Monday, December 17, 2012

A Plea for Our Children

What do I know about guns? As a St. Louis born city girl, former hippie, University employee, and New England transplant by way of Texas and Hong Kong, not a whole lot. So part of me feels like I don’t really have a right to weigh in on this long overdue national conversation. I don’t hunt. I don’t target practice. I don’t collect. I don’t understand in the slightest the love and fascination that some people have with firearms. And I don’t understand the concern that some people have with that right being taken away.

I’m not a public figure. I don’t have any power per se. And I’m pretty lazy politically. I volunteered a little this election, but in general you won’t find me writing letters to my congressman, or to the editor of the local paper.

But like the rest of us, today I am heartbroken. Like anyone else in this country that is a parent, or a son, or a daughter, we cannot imagine the pain those poor parents are going through. We don’t want to think about the terror those poor babies and their teachers felt in their last moments of existence, and yet we do. We can’t help but think, what if that was MY little girl, My son, MY mother….what would I do, how would I go on?

This weekend, and this week, the politicians are making speeches. Public figures on both sides of this issue are making pronouncements. And many, many Americans are saying, ENOUGH. Enough dead children, enough dead leaders, enough John Lennons. ENOUGH.

I absolutely do not know the answer, but I feel confident that our current course of action is not working. I desperately want us as a nation to try something different, a national experiment in gun control. Pick the deadliest kinds of weapons, the most horrific types of bullets, magazines, whatever those things are called. You can still hunt, you can still target practice, you can still collect. But the weapons that can fire hundreds of rounds of ammunition into a first grade classroom would be gone. If you currently own a gun like that the government will buy them back, no questions asked.

I can already hear those of you that say that if we do this criminals will be the only ones with these types of weapons. But criminals aren’t the ones shooting up classrooms and assassinating public figures. The people that do those sorts of acts usually are fellow students, or have no prior criminal record. They are mentally unbalanced and have no business being able to acquire weapons of any sort.

Will it work? Will it reduce the number and intensity of the shooting incidents we have had to endure over the past 10, 20, 30 years? I honestly don’t know, but I’m willing to let us try. Lets try limiting gun ownership for a while, say 5 years. If it doesn’t work, if crime increases, or school shootings get worse, we can look at it as a failed experiment and try something else. But this just can’t go on, can it? Are we really so weak and spineless as a nation that we would rather bend to the whims of the NRA rather than attempt to prevent another school from being attacked, another town from being traumatized, another child from being murdered? Are we really that pathetic?

I think not. I hope not. I pray not.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Saint Louis Marathon

It has taken me a long time to finally write about the St. Louis Marathon. Every marathon is hard, of course, but St. Louis was by far the hardest one I have run so far. On one hand I know it was a good experience for me to complete such a difficult, twisty, hilly race, but on the other hand I made two key mistakes during the race, that I am still puzzling over.

I knew the race was going to by warm at the end for us slower runners. I thought I was prepared for this, and I think I was. I don't remember feeling like the heat was the reason I slowed down so much at the end, but I know it was a factor, and it was at least indirectly a factor in one of my mistakes.

There were some really fun things about this race, and one of the best things about it was that both Lee and Daniel were there to support me and cheer me on. I really, really appreciated having Lee there to drive me to the start and hang out with before the beginning of the race.

The race began in downtown St. Louis, on Market Street, facing the Arch. It wound it way around Busch Stadium, through downtown, Tower Grove, Lafayette Square, and other historic neighborhoods, before going through Forest Park and finally back downtown. I had more or less driven the race route a few days before, and I knew it was hilly, but none of the hills seemed that bad from the car.

There were 16,000 people lined up at the start of this race, a big group to be sure, but nothing like Marine Corp last year. Their method of crowd control at the beginning was different from other races that I've been in. We were assigned to corrals based on our estimated time, nothing unusual there. But instead of letting everyone start off together, naturally spreading out as the race began, each corral was separated by about 90 seconds. The fun thing about this was that when my corral finally made it up to the starting line, I actually stood at the front of the line when we were allowed to start running. That's the only way THAT will ever happen!

The first part of the race was pretty easy. There were some little rolling hills, but nothing steep or long. The temperature was in the mid 40's, perfect for running. I felt great, too great in fact, because right away I made one of the most classic mistakes a marathon runner can make. I was supposed to start out very slowly at a pace slower than 13:00 miles per minute, and after the first 3 miles gradually increase my pace until I was running between 12 and 12:30 miles per minute. But I ran faster, much faster. I just felt really good and confident and didn't think I needed to go that slowly. You'd think after 3 marathons I would know better, but no. This was a lesson that I would have to learn yet again.

This race included both a marathon and a half marathon. Both races ran together for the first half of the race. When the turnoff for the half marathon took place all of a sudden there were a lot fewer runners on the road. I found out later that of those 16,000 runners less than 1,800 of them ran the full marathon instead of the half.

And after 13.1 miles the hills started to change. Instead of short, gentle hills, the inclines became longer, and steeper. I still felt good, but I was working harder and it was getting warmer too.

Daniel and Lee were there to greet me at mile 16. I was so happy to see them! I gave them both hugs and continued on my way. At that point I was 5 whole minutes ahead of my pace. This should have been a warning signal, but I was in deep denial at that point, with visions of a sub 5:30 marathon dancing before my eyes.

Shortly after I saw Lee and Daniel the race entered Forest Park. This park was the site of the 1904 Worlds Fair, of Meet Me in St. Louis fame. It's a beautiful park in the heart of the city, but it's also pretty hilly.

