Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Christmas Story

In the winter of 1986, life was good. I was a single mother with one adorable, healthy, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy; I had a good job; I had a not-so-good second job; I had a fixer-upper house; and I had one spoiled rotten Doxie dog. Norman Rockwell might not have been impressed with the broken-down white picket fence in the back yard, but I thought of my life as having “good bones.” A little sanding, some spackle, a new coat of paint and everything would be perfect.

Money being a bit on the short-side, Christmas was something I planned long-range. The clerks at the lay-away counters at WalMart and K-Mart knew me by name. Of course, the best-laid plans of Santa’s helpers can and do go awry from time to time. This year I was completely blind-sided by an animatronic, story-telling bear called Teddy Ruxpin. About three weeks before Christmas, my son, Derek, started talking incessantly about this Teddy Ruxpin toy, so I checked it out to see if it could be worked into The Grand Christmas Plan. I was horrified to discover this new must-have toy was a whopping $75! No way was this going to fit into the budget. Period. This was all my precious baby could talk about, and I couldn’t afford it. I was crushed.

As I cruised the toy department hoping and praying I could come up with a suitable substitute, my eyes were drawn to a tiny stuffed bear, wearing a stocking cap and a Christmas sweater. I picked him up, adjusted his little sweater and stood there looking at him and, as I did, a New Plan suddenly came to me.

On Christmas Eve, after my son set out the requisite cookies and milk for Santa and finally went to sleep, I set my New Plan in motion. It was risky, but I thought it just might work. I retrieved the tiny bear from his hiding spot, and I sat down at the kitchen table and composed a note. A note from Santa to Derek. It went something like this:

Dear Derek,

Thank you for coming to visit me in the park and giving me your Christmas list. I know you asked for a Teddy Ruxpin toy, but I have been looking all over trying to find the perfect boy to take care of this little Christmas bear. He is very special and he needs a very special boy to take care of him. You have been such a good boy this year I know you are the only boy I can trust to give him the special care he needs. I hope you love him as much as I do. Merry Christmas!


I finished setting up the rest of the toy delivery from Santa, set Special Bear on top and tucked the note under one fuzzy little leg. And, yeah, there might have been a tear or two. I crossed my fingers, looked up at the ceiling, and went to bed.

The next morning, Derek bounded into the living room, and I stood back and watched. He picked up Special Bear, saw the note, and brought it to me to read to him. I read the note, took a deep breath and looked up at him. And this is what I saw.

Like magic, it was as if all thoughts of Teddy Ruxpin were gone. He was never mentioned again.

And, yes, Special Bear still lives. Every year since, he has occupied a place of honor in our home at Christmas and a special spot in our hearts. I always smile, give him a hug and adjust his sweater when I unpack him and remember that Very Special Bear Christmas. And, every year after Christmas, he is lovingly snuggled into his bubble wrap, placed in his special box and packed away.

I always knew there would come a time when Special Bear would get passed to a grandchild and, after some discussion, it was decided the time has come for Special Bear to work his Christmas magic for my precious granddaughter. So, I gave Special Bear a booster-shot of love with one more hug, triple-bubble-wrapped him and placed him in a new box for his journey, along with two pictures I found of that special morning. Just so my son will know which box Special Bear is in, I did this. Think I overdid it?

And, when they ask me at the Post Office if I want insurance on this package, I’ll laugh, because you can’t put a price tag on what’s in that box. Christmas is not about the Teddy Ruxpins. It’s about the love and the Special Bear places in your heart.

Stuffed Bear - $4.99
Pictures & Frames - $24.95
Magical, twinkly, smiley, love-filled, makes-you-teary-eyed memories – PRICELESS

One word of advice though – take LOTS and LOTS of pictures, because you never know when a Special Bear moment will happen.

“Oh, would that Christmas lasted the whole year through, as it ought,” Charles Dickens lamented. “Would that the spirit of Christmas could live within our hearts every day of the year.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS! God bless us every one!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Mimi Teaches Me Italian

Someone recently asked me to name the 10 most important people in my life - people who have taught me a life lesson or were the catalyst for a major change in my life. When I asked her if I could name animals, she laughed and said "of course!" because, like me, she knows animals can change your life in strange and wonderful ways. So, this is the story of one of the most important "people" in my life, who just happened to have four legs.

We had been married only six months when my husband received new orders and we were transferred to an air base in Sardinia, Italy. A little research revealed that our new base was a NATO base, which had very limited shopping, no medical facilities and, most importantly, no base housing. We would be living in an Italian village several miles from the base, completely surrounded by people who did not speak English, with no phones or television. Having lived all my thirtysomething years within 100 miles of where I was born, I was excited and anxious in equal measures.

What I had not anticipated was the total terror I felt at not being able to communicate with the neighbors and village shopkeepers I had to deal with every day. The few rudimentary Italian phrases I had been practicing weren’t much use when I couldn’t understand the rapid-fire responses. Trying to find and buy something as simple as a light bulb would sometimes take an entire day. And some days I simply couldn’t muster up the courage to go out the front door.

One beautiful, Mediterranean morning, I was sitting on the back terrace contemplating the long, lonely, quiet day ahead, when our Italian landlady came out her back door and started calling, “Mimi! Mimi!” As I sat there waiting for the “Mimi” to show itself, a beautiful, longhaired, snow-white cat bounded out of nowhere and flew up the back steps to the landlady’s kitchen door. Right then and there, Mimi became my mission.

My mother has always called me a “cat magnet” because cats seem to gravitate to me wherever I go. This cat was different though. Every morning I stood on the terrace and called to Mimi. I tried to entice her with tidbits from the refrigerator. But still Mimi steadfastly refused to come near me. Then, I decided to try some American cat food. I filled a dish and left it on the terrace. In short order, she was daintily devouring every last morsel, as I watched from the door. Over the next week, I moved my chair closer and closer to the dish and, eventually, she allowed me one or two quick scratches behind her ear before she scampered away.

Deciding that I must sound very strange to her because, after all, she had never heard English before, I began talking to her in Italian as she ate. I spent hours looking up words and phrases in my English/Italian dictionary, just so I could “converse” with her, and this seemed to meet with her approval, because she stayed for longer and longer periods.

After a couple of weeks, I began leaving the back door open, hoping Mimi would eventually make herself at home. When she finally did, as cats will do, she completely took over. Mimi became a permanent fixture in our household and would appear with lightning speed whenever I called. Our landlady took this all in stride but seemed to be baffled by my attachment to her cat, especially when Mimi chose to have her kittens on our balcony.

What that dear lady never understood is exactly what that cat meant to me. Mimi was a friend and companion to a scared and lonely woman in a strange and frightening place. Hours of conversing with Mimi in her native tongue, so to speak, gave me the courage to try it out in the world outside my door. Her gentle, furry friendship comforted me when my courage flagged. Her kittenish antics gave me reason to laugh out loud on days when I thought I would scream from frustration. She reminded me that life is what you make it.

One day at a time I won Mimi over, and one day at a time I faced the language barrier and the newness and wonder of living in a foreign land. Grazie, Mimi, l’amore sempre. You were my first Italian friend and, thanks to you, you were not my last.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Claire Learns a New Language - In Defense of Deaf Dogs

I’m taking another zag this week because I recently overheard someone discussing whether or not to adopt a deaf dog. Having some experience in this area, I was shocked and saddened by some of the things that were said, and so I did my own research. Sure enough, there are actually breed-specific websites that promote putting down deaf dogs, because they say they have no value. To which I say “Nonsense!" Now, while I can see the logic in having a deaf dog spayed or neutered, I personally know the true value of a deaf dog.

World, meet Claire. Claire was a “Sprocker,” which is a Springer spaniel/cocker spaniel mix. We have no idea if anyone actually uses that moniker for this particular mix, but we thought it was pretty witty.

(Please excuse the quality of these photos, as they were taken pre-digital camera. Truth be known, I still prefer film and I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age, but film doesn’t seem to speak computer as well. Or maybe it’s me.)

You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Claire was a Wonder Dog. Faster than a speeding whiptail lizard, strong enough to hold down an 8-ft. couch, and able to leap right into your heart with a mere wiggle of her barely-there tail. (Please, no comments about tail-docking. It was that way when she adopted us.)

