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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in the Caribbean

We are listening to Jimmy Buffet sing the song by that title. But, no, unfortunately, we aren’t sitting on the beach with boat drinks. Instead, we are holding our faces about 12 inches from a “Mr. Happy” light, one of our Christmas presents to ourselves.

Mr. Happy is not its real name. But since I’m not into product endorsements, I’ve stolen the name one of our friends uses for his light. Mr. Happy is a light that’s supposed to help you cope with seasonal affective disorder. That is when you wish you were at the beach enjoying boat drinks instead of preparing to shovel your way out of the driveway.

Oh yes, some of the forecasters are saying we may have a blizzard.  What better way to celebrate the holiday than with a Mr. Happy light and a blizzard outside? Mr. Happy and we wish you a Merry Christmas.

Whether or not you are drinking boat drinks, Jimmy’s song is perfect to take your mind off the dreariness of a Christmas day in the Ohio valley.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Holly Berries

Although this year has been unseasonably warm there is the forecast for possible snow in a few days.  Today is rainy, dull and dreary. One of those days that make me wonder why I am sending a Christmas message at all. If it’s going to be this dreary maybe we should be celebrating Christmas in the Caribbean and singing Jimmy Buffett songs. Instead of toasting with eggnog and rum we could be basking in sun and drinking rum, adorned with little umbrellas.

So little has happened this last year I considered just crossing out the date and posting last year’s message. But then I thought better of it. Besides, how can it almost be Christmas without the holly tree report? As you may know, every year about this time I talk about the holly trees in our front yard.  That’s not really because holly trees are so Christmassy. In truth it’s because my computer sits next to a window overlooking the holly trees. And when I’m sitting at the keyboard daydreaming, rather than writing, I look out at the holly trees.

So here it is: this year, because the weather has been so warm the birds have lots of food and are totally ignoring the holly berries. Hence we have lots of cherry-red berries outside. So there’s some good news. Though I suspect it’s one more sign global warming is upon us. Why else would we have these unnaturally warm winters?

But it’s still Christmas on the calendar. So once again the countdown is nearing its final moments, it being Christmas Eve and all. This year we even had an extra weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The more opportunity to run out and shop. But we tried to avoid the shopping malls, doing our shopping over the Internet wherever possible. Nevertheless, what we have bought is unwrapped and scattered in our spare room, looking like the start of the disaster movie, 2012.

Unlike last year, though, we’ve attempted no “natural decorating”, other than to bring in a few holly branches. I know, enough with the holly trees already. For the inside Christmas tree, we bought a small, pre-lit, artificial Christmas tree. Its decorations consist of tiny garland with even tinier ornaments attached. So it’s official: we are geezers who don’t even put up a full-sized tree.

Speaking of calendars and 2012 disasters, at least all the Mayan “end of the world” foolishness turned out not to be true. Yet. The bad news is all those presents still need wrapping. So I will close this message with a wish that your Christmas is as warm as rum in the Caribbean, as satisfying as having the presents finally wrapped and out of the spare room, and as picture perfect as the holly tree in our front yard is on this day. Minus the rain and drear.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I promised myself I would write more upbeat, happy essays. After all, life is too short to wallow in sadness. And I did claim this blog was mostly about the amusing things in life with only an occasional dose of seriosity.

But then I turn on the news and see the funerals of little children.

Local news is no better. If they are not covering the national tragedy in Connecticut, they are reporting on local violence and threats to schools in Jefferson and other counties in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, the front page headline of Louisville’s Courier Journal proclaims drastic budget cuts in Kentucky to school safety. A Kentucky state representative is quoted as saying we “need to study” what happened in Connecticut before we think about putting more money into school safety.

We aren’t back in the 1700’s, which incidentally is when the Second Amendment was adopted, and when stagecoaches and the Pony Express carried the news. Don’t we already know what happened?

A young male with easy access to military style weaponry shot his way into a locked school and massacred little children. Back in the 1700’s I suppose we would have called out the Calvary and blamed the Indians for rampaging. Maybe we would have evacuated families with children to a fort.

