Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What vacation isn't complete with a decomposing body?

Fret not - we have returned from our vacation in the great northwoods. It rained every single day of our trip. It didn't bother us too much since we don't really DO much while we're at the cabin every year. When it's not raining, we wander down to the lake. Some of us fish. Some of us catch frogs. Some of us talk on the phone because the reception gets slightly better the closer you get to the water.

Here's how much it rained. On the first morning of the trip, I drove "into town" and bought some fancy birdseed - some sort of nut and fruit blend. I then poured it into the feeder, which is really a flat wooden tray attached to the deck. We saw some blue jays, some chipmunks, and some small birds that I can't really identify because I am not a bird person. Anyway, a couple of days later, I checked the feeder because it seemed like our wildlife friends were not staying long. Get this: some of the seeds had sprouted.  That's how much it rained. They looked like a bunch of little alfalfa spouts that you'd put on a sandwich. So, I scraped it all off and then refilled the feeder. Before long, we had customers again.

The most exciting event of our trip also happened on our first full day there. My husband and daughter were down by the lake. Our friends joined us on Sunday, so this was before their arrival.  Gretchen, our female Boxer, grabbed a fleece blanket that was thrown over a loveseat and dragged it across the cabin and into the kitchen, where I was standing. My dogs are pretty old so they don't really bother with a lot of tomfoolery anymore. "Gretchen! What the hell are you doing?" She dropped the blanket so I picked it up to see why it had interested her so. It smelled awful. Plus, part of it was wet. What the heck?  I wondered if she had lost her mind and peed on it or something. Then I saw it: a decomposing mouse that had apparently been clinging to the blanket at the time of its passing. The wetness was  . . . the mouse's bodily fluids. Blech.

I wadded up the blanket and then ran outside onto the deck. I flung the mouse carcass over the side railing and then tried to figure out what the heck to do with the blanket.  It belongs to my friend who owns the cabin, so burning it seemed to be out of the question. There is no washer and dry at the cabin. So, I stuck the blanket in the shower and then gave it, well, a shower.  The next day I shoved it into a garbage back, drove back "into town," and washed it at a laundromat.

Our friends arrived the next day so we spent the next few days playing games and just hanging out. We did go hiking at a state park one day, which was a lot of fun. I was glad that our kid had some other kids to play with. Before and after our friends were at the cabin with us, she mostly just complained about the lack of wifi.

We played a lot of games. I bought Battleship, more out of nostalgia than anything, I think. One day the kid and I were playing it. We sat at a card table while Gretchen snoozed on the loveseat next to us. It so happened that Gretchen's head was facing A's side of the table.

"Gretchie, where are her ships?" I asked. "What's that?  B9?"

So I called out B9 and as luck would have it, it was a hit. The kid got pretty mad. "That's cheating! It's not fair!"  So then I pretended to confer with Gretchen for my next move. Well, the kid lost her shit at that point. She was SO mad, stomping around and calling me a cheater.  I should mention that Gretchen was mostly unconscious the whole time. 

After eight nights, we had had enough quality family time and headed home. I asked my boss if I could have an extra day off just to scratch my mosquito bites and he just laughed. I'm guessing that a day off to catch up on my DVR is also out of the question.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The best laid plans

We went to the state fair last weekend. I waited until Friday to book a hotel (mostly since Friday was
payday). I can usually score a decent room on Priceline even at the last minute. However, I couldn't get a room to save my life. It didn't seem to matter how high I was willing to bid or how sketchy a neighborhood I was willing to accept. I was turned down every time I tried. I then contacted my friend who works for the Hilton in case there might be some super secret network through which rooms can be procured. He tried and everything was definitely booked. I posted my woeful story on Facebook and whaddya know - a couple of friends were willing to open their guest rooms to our little clan. My friend Cindy offered first so I took her up on it. She has two pit bulls, a cat, and several reptiles (she does reptile rescue), and I knew my daughter would be thrilled to spend the night in such a place.

So, we were all set. We went to the fair and had a great time. My friend Kate met us at the gate and gave us two free tickets, so we only had to buy one. We were on a roll!  We followed Kate and her family around until they finally said they had to leave (I'll assume that they really did need to go home and not that they were ditching us to eat food-on-a-stick in peace or something).  We proceeded to do all the stuff you're supposed to do at a fair - eat stuff you wouldn't usually eat, ride rides, look at cows, etc. It's a good thing we had saved money on a hotel room and fair tickets because the kid was plowing through our cash at lightning speed. She even conned us into letting her jump on a trampoline to the tune of $8.00.  Her dad stood in line with her in the blazing sun until it was her turn. I'm a delicate flower so I sat in the shade nearby with an adult beverage.