When Claire was about 14, we began to think she had developed selective hearing, because she wasn’t responding to us as she normally did. We would call her name and sometimes she would come and sometimes she wouldn’t. She also had a habit of wiggling her rear end (we called it “back field in motion”) at an alarming speed anytime anyone talked to her, and that too was sometimes happening and sometimes not. Finally, it began to dawn on us that maybe she was losing her hearing, a not uncommon thing in mature critters, two- and four-legged. So, we did our own rudimentary hearing tests by coming up behind her and clapping our hands, calling her name, and even blowing a whistle. No response.

Thinking that maybe she had an ear infection or other condition that might be causing temporary deafness, we took her to the vet for a proper exam. The good news was she didn’t have an infection or any other symptoms of disease. The bad news was she didn’t have an infection or any other condition that would cause temporary deafness. She was pronounced healthy but severely hearing-impaired.

I attacked this problem the same way I attack most things. Head-on. I started doing research on the Internet about deafness in dogs and read everything I could get my hands on. I also found several books at the library. And, boy, did I suddenly feel like an idiot. Seems dogs can and do learn sign language. Well, duh, of course they do. She already knew several hand signals – for sit, lay down, stay, quiet, etc. All we had to do was come up with new signs and teach them to her. That seems to astonish a lot of people, but you have to remember dogs don’t speak English (or any other human language) either, and all you have to do is use the same word and/or sign consistently for the same thing. I was still a little skeptical because, after all, she was 14, and this would be like doing puppy training all over again.

Since I wasn’t familiar with sign language, I needed some help coming up with signs. I found a website which had the American Sign Language alphabet and signs for a lot of common words. I started with signs for things that she liked – one for “cookie” and one for “hungry.” It took about two days for those signs to get firmly imprinted in her wonderful little canine brain. Then, I came up with signs for “go to bed,” “Daddy’s home,” “ride in the car,” “walk,” and so on. She learned this new language at a speed that amazed me, and I had known her for a long time. Of course, I think it also helped that she was such a people-pleaser and had a very sensitive and loving nature. And, crazy as this sounds, sometimes I believed she was reading my mind. I could just think about going for walk, never saying a word, moving a muscle, or making any kind of sign, and she would go into her happy dance and try to herd me towards the door.

Of course, you have to be aware of dangerous situations your dog might get into because of their hearing impairment. For example, you should never allow your dog to be off-leash anytime they are outside, because they will not be able to hear you calling them back from the street or other impending disaster. You also want to approach them slowly if coming up behind them, so as not to startle or scare them. Make sure any visitors to your home are aware they should only approach your dog from the front and never touch them when they are asleep.

Here’s one example of creative training you might use for getting the dog back inside at night after they have been out in the yard doing their business. Have one person go out with the dog on a leash, while you stand just inside the back door with a flashlight and treats. When you’re ready for the dog to come back inside, shine the flashlight where the dog can see it, and instruct your training partner to bring the dog back into the house, where you are waiting with yummy treats in hand. It won’t take long for them to associate the flashlight with the treat, and they’ll come running.

Will you have to devote more time to a deaf dog? Sure, in the beginning, but it’s certainly not any more difficult than the training you would do normally. And there is plenty of help out there. I joined a group at Yahoo where I could get advice and exchange ideas and training techniques with other people who have deaf dogs. I highly recommend joining this group, whether you have a deaf dog or are thinking of adopting one.

The only downside of Claire’s deafness was her slight insecurity about her new situation. She was used to sounding the alarm when a sound struck her as not quite right. She was my protector and defender and, when my husband was in Kuwait, she even captured a couple of birds in the back yard and deposited them at my feet. Her intent was clear. She knew Daddy was gone, and she took her job quite seriously, right down to making sure I had food to eat. I was less than thrilled with this behavior, but I couldn’t bring myself to scold her for it. Not that it would have done much good anyway.

While Claire had always been a bit of a mama’s girl, she became Velcro-dog after she lost her hearing. I was now her ears, and she depended on me to protect her as she had protected me all those years. I was honored to return the favor. I also noticed she seemed to be looking at my face more closely than before. It soon became clear that she was checking my facial expressions and body language and taking her cues from them. So, Claire became my constant companion and shadow, and she continued to thrive and be the same happy, loving dog she had always been. She also continued to “chuff” at strange men we encountered on our walks. Good girl.

Claire was with us for another three years. Kidney failure took her at the ripe old age of 17. One of the most difficult days of my life. I miss her every single day.

Being deaf did not made Claire any less devoted or loving or intelligent. Just the opposite. I now know just how intelligent she truly was and how close a bond you can form with a four-legged irrepressible sunbeam in fuzzy dog clothing. And just how many of us do you think will be able to learn a new language at the age of 98?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Howling with the Wolves

I have always had an unrequited love for wolves. I can’t pinpoint exactly when, where, or how it happened but, somewhere along the line, wolves walked right into my heart, curled up, and made themselves at home there. Even with little to no hope of ever being so lucky as to meet a wolf, much less have that love returned, my love for them has never diminished.

About 10 years ago, I discovered a wolf and wolf-dog sanctuary practically in my back yard. But life has a way of getting right smack dab in between you and the things you want to do. Oh, so close but so far away. For a brief time, I ran a website about wildlife rehabilitators, and the link to the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary (then Candy Kitchen Ranch) was displayed prominently on the home page. Eventually, I lost track of the sanctuary and I thought maybe it didn’t exist anymore. Then, out of the blue, a dear friend on Twitter (Janice a/k/a @jlsemmel) tweeted about an upcoming open house at a wolf sanctuary. The name was different, but my wolflie passions were stirred, so I clicked on the link. And there it was! I was beside myself. The name had been changed, but it was still there. And Joy to the World! They were having an open house the weekend after my birthday. So, when my husband asked what I wanted for my birthday, I said I wanted a trip to the sanctuary. I even forgot to ask for chocolate cake. For those of you who know me, you know how huge that is.

The purpose of Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary (WSWS) in Ramah, NM is to provide the best possible home and care for abused and abandoned captive-bred wolves and wolf-dogs. Captive-bred wolves could not survive in the wild, and wolf-dogs are generally not a good fit for the average person, family or household. Since there is an overabundance of misinformation floating around about wolves, WSWS also has an outreach program to educate the public about wolves and the implications of owning a wolf-dog.

Some people mistakenly believe that cross-breeding wolves and dogs will produce a suitable pet. People will take on a wolf-dog, only to return it when they discover the animal is destructive and/or hard to control and doesn’t have the temperament to be a family pet. Cross-breeding wolves and dogs is illegal in most places, but that doesn’t stop disreputable breeders with little to no knowledge of wolf-dogs or compassion for the animals they are responsible for bringing into the world. Of course, they are stunningly beautiful animals.

Low-content wolf-dogs (those who are mostly dog) occasionally have the right temperament to go into an adoptive home, but it can still be a tricky proposition. For instance, WSWS has a pack of five wolf-dogs, 1 brother and 4 sisters, who are low-content wolf-dogs. However, this family group has been together since birth. Our guide said they experimented with taking a couple of them for a walk on leashes but didn’t get more than a few feet away from the enclosure, when they dropped down and started crawling back. In other words, it’s a package deal – all five or nothing – because WSWS has decided, and after observing this close-knit family, I agree, it would be beyond cruel to separate them.

But, back to the Open House. We were greeted by a volunteer who, much to my surprise, spoke with an English accent. Apparently, volunteers come from all over the world to spend a few months here. We were then asked to sign a waiver. So much legal nonsense, in my personal opinion, because I had no doubt no harm would come to us unless someone strapped an elk hindquarter to our backs and then tied us to a tree in the middle of one of the enclosures. Guided tours were scheduled every couple of hours, and we were in time to join one which had just left the courtyard.

Angel was the guide on our first tour. Yes, the first tour. I was so busy watching the wolves and trying to get photos of them that I didn’t hear half of what Angel said and had to take a second tour. I did, however, catch enough to know she is knowledgeable, passionate, and absolutely dedicated to the animals she cares for, as is everyone involved in the running of the sanctuary.

Specially for the Open House, the staff and volunteers had prepared an assortment of enrichment treats for the animals. The purpose of providing enrichment items is to give the animals new experiences and well, enrich their lives as much as possible in a captive environment. The enrichment items this day were frozen watermelon and paper canisters and piñatas filled with meat, peanut butter, deer urine (yes, deer urine), and stuffed animals. They love stuffed animals, as you can see. There was also more than a touch of jealousy and "nanner-nanner" going on here too.

