My New Best Friend

My good friend asked me to go with her to a local bird store several months ago. I should have known better because this was right after my beloved cockatiel died. As soon as we walked into the store, Ryan, the manager, thrust this little, feather-less creature into my hand and it was love at first flight!

Of course, the story is complicated, but the bottom line is that I am now “mother” to Ethel, my adorable, 4-month old green cheek conure.

This is just a brief introduction, but there will be many more tales to come.

Hint: How Ethel loves to watch what’s on my computer screen and add to its interest by pecking at the touch screen to see what she can come up with next,

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Posted in Birds, Uncategorized

A Village and a Very Sick Dog

Chavo came back – again. He came back to the shelter a few weeks ago, but no one recognized him. I did. Somewhere inside the little, shriveled dog in the kennel hid the big head and broad chest that was once filled out and healthy. At first the dog in this kennel was only vaguely familiar. I looked at his intake card, saw the name Chavo, and looked again at the pathetic dog laying in his kennel, too tired to even get up. This was not the chesty little low-rider pitbull I remembered and loved. This was a sick skeleton with glassy eyes, and foamy mouth.

I wanted to murder the people who did this to him.

It took a village to nurse Chavo back to health. Once his condition became known to the techs and vet, he was quickly whisked to the quiet and protected part of the shelter. Word spread like wildfire about our once robust little low-rider. We all prayed and kept vigil outside his kennel. After two days of not eating and utter lethargy, doc did exploratory surgery on him and pulled a walnut from Chavo’s digestive tract.

And so Chavo began to heal. He ate hungrily and had his own cheering squad urging him through every bite, every step. At first he was allowed just short walks, and we lined up for our turn “at Chavo.” Before long, walks became longer and longer until he was finally allowed back into the adoption part of the shelter.

One day I came looking forward to a walk with Chavo, only to find he’d been adopted. Selfishly, my heart sank. But I heard it was a good thing. Good people. Good for Chavo, and ultimately good for all of us in the village who brought a near-death, low-rider pit back to life and into a home with good, loving people.

Posted in Uncategorized

No Roses at the Animal Shelter

Tis the season and the antics at the shelter are in full swing – and not by the animals!

Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst

One of the things this shelter does regularly is hold free adoption days where it’s just that – you can get a dog or cat for free. Sounds good? It is not. Granted, there are some honest, caring people who come committed to adopt an animal and give it the love and care it needs. But there are also those who lie and present a false picture of a huge, fenced-in yard, no other pets in the house, and so on.

One of these events was held a month ago, and a shelter favorite dog, Carlotta, was adopted by an older man who said all these things about the wonderful life Carlotta would have with him. Initial conversations after the adoption rang glaringly false About a week after he took her home, Carlotta was back. Not only was she back, but so was another dog, adopted the same day by his brother, only they never bothered to inform us of that fact. In fact, they live together. The man was told that Carlotta was not to live with any other dogs. When she arrived back at the shelter, we were told she fought with the other dog. She was a mass of cuts and bite marks, and needed surgery to close her wounds.

Another free event is happening this Saturday and I plan to be on the other side of the county while it’s taking place.

I have recently taken on another volunteer job at the shelter, and that is to follow up with adopters to see how things are going with their new furbaby in the home. I recently exchanged texts with one gent who adopted one of my all-time favorite pups. He had taken the dog to his vet only to get a positive heartworm test. Heartbreak! This shelter has a “live-in” vet and I am appalled that the dogs are not heartworm tested before they are adopted out. I have also known of many dogs who have gone to homes with various degrees of intestinal and respiratory illnesses.

Dealing with dogs, adoptions, and the shelter environment is never going to be pretty. But by implementing some basic new strategies, and eliminating things that have proven to provide pain and heartbreak, the whole adoption process can be made significantly more successful.

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Posted in Animals and Rescue

Gender Neutral (Not)

The list of terms describing gender preferences is astounding. When I was younger, there was no such list and there were lots of behind the hand whispers and mocking of those who displayed characteristics of gender outside the norm. That is not so much the case at all today and that is a good thing.

