Monday, November 30, 2009

Less Is More

Yesterday's Boston Globe featured an article, "Living in Unity," which described the serendipitous settling of eight Amish families in the town of Unity, Maine. The town had a lot of vacant land and wanted to preserve its rural character. The Amish families sought land for farming. The town's residents value sustainable agriculture and environmentally sound practices, which the Amish lifestyle embodies. So, the townspeople have welcomed the new arrivals. The article's author aptly summed up the Amish philosophy by quoting a sign on the wall of one of the Amish homes—"To be content with little is hard, to be content with much is impossible."

I'm about as far removed from the Amish way of life as imaginable. I live in a big city and I'm dependent on cars, fond of dining in restaurants, and completely lacking a green thumb. Yet those words resonate with me. Over and over, I've learned the lesson that just because I can afford something—a bigger house, a fancier car, a more extravagant vacation—doesn't mean that it will make me happier. That may seem self-evident, yet our contemporary culture embraces the assumption that more is better.

Yesterday, Eric and I drove out to Key Biscayne with friends for a look around. While we didn't find the exact house where Bebe Rebozo used to entertain Richard Nixon, I'm pretty sure we were in the neighborhood—lavishly appointed mansions fronting directly on Biscayne Bay, many behind imposing locked gates. Quite a few had discreet For Sale signs posted, not surprising in the current economy. But the signs were a reminder that even (or perhaps especially) among the supposedly wealthiest of people, there are a large number who live on the edge, maxing out their credit just to acquire as many impressive possessions as possible.

Coconut palms at Crandon Park
Before our drive through the posh neighborhood, Eric and I shared a lovely picnic lunch with our friends at Crandon Park, one of Key Biscayne's beautiful public beaches, followed by a walk through Crandon Park Gardens, which is comprised of over two hundred acres of lush vegetation and small lakes. During our walk we saw peacocks, ibises, herons, and other tropical birds, plus a couple of crocodiles basking in the sun. It was a delightful way to spend an afternoon and a reminder that the best times are often those shared with good friends and family, doing simple things.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A New Wrinkle

Have you ever looked in a mirror away from home, say at a hotel or in a department store fitting room, and suddenly seen yourself in a whole new light? That recently happened to me and, believe me, the view wasn't pretty. I looked, well, sixty. Funny about that—I am sixty! But that's not how I see myself in the comforting light of my own mirror. The woman who stares back at me is perhaps forty, but a young-looking forty. Okay, that's when I have the lights dimmed. But seriously, when I look in my own mirror, I just see . . . me. A few lines here or there, but essentially the same face I've been looking at since I got my braces off.

Most of the time, of course, I'm not looking in a mirror, my own or anyone else's. I'm looking out at the world from within my head, where I feel much as I ever have—a state not determined by age, but rather by my nature, which try as I might to change it, is still pretty much the same as when I was young—same passions, same insecurities, same penchant for worrying.

While spending this Thanksgiving with my grown children, I suddenly felt keenly aware of being the "older" generation. You might say I saw myself reflected in a different mirror. And while the view wasn't altogether pretty, like when I noticed with chagrin how technologically challenged I am compared to my kids, I've realized it has its compensations. Foremost is the extraordinary pleasure I feel watching them live productive, interesting, independent lives. Now, that's worth a new wrinkle or two (or twenty).

Friday, November 27, 2009

That Special Autumn Light

I've been missing the beauty of Boston light in autumn, when most of the leaves have fallen and the angle of the sun creates a luminous glow, soft yet sharply clear. I found that same lovely light while visiting the campus of the University of Virginia on this beautiful late fall day.
Click on the photos to enlarge the images.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Ode to Blackberries

Blackberries aren't traditionally a Thanksgiving food. Nor is cereal, no matter how much I might lobby for its inclusion. But this Thanksgiving, I'm happy to report that I've discovered a great new breakfast combination, suitable for Thanksgiving day or any other day of the year—cereal topped with fresh blackberries.