In the New York Times an architect writes about how we should “harden” our schools like we have done for airplane cockpits to keep the crazies with guns out. Or maybe we should just make schools, movie theaters, churches, mosques, and shopping malls into fortresses, along with anywhere else a crazy person with legally-purchased automatic or semiautomatic weaponry and accoutrements might go. That would take a lot more money and for more than just school safety.

Our love affair with guns and belief in an inalienable right to a gun-toting “frontier” way of life with 21st century weapons has created the opportunity for this mass carnage of innocents.  And politicians, whose blind obedience, until now when some sane voices have emerged, including Louisville’s own brave Representative John Yarmuth, to the NRA’s big stick, have the blood of innocent children on their hands.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Schatzie Then and Now

The last few days have been a roller coaster ride with our dog. And not in a good way. Up, down, and then really down. Today we made the decision to end his suffering. As the veterinarian said, “he’s now in doggy heaven.” Actually, given some of Schatzie’s behavior over the years he may be spending a little time in doggy purgatory. But probably not too long. He had a good heart.
I thought I'd share part of an essay I wrote about Schatzie shortly after he joined our household. The full essay previously was published at

My Inheritance
Schatzie first entered our household as a Goth invades a village: plundering, devouring, and then pissing on anything still standing.  Mom had fallen and broken her hip, leaving me to care for Schatzie, her beautiful sheltie who ate only restaurant take-out meals, sprawled on the furniture, and nipped anyone he thought had overstepped the bounds.  Bringing this intruder into the home my husband and I share with Buddy, a full-size, sweet-tempered collie, was severely straining our marriage of over thirty years. 
Buddy in his unique herding style made peace.  Buddy never protested when Schatzie snatched food from Buddy’s dinner bowl.  Instead, Buddy gently shouldered Schatzie back to Schatzie’s own bowl.  When the invader shoved to be first at the door or yapped at dogly-imagined burglars, Buddy set the standard for quietly guarding his family and home. 
A truce was developing between the dogs and the people.  But each dog’s personality and temperament still shone through.  When I walked Buddy and Schatzie they stretched my arms as each headed off to where his own nose led; if all four of us walked, the dogs dragged us in opposite directions. 
Several months after Mom’s return home following the hip fracture, a routine CAT scan revealed a terminal cancer had invaded Mom’s pelvis.  She refused to go back to see the doctor, somehow anticipating the bad news.  Rather, she sent my brother and me to get the diagnosis. Mom then commanded we break the news to her.  After barely a pause, Mom focused all the intensity of her Newman-blue eyes on me:
 "Will you take Schatzie?”  
Of course I said, “Yes”.  
As late summer faded into autumn, Mom went through five weeks of “palliative” radiation.  In the bleak months of fall and winter, Mom declined and Schatzie again became my responsibility and full-time companion.  Despite Schatzie’s many bad habits, feeding, walking, and attempting to groom him provided welcome distraction from witnessing tiny drops of Mom’s life spirit drip from her daily.
In the dark of winter Mom entered her final days.  Schatzie slept quietly at my feet for the first time.  Meanwhile, our gentle Buddy abruptly went into heart failure from a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect.  My husband and the emergency veterinary care group nursed Buddy and he returned home. 
We were not able to nurse Mom back to health; she died quietly at home in her own bed with my brother, me, and Schatzie at her side.
 Schatzie again joined our family, this time permanently.  He now walks over and curls at my side, causing me to flashback to a scene from three years ago.  Schatzie was going to visit Mom for the first time after her hip fracture.  She had refused for months to let me bring Schatzie.
‘It would upset him too much.” she had said. 
Over the months, Mom fought to take a few steps with a walker.  Once she had regained enough mobility that a return home was plausible, she consented to a visit.  I put Schatzie on a leash, leading him from my car to Mom as she sat shaded by the overhang of the nursing home. 
But Schatzie would not go near Mom.  Instead, he curled up next to my chair and refused to budge.  
“Come on Schatzie…. Go to Mom,” I repeatedly coaxed him.  
Mom kept her eyes down.  I knew she was confused and hurt by his rejection.
Schatzie and I had gotten up to leave as I tried one last time to get him to approach Mom.  As I walked with him to Mom’s wheelchair, he leaned into her legs and moaned, a low, rumbling sound.  Schatzie moaned for several minutes before settling down next to her. 
Schatzie now follows me wherever I go in the house, curling by my side while I sit at the keyboard, in a near corner while I make dinner and next to my easy chair at night.  When I am with Schatzie I often am flooded with images of Mom, from recently and over the years.  Schatzie still scarfs his and Buddy’s food from both bowls; but, he has taken to first gently touching Buddy’s nose with his own. 
Four years have passed since Mom’s death. Schatzie, like Buddy before him, has left us. We wander an unnaturally quiet home and put away his bowls and toys, pick up the plush rugs and bedding. And moan the loss of the strong-willed intruder who stole our hearts.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

