Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Misfortune Cookie?

Last night we had sesame shrimp take-out from the local Chinese restaurant.

My fortune cookie said, "Alas! I am the Apple of Your Eye."

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Big Silly

This is Mabel. She belongs to our older daughter and her family. When they adopted her as a year-old puppy, the shelter folks assured them that she was a "beagle mix" and wouldn't get much larger. Mabel now weighs 65 pounds.

Mabel grew into a big, sweet oaf of a dog, with one major flaw. She was a"runner." If a door opened, she'd be gone in a flash. She'd dash gleefully up and down the street, through backyards, through puddles. through neighbors' treasured flower beds. She'd ignore the word "come." Sometimes she'd let you get close enough to nab her. Then a demon would peer out through her eyes and she'd take off with a grin on her face.  She'd  come home when she was tired, after her family endured 3 or 4 anxious hours.

One time, only once, did someone succeed in getting her back within 5 minutes of an escape. An estimator came to talk to us about a new chain-link fence. We opened the door for him, forgetting that Mabel was visiting, and she was gone. "Oh, a runner!" exclaimed the man, seeing the possibility of a sale vanish along with the dash-away dog. "Can I borrow a leash?"  He took it across the street, and sat down on the lawn about 20 yards from where Mabel was eagerly sniffing the shrubbery. Then he began snapping the clasp on the leash. Mabel was curious. She approached. GOTCHA! On went the leash and home she came.  Unfortunately, that trick never worked again. 

Her favorite destination used to be the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, which was close to her house. Squeezing through a gap in the fence, Mabel would run merrily back and forth inside the refuge, while her family stood helplessly outside. When she finally came home, her muddy fur would be full of ticks and burrs. She became notorious in the neighborhood. My husband was driving around at 11 PM one Friday night, when he spotted a man out walking a miniature poodle. "Did a big white dog come through here?" he asked the man. "You mean Mabel?" the guy replied.

Several years passed. Mabel got older and plumper. She no longer seemed hell-bent on slipping out the door. A couple of walks on the leash every day were enough. When the family moved from South Laurel to North Laurel in May, they assumed her running days were over.


At twilight on a Sunday night three weeks ago, the phone rang. It was our older daughter, panicked because Mabel had dashed out the door.  She was sure her dog wouldn't be able to find her way home after dark. Her husband, at the Redskins game, was not due home until past midnight.

It was completely dark when my husband reached North Laurel. He drove our daughter around. Sometimes they got out  of the car and walked and called, but all they heard was the sound of joyful baying in the distance. Several times they nearly had her, but that inner demon once again urged her to ignore them and take off.  Finally, around 11, they gave up, exhausted. Our daughter left the gate and back door wide open in case the Prodigal returned. My worried husband drove home. 

Before midnight came a welcome call. Mabel was home!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Getting to Know Four Octopuses

 The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was actually about the souls of four octopuses: Athena, Octavia, Kali and Karma. All were intelligent and friendly with humans. Each had a distinctive personality. Unfortunately for the aquarium employees and volunteers who care for and love them, these creatures have surprisingly brief life spans of about four years. My feelings about octopuses changed from "ick" to "awesome" while reading this book. I admired the determination of the middle-aged author to persist in her efforts to master underwater diving so she could meet wild octopuses face to face--this, despite the pain in her ears that would force her to resurface reluctantly more than once. She also introduced her readers to some truly outstanding volunteers at the New England Aquarium. Despite the presence of several colored photos and tiny sketches on the bottom corners of the pages, I wished the book had also included a pen-and-ink textbook-type drawing of an octopus. The author would refer to such octopus body parts as its suckers, arms, beak, funnel and mantle. Mental pictures of some of these came readily to mind. Others, not so much.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

What I've Been Up To

I volunteered to help with crafts at "Camp Saint Philip's," our church's vacation Bible school, which will be held July 17-21.  This year's theme is "Barnyard Roundup: Jesus Gathers Us Together."  Here are the crafts projects I came up with:  four paper sculptures (two "breeds" of pigs, an ear of corn and a carrot) a couple of corn-husk dolls, and a rooster made from paper cut-outs. I hope the kids enjoy making them as much as I did in creating them.

Two other women are also helping with crafts. One of them won first prize in a Washington Post crafts contest for a box crafted from paper she made herself. The other is a kindergarten teacher . She certainly has a more realistic idea than I do of what kids can accomplish in 45 minutes. I've only seen their ideas on a spread sheet. They have plans for small farm animals, a barn, a chicken coop, egg-carton bees, flowers made from prints of the kids' hands, marble paper, a bee house and a barn-owl mosaic.

