Shiloh Happened

I’d meant to write an AMAZING end-of-the-year post, reflecting on my successes and failures of the past year while promising to do better in the next. Blah blah blah. You know the drill. Earth-shattering insights! Insanely simple yet profound suggestions!

And then, Shiloh happened.

261835_4382759214598_1064910113_nFor those of you who don’t know, Shiloh, Mischief Dog joined our family in April. He’s a rescue dog, somewhere between eight and ten (depending on which paperwork you believe). He spent most of his life chained to a doghouse outside in the mountains. After some initial setbacks that resulted in the death of all floor-based houseplants and new blinds for every window the living room, he settled in admirably.

The fact that you never really know what he’ll get into next adds an element of adventure to day-to-day life. He’s shredded toys (both his and Sophie the Wonder Dog’s), slippers, a paperback, two audiobook cases, tissue paper, cards and several bags. He’s eaten a stick of butter, a pound and a half of homemade Chex mix and a bag of gummy bears (including the bag).

One evening we returned home, opened the front door and were hit with the unmistakable and overwhelming smell of coffee. Shiloh discovered sealed bags of whole beans stored in a box stacked in a corner of the laundry room.

To clarify, the bags were not sitting out in plain view on a counter covered with bacon grease.

Evidence suggests that he enjoyed chewing through the box AND all three bags, cheerfully spreading the beans from one side of the living room to the other with the bulk of concentration focused damningly on his dog bed. Based on the fact that close to half a pound of it was missing, his personal favorite blend appeared to be Pumpkin Spice.

shilohcoffee

Panicked, we called the vet. Meanwhile, Shiloh looked hugely uncomfortable, opened his mouth and out shot a stream of partially chewed coffee beans. This was good news – as long as he was throwing up on his own, no further treatment was necessary. That dog vomited coffee beans for HOURS, proving that his body is far smarter than his mind and stomach. I am certain that the laws of physics were broken that night, because WAY more beans came out than went in.

He seems to have learned his lesson, though. “Shiloh, what’s this?” accompanied by the shake of a bag of coffee now sends him slinking into the next room, eyes averted.

After starting to write the end of year post the other day, I innocently left the house for two hours. Two. Hours.

I returned to Plush Toy Armageddon. Christmas was just days before. Both dogs enjoyed the kind of attention that comes from being the Wonder Dog and the Mischief Dog, respectively. Shiloh received several “indestructible” toys with multiple squeakers.

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I’d like to think they went quickly; the plush snake, the adorable alligator, the blue thing that I-don’t-know-what-it-was. Sophie’s duck and bear were collateral damage, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The cookies – a gift from our neighbors – were stalked with the consummate skill of a dog smart enough to casually notice a pattern just before the appearance of the magical peanut butter cookies. I have no idea what he was trying to do with the sugar cookie mix, but he seemed to enjoy prancing through it after destroying the bag. His whiskers were coated in flour.

I stood there in the last light of day, stunned speechless. I dropped everything, sat on the steps and called my husband.

“You won’t believe what Shiloh did.”
“Bet I will.” He’s right – my husband has come home to this scene several times and counting.
As I described the sheer magnitude – the duck’s little foot was torn off, there were easily eighteen squeakers out and stuffing EVERYWHERE – he stopped me. “He ate the cookies?”
“Yes?”
“There were chocolate chips in there. And I think macadamia nuts.”
“Yes, but he’s eaten COFFEE BEANS before. I think he’ll be okay.” I offered this last part with a doubtful edge to my voice. “Okay, I’ll call the vet.”

I called our vet and explained the situation.
“Macadamia nuts? Those are toxic. You need to induce vomiting.”
“I’m sorry, I need to what?”
“Induce vomiting. Pour small amounts of hydrogen peroxide down his throat until he starts throwing up.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. He’ll barely let us give him a bath. It takes FIVE of you to hold him down to trim his nails. I’m supposed to get peroxide down his throat?!”
“If he ate macadamia nuts? Yes.”
“Okay.”

I hung up, thought for a minute, and picked up the phone.

