Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

From My Journal, 1974

December 24:

Lovely Christmas Eve. I made Swiss fondue and Cuban bread for Joe and me to eat by the fire.

The Christmas tree is simply huge—takes up a good part of the living room! It looked to be a reasonable size in the forest . . .

December 25:

An absolutely 100% perfect Christmas. Suzanne (15 months) was our Christmas angel, happy and enthusiastic as always—opening up her presents and investigating the dogs' presents too.

Joe liked his leather carpenter's apron, trolling reel, plastic worm kit, etc. He gave me many great gifts: "fanny" needlework frame, binoculars, clothes shopping trip w/dinner afterward, 12 rolls of film w/processing, film holders, and subscriptions to Viva, New York, and Erica Wilson's needlework news.

Note from 2013: I have no idea what a plastic worm kit is. Nor do I recognize the magazine "Viva." Anyone remember it?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Anti-Aging (ha ha)

There was a time when I could say with confidence that my skin and hair were my best features. But I'm 70 now, and it appears I've run out of best features. Hair stylists still compliment my hair (that is, on the rare occasions I drag myself off to have it cut), but there's less of it now, with lots of grey mixed in with the blonde. As for my skin, well . . .

I've been moisturizing since I was 16. In my fifties and even into my sixties, I was rather smug about that. Smart me at 16, creating the foundation for a lifetime of gorgeous skin. Did I say lifetime? Not exactly. Five or ten years ago, when people told me how young I looked, I would joke that I'll probably age all at once, overnight. That's pretty much what happened over the past year.

Besides using moisturizer, at 16 I was baking in the sun, getting the annual burn followed by various shades of tan. We had no idea that the sexy darkening of the skin was actually evidence of skin damage. If we'd known, would we have behaved any differently? Probably not.

So those summers at the beach started to show on my face . . . and kept showing. Smug turned to desperate. I started trying different moisturizers. Added specific night creams. Graduated to serums. Saw no difference whatsoever.

This summer I decided to get a little more scientific about it. Armed with recommendations from friends, plus an extensive article from Good Housekeeping in which a multitude of creams, etc., were evaluated by a panel of women testers, I took my credit card to the Health & Beauty departments of a couple of stores and websites. A couple of months later, here's my report. I'll include a few products I've tried in the recent past.

I don't like the smell of perfume on my face. I guess I'm in the minority, because several popular face creams are decidedly perfumey. Olay Regerist night cream is one of these. I didn't care for it, but many women do, judging from the reviews. Aveeno Positively Radiant night cream surprised me by being heavily perfumed. Somehow I expected it to smell like oatmeal, which would have been acceptable, especially with a little honey. Aveeno's tinted moisturizer in that line is not perfumey, however, and I like it. But I don't wear tinted moisturizer very often.

Walmart's version of Aveeno's Positively Radiant day moisturizer (called Naturally Beaming), is very nice. A gentle scent, great consistency, and costs less than Aveeno. Alba Botanica Natural Hawaiian Refining Aloe & Green Tea smells edible (I like edible) and feels good for rehydrating during the day. But on me it soaks in and disappears too quickly. A friend says just the opposite, but she has Eskimo in her lineage and I don't.

Estee Lauder's Perfectionist Serum makes my skin feel like velvet. But since people are more likely to see my skin rather than touch it, for me it's not worth the price ($50/oz. on Amazon). I was able to afford only tiny sample sizes, which I bought on eBay. I'm actually relieved that the serum didn't work miracles. Reviva Firming Eye Serum didn't seem to do anything for me, but 191 enthusiastic reviewers on Vitacost.com had much better experiences, so perhaps I should give it another shot--and be consistent about using it this time.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair is said to produce visible results in a week or two. Many consumer reviewers agree. I haven't given it a fair test because its heavy dose of Retinol reddens my skin and makes me reluctant to use it every day. But if you want to try it, Amazon's price is much lower than Walmart's.

Avon Anew Advanced Perfecting Creme didn't perfect anything that I noticed, and it left my skin so shiny that every imperfection was magnified. Actually, all day moisturizers containing sunscreen leave skin at least somewhat shiny. To counteract this, I wait till the product is absorbed and then apply Jason C Effects Pure Natural Creme over it. This cream leaves a matte finish and has a nice, light scent. I've been using it for years.

Reviewers in the Good Housekeeping article raved about Aveeno Positively Ageless Skin Strengthening Body Cream. I shouldn't even comment on it because I haven't used it faithfully every day. But I probably should; the tube says it's "for dry, fragile skin . . . restores and strengthens . . . moisturizes for 24 hours." How do they arrive at that 24-hour mark? Anyway, as I said, the women on the panel gave it high marks.

Finally, the star of the show turned out to be Boots No7 Lift & Luminate Night Cream from Target. It, too, got rave reviews by the panel, and this time I can agree. I honestly have noticed that my face looks slightly less scary when I get up in the morning. It's made in England, and pricey by my standards ($22). But I would buy it again. And when my day moisturizers are all used up (2017?) I plan to try the daytime cream in this line.

