Stretching the Gray Matter…

A ray of sunlight streams through the window in the small space that is my study. Dust particles in the air seem to dance in that stream of light as if in appreciation of the sun finally making a grand appearance after many dreary winter days. It may only be for a few moments, or with any hope, hours but still, all shines happy in this moment in my room…which clearly needs tidying and a good swipe of the dust cloth.

Sigh.

Alas, I don’t have the energy even for a vacuum cleaner.  I’m still tired from an out-of-the-usual experience just the other day.  The fact that I’m not a spring chicken anymore is ever clearer to me, even as I acknowledge that part of my tiredness (and feeling older than I really should) is due to a marked change in my fitness regimen.  I’m not sure what label to give it because any word I would use would be negative and counter-productive to living in a more bliss-full state… (e.g. lazy comes to mind).

My out-of-the-usual experience involved three hours in the swimming pool.

And heavens no…I did not swim for three hours (those days are long past!).  I would most likely still be in bed if that were the case!

So, it’s not news that last year was spent dealing–or trying to deal with–getting through to my wayward adult son.  Ten months of trying to help him help himself left me depleted both emotionally and physically. Add to that house projects and other family issues, and a robust work schedule for Rocket-man (nothing to complain about there for sure, but still….)  all of which made Rocket-man emphatically proclaim:  It’s time for a little fun in 2019!”

His first action for the new year was to book a scuba-diving vacation.  It’s been over ten years since I last donned a wet-suit.  That was for an impromptu afternoon scuba adventure in Hawaii where Rocket-man was attending a work-related conference.  Prior to that it had been seven years since we had been on an actual scuba diving vacation.  Naturally, I was game for my husband’s plan however not without a healthy amount of reservation mixed with a sprinkling of fear.

“It’s been over ten years since we’ve been scuba diving.  “My wet-suit probably won’t even fit now,” I said.  “….and besides, we’ll need a refresher course of some sort before we go.”

“Nah….it will all come back to you on day one of our dive vacation….sort of like riding a bicycle,” said the Ph.D. dude who has many more dives under his belt than moi.

So, we are in the basement rifling through our scuba equipment that has been stored in boxes through two moves.  “Clearly we need to get our gear serviced before our trip,” says Rocket-man as he carefully inspects his regulator.   Meanwhile, I look at my wet-suit noting the size tag: medium.  Hmm.  Yeah, right I think to myself as I steal upstairs to try it on as Rocket-man continues going through the gear.  With some struggle, common with wet-suits, I try it on and am amazed that I can still zip it up.  Standing in front of the large floor mirror I regard the image before me.

“It is what it is.  It’s not my best post-menopausal look but it could be worse,” I whisper with a rueful grin.

Back downstairs, Rocket-man has gathered the equipment that needs to be serviced.  I hold up my BCD vest.  It’s black and purple and looks no worse for the wear after being stored away for so long.  “I don’t even remember what BCD stands for,” I say to my husband.

“Buoyancy Control Device,” he answered.

Ah…yes.

“So what does this do? I asked pointing to a long, rigid hose on the left shoulder of the BCD vest.

Rocket-man does not give me a “you’re a dolt” look but I can see for a moment he is perplexed that I don’t remember something so…well… basic.  “That’s the BC inflator hose.  You know, to inflate the BC for…

“…yes, duh….buoyancy,”  I reply.   “Okay….still, as you can see, I would feel more comfortable if we spent some time reacquainting ourselves with all of this.  Maybe you don’t need it, but I certainly do.  I won’t feel one bit comfortable in the water without a refresher class.  And, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that it’s not particularly safe to go open water diving without knowing what the hell you’re doing.”

“Okay,” said Rocket-man.  I’ll schedule a class through the dive shop.  I’ll do it with you so you don’t have to go it alone.  You are, after all, my beautiful dive buddy.”

Swoon.

Then, for a few minutes he patiently goes over the five basic parts and functions of the diving regulator, that critical piece of equipment which enables one to breathe from a scuba tank.  Inquiring minds can check out this useful link: https://www.thoughtco.com/parts-of-a-scuba-diving-regulator-4123025

As you may have surmised by now, the three-hour pool session was our scuba refresher class.  I was excited to be at the pool with gear in hand, that is…until I learned that  a pop-quiz would be the start of our session!   Real test anxiety called for calming breaths.  A voice in my head said go with the flow; don’t resist.   Still, when I got to the section on Dive Tables and determining surface intervals and bottom time, I choked.  Literally.  I mean, look at the table for yourself and tell me if your eyes don’t glaze over!  I missed more than I am happy to admit.  Even my Ph.D. dude missed a couple of questions.