By late afternoon, we had reached maximum fair and left to scout out some healthier fare for dinner.  We ate at a restaurant with a largely vegetarian menu and lots of vegan stuff, too. They even have vegan cookies, so I got one of those for dessert. After that, we picked up some stuff for breakfast and headed to Cindy's house.  We spent a quiet evening at her place (her beau lives there, too). They told us about the guy who lives downstairs from them. Apparently, one day he accused them of blaring death metal and at the time they were listening to Devo. I'm not sure I'll ever think of Devo quite the same way again. We were dirty from the fair so we showered and then spent a quiet evening just hanging out.

In the morning, we left to head to a science museum.  I had checked online and at 11:00 a.m. they were offering a craft project - making a bowl out of an old vinyl record. I thought that sounded like fun so I was pretty determined to make it there as soon as the museum opened at 10:00.  Well, little did I realize . . . there was a massive triathlon going on directly next to the museum. Every road was closed.  Grrrr.  This also helped to explain the shortage of available hotel rooms, I guess.  After a half hour of driving around aimlessly while my GPS said, "Recalculating!" about 80 times, I finally found a friendly police officer who gave me some vague directions to a parking garage.  We parked and then proceeded to walk to the museum, weaving our way around mega-super-fit triathlon people who had race numbers pasted all over them.  Did they not understand that we needed to make a bowl? We finally got to the museum and headed to the admissions desk.

"Can I use this coupon?" I asked.

"Nope. Special event today."  By this time I was used to my plans going to hell in a handbasket so I didn't really react to the bad news.

We got our wristbands and headed to the craft area so that my kid could make the record album bowl.  The sullen teen at the craft desk looked at my daughter and said, "Sorry, she has to be ten to make a bowl."

I almost lost my shit at that point. "We drove all the way here, all the roads are closed, and now you're telling me that she can't make a bowl when that's the reason we came?"

"You can make a bowl," he said to me.

"Oh, I am making a bowl," I replied.  I was going to make a Goddamned bowl if it was the last thing I ever did.  Inside the art area, my kid constructed a soda can bracelet with her dad while I waited my turn to make the bowl.  When I was finally ushered into the bowl-making area and given some gloves to wear, the kid came in to watch.

"Sorry, no one under ten years of age can be in here."  This was from the boy who was running the workstation. I was about to say something but then I was afraid that he might take away my bowl-making privileges. I guess I can see why they have these policies but shit, she's my kid - why not just make me responsible for her actions?

My daughter and husband left to look at some of the other exhibits in the museum while I made a bowl. Basically, you take a metal form, set the album on top, then apply heat (from a gun that looks like a hairdryer), and then mold the vinyl to the metal form.  Voila.  Anyway, here's my Goddamned bowl:

After we left the museum, we grabbed some lunch, stopped at Trader Joe's for some goodies, and then headed home.  As much as it annoys me when my plans don't work as expected, it was a good weekend. Now . . .what, oh what, should I do with my bowl? Oh, and I've already established that it doesn't quite fit on my head, in case you were going to suggest that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Just be nice

I wrote this partial blog entry about two months ago. Then I sat on it. I'm not sure why. Part of the reason for hiding it was simply because it's a bit disjointed and I don't like to publish blog entries that are not terribly cohesive. The greater reason for my hesitation is probably my deep discomfort in discussing my medical issues. I can't say that I dig it when someone looks at me for just a beat too long and then I know that they know. And there is judgement there. Anyway, I had come across two similar articles in a short span of time so I felt prompted to write about the articles, my medical issues, and mean people - all in one fell swoop.  The effect/outcome is less than heroic, so I apologize for that.

I recently attended a house concert, which was a lot of fun. I don't know if this is a growing movement among not-quite-famous musicians (playing in a residence for anyone who'd like to come), but I've heard of quite a few doing it.  I recently discovered a singer named Sean Rowe and he seems to perform a lot of house shows. Anyway, the singer I heard was Kristen Graves.  She lives in Connecticut and mostly tours that neck of the woods but if you ever get a chance to see her, please do. She's wonderful. I found out about her through my friend Sarah (who hosted the concert) and now that I've seen Kristen live, I can see why my friend enjoys her work so much. She's absolutely wonderful and uses her life to do good things.  She started a faux political party called "Just be nice!" and hands out little buttons printed with this slogan. I have mine pinned to the sun visor in my car. It's a good little reminder to me not to be so cynical all the time.  I envy the naturally sunny people, I truly do.

