Monday, June 29, 2009

They're Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace

Christopher Robin went down with Alice.

Those are the opening lines from an A. A. Milne poem. I distinctly remember my mom reading this poem to me when I was a little girl. I liked the rhythm of the poem and I remember imagining what it would be like to see the changing of the guard. This poem offered what I think was the first vision I had of a palace that wasn't in a fairytale and quite possibly the beginning of my long-distance love affair with Britain. I swear that this poem still sort of shapes my view of what London will be like.

I have been working on our vacation itinerary, which I plan to lay out very specifically and type up like we are on an official tour -- complete with tube stops and walking directions. This eases my traveler's anxiety about not knowing where we're going, missing something I desperately wanted to see, or not allotting enough time to eat lunch (because if I am hungry and lost, it is quite possible I could become homicidal). Of course I'm not so crazy that we can't veer from the plan, but I want to be sure that we know what we're generally going to do each morning and afternoon so that we have time to schedule a day trip to Bath. I'm using Rick Steves's book for a lot of it, but also expanding on his recommendations to suit my own interests (pretty sure I need to dedicate an entire afternoon to the British Library, Rick. Thanks for recommending a nearby pub in case D needs to escape.). I've gotten some restaurant recommendations from friends who have studied or stayed in London recently and I feel reasonably comfortable with the amount of time we have allotted on our final day to return from Paris via Eurostar and take the tube to Heathrow.

My biggest challenge: packing light. Rick Steves strongly urges light packing (side note: our tour guide in Italy, the famous Kate who is renting us her flat in Paris, actually knows Rick Steves and she and other professional tour guides sort of roll their eyes at him and get annoyed that he became a sellout and gave away all of their insider secrets -- San Gimignano, for example, the amazing medieval village we visited in Italy, was off the beaten path until Rick Steves made it uber popular). Rick Steves does have some good points, though, and he says you can't travel heavy, cheap, and happy. You have to pick two.

So as someone who would love for Europe to be cheap & happy, I have already starting imagining various clothing combinations and efficient outfit choices. But seriously, I can hardly imagine packing only a carry-on bag for TWO WEEKS. I laughed out loud when I saw a recommended packing list that said: "two pairs of shoes." But I am really going to try to pack light. I think three (er, possibly four) pairs of shoes are crucial, but one I'll be wearing on the plane and two will be small, lightweight sandals/flip flops. This seems reasonable. It's just that even though we're staying at one hotel in London and then one apartment in Paris, I keep worrying about negotiating all of our luggage on the metro (and the street) to and from these places. So if I am dirty and wrinkled and wearing the same clothes in all of my fabulous vacation pictures, c'est la vie!

But guess what my research has uncovered: There are stores in London! Like, lots of them! And it appears that clothing stores also exist in -- wait for it -- Paris! Unbelievable, right? So I have to go buy something because I absolutely forgot to pack it? What a crisis.

Still. Packing is going to be a challenge.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Because Marriage Is Fun

Our 5-year anniversary is July 10th. It seems absolutely impossible that we have been married for five years. Five years is a seriously long time. Crazy long. Worth commemorating with a European vacation? Oh yes, I think so. Also worth commemorating on a chalkboard at a wedding reception. And after we did it, it seemed like such a cool thing to do that everybody wanted in on it.

We've been married 5 years!
When you've been married this long, it is likely that one of you will be coerced into wearing striped shirts with paisley ties (so cute!); the other will quite possibly be sporting an ace bandage. But look at our faces -- five years in and the fun never stops!

We've been married 1.5 years!
After a year and a half, putting down your beer to pose for a picture with your wife is clearly NOT an option. But look at their smiles. They love beer, marriage, and each other.

We are married. Yes!
P.S. & knocked up!
The Mrs. looks exhausted, the Mr. looks confused. They must be expecting a baby. Congratulations!

Tonight we lose our virginities!
Is it true? Or ironic? I'll never tell. But don't they look so excited? Especially the groom. Well done, kids.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Terrorist Interrogation Techniques and Home Runs

Reeling from the unfortunate news of celebrity deaths, I called a friend for an impromptu "un"happy hour. 3/4 a bottle of chianti and a nice chunk of gouda later, we remembered that we were supposed to be attending another friend's Amnesty International event at the famous Left Bank Books.