Some of the aid stations included Gator Aide as well as water. By now I was not only drinking the water, but pouring some of it into my hat in an attempt to keep cool. I also decided to drink Gator Aide at some of the aid stations instead of water. I was worried about my electrolyte levels because of the heat, but this was also a risky proposition since I hadn't practiced drinking Gator Aide during my training. So once I drank the Gator aide I was also worried about having an upset stomach.

And here I made my second mistake, and I think it was the one that hurt me the most. One of the challenges of running a marathon is that one's body simply cannot store enough glycogen to get through the race, without taking in nutrition while you are running. I have learned from experience that GU energy gel packets work well for me, but they will give me an upset stomach if I down an entire packet at once. So this year I had a small plastic squirt bottle that I would put several gel packets in. That way I could take in a little bit of gel every couple of miles without getting sick. I practiced taking a sip of gel with some water every couple of miles on my long training runs and it worked great. And during the marathon I did this, until I got to Forest Park.

When I drank some Gator Aide and started worrying about getting an upset stomach I skipped a few of my gel sips, not wanting to overload on nutrition. I should have just stuck to my plan, but alas.

While running through Forest Park I no longer felt great, but I still felt tough. I would pick off runners and pass them and exhort myself to keep going. But I was slowing down, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. By the time I saw Lee and Daniel again at mile 22, I was 10 minutes behind my goal pace. I didn't want any hugs this time. I was well into marathon suffering mode.

Those last 4 miles were incredibly difficult. The hills continued and I could no longer follow my run 35 seconds /walk 25 second plan. I even turned off my little timer because its buzzing annoyed me so much. I continued to walk and run in a disorganized fashion, as the miles crawled on. I shuffled next to a couple of ladies for a little bit. For one it was her first marathon; the other like me had completed several others. I joked (I could still joke!) that marathons were like childbirth. We forget what those last 6 miles feel like, because otherwise we would never run another one.

By the time I crawled across the finish line I was 20 minutes off my goal pace. And when I took my little plastic bottle of gel out of my pocket I was shocked at how much remained. Apparently when I stopped taking my sips of gel in Forest Park I never started back up again. This is something I have GOT to fix before my next marathon.

Because yes, in spite of my disappointing finish I am still gungho on this marathon thing. I will never be a speedy runner, and in fact, I may be starting the inexorable slowdown that happens to every runner eventually, which means that this slow girl is going to get even slower. But that's okay, really it is. I really do mean it when I say my REAL goal is to keep running marathons at least until I turn 70. That means continuing to run and train conservatively to avoid injury and stay healthy.

I still have a long bucket list of marathons I want to run, some easier than others. I'm still trying to get into New York, and will probably run it in 2014. I'm already thinking about which marathons I might want to run next year. I think I'm going to try either Philadelphia or The Bay State Marathon in Lowell. These are both fairly close and relatively FLAT! They are also late enough in the season that heat should not be an issue.

When the marathon was over I could barely walk, but it really was nice to have Lee and Daniel right there to greet me at the finish line. I continued to walk around slowly, eating the post race food that was available, drinking my Endurox R4 post race drink. I was really, really sore, but I knew that continuing to walk around slowly for the next few days would speed my recovery, as it did.

So what were the lessons I hopefully learned from this race?

1. Don't go out too fast. Don't go out too fast. DON'T GO OUT TOO FAST!!!

2. Stick with my nutrition plan. Skip the gator aide unless you have tried it in training. Make a note of when you should take nutrition on your pace band, and use it!

3. In a hilly or hot race adjust your expectations and slow down. It won't kill you and it certainly could help.

Lee said when my time was so much slower than I had hoped he was afraid that I would be upset and discouraged, but I wasn't and I'm still not. Yes I made mistakes but in spite of them I feel like my training went really well, I had a lot of fun before the last 5 miles or so of the race, and I'm still proud of myself for completing another marathon. There were only 10 women in the 60-64 year age group, and no other women in the older age groups. I guess I keep forgetting that most of the people running in any marathon with me are a LOT younger than I am.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bob - A Remembrance

I was a senior in high school in the fall of 1969. I had just returned from a summer as a camp counselor at the Lake of the Ozarks. I was restless. I was ready for a change, but I didn't know what. It was hard to go back to high school one more time, to sit in class. I felt like I was just marking time.

The highlight of the day was concert choir. This audition-only group met for an hour very day around noon. I was so excited to be part of this exclusive group. There wasn't a lot in my life at the point that made me feel special, but choir did. I wasn't one of the best singers, but I was a reliable alto, that could sight read well, and blend my voice with the rest of the group. The music we sang was interesting and challenging. I looked forward to that hour every day.

Early in the year I started noticing a boy that was a tenor in choir. Bob had dark curly hair, and a beautiful voice. He was new to our school. Who was he? Normally to get into choir you had to try out the year before, but Bob must have tried out when he enrolled at the start of the year. I started watching him from afar.

Bob was also in a drama class I was taking. One day we were split into groups to practice scenes. Our school had open courtyards and Bob's group was practicing their scene out in the courtyard. I still had not actually spoken a word to Bob. I was just watching him. He seemed kind, friendly and sometimes funny. During the course of the scene Bob ran around, laughing and waving his arms. He was wearing a red plaid jacket and a strange thought entered my mind. "He looks like a big plaid butterfly," I thought. And then I had an even stranger thought. I'm going to tell him that!

