Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chicken Bones At Any Moment

I glanced to my left and noticed a diagram depicting an upside-down fetus in an ear. Let the Witchdoctoring commence, I thought. This illustration was not exactly allaying any fears I might have had about volunteering to be treated as a pin cushion. My acupuncturist's name, I noted, was White Eagle. Nicknames seemed out of the question on that one. He is, by the way, genuinely Native American/First Nation so at least I wasn't confronted by the alarming prospect of some dude from Cincinnati struggling with a protracted issue of a contrived persona.

So where have I been? Being perforated, among other things, how are you all?

My son's long saga with his funky moles continues as more are removed and the people doing the biopsies, aware that they are examining tissue from something of a medical oddity, are being extra cautious. A twenty-year-old with one instance of malignant melanoma caught before it could spread is the proverbial hen's tooth in the medical world. So as patches of skin surrounding the three traitorous moles are removed, they are examined with a thoroughness that is both awesome and terrifying. One came back with "severely atypical" cells and was sent to yet another university for study.

This plunged two universities' medical schools into a pitched debate, the University of Colorado and the University of Southern California's had themselves a bit of a dogfight over what needed to be done. CU decided that enough skin had been removed, USC begged to differ and my son's doctor threw the decision into the lap of my twenty-year-old son, claiming it was up to him to decide.

This is the same kid who frequently has trouble figuring out how to make the microwave achieve the setting he desires. Unsurprisingly, I made the call on that and since he now goes in for four skin checks a year, I decided to err on the side of "Watch that area." The patch in question is between his shoulder blades and due to repeated movements, is a bit hairy to take more away from anyway. I actually do trust the doctor in question and if there was any question in his mind that it needed to be removed, he have said so. Saying that it was up to Flint was the same as saying he thought USC had eaten their paranoia flakes that morning.

Besides, he still has one on his head to go, on the top of his head, actually. I try to spend as little time thinking about that one as I can, as it hangs out rather too close to his brain for me to contemplate it all that comfortably. Its puncture biopsy also indicated that it is severely atypical.

Severely Atypical. Perhaps a good band name, certainly a decent enough explanation for some of his behaviors but not a thing I like to dwell on too much. Because my son is a Type 1 diabetic, he heals slowly and so we take these choppings in stages. We have that luxury as severely atypical means only that it was contemplating being something bad, but had yet to make up its cellular mind.

Let's hear it for bad cells that dither long enough to be discovered before enacting any nefarious plans. So good fortune, but a goodly dose of stress. This is probably a good description of nearly all of our lives, isn't it? At least I keep good company in all of you.

However, I managed to aggravate most of my old injuries by doing moronic things like clambering up and down ladders, while working out too hard in a bid for endorphins. Insomnia came to visit and then moved the heck in. The malady was one we can all relate to at times in our lives: Generalized Yuck. Migraines, my old foe, were becoming a daily occurrence and as is my way, I finally got ticked off enough by a body in rebellion to do something about it.

Die, stress, die! I declared. I've seen too many people fall to unintentional dependency when it comes to pain pills to trust the suckers, so alternative methods it was.

That's how I ended up staring at the diagram and feeling as if it was, perhaps, full of dung or at the very least, misinformation. That was a given, really. I clean my ears regularly and no fetuses lurk there. I sincerely hope, that is, because I shudder to contemplate the delivery process if I'm currently cooking one up.

After talking to White Eagle, I did ask, "So, are you gonna start rolling chicken bones in a moment?" "Yes, with smoke signals too. Would you prefer that I spit rum or vodka in your face?" "Rum, you can never be sure what vodka's been derived from, so you have to be careful."

A fellow smartass, as you can see. We were going to get along splendidly and have.

By the way, it's helped tremendously. So has the acupressure I had performed all over my darned body to help heal my Qi. This literally left me bruised from head to foot, with small fingertip bruises. I looked a bit like a leopard.

I also promised my 6'4" husband I would do my best not to croak under mysterious circumstances until such time as they healed, as he'd likely be a main (and large) suspect, considering that I had a bunch of bruises on my neck and at the base of my skull. They've since turned a very attractive sulfur yellow.

Boy, do I feel pretty. You likely won't be seeing this look on the runways of Paris anytime soon. It's made me look like cream cheese that has just gone over. Woo and hoo.

I've always had a bad habit of going to ground, choosing to not really talk much about things going wrong. I retreat into escapism like TV or films. It's a hold over from an iffy sort of childhood, where when things went wrong, I'd simply hide with a book and my dog.

Cricket from Cricket and Porcupine is a friend of mine and emailed me, hoping all was well and it was only as I was attempting to hide behind him, saying (basically) "Hey, could you maybe mention that I'm not dead, just hiding for a variety of reasons?" that I realized I'd be giving White Feather a reason to name mw Stands While Clucking.

"You have to learn how to redirect your energy, shut your mind down. Relieve the stress," White Feather told me.

"Dude, if I could do that on my own, what are the chances I'd have a needle sticking out of my forehead?"

His prognosis? "I think you might be Alien."

Told you he was a smartass. At least, I think he was being a smartass. I hope.

I try to show up around these parts when I'm up to being helpful or funny. Be well, good people of the internet!

