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Butterfly is losing her vet, again

 

Butterfly goes to the clinic at the shelter that rescued her in the first place, and she has a wonderful veterinarian. Her doctor is the kind of person who walks around with a kitten on her shoulder all day, to keep an eye on the kitten’s well-being while she’s tending to the rest of her patients. Despite her many patients, this doctor answers emails about Butterfly’s various health issues, and recognizes us when we come in to pick up refills at the pharmacy, and always asks after Butterfly’s health.

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Butterfly’s first day at home, way back when.

The vet emailed us to let us know that she, and her relatively new husband, will be moving out of town, and she wanted to have a last visit with Butterfly, and set her up with a new vet at the clinic, to ensure continuity of care. I’ve never met a doctor-for-humans like this, let alone a veterinarian who, working at a clinic rather than in private practice, can’t be making a ton of money.

Butterfly is an expensive dog. She is twelve-and-a-half years old and a pure bred Lhasa Apso, with heart disease and diabetes, bright blue cataracts, and terrible teeth. The clinic partially subsidizes her twice yearly echocardiograms and vet visits, but we pay for all of her medication and diabetes supplies, and anything over two visits a year. Miss Butterfly takes three pills twice a day, gets her blood tested twice a day, and gets insulin shots twice a day. I’m not even counting the huge quantities of peanut butter and chicken treats that make the meds go down easy. So having a doctor who tries to minimize extra costs, while advocating for the best possible health care for Butterfly, is a godsend.

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“Any more medication Grandma?”

Cricket has had the same reliable doctor since she was eight weeks old, and it is wasted on her. She needs to be held in place by a vet tech to have her ears checked and her nails clipped, no matter how well she’s been cared for in the past. The vet techs have, often, had to put a muzzle on her for checkups, though it rarely stays on long. We brought Cricket along for one of Butterfly’s vet visits at the clinic, because Cricket ran out the door of the apartment before we could catch her, and Cricket could not stop barking. She’s used to the small waiting room at her doctor’s office, with the African grey parrot who tries to keep her calm. The crowded cacophony of dogs and cats at the clinic was not her thing. I like it, and Butterfly likes it, because there are always new friends to meet, but for Cricket it was too much.

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“You want me to go to the vet, Mommy? How are you gonna make me?”

The positives of the clinic, affordability and solid care, have always seemed worth the inconveniences, like a long wait and talking to different secretaries every time we call. But this is the second vet we’ve come to trust and have had to lose. I don’t want to have to argue with a new vet about teeth cleaning (the anesthesia for which could kill her), or hear some stranger tell me not to expect Butterfly to live much longer (just shut up). But most of all, I’m going to miss feeling like there’s someone else out there keeping an eye on my baby. It’s more than just having a doctor with knowledge and skill and the ability to write prescriptions, it’s about having someone who loves my baby and cares about the quality of her life.

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Butterfly believes that peanut butter has magical powers of healing.

I’m sure we’ll adapt. Butterfly will still be nervous going to the vet, until she gets a chance to sniff the other dogs, and the new doctor will make too many assumptions about Butterfly’s prospects, until I’m able to set her straight. But we’re going to miss this vet a lot, and we have to mourn a little bit before we can move on to what comes next.

Cricket & Butterfly waiting for Mommy

Butterfly’s Ice Rink

 

This past Tuesday, New York was hit by a massive east coast storm that was supposed to bury us in snow, but halfway through, the snow turned to sleet and the world froze. I slid across the walkways in the dark, when the dogs had to go out to pee. The next morning, the maintenance guys came back and salted the sidewalks and broke up the ice in the parking lot, but they left the backyard as it was and we have had an ice rink ever since. Butterfly is in love. Cricket may be a snow bunny, but Butterfly, it turns out, is an ice skater. Her ice rink is bumpy and often runs uphill, and she has to skate around various impediments, but that only seems to make it more of an adventure.

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Surveying the territory

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Testing the ice

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Going on an adventure

Back from adventure

and returning

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Happy.