How did I happen upon this marvelous discovery? Where else but at a hotel breakfast buffet? Allow me to digress. Eric and I are spending the holiday weekend in Charlottesville, Virgina, where my son, Aaron, and his fiancee, Karen, live. The first event on my road to blackberry discovery occurred yesterday evening, when we returned to our hotel room after a lovely dinner with Aaron, Karen, and Karen's sister, Amy. While Eric and I were out, an envelope addressed to me had been slipped under our door. Inside was a handwritten note saying that I had been selected as the "special guest of the day" by the hotel and that the hotel hoped I would enjoy the accompanying amenity. Thrilling. But where was the amenity? All I had was the note and nothing else. I decided to wait until morning to investigate the matter further.

This morning, I approached a young woman at the front desk and asked what amenity the "special guest" designation entitled me to. She had no idea. When I showed her the note, she thought for a moment and asked if I would like a bottle of wine.

"No thanks," I replied.

"How about a free movie?" she asked.

"Not really."

We were at an impasse, when I thought to ask where Eric and I might have breakfast. She mentioned the hotel restaurant and several places in the adjacent pedestrian mall, then paused for a moment.

"How about a free breakfast for your amenity?" Voila!

We were soon seated at the restaurant, where we ordered the sumptuous breakfast buffet, which included omelets, bacon, sausages, pastries, and muffins. I was pleasantly surprised to find among the cereals not only the usual array of Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, and Cheerios, but also Kashi 7 Whole Grain Flakes. In additon to regular and skim milk, there was even soy milk. Already impressed, I was further delighted to see a selection of berries offered as toppings, not only raspberries and strawberries, but also blackberries. Sadly, no blueberries, but you can't have everything. On closer inspection, though, the raspberries and strawberries looked a little overripe. That left the blackberries. I've never really been a fan of blackberries. In fact, I've rarely sampled them and when I have ventured a taste, they've seemed overly sour. But today, it was blackberries or nothing.

What followed was a revelation—something about the combination of the cereal, the milk, and the blackberries created the perfect taste sensation, sweet but tart, beautifully complimenting the bland but satisfying flavor of the flakes. I knew had found a new fruit accompaniment to my breakfast cereal. If blackberries tasted this good with Kashi flakes, I could only imagine how delicious they would be with my Stark Sisters Maple Almond Granola.

I passed up the omelets and pastries in favor of a second bowl of cereal and blackberries. It was hard to resist a third bowl, but mindful of the Thanksgiving feast to come later today, I resisted the urge.

On Thanksgiving, my greatest thanks are always reserved for my wonderful family and my terrific friends. Today, however, let me also offer thanks for the lowly blackberry.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Addicted to My Granola

We all have our favorite foods. Some of us not only love particular foods, but we like to have them every day, at the same time of day. My friend, David, enjoys a bowl of oatmeal mid-morning, after his tennis game. My cousin, Claire, loves her nightly bowl of ice cream. And for my friend, Steve, an evening isn't complete without his after-dinner snack—a big bowl of Cheerios. My favorite food is Stark Sisters Maple Almond Granola, eaten for breakfast every day.

Aside from the fact that all our favorite foods involve carbs, I share with David, Claire, and Steve the satisfaction of repeating a pleasurable daily ritual. Long before I found Stark Sisters, I looked forward to a particular food each day. As a child, I needed my orange juice in the morning. As a young adult, a bagel with a little muenster cheese on top was the essential way to start the day. I went through a ritual lunch stage at about the same time—yogurt and a piece of fruit daily. For a few years in my twenties, the only meal that varied was dinner.

Not that I don't like trying different foods. I have wide and varied tastes. I'll try any ethnic cuisine and usually find a lot to like. But it's comforting to anticipate eating a particular food at a particular time each day, knowing for certain it will be something I'll enjoy. Before Stark Sisters, my longest run was Haagen Dazs ice cream. I did allow some flexibility in flavors, choosing nightly among coffee, chocolate, or chocolate chocolate chip, but an evening rarely passed without my indulging in a dish of creamy, rich Haagen Dazs.