End the Madness

The death toll from the United States’ love affair with weapons just keeps mounting. The latest carnage is twenty small children and the six teachers and staff who futilely tried to save them from a lone, crazed gunman, heavily armed with automatic weapons legally purchased by the gunman’s mother. Oh, and also the gunman’s mother, a gun lover, who was her son’s first victim.

The Second Amendment and recent Supreme Court opinions, District of Columbia v. Heller 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), are used to buttress the claim that every Tom, Dick and Harriet has the Constitutional right to buy and carry guns.

In 1791 when the Second Amendment was adopted guns were made by a gunsmith as single-shot weapons, loaded through the muzzle, fired by a flintlock, with rudimentary rifling. Now gun lovers, like the latest shooter’s mother, can easily buy all sorts of guns, including automatic weapons. Along with lots of ammunition for quickly re-arming those weapons.

We are seeing how well the rigid and some would say poorly thought-out application of this particular Constitutional provision is working out.

Meanwhile, journalists engage in speculation about why the gunman would shoot children. Who cares why? What about crazy do we not understand? And if we knew the gunman’s reasons would it make any difference? I don’t think so.

What would have made a difference is if the gunman had not had easy access to automatic weapons meant for killing lots of people quickly.
In a dissent in the Supreme Court’s Heller case, Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer, engaged in legal analysis that sensibly construed the Second Amendment:

The Amendment’s text does justify a different limitation: the “right to keep and bear arms” protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia. Had the Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase “bear arms” to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by the addition of phrases such as “for the defense of themselves”.

Those who favor gun control urge immediate action to try to avoid future tragedies like the one in Connecticut, and the many other places whose names now are identified with this horror.

 Those who uphold unlimited “gun rights” send their condolences to the families and urge prayer.

God helps those who help themselves. I’m asking my legislators and President to put an end to unlimited rights for those who would use guns for domestic terrorism or senseless violence.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Safer in Cuba, Israel, or anywhere else than in the U.S.?

Yesterday I was worrying about my adult son who is leaving for a trip to Cuba and my daughter-in-law who after Christmas is leaving for a trip to Israel. Both places I considered less than “safe”. Silly me.

My son and daughter-in-law, with our two beautiful grandchildren, live less than fifty miles from the place where a young man, well armed with legally purchased weapons, walked into a grade school and randomly killed twenty children the same ages as my grandchildren. And also killed their teachers and staff.

Lots of articles have been written, many in the last day, about all the random shootings we have suffered through in this nation in the last few years. Some, President Obama included, also mentioned the inner city gun violence that is claiming lives of so many cut down in the prime of their lives.

That kind of gun violence is not confined to the street corners of Chicago. Nearly every day in Louisville KY, gun violence claims the lives of men, women and children. Some no doubt are involved in drugs or crimes. And some are innocent children caught in the crossfire of gun violence.

I feel largely safe from the shootings. Since I stay out of those neighborhoods.

Not so back when my oldest son was a baby and toddler. Back then I felt safe to take my toddler every day to an outstanding pre-school on 22nd street in west Louisville. He was one of two little white boys in a crowd of African American children, all of whom benefited from the outstanding caregivers at St. Benedict’s.

Now gun violence is a daily occurrence in the west end of Louisville, as it is in many large cities and even in the grade schools of bucolic Connecticut small towns.
All of this killing has one common denominator: guns. Enough with the “guns don’t kill people”. Or “this is not the time”.