Cricket has been more circumspect about the whole thing. She has found it impossible to dig into this strange version of snow, and has had no luck removing leaves from their icy casings. She sniffs huge clumps of snow for signs of pee and birdseed, but she spends most of her time on the edges of the ice, ready to return to solid ground at any moment. But every once in a while, she lets loose, jumping and spinning and leaping across the ice, while her sister placidly skates along nearby. They meet up to check in, sniffing each other’s noses and ears, before going their own ways again.

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“What is this stuff?”

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“Wheee!”

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“Whoohooo!”

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“And a two-footed landing!”

But it’s Butterfly who is loving this new ice world. No matter how far out she goes, and no matter how high she climbs, she leaves no foot prints, and I’m realizing that, for years, she must have felt unsteady walking on the grass, and now, with ice under her feet, she finally feels secure.

 

Butterfly on ice

Butterfly, in her own world.

Harry Potter et Moi

 

I finished reading one of the Harry Potter books in French! I started with book three, the Prisoner of Azkaban, because it’s my favorite of the series. I thought I’d be struggling through each page, with a French/English dictionary at the ready, but I read it like, well, like a novel. It’s not that I understood every word, but a lot of the words that were unfamiliar could be figured out by the context, and having read the book a number of times in English didn’t hurt either. There were some oddities in the translation, though. Like, Neville Longbottom’s last name was translated as Londubat, and Severus Snape’s last name was translated to Rogue. Muggles are Moldus, and Hogwarts is Poudlard. Diagon Alley is Le Chemin De Traverse (The crossroad), and Dementors are Detraqueurs (possibly because the word dementir is in there, as a French word, meaning “to deny.”

Unforgivably, they changed the names of the OW.L.s and the N.E.W.T.s, the school-wide tests, and gave them non-funny names to make the initials work in French.

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“What’s that about?”

One big discovery. I thought ennui was always translated as boredom; that’s certainly how we use the word in the United States. But it was used over and over in the book to mean “trouble,” and that was the alternate definition given on Google Translate as well. For one word to mean both “boredom” and “trouble,” suggests what the French think of feeling bored: that it’s the gateway for getting into trouble.

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“Trouble? I don’t see trouble.”

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“Look Mommy, I found trouble!”

There were some words that were fun to say, like hululement for the hooting of owls, haletante for panting, and chuchotta for whisper.

I think I’ve become addicted. I’m just not sure to what.

Coincidentally, one of the family-friendly cable channels decided to run seven of the eight Harry Potter movies this past weekend, as an ad for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie, starring Hermione (or the actress who played Hermione, Emma Watson, whatever). Oddly, they left out movie number five, the Order of the Phoenix, and therefore I felt obligated to order it On Demand to see why, because I didn’t remember what could have been so objectionable as to make them leave it out.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by nature, but it bothers me, why was this the only movie left out, of the eight? Certainly other movies in the series were equally dark. The Order of the Phoenix is, basically, about the danger of pretending that everything is fine, when everything is clearly not fine and about to get much worse. There’s also an ultra-feminine aide to the minister of magic, with a penchant for alternative facts; and the minister himself, who’s afraid to see what’s right in front of him, looks suspiciously like Mitch McConnell (Majority leader in the U.S. senate). Ralph Fiennes, as Voldemort, though, is a whole other level of evil from what’s currently in the white house. We have more of a Wormtail as president (including the crazy hair), with a dark lord as advisor, whispering in his ear.

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I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Harry Potter is in the air right now in the United States. It’s been on my mind all year, and it’s been coming up more and more in comparisons in the news, and in tweets from J.K. Rowling, wondering if people actually got the message of her books.

I need the comfort of knowing that Harry Potter was able to prevail, though he had magic on his side, and, as far as I know, we don’t. I’m going to read through all of the HP books again, in French and maybe in Hebrew, both to practice my language skills and to give myself a chance to fill up on hope, because my tank has been getting dangerously low.

One of the most powerful lines in the Order of the Phoenix movie comes from Hermione, trying to make Harry understand that his isolating behaviors are playing into Voldemort’s hands: “If it’s just you alone, you’re not as much of a threat.”