The watermelon and canisters seemed to go over well with most everyone, and they were gleefully ripping and tearing them apart in no time.

However, this was the first time they had used piñatas and had varying results. Come to find out, wolves are notorious for not liking new things. For example, our guide informed us that the so-called biggest, baddest wolf in the sanctuary wouldn’t go near a plastic bucket. All of them eyed the swinging piñatas with great interest but approached them with caution and a definite degree of skittishness. Some more than others. And some just seemed to want someone they trusted to go first.

When the enrichment items had been given to the animals in the enclosures, we were allowed to go behind the barrier and, when given the go-ahead by the guide, we could take pictures through the fence. We were advised to back away from the fence if any of the animals came towards us. (Common sense here – if an animal has food on the brain, you don’t wanna have a finger sticking through the fence mistaken for a food item.) Once the animals were occupied with the enrichment food items, they were relatively stationary and in an area close enough to get photos. But you know how animals are – unpredictable, always on the move, getting behind trees, or lounging in the tall weeds at the back of the enclosure. They rarely make it easy. But, once in a while, you just get lucky.

Despite my lack of focus on what the guides were saying, I did manage to learn a few things. I was curious how Arctic and Timber wolves fare in the extreme heat we have in New Mexico, but Mother Nature seems to have taken care of that problem. The wolves shed down most of their coats in preparation for the summer heat. I also noticed the enclosures have small ponds and water buckets, and I witnessed one wolf repeatedly sticking his front paws into one of the buckets.

And, whereas your dog may be mildly curious about what is making that strange buzzing sound in the wall (electricity), a wolf has the intense curiosity and the strength (in jaw power and claws) to tear a wall apart to see exactly what is going on in there.

One of the high-content wolf-dogs really caught my eye and captured my heart. Ally. Ally’s story was very nearly a tragic one. She was bred in Alaska, where it is illegal to breed wolf-dogs, by one of the disreputable breeders I mentioned earlier. When she became too much for her owners, she was turned over to authorities. Generally, these wolf-dogs are destroyed, because there is no one to take them. However, Ally was rescued by a friend of the WSWS, who fostered her until the director could fly to Alaska and bring her home to the sanctuary.

Ally is only a year old and is the newest rescue, having been there just a few weeks. (By the way, being the new pup on the block, Ally needs sponsors.) She has the beautiful golden eyes of a wolf, magnificent markings, style and grace, plus a certain delicacy, almost daintiness, about her. At the sanctuary, she is known as The Supermodel. She is obviously still adjusting to her new home and enclosure-mate, Flurry, but she seems to be quickly overcoming the shyness and timidity inherent in wolves. She came right up to the fence several times, a behavior a lot of the other wolves and wolf-dogs who have been there much longer did not display. Yep, she’s a doll, all right. I don’t see how Flurry can resist her charms. At this point, he is still grumbling when she gets close, but it’s early days.

Another enrichment item that comes along every so often at the sanctuary is fresh meat. Occasionally, when someone hits a deer or elk on the highway, the sanctuary will get a call to come out and pick it up. The carcass is then taken to a communal enclosure which the wolves are released into, so they can enjoy their feast in the proper wolfie way. The wolf equivalent of Thanksgiving or Christmas. In Howlville. Instead of Whoville. (Sorry couldn’t resist, that just rolled out through my fingertips before I could stop it.)

And, speaking of howling, we had the rare, special privilege of being serenaded by the entire pack not once but twice that day. I’m not sure what set them off the first time, but the guide on our second tour asked us all to howl to get them started. I’m pretty sure everyone in the group howled at the count of three, as instructed. And we didn’t feel the least bit silly.

Now, we have all heard wolves howling in movies and on television, but hearing The Call of the Wild up close and personal is an experience that defies description. But I’ll try. As the first howl goes up, your jaw drops, you give a little gasp, you smile, maybe even giggle a little, and then your eyes close as you are drawn into a mystical place by the haunting, soulful tune your ears can’t quite believe they’re hearing. As the howls continue, they seem to resonate within your body, striking a chord in your very heart and soul. I don’t mind telling you I get a little misty-eyed re-living that experience in my mind.

A few of the wolves were rescued as pups and have been socialized to a degree I didn’t even realize was possible. These few special wolves are Ambassadors who go to schools, libraries and special events for the purposes of education and fund-raising. We had been told these Ambassadors would be making appearances throughout the day, and we were really looking forward to that.

After the tour was over, one of the guides, Angel, brought out Forest, who is a Timber-Arctic cross. A full-blood wolf, in other words. He is a beautiful animal with those mesmerizing golden eyes, and we were thrilled to be able to get closer to him. However, we never dreamed we would be able to pet him. Yes, pet him! Turns out Forest is a regular social butterfly. We were instructed not to lean our face into his, but if he leaned into your face, it was no cause for alarm.

Being the intelligent, sociable critter he is, Forest has figured out the best place to get the most attention, pats and scritches is standing on the picnic tables, so we all sat down and waited for Forest to make his rounds. He went from one table to the next, basking in the adoration of his fans and getting all the petting he could. And posing for photos. Yes, posing. If Forest could speak, I have no doubt he would have announced, “Gather 'round. I’m ready for my close-up now.” It was quite a sight.

Finally, he climbed up on our table. I reached up my hand to give him a scritch as he walked by, and he casually leaned down and gave me a kiss! Be still, my heart! I haven’t stopped giggling about that yet. Oh, Forest, you handsome devil, you do know how to steal a girl’s heart! {Swoon} Unfortunately, since I am always the one holding the camera, there are no pictures of this momentous event, but I know it happened, and it's a memory I'll treasure forever.

Of course, nothing gets in the way of a good roll in a smelly patch of grass. Besides, he knew his fan club wasn't going anywhere.

As often happens in the mountains, there were intermittent rain showers that afternoon, but we barely even noticed we were sopping wet. Unfortunately, when the lightning started, that did get our attention, and we decided to wrap up our visit. On our way out, we stopped at the Howling Wolf Grill where George cooked up two lip-smacking, juicy, double-patty cheeseburgers in their newly-opened kitchen. Their slogan is “Feeding your hunger feeds our Wolves!” And, of course, we also cruised the Gift Shop for souvenirs of our visit, knowing that money too would go for the care and feeding of the wolves.

To say we had a great time would be the understatement of the year. As birthday presents go, this was the best to date. The wolves received enrichment items that day, but I know we were the ones who were really enriched.

WSWS is a non-profit organization and operates solely on donations. In these lean times, they are feeling the pinch and are in dire need of donors and sponsors for the wolves. If you want to learn more or are interested in visiting WSWS, sponsoring a wolf, donating a wish list item, or scheduling a presentation, please check out their stunningly beautiful and informative website.

You can also help by making a purchase in their gift shop. And, yes, they have even captured the musical stylings of the wolves on a CD.

Also, if you are planning to visit WSWS, I recommend staying at this excellent B&B I was so impressed I wrote a review for them here

This area has other points of interest, along with some spectacular scenery. Thanks to our B&B hostess, Sheri, we discovered some places we didn't even know existed. I'll be telling you more about those in upcoming posts.

Extra special thanks to my friend, Janice (@jlsemmel on Twitter), without whom this trip never would have happened. She also has a website - “Arizona Destinations” - at you should visit. She has great tips on places to visit in Arizona and incorporates some breath-taking photos.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Domestic Goddess & The Dishwasher: A Cautionary Tale

Once upon a time there was a domestic goddess who lived in a cottage with no dishwasher. Unfortunately, it was a rental cottage, so she slaved away over a steaming sink full of dishes day after day. Some days this made her quite grumpy and a bit difficult, but she reminded herself there was a time when she had lived in Italy and didn't even have hot water in her kitchen.

Finally, one day she had a brilliant idea. She would make the landlady an offer she couldn't possibly refuse, because all would benefit. She and her husband would pay for a dishwasher, if the landlady would pay for the installation. The domestic goddess would be happy and would once again be able to grow decent fingernails, and the landlady would have an improvement in her property.