Matthew Alexander (that's a pseudonym) was doing a talk about his book How to Break a Terrorist. I'd heard him before on NPR and I was actually interested in this talk but for some reason had been confused about the dates when I got the Facebook invite and had RSVPed that I'd be out of town. At any rate, I was in town and we decided to go.

The one-way streets downtown attempted to lead us astray, but we found a parking spot just in time to snag two seats at the front of the room. They eventually ran out of chairs entirely and several people stood to the side and in the back -- it was a great turnout.

Matthew Alexander (not his real name) was surprisingly hot, which was like a totally unexpected bonus.

He was also intelligent, articulate, and made very good sense. He argues that torture as an interrogation technique is both impractical and immoral. Besides the fact that it is in itself an act of terrorism with which we should never want our country to be associated, it is ineffectual. It simply does not encourage terrorists to talk -- in fact, it has the opposite effect. He told stories about his own experience with terrorists and made it incredibly clear that at the root of this conflict is ignorance, intolerance, and prejudice. He believes (and has seen in practice) that connecting with terrorists on a human level, understanding their motivations and making the interrogation an exchange of information (the interrogator wants to know where things are going down, the prisoner wants to know how long he will be held and what will happen to him next) is more likely to get the interrogator the answers that he wants and that the U.S. soldiers need.

I was disturbed to learn that of all the U.S. soldiers and interrogators he knew personally (all of whom had personal contact with Al Queda terrorists), none had ever read the Qu'ran. He pointed out that the essential theme of the Qu'ran is mercy -- a pretty freaking good starting point for a conversation with someone who appears to hate America.

One of the most startling things he said was that all of the people he saw who were captured for acts of terrorism explained that their reasons for joining Al Queda were not blind hatred, brainwashing, religious fanaticisim, or narrow ideologies. Their reasons are economical, social, and desperate. They are angry because they feel that America has left them no choice. They are acting out of frustration, desperation, doing what they feel must be done to protect themselves and their families. The most human of motivations prompt people to commit inhumane acts. It is nothing less than a tragedy for everyone involved and I don't see how anyone could think that this war should be perpetuated by acts of torture -- how can we condone crimes against humanity committed by the very people who should be protecting it?

Perhaps most frightening story he told was about a discussion he had recently with a group of congressmen. He explained the purpose of his book, the ineffectual use of torture, the terrible long-term ramifications of condoning and acceptance torture as a practice in times of war, and his desire to clearly and definitively (you know, in case the Geneva Convention was, like, vague) make torture a crime. After his talk, one congressperson came up to him and said, "You know, I agree with you. But 80% of my constituency supports torture in times of war."

Obviously, the resolution for this war or conflict or whatever you want to call it is complex and horribly messy and unavoidably unfair since thousands of innocent people have already lost their lives. Understanding and respecting other cultures is critical. We as Americans demand respect -- or simply expect it -- but we sure do find it difficult to do the same for cultures so different from our own. I admit that I'm as guilty of this as the next person -- the feminist in me has some major issues with certain cultural practices that take place elsewhere in the world and I definitely feel judgmental. I think it's wrong to limit women's rights. But torturing the people who believe differently from me is not going to change their minds -- according to Matthew Alexander, it will only harden their resolve.

The thing is, it is not easy to look at a situation fraught with violence and value judgments and conflicting ideologies and see it through someone else's perspective. But Matthew Alexander's talk tonight made clear how vital it is that we -- the public, not just the soldiers, not just the media -- make every effort to do just that.


While I was at the local independent bookstore, waving my liberal academic flag and nodding vigorously at the attractive and well-spoken Matthew Alexander, D was hitting a homerun for the Red Sox. That's a big deal for a pitcher and he got to keep the ball and everything. Looks like the number one pitcher is making his move for MVP!