PADI: Recreational Dive Table

Crushed, I thought that surely it would be further downhill from there but luckily going over the tables with the dive instructor helped to slowly stretch the good old gray matter and things started to make sense once again; with weeks to practice with the dive table over various scenarios before my trip I’ll feel more than prepared.  In addition, I passed most of the underwater skills on the first try!  Even one that I struggled with years ago during my open water scuba certification, Mask Clearing.

We both had some trouble with maintaining neutral buoyancy during our three hours but even the instructor admitted that one pool session wasn’t going to help us achieve that certain drag-less grace in the water (e.g. no flailing around with hands and legs potentially kicking up sand and/or bumping into other divers).   It is one of the harder skills to master and needs, first and foremost correct “weighting” of the body combined with particular attention to breathing through inhales and exhales.  Our instructor assured us that by day two in the water during our scuba vacation we’d be hovering practically motionless horizontally and streamlining our bodies effortlessly and efficiently with the style and grace of an elegant sea creature.

After class, as I showered and then rinsed the chlorine off my wet-suit, I thought about how important it is, as we age, to keep stepping out of the box, even for an afternoon.  Body and brain were stretched and tired but there was a beautiful satisfaction in knowing that I did not resist…I just did…and that buoyed my spirits for the rest of the day.

After class, as we hauled our gear and tired bodies to the car, Rocket-man, without provocation from yours truly, admitted:

“You were right Cristina.”

“What’s that you say my dearest? ”

“You were right to insist on a refresher class.”

How blissful to mine ears!

Golden Rule Moments…

It’s never an easy thing to spend time visiting someone in a continuing care facility, though I have to admit the place in Arizona where my mom spent the last year and a half of her life was pretty close to a five-star resort–and therefore, actually a lovely place to visit.  For example, the spacious marble-floored halls on the main level were adorned with works of art fit for fine museums.  Holiday brunch was a dress-to-the-nines affair and the food was fantastic.  On one visit I got to swim in one of two large saltwater pools.  At this “convent” as my mother would inexplicably call it, there was even a beautiful, fully stocked bar –resort-worthy–where residents could enjoy evening–or, more accurately,  early afternoon, libations.  In a grand ball-room, monthly entertainment featured chorale and quartet performances as well as guest speakers, solo musicians, dancers, poets, authors…basically, all sorts of talented, top-notch performers.

Alas, five-star living is not in the cards for Rocket-man’s mother who is now in a memory care unit for dementia.  The facility is in a small country community outside of Pittsburgh.  I won’t name names, but apparently the company boasts the following on their website:  “Proud recipient of the 2018 Best of Senior Living Award from SeniorAdvisor.com the largest ratings and reviews site for senior care and services in North America. To qualify for this award, you must be the best of the best in senior care, based on online reviews written by seniors and their families.”

Without going into details, let’s just say I disagree. 

Okay…I will admit that is not altogether fair to compare the two care facilities; it’s an apples and oranges kind of thing.  But I also base my Opine on the fact that I worked as a marketing assistant in a continuing care facility some years ago and while it wasn’t five-star resort worthy it was, hands down, a far better place than the halls I walked through just days ago.

Sigh…How I wish money wasn’t an issue; it would have been lovely to give this woman brighter surroundings.  The place where she is spending her final years is exceedingly depressing, nowhere near the grandeur that my mother was fortunate to have lived in even for a short time. The fact that  my mother constantly griped about “her circumstances” made my head spin at the time, and this…my third visit to see my mother-in-law in such dismal place, makes it spin once again…

I know, I know. I must let it go….

So….The plan was to spend an overnight in a nearby hotel so that we could have as much holiday time with mom as possible.    Unfortunately weather would throw a monkey wrench into our plans as snow was indicated for our drive into the Allegheny mountains.  We’d been tracking the weather reports for Pennsylvania for a week and things were looking pretty certain for a  lovely white Christmas in hubby’s home town.   Given that the weather guys often miss the mark my sis–who would watch The Poodle for the night– seemed puzzled that we were adjusting our visiting plans due to possible inclement weather.   I understood where she was coming from; she, like me, didn’t want a family member in a nursing home to be forgotten about during the holidays.

“We’re not spring chickens anymore,” I told her.  “We don’t think it’s safe for us to make the five-hour drive (one way) navigating through freezing rain and snow in the mountains and on the forever-being-worked-on Pennsylvania Turnpike.” So the original plan was scrapped and instead we made it an up and back trip–all in one day, in order to beat snow that was forecasted for the following day.  We didn’t quite succeed in beating freezing rain and yes…we got to see a bit of the white stuff while traveling through the mountains which actually made us feel festive through the heaviness of our purpose.