The landlady was quite pleased with this idea and the dishwasher was ordered, delivered and eventually installed. The domestic goddess danced and sang and was joyful every day. She had forgotten how such a simple appliance could make her life so much easier, and she was well pleased.

Then, one day she cleaned out the refrigerator and filled the dishwasher with plastic storage containers and decided not to use the "dry" cycle, as that might melt the plastic containers. When the dishwasher stopped, she opened the door so as to let the dishes air dry for a bit before she put them away. Having worked all day on domestic goddess domestic chores, she decided to make some popcorn and take a well-deserved rest. So, she walked into the kitchen, walked around the dishwasher door to retrieve the popcorn from the cabinet, walked back around the dishwasher door to put the popcorn into the microwave, and then started to walk back across the kitchen. Suddenly, with no warning, she was airborne!

In the split second it took her brain to realize she had exactly a split second to react, she managed to get one arm out in front of her, but then she felt her chin hit the floor and then her nose - BAM! Slightly dazed and with her tiara hanging precariously by a single bobby pin, she jumped up and quickly realized something was bleeding. Somehow, she managed to stagger to the bathroom where, to her horror, the mirror revealed a split lip and a chin that was quickly starting to turn purple. She was able to determine there was probably no major structural damage, but that chin needed frozen peas fast.

Over the next couple of hours, various body parts started to assert themselves and make it known they had not taken this incident lightly, including, but not limited to, the left wrist, arm, and shoulder, the right knee, the back, the neck, and the nose. To say nothing of her bruised ego. Domestic goddesses simply do not do full face-plants into the linoleum. At least not past the age of 10.

Upon reflection, while taking deep breaths and trying to calm herself, it occurred to the domestic goddess she had been saved grievous bodily injury by . . . uh, the “girls,” the “ta-ta’s,” “the chi-chi’s,” – yes, her own personal air bags. She remembered they had actually hit the floor first and most likely kept her from breaking her nose. And, miraculously, they seemed to be fine. She resolved to never again take them for granted and to finally find them a comfy bra with no underwire. That’s the least she could do to reward them for their bravery, quick action and self-sacrifice.

Her husband, upon returning home, took one look at her and demanded to know who had hit her. (Seriously, did he think she had gotten into a fight with the neighbors or in a brawl over broccoli at the store?) But, yes, that is exactly what it looked like - like someone had given her a quick upper cut to the chin.

After making sure the domestic goddess was not in need of medical attention, he looked at her lovely purple chin and declared she would be confined to the cottage for an indefinite period of time. It would simply not do for anyone to think he was responsible for the goddess’s Extreme Fighter/Warrior Princess appearance. He also instructed her to rest on the couch and he would do all the necessary fetching and carrying for a time.

The domestic goddess laughed and started to protest, but then decided she could use this proclamation to her advantage. If confined to the cottage, she wouldn’t be able to shop for groceries. If confined to the couch, she wouldn’t be able to cook, clean, or do odious and odorous piles of laundry. Within minutes, bags of frozen peas, a heating pad, a pillow, ibuprofen, cups of tea and dinner magically appeared.

And that is how the domestic goddess learned the true meaning of “every cloud has a silver lining.”

NOTE: This incident occurred last year, and I am fully recovered. I did eventually see the doctor, who prescribed muscle relaxers and sent me to physical therapy. I was under the impression I was to receive massage therapy, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I was put through my paces by a physical therapist three times a week for two months on various torture devices.

The moral of the story? Most accidents happen in the kitchen. Stay out of there.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Attack of the Cubicle Zombies from Ford

Attention, Co-Scissor-Heads! I interrupt a regularly-scheduled blog post tentatively entitled “If It’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother” for a public service announcement.

I am hereby officially declaring this Running with Scissors Week, brought to you by certain deadhead, mooncalf, cubicle zombies a/k/a customer service representatives. Please note: This is not a general indictment of all customer service reps, but the few, the monotone, the never go off-script customer service reps who have been brainwashed, uh, expertly trained by Big Dog companies to make our lives a living hell. So, put away the roundy kindergarten scissors, get out the grown-up pointy ones, lace up your tennie-runners, and adjust your chair. We are taking on the Big Dogs. (Note: I have tried to keep the snarkiness to a bare minimum but, given the subject matter, some spillage has occurred.)

First up, Ford Motor Company. A Very Big Dog. A veritable Rottweiler of the corporate world. Apparently, they also believe they are the King of the Automobile Industry because they didn’t take a bail-out, and are doing quite well in spite of the economic conditions. Based on my interactions with their Cubicle Zombies, I think I have figured out why. I’m betting you’re a pretty smart cookie too, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. According to them, this is UV damage, not a defective paint job.

Does that LOOK like a little UV damage to you? The only way that’s UV damage is if that spoiler has been taking itself to the tanning salon on the sly. Ditto for the hood.

Yes, my treasured red Mustang, my former pride and joy, the car I have dreamed of owning for most of my life, has turned into a leopard.

Ford Customer Service Cubicle Zombie #1 instructed us to get the damage “evaluated,” at a Ford dealership, so off we went. The first dealer said they didn’t do body work and told us to go to another bigger Big Dog dealership 50 miles away. It was my understanding they would take a paint sample and do something scientific to it.

Uh huh. The scientific evaluation was done by Cubicle Zombie #2 who walked around the car with his hands in his pockets nodding and hmmmmming, focusing his company-implanted zombie-like laser eyes on the problem at hand. His conclusion? UV damage, consistent with the heat and sun we have in this area. They would, however, be happy to repaint the entire car for about $3,200.

Next stop – Twitter. After tweeting Ford Customer Service several times, Cubicle Zombie #3 contacted me for more information. A couple of days later, she actually called. Oooooo, the excitement! Did she want a paint sample? Was she calling to tell me to take it back to the dealership to be painted? Was she going to make me an offer so I can get it painted? Not so fast there, Sparky.

Cubicle Zombie #3 said she had enlarged the picture I had sent, and she had determined it was . . . . UV damage. Apparently, Cubicle Zombie #3 has the same company-implanted zombie-like laser eyes as Cubicle Zombie #2. I think maybe she got the super-laser eye upgrade, because all she needed was a picture. But “Good news!” Ford would be happy to sell me a new car at “dealer cost,” which would be a savings to me of $3,000 to $5,000, depending on the car I buy. Really?! Woah, Duuuuude. Let me get this straight. Ford is going to give me a $3,000 to $5,000 discount on a new car, but they won’t fix the one I have, which would cost them substantially less. Is it just me, or do you smell the halibut too? Cubicle Zombie #3 had apparently reached the end of her script because, after that, she had nothing original to add to the conversation and just kept repeating herself.

When I tried posting to Ford’s Facebook page, I heard from Cubicle Zombie #4. She ever so politely informed me that post was inappropriate for Ford’s Facebook fan page, and I should contact Ford Customer Service. {Sigh} I responded to her and, as courteously as possible, pointed out that I had contacted Ford Customer Service, as stated in my original post.

Then, through a Twitter friend, I discovered Ford has a Social Media Director who is on Twitter. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I tweeted him, and he said he would look into it. Good thing I wasn’t holding my breath waiting for a response, because I would be a mummified Smurf by now. Yep, sure enough, I never heard from him again. So, that would make him Cubicle Zombie #5.

Adding insult to crap, uh, allegedly bad paint job, just a few days ago I received the sweetest little card from Ford which says:

“Since you are a valued Ford customer, we are extending to you this exclusive offer. Get $750 Private Cash toward the purchase or lease of your next Ford vehicle.”

I have to wonder just how “valued” I am. Actually, before we started getting the Cubicle Zombie run-around, we had been thinking about buying another Ford. Not now. There will be no more Fords at this house unless and until they fix the one I already have or send money so I can get it fixed. Why on earth would I sign on the dotted line, go in debt several thousand dollars, and basically reward a company which refuses to stand behind one of its products by buying another one? Duh.

As Dolly Parton says, “Blonde jokes don’t bother me, because I know I’m not dumb and I know I’m not blonde.” I resemble that remark.