I always have to fight against my own isolationist tendencies, to remember that I’m not alone, and that it’s the people who have hurt me who have made me feel so alone, and unsafe, not my friends. The Harry Potter message, over and over, is that you can’t do it alone. The flip side of that message being, you can do almost anything, if you have help.

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100 Blessings a Day

 

Recently, apropos of something else, my Rabbi mentioned that there is a custom in Jewish life to try and say one hundred blessings a day. Of course, I had to look this up right away. Despite a childhood in Jewish day schools, I had never heard of this one – which means nothing, really, because there’s too much for any one person to learn in a lifetime, let alone in elementary or high school.

There are text-based reasons for the choice of one hundred as the magical number of blessings, but that’s not what interested me. I tend to think you can find text based excuses for anything if you try hard enough. But the idea of one hundred blessings sounds whole and beautiful and challenging enough to encourage the kind of gratitude Oprah used to talk about with her gratitude journals. Saying a blessing is more than just gratitude, it’s a way to make yourself aware of the world around you.

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“Only a hundred blessings? Not a problem.”

The more Orthodox websites said that you could meet your hundred blessings a day quota simply by saying the three set prayer services (morning, afternoon, and evening prayers), plus blessings over meals and handwashing, and you’re golden. But, what if you are a liberal Jew and not up to praying three times a day? Can you still reach an adequate blessing count?

I feel too resentful saying many of the blessings in Hebrew, especially in the formal language of the prayer book, but what if I could make up my own blessings, about the many things that really do jar me from the mundane into the extraordinary every day?

If you are somewhat compulsive in the handwashing arena, you could knock off dozens of blessings a day on that. You could get a lot of blessings in by hanging out with a friend who has allergies and saying Gezuntheit (God Bless You) every time she sneezes. You could eat many small meals a day, to have the chance to say blessings over food over and over again: Thank you God for this Jelly bean that I am about to eat; Thank you God for this piece of chocolate that has saved me from yelling at strangers in the parking lot.

How about: Thank you God for this medication that lowers my blood pressure and keeps my heart pumping; or, Thank you God for this crossword puzzle that allows me to not think about Donald Trump for ten whole minutes; or, Thank you God for the smile on my puppy dog’s face when I say the word “chicken.”

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“Chicken?”

Trying to come up with one hundred blessings a day forces you to think about what you really feel grateful for on a daily basis. There are formal Hebrew blessings for tons of things: for fruit, bread, wine, and cake; for thunder and rainbows; and for the ability to go to the bathroom (Blessed are you, Lord, Our God, King of the universe who created man with many openings…if one of them were to be ruptured or blocked it would be impossible to survive).

Here’s one of mine:

Thank you God, the Universe, and Mother Nature, for the water I drink, the food I eat, the bed I sleep in, and the puppies who make me laugh every single day.

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Amen.

Learning Spanish

 

I have been trying to teach myself Spanish. As an aspiring social worker on Long Island, I have belatedly come to realize that knowing some Spanish would be a good idea. Of course, I have unreasonable expectations of myself. I expect to be fluent (by, say, next Fall), to the point where I won’t need a translator to help me understand a client who speaks no English, and I will be able to catch every nuance of the different variations of Spanish spoken by Mexicans, Dominicans, Salvadorans, and maybe I’ll pick up some Portuguese while I’m at it. The fact that I can barely say Hello and How are you, at this point, is irrelevant.

I’ve been using a basic Spanish language learning program through my local library, online, and I learn a few new words each day. Ayuda (Help!) looks like it will come in handy. The thing is, I love languages. I’m still trying to work on my French and Hebrew (since childhood) without much success, but with endless effort and enthusiasm. I am currently reading the Harry Potter books in French, and have a Hebrew copy en route.

There’s something wonderful about learning a new language. It gives you an automatic sympathy for the people who speak it that you may not have had any other way. There’s been great joy in discovering that I can pronounce a lot of Spanish words exactly as they are spelled (as opposed to French, where letters drop out without warning). I was thrilled, until Y’s and double L’s started to sound like G’s out of nowhere.