I think you have probably figured out by now that I was a very socially awkward teenager. Looking back on that confused lonely girl, I cringe in embarrassment for her. Most of the time when I write about stuff in my blog I don't really think about who might read it or what they might think. But it's hard to write about my seventeen year old self without wondering what other people might think of me.

Because yes, you guessed it. A couple of days later, one day after choir, I walked up to Bob. "Remember that other day in drama class?" I said. "Well, you looked like a big plaid butterfly." Before Bob had a chance to say a word I turned and walked away.

I don't really remember the first real conversation I had with Bob, but sometime soon after that incident he started talking to me. Before too long we started to become friends. Many people would have decided I was just a goofy girl and not spent another minute talking to me, but Bob decided I was worth his time I guess.

And it didn't take much longer before I had a terrible crush on Bob. I would go over to his house and he would take out his records of famous opera stars and play them for me, alternating with Joni Mitchell and The Incredible String Band. We would be listening to all this wonderful music and it would be all I could do not to lean over and kiss Bob right then and there, but he never made a move, and I was way too shy to take the first step.

Bob introduced me to some of the people that he had met. I went to a very large high school; there were 600 people in my graduating class. So in spite of the fact that I had been in this school district since 8th grade there were plenty of people that I didn't know.

Bob had met a group of kids that could be called the hippies of my class. I don't really know what made these kids so different from the rest of the teenagers around them. Maybe they really weren't that different. But they seemed different and exciting to me.

What did we do with ourselves that year? Memory is a very strange thing. I remember going over to Stephanie's house and sitting around, listening to music and talking. I remember one evening when the big event was going to Howard Johnson's en masse. I remember a sunny day walking around in Babler State Park. 

But mostly I remember Bob. Driving down to the Central West End, walking around the fancy stores, talking about who knows what. Standing around in the hall before choir as Elliot ran up to us, waving the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album, shouting, "You have GOT to listen to this!" Going over to Sandy's house and meeting her evil stepmother. Watching Bob eat baby applesauce because it soothed his throat. Sitting on the curb in front of my house, crying together over Bob's first true love.

Because Bob was gay, and it was not an easy thing to be gay in the late sixties. I think Bob knew all along that he was gay, but he just didn't want to admit it. He liked women a lot and had lots of girl friends, and sometimes even a "girl friend" but he had never been in love before he met Mark. We were crying because things with Mark weren't working out, because Bob was gay, because I knew he would never be mine, because I loved him, because life seemed so tragic.

That last year of high school was over very soon. Bob went off to Denver University, majoring in voice. I went off to the University of Missouri, trying to grow up. We still saw each other occasionally. I went out to Denver a few times and of course Bob came back to St. Louis too.

But then Bob's parents moved again. I saw him one last time on a visit to Denver. He was slowly coming to terms with his sexuality. He had met a boy and seemed happy. He kissed me for the first time and for some reason I started laughing. My desperate crush was over, but the love was still there, the love of a true friend.

I lost track of Bob for many years. During the AIDs epidemic of the mid-eighties, a friend went to one of the AIDs quilt demonstrations and heard Bob's name read aloud (he had a very common last name). For a long time we thought he was dead.

In the late 90's however, I received an email. Bob had found me on the Internet. He was living in New York City, working as a paralegal, had a steady boyfriend and a English Bulldog. He had started his own small opera company and still sang upon occasion. He sounded happy and content. I was so glad to know where he was and what he was doing. It was great to know that he had made a good life for himself.

When we moved to New Hampshire we started traveling to New York occasionally, seeing shows, shopping, eating, enjoying the city. Sometimes we would meet Bob and Steffen for dinner. Our dogs even had a play date one time! We had a good time together, reminiscing and talking about our current lives.

The last time I saw Bob was about a month ago. We had dinner on a Friday night. Lee had a meeting in New Jersey on Monday. On Tuesday I flew back to New Hampshire, and Lee went over to Asia to work for a couple of weeks.

Wednesday morning I received a called from Steffen. Bob had died in his sleep the night before.
I am still somewhat stunned by Bob's death. He had really only recently become part of my life again in any real sense, and it just seemed so strange to think that he was gone. The teenager with a crush on a cute boy couldn't fathom that he was dead, and really neither could I.

The boy with the curly hair and the angelic voice is gone. I'm so sad, sad for him, sad for Steffen, sad for everyone that knew and loved him. Rest in peace, Bob. You will be missed.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wedding in Houston

Every time I go to Houston I am reminded how much I like this city. Of course in the course of trying to compliment their city, I managed to insult my Houston friends. "Houston gets a bad rap", I say, "But I like it!"

"Who says it gets a bad rap," demands Vickie, "why wouldn't you like Houston?"

Indeed, I think, why not. Houston is big, busy, beautiful, with great food and friendly people. It has gourgeous skyscrapers and historic districts, a beautiful baseball stadium, great shopping, streets lined with stately homes and peaceful parks with quiet bayous right in the city center.

Houston weather does leave something to be desired. It's amazingly humid, and even in late October it can get positively steamy. I get out of practice running in heat and humidity, so the one morning I ran was a bit of a shock.

I flew into Houston on Friday afternoon. My bag arrived without incident, and a good thing too, since my clothes for the wedding and all my stuff for the marathon in St. Louis next Sunday were in my checked bag. I got my rental car, turned on the GPS on my phone, and headed for downtown Houston, around 10 miles away.