Although quantity of time was an issue, quality was not.   Ever mindful of how invisible  most senior folks often feel, I was determined to make an effort to connect with every resident I encountered during our brief visit.  In the dining room where some folks sat slouched in their chairs (or wheelchairs) over a lunch that looked thoroughly unappetizing,  I mingled with as many folks as I could.  I sat with Naomi, whose lips were painted a bright cheerful red, and her table-mate Tiki, who spoke in barely a mumble, listening to their stories.  I shook hands with “George” who sported a Korean War baseball cap and I thanked him for his service.  He talked about a boy (his son?), rambling on quite a bit but there was such a delightful twinkle in his eyes that I happily stayed at his table for a spell.  I mingled with other residents too as Rocket-man continued sitting with his mother…he struggling to have a good conversation and she, unaware, confused… but poignantly resigned that there was nothing remotely to be excited about on this day, or any day for that matter.  And though I took issue with certain things I saw during my visit–like a resident slouched in sleep in her wheelchair that was parked in the middle of the hallway for much too long–my heart swelled at the sight of one staff member sitting on the edge of a single bed reading a letter from a family member to a resident whose deeply wrinkled face was peaceful and his frame withered to a feather-light whisper…

We will all be there…

So kind readers, I will admit that I’ve never been able to feel a close connection with my mother-in-law.  It’s just the way it has always been.  But her sad resignation during a moment of her crystal-clear thinking made my heart immensely sad for her.   I know too that Rocket-man felt enormously guilty about such a short visit just two days before Christmas. 

How blunt are all the arrows of thy quiver in comparison with those of guilt.
– Robert Blair

We did our very best to spread cheer.  I spent time rearranging items in her room after she unwrapped gifts.  I had to grit my teeth over all the layers of dust on furniture and the general disarray and clutter that we encountered in her room.   I gave Rocket-man “the look”…as in, nearly $4k a month and this!?  I knew from the set of his jaw that he’d be talking, once again, to the facility director.

And, yes, I simply could not hold back my unsolicited opinion about Rocket-man’s younger sister who lives less than three miles away from where her mother now resides.  Honestly, I tried to zip my lip with Rocket-man but I couldn’t help the anger that escaped as I fussed over setting things better in the small room. 

“Without hesitation, you’ve done all the hard stuff,” I said in a hushed whisper while his mother was in the bathroom.   “…and from hundreds of miles away.  Your sister has the easy part now–it could be as simple as short visits a couple of times a week to check in on mom and make sure things are being properly taken care of here in her room.  Yet she cannot seem to put her ego aside long enough to manage that,” I seethed. 

Let it go….let it goI breathed.  Of course, my anger will not help my husband’s head.

Suffice it so say said sister is a grand disappointment though that doesn’t sufficiently convey my feelings.  Family dynamics can be awfully messy to be sure, but when the chips fall,  elderly parents in their declining years should not have to be subjected to neglect and abandonment.  Kick family baggage to the closet, I say!  In the end we must take the higher road.   Follow the Golden Rule:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

As the year draws to a close and a new one begins with hope and promise, consider a resolution to add to the list:  If you have a friend or relative in a nursing home set aside even an hour once or twice a month to visit them.   Understandably, that might not be feasible due to distance or the mess of life, so send flowers or small care packages.  Write a letter and ask that a staff member read it out aloud.  I can tell you that witnessing that simple act of kindness was a huge relief to me; somehow, it gave me a sense of peace and hope for my future.

No….it is not fun to visit anyone in a nursing home, particularly as it forces one to face mortality.  And no, it is not easy especially if family histories were fraught with difficulty and conflict …

But simply think about that Golden Rule.  How do you want to be treated during your final years?  Whether you are fortunate enough to be in your own home or must call a care facility your final home, I’d posit that you–like me–would want to be treated with loving kindness and the simple act of attention.

Through thick and thin and everything in between, wishing you and yours Bliss in the new year.

Mother and son



Comfort and Joy…

Peace on Earth

May your walls know joy, may every room hold laughter, and every window open to great possibility
— Mary Anne Radmacher

Perhaps it’s the age thing…or maybe that I’ve been faithful with Andy and Headspace for 63 days straight, and counting, but since Thanksgiving weekend I’ve been playing Christmas music…non-stop…even when working out.

Oh come on, you can say it: That is weird!

“Silent Night” and a myriad of variations of “Jingle Bells”…while lifting weights?  Yes…weird.