My Stark Sisters phase began innocently enough and overlapped with the Haagen Dazs era. I often ate cereal for breakfast and was always searching for a good granola. Many granolas include cinnamon, which I don't like in cereal, but I do love maple flavor and oats. I came across Stark Sisters Maple Almond Granola in a bin at Whole Foods. With my first bite, I knew I had found THE ONE. It became my breakfast staple. Since it's rather sweet, I usually combined it with shredded wheat. And I topped it with fresh blueberries whenever possible.

Then came the crisis—when we began spending half the year in Florida, Stark Sisters Granola was nowhere to be found, not even at the local Whole Foods. I tried other granolas, cooked oatmeal, switched to eggs and toast. Nothing satisfied like Maple Almond Granola. Then I had an inspiration—the Internet. I googled Stark Sisters. Sure enough, they had a website. And they sold their granolas online! I ordered enough to feed an army. I even sampled their other flavors, which were good, but not quite as good. I stayed with my Maple Almond.

For several years, I started my days with sweet, delicious Stark Sisters granola and ended them with sweet, delicious Haagen Dazs ice cream. I finally decided that too great a percentage of the calories I consumed daily were sugar. Not healthy. Add to that the saturated fat content in Haagen Dazs, the richest of rich ice creams, and the ice cream had to go. I found it easier than I expected to let go of my ice cream habit. Instead, I often eat fruit in the evening, but I'm trying not to be too rigid about it—if melon's not in season, an apple is fine. And I still can look forward to my Maple Almond Granola in the morning.

So, yes, I'm an addict, but I can think of worse things to be addicted to than organic rolled oats, pure maple syrup, oganic rye, sliced almonds, organic barley, expeller pressed canola oil, natural maple flavor, and vanilla.

Monday, November 23, 2009

One Sad Duck

Last winter, I wrote about three Muscovy ducks who lived on the grounds of my apartment building (Duck Duck Duck). By spring, they had been joined by a fourth smaller duck and by the time Eric and I headed north for the summer, they all seemed to be thriving. However, when we returned in late October, I was surprised to find only one duck in residence, the smallest of the group, the one who had joined the others belatedly. He had apparently remained behind when the rest decamped to a new locale.

Every morning, when I walk Cosmo, I see the little duck standing on a hillock of grass near the path. He looks lonely. I plead guilty to anthropomorphism and projection (and also to assuming the duck is male), but there seems little doubt that the unfortunate creature craves company. As we approach, the duck waddles in our direction with a hopeful tilt of his head and an eager glint in his eye. Even when it's clear I have no bread crumbs to offer him, he continues toward us. But Cosmo is not as sympathetic as I. So long as Cosmo is busy sniffing, the duck advances in our direction, but once Cosmo looks up and eyes the invader, frenzied barking ensues and the poor lonely duck backs off.

A few days ago, as I returned from an afternoon walk with Cosmo, I noticed my neighbor standing with her sweet, docile Shih Tzu. Just next to the Shih Tzu was the little duck, looking decidedly happier (I know, projection again, but can you blame me?). I expressed my concern about the duck's solo state to my neighbor. "Ducks are social animals," I said. "They need their group." My neighbor emphatically agreed and then she told me what had happened during the summer, while I was away.

The condo board had decided that the ducks should be relocated. My neighbor wasn't sure why—possibly for their own good, possibly because they were messing up the paths with their droppings. It was meant to be a humane operation. The ducks would be sedated and then moved to a suitable spot, where they would wake up together. Unfortunately, one duck was left behind. Perhaps he wandered under a bush after he became drowsy and couldn't be found. Whatever the reason, when the duck came to, he was alone—one sad duck.

While I can't provide a totally happy ending to this tale, there are some bright spots. A few of the residents have taken it upon themselves to care for the duck, so he's well-fed. The condo association still provides fresh water through a plastic pipe extending from an outdoor water fountain, although the duck seems to prefer sipping from puddles in the parking lot. And the duck has made a few friends among the local pooch population. Unfortunately, Cosmo isn't one of them. But I've taken to greeting the duck in soothing tones, which sometimes produces a little waggle of his tail feathers. He may not be as smart as Cosmo, but I'm convinced the little duck knows I'm his friend.