I have known this group of lady friends now for close to 8 years. We met via a parent listserve at Trinity University in San Antonio, the school that Daniel attended for his freshman year. We initially bonded over the ups and downs of launching our children into the world, but it didn't take long for our friendships to grow far beyond our children. From bets on baseball, arguments about ice cream, from sharing the joys and sorrows of our lives, to learning to know and love people that are so very different in some ways, we have become a special group indeed.

Mary's daughter Erin was getting married this weekend. Someone said that Mary is the heart and soul of our group, and I agree. It was Mary that inspired many of our now famous institutions. The UPT dictionary of unusual phrases and misspellings that have become part of our shared history. The brooms used to sweep away obnoxious or undesirable people. The weekly chats via IM, and the chat summaries published for those that couldn't attend. The e-showers for daughters. All of these innovations were Mary's doing. We all love her so much!

There have been quite a few weddings in the past eight years, but for various reasons I have been unable to attend any of them, until now. When I heard that Erin was getting married, I knew that if there was any way I could go, I would.

I wasn't the only member of our group that felt like that. Of the 20 ladies in our group, counting Mary, 12 of us made it to Houston. In fact, a few of us had never actually met in person before. It was so exciting to finally meet Hilde and Kirsten. I had seen pictures, and talked to them on the phone, but that was all until I saw Hilde in the lobby of the hotel, and Kirsten at the church. With both of them it was like we had known each other for years...well, we have!

Most of the ladies live in Texas, so they were planning on arriving on Saturday, but since Hilde, Corry and I were all coming from far away, we all arrived on Friday. Vickie took Hilde and I out to dinner. She conveniently just happened to choose the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner was taking place, so Mary could "sneak" out for a bit and join her friends. I was just happy to be there, eating Tex Mex. We even got to meet Mary's husband Tom, a somewhat elusive figure, since he travels frequently for his job and is currently working out of Chicago. He is a very nice guy, talked to all these silly ladies and made us feel right at home.

After dinner we went to a bar owned by a friend of Mary's in a rather strange part of Houston. I know the bar was called the D and W, at least I think that was its name, but I really can't tell you any more about it, because I was just so very tired. Vickie and Hilde left to pick up Corry and Jeff at the airport, and Tom and Mary took pity on me and took me back to the hotel.

I slept the sleep of the dead that night, but woke up early, since I was still on eastern time. That's okay, because I decided it would be a good idea to do my last long run on Saturday instead of Sunday. That way I could relax the day after the wedding and not worry about meeting everyone for breakfast on time.

The Alan Parkway and a park with a bayou and a trail were right by the hotel. It was a very nice run. I ran 7 miles out and back, through the park and a neighborhood of beautiful Houston homes. By the time I returned to the hotel and showered it was pretty late, but some people were still having breakfast so it was okay.

After breakfast some people were having second thoughts about the shoes they had brought to wear to the wedding. It turns out that Macy's was having a great shoe sale, so off we went. I had no need for more shoes, but when did that ever stop me? I was pleased with the sparkly silver shoes I had brought to wear at the wedding, but you never know what you are going to find in a shoe department.

Macy's sale was 30% off if you bought 3 or more pairs of shoes. They let us pool our resources so we all got the discount. How cool was that? Corry and Vickie tried on wedding shoes, I don't remember what Hilde was trying on (sorry Hilde!) and I gravitated toward the boots, what else? I still seem to have a bit of a boot obsession going on. It was on hold during the summer, but cooler temperatures seem to have revived it. A pair of short brown suede boots made their way into my possession.

With my suitcase already very full I asked them if they could ship the boots to New Hampshire for me. They were happy to oblige, and not only that, by shipping them to New Hampshire the Texas sales tax w removed! I decided right then that anything I bought on this vacation would be shipped!

After completing our shopping expedition we walked back to the hotel, taking a slight detour to view the Houston light rail and the exterior of the church where the wedding would be held that evening. It was getting close to 2 pm and we needed to eat some lunch, but it seemed like all the places to eat in downtown Houston are closed on the weekends, so Vickie was kind enought to drive us to a nearby area where we ate at a very nice restaurant called Baba Yega's. A strange name but good food and a very eclectic atmosphere.

By the time we finished lunch it was getting time to head back to the hotel and start getting ready. More and more of our group was showing up. Ginia was to be my roommate that night so we headed up to our room and started getting ready.

My dress was a simple blue silk shift. It was loose and swayed nicely, and it was comfortable too. I had also bought some nice black stockings, which of COURSE I managed to run as I was putting them on! Same thing that happened to the stockings I wore to my high school reunion...just amazing, you can't take me anywhere. But unlike that time there was no time to run out and get a replacement pair. And it was a pretty big run too. What to do? Ginia to the rescue! She just happened to have some hairspray with her and suggested that I spray it on the end of the run so that it wouldn't spread. It worked!

We trooped down to the lobby and hopped on the darling trolley that took us to the church. The trolley was such a great idea. I had printed out all these maps, concerned about finding my way from the hotel to the church to the reception and back, but now that was unnecessary. The trolley took us to the church in nothing flat.

What a beautiful place of worship. The congregation sat in a semi circle, facing the pulpit and a dramatically colorful stained glass window. My group of ladies took up two pews. We were so busy admiring each other's dresses, shoes and jewelry, it took us a little bit to settle down and pay attention to the matter at hand.