“Hey there! Thanks so much for the cookies – we really enjoyed them. Quick question though – were there macadamia nuts in any of them? No? Thank goodness. Why? Um, well, we thought there might’ve been some in the remaining cookies, which Shiloh helped himself to while we were out. And it seems macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. Hahaha, that crazy Shiloh. Now I won’t have to induce vomiting, which is a relief all around, let me tell you. Haha. Yep. Well you have a Happy New Year!”

Our neighbors are good sports, but this might have been too much information even for them.

549093_4143832041568_2045243554_nSo I cleaned (pro-tip: use a shop vac for flour), and Shiloh skulked, and Sophie remained hidden until the coast was clear. An hour later, I was relaxing on the couch and Shiloh crept up, curled into a tiny ball and was snoring within minutes.

430370_4224646301874_1199647589_nI admire his resilience. He hasn’t had the easiest life, this dog. He shies around strangers, and gets a little jumpy sometimes. He hates having his paws touched. He didn’t lay down in our line of sight for the first week we had him. He didn’t know what a toy was or how to play with one. He’d never seen a rawhide.

And yet, just months later, he’s settled in. He barks at the vacuum and paper-shredder and blender.  He follows me everywhere.  You can almost feel Sophie rolling her eyes at his exploits from time to time – when he runs into walls, for example, or stands in the middle of a room staring at nothing. For hours. Or when we find him gleefully shredding another toy, crazy tail wagging away.  He adores Sophie, though, and so they get along well. He is kind and gentle (unless you are a squeaky toy), and a very welcome addition to our home.

So that’s what happened to my epic end-of-year post: Shiloh. And honestly? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy New Year everyone! 

And thanks, as always, for reading.

5 Comments

December 30, 2012 · 5:17 pm

A Name By Any Other Name

nametag“You have a boy’s name.”
“Did your parents want a boy?”
“Your last name is spelled wrong.”

I have a unique name. I love it now, but I didn’t always.

“Michael-Anne Rubenstien, get in here this instant!”

For starters, I think we’re negatively conditioned as children to fear our full names. I don’t know about you, but getting called by my full name meant Significant Trouble. The kind with Consequences.

My name has a couple of other interesting complexities. First, it’s hyphenated. You have no idea how difficult this concept is for people to grasp.

“How do you spell that?”
“Michael hyphen Anne.”
“I’m sorry?”
“M-i-c-h-a-e-l hyphen A-n-n-e”
“Hyphen?”
“Dash.”
“Oh.”
I occasionally toy with the idea of throwing in an umlaut, just for laughs.

My nickname – Mickey – brings another layer of hilarity to the mix.

“Like the mouse?”
“Like the mouse.”
<muffled giggle>

“Oh Mickey, you’re so fine!”
“Yes, thank you. You’re very clever.”
“You’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey!”
“Please stop.”

I’ve gotten mail for Michael A., Michaelan, Michaela, Michelle and Nikki Riverstein, Rubenstein and Rubinstein. The best spelling ever still goes to Hallmark, who once sent me a xochiGold Crown card in the name of Xochiquetzal Rubenstitn. It’s like the person entering the information just gave up and started typing with their face.

I was accepted to one of my top college choices as a male. I appreciated their willingness to welcome me as a student even though they lacked confidence in my ability to specify my own gender on the intake forms. Whenever I call to get information about my accounts – banks, phone, insurance – I’m invariably told that my husband will need to call back himself. This happened long before I was married.

I had a language professor in college who insisted I was spelling and pronouncing my own name wrong. Both the first AND last name. Wrong wrong wrong.

“You are not a boy, therefore your first name is Michelle.”
“Okay. In French, it sounds like Michelle.”
“No, I mean it should be Michelle.”
“Well, I’m not sure what to tell you.”
“And you are either spelling or pronouncing your last name wrong.”
“My parents will be delighted to hear this.”
“You do not amuse me.”

When I married and changed my name to Gomez, I thought things would be easier. Forms with little boxes for first and last name would no longer run out of spaces. I wouldn’t have to debate people on the spelling of my last name.

“Name?”
“Mickey Gomez.”
“You do not look like a Gomez.”
“What does a Gomez look like?”

Now I receive mail written in Spanish, especially during election season. I’ve been invited to serve on a variety of boards seeking my cultural perspective. I’ve received mail for Mickey Goomes, Micket Gomer and M. Gonzalez.

