed out the tilt table. I’ve been spun around in a dark capsule with goggles on. I’ve been put in a harness that was suspended from the ceiling and tried to balance as the walls and floor moved around me. I’ve had my autonomic nervous system tested. I’ve had a radioactive isotope sent around my circulatory system. I’ve had my blood sent to the Mayo Clinic. I’ve had warm and cold water shot into my ears. I’ve ridden the recumbent bike, the regular bike, walked on a treadmill, walked outside, and recently, skied. I’ve been to the Syncope Clinic many times. I’ve had a stress test, in which my blood pressure dropped by 50 points and I nearly fainted. I’ve worn a heart monitor for a month. I’ve had a stress echocardiogram. I’ve had an ultrasound of the aorta. I’ve adjusted my dosages. I’ve taken vitamins. I’ve eaten kale.

Over the last five years, I’ve changed the percentages of good to bad days. It used to be always, everyday, all the time. And now it’s just once in a while, and the rest of time I can be fairly normal. It’s the definition of chronic. It’s a chronic illness. It goes away, and then for reasons I can’t understand– the weather, hormones, dehydration, fatigue, a passing cloud, a bad dream– it comes back.

 

 

 

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Unhinged

A few months ago, I had a routine check up and cleaning. My dentist is a woman of Indian descent, about my age, with kids around the age of my kids and a good friend in common. We usually enjoyed chatting about our boys and our travels, but on this visit, she frowned at one of my teeth, saying that it was time to fix that crown. I’d had the crown for ten years or so and it had never bothered me at all, but I knew that for several check-ups in a row it had been grating on her nerves and now she was certain it had to go.  We set an appointment time and I tried to prepare myself for the worst.

Who remembers July, 2006, when my jaw dislocated in the dentist’s chair? I wrote about it here, if you want to review the suckage of it. I guess I should be happy that in the seven years since then I haven’t had any dental work needed to speak of, just a cleaning here and there, and so this hasn’t been an issue.

Anyway, I was nervous about it. My first appointment was the day Lena died, and so I cancelled it. I just couldn’t cope with both at the same time, which in retrospect was a very good decision. When I rescheduled, I raised the specter of dislocation. “My jaw has a history of dislocating,” I told the secretary. “I’m concerned. Maybe she can give me a sedative? …. Or maybe we shouldn’t even do it…?” I added hopefully.

She, for her part, did not seem at all concerned. “I’ll leave Dr. C. a note,” she said brusquely. “If she wants to do something differently, we’ll call you.” No one called, and finally, one grey day in November, I presented myself glumly for the procedure. “I’m worried about my jaw dislocating,” I told the dental assistant. “It has happened before.”

“We’ve got a dental bridge you can rest your jaw on,” she said cheerfully. We tried that, but after one minute I had to ask to stop and take it out. I couldn’t breathe with this huge box in my mouth, and it seemed to make the jaw thing worse, because it was making me open my mouth like a python about to swallow a goat. (How apt the resemblance when I think of it now!)

So we got underway with the horrible scraping, pounding, grinding procedure. Then at one point, Dr. C. said for me to close my mouth. That’s when the trouble really started: I couldn’t.

“Ay AH oz aye ow,” I explained, with emphasis on the CAN’T.

“You can’t close it?” asked Dr. C, her bright brown eyes looking worried above her blue mask.

“O!” I replied firmly. I sensed her speed up her procedure. When she had all the foreign items out of my mouth she asked me to try to close it. It would not close at all. My jaw on the right side was way out of place, like a drawer off its track. I tried to close it several times. Then she muttered, “I’ve done this before. I can do this.” She took a deep breath and placed both her blue gloved thumbs on my back teeth and began to push… and wrestle… and struggle…. with increasing determination.

“If I could– UGH! — just rotate it — OOF!– distally….” she muttered as she labored to bodily force the ball of my jaw back into its socket. She struggled for quite some time while I tried yogic breathing and did my best to simply leave my poor body behind and drift away to a beach somewhere. I could sense urgency in her voice as she said, “I’ll see if we can get some help.”

There were sounds of scuffling in the corridor. The secretary was scampering about making arrangements while the sorry, worried dental assistant was putting things away. I turned to her and said, “ISS iz ut ay uz ERRIED a-how.”

“I know you were,” she said kindly. “I know– you said it. You were right.”

Cold comfort though, as my jaw was hopelessly stuck open. The dentist came back and said they were calling oral surgeons in the area to see who could get me in immediately, and in the meantime they had called the chiropractor in the office downstairs to see if she could help. I waited, sounding like Darth Vader as I breathed with my mouth dry and open.

Shortly a nice young woman came in. “Hello,” she said, smiling down at me. “I’m Dr. So-and-So, the chiropractor from downstairs. Has this happened before?”

“Es.”

“Okay, well I’ll try to see what I can do. Just tell me if I’m hurting you okay?”

“A.”