Before too long, the bridesmaids and grooms came down the aisle, followed by the groom himself. The groom was so sweet. As Erin, the bride, came down the aisle he started crying, and cried off and on throughout the ceremony. The bride lent him her handkerchief and wiped away his tears. I was completely charmed.

Some of the other ladies commented later on the choice of hymns, but of course that meant nothing to me. I enjoyed the music which was beautifully performed by the organist and the soloist. The preacher was very personable and enthusiastic. I thought at first he must have been a friend of the couple, the way he spoke so knowingly about them. But, I think actually it was just his way.

Some people commented that the service was very long for a Methodist service, but it didn't seem very long at all to me, compared to the typical Jewish religious service! Soon enough the bride and groom were introduced as Mr. And Mrs. They turned and faced the congregation as man and wife. The tears had turned to broad smiles. I love weddings!

Now it was time to hop back on the trolley and head to reception, which was held at the top of One Shell Plaza. We were greeted at the entrance by hor devours and a much welcomed glass of wine. We found our tables, and got busy exploring our goodies and taking pictures of the lovely center pieces and each other. We had peacock feathers, chocolate, and more hor deovers to sample. It took awhile for the wedding party to arrive, but when they did it was great. I loved watching them dance together. They looked so happy.

Our dinners were delicious, steak medallions and grilled shrimp. There were asperagas and real mashed potatoes. In my current state of pre-marathon hunger I managed to eat every bite, and most of the wedding cake too.

Then the dancing began. Some of us ladies hung back. I know how silly I look when I dance, and I hadn't drunk near enough not to care. But Hilde had a plan and it was irrisitable, asking the dj to play "We Are Family" and dragging all of us out on the floor. And once she got me out there it was lots of fun!

I stayed up way past my bedtime, but eventually it was time to hop on the trolley one more time and make my way back to the hotel. I had a great time at this wedding, seeing friends and celebrating with them. It was great to be in Houston again.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cosmo Part II

Adding another member to our family has been an adjustment, for all of us. I had certain expectations about how it would be. Some things are like I expected; others have been a surprise.

I thought that Harper and Cosmo would play together right from the start, but instead they have been getting to know each other just like anyone else. Harper loves all dogs, but somehow she knew right away that Cosmo was different, it would not be false to say that at first she was jealous. She pretty much ignored him, and if he tried to instigate play she would simply walk away.

But Harper is a nice dog. She wasn't mean to Cosmo, she was just a little aloof. She shared her toys, and had no trouble with him at feeding time. After almost a week they started playing with each other more and more. I would say they are well on their way to being friends.

Dinner time has been, well, interesting. Harper has always been a finicky eater and one of our hopes with getting a second dog was that she would start acting more like a dog, instead of a fussy princess, when it was time to eat. Well that has definitely been the case! Cosmo is much more dog-like when it comes to food. Little Cosmo is always hungry and eats his food like a starving coyote. Harper has speeded up her eating so that she doesn't have to share with Cosmo. But Cosmo still has to go over to Harper's bowl and lick it thoroughly when dinner is over!

I find it confusing to give commands to one dog, without the other dog thinking that I'm also giving the command to them. I guess I need to be sure to use the dog's  name when I give the command. But I still sometimes get funny results. For example, I want my dogs to sit and wait for their dinner, before I put down their bowls. Harper knows all about this routine, but Cosmo had to learn, and still sometimes forgets. So I tell the dogs to sit and wait. Harper sits immediately, but Cosmo sometimes just stands there, or after he sits, stands again before I've put down their bowls. Meanwhile Harper is waiting patiently, but sometimes she'll decide that maybe I want more. So while I'm waiting for Cosmo to sit, Harper will lie down, and I've even had her roll over once or twice!

We have an electric fence, and Cosmo needs to be trained to respect the fence boundary. I've started the first part of the training, where we go around the boundary of the fence, call him away, and give him a treat when he avoids the fence boundary. He is a follower, and not very adventuresome, so this part of the training is going really well. Next I need to introduce the correction aspect of the fence to Cosmo. I need to be very careful though. Since he is a little timid I don't want to scare him by giving him a big shock, so I need to have the collar just give him a very mild buzz at first if he gets too close.

Another danger with the electric fence is that although it will keep my dogs in, it won't keep bad things out. There have been reports off and on of coyotes grabbing little dogs and carrying them off in our area.  At night I always take Harper out on a leash. Cosmo is still learning, however, that it is okay and in fact desirable to go potty while on a leash. So for the time being when we go out at night I let him just follow Harper and I around the yard. As long as he stays right beside us I figure this is okay. But still I feel better if I remember to take the pepper spray with me when we go out for the last time before bed.

Taking both dogs on a walk has been another challenge. Cosmo walks beautifully, thanks to Diane, right next to me, never pulling. Harper on the other hand, well, it's our fault I know, but she is much more, er, challenging when it comes to walking. She pulls, she runs ahead, she tries to dash off after squirrels. After a couple minutes though, on most days at least, she settles down and walks nicely. But she walks much faster than Cosmo, and I get confused, and tangled up too. Sometimes I think I should see how much Diane would charge to "fix" Harper's leash-walking habits!

Cosmo is sweet and affectionate. I can tell that it won't be much longer until I love him as much as I love Harper. But I'm kind of funny when it comes to love and affection. I've never been a love at first sight kind of girl, maybe lust at first sight, but that's different! But true and abiding love takes awhile to build. Even with my children, while I immediately felt that powerful motherhood protective urge, it took awhile before I fell desperately in love with them.

