Political Knitting

Well, a lot has happened since I was in the hospital over a year ago. Most notably, the country has been overtaken by the forces of darkness. Everything is going to hell in a hand basket. Recently I knit 15 hats for the Women’s March on Washington, and gave them away mostly to complete strangers. It was such a lovely sight to see that sea of pink, and to know that for every marcher there, another supporter was at home knitting and knitting. In the continued project of yarn-based political activism, I made this painting over the last couple days, and have uploaded it to Zazzle.com, where people can put it on any number of things and buy them. The proceeds to me are minimal, but what little profits I may gather will be rolled back into my project of giving away pink pussy hats to anyone who asks me for one. I’m posting it here also because I have a copyright doodad on this blog and so it will make it official. Also, go buy stuff!! My store there is called RadicalKnits.



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View From the Rear Window of an Ambulance

I opened my eyes slightly and realized I was in an ambulance. My first thought was, How did it get to be night? My second thought was, You know what it’s like when you’re in traffic and see an ambulance go by, and catch a glimpse of some poor person in there? That mix of voyeurism and pity and maybe mild disgust? Now that’s me. As much as I can see the lights of the cars behind us, they can see in. I’m on a stage, illuminated. I’ve got oxygen on my face and an IV in each arm and I’m in a gown under a heated blanket and on a gurney. I’m no longer me. I’m A Patient. I transformed into a patient when I took off my clothes and put on this gown. My clothes are in a plastic bag and will be returned to me at the end, when I go home, the way they give things back to a prisoner when they are set free.

My timeline was fragmented and garbled by medication. Some hours before I had had lunch at home alone. That must’ve been around 12:30, on Monday, December 7, 2015. Immediately my stomach began to hurt. I tried a few maneuvers — stomach pain not a totally unusual thing with me– trying to get it to stop. These usually worked, just lying down on my left side, or moving this way and that. It didn’t work. I tried it more and more violently– flopping down on the couch, then throwing myself down on the couch. Then thinking, No, this is really bad this time. This is really bad. What do I do? I called Ben. He was having lunch in Tremont, about a half hour away. I said tentatively that I might need help and would check back in a bit. I tried every possible position, hands and knees, throwing myself on the couch full force, jumping up and down. It was only getting worse, and worse, and worse. Horses throw themselves on the ground when they have colic. Now I know why. I called him back. To him it had only been a few minutes. I was crying in desperation.

He said, “I’m coming but you have to call someone to take you to the ER. Call Sofia. Call Christy.”

“But I’m too shy!!” I wailed. This seems absurd now, but I really didn’t want to do it. I certainly didn’t want to call 911. Crippling shyness kicking in at the wrong time!

Ben said, “Well, you’d better fucking get over your shyness! Right! Now!”

I texted my friend nearby: “You home? Urgent.”

She replied quickly: “At school, what is it?”

“Need a ride to ER asap”

“Damn I’m here till 3:30.”

I texted my neighbor: “You home? Urgent.”

“Yeah, I’m here, what is it?”

“Need a ride to ER asap.”

“B there in a sec.”

I went outside and paced around frantically. She rolled in up a minute and I got in, horrified to need to help and to be in pain. She drove at high speeds. “If we get pulled over, we’ll have an excuse,” she said. My phone rang, the cleaning man. I ignored it. Two minutes later it rang again, the cleaning man again! I said to the phone without picking up “i don’t fucking want to talk to you.” Then realized that a four year old was sitting in the back seat. “Oh, sorry!!!” We chuckled. I held my stomach as we drove through curves, around a washed out bridge, and pulled up to the ER. Ben had just arrived, shaving off a lot of time somehow. I stepped out of the van and took his arm.

I remember standing at the counter and trembling from head to foot. I remember that my blood pressure was 181/130 and my heart rate was 130. i.e. everything wildly elevated. I got into a gown and tried to explain the pain. I remember doubling over and wondering if my back was exposed. A voice said, “We’re going to give you something in your IV… ” (which they must’ve already placed?) “… It’s like morphine but six times stronger.” I remember crying and begging and saying “Why isn’t it working? Why isn’t it working?” My left collar bone feels like it’s broken.” The lady came back and gave me another dose. And then I could rest. Inside my closed eyes I could see inky black, with neon green concentric circles, endlessly collapsing into each other. I tried to describe this to Ben as I watched it.