She gloved up and put her hands in my mouth and yanked. She rubbed my cheeks, now both hard as rocks as the muscles had gone into heavy spasm. She jerked my neck this way and that for a while. And pushed, and pulled, as hard as she could. She pulled with all her might such that my legs jerked from side to side. I was beginning to grow weary of all of this.

“Ay-ee I ou ushhht O oo ee e-er-en-ee oom?” I asked at last.

“Maybe so… at the emergency room they could give you a sedative and put it back into place.”

I was thinking that ultimately in my 2006 experience, it was the emergency room– well, sort of– that finally helped.

When Dr. C. came back in, I explained my idea to her. “I ould ust oo ee ee-er-en-see –oo?”

“No, no emergency room! You just need an oral surgeon. I have it set up for us to go. We’re going there now, I just have to find my tools to bring with us. I’m not sending you alone. I’m going too, and I’ll finish this temporary crown there so you don’t have to come back.”

I wallowed up out of the chair and got my coat on, mouth gaping wide open all the while. “I UZ orrie a-out is. I OL eh!” I couldn’t help pointing this out again, not adding “I told them but they pooh-poohed me!”

“Well, I’ve never actually seen this in 15 years of practice. I’m sure the girls just didn’t know.”

She quickly explained that she would lead in her car and I would drive in my car. And so this is how I ended up with my mouth stuck open in a convoy with my dentist to get emergency reinforcements. We drove through some winding streets and neighborhoods as we took the fastest possible shortcut. I kept my eyes on the BMW SUV the whole way, not wanting, god forbid, to lose her. I didn’t know where we were going. As bad as the whole thing was, I count the drive as the absolute nadir.

At the oral surgeon’s office, everyone looked at me with an unpleasant mixture of sympathy and horror– that special sort of embarrassed horror upon seeing another human being in an appalling, humiliating situation. At this point I actually had to fight back tears.

In a few moments I was in the oral surgeon’s chair. He came in, a distinguished eminence grise in a trim white coat. He appraised the problem and then began advancing towards me as he ominously wrapped a towel around his gloved hands.

“Are you in discomfort now? Because THIS will cause you some discomfort.”

I don’t know what I was supposed to do with that information, but braced for impact.

He placed his thumbs on the back of my jaw and with one deft, violent movement jolted my bone back into its socket. It didn’t actually hurt any more than the previous two hours of struggle had. My mouth closed and I was able to speak again.

“Oh! That’s better!” I said. “Thank you so much!”

Ah– the bliss of the instant pain-reduction, and the return of coherent speech!! The ordeal was over and now I could go!

But.. no. My dentist still had to finish my crown. She hadn’t been able to correct the bite until I could shut my mouth. She had a little packet of tools in her purse. She and the oral surgeon talked rapidly in a technical manner about what she needed, what supplies he had, and where I should be for this part. I was relocated to another chair and a couple other women came into the office to assist. Soon I was bibbed and secured again and my dentist began asking me to tap my teeth together and she alternately drilled and checked.

In the midst of this, my jaw went out again. I raised the alarm. The oral surgeon returned to fix it again.

“Show me how to do it,” said my dentist. “Why couldn’t I do it?”

“I think it’s just, you were doing the right thing but needed more strength,” he explained.

Four hands went into my mouth. He put his thumbs over hers and let her feel the sharp, blunt force, the sheer sudden brutality of it, as he forced it back into place.

“Oh,” she said. “THAT hard? Wow.”

I rubbed my jaw, thinking, Okay… NOW can I go??

He got these little locking forceps and made me bite on them while she worked. Finally she got the crown good enough for two weeks, anyway. My tooth hurt, my mouth hurt, my face hurt, my jaw throbbed, my head hurt, my neck hurt, and I was exhausted. It was now 1:00. My appointment had started at 9:00.

My dentist and I stepped out into the sunlight, strangely bonded by the ordeal. We stood awkwardly on the pavement for a moment. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “You never want something like that to happen in your chair.”

“It’s not your fault,” I said. “You were great to come with me over here and help.” We didn’t know what else to do, so we hugged. I felt at grave risk of crying. I walked away quickly to hide my emotion from her. I could see she felt bad enough as it was. But as soon as she drove away I sat in my car and sniffled a bit. It was all just so wearing.

As a special coda, when I dried my tears and drove home, I found that I was locked out. I had left some duct people working on the house when I set out for the dentist, and they had locked everything up tight for me. That was well-meant, I’m sure, but I didn’t have a key. After walking around in the snow and trying all the doors, I finally gave up and forced open a window.

And thus, after struggling in through a bathroom window, I went inside the house to find something soft for lunch.

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Spinning in the Polar Vortex

Two things I don’t like: 1) being dizzy; and 2) being cold. Today I am both dizzy and cold, which indeed has been my situation much of the past week. Our geothermal cannot cope with this sub-zero situation and I’m now in bed wearing my L L Bean expedition weight base layer, compression socks, wool socks, fleece jacket, etc. It’s a bit frisky in here. To top it off, I have had a rough week viz. dizziness.