Monday, June 22, 2009

monica & johnny: wedding

It was a beautiful wedding. Ask me what the best part of the day was...
Was it the groom's custom-made Chuck Taylors, embroidered with the wedding date?
Was it Monica's MAC eyelashes that made her look like a pin-up girl?
Was it the carefully selected tear-jerking songs that Monica's sister crooned during the ceremony while accompanying herself on the guitar?
Was it the reading of the Gospels delivered in a slow Southern drawl by Johnny's stepbrother?
Was it the e. e. cummings poem read by Monica's youngest sister that echoed the mantra of a long-distance relationship: "i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)"?
Was it the six charming bridesmaids with their creamsicle-orange dresses and gold shoes?
Was it the six burly groomsmen with their orange neckties and Southern accents?
Was it the vintage get-away car with its coordinating orange paint job?
Was it the custom-made movie poster presenting "TRUE LOVE" produced by Mr. & Mrs. Chris Ellis, starring Monica and Johnny, and co-starring their wedding party?
Was it a reception hall full of adorable details dreamed up and executed by a bride who spent 20 hours a week working at her dad's furniture store and 20 hours a week wedding planning for the last eight months?
Was it the photo backdrop with chalkboard provided so guests could write dirty -- I mean funny -- messages and pose for pictures?
Was it the food stations with plenty of vegetarian fare?
Was it the wedding favors of reusable shopping bags in coordinating wedding colors?
Was it the popcorn and hot dogs served later in the night?
Was it the strawberry shortcake wedding cake?
Was it the peanutbutter and chocolate groom's cake in the shape of the Tennessee Volunteers football field?
Was it the light-hearted yet sentimental toast delivered by the matron of honor? (oh yes, I think perhaps that was the best part. Besides the love and excitement and fun that just saturated the whole day.)

The wedding was beautiful and we all had a blast.

A Belated Father's Day Post

just chillin' with my dad and a cold one

I spent yesterday recovering from the Compton-Lewis wedding and making the four and a half hour drive back home. I felt like I had a hangover, but it was a purely emotional one because I was so busy at the reception that I had a few sips of champagne and don't even think I managed to finish an entire beer. I did manage to pack my suitcase to come home without actually packing ANY of my clothes (long story) and they are residing comfortably in the dresser in my old bedroom which is seriously annoying but hopefully will be returned to me soon.

Anyway, my blog shout-out to my dad was delayed for those reasons and so here it is:

One of my friends recently told me that I was the only one of her friends who doesn't have "daddy issues."

So on Father's Day, I say thanks, Dad. For not making me have daddy issues. For not being absent or abusive or an alcoholic (even though during the drugs & alcohol prevention program in fourth grade I thought you were because they never talk to kids about drinking in MODERATION and so I was very concerned there for a while). Thanks for showing me that good dads are also good husbands. Thanks for raising me in a home and in a town where I felt loved and valued and like you were proud of me.

Over the years we have not always seen eye to eye on every issue, but I have come to realize that the traits you have that make me crazy (you know... how you can be stubborn, hard-headed, and sometimes short-tempered, you have a tendency to sigh in irritation, and your my-way-or-the-highway attitude) are the very characteristics that I inherited from you.

dads make us fearless

My mom tells this story about a magnet we had on the fridge when I was little. It was a pink pom-pom with eyeballs and a nose glued on so it would look like a pig. Evidently, I was very fond of this magnet because when our cat got a hold of it and shredded it, I discovered the remains and burst into tears. My two-or-three-year-old self was devastated about the loss of the magnet ("It was my favorite!" I told my mom) and when my mom picked up the pink fuzz and googly eyes to throw it away, I tried to stop her, saying "No! Dad can fix it!"

I still think my dad can fix just about anything.

I love you, Dad!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Book Lust

The age at which I learned to read is debatable. In what must have been a proud parenting moment for my mom, my kindergarten teacher was actually the one who informed her that I could read (my mom just assumed I had memorized those books I recited at home).

But I knew how to read for a while before my kindergarten teacher knew I could. One boy in our class learned to read early in the year and he brought a book to school and got to read it out loud to the entire class. I thought this was awesome and the next day I brought my own book to read to the class. Some sort of miscommunication ensued, because my teacher let that boy read my book out loud while I sat with the other kids.

Things got straightened out before too long and it became clear that I could read and that I could read pretty fast. Like freakishly fast. I could read an entire Weekly Reader article in the time it took the kid in front of me to laboriously pronounce the first few sentences. My third grade teacher reprimanded me for not focusing on the social studies book when I had already read the whole chapter. Twice. My friend Monica still remembers the time in fifth grade that I read a young adult novel -- Wait Til Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn -- in one hour-long class period. Going to the library, I would max out the 8-book check out and finish them all before we made our trip back the next week. By the time I was in middle school, my mom had a rule that if she was going to purchase a book for me, it had to have at least 200 pages because anything shorter than that wouldn't keep me entertained long enough to be worth the investment.

Of course, I wasn't reading anything particularly dense or complex. I mean we're talking Sweet Valley Twins, not Proust. And it's true that when I read, I usually skim some parts, particularly if it is an "easy" novel in which I can expect what words will come next.