After that it was all just voices and hands. Simply commands. “You must be still or the EKG will pick up everything. You have to stop moving your feet.” Another voice: “Hold your breath. Be a statue.” Hands and voices put me into a CT scan. I listened with my eyes closed. “Lift your arms. Hold your breath. You can breathe again.” A distant voice, “Yeah, she was writhing in pain when she came in.”

I said to Ben, “Call my parents. You’d better call them. Who’s going to get the kids? Violet is in doggy day care.” This was a moment of lucidity. Ben called everyone and arranged things. Ben on the phone talking to his mother, “No, she has not had a heart attack. They’ve ruled that out.” Grandparents got the kids, dog could stay over night at daycare. What kind of food did she usually eat? What was the protein source? I tried to remember the ingredients of the dog food. Voices said they’d take me by ambulance to the big hospital in downtown Akron. Hands and voices. “We’re going to move you, turn towards me honey.” The sense of being professionally handled, efficiency and strength, but not uncaring. Just pragmatic.

I opened my eyes in the ambulance. They are taking to me to the big hospital. They are checking me in. I am that person going by in an ambulance that makes you wonder, who is that? And what’s wrong with her?

The same efficient hands moved me to another bed in the ER. A cute young doctor came to talk. I tried to explain everything lucidly, but I could tell I didn’t make too much sense. He seemed very used to it. I wanted to meet him for cocktails twenty years ago. Twenty years ago he was probably still in elementary school. How did I get so old?

Ben and the boys came in, the boys wearing masks. “They’re not allowed in here,” Ben told me. “We had to beg. They can only stay a minute.”

“Are the masks to protect them or to protect us?” I asked. Us, the patients.

“They’re to protect the kids.”

Elias came up to my bedside. “Let me give you a very gentle hug!” He hugged my arm carefully. Why IVs on both sides? When did that happen? “Poor Mommy! Don’t cry Mommy!” I had no idea I was crying. Ben talked to the doctor for a moment, while I held hands with a boy on each side.  Then he came back to say a prayer. He had us all hold hands in a circle. I was crying with my eyes closed. When I opened them, Isaac was fake smiling behind his mask, trying with all his might not to cry. “See? I’m fine!” He grimaced. Then they had to go. And I had to be alone again with my oxygen and IVs and the florescent lights. Behind a curtain beside me an old man was groaning persistently.

After a while I threw up in a green plastic sleeve. I wanted to tell the doctor about it, but warned him that it was going to be kind of graphic. “I’ve heard it all,” the cute young doctor smiled. I tried to explain my impression: “It wasn’t in my stomach. I ate that lunch at noon. It was in my esophagus this whole time.”

My stomach had gone up into my chest and twisted. It had pressed my esophagus closed. It was a strangulated hernia ten centimeters in diameter; the tear in my diaphragm was big enough to put a grapefruit through.

They moved me up to a nice dark room upstairs. Very dark and quiet, with a sparkling city view. It felt like a hotel. Nurses came in and out, giving me drugs in my IV. I begged for ice chips. I offered to trade my jewelry for ice chips. They gave me a little green sponge on a stick that I could dip in water and gently suck on. I’m far from a Biblical scholar, but this reminded me of Jesus getting a sponge soaked in vinegar on the cross. But I realized that as long as I didn’t eat or drink anything and had a steady supply of IV pain medication I was okay. I don’t know how come I was so funny that night (cough– on drugs– cough), but this nurse came in to take all my information, and in the course of telling her the answers I kept making her laugh and laugh. I was doing the best stand-up of my life! I wish I had a recording of it! The subject was that every body part she asked about I had some huge lengthy history to recount. We just thought it was hysterical that I was such a sorry case. Whenever I saw that nurse over the next two weeks she greeted me with delight and even an outburst of laughter, like we were old friends and I was the funniest patient she’d ever had.