Oh, but how magical these past weeks have been!  I feel like the kid I should have been allowed to be all those years ago.  

Better late than never, wouldn’t you agree?!

So, Thanksgiving weekend had us in the scenic Blue Ridge mountains attending a blast of a wedding.  Specifically, Asheville, NC., an off-beat college town nestled in the mountains between the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers.  On the heels of a weekend full of wedding festivities our spirits were high during our long drive home.  Though the skies were winter-weary gray and the chill in the air was enough to warrant bun-warmers on full blast in the car, the seven hour drive had me singing to the sounds of the seasons nearly the entire way home.  Curiously, all these weeks later I still am not jingle-belled out.  Even through all the rather silly insanely stupid controversy over “Baby It’s Cold Outside” I sing (and dance myself silly) whenever, wherever I can.

The year is quickly drawing to a close and as some folks have noted, it’s been not altogether blissful, but more of a Topsy-turvy, roller-coaster kind of a ride.  I’ve no idea what 2019 will bring and honestly, I’m not even thinking of it… much.  A marked departure from my usual process.

I’m simply enjoying the here and now..the comfort and joy and, yes, even tear-filled moments…

…like holding my children’s first Christmas ornaments close to my heart before gingerly hanging them on the tree…

…or handing a $20 bill to a homeless guy in a wheelchair: “God bless you,” he said.  “No…God bless you,” I replied.

There has been Pizzelle making with my nephew as well as our first Christmas shopping experience together–sans his parents….

…and watching Rocket-man string up lights outside and marveling together, his hand warming mine, how beautiful and festive everything looks in our neighborhood.

…And, like this morning, impromptu coffee dates with my sister.  Even beaver sightings during daily walks in the woods with The Poodle– hands freezing and cheeks too…I’m treasuring every moment, uncharacteristically full of hope and wonder for the season, and all the seasons to come… willing my spirits high even when a less than blissful memory threatens to break the spell of it all.

Though we have yet to bake sheets of cookies (it’s on the list this week) perhaps best of all has been Hallmark Christmas Movies with my Poodle-Love snoozing on my lap.  Judge not peeps;  I’ll happily admit to this indulgence.  Though formulaic and fantastical, it’s a wholesome escape from the insanity of headline news.

So, before the rest of the week gets away from me…and I trust that it will…let me take this moment to wish you and yours days upon days filled with comfort and endless joy.

Oh, and one more thing….spread your bliss whenever and wherever you can! 

 

This ornament is 32 years old.
Merry Christmas 

Two Peeved Peeps

Me and my shadow

 

 

He’s getting mighty cantankerous in his senior years….stubborn too. I’ve called him some ten times already; still he refuses to budge. It’s not his hearing that is the problem. I could whisper one word…cheese…and he’d shoot down the stairs like a missile.

No, it’s not hubby that I speak of though his stubborn streak is long and deep.  I’m talking of The Poodle, of course.

With leash in hand I stomp up the stairs miffed that I even must. 

The Poodle, comfy in hismy…study chair is aware that I am none too pleased.  I stand before him with the look. 

“Come on old man…let’s go.  I’ve got things to do and places to go.”

He complies but ever so reluctantly.  He’s almost sloth-like as we make our way down the stairs.   But then, as I reach for his smart winter coat that is in a pretty wicker basket by the front door his energy picks up—he practically runs in the opposite direction.

Rocket-man howls with laughter.  Me?  I’m peeved.

“You think this is funny?” I say in exasperation as I go in search of The Poodle.  “I really don’t have time for this.”

“Yo…Brando….get over here,” I all but bellow.  Clearly, I am not in the mood for games this morning.  I suppose it’s the stress of the season.  My house looks like a bomb went off.  I’ve got boxes of Christmas decor all over the living room.  I’m behind in everything–from laundry to Italian, and a list a mile long of stuff to do…. which makes no sense at all since I’m not a working gal.   How is it I got more stuff accomplished when I worked full-time, took care of kids, went to school and trained for marathons?

Sigh.

Finally The Poodle inches his way back to the front door. 

I sit on the floor and coax him into my lap.  Looking into his eyes I whisper, I love you as I caress his head and torso.   Then I begin putting on his coat.  With his tail down between his legs he looks awfully pathetic….like he is being punished for some far-flung reason.

I’m practically gushing with “good boy” praises as he lets me arrange his coat on properly. 

“Good boy….you’re such a good boy!   I know you are not fond of this coat but you do look so very handsome in it.”

