Family Ties

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The sisters (l-r): Marianne, Patty, Joanne, Diane, Janet, Carolyn and Nancy.

As a regular viewer of Maury, I’m always shocked by much stock people put in family resemblance.

People look at a photo of a newborn baby and determine paternity based on facial features, skin coloring or oddball features like weird toes or extra thumbs. They’re often dead wrong, sending the embarrassed mother running off stage in tears.

Physical features are a great tool for identifying relatives in some families – my cousin Joe’s daughter is the spitting image of my Aunt Joan. But it never was in ours. As one of seven daughters of an Irish American mother and Italian American father, people were constantly trying to figure out which parent we favored, or which sisters look alike.

My mother, who gave birth to us within 11 years, said people used to marvel that we all looked so different. This began in the delivery room: some of us were born with thin faces and lots of hair and others with round faces and no hair. When I came out with a large purple birthmark on my right thigh, my paternal great aunt blamed my mother, noting no one in my father’s family had such defects.

Family resemblance and assigning physical attributes to relatives are great, except when they’re not. As the mom of two adopted kids, I used to dread occasions where families gathered and people crooned over how much kids looked like their parents. I wanted to scoop up my kids and run for the hills because we don’t share the same genes, and were decidedly left out of the conversation.

It’s a natural thing to do at gatherings, particularly when children get a little older and start to resemble parents. But it’s not something you expect or do as an adoptive parent. The comments underscored the lack of biology between me and my kids. It was the only time I was keenly aware that we lacked a biological connection that most parents and children share. 

I didn’t realize people put so much stock in family resemblance because my sisters and I don’t look alike. No one told any of us that we looked like either parent or each other because we didn’t. As my mother says, “You all look like yourselves.”

Anyone who knows us will tell you there are similarities: a tendency to tilt our heads when being photographed, and gesturing wildly with our hands, which the Curmudgeon enjoys imitating to no end. But physically? Not really.

It’s incredible how strong genes are in some families. You can spot the Kennedys from a mile away by their toothy grins and wholesome good looks. Some children look like clones of their parents or a perfect melding of two gene pools: the nose of the mom, the build and athletic prowess of the dad. But more often than not, it’s complicated, with some children favoring the mom, others the dad, and some no one at all.

This came up last weekend at my niece Nicki’s high school graduation party. With all seven of us and my mom gathered at my sister Patty’s house, guests tried to identify siblings. One woman told my older sister Joanne she could tell she was related to Patty because she had the same lips and chin. Another woman asked us and my mother to sit together so she could figure things out.

“There are definitely two different kinds of noses,” she said. “And a lot of you have the same eyes.”

“You look most like your mother,” someone said. “Oh great!” I joked. “I look like an 85 year old woman.” “I’m only 84,” my mother said. I never thought I favored my mother, but what do I know? I may be too close to the situation to judge.

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My sister Diane and I at my wedding in 1983.

Growing up I thought I most resembled my sister Diane, who is 16 months younger than I am. We both have brown eyes, freckles and athletic builds, but Diane was graced with my father’s black naturally curly hair while I got straight brown hair.

Diane’s hair is thick and lustrous, but like many curly tops, she hated it and was always trying to straighten it. While Diane was straightening her hair with Coke can curlers, I was getting smelly perms to get some bounce and body into my mane. This was the ’70s, after all, and I wanted Farrah Fawcett hair like everyone else.

As No. 2 and 3 in a large family, Diane and I were tight. She tagged along with my friends Lizzie and Robin on play dates, which weren’t called play dates back then, and we learned to play tennis, golf, ski and roller skate together. We worked the same summer jobs at a packaging plant, department store and banquet facility, and even went to the same college, Wheaton in Norton, MA.

As her older sister,  I was naturally protective. She came to keg parties with me in high school, but I kept an eye on her. I helped her find a date for the junior prom. I let her have a bender in the basement when my parents were out, serving as bouncer when things got out of hand. I covered her expenses when someone broke into our rental car and stole her wallet on our trip to Florida.

I thought we looked alike, maybe because that’s what happens when you spend so much time with someone. You assume a resemblance because of that sisterly bond and constant state of togetherness. Isn’t that what they say about people who’ve been married a long time – they begin to resemble each other?

Diane reminded me that I used to ask people in high school if we looked alike, and they’d say no. So I guess I’ve been mistaken on this point for years. Silly me.

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Janet, left, and Diane, right. Maybe the do look like each other after all.

I was a little taken back when Patty’s friend announced that Diane looks like Janet, the second to the youngest. “You have the same noses and dark hair,” she said. Both of them seemed very happy with the pronouncement, making those of us who weren’t identified as lookalikes question why they were so relieved.

I never really thought about it, but I guess they do look alike. I was assuming a resemblance based on feelings, proximity, shared experiences and our place in the birth order. More than sisters, we were best buds. 

As teen-agers, we stayed up all night on our last day of vacation on Hilton Head Island, S.C., and walked the beach at dawn, snapping a photo of the glorious sunrise. I blew up two 8 X 10 prints and framed them, giving one to D and keeping one in my dorm room through college. We talked about life and eternity and then had to stop – it was too mind-boggling, but I remember it to this day.

She was my maid of honor and I was her matron of honor. She called me after she was released from the hospital after giving birth at age 26 to her son Eric. What on earth was she supposed to do with this little baby? she asked. I showed her how to change him on a round coffee table in the living room of her apartment. I was thrilled when she asked us to be his godparents, and she let us borrow him and his younger brother Greg on weekends.

It’s a sisterly bond that transcends physical appearance, although I think when you feel so close to someone you assume you look alike. Maybe it’s part of human nature to want an outward physical connection, like sports teams wearing the same uniform, fans donning team shirts and baseball caps, or tribesmen smearing themselves in paint to show unity. As the heart of it, humans want to know where people stand, and we judge a lot by outward appearance.

People assume a lot, seeing what they want to see. At the graduation party, someone remarked how much my son looks like my husband. She was taken aback when she learned that he was adopted. She insisted there is a family resemblance, but I don’t see it.

There is a family bond, yes, but it’s well below the surface, deep inside the heart and unbreakable. It’s proof that biology is one thing, love is quite another. And at the end of the day, that’s all any family needs.

Turning 60

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London, 2018 

I’ve never watched any of the Housewives TV shows, and now I know why: these women are from another planet.

I just read about a Orange County housewife who got a facelift at the urging of a friend, who assured her she really needed it. What kind of friend says something like that, even if it’s true? Friends tell friends they need a haircut, are getting a little too thin, or need a bigger kitchen island. They don’t tell them to get a facelift, at least in my world.