I’m pretty battle hardened when it comes to medical things, but two days later they said they had to do one more test before I could go home. They tried to walk the line between warning me that it was going to be awful and not scaring me in such a way as to make it even worse. To be brief, imagine yourself crying and retching while someone feeds a tube up your nose and down into your twisted, contorted stomach, while you’re wide awake. Then I had to drink water and more water with specific pauses and timing, while the tube was stuck in my throat. It felt like I was trying to swallow a sword. This was to test my esophagus for its muscle strength and I guess how well it worked, so that they could decide how to do the surgery. Whatever it told them, they decided to do the surgery five days later and sent me home on a liquid diet. “I don’t want to see you back here on an emergent basis before you’re scheduled surgery,” a nurse told me sternly. Ben said the doctor told him I could not cheat on the liquid-only thing, for real: I might die.

I spent the ensuing five days trying to procure and wrap everything we needed for Christmas. I made many types of broth and froze it. We went out and cut a Christmas tree that turned out to be the most lopsided Charlie Brown tree you’ve ever seen.

I didn’t die. I had the surgery two weeks ago. I got through two more nights in the hospital my chief complaints being inability to survive on room air only and nausea. I couldn’t go home the first day, 24 hours after surgery, because my oxygen levels kept running way too low. Turns out you need your diaphragm every time you breathe. Mine had an enormous line of stitches holding it together and every breath was beyond painful. To make matters worse they kept trying to make me breathe into this little tube. “You don’t want pneumonia! Trust me,” said one nurse. I rang my little bell and a nursing assistant came in. She was a very big, soft black lady with a heart laugh. “What you need honey?” she asked. “I need oxygen,” I whispered. “Oh, baby! You just talking the basics!” she laughed and got my oxygen, which had fallen out of my reach.

“You really got your money’s worth!” joked one nurse. “You really made him work for it this time!” referring to the wonderful doctor from India, with the long musical name, who fixed me. Such a cute, charming and kind man, with inky black curls going grey at the temples. Another doctor came in and I had a fleeting experience of true healing touch. He just held my hand for a moment and I felt the strange warm healing energy come up my arm. A recent immigrant from China came in an reminded me once again the golden rule of hospital stays: never listen to residents. They mean well but they have no idea what they’re talking about. Since they introduce themselves as “Dr. So-and So” you have to be cagy and hawk-eyed and remember: never listen to residents. They will only confuse you.

The nurse told me that while mine was quite bad, another guy was in there one time with ALL his organs in his chest, his poor lungs and heart crushed against the sides of his rib cage. “And he was walking around like a normal person!” In my case, my stomach was wrapped around my heart, crushing my lungs and making it hard for my heart to beat well. And I had a big benign tumor lodged in there with it. (Strangely enough they didn’t take this out. They just pulled it down into my abdomen and parked it someplace out of the way?) My lungs didn’t know how to inflate. On an X-ray I saw them: two little shadows squished way up by my shoulders. No wonder going for a dog walk seemed like such a trial! No wonder I felt like I was always walking through a foot of tar!

Now my lungs feel like two huge bellows that can suck in a whole roomful of air. I’m weak and at the beginning of a new chapter, but at least my parts are all in the right part of my body. Ben and I and the dog-walked a couple miles today. Tonight is our twentieth anniversary, and I’ve been upgraded to soft foods. We’re going to make a soufflé.

And so ends yet another strange medical ordeal in the journey of the USS Catherine.


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Anatomy of a Meltdown

Yesterday began well and ended very badly, so I am now trying to sort through the layers and identify where exactly it went so wrong. I think it was something of death by ten thousand small cuts. But let’s see.

9:00 a.m.: Pilates:

Ben was out of town, which created only a minor awkwardness in the morning. I had a Pilates class at 9:30, which is a recent re-addition to my life. It’s a net positive, this returning to Pilates after years away. Indeed, although I’m horribly out of shape, the teacher says that my body “remembers” the Pilates. She can tell me to do a cat stretch or make my spine neutral or whatever and I find that I understand these concepts in a riding a bike kind of way. However this entailed leaving the kids alone for an hour or so.