I’ve been forced to the realization that I will never be free of name explanations, but such is life. In this age of babies named Hashtag and Apple, my name doesn’t seem quite as complicated anymore. But it is still unique. And you know what? I love it.

Sincerely,

Michael-Anne “Mickey” “Mickety” “Xochi” “Hey You” Rubenstien Gomez

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Festive Seasonal Memories

photo (6)“Ladle ladle ladle, I made it out of clay!”

I’m seven years old. My elementary school decides to be respectful of other faiths by including a Jewish part in the annual Christmas play. By virtue of my last name – Rubenstien – I am selected to help celebrate Hanukkah.

“And when it’s dry and ready, with ladle I will play!”

My understanding of religion at this point in my life is pretty simple. I go to church on Sunday mornings, followed by a class. In a church. It doesn’t occur to me that anyone anywhere is doing anything different.

Those of you paying attention may find yourselves thinking, “Hmmm. A church. On Sundays. Probably not Jewish.” You’re right. And you’re light years ahead of my teachers, who become annoyed by my apparent unwillingness to sing a simple song about Dreidels.  They keep me inside for recess, allegedly to calm my natural exuberance but really to serve the second grade version of detention. “You want to sing about ladles? You just sit right there and think about it.”  So I do, with no discernible effect. I have no idea what a Dreidel is, but I see the ladle every Thanksgiving in the gravy. I conclude, not for the last time, that adults are weird.

Practices continue. Now I’m in trouble for lighting a candle out of order on the Menorah. You see, once upon a time they let small children wander around public schools with lit candles. We also traveled in cars without seatbelts – at times laying IN the back window – and rode bikes without helmets. How we all made it to third grade is a mystery.

Faced with potential disaster, my teachers have no choice but to call my parents.

“Mr. Rubenstien?”
“Yes?”
“We’re calling about your daughter. We’ve been having a lot of trouble with her in this year’s Christmas play.”
“Oh? What’s been happening?”
“Well, we put her in the Jewish part of the play and she keeps messing everything up. We think it’s deliberate.”
Pause.
“Hello? Mr. Rubenstien?”
The beginnings of laughter, at first muffled but gaining steam. Mom grabs the phone.
“Hello? This is Mrs. Rubenstien. What’s going on?”
“We put your daughter in the Jewish part of the Christmas play and she is being extremely uncooperative.”
Pause.
“Why?”
“Why what?”
“Why did you put her in the Jewish part of the play?”
“To show the other children how Hanukkah is celebrated. Because she’s Jewish.”
“Actually, she’s Catholic.”
Pause.
“Oh.”
“Look, it’s fine for her to be in the Jewish part of the play, but you’re going to have to teach her what to do.”
“Oh.”
“She’s probably not messing things up on purpose. We’ve never had the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah.”
“Oh.”
“So we’re all set?”
“Um. Yes. Thank you.”

The next day, I’m re-cast as one of Santa’s back-up reindeer. We mill uncertainly around the edge of the stage, wistfully watching the Main Reindeer prance around, pretending to fly. The teachers pull me aside and grill me.

“Why didn’t you tell us you aren’t Jewish?”
Blank look.
“Why didn’t you tell us you don’t celebrate Hanukkah?”
“You didn’t ask?”
“Is your mom Jewish?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Is your dad Jewish?”
“No.”
“Is your grandmother Jewish?”
“No.”
“What about your grandfather?”
I now understand that there are two religions in the world: Catholicism and Judaism. Grandfather didn’t attend church with us.
“I think he’s Jewish.”
He was Lutheran.

This episode taught me many things that I’ve carried with me throughout my life. The first: never make assumptions about religion based on someone’s name.  Second, it’s a bad photo (7)idea to make assumptions about religion based on someone’s religion. Third, learning about other religions is a good thing, and can lead to mutual respect and understanding. Fourth, religion is immensely complicated. And fifth, no matter your intentions, you will most likely end up offending someone at some point. All you can do is hope that they’ll be cool about it and help you learn.

And finally, back-up reindeer barely get any stage time at all, so if faced with a similar situation, my advice? Hold out for a speaking part.