May the chicken bones have no need to be with you.

I searched the internet for that ear diagram, but I only found this:

Anyone want a Qtip?

Monday, February 7, 2011

In the Basement with Sisyphus

One man versus a rock and a hill for eternity. It never pays to be a figure in Greek or Roman mythology, does it?

I think most of us can relate to Sisyphus, at least a bit. That feeling of futility that can overcome all of us in our jobs, lives, relationships. Housework is Sisyphean. You're not even done with the stuff before it is busy undoing itself. As you finish flourishing a Swiffer around you, somewhere a dust mote laughs maniacally and settles happily in your wake, it's the way of things.

Never-ending stacks of paperwork, quarterly reports, laundry baskets that never seem to be emptied before they are full again, most of us have that sort of things in our lives. There are figures in mythology I have very little in common with and that's something for which I'm tremendously grateful, as most of those folks seemed to be hosed but I can relate to Sisyphus's punishment if not any of his crimes. Still, it's not often and it's not without some form of relief.

Except my basement, that is. As far as I know, that is the true Underworld and for the rest of time I'm going to be painting that sucker. Not just because it's a large area, either. At any moment I half expect Hades himself to pop out of the storage area, flip me the bird and throw a pomegranate at my head just for chuckles.

When we first moved in here I bored the liver out of friends, family and readers here talking about painting, painting and when I had exhausted that subject? I talked about more painting. When you buy a large house inhabited for four prior years by a family with two teenage boys and a general aversion to all home maintenance, you'll likely end up painting a lot. Add in the apparent super-smoker who owned the joint before that and it becomes even more of a necessity.

The basement yawned beneath us, unpainted but fully finished, inhabited by my son for the first year and a half. However, he had an Icarus moment in the basement, or perhaps it is better described as a Prometheus moment, or even more bluntly: he nearly burned us to crisps in our beds one night causing me to release the Kraken within and boot his butt to one of the upstairs bedrooms. He didn't manage to set off the most hated of alarms at least, so at least the gods were smiling on me that night. Or smirking in my general direction, or something.

So he moved upstairs and we ventured downstairs and began to paint. And paint. When we were done with that we cursed a bunch and then we painted some more. The Super-Smokers I referenced before, who owned this house for five years and smoked in every square inch of its four thousand and some square feet, had the basement refinished, but for whatever reason they never had it painted. The only thing adorning the walls and baseboards down there is the drywall primer. I had hope it was just cream colored paint rendered dingy from the long ago dedicated Puffer, but no, it's primer.

This is only important because drywall primer is porous stuff. If it isn't rather promptly painted, it becomes more so.

If you listen closely on a still night, you might actually hear our gigantic basement taking another big slurp of paint. It drank the first two coats on both the walls and the ceiling almost as quickly as I could put them on the walls. They disappeared, letting the yellowed primer bleed back through.

On the third coat it looked like I was going to reach the summit with my rock, but alas it was not to be. By the time I got the third coat on I discovered something entirely horrifying. When I got a gander at the actual color, when it wasn't being sponged up by the drywall, I didn't actually like it. I'm sure there's a mythological figure that would cover that one too but instead of trying to think up one, I basically stuck a wide straw into a bottle of rum and toasted the death of my sanity with my husband. Cheers, Bacchus!

Luckily, the fourth coat is a good color. Of course, I'm going to need to do two coats of that color and then there are the stripes we have planned for one area of the echoing space.

So if you need me, I'll be in the basement with Sisyphus and my husband, who is far too nice a man to be featured in mythology, only he did do a bit of an Achilles impression just yesterday. Rob's tall enough to paint the ceiling easily without a ladder, but he'd hopped atop a stepladder to do some detail work at the top of a wall. Behind him lurked a pool table underneath sheets of plastic and that was easy enough to keep in mind. What he forgot about was the covered free weights.

I heard a horrible clang and turned to look at my husband, who had turned a dreadful tomato red.

"Ow," he said rather briefly, but he's normally not the color of a fruit often mistaken for a vegetable.

"What did you do?" I asked with concern.

"Nothing normal," he gritted out and I let the matter drop.

It isn't that I was uninterested, or unconcerned but his answer indicated that he'd done something embarrassing in addition to being painful. You know what doesn't help in those instances? Someone grilling you while you're still actively in pain.

However, later Rob brought it up again. Now, as it happens, my husband is a runner. He runs six out of seven mornings. He's also very stubborn and runs despite the fact that he has persistent pain in his right heel. It hurts him almost all the time and since he is cussed (and large) he won't do anything as rash as see a medical professional, no, he wants to see if the pain will magically evaporate one day.

So, presumably a good fairy is lurking around in our basement along with Sisyphus and his eternal fate. What happened was that Rob hopped down backwards from the stepladder and jammed his heel on two, stacked concealed twenty-five pound weight disks. It hurt so much he turned dead white after he finished being various shades of scarlet. Then a strange thing happened; it stopped hurting entirely for the first time in over six months.

In fact, it stopped hurting altogether and still doesn't hurt. Even after running this morning.

Since we've been joking about the mythological figures in our basement, we tried to figure out which myth might cover that one.