The previous night I let them stay up late by themselves– it was the launch of three-day weekend after all. I had gone to bed and they had crawled in with me probably around midnight. So come along 9:00 a.m. when it was getting to be Pilates time, they were still asleep. I decided it best to tap Isaac and tell him I was leaving, as this is all quite new and I feared they would wake up to an empty house and panic. So I tapped Isaac, and to my dismay he woke up, and woke Elias up. Instead of just easily sneaking away I had to deal with them for a few moments. Elias had a sore throat and claimed he didn’t know how to make tea, for instance. They needed pants, which I had to help find. Anyway I ended up rushing crazily to class and arriving ten minutes late. Perhaps this was the first small ripple in what ultimately became a tsunami of stress.

Pilates went well, although other becalmed ladies were staying for more leg work and I felt I needed to leave promptly on time because the kids were watching the clock at home for my return.

11:00: Errands

Elias needed his new glasses. I needed to pick up some of my many prescriptions. We needed gas in the car. I came home after Pilates, got him, and we drove around doing these things without much trouble at all. The roads were bad, but not terribly so.

12:00 food.

I cooked us all some bacon and eggs and happily made a mess without cleaning it up. This became an issue later.

1:00 snowstorm interlude.

There was a major snow storm going on, with snow blowing vigorously all over the place. Ben was not due home for many hours and it was becoming increasingly clear that I would have to plow. His car was in front of the garage, though, and the John Deere mini-tractor with plow was inside the garage. When I tried to move the car, it was stuck. I tried many Minnesotan-native maneuvers to dislodge it, but could not. It was on a slight incline that was comprised of a layer of snow with a base of glare ice. I went inside and got cat litter, dumping some under each wheel. This did not work. I put the car in neutral and began to shoulder it with my fullest possible measure of strength. I could sort of rock it but not actually shift it. I went in and got the boys, really just Isaac, to come and help. Elias is only 8 and his pushing ability is greatly outweighed by his risk of being crushed by the car. But Isaac is a strapping young lad of 12 now– topping 5’3″ and weighing in at 125 pounds or so. He shouldered one door, I took the other, and rocking it together, we managed to budge it a few feet. It was bitterly cold, exhausting work.

Then Isaac took it in his own hands to plow, which I thought would be good but turned out to be a mixed blessing. He does know how to drive the plow, but without the years of car handling experience immediately got it wedged sideways. I had to take over, and some yelling was also involved. Isaac seemed to blame me for not know this or that about the plow’s workings. At the heart of the problem was the jockeying for who is the “man of the house” when Daddy is away. We could not get the plow to lay properly. It was either too high or too low or turned this or that way. Isaac was high strung and screaming. Ultimately it was a tiresome, half-assed job performed by Isaac, who drove the plow rapidly and angrily all over the place with a great deal of hostility and teen-age angst layered on for no real reason.

Then since I was already freezing and tired I decided that I’d just as well put on the new plates on the new car. The temporary plates were to expire today, and I knew it wasn’t going to get any more balmy. Indeed today’s HIGH is 2 below zero. So I scared up a Philips screwdriver and removed the old temp plates with great skill and efficiency. I installed the front plate with equal aplomb, and all was lovely until I couldn’t find the other plate to put on the back. I searched. The kids searched. We removed and searched three TaeKwonDo bags full of gear, Isaac’s back pack and music supplies, many lunch boxes, and various other odds and ends that have been collecting in the new car despite my extreme vigilance to keep in clear of debris. No plate. I began to feel this rage welling up inside me about how everything in my life is just unstable, it seems. I set something down and it’s immediately gone. Vanished. Disappeared. That items in my life shift on their own. The boys take my computer. Someone wanders away with my phone. The dog takes my glasses. And so on, until the disappearance of things becomes a maddening daily struggle. The lost plate– it’s total absence just made no sense, and exasperated me. Isaac began saying I should just take Dad’s car, which of course was stuck in the snow bank, where we had shoved it to get the plow out.

No, finally I decided, Okay, it’s legal to drive with one plate, it just has to be on the back. So gnashing my teeth in frustration I removed the new plate from the front, planning to install it on the back. And that’s when I found the second plate. Thin as tissue and perfectly married to the first one. I had installed them both on the front.


