Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Joys of Modern Medical Technology

Yesterday was a blast! (Wink.  Wink.)  I got to spend almost five hours at Chicago's Northwestern Hospital either undergoing a test or waiting for a test to begin.

It couldn't have been a more perfect day to hang out inside a hospital.  Outside, a blistery rain fell without pause, clouds turned mid-afternoon into sunset, and the media went bonkers as only the media can with warnings about the first blizzard of the year.  I even wore my snow boots in case I had to trudge through a foot of snow.

I've trudged through two grand mal seizures in my life, the first more than twenty years ago and the second in 1998.  No one could figure out what caused my brain to go haywire the first time around.  I was under a lot of stress (separated from my husband and considering a solo move across the country).  Still, I'd been emotionally stretched to my limits before and never ended up on the floor, unconscious, flailing about like a live fish out of water.

The cause of the second seizure was a no brainer, you should pardon the expression.  My dear Dr. Rovner switched my anti-seizure medication because I apparently didn't need such a strong one that, among its many drawbacks, was hard on the liver.  I adjusted easily to Neurontin and thought I'd won the lottery until about eight months later when my husband (Yep, I kept him) found me unconscious AGAIN on the bedroom floor.  The force of the seizure catapulted me out of bed during my sleep.

"Does she have any of the old medicine?" Dr. Rover asked my husband.  "If she does, have her eat a piece of toast and then take a few pills with water.  And get her to the hospital as soon as you can."

I was shaken, afraid, and unable to drive.  Every little ping in my head sent me into a near panic attack. One Saturday not long after the second seizure, I darted out of a Pier One with my husband fast on my heels.

"I'm going to have another one," I said.  "I just know it."

My husband led me to the car, opened the door, and had me sit down, my head between my knees.

"Just breathe," he said.  "You're going to be just fine.  It's all in your head."

"Very funny," I mumbled.

I was fine and have been ever since.  Well, not exactly.  I've been seizure free, but my old/current medication has been shown to decrease bone density, lower libido, possibly ruin gums.  And wouldn't you know it?  I'm standing on the precipice of osteoporosis about a sliver away.  My readings used to be off the charts in the "right" direction.  But they ain't anymore.  And my libido?  Well, I'll leave that up to your imagination.  Have a ball!

So, after much thought and consultation, I've decided to bite the bullet and switch to yet a third medication that promises to prevent seizures while at least not lowering my bone density any further and actually improving my libido.  (I'll believe that one when I feel it.)

Thus, the reason why I spent yesterday afternoon having first an EEG and then an MRI.  My new neurologist wants to make sure that there isn't anything funny going on in that brain of mine that would dictate another plan of action.

My memories of EEGs past were not particularly pleasant.  Flashing lights, electrodes hooked up to head and chest, hyperventilating --- all in the name, I guess, of seeing if they could coax another seizure out of me.  Thank God, they didn't. 

Today, because I hadn't had a seizure in what seemed like forever, I determined not to be bothered.  But the hyperventilating bit got old fast, my mouth felt dry, my lips cracked.  And then the aftermath of trying to use a wash cloth with warm water to dissolve all the goop the technician had used to hold the electrodes onto my head left me looking more like Phyllis Diller before she had all that plastic surgery and a new hair stylist.

The MRI with all the banging and jackhammer sounds that even a good pair of ear plugs couldn't muffle got to me in the end.  At first, I greeted each new sound as part of an orchestral piece or the music for a new dance number.  But with only 4 minutes to go, the sound I initially heard as a boat whistle turned into a frantic bong that penetrated my head like rock concert speakers on steroids. 

And then it was over, and I was free to get dressed and go home.  Just like that.  Now, don't get me wrong.  As far as tests go, I know these two are no biggies.  And, unlike some of the people in the waiting room who were suffering from potential diseases  - maybe on pins and needles waiting and praying that a cancerous tumor had shrunk or an artery in the brain had been repaired - I was one of the lucky ones.

For that, I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Horror of Skinny Pants

Am I the only woman on the planet Earth whose legs look nothing like this?

I doubt it, yet it seems as if every clothing designer this side of Mars has decided that enough women have skinny legs  to warrant manufacturing skin tight pants galore, leaving the rest of us poor slobs to don painter's pants or bell bottoms from the 1970s.

I've been to a half dozen stores looking for pants.  Now, I'm not stupid.  There are many pants that, upon a quick glance, are clearly too damn small.  But there have been others that showed promise.  Still, I've wiggled and tugged and considered using scissors to open leg seams to no avail.  Not one pair fit.

Okay, so you're thinking:  This woman must be large.

A tad overweight . . . Maybe.  But fat?  No way.  In the other world I used to inhabit, I routinely wore a size 8 or 10.

Is this yet another fashion conspiracy like 6" stiletto heels?  Bulky shoulder pads?  Humungous purses that throw off a woman's back alignment and send thousands to a chiropractor for treatment?

I hear rumbling from some out there about spending more time at the gym or settling for sweats that come in sizes to fit even the largest of us.

That's just not fair:  Most of the women I know DO exercise regularly and, if they don't, many were blessed with skinny legs.  (Damn them!)  And no one disagrees that sweats are comfy and cozy and all of that.  But there are times when we want to look a bit more presentable, even sexy.

Of course, there's the possibility that this is all about age.  Women over 50 are supposed to suck it up and cover up.  They shouldn't be wearing pants in the first place.  Maybe wide skirts that hang to the floor?  Housecoats?  Moo Moos?  Tents? Birkas?

Phooey!  Hollywood icons like Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and then Katharine Hepburn set the stage by wearing trousers in public well past their movie star prime.

“I dress for myself," Dietrich said.  "Not for the image, not for the public, not for the fashion, not for men.” She was a habitual wearer of loose trousers, and managed to look effortlessly striking.

Loose.  Hear that all you fashion designers out there who have collectively squashed the modicum of positive body image I and many others have salvaged? 

I can only hope that this skinny pant thing is one of those passing fads like hot pants, go-go boots, and culottes.  May they find their way to the vintage store or, better yet, in the garbage.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins had my number today in her piece titled "The Last Election List."  As far as I'm concerned, her fourth item on the checklist following fretting or not fretting about the electoral college and Donald Trump's "worst tweet of the election season" said it all:

4) Stop obsessively checking the polls.

