Sunday, October 26, 2014

the Sober Husband describes the cats

The Sober Husband met a friend and the friend's new girlfriend for coffee.  The girlfriend has cats and asked about our cats.  As the Sober Husband described it, "I told her we had two types of cats."

"What?" interjected Iris, Lola and I all at once.  "What are the two types?"  Republicans and Democrats?  Extroverts and introverts?  Scientologists and agnostics?

"Let him tell the story," said one child reprovingly, after our derisive laughter had gone on long enough.

"So I said we had four adult cats," the Sober Husband continued gamely.

"WRONG!  We have five cats," I pounced.


"Count them on your fingers by name," I said.

"Frowsty, Henry, Emo, and Nert," he said.

"You left out Zorro."

The Sober Husband appeared disgusted at this point that we had somehow acquired five cats without his realizing it.  After some time, he was able to resume his narrative.  "So I said we have kittens, and every year there is some kitten we can't resist, so we are constantly accumulating cats."

the further adventures of tiny, amazing Lola

Recently we ran across some art Lola did when she was younger.  She turned her name into an acrostic:

Legally a minor

Iris and I were slayed by the first L and fell about laughing.  "Really, Lola? That's what you thought was the most important thing about yourself?"  Luckily Lola had a sense of humor about her younger self as well and didn't take offense.

On Friday Lola had no school, and I took my tiny, amazing, legal-minor to a corn maze.  I felt ashamed of never having had this American experience.  It must be a midwestern and western thing, as we had lots of corn in New England growing up, but no corn mazes. My Puritan ancestors would have been horrified at the idea of wasting good corn on fools traipsing about idly.

At the corn maze, Lola and I got lost quickly.  We attempted to use our powers of memory and reasoning.  These powers were evidently too weak.   Lola asked with trepidation, "What if we don't find our way out?"

I reassured Lola.  "If worst comes to worst, we can make our way between the corn and get out.  We will do our best to gently bend the corn and not trample any.  And we have water."  We soldiered on.

At some point we came upon one of the two viewing platforms, where you could climb out a flight of stairs and look across the maze.  We decided to skip it, because we thought it would be cheating, and we regretted that as we wandered on in the maze.  Later we talked sorrowfully about that platform as we trudged on.  "I thought we were going to see it again," I said.  "I can't believe we didn't circle back to it."

Still later we came upon a viewing platform, and we were excited.  We climbed up and learned that using the viewing platforms was not cheating.  The corn maze paths were so narrow that all you saw from up in the air was a solid field of corn.  We did figure out, however, that we were on the very same viewing platform we'd scorned earlier and had been wandering around in the beginning of the maze for a whole hour.  Online we had read that the typical person spent about forty-five minutes in the corn maze, but we were not typical, and we were atypical in a bad way.  We decided it was time to adopt a basic strategy and turn the same direction at every single intersection.

After a while, we found ourselves back at the very beginning of the maze.  This was disheartening.  We were out of the maze, but we knew we'd only experienced the first third of it.  The lady who sells tickets to the maze also felt sorry for us.  "Did you try always turning left?"

"We started always turning right."

The woman shook her head sorrowfully.  "You could try again."

Lolz and I looked at each other.

"If you're going back in, you might want to do it before these kids start," advised the woman.  A huge group of tiny preschoolers was advancing upon the maze.

I grabbed Lola's hand and we ran in.  We methodically turned left at every crossing, which felt efficient but when we reached the first viewing platform (our third visit) we found the preschoolers.  They had beaten us there.  Disheartened we trudged on.  "We are people of the corn," we said.  We tried to sing a song the Sober Husband is fond of about a chicken in the corn, but we didn't know enough of the lyrics.  "Chicken... corn... la la la la," we chanted.

Eventually we came to another viewing platform, and we clambered up. "It's the same one," said Lola pessimistically.  "No, Lola, look! We're closer to the trees.  But where's the other one?"

"They took it down!" said Lola wildly.  "They took it down while we were in here!"