And whatever you do, never mention ladles.

###

Wishing all friends, old and new, a jolly holiday season and a new year filled with joy and laughter. Thanks for reading!

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The Walking-Faster-Than-You-Think Dead

Three seasons into it, I just started watching The Walking Dead. I adore the films of Frank Darabont – you may know him as the director of The Shawshank Redemption, the one movie that makes almost every single person I’ve ever known’s top list of all-time favorite movies.

“What movies do you like?”

Princess Bride and Shawshank.”

Anchorman and Shawshank.”

Seven and Shawshank.”

The Manchurian Candidate and Shawshank.”

Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Shawshank.”

It’s pretty remarkable. He also directed The Green Mile and The Mist. All three are adaptations of Stephen King stories, which is notable because King is one hell of a storyteller. Darabont’s extraordinary skill at bringing these tales to life lies not in the element of horror, but rather the element of humanity – strength, weakness, kindness, wit, nobility, frailty, good and evil – that he portrays so beautifully.

So basically I’m a fan.

Which is why I have NO IDEA why I didn’t start watching the series when it first came out. Was I living under a rock?

I continued on, blithely ignoring season two. Yes, Frank Darabont left prior to that season’s beginning, but one has to imagine he left a great foundation to build upon. And it’s based upon a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.

Also? It’s a series about zombies. Post-apocalyptic zombies.

While not a fan of zombies per se, I do appreciate creative premises. Something unique and different and intriguing. Something, let me be honest, that is the diametric opposite of Honey Boo Boo.

The other night, I watched Facebook EXPLODE (not literally, I hasten to add) with posts about the season 3 premier.

“Self,” I said to myself, “Could we be missing something here? It appears that an amazingly diverse array of people we know on Facebook are watching and enjoying this series that, for all intents and purposes, could have been written with us in mind. Also? We’re talking to ourselves again, and we’re doing it in the plural. We’re either royalty or should begin to get really worried.”

What can I say? I’m very honest when talking to myself.

So we got the first two seasons and started watching. Here is a picture of me 10 minutes into the first episode:

One of the stories I read about why Darabont left the series was struggles over the high costs of production. Based upon my reaction, he could’ve simply recorded the sound and released the whole thing as a radio series. My eyes were SEALED shut. I wasn’t even peeking through my fingers.

Okay, maybe I peeked a little.

We ended up watching episode after episode, spellbound, straight through to the end of season one.

I’m not going to give away any spoilers (and PLEASE don’t do so in the comments, thank you kindly). I did jot down several observations that I feel are general enough to squeak by without revealing the entire plot.

  • Don’t ever go to Atlanta. (Hey, look, I didn’t write the series.)
  • Pizza delivery builds mad tactical skills.
  • Life post-apocalypse features gorgeous skin, hair and a luminous natural beauty that can withstand extreme close-ups despite desperate living conditions and limited running water and soap (this phenomenon is also evident in the series Lost). I can’t manage to attain a luminous natural beauty with a cabinet full of lotions, soaps, make-up, hair products and running water. It seems sad that I’ll have to wait until after an apocalypse to finally achieve a clear complexion and shiny, lustrous hair, but I suppose it’s something to look forward to.
  • Never underestimate the power of a tiny little abuela.
  • If you are a horse, trust NO ONE.
  • While gross beyond all reason, a severed hand in a backpack can be a deceptively powerful negotiation tool. Strangely, this method is not mentioned by either Stephen Covey or Dale Carnegie.
  • The Walking Dead are like cockroaches. If you see one, you can be certain that thousands of others are just out of sight,  waiting for the first one to be noticed before they lurch into the open. This can happen in a city, a town, or a field in the middle of nowhere.
  • They are also sneaky. Despite having the motor skills of a diseased pumpkin, they can seemingly navigate a forest filled with fallen leaves and twigs without a single sound.
  • If you haven’t figured this out yet despite Avengers and The Hunger Games, LEARN TO USE A BOW.
  • When living in a post-apocalyptic world in which every second is fraught with danger and terror, if it’s important enough to post a lookout during the day, you might want to post one at night, too.
  • Keys are very important. Don’t leave them in a vehicle that you may need later. Hang onto them tightly, especially when running (and tripping, and falling). Don’t throw them, EVER.