I think this whole process may have added an hour to our outside, sub-zero, snow-battling experience. It was 100% my fault, but still I felt that a cruel hand of fate had played a role.

3:00: Pre-apocalypse grocery shopping.

In this already beleaguered state, I had to get groceries. It was Valentine’s Day after all, and Ben was going to come home for dinner. I wanted it to be something nice. We talked about the menu on the phone and decided on a simple Cobb Salad, white wine for him, burgers for the kids, and I wanted to make this Paleo chocolate pot de creme (dairy free, made with coconut milk) for a treat.

However the grocery store was in full pre-apocalypse mode. Not only was everyone else on Earth also there to get stuff for their Valentine’s dinner, the Quirky Alones not doing that were there because there was huge winter weather panic going on. I felt muddled and could not remember what all I needed, and Elias was along with me, wandering off with the cart while I was in mid-sentence, driving recklessly down the dairy aisle, not listening to me, and also whining for jelly beans, etc., whining to go home and are we done yet. This shopping trip comprised yet another trial of my patience and calm and nerves, which were becoming more and more frayed.

4:30: Rescuing a frozen cat we don’t really love all that much.

Zane Grey, our 14 year old mad woman in the garage, is getting awfully old to be outside when it’s literally 25 below. So with great effort I hauled a large crate upstairs for her, and set up a bed and litter box and food and water. Then Elias and I went outside and again with no small amount of effort managed to capture her. This involved climbing among cobwebs and wallowing around behind large dusty objects to catch her and then preventing her from scratching me to death while I carried her in for her own safety and comfort. That’s one thing that’s annoying about this cat. She doesn’t help when things are in her own best interests.

5:00 Ben’s travel disruption.

Ben had flown from NYC to Detroit, and then been stranded because of the weather. The last leg of his flight to Cleveland was flat out canceled. His option was to stay over night and fly home at 5:00 p.m. today or to rent a car and drive the three hours home. So we were texting and he was in various lines in Detroit, with one presumes also panicked anxious Valentine-oriented crowds also all trying to get where they had intended to go and the horizontal snow outside creating an atmosphere of strife. I got on my computer and set up a rental car for him as he walked through labyrinthine terminals. Eventually he found his way to a rental car place and shortly texted me that he was en route.

This made me anxious in that I was concerned he would crash, end up in a ditch, or in a ghastly 20 car pileup, such as the one that had just closed a stretch of 77 north of us, a major highway which is very rarely shut down.

At this point, I really felt I needed to stop and rest, and I attempted to. I realized that I was frozen to the marrow and running through things I wanted to cook and still in my Pilates clothes which somehow I had never found a moment to change. I thought I’d just rest a moment and get warm, but what I really wanted to do was take a shower, put on something cozy, and take a long peaceful nap.

Instead I got up and began to tidy the house, and try to flog the lazy children into helping me. My thought was– Ben has been traveling all day, he’s stressed, he’s exhausted, it’s Valentine’s Day, he just wants to come home to some semblance of order and a nice meal.  I put on some music and got Elias some Valentine making supplies and together we each made a Valentine for Ben. I rousted Isaac from his screen stupor and got him to make one too. Then I began to cook.

7:00 attempting to cook dinner

The meal cooking part is where things really, really began to go south. The kids were getting hungry and crabby, perhaps that was part of it. Maybe they sensed my building exhaustion/stress combination. Maybe they were wound up about Valentine’s Day, or daddy coming home, or whatever.

I don’t know.

I started doing this new bacon trick where you simmer raw bacon in water until the water cooks away. The bacon meat parts simmer without burning, then the fat renders and you can fry the last bit to crispy, even perfection. Although I had done this successfully several times, it didn’t go like that at all this time.