I did say my face looks slightly less scary. I'm still open to suggestions.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Lecithin Granules for Life's Little Lapses

Have you ever walked into a room and paused, forgetting momentarily why you'd wanted to go there? I'll be surprised if anyone says no. I suspect it has happened to all of us at one time or another. As we get older, it can happen more and more. We do remember, usually within a second or two, so I wouldn't call it a memory issue, necessarily; more like a lapse in attention. The older I get, the more I understand the true literal meaning of "absentmindedness."  :-)

This summer I've dealt with numerous tick bites and resulting symptoms, including brain fog. Brain fog feels like there's a vaseline-coated barrier between your brain and the world around you. Thinking slows down, and as my son said to me last month, "It seemed like you couldn't pay attention to anything, not even a conversation." I couldn't.

Another facet of brain fog was an extreme form of the the brief blank moments described above. Not only would I forget why I'd entered a room, but I would forget why I'd walked seven steps across the kitchen. Or I would overshoot my goal and walk 9 or 10 steps before I realized I'd walked right past it. As with the other example, I would remember almost immediately, but that "almost" was beyond annoying. After weeks of this, it was scary.

Then I remembered something I learned about back in the 80's. A study showed that lecithin, a food product present in egg whites and soybeans, greatly improved this exact kind of mental lapse in the elderly. It improves neurotransmitter contact, and only the granules (not capsules) were effective. My dad was in his 80's at the time. I told him what I'd read, and he started taking a couple of tablespoons of lecithin granules a day. It's cheap and easy to take. He lived to be 90, and never had a memory issue that I'm aware of. (His insistence that teenagers were having sex in his garage doesn't count.)

I took it for a while back then, too, and so did my husband. But we did it mostly for lecithin's other benefit: It breaks up blood fats and is very good for heart health.

One of my stepdaughters took lecithin as well—not on my recommendation, but because the instructor in her LSAT course (the course she'd paid $$$ thousands for) told the class to start taking lecithin granules two weeks before the test to improve their scores. She did, and she got into Harvard Law.

So a couple of weeks ago I remembered all that, and I got myself a container of non-GMO lecithin granules. I started taking two heaping teaspoons a day, which I figure is more or less the equivalent of two tablespoons. Like I said, it's easy to take. You can eat it plain, by the spoonful, but that's sort of like munching on tiny pieces of wax. You can add it to beverages or just about anything, but these days I've been mixing it into yogurt.

Results are supposed to be noticeable in two weeks, but in 10 days I was the biggest fan of lecithin granules you could ever imagine.

Here's a brief article on lecithin and its benefits. The author isn't an MD . . . but can you imagine med school including a lecture on lecithin granules? I can't.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

At the Mercy of a Merciless Tick, Part II

I wrote in June about the toll tick bites have taken on my health. As the summer progressed, I realized just how much of a toll was involved. In recent years it has taken some time to adjust to the physical demands of spring and summer; after sitting at my desk or in my rug hooking chair all winter, I had to build up some stamina before I felt on top of things like lawn mowing. This year I had to face the fact that there was no stamina to be had.

There were days when my arms felt too weak to push my "personal pace" lawn mower. Even when I wasn't mowing, there were days when I struggled to walk up the slight grade on the path from my garage to the house. I've lived here 38 years--I can't even estimate how many times I've walked that path without giving it a thought. The only time I was even aware of the grade was in winter when it was icy and I was in danger of sliding down.

Every morning for the past two years I would wake up and break into a sweat. Summer, winter, it didn't matter. I keep my bedroom cool all year round, and in winter, with woodstove burned down by morning, my room was cold. Still I would sweat.

People who know about Lyme disease and its co-infections say sweats are common with both babesiosis and bartonella. Sadly, the people who seem to be the most informed about tick-borne illness are not physicians. At least not physicians within 100 miles of me. I also read that the weird rash I had last year (the one two doctors couldn't identify) looked like it might have been caused by bartonella.

People have Lyme and babesiosis. They have Lyme and bartonella. Or they can have them without Lyme. There are other combinations too. A couple more diseases are well-known Lyme co-infections, and more have appeared in the news in recent months. Ticks in the Hudson Valley area of New York, just north of us, have been found to carry encephalitis. And also in New York state, farther north, ticks have been found to carry the Powassun virus, which has a 30% fatality rate.

This summer I have had eight known tick bites (so far).

I send the ticks to a nice guy who runs a program in a neighboring county. I enclose a couple of dollars. He can tell how long the ticks were attached, and he faxes this information to my doctor. We've gotten into a routine.

At one point this summer I knew I'd been bitten before I found the tick. My right knee suddenly hurt in a specific way, and I knew. There's a certain Lyme knee pain. I've experienced it before, and it's unmistakable. I searched for a tick, found one on my foot, and requested a prescription for doxycycline. Then I found two more ticks, one in back of that right knee.

I started on the doxy, and my knee pain was gone in two days. After three weeks I felt better than I had in two years. My energy probably wasn't where it should be for a healthy person my age, but it had increased dramatically. My muscles were stronger, my breathing better. Much of the brain fog that has plagued me cleared up. Most amazing to me, the morning sweats stopped.

There's no consensus on how long one should take doxycycline. Two days . . . ten days . . . three weeks . . . a year . . . I've heard them all, and more. I took it for a total of five months in 2010 and 2011, but this time after three weeks I decided to stop. It was probably a bad decision. Doxy is hard on the stomach, and is a nuisance in other ways. You have to cover your head in the sun or your hair will fall out. You can't ingest calcium or magnesium within two hours of taking the twice-daily pill, so things like yogurt must be scheduled. I was just tired of taking doxycycline, and my improved well-being probably gave me a false sense of optimism.