It is the time. Guns do kill people. And far too many. No one other than trained military and law enforcement have any legitimate reason to have handguns, automatic weapons, protective gear, or anything else associated with killing people.

With all due deference to the U. S Supreme Count, they are wrong about what the Second Amendment means. It was never meant to allow gangs or lone crazies or anyone else to take innocent lives with weapons of war. Such weapons did not exist at the time the Second Amendment was adopted.

Just like the “Citizens United” decision with its topsy-turvy interpretation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it’s clearly a travesty of legal thinking. But until the Supreme Court rethinks its interpretation their opinion is the law of the land.

So, as intelligent people we must come together and call on our elected representatives to change the law. If that takes amendments to the US Constitution so be it. In the meantime, we also must call on the President to take all actions he can take by Executive Order to put an end to the madness.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dog Bites Man

I know—“dog bites man” is the oldest story in the book. Such that it’s not considered news. But recently it became personal. A couple of days ago our old dog bit my husband.

The reason for the bite? My husband had gently tried to wipe some of the “goop” near Schatzie’s eye. No stitches required but at least two puncture sites near the fingernails. And a throbbing redness.

As on most days, my husband had painstakingly walked Schatzie to the park at the dog’s snail’s pace. The dog can hardly walk but still thinks he should go to the park. My husband then gave Schatzie his many medications in homemade cheese balls. And then fed Schatzie a carefully crafted breakfast.  Which the dog turned his nose up at. I added more goodies to try to get our skinny dog to eat. 

You might say that the biting is excusable. After all Schatzie has dementia. And is in pain with arthritis. On his last leg, so to speak.

But that’s not really what’s going on. Biting is what Schatzie did in his prime. For example, Schatzie bit us—twice each--after we first inherited him from my Mom. It’s only in his later stages of dementia that for the most part he has forgotten his aggressive ways

My husband, bless his heart, (Please forgive the only language quirk I picked up from living in Alabama for two years. I believe it roughly translates to you are saying or doing something stupid but I’m too polite to say that.) does not blame Schatzie. Here is what he said: “Biting is the one thing that dogs can do to let the humans know they don't like what they're doing. Humans just have to show them who's the pack leader. Besides, I knew the risk going in. After all, I'd been bitten before by him doing something similar (eye drops). Could I have been more calm & assertive? Yep.”

I say my husband watches too many episodes of the dog whisperer. Biting is one behavior I don’t think is ever acceptable by dogs, at least not to their loving families. In fact, under the standard set by the several collies that have been part of our family, they would have gone farther than that on biting rules. For them, biting was never an option, save an attack on one of their family members.

Anyway, the latest is Schatzie now has idiopathic vertigo or doggy dizziness for some unknown reason.

Having four legs should be some advantage. Instead, he looks like a drunken sailor times two. When he tries to go forward and to the left, his back end lists to the right. Lots of falling, picking up, and spitting up from the associated nausea. The vet says he may get over this in a few days, learn to compensate, or this may be the end.

I don’t really know what to think. Or what to hope for.  Except I hope my husband’s bite doesn’t get infected. And I hope Schatzie stops acting like a drunken sailor and starts to “shape up or ship out.” That’s not an Alabama expression as far as I know but something my Mom use to say when as kids my brother and I weren’t doing what she expected. I just wish she were here to deal with her old dog and tell us what she would have done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just a Couple of Guys and a Gal

The following is a short story, “flash fiction” if you will, I wrote last summer at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Hope it’s a brief diversion on a cold winter’s day.


John, a tidy man in his 40’s, is sipping wine while chopping veggies for dinner at the kitchen island.  Jake, a straggled, over-heated man in his early thirties, sits across from John on a stool, drinking a beer.



Jake, you know we agreed we’d use that money for the wine and cooking classes tour of Italy.



Yeah, but…



I hate it when you ‘Yeah, but’, me.



Lately you seem to hate everything I do. I think you hate HER.



I do not. It’s just time to let her go.



Let her go? Let her go?



Stop repeating yourself. You know how I hate that.