I have tried to practice my Spanish on the dogs, but they are not interested in learning a new language at this point. Cricket is used to some French (un, deux, trois, Jump!) and Butterfly doesn’t mind a few questions in broken Hebrew (Aypho ha kibble? Where is the kibble?) But there’s a limit to their tolerance for my insistence on learning every language but theirs. How have I not learned to woof, bark, arf, yip correctly after all this time? It’s obscene!

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Un, deux, trois…

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“Yum!”

Certain words seem to impress them more than others, though, like empanada, tres leches, and el queso. I think I must say the food words with a particular tone to my voice that marks them out as special. We are a family that is very food motivated.

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“Mmm, stairs taste good!”

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“Is it worth it?”

As I try to build my Spanish vocabulary, some phrases seem especially important, like: No Hablo Espanol (I do not speak Spanish), and No Comprendo (I don’t understand); and Lo siento (I am sorry) will also come in handy.

I was interested to see that To Write, in Spanish, is escribir. I guess it’s the same root as Scribe, but it makes me think of scribble. I love the idea of being a scribbler. It makes being a writer seem less stuffy and more playful. Then there’s una pregunta (a question), which makes me think of a pregnant woman, as if every question is filled with a sense of possibility and new birth, which it is, isn’t it?

Eventually, I will have to learn more grammar and sentence structure, but for now I’m satisfied with certain phrases that I can make use of right away: Como esta usted? (How are you?), Me llamo Rachel (My name is Rachel), tengo dos perros (I have two dogs), and Gracias (Thank you).

         

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“A bientot! Oops, wait that’s French.”

Understanding Statistics

 

In my Research 2 class (in graduate school for social work) we have reached the dreaded world of statistics. There’s a lot of math involved in this process, and even more incomprehensible data-to-Math-to-Greek-to-Computational-Tables-to-English translations. And what I’m realizing is that a lot gets lost in the translation from reality to statistics.

It’s not that I think research is a waste of time. It matters. But not enough time is spent on elucidating the data, and remembering the anecdotal evidence that makes up the data. Anecdotal evidence (or individual stories told to the researcher) is often considered unreliable, but masses of data, detached from its origins as anecdotal evidence, is considered reliable. We end up taking a lot of valuable information, and turning it into numbers and graphs, and forgetting where the data came from in the first place. People.

As we have discovered over the past year in the United States, polling is only as valuable and legitimate as the questions asked and the answers recorded. If people are asked the wrong questions, or distrust the person asking them, then the data that results will be incomplete, if not completely wrong.

If we looked at certain data about Butterfly, like: heart disease, diabetes, aged twelve out of a 13-14 year expected lifespan, few teeth and those that are left are not good, persistent cough – you’d think she was at death’s door, and miserable. But she has the biggest smile in the world, runs like the wind, comforts her sister, loves to be petted, loves food, licks me to death, and I could go on and on. You wouldn’t know any of that if all you asked was “What’s wrong with Butterfly?” or “Describe Butterfly’s health.”

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“What’s wrong?”

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“Absolutely nothing!”

The reliance on big data, and mass polling, has developed (as far as I can see) as a good faith effort to get a sense of what’s going on with everyone, instead of just with the easiest people to access. A doctor who sees a hundred patients on a regular basis may have a very good sense of the health issues of those hundred patients, and no clue whatsoever about how her patients fit into the patterns of the population at large. They may be anomalies – because they can afford her fees, live in a certain geographical area, and have certain specific symptoms – or they may be average, she can’t know. That doctor needs access to a wider swath of the population, in order to put her patients into better perspective. But what is the quality of that data? Who chose the questions to ask? What biases were at work? Which questions, that she would have known to ask based on her experience, were left out of the questionnaires filled out by all of those anonymous people that she cannot call and follow up with?

Recently, I heard about research done on the question of abortion. It’s a thorny area to begin with, but the way the polling is done can make it even more confusing. If the question is, do you support abortion? Or, would you have an abortion yourself? A lot of people will easily, and quickly, say no. But if the question asked is, do you think abortion should be legal? Many of those same people will say yes. It turns out that, on this specific question, people have different opinions about what they themselves would do, than on what they think others should be able to do in their own lives. The people setting up the poll would need to understand that gap in order to ask the right questions and really understand the data they are receiving.