I continued to feel better in the ensuing weeks. I was certain it wouldn't last, but I felt encouraged. Doxy is one of the two meds needed to treat babesiosis, and the fact that one of those meds made me feel so much better was a good sign, I thought.

Then the knee pain struck again. Hard. Once again I knew I'd been bitten, but I couldn't find it. I started back on the doxy. When I'd just about decided that the tick must be on my back somewhere, I discovered what might be a tick bite on my leg (the right one again). It took a strong magnifying glass to ID the tick. It was the smallest I'd ever seen. I've seen nymphs--many of them--but this might have been a larva.

This time the knee pain didn't go away. It improved, but it's still very much in evidence. My other symptoms came back, including the sweats. Once again, it takes some effort to do anything. The hardest part of all this is the lack of a clear plan of action. I don't know what to do. I don't know anyone who's been cured, and I haven't even read of anyone who's been cured. The last time I visited one of the online Lyme message boards, I couldn't get off fast enough. It is almost literally dizzying to read everyone's symptom lists and supplement lists, their detox programs, the amount of money they're spending on cures that never happen, the drugs that didn't work, the new drugs they're trying, the trips to Germany and Switzerland and Florida, and on and on and on and on.

There's a woman in town, much younger than I, who is escorted everywhere by her husband. She smiles at everyone, and recognizes no one. She used to be a teacher. She was popular and bright. When her dementia began, they thought it was early Alzheimer's. But it turned out to be late-stage Lyme.

We live in a "hot" area of tick activity, and I worry about my children and grandchildren. In various areas of the U.S., the ticks are gaining on us. We are weakening, and they are gaining power: power in numbers and power in the number of diseases they carry. This isn't just a problem of the northeast anymore, and government has got to address it. Money. Research. Priority. Speed.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Dyeing Wool with Ice

I haven't done anything related to rug hooking in many weeks, but when I ran across simple directions for ice dyeing the other day, I had to try it. I found the instructions on a Facebook page called "Renditions in Rags Hooked and Braided Rugs."

Almost all the wool I use for hooking is recycled from old clothing. Online I've encountered some really fine rug hookers who buy their wool new, yard after expensive yard. I am not one of them. I love "the hunt," and am particularly excited when I find a subtle plaid or check, as these can be ever so much more interesting to hook with than a solid color.

But more interesting still are the completely random patterns one can create with dyeing. I love dyeing surprises! Ice dyeing is one way to achieve them, and it turned out to be the easiest dye method I've ever tried.

In my first attempt, I started out with dark brown wool. I went through all the steps, and ended up with dark brown wool. This was not the kind of surprise I was hoping for! It was my error, and a rather dumb one; the wool was too dark to take up the medium-value dyes. So I tried again with some beige wool from an old blazer. Here it is:

I started by soaking the wool in water to which I added a little liquid detergent and some dishwasher rinse agent. These additions make the wool wet all the way through.

When it was thoroughly soaked I got out my tall enamel pot and put an inch of water in it, along with "two glugs" (that's what the instructions said) of white vinegar. I put the wet wool in, and filled up the pot with ice.

Then I got out my dyes. I wanted the end result to be subtle . . . beige mottled with browns and greens. I chose my colors accordingly: Golden Brown, Old Gold, and Bronze Green.

The instructions said to use up to 1 teaspoon of dye. I had three colors, so I needed a 1/3-tsp. measuring spoon. A "pinch" sounded about right.

I carefully opened the dye packets (you do not want this stuff to scatter), and spooned it out.

Then I sprinkled it over the top of the ice.

After stirring it all up, I put the pot in the oven and baked it for an hour at 300 degrees. That's it. Like I said—easy!

Once the wool was rinsed and dried (outside on hangers), I was able to see the result. It was exactly what I'd hoped for. I had a hard time getting the color right in this photo, and it still needs improvement. The piece on the right looks more grey than brown. But you get the idea. It'll be exciting to hook with. The only unwelcome surprise was an occasional small smear of red. I think one of the dyes—probably Golden Brown—contained some red, and since ice dyeing puts the wool in direct contact with the dry dye, a single grain of red could have made those marks. Depending on where I use the wool, I can either leave the red in or cut the wool around them. There are only a few.

Here's my finished wool, or the best approximation I could come up with. It was a fun project.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My first ever video--and possibly my last, as I didn't realize how huge video files are. This one is only slightly over one minute long, but the file is so big I crashed Outlook trying to send it to my daughter-in-law. Actually, I crashed it three times. I've said it before: There's a reason why we have blonde jokes. 

Anyway, here are Scruffy (now known as Princess Scruffy) and Rocky and a favorite toy. I have to laugh when Scruffy, despite her small size, manages to bump Rocky out of the game.

My little video on YouTube

Saturday, July 20, 2013

My latest cemetery adventure.....

I had six photo requests for a small cemetery I'd never been to before, and when I looked at a map and realized it was not far from my vet and I had to pick up wormers, I figured I'd swing by and take some pictures.