Anyone know of a myth about the Ironically Lucky Duck? No? The Fortunately Clumsy Warrior? No? The No Pain, No Gain Painter? Still no?

Here I thought there was a myth for all occasions. I'd insert the completely obvious and over-used pun you're all expecting now, but I've got a date with a rock I have to get to.

Take care and have fun.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

May You Live In Interesting Times

Every now and then life becomes a little too interesting. Fascinating, really, and perhaps not in the ways one would hope. "May you live in interesting times" is alleged to be, depending on the source, both a blessing and a curse. It's supposed to be of Chinese origin but then again, anyone other than me remember that, "In China it is considered a compliment to the cook if you burp after eating!" legend?

Ah well, at least it was an interesting claim, even if I can't help but envision tourists, pleased as punch and belching for the gold, smiling broadly at their completely horrified Chinese hosts. I guess I should be thankful that the same prankster didn't try to pull something like, "And in Albania the only courteous thing is to chew with your mouth open while eating solely with your feet!" "In Russia it is the custom to fling Bortsch at passing strangers!" "In India unless you hang your host out the window by his or her heels you have committed a grievous sin against etiquette!"

I'll bet he or she tried, but the burping was the only thing that caught on. Anyway, yes, while interesting as a claim, it wasn't exactly a good thing.

However, while you still have a pulse you stand a chance at regaining some comforting boredom. Less intrigue, more sameness. Bring on the rut, I say!

I'm going into that because as all parents know all too well, occasionally your kids will become so interesting that contemplating joining the circus, the French Foreign Legion, or one of those strange cults that focuses insane amounts of energy on constructing temples from dryer lint seems the only reasonable option. My son has been posing some interesting problems of late and that's where I've been. Being riveted, so to speak.

I apologize for my long absence from the blogosphere and for being as vague as I can be without actually disappearing from view altogether. Sometimes you want to talk about problems, sometimes you want to get busy solving them. At still others you want to kick the stuffing out of a problem, take its lunch money and insult its mother to boot. I leave it to you to figure out what stage I'm in with my son.

I did want to thank blogger and all the people who dropped by after being named a blog of note. I'm truly honored, particularly since I've neglected the bejeebers out of this blog while being otherwise entranced by ye olde life problems. I've chosen not to tell anyone other than a few close friends the specifics and I'm doing that not to be mysterious but rather to spare you, and them, the necessity of having to join me in the "Oh what the hell, really?" chorus.

We all sing it sometimes though, don't we? Here's hoping all of your lives are free from that particular rendition at the moment.

Hey, to up the interest of the situation? Smack dab in the middle of the WTH Chorus my son had a mole removed and it came back as Malignant Melanoma. Yes, he's still twenty. He didn't invent a time machine and come back to visit me well into his seventies. Don't skip your skin checks, folks. No kidding, sunblock is your friend. For even more interest, it was caught as a surface grouping of cells that hadn't spread yet. For a moment or two there the Hallelujah Chorus easily drowned out the What the Hell singers.

There have been some funny things in life, of course. It wouldn't be the holidays without some absurdity. In fact, it wouldn't be life.

So for everyone who has followed the journey of Puddles, the wonder mutt I have something for you: we now know what Puddles is. You see, one of my online friends informed me that there is such a thing as a DNA test for dogs. Although Rob has fun answering, "North American Good Dog" in response to "What breed is she?" I couldn't pass up the opportunity to buy a test as soon as I knew they existed. A mystery solved for sixty bucks? Less than your average interactive Murder Mystery Theater evening, right? Besides, I shudder to think how badly I'd have to hurt Rob to get him to go to one of those things. I'd likely need to be drunker than a medieval laird too, so there's that.

We awaited the results anxiously. Friends also asked, "Any word?" after being told that, indeed, there would be an answer. A drum-roll would be in order, but so would some warming up of the singing pipes because that chorus I mentioned? Here it comes:

My dog is a Labrador Retriever, English Setter, and American Eskimo Dog. No, I'm not currently drunk, by the way. For real, that's what the results said. My thirty pound, Fraggle-impersonating, terrier-masquerading dog is a mix of things I never would have guessed. I was sorely tempted to mail a picture to the lab so that the technicians could join in the chorus.

For those of you not in the know, this is my dog:

I even know what percentages: Labrador is the most at a level 2, constituting 37-76% of her DNA. English Setter is somewhere in the realm of 26%- 36% and American Eskimo Dog is less than ten percent.

Two bird dogs and a yapping cotton ball. What is even more astounding? We read the breed attributes and Puddles has the personality (and tail) of an English Setter.

You never can guess the outcome sometimes, can you? I thought she was part Terrier of some description and part Sneaky Neighbor Dog. But it all lines up and makes sense.

Thank again to Blogger, to the people who stopped by here and to Hilary, who was actually the person who emailed me in order to say I needed to stop my comforting, escapist routines, get my butt back over to my blog and take note. Only because it was Hilary, she was far kinder and diplomatic than that.

I've always felt like if you are supposed to be doing something, the universe will let you know, somehow, some way. I have no idea why Blogger chose a blog that had been inactive for nearly two months but I was and am, really touched.