I’m never getting a facelift. Many women say never say never, but I’d never do it because: 1. I’m afraid. 2. I can’t afford it. 3. Most facelifts don’t look natural. It bothers me when I see beautiful celebrities with facelifts because in most cases, the results are horrible. To me, nothing’s more beautiful than a woman who embraces herself at every age.

When I see a star who’s had obvious work, I always feel very sad. I’m not sure why because it was her choice to do it, and maybe she likes it. But I always feel she caved to societal (and perhaps “friends”) pressure to look young.

Perhaps this is on my mind because I turn 60 this month. It’s a milestone, to be sure. And though I’d rather be turning 30 and have my life in front of me, I can’t complain because I know too many people who never reached 60.

At my last high school reunion, we remembered at least six girls who passed away. A guy I dated in college died last year at age 59. A former co-worker dropped dead at age 38 from a massive heart attack. I lost two friends to alcoholism before age 50. I’ve known plenty of people – neighbors, friends, relatives – deprived of the privilege of growing old. As you age, I think that’s the biggest revelation: that aging is a blessing not granted to everyone in this life.

I now get my father’s line every year on his birthday: “It’s better than the alternative.” And it is, despite the natural feelings entering a new decade bring.

So how do I feel about turning 60? Here are a few thoughts:

  • I don’t want the senior discount, at least not yet. I know plenty of people who do and that’s cool, but I’m offended when people even suggest that I qualify. I still can’t stand being called ma’am, particularly by men who are older than I am. Keep your discount and let me think I’m fooling everyone, including myself.
  • I’m now calling everyone, even strangers, “honey.” I have no idea why, but I am and they seem to like it. Perhaps this is what happens when you become an elder stateswoman: you bestow terms of endearment on everyone around you.
  • I have no idea how old anyone is. I’ve asked so many kids in their 20s what year they are in high school that I’ve lost track. How did that happen?
  • I’m not ready to go gray. My adorable hairstylist Gina at W Salon in Madison, CT., (yes, that is a shameless plug for my buddies Walter and JoAnne Porta) told me at my last visit that my hair is a pretty combination of silver and gray. Good to know, she said, should I decide to go the natural route.

I’m not ready to do that, particularly since my mother still colors her hair. I know people – my beautiful yoga instructor Ava, my tennis buddy Laury, my former co-workers Linda D. and Linda B – who went gray and look fantastic. This is not me. I’m afraid I’d look like an old hag or a wrung out dish rag. And I don’t want to be mistaken for the Curmudgeon’s mother. That would really send me over the edge.

  • I still care about my body, but I’m more realistic now than I was when I was 40. A few years ago I read a book in which the author expressed surprise and a little disdain for Rose Kennedy still caring about her figure in her 60s “at an age when most women stop caring about such things,” or something like that.

I was offended because it suggested women stop caring about their bodies after a certain age, and that anyone who still did is vain. I’ve exercised since I was about 13 because I’m a sporty girl. I like to work out because it makes me feel good and keeps me in relatively good shape. I wasn’t graced with genes or a metabolism where I can eat everything I want and be thin. I’ve always needed to break a sweat.

To suggest that women would stop caring about their bodies in their 60s (and older) is not only false, but insulting and discriminatory. If you care about your body, that doesn’t change when you reach age 60 or beyond. If anything, you probably try harder to stay in shape because it becomes more difficult with age.

  • Everyone in my age group looks at women in their 20s and 30s and wonders where our waistlines went. I recently went to a wedding where the bride wore a two piece dress that exposed her midriff and couldn’t take my eyes off her tiny waist.

I used to be able to rock a cinched waist with thick belts, but that ship has passed and I’m not sure when or how it happened. I tried to spruce up a T-shirt dress with a thin animal print belt and I looked like a sausage tied in the middle. It would be depressing if it wasn’t so comical.

  • Turning 40 and 50 was a much bigger deal in terms of ego. When I turned 50, I remember thinking, “Well, there’s no denying it now. You’re not young any more.” At 60, that thought doesn’t even cross your mind. You’re on the back nine of life, and you realize it doesn’t matter how you look, but how you feel that’s important.

I’d take 50 again in a heartbeat. I was young, at least relatively speaking. At age 53, I competed in singles for my team at the USTA Nationals. I think I was the oldest woman that year to compete in singles at my level. It wasn’t a feat, just a fact. I couldn’t do it today. I still have the stamina, but I don’t have the drive or patience. I’ve learned there are more important things in life than my won/loss record or USTA rating.

  • By the time you’re banging on 60, you’ve learned to embrace your friends and be grateful that they understand your shortcomings and accept your apologies for being an idiot. You know your limitations, and appreciate the fact that your friends do too and love you in spite of them.

You learn to accept advice with grace, understanding that your friends have your best interests in mind. With any luck, you’ve given advice and taken your share of it. You’ve learned to shut your mouth and listen, realizing a kind ear is really all you can offer in some situations.

You’re not offended when friends suggest your hair is getting too long. You appreciate that they love you enough to be honest – not enough to tell you to get a facelift, but maybe to lop off 3 inches at your next hair appointment.

  • At 60, you’ve been away from little kids long enough to want grandkids, or to piggyback on your friends’ grandkids. You ask them to let you know the next time they’re babysitting to get your baby fix. You’re going to tons of weddings again – this time the children of couples whose weddings you attended. It’s nice, but now you’re part of the older crowd, the crazy woman dancing with the young girls on the dance floor after your spouse returns to the table. Yikes, how did you become that woman?
  • Nearing 60, you look at photos of yourself and see traces of the great aunt who used to say you looked like her. Yes, there’s a resemblance, but then again you’re now the age that she was when she was saying it. You’re upset for a minute – she was not exactly a looker – but you get over it quickly. You can’t change your DNA. The best you can do it work with what you’ve got.
  • By 60, you’ve learned that we’re all graced with certain talents, and it’s best to use them or they’ll wither and die. You’ve learned that money is nice, but it’s not everything, and that ultimately love and happiness are the greatest gifts.
  • When you’re spouse isn’t irritating you  – which is increasingly rare – you are eternally grateful you found each other so many years ago. You still love each other, flaws and all, making 60 not so bad after all.

Good Intentions

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Our first year in the Connecticut Open Family Classic, 2011.

One of the worst fallouts from the Curmudgeon’s foot injury was my son’s announcement that I’d be his partner in the Connecticut Open Family Classic at Yale University.

“Now that Dad is out, you’re playing with me so you better get your act together,” he said.

Um, OK. “I’ll see what I can do,” I said. “Does it matter that I haven’t played tennis in two months?”

