Taps

100_0611Wednesday

I need to write a piece about my buddy’s dimming life force, how it tugs at everything pure and loving I know. His annoying and twice-his-size bark, his unrelenting insistence on licking my legs – and only mine (except for his favorite Aunt Conny), his eyes that never leave me and no matter how tired or hungry he is, I always hear the click-click-click of his toenails on the floor as he devotedly stays spit-close to ‘his person.’ Perhaps by the time you read this his bark, toenails and vigilant eyes will be forever extinguished. Perhaps not. But it won’t be long now and when the time comes, our hearts will break and life will be full of one very big hole.

Thursday

Always on a pristine morning, spring or summer, never fall or winter. I’ve driven this route before, many times, but today the drive is too short, the sun, blinding and painful, and the fleece-wrapped bundle on my lap too tired and sick to shiver and tremble.

So fast – why does it always come so fast? Just a week ago he was chugging along, not at full speed, maybe not even half, but still chugging. Then, the crash. Yesterday afternoon. Lethargic bordering on limp, unquenchable thirst. Uncontrollable, seemingly non-stop urinating. A rambunctious little boy relegated to a lump in my lap. Dinner? Barely a sniff before he turned his head away.

He told me it was time. They always do and it’s hell to hear, but we must, because otherwise it becomes about us. He never did his leaf-tremble on the way to the vet as he always did. It’s time. When we placed him on the blanket-covered examining table he fell to his side – no strength left to even move – it is time. He could not have said it any clearer, any louder.

Friday

The house has lost its spirit. It’s empty and cold and I can’t stand to be in it. Dom wanted to throw out the dog dishes, the dog bed – I wouldn’t let him. Maybe at some point, maybe not. For now they shall stay. I will not erase his being from my life, no matter how much it hurts.

Crayons, Coloring Books and Colored Pencils

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My first completed “adult” picture. 

About 5 years ago I began my quest to find an old-fashioned coloring book, buy a BIG box of Crayolas (remember the one with the sharpener built-in?), and color away. However, I could not find any “old-fashioned-like-when-I-was-a kid” coloring books – anywhere! What I found were “activity books” filled with puzzles, games and blank pages, with a pathetically scant number of traditional images to color. It made me wonder: was this a function of all the ADD and ADHD diagnosis where kids can’t sit still long enough to produce a finished drawing?

Never-the-less, my unrequited search went on until one Christmas, my daughter-in-law gave me a real live coloring book, which she had found on the Internet. Not only was it the real deal, it was all about animal rescue, a subject near and dear to my heart and life.

Lo and behold, no more than a year after receiving my treasured gift, adult coloring books began to emerge, first in dribs and drabs, and now they are everywhere! The images in these books are gorgeous – maybe some of you have discovered them – but there is just one problem for this adult, and that is that most pictures have mostly miniscule areas to color, and I do mean miniscule. Crayolas – sorry, but you’re off this team. Adult coloring books are strictly colored pen and pencil realm! (My favorite is Prismacolor colored pencils.)

Do you remember how important it was to stay in the lines when we were coloring kids? Truth-be-told, I was at first afraid that my hand wasn’t steady enough to successfully navigate all those tiny spaces without bleeding all outside the lines. Even as a kid I was pretty bad at staying inside the lines. The colored pencils make it easier, but then I got to thinking, so what if I do go outside the lines? I cracked a smile and said to myself, “it will be just like old times.”

Rendezvous with a Stink Bug

BMstinkbugcloseupThe other day, in the early days of February, I was sitting on the toilet when what do my wondrous eyes   did appear: a stinkbug. This lonely sole was meandering in my bathtub as it tried to find its way to wherever it was headed and I suspected it probably didn’t even know.

My limited knowledge about stink bugs is that they find their way into our homes and indoor refuges through windows and doorways in a mad-dash frenzy to find shelter before the snow blows and wind howls. Only this year, at least so far, the snow hasn’t blown nor the winds howled – at least not in the usual sense of a winter in upstate New York. I have read that stinkbugs are benign creatures who seek no harm unless they are unwittingly, or purposefully, mishandled, crushed or otherwise threatened. It is then that their bodies emit the smell from hell, an odor I have luckily never experienced.

Stinkbugs do have their enemies and the numbers are great. They are an agricultural pest and cause damage to apples, soybeans, peaches, and pears.  This is a problem, and surely a reason for what will be their eventual demise. Interestingly, stinkbugs were only just discovered in Allentown, PA in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Lady bugs are another harmless species and as a child I grew up to believe you were in luck if one landed on you.  Technically a beetle, these innocent creatures are actually of benefit to the home gardener because they eat harmful aphids.

