For the love of…

God, I hate football.

Let me just put that right out there. Sure, I understand that sports are an allegedly important part of our culture. They promote teamwork, physical fitness, and regional pride. They provide a wholesome activity for the players, and provide entertainment for the spectators.

That said… I still hate football. Anything that physically violent should be illegal. Its zillion rules, penalties and play patterns make my head ache. The mere fact that its lowest-paid players net somewhere in the high six figures – while elementary teachers have to buy crayons and paper out of their own meager paycheck – is thoroughly disgusting. Running around in ridiculous outfits and crushing each other half to death makes me think of elementary school, actually – a childish boy’s activity to outgrow.

But I think that the one thing that made my dislike cross the into the end zone of hatred (yeah, that made me cringe too) is my husband’s obsession with Brett Favre.

Sure, I’m glad he’s that secure enough in his manhood that he can admit to worshipping another man. I might be worried, if this were Ancient Greece. But when my kindergarten-age daughter associates the number 4 with a football player, it’s time to draw the line.

He loved the Packers because of Brett Favre. He loved the Jets because of Brett Favre. Now he loves the Vikings – of course, because of Brett Favre. Don’t get me wrong – I actually think the guy is admirable (but I will NEVER tell my husband, because I will never, ever hear the end of it). He’s an affable, friendly family man who you’d love to have as your next-door neighbor. He’d almost certainly lend you his weed-whacker anytime. But really, to be pretty much at the top of his game, at his age – without any kind of steroids, enhancers, or anything but his own physical power and will… it’s pretty impressive. And honorable. Still, the tearful “I’m retiring” and equally tearful “I’m back – but kind of against my will!”… then “I’m retiring again” – then “I’m back AGAIN!” stunts were just beyond annoying. I could go on… but it tires me just to think about it.

It’s a GAME. It’s not brain surgery, cancer research, saving starving kids. It’s not even as socially valuable as – well, ANY other job! It’s not even a job! So what drives people mad at the mere mention of the man’s name?

Throwing the best passes in the entire world, apparently. [Sigh.] Is there hope for humanity?

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Chino

We adopted Chino in January of 2007.  I had begun working part-time, and I feared Biscuit would be lonely.  Also, I was stunned by the mistreatment of dogs in Texas, where we were living at the time (see Biscuit), and wanted to save another dog if I could.  I began looking online at the shelter sites.  Quite by accident, I happened upon a dog foster-home page – and this little face peered out at me.  I knew he was the one.

He was a stray who had been found wandering the streets in Georgetown, Texas.  He was described as “a Shar Pei, possibly mixed with a Corgi!” because his legs were so stubby and his head immense.  But Shar Peis are somewhat rare, and are even less common in Texas.  They didn’t realize that he was so small and awkward because he was malnourished and 20 pounds underweight.  His tail had been broken, and he was infected with heartworm – a common affliction of dogs (both shelter and owned) in Texas, because the warm weather is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, as well as because of a lack of prevention.

We immediately went to see him at his “foster home” – which turned out to be a crate in an RV.  We took one look at him, looking at us quietly with his baby elephant toy in his mouth -and told the woman we would be back the next day to pick him up.  He cried like a little baby when we left.  We decided to name him Chino – Spanish for “Chinese” – in a nod to his heritage.  Eli – the shelter name for him – just didn’t fit.  Chino suited him just fine.

We actually brought him home two days later.  The shelter paid for his treatment:  two shots of an arsenic compound, 24 hours apart.  He was the sickest dog I had ever seen:  he couldn’t eat and when he could stand up, he looked like a newborn foal, shaky and unsteady.  We had to keep him as still as possible for four weeks.  For the first few weeks, it wasn’t difficult:  he was weak and barely conscious.  I had to feed him by hand.  We didn’t know if he was going to make it.