I may hold the record for playing the least amount of tennis to prepare for this tournament, which is held as part of the Connecticut Open women’s tournament every year. I did a crash course of lessons, point play and hitting for five consecutive days. I got through the tournament, but my right hand hasn’t been the same since. Note to self: the next time you get roped into something like this, demand a little more notice or at least take some Advil.

I think the organizers behind the Family Classic have great intentions, bringing parents and kids and couples out for a friendly game of tennis at Yale’s sprawling tennis facility.  It’s a lovely concept – a wonderful way to unite families and get the community excited about the upcoming professional tournament.

But over the years, there have been problems. The biggest is adults blasting serves and groundstrokes at tiny kids. Some people will do anything to win. I was happy when officials assembled us and warned us to behave. They weren’t talking to the kids – they were talking to the adults. And though everyone nodded in agreement, some adults still broke the rules while officials weren’t looking.

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Last weekend.

I’m not sure what goes through a grown man’s mind as he cranks a serve at a 6-year-old boy on the other side of the net, but I’m pretty sure it’s not good sportsmanship. The same dad tried to steal all of his daughter’s shots, but I was happy when she ignored him and hit them herself.

His daughter is a terrific player, but the dad missed an opportunity to see her shine by screaming “I got it” on every shot. He also missed the chance to show her the importance of following the rules of the game and good sportsmanship, which at the end of the day is really all that counts.

Our history with this tournament dates back seven years when my son was 13. I thought it would be fun to play with him, particularly when he was pushing me away in every other area of his life. I taught him the game when he was about 4 at a public park in Milford, CT., where I competed for my high school team. I thought it might be a good way for us to connect.

But it was a disaster, mainly because of me. I was furious every time he missed a shot. I don’t know where my anger was coming from, but our partnership was bringing out the worst in me. I decided to step aside and let him play with his father in the father/son draw the following year. We were all a lot happier.

They’ve played in the tournament with varying degrees of success, winning the parent/child division last year. They brought home a nice trophy, but more importantly got to stand on center court with the other winners. It was really a thrill, for all of us.

They were gearing up for this year’s event when the Curmudgeon tore his Achille’s tendon two weeks ago playing in a double’s match. We’ve learned that he suffers from Haglund’s deformity, a painful condition in which bone spurs dig into the the tendon, making it prone to rupture (so this is why he was complaining about foot pain for the past 14 years!) He underwent surgery to repair the tendon last week, and will be in a cast until the end of August.

My son wasted no time telling me that I’d be filling in and I agreed, mainly because I think he enjoys playing in this tournament. I’m not sure why because though I enjoyed playing tennis and golf with my father, I never played well with him when it counted.

I was one of those kids who craved parental approval, and always wanted to impress my dad with my athletic skills, but it often backfired. One of the worst experiences was teeing off before a group of women at my father’s club, and dribbling the ball a few feet off the tee on the first hole, every golfer’s nightmare.

My dad laughed, I think to provide a little comic relief, but I was mortified and hurt that he had a laugh at my expense. I stormed down the fairway (not very far, I might add) to my ball and hit my next shot, but the damage was done. I was really humiliated.

I don’t think any kid enjoys screwing up in front of a parent. At the heart of it, kids want their parents to be proud of them and think they’re great. No one realizes how silly this is until we grow up and become parents ourselves. Our children’s accomplishments are nice, but they don’t affect our love for them.

I felt very sorry for a little guy who lost his match with his father on Sunday, and burst into tears when he got to his mother in the bleachers. I had seen him taking a private lesson on Saturday to get ready for the tournament, and playing with his father, mother and sister after the lesson. He wanted to win, but I also think he wanted to show his dad how good he was in tennis.

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Most people would have changed their broken shoelace. My son chose to wear two different sneakers.

I think this is why parent/child events are doomed to fail. Kids want to show their parents their mastery of a sport, and well, that’s not always possible. In fact, a lot of kids (and parents) play worse under pressure. It’s the same with couples, but don’t even get me started on mixed doubles. There should be a law against married couples playing together. Period.

The parent/child bond puts added strain on athletic performance that in some cases is very toxic and damaging to children. I know one woman who stopped playing tennis for several years because her father put so much pressure on her as a junior player. She gradually returned, but had to learn how to enjoy the sport without worrying about pleasing her dad.

Of course, parents face pressure in these tournaments too. As adults, we don’t want to look like chumps in front of our kids. We want to show them that we’ve got some swag, that we can still hold our own in some areas of life.

I got what I deserved in this year’s tournament: the receiving end of criticism from my son after every missed shot. At one point, I told him to stop or I was walking off and I meant it. His reply?

“At least Dad listens to me when I tell him what to do out here. You don’t listen. You can’t accept criticism.”

He’s right about that. In spite of my feelings about parent/child tournaments, I showed up and played two rounds with him. We won both of our matches, advancing to the finals on Aug. 23rd where we will play a team consisting of a three-time All-Ivy League player and his son.

The Curmudgeon has already proclaimed we haven’t got a chance of winning, so why bother showing up. I’m not really sure, but we’ll be there because my son wants to play and I happen to be is partner. At this point, I’ll take what I can get.

Pleasantries

When you work with the public, you must be pleasant all the time.

I know it’s hard. I spent one summer handling phones for Sears Service Center in West Haven, CT. Part of my job was calling customers at the end of the day, and telling them that the repairman would not be showing up. You want to talk about a tough phone call?

One woman was so mad that she threatened to dump her broken air conditioner on my front lawn. I get it. Waiting around for a repairman who doesn’t show up is maddening. But most people were pretty understanding after their initial outrage, realizing that it wasn’t my fault. And most people were assuaged with the guarantee that the repairman would be at their house first thing in the morning.

What I found even at the tender age of 18 is it’s all in the delivery. People appreciate you understanding their predicament, that they took the entire day off from work to sit home with a broken appliance. They appreciate what has come to be known as “emotional intelligence,” or the capacity to understand how another person is feeling.

We knew that my son was emotionally intelligent when he was about 2. One of his older cousins was frustrated playing a game, and he went up to him and put his arm around him to console him. We looked it up in our toddler book and realized that this was emotional intelligence, or what used to be called compassion.

I’m not sure you can teach compassion, but you can certainly encourage your children to consider other people’s feelings. As a mom, it’s up to you to make sure that everyone is invited to birthday parties, at least until about age 10, so that no one’s feelings are hurt. After that, it’s kids’ stuff and they need to work it out.

Of course, you could get lucky and get a kid like my daughter. When I’d get offended that one of her friends didn’t invite her somewhere, she’d say: “Mom, they probably could only invite a certain number of people.” As moms, we know it’s stupid to get offended for our kids, but we can’t help it. Or maybe it’s just dealing with our own childhood baggage.