His look tells me he is not at all convinced by my words….of course he isn’t!  “Look…It’s 27 degrees outside–and it’s very windy–so it’s gonna feel like it’s 19.  Besides, you’ve got a hitch in your giddy-up with arthritis….and well….it’s a Pendleton coat for goodness sake.  How can you not like it?”

If he could talk I’m sure he say:  I much prefer my own coat, thank you very much.

We make our way out the door and into the woods.  It’s a beautiful day–just freaking cold.  Round this bend and that our walk in the woods is quiet and lovely….until I see a woman walking her two Scottish terriers coming towards us.  Her pups are dressed in Argyle sweaters, one pink and one blue.  Both dogs are all snarls and snaps. It is their usual demeanor every single morning as we pass them during our walk.  The Poodle always ignores them as if to say “What atrocious manners you two have.”

Except for this morning.  My boy snarls right back.  If fact he’s barking and pulling as if he wants a piece of them!  Whoa! What gives?!

“Leave it!” I say as I pull him close to my side.  “Easy boy….easy.”

Not five minutes later he does the same thing with another dog–a chocolate lab.  Normally my boy is as easy-going as a Sunday morning. 

When we are out of ear shot range I stop and order my boy to sit.  He complies immediately.

“What’s with you this morning?” I ask gently as I rub his snout.  It’s not like you to be in such a pissy mood.”

If he could talk he’d probably say: You weren’t too chipper this morning either mom….like you humans, we have our bad days too.  Now take off this damn coat….

As we head back home I take in, once more, the delicious quiet of the morning.  Yes, my Poodle-love…we were two peeved peeps this morning.  And really, there was no good reason for mine! There are far more pressing matters happening all over the world to get one’s tinsel in a tangle over.   Let’s go home and make things right: it’s off with the coat and a treat for you and Christmas singing whilst trimming the tree for me.

There is bliss in that.

I’d much prefer my own, stylin’ black coat, thank you very much!

How Do The Birds Still Sing?

I had been procrastinating on this visit for, well…years. It was Miss Cookie, my friend of eons and more, who came for a short visit that prompted me to rip off the band-aid so to speak. There was never going to be a good time. There was never going to be a time where my head would be in the “right” place to receive the horror without profound effect on my heart.  Of course there wouldn’t be…

Oddly enough, even the weather knew.  It was almost bone-chilling cold.  The skies above our nation’s capital were a somber gray, not a hint of blue to be seen.  In fact, spits of rain threatened to turn into sloppy snowflakes later in the day.

As we waited on the metro platform Miss Cookie posed the question yet again:  “Are you sure you want to go there?  After all, I’m just here to see you…no need to do any touristy stuff.”

“I lived here for more than fourteen years and never went and now that I am back in the area I cannot put it off any longer,” was my reply.  “I don’t know why…I just feel It’s necessary, especially with what just happened.”

Miss Cookie nods in silent understanding.  The attack and murder of Jewish worshipers at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had happened just a few weeks before.

After a small hiccup on our metro journey into downtown we disembarked at The Smithsonian metro. It took a moment to get our bearings before we headed in the direction of our purpose.  Bundled cozily enough against the cold it would only be a short walk…eight minutes or so.  Our pace was quick though in hindsight I should have slowed to a stroll ….taken my time…but that meant delaying the inevitable.  I cannot procrastinate any longer on this.  I was not about to turn around no matter how tempting it would be.

And then, there we were.  Standing in front on the one museum that I’d avoided for years…

The Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and author of some 57 books, including Night which describes his experience as a prisoner in both the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps said:

“Better than one heart be broken a thousand times in the retelling, if it means  that a thousand other hearts need not be broken at all.”

This museum, and many others like it…as well as countless books and movies about the Holocaust…all are an integral part in this constant, necessary retelling.  The reason is painfully obvious…

“A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent.” ~ Elie Wiesel

And so, our self-guided visit began with a docent whose parents were survivors of the calculated annihilation that would take more than six million souls.  She told us her brief story while a group of us queued-up in the elevator that would take us to the fourth floor (in keeping with the chronological timeline, it’s recommended to start at the top floor and work down).  Just before getting on the elevator folks were directed to pick up an “identification card” from a large bookshelf containing hundreds upon hundreds of cards.  Each card told the story of a real person who lived during the Holocaust.  My card told the story of Monique, who thankfully survived the Holocaust.  She and her parents were among the lucky ones; they emigrated to the U.S. in 1950.  I will admit to breathing a heavy sigh of relief that the card I held told of a “happy” ending.