I have some absurd stories saved up. Time to get back to remembering that sometimes the outcome of an interesting situation can both a surprise and delight you, after all. For now, I leave you with the cutest image I currently have in my possession:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Hallway of the Mind

In the corridors of my brain a Medieval Knight dwells, sword at the ready, armor blessedly silent as he makes his rounds.

Startle me and you might meet him, although what you'll see is a mid-sized, pale-faced brunette looking entirely wigged out, in my head the warrior peers through his visor, weapon held high. In the fight or flight instinct we all have, some long ago ancestor evidently is responsible for a genetic predisposition inside of me that runs towards conking any threat on the head. Luckily the ensuing generations have honed the art of not letting that blood-thirsty guardian loose on anyone.

If you've ever been inside a Walgreens Drug Store, you know the vibe of the place, if you haven't: Even a brand new Walgreens seems vaguely dingy. The lighting inside was designed by people who secretly hate all of humanity, and want us all to look like we perished sometime earlier in the day and are now the Walking Dead. They aren't bad places, they're useful, packed shelves that almost always manage to look rickety enough to cause concern are filled with the foot creams and antihistamines most of us need from time-to-time.

Most of us have prowled through these stores, or ones like them, as we drop off a prescription for an illness, and in those times we end up waiting for it to be filled. That's how we end up perusing the shelves, occasionally making some daft purchase like a Snowman that sings in a high, piercing electronic voice while swaying back and forth on battery operated hips, and playing the ukulele. Generally we were waiting for a prescription for antibiotics to be filled, and as we waited, our fevered brains whispered, "You should totally buy that."

Me, I tend to huff the potpourri, sachets, and scented candles while there. They're awful. Seriously, beyond description levels-of-bad but it does make me feel as if I have discerning taste each and ever time as I grimace at the chemical-laden scent while replacing the product on the shelf. It is an ironic form of fun for me. It probably hails from the ancestor who first said to another of my ancestors, "Does this milk smell sour to you?"

I was taking a whiff of an alleged cranberry candle, contained in a glass jar and wondering if the cranberries had been grown in a radioactive bog when a piercing, rattling sound blasted out seemingly seven inches from my right ear.


"Zounds, interloper!" Yelled the Knight-in-my-head, "Declare your purpose, fiend!"

Luckily for the person making the sound the Knight never got to say anything in the real world, as he was then occupied by pounding the swearing sailor he hangs out with in there into silence. I jumped six inches, the candle flew briefly away from my hands and blessedly back into them unharmed as I turned, wild-eyed and accusing.

"Guh!" the sailor managed to blurt before the Knight threw himself bodily atop the seafarer.

"Sorry," A rather plain-looking woman a polite five feet from me said, "I have Tourette's. It's a syndrome, a disorder."

"Oh! Okay," I replaced the cranberry-chemical-bomb. I consciously stood still, making sure not to retreat, or turn away. A little bit of an effort as the panic system within my head powered down, "I'm familiar with it. Sorry."

"It's okay. It's a syndrome, a disorder," the woman said again, "I can't control it."

"I've heard of it," I said again.

I continued to stand in the household goods aisle, understanding that this woman encountered too many people that scurried away in her life.

"I take medication," she said, "it helps a little bit."

And then she made the sound again at the end of the sentence. Loud, startling but this time I was prepared and my feet remained on the ground, my expression hopefully unchanged.

I never found out her name. I stood with her for five minutes, helping her to find something by explaining how to read the labels on the shelves to find out where something should be. I honestly don't recall what it was but as I worked in a drugstore when I was a teenager, one of the pieces of information in a file in my brain is about labeling systems. There came a point in the conversation when I realized this woman was eager to be having it. That for her, this thing we all take for granted, this exchange among strangers, was something of a treat.

She explained to me what Tourette's was, and I listened, although I was already familiar with the disorder. Not that I knew anyone with it, but I had encountered people with it before. I knew it was an inherited disorder.

All of my ancestors, they gave me things, passed them down. Most of them are good. I'm an acceptable size and shape, intelligent enough to feel up to most of life's challenges. There was a crazy person or two in the mix, a recluse here or there. At least one murderer, evidently. Soldiers, sailors, teachers and more. A predisposition towards being articulate lurks within me too, and it comes in handy. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about how fate and genetics were primarily good to me.

Maybe our minds are like houses, full of hallways with doors leading into rooms. For the most part we mill around in the foyer, thinking in our regular thought patterns. Encountering the odd Knight within.

But every now and then we'll meet someone who opens a door within that hallway and introduces us to a room we didn't know existed in our minds. A new thought, a fresh concept. A room that was always there, but we never looked in before. Our challenges often make us throw the doors open on all needed rooms, as we search for tools within, and most of us find them.

Forget whether or not I am comfortable talking to strangers, as it is likely clear by now that I am, what about the fact that I can with ease? A thing I take for granted, everyday as my right, and my own.

Every now and then I meet someone that makes me peer into a room and realize I don't know much about limitations, not in any real sense. The rooms that contain my unquestioned good fortune are the ones I need to look in more.

Eventually the pharmacist called my name over the loudspeaker, mangling the pronunciation, a thing I'm used to. A small, tiny thing about a name I otherwise like.