In case anyone (Ford?) is not yet clear about how the world works, satisfied, happy customers talk about the companies who did them right. Unsatisfied, angry customers talk MORE about the companies who did them wrong. A company can spend millions of dollars on advertising, but word of mouth is still the best advertising around and delivers more real bang for the buck. With social media, that word, good or bad, travels fast. I may only have 1000 or so followers on Twitter, but some of those people have thousands and thousands of followers. You do the math, Ford. When company policies, procedures and Cubicle Zombies tick off customer after customer and word gets around, it’s only a matter of time until said company gets a karmic banana stuck up their tailpipe.

Research has turned up some interesting information about Ford and their problems with paint, going back many years. If you’re having paint problems with a Ford vehicle, are considering buying a Ford, or are simply curious, I suggest you check out this Facebook page:!/group.php?gid=94328817418

Big Dog or not the fight continues, because I don't intend to become a Scooby snack . . .

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Southern Belle Rules

I got The Call a couple of weeks ago. I knew it was coming. Yes, it’s that time of year when the snowbirds fly away home, and we are a convenient stop and watering hole for the snowbirds we happen to be related to – my mama and stepdaddy.

So The Call came. The one where I am informed of the intended departure time from Snowbird Central and intended arrival time at our house a/k/a The House Where Your Daughter Has Been Dusting Light Bulbs and Scrubbing Corners With a Toothbrush and Forgot To Do Her Nails. The call which leads me to ask my husband, “Do you think we can find a new house, get all new stuff, and get moved before they get here? It would be easier than tackling this mess. This place is no Tara.”

Now, please do not get the wrong impression here. My mama is the least critical person I know. She has always been my biggest fan, and I am one lucky girl to be able to call my mama my friend and mean it. She’s the best. Yep, she set that bar pretty high.

And therein lies the problem. She’s the best. The best cook. The best housekeeper. The best dresser and accessorizer. Hair and make-up always done. Nails always perfectly manicured and polished. She speaks softly with just the right amount of Southern drawl. She doesn’t tolerate injustice, is never afraid to speak her mind, but she is never loud, not even when provoked. She also sews, crochets, and makes all kinds of things from scratch. In short, my mama is a Southern Belle. Me? Eh, not so much.

For your enlightenment, here are a few of The Southern Belle Rules and how I measure up:

1. You are not to so much as go to the mailbox without hair, make-up and nails being done. You never know who might be out there. {TRIPLE Fail!}

2. Jeans are acceptable. However, in no event are holes or fraying of any kind acceptable, and they should always be paired with a cute top or blouse. (Bonus Belle points for cute t-shirts with embroidery.) NO sweatshirts. {TRIPLE fail!}

3. Handbags and shoes should be season and occasion-appropriate and color-coordinated for the outfit you are wearing. For example: No striped wool-blend handbags with flower print dresses and high-top Reeboks. (Yeah, like I wear dresses.) {Fail!]

4. Accessories (jewelry, scarves, etc. - color-coordinated of course) are required but should be understated. Too much is just tacky. Note: Nose and uh, other body part rings are NOT jewelry. See #7 {Check minus! Not quite a total fail.}

5. No one is EVER to leave your house hungry. (I have been told the road to hell is littered with the bodies of those who left your house hungry.) {Check!!!!! This one I got!}

6. Green beans are to be cooked for a minimum of one hour. Longer is preferable. In short, there is no such thing as overcooking green beans. However, due to dietary considerations, you are no longer required to use bacon and bacon grease. Bacon bits and the appropriate zero trans-fat margarines are now acceptable. {Check!}

7. In general, body piercings and tattoos are frowned upon, most especially if the tattoos are large and are not spelled correctly. However, it has recently become acceptable to have two holes in your ears. {Check!}

8. Except under dire and extreme circumstances, you should always be Miss Congeniality. {Fail! I have been known to tell people to kiss mah greeyuts.}

9. If it should become necessary to express yourself in a more forceful manner, you should employ the Oh, You Poor Sweet Thing, I Put You in Your Place and Made You Like It tactic. Also known as The Big Stick That Talks Softly, this is the Southern Belle way of charming someone and telling them off at the same time. When done correctly, people will be so charmed they will not realize until much later they were KO’ed. Delayed reactions are quite common. People have been known to yell “Ouch!” and fall to their knees up to 14 days after being on the receiving end of one of these mint-julep zingers. (My mama, of course, does this effortlessly.)

SPECIAL NOTE: Successful implementation of this tactic will get your professionally-painted portrait in the Southern Belle Hall of Fame on the same wall as Scarlett O’Hara.

Now, the degree of difficulty on this one is extremely high, and I have never been able to pull it off. When I express myself “in a more forceful manner,” it falls more closely within the “pitchin’ a conniption fit” category. See #8. {BIG Fail!}

10. If cornered and you have no choice but to say something less than flattering about someone, always follow it with “bless her/his/your heart.” {Check minus}

11. Secret family recipes are just that – secret! It is extremely bad manners to ask someone for a secret family recipe or to give one out. Violation of this rule will result in a two-event no-tiara penalty and snubbing at the next Women’s League meeting. {Check! You will have to pry my granny’s chocolate pie recipe out of my cold, dead hand!}

12. The wearing of tiaras is limited to: graduation parties, coming-out parties, prom royalty, engagement parties, weddings, wedding showers, baby showers, participation in parades, those who have been voted or deemed the Princess or Queen of any festival, fair, party, or group consisting of at least 3 members (i.e., Ya-Ya Sisterhood), after a break-up, bad news/good news of any kind while commiserating/celebrating with your Southern Belle buds and eating ice cream, and divorce proceedings. (Please note it is highly recommended that you wear only rhinestone tiaras in court during divorce proceedings.)

The tiara rules also include several subsections, the most important of which is how to care for your tiara.

Subsection A: It is strictly forbidden to wear a tarnished tiara. Tiaras must always be kept absolutely spotless and as shiny as possible, so as to reflect any and all available light. (Otherwise, no one will notice you, which defeats the true purpose of the tiara. Duh.)

Subsection B: When not in use, a tiara is to be kept in a velvet-lined box in a climate-controlled environment. It is not a toy. Please give it the respect it deserves.

{Quadruple Fail! I often wear my tiara at non-sanctioned events such as when vacuuming or doing dishes. I do, however, remove it when cleaning certain unmentionable porcelain parts of "necessary" rooms. I thought I'd better point that out. That would just be too gruesome for words!)

I think it was obvious very early on that I was not quite Southern Belle material. There are a whole lotta pictures of me in my Sunday/Easter-best ruffled and frilly dress (made by my mama, of course), perfectly accessorized with patent leather shoes and purse, ruffled socks, gloves, and a precious little hat. Yes, there I am, the very picture of miniature Southern Belle perfection until you spot the band-aids on my knobby little knees and elbows. I can almost hear my mama sighing in the background when I look at those pictures.

By the way, in case you are wondering why I still call my mama “mama,” that’s just something we Southern-types do. Your mother and father are called “mama” and “daddy.” This is not something you outgrow and suddenly one day they are “mom” and “dad.” They are always and forever “mama” and “daddy.”

Of course, this is only a small sampling of The Southern Belle Rules. I can’t tell you everything, or I’ll be tossed out of the program and forced to give up tiaras forever. I am hanging by a thread as it is. I’m pretty sure the only reason I’m allowed to claim any Southern Belle status at all is because my mama is such a well-respected member. I am closer to the Carol Burnett Scarlett O'Hara. And I'm quite sure when I am spoken of by other Southern Belles, those conversations include a generous dose of "bless her heart."

Oh, the visit? I’ll save that for the next installment. For now I’ll just say my mama arrived looking spectacular, after an 8-hour drive, and carrying homemade fudge. {Sigh}

Monday, February 15, 2010

I'll Think About That Tomorrow

Some days I battle writer’s block. Other days, like today, my brain is like a rabbit on crack. It jumps this direction, then it leaps that direction, then it doubles back on itself, never completing the circle or finding the carrot. You know, we once had a rabbit who thought he was a dog. He slept on top of the dog house. I don’t know where he got that idea, because I don’t think he ever watched Charlie Brown. He also liked to chase our Doxie.

Where was I? Oh, so far today, I have started four different posts. I have gotten about three or four paragraphs written on each one and decided it was drivel. Pure, unadulterated horse hockey.

Is that a bug? Hold on while I get a shoe and . . . oh, that’s not a bug. I just killed a hairball. You know, I should probably stop wasting my time trying to beat my brain waves into submission and do something constructive. Like vacuum. Or dust. Or not.

