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

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

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

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

Lena at 9 weeks

Lena at 9 weeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All legs with a giant head

All legs with a giant head

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

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

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

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

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

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Investigating his baby pool:

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Walking with the grandparents:

 

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

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

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

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

Hello? It's got my ear.

Hello? It’s got my ear.

 

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

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

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

Girl about town with her boys.

Girl about town with her boys.

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

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

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

dogshame

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

Intruders? What intruders?

Intruders? What intruders?

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

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

 

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

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

Elias wears all camo, all the time.

Elias wears all camo, all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Royal D’s Lena Rose

June 26, 1998-October 14, 2013

R.I.P.

  Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Catherine Park

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Owl Cake: Cookie-N-Cream variation

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

All the pretty slices ready for action!

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

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

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

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

Have courage!!

 

You may need a lovely and talented assistant.

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

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

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

 

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

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

Painstakingly apply mini-chips to the chest.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

  Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Catherine Park

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The Elusive Wagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Detox, Retox, Rinse, Repeat

It’s now been almost five months since I finished my Whole60 experiment. Since then I went to London, ate everything, and then came home and found it very hard to get back on the wagon. I got so far off the wagon that it was hard to see it, way, way across the prairie. I suppose I never got so far as to eat things that some people consider reasonable, like McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Cinnabun. I did not stray THAT far, like viewing the wagon from the International Space Station. I still ate primarily organic, fresh, home made food, with lots of greens and pastured meats. But carbs? Sugar, oh yeah. I got on the sugar-go-round again big time.

For example, last Saturday I had a tea party. This is my new thing, since London. It’s a small haven of beauty, girly-girlness, flowers, china, girl friends, and of course, gluten, sugar, and dairy galore. I made my own grass-fed clotted cream, and finally, after oh so many failures, got it to work this time.

homemade grass-fed clotted cream, pure heaven

I bought a new teapot for the occasion

 

My friend Kari picked blueberries and made these lovely scones!

It was so sublime! The only problem was I felt ill and hung-over the rest of the day, and all the next. I need to do this gluten-free, which I know can be done. Last time I made gluten-free scones made with almond flour that were quite nice. It’s no problem, I just need to, well, care. No they were not “tall, with golden tops and white sides” (as demonstrated Martha Stewart’s guest, the chef from London’s Savoy Hotel). They were quite low. But as clotted cream delivery systems worked out fine.

Recently I went to see Dr. Cheryl, my integrated wellness doctor. What I love about her is that she understands POTS through and through, because she herself has it!! She looks at the whole situation in context, rather than pulling out one slim aspect and only treating that in isolation, which is my chief complaint about the Cleveland Clinic. There people have expertise that is very narrow and very deep. If you have one obscure, specific thing wrong with you, that is the perfect place to be. If your problems are more sprawling and cross categories, not so much.

Anyway, Dr. Cheryl tested me for a whole bunch of things in more detail than I had been tested before. For example, when I was working through my hiatal and esophageal hernia thing at the Cleveland Clinic (remember when I got to eat radioactive eggs and listen to blaring Fox news for four hours?), the adorable Taiwanese Dr. Marcus Welby tested me for Celiac’s disease. Of course I don’t have that– wouldn’t I know?? and it was negative. Duh! He let it drop. I said I had experimented with gluten-free and he was all, “WHY???” because for him it was Celiac’s or nothing.

However, Dr. Cheryl tested me for this other more obscure gene for gluten intolerance. Cha-ching! Nailed it! Positive. She looked me right in the eye and said, “You need to go gluten free.” This was a big improvement over me just running around willy nilly and thinking being gluten free might help, but so might any number of things. Now I have some substantiation to my suspicions that grains are evil, with 666 written on each one.

Luckily, despite my tea party grain binge, I have begun another Whole30 with my friend Shoshana, AKA the Kosher Cavewoman. This is day 4 and I feel HORRIBLE. It’s like a  stumbling in the fog, while too tired to even stumble. Sugar! Carbs! Being without them is painful, and I’m kicking myself for getting back into this mess again.

I had already signed up for this previous to the Dr. Cheryl directive. August 1 the Whole30 people began a sort of national Whole30, and I got on board. The only catch being that — If I am well enough to function by Thursday– I am going with Ben and kids on their annual boys’ Revolutionary War tour of Plaques in Fields all over greater New England.  We’re going to see some forts and plaques in Montreal, and although I’ve been clearly warned that no shopping and no cafes will happen (only forts and plaques!!) we still will be eating out, and that is hard as hell with the Whole30. The level of detail is … um… beyond belief. Then I’m going to spend a few days with Ben’s family in sunny Connecticut. I suspect that somewhere along this path I will intentionally give up or mess up, and be forced to restart the whole thing again when I get back mid-month. Remember if you mess up whatsoever you have to start over. Still, it’s worth a try. I will try my best, and maybe I will be able to pull it off.

Okay, so also Dr. Cheryl diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s disease, which is a fairly common cause of low thyroid. (I always love it when I get a new diagnosis, so dewy and fresh, straight out of the box, before the sheen wears off.) Of course, I had my thyroid levels tested many times in recent years and they were always “normal.” Now Dr. Cheryl has looked again, and either my levels have slipped or her test is more sensitive. I don’t know. But I do know that hypothyroidism causes a lot of fatigue, and other symptoms I have, and so I hope that treating it will be a help. I started taking a very low dose of Synthroid the other day. This is a delicate thing because too much can cause tachycardia, which is the T in POTS, and so we don’t need that. It’s a tightrope, but so far, so good. She adjusted my supplements a bit and has changed the formula in my semi-weekly vitamin shots. I’m taking mega-doses of vitamin D again, etc.

I also went to see my neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic, and after much ado and some testing he decided that having two surgeries in the last nine months, and many other issues, has put me into a low-grade constant migraine. The “gurgled speech” was part of that, and my two falls (one in the shower last fall and bad one in Minneapolis a few weeks ago) might have had something to do with that. Anyway, he decided to give me a short, sharp course of steroids to see if we could shake it loose. This seemed a better option than actually going on another drug, long-term, on top of everything else. But combined with the Whole30, and the new thyroid medication, I just feel wretched today. I hope that it will pass soon.

In other news, I took the boys on their awesome annual trip to Iowa and Minnesota. There they got to ride in the sidecar of a 1968 Dnepr with Grandpa Max, played with horses and sheep, visited the all the family in Minnesota, including adorable little cousins and Grandpa Warren and Grandma Patty. They did pottery camp, which they both loved, and played in many different bodies of water. Also, as I mentioned, I had a horrendous fall, sprained my right ankle and got an epic bruise on the other leg. I was hobbling around for a few days, and gradually got back to normal over a couple weeks.

I can’t believe it’s already August. This summer has just passed in a wink. Isaac did summer school, SCUBA camp, Iowa, Minnesota, pottery camp, and then Junior Ranger camp, which entailed hiking through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Elias did Inventor’s Camp, Fossil Camp, Iowa, Minnesota, Pottery Camp, and Junior Ranger also. Then they have a few days off. Then we all go to upstate New York, Montreal, Vermont, and Connecticut. Then a touch of free time before school starts again.

For me, of course, my free time is the opposite of theirs, so things will get easier when they are in school again.  We’ll see how this Whole30 goes. Maybe third time’s the charm?

 

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Guest Blogging Moment of Fame

I had an exciting morning today, because I got the supreme honor of guest-blogging for one of my most favorite heroes: Rex Parker.

http://rexwordpuzzle.blogspot.com/

It doesn’t link to the direct page, so it will only be at the top for a scant few hours before tomorrow’s puzzle bumps it down a notch. If you want to find it in the future, you may be able to search by date, Tuesday, June 25. As if you’re that determined.

