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The Plant Cozy

 

For some deeply scientific reason, beyond my understanding, Mom has decided not to bring some of her plants indoors for the winter, but she also didn’t want them to remain unprotected from the elements, and therefore she made a plant cozy. It’s like a cross between a sleeping bag and a snow suit, filled with warming materials and wrapped around the outdoor plants. She chose bright colors, in case someone failed to notice that the plants were protected, or because the plants have their own unique fashion sense.

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The famous plant cozy!

The plants inside of the cozies are sweet potato and dahlia tubers that need to be kept at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideally they would be kept in the refrigerator, Mom said, but she assumed that I would not appreciate the plants taking over the shelves and replacing, you know, the food.

It seems unfair, though, that only one set of plants get a cozy. Where is the sweater for the raspberry bush? Or the stocking cap for the paw paw tree? Could none of the maple trees use mittens for their branches? For that matter, the poor car must be freezing overnight. Couldn’t she at least have a scarf?

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Maybe fifteen hats for the Hydrangea?

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A few thousand mittens (and a ladder?)

I have tried to put the dogs into their own cozies, or jackets, but this has been largely unsuccessful. They shake off what they can shake off, or roll in the mud if possible, and then glare at me until the offending garment is removed. I do not have a death wish, and therefore have not tried to put boots on either of them (though they would look adorable!).

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They wore their jackets, once.

The dogs prefer not to get dressed at all before going outside. They like to feel the wind in their hair as they run across the yard, without any impingement on their freedom of movement. And neither of them is especially sensitive to the cold. They don’t seek out hot spots on the floor, or curl under available blankets, though Cricket is a big fan of cozying up with her people.

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“I’m free!!!!!!!!!!!!”

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“Who needs freedom?”

Generally, I do not get too involved with the gardening. I hear stories about stunted carrots, and ground cover, and I sneak raspberries from the yard when they are in season, but that’s about it. The plant cozy, though, keeps drawing my attention. It reminds me of an especially embarrassed ten-year-old girl (AKA me), wearing her enormous new winter jacket to school for the first time, while everyone else chose sedate black wool coats that year.

For now, most of the plants and flowers are coming to life in quilt designs and photos on the computer. The vegetable garden is in sleep mode for the winter, with, appropriately enough, a blanket of leaves to keep it warm. The flowers are gone, and the leaves are mostly scattered under the snow, waiting to become rich soil. We don’t have the yearly seedling nursery in the dining room, yet, but there is a pile of seed catalogs growing on the coffee table, biding their time.

I think retirement has finally allowed Mom to relax into her creativity. She spends hours and hours playing with color and shape, trying to learn new skills in quilting and photography, and whatever else seems like it could widen her creative vision. I wish she’d been able to pursue all of these things earlier in her life, but having kids, and having to work to feed said kids, got in the way for a long time. I think Miss Butterfly has been able to remind her Grandma that play deserves just as much of your time and energy as other disciplines, and Miss Cricket has taught Grandma to be stubborn and stick to her own way of seeing things. I think the plants secretly appreciate Mom’s new way of seeing the world, even if the other plants on the block look at them askance for being colorful over the winter.

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Butterfly loves to oversee Grandma’s quilting projects.

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And Cricket is more paws on in her approach.

Soundtracks

 

I went to a conference on Dementia recently, for social work school, and one of the exercises they did was to have everyone try to come up with their own list of songs. The theory of the Music and Memory project is that hearing the music she loves will wake a patient up from her dementia, at least for a moment, and allow her to feel like herself again.

I tried to make my list, but it was much more difficult than I’d expected. How can I know ahead of time which songs I’ll still want to hear? Music has such power over me: it can agitate me, and exacerbate the darkness; it can remind me of great joy, but also of alienation.

I started to think, though, how helpful it would be, when first meeting a new person, to get to listen to their playlist. If their playlist is monotonously the same, or chaotic, with no rhyme or reason going from song to song, or just out of sync with me, then that would be helpful to know ahead of time.