I can’t say anything any more without you saying you hate it. Or her.



I don’t hate her. She’s had a very good life. She was very beautiful. But she’s become a black hole--sucking your time and our money.






She has not. You know I love her. And I don’t mind the time or money.



You should be spending more of your time with me.



I do spend time with you.



Not like you used to. Every night it’s the same old thing. You sneak off…



I do not sneak. You know where I’m going.



You sneak. And you lie.



That’s really unfair.



You say you’ll only be a few minutes. An hour at most. Then hours later come crawling back home, all sweaty. And smelling of her.



Well, I enjoy my time with her. And the time gets away from me.



But the real thing is the money. That $10,000 is for our wine and cooking tour. You KNOW that.



That's just what you’ve always said. I never agreed.



Yes—you did.



I did not. And besides, after the new carburetor and rods and rear end, you know—you’ll enjoy riding in her as much as I do.



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Not Dead Yet

Schatzie, our fourteen-year-old sheltie, had been looking and acting like he was on death’s doors for the last several days, or maybe it’s been weeks. Sometimes it’s hard to know how long something has been happening when you are in the midst of it.

But he now has rallied. For at least a year he has needed help most of the time just to stand. His walks have gotten to be just the short half block to the park, not the half mile he use to walk. The four steps into and out of the house have become a major barrier. One that requires assistance from one of both of his human companions.

We were thinking the end was near. What with his recent loss of appetite, struggles to stand after we help him up, and apparent disinterest in most of life.

And he may still be a short-timer. But two days ago we woke to find him curled up next to our bed, with his head comfortably tucked under the dust cover. You ask why that is peculiar. Mainly because our bedroom is up a long flight of stairs that he has not even tried to climb in months. Yet somehow two nights ago he had climbed noiselessly on his withered old back legs all the way to the second floor.  And the following day he made it around the whole half mile track, though at a snail’s pace most of the way. And then he actually bounced twice as he barked upon sighting a squirrel and his “nemesis”, a boxer who chews his iron fence whenever he sees Schatzie.

I had been wishing I could know what Schatzie is trying to say about his condition. My latest guess is he is saying, reminiscent of the scene from a Monty Python movie, “I’m not dead yet.”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Dog's Life

My dog is near his end. Most of the time he can’t stand without help. He can’t walk up or down stairs without his human companions supporting him. And he has dementia. Some days he doesn’t seem to know us, doesn't want to eat. But other days he has the joy of life in his eyes. And he often has the joy of smell, his one sense that seems to still be working well. 

Helping to lift him is not helping my old spine and painful arm. But at least there are options for me. Not so much for Schatzie and his multiple problems. We've changed up his meds,  and consulted with the good dog doctors. We talk about quality of life, whether he is in pain. And what to do about him if he manages to live until Christmas and we take our Christmas trip.
The real problem is I hate having the power, or is it the responsibility, of deciding when he’s had enough.

In every previous case with a beloved dog when we made the final decision I knew in retrospect I probably had waited too long. But how to know that when you are making the decision eludes me. I wish I really could channel Schatzie's voice now and know what he is thinking.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

An Update

As you may have noticed Dear Readers, if any of you are still out there, I’ve not written much since rotator cuff surgery in September. Seems as my shoulder has improved, my right arm has continued to hurt worse. Eventually I had an MRI of my neck. The good news is twofold. First, the MRI and my symptoms are consistent: extensive spinal arthritis is causing the pain. (Anyone who knows me knows I like to be consistent.) Second, I have way too much arthritis in my spine to think about having surgery.

I know--that sounds a little crazy to count as good news. But such is life as one gets older.

They are referring me to a pain clinic to try to deal with the arm pain.  I think that means they’re going to suggest injections in my spine like I had some years ago before I had a previous spinal surgery. I just don’t want the injection that includes the fungus cocktail. As one gets older the humor gets darker. Or maybe my humor has always been dark.

The bottom line is I can’t type much without making my symptoms worse. I’m working on dictating instead of typing. But a lot of this is posture related to sitting in front of a computer, not just the use of my hands. So we’ll see how well my life as a “dictator” works out.