The cemetery was at the end of a road off a main thoroughfare. When I made the turn it was a paved road, but it quickly turned into dirt. I came upon a stretch that looked as though it had been washed out. Deep ditches on either side, and some here and there on the road itself. What I could see of the road ahead looked okay, and I could drive around the deep areas, first on the right and then on the left, so I proceeded.

Big mistake. Once I got around a bend, I could see that the road—what was left of it—was even worse ahead. But by this point I had to go forward. The road was too narrow to turn around, and I couldn't back up around a bend, steering with the precision required to avoid sliding into one of the ditches.

I've never driven on anything like it. Several times I had to get out of the car to make sure my wheels were accurately placed on narrow bands of road between the ditches. It would have been nerve-wracking even in my SUV, but I was driving my big old Chevy Caprice, very low to the ground. I could just imagine the undercarriage slamming down on something, rupturing the 25-gallon gas tank I'd just filled.

The rest of the road was like that until I got to the cemetery. Once I arrived, I took 65 pictures because a) I knew I'd never go back there, and b) the more pictures I took, the more I could delay the dreaded return trip.

On that return trip there were times I didn't think I'd get out of there without calling the cops to come rescue me. It's funny—I had called the local police the day before to report a road hazard, and still remembered their number. But somehow (divine intervention, maybe, plus more checks on my wheel placement) I got to the end of the road and back to civilization.

When I uploaded my photos I found a large number of mistakes in the FindAGrave listings—more than I'd ever encountered. The memorials had errors in birth dates, death dates, and the spelling of names. There were so many it was almost funny. I wondered at one point if the local gravestone engraver had had an overdeveloped sense of mischief.

I was glad to be able to email the memorial managers and correct the errors. One guy--whom I emailed 12 times--never responded. I hope he made the changes.

One image that stayed with me was two wooden crosses, no names.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

From my journals..........1974 (January)

January 1:  Excerpt from a letter written by Joe to his mother when Suzanne was almost four months old......"Suzanne brings more pleasure to our lives every day, and, hopefully, we to hers. Right now I'm sitting by the fire with a glass of homemade wine and a bowl of popcorn. Susie is cooking up turkey soup, and Suzanne is watching the lights blink on the Christmas tree. Who could ask for more?"

January 24:  Folly (little black dog) has a horrible wound on her leg, with muscle exposed and hide gone. It looks just awful, and I can't get a vet—all are up at Cornell today. A doctor in NJ gave me instructions for dressing the wound temporarily, which I did. Poor Fols.

January 25:  Took Folly to Dr. Coburn, who says he must put her under anesthesia to sew up the wound. We are to pick her up tomorrow.

January 26:  Folly's vet bill came to $45.50!

(Haha.....I assume that exclamation point meant I was shocked that the bill was so high. Today I'd be shocked it was so low!)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ironing Excitement

Years ago I wrote as part of a few lines of self-description, "I don't wear a lot of makeup, but a new lipstick in a good shade can make me happy all day."

The same, apparently, is true of ironing. I'm not particularly fond of ironing, and don't do a lot of it, but when I recently gave my heavy, unwieldy ancient ironing board to my son to take to the scrapyard and bought myself a lightweight, inexpensive one from Walmart, it lifted my spirits. Suddenly I could pluck the ironing board out of the pantry whenever I liked, and set it up in no time—and put it away with similar ease. I found myself ironing more often.

And when I found myself struggling with the knob that turns my 30-year-old iron on and off, I knew it was time for a new model. My soaring spirits would know no bounds.

That was a month ago. In my usual fashion, I set about researching irons. I knew one thing before I started: I didn't want a $300 Rowenta. I would keep the price under $50. Under $35 was even better.

I soon realized I didn't know much about today's irons. They can be electronic, cordless, corded with retractable cords, lightweight, heavy, with sole plates of ceramic, stainless steel, brushed stainless, titanium, or coated with a non-stick material. Their colors range from industrial grey to Day-Glo green.

So I asked some friends about their irons, and realized I didn't know much about ironing either. I was looking for something lightweight, whereas serious ironers liked a heavy iron. They insisted the iron would do the work for them this way—so what if their shoulder and arm ached for days afterward?

And the steam. The steam! Steam is everything, apparently. Revealing my ignorance, I admitted I never use steam. Instead, I pick up a spray bottle and spritz. Although this puts me in the amateur category forever, it also means I can ignore those Amazon reviews that complain about spitting, splashing, clogging, and staining. There are many of those.

I bit the bullet and ordered a Panasonic iron. I wasn't crazy about the color (Day-Glo purple), but I liked the reviews (many stars) and the price ($34). I also ordered an ironing board cover. Amazon is quick, and every day I expected my new toy(s) to arrive. Every day they did not. Eventually it occurred to me to look at the expected shipping date. Three months? I had to wait three months for an iron?? When I read on another site that the model had been discontinued, I canceled the order.

Next I ordered a T-Fal iron, based on Consumer Reports' raves. They liked its ceramic sole plate. Oh, and they loved its aggressive steam. I liked the idea of the sole plate....until I discovered that the ceramic is coated with a non-stick finish. Ever since I learned that non-stick finishes can't be used if there are birds in the house (a toxicity issue), I haven't wanted to breathe non-stick fumes, undetectable though they might be. So I canceled that order too.