I wonder if Cricket and Butterfly have music in their heads all day, the way I do. Do they wake up to a persistent melody running on a loop? Or for them is it a smellody? A complex mix of dirt and bird poop and air freshener, wafting through their minds all day long.

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searching for smellodies.

I thought I heard some of Cricket’s internal music the other night, during one of our evening walks. It sounded like “Pee in the wind,” a variation on “Dust in the wind,” but full of the high lonesome sound of a pee message blowing away before she could fully sniff its contents.

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“Where’d the pee go?”

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“Where?!!!!!!!!”

I’m pretty sure the music playing in Butterfly’s head, when it’s time for her morning treat, is “The chicken dance,” that frantic, ever faster, song that we had to flap our elbows to in elementary school. But the rest of the time, I can see Butterfly as a jazz baby, swinging her pearls, and dancing at a speakeasy. It’s not that I think she’d be a profligate drinker, it’s that she’s got such swing! She moves like she’s hearing the Benny Goodman big band in her head; not the complicated Jazz that you listen to for the esoteric-ness of it, but easy, breezy, swing band jazz that makes you snap your fingers and dance.

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“I can hear the music!”

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Butterfly even dances in her sleep!

Cricket makes me think of Beethoven; that’s the level of drama she lives by. And Barbra Streisand. If Cricket were human she’d sound like Barbra Streisand, with that dramatic range, nasal twang, and constant crescendos and decrescendos, like an Escher staircase going up and down simultaneously.

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Cricket, um, singing.

But I struggle when I try to imagine the soundtrack for my own life. I’d want lots of Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Some Beatles, and a little Elvis. Martina McBride and Fiona Apple. Aretha Franklin and Etta James and Otis Reading and Barbra Streisand. James Taylor, of course. Salt N’ Pepa could be helpful too. And Yo Yo Ma’s Appalachian Waltz CD, with Allison Krauss on vocals.

I’m not sure how all of that would end up on one soundtrack, but I guess it could. There’s a female cantor in NYC who has a beautiful voice, and I’d love to have her version of Kol Nidre when the time comes. And there are a bunch of songs from sleep away camp that I would love to hear again, preferably in the off key, off rhythm versions in which I first heard them.

One of my favorite ways to choose music used to be to buy movie and TV show soundtracks, because the songs were always chosen for maximum impact, and made every emotion crystal clear. The Star Wars soundtracks were such a relief in that way, spelling everything out for me. Wouldn’t it be helpful if the Darth Vader theme played in the background when you met that seemingly nice guy at a party? Or the Jaws theme, before a particularly unfortunate job interview? Even if I didn’t take the hint beforehand, it would be so validating, in the disastrous aftermath, to at least know that the musicians saw things the same way I did.

I’m a little bit worried that Cricket has been hearing the Darth Vader theme in her head for most of her life: when the mail man comes by, or leaves fly past her head, or dogs bark. Maybe I should play It’s a Wonderful World on a loop, while she’s sleeping, to see if that could change things for her.

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“Darth Vader is coming again?!”

 

Cricket’s New Year’s Demands

 

Dear Mommy,

Why is it “beautiful” when birds chirp, but when I bark, you get mad at me? When Butterfly runs, Grandma says she’s full of joy, but when I run, you say I’m dragging you, and Grandma uses those bad words.

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“This way, Mommy!”

Mommy, I think you have it all wrong. I think I should bark more, and have more chicken treats (at least more than Butterfly, because she’s shorter than me and she actually likes kibble). I think I should be allowed to grow my hair until it sweeps the ground, and I should be allowed to keep my eye goop, and be able to cover myself in mud and poop if I want to, and you should never be allowed to put me in the bathtub ever again.

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“Barking is the most wonderful thing in the world!”

I should be able to go out to the backyard and catalog all of the sniffies, even if it takes me all day (squirrels and neighbors and cars and birds are distracting, so it’s not my fault it takes me so long).

I think we should start calling Butterfly “The Cat,” because it would be funny.

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“I’m a cat?”