It started a full week ago when I was out for a fitness walk with Ben. I’ve been fitness walking a lot recently, trying to get functional enough that I can walk around Paris (!!) in the spring. Paris is very motivating. I do not want to be in Paris and in bed with my head under a pillow, as has so often been the case in recent days. Anyway, so I was out walking on the beautiful and totally flat towpath, and thought that given the flatness and the fact that I had Ben with me, I could up the distance from 2.5 miles to a solid three. This went along fine until suddenly around the half way point I started getting the tunnel vision, the spots, and feeling extremely certain that being horizontal was my best alternative to out and out fainting. It was deserted, thankfully, and we found a bench. I lay down and Ben (god bless him!) assisted by elevating my feet, which I’m sure would’ve looked absurd to passing humans, but luckily the ducks and blue herons didn’t seem too appalled.

After a while I was able to walk again and we made it back to the car. I got through the day okay, then Sat. had to spend a couple hours under my pillow. Elias got this toy which shrieked like a banshee and I was alone with him much of the afternoon. A few minutes in Cosmic Bowling (dark with flashing lights, blaring music, gleeful children, and, yes, bowling sounds) did not help. But my good friend intervened before it got too bad, and said I could go home and she would bring Elias home for me! Thanks so much L.!! Then Sunday had a horrible time coping with church and then had to spend a full six hours under my pillow afterwards. Monday I had to function and sort of did. I think Tuesday was okay. But then Wednesday I was meeting Ben at a Bob Evans and encountered this ridiculous parking lot that seemed to me like it was on a fun-house sort of slope. I nearly fell trying to deal with that f***ing slope and then spent the rest of the day feeling like I was on a ship at sea, just like the bad old days! Motion sick on a stationary couch. Yesterday I did many errands while medium-dizzy, including the BMV. While taking the kids to their music lessons, I had that horrible, familiar sensation of being unable to walk down a fully stable straight hallway and worrying that people would think I was actually intoxicated.

This. Sucks.

Today dawned with me almost falling in the dark as I tried to make it to the alarm clock, and has been a struggle ever since. Ben stepped into the breach with again excellent husbandry, and took the kids to school for me, and went and got my medication refills. I got on the phone with my neurologist, begging for succor. What they can do in this case is maybe give me a round of steroids to try to knock this brain of mine back into submission.

I think it may be the weather– my POTS friends online all across the upper midwest are all having a f**ked up week too!

So I now will entertain and cheer myself up with a cup of hot peppermint tea and writing an amusing blog entry about something else pathetic and physical that happened a few months ago. I’ll post it separately and hope it will make you and me laugh and otherwise brighten what is not a nice day by many other metrics.

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Royal D’s Lena Rose Dies at 105: Nobel Prize in Canine Excellence Much Deserved, Still Pending

Lena died yesterday following a long decline. She was surrounded by her family of loving, humans and two kind veterinary professionals, out in the sun, in her own yard, in the warm grass. It was a peaceful and fitting end to a life well lived.

We first met Lena in 1998, when she was four weeks old and the size of a baked potato. I had used this wonderful new invention called “the internet” to find the perfect litter of puppies at the right sort of breeder (it’s easy to go very wrong with this breed) who happened to be down near the West Virginia border. Then, among that litter, I subjected several of the plump, squirming creatures to rigorous personality testing. Among them, Lena stood out as an exemplar of calm temperament, confidence and sweetness. She was the runt and not valuable as a show dog like some of her litter mates, because her coloring was “smutty” (slightly black sheen over her red fur), her white wasn’t flashy, and her tail wasn’t straight enough. She was pet quality, and perfect for us. We put a deposit of $200 on her and went home to work on our new house. We were moving into a sort of transitional, somewhat crime-oriented neighborhood and I needed this tiny fat puppy to grow into my protection dog. Indeed, getting a protection dog was a condition by which I had agreed to move into Ohio City in the first place.

We named her after Lena Lindgard, a character we admired from Willa Cather’s My Antonia. I gave her the middle name of Rose, which was part of her mother’s name (Royal D’s Maserati Rose), and also the middle name I gave to my childhood dog, Wart. Royal D is the name of her breeder. This is how she looked when we first brought her home:

Lena at 9 weeks

Lena at 9 weeks

Lena was an American Staffordshire terrier. This is a breed I chose because I wanted a dog that would deter home invasion, protect me from assailants on the street, while also secretly being the sweetest baby doll on Earth. She was true to all these qualities, a sheep in wolf’s clothing.  Indeed, in our neighborhood, she became a sort of Rorschach Test of what sort person was approaching me. If they were a nice, normal person, they would come over and pet Lena and comment on her cuteness, good manners and overall charm, to say nothing of her remarkably expressive, velvety ears! If the person were a hoodlum, drug dealer, or involved in the horrible world of underground dog fighting, they would do one of two things: cross the street in dread, or approach me to buy puppies. “That’s a pretty dog you got there– can I get some pups?” And when they learned that I had spayed her they would respond in horror: “Why would you throw away good money like that?”