I still don't have a new iron. I hope this isn't going to turn out like my mattress search, which lasted three years and resulted in three mattresses being returned to two stores. I have patience, though. And I've been blessed with an appreciation for anticipation. And I will continue to resist that $300 Rowenta.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

At the Mercy of a (Merciless) Tick

"Can you run?" I asked myself this evening. I sat in my car in the school parking lot, looking out at the rain. I was there for a middle-school band concert, and about 20 yards of downpour separated me from the shelter of an overhang.

I had two options. Option One was to use an umbrella and take that wet umbrella into the auditorium with me, thereby risking two possibilities: ending up with the wet umbrella on my lap if the place was crowded, or putting the umbrella on the floor and going home without it. Option Two was to leave the umbrella in the car and run for it.

I ended up leaving the umbrella in the car and walking. I don't know if I can run anymore. I discovered last week that I can't move as quickly as my 23-month-old grandson. It was a rather horrifying discovery, as he had run out into the road, and I was running after him. Or attempting to. At the time, my right hip was particularly bad. It's better now, but that still leaves the other stuff—knees and back. So I walked.

It's the sort of thing we blame on age, particularly  easy to do when you've turned 70. But when my dad was 70 he rode his bike, went bowling, hopped in his boat, and planted a garden. One of my cousins is a month older than I and goes to yoga three times a week. A close friend is in her mid-80s, walks everywhere, and just got back from England. I can't imagine traveling. As for walking, when I went to Yale for a reunion in 2007, I walked everywhere with my camera. When I returned last year, walking was a slow, painful process, with many stops to lean against a car and stretch out my back.

Before I left for Yale last spring, I contacted a top researcher of tick-borne disease at the Yale School of Public Health. I told him about my many tick bites and about a set of unusual and very specific symptoms I experienced with two of the bites, in 2010 and 2011. And I told him that a few of those symptoms never went away. From what I read, it sounded to me as though I might have babesiosis, a Lyme co-infection caused by Babesia, a parasite that affects red blood cells.

The researcher was very nice. He didn't patronize me at all. But he was from academia and I was from the tall grass where the ticks hang out, in rural Pennsylvania where the medical community is clueless about tick-borne illness. "I doubt you have Babesia," he said, "because it hasn't been reported in your area."

I told him there are two reasons for the lack of reporting. First of all, the doctors here never heard of Babesia. That reason precludes the need for other reasons, but I had one anyway. Even if a patient (like me) suspects she has Babesia and informs her doctor, and even if the doctor (like mine) agrees to order the tests needed to diagnose it, they discover that the testing is prohibitively expensive ($3,000).

I also told the kindly (and brilliant) researcher that when I worked as a newspaper reporter a couple of years ago I did a story on Babesia and how it has infected the public blood supply. The Red Cross is struggling with this, as there's no economically feasible way to screen for it. Many people carrying Babesia are symptom-free. They're lucky, but it makes things tough for the people managing the blood supply. Not to mention those who receive the transfusions.

To be continued......

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Day for Mothers of All Kinds

On this Mother's Day I'm thinking of some mothers special to me . . . Dotty, my first mother, who was at a party in Greenwich Village when she told her husband she wanted to go home and make a baby, and nine months later I was born . . . my father's cousin Peggy, who never had children of her own but who mothered me so affectionately . . . Marion, my stepmother through thick and thin for 42 years and the best grandmother I could ever want for my children . . . my daughter Suzanne, my little nurse when she was a child and I had the flu, who grew up to be a wonderful mother to her own daughter and a remarkable stepmother as well . . . my daughter Gillian, who nursed her dolls when she was little, babied her animals when she grew up, and told me she loved Lizzie, her niece, as her own . . . my daughter-in-law, Leanne, another natural-born loving mother and a pleasure to observe with my grandson.

I'm also thinking of Bonesy, a cat who gave birth in our ice house two years ago. She had no books to guide her, no pediatrician, no Internet. Yet a more devoted mother I've yet to meet. So thin when she first appeared on the property that her bones were showing, she nursed her three babies and kept them clean and warm. When it was time to start weaning she brought them baby rabbits to kill. I'm afraid I interfered with this natural process by removing the rabbits before the hunt commenced. I justified it with the knowledge that I would find homes for the kittens where hunting skills would be optional.

But the thing I remember most about Bonesy's maternal behavior was the way she kept her babies safe. She fiercely drove away all animals, wild or stray. A more territorial cat I had never seen. She had some unusual ideas on what constituted a threat to her babies. One of these was the common pickup truck, which she saw as one of the true forces of evil. More than once I saw her go out into the middle of the road and stand her ground against an approaching pickup. This resulted in more grey hair for me, but I must say she succeeded. In all that time, not one pickup truck entered the ice house and made off with the kittens.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone. May we all attend to our young so diligently, and protect them with everything we have.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

La Leche League Counseling Notes

Thirty-six years ago I qualified as a La Leche League Leader and started the first (and so far the only) LLL group in my county. I was afraid no one would come to the first meeting, but 22 mothers showed up—some pregnant, some with babies. The group eventually grew to the point where it split in two, and I shared Leader duties with two others, who became my close friends. When we were ready to retire (having lost those lactation hormones, I guess), no one stepped up to replace us and keep the group going. But although I was sorry to see it die out, I was still glad I founded it, and it remains one of the things I'm proud of today.