I think there should be a rule that whenever one of my humans returns from “away,” they have to stand still so I can sniff where they’ve been, and there will be no changing clothes, or going to the computer, until I’m finished with my investigation.

The beach should be closer to my house, so I can smell rotting fish whenever I want.

The library should have a dog section, with aisles and aisles of smell stories, like little humans get to have picture books. What am I? Illiterate?

I think Grandma should have a warm fluffy coat like mine, so that she never complains again that it’s too cold to take me outside.

I think there should be a slide from the living room window to the yard, so I can go pee whenever I want.

I think it should snow more.

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I would like to know why I don’t have my own YouTube channel. I can climb in and out of boxes just as well as any cat!

I think I should never have to beg for people food again. Instead, I should be served my dinner on a plate. But, Butterfly doesn’t mind eating on the floor.

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“Why is it empty?”

I think we should eat more steak. And cookies. And French fries. And chicken skin. Lots and lots of chicken skin. Every night. Forever.

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“Chicken?!!!!!!!”

These are my demands, and Steven Colbert says that anyone who wears a big furry hat is in charge, and I wear a big furry everything, so that means I’m even more in charge than anyone else.

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“I’m in charge.”

 

Sincerely,

Cricket

Happy Chanukah

 

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Happy Chanukah!

 

Chanukah, from what the rabbis tell me, means Dedication, as in the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after misuse, when one night’s worth of oil lasted for eight nights. The dogs rededicated themselves by going for their pre-holiday haircuts (and kerchiefing), and Mom started a new tradition of sewing her holiday cards instead of buying or printing them. I’ve decided that I’m going to rededicate myself to joy, and love, and fun. It’s so much easier to dedicate myself to work, or exercise, or obligations, because the internal and external pressures towards those goals are enormous. But fun? The dogs think I have lost too much of my oomph in this area, and I agree.

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Cricket before her haircut,

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and after.

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Butterfly before

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and after.

 

When I was little, my mom used to make scavenger hunts for me and my brother, for each night of Chanukah, as a way to make up for how small our presents were. One night, we split a package of dimes from the bank; one night my father came home with a used VCR for the whole family that someone else was giving away; we got packages of plastic combs, and socks, and small bags of candy. But we didn’t care, because it was the time and care Mom put into those scavenger hunts that was magical to us. She’d write clues on index cards and hide them throughout the house, one card leading to the next, until we found the ultimate prize.

My brother was convinced that the size of our presents meant that we were poor, even thought we had a nice house, and two family cars, and we both went to private school (on scholarships). But really, Mom was so careful with money, because our father was profligate. He put a lot away for retirement, and bought himself presents, and liked to give gifts to other people. He didn’t understand why I would need regular shoes and sneakers. He was especially angry when my feet grew so fast that I needed a second pair of shoes in less than a year.

My brother chose to ignore the profligacy, and focus on the poverty, and aimed for a good upper middle class career in his adult life. I focused on the unfairness, and the confusion, and ended up as a writer and a fledgling social worker.

But both of us love the play time of Chanukah, and being able to remind ourselves of the joy of running through the house looking for those hidden index cards in Mom’s handwriting, letting us know that we were the most important people in the world to her.

The dogs like to think of every day as a scavenger hunt for treats that will magically fall from the sky just for them. They’re pretty sure that every day should be a holiday, full of treats, and love and joy.

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“The treats are coming! The treats are coming!”

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“The treats are hiding under the snow, Mommy.”

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“Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!”

 

 

Christmas Movies, Again

 

Mom is getting VERY tired of Christmas movies. I try to tell her that it’s either a Christmas movie or another two hours of watching the news, or, we can watch repeats of Law & Order for the tenth time each. She acts like I’m purposely making her suffer through Twee Season (see what I did there? Twee for Tree?), and blocking all of the sensible shows from the TV.

This is not my fault. Actually, there have been more than a few Christmas movies this season that I had to stop watching early on. Usually I like the sugary sweet love stories, and the magical touches that make everything turn out alright, but sometimes the acting is too unbelievable, even for me.