Miss Cookie and I would spend over three hours in the museum.  At first, I was peeved that what seemed like hoards of school kids were at the museum.  I’ve been to countless museums where groups of school kids behaved less than desirably.  In most cases they would be loud, obnoxious and, well….generally rude.  But this time I was truly moved by the hush of every young soul that toured the memorial.  There were times as we moved from one brutal image to another…or one exhibit on to the next…that you could hear a feather drop. The air was thick with a sobering reverence to be sure.

As we wound our way through each floor my heart, of course, grew heavier and heavier.  The exhibit of thousands of pairs of shoes worn by those souls who were exterminated made my stomach turn.  Though only a moment, it seemed like hours that I leaned against the wall staring at those shoes.  Every fiber in my being struggled to process what was left of the unimaginable horror some seven decades ago in the deliberately staged, and undeniably veritable scene of personal effects just inches away from me…

Shoes.  Shoes survived the horror. 

There are loonies (yes, absurdly idiotic folks) who firmly believe that the Holocaust did NOT happen.  Their minds are firm: There was no coordinated, systematic genocide of more than two thirds of European Jews, or their sympathizers, nor political activists, homosexuals, people of other races, the disabled,or, in effect, anyone whose looks and beliefs were in opposition with the Nazi regime during World War II.  They disregard, for example,  that entire towns were wiped off the map….more than SIX MILLION PEOPLE, murdered.  Such people claim that the six million count was wildly exaggerated…..that there are no credible records…no real “paper trail” to support the “claim”….no gas chambers….etc. etc.

Yeah. Right.

The black and white images in this memorial, and similar ones all over the world, tell a far different, incontrovertible story.  One need only Google “Holocaust” and in an instant hundreds upon hundreds of images from as many credible sources are to be found.  You’ve seen them, to be sure, dear reader…but though we must tell and retell until the end of time I still cannot post even one gruesome image.

Standing in front of a wall of names of those who rescued Jews, a memory surfaces from some thirty years ago when I first arrived in Stuttgart Germany as a young military wife.  As clear as yesterday I am sitting on a city bus with my toddler son sleeping on my lap.  I’d only been in country for a couple of weeks and was taking my first trip downtown for shopping.  Across from me an old man sits, his arm resting on an elaborately carved handle on a cane made of dark wood.  His body language seems sad beyond measure.  Our eyes met…it was barely a fleeting moment.  Was I imagining the weight of that evil not so long ago in his eyes?   I still remember being startled by the question in my heart…

Which were you…friend or foe?

I’m almost too ashamed to admit that I would spend three years in Germany without a visit to the concentration camps.  I did visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, an almost featherweight view in comparison, I know.  But the actual camps...

I simply could not do it.

Here I am today:  Miss Cookie has made her way home, grateful (as I am) that we shared this memorial visit together.  Though we were subdued for the remainder of that day we managed to finish the weekend visit with a fun-filled day of shopping for dinner fixings and then chopping those fixings to music and girlfriend talk.  How lucky am I for a friend like Miss Cookie; she filled my home with her unique wit, love, laughter, and the still-lingering scent of her fabulous Hungarian Goulash.

As I walked with The Poodle this morning,  I opt for no music…just silence.  I am still thinking about the memorial visit.  Perhaps it’s the approach of bitter cold weather that makes me think of the Holocaust or the few pages I’ve read of the historical fiction book I picked up just yesterday,  “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris.  A wave of cold grips me though I’m bundled up quite nicely in a down coat. Dry, crisp autumn leaves swirl about us as the wind picks up.   “Let’s go home Poodle-love and sit together for awhile.”

The nightmare of those years makes me ask a hundred questions in my mind.  And now, uppermost in my thoughts in this moment, as I sit here struggling for the right words for this post with images swirling in my head of unspeakable things that I did not personally endure (and, failing miserably, to articulate anything coherent) is:

How is it that birds still sing?

How is it that the sun still shines? 

…And how can I feel so content with my poodle-love in my lap….when….

well, you get it….right?

Gas Chamber, Dachau


Ten But Minus One….

The Poodle at Six

Kind reader, life has gotten away from me.  It’s November already! Seriously?  Where has the time gone?  The thought of Christmas around the corner boggles my mind.  Though I have no pressing agendas or a timetable that I’m subject to, I’m behind in everything, including penning a few words in this here space, at least on a weekly basis. 

Sigh.  Can you hear my groan?  There are not enough hours in a day.

So yesterday was my poodle-love’s tenth birthday. My heart swells still at the memory of that brisk February day in Oregon, well outside of Portland, in the country.  We drove up quite a hill to the modest home that sat on  acreage more than ample enough to allow puppies to thrive and run to their hearts content.  