And, thirdly, if they were South African, they would say, “Have you read Jock of the Bushveld?” I honestly have no idea why all these South Africans kept showing up on the streets of Cleveland, but there they were. After the third or fourth South African said this to me, I went to some effort to track down this obscure account of a Staffordshire Bull (a slightly different breed, shorter and stockier than Lena’s), and his adventures out in the bush in South Africa in the late 1800s. (The dog was wonderful, but the racism in that book would curl your eyebrows.)

Puppy Lena developed a taste for fine leathers. Perhaps it was her good breeding, but she could easily tell a cheap fake from a Brooks Brothers belt, or a Coach wallet. She ate many, many expensive things in those days, much to Ben’s extreme frustration. Also I remember applying for a new driver’s license, with my arms riddled with puncture marks from her little needle teeth. There’s a point on the license application where they ask you directly if you use drugs, and while I said no, I could see two pairs of eyes staring openly at my track-marked forearms. If only I had thought to explain that I just got a puppy. She also chewed on wooded furniture, leaving little rows of needle punctures, which later were joined by Isaac’s flat teeth marks.

Young Lena, like some human children I know, was easily distracted at school. She loved all the other puppies so much that she found it very difficult to concentrate. It took her three tries (six weeks each) to pass the final exam of Puppy 1. Then, slightly improving, she got through Puppy 2 in only two tries. I learned early on that her tremendous physical strength and her total imperviousness to physical corrections of any kind made clicker training (giving small treats as rewards) the only option to get her to do anything whatsoever. With treats, she was quite willing to learn. She eventually picked up steam and managed to pass Prenovice, Novice, and Dog Attention in rapid order. In fact, I credit her obedience work with saving her young life.

One day, when she was a brainless teen, she darted out the front door amid the legs of a group of Ben’s homeschool students. I was upstairs at the time and heard Ben issue a raw, primal scream of terror that I had never heard before in my life and hope to never hear again. I ran downstairs and found the door open and the floor and porch littered with dropped backpacks. I asked a kid what had happened and he said, “Lena was run over by a bus.” The terrible words could not process, but I looked out into the street, Bridge Avenue, where the busses always drove too fast, and down the way there was our girl stunned and confused, running around in traffic. Ben was trying to corral her. I ran down the sidewalk and knelt in my skirt on the pavement, spread my arms wide and called her, as we had done so many times in puppy class. She turned and ran directly to me.

On the phone with my mother, I did a brief emergency exam of Lena. She was bruised and scraped and had oil marks here and there on her fur, but did not appear to be going into shock, suffering from a concussion, or bleeding internally. Apparently she had been rolled around under the bus, between the front wheels and out one side, but the wheels themselves had all missed her somehow. The next morning I took her to the vet for a thorough exam. After he went over her carefully, he said, “Sweet little Lena got hit by a bus– How’s the BUS?!

“How’s the bus?” became sort of a catch phrase around our house. Such an amazing girl! She was so, so tough and so brave and so wonderful! This is what she looked like around that time:

All legs with a giant head

All legs with a giant head

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A Catholic friend told me that God had protected her because she had a purpose in life, something that He wanted her to see through. Although I find it hard to accept a God that would allow such things as the Holocaust and yet intervene to rescue an errant puppy, looking back on it now, I can’t help but wonder if he was right.

In April 2001, Ben and I lost our baby. In the profound grief and depression that followed, Lena  stood out as ray of hope and light. That summer, I was sitting in my cubicle at the bank where I worked, and a co-worker came in to talk and cry with me. Her husband had left her and she said she was feeling like life had no meaning anymore. I agreed that life had no meaning, and said that I was only managing to continue living because others around me needed me too. But then I said that it was just too great a favor to live through pain like that for other people, and I had to find something that I sincerely wanted to live for myself. My friend agreed that this was the problem, and she was searching for something too. For her, she decided that she could hang on and live because she loved drinking coffee. We laughed over that, but it was at least something. For me, I decided to live because I loved seeing Lena run in the woods. Ears flying, paws rarely touching the ground, Lena in the woods was the embodiment of pure joy.

I credit her with getting me through that horrible summer, and in a small way she helped manage the confusion of 9/11 after it– I was locked out that day, having forgotten my keys that morning. The bank and the rest of downtown Cleveland underwent a chaotic evacuation because the 4th plane, the one that turned around and landed in Pennsylvania, was right over us for a time. (This was before we had cell phones, too, a very dark and difficult world!) After spending a few hours at my boss’s house watching the unbelievable news, I managed to connect with Lena’s dog walker who had a key. He let me in when he came by, baby on his back and four dogs in tow, making his rounds as if it were a normal day.

In 2002, while I was staring down the possibility of a high-risk pregnancy and potential months of bedrest, I trained Lena to fetch things for me that I indicated with a laser pointer. I could lie on the couch and get her to bring me, say, a magazine, or a newspaper, or the phone. She got quite good at it, and then would sit at my feet, asking for more ways to help. Just her presence itself was helpful. Although I was alone for many long days while I was expecting Isaac, I was never truly alone with Lena beside me. And when Isaac was born, Lena took her new role as the nursemaid dog very seriously.