I think this is what drew me to nineteenth-century British novels. They are big and fat and sure to last a while. Plus, I like a book that makes me slow down and savor the prose. There are novels that you can gulp down like soft drinks (putting away 50-75 pages in an hour) and there are novels that make you sip and savor and taste the words (30 pages an hour), books that ask to be read the way I imagine people who are serious wine drinkers taste their wine. (Example: If reading Twilight is like chugging a pop, reading Middlemarch is like sipping wine or hot coffee -- you go a little slower and you appreciate it more.)

As the end of my dissertation begins to come into sight (it is in the very far off distance, though, blurry and elusive and maybe just barely peeking over the horizon), I find myself eagerly anticipating all of the non-dissertation related reading I will do. I still try to read for fun, but I get a nagging sense of guilt sometimes when I am reading and I know I should be reading something relevant to my work. Especially because a good book will suck me in at the expense of everything else that needs to get done (like the weekend Harry Potter book 7 came out and I didn't take a break from it except to sleep).

I do a better job of shoving off this guilt in the summer time, when lighter reading seems like one of the many pleasures (along with free concerts and sun tea and walking the dogs at eight o'clock at night) that come with longer summer days.

And this brings me to: my summer reading list! I have already purchased some books that I am saving for our trip this summer. I am making the most of the public library's request function to get some of the other books (the ones that are too thin and sugary to be worth my investment). And then there are those books I own but have never gotten around to reading and really should. So here's my list:

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John FowlesI am currently reading this one and I keep thinking how have I not read this book before? Written in 1969 but set in 1860s England, it has all the best elements of a Victorian novel with literary references to actual Victorian novels! It is an English major's delight and it is one that makes me slow down and read carefully so I catch the allusions. I was creeped out (in a good way) by Fowles's The Collector, so I can't believe I haven't read more of his work. This was a library book, but I think I will have to buy a copy because I want to mark it up and make it my own.

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaYes! A book about vampires that is also about the rigors and boredom of academia, a love story, a mystery, and a travelogue. It took me about a week to finish this one and it was one of those that I wanted to take everywhere with me and read whenever I got a few minutes. The plot was complex and smart. I remember when this got a lot of press when it first came out but I don't know why it didn't generate more interest for me at that time. After finishing The Twilight series last summer, this was a lovely way to get my vampire fix and feel like I was learning something at the same time.

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine HarrisThis one was my vampire sugar fix. It is the first of the series of books that inspired HBO's new series True Blood. A fellow-grad-student friend recommended it to me in one of those half-ashamed whispers because we all like to pretend that we spend the summer catching up on literary theory and re-reading the great Russian novelists. But we don't. Instead we read delicious and thin paperbacks about sassy bar maids and sexy vampires in Louisiana. I devoured this book Sweet Valley Twins style and when I finished it I contemplated reading it again -- it was that much fun. Not to worry -- I have already requested the next three in the series for my fun summer reading and expect to get through all nine before August. They are perfect for the poolside.

Interesting side note -- after reading this novel, when I went online to find all the of the titles of the series so I could request them from the library in the correct order -- I discovered that Harris also writes mysteries with the protagonist Aurora Teagarden including the novel Real Murders which I read (and reread) in middle school or high school. I believe that I got this book on a visit to The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldI have been told I should read this book by a couple of different people, but the kicker was when the nurse practitioner I was seeing for my burn recommended it to me. I trusted her opinion because at my previous visit she had been reading Middlemarch. I am saving this one for our trip in July and I hope it doesn't disappoint.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie SmithThis one is supposed to be sort of "if you like Jane Austen, you'll like..." so I am also saving it for my trip. How nerdy that I love the anticipation of reading a great book! I figure that I will need three books to get me through the trip. Maybe four. On our vacation last summer, I finished book 4 of the Twilight series on the plane to Milan, got through an entire chick-lit novel (don't recall it, except that it was pink and green and bubble-gum flavored), and read a chunk of George Eliot's Romola (but since Romola is one of GE's 800 page tomes, it really counts as two novels).

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel BarberyThis is the third book I'm going to take on my trip. I am taking it because it's set in Paris and I have heard good things about it (I think on npr).

Moll Flanders by Daniel DefoeNot sure this counts as summer reading because I may be teaching it in the fall and therefore I need to read it first. But it's one of those that I should have read ages ago.