 We scanned the field.  Then a man came into view, climbing up on the other platform.  "Oh, there it is," said Lola deflatedly.

We climbed down and finished the maze.  We could see from how pristine the paths were that most people didn't reach this part of the maze.   When we left, the ticket lady congratulated us.  The woman selling pumpkins said, "You wouldn't catch me going in there.  How long did it take?"

"An hour and forty-five minutes," we said shamefacedly.

"They'd have to get me out the next day," said the pumpkin lady consolingly.

Monday, October 13, 2014

tiny, amazing Lola and the make-up mystery

When Iris uber Alles graduated from middle school, her little sister Lola and I had some trouble finding our assigned seats.  As we wandered throughout the auditorium, reading the labels on the folding chairs and failing to find our name, we ran into one of Iris's teachers, one she greatly admires ("C. is so badass!").  I took this opportunity to share with this teacher how highly Iris spoke of her.   In reply, the teacher, C., fixed me with a very stern eye and said intently, "Iris shouldn't be allowed to wear makeup!  She's too hot!"  There was an awkward pause.

Eventually Lola and I moved on and found our seats.  "That was weird," I said.  "I know," said Lola.  "Was that some kind of criticism of my parenting?" I mulled.

Much later (after each and every student had given not one but two speeches, some other people had given speeches, and the students had had lots of pictures taken and consumed lots of h'ors d'oeuvres), I started to tell Iris about this chance encounter.  Lola decided that she, not me, should tell it.

"So!  C. was fascinated by tiny, amazing Lola," began Lola.  "Mommy was telling C. about how Iris thought she was a badass, so C. sadly had to tear her attention away from tiny, amazing Lola."

At this point Lola was interrupted by her audience, who wished to know what exactly was so amazing about Lola.  Lola eventually got back into the groove of her story:  "So then C. said to Mommy, 'Iris shouldn't be allowed to wear makeup!'  Then she turned her attention back to tiny, amazing Lola.  And Mommy was all surprised by what C. said.  And Mommy asked tiny, amazing Lola, 'What did she mean by that?'"

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

and yet life meanders on

Life has not been the most fabulous lately, and I realize there is no one to blame but myself.  I am healthy once again, after resetting my own immune system successfully, and my husband is employed once again.  I'm back to my gym rat days, obnoxiously enough, and was taunting Iris uber Alles today.  "Poke me here" (forcing the poor thing to prod me in the upper six-pack zone).  "See!  You could bounce a coin off there. "  Then I poked her similarly.  "Look!  It's like a marshmallow!"  Later, I noted, "Feel free to prod me in the abs whenever you want.  Perhaps you are afraid you might harm your finger."  Iris rolled her eyes.

I tend to be a glass-half-empty (probably drained by a rich sociopath when my back was turned) kind of gal on the whole.  Funnily enough, given how dark my outlook has been of late, that I'm bizarrely able to take with equanimity the one thing which drives most women my age insane:  hot flashes.  I've been 'pausing hard lately, and for the most part, I'm fine with it.  I lived in the tropics for a couple of years and liked it; for a while I led a fruitless campaign to get our family to move to a warmer climate.  So I'm viewing this all as my having moved to my own private tropics.

But yet, it is a dark time.  Warm, but dark.  My psychiatrist retired, the slacker, and I feel abandoned.  The Sober Husband and I are in marriage counseling, and it's been what Jane Austen might refer to as "a right old clusterfuck."  For example, yesterday our counselor suggested that since I am irked by the Sober Husband's ubiquitous complaining, I should try doing everything just the way he likes so that he will never need to complain.  I used about fifty swear words in my explanation of why that is never going to fucking happen.

I'm of a mind to call it a day and not return to pay for more of these gems of counseling, feeling I could get more from a vintage copy of "The Total Woman" (which I read in sneaky bursts while babysitting as a tween), but the Sober Husband is in strong disagreement.