This enforced calm inadvertently worked out to be to our advantage, when it came to our other dog, Biscuit.  We’d had her for a year by this point; after a difficult first year of life prior to coming to us, she was becoming quite comfortable as the resident canine princess.  She was used to her immediate family, but still hid in the presence of anyone else; and barked viciously whenever a strange dog was near.  Biscuit was beside herself when we brought Chino home, even though we did have them meet down the block, on neutral territory.  She snarled with absolute venom whenever she dared to approach him, and her hackles stood up so high she looked like an angry cat.  I was becoming worried that we had made a mistake.

But one day, Chino had ventured out to the living room and flopped himself down on the carpet.  Biscuit approached gingerly, almost on tiptoe.  She sniffed at him, showed her teeth.  He didn’t move.  She growled a bit; he just lay there patiently.  Suddenly, Biscuit jumped straight up in the air – I went to grab her, thinking she was attacking… but then, she started prancing all around him, almost joyfully, trying to entice Chino to play.  He sat up carefully – and the two began wrestling.  I swear they were both smiling.  I was sorry to have to stop them, but I knew I had to keep Chino still.  They have been the best of friends, ever since that moment.  Almost three years later, they are still inseparable.

Once he had recovered, the first thing we learned about our new addition was that he was a complete couch potato.  I read that the kind of coat he has is related to his temperament; a rougher, “horse” coat would usually mean a more active, stubborn, high-strung dog; whereas a softer “brush” coat like Chino’s meant that he would be more calm, less active.  The stubborn, strong-willed nature of the Shar Pei would still be present, but it would not be as pronounced.

He is the most gentle, sweet animal I have ever seen.  I have never, ever seen him anything but placid and docile around people.  He adores children, and even protects them.  My husband’s niece brought her newborn over one afternoon; her husband rose up over the baby, playing monster.  Chino raced over, forced himself between the baby and father, and began nudging and licking him away from the baby.  He has done this on many occasions, and considers himself the guardian of the house and of our daughter.

So I was lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that Chino’s benevolence extended towards other animals as well.  Wrong! We brought him to visit my parents; my sister was staying with them, and brought Lila, her little orange tabby.  Within seconds of spying the cat, he had her in his jaws, shaking her like a grizzly bear with a salmon in its mouth.  The cat was screaming and spraying urine everywhere.  It was awful.  I managed to pry the cat out of Chino’s mouth before he did any real damage to her.  We never made that same mistake.

Unfortunately, we have no control over the wild little animals that make their way into our backyard.  It is fenced, but only with wire; they come in to eat the herbs and rhubarb the previous owners planted.  Chino has killed two rabbits, and would have killed a stray cat if I had not been able to pry it out of his mouth in time.

I also see how he could have gotten separated from his previous owner:  he is an escape artist.  He runs away routinely, either breaking the fence or rushing past us through the front door.  We can never catch him; but he always comes back within a few hours.  I guess he just wants his freedom sometimes.  Well, don’t we all?

He’s our sweet, loyal, lazy Buddy, brother to Biscuit and Eve, and the perfect addition to our little family.  We couldn’t ask for a better furry friend.

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Biscuit

We’d just moved from Colorado to Texas.  I had a 2-year-old, no job, didn’t know anyone, and spent long hours at home with our daughter while my husband worked even longer hours.  I had been longing for a dog for years – dogs had always been an important part of my family – but always worked too much to have time for a pet, and lived in small apartments my entire adult life. I just didn’t think it would be fair to the dog.  But now was the perfect time.