The Little Stranger by Sarah WatersI read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and flipped out over how awesome it is. Yes, it is set in Victorian England, but it's also painstakingly researched. Waters has a PhD and basically shifted from writing her dissertation to writing historical novels. I would like to read all her books, actually, because I think she's great, but I heard an NPR blip about her newest novel, so it makes the list first.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles DickensThis was Dickens's final novel -- a mystery that was left unfinished at the time of his death. I plan to follow this one with Dan Simmons's Drood: A Novel which is narrated by none other than Dickens's friend, colleague, and fellow novelist, Wilkie Collins.

I keep a running list in the back of my planner of other books I hear about and want to read or think that I need to read, so there are a range of other possibilities once I get through these... Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Servants' Quarters by Lynn Freed, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clark, Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar, and The Willoughbys by Lois Lowery.

If you have recommended summer reads that shouldn't be missed, please share!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Je nes sais quois? idk

The trouble with the French is all their damn silent consonants.

This goes waaaaay beyond "gnarly" and "knight." Their silent consonants will be the end of me!

I feel like before we flit off to Paris for a few days, that we should be prepared to at least attempt to utter a few conversational phrases in French. I took four years of Spanish in high school plus a summer of intensive translation Spanish in grad school -- you'd think I could at least hop on board another romance language, oui?


My shameful secret is that I also took an intensive 6-week course translation course in French another summer in grad school and my brain retained exactly 2% of what we learned. In my defense, we did not have to speak French, we just had to read French and translate it into English. Which means we didn't learn any pronunciation. As long as I could get the gist of the idea and determine the correct tense, I could manage a rough translation. I did ok in the class -- I got an A for the first three weeks and an A- for the second half, but (again, feeling defensive), the A- was a total crock because the second half of the class was taught by a French grad student instead of a professor and her English was not good enough for her to accurately grade our translations. For example, when I was translating the first paragraph of a Balzac novel, I referred to the woman as "an old maid." She took off points and scribbled "spinster" in the margins. Um... sorry, but as far as I'm concerned, those are the same freaking thing. You could make an argument about one being more pejorative than the other, but I truly felt that I was capturing the larger sense of the passage. French grad student did not agree, A- on the final, A- in part II of the class.

And so goes my complex relationship with the French language.

French pronunciation tips I have received: when a word ends in consonants you should not pronounce them but instead sort of exhale and grunt through your nose. Also, if your face looks like you are disgusted or at least moderately disdainful, you are more likely to pronounce words correctly.

(No wonder we call them Freedom fries!)

D took French in high school. When I quizzed him on what he remembed, he said "Je m'apelle Jacques" (pronounced "Jock") and then "le aeroport?". I am sure that will be exceedingly helpful, should I want to tell someone my name is Airport.

So we are basically hopeless. I have put in a request for a "One Day French!" cd from the public library and we'll see how that goes. The problem is that I am a visual learner -- I remember words better if I see them in print. However, seeing French words does not tell me how to say French words. It is a Catch 22. And I just want a few conversational phrases!

If all else fails, I will try to look pleasant and say: "Excusez moi, anglais sil vous plait?"

Monday, June 8, 2009

12 Things I learned This Weekend

I had several educational experiences this weekend. Friday we went to the Fairmount horses races and Saturday we wandered through a local art fair before taking a picnic and going to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare in the Park. Sunday we had friends over for dinner. Each experience was quite educational, but especially the horse races, as I had never been there before. This is what I learned over the weekend:

1. Do not scarf nachos before hopping the car and driving to Illinois, particularly if you are going to spend most of the trip turned around talking to people in the backseat.
2. Always expect that the "all-you-can-eat-buffet" at the local horse races will consist of fried meat and mayonnaise-based salads.
3. Do not imagine that a vodka tonic will cure carsickness.
4. Do not suppose that, should a vodka tonic fail to settle your stomach, a Bud Select might do a better job of it.
5. Do not think that the horse with the cutest name is likely to win the race.
6. Do not wear flowery dresses and hats to horse races in Illinois because there is no way you can do it ironically enough to keep people like me from judging you.
7. Do not underestimate the power of Veronica Mars to make me feel an instant kinship with other people who like the show.
8. When attending art fairs, always expect to fall in love with the painting that costs more than one month's salary.
9. When going to Shakespeare in the Park, remember that comedies are funnier and tragedies more compelling when you bring a bottle of sauvignon blanc.
10. Also remember that if you drink more than half a bottle of wine in one sitting, you may have trouble staying awake, no matter how funny the comedy or tragic the tragedy. Also, your partner may mock you.
11. There is something both disturbing and endearing about the way grown men in their thirties play video games with all the enthusiasm of twelve-year-olds.
12. Do not underestimate the simple pleasures of sitting on the deck talking with a friend. It is a wonderful way to wrap up a weekend.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Price of Peace of Mind

I made D go to the dermatologist today.