Here she is checking out his new bongo drums on his first birthday:

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Investigating his baby pool:

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Walking with the grandparents:

 

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One of our low-grade fears in getting a tough dog like this (some would say she was a pit bull…) was that she would do something wrong. I mean, not like maul someone to death, but bite someone in the way that a regular dog also could, but that because of her breed and the hysteria surrounding it, we’d end up being sued or there would be some other horrible repercussions. That never happened. She never bit any person in her life. (Okay, except she nipped, without breaking the skin, one time when a guy came to the house to fix the garbage disposal. I was very shocked! And checked his hand for a wound, which there was none. To be fair to Lena, though, the guy was radiating evil. Since I was home alone, other than Lena, I appreciated it that she put him on notice early and kept a sharp eye on him for me.) But she did get in a few dog fights. She loved a good scrap, unfortunately, and this did pose a problem at dog parks and other venues where dogs frequent. It wasn’t that she started fights, she didn’t. But if someone else started a fight, she was happy– more than happy– to escalate it. With her physical strength and innate fighting skill, she also tended to win.

One snowy day when Isaac about two, he and I and Lena were walking down a quiet tree lined street in our neighborhood. Lena was on leash and heeling perfectly. Then across the way, this brainless woman came out of her house with two even more brainless beagles on Flexi-leads. In a moment, they managed to pull the leads out of the brainless woman’s mittened hands and rush towards us. I could see this was not going to be good. I had Lena up on her hind feet, pulled tight against my thigh. I had Isaac on my shoulder. The dogs ran down the block towards us full tilt, barking their heads off. I was backed up against a parked car and had nowhere to go. The dogs swarmed around us, and one began biting Lena and of course she went for it. I threw Isaac over a fence into a snow bank to keep him safe and turned around to try to pull Lena out of the fray. In a moment, she had one of the two beagles pinned on its back and was latched onto its neck. The other beagle and the brainless woman were running around in circles, both yapping. Somehow Lena’s harness and sweater had already been pulled off, so she was leash less, and collarless and naked. I began trying to get her to let go, no easy task. I started by yelling at her and whapping her nose. That didn’t work, so I moved on to punching her nose as hard as I could with my fist. That didn’t work, so I grabbed a flex-lead, and began beating her nose with my full strength, and screaming her drop command, “Give! Give!” Finally she let go. One guy who had come out of his house was comforting Isaac. Another guy and the brainless woman both began screaming at me– “Why do you have a dog like that, you can’t control!? Why don’t you have a muzzle on that dog!” and things like that. To which I calmly replied– okay, screamed back, “My dog was HEELING on a leash when these dogs attacked us! SHE lost control of her dogs!” That sort of seemed to appease them and we all went home, quite shaken. I heard later that the one beagle got stitches from a neighbor who was a doctor, and that there was no serious damage (just chomps in the baggy neck skin, thank god!). Lena’s face was completely swollen the next day from the beating I gave her, and my hand was black and blue.

Another time that year, I actually think I saw her deter some thieves from our house. I was at a stoplight about a block away, when I saw a group of four suspicious youths standing on our front porch with empty duffle bags. Around that time in our neighborhood there had been this rash of daytime burglaries. Perhaps these youths with their empty duffle bags were just selling Bibles or raising money for their band trip and left because we were not at home. Or perhaps they were there to rob the house, and saw Lena, as she always did, throwing herself at the glass of the front window, trying to get at them to tear their legs off, and decided to choose a different house. She did like to make a show of force when there was a perceived or real security breach. In any case, they left. I drove along covertly following them for a time, and eventually called the police. (Having a cell phone really might have changed the outcome here– they were not caught!)

When Elias was born, she greeted the news with her usual calm and good cheer. Although the children bothered her at times, she never snapped or growled at them whatsoever. If she had a complaint, she would bring it to me. Look at this weary face!

Hello? It's got my ear.

Hello? It’s got my ear.

 

In her prime, she could jump four feet in the air to catch a frisbee, or a stick. But she was one of the rare dogs who simply could not swim. For safety, I tried to teach her, but she literally sank. I think it was because she had close to zero percent body fat, tiny paws and sleek, slippery fur. She invariably ended up paddling wildly with her feet way out of the water and her head totally submerged.

She almost never whined and was amazingly stoic in the face of pain. She tore her ACL, twice, and never complained about it at all, just carried her useless leg and kept right on playing. I say “almost never” because one rare time I heard her whining in the kitchen. I went in to see what was the matter. She had eaten most of a beef tenderloin that was on the counter, but the last bite was out of reach. She was standing on her tippy-tippy-tippy toes trying to get it, and whining in despair.