I got this chance in part because I helped out test-solving things for his wonderful Red Crossword project, in which he scared up a group of excellent world-class crossword constructors to donate an original puzzle and raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. Also I was in the right place at the right time, and replied right away when he asked for volunteers. I was all “pick me! pick me!” And he did! Wowza.

Anyway, this was like being called up to the majors. On a good day I have 1,000 readers here. On a good day, Rex Parker has more like 30,000.

But dang, it was stressful. I worked a lot yesterday to get some London stuff up, thinking that some new traffic might come my way today (which it has, welcome crossword fans!). I had bigger plans of doing more work on this site to tidy up, dust, and put out the good china for company, but yesterday was just not conducive.

I stayed up until 10:00 p.m., until the puzzle posted on the NYT site, and the did it quickly. Well, tried to do it. My head started hurting like mad. A stress sort of almost-migraine thing! And anxiety kicked in, and the whole puzzle started to look like it was in Greek. I just didn’t get it at all. Now I understand that it was in the wheelhouse of the 20-something male, and that was part of the problem. But the puzzle and I didn’t mesh. Also I thought it was f***ing hard for a Tuesday!! Luckily there’s a reveal feature and I got it all sorted out, but I still didn’t like it. So I decided to go to bed, sleep on it, and get up really early to write up my piece about it.

However, I couldn’t sleep. Duh. So I got up and wrestled with it some more. Slept a bit. Got woken up by Elias. Twice. Ended up being awoken by Ben at 6:00 a.m., finding myself in Elias’s bed and up an hour later than I planned to be. So then I had like 90 minutes to get the job done, start to finish. And that included also getting kids dressed, making lunch, and putting some kind of garments on myself. Still a splitting headache, and lots of self-doubt. Ben transfused me with bulletproof coffee and kept the kids at bay while I slaved away.

I still can’t believe I had the keys to the Kingdom! But I couldn’t get this adorable penguin GIF to load, and I didn’t see all the important stuff about Alec Baldwin and Words With Friends, which would’ve been awesome. Technical issues daunted me. Some of the commands were different than they are on my usual blog. First world problems!

Alec Baldwin Apologizes for playing Words with Friends Too Much

Anyway, I did finally get the post up. I would’ve loved to tinker with it a lot more, but I had to get Elias to camp, Lena to the vet, and Isaac to summer school. The bottom line was I just had to pull the trigger and go.

Then the comments started rolling in. Most people disagreed with me, and I felt sheepish because there were so many more things I meant to talk about, but forgot, or didn’t have time. It’s really tight on the time. I don’t know how Rex does it every day, almost year round. I have new respect for him, and already respected him quite a lot. Still a great experience and I hope to do it again when the opportunity comes along.

See? This is the awesome penguin GIF, but I want it to be a little square where you can see it and all I can get here is code!

E8bV

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The Long-Awaited, Long-Overdue London Vacation Report! Part 2

Continued from the previous post…

Day 4, Monday: The smallest fawn gets separated from the herd. 

We arranged to meet our friends at the British Museum, an obvious first stop on one’s first real non-holiday day in London. In a word, it sucked. All the tourists. Never mind that we, too, were tourists. The other tourists were a problem. The throng! The crush! The mass of humanity. And must they all get their picture taken with the Rosetta Stone, such that it’s difficult for me to get my picture with the Rosetta Stone? Elgin Marbles, beautiful Egyptian stuff, all just crammed like sardines in with all these annoying people.

Now, we were proceeding through this mob scene in a group of 8, a G-8 if you will. Two families of four. Four kids, four adults, simple buddy system. Anna took a fondness to me and started holding my hand the entire time, which was very sweet, and mandated the Medium Ben take up the reins on trying to keep Elias in tow.

I’m beginning to wonder if Elias has a touch of the dreamy gene that tends to run on my mother’s side of the family. It can be a problem. Confronted with the onslaught of sights and sounds and fancy people wearing snoods and old buildings and double decker busses and cars going the wrong way and odd food and all else that made up the experience of London, he became much, much worse. On the street he would roam, wander and stray. He would just walk, sort of slowly, gazing around but not seeming to be fully aware of his surroundings, and he would lose track entirely of the group, the goal, and the need, the desperate life-giving imperative to stay together. I really wanted to put a leash on him. Also, making matters worse, he’s at a stage of wanting fiercely to be independent. So if I put a hand on his shoulder to prevent him from being crushed by an on-coming lorry, he would struggle free and cry, “Mom! I know what I’m doing!” But the terrifying and dangerous part was, he really, really didn’t. Little dude is only six.

With this in mind, Ben and I had formulated a plan and conveyed to the children this critical piece of information: if you are lost, you must stop. Cease to move. Stay in one place. Root thyself. Wait. Arrest your progress. STOP. Just stop. We are not far away. We will find you. Do not go out into the streets of London by yourself to find us. This we based on the old boy scout rule of “hug a tree” when lost in the woods. Stay put. Because if you wander, you could stay lost forever. The search parties may never find you alive, only your bleached bones and a few lonely vultures. All the more so in a massive, teeming city.

This rule came into play on day 4. After we survived the museum with life and limb and all members of the party in tact, we decided to get coffee someplace. Perhaps we let our guards down, because the museum itself was an adventure in fear of getting separated. The coffee shop did not seem to pose a threat. The eight of us large clumsy Americans invaded a lovely little tea/coffee and chocolate shop. Orders were placed, and we were told to convene downstairs where there were tables and where our stuff would be brought. We all sort of swarmed down a tiny spiral staircase and got situated. Alan, who is a teacher and has teacher instincts, naturally did a head count. “Aren’t we short a kid?” he asked. I looked around: Isaac, Anna, Little Ben. NO ELIAS.

Medium Ben instantly took flight and ran full tilt up the stairs while I sat quietly enduring a coronary event. Alan charged upstairs too. Maureen tried to calm me. “They will find him. They will find him,” she repeated. In a few moments, Ben returned with my tiny crying boy in his arms. We reunited in a manner befitting the train station scene in Sophie’s Choice.

He had not noticed that we went downstairs, or even that there were stairs in the back of the shop. He had thought we’d left without him. He’d set out into the streets of London on his own to find us, run half a block, and then– praise Jesus!– remembered the instructions. STOP. Do not look for the parents. Stay put and they will find you. He returned to the door of the shop, where he waited, crying, for five terrifying minutes before Ben found him.

I’m so, so glad that he remembered, and I’m so, so glad that we had thought this through and told him what to do.

Day 5, Tuesday: Gender-based activities. 

The boys and men wanted to go way out into the hinterland to the RAF Museum. The girls and women wanted to shop. So that morning we set out in our different directions. I had my special solo moment navigating the streets of London on my own, a big girl at last! I wanted to find a special knitting store, which was far afield from the touristy lands and into the heart of normal-people London. Wimpily, I took a cab. This turned out to be a good thing, because the “street” where this knitting store was located was only four shops long, and in fact in our country we would not have even bothered to name it. Cars couldn’t go down it, even. It was somewhere between a sidewalk behind some buildings and an alley. “Alley” makes it seem seedy, which it emphatically was not. It was as quaint and charming as it could possibly be. Indeed, it gave me a powerful Lust to Live in London and go there regularly and knit there with the ladies, while pausing to shop for antiques or possibly have a scone.

I was too shy to play my hand as a hopeless tourist, so did not take a picture of it. Pointless. Every time I opened my mouth, everyone knew my secret anyway.