"This has been going on way too long. Stop torturing yourself! Whatever Colorado is going to do, it’ll do it on Tuesday. Clean the basement. Read a novel. Consider purchasing a new pet. If it’s an Irish setter, you can name it Seamus."

Well, buying a new pet isn't on my list.  I have two Maine Coons, thank you.  Who wants to walk a dog?

But this obsessive checking of polls?  I'm guilty as charged.  I shudder to think how many times over the last few months I've logged on to the Huffington Post and, more recently, to Nate Silver's  "Five Thirty Eight" blog in the New York Times to check to see which states are leaning which way and the percentage point calculations.  All I do is type in "N" for Nate in my search bar, and Google takes me where I want to go.

And talk about obsessive!  It's not out of the question that I might check these sites multiple times a day, sometimes within an hour of the last check.  I'm like a woman on diet pills who steps on the scale to see if she's lost or gained an ounce after drinking a glass of water.

Enough is enough.  Collins is right: No amount of obsessing is going to change the electoral map or the final popular vote.  I did my part, donated money and time, and voted early this Monday. 

So I took Collins' advice and got a life:  Instead of obsessively checking the polls, I obsessively cleaned out the garage in preparation for winter, put the remainder of my garden "to bed," and stood on a ladder and finally cleaned the two ceiling fans with blades covered in many months' worth of dirt and grime. 

If only the election were tomorrow . . .

Friday, November 2, 2012

Moving Forward

Yep, that's what I'm gonna' do:  I'm moving forward.  That's what the Dems have told me to do, so who am I to disagree?  "Sweet dreams are made of this."

And sweet dreams are made of following our passion and doing in life exactly what we want to do.  Yeah, I know.  A lot easier said than done.  And believe me, these last couple of months during the 2012 election have put folks like me in super stress mode.  I'm lucky if I just make it through the day.

But enough is enough.  I'm moving forward.

And this time, I'm exploring a new career as one of those creative types who uses audio to "paint" stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  I've wanted to produce audio documentaries for the longest time.  And I've made small efforts to get my show on the road.  But something always got in the way, whether it was my age or money or just not making the right connections.

This time is different.  It's different because I just spent almost $500 on equipment.  So no wimping out, no turning back. 

As a writer, I know how to write a story.  But there are so many times when I've wanted to "hear" the story . . . to hear exactly what someone sounds like, to embellish the story with music and ambient sound, to hear when someone gasps or hems and haws or even cries. 

So, now I'm entering the world of microphones, tape recorders, headsets, computer editing programs, and who knows what else.  I'm not a techie by any means.  But I own enough Apple products to open a mini-mart, and I actually know how to use all these gadgets we can no longer live without.

Sure, I'll face times when I'll press the wrong button and stop recording right in the middle of the most important thing the interviewee has ever said.  I'll get tripped up in all the damn audio lines and land on my face.  And I'll probably be disappointed in my initial effort.

But the challenge of learning something new and of finally pursuing a passion I've put on the back shelf for far too long will compensate for the ups and downs along the way.

Scientists long ago proved that perhaps the best hedge against the pitfalls of aging is to keep our minds (and bodies) active by learning something new - something that excites us, makes us happy, gets our minds and our hearts moving full speed ahead.

Moving forward.  Amen to that!



Monday, October 15, 2012

My Short Life as a Book Reviewer


 I'm an avid reader, so it made perfect sense to combine my passion for books with my love of writing.

     Now, one can't just be a paid book reviewer: Someone has to hire you.  So, I saw a job post for just such a job and applied.

     That was in January.  Lo and behold, unlike most online applications that have a way of being lost in the ethernet, I got a response that asked me to read the magazine's guidelines for reviews and then write one.

     I took the challenge and wrote what I thought was a damn good review.

     It wasn't the first time that I apparently overestimated the value of my work.  I never heard from the contact again, despite several attempts to reestablish communication.

     But I kept at it and eventually went on LinkedIn and looked up this guy who held my not-yet-begun book reviewing career in his hands.  I discovered that he'd been promoted and was no longer in charge of hiring freelancers.

     Sly as a some of the politicians running for election this year, I searched the company directory for his replacement and emailed her.  She was quick to respond and asked me to write another review.

     Damn!  All that work on the first review down the drain.  But I wasn't particularly busy with other compelling work, so I wrote a second review.

     Bingo!  She liked it.  Well, she liked enough of it to give me a chance to revise.  And then a second opportunity to tweak just a tad more.

     My workhorse ethic paid off . . . well, "paid off" may be stretching it.  I did get the gig and am getting paid, but paid so little that, if I weren't set on becoming the next Michiko Kakutani or the more lively sometimes critic Maureen Dowd, I'd have told my new editor that the fee equaled that of what I made back in the 1980s and that I couldn't possibly regress that far.

    So, how am I enjoying my abbreviated new career?  Hmmm . . . Let's put it this way: I now appreciate my skills as a writer more than ever before.  In fact, all things being equal, I may be up for a Pulitzer one of these days.  There are some really bad writers out there and, so far, I seem to have been assigned only their books.  I won't burn my bridges by citing any names.  You'll have to take my word for it. 

     Then why not take the money I've earned, dine at a medium-priced restaurant, and call it quits?  While the reading is painful, writing a concise 350-word review that graciously pans a book forces me to be exact, illustrative, and even clever. 

     For a wind bag, that's a skill worth learning!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012



The last time I visited the small clapboard house in Yellow Springs, my father lay partially paralyzed in the same bed where my mother had died just three plus weeks before.  It took him over a week to finally leave this world.

That house held nothing but bad memories.  It was easy not to return.

But my sister -- my only sister -- lives just ten minutes or so away, and I hadn't seen her since my parents died four years ago.

Sure, we talked on the phone and exchanged emails.  But not to spend quality in-person time together seemed wrong.  I missed her.  

She owns horses and oversees a 96-acre property that demands constant care and attention.  If we were going to see each other, it was up to me.  So, I loaded up the car and drove the six plus hours from my home to Yellow Springs.