Being pleasant and cordial is particularly important in jobs that require dealing with the public. No one expects to be treated brusquely just because you’re tired, in a crappy mood or are dealing with a new computer system. We’ve all gone to work when we don’t feel like it, or would rather be doing other things. The trick is to get through the day in spite of it, faking it if necessary.

What I’m getting at – drumroll, please! – is that there is never an excuse for being rude, and if I was a braver sort of person, I’d call people out a lot more often than I do. I cannot stand confrontation of any kind, so I often bite my tongue. But if I was a little more bold, I’d:

  • Tell the woman in the bank to stop yelling at the tellers because Bank of America got rid of the drive-thru window. No one cares that she’s closing her account because she has to get out of her car to conduct her bank business. Personally, I’m glad they closed the window, because I used to have to wait in line while the drive-thru window customers got instant service. And if the old woman with the cane isn’t complaining about having to come in, neither should she.
  • Tell the young father shopping with his two kids at Stop & Shop to take a chill pill, or arrange for someone to watch the kids while he shops. Seriously, people shop with little kids all of the time, and it’s not a big deal. There’s no need to pull your cap down over your face in frustration because you’re behind an elderly couple who is walking slowly. Your overt exasperation and impatience with everyone makes me wonder how much time you actually spend with your children.
  • Tell the older woman at the optician’s office that there is no need to scream and swear at another driver as she tries to park her car. Her ultimate embarrassment must have come when she realized that she was going to the same place as the other driver.
  • Tell the woman at the bagel shop to use the wax paper to choose bagels instead of her bare hands and to wait her turn before digging in. What in the world is the rush?
  • Tell the woman at a place in town that loans out hospital equipment that she needs to go into another line of work or needs a radical attitude adjustment. This place, let’s call it Chad’s Corner, is not the kind of place anyone is eager to visit. If you are going there, someone in your life is laid up, and in need of equipment you never dreamed you’d need.

People who go to Chad’s Corner need to be treated kindly, or at least with a modicum of understanding. They do not need to be treated like crap, or else they will likely get their feelings hurt and want to run for their car.

I went to Chad’s Corner looking for, well I wasn’t sure. I wanted to see what they have, if that makes any sense. I was thinking about maybe a lightweight wheelchair, something I could put the Curmudgeon in and wheel him down our street until he regains his strength from his surgery last week. I was thinking something I could borrow for a week, and then gleefully return.

Please keep in mind that the idea behind Chad’s Corner is wonderful, and that most volunteers are probably outstanding. Equipment like walkers, commodes, wheelchairs and hospital beds is donated and loaned out to people who need it. It’s a beautiful concept and a wonderful community service.

But the place sometimes needs a little TLC, particularly on a Monday morning with walkers and commodes strewn about, making it look a little like Lourdes with its cast off crutches. It doesn’t help that a sign states that equipment on the porch has not be cleaned.

“What do you need?” a woman said.

“Not sure,” I said. “My husband just had surgery on his foot. Maybe a knee scooter?”

I don’t know why I said a scooter when I was really eying a wheelchair, but she went into the back room to poke around. “How much does he weigh? I’ve got something here, but the wheels don’t really turn.”

I took two steps into the back room to get a look at the scooter and she barked, “Stay outside please!” It wasn’t what she said, but how she said it. She was gruff and scolding, when I needed coddling and understanding. She hurt my feelings when I was feeling very vulnerable. I had no idea that I was feeling so sensitive, but I was.

“You know what?” I said. “I don’t need anything.”

“OK,” she said.

I walked away and got into my car. I sat there for several minutes contemplating whether I should tell her that I thought she was rude. I am a volunteer and would never treat someone like that. As an adult, I don’t think any of us likes to feel that we’re being scolded, even if it’s for our own good. We certainly don’t need to be upbraided when trying to borrow hospital equipment. We are looking for direction and guidance, maybe even a little understanding.

After discussing it with a friend, I decided to sleep on it. I decided to write about it instead. I’ve shared it with you, and I feel better now.

download (1).jpg                                Photo courtesy of the puzzledgiraffe.com.

When my son was little, I often brought him to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, CT.

The zoo is a mom’s dream: not too big, but enough animals to keep your child occupied for an afternoon. Best of all, it features an old-fashioned carousel where you can rest your weary bones and reach for the brass ring.

As we began circling the zoo one hot summer day, we heard a horrendous howl echoing through the park. It was loud, guttural and relentless, originating from the enclosures where the large cats live. As we got closer, it became louder and more persistent. We’d never heard such a horrible sound before.

“What’s going on?” I asked a zoo worker. “What is that noise?” “It’s a male Siberian tiger,” she said. “His mate is sick, so she’s gone for a few days getting treatment. He’s letting us all know how much he misses her.”

That tiger underscored – quite loudly – the importance and comfort of having your mate by your side. Those of us who’ve been married a long time often joke and gripe about our spouses, overlooking our good fortune in being part of a longterm union.

When my in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, we presented them with a teak bench with a plaque stating, “Celebrating 50 years of being side by side.” It was fitting because they were always together. When my mother-in-law died in 2004, my father-in-law was like the tiger, but internalized his roar. He never quite recovered from her death.

A lot of people don’t get to grow old together, losing their mates to accidents or disease – never enjoying the fruits of a long marriage. It often takes a health emergency, no matter how minor, to emphasize how lucky we are to have our mates healthy, strong and operating on all cylinders.

I felt a tiny bit like the tiger last weekend when my son pulled into the driveway, handed me his cellphone and said, “Get in the car. We’ve got to go get him. And why didn’t you answer your phone? We’ve been trying to call you for 20 minutes.”

I’d been gardening, or my version of it, finally putting plants into a front bed. Everyone was out, and truth be told, I really didn’t know what to do with myself. I treated myself and bought one of those fancy wands for the hose, but it leaks terribly so my socks and sneakers were soaked. The last thing I needed was a wet phone, so I left it in the house.

My son handed me his phone and the Curmudgeon was on the other end. Four games into a doubles tennis match at a nearby club, he ruptured his Achille’s tendon. He was surprisingly calm about it, but something in me felt like crying. I felt terrible that my mate was wounded.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s inconvenient and a nuisance, requiring surgery and his left leg to be in a cast for about three months. He will heal. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor glitch. But something has been off since the phone call. My mate is injured, so I’m off my game too.

In the animal kingdom, an injury means vulnerability and it’s not all that different in our world. Besides the pain and inconvenience, losing the use of one leg makes you have to depend on others for simple things like getting a glass of milk or carrying your briefcase. This isn’t easy for anyone, least of all someone as independent as the Curmudgeon.