And the most important lesson of them all? The dead can walk a LOT faster than you think. I know I’m not the sportiest of all Sporty Spices, but I do feel that I’m in decent physical condition. The thought that a creature missing half its face, part of an arm and several internal organs shuffling along on a BACKWARDS LEG fast enough to catch me and rip my face off is demoralizing, to say the very least. I’d argue that the show should be called the Walking-Faster-Than-You-Think Dead, or the Jogging Dead, or perhaps even the Eight-Minute-Mile Dead.

We started in on season two already, but I’ll save that for another post. Suffice to say, I’ll be watching the rest.

And quietly training to run a mile in under eight minutes. Just in case.

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Death by Scuba

Scuba diving. The words evoke mental images of tranquil blue water, seaweed languidly swaying in a gentle current, tiny brightly colored fish darting here and there. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Not the way I did it.

Studying marine science in Florida, it made sense for me to become certified in scuba. I took a course held in the campus pool. Our teacher, who retired from the Navy, was pretty hardcore. You know, the kind of person who could easily defeat a rabid giant squid with his bare hands without even exerting himself despite (or perhaps because of) his insistence upon wearing a tiny Speedo.

Things got interesting when I was paired with my arch-nemesis from freshman year to practice “buddy breathing”. There we sat in the shallow end of the pool, ostensibly passing the mouthpiece back and forth in a happy, congenial manner like rational adults and certainly NOT trying to deprive each other of air by holding the respirator just out of one another’s reach. At one point I was a thousand percent certain I was going to drown in four feet of water for being too stubborn to admit I needed to breath.  I sat there, vision growing cloudy, pretending everything was perfectly normal. “Death by Abject Stupidity” would be written on my gravestone.  Despite the fact I made it through this exercise, it didn’t do much to boost my overall confidence.

Speaking of, our first check-out dive was in a place called the Snake Pit.

The Snake Pit.

And really, who wouldn’t want to dive in a place called the Snake Pit?  What could POSSIBLY go wrong in a place called the Snake Pit? From what I recall, it was an old limestone pool filled with crystal clear water and roughly a million feet of silt.  As soon as the first fin touched the bottom, the silt became suspended in the water column and reduced all visibility to zero.  An enormous malevolent snake could easily tiptoe up behind you, tap you on the shoulder and swallow you whole without anyone being the wiser, including you.

Of course (we were told) there aren’t REALLY snakes in the water – hahaha, no way! They would never take us to a place with SNAKES in the water. That’s just silly! Hahaha. The goal of this dive was to keep calm under challenging circumstances.  Personally I felt I exceeded expectations by not dying of fear, stress, or accidental snake.

The day came for our final dive – a wreck and a reef in Biscayne Bay. It was cancelled due to bad weather.  This gave me several months to brood and to forget the vital yet complex formulas necessary to dive successfully, meaning “without running out of air or accidentally causing your brain to explode”.

Five months later, our class received word that we were to  join the current class for the final dive. Conditions weren’t perfect for this one, either, but you could tell that barring an outright hurricane, this dive was GOING to happen. We trooped onto the boat despite the three- to five-foot waves. With the exception of the crew and our instructor, my friend Sebastian and I were the only ones NOT throwing up over the side of the boat within the first 10 minutes of leaving the dock.  We sat there in the center of the boat, desperately trying to distract each other from the horrifying sounds of our classmates’ spleens being forcefully expelled through their mouths into the water.

Once we reached the wreck, our teacher was ready. He directed all of the seasick people to pair up, enter the water and wait. Soon, Sebastian and I were the only ones left on the boat. We were ready to jump in and our instructor – the man you could envision diving off of ice floes (sans wetsuit) to save baby seals from satanic polar bears – screamed like a little girl at a Bieber concert and started clawing at his neck. “Dive, people!” he yelled. “Portuguese man-o-war! You two – dive off the back of the boat and follow the anchor line down!” He submerged.

Sebastian and I blinked at each other.

“Don’t those have tentacles that are, like, miles long?”
“I think so.”
“And we’re supposed to jump straight into them?”
“Maybe they’re going in a different direction.”
“Oh, you mean floating against the current?”
“Hmmmm.”