"Well, that's me," I nodded and smiled. I wish I could describe the look on that woman's face well, but I can't. She was so happy having an easy conversation. For her it was a rare treat, so she looked both happy and a little sad.

I so seldom think of true isolation. I'm a self-entertaining unit, I don't mind being alone, I rather like it often enough.

"I'm sorry I frightened you," she said.

"That's okay, no big deal," and I wished her a good day as I went on my way.

I collected the prescription and left, thinking of that room in my head I so seldom enter, the one called loneliness.

Today I thought of that woman from an encounter two years ago. We had been talking here about being an introvert, while having to pretend to be an extrovert. A trait many of us share, it seems. Something occurred to me, and I ran a search entitled:

Tourett'es Syndrome Forum that returned 114,000 hits. Over one hundred thousand places, and option where acceptance, understanding, peers and friends await. Clubs, gatherings, in real-life too. Options, and rooms with possibilities.

The rooms in our heads are wide and varied. Some are lovely, some rather grim. Some we haven't opened for years and we find them again, while wandering down our mental hallways.

That was a delightful, hopeful room you all sent me to. Thank you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stands Knee-High to Little

The first time I met Anna* I wouldn't have been surprised to look behind me and find I was being trailed by a blue ox. Although my husband is nearly a foot taller than I am, I'm not actually short, I'm of average height. Still, I'm not used to feeling enormous next to anyone. Anna's height definitely has her shopping in the petite section, but more than that, she has a tiny frame. This doesn't change the fact that she could likely kick my butt, and yours too. Probably at the same time without breaking a sweat.

"Hello, I'm Anna, you know my dog," She began. An auspicious start, I thought. I knew I was bound to like anyone who had already figured out that she was easily identified by dog association. She was right, I do know Mo, a.k.a. The Running Dog. I first met him following a snowstorm, as I shoveled the driveway. Nose streaming (me, not the dog), tail waving frantically (the dog, not me), I heard the familiar cry of "Noooooooooo!" as Anna's teenage daughter arrived seconds after Mo did. Mo is a gregarious creature. A fast, gregarious creature. He would eventually grow to be a gigantic size, but that first day I could have easily shoveled him aside. Instead I wiped my nose and played with the puppy. I have priorities, after all.

The day I noticed that Anna could be packed into a teacup for transport, she invited me to a barbecue she was hosting as a neighborhood get-together. Those sort of things are common around here, generally hosted by real estate agents, or people trying to sell candles, jewelry or political candidates. Networking in the suburbs, you get used to it.

"What's the occasion?" It's not that I'm against sharing a cup of coffee with folks just trying to build a client base, but I do like to know if I'm walking into one of those situations. Mainly, I confess, so that I know how much time to schedule before I can make a polite retreat. Coffee with the real estate agent across the street will take a quick twenty minutes. A political get-together means that I'm chronically ill with some Victorianesque malady for which there is no cure. I'm not above claiming the vapors, allergies, a decline of an overall nature.

Truthfully I just state that I'm unaffiliated but a liberal and take a pass. However, I always have a wicked urge to claim that I'm unable to attend due to a lack of smelling salts.

"Just trying to get to know everyone," Anna said with a smile.

I was a bit afraid that I was signing up for a literal Come-To-Jesus meeting, but I readily agreed. Then I had to convince Rob not to develop fictional rickets, scurvy, or consumption and get him to go. He agreed warily. He likes Mo too, after all.

No one was trying to save my immortal soul. Or get me to vote for anyone, sell me jewelry I'll never wear or candles with names like Harvest Fiesta, Spa Melody or Christmas Cookie. It turned out to be a get-together of people from around the town, and they all knew Anna from somewhere different. I was the only person from the neighborhood. Introduction after introduction marched by.

"I'm Steve, my wife and I play tennis with Anna," the people I played a game of pool with informed me.

"I'm Heather, Anna and I take Pilates together," said another.

And then something happened that made me understand what was going on, why I was encountering people from exercise classes, church, clubs and hobby groups:

"I'm Sandy, I know Anna from our divorced women group," A kind-eyed woman told me, "How do you know her?"

To each and all I answered truthfully, "She rang my doorbell and I already knew her dog."

She wasn't trying to sell anyone anything. Anna was just rebuilding as she'd done for years when her ex-husband's job took them around the country and the world. Nigerian art decorated one wall in her home, her teenage daughters talked about the schools they'd attended in Africa, and elsewhere. Then not long after she landed here Anna found out that her husband was behaving like a middle-aged cliche and all the nubile blonds that entails. At the age of 47 she showed him the door, found a job, and completely new to Colorado, set about building a new life for herself.

I'm not sure what really constitutes bravery. There's the kind of courage that it is easy to recognize, and appreciate. People who tackle terrorists aboard planes spring easily to mind. Soldiers who draw enemy fire trying to give their compatriots a chance at survival during heavy engagements. We know that kind of courage but there are all kinds.

Rob and I manned the grill at that first barbecue and talked to some of the most diverse people assembled all because they met a tiny woman who runs, bikes, plays tennis and invites people she meets to her home regularly. It turned into a rather regular occurrence.