I’m trying to learn how to do a screen shot. This is the place:

woo-hoo! I did it! The Loop, it’s called. The store itself was really underwhelming actually. I mean, it was a fine knitting store, but on a par with good knitting stores in Cleveland. Hard to fathom it is the “best knitting store in London.” But not only the Internets but the girl in I asked in a cheese shop BOTH insisted that it was. Who am I to say otherwise?

I bought some yarn to give to young Anna, who was wanting to learn to knit. Then went to meet them at the lovely, lovely Liberty of London.

The beautiful atrium of Liberty of London

We met and had lunch in their cafe. I gave Anna a knitting lesson while we waited for our food, and got to experience my first-ever elderflower presse’. Liberty of London is a department store, yes. It’s old and beautiful. But the main point, which I didn’t grasp at all, is that the whole upstairs is filled with special William Morris fabric and… yarn!! It’s a department store combined with what indeed may in fact be the best knitting store in London. I was happy that I had my adventure to the Loop, but slightly peeved that it was totally unnecessary. I could’ve shopped at Liberty’s all day, all week. Indeed, I had an opportunity to stay longer than I wanted to, because it had that famous appallingly horrible British service we had been warned about. How awesome it was to experience it first hand! I got to wait a million hours to buy a little pair of scissors and matching tape measure and a needlepoint kit of the Letter I with Iguanas on it for Isaac, while the saleslady pointedly walked away from me and didn’t return until she was bloody well ready to.

We were in something of a rush, too, because our next stop was the also untouristyPuppet Barge. There’s an area of London called Little Venice, because it’s a remnant of the old pre-rail canal system. There are pretty canals lined with long barges, most of which are heart-breakingly charming little homes. Agh! Must. Live. There. Soon.

We met up with the men-folk, who had a fine day looking at airplanes. Then ducked our heads and climbed down into the barge. Inside this small, tiny space, they had somehow created a tiny theater, with a bank of seats (maybe 50 people or so) and a diminutive stage where marionettes enacted Aesops fables. I’m not sure it was a hit with the kids, who seemed restless and tired and rather hot. But I loved the oddness of it, and the sense that somehow we were boldly exploring unusual corners of the galaxy where no other American there for a week would ever go.

gathered post-puppetry

Some angst ensued at this point, because we didn’t agree on what to do. Maureen had forged a plan to go back to their hotel, where kids could swim (supervised by dads) and moms could have high tea in the incredible stunning old library with a view of Big Ben and the Thames. I was all for it! The kids were all for it! But Ben was something of the poop in the punchbowl at the moment, because he just had a powerful resistance to it all. I think his concern was that he was in London and didn’t want to be sequestered in a hotel pool, much like the one at the Days Inn in Marion, Illinois. I could see his point, but the tea thing saddened me, and the kids protested vigorously in a chorus of shrill whines. Still, Ben won the day, and to be fair everyone was frankly exhausted. We headed home.

However, perhaps as a consolation prize to me and my lost tea, on the way home he took us to tea in a crypt!  A lesser traveller might have complained that eating in a basement with dead people was no match for the luxurious library at the fine hotel, but I didn’t. Actually, I was kind of charmed by the whole thing. The church (St. Martin’s in the Fields) is a pretty little jewel box anyway, and the cafe in the crypt intriguing. Elias didn’t agree, however, and thus ensued one of the few serious tantrums of the whole week.

Ben carted him out, leaving Isaac and me to enjoy cakes-n-graves. But he and I bet a few pence on whether they would return, and soon enough they did. We drank our tepid tea and ate so-so scones wrapped in saran wrap, and it was not fancy British tea, per se, but working man tea to tide us over until supper.

Day 6, Wednesday: The Crown Jewels and the Cutty Sark

The Tower of London was, like most tourist attractions we experienced, crowded and freezing cold. We got sucked into a line to see the White Tower, and only half way through did we grasp that it was impossible to get out without seeing ever stinking bit of the whole thing. Like twigs in a rushing current, we simply had to go forth and experience floor after floor, up and up, until it finally disgorged us. I would’ve been okay with it, but Elias wanted out, and out was impossible, and this all became suboptimal.

So too to gigantic roping line, out in the frigid wind, wrapping around for miles to see the Crown Jewels. The children balked. We stopped for scones and cocoa, but ate them outside, at a little counter in the arctic landscape, huddling our backs against the gale. Only later did we figure out that an indoor place, with heat, had been an option. Duh.

Maintaining good cheer in the eternal line from hell

I’m glad we saw the crown jewels though. The giant moving pictures projected on the walls caused me no small unsteadiness, even full-blown dizziness, and it was dark and crowded in there. I had to cling to Medium Ben to make it through. But, really, the jewels are stunning, incredible, and something that is actually worth all the effort it takes.

Afterwards, the kids engaged in some hand-to-hand combat with their new armaments.

We stopped at the Tower Bridge, and met our friends one last time at a nice Indian restaurant near there. They had to go back to Switzerland, and so we bid them farewell and stepped onto a boat going up the Thames to the Cutty Sark. I’ll tell the rest of this day in pictures.


When we got to the Cutty Sark and Naval Observatory, a little old lady stopped us and insisted, accepting no excuses, that we go to the Painted Hall immediately. She said she’d been trying to get people to go, and they won’t, and they’re missing the best part, and it’s just a travesty. So we obeyed. Who can say no to an adorable old English lady with a halo of white curls?

Isaac walked in and was all “Hey, it’s William of Orange!” painted on the ceiling and Ben and I were all giving each other the “our kid just correctly identified William of Orange!” secret glances. To our surprise, Isaac was quite moved by the painted hall. “I gotta sit down,” he said. And sat, studying it, for a long, long time.

 

This is part of what he was looking at.

Turned out he was trying to memorize it so he could later attempt to build it in his world in Minecraft.

The Cutty Sark is a huge ship suspended in mid-air, and that is a worthy project. You could walk all through it, and on top of it, and under it, and even reach up and touch the copper bottom. I even read and loved all 20 of the Patrick O’Brien Aubrey-Maturin books, so it’s right in my wheelhouse. But I think I was done being amazed that day, very tired, and I was all, “More incredible stuff, whatever. Let’s go back to the flat and collapse.”

Day 7, Thursday: All About the Kew

At this point we started to run into the horrible, horrible problem with traveling: reality. The grim unyielding confines of space and time. The reality is, you really can’t see and do everything. It’s a huge, Henry VIII-style banquet and your stomach is only so big. You just can’t do it. There are a lot of wonderful things that you just have to leave on the table. That day, we began to feel the crush of our to-do list and the anguish of editing it down, determining our must-dos and our next-times. I’m happy to say that the Kew Gardens made the cut. We spent the whole day there, and still left much, much undone– the walkway in the treetops! The castle! But what we did we loved. Here are a few highlights.

A big gnarled vine thing grown into a sort of living pergola.

 

Horizontal sleet made it feel just like home.
Beautiful Victorian glass houses, filled with rare plants
Kids loved the cat walks way up high. All the rust explains the massive renovation project that’s being planned.

Very weary and footsore after this day, we unwittingly took the long, long way home. We couldn’t find a cab for some reason (cough-cough– I took us out the wrong gate– cough cough), so walked to find a bus to take us to the tube. But this ended up being an extended bus, train, cab fest that went on for close on two hours. We did meet some interesting Brazilians along the way. One odd thing that kept happening– people kept asking us for directions! As if they couldn’t tell we were blundering idiots? Or maybe as if all blundering idiots (British and American) look alike.