I can’t joke about him or his curmudgeonly ways because he’s injured and has every right to be grumpy and demanding. I won’t kick a guy when he’s down, even if he’s the star of my show. I will have to search for new material, however difficult this may be, during his convalescence.

Well, most of the time. As he hobbled into the bedroom on his metal crutches this morning, I asked if he was trying to look pathetic. “Yes,” he said. He is also using his condition as a platform to show how much he usually does around here, implying the rest of us are slugs.

I’ve come to believe that one of the greatest measures of a marriage is how people behave when their spouse is sick or injured. The “sickness and health” line is part of most people’s wedding vows, yet many people fail miserably in this department, viewing their spouse’s illness as an inconvenience or burden.

You can tell a lot about a person’s character by the way they treat their spouse (as well as relatives and friends) when they’re ill or on the injured reserved list. My mother set an extremely high example, caring for my father with love and grace during his battle with heart failure. When I pointed out that Dad was extremely demanding with his calls of “Gerry!,” my mom noted “all men are.”

It wasn’t until my Dad was ill that I realized how much he depended on and needed my mom. I always viewed him as the strong, independent type, but his illness showed me a side of their marriage that they kept largely hidden from view. Dad really needed my mom, and she stepped up. After he died, she confided that he was quite compromised physically for years, but didn’t want any of us to know how seriously ill he was.

Mom said she’s not surprised the Curmudgeon is barking orders because most men are demanding when they’re sick or hurt. And I can’t argue. The Curmudgeon is having no trouble ordering us around, but it’s OK. It’s the least we can do for him. He takes very good care of us, so it’s our turn to indulge him acting like a dictator. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m giving him a free pass to complain as much as he wants because of the sickness and health clause in the marriage contract. And while I initially vowed not to write about him during his recovery, I’m rethinking it. Some things are just too good to keep to myself.

 

London Calling

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The happy couple.

My sister-in-law Sarah has lived in London for 31 years.

She intended to stay for a year working as a corporate attorney for a New York law firm, but never moved back. After having one child – and then three more – she and her husband decided to raise their family in England.

We’ve had an open invitation to visit and have never gone, mainly because I hate to fly. I broke my no-fly rule in 2011 when my tennis team went to USTA Nationals in Tucson and my good friend Christi served as my human security blanket. I sucked it up and flew, but kicked myself when I saw that one player drove cross country because she was afraid to fly. Damn, I could have rode shotgun.

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Outside Windsor Castle, the world’s oldest occupied castle and where the Queen likes to spend weekends.

People who hate to fly know we’re crazy, but we can’t help it. We hear about exotic trips and are jealous, but we’re penned in by our irrational fear. A friend of mine is skipping a trip to Portugal with his wife in September because he won’t fly. I can tell he’s sad about it, but he’s made up his mind.

I’m a bit more of a waffler, someone who’s always said – and believed – that I would fly if something came up that required air travel. That something came up: my oldest nephew in London married his beautiful girlfriend Lucy last weekend.

His parents did not press us about our RSVP – I know they probably assumed that we wouldn’t come because of my little problem – but this was a no-brainer. It’s a family wedding, which in my family means you go unless you’re incapacitated. A chance to finally see London with our kids. But most importantly, a chance to show my kids that you can have fears and concerns, but should not be crippled by them.

I’ve missed out on a lot of travel and adventure because of my refusal to fly, and as I get older, I’m really starting to regret it. We can live big, or we can live small, seizing opportunities or being penned in by fear.

 

I won’t lie – I was nervous during the flights, particularly the final leg from Nova Scotia to Boston when I noticed our plane had propellors where I had hoped to see jet engines. But it was nothing a little prayer and white wine couldn’t handle. Bonus: the credit card machine was broken, so the wine was free.

I take a few people to a nearby nursing home to visit friends a couple of times a month, and walking through the corridors is a sobering experience. Riddled by health problems that come with old age, most residents are confined to their rooms, spending their days staring at the TV or sleeping in the recreation room.

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Climbing roses on the gate leading to my sister-in-law’s London home.

I go during the week, and rarely see other visitors my age while I’m there. And though I’m sure adult children and other relatives come on the weekends, I’m just as certain after talking with staffers that there are some people who never get visitors.

What strikes me is that these folks were once young, vibrant people who are now prisoners of their longevity. I hope they lived their lives to the fullest,  taking risks and seizing opportunities. I will be honest: I deplore going to the nursing home because, well, I just do. We all want to live to a ripe old age, yet seeing the effects of age and disease – and the isolation and loneliness they reap – is extremely depressing.

 

The overall feeling upon leaving is one of relief. As I scurry down the corridors to leave, I feel a bit like a dog that has gotten a reprieve from the vet: run for your life! Get out of here as fast as you can. You’re relatively young and healthy – get out there and do things while you can.

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Flowers, flowers everywhere.

Years ago, one of my jobs at the newspaper was to proofread the obit page. I know, exciting stuff, something I always managed to be doing while eating my dinner. One night, I was reading an obituary of a woman who was in her 80s, married and died childless. At the time, I was in the midst of the fertility process, wondering whether I should stay on the path I was on, or proceed with adoption as friends and relatives were urging.

For some reason, reading the woman’s obit that night was very powerful. I wondered if she had considered adoption, but never got around to it. I wondered if she had regrets about never adopting if she wanted children. I wondered why the hell I was wondering about her so much.

But I decided that night that I didn’t want to be the woman who died childless because I was too lazy, stubborn or indifferent to take a different path. I decided that night that in the end, I wanted to be a mother, by whatever means necessary. I knew at that moment that I would adopt children, that doing nothing was not an option for me.

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The gardens outside Buckingham Palace.

I never considered that this may have been her choice – some women don’t want to be moms, and maybe she was one of them. But I suspected she did. The desire to nurture and the proverbial biological clock is hardwired into most women. From the time we reach puberty, we’re keenly aware every month that our bodies are built to reproduce.

It was 10 years between the time of my first miscarriage until I brought my son home. I’m so glad that I took a different path because had I stayed on the one I was on, I wouldn’t be a mom and that would make me very sad. Life has a way of working things out, but you must always be open to new paths and opportunities.

And so the no-fly rule has been snapped, for a young couple taking a new path together. I have no idea when I’ll fly again, what will come up to entice another flight. But I can tell you one thing: I hope it won’t be seven years, because that was really fun.

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Holding court at Windsor Castle.

 

Dirty Laundry

Scenes from London: Waiting for the Big Bus to arrive; hanging out near Buckingham Palace; Bobo’s Bubbles; the laundry mistress, and my kids in my sister-in-law’s front garden.