One of the challenges we'll face with the paper sculptures is getting the individual sheets of craft paper to lie flat so that the kids can trace the patterns and cut them out without too much frustration. I've already cut out 24 sheets of craft paper for the fronts and backs of a dozen paper sculptures. Since craft paper comes in rolls, the cut-off sheets immediately sprang back into tight rolls. I ended up with 24 "scrolls" instead of 24 flat and cooperative sheets. I've been trying to get them to lie flat by stacking the sheets and placing heavy books and gallon paint cans on the stack. We'll see if that works.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Stalin's Daughter

Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana AlliluyevaStalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some self-help guru once said, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." For some, it most assuredly is. Svetlana Alliluyeva was a survivor, nevertheless. Never mind that her mother committed suicide. Never mind that her father killed her aunts and uncles and imprisoned others. Never mind his persecution of doctors, poets and journalists. Never mind her feelings of betrayal when her cousin, Vladimir, published a nostalgic memoir in 1996 harking back to the "good old days" under Stalin. Svetlana had four husband, three children, and countless houses. She ran from her demons her whole life.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers

We just got back from a wonderful trip to Erie, PA for our niece's wedding. At first, we couldn't get to our hotel. We could see it, down there by the beach, but we couldn't get to it. All we could do was drive helplessly back and forth on a road overlooking the new beachside hotels. Our 15-year-old map didn't even show Bayfront Drive. We pulled into a park, near a couple of porta-potties and saw a scruffy-looking man. His cap said "Vietnam Veteran." After trying to tell us how to get to the hotel, our rescuer gave up and volunteered to drive there, with us following.

He pulled into the hotel's exit. The sign said,  "One Way, Do Not Enter." My husband spotted an alley behind the hotel and quickly headed for that. He called out to the guy, "Thanks a lot, Buddy. We can take it from here." We were already a little scared of this man, because he seemed--well, a little intense. At the park, he'd confided that he'd been "reborn 36 says ago" and that "the Lord" knew we were lost and sent him to help us out. Also, that we were living in the last days.

Wouldn't you know it? Emerging from the alley and driving into the hotel parking lot, we found our helper had already parked his battered red car. He'd ignored the "Do Not Enter" sign. He got out and insisted on giving us his name and phone number "in case we needed anything." He didn't seem to be hitting us up for money. He was just a nice guy, but maybe a little quirky. We thanked him again and he drove off.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Shirley Jackson: a Rather Haunted Life

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted LifeShirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ms. Jackson was my dad's contemporary, born about the same year as he and dying too early, like him. He expected women to be conventionally good-looking, to be accomplished cooks, to be totally devoted to caring for husband, house and family, and certainly not to be too interested in reading (or writing!) books. Other than being a superb cook, Shirley would not have met any of my dad's criteria. Apparently, she was a disappointment to her own mother because she neglected her appearance and insisted on setting aside time to write. Her husband recognized her talent, but the marriage was not a happy one. They both wrote books, but the royalties from her books largely supported the family. Unlike  him, she was steady and industrious, regularly publishing novels and stories. It was her income that bought them a large house and allowed him develop a course on literature that became one of the most popular at Bennington, a progressive college for women. Still, he seemed resentful in a passive-aggressive kind of way.  He also had numerous affairs. Shirley's biographer links her writings to her struggles with her demons. She noted that Stephen King thought her one of the best writers of the 20th century. I don't happen to enjoy King's work, so I probably wouldn't like Shirley's macabre tales either. However, I plan to read "Life Among the Savages", her best-selling account of bringing up her four quirky and intelligent children.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Yet More Fun with Hearing Loss

Today, while driving to our daughter's house (they're moving on Friday and I'm helping pack), I was listening to a violin concerto. The violinist's name sounded like Elizabeth Rawfish, as in an uncooked fish.

When I got home, I searched the WETA-FM online playlist. Her last name is actually Wallflisch.  I am happy for her.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old OrderA World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order by Richard N. Haass
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mr. Haass believes that the United States could and should be a world leader for years to come. To be effective, however, it must set its house in order. In the final chapter of this short, but densely informative book, Haass states that our first task is to ensure that the US economy grows by 3 percent/year. Among the ways to make this happen is maintaining a policy of free trade. Here is where the book gets scary. The last chapter of this book, published in 2016 before Donald Trump was even elected president, is called "A Country in Disarray." According to Haass, the Ship of State had keeled over and was starting to sink even before the election. There is no chance that The Donald will read and heed the policy advice in this important book. He is the last thing the country needs right now, but he's what we've got. SAD. We the people had better take our country back from a do-nothing Congress and a know-nothing President.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tale of a Tooth

Does this scare you?  It scares me.

I have awful teeth. I think I was 16 when I had my first root canal.

Why such awful teeth?  Genetics no doubt is partly to blame, but while staying with my grandparents between the ages of 6 and 9, I lived for soda pop and candy. Grandpa was the manager of the Eagles' Club. Grandma and I would often stop by in the late afternoon to pick him up. Grandma would have a drink and then one or two more, and soon she'd be gabbing with her friends. I knew we were going to be at the club for a few more hours, so I would ask for money to go next door to "Mel's," a newsstand that sold comic books and sugar. During those three years,  I became a voracious reader and consumer of sugar. 