After Robin Williams died, people thought for awhile about depression.  I saw so many Facebook statuses urging, "If you ever feel like that, call me!!!"  I rolled my eyes at each and every one of these.  The sad truth is that at this point, honestly I am not going to call anyone on a bad day.  Everyone is fucking sick of hearing about how I am depressed.  There is nothing more dreary than hearing about someone's depression, and anyone whose phone number I have has undoubtedly long ago had their share of hearing about mine.  Additionally, the last thing I want to hear is unsolicited advice from someone who has never attempted suicide and who is not a psychiatrist.  "Just look on the bright side" and "Why don't you just shake out of it?" and the like are not helpful in the least.  And, finally, if you really feel that bad, you don't feel up to talking on the phone.  You feel more like curling up in bed in silence.

In times like this, honestly it is literature that keeps me going.  If I were to die, there are so many books I wouldn't have read.  Lately, there have been some amazing books, gorgeous jewels of books that made me gasp and feel that it was worth it, dragging through life, if you at least get to now and then put up your feet, take off your shirt if you're 'pausing hard, and get drunk in words.

Recent books you should read, particularly if you have my flavor of depression:

Kalifornia by Edan Lepucki:  A dark dystopic tale about life after our society collapses due to economic and environmental disasters.  Beautifully written, it raises so many questions about political activism, what life is like living off the grid, how to build a society, the use of a liberal arts education.  Absolutely brilliant.  When I finished it, I started it over from the beginning, just not wanting it to be done.

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel:  Another novel set in the near-future after society's collapse, this time due to a pandemic.  Mandel's book is so beautifully written, such luscious language and such an intricately linked plot, that I kept exclaiming out loud as I read it.  "This book is like a necklace," I informed the uninterested Lola.  "It's just so gorgeous, and it all ties together."

The Bend of The World by Jacob Bacharach:  Bacharach's protagonist is a rather aimless man with a meaningless job and a shallow relationship whose gay, drunken best friend is obsessed with arcane theories and conspiracies.   Extraordinarily witty and chock-full of silliness, but yet extremely moving and beautifully written, with an breathtakingly spare use of language at times.  I literally laughed out loud at one point and teared up at another, and there is not another book I can think of which has drawn both of these reactions from my black, shriveled soul.

Your Face In Mine by Jess Row:  A man sees someone he thinks he knows on the street, but this can't be his old friend.  This oddly familiar person is the wrong race.  A weirdly gripping intellectual exploration of the implications of racial reassignment surgery, pairing beautiful writing with original ideas.  I was so engaged by this book that I paid no attention to my surroundings and ended up with a rather wretched sunburn on my left thigh.  It seems appropriate that part of my skin changed color while I was reading this book, a little unintended homage to the power of Row's writing.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

becoming too special

My most majestic pet, the long-haired beauty, Frowst, requires daily doses of a morphine derivative due to hideous ulcers in his mouth.  The long-term plan is to extract more teeth (he's already had one oral surgery), but the medium-term plan is to keep him doped up on painkillers and hope he doesn't lose more weight.  (He gets special, appetite-tempting meals served to him, as well as a special medication aimed at increasing his appetite).

The Sober Husband is unsure about this.  "You are already his person; now you're becoming his pusher!  It's not going to be pretty"

Thursday, September 04, 2014

the Recent Unpleasantness

I have not been speaking much here, and it's been in large part due to what I have been referring to as the Recent Unpleasantness.

In early July, the Sober Husband was summarily fired on short notice from his beloved, high-paying job.  One week he was jetsetting around the world in business class, holding meetings, mentoring people, setting policies, etc.. and the next, he was at home looking as though he'd been struck with a poleax.  On the day he came home, jobless, I greeted him and said, "There's something I wanted to tell you."

"That you told me so?" said the Sober Husband, bracing himself.

"No, that I love you."  We made him a special dinner and tried to focus on the positive.

That didn't last long.  Soon we were squabbling over his plans to go, despite the Recent Unpleasantness, on a vacation with his mother in Martha's Vineyard.  My argument:  he should stay home to look for a job.  His argument:  he should go to Martha's Vineyard, and we could recoup the expenses by canceling my planned vacation to Burning Man.  "Oh, HELL NO" was the response from the beleaguered Drunken Housewife.