Last night I came across the notebook I used when counseling mothers on the phone. Here are some of my notes from that first year:

May 21:  Has breast infection w/104ยบ fever. Dr. X had ordered nursing no oftener than every 4 hours, 5 min. on a side. Infection probably resulted from overfull breasts. For treatment, Dr. X advised no nursing because it would "hurt the baby."

June 14:  Baby 6.5 months, nursing every hour. Mother reluctant to start solids, even though baby gobbled up banana and cereal.

June 16:  Daughter, 8 mos., bit her.

June 23:  Son, 7 mos., biting badly whenever breast is offered. Does not bite when he asks to nurse.

June 28:  One-week-old son hospitalized with a fever. Hospital nurse insisting he should be on a 4-hour schedule. Nurse referred to him as an "older baby."

July 5:  Baby 3 months. Mother forced to wean him because of her husband's jealousy. He said they were his breasts, not the baby's. He had refused to give his son any attention as long as he was breastfed.

July 21:  Daughter, 11 mos., abruptly weaned one month ago on doctor's orders because the baby had a virus. She cannot tolerate any other kind of milk.

August 8:  Mom wonders if it's OK to nurse every 2.5 hours, which her baby wants. Hospital told her no more often than every 4 hours. Also, her teenage stepdaughter was thrown out of her own home and is arriving soon.

September 12:  Interested in nursing an adopted baby.

September 30:  Baby 3 wks. nursing well, but screams every evening when her father comes home. Husband is against breastfeeding, and attempts to discourage his wife.

November 11:  Mother was put on a 1,000-calorie diet by Dr. X, and developed toxemia. She is frightened of hospitals, but the doctor admitted he—no treatment except for strict low-calorie diet. A friend made the call to me. We are concerned about protein deprivation, probably the cause of the toxemia in the first place.

December 1:  Five-day-old baby. Dr. X wants her to give him sugar water between feedings.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mystery Fans: Do You Read Harlan Coben?

I'm on my second Harlan Coben (audio) book, and I like him--but with reservations.The first was in the Myron Bolitar series, probably somewhere in the middle of it. It was generally entertaining, and it held my interest. But I had questions.....like how does Win get away with opening fire in the middle of the city? For that matter, how do Myron and Win get away with various forms of violence? And will Myron ever learn to shut up? All those wisecracks......some are funny, but sometimes he'd be better off remaining silent.

The one in my car now is Just One Look. It's not in the Myron Bolitar series. I would have given it high marks until this morning. This morning I was listening to a scene involving a character who is so bored and alienated in her marriage that she enjoys enjoy modeling skimpy lingerie in her window for the creepy misfit next door. (That alone put me off somewhat.) A lot of earlier text (way too much) is devoted to how distanced she and her husband have become to one another.

So in today's scene she is about to do something extremely dangerous at night involving a serial killer. It's a suspenseful premise, and the writing should reflect this. She needs to move quickly in order to accomplish what she wants to do. She runs downstairs, and on her way out she encounters her husband in the kitchen. Bam! End of suspense. The book launches into a lengthy description of how his eyes penetrate her soul, or some such thing, just like they did when they first met. On and on and on, while the serial killer does who knows what. I admit I'm a critical reader, but it was such bad writing. I would be ashamed to bring something like that to my writing group.

Coben also has his characters thinking endlessly in situations where there is not nearly enough time to mull over all the thoughts he attributes to them. I get impatient with this. It makes them seem a little slow-witted at times.

At home I'm reading Dennis Lehane for the first time. No complaints.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Poem for My Cousin on Her 70th Birthday

Barbara has been a flight attendant and a toy designer. She was a preemie. She paints in oils, does a lot of yoga, and is creative in everything. 

To Write the Number 70

                                    - for my dear Barbara, on her birthday

To write the number 70 we begin
with a short lateral line, a line
that goes from a premature Point A
to a paint-drenched Point B, knowing
Points C through G (or perhaps
as far as K) are still to come.

We have much to pack on that line. We could
make paper dolls . . . the two of us at three
in costume, the two of us at ten, en pointe,
blank paper dolls for you to dress in fashion
for the teen and college years, then one of you
perfectly turned out for flight, and the two of us
modeling skirts made with Singer and vodka.
The maternity doll,  the do-it-yourself doll,
the designer doll, the doll designed,
the decorating doll, the homemaker doll, the widow
doll, all beautiful. And then the sister dolls
again, in gardening clothes, wirelessly connected.

To write the number 70 we then
make a graceful downward line
(like a downward dog, not a downward
spiral), stopping when we want to and not
a millimeter before or after. We are in charge.
It is our space and our number.

Then it is time to move our brand new
pencil, sleekly sharpened, up to the top.
Always aware of our handwriting, especially
on important occasions, we assess
the seven, the lifeline and its symbols,
the texture of the paper, the light,
the silence (or lack thereof), whether or not
our bangs are in our eyes, if we’re hungry
(if we are, we take a moment to contemplate
popovers), and then we make our move:
not a zero—never a zero—but a perfect oval,
bringing everything together, just for a moment . . .
before we set ourselves free to live some more.