Puppies are no different. I currently regard Cosmo with a mixture of amusement, exasperation, and yes the beginnings of love. Some mornings when his bright black eyes are wide awake at 5:30 am and I know he needs to go outside soon, but Harper is still asleep, and Lee is out of town, I sigh and wonder why we agreed to take this puppy. When he has an accident on the rug because I let down my guard, I'm angry, mainly at myself for screwing up, but also at this little guy that isn't catching on to the rules fast enough for me.

Then he and Harper go tearing around the house, making up some silly doggy game, or I find them both asleep, side by side. Or Cosmo and Harper both decide they must be in my lap while we watch TV, and I'm filled with love for these little beings, that put their trust so thoroughly in me. And yes, at the same time I need them to get the hell off of me, because I'm having a hot flash, dammit!

Like with babies, these first months of new dog ownership will go quickly. Before too long the changes in our routines will settle into a new schedule, and what is odd and inconvenient now will become comfortable and ordinary. In one sense I really can't wait for this time to be over. In another I wish that time would slow and my memory was better, because this time will be over much too soon.


Almost three weeks ago another little white dog entered our lives. We have talked almost from the start about eventually getting another Westie.  Westies live pretty long lives, so if all went well we would be well into our 70's by the time Harper reached the end of her life, pretty old to be getting a puppy. But if we staggered our doggies, and got another one when Harper was older, then we could have Westies gracing our lives almost until we turned 80. Anyway that's how my thinking went.

We had been talking about maybe getting a puppy next spring, once Lee wasn't traveling so much. But one day this summer Diane our breeder, friend, and source for all things Westie sent me an email. "Are you interested in a trained 5 month old Westie?" We could meet him when we picked Harper up at Diane's next week.

All the way home from our vacation to Minneapolis I fretted. Another dog...more work..and a puppy too. Did we really want to do this? What would Harper think?

But when we walked into Diane's yard and met this rolly poly curly friendly little guy, we didn't hesitate. "Of course we'll take him!" There was no question that Cosmo would very shortly be part of our lives.

Cosmo was part of a trio of puppies born to a litter last March. I remember him because at the time I was going to Diane's once a week to help her with socializing puppies because she had a lot of litters being born at that time and they all needed to be handled and exposed to other people so that they would turn into well-rounded little dogs. The two females in Cosmo's littler were a normal size. Cosmo was twice as big as the other two puppies. He was going to be a big Westie, that's for sure.

Normally Diane doesn't name her dogs, unless she plans to keep them. So all of these puppies were scheduled to go home with new families, but the day before Cosmo was scheduled to leave he started limping. Diane told the family sorry, but "puppy" would need to stay behind.

It took a long time to figure out what was wrong with Cosmo so Diane decided to name him. She names all her dogs after flowers, so that explains Cosmo's name. Eventually he stopped limping, and they narrowed down what could be wrong with him. It wasn't cancer, or a blood disorder. They decided that he had something called CMO, cranial mandibular osteopathy  which is a disorder of the bones of the face. But for some reason Cosmo's leg bones were affected as well as part of his jaw, which didn't fit. But at the time it was the only diagnosis anyone could find for what was wrong with this poor little dog.

Diane began to get very attached to Cosmo, but she has a lot of dogs, and if she kept every little dog she fell in love with she would be in big trouble. We live nearby and board our dogs with her, so she would still get to see him occasionally. She knew we took good care of our dogs, and she knew we were interested in an older puppy that was at least partially trained. It seemed like a perfect fit.

The first thing we needed to do when Cosmo came home with us was take him to our vet. She came up with a more plausible diagnosis for Cosmo. She decided that he probably had HOD, hypertrophic osteodystrophy, another bone growth disorder. But HOD primarily affects a dog's long bones, hence the involvement of Cosmo's legs. And they think that it might be an auto-immune disorder, possibly brought on by the distemper shot. This made sense, since Cosmo's first episode of lameness occurred at 8 weeks, right after his first shots. HOD usually occurs in large breed dogs, which is why no one else thought of it as a possibility for Cosmo, but other that that it made sense. Dogs with HOD will experience inflammation, pain and lameness as they go through growth spurts in their first year of life. But these spells only last a week or so and can be controlled with pain meds and rest. Cosmo has a fairly mild case, thank goodness, as severe cases can involve all four limbs and cause a lot of pain. Cosmo continued to limp for the first week he was with us, but now he runs and plays like any puppy. Dogs grow out of HOD once they complete their growth, so with any luck Cosmos will be fine by the time he is a year old.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sailing the North Shore

Our friends Gail and Phil were planning a visit to New England, so we invited them to do a little cruising with us in our boat. This would be our first time over-nighting on it, and we knew we had a lot to learn. But we've gone on many vacations with Phil and Gain, including our first trip to the BVI, over 15 years ago, and we knew we traveled well together.

 The first day all we did was drive to Salem, MA, where the boat is moored. We needed to fill the water tanks and hose it off, so we took our time and got there around lunch time. After cleaning and loading the boat, we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and evening, and spent the night on the boat in Salem Harbor.

 Now I'm not crazy about sleeping on a boat. It's really a form of glorified camping, unless you're a millionaire with a fancy yacht, which we are not. Lee has outfitted out boat with new mattresses, custom sheets (for the oddly shaped berths to be found on every boat), and darling comforters and quilts with a nautical theme. So the beds are pretty comfortable.