It’s a really nice day today, and I need to start thinking about getting the garden plot ready. No, what I should do first is get those bell pepper seeds into the starter tray. I got the neatest little mini-greenhouse the other day to experiment with. I don’t know where I’m going to put it though, because I don’t really have a good windowsill to put it in. Maybe I should put it on the dining room table. That’s a good spot. It gets the afternoon sun. And we never use it to eat on anyway.

Get out of that tree! Sorry, the neighbor’s cat is climbing the tree in the front yard, trying to sneak up on a bird. I really wish my neighbors would keep their cats indoors, or at least get them fixed. Mother Nature is all fine and good, but I really don’t wanna see the food chain in action. And this neighborhood is overrun with cats. I’ll probably have to put that weed block fabric down again this year to keep them from thinking my garden is a 4-star feline latrine. I don’t know what I’m going to do about the birds though. They love the lettuce and start eating it as soon as it comes up. Last year, they just laughed at the pie tins, ribbons, bells, fake lizards and rubber snakes. The rubber snake I forgot I had since I put it away in the garage oh, about last July.

Uh huh, I found that rubber snake the other day. I was in the garage throwing boxes around trying to find our wedding pictures. I moved a box, turned back around to grab another one, and all my brain registered was SNAKE!!!!! I kinda wish someone had been filming me at the time, because I swear I did a cartoon leap and did a complete turn in mid-air with my legs still moving. Add your own cartoon sound effects.

What is that noise?! Oh, the dryer. I should probably get those clothes out before they . . . Okay, who moved my tea? I wish you-know-who wouldn’t throw the mail on top of my desk willy-nilly. I have a system, for Pete’s sake! The checkbook was right here yesterday. How can I pay bills if I can’t find the . . . oh, wait, he said he was taking it today. Was that this morning?

If I could find my notebook – you know, the one I bought for jotting down thoughts and ideas for the blog – I might be able to write something coherent. Or not. If all else fails I can write notes in the dust on the furniture that’s not going to get dusted today. Did I take the chicken out of the freezer?

You know what really annoys me? Those plastic seals they put on bottles and jars. First, I wish they would fix them with tabs adult fingers can grip so you didn’t need scissors, knives, and tweezers, or a 4-year-old with tiny fingers, to get them open, but that’s not what gripes my cookies. It’s the plastic collar that’s always left when you finally manage to peel off enough of the plastic seal to get the bottle or jar open. You do know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

The other day I was trying to open a pudding cup. Oh, hush, they’re only 100 calories, unless you add Reddi-Whip. I absolutely could not get a grip on that tiny sliver of plastic they have the nerve to call a tab to get the thing open. Just as I was about to give up and fire up the chain saw, I managed to peel back just enough to get hold of. Ah, ha! Then, I carefully started to peel the seal off, and . . . it wouldn’t budge. Now, here you have to be vewwy careful because, if you grip the pudding cup too hard and apply too much pressure as you are trying to peel the seal back, the chocolate pudding will get propelled into the air and end up on the kitchen ceiling, on the countertop, in your hair, in the crevices around the buttons on the blender, and in the slots on the toaster. Oh, look! A chocolate rainbow! About this time, my husband walked into the kitchen, took one look at what I was doing and said, “First, you have to be smarter than the pudding cup.” If chocolate wasn’t such a precious commodity, I would have squirted chocolate pudding directly into his frog eye.

Speaking of chocolate, I think I have some Valentine’s Day candy left. I’m exhausted. Must be low blood sugar. Candy first, then a nap. And, FYI, in dog chocolates, I’ve only had three.

Maybe, just maybe, I shouldn't have chocolate for breakfast tomorrow.

{Sigh} "I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day." Scarlett O'Hara

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Love . . . and Cooties

Valentine’s Day is coming up. So, I thought a love story would be appropriate right about now. To say that my husband and I have an unusual “how we met” story is a bit of an understatement. I’m not sure you’ll even believe it, but this is how it happened.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away there lived a single mom, me. I spent my days working, taking care of my son, and working on my house. I can’t believe that all fits into one sentence. Just doesn’t do the actual doing of it all justice. It was sometimes difficult, but we were happy, and that was more than enough for me. It had been just the two of us for six years, and I had absolutely no intention of changing anything. Plus, I had great friends and a supportive family. My life was complete.

Okay, sure, I did the whole dating thing for a while after my divorce, but that was a nightmare. I had long since decided to declare my re-entry into the dating scene a disaster and rope it off with crime scene tape and orange barrels. Nothing to see here, folks, move along!

My favorite saying was “I do not need a man in my life. I have enough to deal with as it is. Who needs that extra aggravation?”

I even decided that going to Happy Hour was more than I wanted to deal with because it’s illegal to ban men from them. Any Happy Hour is gonna have two types of men (1) the married ones and (2) the single ones. And I was not a fan of either.

When anyone asked if I ever intended to get married again, I would say, “If God wants me to find a man, He’s gonna have to throw him down right in front of me, because I’m not looking!”

When my son turned seven, he started saying things like, “Mom, why don’t you get a boyfriend?” And “Mom, I really think you need a boyfriend.”

Even my boss, a MAN, felt compelled to add his two cents. He said, “Brenda, you’re a good ol’ gal. It’s just too bad there’s no demand for good ol’ gals.”

Yeah, he got the stink eye for a week for that crack. But things were rockin’ along fine, so who cares, right?

When are you people gonna get it? I don’t need no stinkin’ boyfriend!

Then, from out of nowhere, I started having a dream. In this dream, there was a *gasp* man! I never could see his face clearly, but he was definitely wearing an Air Force uniform and somehow I knew he had blue eyes. It was a wonderful dream. A dream of falling head over heels in love. A feeling like no other. Over time, the dream evolved, and there were scenes of a wedding and even a honeymoon in the mountains. I rarely remember dreams, but these I remembered vividly. And they were really starting to bug me.

We did live in a town with an air force base. Guys in uniform were everywhere. So, I kept telling myself it was just a ridiculous, nonsense dream. But, when the base had an open house, I decided to hedge my bets, and I dragged a friend out there with me at 6:30am on a Saturday morning. Nothing.

Well, of course not, I told myself. What were you thinking anyway? Stop it! That kind of stuff only happens in dreams and romantic comedies. Besides, SELF, we don’t need some silly man mucking everything up. Get. A. Grip.

A couple of months later, my friend, Cathy, called and said her son was away on a sleep-over and, since mine was with his dad that weekend, we should go out and have a drink somewhere. Maybe listen to some music. Girls’ night out. I resisted. I REALLY didn’t want to go. But she just kept on and on about it until I said, “Okay, okay, I give! Maybe just one drink.”

We ended up going to a small club neither of us had been to before. It was nice. Decent music. We ordered a drink and started talking. There was a dance floor, and people were starting to dance. I had no intention of dancing. That’s just asking for trouble, because then they want to come sit at your table, or they start sending over drinks, and it’s just a whole thing I didn’t want to deal with AT ALL.

Oh, no. Here comes somebody now, headed straight for me. I really don’t want to hurt his feelings. Yep, sure enough, he’s asking me to dance. He looks like a nice enough guy, but . . . I opened my mouth to say, “No, thank you,” and I heard myself say, “Sure!” WHAT did I just say?! Well, there was no graceful way to get out of it, so I danced with him. Hmmmmm He does a decent two-step, not drunk, polite, cute. Okay, it could definitely be worse.

After the dance, he walked me back to my table and, right on cue, asked if he could sit down. Again, I started to say something along the lines of “ve vant to be alone!” Instead, what came out was “Okay!” WHAT is going on here?

There were introductions all around, and we started to talk. The usual chit-chat. At some point, I asked him what he did. He said he was in the Air Force. I looked at Cathy and she looked at me. Well, men have been known to lie about these things, so I told him to prove it. Naturally, he was a little surprised, but he took out his wallet, pulled out his military ID, and handed it to me. Rats! It’s too dark in here to be certain, but I’m pretty sure it says his eyes are BLUE! Are you kidding me?!!!

“Uh, excuse us for a minute. We’ll be right back!”

I grabbed Cathy and unceremoniously dragged her into the girls’ room.

“You don’t seriously think this is the guy I’ve been dreaming about, do you?! That’s just nuts! It can’t be! Can it?!”