The treatment of animals in general – and dogs in particular – in Texas was appalling.  I know there is animal abuse everywhere; but no place I’ve seen devalues and mistreats dogs the way they do in Texas.  It’s almost ingrained in the culture; it was explained that dogs were used as “early warning sytems” intended to guard the owners’ property.  They were not pets.  All of our neighbors had dogs that were penned in a corner of their backyards, with bare, ramshackle shelters the only respite from the brutal summer heat and winter chill.  No one came to pet or play with them; they were antisocial and lonely creatures.  The owners would fill up a dry food container and leave it outside, which would quickly become infested with bugs; or they would toss scraps and food to them.  We met and visited people all around Texas, from all walks of life; the attitude was almost always the same.  Only two people we knew (who happened to be friends of ours) even allowed their dogs indoors.  We were horrified.
Our next-door neighbor (a middle-manager at a software corporation and small-business owner with a lovely home) had a cocker spaniel penned up in their back yard.  Her fur was a mass of matted knots and insects; I could smell the dog six feet away.  One of her eyes was missing as a result of untreated disease.  She would show her teeth if I came near the fence, and I could tell she was terrified; I would toss dog biscuits and scraps to her, which she would gobble down greedily.  The first “ice storm” in ten years (a slight glaze, which was a “storm” to Texas, laughable to a New Yorker like me) occurred that winter, and we could hear that poor dog howling in pain.  We ran outside to find her feet frozen to the ground. We ran to call the police; but someone came and took the dog away in the meantime.  We later learned the dog had died.  Two weeks later, this woman installed a new dog in the backyard.  We found out later it also died, this time during the heat wave the following summer. It was futile to call the police or animal control; unless we viewed physical abuse taking place, this treatment was considered legal.  The only way they would respond if there was a lack of shelter from the sun (an umbrella would suffice) or water for the animal.  They considered the complaint a nuisance.  It was inexplicable.

We went to the local shelters to find a dog.  We adopted a little Jack Russell terrier in February 2006.  As soon as I saw her, I knew she would be mine.  We named her Biscuit, after the dog in my daughter’s favorite children’s book.  She had never been inside a house in her entire life; in fact, she had never been outside a cage, except to eliminate, until she was rescued.  She was a puppy-mill breeding dog.  She was under one year old, yet had already had at least one litter of puppies.  She was emaciated – under 12 pounds – and gained 8 pounds in her first month with us.

She was petrified of flashlights and fly swatters, and other very specific objects – and the way she cowered led us to believe that she had been hit with them.  She was terrified of men, and snarled whenever Eduardo would come near.  She hid under the bed for a week – but would come out when I coaxed her, and never once “went” inside the house… except to urinate on Eduardo’s side of the bed!  He was not happy, to say the least.  It took her months before she would allow him to pet her.

She has come a long way since then. Now, he’s her human “daddy” – and it’s clear she thinks of me as her mommy, the Alpha.   She is my constant companion, never more than a few feet from me.  She is one of the most intelligent dogs I’ve ever known.  Now she does not cower and growl when strangers come; she barks, but now grudgingly allows others to pet her – which is an amazing thing, for her.  She just loves my parents, especially my dad.  She still fears other dogs; but adores her sibling-dog Chino, and tolerates my parents’ Shih Tzu Fiona.  She sees herself as my daughter’s “sister” – and the two of them have a true sibling rivalry over my attention!  And she loves cheese more than anything in the world – even more than meat.  She’s a real part of our family, and I can’t imagine life without her.

More than that, I can’t understand the people who might have hurt, neglected, abandoned or even killed her – had we not found her.  It is hard to imagine how many thousands of dogs meet the same fate on a daily basis.  If you don’t want the responsibility and expense of an animal that needs your time, love, and attention, and to be a part of your “pack” – don’t have one.  It’s pretty simple, in my opinion.  It doesn’t matter if you’re not a dog-lover; if you’re a compassionate human being, you don’t want to see any creature suffer needlessly.

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My Baby’s Sick

As a mom, the worst thing in the world is when my child is sick.  I’m a natural worrywart… but with Eve, I have a good excuse.  When she was 2, I put her down for a nap one afternoon, turned on the monitor, and called my husband.  I immediately said to him, “She’s making a funny noise.  I’m going to go check on her.”  When I picked her up, she was hot as an iron.  Her eyes had rolled back into her head, and her hand was shaking in tremor.  The sound was her choking on drool.  Within the space of two minutes, she had developed a nearly 106 fever and began to seize.  I rushed her to the ER, moaning, “Hang on, baby” the whole way.  They were unable to bring her fever down below 103, but she began to stabilize.