So the point is, why hurt these lovely creatures who simply seek to coexist in our human world? As for my little stink bug, I saw one lying upside down in the living room the other day. Was it ‘my stinkbug’? Who knows? Whatever it was, its life cycle was completely out of synch with the normal, early April emergence from ‘over-wintering’.  This makes me sad.

When Good is Not Good

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I am on a crusade, and it is not ‘good,’ at least not in the grammatical sense. I’ll bet you do this all the time: when someone asks you how you are, you answer ‘good.’ For example, I ‘live’ with a bunch of fellow English professors and I hear choruses of “How are you,” followed by “Good” sung in the hallowed hallways all day long.

Personally I never thought anything of it until I was teaching a grammar course to a group of very sharp administrative assistants and someone raised the question about responding ‘good’ in response to the standard ‘How are you?” query. The question stopped me in my tracks. I took a quick peek at Purdue’s Online Writing Lab and I discovered that to respond that you are good is to really say you are a moral, upright, fine human being. It does NOT mean that you are healthy, wealthy or wise!  The correct response to the proverbial question is “I am well,” and of course another option is “I am fine.”

Whatever your pleasure, I am on a self-appointed mission to promote wellness wherever I go!

 

By Whose Standards?

I had a view changing experience recently. I have a dear young man from China in one of my classes. His language skills are excellent, but it’s clear he carries the humbleness of his culture heavy on his shoulders. I gave my class an assignment where they were required to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses as listeners. All of the students did this, except for him. Instead, he wrote an eloquent piece about the importance of good listening without ever referring to himself.

At first I was poised to get out my red pen and begin slashing, but then it struck me: he did the best he could within his own experiential and cultural framework.  The Asian view is one of suppressing the ego, being respectful and behaving passively versus our western view where “I” is at the center of everything.  Instead of grading his paper as I did the others, I decided to grade it where he was – in his heart, mind and culture. Did I do the right thing?

The right thing – for years I have taught students from other cultures – many of them Asian. Yes, of course there were differences in writing and ideas – I mostly got hung up on the poor grammar – but until these last few days I never faced the question – by whose rules? Given his good writing skills, the issue became culture and whose should win – mine or his? Let me be so bold as to pose this response: neither.

Human beings embrace their cultures and often stay cocooned within them. A booming global economy insists that we emerge from the cocoons, interact and at least try to understand each other’s cultures. Thus is the mandate of this global economy. In reality we pretend.

Back to my student. Again I pose the question: by whose rules? Theoretically I should hold all students to the same standard, and in terms of writing quality, he was competent. It was this indirect answer of his that unleashed the Pandora of just how do determine and administer standards. If indeed standards remain rigid, then what kind of educational system is it that would penalize students who follow the norms of their ethnicity while enriching our country with the vibrancy of their culture.

 

 

Staying Alive While Pedaling

bicylingQuite some time ago, I wrote a piece criticizing what I called the arrogant attitudes of serious bicyclists – how they ride in the lane, forcing cars to make dangerous forays into opposing lanes and how they were notoriously unfriendly to passing, not-so-serious riders. I received a very wise and well-written reply to that post, educating me to the true perils of road bike riding and the necessary intensity with which all riders must proceed.

Hmm – more than a year later … I am still a backyard variety bicyclist, yet in the past week, I have been almost clobbered twice. And it was close – cars careening to stops at the end of residential streets and somehow missing a full view of what was in front of them. In both cases I actually slammed my hand on the cars, while screaming about their stupidity, carelessness, don’t-you-know-you-almost-killed-someone, and so on.

Fortunately, in both cases, my trusted sixth-sense kicked in and I knew what they were going to do before they did it.

In today’s world of seriously distracted driving, bicycling is an ever more perilous sport. Serious or casual riders, we simply must follow the rules for safe riding and not complain about any bicyclists with whom we share the roads.

P.S. – Wear a helmet. I had mine on (always!)

Laying Claim to Seniorhood

I recentlyfootsteps%20in%20snow realized I had entered ‘seniorhood’ when:

  • The ‘man’ who came to fix the furnace looked like he was 16
  • Every Peanut Butter M&M I eat adds a pound to my middle
  • No matter what the exercise and/or diet, the middle has decided to take up permanent residency
  • What was it you said to me 10 minutes ago?
  • My legs have taken on the role of roadmap – they can get you anywhere – in the world!!
  • I go to bed at nine o’clock and wake up at 2 for a rendezvous with a Peanut Butter M&M (just one, of course)
  • What was it you said to me 5 minutes ago?
  • The dust on my desk is high enough to use as a wrist rest when I’m typing on my computer
  • I always have to call my son for instructions on loading/deleting apps on my smart phone.
  • I come to meetings with my trusty desktop DayTimer while everyone else has Ipads and notebook computers, nary a pen to be found (except mine, of course!)
  • I am a very vocal advocate for fine penmanship while many young kids don’t have a clue how to write in cursive.
  • What was it you just said to me?