I walked slowly up the path to the front porch of my parents' home.  I "saw" my mother sitting there, holding an Obama For President sign. 

Now the porch seemed eerily empty with weeds and vines crawling up its sides.  I paused to catch my breath.

I opened the door, took my shoes off as was the custom, and tiptoed into the kitchen, half hoping that I'd find my mother preparing lunch or cleaning up.  There wasn't a sound save for my quiet sobs.  Nervous, I walked into the bedroom where my parents had died.  Instead of a dark room with curtains drawn, I was greeted with light streaming in the circular glass addition and prisms bouncing off of the stained glass windows my mother had made but hadn't had time to hang.  My sister had rearranged the furniture, and all that remained in the atrium was an oak rocking chair.

I sat down in the chair, closed my eyes, and rocked slowly back and forth, breathing more slowly now.  I could imagine shades of purple floating above my head,  My mother loved the color purple.

"How do you feel?" my sister whispered.

"Better.  Much better."

Thursday, August 23, 2012


 My name is Jane, and I'm a political junkie.

I am powerless over my addiction.

I pledge to take it one day at a time and turn my addiction over to a higher power.

Well . . . not exactly.  That approach hasn't worked for me.  No, I'm going to pull myself out of this morass by my own bootstraps and lick this thing, no matter what.

Today is the first day . . .

It's 7:24 a.m., and I've already sneaked a peek at the Huffington Post headlines on my iPad.  The pull to check out the New York Times is overwhelming.  But I'm not going to do it.  No, I'm going to shut down my iPad this minute.

But then there's my iMac.  I should have turned it off last night.  But I didn't.  Now my home page shouts out the major headlines from the same NYT.  I try to quickly click on another link but catch the words Clinton and ad before the new page loads.  And as hard as I try not to go back and find out exactly what Clinton and ad are all about, I can't resist.

I am powerless over my addiction.

Last week, I hit the proverbial "bottom."  That's when a judge in Pennsylvania upheld the new Voter ID law, a law similar to those passed in multiple other states since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. 

I started to shake.  My stomach was in knots.  The banging in my head felt like a marching band had taken up residence.  I needed a fix, but what?  Another news story about all the millions of dollars being spent by PACs that don't have to declare its contributors?  The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt's VP choice?  The complete failure of the Congress to get any work done?  

I turned off the TV, closed down all the computers in the house, tossed the newspaper and recent copy of Newsweek.  I would have no more of it.  I knew withdrawal would test every bit of fortitude I could muster and a lot of luck, but I was sure I was ready.  Nothing could stop me from breaking my habit.  I was going to be clean of all the political chatter and acrimony and sinister ploys that even the best fiction writer could never imagine.  I would detox from all the angst running through my veins.  I would be free of this demon that had taken over my life.

Who was I kidding?

Once a political junkie, always a political junkie.

But there is one ray of hope:  I used to be a diehard Chicago Cubs' fan.  I lived within earshot of Wrigley Field and, when the wind was blowing from east to west, I could hear strains of the national anthem, "Take Me Out to The Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch, and cheers when the Cubbies scored a run.

Well, we all know that the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908.  Their record has been abysmal now for years.  I haven't watched a game in I don't know how long.  I have no idea the names of the current roster and, though I've heard that they are in or near the cellar again this year, I couldn't repeat their win/loss record if you put a gun to my head.

I kicked the Chicago Cubs' habit.  Maybe, just maybe, I can do the same with politics . . . well, maybe after November 6.


Friday, August 10, 2012

"Strong Is The New Beautiful"


I hear tell that "Strong is the new beautiful."  The media put out the decree sometime after the women gymnasts on Team USA landed the coveted all-around and team gold medals in the Summer Olympics about to come to a close.  Apparently, young girls all over the world want to grow up to be athletic, proud, and, yes, strong.
     Don't get me wrong:  I'm all for celebrating women's strength on the athletic field and off.  But I'm a bit miffed that this apparent transformation took so darn long and, alas, missed a lot of us in the process.
     Back in the day, it wasn't beautiful for women to build muscles, slide across gym floors, or sweat.  Sure, there were girls' sports teams, and I was on several of them.  But no one except a few parents and siblings ever showed up to cheer.  The female gym teacher -- in my case, Miss "D" -- played the role of coach, trainer, and biggest fan all rolled into one.  She may have been strong, but no one thought she was beautiful.  Rumor was she was "butch," but we didn't have a clue what that meant.
     We never heard from weights.  A six pack was the booze our boyfriends bought illegally on the weekends. Still, we swooned when they flexed their biceps or showed off a ripped, twitching chest.  For our part, we wore panty girdles to hide any signs of bulging beef.  Even when we were older and joined a local Vic Tanny, we made it absolutely clear that we didn't want too many muscles to make us look like men.

     Flash forward several decades to 2012.  The Year of the Woman at the Olympics in which, for the first time in history, every country has at least one female athlete.  There are, in fact, more female competitors on Team USA than male.  While the men have won their share of medals, the women have won nearly twice as many.  And there is still a day to go.
     So, all you men out there that like your women soft and cuddly.  Strong is the new beautiful, and you may just be out of luck.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Radioactive Man Is In The House: I Wish I Weren't

Ah, that may sound harsh. But when your beloved is diagnosed with some disease -- in my husband's case, thyroid cancer -- the initial urge is to book a trip to Tahiti, or at least take off for a few days to visit a relative in another state. 

Alan swallowed his dose of radioactive iodine (RAI) yesterday morning.  The stuff can destroy any cancer cells that take up iodine, with little effect on the rest of the body.  While he sat in the hospital for thirty minutes after which a geiger counter was passed over his body to verify that the radioactive stuff was in there and beginning to do its thing (No, I'm not kidding!),  I raced home to finish moving out of "our" bathroom and bedroom, into the guest quarters.

Radioactive iodine is highly contagious and can make everyone except the guy who swallows develop thyroid problems.