A year ago I had a repeat root canal on a back molar. Yes, root canals can fail. This one was a bear. A vague, achy pain lingered for a year afterwards. Finally, in early February this year, the endodontist (a specialist in root canals and other unpleasant procedures) said everything looked fine. Just his saying that made the pain fade away.

So on the morning of February 22nd, I returned to my regular dentist to get a new crown. (A root canal on a crowned tooth does not necessarily mean that the crown has to be replaced. The cavity in the crown is usually just filled after the root canal.  In my case, part of that filling soon chipped away. When my dentist repaired the repair, he said I might need to get a new crown the next year. )

After talking it over, however, the dentist and I decided to leave well enough alone. The repaired filling seemed to be holding up fine. Replacing the crown could damage the 2 adjacent crowns . . . oh, you don't want to hear all this. . . . Suffice it to say that I walked out of there a happy woman.

To celebrate, my husband and I went to The Curry Leaf, a local Indian restaurant, for lunch. I bit into a piece of naan and heard an unpleasant crunch, as if there were a piece of gravel in my mouth. Nothing was wrong with the bread, but suddenly I realized my eyetooth crown was gone. Apparently I'd swallowed it.

I just wanted to cry. I called my dentist's office and sheepishly explained my situation to the receptionist. Bless her. She gave me an appointment for 3:30 that very afternoon. Novocaine, drilling, impressions--the whole dreaded routine. Finally, at 5, the dentist mercifully finished. I had a temporary crown. The permanent crown would be ready in two weeks. Two weeks?! I knew, from experience, that temporaries never stay in place too well unless they're on molars. The dentist knew it, too, He told me the crown was likely to get loose. I was to come back in if it did. "Yeah, OK, I'll do that," I mumbled, still numb with novocaine. I just wanted to get out of there.

Of course, the temporary worked loose the next day. I wasted $5 on a glue kit at the drugstore. The directions on the package were microscopic. Besides, I had a serious case of the willies. I didn't enjoy DIY dentistry. This wasn't going to work. I skipped choir practice.

I soon got better at merely replacing the temporary, without trying to glue it in. It never stayed put for long, especially if I spoke or ate. Just two days after my appointment, I took it out to eat lunch, laying it on the end table. I got distracted. When I looked for it, it was gone. Dilly, our dog, who always checks the table for forbidden snacks, apparently ate it. "That's it!" I yelled. "I am not going back for another temporary!" My husband looked alarmed. He sneaked off to phone the dentist. The dentist assured him I could get along without the temporary for a week or so.

OK, but how to get through nearly two toothless weeks? Fortunately, my dance classes at the senior center were on "semester break." I told my understanding choir director why I wouldn't be coming to practice or to church.

To take advantage of my time as a recluse, I painted our bedroom closet and a bathroom cabinet. That's why I'm wearing that plastic bag in the photo.

Then it was a week down, a week to go. When I e-mailed my story to a sympathetic friend, she said, "Oh, go to choir and go to church! My yoga teacher always says. 'Park your ego at the door. No one is looking at you but you.'"

So I did that. Showed up at choir practice and sang with the choir on Sunday. My friend was right. No one gave me a second look, not even curious little kids or horrified teen-aged girls.

I now have the new crown, a new sense of myself in the general scheme of things, and a nice bill from the dentist. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Mountain Feist named Dilly

This is a picture of my husband, Phil, and our dog, Dilly. She will be 3 in May. We bought her from an Amish farmer for $20.00 (Her adoption story, "Silly Dilly," was posted on 9-8-14.)

When we take her for walks, people often ask us what she is. We used to say we didn't know. Sometimes, to avoid getting into a discussion, I'd just say she was an Amish Akita. The response was usually a second look and a sage nod. Those with opinions often suggested "rat terrier with maybe some Jack Russell."  Finally, someone who actually knew what he was talking about pronounced her "a mountain feist" without a moment's hesitation.  He is Amish, too, or at least he was, having left his community, but he said the farmer who'd sold her was known for breeding and raising this type of dog.

So what's a "feist?" My dad used to call me "a feist" when I was kindergarten age, so I suppose, when it's human,  it's something small and mischievous.  The second time I encountered the word was in The Bear, a short novel by William Faulkner. Only Faulkner called it a "fice." George Washington had a feist and Abraham Lincoln mentioned the feist in a poem he wrote, according to Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article characterized the feist as a small hunting dog that originated in Appalachia. It trees its prey and its prey is the squirrel. That's Dilly. She rushes furiously out the door at the mere sight of a squirrel at the bird feeder, but she loses interest once the squirrel is high in the tree. This is probably not a good trait in a hunter. Dilly is protective of my husband and me, and slow to warm up to strangers. Once she decides you're all right, though, you've got a friend for life.

You can find out more about dogs like Dilly by checking out the "Mountain Feist Squirrel Dog" page on Facebook.