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“Am I sugary sweet, Mommy?”

Poor Mom is stuck, because she doesn’t like the too sweet movies, and she doesn’t like the edge-of-your-seat-the-world-is-ending movies (or news), and there’s not much left in between right now.

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“The world is ending, Grandma!”

This is the time of year when I wish I could forget the plot lines of all of the shows I love, and then I could watch the repeats for hours on end, in pure bliss. But, damn it, my memory is too good. If I try to watch the reruns, I get impatient with my favorite characters for making the same mistakes they made the last time I watched this damn episode.

And I still haven’t given in and joined Netflix, or whatever it is you do with Netflix or Hulu or Amazon. I still borrow DVD’s from the library when I want to catch up on episodes of Miss Marple or Foyle’s War (not kidding).

It helps to have something relaxing on TV while I’m doing my schoolwork at the computer, because if I paid too much attention to the darkness and despair we read and write about in my social work classes, my head would explode. Instead, I listen to Christmas movie dialogue, and reach down to scratch Butterfly’s head, and look over at Cricket’s enigmatic face every once in a while, for reassurance that we haven’t all gone to hell in a handbasket.

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Ideally, all Christmas movies would star Jimmy Stewart, or Tom Hanks, and be directed by Frank Capra or Nora Ephron, and I could just relax my critical mind and let them take me on a floating journey. I could listen to Louis Armstrong singing about a wonderful world, and watch snow fall on the screen, while I sit in my warm, cozy living room, and believe, for a few hours, that everything will be okay.

 

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

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“Yeah!!!!!!!!!”

Physical Exhaustion

 

The level of exhaustion I can reach is hard to explain to people. Sometimes I seem fine. I can dress up and go out into the world and function well. The adrenaline gets me through, but then I go home and collapse, and I can barely imagine doing it all again, until I do. But each time, the exhaustion gets worse and the recovery time takes longer. Other people my age have three, four, even five times the schedule I have, and they would look at my life and think I was the luckiest person in the world, with so much downtime. I know that people, even those close to me, believe that I am overstating the problem, and that when I have to work five days a week I will be able to do it. But I’m really scared that they are wrong.

The other day, I saw a performance of a tap dancing troupe called The Red Hot Mamas, made up of women from age 59 to 87, and instead of being inspired, I felt like a loser. I would fall on my head if I tried one of the dance routines they were doing, with such obvious energy and enthusiasm. I used to love my tap classes (when I was four years old), and the sound of the taps when they hit the hard floor. None of these women were breathing hard or struggling for balance, but I would have fallen off the stage in the middle of my first high kick.

I feel guilty for being unwell, without even a diagnosis to name what’s wrong with me. I feel like I’m being lazy, and melodramatic, and should just get up off my ass and join a tap dance group. And I don’t really understand why I can’t.

I am jealous of Cricket’s great joy in running, and sniffing, and playing, as if every trip outside is her first. And I am in awe of Butterfly’s stubbornness. When she thinks a task is beyond her abilities, or wishes, she just stops. She doesn’t go along just because I want her to. She says, no, I’m tired, I’ll wait for you here. When it’s raining, she says, I don’t need to walk all the way down the block just because that’s what Cricket wants to do. I’ll stand here under the awning.

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“Nope, Mommy. You can’t make me do anything.”

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“Superpuppy!!!!!”

I wish I could do what the dogs do and nap between every activity. But when I take a nap, I wake up disoriented and still exhausted, and they wake up ready for adventure, or at least for snacks. Cricket generously tries to share her enthusiasm with me, however misguided her methods may be (scratching my face and blocking my airway are not pleasant ways to wake me up, Cricket).

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“It could be worse, Mommy. I could wake you up with my gardening toys.”

The fact is, the adrenaline that gets me through the day takes forever to leave my system, and until then I feel exhausted and hyper all at once, and constantly afraid that I won’t get my work done in time. I barely finish my school work for one week, when I’m already two days behind for the next week’s assignments. Unfortunately, working my fingers to the bone with typing, and note-taking, and revising, does not burn many calories. This is very disappointing.