 

The doctors needed to rule out life-threatening conditions, like meningitis or tumor… so in the space of eight hours, they subjected my tiny girl to a CAT scan, blood tests, urine tests by catheterization (which I know as an adult was excruciating for me).  She was terrified, in pain, and horribly sick.  I thought our hearts couldn’t break into any more pieces.  But then came the spinal tap.They administered an intravenous sedative – Twilight Sleep, they called it – and said she would be semiconscious, but would not feel or remember anything.  Her face soon glazed over, and I was relieved that she was at least unconscious and could be spared further trauma.  When they inserted the catheter into her tiny spine, her little face remained expressionless and frozen… but one tiny tear slid down her cheek and dripped off her chin.  My baby was awake and feeling everything – but could not move or scream for help.  That sight, that knowledge, will forever remain etched in my memory as one of the worst moments of my life.  It never fails to crush me, every time I remember.


Almost four years later, she is now free of the inexplicable, sudden life-threatening fevers and seizures – and 911 calls and ambulances, ER visits, and multitude of tests – that plagued her for over two years.  But whenever she is the slightest bit ill – especially when she has a fever – I panic.  I can’t help it.

But Eve, almost six and very precocious and cunning, knows this… and milks it for all it’s worth.

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Our Christmas Traditions

It’s sometimes difficult for new couples to blend holiday traditions, but my situation was a little unique.  My husband Eduardo is from Peru, and his Christmas traditions are markedly different than mine.  In Peru, Papá Noel (Santa Claus) is known to bring gifts, but the baby Jesus is thought to bring presents to Peruvian children.  The children would get a few presents, usually something useful.  At midnight, the baby Jesus is placed in the manger of the family’s Nativity, and thus Christmas begins. Panetón and spiced hot chocolate are served; then the family attends Midnight Mass. When they return from church, the family eats a traditional, specially selected and spiced turkey (or chicken if turkey cannot be afforded, which is a very sad occasion!) with onion salsa and pan drippings, special side dishes, and alcoholic beverages.  In the middle of the night!  That would have been the most exciting thing to me in the world, as a child.

On the other hand, although my father is Swedish-German-English and my mother is of German descent, my family’s traditions are American with an English bent.  We had an advent calendar, and all five of us kids would fight to be the one to take the last candy off on Christmas Eve.  That night, we would have seafood for dinner – usually Seafood Newburg or Coquille St. Jacques – and would lie awake, listening for Santa’s reindeer hoofprints on the roof.  We would wait on the landing for my mother to awaken (she had to have her coffee), becoming more anxious with every minute, until we could tear into the stacks of presents and our stuffed stockings.  There was always an orange in the toe, which we never understood – but knew that no Christmas stocking was complete without it.  Then came 10:00 Mass, then a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, a warm, fragrant onion bread from the German deli, and perhaps some smoked salmon.  We weren’t hungry when dinner came, but we gorged anyway:  standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding made with beef suet, crisp salty potatoes, puffy rolls, apple pie and ice cream (and perhaps some cheddar cheese).  And yes, a fruitcake with hard sauce (which no one ever ate).

How to mesh two very different cultures’ traditions?  The difference between the two lay, for me, in the purpose and meaning:  the Peruvian traditions are more centered on religion, whereas the American traditions are more material.  But the common ground will always be the ritual of family traditions, passed from one generation to the next.

So when we decorate our tree, the first thing we do is hang the first ornament we bought as a couple – together.  We stay up till midnight, have Peruvian alfajores filled with manjar blanco, pepparkakor, and hot chocolate.  Just at the stroke of twelve, we place the Baby Jesus in the manger at the stroke of midnight.  We leave cookies out for Santa, have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for dinner, eat panetón (and save the Peruvian turkey for New Year’s Eve).

But mostly, we just enjoy watching our daughter’s excitement and  happy anticipation, her delight when she carefully opens her presents… and creating new Christmas memories.

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Flu Confidential

Monday, November 2, 5:01 PM
I leave work at the Empire State College Registrar’s Office in Saratoga.  I unlock my car, get in, turn the ignition.  Notice a little tickle in my throat; wish I’d remembered to fill up my water bottle at the cooler before I left.