We've all encountered people who don't know how to be nice, of course.  Warning: bad segue ahead. When I was a young child, I was diagnosed with vitiligo. If I have a book inside me somewhere, growing up with vitiligo (and some other fun medical stuff awarded to me by my DNA) would be the topic.  I cannot begin to describe all the ways in which this stupid disorder has made my life so much harder than it has to be.  When I was diagnosed, back in the 70s, there weren't many treatment options. My parents didn't know that they were supposed to keep me out of the sun. Sunblock wasn't readily available like it is now. In fact, when I was growing up, everyone wanted to be as tan as they could get. Remember all the brown people in the Coppertone ads? Cancer schmancer, I guess.  Anyway, my condition got worse over the years - a lot worse.  I remember some of the treatments: take this pill and sit in the sun, for example. Nothing worked.  I had unpigmented patches of skin all over my body and the contrast was very, very noticeable. People stared.  I used to walk with my palms turned outward (which is awkward - try it and see) so that people would not look at the mottled skin on my hands.

School was nightmarish but as much as kids were sometimes cruel, the worst treatment I received was from adults. By far. I remember being asked fairly regularly (always by adults) if I'd been in a fire. A crazy lady at KMart once asked me if maybe I'd worn too-small shoes and caused the white patches on my legs from that. Yes, me and my freakishly tight shoes - I brought it on myself. A cashier at Hallmark made an insulting remark about my skin color (I don't remember what it was specifically, just that it was hurtful). Honestly, I've probably suppressed a lot of what happened to me, but I distinctly remember the stares.   I recently heard a StoryCorps podcast about a father and daughter who both have vitiligo. She explained how she has dealt with the staring (click the link below - it's pretty funny). I wish I had half this young woman's confidence!

When I was fourteen, I entered a two-year depigmentation procedure under the care of a dermatologist.  By the time I was sixteen, my skin was one color - which is to say, no color at all. It's not something most people would choose, but for me it was better than the alternative. It still is. Sometimes I even get compliments. Not long ago I was in a public garden with my daughter and a lady said, "What a beautiful complexion you have." I have noticed that I pretty much only get compliments from old ladies, but I'll take what I can get, I guess.

As for my childhood, I can't go back in time and dish out snappy comebacks. I can't pretend my (fair) skin is thicker now than it was then (it's not).  All I can really do is try to raise a human being who is nicer than some of the ones I encountered when I was young.  If I impart nothing else to my daughter in her life, I will settle for teaching her to "just be nice." Don't stare. Don't say goofy shit to other people. Just be nice. Just. Be. Nice.

Here are the vitiligo-related articles I referenced:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Guess who I'm dating?

One of my all-time favorite comedians, Brian Regan, is coming to town next month. I've seen him live twice before. The second time, P and I drove through a blinding snowstorm to get to the show (going to the performance was my idea, as you may have gathered). The show was great, though. I have no problem with foul language but I have a real appreciation for Brian's ability to be so funny without using it.  (Yes, we're on a first name basis.)

Anyway, when I saw that Brian Regan is coming to town, the first thing I noticed was that the show is on a Thursday and my husband works Thursday nights. Crud. Then I wondered if I should try to find someone to go with me. I posted a little plea on Facebook but then deleted it almost immediately. I figured it would probably be too hard to find someone, coordinate the ticket purchase, etc.  I was resigned to the fact that I would miss the show.

And then I changed my mind. I decided to go by myself. I got online and put the ticket in the virtual shopping cart. And guess what?  Apparently, when you buy a single ticket, you stand a chance of getting a kick ass seat. Front row! I am so excited. Sure, I'll have to sit next to a stranger but maybe I'll just turn around and wave periodically to someone a few rows behind me. You know, give the illusion that I came with someone but somehow those jackasses in the ticket office sold us non-sequential seats. In different sections.

So, there you have it. I have a hot date with myself. I'll have to buy myself dinner but at least I know I won't pressure myself to put out. Hell, I'll even hold the door open for myself and tell myself how nice I look. If I play my cards right, maybe I will drive myself home, too.

I can't decide if I'm truly awesome for going to a show by myself or if I'm profoundly pathetic. Please, no need for you to weigh in on that. I'm fine with the wondering.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Oh, Archie

Six days. I only knew him for six days. I'll never know what his real name was, or how he became stray at the age of ten. What I do know is that the worst feeling in the world is leaving a veterinary clinic clutching an empty collar in your hand. The people in the waiting room see your tear-streaked face and the collar and they murmur to themselves and exchange knowing looks. They know the score and they part to let you through so that you can escape.