Note—If you click on the photos, you will see much larger, clearer versions.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Writer Worries About Her Audience

I've never liked to impose. If  I'm invited for dinner at the home of friends, I try to leave before they start yawning or, God forbid, before they have to ask me to go. If my car breaks down or I need a ride to the airport, I'd rather take a taxi than ask a friend for a lift. So naturally, I'm worried about imposing a frequent blog on you, my loyal readers.

A writer's relationship with her audience is a strange and delicate one. When I first started writing poetry, just after I graduated from college, I wrote only for myself. The poems were a release and a way to work through feelings of anxiety and confusion. They were raw and revealing. The last thing I wanted was for anyone else to read them. But gradually, as I began to craft the poems more carefully, I took pride in transforming pathos into art, and I began to want an audience.

The feeling that I might actually show my work to others inevitably changed the writing, in some ways for the better, but something was also lost—a lack of inhibition, a pure expression of my soul. When writing, I still allow my deepest feelings to bubble up from my subconscious, but then my internal editor takes over and I begin to temper them, camouflage them, and occasionally edit them out altogether. Not that I would ever lie. I merely soften the truth so as not to shock or offend.

But I still love the process of writing, the pure joy of letting words flow directly from my subconscious onto the page. I find that the more regularly I write, the more able I am to access my deeper thoughts and feelings. When I write every day, I see the world a little differently. It's filled with more wonder, more joy, more pain, more possibility. That's why I've decided to attempt frequent blog entries. Still, I know it's a lot to expect you to read them all.

Yet, I love sharing my work. When something I've written evokes an emotion, an association, or a remembered experience, that means the world to me. Sharing my blog has become a wonderful way for me to reach out. I love to read your comments and learn the ways in which my concerns mesh or conflict with yours.

So I'll continue to post these blog entries. Obviously, feel free to ignore them. The last thing I want to do is impose.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Die-Hard With a Football Vengeance

If everyone has a dark side, then mine must be football. Otherwise, how explain why a normally non-violent, sane, cultured woman has become devoted to a sport where young men practically kill each other fighting over a strangely-shaped ball?

I didn't become a football fanatic until I was well into middle age. When I was a teenager, my dad took me to the occasional Jets game. I thought Joe Namath was cute, but that was about the extent of my interest. At Smith College, an all women's school, my idea of a big football event was the Amherst-Williams game, played on a field with bleachers so minimal they would put any Texas high school to shame. Later, when Eric and I lived in Northern California, where Eric grew up, he took me to a Stanford game, but mostly to see the band, which was famous for not marching in formation.

Once we settled in Boston, I had only a passing interest in the Patriots, my hometown team. I attended one game during the early eighties, when Eric's new boss invited us to his luxury box, but I was more interested in making a good impression on the boss' wife than in who won the game. For the next two decades, though I agonized over the Red Sox like any loyal Boston-area resident, I paid virtually no attention to the Patriots.

My interest in football ratcheted up when my son, Aaron, started college at the University of Miami in 2000. The Miami Hurricanes were a top-ranked team that year and all the games were televised. I still didn't understand the rules, but now I had a college team to root for. Plus, football represented a way for me to bond with Aaron, who seemed pleased by my interest. He even bought me a "football for dumb women" book.

Then came the 2001-2002 season, the perfect storm of football, played in the harrowing aftermath of 9/11. If you recall that time, you may remember that sporting events became opportunities for passionate expressions of loyalty, to country and team. And my two teams became victorious—the Patriots, led by their great new quarterback, went all the way to a Super Bowl win; and the Hurricanes won the National Championship at the Rose Bowl. It was during that emotional and amazing season that I experienced my true initiation to football.