I also was trying to convert grams into ounces of chocolate for these pots de creme. Isaac got involved and began hacking the chocolate up when I wanted the lines to help me measure it. I needed my phone for a calculator but it was dead and so I had to find a charger. Meanwhile, Elias was asking me to help him make a paper airplane with some of the beautiful paper I’d dug up for Valentines. I told him no and he became more persistent. He wanted me to sit down with him and watch a video of this guy making really awesome paper airplanes and then help him make one right then. I was trying to watch this egg and coconut milk custard, stirring often and not letting it simmer. Isaac was fooling with my chocolate and picking a fight with me about grams and ounces. He can be very belligerent when he feels he’s right, but he wasn’t right, and then numbers were daunting me. Elias starting outright screaming about the paper airplane. Isaac put him in the bathroom and began taping the door shut with packing tape. Elias was screaming. My custard was starting to simmer.

I got Isaac to stop with the taping and rescued Elias from the bathroom. At this point, Elias announced that he was so angry at me about the paper airplane business that he had thrown away his (beautiful!) Valentine for daddy. I looked in the trash and couldn’t find it. He wouldn’t reveal where it was. Isaac grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. I noticed my custard was about to boil and the bacon system was smoking. I rescued the foods. I tried to find forks for the table but none of the normal sized ones were clean. I opened the fridge and a door thing fell off and I couldn’t get it back on. I had a strong impulse to throw the thing down and break it, but I resisted. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself down, but I could see it was getting worse. The clock was ticking. Ben was going to be home soon. I wanted the table set. Flowers, candles. I wanted the places set. I wanted the food ready to eat. The kids were getting more and more hungry and insane. I hadn’t even started the chicken breasts.

The beginning of my pot de creme recipe said, “This will go fine if you just take your time and stay calm.”

From upstairs there was a bloodcurdling scream. Elias came down shirtless, sans glasses, crying bitterly. Isaac followed maybe somewhat sheepishly. Elias flopped down on the kitchen floor sobbing and saying various things Isaac had done to him– “He held me down… he turned the light off… he said he would beat me to death… he cut my finger…” (I checked that, it was basically a paper cut) etc. Isaac admitted a few of these things– “I was interrogating him about the Valentine.” This was the explanation. I said, “Elias if he’s really hurting you come to me–” He said, “I couldn’t get away! I thought he was going to kill me!”

I took Isaac aside and scolded him harshly. Elias got a TaeKwonDo belt and began to whip Isaac with it. Isaac got a wooden gun and was waving it around threateningly. Isaac wrongfully used his martial arts skills and secured Elias to the ground. Then I turned off all burners. I let the bacon stew in its fat and the custard head the wrong direction towards cold. I got Elias on the couch with me. I said, “Let’s just sit here for a little while and watch a video about paper airplanes.” He was still shirtless and snuffling. Isaac positioned himself in a chair across from us and as far as I could tell was intent on stirring up trouble. My nerves were just about shattered. He kept saying “Elias, Come. Here.” and I kept saying, “Leave him alone!” It went on like that a bit until I was screaming at the top of my lungs and seeming like an insane asylum escapee. Isaac would not relent. He stalked away. Elias and I tried to return to our paper airplane video.

Isaac returned and interrupted again and I began to scream at the very top of my lungs. Who knows even what I was saying. Maybe “Get out of here! Leave us alone!” that sort of thing. And then Isaac said, “I was TRYING to apologize!” and then commenced to sulking and making bitter remarks about “I didn’t realize APOLOGIZING was going to be such a problem.”

Around this time, Ben arrived. Dinner was not ready. The table was not set. The chicken breasts were totally raw. It was 8:00. Ben was starving, cold and stressed. When he put down his stuff I burst into tears. And tried to tell him the problem. “Isaac had Elias up stairs.” and “Elias threw away your Valentine and I can’t find it now.” and “My custard is probably curdled.” And so on. Ben was sympathetic but wanted some cheese. He had been traveling since ten a.m. and was dying of hunger. He also was worried about the plow and car and snow situation. He could see dinner was not going to be soon. He went out and plowed.

I managed to combine the chocolate with the custard (strained through a fine mesh sieve) and set a timer to let them marry. I got Isaac on the task of finding forks. I had a moment to myself in the kitchen. I started the chicken breasts and remembered I hadn’t made the burgers. I put them together and everything seemed to be going okay. Ben came in from plowing and put on some music. He got himself a snack and then went to see what the kids were doing. I set some paper towel on a plate beside the bacon pan and then turned around. When I turned back it was fully on fire. I picked it up and carried it to the sink, blazing. I ran water over it and yet somehow it was still burning quite vigorously. I managed to get the fire out and then returned to the bacon. At that moment the bacon fat exploded and my face was splattered with hot grease.