I then jumped back into Alan's car (mine doesn't have a back seat where he'd have to sit to "keep his distance") and raced back to the hospital to pick up Radioactive Man.  Just as I approached the entrance to the hospital, I noticed an older man standing by the bus stop.  He was wearing a surgical mask.  Ah, I thought.  This guy must have just gotten out of the hospital and wants to make sure he doesn't pick up any nasty germs that might be floating around.

I looked again.  It was Alan waving at me to pull over.  And that's when I noticed the bright blue plastic surgical gloves he had donned.

What a trooper!  His sense of humor was in tact, even if his thyroid was not. 

To live in the same house without the cats or me getting sick from the highly contagious radiation, we signed off on a set of do's and don'ts that included:
*     No touching for 8 days.
*     For the first 4 days, no more than a few minutes in the same room.
*     Separate bedrooms for 10 days; separate baths for 2 weeks.
*     No contact at all with our two Maine Coon cats for one week.
*     No sharing of food.  And no cooking for each other.  (That's a real killer because Alan is the cook in our house.)
*     Alan is to wear plastic gloves if touching virtually anything.
*     Plastic baggies on all phones, TV remotes, and other shared electronics.

Our kitchen looks like a kosher kitchen, even worse.  Cabinets are labeled with either his name or mine as are alternating shelves and bins in the refrigerator.  "My" spatula and other utensils are on one side of the stove; his are on the other.  Pots and pans are also equally divided.  I cooked my dinner last night, cleaned up, and then vacated the room, closing the door behind me.  Alan then prepared his dinner.  We ate in separate rooms, the cats hanging with me.

I don't know whether it's my cooking or the stress, but I need to drink some camomile tea and curl up for the night.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Caregiver Blues

My husband was the one who was supposed to feel tired, cranky, even depressed.  He was the guy with thyroid cancer who, in preparing for an iodine radiation treatment, had to go cold turkey on his thyroid medication and stick to a low iodine diet that put dairy, almost all salt, soy products, and everything from the sea on the "NO CAN EAT" list.

And that's the easy part.  The real challenge would be the week he'd spend in total isolation, unable to leave the house for anything -- not a few groceries, a book of stamps, a DVD, a movie, an evening with friends.  Nada.

Why?  Because the magic radioactive iodine pill he would swallow would render him . . . well, radioactive.  And being radioactive is not a good thing.  You're a walking mini-Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi.  

So, while Radioactive Man lounges on the new memory foam mattress, I'll sleep on the oldie but goodie that we deposited in the guest bedroom for our infrequent overnight guests.  And while the guy with cooties basks in the whirlpool bath, I'll monkey with the old shower that never turns off completely and runs either too darn hot or much too cold. 

I'd planned on keeping a journal, detailing my husband's slow but steady decline.  We were warned that his skin could get dry and flaky, his hair might fall out, and that his salivary glands might become swollen and painful.

To date, he's doing just fine.  

I'm the one whose had a bad ten days and counting.  I've had the worst backache in recent memory.  My stomach has turned against me, and, with the heat wave that shows no end in sight, I'm glum, if not downright depressed.

What's going on here?

Have my attempts at being "strong" for my husband kicked me in the gut?  Am I that stressed for fear of his health that I put a damper on mine?

Or is this all simply a matter of chance?  I just happened to throw my back out and pick up some little bug along the way.

Something tells me that it's Option #1.  I've got the caretaker blues.  Like all other dips, this one will pass, followed, I'm sure, by a time of calm, quiet, and whole body.  Looking back, I'll remember these couple of weeks as a blip on the radar and a testament to "taking one in the name of love."

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer . . ."
        "Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer" - Nat King Cole

I used to love summer.  Now, not so much.  On days when the temperature climbs into the 90s  -- 30 days so far and counting -- going outside for more than 5 minutes is almost as unbearable as bundling up and facing the elements with a wind chill below 0 degrees.

The grass in my yard has burned to a crisp.  (I know, Californians call this "golden."  I call it piss yellow.)  Too many flowers, particularly those I planted this year, have wilted under the heat and called it quits.  And I'm feeling a bit depressed.  Is there such a thing as having a touch of SADD in July?  Heck, I have a goLite BLU sitting on the floor under my desk.  But the instruction manual says not a word about using it to correct an imbalance in the circadian rhythms in the middle of the summer when there's more sunlight than at any other time of the year.  

It's too hot to take a stroll or ride my bike or picnic with friends.  I don't even hear the little rascals two doors south bouncing on their trampoline or playing soccer.  It's as if a curfew has been declared, and no one dares break it.

Sure, I could head to the beach less than two blocks away for a swim in Lake Michigan.  But that necessitates donning a bathing suit and, well, I think I'd rather stay inside and suffer.  Ditto for accompanying my husband to the local YMCA pool.

I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd look forward to fall with its cooler temperatures and shorter days.  But I've taken to humming "Autumn Leaves" and dreaming of a white Christmas.


Monday, July 2, 2012


They are just days of the year, days in which we celebrate a wedding, the start of a new job, the graduation from some institution of higher learning, or the death of a loved one.

Today is the fourth anniversary of my mother's death.  It hardly seems possible that so much time has passed.  I can still see her lifeless body bathed and adorned in purple silk pajamas laid out on her back, her left eye slightly ajar.  At last, her struggles had ended; mine had just begun.  I scanned her body from head to toe, urging myself to take an indelible photo - an image of her slender fingers still tinged with red nail polish, her thin lips now relaxed for good, her still full head of hair framing high cheek bones, and an aura of . . . if not peace, then of a life well lived, a job well done.

Two nights ago while watching "Real Time With Bill Maher," I got the giggles during one of his "New Rules" segments in which he suggested a host of possible VP running mates for the Mittster:  Rubio, Pawlenty, and some guy from a call center in India.

This is not the guy whose photo appeared on the TV screen, but he'll do

This last choice caught me completely off guard, and I started to giggle.  I couldn't stop.  My husband, who had no idea what was so funny, started giggling with me.  The giggle was contagious.  We were still laughing long after Maher had gone on to his next segment.  I dabbed at the tears dribbling down my face and kept right on.

"I'm channeling my mother," I said in between trying to catch my breath.  "This is the way she giggled.  Remember?"

My husband nodded.

"I loved my mom's giggle.  She could be a toughie, I know.  But when she started to giggle, everything was up for grabs."