Monday, 5:35 PM
I manage to park my car in the driveway and stagger into the house.  My husband catches me, alarmed.  My temperature is 102.  I fall into bed, wracked with chills.  I’ve never been so crushed by an illness. This is a whole new animal.  Pun intended.
Eve, unconcerned with her mother’s fate
Tuesday, November 3, 6:35 AM
I awaken to my daughter’s face peering at me.  She is poking me in the head.  She has had enough of me being quarantined, and wants breakfast.  I tell her she has to stay away from Mommy for another few days.  She bursts into tears and cries, “I just want a hug!”  So I make her put a blanket over her head and hug her around the waist, from behind.  She is mollified for the time being.

Me in all my pathetic, bloodshot glory
Tuesday, 8:32 PM
I haven’t eaten anything all day.  My husband orders Chinese food, which is not exactly convalescent food – but I didn’t have to make it, and that’s all that matters.  He makes me lots of tea, and take comfort in the honey and hot liquid that is just slightly hotter than my burning throat, though my glands are so swollen that I can hardly swallow. I’m coughing so hard that my back and stomach muscles ache.

Wednesday, November 4, 12:13 PM
My fever is still out of control, nearly 103.  No one’s home to police my actions.  I’m delirious and and can’t remember when I last took medicine.  I pop five ibuprofen and wait an hour – nothing.  I start downing Tylenol; suddenly dizzy, it occurs to me that maybe I’ve overdosed.  If it’d help me sleep through these wracking body aches, I would actually welcome it.  My father calls.  I make the mistake of telling him I have the swine flu.  Now I have two panicky parents calling every half-hour with advice and new warnings.

Thursday, November 5, 3:15 PM
I started to feel a little better… but then my fever spikes back up to 101.7.  I’m shaking like a leaf while I wait for the afternoon kindergarten bus to arrive.  I’m hacking up a storm and I feel like I’m going to start bleeding out of my ears.

My sweet girl’s note
My husband, who has been great through this – staying home to keep our daughter out of my quarantine, taking care of meals, making me tea, giving me medicine – says, “Did you orchestrate this so we’d know what it’s like without you?  We get it!  Get better already!”

When will this ever end?  Damn pigs!  When I recover, I’m going to eat as much bacon as I can stuff into my mouth!  Or maybe Westphalian ham… or serrano… or prosciutto… or pancetta…  lots of delicious ways to get my revenge.

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A Gift from My Grandfather

Excerpted from my grandfather’s will. He died when my father was ten, making him an orphan (his mother died in 1928, of complications that arose from my father’s birth) and immersing the family in a fierce custody battle over him between his very young stepmother and his much-older siblings. My father had found a box of old papers and photographs that had been given to him when his sister died; and he was so excited to show me the dozens of court documents that detailed the turmoil of his young life.  This last page of his father’s will was among them.  It is especially poignant now that my father is 81 and ill with cancer.  

Rather than saddening me, it gave me an unexpected moment of peace and joy.  Somehow, a man I never had the opportunity to know had reached across decades to give a bit of comfort to his son and unknown granddaughter.  It showed me, in an instant, how the truly good soul of my father had been shaped in ten brief years.

And it reaffirms a universal truth:  the gift of a father’s love is utterly timeless.
Thank you, Grandfather. Until we all meet again.  

New Rochelle, N.Y.
February 24th 1937.  

If this will is found with my effects after my death it will be my only will and it is my last will, and cancels any will I may have made prior to this date.

In this my last will and testament I leave my love and hopes to my children for a long and happy life and ask that my furneal [sic] be of simple form, with least possible expense, and above all things remember that I have just gone ahead for a while so smile and make the best of the changed conditions, and be of good heart, and never forget your God, place your full faith in God and always look upwards and you never need to fear for the future or what is called death.

My love to all of you my children who have always been fine, beautiful and everything any father can hope for, I only wish I could feel that I was as good a father as you have been children.
Until we meet – again.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the day and year first above written.
(Sgd) FRANK EDWARD LORSON
Witness
HC Olsen

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