It seems like yesterday when we first laid eyes on what was then a small bundle of black fluff. I had walked out on a large wood deck and this fellow came running out of the blue, planting himself down right between my legs.  That was it; my head and heart were seized by somersaults of  overwhelming love though I pretended to hem and haw for more than an hour as we watched how the little fellow got along with other pups and such.  Rocket-man had to agree to the new addition of course…and therein was the potential hiccup in my decade-old quest to add the pitter-patter of four paws to the house. Truth be told, initially he wasn’t all that keen on the idea.  In fact he was such a hard sell that it took me nearly ten years to merely warm him up to the idea.  At times I was ever so subtle in my approach.  We’d be out for an evening stroll and I’d make it my secret mission to stop and talk to at least one dog-walker.  Of course I’d be overly-effusive at times in an effort to engage Rocket-man, as in for example: “how brilliant that your dog fetches the paper for you every morning! That’s what we need too, don’t you think?”    At other times I could be more direct…like parking the grocery cart in the pet food isle, vocally sharing the ingredients of a particular brand that I intended to purchase for my make-believe pup, all to rocket-man eye-rolls and a shake of  his head with an emphatic “No!”

Ah, but rocket-man was captivated too on that February day that would bring further internet searches to a halt.  I had found my poodle-love–or rather, he had found me.  As for my husband: he will claim that it was the sparkle in my eyes that did him in.  I submit that he too fell in love at first sight with the ball of fluff that chose me…us.

So as I sit here an type at my desk my shadow–as I often call him– sits on top of my feet slumbering away.  He’s recovering from the trauma of a dental cleaning at the vet’s just last week.  In fact, I am sort-of recovering too…from an unexpected jolt over it all.  The vet called to advise that three teeth needed to be pulled. 

I did not see that coming. 

Okay….perhaps my head was stuck in the sand on this one.  I will admit to a little voice nagging about a certain someone’s recent bout of bad breath…

“Oh, wow,” I cried in disbelief.  “He’s had stellar checkups in the past!”

“There are a number of factors that could account for this,” the doctor said in her soothing, undeniably British voice.  “Age is certainly one factor but also he hasn’t been getting his teeth cleaned consistently and thoroughly enough.”  She noted that I’d recorded his last cleaning a little over two years ago.  Before that, my boy had had three cleanings while we lived in Southern California but those were done anesthesia-free.  I thought I was being a “good” dog-parent by not subjecting my pooch to an IV and drugs.  What I realize now is that it meant that he could not possibly receive a thorough cleaning because he was not put under for the procedure. 

After going over the options with the doctor we settled on pulling one tooth, the worst of the three that was nearly falling out due to bone loss at the site.  “We may be able buy some time for the other two; but let’s be quite vigilent about it,” said the vet.   

“I feel terrible,” I tell her.  “I’m guilty of being lazy about tooth-brushing.  I honestly tried to do it daily for awhile but life got in the way…with my mother…family stuff…moving…Lord, the list could go on!  All excuses nonetheless.” 

“Don’t beat yourself up over this,” were her kind words.  “It’s not easy for most pet-parents…sometimes it’s all we can do to brush and floss our own teeth!  And really, his health is otherwise excellent and overall, the rest of his teeth are in good shape, with minimal tartar and plaque build-up.  The important thing is that you are taking care of this severely wobbly one now which will prevent more health complications in the future if you do nothing.”

$600 dollars later….(yes, indeed that was head-popping)…. I thanked the veterinarian with certain promise that my boy would be on the schedule for a dental cleaning next October.  While he slept in his bed, fortified with antibiotics, exhausted no doubt from the stress of the day, I high-tailed it to Petsmart in search of liquid tartar remover, Greenies dental treats and canine toothpaste.  As I stood looking at all the dental-related choices I was amazed by how much the canine/feline dental products mirrors those that we “uprights” use daily.  Some would argue the canine/feline dental industry is nothing short of a scam…an unnecessary, even fabricated excuse to drain the pocketbook.  After all, as a general rule, for eons, dogs and cats in the wild didn’t go for dental cleanings.  My vet pointed out that our four-legged loves aren’t foraging for food in the wild.  They are not, for the most part, tearing meat from bones or sharpening their teeth on twigs and branches. And, they also don’t live long enough to outlive their teeth.  Our fur-babies snuggle in our laps or slumber in comfy pet beds after eating kibble or canned soft mush.   Baring unforeseen health circumstances, our pets live years longer than their close counterparts in the wild. 