Later today I'll be putting together some appetizers, and venturing across the street again to the home of a woman who told me something that stunned me:

"I'm shy," Anna admitted, and I nearly fell sideways into my bookcase as we stood in my home office. I'm being literal, thanks to reconstruction on an old injury, my balance isn't the greatest but it isn't just a bunch of pins and plates that had me tottering. I was genuinely astonished.

All of my life I've been an introvert that can do a stunning impression of an extrovert. It never occurred to me that fittest, tiniest, most outgoing specimen in the neighborhood was doing the same thing.

After that admission yesterday, I remembered something. That first time that I opened the door to Anna I'd noticed a small detail. As you approach my front door from the inside, there is a side window that allows whoever is on the other side to be visible from both sides. I'd spotted Anna, and remembered her from one of the times she'd come to fetch Mo. I smiled as I approached, and raised a hand in greeting. The straight-faced woman on the other side broke into a smile too, which is not unusual.

But I remember fleetingly thinking that she looked relieved. At the time I'd put it down to being preoccupied. Yesterday I learned that, in truth, she was doing something that was difficult for her, but doing it nonetheless.

When I told Rob that Anna was having a get-together, he sounded a little regretful that he wouldn't be able to attend.

"It's good of you to go," he said. "I know parties aren't your favorite thing."

It's true, I prefer to get together with friends one-on-one but I liked Anna from the first, with her dog as a calling-card, ready-to-return-a-smile personality.

"Do you feel sorry for her?" Rob asked, knowing that, generally speaking I only attend parties because I feel like I should.

I thought back for a moment, to all the people who had introduced themselves to me. How the woman that knew Anna through Pilates had suffered a rather dreadful injury in a fall. She was a little plump, but told me of how much weight she had lost and felt confident she could lose more.

"Anna was there encouraging me every step of the way," she said proudly. I found it easy to believe. This from a woman who is every bit as fit as an Olympic athlete. Truly, Colorado wins the leanest state slot every time those things are estimated. We have an unusually active population and Anna is still considered unusually active here.

"No," I answered Rob, "I don't feel sorry for her. I like her. I'm not sure I have all that much in common with her, but I like her."

It's her ex-husband who has my pity. Upon realizing that he had made a dreadful mistake, he had promised the Earth and Sky if only he could be forgiven. Offers Anna turned down even though she was in a state where she knew no one, she preferred to go it alone.

Every now and then in life, you meet someone who is remarkable in the quietest of ways. Who has the kind of courage it is easy to admire if only we take a couple of moments to recognize it.

Anna is, at most, a size zero. She stands maybe 5'1" after a deep inhale, yet she's awfully easy to look up to.

So I feel a bit sorry for her husband that he realized that too late.

* Not her actual name, but all else is true

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Weapons Grade Cute

We're suckers for cuteness in this house, always have been, always will be. Heck, the way I got my dog was because my husband, while allegedly searching for a picture of an English Bull Terrier managed to come up with three Scotties, a Blue Heeler and a nervous looking mixed-breed named Puddles. In the pictures the rescue society had posted on Petfinder, my dog looked decidedly apprehensive. A series of photos that eventually showed her trying to submissively show her belly. She was just so cute, I was a total goner.

As to how my husband managed to turn up all sorts of breeds other than an actual Bull Terrier, I mostly leave that to your imagination. He's a poor typist and all, but let's be real here; I was set up. He'll never cop to it, but even if he had a massive seizure mid-typing, I still can't see how English Bull Terriers somehow managed to produce three adoptable Scotties, the breed we'd always had in the past.

Somewhere in Puddles ancestry is an alleged Scottie but I'm positive that there's actually an Air Raid Siren somewhere in her lineage. She looks like a terrier, but that dog's bark would not be out of place in the midst of a hunt for some overly harassed fox.

Wooo! AWooooooo! ArWooWooWooWoo!, Puddles proclaimed the entire time the pool guy was fiddling with the gauges out back.

I ineffectually bayed in my own turn, "Puddles, shut up! Stop it! Cease! Cut it out!" and variations thereof for a half an hour. It was a landmark day.

I've had a rescue dog prior to this and at the time I remember reading that a rescue dog can take up to six months to adjust to their new environment. It took Angus, our other rescue dog, three days to figure out we were suckers. Throw a snuggle, a wag, a delighted dog-dance our way and we're putty in their paws. It took Puddles five months to ascertain that we might bluster, and yelp, but no one here believes in striking animals.

For the first few months I had an almost entirely silent dog but the Day of the Pool Gauge was the day that Puddles discovered that whereas we don't like her barking in the house, the worst that happens in retaliation is some frenzied shaking of a coke can, half full of pennies and taped shut. This gets her to stop giving cry for upwards of ten seconds, but thankfully this only applies to actual people, not any of the other things she wants to give a good talking-to.

Whoever had Puddles prior to us hit her. We knew that fairly quickly. We'd rap out a brisk, "No!" and she'd practically hit the deck, while scuttling sideways. The day she knocked over the garbage, I let out a house echoing, "No! Bad dog!" and then nearly perished in a cuteness assault as I wiped Puddles face, her tail thumped the floor desperately, and she cringed away from the towel in my hand.