The weekend after 9/11, college and pro football games were postponed. The Hurricanes had been scheduled to play the University of Washington, the only team that had defeated them during the prior season. The game was rescheduled as the final home game of the regular season, during the Thanksgiving break. Since our family would be gathering at my parents' home just north of Miami for the holiday, Aaron suggested that Eric, Alex, and I might like to see the game. He managed to get us tickets for what would turn out to be the biggest crowd ever to watch a regular-season game at the Orange Bowl, almost 80,000 people.

The Canes were undefeated. Only Washington and Virginia Tech stood in the way of a BCS National Championship game. We arrived at the Orange Bowl about an hour before game time. The Orange Bowl was located in a largely Cuban neighborhood with almost no parking, other than people's driveways. I negotiated in Spanish for a spot. The air was charged with excitement and filled with the smells of of hamburgers, hot dogs, and beer. As we entered the stadium, we were met by a wall of sound. And the game hadn't even begun.

Then there was the bizarre Hurricanes cheer. Led by Sebastian, the ibis mascot, the fans waved their hands in unison while screaming with increasing intensity until Sebastian, like a master maestro, led them in yelling C-A-N-E-S CANES! Silly? Yes. Simplistic? Absolutely. But also thrilling and addictive. I was soon caught up in the hysteria and cheering at the top of my lungs.

The game didn't disappoint. After scoring a touchdown on a punt return after the opening kickoff, the Canes went on to defeat Washington 65-7. The following week they beat Virginia Tech and subsequently trounced Nebraska and won the National Championship.

At the same time, the Patriots were having their own incredible season. Who wouldn't love a team that fashioned snow angels after scoring touchdowns and made field goals in a blizzard look easy?

Unfortunately, not every season has been quite so glorious, especially for the Canes, who fell on hard times for a while. But now that I'm hooked, weekends during football season find me parked in front of my tv or occasionally at the stadium. I attended a Patriots game in twenty-degree winter weather. Given my dislike of the cold, that was a true testament to my devotion. And recently I saw the Canes play at their new home, Land Shark Stadium. They lost that one, but hey, I'm in it for the long haul.

I still cringe when players are injured, especially when they're hit on the head. But I also marvel at their super-human strength, their agility, their sheer determination. I love to watch Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss pull a pass out of thin air with his gigantic hands or Miami running back Graig Cooper gut his way down the field. I'm a fan, a fanatic, a die-hard. Should I be worried about this? Nah, not when there's still a chance my team can win today's game.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fashionista, Not

I seem to be missing the style gene. I lack the knack of knowing what looks good on me. I find coordinating outfits a nightmare, which is probably just as well, since coordinating seems to be out of style these days. To make matters worse, I'm overwhelmed by department stores—there's too much to choose from. Still, a girl's got to wear clothes, so I've developed a three-pronged formula I try to follow:

First, keep it simple. Neutrals. Jeans and black slacks, with maybe an occasional pair of gray, khaki, or brown thrown in. Solid tops, preferably black, but sometimes with a hint of color.

Second, find a good salesperson and stick with her. For several years, I bought virtually all my clothes from Karen, who managed a small boutique near Boston. Under her tutelage, I occasionally even deviated from my neutrals mantra. One notable season, she actually convinced me to buy a couple of tee shirts with sparkles on them. She assured me they looked great and I believed her (I'm both gullible and extremely susceptible to flattery). When I wore them, I felt terrific. Sadly, the economic downturn put Karen out of a job. I'm hoping she'll find another position soon and send me a note. Until then, I seem to be on my own.

Third, find designers you like and whose clothes fit you well. Sadly, the designers I like all seem to be the expensive ones, although I had success a few years ago with Target's Mossimo line of tee shirts. Having specific designer labels to look for helps me avoid department store overload. And once I find a nice pair of jeans or a top I like, I can order more online without even having to enter a store.

I tried to adhere to my formula recently when I went in search of tops to wear with jeans. My current tee shirt collection only works well if you like the over-washed, shapeless, faded look. I hoped to to buy a couple of new tees in solid colors, maybe a vee neck or a scoop neck, that I could dress up or down. But I was in for a disappointment.