Day 7, Friday: non-stop action

So on Friday our backs were really against the wall. We each had something we just would not and could not give up. And I’m not talking about Isaac who kept gassing on about this haunted dungeon he wanted to see. (Actually, that we didn’t see it still sticks in his craw– he said as recently as today that he plans to go back and see it for realz!). Serious London stuff. Ben had a rather vast list: The Globe Theater, then walking across the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which we would then see properly. I had one must-do: real, fancy English Cream Tea. We worked it all in, and then an excellent add-on.

The Globe Theater underwhelmed me. The kids were whiny, especially Elias, who was totally unimpressed by Shakespeare, whatevs. Isaac was slightly better, but the bottom line: tour too long and dull. The real highlight for Elias came at the end, with this lolly:

Eye of Newt

 

We walked across the Millennium Bridge, which was actually terrifying and also freezing cold, and then did St. Paul’s to the fullest. You’re not allowed to take pics in there, but it’swell documented. We had a sort of fancy lunch in their in-cathedral cafe, and then explored. At one point Ben and boys made the narrow, challenging hike up and back down hundreds of steps in an ancient stone spiral staircase to the tippy top.

Yeah, um, no thanks.

I mean, the tippy top of the dome. Once up there they had a great view, and unlike the London Eye, open air and patently unsafe.

Fearless children are part goat.

This was physically impossible for me, but I had a lovely time doing an audio tour. I lapsed into a long fantasy about making needlepoint versions of the incredible mosaics on the quire ceilings. We spent probably three hours there. I think the boys especially liked all the awesome tombs and monuments and creepy crap in the basement.

To be continued…

 

<div style=’text-align:center;font-size:11px;font-family:arial;font-weight:normal;margin:10px;padding:0;line-height:normal’><a href=’http://www.dwellable.com/a/7779/England/London/Vacation-Rentals‘ style=’border:none’><img src=’http://www.dwellable.com/dwellback/7779.jpg‘ style=’width:102px;height:20px;border:none;margin:0;padding:0’><br>London on Dwellable</a></div>

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The Long-Awaited, Long-Overdue London Vacation Report! Part 1

The other night at dinner, Ben suddenly asked, “Well, what was your least favorite thing about London?” We all thought for a moment, then went around the table.

Isaac: the cold; the crowded buses

Elias: the long line for the London Eye

Ben: the difficulty finding a restaurant that would allow kids

Me: the worry for Elias’s safety

It’s been, good heavens, three months, since we got back from our grand tour of London. It was a huge triumph of health for me while there– I did it!– but took a toll. The first two weeks back I was flat-out comatose. The second two weeks back I was foggy-headed and scrambling to catch up on many loose ends and details, such as past-due medical bills and lots of insurance fun. The end of the school year is always horribly packed with events and activities that seem designed to overwhelm and oppress one’s soul. See this blog for a mom who understands.  That’s exactly how I was feeling. Plus, I added the creative writing class that I teach and a large final project to the bill. I also had the most wonderful, wonderful time at my 25th reunion at Vassar. Then I had my uterus electrocuted, which was not as fun as it sounds. And now summer is really here. Isaac is in summer school half days. Elias and I are hanging out, and I’m working on a new project: getting bids to get the house completely resided and all-new gutters. Meeting with a guy this morning, in fact. And the garden is woefully neglected. I have things to put in, like now. Today. How the hell it did suddenly become June 24??

My point: not a lot of time to sit down a write a proper blog entry about our wonderful trip across the pond. It all seems like a lovely dream now, except the prologue, which was kind of stressful.

Prologue: The Sick Child Drama

The week before we left was made much more exciting by the fact that Isaac was deathly ill. We blame ourselves because on Sunday night, when I guess he was borderline sick, we dragged him out for a family walk in the woods. There he broke through some thin ice on a shallow creek and got his feet soaked in 33-degree water. On the ride home, he took ill in an old-fashioned sense. He got a chill, like they always do in Victorian novels, and took to his bed. The next day he was hopelessly sick, with a fever of 102, splitting headache, wracking cough, the whole thing. I took him to the doctor and she said in effect that it was a virus and there was nothing she could do.

We went home and then I spent Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, tenderly nursing the patient, doing everything I could possibly do, such as making a vat of chicken soup in the style of Alice Waters. School was completely out of the question. I also cancelled everything I had planned. I plied him with tea, vitamin C, every possible alternative non-FDA-approved remedy I could find. Nothing worked. Ben and I went on anxious walks around the property, trying to figure out a plan. Should Isaac and I stay home a few more days, and Elias and Ben go on? Changing the flights would cost $1000, and did not address the question of whether he would be well by Saturday, or whatever day we picked. Should we cancel the whole thing, at a much greater cost, lose the apartment we’d paid for, and go in the fall? Should three of us go and Isaac stay with his grandparents in NYC? Should we fly with him sick and risk the specter of a child in the hospital with pneumonia in a foreign land? And how could he get through the flight in this condition?

On Thursday morning, a scant 8 hours before we our plane was to leave, he was still incredibly sick. I took him to the doctor one more time. Isaac hacked and coughed and smoldered with fever through the appointment. In the end, the suspense drew to a close. The doctor pronounced him “fit to fly…” pretty much, kinda, with a huge array of prescription medications, and over the counter ones, and a stern warning that it might be incredibly painful, and indeed his ears might rupture, but no worries, they will heal back up!

This was ominous, but a major relief in many ways. The best option was for all of us to go, as planned, together. The last few hours were an insane scramble, but that evening we got on our plane to D.C., and from there overnight to London.

Day 1, Friday March 30: we made it!

We made it. No one except Elias (the shortest member of our party) slept much at all on the plane. When the sun started to rise, Isaac began to weep uncontrollably, overwhelmed by the combination of illness, excitement, and abject misery. His ears did not burst, at least. But the emotional circuits jammed and overloaded. He was so tired and sick that he spent the rest of that challenging day on the edge of tears.

We took the tube from Heathrow into London, and found our apartment without any trouble, but the man with the key wasn’t there, and neither of our phones was working.  Also, it was bitterly cold. Like, arctic. I had been watching the weather closely, and it was supposed to be about 45 degrees F and fairly dry all week. We brought jackets and sort of spring gear, it was Easter week after all. But it was more like 28 degrees with a damp and bitter north wind. Indeed, we spent the entire week wishing for winter clothes.

As we waited outside, freezing, with the children utterly miserable from the flight, I decided to take refuge at a Jamie Oliver restaurant that happened to be… right there!  I learned that in England they can’t just box something up to go. They don’t and they won’t. It doesn’t happen, not unless it’s a specific take away place. I ordered for Ben anyway, just thinking maybe he’d show up eventually and be able to eat. Isaac wolfed down some spaghetti, while nearly crying, and nearly falling asleep all the while. He then startled the man at the cash register by marching up and asking the price of a large chocolate penny. Apparently British children don’t just march up and ask adults things like that. The matter of how children and adults interact became sort of theme of the week.

Finally we got into our flat, which was still being cleaned because the previous occupants had left late, with a huge mess in their wake. But the maid lady took pity on us and let us come in, giving us rooms she had already cleaned to flop down in while she cleaned the others.

The flat was stunning. Just stunning!! Huge, bright, three bedrooms, two baths, a long sliding hallway, a full balcony all along the bedrooms, and a sleek kitchen.  These don’t do it justice:

The living room

 

Master Bedroom, with its own huge and beautiful master bath

 

The view from the balcony

You’ve got to understand, too, we looked at so many hotel rooms in the same price range where there was but a slim margin of space around the bed and that was all. For the four of us to be crammed in such a place with all our gear for eight days, and eating out for every single meal at the breathtaking London prices just made no sense. It was only slightly more for a flat, and then by sheer luck we got upgraded from a 2 bedroom to a 3 bedroom (we had a full room we never used), and to a much nicer, tonier building than the cheaper, scuzzier one we had booked.