There are times when you just want to be alone, and the need for solitude outweighs everything else.

That time struck as we prepared to check out of our hotel in the Kensington section of London and move to Dulwich Village for our nephew’s wedding last Saturday.

Faced with a pile of dirty laundry, the Curmudgeon announced that he planned to arrive at his sister’s doorstep and ask to use her washer and dryer. I suggested that that probably was not the best idea because she’s mother of the groom and might have more pressing things on her mind.

Mature adults don’t show up at people’s homes with dirty laundry, particularly on the eve of a wedding. A clear sign of adulthood is figuring out the location of the closest laundromat, or hiring someone for the task. Mature adults don’t travel with bags of dirty laundry hoping to find a free washer. You outgrow that stage of life when you collect your college diploma and enter the real world, or at least that’s how I was raised.

People traveling with dirty laundry are at best tolerated, at worst scorned. I can’t stand when my son brings home piles of laundry during vacation breaks from college. It’s the only thing I really don’t like about him being home.

My family is a little laundry challenged. We get it into the washer and dryer, but folding it and getting it out of laundry baskets and into proper drawers and closets is a bit of a miracle. I’m not sure how other people handle this, but I’ve reached a point where I’ve threatened to throw out laundry that isn’t put away within 24 hours.

The Curmudgeon brought plenty of clothes to London, but managed to produce an impressive pile of dirty laundry after about four days. As we prepared to switch hotels, he announced that he’d ask his sister Sarah to use her laundry as we all gathered for a pre-wedding dinner at her house.

Seriously? Um, no. Faced with the prospect of traveling with a Hefty bag of dirty clothes across London or finding a laundromat, I chose the latter: Bobo’s Bubbles, just steps from our hotel.

I arrived at Bobo’s with my son, who helped me figure out how to use the washers and track down English coins for the machines. But I was happy when he left me alone with the dirty clothes, the spinning machines and the laundromat mistress, who made change and dispensed advice with a mixture of pleasure and annoyance.

We’re all so dense when it comes to industrial washing machines, aren’t we? I couldn’t even open a commercial washer without her expert guidance. A fellow customer was admonished for failing to press the black button to start the dryer. “It’s not going to work if you don’t turn it on,” she said. Duh.

I almost never go to laundromats because I’m blessed to have a fairly new high capacity washer and dryer, and can do laundry any time I want. But there’s a beauty in an old-time laundromat that’s almost lost in today’s world: a place to process your laundry from beginning to end, without squishing it between a million other tasks.

A laundromat means one thing: washing, drying and folding clothes. And though I-Phones and tablets have made it possible to make the most out of your waiting time, I chose to do it the old-fashioned way: sipping a cup of coffee, plopping myself in a plastic chair and staring at clothes spinning in the dryer.

The dryers become like huge kaleidoscopes if you stare long enough, a smattering of colors that change with every spin. Some people’s clothes spin more systematically than others. Ours were a jumble of socks, sports bras and bright gym clothes that seemed a lot more chaotic than neighboring dryers. Perhaps our clothes say something about the people who wear them. Or maybe I was just staring at the dryers for too long.

The laundry mistress ran a tight ship, taking pains to ask if I had a big load or small, and whether I wanted detergent with conditioner or without. She emerged with two huge Tide pods, advising me to toss them into the drum and warning that my cold wash would be finished in 30 minutes, 15 minutes sooner than a warm or hot load.

“Enough time to go out and get coffee,” she said. “Put your suitcase on top of the washer and come back in half an hour,” she said.

As she folded, she lamented her workload, saying she had not stopped since she arrived at work at 8 a.m. It was 10:45 and she had not yet had time for even a sip of water. I guess no one wants to wash their own clothes these days. At least when she’s only charging 2 pounds for a small load, 3 for a big one.

I felt for her. I processed six loads of laundry on one day before our trip and was exhausted. I couldn’t imagine doing laundry day in, day out. It’s non-stop, tiring, back-breaking work. But she noted it pays the bills.

“Things could be worse,” she said. “At least I have a job. And it’s been a good day. A man with a dog came in today and wants me to paint his dog’s portrait. I get to do my artwork.”

She emerged from a cramped back room marked “private” with two paintings on rough canvases: a portrait of a fluffy cat and a handsome dog. She was trained as an artist, specifically a sculptress, in her homeland of Spain, but said she thinks her real talent is in painting portraits.

I can’t argue with her. Her paintings are quite lovely. I can’t paint – it gives me a tension headache – and am always impressed when people can. You never know what hidden talents the laundry mistress has up her sleeve. Beyond those fingers and hands folding clothes is a gifted artist.

I returned to the hotel with the clean laundry neatly folded in a suitcase, expecting to be the hero, the one who saved everyone from the curse of dirty laundry. But everyone was agitated and angry, complaining that my insistence on doing laundry had screwed up the packing process, and some clothes were still a little damp.

Truth be told, I didn’t care all that much about the laundry. I would have done practically anything at that point to get away from my family for just a few minutes. Traveling is a luxury and a privilege, but sometimes it can feel smothering, even stifling. Sometimes being alone in a stuffy laundromat and staring at tumbling clothes is what you need to regroup and get your head right. Sometimes talking to a laundry mistress is all the therapy you need.

Wiskful Thinking

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Homemade cherry tarts for breakfast, including one topped with Cool Whip.

I’m not a baker, nor a breakfast eater.

I know it’s not ideal, but I like my biggest meal at the end of the day. I like dinner food. If I have a huge lunch, I’m a little disappointed for the rest of the day because I can’t look forward to dinner.

Perhaps this is a function of growing up in a large Italian family, where our world revolved around food, and Sunday dinner wasn’t complete with macaroni with homemade tomato sauce, a huge tossed salad and a main dish like roast beef or chicken cutlets. Breakfast and lunch were generally caught on the fly, but dinner? That’s when we sat down and broke bread, discussing current events and skirting topics like report cards.

I’ve never been wild about breakfast food because, well, how exciting are eggs or toast? I can’t eat cereal or pancakes because they screw up my blood sugar, sending me scouring for something to eat 90 minutes later. I’m a little limited: a power bar or two scrambled eggs is about as good as it gets.

But as I learned during my stay at a Vermont bed and breakfast, there’s something soothing and comforting about waking up to a homemade breakfast. The aroma of freshly baked raspberry scones, or the intoxicating scent of bacon sizzling on a grill, are calming and grounding, inviting one to embrace the day instead of grabbing it by the throat.

What I enjoyed most was the sound of our innkeeper Sandra going about her business in the kitchen. Separated from the dining room by a frosted glass partition, we could hear Sandra whisking freshly sourced eggs in her mixing bowl, an incredibly gratifying sound when you’re not the one whisking.