This may come as a surprise to many of you, but I'm a bit of a worrier. I deal with worry by determining my probable response to worst-case scenarios. I like to have a plan: IF this occurs, THEN I will... (I do this mostly in regard to potential employment or unemployment, as it were, post-graduation).

It drives D crazy. He calls it my "What if" game and he usually refuses to play it.

I don't think I have an anxiety disorder but it is possible that my mind wanders to more frightening scenarios than most people's. For example, on the way to the doctor today, D noted that they had finally paved a street near our house that they'd been working on for weeks. And I remarked that although I understand you have to have matter to make matter, I find myself concerned about the weight of concrete and steel and I wonder sometimes if our urban centers and growing populations could ever be so great as to actually make the sheer weight of all stuff we put on the earth greater than the pull of gravity at the earth's core, thereby shifting the earth's axis and causing unavoidable disaster re: rotation of the sun, hitting other planets, etc.

Judging by the look on D's face as I rambled on about this, he has never wondered about such things.

So D was not worried about skin cancer, but I noticed that he has a dark mole in the center of his back and I did not want to delay treatment until he was hallucinating about his dead fiancee. Also his mom had melanoma, he had a really bad sunburn as a child, and he is sometimes (dare I say often?) negligent about sunscreen unless I am there to be a nagging shrew. Anyway, he basically agreed to go to the dermatologist to give me one less to worry about (which is great, so now I have more time to concentrate on what might happen should the earth's axis shift ever so slightly).

It was quick and easy, all things considered. The worst part was that D had to strip down to his undies and put on a hospital gown -- which I found totally traumatizing (not the stripping part ha ha the hospital gown part). I have never seen him in a hospital gown before and I totally hated it and it freaked me out. I was giving him stern instructions that he is to NEVER get seriously ill or require hospitalization EVER when the first doctor came in.

I'm guessing she was an intern. She was young and pale (appropriate, I thought, for a dermatologist). She was very nice and I pointed out the one mole that creeps me out and she said it was fine but that they are willing to test any moles that we really feel uncomfortable about even if they appear to the doctor to be totally benign.

The other doctor came in and he was also young but an attractive Indian guy. I liked him because before he began the exam he tried to fix the trashcan that was in the corner of the room. The lid was stuck open when it should have been closed. It was driving him nuts. I was glad to see this bothered him because I think totally anal type-A personalities are exactly what I am looking for in a doctor.

At any rate, the exam was fine. No weird moles, everything looks great. He gave D a sunscreen lecture (well worth the co-pay, as far as I am concerned) and said he should have an exam done every couple of years.

All together it cost $20 and took about15 minutes, but I left feeling much better, which is more than I can say for my own doctor visits lately.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sister; or Little Mac

What are you lookin' at?

I have written more about Cooper than Little Mac. Not because he is sweeter or cuddlier (although he obviously is), but just because Little Mac is so, er, difficult to describe. She turned 9 in April and we are convinced that she will live forever -- she's got another six years in her for sure and she could probably live an additional six on pure meanness.

How do you explain a "lap dog" who not only does not want to sit on your lap, but does not actually want you to touch her at all? Or even look at her, if she is very tired. Except when you first walk in the door after being gone for more than an hour, in which case she will greet you very pleasantly but after the initial greeting wants to be left alone again or else you will FACE HER WRATH.

Little Mac typically gets more attention from strangers than Cooper does -- people think she's really cute. Little old ladies in particular often stop me when I'm walking to comment on how beautiful she is and what we do to keep her fur so white (uh... we don't pet her? because she won't let us.) Kids want to pet her because she's small and cute and that must be avoided at all costs. I tell people that they can't pet her because she's a rescue who is afraid of people. Yes this is a big fat lie but whatever it takes to keep her from biting a small child.