If you want to go and stay in the same place, check out SACO Covent Garden, St. Martin’s Court.  I recommend it 100%.

We spent our first day stocking the fridge, learning how to operate the faucets and other things. (Ben explained, “This button turns on the option to turn on the stove… And the stove is called ‘the hob'”) I figured out that the little washing machine built into the counter actually dried clothes too! (well, sort of… the one use for our spare room was laying out damp clothes.) The telephone confounded us both, making the cheery written notes to “just call if you need anything!” somewhat irksome. We never managed to call a single soul. You couldn’t just pick it up and dial the number as written. There was some implied thing we didn’t know, as we might assume you know to add a 1 when dialing long distance. But once we got the internet going, we could e-mail at least and all was well.

Day 2, Saturday: Isaac names his socks.

Isaac has an unusual relationship with his clothing. He bonds with it and won’t let it go, despite his near constant growing and the troublesome changes of the seasons. Last summer he wore the same shirt, three sizes too small, featuring a t-rex in a rock band and the glowing word LOUD. I mean, he wore it ALL summer, into the fall, and throughout his class trip to Washington D.C. It became such a fixture that his teacher insisted on getting a photo of him in it at the White House. He’s also seen wearing it at Gettysburg, and many other points along the way. It was well into November when I finally got him to stop wearing it. At that point he switched to his trusty too-small pants from Land’s End, and one of a series of identical long-sleeved t-shirts with thin various color/black stripes. The knees began to evaporate, and I got him the exact same pants in the next size up. These we insisted he wear in London, because torn clothes would look shabby and poorly represent our proud nation.  He very grudgingly agreed to the strange and unwelcome pants (identical the naked eye) but that was as far as he would go.

I got him a pair of smart wool socks also, which proved to be quite helpful, seeing as it was freezing the whole time. These Isaac named “Sockalovich and Sockafer.” He was the only one who could tell them apart. He wore his trusty sock friends everywhere that week, only parting with them at night when I would stealthily wash them.

Their first stop was the London Eye. I contended that it would be smarter to wait until the crowds thinned out a little later in the week, because not only was it Easter weekend (a 4-day holiday in Britain) it was “half-term” — spring break, I gather– from all the schools. The London Eye was mobbed the Saturday before Easter. We walked across a frigid bridge towards it and I could see from far, far away that it was going to be arduous. But I had taken the advanced step of ordering tickets online, and paying for the most expensive, flexible, least line-intensive option. Even the lines seemed to have lines, and all the lines were mingling together hopelessly, but once I found out the right queue I managed to get our tickets and onto the thing in maybe less than a half hour.

POTS-wise, I was concerned about this London Eye business– it’s the world’s largest ferris wheel, or something. Did you know it doesn’t even stop? You have to step on while the car (?) in question briefly abuts the platform. But I did it! Then it moves so slowly and easily that I had no problem with dizziness at all. Up high, we had a lovely view. Here’s a snap of the occasion:

Also, there’s a bench in the middle of the car so a tired or slightly woozy person can sit down as needed.

After we had completed the very topmost item on the boys’ to-do list (indeed I think it was the only item on Elias’s), Ben whisked us away in a cab to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (“Rebuilt in 1667”). I began my fish-n-chips research project, and we sat behind a bunch of local chaps who were drinking pints and all straight out of central casting. They were stone cold talking about “orangemen” in a pejorative fashion. What is that, like Protestant Irish people? I don’t know. But I do know that an American friend heading to a soccer match in Scotland in an orange t-shirt was pulled aside by a casual observer and informed, “You don’t want to be wearin’ orange today, mate.” There are many things about the UK that I don’t understand, but I’m glad my friend didn’t get the crap beaten out of him for a random unwitting fashion choice.

A stone’s throw from there is Dr. Samuel Johnson’s house, so we went to see it. (Ben was reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson before and during the trip.) I was especially charmed by the little bronze statue of Hodge, Johnson’s cat. (I took a picture of it, but the iCloud has absconded with it, or something!) Here’s an image from the internet:

A Very Fine Cat Indeed

From Boswell:

I recollect [Hodge] one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ‘Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;’ and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ‘but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.’

This is the caption under the sculpture. Also notice that Hodge is surrounded with a few scattered oyster shells. Dr. Johnson would go to the market himself and buy them personally (they were Hodge’s favorite thing), because he didn’t want to bother the cook with it, lest she end up blaming the poor cat for her extra work.

The house itself, whatever.

Amazingly, we packed yet more into that day. We rode around on a double decker bus to our great joy; Ben took the boys to hell on earth Hamley’s, a huge and absurd multi-level toy store packed with screaming children. I did not go along on that ordeal shopping trip. Instead I went to the Covent Garden market, quite near our flat, and bought a whole bunch of wonderful bath items at Lush. (Our apartment had two beautiful big bathtubs as well as two sleek glass showers, where the water fell like rain from a square light fixture thing up high in the ceiling.)

I also did some emergency Easter Bunny shopping– it was Easter eve. I found that the English Easter bunny had only a few dregs of Easter supplies to choose from, which was counter to plan. The whole city was sold out. Not a basket to be found, nor a colored egg, nor grass, nor bunny-shaped cookies, nor… nothing. Thus he focussed on odd British candy and Tintin swag– we were only a block away from THE Tintin shop! My personal favorite odd candy were the innocuous-looking chocolate drops, boldly entitled “MAN-SIZED BUTTONS.”

Day 3, The Lord’s Day: Jesuses with Pints

Easter morning, after strange British candy was devoured and meringues as large as a child’s head nibbled upon, we headed out to St. Paul’s Cathedral for Easter Service. What we ended up going to was actually Matims, which meant nothing to us. I had hoped that there would be a lot of uncanny similarity between our Episcopal service at St. Paul’s of Akron, and the Anglican service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and that the boys would be struck by the wide reach of church, and the wonder of being part of a larger global community, and not just think of church as a boring place where you play trucks or read quietly until there are cookies. Also I thought it would be pretty epic. In our own church, Easter is a huge deal with tons of flowers all over the place, a full choir, with a horn section, and on down the line. It’s like you KNOW you’ve been to church after that experience. So I figured in a huge cathedral? It was going to be mind-blowing.

The building was in fact mind-blowing. The service was dull, and packed with tourists, and chilly literally and figuratively, and just all around a dud. Isaac slept through 95% of it, head on my lap. Yes, he had jet lag, and was still somewhat sick. Yes, it was lifeless and hard to follow. The giant space absorbed the choir voices and muffled then, making them seem wan and tinny. But Ben was crabby that Isaac snoozed through it, and I was just bummed that I had been looking forward to it so much and it fell so hopelessly short of expectations.

Indeed, I was exhausted myself after it, and begged to go home and nap. I think the jet lag and traveling and everything hit me all at once. While I slept, Ben got antsy and went out for a walk. He came upon the most wonderful sight of Easter in London– 15 or 20 Jesuses drinking beer in a pub! What remarkable good fortune! This excited him a great deal, understandably. He rushed home and collected Isaac to come and see them. Here are a couple snaps:

 

One of the Jesuses was dragging a huge wooden cross, but Ben noticed it had a wheel on the bottom. Clearly cheating! Ben said, “But you’re supposed to be suffering.” And the Jesus replied, “It’s the modern world!”