I’ve always enjoyed the sounds of people working – the click of a keyboard, the buttons of an adding machine, the beep of a cash register, the chopping of a chef’s knife, the cutting of a bolt of cloth at JoAnn’s Fabrics. I could stand there all day and listen to fabric being measured and cut, but that’s probably another blog.

I have what might be called sensitive ears. Though they are at times a curse (corn on the cob!), they’re often a blessing: rain on the roof; a robin chirping in a tree; a dog’s deep sigh, or one of my favorites, the sound (and sight) of a present being professionally wrapped at a department store with the paper and ribbon cutting and curling, and everything about the tape.

Don’t ask me to explain something so irrational. But I suspect it’s the sound of someone doing something that I deplore, or maybe a bit like someone running their fingers through your hair. It’s just so much better when someone else does it.

What I found listening to Sandra’s whisking – and her very low classical music – is that waking up to a freshly made anything is lovely, so much better than the grab-and-go that is my household.

I decided to do an experiment, taking out some filo dough and frozen cherries to whip up some cherry tarts. I wondered what effect, if any, a homemade breakfast would have on my family. Would they notice, stop and take a tart, or just walk by? I had to find out.

I followed a simple recipe from the blog The Worktop (https://www.theworktop.com/breakfast-brunch-recipes/cherry-filo-pastry-tart/) and constructed my tarts in a muffin pan. I chose cherry because it’s one of my favorites, throwing in some frozen blueberries to give the mixture a little more texture. Within a half hour, they were cooling on the counter awaiting a powdering with confectioner’s sugar.

I’m happy to report that everyone was a little more chipper after the seeing and eating their tarts. I may be on to one of the secrets of family harmony: a hot breakfast. And while I’m certainly not going to win any nutrition awards for my tarts, I think a homemade breakfast sets the right tone, telling people to sit down and stay awhile rather than rushing out the door.

My usually surly daughter strolled downstairs, said “Hi,” and then exclaimed, “Oh, I see you made your pastries. How much longer do they need to bake?” So she actually does speak in the morning, and can be pleasant.

After she ate one, she thanked me, and said she would be down later for seconds. Score!

My son stumbled into the kitchen en route to the bathroom, and did a double-take at the counter, leaning in to sniff the pastries like a curious dog.

“Can we eat the pastries?” he asked after he was showered and dressed.

When I told him he could, he took one, topped it with some Cool Whip and sat down at the kitchen table to eat it. A minute later, he got up and repeated the process. This was something of a miracle for a kid who slugs down a smoothie or a couple of power bars en route to work.

“Those were good,” he said. “I bet Mrs. Carlson would make those all the time.”

Ah Mrs. Carlson. Years ago, she confided that her three children bought school lunches, but she made them a homemade hot breakfast before school every day. I was very impressed and inspired for a week before returning to cereal, yogurt and frozen breakfast burritos. As moms, we must pick our battles, and know our limitations. I opted to make homemade lunches on request, sparing my kids the agony of ground beef in gravy over mashed potatoes, or worse, corned beef hash.

The Curmudgeon ate one, and then a second. On his way out the door, he paused and apologized for being so cranky lately. He said he’s really bombarded with work. He’s not the type to apologize so I’m going to credit the cherry tarts. They’re the only thing that was different, the only change in our morning routine.

I tried to explain my findings to my friend and former editor John over lunch overlooking New Haven Harbor, but I think I lost him when I began talking about pleasurable sounds, particularly whisking. As he looked blankly at me, I thought I heard a waiter whisking salad dressing at a nearby table.

“Shhhhh,” I said. “Somebody’s whisking.” By the time I got his attention, the whisking had ceased. And on second thought, it was probably cutlery clanking. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. All he wanted to talk about were sounds that annoy him, like Interstate 95 traffic, and his new sound machine.

Good sounds – shall we call them joyful noise? – transfix me, sending a chill down my spine and making me want it to last forever. Of course, it never does. How long does it take to whisk eggs for an omelet? But you get my point.

What I’m realizing is that if there are sounds that annoy us, there are also sounds that give us enormous pleasure, and we should tune into them as much as possible: a flag flapping in the breeze; gravel crunching under your soles; crickets (as long as they’re outside); crinkling leaves; a croaking frog; tinkling piano keys; waves lapping the shore; Judy Collins; Silence.

I’m also realizing the power of a hot breakfast and its transformative effect on my family. A hot breakfast starts the day off right, giving people the best possible start. I’m thinking of it as my tiny contribution to society. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Clouds In My Coffee

Vermont in the summer: a covered bridge (the Village Bridge) in Waitsfield; a plaque on the historic bridge built in 1833; fields of gold en route to a hike, and the Mad River.

We stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Vermont for a wedding last weekend.

Our room was impeccable: a spacious suite with a bedroom, a plush couch, a kitchenette and a large bathroom with a corner Jacuzzi. There was a quaint front porch with a swing, lush perennial gardens, spectacular views of the mountains and an antique covered bridge about a mile away.

The breakfasts were incredible: fresh scrambled eggs with spinach, tomatoes and feta cheese with a side of homemade hash browns the first day; French toast with peaches and fresh cream and a tasty sausage link the next. I told the innkeeper I might actually enjoy cooking if I could turn out meals like his wife does.

But there was one problem: they served the world’s worst coffee. It was so bad that I couldn’t drink it, and for me, that’s rare. As any coffee fanatic (addict?) knows, you really can’t function until you’ve had your morning coffee. So I tried to sneak into the kitchen to find some grinds to brew in our room, only to be foiled by the cleaning crew. I went on a hunting expedition before the wedding, showing up to the ceremony with a medium cup of coffee in my hand.

“Get rid of the coffee,” The Curmudgeon ordered as we sprinted to the outdoor ceremony, slithering into our seats in the back row minutes before it began. “No,” I said. “No one can see me back here, and this is really good coffee. I’m not throwing it out.”

The Curmudgeon doesn’t drink coffee, so he doesn’t understand. But I’m something of a coffee fiend, stumbling to the coffeemaker first thing in the morning for my first mug, and then my second. I like it strong and hot, with a splash of almond milk or a tablespoon of non-dairy creamer.

 

I deplore weak, black or instant coffee, or the addition of skim milk, which turns it an ugly shade of gray.  I cannot drink old coffee, which takes on a weird bitterness that I can’t stomach. And for goodness sake, it must be hot. I’ve thrown out tepid cups of coffee after taking one sip. I once asked a Dunkin’ Donuts worker to microwave my coffee four times, and it still wasn’t hot enough.

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A propane burner was pressed into service during a power outage several years ago.