Once I asked a friend to dog-sit and she was walking Little Mac in Forest Park on a beautiful day. Many people were out walking their dogs and a young girl who was obviously mentally challenged was walking around petting everyone's dog. My friend knew that this girl would want to pet Mac (and knew that Mac hates anyone with a disability) but couldn't find a way to avoid her. So when the girl asked if she could pet her dog, my friend said no, and people turned and stared. She insists that everyone in the park was judging her like she didn't want a special-needs kid touching her dog even though she was really trying to protect the little girl from Little Mac. (I have not asked her to dog-sit since then, as she was slightly traumatized by the experience.)

We have described Little Mac as "special," "chemically imbalanced," and my favorite, a quote from David's grandma about Mac & David's mom: "She just has a messed up little personality just like her Grandma Connie." We're not sure what her deal is... she's just Little Mac.

One of Mac's most unique characteristics is her uncanny doggy wail. It is a horrific noise, a terrible high-pitched wail that hurts Cooper's ears and makes him howl along with her. She will sometimes wail if I leave her at home when Cooper and I go for a walk which is frustrating because I only leave her if she growls at me when I try to put the leash on -- which is about half the time. I think this means she doesn't want to go on a walk, but then I get two houses down the block and I can hear her wailing. She'll also wail if we forget and leave her outside too long. It's such a terrible sound that when we first moved here our neighbors panicked when they heard it -- they thought someone was being attacked in the alley.

Mac's love for popcorn is legendary. She can be in any room of the house but when she hears the rattle of the plastic microwave popcorn package, she bolts to the kitchen, plants herself in front of the microwave, and wails in anticipation. We feed her popcorn by tossing one kernal at a time. If one should accidentally roll under the sofa, she will relentlessly dig at the carpet with her paws until one of us retrieves it for her. And although Cooper likes popcorn too, he knows better than to fight Sister for a piece -- she will get mean mouth on him. Nobody comes between the girl and her pakern.

Obviously, Little Mac's issues are many. Her fight-or-flight mechanism seems to be screwy, as she will go head to head with anyone and anything when she should be running with her tail tucked between her legs. She's not one to back down from a challenge, although she is afraid of the vacuum.She has bitten at least five people: David, myself, his grandma, his cousin Dwight (who was drunk and intentionally tormenting her), and my friend Elon (who tried to "play" with her peanut-butter filled kong at a party we had, discovered Little Mac did not want to play, and then bled through three bandaids before he gave up and just went home). As we often tell each other, if she were a German Shepherd, she would be dead. But as she is an 11-pound Pek-a-Poo (that's a Pekinese/Poodle mix), she lives to wreak havoc on our lives and be generally misanthropic and stand-offish and all those other things that dogs are not supposed to be.

There are some good things to be said about Little Mac. She's loyal to those she loves (she'll turn on you, sure, but she won't go around lovin' on anybody else). She's low-maintenance. She has never chewed up anything of mine. She doesn't roll in stinky dead things. She can be let outside without a leash and she won't run away or race into a neighbor's house and eat their dog's food (Cooper). Yes, I have to sprinkle her food with parmesan cheese to entice her to eat it before Cooper eats it, but these are the adjustments we make having a puggle garbage disposal in the house. She is a good traveler; she doesn't get carsick. She isn't too yappy and she usually doesn't smell too bad. Those rare occasions when she is playful are seriously cute, although you do have to be careful because she could lose it at any second and there's usually not any warning.

She just has a special little attitude that can be difficult. Once while David and I were both gone on a Saturday afternoon, some friends of ours were coming in town. We told them to let themselves in the house and just hang out until we returned. Once we got home, they told us that Little Mac had barked her head off at first but once they sat down to watch TV, she just walked over to her cushion on the floor, glared at everyone, and then settled down with her back to them, staring at the wall and pouting. She stayed like that until I got home.

Another time we left Little Mac and Cooper with some friends who have a large dog. Mac refused to come out of her carrier for 24 hours, until they picked it up and literally dumped her out of it outside so that she would go to the bathroom. The carrier makes her crazy, which is why she does not have a "house" or crate like Cooper does. She becomes so psycho and possessive about it that she will lunge and bite at any hand that comes near it. This even happens in the car sometimes, but only on the return trip home. Once we get her, she does not want to get out of the car or out of the carrier and she goes ballistic until we dump her out of it and put it away. It sometimes makes us feel like she was hoping to go home with another family.