Some good friends of ours, Alan and Maureen, who have been living in Switzerland made the trek up to London to visit us for a few days. Through the luck of the hotel fairy, they were upgraded to an incredible suite overlooking the Thames and Big Ben. So later on Easter Day we went over to visit them. Their kids, Ben and Anna, and our kids became instant friends and we hung out most of the next few days.

Here is Big Ben, the boys, and “Medium Ben” (Little Ben being the kid.)

On the way home from visiting their hotel, which was right next to the London Eye, the boys were beguiled by a lovely merry-go-round, and also despite the frigid temps, wanted ice cream cones. Now, a merry-go-round is less than merry for me and I stayed clear of it. After 50 tries I did manage to get a good picture of the three of them as they went by, though:

To be continued…

<div style=’text-align:center;font-size:11px;font-family:arial;font-weight:normal;margin:10px;padding:0;line-height:normal’><a href=’http://www.dwellable.com/a/7779/England/London/Vacation-Rentals‘ style=’border:none’><img src=’http://www.dwellable.com/dwellback/7779.jpg‘ style=’width:102px;height:20px;border:none;margin:0;padding:0’><br>London on Dwellable</a></div>

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Spoon theory, gurgled speech, and more health updates

Okay, it’s been a while. I’ve been attempting to put together this really spectacular London report, about our trip in April, but it hasn’t happened. I’ve had some technical difficulties, and now the Cloud has a bunch of key photos in its clutches and won’t give them back. This means another trip to the Genius Bar, which I can’t fathom when or how I will schedule. Suffice it to say, for now, we had a great trip.

Meanwhile, a huge amount of my time has been Hoovered up by my on-going cardiac rehab for POTS. This has been completely dominating three full days a week, and is like the worst unpaid part-time job ever. It’s not even all that part-time. But I’m now at the point of going out with a whimper, and sort of fledged. I’m about to step up from being the healthiest person at the hospital to the least health person at the regular gym. So include me in your list of grads this June and feel free to send me a present of any kind.

I’ve gotten to know some of the other inmates, although I don’t know their names. There’s Handsome Middle Aged Guy Who Looks Totally Healthy But Who Has Huge Paddle Burns on his Chest. And there’s Old Transplant Guy, who needs yet another new heart and rides his bike like a sleeping sloth. And there’s Cancer and Two Heart Attack Lady, who is often in the treadmill beside mine, very encouraging and chatty, always telling me how great I’m doing. And Amazingly Huge Black Lady in a Wig, who sings along with all the oldies and hates it when I put my feet up on a chair, although I have to because of my circulation issues.

The other day a new young woman came in, who sort of reminded me of me about 25 years ago. She was young, with a long braid, and sort of exotic clothing. I instantly assumed she had POTS and was one of my people. So I approached her and asked what she was in for, sure enough, POTS. She got a tropical disease in India, and although she recovered from that, POTS followed in its wake and she’s been sick as hell for two years. We compared doctors, tests and ordeals for a little while as we waited for our Bps and HRs to be taken. I tried to encourage her with my progress. “Look at me!” I declared. “I’ve graduated from the recumbent bike to the upright bike and now to the treadmill. Pretty soon they’re gonna let me out on parole!” Also, I showed the lovely way I didn’t have to wear all the wires and electrodes anymore, and could just wear a regular-person heart rate monitor! And I got a pretty pink one to go with my purple emergency ID bracelet.

She tried to display an upbeat attitude, I could see, but I could also see how miserable she was to be there. It’s very dreary and depressing, there’s no doubt. Being incarcerated in a windowless TVless medical basement with the very ill is demoralizing, and has to be worse the younger you are. Worse yet is the sense that in fact it’s not a mistake, and you do actually need to be there. I watched her struggle to ride the recumbent bike for 12 horrible minutes at a snail’s pace, and get off all grey and exhausted. I said to myself, “That used to be me. God… that sucked.” Now I’m up to 45 solid minutes, striding along without falling off the treadmill at 3.3 mph and 0% incline. I can get my HR up to 142 and my BP still stays more or less okay. This is really quite close to a normal person type workout! Many average couch dwellers would be happy to have this ability. I guess the twist for me is that this 45 minutes defines my whole day, MWF, indeed trashes it. And I need some crutches– coconut water with tons of salt, support stockings, and many hours empty to recover afterwards.

On Friday, I actually had a migraine headache threatening on the horizon, then called in sick from rehab. Yesterday I didn’t have enough spoons (I’ll explain below) and couldn’t give my whole day to it. Thus, fading away without good closure, the summer has begun and I’m on my own. I think I’m ready to leave the nest, and lord knows I want to. I just wish I could’ve sort of made it official somehow, walked across the stage in my cap and gown, and shaken hands with Laurel, the exercise physiologist who has been managing my case for the past 9 months. Yes, it’s been a full school year for me to complete what was purported to be a six week stint in the joint. Many mishaps along the way, of course. But, whatever. Here I am now.

In my POTS world, people have been circulating these little blue bracelets with spoons on them. Like this:

Blue Awareness Bracelet / Anklet – The Spoon Theory – POTS, Dysautonomia, ARDS, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue, & More

Blue Awareness Bracelet / Anklet - The Spoon Theory - POTS, Dysautonomia, ARDS, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue, & More
Blue Awareness Bracelet / Anklet - The Spoon Theory - POTS, Dysautonomia, ARDS, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue, & MoreBlue Awareness Bracelet / Anklet - The Spoon Theory - POTS, Dysautonomia, ARDS, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue, & MoreBlue Awareness Bracelet / Anklet - The Spoon Theory - POTS, Dysautonomia, ARDS, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue, & MoreBlue Awareness Bracelet / Anklet - The Spoon Theory - POTS, Dysautonomia, ARDS, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue, & MoreBlue Awareness Bracelet / Anklet - The Spoon Theory - POTS, Dysautonomia, ARDS, Arthritis, Chronic Fatigue, & More
With the dangling silver spoons, HOPE ribbon and Cobalt Blue glass heart, this stylish bracelet is great for showing your support for any of the Blue illness/causes.Whether worn for a loved one, self, or just to show awareness; others will know what you stand for.

The 2 mini silver spoon charms represent “The Spoon Theory”. A Fantastic way to explain to people what it’s like to live with a chronic illness on a daily basis.
Everyone could use some extra spoons. :)