I don’t really remember the rest of that conversation. I do seem to remember that Cathy was incredibly calm about the whole thing. Well, when she wasn’t laughing, that is. I definitely remember laughing. It was almost as if, in an instant, we both knew this was the man of my dreams.

Shortly after we got back to the table, Cathy said she was going home. Ordinarily, I would have been out the door with her. I mean this guy she was leaving me with was a complete stranger. But it all felt so normal, like we just knew this was someone we could trust. Like it was a done deal.

But, of course, it was a done deal. I have absolutely no doubt there was Divine Intervention here. In my state of mind at the time, I never would have slowed down long enough to look at this man if not for those dreams. God knew exactly how to get my attention. And then He set him down right in front me.

Yes, he was and still is the man of my dreams. Six days after we met, he proposed to me. Nope, that’s not a typo. It was six days. Not quite three months later, we got married. Less than six months after that, the Air Force sent us to Sardinia, Italy.

And, here we are, 20 years later, still standing. And he still tells me “Happy Anniversary” every year on the anniversary of the day we met, and on the anniversary of the day he proposed to me and, of course, on the anniversary of our wedding. (He is actually much better at the romantic stuff than I am.) He still surprises me with flowers and cards and little things that made him think of me, for no reason at all or because he knows I’ve had a bad day. He still makes me laugh, even when it’s some of the same old schtick I’ve heard a brazillion times before. He thinks he’s the funny one, and I suppose there’s no harm in letting him believe that, right? {Wink} He says I’m the goofy one – with cooties. Okay, so he’s a little funny.

Don’t ever doubt that dreams can come true. You never know who or what is just around the corner . . . And I don't have cooties!

Happy Valentine’s Day, Honey!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Super Bowl: Let the Trash-Talk Begin

So, it’s the Colts and the Saints in the Super Bowl. Am I allowed to write that? Don’t wanna be accused of copyright or trademark infringement or whatever. I won’t tell if you won’t. Remember, no one likes a tattletale.

So here’s the thing. I am a Colts’ fan. Recently converted. I started life as a Dallas Cowboys’ fan. That’s just the way it was where I grew up. Everyone in the territory was a Cowboys’ fan. From a very early age, I remember watching the Cowboys play. Well, actually, what I remember best is watching my dad watch the Cowboys play. That was a show unto itself. The yelling, the pounding of the recliner armrest, the jumping up and down. The Cowboys and my dad were always excellent entertainment. By osmosis, I learned about football and who was good and who wasn’t and who needed a swift kick in the behind. Or words to that effect. Insert your own adjectives.

A few years on, I became shall we say “disenchanted” with the Cowboys and I pretty much lost interest. (Sorry, Dad. I know that pains you. I just felt it was time to come clean.)

A few years later, I married someone from Indiana and, naturally, he is a Colts’ fan. Okay, whatever. Didn’t really matter much to me. For a long time, his monologues about the Colts and some guy named Manning were just so much background noise. Nod your head, say “really?” and “uh huh” in the right places and they will eventually move on to another subject. Until he started trash-talking the Cowboys. Must be in my DNA, because I caught myself jumping to their defense. I also realized that a mixed marriage such as ours can get tricky during the play-offs. Watching certain football games together was completely out of the question.

All this time, the Colts’ paraphernalia continued to pile up around here. Hats, jerseys, sweatshirts, sweatpants, t-shirts, shoes, a watch, a mug, a paperweight, a stuffed monkey, a helmet, etc. I did put my foot down on getting that Colts’ license plate though. I drive that car too. I had one Dallas Cowboys’ sweatshirt, and he scowled when I wore that. Which, of course, I sometimes did just to aggravate him. He’s so easy.

I can’t put my finger on exactly when it happened but, somewhere along the line, I “noticed” Peyton Manning. Hey, he’s kinda cute isn’t he? What can I say? I’m a girl. Besides that, when I started paying attention to him, I realized he is a really good guy, and he is a fantastic quarterback. Cute – check. Nice guy – check. Talented athlete – check. Well, that does it for me. Okay, I’m in.

My husband is so proud. Dad, not so much. I have to admit I’m secretly (well, not so secretly now, I guess) relieved that it’s not the Cowboys and the Colts in the Super Bowl this year. Talk about dodging a bullet. More like dodging a Scud missile.

We (my husband and I) did hit a bit of a rough patch a couple of years back. Hubby zeroed right in on the fact that when I watched a game with him, the Colts didn’t do nearly as well as when I DIDN’T watch. He began to think it was possible I was a jinx. Natch. He never said that in so many words, but he did start going elsewhere to watch the games. And I would have to promise not to watch them by myself. Or maybe it was because I tend to be a . . . uh . . . noisier fan? Once a cheerleader, always a cheerleader. Besides, my dad taught me early on that fan input is vital. They need our guidance. And you have to be loud. Otherwise, how are they gonna hear you? Duh.

And then there was the whole “lucky underwear” incident. I have to make certain I have washed and dried them and they are ready to wear before game time. Whatever makes you happy, honey. Sometimes you just have to humor them. {Sigh}

Even though the Cowboys are not in the Super Bowl, the Colts are, so the trash-talking emails have been flying back and forth this week between certain let’s-poke-the-bear family members and my husband. He crows and cackles (yes, he cackles) whenever he gets one of those and, even though he rarely emails anyone, he jumps on those and emails right back.

I am more than happy to stay out of this fracas. Of course, I started the whole thing by deflecting the trash-talk emails and blaming him >>>>>> for my conversion. Yes, fingers were pointed. Big foam ones. If you are from a football family, you will totally understand. If not, what are YOU doing for fun this week? Yes, I am cackling. They are so easy.


"The reason women don't play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public.”
~ Phyllis Diller (comedienne)

"I have seen women walk right past a TV set with a football game on and - this always amazes me - not stop to watch, even if the TV is showing replays of what we call a "good hit," which is a tackle that causes at least one major internal organ to actually fly out of a player's body."
~ Dave Barry (humorist)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Curmudgeon vs. Wile E. Coyote, et al

When I sat down to write this, the word “curmudgeon” sprang to mind, but I don’t know why. Is it curmudgeonly to want a little cotton-pickin’ PEACE and QUIET?!! Well, you can be the judge. I submit to you the evidence:

One day after moving to this serene-looking small town situated in a valley with mountains just behind it (see picture above), there I was happily (well, maybe that’s not exactly the right word) unpacking. I had just been thinking to myself how quiet it is here when, out of the clear blue sky, there was an ear-shattering BOOM! It was of a decibel level that literally made the window panes vibrate, along with every bone in my body. At that exact moment, I was taking dishes out of a box, so I spent the next few seconds discovering my inner juggler with a couple of bowls.

Then, like any normal person, I ran outside to see what I could see, and there was - nothing. No smoke, no fire, no sirens going off, nothing. I looked around the neighborhood to see if anyone else had come outside, and all I saw was a pick-up down the street with the hood up and four men draped over the front-end peering into the inner workings. You know, the typical four-man repair job scenario. Not one of them so much as looked up.

After standing in the driveway for a couple of minutes, it dawned on me that I might not want to call attention to myself that way since, apparently, no one else had heard what I heard. Don’t want to appear crazy to my new neighbors. Especially in a small town. Word gets around. So, I took one last furtive look toward the sky, nonchalantly checked the mailbox (yeah, that’s what I came out here for), and went back in the house.

Not ten minutes later, there was another BOOM! Again, the window panes rattled, and dishes got tossed into the air. I congratulated myself for making yet another spectacular save, and then went to peek through the blinds and check the neighborhood. A second trip outside to stand in the driveway and do a rendition of "The Sky is Falling!" didn't seem like a good idea. But, again, there was nothing. The four-man crew had changed positions and their stylish ensembles were now accessorized with beer cans, but they were all still poking around in the guts of the pick-up as if nothing had happened.

I’m thinking, “This is nuts! I know I heard that, and they had to hear it too. Why am I the only one running in circles?!”

Since we had just moved in, I had no internet service or cable yet. So I didn’t have many options for trying to figure out what the heck was going on, after discarding the idea that I was well and truly losing my damn mind. Should I approach the pick-up guys and ask them? No. Again - small town!