When she was nine, we moved out of the city to a much bigger country place. “It’s like having our own park!” exclaimed four-year-old Isaac. It was, and Lena had a lot more freedom here. But she couldn’t run off into the hills either, and there are neighbors with dogs, and roads, and garbage cans to tip over, and coyotes and such. She developed “selective hearing” and would not come when called, not until she had finished smelling and chasing everything she needed to smell and chase. Usually in nice weather we would keep her outside on a long dog run, a long metal cable that went from our house to a tree 75 feet away. She would have water and shade and fresh air. She was out there one day, and I was inside working on the computer, when I heard a commotion of some kind outside. I looked out the window to see a man, a complete stranger, running full-tilt across our yard. I mean, a flat-out sprint. A short distance behind him was Lena, also running flat out, looking like a cross between a tiny race horse and a guided missile. But again, she didn’t bite this intruder. She just chased him until he got across our driveway, which she perceived, rightly, as our property line, and then came back. She was very proud of herself and enthused and winded. When she got home I found the broken chunk of metal cable still dangling from her harness. She had just hit the end of the line and kept running. The guy, it turned out, was a houseguest of our neighbor. He had accidentally let their dog out and was trying to find that dog when he stumbled onto Lena, sleeping under her tree. Oops!

Girl about town with her boys.

Girl about town with her boys.

Modern dad multi-tasking, carrying one boy, checking a boo-boo, walking Lena.

Modern dad multi-tasking, carrying one boy, checking a boo-boo, walking Lena.

One of her most urgent self-appointed tasks was monitoring the feeding habits of the cats. She had keen hearing, especially when it came to the gentle distant –tink– of a cat’s collar hitting the side of his water dish on the opposite side of the house. This sound would wake her from a sound sleep and send her tearing, lights and sirens, to put a stop to it. She persisted with this habit well into her dotage. So much so that I posted a picture of her on dogshaming.com. (You can click on any photo to see it larger.)

dogshame

Not so with the chipmunks and mice. We have had various infestations over the years. I took this picture one afternoon as chipmunks were running willy nilly through the house with their little tails straight up in the air.

Intruders? What intruders?

Intruders? What intruders?

Her health was good until about a year ago, when her back legs started to give out. Along with them, went a lot of her bowel and bladder control. But we just kept up with cleaning, and tried to keep her comfortable and organize the house in such a way that she could still enjoy life. She had some good times even recently, sitting outside in the sun, no longer in need of a leash. At the same time, she started falling more, getting stranded in little hollows in the grass or under shrubs outside and barking for help. I took her to a holistic vet who adjusted her spine and provided her with traditional arthritis medication as well as Chinese herbal remedies. She gradually began to need more and more nursing care, baths every day, a special bed. For a time we tried diapers. We tried an incontinence bed. She developed a series of intractable urinary infections. She had a growth in her mouth that was benign, but invasive. We had it removed and it grew right back.

Our vet suggested a wheeled cart for her to maintain her mobility, and I got one custom made.

 

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For all those long months, our thinking was that it didn’t matter if it was inconvenient or uncomfortable for us, we would not give up on her. How could we? It was unthinkable. The alternative seemed worse that we could imagine. I began to pray that she would die quietly in her sleep. She didn’t. She was much too tough for that. In recent weeks, an infection in her hind quarters exploded. It didn’t respond to any antibiotic, and we just couldn’t get it under control. She, the calm stoic girl, began screaming at night in pain, or maybe despair. We would come running, give her a drink of water, a pillow, medication, anything to make her more comfortable. But the reality was that nothing we did could truly help. She was fifteen, already past the end of the range of her breed’s life expectancy.

I took this picture of her with the boys just a couple days ago.

Elias wears all camo, all the time.

Elias wears all camo, all the time.

We set the date for yesterday and tried to prepare the kids. Yesterday as I wandered through the day trying to brace myself for 4:00, I kept having quotes drop into my mind. One was, “shuffling off the mortal coil.” I looked it up and it was from Hamlet. Then, “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” It turns out, this is from Hamlet too. You probably knew that but I didn’t. This is why yesterday found me sitting outside in the sun with my freshly bathed and fed and beautiful dog, reading her the To Be or Not To Be speech from Hamlet (I read her the complete text, but edited it here) :

“…to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
… To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all…”

It was the word “cowards” that stood out to me. I felt a sinking dread of realization. We have been cowards, and our cowardice had made our dear, sweet, beloved girl suffer. Because we couldn’t bear to part with her, we’ve kept her on this earth too long, in a body well past its functioning. This realization did nothing, though, to stem the horrible, wrenching pain of parting from her. It would have been awful six months ago, or six month from now, or as it was yesterday. That’s what I understand now.

Isaac wanted nothing to do with any of this, and planned to hide in the tv room with his trusty Xbox the whole time the vet was here. But he came out and joined us for a time. We stood in a circle over her, holding hands and praying, trying to encircle her with love, all sobbing without any hope of restraint. Then the vet came, sedated her into a state of grogginess. I stroked her sweet head and repeated endlessly what a good and wonderful girl she was, and how grateful we are to have known her, and how lucky that she shared her life with us, and how beautiful and perfect she has been for all these years. 15 years is so long in some ways, so so short in others.