 But boats toilets are a drag, especially for women like me with bladders the size of a pea. To flush a boat toilet you must pump. Pump 8-10 times to flush with water, 3-4 times to drain the water, and then a couple more to fill it back up. And no toilet paper can go in the tank either, so a nasty plastic bags must hang somewhere nearby. Sigh.

 Our boat has a nice shower, but so far we have avoided using it, by staying at marinas that have their own shower facilities. I'm sure eventually we will anchor someplace where it will be very nice to have that shower, but probably not until next year.

 Lee has a long list of things on our boat that he wants to fix or improve this winter and one of those things are the instruments. The gps works, but the depth and speed meters are dead. We can see the depths on the gps and on the chart, but it still would be very nice to have a depth meter. And although we do have a working radar on this trip, we realized when we turned it on for the first time that we don't know how to read it very well yet.

 The next morning we took our time getting underway. Later this turned out to be a mistake, but for the morning it was fine. I needed to go for a run, and found a lovely park along the shore that was perfect for a 50 minute outing. Willow Park. Yes, it was full of Willows too! I expect I will go running there again.

 Then we needed to go to Beverly and fill up on diesel. Beverly is also in Salem harbor, just a little farther north. It didn't take that long to fill up, but then we needed to get out of Salem Harbor and head south toward Boston. Because of our lack of a depth meter we we're being overly cautious, so we stuck to the deep main channel, taking us well out of our way before we could finally turn south.

 On top of that, once we turned south we were heading right into the wind. We tried to tack for awhile but eventually gave up and turned on the motor. But even with the motor we only made about 4 knots. It took a long time to get to Boston the afternoon.

 Along the way, we saw freighters and a cruise ship leaving Boston Harbor. We gave them a wide berth, of course, but passed close by one of the cruise ship's tug boats as it was heading back to Boston. They were leaning over their bow, looking at something in the water. " A humpback!" one of them yelled. Wow, a humpback whale. We didn't want to get too close, however. This humpback didn't look that big, but still. Humpback whales could easily be the size of our boat!

 It was also really interesting to come into Boston Harbor this way. We sailed with the Boston Sailing Center for a couple of years before we bought this boat, but never sailed this far outside the harbor. We could see the city of Boston for many miles before we even began to enter the Harbor. It seemed like a very elusive goal, always glimmering off in the distance.

 The sun was falling lower and lower in the sky. Would we make it into the harbor before dark? We certainly hoped so. In the daylight we felt very comfortable in Boston Harbor, but at night it turned into a maze of thousands of confusing, twinkling lights.

 We made it to our slip for the night at 6:55 pm, just as the sun was setting. A good thing too. The Yacht Club where we intended to stay closed at 7pm. We made it just in time.

 The marina where we stayed had great facilities. A locked slip, clean, comfortable showers. We freshened up and then it was off to the North End and Neptune's Oyster. We were not surprised to find that at this late hour on a Thursday we had an hour and a half wait, but I'd been hungry for hours, so we sat at a bar across the street from Neptune and had a few drinks and appetizers.

 At Neptune everyone but me had their amazing lobster rolls, but I had the cioppino. It was all delicious, but it was very late by the time we finally fell into bed.

 We woke to a beautiful morning in a sea of giant yachts. Gail struck up a conversation with a worker on the largest one, which rents for $175,000 a week! Four jet skis, a fishing boat, a three story inflatable slide, two Wolfe Stoves, and a crew of ten, all of this for a boat that sleeps ten. Who does this sort of thing besides Donald Trump?

 Breakfast at Anthony's diner, then out of the harbor at a reasonable hour. We could sail downwind, in a mild breeze. Beautiful weather, a much shorter sail and we found a mooring ball at Marblehead without too much trouble. Marblehead is a darling picaresque seaside town, pretty but pricey, with lots of beemers and Alfa Romeos. And good ice cream too.

 The only downside to the night at Marblehead was the holding tank on our boat that decided to become full that day. During the night Gail and I had to bare our bottoms to the took a little upper body strength, but we survived. The next day on the way to Gloucester we took a slight detour to the 3 mile line and solved our problem out there.

 Gloucester is an old fishing town north of Salem with a complicated harbor. Right fork then left fork, with the entrance to a canal thrown in for good measure. We stayed on a city mooring ball. This was fine, but no facilities came with it, so no showers unless we use the shower on the boat. This would be okay if it wasn't chilly and the water tank was cleaner. We decided to wait. We could be stinky sailors for once!

 It was fun to walk around Gloucester and eat great fish in a seaside restaurant. In the morning Lee and I took the dinghy in so I could run and Lee and Harper could go for a walk. Harper made friends with another Westie while I was running. Wouldn't you know it, it was another one of Diane's puppies! We sailed back to Salem and that was the end of our first cruise in our new boat. Lee and I took down the sails for the year. In the next couple of weeks he will be working on the boat, and soon enough it will be hauled out for the winter. We both learned a lot about the boat on this trip. Lee has a long, long list of things he would like to get for the boat, and improve on it too. That boat is going to keep him busy for quite a while to come. As for me, well Harper and I (and soon Cosmo too) are just along for the ride!

Photo by Gail Ludwig...thanks Gail!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Obama Comes to Southern New Hampshire

A week ago I got up early and drove to Windham High School, a couple of miles from my house. I had a ticket to see President Obama speak at the school that morning, and althought the weather threatened rain, I wasn't about to let this opportunity pass me by.

I did have misgivings though. I'm not the most patient of persons, and I'd heard that seeing a president or another candidate for the office speak could involve a lot of waiting and standing around. How badly did I want to do this?