What could we do? We jumped off the back of the boat and plunged straight down, using up 50% of our oxygen in about three minutes of sheer panic.  We followed the anchor line about 70 feet to the bottom and rejoined our classmates, slightly the worse for wear but uninjured.

For the moment.

The color spectrum is affected when you travel into deep water. One of the first colors to disappear is red. Which is why, minutes later, when some idiot shoved me into the side of the wreck and I put up my hand to keep from crashing into the side of it, the resulting laceration in my palm bleed green.

The Teacher’s Assistant assigned to my group was overjoyed – green blood! Hey everyone, come see! This was SCIENCE! At least, I’d like to think he didn’t mean to present me as bait, attracting every predator within a five mile radius. He grabbed my wrist, sweeping it through the water in ever increasing circles to catch the attention of everyone in the immediate vicinity.

Including two barracuda. They started edging closer, “How YOU doin’?” expressions on their faces, thousands of teeth glinting in the murky filtered light.

By this point, I’d had it. I was DONE. I wrestled my wrist from his grip, pounded on my chest and gestured emphatically to indicate that I was going UP. NOW. I broke all protocols by heading to the surface on my own because by now I just didn’t care.  I didn’t care if I ran out of oxygen. I didn’t care if my brain exploded from rising too fast. I didn’t care if the great-great-great-great grandson of Jaws was zeroing in on my location using some sharkey GPS system. I just did. Not. Care.

My immediate goals were to 1) get out of the ocean and 2) never return.

Once I made it back to the surface, I paddled weakly towards the ladder on the back of the boat, which was bobbing violently in the waves. I grasped it, got one leg up and was immediately thrown so fiercely that my entire body left the water only to splash back down twenty feet away.

Also, it felt like my left kneecap had been knocked off. This barely even registered: I figured I could collect it from the wetsuit and keep it on ice until I could find someone to reattach it.

I swam even more feebly for the ladder again and finally made it back on board.  I stood on the deck, dripping and bleeding, balanced on one leg. I slowly started removing my wetsuit. One of the crew said, “Hey, you’ll want to leave that on for the reef dive.” I shot him a disbelieving look and ignored him. I flailed my arms, trying to wrestle out of the suit, and fell over into the pool of blood spreading at my feet: my own little crime scene. Someone finally bandaged my wrist and I fell into a woozy sulk.

A month later, I received my certification in the mail. Was this some kind of joke?

Regardless, that was the last dive I ever did.

Need a snorkeler? I can snorkel like a CHAMP. I can tide pool, and marsh-muck, and jump into puddles like I was born to it. But if you want a scuba partner, you’re on your own.

I will, however, be happy to wait for you on the deck with bandages.

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Gran’s 96th Birthday

“All ready for Monday?”
“Yes, except I don’t know what we’re doing.”
“That’s because it’s a surprise. You know how to dress. You know when you’re getting picked up, right?”
“Yes, but…you’re not going to tell me, are you?”
“No.”
“Hmmmphh.”

###

My grandma is pretty amazing. She’s turning 96 on Monday, and she’s still feisty as ever.

Raggedy Ouch

When I was little, she made me incredibly gorgeous Halloween costumes. By hand. Holly Hobbie, the Pink Panther, a dalmatian.  She even turned me into Raggedy Anne one year, complete with hand-looped red yarn wig, a dress and an apron.  She couldn’t find white and red striped tights, though, so she put me in white tights and used red electricians tape to make the rings (my mother later confessed that this was her idea). About five minutes into our evening of trick-or-treating she noticed I wasn’t keeping up. Then I asked to be carried. She cajoled and fussed and finally picked me up and carried me from house to house, grimly determined that we finish at least one street. When we returned home, she discovered why I hadn’t wanted to walk: she’d taped the loops around my legs so tightly that I couldn’t bend them.

She laughs whenever she tells that story. Which tells you everything you need to know about gran, really. She’s never taken herself too seriously. Admits when she makes mistakes. And she’s always had a great sense of humor.

###

“Do you mind if I post some pictures, gran?”
“As long as it’s not the one from the pirate bar last weekend.”
“Deal.”