The most troubling part of any power outage is how I’ll get my morning coffee. Over the years, I’ve brewed it in the fireplace, gas grill and over a portable propane burner that was not supposed to be used indoors.

The worst part of losing power after Hurricane Bob for 8 days on Martha’s Vineyard in 1991 was the coffee situation. It was hard standing in line with a bunch of spoiled brats while we waited to see if there would be enough coffee to go around. Actually, that could be the basis of a reality TV show: deprive entitled people of caffeine for 21 days, and see who cracks first. It could give idiotic shows like “Naked & Afraid” a run for its money.

I’m a coffee lover, but certainly not a snob. I don’t much care what brand it is as long as it tastes good. I’ve always been a little intimidated by the whole coffee house experience, a bit out of my league in the land of baristas, lattes and cappuccinos. I avoid using Starbucks terms, saying “Give me a medium” for fear of mispronouncing “grande” in public.

I buy what’s on sale, and am keenly aware of when I’m running low on coffee. One of the best gifts I’ve received in a long time is a Dunkin’ Donuts gift certificate from my friend P. I can use it to treat my kids to Boston Creme donuts, and splurge on DD Keurig Cups, which I’d never get unless a friend spoiled me.

I couldn’t bear the thought of the B & B coffee on Sunday, so I jumped into the car and drove to a funky place down the road that roasts its own beans. I bought a medium coffee for $1.89 (Vermont prices!) and strolled the shop, which featured antiques with tags like “Good chair $20,” scented soaps and handmade kitchen aprons.

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Vermont is among the most charming places in the world. Here, a view of the pedestrian walkway on the Village Bridge.

Taking our place in the dining room, our host said, “I see you left early this morning to get gas.” Um, no I went to get a decent cup of coffee down the road, I thought. But I didn’t have the heart to tell him, so said I took a ride.

I considered telling him that his coffee needs help, but the Curmudgeon advised me to stay silent. “He’s been running this place for 14 years, and  obviously has never had a complaint about his coffee before,” he said. “You’re going to be the first one to tell him his coffee stinks?”

Well, maybe. Why not? People complain about my strong coffee all the time, diluting it with water from the kitchen faucet right in front of me. I’m not insulted (well, maybe just a little). I recognize that people prefer certain strengths of coffee, and what I like is another person’s rocket fuel. I was at a reception, and one of the biggest worries the organizer had was whether she had brewed decent coffee in one of those huge coffee makers found in church halls. For the record, she did.

So perhaps I’d be doing the innkeeper a favor by suggesting a stronger brew, or that some people prefer coffee with some taste and flavor, something a little stronger than watered down tea or dish water. I’m going to guess that he’s not a coffee drinker, that there is no way someone who enjoys coffee could serve something so vile.

But you’d think he’d realize something is amiss. No one asked for more coffee, a stunning fact given the way Americans love (need) our morning coffee. And a number of guests opted out of the entire situation, wisely deciding to make tea.

For now, I’m just happy to be home with my own coffee maker. Rocket fuel never tasted so good.

 

 

 

The Blame Game

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The dog is sick.

She got into the garbage on Sunday night, and feasted on sparerib bones. The vet suspects she’s developed pancreatitis from eating fatty meat, but I think it’s the shards of bones rolling around in her tummy.

In either case, it’s not good. She’s been having trouble keeping food down and just isn’t herself. And though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until she recovers, this could have been avoided if someone had emptied the garbage.

What a concept. Such a simple thing, yet no one ever wants to do it.

The Curmudgeon calls me “The Blamer” because I’m usually looking to assign it when something goes amuck. But in this case, someone screwed up and no one is willing to own up. All I know is I’m off the hook because I cooked, and the cook doesn’t clean in our house.

The Curmudgeon pointed out that it was Father’s Day so it surely wasn’t his fault. My son and daughter cleared the table and plates, but someone left the cabinet holding the trash can slightly ajar, allowing Cali to open it and have a field day.

I love pull-out cabinets that conceal trash cans because they’re dog-proof. But in order for them to work, the cabinet must be closed. Even an inch gap is enough for a Lab with a hankering for bones to work it open with her nose. But this is really a moot point. The trash should have been taken out.

The Curmudgeon is willing to concede that he was the last one to go to sleep around 1 a.m., and the dog was sleeping on the living room couch, odd because she’s ordinarily commandeers a chair in our bedroom. That should have put most people on alert that she was up to something, but the Curmudgeon went to bed.

I awakened around 5 a.m. and found the trash can had been ransacked. She got the wrappers the ribs came in, as well as the foil I used to wrap them. She ate paper towels  and some bones, because I found small shards on the living room carpet.

I’m not sure how many bones, but we ate a lot of spareribs that night. X-rays showed she has no obstructions, but apparently objects can roll around in a dog’s stomach for months. I’m praying she’s not one of these dogs because that would mean surgery.

The vet told me about a dog who had eaten chicken on wooden skewers, including the skewers. When the vet operated a few months later, there they were – wooden skewers too thin to show up on X-rays. I don’t know why vets tell you these worst case scenarios, but they do. It’s not really what you want to hear when your dog isn’t feel well.

Anyone with Labs knows they’re land sharks, prowling the kitchen and its environs for food. My old Lab Lindsey was legendary: she once at 4 corned beefs right before a St. Patrick’s Day party while I at was at an emergency clinic with The Curmudgeon. When the babysitter called to tell me about the corned beef, even the doctor said, “I’m sorry, but you really are having a shi*^ty day.”

Cali is becoming a bit of a chow hound in her old age, and now she’s paying a steep price. The vet recommended keeping her overnight, but I insisted she come home because she’s an anxious dog. In reality, I couldn’t stand the thought of having her away from me.

I’m not really sure where I’d be without this dog. She’s such a loyal companion, sticking by me through thick and thin over the past 9 years. She helped me through a particularly difficult period a few years ago, and our bond got even stronger.

The Curmudgeon claims she’s obsessed with me, and I won’t argue with that. She wants to be with me all the time. Sometimes it feels a little oppressive, but I love it. It’s nice to be so deeply loved.

Though he won’t own up to leaving the trash compartment ajar, I suspect the Curmudgeon knows he’s guilty. He claims the dog won’t look at or cuddle with him, that she is in some way mad at him for her current predicament. Maybe she is, and maybe she has every right to be.

My son the philosopher said it’s no one’s fault that the dog got sick, that it’s the dog’s fault for going into the trash. I swear this kid has been doing this since he was little, refusing to accept blame for anything. Perhaps this explains our relationship: the Blamer having a child who is Blameless.

But right now I really don’t care who screwed up. I just want sweet Cali to feel better again.