                                    Susan Luckstone Jaffer

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Three Months With Sandy

She arrived around the time of the hurricane, a somewhat small, pretty white cat with large black markings, dainty paws, and horribly infected eyes. She moved into Bonesy's dog house on the porch. Bonesy, our very territorial outside cat, moved out without challenging. This surprised us, but maybe Bonesy knew how sick the newcomer was and wanted to steer clear of her.

Because of the hurricane connection, my son named her Sandy. I wasn't crazy about the name because she didn't look like a Sandy. But I used it often, and hope she eventually recognized it. Every cat should have a name.

She was feral, and we couldn't get near her. But she stuck around, dining on the porch, occasionally curling up in an old tire in the sun, and spending her nights in Bonesy's dog house. We set up another dog house for Bonesy, in the shed across the road. But it wasn't satisfactory. In fact, nothing was satisfactory about the situation. We didn't like Bonesy banished to an outbuilding, and we couldn't sit by and watch Sandy's eyes get worse. As it was, they looked so bad we feared she might have lost some vision. Plus cold weather was coming, and my daughter-in-law observed that Sandy's breathing was congested. Who knew what would happen to a sick cat in winter?

We've had a lot of cats, and in one way or another they were all rescues. I belong to Alley Cat Allies, and I'm familiar with the practice of trap, spay, and release/return. We did it ourselves years ago with several strays. My life is full of happy cat stories. I decided to trap Sandy and get her spayed. I was certain how this would go. She would recuperate in a dog crate in my guest room, where I would see if I could tame her. The vet would treat her eyes, and give her a rabies shot, and after two or three weeks I would find her an animal-loving farmer who would be happy to have a nice spayed barn cat.

I set up a Havahart trap on the porch, and as I watched Sandy check it out from all sides, including the top, I realized her vision was just fine. Good. We'd get the infection fixed, and she'd be in great shape.

At the vet's, Sandy tested negative for feline leukemia. But she had fleas, the eye infection, an upper respiratory infection, and a bad infestation of ear mites. She was treated for all this, given the rabies shot, and spayed. I picked her up that afternoon.

After a couple of weeks Sandy was tamed to the point where I could pet her on her head. Even though the dog crate was fairly large, I felt she needed some exercise and would be less stressed if she had some freedom. So I opened the crate and let her have run of the room. The way I envisioned it, I would spend some time in the room with her every day, perhaps reading on the bed. Sandy would gradually come closer and closer to me until we were cuddled on the bed together. It was a nice vision.

What actually happened was that she spent most of her time hiding under the bed. She was up on the bed when I wasn't there; I could tell because the bloody discharge from her infected eyes was on the pillows. I was sure it was elsewhere in the room, too, so I reluctantly lured her back to the dog crate.

A week or so later we were back at the vet's. The eyes hadn't improved, nor the congested breathing, and the ear mites had returned. Another round of treatment ensued, and this time the vet told me I'd have to put ointment in Sandy's eyes twice a day for 10 days. This took the taming effort up a notch or two.

After the 10 days, I could pet her from her head to her tail, but her eyes were no better. In fact, they looked so raw that I was glad I could stop torturing her with the ointment. I consulted with another vet, who told me both the eye and upper respiratory infections were caused by a herpes virus that should have been treated when she was a kitten, long before she showed up on my porch. The vet said I could try giving her 500 mg. of l-lysine twice a day, dissolved in food, for a month.

So I did. To me, lysine tastes vile, but Sandy was so good about eating it in her food. She loved her food, canned and dry. I kept her supplied with the dry as soon as she finished each meal of canned. Once a day I tossed her favorite chicken-flavored Temptations treats into the crate, and she would make a tiny pouncing motion, or step on them—fast—with one paw. Her reflexes were excellent. This was her only play time.

The dog crate was lined with a piece of carpeting. It held both food dishes, her water dish, a small litter box, and a large pillow. My daughter-in-law hung a little toy from a string on top, but Sandy never played with it. A couple of times I put a furry mouse toy in the crate, but both times later found it outside. I got the feeling it landed there not from play, but from being banished.

Sandy could have escaped from her crate countless times, but she never tried. When I opened the door she would come to the edge of the opening, maybe put one of her little paws outside the crate, and then stop. I was able to pet her from her head to the tip of her tail now. She would purr and purr. But if I tried to pick her up, ever so gently, she would ever so delicately raise her feet over my hands and back up into her crate.

After a few weeks of the lysine, I had to reluctantly conclude that it wasn't helping. I read up on the herpes infection, and learned what the vet later confirmed: The infection was highly contagious. It could, with no guarantees, be treated with some pricey antivirals, but Sandy would remain contagious as she could shed the virus even in remission. And a remission, if it came, was almost certainly temporary. The virus was likely to reactivate again and again.

There would be no kindly farmer and community of barn cats for Sandy. There was no hope of integrating her into my own family of cats. We couldn't even consider releasing her to go back to living as my porch cat. For one thing, she could transmit the herpes infection to Bonesy. For another, Sandy's illness would make her vulnerable to predators and a poor candidate for winter survival. I painfully came to the realization that there was no place for Sandy.