###

Games

Playing Yahtzee is a tradition with gran. She has a special dice cup made of cedar purchased as a souvenir on a long-ago family trip. Really that makes all the difference, hearing the little cubes rattle with a hollow wooden sound before they spill out on the table (and often over the edge). She can still beat me 9 out of every 10 games, and will routinely get 3 Yahtzees in a row.  You might think she HAS to be cheating, but she isn’t: she saves that for Scattergories.

The Age Card

Gran has been playing the “age card” since she was in her 60s, so whenever it comes out the initial reaction is typically an eye roll.  She didn’t act 60, or 70, or 80.  She doesn’t act 96, either.

“Do they have Early Boarding for this flight?”
“I dunno. You want me to ask? Why do we need early boarding?”
“Because I’m old. Tell them I can’t see.”

So I asked the gate attendant and she was happy to let gran board early. We lined up to the side, gran trying unsuccessfully to look feeble. When we finally boarded and were seated, I turned to her and said, “You know, the whole ‘Gran can’t see’ thing might work better next time if you’re not carrying your book.”

She grinned, completely unabashed.

###

“Gran, we’d like to take you out for Mother’s Day. Would you prefer to go to Tersiguel’s or O’Leary’s?”
“O’Leary’s. I don’t think the other would be appropriate at all.”
“Why not? Tersiguel’s is amazing – the food is exceptional, and the atmosphere is lovely.”
“What’s it called again?”
“Tersiguel’s.”
“Oh, I thought you said Testicles.”
Pause.
“Gran, why would we take you to a place called Testicles for Mother’s Day?”
“I have no idea. I never know what to expect with you.”

###

It’s 12 O’Clock Somewhere

The day we got married was pretty rainy. The place, which was supposed to be finished, wasn’t, so there were elements of danger everywhere (because simply getting married isn’t stressful enough). The paths to and from the bridal house, for example, were sheets of plastic tarp held down by roof tiles – basically a slip-n-slide waiting to happen.  The grans were being escorted to the photo staging area following the ceremony, and you can probably guess which one was wearing 2-inch gold heels.  The way our friend tells the story, someone announced, “There’s champagne in the bridal house!” and both grans threw off the helping hands of their escorts and starting doing cartwheels and handsprings across the slick plastic and sprinting to be first in line.

Because that’s how my family rolls. They’ve ALWAYS been festive and loved gatherings and having fun. And gran is no exception.

Family

We went to River Country in Orlando one year, and it happened to correspond with a shuttle launch. Mom, dad and I went on the inner tube ride. As we flew off the final slide, we could see gran waving from a bridge overlooking the lagoon. She was smiling and taking pictures. Meanwhile, we could see the shuttle climbing in the sky behind her.  We yelled and gestured, “Turn around, gran! Look! Look! The shuttle!” and she kept waving and laughing. Knowing gran, even if she had turned to take a photo of the launch, she would’ve cut its head off.

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“Never in my life did I think I’d see a dog welcomed up on MY couch.”

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Sophie

Gran has never really been a fan of dogs, but Sophie The Wonder Dog is different. Once, when gran spent the night, she slept downstairs on the couch. Sophie spent the night downstairs, too, laying on the other couch. Whenever gran would wake up during the night, she’d glance over to see Sophie silently watching over her, and fall back to sleep, strangely reassured.  Ever since then, gran has spoiled Sophie dog to the point where I’ve had to say, “Okay, gran. You can EITHER call Sophie ‘Lardy’ OR you can give her a thousand treats. You cannot, in good conscience, do both.”

Life and How to Live it

Gran hasn’t had an easy life. She’s known hardship, and challenges, and sadness. She’s also known adventure, and great times, and joy.

She’s quite remarkable, really, and I count my blessings every single day that I’ve been fortunate enough to have her in my life for so long.  She’s taught me – through example – about patience, and strength, and resilience, and joy.  And laughter. And cooking. And unconditional love. Really, she’s taught me a lot about life and how to live it. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

I love you, gran! Happy birthday!

Gran in Oregon in 1945.

Gran in Maryland in 2011 – last year’s birthday celebration.