I flashed to meals over the years when all hell broke loose.  I remembered a photo of my mother, my cousin, and me at a family reunion.  The three of us are doubled over in laughter, unable to carry on with whatever little entertainment we were presenting.

And here I was, two days before the anniversary of my mother's death, laughing as if she were there with me, sharing a moment of pure abandonment and joy.

So, she's still buzzing around after all.  Not all the time . . . not as often as I'd like.  But here nonetheless.  Here to make me giggle, here to remind me of all the lessons offered and the many lessons learned.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


      The adorable, 31-year-old woman my son is dating called yesterday afternoon and suggested that I write a book about the wisdom I've gained over the past many years and kernels of truth other women - actually, younger women - would gobble up and hopefully apply to their own lives.
       "Have you walked into a bookstore or library lately?" I said.  "There are so many books."
        She didn't get my drift.  "There's always room for one more."
        How could she know about the hoops I jumped through to get my last book published?  All the excitement and disappointment.  Editors who absolutely loved my proposal but had it shot down because I didn't have a Ph.D. in history or a platform with hundreds, if not thousands, of adoring fans who would run right out and buy the book about love and sex in World War II. 
        Ultimately, it came down to either publishing with what had been known as an academic press that offered me less of an advance than I'd garnered on my first book in 1987 or not having the book see the light of day.  Period.  But like my other books, this one called to me, compelled me to write it.  I'd spent too much time, interviewed too many people who shared intimate life details to stuff it all into a folder and save it under "Documents."  No, I'd bite the bullet and hope that maybe good reviews, word of mouth, and media coverage would help sell the book.
         I got all of the above, but sales were weak.  Thanks For The Memories was picked up and reissued in paperback.  But by then I'd lost my mojo and didn't much care. 
         "You're so calm around all the men in your life," the new girlfriend said.
          I laughed.  "If you only knew what it took to get here."
          "That's just it.  We want to know your secrets."
          "Time . . . Years and years.  And lots of drama.  Too much to remember and nothing particularly unique to share."
(See, I just did a quick Google search and came up with a bunch of books dedicated to older women.  And there are many more.)

         "I don't see this book in my future.  I really don't see any new books.  But I'll keep the door slightly ajar because you never know what or who will walk through . . ."
          Ah, a kernel of wisdom offered easily without having to pen a tome.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

I couldn't believe it: The cast of billionaires on ABC's "Shark Tank" all declined to invest in Instant Lifts, these nifty clear adhesives designed to lift sagging arms and thighs and smooth cellulite.  Were they out of their collective mind?  Didn't they realize how many millions of women would give anything to lift and smooth without going under the knife?  And for a fraction of the cost!  These money bags obviously didn't see dollar signs, but I saw taut, youthful arms just in time for all those capped T-shirts and summer blouses.

The day my Instant Arm Lifts arrived, I dashed into the bathroom, pulled off my sweatshirt, and quickly read the instructions.  I placed one hand behind the Lift and slowly peeled the backing off of one half of the Instant Arm.  Oops.  The adhesive stuck to itself and rendered a section more wrinkled than the arm I was trying to smooth.  One down.  Determined, I pulled out a second Lift, peeled off half of the backing, and tried to attach it to the back, underneath side of my arm about half way under my arm pit.  This time, the wind from the open bathroom window blew just strong enough to again force the adhesive to stick to itself.  I was getting nowhere fast.  I opened a third Instant Lift and somehow managed to get it into place and stuck to the underside of my arm.  I removed the second half of the backing and pulled the flabby area of my arm up and toward my shoulder, attaching the second half of the Lift over my shoulder.  But when I pulled on a T-shirt, some of the clear adhesive was sticking out, making me look like an escapee from outpatient surgery.

Frustrated and angry, I sent off an email to the owner of the company, the woman who had made all of this look so fast and easy on TV.  An assistant (probably the only one) emailed me back to say that they would be happy to send me another batch of Instant Lifts and that the owner herself would be happy to give me a personal demonstration.  Why not?  A new mailer full of lifts would be useless if I couldn't attach them correctly, if at all.

The owner and I used Skype and sat in front of our computers, each of us with a new Instant Arm Lift in hand.  She looked so much thinner than she did on "Shark Tank."  I wanted to congratulate her on losing weight but decided instead to focus on her instructions.  I followed her lead and somehow managed to make the thing work.  I thanked her profusely and returned to the bathroom mirror where I proceeded to ruin another two of the contraptions before giving up.  A real arm lift done by a reputable surgeon would set me back somewhere between $6000 and $10,000.  For a brief moment, I considered the possibility but came to my senses when  I realized I could redo my bathroom instead of my arms.

I guess I should have known.  I should have trusted the Sharks.  They knew a bad product when they saw one when all I saw was an easy way to tighten my arms.  So, now it's back to the weights.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I've changed the name of my blog AGAIN to  Sorry about the confusion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Modern-Day Princess (and Prince) and the Pea

Well, in Andersen's fairy tale, there was a prince who wanted to marry a real princess. He traveled the world looking for his princess but had no way of knowing if the young women who claimed to be royalty were indeed his equal. Frustrated and sad, he returned home alone.

Then one night during a terrible storm, there was a knock at the castle (I assume it was a castle) door. Standing there was a sopping wet young woman who claimed she was a princess. She sure didn't look like a princess with her stringy, wet hair and soaking wet clothes.

Okay, thought the old queen. I know just what to do to find out whether this young woman is an imposter or the real deal. The queen went to a guest bedroom (who knows how she decided which one of what must have been dozens), stripped the bed down to the frame, placed a pea on the bottom, and then piled twenty mattresses and twenty elder-down beds (whatever they are) on top. The supposed princess was instructed to relax for the night.

"And how did she sleep?" the old queen asked the next morning.
"Well, not well . . . not well at all."
There was, she said, something hard underneath her all night, and she didn't sleep a wink.

Ah, ha! She must be a princess after all, reasoned the prince and his parents.
"Nobody but a real princess could have such a delicate skin."

The princess and prince were married and, as best we know, they lived happily ever after and never had a mattress issue again.