"I'm not going to hit you, you daft dog," I said with affection, wiped her face clean, and tried to keep my voice disapproving. It's all supposed to be in the tone, you know.

Which makes it a pity that Puddles neither sees, nor hears well. She's all nose.

"GaWoooooo! BaaaaaWoooooo!" Puddles proclaimed when my husband lingered in a cracked door too long, trying to see if I was awake before busting through to the closet on his way to get ready for work.

Well, I was awake after that.

"Say something!" I barked, in my own turn, "She has no idea who you are!"

Puddles does better with sound than she does with sight, so we now enter rooms talking our heads off if we think we're about to take the dog unaware.

It's truly not all that bad, this barking in the house. It happens maybe once a week, but fall has brought blowing leaves and her poor vision has Puddles leaping to high alert whenever a particularly large one goes scurrying by outside. She must think it's the world's tiniest home invader. Only when there is an actual person attached to the movement is there absolutely no chance to get her to stop giving cry.


"Puddles, no!" Whatever biped happens to be at hand will add as a rejoinder.


"Oh for god's sakes."

It only takes a few strenuously bellowed reminders and peace is restored.

This morning there was a suspicious leaf spotted at ten minutes past six, when the sun had yet to actually shine much light on the proceedings.

"Gaaaaah!" Rob hollered, as the cat shot him a look that would have laid waste to entire villages, I'm positive the cat blames Rob for the dog's appearance in his life, "Stop it! No! No!"

Puddles stopped baying and looked at Rob questioningly. Someone had to protect us from the rustling things of the world, surely.

"I hope she doesn't decide to bark at every falling flake," I commented, clutching my only lifeline to lucidity, my coffee cup, "or else we're going to have a very loud winter."

"Oh what are we going to do with you?" Rob addressed the Wagging Leaf Siren.

"We could change her name to Free To a Good Home, I guess," I suggested, "but other than that, I'm out of ideas."

Puddles craned her neck over the back of the sofa and let out a miniature, "Woo?" as she mercilessly thumped the couch pillows with her tail.

Rob, stunned by a Jim Henson Creature Shop level of adorable, immediately hugged Puddles, and she stopped barking. We're strict disciplinarians around here, you know, get out of line and suffer the snuggles.

Rob left for work, and my dog put her head on my shoulder for a moment. I'm surprised I survived. It was a full blown cuteness assault.

"You're a good girl," I said, and the couch pillows took their seventeenth beating this morning alone.

A Blue Heeler. I pondered and sipped. Now when searching for an English Terrier, it is indeed possible that a Scottish Terrier would come up on the search. It even makes sense that Puddles, a dog listed as a Scottish Terrier mix might even get caught up in the displayed results. If you're searching only pets close to your geographical location, that is because we all know when only looking for information that its geographical location has an impact on its validity.

The funny thing about "I was just looking, you're the one that picked her out" search is the Blue Heeler. I don't know if Rob really believes that he was just looking, or not. I will say that looking for dog breeds on a site called PetFinder pretty much says all that needs to be said. Having that random Heeler in there might actually add credence to "I was just looking" claim.

At dogs within driving range, of course.

But I haven't ever really called Rob on it too much.

"She's your dog, you picked her out!" Rob will say as Puddles dances around with a pink Croc in her mouth. "How'd you pick out such a bad one?"

"I must just have a gift," I'll generally say, letting him get away with blaming me for an animal he clearly adores.

After all, I think he's cute.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


My hand had just come in contact with the glass when the phone rang. A Friday night, prime for kicking back and watching a movie with my husband, an adult beverage seemed like a good idea. Hearing my ringtone trill caused me to freeze before I'd even had a sip. I knew the chances were good that my son was calling for some form of rescue. My husband answered my cell phone.

Last July I wrote a post called Generation Phone Home and among my real life friends, and a couple of online friends that descriptor took hold. A couple of my friends with kids will refer to their own experiences with their children with things like, "Generation Phone Home struck again."

It's just something that modern-day parents can relate to, evidently.

My son had a flat tire last night, and needed to be talked through things like loosening the lug nuts. Then another call when he was done because, "Mom, now my keys won't turn in the ignition!" I rather reasonably asked if his steering wheel was locked in place, which it was. Jiggle the wheel back and forth, son. Jiggling proved key.

I hung up and my untouched drink sat beside me. I knew better than to think the matter was closed until my son walked through the door. Sure enough, five minutes later, my son phoned home again.

"The spare is flat," he said from the depths of his understandable despair.

"Okay, where are you?" I sighed, but my husband reached for the phone and informed my son that he would be coming to get him. He advised me to go ahead and drink my cocktail.

You see, it's been a month since my son hasn't needed some form of rescue at least once a week. He locked his keys in his car as the opening bid and I took a spare key to him. I made sure to hang around and get it back, so I could return it to the file I keep it in. He lost his wallet on campus, and the campus police called me. He needed to be driven to get that, as trust me on this, my son attempting to drive without his driver's license in his possession is just a recipe for disaster. There have been a couple of other things, too.