He was a sweet old guy, a fawn male with cropped ears. We don't see cropped ears much these days. My friend Sarah was fostering him at first, but we quickly learned that he had bad knees and since I live in a ranch-style house and she has lots of stairs, it made more sense for me to foster him. So, she transferred the grey-muzzled fellow to me. I was supposed to keep him for about a week and then transfer him to a long-term foster home once that volunteer returned from vacation.

Sarah named him Archie. Archie had all sorts of problems. He was very thin. He had an abscessed tooth. He had lumps and bumps on his body, including a prominent one on his schnoz. He was stone deaf as far as we could tell.  However, none of that stuff really deterred us - they weren't dealbreakers. Our rescue recently placed a twelve-year-old. I figured, well, the worst case scenario was that Archie would spend the rest of his life in rescue. And really, that's not a bad gig. Our volunteers care for their foster dogs just as the same as they care for their own dogs.

As a rescue volunteer, I am in the business of delivering happy endings. It's the only reason to keep on keeping on, you know?  I let Archie down. I did not deliver.  On Friday evening, my husband came home from work to find that Archie had lost control of his bowels and his bladder. He had vomited and was panting rapidly. Now, strewn across the kitchen tile, Archie could not stand. When I got home, I knelt down to take a closer look at him. It was almost like he couldn't see me.  His eyes were shifting back and forth involuntarily (nystagmus).  When he tried to stand, he stumbled and fell over. After fourteen years as a rescue volunteer, sometimes I feel like I know more than I want to. I frowned. I knew.

"It's neurological," I told my husband.

When the emergency vet clinic opened at 6:00 (we were temporarily caught in a no-man's-land where the regular vet clinic closes at 5 and the emergency one opens an hour later), I loaded Archie into my van and took him to the clinic. My friend (and fellow volunteer) Kris joined me for moral support.

The veterinarian was very nice and seemed competent. I think her first inclination was to try to give me some hope. When she realized that I'm a rescue volunteer and that I've been at it for a while, she seemed to shift gears a little and became a little more pragmatic. Her best guess was "idiopathic vestibular syndrome."  She also mentioned the possibility of a brain tumor. Since cancer runs rampant in Boxers, it was more than a remote possibility.  She gave me some anti-nausea meds for Archie and sent us home with instructions to keep an eye on him.

Honestly, part of me was hoping for some sort of miracle even though I knew it was unlikely. Whatever was wrong, it was in the brain.  Archie did not want to eat or drink, but I smeared the meds (he was also on an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory) in a wad of peanut butter, deposited it in his mouth, and basically required him to swallow it. An hour later, I found the anti-nausea pill on the carpet. Archie 1, Claudia 0.

I grabbed a bunch of old bedding and created a cushion-y bed in front of the fireplace in our living room. I laid Archie on it. My husband took him outside to potty periodically, using an old towel as a sling to support Archie's weight.  I decided to sleep on the couch next to him so that I could keep an eye on him last night. Twice during the night, Archie stood up and then fell over. It was heartbreaking to watch.  Each time, I held him for a while just to assure him that I was there. He couldn't hear me and I'm not sure how well he could see, but he knew I was there.

This morning, I tried to get Archie outside to pee, but it was too late - he had already peed on the blankets.  I pulled them off and gave him some new ones.  I tried to entice him with cheese and turkey and water. He would not eat or drink. I got a syringe and squirted a bit of water down his throat. I just felt like I should get at least a little bit of water into him.

I had to leave to volunteer at a pet expo this morning, so P stayed behind to keep an eye on Archie. Archie mostly slept.  When P brought the kid to the expo later in the day, he told me what I already knew: Archie couldn't go on like this. When I got home, I found Archie lying in the same spot. He wouldn't even lift his head. He would not eat. I pulled him into a standing position just to see if there had been any improvement. I guess I just had to make sure.  His head tilted to the side, his eyes darted back and forth rapidly, and he stumbled and fell.  I caught him on the way down and helped him settle back into a comfortable position. I knew what had to be done. I could see that Archie had already checked out. He wouldn't lift his head and there seemed to be no spark left in those dark eyes.

With a heavy heart, I asked my husband to load Archie into my van so that I could take him back to the emergency clinic. This time, Archie would not be coming back with me.

Before too long, I was escorted into a darkened room where they had laid Archie on a blanket.  They had inserted a catheter into his right rear leg. A veterinarian came in and quietly injected Archie. Because of Archie's age and poor health, his heart stopped within seconds. After Archie died, I buried my head in his brown fur. Sarah had given him a bath after he came out of the shelter, so his fur was soft. "I love you, Archie," I said. "I'm so sorry." He was deaf, but I needed him to know.