Anyone want to add anything?

The Lifespan of a Mosquito

mosquitoI am obsessed with mosquitos as of late and it’s because they are everywhere – inside, outside, and all places in between. They follow you, stake you out, and feast on whatever unfortunate part of your body happens to be exposed.

Still, despite their considerable annoyance factor, I am a sucker for all living creatures and when my partner Dominic chased down a swarm of mosquitos with a fly swatter the other night, I found myself feeling sorry for them. That then got me to wondering about the life span of a mosquito. I figured it was something very short, like a day or two, but what I learned surprised me. Some other facts also surprised me.

  • The average life span of a mosquito is two months. (Less if you’re in my house being chased down by a madly swinging fly swatter)
  • Mosquitos hibernate! (I thought for sure that when warm weather was done, they simply soared off into mosquito la la land.)
  • A mosquito is a mosquito is a mosquito, right? Wrong! (There are whopping 3500 species of mosquitos)
  • Mosquitos must hatch in water and live there for 10 days. (Moral: be sure and dump any standing water around your yard.)
  • It’s true that mosquitos favor certain people! Why? It’s a matter of body odor – good, bad or indifferent, there are certain odors that these winged creatures prefer. (What do they like? If your cholesterol level is high, lower it both for your health and to avoid mosquitos. They also like people whose sweat contains folic acid, some bacteria, scented lotions and perfume.)
  • Forget beefing up your squadron of bats. (Counter to popular opinion, bats don’t eat mosquitos.)
  • And finally – these tiny creatures are quite robust. (They have been around since the Jurassic period, as in 210 million years ago.)

So the next time a mosquito buzzes in your ear, think of what you learned here today and that these seemingly simple insects are not so simple after all. So lather yourself with Off and enjoy those mosquito serenades. (Buzz, buzz, buzz)

Cataract Beer and Beefsteak Tomatos

cataractI can’t see. That’s a fine cup of tea for a writer/reader/teacher. (And I do, BTW, like tea). A few years ago I had cataract surgery. (Did you know there was once a beer named Cataract? My ophthalmologist has a vintage advertising tray in his office with the name of the beer intertwined with a waterfall. There’s a story there, but I’ll save that for another day). After my cataract surgeries it was like a whole new world for my distance vision, but a jumbled mass of words and objects for my close-up sight.

Anyway, as a result of these surgeries, I developed a complication which I can only describe as a sort of scar tissue. The effect was like looking through wax paper. And forget close-up vision. Every time I tried to grade papers, read a book or write anything I ended up with a searing headache. Enter laser surgery.

Eye number one was operated on in February, and eye two is scheduled for next week. I am so desperate to see that I don’t even care about having my head immobilized while this incredibly intense light (laser) burns away all that gnarly crap that was rude enough to steal away my vision. All of this is done while awake and in the doc’s office.

Thus is the plight of … maturing, or ripening – like a fine cheese or beefsteak tomato. Last week I had my Shingles shot. This was a cakewalk and my pharmacist did the baking. My right knee has decided to let me know it exists – on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Bless you, ace bandages! Wrinkles? Get bloated and they’ll fill right out. And so on…

The morale of this story? Other than to embrace these maturing awakenings with humor, there really is none. Is there?

Little Lucky, Please be Lucky

When it comes to animals, I am a mush, advocate, passionate caretaker and devotee. This passion did not arise from anyone in my family, at least as far as I know. I must admit that my passion for animals outweighs that for humans. Animals are honest and simply live free uncomplicated lives, unless humans intervene. Don’t get me wrong, human intervention can be good, but usually only after prior intervention has been very bad.

I have adopted many animals in my lifetime and loved every single guinea pig, cat, horse and guppy just the same and grieved at the passing of them all. In fact, I never seem to quite get over the agony of those one last trips to the vet.

Last night I found out one of my precious Boston Terriers has mast cell cancer — high grade. It was a shock because other then the suddenly ulcerated small spot on his hip, he’s been fine. We go to the vet on Thursday to talk about the chemo options. It will NOT be the last trip we make there with Brinkley.

What has inspired me to write today is the plight of another precious baby who is in bad shape as we speak. He is in the loving hands of a dedicated foster mother who is one of the proverbial ‘good guys’ who takes in pup after pup and prepares them for their forever home, letting go of the ones she has fallen in love with to make way for another needy soul. Lucky is one of those souls and now we are all praying that he finds his way through.