What is not a good thing is the accompanying list of pronouns and other terms people want others to refer to them by. We have such a situation where I work and it is stressful trying to remember if this person is a they or them, an anyone or a nobody. Then there may also be a preference for other defined pronoun words. The more comprehensive list of gender-neutral pronouns is as follows:

He/She — Zie, Sie, Ey, Ve, Tey, E

Him/Her — Zim, Sie, Em, Ver, Ter, Em

His/Her — Zir, Hir, Eir, Vis, Tem, Eir

His/Hers — Zis, Hirs, Eirs, Vers, Ters, Eirs

Himself/Herself — Zieself, Hirself, Eirself, Verself, Terself, Emself

Here’s the rub for me. If you want to be called something, that is your freedom. Fine. But on the other hand, it is my freedom to turn down your request. Aren’t there more important things than to insist on being viewed in a very prescribed and calculated way? Why not just be what we are – people!

I work with a “they” who insists on remaining gender neutral and who wrote our department a long tome on why this was important. This person dresses as a boy, but is a woman by physiology and a mother by choice. I am confused because this person is militant in her stand on gender neutrality, yet  goes to such an extreme as to dress as a selected gender? This is not gender neutral. This person’s baby is now about 2 years old, no one knows its true sex, and it is called Winter. I wonder how this “it” is going to manage in a very un-gender neutral society.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Rare Toxin That Almost Killed my Daughter

Most mothers and daughters have their respective “issues” and my daughter and I were not exceptions.

That slammed to a stop.

She called me one morning in tears, asking me to come get her and take her to emergency. I dropped what I was doing, crossed town and bundled her into my car.

Ten hours later she had a D and C. Much to my chagrin, they released her that night at 10 and I once again bundled her into my car and this time, took her home with me so I could make sure she was safe. Only she wasn’t.

Something wasn’t right. One day after the surgery I could see where she’d be sleepy and sore, but 3 days of the same, something wasn’t right. My daughter is stubborn. Too much for her own good, we found out. When she wasn’t bouncing back on day 2 and 3, I said we had to call the doc. She insisted that she wasn’t going anywhere. Day 4 she had a temperature. 103.5. I called an ambulance.

Beyond anyone’s comprehension, my beautiful, intelligent daughter had toxic shock syndrome. People of younger generations haven’t even heard of this deadly malady, which was once associated with tampon use. In fact, her extraordinarily competent doctors had to do a literature review before they came to the heartbreaking conclusion that the source of the Group A Strep, which was feeding deadly toxins into her body, was her uterus. Her uterus needed to be removed.

Her brother, his wife, my partner and I went to see her in the ICU before the surgery. As long as I live I will never forget the color of her face – yellow, orange and gray. Her organs were shutting down, it was explained to me. Her kidneys, liver, and lungs were being slayed by the toxins. I will also never forget the tear that dribbled down her face when they said she had just a 5 percent chance of living if she didn’t have this surgery. Before the took her away, we gave our goodbye kisses, all terrified that it would be the last we’d ever give her while she was alive.

It wasn’t. It was hard looking at her with the tube down her throat when she came out of surgery as well as all the tubes and lines connected to her body. But she was with us and was amazingly aware of much of what was going on around her. It wasn’t fun when they took the breathing tube out, and it wasn’t fun building up her ability to breathe without oxygen. But she did it, exceeding everyone’s expectations about the speed of her recovery.

I have always loved Mother’s Day but this year was astronomically special! I had a wondrous dinner with both my children. And you know what? Those “issues” may be there, but they are miniscule in the light of a cherished life that was on its way to being tragically snuffed out.

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Posted in Health and Medical

Hamilton Visits and Charms

I was dubious. The hype has been relentless ever since last spring when the touring Broadway show lineup was announced and Hamilton was among the fare. I mean, I liked the idea of a musical couched in an historical backdrop, but hip hop?

Yep. Showing my age. I am mostly a consumer of classical and jazz music and cringe every time I am at a stop light next to a car with hip hop screaming out its open windows.

I was, simply put, not a fan, until last night.

And now I get it. I get the hoopla and the hype and everything in between because this show is a cultural phenomenon, bringing together races, religions, and generations into toe tapping, head bobbing, and occasional tear-dropping magic.

If you can, try your very best to find a ticket. Join the HamFam and be transported into a fantasy where history meets hiphop.