We had neither of us, the Sober Husband nor I, ever been without income or the prospect of income before.  True, I had been a starving student, but in those days I had odd jobs and the prospect of a golden future.  My being a stay-at-home mother had appeared to be a rational choice economically, albeit not always emotionally.  We'd never faced the abyss of joblessness and economic uncertainty.

A terrible period ensued of great stress and unhappiness.  Your humble correspondent spent a considerable amount of time curled up in bed, during daytime hours, softly weeping into the fur of a number of cats of various degrees of feralness.

To make things worse,  the Sober Husband had a painful surgery requiring a lengthy-ish convalescence.   I warned the children that it wasn't going to be pretty.  "Your father has one of the world's great immune systems; he never gets sick.  Plus, he's really graceful, so he doesn't hurt himself.  As a result, he freaks out whenever there's the slightest thing wrong with him.  He has no idea how to handle it.  Be ready."  This warning barely sufficed.  The normally James Bond-like Sober Husband became a tormented and high maintenance convalescent.

 A few days into the convalescence I had to leave to drive up to acquire Lola from her summer camp.  "I'm leaving you in charge," I said to Iris firmly.  She reported over the phone some difficulty in getting her father to take his medications.  He said to me indignantly, "She made me stick out my tongue to show that I swallowed it!"  "Nice work, Iris," I said proudly.

On top of this, our most majestic pet, Frowst, developed ulcers in his mouth.  Prescribed real morphine for his pain, he spends approximately 23 hours a day lying directly upon your Drunken Housewife.  When he is well, this magnificent longhaired cat spends his time surveying the neighborhood from atop a neighbor's roof or our fence.  When he's hurting, he requires being held like a baby.

But happily this season of suffering and uncertainty is drawing to a close.  Next week the Sober Husband begins a new job, an exciting and prestigious one.  Income will begin to flow again... and among the multitude of benefits which will start up I was happy to discover pet insurance!  Frowst can get the oral surgery he needs (I have booked him in to see a feline dental specialist).   We are happy that our summer of stress and worry is drawing to a close, and we feel for our friends who are unemployed who don't have a happy ending in sight.

Monday, July 07, 2014

fasting in the mountains

This year's family vacation at Camp Mather began oddly. I have been sick for eight months, with one trivial illness following upon another's footsteps. Obviously there is some underlying cause, something causing my immune system to have become as weak and wizened as Mr. Burns', but it could not be determined. Extensive bloodwork ruled out thyroid, liver, kidney, or other obvious enemies. A breath test ruled out an ulcer. The best ideas my medical provider could come up with were that I had a vitamin D deficiency (no doubt caused by my staying inside when I was sick) and crystals in my inner ears (it turns out that if you cause me to sit, roll, sit, like down, roll over like a trained dog, my eyes would shake uncontrollably, thus proving that something was definitely up with my inner ear).

On my own I ran across a recent study showing that a person's immune system could be rebooted by fasting. Evidently when the body is in ketosis (burning off pre-existing bits to keep running), the white blood cells are amongst the first to go. Then the body is signaled to make new, fresher ones. The articles I read differed between saying 2 days was sufficient, with others saying it must be a fast of 3 days. It was also argued that 4-7 days of starvation (450-750 calories) would have the same effect.

No time ever seems ripe for a 3 day fast, but I decided on the spur of the moment to try. I am terrified of going back to Burning Man with such a weak immune system, and I'm sick of being sick. Also, I gained back quite a lot of all the weight I'd heroically lost with huge exercise, and I am dying to become a gym rat again. All that I need is a halfway decent immune system once again.