Just as the opening strains of “The Twilight Zone” started to play in my head, I suddenly had a dim memory of a small article I had read online before we moved here. I searched my scrambled and battered brain cells and recalled something about some kind of explosives research and training facility here which trains first responders. For some reason, at the time I read this article, I failed to comprehend and fully appreciate the fact the training area is just right over there behind that mountain. But, whatcha gonna do? Exactly. Live with it. (Groan)

Now, after almost five years of living here, most days I don’t really even notice the occasional small boom. But there are days, like today, when I want to throttle every boy and girl out there playing Wile E. Coyote. eeeeeeeeeeeddddddddd Sorry about that. Just a little jumpy. They’ve been at it since 8:00 this morning, and the BOOMS have been coming fast and furious all day. About three times an hour, sometimes more. ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;geeeeeeeeeee Okay, that was only a couple of minutes, kids! Please report to recess for cookies and milk NOW!

Oh, yeah, we're havin' some fun now.

You wanna know what's really fun? When you’re painting a baseboard and BOOM!

Or stirring some tomato soup and BOOM!

Or pouring a cup of coffee and BOOM!

Or sewing a button back on a shirt and BOOM!

Or, my personal favorite, when you're putting on your eyeliner and BOOM!

You get the idea . . . Blood, sweat, and tears, a crazy (yet oddly artistic?) swath of paint across the wall, tomato soup-stained clothes, a scalded hand, a pierced finger, and a frog eye.

I’m tellin’ ya, if we ever come under attack here, we won’t even know it. Everyone in town will simply go about their normal business, and all the men will say, “Wow! That was a GOOD one!" Or words to that effect.

Curmudgeon? I think not. And today would not be a good day to argue with me. I’m just sayin’ . . .

P.S. Wish me luck – I’m off to the lab to get my blood drawn. *Shudder* Yeah, nice. Yuck it up. One word – karma.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's Up with Your Thyroid?

Not to be a total downer, but January is Thyroid Awareness Month. FREEZE! Back away from the mouse. This is important stuff. I wish, wish, wish someone had told me 20 years ago what I’m about to tell you. Just bear with me, and I’ll try not to make this as dry as last week’s meatloaf.

Full disclosure here: I’m not even an expert on my own thyroid, much less yours, but awareness is what we’re shooting for this month, because there are many people with undiagnosed thyroid conditions who are suffering needlessly.

So, what is it? The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the lower part of the front of the neck.

What does it do? The thyroid’s main job is to produce thyroid hormone, which act as tiny little messengers telling different body parts what to do. Thyroid hormones assist in making energy, regulating your weight, temperature and emotions, among other things.

It is a sad fact that millions of people have undiagnosed thyroid conditions and diseases. So, if you have never had a thyroid work-up or it’s been a while, GET ONE! No need to panic, because this doesn’t involve tubes up the wa-hoo or any other invasion of your private tidbits. Basic screening for thyroid problems is nothing more than a clinical evaluation performed by your doctor or other healthcare professional and simple blood tests.

Also, screening for thyroid problems on a fairly regular basis is important whether you are having any of the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction or not. (See below) I had none of the typical symptoms when I was diagnosed, and my thyroid was sputtering worse than the ’62 VW bug I had in high school. If not for a super sharp nurse practitioner who had the sense to order a complete thyroid panel at an annual poke and gouge session, I have no doubt things would have gotten pretty ugly pretty fast.

And, I cannot stress this enough, thyroid issues do not discriminate. They can occur at any age and, while they seem to affect women more often than men, men can also have them.

I know some doctors routinely order basic thyroid testing at annual physicals, but most do not. It is your body and your health, so don’t be afraid to say you want this testing done. Women, in particular, tend to get told they are stressed or depressed and are not taken seriously. Given that the thyroid directly impacts emotions and weight, which women tend to struggle with more than men, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that doctors tend to dismiss our symptoms. Our best line of defense it to become armed and dangerous with knowledge and learn to stand up for ourselves.

Personally, I can’t count the number of times, even after I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, that my doctors did not listen to me and just wanted to give me a prescription for anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds, when I knew darned good and well it was my whacked-out thyroid. If they try to blow you off, be polite but firm. I have found this usually works, although I have had to fire a couple of doctors for being stupid-heads. Bottom line, if your doctor will not listen to you, FIND ANOTHER ONE. Actually, when my former doctor asked if anything was stressing me out, I said, “Yes! YOU are!” What can I say? Some days I’m more Southern Belle and some days I’m more Steel Magnolia . . . Notice I say he is my “former” doctor.

Anyway, with all that in mind, I want to do my part to stamp out thyroid ignorance and give a very BASIC overview of the most common thyroid conditions and diseases, because there is a very good chance you or someone you know has a dysfunctional thyroid. And, since the thyroid is a command center for the body, it demands a lot more respect than most people, including some doctors, give it.

Thyroid conditions:

Hypothyroidism: When the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone, it is said to be underactive. List of risk factors and symptoms:

Hyperthyroidism: When the thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormone, it is said to be overactive. List of risk factors and symptoms:

Autoimmune thyroid diseases – NOT to be confused with immune deficiency diseases

Hashimoto’s: Antibodies form which attack and destroy the thyroid and disrupt and slow its function. Basically, your immune system has somehow (no one understands how) taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and sees your thyroid as something bad, like an invading bacteria. It is possible to have Hashimoto’s and not be hypothyroid (underactive thyroid). In my case, I had a goiter (an enlarged thyroid) for 15 years before I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. I believe I had undiagnosed Hashimoto’s for years and eventually my thyroid was destroyed to the point where it was not producing enough thyroid hormones, and I developed hypothyroidism.

Some doctors believe treating Hashimoto’s with thyroid hormones, even when they test within the so-called normal range, can slow down or stop the progression of Hashimoto’s. If I had been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and treated early on, it is possible I would never have developed hypothyroidism and my thyroid would be in much better shape now. Too late for me, but maybe it’s not for you. Just sayin’ . . .

More info on Hashimoto’s:

Graves Disease: The immune system attacks the thyroid and overstimulates it, causing symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Symptoms and additional info:

So, on to testing:
Here is a list of what the clinical evaluation should include and a list of blood tests:

Now, don’t get overwhelmed here, because the list of thyroid blood tests is quite lengthy. Tests should be ordered based on the results of the clinical evaluation and any symptoms you may be having. Generally, the basics are ordered including: TSH, Free T4 and Free T3.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Currently, there is some controversy among doctors about the appropriate “normal” range of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone a/k/a TSH. Even though, as of 2003, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommended the normal range for TSH run from 0.3 to 3.0, some doctors and labs are still using the older range of 0.5 to 5.5. According to the new standards, levels above 3.0 are evidence of possible hypothyroidism, and levels below 0.3 are evidence of possible hyperthyroidism.

If you have an enlarged thyroid, known as a goiter, I would insist on the Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) Antibodies testing. Like I said before, if this test had been performed when my goiter was first discovered, it is possible I could have been treated and been spared a lot of grief later.

If, for some mysterious reason, your doctor will not order a thyroid panel or, if you simply prefer to order your own, there are resources: (Please review your results with a healthcare professional.)

Personally, I hit the trifecta (or is that thyfecta?) of thyroid dysfunction - I have hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, and a multi-nodular goiter. A multi-nodular goiter is quite common with Hashimoto’s. The last ultrasound of my thyroid more closely resembled a lump of Play-Doh someone walked on with cleats, rather than the serene little butterfly it’s supposed to look like.

Finally, remember you are more than a lab number. Ideally, your doctor will be just as interested, if not more so, in whatever symptoms you are having than your test numbers. I have been extremely lucky to have found a doctor who not only listens to me, but gives me credit for having two brain cells that fire simultaneously. Whenever I see him, he always asks me first how I am feeling, and he looks directly at me and listens to what I say. Not once has he told me it was all in my head or I was just stressed out or “Well, you know, you ARE getting older.” Don’t you hate that one? We have worked together to determine the appropriate treatments and medications that work for me, and I trust him. As a result, I am feeling better now than I have in years. He has truly been an answer to a prayer. And, yes, I have told him that.

So, don’t be scared. Get tested! Please.

For more information on these and other thyroid issues, forums, and tremendous support (which has saved my sanity more than once), check out these sites:

Wishing you Happy Thyroid Trails!