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Posted in Uncategorized

E-book or Paper Book: Which is the Best for You?

By the Numbers

 According to the respected Pew Research Center, print books remain the most popular reading medium with 67 percent of Americans having read at least one paper book in the last year. Of these, 39 percent will only read paper books while 29 percent read in both paper and e-book formats, with just 7 percent reading only e-books. The numbers are couched in the fact that the average American reads 12 books/year. Age is also a factor with 10 percent of those aged 18 to 29 reading only e-books compared to 5 percent of those ages 50 – 64.

As for devices, it’s either paper back or hardcover for paper books, while e-readers have expanded their reading devices to include smart phones, tablets, and even audio formats.

Regardless of which format you prefer, there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

The mind slows when reading print allowing for deeper critical thinking

According to an article in the Huffington Post, there are 10 reasons why print is better that e-books.

Why Print is Better

  1. Reading print books is a tactile activity that offers pleasurable experiences for the senses of smell, touch, and sight.
  2. Studies show that reading in print is better for retention. You may not remember all the clues and evidence in that mystery you are savoring read digitally.
  3. Books last decades longer than digital devices.
  4. Keeping old, treasured books around elicits memories, good and bad, of the time you read them.
  5. Giving a book  to a friend is a special gesture.
  6. You can underline, dog-ear, highlight, and write in the margins of a book – all cognition strengthening activities.
  7. The covers and jackets of books people read on a bus or subway can be a snapshot of a city’s culture.
  8. Books in print give writers higher royalties than their e-book versions.
  9. Books are soothing and healthier. Light-emitting e-books interfere with sleep and general health.
  10. Books are less likely to be stolen which is not true of an e-reading device.

On the Other Hand

10 reasons why e-books are better

  1. You can download them instantly without having to leave home.
  2. They are usually more portable.
  3. When borrowed from the library, there are no late fees for library e-books.
  4. They provide readers with built-in dictionaries.
  5. They don’t require bookcases for storage.
  6. You can set your preferred font size and style.
  7. It’s easier to find hard to find niche topics.
  8. They are more environmentally friendly (really?).
  9. You don’t need a reading light – they come with their own.
  10. They are usually cheaper than their paper book counterparts.

My Take

I am a ravenous hard-copy reader! That’s not to say I don’t read the occasional e-book (I do have a Kindle which I mainly use to play Words with Friends and watch Netflix movies). Ever since I was in grade school, I have smelled books and have been known to pick one title over another because it smelled better. No can do with an e-book. In the summer I love to take a good mystery to the beach or pool – can you see dropping the e-book device into the water or clogging its memory with sand? I do agree about the space issue, but I feel warm and cozy in my study which is lined with books, some even going back to those grade school days – and that’s a LONG time ago!

Anyway, whichever is your book media of choice, I wish you hours and hours of magic and memories from your treasured volume or screen.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

It reads like a combined horror, suspense and true crime story, and that’s because it is all those things. Getting this book was totally random. I was surfing books on Amazon when I came across the thoroughly intriguing title, and when I saw its almost 5-star rating, it was a slam dunk order.

(Even though I have a Kindle, I still order most of my books in hard copy – its like the brick and mortar versus virtual classroom thing.)

Back to bleeding, er, uh Bad Blood.

Although the story is about a Silicon Valley start-up named Theranos, intrinsic to that is the story of its founder, a then 19-year-old Stanford University dropout named Elizabeth Holmes who eventually became the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire. Begun with her vision to make the world a better place, Elizabeth conceived of performing blood tests on people by drawing blood with a finger prick and running it through small, Theranos designed and built blood analyzers. However – there was a hitch–her system didn’t work.

Tests came back inaccurate and many were really run on the several traditional (big) analyzers the company had purchased from other manufacturers. People became panicked when results suggested imminent strokes and out-of-whack TSH values. Meanwhile, the more it didn’t work, the more Elizabeth explained things away with exaggerations that eventually segued into out-and-out lies.

Elizabeth is a striking woman whose idol was Steve Jobs of Apple. Her dream was to be the Steve Jobs of the medical world. She even emulated him in the way she dressed, with her black turtlenecks and slacks. One of her traits that startled many who met her was her voice.  Whether cultivated or natural, it was a deep, manly, baritone that didn’t pair with the blond, ruby-lipped stunner.