On Day 1 I fasted. I did allow myself a cup of coffee with lowfat milk, a smidgeon of low fat milk, but nothing else. My rationale was that I didn't want to go through caffeine deprivation at the same time I was undergoing food deprivation. I got through the day just fine. The afternoon and early evening were spent at Iris uber Alles' graduation from the 8th grade, which featured each and every one of the 57 graduates giving two speeches: one on the subject of their choice and a shorter one about a classmate. Lola and I did well sitting through the 118 speeches (some were also given by school dignitaries), but when we emerged and saw the catered foods spread about, I weakened. I told the Sober Husband to stay as long as our admired graduate wished, but Lola and I were going home. “Lola has been so patient,” I said, but the reality was that I could not be by those tables of artfully displayed food. I knew from experience that those lavash rolls were not as flavorful as they looked, but what about the spring rolls? Best to flee.

Day one of fasting: complete, with the only rule-breaking a few tablespoons of low fat milk and a single breath mint (to encourage someone who shall remain nameless to take one, who really needed one).

Day two was rougher. It was the day for Lola and I to pack and depart for Camp Mather. Iris had an elegant graduation party to attend in Santa Cruz, at one of her classmates' second homes right on the beach, and I had promised her she did not have to miss this event.

The horrible reality dawned that each and every one of our family bikes was in a poor state. My brakes were sketchy. Iris's bike had a horrendous flat and needed a new tire, the previously applied patch having failed. Lola's bike was in the best shape but was clearly too small for her. Loving the bike dearly, Lola insisted it would be fine. The Sober Husband's was the next best off but not particularly fabulous.

“Why do we never look at the bikes until the last minute?” I complained. Next year I need to calendar  a Mending of the Bicycles Festival the week before. The Sober Husband was skeptical that any of these bikes would be roadworthy, and, as he kept mentioning, he had a coffee date with his friend J.

My fasting had taken a new turn.  Onay 1, I was peaceful and ambitious, dreaming of good health. Day 2, I was just as committed but crabby as all get out. “Call J. and tell him to come to the house, instead of meeting you for coffee,” I sternly commanded. “You guys can send Iris's bike up with me except for that wheel, and you can have today and tomorrow to get a new tire. Fix one of these bikes (with a sweeping gesture at mine and the Sober Husband's), and I will ride which ever one you can get ready.” This was delivered in a highly testy manner.

At some point I was speaking to the family members about what needed to be done, and the Sober Husband and Lola slowly backed away, down the hall and out the front door. I flew into a temper and chased them. “I do not care how crabby I am, you just cannot leave in the middle of a conversation without saying goodbye! Do you realize how awful that is! How rude that is!” The parrot screamed, “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

Eventually my darling Mini Cooper was packed, with two bicycles on the top and plenty of stuff on the inside. Lolz and I took off. I had asked Lola to find us a book on CD to listen to on our ride, amongst our many, and she had chosen one which turned out to be on tapes. “Lola, I SAID CD. My car can't play tapes.” Lola quailed. “It's okay, Lolz, it's okay,” I assured her. “We'll try some short stories.”

I had a book of Tom Perrotta short stories on CD in the car, and we tried one. It turned out to have a discussion of threesomes and some other sexual inappropriateness which caused me to hit the fast forward button. I felt irked. The stories I'd listened to earlier from this collection had largely been okay for Lola; they just had to be followed by a sexed up one. We did listen to one about an elderly woman whose whiny plastic surgeon son refuses to bring his kid, the woman's only grandchild, to visit around the holidays. It wasn't racy, but it failed to grip.  We gave up on Tom Perrotta. (In Perrotta's defense, a couple of those stories had been greatly appreciated when I was in different company, driving back from camping with my friend Michele).

Lolz and I made excellent time arriving at Camp Mather. Due to my fasting, we forewent our usual decadent Mexican lunch in Oakdale (the Mexican food of Oakdale is magnificent). We did stop for diet Red Bulls, as I found myself flagging and needed a pep-up. The study had said that “fluids of no nutritional value” were acceptable during fasting, and I thought a diet Red Bull should surely count as a “fluid of no nutritional value.”

In the afternoon Lola furtively ate Cheezits in the car. This was horrifically difficult for me. I craved those Cheezits so much.