In spite of her neuroses and anti-social behavior, she really can be incredibly endearing. While Cooper will snuggle up next to anyone with a warm body, Little Mac's pickiness makes you feel very special when she does jump up on your lap or nuzzle her head into your hand. (True, it also makes you feel very nervous and afraid to move, lest she spaz out and attack you. But still.)

In summary, she hates tall people, small children, wheel chairs, bicycles, loud noises, doors being shut, half-empty water dishes, cats, other dogs (Cooper is sometimes an exception), and anyone or anything invading her personal space (which is quite large and grows exponentially when she is in her bed). She loves popcorn, peanutbutter, going places in the car, rolling in piles of laundry, soft and high-pitched squeaky toys, David's grandma, her Aunt Jamie, and me.

She drives us crazy, but she's our girl.

Interested in dog sitting? Just let me know!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Life in Plastic, It's Fantastic - Part II

Met Dr. T. today. He was younger and cuter than his picture suggested. Also friendlier than I expected. He sort of sprawled casually in his rolling chair and smiled occasionally and nodded when I spoke like he was really listening to me.

He looked at my arm and messed with the scar and gave me two options:

A) steroid injection that would help to flatten the raised area of the skin, but would leave everything else (discoloration, that awful texture, and the zig-zag shape) just as it is.

B) surgery that would actually removed the raised, scarred part of my skin and then stitch my arm back together leaving a smaller, neater, and straighter scar.

Or a combo-pack -- start with the injection and then see how it looks and determine whether I want surgery.

A few things to consider:
- option A it could require a series of injections, resulting in visits every couple of months indefinitely
- the injections are extremely painful (needle phobia notwithstanding)
- my insurance should cover 80% of the cost of either option once I meet my deductible ($350)
- option B's surgery would be an out-patient procedure lasting about an hour with the recovery time (and pain) being fairly minimal -- he said I'd be back to my regular routine (not counting exercise) in a few days

I originally planned to have the injection today and then wait and see how it looked before deciding on surgery. But as D and I talked it over, both he and Dr. T. seemed to be leaning toward surgery (he essentially said that was what he would do if it were his arm). I figured that the doctor was a surgeon so of course he wants to do surgery. But D made the point that surgery would be a one time deal and then it would be over and I could forget about it instead of trying to decide whether I wanted to try another injection. Cosmetically speaking, the doctor was certain that surgery would be a far greater improvement in the way my arm looks, and by removing the scar it would also get rid of any annoying little physical symptoms -- itching, tightness, tenderness.

So when Dr. T came back in, ready to give the injection, I was all, "Um, I think I might be reconsidering," and he was like, "Oh, that's ok! You're allowed to do that!"

I'm worried about how much 20% of a plastic surgery might cost but D's response was that we've already spent hundreds of dollars on treatment and doctor visits. We might as well fix it for good.

But surgery freaks me out almost as much as a painful needle (and I don't know what this business about "air" was because the needle the nurse brought into the room was as much a needle as any other I've seen). I don't know if it would be worth having the injection done first or not.

As the doctor said, if I think I want the surgery, having the injection is pointless because the entire scar will be removed. So I asked him if it was so painful that if I think that surgery is a definite possibility, I wouldn't want to go ahead and have the injection just to see what happened. He said "Well, I've never had it myself. But from other patients... and what you've said about how you do with needles..." But really he seemed convinced that the injection wouldn't actually change the appearance of my scar all that significantly -- flatter, yes, but not much prettier.

I didn't know what to do and if D had told me to just get the steroid injection right then, I probably would have done it. Instead I left, feeling like I had chickened out and not knowing what I want to do.

I have time to decide of course. I can schedule the surgery and if I change my mind and want the steroid injection I can do that instead. I just don't know which decision will make me feel better.

Basically, I don't want to regret not having the surgery if the injection doesn't improve the look of my scar. I don't want to go through the pain of the injection and delay the surgery further if the steroid isn't going to improve the look of my scar very much. At the same time, I hate the idea of having unnecessary plastic surgery, although I would like to wear sleeveless shirts and not have strangers ask what happened to my arm. I'm just not sure what the ideal scenario is. (Besides a time-warp in which I go back to November and don't spill freaking hot tea on my arm like a clumsy fool.)

[OK seriously. How bad is it? If it were your arm? Would you want to look at that everyday? To surgically remove or to simply inject with steroids, that is the question.]

So what do I do? I am considering another side-bar survey in which blog readers can vote anonymously. Am not sure that is the best way to make health-care decisions, but please feel free to voice your opinion in the comments.