When you tame an animal, when you succeed in gaining its trust, the absolute last thing you want to think about is having that animal put down. This isn't the first time I've talked about the end-of-life decision in this blog, and it's always a complex, multi-layered, knotted issue. Unlike the decisions I faced with my dogs, Angel and Wolfy, this decision was all about Sandy. I wasn't suffering. Yet in a way I was.

My son urged me to put Sandy out of her misery. But how miserable was she? Certainly a human with eyes as raw and oozing as Sandy's would be miserable indeed. But she had lived with this her whole life. Does a cat get used to infected eyes? I have no idea. I did know this: Sandy ate well and enjoyed being petted. I also knew she wanted more--not more food, but more attention. And I knew, too, that she didn't groom. I took this as a sign that was stressed, but the vet told me some cats simply do not groom.

One thing was not debatable: Sandy was alone. I visited several times a day, changing her water, bringing food, cleaning the litter box, petting her. But then I'd leave. Sandy was a quiet cat, never keeping me awake at night, never voicing her displeasure at anything. But she always meowed, just one sad sound, each time I left the room. She could hear me talk to the other cats--in the bathroom next door, in my bedroom on the other side of of her wall, out in the hallway. Did she interpret my tone of voice as cat-conversational? I wondered.

From the way I agonized over all this, you'd think Sandy had been a beloved family pet for years. The truth was, I did love her. But I also felt a crushing responsibility for her. Crushing responsibility. I'm trying to avoid the word guilt.

It should be hard to feel guilty about something when you can't think of a thing you would have done differently. But somehow we manage it. When a pet of long standing dies, we say, "She had a good life." But this bit of comfort didn't apply here. I felt as though Sandy had no life.

It took me a long time to make that final phone call to the vet. All the while, I went over and over Sandy's situation, past, present, and future. I couldn't second-guess my decision to trap her, although as it turned out in the end, that led to her death. As the vet told me, after she'd put Sandy down, the cat never would have survived the winter outside. She also told me I gave Sandy a warm place, a bed, and an endless supply of food. That was good, she said. But if it was good, I thought, was I right to end it? 

What it came down to in the end was my reluctance to sentence Sandy to any more time alone in that crate. To me, the crate looked worse and worse every day. My attempts to clean it scared her. White fur covered the rug and pillow like a thin pelt. Cat litter landed not only on the rug, but on the tarp as well. Her frequent sneezes sprayed the tarp in an 8" border around the crate. I kept her dishes and litter box clean, and gave her the best care I could, but it all began to seem like an exercise in futility. Sandy was in quarantine.

"Aunt Deer will take care of her." A few weeks after my granddaughter said this to me, I was as ready as I would ever be. "Aunt Deer" was Lizzie's name for my daughter Jill, who had a real gift for understanding and loving animals. I had every reason to believe in the survival of animals' spirits as well as our own, and every reason to believe Jill would indeed take care of Sandy. I told Sandy I was sending her to Jill.

This decision was so wrenching that I had to break it down into pieces. I would call the vet. On the appointed day I would feed Sandy some tuna—some real tuna. Somehow I would transfer her from the crate to a large carrier. Then I would take her to the downstairs bathroom, where I would close the door and open the carrier, giving her the first real freedom she'd had in a long time. She would walk around and check everything out, and if I were really lucky she might jump into my lap.

Maybe Sandy's psychic sense made her refuse her last meal. I did manage to get her into the carrier, but knew even if I opened it, she'd never step out into the bathroom. It would have been all too scary for her. No tuna, no freedom, no lap.

But then, some things just don't go the way you planned.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fashion, Frugality, and Fun

I was talking on the phone with my friend Astrid this morning, and I mentioned that most of my clothes come from the Salvation Army. Astrid hasn't seen me in over 50 years, and when we hung up I thought, she probably thinks I look like a bag lady.

Astrid (hope you're reading this), I don't. At least I think I don't. I don't pick out just anything from the Salvation Army. Although I'm definitely not a fashionista—my idea of high style can be found in an L.L. Bean catalog—I admit to a certain snobbishness about labels. This side of me comes out in thrift shops, where I ferret out the best pre-owned clothes a store has to offer (in my size). I love the hunt.

Now, I don't live in an affluent area, so I'm not going to find anything you might see in Vogue. But that's okay, because I probably wouldn't recognize those labels anyway. My idea of great scores are Columbia outerwear, Ralph Lauren jeans, Caribbean Joe capris, or anything from Chico's. I did find a Nicole Miller dress once, and I attended an upscale wedding in my royal blue Liz Claiborne number, but sadly I've "outgrown" both of these.

At this point in my life I'm grateful for my frugal nature, and grateful, too, that buying used clothing is more of an entertainment than a hardship for me. Even when I had more money than I do now, I was never comfortable spending a lot of it on clothes. My mother-in-law (who wore only Belgian shoes—that should tell you something) tried to train this out of me, but never really succeeded. Once her son and I moved to the country, far from Bergdorf Goodman and Saks, she gave up.

I've found when it comes to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, there's no middle ground; people either love the hunt or are repulsed by it. In my family we have both factions. I discuss my thrift shop triumphs with one, and remain silent with the other. I wonder if the latter group ever questions how I can afford the designer silk scarves I've been sporting lately. Little do they know I paid $1 each.