Once at Camp Mather, we located our cabin. It was somewhat inauspiciously located, in a clump with other cabins, not near any of the roads. It would be tricky to get my Mini close enough to unload. I figured out the closest I could get it, and we gamely unloaded the car. Getting the bikes off the rack was harder. I had a milk crate to stand on, but even so it was agonizing to get them off. A kindly woman sensed my growing psychosis and brushed off my rejections of her help, insisting. We got Lola's bike off. Then the friendly woman's husband arrived and helped get my own bike off. Lolz and I were grateful, although I was well aware of the bad impression I was making: short-tempered and incompetent at removing my own bikes from my own car. 

 Trying to reverse the Mimi back out of the trees to park it for the week, with Lola stationed to watch for dangers, I ran into a rock. “Lola, you were supposed to be looking!” I snapped. The neighbors came out, as if to ensure I did not murder poor Lola. I steered the car as best as I could and got it safely parked with no further misadventures.

Lola and I set up our cabin and hung a hammock. It was time for dinner. I sent Lola ahead to the dining hall as I was still fasting, but then began to feel guilty. Poor Lola, going alone to eat. I came along behind, getting myself some plain green tea (no milk, no sugar, nothing). I found Lola in the end sitting with a couple we know from her school, whom Lola had informed of my fast. “So you're fasting!” they greeted me. “We're taking care of Lola.” I sipped my plain hot green tea while they ate garlic bread and pasta and salads and desserts.

I apologized to Lola for my crabbiness, and she was kind enough to be encouraging to me. We wound the evening down quietly reading.

Day III: I woke up in a state of altered consciousness. I felt vaguely saintly and above it all. Crabbiness from Day II was far below and behind me. I floated about in an aethereal state.

At breakfast I had no interest in eating. Lola had a full meal, while I sipped green tea. The couple we know stopped by. “Still dieting?” they asked. “Fasting,” I corrected, “and I'm in an altered state. It is like those people who fast for religious reasons. It's wonderful.”

They looked at me as though I were insane and excused themselves.

Despite my being on my 3d day without food, Lola and I did some manual labor around camp. Our picnic table was at a 45 degree angle and positioned right between three cabins. Lola discouraged trying it, but I was hellbent on carrying it around and up the hill to the side of our cabin, where it would be a bit more private and a bit more level. It was not easy, but we did it. “Amazon Lola!” I praised her. We set up our bug-repelling dining tent over the picnic table and arranged all our chairs. “We've got it all nice now, Lola,” I said happily, still in my lofty state of an elevated consciousness.

However around noon I snapped. I felt so delightfully above it all... but I was keenly aware of the box of Cheezits. I also felt weak. “Lola, bring me the Cheezits,” I said. “It's 11:58, can you wait two more minutes?” urged Lola.   If not for those Cheezits, I could have made it another day. I actually skipped a wine and cheese social at Camp Mather (and believe me, I am all about wine and cheese socials) due to my fast.

End result: 2 ½ days of fasting, followed by 24 hours of very light eating, then returning thereafter to regular eating whatever the hell presented itself which appeared edible.

It may be a placebo effect in part, but I feel so much better. The first day or two after my fasting, I felt good but weak, and now my energy is gradually returning.   Since then I've worked out a few times at the gym, decluttered my garage, and generally shown a much higher energy level.  I also resisted a cold the Sober Husband had and a virus one of the children had.  Fasting:  it's magic.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

competitive art

The Sober Husband recently pushed me into starting a Twitter account.  Iris uber Alles watched him and then elbowed him out of the way when he was choosing an avatar.  Insulting his choices, she said wearily, "Let me."  She turned the computer to display the results to me.  "Oooh!" I said happily.  "I love it!"

Thanks to Iris, I am a goat, and the top of my Twitter is a lovely picture of Coconut, our feral cat with whom the children and I are obsessed.  (Once when the Sober Husband was away on business, one of the children asked him, "Do you miss Coconut?"  When he said, "To be honest, I haven't thought about him", the children were appalled.  "We worship him," they hissed).

Lola did not take this lying down.  She devoted several hours to creating a piece of art "for your Twitter."

I find it hypnotic and more than slightly unsettling.  I have yet to unleash it upon Twitter, though.