This morning, as my husband woke my son up in order to drag him off for tire repair, we sat together and discussed what we were both like at twenty, wondering if my son was more, or less of a disaster. By the time I was twenty I lived across the country from any of my family. If something went wrong, I had to fix it myself. That's all true, but something occurred to me as I told my husband about the flat tires I have known.

The first flat I had was at nineteen, and I quickly discovered that I didn't have a crowbar in my possession. Brainstorming I remembered I had passed a service station a mile or so back. I grabbed my purse, and began walking. I made it precisely a half a block before passing a road construction crew.

"You have a flat?" The crew boss called to me.

"I do, I don't have a crowbar though, so I'm going to the service station," I replied and thought I'd keep walking.

"We've got a crowbar!" The man, clearly he was quite amused as I was dressed for work in a Chi-Chi's waitress outfit. Hey, it was my summer job but if you'd seen that uniform, you'd have a good idea what was cracking up the road crew. I looked like an extra escaped from a John Ford film in which I should soon declare something about not needing, "no stinkin' badges". "C'mon guys, let's go change a tire!"

And with that, four public works employees downed tools with a clatter, and trouped as one over to my Mercury Lynx. That's right, my car had about as much dignity as my outfit. I followed meekly and watched.

The next time I was driving down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, heading back to Colorado after a visit back East in my late twenties, when my tire blew. I had literally not finished pulling over before a pickup truck was pulling in behind me, and a large man leaped from the interior.

"I saw your tire blow, figured I'd lend a hand," He proclaimed and over my protests about how I appreciated the help, but I had what I needed said, "Honey, I've got a daughter your age. I'd want someone to help her."

He wouldn't take any money from me, just directed me to the next exit's Firestone to get the flattened tire repaired. By the way, that man was secretly a member of the Tire Changing gods because I've never seen anyone so efficiently do something, while fielding an attempt at polite protest the entire time.

By the time I had my next, I was thirty. I'd had a business meeting in an office park that ran late, and when I came out to my car, found that my tire was busy settling into permanent disuse. Flat is too mild a term for how thoroughly that tire had given up on life. I must have run over a school of glass-shard-coated piranhas in a spike-lined puddle to bring about that level of flat.

Well, dammit, I wanted to change that tire. I was in a parking lot, there was no danger under the street lights, and the time had come for me to prove to myself that I, an empowered woman with a fully working knowledge of how to change a tire, could do so. I'd jumped a huge variety of cars, taken care of a host of other maintenance issues, but I had yet to successfully change my own tire. Come hell, high water; damnation or flood, I was going to do this for myself. Only I couldn't get the hubcap off.

Never fear, I walked into a nearby office building, interrupted some sort of meeting in progress and asked the assembled group of men if anyone had a screwdriver, as I wasn't able to pry my hubcap off. Outside it began to bucket down rain.

Do I even need to add that instead of handing me a screwdriver from his truck, the man who came outside with me insisted on changing my tire, as I made small sounds of protest, and held an umbrella over his head? Or that when he was done, he handed me the flat-blade screwdriver I have to this day and said, "You should keep this, just in case."

I like to tell myself I am part of what I referred to as Generation Save Your Own Butt, but the truth of the matter is a little closer to being that I evidently can barely hit a public street without someone attempting to rescue me instead.

There are a lot more stories like that. Just earlier this year I was at the Home Depot, buying a ladder that was quite lightweight but ungainly at an almost epic level, and I ran a near gauntlet of offers of help trying to get it to my car. I'd wheel my cart four feet, balancing that bad boy, and every single person I passed offered to help me. Young men, older men, a particularly muscular woman. I must have a homing beacon implanted in my spine that sends off waves of perceived helplessness. That or there are a lot of good, helpful people in this world, and I don't discount that possibility.

So was I really any better at working a problem, or was I set down on this earth with a particularly delicate-looking countenance that makes other people practically stampede to my rescue? Truthfully, it's a bit of both. After my encounter in the rain, I spent the next Saturday practicing changing my own tire, just to prove to myself I could if the need arose.

Rob told me his stories, all of which involved simply muscling off a tire, replacing it with a spare, and heading back down the road. I shared my theory that perhaps I was fooling myself that I was any good at riding to my own rescue. Many a protest issued forth from my tall husband, why I was the most capable woman he knows, he'd seen me put out a literal fire with his own eyes. Watched as I'd ducked passed him to get to the main water shut off when a plumbing problem occurred, and he didn't even know where it had been. My husband defended my independence so much, but it did seem a rather charming example of protesting too much.

Sure, I could do things for myself, when I had to.

"Yeah, thanks, but there's just one thing..." I began and faltered.

"What's that?"

"When you offered to go and get him for me, I let you." It was true, I hadn't protested much at all, just asked if Rob was sure, and then gratefully picked up my drink when he told me he was.

"Oh you can't count that!" My husband leaped to my defense, "Four times in four weeks you've had to go and take care of things for Flint, and it was dark outside and..."

He went on as I listened with growing skepticism about my own independence, remembering how I'd gladly allowed him to ride off to my son's rescue. Sure, the ready cell phone may have arrested self-sufficient development to some degree in my son's generation.

But maybe a fraction of it was learned behavior, after all.