If there's one thing about rescue that never gets any easier, it's euthanasia. And really, it shouldn't ever get any easier.  If I'm making a decision about ending the life of a living creature, it had better be hard as hell or there is something wrong with me. I sort of wish Archie had been a jerk (some dogs are, I can assure you). Maybe it would have hurt a little less.  I don't know what his life was like before he came into rescue, but he was as sweet as the day is long. He had a bit of a foot fetish and would lick any human foot he could find. He loved to have his head rubbed and his ears scratched. He was a good, good, good boy.

Special thanks to my friends Candi, Sarah, and Kris for seeing me through this difficult time. And thank you to all of my friends and fellow volunteers for your words of support. This rescue stuff threatens to tear my heart right out of me sometimes, but soon there will be a new dog who needs help and somehow I will hear myself saying, "Sure, I'll take him."

Friday, August 1, 2014

Hip hop and you don't stop

I said a hip hop,
Hippie to the hippie,
The hip, hip a hop, and you don't stop, a rock it
To the bang bang boogie, say, up jump the boogie,
To the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.

As you may recall, Irish Dance week at camp was followed by Hip Hop Dance week.  There was no shoe-related drama this time around, because the kid borrowed the same ballet slippers (as last week) from her instructor. All I had to do was to make sure she was wearing black shorts and either a white or pink top.

The other day, the kid announced that she needed to practice.

"Mom, do you have any Christian hip hop?"

"Of course. My iPod is CHOCK FULL of Christian hip hop," I replied.



I have no problem whatsoever with Christian hip hop but seeing as how I just now learned that this is even a thing, there was little chance of me supplying the genre in question.  She had to make do with the music in her head, I guess. 

I drove over to watch the performance at lunchtime today. The five and six-year-old kids went first. They were in a fairytale camp. It was pretty cute. They wore princess dresses and sang "Let it Go," which was awesome because it had been at least five or ten minutes since I'd heard that song. Then the kids who were in sports camp took the stage to talk about the sports they had played this week, though they were hard-pressed to recall exactly which sports had been on the docket. Next, a group of kids who were in a "battle of the bands" camp presented what they had learned. They made their own instruments and whatnot.  Finally, it was time for hip hop dance.

My daughter and her fellow dancers sprang to the stage and did their thing. It was as adorable as one would imagine. I can't say that my girl is a natural-born hip hop dancer, but she danced her little heart out.

Word to your mother.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hoarder? Or just creative?

Last Saturday, I took my daughter to a sewing class at Jo-Ann Fabric. The objective of the class was to create a pocket owl - essentially a felt owl with button eyes and a kangaroo-like pouch sewn onto his lower half. What I didn't know was that this was a hand sewing class.  I signed her up so that she could keep learning how to use her sewing machine. At first I was disappointed (and so was she) but it soon became clear that the class would be helpful to her regardless since she would be learning sewing terminology, learning how to pin a pattern, etc.

While she was in the class, I wandered around the store, talked on the phone, and then signed the kid up for another class in August.  This one does require the use of a sewing machine. Two-toned pillowcase, here we come!  I am hoping she will start to use her sewing machine and start creating stuff on her own. She and I have been watching Project Runway together and who knows, maybe she'll be on there someday! And I betcha Tim Gunn will look exactly the same in 15 years, too.

On the way home from work the other day, she spotted an empty storefront with a "for lease" sign out front. A hobby shop near our house has closed.  "Mom, how much would it cost to rent that empty store?"

"I'm not sure, sweetie."  I thought she would let it go at that point.

"But how does someone rent it? How do you find out how much it costs?"

"Um, I guess you call the number and then ask them. I'm really not sure. Why?  Are you planning to open a store?"

She looked at me and gave me her best Oh, Mom, you poor, simple fool expression.  "Yes, I'm going to open a store to sell stuff I sew and also stuff that I upcycle."  (She knows the word 'upcycle??????.') 

"That sounds great, sweetie!"

I figured she'd stop thinking about it in a day or so. Part of me is kind of proud that she seems to have some sort of entrepreneurial spirit. I was feeling slightly less proud, however, when she installed this in her room:

One kid's box for creative ideas is one mom's idea of . . . a garbage receptacle in another form. I know the size isn't obvious from the photo but it's large enough for a body. I can't lie. When it comes to clutter, I do get a little Mommy Dearest.  I try my best to suppress it. So, I'm ignoring the cardboard box even though I'm dying a thousand tiny deaths every time I see it. You see, if I thought she would create some stuff, I'd probably try to encourage it. But my girl is a project starter, not a project finisher.  The owl from last Saturday's class?  Still has no eyes. And no stuffing.

Tell me this isn't the first sign of a hoarder. Lie to me if you have to.