Well, that's more than I can say for my husband and me. After almost 19 years with the same mattress, we took the plunge and bought a new one. Like Goldilocks who tested three kinds of porridge, three different chairs, and three different beds, we lay on almost every mattress in the store.

"This one's too hard," I said.

"This one's too soft," he said.

"I like the memory foam," I said.

"I hate the memory foam," he said.

And so it went. Back and forth. One mattress after the other. Finally, I laid down the gauntlet.

"Okay, either we make a decision or go someplace else," I said. "We're driving this poor salesman crazy."

"Oh, no," the young man said with limited enthusiasm. "This happens all the time."

My husband reluctantly agreed to try Serta's new memory foam mattress, a compromise between the glorified Tempurpedic and a regular firm mattress with inner springs. We were given up to 90 days to decide whether we wanted to keep it or return it for another mattress of comparable price in the store.

Well, it didn't take long for my husband to convince himself that we'd made a big mistake. He tiptoed out of bed in the middle of the first night with a sore back and slept fitfully the remainder of the night in our old bed that we'd moved to the guest bedroom.

"I'll never sleep in that bed again," he said. "So, we either return it or we're in separate beds forever."

Now, after living with this guy for more than 30 years, I've come to expect such dramatic pronouncements. So, I just nodded and went on with my day. He did sleep in the guest bedroom the next night but crawled into our new Serta on night #3.

"I can punch my fists into it," he said as he pushed his weight into his fists. "Look at the indentation. That can't be good. I need support."

So, back to the mattress store we went. At this point, I didn't care what mattress we settled on. I just wanted a decision. After spending far too much time, we (he) decided to go with a firm Tempurpedic.

Of course, a few days later he announced "I like the Serta!"

I wanted to murder him. Just like my husband to change his mind.

But change his mind he could not. So, out with the Serta and in with the Tempurpedic.

To tell the truth, I'm finding this new mattress a bit too firm, but I'll suffer through, if for nothing else to prove to my husband yet again that I'm the good sport who can roll with the punches - though will never be able to roll with ease on our new mattress.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


I'm back in the good U.S. of A. And for that I am grateful. Never mind the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates and their positions on everything from the ills of university culture to contraception. I again have unlimited hot water and took my first bath in two months.

Okay, Afghanistan is proving to be a disastrous failure just as Iraq. But I can drink the tap water without worrying about that nasty parasite giardia lemblis turning my lower intestine into a crampy, acidic, bloated mess.

Sure, I realize that the average gas price is now an outrageous $4.79 per gallon. But I can use my WiFi anywhere in the house at any time night or day without worrying that it's either going to crash or not work in the first place.

Speaking of cars and the price of gas, I'm grateful to Honda for their fuel efficient CR-X and even more thankful that I can depend on the car and not on my two aging legs for transport. Walking is great exercise, no doubt. But try walking up the hill from San Miguel de Allende town center to a casa perched way high up. The view is grand, but the schlep can take a hike.

The Congress remains gridlocked; civility is a foreign concept. Still, I can speak my native language and not worry about how to conjugate irregular Spanish verbs in the past tense.

And the quiet! No damn roosters, sheep, chickens, or whining dogs (Oh, did I mention the church bells?) to prevent me from falling asleep or being rudely awakened at dawn.

And never mind that it's only March. Mother Nature (with the help of climate change) has shown mercy on us mid westerners and brought a very early spring. It was a balmy 65 degrees here today. Early spring bloomers are up, and the promise of resurrection is in the air.

We Americans take so much for granted: good (well, sometimes) drinking water, central heating, electronic sophistication, farms in the countryside, not in the midst of cities . . . The list of conveniences goes on.

It feels good to be home, even though those three out-of-control boys two houses down have begun their screaming and fighting and tears AGAIN. But I've vowed not to complain after the daily cacophony in San Miguel de Allende.

I'm back in the U.S.A. and grateful.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Good Morning, San Miguel

I can thank El Senor de la Conquista for the festivities that woke me out of a sound sleep way too early this morning. The drumming and dancing began last night with celebrants from a host of cities in the Mexican state of Guanajuato converging here in San Miguel de Allende. And the celebration continued long into the night (for all I know, it never stopped) and began anew with gusto at the crack of dawn. Even the highest-rated earplugs were no match.

From what I gather, there are two versions of how this festivity began. One version has it that in the late 1500s two human-sized figures honoring the Lord of the Conquest were made out of corn paste (Don't ask because I don't know) and carried to San Miguel and another town. The two Franciscan friars carrying these guys were attacked and killed. The friars were goners and so were the two figures - until they were later found by a group of Chichimeca Indians.

The other version of this ruckus festivity has it that the figures were found by a Chichimeca Indian and hidden in a cave, where they ostensibly still reside. The statues revered today are said to be replicas.

Whatever the version, suffice it to say that this is a wild and wooly time in San Miguel. If I weren't on meds for the typical intestinal parasite that lays thousands of travelers low, I might consider getting dressed and walking down to the plaza where hundreds of the celebrants have assembled. Maybe I'll find the will after a healthy breakfast and another round of pills.

What I can say for certain is that after returning home next week I will NEVER complain about noise again - not about the kids two houses down who scream and yell all summer afternoon, about the neighbors on the other side who put their stereo speakers on their back porch, about the gardeners who rev up their lawn mowers and leaf blowers too early on a Sunday morning . . .

No, I will relish these sounds as sweet background noises against which I can easily fall back asleep or read a book or enjoy the peace and beauty of my sedate Midwestern town where few if any folks would dare to bring out the drums at 5 a.m.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Noah's Ark

It must have been a sign, those ornate ceramic candelabras that depicted Noah's ark. I even walked into the tienda to take a closer look. (Not exactly like the one in the photo, but you get the idea.)

A day later, the weather gods of San Miguel rumbled and roared, lit up the skies, and then wept with a deluge that has been constant now for three days and three nights.
With only one paragua (umbrella) between us, my husband and I have to take turns leaving the casa. Yes, of course, he could go out and buy one, but he has several umbrellas sitting at home.