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A Strange Wind Blows at Blarney Castle

The Blarney Stone wasn’t at all what I expected.

I think I expected to walk up to a benign, short and happy stone basking in a field, surrounded by clover and flowers and singing birds and Guinness.

What I found was a castle in ruins with twisty narrow staircases leading ever up up UP to the famous stone.

My parents and I made it to the top and were treated to a panoramic view of the outrageously green countryside. But where was the stone? Several uncertain laps around the top and I had my answer: it was – for all intents and purposes – hanging in mid-air from an outer wall. Across an expanse of empty air. Roughly 673 miles above the surface of the earth.

I should perhaps mention at this point that I am not a fan of heights. Gravity and I have an uneasy truce, at best, and my total lack of coordination cheerfully feeds the fear that one day I’ll be standing on something tall, trip, and fling myself to pointless doom.

People from all around the globe milled about uncertainly, eagerly waiting to see someone kiss the blarney stone.  Slowly, all gazes fell on me, the youngest person up there (at the time) by about 20 years. “She’s young,” I could hear them thinking. “She’s resilient. If she slips and falls, she’ll probably bounce. Let her go first.”

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes significantly fewer adults to sacrifice a young person to the capricious gods of gravity.

I slowly approached the man overseeing this operation. He was roughly 734 years old and weighed maybe 90 pounds. He would be the one spotting me as I leaned over a gap of a couple of feet to grab metal bars on the outer battlements, bend backwards over a drop of several hundred feet to kiss a rock.

Hear me when I say that in a lifetime filled with doing all manner of stupid things, this ranks near the top.

For comfort, the man provided a wool blanket as a cushion. You know, against the smoothed-by-centuries-of-wind-and-rain rock. I fully expected to launch like a pebble from a slingshot and wondered, almost in passing, if they’d write “Death by Blarney Stone” on my grave.

Clearly I made it, but trust me when I say it won’t ever happen again.

I finished and everyone applauded and patted me on the back and then all of a sudden EVERYONE wanted to kiss it. People are so weird.

I wandered over to a far battlement until my parents called me back and handed me the camera.  Dad, who was a pretty big guy, went to sit on the blanket and in a moment of profound silence – like the universe itself was holding its breath – he let out the loudest fart I ever hope to hear for the rest of my time upon this earth.

The silence continued, only then it was different. It was the sound of people recognizing something that transcends all language barriers. It was the sound of people meeting each others eyes in shock and then glancing away. It was the sound of barely suppressed laughter, building like a wave in the sea.

“That oughta relieve the pressure a bit, sir,” said the little old man. The top of that tower EXPLODED with peals of laughter, people doubled over, tears running down their faces.  Dad grinned, sat back down, leaned back and kissed the stone, followed by mom.  People smiled as we left, waving.

Ireland: I’m so sorry.

I stalked down the steps, furious. My father just farted on one of the national symbols of Ireland.  Even worse, I heard him and mom behind me wondering aloud if they sold “I farted on the Blarney Stone” t-shirts in the gift shop.

Would my humiliation know no boundaries? My parents were torn between comforting me and plotting a new clothing line. I decided to ignore them for the rest of my life.

That night, over a quiet dinner in a local pub, dad looked at me and pouted out his lower lip. He was trying for remorse but spoiled it with a barely suppressed snort. I glared and then reluctantly gave a muffled giggle. Mom started chuckling. Dad’s laugh started deep in his belly and rose through his body until he was letting out a surreal snorking sound through his nose.

We were laughing so hard at this point that other diners stopped and stared until, one by one, they joined in.  We laughed, we chortled, we had tears rolling down our faces, we were holding our sides and gasping for air.

“That oughta relieve the pressure a bit, sir!” Dad blurted out, and we were off again, howling in glee.

I’m pretty sure I had the gift of the gab long before kissing that stone, which makes my net gain from the entire episode residual embarrassment and an even greater fear of heights.

My advice is this: if you go to Ireland (which you should, because it’s a glorious place), find a nice, convenient, relaxed-looking rock someplace safe (ie: on the ground NEAR Blarney Castle), kiss THAT, then continue your adventures. It’s far safer, much easier and the chances that someone farted on it are negligible, at best.

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