This kind of gap can exist on any subject, and it requires open-minded researchers with a willingness to question the data and look deeply at their questioning process. Without those extra steps, the data can profess things that are not actually true, or that are, at best, incomplete.

If I asked Cricket if she prefers peanut butter or chicken, chicken would win every time. And if that were the only question asked, you might come to the conclusion that she doesn’t like peanut butter at all – especially if you could see the way she sneered at the peanut butter on her way to ripping the chicken from my hand. But the fact is, she loves peanut butter. She will take any medication offered, as long as it is covered in peanut butter. But we didn’t ask her the right questions, so we never found that out.

When we hear about study results in the news, especially on TV or from the mouths of politicians, we rarely hear about the context of the study, or the methods used. We are given simple numbers, or better yet, bar graphs and pie charts, to make the point very clear. But once a study’s results have been translated into numbers and graphs, our ability to determine for ourselves the validity of the study’s methods, questions, and analysis, disappears. In fact, people rarely take the time – or even get the chance – to read through a full study report, even though researchers put a lot of effort into examining and going into detail about the choices they made, why they made them, and where they may have gone wrong.

What if, after hearing the results of all of these polls and studies, and staring at bar graphs and pie charts and news anchors for hours and hours, we come away believing that we know each other perfectly, and can therefore dismiss each other? And what if we’re wrong?

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“We’re never wrong. Right?”

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“What a relief.”

My Snow Day

 

Up until the middle of this week, I was working on a post about how little snow we’ve gotten on Long Island this winter. It is therefore possible that Thursday’s massive Thunder-snow-bomb-aggedon was my fault.

The thing is, I like snow. Even more than that, I like snow days, when the whole world seems to be at home watching the same news shows, and not a word of politics is spoken. Theoretically. I love zipping up my tall boots and taking the dogs out for picture time. I love watching Cricket hop through the snow searching for treasures (a leaf!!!!!). And I even like trying to console Butterfly about the weird texture of the ground under her paws.

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“I see something!!!!!!!”

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“Now I see it over there!”

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“Mommy, why can’t I feel my toes?”

We were having all of the negatives of winter: the severe cold, the biting wind, the gloomy lighting, and every kind of cold and flu imaginable, without the benefit of snowball fights and hot cocoa to lighten the load. Even Cricket and Butterfly had to suffer through the short daylight hours, and even shorter walks, and the plinking rain on their heads, with no reward.

We had one day, recently, when the air was full of snowflakes that blurred the world, but added up to almost nothing on the ground. I had to drive carefully, and wear a warm jacket, scarf, and gloves, but I still had to go to work. I felt cheated.

Summer will come along too soon, and it will be relentlessly hot and humid and full of smog and sweat and swarms of bugs. I just wanted a few snow days in my memory bank, to shore me up for those long months of heat, when I would barely be able to go outside and would have to sit with my head right up against the air conditioner just to be able to think.

It’s not that I’m thrilled with having to shovel my car out of the deep snow. I would actually like to have a magical shovel that removes the snow without any help from me. And I could do without the black ice on the roads, and the slippery walkways, and the bad headache that inevitably comes with extreme changes in air pressure. But the snowstorm was a relief just the same. I could turn on the TV and watch weather for as long as I wanted to, with only short breaks to hear about the national political dramas. Every local newsperson was out in the snow, wearing silly hats, and asking random snow-covered strangers some very silly questions. My local government officials were all too busy keeping people safe, and making sure the snow was getting removed from the roads, to cause trouble. One mayor was even driving the snow plow himself, with a reporter along for the ride to make sure the event was recorded for posterity.

I need days like that. I need a few days each year when all of the pain and disorder are muted under Mother Nature’s snowy blanket. Now if only we could convince her to lift up the blanket of snow again once we’ve rested, and not leave it to me to remove pounds of wet snow with my non-magical shovel, then I wouldn’t need three days in bed to recover from my beautiful snow day.

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“We’re going back inside now, Cricket.”

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“I can’t go inside yet, Butterfly. There’s still a leaf under here. I’m sure of it!”