It's easy to understand why he didn't shove one into his suitcase. Last year at this time, a cloud, a single cloud, was an event. "Oh, there goes a cloud." We'd almost forgotten what one of those fluffy white things looked like, let alone what can happen when hordes band together and let loose. So, this rain business is new to us and definitely not welcome.

Sure, the rain is good for the farmers and their crops. And all those flowers and small trees in pots that adorn the courtyards and terraces of San Miguel are much better for the wet stuff. But we tourists with limited time in what we thought was Paradise are not so thrilled. Hell, I woke up this morning, took one look out the ventanna, and was certain that we'd gone to Seattle, not sunny Mexico.

Along with the rain came cooler temperatures. I hesitate to write that it dropped to the lowers 40s because, as a Chicagoan, a thermometer reading of 40-something in February is cause to bring out the shorts and tank tops. But here there is no central heating. There is no insulation against the chilly nights. Windows barely close, doors are made of glass, and, in our casa, the center of the house is open all the way to the terrace on the third floor.

Yes, we have fireplaces - one in the living room and one in the master bedroom - but they're small and gas. If you sit practically in them, one can warm up. But they are useless for heating an entire room, let alone an entire house.

So, like my brothers and sisters up north who face the frigid weather daily, I'm dressing in layers, (two pair of pajamas at night), taking an inordinate number of showers (though the hot water either never gets really hot or runs out much too quickly), and scouring online weather sites, praying that the cloud icons with rain drops change to bright yellow suns and SOON.

Friday, January 20, 2012

SHOOT THE ROOSTERS (And while you're at it, take out the sheep and dog)

In the middle of Paradise, away from the cold and snow and dark, dark days. What else could one ask for this mid-January?

Well, I hate to complain (I know all my friends back in Chicago won't have a whit of sympathy), but the roosters, sheep, and unattended dog that live a stone's throw away from our casa have forced me to wear earplugs at night, turn up the iPod during the day, and generally curse the management company that never bothered to mention the friggin' farm next door.

Now I've lived a few blocks away from the el in Chicago but never felt like blowing up the tracks. I've had neighbors in Evanston whose hot tub gatherings late at night pushed me to call the cops. (The neighbors finally got the message and shut it down by 11 p.m.) But now, here in the "quiet" colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, I'm itching for a BB gun.

From what I'm told, roosters crowing at all hours of the day and night have started feuds, forced people to move, and sometimes led to violence like the kind I'm considering. I mean, I can handle the bah, bah, bahs of the sheep. Even the whining, barking dog is manageable. But the piercing crowing of the damn roosters reverberates through my entire body like a nightmarish audio electric shock.

The web offers all kinds of advice to rooster weary neighbors and owners: Create a "blackout" effect in the coop to trick roosters into believing it's still night; use cages that allow the rooster to sit and stand comfortably but not to stretch (apparently, roosters stretch when they crow); make sure there are plenty of interesting things for the roosters to do (yeah, right!); and my favorite, clipping the vocal cords. Alas, this is merely a temporary solution because roosters will apparently learn how to crow AGAIN. There used to be a hormone called DES that was used to stop roosters from crowing, but it produced bad side effects and is now illegal in many countries.

No offense to all you animal lovers. But if I could get my hands on this DES stuff, I'd gladly feed it --- better yet, inject it --- and stop the roosters from crowing. Anything to shut them up. In the meantime, I'm off to find a pair of Hearos Earplugs that, according to one obsessed person who conducted years of research, actually "reduced the pounding sounds of the jackhammer to a pleasant thud."

(If you call and I don't answer, you'll understand why.)

Mi dios, yo pienso que puedo tener que disparar a los bastardos

Monday, January 9, 2012

San Miguel: Take Two

Groggy with sleep and dark skies outside, I rolled out of bed on this our departure day to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where Alan and I were to spend the next two months. We'd both finished packing the night before, save for a few toilet articles to be stashed in our suitcases.

As usual, I'm the front traveler, up earlier and responsible for those last odds and ends like washing a dish, feeding the cats, packing some fruit to take on the plane. Things moved along on schedule and, by the time I woke Alan, I was dressed and ready to hit the road.

"I've rolled my big suitcase to the top of the stairs," I said. "It's too heavy for me to lug. Please carry it down for me."

"No problem," Alan said as he tied his shoes.

For anyone who doesn't know Alan, he is always late. I can't count the number of times I've spent egging him on, telling him to hurry up, scolding him for making me wait --- not to mention others who may be waiting. It's a tiresome task, believe me.
But today he was moving right along. I think he realized that it's no way to start a two-month trip aggravating me before we get out the front door.

We arrived at O'Hare in plenty of time before out 9:20 a.m. flight. The cab driver unloaded the suitcases and went on his way.

I rolled my small bag from the curb to the attendant, got in line, and waited while Alan toted the remaining suitcases.

"We have three suitcases to check," I said when it was my turn.

"Where's the third bag? I see only two."

I spun around and looked at our remaining suitcases. The big tan one with all my clothes was missing.

"It must be in the cab," I screamed. "Cab Number 212."

Alan took off running as if he were going to be able to catch up with the taxi. I frantically dialed 4-1-1 to get the cab company number.

"We have an emergency," I said to the dispatcher. "Cab 212 drove away from O'Hare with one of our bags. You've got to reach him and tell him to turn around."

"Stay on the line," he said much too calmly for my satisfaction.

While I'm hanging on the line, Alan returned to the curbside check-in, out of breath, mumbling something about he can't take this and he's never going to Mexico again or to anywhere else. "How could you forget your suitcase?"

"Did you bring it downstairs like I asked you?"

"I can't remember. I can't remember anything."

The dispatcher started talking, telling me that there was no suitcase in cab 212.

"It's not there," I said, fighting back the tears.

"Maybe someone walked away with it while we weren't looking," Alan offered.

I tried to restrain myself and mimic those twosomes on "The Amazing Race" who seem to be gentle and kind to one another even when one of them has lost his passport or driven on the wrong road. "I don't think that's likely. If it isn't in the cab, it's either on the street in front of the house or upstairs" because you forgot to bring it down.

"You're not going to blame me, are you? It's your damn suitcase."