So the consequences of mediocre dental hygiene are essentially no different  between us and our four-legged loves.  Just as we take our own precautions against gum disease by regular flossing, cleanings, and good dental hygiene habits, essentially the same applies to our beloved cats and dogs. Obviously, we cannot floss our dog’s teeth to prevent canine periodontis (inflammation and infection from bacteria in the mouth), but we can pay attention to our pet’s teeth with daily brushing or at least a yearly thorough dental cleaning.   Without proper care, even mildly inflamed gums can progress to full-on painful gingivitis. From there it leads to where my pooch is today…resting in his bed minus an incisor with two other teeth in peril.   Furthermore, doing nothing would exponentially increase the likelihood of developing heart disease as a constant attack of bacteria from the inflammation in the mouth would find it’s way into the blood stream…the sticky plaque substance adhering to arteries surrounding the heart, threatening other organs as well.  Not much different from us bipeds if you think about it!

I look down at The Poodle who is still sleeping on top of my feet.  “Ten years and minus a tooth,” I whisper to him.   His left ear twitches at the sound of my voice.  My heart swells.   His presence fills me with peace.  The world is right as rain when my shadow is with me.  I know our days together are numbered, in every sense of the word.  That’s the way it is of course, the natural order of things.  Impermanence.   But for now I try not to think of rainbow bridges.  I just want my birthday boy to be with me–as healthy as possible–for as long as the fates allow.

Feeling the bliss on a chilly, wet, and overall dreary November day. 

Now, get out and vote if you haven’t already!

Breath strips….really?!! My luck I’d mistake them for my own Listerine strips!
I love you “mom” but seriously…let’s get this over with so I can take this ridiculous coat off!

Sinfully Sloth-full

Is it any wonder why Sloths always seem to be smiling?

It’s that time of year again where–for this gal–there is a short window of pure enjoyment of being outdoors.  I’ve inserted that qualifier (short window) on purpose of course. It’s what comes next that often makes me lose sight of being in the present moment; I am already gritting my teeth in anticipation of the derrière-freezing, frost-bound cold hands, of winter.

But for now, dear reader, I pledge my focus on the many delights of autumn as well as the promise of warm pumpkin bread, steaming hot cappuccinos and the luxury of slipping my feet (beaten up from years of long distance running) into UGG’s®.

I know. There is a certain camp of folks who opine mightily on the subject of Ugg-wear: As in, Ugg’s are ugly. These are the same folks, I believe, who have a particular disdain for Birkenstocks and Crocs too. Oh sure, I’d love to pull on a pair of fashionable European leather boots with fancy buckles and just the right heel that mold to my feet in perfect comfort, but that has yet to happen (the perfect comfort part, that is.). As you can surmise…I’ve thrown in that towel…

My Ugg’s, standing at the ready….

So who knew that today is International Sloth Day?!  I’d never have known such a fascinating tidbit of information if not for Alexa.  If you don’t believe me check out the following link: https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/international-sloth-day.  Apparently the holiday was drummed up in 2010 as a way of bringing much needed attention to the animal which appears to be in danger of extinction.

Though it took quite some time today for the sun to break through gray clouds (perhaps She was feeling sloth-full as well?) I felt it was my duty to comply with Alexa’s order of the day:  “…so go ahead, slow down and relax.”  And, reading just a bit about International Sloth Day I could only chuckle over the validity of learning from animals…other than the human-kind, of course.  The Poodle, for one, has opened my heart ten-fold more in the nearly ten years he has been with us.

What bliss it was this afternoon then as I slid bare feet into Ugg”s and spent a few sinfully sloth-full hours after yard work out on the screened-in porch reading, enjoying cups of coffee, and generally thinking about–and doing–absolutely nothing.

So, take notice dear reader to consider an excerpt from the International Sloth Day page.  It is sage health advice (nothing of course that you have not heard before):

Excerpt from International Sloth Day page: 

“….Make sure you get enough sleep, take a walk through the park or a long bubble bath, make a real dinner instead of just popping some frozen lump of food in the microwave for 3 minutes. We humans should realize that although we may be the most intelligent of the species, that does not mean there aren’t things we can’t learn from other species. And who could possibly teach a better lesson about how to relax than the sloth? Exactly!”….

They are not lazy, nor stupid....They are creatures who are remarkably tender with each other and they know how to "just hang."
Remarkably tender creatures who know how to “just hang.”

I’m thinking perhaps we should all adhere to a new October 20th tradition and enjoy being sinfully sloth-full, if only for an hour.  Mark your calendars now for 2019!

Feeling deliciously sloth-full on this fine October evening.