I need a break. I want to read a novel. Heck, I want to write a novel. I want to bake, or go food shopping without a list. But there are all of these deadlines to meet, and expectations and obligations to live up to. I feel like someone has pushed me off a cliff, thinking I would fly, but all I can do is fall. And those crash landings really hurt.

Maybe what I need to do is to follow the dogs’ lead and cover my body with a coat of fluff, so at least the landings would be a little bit softer. That could work, or I could just cover myself with my cozy winter blanket and take a long nap with the puppies by my side, and hope that when I wake up, I’ll start to feel better.

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“Sleep well, Mommy.”

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Fingers and paws crossed.

Cultural Competence

 

I seem to have developed a growl reflex. It started a few weeks ago. At first, I thought I had a cough, or some kind of breathing disorder that would kill me at any moment. Butterfly looked at me with a wait-a-minute stare, as if I had finally spoken in her language, but it was my Mom who noticed that it only happened when the news was on.

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“You finally learned my language!”

There’s something dissonant about studying to become a social worker, with all of the inherent multi-culturalism and looking out for the vulnerable and oppressed that comes with that, and then turning on the news and being told that all of these values are passé. There’s a free-for-all feeling to the news in America since the election, as if no one’s quite sure how to cover the President-elect and still be “objective.” Every day is unpredictable.

For a long time now, we’ve lived in a country where white supremacy and neo-Nazi propaganda was beyond the pale, and now, not only is it main stream news, TV news people are tying themselves up in knots trying to discuss these people and their beliefs “objectively” and “without prejudice.”

Note the irony.

Since when did objectivity require the removal of your backbone and integrity? When did this mass surgical procedure take place, and can it be reversed?

I’m trying to find out when we as a society decided that talking about racism became “identity politics,” and therefore something to be avoided. There seems to be a consensus in the main stream media that the Democrats lost the presidency because they were too focused on identity politics – aka the needs and issues of minorities and oppressed and vulnerable groups within our society. The solution offered seems to be that we should not think in terms of groups and differences at all, but only of society as a whole.

This, pardon me, is nonsense. We come together in groups when we have shared issues that need to be addressed, and know that the larger our group, the louder we can be, and the better chance we have of being heard. If we can’t come together and speak as a group, we are effectively being silenced.

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The lessons people keep trying to take from this election are bizarre: it’s Hillary’s fault, because she wasn’t likable enough; it’s “identity politics” fault, because it made white people feel left out; or, it’s Black Lives Matter’s fault (a group which, by the way, has become invisible on the news since the election, though I can’t imagine that unfair treatment of black and brown people at the hands of the police has suddenly vanished in the warm glow of the anticipated Trump presidency).

The backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement may be as realistic an explanation for the election of Donald Trump as any, because while some Americans woke up to the reality of unfair treatment of minorities by the police and criminal justice system, because they could finally see the video evidence with their own eyes, many other Americans saw the resulting protests as a threat to peace and safety, and they wanted to shut it down.

The media has decided to take Trump’s election as a mandate to stop covering certain issues, and to stop advocating certain values, that had seemed to be universal in America. The media also seems to have decided to take Trump’s word for it that Steve Bannon, despite being the voice of the Alt-right, in his own words, is really not a racist, misogynist, anti-Semite. No, he’s just misunderstood.

My only consolation is that I have the loudest, most aggressive protester in the world living in my own household. Her name is Cricket, and she is a fourteen pound bundle of fluffy outrage. If things continue to get worse, I may have to pack Cricket into the car and bring her to Washington, DC to have her voice heard. I’ll just put her at the front of whichever march is underway at the moment: the women’s march (she is female, after all), or the rights of immigrants march (as far as I know, there is no such thing as legal citizen ship for canines, so her outrage would be real). She’d be willing to fight for a lot of different groups.

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“I have something to say!”

But watch out KKK. Cricket may be a white dog, but she does not like bed sheets. You have been warned!

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