I screamed and threw the tongs I was holding. I threw them with all my might at the plate where I had just placed the new paper towels. The plate shattered. Ben returned to the kitchen. I began hysterically sobbing, hyperventilating and having a panic attack. Ben carefully talked me into going upstairs saying he would take the cooking from here. I got up to bed and just lay there on my stomach sobbing my eyes out for a few minutes. Like snotty, wet, ragged hopeless sobbing.

All I wanted was to have a nice dinner! I kept saying. All I wanted was to have the house nice when he came home. And I couldn’t. Do it. This is the part where I think I diverge from a normal person. This is the part where, yes, these were all minor nuisances, and you could see how this added up. But I think a normal person might have taken it in stride. But I feel that I live on the edge of a cliff, and when the bacon spattered in my face I went over the edge into a type of emotional disarray that is beyond the norm. Also, I didn’t want the kids to see how utterly fucked up I was by that point.

My face and neck were actually mildly sprinkled with burns. But that was not really the problem. The problem was that it was now almost 9:00 p.m. and I was still in my Pilates clothes and dinner was not ready. And it was Valentine’s Day.

9:00 Dining

While I was upstairs crying I heard distant sizzling. I came down and found the kitchen empty, save for the chicken breasts which were cooking hot and splattering all over the place. Ben was giving the children a lecture in the other room. I took several deep breaths and began again to cook. Soon I got the chicken breasts sauteed. I got the bacon crisp enough. I got salad greens into the bowl. I got blue cheese crumbles. I made a balsamic vinaigrette. I remembered avocado, not ripe enough, and wrestled it into submission. Everyone had a plate and food on it. I called in the troops. They got seated and Ben vanished into the bathroom. Elias began to devour his food. Isaac too began to devour his food. I told them to stop and to wait until grace. They couldn’t wait. I felt the hysteria rising again, in the impossible moment when they were there, eating, and Ben was not there! I was pinned between two forces, Ben’s propriety and their starvation. I felt a wave of panic  overtaking me again and again feared I would start screaming. But Ben emerged just in time. We said grace and ate and began to exchange Valentines.

Elias hadn’t really thrown his away. He brought it out from wherever it was and Ben was duly touched and pleased. Isaac’s had a clever pop-up heart. Ben had brought candy and presents for everyone from New York. I brought out some heart-shaped frosted brownies I had bought for the kids. Ben gave me a beautiful copy of “Lucky Jim” and a stunning chocolate bar that was even more remarkable for the fact that he’d bought it on Park Avenue for $11.00.

I still felt like I was hanging by a thread. Ben wouldn’t eat his pot de creme because he said it didn’t match his wine. I ate mine and it was wonderful. But not as fun when he wouldn’t eat his. We discussed watching a movie. It was now 10:00. I decided to forsake everything else and just take a bath. Ben read to the kids, while I tried to regain some semblance of calm. Our bathroom tiles have fallen in and our bathtub is well below par. The new retreat bathroom is planned and will happen soon. In a month or two my ability to take a calming bath at the end of a day like this will be greatly improved.

I crawled into bed a much more bedraggled and weary person than the cheerful soul who set out for Pilates a scant 13 hours before. Days like this have a way of wearing a person down to a nub.

And now, amazingly, I need to stop writing this and cook dinner. Tonight will go better. Tonight will be fine. I think tonight will be lovely. There’s nothing to worry about, right?


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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:


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.


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.


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.


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.



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!


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.


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.



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


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


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


Le Creeper strikes again.


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.


Le Petit Penseur

Just chillin' at the Gates of Hell.

Just chillin’ at the Gates of Hell.


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.


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.


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.


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.

IMG_5938 IMG_5939

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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…


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:


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


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:


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!

IMG_5843 IMG_5844

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.


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


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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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?”


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


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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