First, there were no decent tees in neutral or any solid color. I found a vast selection of wild prints with necklines down to my navel, but no simple, elegant, nicely draped solid-color tees.

Second, the salespeople, while friendly, tried to sell me all those wild prints and plunging necklines. None of them is destined to become my new personal shopper.

Third, the designers I usually like have all started designing ugly clothes.

OR, as seems more likely, the tops I saw were gorgeous, the salespeople had great taste, and the designers know exactly what they're doing. That is, the problem is me—I have no sense of style. Perhaps the time has come for me to embrace my lack of style. Let's face it, I'll never be a fashionista. As soon as I sign off, I'm going online to L.L. Bean and Orvis to buy a few sensible, un-stylish tee shirts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Case for Mammograms

Since the announcement earlier this week by the United States Preventive Services Task Force that guidelines for mammograms should be changed, there's been an outcry from doctors and others opposing the proposed changes. I also oppose the changes. In fact, you could call me a poster girl for mammograms.

I was in my early fifties when a tiny (3 mm) invasive breast cancer was detected by a routine mammogram. I had been having mammograms once a year since I turned 40, as suggested by the earlier guidelines. The new guidelines recommend mammograms every two years starting at age 50, not 40. If I had waited an extra year to have a mammogram as the new guideline suggests, who knows how much my breast cancer would have grown? Because it was caught early, I was able to avoid chemotherapy and I have an excellent prognosis. With a year's more growth, the cancer might have become advanced or even metastatic, requiring chemotherapy. I would have had a poorer, perhaps even a dire, prognosis.

Three years later, a second breast cancer, this one in my other breast, was also caught by mammogram. This second cancer was found at an even earlier stage than the first, when it was still in the ducts and had not become invasive. Of course, having already had cancer, I was considered high risk and screened vigilantly. But the fact is that a mammogram found my second cancer very early, way before it could be felt. Mammograms do save lives.

The Task Force report doesn't deny that mammograms save lives. Instead, it points out that mammograms prevent "only" one cancer death for every 1904 women age 40 to 49 who are screened for 10 years. From age 50 to 59, the number is one death for every 1339 women and from age 60 to 69, it's one death for every 377 women. The odds seem pretty good unless you're the one unlucky woman. It should be noted that these statistics are concerned with deaths from breast cancer. It's virtually certain that fewer mammograms would result in diagnoses of more advanced cancer, requiring more aggressive treatment and causing far greater anxiety in those diagnosed.

Speaking of anxiety, in analyzing the supposed harms of starting mammograms at age 40, the Task Force cites false positives and claims that, in addition to leading to unnecessary biopsies, false positives cause great anxiety. True, it is scary to have a suspicious mammogram. But that's nothing compared to the anxiety felt by a woman whose cancer is detected at a later stage because she didn't have an annual mammogram.

No one's claiming mammograms are the ideal test. They're uncomfortable and can lead to false positive results, while sometimes missing cancers. But they're one of the best tools we have for detecting cancer early. I'd hate to see the new guidelines become common practice. And I hate to think what that might mean for insurance coverage of mammograms. Nothing good, I suspect.

Vetting the Vet

My toy poodle, Cosmo, leads a jet setter's life, at least for a dog. Since Eric and I began to divide our time between Boston and Miami, Cosmo has learned to fly, which for a seven-pound poodle means he's learned how to endure three hours in a tiny carrying case shoved under the airplane seat in front of me. He's become a real trooper, regularly making the trip with barely a bark or whimper. As long as we take him along with us (we're his pack, after all), he's willing to put up with almost anything.

While Cosmo's adjustment has gone well, I've faced a daunting challenge regarding Cosmo's care—finding a good veterinarian in Miami. The task has turned out to be harder than I anticipated. Not that it was easy in Boston, where it took eight years of searching until I met Dr. Robert Denk, the perfect vet for both Cosmo and me—competent, experienced, kindly, and most important, conservative in his approach to treatment.