Elizabeth holding the small blood capsule

Elizabeth ran the company along with her live-in lover, Sunny Balwani. She had an amazing talent of attracting older, successful men to join her Board of Directors, including George Schultz, former U.S. Secretary of State and George Mattis, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense. Most of her board members were totally taken with this beautiful young woman with the deep voice who could spin yarns into amazing products that came unraveled before they were even real.

Sunny and Elizabeth ruled the company ruthlessly, never hesitating to fire someone on the spot, which they did with progressive frequency as employees began to realize they were partaking in what was soon to be deemed a fraud of major proportion.

Anyway, I have become obsessed with this story and its central figure, Elizabeth Holmes. Although technically a business-based story, this is really a read about an astonishing success story turned into ashes, overnight!

If you are looking for a great read of epic proportions, give Bad Blood a try.

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Posted in Uncategorized

A Happy Dog

Have you ever seen a dog smile? This is my old boy, Brinkley. He’s 14. He doesn’t have many years left, but what he does have will be spent smiling and being content as can be. This is my mission.

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Posted in Animals

Treating an Arthritic Knee

I admit it. I am aging. I would like to say and gracefully so, but there are those that would disagree.

I’ve been active my whole life: played tennis, swam, rode horses, rode bikes, and the clincher – ran for over 40 years – until I couldn’t. That was a major bummer – not being able to run. But ever Pollyanna, I downgraded to fast walking – until I couldn’t. The solution? Slow the pace. This I did, despite ouches and grunts that occurred in rhythmic harmony. Thus are the musical notes of arthritis.

To quell my aches, I’ve tried a number of things including physical therapy, arthroscopic surgery, cortisone shots and gel shots. Nothing worked. I continued to toddle and limp along.

Enter my volunteer work at the animal shelter where I walk up to 10 strong dogs twice a week. We’re talking PAIN!! However, nothing was going to stop me from this passion it took me a lifetime to find.

I had a nice chat with my orthopedic doctor who suggested this relatively new procedure, Coolief. Here’s what she told me:

It’s simple: Radiofrequency energy targets the nerves in the knee area that send pain signals to the brain and destroys them so voila, no pain! It’s not quite that simple, so I will leave the nitty-gritty detail to the pros

As far as the experience – it is not pleasant. In fact, it is very unpleasant. In sum, four needles are inserted into your knee and adjusted so they target the correct nerves. This was excruciating, “No pain, no gain,” the nurse said. This was something I did not want to hear at the time. Once the needles were in and positioned, the rest wasn’t so bad. In fact, the warmth of the penetrating energy was soothing.

Before the docs can perform the “real” procedure, they have to determine if you are a viable candidate, so they do a “pre-procedure” Again, four needles are inserted into the area around your knee only this time lidocaine is inserted into your knee through them. When the procedure is over, you are instructed to go home and chart your pain level for the next four hours. If you do not have pain then you can be promoted to Phase 2.

There are no real after-effects of either procedure, so after the “real” one, I was fine after an afternoon of resting. I was then anxious to see how my modified knee would feel.

One of the issues I had at the shelter was getting the dogs out of their kennels where you have to kneel on one knee (my bad one) while holding the other knee against the kennel door to keep the dog from barging on out. This procedure had been a killer. (Notice past tense). Four days after the procedure was my first walking shift. I wanted to jump for joy at how painless it was!! Walking the dogs was also exciting because I could trot along with the more energetic dogs, also with no pain.  

The sad thing is that this fix is not permanent. The average time before symptoms return is 2 years. What then? A repeat of the procedure or eventually, a knee replacement. I am not at all thrilled about a knee replacement and what all that means in recuperation so I’ll probably hang out with Coolief for a bit, even if it does involve sticking needles in my knee

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Posted in Aging
Old Stuff

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Nick DiChario

Reader, writer, life-long mistake-maker

Judith Shenouda

Author of Living Well in Froggy's World of Plenty: Sweet Talk to Read Aloud; A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way; and Career Success in 12 Easy Steps: A Journal; and Owner of Shenouda Associates Inc., Provider of Technical, Marketing, and Business Communications

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