So I was all, “What’s the deal with the spoons?” I read up on “spoon theory.” (You can read it here.) Basically it’s a way to convey the experience of living with chronic illness to those who do not have it. You have a limited amount of energy or resources for any given day, and so you have to choose wisely. For an example, this woman with Lupus was trying to explain her life to a friend in a cafe. She grabbed a handful of spoons and went through her day, explaining how it cost a “spoon” for each thing she needed to do. There were 12 spoons to start, and the friend at first thought she could just use a spoon for going to work, for instance. But no– it takes a spoon to get out a bed, a spoon to take a shower, a spoon to get dressed, a spoon to make breakfast, a spoon to get to work. So now the work day has just started and already half the spoons are gone. You get the idea. I ordered one of the bracelets, and told Ben about it. He very kindly understood and said, “I’ll get dinner tonight– that will save you one spoon at least.”
So I’ve been thinking about spoons. How many do I have, and how many does each thing take? If we start with 12 per day, I can see how they would run out very quickly. A spoon to get the kids dressed, another to make their lunches and feed them breakfast, one to get myself dressed, one to take them to school. So that’s five by 9:00 a.m. If it’s a cardiac rehab day- how many spoons is that? I have to drive all the way to Cleveland (one spoon), park and walk in from the parking area (one spoon), do the rehab itself (four spoons!!!), drive home (one spoon) and manage to get food and drink into my body before I collapse (one spoon). THAT’S EIGHT FUCKING SPOONS!! No wonder it totally ruins my day. (I’m so glad it’s done!)
Okay, so the scary thing was that I had a few episodes of garbled speech. Like… nonsense. Like I was trying to say to Isaac, “You goofus” and instead I said, “GOOFAHKAH!” Which sounded somewhat like a swear word and made both boys roll on the floor with hilarity. But I was.. a little concerned. One of my medical advisors has expressed a great deal of worry about my stroke risk, and of course I thought I was probably having a stroke. I even did the little stroke test (smile in the mirror, lift your arms evenly, etc.) and found I was okay. Then it happened a few other times, mostly when I was fully out of spoons and in that beyond-tired state where words are just too hard. I confessed to Ben and he was not at all worried, I mean totally poo-pooed me actually. Then I was trying to read to the kids one night and got latched on to the word “research” which I just could not say for the life of me. It was all, “seeerleche” and that sort of thing. I mean, I routinely mix up the names of my kids or pets or household objects, but I think this is within normalcy. I may refer to Elias as the “Whatever your name is– the short one–” or something like that. But this just total nonsense had me sort of worried.
Of course I was loath to reveal this to any medical professional because they are so prone to freaking out, and I didn’t- DID NOT– want another MRI, with or without contrast, nor a CT_scan, nor any blood work. I just didn’t want to go there at all. (Meanwhile, a dear friend has had an actual brain tumor, that started with garbled speech, and this was on my mind too). So finally I broke down and confessed the whole thing to my exercise physiologist and she, right on cue, freaked out. I was walking on the treadmill at the time, and began crying and hyperventilating and it was all quite a mess. So she insisted that I call all sorts of people that very day and tell them, especially my neurologist.
I complied, if only because I would get in trouble if I didn’t. I told the secretary that I had been having incidents of garbled speech and it was new for me and I was concerned. I think they were concerned too, because a nurse called me back pretty much instantly. But the stupid secretary lady had written down that I had “gurgled” speech, not garbled. THe nurse was all, “I understand you’re having gurgled speech???!!” And I was all, “Noooo, not gurgled, GARBLED!” But the fact that I was calling with this particular complaint cast aspersions on my credibility. Anyway, the neuro was not all that concerned. He said it was probably just migraine acting up in a new bizarre way. We set an appt a ways out and now I’m okay with it.
Meanwhile, I’ve been having on-going lady-business issues that I can summarize as blood-cutting-procedures-medication-blood-procedures-cutting. I do wish that God would order a recall or something because this is not working and I know I’m not the only one!
On the good side, I’ve been teaching creative writing to 4-8th graders one day a week. Last Thursday I used up all my spoons for that day and the next (hence, none left for rehab on Friday) putting together our beautiful school literary magazine. It’s coming from the printers this week and I can’t wait! So there’s something non-POTS and non-medical to relate. Also the boys are both doing great, although Isaac’s addicted to Xbox despite his timer, and seems to be the only 10-year-old around who is not allowed to play violent, profanity-laced M-Mature-rated games. He thinks we’re ruining his life pretty much by limiting these things. Elias is fabulous and just played “Simple Gifts” at a piano recital to widespread critical acclaim.
Vassar 25th reunion this weekend! Happy Summer!

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After the Whole60, facing the void

My last day of the Whole30-times-two was Friday. On Saturday, very early, I got up and crept warily to the scale. In my mind were two conflicting voices: A) “The number is not important”; and B) “Please let it be twenty pounds!” The reality was an awesome, stunning, 23 pound drop. That’s in 60 days of unlimited, unmeasured, healthy, bountiful, and delicious eating.

I think the lack of measuring may have been my favorite part of this experience. There’s something so evil and constraining about, say, poor Betty Draper from MadMen weighing out her five cubes of cheese, or serving herself her walnut-sized morsel of stuffing on Thanksgiving. This sort of “diet” makes my flesh crawl. It’s intolerable. And it leads directly to Betty Draper standing at the fridge and squirting whipping cream into her mouth under the cover of darkness. It just breeds self-loathing and outbursts of rebellion. The Whole30 is mighty restrictive, but not like that at all. You eat big hearty meals when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full. There’s not really an impulse to overeat when everything is so nutrient-dense and filling. Your body naturally knows when to stop.

In addition to the weight loss, I found several other great things happened during this 60-day experiment. For instance, I managed to reduce my Prilosec intake to half my former dose, and to stop eating Tums (previously a food group in its own right) altogether! I sensed that my esophagus was healing well. I had no trouble swallowing anything at all. My knees stopped hurting when climbing stairs. I had moments of tiredness, sure, and never quite managed to erase my need for naps, but I also had bouts of heady energy and bounciness. My dizziness…? I felt much less dizzy. I managed to exercise quite a bit at the Cardiac Rehab center in Cleveland, and even went out into the world of normalcy and exercised at the regular-people gym! Without a problem!! I’m almost ready to wean from Cardiac Rehab, I think, and only check in there once in a while.

But now the bad news. The really horrible news. Are you sitting down? I now have learned that dairy is bad for me. Dairy!!! The stuff that ice cream, yogurt, cheese and butter all have in common. I come from the land of carved butter sculptures and the all-you-can-drink milk barn at the Minnesota State Fair. Milkshakes!! But Saturday through today I have added dairy back in, with bad results!!! Instant dizziness, for one big one. Huge heartburn flaring up out of nowhere. Last night Ben heard my Tums bottle rattling in the dark for the first time in two months…. All I can say is, this is dreadful. I really had hoped that it was grains. Somehow living gluten free seemed so much more attainable.

You know, the Whole30 people talk a lot about inflammation. That’s why they pull out legumes, for instance, whether or not the cave dwellers had them. They are inflammatory. I sort of didn’t buy it. Until the dairy thing, when it seemed to be that upon the very moment I ingested dairy, everything in my body started to react and swell in this horrible manner. My sinuses began to press on my ears somehow, and suddenly I felt dizzy. I even had trouble swallowing something– an item got stuck on the way down– for the first time in ages. Dairy!! How could you play me so cold?

Now. On to grains. Over the next 3 or 4 days I’ll try wheat and see if gluten is also my foe. I hope not. One or the other, people! If I’m okay with gluten, at least I can still have an occasional vegan brownie.

Whether I will even want a vegan brownie is another question entirely. This is so weird, so bizarre, and yet it’s true: my tastes have really changed. I had ice cream on Saturday night. My favorite: Jeni’s salty caramel. To my amazement, it wasn’t good! It was… sickly sweet and cloying. I managed to suffer through it, but it was frankly not at all like I remembered it! Today I wanted carrot cake as the opening foray into grains, and while at the store got seduced by a sample of chocolate-caramel torte. After grimly walking past these things for two months, I succumbed. Again, much too sweet! I had a couple more samples to be sure, and then after that binge (three tablespoons of cake), felt ill and gained a headache on half my head. Why must it be so sweet?

Now a banana seems very sweet to me, and raisins and dates are really too much. I think that I actually did adjust my tastes– all that watching for the traces of sugar in ketchup and on the outsides of bacon and such actually worked! I know this may seem odd, because the Whole30 people said it would, but I just assumed it was not actually going to be true in my case. I mean, I love sugar! It’s my favorite food group! And sugar plus dairy equals ice cream, which truly makes the world go round.

…. Or used to.