When Cosmo's mild epileptic seizures required medication, Dr. Denk provided guidance that enabled us to control the seizures while giving him the smallest effective dose. And when Cosmo severely luxated his patella (dog-speak for dislocating his knee), Dr. Denk went against the prevailing wisdom that surgery was necessary and instead suggested we try to let the injury heal on its own. It took a few months until Cosmo was his old self, but his luxated patella fully healed. That was several years ago. Cosmo's now over twelve years old and still walks two-thirds of a mile with me every afternoon.

For a while after we began spending half the year in Miami, I simply crossed my fingers and prayed Cosmo would stay healthy. In a pinch, I knew I could call Dr. Denk for advice. But eventually Cosmo developed an ear infection and I knew I had to find a good local practitioner. After a few initial missteps, I landed at a veterinary practice in Coral Gables. The vet I saw had been recommended by my local groomer (who in turn had been recommended by my Boston groomer). This vet seemed lovely, well-educated, and thorough. Too thorough, it turned out.

According to my new vet, every little complaint required a test (an expensive test, I might add) and every small symptom seemed likely to be a serious disease. The worst moment came when she took Cosmo into the back room so a technician could clean out his infected ear. I've never heard a more heart-rending sound than Cosmo's crying during that cleansing. When Dr. Denk sees Cosmo for an infected ear, he cleans his ear gently, only as much as Cosmo can bear, then has me treat the infection at home with medicated ear drops for a week, after which I bring Cosmo back for a more thorough cleansing. Because the drops have brought the inflammation down, the subsequent cleansing isn't painful for him.

Bottom line, I need to find a vet who's on my wavelength. I love my dog, but I don't intend to allow extraordinary measures to keep him alive. No painful palliative surgeries or nausea-inducing chemotherapies are in his future. And no gratuitous MRIs, CAT scans, or other tests that simply provide too much information. (NB: dogs have to be anesthetized during scans, so they're not insignificant procedures for them.)

Cosmo is an adorable dog, still full of energy and curiosity despite his older age. I want to keep him healthy and happy as long as possible. I'm okay with him being a drug addict (thanks to the phenobarbital I give him for seizures), but I'll never allow him to endure suffering he can't comprehend just so I can keep him alive a little longer. I need a vet who understands this. I know there must be one somewhere in the wilds of South Florida. I only wish I had Cosmo's great sense of smell so I could sniff him or her out.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sound Effects

I'm a person who needs her space. I like to have a zone around me not infiltrated by the sounds of my neighbors, even when I like my neighbors. This is hard to come by in an apartment building, especially one with outdoor terraces and a tropical Florida climate that invites open windows. Though the disruptions are infrequent, they're unpredictable and out of my control. Ah, there's the rub.

My husband, Eric, is better able to go with the flow. He can sleep despite the occasional murmur of a tv through a common wall. He can work at his computer even when people are laughing and talking on the balcony above us. He can enjoy our spacious apartment with its lovely water view and make the best of the negatives. I have a harder time with that.

I know there are tradeoffs in almost every living situation. On the plus side, I've met many people I like in my building. I enjoy the sense of community here. The staff is friendly and helpful. And everyone loves my toy poodle, Cosmo. No one has ever complained about his barking, which is not infrequent.

Even the negative of close proximity has its positive aspects. When Eric is away, I don't feel as alone as I would in a house. I know if I ever need assistance, I can ask my neighbors. And though I may sometimes be bothered by noise from neighboring apartments, the condominium bylaws require music and other loud noise to stop at 11 pm. Furthermore, if noise persists past 11 pm, I can call security and ask them to deal with it, anonymously, of course. Not that I've ever had to, but at least I know the option is there.

The saying that nature abhors a vacuum surely applies here. In the absence of anything truly significant to complain about at the moment, I've filled the void with gripes about uninvited sound effects. I frequently remind myself just how trivial my concerns are and I mostly manage to focus on the many positives of apartment living. But I keep my ear plugs and white noise machine handy, just in case.