She died quite quickly, too quickly, shockingly quickly. Ben lifted her in her favorite 15-year-old tattered blanket into a coffin he had custom made at work. We tucked her in, and Elias put in a note he had written about seeing her in heaven. We all wept some more, and then the cremation man came and carried her away — a horrible, bottomless finality. Isaac had retreated by that time, but Elias, all dressed in army gear and carrying a heavy pack full of guns, and Ben in his tie, and I with pockets and hands full of wet tissues, stood in the driveway and waved goodbye.

Goodnight, sweet girl. May flights of angels sing thee to thy well-earned rest.

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Royal D’s Lena Rose

June 26, 1998-October 14, 2013

R.I.P.

  Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Catherine Park

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Owl Cake: Cookie-N-Cream variation

Brace yourself for irony. Last time I posted it was all about the Whole30, and getting back on the Paleo wagon. This time it will be all about sugar, dairy and wheat. All I can say is it wasn’t for me. And all the camo, Army-guy themed everything? That wasn’t for me either. When it’s my birthday, there won’t be any of this. But it wasn’t my birthday– it was Elias’s. At seven, this represents a cross section of things he loves: Oreos and ammo coexist for him in a perfect universe of sugar and military ops. So it was his day, and I did my best to make his vision a reality.

You may remember the owl cake I made three years ago. Per Elias’s request, I made it again last year, exactly the same or maybe slightly better. Then this year, with the cookie-n-cream version, I kicked it up a notch. Here’s how:

I stacked up the pyrex bowls so you could see how they would work.

 

I buttered and floured the bowls, then lined them with baking parchment. Later when taking them out, I wished I had buttered the parchment too. So do that.

 

Filled them with batter. I used Magnolia Bakery’s Yellow Birthday Cake recipe. If you use a mix I will hate you forever. Who are you, Rachel Ray??

 

Baked and cooling. Allow LOTS of time for cooling. The night before would be ideal.

I needed to slice the cakes into layers because Elias wanted cookies and cream filling in between. Also the previous two times I’ve made this cake I felt that the layers were too thick anyway. However, doing this was tricky and made the resulting towering owl quite precarious!

I used this handy dandy cake slicer I got for Christmas (thanks D&P!). Even though my cakes were a fraction of the size. This thing still helped because it keeps your blade level.

All the pretty slices ready for action!

Begin filling– I used homemade cream cheese frosting, again from Magnolia Bakery. There will be no end to the scowls if you get that horrible swill from a can.

Put some Oreos in a baggie and smash with a rolling pin. Then add the crumbles to the top of your filling. I think cream cheese frosting is best here because you need something with some tensile strength.

In past versions, these two layers were one solid chunk. You can see the benefits of slicing.

Keep filling and stacking! An extra pair of hands is very useful at this moment.

Have courage!!

 

You may need a lovely and talented assistant.

You need a long thin support to poke all the way through all the layers. I used a wooden skewer. Then begin to frost.

As to frosting, you know the rules. Make your own. This is Lucia’s chocolate frosting. It’s very easy (1/4 c soft butter, 1/2 c sour cream, 3 T brown sugar, tsp vanilla, 6 oz melted chic chips, then just whip it. Keep whipping it until it’s all fluffy and beautiful. Low fat sour cream will suck. Don’t go there.)

Frost it all over except for the chest area, which will be white.

 

Use some of the cream cheese frosting from the filling for the chestal regions.

If a tiny commando comes by, give him a beater to lick.

Painstakingly apply mini-chips to the chest.

 

The ears are made from Oreos cut in half (one half for each ear). Poke them gently into the skull and then frost.

To make the eyes, carefully open two Oreos. Use a little cream cheese frosting to stick them on the face. Then dab cream cheese frosting on the back of a Junior Mint and place it for the pupil.

 

The toes and beak are banana Runts. I bought a box of Runts and sorted out seven banana ones. Then I put a seven candle on top. And heaved a sigh of relief. Done!!

 

Our owl friend lived in the fridge until the party. Moving it from place to place was nerve-wracking.

How to serve? Simply decapitate and slice head. Then slice up body. I forgot to take a pic of the piece on a plate, but it looked real nice. Especially when the plates were camo.

 

Happy birthday boy! That’s what it’s all about.

  Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Catherine Park

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The Elusive Wagon

This, my friends, is apparently the “wagon” of “on the wagon.” Now, there’s a lot of debate about this, so don’t quote me on it. One of the possible sources for the term came from the olden times when water wagons (seen below) were used to keep down the dust on the dirt roads. And those who were “on the wagon” were saying that they’d drink the water from the wagon rather than the demon rum. Apparently it wasn’t all that great of water, either, not really meant for drinking.

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We went on our great tour of Revolutionary War battle sites of Greater New York. About a week ago, we set out from Ohio and drove up to near Buffalo, where there is beautiful and stunning Roycroft Inn. You must go. Especially if you love the Arts and Crafts style, and who doesn’t. But be forewarned, the food is horrible even to normal people. And this was my first taste of trying to live in the real world for a moment.