So now I am fumbling forward. What do I like? What should I eat? And most importantly, can I lose another 23 pounds?? That would be spectacular!

My gut feeling is that as much as possible I must just march forward without changing much. You dance with the girl you brung, right? So this eating method has improved my health a great deal. Why would I abandon it now?

And now, answers to your common questions:

1) Wasn’t it hard as hell? No!! That’s what was so weird about it. It did take a few weeks to get into the groove of the new paradigm, but it really wasn’t hard. Well, not at home. Being out in the world and trying to stick to it was a challenge for sure. But at home, no problem. The food was delicious and abundant. What’s not to love?

2) Wasn’t it a huge amount of work? Yes. Frankly, it is a lot of work to cook everything in your life from scratch. Making your own mayonnaise, stock, etc., where other people would buy them. But I quickly learned how to manage it. Make your own convenience foods. Cook a lot! Have leftovers on hand all the time! these are some of the keys. Also, I should mention that being sick and seeing doctors all the time is even more work.

3) Wasn’t it wildly expensive? In my case, yes, but this is mostly because I make no effort whatsoever to economize. Halibut at $25 a pound? Yum! But you don’t have to be like me. If you think about what you drop from your diet versus what you add, you can see that it would level out. Instead of spending $4.00 on your supposedly healthy processed and sugar-laden breakfast cereal, you can spend that $4.00 on 2 pounds of organic yams. Processed foods are not as cheap as they pretend to be. Sure, a beautiful pastured chicken could set you back $15. But think of what you get: a dinner for four, two solo lunches, and a huge pot of chicken stock. Compare that to the equal cost of Lean Cuisines, and you will see what I’m talking about. And eggs! Even the best, most lovely eggs are $5.00 a dozen. Which is six servings of excellent protein at about 80 cents each. That sort of calculation really makes it no longer seem expensive. Think of your pop and latte budget, and how much kale that could buy!! Also, most importantly, how much does it cost to see the doctor, even one time? If I can eat better and get my medical costs under control, it will be very , very cheap.

In summation, if you are not happy with your weight, your energy level, or your overall health, I really encourage you to try the Whole30. And no, that’s not a paid endorsement. I just have had a really good experience with it.

 

 

 

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Do I hear Whole60?

After thinking about it for 24 hours, I decided I just had to keep going. I then announced on Facebook that I’m going to make it a Whole60, ending March 2, and lo a few friends were thinking the same thing. They too were loathe to stop. We’re all re-upping, staying the course, and heading onwards. I’ve sort of even lost count of what day this is. Day 4? Whatever. Pretty soon it’s just “Sunday.”

Yesterday would’ve killed me a few months ago, but yesterday I made it through in decent shape, and am up and around quite nicely this morning. The kids were invited for an all-day playdate at a friend’s house. So Ben and I decided to have a “day date” up in Cleveland. Step one, we went to the museum. The Cleveland Museum of Art just underwent this incredible renovation and we hadn’t seen it. (It’s really beautiful! And free! Go there soon!) So we went up there and had lunch in this lovely  atrium and then walked through a bunch of exhibits. For hours. I did get tired out at times, and had to sit down and pretend to really examine a painting closely for a while. But I then would get up and roam some more. Ben and I have been watching this old TV series called “Civilisation” (british spelling) “A Personal View By Lord Kenneth Clark.” It’s really cute. Lord Clark is like the real life Lord Grantham. It’s art history from the middle ages to the industrial age. Then a new series kicks off, “The Shock of the New” which is all about Modernism, and the Fauves! And the Dadaists, and so on. Very scruffy-haired, 60’s narrator. Anyway, with all this under our belts it was fun to go see some of the paintings and artists in real life.

I really was exhausted when we got back to the car, but Ben needed to get some shirts. He’s very trim what with all his running and his push-up regimen, so has shrunk. That took a little while. Then we went to get spices at Penzey’s. Got a huge ton of things I’ve been wanting. Hate it when recipes call for “Sunny Paris” or “Tsardust Memories” and I have no idea what that contains.

After that we had a sort of trying shopping experience at Whole Foods. The goal: grass-fed steak and a salad. In and out in five minutes. The reality: they were out of grass-fed steak! And … here it comes… I just couldn’t bear to eat the conventional corn fed. I know! it’s getting pretty serious! So Ben was disgruntled. We had some marital discord. The butcher was also disgruntled. But I’m like, Dude, it’s WHOLEFOODS!! You have to expect customers like me. So I finally regrouped and settled on some wild caught halibut and Ben capitulated and we headed out. On the way to the car I said, “Were you amazed that I managed to out-snob Whole Foods” and he goes, “Amazed is not the word for it.” We laughed, I think it’s very tiring to be Ben sometimes.

Next stop, picking up the kids. However, we were invited to come in for a minute and then ended up being there for an hour and a half. The kids didn’t want to leave mid-play of course, and Ben wanted to have a beer with the dad, and I wanted to talk spices with the mom (they are from India). I brought in my haul and we sniffed all the wonders and she ended up giving me some lovely spices she gets at the Indian store. So we finally stumbled into our house at 8:00. I had to get dinner on the table STAT. Everyone was totally tired and hungry.

I did pull it together quickly, though. And the new spice collection saved the day. I used “Sunny Paris” in some almond meal and made an instant paleo crust for the halibut and baked it in a hot oven in ten minutes. Some veggies, and voila! Done!

I know this was an inspired moment that came along as a sort of blessing to me, but I think that so many people assume that good cooking is beyond their reach, sooo difficult and time-consuming. There are large segments of our culture that have completely lost touch with cooking from scratch as a concept. I had a conversation with a caterer (!!) one time and basically couldn’t understand her, and she couldn’t understand me, because she really believed in her heart that opening a can at your house makes the item “homemade.” It’s true the Whole30 entails a lot of cooking. If you are starting off with Lean Cuisine is your “easy” and Hamburger Helper is your “difficult” meal, it will take a while to get comfortable. But you can do it. You really can.

As I was going to bed last night I was prepared for the usual bone-exhaustion and muscle/joint aches. But … no….? I went to bed thinking, “By gosh I feel pretty good!!” My legs actually felt sort of tingly, like they were happy with all the walking??  This really bodes well for London, and for just life.

So how is it being Paleo in a grain-centric world? It’s hard at times. When I shop, even at the healthiest possible venue, I feel an odd sense that I live on the other side of the looking glass. There are aisles upon aisles of things I no longer can imagine ingesting. Not that it’s wrong or bad, so much as baffling. Just … why? Yesterday at the museum there was a treat case full of lovely little tarts and cookies, but I tricked myself, as I so often do, into believing that they were made of plastic. That sort of worked. It wasn’t really that I wanted some so much as I remembered wanting — and having– some in the past. It was like a faint echo.

Do I get cravings still? Sometimes. Lately I’ve been looking forward to having dairy again, especially since I was planning on plain yogurt on January 31. But when the option was there, I just opted not too. Not that I never will again. But… not yet. Sometimes in my old haunts I still get a pang. The bakery section at the Mustard Seed (local upscale health food market) can be tough, especially if they have samples! So tiny and so easily popped into the mouth. But I’ve walked by now many times. At first the kids would hold my hands still, giggling, and I would pretend to shake as we walked by. But now it’s easier. The ice cream area in Earthfare is an issue, as is their chocolate department. I keep walking. Get berries. Walk on by. It’s a little easier each time. Meanwhile, I look at these things and wonder how blindingly sweet they must be by now. Now that I’m discovering sweetness in unlikely places, like coconut milk and carrots.

Whole60?? Yes! How will this all look in a couple more weeks? Even better!

 

 

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