Badly enough, apparently. I drove along Hwy 111 and that early on a Saturday morning there really wasn't much traffic. But when I got to one of the elementary schools where it was suggested that we park there was a large crowd waiting for a shuttle bus and I decided to turn in there.

I was glad that I did. When the bus turned on to London Bridge, the road in front of the High School, a line of cars stretched almost all the way back to 111. It didn't take very long for the people on the bus to decide it would be a good idea to get off and walk.

It didn't take very long to walk the rest of the way to the High School. In short order we were given our instructions, put into lines, and the crowd of people settled down to wait. We watched the Secret Service stop every single car that drove up to the High School and use dogs to conduct a search. So that was why the line of cars was so backed up! I was very glad I had taken the shuttle bus.

The atmosphere had a festive carnival air. People selling campaign buttons and tshirts presented their wares. All kinds of people stood in line, young, old, hippies, button-downed, blue collar, white collar, red neck, country, city. Many different New England states were represented, from Rhode Island to Maine.

I listened to the stories as the people around me chatted. Some people were experienced campaign followers that had seen many different presidents and candidates in person. Just as many were like me, first-timers at a presidential event. Several of us "older" folks could remember seeing John F Kennedy campaign when we were little, including me. I had a vague memory of a smiling, handsome man in a convertible, passing by as we stood on the sidewalk in St. Louis. I think I would have been in 1st or 2nd grade, 1960. My how times have changed.

At 10:30am they opened the doors and let us into the building. After a quick run tothe bathroom I entered the gym and found a place to sit on the second row of the bleachers, fairly close to the stage. Windham High School does not have a very large gymnasium. I wondered how many people they would try to cram into this space.

Pretty many, it turns out. We were packed in, the doors were shut, and it began to get very, very warm. All we could do was think cool thoughts and hope that it wouldn't be too long before the president appeared.

Well, 2 and a half hours later, he strode into the gym, waving and smiling. In spite of the heat, the crowds and my exhaustion, I found myself exhilarated and excited as soon as he walked onto the stage.

One of the first things that drew me to Obama was his speeches. Of course there was his electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, but, in addition to that there was his wonderful victory speech in Chicago, his speech on race in Philadelphia, his speech on the Middle East in Egypt. Obama's speeches were intellectually stimulating as well as thoughtful and inspiring.

The speech at Windham High School was a standard campaign speech. There was no nuance, no thought-provoking considerations. Republicans - bad for the middle class. Democrats will save Medicare and Social Security. The affordable care act will help the uninsured and save money for all.

It's not that I seriously disagree with anything that Obama said. It's just that he managed to set a very high bar four years ago and in the early years of his presidency. I miss the intellectually challenging and thought--provoking side of Obama. It's too bad that modern campaigning precludes that sort of rhetoric.

Four years ago I was so relieved and glad to see the Republicans out of power and the Democrats back in. I would like to see him re-elected; I'm also worried that the economy and all the negative advertising will make it very difficult for him to win again. I'm also suspicious of many of the traditional ways of garnering votes. Canvassing door-to-door and phone calls are big in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a swing state so both parties are vying for every vote out there.

But it seems to me that such tactics have a minimal impact compared to Television ads and news reports. I have had plenty of people here in New Hampshire, however, explain to me how important personal contact can be in this very small state where every single vote counts. So what do I know.

I do think that the key to either party winning this year has everything to do with how many of the voters on their side of the ticket will actually bother to vote. This is another place where I'm worried about Obama's chances. So many people that were excited about his candidacy 4 years ago are now disillusioned and disappointed. Maybe he wasn't able to turn the economy around as quickly as they had hoped. Maybe he didn't close Guantanamo, end the wars, promote gay rights. Whatever their personal issues might have been, Obama probably turned out to be more moderate, less effective, and more hampered by Congress than they expected. Will those people still take the time to vote in November?

I'm also in the process of reading Richard Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson. I've just finished the part about how he stole the 1948 Senate election. The extreme corruptedness of Texas politics at that time, and Johnson's absolute obsession with acquiring and keeping power, are influencing how I look at this year's election.

I know that it is a mistake to idealize politicians. Politicians would not do what they do if they did not have an innate hunger for power. Neither Barak Obama nor Mitt Romney are exceptions to this rule. The superficial motives of an individual politician may differ (why do so many of them seem to have daddy issues?) but if they did not have a huge need for the power that electoral office brings, they would not run.

Elections invite fraud. I hope we are beyond the days of the kind of fraud that occurred during the 1948 election, that involved the blatant "counting" of voters that never even went to the polls, by political bosses and machines that had their own personal reasons for wanting to see Lyndon Johnson elected. But I suspect that fraud still sometimes occurs, because another basic truth about elections is that the hunger for power influences the morality of politicians. That need to win allows people to justify actions that they could not otherwise condone. I don't think that sort of behavior can ever be entirely eliminated.

So I find myself looking at this year's election with a cold and clear-eyed scrutiny. Does this mean I will vote for any Republicans on the ticket? Nah. I may be feeling a little cynical, but I still tend to come down on the left side of most issues. And yes I will vote, in spite of my misgivings about possible fraud. Voting is something I still idealize. It bothers me that so many people in the US don't bother to vote, and when I fantasize about doing something that would make a difference in this country I would work on voter registration and education, and getting people to the polls on election day. With an educated responsible electorate what kind of country would we be? We can only dream.


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