I brought a cooler packed with Whole30-approved wonderful things. I had two beautiful main-dish salads in pyrex and balsamic vinegar, good olive oil, sunbutter, carrots, organic peaches, etc., etc. But I couldn’t really bring enough for 5 days on the road. I had a few meals, and then was out there in the world.

I was also trying to be a good sport, a team player, and not an ill and/or weird person, so I had breakfast at the beautiful, lovely breakfast room at the Roycroft. Eggs, sausage, bacon, a latte, and fruit. (No toast! I wasn’t that crazy.) I should’ve known it was stupid, because the eggs (scrambled) gave me an uneasy sense that they might be from a carton, and the meats, well, God only knows what post-industrial stew of MSG and nitrates they came out of. Bottom line, I got a low-grade migraine, nausea and dizziness, which didn’t match driving in a rain storm through very curvy, confusing backroads, while also trying to do needlework.

I stopped doing the needlework, obviously, and ultimately asked Ben to let me drive. He was driving like a maniac and reading various maps and phones and GPS’s at the same time, which didn’t inspire confidence. So after we toured Fort Ontario, I drove much of the way to Montreal.

There, very tired, hungry, and all the remaining food warming in the not-cool cooler, I ate out again. This time it was fish and chips, gluten free mind you! It seemed like that went fine, although by no means Whole30 compliant. I don’t know what was in the breading, but something off-road.

The next morning, in this gorgeous place Ben found for us, there was a lovely buffet. I looked past a huge array of cakes and scones and rolls and such. I was trying to be good and I passed on all of it. I just had some ham, turkey, a hard boiled egg, and some fresh fruit. This while surrounded by this incredible collection of modern art– like Warhol, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns and more, all just all over the place, the private collection of the owner.

And again… migraine! I really felt like I was going to vomit in the car, and when we arrived at Fort Chambly, I just tried to sport this wan smile while I greenly admired it. At times I had to sit alone and as quiet as possible, trying to endure a docent who was giving a class in French, other random French speakers, the bright sun and the stirring of the leaves on their blasted trees. Migraine! It must’ve been the turkey and ham… laced in something? F***ing MSG!!

I don’t know. It passed. The fort was starkly beautiful. The kids had a great time. For lunch I just ate carrots and sunbutter in the car, fearing any other step outside my box. But late in the day, after an endless wait at the border (Ben was doing push-ups in the road) and more car-sicky winding roads and stunning beauty, I just felt warn down. I felt like, here I didn’t have pancakes or toast or scones or croissants and STILL I felt horrible. Thus, when ice cream came into range I folded. I caved. Ben and the kids were having some. What’s the point?? I reasoned.  I ate Moose Tracks. I sat with the kids on a picnic table in Nowhere Vermont and left the wagon in the dust.

Then we were at Ben’s cousins and I ate chickpeas galore, just because they are vegetarians and we needed a Venn diagram of what we could all eat, although legumes were off the wagon. Bagged tuna, and again the ice cream monster.

After that we stayed at Ben’s parents’ summer house and overall I did well there. Things were homemade and the danger much lower. The last few days I’ve been home alone and it’s not been pretty. Up at all hours, watching the lowest-low brow comedies possible, and eating willy nilly. Ice cream is my bete noire.

At the moment I feel ill, self-inflicted, and I feel like my foray into the normal world revealed that my reality is I need to live in my little special box. In my special box, everything is organic and mostly homemade. In my special box, beef is grass-fed and eggs are pastured and salmon is wild caught. Vegetables are from a CSA down the road and picked the same day I get them, or even picked by me personally. I live in a very comfortable, beautiful, fortunate sort of box. I don’t deny that. But in fact this box, wonderful as it is, is sort of cage. A gilded cage perhaps, but a cage that I cannot leave without consequences. This is what the trip showed me. I can be as careful as I possibly can out in reality and it will not be careful enough. It’s a cage that makes it awkward at any one else’s house, and dining out only possible with the greatest care. It’s a first world problem, God knows! But I just wish I were more… you know… normal.

Also I find that if I get off-road at all, I get crazy. Like turtle sundae crazy. It’s like my brain can’t handle “maybe” or “sometimes” it only understands yes and no. Like a dog who can either be on the couch or not on the couch, but not “sometimes.” I think I have a simple brain. Today one of the Whole30 people posted a great piece about how “moderation in all things” just does not work for some people. Like me. I’m a simple person. I like Will Farrell movies, like Old School. I liked The Dictator by Sacha Baron Cohen and laughed a great deal, even though I could see how stupid it was. I ate a turtle sundae because I was driving by Mitchell’s, and that was the only reason.

Now… back on the wagon. I’ve had my little deviation and found –again– how much worse I feel by like a hundred different measures. Tomorrow, my new day one. Ahoy, wagon! Let me aboard.

 

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