He was right: I should have accounted for all luggage before we walked out the front door. But I hadn't, and it looked more and more likely as if we would miss our flight to Mexico.

"Did you try to call any neighbor? They could at least look to make sure it's not sitting on the street."

By then, it was 8:30 a.m., and I was sure the neighbors on either side had left for school or work. But I fumbled with the phone, called each one, and listened to unanswered rings as long as I could bare.

Then Alan had the brilliant idea of calling the taxi company again, asking if one of their guys close to the house could drive by, maybe look in the front window to see, if by some chance, the missing suitcase was sitting in the vestibule, forlorn. While the minutes ticked away and other, obviously happy, organized passengers checked their bags, I realized we were shit out of luck. Still, we persevered, hoping for the first time in our lives that the plane would be late. Very late.

No such luck. The plane was on time, and the second taxi driver verified that the suitcase was neither in the street in front of our house or in the vestibule. Either someone did swipe the bag (highly unlikely) or Alan had never brought it down the stairs. Whichever way you sliced it, we were headed home, not to San Miguel.

Exhausted, we dragged our luggage into another taxi and headed home. What if my suitcase weren't there? I'd have to go on one major shopping spree in just an afternoon and spend all the money I'd saved for the vacation. I shut my eyes and tried to repeat my mantra in a failed effort to relax.

"Give me the house key," I said a block before pulling up in front of our house. With the key in my hand, I ran up the front stairs, unlocked the door, hightailed it upstairs and, for a moment, saw nothing but my dear cat Zuni who'd had part of his tail amputated just days before. (But that's a story for another time.) But as I turned my head slightly to the left, there was the infamous suitcase staring back at me as if asking "What up?"

So, tomorrow we do it all over again. Alan has already carried it downstairs. We're leaving nothing to chance.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Tail End

I stepped on my beloved cat's tail not once but twice.

In over eight years, I'd never stepped on his tail. Why now? Why me? I really have no answer. He got underfoot when I was opening mail and, without knowing he was there, I took a step forward toward the dining room table.  Crunch!

The scream echoed throughout the house. I'd heard Zuni complain in the past but never anything like this.

I bent down to see what I'd done, but Zuni ran for the hills. He wanted nothing to do with me. I was his caretaker, his mommy, and I'd let him down. Even his cat brain understood that.

I felt like such a louse and prayed that whatever I'd done wasn't that bad.

The first vet was unable to get Zuni to settle down enough to get a good look.

"We'll have to put him under."

That seemed rather extreme.

"And what if you find that his tail is broken? What next?"

"We put him on pain medication and antibiotics, if necessary. Beyond that, nothing. Cat's broken tails usually repair themselves."

"Then give me the pain meds."

With difficulty, I maneuvered Zuni back into his cat carrier, put him in the car, and raced for home.

Over the next few days, as the pain subsided, I was able to investigate his tail. I didn't see any open wounds but did feel what I thought were possibly two scabs. Thank god. He was going to be just fine.

Almost a week later, I was in the basement putting a load of laundry in the dryer. I didn't see Zuni around my feet, focused as I was on not dropping a wet sock or small kitchen towel. And it happened again. I stepped on his tail!

This time, neither Zuni nor I was so lucky. The tip of his tail protruded like a small hot dog, red and glistening. Whatever hair had covered the tip was miraculously gone. Something was terribly wrong.

It was the afternoon of December 31. Our vet had closed his doors at noon. So, it was off to Animal 911, a 24/7 care center about a 10-minute drive from my home.

"You'll be fine," I mumbled to my wounded cat as he sat stoically in his pet carrier stationed securely on the passenger car seat.

Zuni was whisked away by the attending at the emergency pet hospital. I felt like such a bum. And I was embarrassed. What I'd done, albeit unintentionally, made me look like an abusive pet owner who had absolutely no awareness or consideration for my cat. It was if I'd broken a child's arm not once but twice.

"I have a theory," the vet said. "I think the damage was done the first time you stepped on his tail. He's been operating at half mast and, this second time, he just didn't have enough control to move his tail out of the way."

I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it was an accident waiting to happen.

"Still, there is no doubt that we'll have to amputate."

My stomach turned.

"How much? How much will you have to cut?"

"I won't know until we get him in surgery. My best guess is about three inches."

"There's no other option?"

"No other option. The tip of his tail is almost dead. The injured section has sustained nerve damage, and there's no way of restoring it."

"What about the hair?"

"It will grow back. In time, no one will know."

Right, except me. I'll know. That long, bushy tail won't be long enough to wrap around his legs like a winter scarf. It will no longer stand like a periscope when he walks.

"What's the healing time?" I asked, worried because we had only eight days before leaving the country for two months.

"Ten to twelve days."

My heart sank. "We don't have that long. We're going to Mexico and leaving Zuni with a house sitter who likes cats but . . ."

The vet explained the protocol. He'd be given antibiotics twice a day for a week and pain medication, as needed. That meant we could finish that part of his treatment before leaving.

"And the stitches?"

"They'll dissolve on their own, so you won't have to worry about that. But he'll have to wear a collar to prevent him from licking and scratching."

There was no way. Zuni was a wild man who bit attendants during routine exams. To stick one of those plastic Elizabethan collars on him and expect him to get used to it was as likely as asking me to move to Alaska during the winter.

"Good luck getting it on him," I muttered, suddenly exhausted.

They did manage to attach the collar. And he hated it. The minute we arrived home and I opened his cat carrier, he catapulted out and flew through the air, landing on his feet, and then running up and down the stairs, bumping into walls at every turn. When he came to a halt, he was panting, his little tongue hanging out, his breath fogging up the plastic collar. It was pathetic, really.

The next morning, we found Zuni sitting calmly in the upstairs hallway, his collar crunched up against an adjoining wall. Our little Houdini had somehow squeezed out of a collar that was good and tight the night before. My husband and I knew then that we'd have to take turns making sure that he didn't bite or lick the stitches until they dissolved.

It's Day #4. Zuni seems more and more like himself despite the missing 3 inches of tail. Still, we're not out of the woods yet. I caught him licking his stitches earlier this morning and have had to sequester him in my office where I can keep an eye on him.

Small penance for the harm I've caused.